Friday, November 30, 2007

Finished. Sort of.

Well, November is coming to a close as is NaBloPoMo. I have and I haven't successfully completed my self-pacting.
I have not blogged every day, missing, I think, three days.
On average, the quantity of blogs divided by 30 days, however, exceeds 1 blog a day. A moral completion, then. No potential for Big Prizes, but at least I don't have to worry about the potential tax consequences. Wouldn't want to answer my door some years from now and have to answer questions about my NaBloPoMo prize.
Nest year, if it's still around, I'll plan a little better and have some entries in the bank prior to Thanksgiving week. That, or I'll simply shoot some pics of the feast and stretch out the postings for a few days. Not in keeping with the spirit of the thing, but I need my weesssssst.


Your Automotive Image

When you think of a person, specifically a friend, guy, gal, doesn't matter, what car do you associate with them? On average, folks change cars every 3-5 years, so taking a mid-mark of 4 years, a person would have gone through roughly 6-7 cars by the time they're in their mid-40's.

So, what's the car you associate with when you think of your spouse, your best friend, a work colleague? Then, think again, what's the car that you think (or is that, hope) your friends, family, and spouse think of when they ponder your personality? The car may be a motorcycle or a bicycle (thanks WP for pointing that out) for some folks.
My first car, but not my first amour de la voiture, was an"Ol' 55". I bought it for a hundred bucks (yes $100, no decimals) from a friend who decided to bag the material life and join a religious order. I thought that both God and I did o.k. on his decision. He, in turn, had purchased it from an aunt for $25.00. She had driven out to the East Coast from California with her husband. They arrived in Jersey one day, two days later her husband died. Like an Alaskan salmon on its final trip upstream.

The car served me well in my trips from Jersey to college in Montreal. In its day the Chevy was like a Taurus, i.e., a fleet car a lot of the companies had in the 1950's and 1960's. It had a straight 6, a carburetor, some brakes, seats, and that's about it. When you pulled the hood up (which felt like lifting weights; most cars were hunks of good ol' American steel back then) and peeked down into the engine compartment, you could see the street. Working on the car was a dream. Oil changes, rod work, manifold changes. You could sit inside the engine area and work on the spark plugs. Your faithful dog could sit there, right next to you, wagging off tire dust from the frame. Oil changes were clean and easy; gravity was your friend. It was easy, as a kid, to see how a car really worked.

Since the Bel-air I had was from a California telephone company fleet, it did not look like the photo here. The body was the same, but there was no chrome trim. It was a 3 speed manual on the floor; since the bench seats were high, the shifter was a chrome pole, easily 15 inches long. It was on its last life cycle when I became its caretaker. The backseats were completely shot so I ripped them out and replaced the back seat area with a rug and 3 sleeping bags. At one time, I even had two small bean bag chairs in the back. Since it was a 1955 model, there were no seat belts and Jersey laws didn't grandfather them in.

The heater core died when I was in Montreal, so I drove the car with a thick Blanket on my lap, insulated underwear, a scraper (to scrape the ice accumulating on the inside of the car, and a ball peen hammer to hit the starter when it froze up on minus 20 degree Celsius days. It drove through snow and snowbanks like a plow truck. Late model cars that pulled out of side streets when they should not have bounced off of the tank-like steel. Some guy in a Toyota came out of the parking lot of the Royal Vic and hit the massive front fender. Not even a scratch on the Chevy; his entire front end was collapsed. Ski trips were especially enjoyable as the natives had never gone to Tremblant or St. Saveur while buried on the floor of a car in sleeping bags and blankets. I put in a decent sound system and car's interior, about the size of the Academy of Music, had great acoustics. The Dead, Eagles, Miles, and Alice Cooper never sounded better to this mind's ears. For a college kid with minimal cash, it was the perfect match. The biggest kick and one I'd get on a regular basis would be the "Cinquante-cinq! Non?! comment I'd get at a stop light or sign. Truly, it was a washed out reddish color with a non-jazzy body trim, but people still got a kick of seeing the car move, especially when the streets were snow-covered.

Big Red and I lived together in Jersey, Montreal, and North Carolina where I finally parted ways with what had become an oil-eating machine. The fellow I sold it to was a self-employed carpenter. He came by in a beat-up pickup to eye it over. His dog jumped out of the cargo area, sniffed the car up and down, lifted a leg, and splashed a touch of un-holy water on a rear tire.
The fellow looked at me, said "That'll do it", handed over $500 and drove it away.

No, his dog didn't drive his pick-up behind him. Another guy, who I had mistaken for a box of clothes in the front seat, woke up and toodled on behind him.

So, what's your automotive image?

***Note Bene***:
A favorite reader who would rather comment in person (and since I love the tone of her voice, I protest not too loudly) noted that the inclusion of the structure known to some of as paragraphs, would be highly advisable if I really wanted readers (i.e., her) to make it through the end of my postings.

(New paragraph) As I strive to service my small but highly enthusiastic group of readers, I will incorporate such structure or simply keep my entries shorter.

Any other structual/grammatical comments would be appreciated.
Yes, yes, I do realize that my sentences take on Dickensian length and that I use the "/" whenever i am caught on the fence between two words, thus "/"ing for both. I am working on those problems.

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Sifting Shiny Plastic

I don't know how things work around your humble chapeau, but here in the House of Perpetual Change, Organizing and his cousin, Reorganizing, have taken up permanent residence. I'd provide incriminating photos with this posting, but the PC loaded with the pictures is in a state of, uhhm, reorganization. Once it's reached its working capability of organization, the nasty stuff shall be shown. Even I, a man capable of working while walled in with detritus, have seen my arm hairs rise up of their own volition while in the area of the house lovingly tagged by the Ever-Loving Wife as "Your Part". I am applying for disaster relief for that area even as I type.

A benefit of the reorganization movement is another "re" word. Rediscovery. My replies to the Asset Displacement (or "mess", as my ELW, prefers to call it; she also prefers the singly syllabic description to my multiple preference) Situation when questioned are of two forms:
1) Yes, this too shall pass.
2) There's gold in them thar hills!

I'll tackle the latter exclamation here. While reorganizing the Asset Displacement Situation, I came upon 2 CD's of unquestionable listening quality. Keepers! (Another word that cause the ELW to shudder). Highly recommended for each and everyone of you who appreciates variety, choice, excellent production, wonderful musical talent, and low cost.
Stay Awake came out in 1988. It was produced by Hal Willner with associate production by Van Dyke Parks and Mark Bingham, a most excellent cast of folks. Mr Willner decided to do an album of music from various Walt Disney animated features with an extremely varied group of musicians. Los Lobos do a version of "I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)". Bonnie Raitt, the heart throb of every American boy back in the '70's and '80's and every geezer in the '90's and double oughts, does a version of "Baby Mine" that rekindles all of those Bonnie Raitt cells in a guy's body. Mr. Tom Waits lends a dim factory sound (sounding and feeling like Eraserhead at times) of "Heigh Ho (The Dwarfs Marching Song)". Bill Frisell noodles his way through a lot of the songs along with Wayne Horvitz. Buster Poindexter cuts it up on a grand scale in "Castle in Spain". All good stuff. All worth giving multiple listenings. Here, hold on a sec. Let me re-cue "Baby Mine".

Another find in the pile, Blues Masters, Volume 4, Harmonica Classics, shares one trait with Stay Awake. Both albums are collections of various composers' songs as performed by a variety of musicians. The comparison ends there. Harmonica Classics was released by Rhino Records as part of their Blues Masters series. As is usual for Rhino, the sound quality is top-notch as are the 18 choices that they went with. The pantheon of blues harp players are here. Enough variety to illustrate the scope of the simple instrument. Enough performers to allow you to make choices of albums specifically with one performer's renditions. Jimmy Reed, James Cotton, Junior Wells, George "Harmonica" Smith, Lazy Lester, Charles Musselwhite, Little Walter, and Howlin' Wolf, among others, do their mouthy thing here.
If you like the blues and/or harmonica playing, this album is a great starting off point. If you have a bunch of blues albums already, at this price, it's still worth getting just to have all of these performers on on album. Personal favorites are George "Harmonica" Smith's "Last Night", Little Walter's "Juke", and Lazy Lester's "Sugar Coated Love". But there's nary a clunker here. The last song, Charlie Musselwhite's moody, muddy, edgy jam of a song (at 11 minute 46 second) "Christo Redemptor", is worth the price of the CD alone, if you happen not to have that song in your collection already.You can crank this baby up, especially when you've got them Asset Displacement Blues.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Playing with One's Internet Self

From Whisky Prajer, comes this self-assessment guide for bloggers. I'm not sure what's a Good score. I mean, if your blog (or you can put in someone else's blog as well) scores in the Junior High or High School range, is that good or bad?
It's good in that you'd hopefully invite a wider and larger audience for your Grand Poobah postings.
It's bad in that the high level of expostulation that you thought you'd been at is just another bad case of self-delusion. Don;t hurt yourself falling from your illusory heights.

Just running through the numbers.
2 Blowhards - High School Level
Bullseye Rooster - Elementary School Level
Outer Life - High School Level
Stephenesque (American Fez) - High School Level
About Last Night - College Level (Undergrad)
The Online Photographer - Elementary School Level (Methinks there's something quite wrong about this score)

I'm not too sure as to how the scores reflect the blogs. About Last Night seems right. All of the other sites seem way too low.

Highest score of blogs I go to regularly?
Middle Stage
Genius Level

followed by:
Texas Trifles
Yeee Haw !
Theory of Ice.
Writing about hockey (mainly) in an intense, passionate, and yet intuitive way.

Post-Graduate level.

Yours truly? That would be me at the High School level, throwing erasers at the intense students up front.

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Located on the northbound side of Route 1 in Chadds Ford, PA, just about 100 yards down from the little gem of a museum, Brandywine River Museum, sits Hank's Place. It's a place beloved by locals and appreciated/ogled at by tourists. Preferential treatment is non-existent. No reservations; if you get there at the wrong time, expect to be waiting 10-30 minutes.

Is the food worth the wait? Well, IMHO, the best breakfasts I've had, not counting the food mounds provided by my aunts in Croatia, in the last few years have been here. Scrambled eggs, on the wet side. Pancakes that resemble and taste more like crepes. Continually filled coffee cups. And, the best hash brown potatoes that your mother hasn't made. My only complaint with Pamela's is that their coffee is on the weak side; as Mr. Waits says, no chance for the coffee to beat up the spoon, as it can barely get its caffeine up.

Hank's food? As far as breakfast is concerned, the eggs are on the dry side, the hash browns, though made from scratch (Big Points here!), taste a tad undercooked. Not enough of that greasy brown crust that my favorite hash browns have. For me at least, great hash browns should stand on their own. A breakfast of simply hash browns and some crusty buttered bread should be enough for putting the appetite beast down and keeping the taste buds happy. But, this place is more about atmosphere than about breakfast. Now for some good eating, come in for lunch or for dinner. Located just down the road from the Mushroom Capital of the World, you'll find much of the menu using what's available from the fungi world. Hank's stuffed peppers and all of their desserts are highly recommended as well.
What's the atmosphere about? On my last trip back from Pittsburgh, a stop for lunch at Hank's made it seem like a convention of deer-hunters. It was hard finding an empty table or stool with all of the camouflaged men, seeking shelter from the rain and from the deer-less woods. Like fisherman's tales, stories of 25 point deer were abundant at each table along with the concomitant woes at how Nature got in the way of a proper shot. As I swiveled in my seat to dive into a mushroom lasagne, a waitress passed a large card to me.
"Here, sign this. It's a birthday card for one of our regulars. He'll be 80 today." She sized me up and then glanced over at the stool next to me.
"He's still working and he's pretty hungry when he gets here. He usually sits right there," indicating the stool next to me, "Be sure to give him some eating room. He tends to get busy with his utensils quickly."
I signed the card and lingered over my meal, hoping to meet this fellow. After about 30 minutes, I opted to leave.
"He's usually punctual. Right on the nose of noon," the waitress said as I was paying to go.
"Hope he'll live through his meal today. He is, after all, 80," she continued, with a bit of a worry tone.
"But, he's still working. So, I'm sure he'll be hungry."

I pushed through the twin doors, smacking my lips in the universal sign of appreciative grub. I'd lucked out on timing; a line was squeezing itself out of the rain and onto the handicapped ramp that led into Hank's. If the 80 yr. old regular was there, I hoped that someone would break the rule and let the guy in early.
It was, after all, his birthday and he was a working guy.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mongo Lives!

In the small and quaint state that is Delaware, oddities of character are quite abundant. From the state's largest paper, in Monday's edition comes this local vial (or is that "vile"?) of color.

Birthday Bash Ends Badly (names altered to protect the innocent and shade the guilty)
A birthday celebration ended abruptly when a man stabbed three people early Sunday morning, state police spokesman Sgt. Po Lease Speakman said. None of the injuries was life-threatening, he said. The incident began about 1:40 a.m. when Julip Mongo, 39, of Smyrna, and the three victims returned to a home on Raven's Wood Road in Towns End after celebrating his birthday. One victim, a 28-year-old, helped Mr. Mongo after he fell out of the vehicle in the driveway. Mr. Mongo came into the home "very irate", grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and threw it into the living room, hitting a 31-year-old Wilmingtoooon woman, causing a scratch, Sgt. Speakman said. When a 33-year-old Wilmingtoooon man tried to calm him, Mr. Mongo got a second knife and stabbed him in his left hand. Mr. Mongo then stabbed the Wilmingtoooon woman (that he'd previously caused to have a scratch) in the chest, leaving a superficial wound. As the Smyrna man (the Good Samaritan from the driveway incident) entered the house, Mr. Mongo swung the knife at him, inflicting wounds to his chest and left shoulder. The Wilmingtoooon woman's mother called 911, and the other victims fled. Troopers could not calm Mr. Mongo down until a K-9 officer arrived and threatened use of the dog, Sgt. Speakman said. At the state police barracks in Odessa, Mr. Mongo tried to dismantle the jail doors and destroy a video camera. Mr.Mongo ("Mongo only pawn... in game of life") was charged with three counts of felony second-degree assault and possession of a weapon during commission of a felony. Bail information was not available Sunday.

Possible police scene, somewhere in the mix.

Bart:I better go check out this Mongo character.
[Bart reaches for his gun]
Jim: Oh no, don't do that.
Bart: Why not?
Jim: If you shoot him, you'll just make him mad.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Ears Have It

In this Sunday's NYT Magazine, an article caught my ear. Anthony Tommasini wrote in Hard to Be an Audiophile in an iPod World, what I've been thinking since first delving into music done the iPod way. "Music has become portable, wearable. The reproduced sound, if not rich and deep, is clear and lively. That’s good enough. Recorded sound as a re-creation of reality has almost been dropped. In the article, Mark Katz, an assistant professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of "Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music", published by the University of California Press in 2004 points out that ads today for MP3s and iPods seldom make claims for the beauty of the sound. Instead typical ads depict stylish people with iPods as accessories to clothing, clipped on jeans, belts and shirts"

I'll leave the "music as a fashion statement" argument for someone else. It's the sound quality issue that drew me into the article. First let me note one warning that Mr. Tomassini posted before he launched into the somewhat (not thoroughly) lousy sound quality of the iPod/MP3 vehicle. "Any discussion of recording technology has to note one intriguing quirk in the story: Few musicians have been audiophiles. More than the average music-loving amateur, working musicians understand the big gap between recorded music and the real thing. They can listen through the inadequacies of any recording and focus on what they want to hear."

The gist of the article is that convenience is king and that the quantity v. quality battle over sound quality has been won by the quantity side, headed by the iPod/MP3 proponents. Where does that leave the rest of us trilobytes?

Well, for one thing we can proudly say that we are not nuts and that, yes, the sound quality is a step down when you seriously downsize sound-reproducing equipment. So, a Bronx cheer in the general direction of all those iPoders who have given you hell regarding the state of your hearing.
On the other hand, since this shrinking clan of trilobytes is getting ever-smaller, it is best to lay low as it's not politically correct or personally self-protective to tell the iPoders that their perceptive qualities are going downhill. Like all things human, the cycle will come around and someday soon vast arrays of large sound-producing boxes will be in our homes again.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Road Tuning

On a recent return trip back from Pittsburgh, I tried to minimize the amount of times I'd be swerving back and forth on the road as I picked out the music to put into the CD player. So, I kept the number of CD's available for choosing to 4. Although that 4 is misdeceiving since two of the 4 were double/triple CD's.

1) Joe Henry's new release,Civilians, reviewed quite favorably by Mr. Whisky Prajer here, is an album to play when you get to that moody deep thought part of the trip. Long straightaways, distant horizons, foreboding weather conditions. I don't know about you folks, but necessary (although completely irrelevant) life-decision pondering of the past/current/future variety usually comes on about 2 hours into any major travel. Mr. Henry's newest album assists one into getting to that stage, earlier if you wish it. He's done quite a bit of pondering and deciding on his own so you can use his experiential jet stream to draft along.
FWIW, I'm with Whisky Prajer's opinion that Civilians is a strong candidate for one of the top albums of 2007. Having Mr. Bill Frissell along for the ride on this album certainly makes that proposal stronger.

2) Alligator Records 35 X 35 Collection, came out early last year. 2 CD's of Alligator Records talented performers doing 35 songs in honor of 35 years of the label's existence. The producer of the album is WXPN's own Jonny Meister, the maestro of the station's blues programming and one of the country's top Blues dj's. Selections include a scorching harmonica solo from the late William Clarke in his "Lollipop Mama", Koko Taylor doing "I Got What It Takes", the Holmes Brothers on their wonderful "Speaking In Tongues", and "In The Wee Wee Hours" as done by Professor Longhair The only clunker of the bunch may be Dave Hole's "Short Fuse Blues".

3) Blind Pig's 25th Anniversary Collection, released in 2001, also has 35 tracks, on 2 music CD's and a Video CD. As I was driving I could not enjoy the video CD and waited until coming home to take that in. High energy tracks, excellent production, fine stable of artists. A good point on this CD collection was the performance of some of the artists on multiple tracks. Especially strong are George "Harmonica" Smith's "Last Chance", Snooky Pryor's "Work With Me Annie", the Gospel Hummingbirds' "That Same Thing", one of my favorite blues performers, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, with his song, "Wake Me Up Early", and the sassy E. C. Scott's "What A Good Feeling"

4) Herlin Riley's Cream of the Crescent, released in Sept. of 2005 is solid, from the first song,"Bird Life" , to the last, "Trombone Joe". Giving him a hand is an all-star cast featuring Victor Goines on saxes, Wynton Marsalis, not too shabby on the trumpet, one of my favorite jazzmen, Wycliffe Gordon, on the clown prince of jazz instruments, the trombone, Mr. Herlin Riley on the funky drums, Reginald Veal keeping it together on the bass, and Eric Lewis, on piano. One of the best jazz albums of the last couple of years. All ranges of speed and mood, necessary components of musical accompaniment on a long trip.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

T-Day Revisted

To the scene of the crime.
The original menu was pretty much completed.

All of the other components of the meal turned out well. The following were new additions that turned out edible and pleasing to the guests.

1) Corn soup concoction with reduced red pepper sauce.
Wow! A major surprise. The creamed corn soup was a solid base for the swirled in roasted red pepper sauce. We shall be having this again and certainly before next Thanksgiving.

2) The Bird. Couldn't just get breast this year. Sorry, folks! We'll have to deal with dark meat and drums. It'll be a 12-14 lb.-er from an Amish farm in Lancaster, complete with beard and straw hat.
We have not had a full bird in eons. Each year we simply got a huge turkey breast and left the folks with dark meat preferences in the, uhhmmm, dark. This year, due to poor calendar reading/interpreting skills of yours truly, turkey breast was not to be had at the usual preferred places. So, the whole bird, sans head, was ordered instead. All went well with the brining. The cooking the 12 lb.-er took only 3 hours. There was a lot of calamity about the latter as whole bird afficciandoes were protesting, in full lung capacity manner, as to both the temperature (400 deg. F) and the time (1 hr breast down, 1 hr 20 min breast up, 30 minutes post-oven de-shock activity) that I was implementing. All turned out well (I raise on turkey leg up to the gods of Heat and Time) and the cooking methodology made for interesting dinner-time banter between all the Me-Thinks-Me-A-Cooks.

6) Some kind of Stuffing.
First time in a long time, again. Went with a pork sausage, celery, day old Portuguese-bread-to-crouton transformation concoction. Pan-fried sausage was well-drained of the fat. Chicken stock was used as replacement liquid. The Portu-croutons, finely toasted in the oven after a sprinkling of rosemary-infused grapeseed oil, sopped up a good quart of the chicken stock. Stuffing was juicy but not squishy and the sausage? Well, I'm not asking what the Amish put into the meaty loaf, but I'm counting on their wholesome ways that the special spices are of nature's own.

Some notes to self and calls for HELP! (now out on DVD)

4) Mashed Potatoes - Plain
5) Mashed Potatoes - Garlic

I used a mix of Russet and red potatoes with goat's milk used for the Plain and cream cheese softened with 1/2 stick of warm butter and lightly browned 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic and some chopped rosemary (a MISTAKE!). Dash of salt, of course. Both tasted fine when very warm, but taste dropped off in direct relationship to the potatoes' heat. Sticking the pots in a warm oven didn't help; a bit of dryness set in. Next year's plan. Hold off mashing/smashing until 1st two courses are finished. Let folks at the table languish in bread, butter, and a finely filled glass of wine while I'm in the kitchen draining boiled potatoes and mashing the devil out of them.

10) Pecan Pie (done the egg custard, not the Karo Syrup, way)
Oh, what gods of baking had I offended? When compared to the same recipe, same pie from last year, this year's version was not within forking distance. Luckily, I was able to hide the pie so that no guest asked for its promised appearance. Besides, my daughter's pumpkin pies were in high demand.
Note to idiot self: When making a pie crust, don't be cute with the salt and use coarse sea salt. It's a bit odd to be eating a pie crust and bite into a small chunk of dried ocean water.

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Friday, November 23, 2007


Having missed not one but two postings this week, I'm out of the daily blog posting thing. I'll shoot for averaging one a day, technically out of the month pactr thing but, self-delusionally, still in the spirit of the thing.

Or, so I'm saying to myself. Maybe post a couple of pics with insightful (or not) caption and call it a post.

My hat's off to Whisky Prajer for consistently and daily posting long entries, eschewing the camera and the 2 sentence paragraphs.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Sage Thanksgiving

Since there are more tried and true observations/rules of decorum for the upcoming holidays, I offer you this.

Thanksgiving Rules Revised (New Yorker 12/01/2003)
By Bruce McCall (famous Canadian gone south)
(as typed painstakingly by yours truly)
Post this document within ten feet of all liquor cabinets, TV sets, sofas, and any distant relations who are still sitting or standing upright.

Article XII of the 1663 Jamestown Convention has been amended as of this date to include the following:

1) Thanksgiving-dinner guests are no longer required to play Scrabble, Go Fish, or Monoploy with children under the age of ten. Withholding of liquor is coercion.
2) A shaker of Martinis no longer has official standing as Thanksgiving breakfast. Early risers: the Thanksgiving Day cocktail hour now begins only after you have arrived at the venue and parked your car, and never before sunrise.
3) You cannot decline the Kansas Riesling served with dinner out of professional adherence to the claim that "the official Thanksgiving mascot is the 101-proof Wild Turkey." This is apocryphal.
4) The mandatory minimum number of guests related by blood to the host/hostess is increased to sixteen. Seating them on the sun porch, in the attic, or in the basement for the Thanksgiving meal is no longer permissible, nor is the requirement that they wear bags over their heads and/or name tags. Asking how they’re doing remains optional.
5) In-laws must now be accorded full human status. Their chairs must face the dinner table, and they must be offered a choice of dark or white meat.
6) Native American guests must no be offered bourbon, Scotch, gin, or other alcoholic beverages by name. They must not be described as "heap strong firewater".
7) When you are handed a family scrapbook or photo album, you must keep such article in your possession for at least a hundred and twenty seconds (or 120 silent repetitions of“Thanksgiving stuffing”) before passing it on to the next person. You may not ask if your hundred and twenty seconds are up.
8) Precocious children under 12 years of age may now be fitted with muzzles by a non-parent after the first hour.
9) Reminiscences that touch upon parental favoritism, unpaid personal loans, and arrests of blood relations’ children are discouraged.
10) You are entitled to ten naps per twelve-hour Thanksgiving Day period. Moments after 4 P.M., when time itself seems to have stopped, do not count as naps. Do not commence a nap when a blood relation older than you is addressing you directly.
11) You will be videotaped by your most moronic relation. Failing to cooperate by smiling/making funny faces/rushing the lens carries the penalty of spending next Thanksgiving at this relation’s house. Keep in mind that whatever your cooperation level is, there is always a possibility your potentially embarrassing behaviour may end up with 15,798 view on YouTube.
12) Vacating the premises before Thanksgiving dinner is served in order to "get a breath of fresh air", "check the pressure in the tires", or "watch shooting stars" will now be considered a desertion of familial responsibilities, punishable by talking college football with an in-law for thirty minutes without the aid of an alcoholic beverage.
13) The host/hostess cannot depart the house, for any reason, until one hour after the last guest has left, been expelled, or vanished. (Check corners, crawl spaces, and under the dinner table before lights-out.)

Happy Thanksgiving!!*

*"Happy Thanksgiving!!" is meant only as an encouraging phrase and will not be necessarily insure a result like on depicted in the Norman Rockwell painting.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Warhol in November

At the Warhol Museum, I was allowed to photograph this, the outside of the souvenir shoppe. This and this were surreptitiously taken or my finger just happened to cross over the shoot button of the camera. Oops! In addition to selections of Mr. Warhol's artwork, there was a small exhibition of some Warhol-like as well as an exhibition of Australian artists that were influenced by Mr. Warhol. Titled "Andy & Oz", the exhibit includes artwork by Richard Larter, Martin Sharp, Tim Horn, Tracey Moffat, Robert Rooney, and, my favorite, Fiona Hall. Her Paradisus terrestris series is based off of sardine cans as the raw material, polished off to a high gloss, with the can serving both as "serving" piece and actual sculpture as she has peeled away the can into plants, trees, hands, hearts. The pieces are exquisitely small with intricate detail work. The key is left in place, just so you don't forget from whence this art came from.

The show's at the Warhol Museum until December 30th.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

T-Day, minus 96 Hours

Here's a group letter that went out warning Thursday's attendees of the fragility of the day.

Dear ......,
As I seem to be the stand-in for the Master of Space & Time, I'll provide the following info as regards the events of the day for Thursday, Novenber the 22nd.

6:00 am until 12:01 pm: Much mayhem, activity, gnashing of teeth, mashing of potatoes, de-brining of Bird, and coaxing of bread all thrown in with last minute recriminations of menu choices, unpredictable and uncontrollable weather conditions, and general immature repartee as regards control of limited kitchen space by outsized personality types.

12:02 pm until 3:30 pm. : General calming of nerves and the emergence of social niceties will abound as fam & friends come to share the food and bare the truths of social gatherings. This would be the Window of Arrival for all company. Arrive early in the time span and you'll witness apparitions of a meal and mayhem of food prep. Arrive late in the temporal opening and you'll spy rosaries being fingered and candles being lit. I leave it up to you as to what you'd want to see. Your effervescent personality and calming tone is most welcome at any time, (insert guest name here)!

3:30 pm until 4:00 pm. : De-construction of Bird begins, depending on controllable oven temperature conditions. Worry-sweat rivulets start etching Grand Canyon-esque patterns in facial facade as "Is everything hot?" panic rises in cook. Be careful! He'll be sticking thermometers into anything not moving, so stay clear or he may stick you in the oven to finish the process. Food-poisoning release notices will be handed out at this time; next-door neighbour is a registered notary and she'll be providing seal and signature for a slice of the pecan pie.

4:00 pm until gout sets in. : Feasting, merriment, promises of fasting the next day, more feasting. The pies come out of the kitchen to the dining area. Sleeping is allowed wherever a guest finds comfort and a pillow to doze off. Hot compresses will be provided to all who request them.

Speaking of which. Tentatively:

1) Corn soup concoction with reduced red pepper sauce.
2) The Bird. Couldn't just get breast this year. Sorry, folks! We'll have to deal with dark meat and drums. It'll be a 12-14 from an Amish farm in Lancaster, complete with beard and straw hat
3) Mushrooms Berkley, that witch's brew of dark and boiling mystery.
4) Mashed Potatoes - Plain
5) Mashed Potatoes - Garlic
6) Some kind of Stuffing. Haven't finalized this as I hadn't planned on it until #2 happened.
7) Fried Chicken. Hey! The daughter's home and whatever she wants, she'll be getting.
8) The Ever-Loving Wife's delectably tart and fiery red cranberry homemade sauce.
9) The ELW's homemade bread, of which, IMHO, there is never enough loaves of.
10) Pecan Pie (done the egg custard, not the Karo Syrup, way)
11) The daughter's homemade Pumpkin Pie.
12) Double Vanilla ice cream to deposit on #11 & #12.

Wines of various colors and countries of origin. We'll start out, of course, with a stampulj of palette clearing homemade rakija. I'm sure there'll be a salad tucked in there somewhere for token nutritional purposes. A notice that there will be no one asking you if you want some personally ground black pepper. It'll be a DIY type of seasoning thing. But be carefully how you season! The cook will be personally insulted if you do anything more than a simple shake. Remember! He is armed with thermometers and is inclined to be using them.

Things will end with sherry, 12 Yr single malt, or port, if Remembrances of Things Past need some oiling.

Hope this helps,


As is usual, thoughts of the great gatherings in the past are fueling the worries of the gatherings to be. Good worries, though! This crowd is, if anything, forgiving of the foibles of humans and holidays and quite interested in garnering memorable stories, regardless of the levels of embarrassment. And aren't memories the most pleasurable gifts; so portable and so easy to roll out.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Holiday Customs

Along with the usual things happening around the holidays such as massive food obtention, course preparation guaranteed to test the load stress on the strongest zippers, various decorations intended to spur cheer and memories in our household it has become customary to wield a roller, pan, and angled brush come any/all holidays.

Well, holidays specifically in the colder months so that we are forced to open up windows, turn off the heat, and engage cross-fannage ( a technical term/practice used by most professional painters ) to hurry along the drying phase of paint. If it's a complicated scenario, all the better. What would a stressless holiday feel like? Inhuman, I believe.

So, this is what I've been doing most of the last 2 days as evidenced by the short postings. Men, if you hear the word "effect" or "glazing" or "faux", fake hearing loss and quickly scuttle away like a crab waving one arm in front of your face as protection from any possible comprehension. I've been in the process of a two-glaze faux effect paint job in one of our rooms. These glazes are incapable of drying. A full 24 hours and the paint is still moist! We may have to give folks lab coats on Thursday to protect their clothing.

Luckily, there is barely any paint smell.
Just wetness. Swampy thick wetness. I don't think this was the effect we were after.

Can't wait to hear the announcement of which room gets a brushing this Christmas. I may just use magic markers.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Identity Crisis, of the Self-Invented Sort

Not so much in search of topics as in Search of Self, I've decided to channel the inner Croatian and see how he communicates in his alleged mother tongue. If my relatives are any judge of my communicating methodology, laughs are sure to be provided by the possessors of basic Croatian when they try to read my entries.
My purpose, aside from providing unintended giggles to the Hrvati? Practice makes perfect, or in my case, ameliorates an embarrassing situation. So, this blog, My Hrvatski Really Stinks, is now open on the major Croatian blog site, the teeny tiny country's version of Blogger. We shall see how this goes. If nothing else, I'm sure my posting there, if they do attract flies to my 3 day fish entries, will produce fine examples of the Croatian Art of Cursing.

The blog site will be improved/changed as time goes on. I've blown the dust off of my Croatian-English/English-Croatian dictionaries, so the words used there will be accurate. However, for those hoping to learn anything from that site, I say, 'Speak not as I write". My grammar is, well, primitive. There are more than enough conjugations in the language to have 2 or 3 languages, so my "take" on them is haphazard, at best.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Different Take on Reviews

(Too) quickly making my way through the second selection of Nick Hornby's columns from The Believer. His first selection, published as The Polysyllabic Spree, came out in late 2004. The collection received and deserved critical praise. For most readers, his approach was unique and honest. First, he listed books that he purchased, occasionally describing the indirect way he came upon their ownership. Next, he lists the books he is reviewing/discussing. Sometimes, there is a commonality of books on each list. Sometimes, not. Having a collection of his Believer columns all together makes it easy for a reader to page backwards to see when a book he's reviewed in one selection was actually purchased. It's interesting to simply look at the lists. One month he read Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead", Walter Mosley's "Little Scarlet", and Jeremy Lewis' "Penguin Special". Mr. Hornby, as is his manner, puts himself down as just a regular guy reading books and writing 'em up. In the intro to Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, on page 25 to be specific, he notes:
"The truest and wisest words ever written about reviewing were spoken by Sarah Vowell in her book Take the Cannoli. Asked by a magazine to review a Tom Waits album, she concludes that she "quite likes the ballads," and writes that down; now all she needs is another wight-hundred-odd words restating this one blinding aperçu." While he may believe this statement to be true, Mr. Hornby can't help himself. He may say that he "quite likes the book", but he easily goes on and writes an additional 2-3 pages about one of the books he's read and ties in, quite cleverly, the other books he has listed in each column entry. While he has written five novels, all of which I strongly recommend, it is his collection of short pieces, 31 songs, Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt that I've enjoyed the most. Short intense bursts of his writing are boosts for the day; little insights, like Greek worry beads, to roll around in your mind while slogging through the drudgery of the day. 31 Songs is basically an essential for anyone who too deeply loves a song; it quenches the overly intense soul and calms one's self-doubts about loving music, specifically R & R, too much.

In the current version of The Believer, Mr. Hornby

The Pigman—Paul Zindel
The Bethlehem Murders—Matt Rees
The Dud Avocado—Elaine Dundy
Singled Out—Virginia Nicholson

Holes—Louis Sachar
The Fall-Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence—Andrew Anthony
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country—Ken Kalfus
Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin —Lawrence Weschler (unfinished)
Bridge of Sighs—Richard Russo (unfinished)

Damn him! I've read or am planning to read quite a few of these books. What's he got to say about them? I....must....find...out. Only problem is when you go to the site, there's a teaser of 4 paragraphs followed by a SUBSCRIBE button. The annual subscription is $45. Not too bad...but... Checked the local library and their reply was (I kid you not), "We don't subscribe to any religious magazines due to their innate controversial potential." "innate controversial potential"??? What low level civil service plunker comes up with this stuff? Perhaps a subscription from a family member still caring about my mental state for the holidays would be a pointed suggestion here?

A tip of the hat to Whisky Prajer for saying, "Yes, go ahead. It's just as good as Spree."

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Sulk of the Spinkster

Reading to my kids, especially when they were still in awe of the mighty deeds and abilities of their parents, was a very enjoyable pastime. Aside from having the kids curl up in one's arms with the freshness of a bath and the heat generated by the furnaces their compact bodies providing warmth for all three of us as we endured the cold of Brave Irene's world, the reading experience opened up new vistas and new authors to Dad, the reader. (n.b.: This last sentence is in the Word Shoppe undergoing extensive bodywork and replacement of hanging/clinging phrases and draining of the verborrhea. It will shortly be replaced with a snappy and energetic sentence or sentences. Even C. Dickens rolled in his grave when he took a gander at that pile of words. Thanks for your patience.)

Among the children's books authors that I particularly latched onto then and still read to myself now are William Steig, Arnold Lobel, and Russell Hoban.

What brought up this topic? Well, the Jewish Museum in NYC is holding an exhibition of William Steig's work from November 4th through March 16, 2008. For those not able to make it to the Big City for the exhibit this book seems to be an excellent 2nd place prize. Go here and click on Meryl Streep reading my favorite of all his books, Spinky Sulks.
"You were positively right, Spinky. Philadelphia is the capital of Belgium." Yeah!
Perfect match of image and word.
"What a family! First, they ruin his life. Then, they expect him to watch a parade."

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


As I think of picking up one's kids from college, I'm spacing back to my own college days back in the last century. Admitting here that most acts and thoughts, even ones involving giving of one's self or one's possessions, are self-referential, I've been reminiscing of days of yore when I had plenty of occasions to stick out the thumb and pray for the mobile samaritan. Trips from college back home to the land of good (and free) eats were taken many different ways. Train, bus, hitchhiking, bulletin board group drives, or pickup by my father. Planes were out of the question as airfares were more expensive than the other alternatives and I tended to carry back crates of stuff back and forth. An embarrassing amount of stuff. I enjoyed most of my trips there and back, but the most memorable ones, the good, the bad, and the truly ugly, were ones when sticking the thumb up landed me in vehicles filled with characters. I try to tell my kids these stories but I usually get a quizzical look.
"Tata?", they ask," Don't you always tell us to never hitchhike and to never pick up a hitchhiker?"
"Yes....", I reply in shame and gloom.
As I drive to the holiday rendezvous with the kids, now there and soon back, I can't help but notice that a lot of other parents have been force-feeding this NO! to hitchhiking warning to their kids. You just don't see 15-25 year olds hitching any more. I understand, really; I mean I have no regrets in hammering this point in to my kids. But it's a change in transportation behaviour that's regrettable. I still remember certain rides and drivers with a smile and a sigh. Just some solo driver looking for a traveling companion to talk to while racing through the lonely miles ahead.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Pre-Thanksgiving Music

I'll have at least two more shows at WVUD before December 31st rolls around and puts the closer on this year. One is slotted for this coming Sunday, the 18th. It's an odd November this year what with Thanksgiving coming so early in the month. One of our family traditions is to break out Christmas related music and movies only after the Thanksgiving meal has been finished. When dealing with the expanse of pots,pans, porcelain and glass ware, and the Gordian Knot riddle of how to pack up the Food Remains of the Day, it's always relaxing to play some of favorite Christmas tunes. But this year, it just doesn't seem right.
The Canadian Thanksgiving, the second Monday in October always seemed to me the more logical time of year for celebration of Harvest. I mean, who the heck is harvesting in November in the States? And what is it with the 4th Thursday or the 3rd Monday or the 2nd Monday in Canada? It's a bit like Easter, which wanders from March to April and back again. I remember, painfully, the questions I posed to nuns in successive grade of grammar school (I was a slow learner) inquiring as to why the rising of the Lord happened on different Fridays each year. A light swish of the switch along with a nunnism such as "Bold as brass and twice as brazen" was the annual response to my annual inquiry. Adults holding to their sanity by mumbling in rote was my experience as a school kid. The same behaviour applied to inquiries of the moveable feast of Thanksgiving. As a kid, you needed definity. December 25th. July 4th. Your birthday (except, of course, if you were cursedly born on Feb 29th; your life of frustration and delayed celebration was set early into motion). This moving holiday or Holy Day gave no concreteness to the happening. Kids frustrated with this non-definity grew up and became TV programmers reaking their revenge on the rest of us by continually moving your favorite tv shows around, week in week out. Sister Mary Aloyisous Ignatious!?? I smote thee with my own switch!

But back on topic.
Anyone out there with musical suggestions for the Sunday before Thanksgiving? No Christmas music, for sure. Definitely Mr. Wainwright's Thanksgiving. Loudon's always good for a sardonic chuckle.
And, yes, I will be playing some of that "Jesus" stuff, regardless of the personal punishment I may endure.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pittsburgh in November

It was getting dark on Sunday morning when we did the non-touristy thing, namely drive to the top of the Duquesne Incline and go down and then up. $1.75 each direction for a 3-4 minute ride. Exact change only!!! And that exactness is stuffed into a metal tube, not handed over to the attendant who is instructing you how to pay. He is inside a considerably thick glass and wood box where he pears at you through the green painted wiring surrounding the permanently closed glass windows. One begins to feel that there are gases from some ancient coal mine seeping into the Incline waiting area lulling you into a carbon monoxided sleep. When you get to the waiting station on top of ???, there are pictures and postcards sent to the Duquesne Incline (yes, that's how the postcards are addressed: Duquesne Incline, not to a person c/o Duquesne Incline. It's the Little Engine that Could come to life. The postcards all are pictures of funicular or other transverse railway. Listed as the #2 postcard is one from Zagreb, Croatia. Both the funicular railway and the two stations, one at the top of the hill and one at the bottom, are maintained in a manner to preserve a certain age, I'd say early 1900's. It's not cutesy; it's still grimy so no Disneyfication has taken place. Even the folks working there have a hard physicality about them; this mode of transportation is for daily use and not some amusement park ride. The dark wood of the inside of the funicular cars are polished and aged. Clean and battered. The ride is not smooth nor quiet; the car bangs a bit from side to side and yet is eerily quiet as it ascends or descends from one station house to the next. The views open up as the car climbs up, regardless of the weather conditions. If anything, I'd want the ride to slow down significantly. But that's missing the point. The funicular transports residents from the top of the hill to their jobs at the bottom and across the river. It's not some ride to nowhere.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ice Flows

"It's the little sins that give your soul away.
Will the darkest hour write a blank check on your soul?"
- One Good Year by Slaid Cleaves

Self-searching can take a nasty turn or an illustrative one depending on your mind bend at the time. I recently saw the 2005 movie L'Iceberg on a Netflix rental recently, where illustration, in its many interpretations, was the direction taken.

On an excuse of a sailboat dubbed Le Titanique, the somewhat confused Fiona (played by Fiona Gordon) along with the reticent (to the point of dumbness)sailor and owner of the charmed boat, René (played by Philippe Martz) and the stowaway/Fiona's husband, Julien (played by Dominique Abel) set sail for points known to be besotted with icebergs. How they get to this stage of their lives is not worth revealling; just your usual suburbia unhinging, only done from a Belgian perspective. The movie is slow in unwinding, something like watching a performance piece wondering what the point's about but enjoying the images along the way. Remember back in high school being shoved out the front door on a blind date with a person in possession of a "great personality"? Ever wonder what happened to these "great personality" folks? Well, they all seem to have congregated as the cast of this movie. I'm serious about the implications of that phrase. There are characters out the wazoo in this film. If you're not attracted by the story, then come to see the cast. One would think that in a film's cast numbering in the 20's, there would be at least one attractive looking person. But, true to "great personality", there are none. I'm not sure if this says something about Belgium or the directors' choices. The film, while holding together in most spots, seems more of a series of vignettes. I promise you'll be rewinding to catch certain scenes over again (Facial stretching to the point of Munch scene, "Don't Jump scene, various seaside shop scenes). What the story does is demonstrate that water to ice and ice to water is simply a matter of latitude. All ends happily without saccharine poisoning resulting.

The directors Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel (also principal stars) of the movie are also active actors in the movie, relying more on the physical than the verbal. Both of them collaborated in writing L'Iceberg with Bruno Romy.
The movie is low on schmaltz, short on dialogue (which may appeal to those folks who want to watch a foreign film but can't stand reading the subtitles), high on inventiveness and minimal stagings, and packed with images that wll stick with you. Highly recommended for the patiently curious. I'd recommend this for family viewing as well except there is some frontal nudity all done within the plot and with no sexual connotations at all. In fact, these scenes are both endearing and funny.

(An Aside: What's this about? When you do a Google search for the Images category for the phrase "Great Personality", why are the majority of images either horses or dogs? Just wonderin')

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Too Much Jesus

A couple of weeks ago I was completing one of my year’s scheduled d.j. shift at WVUD. A Sunday morning. A gorgeous and exuberant early Fall day. Blinding sunlight coming off of the hanging-on-for-dear-life yellowed leafs still on the trees. U of D is a gorgeous campus but especially so in the interim period of Summer-Fall. All seemed well on that day.

The music I played tended to the same mix of jazz, blues, and R & R. Nothing out of the ordinary was in the style mix, except for the artists filling the play list that morning. I tend to start out the show at 9:00 am with a jazz set or two, usually tending toward various musicians’ cover versions of old spirituals or languorous meanderings of Broadway show tunes, specifically ones in the down low. That morning’s set list began with Dick Wellstood's rendition of Caravan and also included Art Blakey's version of the Ellington/Tizol composition. Even though the university’s radio station is located in the deep bowels of one of the student centers, the effect of the weather that morning still carried through. It was a mellow morning deserving of mellow pensive melodies.

Most times that I do the show, phone calls to the station are of the inquiry type.
"What was the name of that tune you played at 10:00?"
"Was that Diane Washington singing that sassy song?"
"Hey, do you know what yesterday’s U of D football game was?"

Occasionally, there are compliments voiced on the musical jag taken that morning. Sometimes there is reminiscing by a caller who heard a song played that they hadn’t heard on the airwaves in decades, the down-memory-lane services we provide on the all-volunteer all-the-time radio station.

Rarely does anyone call in with complaints because it seems getting one's bile up on Sunday is just not on most folks' Things to Do list. I always figured that Sunday morning, regardless of the weather, is a sit and read and sip coffee type of day for most of the station’s listeners. Girding for the beginning of the week, a last respite before the endless Hear Ye! Hear ye! of tasks unfolds. So, it was with surprise and a total lack of words on my part that I fielded a call that morning that began with the exclamative "What the hell? Is this a religious program? I could turn to Elkton’s (Maryland) stations for that?"

Now, stretching that "religious" adjective to its breaking point, I could understand how he may have thought I’d gone into a conversion mode. The only problem was that the song that finally got on his last God-aversive nerve was Jesus Shaves from the new Roches album, Moonswept.
"What is it with all this Jesus crap?", he protested. (n.b.: this conversation is not invented)
"Jesus crap?". Hmmm, what was he referring to?
"Do you mean that last song, "Jesus Shaves"?", this inquiring mind wanting to know, uhmm, inquired.
"Yeah, that was the capper. "Jesus Saves"!", he self-satisfyingly stated.
"No, that’s "Shaves", not "Saves". Did you listen to the words? It’s about a guy trying to get his life going and…”, I said, adding information to a field in need of some seeding.
"Not "Jesus Saves"?!!?? Well, how about those other ones? They sounded awfully religious.", he blurted, in a voice that was both ticked off and weakening due to facts being presented..
"Do you mean that previous song? The one by Loudon Wainwright III about the South?", I asked..
"Yeah, that’s the one! That’s the one that got me started!", he exclaimed, reinvigorated by the malice of notes.
"But, you know Loudon, right? I mean, in the Gods of Music categories, he’s the God of Sarcasm, the loveable bastard of relationship exposition. That song’s not about religion, it’s about……", I posited.
Silence on the other end and then loud tapping of fingers on a hard surface. Ba ra bum. Ba ra bum. Ba ra bum.

"Look", he came around to, "All I know is what my ears are telling me and what they told me was that you’re playing religious music. What if I was Jewish? I wouldn’t like to hear this Christian stuff if I was Jewish!". So said the non-Jewish what-if-I-was-a-Jew caller.

What could one say? I was lost. He was going down a nasty road throwing whatever rocks he came up along his way because his destination was getting ever blurrier. I grabbed for the playlist and started listing off the songs I'd already played, asking if they constituted some framework for a religious takeover of the Sunday morning show.

"Well, I heard only those two songs. I hadn't been listening to the station but for only 15 minutes. It just seemed too religious…"

I will admit that I have more than a passing love for most albums by The Campbell Brothers, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Aretha Franklin’s spirituals, and even Gregorian chants cd's and, once-twice a year, a shot of Handel’s Messiah. But to say I play religious music would be seriously misunderstanding what music is all about. For a moment there, I started empathizing with those folks who play the heavy metal that drives people off the deep edge (tongue in cheek here, folks). I wrapped an obtuse apology around a harangue on possibly seeking guidance from someone better equipped to handle his anger, say a minister, rabbi, priest, or psychologist and quietly hung up the phone. I then checked and double-checked that the door to the station was securely locked.

This was all a bit too much, jeeeeeeeez!

Oh, and as far as future shows, yeah, I'll still be playing that Jesus, uhmm, stuff. Whatever the inspiration for that music is, the music is fabulous.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bhangra in the 'Burgh November, 2007

Bhangra? It's something like this.

Rutgers University Bhangra Dance Group

I emphasized the something because nothing short of seeing a live performance of a bhangra competition does it justice. It is a monstrously loud event even when dancers aren;t on stage. In a proper venue, as Bhangra in the 'Burgh was held at, the full dynamics of what these events are like can be appreciated. In the Soldiers & Sailors Museum & Memorial, a great-looking and well-maintained hall located within sight of the Cathedral of Learning and Pitt U., there is a wraparound balcony 15 rows deep hanging on both sides and rear of the building. While the audience sat on the first floor, all of the bhangra dance groups sat upstairs staring at the opposition on the other side of the balcony or sometimes just a few rows down. There was much baiting and razzing happening between the groups and their highly vocal and highly mobile supporters. Sometimes, if everyone in the balcony were moving, the only way you could tell a supporter from a dancer was that the latter had a costume. And what costumes (sorry no pictures by yours truly, only links)! The layout of the costumes made dressing up a long state of affairs. Variance between groups was extreme, although all of the participants followed the basics of the costume. The dancers all wore their turlas like fans spread from ear to ear, while the musicians (usually a drummer) wore his on one side of his head, front to back.

The Rutgers Bhangra Dance Group (but Guys only were performing this time around) ended up winning the competition and justifiably so. They were the only group to have live musicians (2 instrumentalists and 2 highly energized singers) play the music the dancers performed to. All of the other groups, while quite capable, danced to pre-recorded music which sometimes resulted in humorous lip-synching. I know I missed a lot of the subtleties. Bhangra struck me a lot like ballroom dancing or folk dancing. There's a basic formula to the choreography and there are certain movements and body posture one must carry through the 7-8 minute performance. How the three judges came up with scores was a mystery to most of us in the audience as no rules or standards were announced as part of the proceedings.

What required no explanation was the immediate level of energy that was attained once each of the 10 groups hit the stage for their performance. Each entrance was preceded by a amateurish, cheesy, video of the group and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible. It was great seeing the wavery filming, the loud-then-soft music introducing each member, and then the abrupt ending of the video followed by a tense 10-15 second darkened stage that abruptly exploded into light, sound, movement, and intense smiling. The supporters of each group stood as they performed, dancing and singing in unison with the folks on stage. Sometimes it was difficult keeping your eyes forward because the compadres in the side balconies were putting on a performance as well. And when audience members on the main floor got into the act, it was obvious how infectious the music and dancing of bhangra can be.

IMHO, however, bhangra can only be experienced live. TV/Videos, no matter the size of the screen, can carry all of the sights and sounds of the happening. It is like a revival of sorts, of the casting out of bad spirits or feelings. Confining this explosion within the structure of the movements serves to provide a common thrust for the dancers and for the audience. One looks up toward the ceiling and detects bad mojo floating away. You look around and everyone is smiling and shouting in tongues. Ah yes, the type of exhaustion that only comes with the expunging of ills.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Look....and....Look Again

Just pointing out two things. No, this isn't one of the daily postings I'm requiring myself to do in November. That would be lame and it's way too early in November to be reosrting to lameness.

Pointing out #1:
You've all heard/read/dreaded the anme Scott Boras. The New Yorker piece, NYT, blah, blah. Well, here quite succintly, Tim Souers at Cubby Blue, has illustrated for us a simple way of remembering Mr. Boras.

Pointing out #2: A YouTubization of the way past clever Jessica Hagy at Indexed.



In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was announced that the Chihuly exhibit at the Phipps Conservatory has been extended through February 24, 2008. Mr. Chihuly has had his problems recently, mainly stemming from his popularity. Is he now as mainstream and as open to ridicule as Thomas Kinkade is? Is it time for parody of Mr. Chihuly as it has been for a while with Mr. Kinkade?

From this article, "While some of Chihuly's work is undeniably gorgeous (especially when presented in expertly lit photographs), his detractors call it mere decoration that attracts the eyes without engaging the mind.

Chihuly's work is as vacuous as it is popular, they say, comparable to the work of another successful Seattleite, Kenny G. "It's craft, not art," is a common refrain.

"It's bullshit art," says Art Garcia, a Seattle painter. "If you've seen one you've seen 'em all.

Sour grapes? Not for this observer of art to say. Was the exhibit repetitive at the Phipps? Yes, at times it was. For me, at least, the setting made the art and the art made the setting. I've seen Mr. Chihuly's work at some art museums and found them, after a while, boring. However, in the horticultural setting of the Phipps, the work looked stunning and both natural and unnatural, depending on the placement of the glass pieces. I certainly would not go as far as to compare Mr. Chihuly with Mr. G., Kenny. That is too cruel, even for an Eastern Seaboard ex-New Jerseyite.

(Thanks to That One Blog for the "Kinkade" picture)

I'd blogged about a visit there back in September. Here's a Flickr set of photos from the exhibit.

Find any excuse to get to Pittsburgh to enjoy the city and catch the Phipps/Chihuly exhibit. You may end up coming home and re-arranging all those different colored beer bottles strewn in your backyard to a Thomas Kinkade version of a Chihuly garden.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007



We've been to Lidia's in Pittsburgh a few times, usually for their excellent and reasonably priced (now $22) Sunday brunch. Lidia Bastianich, PBS Cooking show host and owner of multiple restaurants in NYC, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh comes from, as some of you already know, from a part of the world that has been run over, ruled, conquered, re-ruled multiple times. She was born in the port city of Pula in Istria, which is now part of Croatia. She describes herself as Italian-American, even though Italian and Croatian were spoken in the area she was born and raised in.

I am hurt that she minimizes her Croatian side but all is forgiven when one tastes her food. The $22 per person brunch is one of the cheapest thrills one can experience. The 3 courses, antipasti, choice of 7-9 entrees, and a dessert menu along with home-made breads, coffee, a mimosa or Bloody Mary leaves one ready for a nice long nap in the warmth of the sunny riverside nearby.
The entrees change each time although the Three Pasta choice is always available. The Three Pastas, unlike the Three Tenors, is an experience worth repeating with each visit. Three different pasta-based dishes are served to you, with unlimited servings (One of each is more than enough for the sane human). The three pasta offerings are alternated every weekend. We've yet to go there and see a repeat choice. I've had the three pasta entree twice and it is to die for. Homemade pasta and gnocchi, coated with sauces of sauteed duck, or rabbit, or beef, or cheese, or Putanesca sauce, or....well, you get the idea.

I held out this time around because the winter menu was in place, which meant..
Sarma. Barbarians call this dish stuffed cabbage. Sarma is to stuffed cabbage as filet mignon is to frozen hamburger. It is one of those simple dishes that take forever to prepare, if one is conscientious of the sanctity of sour cabbage and its need for time. In the highly competent hands of the chefs at Lidia's, the sarma, with a side-dish of garlic mash potatoes, was a palette pleaser of long-term taste memories. The sweetness of the meats (Pork, lamb, Beef), the juicy sourness of the cabbage, the bite of the garlic potatoes all combined on a tremulously clamped fork as it slowly traveled into my sense and memory-ridden mouth. It was like swallowing a bit of Croatia with each bite. The sarma transcended mere food, a soul meal if there ever was one.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Where are the Pix?

Taking a posting muligan here.

Three Rivers, Duquesne Incline, and a personal touch will be coming your way as soon as the items get loaded onto Flickr. Like, tomorrow.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fly, Iggles, Fly on the road to...

Just arrived late Sunday night from another great trip to Allegheny County and Pittsburgh. Lots of topics to blog about shortly, another visit to the Warhol Museum, my favorite museum to build up one's bile, the First Bhangra in the Burgh, the Duquesne Incline, and some great little eateries.

But for tonight, some sad news for most Philly sports fans.
The Igglez are going down tonight in a big way. 21-7 at halftime? QB McNabb playing like a rookie? Terrell Owens just scoring in the first minutes of the second half on a 45 TD pass to make it 28-7? It will be a long and brutal night....

...and a joyfully miserable mourning tomorrow on Philly sports talk radio. Misery is not woven into a better-fitting garment of malaise than in the city of Brotherly Love.
And that's why I love the Igglez. There is no team in Philly that causes as much heartburn, heartbreak, and (I'm sure but w/o stats on this one) heart attack as the Birds. They are going through the beginning of the worst of times, a temporal period that tends to span decades in the City by the 'Ware.
Philly fans use the baseball, hockey, and basketball seasons to tune up or keep their lungs healthy and capable of expelling choice verbiage at ear-deafening volumes. The ever-loving wife, on a trip North recently, had the good fortune to be sitting across from a dapper ex-Long Islander now living in Philly. A long time and current fan of the other NY baseball team, he shook his head as he explained his view of the Philly fan.
"You know, it's not that the Philly fan wants your team to lose. That would be understandable. What the Philly fan wants you to know is that not only will your team lose but that your team sucks. In fact," he twisted his tie off and continued, "the Philly fan wants to be sure that you know that you, as a human being, also suck."

He looked up at my wife, shaking his head," I've been here (in Philadelphia) for 15 years and I still don't understand the vitriol." (note here: My wife, not an Igglez fan, understood that last word; I won't vouch the same for your avg Igglez fan).

It's now 35-10, the 'Boys. While I too can't stand the Dallas team, this (soon-to-be) embarrassing defeat will mean a lot of crocheting of the misery afghans. If you are one who is interested in public displays of pain for all of the wrong and inane reasons, life is good.

Later, but not too later, da Boys are up 38-10. I would strongly suggest that if you own a Cowboys baseball cap not to wear it tomorrow, unless the check for your life insurance premium has been cashed.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

NYC - A Limited Tour (Part 2)

Heading south and then east from the Cloisters, we stopped over at Columbia University. Jasna wanted to see a real, as she spoke it, "Campooos" (rhymes with "moose"). Her studies had been in the Land of Croats, where university connoted a glom of non-descriptive buildings and inadequate, if any, landscaping. Not having been on Columbia's "campooos" in a long time, I was a bit nervous that disappointment would greet us at the gates (Nice sets of photos from this site of Columbia U. and NYC). It was all she had asked for. Urban setting, beautiful grounds, imposing buildings, vast array of nationalities and intensities walking around with purpose, and all this despite the hard rain that opened up on us. We passed by the Popin Physics Laboratory, unaware on that day of its past importance. I wonder now if Mr. Ahmadinejad was given a tour of that particular building when he was on campus a short while ago; funny enough to cry.
The showers let up as we drove further south and east on the island to the United Nations building. Do you want to get depressed about the state of the world today? Easy enough. Simply go to 1st Avenue between 42nd and 48th streets. You'll see a building of world importance in a state of misery. Allegedly, massive renovations are in store. Shortly. But right now? Well, maybe it was the gray day, but in this visitor's opinion, the entire UN "Campoos" reminded me of old Stalinist architecture/landscaping. It wasn't like this 20-30 years ago. There was an energy to the place, a positive vibe that made world problem solving a possibility (Yeah, yeah, let's all break out in "Kumbaya"). Now though, police and construction yellow tape all around. Trees in need of pruning, grass in need of cutting (and color), safety and security entrance facilities in need of a new non-Stalag look, and cleaning crews on the inside in need of hiring. There's a feel of walking in the huge foyer as if one is in a dying Howard Johnson's, the colors and the verve leaching through the leaky window panes.

After the driving, the walking, the viewing we ended up eating at this fine place, close to the UN. No preplanning on our parts; simply noting the Zagat sticker and perusing the menu posted outside. Our first choice, Saju, unfortunately did not open until past 6:00 PM and we were too famished to wait another 2 hours.

Fabio, as in the Fabio of Fabio Piccolo Fiore, is the chef and owner (partial owner as it turns out). An appealing gentleman of Sicilian descent who came to the States from Rome 15 years ago to make his mark, he stands a solid 6 ft. of smile, charm, and quick tongue. How much truth lay unsifted in the wordy mound he shoveled our way is not important. His performance was a short stage show he threw in along with the excellent meals he served up. Fabio's need for a promotional firm to represent him was obviously nil. Why pay out money for a natural talent he could display as a solo act?
Things were a little slow with customer traffic as it barely 5 PM, so Mr. Fabio felt customer relations were in need of coddling. Having three women at a table and only one guy looked like good odds to him as well. However, I can safely say that not even free desserts brought by the chef himself were enough to convince the women of his innocent intentions.

The early evening ended with my cousin and her daughter heading off to a Broadway show and us wasting a good 45 minutes trying to get out of the city through the Holland Tunnel. Well, all can't be pleasure when visiting the Big City especially if you're planning on leaving with money still in your pocket.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

"I Got a Lot to Say!"

sings Bettye LaVette in a song she co-composed, "Before the Money Came". She revisits Muscle Shoals in this early 2007 release, Scene of the Crime, co-produced by David Barbe, Patterson Hood, and Ms. LaVette. Any name ring a bell? That's right Drive By Truckers fans (and, yes, Whisky Prajer, I have seen, well actually, heard the light and I count myself among those fans), it's produced by Mr. Hood from the DBT. Turns out his dad is David Hood of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Full circles all around.

Bettye LaVette's collaboration with the Drive By Truckers is a gem, possibly my favorite recording issued this year. Opening up with Eddie Hinton's "I Still Want to be Your Baby (Take Me Like I Am)", she belts out:
"I've been this way too long to change now.
You're going to have to take me like I am,
but you know I'm still your baby.

She follows that with "Choices", wherein,
"I've had choices since the day I was born.
There were voices that told me right form wrong.
If I only listened, I wouldn't be here today
living with the choices I made.

The divine Ms. LaVette takes on Frankie Miller's "Jealousy" and Elton Johns' "Talking Old Soldiers" and does the same thing to them that she did in her 2005 Anti Records album, I've Got my Own Hell to Raise. She makes the songs her own.

Her two recent albums strike me the same way as when Charles Walker released Number by Heart back in 2003. Like Walker, Ms. LaVette was recording back in the late '50's and early '60's and then slipped away. In "Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)", a song on The Scene of the Crime, she goes through the history of her rise, fall, and return. The lost years only improved the bite. Her renditions of the songs are are brittle emotional outpourings, with the weight of the lost 40 or so years riding heavy with the might-have-beens. I thought I've heard these songs before, but Ms. LaVette demonstrates otherwise. Her stylings bear repeating. The Drive By Truckers provide an excellent background for her vocal escapades. They're out front in spots of some songs but generally they sit back and provide the strong base for her exposition.
As with other Anti cd's, such as Joe Henry's Civilians, Galactic's From the Corner to the Block, Rogue's Gallery compilation, DeVotchKa's How It Ends, and Mavis Staples' We'll Never Turn Back, the production and crystal clear recording is excellent. One would be tempted to buy an Anti CD without having heard it before strictly based on the care and expertise they take with their artists.

If you haven't heard Bettye LaVette's recent recordings, I strongly encourage a purchase of either one. If you're a Drive By Trucker fan, The Scene of the Crime will be an ear-opener. I hope this collaboration was not the last.

Addendum: Philly Inq's Nick Cristiano reviews Bettye LaVette and pronounces that the "never-say-die soul diva is back with another jewel in The Scene of the Crime".

So, what are you waiting for? Time to use those coupons!

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