3 May 2013
Every adjective used to describe retail employees in the Times’ most recent foray into Brooklyn:
“scruffy, ponytailed [...] sweet-tempered”
“affable, heavily tattooed”
“sweet, languourous, British”
Hipsters—who I don’t, for the record, believe actually exist—can be distinguished by: hair; synonym for “nonthreatening”.
13 February 2013
“And in order to be relaxed at the easel, I drank a Newcastle. Also a coffee, so that I’d be sharp. And still I wasn’t sufficiently relaxed, so I drank some Yukon Gold that I found in the liquor cabinet. No, not Yukon Gold, that’s a potato. Yukon Jack, a kind of Canadian liquor. It was delicious. It added a slight Gaussian blur. And then some more coffee, so I’d still be sharp. Blurred, smeared, but sharp.” — The Anthologist
“The acquisition of a coffee habit in the seventeenth century, though certainly important—Michelet believed the French Revolution was in part traceable to its effects!—did not reduce wine drinking.” — Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
13 February 2013
26 September 2012
Yesterday, the Syrian civil war continued. Guards on Iraq’s western border were instructed to block all adult men from crossing over with the other refugees from Syria. Flash floods and landslides had largely cut off the states of Sikkim and Assan from the rest of India; more than 200,000 sheltered in 164 government relief camps. Greek police officers demonstrating against pay cuts in front of prime minister’s residence were met by a cordon of riot police wielding batons and pepper spray. In Spain, where starving citizens were lining up behind Catholic charity vans, the city of Girona installed locks on supermarket trash bins as a public health precaution, and a group of mayors and unionists raided two supermarkets, distributing the food to hungry families; at least a dozen of them faced prosecution for theft. At the equator, it is easier to balance an egg on a nail and harder to keep your balance with your eyes closed; a 100-foot-high Ecuadorean monument called “The Middle of the World” featuring a yellow line to mark the equatorial boundary was found to be 800 feet south of 0 degrees latitude.
2,105 American soldiers had died as a result of the Afghan war; the most recent was a 24-year-old infantry sergeant from Arkansas. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, acknowledging that decisions made by the Army Corps of Engineers might have left the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina and “greatly aggravated the storm’s effects on the city,” nonetheless ruled that the discretionary-function exception to the federal tort claims act “completely insulates the government from liability.” David Brooks theorized that the Republican party’s woes were the result of having lost touch with “the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching.” Frank Bruni began a column on Mitt Romney by referring to his foot: “That bloody appendage? The one riddled with holes?” The death in England from malaria of a possibly fictitious investor had threatened a Broadway staging of Rebecca; the investor was described as “a mysterious specter haunting the show—now unlike the ghost that is central to the musical’s plot.” Conservation experts in Tennessee were building an artificial cave to protect hibernating bats from white nose syndrome, a devastating, possibly European, fungal disease. President Barack Obama appeared on The View.
Tereska Torrés died at 92. Born Tereska Szwarc in Paris on 3 September 1920 to Polish Jews and educated at a Roman Catholic convent, she served in London with the women’s division of the Free French forces. She is best known for writing America’s first lesbian pulp novel, Women’s Barracks, condemned (but not banned) in 1952 by the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials. In a 2005 interview she said, “I hadn’t invented anything—that’s the way women lived during the war in London.” And: “I thought I had written a very innocent book. I thought, these Americans, they are easily shocked.”
All items above taken from the Tuesday, September 25th New York Times.
18 May 2012
Constantinople had a thousand churches and insuperable walls landward and seaward. On the main approach to the palace, only the perfume merchants were permitted their trade. — “Byzantium”
The housing bricks and paving stones, they said, could boil down into soup; the place was steeped in root, and leaf, and fruit. — Arcadia
Lemon peels crushed in the gutters of the streets scented the early mornings where he used to sing . . . — Gravity’s Rainbow
14 May 2012
Four months into a day job polishing wineglasses (rarely filling them):
Champagne smells like burnt toast; Riesling, hot tar or gasoline. A certain dry Tokaj, on the nose: orange Gatorade. Wine can smell like violet candies, menthol cigarettes, jalapeños, and nail polish remover. It can taste like fresh-cut grass, beef jerky, and licking a chalkboard.
People get weird about wine—self-deprecating jokes about how they don’t possibly know as much as you, or jockeying displays of expertise to impress their dates, or sudden strident displays of opinion. A seven-hundred-and-fifty milliliter bottle is, among other things, an agricultural product derived from grape juice; a good way to get liquored up with a friend; a luxury good, like a designer handbag; and an internationally-traded commodity, like pork bellies.
Farmers planted vines on steep, rocky slopes because the land wasn’t good for anything else; wine was the lunchtime drink of peasants. Champagne only exists because the climate wasn’t right for straight-ahead wine, so they had to fuck with the process to make something drinkable. The village council of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, convinced that their vineyards were being raided by extraterrestials, passed a law in 1954 prohibiting the “flying overhead, landing, and taking off” of flying saucers or cigares volants (flying cigars).
Malbec is overdone. Slovenia overperforms. Tannins do not get along with goat cheese. You can switch back to white after a bottle of red, why not? You feel acid at the hinge of your jaw, residual sugar on the tip of your tongue, tannins in your gums. The American oak barrels in which Rioja is traditionally aged make it smell like dill and coconut suntan lotion. A bowling-pin bottle shape called a ‘skittle’ takes its name from an English lawn game.
24 April 2012
At Bookforum, a review by Wayne Koestenbaum of Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait begins:
Parataxis is Édouard Levé’s best friend. Parataxis—also John Ashbery’s best friend—concerns the placement, side by side, of two sentences whose meanings don’t transparently connect. Parataxis, however, as concept, has leached its glories onto the landscape at large; any reader of contemporary culture is contaminated by paratactic energies, a stylistic phenomenon that Levé defends in his penultimate book, a work of unrepentantly naked yet stylistically errant autobiography, Autoportrait. He writes: “Raymond Poulidor is one of the least sexy names I know. I like salad mainly for the crunch and the vinaigrette.”
This paw-swiping gesture is nice: “any reader of contemporary culture is contaminated by paratactic energies.” Parataxis is, too, a good word for rendering the anonymous, deadpan syntactical purity of the Harper’s “Findings” section. (Of Harper’s two dominant flavors, the one I like best is not the prolix old-school progressive-polemical [Thomas Frank's "Easy Chair" columns, Rick MacArthur's distrust of the internet] but the hyper-distilled literary-bizarre ["Readings," the Weekly Review, Jim Shepard short stories]).
Last night I read this May’s delicious, oblique history of Byzantium by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi (subhead: “Their ears were uncircumcised”); a part of it is excerpted on the website. Imagine behind its paratactic compression a fanatically precise series of copyediting stress tests, a paragraph of fact-checking appended in pencil to every modifier . . . It reminds me, a little bit, of Calasso, but it’s funnier:
What were the laws and practices of the lawgivers? The Great Code of Theodosius forbade the impersonation of nuns by female mimes and the trampling of Jews by gentiles; the edicts of Leo VI permitted eunuchs to adopt; the Orthodox patriarchs anathematized the Manichaeans’ belief that all things fermented are alive.
The rulers of Byzantium were accustomed to blinding their rivals. With ornamental eye scoops, with daggers, with candelabras, kitchen knives, and tent pegs, with burning coals and boiling vinegar, with red-hot bowls held near the face and with bandages that left the eyes unharmed but were forbidden to be removed; sometimes it was sufficient merely to singe the eyelashes, for the victim to bellow and sigh like a lion as a trained executioner pantomimed the act. Sometimes cruelty was intended beyond the enucleation itself, as when the emperor Diogenes Romanus was deposed and “they permitted some unpracticed Jew to proceed in blinding the eyes” and “he lived several days in pain and exuding a bad odor.” In 797 the empress regnant Irene blinded her son Constantine VI and caused an eclipse that lasted seventeen days. Basil II blinded fifteen thousand Bulgarian soldiers, and every hundredth man he left with one eye to lead another ninety-nine, and when these men returned home to their king Samuel he looked upon them and died. Michael V blinded his uncle John the Master of Orphans. The iconoclasts blinded the eyes of the icons.
It was said that the city would fall when ships sailed by over dry land.