30 January 2015

It’s easy to make fun of the wine-critic word salad Robert Parker invented, all layers & ripeness & things leaping from glasses–easy, too, to talk about ‘Parkerized’ wines, the style of winemaking that he is said to represent. Did he do a service, when he began to write about wine for Americans stressed out over buying $40 birthday presents for their bosses in more or less the same way that Consumer Reports reviews washing machines? In a very specific, very real way: yes. And in the decades that have followed, and with all of the objections to for example the point system pretty much canon now, the wines that he got most enthusiastic over and the way he wrote about that enthusiasm have been caricatured so thoroughly that sometimes instead of attempting to parrot received wisdom it really truly is instructive to just survey & report. To put in another way: I could not write a better parody of Robert Parker’s prose, or describe the kinds of wines I’m told he liked, better than presenting his own writing with as little commentary as possible.

I came across this particular collection of text while looking for something more or less unrelated. (How a particular vintage of a modernist Barolo producer was received a decade and a half ago, if you’re curious.) So! Here are some words & phrases used by Robert Parker when he likes something. They appear, all of them, exactly as written, on a single (randomly-selected, as far as these things go) page of his 2002 Buyers Guide–and without me saying anything more, maybe you can decide for yourself what he values in a bottle of wine, and what kind of thing he likes, and how he likes to write about it:

up-front, sexy
sexy, in-your-face
a provocative bouquet
a luxurious bouquet
a hedonistic, explosive nose
big sweet perfume
supple and velvety
velvety and forward
ripe, and attractive
aromas jump from the glass
flavors cascade over the palate
Powerfully, unctuously textured
awesomely layered texture
with additional levels of glycerin and flavor
layers of glycerin
stunningly concentrated
fabulously concentrated
decadent level of richness
Pomerol-like lushness
Full-bodied, ripe
Full-bodied-and lush
opulent, lush, fleshy
fleshy and flamboyant
sexy, hedonistic, seamless
Rich, full, fat, opulent, and decadent
copious spice, glycerin, and alcohol
fleshy, and flamboyant, with huge glycerin levels
this textured, full-bodied, fat, lush wine.


25 October 2014

“The sheer profusion of qualities that Americans discovered in the apple during its seedling heyday is something to marvel at, especially since so many of those qualities have been lost in the years since. I found apples that tasted like bananas, others like pears. Spicy apples and sticky-sweet ones, apples sprightly as lemons & others rich as nuts. I picked apples that weighed more than a pound, others compact enough to fit into a child’s pocket. Here were yellow apples, green apples, spotted apples, russet apples, striped apples, purple apples, even a near-blue apple. There were apples that looked prepolished & apples that wore a dusty bloom on their cheeks. Some of these apples had qualities that were completely lost on me but had meant the world to people once: apples that tasted sweeter in March than October, apples that made especially good cider or preserves or butter, apples that held their own in storage for half a year, apples that ripened gradually to avoid a surfeit or all at once for an easier harvest, apples with long stem or short, thin skin or thick, apples that tasted sublime only in Virginia and others that needed a hard New England frost to reach perfection, apples that reddened in August, others that held off til winter, even apples that could sit at the bottom of a barrel for the six weeks it took a ship to get to Europe, then emerge bright and crisp enough to command a top price in London.”

The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan (p. 48–49) touring the Lake Geneva Plant Genetic Resources Unit.

Year in review

2 July 2014

From Twitter, between January 1 and December 21, 2013. Question for the day: how do you archive & resurrect experience of the digital over time?


Mom. Geek. Atheist. Wombat. Lindbergh Baby. Foodie. Blogger. Lists. Of. Words. Separated. By. A. Period. This. Is. How. Twitter. Bios. Work. @aspaul
1 January, 4:34 p.m.

My sister at breakfast: “Do you know what the German word for birth control is? ANTIBABYPILLEN.”
4 January, 3:44 p.m.

On the Difficulties of Recollecting the Plots of Novels One Has Partly Read While Drunk. #unwrittenessays
10 January, 12:48 a.m.

“…but those who believe, that Abel lived an hundred and twenty nine Years, think it improbable he should die a Batchelor.
10 January, 1:06 a.m.

“If you put front vowels in your language, nobody will take it seriously as a language of Orcs.”
11 January, 4:47 p.m.

Tarantino films that feature scenes in which characters literally give each other acting lessons: Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs.
17 January, 1:28 a.m.

“There you are, like butter in sunshine.” Martin Luther insult randomizer:
20 January, 12:50 p.m.

RT: Thank God for technology. Before Twitter, I just used to go up to strangers and whisper in their ears. @tejucole
26 January, 1:42 p.m.

A guest is like rain: when he lingers on, he becomes a nuisance = “A gast iz vi regen az er doiert tsu lang, vert er a last” @YiddishProject
4 February, 7:20 p.m.

M/F/K: Thanksgiving; Arbor Day; Valentine’s.
11 February, 7:52 p.m.

Drunk Italian smoking out of a cab window pulls up next to my cab at a light, calls me “Giuseppe,” gives me a pink felt heart. #Valentine’s
15 February, 12:51 a.m.

I imagine that being a small town private investigator in 2013 is about 50% googling things for older people @tanlines
18 February, 7:58 p.m.

“If, after a second highball, it brought tears to his eyes, he would recommend publication.”
6 March, 3:43 p.m.

I just spent sixty American dollars on bacon.
9 March, 2:09 p.m.

Supercut of characters at literal crossroads.
21 March, 3:23 p.m.

Movies I’ve seen in the last 24 hours that quote MOBY-DICK: Wrath of Khan, Heathers.
27 March, 1:14 a.m.

Hipsters serve the same social function as medieval witches. I don’t believe in either.
28 March, 12:21 a.m.

con’t. Sure, that old woman grows herbs and rides a fixed-gear bicycle, but she is not the reason your crops failed.
28 March, 12:23 a.m.

“What harm could she do to us that we haven’t done to each other a hundred times over?” Cersei & Robert: the Mountain Goats’ Alpha Couple.
30 March, 12:31 a.m.

Number of Apple devices in this coffeeshop: 18.   Non-Apple devices: 0.    Humans: 12.
8 April, 2:52 p.m.

I worry that some of the decisions I make when I go to read in a café are basically the equivalent of putting on make-up to go to the gym.
11 April, 4:51 p.m.

Pitch: Sally Draper & Anya Stark team up, go West, rob trains, end up in Mexico.
15 April, 12:22 p.m.

Boston v. avenged sevenfold: more amazing twitter anthropology from @brendlewhat @BananaKarenina
16 April, 11:20 a.m.

“At home, of course, the worst that happens is that the vegetarian of the party is eating his nut cutlet.” Wine book, c. 1974.
24 April, 3:59 p.m.

Never ask Xeno to cut your birthday cake. @alecturnbull
27 April, 9:07 p.m.

“We could actually find a shark and be on top of a shark and he could be on our team.” @PreschoolGems
6 May, 12:36 p.m.

“Levack doesn’t explain how anyone unathletic enough to fail in self-fellatio could succeed at self-sodomy.” The LRB lacks imagination.
8 May, 9:40 a.m.

Rabbit hole: FINNEGANS WAKE translations. Japanese, German, French, Italian, Polish (FINNEGANÓW TREN)… No Spanish, though.
8 May, 10:32 a.m.

“Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee!”  becomes “Finn, necken! Nimm. Dochlaife, rinnerum!”
8 May, 10:34 a.m.

Or, “Finn, fangan! Er macht’s. Abbasamteidsanft, vergüßt memeimemamomich!” Depending.
8 May, 10:44 a.m.

“He addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur” becomes “Et possé-dait une vedite femmefile Annie serait la dite craiethure.”
8 May, 11:00 a.m.

Yes please! MT @wmarybeard Maybe people of ancient Pompeii weren’t “just like us.” A plea to recapture the weirdness! @CapitolClio

RT: Holy crap, it’s true! Link. @adamkotsko
30 May, 10:23 a.m.

30 May, 10:24 a.m.

“Bold and irreverent” are not words I would ever use to describe textiles but whatever Anthropologie your the multi-million dollar company. @ThatSusanBurke
6 June, 3:10 p.m.

“If I don’t love you baby/ Grits ain’t grocery/ Eggs ain’t poultry/ And Mona Lisa was a man.” Little Milton, 1972, anticipates art history.
18 July, 11:33 p.m.

Most awesome Times correction ever: “A picture caption with an earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of Adolf Hitler.” @Shteyngart
18 June, 11:47 a.m.

@pfbvan @tejucole Nie moj cyrk, nie moje malpy. Polish saying, not my circus, not my monkey. Literally, not my problem. @beentsy
21 June, 5:21 p.m.

“All my teachers have been women. Though several men have taken me aside for an hour to tell me things they know.” —Don Paterson @tejucole
7 July, 8:54 a.m.

La cultura hipster ha sido descrita como un «crisol mutante y transatlántico de estilos y gustos comportamientos» Christian Lorentzen @centurion_diego
22 July, 12:24 p.m.

When I was 5, my mom took me to THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN. For years, I thought it was a dream I had. No one I knew had heard of it @LandonTweetsNow
26 July, 2:12 p.m.

RT: A second person narrator tells you you walked into a bar. @neinquarterly
2 August, 12:49 p.m.

Nazi mass murder of mentally ill is an open secret in Germany; towns near asylums have been covered in crematorium ash containing human hair @RealTimeWWII
3 August, 3:20 p.m.

RT: Time is a weight on our shoulders constantly threatening to pull us into madness. That’s what Flavor Flav’s about. @80sDonDraper
13 August, 1:41 p.m.

Today is Dorothy Parker and Ray Bradbury’s birthday. Let’s all get drunk and steal a rocket ship. @zhandlen
22 August, 10:52 a.m.

On our fourth bottle of wine, we find that YouTube accordionists LOVE to play Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor.
25 August, 10:49 p.m.

Minimum number of books about the newspaper business titled BEHIND THE FRONT PAGE: 5
28 August, 10:41 a.m.

“It possessed a subtle saltiness that rippled down my throat.” Um, I guess tell me more about this wine, NYT.
29 August, 12:35 p.m.

RT: In New York, you never tweeted out of boredom, only careerism, self-promotion, and occasionally absent-minded trolling. @xlorentzen
5 September, 5:53 p.m.

5 September, 1:07 a.m.

(Any singular noun can also be your adjective. Most words beginning in ‘P’, such as PEARL, PORCELAIN, or PLANTS, are also permitted.)
5 September, 1:08 a.m.

3. Congratulations! You’ve just become a band.
5 September, 1:09 a.m.

Now I’m drinking a Corona and it tastes like the spit sample a phoenix sends away in the mail to see if the sun is his real dad @TriciaLockwood
19 September, 11:30 p.m.

“You have astigmatism?” “I’m fuckin blind!” “Oh yeah? Try THESE on.” Overheard in East Williamsburg bars.
21 September, 7:31 p.m.

“She lives in Bushwick.” “Oh! I hear that’s *up-and-coming*.” [laughter]  Overheard in East Williamsburg bars.
21 September, 7:33 p.m.

This is what looked like in 1995. @garywhitta
14 October, 7:37 p.m.

 All those girls in yoga pants who are obsessed with pumpkin spice lattes probably have their own fall-themed fight club. @aspaul
15 October, 10:37 a.m.

I just thought there should be…less of it.  @MFAworkshop
21 October, 4:42 p.m.

Wines that I’m excited about: país + muscat de Alexandria rosé from Itata.
27 October, 8:40 p.m.

Wines that I’m excited about: sweet red mandilaria from Rhodes.
27 October, 11:13 p.m.

Wines that I’m excited about: Cretan kotisfali-syrah blends.
27 October, 11:19 p.m.

“I love the texture of the raw heart, soft and tender. People think it will be tough, but it is not at all.”
1 November, 11:32 p.m.

Wine & art both struggle to reconcile art & commerce. Damien Herst & Screaming Eagle are the same.
8 November, 10:19 p.m.

That is literally the only possible format of a movie anymore — the messianic quest decked out in bits of some old fictional universe. @adamkotsko
10 November, 2:58 p.m.

“In a world… that’s vaguely familiar to you from some old TV show… only one man… can I don’t know, save everything or whatever…” @adamkotsko
10 November, 2:54 p.m.

A darker grittier Sex and the City reboot, where they have to stop a terrorist plot to blow up Mr. Big’s office. Then it turns out he’s evil @adamkotsko
10 November, 2:52 p.m.

A darker, grittier Obama reboot where it turns out he has a horrifying scheme to rule the world with flying killer robots. @adamkotsko
  10November, 2:51 p.m.

Wines that I’m excited about: varietally-labeled Merlot Blanc from Tincino.
17 November, 12:54 p.m.

Wines that I’m excited about: Neuchâtel gewürtztraminer.
18 November, 1:11 a.m.

Wines that I’m excited about: 100% durize from the Vaud.
18 November, 1:28 a.m.

It’s the season to argue about what a perfect varietal expression of Zinfandel would entail.
27 November, 2:28 a.m.

 None of the dogs who lost at the dog show know they lost or that they’re at a dog show or that they’re dogs. @ariscott
28 November, 1:04 p.m.

“It’s like the cocaine of spirits.” @chelseakaiser, of tequila.
28 November, 1:10 p.m

Dystopian lit is: “what if the government got so powerful that all the bad stuff that’s already happening ALSO HAPPENED TO WHITE PEOPLE?” @fqubedejb
18 December, 8:15 a.m.

♥ “The Brazilian paratroopers’ technique for warding off animals was to throw grenades into the rainforest at random” @newinquiry
18 December, 5:05 p.m.

RT: Millions of people are trapped everyday across the galaxy. Please RT to raise awareness. @admiralackbar
21 December, 9:59 p.m.

Primo Levi on distillation

26 February 2014

Distilling is beautiful. First of all, because it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think about other things, a little like riding a bike. Then, because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to vapor (invisible), and from this once again to liquid, but in this double journey, up and down, purity is attained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by the centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart.

— p. 62, The Periodic Table


14 February 2014

Some seasonally-appropriate tunes for all of you who are trapped inside walls of ice and already opening the second bottle. Here’s love as: something you can lock out, or be invulnerable to if you’re cold enough, or not human; a curse, a poison, a way to get revenge; ten gin-and-tonics; some kind of joke; a hungry bear.

1. Unbelievers // VAMPIRE WEEKEND
2. I’m gonna lock my heart // BILLIE HOLIDAY
3. Nothing but a heartache // THE FLIRTATIONS
4. Misery loves company // BLACKFEET BRAVES
5. Aftermath // SZA
7. Standard bitter love song #8  // THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
8. We sink  // CHVRCHES
9. Stepping over hearts  // INSIGHTFUL
10. Get lucky  // DAUGHTER
12. No one’s gonna love you as much  // NICOLE WILLIS & THE SOUL INVESTIGATORS
13. I don’t believe you  // THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
14. Don’t fuck around with love // THE BLENDERS

Download here.

November’s facts

2 December 2013

fact checking in action

Fact-checking detritus from various freelance assignments last month, culled from a lifetime in service to the truth.

From Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing: “Raised in a Kauai geodesic dome by two surfing parents, Keala Kennelly has an untouchable reputation as the sport’s most fearless tuberider. […] Breaking rank from the girlish ‘surfette’ look that all but defined women’s surfing in the ’90s and early ’00s, Kennelly was a leather-clad and tongue-studded nightclubber who moonlighted as a DJ and often looked, as surf journalist Alison Berkeley put it, like ‘a sinister Disney cartoon character.’”

On graphene: “A square metre of graphene is a thousand times thinner than paper. Made into a hammock, it would be strong enough to cradle a cat but weigh no more than one of its whiskers.” As the two Russian scientists who discovered it found, it also allows one to passively distill vodka by evaporating water vapor from a mug of watered-down spirit through an otherwise-impenetrable graphene membrane.

Two stanzas from traditional Basque folk songs dedicated to Olentzero, who is kind of like Basque Santa Claus—he brings the children presents, and is a charcoal burner who lives in the mountains, smokes a corncob pipe and wears a Basque beret, always drunk and red-cheeked, although in the old legends he is also the last of the pagan giants that inhabited the Pyranees before the coming of Christianity:

Olentzero buru handia
entendimentuz jantzia
bart arratsean edan omen du
hamar arroako zahagia.
Ai urde tripahandia!
Tralaralala, tralaralala.
Ai urde tripahandia!
Tralaralala, tralaralala.
Olentzero big head
robed in understanding
is said to have drunk last night
a wineskin of ten arrobas
Ai, big-bellied pig!
Tralaralala, tralaralala.
Ai, big-bellied pig!
Tralaralala, tralaralala.


Our Olentzero
we can’t sate him
he has eaten whole
ten piglets.
Ribs and pork loin
so many intestines
because Jesus is born
have mercy.

One of the major events in the history of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, according to its Wikipedia entry: “In 2013, a local citizen by the name of Arnaldo Pierre defied the odds and is the only man in history to pick a cloud out of the sky.”

Two medieval royal nicknames (not counting King John Softsword and King Alfonso the Slobberer):

John II, Duke of Cleves, was nicknamed the Babymaker for having fathered 63 illegitimate children.

Opponents of the iconoclast Byzantine emperor Constantine V called him Kopronymos—or Name of Shit—allegedly because the infant Constantine had defecated in his own baptismal font.

A verbatim five-star review of the CrossRope jump-rope set—seven ropes ranging from the 2-oz. Sprint Rope to the 3-lb. PVC-wrapped steel cable “Titan”—posted on the company’s website:


Finally, this is a letter to the editor from the 21 November issue of the London Review of Books:

Andrew O’Hagan writes: ‘Joan Didion gave me her hand and she was so thin it felt like I was holding a butterfly’ (LRB, 7 November). A beautiful sentence, but I wondered about the simile’s plausability. It’s been reported that Didion weighs less than eighty lbs. She’s so thin her doctors have to put her on an ice cream diet to keep her mass up. A woman’s hand is said to be 0.5 per cent of her body weight. So if Didion weighs 75 lbs, her hand probably weighs about six ounces. The world’s heaviest butterfly, the female Queen Victoria Birdwing, weighs about two grams. There are about 28 grams in an ounce, and Joan Didion’s hand probably weighs about the same as holding 86 female Queen Victoria Birdwings. It would be difficult to hold them all in your hand because each on has a wingspan of 18 centimetres. The smallest butterfly in the world is the North American Pygmy Blue and you’d probably need thousands of them to tip the scales against one of Didion’s fingers. None of this is to detract from the loveliness of O’Hagan’s sentence. We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Penny Cartwright


18 September 2013

card catalogs, NYPL
Room 100, including card catalogs, 1923. New York Public Library Archives.

I like book indexes because of the tantalizingly incomplete sense they give of a large, impossible object broken down into its constituent parts. And because I like lists of words.

Anyway I was at the wine store the other day paging through the Jancis Robinson-edited Oxford Companion to Wine (it is as crazy authoritative as the title would suggest), and next to the introduction there’s a two-page double-column list of 300 new entries added to the third edition. If you like, it gives a rough sense of how the canonical wine world might have changed between 1999 and 2006—you know, black-magic big industrial processes in commercial production on the one hand, formerly forgotten regions and nerdy, nearly-extinct indigenous grapes on the other. (Also, the Internet: websites finally have an entry!) Did I mention I like lists of words? Like so:

Asian Lady Beetle
black dead arm
California sprawl
diotomaceous earth
direct shipping
flavour scalping
glassy winged sharpshooter
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Kangaroo Island
Lacrima Nera
macèration pelliculaire
philosophy & wine
plastic corks
reverse osmosis
vegetarian & vegan wine


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