Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jonathan Safran Foer Riffs on Hanukkah and Christmas (and Kwanzaa)

The author of the highly-acclaimed novel Everything is Illuminated, and most recently, of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is known for his tongue-in-cheek humor. Here's Jonathan Safran Foer's op-ed in the New York Times.

A Beginner's Guide to Hanukkah:

CHRISTMAS -- Christmas is a holiday that Christian children have been given to celebrate because they aren't Jewish. Instead of eight nights of presents, there is only one. And instead of getting to eat delicious and nutritious latkes, they are forced to drink something called nog, which isn't even a real word. They touch each other's sweaters while they sing together around pianos, they get into ''the spirit,'' and here's another bad thing about Christmas that should make Jewish children excited about celebrating Hanukkah: Christmas trees are terrible fire hazards.

SANTA CLAUS -- Santa Claus is an obese fictional being who supposedly ''visits'' Christan homes the night before Christmas for the alleged purpose of delivering ''presents'' to ''children'' who have been ''good'' the previous year. It's a bit pathetic that Christian chilldren are fed this lame make-believe, instead of having a really interesting true hero like Hanukkah Harry.

HANUKKAH HARRY -- Hanukkah Harry is a real person who drops in on Jewish homes each of the eights nights of Hanukkah to deliver gifts that are in no way dependent on children's good behavior. Harry spends the off-season in Florida, Keeping out of the sun and faxing missives to Jewish craftsmen in Vietnam to make more dreidels. On Hanukkah nights, Harry flies through the sky in a 1991 Volvo 240 wagon (Champagne exterior, mocha interior), pulled by his legal team of Schlepper, Pischer & Blintzes.

MISTLETOE -- It's hard for anyone, especially those of us who wore aviator glasses in high school, to find a problem with mistletoe. (Allergies aside.) Which is why Hanukkah Harry invented it in the first place.

LATKES -- Latkes are a kind of oil, into which small quantities of shredded potato have been infused.

HANUKKIAH -- A hanukkiah is like a menorah, but with room for eight candles. Or is it nine? An object of supreme importance, the hanukkiah is passed down from generation to generation and is sometimes the only item in a Jew's suitcase. If you don't have the firmest of grasps on the supreme importance of the hanukkiah, you should buy your children very expensive gifts this year. And if you don't have children, would it kill you to have some?Someone needs to inherit the hanukkiah.

TWICE-A-YEAR JEWS WHO ARE ONCE-A-YEAR CHRISTIANS -- There is a certain kind of Jew who, despite knowing that Christmas is simply isn't his holiday, and that it would severely distress his relatives (particularly the dead ones) if he acknowledged feelings of Christmas Envy, much less acted on them, get a Christmas tree anyway. And does the leaving-a-cookie-out-for-Santa thing. And the sweaters and nog. But of course he never lets any of it interfere with the Hanukkah celebrations, whatever they are. And you have to admit, ''Silent Night'' is a seriously beautiful song.

Then one day this twice-a year Jew who is a once-a-year Christian walks in on his children talking about Baby Jesus. So he sends them to Hebrew school, where over time, they learn Christmas Envy. And the cycle repeats itself.

CHRISTMAS TREE -- Christians chop down trees to make houses to put trees in. The absurdity of this need not be elaborated on. Which is not even to mention that they hang perfectly dry socks over the fireplace, and rack up enormous electricity bills with the lights they put outside their houses. That's right, outside their houses.

KWANZAA -- No one is quite sure just what Kwanzaa is.

DECORATING THE HOUSE -- While Christmas decorations are recognizable and straightforward -- mistletoe, a tree, red-and-green knee socks above the fireplace -- no one has figured out how to decorate a Jewish home on Hanukkah. Some might say that the hanukkiah is decorations, but it isn't; the hanukkiah is a ceremonial object, with specific, non-decorative purposes. Perhaps the Stars of David that many string about are appropriate Jewish decoration? They are blatant imitations of Christmas decorating. Dreidels? They're toys. Latkes? They're food. What does it look like to celebrate Hanukkah?

This poses the larger problem of Jewish decorating: What does a Jewish home look like? How can a Jew identify without resorting to imitation, kitsch or the display of ceremonial objects? With Chagall prints on the walls? With trinkets bought in Israel when it was hard to go to Israel? With the Philip Roth backlist on the shelf? This paper on the stoop every morning?

Is it necessary to decorate at all?

And if not, what do we do with that feeling of necessity?

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT -- The following Christmas carols were written by Jews: ''O Holy Night'' (Adolphe Adam), ''Christmas Song'' (Mel Torme), ''White Christmas'' (Irving Berlin), ''Let It Snow, Let It Snow'' (Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne), ''Silver Bells'' (Jay Livingston and Ray Evans), and ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'' (Johnny Marks). The Grinch in ''The Grinch That Stole Christmas'' WASN'T Jewish, but the composer, Albert Hague, was. No one has contributed more to Christmas spirit than the Jews. We contributed the birthday boy himself, for God's sake.

Window displays are always more attractive than the gifts you receive -- even if you receive what was in the window. Jews engage Christmas in its ideal form: for the outside. Unspoiled by family friction, or commerce, or anxiety about the wrong gift, we can experience the purest spirit. Someone else's spirit that we compose music for. And look at from the other side of the window. Christians should envy us envying them.

HANUKKAH SPIRIT -- Hanukkah spirit is the Christmas spirit as experienced by Jews.

HANUKKAH GUILT -- You don't pay enough attention to your grandparents, or your parents, or spouse, or siblings, or children or dog. Or yourself, for that matter. Your life has no meaning. You can't even remember just what, exactly, a hanukkiah is, even though one was schlepped acre=oss an ocean for you.

HANUKKAH GELT -- The only known antidote to Hanukkah guilt.

THE GREAT MIRACLE THAT HAPPENED THERE -- In the second century before the Common Era, the Maccabees led a rebellion against the Greek occupiers. Against all odds, and outnumbered 20 to 1, the scrappy band of Jews was victorious. The temple in Jerusalen was reclaimed, and the hanukkiah (then known as a simple menorah) was lighted in celebration, using the scant oil that was found lying around. It shouldn't have been enough to burn through the night, but when the sun rose the next morning, the flame was still going strong. It burned through the third night, and the fourth and the fifth. The oil lasted eight nights. A great miracle happened there.

THE GREAT MIRACLE, CONTINUED -- It lasted a ninth night, and a 10th and a 20th. After a month, the hanukkian began to melt under the heat of the miracle it proclaimed. It spilled over the bimah and onto the floor. The fire spread, Hallelujah! The stained-glass windows were illuminated to those standing outside, watching the miracle engulf and swallow the building, and those trapped within it. The fore spread -- the chosen people, we are a light unto the nations! -- and has yet to be stamped out in many places. It is unknown just when we can be expected to get back to normal, non-miraculous living.

DREIDEL -- The dreidel is a spinning toy, painstakingly fashioned out of plastic polymer by Jewish craftsmen in Vietnam. Used for tabletop gambling games during Hanukkah, the dreidel often ends up on the floor and sometimes in the dog's small intestine. There is a Hebrew letter on each of the dreidel's four sides. These letters abbreviate the statement: Spin it again. You have no idea what is means. You spin it again. You try to make sense of it. Spin it again? You spin it again.

THE MYSTERIES OF HANUKKAH -- What, exactly, does the dreidel have to do with Hanukkah? Why is Hanukkah celebrated like this only in the United States? Why is Hanukkah a minor holiday and not a High Holy Day, and why are we proud of that, and why don't act we act as though it's minor, and why are we worried about decorating our homes? Is it possible to celebrate Hanukkah without succumbing to imitation, kitsch or commerce? Is there anything morally inconsistent, as Jews and as American, in celebrating a holiday that is ostensibly about the removal of occupiers? Could Hanukkah exist without Christmas?

Like all Jewish Mysteries, the mysteries of Hanukkah can be taken in one of two ways: they can serve either to undermine or sustain. The questions frustrate some to the point of walking away. Some find resolution in the questions themselves.

Is there any good reason to continue to celebrate Hanukkah?

If you have to ask, then no.

Is there any good reason to continue to celebrate Hanukkah?

If you have to ask, then yes.

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author, most recently, of ''Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.''

Here's the link to the December 23rd op-ed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life.....

Ooooh see that girl, watch that scene....

Can you sing the next few lyrics?

If you can - and there's a strong chance of it - then you know the song that's been playing in my head for the last couple of days.

Okay, some history.

My childhood and teenage years revolved around a small Catholic girls' school in Singapore, graduating about 80 or so girls each year. Many of us in were in the very same class from ages 4 to 16. As Plato noted, "you can learn more about a [person] in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation." And so it was with us - besides classroom learning, we played sports, embroidered, sang in choirs, said rosaries, played pranks, and experienced our first kitchen disasters together. (Oh, all right - the kitchen disasters were MINE.) Together we went to camp, to woodwork and metalwork, acted in plays, debated, told jokes and conspired on April Fool's practical jokes. Yes, we got to know another very well indeed.

During my last couple of years there at Marymount, we all loved the songs of ABBA. At any opportunity you'd hear someone breaking out in one of those catchy tunes, only to be joined in a moment by a spontaneous a capella backup group. We all loved those songs! I remember one teacher, otherwise immune to the charms of the Swedish sensation, saying dryly: "Well, at least they know how to enunciate PROPERLY." There you go - ABBA had something for everyone! (Though I'm fairly certain this teacher's halting approval came before ABBA released Gimme Gimme Gimme!)

On field trips we'd entertain ourselves merrily singing these hits. It seemed we never tired of songs such as these:


I'd say the girl who knew the songs best was Christina, she with the encyclopedic knowledge of music in general, and an astounding memory for melodies and lyrics.

On Monday I flew to Las Vegas to meet up with her for the first time in over fourteen years.

Delays kept me from arriving until 6 that evening. When I got to the hotel, there was a message for me: "Be at the Mandalay by 7 - I have tickets to Mamma Mia!!!"



So I turned on my heels, marched out of the hotel and down the Strip, up one escalator and down another, weaving my way on foot and by city bus till I got to the Mandalay. More walking within that enormous complex before I found the theater. Searching the crowd, I spotted Christina and called out to her - and we ran to each other, squealing in the delighted way that two old friends would after a long time apart. (Okay, women friends - I doubt men would squeal!)

We know each other so well that right away we were chatting and laughing as if no time at all had passed.

In a moment we were in the theater.

As you probably know, Mamma Mia is the hit musical based on ABBA's hit songs. So here we were, us old friends, listening to the very songs that were the soundtrack of our teenage years. Not only that - one of the early scenes features old friends reuniting after a long absence.

We couldn't have choreographed a better setting for our reunion!!

Clearly, we were not the only people in that huge theater to lift our voices. Christina's formidable mental database of ABBA lyrics has not diminished in the least. It was the ultimate sing-a-long event.

The plot: On the eve of her wedding, a daughter tries to discover the identity of her father by inviting her mother's three old flames to the Greek island where they shared friendships - and obviously, somewhat more - some 20 years earlier.

It was nice to hear those songs again with fresh ears, and in some cases, different contexts and interpretations. Also nice to hear the lyrics now as as a fortysomething: The Winner Takes it All was surprisingly affecting. Lyrics of "Does Your Mother Know" were revised to give the song a totally new, post-Demi-Moore-Ashton-Kutcher face.

"Mamma Mia" was much like ABBA's music - by turns lively, sentimental, driving, introspective, corny, wistful - but always tuneful and FUN. Oh yes, it was wonderfully bawdy at times. And who doesn't love a musical that ends in a wedding?

I'm going to get myself some ABBA CDs. Good to remember the days of being a "dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen" - even if that particular ship of mine has longggggg sailed - and the port decommissioned, I might add.

Thank goodness one's friends and memories keep us young at heart.

Oh, by the way - the film version of Mamma Mia is due out in summer 2008, starring Meryl Streep. As we know from the film version of A Prairie Home Companion, she has considerable singing talent.

Meantime, to help you dance and jive and feel the beat of the tambourine, are two videos. The first is the original ABBA, the second features the cast of Mamma Mia on Good Morning America. enjoy!

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How to Clean Up After a Flood

I was out of town when the devastating storms hit Western Washington last week and submerged parts of Lewis County. Walking through the Seattle airport, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the newspaper vending machines, with front page pictures of I-5 under 10 feet of water.

Why did the national media give so little attention to such devastation? The main artery between Portland and Seattle was closed for days. Hundreds of homes were seriously damaged. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports in King County ALONE:

"...as of Friday afternoon, the county has received 192 reports from residents, totaling $4.25 million in uninsured damage or loss to primary residences. The county has also received 16 reports of damaged businesses for a total of $524,000." (More)

Some homeowners will find that their insurance does not cover flood damage; they have to hope for federal aid, and charity. Others could find themselves mired in battles with their insurance companies for weeks, maybe months, before they see any cash. And what will they do in the meantime?

Speaking from experience, they will be doing a lot of hard physical work.

From the pictures, it looks like many homes were filled mainly with water. Others were filled with mud, or even worse, raw sewage.

All will have to get rid of the water, mud or sewage, then haul their belongings out of the homes and try to salvage whatever they can. Face masks should be worn to prevent possible respiratory problems. They will have to get discard all carpets and padding, mattresses, and drywall, as well as upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings and most paper products. If their fridges and freezers were out of power for days, they'll have to get rid of all the contents. Some will find that even five washings will not get the mud out of their laundry. Then, time to wash things clean.

A pressure washer is so helpful at this point.

Once they have a bare, stripped-down space, they can commence with disinfecting, most likely with bleach or other antimicrobial products. Then comes the drying out and mold prevention.

It will takes gallons and gallons of bleach to wash down every surface and every washable item in the house. Now comes the drying-out phase.

Humidity is very low here on the Palouse, yet drying took a couple of weeks. Once I got clearance to switch on the power, I left fans running continuously for at least two weeks (I learned that dehumidifiers have limited efficacy in such situations.) This was not just in the basement: areas upstairs also needed serious ventilation, for even though they escaped flooding, the moisture percolated upwards, creating a cold damp that seeped into everything, smelling damp and dank.

I wonder, in the wet and humid west side, how much longer it will take to get completely dry?

After numerous trips to the dumpster or transfer station, it will be time to rebuild. New drywall, insulation, carpet, possibly wiring and plumbing, paint, maybe doors, appliances, bedding, food, clothing.

How can you help?

From Northwest Cable News:

The American Red Cross says financial donations are the most efficient way to assist families. The Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund allows the agency to provide relief to victims of disaster each year by providing water, food, shelter and mental health counseling. To designate your donation to a specific disaster, do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS.

You can make a donation at any US Bank branch in Washington. Be sure to tell the bank your donation is for Northwest Response.

In Lewis County, the United Way is the key contact point for donations of supplies, financial aid and volunteer time. Call (360) 748-8100 to help.

Items that are needed include:


  • Flat or snow shovels

  • Floor squeegees

  • Tarps

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Clothing

  • Food

  • Financial assistance

  • Face masks (cloth dust masks)


And what about the livestock in the affected areas?

Pasado's Safe Haven is responding to animals in need in Lewis and Mason counties. The public can help by calling in a donation to Monroe Farm & Feed (360-794-4663), donating a Costco or PetSmart gift card or making an online donation. Donations will support animal rescuers, who need to pay for hotel stays, gas and food. In addition, you can drop off dog and cat food and supplies at Barrier Motors, 1533 120th Avenue N.E., Bellevue, WA, 98005.

The Towns-End Cattle Co. is accepting donations to support flood victims. The business is delivering hay to Lewis County livestock.

The Washington Farm Bureau has created a Flood Relief Fund to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers impacted by flooding. To make a donation, call 1-800-331-3276.

In any event, flood victims should try not feel bad about accepting the help of others. It is much harder to receive than it is to give, but a lesson well worth learning.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Food-based Voting?

Ice cream and a corn dog in Des Moines, and pizza in Manchester, N.H. (Photo: New York Times)

Would you vote for somebody who turns up his or her nose at the food you love?

That's one of the points made in the New York Times article Where the Votes Are, So Are All Those Calories.

John Kerry learned that the hard way in Philadelphia in 2004. Dana Milbank captured the essence of the problem in the Washington Post:

"...the Massachusetts Democrat went to Pat's Steaks and ordered a cheesesteak -- with Swiss cheese. If that weren't bad enough, the candidate asked photographers not to take his picture while he ate the sandwich; shutters clicked anyway, and Kerry was caught nibbling daintily at his sandwich -- another serious faux pas.

"It will doom his candidacy in Philadelphia," predicted Craig LaBan, food critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which broke the Sandwich Scandal. After all, Philly cheesesteaks come with Cheez Whiz, or occasionally American or provolone. But Swiss cheese? "In Philadelphia, that's an alternative lifestyle," LaBan explained.

And don't even mention Kerry's dainty bites. "Obviously, Kerry's a high-class candidate, and he misread the etiquette," LaBan said. "Throwing fistfuls of steak into the gaping maw, fingers dripping -- that's the proper way." (Here's the whole article)

It got me thinking about the conclusions we draw about people based on what they eat, and how they eat it.

Many made fun of Bill Clinton when he would go for a run, Secret Service agents in tow, as he made detours to McDonald's to...er..refuel, before embarking on the return leg to the White House. But under the chuckles many saw a man whose weakness for junk food gave him the down-to-earth, regular-guy (albeit with poor appetite control) air that candidates work strenuously to achieve. When he left Pennsylvania Avenue and set up his office in Harlem, its proximity to excellent soul food restaurants was not lost upon journalists and Clinton-watchers. Oh, yes...then came the heart attack and his embrace of the South Beach Diet. Yet another way the regular guy saw himself reflected in Bill Clinton.

From the NYTimes article: "Those wanting to be president must never, ever refuse or fumble the local specialties, lest they repeat the sins of John Kerry (dismissed as effete when he ordered a Philly cheese steak with Swiss in 2004) or Gerald R. Ford (on a 1976 swing through Texas, he bit into a tamale with the corn husk still on)."

Not every candidate should be expected to know how to tackle an uncommon food - but what I would watch for is their willingness to sample the unknown, to take on something less than straightforward, and be willing to get their hands dirty.

So where is the candidate who will dine off the beaten campaign food track? Let him or her head to a dim sum restaurant in any of America's Chinatowns, and peek into the big rolling steam carts as they trundle by the tables. I'm sure many would order potstickers, har gow (crystal shrimp dumplings), char siew bao (barbequed pork buns) and maybe even sesame balls for dessert. Once exotic, these treats have now entered mainstream America. But how comfortable would a potential governor or president be tucking into nor mai gai - a ball of glutinous (sticky) rice with meats and shitake mushrooms, wrapped in a big lotus leaf? And would they dare to order - and eat - fong sao?

Literally, fong sao means the claw of the phoenix. A euphemism for chicken feet, stir-fried or deep-fried, then marinated and finally steamed. One has to pop the foot into the mouth, bones and all, and do lots of deft manifpulation with teeth, lips and tongue before politely depositing a pile of minuscule bones into a napkin or plate. If a candidate tackled that, it would tell me that he or she is:

  • Unafraid

  • Curious

  • Open to new ideas and experiences

  • Not superficial

  • Willing to deal with problems

  • Really into diversity
  • - no lip service here!
I want to see candidates fearlessly eating oysters on the half shell in Seattle, lentil ice cream in Pullman, rocky mountain oysters in Montana, the hottest red and green chile in New Mexico, and garlic cheesecake in Gilroy, California.

What puts me off?

Prissy eaters who literally wrinkle their noses and pucker their visages when presented with unfamiliar foods. I'm not talking about little children, either! We've all encountered adults like this, haven't we? If only they knew that expression makes any face highly unattractive, and is simply rude.

How much ruder if that expression was seen on the face of a senatorial, gubernatorial or presidential hopeful.

This is a wonderfully diverse land - that complexity reflected in food as well as people. A candidate would do well to show his or her comfort with that diversity at the gut level.

Friday, November 9, 2007

True Tale of a Wild Cranberry Harvest

NOTE: This is the tale of a wild harvest. No location will be divulged, out of respect for Matt, my Cranberry Foraging Guru. The secrecy also serves to preserve my safety.

(I was warned not to talk too much.)


It was a few years ago that some friends told me about their annual trip to gather cranberries in a bog, here in the Northwest. Intrigued, I asked lots of questions - and a couple of years later was actually INVITED to go along.

The equipment: rubber boots, extra clothing, a bucket, and empty mesh bag - the kind in which you buy fifty pounds of onions. A sack lunch, and a thermos of hot coffee. And most important: a canoe. (Really.)

The four of us gathered well before sunrise at Matt's house on a cold November morning. We hoisted the two canoes onto his van, then hit the road for a very long drive to a remote lake.

It just so happened that I had shaved my head completely just the day before, in support of a friend with cancer. Aware that we lose most of the heat through our head, I was still not prepared for the way that cold dawn fog insinuated itself into my very pores. A wool cap was far from sufficient: I still felt somehow naked. I verged on a headache.

In the half-light, we carried our canoes down an icy wooden ramp, clambered in and began paddling. The sun was just starting to come up, and birds were piping up all around.

After about 20 minutes at a good pace, we moved toward a narrow channel. The water was shallow, and our paddles kept getting tangled in weeds. Eventually, it was clear we would have to get up and carry the canoes across at least part of the channel.

(Why, in all those excited conversations about the romance of cranberry picking, was portaging in cold muddy water never mentioned, HMMMMMM????)

I stepped out of the boat and promptly sank knee deep in the mud, my rubber boots filling with icy water. A loud yelp from another member of the party let me know she was, if you'll pardon the expression, in the same boat.

Somehow, the other two were able to stay above the mud and pulled us out. The mud smelled awful, and the water in my boots was so cold it hurt; what was worse, though, was I just couldn't get enough traction to lift the canoe. My partner Brian made me sit in the craft, and to my amazement LIFTED the front of the canoe and slid it across the mud till we reached enough water to start paddling again!

After a while, the bog came into view. This was when I learned a bog is actually a floating island of peat and moss, and in this particular case, supports a huge mass of cranberry bushes. As we hopped on to the bog and started walking across it, the whole island shook.

Matt knelt down and started chipping at the thin ice with his fingers. There, nestling in the moss, were scads and scads of gorgeous, plump cranberries, ranging from white to salmon to a deep crimson. Some were very hard, some were a little mushy, and all were ours to gather to our hearts' content!

Unlike picking strawberries or huckleberries, though, one is not tempted to sample raw cranberries. They are bitter and tart, and make one's face pucker up with an expression as acrid as their taste.

We put the berries into buckets, which we then emptied into our mesh bags. Martina and I noticed that Matt's and Brian's bags were filling considerably faster than ours, and did our best to coax our frozen fingers to speed up. It wasn't till we got back home that we realized the two men were scooping up handfuls of berries along with leaves, twigs and bits of moss while we were fastidiously picking the fruit berry by berry.

We got to know the perils of the bog as Matt walked to a fresh patch, stepped into a weak spot on the bog hole and sank to his chest. After the rescue, the conversation turned to the subject of bog people.

From Wikipedia: "...bog people are preserved human bodies found in sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of preservation. Under certain conditions, the acidity of the water, the cold temperature and the lack of oxygen combine to tan the body's skin: skeletal preservation is very rare in these bodies, as the acid in the peat dissolves the calcium carbonate of bone. The bodies provide very useful research material for archaeologists. Some of the bodies retain intricate details like tattoos and fingerprints."

Idly, I wondered what scientists of the future would make if they found the body of a bald Asian woman in a peat bog in North America.

My bag was about two-thirds full when I felt my back and knees would not hold out any longer. The rest of the party was ready to quit at the same time, so it was time for a meal and some warmth. Our wet clothes were steaming in the sun. Matt gathered some driftwood and quickly made a small fire. That, the food and thermoses of hot coffee, were as welcome as cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.

The paddle back to the van went much more easily, with no muddy misadventures.

At home, I emptied my berries into big tubs of water to clean them, and marveled at the sight of all the shiny fruit - must have been at least twenty pounds of it.

It took a few days before the aches and pains of the trip subsided, after which I busied myself making batches of cranberry sauce, juice, and more.

Here's my recipe for my favorite sauce, which involves oranges and star anise. If you like the taste of licorice, this will floor you.

Juice and zest (I like to leave it in strips) of two large oranges
2 star anise
2 cups sugar (white or brown, or a mix)
1 pound of cranberries
Pinch of salt

Put the whole lot in a saucepan on medium heat. Cook till the berries pop, then stir and continue cooking till it looks jammy, about 15 minutes. Add more sugar to taste, if desired. Put into sterilized jars and refrigerate. It keeps for months!

Besides pairing with turkey, this sauce is great on a piece of bread with cream cheese.

Cranberries are incredibly versatile. I've used my wild harvest in a chocolate cranberry torte (recipe), the accompanying deep red sauce flavored with Chambord. They make beautiful salad dressings, and the shockingly pink cranberry relish from Mama Stamberg. Last year, I was delighted with my first batch of cranberry vodka. With tonic, it's DIVINE.

I made the canoe trip to the bog twice more after that, but with my knees getting a little stiffer, last year passed the torch on to my teenage son. Sadly, this year neither of us went, and I understand pickings were slim. So it's store-bought stuff for me this year, which will suffice, but will most definitely be short on the thrill and pleasure of canoeing to the cranberry bog.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

No Sex Please, We're Singapore Airlines.

Exactly the sort of picture that Singapore Airlines would rather you not see.

Australians Tony and Julie Elwood share a romantic moment on their double bed in the exclusive suite aboard the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007.

Picture from KOMO TV


Highly-acclaimed Singapore Airlines is the first to use the massive Airbus A380. The first class area of its giant superjumbo contains 12 private suites complete with double beds.

Singapore Airlines has taken the unusual step of publicly asking passengers on its new Airbus A380 plane not to engage in any sexual activities.

Officials say the suites were not sound-proofed.

It said it did not want anyone to offend other travellers or crew.

Singapore added that while the suites were private, they were also not completely sealed.

"All we ask of customers, wherever they are on our aircraft, is to observe standards that don't cause offence to other customers and crew," the airline said in a statement.

Singapore Airlines recently took delivery of its first A380, with the first services between Singapore and Sydney starting on 25 October.

It is now set to take delivery of a further five A380s in 2008, out of its order of 19.

Read the full story from BBC NEWS

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Sedaris Encore.

Photo from www.photophonic.com

I and about 1300 other David Sedaris fans received an excess of oxygen Saturday night at the Capitol Theater in Yakima. David had us laughing upraoriously as he read some essays and poems and from his diary. He also took questions from the audience. While I'd heard some of the pieces previously on This American Life, David's material is always fresh to me. Every year I listen to Santaland Diaries and never, ever get tired of it. Watching David reading to a live audience makes the stories even funnier.

Among his readings at the Capitol: 6 to 8 Black Men from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, the fable of the cat and her baboon masseuse, and a visit to a pot dealer's home. He also described what happened that afternoon as he swam at the Yakima YMCA, where a 9-year old challenged him to a race. No point recounting the tales - YOU HAD TO BE THERE.

David is a generous man. As people stood in line to get their books signed, he didn't merely ask a name and scrawl his signature, as most authors do. No - he talked to everyone, either asking what they did for a living, or a disarming question - and of course, was terribly funny and kept people laughing long after they left the line. He stayed at least two hours until the last book was signed. We're still chuckling at the Abe Lincoln pic he drew with the words: "I like jam." On our copy of "Holidays on Ice," he drew a face which he said to my son: "That's your Mom vomiting fish tacos." Oy!!!

Another way he is generous: he gave Northwest Public Radio a contribution of five hundred dollars minutes after arriving at his hotel. He heard about our fundraising shortfall and said that on his ride from Olympia, he listened to our station for ten minutes and decided he would make that gift. And he told us to talk about it in our introduction, if it would encourage the audience to be generous as well.

They were generous, and we raised about three thousand dollars at the theater that night. Mwah! Thank you!!! Thank you SO much!

(If you'd like to help us further reduce that shortfall, pledge here. As of today, we still need to raise at least $40,000 more. We really need every dollar we can raise - even five or ten dollars will help us a lot. Thanks!)

David was quite taken with my last name and mentioned that a number of times, to me, and also to my children. To my daughter: "I'm so sorry you can never get married." Her: "WHY????" David: "You must never lose that last name! It's the greatest name ever!"

If you were there, thank you for being there and making it possible for us to bring David to Yakima. If you weren't, here's a little something for you, from Letterman:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Seeding the Stratosphere: Is it Cool?

After a long blogging hiatus for fundraising, here's one prevailing view on on how to combat global warming:

Block some of the sun's rays from reaching earth.

That's what happens after major volcanic events, such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

Fine ash and gases blasted high into the stratosphere, and the large volcanic cloud drifted around the world. It bore 22 million tons of sulfur dioxide, which combined with water to form droplets of sulfuric acid - and that blocked some sunlight from reaching the Earth. The result? A cooler world, with temperatures in some regions dropping by as much as 0.5 degrees C. (Source: USGS)

That was mild compared to the climate change effected by the biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded in human history. Nearly 200 years ago, in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago, Mount Tambora blew - the explosion was 10 times bigger than Krakatoa and more than 100 times bigger than Vesuvius or Mount St. Helens. Approximately 100,000 died in its shadow.

Tambora appears serene in these images from an airplane (top left) and from the space shuttle (top right).
Top left image courtesy of Rizal Dasoeki,Volcanological Survey of Indonesia. Top right image courtesy of NASA. Map courtesy of Tom Ford.
(Source: http://www.mitosyfraudes.org/Calen/Year1816.html)


This week NPR's Michael Sullivan investigated Tambora's impact on global climate.

The gas cloud from the 1815 eruption was about 20 times larger than that of Pinatubo, and produced the "year without summer." Average global temperatures decreased about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). On 6 June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. One foot of snow accumulated near Quebec City from 6 to 10 June 1816. (source)

Crops failed and people starved. Hundreds of thousands of people died. People were reduced to eating rats and fighting over roots. Most of these people were killed by epidemic diseases and other things related to starvation. They simply couldn't find enough food.

Yet some scientists believe that artificially creating these post-eruption stratospheric conditions is desirable: they see it as the answer to the global warming situation.

Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution’s department of global ecology advocates this in a New York Times opinion piece today.

In How to Cool the Globe, he writes:

"If we could pour a five-gallon bucket’s worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere, it might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much up there could protect us into the next century.

"A 1992 report from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that naval artillery, rockets and aircraft exhaust could all be used to send the particles up. The least expensive option might be to use a fire hose suspended from a series of balloons. Scientists have yet to analyze the engineering involved, but the hurdles appear surmountable.

"Seeding the stratosphere might not work perfectly. But it would be cheap and easy enough and is worth investigating."

Another proponent of this action is Dutch Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. His thought-provoking paper is published in the August issue of the Springer journal Climatic Change, devoted this month to the controversial field of geoengineering.

Why should we consider Crutzen's plan?

"Given the grossly disappointing international political response to the required greenhouse gas emissions,…research on the feasibility and environmental consequences of climate engineering of the kind presented in this paper, which might need to be deployed in future, should not be tabooed,” he says. (More at Science Daily and on the BBC News article, Creating a Sulphur 'Screen'.)

Not everyone is on board. In the NPR piece, University of Rhode Island volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson said, "Do you want to counter one pollutant with another one? I don't think so."

These concerns are not new. A decade and a half ago, Tulane University mechanical engineer Robert Watts worried about the unknown potential side effects of geoengineering. "All of these things might have unintended consequences." Watts said: "We really don't understand the climate well enough, so we don't want to start something where the cure might be worse than the disease."

(Watts edited the proceedings of a 1992 conference on the subject called The Engineering Response to Global Climate Change - here's more on his book.)

Caldeira's view: "Which is the more environmentally sensitive thing to do: let the Greenland ice sheet collapse and polar bears become extinct, or throw a little sulfate in the stratosphere? The second option is at least worth looking into."

Caldeira does note that stratospheric seeding should only be viewed as "an insurance policy, a backup plan for climate change." He says having this option is not permission to give up trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, Crutzen says his experiment should only be used as an emergency measure: it “should not be used to justify inadequate climate policies but merely to create a possibility to combat potentially drastic climate heating.”

Caldeira: "Ninety-nine percent of the $3 billion federal Climate Change Technology Program should still go toward developing climate-friendly energy systems. But 1 percent of that money could be put toward working out geoengineered climate fixes like sulfate particles in the atmosphere, and developing the understanding we need to ensure that they wouldn’t just make matters worse."

Wait - putting sulfur into the atmosphere - isn't that what we've been telling power plants to stop doing? Haven't we heard for years that sulfur dioxide is "a deadly gas...toxic to communities near power plants? Have we not been told that sulfate particulate is unhealthy - fine particles that pollute our communities and places hundreds of miles away, and sulfuric acid that damages our environment? (Clean Air Task Force) Hmm...I'll have to think a bit more about this.

Whatever scientists and politicians choose to do, they'd better do it quick.

Note: stratosphere seeding is only one geoengineering scheme. Read about other proposals here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So THAT'S Why Their Pants Are Falling Down!

On Morning Edition today, Wade Goodwyn reports that in Dallas, an interesting mix of politicians, hip-hop artists and white businessmen are announcing a citywide campaign with a simple message: Pull Your Pants Up.

How did sagging pants become a fashion statement in the first place?

Here, I'm reposting an entry from 8/30/07 for some answers.


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I know this is fashionable to some, but I never understood how or why such a dishevelled look could become a statement. Here's the answer:

Sagging began in prison, where oversized uniforms were issued without belts to prevent suicide and their use as weapons. The style spread through rappers and music videos, from the ghetto to the suburbs and around the world.

The story of the boxer rebellion is in today's New York Times. Niko Koppel writes about a growing number of cities - and states, in some cases - pushing to make this sartorial statement punishable by law. Read it here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pondering Giving, Receiving, and the Burmese Way.

As summer turns into fall, I often sink into introspection, and over the last couple of weeks my mind has been contemplating giving and receiving.

Among the events that kept propelling me to this subject, was a conversation I had with Robin Rilette, when I visited her at home a week ago while she was nursing a painful broken foot. We got around to talking about how events in our lives sometimes force us to receive, for a change. Robin wrote on her blog:

"I'm learning that while it is "more blessed to give than to receive" it can sometimes be more challenging to receive than to give. It's necessary, however, to learn to receive gracefully, gratefully and without guilt. This honors and respects the giver."

In our visit, I had recounted to Robin the tale of my difficult lesson on receiving, following a devastating flood at my home in 2005. The entire basement of my home was wiped out along with many possessions. Having no flood insurance, I was on my own with this major loss.

Or so I thought.

In a matter of days, volunteers showed up at my house in rubber boots, shovels and buckets in hand, and toiled in awful conditions, nearly waist deep in mud and debris, clearing it out. About 70 people shoveled and hauled for four days, with tremendous esprit de corps. Donations of food, bedding, furniture and cash flowed in. People housed and fed us while the home was uninhabitable, and many gave me the gifts of their organizing skills and technical expertise.

Somehow I managed to stay cheerful through the clean-up phase of the flood, and held on to a good sense of humor. But when all the mud was gone, I paid a visit to my beloved parish priest, and wept my own personal flood of tears. It was not the loss that troubled me in the least, I told him - it was the outpouring of love and support from friends, strangers and my warm and loving community that humbled me....and was so hard to accept. I felt undeserving.

And Father Joe told me something which I will always consider a major milepost in my understanding. It is much harder to receive than it is to give, he said, but it was a lesson I had to learn: that overwhelmed as I was by care of the good people, it was a mere taste of the love God has for us all.

So powerful was that message, I had a physical reaction - a jolt in my chest.

The subject of giving and receiving continues to assert itself in my life. Today, it came in a BBC article on the Burmese monks at the center of the current crisis in Burma (I will use the old form of the name in this post - it is the name I grew up using, so will run with the familiar.)

In Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, parts of Vietnam and Southeast Asia, Theravada Buddhism prevails. It is common for every male to be a monk at some point in his life. Even career men will take one week a year to live the ascetic life of mendicant, donning monk's robes and carrying a begging bowl - his only possessions. He will depend on the charity of civilians for his daily meals.

From the BBC article:

"They give religious guidance and perform important duties at weddings and funerals.

"In return for these duties, they are given donations by laymen. As they are forbidden from handling cash, they are completely reliant on these handouts. Each full moon day, they are also given donations such as robes.

"If they refuse these handouts, they are denying the donor the potential to earn spiritual "credit" - the strongest possible penalty that can be expected from a Buddhist."

What a beautiful thing it is, I thought, to have giving and receiving woven tightly into one's cultural consciousness, and then be aware, daily, of the spiritual need and reward of giving and receiving. Yet this creed is playing into the current situation:

Myint Swe of the BBC Burmese service said the announcement by the monks currently protesting in Burma that they would refuse all donations from the ruling military (most of whom would be Buddhist themselves) was so powerful, because "the government wants the image that they are pious and helping the monks."

(Matt Frei of the BBC wrote a great piece on the Burmese people's lot, and on the grace and courage of Aung San Suu Kyi - read it here.)

But here in the US of A, why is it so hard for many of us to receive?

Back in the day, people HAD to receive in order to survive. Think of the Amish coming together for barn raising. All sorts of agrarian societies in communal plowing, sowing and harvesting. Villages communally raising children.

Has life in modern Western societies removed us so far from this, that many think of receiving as a sort of weakness, a loss of independence - or an obligation to reciprocate? Is this the result of some religious teachings, which stress the virtue of giving - but less conspicuously, on the virtue of receiving? Or could this be tied to self-esteem?

Whatever the reason, I say, from personal experience: give - a smile, a greeting, a helping hand, or something material. But also open up and receive - a compliment, a greeting, a gift, a friendship. Then give in turn once more.

It's a deeply gratifying cycle.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't Mess With Public Radio Hosts - You'll Be Sorry

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UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

Jodie Foster talked about playing Erica Bane on NPR's All Things Considered on Wednesday - read and listen here

She's definitely one of the most intelligent actors today! What a pleasure to hear her expounding the intricacies of fear and darkness in the soul.

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FINALLY! The public radio host becomes Hollywood action hero!!

The Brave One, directed by Neil Jordan, opens this Friday, and stars Jodie Foster as public radio host Erica Bane.

According to the New York Times, the choice of Erica's profession was Ms. Foster's idea.

"In the original script Erica Bain was supposed to be, of all things, a reporter for The New York Times, and Ms. Foster, who confessed to being a “serious N.P.R.-head” — the sort of person who will sit in her garage listening to the car radio until a show is over — changed her to the host of a public radio show." (New York Times review)

Ah! so Jodie Foster's prone to NPR driveway moments!

As she listens to these mellow public radio announcers, does she wonder what lurks in their souls once they switch off the microphone? (Well, don't you?)

"With her caressing alto, Erica guides listeners around New York with the suggestively titled program “Street Walk,” mapping the city like a cross between the radio performer Joe Frank and Walt Whitman. She sounds like a woman in love, and she is — with the city, with her fiancé (Naveen Andrews). But she loses all this love before we can watch her fully experience it."

I know little more than this, but plan to watch the movie. After all, how many plots involve a public radio host? The last time a movie featured a public-radio type announcer, that I know of, was the dreadful Requiem for Murder (1999).

Okay, she wasn't exactly in public radio, but Molly Ringwald's character Anne Winslow is a classical music announcer - close enough, right? She works at "one of the top five classical stations in the metro area." That line made me laugh so hard I had to stop the tape. Did the writers even bother to do their research on classical music stations? TOP FIVE? Out of how many? In one metro area? Oh come on!

Anyway, some of Anne Winslow's listeners die as they're tuned in to her program.

Think about it.

THEY DIE LISTENING TO HER.

Did I mention Requiem for Murder wasn't supposed to be a comedy?

(If you simply must know more about the movie, check out this review of sorts. Skip past the first five paragraphs to get to the synopsis.)

NOTE: SCROLL TO THE END OF THIS POST TO VIEW A TRAILER OF THIS STINKER.

I'm fairly sure that Jodie Foster's character will be stronger and more interesting than Anne Winslow. She's certainly not passive and whiny.

This is Erica's story:

“One evening, while (Erica and fiancé are) walking their dog in Central Park, the lovers are savagely attacked. He dies; she lives. She buys a gun. She points. She shoots. Again and again and again."

I'm not sure if the movie deals with her station's first pledge drive following her killing spree, along with new numbers for Average Quarter Hour and Time Spent Listening (numbers by which many a station lives or dies!) Maybe in the sequel. Who did Foster have in mind when she created Erica Bane? Nina Gun-Totin' Berg? Ann "So-What-If-You're-An-Insurgent-I'll-Kick-Your-Derriere" Garrels? (Any ideas?)

And here you thought public radio announcers were a mild bunch.

We're not all Margaret Jo McCullen or Lynn Vershad or Teri Rialto (aka Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch and Molly Shannon) from The Delicious Dish on Saturday Night Live. (Watch the skits in which they interview Alec Baldwin aka Pete Schwedy here and here. WARNING: strong innuendo - follow the links at your discretion!)

Let's see what "The Brave One" does for our image!

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Here's the trailer for Requiem for Murder:

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Addio, Maestro.


On Thursday morning, I received e-mail from several friends whose tastes don't usually run to opera - and all expressed sadness at the passing of Luciano Pavarotti. Such was his universal appeal, and universal was the appreciation of that singular voice.

The voice was one of the most thrilling sounds of our time. Yes, much has been made of the high C's he hit again and again - but it was also the sheer brilliance and clarion exuberance it conveyed. A wonder.

Some critics felt a last need to assert their superiority on the announcement of Pavarotti's death by reiterating their tired claims that he sold out by performing with the likes of Sting, the Spice Girls and what not. They went on and on about how he wasn't the most intelligent interpreter of operatic roles. Blah blah blah. One of my friends said, "bastards! let them try to sing Nessun Dorma!" (Watch him sing it) Another said, "those who can, do; those who can't, become critics."

How quickly can you sing "sour grapes" in a falsetto?

Here's where my long-time favorite, Placido Domingo, shone. Set up to be Pavarotti's rival decades ago, the tenors instead reached across those petty expectations and became close friends. Together they teamed up to celebrate the victory over leukemia of their fellow tenor Jose Carreras. For that, all three tenors were harshly judged by those same critics, and adored by audiences across the world.

Said Don Placido: "I think the career of Luciano was bigger because I was there as his friendly rival, and I think my career is bigger because he was there also as a friendly rival," a somber Domingo told a news conference Thursday.

Of the three tenors, it was Luciano Pavarotti whose sunny, beaming visage became best known to the non-opera audience. The worldwide expression of sorrow at his passing is testament to the way that voice climbed seemingly unscalable heights and into people's hearts.

But there was so much more to like and love than that gift: there was an air of generosity about him, the way he gave his all in performances (yes, yes, I've heard about the declining quality of his singing later in his career - this is not about his fading years). Pavarotti oozed charm, playfulness and flirtatiousness.

Here's a side to the man not usually seen on stage, as related by British soprano Jane Eaglen, writing in Slate:

"My family has come to opera through my involvement, and so, when they heard I was going to be singing with Pavarotti, they decided to come to New York to see a performance. My brother asked me to tell the story of Turandot, so they would be prepared. I briefly told them about the princess who asks possible suitors three riddles, which they must answer correctly or die.

"My brother, keen on games, wanted to see if they could get the riddles, so roughly translating from the Italian, I came to the second: What is hot but also cold, can give you a fever but also a chill? Is it love? No. Is it passion? No. Then my mother, thinking carefully, said, "Is it mustard?" It took several minutes for us to stop falling around laughing, and in many ways it's almost a better answer than the real one: blood.

"This story became a bit of a legend in the family and beyond, as I told various conductors and singers about it when I sang the role. James Levine loved it so much he insisted that I tell Luciano in a music rehearsal. We had only been working together a couple of days, and I was a little unsure if he would find it funny, but I told the story, and he did indeed laugh heartily for a long time.

"On opening night, some three weeks later, I was in my dressing room having my makeup done, when he came in with a huge wicker basket, filled with 12 beautifully wrapped little parcels, which he placed on my dressing table. I was amazed and thanked him profusely, saying it was far too lovely to unwrap there and then. He told me to wait until I got home, but said, "I wanted you to have this—it's 12 different kinds of mustard!""

But that was not all, says Eaglen.

"I never expected him to have such a sense of humor, nor to take the time to make this gesture, and I was really touched. He followed it up when, unbeknown to me, he was in the same restaurant where I was dining with my family. We had just been seated when the maitre d' brought over a dish of mustard and put in front of me. Upon seeing my confusion, he couldn't wait to tell me, "Maestro Pavarotti sent it.""

I think we could always see humor twinkling in his eyes.

But what about the very thing that first shot Pavarotti to stardom, the high C? What's the big deal?

“It’s the absolute summit of technique,” said Craig Rutenberg, the Metropolitan Opera’s director of musical administration — in effect, its chief vocal coach. “More than anywhere else in your voice, you have to know what you’re doing. To me it signals a self-confidence in the singer that lets him communicate to us that he knows what he’s doing and he has something very important to express with that note.”

Daniel J. Wakin, writing in the New York Times, continues:

"The high C has a...visceral, spine-tingling lure.

“The reason it’s so exciting to people is, it’s based on the human cry,” said Maitland Peters, chairman of the voice department at the Manhattan School of Music. “It’s instinctual. It’s like a baby. You’re pulled into it.” When a tenor sings a ringing high C, it seems, “there’s nothing in his way,” Mr. Peters said.

"The pitch, in itself, has a satisfying quality. The key of C major, after all, is a stable, cheerful, happy key, the one with no sharps or flats.

"Fascination may also derive from the fact that high tenor notes are somewhat freakish. Women have high voices, and men have low voices. For a male to sing that high with such power somehow seems unnatural."

"In the mid-20th century, Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli and Jussi Bjoerling had great high C’s. Curiously, Enrico Caruso, arguably the greatest opera celebrity, had a weak one and had to work hard to develop his top. Plácido Domingo, who extended his voice up from the baritone range and who is widely admired for his musicianship and artistry, is also not known for pinging high C’s."

"Mr. Pavarotti won his place in the pantheon of high C’s with a run of Donizetti’s “Fille du Régiment” in the 1972-1973 season at the Met. The aria “Pour mon âme” calls for nine of them in a row, and Mr. Pavarotti tossed them off brilliantly."

"Mr. Pavarotti once described the feeling this way: “Excited and happy, but with a strong undercurrent of fear. The moment I actually hit the note, I almost lose consciousness. A physical, animal sensation seizes me. Then I regain control.”"

Listen to him hit all 9 high Cs in that famed aria from Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment":



This was the scene at the funeral in the Duomo (cathedral) in Pavarotti's hometown of Modena this morning, as reported by Opera Chic:

"...a recording of Pavarotti and his dad rings in Church now, Panis Angelicus.

"Hearing that unique, unmistakable voice, that wondrous sound, while the TV carries the image of Pavarotti's maple wood coffin.

"In a spontaneous breach of etiquette, a standing ovation, and long applause echoes through the Duomo. It just never ends.

"A brief, quite eloquent -- for his standards -- speech by the Italian PM: "Sometimes we don't need words because sorrow speaks for us; and everything today demonstrates how deeply Pavarotti became part of our lives".

"It's over now -- Luciano Pavarotti will shortly be buried, in the Montale Rangone cemetery next to his beloved parents and his only son, Riccardo, stillborn in 2003."

Here's the young Pavarotti, in the days before the trademark look:



And finally, I want to share this song with you. It's not opera - rather, the Italian folk song "Mamma," and one of the things I most love hearing Pavarotti sing. It never fails to cheer me up:



Addio, Maestro. You will be sorely missed by many.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

So that's where the missing syllables went!

Follow up to the missing syllables in Oregon and caramel:

I think that shwa has been dropped off, like unwanted goods tossed at a Goodwill donation center, on to realtor.

That is a two-syllable word, or should be, anyway. But so often, it's stretched tight in its lycra leisure suit to ree-luh-tor.

The poor word even been stretched on the rack by people in that very profession! Shouldn't that be part of basic training for them?

I suppose it makes up for the animal doctors whose titles are often shortened to vet-tree-nare-ree-uhn. (Oh, all right - I suppose if you have that many syllables, you can afford to lose one!)

So - can you think of any other words that are commonly pronounced with added or subtracted shwas/syllables? Please share!

I must say I enjoy hearing small children being liberal with syllables. Examples from my children in their pre-school days include:

straw-buh-rary (strawberry)
wool-fuhs (wolves)
lye-berry (library)
feb-yoo-ary (February).

Incidentally, there are terms for these practices. When you drop a syllable from the middle of a word, and turn Oregon into Organ, it's called syncope.

When you add a syllable to the middle of a word like realtor and turn it into ree-luh-tor, you are practicing epenthesis.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Oregon has three syllables, people.

Have you noticed more and more people dropping the middle syllable in Oregon?

I hear it everywhere, even in news stories from journalists based in that wonderful state.

Oregon has a beautiful lilt to it. Organ is somewhat less mellifluous.

This pronunciation, in my observation, is fairly recent. Oregonians used to correct another mangling of their state's beautiful name: ory-gone. From a2zgorge.info:

"I remember (long ago) watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. (Yes, there was a time when Dan Rather was just an upstart kid!). The previous evening Walter had done a news story on Oregon, and as most easterners are wont to do, pronounced it Ory-GONE. Well, he must have gotten a snootful of complaints from Oregon residents, because the next night he apologized for his transgression on air, and clarified the pronunciation is ORYgun." (Correct pronunciation: OR-ih-guhn)

My guess is that somewhere along the way, the middle ih became a shwa (the neutral vowel that occurs in unstressed syllables - as in the, and the third sound in banana)

It's so easy to drop a shwa.

Just ask caramel.

According to Daniel Jones' English Pronouncing Dictionary, the word is pronounced kare-ruh-mel (sorry, I don't know how to get IPA symbols on the keyboard.) Americans, more often than not, say kar-muhl.

From Common Errors in English:

Take Highway 1 south from Monterey to reach the charming seaside town of Carmel, of which Clint Eastwood was formerly mayor. Dissolve sugar in a little water and cook it down until the sugar turns brown to create caramel. A nationwide chain uses the illiterate spelling Karmelkorn (TM), which helps to perpetuate the confusion between these two words. (Link)

What happened? I think somewhere along the way, kare first turned into kar (Merriam Webster does it that way). When the first vowel is long, it then becomes quite easy to drop the shwa, doesn't it?

Hardly anybody in the US pays any attention at all to that caramel's middle syllable (a practice which is called syncope).

That common pronunciation has now infiltrated the written form: it's not unusual at fairs to see signs advertising carmel apples or (as noted in Common Errors) karmel korn. It used to drive me absolutely crazy, but after years of inundation in floods of carmel, not only have I caved...but even find myself uttering the two-syllable version of the word.

Bobby Flay is practically alone on the Food Network in correctly enunciating all three syllables in caramel.

But in a recently aired episode of "Boy Meets Grill," he said something which is another of my pet peeves: to melt the brown sugar in the rum. Virtually all the Food Network chefs say this in one variation or another. But one doesn't melt sugar in rum or water - you dissolve it. If one were to melt sugar, and keep it on heat, it would eventually turn to - caramel.

OK, rant over. Now off to create a recipe of Organ Karmel.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We're A Long Way from the River Jordan.

Baptism...by fire hose?



Accompanied by brass bands and thundering preachers, several hundred people squeezed onto a narrow street in Washington, D.C. yesterday to be baptized in the drenching shower of a fire hose.

The tradition of the baptism by fire hose started in the late 1920s at the United House of Prayer for All People, which is headquartered in DC.

"We used to use the Potomac River," said pastor Apostle H. Whitner, but the church's founder, Charles "Sweet Daddy" Grace, decided to use a fire hose instead, "because a baptism involves sprinkling."

Although many Christian denominations view baptism as a one-time ritual for entry into the faith, the House of Prayer permits multiple baptisms as a way for members to periodically wash away their sins and heal physical ailments. For many in the church, yesterday's baptism is an annual practice.

The full story of drenching in water and emotion is at the Washington Post.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In Case You Missed the "Quagmire" Quote

This is a transcript of a old C-SPAN video that's been watched a LOT in the last week.

"...if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

"Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place?

"That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it - eastern Iraq - the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years.

"In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

"It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

"The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families - it wasn't a cheap war.

"And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

"Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.”


The speaker:

DICK CHENEY.


Find it hard to believe? Watch the C-SPAN interview, taped on April 15, 1994 with the American Enterprise Institute:



Washington Post blogger Mary Ann Akers gives the background:

The Untold Story of the Cheney 'Quagmire' Video

When the C-SPAN producer toiling in obscurity last month reached for the tape, he had no clue how juicy a nugget he had unearthed. The tape was labeled simply, "Life and Career of Dick Cheney"; dated April 15, 1994.

When he found it in the archives, the producer was just looking for something mildly interesting to help fill the 12-hour Cheney marathon planned by C-SPAN 3. The "Life and Career of Dick Cheney," produced for C-SPAN's "American Profile" series, seemed like a good bet for the marathon; after all, those interviews were personality-based and less wonky, letting viewers get a real feel for Dick and his wife/political partner, Lynne.

But instead of love and marriage, the "Life and Career" tape offered up a much younger looking Cheney saying that a U.S. invasion to capture Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein would be, well, a quagmire.

At the time of the interview 13 years ago, Cheney was the ex-defense secretary, camped out at the American Enterprise Institute and contemplating a run for president. Asked why he didn't think U.S. forces should have gone on to Baghdad during the first Persian Gulf War, he asked rhetorically, "How many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?" He added, "It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq."

The now famous "quagmire" tape, which has gotten over half a million views on YouTube, may well have remained buried in the archives for another decade (and doesn't Cheney wish it had!) if it hadn't been for that one C-SPAN producer, an affable young Irishman named Emmanuel Touhey.

Touhey didn't have time to review the entire hour-long tape before airing it, so he had no idea he was about to spark a firestorm on the Internet. And, at first, no one seemed to notice.

The Cheney tape re-aired for the first time since 1994 on July 11, 2007. But it wasn't until C-SPAN aired the interview again on August 9 (on the same channel, at the same time) that the blogosphere noticed.
As far as we know, the Cheney remarks on Iraq were first noticed by the site Grand Theft Country. When it quickly became an Internet phenomenon, Touhey was surprised. He said people have been calling C-SPAN over the past week asking when the network plans to air the Cheney segment again. (It doesn't, for the record.)

"I was quietly pleased with myself that I'd found a gem, however by accident," said Touhey, who, after nine years with C-SPAN is leaving next week to become a producer for The Diane Rehm Show. "I'm gleeful just from the perspective that it's getting a lot of attention. Any time C-SPAN 3 gets a lot of attention, I'm happy."

Asked what changed the vice president's mind about invading Iraq between 1994 and 2003, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said she was not authorized to comment.

She did, however, direct us to an interview that ABC News conducted with Cheney in February of this year in which Cheney was asked how his views had changed from 1991, when he also spoke of military action in Iraq as a "quagmire."

"Well, I stand by what I said in '91," Cheney told ABC. "But look what's happened since then -- we had 9/11."

Now, about that faceless voice in the Cheney "quagmire" video -- it belongs to Bruce Collins, the corporate vice president and general counsel of C-SPAN who held the same title when he interviewed the former defense secretary and future vice president way back in 1994.

Collins shared with us a funny anecdote about that interview.

When he showed up at Cheney's office, he said the future Veep asked, "How much time do you need -- one, two minutes?" Collins explained it was an hour-long interview.

Cheney grumbled that he hadn't planned on that much time. Collins said the interview was for C-SPAN's "American Profile" series, which would give the audience a chance to learn more about Dick Cheney the man, where he comes from, how he thinks, how he lives.

"You mean, touchy feely?" Cheney replied, according to Collins.

"This is an opportunity to go beyond policy," Collins recalled saying.

To which Cheney growled, "Well, you know I'm a policy kinda guy."

And there you have it: Dick Cheney is not a touchy-feely kinda guy.

Here's a link to Akers' blog post.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Venice Visit.

On NPR's Morning Edition today Sylvia Poggioli explored a fabled city.



"Venice is a seductive city that has bewitched artists from all over the world. One writer who has settled in "the city on stilts" is the American author Donna Leon. The sinking Renaissance jewel is the backdrop of her "Commissario Brunetti" detective stories. Leon recently gave a visiting reporter a tour of her Venice. The story is part of a series, Crime in the City, about crime novelists and the places they and their characters inhabit."

"Leon stresses there are two separate Venices.

"One has quiet campielli (squares) and barges that deliver fruits and vegetables; that Venice belongs to Brunetti and its 60,000 other residents.

"The other Venice is filled with the booming voices of tour guides with microphones and attracts up to 20 million tourists a year."

"Leon describes a "Bermuda Triangle" of San Marco-Accademia-Rialto.

"'Most tourists spend the major part of their time in that triangle,' she says. 'That's where it's very, very unpleasant to be at almost any daylight hour, at almost any time of the year,' she says."

I agree whole-heartedly. During my visit last year, I found the most highly-anticipated part of the Venice itinerary, San Marco, deeply disappointing. Huge crowds, disrespectful behavior in the chapels, and merchants jaded from catering to daily throngs of tourists. I found the quiet side of Venice, far from the Bermuda Triangle Leon describes, walking around Cannaregio at dusk. [Read it here: Finding the REAL Venice. (You have to look for it!!)]

This was the real Venice I enjoyed, the place where real people hang their laundry out on a line over the canal.



One can also glimpse real city by watching Venetian dogs and their owners.

Read my posts on Venice here, and listen to my impressions on my first evening in the city.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Martin Luther King...Made in China?

The Martin Luther King National Memorial will be unveiled on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2009.

Covering four acres near the Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, visitors to the King memorial will first walk through a grove of spruce and magnolia trees by a waterfall and read a selection of the civil rights leader's famous words carved on walls. At the end of their walk, they will see King's likeness emerging from a chunk of granite, standing 28 feet tall - 9 feet taller than Jefferson's likeness nearby.

This statue will be sculpted by a Chinese artist.

And critics say that's outsourcing gone too far.

"Atlanta resident Lea Winfrey Young says the "outsourcing" by U.S. companies and organizations to China has gone too far this time," writes Arianna Eunjung Cha in the Washington Post. "She and her husband, Gilbert Young, a painter, are leading a group of critics who argue that an African American -- or any American -- should have been picked for such an important project.

"'Dr. King's statue is to be shipped here in a crate that supposedly says 'Made in China.' That's just obscene," Winfrey Young says.

Why a Chinese artist? A former adviser for the memorial says the King Memorial Project Foundation did it "in the hopes of getting a $25 million donation from the Chinese government to make up for a shortfall in funding."

The accuser, Ed Dwight, was originally selected to design the memorial, but was removed over creative differences.

The foundation is rejecting the accusation. The president, Harry E. Johnson Sr., said yesterday that the foundation had raised $82 million of the $100 million needed to complete and maintain the project.

Another leading opponent of the Chinese project is painter Gilbert Young. He told Atlanta weekly Creative Loafing:

"The most grievous sin is these black men could have gotten together and said, ‘We could not find any blacks qualified to do the memorial.’ That’s insane.”

"Also insane, according to Young, is the foundation’s decision to use granite from China for the memorial. “We have beautiful stone right here in Georgia, and I know that some of the quarries offered granite at cost just so they could be involved,” he says.

“The worst thing as an artist and a black person is they took away my birthright to be first in line,” says Young. “Dr. King fought for the rights of black people in this country to have the fair opportunity to be equal. They selected an Asian from China, a country that has killed millions of their own people. They don’t believe in Christianity and they don’t believe in freedom. Giving my history away to someone from another country to interpret, I have a problem with that.”

This is sculptor Lei Yixin with his clay model of the statue in question. The citizens of his hometown, Changsha in Hunan, are "bewildered" by the controversy.

"Wasn't it King's dream to end all racism? Lei asked.

"He has always dreamed that people from all over the world will not be judged by the color of their skin -- that we would all be brothers and sisters and enjoy equal opportunity. Now I have the luck to get this opportunity," he said.

In that vein, King Memorial Foundation President Johnson says, "We don't want to take the stand to say African Americans can only work on this project. We appreciate the diversity we have. The sole criterion for choosing Lei Yixin was artistic ability, he says, citing Lei's skill at capturing personalities in sculptures, his expertise in hewing granite and his extensive experience with large public monuments.

NPR commentator and blogger John Ridley, who's African-American, sees both sides of the argument.

"When I heard it, my gut reaction was: no. No way should somebody who's not a black American do up the national memorial likeness of one of the most prominent of us.

"I wasn't the only one with the feeling in my gut. There's an entire Web site dedicated to keeping Dr. King "ours."

"But you give it a second, you put your initial passions aside, and it is possible to see things in a different way.”No" softens into "why not?" Why not let Dr. King go global? Weren't he and his message phenomena beyond the Lower 48? What King borrowed from Ghandi, he lent to the likes of Ivan Cooper, the Northern Ireland civil rights activist. And perhaps a Chinese person getting the job is not outsourcing work, but exporting the ideals of freedom. We've seen how well that plays when distributed by the muzzle of an army gun. Better we should try to inspire. Better we should try by sharing "our" man of compassion with the world.

"Being able to see Lei Yixin not as "the Chinese guy," but as one of Dr. King's "children" is what Dr. King preached: judging people by their content, not their pigment. I think you can extend that to a person's place of origin. Certainly it can be extended to the political system under which they live. And how wonderful would it be for an oppressed people to be able to sculpt an image of the personification of freedom? Not to mention the high irony as J. Edgar Hoover, among King detractors, accused the doctor of being a commie or a commie tool."

Read the whole post on his NPR blog, John Ridley's Visible Man.

Related:

Make a donation to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.

Here's the Gilbert Young website, King is Ours, which also requests support.

More on the controversy, on the Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin, in this Washington Post article.