Saturday, April 28, 2007

Q.Q.F. File: Baileys for the Bones

The women in my family have a history of some osteoporosis. My doctor insists I get more calcium to get ahead of it, and I quite agree.

I comply by drinking a full glass of low fat milk almost every night, poured over a base of Baileys Irish Cream. I was never a fan of Baileys straight up, but in a tall, cool glass of milk, the whisky/cocoa/cream emulsion makes for a heavenly, festive libation. The ratio of Baileys to milk changes depending on the type of day it's been.

There are some amazing (and some scary) drink recipes on their site.

Slainte!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Unloved by The New Yorker Cartoon Judges

I’ve been eyeing the New Yorker cartoon contests in the back of the physical magazine for a while now (that magazine and the Atlantic being the only nonelectronic media I still susbcribe to).

I took the plunge the other week, and entered a quip online. I thought I had a good chance. One of the finalists had the same idea that I did, with different wording.

Here’s my non-finalist caption to the cartoon of the angel flying into heaven clutching a hibachi, with golf clubs on his shoulder, and a second angel says to a third:

“I see the guys from Scarsdale are still allowed to take it with them.”

Go here to vote for one of the finalists. It’s a weekly contest—so I’ve got other chances for New Yorker fame.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sabah El Kair Iraq: Good Morning Iraq

The news this week out of Baghdad is relentlessly grim. The NY Times reports that a suicide bomber killed 10 people today, following the 171 who died in the capital in the deadliest day since the American-led security plan for the city took effect two months ago.

Amid the smoke and the pain and the horror, one has to wonder: will there ever be a dawn to this long nightmare of failed policies and vengeful killing?

A smaller, little-thought about light does shine each morning throughout the Middle East: the light from the television set. The Museum of Television & Radio is offering a media exhibit that looks at the programming coming through those sets, in order to give visitors an idea of what the people in that region are watching themselves.

(For full disclosure, I helped to create this exhibit with the curator, David Bushman.)

The impact of the 1980s global satellite revolution on the Middle East (in the 1990s) has been profound. Today there are over 300 channels in the region, some still state run, others private, commercial enterprises. There are no Nielsen equivalents for the region, and there are several organizations only now trying to compile statistics on percentages of population with televisions, and how many per family.

But those facts and figures don’t speak to the programming, which is what is on display.

The exhibit offers live satellite feeds (via Dish Satellite Service) of The Israeli Network—a service that presents select programming from Israel’s leading television networks; and Al Arabiya—a 24 hour Arabic news channel based in Dubai Media City. One monitor changes channels weekly, showcasing MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center, Dubai), LBC (Lebanon Broadcasting Corporation) along with New TV and Future TV, ESC-1 and Nile Drama (Egypt), Abu Dhabi TV, and others. Al Jazeera English is being shown through a live Internet feed.

The live satellite feeds are fascinating to watch, because non-Arabic/Hebrew/Farsi speakers can only react to the images and the music. The visual semiotics of genres hold: the anchors in the news studio, the ticker at the bottom; flat, stilted scenes of soap operas; bright colorful sets of music programs—it’s all familiar. I was watching some sort of teenage talk show program on MBC, when all of a sudden I heard the theme from Indiana Jones. Little shocks of recognition make you smile.

Besides the live feeds, there are 2 compilation tapes by guest curator Jamal Dajani, the director of Middle East programming for Link TV. He had programs taped in the Middle East that are not available on satellite services.

One of the most poignant is Sabah El Kair Iraq—an Iraqi morning show from Al Iraqiya. The clip in the compilation is a segment on wedding rings. Here’s some of the transcript from the cohosts:

“The ring is worn on the left ring finger because the ancients thought that this finger is connected to the vein that goes from the left palm to the heart. In the Roman tradition, the male would give his financee a ring from the steel that he places at the tip of his sword. The tradition developed, and the steel ring was replaced by gold and silver.

“My beloved ones, on the topic of rings, if you read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, you would see the deep attachment of Bassanio to the ring of his lover, Portia.”

The cohosts talk more about the history of wedding rings, then it goes to the segment reporter in the field, who is at a jewelry shop, talking to a groom and the shop owner.

It’s basic morning-show fare, yet I was surprised by the Shakepeare reference. Not because I think the Iraqi people are somehow outside of the knowledge and appreciation of towering figures of world literature, but because the perspective that more often comes through our own media is the extremists’ hatred and rejection of everything about the West.

And that’s why this window to what the Arab and Israeli world is watching is so important.

There is more information about the exhibit here.

There are also panel discussion events connected with it. Two have already happened (which I’ll post on when the web videos are available); two are still to come. A discussion about Al Jazeera on May 3, and about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and media on June 7. Info about those are here.

Cross-posted at newcritics.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Requiem

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,

The years had given them kindness.

Dawn was theirs, and sunset, and the colours of the earth.

These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks.

All this is ended.



From a poem by Rupert Brooke. Deep prayers for the souls of those murdered at Virginia Tech.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Laundry Day

Thinking of my maternal grandmother on this Mother's Day.

I have several things of hers in my apartment that mean a lot to me:

Her Atlantic #511 washboard, from the National Washboard Co., Chicago, Saginaw, Memphis.

Her cast iron iron. It's small, ways at least 5 pounds. You would put it on the stove burners to heat, and then use to iron clothes/sheets.

A ceramic rooster from her old kitchen.

Small dinner plates that her mother brought with her "on the boat" when she came over from Switerland.

A box hand-carved by her father.

That washboard is a testament to the realities of my grandmother's life. Regina Caroline was born in 1900 on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, to immigrant Swiss German parents. The family history is sketchy—-my mother’s generation didn’t ask questions of their parents, and by the time I was interested in knowing, it was too late.

I know my great-grandparents were painfully poor. They had 11 children, only the first and last of whom survived childhood (my grandmother being the youngest). My great-grandfather died when my grandmother was still a child, leaving great-grandma with two little girls to fend for themselves.

Grammy rarely spoke about her childhood, except in an offhand comment once that when she was still in the highchair her mother put an  iron in her hand so that she could iron handkerchiefs for one of the summer resorts in the area for pennies. And one other specific, that when she was a young girl her dog ate poison that a neighbor had put out to kill a fox, and died.  At 80 she could start crying whenever she told that story, so deep was her love for her dog.

Her history picks up when she was 18 or so. She got a job at the Forest Lake County Club, near Honesdale, as a waitress, and, in fact, a laundress. Doing the resort’s sheets by hand was not easy. Hard work, hard manual labor followed her from the farm to the resort—it was all she knew.

Grammy had a very winning personality, and it turned out that a dowager who summered at the club offered her a job in the Big City as a paid companion—which always made me think of the Second Mrs. De Winter traveling with Mrs. Van Hopper to Monaco in the film Rebecca.

Grammy was an adventurous spirit who knew there was a big world beyond her farm. She took the job, and landed on Riverside Drive at 116 Street in Manhattan (where, 7 decades later, I would find an apartment. Hmm).

She eventually got her own apartment in Brooklyn, and picked-up “day work,” cleaning apartments for the well-to-do. The years passed; when she turned 30 she had the opportunity to travel to Europe. She said to her beau, Arthur, “we get married, now, or I’m going to Europe.”

They got married.

I never met my grandfather, but it seems that married life did not turn out as Grammy was expecting. She had worked for wealthy people, and had received beautiful furniture and china as wedding gifts. She thought that she would be entertaining a lot herself, but Grandpa was a mailman who worked hard, and he wasn’t interested in much of a social life. It's also that he had been a bachelor for almost 40 years, and maybe that was too long.

My mother once told me that when she was a teenager she came upon her mother in the middle of a crying jag. I think about that sometimes. The life Grammy imagined was not her reality, even after all her will power had gotten her off the farm and into the most fabulous city in the world, where she was a success in many, many ways. She had her own money and her own bank account. She had a mailman who came home, every day (something she liked to repeat), and two little girls, but something was missing, or wasn’t right.

I loved and admire her for all her struggles—-for her strength, in surviving the pandemic influenza of 1918 (when the coffins in NY lined the streets), for her encyclopedic knowledge of the NY subway system, her life-long love of her dogs, for raising such a special daughter, for always sending money back to her sister who never left rural Pennsylvania, for playing tea party with me when I was 5 with much patience, and keeping her spirits up, even as old, old age descended on her, until at 93 she passed on.


Saturday, April 7, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: ". . . the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans"

The weather in Prague continued grey and raining. I was hating the city all around--it was crowded and cold and chaotic. I was very happy when it was time to leave. Cadfael and I headed into Hungary, and everything started brightening.

You're out of the woods
You're out of the dark
You're out of the night
Step into the sun
Step into the light
Keep straight ahead for
The most glorious place -

Budapest

What a beautiful city. In a shrinking world, Budapest, with the dazzling Danube and nine beautiful bridges, is still exotic.

We explored that exotic side, but the city’s serious side had more meaning. We visited the Terror Haus, at 60 Andrassy Uta, Budapest’s Champs Elysee. It had only opened the year before, as part of a movement to not erase all the traces of the city’s Nazi and Communist past. 60 Andrassy was the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis, and then the Soviets. The website explains: “Having survived two terror regimes, it was felt that the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims, and at the same time to present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times.”

It’s a powerful experience, beginning with an enormous tank as you enter, representing the shear power of the regimes over its people. There are three different floors restored with artifacts. But it’s the elevator to the basement that sets it apart from any other museum. The basement was used as a prison and torture chamber. You can walk through the labyrinth of cells, some as small as 5ft x 2 ft, and see the iron pliers and vises and nails.

Near the exit of the exhibit is a small hall that was the most controversial part. It has photographs and names of the Hungarians who had “worked” there. These were part of the records that were preserved. This is not ancient history. The children and grandchildren of these people are very much alive, and can recognize family members when they visit. It's a uniquely Hungarian approach to a dark past.

From the visit to the past, we decided to connect with modern Budapest—at a mall, to see a movie. Spike Lee’s 25th hour was playing in the English language theater. I didn’t know the story, and was stunned when the images of 9/11 and the tribute in lights came on the screen. It felt very strange seeing images of that day in an audience of Eastern Europeans.

I had been absorbing so much of their history, and now my own was staring me in the face. Again, that obscene day came flooding back in strange snatches. The subways being shut down—-no one knew if there were more waves of attacks coming. I walked home in a daze. From the rooftop of my building, Mr. Ripley and I could see thick, thick black smoke rising to the south. I started weeping again for it all in a mall in Pest.

I was glad when the lights came up. Cad and I crossed back over to Buda, and walked along the Danube back to the hotel, those regal bridges sparkling gaily through the fog that was rolling in.

It was a lovely moment in a beautiful friendship. If you’re going to nurse a broken heart, doing it in Budapest with a friend such as Cad is one good way.

I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

The weight of history—decades past and more recent—had sobered me up. Let’s just say, I snapped out of it, because tomorrow, is another day.

A blessed Easter to all who partake--

Thursday, April 5, 2007

As I Was Walking to St. Ives . . .

Well, not really to St. Ives. And there were no seven men, or wives, cats, sacks, or kits. But I have been walking around town alot lately, to get in shape for an upcoming walking tour of the Italian Lake District in July.

On Sunday morning I walked north on Broadway, and near Columbus Circle I passed the Reverend Al Sharpton and his entourage. He is shorter and trimmer than on tv. About twenty blocks later, I passed Lou Reed, walking South by himself. It was like passing a black hole of intensity and energy.

The next day, walking from subway in the morning, I passed Anne Meara, wearing huge black sunglasses. But that voice is unmaskable.

I do love this town.

And in honor of seeing Lou Reed on the Upper West Side on Sunday morning, here is an early video from The Velvet Underground of their Sunday Morning.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Meet La Bella Shelley

Shelley, a blogger who runs At Home in Rome, is a real life, honest to God, urban legend. She went to Rome for a month break inbetween jobs, met Alessandro the first day she was there, and she and her Italian are now on their honeymoon. Wow.

I landed on At Home in Rome last year via Andrew Sullivan, who linked to Shelley’s musing on gorgeous priests of the Vatican calendar she had seen around town. I go back because she notices many interesting and arcane things in her adopted city, and has interesting things to say about them, along with gorgeous photographs.

While she is on her honeymoon for the month of April, she has posted an alphabeth’s worth of links from her blog circle and beyond, all about Italy. No need for that 8-hour flight to commune with the very special people and way of the life that is Italy—-just go see her “La Mia Italia” fest. Not surprising, many entries are about food ! There are lots of tips about great trattorias and not-to-miss wine bars from expats and natives who know. She is also running a contest for the "favorite post"--with prizes. I sent her my Cadfael Italy stories. Surely no picture of Italy is complete without a view of Rome, Tuscany, and Elba with a Benedictine monk.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

What Flavor of Fool?

I'm a fool to want you, I'm a fool to want you
To want a love that can't be true
A love that's there for others too

Everybody plays the fool, sometime
There’s no exception to the rule, listen baby
It may be factual, it may be cruel, I aint lying
Everybody plays the fool


These foolish things, remind me of you

What kind of fool am I? That never fell in love—

Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread

Avril Lavigne is Nobody’s Fool (good for her)

Oh! more fool me. Ah, but when it comes round to you and me
I ask myself, do I really believe In your love.
Yes, I’m sure it will work out alright

Daddy you're a fool to cry
You're a fool to cry
You're a fool to cry
And it makes me wonder why


But for you I will, for you I will If I’m a fool, I’ll be a fool
Darlin’ for you

Bite the hand that bakes your bread,
Dare to leap where angels fear to tread
But never give your love, my friend,
Unto a foolish heart

Why does my heart skip this crazy beat
Because it knows
It will reach defeat
Tell me why, tell me why
Why do fools fall in love?