Friday, May 18, 2007

Our Heroine (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)

Oh! oh! oh! I'm...just...a little excited...can't think of anything intelligent to say right now. I just heard...can't believe it...The Weakerthans are coming to New York for a show! (must calm down and write something intelligible)

Ok, about 10 months ago, Eve Tushnet, amazing lady-blogger and all around smart cracker, turned me on to The Weakerthans. In particular, Reconstruction Site, their latest effort. I am the worst, absolute worst, music critic of all time, so I won't even try to explain why they're awesome. I'll quote Eve, who was also a little breathless with excitement, but did a pretty bang-up job:

...Um, the sound is sort of rock-y, not in an especially exciting way. It's got guitars and drums and stuff.

(no! tell them why it is so great!) It's... crazy geeks, with their Michel Foucault and their Ernest Shackleton (one of the best songs on the album) and their longing and their ability to recognize sublimity even when they can't quite enter into it (the heartbreaking "Hospital Vespers"). It's wandering through the snow trying to find the house you think you remember, it was right around here.... It's an album about need and inadequacy and what St Augustine would call the memory of Adam's happiness (and how we get that memory wrong, misinterpret it, corrupt it in a thousand ways). It's also hooky, full of tunes that will bother you for weeks. It isn't just about one or two great songs; it's about a whole album. Oh, you really need this.
She's not lying, you really do need this album. And if you're a friend of mine and not opposed to rock concerts, you also need to come with me on June 22 to see them live on a boat during their Small and Fantastic Extra Tiny-Mini-Tour. I'll even make you a mix CD to prepare.

Things Our Heroine Doesn't Know: The List is Long but Distinguished

even the cover looks smarter than me.So, I dropped The Iliad like a hot potato in favor of John Lukacs', A Thread of Years (I warned y'all I was like this, so no lip from BMT). The book's pretty dense, and it's non-fiction (yoiks!), so it's essentially mental bootcamp for me (for review/summary, click here).

What I want to share with y'all is that I'm not even a quarter of the way through reading, and I've had to develop an entire system around looking-up the words and references Lukacs uses for which I have no idea what he's talking about. A complete system, y'all, with rules, and such.

First, the system was simple. Whenever Lukacs used a word I didn't know, I walked to my desk and utilized the ol' Merriam-Webster as God intended. Life was good, for about 30 minutes, until I realized I was spending more time walking to and from my desk than I was reading the book. So I brought the dictionary to where I was reading and,voila! the process had been streamlined and life was good again, for about two chapters. Then I got frustrated because I was stopping to look up at least one word a page, not to mention that I still had to walk to my laptop and Wiki things that weren't definitions.

Eventually, after trial and error, I settled on the system I'm using now: as I read each chapter, I underline every word/reference I don't understand, but I don't look anything up immediately. Then, every three or four chapters, I bring the book with me to the computer and look up everything I've underlined. I write the definition in a Moleskine so that I (hopefully) memorize what I've just learned, permanently filling-in these gaping holes in my knowledge.

So far, here are some of the things I don't know:

  • Francois-Vincent Raspail

  • laic

  • emoluments

  • debouch

  • mugwumps

  • asseverated

  • coruscating

  • vernissages

  • Lebensraum (German)

  • Lothrop Stoddard

  • Madison Grant

  • the fashions of Poiret

  • aigrettes (French)

  • in floribus (Latin)

  • parvenu

  • Childe Hassam

  • Boni de Castellane

  • eclat

  • rubicund

  • paean

  • taxis (not what you think. so shut up.)

  • revanche

  • Gnadige Frau (German. Y'all, I had to email a German friend for this one, not even the interwebs could help me)

  • Mevrouw (Dutch. Sweet. cracker. sandwich, we're using Dutch now?)

  • Karl Kraus

  • Kriegesschuldfrage (German. Though admittedly very interesting once I learned what it was)

  • Dodona

  • Vorticism

  • Imagism

  • Legatee

  • Votary (What are you laughing about? He used the archaic meaning.)

  • Soapy (see note on taxis above)

  • Darkling

  • Goosey

  • Exceptionable (not exceptional, but exceptionable, so pipe down.)

  • huissier (French)

  • moiety

  • hegira

  • serried

  • mansard

Did I mention that I'm not even a quarter of the way through the book, and that this list is not exhaustive? I think it's obvious that either the American education system, or our heroine, has failed miserably in ensuring I have even a rudimentary grasp of the English language and Western history. And, since our heroine is a big believer in personal responsibility, I know I have only one person to blame, and that person is...Rich Achee. "Who is Rich Achee?" some of you may ask. Why, he's the football player who sat in front of me during most of my college English classes. I'm pretty sure he asked me to borrow a pen the day we covered "mansard," and a girl can't focus on two things at once. Not even our heroine, y'all.

P.S. RMK, if you write the definition for every item on my list in the comments section from out of your own head I will have to cut you. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Our Heroine Asks a Culinary Question

What should I prepare for tonight's penultimate-episode-of-Lost party? Past Lost parties have featured such diverse and slightly inedible snacks as:
  • Swedish meatballs (I burned the bottoms)
  • Cheesefries with bacon (bacon = undercooked due to misread recipe)
  • Fudge brownies (awesome, but, seriously, how much talent do awesome brownies take? an orangutan could manage awesome brownies so long as someone set the oven to the right temperature for him)
  • Chili (slow-cooker version, a bit dry)
  • Supernachos (awesomesauce! but I cheated and ordered them in from Rachel's Taqueria)
  • Buffalo wings (natch, from Domino's)
  • Oatmeal Nutcake (my signature cake, delicious, but too fussy for a Lost party, like eating petit-fours at a tractor pull)
  • Fried ricotta fritters (usually amazing, but pre-Lost I burnt the outsides and the insides were runny. Still, it was fried cheese, so, totally edible)
  • Patti LaBelle's mac-n-cheese (Thank you Miss LaBelle, for my one unqualified cooking success. If this recipe was any indication, I should add 3 cups of cheese, a pound of butter and two cups of cream to every thing I make moving forward).

If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments box.

Also: props go to my amazing friend kherman for gamely eating whatever I put in front of her this season. You're a true kindred spirit!

Our Heroine Notices Something Alarming

Has anyone taken a look in the lower right-hand corner of this blog and seen my rapidly expanding "to do" list? Yoiks! Maybe, if I did nothing else but read ceaselessly for about 4 months, I could get though this list. But y'all know how easily distracted I am -- how can I read ceaselessly when there is a store that sells the cutest. sundresses. ever. down the street, the Mets are looking good this year, the beach is 40 minutes away by train, I'm training for a 10k, my best friend is getting married, I am addicted to blogs, and, oh yes, I should probably get a job?

If people would just stop writing for about 10 years, I would appreciate the chance to catch up.

Our Heroine is Humbled by a Fish

I don't know who is this bloke Matthew Fish, but he's Catholic and wicked smart. His review of last Sunday's The Sopranos was awesome and addictive, and I don't even watch the show!

Bonus, his review mentioned Walker Percy, and in this one sentence Fish clarified everything I'd ever read by him, and never quite grasped.

Walker Percy spent his life as a philosopher and a novelist pointing out how we cannot objectify or figure out the self; despite all the knowledge of science, man remains just as much a mystery to himself, nor can he save himself from his own despair, the eventual inanity and boredom of a vain life.