Friday, April 28, 2006

Dept. of Asinine Illustration Captions

From The New Yorker magazine.

Navigation devices have been around nearly as long as the automobile.

Even before Christopher Columbus saw the USA in his Chevrolet.

Anthony Lane on flying Debonair

According to the New Yorker, there are good journeys: these are the kind that you take when you hop around Europe by air or drive in the car across America. I have to disagree, these are both nauseating in their own way. See my review of War of the Worlds. And then there are bad journeys: when you eat your family or are plunged, by the ravages of global capitalism, into icy cold waters to your death.

I didn't have the patience to read the whole Anthony Lane thing on cheap European airfare, annoyingly titled High and Low, but I skipped around and found this, near the end,

"Before one Ryanair excursion, I actually made and packed my own sandwiches, like a little old lady on a slow, provincial French train. This forward planning was roundly jeered by my fellow passangers as the action of a tightwad, yet there was no mistaking the smack of licked lips around me as I unwrapped my treasure; this turned into rabid frothing when we arrived, at ten past two, in a small, well-preserved Italian town - so well preserved that it stopped serving lunch at two o'clock."

Call me crazy, but I'd rather be that little old lady, sandwiches in hand, on the train, which would leave me a good deal closer to the centro of that Italian town, and its tagliatelle ai fungi than an airplane. Besides, they let you BYOB on the train, and cake too. This bit about eating is followed by,

"And, given the centuries of ethnic attrition, religious abrasion, and bloodily contested borders that make up the history of the Continent, do Europeans realize how blessed they are in the hops and skips that now allow them, for the cost of a T-shirt, to escape without censure from one country to the next? To have moved from the bleakness of sixty years ago, when millions of the dispossessed formed the floating detritus of the Second World War, to a time in which, as Michael O'Leary told me, planeloads of Danes and Norwegians merrily fly to England just for a soccer match may sound like a trivial change, but of such trivia is our freedom composed."

Actually, sir, it doesn't sound like a trivial change, but rather a trivialization of significant economic and political change. So if Europe had had cheap airfares during WWII Walter Benjamin would have been alive today?

However, the nausea induced by such vertiginous thinking did remind me of the time I woke up in an airport in Spain to see a sign identifying the counter for an airline called, I swear, Debonair.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Who Heard What . . .

David Owen, Annals of Culture, The Soundtrack of Your Life. I liked this fairly well, well, I liked page 69. While I didn't really think that it explained "How Muzak makes you buy" it suggested various things I liked to think about. I rushed through the history of Muzak, but paused at,

"Until the late nineteenth century, people ususally had little access to music unless they made the music themselves, and even in the nineteen-twenties, when Wired Radio began, most people's lives were still tuneless much of the time." (69)

Tuneless? Maybe, maybe not. And researching this is tough, too, right?

After the description of his movie music experiment (which seems a little naive to me, I mean, he said he was a sound engineer), Collis says,

"Suddenly, I understood that the emotional content of a movie is driven largely by your ears. Your eyes can tell you what's going on in a scene, but its hard to feel through your eyes." (69)

Interesting, and problably true given certain movies at certain times. But this particular mapping of sensory experience and affect seems very culturally specific. This piece might have worked better if Owen were studying the prescene of music in the experience of the bourgeois family in the US . . . who might not have had much experience of public music and sound of the 19th century (but then again) and who might or might not be historically related to the shoppers at Abercrombie and Fitch. Or if he'd emphasized the historical association of music and consumption.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Eating the Sea

More on Buford's Oysters, Notes of A Gastronome: On the Bay, from the April 10, 2006 issue. I liked this line, "An oyster is not active in this wild way." (38)

I like it on its own, but I like it in context too, "The commonplace (among tissue-eaters [ie, fish]) is that 'wild' is better than farmed because a wild animal is more exercised, more oxygenated, more organically its natural self than anything grown in confinement. An oyster is not active in this wild way."

This sort of leads the reader to compare oysters with veal and goose liver pate. Circumstances in which, I think, calves and geese are forced to live the lives of oysters . . . force-fed oysters, at that.

For those of you really interested in reading about oysters (and you are my friends) my favorite essay on oysters is MFK Fisher's "The First Oyster" which includes all kinds of fraught race, class, labor, leisure, sex and gender issues and includes the phrase "sexless abandon" . . . and is in the collection The Gastronomical Me.

Fisher and Mary McCarthy (or is it Dottie, or is it her mother) can debate, in lucid, limpid, mid-century prose, whether or not, "it was a great mistake to let girls dance together as they did in so many of the boarding schools of the second rank." (From The Group)

The essays in Fisher's Consider the Oyster collection are good too, especially the first, "Love and Death among the Molluscs" which attempts a curiously unhuman description of some of the same info on the life cycle of the mollusc as is included in Buford's relentlessly biographical essay. I wish it wasn't so relentelessly biographical.

Images are from NYT (Fisher, young) and Vassar Special Collections (McCarthy, of a certain age).

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Friday, April 21, 2006

nauseating grammar

Etajima Bay
Originally uploaded by kamoda.
One Wanda Ball feels a little queasy at the thought of a gently swaying and amply breakfasted Bill Buford in bib pants. Unless it is a gently swaying breakfast inside the bib pants of an ample Bill Buford:

"But the bib pants were uncomfortably snug--I learned later that Oshinski had grabbed the wrong pair and given me a pair belonging to Isabel, his wife, not a small woman but much, much smaller than me--and my breakfast constricted alarmingly when I walked outside, tipping side to side like a moonwalker, because I couldn't bend my knees."

And she identifies the issue my cousin found the oyster story in (see below) as the April 10, 2006 issue. I still can't find it.

First Lemann (with that soupy triple negative) and now Buford. What is journalistic prose coming to?

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Family Boccigalupe reads The New Yorker

This is what we call ourselves when we all do something together. When I was in high school, "all" usually meant no more than me, my younger brother, my younger sister, my parents, three grandparents, a cousin and her boyfriend. And "Journeys" (that cover bodes ill) usually involved a disreputable looking 12 passanger van.

I've been visiting The Family Boccigalupe and this what they think:

My cousin read and recommended a long article about raising oysters on Long Island - I think I found reference to it as written by Bill Buford for the April 6, 2006 issue, and headed "Notes of a Gastronome." How did I miss this? If I interpret her story correctly, she parleyed this oyster information into bar chat with a local restauranteur, who was easily impressed by her strange expertise.

My little sister found the Brandann Bremmer story very disturbing.

During the course of a 13 hour car ride, my mother told me all about an old essay on Maya Lin and monumentality, from 2002, that had really struck her.

And my dad informed me that he first read The New Yorker with his best friend in 6th grade, when they formed a club called the "hip-tellectuals" and went to see plays they read about in that general interest periodical. Sheesh.

The image is a still from a home movie of the Fricks, enjoying genteel family pursits. My mother visited Clayton, the Frick house museum in Pittsburgh and asked some tough questions about the family's original electricity supply. The Fricks who collected the Veronese that Schjeldahl writes about this month.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"oral sex was not invented in 1998"

Sometimes, it takes a historian. Tim Burke at Easily Distracted (aka Grampa Burke tells the Rest of the World What to Do, Dammit) has the patience to read Flanagan, and the post-Flanagan mail in "The Atlantic" and write a a rebuttal. This is, for me, the dramatic turning point:

"Reading Flanagan on this and other subjects is like watching someone superbly speed-assemble about three-quarters of a complicated puzzle and then getting stuck trying to hammer a piece that doesn’t fit into place. She gets the concept of a moral panic, she gets the skepticism, she gets the need for good sociological data, she even gets that what adults in the grip of a moral panic say girls feel isn’t necessarily what girls feel. Yet somehow by alchemical magic at the end of the article pornography, rap music, feminism, Flanagan’s inept mother who invariably appears at some point in everything she writes, the nasty urges and sexual confidence of dirty boys, and sex advice in mainstream media, all are responsible for causing an epidemic that Flanagan previously viewed skeptically."

And, by ODD COINCIDENCE, the very first comment on Burke's post mentions ye olde daycare moral panic. Which, given Flanagan's whole emphasis on the role of the biological mother and the trauma induced by a surrogate mother, in the Mary Poppins essay and elsewhere, seems to me no coincidence at all.

Remember the Mary Poppins thing? And then the CJR give credit where credit is due thing?

Burke's best point, however, may be his crit of the now-homogeneous-in-memory history of the late 20th century as brought to you by the popular press. Or maybe it's his claim, "oral sex was not invented in 1998," as above.

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brooklyn, plucky heroine, six-toed kitten, 18th century

Who is NOT interested? Acocella reviewed Emily Barton's novel set in 18th C NY, Brookland. I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts if you know Barton's other work . . . or if you've looked at this.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Eat this.

My partner in crime kindly found the most clueless line in the New Yorker last week, smack dab in the middle of John Cassidy's Relatively Deprived,

"Without access to these goods [DVD players, cell phones, desktop computers, broadband internet connections, powerful game consoles, SUVs, health club memberships and vacation homes], children from poor families may lack skills - such as how to surf the Web for help-wanted ads - that could enhance their prospects on the job market."

And I thought we abolished child labor. Not for the relatively deprived, I guess.

And then this is followed immediately by,

"In other words, relative deprivation may limit a person's capacity for social acheivement."

All more or less true, but it's the tip of the iceberg, followed by the totally obvious.

The article meanders close to an argument about what the lack of access to health care does to the relatively deprived, but then wanders off to discuss "stress." Never mind access to education. Or transportation.

Hopefully this puts all the whining and speculation regarding appetizers into perspective.

Monday, April 03, 2006

overheard at the New Yorker, part 3

Acocella: Hey, does anyone know what's really so bad about being poor? I mean, what would motivate someone to just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and become a fairly obnoxious media icon?

Lemann: I've argued it's the lack of appetizers. Or, at least, that's what Bill O'Reilly suggested. I was a little skeptical, but then, I've never had the soup of the day circa 1965.

Acocella: Thanks! I really couldn't get my head around this one. Appetizers! My god, that's it.


You know that perplexing problem of Bill O'Reilly's class resentment and the soup of the day that I mentioned last week? Well, I didn't quote the following, but the following immediately preceeded the soup thought in Lemann's article for the March 27 issue of the New Yorker:

" 'When our family went out to eat, a rare treat, we didn’t waste money on appetizers, if only because we didn’t go to the kind of restaurants that offered appetizers. Typically the pasta dish was spaghetti, and that was it. No linguine, fettuccine, rigatoni, etceterini, etceterini, to confuse the issue.'

[Then follows] I never saw Nassau County, Long Island, where O’Reilly, who is fifty-six, grew up, in the nineteen-sixties, but I’m guessing that restaurants so unpretentious that they wouldn’t serve a soup-of-the-day didn’t actually exist. Still, the idea of such a restaurant captures O’Reilly’s idea of himself."

So it's unclear if the unclear reference to the soup, per se, is O'Reilly's or Lemann's. But O'Reilly does explicitly mention appetizers. Maybe Lemann conflates soup of the day (which might, after all, have come free with the meal) with appetizers.

But in any case, this is odd because . . .

Joan Acocella mentions appetizers, again, in her review of "Six Decades of Centerfolds" in the March 20 issue. After noting that Hugh's bachelor fantasy, as outlined in the first issue of Playboy, includes appetizers, jazz and Nietzsche, she writes,

"Whatever one may think of DeDe Lind's interest in Nietzsche - or Hefner's for that matter - this was the scenario he had in mind. [the fantasy, above, or the following?] He grew up in a comfortless Chicago family. His father was an accountant, his mother a Methodist disciplinarian. He has said that there was never any show of affection in his house. One suspsects that there was likewise little evidence of jazz or hors d'oeuvres - pleasure for its own sake. This is what he set out to sell: an upscale hedonism, promoted by the magazines articles and ads as well as by its nudes." (146)

Bear in mind that nihilists have historically referred to the consumption of snacks and alcoholic bevereges before the meal as "The Happy Hour." "A little garden, figs, little cheeses and in addition three or four good friends -- these were the sensual pleasures of Epicurus." From Human, All too Human. Actually, Nietzsche on Epicurus is complicated, contradictory and angry, but that sort of goes with the territory. Here's an outline.

And yes, I am reading the article in last week's issue, on measuring poverty and consumption.

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