Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Treatise on Hummus

Tesco, purveyors of mediocre foodstuffs in the UK and elsewhere, had an off-brand of hummus that was (as expected) not so hot. It got the job done, but I've definitely had better. I expected Eugene, Oregon to have a wide variety of hummus options, but I've been sticking with Emerald Valley to, you know, go local. And you know what? I don't really like it. But that's not the point here. The point is: how the hell does one spell hummus? I've seen -ous and variants on that theme and I find it all confusing because every spelling is more or less phonetic, thanks to the inner vowel-demons of the English language.

That was less a treatise and more a rant, but I've got to start somewhere. When last I wrote, I was in Anchorage and not altogether happy about that. Now I'm in Eugene and okay with that. Granted that the current apartment leaves a bit to be desired, but I'm once again in a classroom where I'm expected to be a somewhat serious student and my brain, if nothing else, feels refreshed. In other smalltalk, it was absolutely scorching, upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, for a long weekend. Unacceptable. Alaskans are not built for that. Cooler now, thankfully. Also: Lolly stopped by and we'll be seeing Neko Case together and hitting up a bar on trivia night and and and! Very happy to see my co-giraffe.

My current class, a 4-week intensive number on feminist theory, excites me because I'm already starting to argue in my head with some of the texts. Women's and Gender Studies seems, at least at UO, to be a mix of subjects -- mostly sociology and other social sciences -- but without the bullshit that one finds in those classes ("What is a social structure?" springs to mind.) On the other hand, it's Oregon, so we're all middle class white girls. A few queers. Perhaps different religious backgrounds, but I'm hoping discussions take off beyond the liberal democrat baselines upon which we can all settle.

Let's see. Neko Case concert tomorrow. A few new CDs and a book to arrive over the next three weeks. My space bar is acting up. Moving sucks. Nothing groundbreaking to report, but I am alive and will write more. Swearsies.

UPDATE: According to the Pentagon, homos like me are no longer mentally ill. It only took until 2006 to not be crazy in the eyes of the military. God bless America! Link.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

This post brought to you by jet lag and insomnia

It occurred to me this evening that I love Alaska in spite of myself. That is, even though I do the same three or four things here over and over and over while I'm here, it's still revitalizing to be back, to have mountains and trees and ocean again. I spent almost all day today outside, and I'd forgotten how euphoric that makes me feel. Not to say the Vienna woods weren't beautiful or that I couldn't have gone for a bike ride in Norwich. Nonetheless, Alaska -- and Anchorage -- have a very odd hold on me. In all likelihood, this feeling will pass when the place starts to feel cloyingly small, as it usually does. That's when no amount of hiking or biking or really great pizza can make me want to stay. A downside of being nomadic is the creeping sensation that no place is really home anymore. Alienation blows.

On the lighter end of things, I'm working on several books at once, which I haven't done in a long time. I haven't written about books in a while.

40 Stories by Donald Bartheleme
His prose is really crisp and cutting, but I've been so fried lately that I can't really pay adequate attention. It's a recent purchase, so I don't feel obligated to rush through it. Which is just as well, since the stories are really dense.

After Babel by George Steiner
Another dense tome. This little gem of translation studies lore weighs on my conscience. I bought it last summer hoping to get a jump on my thesis (ha!) and so far I've made no progress since then, unless you count starting over and reaching roughly the same place at which I left off. Ideally, I'll have this finished by July, but if I can't concentrate on the Barthelme, you know, fun stuff, then the academic reading is doomed until I get my head back to earth. It doesn't help that this guy is one of those theorists who gets condescending when referring to those feminists.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This woman does not care about her characters. The book makes me chuckle, but it's so indifferently written (and honestly, a let-down considering the hype it got back in the day) that I'm starting to not care. Has anyone else read this?

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2005 edited by Dave Eggers, intro by Beck
First: the introduction is by BECK. Second: I have my beefs with the Dave Eggers literary rockstar juggernaut, but this collection is consistently enjoyable and tends to include at least a few of my favorite authors each go-around. Aimee Bender, for one. (Bonus Dave Eggers rant: The guy does good work for the children, which I am all about, naturally. The guy's also got a reputation and an ego, which I could do without. The thing that bothers me is that he plays a seminal rule in the McSweeney's canonization process, being one of the high-ups in a lit organization that decrees what's hip. So the hipster dollar follows certain patterns. Even if these authors deserve the credit -- and they often do, again Bender comes to mind because she rocks -- the creation of an in-club runs counter to my idea of what groups like McSweeney's ought to do. You know, be the scouts for new talent instead of gimmicky, self-conscious hit-or-miss collections that place as much value on design as content.) That said, Third: Tony Millionaire did the cover and there are comics by Joe Sayers and Anders Nilsen in there. I'm 100% justified.

I've also been picking at the last month or so of The New Yorker, but nothing serious. Chances are I'll reread Moby Dick, or at least parts of it before I leave the Land of Whales. On a closing note: Everyone should read more Amy Hempel and A.M. Homes.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Whole lotta walkin' got done

Hats off, brave soldiers.It's the end of an era. These shoes got me through 11 countries (not counting one or two that I passed through en route to somewhere else) and 10 months of hiking, plodding, trotting, dashing and dancing. I wore them to the opera in Vienna and the Grand Bazaar in Turkey and the National Gallery in London and the Erotica Museum in Berlin and hash bars in Amsterdam and the long walk in Auschwitz. Since November or so, I've needed new shoes. I deferred the purchase time and time again, until I was in a cheaper country, until I wore them down, until until. Despite my outcry at shoe prices and ridiculous attempts to be stoic (I ran through pairs of insoles this year too), it was more of a personal mission to see them through the year, however tattered and stanky they may be. I threw them out yesterday, and have since worn only my sandals. Loyalty to objects is a weakness of mine that I can't really figure out. I made sure I tossed them just before the garbage got taken out, so I wouldn't imagine them pining for me from the rubbish bin. Is it strange to consider their life in a landfill akin to retirement, since they don't get kicked around and can stink freely? Is it strange that I'm this sad?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Crumbly Cheese or What the British Haven't Quite Killed

British cuisine is everything people say it is: greasy, gravy-laden and cooked to a second death. I won’t sugar coat it – the food here sucks. In that sense, I’m grateful that I can’t really afford to go out to eat since the over-abundance of Yorkshire puddings (cup shaped bits of fried/baked dough that one fills with whatever is at hand and gravy) would probably kill me. But it’s not all bangers and mash. Crumbly English cheese, the likes of which I was slicing for a sandwich this evening, has its uses. In fact, the best scrambled eggs I’ve made this year were Crumbly English Cheese fortified. Allow me to share. I sautéed some onions and peppers until they started to smell good and added the scrambly egg/milk mixture (I actually used cream at the time because that was all I had – turned out well.) I let ‘em all cook for a couple minutes, then threw some CEC (cheddar or red Leicester – I can’t remember which) on there to melt. At the end, I seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano and a tiny pinch of sugar. Best served with sausages, with the British also do quite well.

Some other folks around the dorm went in on a barbeque together, and I have to say that I enjoy the free-for-all style of grilling better than the organized gathering. At any given point, one to half a dozen people had food of all sorts cooking away -- from chipolatas to veggie patties to mangled cans of corn. It was a little more egalitarian. The tyranny of the grillmaster was broken into a selection of cooking styles and times. Condiments flowed freely, as did beer. I couldn't help but think that it easily topped family barbeques because of a sheer lack of hierarchy. And my burgers totally rocked ass.

A couple of days left in England now -- a handfull of hours, really. The pre-packing panic hasn't set in yet, but hey! I've got all day today and tomorrow for that!

So look out for this place

I study here! in the upcoming flick Stardust, with Claire Danes and Robert de Niro. I believe it's based on a Neil Gaiman book, so chances are, I'll be dragged to it. Anyway, they're filming here, Elm Hill, which is definitely a part of my Norwich stomping ground. The film comes out next year, I believe.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

In the Immortal Words of Charlie Brown

From the film Snoopy Come Home, "I hate goodbyes. You know what I need? I need more hellos." A very dear friend left for her home in Finland, and I likely won't see her for a while. My Swiss flatmate Alex took off a week and a half ago. I'm leaving the sordid little burgh of Norwich myself shortly. After I graduated from high school, I realized that there were dozens -- if not hundreds -- of people that I would no longer see and think about. I asked my mom if this had something to do with Growing Up or Coming Of Age or something like that. A military brat who had lived on three continents before reaching teenagehood, she was so used to goodbyes that my seemingly monumental sadness was a bit surprising. Now, I don't always listen to my mom, but she said that the hellos just have to outnumber the goodbyes. It was cold comfort at 18, but it's clearer and more useful now that I've met eine Menge of awesome people who live all over the world, people I will want to know for the rest of my life. It's hard not to be sappy right about now. I leave Europe in less than 5 days, and that's really, really difficult to both type and believe.

In other news, I made an apple pie from scratch last week. Crust and everything. Am I proud? You bet your ass! Until recently, pie crusts were one of those insurmountable culinary goals that I took for granted. "It's so hard to get right and takes so much practice," I thought in my naivete, "I may as well cut my losses and go with store-bought crusts rather than face the shame of inadequate crusts. Well. All of this was before I met Randi the Pie Expert, who conveniently lives in my dorm and completely rocks besides. A lesson ensued. Pies-a-plenty, I tell you what. There's no breakfast quite like cold apple pie and coffee. At any rate, the secret seems to be keeping the butter (and the crust as a whole) cold. Grating frozen butter and then combining with flour -- genius.

Said Finnish friend, Saga, turned me onto funk and soul this semester. I'd encourage all my sassy soul sistas and brothas to check out Ann Sexton (no, not THAT one) and Ann Peebles. And you can never go wrong with Sly and the Family Stone.

The sun is actually out here, so I think I'd best take advantage of that rare light and take the rest of my slides of Norwich. I've forgotten what's on my Vienna roll. Hm.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

oh, the anxiety

So I'm afraid of coming home. More than a little bit. I've gotten so accustomed to being away, to sinking myself in this life here, not that life there. The more things I add to the list of Stuff I'd Never Done Before, the less familiar home (Anchorage? Eugene? Portland?) feels.

I have a very tight connection in Boston. Totally banal, but stressing me out.

At any rate, I'm working on getting this thing up and running again. Focusing on my old loves (photos, cooking, booksnmusic, handy things, bitching and so on), but with more diligence, and hopefully, more insight than the typical out-pouring of mental material. I'd like to make this into something.

In the meantime, if you haven't heard of the Swedish singer Jenny Wilson, look her up now now now. The album Love and Youth rocks unquestionably. A bit Feist-esque, but funkier.