A Frolic of My Own

Jazz, Books, Macs, Food, and Life Outside the Academy

Blogging from Cleveland Park, DC

iJunkman at hotmail dot com

Pages Written
in 2004 = 3

September 29, 2003
Words Without Borders, an on-line project hosted by Bard College and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and other benefactors, hopes to expose English speakers to cultures around the world by translating their literature. It's a laudable project.

I'm amused, though, by the site's option to search for works by environment. I suppose this grows out of "environmental criticism," a critical approach I don't understand since it never took hold in my speciality, 17th century Spanish literature. (How was the environment in 17th century Madrid? The air was so putrid that it would mummify animal carcasses tossed into the streets.) Isn't there something a little patronizing, though, about the idea the rest of the world's literature can be classified by the landscape where it was created? That proximity to a mountain is a category as important as language? [via Bookslut]

September 28, 2003
When did waiters decide that the phrase "Does everything taste alright?" was an appropriate way to follow-up after they delivered the meal. What's wrong with a simple, "How is everything?" This trend started at the chains, I think, but seems to have spread to more upscale establishments.

Just asking the question makes me momentarily imagine a bad taste in my mouth. Why would they want me start my meal with a mental imagine of how it could have gone terribly wrong?

This new question also sets the bar pretty low. No concern with the presence of utensils, any desired sauces or condiments, the comfort of the diner, or whether the dishes delivered were the ones actually ordered. Just a question about whether the kitchen had their act together. I suspect this is probably the reason why waiters have adopted the phrase. Once you define the inquiry that narrowly, it's hard for diners to broach other subjects and make additional demands.

September 26, 2003
George Plimpton, writer and editor of the Paris Review, has died.

Without a well-bred editor to shake down wealthy patrons, will the magazine survive?

September 24, 2003
Several writers from the Baffler made an appearance this evening at Politics and Prose to celebrate their new anthology, Boob Jubilee: The Cultural Politics of the New Economy. The Baffler was relatively unknown to me until recently, since I spent the last six years thinking about seventeenth-century Spain and reading and writing for journals like the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies and the Revista Candiense de Estudios Hispánicos. The more I became a scholar of the past, the more detached I became from contemporary culture. This is one of the many reasons I have left the academy. Discovering some of the writers engaged with the present has been invigorating.

Chris Lehman, reading from "The Eyes of Spiro Are Upon You," traced the myth of the "liberal media elite" to Spiro Agnew's attempts to disguise the fact that the real elite were the people who owned the media. I am sympathetic to the idea that the media is only as liberal as their corporate owners allow them to be, but at the same time it seems hard to deny that an elitist group produces the content. Paul Maliszewski next read from a series of fake articles he published in a Syracuse newspaper where he worked as a business reporter, and implicitly confirmed the idea that an elitist establishment controls the media. Paul became bored as a business reporter in upstate New York and started penning outlandish articles under false names. While recent writers who have duped the New Republic and the New York Times has been greeted with infamy, according to his bio Paul has recently published in Harper's and the Paris Review. Is the only difference that Paul committed his fraud at a backwater newspaper?

Personally, I would be happy to know that an educated, liberal elite controlled the media. I just wish they were a little more liberal and a little less elitist sometimes. I hate to sound like a humorless scold, because I found Paul's stories to be incredibly funny. At the same time, though, it's hard to see how a group of writers can hope to create a broader political change if their allegiance and concerns are limited to a small groups of insiders.

On a lighter note, I sat behind the Antic Muse, one of my favorite bloggers.

September 22, 2003
untitledLife in Washington has largely returned to normal after the hurricane. That is, unless you own a car. With traffic lights still out across the city and most potential detours blocked by fallen trees, getting home using anything but mass transit is a slow process.

As a faithful Metro rider myself, watching the cars creep along the streets and honking at the intersections would normally give me some satisfaction. Unfortunately, I had an information interview with Georgetown's director of corporate and foundation fundraising this afternoon. With no metro in the Goergetown area, I had to rely on Andrea picking me up in the car. We then had to fight our way home with the other commuters.

September 21, 2003
untitledHousekeeping note: I've added Upcoming.org to the Washington links. It's a new collaborative, world-wide events calendar. Its not that useful at the moment, but it just went online Friday and only a handful of people are collaborating. Join up and contribute an event.

Update: I think I originally misunderstood the concept. Upcoming.com is not supposed to be an exhaustive list of area events, but a way for people attending similar events to make connections and discuss. Still a very cool concept. Still very much in the starting phase. Join up and make it happen.

September 20, 2003
untitledMark your calendars and start drafting your message to the world. From December 9th to the 12th, the Helloworld project will be accepting text messages and projecting them onto buildings, mountains, and water spouts in South Africa, Brazil, and Geneva. The project was first tried in Switzerland, where messages were projected onto the slopes above Davos for the benefit of world leaders attending the annual conference. [via Dublog]

September 18, 2003
That's itIs this all Isabel is going to give us? It's almost midnight, and Washington hasn't been hit with anything more than a little rain. I can't believed they closed the Metro and made me miss a day of work. That's eight hours of pay I will never see.

Isabel IIIThe winds have picked up slightly, but it's nothing stronger than a good thunderstorm at the moment. I spoke to Andrea in Charlottesville and she lost her power a few minutes ago. The news says that almost one million people are without power in Virginia.

Isabel IIThe rain has started, but the winds are still calm. I've loaded up on beer and batteries for the short-wave radio. If the worst happens, I can sit in the hallway, listen to the BBC World Service, and drink.

Nukes and stormsI suppose the government has to take dumb citizens seriously, since they pay taxes. In fact, evidence suggests that they vote in greater numbers as well.

In an effort to serve the needs of the lower-IQ set, NOAA patiently and thoughtfully responds to the frequently asked question of "why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them."

As Crooked Timber said, "There are no stupid questions. Well, as a matter of fact, there are."

IsabelThe winds have picked up a little, the temperature dropped, and the stores were packed with people buying can goods. Still no rain in the Washington area, but that should be arriving soon. I saw Isabel hit North Carolina on the news this morning. Having never lived through a hurricane before, I don't know what to expect. I weathered plenty of tornadoes, though.

My main fear is that the power will go out, and our fine DC government won't get it restored for several days.

September 17, 2003
Tex-MexWhen Diana Kennedy published The Cuisines of Mexico in 1972, she made it clear that her book presented the real cuisine of Mexico and not the Americanized "Tex-Mex" peddled throughout Texas. Jorge Cortez, whose father had founded the restaurant Mi Tierra Café in 1941, was surprised to learn that the food his family served in San Antonio's El Mercado and the food he grew up eating was not Mexican. It was hard for him to argue with Kennedy's knowledge of Mexican cuisine, but he refused to accept her opinion that the food in San Antonio was inferior to what the restaurants in Mexico City served.

Tex-Mex was shaped by both the people who settled Texas and the U.S. food industry. Chili powder was introduced by a German immigrant familiar with the production of paprika and tired of driving to Mexico to buy his annual supply of ancho chilies. The heavy use of cumin may be a contribution of a group of Berber colonists in one of the early Spanish missions. The substitution of flour tortillas for corn tortillas was a natural adaptation to the grain available in the area. And the now ubiquitous fajita could only appear in the 1980s when flank steaks become supple with the shift from free-range cattle to beef fattened at a feed lot.

In the past, I have been guilty of believing Tex-Mex to be an anglicized version of Mexican cuisine. Jorge Cortez, along with fellow restaurateurs and food writers participating in a panel discussion this weekend at the National Museum of American History, convinced me that it's not a watered down import. Rather, Tex-Mex is a legitimate product of Tejano culture and the oldest regional cuisine in the United States.

My parents called last night and urged me to prepare for hurricane Isabel. I thought they were just being alarmist.

When I stepped off the metro today, though, I found that the grates and gutters had been sandbagged during the day. At my apartment, the management greeted me with a dire warning to buy water and prepare for blackouts. Maybe this is serious.

September 16, 2003
Paul KrugmanI normally avoid politics on Frolic, since the last thing the world needs is another blogger publishing uniformed opinions. I'm breaking that rule to point you towards CalPundit's interview with Paul Krugman, the New York Times Columnist and Princeton economist, since it may not appear in more mainstream venues. Krugman, an expert on macroeconomics disasters, believes that America may be headed for an Argentine-style meltdown. This may sound improbably and alarmist. Krugman says, however, "I think we have to take seriously the possibility that things won't work out this time."

September 14, 2003
To Do ListTo Do List:
  1. See Sofia Coppola's new film Lost in Translation.

  2. Hear honky tonker Dale Watson play "That's Country My Ass" and other tunes Monday at the Iota.

  3. Join an artist-led tour of D.C. galleries Thursday night. The free tour convenes at 6:30 in the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes (812 Seventh St., NW).

September 13, 2003
Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash (1932-2003), R.I.P.

September 12, 2003
Wuthering HeightsWhile I like my trashy pop culture as much as the next guy, this repackaging of Emily Brontë's novel may represent a new low in Western civilization. In case you can't read the text below the title, it says, "The inspiration for the MTV original film."

McKinseyIf you are the employee of McKinsey and Company who stopped by Frolic yesterday afternoon, do you happen to work in the Human Resources department? Could I send you a résumé?

September 11, 2003
September 11thIt has been two years since that awful day, but it is hard to see how a chronological coincidence should make those events closer to us. The papers say that "America Mourned Again" today, as if the grief could be summoned on an annual basis and contained within a twenty-four hour period.

Other than noting flags at half mast, there was nothing about today, September 11th, that distinguished it from September 10th or August 11th. For weeks after that day, I was constantly nauseous and anxious. Today, even when walking past the layers of security surrounding the White House, I was at ease. There are surely ways, however, that I and everyone else in this country have been permanently altered.

September 09, 2003
To Do List:
  1. See J. Seward Johnson Jr.'s life-size recreations of impressionist paintings at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

  2. Hear jazz saxophonist Chris Potter at the Kennedy Center.

  3. Learn about the history of Tex-Mex cuisine Saturday at the National Museum of American History.

September 08, 2003
Job newsI got some bad news on the job front. Last week, I had a second round interview at FIPSE, the Fund for Innovation in Post-Secondary Education. It's a small office at the Education Department that has been funding and nurturing innovative programs in higher education for the last 30 years. Their mandate is broad, and they use that freedom to support everything from new ideas in teaching first years at elite colleges to extending access to education to the most remote corners of the country.

Today they called to say that late last week the funding for the position had been pulled. I was eating lunch in Lafayette Park when I got the message, so I walked across the street to shake my fist at the White House.

September 05, 2003
The Naples Daily News reports that wedding cakes made of Krispy Creme donuts are a growing trend across the nation:
Doughnuts are nudging their way onto the wedding scene, adding a touch of fun and the unusual to regular reception fare.
Our wedding was more traditional. We added "a touch of fun" by providing copious amounts of beer and wine.

September 04, 2003
Outside my office window today, I saw a line of children being led along by an adult holding a rope. It's cute, I suppose, watching unruly kids follow a straight line, in the same way an animal is charming when its trained to perform tricks that go against its nature. I'm just glad this practice started well after I grew up.

And then I notice that all the kids were blindfolded. Doesn't that count as torture?

September 03, 2003
Most of the crowd assembled at the Kennedy Center for the Brave Combo concert tonight seemed prepared to see a novelty act. That was certainly my expectation when, well over a decade ago, a friend urged me to see this "punk polka" band. What I soon discovered, and I'm sure everyone in attendance tonight learned, is that Brave Combo is far more than polka. It's probably no exaggeration to say that Brave Combo is one of the best dance bands in America. If they can't get you off your feet, then somebody better double check you pulse.

Brave Combo embraces every unloved genre--the polka, the samba, the cha-cha-cha--and makes them rock. The sheer talent of the five members allows them to effortlessly bounce between genres at a moments notice. They have absorbed a range of influences every bit as wide as a hipster like John Zorn, but the music that results is more immediately satisfying. What other band can cover "Louie, Louie" and make it sound urgent?

I should also mention that the Kennedy Center has some excellent drink specials for those arriving before 6:00. $2.50 for good music and a beer, you can't beat that.

September 01, 2003
To Do List:
  1. Hear Brave Combo, arguably the best punk-polka band in America, performing for free Wednesday on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

  2. See Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala at the America Film Institute.

  3. Browse the art at the Adams Morgan Festival next weekend.

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