Friday, November 16, 2007

Turkey Life

I just ordered a turkey breast from C.'s Fine Meats, a small butcher shop that carries only quality organic meats from local farms. It is implied that the farmers raise Thanksgiving turkeys practically as hand-fed pets, though I gather "free-range" doesn't in actuality signify bucolic bliss.

Still, one hopes the birds' conditions are a bit less concentration-camp-like than those of their cousins who only cost .79 cents a pound, since we are paying enough per pound to put these guys up in a hotel room.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dumbledore Slash

LEFT: From io9, "The Best Gay Wizard Action in the Potterverse" (might also like io9's Great Unsung Slash Heroes)

Q: Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?

J. K. Rowling: My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ...
Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extend, but he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that's how I always saw Dumbledore...

To me, the most interesting part of J. K. Rowling outing Dumbledore as gay [link to BBC article, October 20, 2007,] is the way it highlights that fictional characters exist, in various ways, outside of the books they inhabit.

Rowling commented, "Oh, the fan fiction," after she made her pronouncement, referring to a flourishing industry of extramural Harry Potter-based stories.

In particular, her revelation adds possibilities to "slash" fiction.
Slash is stories fans (usually female) write about exploring the sexual possibilities between same-sex characters, usually male, who are not lovers in the original fiction, at least not explicitly.
I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that its literary roots are in the 19th century, with erotic stories pairing Sherlock Holmes/[slash] Dr. Watson.

I first encountered slash in the 1970s.
In high school, I was hooked on reruns of the original Star Trek. In my search for even more stories, I discovered fanzines and came across a few stories involving the now-famous pairing of Kirk/Spock (K/S).
I didn't know I was witnessing the resurgence of a genre. But it wasn't prevalent in those pre-Internet days, and I soon forgot about it.

This past year, a pal told me slash has evolved since then, even including real, not fictional, people, such as certain rock stars.

I wouldn't think Dumbledore is sexy enough to elicit slash fiction. Then I remembered that Richard Harris played him in the first movies, before he died.

As I recall from Camelot, dreadful though it was, Harris was pretty attractive when he was young (left), so Dumbledore must have been too...
No doubt alert fans are already onto this.
Three minutes later:
I googled "dumbledore slash" and sure enough it has already arrived. (But Snape slash got there first. Alan Rickman...that makes sense...if someone washes Snape's hair.)

RIGHT: "Gringledore" (Dumbledore/Grindelwald) by fabledtruant, at The Great Grindeldore Appreciation Thread at Gaia Online

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To See and to Believe

Tengo de todo para ver y creer
para odiar y no creer
y muchas veches me encuentro solitario llorando
en el umbral de la vida.

I have all I need to see and to believe,
or to hate and disbelieve,
and many times I find myself alone crying
on the doorstep of life.

Tonight my neighbor and friend Jenise copied out these lines for me, written by an Argentinian poet whose name I cannot find and sung by different people as part of the lyrics to the song "Las Colina de la Vida."

She quoted them to me when I said that I always and only give creedence to people who speak of hope when they also acknowledge how dark life is.
Any philosophy of belief worth anything must square with the Holocaust.
(Which Holcoaust? Take your pick.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

J K Rowling Outs Dumbledore As Gay

[You might also like my post, "Dumbeldore Slash"]

Someone just pointed this BBC article out to me. Did everyone already know except me??? : )

J K Rowling Outs Dumbledore As Gay

Harry Potter author J K Rowling has revealed that one of her characters, Hogwarts school headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay.
She made her revelation to a packed house in New York's Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her US book tour.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found "true love".

"Dumbledore is gay," she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago.

The audience gasped, then applauded. "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy," she said.

"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," she added, saying Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down" and his love for Grindelwald was his "great tragedy".

"Oh, my god," Rowling, 42, concluded with a laugh, "the fan fiction".

Fan sites have long speculated on Dumbledore's sexuality as he was known for having a mysterious, troubled past.

Rowling told the audience that while working on the planned sixth Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she saw the script carried a reference to a girl who was once of interest to Dumbledore.

She said she ensured director David Yates was made aware of the truth about her character.

She said she regarded her novels as a "prolonged argument for tolerance" and urged her fans to "question authority".

But she added that not everyone likes her work. Christian groups have alleged the books promote witchcraft. The author said her revelation about Dumbledore would give them one more reason.
Story from BBC NEWS, Oct. 20, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Greens (Food not Politics)

One of the biggest Vietnamese grocery stores in my neighborhood has started to carry African foods. They have put a big handwritten sign in the window reading,

After writing about many African countries, I can write this sentence from memory:
"Cassava (also called manioc or yuca, and the source of tapioca) is a staple crop of [fill in sub-Saharan African country]. People eat both the tubers and the leaves."
But I have never eaten them.
I am excited to try them out in the recipe, below, that I put in a book about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC/Congo-Kinshasa, formerly Zaire). But I'm not eager to try goat meat.

I've made this recipe with kale, and it's great.

Greens with Peanut Sauce

This dish is common throughout central Africa. Cooks make it with any number of greens, including cassava leaves, collards, and spinach. Spinach and peanuts are native to Africa, and the Portuguese introduced bell peppers and tomatoes from South America.

1 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tomato, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper
dash of cayenne (red) pepper
1 pound greens, washed, stems removed
¼ cup of water
½ cup peanut butter (recipe for homemade pb follows, below)

1. On medium heat, fry the onion and green pepper in oil in large frying pan for 10 minutes, or until tender.

2. Add tomato, salt, black and red pepper, and cook 5 more minutes. Add greens and ¼ cup water. Turn heat to low, and cover pan. Simmer until greens are wilted (time will vary by density of the green--spinach will only take 1 minute, kale maybe 10).

3. Remove a little liquid from pan, and stir into peanut butter. Add peanut butter to pan. Simmer and stir until sauce is smooth and hot.

Serve with rice. Serves 4.

Peanut Butter
To make peanut butter the African way, remove the shells from ½ cup of fresh peanuts. Roast the peanuts in a frying pan (or on cookie sheet in oven), stirring often, until browned. Then cool, and remove the skins. Return peanuts to pan, and cover partially with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat, stirring often, to soften. Crush peanuts with a potato-masher.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Image Maintenance

Saddam Hussein used an Arabic version of the song “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton, in his 2002 presidential campaign,

“…though it would be unfair to blame Ms Parton for his victory, since there was no one else on the ballot.”
--The Economist, November 10th–16th, 2007, 42.

Many dictators are sentimental, relishing public shows of their popularity. They hold elections but do not allow anyone to run against them, or else they bully and cheat the opposition into defeat.

A friend of mine calls this phenomenon, as it occurs in families, “image maintenance.”

In her own family, for instance, her father, a generally benevolent pater familias, leads the prayers before holiday meals. Other family members may join in, supposedly.
Last Christmas, however, when someone began a prayer whose political implications the father did not like, he cut it off, thundering,
“I’ll do the praying here!”

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Month of the Dead: Obit for a Parrot

November is the month of the dead, and for the season I want to share this obituary for a parrot, from the Economist.

(I subscribed to the magazine after I found myself paying $5 for a single copy. I bought that issue off the newsstand because Alan Greenspan, who was retiring from the Federal Reserve, was on the cover was--an action I still can't quite reconcile with my self-image.)
(This is a picture of Alex the parrot not Alan the economist.)

I was about to let my subscription expire when this obit appreared. I immediately renewed my subscription because any magazine that writes an homage to a parrot, I want to be on their maling list.

I post this in honor of my beloved dead, especially my mother, whose 73rd birthday it would be today. 
Not long before she died she told me with great delight that Winston Churchill used to write important state papers sitting in bed with a budgie (parakeet) on his head. You might think an ability to find delight in such things would protect you against suicide, but it is not so. 

Anyway, this article would have given her glee, as it does me.
From  Alex the African Grey [click for full article], Sep 20th 2007, The Economist

Science's best known parrot died on September 6th, aged 31

THE last time Irene Pepperberg saw Alex she said goodnight as usual. “You be good,” said Alex. “I love you.” “I love you, too.” “You'll be in tomorrow?” “Yes, I'll be in tomorrow.” But Alex (his name supposedly an acronym of Avian Learning Experiment) died in his cage that night, bringing to an end a life spent learning complex tasks that, it had been originally thought, only primates could master.
There are still a few researchers who think Alex's skills were the result of rote learning rather than abstract thought. Alex, though, convinced most in the field that birds as well as mammals can evolve complex and sophisticated cognition, and communicate the results to others. A shame, then, that he is now, in the words of Monty Python, an ex-parrot.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sabbatical Dreams

I'm on sabbatical.

I wrote (often more like "compiled") geography books for teens over the past four years, up until last month.
The job was like being under a fairy tale enchantment, set to turn piles of statistics into 17,000 words of interesting prose, over and over, without breaking chronological order, offending parents, or using the passive voice.

(Actually the task didn't include creating interest, I added that, based on my memory of reading these kinds of books for grade school reports.)

Often tedious, it did spin gold, of a sort:
the limitations cleaned up some of my worst writing habits, and I produced a lot of good sidebars. (I'll put one of my favorites at the end of this post.)

The work also ironed my dreams out flat.
I was so taken up translating ideas, I didn't generate many fantasies. I couldn't even imagine what else I might want to do.
I realized I needed to quit--or take a break, a sabbatical--and let my brain fluff up again.

That's starting to happen.
Last night I dreamed that an author was showing me his book.
When I opened the attractive, small volume,
it turned into tidy lines of wires,
from which hung small, translucent squares of images (like lit-up slides).
Words were handwritten on the images' opaque frames.
The man told me he'd been depressed for many years and was just starting to create again.
I think he is part of my brain.

Sample Sidebar:
Plague in Algeria

Algerian author Albert Camus (1913-1960) set The Plague––his most popular novel––in Oran. Camus describes how the city's citizens begin to notice rats dying. Soon the people begin to die horribly too. The plague had come to Oran.

Rats don’t cause plague, but they carry fleas that do. The bite of fleas infected with the bacteria Yersinia pestis spreads the disease. It starts with fever, chills, aches, and vomiting. In its most common form, bubonic plague, the bacteria invade the body's lymph nodes. There the bacteria reproduce and cause “bubos,” or inflamed nodes. The painful bubos swell and break open. The plague was also called the Black Death in the past, because the bubos are a deep, dark purple. If untreated, plague kills 60 percent of its victims. Antibiotics cure the plague, if it is caught in time.

Camus warned that the disease can lie dormant for years. The Plague’s final sentence states that at any time the plague could “rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die…." In 2003 ten people in Oran got the plague. Nine survived. No new cases have been reported since then.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Glad I'm Alive

Bruce Springsteen concert ticket, right, June 8, 1978, $7.50

I just shaved my legs.

Once it's too cold to wear shorts, I don't usually bother to shave. But I am bucking my seasonal trend because in a few hours I am going to see Bruce Springsteen. It's not that I expect my calves to get up-close and personal with anyone after the concert. It's that the event is worthy of ritual actions of the sort you perform before liminal events.

For me, going to see Bruce is reconnecting with life.
This afternoon, I think back to an afternoon in 2003, several months after my mother killed herself. I was having a hard time getting through the days, and I asked a friend who slogs through depression every day how he does it.
First he offered some advice that requires heroic effort (e.g. "Make yourself go outside daily, even if you just sit in the doorway").

Then, more gently, he asked, "What are you looking forward to?"

I thought awhile. "Nothing," I said.

He was unfazed. "I bet you're looking forward to feeling better," he said.

"Yeah," I said, "that's true." But it seemed kind of theoretical.

Describing why I like Bruce to a literary friend who isn't into rock and roll, I said his life force is Dylan Thomas's "green fuse that drives the flower." For a few years, heavy incoming charges kept blowing my fuse.
But life, like rock music, relentlessly pushes for connection. Eventually I started to feel better.

A few months ago, I got out my audiocassette tape of "Born to Run" for the first time in ten, fifteen years. Half the songs played warped. I listened to the whole thing anyway. I could still sing every line. The next day I bought the CD and listened to it over and over, the way I listened to the record when I was sixteen.

Soon afterward, I heard Bruce was coming to town and I knew I wanted to see him again. It's been a long time, but I'm glad I'm alive. Like the man says, that sure ain't no sin.