31 January 2005

Hurting William Gibson's feelings

"Dang. Hurts a guy's feelings: I read through this whole Origins Of Cyberspace auction at Christie's, waiting for that essential Gollancz first of "Neuromancer" to pop up, but no...no..."

27 January 2005

Your blog must die

Rants away! You are all pretentious twats. Every last one of you. You're all latte-sipping, iMac-using, suburban-living tertiary-industry-working WASPs who offer absolutely no new insights on anything whatsoever apart from maybe one specialist field if we're lucky. Most of you think that you're writing original content and that you're making a contribution by licensing your spewings under Creative Commons "Some Rights Reserved" licences, just because it's the hip thing to do. You think you know all there is to say about blogging because you understand the concept of HTML and CSS, but the horrible truth is that 40% of you are all using the same shitty default layout. Then you take pictures of yourselves looking pensive or making vague allusions to mythology... In conclusion: Move your shit over to LiveJournal. At least then we can pretend that it doesn't exist.... Oh! There's more at the link.

26 January 2005

One more sun-dappled, soul-mottled, earthquake-rattled Hollywood novelist

BRUCE WAGNER NURSED a large latte and studied The New York Times," writes Brendan Bernhard in an LA Weekly cover story. "As always, he was dressed in black, and two or three days’ dark stubble decorated his cheeks and prominent chin. His eyes, warm and brown like those of a highly intelligent dog, peered out of hefty black-framed glasses, and his partly bald, partly shaved head was the color of an old onion. Sitting in the otherwise deserted bar of the Bryant Park Hotel in midtown Manhattan, he might have been a solitude-loving fashion designer enjoying a bit of down time. In fact, he is our premier "Hollywood novelist," part of a celebrated lineage that runs from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Nathanael West, Budd Schulberg, Michael Tolkin and other witty, jaded observers of L.A.’s sun-dappled, soul-mottled, earthquake-rattled scene." Many worthy words follow the jangly lead...

21 January 2005

Loitering with intent

Writer Henry Shukman takes time out for procrastination in the Guardian: "For the last decade I have been working on five fiction manuscripts. One of them is two decades old (and still incomplete)... I justified my delaying by convincing myself the current literary climate would be inimical to my kind of work. I came of age during the triumvirate of McEwan, Barnes and Amis Jr, who to my youthful eyes seemed to have little in common with the literature I loved. What had happened to Tolstoy? ... In despair, I became a travel writer and fled. Sixteen years later, when I had a bulging suitcase of manuscripts, and a slim volume of poems just published, the Wordsworth Trust took me in as their poet-in-residence. Only last year, while staying at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, did I finally complete and sell two books of fiction. Munro describes the first time she saw a street scene and knew there was a story in it waiting to be discovered: "It gave me something like a blow to the chest. What does this mean, what can be discovered about it, what is the rest of the story?" ... One of the novels I have been writing on and off for two decades has presented itself like that, in fits and starts. Nineteen years ago I wrote the first 20 pages; a year after that I forced out another 200 pages, but they were all wrong. So I waited, and a further nine years later, there it was again: 150 pages delivered in a wild three-week ride. Last year, more came. For many writers and readers, the above paragraph must seem the height of self-indulgent, self-delusive folly. If you want to write a book, sit down and write it. Had I not been making my living as a travel-writer for American magazines, perhaps I would have buckled down sooner; but I doubt it. Many are able to work with admirable, workmanlike efficiency. But there are other kinds of writer, for whom the lack of a deadline, the very open-endedness that can be so dangerous, is an essential precondition of good work. This kind never really finishes a book... But at least no one can accuse them of professionalism; they do it for the one right reason: their works are labours of love.

16 January 2005

There aren’t enough solid things in it

Another grumble about NYC's Dinosaur Bar-b-que, in the New Yorker: "It’s hard to tell what excites barbecue geeks more whenever a new barbecue joint comes to town: the prospect of smoked meat or the chance to argue about it... One diner observed that the corn bread, with a sugary glaze, tasted a little like Alpha-Bits, and another discovered, heretically, that pretty much every kind of meat at the table could be improved by dipping it in the melted “Cajun garlic butter” (seasoned with “Cajun foreplay”) that came with a side order of salt potatoes. The heretic’s pronouncement on the chili, which tasted great but had the consistency of spaghetti sauce, hinted at a consensus: 'There aren’t enough solid things in it.'"

15 January 2005

Homely cooking

My stomach rumbles over this pub-grub review of some "deeply attractive food" in the Observer: "I tried to resist. I knew, from the moment I saw it on the menu, that I would be guilty of gross predictability if I chose it. But what was I to do? The dish was listed as 'braised pig's head, honey roast pork belly, scallops, champ and cabbage'. It was the floozy of dishes, its skirt hitched far higher over the knee than is strictly necessary, and I am a man of base instincts. So I promised myself I would not order another pork belly for, ooh, the next six months. Well, at least not for the next three. Whatever... I had to have this one."

14 January 2005

Stripping the Naked Chef

Reports the Australian: "Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is eating humble pie following revelations he did a secret deal with food giant Heinz that resulted in his restaurant serving jazzed-up beans on toast... Oliver says Heinz paid him £15,000 "to put something cool made with baked beans on the menu"... which involved beans with cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, rocket and basil, served on bruschetta... the invention of one of his students." Oliver claims he did not know that Heinz would dispatch "people dressed up in bean suits" to his restaurant, Fifteen. "Next thing I know we've got giant baked beans running across the restaurant..'. It was quite surreal. I should have been brighter. Baked beans have absolutely no place in any restaurant with integrity."

13 January 2005

Norm life

The OC Weekly surveys the "97 best American restaurants" in their area, and Norm's is #1: "Snicker all you want, but hear my story first: Norm’s is my America. Norm’s is where I first learned the joys of steak, of flooding a glistening sirloin with the sanguine tang of A-1 Sauce, of gumbo. Norm’s is where I find true multicultural consciousness—blacks, Latinos, Asians, whites; Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus; teens, toddlers, coffin-dodgers, the middle-aged—all squirming in itchy plastic tables while scarfing down cheap grub. Norm’s is where my family goes after a funeral, after morning Mass, for Christmas, New Year’s or a birthday. Norm’s is where my father, a proud citizen for almost 20 years, always asks my mother—whom he disrespects at all other times—"Honey, what do I order all the time?" Where he continues to mispronounce what he’s ordered without deviation for 30 years—"One T-bone esteak y eggs." Norm’s is where... I ate after staying out past midnight for the first time, where—for the only time in my life—I asked a total stranger for her number (she said no). Norm’s is comforting, loving and nostalgic. And their mineral-packed liver and onions is delish. Located on every third corner of the Free World.

12 January 2005

Weegee's world

Did you know the International Center of Photography in midtown Manhattan has the world's largest archive of Weegee's photos?

11 January 2005

You're just asking for trouble

Another whack at New York's newest attempt at a barbecue joint in the Times: "Perhaps it is time to accept a simple truth: New York will never be a great barbecue town. Driving that axiom is a simple, irrefutable truth: Regional food tastes best in its region. Ever eat a Chicago-style hot dog in Seattle or a bagel in Salt Lake City? Take a Mission-style burrito out of San Francisco, or Maryland blue crabs from their shoreline, and you're just asking for trouble."

10 January 2005

Lost in thought between the weeds and peeling walls

Leslie Camhi, in the Voice, reviews a major show of Ralph Eugene Meatyard's haunting, visionary work at New York's International Center of Photography: "Children, however beautiful or charming, are alien beings, especially to their parents, for whom close proximity renders their offspring's irreducible otherness unmistakable. The photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard understood this. His three children (two boys and a girl) were among his favorite models. In the 1950s and '60s, he liked to drive with them around his home city of Lexington, Kentucky, stopping his car beside an abandoned Southern Gothic mansion, and photographing them lost in thought between the weeds and peeling walls..."

07 January 2005

A subtle dash of colour in a usually invisible place

Formerly young Canadian novelist Russell Smith has been conscripted by the Globe & Mail to be prescriptive in small drabs about fashion, with wan results: You may, however, express yourself in the domain of colour: Nothing is duller than a restriction to all-black socks. Wear socks that are a shade lighter than your trousers—not too bright, mind—and try varying the colour, maybe matching it to your jacket or tie. A subtle dash of colour in a usually invisible place gives an impression of a romantic soul, or at least of hidden sensitivity.

06 January 2005

Summer barbecue down under

The New Zealand Herald offers its tips for barbecuing steak in mid-summer: The hardest environment in which to cook a steak is poor light. The chef must know when to draw the line or, at very least, when to pack a big torch.

05 January 2005

Creamy for tofu

The New York surveys the state of tofu today: "'Coagulated bean curd' is the unappealing definition tofu has been saddled with since it became widely available here in the 1950's, but that description doesn't begin to convey the pleasures of silken tofu—tender mouthfuls of freshly made kinugoshi-dofu (in Japanese), sundubu (Korean) or doufu (Chinese). The dense white blocks that bob in watery tubs at many New York markets, and the leathery strips of "mock duck" served in old-school vegetarian restaurants haven't won tofu many local fans either."

04 January 2005

Airplane food

Yes, and nothing but: A photographic selection of the dainties sampled by Danburg Murmur on KLM, Malaysian Airlines, TAM, LAN Chile, Continental and Emirates. If that's not tasty, try Michael Ryan's poem of the same name, from The Threepenny Review:
Compressed chicken product, festive succotashed rice,
dead iceberg lettuce with a pale cherry tomato
hard as a mothball, and the coup de grâce: a baby bundt cake
I expect will taste like my passport
but to my delight is not bad,
half-bad, or even sort-of-bad: it is good.
Good good good good good all good
this plain sweet baby bundt cake like much else
I shall never taste touch hear see or smell,
baked for the heavens in its own fluted tube pan
for every blessed one of us ticketed passengers,
purely for our pleasure and then only briefly—
ingested, enjoyed, absorbed, and fading from memory
since we lack the capacity to retaste baby bundt cake
unlike the many childhood wounds I experience
half a century later from the faintest reminders...

(There's more at the link.)

03 January 2005

Need some wood?

Robert Sietsema knows what I love: "Why am I so obsessed with wood? The barbecues I love—City Market in Luling, Texas; Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro, North Carolina; and George's Bar-B-Q in Owensboro, Kentucky, representing three distinct traditions—bombard their meat with thick wood smoke, running through hardwood by the cord (128 cubic feet) every day," he writes, disappointed in a new NYC BBQ joint. "Above these enterprises the pit master towers, a Christ-like figure who selflessly stays up all night cutting lumber, stoking the fire, constantly turning the meat, wiping soot from his brow, then collapsing in a heap after delivering a near-perfect product each morning."

02 January 2005

Literary tourists with a Leica

Old but new to me, from the Summer 2004 issue of Cabinet magazine: Erika Wolf checks out some amazing photography from the 1930s. In 1935, the collaborative satirical writers Ilya Ilf (1897-1937) and Evgeny Petrov (1903-1942) traveled to the US from the Soviet Union on assignment as special correspondents for [Pravda]. They purchased a Ford automobile and embarked upon a 10-week road trip to California and back. [They] visited America as literary tourists, stopping at major attractions, staying in tourist motels, consulting with AAA for travel advice, and relying upon Russian-speaking tour guides to smooth their way. Like a good tourist, Ilf extensively recorded his trip with his Leica camera. Upon their return, the result was a series of illustrated articles entitled "American Photographs." Individual installments featured such thematic topics as the road, the small town, Native Americans, Hollywood (where they spent 2 weeks writing a screenplay for Lewis Milestone), advertising, African-Americans, and New York City. Wolf learned of Ilf's photographs from a 1936 review written by Alexander Rodchenko. I was intrigued by the images reproduced with the review—shots of rural highways and road signs that brought to mind the Depression-era images of Walker Evans. Fifteen striking shots accompany the piece.

Gastronautic navigation

For the Times, Bryan Miller identifies a passionate pursuit of certain well-heeled travelers, or "gastronauts," as he dubs them: "When Bill Thompson, a 57-year-old fashion photographer in New York, arranged a gastronomic holiday in Scotland—his third in 3 years—he was... assiduous in his preparation... "Aside from all of the restaurants I ate in, I also made a point of staying in a different inn every night—and each of them had to be known for its food." Mr. Thompson [is a member] of a billowing fraternity in the American tourism industry: vacationers who plan their travels primarily— often solely—around food and wine. They are, to coin a term, [DRUM ROLL, PLEASE] "gastronauts." The members of this subspecies of transcontinental voyagers... are generally urban, well-off and technologically sophisticated, which brings a world of gastronomy to their fingertips. And all are flat-out obsessed with hunting down the best food and wine a country or city can offer, be it a cassoulet on the Left Bank of Paris, bollito misto in the Piedmont or shabu shabu in Tokyo."

01 January 2005

Eat, memory

It's been too long since I've come across something new from James Salter, one of the writers whose elegant language always matters. He's got a new book of short stories coming in April ("Last Night"), but for the moment, Salter's reminiscence about post-World War II eating in Europe: "There were incredible discoveries to be made. In Paris, on the Rue d'Amsterdam, there was Androuet, where everything on the menu was made from, or if necessary with, cheese. There was Les Halles and gratinée, and someplace where the waitresses were dressed as serving wenches and you ate Rabelaisian fare. There was the first steak au poivre and quenelles de broche, and we ate at the Mediterranee on the Place de l'Odéon, unaware of distinguished patrons like Picasso and Jean Cocteau... Let me just say that once you have been exposed to French cooking and French life, and they take, there is a long and happy aftermath. It's like knowing how to carve a turkey or sail a boat: it puts you a notch up."

Every sentence is a pretext for sex, sex, sex, sex

The wildly talented and wildly wild Nellie McKay gets the extended words-upon-words New York Times Magazine treatment:

"A jaunty, almost rollicking number called ''It's a Pose'' belies its tuneful jollity with a casually vicious indictment of the entire male sex:

Every sentence is a pretext for sex, sex, sex, sex
God you went to Oxford
head still in your boxers
but you're male so what should I expect?

The procedural by Daniel Menaker, executive editor in chief of Random House, continues: "McKay lives out of an apartment on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, north of Columbia University. It's a small first-floor studio crammed with books and nearly toppling towers of CD's and two robin's-egg-blue hard-shell suitcases and clothes and a piano with musical composition paper on which composition seemed... to have temporarily given way to doodles of a happy kind. This all sounds messy (to be fair, on another visit the place was much neater), but it spoke of a coherently romantic existence—the old-fashioned archetype of a young artist's life, heedless of appearances, with creativity disdaining order, volcanic energy scattering debris all around it."