Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
So is this chicken perfect, or what?
I was inspired by Jeffrey Steingarten's rapturous description of rotisserie chicken in his book The Man Who Ate Everything, and so I got one for my new grille.
The chicken tasted as good as it looks, though the cleanup was a little messy.
Apropos roasting, it's what I've been doing for the last few weeks. As of Tuesday, we've had 12 days where the temperature hit 100 degrees or more. Then we had a new front move through that cooled things down for a couple days, but now the temp's climbing again. By the weekend, much of New Mexico should resemble the skin of that chicken, only crispier.
And speaking of overheated, check out Interior Desecrations, featuring home and office interiors from the 1970s. Chill to the lavish use of Harvest Gold and Avacado Green! Quail at the ankle-deep shag carpets! Cringe at the--- at the--- what the hell is that, anyway?
From the same folks who gave you the Gallery of Regrettable Food, featuring grilled potatoes in cream, melon balls floating in Squirt, and Many Things to Do with Velveeta.
Oh, and on Karen's recommendation I checked out Hum Aapke Hain Koun, hours of endless Bollywood froth with a punch in the eye in the last 20 minutes. Elder Brother is in an arranged marriage with Low Forehead Girl, but it's okay, since they love each other. In the meantime, teen idol Younger Brother meets spunky Younger Sister, and they fall in love instantly. Naturally, this being a Bollywood film, nothing actually happens for about three hours, except that Younger Brother and Younger Sister get a lot of screen time in which they sing, dance, flirt, and dress in increasingly outrageous outfits. Huh!, I thought. A movie totally without conflict! Never seen that before!
Despite these two committing musical comedy with one another for hours, no one else in either family notices that they're in love. Which becomes important in Act VIII, when Low Forehead Girl trips on her sari, falls on the stairs, and actually dies!
Holy fcking Krishna! They killed off the second female lead in a musical comedy!
Which means that hey, Elder Brother has to remarry, because he's a busy executive, and he and his father, cousins, in-laws, Younger Brother, and a houseful of servants can't possibly raise the baby on their own. And who should he arrange a marriage with than Younger Sister, who is in love with Younger Brother but will sacrifice her happiness for the little baby's sake!
What this family clearly needs is a seminar on communication.
Anyway, thanks to Krishna, things work out, and in the meantime everyone gets to wear more fabulous outfits. The end.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Approaching Plymouth, the capital, one couldn't help but notice the large and very modern pier that was incongruously attached to the old Georgian town. And, having got onto the pier, one couldn't help but notice the pile of twisted girders that lay in the water next to the pier.
There was also a very large concrete mooring buoy--- or maybe not a buoy, but a stanchion--- set in the water a short distance away. It looked like a sort of pimple in the water. This was originally one of a pair.
The story of the pier and the pile of girders and the pimple is this:
The government of Montserrat had lobbied for the pier and a large crane to be placed atop it, theorizing that this was exactly what was needed to modernize the island. Once the pier was built, they thought, large container vessels would magically appear and offload Toyotas and refrigerators and air conditioners and food processors and all the wonderful stuff of modern civilization, and the good citizens of Montserrat would be even happier citizens of the British Empire. (The British Empire, by the way, had been trying to get rid of these happy citizens for years; but the islanders stubbornly refused to throw off the last remaining shackles of imperialism. Or the oppressive burden of collecting welfare and unemployment checks in a hopeless economic environment, which is perhaps more to the point.)
In due time, H.M.G. was persuaded to vote the funds to construct this pier, and build an enormous crane on top of it. And one of the Royal Navy's finest, fastest destroyers was sent to the inaugural ceremonies.
So the dignitaries were gathered, the citizens were enjoying their holiday, the flags were flying, the band was playing "Rule Brittannia" or maybe "Ah Feel to Party Tonight," and the destroyer hove over the horizon and headed straight for the pier. A beautiful ship, racing in at flank speed, the white bow wave in its teeth, the beautiful wake spread out behind . . . .
And gradually it dawned on the crowd that the destroyer just wasn't stopping.
What the captain apparently had in mind was this: he would race in at flank speed, then at the last second throw the rudder hard over, throw one engine into reverse while the other continued at full speed forward, and then gentle up to the pier "easy as kiss my hand," as Captain Jack Aubrey might say.
But the captain was no Jack Aubrey. He mistimed his maneuver, and he rammed the pier at flank speed. Before the stunned eyes of the islanders, the giant crane wavered, teetered, and fell in a great ruin into the ocean.
And while the band played "Rule Britannia" or maybe "Hold Up Yuh Foot & Jump," all the dreams of the Toyotas, and the refrigerators, and the air conditioners, and the food processors, all vanished like so much smoke.
And as for the concrete pimple? It was once part of a pair, where boats could moor temporarily if the pier was occupied by giant container vessels delivering Toyotas.
One day the mail boat moored at one of the pimples. After delivering the mail, the skipper went to one of the local bars and got totally drunk. When he got back into the boat, he drove off without bothering to unmoor, and dragged the heavy concrete object behind him as he went. He was in mid-channel before the cause of his slow progress dawned on him, and in a drunken panic he cut the mooring line, thus dropping the mooring buoy, or pimple, into deep water where it remains to this day.
Montserrat was not a place where good luck gathered.
And less than twenty years later, the Soufriere volcano blew and buried Plymouth, and its pier, and the wrecked crane, and the remaining pimple, under tons of volcanic debris. The Toyotas got buried too, assuming they ever showed up.
This was my first exposure to the Third World, where these sorts of things are normal (except maybe the volcano).
Montserrat didn't surprise me, though, because I'd already been to Nevis, the island where Alexander Hamilton was born, and which he had the good sense to leave as soon as he was physically able.
On independence, Nevis was made part of the government of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla. This made a degree of sense for St. Kitts and Nevis, which are separated by a strait, but not any sense at all for Anguilla, which is a considerable distance to the north, and which considered itself slighted by its larger, more populous brethren. After a couple of rebellions, the British sent the paratroopers into Anguilla and re-annexed the place to the British Empire, where it resides to this day. This happened in 1969.
When I was on Nevis in 1979, ten years afterward, the island was still in a high state of alert. There were rumors of Anguillan Separatist Guerillas said to be living on Nevis's volcano. The St. Kitts-Nevis ferry, which was felt to be under threat, was placed under armed guard. (I chatted with the guard, who with his beret, battle dress, and FN assault rifle resembled a somewhat more genial version of Idi Amin.) The customs people on the pier were ordered to hassle visitors, who might after all be Anguillan sympathizers taking supplies to those guerillas hiding on the volcano.
(Captain Greene bribed the customs guards with an exotic American beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, to leave us alone, and we wandered on and off at will.)
All the security hassles over a rebellion that had ended ten years earlier, and fear of an invasion that never happened and never would happen, more than prepared me for Montserrat and its pier, its crane, its pimples, and the Cafe le Cabotin, which after all that seemed not so much a haven of sanity, but a reflection of its surroundings in a fun-house mirror, and with good food.
As our own country begins more and more to resemble a banana republic, we should look to places like Montserrat and Nevis, where we can see what awaits us in our future. Pointless security hassles, wanton destruction of infrastructure, important decisions left to the inebriated, the mindless, and the insane. That's life in the banana republic, and soon it will be our life.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Me O My O
I owed some folks, so I thought I'd cook them dinner. I made Jambalaya with Creole Sauce, from the recipe of Chef Francoise Auclair le Vison.
I hadn't made the recipe in a number of years, and I'd forgotten how much sheer work is involved. I spent over an hour just chopping up four pounds of sausage, three pounds of ham, and many many pounds of vegetables.
The result was worth it, though. The dish is beautifully layered, with lovely complex harmonies in the jambalaya set off by the fiery spice of the sauce. My friends disposed of all of those pounds of food in jig time.
Which brings to mind the first time I met Chef Francoise. It was 1979. I was on a steel schooner in the Windward Islands, researching my privateer books, and we stopped by the island of Montserrat. Captain John Greene recommended that I stop by the Cafe le Cabotin for dinner. "It 's like no place you've ever been," he said. In this judgment he was right.
That morning I had my first scuba lesson, as part of your basic resort course. (I had my first dive later, off Antigua.) I spent the afternoon admiring the island's black volcanic beaches, and noting the fact that the local fauna (like the substantial crab population) had turned black in order to match the color of the sand.
Late afternoon I went to Cafe le Cabotin, in a big old sprawling colonial-looking building, and soaked up some of the local rum while waiting for dinner time. I was joined by Captain Greene and a group of travelers, and we had a creole dinner that couldn't be beat. The Waiter, who bore a strong resemblance to the suave Spanish actor Fernando Rey, kept interrupting the meal in order to perform what I can only describe as "eccentric standup."
"Cabotin," by the way, is French for ham actor.
And then at 7pm, it was Star Trek Time. There was no television station on the island to play Star Trek or anything else, but the Waiter had a TV set and a primitive reel-to-reel video player that used, I believe, 1.5" video tape. So while digesting and consuming more of the local rum, we, and everyone else in the dining room, all watched an episode of classic Trek.
Sometime later the Waiter brought out the Chef, to general applause. He also announced that Cafe le Cabotin had seceded from the British Empire (Montserrat was, and still is, an imperial possession), and then declared war on the imperialist powers, Great Britain, France, the U.S., and Russia. He published a newsletter called the War News, in which his victories were documented, and also issued passports and inducted folks into his military.
I acquired a passport and the rank of Colonel in the Eleventh Periscope Group. (I was later promoted General.) The EPG later hit the beaches in Antigua and annexed the island, and our victory was duly reported in the War News. I lost the passport shortly thereafter when my hotel room was burgled in New York, something I have always regretted.
The cook was Chef Francoise. The Waiter was her husband, Baron le Vison. The skewed world-view displayed at le Cabotin was very much a part of their style.
Later that night we were entertained by the Whoop-Wop Band, who later backed up Jimmy Buffet on his Volcano album. It was the first time I'd seen a vacuum cleaner hose used as an instrument. Cap'n Greene passed the word: "Don't smoke anything weird. These people are all off-duty cops." My nose, and my lungs, were therefore kept clean.
I was sufficiently entertained by the Cafe le Cabotin crowd that I dedicated the second privateer book to them.
I never returned to Montserrat. The balmy political atmosphere that had resulted in the creation of the restaurant soon changed, alas, and became less friendly to foreigners and foreign capital. Captain Greene smuggled Francoise off the island in his schooner. The Baron left in the dead of night on a motorboat for a neighboring island, with $60,000 in cash duct-taped to his middle.
Cap'n Greene left the sea and now does something Down Under with computers.
As if in retribution for the lack of hospitality, Montserrat's volcano blew in 1995 and resulted in the evacuation of the entire island. A few people have now returned to the north end of the island, but most of the evacuees were given a few hundred pounds by the British government and told to fuck off.
Francoise and the Baron later opened restaurants in Washington, D.C., and London.
And then they turned up in New Mexico. But that's Part II of this memoir, to be continued at a later date.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Farewell to Tractor Beam, my nemesis of the last twelve years.
Shortly I will offer it on Craig's List, perhaps as a found art object. (It would be difficult to offer it as an actual useful piece of equipment, except to a devoted and rather masochistic tinkerer.)
The new wee tractor arrived this week. It operates wonderfully. It has an automatic transmission, and it cuts weeds so smoothly and wonderfully that I was transfixed with admiration. Beam wouldn't so much cut weeds as hack them into slimy gobbets, and while doing so, it would create enormous dust clouds that would cover the landscape, and me with it.
While the new tractor does not operate in a dust-free environment--- this is New Mexico, after all--- neither I did not finish my chores today looking like an extra from Invasion of the Mud Men.
It operates so smoothly that I'm tempted to call it Tractor Cream.
But in the meantime, farewell Beam! May you rust in pieces.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
The short form: they really do all that Bollywood stuff at the weddings. The women of one family dance for the women of the other family, then the women of the other family dance for the women of the first family, then the women get to dance with the guys. And they do a lot of singing, too.
I've been having a terrific time at the wedding, describing all the elaborate ceremonies with all their color and vivacity, and my character's reaction to them. It was when I was transcribing the chants in their original Sanskrit that I began to wonder, Is this too much damn detail? Which was followed, naturally enough, by the question, Am I obsessing about the wedding because I'm too uncertain about the chapters that follow?
Dark thoughts ensued.
But here's a lesson for the new writer: when you start filling your narrative with a lot of cool, intricate, colorful detail, you have to ask yourself why. Is this actually relevant to the story that you're telling? And if not, why is it there? Because it's cool can be a valid answer, but only if it really is show-stoppingly cool.
In my case, there are reasons why Bangalore and why the wedding, but they're not major plot reasons, they're background reasons. (The wedding isn't a part of this story, it's a part of the previous story, which I'm not telling. So it's a way of not having to write the prequel.)
But anyway: the wedding is cool enough, but only just. So in the pages that follow, I'm going to ease off on the wedding descriptions and start jumping into the plot.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I also received my contributor's copy of The New Space Opera, with my story "Send Them Flowers." This story got a favorable review in the last-Locus-but-one, which referred to the story as a "jape." When I workshopped the story last year, the adjective most used was "romp."
I am often happy to write romps, or even japes, but that wasn't what I intended with this story. Nothing funny actually occurs in the narrative. There are no jokes. There is a suicide attempt, some crime in which the narrator is implicated, serial infidelity, some (offstage) deaths, and a rather sordid bordello scene. I intended a rueful semi-tragedy, with blackly amusing asides.
I have clearly miscalculated with this story, but how?
Please read it and let me know.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
A Time of Gifts
The story of the book is this: in the winter of 1933, the eighteen-year-old Fermor dropped out of his cram school (he was aiming at Sandhurst), and then walked across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, living on a couple of pounds per month. (He got to Constantinople, but not to Sandhurst.) Along the way, he slept in barns and jail cells, was taken up by the aristocracy and feasted in castles, and broke bread with Gypsies.
1933 was also the year Hitler took power in Germany, and set in train the events that eventually destroyed the world that Fermor passed through on his way to the Golden Horn.
Fermor later distinguished himself as a guerilla leader, fighting Germans on the island of Crete: he captured the German general commanding the island, and after hiding with the general in a cave and exchanging Horacian epigrams in the original Latin, he smuggled General Kneipe off to Alexandria in a fishing boat. This episode was later made into a film, Ill Met by Moonlight, in which Fermor was played by Dirk Bogarde.
The book, which was written thirty-odd years after the events depicted, possesses an ironic distance that would have escaped the original eighteen-year-old, hard-drinking, and over-educated young Paddy Fermor, had that bumptious young man turned his journals into a manuscript in the Thirties. Fermor avoids condescending to his younger self, as he avoids elegy for the Mitteleuropa that no longer exists, but he can't help but add a few more decades' worth of wisdom to the feast of observation within his pages.
Nor can Fermor resist showing off. He goes through the whole Cretan general episode, including the Latin epigrams, even though it's entirely out of place. He wants you to know that the young man of the narrative became a war hero, and that the journey was a part of all that.
And my God! The prose style! Here's a piece picked out at random:
"In cold weather like this," said the innkeeper of a Gastwittschaft further down, "I recommend Himbeergeist." I obeyed and it was a lightning conversion. Spirit of raspberries, or their ghost--- this crystalline distillation, twinkling and ice-cold in its misty goblet, looked as though it were homoeopathically in league with the weather. Sipped or swallowed, it went shuddering through its new home and branched out in patterns--- or so it seemed after the second glass--- like the ice-ferns that covered the window panes, but radiating warmth and happiness instead of cold, and carrying a ghostly message of comfort to the uttermost fimbria . . . "
These spires and towers recalled the earlier Prague of the Wenceslases and the Ottokars and the race of the Premysl kings, sprung from the fairy-tale marriage of a Czech princess with a plough-boy encountered on the banks of the river. The Czechs have always looked back with longing to the reigns of the saintly sovereign and his descendants and to the powerful and benevolent Charles IV--- a golden age when Czech was the language of rulers and subjects, religious discord unknown and the rights of crown and nobles and commons and peasants all intact. These feelings gained strength during the Czech revival under the last hundred years of Habsburg ascendancy. Austrian rule fluctuated between unconvinced absolutism and liberalism soon repented and it was abetted by linguistic pressures, untimely inflexibility and all of the follies that assail declining empires, for knavery was not to blame. These ancient wrongs must have lost much of their bitterness in the baleful light of modern times when the only evidence to survive is an heirloom of luminous architectural beauty.
The book never actually gets to Constantinople, nor does its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water. A third volume has been promised, but so far not delivered. (Sir Paddy--- he was knighted--- is probably having too much fun in his Peloponnesian villa.)
Ave Fermor! May your ninety-odd years sit lightly upon you.
From the Mountain
"Steak Tartare and the Cats of Gari Babakin Station," by Mary Turzillo.
Novel excerpt by Karen Joy Fowler.
Because we had no power, we ate out. By all accounts, the trout, the duck fajitas, and the mango chicken enchiladas were all very good.
"Emperor of the Clouds," by Geoff Landis
Excerpt from Implied Spaces, by Walter
Shrimp and/or hearts of palm in remoulade sauce.
Black roux gumbo a la Chef Francoise Auclaire le Vison.
Chocolate torte by Miss Leslie.
Novelette by L Timmel Duchamp. (The title has flown my mind.)
Excerpt from The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham.
Margaritas by Walter
Ginger chocolate chip cookies by Jay.
Tibetan momos by Jay
Roast vegetables by Maureen.
Tossed salad by Mary
Dessert by ??? (by Friday all energy and memory had gone)
We rested, except for shopping in Taos.
Due to a heavy storm, we ate leftovers, buffalo burgers or omelettes or more momos or other stuff.
Energy and memory has not yet returned. I am shopping for a new tractor, and a new plot.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Ten Writers, Very Cold
Dropping limbs, causing landslides.
And knocking out our power, from Wednesday afternoon on. No lights, no heat, no internet. No refrigeration. No way to cook food, no way to read in the dark, or critique.
As darkness came on half were huddled under blankets. Since everything was blacked out, we headed down the mountain to Taos for a restaurant dinner, and one car, having lost its oilpan to fallen rocks, didn't make it back.
We crawled back up the mountain, encountering a couple trucks from Taos Rural Electric Cooperative along the road.
We had flashlights, we had candles. Food satiation and wine failed to raise spirits. A glorious starscape, unimpeded by village lighting, failed to keep us from freezing our butts off whenever we looked at it.
No electricity came by night. In the morning I shifted critical foodstuffs to the freezer, which was still reasonably cold. Then went down the mountain in company, to buy ice and have a warm breakfast.
When I returned, the Rural Electric Cooperative had done its stuff. Heat, refrigeration, and hot water restored! Showers possible! Spirits improved! Critiques scheduled for later, after margaritas!
The wind continues to blow, alas. Which means it could all be undone in an instant.
If we can just get through dinner, all will be well.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Sunday Night (by Walter)
Garlic-eggplant relish and India relish
Spaghetti in garlic and ginger sauce
Beef tongue in sweet and sour sauce (in honor of Miss Leslie)
Spring vegetable terrine
"The Naturalist" by Maureen McHugh
"A Water Matter" by Jay Lake
Dinner: by Miss Leslie
Grilled yogurt and saffron chicken
Rice with black caroway
Poached asparagus with orange vinaigrette
Grilled balsamic three-pepper skewers
Yogurt mint cucumber salad
Apricot almond torte in apricot sauce, with vanilla ice cream
Ginger chocolate chip cookies
"Grandma, of Blessed Memory" by Leslie What
"Off the Fire Road" by Eileen Gunn
Dinner by Maureen
Grilled ribeye steak with Italian seasoning
Gnocchi with homemade pomodoro and mushroom sauce
Roasted Italian vegetables
Low country bread pudding with ice cream
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Up the Mountain
Here's a summary of the last week:
We participated in Mayor Marty's free Memorial Day concert series in Albuquerque, and caught the Blind Boys of Alabama, Johnny Lang, Delbert McClinton, and Joan Osborne. I intended to tell you all about it, but haven't had a spare moment.
I've spent two days trying to fix Tractor Beam, and decided that twelve years of Tractor Beam is enough. Names for the new tractor are hereby solicited.
As I mentioned in the last post, I finished the novel and started a new one.
This weekend I helped to test and graduate fifty-odd Kenpo black belts from all over the Southwest. Sweat, dedication, blood, and tears were expended, and for the most part much admired.
Instead of the usual testing site high in the Manzano Mountains, the test was held in the mid-school in Bernalillo, a town north of Albuquerque. The gym featured air conditioning, flush toilets, and showers, none of which were available at the old site. Also there were no dust storms. I appreciated the comfort, but wondered at whether enough character-building filth and misery were available for the students.
The gym also featured the most amazing mural, which grew progressively more strange the longer I stared at it. There were Indians, giant hummingbirds and cranes, conquistadors, a football player, babes who may have been cheerleaders, a ferocious-looking Aztec-looking guy in hoplite armor, ICBMs, and a UFO.
New Mexico, in short.
I'm off, and will check in if opportunity arises.
Hurrah for me!
Though it scarcely makes any difference to my daily routine, as I promptly jumped into the next project.
Which brings me to a sort of useful idea.
It occurs to me that, since at least some folks out there will be offering congratulations (or conceivably condolences) on the delivery of my new novel, you should all do it.
I have no idea how many people read this journal. So if you all post something, I'll know.
So please post. Even if it's to plant a happy face.