Saturday, July 21, 2007

Writing Through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

For for the first time. A mesostic of sounds from the chapter "Battle of Hogwarts," with apologies to John Cage.

too huge
screaming with blood
high, cold, and clear
yells and shouts

thin, piteous human
silence swallowed
surprisingly soft
smattering of applause

Interestingly, Rowland uses very few sounds in her writing. This makes it much more difficult to go through, as Cage did with Finnegan's Wake, and draw out sound-words and phonemes. The above mesostic was drawn from only 26 or so such sound descriptions I found in the chapter. Considering that most of the chapter is describing a battle, and Harry's escape from a gigantic fire-monster-thing, you would think there would be more sounds.

Incidentally, the book? Loved it. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Sopranos ending, but I equally loved Rowland's approach to ending a complicated, character-driven epic.

Friday, July 20, 2007

All Things Bright and British

Mary's graduation went swimmingly on Wednesday. It was not, unfortunately, in the London Guild Hall where it usually is, but rather in a somewhat dreary University of London student center. But there were lots of fun academic robes and maces, and everything was presided over by the Most Honorable 7th Marquess of Salisbury. Who, it later turned out, is a fairly annoying right-wing Tory in the House of Lords, but still, he's a Marquess, and we don't have those in the land of the free.

After the ceremony Mary's mother took us out for sushi, and then for dinner we drove with her father up to Essex for dinner and Morris dancing in a pub. We were met there by a crusty old English veterinarian Mary used to work for, and who was, I suspect, James Herriot incarnate.

And then, if things weren't English enough, there was a black tie graduation ball at Hatfield House. I was sort of expecting Hatfield House to be the local community center, but it turned out to be the home of aforementioned Marquess of Salisbury. And his home is a Tudor/Jacobean mansion, owned most notably by Henry the VIII. Queens Elizabeth and Mary grew up there, and supposedly Elizabeth was sitting underneath an oak tree in the courtyard when she found out that Mary had died, and she was now queen. The dinner and dancing were in the oldest part of the grounds, the original 15th century Great Hall. It felt a little odd to be doing the Macarena underneath the antlers of a deer shot by Henry VIII, but we Americans, we adapt.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Courtesy of Mary's father, I tonight ate the following:

1. Wild Mushroom and Bergamot Soup

2. Roast Saddle of Wiltshire Rabbit with Foie Gras and Summer Truffle Risotto ("Game may contain lead shot.")

3. Chocolate Pudding with Spearmint and Pistachio Ice Cream

This all at Rules, supposedly the oldest private restaurant in London.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Barnet Bound

Very occasionally, the title of this blog makes sense. In a few hours I am off to the airport. Eleven very cramped hours after that, I'll be in Barnet for two weeks. Incidentally, I missed the exact date, but this summer marks the two year anniversary of this humble blog. I began it initially when I was in England for the summer of 2005, so that I didn't have to write the same repetitive little travelogue email to all of my friends and family.

Apologies to the many, many people I owe things to at the moment. They are coming.

Will somebody please come kill my cats so that they will stop playing in my suitcase? Thanks.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Four Pondering Questions

Mary thanks everyone for their kind comments. It has been a whirlwind for her! I leave Tuesday for her graduation.

I have been whirling around myself. I decided that the best way to get all of my tasks done before leaving town would be to go for a preemptive two-day vacation to San Francisco. Friday morning I took a Southwest shuttle up, Saturday I drove down. There were two occasions for this. The sad one is that a friend of mine's mother just died up there, and I was able to meet him for breakfast and a walk in a park. The happy reason was that my little sister, who is an opera singer, was performing in the city. My parents were driving down from Oregon, and since I don't see them or my sister enough, it seemed like a good time to go up. The concert was great, needless to say. And it made me horribly, horribly homesick for the Bay Area. I grew up in the east bay, but am rarely able to visit. Especially now that my parents have moved away, I have few ties, and this makes me sad. I love Los Angeles, and many other places, but there is no other place in which I feel happier than the Bay Area. Especially since I was introduced to the La Farine morning bun, which had somehow eluded my childhood.

Anyways, a friend and I drove down yesterday, which was surprisingly pleasant--Interstate 5 is a miserable drive, but good conversation made it fly by. And although I am exhausted by the traveling, I am nevertheless motivated to answer Tenured Radical's tag for the "Eight Things I wonder about" meme, started over here. I'm not a big meme person, but the whiny formlessness of this one appeals to me in my current state of mind. Except I'm tired, so my version is going to be four things I am pondering.

Four Things I Am Pondering

1. When I was at the beach for the Fourth of July, celebrating our victorious march on terrorism at home and abroad, I noticed an increase in the number of tummy tattoos. Men with big gothic script letters arching across, or women with little chains of thorns or whatever around their bellybutton. My question: are they (a) supremely overconfident in their ability to stay in shape the rest of their lives, or (b) stupid?

2. Will I survive this summer? Seriously. It's not looking good.

3. Los Angeles: there are not many people who love this city. But there are some. I think I am one. But some of those who love this city defend it in terms that suggest that those who do not like Los Angeles are lacking in critical faculty. As in, if you don't like Los Angeles, it is because of romantic attachment to old-fashioned ideals. Los Angeles complicates binaries, the reasoning goes, and forces you to confront prejudices you didn't know you had. For instance, one might argue, Los Angeles is actually not about superficiality. In fact, quite the opposite. In east coast cities, you know you are in a fancy neighborhood if there are brick sidewalks and nice old houses. In Los Angeles, outward appearances will give you no guide to what is inside. This fancy restaurant down the street from me looks like a double-wide trailer home. Isn't that how things should be? Hmmm.

4. Why is it so impossible for me to get work done at home? These days, I only work at coffeeshops. Objectively, this is odd, as at home I have a very comfortable chair, a desk, plentiful food and beverage, and internet. At coffeeshops, I have a rickety table, expensive food, sometimes no internet, and lots of distraction. Will this all change someday, when I am living in a situation that allows my bed and desk to be in different rooms? What about if I have a campus office, will I be able to work there? Would air conditioning help? Is solitude the problem, do I need to have bustle around me? Is it the fueling fire of a professionally-made cappuccino?

Since I am only pondering four things, I am only going to tag four others: Sushi Pajamas, Miscellaneous Mayhem, Violet Vixen, Jewel Dakini? Have at it! Ponder away!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lock up your horses

Many little girls want to be veterinarians. Some boys too, but many, many little girls. Some of those girls go on to college. A few of them stay on the pre-vet track, even while rowing varsity for crew all four years. Fewer do well enough that they get into veterinary school. Fewer still make it through four years of vet school. Even fewer go to a vet school in Europe that requires an extra year of training, and which despite being eight time zones away from her boyfriend is one of the best places in the world to study furry things.

But last week my partner took her very final exams, having already passed the American boards. A week's worth of testing, plus scores averaged in from previous practical exams, a research paper, rotation evaluations, and so on.

And this morning, she found out she passed! I can now present to you, at the tender age of 26, Dr. Mary, DVM MRCVS.

You can't tell, but this is the picture of the official parking spot for the veterinarian at the Royal Mews.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Swimming Safely

Like lots of Los Angeles apartment buildings, mine has a pool. Unlike many pools in LA, ours is not doing so well. It always looks a little cloudy, but this summer the residents of my building have been cheerfully gamboling about in it. This is unusual; back when my building was largely senior citizens, nobody ever went in. But in the last year, more and more young people have moved in, and for a few weeks this summer the pool was becoming quite a party spot. Many of the new residents are twenty-something power lesbians, and they all seem to like the pool. They'd frolic around drinking cheap beer all night long.

But then, like the careers of elected officials in my fair city, things went downhill. The water started to get cloudier and cloudier. It started to turn a peculiar green. There seemed to be an interesting amount of hair floating about, and then a few cigarette butts. As if to confirm the obvious, an official-looking sign suddenly went up: "Pool Closed by Order of the Department of Health and Safety." And now it is supposed to hit triple-digit temperatures, and we have no pool.

In other news, I want to recommend two great blog posts:
  • Tenured Radical, with whom my partner used to row but from whom I stupidly never took any classes, has a great post about the Sherley tenure case at MIT. That post, and a related one from February, make beautiful arguments about the reality of evaulative processes in academia for people of color, women, and queers. Especially people of color. She says all the things I wish I could think to say when people grouse about how hard it is for white people to get academic jobs. And I say that as a white guy who is scared stiff about getting a job next year.

  • The indomitable Susie Bright is always wonderful. She had a great post awhile back about the annoying tag "NSFW", or, "Not Safe for Work." Today she has a neat post about safety in general. The notion of "safety" is so fascinating. It was something that came up for me in college a lot; if this blog weren't mildly anonymous, I would link to an editorial I once wrote that made very similar points.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rodents I Have Loved

Three words for you:

Ratatouille is awesome.

Admittedly, I love rodents. I had two rats as a kid. I can't remember the first one's name, as I was in second grade or so. As I recall, he was a classroom pet who needed a home for Christmas, and ended up living with me permanently. My second rat, much loved, was named Bubba. I think he might have also been an adopted classroom rat. Bubba was wonderful, and lived a very long happy life. When he developed a tumor, we took to the vet to be put to sleep, and I bawled my little eyes out even though I was really too old for that sort of thing. I put him in a box to take to the vet, and gave him a slice of chocolate cake since I figured it didn't matter anymore. The vet very kindly took him to a back room to the deed, and wow, was I ever sad.

We also had many mice in our house--mine was named Perot, on account of his large ears. Unfortunately, one morning I awoke to find that one of his ears was missing. Not sure where it went. The vet presumed that he just scratched or gnawed it off or something. Not much to be done except daub neosporin on the stump daily, he said, which I did faithfully. He also lived a long and happy life, despite being occasionally tormented by the cat, who would sit on top of his cage staring down at the poor little guy, and would occasionally manage to fish him out and bat him around. Never did serious harm, so we figured it was all in good fun. Keeps the reflexes sharp.

We also had a rabbit, but he was rather mean. He was a hand-me-down from a neighbor who moved away, who had themselves inherited him from another neighbor. We tried hard to love Friskie, but he repaid our love with rabbit squeals and biting. I tell you though, he lived a very long time for a rabbit. He even made it through an evacuation--when the Oakland Hills Fire came close to us in 1991, we had to bundle all the pets in the car to flee. (Except the goldfish. My mother convinced me they would be fine in their water.) The dog roamed free in the minivan, the cat had his carrier, and the mouse was oblivious to the world in his little box, but the poor rabbit had to be stuffed into whatever we had available, which ended up being Bubba's old rat cage. He fit, but he was not a happy rabbit.

Incidentally, is Mitt Romney not supremely creepy? Who straps their dog on top of a car?

Anyways, the movie Ratatouille is wonderful. I can vouch that the animators really did a wonderful job in capturing the rodent spirit. They got their cute little hands just right, and the sound guys did an excellent job of recreating the sound of scampering rat. It made me want to have another pet rat.

Not to mention the food. Man. I've never been so hungry from watching an animated movie about rats.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

LAs I will miss

It's still hot, and I know it will be like this all summer long. Going outside becomes an ordeal, just like winter in a snow climate--you've got to slather on sunblock an all exposed surfaces. You've got to put your contacts in so you can wear sunglasses. You've got to make sure you're taking your own car, which has air conditioning, and not the friend's car that has vinyl seats and no AC. Movie theaters are good. The beach is good. Apartments are bad.

But I'm not going to complain about the heat anymore. Today is July 1, so I have exactly one more month in Los Angeles. After reading the horror stories about UHaul, I have reserved a Penske truck for August 1 to schlep my stuff to an as-of-yet-undetermined location on the other side of the country. And I'm going to miss this godforsaken city! So, I want to blog about things I will miss about LA. Consider this a first installment.

Largo is a small club in my neighborhood. It's mostly sit-down tables, with a small bar area, and a small stage with an excellent sound system. The owner is this annoying Irish guy who just had a baby. The bartender is a lovely woman who is a photographer in her real life. Generations of musicologists have trekked to Largo to hear music. I have spent hours and hours sitting at the bar with friends, sipping my Harp and enjoying the strict no-cellphone-policy quiet. The deal with Largo is that you can reserve a table for dinner, but it sells out way in advance usually. But if you get there early, you can wait in line outside, and the first dozen people or so get seats at the bar. So if it is a popular performer, like Jon Brion's regular Friday night residency, you get there at like 7 pm, and hunker down on the sidewalk for several hours, then spend another hour or so drinking at the bar while people eat there dinner. Finally, Jon or whoever will come on at like 10 pm, and play until midnight.

The hours of waiting get old after awhile, and the quality of the music can be uneven. It's actually been almost a year and a half since I've last been. But last Thursday I went with friends to see the alternative bluegrass group Nickelcreek. They are a pair of siblings, the Watkins family, about my age I guess, who are always playing at Largo. I gather they are actually kind of big now, but I always think of them as the slightly dorky but adorable kids who get dragged up on stage by Jon Brion all the time.

But anyways, this show was just lovely, and reminds me how much I love Largo sometimes. Beautiful tunes, impeccably played. People wandered on stage constantly to play a song or two. One of those people was Fiona Apple, who seems to live permanently at Largo--Mary has run into her in the women's restroom more than once. She looked, as she always does, both beautiful and traumatized, and sang through a handful of lovely bluegrass and original tunes with the group. Then it was the opening act's birthday, so cupcakes were passed around and everyone sang.