Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 December, 2009

Madison To Get In On the Pollo a la Brasa?

A poster named Ashley left a so far uncommented upon post at The Daily Page forum about a restaurant opening on Old Sauk Road - Pollo Peruano. Although she isn't certainly, she guesses that it could be a Peruvian rotisserie chicken joint. We'll see. I'd certainly give it a try if it were to turn out that way. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting one of those places in my brother's Chicago neighborhood which makes me quite jealous.

Also, I see that the old Runway (can't recall the South American restaurant that was there for a short time) on Packers Avenue is being resurrected as La Finca. Will the trailer park folks take to Mexican eats across the street? Only the Shadow knows...
|| Palmer, 2:34 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

HP Webcam Can't Pickup Negroes

So says Desi, the star of this video, who demonstrates that HP facial recognition software doesn't work on black people. HP claims that low-lighting is to blame.

|| Palmer, 8:53 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

24 December, 2009

I Just Have To Say...

Good lord, 2001 looks incredible on Blu-Ray. And I'm still at "The Dawn of Man". It hasn't looked this good since I saw it on the UltraScreen at Point. They even kept the musical prelude.
|| Palmer, 6:59 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

23 December, 2009

Antichrist



Lars von Trier's latest, Antichrist, begins with a prologue shot in gorgeous black & white. Completely in slow motion, it is a graceful dance of death to Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga". Willem Dafoe ("He") and Charlotte Gainsbourg ("She") are passionately making love as their son, Nic, is supposed to be sleeping in an adjacent room. However, as She is dying a little death, Nic dies the big one – he falls out of an open window.

With the prologue over, the grieving begins and in color, even if Anthony Dod Mantle's beautiful cinematography is drained of all but greens, browns, and greys. During the funeral procession, He cries as She collapses to ground. Fellow mourners quickly come to her aid but their faces are obscured as if a round pane of privacy glass were floating before each of them. She is admitted to the hospital but, after a month, He decides it is time for her to come home. Being a psychotherapist, He has decided to make his wife a patient despite this being a no-no in the profession. The scene in the hospital ends with the camera zooming in on the stems of flowers sitting in a vase. The water is green and murky and the zoom goes in extremely close, so much so that our POV is that of being in the water.

While She is obviously in severe distress, He seems oddly unaffected and detached as he engages her in therapy which involves trying to get his wife to confront her fears. Indeed, He speaks to Her in a very clinical manner. Her greatest dread seems to stem from a cabin in the woods owned by the couple with the iconic name Eden. And so they pack their bags and hop aboard a train.

We next see the couple hiking through the woods to Eden. At one point, they decide to rest and She avails herself of the opportunity to take a cat nap. He, on the other hand, wanders until he comes upon a doe. It turns around to reveal its stillborn fawn protruding from its hind quarters and walks away.



As the zoom on the flower stems presaged, the scenes at Eden not only take place in nature, but are about Nature. In addition to the doe, He encounters an auto-eviscerating fox who warns him, "Chaos reigns!", and his hand left dangling out a window during the night is found in the morning to be covered in white bugs which had gnawed their way into his flesh. If these weren't enough, the oak trees nearby have a preternaturally large number of acorns with which to pelt the roof of the cabin. Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but I don't think that Tennyson had quite this in mind.

She's state of mind deteriorates further but she does reveal something about her fear. She had brought Nic with her to Eden the previous year when she was preparing her thesis paper on gynocide. He finds some of the work she did in the attic and her writing becomes more childish and messy as it goes on until the pages are blank. She tells him, "Nature is Satan's church", which, I think, gives us insight into von Trier's imagery and that, after studying misogyny through the ages, she has come to believe that women are inherently evil. This notion proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as she attacks him and smashes his genitals shortly after attempting to mount him. With him unconscious, She proceeds to drill a hole in his leg into which she inserts the axle of a grinding wheel with the wheel still attached. He wakes up to find She gone and makes his escape to a foxhole at the base of an old, gnarled tree. Once She discovers he is gone, she frantically searches for him. She eventually finds him but is unable to pull him out so she digs a hole from above after having calmed down a bit. Having dragged him back to the cabin, She then gives penance by cutting off her clitoris.

Antichrist is the Book of Genesis recast and inverted. Nic's death is the fall from grace which precipitates the couple going to Eden. Eden is transmogrified from being a lush, verdant home that provides for Adam and Eve, to a dark, rainy landscape created by Satan from designs by Hieronymus Bosch that confronts She and He at every turn. Arguably, von Trier's treatment of She harkens back to the early Church fathers such as Aquinas and Tertullian who took Ecclesiastes to heart ("Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" and "And I find more bitter than death the woman".) She is often seen naked from the waist down and initiates sex in the time after Nic's death. It is at her feet that the animals seen around Eden congregate. Unlike He, She is unable to control her lust and in one scene retreats to the base of this Eden's Tree of Knowledge to masturbate.



She's sexuality is the core of her evil. When we see flashbacks to the couple making love as their son faces certain doom, we see She's face, we see her come to orgasm. The implication is that it is her lust which causes both of them to lose awareness of their toddler. After Nic's death, She's sexuality turns darker and violent. During a scene of sexual playfulness as She is beginning to move on from the grief stage, She bites her husband's nipple too hard and sours the mood. Subsequent intimacy is miles away from the tenderness of the prologue. Instead it generally involves She jumping atop her husband and progresses to the point of genital mutilation.

I take von Trier's treatment of She not so much as a reflection of any misogyny he may harbor but as part and parcel of dealing with the concept of evil through the lens of a Christian parable. You may think otherwise.

Moving away from the thematic, I will say that I loved the cinematography. Anthony Dod Mantle's work here is fantastic as we shift from the graceful black & white elegance of the prologue to the chapters presented in drab, dreary color. There is plenty of jittery camerawork and jump cuts to give a realistic documentary sense of unease to the proceedings but there are also ostentatious moments such as when the camera steadies and zooms in on the flower stems as I mentioned above which draw the viewer somewhere outside of the action.

Both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg deserve credit for their acting here, especially Gainsbourg. Let us hope she's not a method actress because portraying someone at their wits' end can't be easy and trying to become that type of person must be even worse. I think she had to run through just about every human emotion here in addition to the screaming, crying, and nudity.

Antichrist is less a story than a series of impressions. It's not that the plot is inconsequential but what is more important is how the imagery, the music, and the metaphors hit you in the gut. The film is cerebral in one sense but more visceral in another. There is a brief shot of penetration during the prologue which really isn't necessary if all von Trier wanted to do was show how in love these two people are. Seeing them writhing around and to see her face are enough. But seeing genitalia is a move away from mere character development.

I think of Antichrist as a meditation on evil that is part psychological horror story and part adult fairy tale. (Of the old school where Sleeping Beauty is raped and Little Red Riding Hood is eaten.) But the genius of the movie is that you'll have to puzzle it all out for yourself.

|| Palmer, 2:36 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Me and Orson Welles in Madison or Not?

According to Isthmus, Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is opening today at Point Cinemas. However, neither the theatre's website nor its automated box office phone hoolie list it. The showtimes listing at IMDB gives the Majestic Cinema in Brookfield as the closest screening.

77 Square doesn't list it but it did post an AP review yesterday which is now mysteriously dated 14 January 2010.

WTF?
|| Palmer, 10:54 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

21 December, 2009

Precious



When I went into the theatre this weekend to see Precious, I was expecting a real hair shirt experience like Mel Gibson's Catholic torture fest but set in the inner city. Instead the film turned out to be something different and much more complicated than my review reading had led me to believe.

The titular character, played by Gabourey Sidibe, is a teenage girl living in Harlem in 1987. Overweight and illiterate, sitting quietly in the back of class in school provides respite from the abuse she suffers at home from her mother, Mary, who resents and insults her without mercy. Precious' father proved to have incestuous inclinations and we find the girl pregnant for the second time by him. At school, she daydreams about her math teacher as well as being a movie star and model.

Precious is expelled from school for having become pregnant again but the earnest, if weary, principal directs her to attend an alternative school. From here, the story moves from that of a beleaguered and abused girl to one which chronicles a girl's ascent into womanhood as she learns how to read and retrieves her self-respect from the garbage where her parents threw it.

What sounds like a simple tear-jerker is actually very interesting stylistically. The scenes of conflict are very raw. For instance, when Precious and her mother have it out, there is no music to sway us, just profanity, grunts, and bodies being thrown around. And the cinematography was understated yet incredibly effective. I don't know if it was having worked with Robert Altman, but DP Andrew Dunn's use of long lenses was great. I normally prefer shorter lenses and more depth of field. Here, however, the shallow focus combines with the lack of non-diagetic music and sets to create a rather sparse cinematic world that always provided the right backdrop for but never intruded upon the wonderful performances of the actors.



By way of example, we have the apartment in which Precious and her mother live. It has this gaudy gold colored wallpaper with a baroque floral pattern on it. This singles the apartment out, in a way, as the other sets are very plain in contrast. When the wallpaper combines with the yellow lights, the place becomes almost surreal as it radiates a heat, a tension that is very thick and makes the apartment an arena in which the simmering mother-daughter conflict can play itself out.

Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher deserve a lot of credit for populating Precious' world with important characters but never letting the movie stray far from our hero or lapse into a clichéd mentor-helps-poor-girl scenario. We learn a bit about Ms. Rain, a sympathetic teacher, and Precious' fellow students at the alternative school, but there's no perfunctory scenes giving us their background to fool us into thinking that these characters have been fleshed out to any degree. Yet they seem very real because we generally see them engaged in the mundane tasks of carrying on with life.

On the thematic side, Precious is a mess. I walked out of the theatre impressed with the style and characters but unable to discern any over-arching meaning to cull from it. There was a sense of hopefulness to be had that Precious' velleities were transformed into obtainable goals by the end of the film, however, was that all to be had? Racism was largely absent from the film although, tellingly, Precious has a crush on her white math teacher, is accompanied by a white man on the red carpet in one of her daydreams, and wishes she were thin and white in a bit of voiceover narration. In addition, the adults in her life trying to help – Ms. Rain, the principal, a social worker – are all white or light-skinned blacks.

I think you have to look at Precious not as a single inner city black girl and instead as an amalgamation of many inner city black girls. Her plight is just over the top as she is beset by problems Pelion upon Ossa. The film offers literacy and education as the way out, a message both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois could get behind. Unfortunately I think the parts about Precious working her way out of the hole that she finds herself in are largely obscured by the shadows of all the horrible things that have been done to her. It's not that I wanted a fairy tale ending but more scenes detailing her progress were needed to drive home the point that education is the ticket and to counterbalance all the horrible crap that has been inflicted upon Precious.

In the end, Precious is a moving film and full of ideas which are, unfortunately, scattered about rather than assembled into a cohesive whole. There's too much hell and not enough of Precious' ascent out of it. Regardless, it was refreshing to watch an independent film which wasn't about pretty white people in their 20s or any other indie movie cliché. It may be a mess but at least it's not Little Miss Sunshine or Waitress.

On a different note, I will say that I saw Precious at Sundance although it is playing at Eastgate as well. My choice of venue meant that the only person of color I saw in the audience was my girlfriend. Anyone else in Madison see it yet? What are the audiences like? Any reactions of note? Armond White reactions or something else?

|| Palmer, 8:47 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

18 December, 2009

The Bitchiest Block in Boozeville

"What's a Coastie?", a song by a couple UW students, is stirring up controversy and a good discussion of the issue is to be up at Dane 101.

In light of this, I pulled out an article from a zine called Temp Slave written by a former co-worker of mine named Ann. We worked together at The Towers, the private dorm which was and remains home to many people referred to as "coasties". To the best of my memory, my tenure there ended just as the term was gaining currency but it is the likes Ann describes that I think of when I hear "coastie". While I cannot vouch for everything in this article, I swear on that old Towers t-shirt in my closet that says "Serving students, not stereotypes" that much of this is true. What I cannot verify generally doesn't sound out of character for the place.

Linguists take note: she doesn't use the term "coastie".

The Bitchiest Block in Boozeville!

The Towers? I got fifty bucks for the guy who drives a truckload of fertilizer through that den of delusion. Were I a touch more touched, I'd think the Towers---Madison's famous $600 a month private dorm, where rich out-of-staters (mostly from Lawng Iyyyyland) store their demented spawn---was some sort of Nazi plot to turn all the local service sector employees into raging anti-semites. But Nazis would at least have enough taste not to do the same thing in POWDER BLUE AND FUCKING MAUVE. Ugh! No, it's just one more example of the inconsiderate clamor that money and a martyr complex can make when filtered through the wah-wah pedal of human satire.

So why'd I piss away two years of my life working in their cafeteria for five bucks an hour? Well, guided by the magical invisible hand of the free market system, the "Towahs" and I found each other to be the perfect marriage: me and my big mouth had a hard time holding down jobs, while the clientele and their big mouths were desperate for servants (actually, they referred to us as "the help"). How desperate? Well, when I got so drunk at the employee Christmas party that I fell off my chair, vomited all over the dining hall, and had to be carted off to the drunk tank in a squad car (nearly getting the Towers finded [sic] for serving alcohol to a teenager), they didn't even think of firing me. They sent me to a psychiatrist! When I flipped out one day and stuck my head out the dishroom window and screamed, "I hate you! I hate you ALL" over and over until I nearly passed out---you guessed it, back to the shrink, who talked to me for 45 minutes and then gave me a prescription for Zoloft. Frighteningly enough, it turned me into a perfect employee---temporarily. Too bad it wouldn't let me sleep for a week. I went further into Bat-Shit Land and they still wouldn't can me.

Working at the Towers was an amazing study in, er, cultural differences. Where I grew up, in central Wisconsin, the upper-class was a bunch of cranberry farmers and, I mean, it's a bit hard to get on your high horse when you drive a fucking tractor for a living. Yeah, yea, I know that anyone who reads TS! On a regular basis knows we're all a bunch of cannibalist serial killers (incidentally, I went to school with a kid who made the twenty-minute drive once a year to collect a jar of dirt from Ed Gein's grave) but still, most Wisconsinites make some sort of effort to treat service workers like human beings. On Long Island, apparently, they've developed single purpose bioroids for use as maids and butlers.

I also found a bit of blueblood self-mythologizing to be true: they ARE more thenthitive than the wetht of us. Running out of tomatoes at the salad bar was occasion for a mob panic and stampede. They'd burst into tears at the drop of a filet mignon---I saw a girl cry bitterly because we were out of fucking ice cream sprinkles. A green haired "punk" from the suburbs of Illinois pitched a fit because we were serving "cheap ass" chicken cordon bleu. These pathetic fuckers are wound so tight that anything can spoil their day.

I personally induced sobbing on two glorious occasions. The first was when a kid accidentally sent the notes for his "really fucking tough" economics test into the dishroom. Upon returning them to him, I remarked that I'd learned everything on his note cards in my junior year of high school. Tuff guy. The second time was when they let me work on the serving line (the fools) and some guy tried to butt into the front of the line and get me to serve him before everybody else who'd been waiting because he was so, very, very, busy.

"No," I said.
"Whyyyy?" he whined.
"Because, you're not SPECIAL."

After listening to him bitch my manager out for twenty minutes, she told me, "Ann, from now on I don't think you should do anything but wash dishes." I couldn't have agreed with her more.

Oddly enough, most of the residents spent an incredible amount of time carping about how oppressed they were, in one form or another. Some of them felt unloved because they weren't the richest bitch on their floor; others felt put down by the Man because nobody understood their undying devotion to some godawful hippie band. Most of the girls were feminists, and took women's studies classes to improve their self-esteem. I suppose they needed it since they appeared to spend the rest of their time getting tit lifts, and flirting with their fathers (creepy creepy creepy).

Now these splinter groups received a certain amount of sympathy from the other sufferers, but the one tragedy they all struggled with (and bitched about constantly) was religious oppression. The atheists were certain everybody was out to lecture and dogmatize them to death, so they sermonized them into submission first. The Christian brats felt outnumbered by the Jews, so when there were more giant tacky driedels [sic] then Santa Clauses on the walls one holiday season, they took the opportunity to shower the building manager with protest letters. They probably could've saved themselves some embarrassment if they'd left the goy ghetto long enough to find out that Hannukah was three weeks earlier than Christmas that year, and the management planned to tear down all the Jewish crap and put up Christian crap when the first stupid holiday was over. I think the only ones who kept their traps shut were the Asian exchange students, but that's only because they were too busy holding up the hot food line by yelling at the servers, who often gave them the wrong entrees because their method of ordering food was to point at the pans and grunt. Money can't buy ya language skills.

It can't buy a sense of irony either---I fondly remember listening to the Jewish kid go on about how no one could understand their deep-soul oppression while I cleaned up the mounds of food and paper they dumped on the floor while they ate. I remember thinking, well, I have some German blood; maybe this is some kind of karma---but then again the Nazis offed a shitload of Catholics too, and my whole family is Catholic. But then AGAIN why bother debating them over something that happened in Germany before any of us were even born? I guess ranting and raving about the horrible things a bunch of evil bastards did in some other country a half-century ago take our minds off things like, oh…well, KITTEN, ya been to Harlem lately??? When the Black Moslims came to town to speak, the residents carried on so, you would've thought angry young men in bowties had the building surrounded with tanks. I thought it was hilarious, but the poor Jewish kids I worked with were embarrassed out of their minds.

Like I said, the girls were all "feminists", but when they weren't directly angling for husbands, they were busy baiting their hooks with the dubious worm of anorexia. I never knew there were so many foods that could be replaced with fat-free polymers. All of them were certain that if they ate a molecule of fat, they'd become weather balloons, but they had no idea what "fat" actually was. I was amazed by the daily onslaught of moronic, obsessive queries. "Is there any grease in those french fries?" "Is that vegetarian pot roast?" "Are you sure the frozen yoghurt is fat-free? It says it is but I don't believe it." One girl actually claimed that she couldn't eat any fatty acids because she had a "pre-ulcerous condition. "Really?" I said, munching on a French fry. "I hear ya sister---I HAVE AN ACTUAL ULCER."

They're also exercise freaks, but gawd forbid they go outside where the locals might touch them, so right next to the cafeteria they have a mini-gym where they fight for hours over who's next on the Stairmaster. One day when I was relaxing outside the kitchen after my shift, a girl in Spandex came up to me and demanded, with almost hysterical suspicion, whether I lived there. I said no, so she went up to the desk and had them lock the exercise room door so only people with Tower room keys could get in (oh, yeah honey, after I involuntarily get more exercise than I need in a week, I'm gonna come in and steal your hamster wheel).

Oddly enough, most of them still have really fat asses---probably because, no matter where in town you work, you can't get away from them because they're ALWAYS going out to eat. And they're always giving each other a hard time about their diets ("You're going to get SO FAT if you eat that! Giggle).

Shortly before I quit, as I was standing there watching two of them claw at each other over the last "special" bagel, I found myself having the most perverse thought: "Boy, I'm sure lucky I'm not rich." Ahhhhh…hatred purged of envy. You couldn't get a purer rush in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room.
|| Palmer, 10:30 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Werner Herzog Interview on Slate

|| Palmer, 9:35 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

15 December, 2009

Radio Play Revival in Madison?

While I don't have an iPod, I do own a Sansa Clip and it's 2GB of storage is bursting at the seams with MP3s. However, I must admit that I have no music on my Clip. There are a couple radio documentaries on there but most of the space is occupied by radio dramas. To be had are a couple Doctor Who episodes, a Cadfael mystery, season 3 of Wormwood, and my current listen, Slipstream by Simon Bovey, who has written some great stories for radio.



While audio drama is not exactly the hippest trend, it does seem to be making a comeback of sorts here in Madison. Last fall, L.A. Theatre Works was here just before Halloween to perform H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and "The Lost World" by Arthur Conan Doyle as radio plays. Last month Middleton High School's drama club put on "'Live Broadcast,' a 1940s-style live radio drama". Also last month, the shiny new Forward Theater Company took to the stage for the first time with a radio play – "All About Eve". And just this past weekend, "It's A Wonderful Life" was done as a radio play in Middleton.

If you follow the links above to the stories, you'll notice that the performers are often decked out in 1940s costumes which is fine but there are tons of radio plays being produced now which are thoroughly contemporary. The medium is most definitely not stuck in the pre-WW2 era.

During a Q&A with Paul McGann (a.k.a. – the 8th Doctor) at Chicago TARDIS, I learned that unlike in English acting schools, American actors don't get any formal training for radio plays. They learn how to do voiceovers for commercials, but not voice acting. In England, however, aspiring thespians receive formal training for radio plays as it is expected that they'll work their way up through BBC Radio which broadcasts a constant stream of radio theatre.

Despite this, great audio drama is to be had on both sides of the ocean and the Internet has made it easier than ever to obtain. So get listening!
|| Palmer, 10:17 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Indie Movie Clichés

Duane Dudek, the film critic of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, linked to a Twitter site called IndieMovieCliche. Some of his favorites:

* No black people
* Written/directed by lead actor/actress
* Children cursing
* Soundtrack sales greater than box office receipts
* Reuniting for friends funeral
* Story starts at the end and moves backward
* Handwritten font title and credits.

Pretty much any category prefaced by "indie" means no black people. Luckily some movies defy cliché . Precious opens here in Madison on Friday.
|| Palmer, 9:19 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

14 December, 2009

Where the Legos Fart

Our final stop of the day was the Legoland Discovery Center out in Schaumburg. Woodfield Mall was, as it always is, a zoo. We parked in the far corner of the lot and walked inside only to take our place in line behind a few other families. While waiting to pay to get in, we were serenaded by a Lego figure near the entrance that farted. The joint is all class. At least there was the gigantic Albert Einstein head before us.



The first room we entered had an incredibly neat replica of downtown Chicago. Here's the north end of Michigan Avenue with the old Water Tower and the John Hancock building:



Next up is the Wrigley Building:



And Navy Pier:



The Lego Sears Tower* was about 8' tall and the lights dimmed and got brighter to mimic the passage of time. Really cool.

Down the hall, Miles got his picture taken with Barack Obama.



The D cozied up with Hagrid.



And I had a little run-in with Darth Vader.



The walls of the joint were littered with Lego replicas of paintings including this ditty by Edvard Munch which you may recognize:



One section was called Jungle Adventure. You got this trivia card thingy to mark off your answers to the questions that were inside on the walls. They related to the Lego simulacra of the animals therein such as these monkeys. (Why do they call it a urine monkey?)



There was also a life-sized figure of Indiana Jones.



The last bit with the giant spider reminded me of True Dungeon.



There is a model builders workshop is which you get a set of Legos, in our case, a snowman, and some guy shows you how to build it. His work area has a camera looking down on it and the feed is projected onto a screen. I didn't build one but instead looked at the selection of Legos from the past that were in a glass case in the same room.

Here are some Legos from the first batch back in 1949. Notice how they're completely hollow and have slits.



I had this spaceship as a kid and suddenly felt very old when I learned that it was from 1979.



We did the Dragon Ride twice. You hop in this roller coaster-like car and go through a winding tunnel laden with medieval fantasy Lego figures.

This is a freaked-out page boy.



Being a Dungeons & Dragons player, I appreciated this one where a guy is trying to hold a door that has a dragon's tail bursting through.



And here's the front side of that dragon.



When we were done wandering around, it was off to the store where Miles got his Christmas presents. Before heading home we ate dinner at the Big Bowl. While waiting for a table, we looked at a dessert menu and I lamented the absence of the chocolate/banana wontons. It would prove a sign of things to come. Now, I haven't eaten at a Big Bowl in several years (2002?) but I can tell you that the menu has been overhauled and they have totally gone to shite. The menu reads much more like that of a crappy Chinese take-out joint. Long gone are the blazing big rice noodles with beef, a favorite of mine. Indeed, there wasn't much for noodles at all (only 3 items in the Noodles section, not including Pad Thai) which is odd considering that the name of the joint comes from how they served the noodle dishes. Mine came on a plate. At least the ginger ale was still on the menu.

Next time I'll drive into Arlington Heights as there's gotta be some good Japanese food to be had there.

We got home safely despite the icy bridges south of Janesville which scared the living crap out of me. Miles stayed up till the wee hours assembling Legos and fending off the cat who was, no doubt, keen on playing with some of those pieces. We are hoping that master Lego builders make a ton of cash as this seems to be the direction he's pointed in for a career.

*Yeah, I know it's the Wills or Willis Tower or whatever it's called these days but it's still the Sears Tower to me. Marshall Fields is dead. Long live Marshall Fields!
|| Palmer, 1:00 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Restaurant Critic For a Night

Miles, The Dulcinea, and I accompanied Nichole, JM (both of Eating Madison A to Z fame) and their friend John to Pizza Extreme one night last month and now you can read all about our escapades. For the record, I think our thin crusts were Pizza Pit while the stuffed pie was Pizza Extreme.

Nothing quite like cheap pizza and conversation with gamers. In addition, Nichole can indulge you in conversation using a variety of technical terms culled from her vast vocabulary of library science terms.
|| Palmer, 11:03 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

The Bean and Conquest in Neon

Since we had a date out in Schaumburg yet to attend, we left the Christkindlmarket earlier than I had hoped. But before catching the train, we stopped out at Millennium Park. I'd walked by it before, stayed in a hotel across the street, but had never actually been there. And so we took a short stroll around. Here is the famous bean:



Miles' asthma started acting up so we headed indoors. We stopped in at the Chicago Cultural Center to warm ourselves and catch the pedway back to the vicinity of the L station. My mom said that Hizzoner wanted to tear it down but that his wife put the kibosh on that idea. Good thing too because it is absolutely beautiful.



Walking through, we found some really nice art installations. The one that The D and I liked the most was by Josue Pellot, a Chicago artist of Puerto Rican descent. First we looked at this huge photo called La Municipalwhich features this castle-like mall on a hill. If you look close enough, you'll find things just aren't quite right. You can see the photo here.

Pellot explores his Puerto Rican heritage in his art and he goes back 500+ years with "1493" which is a series of three neon installations portraying some early interactions between conquistadors and native South Americans.







I don't know what it is but there's just something about the tragic tale of the conquest of the Americas told in neon that I find appealing. Perhaps it is seeing colonialism and murder done in a medium usually reserved for more friendly and inviting purposes.

Next stop: Legoland Discovery Center.
|| Palmer, 10:37 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

In Search of Schnitzel and Stollen

The drive to Chicago Saturday morning went well. There was progressively less snow the farther south we drove and it got noticeably warmer as well. Immediately after landing at my mom's place, it was off to catch the L. Destination: the Christkindlmarket. Oddly enough, after I had finalized plans with my mother a week earlier, I hung up the phone, turned on the TV, and found myself watching Rick Steve's European Christmas special wherein he was wandering the Christkindlmarkt in Nürnberg.

It was Miles' first time on a subway train (methinks anyway – definitely his first time in Chicago) and he was a little apprehensive but soon he settled into watching the cityscape fly by the window. There was blue line track repair ongoing so we had to exit at Clark/Lake and walk a couple blocks instead of getting off at the Washington stop right at Daley Plaza. The Loop was a-rockin'. If Neil Peart were there, he might have observed that the pavements teemed with intense energy. People out shopping, people doing the tourist routine, locals enjoying a mild day outside by the lake, and some unfortunate souls who were on the job making Chicago go.

Daley Plaza and the market were brimming with people and stalls full of food, crafts, ornaments, cuckoo clocks – all kinds of Teutonic goodness.



Our first stop was for lunch.



The Dulcinea and I had been looking forward to schnitzel and by gum we got it.



The kartoffelsalat was mighty tasty as well. Plenty of bacon and vinegar. For dessert we had chocolate covered fruit.



More than one vendor was selling hot nuts and so for second dessert, I bought some cocoa dusted almonds.



Northern European and Slavic ornaments were everywhere. I believe these are Russian.



Miles found a small wooden checkers board that he liked and promptly asked me to buy it for him. Being the nice guy that I am, I did so. It's like a travel game as the pieces are pegs that firmly fit into holes on the board. In an act of super-human restraint, I managed not to buy any beer steins.





We had to wait in line in order to get in the candy store but eventually we found ingress. I think Miles wanted pretty much everything on the shelves although I was a close second. Does anyone other than the Germans make marzipan pigs? I've never seen them anywhere other than in German stores. And, yes, we bought a 5-pack.

In addition to schnitzel, I was determined to get some stollen, which is basically a loaf of fruitcake dusted with powdered sugar and usually eaten around Christmas. Here it is on Sunday morning becoming my breakfast:



If we had stayed any longer, I would definitely have been buying strudel.

|| Palmer, 8:42 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Simpsons Intro - Old Skool Estonian

A neat live-action rendition of The Simpsons opening from Estonian TV. (h/t to Chicagoist.)

|| Palmer, 7:41 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

10 December, 2009

Mayor Dave's Prejudice With a Halo



This whole Edgewater Hotel expansion rigamarole has really thrown Mayor Dave's true colors into sharp relief. Emily Mills briefly flirted with Cieslewicz's rank hypocrisy:

I’m not sure, for instance, how his declaration that we can’t leave decisions like these up to “a handful of unelected people” squares with his support of a similar body for the RTA.

What our mayor wrote on his blog was thus:

Second, under our ordinances, the decision of a handful of unelected individuals on the Landmarks Commission can only be overturned by a supermajority (14) of the twenty elected representatives of the people on the Madison City Council. This is fundamentally undemocratic.

Unfortunately Mills let this issue go after the above comment when she should have gone for the jugular. I think it deserves more attention because part of the job of mayor is to undermine democracy by appointing people to positions whose decisions cannot be checked by the citizenry.

You'd think someone so dedicated to the idea of self-rule would at least show a hint of regret or in some way lament how Fate has forced his hand when he goes about making appointments to the Alcohol License Review Committee. Did anyone hear the mayor utter "Woe is me!" when he threw democracy out the window by appointing Bill Clingan as the economic and community development director? I don't recall voting for Mr. Clingan.

Perhaps I missed it, but I also don't remember a democratic rallying cry issued forth from the mouth of Mayor Dave when he booted Carl DuRocher from the Transit and Parking Commission. And just how democratic is that shiny new RTA, to which Cieslewicz got to appoint two members, that can raise our taxes?

So please tell me, Mayor Dave, how do we citizens go about democratically checking the power of your appointees?

For him, it's all well and good when appointees do his bidding, but they suddenly become "undemocratic" when he doesn't get his way. Let us hope that he doesn't run for mayor again because, just as he justified his sacking of DuRocher, it's time for some new blood over on MLK.

Note to Ray Allen: Base your campaign on more than simply being anti-trolley.
|| Palmer, 3:16 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Antichrist Opens Here Tomorrow



Thanks to Jesse Russell for pointing out that Lars von Trier's latest film, Antichrist, opens at the Orpheum tomorrow.

I feared that it might bypass Madison completely but my luck is in.
|| Palmer, 11:02 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Madison Sundance Film Fest USA Entry Announced

Sundance is dispatching a clutch of filmmakers from Utah to roadshow their films at select venues across the country and it has been announced that Madison will be hosting The Runaways, a biopic about the rock band of the same name that spawned Joan Jett and Lita Ford.

When I first heard the news, I thought it was a documentary but it is not. Instead we'll be seeing a 15 year-old Dakota Fanning donning the lingerie for her part as Cherie Currie. Uff da!

Anyone interested in The Runaways should head over to my music podcast where a concert of theirs from July 1976 is to be had.
|| Palmer, 10:20 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Kaniktshaq moritlkatsio atsuniartoq - Dec. '09 Edition

Well, we certainly got our asses handed to us in the weather department yesterday. That blizzard was in the top three that I've seen. I spent roughly 5 hours shoveling and blowing snow around starting at six o'clock this morning and this cube farmer is still sore all over.

With the exception of a lone snow blower, no one was out in the wee hours. After shoveling for a short time, I realized that no buses had passed. After 45 minutes, I took a break and headed inside only to find that the buses weren't running and that the office was closed. From there it was more shoveling and still more after the plows came through. My neighbor and I helped each other to dig our cars and I thought I was done for the day when The Dulcinea's mother called. Then it was off to help her dig out.





Although achy, it was a beautiful day before the temperatures started dropping. Very pretty outside and I got to chat with neighbors whom I had never met before as I helped dig out driveways.





I got a ride into work this morning and Willy Street was a mess thanks to some people who couldn't be bothered to move their cars. No, they weren't plowed in - these people were just arsewipes. It didn't help that there's about 3" of ice on the street either.





The Daily Page has some nice links to photos and videos chronicling snow mayhem and the massive snowball fight on Bascom Hill.
|| Palmer, 10:19 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

09 December, 2009

Pan & Pan Bakery (& Mexican Restaurant)

Last week I was at Antojitos el Toril waiting for my food and I found myself thumbing through Voz Latina Newspaper when I stumbled onto an ad for Pan & Pan Bakery & Mexican Restaurant which has opened in the old Popeye's by Woodman's east. I just had to give it a go.

When I went, I found that the restaurant bit is still a work in progress. Indeed, I found absolutely nothing indicating they were actually serving food. On the bright side I found lots of tasty sweets to be had.



The flan was incredibly tasty with the caramel-soaked bottom being particularly addictive.



The doughnuts/pastries were also excellent. Of special note was the chocolate-glazed doughnut. The dough was very moist and had a lighter mouthfeel than most cake doughnuts. Plus the glaze wasn't just powdered sugar in water with food coloring. It was honest to Christ chocolate which wasn't super sweet and retained lots of the bitter chocolate goodness. Hands down the best chocolate-glazed cake doughnut in town.

I shall be returning to check out their breads and to find out if they've started serving food.
|| Palmer, 6:01 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

05 December, 2009

The Newest Member of the Family

Please welcome the newest member of the family, Marilyn.



She is interminably cute and loves people. At least she puts on a good act that she does.

I call her Kitchen Katze because that's her favorite room and I suspect that all of her cuteness is simply a ploy. In the mornings she'll crawl up my chest and perch herself on my shoulders and neck. Yeah, it's all cute to have her there purring in my ear but, when she has had enough, she's off to the kitchen expecting you to follow and put some of that special wet turkey cat food in her dish.

When that doesn't work, she starts reconnoitering for crumbs and sucks up any she finds with glee. The tasty congealed fat in my bacon grease jar now has two claw marks in it and we have discovered that she likes rice, brownies, and peanut butter.

On the upside, now that we have a little four-legged omnivore trolling around, my kitchen is finally getting progressively cleaner.
|| Palmer, 6:23 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post