Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 July, 2011

Will Viking Beer Be On Shelves Soon?

It looks like there's some activity on the Viking Brewery front up in Dallas. They have had a label approved:

I presume Rubee is just the new name for their CopperHead red lager. What I find odd is that Randy Lee's brewery is still called Viking. I was under the impression that they had sold the name and would become Five Star Brewery. Indeed, both fivestarbrewery.com and valkyriebrewery.com point to the same empty folder. Too bad the longship artwork is gone but I can't complain about a sultry Valkyrie maiden. I wonder if brewery tours will be done with some Wagner in the background.
|| Palmer, 9:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

28 July, 2011

Fassbinder Restoration Coming to Madison

While the summer programming at the UW's Cinematheque is about over, I am looking forward to the fall. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a Wire will be playing there on 19 November.

A dystopic science-fiction epic, World on a Wire is German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s gloriously cracked, boundlessly inventive take on future paranoia. With dashes of Kubrick, Vonnegut, and Dick, but a flavor entirely his own, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of reluctant action hero Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch), a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate and governmental conspiracy. At risk? Our entire (virtual) reality as we know it. This long unseen three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses.

|| Palmer, 5:39 AM || link || (0) comments |

27 July, 2011

Beer Dork Pick Up Line

I think this would make a good beer dork pick up line. Imagine Mae West saying it.
|| Palmer, 10:38 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 July, 2011

Trailer for Second Half of Doctor Who Series 6

|| Palmer, 2:06 PM || link || (0) comments |

Capital's Ex-President Turns Corporate Raider

First came the news that Capital Brewery's president Carl Nolen had been given his walking papers. Then just a few days later it is announced that Nolen has transformed into T. Boone Pickens and is leading a group of investors seeking to take Capital over.

The proposed purchase, along with a new infusion of money into the 25-year-old business, is designed to double or even triple the brewery’s annual production of 25,000 barrels of beer and increase the size of the Middleton brewery.

In an interview with Nolen last year as he and the brewery were basking in the glow of Supper Club's success, expansion was a big issue, namely moving into Minnesota and Iowa. Also discussed was how the brewery was changing.

Q: The brewery began making traditional German lagers. Has the success of Supper Club and Island Wheat changed the profile of the brewery?

A: I think so, a little bit. Kirby (Nelson, brewmaster) said something a couple months ago that really hit home and that is that we’re really a traditional Wisconsin brewer. That’s who we are. When we started, it made a lot of sense that we were making German-style beers because that’s what this movement was all about a long time ago. It’s been a great learning experience with (Island Wheat and Supper Club). It’s helped us understand the full package of what it takes to be a player with innovation and product introduction.

So perhaps moving away from being a "traditional Wisconsin" brewery and German styles is the issue here. I sure hope not because the Special Pilsner and Munich Dark are my standard beers – the brews I try to always have on hand – and I'm sure they'd be the first to go if new owners reshuffle things and attempt to reorient the brewery. Like Nolen said, German-style beers are what the craft brew movement was all about a long time ago which implies that it's not what it is about now.

Over the past few years Capital has seemed ambivalent about its reputation as a brewer of lagers. On the one hand, it has put out some very tasty bocks. In addition to its usual Maibock and Blonde Doppelbock, the Capital Square Series has given us the Tett and Weizen Doppelbocks. Plus there was the Hop Bock, a test brew. But on the other we've had U.S. Pale Ale, Rustic Ale, and Island Wheat move into the annual line-up. A Belgian, Prairie Gold, became the summer seasonal for a year as well. On the R&D side, there was that batch of Island Wheat handed over to Belgian yeast and now you can find Hop Cream "A" on tap at the biergarten. (Or at least you could. I'm not sure if it's gone or not.) From the Capital newsletter:

This is the first trial of a Cream Ale that has an infusion of hops added to it in the lagering stage. We are trying to create a beer where the aroma and flavor are very hop forward, yet the finish remains smooth and non-bitter.

Trail "A: utilizes Northern Brewer as the infused hop. This hop contributes a flavor that is different than the hops used in the majority of the Pale Ales and IPA's you may be accustomed to.

My hope is that if the brewery, for whatever reason, decides to change things up, it won't abandon German beer styles. There are many that Capital hasn't tried – the Kölsch, alt, gose, schwarzbier, kellerbier, Berliner weisse, et al. I saw a photo recently of the beer menu at a German brewery and it had a roggenbier (rye ale) and a schwarzbier made with smoked malt. Capital has already ventured into the bourbon barrel aging trend with Autumnal Fire and Imperial Doppelbock getting the treatment. And there's the "vertical beer" thing.

Metropolitan down in Chicago brews German styles yet they experiment. They added a lot more hops to a pilsner and called it an India Pale Lager. Their alt has had been infused with ginger and peppercorns (though not at the same time) for something unique. Besides, lagers are staging something of a comeback in the craft brew world. Look at what Coney Island is doing.

Que Sera, Sera.
|| Palmer, 10:54 AM || link || (0) comments |

24 July, 2011

How to Deal With Homeopaths

|| Palmer, 7:45 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Wisconsin Desert

Did you know that there are cacti in Wisconsin? I didn't until a few days ago when my buddy Dogger said he wanted to go see them. So we did. We wandered into the "Wisconsin desert", a.k.a. – the Spring Green Preserve State Natural Area and sure as shit there were prickly pear cacti everywhere.

The SGPSNA is a neat little spot. It is apparently the last sand prairie in the state. The trailhead is at a low-lying area and there's a little shelter with a map and guide to some of the critters who call the area home. Among them are pocket gophers and six-lined race runners. (I don't usually think of Wisconsin sheltering many lizards.) There are also spiders – wolf and Black Widow. Snakes too. What do these creatures do when it's 20 below outside with two feet of snow? Vacation down south?

We didn't see any blatantly exotic fauna but we did run across a baby toad and some kind of insect neither of us recognized.

Much of the flora was also foreign to us. For instance, there was this shrub bearing lots of pods. I looked around to see if Donald Sutherland was nearby and ready to emit an unearthly shriek.

The trail is 3.2 miles total but does not loop. You begin in the prairie…

…and it slowly gets more wooded.

Finally you end up at the entrance to what looks like Fangorn Forest.

Due to a whiny child we didn't end up going very deep into it. However, it looked like the trail heads up the bluff. We plan on returning when it's a bit cooler and drier to penetrate the forest and then again next June when the cacti are in bloom.
|| Palmer, 3:48 PM || link || (2) comments |

Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale

While down in Alabama last month, I figured I'd check out the regional brews. A trip to a grocery store and I had some selections for The Dulcinea's father to bring back with him. (He drove and we flew.) One was from Mississippi's Lazy Magnolia brewery – their Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale. It is probably the only beer in the world brewed with pecans.

It pours a deep reddish brown with a pretty small head which dissipated quickly. Taking a whiff, I found it to be sweetly scented with caramel and just a trace of the hops. Quaffing a little I found that it had a medium body and that Southern Pecan tastes pretty much like you'd expect a brown ale to taste. The malt sweetness dominated with very prominent caramel flavor. But here you get a bit of pecan nuttiness as well and it makes for the perfect complement to the malt. Once it makes its way down your tongue, you get a mild hop bitterness. The hops are German so they're more grassy instead of C-hop fruity. I really liked how you get that initial blast of sweetness & nuttiness but still end up with a nice clean finish courtesy of the hops.

Lazy Magnolia gets a lot of credit in my book for not only brewing a very tasty beer but one that has a distinct regional stamp. LM also brews a sweet potato cream stout but I didn't see it on the cooler shelves much to my chagrin.

Junk food pairing: I drank this after a meal so no junk food was involved but I'd bet a dollar to doughnuts that it'd go well with boiled peanuts.
|| Palmer, 2:55 PM || link || (0) comments |

22 July, 2011

I'm Just a Neanderthal

I think that my partner, The Dulcinea, had her suspicions but now it's been confirmed by science: I am part Neanderthal.

If your heritage is non-African, you are part Neanderthal, according to a new study in the July issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution. Discovery News has been reporting on human/Neanderthal interbreeding for some time now, so this latest research confirms earlier findings.

Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal's Department of Pediatrics and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center conducted the study with his colleagues. They determined some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals, but only in people of non-African heritage.

|| Palmer, 6:31 AM || link || (0) comments |

20 July, 2011

Dog Eat Dog Redux: How Is the Italian Beef?

Before going grocery shopping last weekend I thought I'd put some food in my belly so I wouldn't buy out the store. I made a detour and stopped in at Pooley's to check out the resurrected Dog Eat Dog to find out if they have a decent Italian beef.

I chatted with the bartender and found out that people were unamused with their former provider of food. They'd apparently lost some business including Amfam folks and their volleyball leagues have withered. However, Dog Eat Dog has attracted more customers. He said that, prior to the change, Saturday afternoons were dead while, not full, there were several people there including a few families. I placed my order for a beef – hot and wet – and fries and had a beer.

The situation didn't start out well because my meal took 10+ minutes to be served. I hope this was just because they were short-handed or some such thing because it's not like they're slaughtering the cow. You just open the cryo-vacced plastic bag of beef and warm some up in the gravy. While the sandwich came hot, it was not wet. Wet means you dip the sandwich in the gravy, not ladle some onto the meat. These relatively minor gripes aside, it proved to be the best Italian beef in Madison hands down. JJ's used to serve a decent beef but my last two stops there were disappointing. They've become instant hyper-tension sandwiches now that they pass a bouillon cube in hot water off as gravy. DED uses Scala's beef which is good stuff and they have real gravy instead of what would pass for soup in a prison. It was so nice to eat a beef by someone who understood that there's more to the seasoning than oregano. The giardiniera was nice'n'hot but not overly salty and there was a goodly amount of the stuff. Unlike the FIBs cart, DED uses a chunk of bread and not mini-loaves. I'm not going to say it was Gonnella's, but it was good. It was a bit chewy and held together fairly well.

The sandwich was $6 which is a little high, although probably on the cheap side for Madison. (Down south, a beef generally runs $4.50-5.) My small fries cost $2 which is about $0.50 too much. They came to me straight from the fryer, which I appreciate, but don't recall much else about them because it was the beef that I'd come for. I figure that, for $8, I'll skip the fries next time and just get the Italian beef with more beef for the same price. I can live with a lengthy wait but the prices are rather high. $3.50 for a Chicago dog? I can get one with fries in Chicago for less than that. You know, the big city with high costs of living.

Still, Dog Eat Dog has the best Italian beef in Madison. (Just don't get me started on how disgusting an Italian beef with Merkt's cheese spread is.) Now, if it were only closer to downtown instead of being within a sports bar on the far northeast side.
|| Palmer, 11:47 AM || link || (0) comments |

Caught in the Middle by Richard Longworth

Today Detroit is perhaps as well known for its ruin porn as it is for making cars. Along with other Midwestern cities such as Cleveland, Flint, Michigan, and Dayton, Ohio, it is notable for being part of the Rust Belt. Manufacturing left these cities and many of the residents followed shortly thereafter. These urban centers have seen large percentages of their residents move out with Detroit and Cleveland having lost more than 50% of their population since their peaks in the 1950s. Industries moved first to non-union states in the South and then to Mexico. More recently jobs have migrated across the Pacific to China and India. The latest iteration of globalization hit the Midwest hard. So what is it doing to adapt?

Richard Longworth attempts to answer that in his book Caught in the Middle. He hails from Iowa and is a former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. These days he is a Senior Fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs where he advocates for the Midwest as it struggles with globalization. Caught in the Middle combines his reporting acumen with his love of his native region into what is part admonition and part plea for the Midwest to begin moving into the 21st century.

He begins by defining the Midwest. For his purposes it encompasses Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, all but the southern tip of Ohio, Indiana from Indianapolis northwards, the upper 75% of Illinois, the northern half of Missouri, all of Iowa, and some easterly bits of Nebraska and Kansas. We're talking America's great agricultural heartland and the cities that built the 20th century. Longworth spent a couple years driving around this area talking to people and examining how cities and states are adjusting to the new global economy dominated by multi-national corporations that work 24/7 and the Internet. What he found makes for some very depressing reading.

Longworth visits small towns that are really struggling after the factory that used to be the area's biggest employer left. For example, Maytag bailed on Newton, Iowa and Ball left Muncie, Indiana. Many people in these towns are depressed after having suffered layoffs and taking jobs that pay a lot less than they were previously making. Young people leave for big cities while Main Streets have lots of empty shop windows. In rural areas family farms struggle while corporate mega-farms dominate.

Many Midwestern cities were essentially one trick ponies. When foundries and factories left or became modernized, they ran into serious trouble. Longworth describes cities like Flint and Gary, Indiana as basket cases. On the other end of the spectrum is Chicago which he describes as a global city that went from being the hog butcher to the world to the financial services provider to the world. Chicago adapted whereas most Midwestern cities have not.

Longworth finds that most Midwesterners don't understand why their way of life is changing. Many are simply nostalgic for the region's industrial past while others blame NAFTA despite jobs moving to China doesn't have much to do with it. Some states and towns hold out for industries which will never return. Formerly all-white towns are now having to deal with non-white immigrants. He also found that, in an economic environment where having a college degree is a big leg up, many Midwesterners are apathetic towards education. The Midwest used to innovate and adapted to industrialization. Today that spirit is gone.

The picture here is quite gloomy but Longworth offers some solutions. He offers that the Midwest is well positioned to lead in areas that will drive the future economy. For example, we have lots of brain power here that is on display at the Big Ten universities. Also, we've got an agricultural background. Longworth thinks the region can strike it big in agricultural technology, biotech (i.e. – developing new medicines and treatments), and alternative energy. But the problems are many. He makes the Midwest out to be Thomas Franks' What's the Matter With Kansas? writ large. We're essentially too conservative. We cut funding to our schools, including our universities. He also advocates for some radical ideas such as letting smaller community colleges educate first and second year students while the universities would accept juniors and seniors. This would allow the big institutions to focus more on research.

Longworth is also very critical of state governments. Not only do they waste money in essentially bribing companies with tax breaks, they impede economies because, in today's world, state lines are obsolete. For instance, he notes that the region encompassing southeastern Wisconsin, the Chicago area, northwestern Indiana, and southwestern Michigan is an urban/economic entity unto itself. In addition to anachronistic 19th century boundaries, Longworth takes the states and other public entities to task for not collaborating. Regionalism is the order of the day for him. Universities pursue research independent of one another. States fight one another tooth and nail for every bit of funding and job. Yet, he argues, no one state can compete on the global market alone. Iowa cannot compete with China.

While reading the book, I asked myself, if it's cheaper to produce widgets over in China or move your tech support to India, then what is going to stop cancer research, solar power research, or research on the genes of onions from leaving this country? I don't mean this as an argument against investing in these things but Longworth seems to be putting his eggs in a small number of baskets. Then again, perhaps that's just economic life these days. Nothing is safe and just about everything will be done or made more cheaply in some developing economy until everyone on Earth is part of an industrialized society.

I guess I'm just not sure how much effort Longworth thinks states should be putting into these emerging technologies. He talks of the good old industrial days when factories were everywhere. Can we expect the same? I'd think not as we're talking about industries that likely won't have much use for people with nothing but a high school diploma. So are we to abandon rural areas and small towns not in orbit around a big city? Resources aren't infinite and we'll have to make decisions on how to utilize them.

As far as Wisconsin goes, the Dairyland doesn't get a whole lot of nods in contrast to Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana. Mainly he talks about Madison and Milwaukee, which is not surprising. Madison is usually mentioned as an exception to the "Midwest is going to hell in a hand basket" rule and also as a global city. (This is mainly due to the UW.) Longworth notes the deep segregation in Milwaukee along with its failing schools. But he also notes that the city is part of Greater Chicago and quotes the president of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce as saying, "What Chicago does has more impact on us than what the state government does…We're definitely tied to the Chicago economy." And Milwaukee along with the Racine and Kenosha areas account for 35% of Wisconsin's economic output. While the southeastern part of the state is tied to Chicago, the northwestern part is tied to the Twin Cities.

This is worth noting because it occurred to me that Longworth is like the anti-Scott Walker. Longworth suggests high speed rail to link Midwestern states whereas Walker 86'd its expansion in Wisconsin. In order to meet the demands of a knowledge economy, he advocates for investment in education. Walker has cut state aid to schools at all levels. Longworth wants Midwestern states to work while Walker seems to view our neighbors as our enemies, at least Illinois. Having been Milwaukee County Executive Walker surely knows how connected Wisconsin's largest city is to Chicago. But rather than looking to the biggest city and biggest economic engine in the Midwest for common cause, Walker has Rebecca Kleefisch cold call small businesses in Illinois while he bad mouths that state's taxes. Banding together with other Midwestern states may not ensure a future for Wisconsin in a global economy but, with Walker, that option doesn't even appear to be on the table. (Recent news exasperates the situation: funding for a biotech center here in Madison is drying up while venture capital in the state as a whole has decreased.)

Caught in the Middle was, for me, a good introduction to the situation the Midwest finds itself in and it was nice to see the region get some attention for a change instead of the usual focus on the coasts. I found myself nodding my head at his call for institutions and municipalities within the Midwest to cooperate but was a less swayed by his plan for the region to zero in on emerging technologies. Not that this is necessarily bad but I'm unsure just how comprehensive he feels his plan to be. While I suspect he thinks of it more as a rough guide than an exacting road map, his emphasis on urban areas leaves me wondering just what he thinks the government's role should be in promoting his plan. Longworth's push for moving the Midwestern economy towards biotech and whatnot sounds a bit elitist, at times. No matter how much money is put towards education, not everyone can do research in solar energy and stem cells. I don't have a problem with reorganizing the Midwest's economy in the direction Longworth promotes but I think more discussion needs to be had about those who cannot be a part of it. We have to ask how jobs can be created that aren't in these glamorous, bleeding edge areas as well.
|| Palmer, 10:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

Otto Preminger's Missing Hippie Masterpiece in Madison

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir posted a list of the "10 greatest 'missing movies'". These are films that were never completed, never saw the light of day, or were promptly thrown into a vault after a theatrical run. Among them are Jerry Lewis' infamous The Day the Clown Cried which features the star as a clown at Auschwitz entertaining the kids before they become victims of the Nazi's Master Plan and what is likely the Holy Grail of cinephiles, Orson Welles' original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons.

Not making the list was Otto Preminger's Skidoo.

While Hollywood was not shy about jumping on the hippie/youth culture bandwagon in the late 1960s, I was rather shocked to learn several years ago that the director of The Man with the Golden Arm and Porgy and Bess had done so. For this escapade he recruited the likes of Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Carol Channing, and Groucho Marx in his last role.

Gleason plays a retired mob boss who gets out of the pokey only to go back in so he can off a snitch. Channing plays his wife and she lets a bunch of hippies crash at their pad. Marx plays God who likes a toke now and then. I've never seen the film but it is available via, shall we say, extra-legal means. From what I can glean off the Interwebs, Gleason accidentally ingests some acid in prison and hallucinates the Green Bay Packers playing naked while Channing does a musical number. In the end, everyone convenes on God's yacht.

Knowing about this odd footnote in Preminger's career, I was surprised the other day to find out that the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research has art director Bob Smith's concept art for the film and I got a chance to see some of it.

There must be some kind of magic bus in the film because there was a blueprint for a psychedelic tie-dyed one amongst the papers. I also saw drawings, which were more like storyboards, of Gleason in prison. Most of it was just him in his cell but one bit was this polychromatic mish-mash which was presumably for his trip (see above). Far out, man.

The WCFTR also has 16mm film of an interview with Preminger about the movie at a press conference. Presumably this is some kind of proto-EPK.

So if you're researching Otto Preminger or Hollywood's reaction to late-60s youth culture, head over to the WCFTR. If you're simply curious about it, make up some story about a project because I believe the materials are available only to researchers.

|| Palmer, 6:39 AM || link || (0) comments |

15 July, 2011

Where's All the Protest Art?

The AV Club recently gave us "Total recallin’: 11 worker anthems for Wisconsin’s summer of recalls" which included but one anthem by Cheeseheads - “Imperial Walker” by Milwaukee's IfIHadAHiFi. This got me wondering: where's all the art inspired by the protests this past spring, the recalls, etc.?

The men who hold high places are fucking things up badly so aren't the artists supposed to be forging their creativity in the crucible of union busting, train denying, CEO ass kissing, and education slashing? I'm not expecting everyone to have a turnaround time like Neil Young had with "Ohio", but I just thought there'd be more of a reaction from creative types than I've witnessed.

I don't doubt for a second that artists here in Madison (and elsewhere) have responded to the events in Fitzwalkerstan in their endeavors but where are the fruits of their labors? Do I just miss them? I recall hearing about some songs released when the protests were going on but that trend has apparently died out. I believe there was an exhibition of photos at the Overture Center with a labor or union theme not too long ago. So where's Broom Street Theater's take on all of this? I go to coffeeshops occasionally but have yet to see art relating to the protests. Hell, maybe I just go to the wrong cafes. When was the last time a local muso wrote a song about unions or how heinous Scott Walker is? Has Fabu written a series of poems about the events here?

Granted, I'm a pretty middlebrow kind of guy but I think I pay a fair amount of attention to what's happening in Madison's art scene. To me, it feels like all the energy from tens of thousands of protesters dispersed at some point in a big exothermic POOF! and went back to iPods or Glee or whatever it is that people do these days when they're not protesting.
|| Palmer, 10:56 AM || link || (6) comments |

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

When we left off with Grave Goods, highwayman Scarry vowed revenge on Adelia for offing his beloved Wolf.

It is now a couple years later – 1176 – and Henry II is looking to marry off his daughter, Joanna, to William II of Sicily. Our heroine, Adelia, has settled down in Shephold with her daughter Allie and her cadre of confidants from the previous books: her old friend Mansur as well as the newer ones, Glytha and Ulf. Sir Rowley, Bishop of Saint Albans, shows up to inform his paramour that King Henry II has ordered her to join the procession taking Joanna to Palermo. Since it is a journey of many months, Allie will be left behind in the care of Eleanor, much to Adelia's chagrin.

Along for the ride will be Excalibur, found in Grave Goods, which will be William's wedding gift. For the trek, it will be hidden in a rather plain wooden cross. Joining the usual cast is Captain O'Donnell, who will be doing the sailing, Captain Bolt, the naïve Father Adalburt, the Bishop of Winchester, and a host of pilgrims. And of course Princess Joanna will have a band of ladies in waiting and Dr. Arnulf, her personal physician.

As the band makes its way across the northern parts of France that are part of Henry's kingdom, mysterious accidents start befalling its members. At first Adelia's horse inexplicably gets its mouth around some ragwort which necessitates it being put out of its misery. The situation quickly gets more serious as we move from equine poisoning to murder. While staying at a monastery, a group goes hunting for a particularly nasty boar with the end result being that Sir Nicholas Baicer's lifeless body being dragged along by his horse. It is assumed to be an accident at first but Adelia's investigation proves otherwise.

A Murderous Procession has its pluses and minuses. On the good side, I enjoyed how Scarry is revealed to be one of the members of Adelia's group. Since he was donning a costume when they last met, she doesn't know who to look for. This adds a lot of tension and also frustrates our heroine because she is usually the one sleuthing and finding answers but here she is impotent. We learn about Scarry via italicized asides in which he has imaginary conversations with his dead lover, Wolf, and strikes a deal with someone to obtain Excalibur. I got the impression that Franklin was trying to draw parallels between Adelia and her nemesis but the book is too lightweight to really imbue them with any meaning. Scarry has lost Wolf while Adelia has left her daughter behind and, as per usual, Sir Rowley is not with her very long. Each pines for a love not present. Both deal in death, though from opposite ends of the spectrum. These comparisons are find but don't really illuminate the character of Adelia for the reader; they don't tell us anything new.

Having Sir Rowley separated from Adelia is par for the course but she's not been without her daughter since the first book in the series. Isolating her is not a problem but Franklin isn't able to make up for the lack of interaction with her kith and kin. Allie, Glytha, and Rowley are all absent which leaves Mansur but Adelia has precious little conversation with him. Adelia is basically swept up by a river of events and merely floats downstream. Again, I don't have a problem with Franklin putting Adelia in the position but she doesn't bolster the story to make up for the loss of interaction with familiar characters. Scarry has his imaginary conversations with Wolf and Adelia has her own internal dialogues which mainly deal with her feelings towards Sir Rowley. But these asides don't have enough heft to fill in the hole left by isolating Adelia.

The book ends with a cliffhanger which suggests the next volume would bring back some of the missing characters and resolve some issues. Unfortunately Ms. Franklin passed away earlier this year and I have no idea if she completed a fifth volume in the series or not. It would be a shame to end the adventures of Adelia Aguilar on this disappointing note but, even if there is no manuscript in the wings, the Mistress of the Art of Death novels have been a blatantly fun read full of charming characters and engaging mysteries.
|| Palmer, 9:59 AM || link || (0) comments |

We Sow the Seeds 2011 Edition

Despite the lack of rain and my poor watering schedule, the garden is getting by OK this year. We have got lots of raspberries. I need to get on top of things here if I want to eat them because the kid is good at turning them into smoothies.

The tomatoes are doing pretty well. I'm looking forward to making my first batch of pico de gallo of the season.

Unfortunately my chilies aren't doing the greatest but they're still bearing fruit. Look! A baby Bell!

I will also have a stash of jalapenos and cayennes by summer's end.

|| Palmer, 8:45 AM || link || (0) comments |

12 July, 2011

Langdon Street Is About to Get More Crowded

It looks like Langdon Street is about to get even more crowded as Lamers Bus Lines has announced new routes for Madison: Green Bay to Madison; Wausau to Madison; La Crosse to Madison; and Dubuque to Madison. These apparently start in two days. And next month Lamers will be offering service between Madison and Milwaukee. According to this article, the Wausau bus will drop passengers off "downtown, including at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus" and the idea is that "Each Lamers Connect route will connect with the others using a 'hub' concept in Madison that allows for connections among all communities served by the three routes."

So let's see here. Badger Bus has 10 daily buses at the Union, although I'm sure some of those arrive, sit around for a bit, and then head back to Milwaukee. Van Galder has 9 buses leaving the Union for Chicago every day and Megabus has 4. Greyhound has a few and now we add 5 more over the course of the next month. There will be no room on the north side of Langdon for anything else pretty soon. Even Metro buses will have to be diverted at this rate. Was Langdon built to withstand the weight?

While it is certainly nice to have more bus service here in town, the whole intercity bus scene looks to be a messy patchwork. Megabus stops at the Union and the Dutch Mill Park & Ride as does Van Galder. Greyhound, unsurprisingly, stops at the Union and apparently has something resembling a terminal in DeForest along with a stop where you cannot purchase tickets but I don't know where it is and their website doesn't say. Perhaps this is the North Transfer Point. Badger Bus utilizes the Union, Dutch Mill, and the sidewalk across the street from the former site of their bus depot on West Wash. And now Lamers will be at the Union and apparently another site as yet unknown. With the potential exception of Greyhound, the current bus stops aren't particularly well-connected to Madison Metro (and, by extension, the airport.)

I understand that the curbside pick-up model is the cat's meow these days and that intercity buses are making a killing on medium-distance routes. Remember when Badger Bus announced it was closing its depot? A company rep said, "Oh, well the new Union South will have space for buses." Then a UW rep called bullshit. So, if there is to be a bus depot again here in Madison, it will surely be taxpayer funded. Once Gov. Walker 86'd passenger rail for Madison, all talk of a bus terminal ended. Perhaps we need to talk about it again. At the very least, we can talk about finding a stretch of curb for busses which retains its proximity to campus and downtown but is also more connected to Madison Metro.
|| Palmer, 4:23 PM || link || (0) comments |

08 July, 2011

Montgomery: Past & Future

Montgomery is a city on the move. Birmingham is still the largest city in Alabama but it has been bleeding people for a while now and has only a few thousand more people than Montgomery, which has been gaining population. (Birmingham has a much larger metro area, though.)

Downtown Montgomery is a nice mix of buildings old and new. Of course I was interesting in the former. Like these.

A couple things stood out to me as we wandered around on Saturday morning. The first is that, for a city whose history in wrapped up in buses, I didn't see any. In fact, I didn't see a single one the whole time we were there. Not downtown, the north side, nor the south side. Very weird. Secondly, downtown was pretty empty. There were cars parked everywhere but the streets could have been used to shoot a post-apocalypse movie. I had hoped it was because it was 95 fucking degrees out and everyone was proving to be sane by remaining in air conditioned luxury but The D's dad, Henry, said that it's usually dead on Saturday mornings. However podunk Madison may be, at least our downtown has people milling about on Saturday mornings, farmers market or not.

The D, Henry, and I went for a walk early in the morning while the kids were still asleep. We headed down to Riverfront Park. The Alabama River winds through town and was how lots of stuff got shipped back in the 19th century. Unfortunately we neglected to bring a camera and, when I went back later to get some snaps, the riverfront was closed due to a private party being held there.

A riverboat was docked at the waterfront. You can grab a ride on the Harriott II and have dinner as you cruise down the Alabama River. There was also a band shell on the shore and the Montgomery Biscuits' stadium, a AA minor league baseball team, was just up the hill. The old train station was also there.

I'm not sure when the last train stopped there but I do know that Amtrak stopped servicing Montgomery in 1995. A sign at the park noted that steamboats would dock here and unload cotton. Henry added that they also unloaded slaves. There was a tunnel that ran from the shore, underneath the railroad tracks, and up to Commerce Street. It was odd to think that I was walking where slaves once did. I was just a tourist but they headed up to what is now Court Square to be auctioned off.

Once the kids were awake and fed, we all went over to the Rosa Parks Museum. We passed by Court Square where slaves were sold. Today it's a nice area with a large fountain.

If you ever find yourself near Montgomery, do go to the Rosa Parks Museum even if you hate touristy things. It is well worth it. No cameras were allowed but I think the sign stopped no one but us.

You start by entering a big room with three large video screens mounted on the walls up by the ceiling. A video prologue plays which gives you some background on the city at the time and ends with the narrator intoning something like "…until that fate day in December." Then the lights come back on, a door opens on the far wall, and you're ushered into the next room.

Here a replica of a bus from c.1955 is along one wall. The windows have been replaced by video monitors and the incident from 1 December 1955 is reenacted. Rosa Parks gets on the bus and more passengers board at subsequent stops. Then the bus is full and finally the moment arrives. Bus driver James Blake tells Parks to move to the back but she won't budge. He calls the dispatcher and the police eventually arrive to take Parks to jail. It was a really neat and immersive display.

When it finishes, you wander into the other rooms which have lots of enlarged photos and descriptions of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which followed Parks' arrest. The bus system lost lots of money as blacks carpooled and rode in taxis operated by fellow blacks. Displays chronicled the activities in Montgomery but also the legal fight that led to the decision in Browder v. Gayle which ended the discrimination on the city's buses. And of course there was plenty about how all of this became part of the larger civil rights struggle led by Martin Luther King.

It was a very intense place. While 21st century certainly isn't perfect, it is rather amazing to, in a sense, get up close and personal with segregation (at least of the legal kind) - something that seems so distant yet is very recent. Sure, it was 50+ years ago but some of The D's family I had met the night before had lived it. The experience proved to be a bit too moving for The D who was brought to tears.

To compound the whole sense of being surrounded by history, I walked outside after the tour only to realize that the incident on that bus happened on the street right there before me. It was an awe-inspiring feeling. I haven't asked but wonder how much the kids know about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement. Kids being kids, they seemed to have only a modicum of interest in Montgomery's history. It's to be expected when cable TV and junk food are just down the street. If Jim Crow laws and the whole struggle are foreign enough to The D and me because of our ages and the fact that we're denizens of the Upper Midwest, then it must be positively ancient history millions of miles away to the kids. I wonder how much Civil Rights history they've learned at school…

The D remarked that Montgomery had changed a lot since she was last there. Henry said that the city fathers specifically went out to change the city to keep its young people there. This was exemplified by The Alley, what looked to be an old warehouse that was converted into an entertainment mall featuring bars and restaurants with lots of outdoor seating. One restaurant there seemed to capture what I perceived to be going on in Montgomery: change to keep up with the times but at a typical Southern pace.

I can't recall the place's name, but it was a casual joint where you could grab a burger or a healthier wrap along with a cool drink and ice cream. They had a small but respectable selection of microbrews including Sam Adams (I was surprised to see it featured here as well as the Memphis airport. Who knew it was so big in the South?), Magic Hat, and Atlanta's Sweetwater. But it is the only restaurant I've been to where the number of clerks taking orders and manning cash registers was inversely proportional to the number of customers waiting in line. As soon as there were six patrons looking to place an order, the second register was abandoned. But that's the South for you. Things get done but at their own pace.
|| Palmer, 9:32 PM || link || (11) comments |

Going Down South

A weekend down in Montgomery, Alabama for The Dulcinea's family reunion promised being something of a stranger in a strange land but also lots of barbeque.

Our flight out of Madison was uneventful and we had a fairly short layover in Memphis. We stopped in at the Blue Note Café which offered smoking at the bar and BBQ. I was surprised to see that Sam Adams and Yuengling were prominently advertised there. And so I had my first Yuengling.

It was their Traditional Lager and, while it hit the spot after a flight and a brief exposure to the ungodly hot weather outside as I disembarked the plane, I was underwhelmed. It was nice and crisp with a malt base accented by just the right amount of hops, the malt wasn't sweet enough. It was flat with no depth. The BBQ was better. Blue Note Café serves BBQ from Interstate which I gather is one of the big names in Memphis with a good reputation. I had the pulled pork sandwich. The meat was tender and nicely smoked and the sauce was a very pleasant surprise in that it had only a hint of sweetness. It was tomato-based as I'm used to but was over on the savory side which I enjoyed greatly. A nice way to lose my Memphis BBQ virginity.

A short plane ride later we were in Birmingham where I grabbed car, turned the AC on high, and headed down I65. We got to Montgomery a bit later that we'd hoped and found our hotel. I discovered that it was right next door to the Hank Williams Museum.

I never did wander inside but it's on my list for the next trek to Montgomery.

We met up with The D's dad and drove over to the house of one of her aunts on the north side. I'd told the kids to be prepared to have their cheeks pinched and I think they were ready. (It had been some 8 years since they'd seen this side of the family so they were sure to get pinched cheeks and hear "Look how you've grown!" many times.) I parked the car a few houses down but you could hear the party from there and see a driveway full of people.

Now, The D comes from a big family. Her father is one of like 12 kids which means that, in addition to several aunts and uncles, she's got about a million first cousins. I received tons and tons of hugs from lots of people and feel bad that I can only remember a pitiful few names of all the people who welcomed me with open arms. Since The D keeps in such good touch with her family (/sarcasm), some mistook me for her ex-husband which forced me to explain that I was the new model. But no matter. Everyone's spirits were high.

We had missed most of the grilling action, although there were a few turkey burgers and hot dogs to be had. However, two propane burners were cranked on high heating two pots of oil. Right on time for the fried fish. Martha made sure we got some fresh pieces. Cousins Nyrone and Shawn live in Memphis and gave us a standing invitation to visit with the promise of BBQ, music, and whatever else the city offers. I chatted with one of The D's aunts, Georgia Mae, for a while. She looked to be in her early 70s but revealed that she had just turned 83 a couple months before. I am hoping that The D inherited the youthful gene. Georgia Mae heard that Des was going to get his learner's permit in a week and spent some time trying to convince me I needed to buy him a car. Luckily I was able to fend her off.

My belly was quite full by the time we headed back to the hotel and I considered my first introduction to The D's family a success.
|| Palmer, 7:18 PM || link || (0) comments |

Soda Fountains on the Rebound?

The NYT published an article earlier this week about how a handful of soda fountains have recently sprung up.

A small group of modern soda jerks (they wear the term proudly) are trying to change that. Places like Blueplate, the Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain are leading a revival that is bringing up-to-date culinary values — seasonal, house-made, ripe, local — to ice cream sodas, sundaes and egg creams. In the process, they have unearthed forgotten, delicious and possibly risky flavors like sassafras, phosphoric acid and teaberry, and have brought back taste combinations worthy of the most avant-garde chefs.

The pictures on the site look mighty tasty. Nothing like homemade ice cream, rickeys, and phosphates.

I can't remember the last time I was at a soda fountain. When I was a boy my family used to head to the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor in Chicago at Irving Park and Pulaski. I even managed to find some photos of the place.

It closed in 1978 when I was 5 or 6 and the building was torn down to build a gas station which now has the reputation of being one of the most expensive in the city. Photos of their menu from before my time can be found here and here. (Notice the Chop Suey.) If memory serves, I usually went with chocolate shakes and phosphates.
|| Palmer, 2:42 PM || link || (4) comments |

07 July, 2011

A Date With the Green Fairy at Great Lakes Distillery

While on a recent trip in Milwaukee I took a tour of Wisconsin's oldest maker of shine - Great Lakes Distillery. Founder Guy Rehorst and his crew have been making fine spirits there since 2004.

The place was steamy and pretty packed when we got there. The Dulcinea and I were accompanied by our friend Pam and Pam's daughter, Neko. There is a bar that serves cocktails right by the entrance and an adjacent wall lined with bottles just waiting to be bought by some thirsty souls. We signed up for the tour and the adults paid $5 for a tasting flight. There were also some shelves with t-shirts as well as bitters from Milwaukee's Bittercube and a small selection of cured pork from Bolzano Artisan Meats.

Small distilleries by definition don't have that much for you to see. You've got some tanks for mashing, a distiller, and then barrels for aging. Oh, and some kind of bottling area. Since you're not walking very far and there is only a modicum of things to see, hopefully you'll get an interesting tour guide. And and Great Lakes Distillery, we did.

He explained how Prohibition killed off Wisconsin distilleries and that GLD is now the oldest in the state even though it went into business in 2004. There is a small display of old bottles from Milwaukee's distilling past as well as an old home distilling unit. After explaining how it all works, he went into some detail about the various spirits they make and their histories. For example, he dispelled the notion that vodka was originally made from potatoes. The drink goes back to at least the 1400s in Poland and the tuber is a product of the New World. And unlike vodka and whiskey, rum is made from sugarcane.

At the tap, he explained that the first thing you get when distilling is acetone. Due to prohibitive costs, however, they do not sell locally grown, organic nail polish remover. After a time you then get your booze followed by the essential oils from whatever your ingredient is. The potable stuff comes out at 195 proof so it is watered down, aged, flavored, etc. after it comes out of the spigot.

At the aging part of the place there were barrels and more barrels. Bourbon was aging in charred oak barrels; rum was there too. Plus a few labeled "Bierschapps". This is their Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit just waiting for autumn to arrive. Apparently some folks from GLD were imbibing adult beverages with some of the crew at Milwaukee's Lakefront brewery when one of them piped up and said that GLD should distill some of Lakefront's Pumpkin Lager. A test batch was done using the beer and it was promising enough that they gave it another go but this time they used some of the beer that had not been hopped.

With the tour done, it was off to the tasting area. Our $5 got us five tastes.

Not being a big vodka drinker, I found theirs to be alright. It was pretty smooth but I'm one of the last people on Earth to consult on what makes good vodka. However, I did like the Citrus & Honey vodka. It had a nice citrus tang and a mild honey sweetness to it. The gin was very surprising. While the typical juniper berry pine flavor was there, it was balanced with more botanicals giving it a very sharp herbal flavor. It tasted very fresh, if you will. Oddly enough, the Kinnickinnic Whiskey wasn't much to my liking, although I'd definitely try it again. To my palate, it tasted overly woody in a bad way. Like my tongue got slapped against a board as opposed to gently licking it.(?!) I liked the rum a lot and it is named after Roaring Dan Seavey, the only man to ever be arrested for piracy on the Great Lakes.

And then there was the Green Fairy. Absinthe got a bad reputation in the early 20th century due to poor research and an abundance of Post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning and was banned here in the States in 1912 with the chemical thujone from wormwood being blamed for sending people into psychotic rages. Absinthe was given the green light again in 2007 when the ban was lifted. GLD makes both traditional green absinthe and a red variety made with hibiscus. We sampled the green.

The older I get, the more I like the flavor of anise. GLD's version was very tasty with the licorice flavor but there also a herbal quality to it that gave the drink a very clean flavor.

Here's one of them demon wormwood plants:

With the tour over, we headed to the bar. I had a Bare Knuckle Boxer which was Roaring Dan's Rum along with juices of lime & grapefruit, and some simple syrup. Very tasty and highly refreshing. Pam had the red absinthe which was also very good. I liked the addition of hibiscus.

If you're a connoisseur of spirits, a tour of the GLD is a must. But even casual consumers of spirits will enjoy it. You learn a little bit and get to enjoy some fine drinks. The staff there was very friendly and willing to take on any and all questions. I found out that Wisconsin now has seven distilleries. I didn't know at that AEppelTreow now distilled. They make brandy and a sorghum spirit. A big surprise for me was the existence of Lo Artisan Distiller up in Sturgeon Bay. It was found by Po Lo, who is Hmong, and he makes a Hmong rice spirit called Yerlo which supposedly has a nice jasmine aroma. Sounds good to me.
|| Palmer, 9:37 AM || link || (4) comments |

06 July, 2011

Meet Sprecher's New Summer Seasonal: Summer Pils

While I first heard about Sprecher's newest beer, Summer Pils, weeks ago, I haven't been able to find it here in Madison. Granted, I've not scoured the city's liquor emporia but recent visits to Woodman's and Star proved fruitless. Luckily I spent last weekend in Milwaukee and made a trip to Discount Liquor where I bought a bottle of the stuff.

It should be no surprise that Summer Pils, a Czech style pilsner, is Sprecher's new summer seasonal. With its introduction, I believe the brewery has shuffled its seasonal release schedule. If memory serves, it replaces the Irish Style Stout which was surely around for St. Patrick's Day. Looking at their seasonal release schedule, it says that the Oktoberfest is available starting in July. Who are these people drinking Oktoberfest in July when it's 90 degrees outside?

As you can see, Summer Pils pours with a big head that lingers and is a pleasant dark straw color. My nose found a biscuit aroma along with a nice herbal bouquet courtesy of the Saaz hops. I had just mowed two lawns prior to quaffing this stuff and it was remarkably refreshing. The malt profile is not very strong. What there is of was very smooth – almost buttery. However this was overtaken as the hops quickly come to the fore. Here they impart a spicy/grassy flavor that leans towards the floral in the finish.

Junk food pairing: While I drank this stuff as part of a regimen to cool down after working outside, I suspect that Summer Pils would pair well with some Asian rice cracker snack mix.
|| Palmer, 6:17 AM || link || (0) comments |

05 July, 2011

A Curious Cat

Hey! Whatcha got dere?

|| Palmer, 9:11 AM || link || (0) comments |

03 July, 2011

The Tree of Life

For all the hype about Terrence Malick's latest film, The Tree of Life and its interlude of cosmic creation, fans of his previous work need not worry: there are shots where the camera wades through seas of grass and holds fast to images of natural beauty.

The movie begins with a quote from the Book of Job: "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Later in the film the O'Brien family is at church and the sermon is about this very same book. Perhaps The Tree of Life is a meditation, of sorts, on its themes. My understanding about the quote above is that Job was a pious fellow who endured many tribulations. When he and his friends start debating why the righteous suffer, Yahweh speaks the above in his own defense, i.e. – "Hey, I created the universe and know what I'm doing. You mere mortals, on the other hand, simply cannot understand."

We then witness a red-haired girl playing out on what I presume is the farm where she lives. There's a beautiful field of sunflowers and the girl holds a goat and traipses amongst cows. The film then fast forwards to the 1950s when the girl has become a woman – Mrs. O'Brien. She and her husband have three sons. Another flash forward takes us about 10 years into the future. Mrs. O'Brien receives a telegram stating that one of her sons has died. Mr. O'Brien gets a phone call as he stands on an airport runway bearing the same sad news. These scenes stick out for their lack of diagetic sound. Instead the characters' face stand out against an aural backdrop that is a quiet rumble, like an organic rendition of cosmic background radiation.

Yet another flash forward brings us to today with Jack O'Brien, one of the three sons, all grown up. He lives in a nice home with a pretty wife and works in a big, flashy skyscraper (I believe this is Houston). Jack is distracted and most of these sequences are basically him wandering the halls of a modern monolith looking worried and pensive. At one point he is talking to his father on his cell phone. He apologizes and admits that he thinks of his departed brother every day.

In addition to playing with diagetic sound, the film has a lot of voiceover narration which mainly consists of the characters taking up the role of Job and saying things like "I give you my son" and "Where were You? You let a boy die. You let anything happen. Why should I be good? When You aren't." But there's another bit of voice over that sets up the plot. Mrs. O'Brien intones "The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow."

But before this makes sense, Malick treats us to, if not the ultimate trip, then the penultimate one. We get to do what Job didn't: witness the creation of the universe. There's no Big Bang here but neither does everything appear in the snap of a deity's finger either. It's a flashback of epic proportion where giant clouds of gas spread and planets condense out of them. It's a slow, lingering procession but eventually galaxies form, including the Milky Way, and our home, Earth. Moving from lava flows and oceans to the microscopic world of nascent life. And then there are dinosaurs. A large one sits helpless with large gashes on its side. Half a world away another smaller one lies injured in the shallows of a river. It is powerless as a predator comes in for the kill but the coup de grâce is never delivered.

Most of the rest of the film consists of flashbacks to Jack's childhood in Waco, Texas. Mrs. O'Brien is a gentle, loving mother; she is grace. Mr. O'Brien, while not without affection, is rather stern. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" could be his motto. He is nature. Nature, a voice over tells us, is egotistical and ostentatious while grace takes the weight of the world on its shoulders. Jack and his brothers are almost smothered by their demanding father. He insists they do things his way and that they address him as "Father" and not "Dad". Mr. O'Brien flies into a rage at the dinner table one evening when Jack disobeys him. Mrs. O'Brien can only look on and shelter her youngest son. When Mr. O'Brien leaves town on business for a stretch, the boys feel like they've had a yoke lifted from them. They are finally able to enjoy themselves and take the opportunity to engage in some low-level mayhem like breaking windows and taping a frog to a model rocket and then launching it. Even Mrs. O'Brien seems relieved as she runs and plays with her sons.

Mr. O'Brien is not a completely unsympathetic character, however. He is a good musician but was never able to parlay his talent into a career. Instead he works at a factory and does some inventing on the side. Unfortunately he is unable to get patents or sell his ideas to anyone else. He wants what's best for his kids and for them to succeed where he has failed.

While this part of the film has a linear narrative and is character driven, it's not without its WTF moments which segue into the enigmatic ending. In one scene Mrs. O'Brien is out in the yard and she dances in mid-air, levitating a few feet off the ground. It's like she's an angel. This is appropriate in the sense that the character isn't defined by dialogue or plot but rather by the smiles and hugs she gives her children and the mercy she bestows upon them, something Mr. O'Brien is unable to do.

At the end, the 50-something Jack is seen wandering a desert and then finds himself on a sandbar where he meets his family circa the 1950s. His dead brother is also there. It's unclear whether this reunion happens in an afterlife or in Jack's mind. The final sequence contains some scenes that take place in the wood-paneled attic of Jack's boyhood home. I was reminded of Twin Peaks in one of them because a young Jack(?) is playing there while a very tall, thin man looks on – just like when the giant appears to Cooper and warns him that Annie shouldn’t enter the beauty contest. Carl Jung also came to mind with his dream analysis whereby – I hope I have this right – a house in a dream represents the dreamer. If memory serves, the basement represents the repressed, if I may borrow a Freudian term here, or the unconscious pains while the attic is reflects happier thoughts. Jung also wrote a book called Answer to Job about the problem of evil in the world.

A Jungian connection here? Probably not. But The Tree of Life is so opaque that people are going to be reading their biases and experiences into the film more than they do with films that are easier to understand. I know that when I thought about the concept of grace here, I thought about St. Augustine's conception of it because I've been listening to medieval history lectures lately. My admittedly very limited understanding is that Augustine felt that grace was purely something bestowed by Yahweh and not something to be earned. It doesn't matter how good and pious you are, the Creator's rationale for handing out grace is, like the problem of evil, unknowable. The whole thing is a lottery and you won't know if you've won or not until you die.

However, Malick implies that grace can be earned. Mrs. O'Brien is clearly associated with nature at the beginning of the film but that changes. Plus there's the voice over line about choosing it. At the end, it's as if she finally receives it on that sandbar. She is ecstatic when Jack's brother is resurrected and thanks him by kissing his arm. This refers to an earlier scene where Jack dared his brother to put his finger in front of the barrel of a BB gun. Jack pulled the trigger and later kissed his sibling's arm in a goofy display of asking for forgiveness. Was Mrs. O'Brien asking for forgiveness? Can Jack really bestow grace or is the ending just a dramatization of his wishes?

There are many other bits of the film which beggar explanation. What are the dancing lights that bookend the movie? How about the sunflowers? We see them early on during the flashback to Mrs. O'Brien's childhood and a shot of them is shown just before the final one of the lights. At the boy's funeral, a pastor tells Mrs. O'Brien "He's in God's hands now" and she replies with something like "He should be in my hands." (I hope I'm not confusing this with similar scenes in both versions of The Killing.) This would seem rather ungraceful.

How about that dinosaur which seemingly showed mercy? Perhaps grace isn't a divine quality after all and is instead something imbued in all of life. On the other hand, it could be that it is a divine quality but the Creator put a little spark of Himself in all living things rather than hoarding it all.

As for the cosmic creation sequence as a whole, it does a few things, not the least of which is to act as a cinematic Total Perspective Vortex where you get a 20-minute glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation. The universe is big. Really big. And we humans are the tip of a tiny leaf on a small branch of a huge tree. Set against it, the O'Brien family drama seems totally insignificant yet Jack's childhood is paramount to him. This sequence also tugs at the nature vs. grace dichotomy. If you've seen Malick's previous films, you know he loves nature so I find it difficult to believe that he's really promoting grace here. Witnessing the grandest story of all wherein a vast universe comes into being and on one planet of billions and billions you have some life forms is, to me, a mighty blow struck in favor of nature. (Add to this the sound of waves heard from beneath the surface which plays during some of the family scenes.) The film seems to say that grace, if it even exists, is beyond our ken. Nature is all we have. But rather than viewing it as a consolation prize, just look at it – it's amazing. Beyond that, it is us and we are it. In this sense, the visuals of the film contradict that line of narration. Just because some nuns say something doesn't mean it's true. Nature is not necessarily selfish and ostentatious or it may be those things but much more.

The Tree of Life doesn't have much in the way of answers. You can't watch it on Blu-ray frame by frame and find answers hidden away which, upon being revealed, will explain everything. (Although it would be helpful in finding motifs such as when jump cuts and when certain sounds were used.) In a way it's more like a palette than a finished painting. The viewer has to do some work here. Malick doesn't have the answer to life, the universe, and everything but he offers some ways to think about the question. We witness the laying of Earth's foundation yet we still do not understand.

|| Palmer, 9:25 PM || link || (0) comments |

01 July, 2011

Cartesian Method: Surco Peruvian

Last week I met up with the Eating in Madison A to Z crew, Megan from Madison Street Eats, and a gentleman whom I found out was co-worker. We had assembled to sample the food from a cart or two that were mysteriously absent from Library Mall that day so we engaged in a culinary diaspora. I hit the Surco Peruvian cart and had this, aji de gallina:

(Thanks to Nicole for the snap.)

An expert on Peruvian food I ain't with my having eaten at Inka Heritage a couple times being about it. One thing I've noticed is the chow down there isn't particularly spicy as opposed to the way we think of everything south of the border. Aji de gallina is a chicken stew served over potatoes with a side of rice so you drown in starch gluttony. Turmeric gives the sauce its color while its rich flavor surely comes from chicken stock and some kind of mellow chili paste. And those are raisins perched atop.

The stew was not spicy and Surco provides a trio of hot sauces for all your mouth-burning needs. A yellow one, which I did not sample, was mild, green was medium, and red the hottest. The latter two both added a nice kick as well as flavor which was sharp and contrasted with the stew nicely.
|| Palmer, 10:42 AM || link || (0) comments |