Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Calories

Today, when I was loading my dinner up onto my pretty, pretty Fiestaware and admiring the way the orange-browns of the potato-and-coconut-stew coordinated against the blue plate (yes, I have multicolored Fiestaware and yes, I choose my dishes based on which will best bring out the color of the food), I suddenly realized I had a digital camera and that the batteries were, for once, reasonably charged.

From now on, when I blog about a cooking experiment, I'll include a picture. And then you all can rate it: yeah, it looks pretty good or um... what's that supposed to be again?

Tonight's dinner was a potato-and-coconut stew, from Chandra Padmanabhan's Southern Spice, featured alongside yogurt, mango pickle, and some really bad naan.

What do you think? Aside from the grease spot on the naan (should have airbrushed that one out), does it look palatable?

It certainly tasted good, although I'm guessing I put in too much haldi because when I was done eating it, my right-hand fingers were stained yellow.

But only up through the first digit. ^__^

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On Page Two Hundred Eighty-Six

Near the end of the book
(without giving anything away)
she stumbles in front of this sentence:

They would never have dropped such a bomb
(you know, the bomb)
on a white nation.

Suddenly her history
(textbooks, lectures, tales of necessity)
falls into shatters against the text.

Caravaggio, Hana, Kip, and the patient
(who requested his name not be used)
stop what they are doing and stare at her ignorance.

A breeze ruffles the pages.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Through the Membrane: In Praise of Ondaatje

I'm really getting a kick out of this temping gig.

Having just finished Italo Calvino's If On A Winter Night A Traveler (which is the book I marginalized for S., and which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who likes a good postmodern, wickedly recursive narrative), I am now two-thirds through The English Patient.

S. bought me this book during the NYC trip, as an introduction to Ondaatje, whom I had never read. We saw it first sitting on the sidewalk as part of a street book sale, but he didn't buy that copy; he wanted my first taste of Ondaatje to be hardbound, solid, permanent. So we wandered through a few used bookstores until we found one that was worthy of reading.

Anyway. The novel surprised me. Not by its clarity or detail or poetry -- I was expecting all of that -- but by the way it drew me into the story.

Some books, like the Calvino, one has to read with a half-detached mind, one side reading while the other working busily to put together the puzzles the author has set forward. Some books, like The Sari Shop, are entertaining but constantly invite the awareness that one is reading "a story." Some books, like our friend Suitable Boy (and Equal Music, for that matter -- I would guess Golden Gate as well though I've not yet read it) require parsing, rereading, pondering, savoring.

And some books seem to push you through a membrane where you find yourself not reading, really; not being aware of putting one word in front of the other but instead experiencing the book as a series of images coming at you as fast as life. Sometimes reading is an experience akin to dreaming.

And The English Patient is like that, which surprised me, because I hadn't "fallen into" a book quite like that for a few years. It reminds me of how I used to read as a child, which perhaps is because this temp experience (and the experience of finishing a task quickly so that one can return, breathlessly, to a group of characters held underneath one's desk) is so reminiscent of being in elementary school.

To my readers: which books have pushed you "through the membrane?" Which made you forget that there was any other world besides the one in the pages?

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Poem On Food

How can I eat the sesame laddus
Without you? The memory of your
Cracking through their hardness,
Taking them between your teeth and then
Passing them to me as a bird does,
Bit by bit, from your hand to my lips
Diminishes all possibility of my
Breaking my own without your assistance,
Turning the sweetness into a gnashing of teeth.

The khatta meetha is addictive, in its
Little zippered bag, red and cheerful,
With lettering in three languages, wrapping
My tongue around the syllables as it wraps
Around each individual peppered pulse.
The eggplant sits serenely, waiting for its turn
Among the oil and rice and garam masala.

But the gift that continues me back
And back again
Is the chocolate, nicer than any I've ever had --
The one flavor you do not remember from your childhood
But came, instead, from mine;
It is this gift which draws me
One more time to the refrigerator
To break off a single square from the tinfoil paper
And hold the taste of our combination,
Of my memory, made stronger by your attention,
Inside my mouth.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pretty Fictitious Film!

After S. and I discussed who our "favorite" (read: "people we think are hot") actors are in Holly- and Bollywood, I began to wonder what might transpire if they all ended up in a film together.

So, with the magic of image editing, I created the promo poster.

However, it looks much less "Hollywood" (or Bollywood, for that matter), and much more like a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation.

Ah, well.

And here it is:

The tagline (if it would fit onto the image without making it incredibly busy) would read:

Three travelers.
Three sexy accents.
Three different prices to get in.
One love story.

Shripriya, wanna direct? ^__^

The "Cloth Pads" Post

S. visited my apartment for the first time this weekend.

A friend called before S. came, and asked if I was "scrubbing everything," to which I responded "my apartment is always clean, thank you!" And it's true. The apartment is (thankfully) always clean and tidy, and so I only needed to do a few things like scrub the water spots off of the sink spigots.

There was one minor point of worry, though, and it had to do with the decorative ceramic jar that lives above the toilet. And... the tiny bit of white ribbon strung above the jar. And... um... the three pieces of cloth which were currently hanging cheerfully and colorfully from the ribbon.

I thought about taking the whole kit down, but figured he'd find out anyway soon enough, so I sucked in my breath, gave him the "grand tour" of the apartment and then paused by the bathroom.

"This is my..."

(Rather like Bridget Jones, my mind went "don't say menstruation station... don't say menstruation station...")

"This is where I keep my natural menstrual products -- please-don't-be-grossed-out!"

S. was extremely unfazed. He was the absolute absence of fazed. "Of course," he said. "It's like women do it in India."

So. Cloth pads. I feel like I should do a bit of an educational lecture, if only because they are so extraordinarily comfortable and functional and environmental and I want to recruit as many women as possible into jumping on the "natural menstrual products" bandwagon.

For those of you not interested in reading about the finer details of female hygiene, I've included a "barrier image" so your eyes might avoid looking past and reading anything you might find unsavory. It's a picture of a John Deere tractor. If you continue reading past the picture... be prepared for details.

Here it is:

All right... so y'all are my audience. Let's go!

I'm going to set this up as a question-and-answer, because it makes the most sense. It also makes me sound a bit like an advertising brochure, and that's pretty much what I'm doing.

When did you become interested in "natural menstrual products?"

Hmmm. I became interested about six months ago, for two reasons. First because of the Hyderabad trip. I was thinking "what can I do to take care of myself, travel, etc. without having to pack or buy a lot of bulky, cumbersome product?" And so I started doing a little research, and I ended up purchasing a Keeper, which is a reusable menstrual cup. Essentially one inserts the rubber cup into oneself, where it happily and quietly spends all day collecting blood, and at the end of the day one empties the Keeper into the toilet, washes it out, and pops it back in. (It's boiled at the end and at the beginning of every cycle for maximum cleanliness, but doesn't need anything but water between insertions.)

The Keeper, when it works, becomes then the only menstrual product needed. And it lasts for at least ten years.

But it doesn't work for every woman, and it didn't work for me, probably because I am very petite. However, by then I was totally committed to natural products (because of the second reason: eliminating waste, removing oneself from corporate sponsorship, and doing my bit for saving Mother Earth), and so I started looking at the other option: reusable cloth menstrual pads.

Okay. But I thought disposable products liberated women from the uncomfortable messiness of literally being "on the rag." Why go back to the rag?

Disposable products started out, perhaps, as liberating; but forty-odd years later they clog landfills and sewers, and force women to shell out thousands of dollars a year in what is essentially a captive market. They're another example of a corporate institution doing something we used to do ourselves, handling it badly, and then charging us for the privilege.

Not to mention that they're full of chemicals and dyes and all kinds of icky things.

Wearing cloth pads is not the same as shoving rags into one's pants. They're not rags. The typical cloth pad is made of a layer of fleece (very absorbent) on top of a layer of PUL (waterproof). The whole thing is encased in cotton or flannel or another soft, comfy fabric. Two "wings" snap around the panty and hold the whole thing in place.

In terms of environmental and social impact: cloth pads are reusable and have very little water drain (especially if washed by hand as I will mention later). They are also out of the corporate sphere and are exclusively made by women, by hand, in home-based workshops and businesses. The person making my cloth pads is a mother of two, who uses her income to allow her to stay home with her children.

Hmmm. Let's get the two big issues out of the way first. Leaks and smell.

(Do you wish you were looking at that tractor picture again? ^__^)

Leaks and smell are the two big issues which often make women uneasy about considering cloth. (The other issue is cleaning, which I will address in a moment.)

Since cloth pads are designed and made by women for women, they're done so with an eye to preventing both of the above. My pads, for example, have grooves sewn into them to prevent runoff. (Yep, told you I would get detailed.) The fleece-PUL combination, assisted by the "woman-friendly" design, has made the cloth pads the only products I've ever used which haven't leaked, particularly overnight.

As for smell... when changed as necessary they don't smell. In fact, they smell less than disposables, simply because the fleece sucks everything away below the outer cotton layer while disposables... um... let it all chill right there on the surface.

Cleaning. Eew?

Since I have a cat, I'm used to dealing with bodily waste. So... for me, no eww. For other people, maybe. It depends.

When you're changing a cloth pad, you can either wash it out right away or you can pop it into a ceramic container (no metal or glass; don't know about clay, etc.) filled with water and a little baking soda. Mine sits above my toilet and is shaped like a giant cabbage.

Changing at work: most cloth pads will fold up into themselves, forming a tiny envelope in which all the fluid is tucked away at the inside. They don't smell and can be kept discretely in a purse pocket (you know, that secret one) until one gets home. For added protection, they can be wrapped in, say, a plastic sandwich bag before they're stuffed into the purse.

Washing: If you purchase enough cloth pads (and a large enough ceramic jar) you could just wash them all in your washing machine at the end of your cycle. But that's a lot of pads. Chances are you'll be washing them by hand (because you wouldn't throw just two or three pads into your washing machine at the end of the day, would you? Promise me you wouldn't waste our precious natural resources in that way...).

To wash by hand: first, empty contents of ceramic jar into your toilet. (Don't let the pads fall in, ha ha.) This takes care of most of the liquid waste. Then grab one pad at a time, squirt on some liquid soap (I use the same body soap I use in the shower), lather, and rinse at the sink until the water runs clear.

Easy as pie and takes five minutes.

The harder part is drying, because those things have to dry somewhere, which means that they will be (gasp!) visible to the outside world. Mine line dry above the toilet, as hinted earlier, and they take about eight hours to dry. So the ones I wash in the morning will be ready for me when I get home from work, and the ones I wash at night will be ready when I wake up.

Well, I'm just about sold. But, pray tell, are there any other benefits?

Yes, and I'm so glad you asked!

In one word: comfort. You can't feel them (and neither can, say, your partner). They don't feel wet, they don't feel scratchy, they don't feel bulky. They feel like wearing underwear. No crinkling, no itching, no dried blood caught on the surface.

And they don't show through clothing!

Where do I sign up?

The best way to get your own cloth pads is through ebay. Just run a search for "cloth pads" and you'll start getting results.

However, since there are so many individual suppliers available, you might want to consider this guide before purchasing. It describes and evaluates nearly every home-based pad business on the market. (I use Punky's Pads and vouch thoroughly by their awesomeness.)

You can also make your own, if you're so inclined. Information can be found here.

And, finally, since y'all are online types, here's a whole community devoted to cloth pad use.

If you still have questions, feel free to ask in the comments. This infomercial has gone on quite long enough. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Aubergine Sounds More Romantic...

Some men bring flowers.

S. told me that tomorrow, when he comes, he's bringing me an eggplant.

This is why I like him the best.

Food Rebuttals

After my post on the Planck editorial, Abi called to my attention a list of articles which had been sent to him (as well as those which he had uncovered himself) after his own post on the subject.

If you don't already read Nanopolitan, or haven't already clicked on my handy embedded links, I'll pull out the best of the best for you, so you only have to click once:

Dr. John McDougall's point-by-point response to Planck's argument.

And, if you don't even want to make that single click, I'll sum it up for you:

Food chain.


The reason there are vitamins and nutrients in animals is because they get them from eating plants. If you eat plants, you'll get them too. ^__^

I'm going to appeal to the only biochemist I know. Daniel, is this true?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another Poem (from a favorite poet)

I cannot say how much I heart Billy Collins. Which is kind of interesting, because my first exposure to him was through a Christmas gift I got from one of my aunts -- a copy of his book Picnic, Lightning. And I flipped through it, and here was a poem about ogling the girls in the Victoria's Secret catalog and here was another poem about wanting to undress Emily Dickinson... and I (at fifteen) thought "ick, misogynist/patriarchal/chauvinist pig" and didn't bother.

But I've since come around.

Anyway, because I am working on a marginalia project right now (that is to say, I am "marginalizing" a book before I give it to S.; he in turn will read the book as well as the letter I have interlaced within it), I will share one of my favorite Billy Collins poems.


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Meat is Good For You. Except When it's Full Of Hormones, Which are Bad For You. And it's Always Full Of Hormones.

I'll give Abi the hat tip for this one, although the article's already at the top of the NY Times "most emailed" list. But I read it on Nanopolitan first.

Let's put it this way: when I began this blog, Michael Pollin had just written the NYT article "Unhappy Meal" (I'd link, but you'd have to pay $15.95 to read it, so... won't bother). Pollin told us all that meat was full of chemicals and hormones and that we shouldn't eat it.

Since this correlated with some other articles I had recently read (in particular the scary article linking hormone-laden meat to early-onset puberty in children -- sometimes as early as age 5), and since finding non-hormone-laden meat in a supermarket is just about hard as finding non-sweatshop-labor clothing, I began to switch to a "flexitarian" diet, which quickly became a vegetarian one after I began to notice dramatic changes in my health and physiognomy.

Skeptics, however, correlated this change not to my vegetarianism, but to the fact that I had taken up cooking and had stopped eating this kind of garbage.

Anyway. Pollin's article stayed at the top of the NYT "most emailed" list for weeks; but now Nina Planck provides a different, equally scientific reason as to why we should eat meat, and her article has jumped into the lead.

Technically Planck's article is an argument as to why we should eat animal-based protein, as she notes that certain cultures (care to take a guess?) have been vegetarian for hundreds of years, with no ill effects. But she's pushing the meat, and the simple fact that humans -- particularly baby humans, who need meat the most -- "are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil."

(Fish oil????)

So. What's a girl to do? Continue her regularly scheduled cookingventures, or grab a nice recipe for chicken biryani?

Truth be told, after I read Planck's article I went out and had a turkey sandwich for dinner. With bacon. And it tasted... bad. Like S. says: "When you eat meat in America you can taste the chemicals."

And thus, the conundrum: is chemically-laden meat better than no meat at all? What about soy, which (if you'll note the scary article again) contains a good chunk of synthetic ingredients proven to increase the production of hormones in the body? What about eggs, with their own set of hormones (not to mention the e. coli)? What about beans, and their proven link to musicality?

Has anyone yet found anything icky associated with dal?

A Poem (but not by me)

I Sing

I sing to use the waiting
My bonnet but to tie,
And close the door unto my house
No more to do have I

‘Till his best step approaching,
We journey to the day,
And tell each other how we sung
To keep the dark away.
- Emily Dickinson

(Note from the editor: She is learning a particular song, a few words at a time. When she has it learned, she'll let you all know.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

An Answer About the Visa

To everyone who responded, either in the comments or by emailing me (prettybluesalwar at hotmail dot com, obviously ^__^), to my visa question yesterday: thank you.

I didn't know they actually stamped the visa into the passport. I guess I thought they gave it to you separately. Perhaps in the form of a small card. And that, perhaps, this kind of "small card visa" was the inspiration for the credit card of the same name.

I have an overactive imagination.

I will have to do the mail thing, because I don't live quite close enough to the consulate to justify the trip (and because I don't get any kind of paid time off at my temp job, not for another twenty-two weeks). So... certified mail it is.

And -- if you want to see something that will make you smile -- I urge you to click here and visit the official homepage of the Chicago Indian Consulate. It's got animated GIFs. I had forgotten how cool those were. ^__^

(Yeah, go ahead and watch the H*R clip at "how cool" too. ^__^)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Question About The Visa

I have a question for someone who's gone through the process of applying for an Indian visa via an American-based consulate. Or, perhaps, for anyone who can understand this paragraph better than I can.

From the Chicago Indian consulate:

Receipt and Delivery of Passports:

BY MAIL: Depending on the seasonal rush, applications received by express mail will take up to three days to process. Passports sent through certified mail may take at least 2 weeks to be received back. Certified mail enquiries may be made only after 2 weeks from the date of mailing. Following additional return mail charges should be sent for return of serviced passports.

i) For certified mail $ 5.00 for one passport and US $ 1.00 for each additional passport. ii) For Express mail - $ 15.00 for one passport and US $ 1.00 for each additional passport.

Note: 1. Payment of return mailing charges through Credit Card is not acceptable.
Note: 2. Applicants may also send a self-addressed pre-paid return envelope with the application instead of mailing charges.

Does this mean that I should take my precious passport, wrap it up in an express mail envelope along with the visa application, on the understanding that they'll mail it back to me?

I have no problem doing that, if this is, in fact, what the paragraph means -- I just want to make sure that they're not meaning I should send a photocopy or anything like that.

Thanks in advance. ^__^

Love Like Salt IV: The Poem

Love Like Salt: An Upma Poem and Possible Riddle
Whose Answer Is Available To Those Who Look Carefully

She thinks, since upma is both flour and salt
That one should be one, and the other the other.

Flour is brown and salt lighter, but that is a pale
Description at best, and one she would like to avoid.

Flour is soft and salt harder, but that only raises
Innuendo's coy head, not her desired sentiment.

Salt is crystal and crystal is pretty and pretty is female --
But flour is nurturant, flour is motherly, female as well.

And she thinks: you are pretty, you could be salt if you wanted;
Each of its faces assigned to an aspect of your
Complicated and captivating mind,

Or you could be flour: sturdy, substantial, fundamental and solid;
In the world of the cookbook, everything good
Would then derive from you.

Or you could be both, the upma itself, substitute for your presence;
Me in the evening, alone but patiently content,
Belly full of your memory.

All of these things are him, or can be, if she tries --
But which is which, and who is who, and how to put them together.

And she's not a poet, and knows it -- her talent is
Wordplay at best, form but not metaphorm.

Not like his; his poems are the smells of cashew and coriander
And flour and salt, of course, that she's stirring even now.

And so, in the kitchen, she promises in silence:
You work out the poetry, and I'll work out the meal.

Where Is Blue From?

So... I was on the phone, talking with S., and we got to talking about my hometown. I grew up in a place so small it had no stoplights, no fast food, no chain restaurants, no cinema, no shopping besides a grocery store, a general store, and a "nearly new" shop... a place so small that one could walk from the north end of town to the south in fifteen minutes... a place where kids could walk to school unsupervised and could run around in neighbors' and friends' backyards without parents ever fearing that they would be abducted.

A place which still had an old-fashioned soda shop where one could purchase old-fashioned vanilla phosphates -- not for the tourist attraction, because no tourists ever came here, but because people still wanted them.

(And, btw, phosphates seem to be so "out of touch with reality" that there is no entry on Wikipedia to describe them. It's essentially a homemade soda mixed by hand, using water, the flavor -- vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, etc. -- and whatever pop-rocks-type chemical you put in the water to make it carbonate. Probably, given the name, some kind of phosphate.)

In short, I lived in a sort of throwback to the halcyon days of the American 1950s. Except that instead of prefab housing, the majority of homes in my town were (slightly) renovated Victorians.

This makes me, in certain conversations, "exotic." ^__^

Did you crown a River Queen every year? S. asked, visions of funnel cake festivals and teased-hair outdoor beauty pageants dancing through his head.

Yes, I said.

Did you ever get crowned River Queen?

No -- I was never that popular. But I tried out for cheerleader... and pom pom girl... and didn't make it onto either of them.

Unfortunately, probably due more to the vagaries of American fashion than anything else (damn you, Target, and whomever thought it would be a good idea to make the Midwestern national costume an oversized t-shirt with a sports logo worn over a pair of faded blue jeans!), my hometown exoticism will never be marketed to a larger audience.

But here we are, doing our traditional native dance:

(Note from the editor: The faces are blurred to protect the innocent; the website where more of these pictures can be found has been blurred as well.)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Tale of the Terrified Teacher (Another Censorship Story)

Since I've taken on the role of "educational censorship town crier," I'll call to your attention this article from Inside Higher Ed.

Some background: We're at San Jose State's Center for Literary Arts. After Virginia Tech, faculty member Mitch Berman remembered that one of the students in his class turned in a disturbing piece of fiction as well.

The work in question is a story about a student who convinces a vampire lover to kill a hated English faculty member.

The student, thankfully, was not punished -- at least not yet. Berman received permission from the provost to teach the remainder of his creative writing course online, as both agreed that Berman's physical safety could be in danger.

To get the rest of the story, one has to dig a little deeper. From the San Jose student newspaper, we learn that Berman didn't follow through on his plan to teach online; and students, stuck in a course which had stopped meeting (either online or IRL) had to go to the department to beg for another instructor.

Which they received.

And then we reach the most telling part of the article: how Berman knew that the English teacher murdered by the vampire lover was supposed to be him.

In the body of the story (which I cannot find online... grrr...), the fictional professor tells the fictional student "You don't know jack shit about movies if you don't know Kurosawa."

Students in the course confirmed that Berman actually said this, expletives included, to the story's author earlier in the semester and had no problem addressing equally "blunt" comments to the rest of his classroom.

So here we have a faculty member who demeans his students in class, gets a story about a vampire who kills an English professor by eating his feces (did I mention that the vampire kills people by eating feces?), demands to be removed from his classroom and be allowed to teach online, and then fails to hold the online classes he is responsible to teach.

Yeah. Um... yeah. Blame the student!

Actually, though...

I do blame the student, a little. Not for putting the fear of death into Prof. Berman, but for writing a story about feces-eating vampires.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Recent Comments???

I added a Recent Comments widget to the sidebar.


On the one hand, it increases the possibility of comment-style conversation... on the other hand, it makes the blog look so very, very busy with text.

Too busy?

What do you think?

Please let me know.

(From the editor: It's been pulled. If you want to find out why... read the comments. ^__^)

How to Win A Chili Cook-Off

All right. Confession time. I had upma for dinner last night, and upma for lunch again today, and wanted something just a bit different for dinner tonight. I was also seriously craving protein, as it seems like upma has very little besides its cashews.

So I grabbed a can of vegetarian chili. And I mixed in the rest of the sambar and heated it up.

Which makes me just as bad as the guy who puts garam masala on cheeseburgers, but it actually tasted really good.

And I secretly want to make it again, soon. ^__^

Thursday, May 17, 2007

And All This Time, I Thought I Loved the Learning...

I'm temping this summer, if you haven't yet gathered as much from my "Temp Poetry." At first I thought I was going to hate the job, because it started out being the usual kind of temp things: sorting, stapling, filing, etc.

But then it got better. The jist of the story, without giving any secrets away about my place of employment, is that the management has figured out I'm clever and has started giving me more complicated and engaging work to do. Thus my brain is kept active and I am quite happy.

And yet... I'm not happy necessarily because I have started to get interesting jobs. I'm happy because when I get done with these interesting jobs, I can sit in my cube and read (until someone has another job for me).

So I was in the middle of one of these jobs today, practically dancing around a conference table as I worked to organize a bunch of something-somethings into a cohesive blah-blah to present to my supervisor, and -- if one can remember an emotion the way one remembers a scent, or a piece of music -- I suddenly remembered what it was to have this feeling.

It was to be in elementary school, and to sit in class puzzling out the quickest way to do long division so that I could get back to the copy of The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles that I had sitting in-between the safety scissors and pencil shavings of my desk.

(Brief aside: I hated the order to "show your work" because it took so long to write out what my brain had already solved; I'm guessing I'm not the only one among us who shared this sentiment. I used to be able to multiply and divide three- and four-digit numbers in my head, although that skill went away when I entered high school and everyone had to buy that damn TI-85 calculator. As the calculator worked faster than my brain... away went my magical ability -- which I truly regret, as even adding three- and four-digit numbers now requires me to use a pen and paper. I think the calculator was the worst thing ever to happen to my mathematics education.)

Anyway. And because I was quick and efficient and accurate, the teachers all said "oh, she's so interested in math/science/social studies," etc. etc. etc. and all those years, I believed them.

But I realized today that I was only in it for the books.


Love Like Salt, Part III: The Upma Post

I just had the most fantastic dinner.

I made the upma following this recipe. I was a little worried that it wasn't going to turn out, because right away I burned my tempering spices (I've gotten pretty used to how long it takes to pop mustard seed and cumin, but I wasn't expecting those cashews to turn black quite as fast as they did). But after adding the upma itself, and stirring, I discovered that (like the recipe hints) it does give out a very nice aroma. A lovely, warm, comforting aroma.

As I added the water and I began to see what this gritty-but-fragrant mess was about to turn into, I got very excited. I didn't do the thing about packing it into a greased mold and making the perfect upma cone, though if I were ever serving this to someone else (candlelit upma dinner, hmm...???) I certainly would.

And to top it off, while I was stirring the upma, one burner away was a nice bubbling pot of sambar.

Yes, I know. Upma's not idlis and it's not rice-based. But the temperature had dropped today (following two days of rain and storms) and I really wanted to make something hot and soup-like. Also I really wanted to make sambar, so I did.

So for dinner I had upma with a bit of mango pickle, and a cup of sambar, and -- at the end -- a piece of cake. Probably the best dinner I've cooked ever, and the best meal I've eaten since NYC.

(And yes, it does work to dunk the cake into the sambar, and yes, I totally did.)

I am willing to hazard a guess that part of the reason why the meal turned out so good (besides the inherent delightfulness of upma, as S. predicted), is because I used, for the first time, fresh curry leaves and fresh coriander. (Prior to that I was using dry, powder versions of all necessary herbs.) But Namaste Grocery has always had the fresh stuff in stock, and now that I've got this high-paying summer job, I went for the real thing.

And... mmm, so worth it.

Anyway. I'm trying to think of a word to fill in the phrase I've now got running through my head, like a song:

Rasam is awesome, but upma is ____.

Unfortunately I can think of no word that rhymes with upma. So I'm going to open it up to y'all, because I bet between the lot of us we've got a gigantic vocabulary. I'll also accept Indic-language words. ^__^

How We Sound When We Talk To Our Cats

Here's a quick post (probably the first of many tonight, so be prepared):

I just discovered a site called "Arbuckle" which is dedicated to redrawing the Garfield comic strips without Garfield's thought balloons.

In the original comic, Jon and Garfield interact with one another, although artist Jim Davis clearly indicates that Garfield is thinking, rather than speaking, his responses.

Thus it begs the question "Are Garfield's responses all in Jon's head? What's actually going on in these daily interactions between a man and his cat?"

I know, I know, someone's spent too much time philosophizing over a comic strip long past its expiration date. But take a look at a sample "Garfield:"

And here's the same comic, turned into "Arbuckle:"

Kinda makes you think, eh?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Another Temp Poem

They stand around a computer screen, looking
At a photograph of someone's great-great-grandmother
Just uncovered. Even the sepia and the cracks
And the glare from the screen do not diminish the woman's
Hard-lined face, weather-tanned hands, sallow chin.
In the photograph, she does not smile.

"How sad," one says, "working so hard
Did terrible things to women's bodies."
The four women nod, all of them,
Double chins shaking,
Eyes blinking beneath layers of myopic lenses,
Arms quivering like translucent jellyfish
Under the fluorescent lights.

(From the editor: She hates to spoil the poem, but she wants to make perfectly clear that this is not a critique of the women, but of their environment. After all, the full-time desk job is not the healthiest.)

Love Like Salt, Part II

S. has been hinting (with much excitement) that I should learn to cook upma.

So I went to Namaste Grocery and bought myself a bag.

I didn't make it tonight (tonight was a salad night -- my roommate told me I could eat anything she left behind in the refrigerator, and there was half a bag of "Spring Mix" that needed to be consumed before it turned brown), but I will tomorrow.

There is, unfortunately, no recipe for upma in the copy of Southern Spice (Chandra Padmanabhan) that S. bought for me on one of our bookstore forages. So I went online.

And there I found, at the first link, that upma means "flour and salt." Intertwined, perhaps.

It seems that there could be a poem made out of this, with the idea of love like salt and the physicality of sifting and dropping and frying balls of upma. (Maybe not frying. I'm not very good at frying things; they always burn. But all the recipes seem to say that frying is what one does to upma, so I'll hold my thumbs that it turns out.)

We will see what I am capable of creating, tomorrow night.

On an unrelated note: S. also set me up with some sambar podi, and I am eager to try it out. But finding/creating idlis will be a problem. I have no method of grinding the rice and dal, but I could buy ready-made idli batter at Namaste Grocery. However, I have no idli rack. Dare I use a cupcake tin, or would it be better to lay them out on a cookie sheet... or should I just give up now before I make a mess of things? ^__^

(Note from the editor: She's just realized, through her internet searching, that upma and rava are the same thing. So Southern Spice has several recipes for upma after all. The recipes all require frying.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Temp Poem

Upon coming into someone else's desk
Which she will occupy, for three months,
She considers what to set down of her own.

Should she ignore the pictures left behind?
The newspaper comics (Cathy and One Big Happy),
The post-its with numbers for someone else's dry cleaning,
Reminders that the dog needs its heartworm pills?

On the first day, she tiptoed gingerly, afraid to upset anything.
On the second day, she brought in a small photograph
Tiny enough to hide behind a coffee mug.
The women in the nearby cubes,
No doubt alert to any change in the environment
(Cupcakes down one aisle, a haircut in the corner)
Somehow notice.

And they ask her questions, first about the photograph
("he's so good-looking!")
And then about her.
And then they tell her where to go to find the cupcakes.

So now she is buffeted on all sides;
The cubes of women stepped away from strangers,
Stopping by to ask advice about how to silently persuade a husband
To purchase a black onyx necklace for a birthday still six months away
("You'll have to tell him, somehow," is all she can offer)
And, more importantly, the eyes in her photograph
Taking her past the itchy walls of the cubicle,
The reflective paradox of the monitor,
And the reminder that Tuesday the twenty-second
Is an unknown church's potluck dinner.

Because of those eyes, she will stay.
Because of that smile, she will smile.
And tomorrow, into a tiny hidden corner,
She's thumbtacking up a poem.

Another Creative Arrest

I keep reading, in flits and starts in my Google Reader, about this student (and now is it a group of students?) who got arrested in India for creating a piece of disturbing art.

The fact that these are the only details I can remember of the story at the moment shows how I have let the event stay only at the horizon of my consciousness (most of it being occupied right now with dreamier things).

However, since I've taken a stance against arresting students for creative work and since I'd like to continue forward with these convictions, I sat down today to learn some more about this particular situation.

Here's a few of the more interesting details:

The student in question, Chandramohan, is Hyderabadi, though the arrest took place at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, which is a city I have to admit I'd never heard of before today.

The student was arrested for creating two pieces of art: a painting of a somewhat abstract naked woman, and a sculpture of a crucifix mounted above a toilet seat.

The decision that the works were offensive came from outside the university community, and the students and faculty at MSU responded by mounting a gallery of "the long history of Erotica in both Indian and Western art." And then they refused to let the police close it down.

If you've read this far, please continue on to Shripriya's post, as all of what I learned about this incident I picked up from her collection of articles on the story -- and because she writes about it much more cogently and succinctly than I do. DesiPundit has also been following it pretty closely.

I suppose the most interesting aspect is the university's response -- very different from that in the Allen Lee case. The "offensive" material at MSU was, however, sexual rather than violent, which perhaps is the fundamental difference between the two students' creative output, and the reason why people are banding around Chandramohan and shunning Lee.

But... it seems a cultural difference as well. When is the last time anyone in America staged a really good protest against censorship? Even the NEA Four fought their battle alone...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pretty Blue Tango

S. was at a concert yesterday. He told me what was on the menu... Astor Piazzolla's tangos, played on a very unusual combination of trumpet and harpsichord.

Oh, I am so jealous... I said, because I was, in fact, so jealous.

So, at the right time, he called me. He opened up his phone, and I opened up mine (putting it on speakerphone) and the melodies of the tangos filled my little kitchen, as I stood with the trumpet playing on my right side and rasam bubbling on my left.

Though the sound quality was... less than what might have been desired... it was still one of the best concerts I ever attended.

Pretty Happy Birthday Kitty!

Happy birthday to the person whose birthday it is today!

If it's not your birthday today, it's not for you... if it is, then it's for you!

(In other words this is for a person who has asked not to be identified by name but would probably be really, really confused if I put up a pseudonym. Although, for this person I might pick... Ginevra. *__^)

Here's a picture of a kitty!

psst... it's from i can has cheezburger...

Another Alice Post: After 142 Years

Whenever I go into a used bookstore (and often when I go into a mainstream bookstore), I make a beeline for the children's section.

This isn't just because I have a soft spot for kid-lit, although I do. It's because children's books have one thing adult books do not: different illustrators.

Thus, every time I am in a used bookstore, I am bound to find some old copy of a strange, out-of-print run of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables or Peter Pan. It is a rare trip which does not lead me to a new, undiscovered illustrator.

The director in me loves the vast variety of pictoral interpretations of, say, the four March sisters. ("Will they actually draw them as the ages they are in the story, or will they make them all willowy and busty and coquettishly adult?")

But the prize, of course, is finding a new Alice.

Well. When I started planning to direct Alice in Hyderabad I did a bit of serious research into editions of Alice and their illustrators. After all, in the scores of editions that have passed through the press since the book's first publication in 1865, there have been all kinds of drawings of Alice: Tenniel, of course, but also Rackham and Peake and, fairly recently, Oxenbury, whose drawings I adore.

There have been mod Alices and modern Alices; Alices in blue dresses and Alices in blue jeans; Alices at every stage of sexuality and development; Alices in the fashion of every decade.

And yet Alice has always been drawn as white as I am. This troubles me, a bit; the text sets her plainly in Victorian England, but if illustrators reach all around to place Alice in whatever year and location they choose (rather like directors do with Shakespeare), why has no one ever reached for anything besides the "peach"-colored crayon?

Is Alice "universal," as is often claimed, or isn't she? (And I'd almost go so far as to make the argument that the publishers and illustrators have proven, by their choices, that she isn't.)

However, I just found out that Disney has cast Beyonce as Alice in their promotional venture "Year of a Million Dreams." I usually hate Disney, but I have to give them credit for breaking past assumptions and giving us what I believe is the first Alice "of color."

Here's the picture. The photographer is Annie Liebowitz.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Heliotrope in the Moonlight

Come outside with me, said Mrs. Gibbs, and smell my heliotrope in the moonlight.

Neither of us knew, from the reading, what heliotrope looked like, nor how it smelled. It sounded intoxicating... it could be anything, really. It could be the most fantastic scent in the world: heliotrope in the moonlight. We sat and pondered the possibilities.

But the Gardener's Path says it smells like cherry pie.

I wonder if Mr. Wilder would agree.

Love Like Salt

I was supposed to post about visiting NYC, wasn't I? Hmmm... you've seen the picture of Central Park, which came from the Metropolitan... and I was at both of those places.

Seems like a lot of bloggers have been in NYC recently, so I'll direct you to Vi's post and Shripriya's post in lieu of my own.

Today I am writing about salt. And love.

When my roommate moved out, she took the salt with her. This I did not realize until this evening, when I set out to cook again after a long hiatus. I was, I have to admit, rather piqued. Yes, technically she had paid for the salt when we set out to furnish our kitchen, so technically it was hers to take. But it seemed a little... that the salt belonged to the kitchen, not the person.

So here I was, making dal and spinach and rasam without salt. They all tasted fine. In fact, after a week of eating haphazard take-out, they tasted really, really good. But only the rasam hit; that is, only the rasam seemed to have that bit of spark to it. Which I am guessing is probably because the store-bought rasam podi contained its own necessary dose of salt.

(A quick note on the rasam: I have no idea what rasam is supposed to taste like, never having eaten it in a "for-real" Indian restaurant. Thus I am not sure whether mine was actual rasam, or "something tasty that contained rasam's ingredients." All of the ingredients were distinct; that is, there was a chunk of tomato, a lentil, etc. and they never formed any kind of puree, which is, of course, because I lack a blender. Can it be rasam if it's cooked but not run through the blender afterwards?)

So tomorrow I am packing a tidy layered lunch; dal on the bottom, rasam next, and gingery spinach on top.

And I am hoping that there will be salt packets somewhere in the employee break room, because -- as the story goes -- there is no love without salt.

Or, as the story really goes (scroll down to the bottom of the same page to read the source of the quote -- and, coincidentally, it's desi):

My love may be homely, but it is true, genuine, and lasting.

And it tastes good with rice.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When An Ogre and A Princess Ogre Love Each Other Very Much...

Since I've just written a post on sexual overtones in children's films:

The marketing for Shrek the Third is out in full force, as I noticed when I was grocery shopping this evening.

Unfortunately, since I am over the age of, say, eight... I can't see the advertisements for those cute little diapered ogre-babies without instantly getting a mental picture of Shrek and Fiona... um...

Yeah, now you're imagining it too. You can thank me later. Don't forget to add the voices.

(P.S. I am very grateful that Disney decided not to go for the old joke of "one of the babies in the set doesn't look like the father," as was done, for example, with Apu's octuplets. Because having Fiona birth a little Donkey baby would have been just too much.)

Why Has The Rasam Gone?

The above reference is for this friend, to whom I owe a thousand apologies because I am currently here, on my blog, instead of visiting her for the weekend.

However, life intervened, as it does. Finals Week at my university was typically insane, what with the grading and the testing and the *frink noise*...

And then, due to unexpected and unfortunate circumstances, my roommate had to move out of the apartment. In two days.

She, unlike me, is the sort of person who "has stuff;" so we spent the past two nights staying up and having conversations like "I need to cut this pile of CDs from 500 down to 200; which ones do you think I should keep?"

We ended up filling a 15-ft. moving truck with her belongings (the two of us, each weighing in at around 115 lbs, lifting and moving and hauling all of her furniture and books and the 200 chosen CDs). Getting the truck was hassle enough, as we went down to the local place at the right time only to learn that the truck we had ordered had never made it, but there was another truck available at the neighboring town an hour's drive away, if we wanted it... and it ended up being a four-hour trip, as we managed to get lost en route.

Anyway. The point of this story is that I haven't yet made rasam. (The truth is, though, that I did try, just a few days after writing this original post, and the result was so disastrous that I told no one but S. It had to do with the fact that tomatoes were expensive and a can of tomato paste cost forty-five cents. The tomato paste ended up spattering the entire kitchen as it boiled, and the "rasam," if it can even be called that, was gooey and salty and inedible. But I ate it anyway.)

But I hope to get another shot soon, as I start my temp job on Monday, and prepare to assume the role of "that strange new girl who always brings the weird lunch in her Tupperware."*

On the other hand, since my community is diverse enough to sustain three (competing) Indian groceries, perhaps one of my officemates will be able to give me cooking tips.

And (*sigh*) if anyone is looking for a place to stay, I am in need of a roommate.

*When I temped in Minneapolis, I was definitely "the strange new girl who always brings the weird lunch in her Tupperware." Particularly because in those days, I couldn't cook. I still remember one of the full-time employees coming into the breakroom and looking concernedly at my baked potato and "soup" combination (the soup being little more than a bouillon cube dissolved into water).

Those were strange days, though. My supervisor at that job once gave me a sweater, under the guise that it did not fit her anymore, though I suspect it had something more to do with my own ill-fitting clothing. My officemate, on the other hand, kept trying to get me to do her teenage son's homework for him, because, as she explained, "I was smarter." Strange days.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Alice Fun!

Here's another clip from the 1985 Irwin Allen/Steve Allen tv version of Alice in Wonderland.

I'm including it for your amusement, primarily because it features "the incomparable" Jayne Meadows.

As she was married to songwriter Steve Allen, it's no surprise that she gets the best song in the show.

But what fascinates me is her delivery. Listen to her pull and distort those words -- count the number of sounds she pushes through on the word "Squirm."

Also note the sex.

And, since I've given you the job of noticing things, do be aware of Steve Allen's masterful use of the post-bridge modulation. Except this time, it's not a leading tone modulation; it's a modulation where the tonic of the first key becomes the dominant of the second... and I can't remember what it's formally called!

Aural Memory

What kind of music did you teach the choir in Our Town? he asked.
Church music, I said. The singers in the play are part of a church choir.
Sing it for me, he asked.
Oh, no -- it's over the phone -- it will sound terrible, I said.
Sing it for me, he asked again.
So I began singing the hymns in the play, and when he requested more (as I had, once, been a church organist and knew all the hymns), I sang through the Doxology.

Well, halfway through. Halfway, until I suddenly shrieked with laughter and recognition.

It's the same tune, I told him.
What? he said.
The same melody -- isn't that amazing?

And, to prove it, I sang it for him.

Om jai jagdish.

(From the editor: No, it's not the same "note-for-note." Check the comments section for a better explanation of the music theory involved. I'm not sure how to post audio files on Blogger; run an audio search through your favorite search engine for "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" -- don't search "Doxology;" you'll get a bunch of songs by the Christian band of the same name -- and for "Om Jai Jagdish" to hear the two melodies.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Brief Detour: Back to the Lion and the Unicorn

While searching for a YouTube video of "If He Walked Into My Life" as performed by, say, Angela Lansbury or Lucille Ball or Eydie Gorme, I found this.

Consider it "Alice, Part Six: One Film Representation of the Lion and the Unicorn Scene."

My favorite part is where Harvey Korman and John Stamos jump in time to the timpani. I find myself itching to recreate a similar moment with tabla.

I'm A Barbie Girl

From the New York Times: Mattel's just created another Second Life-style playland for young girls called ""

To explore this website, young girls (the intended age is 8-13) must first register and make themselves into a Barbie avatar.

These look nothing like the Barbies I remember playing with as a child. Wasn't it that we were supposed to be making Barbie look more like a real woman and less like the German sex toy she started out to be?

Here's my Barbie avatar.

She looks eight years old, doesn't she?

(BTW, only one of the Barbie shirt options covers Barbie's navel. Just so you know. And there is no "sneakers" option for Barbie's feet: just heels -- yes, heels! -- and these Mary Janes.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Pretty Watercolor (for S.)

Because I know he's online right now... here's an internet-style bit of connection. Fingers stretching through the ether and all of that.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a reimaging of springtime in Central Park:

I think he and I are probably behind that cluster of white flowers. ^__^

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The End of the Semester

I am grading my students' final papers and projects.

(Thank goodness nobody wrote anything "disturbing.")

This is the first upper-level, discipline-specific class I've been able to teach. The first class for which I designed my own syllabus, readings, and assignments. The first class for which I was, in essence, entirely responsible.

Previously, I had taught an Intro to Theatre course where the texts and the assignments were all set out for me and the students were, for the most part, only interested in getting a gen-ed credit out of the way. I taught it three times, and each time we enjoyed ourselves, had some good discussions, and (I hope) learned a thing or two about the work it takes to put on a play, but... the atmosphere of the course, both in its design and in its practice, was rather like learning "about French" rather than learning French.

In the class I'm teaching now, we're actually learning the language.

And so, reading the final papers and looking through the semester-long "director's notebooks" I've asked my students to create, I feel... as if I didn't do enough, as if I could have taught them more, as if I should have had them write these "final papers" two weeks ago because now I see what of my teaching they understood and what they missed or did not understand.

Looking at the final papers gives me a better sense of what we accomplished as a class than any blah-blah student evaluation ever could. ("On a scale of 1-5, please rate your instructor's level of interest, knowledge of subject matter, availability outside of the classroom.")

Some students, of course, got it. A few blew the whole thing off, and that's their problem to deal with. But it's the ones in the middle, who got "most-but-not-all," who wrote things in their final paper which make me think "oh, but if I had only asked this question or prepared this exercise, maybe they would have made this connection" that are breaking my heart as I read and grade this stack of papers.

To the more veteran educators out there: How do you all deal with this? Obviously one improves and makes changes in subsequent semesters. But do you also share this feeling of "if we could only meet one more time as a class, I could make everything clear???" and the guilt of thinking "now they'll never know..."

Of course, since I am meeting with all my students one-on-one this week to discuss their papers and notebooks, I will have a chance to talk with them and maybe make that last bit of connection. But it's also Finals Week, and the students are an inch away from putting school down entirely, and classes and a previous semester's work suddenly become unimportant.

And the students who got "most-but-not-all" will get the rest in next semester's class, or on their own; or they'll never get it, and then I couldn't have helped them anyway.

Still, it brings to mind "If He Walked Into My Life" from Mame (yes, I know, theatre dork), which I cannot find anywhere on YouTube or I would post the link.

But we all know the lyrics:

Did [they] need a stronger hand?
Did [they] need a lighter touch?
Was I soft or was I tough?
Did I give enough?
Did I give too much?

Though I'll ask myself my whole life long
What went wrong along the way
Would I make the same mistakes
If [they] walked into my life today?

Back from Travels

As you may have guessed by the post below, I'm back from my NYC trip.

Seem to have got a lot of traffic in the past few days. A lot... of traffic.

But no hate.

This is good.

Tomorrow: posts on Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and my discovery that all of Broadway is being kept afloat by memory and nostalgia.

I mean, come on... would anyone go see Legally Blonde (the musical) if it hadn't been a popular movie that, more than five years ago, they once liked? And would anyone buy tickets to the captivating but oh-so-dated Company if they hadn't once been awkward teenagers singing to the original cast album, dreaming of the magic of theatre while trying to fit all the words of "Another Hundred People" into a single breath?

I could keep going... but will have to save it for tomorrow.

Indian Breakfast

Two tables, next to each other.

At one, I sat with S.

At the other, another young (desi) man sat with his girlfriend.

Both tables played out, a beat apart, the same scene.

The table number is called. The young man goes to the counter and returns with idli and sambar and chutney. The pair begins eating. All is well.

The table number is called again. The young man goes to the counter and returns with a dosa. The young woman demurs, and says something teasingly about how it will be perfect for sharing.

The table number is called again. The young man goes to the counter and returns with a second dosa, as there are, after all, two people at the table. The young woman is starting to look a little nervous. He pushes one of the dosas -- which is, of course, the size of... oh, I don't know, a small cat -- towards her.

"Eat up," he says. "This is what everyone eats for breakfast in India."

The young woman at the second table rebels a bit more than I do (I am rapidly becoming seduced by the spices), as both men say "but you are too thin already, you need to eat this." Then the table number is called yet again, and the young man returns with cups of thick coffee and chai. The only question is where I can find room to put them.

"What can one possibly do after eating Indian breakfast?" I ask, staring at the empty plates.

"Sleep, of course," he replies.

But instead he takes me out into the street, around a corner to a shop which sells paan. Dosas are overwhelming because of their square-footage; the paan was overwhelming for a different reason.

"All of it in the mouth at once?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

The wrapped mixture was slightly larger than my palm, but I was nothing if not game. And yet -- after conquering the idli and the sambar and the chutney and the dosa and the coffee and the chai -- the paan, stuffed into the only part of me that was still empty, was my undoing.

My head began to spin as I tried to chew, and I ended up spitting the mixture out into the street, which I think disappointed S., because I had held up so well thus far.

Yet he was kind enough to take me back to the apartment a half-hour later, when the rest of the Indian breakfast caught up with me and caused me to lean, somewhat dizzily, into the wall of a grocery featuring an advertisement for Amitabh Bachchan in Cheeni Kum. ("Now with less sugar," indeed!)

And, as he had predicted, Indian breakfast led me straight to Indian sleep.

I wonder if the young woman at the other table slept as well.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Blue, Continental Traveler

I have too traveled! I said. After graduation I went to a school in Ohio, and after that I lived in Minneapolis!

You have certainly toured the parochial midwest, he said, laughing.

Well, I countered, look at how many places I've been in the last month. Washington, D.C., Chicago, Toronto, and now here, in New York City.

And the man who once lived on the other side of the world smiled.

(Note from the editor: Blue's in NYC for the weekend, seeing art and theatre and S., for whom she tried to write a villanelle. Clearly not much time left for posting. But when she gets back... she'll tell you the story of her first experience eating paan. The DARE program never warned her about this one. ^__^)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Blue's Back to the Political, For Just A Moment

Each day in our graduate directing seminar we are asked to bring in a piece of news, on the grounds that an artist should be continually aware of what's going on in the world.

A lot of the current events I've posted about on this blog have made it into class (particularly this one and, of course, this one).

Today, as the culmination of our current events project, our professor told us that the interesting thing about today's news (as opposed to 1930s German news or 1960s Russian news) is that no matter how awful the story, it no longer affects us. That is to say, it might "affect" us mentally (in that we think "oh, how terrible!") but it doesn't affect our day-to-day lives.

The two women in the class immediately piped up and said oh no, the recent Supreme Court ban on late-term abortion certainly affects us.

No, said the professor, that's all theoretical. You just think it affects you. It hasn't really changed the way you live your lives.

We were not able to convince the professor that any of the news we brought to class actually affected us in any way. Yet I would argue (and am going to argue, on this blog) that it does.

Sure, knowing that the Supreme Court just banned late-term abortion doesn't change my evening plans. It doesn't change the fact that I came home and said hello to my kitty and heated up yesterday's "bell peppers in a curry sauce." But, when I begin to start a family, it may become a very urgent issue.

And knowing that Allen Lee was arrested for writing an essay doesn't change the fact that I sat down to watch The Simpsons on Sunday evening. It did cause me to censor what I posted to this blog, though (as anyone with eyes clever enough to catch the differences between the first and second versions of this post noticed); and as someone who plans to continue teaching, it has made me stop and think "what would I have done in this situation?"

No, I won't be faced with an Allen Lee essay tomorrow (although technically I don't know kind of end-of-semester papers my students will hand in). But I might find myself reading one in two years.

Of course by then, the professor might argue, everything will have changed anyway.

So is the crux of the matter, then, that students (even graduate ones) are just too "removed from responsibility" to have these issues affect them in any day-to-day way? Perhaps. But I still disagree.

Let's take this current event: Micheal Winerip's recent essay on what it actually takes for a student to get into Harvard these days. It's a human interest story, to be sure, but note the details he gives us:

What kind of kid doesn’t get into Harvard? Well, there was the charming boy I interviewed with 1560 SATs. He did cancer research in the summer; played two instruments in three orchestras; and composed his own music. He redid the computer system for his student paper, loved to cook and was writing his own cookbook. One of his specialties was snapper poached in tea and served with noodle cake.

At his age, when I got hungry, I made myself peanut butter and jam on white bread and got into Harvard.

It's the Red Queen Effect: It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. And you can bet that it affects my day-to-day life. Which is, btw, perhaps the reason why my particular generation is less inclined to, say, chain ourselves to a pillar of the Supreme Court Building to protest the recent abortion ruling, although we are vaguely (or presciently) aware that it does affect our lives and that in previous generations people might have done something about it.

That is to say, we know that if we drop out of the race for even a moment, not only will we not get into Harvard, we might not get back into the race at all.

But this is not a new thought by any means, which leads me to believe that there might be another reason why we aren't taking the political action my professor reminds us was taken (by ordinary citizens!) in the halcyon days of the '30s and '40s.

Could it perhaps be, instead of the Red Queen Effect, the "Cindy Sheehan Effect:" the knowledge that protests, even well-organized, persistent ones by large groups of people and headed by a charismatic individual, no longer have the possibility to enact any significant change?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Meeting Tappan Wilder

Our Town opened last weekend, to moderate success. As the musical director, the most interesting part of the opening was that the choir (perhaps due to nerves, and to the fact that there is a bit of an interval between when they hear their pitch and when they sing) naturally pitched themselves up a step and began singing "Blessed Be The Tie That Binds" in G rather than F major. And, as I heard this, suddenly remembering a choir director from years ago telling me that F major was the hardest key in which to sing (because it fell naturally into the female voice break), and being impressed by the choir's unconscious fortitude (and blending skill), and wishing I had remembered that bit of music theory earlier so I could have worked with them in G major from the beginning.

Today, Tappan Wilder, who is Thornton Wilder's nephew and the acting spokesperson (and heir) of the Wilder estate, came and gave a lecture on Thornton Wilder's life.

The man was brilliant. Both men (Thornton and Tappan) were brilliant. Thornton, as a child, learned to speak French, German, and Italian (in addition to his native English); and his father, noting his son's aptitude for the academic, sent him every summer to work on farms so that he would not become "disconnected from what is real, i.e. the earth and the natural life cycle."

Thornton Wilder began writing the works that would make him famous while he was working as a high school English teacher, and even after he became wildly famous never stopped teaching. He also traveled extensively, and (as Tappan told us) made a variety of friendships, and might spend one weekend eating at the home of a local family and the next weekend eating dinner at the Rockefellers'.

Anyway. Long story short. To whom does Tappan attribute his own liberal education, and to whom does he attribute Thornton's education and capacity for thought and understanding?

Not to any teachers. Not to any schools.

To the parents.

Tappan acknowledges his own debt to his father, Thornton's brother Amos; as well as Thornton and Amos' debt to their father, Amos Parker Wilder.

How fascinating. I suppose the moral is "teach your children well, so they might grow up to win three Pulitzer Prizes." Or, perhaps, "if you want smart kids, you're going to have to raise them your own damn self." ^__^

Things You Should Never, Ever Eat

For reasons too complicated to explain right now, I haven't yet had the kitchen-restocking spree I so desperately need. (Though help is on the way. On the "slowed down by fracking Fed-Ex way," but on the way nonetheless.)

Anyway. In my ongoing search for the cheapest forms of ____ available (today it was food) I found myself eating a Taco Bell "Seven-Layer Crunchwrap."

I chose it because it contained no meat.

Imagine, if you will, a pile of vegetarian nachos. Maybe they contain some sour cream, some guacamole, some salsa, some refried beans, and at least three other unidentifiable "layers."

Then imagine someone deep-frying that pile of nachos into a soft tortilla shell.

Then imagine eating it.

It is possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever encountered. Even more disgusting than Grindhouse.

On the plus side, there must be enough calories involved in the process to... um... aid in keeping my pants from hanging off of my pretty, pretty (shrinking) kundi. ^__^ (When I had the privilege of meeting Tappan Wilder this afternoon, I had to keep reaching behind me to pull up my ever-sinking waistband.)