Wednesday, May 26, 2004

More walk excerpts:

You see interesting dead things on the side of the road. Not just the typical possum and raccoons, but also songbirds—I saw a beautiful bluebird on the side of the road, and later on a second one, more faded. I saw grey songbirds, probably a couple of juncos, an English sparrow, a goldfinch, I saw a woodchuck, I’ve seen many dead butterflies, a minute ago I saw a small bat lying on the side of the road, right now I’m looking at a skunk, and last night I found fireflies who had been hit by cars but in some way that didn’t splatter them. They had just fallen to the shoulder of the road intact, dead but still glowing. I saw many of those.

I start out every morning listening to the Thomas Tallis album. As I listened to it this morning heading out of Owosso, I realized that I have a sense of this whole thing building towards Lake Huron, almost as if I can already see the water, and stand in it, and remember all the way back to Lake Michigan when I was standing in the lake on the other side of the state.

[When the walk got the hard.]

Yesterday was excruciating by the end of it. It was beastly hot, I had blisters in four or five places, and all of my muscles were complaining, even my hips. This same music I listen to that was spiritually uplifting before, music of devotion and consecration, seemed to become my funeral dirge as I walked along with the sun mercilessly beating down on my head at the hottest part of the day. Wondering whether I might go into heat stroke. Wondering if the water would hold out. Also, hangnails had developed and one cuticle was bleeding, and I was covered with layers of sunscreen and dust. I had developed my largest blister on Wednesday, and Thursday as I was walking between St. Johns and Owosso, I felt it burst. It felt like a small point of fire expanding. For awhile the pain of that blister had prominence. But gradually it receded into the general chorus of pain, or else the other voices increased to join it. When you’re in a considerable amount of discomfort and your body is strained to the endurance point, you can’t walk by feeling. You have to set goals for yourself. At around the 12-mile point, with 12 miles to go, I decided that I would walk four miles and then rest.

In sleep, my body did its best with the short recovery time. I would sometimes stir uncomfortably, and had to lie certain ways to avoid pains or blisters. There was some heavy, intangible feeling of being in the middle of this extremely hard physical journey. I woke most mornings hard, and not in terms of sleepiness. It would take awhile to feel human, and my muscles needed a little extra time to start moving freely again.

But here's the question about Lost in Translation. Was Sofia Coppola just telling us a story, or did she want to influence how we relate to other people? If we found ourselves in a similar situation, would we follow the same path, or do nothing because it would be too unusual, or awkward?

I suspect that while we admire the sentiments, we would not have the courage to connect with another person in that way, certainly not someone whose path we're not forced alongside. But we like to watch someone else do it. Movies, then, can easily become voyeuristic and passive, mere diversion, rather than something interactive, affirming, that increases our understanding and enjoyment.

I remember having the same thoughts way back when I saw The Breakfast Club. Teenagers in mass left theatres weeping and crying, and then returned to [your school] high to act more like the characters at the beginning of the movie than at the end.

The best movie portrayal of film as cheap, uninvested escape from living our own life is The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Of course, I'm not saying our experience with every movie needs to be such an engaged thing. Some movies offer nothing more than two hours worth of happy entertainment, and that's enough. It's the movies that we applaud for deeper reasons that force us to ask if we really believe them or only by proxy.

I watched Lost in Translation for the second time, and have decided that the Vatican needs to canonize Bill Murray. I'm sure we can come up with a justification for making him Saint Bill. In Groundhog Day, he showed us that cynicism has to be overcome. In What About Bob, albeit it in goofy manner, he showed us that insanity has to be transcended. Also, we don't have a single Saint Bill yet, so we wouldn't even have to canonize him as "Saint Bill of Wilmette."

But the decisive reason should be for what he shows us about humanity in Lost in Translation. I don't know if I'll ever again feel the dislocation of travel without remembering that I have a friend in Bob Harris.

Strangely enough, the thought occurred to me at (if you're watching your DVD display to the second) 1:01:27, by watching characters other than Bill Murray. I noticed the Japanese ladies behind him, laughing at his conversation with a stranger next to him in the hospital waiting room. It occurred to me again shortly after (1:02:37) when he allowed the stuffed animal he was holding to be a gift for Charlotte.

It would have been natural, after so many slapstick performances, for Murray to overplay the role. But he didn't, and the subtlety of the comic moments are just right.

Sofia Coppola helped him of course, but who hasn't been helped? And she would have to be close herself, for having Bob and Charlotte having different "first time I saw you" memories. Plus Saint Sofia is beautiful sounding.

As a side note, the movie has one of the quietest climaxes ever. Since we're being stopwatch-precise, I believe it occurs at 1:13:09 when Murray says, "You're not hopeless."

Maybe my thought isn't hopeless either. I'll get the Pope on the phone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

How to make better salsa.

If you've ever tried making your own salsa (which is simple to do and ends up incomparably better than salsa from a jar), try some of these tips.

1. Do not serve the salsa the same day. Let the flavors blend for two or three days. You'll be surprised at the difference.

2. After you make the base for your salsa with chopped green peppers, tomatoes, onions and hot peppers, try experimenting with the following additional ingredients. All measurements are for a large serving-size bowl of salsa.
-Fresh garlic, to taste.
-Tomatillos, 7 to 8, or a ratio of 1 part to around 20 parts. See picture.
-Salt, to taste.
-Lime juice, 2 or 3 tbs.
-Balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup
-Olive oil, 1/4 cup

3. Unless you do not like the taste of cilantro, consider it a must for good salsa. It looks like parsely and tastes like heaven. Add cilantro until you notice its distinct taste in the salsa. See picture.

4. With both cilantro and tomatillos, try blending instead of chopping. Take a small amount of the base salsa, and put it in the blender with the tomatillos or cilantro.

5. Don't use cooked tomatoes. You might as well go get a jar of salsa. The beauty of salsa is how fresh it tastes.

6. Finally, not related to the salsa itself, microwave the tortilla chips before serving. Microwave them enough that they are noticeably crisper and have a lighter crunch, but before the chips in the center start to brown. This takes a little timing, like microwave popcorn, but if you are unsure, run the chips for a period of time and then let them cool for a minute before microwaving them more.

After getting used to fresh salsa from supermarket and homemade, I don't even like salsa from a jar anymore. Don't worry about a recipe. You can hardly mess up salsa, and you will learn how you like it best just through experience.


Friday, May 21, 2004

You fool yourself, thinking “I’ll make a new start.”
And in the meantime you embrace
three-and-a-half-dozen pet deceits
     cherished conceits
you run blind, loving only yourself,
feeling self-sufficient, clean and satisfied.
     you damn fool.

Wu Men said when your mind is not
cluttered with useless things,
you have the best of days,
     and where are those best of days?

Johnny Cash said “How well I have learned
that there is no fence to sit on
     between heaven and hell.
There is a deep, wide gulf--
     a chasm--
and in that chasm is no place
     for any man.”

These days you live among the clutter
          determined to explore that chasm

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

If I were going to create a profile on an online matchmaker site, this is what I would put:

If you are looking for your lifetime partner, and someone else comes along who is also looking for their lifetime partner, and you both like poodles and Barry Manilow, well then. You may have a decent shot at living the rest of your life in harmonial bliss. If you are feeling spectacularly deserving, you should write out your shopping list using words like “rugged” and “not afraid of commitment,” and, “knows how to treat me like a woman.” Toss in some romantic seasoning with words like, “sunsets,” “horses,” “glass half full,” and even, “Thomas Kincade” or “Wayne Newton.” And if you really want to catch his attention, use all capital letters.

Then comes the waiting. You’ll have to wade through e-mails like, “i wann to see you nekkid,” of course, and endure a possible rendezvous with a guy whose photo looked uncannily like Tom Selleck, but turned out to be a balding, nervous, staring type named Howard, but be patient. This is a site for lovers.

So now that you are convinced that I am a total insensitive jerk, how about my shopping list, my profile. When do I get my turn? After all, I just want what’s coming to me!

I wake up at night in a cold sweat with the word commitment ringing in my ears as if someone under the bed is whispering it over and over. I want you to suspect that I may be no more than a clown but trust me anyhow. I’d like you to accept me and my complete collection of Franklin Mint limited edition art pieces (especially the dolphin cresting crystal waves). I desire to meet you in the middle of the woods on a Monday morning at 12:03 a.m. I stay at the Motel 6, but only because I’m between lavish, exquisitely decorated homes.

Love in advance, me.

Monday, May 17, 2004

A few months ago I had been keeping a pretty good sized spider that I found on the wooden fence outside my house. I wanted to watch if for awhile. At least temporarily, it had a home in a little jar. It wasn't the best season to be catching insects, but I wanted to feed the spider so I could keep him a little longer. I had the idea that maybe a piece of a worm would be something he’d go after. So one night in the rain, I located a worm that was drowning in a puddle, and cut part of him off.

Sure enough, the spider loved the offering, and it made me wonder what this meant in terms of animal existence. I mean, what I considered the worm (probably because he was the majority part) was outside, getting out of the rain. But a quarter inch of independently moving worm had just been eaten. It would have been interesting to be able to ask the worm:
     Where’s the rest of you?
     I don’t know. I’m no longer affiliated.
     Well. That’s probably a good thing.

If that short worm had been allowed to survive, and had become his own worm by his own rights, would the two worms have become friends? Or would they have hated each other, annoyed by the similarities?

One of my favorite pieces of music is Elgar's Cello Concerto, played by Jacqueline Du Pré when she was 20. Hauntingly beautiful, particularly the first movement.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Lightnin’ Hopkins is my favorite blues musician. Most modern blues musicians sound too slick and polished to me, and most old acoustic blues musicians sound a little too rustic and antiquated. Lightnin’ seemed to capture the power of modern electric blues at the same time that he expresses the gritty realism of the Delta blues. His style straddles the spectrum between acoustic and electric blues, and I think that he spanned this style/time bridge better than any other musician, including Muddy Waters.

Another reason I admire Lightnin’ Hopkins is because he was ahead of his time. His song ”Play with Your Poodle” (1947) is essentially rock n’ roll, years ahead of its arrival. I feel that Lightnin’ should have a place in the rock n’ roll hall of fame with Elvis Presley and others, but the vast majority of Americans don’t even know who he is. And rather than becoming completely caught up in either a fully blues style or a fully rock style, he stayed original.

Many of his songs, when you look at their publishing year, sound ahead of their time (e.g., two 1953 songs ”Lightnin’ Jump”--although not without flaws--and ”Late in the Evening”). The later recordings, aren’t as critical in terms of influence, because he had already made most of his biggest influence on music, but it demonstrates his ability to stay current, and his ability to stay original rather than just regurgitate his own older styles, or someone else’s newer style. At one point in the 60’s, you can hear that he veered off in a jazzy style (e.g. ”I’ll Be Gone”) rather than just staying confined completely within the blues realm.

Friday, May 14, 2004

More walk excerpts:

Through time people have always traveled most often on foot or on horseback or camel. So most travel over human history has been natural rather than mechanical. And usually, it's for the sole purpose of getting from one place to another. What is it that make people consider travel a means only, and never as an end in itself?

This walk changes the purpose from “I want to get from here to there,” to “I want to see from here to there. I want to hear from here to there. To smell and feel from here to there. To think and live from here to there."

I wonder what a nomad’s perspective on travel is. They don’t have a home, so it can’t be as much about just getting from one place to another. Or maybe it is—they don’t have a home but they still know where they want to be.

In the movie Lawrence of Arabia, Prince Feisal identifies Lawrence as another “desert loving English." He points out that the Arabs do not love the desert, because there is nothing in the desert. Instead, they love water. So maybe there is something abnormal about loving travel for its own sake. Or at least abnormal to many. There’s nothing in travel.
One of my two favorite directors has a new movie out called Coffee and Cigarettes.

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers says:
The fine, funky cool of Jim Jarmusch permeates this lyrically funny cluster of eleven stories that Jarmusch began filming in 1986. Sure, it's just two or three people bonding over the twin addictions of the title. But Jarmusch makes it a feast that plays like a haunting concept album.

The movie features Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Cate Blanchett, Stephen Wright, Tom Waits (a Jarmusch favorite) and Iggy Pop. Chances are you won't find it opening at a Multiplex; you may have to wait for DVD. If you see it and like it, see also Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, Dead Man and Ghost Dog.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Walking across the state of Michigan was one item on a list of lifetime goals that I made about eight years ago.

More from my writing during the walk:

This is a main way across the state, and I am crossing it on foot. I want to discover its meanings, I want to know what makes up a road. I want to question why 144th is paved and 137th is dirt, when both present no more than open fields. I want to hear the traffic passing, the scurrying of surprised animals, the occasional honk of encouragement. I want to feel the piercing ache of sinew and bone against the constant pounding of dirt and stone. I want to smell the pavement as the rain first hits it. Usually I’m traveling too fast to notice the little details. I want to remember each city I passed though, the little restaurants I ate at, the rivers I crossed. This state is my home and I should learn it.
Cicadas are about to emerge again. If you don't know what they are, you are under the age of 10 or 11 or don't live in an area where they swarm every 7 years.

Frank Belosic recommends sauteeing them. In the same article, George Gordon says that they go well with chardonnay or semillon blanc, and suggests putting them on pizza. "He also recommends you begin drinking as you cook, 'to fortify yourself.'"

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

   I sat in a parking lot today watching a giant American flag moving in the wind. The way the wind curled it back and forth was beautiful.
   There are two attitudes toward that symbol I’ve never understood. One involves combining jingoism and junk culture, the spawn of which is salt shakers and bird baths emblazoned with stars and stripes. The other is people who feel an embarrassment towards the American flag.
   That giant flag I watched, it waves for people like Nick Berg. It waves to say there’s an alternative to the insanity of protesting injustice by cutting off innocent heads.

*** Possible, slight spoiler below ***

I have to tip my hat, not only to Big Fish
in general, but to the cast in particular. You have Steve Buscemi and Helena Bonham Carter, a couple of actors on the fringe, but who have managed to direct their borderline freakishness enough to make them ripe for a Tim Burton number (or joint, as Spike Lee would have it). You have Billy Crudup (see also Almost Famous), who can do sincerity in a way that makes you suspect he’s no different off-screen. You have Jessica Lange, who is so fully and incredibly woman most men couldn’t handle her. And you have Albert Finney, a man you can’t help loving even when he’s struggling with faults (see also Erin Brokovich).

Incidentally, when Albert Finney poured water over his head on the way out of the hospital, I thought he might physically become a real fish right then or there. I wish I could become a giant catfish looking thing that could float downriver and make comically distressed sounds when pulled out of water.

Recent technologies have changed the way we do things so much and so often that sometimes we scarcely think about it.

Take the new feature on Amazon where you can search inside the book. With that simple software feature, whole careers ended.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Last summer, I walked across the state of Michigan from West to East, averaging about 24 miles a day. Over the next few days I might find excerpts from my writing over this period of time, and post some. Certainly a couple today anyway.

-It is a fool’s journey.
-It is too many steps.
-On my Michigan atlas, it covers 9 pages, so roughly a page a day.
-The distance can be seen from the moon.

I wonder how many people could not stand to spend a day walking, even if they had the strength. How many people can’t stand to be alone with themselves, without the noise of daily schedules, television, radios and people. If we don’t take moments like these, however short or long, to step out of the context of our lives, then everything is just distraction...

Time goes by very slowly when you’re walking great distances...A lot of the time, nothing is going through your mind. You just become like a sensor, taking it all in, looking and watching. Stray thoughts come to mind, snatches of tunes, stray phrases—but other times you just keep walking, and become part of the rhythm of the step-by-step, the setting sun, and the slowly moving landscape.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Why is it that when you eat one Pringle by itself, it works, but if you eat two stacked together, fragments of Pringles fall everywhere?

I received some suggestions on the movie that I couldn't place--and they all were interesting in relation to what was given. But I think I finally figured out which one I had in mind: The War.

It's actually pretty enjoyable, and might make my list of good movies about childhood. Others that come immediately to mind would include: Little Man Tate, Searching for Bobby Fischer, A Perfect World, The 400 Blows (titters from the audience), and Billy Elliot.

Although I am not a professor, I taught a report writing seminar to college engineering students recently, and just finished the grading.

One student said in his report that only partial data would be given in the appendices for environmental reasons. Or in other words: I have all the answers but am not going to give them to you.

For one lab, most of the papers were titled along the lines of "Temperature Measurement Laboratory," but there were a couple of interest. One student in very large font on the cover had simply: "Rise Time." Another used the title: "Time Constants and Heat Loss: An Insidious Relationship." I've known a few insidious relationships, and never really considered this to be one of them, but it is one way of looking at it.

Is it terrible that I'm grading student papers and then commenting about them online? I justify it because I'm not laughing at them. I'll take the giant title "Rise Time" over a 27-word technical title any day.

What I'd really love to do is make random and incoherent marks on a student paper. Like underlining a whole sentence and writing: "Represent this with a number." Or putting an arrow next to a paragraph with "very funny." Or maybe, "This has been disproven." Another -- "I had a dream about this yesterday." Or even the general comment: "Use more exclamation points."

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I am picturing a movie scene where people are fighting, maybe in slow motion, and there's no sound of the conflict anymore, just sad, lyrical music. The effect of the scene is to underscore how out of hand things have gotten.

And I can't think of the movie. If you know it, let me know. That way I can get the suspicion that no one is actually reading this.

Small Observations

The back of her fingers, brushing my cheek as she cuts my hair.

The warm kiss of rich Chardonnay, joy spreading from the center outwards.

Unexpected shades in the landscape and horizon--periwinkle, copper, Prussian blue.

White cyclamens unfolding like delicate paper.

The tiny speck of light in that painting, in the girl’s eyes.

The arc of a tree branch against a field of snow.

The key modulation in that piece, turning a corner.

The warm, charged wind preceding a summer storm.

Your gentle smile, forgiving, no longer hopeful.

The percussive flutter of wings, a startled bird.

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