Monday, July 31, 2006

Pitchfork (Part I)

I love watching cities wake up, especially on a Sunday morning when no one is obligated to start the day buzzing and on an immediate caffeine high. We're in Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival and this morning, breakfast was at Cafe Penelope on S. Ashland, halfway between our hotel and Union Park where the festival's at. It was still early (the festival doesn't start till 1pm), so it was just nice sitting in there watching Chicago slowly stir into wakefulness- only one car whizzing by in that first 20 minutes, a couple of people walking to church, a street bum just waking up, looking around, and then going back to sleep again... Breakfast was really nice too- I had one of the most inventive renditions of Eggs Benedict in a while- Crabcakes Benedict. Less rich than what you'd expect from an egg-centric dish (instead of hollandaise sauce, it was a red pepper ranchero sauce), but just as luscious and substantial. We're not going to need lunch at the festival later for sure...

Speaking of the festival, we got the two-day tickets so we had been there for a while yesterday already. We managed to catch The Futureheads and Silver Jews (Jude wasn't too hot about the latter though, but The Futureheads were a blast!), and DJ A-Trak spinning in the dance tent. I'm not usually into dance music, but I have to say, I really enjoyed what he was doing with those turntables. And the crowd was all grooving and moving to the tracks which added to the intoxicating rush of the whole thing I suppose... Jude and I are really awed by the sheer number of people at the festival to begin with- it's how I've always imagine Woodstock to be like (except without the tie-dye shirts, Jerry Garcia/ John Lennon glasses, and pot - ok, I'm sure there was probably pot somewhere, but not that I noticed...)- people just lounging everywhere, lying on the grass, on picnic blankets, deck chairs, drinking beer, slurping ice-cream [photos to come in a bit]... Just imagine, everyone at the festival reads the website- now that's what I call the power of the internet! People who say online magazines will never work need to get themselves down here man... And $30 for a two-day pass with 40 acts playing, that's 75-cents a pop people! Now, that's what I call a deal!

And best of all, the Flatstock Poster Convention is onsite at the festival too. It's the music poster art and design convention that showcases all these amazing poster artists and their work. Jude & I thought we had died and gone to poster art heaven... We literally had to open up our wallets to contemplate seriously how much cash we could set aside for posters. We're in the process of filling up one of our walls edge-to-edge with all the posters we've accumulated over the years, so we're always on the look-out for interesting prints in different sizes. We bought one already and trust me when I say I don't think we'll be coming back empty-handed today either...

We're going to be out of the door soon for festival part two. Jens Lekman, The National and Yo La Tengo are playing and as long as the rain holds and the humdity and heat doesn't kill us first, I think it's going to be yet another great day :)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I am an expert on everything.


Inspired by my fave faux talkshow host, Stephen Colbert's brilliant column in Wired Magazine this month, which is entitled ... you guessed it - "Be an Expert on Anything.", I followed his principles only to find out that I too am an expert on anything and everything. Listed below are my reflections on my expertise at everything according to Colbert's maxims:

1) Pick a field that can't be verified

Let's see, my mom still doesn't understand the field of my graduate work. Telling people that I come from the School of Information doesn't help. Wise guys will ask when I will graduate to the College of Knowledge. Also, Human-Computer Interaction is its own kind of obtuse ... So I think I fulfill principle No. 1.

2) Choose a subject that's actually secret.

Hmmm, well, I've been sworn to secrecy before. Does that count? Ummm ... I am also very discrete :) Besides, the fact that so few people understand what HCI is, it may as well be a secret.

3) Get your own entry in an encyclopedia.

I am editing my own entry on Wikipedia as we speak. Let's see how long it stays there.

4) Use the word
zeitgeist as often as possible.
I don't like zeitgeist. I prefer gemeinshaft and gesellschaft. Beat that. Actually, I don't even need to resort to a foriegn language, all I need to do is just say, "Group knowledge formation" - people's eyes start to glaze over (or roll exasperatedly if you happen to be Serene...)

5) Be sure to use as many accronyms and abbrevaitions as possible.

HCI, SI, CSCW, CSCL, MIMO, AWOL, SBJL, POW, MOCHI, etc.

6) Speak from the balls not from the diaphram.

First thing I learnt in theater school. We walked funny for days after the first lesson.

7) Don't be afraid to make things up.

Ask Allison about this. She can vouch for my skill in making things up.

8) Don't limit yourself to current knowledge.
Never. I count Kabala and Feng Shui as legitimate fields to cite from.

9) Get an honorary PhD.

If I don't get a job after I graduate it may as well be honorary.

10) Make a habit of name dropping.
Do this all the time. On paper and in speech.

11) Be famous.

I am working on this one. If I can't be famous, I'll start looking into being infamous.

(On a more sinister note, the satirical nature of Colbert's article and its reflection on how rhetoric is being employed in our society, is not lost on me).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A good "pear"

Ok, so I've decided to be the good wife and use a blog template that my husband isn't embarassed to associate with as well. Not that he's been complaining- I just figured electric blue & pink paisleys scream more the Serene half of judeandserene.blogspot.com than the Jude half.


Now, we can both be comfortable calling it our blog... Besides, I do like the pear motif- I initially thought the title of the template- "We make a good pear."- was kinda cheesy, but it grew on me; and now, I think it's actually kinda sweet, especially with the daisy** :)

Also, I just got the new JCrew catalogue in the mail and they were featuring their Fall collection. So I figured oh well, this is the Midwest, I may as well start transitioning, hence the fruits and muted colors. Nothing much has changed so no one go into an apoplectic fit, please... We'd love comments, of course- as Jude always says, "We aim to please!" :)
** I love daisies... They're so friendly. Don't you think daisies are the friendliest flower?
-Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail
[Just for Jude and Chrispy's benefit... ;)]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Creature comforts and the war on terror

Like Serene, I always knew there was more to Nick Park and Aardman Animations than a bucktooth Englishman man, his tea-making canine, overgrown vegetables, and a larcenous penguin.

This is priceless!...

The Internet is not a big truck

If you had told me 6 years ago that I would find anything techie even remotely funny or interesting, I would have told you that you'd lost your mind. If you had told me that I would count a comedy talkshow host as one of my favorite journalists (yes, as in people who actually do open and honest reporting as opposed to spin and whir information for easy consumption), I would say, go fly a kite. But now, being married to a self-confessed tech-geek (who on the one hand, is out to save the world one social software at the a time, while on the other, in reponse to my fritzy iPod, told me to just "knock it on the table"...), words like feed, boot and syndicate no longer just mean to nourish, an article of footware or a euphemism for the Mob anymore.

Which is why when Jude sent me this video the other day- I had such a jolly good time watching it :) It helps of course that I really like Jon Stewart (like I said- good journalism man... btw, when I grow up, I want to be just like Christiane Amanpour), and the premise of this whole net neutrality debate is just so ludicrous, but yet so real that you can't help but laugh out loud (albeit a tad nervously though...). And I love how they play up the role of John Hodgman as the guy in the Mac vs. PC ads- especially when Jon Stewart goads him into resignedly saying, "Yes, I'm a PC.". Watch carefully, they can barely contain themselves! It's too precious... :)

Enjoy!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Coming attractions

I know some people are defiantly against watching movie trailers coz they don't want to spoil the fun of watching the actual thing when it opens (Emilee shuts her eyes and ears when they come on- it's funny...) But I absolutely love them. Which is why I never mind the many, many, many trailers they put you through before a movie begins. And so for those of you like me, here's a list of the movies I can't wait to see when they open in the Fall and Christmastime. For those of you not like me, just close your eyes...

1) The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to Requeim for a Dream and π. We saw this before Lady in the Water came on and I thought Jude was going to jump out of his seat from sheer anticipation.

2) American Hardcore
I think Jude and Eric will enjoy this, although I'm not sure if it'll open here in Ann Arbor. About some of the pioneer punk bands of the early-'80s without whom Nirvana and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers would have never gotten their sound.

3) Running with Scissors
Augusten Burroughs' autobiography on film. Looks a little like American Beauty (it even has Annette Bening who, with Joan Allen and Julianne Moore, has come to perfectly personify surburban neurosis and malaise ), but even quirkier and funnier I think.

4) Science of Sleep
Michel Gondry and Gael. Enough said.

5) Volver
Ok, I'm not too sure about this. I liked Bad Education and Talk to Her, but I'm really not a huge Penelope Cruz fan. We'll see...

6) Scoop
This looks hilariously deadpan. With Scarlet Johansson as a geeky journalist. Jude's convinced Woody Allen's got a crush on her ever since putting her in Match Point.

7) The Prestige
The new Christopher Nolan movie with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. I hope it's as mind-bendingly exquisite as Memento and Insomnia. And, Batman Begins was really good too.

8) Little Miss Sunshine
Fluffy I know, and technically more a summer movie than Fall, but who cares? It looks adorable and what can be more entertaining than a neurotic family road-trip to a kiddie beauty pageant??

9) Charlotte's Web
I know, I know, do we really need another film version of Charlotte's Web? And Dakota Fanning annoys the *&$# out of me. But it's got Julia Roberts as Charlotte's voice and Steve Buscemi too! And with John Cleese, c'mon...

Ok, and this next one doesn't open till next summer, but if you haven't seen the trailer, YOU HAVE TO! The high-def trailer is only 2 minutes long I think but takes almost 5 minutes to download. But so worth it... When it was over, Jude and I thought our heart had stopped beating. I can't wait...
10) Spiderman 3

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Art Fair isn't fair...

I actually enjoy summer in Ann Arbor- it's usually mild (though not for the past week or so), there are few undergrads around to jostle with for parking space, retail attention and coffee, we can bike instead of drive, and if you discount the heat, the place is really quite pretty. But for 4 days in the summer, the heart of Ann Arbor is close to unbearable. Not entirely, but close. Yes people, the insanity of the Art Fair has descended upon us. Oh, the horror...

First of all, tell me this, how do the following items qualify as art?
1) Pyjamas (Liberty St.)
2) Shampoo (South U.)
3) Pressure cooker (???!!!) (Liberty St.)
4) Socks (Maynard St.)
5) Camping equipment (State St.) (although the fact that Bivouac offers anything at more than 30% discount is a miracle I will never complain about...)

Secondly, is it really humanly justifiable to charge $5 for a funnel cake or elephant ear (and this is regardless of whether or not you choose any topping...)- I've never had them before and have been dying to have either one of those ever since I saw my first ones at the Art Fair two years ago. But I shudder at the thought of spending that kind of money on something that not only requires very little skill to make, but is also at the end of the day nothing more than deep fried flour, eggs and sugar. And despite annual vows to never do so, what do we do again this year? Have a meal at the Art Fair. What do I get for $10? A sad attempt at what was advertised as Greek seafood pilaf served to me precariously on a plastic plate by a woman with a Southern accent. She called me "honey". How sweet, and authentically Mediterranean... And at 10 bucks- I should have just gotten myself 8 cups of Grande coffe from Starbucks and be almost half my way towards a caffeine-induced suicide. That would have been less painful that trying to ingest that wannabe seafood pilaf...

Ok, so I'm complaining too much... I concede that there were noteworthy items at the Art Fair (and I don't mean the $1 and $5 bins at Urban Outfitters). Some of the ceramic tiles were really pretty, a couple of mural artists had gorgeous stuff on sale, and there were some pieces of handmade jewellery that I would have gotten had they not cost more that everything I was wearing that day put together. Oooh, and a floppy woven boatsman hat that I really wanted but figured I'd look silly in. We did buy stuff though- two corn dogs and a Snickers Swirl frozen custard to be exact. See, who said the Art Fair wasn't affordable?? And Jude got himself a hat for $5.99 from Sam's that he's been wearing IN the house for the past two days. Don't ask... go figure. If you ask me, he looks like Gilligan. In fact, he's wearing it now, and it's 1am on a Saturday morning...

[I have to say that I really like the official poster this year though. It's so incredibly sweet and whimsical. We bought last year's poster and I think we might go back tomorrow and get this too.]

Friday, July 21, 2006

Death by caffeine

[click for calculator]

So, according to this caffeine calculator, it will take either 212.33 cans of Diet Coke, OR 398.13 bottles of Snapple Diet Green Tea, OR 95.55 shots of espresso, OR 19.11 Starbucks Grande coffee (which isn't many really...) IN ONE SITTING to kill me.

There could be worse ways to go I suppose... :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A letter

Dear governments of the Middle East,
I cannot confess to know enough about what goes on in your region to pass judgement on who is right or wrong. I am sorry that things get complicated when maplines do not always correspond neatly with nation-lines. I admit that I find it hard to fully comprehend the tragedy of a conflict where history, culture, race and ethnicity collide in such a complicated and cataclysmic fashion. And I cannot even begin to fathom the kind of trauma and anguish that must plague both sides of the conflict.

And so if you believe that blowing each other up is the only way to solve the problem, I can say nothing. If you are convinced that your region can achieve peace only by first imploding from this scorching devastation and destruction, I cannot judge.

But leave the children out of it.

What sick mind would want to sear in their children's psyches memories of "signing" missiles before launching them across enemy lines? Why make them write messages on weapons like they were presents to be delivered to their closest friends? When adults willingly and consciously dedicate their lives to a cause they believe in, I applaud them for their courage. But when children are made to commit themselves to a position they know little about except what you have told them- whatever that may be-, that is cowardice because you dare not tell them the truth in order to let them choose, lest they choose the wrong side.



[AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner]

Can you not let our generation be the last to know the kind of unrest and destruction your region has known for the last 50 years? Leave your children a legacy of understanding, hope and reconciliation. They deserve homelands they can embrace with peace of heart and mind, not ones they have to vengefully and angrily protect at someone else's expense.

News link

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sometimes you think that the events are unfolding like an absurdist play

Just when you think that you've heard it all. This has to rank up there with the position created at the school I used to teach in. The position was S.H.I.T (Subject Head I. T.). Who in their right minds would want that shitty position :) But I digress.

Found in Digg today is the following transcript:

"Mr. Speaker, yesterday the President said we continue to be wise about how we spend the people's money.

"Then why are we paying over $100,000 for a 'White House Director of Lessons Learned'?

"Maybe I can save the taxpayers $100,000 by running through a few of the lessons this White House should have learned by now.

"Lesson 1: When the Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of State say you are going to war without enough troops, you're going to war without enough troops.

"Lesson 2: When 8.8 billion dollars of reconstruction funding disappears from Iraq, and 2 billion dollars disappears from Katrina relief, it's time to demand a little accountability.

"Lesson 3: When you've 'turned the corner' in Iraq more times than Danica Patrick at the Indy 500, it means you are going in circles.

"Lesson 4: When the national weather service tells you a category 5 hurricane is heading for New Orleans, a category 5 hurricane is heading to New Orleans.

"I would also ask the President why we're paying for two 'Ethics Advisors' and a 'Director of Fact Checking.'

"They must be the only people in Washington who get more vacation time than the President.

"Maybe the White House could consolidate these positions into a Director of Irony."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ypsi Shadow Art Fair finds

We've been looking forward to attending the Shadow Art Fair @ Ypsi for a while now, more so than the Ann Arbor one next week. We had tons of fun at the event and here are some of the highlights:
- We got to have lunch at Haab's on Mich. Ave. in Ypsi. The place is definitely a throwback to an earlier time and the fried chicken's really all that it's cracked up to be!
- It was our first time at The Corner Brewery in Ypsi and it was the venue for the Shadow Art Fair. It was kind of crowded because of the event, but we'd definitely come back to investigate the place some more :)
- I got to meet Mark Maynard, head guru of the art fair and of the zine Crimewave USA!!!
- We also managed to catch up with Diana, Chrispy, Aiko, Jonathan and Rachel over beer.
- And we found a copy of Bantam Rooster's Watch Me Burn 7-inch! I had to get it, being the groupie that I am :) Just know this Eric, this is the first piece of vinyl I've bought in 5 years! Now I have to get that turntable dammit!!! ;)

[Front cover]

[Back cover]

Some regrets from the Shadow Art Fair:
- not getting the "Iggy was from Ypsilanti" T-shirt :)
- not being able to afford any of the silk-screened posters that were on display.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Science of Sleep

I thought I was going to lose my breath... Michel Gondry has a new movie, and it's coming out in August! It's been more than two years since Eternal Sunshine, and I'm so ready for another fantastical whirlwind of intoxicating proportions. And as if a new movie isn't good enough news, Gael García Bernal is playing the lead- oh, be still my beating heart...

[click to enter the crazy adorable website, but it's in French though]

I've watched the trailer four times and each time I'm grinning silly from ear to ear because I notice something new I missed from the last time. It's pure Michel Gondry- enchanting, whimsically bizarre, and yet at its core, so real and blisteringly human. All this from a trailer- you know I've got it bad...

Joel: I can't remember anything without you.
Clementine: That's sweet, but try.
- Jim Carrey & Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Sing that iTune!

Ok, so this is going to be a little convoluted, so bear with me: I was looking for a new screen saver for the Mac I inherited from Jude and came across an option that displays all the artwork of the albums in my iTunes. Cool... Then I realize that it will only show the artwork of songs which I've bought from iTunes and not others I either ripped from my CDs or downloaded from elsewhere. Which means basically, my screen saver isn't going to show very many different album covers... (because who REALLY buys anything from iTunes right?)

So I do what any sane person does when confronted with a potentially life-threatening crisis- I go online. I find this widget for the Mac dashboard- Sing That iTune- that not only finds and downloads the album artwork into your iTunes, it retrives the lyrics for the song you're currently playing and displays it on your dashboard. Amazing! Ok, it's a very precise program which means that you need to spend time going through your iTunes and making sure that all your songs and albums are labelled correctly (it won't be able to find the lyrics or artwork if it doesn't match how the iTunes Store has categorized it). And it doesn't seem to work with soundtracks. The only sountrack it managed to retrieve artwork for was the Six Feet Under one which I bought from iTunes.

Now, once you have all the artwork for all the albums in your library (this took me almost two hours- so you can imagine how little work I got done last night...), you will not only have a smashingly awesome screen saver (which is making me even less productive since I end up NOT wanting to type just so I can watch the screen saver come on...), you also discover some of the gorgeous album covers of the music you have that you otherwise would have not known about. I think that's one of the saddest drawbacks of digital music- since it's only about the tracks, fewer and fewer people get to appreciate the thought and creativity that goes into packaging the album. Jude's friends, The Observatory, is a great case in point. Their album came in a booklet which looks handmade, complete with hand-torn pages and strategically placed paper-clips. It was literally a labor of love. Granted it was a special edition packaging, but still, the amount of work that went into it was phenomenal.

So anyway, here are some of my favorite album covers that now grace my screen saver. Some I've loved for a long time, others I only discovered with my new little snazzy program.

Modest Mouse (Good News For People Who Love Bad News)
I'm not sure if you can see, but the walls are bleeding a milkshake-pink from the arrows. Reason enough for me...

The Shins (Chutes Too Narrow)
I love this one because it reminds me of one of our favorite digital artists, J. Otto Seibold. He and his wife wrote a whole series of really whimiscal and heartwarming graphic books that we used to collect.

Belle & Sebastian (Tigermilk)
There's just something very elemental about this cover that fascinates me. Maybe it's a maternal thing.

Mazzy Star (So Tonight That I Might See)
This is one of those that I just came across. I like it coz of its texturedness. And the whole thing looks kind of ethereal... like her voice.

Neil Finn (Try Whistling This)
Come on, doesn't this album cover just make you want to smile? :)

Six Feet Under (Original Soundtrack)
Nothing beats a well-composed, well-captured photo. And gotta love that car, ok, hearse...

Ian Love (Ian Love)
I like the almost child-like and kinda vintage quality of the art here. And the slightly kooky way that the girl and the tigers are placed on the globe. And you can just barely make out a travelling bag in the corner. Oh, and those look like bowling shoes...

Iron and Wine & Calexico (In The Reins)
Love the boldness of the colors, and the semi-fantastical quality of the picture. Reminds me of Chagall.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What do I do with him?...

When I opened this email just moments ago, I didn't know whether to get livid at him for being so obnoxious or to laugh out loud at how endearing his disdain is for one of my all-time favorite movies. This is what my dear husband sent me [verbatim quote]:

You've been grammatically wrong :)

[From BoingBoing]

"You've got mail" should be "you have mail." The "have" contracted in phrases like this is merely an auxiliary verb indicating the present perfect tense, not an expression of possession. It is not a redundancy. Compare: "You've sent the mail."

Smarty-pants...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hallelujah

Maybe it was the cloudy weather, or the time of the day, or the fact that I was the only one in my research office today, but something definitely put me in a meditative mood. And so when I listened to Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah this morning, even though I've heard it countless times before, today was oddly different-- the lyrics resonated a little more, the guitar more haunting, and that voice infinitely more moving than ever.

Hallelujah was originally written by Leonard Cohen (whose biography, I'm Your Man has stubbornly not opened here yet...), and little known fact: his original draft had fifteen verses in total. I have five versions of the song-- all different, all wonderful. There's the classic Jeff Buckley one which I love (this will always be THE definitive Hallelujah for me, apologies to Leonard Cohen), a fascinating rock-inspired one by Bob Dylan, a melodically spare version by Bono (which might have presaged his brief foray into the techno/ electronic sound of Pop), a lovely (though short) cover by Damien Rice, and Rufus Wainwright's lush (but a little hurried) piano-centered version.

The song is complex to say the least, Leonard Cohen's song-writing at its metaphorical best. Tons of allusions to the Bible, of course-- David playing the harp, him watching Bathsheba bathe on the roof, and Samson & Delilah; but there's also a yearning throughout the song that transcends religion, a pining for fulfillment of any kind-- spiritual, romantic, existential. And the magical thing is, depending on how someone brings together any combination of those fifteen verses or how they reinterpret its core structure, it becomes a whole new song that will resonate in profoundly different ways.

So it's been playing in my head all day and I actually managed to find a video of Jeff Buckley performing it live in France in 1995 at a concert he considered the finest of his career. The grainy resolution of the video lends an eerie aura to the whole thing, making the longing in his voice even more poignant, and somehow, sad. Makes me wish I played the guitar or had my piano with me...

You say I took the name in vain I don't even know the name But if I did, well really, what's it to you? There's a blaze of light In every word It doesn't matter which you heard The holy or the broken Hallelujah -Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Of "real" photos & letters


"Real photos"
Originally uploaded by jyew.
I signed up for Shutterfly last week for no other reason than the fact that they enticed me with 15 free photos prints. I chose some pictures of when my family was here in the Fall, some of Christmas at home last year, and these to remember our friends here in A2. There are some from the SI graduation, the post-graduation parties, and the smashing SIGN picnic in 2004.

Is it silly that I actually got really excited at the prospect of getting these "real" photos in the mail? Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate digital technology, the ability to photoshop, and of course Flickr in all its social-networking glory, but at the end of the day, there's just something kind of elemental about holding the real thing in your hand. And then being able to put them in frames or an album or scrapbook.

It's like email- I don't think I could live without it now, and I love the fact that it allows me to keep in touch with friends and family from afar. But honestly, nothing makes me happier than receiving a handwritten card or letter in the mailbox. The comforting feel of something tangible in your hand, the thought and effort it took the person to put something down on paper, no matter how good or bad the penmanship. I stand guilty of course for not making an effort to write as many letters and postcards as I would like to (although I try to hand-write as many of my Christmas cards as I can every year...), and I sometimes wish I could sacrifice the time and convenience of email to sit down and pen a proper letter. Unlike an email that you can type, correct and rewrite what you don't like, there's an art to letter-writing that I think is fast disappearing. It takes a level of patience and committment to apply yourself to composing a good letter that's somehow absent in emails. Or maybe that's just me...

"Oh, my Dear Friend, my heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there."
- Klara (Margaret Sullavan) in her letter to Alfred (Jimmy Stewart) in The Shop Around the Corner, the film on which You've Got Mail is based.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Viva Italia!

Italy wins the World Cup! I think we shall have pasta for dinner tonight...

Secret Italian Training Video




Pourquoi Zidane? Pourquoi?


Of pleasant morning surprises and apricot pies...

So I'm woken up this morning by the wonderful smell of fried eggs and the sounds of acoustic jazz drifting up from below. Ok Serene, I tell myself, you are either in some crazy dream where you've found yourself in an episode of Jamie Oliver's cooking show, or Jude has decided to wake up early on a Sunday morning to make you breakfast. Thankfully, blessed as I am, it was indeed my husband bustling in the kitchen. I go downstairs to find the table all set, platesful of fried eggs with onions & mushrooms, toast & spreads, and coffee of course. He even brought in the papers and magically made the radio play gorgeously mellow Sunday morning breakfast jazz... There could not have been a better way to wake a girl up :)

And so, to return the lovely gesture, I decided to bake him a pie. We still had apricots in the fridge and I figured I should use them up before they turn bad. The recipe was simple enough and I had all the ingredients anyway so an apricot pie it was to be for a tea-time snack (since there was not way we were going to be able to eat lunch after that substantial breakfast...) I love the color of apricots- that vibrant golden hue with a slight blush. They're more delicate than peaches although they have a similar texture. I just like the way they look and feel- small, sweet and pretty.

FRESH APRICOT PIE
Ingredients:
* 1 cup sugar
* 3 tablespoons flour
* 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon
* pastry for double crust 9-inch pie
* 3 cups fresh apricot halves
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces

Preparation:
Line a 9-inch pie pan with half of the pie crust. Combine sugar, flour, and nutmeg. Fill pie crust with apricot halves and sprinkle with sugar mixture. Sprinkle lemon juice over all then dot with the butter. Cover with top crust, trim and flute edges and make several small slits in top to vent. Brush with beaten egg or milk. Bake at 425° for 30 to 40 minutes.


The pie came out pretty well- flaky crust (thank you Pillsbury!) and oozey, chunky filling. Baking really intensified the sweetness and heady fragrance of the apricots but I didn't add enough sugar (either that or too much lemon juice) so we'll probably have to drizzle honey over when we run out of ice-cream. The cinnamon also lent a warm spice that just brought everything together. We had the pie ala mode, plonked on our couch, enjoying the mild summer breeze and the opening minutes of the World Cup final.

A perfect Sunday... :)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Harry and the Potters are sticking it to the MAN!!!

intertextuality (n.):

Intertextuality is a relationship between two or more texts that quote from one another, allude to one another, or otherwise connect. In the work of Roland Barthes, intertextuality is the concept that the meaning of an artistic work does not reside in that work, but in the viewers. In the work of Julia Kristeva (who coined the term in 1966), intertextuality suggests the interdependence of texts, the continual deferment of meaning through and between texts.
(from Wikipedia)

I am sure J. K. Rowling has no idea the number of young minds that she's touched or, more accurately - the subculture that she's spawned. Yesterday, Serene and I decided to attend the Harry and the Potters all-ages gig at the Blind Pig. While standing in line to get into the venue, we managed to catch a glimpse of 1) a significant proportion of the Huron, Pioneer & Community high school population, 2) the above mentioned subculture in all its Boarding School garbed glory (re: de rigeur argyle socks/ sweater and striped tie. There was even an individual who was passking out flyers for her podcast called, Snapecast - "All Snape, all the time." And she wasn't even a teenager!!!

The show, I have to admit, was the best 10 bucks that I've spent on a live act in a while. The boys were awesome on stage; they brought passion, energy and more importantly a relationship with their peers who were in the audience. The songs predictably revolved around the characters in Rowling's books. However, Harry and the Potters added a tangibility to them by writing songs that speak about teen angst, first dates and trying not to go out with Ron Weasley's sister. And the best thing about it was that most of the kids in the audience knew the lyrics to the songs!!! We were dumbfounded...

Thinking about the show, two things come to mind. Firstly, I remember being 16 and not being allowed to watch the acts that I liked because they performed in clubs and venues that had age restrictions. An all-ages show, like the one yesterday, are hard to come by and sorely needed. Secondly, what's up with copyright these days? I think that society (or more specifically corporations) are literally intepreting copyright to the extreme. Prosecuting teens for lip synching to unauthorized music on youtube is a case in point. Another is that of James Joyce's grandson getting engaged in copyright battles with academics who founded a career on Joyce's work. Yesterday's show highlighted the how wonderful it can be when young minds are engaged in works of art so much so that they are able to spin secondary lives and even music out of it. In the words of Harry yesterday, "Voldemort can't stop the rocking"!

[Serene's take:
It was absolutely fabulous!! An hour after the show, my cheekbones were still aching from smiling and cheering so much throughout the performance. The band played with Draco & the Malfoys- think Draco and his crew dropping out of Hogwarts, incarnated as the Gallagher brothers and living out of the Malfoys' mansion basement churning out Oasisesque music. And in case you think the music of Harry and the Potters is of the pensively literary variety as say The Decemberists, think again. We're talking more The Pixies meets The Cure meets Weezer school of alternative geek/punk rock. Wicked! Oh, but with bubbles at the end...

And on a narcissistic note, the people at The Blind Pig scrawled a huge "M" on my hand for "Minor" when I entered. I would like to thank Oil of Olay and the people at Neutrogena for helping me mask the fact that I'll actually be turning 30 in three months... ]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Lit Rock

We've posted here and here about wunderkind rockers Harry and the Potters; and we're finally going to watch them tonight at The Blind Pig. And who should they be playing with? This is such a scream- Draco and the Malfoys!

The gig's at 6.30pm in case the under-12 crowd needs to be tucked into bed by 9pm... :)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Civil War comic series speaks to Americans of the divisions


Cheng Tju (or CT Lim as he likes to be known) used to write with me for M3 magazine (while they were still around). We had some good times interviewing people and getting freebies while on the music journalism beat. Highlights of our stint together were interviewing Sonic Youth and Lori Carson. We had some good times together.

CT has since gone on to bigger and better things. Most prominently, he's finished a Masters degree exploring the history of woodcut political cartoon from Malaya and he's also started writing for prominent publications like the Straits Times and The Comics Journal. He's given me permission to re-publish what I think is a thought-provoking essay on how popular culture can be reflections of wider political and social occurrences.


COMIC SUPERHEROES' CIVIL WAR'

BY LIM CHENG TJU
For The Straits Times

AFTER more than 40 years, Spiderman has decided to unmask himself and reveal to the rest of the world that he is Peter Parker. What could be seen as a publicity stunt by Marvel Comics, publisher of the Spiderman comic books, for its annual summer crossover event (meaning you have to buy various series to get the whole story) is actually a clever usage of popular culture.

The revealing of Spiderman's secret identity is part of a larger storyline
called Civil War. In this, a fight gone wrong has led to the American public turning against the superheroes. The government quickly calls for the registration and unmasking of all heroes and vigilantes. Battle lines are drawn, with the heroes split into two opposing camps. On one side, you have those in favour of the enactment of the Superhuman Registration Act, seen as the way forward for heroes - led by Iron Man - to do what they have to do. The other side, led surprisingly by Captain America, is against government control of heroism. They start an underground resistance movement. You can guess which side Spiderman is on.

Granted that this is not a new concept in comic books as it has been
explored before in Kingdom Come and even the X-Men series and movies, Civil War's take on this 'brother-versus-brother' theme is timely. The only thing more exciting to comic fans than a slugfest between the good guys and the bad guys is a slugfest between the good guys and the good guys. For example, who is stronger - Superman or the Hulk?

Of course, the Civil War series is a throwback to the American Civil War of
the 19th century, which forged a new destiny for the United States. It is also a reference to the public divide created during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. But closer to our times, Civil War speaks to Americans of the divisions within their society over the actions of the US government both at home and abroad. A more explicit statement against America's interference in the Middle East is found in The Ultimates, where the tables are turned on the heroes after they cross the line to invade a rogue state, expanding beyond the jurisdiction of what constitutes 'homeland security'. Indeed, in The New Avengers, the bad guys are the government agency for national security. Popular culture has the ability to entertain and reflect public sentiment in the most interesting and accessible manner. Sadly, we see less of that in Singapore.

Last week, as the media was awash with news of Spiderman's unveiling, I
visited the Fiction@Love exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum. The show is said to explore the 'concerns related to the satire and fantasy of love' through the contemporary medium of 'Animamix Art' - that is, a combination of comics, graphic design, animation, manga and anime in art. But it didn't quite work. The tension between high-brow art and low-brow pop culture remained in the works displayed. Whatever the message was that the show attempted to convey, it is doubtful if the audience grasped it. Nothing was more telling than the interactive tour, which featured a reading of the exhibits using the texts of Neil Gaiman and Hermann Hesse. No one in the audience of about 20 had heard of either of these authors. This disjuncture between how popular culture is reinterpreted in the Singapore Art Museum and how a popular medium like comic books is used to reflect public sentiment in America provides much food for thought. Recent discussions on Singapore's culture and identity have not considered the role that can be played by contemporary pop culture of films and graphic images. As Spiderman has reminded us, pop culture can be expressions of not just who we are but of what we are thinking about.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

And the saga continues...

For those of you privy to our "kettle situation", the latest news is that our old electric kettle has finally joined the legions of burnt-out waffle-makers and blunt vegetable dicers in the big home appliances graveyard in the sky. In the middle of making coffee for Allison this morning, it sputtered its last breath and Jude & I were back to where we were two weeks ago, searching all over Ann Arbor for a replacement kettle.

This time, we had to be ruthless. We zoomed in on the household section at Kohl's, didn't find what we wanted, went straight to Target and bought the first one that caught our eye that didn't blow a hole in our pocket. No more of the "sitting on the fence-mr-and-mrs-nice-guy-drive-all-around-town-comparing-the-prices" routine.

I really wanted a Michael Graves one that looks similar to this coz it has a rooster as a whistle and so well designed, but we figured that the price premium for form over function was a luxury we can yet afford.


So ultimately, we settled on this pretty cranberry red kettle.
Even though it's not electric, we like the semi-retro look of it, and there's something kind of quaintly old-fashioned and comforting about literally putting a kettle on the stove. And unlike an electric kettle, it won't go kaputt on us (hopefully!). The next time anyone stops by for a cup of cofee or tea, we'll be ready for you!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Turning over a new fridge

So to restock our now empty freezer and to just get our weekly groceries, we set off to the store today knowing full well that we're going to spend more than our usual $40 or so on food. I've concluded that grocery shopping in summer is very different from any other time of the year. Even though we have more time to experiment in the kitchen, it's too hot to labor over the stove or eat anything too heavy, so you end up buying things which are easy to make and light on the system.

What we got today:
1) 2 peaches (we tend to hoard fruit so we've learnt to buy them in small quantities rather than see them turn bad. Besides, we still have some apricots we haven't finished- see what I mean by hoarding??)
2) 1lb tomatoes
3) loaf of bread
4) pack of hotdog buns
5) pack of beef franks (easiest things to make for lunch)
6) jar of Nutella (we go through these like 5-year olds...)
7) 5lb pack of boneless, skinless chicken breast that was on sale at $1.99/lb (I never turn down chicken breast on sale since the thing's so darn expensive here compared to other cuts of the bird...)
8) a pack of cubed beef
9) 2 packs of butterflied pork loins
10) 2 tins of anchovies
11) a tin of tuna packed in olive oil (infinitely better than those packed in brine)
12) a jar of spaghetti sauce
13) a can of diced tomatoes
14) a carton of milk
15) 2 large bags of frozen veggies (I still have peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and lettuce that thankfully didn't go bad)
16) a pack of rice noodles for pho
17) a carton of orange juice
18) a bag of breaded chicken breast tenders
19) a small Eli's cheesecake (Allison's visiting from Kentucky so we thought to give ourselves a treat)
20) a tub of Stroh's French Vanilla ice-cream (what's summer without ice-cream?)

And we were right- after redeeming the coupons we got for recycling our bottles, we spent almost double of what we are used to paying every week. I think we've come to a decision about our shopping and consuming habits after the fiasco with the freezer- from now on, we're only going to buy food after we've used up all we have in the fridge. The reason why we had to throw out so much food was that we used to just keep buying and storing rather than make sure we had used everything up first. I thought about all the stuff that had gone bad and I think we had enough in there to feed us for two weeks! That's it, our fridge is going zen from now on man...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pulp - Bad Cover Version

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! For those of you who remember the 90s Brit band Pulp, I think this is a fitting "tribute video" :)



See if you can figure out the lookalikes- some are really eerie doppelgangers. For a full list of the fake personalities, check this link.

Back in A2

That’s it- I officially hate the NY subway system. How is a person supposed to know that certain lines don’t run on certain days? That some routes are re-routed and go somewhere else? My plans for brunch and a leisurely stroll through the street markets in West Village and Chelsea turned into more of an early lunch and brisk walk after spending almost 45 minutes underground boarding and re-boarding trains, crossing multiple platforms, and consulting and re-planning the route I had carefully mapped out last night… I was not happy.

But I suppose the inconvenience was forgiven as the rest of the afternoon unfolded. Brunch was lovely at The French Roast, a 24-hour French bistro on the corner of 11th St. and 6th Ave. Some website recommended it as one of the best places to have breakfast in the city, and it was nice indeed. I had the Croque Mousier coz it’s Jude’s favorite and it helped me to pretend that he was near. The sandwich was really good- wonderfully golden and fluffy Gruyere cheese and egg encased crusty bread and savory smoked ham. There was of course a nice mug of coffee that the bartender attentively topped up every time it got half-empty (yes, we who are eating alone must be acutely reminded of our alone-ness by being made to endure the profound anonymity of the bar…). There I sat for the next hour, reading The Namesake as I ate, listening to Nick Drake as his tunes wafted through the café. And what was the last song I heard before I left?- “Northern Sky”, and that made me smile :)

The street fair was interesting- some bits of it at least. For the most part, it was just stall after stall of people peddling overpriced costume jewelry, peasant blouses, sunglasses, on-site massage services and Latin street food. As a friend kindly warned, once you’ve seen one kebab stand, you’ve seen them all… What did intrigue me were the stalls selling textiles- from India, Mexico, Nepal, and Russia. I came really close to buying a tapestry/ rug thing, but it wasn’t cheap and the fact that it had been lying in the sun the whole day didn’t help its case.

So things ended well for the trip, made even more eventful by a strange twist of the airline cosmos that led to me being bumped up to first class without even knowing until I found my seat. Apparently the flight had been overbooked so they upgraded everyone in economy who’s a Northwest frequent flyer to first class. It wasn’t that big a deal on a domestic flight really - apart from the extra leg-room and seat space, they just serve you your drink in a glass instead of plastic, and generously offer you seconds of the nuts and pretzels I never take anyway…

Anyways, in summary, it’s been a trip defined less by the things I ate (*gasp* how shocking!), visited or saw, but more by feelings associated with specific moments- the dismay at not being able to shop at fresh markets like the ones I saw all over Chinatown; the claustrophobic disorientation of standing in the middle of Times Square; the giggly puzzlement as I stood in the drizzle outside Columbia’s Law School (a rather unimpressive building I must say…) trying to figure out if the statue is indeed of a man wrestling Pegasus; the blissful gratitude for tickets to Shakespeare at the Park, the subsequent perplexity at why they fashioned Jennifer Ehle to look more like a Blanche Dubois than a Lady Macbeth; the delight of watching the video of Andrea Bocelli and Elmo singing “Time to Say Goodnight”, the heartbreak of listening to Joan Didion talking about her husband’s death just moments after reading about another husband’s death in The Namesake; the anxiety and fleeting fear as I tried to make my way out of Central Park in the rain and dusk, and the persistent wistfulness of sitting on the hotel room bed every night wishing I were home.

So yes, I come back to the news that while we were both gone, the freezer door had been ajar, that everything in it save my treasured Italian espresso coffee, a pack of pandan leaves and the half bottle of Absolut Blackcurrant had gone bad, and we’ll probably have to spend most of tomorrow at the store replacing the food; but you know what? I’m still glad I’m home… :)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

"...where is the schoolgirl who used to be me?"

The title is a quote from Joan Didion's 1967 essay, "Goodbye to All That" about her moving from California to New York, and back again after 8 years here. Apart from having gone to her reading- the circumstances surrounding which I will unload upon you in a bit- the quote also speaks to how I've been feeling working at Sesame Street these last 2 days. I lost count of how many of the clips I watched that were the very same ones I saw when I was still in primary school, when Sesame Street only came on at 1pm on Saturday afternoons because we didn't have early morning cartoons then yet. So many of the newer ones continue to capture my wonder, making me smile whimsically at how clever they are for the sake of parents who are watching with their kids, but also sweet and lovable in ways that have endeared Sesame Street to countless of children for generations. There was Patrick Stewart as Hamlet doing the "To B(e) or not to B(e)" soliloquy in order to teach children about the letter "B", R.E.M. singing "Furry Happy Monsters" in the clip on emotions (Michael Stipe's just having a whale of a time!!), and a mock school pageant with the entire muppet cast of Sesame Street depicting the changing of the seasons that made me clap out loud at the end from sheer delight. I want to believe that the schoolgirl who used to be me is still firmly anchored in there somewhere, that I'll never get too jaded by grown-up shenanigans to appreciate the simple, happy things in life, that I will never become too cynical to sing along with Ernie everytime he sings about his rubber duckie, and that in 20 years, I'll be just as enthralled by the talking typewriter as I was when I was seven.
If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.
-Tom Stoppard

Ok, so about the Joan Didion reading: the reading itself was wonderful- frightfully sad though. I don't think it was as hard for her to read from "The Year of Magical Thinking" as it was for the audience to hear it, the grief so stridently stark that it hurt to listen to it expressed out loud. There was nothing overwrought or elaborate about the way she wrote and read about her husband's death- their earlier visit to their daughter at the ICU, the dinner she was preparing, the scotch he was drinking, the moment he stopped talking, the way her apartment was transformed into an emergency room, and the mental notes she was taking through it all- everything was described directly, plainly, austerely. And painfully.

People sat reverently silent throughout the reading, no one left even when it started to rain (I hid in futility under my waterproof map...). But I decided to leave after the reading, missing the interview portion of the evening coz I wanted to get out of the park before it turned dark and before the rain got any heavier. Knowing my luck, it was not to be of course; not only did the rain get heavier, there was lightning, I got lost twice (once from finding myself on the wrong side of the park, and the other from taking a wrong turn into a parking lot instead...), the sky was fast turning dark from the rain clouds, and as adequate as my map was in navigating me through the city, it made a lousy brolly. [Note to self: denim gets very heavy when wet, as my legs found out as they were encased in my increasingly drenched jeans.] I finally got myself out of the park onto Central Park West, walked 5 more blocks in the rain, reached my hotel room only to spend the next hour drying out my shoes and suede leather satchel... Nerve-wrecking, to say the least, but I survived :)

Will be off to a couple of street fairs tomorrow in the day before I go home. I missed them the last time we were here coz I was at the Met with Billie while Jude & Yong hung out in SoHo. I'm not expecting to buy anything, but it'll be fun to browse the markets instead of going into another store that looks like every other one anyway... I'll be glad to be home actually- after a very discombobulating foray through a very loud, very boisterous, very neon Times Square the other day, I'm looking forward to returning to the quiet green of Ann Arbor. I think I've been so spoiled by the open expanse of what we have there that the city has become just a tad suffocating. I just want to go back to where I can freely walk to the grocery store in my flannel PJs at two in the morning and no one would bat an eyelid coz they're in theirs too...