December 24, 2010

I need to find a women's magazine to obsess over, I think.

Bruschetta is not pronounced "brooshetta"

Next: October 2010 Esquire issue with the beautiful Javier Bardem on the cover. Disappointed by Chris Jones's cover story, not gonna lie. But love the new rules for men. They're so funny. The following two made me giggle:

Rule No. 911: Bruschetta is not pronounced "brooshetta."

Rule No. 912: Though if you pronounce it "broosketta," you will seem pretentious.

Because, having lived in Italy for a semester, I can no longer say "brooshetta." But I know every time I pronounce it correctly I sound like a douche. But not doing so makes me feel like such a traitor to the Italian language and my lovely host parents who treated me to bruschetta (with homemade olive oil!) many a night. Dilemmas!

The whole spread here (the only place I could find it).

Franco smiles his ungrudgingly adolescent smile, a grin as terminally satisfying as the last healthy squeeze on a tube of toothpaste.

Me and my friend Kathleen laughed to the point of tears and aching stomachs the other day from reading this list of the 25 funniest analogies.

As I read through Esquire's September 2010 issue, I noticed this line from Tom Chiarella's "The Itinerant Artist," a profile on James Franco:

"When asked what he's reading, Franco smiles his ungrudgingly adolescent smile, a grin as terminally satisfying as the last healthy squeeze on a tube of toothpaste." (p. 124).


December 20, 2010

The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

OK, so I'm breaking my own blog rule and I'll try not to do it again, but I don't have a specific passage to quote from this one. I just want to say, you have to read it. Wolfe combines all the political, social, financial, and racial issues that New York City faced in the 1980's into one compelling, entertaining plot.

December 06, 2010

I listened painfully for the concealed weapon in the voluminous folds of that laughter

Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe

"That afternoon he was punished most dreadfully at the beach and he laughed to his pink gums and I listened painfully for the slightest clink of the concealed weapon in the voluminous folds of that laughter." (p.37)
- I really liked the way "voluminous folds" sounded

"Going up to it now with the great shimmering expanse of the artificial lake waters stretching eastwards into the advancing darkness on your left and the brightly lit avenue taking you slowly skywards in gigantic circles round and up the hill, on top of which the Presidential Retreat perches like a lighthouse, was a movingly beautiful experience even to a mood as frayed and soured as mine that evening." (p. 67)

"'Nations,' he said, 'were fostered as much by structures as by laws and revolutions. These structures where they exist now are the pride of their nations. But everyone forgets that they were not erected by democratically-elected Prime Ministers but very frequently by rather unattractive, bloodthirsty medieval tyrants. The cathedrals of Europe, the Taj Mahal of India, the pyramids of Egypt and the stone towers of Zimbabwe were all raised on the backs of serfs, starving peasants and slaves. Our present rulers in Africa are in every sense late-flowering medieval monarchs, even the Marxists among them.'" (p.68).

December 05, 2010

All I have is intense curiosity.

Gay Talese, The Art of Nonfiction No. 2, interviewed by Katie Roiphe
the Paris Review, Summer 2009

"But the column gave me an excuse to talk to others. It was not unlike my mother talking with the wealthy women in her dress shop. Doing journalism made me feel that, even if I wasn't part of their group, I had a right to be there."

"All I have is intense curiosity. I have a great deal of interest in other people and, just as importantly, I have the patience to be around them."

"My first job was on the sports desk, but I didn't want to write about sporting events. I wanted to write about people. I wrote about a losing boxer, a horse trainer, and the guy in the boxing ring who rang the bell between rounds. I was interested in fiction. I wanted to write like Fitzgerald. I collected his work--his short stories and journals. "Winter Dreams" is my favorite story of all time. The good nonfiction writers were writing about famous people, or topical people, or public people. No one was writing about unknown people. I knew I did not want to be on the front page. On the front page you're stuck with the news. The news dominates you. I wanted to dominate the story."

"I never turned in anything more than two minutes before deadline. It was never easy, I felt I had only one chance. I was working for the paper of record, and I believed that what I was doing was going to be part of a permanent history."

"I take it very seriously. This is a craft. This is an art form. I'm writing stories, just like fiction writers, only I use real names."

"I was in touch with Floyd because when I finish a story, I don't finish a story. I keep in touch with the people I write about. I did that even as a young sports writer just starting out, twenty-five years old. I keep in touch because I always think that there might be more. The stories go on."

"I turned in the piece at roughly a hundred pages. They didn't change a word."
-in reference to "Frank Sinatra has a Cold"

"I try to tell the reader where my characters come from, and how they got to the point where I've found them. It never is just present tense. It's always also about past tense."

"The only thing I could think of was to start a college fund, which I set up for my own daughters at the same time. Honor Thy Father paid for college for all four of the Bonanno children and my daughters. I'm glad I did it because I have the evidence now that it was the right decision. The four Bonanno children are straight, and one of them is even an important doctor. None of them have had to do what their father chose to do."

"A case could be made that this is my main failing as a person. I am never there. Fully."

So inspiring. Everything he says is why I want to be a journalist.

November 25, 2010

And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America--then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.

"You can believe me that if I had time right now, I would not be one bit ashamed to go back into any New York City public school and start where I left off at the ninth grade, and go on through a degree. Because I don't begin to be academically equipped for so many of the interests I have. For instance, I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist. I don't know anything more frustrating than to be around people talking something you can't understand. Especially when they are people who look just like you. In Africa, I heard original mother tongues, such as Hausa, and Swahili, being spoken, and there I was standing like some little boy, waiting for someone to tell me what had been said; I never will forget how ignorant I felt.
Aside from the basic African dialects, I would try to learn Chinese, because it looks as if Chinese will be the most powerful political language of the future. And already I have begun studying Arabic, which I think is going to be the most powerful spiritual language of the future." (p. 387).

"I know that societies have often killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America--then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine." (p. 388).

50 years was such a short time ago. It's hard to believe that just 50, 60 years ago, race relations in America were so atrocious. I often wonder how Malcolm X or Martin Luther King would react to the fact that we have a black president, if they'd believe that it could happen so soon. Or how they'd react to the fact that black males are still the least likely to succeed in America. We've come so far but we still have a long ways to go...

If you want something, you had better make some noise.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley

I missed blogging. I missed reading. This semester has taken me by surprise, and I've been a little overwhelmed, to say the least. Can't wait to catch up on my reading during winter break.

I first read this book in my "Writing About Black Culture" class first semester freshman year. It's become one of my favorites. I had to read sections of it again this month for my "Anthropology of American Life in Film and Literature" course.

"I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things. My older brothers and sister had started to school when, sometimes, they would come in and ask for a buttered biscuit or something and my mother, impatiently, would tell them no. But I would cry out and make a fuss until I got what I wanted. I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn't be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise." (p. 8)

"As the sleeping Muslims woke up, when dawn had broken, they almost instantly became aware of me, and we watched each other while they went about their business. I began to see what an important role the rug played in the overall cultural life of the Muslims. Each individual had a small prayer rug, and each man and wife, or large group, had a larger communal rug. These Muslims prayed on their rugs there in the compartment. Then they spread a tablecloth over the rug and ate, so the rug became a dining room. Removing the dishes and cloth, they sat on the rug--a living room. Then they curl up and sleep on the rug--a bedroom. In that compartment, before I was to leave it, it dawned on me for the first time why the fence had paid such a high price for Oriental rugs when I had been a burglar in Boston. It was because so much intricate care was taken to weave fine rugs in countries where rugs were so culturally versatile. Later, in Mecca, I would see yet another use of the rug. When any kind of dispute arose, someone who was respected highly and who was not involved would sit on a rug with the disputers around him, which made the rug a courtroom. In other instances it was a classroom." (p. 334)

September 06, 2010

The 20s are like the stem cell of human development.

What Is It About 20-Somethings? by Robin Marantz Henig
The New York Times Magazine, August 18, 2010

"The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life."

"The more profound question behind the scholarly intrigue is the one that really captivaes parents: whether the prolongation of this unsettled time of life is a good thing or a bad thing. With life spans stretching into the ninth decade, is it better for young people to experiment in their 20s before making choices they'll have to live with for more than half a century? Or is adulthood now so malleable, with marriage and employment options constantly being reassessed, that young people would be better of just getting started on something, or else they'll never catch up, consigned to remain always a few steps behind the early bloomers? Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period of self-discovery, as Arnett says it is? Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?"
Rich and varied period of self-discovery.

"The 20s are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible. Decisions and actions during this time have lasting ramifications. The 20s are when most people accumulate almost all of their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years. This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with an abandon that probably will not happen again."

So relevant and appropriate. Henig is uncertain, and his/her? readers are uncertain that the choices people my age are making these days are the right ones--that delaying being an "adult" might have consequences. I'm not. I am so excited to be 20 years old and am so excited for the decade ahead of me. I don't know what's going to happen but I do know that I don't want to follow the traditional cycle.

August 29, 2010

You could trace the whole thing back to Jesus Christ, the ultimate secret agent

What's with All the Secrets and Lies? by Stephen Marche
Esquire, September 2010

"I suppose, if you wanted, you could trace the whole thing back to Jesus Christ, the ultimate secret agent, a poor carpenter who moonlights as the Son of God." (p. 102)

"The emergence of these types of stories is rooted in a newfound sophistication of American identity. We crave a new acceptance of doubleness, a recognition that secret lives are in a sense necessary. Part of this is a function of technology--our recreation is filled with Facebook profiles and gaming avatars--and we've come to expect that every person has, at the very least, a work self, a home self, a street self, and a digital self. Part of it, though, is also the fallout of recent history. Our ongoing wars and the Great Recession were the results of massive frauds, and after WMDs and 'Mission Accomplished' and the subprime fiasco and the Deepwater Horizon, we no longer take anyone or anything at face value. This is good news: We're less trustful but that much wiser, and our new cynicism has shaped how we think of ourselves and others. For the past fifty years, all culture, from the highest to the lowest, has been consumed with the distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic. The distinction means less every moment. There's no point in trying to find yourself anymore; you'll only find somebody else. 'Who am I?' has already been replaced with 'Who are I?' Soon it will be 'Who cares?' and we can all just get down to the business of living." (p. 104)

August 27, 2010

There is an excitement that spreads through the orchestra, felt in the control booth

"When his voice is on, as it was tonight, Sinatra is in ecstasy, the room becomes electric, there is an excitement that spreads through the orchestra and is felt in the control booth where a dozen men, Sinatra's friends, wave at him from behind the glass. One of the men is the Dodgers' pitcher, Don Drysdale ('Hey, Big D,' Sinatra calls out, 'hey, baby!'); another is the professional golfer Bo Wininger; there are also numbers of pretty women standing in the booth behind the engineers, women who smile at Sinatra and softly move their bodies to the mellow mood of his music. After he is finished, the record is played back on tape, and Nancy Sinatra, who has just walked in, joins her father near the front of the orchestra to hear the playback. They listen silently, all eyes on them, the king, the princess; and when the music ends there is applause from the control booth, Nancy smiles, and her father snaps his fingers and says, kicking a foot, 'Ooba-deeba-boobe-do!"

He also wore a remarkably convincing black hairpiece.

"In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Frank Sinatra survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few prewar products to withstand the test of time."

"The two blondes, who seemed to be in their middle thirties, were preened and polished, their matured bodies softly molded within tight dark suits. They sat, legs crossed, perched on the high bar stools. They listened to the music. Then one of them pulled out a Kent and Sinatra quickly placed his gold lighter under it and she held his hand, looked at his fingers: they were nubby and raw, and the pinkies protruded, being so stiff from arthritis that he could barely bend them. He was, as usual, immaculately dressed. He wore an oxford-grey suit with a vest, a suit conservatively cut on the outside but trimmed with flamboyant silk within; his shoes, British, seemed to be shined even on the bottom of the soles. He also wore, as everybody seemed to know, a remarkably convincing black hairpiece, one of sixty that he owns, most of them under the care of an inconspicuous little grey-haired lady who, holding his hair in a tiny satchel, follows him around whenever he performs. She earns $400 a week."

"They nodded, nobody mentioning the past hysteria in the Sinatra world when it seemed CBS was zeroing in on the man; they just nodded and two of them laughed Sinatra's apparently having gotten the word "bird" on the show--this being a favorite Sinatra word. He often inquires of his cronies, 'How's your bird?'; and when he nearly drowned in Hawaii, he later explained, 'Just got a little water on my bird'; and under a large photograph of him holding a whiskey bottle, a photo that hangs in the home of an actor friend named Dick Bakalyan, the inscription reads: 'Drink, Dickie! It's good for your bird.'"

"He also said that he'd been unable to get front-row seats for everybody, and so some of the men--including Leo Durocher, who had a date, and Joey Bishop, who was accompanied by his wife--would not be able to fit in Frank Sinatra's row but would have to take seats in the third row. When Entratter walked over to tell this to Joey Bishop, Bishop's face fell. He did not seem angry; he merely looked at Entratter with an empty silence, seeming somewhat stunned.
'Joey, I'm sorry,' Entratter said when the silence persisted, 'but we couldn't get more than six together in the front row.'
Bishop still said nothing. But when they all appeared at the fight, Joey Bishop was in the front row, his wife in the third."

"Nevertheless, despite a tired voice, some deep emotion seeped into his singing during this time."

"Frank Sinatra, holding a shot glass of bourbon in his left hand, walked through the crowd. He, unlike some of his friends, was perfectly pressed, his tuxedo tie precisely pointed, his shoes unsmudged. He never seems to lose his dignity, never lets his guard completely down no matter how much he has drunk, nor how long he has been up. He never sways when he walks, like Dean Martin, nor does he ever dance in the aisles or jump on tables, like Sammy Davis."

He seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness

Esquire, April 1966

"Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra's four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday."

August 20, 2010

I don't have to look at how much things cost on the menu when I'm ordering food anymore.

Esquire, June/July 2010

I was wondering where this issue went, though figured it had to be in the suitcase that I took to the Dominican Republic when I went in June. I spent a lot of my time there reading it. Never bothered to really look until I started packing to go back to Syracuse.

Anyway this was a great issue too. The 'How to be a man' issue. Irrelevant to me but still entertaining to read. "The Madness of Men," by Chris Jones is a great story. And the cover story, about Tom Cruise, who I'm pretty indifferent about, was refreshingly nice.

All I seemed to mark though were excerpts from "What I've Learned: Jon Favreau"

"I've always avoided physical confrontation. It was part of growing up in Queens--riding the subway to school every day. You definitely had the caribou mentality: Stick with the herd and avoid the predators."
Just because he's from Queens! Flushing, too!

"When it's my time to go, I hope I feel the same feeling I do when we wrap a movie: It was great. It was hard work. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But I'm glad it's over."

"My grandfather always said he didn't care when he got ripped off for money. He said he was most offended when somebody took his time. I didn't understand that at first. But I do now."
The former still offends me, lol

"I don't envy people who were born into privilege. It's that struggle that makes you who you are."
Because I've accepted that I wasn't born into privilege. Mostly because I know that I have the opportunity to change that.

"You have to create the quiet to be able to listen to the very faint voice of your intuition."

"The definition of friendship changes over time. When you're little, you play next to someone. As you get older, you get to engage, connect and reveal. Later on, it becomes who you collaborate with and achieve goals with. It becomes bringing out the best in each other. Whatever the version, it's all about overcoming loneliness."

"You tend to gravitate to the things you grew up with. So I like Carvel even though it might not be a gourmet ice cream. I just had it with someone from L.A. He said, "This is what you were craving?" Yeah. Because you grew up with it and you love it."

"You don't want Citizen Kane to be your first gig. It must be a terrible burden. When fate parcels it out to you incrementally, it might seem frustrating at the time, but it's a blessing."

"The illusion is that the more you put into yourself, the happier you are. When your life becomes about something bigger than you, ironically, that's when it becomes the most fulfilling."

"I don't have to look at how much things cost on the menu when I'm ordering food anymore. That was a big deal."
Because I CANNOT WAIT to reach this part in my life.

(p. 130)

I still don't even really know who he is, aside from the fact that he directed Iron Man 2. But I appreciated a lot of what he said, so.

August 14, 2010

He would have liked Iraq to become the fifty-first state

It's Impossible to Leave Iraq by Dimiter Kenarov
Esquire, August 2010

"In his forties, with silvery hair and a black mustache accentuated by a clean-shaven cleft chin, Sa'don resembles a man who could be either a war hero or a war criminal, depending. Although his rank is commissioner, he wears a U.S. Army sergeant major patch, and everybody addresses him as "Sergeant Major." He's short and fit, with the build of an anvil, a sharp contrast with other Iraqi cops, who are either too chubby or too gaunt for the job. He's obsessed with muay Thai boxing and all sorts of martial arts that involve breaking large stacks of bricks in front of large audiences. He can draw his gun in less than a second and hit a soda can sixty feet away, then clear the shell from the chamber and catch it midair. Before the American invasion, he worked as security detail for government VIPs.
'Do it again,' a voice yells from the sidelines. People are standing in a circle now, forming a small arena, like spectators at a street fight. The Americans have all taken out their fancy video cameras; the Iraqis shoot with their cell phones.
Beat up but still obedient, Anmar picks up the toy gun again and points it at Sa'don. In the next second he's lying down on the ground, his face contorted. Satisfied with his performance, Sa'don takes out a pack of Gitanes from the side pocket of his fatigues and lights up a cigarette.
Sa'don is good, a cop to the bone. What very few people know is that a few years ago U.S. troops shot dead his nine-year-old son while he was playing with a toy gun out in the street. Afterward they wanted to compensate him, but Sa'don refused. So many Iraqis had died in this war that he wasn't sure who to blame anymore. Plus, he really liked the Americans, despite the tragedy he had suffered. He thought of them as efficient and professional, not unlike himself. If he could choose, he would have liked Iraq to become the fifty-first state. 'Americans really know their stuff,' he says. 'If they were left alone, they could really build up this place.'" (p. 119-20)

"They come from all around Baghdad. Former cabdrivers. Former car mechanics. Former high school teachers. Former bakers. A few ex-soldiers. Every morning sixty of them show up at the main gate of Camp Liberty, ready for another day of training at the Criminal Justice Center, an American-run police academy tucked away in a shady grove of date palms and eucalpyti, stone paths and artificial canals. They are all Baghdad shurtas, hailing from the various police services: Patrol Police, local police, highway police. Some of them wear their blue police uniforms, but most come to training dressed casually--they don't want anybody out in the city to know they are cops. The sectarian militias disappeared a few years ago, but everyone knows they simply joined the Ministry of the Interior." (p. 120-1)

"He explains that in the Iraqi model, the police are seen by Iraqi politicians as a lever of power rather than a tool of public safety. It's a culture that breeds corruption from the top down. The Americans could train a hundred thousand more cops, a million before they leave for good, yet numbers would remain meaningless if national and local leaders continue to use the police as their personal armies to protect and consolidate power. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense are near enemies, defending different political interests and fighting over control of Iraq's internal security. The new prime minister--the way he shapes the government once the U.S. withdraws--will determine whether the police forces Currier leaves behind will succeed or fail." (p. 132)

2 months later

"Currier remains stoic. 'The capability of the police has not changed,' he says. 'They continue to improve, but it has been difficult for them operationally, because the longer the government goes without having been seated, the more difficult it is for them to respond to the proper political authorities.' His voice is less assertive than it was a few months before. He's talking with greater deliberation than usual. 'It's a slow road when you're trying to put a country together,' he continues. 'I think we have a lot to be encouraged about. But we're not overly optimistic. The Iraqis could fail...'
He pauses, as if visualizing the words, then snaps back. 'We set them up for success. We gave them the tools they need to succeed, and they're going in the right direction, but it's really time for us to leave. I hope and I believe that the Iraqis are going to make it.'
Another pause.
'But they might not,' he says. 'There's always that chance. But we'll always know that we did what we could for them.'" (p. 133)

I hope one day I have the courage to write this kind of story. A part of me really really wants to, the other part, the much bigger part, is terrified. Esquire notes that, 'Dimiter Kenarov traveled to Iraq on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a nonprofit organization that supports international journalism on underreported topics.' It's unbelievable to me that the war in Iraq, arguably the biggest problem our nation has faced in the past 7 (?) years is an underreported topic. Kenarov did an OUTSTANDING job with this story and I'm really glad that some media source thought it important to inform the public on what the hell is going on there as our troops prepare to head out. The last excerpt I posted makes me so angry. We are setting them up to fail. I understand that we want our troops to come home--and I'm sure that the fact that I don't have a loved one overseas makes it much easier for me to say, that, at the same time, if we're not even sure that they're going to succeed, then, what the fuck? If we're going to leave we should be damn sure that they're ready for us to. We just wasted 7 years, billions of dollars and thousands of lives. But we all knew that from the beginning, didn't we? We knew this would fail. When is war ever a good idea? I just think that no good will come of us leaving now. It was too late and now too soon. My generation will have to deal with the repercussions for years to come.

I just found this post written by Kenarov for's Politics blog: "Five Things Obama Won't Tell You About the End in Iraq."

In California, they've displaced the horned toad

Invasion by Tom Junod
Esquire, August 2010

"Wilson wrote The Superorganism under the spell of the leaf-cutter ant, which began growing and harvesting mushrooms twelve million years before humans did and so can make the claim to being among the first of the planet's civilizations to practice agriculture. The Argentine ant grows nothing but more Argentine ants and practices nothing but ubiquity. It is not a mound ant; it nests in topsoil or mulch or pine straw and moves around the country with potted plants and seedlings. It is a transient species--what entomologists call a tramp species--that takes advantage of human transience." (p. 111)

"They are both more hawkish on the subject than E.O. Wilson could ever be, and both do what he would never do, sharing their knowledge with private exterminators. "It'll take a lot more than boric acid," Rust says. "It won't control them, believe me. They're a fairly major pest problem. They displace other ants, other inspect species. In California, they've displaced the horned toad." (p. 112)

"My first thought was that I had been poisoned. Also that I had swallowed a live wire and had been electrocuted. Also that I might go into some kind of allergic shock and die. They hurt, you see. They were barbed things, and they were in my throat, and they felt like iron filings and they tasted like aspirin. Though some of them were already down the hatch, I ran to the bathroom and started spitting them out, while at the same time trying to determine how many I had swallowed. I spat into the sink, and the spittle was not just flecked brown, it was marbled red. I had ants in my mouth, and my tongue was bleeding." (p. 135)

Entertaining (and really informative) story about Tom Junod's experience living with 50 million Argentine ants.

August 10, 2010

This is new space.

Esquire, August 2010

This month, Esquire's theme is The Impossible. The issue features a series of articles that investigate and prove that what may have previously been considered impossible, is actually very possible--and happening. Some examples include leaving Iraq, living with 50 million ants and skydiving from space. I haven't yet read the articles about the first two, but the one about skydiving from space was really fascinating. I've always always loved the concept of space. When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronomer and spend my life studying the universe. And I've always dreamed of going, though never actually wanted to become the astronaut for the privilege. Now, among many other really cool things, "The Man Who Would Fall to Earth," informs that some organizations are now designing the necessary machinery and experimenting with the necessary science to create programs that will eventually take TOURISTS to space. In my lifetime!!

"The first thing they did, right there at Ellington Airport was separate Iain from Clark. A CACO drove away with Iain, and Clark learned later that they had gone on an outing to the Kemah Boardwalk. Another CACO took Clark home and helped guide him through the first steps of the grieving process. The CACO got him drunk. Very, very drunk. He stayed drunk for a solid day and a half." (p. 88)

"That same slogan is embroidered onto a predistressed baseball cap available for sale on Felix's Web site, but Felix himself is not wearing any sort of hat today. A hat might have messed up his hair, which early on this Thursday morning, in this hot drop zone, was spiked to perfection with gel. The gel was a problem. The gel could kill him. In the pure-oxygen environment that exists in a pressure suit, a petroleum-based product like hair gel becomes as volatile as napalm. Even the tiniest spark--the merest crackle of static electricity, say--could ignite it, setting his handsome head ablaze." (p. 91)

"He has sat down with Felix and patiently explained some of the things that could go wrong during this sort of jump, many of which he experienced himself. On that day in 1960, for example, the glove of his pressure suit experienced a small leak, and although a wrist seal prevented any other part of his body from taking a hit, his hand underwent partial ebullism, swelling quickly to at least double its size, the limits of the glove the only thing that prevented his hand from ballooning even further." (p. 91)

"To understand what happens next, it helps to first understand that we humans, in our normal earthbound lives, live at the bottom of an extremely deep ocean of air. The air at the bottom of this ocean, at sea level, sags under the weight of the seventy-five miles of air above it, and the oxygen molecules at lower altitudes are consequently squashed together much more densely than those at higher altitudes. This is why a person accustomed to breathing the rich, thickly oxygenated soup that exists at sea level will very quickly become hypoxic, or oxygen deficient, if he tries to subsist for long on the thin gruel doled out at twenty-five thousand feet." (p. 136)

"There's still a long way to go for Stratos. The plan is to make two preliminary jumps, one at 60,000 feet and one at 90,000, before making the final one at 120,000. That jump is currently slated for August, but who knows. Delays are inevitable with these sorts of things. Regardless, Clark is already looking beyond that third jump, above 120,000 feet, faster than Mach 1. There's another company he's involved with, something called Excalibur Almaz, and in the next decade it plans to send tourists up past the stratosphere, into true space, into orbit." (p. 136) !!

"This is new space. This is passion and capitalism stoking the same grand ambitions that fear and nationalism once did. This is corporations picking up the reins of manned spaceflight at the moment when the government's will is at its lowest ebb. This is realizing that before spaceflight can ever become routine, before the ultimate human diaspora can truly begin, spaceflight will first have to be safer, right from the start. This is taking a simple statement about what is possible--the vehicle broke up at an altitude that was not survivable--and working as hard as you can so that someday, next time, it won't be true." (p. 137)

August 01, 2010

I still have a very clear picture of the inside of that hut and of the bearded man with the bright fiery eyes who kept talking to me in riddles.

While Roald Dahl was in Palestine...

"I still have a very clear picture of the inside of that hut and of the bearded man with the bright fiery eyes who kept talking to me in riddles. 'We need a homeland,' the man was saying. ' We need a country of our own. Even the Zulus have Zululand. But we have nothing.'
'You mean the Jews have no country?'
'That's exactly what I mean,' he said. 'It's time we had one.'
'But how in the world are you going to get yourselves a country?' I asked him. 'They are all occupied. Norway belongs to the Norwegians and Nicaragua belongs to the Nicaraguans. It's the same all over.'
'We shall see,' the man said, sipping his coffee. The dark-haired woman was washing up some plates in a basin of water on another small table and she had her back to us.
'You could have Germany,' I said brightly. 'When we have beaten Hitler then perhaps England would give you Germany.'
'We don't want Germany,' the man said.
'Then which country did you have in mind?' I asked him, displaying more ignorance than ever." (p. 198)

Soon after, Roald Dahl finally made it home, being sent home due to blackouts probably the effects of his previous crash. It's unbelievable to me that he had such an unbelievable life pre children's books. A part of me really wishes that I could adventure in the same way that he did but back then he was more free to do so in a world that was still vastly unexplored. There were many dangers, of course, but he was so unaware of them that it led him to live freely in a way that I could never do today. I'm a little envious. Everything is planned (if even loosely), safety measures and precautions always in the back of my mind. I could never have that uninhibited careless adventure because there are too many risks and it's better to be safe than sorry. But look at him, he lived by instinct--some quick impromptu decisions literally saving his life--and in the end he died an old man with great memories and stories to tell (both fiction and nonfiction).

His memoirs are entertaining, nostalgic and insightful. I recommend Boy and Going Solo to everyone.

July 31, 2010

I had actually shot down a German bomber

"I watched spellbound. I couldn't believe that I had actually shot down a German bomber. But I was immensely relieved to see the parachutes." (p. 138)

I was young enough and starry-eyed enough to look upon this Grecian escapade as nothing more than a grand adventure.

"One morning I saw a medical orderly coming down this corridor carrying a very large tray with a white cloth over it. Walking in the opposite direction towards the orderly, was a middle-aged woman, probably somebody from the hospital clerical staff. When the orderly came level with the woman, he suddenly whipped away the cloth from the tray and pushed the tray towards the woman's face. On the tray there lay the entire quite naked amputated leg of a soldier. I saw the poor woman reel backwards. I saw the foul orderly roar with laughter and replace the cloth and walk on. I saw the woman stagger to the window-sill and lean forward with her head in her hands, then she pulled herself together and went on her way. I have never forgotten that little illustration of man's repulsive behaviour towards woman." (p. 117)

"I was young enough and starry-eyed enough to look upon this Grecian escapade as nothing more than a grand adventure. The thought that I might never get out of the country alive didn't occur to me. It should have done, and looking back on it now I am surprised that it didn't. Had I paused for a moment and calculated the odds against survival, I would have found that they were about fifty to one and that's enough to give anyone the shakes." (p. 126)

"I was to share a tent with another pilot and when I ducked my head low and went in, my companion was sitting on his camp-bed and threading a piece of string into one of his shoes because the shoe-lace had broken. He had a long but friendly face and he introduced himself as David Coke, pronounced Cook. I learnt much later that David Coke came from a very noble family, and today, had he not been killed in his Hurricane later on, he would have been none other than the Earl of Leicester owning one of the most enormous and beautiful stately homes in England, although anyone acting less like a future Earl I have never met." (p. 127-8)

July 29, 2010

I often amazed myself by the way I behaved when I was certain there were no other human beings within fifty miles.

"When one is quite alone on a lengthy and slightly hazardous journey like this, every sensation of pleasure and fear is enormously intensified, and several incidents from that strange two-day safari up through central Africa in my little black Ford have remained clear in my memory. A frequent and always wonderful sight was the astonishing number of giraffe that I passed on the first day. They were usually in groups of three or four, often with a baby alongside, and they never ceased to enthrall me. They were surprisingly tame. I would see them ahead of me nibbling green leaves from the tops of acacia trees by the side of the road, and whenever I came upon them I would stop the car and get out and walk slowly towards them, shouting inane but cheery greetings up into the sky where their small heads were waving about on their long long necks. I often amazed myself by the way I behaved when I was certain there were no other human beings within fifty miles. All my inhibitions would disappear and I would shout, 'Hello, giraffes! Hello! Hello! Hello! How are you today?"And the giraffes would incline their heads very slightly and stare down at me with languorous demure expressions, but they never ran away." (p. 78-9)

"In retrospect, one gasps at the waste of life." (p. 83)

The croaking of frogs is the night music of the East African coast.

Going Solo, Roald Dahl

"Suddenly the voice of a man yelling in Swahili exploded into the quiet of the evening. It was my boy, Mdisho. 'Bwana! Bwana! Bwana!' he was yelling from somewhere behind the house. 'Simba, bwana! Simba! Simba!' Simba is Swahili for lion. All three of us leapt to our feet, and the next moment Mdisho came tearing round the corner of the house yelling at us in Swahili, 'Come quick, bwana! Come quick! Come quick! A huge lion is eating the wife of the cook!' (p. 35)

I had an epiphany here... Lion King. Simba. It all made sense. This excerpt leads to a really fascinating story which spans a couple of pages so I won't post it. But essentially, the lion literally carried the woman in his mouth, slowly leading her into the forest. As soon as they scared him off with a gunshot he dropped her, not having hurt her in any way, and seemingly never intended to.

"All around us in the forest the frogs were croaking incessantly. African frogs have an unusually loud rasping croak and however far away from you they are, the sound always seems to be coming from somewhere near your feet. The croaking of frogs is the night music of the East African coast. The actual croak is made only by the bullfrog and he does it by blowing out his dewlap and letting it go with a burp. This is his mating call and when the female hears it she hops smartly over to the side of her prospective mate. But when she arrives a curious thing happens and it is not quite what you are thinking. The bullfrog does not turn and greet the female. Far from it. He ignores her totally and continues to sit there singing his song to the stars while the female waits patiently beside him. She waits and she waits and she waits. The male sings and he sings and he sings, often for several hours, and what has actually happened is this. The bullfrog has fallen so much in love with the sound of his own voice that he has completely forgotten why he started croaking in the first place. We know that he started because he was feeling sexy. But now he has become mesmerized by the lovely music he is making so that for him nothing else exists, not even the panting female at his side. There comes a time, though, when she loses all patience and starts nudging him hard with a foreleg, and only then does the bullfrog come out of his trance and turn to embrace her. Ah well. The bullfrog, I told myself as I sat there in the dark forest, is not after all so very different from a lot of human males that I could think of." (p. 61-2)

July 20, 2010

I was off to the land of palm-trees and coconuts and coral reefs and lions

"It was a tremendous thing in those days for a young man to be going off to Africa to work. The journey alone would take two weeks, sailing through the Bay of Biscay, past Gibraltar, across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, calling in at Aden and arriving finally at Mombasa. What a prospect that was! I was off to the land of palm-trees and coconuts and coral reefs and lions and elephants and deadly snakes, and a white hunter who had lived ten years in Mwanza had told me that if a black mamba bit you, you died within the hour writhing in agony and foaming at the mouth. I couldn't wait." (p. 174-5)

I loved this book. Going Solo is next.

July 17, 2010

My mother, for her part, kept every one of these letters, binding them carefully in neat bundles with green tape.

"From that very first Sunday at St. Peter's until the day my mother died thirty-two years later, I wrote to her once a week, sometimes more often, whenever I was away from home. I wrote to her every week from St. Peter's (I had to), and every week from my next school, Repton, and every week from Dar es Salaam in East Africa, where I went on my first job after leaving school, and then every week during the war from Kenya and Iraq and Egypt when I was flying with the RAF. My mother, for her part, kept every one of these letters, binding them carefully in neat bundles with green tape, but this was her own secret." (p. 81)

"A boy of my own age called Highton was so violently incensed by the whole affair that he said to me before lunch that day, 'You don't have a father. I do. I am going to write to my father and tell him what has happened and he'll do something about it.'
'He couldn't do anything,' I said.
'Oh yes he could,' Highton said. 'And what's more he will. My father won't let them get away with this.'
'Where is he now?'
'He's in Greece,' Highton said. 'In Athens. But that won't make any difference.'
Then and there, little Highton sat down and wrote to the father he admired so much, but of course nothing came of it. It was nevertheless a touching and generous gesture from one small boy to another and I have never forgotten it." (p. 122)

July 16, 2010

Unless you have sailed down the Oslo fjord like this yourself on a tranquil summer's day, you cannot imagine what it's like.

"We loved this part of the journey. The splendid little vessel with its single tall funnel would move out into the calm waters of the fjord and proceed at a leisurely pace along the coast, stopping every hour or so at a small wooden jetty where a group of villagers and summer people would be waiting to welcome friends or to collect parcels and mail. Unless you have sailed down the Oslo fjord like this yourself on a tranquil summer's day, you cannot imagine what it's like. It is impossible to describe the sensation of absolute peace and beauty that surrounds you. The boat weaves in and out between countless tiny islands, some with small brightly painted wooden houses on them, but many with not a house or a tree on the bare rocks. These granite rocks are so smooth that you can lie and sun yourself on them in your bathing-costume without putting a towel underneath. We would see long-legged girls and tall boys basking on the rocks of the islands. There are no sandy beaches on the fjord. The rocks go straight down to the water's edge and the water is immediately deep. As a result, Norwegian children all learn to swim when they are young because if you can't swim it is difficult to find a place to bathe. Sometimes when our little vessel slipped between two islands, the channel was so narrow we could almost touch the rocks on either side. We would pass row-boats and canoes with flaxen-haired children in them, their skins browned by the sun, and we would wave to them and watch their tiny boats rocking violently in the swell that our larger ship left behind." (p. 61)

July 15, 2010

By the time I was ten, I would be permitted to take part in these ceremonies, and I always finished up as tipsy as a lord.

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

"In Norway, you may select any individual around the table and skaal him or her in a small private ceremony. You first lift your glass high and call out the name. 'Bestemama!' you say. 'Skaal, Bestemama!' She will then lift her own glass and hold it up high. At the same time your own eyes meet hers, and you must keep looking deep into her eyes as you sip your drink. After you have both done this, you raise your glasses high up again in a sort of silent final salute, and only then does each person look away and set down his glass. It is a serious and solemn ceremony, and as a rule on formal occasions everyone skaals everyone else around the table once. If there are, for example, ten people present and you are one of them, you will skaal your nine companions once each individually, and you yourself will also receive nine separate skaals at different times during the meal - eighteen in all. That's how they work it in polite society over there, at least they used to in the old days, and quite a business it was. By the time I was ten, I would be permitted to take part in these ceremonies, and I always finished up as tipsy as a lord." (p. 58-9)

If you didn't know already, you now know that Roald Dahl was and still is one of my favorite authors. So it's with great pleasure that I'm reading his collection of childhood memories!

Few last words

I realized this past weekend that it was the 50th anniversary since To Kill A Mockingbird was published. How fitting that that be the case the summer that I finally decided to read it. It had been sitting on my bookshelves for years. I really loved it. What bothered me was reading on some blog (perhaps I'll link it when I find it) that many adults don't realize while reading it that this is a children's book. The author was more or less arguing that Harper Lee wrote a simple book that's overrated and doesn't deserve to be a classic. Perhaps it is a children's book. It's easy to read, that's for sure. But what I think that so many adults miss with children's novels is how often they hold messages that are meant more for the adults than the children reading them. It is why I love Roald Dahl. And The Little Prince. Sure, TKAM is about a lawyer forced to defend a black man in a still very racist South. But it's also about growing up and innocence and loss of innocence and being terribly confused as a child as to why there's so much hatred among people that are all very much the same.

In any case, the movie came from Netflix a couple of days ago so I'm excited to watch it. I wanted to blog more, but there was so much and then it would've been pointless. It was mostly dialogue between Scout and whoever else she was talking to, or the thoughts that went on inside her head.

July 01, 2010

His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor's image blurred with my sudden tears.

"He was still leaning against the wall. He had been leaning against the wall when I came into the room, his arms folded across his chest. As I pointed he brought his arms down and pressed the palms of his hands against the wall. They were white hands, sickly white hands that had never seen the sun, so white they stood out garishly against the dull cream wall in the dim light of Jem's room.
I looked from his hands to his sand-stained khaki pants; my eyes traveled up his thin frame to his torn denim shirt. His face was as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin. His cheeks were thin to hollowness; his mouth was wide; there were shallow, almost delicate indentations at his temples, and his gray eyes were so colorless I thought he was blind. His hair was dead and thin, almost feathery on top of his head.
When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat streaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange small spasm shook him, as if he heard fingernails scrape slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor's image blurred with my sudden tears." (p. 270)

June 28, 2010

But I must have been reasonably awake, or I would not have received the impression that was creeping into me.

"But I must have been reasonably awake, or I would not have received the impression that was creeping into me. It was not unlike one I had last winter, and I shivered, though the night was hot. The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still, and the carpenters had stopped hammering on Miss Maudie's new house, and every wood door in the neighborhood was shut as tight as the doors of the Radley Place. A deserted, waiting, empty street, and the courtroom was packed with people. A steaming summer night was no different from a winter morning." (p. 210)

June 27, 2010

He preferred the magic of his own inventions.

"Dill was off again. Beautiful things floated around in his dreamy head. He could read two books to my one, but he preferred the magic of his own inventions. He could add and subtract faster than lightning, but he preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies. He was slowly talking himself to sleep and taking me with him, but in the quietness of his foggy island there rose the faded image of a gray house with sad brown doors." (p. 144)

"Walking toward the office, Dill and I fell into step behind Atticus and Jem. Dill was encumbered by the chair, and his pace was slower. Atticus and Jem were well ahead of us, and I assumed that Atticus was giving him hell for not going home, but I was wrong. As they passed under a streetlight, Atticus reached out and massaged Jem's hair, his one gesture of affection." (p. 155)

May 15, 2010

Being attacked by a 400-pound sea turtle is going to be difficult to explain

National Geographic Traveler, March 2010
Maui: Is There Anything Left to Discover? by Andrew McCarthy

"Under a jacaranda tree I spot a young boy bouncing up and down on a squeaking pogo stick beside a worn-out black pickup truck parked in front of the Keokea Gallery. Another plantation-style shack, the gallery has its windows and doors thrown open. The boy, trying to break a personal record of a thousand bounces, is the son of gallery director John "Sheldon" Wallau, a shaggy dog of a man who has been "sitting on the side of the road for 20 years." Every inch of Wallau's gallery is filled with the work of what look to be multiple local artists in varying styles. After a few minutes' chat, however, Wallau lets slip that he is the artist behind all the work I see.
"But there are different signatures on these," I note.
"I work under 14 different personalities," he answers, shrugging.
"Excuse me?"
"Kimo, over there," he points to a muted, naturalistic canvas, "paints his house over and over because he is scared to leave it. And that one," he swings around to a portrait of a native Hawaiian woman in a grass skirt, "that one is by Don Shel, an Italian. He likes to have half-naked girls hanging around his studio."

"The turtle drifts closer, and I cautiously reach out my right hand. The turtle continues to ease its way toward me. You're not supposed to make physical contact with turtles, but this one seems interested. The tip of its left front flipper is only inches from the fingertips of my right hand. My breathing through my snorkel is strong and regular. We are about to touch, a thrilling, primal, intimate moment. An image from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel - the one of God reaching out and touching life into Adam - flashes in my mind. Less than an inch separates us. The turtle's huge eye stares into mine. And then it banks right and dives 40 feet down.
It is below me, hovering near the sandy bottom, when suddenly it pivots and rises toward me - fast. I see its face full on, its flippers bent with purpose, the distance between us vanishing. Is it charging me? I feel my heart race. Being attacked by a 400-pound sea turtle is going to be difficult to explain. At the last minute it veers and pops its head above water, no more than two feet away. I lift my face into the air. My mask is fogged, so I rip it off and try to breathe. We bob up and down. "What was that?" I gasp. If turtles can smile, this one is grinning at me."

Great article. I want to visit Hawaii more now.

April 13, 2010

There is truth in all their stories

Bernard's Tunnel

"(Bernard) Isaacs graduated from the University of Maryland in 1975, he says, with a major in journalism and a minor in philosophy. He initially worked as an editorial assistant at CBS in New York for a short time, then went into modeling, and then into dealing drugs. He claims to be drug and alcohol free now, at least most of the time. Periodically, he admits, he slips back." (p. 98-99).

"Most members of this Riverside Park community are tunnel veterans. They have established communication networks that quickly pass around new information on where and when hot meals are being handed out. They know when a grocery store is throwing out slightly wilted produce or damaged cartons of macaroni. They know which restaurants and delicatessens give the days' leftovers to the homeless. They also know which restaurants throw ammonia on their garbage to keep the homeless away." (p. 103).

"The most important truth about underground people, Bernard also advises, is that there is no single truth about them. 'They tell many stories and there is truth in all their stories. You just have to find it. "We had one guy down here who was sometimes an ex-Navy Seal, sometimes a Green Beret, sometimes the king of an island, sometimes a pastry chef,' one homeless man recalls. "All I know he was a decent man who used to share everything. When the police asked if I knew this guy, and showed me his picture and told me a name, I didn't have to lie. I said no, I don't know that guy. I don't care what he done. He's a good guy and if he wants to start over down here, he can. That's the beauty of the tunnels." (p. 117).

I had to write a response paper about this book so I found a few more I wanted to post. I searched for Bernard's picture online but couldn't find one. Toth uses one by Margaret Morton in the book. Shame, it's a really good one.

April 09, 2010

I saw a city invincible to the attacks

"City of Friends"
"I meet George on the street and when he asks why I haven't visited, I'm embarrassed. I say that my last conversation with Sam was very disturbing, but George believes I'm repelled by the physical environment. "It got too much for you didn't it? he asks gently. "I know. It's OK though, kid. I wish you could understand how it is. It would be easier for you. See, no matter how ugly the camp seems to you, it don't matter to us, we don't see it that way because we're friends, and that matters more. For most of us, it's the first time we ever had a real friend."

He smiles brightly at the thought. "We're a city of friends. That's what Sam says." He winks at me and walks away without saying good-bye.

The phrase sounds familiar and I find it in Walt Whitman:
I dream'd in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks
of the whole rest of the earth;
I dream'd that was the new City of Friends.
(p. 211)

Jamall's Story

"Whether Jamall's birdlike people are real, natural caves are likely to run through the Manhattan bedrock of schist. Geologists describe schist as crystalline rocklike granite that has a folded structure and cleaves along parallel planes or slabs like the layers of mica. The shifting earth leaves gaps between slabs, which rain and spring water widen into huge caverns. The schist almost reaches the surface under the grass of Central Park before dropping a hundred feet or more below the surface elsewhere on Manhattan. Workers digging the subway tunnels early in this century are said to have found a ten-thousand-year-old standing forest buried deep under the Upper West Side, presumably inundated in a mud slide and driven into a cavern by an Ice Age glacier.

More plausible than Ghost Cliff is the huge underground room "with a piano and tiled floor and mirrors all around" that Jamall says he found. An elderly homeless woman later described to me a similar room in which about fifty homeless people live. She added a fountain to the decor. "Fantastic," she said. "It was just beautiful." The two compartments could be the same although Jamall and the woman placed them in different regions of the city, one in lower Manhattan and the other in Mid-Town on the West Side. These rooms are probably remnants of compartments dug and drilled out more than a century ago as part of the subway and rail systems and long abandoned and forgotten.
Jamall has come across communities in the tunnels that he has felt uncomfortable with, but he adamantly believes that no one in the tunnels should be evicted.
"They make a life for themselves," says Jamall. "They take care of each other better than up here. They sleep in places everyone up here has forgotten, and that's not stealing; that's being resourceful and surviving. Why take them out of there? They're not hurting no one. Give them some space and some time to heal." (p. 235)

Jennifer Toth's ethnography was truly fascinating. I've lived in New York City all of my life and had no idea that homeless people lived in the subway systems... I wasn't even aware that the underground reached such great depths. In some parts, Toth talks about some people living miles and miles underground. It's unbelievable. I was also surprised by the wide variety of people Toth encountered in the tunnels - many were drug addicts and criminals, yes, but many were also graduates from college with Ph.D.'s. Many of them were very smart. Some had minimum-wage paying jobs (McDonald's, etc.) but just lived underground to avoid paying rent. And I was surprised at the ways in which they survived. Some of the communities even had mayors! And nurses. And runners (their jobs were to bring back food). I think one community even had a teacher. I don't know, it's just all really incredible. Toth published The Mole People in the early 1990s, and I think by now the city might have removed many of them from the tunnel, but I'm sure that many continue to live there. The whole concept is just so interesting, and some of the characters were very memorable (Bernard!). I wonder what's happened to them.