Sunday, November 29, 2009

blue hydrangeas & strawberries marinated in wine

blue hydrangeas & strawberries marinated in wine

The memory is of my grandmother, dropping a frozen strawberry into a glass of white wine.

Or maybe it was champagne.

Whichever it was it was filled to the brim and she drank it to the bottom, devouring the berry, laughing, alongside my Bompa, who drank -- did he have a glass of the same, or was it one of his martinis? Carefully created, as my father recently reminded me, by gently stirring the gin ("so as not to bruise it") and pouring it into a martini glass that had been prepared with a twist of lemon, expressed around the lip. If there was vermouth at all it was a trace of vapour only, released when he passed the open bottle over the glass like a priest blessing the saved with his smoky incensor.

They drank theirs while I had my root beer float and we watched the Sound of Music curled up on their davenport. (There were no couches in my grandmother's house, but there were three davenports.) When the credits rolled my grandmother sang "Climb Every Mountain", lustily smiling through her song, knowing every word, hitting every note.

They said it would come like this: memories welling up from the dark earth long after it was carefully tamped down. This one was triggered as I tore through the index of Ginette Mathiot's classic I Know How to Cook, recently released in translation by Phaidon, and spotted the strawberry recipe. I was looking for ways to prepare the abundance of celeriac (p. 523), turnips (p. 559), carrots (p. 520) and squash (no squash. squab. but no squash) that I've acquired from my winter CSA share.

I'm pretty sure this is a cry I've been cradling in reserve ever since we drove the distance this last week to Omaha and I stepped into Mr. Hoo's dying grandmother's room, turned off the fierce fluorescent over her head and pulled open the curtains to allow the morning light into the room.

I was startled by the hydrangea bush that stood in the sunlight just beyond the glass: dried, brown, done. Close kin to the blue bush that bloomed bright outside my grandmother's window this last summer, while she made her last ascent.

Strawberries Marinated in Wine
fraises au jus

Scant 4 1/4 cups strawberries
Superfine sugar to taste
1/2 bottle red wine, maraschino liqueur or Champagne, chilled

Prepare several hours in advance. Wash, drain and trim the strawberries and place in a bowl. Add sugar to taste and just cover the fruit with wine, maraschino liqueur or Champagne. Macerate in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

we'll keep the moon beside us

Video: ลอยโคมยี่เป็ง (Yi Peng Festival)

If you can't make it to Thailand for the lighting of the lanterns, you can always pick up a pack of three Firefly Lanterns from the Science Museum in London »

Friday, November 27, 2009


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Practice this thought now; turn it over in your mind; fabricate a muscle memory inside your imagination. Because when the day comes and you approach the bed of the dying your first impulse will be to say nothing. She may almost certainly say nothing to you. You may sit stiffly and look on politely before you look away. It may seem impolite to stare as her breath grows labored and her eyes grow wide.

If you have practiced this thought the compulsion might come to you easily, and gently you will take her hand. You will stroke her skin with its sheen like rice paper; you might fear that it will tear like tissue beneath your fingertips. If there's lotion close you might think to warm some in your hands and spread it on her thirsty skin.

Address her shoulders, her sternum. She may respond with a sigh of ease. She may not.

Rub her tired traveler's feet. They are dry and turned in on themselves and weary.

Practice this thought now, because the dying need to be touched like the newly born do. The dying need to know we're near.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

food desert

food desert
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
It may be impossible to find a decent meal on Thanksgiving in America.

Or, at the very least, in Omaha, Nebraska.

Unless of course you've planned ahead. If you've shopped in the days before for the bird that you will stuff and truss and the cranberries that you will simmer until they pop and the Karo syrup that you will transform into the inexcusably sticky mess of a pecan pie that is the hallmark of a successful Thanksgiving -- if you've done all this then you will eat.

But if you descend out of the long dark drive from Chicago upon family tired and worn from a month of hospital attendance and the tired resignation that the patient has decided she is done, then you will find refrigerators empty and grocery stores closed and everyone too busy with the business of keeping her company on the long road home too worry too much about the rest of it.

And you will find a seat and settle in.

Posting by cameraphone from Omaha, NE

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

tanker truck of coffee

tanker truck of coffee
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Posting by cameraphone from I-80 in Iowa.
To grandmother's house we go.


solo rio

Last night I missed the Moth StorySLAM by a whisker. Through a series of misfires my companion and I got on the long rainy road into the city too late, and the show had sold out by the time we arrived. Every month Moth hosts a StorySLAM in Chicago, where you throw your name into a hat and, if it’s selected, you have five minutes to tell your story. I’ll try again next month. The theme will be different so the story will be fresh. This time around it was “Blunders.”

This was the story I carried rain-soaked into the city.

My ex- likes the tell the story of the time he spent in Kenya as a kid, when his father was on a meteorological mission, seeding clouds to turn hail into rain. And he likes to tell about how, when he returned with his family to Clarksville, Tennessee, he would entertain the kids in the playground with stories of the zebras and the lions and the giraffes; with stories of the bush babies whose many eyes blinked and glowed in the headlights as the family returned in the dark to the tea plantation they rented while they were there.

He liked to tell the kids about the monkeys that lived in his backyard.

All this led to a Parent-Teacher conference in which his teacher pointed out to his mother that, while B was bright boy, he had an overactive imagination, and he was he was in the habit of telling lies. For example: he liked to tell the students that he had monkeys in his backyard.

To which his mother replied: “We’ve just returned from Kenya. We had monkeys in our backyard.”

I loved this story; I loved how the man I loved was unjustly accused and exonerated in the end. I loved it until I learned that I had married a liar, and a wondered then if it was a plant, a decoy, designed to distract me from all the stories that were untrue.

When we finally arrived at that awkward middle place between deciding to divorce and signing the decree, we had dinner one night at one of our favorite places, a cheap sushi joint on Broadway in Seattle. Over dinner he told me he was sorry; over dinner he told me everything would change; over dinner I told him I didn’t believe him. Then I asked for the check.

They brought us a couple of fortune cookies with the bill and B cracked his open. He laughed a little and handed it to me with a tear in his eye. It read: “A liar is never believed, even when he tells the truth.”

But this story isn’t about that blunder. This story is about when his family was still in Kenya, and his mother wanted to ask the academic wives over for tea. She asked the gentleman servant, a man named Jealous whose services came with the house they had rented for the season, to help her prepare a place for tea by clearing a small overgrown area near the house, under an ancient spreading shade tree; a tree that had been planted by some British colonial who knows when, or maybe had been left to stand when the other trees were cut down around it. A tree that offered shade from the hot African sun. A perfect place for tea.

“Clear it?” he asked, concern in his voice.

“Yes,” she said.

She left him to his task, which he approached reluctantly. She returned later to find he had cleared the grasses away, and then he sharpened his axe. He took his axe to the trunk of that ancient spreading shade tree.

He cut it down.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

no pictures, please.

no pictures, please.
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Renzo Piano's Modern Wing, AIC
Posting by cameraphone

Saturday, November 21, 2009

so about those Terra Cotta Warriors

Terra Cotta Warrior

I left for D.C. on Wednesday knowing very little about the Terra Cotta Warriors that I was going to see on display at the National Geographic Museum, and I returned home knowing just a little bit more than that.

The only difference between then and now is that now I have pictures, and having pictures means that I have a responsibility to say something that matters about these guys.

So I went digging and this is what I found -- sources vary and are cited below. I offer them to you now along with an apology if any of this is old news:

  • Long before the Warriors were “discovered” in Lin Tong in 1974, locals told stories of unfortunate ancestors “who dug too deeply in the earth and saw the face of a ghost, half-hidden in dirt,” and were plagued with bad fortune for their trouble. [1]

  • reflective

  • The farmers who were sinking the well that brought the warriors to light were at first ignored by local officials. The bureaucrat who was called in to examine the torso hauled in to county headquarters by Farmer Yang (which was no mean feat -- each Warrior weighs between 300 and 400 pounds) left it languishing in a back storeroom for some time before he declared that it was maybe 100 years old and not all that interesting. By chance an archaeologist from Xi’an heard about the discovery and recognized its significance.

  • The tomb was sacked and burned by enemies of the state before it was completed. The Warriors were buried in the warehouse where they were awaiting placement. It's believed that this is the reason several rooms of the tomb were found empty.

  • An elaborate river scene within the "entertainment center" of the Necropolis was, however, completed before the attack. According to the exhibit placard: "The longest hall takes the form of a river with a bank on each side, paralleling a river system above ground. Bronze birds, including cranes, swans, and geese were placed along the underground river's length. The 46 birds in the flock are all in naturalistic poses, each one slightly different."

  • Terra Cotta Warrior

  • The Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang or Shihuangdi, on whose behalf the 8,000+ warriors were interred, was the first emperor China ever had.

  • According to Chinese officials, his burial chamber has yet to be excavated.

  • Under his rule the entire country took on the name of his home state Qin (because all of China had in fact been swallowed by Qin -- pronounced “chin”), and it’s thought that the western name “China” is probably derived from this place name.

  • Historians were largely unkind to Emperor Qin and described him as a hard ass who distrusted scholars and burned books. Some suggest that this description was politically motivated and not entirely true.

  • funky money

  • Under the first Emperor’s rule weights, measures, language and currencies were standardized -- and coin standards included some crazy shapes like spades and blades, in addition to the traditional circular form which ultimately won out.

  • Emperor Qin started construction on the Great Wall of China. Most of the “pounded earth and stone” that comprised his Wall was later replaced by brick in the Ming Dynasty, but some fragments of the original structure still remain.

  • His terra cotta soldiers were not, in fact, individualized portraits, but: "an early feat of mass production: a small and quite limited repertoire of body parts were joined together in a multitude of combinations, with details worked by hand afterwards. Then the whole figures were painted. Endless variety of costumes, hairstyles, hand positions or facial features was therefore possible, but in no way were they individual portraits. The clay warriors were stamped with the name and unit of the foreman of a group of workmen, as part of an elaborate system of quality control." [2]

Jane Portal also reports in The first emperor: China's Terracotta Army that:

The First Emperor wanted to live for ever and go on ruling eternally. Following several assassination attempts on his life, he tried to achieve physical immortality with the help of alchemists who prescribed pills and potions featuring large amounts of mercury. He also sent groups of envoys to the mythical isles of the immortals off the east coast to seek elixirs of immortality.

civilian official

Given that, I shouldn’t have been so easily awed by the findings of researchers at Stanford who recently ran a chemical analysis of the Chinese Purple pigment used on the Terra Cotta Warriors -- a rare, synthetically derived pigment that some have speculated was received in a trade with the Egyptians long before the Silk Road became established. Please bear with the lengthy excerpt -- this is fascinating:

In order to address these questions [of provenance], we re-examined the chemistry and the morphology of purple pigments found on one of the Qin Terracotta warriors. By combining our findings of the technology used in the synthesis of Chinese Purple with existing archaeological evidence, we conclude that Taoist alchemists invented this pigment as well as the related pigment Chinese Blue independently from any Egyptian influence.

These chemical maps and maps of the crystallographic orientation suggest that Chinese Purple was synthesized using lead flux melting, a process very similar to that for glass making. Diffusion of heavy elements such as Ba, and even Cu, is very sluggish even at 1000 C and limits the grain sizes in a solid state synthesize to a few microns, as is frequently seen for solid state synthesis of high Tc superconductors which have similar heavy ion composition. However, if the pigment crystallites grew from a melt, as Pb elemental map and the grain growth morphology suggest, then the grain growth kinetics are not governed by diffusivity of individual ions, but by the flow due to thermal convention, which is significantly higher than solid state diffusion. Therefore, the presence of large pigment crystallites (20μm-50μm), in conjunction with the growth morphology suggest that pigment crystals grew in presence of liquid and probably even precipitated from a melt.

top knot


Historical records suggest that Taoist alchemists are responsible for the making of these barium-lead-containing glasses. It is known that jade holds a special status in Taoism.

Taoist believed that jade, which they considered to be a magical material, not only held the power to preserve a human body and spirit (Needham and Lu 1974) but also was an elixir for achieving physical immortality (Ko 320). In the pursuit to understand and obtain such a precious material, the Taoist monks started to synthesize it themselves. Several records in ancient Chinese texts mentioned Taoist monks making jade (glass) by fusing stones. As recorded in “Lun Heng” (Wang 27-97), “the Taoist monks used to make five-colored jade with five stones....” More importantly, it also mentioned that glass could achieve a certain appearance when different raw materials were added during the process, “Suihou (the duke of Sui) made beads out of several ‘medicines’ which were more shiny and appealing.”

As we know today, the barium glass has a larger refractive index than that of a normal glass. This would give barium glass a certain turbidity and a jade-like appearance. Glass (Jade) makers would have found this by trial and error. Barium minerals, such as Barite (BaSO4) or Witherite (BaCO3), are reasonably common in central China. This mineral is unusually heavy and forms “appealing” crystals, so the Chinese, as careful observers and curious chemists, would no doubt have found and experimented with it. In this process of imitating jade, they discovered the recipe of the barium containing glass. Then, the copper minerals, Malachite (Cu2(CO3)(OH)2) or Azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2), could be added later to obtain different jade colours. We believe that this experimentation led to the eventual discovery of Chinese Purple. [3]

The researchers report that the Chinese Purple wasn’t used much before this occasion, and was seldom seen afterward, which they suggest is an indication of the declining tide of Taoism.

Before then, however, as Jennifer Oldstone-Moore reports in her book on Taoism: origins, beliefs, practices, holy texts, sacred places, Taoist "individuals knowledgeable in techniques for achieving immortality -- the fang-shih, or ‘gentlemen with recipes’ -- were hired by imperial courts to reveal their secrets.” [4]

And so it would seem that Qin contracted with Taoist fang-shih to act as celestial tailors -- clothing his warriors in immortality to ensure his rule for all eternity.

Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor
National Geographic Museum
1145 17th Street NW, Washington DC
Exhibition open daily from 10AM to 6PM
Hours extended to 9PM on Wednesdays, and the first 200 to line up by 5.30 will receive free entrance at 6PM.

kneeling figure

[1] Seth Faison, South of the Clouds: Exploring the Hidden Realms of China. St. Martin's Press, October 2004.

[2] Jane Portal and Hiromi Kinoshita, The first emperor: China's Terracotta Army. Harvard University Press, 2007.

[3] Influence of Taoism on the Invention of the Purple Pigment Used on the Qin Terracotta Warriors, Z. Liu1,3, A. Mehta1, N. Tamura2, D. Pickard3, B. Rong4, T. Zhou4 and P. Pianetta. Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305

[4] Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, Taoism: origins, beliefs, practices, holy texts, sacred places. Oxford University Press, 2003.

p.s. The invitation to attend the bloggers’ preview of the exhibit was my excuse to have a lovely play day in the middle of the week in Washington D.C., and the excuse came my way only because my Twitter buddy @bobcatrock spotted the open call for bloggers on Flickr and passed the link my way.

Thank you thank you thank you, Mr. Bobcat. As excuses go, it was one of the best.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

the eleven virtues of jade

The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music. Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth. To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: "When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade."

Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)

Spent a little time on Wednesday at the bloggers' preview of the National Geographic Terracotta Warriors exhibit in Washington D.C. More pics and thoughts to come. First: Must. Sleep.

circular pendant (5th-6th cent b.c.)

p.s. yeah: I'm not sure that "wise man" counts as number eleven, but Confucius said there were eleven virtues so there have to be eleven virtues, right?

what makes for a best day ever?

Converging on Washington D.C. to have lunch with your big sister and your little brother and fill your lungs with oxygen-rich big gulps of laughter pretty much does the trick.

And okay, to D's point, maybe not the best day ever; but almost definitely the best Wednesday ever. Rounded out nicely by dinner with an old friend and a bliss-filled few hours at the Phillips Collection, on top of the whole National Geographic thing.

Plus the kindly Kimpton upgrade to a freakin' suite at the Hotel Helix (where this shot was taken) didn't hurt.

(Love you guys.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Goodnight, Mr. Jefferson.

Goodnight, Mr. Jefferson.
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Posting by cameraphone from Washington D.C.
and one of the best days ever.

inverted canyon

inverted canyon
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
A topographical map of the Grand Canyon floats overhead at the National Geographic Museum in Washington D.C.

Spent a little time here tonight previewing the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at a blogger event -- pics and opinions to follow soon.

Posting by cameraphone from Washington D.C.

appropriately inconvenient

Germany observes
no official holiday
on November 9th

the day when
20 years ago
crowds breached
the Berlin Wall

November 9th is
the date
on which Kaiser
Wilhelm abdicated

on which Hitler
to overthrow
the Republic

when Nazi gangs
attacked Jews and
their property

the genocide
to come

Found in the 16 November issue of the New Yorker
George Packer writing in Talk of the Town

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

what is it good for

Illus: Joe Kubert Star Spangled War Stories #137 "War That Time Forgot" Page 4 Original Art (DC, 1968)

Last Sunday our Unitarian minister wrapped up a Veteran's Day service about homelessness among our Vets by admonishing the congregation to create a world in which we never go to war again.

With some discomfort I realized I don't believe such a thing is possible.

I once I did.

In part, I've been spoiled by stories. Good stories, true stories, real stories all have conflict at their heart. The best stories portray the transformation that occurs when that conflict is conquered and resolved.

Conflict originates in the struggle for power, something that, frankly, all of us should grasp for. Owning our own strength, claiming our will to power, is what makes us human and gives us the courage to find the capacity to fulfill the dreams that drive us forward.

But of course, conflict occurs when the will to power of an individual or an entity treads on the autonomy of others.

Conflict cannot be entirely prevented in world that honors democracy and freedom, because preventing conflict means squelching free will and freedom of expression.

War, of course, is conflict out of control; conflict that requires severe remediation; and is often driven by individuals who have exerted their will to power at the expense of others' right to live. War should be the last measure, always, but can we really imagine a world in which it falls out of our lexicon? Falls off our list of options?

What matters more, I realized with a start, having been raised to believe that a conflict-free world of peace is possible, having felt always that soldiers are doing something inherently distasteful, something ultimately shameful; what matters in a way that is more real to me now than dreams of an abiding peace ever were, is to ensure that when the fight comes -- because I'm sure now that it will come -- what matters is that it's a fair fight. [1]

A curious side effect of this realization is that my conflicted feelings toward soldiers -- the career guys who serve honorably and take their duties seriously, several of whom I'm proud to call my friends -- has been transformed into one of greater respect and deeper gratitude.

This idea that war will always be with us is old news to a lot of folks; it's a curious revelation to me because it contradicts my usual posture, and maybe it will shift again as I grow older and greyer and long for pastoral landscapes and quiet places full of courtesy.

As I write this, such a place seems hard to come by.

Speaking of fair fights: The original comic art of Joe Kubert, who inked Tor, Tarzan, and Seven Soldiers of Victory for DC Comics is on auction through Friday »

Also related: How a soldier is working for peace by fighting poverty (see The End (Jake's Story) at the top of the pile) »

[1] Granted: Given the current constructs of war -- in which the poor and disenfranchised are the most likely to die and the multi-national corporations are the most likely to profit -- there is much work to be done to ensure the fight is fair.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I am trying to break your heart

Seized in 1614, Tisquantum somehow escaped slavery in Spain and made his way to London and then Newfoundland, where he boarded an English ship headed toward his homeland. During his five year absence, the New England coast had been hit by a devastating plague, probably introduced by European fishermen or sailors. Thomas Dermer, captain of the ship that carried Tisquantum south in 1619, described villages ‘not long since populous now utterly void,’ or inhabited only by dying natives covered in ‘sores’ and ‘spots.’

Reaching Tisquantum’s home, formerly a large and thriving settlement called Patuxet, Dermer found its inhabitants ‘all dead.’

It was to this ravaged shoreline that the Mayflower passengers came late the following year.

From Plymouth, the very last chapter of Tony Horwitz’s A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and other Adventurers in Early America, in which he ranges far and wide across the Americas recounting the 600 years worth of European exploration and settlement before the pilgrims landed, somewhat haphazardly, on Plymouth Rock.

Illus: Squanto, aka Tisquantum

on the road to Michigan

Originally uploaded by Eric M Martin
pointed North I come upon
the road stained red
from edge to edge

and then
the deer undone

like a cattail on an autumn day
when it bursts its casing

and casts to the wind

Sunday, November 15, 2009

freedom trash

Bra-burning never happened. It was completely made up by the media. A couple of women protesting a Miss America pageant threw some bras into a garbage can, and somehow that became this longstanding idea of feminists as bra-burners.

Jessica Valenti of in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.

NPR did a piece on the bra-burning myth a couple years back in which Carol Hanisch, one of the protest organizers, attested:

We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn't let us do the burning.

The perpetuation of the myth may have been born as the result "a New York Post story on the protest [that] included a reference to bra burning as a way to link the movement to war protesters burning draft cards."

Also tossed in the Freedom Trash Can that day: mops, girdles, pots and pans, and Playboy magazines -- items the protesters called "instruments of female torture".

Friday, November 13, 2009

roadside wisconsin

... joy to
the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner
backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or
with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
& especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys
too ...

From Allen Ginsberg's Howl

Thursday, November 12, 2009

serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude

I’ve been Ajax. I’ve spoken to Ajax.

Sgt. First Class Tony Gonzalez, an Iraq combat veteran from Brooklyn, speaking during a panel discussion on readings from Sophocles' plays Ajax and Philoctetes, and quoted in this morning's New York Times.

The tragic readings were staged in Manhattan by Theater of War, an independent production company that recently received $3.7 million from the Pentagon to visit 50 military sites "through at least next summer" with the production.

Aristotle is not mentioned in the piece, nor is his theory of how Tragedy, properly executed, effects catharsis, "through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions".

But our soldiers were mentioned -- one out of eight who have returned from Iraq suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- as was their sore need for some kind of salve.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

homeless complements

Illus: 1870 Can Opener from Patent Pending Blog

The homeless have a tough time opening cans unless they have openers.

Archaeologist Larry Zimmerman, who conducted an archaeological survey of the homeless with student and colleague Jessica Welch, commenting in November/December 2009 issue of Archaeology on how "donations can simply go to waste if complementary items are not also offered."

Zimmerman and Welch found many cans around homeless sites unopened for want of a can opener and many hotel guest-size shampoo bottles unopened for want of running water. Survey findings indicate that "shoes, food, blankets and clothing can be put to better and more creative use and reuse if they are given with common-sense items such as shoelaces, scissors, rope, glue, and razors."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

buddy's mini mart, somewhere in michigan

Posting by cameraphone
from the road home.

sale/lease/build to suit

sale/lease/build to suit
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Posting by cameraphone from Ann Arbor, MI,
where there are a lot of these.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

not recommended

not recommended
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
But the Department of Transportation
has gotta do what they've gotta do.

Once again, posting by cameraphone
from Omaha, Nebraska.

Tom's Terrific Antiques

Tom's Terrific Antiques
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
"How long have you been here?" I asked Tom of Tom's
Terrific Antiques after I rang ('only when the sign is lit;
ring to enter' read the handwritten sign on the door) and
received entrance to his shop on Leavenworth across
from Bronco's Burgers.

"Too long," he said, laughing. And then: "Fifty years. But this is it."

"You're not buying any more?"

"No. I'm dying."

Posting by cameraphone from Omaha.

serv 'urself & save

serv 'urself & save
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Bronco's of Omaha, NE
Est. 1959

Did I deliver or did I deliver?


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Posting by cameraphone from Omaha.

dealer's choice

Harry Truman's "motto, 'The buck stops here,' refers to the dealer's button or placeholder, because during the 19th century hunting knives with buckhorn handles often served that function.
From Bluffing at the Highest Levels in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

Photo by b1-66er and used without permission only because 1) I'm posting from this hospital room and 2) it was the only poker-like imagery I happened to have on my phone (so lucky for me it was an excellent image) and 3) I haven't had a chance to ask him yet.

(hey b1 -- mind if I use your photo?)

Posting by cameraphone from Omaha.

morning breaks at the Magnolia

Posting by cameraphone from the
Magnolia Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska

Friday, November 06, 2009

I'll be back

I'll be back
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo
Bronco's, Est 1959. This is just a placeholder until I capture a shot of their magnificent flashing neon sign -- the sign that drew me to Bronco's; the sign that was flashing its lasso as I pulled in after a long day on the road and a longer day camped out in an Omaha hospital room where mr. hoo's sweet poetry-writing, rhyme-citing grandma is currently bed bound with a couple of fierce infections.

The same colossal flashing neon sign the Bronco's night shift flipped OFF just as I pulled to the drive-thru window a little after 10PM to pay for my double-cheese burgers with laredo fries (waffle cut, seasoned) and reached for my cameraphone.


For what it's worth, the Bronco's double-cheese burger is prepared exclusively with mustard -- lots of it -- and a couple of pickles. (Perfect.) The ketchup, all 13 foil packets of which will go to their grave unopened, was buried in the grease soaked bag under the fries and mr. hoo's cherry pie.

Posting by cameraphone from Omaha, NE.

essanay assayed

It had a lovely look to it.

Morace Park commenting on a film tin that he purchased on Ebay for £3.20, according to yesterday's Guardian.

Unknown to Mr. Park at the point of purchase, the tin contained a previously unknown film by Charlie Chaplin.

film manufacturing in chicago

Related: Chicago Film Manufacturing »

Thursday, November 05, 2009

colorful logic

We know there is no scientific proof that blue lights will help deter suicides. But if blue has a soothing effect on the mind, we want to try it to save lives.

Keihin Railway spokesman, Osamu Okawa on the decision of the East Japan Railway to spend about $165,000 to install blue lights at all of the Yamanote line stations in an effort to soothe and reduce the suicide rate among passengers, as reported in this morning's New York Times.

Suicides in Japan are trending upward and are expected to exceed the 2003 record of 34,427 deaths. Six percent of Japanese suicides are committed on the rail lines.

Posting this because I was struck by the tender sweet poignancy [1] of the East Japan Railway's action. The only indication that installing blue lights over platforms might have some impact is the assumption that the color blue has a soothing effect on people. There's no consideration given to context: is it the blue itself, or is it the sky, the ocean -- which happen to be blue -- that soothe?

Can blue lights in the close confines of the railway station soothe my troubled soul the way the wide open sky and the vast sea can place my problems in perspective and give me a reason to hold on a little while longer? Maybe not forever, but maybe for today?

There's no knowing, but lives are at stake, and the good people of the East Japan Railway are going to give it a shot.

[1] Yes of course: it's almost certain that revenue concerns are driving this action as much as compassion -- after all it costs a great deal of money to stop incoming trains and clean the tracks if the unhappy event occurs; comparatively, $165K may be a small drop in the bucket.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

mi ofrenda


Over the weekend I built an ofrenda, a shrine to my dead, littered with their pictures, artifacts and fresh flowers. Laid over a wooly black shawl from Chamula, incredulously trimmed with pink embroidery and pompoms that I found while shopping with Kathryn in that Mayan Highlands village. That she found, actually, because she asked the shopkeeper in her native dialect “are you sure you have nothing better in the back?” Kathryn’s picture was on my ofrenda too.

The ofrenda has become my annual, solitary ritual. No one in this place I live in knows my dead, so no one comes to visit and tell their stories so that our dead, dropping by, might catch up with their living. I suppose I could change that, and maybe I should, by inviting a few friends over next year. As it is, I build my ofrenda alone and I remember the ones I love. The ones I miss. There are tears but they’re the friendly tears of holding one long gone closely to fill up the hole they made when they left me.

I light the candles -- this year there were two. One held by the rough clay incensario that was used to bless my and mr. hoo's wedding ceremony in San Cristobal de las Casas. The other was in rock crystal -- a Steuben starburst-shaped candle holder that belonged to my Grama Schufmann during her life in Queens. I set out a glass of water because the dead, I’m told, are always thirsty, and I set out some food because you’re supposed to; because the apples were crisp and the pomegranate was a bright gorgeous red.

There were leaves to rake that afternoon, on the day of the dead, and because I didn’t want to leave the candles burning I blew them out before I stepped outside, promising to light them again when I returned. An ash blew off the candle wick and lofted into the water glass like a floating candle on the Ganges. The wick glowed red.

I raked my fallen leaves, piling them into tall crispy drifts in the gutter where the big trucks will soon churn by to take them away.

When I returned inside I found the candle I extinguished had spontaneously re-ignited from the remnant ember. It burned gently, fiercely. Alive.

Monday, November 02, 2009

sur la rue

Photo: Michael Wolf

Photographer Michael Wolf has taken? culled? street photography from Google Street View, Paris (and the work is quite captivating) »

Also worth mentioning: Wolf's Chicago Series, The Transparent City »


So how was I to know this thing called Doom would make a jillion smackers?

Illustrator Don Ivan Punchatz, on his decision to accept a flat fee over a royalty for his illustrated cover for the first release of the video game Doom. Cited this morning in his New York Times obituary.

Punchatz, who passed away on 22 October, created book jackets for Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury; magazine covers for Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone and National Lampoon; illustrations for National Geographic. He also created the original Star Wars movie poster.

When I saw the Star Wars reference in the obit for the man who peopled my imagination with planets and other far away places (even though I didn't know it was him doing it), I immediately thought of the poster in which Luke raises his light saber overhead and Leia stands all chesty beside him. But Google reveals that that one is not his. Instead, Punchatz armed Leia and set her jaw fiercely as she leans into battle.

Which makes me miss him all the more.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

as soft-spoken executrix

The Summer had died peacefully in its sleep, and Autumn, as soft-spoken executrix, was locking life up safely until Spring came to claim it.

Kurt Vonnegut in Look at the Birdie: Unpublished Short Fiction reviewed this morning by Dave Eggers in the New York Times Book Review.
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