Dec 30, 2007


minako is on mission street, between 17th and 18th. i've passed by it for months and not had occasion to go inside but, on friday night, tory, mary, and i went there for dinner. it was a lot like going to a great neighbourhood restaurant in osaka -- the staples but irreproachably done. we ordered a vast array of small dishes, and they were served up at perfect eating pace.

  1. renkon soup (dashi broth, grated ginger, scallions, shoyu, and a little cake made of lotus root and lotus root starch)
  2. age nasu dengaku (aubergines grilled with miso and mirin, then cut into chunks and tempura-fried)
  3. ingen goma ae (french-cut green beans, steamed and then dressed with miso and sesame)
  4. tuna tataki (cubes of raw tuna dressed in yuzu and shoyu, then garnished with thin-sliced naganegi)
  5. minted hamachi (thick slices of hamachi in a green sauce of pounded mint and yuzu juice to cut the fat)
  6. broiled black cod in miso paste
  7. udon with umeboshi (the preserved plums that came with the udon soup were house-made, sweeter than usual, and quite deeply-flavoured)
old-school culinary types in japan still make their own plum wines and preserves -- it's the definition of patience, since the wines especially only really hit their stride decades on. i got a large jar of 42-year home-made umeshu when i went to talk to a lady in the outer suburbs of tokyo back in the days before carrying liquids in hand luggage became verboten. it was made from shochu that she'd distilled from sweet potatoes grown on her family's farm in hokkaido and plums from the century-old japanese plum tree in her back yard. it was almost ninety degrees in tokyo the day i visited her and the smell of plums filled the room as soon as the warm jar was opened. it was unctuous, refreshing, bitter, sour, and sweet all at the same time; we ran through it all almost immediately, but i gave minz's parents a bottle of it several years ago that has only recently come back to the surface and they're now drinking it with every sign of enjoyment.
coming back from the bathroom in minako, i saw, stacked in the back, large dated jars of umeboshi and umeshu sitting and waiting; there are only a couple of glasses of the 1984 umeshu left and at least one of them has my name on it.

Dec 23, 2007

how sweet is this?

this morning, the sky was cloudless, a slightly bleached blue, and there was bright sunlight and a cold wind running down church street. i sat for the first time in the living room and read the new yorker over a large mug of hot tea (peets's 2007 holiday offering, from margaret last year). i found the auxiliary input cable for dave's sound system and plugged in antonio janigro's version of the bach solo cello suites (my preferred rendition, better than even the rostropovich that i've listened to -- the music is oceanic in depth, and janigro's pace and control suits it), then started peeling tiny mandarin oranges now being sold by the happy boy farm stand at the noe valley farmers' market. these oranges have segments swollen with juice but are still intensely flavoured, sugary and with such high acidity and so much volatile oil that they're a bit of a Taste Explosion. they were cold, sharp, and bright, like the room. if doubt remains that citrus can be a minor form of the religious experience, see mfk fisher's account of tangerine consumption.

Dec 22, 2007

long exposures

kenro izu's bhutan photos just got featured in the NYT. his stuff is gorgeous, powerful -- "strong and calm as the summer sea" (extra credit if you know where that's from). these fluttering prayer flags outside bumthang dissolve into mist on what i imagine must be a long-ish exposure:

prayer's flag, near kurjey lhakhang, bumthang, bhutan

another japanese photographer i like who makes particularly dreamlike use of time and light is tokihiro sato. he has a series called photo-respiration, where he uses long exposures and pinpoints of sunlight or torchlight to create images of glowing clusters floating through and around cities and fields, like spirits of place (or kami, or genius loci).

photo-respiration hattach 1

photo-respiration #155

oh, that's just delicious

when i was in japan a few years ago, i got a lead on the original tapes and transcripts of pre-manuscript interviews with hamada shoji and bernard leach; leach being the translator of the unknown craftsman: a japanese insight into beauty (written by yanagi soetsu). i was trying to get these materials out of japan and into the collections of the fine arts library at harvard, but was ultimately foiled. in any case, the unknown craftsman's intent was to introduce the idea of considering things beautiful not because they are intentionally artful but because they express a profound (even if unintended) understanding of material, intended use, vernacular style, handcraft tradition, or technique evolution -- objects that are beautiful in this particular way are called mingei (民芸), a term introduced by yanagi and hamada in the 1920s (i think). it was very much a response to the increasingly prevalence of both industrial mechanical production and studio art; this formed a pincer in the middle of which lay the extensive system of japanese craft production. in any case, i like mingei as an idea even if most everyone else thinks it's bunk, so it's nice to see that there's now an online mingei museum dedicated to the aesthetics of the routine and the vernacular. it is, naturally, both located in and funded by the city of san diego.

Dec 19, 2007


the cynic in me says "hey, another semi-pointless typographical exercise", but the ex-typographer, tree-aficionado, and fan of japanese design thinks it is a gorgeous production. this is what W0W says about their short film, tenspace:
A motion graphics installation featuring plants and typography. We’ve interpreted the space between each number in a countdown and present it to you in a physical space. Experience a virtual landscape featuring 11 digitally rendered ikebana pieces which draw you in as you speed through time. Clinging to the camera you race through three dimensions viewing each piece one by one.
here is the video*, for general delectation:

W0W plays on the human fascination with the process and result of transformation that is heightened when the former state is recognisable within the transformed state. hence our inordinate interest in superheroes who lead other lives of mild-mannered tedium, kafka's metamorphosis (which i haven't read, but which i assume is relevant since it starts with someone turning into a giant talking cockroach), and any plan to reform social security. it is particularly neat that W0W is able to infuse this sense of weirdness and transformation into a sequence of numbers. it reminds me of what once-upon-a-forest used to be like -- the beginnings of experimentation with user-controlled flash graphics and stylised organic forms. and, while we're on that, does anyone remember the scene from julie taymor's titus, where lavinia is discovered after being defiled by "stern and ungentle hands"? it's the only image i recall from that film (which was quite strange, but probably worth seeing again), and it is a literal interpretation of the text: lavinia stands on a stump in a dead or dying swamp (i think), hands amputated and replaced by branches. blood pours forth when she opens her mouth to answer. it was pretty nasty, but also tremendously powerful and quite beautiful. to wit:

W0W write (they're a collective, after all) that the most important element in their work is the capacity to "feel doubts and interests in everything," and i can never pass up the opportunity to mention (again, and in context) the general applicability of negative capability in the creation of powerful works of art. it's what john keats described as a quality that forms
a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
* - served up by dailymotion, because the youtube compression wrecks the animation.

heart made of sound

the softlightes are supposed to be a wonder band, but i just like this because of the stop-motion photography and the brilliant use of found objects -- the best part may be the bit where the paperclips say "friend" on a bed of metal shavings. i first saw this almost a year ago, but it's finally become available on youtube, so:

Dec 18, 2007


on the way home from the lake, we drove into the much-heralded blizzard that was supposed to have hit us last night. the branches on the trees by the side of the highway already were bowed down by snow, and large flakes flew toward us the way stars do on the bridge when the enterprise engages warp drive. after an hour on snowy roads, we stopped in pollock pines for dinner at the pizza factory, a restaurant that turns out to be one of a chain of over 60 west coast pizzerias restricted solely to small towns like show low, ariz., and weed, calif.

as we were leaving, hammer and i asked if we could buy their mugs (they say "we toss 'em, they're awesome", which is a masterpiece of copywriting). the woman behind the counter looked deeply perplexed and went off to consult her manager. she returned a few minutes later with two mugs, on the house.

Dec 17, 2007

food as text

i ducked into painted bird on the way home a few nights ago, and saw shirts made under the imprint of art in the age of mechanical reproduction -- an art collective that was recently pointed out to me by someone commenting on my minor diatribe about wood and things. i identify strongly with them given my deep fascination with esoteric knowledge about the mechanics and process of producing things. as a data point, my original intent here was not to imply that it is impossible to make valuable and beautiful things in an age where mechanical reproduction is the norm, rather that it becomes much less likely that this is the case.

in any case, art in the age is nice, and they've recently written about edible type (which should appeal at least to sulin, for whom these things hold what i always imagine to be an inordinate attraction). i remain resolute that a service baking user-selected words in a bread of their choice ( would take the world by storm.

Dec 16, 2007

this just in from the lathe

a round-bottomed bowl of copper beech, turned from green wood and not yet finished.


i woke up this morning feeling a little hung-over. after padding blearily into the kitchen and knocking over several boxes, i successfully made a mug of tea, sat down, took a sip, and stopped just before setting the hot, wet base of it on the tabletop and marring it forever. it only goes to show how much an object can be worth if you spend 7 months of weekends on it. possibly, if everything we had was harder to come by instead of easily and cheaply available in a store nearby (for which, thank you china), things would be more durable, lovelier, and better-loved. we are in an age marked by the making of machines which are "wonders of invention, skill, and patience, used for the production of measureless quantities of worthless makeshifts" (from william morris's news from nowhere, of course). this is the art of the age of mechanical reproduction? no wonder we lead an "arid and empty existence in the midst of wealth and extraordinary material benefits." eric sloane's a reverence for wood is one of my new favourites.

manufactured landscapes

the high line wasn't open to the public when i was in new york in june, so i spent a saturday morning walking around the galleries overlooking the west side highway. i went into the charles cowles gallery purely to escape the heat, but was lured deeper by an enormous book-matched live-edge table. most of the art was pretentious and second-rate, but one room was dedicated entirely to large-format photography by edward burtynsky, who won the TED prize in 2005.

manufactured landscapes is a documentary retrospective of burtynsky's work, showing additional background footage from his visits to quarries, shipyards, and other places where industry has re-shaped the physical and social landscape. we saw it on monday night at hammer's. apart from the music (which was egregious, needlessly oppressive, and almost entirely in minor keys) it had a light touch for a 90-minute film about several places in the world where human activity has either created stultifying social environments or left enormous blights upon the land. doubtless this is because the photos are stunning and gorgeous.

shipyard #12, zhejiang, china: shipbuilding is making a hole in the sea and surrounding it with material. from the outside, once the hulls are complete, even large ships look like light envelopes, an illusion enhanced by their ponderous but ineluctable progress. this photo of the hull structure before the skin is riveted on, reveals the light envelope to be surprisingly hefty. compare this with the hull structure of a wooden boat, which is skeletal by contrast -- wood is stronger than steel by weight.

stilgoe used to say that progress is often misunderstood to necessarily be improvement where it frequently is only change.

shipbreaking #9, chittagong, bangladesh: the more massive the ship, the more it costs to disassemble -- in most countries, it costs more to break a ship than the parts are worth. old ships come to die on the shores of chittagong. usually pointed perpendicular to the shore and then abandoned with the engines running, these ships grind ashore and are taken apart for salvage. most sea-going ships of this vintage have hulls painted below the waterline with antifouling compounds -- toxic biocides designed to inhibit the growth of barnacles and other marine life on the hulls -- which are ground off as the ships slam into the sand. it looks a little like an overimagined collection of ancient greek warships.

if you are intrigued by this, you may also enjoy rustfetish, a photographer committed to exploring, up close, the pleasures of rust.

Dec 14, 2007

great champagne

bernie brought in two bottles of the widow today, to celebrate the continuing march of the graph up and to the right. we're out to get mapquest, see, and, so far, it's going, even if only very slightly. (that was a lot of commas). in addition, we pilgrimaged to get a strawberry shortcake from satura in los altos that was pretty damn tasty.

this post is more an excuse to plug gruet champagnes from new mexico. a fraction of the price of veuve clicquot and of a quality not significantly dissimilar. thank you, ami vora:

it really sucks

when you give people stuff that's really valuable and they think it isn't.

Dec 12, 2007

one please

norman and norah stone have built themselves an art cave in napa recalling i.m. pei's miho museum in shigaraki, but either with more architectural integrity, better photography, or both.

shibboleth, at the tate modern

here's a marvellous article from the NYT about shibboleth, doris salcedo's unilever installation at the bankside tate.

"Shibboleth" takes its title from the Old Testament story in which the ability to pronounce the word was used by the victorious Gileadites as a test to identify members of the tribe of Ephraim who were trying to sneak back into their home territory. Those who couldn't say it correctly were revealed as Ephraimites and killed. The work is the eighth in the popular Unilever Series on the Tate's enormous ground floor. It is not the first to raise safety concerns: the previous installation, which involved huge tubes that people slid through, was said to have needed extra cushioning after some members of the opening-night crowd were catapulted too precipitously onto the floor.

The other day the visitors seemed filled with wonder, not only at the artwork's grand gesture but also at the mildness of the hazard it represents. The first thing you see when you enter the Turbine Hall are signs saying, "Warning: Danger of Falling," illustrated with a picture of a stick figure who has tripped on something and is about to fall down. Also, the crack is hard to miss, there on its own in the middle of the floor, surrounded by people taking pictures of it, peering down into it, stepping across it and walking alongside it.

"The exhibit is all about the crack," said Peter Girard, 38, an American tourist. "It's a really big crack. What are you looking at if you're not looking at the crack?" (He was not perhaps the greatest enthusiast for the installation's artistic merit. "It's a real shame that London's infrastructure has fallen apart to the extent that there are giant cracks in one of its newest museums," he said.)

Two visitors from the Netherlands, Manon Straatman and her husband, Victor, were equally mystified by the perils of "Shibboleth." "Maybe someone walks into the museum and isn't interested in what's in the museum," Mrs. Straatman mused. Mr. Straatman said the crack was modest in its width and depth, hardly the sort of gaping abyss into which you might plummet to your doom. "Oh look, there's someone falling now," he said suddenly.

Indeed there was: A woman nearby had caught her foot in the crack and pitched awkwardly forward, ending up sprawled on the floor. The woman, who later identified herself as Anne McNicholas, a 51-year-old medical researcher from New Zealand, said she had arranged to meet some friends in the gallery and had not been looking where she was going. "I just didn't see it," she said. She was not impressed by the exhibit, particularly in light of her injuries: a nasty scrape-cum-bruise on her right knee and an even nastier one on her left shin. "I don't think it should be there at all." she said. "It's not America," she added pointedly, "so I won't sue."

Word of Ms. McNicholas's mishap prompted a discussion among visitors of whether it might be wise to erect barriers around the exhibit, or seal it with some kind of Plexiglass-type material. No, was the consensus. "I think that would completely ruin the excitement of it," said Rachel Laine, whose 2-year-old son, Charlie, was peering into the crack, searching for crocodiles. "The whole concept of why people are coming here is to see a huge concrete floor with a crack in it."

Mr. Lord, 54, the visitor who was not sure what the piece meant, pronounced himself thrilled that it allowed for the possibility of injury, however remote. "I applaud it," said Mr. Lord, a film animator. "In England the words 'health and safety' have become a catchphrase, a standing joke of things you can't do." As for Uros Vasiljevic, a 29-year-old businessman visiting from Serbia, he said that people should just take their chances.

"Art is dangerous sometimes," he said.

google maps for mobile

GMM now has a location feature that tells you approximately where you are without needing a GPS signal (or receiver). i became mildly obsessive this morning after my 90th minute stuck in the shuttle -- the pale circle on the map didn't move, but not because it didn't want to. if you have an unlimited data plan, download it at


yesterday, while examining pictures of sap, i found the magnetosphere visualizer by barbarian. magnetosphere replaces the traditional itunes visualizer with streaming, glowing clouds of particles and luminous orbs that resonate to the music you choose. it reminds me of wefeelfine's oddly organic, pulsing, light-filled, particle clouds, and of the special effects from star trek: the next generation. i've decided that i like this visualizer because of its effective use of speed -- the visualizer avoids looking frenetic because the major particle clusters move slowly along their main paths, with tempo denoted by smaller movements close to each cluster's centre.

Dec 10, 2007

a history of history

we went to the asian art museum on sunday morning to see hiroshi sugimoto's history of history. i'd missed the deyoung retrospective (see some of his stuff here, and here) and the talk he gave on history of history, so figured i should at least catch the show itself. the main idea is that history can be reified into objects, and that photographs themselves are a form of frozen time. as he puts it, "I came to realize that photography is a process of making fossils out of the present." the show is a sort of wunderkammer, stuffed with objects extracted from pre-history to the present day. you walk in through a short passage flanked with fossils from silurian seas, the sandstone surrounding ammonites and ancient sea lilies carefully lifted away to reveal not just the outlines but also the forms of the organisms themselves jutting out from the rock. at the end of the entry corridor, a photograph of the caribbean, half ruffled dark water and half cloudless sky. it could be a photograph of a primordial sea. thinking back, i'm reminded of frans lanting's life through time series; another effort to capture, in the present, images of a prior time. both are exercises in re-membering, reattaching pieces of memory (or created memory) to the collective consciousness.

in one of the side rooms of the 4-roomed exhibition, an entire wall was hung with pages from the burnt sutra of the nigatsudo. this is a copy of the avatamsaka sutra that was in the nigatsu hall in todai-ji when it burned down in the 17th century -- it was written in a platinum-rich ink on paper dyed blue with indigo and tightly rolled for storage. when unearthed among the ashes, the lower third of the entire scroll had been charred by heat but a remarkable amount of the material survived the burning of the hall.
the scroll is interesting not only for the circumstances of its survival, but also because of the pigments used for both scroll and of the pigment used for the ink. paper dyed with true indigo is difficult to produce since the colouring agent in indigo must be dissolved in a reducing, alkaline solution and then reoxidised and dried onto the dyeing substrate to achieve the final colour. the reduction-oxidation process is the reason why indigo dyes tend to achieve different shades over the course of a print run -- any given shade is difficult to reproduce. in any case, you can see the sutra for yourself (or a page of it, anyway):

you can see that the brushstrokes are surprisingly distinct for having been burnt -- the ink pigment, being platinum rather than carbon (as is usually the case with chinese and japanese brush inks), was preserved intact rather than combusted in the heat. more: had the pigment been highly acidic or basic like the oak gall and iron inks favoured by manuscript writers of the middle ages, the sutra would have been consumed by
ink corrosion, a different, slower fire, but a kind of burning nonetheless.

eating through san francisco

clearly still a work in progress

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chanukah and plainsong

laura and jake gave a chanukah dinner on saturday night before catherine's christmas concert with the san francisco bach choir. they made great latkes (even though a minor commotion at the woodshop caused me to get to them cold rather than hot), a slow-cooked beef brisket, chicken with prunes, olives, and bay leaves, a butternut squash pie, and rice krispie squares stuffed with apricots and cranberries. it was all good, and i met a pair of woodworkers who'd converted the middle apartment in their castro victorian into a woodshop (one of the two has photos online, so here's some of john's stuff  and more of john's stuff). we've arranged a shop visit. sfbc is a bit larger this year and was rejoicing in a new-found love of the theatrical. after the relatively serious music of the first half and the intermission, the lights went out and the choir came in with candles and plainsong, plunging us instantly into the middle ages. tiffany leaned over and wondered how the music must have sounded the very first time it was sung; i just thought of the great unwashed masses in medieval churches and was happy to not be there. church workers used to lay great masses of satureja branches onto the floors of churches to keep down the smell of humanity. we went to the grove after, and nursed a bottle of wine for a few hours. incredibly, when i got home at 1am, i found a parking spot on the corner of church and 23rd. 

Dec 6, 2007


the japanese aerospace exploration authority put up some of the movies taken by kaguya, their lunar orbiter, on their website. due to, shall we say, my particular portfolio, these pieces of footage are of particular interest to me -- they're stunning, quite breathtaking, and somehow stately even at dramatically-reduced resolution. the camera moves slowly, at a luxurious and processional pace. i marvel that this is the first major lunar exploration expedition since the apollo missions more than four decades ago.

connected, but only tangentially:

bill luce's lunar landscape in holly #3.

Dec 5, 2007

the lucca ravioli company

as our friend DH says, "let's not kid ourselves. i go to lucca every three or four days. well, maybe every two or three days." "whenever the ravioli runs out?" "basically."

lucca is a tiny italian grocery on the corner of 22nd and valencia that makes its own fresh pastas and stocks a decent selection of dry goods, canned produce, and wine. there's always too many people in butcher aprons behind the counter, and you take a number even if you're only picking up a can of tuna. they sell chartreuse (two varieties) above the grissini, next to the salumi case, and there's a painting of italy done in pastel oils on the ceiling. if they were only open on sundays, i would be transported. they are the mission's only purveyor of fresh italian flatbreads from the liguria bakery up in the north of the city. $5 buys a half-sheet of pizza or focaccia (sometimes more or less depending on the topping) measuring 11" x 12" -- simple, chewy dough that gets a good crust in a slow oven, with cheese, besciamella, and a light sprinkle of the ingredient on top.

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the century of the fruitbat

after a while, even for me, html circa 1994 gets old and the Siren song of email postings and auto-archiving becomes irresistible. so the sap rises again, not far from the old tree. entries from the early years are still available here.

small appliances

i was up late last night trying to buy things on amazon -- specifically, a heavily-discounted twin pack of sonicare replacement electric toothbrush replacement heads. they'd been discounted heavily, to the point where they missed the cutoff for free super-saver shipping by 86 cents. a small part of me said "you cheap bastard. just buy them and pay the shipping." but it was a very small part of me and easily crushed; after all, how hard can it be to find something useful and needful on amazon for less than $10 and also eligible for super-saver shipping? 3 hours later, having rejected a four-pack of 200-yard dentotape dispensers, a 12-pack case of listerine mouthwash, and a discounted carton full of small assorted moleskine notebooks sold by a vendor in taijikistan, i ended up with this. now amazon will not stop foisting kitchenaid mixers, dutch ovens, slow cookers, and miscellaneous small kitchen appliances on me.

Nov 14, 2007

tea bone zen mind

so here i am, early on a wednesday evening on seah street, in the restored shophouse that houses tea bone zen mind. (or, rather, there i was -- shortly after i began writing this, my cousin showed up) after stopping by earlier with minzhi, i wanted to come back and read some of the steep road to garbadale here. tea bone zen mind has a small footprint but is almost three storeys high. in the seating area, the full height of the room is revealed and a wall of old windows provides a wash of soft light (it's overcast outside). a deep blue cut-glass cup showed up right after i sat down, holding a light infusion with no flavour and the faintest scent of fruit -- it turns out to be lychee tea. they had a gyokuro on the lists, and i ordered a pot of it. darryl points out how aspirationally mo-an-esque this is, and he's right. they didn't use quite as much leaf as they should have, but the brew was vegetal with an appropriately jade-green colour; it had a mild astringency but also limestone overtones that kept it tasting rich in the mouth. it was a lot like falling asleep in a large mound of fresh grass clippings on a warm and humid day. they served the tea with a cube of azuki bean kuzu jelly, some crystallized yuzu peel, and those spiky sugar balls that i don't really understand -- a classic summer-into-fall group of flavours, though i suppose to be really accurate you should just serve summer things all year in singapore. the cup had a beautiful grey-green celadon glaze with a tan rim, and the pot was dark brown with an ingenious lid that keeps the tea leaves in when you pour -- for sale in the remarkably expensive ware shop on the second level (where long, involved tea tastings are also held for valued clients who will lay down several thousands of dollars on teas and porcelain). it's all very beautifully done. not to forget that they have a set of grass green cabinets lining the wall, and those deep, straight-sided porcelain sinks that everyone remembers from secondary school chemistry labs.

Nov 13, 2007

earlier posts

from 2004 to november 2007, it was the time of HTML circa 1994. the archive from those antediluvian days is visible here.