Aug 31, 2009

the wasteland

went to lechmere tonight in search of a tasty beverage and can confirm that 1) it is infested by chain stores, 2) all of which are closed after 9.30pm, 3) and what is open after 9.30pm is reprehensible.

Aug 29, 2009

paris, recollected

through an improbable sequence of events, i wound up in paris for 10 days a few weeks ago. i spent most of that time underground, reading for generals between answering questions, in the main space at le laboratoire. events and observations:

  1. the first morning, i ran through the louvre to the seine, and then across the bridge to the left bank on my way to the champs de mars. i slowed down passing the overflowing summer gardens at the musee de quai branly, and then did a double take at the vegetal wall by patrick blanc covering the entire administrative building (longer article here). much of the wall up to head height is covered with a particularly soft and fuzzy moss that invites you to hug it, so i did.
  2. the tubular metal seating in paris parks and gardens is magnificent, especially the low reclining chair, which is perfect for reading. one evening, after failing to find the pont des artes, we sat in these chairs in the tuileries garden with a large bottle of warm orange juice and watched the sun go down over the obelisk.
  3. france does not believe in adequate ventilation.
  4. i met a friend from google for drinks and one of his ex-googler friends came along too. she went to pastry school in paris and now lives there, making stunningly good artisanal caramels in her paris pastry lab. (extra points if you know what a galipette is. i didn't. trust the french to have a polite word for it.)
  5. shanaz showed up from zurich for some kind of wedding celebration, and we made an executive decision to go to le comptoir du relais. it was great: pea soup with mint and tapioca, a terrine of pork, a poêlée of girolles and zucchini topped with a shaving of dry-cured pork, beef cheeks with tremendous depth of flavour, and a round slab of crisp, tender, slightly gelatinous suckling pig.
  6. some people got invited to mathieu lehanneur's workshop and i insinuated myself into the contingent. five (or possibly six) floors up, at the top of an old building surrounded by fabric stores, is a large workspace filled with marvelous things. it reminded me of the roomful of olafur eliasson's* maquettes that traveled with take your time, except much slicker.
  7. all the boulangeries and patisseries i wanted to go to were closed. chance alone guided me to regis colin, on rue montmartre, at the end of another early morning run into the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th arrondissements. it was an unpromising-looking store and they had just opened for the day. the bleary-eyed counterlady sold me a compact croissant and a pain au chocolat, both still warm from the oven. i ate the croissant standing on the corner as the sun cleared the horizon. it may have been the best croissant i've ever had. (as it turns out, it took over 18 months for me to run across a better croissant in narita airport.)

* on that note: the Institut für Raumexperimente

the sackler

on my way home today, inspired by housemate ben's example, i stopped in at the sackler to see the latest rotation of the review exhibition on show while the fogg undergoes renovations. i didn't know that the museums were still acquiring, but there were several pieces there from the last couple of years, including a beautifully-made bar of milled aluminium with cast resin spelling out "confidence in daybreak modifies dusk" (a quote from emily dickinson's letters), that appeared to be made of glass from a distance and only became comprehensible close up. the docent and the curatorial commentary opined that piece was made of plastic around which aluminium was cast, but this seems implausible: the resin would char and discolour immediately on contact with molten aluminum. much more likely that the aluminium was milled to form the negative spaces between the letters and then locked into a matrix for the resin pour. in any case, a beautiful object.

roni horn, 2007. image from the harvard art museums.

then, as i was leaving, i bumped into one of the board members of storm king and zaha hadid, in town for the weekend. which only goes to show that museums are worth going to.

Aug 28, 2009

the generals

are done with; suddenly, there is a sense of release, and the days are filled with hours to each of which a determinate number of pages to be digested is not attached. we celebrated with inglourious basterds and discovered that cinema on friday morning is a blissfully isolate experience.

Aug 20, 2009

maps and representations

We say the map is different from the territory. But what is the territory? Operationally, somebody went out with a retina or a measuring stick and made representations which were then put on paper. What is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps.

Aug 14, 2009

the perfect reading chair

the height and pitch of the back are perfect. these chairs are literally strewn all over parisian parks and gardens but, despite repeated searches, i can't figure out where to get one.

update: the brainy julien benayoun has solved this puzzle. this perfect reading chair is part of the luxembourg family of outdoor furniture designed by frederic sofia and made by fermob.

on a street in paris

on a street north of the rue de rivoli, just a few blocks away from le laboratoire.

ike jime smackdown

turns out ike jime (the mystical japanese fish-killing technique) yields better-tasting, better-textured fish by acclamation. the folks at cooking issues (now officially my favourite blog) proceeded to do some nifty investigative research on why this might be the case. the plausible explanation is that inserting the needle up the spine destroys the fish's spinal cord:
Certain fish that swim for very long periods have highly a highly developed autonomic nervous system for swimming (sounds like the CPG’s Bob was talking about). These fish, like bass, like horse mackerel, etc. benefit from spinal cord destruction. Other fish, like plaice, that don’t have highly evolved constant swimming reflexes, don’t benefit (or at least not as much). The paper recommends doing a species by species test to see which fish benefit the most. The paper didn’t mention CPG’s (in fact no paper did that I could find). Someone needs to do some research on that. So then, when you destroy the spinal cord, you destroy the swim reflex, which helps reduce ATP loss, delaying and softening rigor, increasing the quality of the fish.
this definitely did not emerge when i was talking to the professors at the tsuji academy about their fish preparation techniques in 2005.

Aug 11, 2009

more cooking issues

i keep telling people that being a graduate student is, apart from the comparatively lousy pay, the best thing ever: you get to do stuff you're interested in, doze off reading, work in cafes, the whole bit. then i read the latest post from cooking issues and it is clear that in fact the real best thing ever is to be dave arnold and nils noren. this episode, they do an in-depth analysis of ike jime (a semi-mystical japanese fish-killing process purported to yield superior fish flesh).


the final issue of convivium, image from hortus.

this is my latest minor fixation: convivium (from the publisher of hortus). a serial festschrift (of a sort) for elizabeth david, this journal consists of 8 issues, each 128 pages, of writing dedicated to obscure issues relating to food. better yet, each edition is letterpress printed and illustrated with engravings and woodcuts. (obviously, this hit all the right buttons.)

if you have £49.50 kicking around, you might consider ordering a set of all 8 issues. and if you have £99.00 at a loose end, you might consider ordering a set for me too.

Aug 9, 2009

fond of the pond

pachaug pond this weekend. on saturday evening, the sky at dusk was wreathed in pale cirrus clouds that appeared to emanate from the sun, which glowed from below the horizon in the gap between an island in the pond and the westerly shore. we took kayaks and canoes out on the water. everything glowed in the blue light that radiated from the sky, and small insects made circles on the still surface; we heard the band clearly, playing in the bay, and the beacon on the beach flashed on as the last light faded. later, when the air turned cold and a layer of mist appeared on the water, an old christmas tree was consigned to the fire and went up in a rush of flames, and pipes and cigars appeared. people eventually drifted off to tents and bed. the acoustic guitars came out at 1am and drew the circle of people in chairs tightly around them. dozed off around 4am in a hammock strung between two paper birches, to music and the sound of the tea-coloured pond lapping at the breakwater.

Aug 7, 2009

new cards

are software-controllable iphone camera settings too much to ask for? so it would seem.

i've been meaning to do these for a while; finally got round to setting them up and printing them between lab sessions on thursday, and then hunted down a guillotine for the cutdown. trying out a couple of new ideas: design variation (there are 24 unique card type x image/color combinations) and keywords. on the latter: whenever i pull out the stack of cards i've collected from other people, i usually end up wondering why i thought they were interesting enough to get a card from. the only exceptions are when i've scribbled something down a couple of words from our conversation on the card. maybe keywords will help--i quite like how these turned out. i also realized, after finishing the printing, that the source file had reverted to an earlier, more ineptly-kerned version. i'm thinking what you're thinking. this is how the cookie crumbles.

Aug 6, 2009


it is not often apparent how translation affects poetry. below, Рождественский романс by joseph brodsky, in two english translations. i know which one i like better.

Moscow Carol A Christmas Ballad
In such an inexplicable blue,
Upon the stonework to embark,
The little ship of glowing hue
Appears in Alexander Park.
The little lamp, a yellow rose,
Arising--ready to retreat--
Above the people it adores;
Near strangers' feet.

In such an inexplicable blue
The drunkards' hive, the loonies' team.
A tourist takes a snapshot to
Have left the town and keep no dream.
On the Ordynka street you find
A taxicab with fevered gnomes,
And dead ancestors stand behind
And lean on domes.

A poet strolls across the town
In such an inexplicable blue.
A doorman watches him looking down
And down the street and catches the flu.
An old and handsome cavalier
Moves down a lane not worth a view,
And wedding-party guests appear
In such an inexplicable blue.

Behind the river, in the haar,
As a collection of the blues--
The yellow walls reflecting far
The hopeless accent of the Jews.
You move to Sunday, to despair
(From love), to the New Year, and there
Appears a girl you cannot woo--
Never explaining why she's blue.

Then in the night the town is lost;
A train is clad in silver plush.
The pallid puff, the draught of frost
Will sheathe your face until you blush.
The honeycomb of windows fits
The smell of halva and of zest,
While Christmas Eve is carrying its
Mince pies abreast.

Watch your New Year come in a blue
Seawave across the town terrain
In such an inexplicable blue,
As if your life can start again,
As if there can be bread and light--
A lucky day--and something's left,
As if your life can sway aright,
Once swayed aleft.

trans. Alexey Vernitsky
In anguish unaccountable
the steady ship that burns at dark,
the small shy streetlamp of the night,
floats out of Alexander Park
in the exhaustion of dull bricks.
Like a pale-yellow, tiny rose,
it drifts along, past lovers' heads
and walkers' feet.

In anguish unaccountable
sleep-walkers, drunkards, float like bees.
A stranger sadly snaps a shot
of the metropolis by night;
a cab with squeamish passengers
jolts loudly to Ordynka Street,
and dead men stand in close embrace
with private homes.

In anguish unaccountable
a melancholy poet swims
along the town. Beside a shop
for kerosene, a porter stands,
round-faced and sad. A ladies' man,
now old, lopes down a dingy street.
A midnight wedding party sways
in anguish unaccountable.

On Moscow's murky south-side streets
a random swimmer sadly floats.
A Jewish accent wanders down
a yellowed melancholy stair.
A fragile beauty swims alone
from New Year's Eve to Saturday,
exchanging love for bitterness,
unable to explain her grief.

The chilly evening floats above
our eyes; two trembling snowflakes strike
the bus. A pale and numbing wind
slaps reddened hands. The honey-gold
of evening-lamps flows out; a scent
of halvah fills the air. The Eve
of Christmas holds the pie of heaven
above its head.

Your New Year's Day floats on a wave,
within the city's purple sea,
in anguish unaccountable--
as though life will begin anew,
and we will live in fame and light
with sure success and bread to spare;
as though, from lurching to the left,
life will swing right.

trans. George Kline

Aug 2, 2009

what has happened

to the economical, concise, well-written journal article? it has vanished, is what.

Aug 1, 2009


new little friend