Mar 22, 2010

Roy Blount, Jr. Understands Cats

I am
I heard Roy recite this on the radio, and now I have the book.  I Am the Cat, Don't Forget That: Feline Expressions.  Poems by Roy Blount, Jr.  Photographs by Valerie Shaff.

11:10 PM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 16, 2009

Star Trek. Yes. And Departures with Mr. Bond.

I tend to be a fault-finder when I go to movies at the theatre.  All the bad stuff amplified on screen and in surround-sound, plus the cost of admission, snacks, and sitting in one place for 90 minutes makes it easy for me to get annoyed by flaws.  That said, I enjoyed the holy crap out of Star Trek.  If ever there was a movie with potential to disappoint or annoy me, this was it. But I loved it.  I might even do the unheard of and see it -again- in a theatre, but this time at IMAX in Raleigh, now that I know it doesn't shake so much that it would disturb me.

My one modest disappointment (no spoilers, here) is that they didn't use any of the footage from the first Trailer, which K and I saw before the slighty better than "meh" Quantum of Solace.  Imagine seeing this trailer in a dark theatre if you didn't know it was about Star Trek:

Casino Royale may have been the last theatre movie that didn't disappoint or annoy me in any way. Coincidentally, Casino Royale and Star Trek are both movies that gave themselves license to move forward with a new take on an old series. Casino Royale introduced an emotionally complex Bond who declared his independence from the old Bond* in this brief dialogue with a bartender:

James Bond: [after Bond has just lost his 10 million in the game] Vodka-martini.
Bartender: Shaken or stirred?
James Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?

Star Trek's departure is done in a different way, but it's just as clear.


*actually, he's also declaring his independence from the Bond of ~15 minutes earlier, who ordered his martini with much detail.  A Bond who changes because of how he feels.  Fascinating.  Much like the new Spock.

01:37 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Mar 29, 2009

Mint and Mimosas -- Indian in Chapel Hill

Mint Indian Chapel Hill

Randy asked, "is that the right proportion?"

I dunno -- isn't 60% sparkling the normal amount for a mimosa?

The kind folks at Mint Indian in Chapel Hill had suggested we start with drinks while we waited for the running-a-little-late buffet to open up.  The ten minute shot-clock differential between free-access-to-drinks and an open buffet line struck me as dangerous.  But we did alright.

Randomalia on Mint, Indian mimosas, and other Indian buffets:

  • I'm no expert but thought that the food at Mint was fine.  I particularly enjoyed their gajar halva (carrot pudding dessert) which I'd never seen before.  I also appreciated the food had less salt than I expect in any buffet.  (Cleverness bonus: they split our change into two equal piles of seven singles, two nickels and two pennies each.)
  • Note that the newly-opened Mint is at 504 W. Franklin Street.  The longstanding India Palace is two doors down at 508.

10:34 PM in Food, Reviews, Triangulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nov 30, 2008

Get Smart -- Saving the World... and Loving It


Ha!  Perfect light entertainment. 

The Good

  • Lotsa yuks
  • Surprisingly good camera work
  • No unnecessary lingering or overemphasis during (the millions of) movie references or crude jokes
  • Clever lines that didn't break the rhythm of the movie
  • Extended shots of the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall in LA (inside and out).
  • Alan Arkin.

The Bad

  • The score
  • The fact that I now want to re-see the Cody Banks movies to compare cinematography and pacing.

12:15 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (9)

Nov 26, 2008

Thankful That I'm Wowed: Calle 54

My friend Laura once said she wanted to raise her kids in a small town because she didn't want them to fall into the trap of big-city kids from New York or D.C. -- the ones who at age seventeen feel like they've seen it all.

I remember this on occasions when I see something that makes me grin, sway and go "wow."  Like Michel Camilo's From Within, from the exceptional Calle 54:

Note: At around 5:28, the producer pushes the sliders back up on Anthony Jackson's six-stringed bass.  At 5:58, Jackson starts acting like there's two of him.

08:29 PM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

Nov 22, 2008

Bart, Lisa, James

Lasertable200 I know you already know, but I have certain reasons for mentioning here that the Associated Press recently reported the addition of "meh" to the Collins English Dictionary:

Publisher HarperCollins announced Monday the word had been chosen from terms suggested by the public for inclusion in the dictionary's 30th anniversary edition, to be published next year.

The origins of "meh" are murky, but the term grew in popularity after being used in a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer suggests a day trip to his children Bart and Lisa.

"They both just reply 'meh' and keep watching TV," said Cormac McKeown, head of content at Collins Dictionaries.

The dictionary defines "meh" as an expression of indifference or boredom, or an adjective meaning mediocre or boring. Examples given by the dictionary include "the Canadian election was so meh."

Now that we've recorded that news, I'd like you to ask me, "Hey Phil, what did you think of Quantum of Solace?"

You:  Hey Phil, what did you think of Quantum of Solace?
Me:   Meh.

For more intentional Simpsons/Bond connections, check out the Simpsons-Bond References Wiki or this other collection that's maybe even better.

12:26 AM in Reviews, Words | Permalink | Comments (3)

Nov 08, 2008

Blue Coffee Cafe, Blue City Durham


Above, Blue Coffee Cafe on Election Night.
Off camera to the left, a TV set is counting up the delegates.

After a few hours here on Tuesday, Dave from Boston declared Durham his new second favorite city in the world.  In town on a business trip for the NIH, he celebrated his fifty-something birthday at a packed Blue Coffee Cafe.

"I had no idea about this place," he said.  "I'm staying at the Marriott and assumed I was going to spend the evening in my hotel room, watching the TV and jumping up and down by myself.  But then I looked out my window and saw a bunch of people, so I came on down."

With the delegate count around 220, Dave let my pal Jenny treat him to some birthday coffee but he refused any hugs until Obama was over the top.  "I'm old school, and I've been disappointed enough times that I'm not going to jinx this." 

While we waited, I told him that he was standing right where Obama had visited in May, and where the still-needing-to-win-the-primary candidate treated his gathered supporters to a few slices of baked Blue Coffee yumminess.* Meanwhile, I knocked off my own fantastic slice of red velvet cake -- chosen without irony, and enjoyed more than any I'd ever tasted.

When the newscasters finally called California and the race, Dave joined the yelling, clapping and hugging without any New England reserve.  "Wow," he said.  "Four decades ago, I could never have imagined this..." Looking around at all the happy on his birthday, he declared, "Durham is now my second favorite city.  This place is great."


*Actually, I told Dave it was pie.  I found out later that it was all cake, and that my memory was off.  I can tell you, however, that Blue Coffee was much more crowded than the photo, above.  I think that by the time I took that photo (after 270), more people had gone outside to holler in the streets.

Recommended visits: That's No Bull's Blue Coffee blog entry from May and the The Durham News' post-election coverage also centered around the Cafe.

09:11 PM in Destination Durham, Editorial, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aug 21, 2008

Double Feature -- Tropic Thunder and Man on Wire

FEB 24 ALERT: Tom Cruise video is back, courtesy of the Russians at rutube (Top Gun irony?) run to 2:30 to skip the cursing and get to the dancing, playah.

Update/Alert: at least for the moment, YouTube has the Tom Cruise scene in which producer Cruise and agent McConaughey are dealing with the heroin dealers who are holding Stiller hostage.  At first, McConaughey thinks that Flaming Dragon is a rival talent agency.  Watch the whole 5-1/2 minutes while you can, play-ah! Gone, too bad.  Fun while it lasted.  Maybe to return someday.


Saw two movies this week: Tropic Thunder and Man on Wire.

Tropic_thunder_poster_2 Tropic Thunder was consistently amusing to me, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but I'm beginning to realize that I don't like Ben Stiller in anything.*  Tom Cruise was far and away** my favorite part of the movie and I wish I could remember his quotes better.  I look forward to when YouTube has his bits of this flick, so I can watch just them.  (A friend quoted some critic who said, "Ben Stiller has single-handedly rescued Tom Cruise's career.")  Robert Downey Jr. has a few great moments in rapid-response dialogue*** with Ben Stiller, and Matthew McConaughey has many funny moments as Ben Stiller's agent, doing his impression of Tom Cruise playing Jerry Maguire.

After reading a few reviews, I'm guessing that the two strongest reactions to this movie come from either (a) the politically-correct/activist folks who resent the portrayals of mentally retarded people or (b) the entertainment-industry aficionados who love the Hollywood satire.  Since I don't fall into either of those categories, I give it an unequivocal "Oh, it was pretty funny.  If I were bored and it came on TV, I'd watch most of it on purpose, and the rest because I'm too lazy to move."  Denver mall-theatre ticket: $9.

Man_on_wire_poster Man on Wire was recommended to me by a client (I think that's the movie he recommended) who saw it at Sundance (I'm pretty sure that's where he saw it.  At the very least, I know he was there).  In case you didn't see the trailers on TV (you didn't), Man on Wire is a documentary about Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974. 

It's a good story, but I didn't care for the storytelling or the camera work.  The filmmakers try to weave many story elements into the 90-minute doc: (a) re-enactments of the ~12 hours leading up to the walk, (b) re-enactments of the planning, (c) real photos and videos of their years of preparation, (d) re-enactments of early years from Petit's life, (e) present-day interviews with the participants (including commentary on their relationships in addition to their efforts) and (f) the walk, itself. 

It was too much for them to do skillfully.  The movie (tried to) emphasize how hard it was to do the planning, and how nerve-wracking it was to get the people and equipment into the building and to set up the walk.  I understand how important this part was.  I also think that the way they showed it (with re-enactments that might remind you of police/reality shows on FOX, where they interview a crime victim while showing a re-enactment of crack-addled kids breaking into the house while she's cooking her family's dinner) was cheesy and disorganized.  And they lean unnecessarily on Erik Satie's beautiful but now-way-overused Gymnopedie 3 (or is it 1?).**** So, anyway. See the movie if only if you are very interested in tightrope walking or the World Trade Center.  It was nice to see a contemporary movie about the WTC that wasn't about their destruction.  In fact, you get a lot of nice coverage of its construction, opening, and life. Denver art-house ticket: $9.75.

Unrelated to filmmaking:
my personal takeaway from both movies is the itch/motivation/wish to get myself more focused and energized around single projects rather than scattering myself across many things (including Vonnegut's "farting around").  There's a quote from Man on Wire in which an accomplice recalls the first time he saw Petit step on a cable.  He said something like, "And suddenly, I could see nothing but Phillipe's concentration.  He was like the sphinx.  I'd never seen concentration like that before, and I don't think I ever have, since."


*Which is too bad because he does so many things. 

**Pun not originally intended, but subsequently heh-ed at.

***bar trivia team name overheard this week, "Never Go Full Retard."

****on my almost-want-to-boycott list: (1) movies that use this beautiful piece because they can't think of anything else to get the job done (extra annoying because this crew went through the trouble of getting Michael Nyman (who scored The Piano) to compose at least a half-dozen original tracks for the film.  They could have asked him to do one more.) (2) weddings that quote Kahlil Gibran or the "Love is Patient" text from 1 Corinthians, or that use the Lohengrin wedding march and/or Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.  Yes, I know I'm being overly grumpy about this.

12:57 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Jul 28, 2008

Balls of Salt Lake Fury


So far, Salt Lake City is more like salty sweat city. 

Above, my Aunt Beth's husband Karry and his home court table with deer in the basement, where I've spent more waking hours than anywhere else in the State of Utah.  After five days, I'm 19-26 against Karry, 5-3 against other relatives.  Karry's definitely got my number but I think I make him run more than he's used to, so I can take comfort in that.

My psychological wiring at ping pong:  After a couple of "on" games when my speed and spin completely gel, I start second guessing my body and immediately lose confidence in my topspin control.  This is invariably followed by either (a) a boring and less effective mess of pushing or slicing the ball back, or (b) completely spastic smashes that can go anywhere including backward.  Then after I lose a few games, my mind relaxes and the body re-starts doing what it's supposed to.  Maddening.* 

Ballsoffuryposter1 BTW, have you seen Balls of Fury?  It has a few great moments that had me in stitches but the rest, not so much.  Star Dan Fogler is played as a discount Jack Black (in the same way Jacob Pitts is a discount David Spade in EuroTrip).  Some of the ping pong scenes are great (especially the ones with Maggie Q) but not long enough.  Perhaps best is James Hong as the ping pong master.  You may remember him as the maitre-d' in Seinfeld's The Chinese Restaurant. Hong was born in Minneapolis.


*I also have this problem with tennis, but not with pool.  I play no other sports.  I do not recall having this problem when I used to fence.

01:30 AM in Reviews, Traveling | Permalink | Comments (3)

May 24, 2008

Vit Goal - Boiling Korean. Plus Triangle Bailliage


The tofu soup at bottom is boiling.  Yummy lunch at Vit Goal -- the 2nd Korean restaurant near the corner of Highways 55 and 54 by RTP.  (The first is Chosun OK in the northeast corner.  Vit Goal is on Allendown Dr., a block south of the southeast corner.)  You should go.  And afterward, buy some make-your-own-Korean-meal ingredients next door at Shilla Oriental Food and Gifts.

Update: Jason Perlow (founder of eGullet) has a great blog about both Vit Goal and Chosun OK here at

Looking for Vit Goal map, I stumbled across Vit Goal photos and an article from the Triangle Bailliage de North Carolina. According to their website:

"The Triangle Bailliage de North Carolina is a local chapter of the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.  La Chaîne is a unique gastronomic society, headquartered in Paris,  with more than 20,000 members in over 100 countries."

I remember reading about La Chaîne some years ago (I probably wanted to join), and I think it's fair to say that the Triangle Bailliage -- founded in 1987 -- was one of the earlier Triangle foodie groups.  Their website hasn't been updated since November, so I'm not sure if they're still cranking, but you can take a tour around several years of their restaurant visits. 

You'll see that they are clearly "traditional".  As part of their custom, officers and some members wear ribbons and medallions.  Professional members include prominent restaurateurs such as Van Eure, Giorgios Bakatsias and Scott Howell, representing several of the Triangle's longstanding well-regarded restaurants.

That said, a visit to their website will also make you wonder if their "model" is a bit out of date for 21st century US eating.  The first thing I noticed was that their trip to Vit Goal last year was billed as their "annual ethnic dinner".  In the previous year, their "annual ethnic dinner" was a trip to Jibarra.  Oh well -- just visit and you'll see what I'm talking about.  Different generations.  Different approaches to food and culture and writing.  (And yes, I remember that everything we have today is built on what people did before.)  Someone let me know if they've moved their website to a new address, or if they've shut down, or anything else about them.  I'm curious.*


*Not that I'm claiming credit for any of his skills -- but throughout that last paragraph, I felt like I was channeling the spirit of Eat at Joe's :-)

12:48 AM in Destination Durham, Food, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 16, 2008

Mez -- Mmmodern Mexican


So what came first -- queso fundido (aka queso flameado) or raclette?  Beats me, but the new Mez Restaurant in Durham does the Mexican version, pictured above (with a tortilla chip for scale):

Queso Flameado - Melted chihuahua cheese and goat cheese with roasted poblano. Served with fresh flour tortillas and your choice of chorizo sausage or all vegetarian with tomatillo salsa...7.45.

I've had two meals at Mez and enjoyed both.  The crab tampico cakes (Mexican crabcakes, no breadcrumbs)  are yummy, especially for the mango-jicama slaw that comes with. 

So what's the spin at Mez?  Their website says:


MEZ is the newest venture from the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, the owners of 518 West, 411 West, Squid’s, and Spanky’s, all award-winning local restaurants. We  MEZ also offers a beautiful private room that can accommodate 80 to 100 people for business lunches, rehearsal dinners, or any other occasion. MEZ is North Carolina's first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designed restaurant.

As for me: I appreciated the wide variety of items, fresh ingredients, low grease levels, and innovative salsas.  Of the eight or nine dishes I've tried, I've loved the heck out of a couple, liked most, and disliked only one or two, mostly because they were too salty for my tastes (which run on the sensitive side when it comes to salt).  My lunch for two went for $50 (including a healthy tip, because I think I was accidentally rough with our newbie server.  He kept trying to take away my plates which still had some of the mango-jicama slaw and the Yucatan slaw.  I threatened to break his hands.).  Dinner for three was $95 (including one drink per person). 


The building is worth visiting if only to see what a LEED certified building looks and feels like.  The upstairs dining room and patio would be perfect for a large reception.  Just watch your step on the long stairways if you're serving booze.  Straight stairs and a long way down.

And lest you be misled by the above empty-restaurant photo (taken ~2:30), the placed was packed at 1:30 in the afternoon, much as it was ~8 p.m. on a recent weekday night.  Mez has only been open a short while, but people obviously like it.  And people are getting used to the idea of eating in the Research Triangle food zone after work, not just during.  (Compare the pizza place and the Chinese place a block away -- closed after 6.)

Bonus quotes from lunch:

Me:  The one thing about this dining room is that it's pretty noisy.  If you brought a large group of friends here, you'd have a hard time hearing everyone at your table.

Pal L:  Not with my friends.

12:30 AM in Food, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (11)

Apr 21, 2008

Akashi Sushi and the Food Gulley of Durham


The Mercury Rising roll at Akashi Japanese Restaurant.  In case the phone pic isn't clear, that's two different lumps of orange/red fishiness on top.  The first layer is (very) spicy tuna.  The second is tobiko (flying fish roe).

Akashi is famed for its almost everything half price almost all the time menu.*  It's also famed for its very long menu (including a Wolfpack roll).  I can't believe I hadn't visited before this weekend. 

Quality impressions?  Hmmm... I'd give my first meal a B-.  The Spider Roll (behind the Mercury Rising) was the least inspired I've ever eaten.  But I'll try it again if someone else wants to go. [Update: I had lunch with my pal Adam last week, and we both gave our meals a solid B+ at a great BOGO price.]

Speaking of fame, Akashi is in the ought-to-be-famed Food Gulley** at 2223 Highway 54 E., one block east of Indigestion Intersection (aka intersection of Highways 55 and 54 at the edge of RTP).  The Food Gulley is cool.  It has a taqueria/carniceria, Sal's Pizza, Montas Latin dance club***, Akashi, and Bombay Grille. I have no idea how their lunchtime customers find a place to park.****


*I'm not kidding about the half-price stuff.  Everyone tells me it's always half price all the time.  If you're worried it won't be whenever you go, click here for Akashi's Citysearch listing, then scroll to the instant offer coupon.

**Food Gulley.  I made that up and if you've been, you'll know what I mean.  Below street grade, it's easy to miss if you don't know where you're looking -- so drive slowly and pay attention.  It's just east of the railroad track. While I didn't make up "Indigestion Intersection", I'm surprised to see that it doesn't seem to have currency outside of RTP.

***Hey, has Montas changed names?  I seem to recall different signage on Friday.  Amusement: one of the club's security guards had locked himself out and was knocking on the window to regain admittance.

****One time in that parking lot, I was surprised when one of the landscapers looked up and said, "Hey, Phil.  Howgozit?"  It was my friend Paula whom I'd last seen in Chicago four years earlier.  Her ex-boyfriend story is here.

01:10 AM in Destination Durham, Food, Reviews, Words | Permalink | Comments (7)

Little India in Cary, and Udupi Vegetarian


Above, one of the dinner platters at all-vegetarian Udupi Cafe in Cary.  For $18, you can order one of their three big sampler meals -- more than enough food for two people.  The platter, above, came after a plate of fried foods (see below), which came after a bowl of rich vegetable soup.*


I'm no connoisseur of South Indian food, but I can say I enjoyed everything at Udupi.  In particular, I liked the eggplant and coconut items I'd never tried before.  I'd be happy to visit Udupi again, but for my next Indian meal in Cary, I'd also be happy to try something different. 

Fortunately for Cary people, there are many options.

Apart from Udupi, the neighboring Chatham Square at 740 E. Chatham St.** has a half-dozen Indian restaurants and/or stores (Mithai Indian Desserts!), plus a few other interesting spots (Bingo, anyone?).  Fiona Morgan has nice notes in Cary -- the Charm of a fast-growing Southern Town (Independent Weekly, June 2007).


*Sorry I didn't snap photos of the menu.  I assumed that Udupi would have all that stuff on the web.  No such luck.

**Udupi is at 590 E. Chatham St., Cary NC, which is sort of next door to Chatham Square at 740 E. Chatham.  Don't ask me how the Cary numbering system can get you from the 700 block of a street to the 500 block in less than 50 feet.  Just look for the brick building with "Pizza & Wings" and "Hair Designers" facing the street, and that's where you'll find Udupi.  Oh, and shame on any of us who reflexively think "no culture and no diversity" when we think about Cary.

12:22 AM in Food, Reviews, Triangulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Apr 15, 2008

Five Points Cafe is Open!


I had a nice lunch there with Claire from The Crone Report.*

And I asked the owner, Steven Matherly, what he'd like us to share with you:

  • We're open!
  • Breakfast opens at 7, and deli sandwiches and the like for lunch ($7 or $7.50 for a nice-sized sandwich, fancy chips plus a fountain drink.)
  • The plan for evenings: "downtown Durham's dessert destination."  Current desserts are provided by "The Cake Lady", Mrs. Lott (see pics below), who rents kitchen space at the Cafe, and also from Sweet Jane's and Guglhopf.
  • In Phases 2 and 3, the cafe will add international dry goods (chick peas, arborio rice, etc. etc.), fresh vegetables, staples like milk and such, soon followed by sliced deli meats, fresh fish on ice, and eventually...
  • ...Wine with a focus on affordable bottles, with many from South America.

Best of luck to Steven on his expansion into what I hope he'll eventually call "Five Points Cafe & Market" or some other name that suggests shopping and not just eating.  Downtown Durham would love such a spot.  A small, sustainable version of what Fowler's had hoped to be.  A place for downtown residents and workers to pick up their evening's dinner groceries.  You know, like they were living in a "City".

Here's a pic of Mrs. Lott (in hat) and other friendly folks:


Among her offers at the Cafe: pound cake, sweet potato pie, and a coconut cake of some kind.  Below, ~1/3rd of a serving her very dense and not-to-sweet bread pudding.  A monster-sized slab** goes for $2.85, which is a bargain for the amount of food and flavor you'll get.


Five Points Cafe
347 W. Main St.
Durham NC 27701


* DurhamFood of CookingEatingDurham came in just after we did, but was gracious enough to let me call blog dibs on "we were there first!"  (I'm sure he could have gotten to his computer faster than I, had he wanted to.)  And Claire was double-gracious enough to let me blog first -- extra nice since she picked up the tab. 

Related: I never knew that I had a competitive personality until ~10 years ago when a few people pointed it out.  Damn.  Oh well.  But since it's out now, I'll say it:  "We win, we win, we win!" 

02:57 PM in Destination Durham, Food, News, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Apr 10, 2008

Taqueria El Paraiso (Durham)


Yesterday's lunch.  In the foreground: a pair of gorditas.  Farther back: an "open-face burrito".

By accident this week, I'm continuing a tour of restaurants mentioned in Gourmet Magazine's "Carolina Cocina" article.*  Years ago, I used to eat frequently at this Alston Ave. -- before it was named El Paraiso, I think.  In any case, I'm happy to have returned.

Four random notes on the restaurant and food:

El Paraiso's salsa verde is reason enough to go there.  It's served in a squirt bottle, and here are the essential ingredients, as told to me (in no particular order) by the cocinera:

  • avocado
  • garlic
  • onion
  • cilantro
  • tomatillo
  • jalapeño
  • salt

The salsa roja is also plenty yummy:

Gorditas have been described as "the pita bread of Mexico".  But yummier.  Made like a very thick, moderately greasy tortilla, the outside has a little crunch, and the inside is soft.  Most often, the gordita is split open from one side, stuffed with something yummy, then topped with a bit of lettuce and tomato, a splash of media crema, and a sprinkling of what I'm guessing is grated queso fresco.  El Paraiso's variation is to pile everything on top of the gordita instead of inside.  The nice thing about this method is that you know from the beginning that you can use a fork.**

Gringos are Welcome at El Paraiso.  At 12:30 this afternoon, there were three parties in the restaurant.  One pair of white businessmen with a laptop out.  One big table of white young professionals (or maybe grad students) in their late twenties.  And me plus my (white -- you guessed it) client.  I'm used to being the only non-white person in a place.  But not in East Durham. This was a happy moment.***

El Paraiso is on Alston Ave. between E. Main St. and Angier Ave.  This is an interesting and appealing neighborhood that has been written about several times at Endangered Durham.  I can't decide which of Endangered Durham's blogs to send you to, so I'll pick two: Alston Avenue Update (a pause on the road widening) and Commonwealth/Asbury/United Methodist Church

The folks at Uplift East Durham also write about this neighborhood that they live and work in.  I enjoyed my frequent drives through here back in 2005 when I was taking care of a friend who lived out on East Angier.  It's easy to imagine the area's healthier past, and a hoped-for good future.

ALSO: Chowhound's co-founder Jim Leff has many praising words and pictures of El Paraiso in this blog: North America Dispatch #18: Great 'Cue with Bob Garner, Two Pillars of Mexican Cooking, and a Deafening Honduran Pool Hall.


**Click for a scan of the Carolina Cocina article (.pdf 2MB)

**I had my first great gorditas in Mérida, Mexico.  After I apologized for using so many napkins, the cook said, "Yucatecan food is messy."  El Paraiso is run by folks from Oaxaca, where my gringo lunchmate has traveled.  His Spanish is better than mine.  While asking for the salsa recipes, I kept trying to verify the absence of some expected ingredients, "...y no vinagre? no limón?"  He said that better choices would be "nada de vinagre? nada de limón?" or even "...sin vinagre? sin limón?"  I will try to remember for next time.

***Back in 2001, my Rhode Island friend Sheila accepted an senior executive job at Duke, and I took her to dinner here on one of her first nights in Durham.  As we seated ourselves, she said, "my colleagues are taking me to dinner tomorrow and they asked where we'd be going tonight -- just to make sure they didn't pick the same restaurant.  I don't think they needed to worry."

12:35 AM in Food, Mexico, Recipes, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apr 09, 2008

Urban Ministries of Durham Breakfast

Monday breakfast at Urban Ministries of Durham -- oatmeal, scrambled eggs, half a ham-and-cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, half a carrot/bran/something muffin, and a mug of coffee.

Urban Ministries of Durham provides free meals daily -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- to anyone who comes by.  No money.  No prayers.  No required participation in anything.* 

A new lead cook has just come on board, and the whole team is working to improve both appeal and nutrition, starting with breakfast.  Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day for many UMD diners.  By my estimate, UMD serves ~125 people each morning.  And I'd guess that at least 1/4 are going off to some kind of work (construction, janitorial, whatever-they-can-get) right afterward.  Increase the fraction if you include "parenting" in the work category.

Where does the food come from?  Breakfast and lunch "groceries" come from many sources that do gleaning, collecting, or donating.  One of my favorite sources is the Interfaith Food Shuttle whose refrigerator trucks collect banquet and restaurant leftovers from places like the Durham Convention Center run by Marriott.  UMD has a longtime relationship with Whole Foods (baked goods are a high volume donation)** .  And of course  there are congregational and neighborhood food drives, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, and the USDA. 

In recent years, demand for meals has grown modestly or remained steady.  However, it's getting harder to keep the food supply coming into UMD's kitchen.  I'm not sure of the exact reasons, but if I had to guess, it would be a combination of: a slower economy that makes for less "excess" at banquets and restaurants, higher gas and food costs impeding donors, etc.  Upping the quality standard won't make it any easier to have an ample supply of what's needed.


*Though it's not quite "no questions asked" because they request your name and birthday as a way of tracking service stats.   I guess there isn't really a "free lunch" in this world.  But if you're concerned about privacy, you could always give a fake name and birthday.  If you wanted to pay a favor for the usage stats data gathering, you could also be so kind as to always give the same fake name and birthday.

**Challenge/conundrum/irony:  Whole Foods donates lots of high-nutrition baked goods like the ones you see on the near tray.  But a lot of UMD's diners don't necessary like whole grains, nuts, bran, etc. in their bread.  They prefer and are used to plain white bread.  And a lot of UMD's diners don't have great teeth, either.  So... how does one serve?

11:24 PM in Food, Reviews, Urban Ministries of Durham | Permalink | Comments (1)

Apr 06, 2008

Sunday Brunch and Mimosas at Dale's Indian Cuisine


To imagine a spiritual connection between India and the Traditional South, consider bhindi masala -- okra with fried onions and tomatoes, served with rice.  And to put some on your plate, try the weekend brunch at Dale's Indian Cuisine on Ninth St. north in Durham.* 

It's only $12.85 for the ~12-entree buffet including the make-your-own mimosa cart pictured below (don't worry about the empty bucket -- more sparkling wine is coming).

My goodness, such a treat.  Especially when they stack the cart with pint glasses because they've run out of clean champagne flutes, so they stack the cart with pint glasses.  Also note the tray of pappadam on the bottom shelf.



*Dale's Indian Cuisine has three locations -- Durham, RTP, and Greenville.  Pics above from:

811 Ninth St. (corner of Ninth and Green)
Durham NC 27704
phone: (919) 286-1760
Open 7 days -- weekend brunches start at noon.

BTW: fellow diners mentioned great Indian places in Cary, including Shree Udupi Cafe, a Southern Indian restaurant that specializes in vegetarian food.  I haven't been but would appreciate links to any independent reviews.  Good vegetarian food is a gift.

Shout out to M and her son who sweetly treated me to a Dale's dinner just before I left town in January.  And shout out to J whose Full Frame visit to Durham prompted today's brunch.

06:32 PM in Food, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Crab Enchiladas at Fiesta Grill (Carrboro) of the Gourmet Magazine Mention


Today's special at the Fiesta Grill -- crab enchiladas.  A generous portion for only $10.95.  Not pictured, the also-generous tostada de ceviche for $2.95 (available Saturdays and Sundays).

As you may know, the Baja-rooted Fiesta Grill was one of six local Latino restaurants featured in Gourmet Magazine's "Carolina Cocina" article last September*. 

I've always been happy to go there for the rich and freshly made everything.  To be honest, I've never been blown away by the food -- but I've almost always been pleased. Perhaps as importantly, they have the longest menu I've seen of any local Latino restaurant**, so I never get bored with the choices.

They also have the friendliest staff ever.  Need something to tweak your meal?  They're quick to provide extra cilantro, their alternate salsa (rich flavor without much extra heat), more limes, or a bottle of hot sauce.***

Come warm weather, treat yourself to country drive with lunch or dinner at the Fiesta Grill in west-of-Carrboro followed by dessert at Maple View Farm.  If you don't mind a messy meal, you can even take your to-go order for eating at the Maple View Farm picnic tables.



*Click for a scan of the Carolina Cocina article (.pdf 2MB)

**including eight vegetarian choices. Want proof?

***Fiesta Grill uses the well-known Tapatio sauce from Guadalajara. Did you know that Northgate Mall in Durham used to have a store that just sold hot sauces and related products?  That was ~1993.  Sadly, it didn't last long.

The fellow whom I think is the owner: his jawline and voice remind me of Marlon Brandon as the Godfather -- but in a nice, friendly way.

Essential ingredient atop the enchiladas: the half-cream aka media crema. Cans of the Nestle brand should be available almost anywhere with Latino groceries.


01:27 AM in Food, Mexico, Reviews, Triangulations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Mar 23, 2008

Georgian Easter

Anythingcanhappen Anything Can Happen is the first memoir of George and Helen Waite Papashvily.  George emigrated from the Republic of Georgia to the United States in the late 20s, and the book tells of his first decades here.  It's one of my favorite books.  Here is an Easter excerpt:

Next morning, in honor of the Day, all us foreigners have habit to kiss each other and say, "Christos Voskrecé."

"Looks so nice," Miss Betty says, she's giving childrens their breakfast, "What does it mean?"

"Means Christ rose. You supposed to answer, 'Voistinu Voskrecé.'  I do believe that He rose!  Like Americans say, 'Happy Easter.'"

"But so much better," Miss Betty said, "Christ rose. I like it.  Sounds so sweet and serious for Easter morning.  Christ rose."

"Christ rose!" Besso came in the kitchen and kissed everybody.

"I believe -- how you say -- I believe He rose?" Miss Betty told him, "But I thought you was an atheist, Besso?"

"Certainly I am.  we take for example story of Adam and Eva -----"

"I know," Miss Betty said.  "You explained me that yesterday.  But why you say, Christ rose?"

"Why? After all," Besso looked hurt, "just because person is atheist -- Christos Voskrecé, Piotr.  Challico --" He kissed them on both cheeks as they came through the door.  -- "Because person is atheist he doesn't need to have bad manners."

11:58 PM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Feb 08, 2008

Roald Dahl -- Recommended

Archives_dahl Thanks to Celeste for asking for some Roald Dahl recommendations.

Dahl's most famous works were written for children*, but he also wrote many stories for grown-ups, and he wrote some nice memoirs.  Of these less-famous works, I recommend the following:

Boy -- memoirs of childhood and the public schools of England.  Canings, bowel movements, licorice from rat's blood, adenoid removal without anesthetics of any kind, goat droppings for tobacco... How Dahl (and any children of the 20s and 30s) survived these schools is beyond me.  Read these memoirs for good stories, a view into the last years of England and the world's most powerful country, and insights into how Dahl came to be so wonderfully twisted.

Going Solo -- memoirs of life in Africa just before the start of WWII, and of life as a fighter pilot.  Old nudists, poisonous snakes, sword-wielding Africans, dead Germans, and plane wrecks... As I plan my own international wanderings, I dream of adventures like Dahl's.  But I don't want anything nearly so scary.

Switch Bitch -- a collection of four short stories, two about "Uncle Oswald", a very wealthy character** who lives his life collecting walking canes, raising spiders for silk, and seducing women.  The two "Uncle Oswald" stories were first published in Playboy magazine in the 60s and 70s.  In Bitch, Uncle Oswald funds a scientist who is trying to synthesize the human sex pheromone.  In The Visitor, other things happen.  Remarkable, sensual, dangerous things.  In Egypt.

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life -- a collection of seven short stories from the 40s and 50s, inspired by (or true reports from?) Dahl's time in a rural England town.  He went there intending to spend some quiet time writing.  Instead, he fell in with the best of the locals: dog-racing cheats and gamblers, poachers, and freaks who play with rats.  An antiques dealer poses as a parson to swindle suspicious farmers out of a valuable piece of furniture.  Parson's Pleasure is required reading for fans of Antiques Roadshow.  Especially the British edition.

Going_solo Tales of the Unexpected -- many short stories published in various collections (Tales, Complete Tales, Tales I and II, etc.).  Some were produced in a BBC television series, which Quentin Tarantino refers to in the movie Four Rooms.***  In his Four Rooms sketch, Tarantino's characters remember one episode (Dahl's Man from The South, which becomes The Man from Rio by the time it gets to Tarantino) and decide to copy the storyline.  Tarantino's risk-taking pal bets that his trusty lighter will light ten times in a row without fail.  The wager?   Tarantino's 1964 red convertible Chevy Corvelle against the man's little finger.

I liked stories in Tales of the Unexpected, but reading them in a collection was not so great, as I quickly tired of the repeated rhythms: introduction, set up, clever twist revealed in the last two or three paragraphs...  You can ruin anything if you do it too many times in a row.


*Many were made into excellent and faithful movies, such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder, which I prefer to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp, which was good but unnecessary for me), Matilda, and the often-impressive The Witches (with Angelica Houston). 

**In The Visitor, Uncle Oswald makes at least one more observation about The Very Wealthy (cf. yesterday's post about the rain). I like how Dahl describes the wealthy -- not as better or worse than you and I, but simply for the interesting ways in which they are different.

***Four Rooms is a rich movie.  I didn't like every part, but some of the vignettes (or scenes within vignettes) are masterful.  And man, is this movie full of talent (or at least full of interesting people doing things you haven't seen them do before).  Combustible Edison (Esquivel disciplines whom I once saw at the Cat's Cradle) provides music for animated title sequence.  Four Rooms screenplay at IMSDb.

Photo credit: Roald Dahl Museum, Buckinghamshire, England, open since 2005, I'm told.  One more good reason to visit that country.

Info credit: is a great site with a Bibliography and extensive story notes.  It even has classroom ideas for teachers using these stories either with children or with adults learning English.

07:04 PM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The very rich are enormously resentful of bad weather"

Waiting out a rainstorm at the Super Aki grocery store ("¡Cuesta poco!") in my new neighborhood near Parque Santiago, Mérida.

The folks here seemed pretty patient -- even the hot dog guy whose cart you can see in the distance.  Still, I had to think of a favorite passage from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, by Roald Dahl:

Henry_sugar One summer weekend, Henry drove down from London to Guildford to stay with Sir William Wyndham.  The house was magnificent, and so were the grounds, but when Henry arrived that Saturday afternoon, it was already pelting with rain.  Tennis was out, croquet was out.  So was swimming in Sir William's outdoor pool.  The host and his guests sat glumly in the drawing room, staring at the rain splashing against the windows.  The very rich are enormously resentful of bad weather.  It is the one discomfort that their money cannot do anything about.

As the story continues, Henry finds himself stuck in Sir William's library where he finds a slim book that teaches him how to develop the extrasensory powers of a yogi. 

I love this story along with five of the six* that appear as a collection in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar -- And Six More.  I think you might enjoy reading it.  You might even develop the extrasensory powers of a yogi.


*The sixth is much too sad and violent for me.

01:24 AM in Mexico, Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Jan 25, 2008

Los Guanacos -- Cocina Economica, Mérida


Lunch at the cocina economica* "Los Guanacos".  Owner Fernando is at center.  The other two caballeros are guys who I happened to share a table with.  Don't ask me how it happened, but we had a little music session while they were waiting for their food.  The guy in the plaid shirt was absentmindedly plinking out a beat on the tab of his Coke can and I reflexively started blowing across the top of my bottle of Diet Coke.  When I  started blowing the rhythm of "Oye Como Va", the guy on the right exclaimed "bosso nova!" and joined in with a spoon on the salsa bowl. 

We had an OK trio for a moment or two.  Their food came right around the time the guy in plaid lost the beat.  "Sin metrico," was the comment from the guy on the right, I think.  Anyway, Mérida is a friendly town.  And I like the food and company at Los Guanacos enough to have eaten there three times in four days.  These guys are having the grilled chicken with vegetables, rice, and some kickass black bean soup for ~$2.15 US.  Fernando says "tomorrow there will be fish."


*Cocinas economicas are "hole in the wall" restaurants that usually seat from four to ten people.  Most offer two or three set lunches that change daily. Los Guanacos is a little bigger than most: they also offer a few regular sandwiches.  Want to come?  Los Guanacos is on Calle 47 between Calles 60 and 62.  Open for breakfast and lunch five days a week.

Last weekend, Hostelman David and I had lunch at an eight-seater that offered just one choice on a slow weekend day: fried chicken, rice, and some beans.  While we were eating (and for a while after), the owner leaned across the counter and told us a long story about her family.  I didn't understand a word, but she addressed herself to me just as much as she did to David.  (Apparently you can't tell that other people can't understand you if you never stop for a breath.)  Eventually, David made an excuse that I needed to get to an appointment.  I guess the story was even less interesting if you understood it.  But the chicken was great, as was the homemade salsa.

01:39 AM in Mexico, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)

Jan 20, 2008

Mirrors -- Hostel Nómadas, Mérida, MX


Above, a photo from my first night at Hostel Nómadas, with an overcast sky which I am told is infrequent.  The sky is colored by the lights of a large radio tower two blocks to the north.

Details to note: (1) the round window at right goes to the room I stayed in from Tuesday through today.  (2) At lower left, you're not looking through an arch at more sky, but instead at the top of a large mirror -- the kind you might see in a ballet studio. I think that the hostel's owner (Don Raul, from Venezuela) installed it for their regular salsa lessons. 

Que dice? Salsa lessons at a hostel?  For sure, Hostel Nómadas has a reputation for being more fun and more communal than any other hostel in Mexico. But despite the salsa lessons (and live trova music), the place is far from fancy.  I suspect that the mirror was one of Don Raul's momentarily quirky decisions, rather than one part of an effort to make his a hostel luxe.  In any case, it is a unique attraction.*

I mention this mirror for other reasons, too.  In Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon reports on a lesson he learned several months into his trip around the country's back roads.  I don't have the exact quote** but the essence is this: he never felt so low as when he realized that in all the time he thought he'd been seeing new things, he was only seeing himself reflected in different surfaces.

Today at breakfast I sat with two other 40-somethings: Olivier (from near Fontanbleu) and Josefine (from Hamburg).   Josefine works with foster children in Germany.  Olivier does... something else, we don't know what.  Earlier in the morning, Olivier had walked by several beggars without stopping, but one last pair of beggars somehow struck him so forcefully that he had to give.  He tried to tell us about them but had to stop because he was starting to cry.  He paused for a moment to recover his composure, and then he added, "...and everything is perfect." 

"Olivier, you are Buddhist", I said. 

"Yes," he replied.  "Or, well, something very much like that."

"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Josefine, and so began a long conversation about Buddhists, Quakers, poverty,  Samaritans, work and money.  And vengeance if someone should kill or hurt one of your family.  Olivier and Josefine talked and argued for at least a half hour. 

Josefine didn't want to hear Olivier's point of view (except she did).  And she didn't want to share her point of view (except she did).  Josefine accused Olivier of having philosophical contradictions.  Fortunately, she also recognized that she has behavioral contradictions.  I mostly listened and tried to absorb their viewpoints instead of comparing them to my own. 

Question: Can we ever see things for what they are instead of for how we react to them?  I once talked with a travel-writer friend about how people talk about their trips to new places, and how we wished that they (and we) would try to talk about about places for what they are, instead of how they compare/contrast with other places we (or our audiences) already know.

This is not easy, of course.  When I see small towns in Mexico, my mind quickly frames its impressions with what I've seen in the Philippines or Indonesia, ("Oh, this is like the town Mom is from, except for in Tarlac they tend to use cinderblocks instead of poured concrete for the small houses."). When I walk around Denver, it's hard not compare/contrast its proportions and neighborhoods with the ones I walk in San Francisco, the only other big American city where I've spent a lot of time on foot.

Olivier said something like, "the things you see on TV aren't real.  When the news shows package the images, the timing, the music, the emotion -- that's a made up thing.  That's not a fact.  I want to get my news of the world by seeing it in people, one by one, face to face."  Somehow I think this is relevant.  To what?  I'm not sure.  Maybe it's relevant to this first week's installment of what may end up as a "travel blog" (whatever that is).  I'll try not to "package" it too much.  Olivier might be right.  And he might be reading.

Hasta pronto.


*I fully recommend the Hostel Nómadas for your next stay in Mérida. Some of the other hostels have more amenities or are in more elegant buildings (Hostel Hobo is almost stunning -- it made me think of the place where the English Patient finally died, with Juliette Binoche's character swinging through the air on rope held by her dearest Kip). But from my brief visits, they don't seem nearly as amicable.  FYI: the swimming pool is currently offline but is supposed to be ready by March.

**For his vade mecums, William Least Heat Moon chose Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Neihardt's Black Elk SpeaksEn este momento I wish I had brought Blue Highways with me -- not only for the reading, but also so I could have given you an exact quote.  Instead, my carry-withs are travel guides and Spanish language textbooks, including the almost perfect*** Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish by Joseph Keenan.**** Those, and an issue of Friends Journal on Quakers and Money.

***It lacks an index.  But I'm writing one into my copy.

****Of note (at least to myself) in these two choices -- by "coincidence", I wrote about them in some of my earliest blogs at the Archer Pelican, way back in the winter of 2003/2004.  And look, here they are, together again.  William Bridges wrote (in Transitions -- Making Sense of Life's Changes), "Rule number one: When you're in transition, you find yourself coming back in new ways to old activities."

11:19 PM in Mexico, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Nov 16, 2007

Komfort Kollar Neck Pillow

Standard neck pillows are great for keeping your head from flopping left or right.  But what's to keep them from flopping forward? 

Enter the Komfort Kollar.  I bought one two years ago and it's been indispensable ever since.  Komfort Kollars come in three sizes and you can get them online through

The Komfort Kollar has received one bad review, but I think that the reviewer might have chosen the wrong size, and she might not have been clever enough with the velcro to make the thing cinch tighter or looser.

That said, the Komfort Kollar isn't perfect.  I think that the part that goes behind your neck is too thick (though it would be perfect if you were in one of those horrid airline seats whose back pushes your head forward).  I also think that even the correct-sized collar doesn't get under your chin as much as it should.  And it costs too much (~$25).  But it's still a whole lot better than a standard pillow.

The folks from Obus Forme have introduced what seems to be the market's second inflatable chin-supporting pillow, after Komfort Kollar.  It looks like it might be even better (with just a thin strap behind the neck when it's worn to support the chin), not to mention a lot cheaper at $7, so I'm going to order one soon via


09:27 PM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (11)

Nov 03, 2007

Joe Queenan, Part II

If_youre_talking_to_me_your_career_ Some years ago when I was still often late for weddings, my friend Catherine gave me a copy of Joe Queenan's If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must be in Trouble.  In case you didn't know, Queenan snarks about the entertainment world:

One of the oddities about pop stars who try their hands at films is that the very worst rock stars often make the very best movie stars.  Cher has always been a pathetic excuse for a rocker, an Ethel Merman in fishnet tights, who has attempted to compensate for her borderline vocal skills with sheer brass and bluster.  The result? Twenty years of songs that sound like Journey outtakes.

...Despite this, Cher has developed into a very fine actress who turned in exemplary work in everything from The Witches of Eastwick to Suspect to Silkwood, and who has also performed creditably in several lackluster, generally overpraised films whose titles begin with M: (Mermaids, Mask, and Moonstruck).  In fact, it is by no means inconceivable that Cher could one day make more movies than Elvis Presley.  But that would still leave the King's record intact, because anyone can make thirty-one good movies that make money, but the King got away with making thirty-one bad movies that made money.  Elvis got away with making thirty-one atrocious movies that made money.  Thus, Cher's entry in the Guinness Book of World Records would still read:

Most Good Movies by a Really Bad Rock Star.... 400

while Elvis's entry would read:

Most Bad Movies by a Really Great Rock Star.... 31.

Elvis still wins in a walk.

Not to kill the fun by analyzing it, but what I admire about Queenan (and my best friend Dave, and many other people who elicit odd noises from my nose -- noises that are to be understood as laughter and not sinus difficulty) is their ability to amuse via reference to inducted patterns.*  I once read that humor comes from seeing the similar in things that are different, and seeing the difference in things that are similar.**

Queenan continues:

...Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett we are not going to mention here, even though Lovett was amusing in The Player,and Waits has been passable in numerous films, because Waits is basically a cabaret artist and thus belongs in an essay speculating who might appear in as many bad movies as Liza Minnelli, and Lovett is basically a country-and-western singer and thus belongs in an essay speculating who might appear in as many bad movies as Roy Rogers.

...Still, if the staggering cinematic records set by Elvis Presley are ever to be erased, the new name in the record book will probably not be Madonna, but her fellow midwesterner, Prince...  Launching his career with the sexist, juvenile, moronic Purple Rain in 1984, Prince has since made the sexist, moronic, juvenile Under the Cherry Moon, and Graffiti Bridge, which is really little more than a sexist, moronic, juvenile sequel to Purple Rain.  Too short to rock and roll but too young to die, Prince makes movies so artfully unintelligent that they make Elvis's work look like John Gielgud's.

Moreover, there are a number of haunting parallels between the lives of the King and the Prince.  Both men suffered from early musical burnout, producing their best work when they were very young.  Both men wear tight pants.  Both men have weird facial hair.  And both men are identified with second-echelon cities that begin with the letter M.  Ooo-ee-oh.

Queenan wrote this essay a few years ago.  Since then, Prince seems to have dropped out of the movie business, so I guess the King is safe for now.  But Prince deserves a Hollywood quote before we go: after being called a film-making failure after the box office failure of one of his (moronic, juvenile, sexist) movies, he said something like, "I just had a really good time on $X million of someone else's money.  Who are you calling a failure?"  And there we go again: another media star whose skills I can envy.


*damn, I did kill the fun.

** how's that for some slant-parallelism?  Damn, I killed it again.

*** Safe, too, from Queen who never made any movies, either unless you're counting Flash Gordon. Oh damn, killed three times.

Unrelated: Catherine gave me the book while she was working for Queenan's publisher, Hyperion Press.  Disney owned Hyperion Press and she said the staff called the place "Mauschwitz."  I thought of this later when I read Inside the Mouse, published by some friends who worked the Duke University Press.  Me.  My friends.  The Mouse.  Pattern or just rodent coincidence?

02:17 AM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sep 09, 2007

Sprint Mobile Wireless

Pantech_px500_2 I just signed up for Sprint Mobile Wireless.  $59.99/mo for moderately-paced broadband anywhere Sprint has coverage.  Works for me, especially since my current housesitting gig (Sep through Dec) has no internet.

A nice thing about the Sprint shop at Patterson Place -- the sales guy installed and tested everything on my laptop before I left the store.  I really appreciated that.  I hate tech installs.  I always worry that they're not going to work right, or at least that they're going to be a major PITA.

Sprint Mobile Wireless has funny online tech support.  Here is the feedback tool that shows up with your search results:

Find What You Were Looking For?
o Absolutely
o Pretty much
o Sort of
o Not really
o Not even close

In other things -- I'm thinking about an extended trip to Guadalajara at the start of 2008.*  Apparently Iusacell is already offering their "BAM" high-speed EV/DO-Rev.A mobile wireless in Guadalajara -- long before we're scheduled to get it across medium-metro USA.  Rates are about the same for what I'm paying for Sprint's low-speed EV/DO, without the long-term commitment.


*Yes, feel free to remind me how lousy I am about following through with plans for extended trips -- I do feel shame.  But I'm actually making progress toward this goal, in part by postponing other travel hoped for in fall 2007.

04:53 PM in Misc.Blog 2007, Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Aug 14, 2007

Shilla Oriental Food and Gifts

As a first-generation Asian food eater, I'm in that awkward class of people who (a) grew up eating Asian foods but (b) without being fully steeped in the Asian food marketplace.  Which is to say: I have lots of appetite for good Asian food, but I don't havee the trained-from-childhood intuition for how to find what I want "in the wild."

Immigrant Asians have ingredient hunting and gathering programmed into their DNA.  When they move to a new country, they find out where all the food sources are because they have to.  If they don't get their regular supply of whatever-it-is-dish-or-ingredient-they-need, they'll die.  So they make the effort to find out where to get what they need.

By contrast, first-generation folks commonly fall into an equilibrium defined by (a) catch-as-catch-can of what we love combined with (b) constant frustration that we don't get enough.

Maybe this is why I get more excited than most people whenever I get to know a new Asian restaurant or food store in the Triangle. 

Around here, the Grand Asia Market in Cary is hands down the biggest and best.  I love to cook what they sell me.  But of course, Grand Asia Market isn't the most convenient for folks in Durham and Orange Counties.

Last week in Durham, I was happy to run into Shilla Oriental Food & Gifts near the southeast corner of Highways 55 and 54.  Shilla has been in business for just over a year and I sure hope they'll stick around.  Korean items are at the core of their offerings, but they have plenty of goods from Japan, China, and elsewhere.

The store is small and crowded (count on backtracking at least once or twice when you find yourself sharing an aisle with another customer), but you may be surprised at just how comprehensive their selection is: with everything from cookbooks, to a half-dozen fish sauces (including my favorite: Rufina from the Philippines), to a five-pound container of chili paste.  Their are eight or ten doors worth of frozen goods with some items I haven't seen elsewhere and look forward to trying.  Unfortunately, their selection of fresh vegetables and other produce is very small, but hey -- you can't have everything.  The staff are friendly and English-friendly.  If you have questions, I suspect you'll get the advice you need.

Shilla Oriental Food & Gifts
2107 Allendown Dr.
Suite #102
Durham NC 27713

From the corner of 55 and 54 (aka "Indigestion Intersection") heading south, Allendown Dr. is the first road to your left.


photo from the Shilla website.

09:11 PM in Destination Durham, Recipes, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)

Aug 11, 2007

Blu Seafood and Bar

                                             Calamari at Blu Seafood and Bar

Taking cues from Kevin and Toastie, I trotted over to Durham's Blu Seafood and Bar for dinner with a friend.

I'll write about the food in a moment, but I want to start with the service.  What I liked best about Blu is not that their service is particularly smooth or competent (sometimes it was neither) but rather that the staff treat their customers as people.  All night, I felt more like a dinner guest than one of many customers in a restaurant that needed to keep things moving.

From the bartender who interrupted his appetizer prep to get me a Diet Coke, to the numerous staff who struggled to hold the patio-door open every time I walked through (hint: you really can't do a smooth job holding a door when you're standing on the side near the hinge.  You need to be by the door handle, or else you're going to be in the way -- it's a fact of life) to the server who mispronounced two of the seafood items, to the manager who took care of our problem dish -- every person looked me in the eye, listened, and made me feel like they really wanted to make sure I had what I needed -- no matter how much time or trouble it would take.  That's a nice way for a restaurant to be.  I hope they stick with it, and I hope it helps turn Blu into a successful business.

That said, let's talk about the food.  Here is what we tried:

*  Fried calamari with lemon mayo ($9)
*  Mixed lettuce salad with lemon vinaigrette ($5.50)
*  Mutton bass and vegetables (this was one of their specials for the day) ($22)
*  Pan-roasted trout with preserved lemon vinaigrette ($17)
*  "Blu" berry cobbler with Maple View ice cream. ($6, I think)

My brief take on the food?  Pretty good.  Some items great.  Some not.  A decent price-to-value ratio.  And I suspect that they'll continue improving as they find their groove.  I particularly look forward to returning for dessert -- they have a fun sweets menu that looks like an excellent end-of-evening activity.  Dark chocolate fondue for two, anyone?  Anyone?  Call me.  We're there. 

But back to the dinner report:

The calamari deserves praise for two things: (a) a very tender texture* (the most tender I've  had in decades of calamari eating) and (b) an appealing and atypical cornmeal breading.  Like Kelly at the Durham Foodie, I would have enjoyed a more interesting lemon mayonnaise; but on the other hand, a less interesting sauce lets me pay more attention to the calamari.  This is not a bad tradeoff when the calamari is good.

The mutton snapper came with an excellent mix of vegetables.  Unfortunately, it also came way overcooked so we sent it back.  Instead of asking for a re-do, we changed our request to the pan-roasted trout.  That was a great idea.

The trout was pan-roasted to a very nice crisp and was combined with a little bit of vegetables in vinaigrette, plus a line of very tasty, tube-squeezed mashed potatoes.  The two-fillet serving was generous but the whole dish wasn't "too much" because they kept the vegetables and potatoes in rightly small portions.

For dessert we were treated to a "Blu Berry" cobbler -- sent over, I presume (they didn't make a fuss), because of the little mishap with the mutton snapper.  It was a nice little cobbler, easy on the sugar, which always makes me happy.

A nice visit -- I'll be back. 


*no easy trick, as noted by Kelly at Durham Foodie.

Also: for those who are wondering about decor/construction.  Blu has enclosed some of the former Grasshopper patio, but there is still some open-air seating.

Blu Seafood and Bar
2002 Hillsborough Rd.
Durham NC 27705

12:34 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 29, 2007

Benjamin Sells on "Cope or Quit"


Cope or Quit

A lawyer came to see me once and said he was unhappy with his work.  Why?  Because he was being asked by his firm to do things he felt were unethical.  What did he want from counseling?  To become "better adjusted" (his words) so he could be happier at his job.  Problem?  The things his firm was asking him to do were unethical.

Another lawyer complained of being discriminated against within her firm because she was a woman.  What did she want from counseling?  To develop her "coping skills" (her words) so she could better "accept" her situation.  Problem?  She was being discriminated against.

In both cases, I asked the lawyers what they would do if they could not adjust, cope, or learn to accept.  Both saw only one alternative.  They could quit.  Cope or quit--now there's a depressing choice.

I see the same pattern again and again in my work: People sense, rightly, mind you, that they are working in a hostile environment; then, through an introspective conversion they decide that the environment is a reflection of their own personal psychology.  Answer?  They must either learn to change themselves so they can accept the environment or get out.  [...]

Let's focus on our two lawyers. Their problem was that all avenues of imagination were closed to them except Cope or Quit.  For example, neither of them gave any consideration to staying and trying to make things better.  I don't mean they considered their options and decided it wasn't worth the effort to change things, or that they simply felt outnumbered or outgunned.  I mean that the very idea of working to change a bad situation didn't even occur to them.  And this in two highly competent professionals who were used to advocating positions, taking hard stands, and fighting for a viewpoint.  How could it be that so obvious an alternative as staying and, if necessary, fighting for what was right could be so completely overlooked?

--Benjamin Sells, in The Soul of the Law: Understanding Lawyers and the Law, 1997.

Benjamin Sells was a lawyer before becoming a psychotherapist in the vein of Thomas Moore, and this passage makes me think of three things.

First, I think sometimes that above passage sounds a little dated.  Who among us isn't aware that corporations make the papers daily when their officers are busted for corruption?  Who among us doesn't (now) know that gender discrimination in a law firm is illegal, wrong, and ultimately unproductive?  Thing is, though, they're still happening.  Maybe not as often as in the past (please feel free to chime in on this guess), but still more than often enough. Vigilance is still required.

Second, and also required: an attitude that we don't have to just "take it", but that we have the ability to make a change.  I keep thinking that "most people already have that attitude."  But it's just not true.  Most people, I think, believe they should have that attitude, but they don't actually have it.  It's easy to avoid pushing for positive change.  My hat is off to those who do it even when it's hard.  May their number increase.

Third and lastly: I realize that a variation of the "cope or quit" attitude too often appears in our own "one-person corporations".  In my case -- how many times have I thought about some piece of my nature that isn't serving me and thought, "my choices are to either learn how to accept my flaw/problem so that it doesn't make me miserable any more, or else learn how to deal with the fact that I'm always going to be miserable because of this flaw/problem."  How about maybe I can change?  In much of The Soul of the Law, Sells pushes the point that we need our imaginations to help us create new futures.  As for myself, I'm working on imagining a healthier me -- not stuck with the me I have at the moment.

Addendum: the serenity prayer has its usual relevance: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."  Or the alternate version quoted long ago in Shoe, "Lighten up."



Your own personal copy from just 36 cents, via Amazon: The Soul of the Law: Understanding Lawyers and the Law

01:10 AM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

May 24, 2007

Taqueria Lopez, Durham NC

Update, June 2008: Carpe Durham (and a commenter) report on management and menu changes at Taqueria Lopez, and the original owner's move to The Best Burrito.


Above, the 7 Seafood Soup at Taqueria Lopez, a new Oaxacan-based Mexican restaurant which earned the serious praise of Lisa and Randy, not to mention me.

Other reviewers like  Greg Cox at the N&O and a mess of people at have said much more, but I'll just say that the food that I tried is good, the seafood variety is wider than any other Mexican restaurant I've visited to around here (see below), and the service has "personality"*


Taqueria Lopez:
3438 Hillsborough Rd
Durham NC
Open daily 10:00am-9:00pm

Same building as the Auto Zone, near the intersection of Hillsborough and 15-501.


*Waitress:  Thank you for coming, please come again.  Except you [points at me.]  No, just kidding.  You can come back.

01:29 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (5)

May 21, 2007

Sweet Zephyrs Recital at the Duke Park Traffic Circle


Last Friday the Sweet Zephyrs played Durham's newest venue -- [no, not the Bull City Headquarters] -- the the Markham and Glendale traffic circle in the Duke Park neighborhood.

Traffic slowed down but was unimpeded by the 30 minute recital (which is, I guess, what the traffic circle is supposed to do under normal circumstances).  One car passed by on the left, maybe because the Quintet has just played something by a British composer.

I'd never heard this group until Friday, but you should know that they're quite good, and fun: their last two pieces were "Rubber Ducky" and the theme from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The Dependable Erection has a better photo, but I've got a VIDEO  Click to hear a little bit of nice tooting (3GPP file -- should play in Quicktime)

02:45 AM in Destination Durham, Misc.Blog 2007, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)

May 16, 2007

Banh's Cuisine, Ninth St.

As consistent as they come -- yummy, inexpensive and fast.  Chinese every day, more Vietnamese items on Wednesdays and Saturdays, vegetarian any time you ask.  Seats ~16 inside, 8 on the sidewalk.  One of the rare places in town that has a cloth-roll hand dryer over customer's handwashing sink.

Banh's Cuisine (often erroneously listed (by people like me) as "Bahn's" Cuisine)
750 Ninth St.
Durham NC

01:52 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 02, 2007

Compare Foods -- Big Latino Grocery Store


Compare Foods is an small chain of Latino-owned, low-cost grocery stores, stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  The Durham store is in the old Avondale shopping center just north of I-85 (where Winn-Dixie used to be and next to where Big Lots still is, and not far from where, in a pleasant surprise, Wachovia still is.)

For better, funner details on Compare Foods, click for reviews by other local food people/bloggers:

Joe V: (" 3-packs.  It really seems like they should come as some multiple of 2.")

Jenny P: ("It's fantastic... I almost mean that in the supernatural sense.")

Rodney D: (" makes me very happy to know I'm only a few miles from a store where I can buy a whole cow's head.")

If you know of any other reviews, please let me know and I'll link to them.

Also, if you can tell me a better way to have formatted/punctuated/written the above list of links ("[click here] [example quote]", please advise.  I hate my approach.

click for Compare Foods map and info

12:10 AM in Destination Durham, Reviews, Seen | Permalink | Comments (14)

May 01, 2007

Lucky Jesus at Los Comales Restaurant


Other writers would give this statue a descriptive name, but I'll just tell you that it's Jesus with ~$40 in bills taped to various parts of his body.  And if that isn't enough insurance for good luck and fortune, place him next to a Chinese Lucky Bamboo.

Of course, the folks at Los Comales in Durham ("Best Chargrilled Tacos in Town!") might generate some luck with their cooking, as well.  I had some cheese quesadillas and pupusas there last week and they were pretty good -- with even and crispy cornmeal tortillas/shells.  Los Comales has a very nice condiment tray with several salsas, cucumbers, pico de gallo, lime, cilantro, etc.  Prices for everything are pretty reasonable, too.  I seem to recall that they had an flat-panel television, too.

I can't recall if any of the staff speak English, but the finger-pointing method will probably do you OK if you need.  Their menu is on the wall behind the counter, with as many types of tacos filling as you'll ever ask for.

Other reviews here from the Fuqua Culinary Club and here from Judy's Book.

Los Comales
2103 N. Roxboro Rd.
Durham NC 27704
Just north of I-85, next door to the monster neon CHECKS CASHED place.

11:54 PM in Destination Durham, Reviews, Seen | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apr 03, 2007

Rosy-Fingered Dawn


I have always wondered if the low-angled sun at dawn gave the same red skies as it did in the evening. 

Well, now I (finally) know.

Can anybody verify my suspicion that the red part of dawn is more visible on the coast than in the piedmont?  Not that I'd know that much about sunrise in the piedmont, late riser that I am...

I caught this sunrise when allergies pushed me out of bed at 6 a.m. in search of some Claritin.  Ugh for the early, but I reckon the view was worth it.

Regarding the title of this blog -- have you read The Five Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics: Great Books for the Short Attention SpanGrace introduced it to me a few years ago.  Hi-frickin-larious.  Especially the title piece, which gives you something new to think about when you see Brad Pitt in armor.  Rosy-fingered dawn, for real, baby.

02:11 AM in Misc.Blog 2007, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Mar 21, 2007

Ingold Tire -- Car Maintenance Heaven


Ingold Tire in Durham continues to rock as the best place I've ever been for car maintenance.  Good service, unreasonably modest pricing, and very ethical people.

I have written about them before, but here is the latest list of praiseworthy thanks:

1.  Last month I drove over a brick and got an insta-flat.  I couldn't pull over for several blocks, so I naturally assumed that the tire was trashed and would need replacing for ~$70.  Took the car to Ingold Tire who fixed things pronto, and handed me an invoice for $25.  Huhn? $25?!  "We put a patch in it.  It's good as new."

Damn.  That was awesome.  It would have been so easy for them to have sold me a new tire, charged me a disposal fee for the old one, and then fixed the old one for re-sale at a profit.  But did they do that?  No way.  Not the guys at Ingold  Tire.

2.  Not long after, I found out that the sway bar on my van was missing a bushing.  The power steering had also been acting up, so I took the van back to Ingold Tire for a look-see.  Diagnosis? 

Bill:  Bad news -- everything is falling apart, and the badder news is that it would cost ~$650 to fix it all.

Me:  Damn.  That's more than the whole van is worth.  Should I fix it?  What would you advise?

Bill:  Tough call on a van that age.  You should definitely fix the sway bar bushing.  That's dangerous, and that'll be ~$125.  Other parts?  You can keep it running it you keep topping off the power steering fluid, but it's going to keep getting worse until it can't get better.

Me:  OK.  I'll fix the sway bar, but never mind the rest.  I'll just trade in the van when I get a new car.

Bill: Sounds smart to me.

3.  And today, the craziest thing:  I took my new (to me) car in for transmission service that was recommended by a reputable Chapel Hill garage that had done my pre-purchase check.  "You need to change the transmission fluid and filter," they said.  "Make sure to get the filter changed -- don't just change the fluid."

A little bit of web-research let me know that a standard transmission fluid change would be ~$110.  Add extra for a filter.  Plus tax and such, of course.  While I suspected it would be more convenient to go to a Jiffy Lube, I worried that a sketchy franchise* might charge me for the fluid and filter, but only change the fluid.  How would I know?

So... back to Ingold Tire where I knew I'd have to leave my car for a few hours, but where I also knew I would get the service that was promised.  As always, they called me when the car was ready -- earlier than promised (also as always).  Invoice: $56.26 including tax.  Huhn?!  What?!  Yep, that's what it was. 

Me:  But all the quickie places charge $110!

Karen:  I keep telling Rod we need to charge more...

Bill:  Do you want us to charge you more?  We could change our prices for you right now.

Me:  But what about the filter?  Did you change the filter?  Shouldn't there be more for the filter?

Rod:  Your car's transmission doesn't have a filter.

Me:  Oh.  Well I guess I'm glad you didn't charge me for one.  But still -- $56?!

Bill:  Look, are you just not going to leave happy until we charge you at least $100?

Me:  But... but...

Rod:  [Sigh.] We should have just sold you a filter.

This is why I go to Ingold Tire.


*In other news, I've read that Jiffy Lube has started a national "clean ourselves up" campaign.  In fact, 2007 may be the best year ever to bring your car to Jiffy Lube, since they're all on alert.  But not if you can go to Ingold Tire!

03:59 PM in Destination Durham, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)

Mar 14, 2007

Thomas Moore -- "The Soul of Sex"

Soulofsex "The philosophy characteristic of our culture, in which the body is treated as unrelated to our emotions, our sense of meaning, and our experiences, has deep implications for sexuality.  Not only do we deal with sexual problems mechanically, we may well approach our lovers mechanically--without the deep engagement of the soul and spirit that would give sex its depth and humanity.

Against this point of view, the eighteenth-century poet William Blake [wrote]:

Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld
Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the
chief inlets of Soul in this age.

...Unless we have lost imagination completely, when we look at the body we are seeing the soul, and when we have sex, we experience the body as a way to the most penetrating mysteries of the soul."

-- Thomas Moore, from The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love, chapter one.

I confess that I have only skimmed The Soul of Sex*, but I did read Moore's Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life in 1999 and Soul Mates in 2000.  While my memory keeps only a few details, I seem to remember these two points from both:

1.  The Greek teacher Epicurus taught that simple things, done well, gave us the greatest and deepest pleasure.  Not fancy recipes (like "epicure" has come to suggest in modern times), but simple foods.  Good friendship, deeply grounded.  These are the things that would give us the lives best lived.

2.  Love is first a verb, not a noun.  For a couple in disharmony, Moore would recommend beginning by simply loving each other -- doing good for each other, attending, being kind, and treating the other's happiness as one's own.  "Feeling" the love could never be a pre-condition.  "Doing" the loving would pave the road back to harmony.  "Doing" the loving was what married couples pledged.

Moore's writing isn't for everyone.  I find his style to be warm and clear -- but others might find his tone a little earnest.  In fact, I remember reading Tuesdays with Morrie alongside Care of the Soul, and thinking "Tuesdays with Morrie says the same thing as Care of the Soul, but a lot more quickly and without the pretension."  Now, I reckon that either teacher works.  I don't see so much pretension in Moore's work -- just honesty and hope.


*read into the phrasing what you will.


11:08 AM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

Mar 12, 2007

Photo Mosaics from AndreaMosaic

A jar of pens and pencils rendered with AndreaMosaic.  Click to increase from fine pt. to medium pt.

I've spent the last few weeks housesitting for my friend Geoff but soon I get the boot.  Today I snapped ~100 pix of things in his house (cabinet doors, the floor, artwork, shoes, family photos, etc.) with hopes of making a fun photomosaic as a memento.

To my happy surprise, there are several freeware programs for making photo mosaics.  AndreaMosaic is the first one I stumbled onto.  Fortunately, it's easy to use and pretty fast.  The one challenge is that photo mosaic outputs can be several MB large, which isn't so great for emailing to friends.  Thus the need for a photo resizer.

There are many options for photo resizing; I use Photo Gadget Picture Resizer (free edition) for most fast resizing tasks.  It rocks.  What's really neat about PGPR is that it's integrated into Windows so instead of importing your photo into some other program (like Photoshop Elements, which you have to wait on while it cranks up), you just right click on the file you want and PGPR shows up in the menu (right between "Open With" and "Send To").

12:01 AM in Misc.Blog 2007, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

Feb 14, 2007

"Six Songs of Loneliness and Despair, Perfect for Valentine's Day"


Beautiful -- Dark.
Painful, French

I have heard the message and now should you on Café Solitude, new from Véronique Diabolique.

"Sentiment is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more."

12:01 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jan 17, 2007

Community Tables and Chinese Christmas

I've heard of Chinese New Year, but Chinese Christmas? 
Check out the Santa on my glass of Diet Coke :-)

Here's something I'd like to see: community tables at restaurants, for solo diners who would welcome the chance to eat with others.

This idea comes to me from time to time, but most frequently at Rainbow Chinese* where I solo eat at least twice a month.  I usually enjoy watching whatever they have on TV, but often as not I see other solo diners wonder if we really ought be eating together instead of watching the TV while awkwardly avoiding each others' eyes.  (Theory: we feel awkard because our "isolation despite nearness" runs counter to a human instinct to connect.)

Two other things about Rainbow Chinese:

1.  I like how their glasses are mismatched.  It makes me feel like I'm eating in someone's home. 

2.  Back when I was in high school, it used to be called Hunam Chinese (or maybe Hunam Palace).  Back then, the local drinking age was 18 but some of my underage high school would go there and order beer without getting carded.  According to my (white) friend, Tarus, "we all look alike to them, anyway."


Rainbow Chinese, ~900 W. Main St., across from Brightleaf Square.  Lunchtime buffet and a bottled drink, $6.50 plus tip.  Don't count on friendly and efficient service or an attractive setting, but it's decent food cheap and fast.

09:05 PM in Reviews, Things I'd Like to See or Do | Permalink | Comments (4)

Jan 16, 2007

Marianne Williamson (not aka Nelson Mandela) on Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your paying small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-- Marianne Williamson, in Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"

This quote is widely misattributed to Nelson Mandela, and that's how it was credited in The Power of Flow: Practical Ways to Transform Your Life with Meaningful Coincidence, which I started reading this week.  I wanted to share it via blogland so of course I double-checked the source, and what should I find but the fact that Mandela never said it.  Dang.  The quote meant a lot more to me for the day or so that I thought they were his words.  The quote still has meaning without the backing of Mr. Mandela's extraordinary experience, but now I have to interpret it through my own experience, since I know nothing of Ms. Williamson's life or work.

In any case, a couple of thoughts:  First, I thought for the longest time (while the book sat unread on my shelves) that The Power of Flow was related directly to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Turns out, though, that this book focuses on living a life entwined with Jung's synchronicity.  To give the Jungians their due, maybe it was a sign that I picked up The Power of Flow when I did.  But it doesn't help that the authors have boosted my skepticism by introducing one of their chapters with a sloppy piece of work.

Speaking of pet peeves, here are two more of mine: inaccurately copied quotes and inaccurately attributed quotes.  Please poke me if you ever see me generate either. Thank you for your support.

12:02 AM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

Jan 11, 2007

Deborah Tannen on Condescension and Connection

Thats_notThe doctor who pats his patient or nurse on the arm, saying, "How are you today, Sally?," may genuinely intend to be warm and friendly.  But because the patient or nurse couldn't pat him on the arm and ask, "How are you today, Richie?," there's a (possibly unintended) metamessage of superior status in the doctor's gesture.  The ways he has of showing concern or getting close -- using first name, touching, and inquiring about health -- are paradoxically also expressions of superior status, which is condescending.

Many of us, faced with such mixed metamessages, either resent the condescension and ignore the concern or appreciate the concern and ignore the condescension.  As in looking at a paradoxical drawing, we can't hold on to both images at once.  But they're both there.  Feeling either anger at the condescension or appreciation of the concern ignores half the communication.

-- Deborah Tannen, PhD, in That's Not What I Meant! -- How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, 1986, Ballantine Books.

Deborah Tannen is on my mind these days.  Yesterday she was interviewed on NPR about the word "surge" as relates to a proposed increase of 10-20,000 troops in Iraq.  And last month, I quoted from her first brilliant book, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.  As a longtime fan of her books, I found it interesting to hear her voice for the first time. 

12:01 AM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (7)

Jan 10, 2007

A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel

History_of_reading In every literate society, learning to read is something of an initiation... In medieval Jewish society, for instance, the ritual of learning to read was explicitly celebrated.  On the Feast of Shavuot, when Moses received the Torah from the hands of God, the boy about to be initiated was wrapped in a prayer shawl and taken by his father to the teacher.  The teacher sat the boy on his lap and showed him a slate on which were written the Hebrew alphabet, a passage from the Scriptures and the words "May the Torah be your occupation."  Then the slate was covered with honey and the child licked it, thereby bodily assimilating the holy words.  Also, biblical verses were written on peeled hard-boiled eggs and honey cakes, which the child would eat after reading the verses out loud to the teacher.

-- from A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel, 1996, Penguin Books.

This is one of several dozen books that I've owned for many years but never managed to read.  From my little dips here and there, I can tell you that it is a wonderful book.  A beautiful book with many pictures.  A well-regarded book and, it seems, for good reason.  I typed the above excerpt in part so that I would feel less badly that I am about to give the book away.  And in part because I'd like to give the book away.  To a reader.  To the first local reader to call dibs via the comment link, below.

08:40 PM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Jan 09, 2007

The Word -- Stevie Smith

The Word

My heart leaps up with streams of joy,
My lips tell of drouth;
Why should my heart be full of joy
And not my mouth?

I fear the Word, to speak or write it down,
I fear all that is brought to birth and born;
This fear has turned my joy into a frown.

-- Stevie Smith (1902-1971), in New Selected Poems of Stevie Smith, 1988, New Directions.

I only have a modest familiarity with Smith's work, but I am a great admirer.  I like best her economy and subtlety.  Her writing, like that of Carl Sandburg* often uses plain language that makes it readily accessible at the surface, which makes it all the more likely that we'll stick with it to see what lies below.  (For those who immediately notice the parallel with Matt Groening, there's even more: Smith often adds her own cartoons to the poetry.)

Said better, here are some of the back-cover notes from the publisher:

Stevie Smith wrote poems about everything -- hats, children, death... friends, foes, and animals... in an inimitable way.  ...themes that at first seem simple, almost childlike, cut knife-edge deep to serious concerns;... her mischievous throw-away lines are sly in their subtle control; her a coin with a dark side.

Go read some.  I think you'll be both happy and sad if you do.**


* Do click the link. 

** Erika L., I think that you, in particular, would enjoy this writer (if you haven't, already(!)).

02:55 PM in Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oct 04, 2006

Xiloa -- Central American and Caribbean Cuisine on Ninth St., Durham

Xiloa600_1 "Our food is meant to be filling but not heavy.  And healthy!  You won't need to exercise."

-- the friendly boss (owner?) at Xiloa -- Cuisine of Central America and the Caribbean

Last week I had a late dinner with Philip A. and we enjoyed it.  Lots of vegetarian and vegan entries make for healthy eating so I'm sure I'll be back to try more items. (At left -- one of their standard menu offerings which includes a sampling of five or six items, depending on how you count.)

Healthy food at high speed and moderate prices is something Durham (or, say, America) needs more of, that's for sure. 

I hope they'll do well. A certain blog reader has volunteered to do a website for Xiloa and I'll look forward to linking there just as soon as it's up :-)

Meanwhile, check it out for yourself on Ninth St., a couple of doors from where Bakus used to be (Wait - was that not helpful?  How about "near Bahn's which is at 750 Ninth St."  Better?  You're welcome.  Any time.)

02:42 AM in Destination Durham, Quotables, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sep 19, 2006


Co5 Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.

-- Brendan Frye in Brick

Saw this one Sunday night.  Really liked it.  I know almost nothing about film noir but suspect this was a good introduction.  Also, I won't tell you where you've seen the star before -- figure that one out on your own or never mind.

12:53 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sep 01, 2006

The Barbecue Joint, II

AuntienellatthebarbecueAt left, my Auntie Nell.  She came to the US in 1969 when I was two and she was not quite as old as I am now.

Today at The Barbecue Joint in Chapel Hill, Auntie Nell reminded me that I was fussy eater when she first arrived.  "We'd have to say, 'here comes the train, open up the tunnel!'"  (Apparently I used to call it a "tynal".)

In any case, today at The Barbecue Joint we both loved everything -- the beans and bacon, the duck confit salad, and the smoked salmon chowder.

I believe that The Barbecue Joint is now five years old.  I'm glad they're in it for the long haul.  You should be, too.

See here for an earlier review from 2004.  Or better yet, just get your (slow cooked barbecued) butt on over for a meal.

And see here for an interesting NC barbecue website with reviews of several dozen local barbecue restaurants.  And see here for some freaky barbecue pig torture/music/torture.

01:18 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aug 14, 2006

OK Go -- Here It Goes Again

Raise your hand if you haven't seen this yet.  Anybody? Anybody?  Because you darned well ought to.


(I haven't figured out how to put a video link in here, but you can get the video at  Other videos are on YouTube.  Jerry -- feel free to advise on how to do that thing you do.)

I'm no rock historian, but I peg this video as an excellent homage to the earliest days of MTV, 25 years ago.  A bunch of semi-nerdy hip guys dancing, quirky humor, no technology, no budget and no sex.  A video like this could well have been Madness doing One Step Beyond* or Night Boat to Cairo.  And what about the direct references to the source code for Video Killed the Radio Star -- the rhythm, the riffs, and the synthesized voice filter?  Damn, but I enjoy this video.  Bonus: I am no longer thirteen.

2 UPDATE: yet more OK Go vids on YouTube.  Go here for A Million Ways to Be Cool (pictured at right).  That page also has links to various other performances.  The Million Ways video reminded me of the NCSSM lip sync contest of '84 in which Jason D. and I did up Devo's Jerkin' Back and Forth.  We choreographed the hell out of that piece and the performance was probably the best thing I've ever done in front of an audience except for my jerkin' back and forth one count past the final beat.  (For the record, Jason's performance was impeccable.)  I sort of wish we had a video copy.  (choreography imaging assist: we started with tennis racquet covers on our heads which stayed on for the opening four beats at which we flung them off with a neck snap.)  Of extra bonus appeal -- Jason and I had been best friends the year before but had parted ways badly.  It was nice to get back together for a show that made us both happy for ourselves and each other.  We didn't turn into friends again but we did restore goodwill. 

Now that I think about it, it was a lot like my impression of rock band reunion tours.  Now that I think about it, the same thing happened three years later in college with a parted-ways-wish best friendship that reassembled for a movie announcement / fencing skit to introduce The Princess Bride for the BFS. There is nothing like running off stage with huge smiles for a genuinely ecstatic hug -- with the sound of dozens of screaming and laughing fans to cheer us on.


*the first video I ever saw on MTV, followed by Once in a Lifetime and then (I think) something by Missing Persons.

02:37 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Jul 11, 2006

BodyWorlds2 in Denver

0000105 Today I visited the Body Worlds 2 exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  Just bloody amazing.  I wish I could plastinate my body and still be able to look at it.  But since that seems unreasonable, maybe I'll ask my dad if I can plastinate his when he goes. 

(More or less related -- I spent a lot of time looking at shoulder, neck, and upper back muscles to get a better sense of all my muscle problems and my dad's neck surgery.  Learned that there were even more muscles to get screwy than I originally thought.)

11:31 PM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Jul 07, 2006

"What's Happening to My Body?"

Boys A dear friend bought this book for her adolescent son, and I had a browse on a recent visit.  Good book. Lots of information in there on things like testicular growth, shaving, acne, etc. -- and stuff about female parts, too.  Stuff I would have liked to known when I was his age for sure.

I told my friend that I could write a complementary book for related issues -- a shorter read for days when the boy didn't want to dig through What's Happening to My Body?  My book would be titled "WTF?!" and its text, in its entirety, would go something like this:

Chapter 1:  You're weird.  Your body is weird.  And guess what -- so are everybody else's.  Anybody who says different is an idiot.

Chapter 2:  Some day, no matter what, you're going to be attracted to someone who digs you and will want to sleep with you, and everything will be great for at least a while, maybe longer.  Don't fret.  It'll happen.

Friends have subsequently told me that this would be a great book for most boys but not all.  One friend said that for his son (one of my popular godsons), the book's first chapter should pretty much read: "Keep it in your pants."

Any co-authors out there?  What would you suggest?

12:03 AM in Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)