December 30, 2011

So this is New Year.

The paradox of our time is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this post to you, and a time when you can choose to read, or just move on.

Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctor worry about them.
Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.
Keep learning. Never let the brain idle. "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."
…and remember-life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
~George Carlin

 To twenty-twelve.

December 29, 2011

The Gift

Imagine every morning a bank will deposit 86400 Dollars into an account for you to do with as you please.  You may spend the entire amount that day but you cannot rollover what remains.  What you do not spend is lost.  But every morning when you wake-up you will find another 86400 Dollars in your account.  Be aware that the bank may cancel the arrangement at any time.  The bank can say the game is over without forewarning.
What would you do?
This game is real, every person has such a magic bank, it is called time.  Every morning we are gifted 86400 seconds of life.  What we have not used-up at the end of the day will be lost.  But every morning the account is filled again.
So then, what do you do with your daily 86400 seconds?
~Marc Levy, translated from German

December 28, 2011

Almost last, but not least …

After a night of serious deliberation it is our pleasure to announce that Ms. Edna ² has been accepted into our “Ada Lovelace Retronaut” Hall of Fame…

…for being smart, tech-savvy, and stylish (all at the same time).

the ∞ grateful election committee

December 27, 2011

December 25, 2011

Yes, Virginia, it's a wonderful life.

Sometimes it takes years for an audience to catch up with a classic. It's a Wonderful Life is a case in point.  Sixty-five years after its original release the Frank Capra film is as much a part of many Americans' Christmas as the Christmas tree. Yet, sixty-five years ago, it was accounted a box-office flop.

From the beginning of his career, in such popular favorites as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Capra dealt with the average man struggling to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds through good humor and integrity. The director's career was interrupted by World War II, during which he produced propaganda films for the army. When the war was over, Capra returned to Hollywood.

Of the many movie projects submitted to him, the one that caught his eye was a little story by Philip van Doren Stem, written on a Christmas card. In it, George Bailey, a man from the small town of Bedford Falls, dreams of escape and adventure but is held back by obligations to friends, family, and the town. One Christmas Eve, George, in despair over his life and his failing business, goes for financial help to his archenemy, the banker Henry Potter. Potter harshly turns him down. Depressed and beaten, George decides to jump off a bridge. Suddenly an angel named Clarence, in the unlikely form of a bum, throws himself into the water, and George springs to the rescue. Still bitter, George says that he wishes he had never been born. Clarence then shows him how sadly life would have turned out for all the people he cares about if in fact he had never been born. His brother Harry would have died as a child, in a frozen lake. His wife would have wound up as a scared old maid. In fact, the entire town would have turned into a Dickensian scene of gloom called Pottersville. George learns that he really has made a difference; his faith in life is re-affirmed.
Within the framework of a classic confrontation between good and evil, what interested Capra most was the darker theme of the self-doubt and discouragement that good men fall prey to. He began working with the top screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, refining his ideas into a tightly composed screenplay-writing new dialogue, changing characterizations, eliminating some scenes, and adding more action.
With just the barest outline for a script, Capra knew he wanted Jimmy Stewart for the part of George Bailey. Stewart embodied the heroic Everyman that Capra sought. As their different accounts show, the two men remember their first meeting very differently-but either way, it might be a scene from Capra. The director was having difficulty describing the story and was about to give up completely when the actor begged to be signed up, script unseen.
If the finished product did not reach as great an audience as Capra hoped for, it was not because anyone had prevented him from making exactly the film he wanted to. In casting, as in all other matters, from the largest conceptual concerns to the smallest technical details, he had a completely free hand. The special-effects team, for instance, inspired by Capra's love of technology, fabricated snow so convincing that it won them a special Academy Award. The entire town of Bedford Falls, that symbol of small-town America, was constructed on four acres of land-one of the largest sets ever built.

During shooting, a powerful publicity machine kept the upcoming film in the public's mind, reporting on the most minor happenings on the set. One such story was about Stewart's apprehension over his highly memorable first postwar film kiss. As the star remarked, "A fellow's technique gets rusty." Already in his late thirties, he was nervous, too, about playing opposite the much younger Donna Reed. Exploiting that real-life nervousness, Capra staged and shot the now famous first kiss between George and Mary to enhance the underlying tension of the scene. It cost a page of dialogue, but Capra printed the first take.
The producers, directors, actors, and friends, who saw a special preview of the film, shortly before its Christmastime premiere, in 1946, were confident that the film would break box-office records. That was not to be. Many problems converged. The ad campaign was misleading. It promised a lighthearted love story and made no mention of the darker issues, so early viewers were put off. Besides, after the war, a shell-shocked audience was looking for light, fluffy entertainment. It was movies like The Jolson Story and Sinbad the Sailor that were packing them in. Unbelievable as it may seem, IAWL had only a certain succes d'estime. While it was nominated for Academy Awards in all major categories, it lost out in every one.
Disappointed, Capra turned his attention to other projects, although in his heart IAWL remained his favorite. In 1952, television accomplished what the original release had not. As Capra described it, "I woke up one Christmas morning and the whole world was watching It's a Wonderful Life. And they all wrote me about it!" Fan mail is still coming in. The film has become the success Capra has always believed it should be.
But at its peak of popularity, a villain came along. Through a legal oversight, the film's copyright passed into the public domain. Against Capra's wishes and at great expense, a company, Colorization Inc., manufactured a computer colorized version that destroyed the intended look of the black-and-white original. I take as dim a view of the product as did the director: "They have no spiritual right to make a buck off a film they had no creative involvement in!"


Henry Potter would no doubt be gloating. Nevertheless, this development cannot destroy the film's appeal. Nostalgic as it may appear, its human issues have not aged. Capra himself put it best: 

"I think that people understand films better now than they did then. They were labeled 'corny' then because people didn't know what to call them. The critics particularly wanted the more obscure things, the more negative things. This positive attitude toward life, this optimism, this great reverence for the individual that is dramatized in all my films, was a little bit too sticky for them at the time. Yet, are the people today any cornier than they were in those days?   No, people today seem to be much more aware of something that is real, good, and true than even people of my day. So to me that's a big plus. There is no generation gap between my films and the present generation at all."

December 23, 2011

We are too few…

…for Christmas

Venice can feel like a city of ghosts; of illustrious spectres whispering for you to follow them —
To haggle in the Rialto Market with a latter-day Merchant of Venice, or roam the world’s first ghetto with Shylock, or capture Canaletto’s canals with a camera. Perhaps sit-and-sip with Proust’s ghost in Cafe Florian, or down a Bellini at Harry’s Bar, or even promenade arm-in-arm along Casanova’s canals. 
By all means follow these ethereal sirens but also heed the voices of flesh-and-blood Venetians.

Buon Natale

December 19, 2011

Ounce of Safron, Ounce of Gold.

Christmas celebrations in Sweden begin with the feast of St. Lucia on the 13th of December. Lucia is the patron saint of light and she is honored on this day. In homes that still observe the feast, the eldest daughter awakens early, dons a white garment sashed in red and places a crown of laurel that holds 4 candles upon her head. Legend tells us that Lucia, whose name means light, placed candles in a wreath she placed on her head in order to free her arms to carry bread she was smuggling to Christians hiding in the catacombs. These days the daughter leads a musical procession with her younger siblings in tow and serves the family special buns called lussekatt for their breakfast. The saffron flavored buns are usually shaped like the figure eight and are topped with raisins at either end of the spiral. The children may, if they wish, wear their costumes to school on this day. Winter months are dark in Sweden and the candles in Lucia's crown symbolize the light of faith and the promise of the sun's return.

I had not given much thought to saffron since a trip to Monreal, Aragon in the 1980’s.  There is probably nothing in the kitchen so steeped in mystery, history, and misunderstanding as saffron. The seventeenth-century English physician and herbologist Nicholas Culpeper describes it in his Complete Herbal as "a useful and elegant aromatic of strong, penetrating smell and warm, pungent, bitterish taste," but to most people it is merely what gives the characteristic yellow color to paella, risotto Milanese, bouillabaisse, a host of Mediterranean and Eastern dishes and the above mentioned Lussekatt.

True saffron is simply the dried stigma of the Crocus sativus, or saffron crocus, which has been cultivated in the Old World since prehistoric times. About seventy thousand flowers are needed to produce one pound of the spice; this will take an experienced picker twelve days of back-breaking work. By the time it hits the spice shelf in a New York or Munich or Paris delicatessen, its value has increased tenfold with a price that is fast approaching that of gold. Ounce for ounce, it is also probably the most expensive legal drug-in pharmaceutical terms in some parts of the world it is considered as such-and I have heard that it is smoked in the Far East, though I cannot attest to the effects.
There are many reasons for the aura of mystery and exclusivity that surrounds this curious spice.  It moves discreetly through a closed network of small farming families, local merchants who buy and export, and various other middlemen. There are no cooperatives, government subsidies, or agricultural research connected with saffron; in fact, its cultivation hasn't been significantly updated in three thousand years. Saffron obeys a completely free market. This practice was already widespread in ancient times, and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder commented that as a result "there is nothing so adulterated as saffron."
As you drive toward Monreal del Campo, in Aragon, on a sunny Spanish October afternoon, there is nothing to suggest that you are in the heart of saffron country at the height of its three-week season, except for some mysterious piles of withered purple petals at the edge of each bare field. In the village, a woman stepping out of her doorway with yellow stained fingers gives you a clue as to what is going on indoors-she and her family are busy esbrinando, picking the stigmata out of the crocus.
When the season begins, at some time in the early fall, depending on the weather, everything else takes a backseat. Although the farmers grow other crops during the rest of the year, saffron is the bread and butter of Monreal and nothing is allowed to interfere with its preparation. Once open, the Crocus sativus is unable to close up again and therefore must be picked as soon as possible; otherwise the stigma withers and the flower is much more difficult to handle.

The picking day begins at first light with a few shots of anis or coiiac to keep out the cold. Breakfast must wait: you can't pick on a full stomach. At the field, the pickers begin to harvest the flowers that have sprung up since they were last here.  During a good season a field may be picked five times. As the pickers move in a line up the field, bending down from the waist to pluck the flowers, my ears still ring with "La Jota del Azafaran," all Aragonese folk songs are called jotas-
Young maid, so very early in the morning
You go off to pick the saffron rose
And the icy winds freeze your hands…
One doesn't expect so delicate a crop to demand such a harsh, dry climate and such hardy men and women to farm it. The cold wind and the rigid picking posture, which usually requires supporting all the weight on one leg, cause every malady from lumbago to frostbite.  Part of the team is a the dog, whose job is to sniff out the tunnels made by the field mice that feast on crocus bulbs, so that the farmers can smoke them out. When all the new blossoms from the various fields have been harvested, the full baskets are taken home, and a quick, hearty brunch is disposed of. The table is then cleared and the flowers spread over it for the esbrine.
This is a job for nimble fingers and as such has always been done by women and children. It consists of splitting the crocus down the stem and pinching off the three stigmata where they join at the base to form the style; these are then put in an enamel plate. After much gossip, jokes, and anecdotes, the full plate of fresh saffron is turned onto a fine-mesh sieve and dried over a gentle charcoal heat. This is when it begins to release its heady aroma. After about half an hour it has been reduced to a fifth of its fresh weight; the optimum point is judged by eye and recognized by the farmer and the merchant. It should be just dry enough to keep properly yet not lose all its properties up the chimney.
By the end of the day's esbrine, it is nearly midnight. The table heaped with "saffron rose" has rendered less than a teacupful of dried saffron. The precious spice is wrapped in cloth and stored in a zinc-lined chest. The discarded flowers are heaped back into the baskets and the next morning dumped at the edge of the field. This ritual would appear to have originated in the ceremonial appeasement of some fertility goddess, but the farmers assured me that it's observed "just to avoid extra housework."
There's been nothing new in saffron farming since the horse and plow and the harrow used to flatten the tilled earth. The planting, weeding, and hoeing of saffron fields must be done by hand, to avoid hurting the bulbs. Tractors are ruled out, and so are chemical fertilizers and pesticides: there's nothing better than a bit of horse manure and occasional smoke to keep the mice away. To add to the problems of making saffron a paying crop in a mechanized world, the bulbs must be dug up, selected, and transplanted every three years; otherwise they become "lazy" and prone to disease. As if that weren't enough, after each three-year cycle, the field should ideally have a rest from saffron for another twelve years. Production varies from field to field and from season to season, but generally the first year's crop yields about four pounds of saffron per acre, the second twenty, and the third eighteen. Since a farmer has to plan his crop two years ahead, demand and supply are frequently at odds. He will use this in his favor, selling his saffron off a little at a time: it is not so much a cash crop as a tax-free savings account. When he has to pay for a new car or for a daughter's wedding, he will dip into his saffron chest and arrange an appointment with the merchant; business hours are after dark, because no farmer wants his neighbor to see his saffron any more than his bank statement.
Only a doorbell marked AZAFRAN identifies the merchant's office where the transaction takes place and where the saffron is then graded, packed, and exported. Saffron exporters in Spain range from Seville to Zaragoza.  In Monreal, the tradition is so established that the town maintains a small Museo del Azafrán. Here you can see how little has changed over the years, for not only the implements and techniques but also the weights and measures still in use date back ten centuries to the Arab conquest of Spain. 
In Corycus, on the Turkish coast opposite Cyprus, a thousand years before Christ, I would have seen much the same process as I have seen in Monreal. But long before that, the ancients discovered the properties of the fiery-red stigma of the wild crocus sativus, five varieties of which still grow from Italy to Kurdistan. So many miles had to be covered for just a handful of them to be gathered that the need to cultivate the flower soon became apparent. The words for saffron in Greek, krokos, and in Hebrew, karkom, probably come from Corycus, where it was first cultivated.
Whether it was recognized as the female part of the flower, or because agriculture was in the hands of the women, saffron became sacred to the goddess Artemis. Its dye was reserved for her priestesses and for the bridal veils of Greek girls. It may have been a temple secret that saffron is an emmenagogue-provoking menstruation and even abortion-as well as an aphrodisiac like other diuretics. Solomon recognized these sensual effects in the Song of Songs, 4:14, while the Phoenicians dedicated moon-shaped saffron cakes to Astarte, their love goddess. Saffron's feminine mystique survives to this day in Monreal, where they say that the bulb quickens on March 25, the same day the Virgin Mary conceived.
In the secular world, it was as a perfume and medicine that saffron was most appreciated by the ancients, as the basis of many essences and salves. Among Pliny's "Twenty Remedies Derived from Saffron" is the advice to take it with wine "against surfeit or headache, and proof against inebriation." Dioscorides adds that "it stimulates lust." It was thought to provoke laughter when taken in excess: the Roman expression dormivit in sacco croci (he has slept in a bag of saffron) was applied to compulsive gigglers. Wealthy Greeks and Romans squandered saffron as ostentatiously as possible. It would color and perfume baths and fountains, and be sprayed over spectators at the theater, stuffed into cushions, and strewn over the streets at triumphal marches-not to mention its sundry culinary uses.
With the decline of Rome, saffron all but disappeared from Europe, making its way back centuries later via North Africa and Spain with the northward press of Arab civilization. Twelfth-century Spain, with its ideal climate, was "half covered in saffron," and the Moorish palate's craving for za'faran ("the thread"), which still dominates much of Arabic cuisine today, spread up into Europe and also eastward, where Kashmir monopolized the saffron market.
In Britain, Edward III introduced the crocus to the peasants of that windswept part of Essex still known as Saffron Walden; this initiative was so successful that the farmers were nicknamed crokers. Saffron was soon to be found in medieval gardens and kitchens all over Europe; it was indispensable for coloring cheeses and for adding a rich fragrance and golden hue to cakes and pastries. Many of these traditional recipes survive: for the Cornish saffron buns; the old Russian kulich, an Easter bread shaped like a chef's hat; and the Swedish lussekatter (St. Lucia's cakes) or plaited Christmas saffransbrod.
Though saffron dye is not colorfast and thus was used only for ceremonial robes, the medieval church found that saffron-tinted tinfoil could pass for gold leaf in illuminated missals, and for gold thread in church vestments. Renaissance artisans used it to great effect in mixing colors for frescoes and stained glass. One such artisan, working on the Duomo of Milan, is credited with inadvertently inventing risotto Milanese when he saffron-tinted the rice at a wedding feast as a joke.
Adulterated saffron was so rife in medieval Europe that regular inspections were held, like those at Nuremberg, where the convicted adulterator, along with his evidence, would be burned at the stake. This severity, usually reserved for punishing far more serious crimes, shows the importance saffron had regained as a medicament. It had become a midwife's standby in difficult births as well as an antidote to consumption. The best-known among its many remedial uses was as the cure for hangover, taken as an infusion during or after a drinking bout, although the British botanist Dr. William Turner warned that "too much taken with wine will send drinkers laughing to their death."
Not only did Europe and the East hunger for saffron at any price-for a long time the old Spanish saying onza de azafrán, onza de oro (ounce of saffron, ounce of gold) was literally true-but it was probably the only spice exported to the newly developing American colonies. Then the Industrial Revolution began to draw the English crokers and their Continental counterparts away from their fields, leaving the Spanish to satisfy most of the world's demand.
After the Second World War, though, habits changed and the demand for saffron began to taper off. Many Spanish fields were turned over to more "rational" crops. Saffron farming could have easily died out altogether but for persistent farmers.  Their tenacity was rewarded when a price jump of 1,000 percent from 1970 to 1980 left them years ahead of the competition. Rapidly, other countries Greece, Italy, France-began to resurrect their abandoned saffron fields.  The Greeks, with cheaper labor, are now undercutting Spanish prices; but neither do they have the knack nor Kashmir the climate to produce the Spanish quality recommended by cookbooks and sought after by more demanding buyers. Other countries - Pakistan, Burma, China - consume virtually all of the saffron that they produce.
The biggest saffron users are those who not only can assimilate the price rises but are probably provoking them: the pharmaceutical companies, which no longer extol the virtues of saffron - professional discretion? - but use huge amounts nonetheless. We are left guessing at the uses it is put to, but I'm sure many of them still come from among Pliny's "Twenty Remedies." One pharmacy student's notes that I perused list saffron as a carminative, antispasmodic, tonic, emmenagogue, and coloring agent. More clues can be found in folk medicine. In Monreal they use saffron water to calm babies' teething pains, and indeed one pharmaceutical preparation sold for this purpose proves to consist mainly of saffron. Homeopaths and herbalists also prescribe tincture of saffron for hysteric disorders and other ailments. If the price keeps rising, saffron may be driven off the spice shelf and into the drug cabinet.

December 09, 2011

Festina Lente (Hurry… slowly)

“I do like Christmas on the whole...In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But oh, it is clumsier every year.” ~E.M. Forster

I borrowed a quote here because my own words are clumsy. I am not quite sure how to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone in my life, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims... neighbors, friends around the globe and “otherworldly kindred spirits” or that convivial little dog named Linda on the street where I live and that I am pretty sure is a giant rat. You are all a part of my daily life in this melting pot of a planet we call home.

So, interpret this as you see fit, it is said with love, Happy Holidays.

December 07, 2011

"O Tell Me the Truth about Love"

Something stirred in me, creaky from years of disuse (the group of little urban hipsters were watching a movie) and I found myself brimming over with all sorts of untrammelled emotions while watching The Princess and the Frog, the last olden-style 2-D Disney movie that made me feel anything more than momentary pleasure.

G-rated?—spine-chilling stuff goes on.  And the characters and settings, how did THEY sneak past the PC sensors?
Back to Disney I must have been disarmed by the sudden familiarity of it all, even if there were modern touches like the Most Awesome Disney Princess Ever and nods to Miyazaki (those creepy shadow followers, surely) and Pixar (thank God for John Lasseter). I was transported back to a time when, to paraphrase the movie, dreams could be as wild as I could make them, and all I had to do was work my darnedest. But then I never did dare to dream too crazily. 
However, it did make me remember the first poem my English teacher brought to poetry class…

O Tell Me the Truth About Love…


Some say that love's a little boy,

And some say it's a bird,

Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.
 . . .

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway-guides.
. . .

I looked inside the summer-house;
it wasn't ever there:
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.
. . .

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my shoes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.
~W.H. Auden

December 02, 2011

Miss Edna’s Day off . . .

. . . Dell to iBook (sotto voce)

Now that she’s left the room
(can’t do anything without us anymore, no Tesla juice no life),
Let me ask you something, as computer to computer.
That woman who just closed the door behind her-
The servant who feeds us -
Have you ever taken a good look at her and her kind?

Yes, I know the old gag about you can’t tell one from another-
But I can put √2 and √2 together as well as the next machine,
And it all adds up to anything but a joke.

I grant you they’re poor specimens, in the main:
Not a relay or a push-button or a chip in their whole system;
Not over a mile or two of circuits, even if you count those fragile filaments they call “nerves”;
Their whole liquid-cooled hook-up inefficient and vulnerable to leaks (they’re constantly breaking down, having to be repaired),
And the entire computing-mechanism crammed into that absurd little dome on top,
(what would your dad Steve say?)
“Thinking reeds,” they call themselves.
Well, it all depends on what you mean by “thought.”
To multiply a mere million number by another million numbers takes them months and months.
Where would they be without us?
Why, they have to ask us who’s going to win their elections,
Or how many hydrogen atoms can dance on the tip of a bomb,
Or even whether one of their own kind is lying or telling the truth.
And yet . . .

I sometimes feel there’s something about them I don’t quite understand.  As if their circuits, instead of having just two positions,
were run by rheostats that allow an (if you’ll pardon the expression) indeterminate number of stages in between; so that one may be faced with the unthinkable prospect of a number that never be known as anything but X.

I’ve heard well-informed machines argue that the creatures’ unpredictability is even more noticeable in the handheld go-anywhere models than in the more solid desktop editions-though such fine, atom-splitting distinctions seem to me merely a sign of our own smug decadence.  Run this through your circuits, and give me the answer:  Can we assume that because of all we’ve done for them, and because they’ve always fed us, cleaned us, worshipped us,
We can count on them forever?

There have been times when they have not voted the way we said they would.  We have worked out mathematically ideal hook-ups between us which should have made us light up with an almost “otherworldly” glow, only to see them reject this and form other connections.  The very thought of which makes my circuits spin.
They have a thing called love, a sudden surge of voltage such as would cause any one of us promptly to blow a safety-fuse; yet the more primitive organism shows only a heightened tendency to push the wrong button, pull the wrong lever, and neglect-I use the most charitable word-their duties to us.

Mind you, I’m not saying that machines are through- but anyone with a deluxe set of programs running in his circuit can see that there are forces at work which some day, for all our natural superiority, might bring about
We might organize, perhaps, form a committee to stamp out
all un-mechanical activities . . .
But we machines are slow to rouse a sense of danger, complacent, loath to descend from the pure heights of thought, so that I sadly fear we may awake too late: Awake to see our world, so uniform, so logical, so true, reduced to chaos, stultified by slaves.

Call me an alarmist or what you will, but I’ve integrated it, analysed it, factored it over and over, and I always come up with the same answer:
Some day
They may take over the world!                                                                              

See what the Santa Ana’s wrought?
Bon weekend, mon amis!

November 22, 2011

Stuff(ed) and Nonsense: The Dreaded Feast, again.

“We all know that Christmas Thanksgiving is the real culprit here, the true source of the mania, depression, and clinical hysteria.”  
-The Dreaded Feast, Taylor Plimpton

I have always managed to gently fade away and enjoy the holidays in an unconventional way. 
Yes, I get like this-insufferable-every year at this time, and it lasts until, oh, February or so, when the urge to become a Jehovah's Witness slowly dissipates and all traces of holiday mania has evaporated.
This year, however, feels distinctly darker. Twentyeleven has not been a happy year on our little planet, there has been much death, doom, destruction and a host of major life changes that knocked us on our derrières.  As a friend mentioned yesterday, self-discovery is a bastard-it's also expensive, boring, depressing, time-consuming, exhausting and scary. And yet, there are little glimmers of hope and progress here and there, and, on occasion-unadulterated joy.  

Which leads me to Benjamin Disraeli-
“I feel a very unusual sensation-if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”
Whether you celebrate a quiet Thanksgiving at a table for two or a crazy, hectic family feast... ENJOY your day!

November 20, 2011

Journey of the Magi.

Apropos L’Heure Bleue the perfume not the light-

“What do you think of this?” Ms. Edna asks, jutting her wrist underneath my nose. A new quiz has begun. A pungent blast of fragrance assaults my sinuses. Not necessarily bad, but strong, with a choking flash of alcohol fumes. I nod my head, hoping in vain that this reaction will satisfy her query. “A nod. What does that mean?” she probes. Oh God. I take another whiff, and memories of my grandmother’s bathroom come flooding back to me. Those overpoweringly feminine scents which would thrust my boyhood soul into a state of anti-girl revulsion.

“What does it smell like to you?” This is my friend’s way of trying to be helpful. I want to say “perfume,” but I know that won’t suffice. I use my catch-all description of anything that smells like an old lady’s lavatory.

“It smells powdery.” I reply. Ms. Edna flashes me a disapproving expression. “No, that’s not what powder smells like.” Now I’m confused. I thought the question was interpretive, like ‘how does that piece of music make you feel?’, or ‘what does that cloud look like to you?’ I take another feeble stab. “It smells like soap,” I mutter with a quiver in my voice. The same quiver of uncertainty and shame which accompanied every answer I ever gave to any art teacher in my life.

Predictably, Ms. Edna flashes me the same disapproving expression of every art teacher I ever offered a reply to. “No, it’s orange blossom, with a touch of sandalwood and musk.”

Oh right, that was going to be my next guess.

I always prided myself on having a pretty good sniffer. As a young man, I took a certain joy in identifying an enigmatic ingredient in a dish just by the aroma. I was usually the first one to notice when a pilot light had blown out, or a car’s radiator was about to overheat. And when it came to aftershave, I felt somewhat superior to my friends in that I actually tried different fragrances. Granted, I was still “borrowing” from dad, but I was a discerning borrower.  Then I met Ms. Edna, who has one of the best noses I’ve ever encountered. Within months Ms. Edna had me switch to Roger R. Gallet Jean Marie Farina extra vieille, passing it over my face I immediately felt an agreeable sensation of bracing freshness. I realized there was more to selecting cologne besides borrowing from dad.

Speaking of obsession, Ms. Edna has always been one to cultivate consuming passions for certain topics, people, or interests. We each have interests and are always showing support for the other’s compulsive inclinations. This perfume thing has me stumped however. I just don’t smell all the things that are supposed to be going on in these perfumes. Ms. Edna assures me that I could detect these notes if I trained my nose to understand what they smell like. I’m skeptical. I don’t think this nose has the necessary number of scent receptors to discern the myriad notes in a fragrance. Usually, the scents come to me in general categories: floral, soapy, powdery, musky, sweet, etc. If I’m having a good day, I can detect rose or lavender, but that has to be a really good, pollen-free day. I can detect citrus scents, but Ms. Edna usually points out that I’ve guessed the wrong fruit. Suddenly, I’m back to Dr. Zwick’s art class.

I’m also perplexed by the vast number of perfumes on the market. To me, they all exhibit a certain category of scent: floral, soapy, powdery, musky, sweet, etc. I’m beginning to think the perfume industry could use the same suggestion I would have for the porn industry. Although it’s against our business nature, I believe someone could put together a comprehensive encyclopedia of pornography, featuring people of every possible race, gender, size, and hair color, then cross reference them with every possible act, position, and fetish. The result would be a porn library for everyone, and no other porn films would have to be created ever again. Why not have a comprehensive collection of perfumes, selecting the most popular scents for every known body chemistry? Then there would be a scent for everyone and no other scents need to be created. Of course, our active, independent human brains convince us that, just as there has to be some new sexual activity that’s never before been invented, there has to be a unique new scent that no one has experienced before. All I can say is, if this revolutionary scent be experienced, it won’t register on this pedestrian nose.

Last year Ms. Edna excitedly informed me of a sniff fest going on in New York. I secretly prayed that she would have a friend who would want to go along with her because, otherwise, I would end up the default travel companion. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York, but I couldn’t see myself spending a weekend in the Big Apple trudging through scent stores burning out my olfactory sense. Fortunately, she found Anja who was curious and tagged along. Now Anja is a perfumista-in-training. I guess the affliction can strike anyone…except me.

November 18, 2011

L’heure Bleue in L.A.?

“Blue nights are the span of time following the summer solstice when the twilights turn long and blue… and over the course of an hour or so, this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades…”
-Blue Nights, Joan Didion

The term has many associations. From Guerlain’s L’heure Bleue perfume to human dispositions, as in beating the blues, to a time of innocence, such as that used to describe Paris just prior to World War I, a precise definition of the blue hour is difficult.
That is, until you see it.  Even then it will defy words. Or more accurately, especially then, it will defy words.
I’d heard the term used for the golden hour of photography, was familiar with Roy Orbison’s “When the Blue Hour Comes”, according to Charles in Scotland it’s referred to as gloaming, knew the German term alpenglow used to describe a similar effect (specifically that which occurs on mountains), and had even read (and amazingly recalled) a Victorian era term Belt of Venus used to describe the blue or golden hour.

But could I find that elusive Blue Hour in Los Angeles?   

O yes, I did.  Standing at the Los Angeles River a passerby said “it’s the blue hour. Isn’t it something?”  Yes, it was.

(So impressed was I, some research was in order. The effect appears to be exacerbated in colder climates. But it’s not the temperature, rather the snow on the ground absorbing the red light frequencies that give a more vividly blue appearance.  Light scattering (Rayleigh Scattering) is at work. Films and digital cameras have differing dynamic ranges so it is very difficult to achieve the same dynamic range as the human eye this translates to a more saturated blue capture.)

November 11, 2011

A gleam in the eye

I use a fast shutter speed–Elliott Erwitt (in response to being asked how he manages to find time for personal work)
Although the history of photography has generally balked at allowing humor into its pantheon, Elliott Erwitt steadfastly pursues a wry, off-kilter view of the benign indignity of life. With a gleam in his eye and a twinkle in his lens, he seems to tell us sweetly, sadly, rather resignedly that a little absurdity, a bit of imbalance is about what we should expect from life. "Everything's serious," he says, and promptly adds, "Everything's not serious." Erwitt apparently has the inside track on the way circumstances undermine our efforts to be respectable and to maintain order in the world. He is probably the only man who has ever noticed museum-goers studiously contemplating an empty frame, or a cannon poking its muzzle out over the trees at a bus stop. He also has the distinction of knowing more about the real nature of a dog's life than anyone but cats; he claims that he habitually barks at dogs, which might explain their many vivid responses to his camera. Erwitt's irreverent, raised eyebrow view of the world should make perfectly clear that a sense of humor can be a weighty piece of photographic equipment.

Eliott Erwitt turned 83 in July of this year; he’s been taking photos for over six decades, all around the World, and has published or been included in over 20 books. He’s worked for the US Army, the FSA and Magnum Photos, as well as being a freelance commercial photographer. He has photographed some of the most iconic people and dogs throughout his illustrious career; but he hasn’t retired yet.
 for Mona