Friday, April 29, 2011

Mexican Fried Rice

A little recipe: fast, cheap, easy and "fusion."

Mexican Fried Rice

1-3 tablespoons oil
1 small onion or half a large onion, sliced vertically
1 small tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup (about) leftover rice
1 lime
handful of chopped cilantro
hot sauce
salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, then toss in the onion and sautee until tender and browning in spots, about five minutes. Toss in the tomatoes. (If you had a fresh jalapeño, you could slice or chop that and throw it in with the tomatoes.) Season with salt and pepper. When the tomatoes have softened, lower the heat a bit and pour in the eggs. Quickly soft-scramble them. Before they're finished cooking, toss in the rice, the juice of the lime, the cilantro, some hot sauce (I used the green Tabasco), and more salt and pepper as needed. Stir until heated through. Top with shredded cheese, avocado chunks, etc., as desired. Serves one hungry lady.

John Ashbery on Sense and Self

From an interview in the Boston Review:

F: Does it bother you when your work is described as a refutation of common sense?

A: No, I couldn’t agree more. [Laughs]

F: Is it hard, therefore, for you to enjoy reading work too rooted in the laws of common sense? I can’t help thinking of a Rimbaud or Ashbery poem as an occasion to go a little screwy, not unpleasantly, with logic.

A: You mean like Robert Frost? Yes, I would say that is hard for me to enjoy. Then again, I don’t know if you can divide up poetry into what makes sense and what doesn’t. In any case, Rimbaud’s poetry accepts and feels beyond common sense, as you were saying, and feels, as I was saying, like the stuff of dreams. No other French writer did this. I’ve often thought that the French language was far too meticulous to allow for such wanton freedom. The fact that he managed without even thinking about it is miraculous. I’m not sure if it ever happened again, even in the poetry of the surrealists, though they’d like to think so.

F: You write, beautifully, “The self is obsolete” as a counter-riff on this famous phrase. Could you elaborate?

A: The self has been replaced by the simultaneity of all of life, everything happening in a given moment becomes the source of the poem, rather than the writer thinking about what he or she is going to write.

F: So writing’s a healthy way of escaping our good ol’ selfhood?

A: No, I think it’s unhealthy! [Laughs] The cubists’ coexisting views of objects that could not be seen by the human eye the way they’re portrayed on the canvas is a way of going beyond the self, or acknowledging it’s no longer doing its job.

F: That a single perspective is inherently limited when it comes to art?

A: Or that there’s no reason why multiple ones shouldn’t exist, too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Free Epigraphs

Some interesting tidbits from things I've been reading lately:
If I watch the end of a day--any day--I always feel it's the end of a whole epoch. And the autumn! It might as well be the end of everything.
That's from an excerpt of The Sheltering Sky in a reader called The Portable Paul and Jane Bowles. I first read "Pages from Cold Point," a short story by Paul Bowles, which is fascinating; it's very suspenseful and the whole thing hinges on a father's realization about his son, but the realization is never made explicit. I didn't understand what had happened, and when I asked John, he wasn't sure if he had read the story, but he guessed that the realization was that the son was gay; at the time you would have had to tiptoe around that. In hindsight I'm sure that's what it was, but it hadn't occurred to me while reading. From the details and the tone you get the sense that the son contains a secret darkness, is evil; the people of the town think he is a "bad boy." I tend to be naive about these old codes. Now I'm reading "Camp Cataract" by Jane Bowles, which is very funny.

Here's another epigraph up for grabs:
There are no colors in nature, only electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths.
That's the part I think is most epigraphable, but here's the rest of the passage: "If we were aware of our 'real' visual worlds, we would see constantly changing images of dirty gray, making it difficult for us to recognize forms. Our visual stimuli are stabilized when the brain compares the variations in the different wavelengths of light; the consequence of these comparisons is what we perceive as 'color.' The brain creates a sense of 'color constancy': no matter the lighting conditions--bright sunlight, filtered sunlight, or artificial lighting--colors remain more or less the same. This phenomenon is not fully understood. But colors themselves are not in our surroundings. Brains therefore create something that is not there, and in doing so they help us to make sense of our environment." That's from a review of Oliver Sacks's new book by Israel Rosenfield in the April issue of Harper's.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Buy The French Exit for $6

In honor of my being named "Boston's Best Poet" by the Boston Phoenix, Birds LLC is offering a special limited-time deal on The French Exit. Right now you can get The French Exit for just $6 (50% off the cover price) or get a copy free with any other Birds LLC purchase. Yay! Hot deals! Act now, at prices like these, they won't last long! Etc.

Also, thank you to everyone who voted! Especial thanks to Janaka Stucky, AKA the wind beneath my wings, who passes the crown/sash on to me, and who is fully responsible for launching this kooky write-in campaign. It was an honor just to be not-nominated.



* I've really tired of hearing about the supposed cilantro gene. It's like the new version of that factoid about the tryptophan in turkey making you sleepy, which by the way isn't true. Blaming everything on a gene feels like the worst kind of pseudoscience to me and I look forward to it going the way of phrenology. John used to hate cilantro and now he likes it. I strongly suspect that many of the people who believe they are genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro are from the Northeast or Midwest, where cilantro is a relatively new ingredient, used improperly and frequently not fresh. (The cilantro I get in Boston is significantly less delicious than what I get in Texas, by the way; same with tomatoes. This means the low-rent pico de gallo sitting out at Taco Cabana in El Paso is probably better than what you get at a nice restaurant up here.) People in the Southwest and California like cilantro because they've been eating it for years the way it was meant to be eaten. (My roommate in college was from outside Austin and disliked cilantro, but she also only ate the whitish part of watermelon and the stalks of broccoli. She was picky and I imagine her tastes have evolved.)

* About a month ago I went into Frivolous Spending Lockdown. But I totally cheated yesterday and bought some perfume. You see, I was at a party on Saturday and met someone who asked me if I'd been to that great new perfume shop on Milk Street. What?! What great new perfume shop on Milk Street?? I had to go, you see; I had to. It was indeed pretty great, and I bought some shit:
  • A big bottle of YSL Nu, a discontinued woody incense scent I've been hearing a lot about lately (see Bois de Jasmin's recent review). There was no tester, but the owner opened it up for me so I could smell it. It's great, and to my nose very similar to Ormonde Jayne Woman in the top notes.
  • A bottle of Giorgio Armani Sensi, which I became semi-obsessed with for about 24 hours a little while back, after watching this video and asking Brian about it. Since he owns every perfume in the universe, he of course just goes to his cabinet and sprays it on and proceeds to tell me how nice it is. (His exact words were "Oh wow I forget how gorgeous this stuff is. It seems soft but is strangely present. It's really lovely.") At the time, I did an online search and only found a three-piece set for $729.99. The Perfumed Court didn't even carry it. Now, however, it looks like a bunch of bottles have flooded the discount market again. Anyway, it's nice, a buttery jasmine floriental, and it may yet explode in value again.
  • A small purse spray of Safari, which is one of the few perfumes I have always remembered the smell of clearly, even though I never owned or wore it. It had a serious cultural moment in the mid to late 80s, and was pretty ubiquitous. Somehow its floral chypre structure just burned itself in my brain. I didn't like it when I was 7 or whatever, but was able to say with confidence I would like it now, even after 20 years of not seeing or smelling it anywhere. It reminds me very much of the previous incarnation of Banana Republic, back when they were catering to a more outdoorsy, outfitter sensibility.
  • A very small bottle of Paco Rabanne pour Homme. I consider cheap, small bottles of classics completely outside of the realm of frivolous spending and permissable in all cases.
In my defense I did pass on many bottles that interested me: a bottle of Jolie Madame of uncertain vintage, Balenciaga Le Dix, Gucci II edp (which I will probably buy eventually; this is just as TS described it, a sweet pink floral with a big savory sage note), Demeter Tomato (passed because he only had ginormous bottles and I'm sure I could get a tiny one online for about $3), etc.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The tropes of '80s commercials

Last night after slogging through The Accidental Tourist*, the latest in John's losing streak of movie picks (he's seriously some kind of mad savant when it comes to finding films with good pedigrees that are nonetheless god-awful; see After Hours and They All Laughed), we watched a bunch of '80s commercials on YouTube, which was endlessly entertaining. After watching close to a hundred commercials from any given era, you really start to see some patterns. Here were the big ones:
  • The "Balanced Breakfast": So we're all familiar with the cliche of the balanced breakfast. The weird thing, the thing I didn't remember, is that the balanced breakfast, no matter the cereal, always looks exactly the same: two slices of toast with butter, a big glass of milk and a big glass of orange juice. Sometimes it's real toast, sometimes it's cartoon toast, but there's always the toast and the multiple beverages. What the hell? Wouldn't you expect the balanced breakfast to include, like, fruit or something? Or an egg? Why would anyone eat a bowl of cereal and then, to balance it, add more processed wheat and another pint of milk? In the late '80s, when fiber became all the rage, the toast became two bran muffins in some instances.
  • Businessmen: There are only a few kinds of males in '80s commercials: adorable/annoying kids, aggressively blue-collar guys with accents (see the Liquid Plumber commercial where they repeatedly compare the "thin stuff" and the "thick stuff"), and businessmen. The vast majority of males in commercials were businessmen. Businessmen eating cereal, businessmen drinking coffee, businessmen taking Pepto Bismal, businessmen lifting their arms to prove they wear Sure/use Dial, etc. (Women, on the other hand, are either sensible housewives, high-power secretaries, or out of your league.)
  • Gum Makes You Cool: Chewing bubble gum, putting gum in your mouth (especially in such a way that the stick folds in half visibly as you push it against your tongue), popping a big bubble on your face, stretching your gum out in a tether between your teeth and your fingers (the epitome of cool, I thought, when I was a kid): these activities all signal that you are awesome and having an awesome time. (My old friend Marisa has a distinct memory of putting her hair up in a side ponytail, checking herself out in the mirror approvingly, and thinking, "I need some gum.")
  • White People: Everything was marketed at white people in the '80s. Especially notably, McDonald's and other fast-food joints (Wendy's and Burger King were big) were all trying to appeal to a higher tax bracket than they do now. The only commercials we saw with black actors were for laundry detergent/fabric softener, whatever that means.
  • Gender Stereotypes: Evident throughout, of course (this hasn't changed), I was especially appalled by the kids' toys. The stuff for boys was SO FREAKING VIOLENT. It's like, aircraft carriers that unfold into missile silos that transform into nuclear warfare. WTF?! Toy company executives should be taken out and shot by the bloodthirsty Republicans they've created. Girl toys, of course, are sickeningly domestic and thoroughly pink. Barbie's furniture is all pink. Who buys a pink dining room table, I ask you? I noticed that board games, on the other hand, are always depicted in play by both a boy and a girl (if not a whole family). Why is it that only board games are gender-neutral?
  • Nightlife: The mid-80s-era commercials for Michelob, to which the night belongs: so hot, right? Singles' night out in New York. When I saw these as a kid I couldn't wait to be a grown-up. The aesthetics remind me of the video for George Michael's "Father Figure" (my favorite karaoke number, FYI). See both below.

*Up until watching this, John had a theory that William Hurt had never been in a bad movie. But wow is this a stinker. Within the first five minutes we were looking at each other like, "What?" It's so stiff and phony you think it must be by design, but eventually you realize it's just tone-deaf, poorly acted and poorly directed. I like Kathleen Turner so much better as a comic actress. Geena Davis is a bright spot though, and I liked the dog character, sort of.

Monday, April 11, 2011


On the off chance that any of my lovely readers live in or around Poughkeepsie (perhaps near the spleen?): I am reading at Vassar on Wednesday evening, April 13, at 5 pm, in the Class of '51 Reading Room at the swanky library. After the reading, I plan to dine on the finest Mexican cuisine that the Hudson Valley has to offer.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

That'$ the Fa$hion

Delirious Hem recently put out a call for work for a feature on fashion called SEAM RIPPER ("Delirious Hem already speaks to fashion in its very title. What better space for a response to the intellectual community at large on women writers and fashion? And what better way to respond than to let these women speak and glitter and shimmy and bedeck and bedazzle for themselves? For that’s where Oprah and Orr made their biggest mistake—they put “fashion” on women, instead of realizing that fashion, like poetry, is something that comes from a woman, that she does by and for herself"). I like fashion, so I submitted a piece ("Some Notes on Fashion"), a little lyric essay, which you could just as easily call a prose poem. To my surprise, someone responded in a comment that they'd like to see more research or evidence to back up the claims in the piece. It hadn't even occurred to me that anyone might take it for a journalistic article. The assertions are bold and provocative by design, but of no inherent truth value; they're just ideas, openings for discussion. See, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:
essay (n.)
1590s, "short non-fiction literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from M.Fr. essai "trial, attempt, essay," from L.L. exagium "a weighing, weight," from L. exigere "test," from ex- "out" (see ex-) + agere (see act) apparently meaning here "to weigh." The suggestion is of unpolished writing.

essay (v.)
"to put to proof, test the mettle of," late 15c., from M.Fr. essaier, from essai (see essay (n.)). This sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling assay. Meaning "to attempt" is from 1640s. Related: Essayed; essaying.
I love the history of the word "essay," its implications. Harper's recently published a list of "general subject questions" taken from the All Souls College examinations ("Often described as the hardest exam in the world, the test is given over two days in September to recent graduates of Oxford"). The questions included:
What is war good for?
Why should I tolerate?
Is dark energy more interesting than dark matter?
Has there ever been a period that was not an information age?
Why does truthfulness matter?
Is China overrated?
What has happened to epic poetry?
Is "women's writing" a distinct category?
Can happiness be measured?
What are the deprivations of affluence?
Why is a leather jacket more acceptable than a fur coat?
Isn't global warming preferable to global cooling?
How many people should there be?
Has morality made progress?
Is nothing sacred?
These could have easily been phrased as statements (China is overrated, Happiness cannot be measured, Nothing is sacred, etc.) and served equally well as prompts.

Anyway, I left a comment to this effect (currently awaiting moderation), that the statements are not to be taken as facts, but perhaps that was counterproductive? Perhaps I should have let it be and seen what other reactions it provoked. Maybe Kate and Becca as moderators will wisely reject my comment.

My Desert Island Movies

I like to say that your favorite movie is not the same as your desert island movie, an idea I think I got originally from Martin. By the time you get up to 15 or 20, though, I think you're looking at the same two lists. These are the movies I'd happily watch over and over again.
  1. Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)
  2. True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)
  3. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
  4. Metropolitan (Whit Stilman, 1990)
  5. Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee, 1995)
  6. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
  7. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)
  8. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
  9. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
  10. High Society (Charles Waters, 1956)
  11. Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986)
  12. To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)
  13. Some Kind of Wonderful (Howard Deutch, 1987)
  14. Alice in Wonderland (Disney version, 1951)
  15. Quiz Show (Robert Redford, 1994)
If I expanded this to 20 I'd certainly need to take along The Dark Crystal. More movies I love: Wings of the Dove, The Ice Storm, Short Cuts, The Big Chill, Kicking and Screaming, Stand By Me, You Can Count on Me, The Sting ... and there's a bunch more that hold so much nostalgia value for me I'd be tempted to take them just to relive my childhood, stuff like Dirty Dancing and Willow ... but I'm trying to restrict this to films I enjoy without camp, since camp may fail me on a desert island. Can camp exist in solitude? (Or maybe I should say, I want to take films that I believe I'd enjoy even if I saw them for the first time this year, films that aren't colored by a protectiveness for my past enthusiasm.) And what about comedies? Would Clue or Soap Dish or The Man with Two Brains still be funny after umpteen viewings? (Have you see Soap Dish? It is hilarious.)

John pointed out that there is not one woman director on this list. What the F is this shit? Who are your favorite women directors? Don't say Sofia Coppola.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Top 13 Perfumes

I haven't even come close to smelling all the perfumes that are currently available, much less all the great vintage and discontinued scents. (I have dozens of samples I haven't even gotten around to trying, one of them might be a winner.) But knowing what I know now, these are the 13 perfumes I would take to a desert island, the ones I love unconditionally. It'll be interesting to see how much this list changes in a year. (My desert island movies, on the other hand, haven't changed much in a decade.)
  1. By Kilian Beyond Love (Calice Becker, 2007)
  2. Cuir de Lancome (Calice Becker and Pauline Zanoni, 2007)
  3. Donna Karan Gold (Calice Becker, Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, 2006)
  4. Etat Libre d'Orange Rossy de Palma (Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu, 2007)
  5. Chanel Egoiste (Jacques Polge, 1990)
  6. Thierry Mugler Angel (Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chirin, 1992)
  7. L de Lolita Lempicka (Maurice Roucel, 2006)
  8. Estee Lauder White Linen (Sophia Grojsman, 1978)
  9. Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea (Laurie Erickson, 2009)
  10. Tauer Perfumes Incense Rose (Andy Tauer, 2008)
  11. Flower by Kenzo (Alberto Morillas, 2000)
  12. L'Ombre dans l'Eau (Serge Kalouguine, 1983)
  13. Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Jean-Paul Guerlain, 2007)
A few close-but-not-quites, at least not today: Caron Le Troisiemme Homme (1985, I can't find the perfumer), Bulgari Black (Annick Menardo, 1998), Diptyque Philosykos (Olivia Giacobetti, 1996) (these three I ultimately prefer attached to John), Sonya Rykiel Belle en Rykiel (Jean-Pierre Bethouart, 2006), Teo Cabanel Alahine (Jean-François Latty, 2007), Voile de Violette (Laurie Erickson, 2007), Ormonde Jayne Woman (Linda Pilkington, 2002), Une Rose Chypree (Andy Tauer, 2009), Agent Provocateur (Christian Provenzano, 2000) (on another day this might replace L'Ombre dans l'Eau; Anniebelle's Rose might replace them both if I could get Liz Zorn to give me a bottle), Gucci Rush (Michel Almairac, 1999), and so on and so on.

As you can see, my tastes run contemporary (clearly 2007 was my year -- six of the perfumes I've named here were released in 2007, almost half between 2006 and 2008), but that's because this is what's available now. We can keep watching classic movies in the same form over the years, but this isn't true of perfume. If a perfume doesn't sell or doesn't fit the new marketing image or what have you, they stop making it. If only perfumes could be downloaded and copied with the ease of music files.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reading Report!

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon, possibly via Google Alert, an essay by Jennifer Moore in The Offending Adam called "No discernible emotion and no discernible lack of emotion." It caught my interest because, yes, it quotes me (specifically this post on the old Pshares blog, in which, to be fair, I'm mostly quoting Ana Bozicevic on "The New Childishness") as well as Absent founding-editor-at-large Simon DeDeo on Tao Lin.

It's good to see someone looking at Tao Lin's work from a serious critical perspective, as opposed to the usual knee-jerky reviews and responses he tends to garner (both the "I hate Tao Lin" and "Tao Lin is my messiah" varietals). I liked the piece a lot so I wrote to Jennifer, and she sent me the longer paper it's from, which expounds on the "aesthetics of failure" in contemporary poetry, focusing on Lin as well as Matt Hart. It's really good (I had a chance to read the whole thing this morning, thanks to jury duty) and I hope she publishes it in an anthology or something so it's available for teaching. Some half-formed thoughts it sparked:

* This is an academic paper (she's currently getting her PhD at Chicago) and part of what makes it so enjoyable is its complete avoidance of value judgments. I can't tell by reading it if Jennifer Moore likes or dislikes the poetry of Matt Hart and Tao Lin, and I don't really care. There's a lot of hating on "theory" and the "academic" out there, which seems to rise from the pretense that academic language is always obfuscating (and that interesting ideas can always be communicated in simple, accessible language). I don't really agree with either premise, and I think a resistance to "theory" often amounts to laziness or at least insecurity. Without "theory" (which is just formalized thinking) and reference, criticism usually devolves into a value judgment, and this is what makes so many reviews boring and forgettable. An aversion to theory seems like an unwillingness to give up the thing you can be sure of, which can't be refuted: your subjective opinion. "I just like it" or "I just don't" isn't a theory, so it can't even be wrong.

* JM positions the work of Hart and Lin, representing The New Sincerity and The New Childishness respectively (insofar as either "movement" exists), as a reaction to language and post-language or "post-avant" poetry: Hart rejects "a poetry which is either too committed to experimentation [...] or whose difficulties end up alienating its readers," while Lin claims "I don't want to make people feel stupid when they read my writing," implying that language and/or post-language poetry are inaccessible and elitist. Fascinatingly, the language poets had very similar goals; they felt that the American tradition of the lyrical first-person poem, giving voice to a single poetic self, was elitist and hierarchical, tending to produce authoritarian "closed texts." So what emerges is an absurd cycle of movements reacting against each other despite sharing the same humanist, populist, even utopian aims. In other words (you could say), both aesthetics grandly fail. They are not merely "culturally ineffectual," but fail even to embody or convey their own principles on a superficial level. (You could say.)

So. Aside from serving my civic duty, I'm doing another cool thing: judging a book award, which means I'm reading some really great books that I might never have gotten around to otherwise. Ah, the pleasures of leaving one's filter bubble. I'll say more about these books when the judging period ends. Also in the works: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by the disarmingly, nay, irritatingly pretty Marisha Pessl (although she seems to only look like a model from certain angles), and I've got a bag of 17 kinds of deodorant sitting by my right foot.

P.S. A P.G. Wodehouse story is a guaranteed good time.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Keepin' it real

My latest On the Scent column is up! It's all about natural materials in perfumery, once the norm, now the exception. Here's a quick excerpt:
Fuzzy or downright untruthful marketing claims to the contrary, the majority of commercial perfumes in the “fine fragrance” category (that is to say, not fragrances added to otherwise functional products like soap) combine natural and synthetic components, if they contain natural components at all. An all-natural perfume would stick out like a sore thumb at the perfume counter in a department store, as they smell and behave in a fundamentally different way and lack ingredients found in the majority of commercial fragrances (such as synthetic musks, dihydromercenol, and Iso E Super); perhaps counterintuitively, it’s usually synthetic chemicals that make a contemporary perfume smell “fresh.”
I also reviewed a selection of scents from some independent perfumers creating all-natural or mostly natural perfumes.

Stay tuned for future columns covering scented deodorants (not an April Fools joke!) and vintage classics.