August 30, 2005
City of New Orleans

For the last two days I have been haunting for its updates and photos of the recent hurricane, particularly in New Orleans. Weather bug Mike has also been keeping track of the news, as well as the whereabouts of some former Bloomingtonians who moved there.

Personal asides:
The last time I went to New Orleans, in 2001, I spent a lot of time walking around the French Quarter in the early morning, listening to Teenage Fanclub. And had a lovely dinner with coworkers in a restaurant (name forgotten) with a courtyard. And had beignets with a friend at Cafe du Monde. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures.

The first time I visited, 10 years ago, I saw the Royal Pendletons and apparently insulted my hosts beyond words by bringing my own washcloth (a long story; yet after that visit, they never spoke to me again. Wonder if they got out?). I took some horribly overexposed photographs that will not be reprinted here.

And in between, E. and I went there on our "honeymoon" (a month after the wedding) in 1998. That's where I took the famous "Fried Ergs" photo seen here.

I suppose they meant Friedbergs. But isn't this more fun? Sigh.

Posted at 07:37 PM
August 29, 2005
Publishing Nerd Alert

Only a publishing nerd would be interested in this trade magazine story on The New Yorker's digital workflow. They've been doing it for a few years, actually, but this article is an update, including new twists to its all-PDF workflow.

In 1999, fewer than four years after the printing world was first introduced to computer-to-plate (CTP) at Drupa 1995. ...The editors chose the story because it was one of a very few truly inspiring tales of digital workflow in those days. The Imaging Center had fully embraced CTP then and had significantly invested in its digital arsenal to produce not only the pages of The New Yorker magazine, but also of other departments within the Condé Nast organization.

Posted at 07:30 PM
August 28, 2005
It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Just noticed that it is 20 years to the day since I left Columbus and moved into college in Bloomington. I had a mini refrigerator, a radio/cassette player, an electric typewriter, a box fan, and a thing to make tea with. (As compared to what the kids have today. Actually, I wish I still had the electric tea kettle.)

Although I didn't have much gear, moving to Bloomington was possibly the best decision I ever made. For the first few days I had my doubts. Then I met some nice people and started building a circle of lifelong friends. And life just got better and better.

Posted at 05:17 PM
August 25, 2005
Summer Reading: A Book Report

Chicago, the New Age, but what would Frank Lloyd Wright say?
Oh Columbia!

--Sufjan Stevens, "Come on! Feel the Illinoise!"

Notes on the Chicago reading project launched earlier this summer:

So far I've read three, all relatively plot-free, which seems odd for a history project. First up was City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, the ambitously titled volume by Donald L. Miller. We saw the PBS adaptation a few years ago, but somehow I thought the book might sink in better. Miller focuses mainly on the 19th century, bookending the Great Fire and the Great World's Fair as the two seminal events of the century that shaped the city (don't be fooled by that introduction about Joliet and Marquette in the 17th century; you'll never find out what happened in between). I found the fire narrative compelling and the fair story less so, although I guess the fair has captured the readers of Devil in the White City to good effect. Miller's narrative is as much a story of personalities as events, so some of them circle back and repeat themselves, which can be confusing. But it's certainly a good look at certain individuals, particularly wealthy movers and shakers. The middle and lower classes are generally profiled not individually but en masse, as downtrodden workers living in the shadow of the stockyards and the muck of cholera-ridden streets. Such descriptions strip much of the glamour things like the Fair were designed to highlight. And they bring home the notion that the class and segregation issues of today have been with us from the very beginning.

Class and segregation issues emerge again in a 20th century context in Studs Terkel's Division Street: America . Like the title says, it explores then-contemporary questions of division in 1967 (interestingly, the year I was born--albeit not in Chicago). All the classes are represented in Terkel's trademark interview style, and their responses are fascinating if oddly dated ("the race question" and offhand references to the John Birch Society, for example, thankfully are not a part of today's discourse). At 381 pages this book felt much longer, possibly because of its format; each subject talks repetitively about "I", "I," "I," until reading it starts to feel like a series of blind dates with successive narcissists--who never let you talk.

How did we get from the 19th century Chicago of Marshall Field, Jane Addams, and Daniel Burnham to the 20th century city of Daley, et al., and beyond? I can't fill in all the gaps just yet. But the third book, Fanny Butcher's Many Lives--One Love, helps complete some of the cultural and literary blanks. Butcher worked for the Tribune for almost 50 years as a reporter, society editor, and book reviewer. As a result, she apparently knew everyone, even Admiral Byrd, and she took notes. Her memoir is replete with odd anecdotes and depictions of the early 20th-century Chicago publishing and theater worlds. It was enough to get a jaded English major like me interested in her friends Willa Cather, Carl Sandburg, and--yes, Edna Ferber. No navel gazer, Butcher was so entrenched in describing others that she sometimes glossed over her own biography, so I found myself creating mental marginalia ("wait, now she's a widow?" "what do you mean, compulsory retirement?" and so on) and wishing I knew a bit more of her story. But Butcher was old school with a capital S; the book is about her world, not about her. Kind of refreshing, really.

So where does this leave me? I still have a few Chicago books left to read (and perhaps E. will share a review of American Pharaoh someday), so the project will continue, although perhaps with interruptions. Thanks to Miller, I feel like I have the city's 19th-century history under control, but the complexities of the 20th century need more attention. Considering that I moved here 10 years ago this month to embrace the city in all its complexities, frustrations, absurdity and beauty, that seems about right. Happy 10-year anniversary to us, Chicago! And thanks for not crushing me to a bloody pulp.

Posted at 09:48 PM
August 23, 2005
Must Be a Contractual Matter

At the movies this weekend, I decided that the next movie Elijah Wood should appear in, whether he wants to or not, should be "The Hobbit." In the previews, however, we see that his next film is going to be set in London in which he falls in with street thugs. Clearly the producers have missed a trick in not titling this film "The Yobbit."

Posted at 08:53 PM
August 22, 2005
Wolf Man

Tonight I noticed the young man at the cash register at the drug store said to a (female) customer, "Be careful, there's lots of wolves out there tonight," by way of thank-you-and-goodbye. Another spin around the store and I heard him say it again, to someone else. By the third time it became clear that this was no spontaneous improvisation but a failure of imagination (his coworkers, by the way, all had deafened, deadened expressions, and didn't bat an eye). By some miracle of logistics I did not end up in his line, but I had fun imagining possible responses anyway:

a) feign an attack of nerves. "Oh, really?" Look around in a frightened way. Bug out eyes for extra effect.
b) chuckle and pat purse knowingly. "That's OK; I'm packing heat." Wink.
c) respond "Awroooooooo!" or some facsimile of wolf sound. The trouble with this option is that I might not have been able to pull it off. Some days the best I can manage is "arf!" Which could lead to trouble in that drug store if I ever have a Puffs-with-lotion emergency, which is inevitable in some cold seasons. I wouldn't want to be known as the girl who cried "arf."

Posted at 07:13 PM
August 20, 2005
Scenes from Portland

Lessons learned on vacation:

It's hard to get a plain bagel and orange juice sometimes (but do not succumb to the gooey sticky bun instead). Most Americans enjoy driving cars, even if I don't like to, so getting around most cities requires them. Shelf space in a hotel bathroom is critical. It sure does get hot in the Northwest. And always pack an extra bag for books.

Sivani was kind enough to shuttle us around for an entire day, including lunch and a trip to the gorges (is that where the phrase 'I felt my gorge rise' comes from?) and Multnomah Falls, seen here. E. later climbed to the top, but we mere mortals stood at the bottom and dreamed of ice cream.

We did a lot of garden walking in Portland, including the vast Japanese Garden and the more compact Chinese Garden, pictured here.

We did not rent a car during our stay in Portland or Seattle, which worked out well, although we still found ourselves relying on friends and/or taxis a fair bit. In America, I am reminded, driving is considered a birthright, but sometimes it is just more of a burden. Still, we appreciated getting the rides. I found this sign in downtown Portland hilarious:

One street in Portland featured metal pig sculptures on every block or so. They were most charming, but why are they there? I can find no explanation for this.

Not pictured: Me walking home from Powell's with bags of books (and every one of them worth it). Me listening to a "reading" by Mark Helprin, wishing he would talk about his book rather than just tell funny stories about himself. And finally, me (and E.) getting on the Amtrak to Seattle, for a surprisingly clean and easy journey. Stay tuned for part 2.

Posted at 03:52 PM
August 19, 2005
Songs of Myself

ITunes provides mountains of absolutely useless data that can keep me fascinated for hours. For instance, here are the songs I started my days with for the last two weeks, at the midpoint of my trip to work (the part that starts with a 30-minute walk through downtown).

8/8, 8:04 a.m.: "Peg," Steely Dan
8/9, 7:59 a.m.: "The World at Large," Modest Mouse
8/10, 8:07 a.m.: "Shapes," The Long Winters
8/11, 7:56 a.m.: "Here I Dreampt I was an Architect," The Decemberists
8/12, 7:41 a.m.: "Hounds of Love," The Futureheads

8/15, 7:50 a.m.: "Idle Hands are the Devil's Plaything," Palace Brothers
8/16, 7:59 a.m.: "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," St. Etienne
8/17, 7:53 a.m.: "Rough Boys," Pete Townshend
8/18, 7:59 a.m.: "Life in a Northern Town," The Dream Academy
8/19, 7:28 a.m.: "Dear Catastrophe Waitress," Belle & Sebastian

So if I were to do some sort of impressionistic writing assignment based on this, it would look something like this:

I'm sorry that he hit you with a full can of coke; it's no joke. But if the world's at large, why should I remain? I like your picture, so here I go, don't let me go, and we are vagabonds. Idle hands can break your heart, rough boys. (Anybody remember the words to "Shapes?")

Only 50,000,000 words to go and I can be the next Gertrude Stein. Or something.

Posted at 10:02 PM
August 16, 2005
How to Decline

Memo to self: read more about George Bernard Shaw, playwright, vegetarian and curmudgeon extraordinaire, who knew how to decline an invitation and put some teeth into it. Here's how he turned down Lady Randoph Churchill when she invited him to a large society lunch:

If I refuse an invitation in conventional terms, I am understood as repudiating the acquaintance of my hostess. If I make the usual excuses, and convince her that I am desolated by some other engagement, she will ask me again. And when I have excused myself six times running, she will conclude that I personally dislike her. Of course, there is the alternative of accepting; but then I shall endure acute discomfor and starvation... I shall have to dress myself very carefully and behave properly, both of which are contrary to my nature.
...Only if I can be of any real service at anytime, that is what I exist for; so you may command me.

Posted at 07:36 PM
August 15, 2005
Fear of Flying

"Farewell, cousin, here we're frozen." These high-profile words have haunted me all day in the coverage of the terrible plane accident in Greece. I now see that they were not part of a text message from the doomed plane as first reported, but were actually a hoax. Not bad for last words, but I should have known that nothing that poetic could be real. Extra irony bonus: unfortunate Google ads at the bottom of this news story ("Stop your fear of flying!" and "Flight anxiety help--call now!")--since changed to tsunami relief ads because hey, one disaster metatag deserves another.

Posted at 07:31 PM
August 11, 2005
Repackaged Goods

The bar around the corner (next to the "We Cater to Your Spiritual Needs" liquor store) used to be a dark, anonymous place. Even in the mornings you could see weary second-shift workers sitting inside, staring into space. They didn't seem to be having much fun, but they seemed to belong there. There was a fire on the block in the last year and the owners seem to have taken a cue to redecorate. Today I saw a trendy new name painted on the front window (Tar Bar? TarBAR? Typo for "tartar" or "Babar"?), a zippy "Stoli" neon light on the door, a new exposed-brick interior wall, and most heart-sinkingly, someone arranging fabric across the ceiling in a "dramatic" fashion.

The old patrons are still there, for the time being. But their days, like those of the familiar Old Style sign out front, are no doubt numbered. And the rest of us...will be organizing a neighborhood watch for Hummers, stockbrokers, and valet parking.

Posted at 09:28 PM
August 10, 2005
Migraine Brain

Back from vacation, but horribly behind and severely jet-lagged. Plus my head is being buffeted by migraines, as sailors are buffeted by high, wet winds, so my mind is hunkering down until it all blows over.

As a result, not all synapses are firing these days. Consider the two mental mixups I suffered today:

1. Heard snippet of news story on radio about man who lost all his teeth "as a result of his experiences with math." Having suffered a number of my own bad experiences with math, I almost called my parents to say, "You see! I was right, I didn't need trigonometry!" but I realized they were talking about meth.

2. Read spreadsheet item as "I, CPA" and wondered if it was perhaps a musical about self-realization among accountants, sort of like "I, Robot." Then realized it was a strangely spaced acronym for one of the many ICPAs out there.

So. If you need me, I'll be under the ice pack.

Posted at 06:36 PM