Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Skip and Flip -- Their story

Our birds, Skip and Flip, came to us in a most unusual way. Some years ago, neighbors in Tuxedo Park were leaving with their children on a Christmas vacation. We encountered them at a party a few days prior to their departure and they asked us whether we would be willing to care for their parakeets while they were away. We’re considered “soft touches” for this sort of thing and, even though neither of us had ever had birds as pets before we said yes.

On their way to the airport, our neighbors dropped the birds at our house while we were having dinner. After presenting us with the bird cage, they hurried off, saying --this is a fact, we both heard it – “you don’t have to give them back, they’re your birds now.”

We were shocked and it took a while for it all to sink in. They never returned for their birds and didn’t even call to let us know that they were back from vacation or to inquire about the birds. Obviously, we began to harbor uneasy thoughts about them and had serious concerns about what their kids must be feeling and how they were being raised.

In any event, the birds joined our family and have lived among us as good citizens for years. Skip and Flip (renamed by us for the late 1950s recording duo featuring Clyde “Skip” Battin, a latter-day member of The Byrds, and Gary Paxton, who later produced Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett) are enchanting creatures and extremely beautiful. Sharing the cab of a U-Haul truck with them during our move to Pennsylvania will always have a place in my top 10 weird experiences (the looks I got from other drivers and gas station attendants; the birds’ extreme sensitivity to bumps in the road which caused them to shed feathers and make the truck cab look like a movie pillow fight scene; their excellent and varied accompaniment to songs on the radio).

The birds now live in Caroline’s office. Their cage is mostly left open (the office door is closed to the cats, obviously) and they clearly have a lot of mental interaction with the outdoor birds they see through the windows flying by and in the trees. They’re incredibly alert, active and cheerful and really love the music that comes out of her computer. (They’re partial to marches.) Recently Caroline correctly diagnosed that Skip had developed mites, which can ultimately prove deadly, and the birds were successfully treated at the local avian vet (also in the weird experience top 10, but a doctor’s office visit that includes a fair amount of laughter can’t be all bad).

When I was much younger, I couldn’t really relate to birds. I don’t know why, but I suspect it was because my only exposure to them was outdoors where they were either too small or moved too quickly for me to contemplate or in zoos where I didn’t think they made for terribly exciting exhibits. I didn’t think of them as being particularly “alien” or “other” and the whole Max Ernst obsession with birds wasn’t anything I could ever relate to, although it was pretty effective as art. My introduction to relating to them and liking them came through my mother-in-law’s bird watching and feeding, which we adopted when we began spending more time outside of New York City.

As a teenager, I used to read John Cage’s A Year From Monday a lot. (Aphorism-filled books generally matched my attention span.) When he wrote: “We are as free as birds. Only the birds aren’t free. We are as committed as birds, and identically,” I really liked it and still do, not because it makes a great deal of literal sense or I understand it now better than I did then, but because of its sort of Zen-ness. Skip and Flip have made it clear, in a very cheerful and polite way, that they find the statement irrelevant.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Uwe Nettelbeck (1940-2007) (Three Cheers For)

Describing Faust's success, Uwe Nettelbeck said in 1973: "The idea was not to copy anything going on in the Anglo-Saxon rock scene – and it worked..."

When I came across Nettelbeck's statement yesterday, I was struck by its acuteness and accuracy. The music Faust produced, whether it's your cup of tea or not, is unlike anything of its time. In fact, in its almost "found" inventiveness and infinite-seeming variety, it's almost as if everything that wasn't currently being done and hadn't been "included" in the "Anglo-Saxon" rock scene found its embodiment and full fruition in Faust's music. Sometimes it seems that they had observed and fully taken into account what was already "out there", excluded it from further consideration, and then gathered everything else in the world for inclusion in their recordings.

Their business approach (Nettelbeck's) was also fresh, free, untraditional and efficient. And as for attacking and destroying many UK concert stages with pneumatic drills, what can you say? I assume that even the pretty much unshockable Pete Townshend and Iggy Pop were both impressed. Versatility is not just a positive quality, it's virtue, I believe.

So, three cheers for the great Uwe Nettelbeck. Here's a nice early shot of Nettelbeck (at the recording console on the left-hand side of the photo) and Faust and a picture of the Egyptian Stargate that appeared in the news yesterday. Everything's still possible, no matter how hard they try to march you into corners.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Eva Doing A Handstand

This photograph, Eva Doing A Handstand, by Fritz Paneth has meant a lot to me since I saw it on the cover of the Exact Change edition of Aurelia and Other Writings by Gerard de Nerval.

The overall image is arresting, certainly, and when I first took in its glossy, borderless appearance on Aurelia (which is an unforgettable work), it almost literally drew me into its world.

I think what makes Eva Doing A Handstand such a strong picture is the subtle tension between granularity and smoothness in the image combined with its depiction of physical grace and delicate balance achieved through quiet, intense effort. Seeing the beautiful 1920s girl doing a handstand on the French Riviera beach is both real and unreal: i.e., it’s surreal. It’s a perfect cover illustration for Aurelia and great in its own right.

Paneth was an Austrian-born radiochemist who fled to England following Hitler’s Machtergreifung in early 1933, becoming a British citizen in 1939. He returned to Germany in 1953 as Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. He made an early contribution to the study of cold fusion (he thought an experiment of his resulted in a cold fusion event, but later retracted the finding when he discovered flaws in his procedures) and the mineral Panethite and lunar crater Paneth are named for him. Eva was his daughter and the photograph is an autochrome, an early color photography process. Paneth was a lifelong amateur photographer, one of those visual and mechanical explorers with visual and scientific flair and acuity who photographed out of curiosity and for joy and produced and left us so many unforgettable images.

Eva Doing A Handstand is in the collection of the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England. Last fall, I was able to acquire a high quality digital reproduction of the picture. What I’d really like is an original print or a new print produced from the original autochrome plate. Perhaps that not possible. On the other hand, perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough yet.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


On the jukebox in the background, Waylon Jennings explains how being crazy kept him from going insane. (Tom Clark, from Wyobooming, 1979, Part 2)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cold Thoughts For Spring

‘Losing you is not a loss, and keeping you is no specific gain’ – Khmer Rouge slogan

Epitaph on a Tyrant
by W.H. Auden

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tomorrow's News Today Supplement (1)


1. An interactive history of the "Wilhelm Scream" (very important movie sound effect).

2. A personal history of television (leaving out all the pretentious and boring stuff, which none of us can stand and that's why we actually like television and we're friends).

Other stories that need to be told, suggestions for pets' names (including pet bats).

Tomorrow's News Today (No Racing Results)

I have a very early and long drive tomorrow (Monday), so these are a few of the things I looked at and thought about on Sunday. I’m never certain how to order things correctly in this template, so I suspect the order I choose will come out approximately right, which is all we can hope for in these variously straitened times.

Petrarch's “Rime 190” ("Una Candida Cerva" -- “The White Doe”):

A white deer appeared to me on the green grass
With two horns of gold, between two rivers in the shade
Of a laurel tree, as the sun was rising
In the bitter season.

Her appearance was so sweetly proud
That I left off every labor to follow her,
As the miser for whom hunting
Treasure with delight makes less bitter the distress.

"No one touch me" was written in diamonds and topaz
A around her beautiful neck; "Caesar wants me free."
The sun had already revolved to midday; my eyes were
Wearied from gazing, but not satiated when I fell
Into the water and she disappeared.
Una candida cerva sopra l'erba
Verde m'apparve, con duo corna d'oro,
Fra due riviere, all'ombra d'un alloro,
Levando 'l sole, a la stagione ascerba.

Era sua vista sí dolce superba,
Chi'i lasciai per seguirla ogni lavoro;
Com l'avaro, che 'n cercar tesoro
Com diletto l'affanno disascerba.

"Nessun mi tócchi--al bel collo d'intorno
Scritto avea di diamanti e di topazi--
Libera farmi al mio Cesare parve".

Et era 'l sol giá vòlto al mezzo giorno;
Gli occhi miei stanchi di mirar non sazî,
Quand'io caddi ne l'acqua, et ella sparve.

Sizzled Ginger Rice
• Fast
• Healthy
• Vegetarian
1. 1 1/2 cups sushi rice
2. 2 cups water
3. 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4. 1/4 cup julienned fresh ginger

1. Put the rice in a small saucepan, rinse well and drain. Add the 2 cups of water to the rice and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for about 13 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice and cover again.
2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Add the ginger and cook over low heat until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir the ginger into the rice and serve.

As the punch-line of a joke I like (from SCTV, I think) goes, “use it if you like”.

First Day Of Spring In Chester County; Clock

By the time I found myself standing on the terrace of a Bryn Mawr restaurant yesterday evening having a pleasant chat about my day with the mother of one of Jane’s classmates, I realized that it was the first day of spring. I should say that we both realized this simultaneously. It surprised both of us (and later Caroline when I told her) that we would have forgotten about this, but not that much because the winter had been so punishing this year (on a number of levels) and we had both simply reveled in the beauty of the day. We spent part of the afternoon at the Chester County Antiques Show in Westtown looking at the extremely beautiful (mostly 18th century, mostly Chester County) tables, clocks and chairs, as well as the other items on display. It was sort of a Hard Rock Café of great furniture, i.e., museum-quality pieces set in an unpretentious, but highly stimulating commercial setting. This is a picture of a clock made by Isaac Thomas, one of Caroline’s and Jane’s ancestors. I think Willistown Township in the 18th century, which seems to have been Clock Central, must have been an amazing place. Jane showed great character and resiliency yesterday, for which I’m very grateful and proud. A lot of patience (with me) also; it must be trying sometimes to deal with the extremely obsessed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


It’s so great that we’ve had some warm weather since Daylight Savings Time arrived and we now (finally) seem to be on the verge of spring after the ghastly, punishing winter. The sunlight – now glareless on the roads -- looks and feels so good. I don’t know whether the travails of snow, ice and flooding affected everybody’s mood, but they (along with everything else that flows through the television and news sources on the internet) certainly added to my own discontent and generally enervated state. But weather changes are transient and I still need to sort out my own priorities in order to stay on whatever track I’d like to be on.
The golden cat statue pictured here was given to me by my friend Mara Perico. I think it’s meant to commemorate the life of my cat Pansy, who we lost (far too young) last year. The statue has Pansy’s sweet look and reminds me of her perfect character. Each morning when I come down to my office, I pass the statue and see Pansy’s sister Rose sleeping in the corner chair waiting for me. I greet Rose and always say hi to Pansy also. Speaking to her and saying Pansy’s name isn’t a way of keeping her “alive”. She’s alive and always will be. It’s just a nice thing to do.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton in an undated early photograph. For nearly a decade starting in 1962, American Sound Studios in Memphis churned out hit after hit: including The Letter and Cry Like a Baby by the Box Tops (with a young Alex Chilton). By the 1980's, Chilton and Big Star would foster a generation of rock bands. Chilton died Wednesday, March 17, 2010, in New Orleans.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunglasses: International Glossary and A Very Brief History

There are various words referring to eyepieces with darkened lenses:
• Shades is probably the most widely used term for sunglasses in North America.
• Glares is a term popular in India if the glass is dark. If it is light then the term is "Coolers".
• Sun spectacles is a term used by some opticians.
• Spekkies is a term used predominantly in southern Australia.
• Sun specs (also sunspecs) is the shortened form of sun spectacles.
• Sunglass a monocle version
• Sun-shades can also refer to the sun-shading eyepiece-type, although the term is not exclusive to these. Also in use is the derivative abbreviation, shades.
• Dark glasses (also preceded by pair of) - generic term in common usage.
• Sunnies is Australian, UK and New Zealand
• Specs is a common name for sunglasses in North America
• Smoked spectacles usually refers to the darkened eyepieces worn by blind people.
• Solar shields Usually refers to models of sunglasses with large lenses.
• Stunna shades Used as a slang term in the hyphy movement, usually referring to sunglasses with oversized lenses.
• Locs (also maddoggers) is a brand of sunglasses worn by rappers, gangsters and cholos.
• Glecks is Scottish slang for glasses or sunglasses.
• Cooling glasses is a term used all across India and the Middle East for sunglasses.

It is said that the Roman emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights with emeralds. These, however, appear to have worked rather like mirrors.

Flat panes of smoky quartz which offered no corrective powers, but did protect the eyes from glare were used China in the 12th century or possibly earlier.

Contemporary documents describe the use of such crystals by judges in Chinese courts to conceal their facial expressions while questioning witnesses.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sir C.V. Boys

"At three O'Clock in the afternoon of the day after Christmas in the year 1889 the lights went on in the theater of the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. The room was filled with a capacity crowd of teen-age boys and girls. This was the opening day of the Science Lecture Festival for Young People. (In the theater on the Festival days adults would be permitted in the rear row of seats only; they would be expected to slip in quietly, and to take no part whatever in any discussion.) The program in the theater was to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for six days, beginning just after Christmas. This year Charles Vernon Boys was to be the lecturer. There were rumors that he had some magical tricks he would show...
...Promptly at three, the lecturer, Charles Vernon Boys, stepped through the opening in the rear curtain and came forward onto the stage. In his damp hands he had a soap bubble nearly a foot in size; he tossed it from one hand to the other as he walked. "It is possible that some of you may like to know why I have chosen soap bubbles as my subject."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ollie Halsall

Ollie may not have been the best guitarist in the world, but he was certainly among the top two.

John Halsey, 1997

Eddie, Jr.

Eddie, Jr. came to us several years ago after a neighbor, the wife of a well-known book editor, found him as an almost newborn kitten in her garden. He was weak and breathing poorly and clung closely to a garden cat statue as if it were his mother. Our neighbor called on Caroline, as often happened, to step in and assist. Assistance turned (unexpectedly but predictably) into rescue and adoption. But it wasn't we who adopted the kitten. It was his larger doppelganger, our cat Eddie (see below), who became Eddie, Sr. Junior, as we call him, is a wonderful cat. He loves and looks up to his Dad and is sibling-bound to Andy and Edie, our two miniature longhair dachshunds. He's a great cat -- friendly and a little shy. He never grew very big, so the name Junior suits him well.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


My cat Eddie lived outside fully three years before coming to live with us. He adapted and accustomed himself to indoor life immediately. What Eddie doesn't know probably isn't worth learning. Happy Sunday, Edward. Daylight Savings Time begins!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Raviolo or Ravioli? Truth or Dare?


Our opossum Eduardo lives (most of the time, we think) in an insulated Orvis dog house on our fenced and gated terrace in Tuxedo Park, NY. He peacefully shares the terrace with Pitch, the black feral cat we’ve been feeding for several years. (Tuxedo Park and the surrounding area is bedeviled – or, rather, our wildlife is – by the problem of people regularly “dumping” domestic pet animals.) Watching Eduardo sharing the cat food at night and elegantly dipping his snout into the bowl, and seeming to enjoy his life and live confidently, is incredibly uplifting. He’s clearly a really nice guy. Opossums are very rarely appreciated for their weird beauty (I’ve heard so many people dismiss, disparage and reject them for their looks) and their sweet, tentative character, one of their most appealing qualities, is often overlooked (which is probably fine with them; they naturally shun the limelight).

Ravioli of scallops and langoustine claws

Intensely flavoured description found below. Describer missing in inaction.

Ravioli of scallops and langoustine claws

It's no real insult to say that the "ravioli of scallops and langoustine claws" wasn't quite up to the level of the truly mindblowing "Cornish crab lasagne with basil cappucino" I was served at The Square a couple of years ago -- after all, I think that crab is probably the single nicest dish I've ever eaten in my life. But their skill with top quality ingredients was still stunningly evident, from the sweet, clementine-flavoured champagne foam to the lovely coarse texture of the seafood mix inside the perfectly cooked pasta. I suppose it could be argued that this wasn't the most attractive of dishes, but what it lacked in visual appeal it made up for in heady, velvety freshness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

50 cc air de Paris

“You’re really like an art object because people pass below and see you,” said the host as he poured us real glasses of Champagne.

The coup de grâce, fat slices of chocolate-chestnut cake with gingerbread ice cream, had most of us bursting from our shirts. I felt like a puffer fish in a Japanese aquarium.

Thanks to flowing wine, now a florid Languedoc red, and the shared table, the various, international diners were chatting amiably about esoteric topic

There is a story that goes with this picture -- and a vision

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Social Networking's Vast Potential

Brought to you by Strange Phase Productions, An Outlier Company.

ACravan, Proprietor

Strange Phase Productions

Presents:____________, _____________, ____________ and finally.

ACravan, Proprietor

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry (excerpt, Jubilate Agno)

For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry (excerpt, Jubilate Agno)

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Funicular Railway, Hastings, UK