03 October 2011

Lucretius and the Ideal, Epicurean Life

I can't think of a better world view.

– from "The Answer Man," Stephen Greenblatt's September 2011 article examining the legacy of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things."

The John Doe: A Drink Recipe

How to make the John Doe, a rum and tequila cocktail of distinction. How you drink it is your own business.

Everything you could want to know about a Caribbean-inspired alcoholic drink, with an ever-growing list of FAQs. 

The tools.

The John Doe recipe
– 1.5 oz. El Jimador Reposado tequila (straw yellow in colour)
– 1 oz. Sailor Jerry spiced rum
– 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
– 4 shakes Angostura aromatic bitters
– ginger ale
– orange rind (for garnish)

How do I make a John Doe?
Fill one third of an oversized wine glass with ice. Add tequila, rum, and lime. Shake bitters over the mixture, savouring the slow commingling of  red with other colours. Fill glass with cold ginger ale. Lightly stir. Warm slice of orange rind with a flame. Folding the rind, spritz oil through the flame and over the mouth. Sweep the rim and deposit rind in the glass. Serve.

How did you come by this John Doe drink? 
A bartender in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood made it for me as a "bartender's choice." It was the summer of 2011.
"Mmmm," I said. "What's it called?"
"It has no name," said he – and disappeared.

Why did you name the drink John Doe?
For weeks it had no name. During that time, police linked it to thirteen unidentifiable corpses. Sometimes a drink names itself.

For a larger group, they're a pain to make individually. Do you have a batch John Doe recipe? 
I do. In a large pitcher or punchbowl, combine: 

– 2 standard bottles El Jimador Reposado (1.5 L)
– 1 large bottle Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum (1.14 L)
– 750 mL lime juice (at this quantity, use store-bought lime juice)

From here, prepare each drink individually. Stir the rum, tequila, and lime before pouring or ladling it into a glass, over ice. Shake in bitters, fill with ginger ale, garnish with flaming orange.

11 August 2011

How to Speak Poetry, by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, speaking poetry.
Take the word butterfly. To use this word it is not necessary to make the voice weigh less than an ounce or equip it with small dusty wings. It is not necessary to invent a sunny day or a field of daffodils. It is not necessary to be in love, or to be in love with butterflies. The word butterfly is not a real butterfly. There is the word and there is the butterfly. If you confuse these two items people have the right to laugh at you. Do not make so much of the word. Are you trying to suggest that you love butterflies more perfectly than anyone else, or understand their nature? The word butterfly is merely data. It is not an opportunity for you to hover, soar, befriend flowers, symbolize beauty or frailty, or in any way impersonate a butterfly. Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material.

What is the expression that the age demands? The age demands no expression whatever. We have seen photographs of bereaved Asian mothers. We are not interested in the agony of your fumbled organs. There is nothing you can show on your face that can match the horror of this time. Do not even try. You will only hold yourself up to the scorn of those who have felt things deeply. We have seen newsreels of humans in the extremities of pain and dislocation. Everyone knows you are eating well and are even being paid to stand up there. You are playing to people who have experienced a catastrophe. This should make you very quiet. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Everyone knows you are in pain. You cannot tell the audience everything you know about love in every line of love you speak. Step aside and they will know what you know because you know it already. You have nothing to teach them. You are not more beautiful than they are. You are not wiser. Do not shout at them. Do not force a dry entry. That is bad sex. If you show the lines of your genitals, then deliver what you promise.

And remember that people do not really want an acrobat in bed. What is our need? To be close to the natural man, to be close to the natural woman. Do not pretend that you are a beloved singer with a vast loyal audience which has followed the ups and downs of your life to this very moment. The bombs, flame-throwers, and all the shit have destroyed more than just the trees and the villages. They have also destroyed the stage. Did you think that your profession would escape the general destruction? There is no more stage. There are no more footlights. You are among the people. Then be modest. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Be by yourself. Be in your own room. Do not put yourself on.

This is an interior landscape. It is inside. It is private. Respect the privacy of the material. These pieces were written in silence. The courage of the play is to speak them. The discipline of the play is not to violate them. Let the audience feel your love of privacy even though there is no privacy. Be good whores. The poem is not a slogan. It cannot advertise you. It cannot promote your reputation for sensitivity. You are not a stud. You are not a killer lady. All this junk about the gangsters of love. You are students of discipline. Do not act out the words. The words die when you act them out, they wither, and we are left with nothing but your ambition.

Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list. Do not become emotional about the lace blouse. Do not get a hard-on when you say panties. Do not get all shivery just because of the towel. The sheets should not provoke a dreamy expression about the eyes. There is no need to weep into the handkerchief. The socks are not there to remind you of strange and distant voyages. It is just your laundry. It is just your clothes. Don't peep through them. Just wear them.

The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country. If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism. Think of the words as science, not art.

They are a report. You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorer's Club of the National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of mountain climbing. They honour you by taking this for granted. If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their hospitality. Tell them about the height of the mountain, the equipment you used, be specific about the surfaces and the time it took to scale it. Do not work the audience for gasps and sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from your appreciation of the event but from theirs. It will be in the statistics and not the trembling of the voice or the cutting of air with your hands. It will be in the data and the quiet organization of your presence.

Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you're tired. You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty.

12 July 2011

English Is a Disease: Catch It!

From a previous life. Intended for ESL students. Part one of a trilogy. 

Remember SARS? From one apartment block in Hong Kong with dirty water slopping floor to floor, a killer disease spread around Asia and the world. It was in the newspapers every day, and everyone talked about it all the time.

English Corner at Taipei City Hall's Department of Information is that apartment building in Hong Kong. But it's clean. And there's no dirty water or sickness here—just great English. At English Corner, we speak great English, listen to great English, and write great English. English is the disease, and we're giving it to people every day.

Think about it. Diseases are bad—they make you tired, unhappy, and dead. But English is good. It makes you smart and interesting, and it can't kill you. Languages and diseases spread the same way: from person to person. Someone with a cold coughs on you, you catch a cold. Someone with good English speaks to you, you catch that, too. Lucky!

It will start slowly, but everyone in Taipei will catch the English. First, a few visitors to English Corner will catch the English. They'll talk with each other, and their English will get stronger. Then, those people will take the English back to their departments at City Hall. Without knowing it, they will pass it to their colleagues. And in all those offices, the English will begin to grow.

Soon, every part of Taipei City Hall will have caught the English. We'll be giving it to thousands of new people every day. The newspapers will take note: "Hey, City Hall's got the English—where did they get it?" The high school teachers will perk up: "City Hall's got the English—we want it, too." People all over—in Kaohsiung, Tokyo, and Seoul—will be looking at Taipei, asking, "How can we catch the English?"

Every day you pass by English Corner you can grab a new piece of English. The place is like a barbecue with all its delicious verbs and nouns sizzling and smoking. Pick one up and pop it in your mouth. Better yet, pick one up and pop it in your friend's mouth.

07 July 2011

English Is a Shirt: Iron It!

From a previous life. Intended for ESL students. Part two of a trilogy.

We all know the world is getting warmer and warmer. We drive in cars, we eat tasty hamburgers, we go to Julia Roberts movies. All the while, the big pieces of ice that cover the North and South Poles are getting smaller and smaller. They are melting.

Global warming will give us some problems. Every time you turn on the TV, Bangladeshis will be crying. The oceans will get higher, and we will have more floods and heat waves, typhoons and hurricanes. While this is happening, remember one important thing—you need a clean and wrinkle-free shirt.

The English language is that shirt. Think about it: when you are ironing it, you can whistle a happy tune. Everything is right in the world. English is the same: when you are learning it, your worry about other things flies away.

Ironing shirts is complicated, and English is complicated, too. On a shirt, you have to be careful around the buttons. They require skill. English grammar is just like that. Once, at a party, I tried to use the simple past (I ate a pickle) but instead used the future perfect progressive (I will have been eating a pickle). What a mistake! Everyone looked at me with hard eyes. But when they did, all they saw was my great-looking shirt—and they smiled.

Global warming is beyond your control. Can you reduce how much garbage you produce or pollution you create? No one can. Instead, worry about the things you can improve: your shirt and your English. The United Nations will do the rest. 

18 May 2011

English Is a Rock: Skip It!

From a previous life. Intended for ESL students. Part three of a trilogy.

You walk along a river, whistling. A seagull flies overhead, screeching. A green rock lies in the shallow water, glistening. You think to yourself, The rock looks like jade, but only because it is wet. What will it look like when it is dry? This is a natural question. Go ahead.

English is that river rock. Think about it: There are millions of languages, but only one true language. You have searched your whole life, and now you have found it: the perfect skipping stone. When you pick it up and send it skimming across the clear water—plip, plip, plip—everything is right in the world. Clouds rack through the sky and airplanes fly to faraway places. Children take naps and teenagers sing pop songs on buses. Businessmen get massages. Trees breathe their hot breath.

Sometimes, in England, schoolgirls sing on the playground:
    Are bicycles there to be ridden? Yes. Are presents there to be given? Yes. Are secrets there to be hidden? Yes. River rocks are meant to be skipped.
And English is meant to be spoken. The language is like a potato: hard, and popular in Ireland. So speak it! Speak it like it is a nickel in your mouth. Feel it warming up and clacking on your teeth. Spit it out in your hand. Take a look. This is the real thing, the real English. Pop it back in your mouth. Run your tongue along the smooth edge.

Have you ever been married? I was married once. I learned something: if you look at your wife’s cell phone while she is in the shower, you may find a message from "Marvin." But you don’t know a Marvin. The message might say, “You’re so cute. You left your socks here.” Hire a private detective.

03 March 2011

E. B. White on Imitation in Writing

"The imitative life continues long after the writer is secure in the language, for it is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires. Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good."

E. B. White, in "An Approach to Style," which first appeared in the second edition (1959) of "The Elements of Style"

02 March 2011

Describing: John Galliano

John Galliano. Image: Richard Avedon, 2003
Galliano’s personal hair-and-makeup team had been briefed in advance on the look he wanted to achieve, which was inspired by the evolution of dance. “I am feeling very Spanish tango dirty creepy with oily black hair,” he said. His stylist got the message: he glued a stringy goatee onto Galliano’s chin and trimmed it to a neat triangle; after that, he spent half an hour curling Galliano’s hair and then applied a thick coat of mascara to the lashes beneath his dark-brown eyes.

Galliano wore hoop earrings. His muscles were oiled, then covered by a layer of grime – so that he would look like a toreador when he took his victory lap. (Most designers simply dart onto the runway at the end of a show; a few take a quick stroll in the company of the models. Galliano struts the catwalk all by himself, and he does it with the hauteur of Naomi Campbell.)

– Michael Specter, in "The Fantasist," a profile of fashion designer John Galliano in the September 22, 2003, issue. 

Galliano, of course, is watching his professional life implode. His slurred anti-Semitic slurs in a Paris bar provoked Christian Dior, the fashion house that employed him, to terminate their 14-year relationship. It appears he'll also face charges for "anti-Semitic and abusive behaviour." Oh, and Natalie Portman is pissed. No word on Ashton Kutcher.

Specter today blogged an interesting update to his eight-year-old profile. While Galliano "deserves all the blame and ignominy that befall him," he says, he's amazed at people's  expressions of outrage. "Galliano’s act of self destruction was about as shocking as the widespread discovery, also this week, that Charlie Sheen is a vulgar fool."

I disagree with the cheap kick at Sheen – the slack-jawed television public seems committed to extracting a confession he has no obligation to give – but we can save the debate for our next drink. Say what you want about the guy, but "droopy-eyed, armless children" is genius.

UPDATE: More on the still-burning Galliano situation from Richard Brody, who is, appropriately, a New Yorker cinema editor. (It's possible he also does background work on period films about naturalists.) Galliano will be charged with injure raciale ("racial injury"), which is commoner in France than you'd think. Conviction would carry a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of €22,500. 

Describing: Scientology Spokesman Tommy Davis

Tommy Davis with wife Jessica Feshbach. Image: i50.tinypic.com
I flew to Los Angeles and waited for him to call. On Sunday at three o’clock, Davis appeared at my hotel, with Feshbach. We sat at a table on the patio. Davis has his mother’s sleepy eyes. His thick black hair was combed forward, with a lock falling boyishly onto his forehead. He wore a wheat-colored suit with a blue shirt. Feshbach, a slender, attractive woman, anxiously twirled her hair.

– Lawrence Wright, in "The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology," in the February 14th issue

28 February 2011

Describing: Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL

During his visit to Dulles, Virginia, a thousand AOL staffers crowded into a tent to hear from their new C.E.O. He walked onstage with his jacket unbuttoned and the knot of his yellow tie not quite pulled up to his shirt collar. He stands six feet four, and has a full head of wavy black hair, high cheekbones, and large front teeth. Although he limped slightly from an old hip injury, he exuded a sense of command. "Are you guys committed to putting America back online?" he bellowed.

– Ken Auletta, in "You've Got News," a profile of AOL's new CEO, Tim Armstrong, in the January 24th issue