Reasons I'm Smiling Right Now
In approximate chronological order:
- The food service guy remembered to bring the pickles out for me at lunch.
- I wrapped up my last day of work until mid-August.
- Swimming lessons with Veronika went much better than two weeks ago.
- Veronika had so much enthusiasm for donuts at breakfast.
- I bought a ticket for my first Newport Jazz Festival. I'll be there on Sunday, August 14th, for Roy Haynes's 80th birthday celebration, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea and Joshua Redman (among others).
- I got a haircut. So fresh and so clean.
- Sushi for dinner! I am slowly learning to eat everything. I've always enjoyed sushi when I've had it, but that's only been a few times. I love that I now live in a place that good take-out sushi is a safe possibility. I am also happy to report that I now rather enjoy green tea (in addition to the black tea I've been enjoying for some time).
- Veronika had so much enthusiasm for bacon at breakfast.
- After a long day of realizing how difficult the simplest auto body work is, it's finally Suntory time.
- I am eighteen hours away from boarding a plane for my longest vacation in a few years--two weeks and change, consisting of a week in Austria and a week at the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. Highlights will include my mother-in-law's cooking, a visit to my favorite Austrian winemaker, going out with my wife in Vienna, eating lamb at the roadside place in Croatia, swimming in the crystal clear Adriatic, catching up on all the sun I've been missing, eating seafood pizza by the water at night, then stracciatella on the way home... and many other things that don't involve eating. I am looking forward to every minute of it, not only for the fun that I know I'll have but also to watch Veronika experience it all: being able to interact with her aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins for the first time, being at the beach, turning two, etc.
I'll see you all soon.
July 25, 2005
The following is a roundup of the past week's media, a disparate group that found unity in the common theme of letting me down:
- Literature : Albert Camus: The Stranger : I liked the narrative style and tone of this book, they serve the ideas well. But when you fundamentally disagree and fail to identify with the thesis, there's only so much enjoyment to be had. However I will always remember this book fondly because I finished it in a matter of hours. For those of you that know it only spans 150 small pages with large print, please keep quiet and let me enjoy this. The last book I read this quickly was Bubbles, Bubbles, which had a much more agreeable ending.
- Film : The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou : I am sad to report that I thought this was merely ok. I think Wes Anderson's brand of dry, somber drama only works when you can feel the emotions and history teeming beneath the surface. With The Royal Tenenbaums, I felt the complicated family dynamic and the yearning for acceptance or love in every melancholy glance. In Life Aquatic, I saw the same method without the depth to support it. Maybe I just didn't identify with the film's themes in the same way that I did with the others, but in any case it didn't really affect me.
- Music : Common: Be : This is one of the better albums I've heard lately. Com has been one of my favorite MCs since I first heard Resurrection, so the anticipation was high for the new effort despite my reservations about Kanye West's extensive involvement. I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Kanye (on this album only, I reserve the right to criticize his other work). He provides a coherent collection of beats that support Common's lyrical style well without taking him off the commercial deep end. However I was most impressed with Common's lyrical perspective on the album, presenting a different piece of his neighborhood's history with each track and speaking from a collective point of view (notice how he says "we" a lot more than "I" here). Altogether the album provides an intimate portrait of Chicago's South Side, neither glorified nor villainized, and a mature, uplifting assessment of its future.
Two problems, though: 1) I can't shake the feeling that this is an EP that was stretched into (and promoted as) a full album. At eleven tracks and forty-two minutes, it's just over half the length of Like Water for Chocolate, including four minutes of the latest "Pop's Rap" and a live track that, while quite good, smacks of desperation for content. Jay Dee's two tracks are decent but the ratio to Kanye's nine makes them seem like add-ons. I'm all for keeping an album trim and tight, but I think that either Kanye should've put up another six tracks to make this a full album or a couple of tracks should've been cut and the effort released as The Stony Island EP or something. 2) Speaking of tracks that should be cut, let me nominate the single, "Go." This track has no business being on the album, no matter how many units it helps to sell. The transition from "The Corner," arguably the best track on the album, to "Go" is rough at best and destroys the atmosphere that the first two songs built so effectively. The beat is radio all the way, with none of the authenticity of the rest of the album. And above all, this is just a sex song dressed up in conscious clothes with no sophistication or depth.
- TV : Guns, Germs and Steel : I had high hopes for this PBS series, but it's slow, repetitive and presents surprisingly little information for being based on such a large book. I follow my man Com's advice: "I turn the TV down, we can take it higher than that."
I'm not even going to mention Zelig
. Let's just move on and hope next round is better.
July 19, 2005
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Sørens on a Train
I have been reading nothing but Kierkegaard for the last six months. Given that Søren tended to write short, dense essays, you would think that I would have made it through most of his published works by now but in fact I've only finished Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death. As it turns out, I am only capable of the concentration necessary for reading Kierkegaard while riding a train. I tried reading it at home and on vacation, at night and during the day, in the car and at the beach, but only when I was confined to a train during waking hours with no other forms of entertainment available was I able to focus intently enough to tangle with the Dane. Since my train travel is limited to infrequent work-related trips into the city (a few days in February, a week in May), my productivity suffered dearly. If I ever decide to write a thesis on Kierkegaard, I will immediately purchase a ticket for the Trans-Siberian Railway.
It is not for lack of thinking about these books that I haven't been able to write anything about them. Quite the opposite, in fact--both were completely absorbing and I had a hard time thinking about anything else while reading them. The Sickness Unto Death is almost paralyzing in its incisiveness. The topic is despair, which he explores in all its forms and levels of seriousness (in relation to how far one is from not being in despair). What makes Kierkegaard so effective on this topic is his intricate knowledge of the human spirit and the various reactions to the paradoxes of existence. This requires a master of many disciplines, including but not limited to theology, psychology, and philosophy, and he pulls it off easily, even making a dense book on such a serious subject quite readable. One of the best things about reading this book was the way it permeated the rest of my life, influencing the way I looked at everything I read, watched and even my daily interactions. I think that this is a book that everyone should read. I can't imagine a person for whom it wouldn't be relevant.
Fear and Trembling, on the other hand, gave me a tougher time. The form and language are more difficult but it was still very much worth trudging through. The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 is simply not an easy one to reconcile but this is as good of an analysis as I've heard. His portrayal of Abraham is uplifting yet very humbling--like Kierkegaard, I "cannot understand" him, "in a way all I can learn from him is to be amazed"--but even more impressive is his presentation of faith, a movement made on "the strength of the absurd." One of the hardest things about reading Kierkegaard is that he doesn't make anything seem easy. In other words, he's brutally honest. Want to be a Christian? It's one of the hardest things you could ever do and you're never done. If you want to stay out of despair, you "must at every moment destroy the possibility." And this is just the basics, we can't even begin to consider someone as great as Abraham. It's always good to be brought back down to size but that doesn't mean it will ever be easy.
Since I can't seem to escape the grasp of existentialism--I Heart Huckabees, which I thought was well-intentioned and amusing but ultimately fell a little short, was the last straw--I have decided to embrace it. My next book is Camus's The Stranger and I'm flying through it. It's nice to be able to read outside of the train again.
July 10, 2005
Recipe For a Perfect 4th of July
Some weekends are so full of goodness that words can't do them justice. Attempting to describe every moment and how great it was would only be a dizzying distraction from the real joy of having lived it, not to mention sounding like tedious bragging. Where words fail, images must suffice.
Launch Recipe For a Perfect 4th of July
July 05, 2005
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