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betsuni's Journal
betsuni's Journal
March 11, 2024

Anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, March 11.

I post this almost every year, sorry, but it's a good documentary, "Japan's Tsunami Caught on Camera":

March 6, 2024

NBC Nightly News, out of the blue: "Some Democrats have speculated that Michelle Obama could be a

potential replacement" for Biden because polls show "most Americans are concerned about his age and mental fitness." No details about who is speculating, nothing except a random weird comment that had nothing to do with anything.

Where did THAT come from? Who doesn't know Michelle Obama doesn't like politics and would NEVER run?

December 19, 2022

December 18, 1892, St. Petersburg: anniversary of the first performance of "The Nutcracker" ballet.

The Sugar Plum Fairy:

It's snowing and I'm making sugar cookies. The perfect soundtrack:

From Solomon Volkov's "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky, Conversations with Balanchine on His Life, Ballet and Music":

"'The Nutcracker' is Tchaikovsky's masterpiece. He said beforehand that he would write music that would make everyone weep! I danced in 'The Nutcracker' as a child at the Maryinsky Theater. ... 'The Nutcracker' is a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann that was incredibly popular in Russia. ... They love him more there than in Germany. The Germans don't like Hoffmann for criticizing them. Hoffmann offended everyone, he was a true Romantic. ... 'The Nutcracker' is a ballet about Christmas. We used to have a fantastic Christmas in Petersburg. ... The tree had a wonderful scent, and the candles gave off their own aroma of wax. The tree was decorated with gold paper angels and stars, tangled up in silver 'rain,' or tinsel. I liked the fat glass pears -- they didn't break if they fell. ... Tchaikovsky remained a child all of his life, he felt things like a child. He liked the German idea that man in his highest development approaches the child. Tchaikovsky loved children as themselves, not as future adults. Children contain maximum possibilities. Those possibilities often do not develop, they are lost.

"The idea for all those dances belong to Petipa ... Petipa suggested Spanish, Arabian, and Russian dances. Tchaikovsky took a Georgian lullaby for the Arabian dance. It's a Georgian melody, not Arabian -- but who cares? ... The second act of 'Nutcracker' is more French than German. Petipa liked the idea of Konfituerenburg because at the time in Paris there was a fad for special spectacles in which various sweets were depicted by dancers. Actually, 'Nutcracker's' second act is an enormous balletic sweetshop. In Petersburg there was a store like that, it was called Eliseyevsky's: huge glass windows, rooms big enough for a palace, high ceilings, opulent chandeliers, almost like the ones at the Maryinsky. The floors at Eliseyevsky's were covered in sawdust, and you could not hear footsteps -- it was like walking on carpets. The store had sweets and fruits from all over the world, like in 'A Thousand and One Nights.' I used to walk past and look in the windows often. I couldn't buy anything there, it was too expensive.

"Everything that appears in the second act of 'Nutcracker' is a candy or something tasty. ... The Sugar Plum Fairy is a piece of candy and the dewdrops are made of sugar. The Buffon is a candy cane. It's all sugar! The Petersburg 'Nutcracker' also had Prince Coqueluche. Coqueluche means whooping cough. I think Prince Coqueluche was supposed to represent a lozenge or cough drop. ... All this makes up Konfituerenberg, land of sweets. ... They're supposed to make everyone's mouth water! ... I think that people also like 'Nutcracker' so much because nowadays everyone is interested in how children used to live and play. In my day there was no interest in that. No one asked children how they lived, what they thought. Children simply tried to become as much like adults as quickly as possible, and that was that."
June 1, 2020

PBS: St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter's "challenge to young people of all ages."

Take your passion and anger and channel that energy: vote with that energy, fill out your census with that energy, engage with your community and the legislative process with that energy. Instead of being on the sidelines demanding that someone else on the inside make different decisions, step into a decision making role, step into your role as a stakeholder/owner of your community, city, country. Engage!

September 14, 2018

"Elite" the insult, a word that now means its opposite

Calling Democrats "out-of-touch liberal elites" really annoys me. Like "establishment," "elites" has become meaningless. I came across a short article from 2010, "'Elite the insult," in the Economist (Obama's election must've revived the popularity of "elite," and you can't turn around without bumping into "liberal elites" these days). Can't they find some new words to change the meaning of and mindlessly repeat over and over for the next election cycle? Political insults used to be quite creative, like the word "mugwump."

"Bleeding heart liberal" used to be a common insult for Democrats. Seems like a compliment today. Things became more and more hateful and nasty until it seemed politics wasn't politics any more but a religious war. I didn't care for the way G.W. Bush used the word "evil," but at least it was directed toward people or countries that were accused of terrorism and the like. When the Democratic candidate in the last election was regularly referred to as evil, that crosses the line of civilized behavior.

I saw a comment somewhere online that I thought was so true, referring to the nasty and hateful: "Their version of empathy is to put yourself in the position of the Other as if the Other were a giant asshole too."

From the article:

"What's the worst thing you can call someone in American politics today? If you read the papers or watch cable news on the wrong day, you just might think it's 'elite.' My 1973 OED describes 'elite' (third sense) as the choice part or flower (of society or any body of persons). If redacted today, the OED might include an obsolescent flag on that 'choice part or flower' definition, and a new sense should be added, 'one's out-of-touch political opponents.' 'Anyone with whom one disagrees, and who is perceived to have an unjustifiably large role in society or politics.'

"Elite's meaning has become remarkably plastic, and in politics in particular, it is a fighting word. How did that happen? ... First, the counterculture attacked the old elites (the titans of industry, the Washington class, the military brass) as out of touch, making authenticity, not authority, the greatest value one can aspire to. Then the counterculture overreached, Nixon found his 'silent majority,' and railed against his own bugbear elites: the now familiar culprits in academia, Hollywood and the press. Both left and right seek the 'real' and shun the 'elites,' and a word has come to mean its opposite; the worst, most harmful class of society, not the 'choicest part or flower.' A strange trip for a word, but these things happen."


July 22, 2017

Writing about food: Fran Lebowitz's "Metropolitan Life"

"Summer has an unfortunate effect upon hostesses who have been unduly influenced by the photography of Irving Penn and take the season as a cue to serve dinners of astonishingly meager proportions. These they call light, a quality which while most assuredly welcome in comedies, cotton shirts, and hearts, is not an appropriate touch at dinner.

"Cold soup is a very tricky thing and it is the rare hostess who can carry it off. More often than not the dinner guest is left with the impression that had he only come a little earlier he could have gotten it while it was still hot.

"Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.

"White grapes are very attractive but when it comes to dessert people generally like cake with icing.

"Candied violets are the Necco Wafers of the overbred.

"A native-born American who has spent the entire day in what he knows to be New York City and has not once stepped aboard a ship or plane is almost invariably chagrined and disoriented by a menu that uses the French counterpart for the perfectly adequate English word 'grapefruit.'

"People have been cooking and eating for thousands of years, so if you are the very first to have thought of adding fresh lime juice to scalloped potatoes try to understand that there must be a reason for this.

"Technological innovation has done great damage not only to reading habits but also to eating habits. Food is now available in such unpleasant forms that one frequently finds smoking between courses to be an aid to the digestion.

"A loaf of bread that is more comfortable than a sofa cannot help but be unpalatable.

"When one asks for cream one should receive either cream or the information that the establishment in question favors instead a combination of vegetable oil and cancer-causing initials.

"Cheese that is required by law to append the word 'food' to its title does not go well with red wine or fruit.

"Civilized adults do not take apple juice with dinner.

"Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soybeans.

"Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter.

"If there was no such thing as food, Oyster Bay would be called just Bay, and for the title of 'The Cherry Orchard' Chekhov would have chosen 'A Group of Empty Trees, Regularly Spaced.'"

July 20, 2017

Fortune Cookie Day: Jennifer 8. Lee's "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles"

"We now knew that the fortune cookie had originated in Japan, but there was one final mystery. ... Almost all the people who claimed to have created the American fortune cookie had Japanese roots -- so how had the Chinese managed to take over the fortune cookie business? 'When the Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, they had to leave all their equipment behind,' Yasuko pointed out in Japanese. As her words were translated, all the pieces in my quest came together. ... I had a flashback to my first conversation with Sally Osaki ... her telling me that when she'd been a child the original fortune cookie messages had been in Japanese. But at one point they had become English: 'By the time we came out of the camp.' The fortune cookie had changed by the end of the war. I recalled that the Japanese-American confectionery shops -- Benkyodo, Fugetsu-do, Umeya -- had all closed when their owners were 'relocated.'

"The popularity of Chinese cuisine grew tremendously during World War II; after Japan invaded China and China became an American ally, the national perception of the Chinese threat gave way to sympathy. In addition, the wartime rationing of meat enhanced the appeal of Chinese dishes, which made a little meat go a long way. San Francisco's Chinatown quadrupled its business between 1941 and 1943. The tide of public opinion turned. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed in December 1943, opening the door for an eventual flood of Chinese immigrants (and additional Chinese restaurant owners). In 1946, the United States Office of Price Administration delisted 'Chinese fortune tea cakes' from its price control list ... .

"Although the interned Japanese were released by 1945, it took years for the families to rebuild their lives. Many of the business owners had lost everything. It wasn't until 1948 that Benkyodo was up and running under family control, Gary Ono believes. During that time, a number of Chinese fortune cookie makers sprung into existence -- like Lotus, which opened in 1946. A sharp rise in demand at Chinese restaurants combined with a lack of Japanese bakers gave Chinese entrepreneurs an opportunity to step in. One of America's beloved confections emerged from one of the nation's darkest moments."

July 18, 2017

Writing about food: Greg Atkinson's "At the Kitchen Table, The Craft of Cooking at Home"

"But among creative outlets, cooking and writing are unique in that both endeavors produce something that ultimately becomes a part of whoever partakes in them. If I cook a meal and someone eats it ... then something in that food will become a part of that person. If I read something and internalize that dialogue, then the words on the page will be incorporated into my own thoughts. Ideas expressed on the page will be reformulated in my mind into thoughts of my own. If I write a recipe and you make it, then we are sharing both the words and the dish that results from them.

"The novelist Tom Robbins is quite devoted to Best Foods-brand mayonnaise. ... When Tom's wife, Alexa, invited my wife, Betsy, and me ... for a private mayonnaise tasting, we hit the road with a few jars and bottles of our favorite brands. I also had, secreted away in a canvas shopping bag, a wire whisk, a deep mixing bowl, a fresh egg, a bottle of organic canola oil, some white balsamic vinegar, and a bottle of good Dijon mustard. It occurred to me that Tom and Alexa might like to learn how to make their own mayonnaise, and I wanted to see how the homemade stuff stood up in a taste test with the commercial brands ... . ... But when I set about making a batch of homemade mayonnaise ... Robbins did not appear to be interested. ... 'I have been eating mayo for sixty years, and until ten years ago, I didn't even know what the ingredients are. I preferred to think of it as some kind of substance dug out of an underground cave in the French Alps. ... I like the mystery. ... I used to cook quite a bit, too,' he said. 'But I didn't use recipes. When I cooked, I cooked from vibrations.'

"I like the idea of this well enough, and even though I write recipes for a living, I almost always cook without them, feeling my way from one step to the next. First this happens, then that happens. While the onions soften, I'm cutting the celery, and on a back burner, the rice is simmering away. But eventually, my left brain kicks in and I start to codify things because I want to share them. ... I like the geometric proof-like formula of a recipe, and I feel that if the precision of writing it down doesn't get in the way of the thing, it can be like an incantation, a magic formula for transforming a bunch of ingredients into something completely unlike its component parts. Mayonnaise is, after all, nothing like eggs and oil."

July 13, 2017

National French Fry Day

James Villas, "America's Passion, America's Guilt."

"Of course you love them! French fries are your secret yen, the source of your most deep-seated guilt. Admit it. Oh, I know how you try to hide it. The waiter says, 'Baked or French?' You hesitate, you cringe, you wonder why in hell he couldn't simply serve the steak with a baked potato and not mention French fries. But now you're forced to choose, and you know there is no choice; by God, you want the fries, diet or no diet, pimples or no pimples, and damn the cholesterol. You say, 'I think maybe I just might have the French fries tonight,' forgetting that you ate half a pound three evenings ago. When they arrive you pick around at the mound one fry at a time. You think you'll eat just a few. Halfway through the steak, you're downing them by the handfuls, and by the end of the meal you've devoured the batch, long thin ones, short fat ones, charred ends, every remaining greasy or dry, oversalted or undersalted, catsupy or non-catsupy morsel.

"Americans love French fries violently -- all of us ... . Even the country's most respected epicures admit directly or indirectly to being fanatics. When Julia Child was asked what she thought about McDonald's fries, she described them as 'surprisingly good,' while Craig Claiborne pronounced them 'first-rate.' Gael Greene swoons over the French fries at Carrols, Roy Andries de Groot still dreams of those he tasted at Aurthur Bryant's in Kansas City, and James Beard becomes passionate while discussing the pommes frites at La Grille in Paris.

"A perfect French fry is, above all, fresh, meaning the oblong has been cut from an absolutely fresh potato no more than an hour before being deep-fried in clean fat. A perfect French fry is thin, smooth and not crinkled, consistently golden brown in color, firm, crackly crisp on the outside with a slightly soft interior, and dry enough for most salt to fall off. Anyone who's ever tasted delicious pommes frites in France or Belgium knows what I'm talking about and will agree that the fries in those countries are generally just the opposite of the soggy matchsticks or fat greasy tubers we have thrown at us in fast-food places and undistinguished restaurants. ... This may all sound like too much of a production over something as common as French fried potatoes, but again, if you're really after perfect fries, you'll learn that making them correctly yourself involves a lot more than cutting up potatoes and throwing the pieces in hot oil."

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