Thursday, January 31, 2008

on THE TAPHANDLE

Rogue Chipotle Ale, a Golden Ale by Rogue Ales

22 ounce bottle. I was expecting that this was going to be either very spicy or very smoky in flavor, or both. It was neither, but that was good.

The pour delivered a clear orange ale with a one inch thick ivory head. The head left rather quickly and left no noticeable lacing. The aroma was very light. There was a fair amount of grain and a hint of grass. But, what aroma there was consisted primarily of what a leather jacket smells like when it sits in the sun too long and then is thrown into a small enclosed area, like the backseat of a car with its windows rolled up. From its appearance and scent, it didn't seem that Chipotle Ale held much promise.

The flavor redeemed the ale, though. It began with a light sweetness of grain that became a moderately smoky flavor with a hint of peppers. The finish that followed was a long, slow burn that moved from the middle to the back of the tongue before finally settling in at the top of the throat. The texture was somewhat thin and watery, but the flavor also offset this problem. This ale was subtler and less intense in flavor than expected, but what was delivered was a sublime smokiness and burning sensation. It was as though the best part of eating jalapeños was left intact, without the intensity that can oftentimes be overwhelming.

I drank this with the wife's enchiladas, which was an excellent match. I couldn't have dreamed a better food pairing for this ale.

Monday, January 28, 2008

RENOIR

The child and I visited Tacoma Art Museum's exhibit Renoir As Printmaker: The Complete Works, 1878–1912. It was interesting to see one of the premier Impressionist painters working in another medium.

This exhibit collects together all of the extant lithographs and etchings that Pierre-Auguste Renoir created during his lifetime, in addition to a few paintings. The child was not very interested. However, I was fascinated by how Renoir could use a series of simple lines, along with some areas of shading, to evoke an image of a person.

My favorite lithograph was a small profile portrait of his friend Ambroise Vollard. Vollard was an art dealer who worked with many of the great painters of his time, including Renoir, Cézanne, and Picasso. The portrait of Vollard is somber and quiet. I sense a sadness that can only be shared between good friends. I kept returning to look at it again and again. For some reason I cannot quite fathom, this particular work really touched me.

The lithographs were primarily grouped by subject matter—nudes, mothers and children, women at work and play, etchings of two of his three sons (Jean and Claude), portraits of other artists. The latter was my favorite group of etchings and lithographs. Renoir clearly portrays the humanity of his subjects—Berthe Morisot, Paul Cézanne, Richard Wagner, Auguste Rodin, the forementioned Ambroise Vollard. He also accomplishes this with the etchings of his sons Jean and Claude. His love for these two boys and his artist friends is obvious. These works are alive with the relationship of artist to subject. Lines express this love, these relationships, in ways that almost defy explanation. They truly have to be seen and experienced.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

on THE TAPHANDLE

John Barleycorn Barleywine Style Ale, a Barleywine by Mad River Brewing Company

12 ounce bottle. This was a promising barleywine. The pour delivered a beautiful copper-red ale with a spare head. The lacing it left behind was nice to look at. The aroma was primarily a mixture of flowers and Lucky Charms (sweet and grainy), with hints of pear, berries, and alcohol. I was excited.

Then, I tasted it. The flavor was mostly oranges and brown sugar, with a harsh alcohol flavor. The alcohol overpowered the rest of the flavor once it was firmly entrenched, pushing into the upper reaches of the palate.

The wife's dinner of unstuffed chicken—essentially deconstructed chicken cordon bleu—couldn't save this ale either.

Friday, January 25, 2008

MODERN DAY MIRACLE


-1- PREPARING


-2- EMBOSSING


-3- TOASTING


-4- SLATHERING


-5- ADMIRING

The Holy Toast! Miracle Bread Stamper.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A LIFE OF PICASSO

"Picasso needed lost souls to satisfy his cannibalistic appetite for other people's energy."
—page 199, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Year, 1917–1932 by John Richardson

I am intrigued by Picasso because he is not me. He is a womanizer, virile, hypermasculine, arrogant bordering on divine, cosmopolitan, over-the-top, "present" in ways that I cannot or do not wish to be, self-absorbed, and genius. It is not that I cannot or could not be these things. I have been some of them at times. I have never been able to sustain any of them for long periods of time or able to hold them together as a whole at any point. But, Picasso has. He did. That intrigues me.

I have not read the first two volumes of A Life of Picasso, although I will after reading volume three. The book is extensively researched and documented. John Richardson is a biographer who knows his art. And, as an art critic, he is prone to state his opinions of Picasso's works, as well as that of other artists. In other words, Richardson "knows his stuff." He definitely evokes the milieu of Picasso and his contemporaries. It is also refreshing that if he does not know something, he lets the reader know, rather than speculating or fabricating.

I am just over halfway through this massive book, but it feels like I just started. The writing is crisp and clean and educated without being overly academic. Its extensive vocabulary and use of French, Spanish, and Italian phrases and terms, without always translating them, are nice touches. As a reader, I have to engage the text and work through it a little bit, instead of just sitting back and being entertained. That also intrigues me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

ROGUE BEER TASTING EVENT

Sunday 20 January 2008 was the first anniversary celebration of 99 Bottles. They celebrated with a beer tasting and cake. It was a great time.

All of the beers were brewed by either Rogue Brewing Company of Newport, Oregon or its Issaquah Brewhouse and Distillery. David "Hutch" Hutchison, the head brewer of Issaquah Brewhouse was on hand to answer questions and hang out with those gathered.

The first three ales were all wheat based: Bullfrog Ale, an American Wheat Ale; Ménàge À Frog, a Belgian Tripel Ale; and Morimoto Obi Soba Ale, a Buckwheat Ale. I used to really enjoy wheat ales, but now find them rather bland. The last two ales were my favorites of the tasting: Hazelnut Brown Nectar, an American Brown Ale; and Chocolate Stout, an American Stout. They were matched very well to the cake, which was a white cake with a carmel filling and vanilla frosting.

Happy birthday, 99 Bottles.

---

Bullfrog Ale
, an American Wheat Ale by Rogue's Issaquah Brewhouse

2 ounce sample. The ale was melted-butter yellow. It was clear, which I was not expecting for a wheat ale. Primary aromas were wheat, lemon, light yeast, light earthiness, and light alcohol. The flavor began with a small "bite" of alcohol, which yielded to wheat and lemon, before ending with a "clean" finish. Nothing spectacular. The best part of this ale, for me, was the mouthfeel. It sat well in the mouth.

---

Ménàge À Frog, a Belgian Tripel Ale by Rogue's Issaquah Brewhouse

2 ounce sample. This was pulled from the tap by Issaquah's head brewer, David "Hutch" Hutchison, right before his trip down to the tasting. The color was a clear yellow. The carbonation was lighter than expected. The aroma was heavy on wheat and heavy on spices. The flavor was the same. The spices I noted were cinnamon and ginger. Hutch told us that the recipe uses 30% wheat and 20% Belgian Candi sugar, which would account for some of the sweetness. The flavor lingers, but I wasn't especially attracted to it.

---

Morimoto Obi Soba Ale, a Buckwheat Ale by Rogue Brewing Company

2 ounce sample. The initial aroma was one of wet plant leaves after a brisk rainstorm. This leaf aroma translated into the flavor. There is also the presence of a soil flavor, somewhat musty, but in a good way, as well as a "clean" flavor. The carbonation was somewhat lively. This ale intrigued me in many ways that I have still not quite grasped. I wouldn't seek this out, but I also wouldn't turn it down if I was offered it again.

---

Hazelnut Brown Nectar, an American Brown Ale by Rogue Brewing Company

2 ounce sample. The color was a brilliant orange-brown. The nose was berries, sugar, nuts. The flavor moved from cream to chocolate to nut, with a spicy edge and flashes of raspberry. The mouthfeel was thick and creamy. It was beautiful, it smelled good, it tasted even better, and it engaged the entire mouth. Very good.

---

Chocolate Stout, an American Stout by Rogue Brewing Company

2 ounce sample. Chocolate and coffee were the dominant aromas and flavors. This was one of the best smelling stouts I have encountered. The flavor fell a little short of the aroma, but was still well done. If you like chocolate mochas then you will enjoy this ale.

Monday, January 21, 2008

LITERARY TAPHANDLE

"Baudelaire's liking for porter."
—page 258 [J16a, 10], The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin

In Walter Benjamin's thirteen year project of attempting to examine and understand the nineteenth-century, there are little nuggets of information hidden everywhere. The Arcades Project (Das Passagen-Werk) is filled with Benjamin's own observations—in addition to quotations from media, literary, and artistic sources—about various topics. Charles Baudelaire figures quite prominently, and as I am reading the "J" section, simply entitled "Baudelaire," I came across the above quote. It doesn't really seem to fit with its surrounding notes and entries, so the juxtaposition immediately caught my eye. That, and, of course, Baudelaire's liking for porter. I can appreciate that.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

THE ABYSS

The Abyss, an Imperial Stout by Deschutes Brewery (and a member beer of its Reserve Series)

22 ounce bottle.

---

The email from 99 Bottles arrived in my inbox at 11:05 a.m. on Thursday 17 January 2008. The subject line stated, "The Abyss has arrived." I opened and read the message one hour later, at 12:05 p.m. At 4:35 p.m. I called 99 Bottles to ensure that they still had stock left. They did, but bottles were going fast. I made a trip there to get two bottles—one for immediate consumption, and one for cellaring. At 5:15 p.m. I was in the car, headed for home and dinner.

Only two days prior, I had been viewing pages on the Deschutes website to see what seasonal beers were currently available. The Abyss was listed as part of their Reserve Series. These are beers that are brewed in limited quantity and aged in oak barrels, to give the beer a richer, more complex character. I figured I would pick up a bottle if I happened upon one. Instead, the email from 99 Bottles arrived.

---

The wife, the child, the mother-in-law, and I sat down to a dinner of Asian spiced pork ribs with noodles and sweet orange warm slaw. It was the perfect meal for this ale.

The Abyss poured raisin black, with the faintest aura of ruby red. The head was a frothy dark brown that left behind spectacular lacing. The aroma was complex. A slight woody scent was accompanied by thick molasses, dark chocolate, raisin, plum, licorice, and berries.

The first sip was the taste equivalent of a mostly charred log in a campfire that has started to cool down. This lent the overall effect to be a smokiness that offset the sweet of some of the other flavors. The sweetness comes through in molasses and various fruit flavors—raisin, plum, cherry, berries. Faint bitterness is provided by dark chocolate and coffee. For an 11% ABV ale, there was surprisingly no alcohol "bite." The flavor matured as the ale warmed, with the smokiness diminished somewhat and the other flavors moved to the foreground.

The Abyss was thick on the tongue. It engaged the entire mouth equally—lip, tongue, gums, palate, the top of the throat. The sum was definitely the focus, rather than the parts.

The experience was near perfect, heavenly. I cannot wait to have the other bottle after a few years of bottle conditioning!

Friday, January 18, 2008

MANETTE BRIDGE



"I didn't know that people faded out / that people faded out so fast / ... / there it is, we are only one moment from death / the sun rises / but the sun also sets."
—from "The Sun Also Sets" by Ryan Adams, as found on the album Easy Tiger

The child and I visited Bremerton. The main purpose of the trip was to visit the paternal grandfather, who is dying. This visit came the day after a friend and coworker learned that her son has a chronic disease. The "ripple effect" of the news on the collective emotional state of the office staff, as well as the emotional state of each individual, was immediately apparent. Loss and change and death come again in myriad forms.

Therefore, the child and I needed to get out and play.

We attempted to find a puzzle geocache located near the Manette Bridge. We found the "pieces" to the puzzle, but we could not locate the cache. After forty-five minutes of clambering up and down banks, digging through ivy, and checking and rechecking our GPS coordinates, we decided to go eat lunch.

(Every time we went under the bridge, the GPS unit lost its satellite connection and tried to redetermine our location. That meant holding the unit above my head so that it could track satellites again.)

---

The child and I headed to our favorite lunch spot in Bremerton, Fritz European Fry House. We split a chicken basket with fritz (of course!). Troy's Work Table had a Der Blokkin ale. This time around, I pleasantly discovered an undercurrent of pear in the flavor that either was not present before, or, more likely, I did not notice on previous drinks.

---

I spent time with the paternal grandfather in his home. His health continues to decline. He is tired. He naps like a cat. I admire his survivor spirit. I would have given up long ago. But, then again, maybe not. I am his grandson, after all.

---

I spent time with the father driving to and from the paternal grandfather's home. It was good to talk. To talk about the paternal grandfather's state of health. To debrief the visit on the way back to the father's house. To just talk, and just be, father and son.

---

Traffic on the way back home from Bremerton was as awful as it usually is on a Friday at the peak of the evening commute. But, the traffic didn't seem to bother me as it usually does. The child slept. The radio was on, but I wasn't really listening. I drove and thought. I was thinking about the simple joys of life—wandering around for no good reason, drinking a good ale, eating fries, watching birds, being in the presence of people whom you love. I just wanted to drive as death pursued me. I just wanted to get home.

---

The sun set and the dark arrived. Dinner was cooked and eaten. The child was readied for bed. The wife retired for the evening. The cat climbed to the top of the sofa and curled into sleep. The house became quiet. I went and grabbed my copy of John Richardson's A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932, opened to where I had earlier placed my bookmark, and began to read.

---

I will read. It is very likely that I will fall asleep on the couch and lose my place. I will close the book and groggily stumble to the bedroom. I will crawl into bed and place my head on the pillow. I will sleep. I will dream. If I do, I hope they are good dreams.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

on THE TAPHANDLE

Wassail Winter Ale, an Old Ale by Full Sail Brewing

12 ounce bottle. This ale was a beauty. It poured a brilliant dark red with an inch thick cream-colored head. The head stuck around and left some nice lacing behind. The aroma and flavor were both a mixture of molasses, light grain, resin, light woodiness, brown sugar, and some undetermined spices. There was also a subtle dark fruit flavor that I am almost convinced was cranberry.

The initial flavor was a heavy sweetness that allowed some bitterness to squeak in on the finish. Overall, I would describe this ale as "heavy." It sat heavy on the tongue and against the palate, with only soft carbonation to lighten the heaviness. It was heavy on flavor, balancing malts and hops rather well. It was heavy on its malts.

This is what a winter ale should taste like!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

HOME BREWING - PART THREE

Christmas Pale Ale 2007, an Pale Ale by Troy's Work Table

12 ounce bottle. Troy's Work Table's first attempt at home brewing was a spectacular failure. It wasn't all that pretty to look at, being kind of a Budweiser yellow. There wasn't much of a head and hence no lacing. The aroma was mediocre, as was the taste. The mouthfeel was average.

It wasn't horrible. It just didn't live up to my expectations. This was my first brew and I learned a lot during the process. I will try a different style next time, which may give me more of the flavor that I am seeking.

I would drink this again, though. And, that is a good thing because I have a few of these still sitting around in the basement beer cellar. To those of you who received a bottle of Christmas Pale Ale as a gift, I apologize. You're on your own!

---

The first bottle that I drank was about ten days after bottling. There was some carbonation, but it still tasted somewhat flat. Another two weeks in the bottle gave it more carbonation and improved the flavor, but it still wasn't anything to brag about. So, if you did end up with a bottle you may want to let it "mature" a couple more weeks. Just remember to drink it by Lent...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

on THE TAPHANDLE

Hop Trip, a Fresh Hop Pale Ale by Deschutes Brewery (and a member beer of its Bond Street Series)

22 ounces. This is a beer that I was lucky enough to stumble upon. It has an orange body, a creamy and frothy off-white head that lasts for quite some time, and average carbonation. The lacing is intricate fractals clinging to the side of the glass. The aroma is of flowers and light citrus (orange) with a hint of apple and pear. The flavor is good and hoppy, but not overpowering. I was expecting more hop and bitterness than I received. The flavor is somewhere between an American Pale Ale and an India Pale Ale in terms of hoppiness. The flavor is both sweet and bitter on the initial flavor as well as the finish. As Hop Trip warms, a faint maltiness and smidgen of brown sugar become more apparent.

The wife made broiled honey-lime salmon fillets with scallions to accompany this. The taste of the salmon was somewhat understated, which was a good match for the ale. Neither the ale nor the salmon overpowered the other. All in all, a good ale and a good meal.

Monday, January 14, 2008

THEATRE OF INCEST

"I would always love her like a daughter. After all, how else could I have had such a daughter whom I had always desired? I could only have dreamed her. This story could have been told quite differently."
—page 90, Theatre of Incest by Alain Arias-Misson

Yes, this story could have been told quite differently, and it would have been a much better story. As it is, the story has no soul. It collapses under its own pretense.

The concept behind the story is that the tale is that of an unnamed protagonist who is seduced by his mother, which begins a life of incest with various female relatives. The three parts are "My Mother My Lover," "My Daughter My Other," and "My Sister My Sweet Witch." The problem is that each of these three relationships—son to mother, father to daughter, brother to sister—is only defined by the incestuous sex that is endured. And, I use the word endured deliberately, because the sex is less than titillating. It is dry, barely described, and "academic." In fact, the only redeeming quality of the book is trying to build a story around a framework of French psychoanalytic theories of sexuality—Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Baudrillard. That alone could be applauded, except that it also ultimately fails.

---

"Today, the most crucial task for any theory of sexuality remains how to get away from Freud. We are tired of endless discussions of the phallus, the castration complex, and the problematics of sexual representation. Psychoanalytic discourse, even at its ostensibly most critical, does nothing but reinscribe a universal history of lack and oppression."
—page 67, The Cinematic Body by Steven Shaviro

"I realize that to the outsider, my relationship with my sweet girl might appear to exclusively sexual or physical. And that would be a mistake. What appeared to be purely sexual was in reality, beneath the surface, intensely emotional, and, what may be more disconcerting to the prurient onlooker, spiritual."

—page 73, Theatre of Incest by Alain Arias-Misson

The protestation of the protagonist points out the problem. The novel is dealing exclusively with the "characters" and the "plot" in a sexual manner. The characters are simply objects of fantasy. In fact, there are many times during the book when the protagonist alludes to the fact that what has come before in the chronology may be false. "I could only have dreamed her." If the incestuous relationship with the mother is false (viewed in/through chapters named after windows of the house of his parents), then the incestuous relationship with the daughter (viewed in/through chapters named after doors of the protagonist's house) and the incestuous relationship with the sister (viewed in chapters named for conventions of theatre or storytelling) are also false.

The house imagery of windows and doors, which could also be parts of stage scenery, also fails. Instead of "providing" the story a soul, as the house does for Roderick and Madeline in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," the psychoanalytic framework of windows, doors, scenery, and structure is static. It frames the uninspired "erotic" scenes that are really non-scenes. Using the words "cock," "mound," and "pudenda" incessantly doesn't create a sensual scene. It bores. If you want to write about sex, then sear it into the reader's mind, like Henry Miller or William S. Burroughs or the Marquis de Sade do. If you are going to write about sexual taboos, then you better "go all the way."

---

"Was it because I wanted to render her passive, an object of my desire? To do with her what was my pleasure? No. She easily defused that. By going limp. By becoming a “doll”—“One of those inflatable dolls, baby!” She just lapsed into inert flesh, and I could take no more pleasure."

—page 68, Theatre of Incest by Alain Arias-Misson

I also could take no (more) pleasure in the story. I almost put this book down a number of times. The only reasons that I completed it were (1) it was short, and (2) even though the psychoanalytic theory was butchered, horribly explored, and poorly presented, it provided hope that something would shine forth at the book's conclusion. It did not.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

JONES SODA CHRISTMAS PACK TASTE-OFF


This Christmas Eve, the family had its own Jones Soda Christmas Pack Taste-Off. Four holiday themed sodas were tried and then rated on the scale used by RateBeer. Sugar Plum, Christmas Tree, Egg Nog, and Christmas Ham were tasted and rated in five categories that gave each soda a final score between 0.5 and 5.0 points. The individual scores for each soda were then averaged to achieve the overall point total. Participants were Troy's Work Table, the wife, the father, the sister, the brother, and the sister-in-law. On Christmas Day, the brother-in-law and the sister-in-law also tasted and rated Christmas Tree, Egg Nog, and Christmas Ham.

---


Sugar Plum = 3.3 of 5 points.

Sugar Plum was exceptionally sweet, almost like cotton candy squared. It was the number one choice of all who tasted it.

"Very sweet. More sugar than plum."
—The father

"Tastes like perfume!"
—The sister

---


Christmas Tree = 1.7 of 5 points.

Christmas Tree smelled like an air freshener. It was an artificial rendering of what a Christmas tree would taste like.

"Smells like a candle. Tastes like licking a Glade Plug-In."
—The wife

"It's like sucking on a pine cone."
—The brother-in-law

---


Egg Nog = 3.1 of 5 points.

Egg Nog was a bit of an anomaly. It's aroma and flavor didn't blend as well as they could have. Egg nog was present in both, but the aroma had more of lemon and nutmeg to it, while the flavor was influenced by bubblegum and banana. It was pretty good, though.

"Spicy, mellow, and balanced."
—The brother

"No competition. Literally."
—The brother-in-law, who didn't have the benefit of tasting Sugar Plum, and was not too happy with either Christmas Tree or Christmas Ham

---


Christmas Ham = 0.8 of 5 points.

Christmas Ham looked like the juices that would be in the pan after exiting the ham during baking. It definitely was closest to its namesake, but that was not a good thing for a soda. I think it was the "hit" of the night, even if in a bad way. It got a (negative) reaction from everyone. Several participants thought it tasted like throat spray and several thought it tasted like bean with bacon soup. I think both positions were correct. Ugh.

"Oh, dear Lord. This tastes very much like ham juice runoff."
—Troy's Work Table

"Gross!"
—The wife

"Bad aftertaste. Similar to throat spray."
—The father

"I want to vomit it back up."
—The sister

"It keeps on lingering down my throat."
—The brother

"The aftertaste is salty."
—The sister-in-law

"I nearly hurled!"
—The brother-in-law

"Yuck! Gagger!!"
—The other sister-in-law

This was definitely a different experience than the 2006 Jones Soda Thanksgiving Taste-Off with the family. But, it is one that I hope becomes somewhat of a holiday tradition. However, I fear a few years from now when Jones Soda has to get very creative with the flavors because they have started to exhaust those most associated with the holidays—like Lump O' Coal Soda!

Friday, January 11, 2008

THE FARTHER SHORE

"Sitting on that rooftop, with all the heat and darkness, the city smelled like death. Enveloped by the stench, the thought of setting sail alone in this world horrified me. I shifted further back from the edge."

—page 8, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck

I just finished The Farther Shore. It is the winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and the Winter 2007 Read This! selection of the Litblog Co-op. And rightly so.

This war novel, which is also an anti-war novel, is refreshingly literary and uncinematic. The battle scenes are related in sparse language and imagery—enough to know what is going on, and violent in their own right, but without the Technicolor trappings that accompany most current war fiction. The carnage is still gritty, real, and horrible. Perhaps it is even moreso, since the reader's imagination is needed to fill in the gaps, and we all have images to draw upon: CNN, BBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, HBO, et cetera.

---

"Outside, the world was drab and muddy. We were living in what seemed to be a perpetual twilight. The days and nights bled together, and I rarely knew on waking from some bad dream what time it was."
—page 127, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck

"Into the youth's eyes there came a look that one can see in the orbs of a jaded horse. His neck was quivering with nervous weakness and the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless. His hands, too, seemed large and awkward as if he was wearing invisible mittens. And there was a great uncertainty about his knee joints."
—page 58, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

We don't need all of the details fleshed out for us. Eck isn't writing in order to babysit us, or even to entertain us. He is writing in order to tell a story. He uses his own experience as a soldier of the US Army's 10th Mountain Light Infantry Division in Somalia and Haiti to give the story an air of authenticity. Around this skeletal knowledge he builds a tale of the hellishness of (modern) warfare.

Six soldiers of the 10th Mountain are in the middle of an unnamed city—most likely Mogadishu—and helping target bombing raids from their position atop one of the buildings in the city's core. A couple of kids accidentally stumble upon their location and are killed out of fear. The six soldiers attempt to get to their pickup point, but they cannot call into headquarters because the radio goes dead. They wait at their pickup point, where helicopters eventually come for them, but local militias are also in wait. Two of the six leave on one of the helicopters, one of the helicopters is destroyed in small arms fire, and the remaining four are left to fend for themselves in a hostile city.

All of the residents of the city know that the US soldiers killed the two youth and local warlords and gangs are looking to kill them in retaliation. What follows is infighting amongst the four soldiers, battles, trying to find friendly residents of the city while trying to use them to escape, surviving out in the Somali "wilderness" with little or no rations, friendly fire, and eventual reunion. But the costs of all this are the deaths of characters that we barely got to know, young men barely out of their teens who are fighting in a war that they do not understand.

The novel that I kept thinking of while reading The Farther Shore was Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. The campaigns may be different, but the horror of war depicted is not. The fear and cowardice and anxiety of the youth of The Red Badge of Courage is echoed in Joshua Stantz of The Farther Shore. The pictures "painted" by both novels—like the Desastres de la guerra series of etchings made by Goya—are unflinching and truthful in their reality. The soldiers are petty and ugly at times, brave and kind to one another at times, and always fully human. They are full of sin and full of virtue, often within the same moments. They are "just doing their jobs" and they make mistakes. And these mistakes often cost the lives of innocents or of those who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

---

"He was awakened by the muffled echo of gunfire. He stretched his arm out and pressed the button on the lamp, but the bulb didn't light up...Barbed wire and chevaux-de-frise had been placed between the side wall of the movie theater and the half-destroyed café on the corner. The front line appeared to be located there. He could not continue his investigation because the whistle of a bullet passing by that missed his head by just a few centimeters forced him to step back."
—page 45, State of Siege by Juan Goytisolo

"I saw them ahead of me, running fast. People were crossing the street between us and I began to think I might lose them. I fired my weapon into the air and people scattered back behind walls and into doorways. Santiago and Zeller turned and slowed for me."
—page 95, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck

I was also reminded of Juan Goytisolo's State of Siege. The urban warfare of the city in The Farther Shore and of Sarajevo in State of Siege adds to the confusion, claustrophobia, and xenophobia of the characters. Everyone is a potential enemy, even those one is supposed to trust, even one's self. This is truly survival of the fittest. One wrong move and a bullet tears through your neck. The tension is unbearable for not only the protagonist, but also the reader.

I can smell the burning corpses after a truck explodes. I can hear the packs of feral dogs that roam the streets in the dark of night, the electrical power out, looking for something to eat. I can sense the liberation that either escape or death brings. One no longer needs to endure, although there will be nightmares and flashbacks, at least if one escapes alive. Fortunately, for me, I can close the pages and shelve the book.

But perhaps there will nightmares for me as well.

Monday, January 07, 2008

BEST DRINKS OF 2007


-1-
Thomas Hardy's Ale, vintage 2005, bottle no. P14370, a Barleywine by O'Hanlon's Brewing Company. I had this over the Christmas holidays with a thick, medium rare chunk of prime rib. Heaven! The 2005 vintage seems slightly heavier on the brown sugar flavor, which is fine by me.

-2-
Abbey and Trappist ales tasting at 99 Bottles with Stu Stuart of Belgian Beer Me! This gave me a new appreciation for a few styles of beer with which I was somewhat unfamiliar.

-3-
Various trips to Fritz European Fry House of Bremerton, Washington. Great beers, great fries, and a tiny space. I just imagine that I am in the heart of Brussels. I have made excuses to go to Bremerton just so I can visit Fritz for a pint of Belgian ale and a cone of Belgian fries.

-4-
Traquair Jacobite Ale, a Traditional Ale brewed by Traquair. Fruity, peppery, and spicy. Like Thomas Hardy's Ale, this is one to be savored for special occasions or choice cuts of meat. I may have to invent a few new holidays.

-5-
Moinette Biologique, a Saison by Dupont Brasserie. A floral and pear base allows coriander, caraway, and other spices to emerge. The ale is alternately spicy and floral, balanced well between the two.

-6-
Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA, an Imperial/Double India Pale Ale by Dogfish Head Brewery. This is one hoppy beer. I could drink this every day. Dogfish Head also makes an 120 Minute Imperial IPA, but I am somewhat scared to try it. It is either going to be ambrosial or extermely over-the-top. I hope for the former and fear the latter.

-7-
Powerhouse Cream Ale, a Cream Ale by Powerhouse Restaurant & Brewery. I don't get to frequent the Powerhouse as much as I would like, so any excuse to eat and drink there is a blessing. I had the Cream Ale with an Overload during one of those excuses. The Overload pizza is a great match for most of the Powerhouse ales.

-8-
Trackside Pizza of Puyallup, Washington. A wonderful pizza joint that serves Mac and Jack's African Amber on tap. Order the B&O without mushrooms or the California Zephyr. Be prepared to be shaken when the trains pass by within feet of the building.

-9-
IPA fest on Troy's Work Table. It was an assignment that I gave myself last year. I sampled a lot of different India Pale Ales for you, the reader. I will try to do the same this year with a different style of beer.

-10-
2° Below Winter Ale, a Premium Bitter/ESB by New Belgium Brewing Company. Hints of orange, spices, and yeast make this one of my new favorite winter ales. Give me a bottle of 2° Below and a good book, set me before a roaring fire in my pajamas and scarf, and bring on some snow.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

BEST READS OF 2007


-1-
The Savage Detectives
Roberto Bolaño
A meditation on love, loss, and lawlessness in 1970s Mexico. It has been described as a Mexican On the Road, but that is really unfair to both books. It is a mixture of genres, with a puzzle at its middle, that is solved at the same time that it collapses in upon itself.


-2-
Dark Back of Time
Javier Marías
A book that defies description. This is a novel that describes events surrounding the publication of an earlier Marías novel, with peeks into other lives, including that of his brother who died as a toddler. It was the perfect accompaniment to a time in my own life filled with death and dis-ease.


-3-
TIE

What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng
Dave Eggers
The fictionalized story of Deng's flight from the civil war in Sudan and resettlement in the United States. Eggers really breathes life into a harrowing story. I was also able to hear Deng tell some of his story in person as well as meet and speak with him. He is one of the humblest people I have ever met.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah
A memoir of a young boy caught up in the civil war of Liberia. His tales of life as a child soldier forced to engage in battle or die as a civilian casualty, along with the attendent death and drug abuse, brought me to tears several times.

[My favorite film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum of The Chicago Reader, usually picks at least one tie during his "best films" list of any particular year. They usually share a theme as both of these books do. Therefore, I felt safe doing this, especially as both books are so well written.]


-4-
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Home in New England
Brock Clarke
What is truth? What if everything you believe is a lie? What if you are culpable in creating and/or sustaining those lies? What if you have the opportunity to redeem yourself and make the best of a bad situation?


-5-
Voyage Along the Horizon
Javier Marías
A tale of murder on an "expedition" cruise to the Antarctic. The plot would have been boring in less capable hands, but Marías keeps the tension in place. I couldn't unclench my teeth for a week!


-6-
The Gift of Stones
Jim Crace
A coming-of-age story that takes place at the advent of the Iron Age. The main character is someone marginalized due to a handicap that keeps him from being a "productive" member of society until he discovers his gift of storytelling. Is he the savior of his people or a false prophet?


-7-
Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead
Alan Deniro
Mutant dwellers of an underwater city, a Dungeons and Dragons style "game" gone awry, the call of cuttlefish, and the neighbors of giants inhabit the same universe of short stories. These stories are funny, sad, occasionally quirky, but all well done. Our world as reflected in another.


-8-
Last Evenings on Earth
Roberto Bolaño
Most of these short stories are concerned with the theme of exile. Many border on violence without being explicit. The danger is always kept just at short remove, which is ultimately unsettling and satisfying.



-9-
Poor People
William T. Vollmann
Vollmann is my favorite author. This is one of his minor works, only because his body of work is so spectacular. It is not minor in its passion or its unflinching look at poverty throughout the world, though. Vollmann specializes in reportage that puts himself in the midst of danger and engagement with The Other. He is willing to ask questions that others will not, even if he is unable to get those questions answered. He is also willing to "get messy."


-10-
Jamestown: A Novel
Matthew Sharpe
A surreal retelling of the story of John Smith and Pocahontas set in post-apocalyptic Chesapeake Bay and New York City. I love the mixture of history and speculation. The language is sometimes highbrow, sometimes gritty, but always poetic.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

NOTES FROM A BOTTLE FOUND ON THE BEACH AT CARMEL

"Each life is a myth, a song given out / of darkness, a tale for children, the legend we create. / Are we not heroes, each of us / in one fashion or another, / wandering through mysterious labyrinths?"
—page 8, Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel by Evan S. Connell

The book was a Christmas gift from the friend D. At first glance, I couldn't quite figure out why he chose this particular book. Once I started to read the book, it made complete sense.

The book is 240 pages of apothegms knitted together by theme or juxtaposition. The apothegms read (mostly) as prose but contain poetic language and line breaks. Three or four of these brief sayings will seem related to one another by subject matter, only to be followed by one which seems to be unrelated. The farther in the book I delve, I realize that this is not true. The fabric of this "narrative" is being woven together by volume and presence and time.

Notes from a Bottle is a true Pandora's box of myths from many ages and places and cultures. Christian, Gnostic, and Hindu mythologies are nestled next to snippets from fairy tales, modern psychology, Arthurian legend, pagan rituals, and historical events. Pantheism rests next to monotheism. The world is immense and overwhelming, yet collapsed into one small, fragile ego. This is the cloth of our culture. It is not a melting pot, but rather a dream of dreams.

---

The book makes complete sense as a gift now. The friend D. and I have a relationship that has a few things that are foundational, and are also found within these pages—a love of literature, interest in mythologies of all kinds, the darkness that haunts us. To the friend D.: a hearty thank you!

---

The book that Notes from a Bottle most reminds me of is Patrik Ouředník's Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century. The structure of both books is similar, and the result the same. They both declare that this is who we are—individually and collectively—without either book having a protagonist or characters. I am amazed at the brilliance of both authors.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

STRUCTURED WANDERING


I received a Magellan eXplorist 100 handheld GPS unit for Christmas from the father-in-law and the stepmother-in-law. I have spent the past few days wandering about trying to figure out how the various features work. Today, the wife, the child, and I took it out for our first foray into geocaching. I can best describe geocaching as treasure hunting with a GPS unit rather than a map.

I signed up for a free account with Geocaching.com and picked a nearby, fairly simple cache to seek. The "Sumner's Pioneers" cache had us wandering around the gravestones of the Sumner Cemetery figuring out the clues and checking coordinates. We found the cache, signed the log as Troy's Work Table, played with the various trinkets that others have left behind, and went on our way.

The wife and I had fun. The child drew pictures of the cemetery in a sketchbook.

This is sure to be the first of many such wanderings.