Sunday, April 26, 2009

Audio books

Dad, me, and my cat, Birthday, reading The Hobbit, 1957.

Well, since we're talking about reading, I'll comment on the book I'm currently into: March Violets, by Philip Kerr. It's a detective novel about Nazis. Now, if ya'll know me, you'd know that - for me - that's going to be about as good as it gets: detectives and Nazis in the same novel! Woo hoo! As good as detectives and Indians, but Tony Hillerman is dead and won't write any more Chee/Leaphorn novels.

What started me with March Violets is that another novel about the same detective is about to come out. I heard about it on NPR, I think, and, like Ricë, I like to read an author in sequence, if possible. The only way this novel is available from the fabulous Austin Public Library is as an audio book, and so I've spent the last two days listening to it and trying to figure out what is different about listening to a book from reading a book.

This book is read by John Lee, and in googling him, I find that he reads a lot of books, which is cool, because he's really good at it. With just slight nuances in his voice he can shift characters.

My big problem with listening to books is that it puts me to sleep. Yup. If I need a soporific, just hand me some headphones and a cd player and I'll be out of it in thirty minutes. Better than Benadryl, Tylenol PM or Ambien! It's one of the reasons I'm kinda scared to listen to these things in the car, like my sister does when she drives from NC to OH. Of course maybe if I was doing something else at the same time, I wouldn't fall asleep. But what happens is I start to doze off, wake up a bit, and then doze off again and end up having to re-listen to the part I dozed over or I'm clueless. And that's ok, truly it is, because I like being read to.

My Dad used to read to me when I was a kid. He did it because he liked it, first and foremost, but also because he insisted that we NOT have a TV. He believed that if we had one, I'd never learn how to read properly and to love books. My Mom worried that I would grow up culturally stunted and deprived from not seeing TV shows that my peers were watching, so it was perfectly OK for me to watch TV at other people's houses... Just not my own. Not even when we sublet a house with a TV in it for a year!

And, of course, I didn't mind a bit, because I was about the only kid I knew whose Dad spent an hour or so a day with them. It was a family thing. Mom would sit in the living room with us and do something like darn socks or sew on buttons or mend things, and Dad would read. I would act out all the parts, zipping around the living room.

But that's not what I meant to write about.

What I was wondering was if anyone else notices the phrases in a book more if they listen to it than if they read it? It seems that certain phrases pop out at me in this book. Is it Philip Kerr's writing, or John Lee's reading?

How is listening to a book different from reading it?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Damn, I've been outed...

Damn! Ricë outed me... Now ya'll know my dark secret: I will read anytime, anywhere.

Before I got to Texas, I lived in Dodge City, Kansas. I moved there from Madison, Wisconsin, which was a very hip a go go place. Dodge was not. A friend of mine at Dodge City Community College, where I worked, told me she wanted to introduce me to a couple of cool guys who were trying to start a public radio station, and one of them was Quentin Hope.

Quentin, and his friend, Malcolm, lived in Garden City, about 50 miles west of Dodge on US 50. I took the bus over to visit them for the weekend right after I met them. When I got there, Quentin was on the phone, hustling people about the radio station*. His apartment served as his office, too. There was a couch in the living room and tons of magazines and books. I think there was a current copy of In These Times, and about a hundred books. I just curled up on the couch, grabbed something and started reading. I don't know how long I read for, but at some point, I realized that Quentin was not on the phone anymore and I hadn't even said "Hello!" I jumped up, and started to apologize. Quentin told me not to; if you could sit and read in front of somebody, it meant you were comfortable with them. I knew we were going to be friends.

Actually, it was a funny thing, that. At Christmas, I went back to North Carolina to see my family. My brother Steve was there. I'd spent some time a couple years earlier in Yellow Springs, Ohio, working for Steve's Fly By Night Construction Company when I was in between jobs and traveling around the country. My brother introduced me to tai chi while I lived there, and I met a lot of his college friends (Antioch). They would talk about people from Antioch who'd gone on to other colleges and drink scotch and practice tai chi moves. (This has NOT changed. They are still wont to do that on occasion.)

So, at some point during Christmas week, when my family asked what I was up to, I told them about Quentin and Malcolm and the radio station, for which I was now designing logos. Steve looked up at me and said, "Quentin, Quentin HOPE?" and I said, well, yes, I thot that Hope was Quentin's last name. "I was at Antioch with Quentin Hope," Steve said... And then I remembered some discussion about some guy named Quentin who'd gone off to Oberlin, and, yah, sure, it was the same guy.

So when I got back to Kansas, I got to tell Quentin that I was Steve's little sister. Quentin hadn't thot of it because, although my brother and I have very common last names, they're not the same last name, 'cos he's really my step-brother.

A lot of what I read is magazines. I get both The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and those, alone, can keep me busy. But, like Ricë, I read detective fiction for fun, along with fantasy and some science fiction. I read biography, history and science stuff, too, as well as how-to books. I don't read those in bed, though, because I always want to get up and try whatever they're writing about.

So. If you meet me, and I pull out a book and start reading, just assume that I'm really comfortable with you.

*BTW, the story has a happy ending. There IS public radio in western Kansas, and on the High Plains, thanks to Quentin and other folks who worked really hard for it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

North Carolina

I paid a quick visit to North Carolina - Chapel Hill, to be specific - this weekend to visit my Dad. Somehow I forgot that it would still be spring there, beautiful east coast spring, with azaleas and dogwoods and phlox and... Violets!

When I was a kid I loved the little flowers in the yard, the violets and bluets and buttercups and clover. We had a patch of violets in our backyard that had some of the purpley blue ones, and some white ones and I would lie down in the grass and examine them all, trying to ascertain which one was prettiest.

I didn't do that with the little patch of violets I found this week. I just enjoyed them, along with the pink dogwood alongside one of the buildings in my folk's retirement village.

I had also forgotten about pine pollen. Here in Texas we have live oak pollen: yellow, voluminous, covering everything. I'm used to that, or, rather, I should say my sinuses are. In NC, it's pine pollen that covers everything. You could see it lurking from the third floor window's of Ginger's apartment. It got me.

But that's spring in North Carolina.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Out and about in South Austin...

I live in a fabulous neighborhood. It's always been one, although in different ways over the years. When I moved here thirty years ago, it was a very mixed and poor neighborhood: an old blacklands 'hood that had shifted to Hispanic and then to musician. Houses were board and batten and tiny, from the early 1900s. There was a lot of prostitution on Congress Avenue, and when I walked to and from work, I would get offers of a 'ride' every block. But people knew each other and there were a lot of parties. It was edgy.

Now it's all gentrified. The blacks and Hispanics and musicians are mostly gone. It's more upscale, but the restaurants are a whole lot better and no one asks me if I want a 'ride' when I walk downtown. Don't even think of suggesting that it's because I'm thirty years older, cher, I'll backsmack you!

One of the constant things in the 'hood is the Continental Club. Last night James McMurtry was playing there at mignight and, well, I hadn't seen him in a long time. He plays with the Heartless Bastards. They're a power trio, and not for everybody, I'm sure, but I love to listen to him when I drive. And there is a move (albeit a really tiny one) to make Choctaw Bingo the national anthem.

I had to raid my piggy bank to go. Ok, and to take a nap, too. How did I ever play shows that ended at 2 am? Oh, yeah, it was twenty years ago! So there I am walking down South Congress at midnight with my quarters jingling in my pockets. The requisite street musician is sitting in front of the South Congress Cafe with his cds and his guitar. "Wanna hear a song?" I told him I'd love to, but I had just enough to get into the Continental Club.

Ok. So they laugh at you when you pay your cover charge in quarters. I'm tough. I can take it. I stayed for an hour (had to be up early this morning) and started to walk back home. Just up the street was the same musician, with his cds. "Now do you have time to hear a song?" He asked. "I have no money," I warned him. "I don't care, I just want to play you a song..."

So I sat on the bench beside him and listened to Ian Pummel (I think) (it was 1:30 am) play Tame the Mystery. And then I walked on down Congress to my cosy home.

I love South Austin.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Road trip...

I took a road trip a couple of weekends ago with some friends. Well, they weren't friends, exactly, when we started. In fact, I'd never even met two of them, and the other one I'd only met a couple of times. But, shit, if you want to get to know someone, go on a road trip with them. And this one was such little work, for me, anyway, since someone else did all the planning.

It was a road trip to Louisiana to listen to Cajun music and zydeco, feast on food (especially seafood) and have a good time. You can tell we're all pretty hardy, adventurous souls, if we're willing to spend four days in a car with people we don't know, albeit, a very, very big car, a Suburban, in fact, owned and driven by Steve, the person I know. The other couple, Duke and Carol, apparently only had one question for Steve about me before we started: "Does she like to laugh?" That's a good question to ask about people you're traveling with.

We started late in the evening and drove from Austin to Eunice, which is the nearest place to Mamou, LA, where there's a reasonably priced hotel. We got in at 3 am and were up at 7:30 so we could make it to Fred's Lounge by 9 am. We didn't want to miss a minute of the broadcast, not that we understood a word of it since it's in, ummm, French-ish.

We had a great time dancing. An actually amazing time, since, frankly, I can't dance with other people, but I guess I can now. Who knew? All that dancing makes you hungry, so Steve and I had a bowl of hen and sausage gumbo at a little restaurant across the street. I wish I remembered the name of it, because it was the best gumbo of the trip.

From Mamou, we went to Floyd's Records and had more gumbo. Then we drove down to Lafayette to check into the Blue Moon Guesthouse, which is a glorified hostel. We stayed in that room upstairs on the left. (Beware, they empty the dumpster across the street at 4:30 am on Monday morning!) Sitting on the front porch to check in, we met up with Two Hoots and a Holler, an Austin band, who were playing at the saloon that evening. Across the street from the Blue Moon is an old Borden's Ice Cream Shop. Carol and I sat on the porch and an ice cream angel brought us cones (coffee dipped in chocolate is yummy) without us even asking!

We headed back to Eunice, to the Liberty Theater, to hear DL Menard, at the Rendezvous Des Cajuns, which is broadcast from there every Saturday night. Then we hit the Palace Cafe in Opelousas for dinner, and headed back to the Blue Moon.

We did a swamp trip (Henderson Swamp) on Sunday. It was misting and gorgeous and we saw birds: egrets, herons, bald-head eagles, wood ducks, owls, and alligators and turtles, and a beautiful cypress forest.

We ate at Randol's, which is kind of a touristy place, but they had a great zydeco band and a bunch of kids dancing who were fabulous dancers! It was fun watching them, although I think we danced at least one number.

Monday we headed down to New Orleans the lazy way. We hit a museum and a looked at a couple of plantations. Now the guys had no intention of actually going into one, but I really wanted to see Laurel Plantation, since it was run by women, and they kept memoirs and record books of it, and ya'll know how into those things I am. It was highly interesting. These were cold-hearted business women, buying rafts of young female slaves - the cheapest slaves - and breeding their own workforce, instead of paying for it outright.

We ate at the wonderful Luke Brasserie on St Charles, which had ohmigoodness wonderful raw oysters. I had the white bean and duck cassoulet which was too delicious for me to describe. I'm running out of adjectives here. I had it with a couple shots of Basil Hayden, (rocks, water back, please) which was just perfect with it. We headed over to Canal Street to Chickie Wah Wah to hear the stupendous Evan Christopher accompanied by Shannon Powell, who is too delicious for words. The whole trip was an education in drumming, really. If the drummer is dragging or not in the pocket, the music doesn't swing and you can't dance to it. But when the drummer's on and smokin' well you damn near have to dance to it!

Late, late, late we headed over to Abbeville. It's a three hour drive and we got into the most ridiculous discussion of sex, spirituality, nuns and frogs. It kept the driver awake, but the rest of us were dazed and confused! In the morning we looked at the windows of St Mary Magdalen and then had raw oysters (a bit saltier than the ones at Luke, and fantastic, as well) and the crab plate, before heading back to Texas on the old Gulf Coast road. We stopped just before the Sabine Pass and bought huge Gulf Coast shrimp at a roadside stand.

So. All that was just the set up. What this post is REALLY about is the book I made about the road trip. Nah, just kidding, although I did make a book. I wrote a poem about the whole thing and stuck in a bunch of photos I took with my iPhone. Here's the poem:

Bons Temps...

Four people set sail in a car one fine night
Under the moon, to take their delight
In music and food and that other thing
(I’ve forgotten quite what) in Old Louisianne.

They made for Fred’s Bar on a Saturday morn
To hang with Tante Sue and bikers galore
To dance and to stomp and to have a fine time
And then to search out a gumbo divine...

...And records and flirting and old fashioned talk
On the porch of Blue Moon, where ice cream angels walk.
But there must be more music before there is sleep,
And food, of course, but that other thing?

Well, there are some pictures of them playing at sport
Tho’ who in hell knows what they really purport.
For they’re off on a tour of a swamp in a boat
And a whole lot more dancing and ice cream and food.

Elusive, indeed, was their much-needed sleep
Due to trucks emptying dumpsters: beep, beep, beep, beep.
But bravely, oh bravely do the four carry on
And leave for New Orleans at the first crack of dawn.

They looked at museums and plantations, too
Before treating themselves to dinner at Lüke’s.
Two dozen oysters all raw and Gulf Coast
And more talk and food, hey! can we have a toast?

But, non, they are off to Chickie Wah Wah
To hear Evan Christopher and the fab Shannon Powell
Then back to Abbeville in the middle of night
Talking of nuns and frogs with strange eyes

And spirituality and that other thing
Such heat and emotion lead to self correcting...
After some sleep, have they had it with food?
A chorus of voices says “Oh, no, no, no!”

Boudin and oysters and white lump meat crab
They can’t possibly drive; call them a cab!
But, no, they’re off on the old Gulf Coast road,
With a stop for fresh shrimp, before they head home.

Flying through Houston, how can that be?
Oh, thank the stars for that great HOV!
Only in Elgin does the food god desert them
Then they’re back home in Austin, with their poor stomachs hurting...

But their heads and their hearts are filled and replete
And for our fab four, that’s quite a feat!
All thanks to Steve, whose plan extraordinaire
And, ummm, wonderful driving! got them all there...

And back... And now, perhaps they’ll catch some z’s
And dream of new road trips, can there be a reprise?
With music, and food, and that other thing
On the porch of the Blue Moon, where ice cream angels sing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I make yogurt

When I was in New York last summer I became addicted to Fage 2% Greek yogurt. It's thick and tastes - to me - almost like sour cream. It's also pretty durn exensive ($4.99 a tub).

In the olden days, I made my own yogurt. I had a Salton yogurt maker which made yogurt in neat little ceramic containters, although I also used the oven method before I got the yogurt maker. Of course, in the olden days I made my own yogurt because you couldn't get real yogurt in stores, stuff with lactobacillus in it; you could only get the stuff with sugar and fruit flavorings, and additives.

So for close to nine months I've been shelling out the big bucks for Fage, which is pronounced fa-yeh, and makes me happy when I say it. But the $4.99 part? well, I've never been really happy about that. So I looked up 'how to make Greek yogurt on Google, and found this wonderful video by Crebs, which I just love. This guy is cheerful! I pretty much followed his instructions, except I used 2% and no half and half, and I only let it ferment 11 hours. It's pretty tangy that way. If you want it less tangy, you let it ferment less. I made it in my oven. I used to have an oven with an oven light in it and I would just pop the saucepan in the oven with the oven light on, but my current oven has no light. So I put a small lamp with a 60 watt incandescent bulb in there.

I was really worried that Al Gore would be dropping by to beat on me for that, but I had my whole rant/rationale ready for him.

You see what prompted this whole yogurt making thing - other than the $4.99 part - was that yogurt comes in plastic containers. And plastic containers and bits of plastic containers have somehow ended up in the middle of the Northern Pacific Gyre (Turning and turning in the widening gyre...) in what is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This thing is the size of two Texases! Now, ya'll who don't live in Texas just may not realize just how huge that is, but it's pretty damn big. The closest border to me is the one with Mexico, and that's some 7 hours away from here. When I leave the state to visit the cabin, it takes me 8 hours just to get out of Texas... And it's 6 hours to Ricë's house, and I don't think of her as being all that far away. Far out, maybe, but not far away.

I learned about the Patch from John Colapinto's article in The New Yorker about David de Rothschild's plan to build a boat out of plastic bottles and sail it across the Pacific to raise awareness about plastic bottles. de Rothschild is talking about upcycling instead of recycling, and that's cool, but I started thinking about how much plastic I use. It's probably not as much as most people do, since I don't eat much commercially packaged food (except for Fage), but even if you shop at Whole Foods these days, everything comes in little plastic containers or on styrofoam trays. In the old days, when Whole Foods was ittybitty, you could take your own containers in and they'd put stuff in them, and you can still do that, but it's a bit more of a hassle now.

The City of Austin has a good recycling program and takes all rigid plastics, 1-7, including yogurt containers, but still, these get downcylced into stuff and eventually they're going to end up in that Garbage Patch and kill some poor albatross, and ya'll know what kind of bad luck that is.

The yogurt came out fine, thank you Crebs. And I have whey to feed to the outdoor kitties, which is a good thing. Next I'm going to figure out a way to carry to go containers with me to restaurants, so I don't have to take home anything in styrofoam ever again.

ps. The image was created in Wordle, and is licensed using Creative Commons.