January 2008


Final photo posting from Florida; these are from Bradenton’s Red Barn flea market.

In addition to the crazy-awesome barnside mural, we saw huckster tactics aimed at those fearing a recession ….


(Sign reads “Depressed by the recession/Relax with a good book or C/D”)

… as well as inappropriate black-face magnets for the bargain price of $1 (I suppose that while we red-blooded Americans fear the fall of the almighty dollar, we’re always game for a bit of insensitive racial politicking).

One of my favorite places in Delhi is a small shop tucked into Lodhi Colony’s Khanna Market; the man there sells all manner of coffee and tea, including hard-to-find (in the subconty) brews like genmaicha. But even though the proprietor cordially chats as he has someone grind fresh beans just as you like them, the best part of the place hands down is the large framed posters on the wall of what appear to be vintage ads from the Coffee Board of India.

The image I’ve posted here is from the Coffee Board’s Web site, but for the life of me I can’t find any other of these gems. Anyone got a hot lead?

Lonely in America

HBO is premiering In Treatment tonight, but for my money, pop culture best explored psychiatry in Comedy Central’s Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. Early reviews aren’t promising — here’s a slice of Slate’s take:

Adapted from an Israeli drama titled BeTipul, In Treatment (HBO, weeknights at 9:30 p.m. ET) follows Paul Weston, a psychotherapist played by Gabriel Byrne with the kind of conviction that can only come from an actor faced with ambitious hogwash. The show’s controlling gimmick dictates that it will air nightly for the next nine weeks, with Paul keeping regular appointments with the same patients each night of the week, except for Fridays, when he goes to see Dianne Wiest’s Dr. Toll, the Kupferberg to his Melfi. His nonadventures straddle the realms of the scarcely credible and the incredibly boring.

Another recent show exploiting the fragile mental state of fellow man is Celebrity Rehab. Must we, really, ogle people going through withdrawal? Is it really so fascinating to listen to their stories of broken homes, broken lives, and feed into their vainglorious attempts for one more shot at fame, succeeding only in pandering to the lowest common denominator?

An MP in the U.K. has called for the introduction of tea trolleys — manned by a bevy of beautiful young ladies, natch — at airports as a salve for weary travelers.

The managing director for Waitrose, who also supports the idea, said, “I do a lot of foreign travel and I have been progressively disappointed with how poor it feels when you return home. The whole experience is pretty bleak. I thought wouldn’t it be nice if, when you arrived in the UK, you were greeted with a nice cup of tea.”

But for the concomitant sexism, I’d say it’s not a half-bad notion.

Despite a late-breaking sty (thus adding to my growing list of travel ailments, which includes giardia, a bacterial infection on my lip, and countless episodes of sun stroke), we managed to eke a bit of fun out of our whirlwind trip to visit the in-laws in Bradenton, Florida.

Being deathly pale, I made sure to wear a T-shirt, capris, and thick sunblock, but others at the beach seemed nonplussed by the dangers of skin cancer. Alas, their foolhardiness is surprisingly picturesque,

While in Bradenton, I developed an unnatural obsession with birds. I donno; sometimes I’m like that. As such, you are now privy to some of my pictures (including, of course, some poor amateur Photoshopping).

 

For the rest of my myriad shots … –> The Birds!

… but still not lazy enough to necessitate the purchase of a pot I don’t have to lift.

While Lotte Alpert’s design may be sleek and stylish, I’m still not sure its function is meaningful.

Visiting the in-laws in Florida. A note: JetBlue’s terminal at JFK, terminal six, is infinitely superior to Delta’s ramshackle terminal two. Long live Papaya King!

On my former blog, I wrote about Art Garfunkel’s awesome reading list, which chronicles the books he’s read since 1968. Nick Paumgarten’s written a lovely piece in The New Yorker about Garfunkel’s literary habits; it’s a nice juxtaposition to Caleb Crain’s “Twilight of the Books,” an essay that examines reading habits in America and the possible repercussions of our increasingly digital lives.


Photo courtesy Flickr’s cheesebikini, licensed via Creative Commons

NYT offers a neat piece on the siphon bar, a glorified coffee-brewing machine from Japan that retails for $20,000.

I’m happy with my Aeropress (a bargain at $25.95!), but the artisanal brewing fad is intriguing. One question — just how much does a single cup cost?

Seeing Steve McCurry‘s feature in the October 2007 National Geographic irked me somewhat. McCurry, otherwise a fabulous photographer, took on a complex topic — The Great Indian Wedding — and, in my opinion, failed.

The series of 10 pictures is uncharacteristically flat, and, having attended my fair share of Indian weddings, they don’t grasp all the facets of what is a pretty universally huge undertaking. The images are obvious, they feel rushed, and worst, I feel no connection to the people in the pictures. For the man who immortalized the piercing gaze of an unnamed Afghan woman, it’s…a disappointment.

For an alternative take on the institution, here’s a link to a Flickr set chronicling my own Indian wedding — which took place at a rather dismal office and which was delayed by five hours by a bureaucrat who decided he didn’t want to grace us with his presence until he was good and ready. Ah, memories!

Not content with the widespread press wrought by the Nano, the Tata Group just announced another big venture: a chain of tea shops for the 21st century.

An MSN reporter writes:

Tata Tea has forayed into the out-of-home beverage segment by unveiling its first outlet of Chai Unchai in Bangalore.

Sangeeta Talwar, executive-director, Tata Tea, said: “Chai Unchai is crafted as a retail space in the out-of home segment that connects with youth in an exciting and differentiated manner. The new adda or hangout is designed to be cool. It will neither be a kiosk nor a parlour but will have an ambience that is warm, friendly, unpretentious and fun.”

I’m interested to see their menu — will they kick it old school, or will they start to introduce new-fangled concoctions like bubble tea and smoothies? But ultimately, I’m a bit skeptical; if chains like this start pushing out the Everyman chaiwallah, an ineffably important part of Indian culture will fade from existence. The thought that the competing Moon Light Cafe and Sun Rise Cafe might give way to an outpost of Chai Unchai is amazingly depressing.

Witness Times Private Treaties, a hideous sham of a venture by which advertisers buy space in the Times of India, and TOI, in turn, buys a stake in the company doing the advertising, all in the name of synergy and profits and whatnot.

As Indian media watchdog The Hoot notes, “The more competitive the media business gets, the more inventive media houses become. And it becomes more of a headache to track the ethical dimensions and conflict of interest possibilities that emerge.” The newspaper industry in the subcontinent may be flourishing, but it’s certainly not without its discontents.

In j-school, back when I still cared about things, I took a class in newspaper design and had a rather eccentric instructor who constantly referred to herself in the third person, sometimes appending the word “creature” to her last name. She was unpredictable and by most accounts certifiable, but one day she showed us a tearsheet from a New Jersey paper’s entertainment section. Ragged feathers framed a picture of a band.

“This, this is what you all should be doing! You know what this is? One of my former students, he was seeing art in everything. You should see art in everything. These feathers here? Fella was walkin’ home and noticed a dead bird on the ground. Whatcha think he did with that sparrow? Did he step over it, ignore it? No, he picked it up, took it to work, threw it in the scanner, and there you go. He transformed something ugly and unwanted into something breathtaking.”

I don’t claim to have any artistic genius, but I do keep my eyes open. And today I found a lovely little laminated card — Virgen de Guadalupe on the front, prayer in Spanish on the back.

My reproduction is poor, but I always love to share found art/objects.

There’s a rather intellectual show on at the International Center of Photography, “Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art.” I went to its opening and wasn’t particularly impressed; though there are glimmers of excellence (Vivan Sundaram’s excerpts from The Sher-Gil Archive, Fazal Sheikh’s images from Afghan refugee camps), the theme felt strained. More up my alley are Found magazine, the Museum of Find Arts, and the aggregated images at Ffffound!.

It’s mere happenstance that on Martin Luther King Jr. Day I am reading Lawrence Hill’s Someone Knows My Name, the fictional narrative of a slave in the eighteenth century. But it’s no surprise that I’m captivated by the absorbing story of Aminata Diallo, which Hill chronicles with a deft sensitivity I didn’t entirely expect from a middle-aged man.

The Times’ glowing review focuses on the power of language to undermine great social ills. But rather than being overtly political, the text strikes me as a testament to the importance of independent voices echoing in the night:

If I live long enough to finish this story, it will outlive me. Long after I have returned to the spirits of my ancestors, perhaps it will wait in the London Library. Sometimes I imagine the first reader to come upon my story. Could it be a girl? Perhaps a woman. A man. An Englishman. An African. One of these people will find my story and pass it along. And then, I believe, I will have lived for a reason.

Much has been written on the place of witness and testimony in creating a case for change; what is so compelling about this book (and others like it) is that it asks for nothing directly, but rather allows the narrator’s voice to ring clear as a sounding bell, audible long after the the gong is initially struck.

A side note: Anyone have suggestions for similar narratives about non-African slaves? I’m particularly interested in reading something similar about the experience of indentured servants from India in the Caribbean. Looking into reading The Counting House (David Dabydeen), Maharani’s Misery (Verene A. Shepherd), The Last English Plantation (Jan Lo Shinebourne), or Bechu (Clem Seecharan). Tips or insight?

Anyone have an extra hundred or so bones for indulging in this lust-worthy new pot? 

Joey Roth‘s Sorapot is a marvel: a bit mod for my taste (I’m over stainless steel), but I’m not sure if I’ve seen such an imaginative wholesale rethinking of a ubiquitous kitchen utensil.

About 10,000 tea stalls in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, are closed in protest of spiraling fuel costs — an interesting story in the context of global energy costs, etc.

The story I’ve linked to is quite short; I’ve only found mentions of the strike in The Hindu and IndiaInteracts.com, and the reporting is woefully insufficient. Are the stall owners being reactionary? Have long-time subsidies given way to what the government and/or regulators perceive as more “fair” pricing? How does this (or can this) contrast with the reaction of, say, Americans to higher gas prices?

Discuss.

It doesn’t have the cachet of Astoria and it lacks the gritty appeal of the LIC arts scene, but for my buck, I couldn’t pick a better place in Queens than Rego Park.

Other residents (and real estate agents) highlight its proximity to Forest Hills (the fillet of Queens!), the easy commute to Manhattan (30 minutes door to door!), and the low crime rate (a 40% drop in robberies in the past year!). But for me? It’s the humble character of the neighborhood and the kaleidoscope of culture shifting and glittering on 63rd Drive, on Queens Boulevard, along Yellowstone and Woodhaven.

The gym I go to is locally owned, rather than an outpost of the overpriced Bally’s or New York Sports Club (also, its employees are always quick with a friendly greeting, initially winning me over by exclaiming, “Is named Platinum — better than Gold!”). Within a 15-minute walk from my apartment, I can buy Colombian chicken, find Thums-Up cola, get supplies to celebrate Chinese New Year, hum along to old Bollywood tunes at a Subway franchised by a chipper young fellow from Indonesia, delight in a knish, or procure a neon menora. And on balmy summer days, or even into crisp fall evenings, there’s a certain corner on which a group of five or six old men invariably play backgammon, kids occasionally peering over their shoulders to help them strategize.

It’s a cool, refreshingly authentic place to live when it seems everyone is urging us to consider Williamsburg or Park Slope, both dripping with irony and artifice and endless posturing about who has the best what. Sure, sometimes it means I miss a hip indie concert, and there’s not much of a nightlife (other than Wiggles!), but at least I don’t have to fight for groceries amongst a million tiny men wearing black eyeliner, flannels, and ever-tighter jeans.

 

An interesting review of Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became an Illness over at Spiked; an excerpt:

[T]he range of ‘healthy behaviour’ is being increasingly narrowed. ‘Our quirks and eccentricities – the normal emotional range of adolescence and adulthood – have become problems we fear and expect drugs to fix’, Lane writes. ‘We are no longer citizens justifiably concerned about our world, who sometimes need to be alone. Our affiliations are chronic anxiety, personality or mood disorders; our solitude is a marker for mild psychosis; our dissent, a symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder; our worries, chemical imbalance that drugs must cure.’

Also worth checking out is Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder.

The culturally specific treatment of mental illness (which in the U.S. seems to have manifested itself in the dogged belief that merely popping a pill can cure any ailment) is particularly stark if you’ve spent any time overseas. Combine that with the absolutely ridiculous prices of prescriptions (for example, in the U.S. — if I were not covered by insurance — I would pay about $400 a month for two prescriptions I’ve been taking for several years; in India, I could buy their generic equivalents for less than $5 a month), and it’s difficult not to be skeptical about the way in which we sketch the lines circumscribing normal and abnormal (albeit “treatable”) behavior.

(And, a postscript with a bonus link to an intriguing essay by Eric G. Wilson, “In Praise of Melancholy.” In addition to touching on some of the issues surfaced above, Wilson writes:

I for one am afraid that American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

Well, well said.)

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