Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cate Blanchett in Vanity Fair

Cate Blanchett has another Vanity Fair cover coming out, and it's spectacular.

My friend told me earlier tonight that I should go see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She said it was very sad, which made me hesitate, but then she said that the sets and costumes for 1930s and '40s New York were breathtaking, and that Cate Blanchett is in a scene in a red dress that I must see - and that pretty much made up my mind.

I do intend to see Waltz with Bashir too, so maybe if I get any writing done tonight/tomorrow, I'll reward myself with both movies. Positive reinforcements all the way!

In other news, it's a good thing that clementine season coincides with the chocolate holiday season, or my Ferrero Rocher diet would have resulted in scurvy already.

Childhood Fears

When we moved to Canada, I was in short order introduced to many new and strange and often wonderful things that I had not had as a pre-schooler in Israel. While I never felt that I lacked anything as a child, there were things my friends had that differed from what I had at home. New to me were the Easy-Bake Oven, boxes overflowing with Barbie clothes, an entire shelf of only Dr. Seuss books with matching book-ends, and lastly, the item that will continue to haunt me in my declining years, a Mini Pops record.

For those of you blissfully unaware of the words "Mini Pop" till now, Zoe Hart, a former Mini-Popper herself, explains the Mini Pops.

I don't know if we had the actual show here in Canada, but I do remember terrifying commercials for the records. A childhood friend had one of these records and I remember my discomfort listening to songs like this mutilated Abba Medley. Supe-per-Troop-pe-per. I think that's the exact record my friend had too. I wonder if that records explains my deep loathing for medleys.

Medleys are like Jell-O salads, aren't they? A bunch of things that are decent on their own, but really awful when forced together (i.e. lime jello, berries, cream, marshmallows).

Anyhow, if you hate child pageants, lipstick on underage girls, and songs by Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mini Pops will give you nightmares too. (That's why I thought the whole VF-Miley Cyrus brouhaha was so ridic; she'd been wearing heels and lipstick for way too long already and no one got all righteous about that.)

And if you think I'm employing hyperbole for dramatic effect, you obviously haven't checked the links yet. I really did have nightmares: a blonde 8-year-old Mini Popper threatened to "get me" if I spoke to her boyfriend. I was afraid. You'd have been too.

Ah, the eighties. Good times!


I bought a CD for Christmas. I know you are thinking, "but you don't celebrate Christmas". True. I didn't buy it for me. I was so fascinated by the CD (by the cover design, and the theme of the disc) that I bought it with the excuse that it was a Christmas gift for someone else. Undecided as to the recipient, however, meant that no one received it, and so today, after letting my conscience off the hook, I unwrapped the CD and put it on. (The wrapping was made of biodegradable cellophane of some kind, which was a plus.) It's great. Sorry I didn't give it to you... but obviously not that sorry!

The CD is by a German quartet called Quadro Nuevo.

This particular CD is their interpretation of melodies from film soundtracks and is called CinePassion.

The themes they cover range from Lawrence of Arabia to The Sixth Sense. I haven't even finished one full play of this CD and I knew I ought to blog about it - it's that good.

Quadro Nuevo's albums are distributed in Canada by Justin Time Records.

Does buying CDs indicate I am an old geezer? I rather think it might.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

RIP: Eartha Kitt

My sister just informed me that Eartha Kitt pass away. I caught her rendition of "Santa Baby" earlier today on the radio - I don't know if that was just coincidence, or if they had already announced her passing, but I thought at the time, "ah, nice to finally hear a classic sung by a legend". I have been hearing a lot of newer and more pop versions of carols this year.

She really symbolized fabulousness in ways other posers can only dream of.

Monday, December 22, 2008

One More Chanuka Post for the Night

I guess I'm just extra-festive this year. Maybe it was the glass of Folonari Valpolicella, or maybe I just love these litte gateaux so much, I had to share them with you:

Sandra Avital at Le Petrin made adorable star-shaped pear cakes. They sound much better in French, of course: petits gateaux etoiles aux poires. eyelid flutter

(Ok, so it's not exactly a Chanuka post, but she made beignets for Chanuka too, and the little cakes are Magen David-shape!)

Bon Appetit!

Chanuka Muse

Not only did this evening's fry-up inspire a new short story, but I've just come up with a Chanuka Carol. Sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, here is The Eight Days of Chanuka. You'll know how it goes, so just sub in the following.

On the first day of Chanuka, my true love gave to me,
The Essential Paul Simon CD
On the second day of Chanuka, my true love gave to me,
Two sheepskin gloves
and The Essential Paul Simon CD.

Get it? Now sub in:
Eight candles flickering
Seven chocolate coins
Six soufganiot
Fiiiive Goooolden Latkes
Four Coffee Cards
Three French pens

(Two sheepskin gloves - you're singing now aren't you? - and The Essential Paul Simon CD!)

That's it. There are only eight days, you know.

Chanuka - Delicious Any Way You Spell It

First night of Chanuka, and as my parental units did not want to worry about me driving in the GTA's current weather, I stayed home. We said the blessing over the lighting of the candles together over the phone. I also made lazy daisy latkes-from-a-box. (See little photo above?) Delicious!

As for explaining Chanuka, I'll let my copy of Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin take it away:

In 167 B.C.E., the Syrian emperor Antiochus set out to destroy Judaism by making its observance a capital offense... A Jew named Mattathias, along with his five sons, initiated a revolt against the Syrian monarch. Three years later, the rebels ousted Antiochus's troops from Palestine.

The Jewish revolutionaries, known as Maccabees or Hasmoneans, regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, which during the years of Syrian control had been spiritually raped. Antiochus had even arranged for swine to be sacrificed in the Temple. The Jewish troops wept when the saw the Temple's degradation, and immediately resolved to restore it to a state of ritual purity. According to Jewish tradition, they could find only one cruse of uncontaminated olive oil; unfortunately, it contained oil sufficient for only one day. The Jews were very upset because it would take eight days to prepare ritually permitted oil. However, a miracle happened and the small quantity of oil continued to burn the full eight days.

Now we celebrate with fried foods, specifically latkes and soufganiot. Although, if you wanted to add churros and veggie dumplings and rosti to your tradition, I'd be the last to criticize.

Here's my gathering of Chanuka recipes. An unofficial carnival of sorts (since I can't find an actual Chanuka blog carnival to direct you to):

Food Touring from Austin shares Sweet Potato Curry Latkes

Marcy Goldman makes her own version of lazy daisy latkes using a mix & potatoes.

Bureka Boy didn't make latkes, he made Sephardi fritters called Bimuelos. I'm Sephardi and while I'm pretty sure I've eaten those, I've never heard them called bimuelos. Then again, my parents speak Judeo-Arabic, not Ladino. (And as a bonus, his preceding post has a madeleine recipe, which I've been looking for.)

Epicurious taps chef Paul Virant for a simple but good-lookin' latke recipe. The comments on that post are sweet too.

Happy Holidays! Eat! Eat!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stirring Coffee with Your Thumb

A few posts ago I mentioned that I went to one of the 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling held at the Innis College Cafe every Friday night.

One woman went up and sang a Pacific Northwestern tall tale/folk song called The Frozen Logger. Wikipedia credits James Stevens and Ivar Haglund with writing it, and it appears that the Grateful Dead and Nick Cave both recorded a version of it.

The version I heard starts:

As I set down one evening in a timber town cafe
A six foot-seven waitress, to me these words did say
"I see you are a logger and not a common bum
For no one but a logger stirs his coffee with his thumb

The rest of the lyrics are on a Canadian ex-pat's blog here.

Go read them, it'll cheer you up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Books: Waterproof and Travelling in Time

Ambling around the nearest chain bookstore today, I picked up a fabulous story anthology called Poolside for under $5 (that's CAD!). Hemingway, Oates, and Cheever inclus.

It was on the bargain table 'cause the season for poolside reads (in Toronto) is long gone, but what's cool is how much research the publisher put into this niche waterbaby market. The whole book is waterproof . While I do not intend to submerge it, it's great to know that I could read it in the tub with wet thumbs and not warp the pages. The publisher has some tub-specific books out too. Held dry, the pages feel super-smooth, but not laminated or glossy - more like extra-thick prayerbook pages. This is not your toddler's bath book.

The other cool thing I saw - which I could not help but peruse for 20 minutes despite the teeny-tiny print and my burgeoning headache - was the new and huge coffee table book, The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages (1851-2008).

As someone who would spend hours scrolling through (aka procrastinating) on the microfilm of 19th century Toronto newspapers at the Reference Library, the NYT collection (complete with 3 DVD-ROMS) is right up my alley. I say that as a fan of history and ephemera, not necessarily of the NYT (though I will take the Sunday edition if someone buys it and then leaves it at the coffee shop).

The NYT book comes with a moderately useful magnifying thingy too. I read about the shirtwaist factory fire in New York's lower east side, various struggles in the British colonies, the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. The articles on the Stock Market crash of '29 are particularly unnerving in their resonance, as various leaders/experts attempted to reassure the general public that things were not as bad as they seemed.

I find it so difficult to read the news that I often wait a day or three before I can "fill up" on current events. Reading (or watching) the news daily can leave me in a depressive funk or an existential crisis, and neither state is really useful. But reading the news of the past is informative in a different way, and much more "digestible". We already know what happened (and either arrived later or survived it already). We can evaluate ourselves as reporters, readers, skeptics or believers, as we respond to the way the events were reported. In 1941, American Jews were already organizing to call attention (peacefully) to the concentration camps in Germany. A futile effort, but one that stands in contrast to the post-war European mutterings of "we didn't know what was happening".

It would be fun to flip through the book with a better magnifying glass and someone from an older generation and record their memories and impressions.

I didn't look at the NYT's September 11th coverage, but it is included. It would be so fascinating to know how those pages hold up in a hundred years' time.

NPR's audio feature on the NYT Front Pages book here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Faces: Rhinoplasty

My "in-between contracts" times are always much anticipated, as I look forward to writing thousands of words a day. My first week of current unemployment however, I watched six movies and checked 15 books out of the library. Nary a word written. I did, however, have puh-lenty of time to think.

Among my movie rentals was Cabaret, the classic 1972 film. It stars Liza Minelli as the now iconic Sally Bowles, and Joel Grey as the MC. I had heard that this was a star-making turn for Joel Grey (and a coveted role on Broadway) so I was looking forward to it. Grey is extremely talented and carries all his scenes effortlessly. He is so talented that eventually, I could almost stop seeing his nose job.

As I watched, there was a running commentary in my head about the irony. A film about life during the decline of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism in Germany features an actor (nee Katz) who has cut off his nose and changed his name to succeed in showbiz.

In general, I hate nose jobs. As a Jew, this is enmeshed with my identity, with growing up, and with coming to terms with my nose. While not particularly large, it was still never a "button" or "perky" or "fine" or whatever other terms describe the schnozz en vogue. It has a slight but definite curve. It took time and and maturity for me to accept it as is - and also (not to be too melodramatic) to love it; to see it as not just my nose, but "this much mom's and that much dad's".

I looked up to women who "owned" their big noses: Rossy de Palma, Anjelica Huston, Paloma Picasso. (And people can criticize Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand all they want, but I'm telling you, these women would look dreadful with nose jobs.)

A poor rhinoplasty does more than take away a person's heritage; an obvious rhinoplasty (like any obvious plastic surgery) defeats the purpose of the surgery by drawing attention to the altered feature. It messes up the proportions of the face. The space between the nose and the lip, the ergotrid, often looks too long; the philtrum (the little divit under the nose) looks too deep or oddly angled, and the brow and chin seem too heavy, unbalanced by the smaller or too-small nose.

Not only is Joel Grey's nose too small for his face, it is also dated. It looks like an old fashioned '80s-style nose job, when it seemed that the only nose template available was Michelle Pfeiffer's (which looks great on her, btw).

The new/old style nose was recently a blogosphere topic when NY Magazine's New New Face article came out. Jonathan Van Meter wrote of prominent plastic surgeon du jour, Dr. David Rosenberg:
"Rosenberg is also subtly shifting the shape of the New Nose... The nose on the New New Face is strong and architectural and straight. Neither flared nor pointed. More Greek than Roman.''
As many problems as I have with plastic surgery on principle, I am grateful that nose styles have changed. It's sad that most plastic surgeons seem to have very little artistic or esthetic sense, however, and that it all came too late for Joel Grey's daughter.

Joel Grey's daughter's name is Jennifer. You may remember Jennifer Grey from her star-making turn as "Baby" in 1987's Dirty Dancing. She had a nice career already in swing when she opted for a rhinoplasty. This notorious nose job resulted in a well-known name with a suddenly unrecognizable face. For an actress this was a disastrous turn and she could not get any work for years. I can't help but wonder how much influence was papa's nose? Did he make any "suggestions" for succeeding in the biz? Did she feel self-conscious that her nose didn't look like mom's or dad's?

When a parent alters him- or herself permanently, they are essentially saying to their child, "This part of me - and therefore, of you - is wrong". I always think that if I could afford permanent laser hair removal I would do it. But then I wonder what would happen if I had a daughter? What would I tell her when she hit puberty? "No, no, dear, hair is natural, it's normal, it's a healthy part of growing up. I just paid lots of money to remove mine forever, but you're beautiful"? It's not as if society won't bash her over the head with what's "attractive" and "desired" - is it really fair for mom to be part of the pressure?

Of course, one plastic surgeon came up with a partial solution. He wrote and self-published My Beautiful Mommy, a children's book to help kids deal with their mother's plastic surgery. This made the news and hit the blogosphere last April. Jezebel.com noted "It's unclear why the mother also chooses rhinoplasty, but she does tell her daughter that the nose will appear "different, my dear—prettier!". Sadly, the "pre-op" mom, illustrated Disney-style, is so unique and so much more interesting as a cartoon than the "post-op" mom. There is no value placed on "unique", though.

I enjoyed Cabaret - the direction, the songs, the performances. Michael York's acting even allowed me to forgive him Logan's Run. Best of all, though, is Liza Minelli's yet unaltered Sally Bowle's face; her giant eyes surround by quirky make-up and a unique coiff - a last hurrah before fascist brutality - and homogeniety - take over.

Extra notes:
Diversity on the human genome here at Scientific American
Truly heinous Nazi children's story (note the Jewish nose details) here from the Univeristy of the West of England Genocide Documentation Centre.