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Happy Bloomsday, Now & Forever

Could Bloom of 7 Eccles Street forsee Bloom of Flowerville?
In loose allwool garments with Harris tweed cap, price 8/6, and useful garden boots with elastic gussets and wateringcan, planting aligned young firtrees, syringing, pruning, staking, sowing hayseed, trundling a weedladen wheelbarrow without excessive fatigue at sunset amid the scent of newmown hay, ameliorating the soil, multiplying wisdom, achieving longevity.

— from Ulysses, by James Joyce

 

One year ago tonight as I walked home whiskeyfull from the C&O bar, as I walked through the silent unsuspecting Bloomsnight streets of Charlottesville, I knew what my next Bloomsday message would be. The truth of it stirred and grew within me, a firm conviction of what finally needed to be said. Unfortunately I do not quite remember what that was. Maybe tonight it will come back to me, as I repeat the journey.

For now let us leave it at this: Happy Bloomsday to you, each and every one of
you, those reading this and those not, the good and the bad, the drunk and the sober, the Irish and the English and the Miscellaneous. May the spirit of Bloomsday never leave you, even when you would really rather it did, and may the memory of Bloomsdays past be a comfort to you in whatever hard and bookless times it is your fate to endure.

Until we meet again, on Bloomsday…

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Let There Be Darkness

It did not happen the way people say. Yes, in the beginning all was formless and void. But it was not dark, quite the opposite. Through endless transparency a pitiless total light glared, with the veracity of an infinite interrogation room, holding the perfect stillness of a crystalline desert. Nothing could exist that was not seen, and nothing was seen.

And into this void and waste God, in his loneliness, looked. And God said, Let there be darkness: and there was darkness.

And through the brightness the darkness billowed like smoke, roiled and rolled it over the face of the colorless waters. Light stopped, recoiled, went on, thinned, hued, divided, took texture, was overthrown; became another. Blackness covered blankness, the nothing covered to where something could go. The void was hid, the world began.

And God saw this and it was good.

And into the dark and the light and the misty gray God hurled innumerable beings of darkness– opaque, mysterious, every one holding a secret within. With these God populated the earth, creatures great and small, moving and still, of the air and of of the earth and of the sea. All inwardly and outwardly articulated, dense with truth, probed by the the light but never fully known to it.

And God saw this and it was good.

And in the darkness marvels stirred. Love and dreams and the excitements of murder. Freedom. Fungi. Speculations, imaginations, copulations. Worms toiled through dark rich-scented soil; sightless fishes darted through lightless depths. Being found its shadow; its shade, flavor, depth, and life, unflattened by all-pervasive light.

And light? It grew sulky at first, for the loss of its total dominion. But soon enough light discovered the gift that only darkness could give it: its beauty. And light rejoiced that it was beautiful, and with every beam and glimmer it sang out praises to God, for creating the darkness through which it may shine.

And God? God saw that there was what could not be seen, and it was good. And God leaned back, and rested, and wondered what would happen next.

The Broccoli of Apocalypse

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.  (Revelation 3:16-17)

I would not normally quote this passage. Partly on account of the infamous source. When people start quoting from the Book of Revelation, you know there is no puppy around the corner.

And this particular passage, it is a little harsh. We all understand the basic sentiment: mild is boring, bland is no fun. Taco Bell has a similar message, though of dubious sincerity. (For a contrary, Chinese view of the matter, see Francois Jullien’s In Praise of Blandness.) Setting aside an actual contextual and theological reading, we might be tempted to an assent, or even a “Hallelujah!” But Jesus, “spue thee out of my mouth”! That’s gross, and I think it means eternal damnation.

And does lukewarm deserve the bad rap it gets? (This passage could have contributed to that stigma– the Bible used to be very influential.) Suppose we replaced it with “room temperature.” Everybody loves room temperature. That is why we keep our rooms at room temperature. It is comfortable and will not kill us, as most temperatures will. A person who is neither cold nor hot, but room temperature (not literally, for that would be a corpse), is someone you feel okay hanging out with. Why would you spue?

But there is a situation where I find this bit of godly lowdown quite apposite. That is with the subject of broccoli. When raw it is a great snack, crisp, bold and vigorous. When cooked all through to a gentle softness, seasoned as you like it, it is a warm and nourishing complement to any meal. But between the Raw and the Cooked there is a gap, a Forbidden Zone, and I do not want my broccoli to fall there.  Astonishingly, many people do. They favor half-assed broccoli, neither the one nor the other and having the virtues of neither. That kind of broccoli makes me want to, if not spue, then at least not eat. It is just confused. There is no intriguing ambiguity or blending of qualities, it is just underdone broccoli. People of this ilk will often describe properly cooked broccoli as “mushy.” That is just a lie. The softness of well cooked broccoli is a delight to the mouth, of subtle bite, a generous yielding not without integrity. It is no baby food. If you give it a good long chew and then spue it out and then spoon it back into your mouth — as I have done in the interest of culinary science — you will have no trouble discerning a difference between the cooked vegetable and the mush.

Maybe underdone broccoli is acceptable in a stir-fry. I will grant you that. But the better option is just to leave the broccoli out of your stir-fry. Save your broccoli for the scenarios where it can shine. A snack platter with a bowl of dip. Or well steamed and then seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon, butter, grated ginger, fish sauce, rose water, myrrh or whatever pleases you best.

I know a biblical literalist is going to come along and say, “Wait a minute, this passage of holy scripture speaks of the cold and the hot. And a thing we all know about broccoli, when it is not blanketed with a layer of molten cheese or embedded in the volcanic heat of a casserole, but just naked on our plate, is that it loses heat faster than burning brimstone in a font of holy water. The first bite may be hot, but very soon you are faced with a limp and, yes, lukewarm vegetable next to your pork chop.”

I respond as I always do to biblical literalists. What about The Song of Songs? How do you guys take that literally? Do you say, “Uh, there’s this chick, and she has baby deer for tits. Just sticking out of her chest I guess. Weird, but this guy still thinks she’s hot.”? Please, don’t come to me with your Literal Word of God bullshit and your broccoli trutherism. My God is bigger than yours, and He speaks in parables and poetry, and divides all broccoli in twain, as with the sheep and the goats, sending these to the Heavenly crisper, and those to the stove-top of Hell. And all is Delicious.

 

Disambiguation: Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was a film producer from Queens best known for producing the James Bond films, from Dr. No to Octopussy. His credits also include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Jazz Boat. Born in 1909, he met his personal apocalypse in 1996. What he knows now, no one can say. That was the end of Broccoli.

The Play’s the Thing

Shakespeare was the best writer because he had the most fun writing. Admittedly this is just speculation– there is no historical evidence for his enjoyment at the writing desk. But it is the overwhelming impression I get from his work. No one could could write lines like “No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine / Making the green one red” without feeling joy. Because it is so fun. The pleasure of the play of language, the exhilaration of meaning-making and sound-scoring and the way meaning and sound and rhythm can come together and come alive– this was the driving force of his literature. Undoubtedly he wanted to please the audience and make a profit, but he had to please himself first. He had the great good fortune that his self-indulgence was delightedly indulged by others (is there a happier fate?).

The language play comes first. Everything else emerges from that. It is not ornamentation but the creative act itself.  I do not believe Shakespeare had some deep well of wisdom and acute understanding that he simply drew upon, shaping into words that would convey it, bottle it up and ship it out. I don’t think it works that way. Meaning is not articulated, articulation produces meaning. Play produces articulation. To curiously and exuberantly pursue the possibilities of language, cherishing the taste of it, the way it works on you, eager to to discover what it can do, thrumming with its electricity– this the way of a Shakespeare. Do this over time and ideas will emerge. Voices will find form and become character.

Storytelling is a bit of a different gift, and it is notably not where Shakespeare shines best. It is not primary with him. He took his plots from books and let them be an armature for the words of his characters. Event is valued as an occasion for speech.

There is endless speculation over what he meant, what his ideas were, how he thought and felt, what his life was like. I think he meant to write well. His idea was to write well. And that, all and all, he was a person like any other, except he wrote so very well. And what a great time he must have had doing it.

Museless

forest, glade, smothers brothers

silk, titties, coleslaw

marinade, truth, probation

anon, enough, locutionary act

flint, fist, marshmallow

The words come easily enough
to those of a certain age.
Born of the interregnum,
Chaucer to Chappaquiddick.
(the movie– I mean now)

But sometimes a sense isn’t in the sound,
the sound sounds not,
and nothing holy loves you.
Spatters, no Pollock.

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail.
— As Beckett would have written
Had he known his words
would ever dare
to inspire.

Coco Loco (Mucho No Poco)

For a long time, I have been struggling to break my blogging silence. Fitfully I have started, stopped, squandered. Trying now some philosophy or politics, then a little criticism or gnomic fiction. I have attempted to write on the music of one friend, the memory of another; the death of Smullyan and the birth we never leave behind. Love-writing, hate-writing, slap-happy word-drunk writing– I have tried it all. Nothing has worked, nothing has broken through to completion. But I think now I have finally found a subject with which I can begin again, and crack the dam that has held me back, to let the fruitful, pent-up waters of my mind flow freely once again. I think now I have it.

Friends, I want to tell you about a great new product that I hope you will enjoy as much as I have.

If you eat ice cream then you know the Turkey Hill brand. (Or maybe not– I don’t know the extent of their market penetration.) They are humble people over at Turkey Hill. They don’t make the best ice cream. You don’t find their product in those precious little pints that promise a guilty but oh-so-extravagant indulgence. You buy Turkey Hill in solid one-and-a-half quart cartons (oh for glory days of my youth, and the half-gallon standard… gone now, like so much of the best of America) and if you are paying more than three dollars you might want to shop elsewhere. It’s cold, it’s creamy– it’s ice cream. You eat it, your life is a little better, what more do you want? I most often get the Colombian Coffee (note the sourcing– they might not be the the best, but they’re not the worst, and have a touch of class) then I bake some brownies and have a delicious fancy a la mode experience.

Recently I was browsing the freezers at Kroger (Barracks road store, for locals) and I noticed that they had a new flavor on offer. Labelled “Trio’politan” and then, below that, “Coco Loco”. Trio’politan appears to be an umbrella term for a variety of Neapolitan inspired triple-flavor cartons. (I have not had any of the others and can’t comment on them.) Naturally I was intrigued and took a closer look.

Coco Loco combines caramel, coconut, and chocolate ice creams.

Whoa. They did it! The good people at Turkey Hill broke the ice cream code. They finally figured out the perfect ice cream flavor combination. (Without cheating by adding by brownies, which is obviously the best possible thing.) Three deep, rich flavors; essential flavors of the earth, without frivolity; staples of the confectionery art, beloved everywhere. Three flavors that go perfectly together. You don’t even know where one flavor begins and the others leave off; they all speak with the voice of a singular god.

Reader, I bought it. And I took it home. And in my kitchen I opened it and spooned it out into the waiting bowl, carefully including all three flavors in every spoonful. And I did eat. And it was Good.

I am now halfway through my second carton of Coco Loco. A third waits behind it in the freezer. And let me be honest: I don’t know exactly how I will feel about it after that third carton. I fell in love with a novel Turkey Hill flavor once before, and it lasted a while and then I grew to loathe it, never to taste it again. Turkey Hill is not the best ice cream. It’s poor people food, with just a touch of class. And I don’t know how long Coco Loco will be available. It looks like a limited edition deal. I have had my heart broken by those before, as well as by flavors that seemed to be here for good but then disappeared. (Mr. Häagen-Daz, if you ever discontinue Chocolate Chocolate Chip, I will find you and I will kill you.)

But I will never stop believing in the glory of caramel, coconut, and chocolate. The essential truth of Coco Loco will never die. I have seen the light and tasted the truth. I don’t know how I missed it before. It’s so simple. But a least now I know. And maybe you do too, dear reader, pending personal confirmation.

Thank you Turkey Hill. Not just for Coco Loco. But for this. You have given me back my words. I might even say, you have given me back my life. I can only hope that I can live up to your inspiration. Simple and cheap, but with a touch of class, and the occasional flash of genius.

Subverbo Rising

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