Buskers, New Orleans.
I have to get this blog post down fast for two reasons: the first is that my dinner is cooking, and I’ve bought the most beautiful ruby-red wild Alaskan salmon I’ve ever seen and will not wait to dive in and eat it; the second is I have a 25 ounce can (that’s a tall boy, in case you were trying to do the calculation on your own) of Bud Light Lime Cran-brrr-rita sitting in front of me and the first eight ounces or so (8 percent alcohol in these things!) is going to start settling in to my brain and make for a long drowsy evening soon.
So, let’s start there, because it seems like a symbolic place to start: I eat really high quality foods (what do I mean by high quality? will get to that) and at the same drink something with hyphenates and trademarks (this particular tall boy of Cran-brrr-rita is the Winter Edition, which as far as I can gather means you need more of it to feel warm).
As noted in my last blog post, I’ve been hitting the fitness circuit with the rest of the New Year’s resolvers these past few weeks and trying to get back into shape. In the past few days alone, I’ve skied, swum, run, and done my own odd version of lifting weights, where I sort of walk around the YMCA with barbells in my hands wondering what to do next. On Wednesday morning, feeling the momentum of my increasing fitness levels, I downloaded a bunch of sports nutrition books to my Kindle in the hopes of learning a bit more about what carbohydrates and proteins to eat, and how and when and why, in order to maximize my results.
Asceticism in the New Year
Everyone derides New Year’s resolutions these days. Leading up to Dec. 31 our newsroom was chock full of story ideas about how they’re passe or hated or useless. I’ve made resolutions in some recent years - real, concrete, written-out-longhand resolutions, and have measured myself against them during the year. I didn’t do that in 2014, but all the same, resolutions or not, the New Year still puts everybody in the mood to start making changes. After the gluttony and overspending of the holiday season, everyone tries to reign in their credit card use and their diets, hit the gym again, start sending out resumes. Whatever it is people want to change, the new year brings it into sharper focus.
I went for my inaugural 2014 jog this week through Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the first supra-40 temperature day in weeks. The park was desolate and shadowy in the winter twilight, a total juxtaposition from the insistently bright city skyline across the river. The river, too, was murky and silent, the inky gray waves just barely bothering to lap up against the piers. Something about the run felt barren and still and suited to winter, and I started thinking about the natural rhythms and seasons of the year. The holidays are a time for excess, celebrating the end of fall’s harvest (after all, nature’s rhythms were the original “reason for the season,”) but the deep dark winter is a time for sobriety and quietness.
Gray rainy skies clung to Brooklyn’s cobblestones this morning. Trapped the smells of the borough at nose level: charcoal and steak, the leftovers of some restaurant’s late night menu, and gasoline from an old taxi idling at the corner. Strangely it only made me think of other, far-away places and their smells. Remember the smell of London in the damp Spring, and Freehold, New Jersey, by the coffee plant when it rained? Remember New Orleans in the thick humidity, how the strange new smells enveloped you and you’ve never quite forgotten them? The thing about New York is, you’re always thinking about somewhere else.
Bleakness & Art - Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch
I finished it Friday night - a full (and long) five weeks after starting. Stephen King, when noting its heft and length in his book review for the New York Times, said it would take two. Oh well. Still, I read Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch (800-plus pages!) night and day over the past month, wary at first due to all of the buzz and the let-down of her second novel, The Little Friend, a few years back, but I was quickly engrossed. Her writing is stupefying.
Anyway, I’ve been finished with it for a full day or so, and can’t shake the feeling of nihilism and loneliness it left me. The book hangs on the idea that art and beauty can add enough meaning to our lives to redeem them from the world’s brutal pointlessness, but Tartt herself doesn’t seem entirely convinced of the fact. And it comes through in the novel, in the story of charismatic protagonist Theo Decker, whose innocence is stolen from him at age 10 or so, when his mother is killed in a terroristic attack, and his life becomes darker and bleaker in the 15 years that follow. Everyone dies. If they don’t die, they do bad things, or battle dark demons. There is no redemption in love - romantic or familial or fraternal- or work, or knowledge. There is the pursuit of beauty only, and Theo’s journey to make peace with the fact that maybe that’s all he’s got to live for.
By Wendell Berry
From the union of power and money
From the union of power and secrecy,
From the union of government and science,
From the union of government and art,
From the union of science and money,
From the union of genius and war,
From the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
A lot of San Francisco institutions are doing that these days, changing hands to become less like the San Francisco that was and more like the San Francisco we’re becoming: a hedonism economy.
That’s my name for what happens when a society organizes itself so that a large urban population lives by trying to entertain its small moneyed elite.
San Francisco’s unique contribution to hedonism may be to depopulate it. We hardly even need to be here.
That’s SF Weekly’s Benjamin Wachs, who manages to take his role as restaurant critic and transform it into barfly philosopher in his story on the closing of a San Francisco beer hall. He argues that wealth, education, and privilege are becoming so concentrated in urban cores and so elitist that we, as a society, are teetering on the brink of dystopia. Ok - it’s a lot. But read it for yourself and see if you don’t find yourself nodding along just a bit, if incredulously, like listening to the guy at the bar holding forth on some wild theories that after a drink or two seem pretty plausible. I’d buy Wachs another round. More of this, please.
Colleen on the Web
It’s a work in progress, but I’ve got a new home on the web:
Frankie Ballard, Nashville, and an American Identity Crisis
The name of Frankie Ballard’s new country album caught my eye first: “Whiskey and Sunshine.” I sensed there was likely something there to dig into, what with this country’s fast-growing obsession with whiskey and all things earnest. It sounded like it might be a good, gritty country album, something you’d want to listen to while drowning your sorrows in the corner of a slick-floored Nashville bar. I’d never heard of Frankie Ballard, so I found his singles on Spotify. “Helluva Life,” his most recent, broke into the top 20 on the country charts and has put the Michigan native in the early stages of country success, but there was nothin’ gritty about “Helluva Life.” Sample lyrics:
Saturday night and a six pack, girl,
Big star shining on a small town world,
It’s a helluva life, it’s a helluva life.
And pennies make dimes and dimes make dollars,
Dollars buy gas and longneck bottles,
Beer gets a barefoot country girl swayin,
To a song that’s playin on the radio station.
Ann Arbor, Mich., has a well-earned reputation for being among the biggest supporters of local, quirky businesses in the nation, so it makes sense a group of locals wrote a jazzy pitch song encouraging Arborites to buy local this holiday season. Though it’s targeted to Ann Arbor businesses and restaurants, the message is applicable everywhere (h/t Damn Arbor).
It’s been a few years since the local movement ignited around the U.S. (and world). I wonder if it’s helped small businesses stay open? Are there David & Goliath examples to be found? Any dent in the sales of big box stores?