Friday, August 31, 2007


P.Z. Myers scares me. Not a link for the cephalophobic.

But it's Frrrrriday, and so it's time to run.

Countdown to sweet freedom!

A three-day weekend and a new Terry Pratchett book? Mm, tasty. My newly minted plans to check out the Saturday Pilates class may be undermined by the inertia induced by a shiny new book with adjacent caffeinated options. Who wants to do the Hundred when they could be giggling through a latte?

Lately I've been reading mostly food porn, including M.F.K. Fisher excerpts that should probably carry some sort of warning label, or at least drool-proof pages, and a book summing up the Julie/Julia project (blogger versus the entire Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year). All the talk of butter and and pate choux and duck and rich winy sauces tends to trigger my late-summer/early autumn Slavic craving for heavy starchy baked things, lest winter catch me unprepared and blubberless. "They throw thin ones to the wolfs!" warns the inner babushka. "Have a pierog and some kartoshki, you feeling better." I'll bake something and then give most of it away; so far that's kept the yen for massive piles of carbs under control.

Next week the barn goes back to a regular class schedule, so I'll be riding three times a week rather than twice, hip permitting. Scheduling snafus meant I got only limited horse time this week, but I did manage to eke out time to take Doc for a graze. He claims to live on the ragged edge of starvation, and I am not above bribing him to think that my arrival means happy food time as well as happy games of running around in the woods. As long as we can sustain the "me != misery for Doc" equation, it counts as an equestrian success.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Because Ibiza is so so done

The Pacific Ocean turns to foam and eats part of the Australian coastline; locals treat it as a giant house party with no thumping beat. "Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed." More disgusting than club foam? Discuss. I do love that the Ozzies just kind of shrugged and went about their business, rather than losing their shit and screaming about how this is all the fault of the immoral [fill-in-the-blank]s and oh Lord take me now it's a sign of the end times.

In completely unrelated news, there are free podcasts of British celebrities telling fairy tales. These are not the classic versions of the stories, exactly, so they're probably good for kids who've passed the age of demanding that the tale be told precisely the same way every single time until Mummy and Daddy, driven out of their heads by the calls for textual accuracy, start to wonder whether they could make it to the treeline. I mean, does any other version of Sinbad the Sailor include the term "anorak"? And how can we go about introducing that word into broader American use, because there's clearly a gaping need.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It was bound to happen sooner or later


"And I do my little turn on the catwalk"

Oh come on, like I could've used anything else as the subject line.

Saturday night was my friend Teal's debut as a model, walkin' for the cause of international media coverage and general festiveness at a local embassy. The chance to see Teal, who is a low-maintenance individual possessing neither cosmetics nor a guilty "America's Next Top Model" habit, doing the catwalk stomp in full makeup and glittery clothes was irresistible. Since being one of the few really tall skinny models in an all-volunteer show provides a certain amount of bargaining leverage, she was able to score six comp tickets to the SRO event. I dragged mah fabulously impractical Shanghai Tang threads and strappy shoes out of the closet's tangled depths, got my hair be-spiked, smeared on a little bought complexion, and clattered out the door.

Some backstory, for the curious: Teal was originally recruited by a friend of a friend at a party, and she was promised that the show would be a low-key community production, involving maybe three or four rehearsals over the summer. This was what is known as a flaming lie of the very highest order, although in charity perhaps it was supposed to be that small and snowballed. Doubtful, but possible. Anyway, rather than the promised mellow, there were weekly rehearsals for most of the summer, despite which the order of the show wasn't decided until about ten minutes before the music started and the models never saw the clothes until the day of the show, and the models were hit up for all kinds of costs, including tipping their stylists. Miss Tyra would clutch her weave and swoon dead away, because demanding that volunteers subsidize the show is a different level of sketchy from the usual pills-and-ciggies stereotypes. But Teal, because she's fundamentally nice, put up with a lot of it, only drawing the line about the four-inch lucite heels and $140 facial.

The show went well from our perspective, although we heard later that there were all sorts of entertaining backstage dramatics, what with the screaming and the frantic clothing shifts and the I already told you I'm not gonna wear the stripper shoes. After we the audience sat through some diplomatic blather ("Hey, the ambassador blames the mainstream media too! Is this what it's like at Republican events?"), the music kicked up; Teal, looking all kinds of fierce in a long peach outfit, stalked out, rocked it on down the runway, popped a hip at the photographers at the end of the stage, and betook herself back; and the show was on. For the next...however long, an hour maybe? was glittery things and sexy outfits and, occasionally, male models who generally looked as though they had no idea what they were doing and were either terrified, depressed, or trying not to giggle. Teal got an audible gasp and a ripple of applause in one of the wedding outfits, and all of us conveniently forgot her admonitions about not cheering.

We hit the afterparty for a while, but the Ritz's loudest bar on a Saturday night in Georgetown is very close to my idea of hell, even if I'm knocking back Macallan on an empty stomach, so eventually G-Clef and I prevailed on Teal to come out for a late-night/early-morning meal of some sort (second breakfast? elevenses? tiffin?). We ended up at American City, where the busboys were drowsing in the corners, to rediscover that ancient truth: greasy diner food really does taste best in the wee hours. We probably aren't the oddest things they've ever seen at that time of night, but it was a Hopper-esque scene, G-Clef in his formal suit, me in scarlet silk and falling spikes, and Teal still AquaNetted and Cover Girled to the nines, all of us punch-drunk and falling on the food like wolves. This fashion stuff is a hungry business.

The observant will note that the embassy that hosted all this crazy fun hasn't been named, for the simple reason that sometimes odd people find the blog and I don't particularly want Teal catching flak because of something she didn't write. Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego catwalking?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales resigns!

And there, not to put too fine a point on it, was great rejoicing.

Sure, some other sleazy fucker will get put up afterward (Salon says it may be Chertoff and his Infallible Gut) and there'll be some faux-noble posing about Gonzales, after serving his country with all his tiny might, now wanting to spending time with his offspawn and continuing to do what's best for the administration.

But I'm going to go ahead and be happy that at least one egregious liar has been chased off with the hose. Sufficient unto the day is the happiness thereof.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Having a heart in the hardware store

H'ray! Last night I finally got some catch-and-release traps, at the soon-to-be-late (and very lamented) Candey's Hardware, the sort of place where I can never find anything without help but where the staff know the stock down to the last washer. The guy behind the counter peered at my pile of shrinkwrapped grey boxes. "Have-a-heart traps! So ya got a heart, huh?" "I don't know about that, but I'm pretty sure I don't have the guts to keep using the glue traps." "Heh heh. Well, we've been selling mousetraps like crazy this year. Seems like a year-long thing with 'em." Hah, so it's not just me and/or slovenly housekeeping. "Most folks don't mind the glue traps, though. Just step on the mouse and you're done, right?" "Y...eah. That's...pretty much what I can't do."

The traps are ingeniously designed to snap closed as soon as any weight disrupts their balance, so after playing with them for a while I primed them and set them up near the oven, just where I originally saw my non-rent-paying roomie. So far the mice have resisted the lure of the peanut butter I smeared inside--maybe they wanted creamy rather than chunky?--but I'm feeling more relaxed. Days of no sightings plus the promise that I won't find a sad little furry Dying Gaul squeaking out his last ("Spaaarrrr...taaaaa") on a glue sheet will do that. Isn't perspective grand?

This morning has involved a farmers market run and a frantic phone call from Teal, who was already, at the unbelievably early hour of 11:00 AM, up and about in preparation for the fashion show she's in tonight--a show, I might add, that is being executed despite a degree of planning chaos I previously associated exclusively with the Slavic community. The gist of the call, once I managed to figure out what she was saying, in an unusually flustered tone, was that she wanted to put nonslip soles on the silver shoes she had borrowed. Looks like I'll get to see both my friend and part of my wardrobe parading in front of the flower of the ambassadorial world tonight--what fun! Several of us got invitations on the strict condition that we comport ourselves like reasonable opera-going beings, golf-clapping politely rather than yelling, "I CAN SEE YER KNEES COZ YER IN A SKIRT!" and wolf-whistling. I wonder whether anyone told the ambassadors that they can't do that either.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Murine update

So far, no further sightings or encounters in the traps. Tonight I'm going to pick up some humane live-catch traps at a hardware store. The plan is to take any captured enemy combatants down to the park, where they can be released to live free and/or become snacks for the coyotes and not try to get into my stuff. I thought I had the steely nerve and callous nature required for using the glue traps, but it turns out that I don't. So much for my carnivorous nature.

The experience of having to, as it were, shoot my own mouse sheds new light on one of my previous job's responsibilities: explaining to incensed researchers that our house style required saying that they had "killed" or "humanely killed," rather than "sacrificed," their mice. Privately, the staff agreed that we would change the policy if we ever received evidence that an experiment had called for building a mouse-scaled pyramid, complete with sacrificial platform or chac mool, and dressing one or more of the mice in the appropriate outfits. The necessary recordings of high-pitched chanting could be provided as online appendixes to the main article. It is possible that we derived too much entertainment from creating these scenarios, but considering that the alternative was awarding Geek of the Week points to one another ("Where does the word 'tatters' come from, anyway?" "I don't know offhand, but I imagine that it shares the root with 'tatting,' to make lace, since that's a fine mesh with large holes in it." "Aaaand you're the geek of the week." "This from someone who referenced the Bradshaw shift's effect on spelling at yesterday's farewell party?" "Fine, fine, dork of the day, then"), we made our peace with it.

As a post-script to our earlier conversation, dear мышки, I should add that I have locked up the Tim Tams, so don't even think you're getting any of that fine Arnott's cane-sugar chocolate wafer in chocolate coating goodness. Should I detect you making any attempts, however, the gloves come off and I put out cajeta. You'll get severely stuck in it and you'll develop diabetes. For serious, now: Don't mess with the 'Tams.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In which I act like a 1950's housewife

I live in an apartment complex that was built in the 1930s. Hardwood floors, actual plaster walls, carved wooden window's pretty nice. It's even got a hint of ancient DC celebrity: Eleanor Roosevelt presided at the complex's opening. But unfortunately, old buildings tend to attract a certain kind of tenant, of the freeloading, fertile, and furry variety. Yep, I gots mice.

For a while this was just a suspicion, a hint of scurrying in the ceiling, but on Monday I came home in time to see a little gray blur go shooting under my oven. Oh ho ho, visible mouseage is NOT ON. The maintenance people vowed to send the exterminator over later this week. In the meantime, while I was at work, they let themselves in, leaving a cryptic service note: "Set some trap." They did not mention where, exactly, the trap or traps was/were, so I saw the obvious one, a blessedly empty glue trap, figured that that was it, and started to fix dinner.

Wait, is the ceiling fan squeaking?

No, the fan's off.

Oh fuck. I missed a trap, didn't I.

I'm not going to delve into detail about what was involved in the rest of the proceedings, except that I would rather not go through the whole thing again. Dear mice: We can reach a rapprochement here. Don't show yourselves, don't eat my food, don't poop where I can find it. In return, I promise not to set traps. Otherwise I will be forced to repeat L'Affaire de Tuesday Night, which is, I will grant, substantially more unpleasant for you than for me. I appreciate this frank discussion.

Today the universe seems to be trying to compensate for the evening of squeam. First, someone sent me the link to the Unicorn Museum. A museum! Of unicorns! Both my inner child and my not-very-inner snarky intellectual are tickled. Second, during lunch, I saw a blue Mini Cooper with the inspired license plate PICT. Woad is me: Nobody else on the crowded street seemed to get the joke.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

You will be assimilated

Dammit, I've been trying to resist the lure of cable TV. Sure, life without a regular "Daily Show" fix is clearly not worth the name, but the local cable and satellite providers are dreadful, I'm hanging on to my tiny ancient TV until the standards switch forces me to upgrade, and who needs to spend more time in front of the box anyway? Especially when there's an internet that needs tending. Hey, them kitties don't LOL themselves.

But how am I supposed to resist now that BBC America will be showing "Top Gear"? The lure of the Stig testing out cars that are as practical as six-inch platform heels and arguably a lot sexier (certainly a lot more fun), of celebrities trying to wrestle an economy sedan around a track, of hideous jokes about physics? How will I convince myself that it's not, in fact, educational and something I really need to be following? I might even find out why torque isn't cheap.

Slate's discussion of how TV is changing population models in rural India is timely, all things considered. On the one hand, it's great that electronic media are delivering more views of the options available in life. On the I going to end up wanting a Maserati?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Too soon?

Richard Wilbur

Piecemeal the summer dies;
At the field's edge a daisy lives alone;
A last shawl of burning lies
On a gray field-stone.

All cries are thin and terse;
The field has droned the summer's final mass;
A cricket like a dwindled hearse
Crawls from the dry grass.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts

I used to work with a guy who played bass in a local rock band, who one year were hired to play the City Paper's Valentine's Day party for singles. He decided that it would be a grand idea to use pick-up lines as between-song patter, so he spent most of a workday searching the interwebs for specialized lines. It was with genuine regret that he reported that the party was so depressing that not even the goth lines got any kind of crowd reaction. He and Dan the Nats Fan would have gotten on well, though; Dan started using his before-they-were-omnipresent PDA to collect bad lines from women he thought were cute (and, NB, he reports that the only line that worked was, "I collect bad pick-up lines. What's the worst you've ever heard?").

In that spirit, and as a thanks to all the people who've been telling me good online dating stories lately, here's a link to Geoffrey Chaucer's lines for use at the annual medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo. It is a fair thought to conjure on: "Art thou a disastrous poll tax? Bycause I feele a risynge comynge on," and "Shulle we maken the cindreblokke to synge?"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The zen of activity

When the world is too much with my level of indignation, as when Michael Chertoff gets up on his hind legs to prate about how we, by God, need another way to say, "Ihre Papieren, bitte," to potential terrorists and anyone who doesn't look sufficiently anglo, or when the White House deals with Jose Padilla's verdict by announcing Jenna's engagement, I am glad to have physical action in my life. John M. Ford's advice about dealing with stress--"Find a distraction and allow it to distract you"--is straight to the point.

I was the only student at last night's dressage class, so I got a serious workout; inside of ten minutes, sweat was trickling down my face and my legs were aching. Private lessons are great, because you don't have to keep tabs on other students and whether their horses are about to be unpredictable (or whether yours is going to be so in their flight space), you get lots of direct instructor feedback, and you can work on your weak spots. The downside is that you can't hide or slack or learn from other people's mistakes.

I was paired again with Cappi, a plump little Morgan. He's not a bad critter, but he's smart enough to have learned the trick of ducking out of a turn and running down the long side of a ring when he doesn't want to do something. Unfortunately for him, I am learning a trick known as not letting him do that. In a way, his spastic attacks are even helpful: I have to pay more attention to him and read his intentions, I damn well better be balanced on his back to handle his lateral moves, and I eventually have to be able to bring him back to wherever he might have freaked out and make him do the move correctly. Also, the adrenaline rush after he bolts down the ring, maybe veering a little too close to a pile of jump standards ("Not the face! Not the face!"), clears the nervous system out a treat.

To balance out the inevitable "whoa, about to die" moments of excitement, there are the long stretches of hanging out the horses in the barn. You still have to be careful, because they're still large skittish prey animals with big teeth and feet, but within those limits it's possible to decompress a lot. Contact with a large relaxed animal, just leaning into a shoulder and maybe giving them a good scratch along the neck where they can't reach, is very good for the blood pressure.

Orrr you can go home and attack the chilly peach army using strategy e-mailed from a friend. It's like Sun Tzu, only with more brown sugar and almonds!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A pyrrhic victory

Since this weekend's jaunt out to a pick-your-own farm in rural Maryland, I've had a kitchen occupied by an invading army of fresh peaches, their serried ranks covering about half of the already limited counter space. When I was wandering around among trees covered with fruit, a single bucket's worth seemed moderate, but in the confines of a galley kitchen, the scope of that miscalculation became clear. Fresh-off-the-tree peaches are too good to waste, but they're too ripe to last long; quick action was essential.

The pie recipe I got from Weebat had worked out fairly well in the past, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to try something new, so I pulled up a recipe for peach meringue pie and got to work. Much less cursing than usual later (I am not a kitchen adept, save in the area of fressing like a bandit), the results are a pie that looks okay but fails the taste test. First, and saddest, the filling is too dense. Maybe it needs to be lighter on the corn starch; maybe it needed less cooking; maybe the apartment's damnable electric range is somehow to blame. Second, a frozen crust, that boon to lazy cooks, doesn't cut it for a recipe with so little oven time. Third, I did not read Alton's advice on the subject of meringue pies (nor do I even own a blowtorch), so my effort to get those lovely brown peaks caused the tragedy of weeping meringue. Friends, don't let this happen to you.

The rest of the army mocked me from its conquered territory, and I had agreed to meet up with the Texas Cajuns at a local bar, so I surrendered and took the easy way out, slicing, pitting, and freezing the remainder of the peaches. Their eventual fate is TBD. Baked, into cobbler or pie or even just in foil? Topped with raspberry preserves and fresh whipped cream? Drowned in vodka, to be alchemically distilled come Christmas? The decision will not be hasty. Let 'em fret.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Culinary sidenote

One of the difficulties of living alone is finding recipes that don't produce unwieldy quantities of leftovers. Finally, there's a pancake recipe that doesn't feed a Waltons-sized family.


The wonderful dry weather is, sad to say, accompanied by days that are getting noticeably shorter. After taking a hiatus from riding last week, due to ghastly sweaty heat even without a large horse in the equation, I took Doc out on the trails last night. The drought has left the paths very hard, so it's unkind to try for speed, but the woods are lovely dark and deep regardless of whether you're seeing them at a walk or a run. I should be working with him on cantering, but I selfishly want to take advantage of the park before it gets dark too early.

Doc remains suspicious of the deer, although his reactions to their spooks and gambols are more mild startles of irritation than complete rider-tossing freakouts. At this time of year, the stags are starting to notice the laydeez and have fits of boldness; the fawns, which have not outgrown their spots or adolescent skittishness, bounce around like ADD toddlers and further tweak his nerves. Fortunately for me, Doc is much calmer about dogs. We stopped and chatted with a passing hiker whose collie/Lab mix quivered with suppressed barks, but even when it burst into voice, Doc just flicked an ear.

I had cause to be very glad of his sang-froid, too, as we returned to the barn. The light was dimming and everything under the trees near the barn was leached of color, so when I saw a smallish creature moving I thought it was another one of the eedjit fawns. It was the wrong shape, though, and I peered harder. "Son of a bitch," I said, startled. Staring back at me, not 30 feet away, was a coyote. It stood for a moment and then walked further away, turned to look back, and then vanished into the trees. Doc sighed and gave me to understand that his dinner was waiting, so we clopped back to the barn. I couldn't stop grinning.

Friday, August 10, 2007

And it would seem to me paramount to...focus on your core incompetencies

Wow. Making Light has the saga of an Australian retailer's hamfisted attempt to shake down small publishers, followed by one such publisher's response. It's a little bit like standing behind a flamethrower that's not aimed in your direction; you still have to stand back and marvel, slightly aghast, at the firepower unleashed.

A&R Commercial Manager Charlie Rimmer proves himself less "Smoke me a kipper, skipper" Ace and more the classic original model. Tower Books Director Michael Rakusin is herewith awarded both ears and the tail.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Like a massive drug deal, but legal

I hang my head in shame and admit that there is, in fact, one thing that the current administration has done for DC that doesn't make me want to man the barricades. Oof, just saying that makes me vaguely queasy. But it's true: Laura Bush helped get the Library of Congress National Book Festival off the ground, and since 2001 it's been a regular event on the Mall. Pavilions for different genres are scattered across the grounds, with authors speaking and signing and shilling and generally getting out to see the fans, and the paths are busy with people scrambling to catch sight of their favorite writers.

For reasons that I wot not of, it wasn't until 2004 that the festival offered an official science fiction and fantasy section or invited SFF authors. Once the penny dropped, though, they started with a bang: Connie Willis! Neil Gaiman! Frederick Pohl! Neal Stephenson! All introduced by a visibly thrilled Michael Dirda! Yow. To nobody's surprise except possibly the organizers', the SFF pavilion drew by far the biggest crowds, and the line in front of Neil Gaiman's signing table started forming hours before the festival officially opened.

Since that watershed year, maybe to keep the disparity in crowd sizes from looking too great, they've folded SFF into a broader "Fiction and Fantasy" group. I disagree with the name, which implies that fiction as a genre somehow excludes fantasy, and with setting "Mysteries and Thrillers" as another group altogether, but what the hell, at least authors I like are being invited.

This year, happy sigh, they've gotten Terry Pratchett to headline the fiction crew, which is great both because he's a wonderful speaker (a few years ago he appalled and amused Serial Karma by opening a speech with a joke about invading Czechoslovakia) and because it means that it's that time of year again: He's got another book coming out. Making Money, drop date September 1, follows Moist Von Lipwig's attempts to establish a paper currency in Ankh Morpork. I will be shocked if there's not at least one Nobby/Colon conversation about trying to track down a floating incorporeal hand. Break out the Strawberry Wobblers!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The novelist's lament

Somewhere amid the swampy mangroves, Carl Hiaasen is shaking a copy of the newspaper and screaming, "See? SEE? I don't just make these things up!" John Scalzi has a lovely write-up of Florida legislator Bob Allen's latest out-of-left-field excuse for soliciting an undercover cop in a park restroom. I've heard of facing your fears, but walking into their bathroom stall to offer them a twenty and a real good time is new.

In news that won't cause a shudder of amused revulsion, however, "Stardust" comes out this weekend. If it doesn't make a huge splash, it certainly won't be for lack of Neil Gaiman's efforts, as he's been writing it up ceaselessly on his journal, doing the press junket slogging, and being smooched by Jonathan Ross promoting it at Comic Con. I like the Russian posters better than the American ones; mine Slavic brethren got genuine jokes, rather than a generic tagline. Witness Michelle Pfeiffer smirking beneath the words "Absolute Hag"; Tristan [sic--oh noes, they shot off his r!], Yvaine, and Captain Shakespeare, respectively, get "Star Warrior," "Superstar," and, for reasons made clear in the film, "Genuine Manly Man." I may come to like De Niro yet.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Damn materialism

Do I need more stuff hanging off my keychain? No. No I do not. Between the gym card, the library card, the supermarket card, and the all-important coffee card ("In case of emergency, apply caffeine directly to veins"), there's barely room for the keys. But the Post wrote up a bottle opener/iShuffle holder, and now I can think only WANT WANT WANT. Of course, it would increase the aggravation factor, already quite high, of losing my keys.

The weather's too ghastly for much outside time, but I scuttled out in the early morning and hit the farmers market for peaches and fresh tomatoes. A friend recommends cutting up tomatoes and basil with a bit of salt, leaving them to sit for 15 minutes, then mixing the resulting juice and pulp with fresh pasta for a low-effort summer treat. I may insult his vegan sensibilities by adding a bit of goat cheese, but otherwise it sounds tasty and easy. The dry weather has been great for tomatoes this year; they're abundant and intensely flavorful.

The peaches are likewise excellent this time of year. The super-ripe ones from the farmers markets need just a bit of blanching to slip from their skins; a bit of careful knifework and a frozen piecrust later, they're ready for the oven. A tiny bit more effort to make a basic egg custard (ta, Weebat), and all that remains is to resist the temptation to eat the thing whole. Heat, sugar, and peaches: Ecce marvolo.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Like a lord's great kitchen without a fire in't

Proof that all the cool people like to hang out together: The Revengers Tragedy. I read about the play, attributed to Torneur but probably written by Middleton, years ago and thought it sounded like the standard Jacobean blurdfest. How seriously can you take a play in which the characters' names include Vengeance, Chastisement, Supervacuous, Luxurious, and Spurious? It's the Jacobean equivalent of Tarantino: dark humor, massive body count, few if any sympathetic characters, and lots of madonna/whore treatments for the ladies. Not my cup of tea.

But oh, Netflix, you seductive font of information, someone's done an update and you thought I might enjoy it. Let's see, there's Alex Cox, writer/director of "Repo Man," one of my favorite movies ever to include shrimp, Harry Dean Stanton, and tiny pine-scented air fresheners, directing it as a neo-Orwellian dystopia in Liverpool. You've got the contained nuclear bomb that is Christopher Eccleston, pissed off and out for bloody revenge, with occasional breaks to play ventriloquist with his dead wife's skull. There's Derek Jacobi as the duke, looking like Karl Lagerfeld's recently disinterred twin brother, sleazing around after young women and poisoning their drinks if they're not game. The duke's crew of caddish, manipulative sons includes both Eddie Izzard and Marc Warren, known to the lucky few as Mr. Teatime the assassin from the BBC's Hogfather. All that, and Chumbawamba does the music? Give it! Give it now!

Verdict: It almost works. The acting is generally great, although Castiza and her mother are a bit weak, and Izzard in particular is a pleasant surprise. You can't say he's playing it straight, exactly, but he's more restrained than the rest of the brothers, and his scenes with Eccleston are spot on. Liverpool's combination of industrial works and ancient churches suits perfectly, and the city looks convincingly half-abandoned. The cheerfully wicked music, pop tunes for the apocalypse, burbles along merrily as everything goes to hell.

What didn't work for me was the dialogue. Paring down the original text to make room for shots makes sense, and those edits flow smoothly, but the interwoven modern lines jar too often. "Pistols! Treason! Guards! Help! My lord, the Duke, is murdered!" "No I'm not." Funny, but uneven. I felt cheated whenever contemporary lines were added; the switch from "My hairs are white, but yet my sins are green" to language without that rhythm and flow was like going from Bach to Bolton. The actors do what they can with it, with the seasoned pros managing better than most, but the shifts kept pulling me out of the story.

I'd love to hear other reactions from people who have seen this. "Shakespeare in Love" it ain't, what with the death and the vomiting of blood and the pimping out of siblings for morally dubious gain, so it was never going to get huge play, but it takes a lot of interesting risks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Arteries of darkness

Just when you think that the Scots have a lock on the title for food most likely to be eaten on a dare, along comes Pizza Hut Japan, chanting, "One deep dish to bring them all and in the coronary 'event' bind them." Because a sausage-and-cheese pizza isn't greasy and salty enough, you need a crust made of pigs in blankets! With miniature hamburgers as topping! And choice of tomato-based or maple syrup dipping sauce! Oh, and it's got some nominal vegetables, which are crying out in fear because they are so very, very alone.

I'm no stranger to the joys of a deep-fried Milky Way or sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream, both of which are delicious reminders of how lipids and sugar make our caveman tastebuds stand up and sing. But there are limits.