Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Warehouse of Ideas

Fantastic -- I signed up, and the Nanowrimo site promptly went for most of this morning. It seems to be back up -- just in time to receive my first batch of greatness (I hope) tomorrow morning.

I do have an idea now, and a (very rough) outline -- the latter being my usual Achilles' heel. I've never been an outliner. The novel I've been working on sporadically this year is not outlined, and has suffered as a result.

This isn't the first time I've tried to write a novel. Not by a long shot. So, as much as thinking about some of them makes me wince, I present some of the previous unfinished novels that have run aground:

1) Horror novel, written when I was 15 or 16. I was inspired by Ramsey Campbell's example. Heavily indebted to Stephen King's "Christine," I wrote about a group of teenagers, one of whom becomes a werewolf (instead of becoming possessed by an evil car). No trace remains -- the only thing I really remember is a sex scene written in the inimitable style of someone who hadn't come close to having sex at that point.

2) Mystery novel, written during and after my senior year of college. Kept going to great lengths to make it quirky. One note: as much as not having an outline makes any novel difficult, that goes triple for a mystery novel.

3) 1999 in-transition novel. Written at a time when I'd quit my job in Colorado, was not sure where my life was going, and I was lovelorn, it was about a journalist who had quit his job in Colorado, was not sure where his life was going, and was lovelorn. Um. I think I gave my character black hair, though, so he wasn't me or anything. The character went up to Minnesota to housesit for a winter, and thus found himself. It was a whole bunch of long, serious conversations. A more humorless novel has never been written. I actually got further into this one than any other.

4) Wacky romantic comedy novel. Started when I realized how awfully humorless #3 was. Didn't get too far; elements ripped off Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" (except the characters liked HOCKEY rather than soccer).

5) Graham Greene-style well-meaning-whitey goes to third world and realizes he's in over his head. Inspired by the story of real-life combat photographers. Actually had some potential but never went anywhere.

6) Black comedy, set in Iceland (a place I've never been). Started because I came up with a GREAT opening scene that I was just dying to use; went nowhere. Started it on the plane back from Italy in 2004. Opening scene later appears, in greatly altered form, in #8.

7) Similar to #5, about a minesweeper out in the African desert who starts going insane. Inspired by a fascination with the desert's cruelty, and disappointment in the books I've read that seek to capture that ("The Woman in the Dunes" was ok, I can't get beyond page 50 of "The Sheltering Sky"). Again, some nice passages, but went nowhere.

8) The novel I started working on early this year, and have kept up intermittently. The first thing since #3 that I've allowed others to read, a big step. Some stuff I really like; I need to figure out where to take it, though (see repeated laments about outlining). I'll eschew plot points, just because I don't want to jinx myself.

9) The thing I'm going to start tomorrow. Again, no plot points for the moment, though that may change.

There've been a few others, but these are the things I've actually put some amount of serious thought into. We'll see how tomorrow's goes. I'm pretty excited about it right now, but that could change the moment writer's block sends me into Exley-style depression.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Administrative Notes

In a further attempt to kick-start my writing, I'll be taking part in National Novel Writing Month beginning Wednesday. My friend Katy did it last year, and recommended it -- we'll see how it goes. I'll be starting from scratch (novels-in-progress are forbidden), and a day and a half before the start, I have no idea what I'm going to write. But deadlines always help me, and hopefully that'll be the case here.

Once I'm started, I'll provide more info on whatever I'm making public, and put a permanent link over to the right somewhere.

* * *

Extra work this week, so I still haven't made permanent photo albums from St. Petersburg or Prague. Soon. In the meantime, La Nanuk went to Italy, and has been putting up a bunch of cool photos. In lieu of me doing anything these days, check 'em out.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Language Barrier

I'm crappy -- CRAPPY -- with foreign languages. There's nothing left of my childhood German or college French. Repeated attempts to learn Czech have gone nowhere. As you can imagine, this is harmful on trips. I go in PROMISING myself I'll attempt to converse in the local language, but it rapidly degenerates into pidgin Czenglish, before the eye-rolling local says "look, buddy, I speak English -- save yourself the pain."

Nonetheless, I can at least recognize certain patterns and words, and end up communicating just fine despite the language barrier, particularly in the Slavic world. Even in Albania, the Berlitz pocket phrasebook, pointing, hand signals and the occasional memorized phrase got me through just fine.

Then I went to Russia.

Dunno what it says, but it looks serious

I've never felt as disoriented and lost as I did when trying to read Russian signs. Even when I know better, I see "P" and I think "P." I see "B" and I think "B." Cyrillic and I were just not friends. I tried to think of it as a code, but that only brought me limited success. With unfamiliar letters and familiar letters used for unfamiliar purposes, I couldn't recognize patterns. You know those illiteracy commercials with a bunch of gibberish that say something to the effect of, "imagine if the world looked like this to you"? I seriously understood that feeling.

Context, obviously, helped with some things:

"Make a run for the border"

and eventually, by the end of the trip, I was doing better -- I was very proud when I figured out that "PECTOPAH" (roughly) was "restaurant," and "bAP" was "bar." When I saw a sign that looked roughly like "CYBERMAPKT" and immediately thought "supermarket," I was so impressed by myself that I bragged about it to MD. She wasn't quite as impressed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interlude

Plenty more to come about the trip, but I forgot to mention this. I basically got off the plane, went home and slept a few hours, got up Sunday and went to watch football, and drank a couple thousand beers. And I got treated to one of the best finishes I've seen in a while. As a friend of mine put it, "he kicked it right over the fucking thing." (Friend is not a football fan and was himself drunk when he spoke.)

Yeah, it can be pointed out that both teams (Ronde "Jesus" Barber excepted) played like dog's breakfast, but in the end, all that matters is that the Bruce Gradkowski era is off to a rousing start, and it's only a matter of time until I log on to nfl.com drunk one night and order a #7 jersey.

Also: the Oakland Raiders scored some points Sunday! Congrats, Kynan. The Bucs still lead our "bet" but it's actually a matchup now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

...And Now Prague

Same drill -- a smattering of pics. Since we had less time in Prague, and the sun was poorly placed during our time at the castle, less of a selection -- but still some good ones.

National founder T.G. Masaryk

Changing of the guard at the castle

Saint Vitus Cathedral, looming

Stained glass inside the cathedral

Cathedral detail

Still more Saint Vitus -- who knew the band was so popular over there?

Building detail, Old Town Square

Charles Bridge, Hradcany in the background

Svatý Jan Nepomucký (Saint Jan of Nepomuk), one of many famous Praguers to meet a grisly end

Monday, October 23, 2006

Visions of St. Petersburg


I'm still sorting through all the pictures (200+), but here's a smattering of my favorites from Russia. I'll put up some Prague pics tomorrow. Soon I'll do an album on gsdgsd.com a la the others, but here's a sampling.

The Summer Gardens in autumn

Cold day on the Neva River

The Church on the Spilled Blood -- get ready to see lots of this one

Nevsky Prospekt

The Alexander Column, from the Hermitage

Pushkin and friend

St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

From the deck of the "Aurora"

The Last Command is Heard Across the Land

Quite a relief to see that Blackie Lawless is still gainfully employed here in 2006. I swear I hadn't thought of W.A.S.P. since about eighth grade, and suddenly there they are, in St. Petersburg. The poster indicates Blackie doesn't look a day older than he did when I was writing the band name on notebooks, but since he looked like a sixty-year-old with long hair and a penchant for eye makeup even then, it doesn't mean much.

The rock posters in St. Petersburg were a nice sideshow. Apparently the Exploited are playing a series of shows in St. P and Moscow -- Muscovites could avoid Eric Clapton but not Wattie.

The local bands seemed pretty entertaining too. One poster (I forget the band name) showed a group of guys that looked like an aging Dokken, fronted by Tony Bennett. Another had a guy that had a skull-and-crossbones tattoo on his chest. I realize that sounds badass, but trust me, it wasn't.

The absolute and utter winner, though, was this dude:


The Vanilla Ice hair? The headband? The yellow shades? The pink clothes? He's too good to be true. I hope he was paid a tremendous amount of money to promote this concert or album, because he's never going to be able to live this down.

(Photos are, obviously, operational now -- more to come after I take a nap.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Vacation Reading

Still not remotely adjusted to being back, after what really was a whirlwind trip. I'm still nowhere close to sleeping right, and it's freezing here too -- some consistency from my journey abroad.

I still have lots and lots of reflections to post from the trip, but I'm kind of waiting 'til I can get a new USB cable (if I were in St. Petersburg, I bet there'd be a place selling one at this hour) so I have some visuals to go along with the writing. In the meantime:

#35 - "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

#36 - "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (re-read, of a sort)

#37 - "I Served the King of England" by Bohumil Hrabal

1) I have a strange relationship with Ishiguro's novels -- I've loved every one I've read (starting with "Remains of the Day," in the early '90s), but more than a decade since I discovered him (or had him forced upon me -- RotD was for a freshman lit class) this is only the third I've read. He's fantastic and yet I'm always reluctant to read his novels, for reasons unknown. I've had "Never Let Me Go" on my stack for months, had it recommended by someone with better lit chops than mine, but only now got to it.

The verdict? Fabulous. Just beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It reminds me of "Cloud Atlas" in portions. It's a dreamy, sad discussion of a horrible topic. Delving into the plot at all gives things away, so I won't. But suffice to say it's one of the best things I've read this year.

2) I dunno if this even counts as a re-read -- I last picked it up in Ms. Caples' advanced English course at Canyon Del Oro High School, in (gulp) 1989. It was at a time when my collegiate future was secured and I'd stopped giving a fuck about anything, but I was drawn in by C&P. I don't remember that initial read at all but C&P has always had a special place in my heart.

This is the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation -- they're the tops, it appears, in Russian translations. Wish I could compare it to the '89 version I read, but I can't -- however, it's very good. Having read "Brothers Karamazov" and "Notes from Underground" in the past year, this stacks up favorably compared to both; a 550-page 19th-century Russian novel that zips along. I was struck by how versatile it is -- not just dramatic, not just a novel of ideas, but often funny as well. And some classic scenes -- Porfiry's torment of Raskolnikov, the latter's confession to Sonya.

3) I did pretty well on not buying dozens of locally-connected books on this trip. Oh, I wanted to buy "Eugene Onegin," Anna Akhmatova's works, "To the Finland Station" if it was available, but I stayed strong. Then in Prague, we ended up in a hotel around the corner from a nice little English-language bookstore (the Globe), and, well, you can figure it out from there.

Good thing I did, too. Travel book #3 ("The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles) left me completely cold, on my third or fourth attempt to read it, so I grabbed this out of my backpack on the Prague-NYC flight. I haven't read anything of Hrabal's in years; along with "Too Loud A Solitude" and "Closely Observed Trains" (both of which I've read), this has always been highly recommended. I enjoyed it. It's an exuberant little book, a chronicle of a man's life, by turns lively and funny, then sad and reflective.

Still Alive

Well, more or less. No sleep + whirlwind travel has kept me off this. More to come soon, promise. I seem to have lost my stupid USB cord for the camera, so photos are delayed 'til I get a new one or discover which pocket of my bag it's magically hidden in.

Five and a half years ago, as my driver was taking me to the airport at the close of my first Prague visit, he said "Come back in October -- not as many tourists. And no fuckin' Germans."

Well, I came back in October, and holy crap were there tourists. We're talking Venice-level density. Many of my photos will have a row of heads to be cropped from the bottom -- it was impossible to get a clear shot. The Charles Bridge was choked. It's incredible. Prague was hip in 2001 -- now, it's Disneyland.

Still great though. The elitist snot in me wants to get all sniffy about the hordes, and the signs of EUization, but I can't begrudge Prague. It's still cooler than hell, moody and dark. The beer's still great (though Budvar/Czechvar doesn't seem to be the beer of choice any more -- it's boring ol' Pilsner Urquell). The women are still jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Everyone is fluent in English now -- I was really looking forward to trying out my pitiful Czech, but aside from the odd polite "Děkuji", no opportunities. Kind of a disappointment (though, uh, easier for me).

Anyway. Like I said. More soon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Georgian Dining

We went to a Georgian (nation, not state) restaurant last night, amid jokes that the current fun relations between Moscow and Tbilisi could lead to a firebombing. The woman who recommended it to us said "go if you like garlic."

As an appetizer, I got a selection of pickled foods ... beets, peppers, pickles themselves. They were great. I picked up what looked to be a pearl onion, and bit in.

It was a full garlic clove. I saw Jesus at that moment, my friends. Tears coursed down my cheek. Let me tell you, you haven't really reached manhood until you've eaten a garlic clove, unsuspectingly. I'm not gonna be kissable for weeks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sleepless in St. Petersburg

Loving it here but my already-tenuous ability to sleep has been all but completely annihilated. Thus, I'm in internet cafes at 5 a.m. local time. My travel partner, MD, is also a pretty severe insomniac -- between the two of us, we may be getting five-six hours of sleep per night.

So, I wander the streets, pre-dawn ... and 5 a.m. in St. Petersburg is pretty active. That's not seedy or salacious; normal people are going about their business very early in the morning. There's a lot of 24-hour businesses, not just your normal things like convenience stores and fast-food joints, but bars, full-service restaurants, bookstores, CD stores. More of this sort of thing than I've ever seen. I'm wondering if it's a product of the northern latitude; constant light in summer and constant darkness in winter probably leads to a lot of people who don't care what time it is.

Other notes (I don't have the ability to upload photos at the moment, but rest assured, there are plenty):

* Despite being avowedly secular, the churches (as is often the case) are having the biggest impact on me. I'm hoping the pictures of the Church on the Spilled Blood (it earned that cheery sobriquet because it was built on a tsar's assassination site) do it justice; it's an astounding building, like nothing (church or otherwise) I've ever seen.

* There's a fairy-tale quality to much of the city. You'll be walking through the Stalinist blocks (happily few in the city center) and the Habsburg-style stately but dull architecture, and come across a palace or church that looks like it should be a Disneyland ride.

* it's been constantly gray and often rainy here, which I don't really mind -- it seems to fit the city.

* My hotel lists "Miller Genuine Draft" as a Russian beer.

More soon -- I'm struggling a bit this morning. Great trip, great sights. Have yet to have any vodka though -- that'll have to be redressed.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Please Hold



Off for Russia in the morning; not sure how often I'll be able to check in here while I'm gone, though I'll endeavor to post musings (and photos, if possible). Other than that, see you all in a week and a half!

(image by Anonymous L.P. Thanks!)

Foreign Adventures

Yeah, yeah, time is short and I'm at work, but I DID squeeze in one more book before tomorrow. Quick and dirty review:

#34 -- "All the Shah's Men" by Stephen Kinzer

I bought a few recent books on Iran a few months ago, keep informed and all that, then they've languished on the bookshelf since. Kinzer's acclaimed book covers an event I've always known little about -- the CIA-staged coup that overthrew Iranian PM Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. The current relevance is obvious, in these regime-change-crazy days.

"All the Shah's Men" wasn't quite to the level that I expected. The material is interesting, but the writing style isn't terribly gripping -- not bad, but not overly exciting either. (on the other hand, I read it far faster than I've read most things lately, so there's that.) It's extremely well-researched, and extremely fair -- while Kinzer obviously admires Mossadegh and thinks the coup was a big mistake on the Americans' part (and I doubt many people will disagree by the end of this book), he's careful to lay out everyone's stake in things, and detail Mossadegh's often petty intransigence.

The subtitle is "An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror," and that somewhat overstates the book's contents; I understand (and don't necessarily disagree with) the thesis, but post-1953 Iran and global changes are dealt with only at the end of the book, and in rather perfunctory fashion. I know, I know, "Roots of Middle East Terror" is marketing.

The best chapter is the epilogue, in which Kinzer travels to present-day Iran, visiting Mossadegh's home town, speaking to relatives and those who remember him. The style just grabbed me a bit more than the rest of the book -- the personal touch, I guess.

Despite some misgivings, I at least learned quite a bit from this. Kinzer has a couple other books out on similar subjects -- "Bitter Fruit" (Guatemala's 1950s U.S.-backed coup) and "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq." I'll probably pick both up at some point.

We're Having Us Some Fun Now

I was planning to do a lengthy post before I leave first thing Saturday morning (it was gonna be another jersey post), but further proof that God loves a good joke, my refrigerator died Wednesday evening. I've spent much of the last day ferrying jars of salsa, limp carrots, and dripping raw chicken breasts (I think that last was a spam e-mail I received) out to the dumpster. That sort of soured me on life and everything else.

In the absence of anything, then, a few fun posts from other people:

* Outdoing any jersey post I coulda done, Brushback brings back ugly jerseys for another round. That Peoria Rivermen creation should be burned.

* Alanah at VCOE says mean things about Colorado. :( Fortunately, the Avs beat the Canucks last weekend to take away my pain a bit.

* Jes profiles Slovenian hockey sensation Anže Kopitar. Some great goals in the video.

* And on the non-hockey front, Tony Karon is going again after an absence. Usual praise from my corner.

Freaking appliances. Anyone in Atlanta who wants to feed me for about a week after my return, until I get a new fridge, I'm taking bids.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Red Wings for Beginners

It may be immature, but this article on LCS Hockey cracked me up. It's a relief to find out I've been pronouncing "Chelios" right all these years, even when others disputed it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Birth of the Cool

A combination of factors -- the impending trip, a discussion about romance, listening to the new Hold Steady album (which seems apt) -- brought back a memory from waaaaaaaay back, the first time I went to Prague.

The scene was this little bar off of Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí, if you like diacritic marks), its name long-forgotten (or transcribed in some long-forgotten notebook). Expats bitched because the Budvar/Czechvar was too expensive (at this point, that means it was the equivalent of about $1 per pint), I loved it because I hadn't yet discovered that $1 a pint was expensive in Prague, and because it was entirely staffed by stunning women. The apparent manager/ringleader of hotness was this voluptuous redhead, a little worn down by life but all the more appealing for it. The young American goofball who kept coming in was completely enamored (though a little horrified when I asked about food options, and in an effort to communicate in English, told me they had "hooves" -- only much later did I realize she meant chicken wings).

Anyway. One blustery night (a chilly night in Praha), I was at the bar, reading and surreptitiously watching the redhead's bottom, when this guy came in. Young guy, leather-jacketed, smoking a cigarette, with a slumped world-weariness about him. The Czech Bogart.

One of the staff members was distinctly displeased to see him. She shot him a look that managed to say "Boy, have you fucked up, buddy. You've fucked up and it's irreparable." (in Czech.) He looked at her with sad, but accepting eyes.

Wordlessly, he handed her a folded note.

She tore the note into pieces, punctuating each rip with angry exclamations. She threw the pieces into an ashtray, lit a match, and set the note on fire.

Czech Bogart just looked at her some more. Then he bent down, lit a new cigarette from the burning paper, turned around and slouched out of the bar. Never said a fuckin' word. Coolest guy I've ever seen.

Lonesome Train

Trip-planning is in crunch time so blogging is light -- things started Monday don't get finished 'til Wednesday, for instance. I leave Saturday, so there won't be much before then, and who knows what the computer situation will be like once I reach St. Petersburg.

Anyway: the other day, Coco and I were contemplating cool things to go photograph, and our friend David gave us a tip-off -- an abandoned train, down off Glenwood Avenue.

This was a new one, so we traveled on down, and lo and behold, David hadn't lied (not that we expected him to, necessarily, but these are difficult days and you don't know who to trust) -- on the southern side of the street, a rusted hulk of a train was stretching off into the distance.



Its exact status is hard to determine. There were actually two sets of cars -- this one, rusted and disused, and another on a parallel track, getting filled with the leavings of some big sand-digging project. Some of the tracks were unusable, others well-kept. It's obviously not a forgotten site, but the train we were interested in seemed to be left to the tender mercies of the elements and graffiti artists.





We wandered around a bit, down south under an overpass, site of some cool graffiti (Batman villain Two-Face, most impressively). The tracks continued far to the south, through heavy trees, with no other signs of civilization -- an empty gash through the heart of Atlanta. Strangely peaceful, a Rub al-Khali just minutes from a busy street.



Monday, October 09, 2006

"The Wandering Dissident"

#33 -- "Imperium" by Ryszard Kapuściński (re-read)

Of all the writers I admire, I'm perhaps most evangelical about Kapuściński; I know I've pushed him on several people who are reading this. "Imperium," his 1993 chronicle of traveling the Soviet Union's outer reaches as the country collapsed, seemed like an apt (and quick) read before I depart for St. Petersburg this coming weekend.

He is a sympathetic observer, chronicling the effects of totalitarianism without condemning those under it, trying instead to understand them and their actions. Kapuściński manages a delicate balance that many writers can't; he's always involved, always talking to the people, but his writing never becomes about him. Some of the best moments in the book come in random conversations -- the most notable for me, talking to a young girl in Siberia about what constitutes a "great cold."

"Imperium" is tied into events -- the prelude to World War II, the main body to the fall of the USSR -- but seems timeless. 13 years after its publication, it's still very relevant to the state of Russia and the former Soviet republics... and it shows a people who are still feeling the impact of Stalinism, 50 years on, and the tsars, 100 years on.

One nice passage comes early on, as Kapuściński describes several groups of people:

"Finally, the third group. They are the ones for whom everything is above all interesting, extraordinary, improbably, who want to get to know this different world hitherto unknown to them, examine it, plumb it. They know how to arm themselves with patience (but not superciliousness!), and to maintain distance with a calm, attentive, sober gaze."

I imagine Kapuściński was describing himself there-- it describes his (written) character to a tee. And it seems a good basis for an interesting life.

Post title taken from pre-suck Christopher Hitchens' description of Kapuściński.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Movie Time

I've become crap about movies in the last year or so. I've seen two ("Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Match Point") in the theaters over the past 12 months, and my Netflix selections regularly languish, unloved and unwatched, for a good month.

So it was kind of an achievement to actually get out yesterday, and see Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" on the big screen (true to form, I waited until the very last showing in Atlanta). But any time that I get the chance to see a Melville film on the big screen, I've gotta take it.

I'm not remotely a cinephile, but I love, love, love Melville. I was introduced -- not sure how (Noah is the most likely suspect, but I may have seen a note in a film guide) -- to his masterpiece, "Le Samouraï," some years back and I've been an addict ever since. In the last couple years, Rialto and Criterion have made some of his films leagues more accessible in the U.S., for which I forever hold them in high esteem, but there's still a bunch that I can't see unless I find super-hip underground film circles.

"Army of Shadows" (or "L'Armée des ombres," if you're really cool) was one of those -- this is, I believe, its first-ever U.S. release. It's a tale of the French Resistance during World War II (Melville -- then Jean-Pierre Grumbach -- was involved). It's startingly unromanticized and bleak -- only one figure could remotely be classified as dashing, far from the stereotype of the Resistance fighter.

Melville's trademarks are here -- the trenchcoated hero (Lino Ventura, who I'd never heard of before -- I told you I wasn't a film scholar), the lonely shots of the French countryside. All the other JPM films I've seen have been crime-oriented; while this is much different subject matter, there's still a lot of similarities to be found... just substitute the Resistance for the gang of thieves in the others.

It's not perfect (I've seen people refer to this as his best; I disagree strongly). It feels bloated with some unnecessary scenes, and the editing's a bit weird in spots. It's far from the spare "Le Samouraï." But the performances are brilliant, top to bottom -- characters who were on the screen for one scene had presence -- and it's really well-shot.

This'll probably spur a Melville revival in my house (like books, I have a whole stack of DVDs that I've yet to watch -- but they'll be shunted aside in favor of seeing "Le Cercle Rouge" or whatever for a fifth time). Something to look forward to!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Postwar-Pessimist Association

#32 - "Postwar" by Tony Judt

I've been raving about this one for a while, so finally posting about it seems a bit of an anti-climax. For those who haven't been subject to my ravings (via e-mail, the blog, or over drinks) about it, Judt's book is a sprawling history of Europe since World War II. And, yeah, it's great. An amazingly detailed book on such a heterogenous subject; I feel like I've learned quite a bit upon finishing it, both on subjects I had some knowledge about (Eastern Europe, primarily) and on subjects I knew nothing about (Portugal under Salazar, French intellectual debates of the 1940s and '50s, and just about everything else, really).

Perhaps most impressively: it's so well-written. Even someone with just a casual interest in the subject could dive into this -- no small feat for an 800+ page book. Very readable and conversational -- the only time I felt my interest lagging was during descriptions of European Union bureaucracy, but sometimes, you just can't do much with a subject.

I'm sure everyone can find something they wished was covered more fully (WHERE'S THE ALBANIA??), and there are certainly some flaws/omissions/logical leaps, but I can wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in the subject. Great work.

Link: Judt's Remarque Institute at New York University

Opening Night

About damn time, too. Unfortunately I'll be watching it at work (and perversely, the Thrashers don't have a home game on one of my days off until November -- after that, they don't have another until AFTER THE FREAKIN' ALL-STAR BREAK), but hockey is hockey, even if I'm watching it sober.

One of the annual signs hockey is back: Patrik Štefan is hurt. Poor guy.

Anyway: welcome back, hockey. Go Avs, Go Thrashers.

(ADD: if I had things even remotely together, I would have remembered to mention that Jes has posted my predictions on NHL awards and standings. You can pick mine out easily -- they're the well-reasoned predictions that will leave you stroking your chin and saying "this fellow -- I like the cut of his jib.")

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Things I've Missed

Imagine this -- a debate over Albania, playing out over the summer, that I completely missed.

I first became aware of it through an Alex Wade article in the Independent, which made passing reference to this AA Gill article from some months back in the Sunday Times. The Gill piece comes with a note: "This article is subject to a legal complaint," not the type of thing you regularly see on a newspaper article.

The Gill piece is kind of eye-rolling, written for cheap laughs -- snide for the sake of snide and obviously the result of some preconceptions, but a legal complaint? Sheesh. Full details are here.

Wade's article is on the opposite end of the spectrum, rather blindly cheery -- I prefer it just because of my pro-Albanian bias, and because it made me want to go back, but he's got the rose-colored contact lenses in.

One side note out of all of this: I discovered a pretty good Albania blog! Our Man in Tirana is now linked on the side.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Unique to Atlanta

I've never lived another place where people try to hard to bargain on fixed-price items. Or try at ALL for that matter. I've been held up at Publix countless times because fellow customers are trying to talk the beleaguered cashier down on the price of tampons or Lean Cuisines or breath mints or whatnot. And just now, I was enjoying a beer (or, uh, several) at the lovely Atkins Park, and this frat-boyish dude was trying to negotiate the price of a bottle of Duvel. It never works, but people still try.

Weird. What causes this? I never saw this sort of thing in Boulder or Tucson or anywhere else.