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December 23, 2005

Notes following an afternoon matinee of 'Syriana'

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1. Do not go to see this movie if you are tired or in search of a lot of eventful things like explosions. It is a quiet film, relatively long (126 minutes) and does not jump at you.

2. The experience of watching it reminded me of reading an absorbing book. Now, I'm not sure if I'm changing or it's just this particular movie but I'd put my money on "Syriana" if I were a betting man. You know how much I love reading so this was a most pleasant experience.

3. The writer/director, Stephen Gaghan, hired former CIA honcho Robert Baer to take him on a kind of behind–the–closed doors–and–curtains world tour, in preparation for writing the script. Gaghan said his experience was mind-shattering: he remarked that he had to leave out most of what he learned because "no one would believe it." I believe it.

4. I used to think George Clooney was kind of a goof who got lucky and became a big star but after seeing his performance in this film I now move him over to that small group of actors and actresses who I believe are gifted as opposed to being random people plucked out of hoi polloi by the star maker machinery to fill various pre-determined roles in the celebrity pantheon.

5. For someone like me, who gets completely lost in films like "Memento" that keep switching back and forth in time, and between different plot threads, a film like "Syriana" might be problematical if I brought my logical brain into the theater with me. Fortunately I didn't so I was able to just sit there and watch without trying to fit things together: in the end it all made sense.

You can watch a trailer for the film here.

The two most absorbing books and enjoyable books I've read in recent years about the swirl of events, rumor and innuendo that make up what emerges from the Middle East are "Harbor," a novel by Lorraine Adams, and "The Unknown Soldier," a novel by Gerald Seymour.

Each captures nuance and emotion on paper in an ineffable, remarkable fashion.

December 23, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Watür — Water Door

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From the website:

    A functional door formed by constantly falling water which pushes for a redefinition of boundaries and obstacles by forcing one to choose to be denied or refused access.

    Ideal use: gardens, bath house, pool house, spa.

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    The Watür is standard door width.

    $2,000.

    Custom door sizing available at additional cost.

Designed by Daniel Harper

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for Elseware (dan@elsewareinc.com).

[via AW].

December 23, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

whatihaveread.net

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This website is a record of every book that Eric Leuliette, an assistant research professor at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research in Boulder, has read since 1974.

He started the site in 1995 and it's right up to date, with this page noting everything read so far in 2005.

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But perhaps you have a question.

No problema.

By now Eric has a pretty good idea of those you might ask and he's answered them on his FAQ page.

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My favorite Q&A:

Q. Would you please be kind enough to explain the history behind this web site?

A. My mother started keeping the list when I started the first grade. My school asked parents to keep track of what books we read as part of its reading program. She kept the list until 1977 and I've kept the list since I was in the fifth grade.

Eric's reading history is available by individual year, with specialty tables for the longest books, most frequently read authors and most frequent sources of books.

Below, a table of his reading statistics.

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There are also bar graphs (above and below) showing pages read each year, average book size and distribution of books by number of pages.

In all, a fascinating 31–year reading history.

I wish I had mine to survey and reflect on — it might explain why I turned out as I did.

Or it might not.

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DNA may trump paper, in the end.

December 23, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Thumbs Up' Decanter

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Hand–blown lead crystal made in Austria by Riedel.

"Modern shape features a deep punt for your thumb, allowing other fingers to cradle the base for a secure pour."

Very stylish.

"Drip–free elliptical mouth."

6.25" tall; holds a full 750ml bottle of wine.

$159.95 here.

December 23, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Return of Chandra North

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She was a undergraduate student at Southern Methodist University in her hometown of Dallas, Texas when she began modelling.

In 1991, at 18, she moved to New York City to audition for the New York City Ballet.

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In Manhattan she started modelling on the side to pay the rent and became a superstar,

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appearing on countless magazine covers including many international editions of Vogue and its ilk.

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She was not the waif type: Sports Illustrated tapped her for its 1997 swimsuit issue

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and her popularity within those pages resulted in a return visit in 1998.

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From there it was on to the apotheosis of superbabes: the 1999 Pirelli calendar.

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Now 32, she's married and the mother of a young boy.

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I've noticed her lovely visage these past few weeks on page 2 of the Wall Street Journal, where she's the Kwiat girl (above and below).

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She'll be smashing when she's 70.

December 23, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Official bookofjoe Floor Poof

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100% cotton chenille.

No end of fun.

8"H x 26"D.

$98 here.

December 23, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Philippa Davenport on Chestnuts

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Davenport writes about food for the Financial Times.

Her column last weekend was an evocative meandering through her past, with stops at junctures of time and personal history to reflect on the role chestnuts played in some of her most cherished memories.

Here's the piece.

    Street Treat to Erase Your Fingerprints

    The scent of chestnuts roasting on a street corner brazier is inextricably linked to Christmas in London for me.

    Chestnuts start falling from the trees long before Advent, of course.

    I remember gathering them in the grounds of my boarding school.

    The nuns scored and roasted them in the oven and we ate them joyously at mid-morning break.

    The break was taken outdoors, wearing gloves and coats, with much stamping of feet to keep toes warm on frosty days.

    There was a government-issue, small bottle of milk per child daily and whatever the nuns could muster for us to eat: usually bread and hedgerow jam, no butter.

    Chestnut days were special and, if we were really lucky, there might be bits of bread and dripping as well - proper dripping, rich in fat, speckled with crusty bits and meaty glaze scraped from the bottom of the roasting pan.

    This was a heavenly, hefty snack guaranteed to raise spirits and send sagging energies soaring.

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    Chestnuts bought from vendors with charcoal braziers in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and elsewhere were even more exciting than school chestnuts.

    We were in holiday mood then and stopping to buy smoking hot, brown paper bags of freshly roasted chestnuts was part of the ritual treat of an outing to Hamley's toyshop or a Christmas pantomime.

    Other children may have derived as much pleasure from other foods but chestnuts were the only street food middle class children were allowed, apart from the occasional ice-cream in summer. Jellied eels were deemed cockney fare.

    Lurid pink plumes of candyfloss were dismissed as the dentist's friend.

    We ate our handful of partially charred, satisfyingly mealy chestnuts there in the street, turning our backs to the comforting heat of the brazier, peering into brightly lit shop windows or listening to carol singers.

    Trying to eat the kernels only, not bits of shell or any bitter tasting skin, was a greedy struggle.

    Chestnuts are tricky to peel and the membrane clings tenaciously to the flesh, particularly in the crevices of multi-fruited châtaignes.

    Marrons (the fatter, smoother sort of chestnut used to make marrons glacés) are not so troublesome.

    Then there was the danger of burning fingers or tongue, or both.

    For years I worried that the curiously desiccating roughness of chestnut casings would erase the prints on the pads of my forefingers and thumbs, and so deny me my identity.

    A young lad I confided in thrilled to the idea and boasted that he would peel tons of hot roast chestnuts to be certain of losing his fingerprints before raiding the Bank of England so the police would never be able to catch him and prove him guilty.

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    Back at home, chestnuts featured in many meals at Christmas.

    Personally, I don't care much whether or not the turkey is stuffed.

    What matters is that the bird is chaperoned by piles of bacon rolls, mixed with chipolatas containing not less than 98 per cent meat, and plenty of chestnuts, freshly roasted and carefully peeled, tender all through and blessed with a few savoury scorches.

    Chestnuts contribute greatly to soups.

    Think of velvety cream of celery soup finished with snippets of grilled streaky bacon and crumbs of roast chestnut.

    Think of crystal clear hare consommé laced with forcemeat balls, roast chestnuts, fried apple and a curl of lemon peel.

    Many people love chestnut puddings best.

    Chestnut ice cream can be good.

    Turinois is child's play to make because it works so well using canned chestnut purée.

    Mont Blanc is queen of them all and a great labour of love.

    The chestnuts must be boiled until so tender that a finger and thumb will crush them, stripped of all shell and skin, sieved with a little milk infused with a spoonful of sugar and the seeds scraped from a vanilla pod, beaten, then sieved again, this time letting the mixture fall in soft pyramid mounds on to a plate - the lightest, fluffiest chestnut purée imaginable, crowned just before serving with snowy dollops of barely whipped cream.

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    Call it cheating if you like but I reckon the most civilised and convivial dessert involves no cooking - a tray of sweetmeats served by the fireside.

    Let there be a porcelain jar of stem ginger in syrup, with forks for spearing the chunks, to dip in crème frâiche or savour with best bitter chocolate.

    Let there be sharp-sweet Elvas plums, the traditional candied greengages of Portugal.

    Let there be miniature bunches of fat semi-dried Malaga raisins on the stalk to nibble as they are, or soften briefly in sweet muscatel wine before eating.

    And let there be chestnuts, both preserved and fresh.

    Dark, sticky, foil-wrapped marrons glacés, and chestnuts to roast in the embers - or on the bars of the firebasket as lovelorn Victorian girls did when seeking predictions about the ardour of their swains.

    Line up chestnuts on the bars and give them the names of young men you know, then wait for the fire to perform its magic.

    If a chestnut rolls into the fire, you lose the man to a rival.

    If a chestnut explodes, the young man he represents won't be much good to you.

    If a nut leaps off the grate into the room, there is hope.

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    And if it lands in your lap, he is yours.

December 23, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Swiss Army Floating Eyeglass Case

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From the website:

    Enlist the Swiss Army to Protect Your Glasses

    Drop this Swiss Army eyeglass case in the water, and it bobs like a cork.

    Ballistic nylon and watertight zippers protect one or two pairs of glasses.

    From Victorinox.

    Weight: 3.5 oz.

In red or black.

$22 here.

Other uses:

• As a float (or bobber, as we used to say in Milwaukee, back when we sat for hours waiting in our little rowboat on Mauthe Lake waiting for a bite) while fishing

• Industrial–look wallet

• Tampon case

December 23, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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