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October 21, 2006

'It's just heaps of negligible detail, and then, dead'


Polymath Jonathan Miller, 72, in an interview with Daniel J. Wakin that appeared on the front page of the New York Times Arts section on October 7, 2006.

More: "I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that life is simply a tissue of negligible detail. When you heap them together and get them all right and have a mass of them, when the audience is there, they suddenly realize they've seen life. There isn't anything else to life."

Long before Miller was born, one V.I. Lenin came to the same conclusion, only in a different context: "Quantity has its own quality."

My philosophy here is right out of the playbooks of these two individuals, to wit: keep throwing stuff up and eventually — once in a while, on a really good day — something will make sense to someone out there.


Here's the Times article in its entirety.

    Jonathan Miller Is to Retire. Again.

    This, Jonathan Miller said, is it. He really, really means to retire.

    It is not the first time Mr. Miller — stage director, television presenter, writer, physician, lecturer and verbal pyrotechnician — has renounced the opera world.

    ''People say, 'Oh, you won't be able to give it up,''' Mr. Miller continued over breakfast at a restaurant near Lincoln Center this week. ''Yes, I will. I can't go on with it. It's driving me mad and making me very desolate and depressed.''

    The travel, the isolation, the absence from his family have all taken a toll. And there is no financial percentage in it.

    ''I'm just about breaking even on the opera I'm doing now,'' he said.

    That is Donizetti's ''Elisir d'Amore,'' which opens tonight at the New York City Opera in a production first seen at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm two years ago. The rest of Mr. Miller's immediate schedule looks curiously like nonretirement for this 72-year-old director.

    There is Mozart's ''Don Giovanni'' in Valencia, Spain, in December and, next season, Beethoven's ''Fidelio'' in Denmark, Strauss's ''Rosenkavalier'' in Tokyo and — if it works out as Mr. Miller hopes — the same ''Don Giovanni'' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But in a world where productions are programmed years in advance, Mr. Miller says the future table is bare.

    ''I've done most of the operas I want to do now,'' he said, with the exception of ''Lulu'' and ''Wozzeck.'' That checklist includes multiple productions of all the Mozart and Puccini operas ''worth doing'' and all the Verdi he could ''bear to do.''

    One thing he has certainly not abandoned is the Interview as Performance Art.

    Amid bomblets tossed at traditional opera audiences, the Metropolitan Opera, religious Jews (he is Jewish), American political culture, Belgian colonialists and German conceptualist directors, Mr. Miller weaves a narrative of his directing method: a focus on the ''negligible detail'' and ''subintentional actions.'' He cited Flaubert, Chomsky, the James-Lange theory of emotion, the sociologist Erving Goffman, the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus, the writer Joseph Roth. He quoted Wordsworth and Auden.

    Never far from his demeanor is the loony Cambridge University graduate who helped create ''Beyond the Fringe,'' the satirical revue with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Alan Bennett in the 1960's. A brilliant mimic, Mr. Miller slid into profanity-laced routines: of an Irish Republican Army terrorist accidentally blowing off his hand or of a Jamaican immigrant returning to Kingston for terror training or of Pakistani immigrants plotting in Cockney accents, making serious points about the nature of Muslim suicide bombers.

    He wriggled from behind the table to show the pantomimes people adopt in public situations: the exaggerated, apologetic tiptoe, for example, to compensate for a late arrival at a seminar.

    Whatever Mr. Miller's plans, a return to the Metropolitan Opera does not look imminent. He called the company ''unbelievably conservative'' and said, ''The infantilism of that audience is well, it's very depressing.''

    He was already persona non grata at the Met after a dust-up with Joseph Volpe, the former general manager, over a 1998 ''Nozze di Figaro.'' Though Mr. Miller said he had not closely examined the strategy of the new general manager, Peter Gelb, he did not think that much had changed.

    ''They mostly seem to be to me show-biz plans,'' he said. ''They're getting more and more movie directors to do things.''

    He called the current ''Zauberflöte,'' directed by Julie Taymor, an ''abomination'' marked by ''silly, glamorous, folkloric nonsense.'' Anthony Minghella's ''Madama Butterfly,'' which opened the season, was a ''Japanese fashion show,'' and he ridiculed the bunraku puppet that portrays Butterfly's child.

    ''Why didn't the obstetrician tell her, 'We've done a scan, and I'm afraid you're about to have a puppet,' '' he intoned in an officious American accent. '' 'We had thought of terminating, but it was too late.' ''

    For his part, Mr. Miller offered a detailed explanation of his practice of transplanting the action of an opera into another time and place.

    Most operas are already ''backdated'' to another era that the creators may not know much about, he argued. Nor did 18th- and 19th-century composers expect their operas to outlive them by much. When a work does live on, it enters an ''afterlife,'' Mr. Miller said.

    ''It becomes something quite different than what it was written for and for what it was cherished at the time,'' he explained.

    So merely trying to recreate what the composer intended ''is sort of a naïve, simple-minded idea,'' he continued.

    ''I don't think it matters what the author intended after a certain time,'' he added. ''These things are part of the fast rubbish heap of history in which we rummage for relics and retainable things.''

    Undoubtedly, directors will make ''nonsense'' of a work, as is often the case with German conceptualist directors, Mr. Miller said. A Berlin production of Mozart's ''Idomeneo,'' with its representation of the decapitated head of the prophet Muhammad, is an example. Fears of a violent reaction from some Muslims caused its cancellation last month at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

    ''I'm all in favor of offending people,'' he said. ''I can understand why out of sheer prudence you might want to avoid a bomb.''

    But updating should not be ''theater-schlepping,'' he said, ''which is dumping a production in a truck and driving it 250 years up the freeway and dumping it in last Thursday afternoon.'' Rather, the setting should closely reflect a truth about the original text, he noted.

    Hence Mr. Miller's popular ''Rigoletto,'' transferred from an absolutist Italian court to Mafioso Little Italy, or his ''Rosenkavalier,'' lifted out of 18th-century Europe and set around the time it was first performed, in 1911, an era of foreboding before the cataclysm of World War I.

    In his latest updating, Mr. Miller has removed ''L'Elisir d'Amore'' from its early-19th-century Italian village setting (''pastoral piffle,'' Mr. Miller said) and dropped it into 1950's America. The setting is no longer Adina's farmhouse but Adina's Diner, a Hopperesque scene with men in plaid shirts and overalls and Korean War-era uniforms, and women in waitress garb or low-cut, off-the-shoulder dresses. The women sway their hips; the men swagger.

    Nemorino, the lovelorn hero pining for Adina, is an indeterminate laborer. Dr. Dulcamara, a Southwestern snake oil salesman, arrives in a Ford Fairlane convertible. A biker lingers outside, near old-fashioned gas pumps and a Coke machine. The supertitles are updated with words and phrases like ''knuckle sandwich,'' ''goofball'' and ''going ape over you.''

    ''You have a group of workers taking their break,'' Mr. Miller said. ''A working girl is adored by a working man, and then along comes a soldier who is much admired by all the girls, who sweeps her off her feet,'' he said, referring to the pompous Belcore. ''It's all that world of 'Where the Girls Are.' '' Through the elixir Nemorino undergoes a ''Nutty Professor'' transformation, Mr. Miller said, from a sad sack Jerry Lewis to a suave Dean Martin.

    Mr. Miller picked out some of his brush strokes. He said he had Adina casually spiking checks, like the diner cashier near his hotel. A woman talks on a pay phone as Dulcamara hawks his potions. Nemorino, as he sings of his love for Adina, absent-mindedly pours salt from a shaker into his hand and sprinkles it on the table, as she looks on in irritation.

    ''I'm absolutely fascinated by the fact that life is simply a tissue of negligible detail,'' Mr. Miller said.

    ''When you heap them together and get them all right and have a mass of them, when the audience is there, they suddenly realize they've seen life. There isn't anything else to life. That's all there is. It's just heaps of negligible detail, and then, dead.''

October 21, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Jeweled Calculator


From the catalog:

    Jeweled Calculator

    You'll be a big hit at the office, supermarket or restaurant with this sparkling accessory!

    Keys in bright, jewel tones add pizzazz to everyday calculations.

    Uses one button-cell battery (included).

    3.5" x 5".



Pretend you got it at Bulgari.


October 21, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Here's an idea™ — A bookofjoe BrainFlash™


This new feature will encompass my sudden inspirations while ignoring perspiration.

Wait a minute, that's not right....

No matter.

Be Sure™.

Hey, come on, joe, let's go already, we don't have all day for you to get untracked: we're busy and important people.


Me so bad.


Just now I was visiting the refrigerator and had the door open so I could in turn remove each one of five jars of different types* of Peloponnese-brand** olives and tip a few onto a paper plate to energize myself for the next few hours.

And as I did so the penny dropped.

Why should I have to remove the jar from the fridge and bring it over to the counter where the plate sits?

Why isn't there a pull-out/snap-out/folding shelf built into the refrigerator door on which to rest the plate, making the whole operation easier?

First manufacturer to offer this feature can pretend they thought it up themselves.

I'll never tell.

*Amfissa, Cracked, Kalamata, Ionian and Country.

**Without question the finest widely-available brand of olives in jars available in the U.S.

I judge a store by how many varieties it carries.

The best in Central Virginia is Harris Teeter in the Barracks Road Shopping Center in Charlottesville, with the tally of five noted above.

October 21, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Natural Sunrise AM/FM Radio Nature Sounds Multicolor Display Alarm Clock Lamp



Look at the crazy amount of stuff it does, that's why.

Sure, it's not much to look at but sometimes you have to give up a little to get a lot.

From the website:

    Rise & Shine® Natural Alarm Clock® Bedside Lamp

    Do you struggle to fall asleep and then wake to the jolt of your alarm clock?

    Now, Verilux® brings you the answer in one beautiful bedside lamp.

    Nature intended the gradual darkening of night to lull you to sleep and the rising sun to wake you refreshed.

    No wonder this lamp is patented!

    There’s nothing like it and it’s so easy to use!

    Just program the built-in alarm clock with your preferred wake-up time.

    In the morning, the Rise & Shine lamp slowly brightens and the full-range speaker increases its volume, with your favorite radio station or nature sounds, until you're fully awake.

    At night, the process reverses — dimming light and fading sounds gently tell your brain it’s time to sleep.

    Easy-to-read display illuminates in any of 7 colors.

    Super-bright xenon bulb and linen shade.

    8 nature sounds include: Song Birds, Harbor Cove, New England Village, Mountain Brook, Ocean Surf, Woodland Forest, Spring Rain and Gentle Breeze.

    Base diameter 6.5"; 20.25"H.


Ivory or Graphite.



October 21, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's best sandwich — Episode 2: Worth traveling half-way around the world to try


That's what the writer of the following had to say about the boiled beef sandwich (above) at Nerbone in Florence, Italy, which she tasted on March 20, 2004.

Her complete comments, as posted on tastingmenu.com, follow.

    Pannino con bollito

    Buried amid the seemingly endless stalls in the central market in Florence is a place everyone wishes was within a block from where they work. Because if you could eat lunch there every day, you would. It's Florence's answer to Katz's deli, and it's delicious. It's the panino con bollito served at Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale in Firenze.

    Panino con bollito is a boiled beef sandwich that's bagnato — dipped in the beef's own juices just before serving. And it's delicious. The market has so many attractive stalls from produce to dried fruit to vinegars and oils and incredible butchers, that it would be easy to miss Nerbone. It's on the first floor and off to one side of the market. But luckily we knew not to rest until we found it. We could see the rest of the market after we got our sandwiches.

    The stall is crowded. No surprise. Nobody knew we essentially flew halfway around the world to eat this sandwich. And even if they did I'm not sure they would have let us through more easily. We had to buy a ticket paying for our sandwich and then fight our way to the counter to place an order. After the order was placed we sat back and wondered what a boiled beef sandwich dipped in its own juices would taste like.

    The bun was thick and hearty, a little baguette-like with flour on its surface. The beef was sliced coarsely to a medium thickness. It was placed on the big baguette. They didn't cover it until they topped the beef with a couple of dollops of a red and green sauce respectively. And just before the sandwich was completed the entire bottom was dipped in the juice from the boiled beef.

    I was definitely worried that the sandwich would end up soggy. It wasn't. Not only wasn't it soggy but the entire thing defied expectations. The sandwich is extremely warm and filling, and just as you're enjoying this Florentine comfort food your tongue happens on some of the sauces and your mouth is filled with sparks. The red sauce is sharp and hot and the green (mashed garlic, basil, and onion) is unbelievably bright. The sandwich ends up being a warm, hearty, comforting, exciting, kickass bite of perfection. Yum, yum, and yum.


Hey — you could look it up.

Bonus: many more photos from Nerbone here.

joehead Rena Godard weighed in from Canada this past Wednesday afternoon with this juicy contribution to the Comments section after reading Episode 1, Mark Bittman's paean to the flauta d'ibéric d.o. jabugo at Café Viena in Barcelona.

Here's what Rena had to say about the Italian entry in the world's greatest sandwich competition:

    That does indeed look like one helluva sandwich [referring to Bittman's favorite].

    I had a similar experience in Florence at a little food stand in the Mercato Centrale that's been there for some 100 years (called Nerbone). All the food there was outstanding, and caused me to put off trying the sandwich, which my boyfriend had the good sense to order first thing in the morning a few days into our stay.

    After coming home and looking up the address to recommend this place on Virtual Tourist, I found the following article. Turns out these people like the sandwich so much, they traveled from the US just to eat it. That's some serious sandwich dedication.

October 21, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Magnetic Mini-Blinds


Got metal [doors]?

From websites:

    Magnetic Mini-Blinds

    Add blinds to metal doors without tools

    Magnetic Mini-Blind snaps on and off in seconds, with no tools, drilling or brackets needed!

    Super-strong top and bottom magnets are the secret to this versatile blind that attaches securely to any standard steel door.

    Aluminum blind with 1" slats opens to let in sun and light, closes for privacy — won't fade, tatter or tear like curtains.

    Simply position the blind as you like.

    Removes easily to wash door's glass.


Two sizes:

• Small (below) measures 25"W x 40"L, fits half-door windows and costs $19.99.


• Large measures 25"W x 68"L, fits full-door windows and costs $24.99.

October 21, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Forgetfulness — by Ward Just


It's his fifteenth novel since 1970 but the first one I've read.

I'm slow, but I make up for it by being really shallow.

That's why the slogan of Surface magazine, "A mile wide and an inch deep," resonates so powerfully here.


It's a quiet, small book (258 pages) told in the form of a long, leisurely remembering by one of its protagonists.

On the surface it's a murder mystery set in present-day France, but like an oozing spill it slowly widens into the world of a past on the fringes of espionage that then intersects with 21st-century fear and insecurity about "the next one."

The slow, cumulative power of the story is so subtle you aren't aware of how you're being encircled, much like something inexorable happening while you're on the edge of sleep.

    From the book:

    Thomas had never put much thought into vengeance. He had enemies as everyone had enemies but they had never done him serious harm. So while he got mad, he rarely got even; it was not worth the effort and was an insult to one's own integrity. Was that the attribute of a saint or an egomaniac?

    Bad light tomorrow for painting but he had no good ideas anyhow. When you were drained of emotion, you were drained of ideas also. Your memories were less vivid because your imagination had gone AWOL. You lived in the half-light of dusk or the crack of dawn when it seemed time could go either way.

    He explained what he saw in her eyes, which was not sadness or disappointment but understanding. Sympathy, he said, and wit. At some level sympathy implied knowledge and knowledge had a melancholy aspect. He believed that was universally true, no exceptions. When you knew too much you felt a natural distress but that was something quite different from fundamental personal sadness, sadness as a trait, like blue eyes.

    But Antoine had his own way of going about things, his protocol, so probably there was a logic to it. You could always find a logic to things if you searched intelligently and looked for patterns, connections of things one to another. You could explain the way of the world by cause and effect or blind luck or misadventure or a random god in the universe; but explanation did not always lead to comprehension, a ready grasp of the matter.

    His first months in America were marked by irresolution, a fate as familiar to him now as the drawn face in the mirror. He had found equilibrium, a fine balance that allowed him to live but allowed nothing more. His past life seemed to vanish bit by bit and the future was a blank slate, leaving the precipice of the moment. He did not know where he belonged or if he belonged anywhere.

    He didn't feel. He had lost the rhyme and melody of feelings and meantime he existed on his precipice, mindful always that there were many people in the world much worse off than he. To the extent there was a bright side, that was it.

    He believed his pier had the personality of a human being, as many faces and as many contradictions, presenting one face in the birth light of early morning, quite another in the afternoon or at dusk. No drawing was identical to any other. When he thought he understood the essence of its character, the pier turned once again and he saw something utterly unexpected, a sudden shift of gravity or of shadow, desire ignited or extinguished. He thought of these shifts as mood swings. The pier aged the way a human being ages, stooped here and there, fragile in the usual places, forgetful, complaining of the cold weather, complaining of the neglect or betrayal, pleading that it was being asked to bear too much weight, and all this time remembering its robust and buoyant youth, indomitable under the assault of Atlantic hurricanes.

    Grief was difficult to measure. Grief damages your faculties. Grief was not transferable. It had its own great weight and came and went like the ocean tides and in that way was uncontrollable.

October 21, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seed and Stem Remover


From the website:

    Seed and Stem Remover

    Prepare vegetables fast with this unique scooping tool.

    One end removes tomato or strawberry stems and the other removes seeds from peppers, cucumbers and more.

    Compact size makes it easy to store.

    Stainless steel and reinforced plastic.


    7-1/2" long.


October 21, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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