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May 22, 2020

A history of the chair

What, This word does not exist didn't finish you off?

OK then, try this documentary from Vitra, a longtime pacesetter when it comes to stylish chairs.

From hypebeast

Vitra recently launched a 90-minute film that explores the development of chairs from 1800 to the present day.

Titled Chair Times: A History of Seating, by filmmaker Heinz Bütler, the video focuses on 125 iconic chairs from the collection of the Vitra Design Museum.

In Chair Times, Vitra Chairman Emeritus and former CEO Rolf Fehlbaum speaks with experts in the design field, including designers Hella Jongerius, Antonio Citterio, and Ronan Bouroullec as well as architects Arthur Rüegg and Ruggero Tropeano.

"Chairs are important witnesses of their time," said Fehlbaum. "They are portraits of their users and reflections of the production methods from which they emerge."

The video also asserts that each chair typifies the production methods, fashion trends, and social structures from the time they were made.

For instance, the Eames plywood chairs were produced after Charles Eames was commissioned by the Navy during WWII to create splints that were lightweight and easy to move around.

May 22, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Memphis" (the song) — An appreciation by Verlyn Klinkenborg

He hit one of my sweet spots with his Editorial Observer feature in the New York Times about Chuck Berry's iconic tune, first released as a B-side in 1959.

Not only did he single out one of my favorite lines — "Hurry home drops on her cheek" — but he also tossed moderation to the winds and came out on the record in favor of Johnny Rivers' version (above), recorded live at the Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood in July 1964, being the one that "... best captures the internal tension of the song."

The Times gave him very limited space (five short paragraphs, about 450 words) which probably precluded his citing my favorite line, to wit: "'Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall."


But don't take my — or his word — for it: click up top and hear it for yourself.

Here's Klinkenborg's piece.


If I had to name the best short story in the form of a song lyric, I suspect the winner would be Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee," first released as a B-side in 1959. Lately, it has been haunting me — the metrical precision of the lyrics, its emotional realism and, of course, the revelation in the penultimate line. You know the one: that this is a father's mournful love song to his daughter, Marie, who is only 6 years old.

What I really find myself listening to is Chuck Berry the sociologist of incredible economy. It's the open-ended plea to that disembodied personage, "Long-distance information." It's the household where uncles write messages on the wall. It's the geographical precision of Marie's home, "high up on a ridge, just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge." Undercutting it all is the very hopelessness of the singer's plea.

The version I know best is the one Johnny Rivers recorded, live, at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood. It reached No. 2 on the charts in July 1964. In some ways, it best captures the internal tension of the song. He plays it bright and clear. His guitar rings through the bridge and chunks away in the verse. His Louisiana twang adds its own geography to the lyric — just listen to the way he sings "ridge." Behind it all are the handclaps of a joyful audience. For the story of a shattered man, this is an incredibly happy song.

"Memphis, Tennessee" is also a reminder of how much country there was in Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll. Just listen to the version recorded by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in 1965. The swing in Johnny Rivers' version has gone stiff-legged and angular. The melodic line has been straightened by the harmony of Owens and his guitarist, Don Rich. And yet it's glorious, a country plaint closer, in many ways, to the original.

I'm no longer surprised by Marie being 6 years old. But her "hurry home drops" do still surprise me, every time. I wonder even now about the operator on the other end of that connection, and the sequel. I like to think that, in the end, the call was placed and a happy ending found, if only in joint custody.

Lyrics below.


Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90.

On April 9, 2017, seventy-four-year-old Johnny Rivers performed a song, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, at the funeral of Chuck Berry, at The Pageant in St. Louis, Missouri.

May 22, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

On the patio

May 22, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Naming the American stream: Waterflow toponyms in the U.S.


Excerpts from Frank Jacobs' Big Think post follow.

A body of running water may be called any of many different names, the most generic being stream, the most common being river.  A river can be defined as "a natural stream of water of usually considerable volume." General terms for smaller streams include creek (smaller than a river) and brook (smaller than a creek). Very specific types of water currents  include anabranches (river branches that rejoin the main body of water) and distributaries (branches that don't).

This map charts the rich variety of waterflow toponyms in the US, which reflects the climatological and geographical diversity of the country, but also its linguistic and historical heritage. River names seem extremely resistant to change, and indeed often are echoes of earlier dominant cultures [1]. 

The colors on the map, which is based on the place names in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset, correspond to the generic toponyms for waterflows, excluding the two commonest ones (river and creek, rendered in gray).

The term brook (light blue) is massively prevalent throughout New England, and into northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It is interspersed with stream (light green) in Maine, the only place in the country where that term is used with any frequency; and with kill (dark blue) in New York state's Hudson valley — the occurrence of that Dutch-derived term coinciding somewhat with the former Dutch colony of New Netherland. 

Pennsylvania, Maryland, northern Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio are dominated by the run (pink), while branch and fork (darker and lighter red respectively, and not easily distinguishable) dominate much of the South. One glaring exception is the lower Mississippi valley and the Gulf coast, centered on New Orleans, where the bayou (dark green) holds sway, reflecting French settlement.


Spanish heritage is reflected by certain generic names predominant in the southwest, i.e. rio (yellow), arroyo (dark orange) and cañada (light orange).

Other terms denote certain types of water, like the wash (yellowish green) in the Southwest, reflecting that water body's periodic nature, the slough (purple) throughout California and the Northwest, often a tidal body of water, and the swamp (faded green) along the Atlantic coast, indicating the area where more or less stagnant bodies of water are likely to occur.

The map was produced by Derek Watkins (here on his blog about cartography, neogeography, and genius loci in a networked world).

Many thanks to Michael Hindley for pointing out this map, which, fascinating as it is, clearly only skims the surface of a subject with much, much deeper waters....


[1] The names of many European rivers are of Celtic, Indo-European, or even older origin. The Ukrainian rivers Dnieper and Dniester, for example, respectively mean "the far-away river" and "the close-by river" in Sarmatian, an Iranic language. Many American rivers carry Indian names. This historic resonance is one reason why rivers play such a prominent role in Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce's last work, arguably world literature's most extended pun.

May 22, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hook's 20-year-old cheddar

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Good news bad news.

From the New York Times:

A cheese 20 years in the making

Buying Cheddar?

Even with handmade clothbound farmstead products, finding anything aged more than two years is a challenge.

That's why Hook's Aged Cheddar Cheese from Mineral Point, Wisconsin, is so special; some are aged up to 20 years.

The bright orange cheese has an aroma of toffee and herbs, is moderately sharp, and delivers an alluring hint of crunch, a hallmark of some well-aged cheeses.

These attributes define the company’s 15-year-old cheese and are intensified in the rare, limited 20-year-old.

500 pounds of the 20-year-old cheddar (above and below)

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were made, having been set aside in the year 2000; the cheese will be available beginning next Tuesday, May 26; much of it is already spoken for by restaurants around the country.

This is not your supermarket Kraft Cracker Barrel: it costs $209 per pound.

Not sure if you want to pony up that much? 

Jane Burns' December 5, 2019 Isthmus review will tell you more: it follows.

It was 20 years ago today...

Hook's Cheese will release its second-ever 20-year aged cheddarFood-Hooks-TEASER-20-Year-Cheddar-12052019.jpg

As the calendar turns to 2020, it will mark the arrival of a new year, new resolutions, a new decade and old cheese.

In 2020, for only the second time, Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point will release a 20-year cheddar.

Though the cheese won't hit the market until Memorial Day weekend, the company will began taking orders for it on January 1.

Cheesemaker Tony Hook isn't worried about being stuck with the cheese that will retail at $209 a pound.

It's just that he's already fielding so many inquiries about the cheese he decided to start taking orders.

"We sold it out in five days last time," he says with a laugh, still surprised at the frenzy his cheese created in 2015, similar to the way his 15-year cheddar made news around the world in 2009.

This time around, there is a little more available.

The Hooks aged 500 pounds of it, up from 450 in 2015.

Restaurants and distributors placed their orders earlier this fall, and it was a little less stressful than when the cheese made its debut in 2015, Hook says.

"We started talking to distributors and restaurants and told them what we were going to do and they should let us know if they were interested," Hook says. "For maybe two weeks we didn't hear anything and we thought, 'Oh no, what have we done?'"

It all worked out, and Tony and his wife, Julie, donated $40,000 — half of the cheese's profits — to the Babcock Hall/Center for Dairy Research renovation project at UW-Madison.

This time, half of the profits will go to a dairy education initiative, and the Hooks are still working out details.

Part of the allure of the cheese isn't just its scarcity, it's the flavor.

Cheddar gains bitterness and bite as it ages in its first five years.

Then it becomes more smooth and creamy in taste but gains crunchiness from the calcium lactate crystals that form over time.

At 20 years, it’s a creamy, crunchy, crumbly dairy delight.

"A lot of people think it's going to be sharp but it's just the opposite," says Fromagination owner Ken Monteleone. "As it ages it becomes smooth and buttery."

This second batch of 20-year cheddar celebrates Tony Hook’s 50th year as a cheesemaker; he began as an apprentice at a small factory in Barneveld.

He and his wife, Julie, also a cheesemaker, opened Hook's Cheese in 1987 at its current Mineral Point location.

Initially, the Hooks made cheese by the pallet load and sold it under various names and labels, and the apex of aging was the one- or two-year cheddar they made for Borden.

But after their kids graduated from college and risk-taking was easier, the Hooks started aging their cheeses and selling under their own name.

"Nobody in the U.S. was doing anything beyond two years," he says. "We just decided we'd really go out on a limb and age something to five. Then we expanded to seven, then 10 and just kept going."

The cheddar is sampled at least once a year to see if it's developing as it should.

"It’s not like you stick it somewhere for 20 years and think, 'That should be good,'" Hook says.

He has some cheddar set aside now that has already gone past 15 years, and has a 15-year-old batch that has developed really nicely.

The fate of those cheeses remains unknown.

At age 67, Hook figures he might be retired when that decision is made, likely by his nephew, Brian, who will take over the business one day.

"Maybe down the road Brian will have some 25- or 30-year," Hook says. "You never know."

May 22, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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