Saturday, May 31, 2008

The pedagogies of supermarket catalogues. Seriously d00dz, you learn some cool stuff from supermarket catalogues. I am not being at all sarcastic here, because I love trashy brochures (I can pore longingly for hours over extremely cheap and ugly sofas, for instance). But IGA really need to lift their game. Their catalogue is great for those times of unmanageably good moods, when you need the depressed feeling that only the sight of poorly photographed Black And Gold products can provide.

But you get some good stuff from Safeway. This evening they taught me that 2008 is the UN-declared Year Of The Potato, that WWE Thumb Wrestlers are on sale for $2 each (these are rubber effigies of WWE characters that you slip your thumb into before declaring thumb war on a similarly smackdown-minded companion. Collect all six), and also how to lure my kids into eating fruit by making it into a car: "Use a long rectangle of watermelon as the body and small apple slices for bumper bars. A semi circle of rockmelon becomes the roof, and kiwifruit slices make great wheels. Finally, put in some grape passengers and you're ready to go."

However, with Aldi now entering the catalogue game, Safeway have been left in the dust. Aldi's catalogue is my favourite because of the random things you can buy there, but also because of the disorienting unfamiliarity of all their brands. Thus, at Aldi, foods are stripped of their brand-values and become commodities only: ideas of food that I can think about in abstract ways. They help me out on this because they seem to use stock photography rather than their own studio sessions with sad sprigs of rosemary lashed to the lamb legs, etc.

Also, I really like their helpful, no-nonsense copywriting. In this brochure they had an entire spread dedicated to breakfast foods. Plus they have little bits of info about the nutritional value of various foods, what you can do with them, and even little recipes, which remind me of the Women's Weekly Home Hints.

"For a quick, healthy meal, toss your favourite cooked pasta with olive oil, roasted pine nuts and sautéed broccoli florets. Add salt and pepper to taste."

"To create really crisp [lettuce] leaves, briefly soak the leaves in the sink filled with cold water and ice cubes."

"Mix [tomato paste] with a little lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar for a quick and easy home made dressing."

"Make a tasty zucchini soup for winter. In a large pot, cook 1 chopped onion until soft, adding 1kg sliced zucchini and 4 cups chicken stock. Puree in your food processor. Add 1/4 cup fresh cream, reheat, sprinkle with parmesan and add salt and pepper to taste."

"Make a tasty dip with avocados. Cover a bowl with a layer of diced tomatoes. Top this with a layer of 3 mashed avocados mixed with lemon juice. Layer this with 300ml sour cream, finally covering it in grated cheese." It's like nachos for those on the Atkins Diet!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ten freelance foods you must eat before you die. Well, well, well. I was mighty amused to see that Jill Dupleix, aka Mrs Terry Durack, has turned her foodie sensibilities to my staple Freelance Food diet of things on toast.

When I think of Jill Dupleix I think of a resourceful woman who, her husband once proudly recalled in Fairfax's Saturday bourgie organ, once whipped up a chocolate cake using two forks as an impromptu whisk and a tinfoil takeaway container as a cake tin. So all I can think of now is Jill frantically whisking away with the forks like some deranged silver service attendant.

But unfortunately, her take on Freelance Food is straight from the Durack school of showing off about the fancy toasty things she has eaten at restaurants across the world.
"At Cuisine de Bar in Rue Cherche-Midi, you can lunch on tartines of the famous pain Poilane (from the bakery next door) topped with creamy Saint Marcellin cheese and country ham. At Gabrielle Hamilton's adorable Prune restaurant in New York, lunch is all grilled tuna clubs with aioli and rocket, and bacon and marmalade on pumpernickel toast; while in Spain, San Sebastian's legendary pinchos bars line their counters with little toasts topped with salt cod, tomato and quail egg, or chorizo, potato and pimento peppers."
Still, she has inspired me. Here is what I am going to have for dinner: a Pizza Toastie made by spreading tomato paste on bread and filling with salami, chopped up red capsicum and lots of shredded tasty cheese. NOM NOM NOM. I am pretty hungry as all I have eaten today are two mandarins and two slices of Terminator head sponge cake. Would you like to see this cake?

"Come with me if you want to eat!"

When I was decorating it I went through several stages:

1) Dismay
In which you realise that butter icing is yellow because of the butter, and so your planned blue metallic icing (coloured with blue curaçao) is mint-green instead. Also, the alcohol is making the icing separate and it looks faintly mouldy. But your guests will be arriving in 15 mins and you've got to ice that fucker with something.

2) Helpless mirth
In which you are arranging bits of licorice and lolly teeth on this monstrosity and it just looks irretrievably comical and you actually laugh to yourself on the way back home from the milk bar, thinking how it looks like a cross between an alien head and a Kabuki mask.

3) Delicately unfurling pride
When your guests actually compliment you on the cake and say it looks good, and you begin to believe it yourself.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yaaaaaaay! When you were a kid and were given some good news, for instance that you could go to McDonalds, get an ice-cream, watch the Sunday night movie on TV (but only until the first ad break) or your friend was allowed over to play, did you ever shout, "Yaaaaaaaay!"

I was thinking about this yesterday while watching Terminator 2. There's a scene where Miles Dyson is being admonished by his wife that he spends more time working on his neural network software (soon to become Skynet) than with his kids. Miles feels bad and decides to take the kids to some theme park after all. When the kids learn this, they instantly chorus, "Yaaaaaaaaay!"

It rang true for me and yet was also deeply ridiculous. I asked the others if they used to say "yay" as kids, and they all denied it. But I'm sure I must have said it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's really no excuse except for me being a rank nerd. So I got the presser about the new Flight Of The Conchords video for 'Ladies Of The World' and I've gotta tell you, I was kind of unimpressed. Well, I was actually quite impressed by their rollerskating tricks to the point where I wondered if there were stunt nerds involved. But anyway. I realise that there are weird industrial realities behind the making of this video, ie Sub Pop wants their pound of flesh, they treat this as an album like any other and god help us all there shall be a lead single, even though HBO made effectively a better video for this song as part of the TV series Flight Of The Conchords.

But I'd like to compare and contrast. I think the version from the TV show made better use of the sight gags implied by the lyrics, for instance the "lady-man ladies" and the entire war metaphor with Jemaine sporting farcical fake wounds and using a woman as a machine-gun.

I'd also like to draw your attention to the fact that this song features in the second ever TV recording of the group performing: in 2000, in a lame Wellington public-access TV show called Newtown Salad. The thing is, rather than interpret it as a tragic community TV show you might see anywhere, I tend to see it as a specufucally lame NZ show, like the ludicrous NZ television shows Jemaine and Bret have mailed to them on video in New York.

Bret and Jemaine are much more arch and self-conscious here: they are missing the earnest doofusness that would endear them to the world. The song kind of drags as well; it feels like a work in progress. Bret is particularly painful. Still, it's exciting to see how far they have taken a song that they've been performing so long. And I actually think some of the jokes here are funnier than in the most recent version: I like the lesbian bit, and the 'tea ladies' bit. And it's interesting to see what the audience finds funniest. Here they are, splitting their sides:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chrysanthemums. I never used to care for chrysanthemums much; I thought they were fussy old-lady flowers. But Natalya explained to me their history as a mourning flower in Japan. In China, white chrysanthemums also apparently signify lamentation. Yet they are sold here as Mother's Day gifts!

They have a long history in Japanese art, and Natalya also showed me the various stylised ways they are drawn. I miss Natalya a lot at the moment.

I got them for cheap! The day after Mother's Day! And unlike most flowers I end up putting in my Vase Of Death™, they have survived more than a couple of days. I just enjoy looking at them. The shapes of the flowers seem very intricate and elegant to me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'm rooting for Lorenz Hart! Tipsily, on the way home tonight, Tash and I were singing 'Misty', and this led me to think, on the walk home from the tram stop, about my favourite American standards. And I realised that they are pretty much all Rodgers/Hart. Fuck Hammerstein, with his isinglass windows you can roll right down in case there's a change in the weather! HART ALL THA WAY! Hart could write, "And worship the trousers that cling to him" - pretty raunchy stuff. Try that, Hammerstein, you dick!

I love his ear for an eye-rhyme, especially in 'Mountain Greenery': "We could find no cleaner retreat from life's machinery/Than our mountain greenery". My favourite song of his, though, is 'To Keep My Love Alive', a really whip-smart song from the revival of A Connecticut Yankee. It's full of excellent rhymes! But it's really in tales of unrequited or lost love that Hart excels. Here was a dude who was never lucky in love, and died before he was 50 from pneumonia linked to alcoholism. And what did that goddamn Rodgers do? Abandoned him to go write sunny crap with goddamn Hammerstein! Wash that man right outta my hair, indeed!
If they asked me, I could write a book
about the way you walk and whisper and look.
Lost my heart, but what of it?
My mistake, I agree.
He's a laugh, but I love it
Because the laugh's on me.
Falling in love with love is falling for make believe
Falling in love with love is playing the fool
Caring too much is such a juvenile fancy
Learning to trust is just for children in school.
Yet there are relatively few emo moments. Here was a man who could capture emotion without drifting into treacly sentiment.
Don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay, little valentine, stay!
Each day is Valentine's Day.
There's a hopeful quality to his lyrics, even though they're shot through with irony.
Isn't it romantic
merely to be young on such a night as this?
Isn't it romantic?
Every note that's sung is like a lover's kiss.
Sweet symbols in the moonlight
Do you mean that I will fall in love perchance?
Isn't it romance?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Parents are always toughest on the eldest sibling. Yesterday I went over to my parents' house for Mother's Day dinner. In conversation it came up that on Friday night I fell over while drunk.

"You've hit rock bottom!" cried my mother. "When you fall over, that's when you've hit rock bottom. You don't know where you are or how you're going to get home, and you can't keep track of your bag and all your money."
"That's ridiculous," I sputtered. "Remember last year when miT came over after he'd been at the races all day, and he was shitfaced and passed out? You didn't say he'd hit rock bottom."

At this point, miT interjected, "I lost my undies that day."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mushrooms. Today I noticed that a carpet of tiny mushrooms has begun to sprout on what used to be the gravelled area of my back yard. It is so unkempt that plants pretty much obscure the gravel, especially a baby's tears kind of creeper that I have no idea how to weed out. And now the mushrooms.

The bourgie papers have been spruiking a 'mushroom identification' tour you can take down on the Mornington Peninsula. You pay $45 to have some guy tell you if they are edible. We were unclear if he will also tell you if they are hallucinogenic. Anyway, I kind of wished I had the mushroom man's expertise when it comes to these.

They are starting to grow everywhere. It creeped me out, and I thought instantly of Sylvia Plath's poem "Mushrooms", her brilliant juxtaposition of benign and malignant, meek and ruthless. These uncanny moments always remind me of the first act of an invasion movie, when the protagonist notices small things awry but doesn't realise they are harbingers of a much greater horror. Shaun Of The Dead parodied this so well, and the Nicole Kidman movie The Invasion did a good version of it too.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Indiana Jones And The Rubbish Night Of Television. Last night Marty came into the room with a curiously unreadable expression on his face, which was explained when he revealed how much he dislikes House, which we were watching. To placate Marty, James looked up what else was on TV, and I got quite excited when he said, "Does anyone like Indiana Jones?"

Pity it was the shit one, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Still, I hadn't seen it since 1988, the night before school camp, after which the scene where the dude's heart gets ripped out of his chest, still beating, so haunted my nightmares that I couldn't watch it again. My main memories, apart from that, were a banquet scene in which they eat monkey brains, and that Kate Capshaw screamed a lot.

Well anyway. It was much, much shitter than I remembered. Not only was the heart-ripping scene really fake and ungory, it was also missing much of the humour that made the first and third instalments such fun genre romps. At one point Indy says, with no irony, "We've got company."

Also, the entire adventure was entirely pointless. It should only have been released as a tie-in novel of the ilk of Star Wars: Jedi Academy. As anyone familiar with the trilogy will realise, Indiana Jones's 'proper' adventures involve stopping the Nazis from getting their hands on ancient, legendary and putatively powerful artefacts. Temple Of Doom disobeys all the rules. Here's how.

Rule 1: Successful retrieval of artefact in opening setpiece. As the film opens, Indy is seeking some kind of diamond in the Shanghai underworld, and ends up fleeing some triad dude with an irritating nightclub singer (Kate Capshaw) and an irritating yet sassy small child clad inexplicably in a baseball cap (Data from The Goonies). They escape by plane yet are forced to bail out somewhere over the Himalayas, finding themselves in India, where the titular temple is. And, um, they never got that diamond.

Rule 2: Daring and capable heroine. I'm not sure whether Kate Capshaw is a gifted actress portraying an annoying character, or a terrible actress who is just generally annoying. Her screams were more plentiful than I remembered! She screamed at pretty much anything. And when she wasn't screaming, she was doing things like repeatedly failing to get on an elephant, and expressing a desire for pretty jewellery. It is a mystery why Indy would like her, yet at the end they are pashing on. Oy.

Rule 3: Nazis! And lots of 'em! Sorry, but a shadowy Indian sect of Kali-worshippers is really not the same kind of evildoers as the Nazis. Also, I was unclear who the main villain was meant to be: the priest with red paint on his bald head, the English-accented prime minister, the evil slave-driver or the child maharajah. I won't even go into the maharajah's unlikely transcontinental mastery of voodoo.

Rule 4: Rescuing a powerful artefact from the villains. In this film, the artefact is meant to be a set of five stones that get inserted in the eye sockets of some Kali idol. The Indian villains only have three so far and have press-ganged all the local kids as slave miners to excavate under the Temple Of Doom to find the other two. The way they're going it will take them years to find the goddamn stones, and even then it's unclear what happens. Indy nicks the three extant stones, and then gives them back to some local villager. When Kate Capshaw asks why, he says, "They'll only gather dust on some shelf," which is true - except that, um, isn't that his entire raison d'être as an archaeologist? Indeed, at the opening of The Last Crusade, Indy insists that, "It belongs in a museum!"

In fairness, there were some other Rules that this film did obey:

Rule 6: Indy reaches for weapon, realises he doesn't have one, smiles gamely at villain.
Rule 12: When squeezing through narrow and rapidly closing gap, Indy must pause to retrieve his hat.
Rule: 51: A character who initially appears friendly to Indy turns out to be helping the baddies.
Rule 9: Ancient civilisations are invariably paranoid and protect their treasures with elaborate booby traps.
Rule 15: Many vehicular chases.
Rule 24: Any subterranean tunnel, chamber or cavern is always heavily populated with creepy-crawlies and/or vermin.
Rule 37: Indy's whip is made of Teflon and never gets irretrievably stuck on something.

After this dog's breakfast, Spielberg realised the wisdom of the Indy Rules, and went back to what worked with The Last Crusade, with the altered winning factor of Sean "You're The Man Now, Dog!" Connery. If The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull disobeys these rules, then so help me... ("So help me..." is one of those phrases you can successfully trail off without finishing, like "Why, I oughta...")

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