Sunday, July 23, 2006

Existentialism is the New Consumerism

Scene: five people, two near 30, 3 closer to 40, discussing age and their parents' "baby boom" generation at a party in a garden.

Woman 1: I recently turned 30 but I feel a lot younger being at the beginning of a decade than at the end of one. I like being at the beginning of my 30s.

(some sage nodding and smiling).

Woman 2 (wittily): Well you know what they say . . . 30 is the new 20. My parents are freaking out about turning 60 but they're Boomers, so 60 is really the new 50. Retirees are the new youth culture . . .

Woman 3: (picking up on the progression) . . . Dead is the new Alive.

This completely cracked me up. I woke up in the middle of the night last night, thought of that comment and burst out laughing again. Maybe it's just me.

The Curse of the WereBear

There are usually some leftovers after a party. These include the obligatory bottle of wine. You know, the one left over from the last party, the one that seems to go from party to party untouched. Having one bottle always left over is like having a piggy bank that you never smash. You know it will be ready for the next party, and that it will survive that one, and the next.

This time in addition to the obligatory wine bottle, several local beers survived the party. One is a delicious spiced red buckwheat beer called "Coup de Grisou." The label features a man standing on what looks like a mountain at night. Clutching his head in his hands, feet planted apart, knees bent and leaning back in terror, he seems as if his head is either about to explode, or as if he's just been hit by the enormous rock suspended in the air in front of him, from which a pink light emanates.

Asking French-speaking Canadians and Britons what a grisou was, let alone a coup de grisou generated a strange and disparate list of hypotheses. The French Canadian waitress at Pullman wine bar said it was a kind of bear (a grizzly, perhaps?). But since there was no bear on the label, one of my Canadian friends suggested that grisou was a rocky precipice or a flying rock, judging by the illustration (You know, gris-ou, because rocks are grey? At least in Quebec they are). Then my other Canadian companion said that someone told him that grisou meant werewolf, making the head clutching man a lycanthrope in the throes of transformation. Which is all well and good, but it doesn't explain the giant rock hurtling towards his head, unless the rock is actually hurtling away from his head, propelled by the sheer force of his metamorphosis. Finally, my Brit-friend (nearly fluent in French) shrugged and said, "Dunno. A Grizzly bear . . . Hmm, possibly . . ."

Which led me and my two Canadian companions to contemplate the myth of the WereBear (pronounced "Wear Bear," which rhymes with "Care Bear"). Perhaps a coup de grisou is a Canadian form of lycanthropia, or rather ursuthropia: a condition that turns people into bears whenever the temperature drops below zero, which is often concurrent with the start of hockey season. The WereBear might even resemble a Care Bear gone to seed. It's lost its original pink or blue color and turned a kind of puce or grey. A stubby cigarette hangs out of the corner of its mouth. Or maybe it looks more like the scary guy in a bear suit that ornaments a package of motel soap that appeared on Nice Belt a few weeks ago, compliments of a Days Inn in Corning, California. Either way, it's pretty scary.

Ok, so I just looked up coup de grisou on Wikipedia, and it's actually a highly dangerous and inevitably fatal gas explosion in a mine: . It looks as if the image on the beer bottle is based on a nineteenth- century engraving by Gauchard Brunier, pictured here. What a horrible name for a beer, even more violent than a Grizzly bear attack, an avalanche, or a sudden onset of lycanthropia.

At this point, I think I prefer the myth of the WereBear. It's less terrifying than a deadly mine shaft explosion because it's a fairy tale. Which doesn't mean it isn't out there, people.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Throwing a Summer Party!

I'm so sorry not to have blogged in a while. I've been very busy! I'm leaving town in early August, and there's just so much to do before then. That sounds like I'm up to my ears in arduous housework and getting my affairs in order. In fact, it's not like that. A lot of what I've got to do is much more pleasant: spending time with my friends, taking in as much of Montreal as possible, &c. One of the things on my "to do list" was throw a party. I can't believe I've been here a year and haven't thrown a big one yet.

So now I'm doing it. There will be old friends and more recent acquaintances (don't twirl your hat too fast), people I haven't seen in a while, and people I see every day. There will hopefully be a mixture of grad students, profs, and people who aren't academic at all (and therefore very cool, in my book).

The last party I gave was last July, after my cohort and I had successfully deposited our dissertations and before we all loaded up the U-hauls and went our separate ways. It was at the Marxist Shakespearean's house, also known as the Armstrong* (names have been changed to protect the innocent) Motel, because he goes away every summer and encourages his grad students to make use of his house. It's a nice place, full of antiquarian books and recent scholarly books, a very strange music collection (has anyone else heard the radical folk song "Stand up for Judas"?), and Wolf stove, and a kitchen full of white wine and condiments. And central air conditioning. Anyway, last summer (I can't believe it was only a year ago!) my two best friends and I made use of Armstrong Central quite a bit, doing our laundry there, cooling off in the heat, finishing our dissertations, cooking dinner, and throwing our final party. I actually don't remember much about that party, except that we were all trying to drink up all of our alcohol so we wouldn't have to move with any open bottles. And we were also all extremely exhausted. I think we had some absinthe, and there was an intense discussion about the merits of Philip Pullman over J.K. Rowling (which isn't even a contest, if you ask me). After that, it's a miracle I managed to stumble home at 3am, all of a block and half away down Conifer* Street.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to entertain. I love getting food ready and filling the house with people. Saffron, as usual, will spend most of it in the bathroom, closet, or under the bed. She'll probably venture out at the end when only a few people remain, poking her head around the corner of the bedroom door, just to make sure the coast is clear.

Here's hoping it will be loads of fun. I think relaxing and enjoying the company is probably key.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Strindberg in the Kiddie Room

I'm sure others have written, nay, even blogged on this subject, but going to Ikea is really like being on a different planet. A planet where there are hundreds of objects with weird names whose uses no one can figure out. Is it an olive oil pouring device, or a sugar pouring device? What is this strange thing called a Flargy that looks like a pepper or salt shaker but has no holes on top? What are these giant dark brown ceramic objets that seem awfully scatalogical (pictured in the shopping cart below) actually for? I contended that they were garden ornaments shaped like giant figs and cocoa beans, but my companions remained unconvinced. Why do Ikea chairs have British and Swedish men's names? Jeff, Herman, Nikolaus, Harry, Alexander, Roger, Patrick, Gilbert, Stephan, Jules, and Arvinn. Harry, Roger, Gilbert, Jeff and Patrick (the enlarged cast of Coupling) prefer a pint or two at the local pub, whereas Nikolaus, Stephan, Jules, and Arvinn like Absolut. Whatever you do, don't put these chairs together to watch the World Cup. Of course at Ikea in Quebec you have the added bonus of signage in French, as the picture above illustrates. "Do you know BILLY (the bookcase)?" It asks. Well, that's what the tiny English translation asks. It's really more like "How well do you know BILLY," or "Are you well acquainted with BILLY" or "Have you met BILLY yet?" Well? How long have you and BILLY been dating anyway? Do Jeff, Herman, Nikolaus and Harry know about it?

My Excellent Ikea Adventure took place yesterday, right outside of Longueil, Quebec (or Long-eye-eye-eye-euil, as my friends and I have taken to calling it), in Boucherville, which is not a town inhabited solely by butchers, despite the name, and despite the fact that it will forever be associated with hamburgers and fries for me because the Swedish Meatball cafeteria in Ikea closed early and we had to eat across the parking lot at the "Baton Rouge," where the hamburgers are almost as big as your head and the helpings of fries are twice as big as your head.

Accompanied by two trusty friends, I toured the strange Swedish planet of the cheap, the modern, and the inexplicable. After amusing ourselves by taking photographs of one another posing in the fake bedrooms, living rooms, and apartments on the upper floors, we found what we needed: one cheap foam daybed mattress, several rag rugs, two sets of hangers, an assortment of glass jars, and a folding chair named "Jeff."

By far the most disturbing thing we encountered were the books about Strindberg lying on the vanity table in a fake bedroom obviously meant for a little girl, near a bed adorned with a pink chintz duvet, princess flounces, and mosquito netting. There's just something disconcerting about seeing an analysis of Miss Julie in a child's bedroom.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I Love Philology

Case in point:

Apparently the slang term "chav" derives from a Roma (gypsy) word chavo, or "boy," the same root for the Spanish word for boy, but its usage in popular culture can be traced to a 1979 Punk song.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Music for a Hot Day

I've been listening to a lot of soul, funk and motown. For some reason it's perfect music for the sweltering heat we've been experiencing here in Montreal, and the joy and excitement I've been feeling lately about my impending move (I love travel and discovering new places) and about my life in general right now. And now that the latest versions of itunes comes with a completely manual graphic equalizer, I'm rocking out, and seem to find myself grooving all around the house, sometimes several times a day. And I'm not being modest here when I say that I can really move, I can really shake it. See, putting on a little weight does have its advantages!

I think it's funny that the way a lot of the songs appear in itunes is as a short phrase, proceeded by a parenthetical phrase that turns it into a sentence. Often as a simile. Like Martha and the Vandella's "Heat Wave," which appears as "(Your Love is Like a) Heat Wave." This is almost as funny as those long country songs that contain multiple clauses, which Stephen Merritt makes fun of with the ballad "My Heart's Runnin' Round like a Chicken with its Head Cut Off."

Here are a few of the songs to which I've been continually grooving:

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas:
(Your Love is Like a) Heat Wave
Tear it on Down (Let it Crumble)

Aretha Franklin:
Night Time (Is the Right Time)
I Take What I Want

Tift Merrit:
(Your Love Made a) U-Turn
(I am Your) Tambourine

My groove will have take a break tomorrow night when I head down to Old Montreal to hear some chamber music. But that's okay, because I'm grooving enough for the entire week right now!

Goodies from Uzbekistan

Suzanis, Kilims, and Ikats: Oh My! I want them. They are beautiful and colorful and look good just about anywhere- hanging over a sofa, draped across a bed, or a large expanse of ugly 1970s fake wood paneling. I'm very excited because I found a whole bunch of really cheap suzanis, gorgeous textiles that I can actually afford, where else but on ebay (those who know me, know I am a little ebay obsessed). Anyway, I had a vision of my sad little fake wood entryway adorned with colorful suzanis and ornamented along the top with tribal tent borders.

Pictured is a rather more expensive Suzani textile. It's a giant wall or tent hanging, big enough to be a king-sized bedspread. This sort of Suzani would usually sell for about $450, but it's only $99 on ebay. Which, given the fact that it is totally hand embroidered and a near perfect mid-century antique, makes it practically a steal.

And wouldn't Suzani and Ikat be great names for cats?

I think I've got Domestication Fever. Because all I can think about are new couches, kilims, suzanis, and new cats, and where I would put them in my new apartment. So much so that I can't sleep.

I wonder if the early modern English imported Ikats and Suzanis from Central Asia. I wonder if they studied some of the patterns and embroidery techniques. I wonder if the twisting tulips of 17th century crewelwork owed something to Central Asian tribal designs. I wonder if I could get a grant to go to central asia, buy lots of Suzanis and find out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I Won't Have Time to be a Schoolgirl

I love the beginning of the school year. The way the air changes from hot to cool, the turning of the leaves, the brightening of the sky. When I was a child I would get very excited right before school started. I salivated over "back to school" clothes, book bags, books, and drank in the scent of freshly sharpened graphite. When I was five years old I had a little red corduroy skirt with suspenders that I wore with a blue and white striped turtleck, along with tights and buckled t-strap shoes with little leather tassels. I also had a fringe, and hair that curled up just above my shoulders. Damn, I was cute. This outfit epitomized my "back to school" romance. Apparently the thrill wore off rather quickly though. By October, when it was time to have our school pictures taken, I rakishly tied a vivid purple and orange silk scarf around my shoulders like a cape and refused to take it off, telling everyone that my mother had insisted that it was Not to be Removed. To my memory, that is the first time I deliberately lied to my mother. Of course she found out at the end of the day, and I repented. But the picture, depicting a triumphant five-year old Muse in schoolgirl-superhero guise, is now regarded as a family classic.

Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons I'm an academic is because I couldn't part with the thrill of going back to school in September. Of course we never get to wear our "back to school" outfits for the first two weeks because it's always deathly hot.

But I'm worried I've lost that "back to school feeling." My semester begins early. Too early. It starts on August 23, and I will begin teaching on August 24. Plus there is some sort of emergency/disaster/pandemic contingency plan, also known as BFCP, or "Bird Flu Contingency Plan," in place that basically means I have to write up detailed syllabi with lesson plans for the entire year and turn them in to the Dean at the start of the semester. And don't get me started on Labor Day in the South (or lack thereof). Classes will be held. We will labor on Labor day, which is a federal holiday that prohibits work. But apparently not at my school. All of this means that I will be doing teaching prep from now until August 23 (or 3am on August 24). Which means, as a friend told me last night, "It Starts Now."

Goodbye postdoctoral schoolgirl, and welcome Professor Muse. I will miss the schoolgirl. Not to gloss over her own trials and tribulations (she was a serious scholar, after all), but the real work starts now. The tenure clock starts now. I won't have time to go gallivanting about reading whatever interests me, turning articles inside out, and sleeping late in the morning. I won't have time to wait on sending out articles and book proposals, or to let ideas and pieces of writing stew for a while. I won't have time to fly halfway across the world whenever I want to, just to see people I miss. I won't have time to daydream. I won't be sprightly and perky and flirtatious and enthusiastic because I won't be getting very much sleep, though I'll do my best to make myself presentable. Still, I am thrilled to get started because oddly enough this is what I've always wanted.

Watch out for schoolgirls, though. . . There is a new one taking my place, and I rather expect she'll shake things up just as much as I did. I wish I could give her some advice, or stay a little longer and see her safely settled in. But I don't have time.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Italy v. France

At first I was cheering for France because I'm in a francophone country and Zidane is just so cool. But now Italy have proved themselves and I'm not so sure whom to support. France is sharp and talented and they have Zidane . . . But the Italian team is much hotter all around. Such a difficult decision! I'll have to attend to the game and make a decision as I sip my cappuccino and munch on my croissant.

Things will probably be crazy here because there is a huge Italian community just north of here, and probably a lot of the Quebecois will be pro-France (though I suspect some will adamantly refuse to cheer for France).

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Blog v. Real Life

Recently I have found myself referring to my blog off-handedly in conversations with friends. As if the stories that appear on the blog were stories I had already told my friends. Because I know they (or should I say you, dear readers?) frequently read it.

So the other day I cracked a joke about overly friendly Southern women, in reference to my post "Ten Things." I don't know how I could have been so presumptuous, but of course only one friend got the joke. The other one looked confused, as if she had missed something in the conversation. And I had to blurt out "It's on the blog!" as if she were a student who had come to class without doing the reading. I immediately felt horribly embarrassed.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Southern Slowness Totally Rocks!

My new landlord just phoned me. I have the apartment, and I can send him the deposit any time. I don't need to set up electricity, gas and phone until I arrive because it's all already on, and in his name. He's just very relaxed and calm, and genuinely friendly. The apartment is being painted and the floors sanded and polished right now.

I'm not used to this. I'm used to landlords asking for first and last months' rent, plus a security deposit, plus a non-refundable $500 pet deposit, and then not cleaning or painting the apartment before I move in.

It's a strange feeling, this Southern Slowness. But I think I could get used to it. Which would be highly dangerous, I think.

Southern Slowness: Should I be Worried?

Well, it's been six days since I filled out an application for the apartment and shook hands with the landlord, and four since I've been home in Montreal.

I still have not signed a lease or handed over a deposit check. But the landlord seems to like to do things in his own time, and said not to worry, he'd be in touch, we'd talk about the lease, all would be well.

But of course I'm starting to worry because I left without signing anything, and my move-in date is slated for about a month from now. I have left him two messages on his office phone, plus one e-mail. No response. I don't know whether to think he is MIA, or just sitting on his back porch drinking some absurdly sweet iced tea. I still need to hire movers, set up electricity and telephone service, and change my address. I can't do any of this until I know for sure whether the apartment is mine, and that won't happen until I sign the lease.

Right about now, I would be tearing out my hair, hyperventilating, and throwing random tantrums. But I'm told that everything might be ok: it's just an example of something called "Southern Slowness." Things operate at a slower, more relaxed pace down south. Especially in a large town/small city like where I am headed.

Or so they tell me. I'm trying not to wring my hands.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's Getting Better all the Time

It really is. So I had to say no to the gorgeous apartment. It just wasn't big enough, and the landlord wanted me to take it in July, but I'm not moving until August.

In the end, I found this huge, beautiful apartment which occupies the entire second floor of a lovely old house built in 1927. This place has it all. 5 closets (not counting the one in the bathroom and the pantry, so I guess really 7), beautiful cherry floors, windows on all 4 sides, with beautiful western exposure in the (ginormous) living room and dining room, which are connected with glass French doors. There's a cute coal-burning fireplace in the living room. The kitchen and bathroom were being gutted and completely replaced when I visited, so I'll have all new appliances, including a dishwasher. Excellent hardwood cabinets and a new vanity with a marble sink. And hot water is included in the rent, which makes me happy. There are two bedrooms with deep closets, and a back and front entrance, a very wide driveway and a nice big green back yard. I'll be sharing the house with one other tenant, who lives on the ground floor. It's more space than I've ever had all to myself. I can't wait to turn the second bedroom into a study.

The only drawback is the campy fake paneling that lines the stairwell and front hall. The landlord claims it cannot be painted. Is this really true? I'm planning on hanging curtains over it, or even covering it with removable wallpaper or stretched cloth. Does anyone know of other good treatments to mask the fake wood veneer? Painting it would be best and I'm not entirely convinced the landlord is right to say it cannot be painted. There are probably nice plaster walls underneath, but ripping it out would undoubtedly damage them and cost the landlord a fortune and months to properly repair or replace. Or I could just learn to rock the camp. Maybe put up some animal horns, fishing tackle and a couple of rustic "gone fishin'" and "home sweet home" signs.

After I found the apartment and filled out the application, shaking hands with the classically southern laconic landlord, I had a celebratory scoop of pistachio gelato (they were out of cantaloupe), and headed off to a concert with my host and her husband.

And here's where it gets weird. My host's husband lives 2 hours north of here. He's a scientist and an academic. And he lives in the same city as the family of a very old friend of mine, a boy with whom I've recently re-established contact online after 27 years. Yes, this boy and I were good friends in nursery school. He used to throw tantrums and lob tonka trucks at me, but we were inseparable. Anyway, when I asked said host's husband if he knew this boy's family, it turned out that he's known them a very long time and they live across the street from him. Huh. Small World!

I learned all this in the car on the way to hear Dar Williams play in a large-ish college town about 30 minutes away. She was very good, but listening to all that Dar Williams made us a bit lumpy in the throat and a bit annoyed at all the touchy-feeliness. We were hoping she'd sing more of her recent political material, but she only sang one blatantly political song, about burning draft cards, which was pretty good. I think she's at her best channeling her lost childhood and teenaged innocence. I could do without the sappy and instantly forgettable new mother songs.

So as we drove back to our town, we decided to stop in at another music venue, and discovered that Tift Merritt (originally an alt country singer, but now she's become much more rock and soul) was playing there and to a very small crowd. We wandered in and she was enthralling and rocking the house. That little lady can SING and PERFORM! She reminded me of a young Bonnie Raitt with a little Dusty Springfield and Cowboy Junkies mixed in. She really rocked the house with her incredible stage presence and joy. Her song "Shadow in the Way" turned into a gospel revival, with each band member improvising some blusey riffs. We felt incredibly lucky to have chanced upon this explosive and ecstatic performer and her excellent band.