28 July 2010


A party snap, thus the bad lighting. I don't care, since every time I look at this moment captured, I can't help smiling at the joy of motion, its spontaneity – not that I can think of anything to say about the dance itself.

But plenty could, and not only do they talk about dance if it relates to them, but the process of thinking about what goes into making a dance if it relates to them, and being and becoming a dancer if it relates to you know w**. Luckily, Wendy Perron at Dance Magazine has just jumped in with a performance piece that should be seen by everyone.

3000 steps today

Oddly enough, she compared these bores to writers, I can't imagine why.

after exertions

her official silhouette

This isn't a real silhouette, which takes great skill. Fine cut-outs, first called silhouettes by snobs with no taste, are an artform perfected in China 700 years ago and kept alive by non-bloggers there. There are many other national and regional styles of cut-out art, from the Polish which looks somewhat like "Pennsylvania Dutch" to the lacy puppets of Indonesia. Paper isn't the only material. Leather and wood have been used, and all of this inspired ironwork, even to, thanks to Napoleon, the gorgeous lacy gold-free iron jewellery called Berlin iron.

This brings me to an artist whose name could be Joy, so much does it suit not only her "work" (Ugh, do I hate that word when related to creations. Oh, Mrs Jones! What a beautiful work. Is it a boy or a girl? ) Ignore that sidestep. I was just getting to the point of recommending the art of Kathleen Jennings. Though I first noticed her spectacularly detailed silhouettes, she has a very nuanced line and shade in all shades of black and white. See, for example, Heavy.

I am keenest on her monochromes because I prefer the emotional directness and depth of shades in darkness and "empty" spaces, or something. I just love India ink, charcoal, pencil in all its hardnesses and edges, the texture and colours of white paper, cutouts and silhouettes. But Jennings is an artist in all colours, for all ages and many tastes. She is unfortunately, over-endowed with talents and skills, being a writer of note too, as well as–I can't go on, as it's too much for one person.

And she does manage, with all this against her, to run a model blog. This is one place where the process is described and it is fascinating, down to boards that aren't boring. This blog inspires and teaches: Its curious name is Errantry.

24 July 2010

Steve Aylett: the cure for scurvy

"A camel cannot be impressed."
— Steve Aylett, in The Velocity Gospel

Mental scurvy is rife now. I recommend anything by Aylett as the cure, though even a small dose could cause death from immoderate laughing. Masochists will enjoy their ulcers' liveliness, and people who think "fuck" is a punchline and furthermore, like their fiction smooth and thoughtless will be left clueless, their gums flapping.

This curmudgeon is my favourite living author, and even in his slimmest volume, the best deal per page.

The Complete Accomplice, just released, is a bargain of bargains. 386 pages— all four of the "Accomplice" books (Only an Alligator, The Velocity Gospel, Dummyland, and Karloff's Circus) published by Scar Garden Press in one volume, revised, with an intro by Michael Moorcock, and new Preface.
"Lucifer is a black glove we wear to hide our own fingerprints."
— in Karloff's Circus

I hope that this omnibus is the the first of more to come. In an earlier post, I recommended Lint and everything that has collected around this character, whose immortal tackiness even seduced me to put an animation on my site. (Lint has a film coming soon, too.)

Aylett never wastes time plastering words on the page to intimidate or provide a cover for no meaning; nor does he remove the fibre and acid from a story till it's genre.

Sure, his books (and comics) are hilarious. But he's got stuff to say. In every page, almost every sentence, he shakes off observations about society like water off a dog that's just rolled in washed-up salmon.

See his site for a load of stuff that is good and bad for your health, including The Caterer.

But before you go there—

"You make more difference to the world emulsioning a wall than you do writing satire."
— Aylett, in The Velocity Gospel

Prove him wrong.
Buy The Complete Accomplice.
Here are some outlets.
Amazon USA
Amazon UK
Amazon France

Moving forward with Global-summit fiction

Need some intentional fun? Your wish is my genre ~

The rarefied air of Coprahaagendas swirled and separated into zones, like vinegar whisked into milk—an acrid miasma that puffed and seeped from the great building atop the hill.

There is only this one building in Coprahaagendas, but the singularity of this temple-high structure makes up for its loneness, not just by its prismatic colours that exceed our vision. The structure defies architecture. Figures and symbols cover it, as uncountable as they are unstill. They cling to, spring from, crawl over and maybe are every wall, ceiling, column, cupola, dome, grate, doorway, step and arch. Arms, wings, hooves, snouts, breasts, cunts and priapuses do everything imaginable, and more. Beings humanick and otherwise fuck and slaughter; lust and leer; look out and inwards, reach down and upwards—making and remaking this stupendous edifice into an evermore impossibility of unfathomability, to us.

Not that we would ever see this building, let alone Coprahaagendas. Our leaders have only just left Copenhagen.…
continued (with art by Marc McBride) in
at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

and yes. I plugged this story the other day, but I'm doing so again, hoping that someone in that incredibly connected ScienceBlogs community will pick it up. Otherwise, my story will be doomed to be read only by the usual few people who read fiction—those who say "I'm a writer" or would like to—and this post will only be seen by my sometime two visitors max, or the stray person who finds this blog by asking questions. The best question of the past week is:
What is the percentage of men who don't eat bananas in public?
If only I were a scientist! I could study this and publish my results in PLoS. My mouth waters at the possible reward: an Ig Nobel.

The study would have to take into account men who don't eat banana cream pie if anyone's looking, men who blanch at forking the banana slices in a fruit salad, and men who are too shy to answer a question about b *****s — whether those b's be fat, stubby, blushing Lady Fingers or the longest, most symmetrically curved Cavendish. This question is not silly at all, because the supermarkets in Australia refused much of the crop this year because the bananas were too big. First, who complained? And what percentage of Australian censors were offended by the size and shape of these banned bananas?

21 July 2010

Like mongrel dogs, unpedigreed fruits are more delightful

"The fruit here is fresh and brandless. With no pedigree to command a premium or warrant the protection of a soft package, the strains on offer sold for less than a song. I asked the price of this bunch in warm red. Three ringgit (US$0.93), said the lady. Peeled, the flesh within bore a slight hue of blush and melted into sweet mush in the mouth, helping to wash down the pungent strength of savoury Durio pulp."
— Budak, in another delish post, with pictures of exotics that must be seen to be believed. These fruits are certainly not supermarket plastic.

Is ScienceBlogs worth saving?

If you have followed ScienceBlogs, I hope this paragraph sums up the past days well enough:
A communications company is in hiding because it doesn't communicate, while its most valuable asset – the contributors to ScienceBlogs – are dropping out faster than bricks in the grip of a cloud. The indispensable PZ Myers is now On Strike, trying this painful tactic as a salvage operation. There is much talk of trying to get funding to then build a new community of science bloggers – one where words aren't rubbing column shoulders with ads or worse—the ultimate sin that started the stampede of bloggers out, that Pepsi "nutrition blog" that SEED (the corporate communications-company sponsor of ScienceBlogs) stupidly foisted on a community of people with antennae and sensitivities to spare, then removed with a disingenuous apology that only added to the outrage.

So ScienceBlogs is now falling apart, as important commentators like Bora have just written their farewell posts. The saddest aspect of ScienceBlog's crisis now, is that the world really needs its clout and vigour now to save the irreproducible Vavilov fruit and berry collection.

Oddly enough, Bora stated best, three of the six best reasons for keeping ScienceBlogs going, if at all possible.
  1. The high integrity of posts, and ensuing ScienceBlog discussions "You can hide on your own little Blogspot blog. You cannot hide on a network. My first instinctive and unconscious change, something I only became of aware later, was that I changed the way I made factual statements in my posts. What does that mean? I started thoroughly fact-checking the statements before posting instead of learning the hard way that readers will do it for you. Getting invited to blog here is an honor, and the only correct response is to blog with maximal integrity, even during online fights and kerfuffles that alight in every corner of the blogosphere, including the science blogosphere, with predictable regularity. Every single blogger on scienceblogs.com, even those who I may disagree with 99% of the time, blogs here with strong personal integrity (yes, human beings sometimes make mistakes, but they correct them once the onslaught dies down and it is possible to do it without losing face). And that is one of the greatest strengths of this network - just wander around the Web randomly for a while and you'll see some interesting contrasts to this..."
  2. The altruism of interest and ability to foment change "Sustained and relentless blogging by many SciBlings (and then many other bloggers who followed our lead) played a large role in the eventual release of 'Tripoli Six', the Bulgarian medical team imprisoned in Libya. Sustained blogging by SciBlings (and others who first saw it here) played a large part in educating the U.S.Senate about the importance of passing the NIH open access bill with its language intact. Blogging by SciBlings uncovered a number of different wrongdoings in ways that forced the powers-that-be to rectify them. Blogging by SciBlings brings in a lot of money every October to the DonorsChoose action. Sustained blogging by SciBlings forced SEED to remove the offending Pepsi blog within 36 hours. And if a bunch of SciBlings attack a person who did something very wrong, that person will have to spend years trying to get Google to show something a little bit more positive in top 100 hits when one googles their name (which is why I try to bite my tongue and sleep over it when I feel the temptation to go after a person)."
  3. The news and opinion source that "is media", as Bora says, to media "The power of the networks of individuals affects many aspects of the society, including the media."
Three more reasons to keep ScienceBlogs going
  1. What is, works better than you bloggers realise The stats are so incredible that SEED brags about them here,
  2. What is, is already funded, and hopefully will continue be SEED shows prominently on that same page with the stats, other corporate sinners advertisers such as Shell, Dow and Schering-Plough. Many journalists at any time would kill to get the chance to write with such advertising backing that doesn't even direct the content. At this time especially, when media is in a funding crisis with no solution in sight, the preciousness of the ScienceBloggers about ads and what was transparently an advertising stunt "blog" makes an observer question the silence about so much science reporting. Since the funding of studies and research is rarely accounted for in the announcement and coverage of some wonderful discovery or new study, science reporting is often the cheapest and by far the best way for a company to get advertising copy. This bugs me so much that I sometimes write a complaint which is usually unpublished. Here's an example, to a prominent science magazine: "Persistent coughs melt away with chocolate" is a headline that fits a magazine entitled "Wishful Thinking", not "New Scientist". It is only in the body of the article that we find that the study used theobromine, a constituent of cocoa. What if a study finds health benefits in an even larger constituent of chocolate itself: clay? Will you still headline it as cure-by-chocolate?
  3. Anyone who thinks that ScienceBlogs' readership can't tell an ad from a post, insults the readers
I hope that PZ Myers will draw the SEED "team" out of their cave and force them to communicate and treat this resource with respect. But I also hope that the bloggers who left will come back to ScienceBlogs – with coolness, passion, and a certain sense of proportion missing at the moment. After all, if we all fell for the fat-busting miracles, we'd look different, wouldn't we? So quit worrying so much about the ads. No payers, no gainers. People like me don't even see ads and we don't consume them any more than an eagle does the grass around a rabbit. We block what we can, and otherwise, our eyes find what we are seeking on the screen even if an ad jiggles or says 'healthy'.

The 7th
Another reason just snuck in (those 7ths are so pushy). More than any "community" on the blogosphere (zounds, do I hate those terms), SB shows that thinking people have a wonderfully diverse, unpredictable assortment of interests, passions, and opinions, not classifiable 'right' or 'left'; yet they can discuss and disagree in a way that is constructive and composed of well-reasoned sentences and cogitated thoughts, not mere reactions or tribal grunts. As both governing bodies and global conferences have become collections of inflexibles, each delegate thinking this the winning stance, our institutions look ever more like fallen concrete statues. ScienceBlogs is, just, alive. Something is ticking, though I'm not qualified to say what.

19 July 2010

Sea urchin teeth, and taste

Dentist tomorrow, so this is a good time to post this closeup view of a sea urchin's teeth. No need to go anywhere for scaling, let alone perio- or orthodontal work for these lucky beasts. Not only do their mouths stay healthy, but their teeth are self-sharpening. But wouldn't you know it? Type in "sea urchin" teeth to Google Image and you get not only many better pictures, of course, but Ads by Google, the top one being
Extreme Makeover … Looking 4the perfect smile? Leading … cosmetic dentist …
What's the antonym for liverlips?
The wonders of cosmetic surgery! This minds me of the time when mouths were meant to be so small, it's a wonder words could out. But that was fashion, not to be mixed with taste.

"I never had a fancy for your nimini-pimini young ladies, with their mouths squeezed into the shape the dimensions of a needle's eye. I always suspect such damsels as having a very portentous design against mankind in general."
—"Bob Burke" in "Bob Burke's Duel With Ensign Brady of the 48th" by William Maginn (1793–1842)

15 July 2010

Marc McBride's art and "The Eye of Nostradamus Summit" now online

"And no no one can trumpet like Ganesh."

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #44

Many thanks to Nyssa Pascoe who has created this spanking-new website for Andromeda Spaceways; and thank you also to the people who make this cooperative actually function. Specifically for this issue, that includes Felicity Dowker who chose stories and art; Juliet Bathory, who really cares how type is set on the page; and the unflappable Simon Petrie without whom this issue would not be. I will list instead of just linking the Table of Contents when the artists and illustrations are as credited in the ToC and online as the wordsmiths and their works.

Marc McBride's cover-art painting is now online, untrammeled by text, with my accompanying story—

Marc is a splendid artist and a writer of magic (his World of Monsters is a collector's item) who I feel lucky to have anything to do with, let alone have a story that goes with his art. I say this deliberately, since he said in public how much he feels for writers who get covers that never gave the fiction the time of day. If only he was the God of Publishing! So when Felicity offered us a chance to have a story with illo, I asked Marc to go back to those golden days of slush, producing the picture as my lead. I'm thrilled that this picture is the cover art.

As with Ellen Datlow, who so inspired with her Lovecraft challenge, Marc's painting was a hot needle to a boil. Ahhhh.

14 July 2010

An ass's coat

There is no coat finer than that of an ass — and how I wish we would all return to that venerable word for this intelligent, dignified animal who has a wicked sense of humour, lightning kick, and the most gentle, soft lips and caressing neck. Yes, an ass can hug you with her neck.

Rain brings out the best features of the coat, though any ass will say that dust does—their ears droop in the rain.

Waves appear, in such frothed order that they are positively painterly. The smell of a healthy ass is always more delicate than silvertip tea – better than any bought perfume. If it were bottled, it would be classified as 'oriental'.

I love asses — and this coat belongs to a female of great depth of feeling, and voice. Her needs, lusts, and wisdom were the inspiration for my story "Travels with Robert Louis Stevenson in the Cévennes" that you can read here on Infinity Plus.

12 July 2010

Wombat berries & orange bracket fungi

Just for the beauty of these on this winter's day.

The wombat berry vines are not in their prime now, and these berries are out of season, which made them all the more interesting in a quiet way. This vine rests on a piece of handmade paper that I packed out from Nepal some years ago.

The vines themselves are as tough as wire – and so they were a fanciful but practical base for a garland-tiara that I made for a friend to visit the last Medieval Fest. I wove the vine with its dark green leaves and stems. The jewels set into this crown were sprays of grey-green lichens interspersed with my favourite brilliants: orange bracket fungi, only ones taken from small sticks. They grow prolifically here on the flotsam and jettisoned bits of wood in the local forests as well as on other bits of wood, such as our front steps (till the steps were only bits of wood). Actually, I'm an admirer of all bracket fungi. They have such personality. Some, like the birch bracket fungus have been even used as blade sharpeners.

But they are so decorative that I see that I'm not the only bespoke costumer who is besotted with orange fungi in particular. See what Donna Franklin has made, something that looks ethereal but is earthly in the best way: a dress that grows. It's alive!

Here's a little something picked up today, turned over so you can see its underside where the pores are even more brilliant than the colour on the top of the fungus. As there are several species that grow locally and are often confused, I'm going to imitate the Laetiporus and not commit clapping a name to the species below.

You might want to consult Bill Leithhead's Fungi Pages for great pictures and much information.

Israeli judges stage farce, Ha'aretz reports the play

"Israel bans Gaza woman from studying human rights on the West Bank" by Amira Hass, in Ha'aretz.

08 July 2010

Soviet Bee philately and translation

Пчелы (Pchely) means 'Bees'
Easy beesy. But how to translate this?
The rubric division in the “analytical translation” (the outer narrative chronology) is fully different from the original: the titles of chapters are condensed, and “supra-synthesized” (cf. Milne’s “Chapter 1, in which we are introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and some bees, and the stories begin” vs. Rudnev’s “Glava 1. Pchely”; Milne’s “Chapter 2, in which Pooh goes visiting and gets into a tight place” - “Glava 2. Nora” in the translation). This is, in the author of the translation’s own terms, a “Faulknerization” of the text (Rudnev 2000: 53), and a kind of symbolic code to Rudnev’s lingo-psychoanalysis (Rudnev 2000: 44-48).
from Translation as Adaptation: The Winnie-The-Pooh Stories As Children's and Adult Reading by Olga Papusha

Foodies arise, for luscious fruits you've never eaten

At the supermarket:
"There's no smell to this peach."
"You want peach smell? Aisle 15. Body products."

The fruit for people who don't eat fruit, the most popular post on my blog, is found because people search under variations of "I don't like fruit". These people (often desperate and guilty parents) all live in the West and gather their food from supermarkets. We now have a distribution system as inefficient as the Soviet system proved to be, and with as much disdain for quality, freshness, and consumers' taste and choice. We even have adopted the People's irony, with terms like "birthday apples" to mark the staleness of fruit bred for color and keeping "qualities". So my mouth watered, and so did my eyes, at this:
The world's largest scientific repository of fruits and berries, outside St Petersburg, Russia, could be bulldozed later this year to make way for new [holiday] homes … more than 4000 varieties of fruits and berries, including 100 examples each of gooseberries, raspberries, and cherries, almost 1000 types of strawberries from 40 countries, from which most modern commercially grown varieties are derived.
Vital seed store set for destruction, Fred Pearce, New Scientist, 26 June 2010
Cary Fowler at the Global Crop Diversity Trust called for scientists to intervene, but calls from scientists these days are as welcome as roaches at a banquet. Still, the Independent's Michael McCarthy picked up this story and ran with it, also talking about a sort of Noah of plants, the great N.I. Vavilov himself–a ripping yarn kind of guy–adventurer, explorer, collector, visionary who should be both a romantic figure and a Nobel laureate, or better–cool to kids.
The station is part of the Nikolai Vavilov research institute, named after one of Russia's greatest 20th-century scientists, who died in Stalin's labour camps in 1943. Vavilov was the man who conceived the idea of the seed bank – a repository of seeds of every different sort of plant, to be held for future generations.
from "World's biggest collection of berries and fruits faces axe"
Chekhov's famous cherry orchard also got the chop – also cut down for development. So I woke up Chekhov's ghost. "All that I wrote came to nothing, after all," he yawned, almost smiling in his supremely Russian depression. And really, how could I argue. He lived before "Let's organise!" came and went.

Revolt against revolting 'food'
We foodies of the world are being diddled in the present, and the future dodo'd. So I'm calling now to those of us who don't want to think about needing scuba gear if we live in London, but just want to eat a peach; who remember gooseberries; who know that strawberries were once treasured, and yearn to taste (and smell) why.
Periodically we stopped at a roadside stall to inspect a hammock or buy fruit. (Freshly picked pineapples and mangos here taste surround-sound flavoursome compared with what we get at home.)
—Jennifer Cox, from the UK, in Honduras: Central America's road less travelled, The Guardian, 10 July 2010

I recall best the garden-grown starfruit of a family friend (who also reared bees). The commercially available ones are less juice, more fibre. Similarly for papayas (Hawaiian imports are detestable, tasteless chunks of tendon-like pulp). And bananas... smooth and bland Doles and Del Montes are slowly killing off the succulent (and stained-skin and therefore 'ugly') local strains used for fritters, chips or desserts, which are barely a finger in length but possess a caramel sweetness and melt-in-your mouth texture that fewer seem to savour today.
— Budak, from Singapore, in answer to my question: You have so many wonderful fruits, so what would be a list of your favourites?
We need to unite and save this fruit and berry collection, selfishly and with saliva running – for us, and for our children who are otherwise likely to savour the difference between 147 different flavoured snax and drinks, and only know a fruit as something Government says you should take at least once a day.

"Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible foodlike substances”.
Michael Pollan (A Hero of the Revolution) In Defense of Food

Maybe it takes ridicule
Russian authorities from the power duo down, are acting like dills. They fail to recognise the commercial significance of this collection, and in doing so, prove themselves as useless as the directors of consumerism that mandates socks with no elastic, and bra. They also fail to see that this collection and its originator should be considered by Russia a great source of national pride. Indeed, this is what World Heritage should be about.

I say this because in my experience dealing with the Soviet Union and then post-Soviet Russia, I learned that the authorities are convinced that Russia doesn't really have anything to be proud
of (which is why they did up the palaces so grandly and are willing to help Iran go nuclear for a few rubles) and nothing much to sell except for oil and the like. I've written about this attitude of Russian authorities to worth (and to consumers) in fiction, both in my short story "The Shoe in SHOES' Window" and in my novel Crandolin, where I called staff members of the Institute (by another name) "fanatics"—I admire them greatly, for they are fanatics of the best kind, having worked for pickles, for years. Chekhov laughs. Even the most respected or popular fiction can't do what you can now.

Capitalist efficiency (and choice) now
Strawberries grown at the Glasshouse Mountains on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland are purchased by Woolworths Supermarkets, are trucked to a warehouse in Sydney (over 1000kms) before being trucked back to the Woolworths Supermarket just 4kms from the farm, 3 weeks later. Another example of the failure of the current predominant food system is the Royal Gala Apple. Royal Galas are a half / half variety; that is, 50% red and 50% green. The supermarkets, working on the misconception that the consumer wants redder apples, asks farmers to produce 80% red apples. This means more inputs of chemicals and fertilisers and the end result is an apple that is redder, but not as crunchy, tasty or nutrient rich; all of which are actually important to consumers.
Australian Organic Food Directory
So that was a false statement by New Scientist about the derivation of our fruits. The strawberries here must be the result of careful crossing of styrofoam genes and wax. The apples, from potatoes, recycled beer coolers, rubber balls and grease. Central control diktats by supermarkets (Tesco sounds like a Dalek army) and the EU even make an interesting shape an enemy to be destroyed. I highly recommend Waste by Tristram Stuart, which tells the often amazing story of fruits and vegetables that don't conform. This book is no evil-tasting dose, but an often very funny read with excellent recommendations.
Commission officials, long mocked in the press for rules setting the appropriate curvature of cucumbers, are also concerned that at a time of high food prices and economic recession fruit and vegetables are being wasted "just because they are the wrong shape". . . EU An estimated 20 per cent of the British harvest is thrown away to comply with the EU regulations, rules which have been calculated to add as much as 40 per cent to the price of some vegetables, such as carrots.
EU to allow sale of 'odd shaped' fruits and vegetables by Bruno Waterfield,
The Telegraph, 12 Nov 2008
(About a quarter of the last banana crop in Australia had to be destroyed because supermarkets here refused to take the bananas because they were "too large".) But if there were one poster-fruit for the crazyness of our shrinking choices and the danger that we face because of that, that bland banana that looks like plastic and is everywhere, is the supermodel. (Read Johann Hari's column from the London Independent: Why Bananas are Parable for Our Times.)

One thing about diverse varieties. They have diverse shapes. And taste.

This year in our local supermarket we have a choice of 3 varieties of apples with as usual today, almost indistinguishably insipid taste, and skins as tough, greasy and fresh as the cheeks of an old actress. They're all bred to the specs of modern fruit, where it's what's outside that counts. Colour. They're cosmetic fruit. They're even what's called
"industrial apples", patented and licensed to growers. And it's not as if this slop to the masses is even cheap. We pay more for less.
[In Australia] Coles and Woolworths had a combined market share of about 80 per cent. "When you look internationally, it is our market concentration which explains why our grocery prices are rising faster"[Professor Frank Zumbo] said …" They operate as a cosy club where they shadow each other's prices."… According to OECD price data published this month, food prices in Australia have increased 41.3 per cent since the start of 2000. Spain had the next fastest rate of increase since that time, at 41.2 per cent. It, too, suffers from market concentration, the European Commission has said.
Why it costs 40 percent more to feed your family, John Rolfe, Adelaide Advertiser, Nov 8, 2009
It's ironic. The most popular shows on TV are all about cooking and eating. There are millions of us yearning to be free of fruits that have been ruined because they're grown for transport and storage considerations, and not food and flavour. We read food books for the pleasure of reading about eating something memorably good. This is nuts.

Literary fruit
I swear this is true. I was so surprised at the attitude of Russian authorities to this particular collection that I picked a random "Russian" literary journal off my shelf and stuck my finger in to a random page. And I swear to the Free Market, I hit this bit of food p*rn wrapped in a politically bland Soviet wrapper:
At the bottom, when Sanya was emptying the blueberries into the bucket, they were already moist and dark and seemed stifled. From there, from the bottom, you could at last throw a few berries into your mouth, feel faint for a moment at the sweetness and tenderly melting flesh as it spread out under your tongue and then, licking your lips, go slowly back to the berry patch and there, for ten or fifteen minutes, forget all about the can, abandon yourself to drinking up the drug, more and more of it without end. There is no berry on this earth more tender and sweet than the blueberry, and one must indeed by strong-willed to carry any out of the forest in a vessel.
— "Live and Love", Valentin Rasputin (translated from Russian by Alex Miller) from Soviet Literature: Modern Soviet Short Stories, The Writers' Union of the USSR, 1986)

Indeed all fruits–berries and cherries especially–are so important in Russian culture that they are symbols and milestones.
"He took aim, and his bullet went through my cap. It was now my turn. His life at last was in my hands; I looked at him eagerly, endeavouring to detect if only the faintest shadow of uneasiness. But he stood in front of my pistol, picking out the ripest cherries from his cap and spitting out the stones, which flew almost as far as my feet."
Aleksandr Pushkin, " The Shot"

Gogol's description in his short story "The Calash" of a man who had a daily glass of a drink made with dried gooseberries reminded me of Chekhov's story "Gooseberries" and my own grandmother's gift whenever she visited, of dried berries for our tea – a particularly Russian treat, and so much better than chicken soup for curing ills.

But who cares about ancient literature and quaint customs?
Let's get to the modern world, and to the under-developed Russia
"Fruit take the important place in a grocery basket of urban population of Russia. They are on the second place in a number of all products consumed in domestic conditions and on the first place among products, consumed outside of a house. Consumption of fruit is in the lead among ways to have a bite in domestic conditions, this product wins first place, outstripping chocolate, yoghurt, kefir, cottage cheese and even sandwiches, pies and sausages in the test."
Review of Russian market of fruit, Sistema di Interregionale Marketing Center

"In Russia consumption of fruit is characterized by the tendency to growth, as against the majority of the countries of the Western Europe where recession of consumption of fruit is observed."
Review of Russian market of fruit, Sistema di Interregionale Marketing Center

"In fact, despite continuing to capture business from outdoor markets and other independent operators, grocery chains still enjoy less than a 40pc share of food sales across Russia."
- Growth in store for big supermarkets, Russia Beyond the Headlines, Feb 23, 2010
In Russia going out to eat at a cafe will bring you to the realization that beverage choices are minimal at best. Beer, Kvas, bottled water, hot tea and Kompot! If you visit a friend and you do not drink vodka or beer then the Kompot will come out of the refrigerator. Kompot is a very popular drink and is made by all good cooks in the kitchen. So lets make some Kompot like they do in Russia.
* .5 kilo (half kilo) assorted berries . . .
A recipe from Russia: Simple kompot (traditional berry drink), Windows to Russia
Russia doesn't have to be doomed to catch up with us, though the signs are ominous.
"Summer is berry time in Russia."
– Darra Goldstein, Russian Life
This is морс. Морс is a juice made from cranberries (клюквы), prepared similarly to compote. It is very common, sold in the markets, groceries, at restaurants, and made at home. Russian cranberries are typically smaller and softer than American cranberries. At certain times of year, old women will sell them on the street or in markets to supplement their pensions. The pictures on this page are all suspiciously the same color. That’s how central berries are to the traditional Russian diet!
— Josefina, Weird Russian Fruit Drinks, Russian Blog
Not for long, if Coca-Cola and Pepsi have anything to do with Russian choices. As late as 1991, Russians obtained their fruits and berries mostly by growing them and by picking them in the forest, as popular as mushroom picking. The Russian Ministry of Agriculture and Food was then the principal producer of canned fruit and vegetable products in the Russian Republic (with foreign companies just beginning "joint cooperation"). The government-made products were packaged most often in large jars with hand-glued paper labels. The products tasted like any real home cook's who is habitually winning prizes at a county fair. Distribution was atrocious, as was the situation for all consumer items. So this was the reason windows were filled with pots of tomatoes, and that gardening and ingenious homemade greenhouses were as popular as mushroom hunts and berry picking. Between the train lines and badly built apartments were lovingly tended plots filled with produce. At one meal I attended, a feast of homemades and -grown was humbly offered. Gleaming white slices of pork fat were whisked before me and then away in embarrassment at this old-fashioned taste (I got a fork in first–excellent!) but the tomatoes bottled in home-pressed apple juice were presented with pride.

At that time, there were wonderful drinks available very cheaply on the street. Kvass better than any drink sold today in Australia, at least; and juice sold from dispenser stands where you dropped in three kopeks and a glass was filled with cold, cloudy, fragrant and flavorful pear juice. You drank up and put the glass back in the dispenser, where it was washed for the next person.
Kvass stand – worth the wait
That was in 1990.
By 2005:
Euromonitor highlights the fact that Russia is by far the biggest fruit juice producer in eastern Europe, and as well as being the largest consumer, it also the leading exporter - which means that a company with such an international distribution network as Coca-Cola could really develop a strong local brand in a number of countries. And Multon, the second largest juice producer on the Russian market, has a reputation as a strong marketer. Its Dobry brand, for example, looks somewhat old-fashioned but has played on this image to appeal to Russian consumers' sense of patriotism and nostalgia
Coca-Cola invades Russian juice sector, Food Navigator

Actually, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are competing to shape, literally, Russian taste (and availability of choice). By 2010, juice production in Russia became a matter of trading between
foreign entities. This is how things go in the developed world:
Odwalla is now owned by Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as Coca-Cola bought the company, it stopped selling the fresh-squeezed OJ that had made Odwalla famous and popular — fresh squeezed can’t last the days and weeks the juices are now in transit or on the shelf. Pepsi bought Naked Juice in 2006, in order to compete with Odwalla. Smuckers grabbed several juice mainstays from the health food store shelves: After The Fall, R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic.
Unhealthy companies behind some health foods, Vic Shayne, Nutrition Research Center (USA), April 29, 2009
Coca-Cola's promotion points clearly to a need for better food labelling so food and drinks can be seen for what they are, rather than allowing marketing spin to dress them up as something that they are not.
Obesity Policy Coalition, Australia

Cadbury Schweppes Pty Ltd . . . has been found to have breached the Trade Practices Act because two of its cordials did not contain any fruit. The Federal Court found pictures of the fruit, and the use of "banana mango" and the slogan "Go Bananas" on the label, would lead consumers to mistakenly believe the drinks contained the fruit. Cadbury Schweppes had argued using the term "flavoured cordial" was enough for consumers to realise the drinks did not contain any fruit.
Cordial case fruitless for Cottee's, Barclay Crawford, The Australian, 4 May 2004
Back to us sensualists
Wherever you are, if you like good food (or think you would if you had the choice), let's speak up and get this collection saved, for delicious' sake. Otherwise fruit with taste, and the very philosophy of the variety unencumbered by patents, licenses, and supermarket diktat, will die before we have a chance to value them again.

Moving is not an option
19 July update:
According to experts the Pavlosk Research station, comprising 910,000 square meters, is the largest genetic field bank in Europe. Just one of the plots of land at the site contains more than 5,000 samples of rare plants from all over the globe.

The institute’s acting director at the facility, Fyodor Mikhovich, said the task of transferring the specimen would be impossible, even if they were given three years instead of the three months that they have been granted for the task. He reckons it would take as long as 15 years to do the job properly.

The institute has stressed that the research conducted at the facility is of great use in research into the treatment of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

An other appeal has been filed but the chances don't look good, the hearing is scheduled for August 11.
World's largest field collection of fruits and berries to be destroyed, Nichola Watson, Fresh Plaza
The Vavilov Research Institute deserves to be world-famous amongst connoisseurs, and supported as such. As things stand, it is rumoured that it might be cherry-picked for Royal Dutch Shell. In fact, the Institute has already commercialised many varieties of plants, so they know a good thing better than the Russian Ministry of Economic Development. But that's no surprise.

The Pavlovsk experiment station, part of the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry is one of 11 stations, each specialising in different plants. Vavilov died for this most delicious cause. Literally. He died in prison because he fell afoul of the Communist equivalent of Creationism. This is how the Institute sums up his contribution, and his punishment.
Vavilov, the symbol of glory of the national science, is at the same time the symbol of its tragedy. As early as in the beginning of the 1930's his scientific programs were being deprived of governmental support. In the stifling atmosphere of a totalitarian state, the institute headed by Vavilov turned into a resistance point to the pseudo-scientific concepts of Trofim D.Lysenco. As a result of this controversy, Vavilov was arrested in August 1940, and his closest associates were also sacked and imprisoned. Vavilov's life ceased in the city where his star had once risen. He died in the Saratov prison of dystrophia on 26 January 1943 and was buried in a common prison grave.
The collections are not just Russian treasures worth far more than the painted palaces and the works in the Hermitage, but World Heritage collections, as we can all benefit from them as long as our species still has yens.

Some recommended feasts
(& ideas of places to spread the Revolution)

"Tangerines … for such food the Revolution took place, millions of people were killed, and prison camps were set up … To be able to eat food which the rest of the population has never even smelled … What a Victory!"

"It looks like tangerines on the black market and tangerines in the Kremlin come from the same tree," Stas quipped.

"The only difference is that for them, its communism, but from us, it's capitalism."

— Alexander Kaletski, Metro: A Novel of the Moscow Underground, 1985

04 July 2010

Clear mysteries

Okay, Budak, or Hans Bertsch, or anyone who can please tell me what these are? The sea tosses up many clear mysteries, such as the brilliantly light-catching smile- or horseshoe-shaped "sausage jelly" ('sausage' if it's a blood sausage). This firm but quivery jelly (in a thin transparent casing) is actually the egg mass of the Polinices sordidus sea snail. It's delicious, like eating sea breeze, but don't come to me whinging, living or dead, if you get eat some & get sick. I like it but graze like any explorer, sometimes with consequences. The name sordidus must be to invoke a smile, but see also Harry Breidahl's perfect picture of the jelly (on the beach) and an equally common find there, the leathery "sand collar", along with his detailed explanations in Surveying Southern Shores. Like these egg masses, so transparent that you can see the little grains of sand suspended in them, and many jellyfish

. . . and conga lines of diamond-blue crystal-clear jelly bodies of salps, some shaped like 1960s rocket ships–transparent creatures and their castoffs catch the sun and photograph best on the beach itself.

I didn't have my camera with me today so here is a flotsam mystery x 3, found within a few footsteps of each other, lapped by tide. Each is hollow with a hole at each end. The smell is just ozone, nothing fishy or spongy or sea-squirtish about them. They have the same smell as a shark's egg case, as if the smell is faint from what was once there. They are tough and rubbery, like polycarbonate diving goggles or the nose pieces of spectacles.

Here they are on a light table:
and here, on a dinner plate where the shadow shows more than the solid.

And now backlit by the sun with a bit of harsh defining, and a closer look.

These look as if, at the least, these cases housed a mid-life yabby (Callianassa australiensis) or other crustacean, even though what one can see of the insides look like life-sustaining breathing apparatuses for some mini skitterer-to-be from Alien. Each looks as if it had something curled up there, and there is a distinct backbonish look to one edge of each. Of course, yabbies and such are spineless.

But what if (please let this be true) these are travelling suits shed at the landing of a visitation of not one, but three, fallible fiends? The cases or suits or whatever they are above, look like they would fit. I don't know who painted Zdim, the delightful fiend below, or whether Zdim was happy with L. Sprague de Camp's scribe-work in taking down his words (in one of the best satires of the 20th century) or even whether the painting is truly accurate (there's never a camera when you need one) but he looks like he needs friends. And a fiend is always fun if you can fit him in your buttonable pocket.

In ignorance, there is hope.

03 July 2010

enter the Cabinet des Fées, and get sticky with The Honey Month

First, Cabinet des Fées has an enthralling new website, with much to drag you away from what you were supposed to be doing.

Next, their Journal of Fairy Tales has a sparkling new issue out with twelve fresh stories by tellers diverse, and this gorgeous cover art by Charles Vess.

edited by Helen Pilinovsky & Erzebet YellowBoy

The reason I like this journal is that it is never content to leave anything alone. It intelligently uses brooms, picks, tweezers, spoons, potions and comestibles to confect new takes on old tales. Also, the people involved in the editing are some of the finest honers of today, with taste to spare.

As for Erzebet YellowBoy, who is also a delicious writer (get the upcoming Haunted Legends anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas), I highly recommend her own publishing house/special bookbindery, Papaveria Press.

Papaveria's latest production (in two editions) is this collection inspired by a variety of honeys, and written by an inspired poet worthy of her awards:

Read her Rhysling-winning
Song for an Ancient City
here in Mythic Delirium.

(A tacky and tasteless [very unhoneylike] self-indulgent aside: If you've read my latest novel Crandolin, you'd know that I am also besotted with honey – and those who get sticky professionally from it: Ekmel, the honey merchant; his donkey who drools for honey nougat; and the great Burhanettin, Master helvassia-i-dukka (honey confectioner). But of course, you can't have read Crandolin unless you live on Asteroid *. On Earth, honey gets more venerable with age. Some fairy tales do, too. As for Crandolin, the manuscript might see light as a book, but might become more valuable yet, as it is becoming virtual oil as it rots in the primordial swamp called "submissions". Ah, well. At least my portraits of sleeping bees have taken flight to be enjoyed – and I hope you do, though I'm sorry that I couldn't tape their snores.)