The World at our Fingertips

This week’s post was inspired by a sentence from the excellent essay 13 Right Now. This is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing by Jessica Contrera, Washington Post:

The whole world is at her fingertips and it has been for years.

I read this book last year where the hero and villain chased each other across several countries to acquire secret technology that would rule the world. It had jet planes and speedboats and was written in the late nineties. The secret technology was described as the ability to connect all the world’s encyclopedias so that someone could type a word into a computer and learn everything there is to know about that thing. It would make education available to all, raise the standard of living for the poor, equalize disparate classes, and topple secret governments. The Internet.

060816 flyingfingers

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Cinderella Meets Katniss

[Gentle Readers: This week’s blog is a short work of fiction for a rare change. I have started a writing class and hope to provide the next new and improved normal nonfiction entries, after receiving instruction and feedback. Meanwhile, one class suggestion for this week was to reimagine a fairy tale, and I thought you might get a kick out of my submission. As always, I welcome YOUR feedback as well. ]

The Grand Ball was the big event of the season, a chance for the duchesses and baronesses to display their most extravagant gowns and jewels to trap the eye of eligible bachelors. Silk brocade swished through the air as the dancers whirled through the intricate steps of Empire waltzes. The music swelled as the violins approached a crescendo, propelling the whirling dancers into their fastest turns, and drowning out the sound as the poisoned darts hit home.

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The World Must Be Peopled!

Can you fall in love under duress? If you lived in a world that required you to mate for life OR ELSE – could you do it? How would you do it? Would you try to fake it? Could you be convincing? What if you had to fool the Spousal Police?

Now the fact that you will turn into an animal if you fail to fall in love with someone during your stay here is not something that should upset you or get you down.
– Hotel Manager, The Lobster

There is something intriguing and dare I say it? fun about a movie in the alternate world, dystopian as the critics call it, the world that seems like our own but is just Off. The Lobster, a 2015 movie now making the arthouse cinema rounds is one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in a long time. It takes place in a society like our own, with modern dress, skyscrapers, freeways, and hotel swimming pools very much like our own. But it becomes quickly obvious that there is something different going on.  In that sense it’s more like a puzzle, like The Sixth Sense or Fahrenheit 451 or the Memento. Something is different.

20160524lOBSTER3The first part has to establish that difference and to give it shape. We don’t need to know why the rules are this way, not at the outset, but we need to know what they are. The setup in The Lobster is that the adults without mates are required to become “guests” at a hotel. They must couple up within 45 days or they will be transformed – surgically, and the less said about those gory details the better– into the animal of their choice. The couples must be validated to the satisfaction of the authorities, so you can’t just pick somebody. Tests must be passed. When the guests are given shotguns to help reinforce the rules, the consequences of failure are clarified. Continue reading “The World Must Be Peopled!”

The Magic Flourish at Dinner

Since Sandra Boynton has pointed out it is National Cheese Soufflé day, I thought it would be fitting to provide some words of inspiration on one of my favorite dishes to cook. Inspiration is the proper word, since souffler is French for to blow or to breathe, and one definition of it is a “low murmuring sound heard through a stethoscope.” Inspired, meaning to inhale and breathe in; creating, we exhale, breathe out, and offer our culinary creations to the world. The execution of a soufflé is to blow air into a pancake; to take the familiar –eggs, milk, butter, and flour – and transform them into a light puffy honeycombed framework on which to hang flavors of tangy cheddar, mysterious dark chocolate, or exotic Grand Marnier or Meyer Lemon.

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Fond Memories
The first soufflé I ever made was with my dad’s second wife, Mary. She was experimenting with the cookbook and wanted a challenge. She was very nervous because making a soufflé has always had a reputation for being complicated and easy to ruin. I remember us checking the cookbook every five minutes or so, hesitating at choosing which pans to use, peering over the mixture we stirred in the skillet, and later chewing our fingernails watching it in the oven.

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The Idea of Waterloo

I don’t know why I find Waterloo so fascinating; the Belgians don’t really seem to. It was the last of the planned highlights of our trip for me, and I had read about it and thought about it for months.  Yet compared with other tourist sites we visited, it had minimal infrastructure and sparse attendance. It left a lot to the imagination.

Typically Belgian
T4Lions Mound
Granted, they have a nifty little museum underneath the site, as well as a “4D” movie experience that really makes you feel the smoke of the soldiers’ campfires and the charge of the horses over the ridge. But apparently this museum was built only last year for the bicentennial, and prior to that there was only this high, oddly designed “Lion’s Mound” that had a small observation deck, with an old map and a couple pay telescopes. You have to climb up and down 225 steps to get there, which would be difficult for a lot of people and downright awful in any weather that had the slightest wind, rain or worse.  When we were there, there were a handful of Germans and maybe a few locals at the top, even though it was a beautiful day and a holiday to boot. The signs on where to enter the museum and observation deck itself were confusing, causing you to walk around a long fence, only to be redirected back and down these other steps that turned out to be right off the parking lot. (Why not have a sign when you come out of the lot, “MUSEUM THIS WAY”?)  Margot, a friend who agreed to guide us, told us that was typically Belgian. She said that often while she was driving.

Lest you think I am just throwing shade on Belgium, I will say Margot took us to one of the best lunch places (Stoemp and Sausage) of the trip, and we spent several hours enjoying the sunny Grand Place at a cafe. But, to be fair, the day before we also had one of the worst dinners I’ve ever eaten, found the museums and gardens we wanted to visit were closed, and couldn’t find a single market to buy a soda after 8 pm. This was all after Karin lost her phone right between the metro station and the two blocks to the hotel. And there are no T Mobile stores in Brussels.  I’m not throwing shade, this is just what happened. We got off to a rocky start.

Still, we were in a good mood embarking out to the Waterloo site the following day. I was particularly happy that Margot had agreed to take us because frankly the directions to get there were fairly obscure. The website for tourism for Waterloo and the little town, Braine l’Alleud is not particularly robust. There are buses that go out there, but they stop at various places that are miles apart, and most of the logistical explanations were in French. There are no guided tours other than private ones you could plan in advance for several hundred dollars. This was in marked contrast to the other sites, like Keukenhof, which had dedicated buses packed full of sightseers, or the museum with multiple exhibits at the Nobel Peace Center, or even the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was mobbed by cameras. In contrast, Waterloo didn’t seem to have the same draw. Continue reading “The Idea of Waterloo”