Call Your Doctor from Paradise

September 30, 2010

Those of us who care ought for our health do love the noble anchovy. A small creature indeed but so packed with piscine potential it should rank higher than the better known and welcomed sardine. But instead it languishes as a jokey addition in pizza parlors and in hard to find micro cans on unreachable shelves at Safeway.

The cognoscenti of the fishy world know and love the anchovy because it is the heart and soul of that Prince of pasta dishes, aglio e olio con anchovy, that salt hit, that cholesterol source, that garlic festival of a dish. A dish that has the power to repel borders, and the property of fusing two people into a pungent aromatic conspiracy. Rather like the policy of nuclear deterrence where mutual destruction is assured, so the joint consumers of this dish are at an odiferous brink. Not for the genuinely weak hearted, adipose averse, sodium refugees and preferees of light garnish, this dish is simple to make, hideous to behold, hazardous to many and best of all unutterably delicious. Not only this, but by the simple addition of the humble but blessed tomato becomes “Putanesca”; a dish with a very bad name but long history of efficient nutrition and eating pleasure.

 So here follows a recipe that worships at the respective altars of Farina, Goddess of Bread and Pasta; Bacchus, God of Wine; Alium, God of Garlic; and my own favorite, Butyria, Goddess of Butter.

Whilst you are chilling two bottles of the very best Pinot Grigio that you can afford, open two or three cans of our primary reagent. (Make sure that you do not use the variety that contains capers). Gaze upon their hairy bodies as they recline in their oleaginous coffin. Drain that charged liquid into a shallow pan, and place the beached corpses aside for the moment. Open the first bottle of wine, pour a generous glass, and take a similar sized draught.

 With your sharpest knife, finely, and I mean finely, chop eight large cloves of good garlic. Scrape the garlic into the oil, disperse and let it stand whilst you bake a loaf of your favorite bread, finish your wine, and listen to something by Faure that is not his Requiem. When you remove your loaf from the oven, tear off a large piece and dip a corner into the oil-garlic mix. Eat. Sigh.

 Put up a large pan of water; add no salt but two tablespoons of oil. As you wait for this to boil start a very gentle flame under your garlic. Take a piece of butter that would offend your Doctor and place it very deliberately in the oil. Add a quarter cup of oil to the pan. As it begins to heat up stand close to the pan and breathe. Call your lover into the Kitchen, take another piece of bread, dip it into the oil and place it on their lips. Pour some more wine. Drink some. Change from Faure to Brubeck, or Miles Davis. Before the garlic begins to brown, take the noble fish, and saying some blessing or words of committal, add them to the butter/oil/garlic. As the bodies of the Anchovies dissolve reflect on their short but worthy lives and stir them into oblivion for 5-7 minutes. Your water is now boiling and you must cook your thin spaghetti “al dente”, quickly drain it, and toss it with a little oil. Open the second bottle of wine.

 On plates that you warmed in the cooling bread oven, place one third of the pasta. Spoon the sauce from the pan onto the pasta and rush to table. Sprinkle your pasta with fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Light the candle on your table, say your grace, look your lover directly in the eye, eat, drink your wine, and become lost in the intensity of the flavor. Get the last third of the pasta, add more sauce and eat. Lavishly butter some of your bread and wipe your plate. Have an apple for desert, knowing that it won’t make any difference.

 Call your Doctor and tell him what you did. But you will be calling from Paradise, with happy Gods all around.

Ralph is not Rafe!

September 28, 2010

I grew up within listening distance of BBC Radio and TV  programs and yet it took me a while to appreciate the amazing depth of their classical music broadcasts. In the days when I was faking illness and playing what Americans call hookey and doing what Brits call Skiving I watched a TV program called either BBC Schools or Open University. In the intervals between  programs classical music was played. Prokofiev, Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Ravel and more fin de siecle and early 20thCentury greats. It fired my passion for classical music that burns even stronger now, and with a wider flame.

But in those far off times the greats had to compete with Chuck Berry, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Sextet, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and all the burgeoning flowers of rock, soul, and jazz. But when I listened to the greats on the Beeb I never once heard an announcer pronounce the forename of Vaughan Williams as Rafe. It was always Ralph, Ralph with an L.

And for years announcers on classical stations across America continued to call him Ralph. Only recently have I noticed a disturbing habit of calling this wonderful composer Rafe. My reaction has been to say, who? Are you talking about the composer I know?

It strikes me as pretentious, and posing. OK so Ralph Fiennes wants to be called Rafe; and he is still alive (I think)

I admit that I do not know what his Mummy and Daddy called Ralph Vaughan WIlliams but can the BBC be wrong?

Before I call up my long suffering local classical station to lambast them I am interested in your opinion. Sadly misguided as it may be. Long live Ralph with an L, as in Lummox! And now I am orf to lissen to sum Freddie Chopping or izit Bennie Britn?

Never Trust a Loose Dog

September 26, 2010

  Call me a whiner, call me unsympathetic, call me whatever you like, but I really do believe I am more than usually accurate when I claim that the moment a human becomes a dog owner several synaptic switches are thrown. How else to explain the experience I have this very day enjoyed (sic).  

Close to my house there is an excellent park that includes a surfaced path upon which folks can walk, ride bikes, run, and generally enjoy the air. It will one day circle our town. In the forested part of the park the pathway is maintained with woodchips. If you take the path all the way to the end you will find yourself at the Willamette River. The path was once a logging road. Trucks bearing logs from the Molalla Forest would drive to the river where a derrick would hoist the timber into the river. The logs would be bound into rafts and tugged off to mills. I feel grateful that our city has had the foresight to take this old road and make it into a treasure.

Probably about every other day I will walk or run the length of the path and trail. By taking the path and looping in and out of the forest trails I can make up walks or runs of any distance from two to five miles or more. I love this park.

And every time that I do I will of course pass other users; walkers, riders and of course dog owners. I do not worry about the walkers, runners or riders. At the entrance to the park, in the parking lot, at the barrier to the path, there are signs that ask dog owners to put their pets on a leash and to clean up after them when necessary. It is a mystery to me then why nearly half of all the folks accompanying their animals allow them to run loose.

This afternoon I had run a few loops and was now walking to cool down. Coming toward me was a group of walkers, a family group. The path where we were both walking was straight and so we had clear sight of each other for several minutes. They were a man, two women, a child, one dog on a leash and another roaming free. As I walked by it was this dog that leapt up and snapped at my arm. It did not break the skin so I was excused a trip to the emergency room for a tetanus shot.

I had a conversation with the lady who had the leash for this animal in her hand. She did apologize, but then told me the following amazing things. “He’s not my dog”, “We know he’s nuts”. So why then was he off leash? It beggars belief. What if I had been a small child? What if I had not been wearing a shirt and my skin had been broken? This is an extreme example of the mindset I have often witnessed whenever a dog misbehaves. It’s human will say, “Oh, he’s never done that before”, “Don’t you like dogs?”, “He doesn’t usually do that”, and the phrase that many use but cannot prove, “Don’t worry, she’s friendly!”, or worse, “He won’t bite”. This is stated usually just before the animal leaps up on you, bites you, sniffs your crotch, or begins to bark manically. And we are back to, “He’s never done that before”.

In almost every other way these dog owners are normally logical folk. It is only when their dog is close that logic leaves the scene and their minds. There must be an involuntary synaptic switch that flips the moment a human becomes the owner or in charge of a dog. How else can we explain the lame excuses, the lack of responsibility, the reduction in apparent intellect of which I have given just one example.

And I have not even touched upon the mess that many dog owners allow their pets to make, with even less explanation.

Dogs may be the smartest creatures on the planet. They certainly seem to have powerful control over their guardians. And no, I never owned a dog. Two cats allowed me to feed and shelter them in my past.

It has been relatively quiet on the bizarre and useless error message front for a while. I thought for a silly moment that the boiling digital mess that passes for a reliable and stable operating system had actually become just that. But today my usual cynicism was rewarded by the following utterly useless and meaningless message that popped up shortly after a reboot.

 “The procedure entry point LocalizeString could not be located in the dynamic link library STLang.dll”  

I am not a MAC fan, I don’t believe all the hype, but these vacuum headed messages are pushing me ever closer to a fruity machine.

In 2003 I was invited to a Halloween Party. I am not a big fan of a holiday designed to make dentists wealthy and the Hershey Company even bigger, but I rallied myself and decided that if witchcraft was once a viable business model in the past why not today. And so being in a Shakespearean mood I created Dunsinane Associates. The attached PDF  Dunsinane Assoc Brochure for WordPress is of the first brochure I created for the company. I went to the party dressed in a business suit and a wizards hat. Three hideous witches accompanied me. We all had cards and touted for business. I cannot say how succesful we were. It is not good for business…as you could guess. Our clients do ask for and get utter silence on the question of their use of our services. Dont hesitate to contact me, my discretion would be legendary if anyone knew.

It must have been sometime around my thirteenth year that my Mother put the strong-arm on Father to improve himself. In those far off days this took the form of night school. A form of educational anguish that involved dragging oneself off to lectures and laboratories at a local technical school after one had already put in a day’s work. He was in his late thirties or early forties. Not the best time to start taking university level classes, perhaps? But he was not alone. After the war many men who had gone into technical work found it harder and harder to keep up without some kind of diploma serving as paper foundation to their careers. It also meant that many winter evenings we were both crouched resentfully over our respective homework, struggling. He with algebra, geometry, the strengths of materials, draughtsmanship, engine rating; he was an engineer; and me with mathematics, chemistry and physics.

At that time a favored method of instruction was for a teacher or master to deliver a fairly high paced lecture on a particular theorem or topic. Students would take pencil notes in ‘rough’ which would then be transferred to ‘fair copy’ in a notebook that could be summoned for marking. The fair book would be written in fountain pen along with diagrams in pencil. When I understood the lesson and knew the work my fair copy was neat enough. At other times it was atrocious.

My Father eschewed the pencil and took his rough notes in fountain pen. But his fair copy was text-book quality; neat, precise, and legible. His cursive penmanship was strong and easy on the eye, his engineering drawings were clean, with few erase markings, and lay on the page in the best place to illustrate the text. It impressed me terrifically. I am sure he went through agonies to get it so. I could not. He may not have gotten good marks for getting theorems correct or the right result of a long and arduous calculation involving quadratic equations and tables of logarithms, but no-one could have remarked poorly on the clarity of his work and desire to be understood. 

I do not really know if my Father was sentimental or not. He was of a generation that did not give much away. He did not keep those note books long after he took his exams and became qualified. Perhaps living in small houses with children and tiny closets does that to one. There were many things that he discarded that I wish he had kept. His notebooks were very personal and almost works of art. They told me much more about his character than anything else.

I doubt that it necessary for him to produce his work in quite so archival a form to achieve his diploma. But for him it was. It was a part of his desire to ‘get it right’ first time, no questions asked, no follow-up needed. Bull’s-eye shot. His world of working class men struggling up the unseen but very tangible ladder to an imagined middle class security was full of intricate forms and trip wire questions the wrong answer to which would send you sliding down a virtual snake to the bottom of the professional and perhaps social pit. Even in post war England with enormous changes occurring in the social and class structure by the week, some old habits died very hard, and some barriers remained formidable, and seemingly permanent. Accent, school and birthplace; the giveaways that enable an interviewer, shopkeeper, bank clerk, petty official or neighbor to pigeon-hole the individual and confidently apply some irrational prejudice to the moment of interaction and any further. My dear nervous, shy, stuttering; yes he had and had defeated a serous stutter; regionally accented Father, my Father sought to neutralize these threats by being accurate, precise, and getting it right.

 The latter-day shadow of his desire lives on in me. I detest forms, am suspicious of any uniform, am anxious to make a good first impression, loathe imprecision, and get excited whenever I see good handwriting or an attractive example of a technical diagram with explanatory text. But I do not stutter and my handwriting remains, ordinary.

Fraction, A Poem

September 9, 2010

Here is a very short poem I wrote some years back to ask how little we know of the whole electromagnetic field in which we live.


By Bob Sterry

A photographer stands
Shutter cable in hand.
An image is beating
On his camera door
Not demanding entrance
Light, energy is indifferent
But continually present
And changing.
He thinks he saw something
His machine can capture
On a thin reactive pellicule.
But chemistry only keeps
A part of the whole
Pulsing available spectrum,
And the image emerging
Later in a darkened room
Is, of course,
A fraction.

Bible Burning, Anyone?

September 9, 2010

Shades of Fahrenheit 451. I have decided to cancel my bible burning set for any day soon, pending the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury dropping in for a little tisane and cookies. I had earlier been determined to burn at least one hundred bibles on my driveway based on the premise that the words in those pages had directly and indirectly caused the unnecessary death and suffering of millions of innocents around the globe.

The actions of the so-called pastor Jones in Florida mirror almost exactly the perverse ignorance of so-called religious leaders in the Muslim world.  It must reassure us that we here in the US are as stupid or as smart as the folks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the rest of the Muslim world.

A better sign of a desire for peace and understanding would be to burn a pile of ten thousand books. Five of the Koran and five of the Bible. There are not two more dangerous books threatening the world than these. Unless it is Sarah Palin’s double ghost written biography.

Tree Blues

September 7, 2010

It took less than fifteen minutes to dramatically change the character of my neighbourhood this damp grey morning. It has given me a sad hopeless feeling. It has taken a little longer for the political landscape to change in America from the euphoria of the 2008 election. This morning a crew of four or five came and removed the Linden tree which for all our time in this address had shaded, littered and beautified our driveway. This morning I read in several news feeds that the republican party stands to regain power in congress and in states. The tree needed to go. Its roots were about to crack our driveway, break into sewers, internet conduit, gas and power lines. It was the wrong tree for this location; pretty as it was. The tree will be replaced by something more considerate of all those pipes and wires buried underneath. So there is hope. I wish I could say the same thing about the political scene. America once more demonstrates its impatience, amazingly short memory and gullibility. Our old tree needed to be replaced. Not so our present administration which has had less than two years to clean up the colossal Augean stable left behind after eight years of waste and stupidity; yes stupidity. I have written elsewhere on my opinion of the republican party. It is not good. Not even moderate. It is a party that serves its clients; the rich and the tax evading corporations; by misinforming its dupes, the voters. The same voters who then go onto vote solidly against their own self-interest; and they do it passionately. I can live without the tree, I will even welcome its replacement and help it to grow up straight and true. But don’t ask me to accept the political swing as anything but a very sad day for America. Venal axemen have started to cut down a healthy tree for short term profit at the mill.