Sep 12 2014

Five Friday Goodies

This past couple of weeks have been of the beat-my-head-up-against-a-wall variety, particularly in regard to accomplishing the mountainous tasks that had piled up at my day job. So, I figured it would be nice to be able to share a few of the things that have made me smile lately (above and beyond my niece and nephew, that is, who always make me smile no matter what’s happening).

1. I’ve just learned that Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. I have read a handful of books by her and have loved each and every one, though I have a particular soft spot for the Earthsea series.

2. The Beyoncelogues – Actress Nina Millin takes Beyonce songs and performs them as dramatic monologues. The results are utterly fantastic. I particularly like her rendition of “Single Ladies,” but the whole five part series is great.

Seeing Millin perform and bring new depth to these songs is deeply inspiring to me. I love seeing popular works redefined in inventive ways and seeing her perform makes me want to try to write a short film script, or even a feature film script, for Millin to star in.

3. I’m currently reading Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (ETA: to include Older). These fantasy stories are exactly what I need right now. They’re not exactly lite, or not all of them, but they’re interesting and thought provoking and bite-sized. It’s good reading, which makes me happy.

4. This video of Terry Crews playing music by flexing his muscles, each one attached to an electrode attached to an instrument, is old to the nets, but new to me. Jaw-dropping, head exploding levels of awesome.

5. Running with Zombies is a 5K fun run in San Jose, in which the zombies don’t chase the survivors, but run alongside them. It’s kind of like a zombie walk, but with running instead. And, while I tend to prefer walkers instead of runners at the cinema, I’m happy to say that my sister and I will be shifting into zombie mode this October in order to join the run – zombie make up, torn clothes, and all. I’m so excited!

Note that I avoided putting my recent download of Minecraft Pocket Edition on this list, because it’s not so much making me smile as it’s consuming my life. If this no sleeping, no eating thing keeps up I might be more of a zombie than I expected by the time the fun run roles around.


Sep 3 2014

Books Completed in August

1. Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Echo
2. We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead, edited by Dawn Keetley
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4. The Essential Edgar Allan Poe (audio book) by Edgar Allan Poe
5. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
6. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line: Veronica Mars #1, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham7.
7. The Science of Herself, Plus… by Karen Joy Fowler

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

REVIEWS:

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Sep 1 2014

Book Review: House of Leaves

It’s hard to know how to explain the story of House of Leaves, which is deeply layered. I suppose one could start the explanation with what is essentially the core story, Navidson, an acclaimed photographer moves with his family into a country home in order to rebuild bonds and find a calmer, more cohesive life together, only to discover that the house is much more than it seems.

That explanation just barely scratches the surface of this book, however. The story begins with Johnny Truant, who learns of the death of a man named Zampanó and discovers a chaotic stack of papers in the man’s empty apartment. As he starts to put them together, his life starts to fall apart.

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Aug 31 2014

Checking Out Corktown, Detroit

While my journeys in Corktown — the oldest neighborhood in Detroit — occurred over the course of two separate days, they really belong in a single post, since Corktown was so distinct compared to downtown Detroit. Corktown is where I started to see real signs of decay with many buildings and businesses nearby boarded up and dilapidated. But several great restaurants and a new brewery commingle, revealing signs of vibrant life.

Wednesday night, after day one of the conference I was attending for work, my new friend drove us out to Michigan Central Station, was built from 1912-1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad and was closed down in the ’80s. It’s been run down ever since and is currently surrounded by a chain-link fence with razor wire at the top to prevent anyone from going in. Through the open doorways, you can see signs of crumbling and decay, but it’s still such a beautiful building. There’s local debate as to whether it should be torn down or restored. I vote restored, though I know it’s never quite that simple.

Detroit - Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station

Dinner that night was Slow’s Bar-B-Q, where we were served up some amazing, perfectly moist brisket and creamy, dreamy mac n cheese — so, so good. My second side was the green beens, which were perfectly cooked, but had a spicy sauce that I wasn’t digging. Just a bit to spicy for me, especially since I really like the taste of plain, lightly salted green beans.

Detroit

Great brisket at Slow’s.

* * *

On my second trip to Corktown (on Friday , my friend Lorie was driving through and she pointed out what looking like a bar inside a warehouse. “I drove past here last night and it was jumping,” she said. “Do you want to check it out?”

I said, “Absolutely.”

As we were walking in through the back, we were greeted by a young woman named Courtney. She said the place was a distillery, called Two James, and she was one of the partners.

She showed us through the tasting room, where the style expressed a sense of old and new all at once, to a door leading to the distillery. I thought she was just going to let us peer through the window, but she said, “We don’t normally let people back here, but since you’re so enthusiastic…” Then she opened the door and showed us in, where several men were working at the giant copper pot.

“They’re brewing gin right now,” said Courtney. “I always think it smells sticky.”

“Sticky” is the perfect way to describe the heavy sweet scent that hung in the air. I wouldn’t know how to describe it any other way.

She led us over to a barrel, where there was an unlabeled bottle and some small plastic shot glasses and gave us a taste of the gin that was brewing. I’m not normally a fan of gin — this was the smoothest gin I’ve ever tasted. I would even consider just having it over rocks and sipping it slowly.

I told Courtney as much. “Yeah,” she said. “Most gins have 4-5 botanicals. We use 12.”

In the tasting room, I ordered a Manhatten, which I knew was a whiskey forward drink. It was fantastic, one of those drinks in which you can taste the good liquor.

My second drink was the Corktown Mule, a mixture of Old Cockney Gin, lime juice, and ginger beer. The drink was sharp with the taste of ginger and refreshing, a great summer drink.

From the tasting menu: “Two James Spirits is proud to be the first licensed distillery in the city of Detroit since prohibition. Our 500 gallon American made copper pot still resides in an old red brick warehouse in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. At Two James, our passion lies in creating small, handcrafted batches of premium spirit, using locally sourced ingredients that highlight Michigan’s agricultural abundance and more importantly the people and city of Detroit.”

According to the bartenders, Two James is named after both of the partner’s fathers, each of whom are named James. The distillery was named in tribute to their fathers. It’s been open for only around a year and only sells the liquor they brew themselves. For me at least, Two James distillery is a must-go spot in Detroit.

A food truck, names Katoi, parks out behind the distillery and serves Thai food to hungry liquor tasters. But Lori and I were in the mood for burgers, so we walked down to the Mercury Bar, which is directly across the street from Slow’s.

We were running short on time when we arrived at the Mercury Bar, as I needed to be at the airport in under an hour or so to fly home. But Gino, a man with warm smiles, a pink-toned plaid shirt, bow tie, and thick-rimmed sunglasses assured us that he could get our burgers out in a hurry. The burgers came out in perfect timing and were big and juicy and good eating after all our liquor tasting.

Detroit was a delightful experience, not at all like the rumors would have led me to believe. I would definitely go back again and maybe next time, I’ll check out some more of the cultural sites as well as the good eats.

Detroit

The Two James logo.

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The tasting room.

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A wall of barrels at Two James.

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You can look through the barrels into the distillery.

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Inside the distillery with it’s large copper pot.

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The line of liquor.

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A tasty Manhattan.


Aug 31 2014

Getting In and Hanging Out

Detroit

On my last day in Detroit (last Friday, Aug 22, as with previous night), we set out without much of plan, electing to wander around Greek Town and the surrounding areas. We checked out Saint Mary’s Church and had some eats at El Wood Bar & Grill.

While we were eating, we listed to the preparations for the Eminem and Rhianna concert going on across the street, including a sound check from Rhianna. At the gates, people were already lining up (it was only mid-morning).

Meanwhile, there were signs of people in jerseys, waiting for the football game that night. Since the arena is across the street from where the concert was being held, I can imagine how packed and chaotic the night would be — any restaurant and local workers were talked to just shook their head at what was about to enfold. Though Lori and I were well on our way out of there before the gauntlet fell.

Detroit - Saint Mary's Church

Saint Mary’s Church

The theme of the day seemed to be getting into places you wouldn’t normally be allowed, which started with our visit to Saint John’s Church. The door was locked as we were walking up, but as we were walking around the side of the building an old, young at heart woman came out a side door. We told her we were trying to see the church and she welcomed us in through the back offices, where she pointed out old photographs of the church whenit had been moved 60 feet back in order to allow a widening of the street out front. She also showed us portraits of the founder and his wife, let us into the original church chapel, and then let us explore the main church at our leisure.

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