Coffee On The Mississippi

Would we have Coffee With Mark Twain?

Cammy: I had to ponder this one for a moment.  For some people it would be an obvious yes, but, much as I like reading Twain’s work, I had reason to question whether or not we’d get along.  After all, the man has gone on record slamming Jane Austen and he wanted to extend copyright–neither of which I can support.  But, on the other side, he had glowing comments about Anne of Green Gables, had a sense of humor and was an abolitionist, so, it’s not like he’s a completely hopeless jackass.  So, I decided to let the good count more than the bad and the coffee is a go.  While I’ve got him on the hook, he is definitely going to have to answer to the Jane Austen and copyright stuff (does remix culture change his mind, or reinforce his opinion?).  How does he feel about the direction American literature has take since he was churning out stories (or does he care)?Kristy: Yeah, that’s a toughie.  He seems to have been a cantankerous SOB which could result in the funny or could result in an unpleasant coffee date.  Hard to say.  Adding to Cammy’s concerns about his hatred of Jane Austen and his thoughts on copyright I add another: he was very vocal in his hatred of medievalism.  So much so that he wrote a whole book making fun of it.  And while I concede there are a lot of bad medievalist novels/movies out there… I also enjoy a bit of it.  Add to that, I really don’t enjoy his writing that much.  But on the other hand, last year I had this conversation with a Chinese colleague.  Her face lit up when I told her I spent childhood summers in Mississippi.  She asked me if I’d seen the Mississippi River and what it was like.  Turns out her excitement was all because she had read Huckleberry Finn as a child and loved it so much.  You have to give props to a writer than can create those kind of magical memories about a place she’s never even been.  So… if Cammy’s in, I guess I’m in.  Sounds like we should have some interesting conversations.

Gymanstics Update

I’ve been good.  I’ve been so good.  I have not blogged about my strange gymnastics obsession once this year!  But I’m jumping off the wagon.

I feel it’s my duty.  After all, the London Olympics are next year, marking that once every four year occasion in which everyone suddenly watches gymnastics.  And if I don’t update you, how will you know what’s going on next year?

General things you need to know:

Remember how in 2008 the scoring system was all weird and the perfect 10 was gone?  And because of the way difficulty is valued it’s possible for someone to fall and still win because they were doing a harder skill?  Yeah, they haven’t fixed that.  They said they were going to fix that.  They’ve done some things aimed at fixing that.  But they haven’t fixed that.

Teams are down to five members this year instead of the six we had last Olympiad and seven we had the last time USA won a gold medal.  The idea is to make it easier for smaller countries to compete.  Every year they seem to institute some new policy aimed at making it easier for smaller (and by “smaller” they really mean countries with less wealthy gymnastics programs—Romania is fairly tiny and is always in the top tier) countries to compete.  I’m not sure any of it helps.  What it does mean is that it’s going to be harder for event specialists to make it onto the team since out of those five at least three have to have good scores on each event.

Team USA:

Half our gymnasts are broken.  The run down: Alicia Sacramone (ruptured Achilles), Chellsie Memmel (bicep surgery), Mackenzie Caquatto (ankle injury), Rebecca Bross (dislocated knee), Bridget Sloan (recently recovered from bicep tear, now nursing a gashed foot that required something like 15 stiches).  And this doesn’t even include all those little injuries gymnasts compete with all the time.  A lot of people are quick to blame Marta Karolyi for the injuries, but I personally place more blame on the code which pushes girls to perform difficult skills even when maybe they shouldn’t.

At present all members of the 2008 women’s team except Samantha Pezcek are planning to try to make the 2012 team.  Chances don’t necessarily look great for any of them.  A-Sac and Memmel are battling bodies that have been doing the sport for a very long time and are consequently falling apart.  Shawn Johnson fell twice on beam at Pan-Americans and seems to be struggling to deal with nerves and old injuries she didn’t have to face so much as a wide-eyed sixteen year old.  Nastia Liukin just announced her comeback and no one’s seen her compete yet, so it’s hard to say.  (I’ll confess that all I care about at this point is that Travis Wall of So You think you Can Dance fame may be choreographing her floor routine)  Sloan seems to be a procrastinator—she barely competed this year and clearly is not in top competitive form at the moment.  On the other hand, no one thought she was going to be ready in 2008 and she was.  She and Liukin are giant question marks.

And probably the biggest obstacle for the ’08 girls is that Team USA just won the 2011 World Title without help from any of them.  That torch may have been passed.  Watch for newly crowned All-around champion Jordyn Weiber.  Her gymnastics might not be as pretty to watch as Liukin’s or the Russians’, but she does a lot of it and does it well.  It’s important to note that USA won the world championships in the last two pre-Olympic years, only to come in second at the Olympics.  Let’s hope the curse does not repeat.

On the men’s side (no, I haven’t been following it as closely.  No, I don’t feel that guilty about it.): The biggest thing to watch for is Yin Alvarez.  No, he’s not an athlete; he’s the coach and step father of US Champion Danell Leyva and his antics are perhaps even more entertaining to watch than Bella Karolyi’s.  The men’s team looks solid over all and poised for a potential medal.  Paul Hamm had announced yet another comeback attempt, but this will likely be hampered by his recent arrest.

Other teams:

Russia looked almost asleep in world team finals (where they came in second), but they were without defending All Around champion Aliya Mustafina (ACL tear).  They also came back for several individual medals, but not the gold in the All Around. (There is some controversy over whether silver medalist Viktoria Komova actually deserved to win—I’ll spare you the details.)  They might be hungry next year.

Speaking of hungry: Romania failed to medal at all at the World Championships.  Expect them to be pissed and out for blood next year.

China’s always one to watch for, but it’s hard to say who will be on their team (I’ll spare you jokes about how next year’s team is still in nursery school).  They have a couple up-and-comers and could be very competitive.

England qualified a women’s team for the Olympics (and men will likely get in at the Olympic test event next year).  They probably won’t challenge for a team medal, but they have several gymnasts who could be in the hunt for individual medals.

Sadly my other team Mexico will not be sending a team to the Olympics, but they have several exciting gymnasts with beautiful, elegant styles.  They’re still a team to watch for, even if it’s not for next year.

Vicarious Enjoyment Via A Superfan

The CBC Radio 3 Blog community was home to a discussion of superfans recently.  Normally, I would find the rabid superfan a little off-putting.  They tend to be louder, pushier….a lot of things ending in -er, most of them unpleasant.

But at tonight’s rodeo/Reba concert I got to watch a superfan who actually made my own concert experience better.

About 5-6 rows ahead of me tonight, there was a girl, who looked about 11, and her Dad.  The kid was sporting her “All The Women I Am” Reba shirt and a lot of barely contained excitement.  You could tell in one look at the kid that she was stoked about this.  Dad appeared to be patient and mildly amused.  I think I noticed them because it reminded me so much of my first Reba concert when I was 11–Dad took me, and displayed the same amused patience.  Throughout the rodeo, she was watching, paying attention–Dad was pointing things out and clearly explaining–but radiated a kind of tense anticipation.

When Reba finally took to the stage, the entire Sprint Center stood for the first two songs, but after the rest of us had settled back in our seats, that kid was still on her feet, clapping and singing along.  She stood the entire concert (her seat position and her height prevented this from annoying anyone behind her–and the volume meant that her singing along could in no way offend anyone around her).  At one point I saw her glancing down at her palms, clearly contemplating whether the sting of all that clapping was worth it.  I suppose it must have been, because she shrugged and kept going.  She even sang along with the medley of older stuff.  And when I say older, I’m not talking about “Fancy” or anything from the 90s.  I’m talking “Can’t Even Get the Blues”…from 1982.  Her Dad was probably still in school when that one came out.

I actually found myself wishing I was seated next to her.  As it was, other than my empty seat, and the PDA couple directly in front of me (side note: there was also a Radio 3 Blog discussion of concert PDA), I was surrounded by un-impressively passive people my parents’ ages.  They totally didn’t get into the concert, which was physically painful, because in the stripped down and truncated version of the performance (rodeo concerts tend to be less elaborate), there were maybe 4 slower songs (1 of which was “Because of You” in which Reba turned the mic on the audience for large chunks).

How much nicer would it have been to have been along side the kid, bopping along with her?  To catch a little of that enthusiasm and feel like it’s totally okay to keep clapping and enjoying the hell out of the moment?  Even at a distance, I feel like I  got something out of seeing this girl watch the show, and I guess that’s enough.

I hope she enjoyed the concert as much as I did–though I strongly suspect she may have enjoyed it even more.


Disney Happened

In ethnomusicology they have a saying:  Radio happened.  It’s basically short hand for pointing out that you can spend all day lamenting the fact that radio interfered with the age old face-to-face methods through which music used to be passed, but it won’t do any good.  The world changed and we need to come up with new ways to study it.  Rather than fighting the radio, we’re better off incorporating it into our studies.

I’ve recently decided we need an equivalent in folklore:  Disney happened.

This became clear to me this week when I was discussing ABC’s new show Once Upon a Time with a colleague.  Now I didn’t find the show to be particularly great; it has more cheese and cliché than are probably helpful.  But keeping in mind that pilots are often the worst episodes of a series, the pilot entertained me enough to make me watch a second episode.  But not so much that I’ve added it to my DVR.  My colleague on the other hand has higher standards.  Her response was, “OMG, it was horrible.  The writing sucks, the acting sucks (I’m not sure they suck worse than most of what you see on TV, but she’s not totally wrong) and OMG they used DISNEY VERSIONS of the fairy tales.”  (Please note: this is a bad paraphrase of what she actually said)

Putting aside her use of the totally non-scholarly term “fairy tales”; she’s not wrong.  They did use a fair amount of imagery and variation that, to my knowledge, is found only in the Disney versions of certain folktales.  For example, Snow White (or her modern day incarnation to be precise) has a bird land on her hand.  (I admitted it was cheesy)  No, that wasn’t in the original.  Except… wait… what was the original?

And here we get to my point:  folk tales have always changed.  Hell, variation across time and space is one of the major things us folklorists study about folk tales.  Given that most folk tales probably circulated in some form in oral tradition long before the earliest written versions we have (there are some who debate any folk origin for folk tales, but… such theories are not widely accepted) it’s a fair bet that what we think of as “the original” form of a given folk tale is not completely accurate.  And if we don’t know what the original is and we know the tales have always evolved, how to do we crucify Disney for continuing the process?

Yes, I understand complaints that Disney sterilized their tales to appeal to modern sensibilities and children (like for example, taking the whole rape-mance out of Sleeping Beauty).  But it’s not like Disney invented that idea either.  That too was a process that goes back at least as far as the Grimm brothers.  When we look at variations in folk tales we generally analyze them as reflections of the particular culture that produced them.  They are a product of when and where they were told and tell us a lot about those cultures.  Like it or not, Disney variants do the same damn thing.  Maybe it’s easy for me to say this because I don’t have the emotional connection to folk tales that a lot of folklorists do.  I never had a collection of Grimms Tales as a kid and I didn’t even watch the cartoon versions very much.  But sometimes distance helps give perspective.

And no matter how sad we think it might be, the Disney versions are the ones most familiar to most Americans today.  So if you’re trying to evoke a folk tale and get a contemporary American audience to recognize it, of course you’re going to reference Disney (unless you’re afraid of getting sued for copyright infringement*).  The fact is that the writers of Once Upon a Time also had to deal with the fact that Disney happened.  If you really want your television show to educate contemporary American audiences on the “real” versions of these stories, that’s great.  But it’s going to take a lot of exposition.  And given the infant mortality rate of primetime shows, who has time for that?

So anyway, while the writing and the acting and the high cheese content may be totally valid complaints about the show, I think we have to let the Disney one go.  It may be sad, but those movies happened and were watched and beloved by many.  We need to accept that and work it into our analyses.

*MTVMPB concedes there are many legitimate reasons to hold a grudge against Disney, most notably their control of our copyright code.

Indulging My Inner Child


A co worker and I were on a business trip to Minneapolis recently.  After a stressful day of meetings, we opted to forgo another dinner with business-types making nice.  Instead we hit that homage to consumerism, The Mall of America.

Neither one of us are clothes people, so that was out.  We were perusing for a place to eat and enjoying a chance to walk around when I spotted that familiar yellow sign.

“Lego!” I yelped,  before reigning myself in.  Can’t be too immature around a coworker….

But, it turned out I need not have feared.  My coworker was happy to go in and wander through.  I was drawn to the build-your-own-mini kiosks, but kept holding back…until I saw her start diving in.  We both had a grand time constructing minis and filling up pick-a-brick cups.  She kept saying “this is SO what I needed after today.”

Yes, at well over 30, I totally played with and bought Legos tonight.  It is the best fun I have had in a while.  And I kind of think I may just keep my legos on my desk at work from now on.  A little bit of de-stressing, creative play to keep my inner child entertained….

Intimidating Coffee

Would we drink coffee with Boudica?

Kristy:  Of course.  I used to drink coffee with Boudica all the time.  She’d sit on my computer desk while I ate breakfast and… oh… wait… we aren’t talking about Bridget’s cat here, are we?  We’re talking about that legendary-historical British queen.  … Okay, I’m going to cautiously say yes.  Because there’s so little recorded about her it’s difficult to get any sense of her personality.  But you have to respect a woman of her era who took power, fought back, let an army against a superior military force and actually had a degree of success.  And for her badassery, I would like to buy her a cup of coffee.  But I must also acknowledge that the ability to do all that might make her a little… scary.  But you know, we’ll be in a public place.  And I trust Mary to protect me from behind the bar.  So I’m going to go with a cautious yes.

Cammy:  I was there when I thought it was the kitty.  The real thing kinda scares me.  Like Kristy said, there isn’t a lot of verifiable data on Boudica, but everything I hear makes me think she was fierce.  Scary fierce.  And I would be a little too worried I would step wrong with her and she would end me.  That said, I kinda want to listen in and find out more about the woman.  So, I’ll find a spot at the bar where I can listen in…and possibly lay down cover fire to let Kristy escape, if needed.

Stressy Sleep

A recent bout of stress has been taking its toll on my sleep patterns.  I’m not a chronic insomniac, but when work/school hit certain stress peaks, like a lot of people, it impacts my zzzzzzs.

For some people, the result is not being able to fall asleep.  For me, it’s not being able to stay that way.  And what sleep I do get, is highly disturbed.

The cycle goes something like this:  first come the weird dreams: more vivid and memorable than normal.  I may sleep all night, but I don’t feel refreshed afterward–like all that dreaming saps something.  Then come the dreams, apparently accompanied by, well, me.  Kristy has witnessed this one back when we were room mates in college.  Apparently I was rather angry in my demands that she answer the phone (which wasn’t ringing), emphatic that “You can’t call a witch ‘Bob’!” and horrified as I declared, “I woke up, and the psychic friends network was GONE!” Passing this point, we get to the part where I actually wake myself up.  I had a great episode during law school finals where I woke up in total terror after a dream where I got to my Torts exam and was expected to write it in French.  I launched myself out of bed, got dressed and walked all the way down to the law quad before I realized that I didn’t even have an exam that day.  And if I did?  Probably wouldn’t be starting it at 5am.  And once I’m into the waking myself up stage, that’s when I can’t get back to sleep.  Or if I do, it’s in short bouts that cycle back through the weirdness and shocking wake up.

And here I am.


The things-in-a-foreign-language theme is apparently popular this season in Brain of Cammy, because I’ve had a few episodes with that one (I seem to be harboring a real fear of French).  Oh, and snakes.  I hate snakes.  A lot.  So that’s just a recipe for waking up yelling.  And there was a whole series involving a rather elaborate crossover between Downton Abbey and North & South (and a few others–it was like the British costume dramas exploded in my head) only sometimes it was the characters and sometimes their actors.

I’m experimenting with solutions.  Sleeping pills are mildly effective.  I still wake myself up, but I seem to get back to a fitful sleep a little faster. Herbal tea, aromatherapy, they all seem to be fine for relaxing me to sleep in the first place, but they are no help on the interruption front.  I actually even gave drinking a shot on Saturday night (two g&ts and a shot of rum)–no aid to sleep, but I did send out some incoherent e-mail and laugh harder than normal at Glee.

The upside is, I know this will end when things taper off in real life.  The downside, is, in the meantime, I’m getting run down and sick (ran low grade fever Saturday morning).

Adventures in Shoe Repair

I’ve always worn cheap shoes.  As a child, my mother didn’t see any point in spending money to buy shoes we were going to grow out of anyway.  In fact, a lot of my shoes were hand me downs from my sister.  (For a long time I did have to pay extra for the super narrow widths, but fortunately years of pointe dancing widened my feet out enough to allow for wearing most normal shoes).  Even as an adult, no matter how much my friends insisted to me it was worth investing in nicer shoes, I never bought into it.  There are a couple of reasons:

No matter how much they swore to me nicer shoes were more comfortable, my personal experience is that they aren’t.

Also, I love shoes.  And at $10 a pair I can have lots of shoes whereas for $80 I could only have a couple pairs.

No matter how much they tell me said nice shoes will last longer, the few times I’ve purchased a nice pair (on sale, of course) I manage to scuff them badly the first or second time out the house in them.  This is why I can’t have nice things.  Add to that, years of pointe dancing and tap dancing gave me over developed muscles in the balls of my feet.  So while the idea of buying nice shoes and getting them resoled was appealing in principle, I wore out the tops long before the bottoms.  So it didn’t work for me.

Well, years have gone by and I’ve lost some of my muscle tone.  I’m still not buying shoes for more than $40 (and if I pay $40 for them they’re going to have to be boots; I try to keep things in the $20-30 range), but I’m not wearing out the tops.  Now the most common problem I have is snapping the tips off the heels.  I blame it on too much walking around on brick.  (It seems no matter where I move, I cannot get away from brick sidewalks!)  It’s probably worth adding at this point the fact that I’m a really good bargain shopper.  At least a quarter of my shoe collection came from thrift stores and I happen to know a place that has buy 1 get 2 free sales several times a year.

So this week I had my first experience with shoe repair.  The thing which finally pushed me into it was I have this fabulous pair or red, knee-high suede boots.  With somewhat spikey heels, one of which lost its tip a couple years back.  Now I love these shoes, and haven’t been able to part with them, but I’ve only worn them a couple times in the past two years because they make my legs uneven and the circumcised heel makes an awful sound on concrete.  But I only paid $16 for them in the first place, so repairing them seemed so silly!

I finally decided to be silly and took them to the shoe repair place around the corner (along with a pair of $30 ankle boots).  I figured I’d never find boots like that for that price again, so I’d just bite the bullet.  What an amazing experience!  First you have to understand that not only was the tip of the heel snapped off, the suede was all peeled back on the heel, exposing the white plastic and metal core underneath.  When the man behind the counter looked at them with a frown, I said, “I realize there’s probably nothing you can do about that.” He scoffed and motioned to the man working in the corner and said, “This guy’s an artist.  You’d be amazed.” Intrigued (and probably bored) the Sicilian-American cobbler came over to look and in a matter of seconds and pulled and twisted the suede back into place so you could never tell it had been ripped.  Yes, I was amazed.

They told me I could wait—it would only take about fifteen minutes to get both shoes done.  This meant I could sit there and listen to some very colorful language, not to mention some delightful banter: “What’d you do?  Walk from Alaska in these shoes?” “No.  Just Virginia.”  And in the end my shoes were not just repaired, they were beautiful.  They took the time to brush them and re-dye parts of the black ankle boots that were scuffed.  My shoes are like new!

And it was only $14/pair, plus they gave me a discount just for being a redhead (no one tell them the truth!)

So I officially give the shoe bargainer stamp of approval to shoe repair.  And, as another friend pointed out, it’s also the eco-friendly option.

Visiting hours are over…

My parents had to jet off to their current continent of residence today after one of their semi-annual visits for medical, dental appointments, etc.  So, after a couple of weeks of coming home to real people, I came home to a very empty house.

For as much as it drives me nuts when they blast in here, I still get those post-visit blues when they depart.  The inevitable let-down that comes after any company heads home.

Sure, while you have visitors, you’re off your regular schedule, you have to be considerate of someone else, you compromise on TV shows, but when the place goes back to normal, even with the relief, it’s a downer.  Even more of a let down when it’s a visit like this one–where Mom, ya know, cooks awesome food for me to consume in massive quantities (she’s so stoked about getting back into her own kitchen, she goes nuts cooking and stocking the pantry)–and Dad dives into yard work like a kid in a candy store.  Not only am I left with a quite house, all my chores are back, too.



Sneezy the Time Vampire

I had a whole other Time Vampire planned out.  I had also planned to write about it yesterday.  But my new time vampire interfered.

I have a heinous post-conference death cold.  Because when you take a bunch of academics who are regularly exposed to the germs of hundreds of students, deprive them of more sleep than normal, and seal them up in small rooms together, the result is that many of us get horribly sick.  Like I have.  Right now.

How bad is this cold?  I’ve started voluntarily waterboarding (read: using my neti-pot) twice a day.  Because I am that desperate.  I have to sleep sitting up to prevent the snot from pooling in my head.  I went to teach my first class yesterday with a handful of about 10 tissues and they weren’t enough.  So I had to bring a whole box to my next class.  I feel like I am truly disgusting to be around.

I made one of my favorite desserts ever, tres leches con coco, for a gathering and I couldn’t even taste it!  I ate some of it, but I have no clue what it tasted like.  (I’m told it was delicious, which only makes me feel marginally better.)  I just made birthday sorbet for a friend and I can’t taste test it, so it might taste awful for all I know.

And did I mention I feel like shit?  I’ve been up since 8am and I’ve barely got off the couch.  All I want to do is alternate between drinking hot beverages and holding my head over something steaming.  I have papers to grade, but I’m afraid at this point I’d just fail all my students.

I do not do head colds well.  All will be better when it finally drops to my lungs.

Till then…