Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall!...rhetoric re: our overly spectacle-obsessed society...a Brit's description of Korean food...

With the sunrises creeping later and later, I finally switched to going for my run AFTER work today; I went just before sunset, and the heat had already died down...

...bats filling the shadows in Sabino Canyon, cottonwoods just beginning to get patches of yellow leaves. Fall's arrived right on schedule here--an afternoon and an evening in Tucson WITHOUT the a/c on! (ahh, time, at last for those monthy power bills to start coming down...)

It's still in the 90's in the afternoons, but the nights are beginning to dip into the 60's and tomorrow morning might be in the 50's...

S. flies in tomorrow afternoon...Yesterday morning she was salmon fishing with her parents off Neah Bay, WA--the Northwesternmost tip of the Continental U.S....rough seas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as they headed back in midmorning, she said...but in her luggage will be some vacuum-packed, frozen silver coho salmon that she caught!

...a couple of semi-random excerpts from some of my recent reading:

First, the back-cover of Empire of Illusion; The end of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
Now there's a title for you, eh? And really, it's not dry and academic...rather, acerbic and funny, and right on.
It's by Chris Hedges, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, in the grand tradition of sweeping-yet-articulate rhetoric.
So, without further ado, if you were browsing in a bookstore, this is what you would read on the back cover:

The more we sever ourselves from a literate, print-based world--a world of complexity and nuance, a world of ideas--for one informed by comforting, reassuring images, fantasies, slogans, and a celebration of violence, the more we implode. We ask, like the wrestling fans or those who confuse love with pornography, to be fed lies. We demand lies. The skillfully manufactured images and slogans that flood the airwaves and infect our political discourse mask reality. And we do not protest. The lonely Cassandras who speak the truth about our misguided imperial wars, the global economic meltdown, and the imminent danger of multiple pollutions that are destroying the ecosystem that sustains the human species, are drowned out by arenas full of fans chanting "Slut! Slut! Slut!" or television audiences chanting "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" The worse reality becomes, the less a beleagured population wants to hear about it and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip, and trivia. These are the debauched revels of a dying culture.

For more, here's an excerpted chapter at this website (click here).

On a lighter note, a description of Korean food. Ahh...the pungent tastes of my childhood--pungent and piquant, except for a few dishes, la cuisine coréenne is not for the unitiated. (Even the name "Han-guk eum-shik" sounds scary, eh?) Following is one of the best descriptions I've come across--written by an ex-pat British journalist, Michael Breen--but first, to place it in context, he's just written about the 'passionate mix of contradictions that can be difficult for the more ordered western mind to handle:'

This contradiction is nicely symbolised for me by the way in which I grew to like Korean cuisine. The first time I was confronted by a soup in a Korean restaurant, I found it was too salty and too spicy, and full of murky items which for all I knew had been dropped in it by mistake. I was glad my host did not reveal the contents. It came surrounded with small plates on which there were leaves and twigs which we were plainly expected to eat. I picked up a bulging green pepper and bit into it. It was so hot it almost blew my face off. 'You're supposed to dip it in here,' another foreigner said. That's the Koreans, they dip peppers in a salty paste to spice up the taste. The proud master of these side dishes was a tight roll of what could have passed for used bandages. 'Have some kimchi,' my host said. So this was kimchi. I'd heard of this. It was strips of cabbage parts which had been drenched in red pepper juice. This was what smelled on people's breath in the underground. The courses kept coming. The side dishes were all shared. Everyone poked at them with their chopsticks. In the end, it was difficult to measure how much you had eaten, especially as half the food was left. This food was all washed down with beer.
But now I have grown to love this food so much and the socialising that goes with it that in Britain I have withdrawal symptoms. This cuisine is not the kind you admire visually [I must heartily disagree here--I love the in-your-face vibrant colors, like the colors in the traditional architecture; subtle it is not, but there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world.] It's a kind of assault on the mouth, spice and salt, and so tied up in my mind with long nights with friends and sources and fascinating conversations and arguments that I can't be objective about it. For me, it's the best food in the world, after fish and chips. So, too, with the Koreans. They assault you with their fury and nonsense. I reckon if you were stuck on Mount Everst in a prolonged storm, there would be no more reliable and courageous companion than a Korean. The trouble is, he would be a smoker, If the cold didn't get you, the smoke would.

(excerpt from pages 7-8 of the rather prosaically-named but eminently readable The Koreans; Who they are, what they want, where their future lies, written for a primarily UK-audience, in 1999.)

To conclude, then, tonight, a photo of said cuisine.

(I made some copies of family photos while visiting my mother this past summer...)
The winter when I was seven years old, I spent over a month in Korea--my first time there, since leaving the country before I was a year old...and the low tables laden with dozens of RED! and ORANGE! dishes of 'twigs and leaves' and little dried fishies fascinated me--SO different from the Cheerios and ham-and-cheese sandwiches of my transoceanic childhood...

...aunts and uncles and cousins all sitting around the table, on the heated floor...snow flurries outside...steamy gingery-garlic-breath inside...and the language that, by the end of my stay, I was semi-fluent in...ahh, the ease with which children's brains pick up words...

Now, in Tucson, in my 30's, after years of French and Spanish, I'm finally deciding that I need to 'master' (as well as I can) Korean, my mother's tongue...uncles, aunts, and cousins I've not seen in years--I can't talk to them! So I'm struggling to fit in Han-guk-o flashcards and bi-weekly tutoring...

I've had three sessions so far--amazing what phrases and words can be 'resurrected'...a bit disheartening, though, realizing how much work it will be to add new vocabulary to my brain's long dormant Korean-section...

Kids, start learning NOW...

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