Posts Tagged ‘literature’
If you’ve been paying attention to breakfast in the past 15 years or so, you might have noticed something: waffles have gotten thicker and thicker. Stockier waffles with deep syrup pockets, often topped with fruit or Nutella or mountains of whipped cream, are the new norm. They’re what men with beards are handing you out of food truck windows, and what servers are plopping down in front of you at brunch. Today, in most diners and restaurants and those omnipresent hipster comfort-food places, if you order a waffle, it’s gonna be Belgian…
Waffles, like pancakes, have been in America for centuries. Thomas Jefferson allegedly brought the waffle iron to America from France. In the early 20th century, waffles were thin and flat, a wartime breakfast that spared frills. Skinny waffles were successfully mass-marketed to the public when three California brothers debuted frozen Eggo waffles in the ’50s. (Kellogg’s purchased the company in 1968.)
But even during the peak of Eggo popularity, a taste for a thicker waffle was percolating in America. Belgium natives Maurice and Rose Vermersch first served up thick, chewy waffles, known originally as Brussels waffles, at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. The waffles were such a hit at the fair that the Vermerschs simplified the name, deciding that the majority of Americans wouldn’t know where Brussels was. And from there, a craze was born…
The whole enchilada at: “The Tyranny of Belgian Waffles.”
* Raymond Chandler, Trouble Is My Business
As we reach for the syrup, we might spare a thought for Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland); he died on this date in 1956. (The name “Curnonsky” comes from the Latin cur + non “why not?” plus the Russian suffix -sky, as all things Russian were in vogue in 1895, when he coined it.)
An author who got his start as a ghostwriter for ‘Willy‘, Colette‘s husband, Curnonsky became France’s “Prince of Gastronomy,” the country’s most celebrated food and wine writer in the 20th century. He wrote or ghost-wrote over 65 books and enormous numbers of newspaper columns. He is often considered the inventor of gastronomic motor-tourism as popularized by Michelin– he named the company’s mascot Bibendum and wrote Michelin’s weekly column “Les Lundis de Michelin” in Le Journal— though he himself could not drive. His “title,” “Prince-elu de la Gastronomie,” was awarded in a 1927 Paris-Soir poll of 3,000 French chefs, and has never been given since. Curnonsky died by falling out of the window of his apartment. He was dieting at the time, and it is speculated that he had fainted.
“An aphorism ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog”*…
Digital media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity—even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”…
More on aphorisms in the internet age at “The charms of Twitterature”
* Friedrich von Schlegel
As we concentrate on concision, we might send bawdy birthday greetings to Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade; he was born on this date in 1740. The French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, author, and libertine spent much of his adult life in prison. In 1778, de Sade was imprisoned by order of the king; ostensibly his offense was licentious behavior, but historians note that his mother-in-law, at whose urging the king acted, believed that the young Marquis was spending her daughter’s money too quickly. (There were also accusations of an affair with his wife’s sister… and it may have further motivated the mother-in-law that her daughter was rumored to be complicit in de Sade’s sexual escapades.) While in the Bastille, he battled boredom by writing– among other things, The 120 Days of Sodom. He was freed from prison in 1790, and ingratiated himself with the new Republic (calling himself “Citizen Sade”). de Sade began writing again, anonymously publishing works including Justine and Juliette… until, in 1801, Napoleon ordered his arrest (again for indecency and blasphemy). de Sade spent two years in prison, until his family had him declared insane, and moved him to the asylum at Charenton (the scene of Peter Weiss’s remarkable play Marat/Sade), where he died in 1814.
Last Wednesday,285 participants 15 years old and younger took the stage in National Harbor, Maryland to recite words they’ve probably never used in conversation; the finals were held the following evening. For the third year in a row, the result was a tie; the title was shared by Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., who were declared co-champions after fighting to a draw during 39 rounds of competition. Jairam’s final word in the competition was “Feldenkrais” (a trademark that refers to a system of aided body movements); Nihar’s, “gesellschaft,” (a type of social relationship).
“A lot of it is luck, to be totally honest,” says 2006 winner Kerry Close, now a 23-year-old reporter at Money Magazine. “There’s maybe a dozen, maybe more, kids who have a realistic shot of winning,” says Close. “Who actually wins comes down to pretty much who’s asked the right word.”
Ten of the final words from previous Scripps bees, and the reason why spelling them is such a feat: “Why these winning words from US National Spelling bees are so hard to spell.”
* Mark Twain
As we ask that it be used in a sentence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that poet and playwright (Shakespeare’s nearest rival) Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl. Marlowe reputedly supplemented his income as a spy; in any case, he ran afoul of Queen Elizabeth’s government when, earlier in the month, his roommate, fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, was grilled by authorities. Kyd insisted that the “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail. While out Marlowe became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.
A new photography book, The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside ($45, powerHouse Books), captures the functionality and design of aging U.S. highway rest areas, with a heavy dose of nostalgia.
Over nearly 15 road-trips since 2009—several taken with her mother in tow—the California-based photographer Ryann Ford traveled the American West, Midwest, and parts of the South in search of the unique character that defines these highway fixtures. At one since-disappeared location in Flower Mound, Texas, a picnic table is covered by a roof in the shape of longhorns…
The rest stops in Ford’s book all seem to speak to the character of their respective locations in some way, and certainly to the moment in the late 1950s and ‘60s when most were constructed. America was in love with the automobile, and the new Interstate Highway System opened up easier, speedier access to the continental U.S. than before. But interstates also eliminated interaction with the towns and landscapes they passed through. Using vernacular architecture, rest stops became a way for states and localities to connect travelers to the surrounding environment, as the introduction to Ford’s book explains. They communicated a sense of place in a rapidly homogenizing countryside…
* William Wordsworth
As we pull over, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Walker Percy; he was born on this date in 1916. Trained as a physician, Percy turned to literature, writing a series of novels largely set in and around his native Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award. Heavily influenced by his reading of Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, and by the Catholic faith to which he converted, his work was an exploration of “the dislocation of man in the modern age.” He also published a number of non-fiction works exploring his interests in semiotics and Existentialism, the most popular work being Lost in the Cosmos.
Percy taught at Loyola University of New Orleans and mentored younger writers; he was instrumental in getting John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces published in 1980. He was a life-long friend of his childhood neighbor Shelby Foote, historian and novelist of The Civil War: A Narrative (the basis of Ken Burn’s series The Civil War.)
There is evidence dating back to Neolithic times in various parts of the world of people using pictograms—that is, drawing little pictures of objects to represent those objects. They might be scratched in stone, incised into pottery, or carved into bone or shell. Examples have been found in China (at Jiahu in Henan province), in southern Europe (at Vinča in Serbia), in the Indian subcontinent (at Harappa in Pakistan), in Egypt (at Girzeh), in Mesopotamia, and in Central America (near Veracruz in Mexico). The Chinese symbols, dating back to around 6600 BC, are currently believed to be the oldest discovered.
However, most scholars do not class these symbols as “writing.” They do not appear to be capable of communicating complex or abstract ideas. They are pictures, or at most signs—perhaps used for identification, claiming ownership, or as memory aids.
The general consensus in academic circles is that the earliest “true” writing system emerged in Sumeria (modern-day southern Iraq) around 3100 BC, and was fully developed with a substantial body of written texts and literature by around 2600 BC…
* Margaret Atwood
As we ponder prose, we might recall that this is National Biographers Day– celebrated on this date each year to commemorate the anniversary of the first meeting, in 1763, of Dr. Samuel Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell. Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson is widely claimed to be the greatest biography ever written.
“As ‘cocktail,’ so I gather, has become a verb, it ought to be conjugated at least once,” wrote the author of The Great Gatsby in a 1928 letter to Blanche Knopf, the wife of publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Who better to first lay out its full conjugation than the man who, as the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center puts it, “gave the Jazz Age its name”? Given that his fame “was for many years based less on his work than his personality—the society playboy, the speakeasy alcoholic whose career had ended in ‘crack-up,’ the brilliant young writer whose early literary success seemed to make his life something of a romantic idyll,” he found himself well placed to offer the language a new “taste of Roaring Twenties excess.”…
More at “F. Scott Fitzgerald Conjugates ‘to Cocktail,'” (where one will also find a larger image of the letter and an audio version).
* F. Scott Fitzgerald,
As we descend to declension, we might spare a thought for Albert Hofmann; he died on this date in 2008 (at the age of 102). As a young chemist at Sandoz in Switzerland, Hofmann was searching for a respiratory and circulatory stimulant when he fabricated lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); handling it, he absorbed a bit through his fingertips and realized that the compound had psychoactive effects. Three days later, on April 19, 1943– a day now known as “Bicycle Day”– Hofmann intentionally ingested 250 micrograms of LSD then rode home on a bike, a journey that became, pun intended, the first intentional acid trip. Hofmann was also the first person to isolate, synthesize, and name the principal psychedelic mushroom compounds psilocybin and psilocin.