Posts Tagged ‘vorza’

Enough to Make a Man go Meatless

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

In fairness, the beef was not the problem. It’s what was in the beef that was the problem, and no, I’m not talking about unwanted critters of the e. coli persuasion. I’m talking about ingredients – stuff put in there by the chef on purpose. Actually just one ingredient caused all the trouble… well, two if you count my ego.

We had just arrived in Las Vegas, Maxx and I, to celebrate her birthday. This is not a picture of the two of us.

We had made our way to the Skybox, one of the new restaurants at one of the new resorts in Las Vegas, the Aria. The following menu item caught my eye: “Firecracker Burger: 8 oz patty blended with Bhut Jolokia chili pepper, rated the world hottest chili pepper in 2007.” Well, I had never heard of that pepper, but I’d also never heard of a pepper I couldn’t handily defeat, even at the cost of a few extra napkins to sop up the inevitable sweat on my head. So, of course, I gave it a try.

Here’s the “before” picture. So far, all is well.

You want to know how hot this pepper is? Twelve hours later, it makes my head sweat just to think about it. There in the moment, I knew from the first bite that I had a tiger by the tail. The heat from the thing instantly made my lips go numb (the body’s natural reaction to searing pain, I suppose). My tongue swelled up. The roof of my mouth seemed painted with fire, and that fire traveled all the way down my throat to my belly, where it bloomed.

Are we having fun yet?

Folks, I generally consider hot foods to be my manna-nirvana. And generally scoff at what others find hot. When I order buffalo wings at my local joint, for example, I challenge the prep chef to make them too hot too eat, and he always fails. I once drank a bottle of Tabasco sauce on a bet. I love hot food. I think there’s something wrong with my system. (I know there’s something wrong with my brain.) But hot food and I just agree with each other.

This Bhut Jolokia burger, though, it didn’t just disagree with me. It vehemently opposed me and violently argued with me. It wrestled me to the floor and pinned me there. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was defeated. I fought my way through half the burger and then, as the saying goes, “stick a fork in it, it won.” Viz:

Fortunately, life in Las Vegas is not all heartburn heaven and thunderstruck intestines. There’s also poker, and a whole damn lot of it, plus shops, restaurants (with saner menus one hopes), and tomorrow’s highlight event, a visit to the Pinball Hall of Fame. It’s nice to have a respite in so crazy a place before returning to Managua (so crazy a place) to spend the next month there working on The Blue Door. That’s a tropical place, Managua. They have plenty of hot food. People gawk at what I eat and call tame. But now I know I’ve met my match. Bhut Jolokia, my (sweat drenched) hat is off to you. You are the boss of me.

More later, -jv

In fairness, the beef was not the problem. It’s what was in the beef that was the problem, and no, I’m not talking about unwanted critters of the e. coli persuasion. I’m talking about ingredients – stuff put in there by the chef on purpose. Actually just one ingredient caused all the trouble… well, two if you count my ego.

Maxx and I were dining at the Skybox, one of the new restaurants at one of the new resorts in Las Vegas, the Aria. The following menu item caught my eye: “Firecracker Burger: 8 oz patty blended with Bhut Jolokia chili pepper, rated the world hottest chili pepper in 2007.” Well, I had never heard of that pepper, but I’d also never heard of a pepper I couldn’t handily defeat, even at the cost of a few extra napkins to sop up the inevitable sweat on my head. So, of course, I gave it a try.

Here’s the “before” picture. So far, all is well.

You want to know how hot this pepper is? Twelve hours later, it makes my head sweat just to think about it. There in the moment, I knew from the first bite that I had a tiger by the tail. The heat from the thing instantly made my lips go numb (the body’s natural reaction to searing pain, I suppose). My tongue swelled up. The roof of my mouth seemed painted with fire, and that fire traveled all the way down my throat to my belly, where it bloomed.

Are we having fun yet?

Folks, I generally consider hot foods to be my manna-nirvana. And generally scoff at what others find hot. When I order buffalo wings at my local joint, for example, I challenge the prep chef to make them too hot too eat, and he always fails. I once drank a bottle of Tabasco sauce on a bet. I love hot food. I think there’s something wrong with my system. (I know there’s something wrong with my brain.) But hot food and I just agree with each other.

This Bhut Jolokia burger, though, it didn’t just disagree with me. It vehemently opposed me and violently argued with me. It wrestled me to the floor and pinned me there. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was defeated. I fought my way through half the burger and then, as the saying goes, “stick a fork in it, it won.” Viz:

It’s That Cold

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

But it’s not that cold. Okay, it is that cold. Like, it hasn’t been above single digit temperatures all week (and that’s in Fahrenheit — it’s even colder in centigrade). But yesterday when I was out walking in the Big Popsicle that is Moscow, I realized, hey, I’m not even miserable. Yes, it’s cold and yes, I’m cold, but I’m not suffering… I’m just cold. And as I looked around at passers-by, I realized that many of them weren’t wearing hats or gloves. Many carried on cell phone conversations, with bare hands and heads, just as if it were any other — okay, every other — day on the streets of Moscow. They weren’t miserable, either. They were just cold.

This is a huge revelation for me. I thought I HATED the cold. I recall living in Boston and hating winter so much that the cold actually made me angry. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles — to put the misery behind me. Well, now I’m in the middle of Moscow’s coldest winter in years (global warming? hah!) and it’s really not that hard to take. I can walk in the cold. I can BE cold. And I’m not unhappy.

Or maybe I’m just numb.

Frankly, it’s too cold to tell.

Also — knock on wood — I seem to be avoiding the treacherous slip-and-falls that have plagued me in the past. The sidewalks are ridiculously slick, but I’ve developed a system for not falling down. I just follow these simple steps.

1. EYES DOWN. Keep intensely focused on each step. This keeps ice patches from taking you by surprise.

2. HANDS OUT. Sure your fingers get cold, but your hands won’t do you any good in your pockets when you’re falling down.

3. LOW CENTER OF GRAVITY. Stay loose and stay low to keep balanced.

4. WATCH FOR DOWNSPOUTS. Where water flows down off rooftops it settles into deadly patches of black ice. Keep your eye on the downspouts and know that the ice is lurking.

Okay, what’s that thing pride goeth before? That’s right… a fall. So I’ll be specially careful going home tonight.

Stay warm, campers; it’s not even February yet.

More later, -jv

A Fortitious Happenstance

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

So it’s Sunday, my designated writing day, and I’m banging away on my next novel (The Albuquerque Turkey, due out in 2011, so it damn well better be finished by then!) I’m arguing with myself over whether fortitious is a word. I know fortuitous is, but I’m thinking that fortitious might be my own English-to-English false cognate. So I go to the internet to glean the opinion of consensus reality. Wikipedia thinks I mean fictitious. Webster just laughs. But Google returns some 1,860 hits for  fortitious. That’s not much by internet standards (fortuitous returns 1.6 million hits) but still it’s not nothing.

I’m curious to know how others treat the word, so I click about for a moment or two, and thus find my way to “Donna Zagotta’s Art Blog” (DonnaZagotta.com/blog). The use of fortitious wasn’t even hers; it appeared in the text of a reader’s comment, in response to Donna’s post about being a member of an art show jury. And now here comes the fortitious happenstance, for Donna lists the (admittedly subjective) criteria by which she judges art. Here’s what she looks for:

– Work that is personal, unique, creative, and imaginative.

– Work that contains a personal visual language.

– Work that is well put together and creatively designed.

– Work that is fully resolved and contains a complete statement.

– Work that communicates something meaningful, whether a subject is present or not.

– Work that contains beauty. Not beauty for pretty’s sake, but the kind of beauty that results when the artist is authentically engaged with process, design, subject, and meaning.

– Most of all, I look for work that contains the artist’s passion.

And I realize — fortitious happenstance — that I look for essentially the same thing in a writer’s work. People often ask me how I know if a writer “has it.” I always said that I don’t know, I just know. But thanks to Donna Zagotta, I now have (and you now have) an objective set of criteria for subjective aesthetic judgment. And that’s certainly not nothing, and surely worth the ten minutes’ detour from my work.

So thanks for that, Donna; I’ll be pitching your standards as early as tomorrow morning here in Moscow, because the writers I work with are ever in need of clear, concise guidelines, and these are among the best I’ve seen. Don’t worry; I’ll give credit where it’s due, and you may end up getting more hits at your blog. More even, maybe, than fortitious.

And the last word on fortitious, campers? Of course it’s a word. I declare it a word. Which you knew from the start that I’d do, didn’t you?

More later, -jv

The Week Got Away

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

So I went out last Sunday to a gallery show, and took some pictures of some pictures I wanted to share with you. Now, all of a sudden, it’s Saturday. Where did the week go? Well, where they’ve all gone: into a haze of long days peppered with documents to review, notes to give, meetings to attend, and then more documents to review for the next day’s merry-go-round — leavened, thank God, with the occasional expats’ poker game. I’m not complaining — still not complaining! — every day is a workaholic’s holiday in Moscow. But I did mean to post these pictures before now. Anyway, now it’s now, and here they are, some examples of contemporary Russian and European art, currently on sale near the Kremlin at prices that beggar imagination.

Moscow 12-09 022

Moscow 12-09 028

Moscow 12-09 031

Moscow 12-09 032

Moscow 12-09 036

And then this is me, stopping at a shopping center on the way home to try on the latest in Russian adventure-wear.

Moscow 12-09 039

And finally some buskers, following the internationally honored tradition of singing to people who just don’t care.

Moscow 12-09 043

It’s getting cold down there in those underpasses now. After last week’s record high temperatures, the mercury has plummeted through cold and too cold, all the way down to stupid cold. I don’t mind. I’m heading home to California in ten days, where “cold” means maybe I won’t wear shorts today. And yes, I’ve re-upped — I’ll take another shift at the mine from late January until March first. But, again, I don’t mind. After all, I work indoors, don’t have to walk anywhere I don’t choose to, and since I have a driver, I never have to get into a cold car. That’s huge if you hate winter. The weird thing is, I’m not even hating it. Could it be that I’ve thickened my California blood with Moscow borscht? No, not possible. I don’t eat borscht.

Okay, well, time to dive back into my week. Workaholic’s holiday, la la la.

More later, -jv

True Fact/Bar Fact: Heavy Metal Issue

Monday, November 30th, 2009

True fact or bar fact? In the 19th century, aluminum…

aluminumwas worth more than gold.

goldWell, was it?

More later, -jv

My Two Thanksgivings

Friday, November 27th, 2009

All things considered, it wasn’t too bad. As planned, I went to the Starlight Diner, this place…

John Vorhaus

Where they have old-timey American ads like these…

John Vorhaus John Vorhaus

Beer like this…

Moscow 2-09 030

Mustard like this…

Moscow 2-09 039

And wonderful colleagues like these…

Moscow 2-09 025

(Colleagues sold separately.)

I chose the traditional Thanksgiving repast of Buffalo Chicken Wrap, which I forgot to photograph until, really, too late.

Moscow 2-09 034

Speaking of late, I managed to make the late-night expatriates’ poker game with these guys.

Moscow 2-09 042

So… convivial meal of sketchy provenance with (new) good friends… lively poker till the wee smalls… Moscow Thanksgiving… I guess I’ve got plenty to be thankful for after all.

More later, -jv

Thappy Hanksgiving

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

This is my third straight Thanksgiving in Moscow, where, trust me, the holiday has as much local traction as Cinco de Mayo.  (Less, in fact, because at least with Cinco de Mayo there’s the attraction of tequila, an exotic change of pace from vodka. I keep reminding my Russian friends that, “You know you’ve had too much tequila when you go to brush something off your shoulder and it’s the floor.” But I digress…) So today is a typical workday for me. I’ll be vetting story ideas, editing scripts, sipping bad coffee and dreaming of the sun. Tonight, though, some of us expats are gathering at the Starlight Diner, which is as close to America as you’re likely to get in Moscow, unless you find yourself in the American Medical Clinic. (Where, trust me, you don’t want to find yourself. Last year I went in there to get a wound aspirated and walked out with a staph infection that kept me busy for many months. Yech. But, again, I digress.) Here’s a picture of the Starlight. Always wanted to enjoy my Thanksgiving repast in a red vinyl booth.

Starlight Diner

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. This is all just for comic effect. Actually, I think it’s pretty great, in a weird, perverse sort of way, that I’ve been in Moscow for three straight Thanksgivings. At least it suggests that I know how to do a job well enough to be invited back, and that’s not nothing. Also, I expect that tonight’s dinner will be shot through with the sort of siege mentality that ex-pats share. That can be fun. We’re none of us with our families, but at least we’re all in this together. It’s no substitute for being with family back home, and it’s surely no substitute for Slacksgiving, the annual ultimate frisbee extravaganza/can drive that I founded and host and have missed for the past three years. And oh, by the way, I have no real hope of having turkey. I’ve been down that road before. Here’s a table-shot of last year’s Thanksgiving repast, put together by Maxx and me from available parts.

december 002

Not exactly the traditional approach. That’s a chicken instead of a turkey, a tart filling in for a pie, and some of the sketchiest mashed potatoes the world has ever seen.

Maybe tonight I’ll go for pizza. I understand that the pizza at the Starlight kicks ass.

Anyway, enjoy your Thanksgiving, whoever you are and wherever you are. And if you happen to be reading this blog in a place where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, go on down to the local ex-pat watering hole and watch the Americans dream of candied yams and football. Buy them some tequila. It’s not part of the Thanksgiving tradition, but they probably won’t say no.

More later, -jv

Not Just Another Pretty Phrase

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

The conversation among my anglophone friends turned to turns of phrase and I found myself using one of my favorites, “Avoid cliches like the plague.” After explaining why (I thought) this was funny, I recalled an essay I wrote years ago. Since my computer is now a dusty repository for everything I’ve ever written, I was able to haul it out and dust it off. Expand it, even, because I do believe in feeding a dead horse…


Not Just Another Pretty Phrase

My grandfather grew up in one of those quaint European countries that don’t exactly exist any more, and while he never quite mastered the English language, he was always an ardent fan. Or, as he would have put it, an eager beagle.

In my grandfather’s world, if you got in trouble you were up a creek without a puddle. If you admired someone, you’d want to follow suit in their footsteps. If you were odd, you stuck out like a green thumb. When he wanted to examine something closely he’d go over it with a fine toothbrush. If you were a good person, he’d call you a diamond in the rut. To fool someone was to pull the wood over their eyes. An achievement was a feather in your nest.

Of all his grandchildren I think I was his favorite. He used to call me a chip off the old shoulder. We were close, he’d say, like two peas in a pot, through fast and famine, come hell or hot water. Still, he was always warning me not to wreck the boat, bite off more than I could choose, or get too big for my bridges. Which he urged me to burn when I came to them.

He greatly admired President Kennedy, whom he described as “head and shoulders above water,” and “not just a flash in the can.”  He was proud to say that he supported the man long before everyone else jumped on the bandstand. Nixon, though, was a horse of a different collar, and Ford he judged dense as a London frog. And that was just the tip of the icebox! Carter and Clinton were a pair of country pumpkins, Reagan was a bull in Chinatown, and Bush father and son, “the bland leading the bland.”

He likewise put popular culture under the microphone. He liked movies that kept him on the edge of his teeth, but hated ones that fell apart at the scenes. Old-fashioned music, he said, had missed the beat, but when he fell for a song, he swallowed it all: hook, line and singer. Of modern art he simply said, “There’s a sucker bored every minute.”

He had a knack, that man. He could kill two birds with one bush, cut to the cheese, blend an ear, make a mountain out of a manhole, vanish into thin ice, let the cat out of the hat, and whip up a tempest in a teaspoon. He’s the only man I know who could have his cake and take it too.

No babe in the weeds, he made his own hay in this world, or, as he liked to put it, “pulled his own leg.” He kept his ear to the grindstone and his feet on the ball. Never having ridden the gravy boat, he knew better than to cut off his nose to split his face. He was a man of action, ready to nip any problem in the butt. He never changed horses in midtown, or waited for the other shoe to shine.

Beggars, he noted, can’t be cheaters. They shouldn’t act so high and dry. Just the same, he was always ready to roll out the magic carpet for company, even his no-good brother, who was constantly reinvesting in the wheel and looking for a noodle in a haystack. He called his brother a flaw in the ointment and warned that, “A fool and his money are soon partners.” His brother had feats of clay, he lamented, and was always barging up the wrong tree.

When he met his wife (“the old ball ‘n’ socket”), it was love at first base. They were young when they married, “still wed behind the ears,” poor as church keys and living from hand to hand. Later, when she became a milestone around his neck, he found that she left a lot to be despised, and feared that she would eat him out of house and garden. “Oil and vinegar,” he often cautioned me, “don’t mix.” Still, he gave it the old cottage try, even though she made him madder than a wet blanket, for he knew her like the back of his head and, at the end of the rope, familiarity breeds content.

A natural philosopher, he knew you can’t put toothpaste back in the tub, and that Rome wasn’t burned in a day. “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it,” he’s say, likewise encouraging me not to punt myself into a corner, put the horse before the cart, and especially not to stick out like a sore throat, because, “The squeaky wheel gets the grief.” Once in a blue mood, he’d accuse me of looking at the world through rose-covered glasses, but later claimed he was just yanking my chin.

As he grew older, he came to terms with the modern world, and learned to play his credit cards close to his vest. He could never teach an old DOS new tricks, but had better luck tilting at Windows. In his Twilight Zone years he noted that he was no springing chicken and furthermore not longing for this world. He wasn’t trying to make a slick purse out of a sow’s ear or glide the lily; he could just read the writing on the wallpaper, that’s all. He was old as the halls, ready to throw in the trowel.

And now he’s passed on. Having kissed the bucket and bidden the dust, he’s pulling up daisies, out of his miniseries at last. Things are quiet now that he’s gone, so quiet you can hear a pin cushion. And when I find myself missing him most, I remind myself that there’s no use crying over skim milk or, for that matter, beating a deaf horse. It’s just the dark before the storm. Every silver lining has a cloud and every DOS has its day. I tell myself these things and I start to feel better.

Guess I’m just a chip off the old shoulder after all.

Dodged a Bullet

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

You mock me for my paranoia. I mock me, too. My dependence on the smelly gel — what the hell is up with that? You know what they say, when a flu germ has your name on it…

Well, flu fever (shall we call it fever fever?) has definitely swept Moscow, with today’s Moscow News reporting that, for example, when it comes to hygiene in the Metro, though they regularly disinfect with chemicals and ultraviolet light, “There’s really no substitute for a surgical mask.” Though try finding a surgical mask in Moscow this week. Baby, they are sold outsky.

So it was with no small trepidation last week when I started to feel the dry cough and tickle in the back of the throat that I personally recognize as flu symptoms. Nor could I overlook my own personal, 100 percent accurate signifier, a night of broken sleep and unusually vivid dreams. That always tells me I’m coming down with something, and it’s never wrong. Call me paranoid, but I knew I was getting sick, and prepared myself for the siege.

But I didn’t get sick. Why? Two possible reasons. First, my translator turned me onto a homeopathic immune system booster called (I hate these tricky Russian words) Immunal. Second, kids, I’d had my flu shot. So while I had the start of something, and then weekend-long hints that something was going on (achy muscles and general malaise being the key indicators), by Sunday night I was fine, and by Monday morning my usual perky self.

So you tell me, campers: Did modern medicine save me from the deluge? Or Russian homeopathy? Or was I just being paranoid and hypochondriacal, and just made the whole thing up? Was I suffering from — oh, let’s call it — smelly gel fever? You can judge as you like, but from now on I’m going to be a belt-and-suspenders type with this sort of thing: always get my flu shot, and keep plenty of Immunal on hand.

Of course, I only got the one flu shot, the annual shot for the annual bug. I’d left the States before the Swine Flu vaccine was available, and who knows when it’ll drift down through the Russian distribution system to somewhere I might get it. So, while the Moscow News calls Russia’s outbreak an outbreak of Swine Flu, I’m hoping that they don’t know what they’re talking about and that it’s just regular flu that’s going around instead. Otherwise, possibly, I’ve dodged just the one bullet, and there’s another bug out there somewhere with my name on it.

Know what? I think I’ll keep the smell gel handy.

More later, -jv

Word Processor

Self-produced in 1984 on the ironically vainglorious ONE STAR RECORDS label, Word Processor sold literally tens of copies before disappearing by the box-load into my basement. (more…)