Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

Last Christmas we had Secret Santas at work, and my secret santa noticed that my 2007 desk calendar was going to run out soon. This 2007 calendar was the best desk calendar I have ever had, as it gave me 365 archaic words to use at the rate of one a day, which is really the limit in terms of how quickly a person can absorb new vocabulary. My favorite word arrived on January 17th and I never did find anything better.

snoodle v. To rub and scratch and attend assiduously to pigs

This year's calendar is not quite of the same persuasion, unless I happen to be in a scenario in which someone steals my pig, because thanks to W. H. Long's Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect, I now know that having snoodled it is a reasonably good way to prove that it is in fact mine. But I do not have a pig. So let's move on.

The 2008 calendar is a Worse Case Scenario calendar.

So far, some have been quite helpful. HOW TO SPOT A RABID ANIMAL. Having had some experience with this, I learned nothing new, but I thought it was at least practical, as was HOW TO LOSE SOMEONE WHO IS FOLLOWING YOU ON FOOT. Occasionally one does find oneself on a dark street. You never know.

But then there was the one called HOW TO FALL DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS and I thought, "Well that's just silly. Jump!" Naturally I am taking this too literally, but since their advice involves the sentence "concentrate on rolling on major muscle groups" I have to ask myself whether my response doesn't actually make more sense. Most people, when they're falling down the stairs, hardly know they're falling until they've stopped, but the calendar wants you to have the presence of mind to "reduce speed and maximize control." Well, of course. And that would be easy if, say, you were driving a car. But when you're falling down stairs, you're pretty busy . . . falling down stairs.

For a while this one was my favorite: On the weekend of January 19-20th I am informed of four steps to take in order to "outwit a pack of wolves." That's what it's entitled: HOW TO OUTWIT A PACK OF WOLVES. Not how to escape them or scare them or injure them or hide from them; how to outwit them. I was envisioning sitting down with them on a hillside and tricking them into drinking iocane powder, but what you are actually supposed to do is not get chased into a lake. That seems self-evident to me in any scenario, but I'm no expert.

And then they just got weird. HOW TO SURVIVE A HOSTAGE SITUATION. Where am I that I'm going to be taken hostage?

The very next day: HOW TO ESCAPE IF TRAPPED IN A LION CAGE. Why am I in a lion cage? How did I get there? Did I go into it voluntarily? Because in that case, considering how much effort it would probably take to put myself in such a dangerous situation, I deserve to be eaten. Or, did someone drug me and dump my body there? If so, it would be better to know HOW TO TELL WHETHER ANYONE HAS IT IN FOR YOU. Or at the very least HOW NOT TO END UP IN A LION CAGE.

I assumed it couldn't get more unlikely than me being in a lion cage but I think they're working their way into absurdity as the year progresses because today it says HOW TO BAIL OUT OF A STREET LUGE.

1. What is a street luge?
2. No really, what is a street luge?
3. Who the hell has a street luge?
4. Is street-luging a recognized sport?
5. Is the picture, which shows a person basically flying out of a gutter (there's even a drainage grate), in any way accurate?
6. Why would you get into a hobby that involved literally being in the gutter?
7. Is not the very name of a street luge a sign of its being dangerous?
8. If your street luge goes out of control, is this not in fact an example of natural selection at work?

The best part is that tomorrow says HOW TO SURVIVE NUCLEAR FALLOUT, as if having to bail out of your street luge and being in the vicinity of a nuclear bomb explosion are in any way on the same level of worst cases. I guess maybe the detonation might blow you off your street luge, but if that happened, breaking your leg or getting run over by a car probably won't matter that much.

I will bet $10 that before the year is out there's going to be one about alien life forms landing on earth. Oh, I hope there is.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Candy for the Unbeliever

This comes in second only to the Easter Cell Phone: Ostermix.

On Ivan's recent trip to Germany (concerning which she has so far failed to post HINT HINT) she picked up a bag of possibly the best Easter candy ever. I haven't actually eaten any of it yet, but I am prepared to say it's the best ever because it could not be more unabashedly pagan, and boy do I heart the pagans!

It's not the bunnies and the other bunnies and the strange cartoonish chicks that are so unreligious, although they definitely lean towards pre- rather than post-Christian traditions. It's the fried eggs.


Whether fried eggs are more appropriate to Easter than, say, a chocolate Jesus, I'm not sure. Then again, I don't know that they are even particularly connected to pre-Christian fertility rituals. If you eat the egg, it is obviously not going to hatch. So it seems to me that this is basically a religiously neutral candy, like maybe something the Easter Beagle would deliver. Christianity has inspired a whole lot of incredible music and some excellent art and literature, and I'm sure Jesus, from his seat on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, is very pleased that it has now also inspired fried-egg-shaped gummies.

I leave you with close-ups. If anyone knows what the ones that look like luridly-colored caviar are, please tell me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And it's All Thanks to Alexander Hamilton's Sister-in-Law

The Southern Tier is officially defined (by Wikipedia) as counties in New York State that border Pennsylvania, west of the Catskills. I have been there so infrequently that I have to admit it took some hard thinking before I could remember how to get on 390 going south. I already live half an hour south of the Thruway, which is essentially half an hour south of civilization; why would I want to go FARTHER that direction? I'll tell you why: pancakes.

Man, I love pancakes. So when I heard there was a family of maple producers in the Southern Tier who open a restaurant for three months in the spring in order to serve all-you-can-eat buckwheat pancakes to fellow maple syrup enthusiasts, I immediately enlisted the company of my trusty friend Sheilah, and away we went into the wilds of New York.

This family describes their restaurant as having a "somewhat out of the way" location. They are correct. They are a solid hour and a half away from just Rochester, and Rochester is about two and a half light years away from the rest of the world. So these are people for whom being nine hours from New York City wasn't good enough. They didn't even want to be near the Erie Canal. They don't even have a Finger Lake. They do have Keaney Swamp State Forest, but it is (a) a swamp, and (b) a swamp so unremarkable I can't even verify its name on the internet because, amazingly, there is no website detailing the state-protected swamps in Allegany County, so I can't imagine that it is any kind of natural wonder.

This isn't to say that the Southern Tier, in spite of obviously suffering from some longstanding economic woes, has no draws. It has a kind of lonely, dramatic landscape that is a cross between the mountains of Vermont and the hills of Prince Edward Island. If it hadn't been the epitome of a dull, colorless, depressing March day, I can see it being the subject of a National Geographic article, featuring pictures of neglected homes, abandoned homes, cat-eyed barns that are waiting for a good gust of wind or a lightning strike to finish them off, rusted schoolbuses that must date back to 1965 at least, and, naturally, peculiar local businesses. Such as maple farmers.

I say peculiar because this is not a maple farm from Tasha Tudor's New England. This isn't to impugn their maple syrup, which was marvelous. And perhaps I have become too focused on marketing. But I must say, there is great potential for a place like that to be really, really cool, and they missed almost every opportunity to educate people on how maple syrup is made, as well as to commercialize on their own cuteness, because there was not much cuteness.

In the basement of the building there is a display, I guess, of old equipment, I think, and a kind of reproduction, as far as I could tell, of the maple-sugaring life about a hundred years ago. I am unsure because normally in such a situation there would be some kind of placard telling you what you are looking at. Not so here:

Sheilah: What does it do?
Me: I have no idea.
Sheilah: It looks like you could cremate a body in it.
Me: Sheilah!
Sheilah: Is it not the perfect size and shape? IS IT NOT?
Me: I have to admit . . . it IS.

A nice placard could have spared us that exchange.

Also, I have something to say about this:

Someone saw me taking a picture of this and asked why I was taking a picture. What I said was, "Why not?" but what I thought was, "Are you kidding? This is the funniest thing I've seen in three months except for the RON PAUL RLOVEUTION sign that we passed as we drove down here, and that was mostly scary."

And in the back, where by all rights there ought to have been a nice path through the maple trees down which you could take a guided tour and learn the history of sapping, there was only this:

I won't hold the mud and snow against them because they can't control the horribleness of March, but the rotting logs, the rusted frame, and whatever that yellow thing is that looks like it might have contained as explosive gas of some kind? That could be somewhere else. When I go to a place like this, I want to be fooled into thinking these people lead wholesome, rustic lives, grow all their own food, take good care of their grandmothers, and play the fiddle for entertainment. And a horse or two in a nearby pasture wouldn't go amiss. Even just a horse statue! I can be flexible.

While we were adventuring in the area, Sheilah and I thought we might as well stop by Angelica, which Sheilah's mom said was cute and had some shops. Sheilah's mom was right. It was cute, and it did have some shops. And we were possibly the only people there. We were actually recognized by the owner of one shop because she had just spent half an hour talking to the owner of the shop we'd just been to. However, here's an interesting fact: the village I live in has a population of about 2,500, while Angelica has a population of 903 (that's 95 people fewer than in 1830), and yet Angelica can support a number of antiques stores, a sweet shop, a hotel AND an inn, and three restaurants, whereas my village can barely keep a single coffee shop in business.

Something is wrong with the place I live.

Side note on Angelica: The village of Angelica is named after Angelica Schuyler Church, daughter of General Philip John Schuyler and Catherine van Rensselaer (from Albany. Surprise!). The General was a member of the Continental Congress. Angelica corresponded with not only the Marquis de Lafayette and the Marquis de Talleyrand, but also Thomas Jefferson. She was painted by John Trumbull, and eloped in 1777 with an Englishman who fled to American after a duel. He may possibly have been using an assumed name at the time, and appears to have been something of a gambler. THe Englishman, Church, duelled with Aaron Burr (both survived) and when Aaron Burr later duelled with Alexander Hamilton, who was married to Angelica's sister, they used Church's pistols. Who named the village Angelica and why is a mystery to me, but I would just like to say on an unrelated note that it is a strange period in history when the thing to do is to settle arguments according to who has better aim. That is barely one step up from drowning suspected witches. Come on. Lame.

Whether or not Angelica Church married a gambling addict or Thomas Jefferson wanted to have an affair with her or she wanted to have an affair with Alexander Hamilton, the place that was named after her sure is darn cute. It might be kind of hard to tell from this picture, because unfortunately it was still March by the time we got there, but Main Street is a wide, tree-lined avenue with some lovely architecture, nicely-restored houses, and colorful shops.

More importantly than this, they knew just how to fool me into thinking they lead wholesome and rustic lives. It's not a horse. It's even better. It's a cow statue!


At the end of Main Street, there is a nice traffic circle with a pretty big park in the center of it. There are no less than four churches around this circle, one of which is pictured here:

And this is the extremely charming town hall. I am a sucker for red-white-and-blue hangings on official buildings in small northeastern towns.

And, just in case you were in doubt, this is Angelica, New York:

A Town Where History Lives Except In March When History Moves To Her Condo In Florida And Takes The Entire Population With Her.

As a day-trip destination, I give the Southern Tier three out of five stars, but if you are thinking of visiting, please bear in mind that I awarded one of those stars solely because Angelica Schuyler Church seems like she was pretty awesome. And I awarded the second one on the strength of the orange truffle I got from Angelica's sweet shop. And the third one was for the doll peeking out of the basket in the basement of the maple place. My definitions of "interesting" and "a good time" might not match up with everyone else's; in fact, at this very moment I'm considering bumping it up to four stars because I just remembered that the directions MapQuest gave us for the route home included a dirt road -- a dirt road that in any other place on earth probably would have been closed at this time of year, considering that it was not so much dirt as mud. I guess the MapQuest people thought, "If they're in the Southern Tier, 99 to 1 they're in a truck, so go ahead and put that dirt road in there as a valid route."

Yes. Definitely four stars.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Having not posted in more than two months, I feel I need to ease my way back into the routine. With vegetables.