Thursday, October 12, 2006
I stopped by Busboys & Poets on Monday, largely because I needed a place to sit and read for a while. I haven't stopped by the Cafe since I stopped working there except to pick up my last two paychecks, so I've been going to Tryst a lot (too much) and I felt like a change of scenery.

Not trusting their espresso (I've become a complete espresso snob in the last year, it's terrible) I ordered a cup of coffee... and I have to say I was both surprised and impressed.

I don't know if the coffee there is actually that good, really, or if it's just that I've been... what's the opposite of spoiled? I've become accustomed to getting really lousy, overroasted crap-tasting coffee from places trying to immitate Charbucks. Last week I was caught in DuPont Circle during a miserable cold rain, so I went into Cosi to warm up (and do some reading... have I mentioned I read too much?). I got a small cup of coffee, and couldn't drink more than two or three sips. It was swill. OK, maybe I'm not just an espresso snob... no, this is not snobbery: the stuff was worse than the pigslop my high school cafeteria served!

But back to the positive. I drank the hell outta that BB&P coffee, marveling at the fact I could taste the complex coffee bean flavor, and not just the generically bittersweet roast. Maybe they really do serve brilliant coffee there, but I have to suspect it was more than a little to do with the unexpected joy of a good old fashioned light roast, bright and beany in my mug.

I think it was when I was learning Music History back in the summer of '93 that I first came up with the idea of Jumping the Asymptote. The Romantic period, starting with Beethoven's later works and building up to the birth of Modernism in the early 20th century, was largely about moving away from a tonal center. Composers got more and more adventurous, stretching the boundaries of tonality, getting closer and closer to the point where tonality would cease altogether, but never actually crossing that line. Pushing the boundaries was exciting, jumping outside of them would be tennis without a net.

Then came Berg and Webern and Schoenberg. They saw music getting closer and closer to this line and decided that the destiny of music was to cross it. So this they did, producing first atonal music, then the dogmatic serialism that sucked all remaining sign of life from symphonic music, leaving it the museum-relic mummy hooked to public-funding life support that it is today.

Of course, there was an eventual backlash. Minimalism, serialism made aggressively tonal ("In C" anybody?) was one salvo. John Cage's music-as-chaos/chaos-as-music aesthetic fought back against serialism's ossifying formalism. But it all seemed to come to late, as the popular ear turned to jazz and, later, rock and roll and even hip-hop.

In any case, I accuse Charbucks and its immitators of the same crime as the atonal composers: Jumping the Asymptote.

The American tradition of coffee is all about light roast: the bright breakfast blend, highly caffeinated, as a morning pick-me-up. Darker roasts, as suggested by their names (French Roast, Neapolitan, etc.) are more associated with the continental tradition, and thus come preloaded with old world mystique and sophisticated cachet. While the squares drank their Maxwell House robusta crap, the coffee intelligentsia drank dark, rich exotic blends. The darker, the more... more... je ne sai quoi.

Darker... up to a certain point. Because beyond that point you have burnt beans! But some joker in Seattle decided to hop right on over that asymptote. And millions of Americans have followed right along, as if "Pierrot Lunaire" had become a Top 40 hit. This is great for the chain and its investors, by the way, because if the beans are charred beyond recognition, one can save money using grossly inferior stock and nobody will be able to taste the difference... but once again I digress.

And this has really all been one long digression from my main point, which is that for all its talk of "letting the coffee speak for itself," the Third Wave always seems to me like a simple case of American Coffee Tradition striking back. The humble, bright light roast of days gone by is asserting itself against the oversteppings of encroaching European-ness, and doing so by cloaking itself in a new esotericism. Only time will tell, I suppose, whether Murky and its allies are a rear-guard or a vanguard-- minimalism or jazz...
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
On Lighter Notings...

In case you were wondering, this is apparently how it's done.
Monday, October 09, 2006

In case you were wondering about my bike route home these days... well, I usually just take Rhode Island Ave east from the point it meets Florida Ave. But when I'm biking during rush hour, I still cut through LeDroit Park and Anna Cooper Circle to avoid traffic like I used to. This is what I did today.

Fascinating stuff, I'm sure, but stick with me here.

A block east of Cooper circle, at the intersection of T and (ummmm) 2nd street (where the Anna J. Cooper House is... have I mentioned how I always used to go past the decaying shell of the Cooper House and think to myself how it looked like a Faulkner Novel?) there was a Saab convertible sitting in the middle of the intersection with its top down. T and 2nd is less a true intersection than one road deadending into another-- 2nd Street traffic doesn't even have a stop sign. So it seemed odd when I realized the car was just sitting there, though not terribly so. Sometimes traffic gets snagged on those side streets for no apparent reason.

I knew something was off, however, when I got closer still and saw that there was nobody in the car. I saw a group of people standing off to the right. A few yards closer and I saw that the front end of the Saab was pretty smashed up, with the bumper hanging off, and began wondering where the other car was. The car was facing NE, stopped in the middle of a left turn onto 2nd. A few yards further and I could see parts and debris on the street. One of them was a light, but a light off on a stalk, not like you see on cars.

Before this even had time to register, I saw next to it a plastic visor. The kind of visor you see on a motorcycle helmet. Just as I was putting these two things together, I saw the motorcycle itself lying on its side. It had been hidden behind the car up until then.

Slowing, I looked around for the rider. He was off to the right, lying on his side, surrounded by what I can only assume were the Saab's passengers. He was rolling back and forth, the people on the street telling him not to try to get up, people watching from their porches telling him that the police were on their way.

I presume an ambulance as well, but they only mentioned the police.

He was lying a good ways away from his bike. I'm not a good judge of distance, but I would say at least ten yards. He must have been thrown that far by the collision. He must have been going pretty fast. The Saab driver either didn't see him coming or mistook the intersection for a three-way stop.

I didn't know what to do. Obviously he already had plenty of help. My stopping wouldn't contribute much. But I really felt like a tool just going along my way, rubbernecking. Especially since I had to ride right between the car and the bike, swerving on the way to avoid the visor, the light, and a banged up license plate.

Which reminds me of my other recent gawk. Sunday my housemate S. came in and asked if I had seen the black smoke on the horizon. I hadn't, so went outside to look. Black smoke on the horizon, quite a bit of it. B. wondered aloud if it meant The Others were going to come for us. It looked like a lot of smoke, possibly from a warehouse fire or similar.

At that point I needed to go to the grocery store anyway, which happened to be in the same direction as the column. When I got there I realized two things: first, that the smoke was further east than it had appeared and second, that I had left my U-lock key at home. So, rather than declaring the trip a loss and immediately turning around, I headed further off to see where the fire was.

As I got closer to the smoke, riding around twisty named streets in a residential neighborhood, I found my way blocked off by cop cars at several intersections. Finally, all but completely lost, I saw a firehose thick with water laid across the street in front of me. I followed it up a hill with my gaze and there it was: somebody's house on fire, the flames raging impressively from the rooftop. I sheepishly dismounted my bike and carried it over the firehose, not sure what would happen if I tried to ride over it, found 17th Street, found Rhode Island, and headed home for my key.

Cheap holidays in other people's misery.

Yeah... so I forgot my password again.

Actually, I did not forget my password. I actually forgot my username. Now that I know this I should not forget it again.

A propos of memory...

A few weeks back I began Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist, which for lack of better terminology is a fantasy novel. Unlike most fantasy novels, rather than being set in a Tolkein-knockoff idealized medieval world, it takes place in historical Ancient Greece-- after the battle of Marathon. The narrator is a Roman mercenary who fought on the Persian side and received a head wound that basically destroyed his short term memory. He forgets anything that happened more than 12 hours previously. He keeps a journal of sorts, as the only way to remember who it is.

So it's, as I noticed myself and everybody keeps pointing out, a lot like Memento. But it wouldn't work as a movie (for some reason I can never read a book without imagining how it would translate to film... I consider this a personal failing for one reason or another) because it's so much about the act of writing-- the reasons for it. The reasons for writing anything, even a half-assed 'blog.

In any case, I bought Soldier of the Mist because I had already bought Soldier of Arete without realizing it was the second book in a series. I had assumed the series to be just the two books, but decided to check online to be sure...

It turns out that, although the first book came out in 1986 and the second in 1989, the third book in the series will be coming out in a week and a half. Quite an impressive gap. Quite an impressive act of blind good timing on my part. Sadly, I can't seem to read slowly enough that the current volume will keep me occupied that long; this weekend alone alone I plowed through 200 pages, leaving a mere 100 more to go.

This is what I do when I don't have a job, see: I read obsessively. It's not a bad pastime, but somewhere along the last several years I've realized that I often (comma-all-too) read to avoid having to think about where I am in my life. It distracts me from overwhelming things like looking for a job, or tracking down old professors and employers for letters of recommendation for grad school, or even calling/writing to catch up with friends (or shopping for groceries or playing guitar or or or...).

It's a retreat into literacy.

(...or or or updating my silly 'blog or...)

Mind the gaps.

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