Monday, December 31, 2007

Robert Capa

Among the swell presents I got back here in Colorado was Phaidon's "Robert Capa: the Definitive Collection." Capa's always been something of a hero of mine, not only for his photographs (which are fantastic -- speaking as someone who tends to shy away from humans in pictures, his mastery of human emotion is impressive) but because, by all accounts, he lived a pretty full life. His "Slightly Out of Focus" (still in print, I think) is both impressive and fun, showing that in addition to his photographic talents he was no slouch as a writer, and that he had a hell of an appetite for the fun parts of life. Reading about him always gets me a little pumped up and this'll be one to have by the bed late at night.

* * *

Because God loves a good joke, I've come down with a nasty cough over the past few days, so I've spent much less time than I would have liked outside in the Colorado snow, and much more inside looking up "NASCAR's Worst Moments of 2007" on Still, good to be back here. We headed down to the Walnut Brewery last night, and that gave me the chance to reflect on some things Boulder has done right over the years: keeping buildings low and streetlights minimal. (Not a revelation, but it really struck me last night -- perhaps due to all the cold medicine.) On a night like last night, when it's overcast and there's a little snow coming down, the man-made parts of the world seem pretty insignificant, and the natural parts -- the sky, the mountains -- overwhelming and impressive. You don't see this in Atlanta, where nature is (at least visually) far friendlier. It's likely a product of the environment where I grew up, but the immense and intimidating mountains and sky are more my style.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Colorado Über Alles

(pretend there's a picture of snow and mountains up here -- genius me forgot the digital camera USB cord)

Back in the homeland, world of sharp clear air, thick snow, and family. It's a cliché but I feel the stress draining away. No time off since August and these last two months have been Sisyphean -- being back in Boulder, even for a few days, feels like a hot bath at the end of a long day. I've got a week and two days now to avoid thinking about work and world news, and I intend to take advantage.

I'm ready for 2008. There are few people in my circle of friends who would consider 2007 a good year on a personal level; it was a drain for me, and worse for most others. A friend recently commented "I'm not a superstitious man, but this year is cursed." It's been a lot of wasted opportunities on my part. So many things I wanted to accomplish; so few actually accomplished. The blog has reflected that; it hasn't languished because I don't care about it, but because the bottom has dropped out of the Greg's-creativity market.

So new year, new opportunities, new Klouček jerseys.

* * *

Two quick books: #51 -- "The Total Penguin" by James Gorman, and #52 -- "End Zone" by Don DeLillo. I've always been a penguin fan, since early childhood -- I used to tell girls that it was because they sort of reminded me of me, being a little bit clumsy, a little bit proud, a little bit charming. Eventually I realized that's a pretty damn weird thing to say to a girl, and I stopped. Someone bought this for me years and years ago; it's kind of a coffee table book, but with more text than normal. Bored a weekend or two back, I read it. It is, indeed, all you need to know about penguins, and Gorman's a funny guy. Enjoyed it. Feel I know a bit more about penguins now.

I first read "End Zone" back in college, I think, and was suitably impressed. Now, it seems a little forced -- a lot of the heavier stuff is just eye-rolling. Pretty funny (I probably get DD's humor a lot more now than I did when I first read this) but not the intellectual juggernaut I once thought it was. Also notable as one of the few good works of fiction relating to the game of (American) football -- Elwood Reid's "If I Don't Six" (extra points for the Mule reference) and Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough" are the only others I can think of.

* * *

Link note: my brother has started a blog of his own, MidAdopter. It's industry-oriented but pretty good, so stop by and say hi.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Burn the Goat!

This is a Christmas tradition I'm going to have to see in person at some point: the Julbocken i Gävle, Sweden's giant straw goat. This was first brought to my attention by the Elk (natural enemy of the goat, I guess) way back in 2006 -- each year, some Swedes put up a straw goat, and other Swedes then try to set it on fire. This is what 20 hours of darkness daily does to you.

Wikipedia has (against all odds) a comprehensive and helpful page on ol' Julbocken, including a timeline that makes for great reading, particularly after a few drinks. Some highlights from the goat's history, dating all the way back to 1966 (!):

* "Local hillbillies ran the goat over with a car."

* "The goat was burnt even before it was erected. A new one was built and fireproofed. It was destroyed and broken into pieces."

* "Burned by unknown vandals reportedly dressed as Santa and a gingerbread man by shooting a flaming arrow or molotov cocktail at the goat at 21:00 on 3 December."

Not to mention a visitor from the troublemaking city of Cleveland, Ohio, who had his cigarette lighter confiscated afterwards because he was not responsible in using it. Oh, and this entry:

* "it is said that one night a couple made love inside the goat. As a result, in subsequent years the inside of the goat has been protected by a chicken net." -- Sex gets them to protect the goat, but not repeated burnings?

The goat now has his (her? its?) own webpage, with two webcams (so you can check on goat-burning status) and the goat's own blog (far more regularly updated than this one, let me tell you). Again, some pretty good reading, especially when the goat or his/her/its ghostwriter suggests that Santa is going to pass out in a ditch in Sweden and the goat will have to take over present-delivering responsibilities, and as a result you should leave some mulled wine out.

On that note, Merry Christmas from the PPA! I head back to Colorado on Friday, at which point, hopefully, the batteries will recharge a bit.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's the End of the Year ... There's Another One Coming

In an otherwise incoherent drunken e-mail rant to a friend, I wrote something about "seasonal bands" -- there's a couple albums out there that I ignore most of the year but then pick up when December hits. DC's Embrace is one, and has been since I was a teenager -- something about the overwrought self-examination goes hand-in-hand with the reluctant reflection on the past year. The Strokes are also on the list, for whatever reason. Partly, maybe, because I first heard them in DC (again) at a sort of uncertain time in my life, partly because the overriding feeling in most of their songs seems to be wistful disappointment. The Velvet Underground are also there, though they get a decent amount of play the other 11 months of the year.

It's been gray and depressing here for the last week or so, something I initially embraced (the sun gets boring, and Atlanta needs rain) but has now, I think, started really wearing on me. I'm on the second day of my weekend now and have accomplished virtually nothing. Not that I intended to learn a language or anything, but aside from a little socializing and watching a DVD of "The Wire" (and having the plumber out not once but twice, but that's not something I really wanted to do), I've just ... existed. I went out to a solo lunch yesterday, taking along my notepad and a book -- but I ended up not writing, not reading. Just sitting there. (Well, and eating.) This has been going on much of this month. I'm turning into a hermit, and not doing much other than working (a lot). Haven't been watching hockey (which led a semi-incoherent commenter on Jes's site to suggest, I think, that I'm the reason America doesn't deserve hockey), haven't been taking pictures, haven't been hiking.

Head to Colorado this coming Friday. Hopefully a trip back to the promised land (and a week off) will serve as a jolt.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Old Friend

Post-work, went out drinking with Fidel tonight, and somehow bourbon got offered up to us. I don't drink much bourbon, so unsure how that happened.

The bourbon in question was Bulleit -- which played a major part in one of the finest nights of my life, an unpublished bit of fiction, and really, my growth as a man.

This was probably the first time since the bourbon tasting (or at least since we all finished off our complimentary bottles of Bulleit from that night) that I'd had the stuff, so it's a momentous occasion indeed. In fact, I don't think we're going too far to say that it's obviously some sort of sign.

Of what, I'm not sure.

(It tasted great.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Banality of the Subconscious

I've had lots of really vivid dreams lately. Vivid and stupid. The type that only have one message for me: "you're an idiot."

One from the other night: I had a bunch of dollar coins, and was feeding them into a vending machine -- then noticed a sign informing me that using dollar coins would make the machine blow up.

Nonetheless, I kept on feeding them in. And nothing blew up.

Another dream: I was Superman, attempting to conceal something (not sure what) from Batman.


* * *

#50 -- "Cities of the Imagination: Prague" by Richard Burton

I picked this up in a used bookstore some time back, kind of expecting it to be a glorified cultural travel guide. Having finally read it, I can say that if you use this as a travel guide, you're a lot smarter than me. It's subtitled "A cultural and literary history," and that seems as good a description as any. It's not just (as I expected) pointing out "here's how Prague played into the work of Kafka" -- rather, a fairly ambitious discussion of how the arts have affected Prague, how Prague affected the arts, the role of the arts in the identity of the city (and sometimes country) under the Habsburgs, the Nazis, the Communists, and the Czechs themselves.

My interest wavers depending on my interest in the field -- very interested in the literature, not so much in the theater, middling on the music and architecture. It gave me several names to track down (notably, a reminder to finally read something by Ludvik Vaculik, who seems to have been a fairly prominent figure -- moreso than I thought, at least). Next time I go to Prague, I'll take this along -- its analysis of the statues on the Charles Bridge makes that worthwhile on its own.

Observation: last year I laid out the goal of reading 50 books in a year, and barely made it -- this year I set no such goal, and made the deadline easier (and will have read a few more by December 31st). The moral of this story is: don't have goals.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

République du Tchad

Ok, so the polar opposite to a post I'd made before but thought was new -- here's one I was certain I wrote at some point, but apparently didn't. Such is life.

Some time back, I mentioned in passing that when I was a youth, I wanted to dress up as the nation "Chad" for Halloween one year. Weird enough, but that was far from the limit to my obsession with the country.

The origins of my fascination with Chad (and, to a lesser degree, Angola) are shrouded in mystery. A check with Mom PPA reveals that I heard about the story of some guy who fell off of a ship off Angola's coast, and swam behind until he was picked up -- I have vague memories of drawing pictures recreating the scene. Not sure how I became interested in Chad, though. Maybe I just warmed to it because it looks kind of like someone's face (fig. 2, below).

At some point -- probably preschool -- I met a kid named "Chad" and became really angry that he was allowed to have that name. Unfortunately for storytelling purposes, no violence ensued. In general, though, my Chad fandom was pretty mellow. I was happy when the country got any mention in the pages of "Time," for instance -- even though news out of Chad was, then as now, generally bad. Parallels between this and my later Tomas Kloucek fandom have been noted.

On the, um, "favorite countries" list, Chad's dropped as the years have gone on, bypassed by upstarts like "the Czech Republic" and "Albania." But I still retain a fondness for it, and still exclaim when I see it in the news (usually in things like "Least Livable Countries" lists). I haven't thought much about visiting, though it would be interesting, and I've heard that the local "Gala" beer is pretty good. Maybe I'll set up a Paypal account -- "donate money and send Greg to Chad, he'll report on how the beer is."

(EDIT: love the internet. A 1977 ad for Gala. In 1977, Chad was deep in a civil war, about two years away from seeing the capital conquered by rebels. So this shouldn't be taken as a representation of Chadian life, most likely.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Out of Touch

It's been six days since I updated this? Wow. I swear that it wasn't because of my shame over recycling an old post. I've just been busy. Really busy. I'm not even paying attention to hockey -- until Milan Hejduk scored six points tonight, I could not have told you anything that's happened in my favorite sport in, oh, a week and a half.

Meanwhile, a week or so late, I'm just now finding out that Tom's Tavern is closing. Not sure why this hits me so hard -- I probably went to Tom's fewer than 10 times my last Boulder go-round -- but geez, it's another Boulder institution closing down. Tom's Tavern was there forever (my parents were teenagers when it opened). It was there when the Pearl Street Mall opened, it was there when I moved to Boulder, it was there when I went away, there when I moved back, there when I moved away again.

Now it's gone, following a string of Boulder landmarks (Crossroads, Stage House) into oblivion. Such is life. It just makes me a bit sad. I've been insanely homesick for Boulder lately, and somehow, the demise of a place that barely registered on my radar makes it a bit worse.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Something I've Never Seen Outside of Atlanta...

...people who try to negotiate the price of groceries.

I haven't seen it often, but I have seen it several times over the years I've been here -- and I haven't seen a single incidence anywhere else. People will try to haggle with the cashier, in an attempt to get the price lower.

Does this ever work? I've never seen it work. I'd imagine large grocery store chains are pretty set in their ways. But you'll still see people trying to get a deal on their bag of Doritos or whatever.

It's kind of interesting to watch. Unless you end up in line behind the haggler, in which case it just sucks.

* * *

Those who live and die by my plumbing drama will be relieved to know that the plumber came out today, my sink once again drains as sinks should, and all for the low, low cost of $165. Plus my pipes are apparently so bad that I need them to be completely replaced, which will cost several hundred more dollars. Time to resume the male prostitution side gig.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


The new month dawned bright and clear, but my garbage disposal is still fucked up. Some product from Lowe's is currently working on it; hopefully that'll work, otherwise I'll just abandon the whole place and start a new life, somewhere else.

Last night, when not screwing up my sink or choking to death on food, I watched "Wages of Fear." Not a perfect movie by any stretch, and the ending is ridiculous, but for about 80 minutes or so it manages to maintain a level of tension that I've never seen in a movie. (it wasn't aided by me, unaccountably, deciding to have a pot of coffee at 8pm).) At one point I realized that the movie made me gulp audibly, and it really did sound like "gulp." At another point someone's car alarm went off during a particularly tense moment (the scene where Peter van Eyck is trying to remove the rock from the road) and I nearly collapsed.

It was later remade as "Sorcerer" -- I should be ready to watch that in about 15 years.

I also read stuff!

#49 -- "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick

Dick (tee hee!) was one of those writers that people were usually shocked I haven't read -- I think now John Updike takes the number one spot on that list. Alternate history, Axis won WWII, and my feelings were mixed:

Pros --

* I blazed through it. Very fast read.

* I'm not much of a fan of alternate history, simply because it usually goes along fairly predictable lines -- dystopia! Robert E. Lee's face on money! Chaos! But this veers off and sets itself apart simply because so much of life is banal -- it's not all brave bands of rebels, but a lot of people who have found a way to live under the occupation and are just trying to get by.

* Good job of not just laying things out there -- we figure out what happened in Africa, what happened to Hitler, through carefully dropped hints. No awkward expositions, nothing set out on a silver platter.

Cons --

* I tried to give the benefit of the doubt and believe that it was just an attempt to convey non-English speakers talking in English, but I really think Dick had a tin ear for dialogue.

* Oh holy God did the ending suck. Apparently PKD used the I Ching a lot in developing some plot points, and that was probably a mistake.

Overall? Good fun read, but I won't be rushing back to the Dick trough quickly.