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04.20.2001
Some possible configurations

Sugar cubes. Sugar spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. Sugar cube flambé. Homemade geranium-scented sugar cubes. A sugar cube balanced on a filigree spoon as, with the aid of a gentle stream of icy water poured from your elegant carafe, it dissolves into your glass of absinthe, slowly turning the liqueur a milky, opalescent pale jade. Eighty-year-old sugar cubes containing tiny sealed vials of live anthrax bacilli. Victorian decorated sugar cubes in boxes of 18 or 36. Choose a themed suite: pink rosebuds, burgundy rosebuds, purple carnations, tiny blue blossoms, and yellow orchids; blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and sunflowers; bumblebees, ladybugs, and butterflies; green leaves, yellow leaves, currants, and chrysanthemums; a Christmas set; "Easter Friends"; or special order monogrammed or other custom cubes. Beware, however, as costs can get pretty astronomical on those custom sweeties. As the manufacturers warn, "that is usually what happens when each and every sugar cube is designed to your specifications." How much, I wonder, would they charge for a heart-shaped, anthrax-filled sugar cube with a little absinthe bottle on top?



04.19.2001
A lack of royal gravitas

Your faithful correspondent fears that the great fantasist George MacDonald is not read nearly so much as once he was. Certainly he is still well-known and well-loved, but his work has faded in the public eye, in favor of those who took him as an influence, and their inheritors after them: big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on ad infinitum.

At the Back of the North Wind is perhaps his most famous work, and the first I read. The mixture of Christian and fantastical elements with which it treats the subject of the death of its young protagonist is weird and unsettling in, I think, precisely the same, and particularly Victorian, way as Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. In the world of these texts, death is supposedly sweet, spiritually fulfilling, and unalarming, but to my secular, modern young eye, the entire premise was thoroughly uncanny. The less-death-oriented but still religiously-inflected The Princess and Curdie and The Princess and the Goblin were more to my taste, full as they were of adventure, mystery, and captivating characters, while distinctly (and pleasantly) lacking in eerily sanctified child corpses.

As linked above, you can read any of these classics online by the magic of the Internet, though of course a hardcover book with thick, creamy paper and the original watercolor illustrations should be the format of choice. Far be it from me to disparage the electronic versions, however, for their particular availability via an idle keystroke or two in the comfort of my home has revealed to me a MacDonald text I'd previously missed: The Light Princess, a slight but vastly enjoyable variation on the christening-curse story (like M. M. Kaye's sadly out-of-print* The Ordinary Princess). The curse in this case is that the infant's "atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity." Not only does the princess weigh nary an ounce, she is merry in a most peculiar way, for "in her laugh there was something missing...a certain tone, depending upon the possibility of sorrow -- morbidezza, perhaps," and she is generally incapable of the slightest seriousness of purpose. But of course it all turns out right in the end, through various ways and means I shall not spoil for you here, except to pique your curiosity by mentioning that they are generally quite damp, and to reveal most brashly that, in the end, "[t]he only revenge the princess took upon her aunt was to tread pretty hard on her gouty toe the next time she saw her." Take that, you horrid old thing!

*Speaking of out-of-print children's books, is there no one who can tell me where to find a copy of The Other Side of Green Hills, by John Keir Cross?



04.17.2001
All tarted up and nowhere to go

Caitlin Hines argues for "the eccentricity of the sign" in her classic article "What's So Easy About Pie? The Lexicalization of a Metaphor" (in Goldberg 1996), which begins the discussion continued in her article "Rebaking the Pie: The WOMAN AS DESSERT Metaphor" (in Bucholtz, Liang and Sutton 1999). In these articles, she considers a specific case of Lakoff-and-Johnson-style conceptual metaphor: the "virtual bakery" of English terms equating women-as-sex-objects with desserts. She takes as her central cases monolexemic (one-word), real-world (not fanciful terms like "honeybunches"), multiply-cited (appearing in one than one or two attested cases) terms. She points out, also, that given these filters, it was not necessary to add a rule that the considered terms should be used exclusively of women, as all attested gender-ambiguous terms are apparently either fanciful or polylexemic (or both). A few interesting observations from her study:

1. The terms refer to desserts that are "firm on the outside, soft or juicy in the middle, and either able to be cut into more than one piece...or conceptualized as one (snatched) serving of an implied batch...."
2. "[A]ll of the central metaphorical terms refer to foods which have been heated, either baked (like a cake) or cooked on a griddle (like the chiefly British crumpet), as opposed to, say, frozen desserts.
3. There is an overlap between the lexical domains of women and desserts, as seen in the use of terms like "delicious," "tasty," "seductive," and so on to describe either one.

These days (and how quickly those days turn into these), this discussion seems, perhaps, only moderately interesting: In a moment (and, to be fully accurate, a disciplinary location) in cognitive linguistics where the existence of conceptual metaphors is a fairly uncontentious thesis, Hines' main argument has been rendered somewhat unremarkable. However, her thoroughness and interest in careful investigation of "what 'counts' as an expression of this metaphor" are well worth the attention she gives them, and are a useful model for others. While I'm uncertain about her classification of crumpets as a dessert -- I certainly think of crumpets as breakfast food, myself -- I was delighted to read her commentary about various terms that will not do, such as custard or ice-cream cone.

On the other hand, as I consider the question, there are some troubling inadequacies afoot in this analysis. What about pudding, for example? In British English, it's roughly comparable to AmE dessert; however, puddin is most definitely an AmE usage, where the referent's similarity to custard would seem to defy Hines' observations I quote at (1), above. In its "dessert" meaning, furthermore, it seems distinctly unlike the cases Hines cites (despite conforming to her guidelines) in being the superordinate category of which the terms of this class of metaphors are generally co-hyponyms. Drat. Still, who can fault a scholarly work that includes a definition of "everybody in town has had a slice of her" from Playboy's Book of Forbidden Words and comments parenthetically, "note distinguished reference!" Not I, sweetie pie.



04.16.2001
A torch in the darkness

When the New World Order takes over, earthquakes destroy most of modern civilization, or a reptilian hive-mind absorbs most of mankind, it won't be so easy to pick up a package of Energizers. How, then, to find your way through the post-apocalyptic wasteland after dark? Keep your Maglite around for bashing the heads of unpleasant competitors for natural resources, by all means, or as a memento of more innocent times, but don't expect it to provide a lasting source of illumination. Those sweethearts go through alkaline like a Ford Expedition through petrol.

Instead, consider mechanically-powered flashlights. For short tasks, and to build up your hand strength, try a little electro-dynamic model like the ones developed by the Russian army circa 1956. It's lightweight, compact, and sturdy, but requires continual hand-pumping as long as you want light. For a substantially greater outlay of funds, you can obtain the Baygen hand-crank lantern. This honey will run for at least 3 minutes on a single turn of the crank, but can be fully wound (a procedure that takes about 45 seconds from a standing start) to provide about 2 hours of light with no further maintenance. You can crank it up periodically at any point in the cycle to keep it shining indefinitely, and it will even hold its wound-up state when turned off, for instant illumination when you need it. Furthermore, it comes in six fashionable colors, four of which allow you to observe the internal mechanisms at work. What more could a post-apocalyptic survivalist desire?

Well, it rather depends on the image you hope to convey in our new desolate surroundings. Some might prefer the crisp, well-prepared, Sharper Image look and feel of the ultra-moderne Baygens described above. Others, however, may prefer a distinctively outré steampunk aesthetic: Imagine, if you will, the special frisson of wandering across a ravaged post-industrial landscape with an 1899 Ever Ready Clover Leaf Bicycle lantern in hand. The 1916 Eveready Inspection light (notice the snappy condensed spelling of "Eveready," introduced in 1906, when the Ever Ready flashlight company merged with National Carbon, the first battery manfuacturers) is not only stylish but also handy for illuminating the interior of various small-apertured spaces, which will doubtless be prevalent in the rubble and disarray of the time, and sterling silver will never go out of style. True, the antique-torch-wielder generally cannot do without various primitive dry-cell power sources, but mightn't all the trouble be worthwhile? After all, in the dark future, mankind will be in dire need of aesthetic as well as literal illumination; you, gentle reader, could be the one to save us all.



04.11.2001
Cardamom Nut Cookies

This cookie has some ingredients that are unlikely to be in your kitchen as you read this. I promise you, though, that -- as long as you have a coffee grinder or something of the sort -- the result is well worth the extra trouble. For grinding the whole cardamom, here are a few words of wisdom: one can easily find whole cardamom at Indian groceries and at gourmet stores like Zabar's. The former source will give much lower prices. You may be able to obtain shelled cardamom, which will look a bit like whole cloves, or, at the risk of turning your appetite, rodent droppings. If, instead, you wind up with green or brown pods, you will have to break open the pods to get at the spice within. If you have no dedicated spice grinder, you can clean your coffee grinder by first knocking out as much of the coffee as possible. Then grind a few tablespoons of uncooked rice, discard it, and wipe out the grinder with a lint-free cloth or paper towel. Repeat the process after you have ground the cardamom; your next pot of coffee may have a very faint cardamom flavor, but it should be neither strong nor unpleasant.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
1 t. vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. nut liqueur, such as Frangelico
1 T. freshly ground cardamom
1 cup flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Beat butter, sugar, and oil together. Add vanilla and liqueur. Sift the flour and cardamom together, then beat into the wet ingredient mixture. Stir the nuts into the resulting dough. Roll dough into 1" balls; arrange these on ungreased cookie sheets with about 2" between them, and flatten with the palm of your hand into 1/4"-high disks. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. When cookies have cooled, dust lightly with powdered sugar.

These biscuits are excellent with tea or coffee, particularly in the late afternoon.



04.03.2001
One nib, two nib

Technically, the following has nothing to do with either sweetness or light, but as it's a digression springing from a link in the previous entry -- itself entirely within the bounds of the volume at hand -- the editors have granted special dispensation. Readers should not, however, get any ideas about making this a habit.

The online exhibit of Robert Garland's 1927 work Ten Years of Daylight Saving From the Pittsburgh Standpoint includes an image from the book's frontispiece: a photo of three pens in a display case. On the left we see the pen used by President Woodrow Wilson in signing the 1918 Daylight Saving Bill. In the center is the more ostentatious feather quill Speaker of the House Champ Clark used to sign the bill for the House of Representatives. Finally, the smallest and most discreet pen, that used by Vice President Thomas Marshall when he signed the bill for the Senate. Pens used in the signing of various official documents are frequently saved as historic artifacts, either in official or connesieurs' collections, and signings are often arranged with this in mind. For example, when then-Secretary of State James Byrnes signed the ratification protocol for the UN World Security Organization, he used two pens. One might think signatories were required to sign in more than one place, as the two-pen switch otherwise would have been particularly difficult to carry off -- though, as we shall see in a moment, two pens is small potatoes in the world of official signatures. One pen was destined to be a gift to Cordell Hull, the "Father of the United Nations" and Secretary of State under FDR; the other pen's fate was a bit less certain, according to the contemporary account in the New York Times: "[Byrnes] may keep the other pen himself, or possibly give it to President Truman, he said, if he couldn't talk the President out of it."

This valorization and special usage of "signing" pens has not only continued, but magnified over time. Though fountain-pen nibs should ideally be used by one owner only, and furthermore write best after they have been used for some time, as the nib wears to accommodate the owner's personal writing angle, these historic pens (often roller balls, these days) are rarely given such consideration. When Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, he also signed twice -- once with a "digital pen" and once with the pen that Eisenhower had used to sign the Federal Highway Act of 1956. That particular pen happened to be on hand because Eisenhower had given one of his pens to Senator Albert Gore, Sr.

"One of his pens?" you may ask. Indeed. Presidential pens have become an industry unto themselves, beginning during the Truman administration but coming into its own under Johnson. Presidents typically select a particular model -- or, to be more accurate, generally make use of several different models through the course of an administration -- to be the "bill signer" pen. These "bill signers," usually Parker pens with presentation boxes, are ordered in quantity for use at signing ceremonies by the president and vice president. Most of these pens are used as gifts, rather than associated with any real signing. However, many are indeed associated with particular signings, and apparently presidents have been known to use up to twenty pens for a single signature, sheerly to impart the value of the signature to as many material anchors as possible, so that a pen that has "genuinely" been used to sign a given document can be given to every person who was instrumental in bringing the bill to fruition. President Clinton was particularly inclined to comment on this situation in his remarks at signings, indicating the contortions necessary to involve so many pens in a single signature: "See, I have all these pens because there are all these people who want one. I have to find a way to use everyone of these pens when I sign this. So don't start laughing at me, all right?"

Hey, Walter Benjamin, I got your age of mechanical reproduction right here. Go go gadget simulacra!



04.01.2001
It's Daylight Saving Time!

From February of 1942 through September of 1945, the United States observed Daylight Saving Time year-round as part of the resource-conservation effort of World War II. To night owls like your correspondent, this sounds like an ideal state of affairs; one, indeed, that I advocate every October when I find my evenings abruptly darkened. Some parties, however, beg to differ. An Australian group, the Abolish Daylight Saving Committee, argues that these schedule adjustments have a deleterious effect on farmers' health and wellbeing, as the resulting fatigue prompts depression, compromises performance, and affects children's behavior.

Daylight Saving Time as Americans know it today, beginning the first Sunday in April and ending the last Sunday in October, was standardized under the Uniform Time Act of 1966 (revised in 1986), though it went through several different, often less-standardized, iterations during the course of the twentieth century. Though many people believe that DST was initially designed as a device to help farmers coordinate their schedules with both the clock-driven industrial workday and the natural clock of dawn and dusk, this is far from the truth.

In fact, Daylight Saving Time's primary purpose has always been to save energy -- by reducing the time between sunset and bedtime by an hour, people have less need to turn on lights and will also be able to spend more time outdoors, and this is why it has seemed like a particularly good idea in times of great need -- and its primary detractors have, in fact, historically been farmers. While many of us like to get our work and play done in the evening, farmers prefer to do many chores by early morning light, and are distinctly inconvenienced by requirements to adjust their schedules for the rest of us. In Indiana, where the time-zone and Daylight Saving scheme (or lack thereof) in use varies complexly depending on the state, the question still inspires passionate debate.

Nonetheless, I prefer to endorse the year-round plan behind which I have always thrown my support, now being put forth by California lawmaker Betty Karnette. As she says, the power crisis is surely a fine reason to take the conservationist measures last adopted for the occasions of world wars and oil embargoes. As for concerns that schoolchildren and early-risers will be endangered by waiting in morning dark for their buses, I would like to point out two things: first, it is surely no better to be endangered by the darkness at five in the evening than the darkness at five in the morning, and, second, it has always struck me as outrageously cruel to require students to work when, according to their circadian rhythms, they should be fast asleep. To my mind, the fatigue that farmers experience at the hand of one hour's shift of the clock is nothing compared to that experienced by nigh every minor in the country for the sake of maximizing the efficiency of the school bus schedule. So there.



03.28.2001
It was pleasant to you, how blinks this traffic light?

Sometimes it's best to provide an excerpt with minimal introduction:

Want to make to the child same, almost present? Not cheapest (hardly is less 3 $), but very simple - only 12 LED, six resistors and one chip! The power unit on 5 Volts is necessary still which, I do not doubt, at you is.

If you have decided to collect such traffic light, I offer you the basic circuit and text of the program with the comments in Russian. The basis of a toy is made by the controller PIC12C508 (PIC12C508A, PIC12C509), which very much is pleasant to me by the small sizes (especially in the case SOIC-8). Thus, you always may apply anyone another (with small change of the program). Soon on sale the Flash-controllers PIC12F640 will appear which are very easy for reprogramming and thus it is not necessary to be afraid, that because of a random error in the program you will be compelled to throw out an expendable chip.

It is not necessary to be afraid! How true and how reassuring this statement is. I urge you, gentle reader, to take it to heart, even if you do not want to follow the traffic-light-wiring instructions of the very pleasant Mr. Ilyichyov. For the more fashion-minded, his website is a delightful source for alternate phrasings of the dull and overused "Contact me" or "Email:". Try instead the exceedingly polite "Your offers direct, please, to the address:", "The one who wants to me to write, I wait to the address:", or the more subtly outré "Mail to me:".

Pleasant to you of viewing!



3.23.2001
To the Faithful Reader

Your Pocket Guide will be unavailable Saturday and part of Sunday as it is transferred from one home to another. Rumors of death exaggerated, et cetera, et cetera. The Guide would like to take this opportunity to convey its gratitude to its most accomodating and generous landlord at this time. Thank you.



Ants! Ants! Ants!

Little tiny ants prefer to winter in the bathroom, where they can show off their glossy dark exoskeletons to their best advantage against the glossy whiteness of porcelain. This fashion choice is akin to the selection of white bikinis by the bronzed denizens of Saint-Tropez, or, more accurately, perhaps, the strategic arrangement of said well-browned Europeans upon sand of the appropriate hue.

The question remains, however: what kind of ant is vacationing at your porcelain resort? Any house ant of the tiny sort falls under the rubric of "sugar ant," a generic term that embraces several species: The crazy ant is a bit on the large side for a sugar ant, and easily recognized by its characteristic erratic movements. The dark-brown odorous house ant can be best identified at the moment you crush it (as of course you will), when it gives off an unpleasant smell. If your ants are both little and black, perhaps you have been visited by the aptly, if not creatively, named little black ant. Little black ants are physically much like the brown pharaoh ants, though the latter are more of a nuisance due to their habit of invading hospitals and frequenting both unsterile locations like washbasins and the sorts of spots one wants to keep clean: sealed packs of sterile dressing, intravenous drip systems, on surgical wounds, and in food and medical equipment, bringing nasty germs on their tiny amber feet. As well, their colonization habits make pharaoh ants particularly difficult to eradicate.

Nonetheless, despite their nasty smells and staph-laden feet, ants have not always played the role of unhealthy nuisance. The earliest diabetes diagnoses, circa 1500 BCE, were facilitated by observing the attraction of ants to the urine of those with the disease. Though it would be a long time before cause and treatment were determined, the urine-drinking ants were an early clue that the key lay in investigating the excess sugar in the diabetic's system. Now that it is no longer such an important diagnostic tool, however, we recommend exploiting the ant's well-known tendency to head for the nearest sugary liquid as a method for baiting and eradicating your local ant population: genocide by sweet, sweet candy.


3.22.2001
Molasses in January
With a horrible, hissing, sucking sound, it splashed in a curving arc straight across the street, crushing everything and everybody in its path.1

Yes, the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 truly happened; it truly was in January; it truly did kill 21 people and injure approximately 150 more, destroying buildings, cars, and railroad trestles. On what is now the site of the Boston Aquarium, the Purity Distilling company's 2.2 million gallon tank -- perhaps overfilled in an attempt to stock up against the rainy day of prohibition -- burst when the usual molasses-slow temperatures of January underwent a sudden unseasonable spike of approximately 40 degrees. Though the subhead of the New York Times report blames "Huge Sheets of Steel, Hurled Through Air" for the damage, the article itself, as well as later reports, makes it clear that the molasses itself was responsible for most of the deaths. The blackstrap poured out into the streets at approximately 35 miles an hour, rushing along in 8' to 15' waves. With its fearsome powers of adhesion, combined with a force of 2 tons per square foot, any hapless soul to get in its path was fated for death by sorghum.

Speed does kill, particularly when it's sticky.

1From the January 1965 issue of Yankee Magazine, reprinted on Eric Postpischil's Molasses Flood Page


3.21.2001
Fiat Soap

Once upon a time, there was only one vegetable-oil soap: Sunlight Soap, made by William Hesketh Lever and his brother James. Later soaps from the Lever brothers included Lux, recently the subject of an ad campaign by subsidiary Hindustan Lever promising to protect the fairness of skin under the vigorous Indian sun -- a rather feeble attempt to compete with popular and depressing products such as the "bio-extract"-laden FairGlow, which claims to naturally reduce the melanin in one's skin.

However, while today the global cleanser economy is packed with competition on every front, the Victorian skin-care market was wide open when the Levers arrived. By 1888, three years after William's palm-oil innovation, Sunlight's manufacture had far outgrown their physical plant. The brothers bought a site of their own on the shores of the Mersey, just across the river from Liverpool, and founded a town to go with it, the still-thriving Port Sunlight Village. According to the Port Sunlight Visitor's Center, the village was the result of a pure outpouring of loving kindness for one's fellow man: "Lever, like many Victorians, wanted his workers to share in his wealth which they had helped create." While in fact most Victorians were not in the position to share any wealth with those who had helped create it, and those who shared the sentiment were far more likely to be artists and theorists than wealthy capitalists, it is certainly true that the notion was circulating at the time. Lever was apparently a fan of the Garden City/Garden Suburb movement, the urban-planning movement that has provided us with such stultifyingly dull (but doubtless superior to the industrial slums and wastelands that were the alternative at the time) communities as Welwyn Garden City, where your author has spent far too many a tedious week (three).

With uplifting and attractive living conditions, the industrialist planned, should come moral uprightness and cultural improvement: In return for Lever's generosity, residents were to comply with his strict moral code. There were to be no distilleries, gambling-houses, or brothels, leading one trade union official to write, in 1919, "no man of an independent turn of mind can breathe for long in the atmosphere of Port Sunlight." However, it seems that the locals either disagreed or lacked the disposition in question, for homes in the village have always been in high demand. My own distaste for planned communities notwithstanding, it cannot be denied that there is an eager contingent in favor of the notion, in the US as well as the UK.

Of course, the great figures of industry, though not always so fascinated by urban planning, have traditionally had an interest in cultural philanthropy. Like Henry Clay Frick, John D. Rockefeller, and J. Paul Getty, William Lever sought to enrich the cultural lives of the population at large. Sunlight Port boasts the Lady Lever public art gallery, the Gladstone Theatre, and an excellent school system, to general public applause. Nonetheless, I cannot help but recall the memorable and oft-repeated quote of a certain teacher, bestowed upon every American History class she taught: "Andrew Carnegie! My father always used to say, 'I spent too much time working in his goddamn coal mines to go to his goddamn library,'" a sentiment I find extremely useful for placing paternalism in perspective, as well as strangely uplifting.


3.20.2001
Just what the Dr ordered

Enjoy the many fine features of Dr Pepper: not only a refreshing tonic, it serves as an incomparable and mysterious ingredient in many an exotic recipe. Try Jane and Michael Stern's take on the Cuisine of Suburbia by making Dr Pepper Baked Beans -- their own modification of a ginger-ale recipe from a pamphlet titled The Vernors Lovers' Recipe Book -- or embrace the many zesty selections available online, including crockpot-baked pork ribs, a tooth-shatteringly sweet (and self-icing!) Cherry Marshmallow Cake, the truly dire Bean Dip à la Dr Pepper, or the simple but classic Hot Dr Pepper, made by heating the main ingredient in a saucepan until hot and bubbly, then decanting it into heatproof drinking receptacles at the bottom of which you have placed an elegant lemon slice or two.

In order to get the most authentic and delicious results for any of these recipes, however, the ordinary high fructose corn syrup-sweetened stuff just won't do. Once upon a time, all soft drinks were made with cane sugar, but alas, it is no longer so. Corn syrup is sticky, smooth, and boring; it reacts differently to heat, and true connoisseurs agree that the modern formulations are inferior even for drinking straight out of a bottle just snatched from the cool confines of your SubZero. Fortunately for those who attend to these subtleties, a single Dr Pepper plant in Dublin, Texas continues to make the elixir to the original recipe, cane sugar and all. Furthermore, one need no longer make the trip yourself; thanks to the magic of late capitalism, "you can order you a case, " in the words of the Dublin tourism site. In fact, as long as you live in the continental United States, you can order up to 25 cases; be warned, however, that no more will be forthcoming even if you make the pilgrimage in person, as franchise restrictions for the prevention of illicit Dr Pepper dealing prevent the release of such bounteous quantities to a single individual. Alas, no exceptions are allowed -- even America's countless dedicated Dr Pepper chefs, doubtless in need of much greater volume than we mere Pepper-guzzling mortals, receive no special dispensation.


3.19.2001
Above it all

Beguiled by lighter-than-air technology? LTA craft come in two general categories: balloons and airships, and if you want to get acquainted with the latter -- which includes dirigibles, blimps, and semi-rigid airships, which are a sort of compromise between the two -- you'll need to be both determined and persistent. Opportunities for training as an airship pilot are few and far between, and the cost of maintaining an airship is such that you'll have a hard time hitching a ride: the blimp you've been eyeing is probably used for advertising or crowd surveillance, not pleasure trips.

While purchasing a commercial airship is probably right out of your budget, the Experimental Balloon and Airship Association provides information and fellowship for aeronauts with experimental or homemade lighter-than-air craft. Most of their members are of the hot-air-balloon persuasion, but some members do have gas balloons or airships. Once you've cooked up your own dirigible, don't forget to refer to your relevant FAA advisory, including all oddly-capitalized statements such as "You are Responsible for the Future Direction the Federal Government Takes With Respect to Ultralight Vehicles." Rest assured, however, that "persons are not prohibited from flying ultralights and then authoring books about their experiences, for which they ultimately receive compensation."

Similarly, I imagine, one would not be prohibited from enjoying the kind of reception prepared for the homecoming of Professor William Waterman Sherman, cranky ex-schoolteacher, balloonist extraordinare, and narrator of the main part of favorite children's book The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois. Professor Sherman longs only to spend a year adrift over the Pacific in his enormous and splendid balloon, but his plans are set promptly awry. When he appears adrift in the Atlantic surrounded by the wreckage of twenty balloons -- "PROFESSOR SHERMAN IN WRONG OCEAN WITH TOO MANY BALLOONS (Refuses to Explain How or Why)", as the newspapers say -- his hometown of San Francisco goes balloon crazy. Who would not appreciate a welcome like that received by Professor Sherman? Not only do ladies jettison their diets in order to achieve "that round look"; not only does every store take balloons as its decorative theme, and the City pay for one thousand miniature balloons to decorate the municipal buildings downtown; but the professor's procession to the Explorer's Club where he will finally tell his story is made in a floating couch, lifted by touring balloons and pulled through the streets by three fine horses. Alas for time gone by, eh what? Not blinking lights and advertisements, but that silken idleness and luxury, no longer to be had in our hurly-burly times, truly define the attraction of the lighter-than-air.


3.12.2001
Coffee and a cookie

To visit the Netherlands, it seems, is invariably to become addicted to the stroopwafel. Literally "syrupwaffle," the popular cookie is made from two lightly-spiced, pizzelle-like wafers and a lovely caramel sandwiched in between. First made only in Gouda, they are now found freshly or industrially baked throughout the Netherlands; in Dutch homes and cafés, any cup of coffee or tea will be accompanied by a stroopwafel, neatly placed over the top of the mug. Their size and shape are perfectly designed to allow them to rest just so on a mug-top, where the steam warms the cookie and softens the filling. Whether you get one cookie or two will depend on the traditional religious affiliation of the region where you find yourself, advises the Nijmegen Universitaire School voor Informatica guide for foreign students:

Above the great rivers Rhine, Waal and Maas people are supposed to be Calvinistic or Protestant. Don't expect two cookies with your coffee. In the Catholic south, below the great rivers, life is supposed to be more pleasant. It is said that southerners are influenced by a Roman lifestyle. But be warned, its is a Dutch kind of Catholicism: Italy has only one pope; the Netherlands have as many popes as there are Catholics (and if you are lucky you will get a third cookie).

Eager to continue their newfound stroopwafel habits, foreign vistors have a famous tendency to stock up at the Amsterdam airport, but of course you can easily order the cookies over the Internet: thanks to the the miracle of modern technology, even those who have never been near the Netherlands can participate in this national addiction. If you happen to be particularly fortunate, you may even be able to find a package or two at your local store. The Canadian company Shady Maple Farms offers both a maple and a honey version, both of which are tasty and certified organic. Those fortunate Americans who live near San Francisco may replicate the Dutch café experience at Haig's, where one may relax at the deli counter and be served coffee and a stroopwafel. The truly ambitious can buy a stroopwafel iron and enjoy the cookies at their peak of fragrant freshness, but to my mind, nothing can quite match the magic of stumbling into the kitchen first thing in the morning, plucking a cold wafel from the packet as the coffee brews up, and warming it perfectly over the cup. Ah, sweet stroop.






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