Tag: Spanish

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 903: O Transatlantica, Our Home And Native Land

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What’s in a name? That which we call a prairie

By any other name would smell as grainy;

So Saskatchewan would, were it not Saskatchewan call’d,

Retain that weird insect surplus which it owes

Without that title.

 

So begins an unimpressively cutesy introduction to today’s discussion about the hallowed names that reach across my nation’s map. I’m aware, of course, that my American readers far outnumber my Canadian loyal, but in all fairness, covering the name origins to fifty states, a district, a country, and untold outlying territories would occupy much more real estate than my thousand words could afford.

And so I patriotically shmush my fingerprints against my keys and delve into the origin stories of my own origin story: Canada. Not her history itself – again, a thousand words only stretches so far across the table – but merely the names of the ten provinces and two territories I had to learn as a kid. There are three territories now, but I’ll happily include my Nunavutian brethren and sistren in today’s little missive.

That said, adhering to the proper essay format I spent the last eight years of my schooling attempting to shatter, we’ll open up big-picture-style: Why the fuck are we called Canada?

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We have been known as ‘Canada’ since right around when the first European boot-heels clomped into the east coast mud in the 16th century and began to establish communities. It originates from Kanata, the Saint-Lawrence Iroquois’ word for ‘village’. Or possibly ‘settlement’. Or maybe it was ‘land’. I’m guessing some Iroquois folks made a sweeping gesture as they said the word and the settlers made their own call regarding the translation. That’s the official legend – however there are other theories out there. Read more…

Day 894: Take A Journey To The Center Of Your Mind With Jose

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Over the last 894 days I have had the opportunity to gain a sparkly new appreciation for medical science, and for how far we have progressed over the last 150 years or so. Back then, doctors didn’t even wash their damn hands, and now we’re allegedly on the threshold of swapping brains with one another. That’s quite the leap. But where science gets weird, my fingers get a-tapping, and it doesn’t get much weirder than the work of José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado.

Dr. Delgado also worked with the human brain, though his concern was less with its relocation and more with what it does. Specifically, what he could make it do, using radio waves and cranial implants. Dr. Delgado was into some spooky shit.

Where the realm of mind-control has been traditionally left to voodoo practitioners, nightclub hypnotists and goofy faith-healers, Dr. Delgado believed that it could (and should) occur at the chemical/electrical level. He wasn’t looking to control minds as a parlor trick; he actually foresaw a practical and beneficial application for his work. I wonder if he was also aware how many people felt skeeved out by it.

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Dr. Delgado had wanted to follow in the footsteps of his eye-doctor father, but once he stumbled upon the work of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the Nobel laureate who is considered to be the grand-pappy of neuroscience, he changed his mind. The eye is a goopy glob of curiosity, but the brain is a vast network of mysteries, with so much shadowy terrain left to uncover. This was where José’s passion was jolted to life. Read more…

Day 892: 8 Obscure Poetry Forms For The Love Of 80’s Movies

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I have a tendency to mistrust my own ambition. One morning I felt the urge to spend that day’s kilograph using however many haikus would be necessary to fill a thousand words (eight-two, apparently). Another day had me wrestling to produce nine Shakespearean sonnets, adhering as closely as possible to the specific rules the Bard created for himself. Once I stuck my e-quill into the murky ink of limericks. Every time I drift from prose into the rhymey, heavily-structured stuff it sucks up most of my daylight hours.

Yet here I go again, this time seeking the lesser-known twists of poetic construct, and aiming to siphon yet another perfectly good weekday into the mire of make-workery. Such is the sacrifice that I shall make for you, the reader of my manifesto of madness.

And because nothing is really drop-kicking my heart of hearts between the uprights of noble inspiration this morning, I’m going to use films from the 1980s as my muse. Suck it, romanticism.

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I’ll start with a seguidilla, a Spanish form of verse with a specific syllable count (7,5,7,5,5,7,5) and rhyme scheme (x,A,x,A,B,x,B).

 

Consider: five lives meeting,

locked in detention;

overcoming plot points, and

child-scar retention;

it might happen there –

in Fiction, Illinois, sure;

fist-pump in the air!

 

I’m not winning any awards with these – best to accept that early on and continue. Read more…

Day 839: The Stars Of Our Show – The Alphabet

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I love playing around with the format of this little experiment and trying to cram as much (seemingly) meaningless trivia into a tiny thousand-word cubicle. To that end I’m going to offer a specific number of trivia slices to spread across your plate of knowledge today, awaiting the fork of your understanding to spear them into your hungry maw of learning so that you can digest them, extracting their knowledge-nutrients and converting the rest into cerebral poo. Also I’ll throw in that over-wrung metaphor for free. Such are the bargains here at Marty’s House o’ Stuff.

Twenty-six snippets for twenty-six letters. It’s fun getting a little meta, writing about writing – or in this case, writing about the microorganisms that band together and excrete the bulk of my daily output for your enjoyment. Every picture tells a story, and every story is made up of letters and every letter is a picture with its own story… it’s the circle of linguistic life.

For your consideration, I present the Latin alphabet in all its glory.

Evolution-A-D

The letter A (under its old-school name, aleph) was the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet. It was derived from the ox-head pictogram from the Bronze Age proto-Sinaitic script, which in turn came from the Egyptian hieroglyph. The horns pivoted around and by the time the Romans adopted their own written language from the Greek alphabet and a mix of other influences in the 7th century BC, the horns were pointed downward.

The glyph that may have spawned the letter B could represent the floor plan of a cottage. Clearly the Egyptians weren’t big on fancy layouts back then. The Greeks gave the B its bulbous curves when they crafted their symbol for ‘beta’. Read more…

Day 746: Punctuation – Not Just For Cartoon Speech-Bubble Swears

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Today I’m going to opt for a markedly insular approach and write about some of the tools I keep scattered about my proverbial writing desk. I’m not talking about my retread and tired metaphors, nor the antiquated pop culture references that pepper my daily prose (though those are just dyn-o-mite!). On a much simpler scale, these are the trinkets that keep my writing from running on like a babbling drunkard or looking like a poorly-phrased ee cummings poem.

Punctuation.

“Shit,” you are no doubt thinking. “He’s going to write about punctuation? What happened to writing about stolen brains or lousy movies?” I know, I get that. But had I known just how interesting the topic of punctuation might be, I might not have put off writing about it for 746 days. There’s a world of intrigue in those little blips and squiggles. Well maybe not intrigue in the spy-thriller-mystery-explosions sense of the word. But certainly enough to merit three and a half minutes of your attention.

Ampersand

As you can see, the symbol for the ampersand has evolved from a lower-case ‘h’ that has been slapped on the back to a half-finished bathroom-stall piece of dink graffiti to a prototype wheelchair access placard, and eventually into the little swoosh we know and love today. Its origins are a stylistic scrunching of the Latin ‘ET’, meaning (unsurprisingly) ‘and’. Though we have now relegated the mighty ampersand to a shorthand and/or stylish alternative (“Hall & Oates” is so much snazzier than “Hall and Oates”), the little guy used to have a place in our alphabet, right at the end. Read more…

Day 744: The Mothers Of All Sauces

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In traditional French haute-cuisine (which is defined as French food that is neither fries nor onion soup nor yellow bottled mustard), sauces are the most crucial part of the dish. If you think of your entrée as Star Wars, the sauce would be John Williams’ indelible score. French food without sauce would be like Italian food without tomatoes, Chinese food without rice, or traditional American hot dogs without anus-meat and scads of unpronounceable chemicals. It just isn’t done.

Any great tradition in gastronomy deserves a semblance of order from which the chaos of creativity may embark. The first man to attempt to reconcile the numerous sauces in which French cuisine was swimming was Marie-Antoine Carême, who was very much a male despite ‘Marie’ being his first name. Carême was a celebrity chef in the early 1800’s who concocted hundreds of liquid pleasures in which he could smother his chicken, beef, or whatever. His kitchen-mate, Dennis Leblanc, summarized Carême’s work into four primary sauces.

The Mother Sauces.

Auguste Escoffier, who rolled into food-fame a full century later, altered the list and proclaimed there to be five Mother Sauces from which all other sauces would derive. Escoffier is the architect behind what we now call French cuisine. He invented a number of dishes, from fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet, and how the hell did I just type that without drooling?) to plain ol’ Melba toast. But his epic tome, Le Guide Culinaire, left his strongest fingerprint on the edible art of French cooking – those amazing sauces.

SauceBechamel

Béchamel sauce, named for the marquis de Béchamel, is a white sauce made from a roux of butter and flour cooked in milk. Béchamel was the chief steward to Louis XIV. I don’t know what that means, though I suspect it has nothing to do with bringing him wine or grabbing him an extra pillow from the overhead compartment. It was an honorary title, as the marquis was a successful businessman and patron of the arts. In French society, having a vineyard or a province named after you was alright, but a rich creamy sauce? That’s top-tier respect, baby. Read more…

Day 608: Who Knocked On Our Door First?

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Yesterday I marveled at the frantic scramble (or, ‘framble’) to be the first to fly across the Atlantic. It seems only right that I dial back the clock and look at the previous trans-ocean pioneers, those who packed their loved ones and a whole wack o’ pestilence onto rickety wooden boats and set their course for the new world, hoping not to fall off the edge of the old one.

We all know the story of Christopher Columbus, who in 1492 steered three vessels from Europe to Nebraska, trying to prove to the girl he loved that he was more bad-ass than Reggie the blacksmith, and also that he looked good in a buckled hat. Or something. It doesn’t matter – this isn’t about him.

I’m interested in peeling back the known history. Our Native population has been calling this particular chunk of rock home since around 10,000 BC, but I’m more interested in the rumored appearance of other peoples. I’m talking about those who didn’t saunter across the Bering Strait back before it dipped its nose into the sea, never to return. These are the ones we can’t quite confirm – the debated pre-Columbian pioneers.

We'll skip right over Space-Jesus.

We’ll skip right over Space-Jesus.

Let’s start with what we know. The Norsemen (also known as Vikings, but without the horns – we have learned those helmet-horns are a myth) set up shop on Greenland back in the 10th century, and they hung around until sometime in the 15th century, even venturing into Canada where they dropped off some archeological evidence for us to scoop up a few centuries later. Read more…

Day 533: Lies! History Is Teeming With Lies!!!

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It should come as no surprise that much of the trivial minutiae with which people pepper their conversations is either completely false or so deeply steeped in bullshit, the smell will linger for weeks. Sometimes the misconception becomes so widely proliferated it evolves into the understood truth. But truth is not a beverage meant to be shot back with haste; it should be savored and swooshed around the mind’s mouth for a little bit, its essence questioned and reaffirmed.

To that end, I hope to clear up some shit today. While the list of misconceptions is long and convoluted, I want to start with the trappings of false history to which so many of us adhere.

Be warned – I’m busting out some serious truths here. That said, they are truths broadcast by Wikipedia, a site whose veracity is often questioned (though in my experience, its facts generally hold up). Let’s begin in the vomitorium.

Vomitorium

When the Romans would have their fill of wine and dead animal carcass, they would stroll over to the vomitorium, a room set up for purging in the middle of a meal so as to make room for tiramisu. Were the Romans so steeped in gustatory self-indulgence that they built a room just so they could cram two meals into one dining experience? Read more…

Day 444: The Lexicon Gets Jiggy With It – Words From The 90s

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As a full-time juggler, manhandler, and crass exploiter of words, I sense a giddy little lightning shiver of excitement when a linguistic topic floats to the top of the chum-pile for selection in my daily tithe. I’ve marveled at some of our most recent additions to the western lexicon, today I tripped over a list of words coined in the decade that truly heralded the inescapable Information Age: the 1990’s.

A lot of words on this list are still lilting in the air, often getting plucked by someone’s voice and dropped into conversations without fanfare. We know what a webisode is, the term LGBT is commonplace, and we’re all familiar with the internet meme. The word ‘blog’ is everywhere. Some people have called this site a blog, which I suppose it is, though I prefer the term ‘endurance experiment’.

Here are a handful of terms who surged in the 1990’s and have since dropped off my radar.

Disneyfication

In the 90’s, it was important to differentiate between Disneyfication, McDonaldization and Walmarting. Disneyfication is what everyone fears about the new Star Wars movies – it involves stripping the original from its real character and repackaging it in a sanitized, child-safe format. Some complain that Times Square is Disneyfied, closed off for safe pedestrian travel, packed full of approachable chain restaurants and tourist sights, and sadly lacking in the pornographic theaters and random masturbators that made the area a true adventure back in the 1980’s. Read more…