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february 27, 2003

Bossanova's Chinese Restaurant Revisited

It must have been Sir Aldebaran de Chutney who took me to Bossanova's Chinese Restaurant, licensed purveyor of Oriental cuisine located in the Latin Quarter of Moscow's notorious Italianate Chinatown. How well I recall that evening, though it must have been many, many years ago.
We traveled via horse-drawn hackney cab, through gas lit and rain splattered cobbled streets to the fog enshrouded part of town. Here, adjacent to the docks and slums, the scent of dead fish and rotting feet never far from our quivering nostrils, we dodged the drunken, cleaver-wielding one-eyed Jack Tar and flitted silently through a beaded curtain into the Mandarin's domain. Removing our cloaks and hats, I realized at once that we were being constantly spied upon by one of General Gau's beady-eyed strong-arm men pretending to be the effigy in jade of an Imperial dragon guarding the entrance. Nevertheless, we signed the MSG waiver and walked in.
Ushered swiftly to a rickety, scarred wooden table beneath a pale yellow lantern by the Maostess, we were then waited upon by a sensual dark-eyed waitress in a slinky blue satin dress, a vial of poison hidden between her breasts as she ferried bowls of steaming noodles and mysterious foaming green liqueurs from the duck sauce splattered kitchen, past the laundry boiling in the vats, through the shady opium den, and into the dining room.
Sir Aldebaran ordered Peking Duck as he always did. I was more adventurous with my Oysters ala Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon Sauce.
Meanwhile, as we ate, in a back room behind a fake door disguised as a Buddhist shrine, Fu Manchu, droopy moustache drooping in his wonton soup, plotted and plotted to destroy the world.
What magnificent places Chinese restaurants were back then, with their superb repasts served by Eastern beauties amid exotic decor and such spicy ambience, the hint of ever-present danger and exceptionally fine silk embroidery.
Nowadays you can just call them up, order a number 22 from the take-out menu, and they bring it over in a van. Where oh where in this modern world can one get a quick bite and something to drink in a place with a bit of atmosphere? I ask you!

stephenb 13:30 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 26, 2003
Cheeky Hawks versus The Dull Doves

Perhaps the best method of establishing a United Nations endorsement for the proposed conflict with Iraq is for General Powell to leap from his seat and cry out, "Gentlemen! This! Means! War!"
Such a quaint, comic-book, screwball comedyesque declaration would be certain to appeal to the adventurous boy inside all the diplomat men around what must be a rather solemn UN table.
I am sure even the stern faced and humorless German delegate would be caught up in the euphoria of the moment.
Zap! Slam! Kapow! Biff!
Bubble-encased dramatic typography can be so intoxicating. And nostalgia can be such a very exciting emotion, don't you think, Johnny?

stephenb 10:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 25, 2003
The New Phraseology # 3

"Oh how the Mexican Bandit of Marriage straddles the Donkey of Cohabitation whilst wearing the Sombrero of Divorce!"

- popular usage:

Person A: Is this the way to Amarillo?

Person B: Yes it is, my bags are packed and I'm leaving you. Don't follow me. You will be receiving a letter from my Amarillian Lawyers.

Person A: Oh how the Mexican Bandit of Marriage straddles the Donkey of Cohabitation whilst wearing the Sombrero of Divorce!

- unpopular usage:

That silly song which inspired this new phrase, Is This The Way To Amarillo, was just playing on the radio. Never again. Please.

stephenb 14:32 - [Link] - Comments ()
So. This is the plan. When it gets warmer out I'm going to rent a small cottage somewhere in the country. About fifteen minutes walk from the cottage, hidden deep amid green pasture, wandering sheep and wildflowers will be a small tumescent mound of earth, roughly eight feet in diameter. The mound's perfect circular pattern will imply that human hands shaped it, and the amount of grass growing on top suggest that construction took place many centuries before. I will become obsessed by this mound and decide to excavate it while the dizzy blonde I've bought with me for the weekend sunbathes nearby. Obviously I shall hire manual laborers to do the actual digging, as I will naturally be supervising and taking notes, occasionally applying suntan lotion to the dizzy blonde's back and shoulders.
About three days after breaking ground, an old blind woman from the local village will appear on the periphery of the dig. She will point a trembling finger in my direction, and with a quivering voice accuse me of messing with things I don't understand - "ancient and evil things that should be forgotten lest they bring disaster."
Pushing the dizzy blonde to one side and rising from the sun bed as I pull my Hawaiian style boxer shorts up, I shall inform the blind old woman in forthright and dignified tones that "I am A Man of Science", and that I pay no heed to supernatural gibberish and local gossip.
"Be it on your own head then," she will reply, and motor off back to the village on one of those ridiculous rattling moped things. She will notify the other villagers that there is no telling me, and they will mutter to themselves darkly in between gulps of cider.
The very next night my digging will unleash the Unnamable Horror from the pit it has been imprisoned in for the last three hundred years. One of the spades will suddenly strike stone - a stone slab with strange engravings on it -and the Unnamable Horror will force its way through the crack and emerge from the dank tomb in all its full spine-chilling monstrousness. Obviously the first thing the Unnamable Horror does will be to break the necks of my laborers - I'm obviously tucked up in bed with the dizzy blonde at this late hour, so the thing doesn't get me! - and then it will stalk off in to the night and terrorize the rest of the countryside.
I'm banking on the Unnamable Horror being really busy killing all the villagers for the few hours that remain until morning, so that I can make my pre-dawn escape with the dizzy blonde and never look back.
That's my tentative plan for the weekend anyway.

stephenb 09:41 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 24, 2003
I really do not think I can survive without a maid. A butler would also be helpful. And perhaps a chauffer or two, depending upon how many cars I buy. Oh, and I almost forgot, there should be a housekeeper to keep the maids - I'll probably need more than one - in line. And most important of all, an Italian valet should be hired to look after my clothes and polish my shoes. And did I mention the cook, specialist ala Francais?
That's an awful lot of people to fit into a small Boston apartment, but I think we can all squeeze in somehow.
All these - I shall call them domestics rather than servants - all these domestics would make the logistical problems of my day-to-day life so much easier to bear. There is a snag, however, and I am not talking about the wage bill.
Many women find me appealing because I'm the kind of man who looks like he needs looking after, the kind of man who desperately requires a woman's touch. If I had all these domestics taking care of things then I would no longer be that kind of man, and consequently I would lose my appeal - and I have no other - to women who like that kind of man.
That would be my Romantic Tragedy.

But I think I can get around it with my Romantic Tragedy Circumvention Timetable:

7:30am - Awaken to find Maid building fire in fireplace.
8:00am - Second Maid brings coffee and slice of cinnamon toast.
9:00am - First maid makes bed while I lounge in front of the fire.
10:00am - Housekeeper ushers valet into the room.
10am to 11am - Valet helps me dress.
11:30am - Valet hands me over to the butler who opens the front door and calls to the chauffer who pulls the car up.
11:35am - Chauffer drives me to where the day's business will take place.
Noon - 2pm - The day's business is dealt with.
2:15pm - 2:45pm - Chauffer drives me home.
2:50pm - Butler opens front door and I enter.
3:00pm - Nap.
4:00pm - Inspection of staff and house.
6:00pm - Coq-au-vin prepared by my cook and served by the butler
7:00pm - Coffee and dessert as above.
8:00pm - Lock housekeeper and butler in their rooms and chase both maids around the house while the chauffer gets drunk with the cook.
8:30pm - Catch both maids and lock them in my room with me.
8:35pm - End of day festivities in my room.
12:05pm - Bedtime.

That should solve the Romantic Tragedy dilemma to my satisfaction.

stephenb 14:07 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 21, 2003
There is a new title picture above. As you can see, I have been busy with photoshop. This was made from two instamatic snapshops of myself taken many years ago, one in a sailor suit and one in evening dress. I call it The Boy Haunts The Man And Vice Versa

Then again, I also like the name A Chorus Line Of Myself But I Am Also The Star (Alfresco Theater Of The Past #1)

Alas, I have decided to change the picture back to the old one because people have said that new one looked "religious", whatever that means.
stephenb 12:44 - [Link] - Comments ()
My Philosophy Book Club
(a play on words and auto-suggestion for single voice)
Scene 1 - The first thing that comes into your head.

Freidrich Nietzsche must be one of the most yawningly tedious individuals ever to bore the rest of humanity rigid: "God is dead." I mean, really.
Okay, Herr Sauer-Face, what did God die of? Old age? A slight chill? The pox? Water-on-the-kneecher?
No. We all know very well what God died of, don't we.
Yes, that's right. Boredom. And who can blame Him.
Emmanual Kant? Oh, but he can. He can if he tries very hard and huffs and puffs and blows God's haus down.
This little Wittgenstein went to market, and this little Wittgenstein stayed at home and ordered everything online via Internet Schopenhauering, and this little Wittgenstein went "of that of which we cannot speak we must remain silent" all the way home.
Thank God, dead though He may be, that it is Friday.

stephenb 11:44 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 20, 2003
I have been thinking about other things today, serious things, so my mind is not on this journal at all. In fact, all I have done is add Preston Sturges to my list of Great Ones of the Earth, located in the column to your immediate left.
Here is an example of Sturges dialogue from the 1935 film called The Good Fairy, starring Herbert Marshall and Margaret Sullavan, and directed by William Wyler:

"Office equipment. I'm going to buy office equipment. Office equipment! A large staff. Mink coats Mink coats and diamond bracelets? What does he take me for? I'm going to buy a pencil sharpener, with a handle, and different size holes. At last!"

Genius. Sturges is the only film person who will ever appear in my list. Except Bardot of course, and she is really an animal person when all is said and done. If only life was one giant screwball comedy, I think we'd all be better off.

stephenb 13:28 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 19, 2003
Here is one for the kids.

It was the Hour Of The Weasel, and the forest undergrowth cracked with expectation. Hidden deep in his fallout shelter constructed of crisp, brown leaves draped over a superstructure of sturdy twigs, Bob the Badger kept watch. Both his natural black-eyes squinting into the distance, his furry brow furrowed with concentration. Bob sharpened his poking stick to a vicious point and chuckled darkly to himself: soon, he thought, soon that bastard will waddle his fat squirrel ass into the dell. And then, with one quick jab of the poking stick, no more Cyril The Fat Bastard Squirrel. Yes, Bob would roast that obese nut hoarding asshole on a nice slow spit over a roaring fire, and yes, yes, all his other bloody woodland friends would get the same pointy stick treatment that was for damn sure.
The end. Now go to bed.

I have always thought that children should be introduced to the violence of nature at an early age. I know I was.

stephenb 17:32 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 18, 2003
I spent the weekend in New York, staying at Hotel de Fiona on the Upper East Side. A fine establishment with attractive curvy chambermaids, and - best of all - a room is absolutely free. Very good value if you don't mind acting as your own bellhop.
During my visit I took the opportunity to visit the Neue Galerie's collection of Austrian and German art from the turn of the century, pretty heavy on the Egon Schiele as you can imagine.
A brief examination of the paintings confirmed my suspicions that Austro-Deutsch volk of that era were a skeletal thin people, usually hung around in the nude, and were all dying of consumption, but that they luckily possessed gorgeous furniture upon which to draw their last rattling consumptive breaths.
Attached to the Neue Galerie is the justly celebrated Sabarsky Cafe with excellent views of Central Park, certainly the most elegant museum cafeteria I have ever had the pleasure of paying six bucks for a cup of coffee in. Interestingly, the pastries seem to date from the same period as the paintings in the Galerie, and I am sure that my hazelnut tart must have been baked in 1907 - but what the Hell, it is New York and I am all in favour of the latest food fashions.
Later, in an Irish bar with fabulous toilets, I discovered that Elton John is known as "Elto" to his friends.
On the bus home I sat next to a man dressed as if he had mugged a Himalayan mountain guide and stolen his clothes. When the mugger opened his backpack and produced a feast of granola and fruit all became clear, he was just some old hippy who had attended the peace rally taking place in New York that weekend. I told him that I am actually pro war with Iraq, but only because I think that Condoleeza Rice is really sexy. The hippy idiot thought I was joking.
What planet do these people come from?
My idea of Nuclear Heaven is to be comfortable in my nice warm bunker with a fire lit and Condoleeza's lovely head, human on my faithless arm. Some early Elto playing on the CD jukebox, and Waiter Saddam attentative as I snap my fingers - "Garcon!" - and Waiter Saddam, white linen cloth draped over his arm, tops up mine and Condoleeza's champagne flutes before returning hunchbacked and deformed to his subterranean lair.
That was my weekend in a nutshell.
stephenb 15:21 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 13, 2003
And it came to pass that it was the year of the Great Frost. And the people of the Lord crieth out, "Oh Lord, why should it be that the great fiery ball in yon sky provideth no warmth for thy people who are sore cold? And why does the white snow rest upon the Earth in great mounds and hindereth the progression of thy people from pointeth A to pointeth B?"
And the Lord spake unto his people and He sayeth to them, "If ye were not so concerned with wearing thy stylish robes and garments of silken comfort and ye did weareth the big wooly sweaters and thick socks with sensible boots such as even thy mothers commanded ye to wear on days like this, then ye would not be so cold. And perhaps ye should grow a really massive beard similar to the one I have and like that which goweth on the divine chinny chin chin of the Sacred Billy Goat Of The Temple. That too might help a little bit. And behold it is February anyway, so what do ye expect."
And it so came to pass that the people of the Lord did ignore His words, and buildeth they instead a giant raft, and upon this raft they did set sail for the hot springs and soothing rays of the places they had seen in the glossy brochures which the Evil One had cunningly left laying around on the coffee tables in the dwelling places of the people of the Lord.
Here endeth the nonsense. Amen.

stephenb 10:32 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 12, 2003
The war: hmmmmm.
Baghdad is obviously a city in decline. The good old Persians used to be able to defend the place with only a little cheeky thief armed with a magic carpet, a circus strongman from the Bazaar, a talking donkey, and the Sultan's daughter. Now they need all these so-called Weapons Of Mass Destruction or whatever they are called. Such a shame. Frankly I blame this Saddam fellow.
Mind you, what about the United States? It's all very well for Superman, Batman and the others to fight crime in the streets, but can you rely on them in times of International Conflict? No. Too busy swapping underpants in a phone booth and oohing and aahing over each other's capes. It's a disgrace.
Remember the Alamo? Open sesame! Shazaam!
Can I interest you in an armored camel? Not today thank you.
stephenb 10:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 11, 2003
I have been invited to write an Op-Ed article for the Boston Globe newspaper, and they have agreed to print the following slice of wisdom:

So anyway, it's like three-quarters of the kids in the Third World don't get any clean drinking water because they don't have a kitchen and what they have is the same as their toilet anyway so it's not a proper one and that moron Bush has taken all the Kurds hot water tanks and turned them into a massive coffee thermos for the Pentagon and they get free refills at Starbucks. So all the Third World kids have to drink neat gin instead and all the big multinational conglomerates like Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire and the other one won't let the starving Africans get the deposit back on the bottle because they are against recycling and so all the forests die because the US military eats twenty-times their own body weight in Chicken Mcnuggets every day.

stephenb 09:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 10, 2003
What a great pity that the swashbuckling cape coupled with the "fancy-style" floppy hat look has fallen out of fashion these past few centuries. Wearing such an outfit one can swagger down the Boulevard Casanova as cock of the walk - gingerly sidestepping the buckets of human waste being tossed from windows above - and quite easily pass for a tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, or the Chevalier de Phallus, even, if that is what you wish.
Last night I watched Pasolini's great ethno-drama Medea, featuring lots of grinning modern Roman actors running around pretending to be ancient Greeks. The one playing the centaur was a hoot, especially his beard. As with all Pasolini films, there is very little dialogue, lots of wind noise, and characters either wear wicker baskets on their heads or no clothes at all. What are they doing? Beats me. Nice Golden Fleece, though, I must admit.
Maria Callas plays Medea, and I noticed with some glee that she resembled an Italianate and somewhat older version of my friend Fiona, especially when she was angry; chin and mouth, I think, responsible for this similarity.

stephenb 09:26 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 07, 2003
Yesterday I heard the startling fact that with the money we spend on food for a single week we can feed the Third World for an entire year, and I thought to myself, does that include the discount I get by using my Supermarket Customer Courtesy Card? Actually, I have always felt that I am being overcharged at my local store and this is the proof in the pudding!
So I figure that flying to the Third World and doing my grocery shopping in bulk at their prices, I should be able to make considerable savings on my yearly food bill. Obviously, I have to consider the haulage fee for shipping 565 cans of pineapple chunks back to the US - but if they only cost 0.03 cents per tin, what the hell! - and apparently you can bribe these people anyway! The flight pretty much pays for itself. And, of course, there is always the airport duty free shop too....

stephenb 10:40 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 05, 2003
Undoubtedly and without question, the reason why all books and films are rubbish these days is because authors and screenwriters ignore the value and importance of the common household broom.
Don't believe me? Just look at the important role brooms play in some of the world's best-loved stories.
Everyone remembers the famous scene from Macbeth, Act 2. Scene 1:
"Is this a broom which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight?"
And Charles Dickens knew all about the potent power of the broom also. It appears in almost all of his books, usually toted by a barefoot and hunchbacked nine-year-old chimneysweep with a sooty face and a terminal case of rickets.
Then there is Cinderella, of course, manouvering a broom to good effect throughout her own fairytale, until that dumb fairy godmother steps in and spoils all the fun.
And the Sorcerer's Apprentice: brooms with both long and short handles play a significant, virtually integral part in that.
Anything with Witches and Hags in it - the broom being absolutely essential to transport them from plot point A to plot point B.
And finally, Virginia Woolf wrote a book about them, A Broom Of One's Own, in which she describes how a woman must have her own broom if she is to clean the house correctly and get the dinner ready before her husband comes home from his long day at the vacuum cleaner factory.

stephenb 13:42 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 04, 2003
My operetta is nearly completed. It has taken me twenty-five years of blood, sweat, and lazing around in cafes talking about it to anyone who will listen. As far as I know this is the only operetta ever scored entirely for accordion, glockenspiel, and knee-cymbals. There was a trumpet also, but these days I find brass just so passť, just too Philip Glass. And we don't want that.
The action takes place in the eighteenth-century French court at Versaille, and follows the efforts of a jobbing Italian Diva to overcome her speech impediment. I have called it Wigoletto - a good combo joke based on eighteenth century headgear, speech problems, and, of course, Rigoletto - I always find I have to explain these things.
The music starts with a slight tremble on the knee-cymbals, then the constant cuckoo-like refrain of the glockenspiel, and finally the triumphant whirl of the accordion sets the scene as the heroine enters and the libretto begins:
Mme de Pompadour (falsetto): There is too much powder on my wig!
Corwus: There is too much powder on her wig!
Mme de Pompadour: (andante allegro) And I'm going to kill that damn cuckoo!
Louis: (bass-baritone) Wip its bloody head off!
Corwus: Wip its head off! Wip its head off! Wip its head off!
Mme de Pompadour: (ear piercing shriek) There is too much powder on my wiiiiiiiiig!!

Intermission or Entr'acte, whichever you prefer.

The next scene begins with a mournful accordion wail as the cast with their heads bowed follow the cuckoo's tiny coffin through the corridors of Versaille. As counterpoint, the glockenspiel provides a slight spring motif. And then there is a crash of knee-cymbals and everyone's legs go wobbly and they all fall over.

The end.

Matinee performances only
Money refunded at box office.

stephenb 10:42 - [Link] - Comments ()
february 03, 2003
Do you want to know what my dream is? Shall I tell you? Yes I rather think I will.
For many years now - not many people know this - I have been a knee-cymbal virtuoso. However, I do not get many solo gigs and I have absolutely no interest in being a cog in an Oompah band wheel. I think this is largely because I take a more modern approach to knee-cymbal performance, and do not wear the traditional lederhosen and silly Alpine cap with a feather in it. No. Instead I prefer to bound on to the stage shirtless, wearing nothing but sleek leather trousers and jackboots, reciting the poetry of Goethe through an industrial megaphone while slamming my knees together to create dense rhythmic patterns. My CD sold twelve copies in Hamburg. six in Berlin, nine in Dresden, and five thousand in Wisconsin.
And my dream? Yes. My dream is to learn to play the guitar like any normal person.
Alas I find myself a musical prisoner in my own musical Black Forest Gateau that has been left out in the rain like that other famous cake of song.

stephenb 13:01 - [Link] - Comments ()
I am dreadfully sorry but I seem to be obsessed by films at the moment. It has just been far too cold here recently to do anything else but rent movies. I think I need to be taken out of myself. Whatever that means. Or perhaps I need to get away from it all.
The problem is, I cannot drive - a dysfunction I share with French luminaries Serge Gainsbourg, Marcel Proust, and, of course, Albert Camus - a joke in poor taste but what the hell!

Anyway, back to lessons from the silver screen

If you want to know what "aplomb" means, look no farther than Herbert Marshall in Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 pre-Hayes Code Hollywood classic Trouble In Paradise.
I like David Niven, but Herbert can eviscerate David when it comes to acting debonair.
Suave, sophisticated, charming, witty, intelligent - Herbert has it all.
Preparing for Miriam Hopkins to appear for dinner he exchanges the following dialogue (transcribed from memory) with an hotel employee.
Herbert: Waiter. It must be a magnificent supper.
Waiter: Yes sir
Herbert: We may not eat it, but it must be a magnificent supper.
Waiter: Yes, sir
Herbert: And waiter, you see that moon?
Waiter: Yes sir.
Herbert: I want to see that moon reflected in the champagne.
Waiter: Yes sir.
Herbert: And as for you waiter...
Waiter: Yes sir.
Herbert: I don't want to see you at all.


Trivial point: Herbert Marshall had his foot shot off in the Great War.

stephenb 12:23 - [Link] - Comments ()