Beer Review: Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat

Today a beer my friend Craig describes as “mysterious.”

Beer: Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat
Brewer: The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.3 of 10)

Comments:  I first encountered Leinenkugel’s at Miller Field (ironically) in Milwaukee.  I enjoyed being able to have a decent beer for a reasonable price at a ballpark (reasonable being a relative thing).  Opening the bottle is the worst part of this beer because I am greeted with a sickly-sweet aroma.  The beer pours out a rich, cloudy amber. Luckily it doesn’t taste as sweet as it smells, it’s actually a bit bitter once it reaches the back of the tongue, but it’s still rather fruity.    Overall it is an okay but not great beer, but perhaps you’ll find some mystery in it.


Book Review: “The Juncto” by Neal Stephenson (Book 5 of the Baroque Cycle)

The Confusion (2004) by Neal Stephenson continues with Book 5 of The Baroque Cycle, “The Juncto.”  This book is all Eliza, with a good share of Bob Shaftoe, plus helpings of Daniel Waterhouse and Leibniz, sprinkled with the monarchy and aristocracy of late 17th-century Europe, both real and fiction.  At times the narrative of this book appears to be no more than a roundabout way of telling the history of banking, finance, numismatics, and cryptology.  Despite all this, “The Juncto” is much more lively, entertaining, and funny than it’s intertwined book “Bonanza.”  Of course, maybe if I read them together like I was supposed to I would not be making these comparisons.  And it would have made a whole lot more sense.

Next up: The System of the World.

The confusion / Neal Stephenson.
New York : Morrow, c2004.
815 p.: maps ; 25 cm.

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Hefeweizen

Today a beer from that local brewery down the street in Jamaica Plain, Sam Adams (albeit much of their beer is brewed out of state).

Beer: Samuel Adams Hefeweizen
Brewer: Boston Beer Company
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.9 of 10)

Comments: Hefeweizen is one of my favorite beer styles, and this is an average Hefeweizen. It’s got the cloudy color, the wheaty taste (but not much of it), and leaves a bubbly glow in the mouth.  A good drink for a summer’s night.  The head is not as thick or long lasting as I’d expect for a hefeweizen.  Not bad, but there are German imports available in JP’s liqour stores too.

Lazy Blogger

Crikey! I just opened mine eyes, and lo! I have not updated this since long before Shakespeare wast a boy… You would not believe how terribly tardy the Victorian internet can be. Apologies to my regular readers! Even the little blue ones!.

I am lost in a sea of pseudo-olde-english with only your readership as life preserver, a ticking crocodile, just generally being asleep, dreaming and chancing to anyone unfortunate to cross my path, my day is filled with fluorescent light from the moment my children manage to unlock my bedroom door and use me as a jumping castle to 11pm at which point I fall asleep on the couch. I am looking at rectifying this. it will be fun fun fun till they take my TBird away.

I make a solemn vow I will write something that makes sense soon. Go with God, good friends. Cats if you don’t.

(via The Lazy Bloggers Post Generator)

Boston By Foot Tour of the Month: Ashmont Hill Sneak Preview!

I’m a big supporter and participant in Boston By Foot’s Tours of the Month.  Usually, I post photos and commentary after the tour.  This time I’m posting a sneak preview of a tour coming up next Sunday, August 31st at 2 pm:  Ashmont Hill.  If you come on the Red Line, make sure to exist Ashomnt station and walk to the right up Dorchester Avenue to get to Peabody Square with the big clock.  You may be lucky enough to see the man who winds it by hand!

The tour covers both a public square and a quiet, leafy neighborhood with gorgeous houses, none of which are substandard.  The architectural styes include Gothic Revival, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Stick Style, Shingle Style, and Italianate.  Homes of architects, educators, and a prominent politician – John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald.

I’ll post more pictures next week, but here’s a taste of what you may see on Ashmont Hill.


Favorite Albums by Year

There’s a meme I’ve seen on some other blogs about listing one’s favorite albums from each year of one’s life (example: Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type).  The rules are one album per year and the same artist/band cannot be repeated.  The rules make for some interesting choices.  For example, I found myself really scraping to find anything for the years of my infancy, while some other years like 1986, 1989, 1997 & 2003 each have a great number of my favorite all-time albums.  Similarly, a couple of times I didn’t list my favorite album by a particular band because it was up against stiff competition, but that band was able to represent another year with one of their weaker albums.

So, here we go.  Don’t laugh at my choices.

1973: Wattstax Soundtrack
1974: Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard
1975: Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti
1976: St. Louis Jesuits, A Dwelling Place
1977: The Clash
1978: Elvis Costello-This Year’s Model
1979: The Specials
1980: The English Beat-I Just Can’t Stop It
1981: Dance Craze soundtrack
1982: Mission of Burma-VS
1983: Violent Femmes
1984: Prince & the Revolution-Purple Rain,
1985: Pogues-Rum, Sodomy & the Lash
1986: Peter Gabriel-So
1987: Tom Waits-Franks Wild Years
1988: Fishbone-Truth & Soul
1989: Pixies-Doolittle
1990: They Might Be Giants-Flood
1991: Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin-Hush
1992: Ali Farka Touré – The Source
1993: Bjork-Debut
1994: Weezer
1995: Moxy Früvous-Wood
1996: Velveteens-Viva
1997: YLT-I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
1998: Cry Cry Cry
1999: Vinal Avenue String Band – Live at the Tir na nOg
2000: Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer-Tanglewood Tree
2001: Kevin Hanson Trio-Bulls Eye
2002: Mekons-Oooh! (Out of Our Heads)
2003: The Weakerthans-Reconstruction Site
2004: Freezepop-Fancy Ultra Fresh
2005: Beck-Guero
2006: Camera Obscura-Lets Get Out of this Country
2007: New Pornographers-Challengers
2008: Vampire Weekend

1908 Night

I remember the summer of 1983, because that was the year when my mother, sister and I spent almost every Friday night at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, CT.  We went in the afternoon to swim in Lake Quassapaug, swim out to the float, and enjoy a picnic supper.  Once the sun started to set, it was 1908 night, Quassy’s celebration of their 75th anniversary by selling ride tickets, hot dogs, and sodas for a quarter each.

It was a fun summer, and every time I hear certain songs it takes me back to those nights.  Here’s a sampling of the music playing on the radio as we drove to and from Lake Quassapaug:

The Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue

The Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination

The Kinks – Come Dancing

Madness – Our House

Who says there was no good music in the Eighties? The rides at Quassy are less memorable as they were admittedly rather tame.  When we went back one time in 1984, the magic was gone.  Still, it’s a fun memory to think back on 25 years later.

Book Review: The Fabric of America by Andro Linklater

The Fabric of America: how our borders and boundaries shaped the country and forged our national identity (2007) by Andro Linklater is built on a thesis that the idea of the United States being defined by the frontier and rugged individualism – with Frederick Jackson Turner as a major proponent – is not true.  Instead of the frontier, Linklater believes that our nation is defined by our frontiers, the national boundaries fixed by government agencies.  Within these boundaries, Linklater contends instead of wanting less government, pioneers brought government with them in the form of surveying, land claims, squatters’ rights, and establishment of local governments.

Most of the book doesn’t really stick with the thesis but instead is a history of the United States’ borders.  A major portion of the book tells the story of Andrew Ellicot who surveyed the boundaries of Pennsylvania (picking up where Mason & Dixon left off), Washington, DC, and the boundary between the U.S. and Spanish Florida. There are lots of interesting historical facts about how the nation and states took their shape as well as the practice of surveying, of which Ellicot was an innovator.

The portions of the book from Ellicot’s death in 1820 to the present feel rushed and unfocused.   Linklater’s theory about how our nation’s boundaries defined us feel tacked on to the more interesting historical narrative.  Still, this was an interesting and quick historical read.

Book Review: A Pocketful of History by Jim Noles

A Pocketful of History: Four Hundred Years of America — One State Quarter at a Time (2008) by Jim Noles takes the State Quarter Program as a launching point for an engaging look at the 50 United States and the symbols chosen to represent them.  Often, Noles goes beyond simply telling the history of the image on the coins to delve deeper into the social and cultural history of the States.  For each quarter, Noles also discusses the other finalist for the quarter design, the process of approval, and circulation of each coin.  The only thing I could ask for is more illustrations of the people and things he discusses.

My favorites include:

  • revisiting my 4th grade social studies’ lesson of Connecticut’s Charter Oak (by far my favorite State Quarter).
  • the importance of the palmetto in fort construction in Revolutionary South Carolina
  • Rhode Island’s quarter inspires a history of yacht racing.
  • the “scandal” of Ohio depicting a living person by including an astronaut who must be John Glenn or Neil Armstrong.
  • Helen Keller’s Socialist ways make her an unlikely representative of Alabama as well as someone appearing on US currency.
  • Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds, where you can keep the diamonds you find (I didn’t know it existed).
  • exciting stories of storms on the Great Lakes make up for Michigan having the most boring quarter.
  • the Kansas quarter leads to the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of African American cavalrymen who fought in the Indian Wars of the West.
  • Colorado’s purple mountains majesty hid a CIA training camp for Tibetan subversives.
  • Wyoming’s pioneering history in Women’s Suffrage.

The quarters open a door to learning about the states, their great people, buildings and places, arts, and flora and fauna (and their conservation).  Like the State Quarters themselves, A Pocketful of History will have a broad appeal beyond numismatic buffs.  I think it especially will be a good tool for teachers and children.

Author Noles, James L.
Title A pocketful of history : four hundred years of America–one state quarter at a time / Jim Noles.
Publication Info. Cambridge, MA : Da Capo Press, c2008.
Description xxvi, 324 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

Book Review: New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg

Following up on Ric Burns’ New York, I read New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg (2007) edited by one of the stars of that series Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.

This collection of essays looks back with some nostalgia and some disgust at the City in the 70s, 80s, & 90s.  For most of the authors, New York once was full of crime, sex, and drugs, yet the rents were low and the City maintained its own character.  Today they sneer that interlopers have moved in, built luxury lofts, priced out everything that made New York unique and replaced it with typical American suburbia. Most of the essayists to some extent sink into insufferable self-importance which makes this book hard to read at times.

There’s a lot of hyperbole, but there’s truth mixed in.  And there’s still a lot to love about New York.  Each borough gets its own tribute, with the one on Staten Island being the most illuminating since I know little about that area.  There are also great stories on graffiti, civil rights, art, rock music, and ethnic foods.  If you love New York, this book is worth checking out.  If you hate New York, this book isn’t going to change your mind.

New York calling : from blackout to Bloomberg / edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.
Publication Info. London : Reaktion, 2007.
Description 368 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.

Book Review: The Joke by Milan Kundera

For the first time, my Around the World for a Good Book selection is for a country that no longer exists.  The Joke: A Novel of Czechoslovakia Today (1967, English translation 1969) is an fact a story of 50 years ago.  Since the author Milan Kundera is Czech and the novel is set in Prague, Moravia, and Bohemia, this book will represent the Czech Republic.  Slovakia will wait for another novel.

The Joke takes place in the 1950’s when the Communist Party ruled behind the Iron Curtain.  The extent of Totalitarianism was that writing a bad joke about Trotsky on a postcard could land one in serious trouble with the dour authorities.  This is what happens to Ludvik Jahn, who as a result of this joke loses his Party membership, is forced out of the university, and ends up serving in a military division for subversives and working in mines.

Talk about an unsympathetic protagonist!  Ludvik meets and falls in love with the innocent young Lucie while he’s in the military camp.  When she wont sleep with him he treats her in a beastly manner, but continues to claim his love for her is deep and to not understand why she leaves him.  Later, Ludvik tries to exact revenge on the Party member who humiliated him by having an affair with this man’s wife in the most vulgar manner.  Towards the end of the novel Ludvik has some small realizations of the errors of his ways, but for the most part this is a story of a downward spiral of selfishness.

A subplot tells of Ludvik’s childhood friend Jaroslav whose goal in life is to preserve the traditional folk ways and music of his Moravian village.  The culminating pages of the novel take place during the Ride of the King festival which tragically has lost it’s original meaning and is now an orchestrated affair for the purposes of the Party.  I liked the parts with Jaroslav and the folk music the most interesting parts of this book.

Favorite Passages

The young can’t help acting; they’re immature but they’re placed in a mature world and have to act as if they were mature.  So they put on whatever masks and disguises appeal to them and can be made to fit — and they act.  – p. 88

We listened to Ludvik, and our surprise was mingled with irritation — irritation at his certainty.  He was behaving the way all Communists behaved at the time.  As if he’d made a secret pact with the future and had the right to act in its name. – p. 134

Drunkards are the most loyal supporters of revivalist folk ventures.  The last supporters.  After all, they provide a noble pretext for getting drunk.  – p. 247

Author Kundera, Milan.
Title The joke. Translated by David Hamblyn and Oliver Stallybrass.
Publication Info. New York, Coward-McCann [1969]
Edition [1st American ed.].
Description 288 p. 22 cm.

Book Review: “Bonanza” by Neal Stephenson (Book 4 of the Baroque Cycle)

I’m continuing the Baroque Cycle with “Book 4: Bonanza” which is paired with “Book 5: Juncto” in The Confusion (2004) by Neal Stephenson. This shows how stubborn I am to read one book at a time since Bonanza is “confused” together with Juncto making for a lot of page flipping.

Bonanza is all Jack Shaftoe as he connives to escape slavery and make a fortune in gold in an around the world adventure.  Jack and his polyglot cabal of escaped galley slaves travel through Algiers, Egypt, India, the Phillipines, China, Mexico, and the mysterious land of Qwghlm over a dozen years.  Topics covered include global commerce, colonialism, religious conflict, the Inquisition, Jesuits, alchemy, piracy, shipbuilding, metallurgy, numismatics, vulgarity, and slapstick humor.

Despite the adventure, I didn’t feel as engaged with this book as the earlier ones.  It all seems to be leading somewhere –  with tangents – but I’m not enjoying the ride as much.  I should have read it mixed-up with Eliza’s book Juncto.  I’ll find out soon when I read that book in the coming weeks.

By the way, I have to give credit to Vermeer’s Hat for covering the Manilla trade which involved Chinese merchants living in the outskirts of that city and an annual sailing of a galleon from New Spain bearing silver bullion.  This was a good background for many of the events in Bonanza.

The confusion / Neal Stephenson.
New York : Morrow, c2004.
815 p.: maps ; 25 cm.

Book Review: Crosstown by Helen Levitt

The opening of episode 7 of New York: A Documentary Film featured clips from a 1948 film entitled In the Street. This movie captured images of ordinary people in the streets of upper Manhattan and was quite moving in capturing the place and time. I looked for the film without success but did find this book by the cinematographer, Crosstown (2001) by Helen Levitt.

The oversize book features Levitt’s photos of street scenes in New York from the 1930’s & 40’s as well as from 1959 to the present.  The photos are evocative in their ordinariness.  They are also often funny.  The later photos remind me of the New York City of my childhood while the earlier photos give a peek at the New York of my parents’ generation.  Great stuff.

The work of Helen Levitt is online at:

Movie Review: New York: A Documentary Film by Ric Burns

New York: A Documentary Film is an 8-part film made by Ric Burns that debuted on PBS in 1999 (except for episode 8, which is from 2003).  Thanks to Netflix, I’ve finally seen this epic documentary about my ancestral homeland and one of my favorite cities.

Ric Burns’ style is similar to his brother Ken in that their is a rich wealth of archival images, photos and films, supported by contemporary film interspersed with interviews with a variety of experts and dramatic renditions of quotations by historical figures.  It’s an effective technique, albeit one that could use a few adjustments.  I particularly like hearing from the experts, a grab bag of historians, writers, politicians, architects, and New Yorkers.  Standouts among the crowd include urbanist Marshall Berman, soft-spoken historian Craig Steven Wilde, and architect Robert A. M. Stern (as an aside, it seems to me that architects are often great speakers as well).  I would prefer longer clips of these people speaking about New York in place of the narration, no offense to David Ogden Stiers.  It would be one way to reduce the cliches that plague this film.  If you had a dollar for every time the words “Capitol of the World” are uttered, you could take me out for dinner at a fancy restaurant and probably get change.  Similarly, the contemporary film of soaring over the Manhattan skyline is overused creating a visual cliche.

These are minor quibbles though.  I would expect that many viewers would criticize the filmmakers for leaving things out although it would be impossible to cover every detail of city as large and historic as New York.  I would have liked to have seen more about New York’s role in popular culture such as radio, film, tv, and sports, not to mention more details about the four boroughs not named Manhattan, but so be it. I also felt that the 70 years covered in episodes #6 & 7 could have branched out to include more than road building, public housing, and white flight, since so much else happened in those times.  But then again this is the time of my life, and my parents, and my grandparents so I’m much more connected to it through personal experience and stories

The film covers New York History chronologically, with each episode culminating in a Big Event that kind of ties together the historical and cultural processes discussed in the episode.  These include 1. the Erie Canal, 2. the Civil War Draft Riots, 3. the Consolidation of  Greater New York, 4. the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire, 5. the construction of the Empire State Building, 6. the Great Depression and the 1939 World’s Fair, 7. the 1975 Fiscal Crisis, and 8. the World Trade Center & September 11th Attacks.  I think a more effective approach would have been to ditch the chronological approach and made the episodes specifically about these events: what led up to them, what effects did they have, how they influenced the people and their times, et al.  Episode 8 about the World Trade Center does in fact follow this method by tracing the history of the buildings construction, use, and desctruction, subtly creating a microcosm of New York history from the 1950’s to 2001.

Each episode also has a Big Person, a New Yorker of great prominence and influence who somehow personifies his times (and they are all “he’s”).  These include 1. Alexander Hamilton, 2. Walt Whitman, 3. William Tweed, 4. Al Smith, 5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, 6. Fiorello LaGuardia, 7. Robert Moses, and 8. no one really but high-wire artist Philippe Petit is the surprising heart of this episode.  I like this aspect less if only because it seems to lead to lionizing “great men” and repetition of more cliches (with the exception of Robert Moses about whom opinions were more neutral to negative, appropriate since Moses was eeeeeeeevil).

My overall impression Ric Burns’ New York is positive.  Episode 4: The Power and the People and Episode 8: The Center of the World are standout episodes that particularly bring the history of the city to life.  The former episode covers some of my favorite topics such as immigration and labor, while the latter profoundly recreates the horror of the September 11th attacks, but also the hope and heroism in the aftermath.  If you like New York, history, and/or documentaries check this one out.