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Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Chocolate, too, is regional -- or rather, national -- but some regions are clearly better than others. This NYT article has it right; especially at the entry-level candy bar, American chocolate is the worst and British chocolate is the best.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
The son of J-prof Allan Wolper buys David Halberstam's apartment; Wolper pere writes about it for Editor and Publisher.
It's a great story. But what do I chafe at? Wolper fils, Richard, occupation unknown, lives in Utah. He's just buying the apartment to have a place in the city -- a pied-a-terre, as they say. And this bothers me to no end.
Yes, I know that some ungodly percentage Manhattan apartments are rented as second homes by the absurdly wealthy. But, I think of most of these people as international bankers, scions of royal families, entertainers and media moguls. You know, the obscenely wealthy.
I don't think of them as professor's kids with a wife and kid from Utah. And they get to buy Halberstam's apartment? I want Halberstam's apartment. I'd put on a tuxedo every time I stepped inside of it -- I don't care.
Instead, I live in an apartment probably even tinier than this place with my wife. And is it on the Upper West Side? No. It's in Upper West Philadelphia. There's garbage and bugs everywhere, and anarcho-hippies who play guitar on their porches and then get mad at each other and start trashing each other's junk in the street. I've got a laundromat and a coffee shop around the corner, two bus routes close by, and in West Philly I'm damned glad to cling to this. It's probably the cheapest place I've ever lived; and we still can't really afford it. I'm coming to the realization that I haven't been able to afford anything I have ever done in my entire adult life, yet I've somehow barely managed to come out all right.
I've been in college for ten years now. All I want is a quiet place to sit, read, and type; a place with parks and markets close by, regular trash pickup, and plumbing I can count on. I want enough money that I could begin to think of saving or investing it.
But right now, I really want David Halberstam's apartment.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Since expat BK is looking back across the pond from the UK to the States on this Fourth wisely and without nostalgia -- to which I wonder, what's the best crisp in the Beautiful North? -- I thought I would pile on with the Euro-love with a link to this enthusiastic review of a new history of early modern Europe, Tim Blanning's The Pursuit of Glory. Granted, I am a total nerd, but I love this stuff:
In 1648 the main roads in Europe were mostly the ones that the Romans had built 1,500 years earlier and that had been neglected ever since.
The pace of travel, therefore, was seldom more than the speed a man could make on his own two feet, which, indeed, is how most people traveled....The trip from Bath to London took 50 hours in 1700. By 1800 it took 16. These greatly improved roads allowed other improvements, like much more efficient and much less costly postal service.
Even better is the untold agricultural component to the industrial revolution -- and no, it's not industrial farming:
In 1648 European agriculture had not changed much since medieval times. But enclosure, manuring, crop rotation, new crops like turnips and clover, and improved breeding brought forth a large increase in food production.
One result was a golden age for the landed gentry, whose rent rolls increased sharply, and their conspicuous consumption along with them. (Robert Walpole employed 50 people just to weed his gardens.) Another result was the freeing of manpower to work in the factories that were beginning to spring up in the English countryside. The industrial revolution came about because of turnips as well as steam engines. [my emphasis]
Oh, man, I don't care if there's a glut of commodity and economic histories, histories of everyday life. Bring 'em on, heavy with anecdotes and dripping with debunking practical wisdom. We need all we can get.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Potato chips were the first food I ever loved, part of the reason why I devoured this Fourth-of-July NY Times article on chips with relish. (Well, less relish as such than sour cream and onion dip.) The article doesn't get all the history of chips right -- the real innovation was the airtight plastic bag, which got chips out of big stale-making barrels, turning them from bar food into a crisp household snack. But it's a nice read all the same.
The best part, though, is this toss-away paragraph at the end:
Although chips are deceptively plain, they are powerful reminders of childhoods and hometowns. That’s why families send soldiers in Iraq their favorite local chips in care packages. Grow up in Detroit? It’s all about Better Made and a ginger soda pop called Vernors.
Oh, it's true! And Better Made has, like, zero distribution more than thirty miles from Gratiot Avenue. I had to schlep around town to find shops that sold it in Lansing.
Finding Vernors is a much easier proposition -- as it happens, I was lucky to find some, my first in years, at a South Jersey Wegman's this weekend. For years I've described it as a stiffer drink than ginger ale, more like Jamaican-style ginger beer, but that's not exactly right -- it's really more of a caramel-flavored ginger root beer. If you can get it, try it with vanilla ice cream. For reasons unknown to me, it's called a Boston Cooler.