The Devil in the White City

Daniel Burnham’s extraordinary effort to build the White City for the Columbian Exposition, Chicago’s answer to the Parisian First World’s Fair. H. H. Holmes (nee Herman Mudgett) and his murder castle, luring single young women to their deaths by chloroform and gas. The Chicago fair of 1893 brought hordes of people to the city, keeping the Chicago police too busy to notice the disappearance of the women.
Larson does a good job weaving the Holmes story in between the tale of the building of the Fair. Olmstead’s landscaping dreams, Walt Disney’s father working as a carpenter for the fair (and his stories no doubt influencing Walt’s later Dreamword of Disney), the first elevator unveiled, the Ferris wheel’s introduction to society.
Average wordsmithing keeps this book off my recommended list, but it is intriguing at times. To think, my high-school paper on HH Holmes and his murderous ways broached this subject 10 years ago.

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Square Sanders

At the table across from us at San Tung was a gentleman wearing a white polo shirt with an intriguing logo: “Square Sanders.” This classification fit him so well that I don’t even need to describe what he looked like. But I will. A shortish, balding man with glasses and a Southern mouth, wearing white shirt tucked into brown trousers neatly pressed and loafers. He was taking a call on his cell when I noticed the “Square Sanders” logo and began teasing Matt by calling him a Square Sanders.
By Southern mouth, I mean a turtlish mouth that you can imagine a drawl escaping from. His wife sat directly to his right, engaging the rest of the table in conversation and making the head bobs and sympathetic glances which solidified my conception of them as “Southern.” The rest of the table was comprised of grandma, a younger son, and an older daughter with her boyfriend. (They smooched shortly after I decided they were involved, which helped me cement my story of them). Now what was this family doing at San Tung, a Chinese restaurant by Chinese people for Chinese patrons? This hidden gem in the Sunset was a secret spot we had discovered through word of mouth, and if this family was Southern, how did they find it?
I decided they were tourists, first off, based on mom’s choice of gray socks with a casual shoe. Nothing against gray socks, mind you, but it was the combo of those and red shirt and a general vibe I was picking up on. But them being tourists made no sense, b/c San Tung is 180 degrees from the tourist route. I finished off my Mu Shu and thought about it further.
The lightbulb went off and I excitedly explained to Matt that they were dropping off the daughter at college, as mid August is the time for these types of goodbye dinners. They all travelled from the South to wish her well, even bringing along her boyfriend for good measure. Taking a few more bites of my meal, this hunch was confirmed when her Cal Berkley student ID was passed around the table for all to view.
Then, they got a doggie bag. This complicated matters, as visiting parents don’t eat leftovers, and how is the daughter going to schlep the food back to Berkeley and then heat it up? Regardless, if the parents took the bag, it meant they were local. The bag was passed down the table to the daughter. Whew. The story still stood.
As they got up to leave, I perked my ears to gather any vocal clues to their hometown. They silently filed past our table, but I leered into the young boy’s face and looked at the t-shirt he was wearing: Boyle Park Tennis. This plus Square Sanders would be enough clues to google their existence.
Now I’m in front of google, and Square Sanders turns into Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey law firm (with offices in SF, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus), and Boyle Park is a tennis court in Marin (Mill Valley). ‘Twas fun dreaming up your story, Square Sanders, but the truth is not as interesting.

Watching TV in the park

On our way home from dinner in the Sunset, Matt and I cut through Golden Gate park to return to the Richmond. Our path took us by the baseball fields, which when passed earlier that night were alive with activity. Night falling had forced players and spectators alike to find other playful pursuits, but as we approached the fields we noticed a strangely familiar glow in the darkness. As we got closer, we confirmed our suspicions, and passed by a group watching a TV in the stands. Diffrent Strokes pulsed through the night as the three of them huddled around the glow for entertainment. They had plugged the TV directly into an outlet on a pole in the bleachers. Homeless or not, they were enjoying the intoxicating glow of the boob tube, free of charge, on the city’s energy bill. This, on a day in which NYC was recovering from the largest blackout in history, is somewhat amusing.

Popcorn!?

A man’s journey to fulfill his dream of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records. Aaron Fischer’s quest for world’s largest popcorn container. Check out the website.
I saw this documentary over a year ago on KTEH, channel 54, on video i. see it if you get the chance.

Winged Migration

Birds in flight, migrating north in the spring and south in the fall. It is glorious to behold, with no special effects, but breathtaking shots achieved with mini-helicopters and hot air balloons. Cranes moments before landing, with their legs outstretched and flailing; penguins swimming enmasse, like salmon going upstream to mate. Geese geese geese. Other birds I don’t remember. A visual treat, with minor voiceover and subtitles detailing bird names and migration lengths.

Alias Shakespeare

I’m convinced. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford wrote the plays and sonnets we attribute to the name Shakespeare.
Oxford, 1550-1604, has several strong ties to the material within the plays and Sonnets. Oxford’s uncle, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey created the sonnet form we know as Shakespearian. Oxford studied law (Shksp uses legal language throughout the plays), travelled to Italy, was a favorite of Elizabeth I.
One arguments for Oxford is a disection of Oxford’s vocabulary (as survived in several letters and a preface to a book) compared to Shakespeare’s. They both use the same words, but when Bacon is compared to Shksp, the vocabulary circles are separate.
Shakespeare was a name Oxford came up with in order to publish his love poems to the Earl of Southampton. He continued to write plays and sonnets (the sonnets were not intended for publication, as they were personal love poems describing love between men), and after his death Shakespeare was reinvented by the Folio of 1623 which included all of his plays. They made no mention of the first two poems for which Skspr was famous, as an attempt to distance Shksp the homosexual poet from the playwrite. Oxford could have come in contact with a man named William Shakspear from Stratford, as Oxford was active in the theatre.
If you have doubts about the authorship of the plays, read this book. The appendix includes several detailed line by line comparisions of the plays versus Oxford’s letters and poems. Shakespeare is Dead! Long live de Vere!

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The Man Who Ate Everything

This book was a treat, full of elegant writing across a broad canvas of food, cooking, and eating. Composed of forty essays pulled from Steingarten’s regular column in /Vogue/, Steingaren’s prose is crisp and well-paced and never once let me down. While some topics were more interesting and develeoped than others, there is a constant curiosity and passion for capturing food and the ways we prepare and eat it.
Steingarten has a scientist’s eye for detail and immerses himself in thorough, sometimes fanciful, research and self-experimentation. He provides exacting accounts of regional cuisines (of France, Japan, North Africa, Memphis, and more), diet trends and food industry myths, and specific foods (from mashed potatoes to salt to ketchup) and food substitutes (olestra), as well a good number of recipes. Yet he always acknowledges his own tastes and sensations, keeping the essays moving with an energy and consistency that I did not think existed in 20th century magazine publishing. Nor did I realize that media coverage of the “French Paradox” originated with Steingarten in 1991.
Stand-outs include pieces on the Paris /Haut Bistros/, Kyoto cuisine, fruit and ripeness, /le regime Montignac/, and truffle hunting in rural Italy.
Also see Alexander Chancellor’s [New York Times review http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9907E4DA143AF934A35751C1A961958260] from December 7, 1997

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Caffe Macaroni

Although not listed by Verizon’s phone directory, the Caffe Macaroni is alive and well on Columbus at Jackson. In fact, there’s another Macaroni restaurant across the street, which wasn’t listed either. We squeezed into a 2 person table and had the specials listed for us. A bottle of house cabernet sauvignon later, we’d downed a plate of penne and baked penne between us, as well as a salad and buttery soup: broccoli and potato. While the downstairs was cramped and small, several parties appeared at the swinging door and requested the upstairs room, which must be where the party is.

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Jarhead

Who’d have thought that a book written by a Marine would be so … good. The typical “military intelligence” oxymoron comes to mind, but this book was well written and smart. I’ll be looking out for Swofford’s future offerings.
Gulf war veteran describes boredom of seven months preparation for war and the disappointment of a week of actual war. Sand sand sand and pornography and girlfriends cheating and the childhood of a military brat moving around and the huge mistake it was to sign his life away at age 17 to the Marines. The friends and drinking and playing of poker, the marching and pushups and boot camp. Read it.

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Bringing Down the House

Ehh. Writing style of Mr. Mezrich leaves much to be desired. However, he was handed a story wrapped up with a bow on top, and didn’t ruin it. This non fiction story follows a group of MIT whiz kids on a tour of Vegas, Atlantic City, riverboat casinos, and details their team card counting. With spotters making minimum bets at tables and signalling the BPs (big players) in to the table when the count is favorable, the teams make millions on the blackjack table. They stagger through airport security with wads of cash (50k) strapped to their bodies then begin their transformation from geek to high rollers in the restroom. The basic strategy is a hi-lo system of assigning a +1 count to all cards from 2-6 and a -1 count of 10-A. The amount of cards gone from the shoe is also factored in to generate a true count. When the count is high, it’s time to drop big bets.

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Krakatoa

Superb, fantastic, excellent, thoroughly enjoyable! Winchester disappointed me slightly with his last book, The Map that Changed the World, but he has redeemed himself hugely with Krakatoa. As always, Winchester pays careful attention to the underpinnings of his story. Details range from the origination of plate tectonics (Alfred Wegener) and Winchester’s own Artic ash sample collecting to the unsung hero Alfred Russel Wallace coming up with the term ‘survial of the fittest’ and helping the procrastinator Charles Darwin find the missing pieces to his Origins of Species.
As one reviewer noted, Krakatoa lurks on the edges of most of the narrative, looming in the background as a constant presence. I actually read the whole book and several chapters delve deeply into the subject of Krakatoa and its explosion. The force from the August 27th, 1883 explosion caused two massive sea-waves (tsunamis) to overtake the surrounding coasts of Java and Sumatra, causing 35,000 casualties. Sound waves from the explosion travelled around the world seven times.
Krakatoa was the most explosive volcanic eruption in recorded time, and happened during a point in world history when news travelled fast (telegraph), so the global village was apprised of the eruption within days, if not hours of the event. So too, the dust/ash fallout of the explosion lingered in sunsets around the world for up to 3 years afterwards.
This book is a masterful production, with careful attention to evey pertinant detail. The construction and design of the book is equally delightful: the red lava of the hardcover not entirely covered by the 1/2 dustjacket with a depiction of Krakatoa from the September 1883 Harper’s Weekly. The drawings at the front of each chapter show Krakatoa in various stages, from dormant peaceful island with boats sailing by, to erupting fury, to a drawing of the missing island after it has blown itself up.
One of my favorite parts was the section on plate tectonics, detailing the creation of the Hawaiian Islands. Each island is a remnant of volcanic activity over the same hot spot, but the movement of the plate drifts each island away from the thermal vent, resulting in a chain of islands clearly depicting continental drift.

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Women About Town

I like to give the ladies a chance. However, Jacobs’ book turned out to be a fluffy quick beach read. Eye candy, of sorts. The characters of Iris and Lana were delightful, and 100 pages in I was enjoying the read. But when Iris, the model of a single, independent 40ish woman, ended the story hand in hand with the her perfect guy, my mind rejected this book.
Lana and Iris know OF each other, through their mutual friend Deena. They meet when Lana interviews Iris for Vanity Fair, detailing Iris’ showing of artistic nests. I’m not sure why the story couldn’t have ended with the two of them hanging out about town together. But what do I know.

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