So I was looking at Der Spiegel this morning — the stories they’ve translated into English, anyway, because my German isn’t quite good enough to read the news without stopping to look up every eighth or ninth word, which would be good for me to be doing as far as keeping my German in shape goes but I have much else to do — and I came across an article about Heligoland (“Helgoland” auf Deutsch).

I’d heard of Heligoland but knew very little about it other than that it was an island in the North Sea. Well, it turns out that it’s actually two small islands in the North Sea, belonging to Germany but a three-hour sail from the mainland. (Here’s the Wikipedia article.) They were a single island until a storm in 1720 washed away the middle of the island, leaving two separate islands remaining. Over the years it’s been a base for smugglers, a German resort, a British resort, a German naval base, and a British bombing range. Now it’s a German resort again.

Heligoland is in the news today because over the weekend the residents (all 1650 of them) voted 55% to 45% against a $141 million Dubai-style construction project to fill in some of the shallow sea between the islands to increase the size of the larger island by about a quarter and connect it to the smaller island. And Der Spiegel has published a number of photos of Heligoland along with the article, and the photos go a long way to explain the vote.

Well, good lord, if you lived in a place that looked like that, would you want to tamper with it? I sure wouldn’t.

Fun facts: Early D’oyly Carte company member Richard Mansfield (he created the role of Major General Stanley in Pirates of Penzance spent much of his youth living in Heligoland, which was British at the time. And Werner Heisenberg came up with the beginnings of his theory of quantum mechanics while vacationing in Heligoland, which was German at that time.

Time Off!

I don’t have to be back at work again for a week and a half! Took a long hot bath this morning when ordinarily I’d be on BART commuting to work. Then went back to bed! Now I’m up again and getting back to work on the Magic Flute project (still no official name). It would be a Very Good Thing if I could have a good first draft of about half the first act done by the time I go back to work. (Well, back to my paying work.)

Artist’s Statement

I have a new artist’s vision statement for all my grant applications from now on:

My work explores the relationship between acquired synesthesia and life as perfomance.

With influences as diverse as Munch and Frida Kahlo, new combinations are generated from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a hegemony of lust, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the possibility of a new beginning.

As shifting impressions become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the inaccuracies of our future.

Ain’t it great? I got it here, thanks to a pointer from Jeremy.

Random Reminiscence of the Day

We’ve been chatting on the WELL about Mexican food and when we first encountered it (I won’t even try to explain how the topic drifted there — we were talking about sustainable food practices and somehow we veered to this), and I wrote the following, and I feel like cutting and pasting it here, too.

I grew up in Southern California and can’t remember back far enough to know when I first had Mexican food. It was very much part of the landscape — tacos were a regular meal at home and in the school cafeteria, quesadillas were an option for a simple quick snack, there were nice restaurants where my family went sometimes and there were hole-in-the-wall places where I’d get a cheap lunch on my own or with a friend.

When I moved to New York City in the 1980s, there seemed to be one Mexican restaurant in all of midtown Manhattan, where I worked, called Caramba I think. I ate there once — very pricey, even allowing for everything in Manhattan being more expensive, like three or four times what I’d expect to pay for the meal back in California, and the food was very plain and bland. I was astonished.

Eventually I realized that Mexican food was an exotic novelty in Manhattan, not a genuine part of the local mix of cultures. And New Yorkers didn’t seem to be used to spicy food — I remember bringing homemade guacamole to a party in my first months in NYC, and I was feeling apologetic because it had come out a bit on the bland side and if I were at my own apartment I could stir in some more Tabasco or something, but our host didn’t have anything like that in the cupboard. But before I had much opportunity to express my apologies, somebody dipped a chip in the guacamole and took a bite and a moment later starting fanning her mouth and saying, “Wow! That’s got a kick to it!” Everybody loved the guacamole because it was on the hot side but not unbearably so for their tastes, and I had been thinking it was a botch because I could barely taste any heat in it. So I stopped apologizing and just accepted the compliments and figured I’d learned something about cultural differences between So Cal and NYC.

And I also discovered that Indian food, which was pricey and an exotic novelty in Southern California in those days and which I hadn’t eaten much of, was part of the local culture in NYC, and it was all over the place and very inexpensive, even for very good Indian food. So my diet underwent some changes in NYC.

So it turns out that Patrick, who likewise grew up with Mexican food (he’s part Mexican), lived in New York City at the same time I did, and remembered “that horrible place Caramba’s with the god-awful blue margaritas”. He said that the best Mexican he knew of in New York City at the time was in Astoria, Queens, in the back of a pizzeria. My response:

Oh, God, I forgot about the aqua blue margaritas. I never actually had one — an experience in my freshman year of college going out with a few friends and being persuaded to order an “Adios Mama” has caused me to distrust all aqua blue drinks ever since.

I lived in Astoria in ’88 and ’89 but don’t remember any Mexican food. On the other hand, it was my first real experience with Greek food. I lived half a block from a restaurant with a Greek name that translates to something like Papa George’s All-Nightery or Papa George Never Sleeps or something, and one day I got up the courage to go inside. Not a word of English to be seen or heard, including on the menu, which was a chalkboard on the wall. But I became a regular for a while, and the waiters got to know me and stopped wincing when I asked them to translate the chalkboard for me. Though most of the time I got the lamb with spaghetti — anything else, half the time the waiter came back from the kitchen to tell me they were out, but they never ran out of lamb and spaghetti, so after a while I usually just ordered that in the first place — and a glass of retsina.

“Jumping to Conclusion”

It’s 8:20 pm on Saturday and I just finished this weekend’s Listener puzzle, “Jumping to Conclusion” by Sabre, over dinner. It’s a stinker, and despite some nice clues and a surprise at the end, this may be my least favorite Listener puzzle in quite a while. A number of the words and parts of words have to be entered not in a straight line but in a series of chess knight’s moves, which opens up the number of possibilities so greatly that it’s kind of tedious to work out the right answer.

Also, there are ten clues that you need to solve with no help available from crossing letters at all, and an eleventh (34 Down) that you have to solve with the only possible help being the first letter (from solving 33 Across). These clues are entered entirely in knight’s moves, but you can’t work out more than a few of the knight’s moves until you have solved every one of those eleven clues. When I went to bed last night I had all but three clues solved, yet I still had 19 empty squares in the grid, 19 squares where there were too many possible paths for the words to take to be able to fix any more letters. I took another stab at the puzzle this afternoon and solved two more clues, but I still had 11 squares I couldn’t nail down. Eleven squares left indeterminate because of one unsolved nine-letter word! And what I had worked out didn’t give me so much as one single certain letter to help with solving the last clue! It looks as though, for the knight’s-move portion of the diagram, the constructor gave the absolute minimum number of clues you need to determine where all the letters go once you’ve solved all the clues. That seems kind of stingy, and it’s not hard to find several more words of five letters or longer that the constructor could also have given.

Even once I did have the last clue solved, working out the one possible way to enter the letters so that all the words could be made took me quite a while because of all the possible paths that had to be considered and narrowed down. There were a couple of nice surprises at the end as a reward for trudging through all of that, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad puzzle, but all in all not an interesting enough puzzle to reward the amount of slogging needed.

Let Me Down Easy

Dave and I saw Anna Deveare Smith’s new one-woman show Let Me Down Easy at Berkeley Rep last night, and it’s terrific, both the writing and the performance. The show is a series of vignettes in which Ms. Smith portrays a number of people talking mostly about their experiences with hospitals, illness, and death; the words are taken from actual interviews Ms. Smith made with them. Several of them are well known — Lance Armstrong and the late Ann Richards, for example, both talking about how their lives had been changed and shaped by battles with cancer — and others are not — a doctor at a hospital in New Orleans talking about the days after Katrina, for example, trying to give her patients the best possible care while waiting for help that never came. Both the words in the vignettes and Ms. Smith’s portrayals are wonderfully vivid and lively, taking delight in the variety of strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies her characters display.