We have the Babylonians to thank for many things. They’re the ones who put 60 seconds in the minute and 60 minutes in an hour, a system called “sexagesimal” which is a word I think we can all agree is best left out of our vocabularies. We can thank the Babylonians (5500 to 3500 B.C.) for page numbers in a book. Very helpful, guys. Thank you.
And we can thank them for New Year’s resolutions. At the turn of the new year, the Babs had an eleven-day festival to celebrate the occasion, during which they made promises to the gods so the gods would show them favor. (Now that’s what I call accountability.) According to sources that I’m too lazy to cite, most Babylonians pledged to get out of debt.
I gave up resolutions years ago, mostly because I hate going with the flow. There’s one I flirt with each year, but as I know I cannot achieve it, I quit while I’m ahead. I resolve not to try and fix what I need to change. Want to know what I want to change?
I want to answer the phone every time I can see/hear it ring. I have a terrible phobia of talking on the phone, even to people I love. And I loathe voicemail. A week can go by before I finally enter the numbers to access my voicemail and when I do, my fingers feel like they have those little finger weights on them. “You seriously have to listen to voicemail,” I’ll say to myself, and it feels the same as when I say, “You seriously have to make a dentist appointment.” If I discover I only have three messages, I feel like I found twenty bucks on the sidewalk.
What is the root of this crippling phobia? Is it a control issue? Why am I this way? I just can’t do it. I can’t answer the phone. Text messages are the greatest invention since the telephone.
I cannot resolve to get better at this unless someone unlocks the problem. If you can do that, I’ll help you in your resolve to eat Marshmallow Fluff straight from the jar. I’ve got that down.
I will write about the movie theater. Until then — because I need to do some more fact-checking and get the perfect picture of the theater in the 1960s or 1970s — a photo of my mother and me. This was at QuiltCon in 2013.
Mom and I just wrapped taping the public television show we co-host, “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.”
I love you, Mam. You are really good at making quilts.
At brunch on Sunday, my (affianced!) sister Rebecca told tales of her recent trip to Tokyo. A transcription of that exciting conversation is forthcoming, but last night I was reminded of the specific tale she shared of the elegant efficiency of Tokyo noodle shops. I was reminded because I was sad.
Here’s how a Tokyo noodle shop works: you step up to an automated kiosk and put in your money. You press a button for the kind of ramen you want (select by picture) and bloop! out comes a ticket. You take the ticket to the noodle man and zing! he makes your ramen. Double happiness, arigato! No cashier, no waiter, no wait. The only possible mess in this process might be soup on your blouse.
Friends, let us leave the Tokyo ramen shop and pay a visit to its berserker anti-matter evil twin: Vapiano in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
[Pardon me, darling: before I begin, I’ll need my blood pressure medication, yes, thank you, and my smelling salts. Is there Xanax? There is? Yes, dear. I’ll have two, please, one for now and one for five minutes from now. I’ll take them with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Thank you, darling, and a napkin. That’s good. Yes, that’s very nice. Now, gather ‘round, children.]
Vapiano is a German-owned restaurant chain. The first Vapiano opened in 2002 and today there are 120 locations worldwide. Chicago got a roomy one in the old Carson Pirie Scott building about a year ago. During the construction phase, I passed it and felt happy because a quick, freshly prepared salad option downtown is always welcome news. Indeed, Vapiano proclaims “fresh” Italian-style pizza, pasta, soup, salad, and dessert. And each Vapiano restaurant has a full bar and a large dish of gratis gummy bears at the host stand when you walk in. Why, I don’t know, but when we went there, Yuri ate two handfuls of them immediately. This ended up being a smart move because at Vapiano, it’s gon’ be awhile.
The first thing that happens is that you’re greeted by a hostess so scared to tell you what’s about to happen, she races through the spiel fast enough you may wonder if she’s speaking English. Something about cards? Something about stations? Tapping? Paying…sometime in the future? She thrusts menu cards into your hands and you are then absorbed by the Vapiano food pen. We learn from the Vapiano website that the name is a word inspired by an Italian proverb that goes, “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano,” which translates to: “People with a relaxed attitude live a long and healthy life.” Clearly, Vapiano stakeholders are being ironic. There is nothing relaxed or healthy about their “high-concept” restaurant. “Long” works. Keep “long.”
So you get a credit card thing. There are stations in the food pen for the different offerings, pizza, pasta, etc. You stand at the counters and order what you want from the long-suffering line cooks whose smiles are so obviously required for employment there, you want to lean forward conspiratorially and tell them they can give it a rest. But you don’t. Because you’re hungry. You tell them what you want and then they say something you can’t hear and they make a swiping motion and gesture to your card. You look around for a credit card machine, but there isn’t one. There’s a screen, though, embedded in the counter, so you smoosh your card down there and it goes beep! and the line cook looks with a pitying look of congratulations and begins to make your carbonara.
Which takes a long time. So long. And you’re not seated at a table waiting, remember. You’re just standing around. And what do you do with the card? Well, the Vapiano people tell you that this is the beauty of the whole thing, that you can take the card all around and just keep ordering all kinds of stuff for hours and hours and your card keeps everything straight for you. (A waiter is surprisingly efficient for this, too, but don’t mind me; my Xanax just kicked in.) But… But where do you put it? Your wallet seems a little…final. Your pocket seems risky, though, because you’re blithely eating all this German-Italian (?) relaxation and health and what happens if you lose that card or forget what it is and give it to your kid’s teacher for Christmas? And it still wasn’t totally clear whether or not we should pay and then eat or hang onto the card even longer and let its confusing presence further flavor our caprese salad.
I spent most of the “experience” running all over the damned place, picking up the food we had ordered 20 minutes earlier. Got the soup! Okay! What else? Oh! Salad! Be right back! Ooh! Our pager went off! (Oh, there are pagers involved, too.) Pizza! Okay, do we have everything? Okay, I totally wanted a piece of pizza, but that’s okay! No, I wasn’t here. It’s fine. How was it? Awesome. Ooh! Dessert! Be right back.
Surely there are people who love this. Surely there are people who understand it better. I am entirely aware that I’ve probably done Vapiano incorrectly, that there’s something wrong with me. If anyone, German, Italian, American, or otherwise can help me, help me, because I really really like the tomato soup.
We’re going to talk about a Russian quatrain, but first we have to go to France. Stéphane Mallarmé was a French poet and critic who lived from 1842-1898. You know how poems sometimes do this on the page?
this on the
Yeah, it’s super annoying unless it’s gorgeous and it usually isn’t — sorry, aspiring poets but hey: I can’t make it gorgeous, either. Mallarmé was among the first to do that sort of thing and his influence on 20th century art was huge. I read a quote from Mallarmé a couple months ago that I loved so much, that rang so true, I melted into weepiness. I set about memorizing it and now when I’m falling asleep at night, I turn it over and over in my head because, well:
“Poetry is the expression, in human language restored to its essential rhythm, of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence: in this way it confers authenticity on our time on earth and constitutes the only spiritual task there is.”
I know, right? It’s not just a definition but a reason for poetry. Gah! Flutter, sputter, perish by art. And so it was with Mallarmé’s wisdom on repeat in my head that I set about researching a poem discovery: the chastushka.
The chastushka is a Russian form of poetry whose closest cousin in English is the limerick. “Chastushka” means “to speak fast.” Like the limerick, the chastushka rhymes, though with just four lines to the limerick’s five, it’s a straight ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme. The poem’s subject matter covers the breadth of human experience, but you won’t find a ton of chastushki about the beauty of the sunset; these poems usually focus on sex, politics, or your mother. Also, Chastushki are written in something called trochaic tetrameter, which sounds horrible but is simply the rhythm, or meter, of the form. It’s set. And here’s what it sounds like:
Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater Had a wife and couldn’t keep her
…or look at these two lines from William Blake’s “Tyger, Tyger”:
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright, In the forest of the night;
See? You totally know what trochaic tetrameter is! And that’s a chastushka’s meter. Fun, right? Totally, and I wanted to try writing a few. And now, I present some chastushki for you on this wintry night. You should write a few. You’re not going anywhere. I will not post any chastushki about politics or your mother. That’s for the other blog. Just kidding — there is no other blog. Yet.
Fluffy goose-down pillow fight, In the morning or at night, I whup you upside your head, We laugh and then go back to bed.
When Swanky Squirrel goes into town, He dresses up and never down, His suits are crafted by the best, You should see his bespoke vest!