Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Thursday, June 30, 2005

On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies!

Time out for a little celebration. If you can, please join me in a virtual communal cheering!!

Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Woohoo!!!!

A hundred years ago today, give or take the delays between actual publication and stated publication, a young patent clerk published the results of some thinking he'd been doing on his own about things like time, space, light and motion.

Happy Birthday, Special Relativity! Thank you Albert Einstein!
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Why Christopher Hitchens Ticks Me Off

Because he's a smart man fully capable of logical arguments, emprical thinking, and the precise use of evidence, but he's too proud of his cleverness by half, ruining it all. From his latest anti-anti-Iraq-war screed in Slate:
Come to think of it, what happened to the loud and widespread demand that gays be allowed to serve in uniform? Surely that was not just a Clinton-era campaign to be dropped in favor of gay marriage at just the time when the country needed troops in Afghanistan (generally agreed) and in Iraq (much disputed)?I don't intend a taunt in the above sentence (it's more of a tease, really, as well as a serious question to which I have heard no answer), but I resent the taunt that is latent in the anti-war stress on supposedly uneven sacrifice.
I'm not quibbling with his basic argument; I basically agree with his main principle, with some qualifications. But this snide throwaway set of lines is really pathetic. Who exactly is he asking? His clever set of literary dinner party companions? Has he conducted a scientific poll of the American gay community? Because I'll tell you right now, Hitch dahling, from my vantage point that demand is still damn loud and angry.

Perhaps he hasn't heard that Columbia University recently voted to keep ROTC off campus because it feared that the don't-ask don't-tell policy conflicted with its own policy of non-discrimination. (Intel-Dump has a great batch of posts on the topic here.) Or the efforts to appeal the Solomon Amendment which requires law schools taking federal money to allow military recruiters on campus despite an institutional objection to the policy. Right now Technorati has over a 1000 posts listed for the search "gays in the military," so even excludingthe most recent layer of a dozen or so posts that are ticked off at Hitchens like me, that means the blogosphere is very much discussing the issue. San Francisco's Board recently passed a resolution about the issue. Over this last Pride weekend, all over the country veterans protested the current policy, for example here. I put all that together in a few minutes. How long would it have taken for Hitchens to get his answer out of the Web?

It's exactly this kind of imprecise description by implication and muddy use of evidence that should appall Hitchens, who likes to think he is the standard bearer of George Orwell. The snide "teasing" of an insinuation will be fuel for a number of lame readers who want any excuse to nod to themselves and think that gays are cowardly and run in times of war. The sad thing is that these extraneous 80-odd words, more than 5% of an already bloated-for-Slate column, should have been edited out by Slate's normally tight and clean standards. It's the magnitude of respect that Hitchens has earned--his journalistic capital--which allows him such leeway, and he's squandering it.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Liberal and in the Military

I often say, somewhat timidly, that not all members of the military are conservative. I say this because I went to college with quite a few veterans, reservists and ROTC students, and had classmates from high school who are now serving. Many of them are liberal. It's an anecdotal sample biased by my Northern California location, but the assumption that the military is overwhelmingly conservative is so deeply entrenched in our political discussions--and is so thoroughly impossible to reliably verify--that I feel need the need to point it out.

Well a new blog has gone a step ahead in light of Karl Rove's disgraceful comments and is collecting the testimonials of veterans and active soldiers who are protesting his recent set of disgusting comments. Taking the Fight to Karl claims to collect the letters along with name, address, rank and unit, and publishes the former while withholding the latter. The impassioned letters have the ring of truth. Coming up on our national birthday, it's kind of awe-inspiring to read the words of people in my generation who are so passionate about both defending the Republic and righting its course. Some samples include this:
I'm an Enduring Freedom vet and I'm soon to be and Iraqi Freedom vet as well. I joined the Army "Reserves" shortly after 9/11 so I could do my part in the war, and look after one of my high school buddies that was about to be deployed. I've been on active duty since late 2002, doing constant tours. My last one was a stateside tour that I volunteered for because I got home when the recession peaked (late 2003), and no one wanted to hire somebody in the Reserves for fear of losing an employee to the war.
Since then I've volunteered for several liberal groups, such as MoveOn, Democracy For America, and a few local grassroots organizations. I also volunteered with the Democrats for John Kerry.
and this:
What the hell have you done in service of this country? I'm a proud liberal and a vet (US Army 91-95). Back when I first took that oath to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, I never understood what a real domestic enemy to this country could be. Thank you for showing me.
And this:
I'm writing you from [Location Withheld] Iraq, about 35 miles NW of Baghdad.. And I'm too tired to give Karl the verbal beating he deserves for his insults. I'm too tired because we're jsut a bit shorthanded over here, fighting his war for him. A war taht has made nearly every country in the world fear and distrust America, a war fought for a knowing lie dreamed up by Karl and his buddies, none of whom have ever heard a shot fired in anger, or helped pick up the parts of another human being after an IED blast.
I enlisted after the war beganm and after I'd gotten my degree. I could easily have stayed home and watched the war on TV, and Karl does. I do not support this war in the slightest, but I will not sit at home and lecture others on their insufficient patriotism when the nation is in need. I joined because I believe in giving back some measure of service and devotion to my country.
This is definitely a group that needs to find its voice and raise it. Emphases all mine.

Many, many thanks to Saurabh at Rhinocrisy for pointing this out.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Of Boffins and Zombie Dogs and Ludicrously Accomplished Doctors

I'm not sure which I find more mind-boggling--that University of Pittsburgh scientists are bringing clinically dead dogs back to life, or that Australian newspapers actually refer to scientists as boffins in writing. (Article illustrated with one of the freakiest dog photos I've ever seen.) More, seriously, Peter Safar, the founder of the Safar Center that conducts this research, has a very interesting obituary: he's apparently termed the father of CPR and helped create the modern American ambulance and paramedic service. Poignantly, his interest in resuscitation came after the death of his 11-year old daughter Elizabeth, after a severe asthma attack. Even before becoming an accomplished medical doctor, he already had a noteworthy biography:
Dr. Safar was born on April 12, 1924, in Vienna, Austria. He was conscripted into the German army during World War II, but he parlayed the onset of a skin condition into long-term hospital treatment. He thus avoided serving as a soldier, or "cannon fodder," as he would later put it. He entered medical school in 1943, when an administrator turned a blind eye to his Jewish ancestry. He graduated in 1948.
Quite a jam-packed and unusual life. Original link to the Boffin article swiped from TK.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Blatantly Stolen From Robert Stribley

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

I just can't resist geeks collecting numbers. Give in to temptation and tell them about your weblogging habits.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Flag Burning

Nori, at her Reading the Times in California blog, brought my attention to the fact that the Flag Burning Amendment is up for debate again. It has disturbingly high odds of passing, with even Hilary Clinton saying only that she's studying the issue, instead of condemning the amendment outright. I am reminded of a great letter to the editor in the Contra Costa Times of my childhood: a World War II veteran wrote in something like this: I fought under that flag and I love it. I'll be sad and upset if you burn my flag. But I'll be damned before I let you destroy my Constitution. Ah, I wish I had clipped it. This is a great graphical essay on Cracking the Flag Burning Amendment. (Though, obviously I quibble with his implied assumption that all veterans would be for this; clearly, of course, all veterans does not equal the group of veterans you find at the center.)
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Damn: New London Wins

Y'all might recall my outrage at the notion that a city could and would just take away homes using eminent domain, not for the sake of public works but for the sake of private entities who happen to be able to generate higher tax revenue. New London, CT wanted to take away some houses so it could build a housing development and shopping center catering to the employees of the new neighboring facility of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The residents were fought all the way to the supreme court to keep their cottages. Sadly, I see on Slate that the city of New London Connecticut has won and the homeowners have lost. Looking at a pdf of the decision, I see that the breakdown against me is uncharacteristically Democrat: the majority opinion is Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens, and Breyer, joined by Republican Kennedy; it was Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia and Thomas who agreed with me for once.

When I advocate regulating factories that dump chemicals or homeowners that burn things, I'm recognizing that there is no perfect box you can draw around your property. I think a major role of government is to protect those who cannot protect themselves--for example protecting future people who will need to drink the water that flows through the ground beneath your property, and current people who need to breath the air wafts from it. Another role of the government is looking out for the whole public good. If there is no other way to achieve a necessary public good that can be guaranteed to remain a public good (a metro system, say) and is also very likely not become a private asset, then raising the possibility of eminent domain makes some sense to me. It should still be carefully debated and transparently examined by the local community as much as possible, as should any decision made by the state that particularly harms someone. (It's kind of like going to war, that way.) The direct beneficiaries of a metro system or state park is anyone who cares to use it--i.e. the public. The direct beneficiary of a housing development and shopping complex are the owners, not the public. In this case it seems government is not fulfilling the second role while totally abandoning the first role. Sadly, it seems the aging liberal section of the court is assuming the public interst to be automatically equivalent to the government interest. Clearly that isn't always the case: it requires oversight, transparency, an involved citizenry, and some basic attempts at fairness. This is particularly sad since it always seems to me that the judiciary is the branch best equipped for actively keep the two interests aligned. If they think it's automatic, they aren't going to be doing a very good job.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Or A Pack of Cards May Come Flying Down Upon You

As many of you lot know, some friends and I invented a word a while back: cyberhypercavicunicucunctatalinkus: the act of jumping down internet rabbit holes, following one link to another, with overtones of procrastination. It's a a common enough pastime; and if you have Greasemonkey installed on Firefox (which I do) and feel like curing yourself (which I don't) I thought I'd inform you of this little tool: Oblomovka's Webolodeon script, which apparently prompts you for an explanation of your aimless surfing every five minutes or prevents you from continuing. (If you stay on one page for three minutes, it resets itself--long posts shall rule the world!) Found via Dave Bacon, also known as the The Quantum Pontiff.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Batman Begins

I liked it. It could have used a little trimming in the beginning while expounding Bruce Wayne's Asian backstory. (Midstory? After the fatal childhood robbery, before the adult Bat.) Katie Holmes did not really measure up to the rest of the cast; a baby-face does not automatically qualify one to act as an idealist. And, as one of my companions to the showings said, there were no real iconic moments. But I liked it. And better than the much vaunted Tim Burton versions. Those were dark, but also mildly cartoonish--their injected comic relief was too visual, the darkness constantly broken up by wackiness. People might accuse this Batman of being too serious--indeed, one of his villains does just that--but the pitter patter with Michael Caine's Alfred and Morgan Freeman's Lucius contradicts that. This Bruce Wayne is goofily bemused at what he has to do to make Batman, but as Batman his humor is all the dreadful glee of hunting.

I purposefully lowered my expectations ahead of time because I knew they'd been raised too high. Besides the hype and the wonderful posters everywhere, reading that director Christopher Nolan's favorite comic-book movie is my beloved Superman II might have raised the bar too high for most anyone director. Again, excepting Holmes, this lived up to the tradition of a great ensemble cast. Analyzing the lack of iconic moments, the main feature in which it doesn't measure up to Superman I & II, I have to guess that the main fault is choppy editing during the action sequences. Nolan really emphasized staccato fear and the terror of knowing something awful is happening in the dark. Why bats, Alfred wants to know? "Bats frighten me. I want my enemies to share my dread." The terror of being swarmed by bats is grounded in the partial blindness caused by your own fear and their flying; their wings chopping up your visual field much like rapid cuts and a quickly moving camera. That gave the film lots of atmosphere, but not enough pullback, and I hope that in the next one (there better be a next one!) he gives his Bat a little more room to swoop in.

Ahem, bats are generally nice creatures, but I couldn't help but be somewhat more frightened because of this. Be careful people! If there's any chance you've been bitten by a bat, get attention immediately.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Book Meme

I've been tagged for another booke meme. Twice, actually, though I didn't catch the first one because I was traveling, via 201K. And now by Kevin Powell.

Number of books I own: Hmm. I'm not sure how to answer this, since I'm not sure exactly what books I own (vs. the books my sister or parents own) nor do I have access to all my books right now for counting purposes. But taking a Fermi-estimate stab, I'll guess 800. A lot of that stems from the fact that I rather like to keep textbooks, and I have a lot of them.

Last book I bought: Um, this is is somewhat predictable. Michelangelo and Raphael in the Vatican. We could only crane our necks for so long, you know.

Last Book I read: Fury, by Salman Rushdie.

Books That Mean A Lot To Me. Oh boy. That's really tough, because there are too many. I'm not going to interpret this as a top five kind of thing, though, and I'll leave out obvious and "most important" ones. (Kevin, a Lutheran Pastor, cites The Bible; I'm leaving out The Gita--that should help you calibrate the differences in our approach.)

Genius, by James Gleick: The biography of Feynman was influential not so much in its portrayal of Feynman, but in its portrayal of the culture of theoretical physics. There's a lot of texture in this book.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. It was assigned in 8th grade and I finished it the day I got it. It was revealing in its ability to open up a fairly alien world to me at an age when I could particularly relate to the characters. So reading it was a real literary experience in the sense of feeling connected to a universal human condition. It was also sort of moving in its description of theology as a precise, careful, but inspired practice. This is on Kevin's list as well, interestingly.

The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. Easily the best book I had to read in college, and by far the most optimal combination of difficult and rewarding. It's such a detailed map of culture and philosophy and psychology, and a poignant rendering of the struggle between Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies. Whether you read it as an allegory or a description of its times, it's really ideal novel, I think. It fed my affection for the shattering of overly rigid dichotomies.

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
, by Chris Hedges. I read this when I was just starting out at Columbia. It's a short little book, concise, gruesome, and very intelligent. Hedges has had the sort of horrific journalistic experiences with war that dinners honoring War Correspondents can't help but romanticize, and Hedges delves into that romantization and its roots in the addictive nature of war. His concrete, bloody descriptions of modern upheavals and socio-politics are informed and illuminated by deep reflections from the Bible and the Iliad.

In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje. This was a novel that sort of blew me away. It's not that the story is so fundamental and universal as my other favorite novels--To Kill a Mocking Bird, Bleak House, The Great Gatsby--nor that it was small and simple and simply executed very well. It was medium, exactly right, less than a man's life, but more than an incident--clearly, it was the story that the main character would tell of his own life, with all the right amount of intersections with supporting characters. And it was executed so very well. The shifting points of view and perfectly necessary nonlinear narration, the lyrical descriptions, the rousing action--it all renewed my faith in the novel. No bloodless prose here.

Tag: Five more! Wow that's a lot. They may not like it, and I haven't been a good enough blog reader lately to make sure they haven't already done it, but here goes: Zwichenzug, The Super Six Sepia Mutiny Crowd, (one of them should bite, right?), Thennavan, Climateboy, and the literary Indeterminacy.

Update: Thennavan passes, Indeterminacy has already done it (and provides some more great titles in the comments) and Zwichenzug takes up the challenge. Update II: Renee takes the initiative with a list that may send me to the bookstore and Thennavan puts out the mother of all memes. Taran at KnowProse also has a neat list.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Save Children's Programming

A break from the European blogging. Please sign this MoveOn Petition to Save funding to PBS and NPR. Here's why.

Let me preface my justification: I have a very good memory of my childhood. I remember being two and half, and quite solidly from being three and a half, and I remember not knowing how to read or count very well, and I remember learning those things. So the following testimonials are quite well informed.

I grew up watching Sesame Street. I'm mildly fanatic about it. I certainly learned how to read quickly because of it, and I am certain I learned to count quickly partially because of it because I still count out small amounts of time approximating twenty seconds with the four armed yogi tune. Jim Henson was a genius, and Sesame Street pipes that genius into the poorest American homes for the benefit of American children. It was colorful, fun, educational television that was in no way bad for me, and certainly good for me, yet entertaining enough to entice my parents and older sister (who also grew up watching Sesame Street) to come and watch it with me. If that's not family values, I don't know what is.

I also watched a lot of Reading Rainbow. Again, I know it enticed me to learn how to read quickly, and helped lure me to the library. I know how pages are printed and books are bound, how blue-screens work, and how tents are put up because LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow showed me. I learned how a trumpet works and how soup is made by watching Mr. Rogers. I also watched a lot of 3-2-1 Contact. I still remember learning that electricity is usually generated by turbines and that the area of a rectangle is the length times the height, before I was really in school.

I didn't need these things. I come from a highly educated family and my house has always been full of books. But I was better with them, and they were equally available for plenty of children whose parents didn't have the education mine do. If TV acts as our nation's cheapest form of childcare, then PBS makes sure that situation is not a total loss.

As you may have heard, last week a Congressional Committee voted to cut $100 Million, something like 25%, to PBS. (News articles here, here, and--ick--here.) If you know anything about the shoe-string budget that shows like Sesame Street operate on, you realize this will be devastating. Many PBS affiliates already have trouble broadcasting in rural areas. Given the disproportionate amount of comfort and education this provides for American children, I think this is a ludicrous swipe at one of the only objective media sources and a cheap way of earnign points with the extreme right powerbase. This can't possibly please millions of centrist, Republican families who are interested in the best educational environment for their children. So please sign that petition!

This was very much a see-the-sights kind of trip. I have every intention of going back to Europe many times, so this first pass was aimed at the works of art and monuments that have been looming longest and largest in my mind. Music is the universal language of the living, but art and architecture are the universal languages of the living and the dead. You need at least some electricity to set a record playing, or the crank of a hand to make a music box go, but broken statuary needs no further human intervention to creep you out.

And there is so much of it! Michelangelo's Cloisters at the Diocletian Baths almost seemed like an afterthought of curation. A weedy, tangled growth of plants in a court yard, with antique works set about in the surrounding pavilion and out on the grass, open to the rain. Broken pillars seem to be a dime a dozen. Our olive-complexioned Roman tour guide through the Forum, Valentina, was an archeology student at the University of Rome 'La Sapienza.' (What a great name for a school. The Wisdom.) She seemed to have been sent from central casting. Between artfully delivered wisecracks and Roman History 101 she pointed out digs her colleagues were working on. She informed us that the gushing fountains we saw everywhere were safe to drink from, the natural abundance of Rome's springs still being being carelessly pumped out into the city. In the glaring sun it didn't take much persuasion for me to run my hands through the cold stream of water.

Biggest ooh and ah moment: the still intact bronze door of the temple of Romulus, with an apparently functional lock from the late Imperial age. Further down the Via Sacra, Valentina sent me around to a semicircular chunk of wall, the mouth of the circle blocked by a straight wall that hid a rock covered in wilting bouquets still wrapped in plastic. "Tell us what you think it is." I couldn't get a good look at the Latin plaque, but guessed correctly that it was a tomb. Julius Caesar's tomb. Well, really, just the rock where his urn used to be mounted. But people "still" come and drop flowers for him. I say "still" in quotes because of course there were centuries when no one cared, his tomb was buried under mounds of dirt, and cows grazed the forum. Valentina said that now every year Roman students mount a reenactment of his murder on march 15, partying in ancient costume in the forum. I remember sadly having to turn down an invitation from former Latin classmates to a less glamourously staged reenactment when I was in college, because I was organizing a physics lecture.

I stared, slightly mind-boggled, as Valentina's hard-hat-clad colleagues moved about through a maze of dug-out brick and dirt, following some mysterious, precise protocol. She coolly informed us this particular excavation was yielding items older than even the Republic. How do they know? I wanted to ask, to pump her for forensic details. She had a little flip book that allowed her to flip a transparency of "what was" onto photographs of what is, a trick of artists' renditions extrapolating from all that carefully gathered information. How does all this same-looking stone and bleached brick get turned into a convincingly glorious illustration of what it might have looked like? But she was marching us along quickly, half-jokingly comparing us to soldiers on a triumphal parade, and there was no time. Conceptually it's just the methodical inference of a puzzle from bits of information. Archeolgoists are people trying to put together a story that's not quite clear. I guess it's probably not so different from physics or journalism. But the fun is in the details, of course. Ancient Rome is certainly alive, if only because she's full of people bent on digging out her secrets.

Link for you to enjoy: A big problem in Roman excavation is that people don't actually know what was where. When they find a structure they often have to guess what it might have been based on scantily descriptive ancient texts. A useful thing, of course, would be a map of Ancient Rome, and such a map was made: the Forma Urbis Romae, or Severan Marble Plan of Rome, which was carved around 200 CE and covered a wall of the Templum Pacis. But it's in fragments, many of which are gone, and fitting together the remaining 1186 pieces of heavy marble is sort of the jigsaw puzzle from hell. Enter modern technology, and the Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project. You can take a look at current thinking about the whole map, or check out the detailed annotation on a single fragment.
Monday, June 13, 2005

Several of the Sistine Chapel citations in my guidebook asked that you get there as early as possible, run through the entire Vatican museum, hope there's no one in the Chapel when you get there, and try lying on your back on the floor.

A variety of circumstances prevented us from getting there early. The resulting epic line snaking around two convex and two concave corners of the sloping, stony fortress walls of the Vatican museum made me decide that there's an eighth circle to Dante's hell, reserved for queue-cutters, and reincarnation may have dropped me right into it. I memorized the details of a German girl's beaded shoes in front of us, so that the sequin work is now forever burned into my memory, and I also nurtured a small, itching hatred for a couple that migrated from behind us to two spots in front of us. Freedom and forgiveness broke out as we were finally released into a whole lot of classical and high Renaissance corridors. (It seems like one of the Popes Sixtus wrote his own name on most of those ancient statues. He must have been really paranoid about thieves.) Ruchira and I had a tour of the Forum to get to in the afternoon, and the Sistine Chapel at the end, so we barelled through the museum on a mission. We didn't even need to really discuss it, we both knew what piece it was we had to see besides the ceiling. "Stanzi di Raffaello? Stanzi di Raffaello?" we asked all the rather annoyed guards. The route is basically one way, and really, you can't miss it, but there are a few forks and we were anxious after the line. We didn't miss it.

It's sort of shocking to see art that you have admired for half your life as a flat rectangular print, and realize that it actually has corners that curve into the ceiling. But if Van Gogh's Starry Night at the Orsay was a tad disappointing in its real, small, canvas form, the School of Athens was almost overwhelming as a huge chunk of frescoed wall. (Besides being attached to the fresco as a painting, I'm a bit sentimental about the concept and title.) The colors are a little mellower in life, and the purple of the coat of Heraclitus (who's played by Michelangelo) masquerades the worn plaster as rough wool. The room is just not that big, and it's totally covered in art. There is no blank space anywhere to rest your eyes, or even your back. What for years was a symbolic set-piece in my head, an elegant and somewhat unrealistic tableau of philosophers, suddenly feels like a real school. Life-size and bigger than life, so close to your face, their flesh textured by the plaster, all these great thinkers feel less like elements of a visual list and more like guests at one smart party. Of course Euclid and Pythagoras would be the geeks who'd have to whip out a napkin (or a slate) and show off their latest little discovery.

I'm not sure what kind of high-tech lens or stitching techniques professional art photographers use to get the whole thing onto a pristine print, because there's a huge oblong display case in the middle of the room and even if you were to ignore that and back all the way to the opposite wall, I don't see how you could take in the whole thing in one shot without a lens whose wide angle would distort it. Maybe it is usually distorted slightly--the Michelangelo figure who seems like a clever insertion in prints is life-size and dominating of the foreground in the actual wall. His knees and fleshy hands are almost menacingly above your head, his brooding shadowy face aimed right at yours. It's a marvelous prelude to the Sistine chapel.
Saturday, June 11, 2005

There was a bit of a theme to my hunting of some great masterpieces in Europe. At the Kunstmusem in Winterthur, in Switzerland, the guidebook told me to look at their superb collection of masters like Picasso and Van Gogh, but I was also rather taken by the temporarily installed scultptures of stark glass and metal and light in the back room, by Giulio Paolini. At the National Museum of Rome I was appropriately awed by the rich green garden frescoes of the Empress Livia's Villa, but was really more fascinated with a sideroom displaying marble inlay in eye-popping reds and yellows, still shimmering after 2000 years. At the Louvre I dutifully went to see La Joconde (known here as Mona Lisa) and discovered that my new favorite Italian Rennaisance painting is a smoky, moody Deposition of Christ by Jacopo Bassano, displayed on the wall that's left of Mona. So when we went to a concert of Vivaldi's Le Quatro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) and other works at an Anglican church in Rome, I was fully prepared for the Violin Concerto of one M. Giuliani (whom I've never heard of) to take center stage. (More on the art later.)

The church, St. Paul's Within the Walls is a turn of the century gothic structure, with graceful grey stone arches, walls tiled with the IHS initials, and, up above, mosaics by Pre-Raphaelite artists. I was kind of tired of mosaics and imagery. After trudging around in the hot Roman sun, fending off the gold glare from street after street of ochre-plastered buildings, it was soothing to rest my eyes on the cool gray arches and just relax into soft chords and swells of sound. Giuliani definitely seemed like he would be taking the crown of the day.

And then the Vivaldi started, and I could feel backs arching forward and heads raising up on the pew around me. We all knew the piece and we were all mentally strumming along. Maybe it's been just long enough since I've played one of my recordings or heard chamber music live, maybe I've got cliched tastes in music at heart, or maybe Vivaldi really is a genius. But all of a sudden the brightly colored tessera of Edward Burn-Jones's Christ in Glory came to swirling life, and the heat of spring turning into summer more dramatic than oppressive.

It's always tempting for me to turn music into a soundtrack. The Universal Studio's trope that plays before a movie, "Film is a universal language" is demonstrably false if you've ever tried to watch a bad American movie dubbed in German--what might have been mildly entertaining late at night is rendered unwatchable. Music, on the other hand, really is the universal language. In a taxi back in Zurich our driver apologetically explained in a mixture of German and English that he just didn't really know English. He knew Italian, Spanish, Portugese, German and Arabic, but not really English. U2's Pride (In the Name of Love) started blaring from his CD player. "This music, you like? You understand?" "Ja," we replied, "Yes!" "No understand, I like. Just la la la la la. But I like!" La la la la la, indeed.
Friday, June 10, 2005

Sorry about the lack of bloggage; am back home now and will unpack travel journals as I unpack my souvenirs: predictably, mostly chocolate.

Readers of my Japan blogs will remember the adventures I had figuring out if food was vegetarian, but I didn't really have that problem in France. Knowing French meant I knew the food wasn't vegetarian. So it's perhaps little surprise that my new favorite restaurant in Paris is, in fact, Italian. Cesar Pizza in Les Gobelins, besides having an antipasto of perfectly grilled vegetables on a bed of impossibly crispy radichio, also had a charming team of linen-shirted waiters who all greeted me with a "Bonjour! La chere jolie vegetarienne"("Good Day! The dear pretty vegetarian!") every time I passed the place. The walls are decorated with mirrors and Venetian masques, bringing to mind Neil Gaiman, and seated in the back I had a fine view as the staff kissed and hugged regular customers in greeting and farewell. They plied the dining couples with wine and bread and delightfully bitter olives while these couples did, in fact, gaze soulfully into each other's eyes. In front of me, one evening, a fairly young man, with a salt and pepper beard he seemed to have grown merely for philosophical gravitas, seemed practically on the verge of proposing to his frilly-bloused date when her cell phone rang. This kept happening all around me, to both genders, and I had to wonder how excessively romantic a French tableau I would have found before the days of mobiles.

My favorite Italian restaurant, so far, however, is thankfully in Rome. Being paranoid about getting tickets to a fortuitous performance of Vivaldi's "Quatro Stagioni" (more on that later) Ruchira and I found ourselves hungry and with time to kill near Republicca. We wandered into a relaxed cafe decorated with black and white photos depicting a more hectic cafe. We dined on risotto, and a cheeseless pizza with a paper thin crust. Ruchira didn't really need to try out her Italian, the waiters all spoke English, but a third language did come up. The South Asian guy behind the counter, operating the Pizza oven, wanted to know if we spoke Hindi. No, we said, Bengali, and in Bengali he responded, asking us about our vacation. (We were less surprised when the Indian restaurant we went to near Notre Dame was partially staffed by Bangladeshi Bengalis, giving us three languages to talk to them in, but still resulting in confusion over whether we wanted our water "with gas.") 20 years has this Bengali pizza baker lived in Italy.

The previous night our waiter on the cobbly, curvy Via Veneto was pretty excited when he found out we were from one of the places he's been to outside of Italy, going on and on about how beautiful San Francisco is. (He reminded me of Rowan Atkinson--maybe I'll give the Roman Blackadder a spin.) Well, yes, we agreed, but we thought we'd see something else. Even so he was surprised when we were surprised--shocked, really--that the apple juice he brought Ruchira was green. "Here in Italy we have green apples! Don't you have green applies in America?" Well, yes, but their juice isn't usually green. I feared a terribly skinny concoction, but I got a taste, and it seemed smooth as cream. My orange juice was the sunny hue I'm used to, but the laughing British couple next to us said they'd gotten a shock at lunch when their orange juice came out the color of blood.
Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com


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Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
The Bellman
Mine's On The 45 (Brimful)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Combing the Sphere
Crooked Timber
Daily Dose of Imagery
The Daily Rhino (Bong Breaker)
Dark Days Ahead
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
Daniel Drezner
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Green Ink!
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
India Uncut
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Scott Rosenberg(
Rox Populi
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman

Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
Neil Gaiman
Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud

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