I knew it was just a matter of waiting…

Salk Institute scientists report that they have turned ordinary mice into marathon racers with a single mutation. They immediately leap to the conclusion that an “exercise pill” is just around the corner. They’re scientists, they must know. And I want one!

Posted in General Musings |

Amsterdam: Two Wheels Good

I first learned to ride a bicycle in the bazaar in Udaipur when I was nearly 30, and frankly it’s lucky we all got out of there in one coherent chunk.

We rented our steel-girder Hero bikes from a nearby stand, choosing carefully from the two size selections available at the time, Vast and Towering. I don’t recall gears; I think the bikes had back-pedal brakes, and I know the seats adjusted only with the deft intervention of a machine shop, which we did not have handy.

I’m low-slung, myself, but the guys would not rent me a woman’s bike, explaining that the high central strut was specially placed for the masculine physique, the better to make soup of nuts, if you take my meaning. Americans in India are fragile, phthisic creatures, pale of habit, drenched in gadgetry, pills, lotions, purifiers, money, and foolish custom. The thought of a white man clattering down the market on the wrong gender bicycle was apparently too much to bear. I might have no good sense myself, but they would cheerfully turn me out on the proper machine for my sex. They obliged; they insisted; it was inevitable. Thinking lovely thoughts I hopped up toward the seat and mounted the thing, which promptly lurched off toward the nearest cliff edge at speed. You’ll want to remember that my only way to stop was to come flying off to one side or the other, in a sort of controlled apocalypse.

If you’ve never been in an Indian bazaar, picture the SoHo branch of Old Navy, say a week before Christmas. Now imagine that they’re giving away free iPods to everyone who stays in the store for an hour or more. Now imagine that everyone in there is shouting irrelevant instructions at everyone else, waving wildly to bring their points home. Now imagine that it’s 90 degrees and parched, with a few elephants wandering around. Now imagine no one is picking up after the elephants.

Why the bike rental stand was at the top of the bazaar and not the bottom of the bazaar is a whole nother issue for a whole nother day. Anyway, when we pushed off the first thing I did was terrorize a few near-miss pedestrians and then smack into the side of a passing cow. I’m not making the cow thing up, either. The cow was nonplussed, the crowd appalled.

The Netherlands has more bikes than people, and if you line up every bicycle in Amsterdam end to end, well, that’s pretty much what traffic is like most of the time. Our Gracious Host rounded up enough rides for all four of us, and in our test drive to the butcher shop we hardly hit anything of consequence. So off we wheeled across town to the Brouwerij ‘t Ij (Ij is pronounced “eye,” and for a web site with actual content check the Shelton Brothers profile), a quaint and scenic independent brewery quartered in a converted bathhouse next to a stately greying windmill.

After a few beers and a spate of sun we were in no shape to go riding anywhere, so we mounted up and rode off to another bar, where we contemplated our folly over another round and then wobbled off homeward again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Our Brouwerei ‘t Ij favorite was the deep, strong Columbus; a few days later we passed an afternoon in the wide warm embrace of their Struis (Ostrich), an eccentric take on the barleywine style that was simply delicious.

And not a cow in sight on the trek home. Lucky thing, too.

Posted in General Musings |

Amsterdam: Grok the Gracht

By reputation, Amsterdam is a smoldering crucible of sin, scandal, and iniquity, casually decked with a garland of nested canals. In fact, Amsterdam is a friendly, popular, and diverse city which gives every indication of being a terrific place to live, despite wandering packs of tourists in search of sin, scandal, and iniquity.

Crisp new Euros - Friendly papersThere’s no link on “friendly” above because I find only gay-friendly, bike-friendly, drug-friendly, child-friendly and family-friendly as destinations, along with dozens of friendly hotels which aren’t specific in their friendliness but are united in wanting your crisp new Euros. Happily, the Dutch are nice even if you are not gay, on a bike, under the influence of drugs, carrying a child, with your family, or staying in their hotel. Though mostly they tend to stay out of a guy’s way, especially when he’s wearing a t-shirt that was so obviously American that it invaded several small innocent nations before I even put it on.

Our Man on the Keizersgracht put us up for the week while his family was away. The ostensible mission was to clear out the mustydusty and mysterious beer he’d stocked up in the cellar, but despite an afternoon or two on the warm dappled dock lazily working through a few damaged bottles from decommissioned breweries, we hardly made a dent. The Good Stuff eluded, by and large. One of the strangest excursions was into the small depths of a bottle of De Koninck that we think was around 20 years old: like the uncertain bottle of 1994 Achouffe from last December, it had aged into liquid neutrality. Deeper than water and without any particular taste — all tawny promise, without matter — it drank like time passing.

In other news, a mosquito has bitten me good on the back of my left leg.

Posted in General Musings |

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

We three Pepper principals – Pierre and I, and Silent Seth – are bound for Amsterdam this afternoon. Nudge nudge, wink wink, yes, apparently they consume narcotics in Amsterdam, who knew. Believe it or not, we’re going for the beer, but that’s another story, and we’ll tell it when we’re back.

“Avez vous remarqué que les canaux concentriques d’Amsterdam ressemblent aux cercles de l’enfer?” — Albert Camus, La Chute

There’s bound to be some Net access in the week we’re over there, and blogging from abroad is probably not how we’re going to put it to use. Until the 19th or so you can excavate our 10 archival months in the Word Sandbox for your Pepper of the Earth fix, check out our friendly Colonel Mustard blogroll and Merriment links (five new ones!), or stay away in droves. Your call. There probably won’t be any new writing until then.

In the meantime, here is a listing of some of our Favorite Follies and Blasts from the Past for the fair of heart and faithful, or the comfy and curious. Read them for the first time, or peruse your way down memory’s peppery lane. It’s a generous helping, sample or ignore ‘em at will. Links open in a single new window.

PG-13 Woad House: My parody summary of King Arthur in 15-minute movie style is our top single entry to date, with a thousand or so referrals. That’s equal to a bazillion hits, in Pepper currency.

SXSW 2004 Au Poivre: Our massive daily rundown of the SXSW 2004 Music Conference in Austin is comprehensive coverage, with photo galleries, daily columns, and underdog reviews.

Pretty azza Picture: Pepper photo gallery posts include parade marchers, garish costumes, scary tattoos, and sometimes all three at once.

Pepper of the Earth Dailies: Some classic posts, new and old, culled from among the ranks of many other ones that were also good and are now thereby jealous that they didn’t get picked. Sorry, don’t mind me, I still haven’t packed yet.

Selected Movie Reviews:

Posted in General Musings |

It’s gotta be true, ’cause you read it here!

Brazilian scientists have decoded the genome of the coffee plant, according to the BBC. Bully for them! But…

Having studied 200,000 strands of DNA, they have identified 35,000 coffee genes, a combination of which gives the drink its aroma and flavour.

“We are going to create a super-coffee that everyone can benefit from eventually,” [the agriculture minister Roberto Rodrigues] told reporters in Brasilia.

He said this would be achieved naturally through cross-pollination of coffee plants and not through genetic modifications in a laboratory.

200,000 strands of DNA, huh? Each one hand-picked and roasted to perfection, I bet. And the flavour of those genes! Cafezinho, genezinho, as long as they love their mother…

And isn’t it wonderful how DNA sequencing suddenly lets coffee pollinate itself?

Numskulls.

Posted in General Musings |

Dada! Dada! Dada!

In a post-modern neo-surrealist fit of existential à-proposism, famed star of the DVD Jenna Jameson is set to sign her literary opus How to Make Love Like a Porn Star on Tuesday, August 17th. Where else but at the Virgin megastore…

Ya just can’t make this up!

Posted in General Musings |

You call that an udder?

This is an udder!

The BBC reports:

One of Australia’s largest agricultural shows has been engulfed in scandal after four people were disqualified for “udder-tampering”.

Two cattle owners and two groomers were excluded from the Royal Queensland Show for injecting an unknown substance into their cows’ udders to make them larger.

I say … Oy Vieh! Continue reading

Posted in General Musings |

Just (Don’t) Do It

By the not-packed state of things, it’s pretty easy to tell that I am heading off to Amsterdam tomorrow. I might be a bit more sanguine if the laundry were done, but hey, that’s what the last minute is for: doing everything you didn’t do in all those other minutes.

Some fun, then, before we go. The boldface titles are links to sources, today; you can’t make this stuff up.

A Guy Walks into the Bar: In Hong Kong, government prosecutor Roderick Murray drank two martinis and a few beers, then headed in to court to whoop it up at a sentencing hearing. He giggled, clapped, drummed his fingers on the desk and wore sunglasses in session until the judge took offense, and then retreated outside where he posed as Rodin’s “The Thinker” for photos. Fraternity stunt? Reality show? Too many Twinkies?

No Ifs, Ands, or Butts: At a July wedding in Manila, ex-cousin-of-the-bride Benjie Ganay slipped and touched his cousin’s bootay as he fell. The bride’s father, Eladio Baule, got angry at this, and rounded up his son, another cousin, and a handy nephew to defend the bride’s honor. So they hustled Ganay off to a “secluded place,” stabbed him to death, roasted the body with kerosene and coconut leaves, and then ate some bits and served other leftovers to the rest of the wedding party. Presumably it tasted like chicken.

Don’t Know Much About History: If you live in the 53 states of the U.S.A., with its four branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial and administrative), you’re surely familiar with the two houses of Congress – the Senate for Democrats, and the House for Republicans. And you’ve probably read that famous Arthur Miller play, Death of a Traveling Salesman. If so, you are a student, probably Hispanic, in L.A.’s California Alternative High School, where they taught you all of the above and charged you as much as $1,450 for a worthless paper that said “Diploma” on it. Either that, or you are the Republican candidate for President; one of those two things.

Seconds of Pleasure, 107 of Them: While your mileage may vary, Berlin’s Humboldt Uni(versity) tells us that the male orgasm lasts 10 to 13 seconds. I had never counted. Female orgasms are reported lasting between 7 and 107 seconds, with muscle contractions measured as long as 51 seconds. Me, if I had an orgasm for 107 seconds, I’d probably never walk again. Confirming a truly sad state of affairs, this sexology page reports, per Kinsey, that 75% of men reach orgasm within 2 minutes, which has got to suck. Women average 20 minutes to reach orgasm, with the shortest reported time to orgasm clocking in at a scant 15 seconds. They don’t give her phone number.

Nothing Else Matters: I’m not sure how I could have missed the 2004 International Conference About Nothing this past February, but I’ll make it up somehow. Meantime, the inimitable, inevitable, ineffable popular astrologer Rob Brezsny has this message to Tauri for the week ending tomorrow:

To hint at the potentials of the coming week, I’ll appropriate the words of avant-garde music composer and author, John Cage. In describing his work, he once said, “I have nothing to say/ and I am saying it/ and that is poetry.” Here’s an altered version, Taurus, created especially to suit your current astrological needs: You have nothing to do/ and you are doing it/ and that’s your genius.

Which about sums it up.

Posted in General Musings |

Eli, Hale

Eli at Work Toys in Boyland
Eli with Lobster Pot An Eli's Day is Never Done
Water Sports Let's All Go Fly a Kite

Last weekend I was up in Maine with my family, sneezing up the state, eating everything that wasn’t nailed down, and hanging out with my folks and extended sibs: Dad the Painter, Mom the Birdwatching Retired Attorney, Ballet Dancer Brother who rarely comes by these parts, Travelin’ Brother who is back from Australia or someplace equally upside-down for a spell, and un-Googleable Sister and Bro-by-Marriage.

Sister and Bro-by-Law are pretty invisible from the Internet, which is probably because they’ve got their real-life hands full with little Eli. At a tickled three and a half years, Eli the Nephew is the first child in our immediate family. And since this is a blog, there he is. Innee cute?

Posted in General Musings |

Spruce Bruce

Like Arthur Dent of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I never mastered Thursdays. Or at least that’s what it feels like today, and it’s Thursday, isn’t it? Q.E.D.

And don’t get me started on mathematical induction, while we’re being postulationist: in high school my friends Michael and Michael and Michael and I once used that happy device to prove that everyone in the world was named “Michael” (with Linus in the rôle of the Exception That Proves The Rule). There was a minor logical flaw, as I recall. But surely just a little one.

Today’s New York Times has a beautiful op-ed piece written by international local hero Bruce Springsteen. I’m often on the fence about the opinions of our actors and musicians. Many – not all – are thoughtful and worthy with ideas; many more are not. Bob Dylan had something to say; Jimi Hendrix, even covering Bob Dylan, was not perhaps quite the same sage, though the words had power in his mouth.

Bruce Springsteen’s article is short and strong, and worth reading.

It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities – respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals – that we come to life in God’s eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.

Anyway, politics is in the air, as it so frequently and blessedly is not in these parts. I chalk it up to Thursdays. I never did get the hang of Thursdays.

Link via Cipherdom — thanks for the fingerpost, Vernam.

Posted in General Musings |