24 September 2011

28 March 2009

Estoy buscando la comida mexicana

Another in an occasional series on adapting to life in Vermont:

Back when Howard Dean was running for president, I remember people voicing their concerns that he didn't have the background to govern a country as diverse as the US. I read one news report at the time that said that the population of Vermont was 96% white. I thought, "No, that can't be true!" Well, it's not. It's closer to 98%.

It's been a bit of a shock moving from Oakland to one of the whitest states in the nation. And I'm not sure what this says about me, but I think the thing I miss the most about moving to a less culturally diverse place is the food.

Needless to say, there isn't much Mexican food to be had around here. Because I grew up in Nevada and lived for so long in California, I kind of took for granted that there would be a Mexican place in every town. Even when I lived in Washington, all it took was a drive down South Tacoma Way to find it. But the closest thing within hailing distance that we've found here is a gringo-friendly burrito place in Middlebury. The nearest place we've actually eaten Mexican food is an hour and a half away in Albany, NY.

Rumor has it that there are a handful of Mexican workers in the dairy farms in the county north of us. Because so many are undocumented, though, it's not really clear how many there are. Nor is the population particularly settled, so none of the trappings of an immigrant community have followed them: things like ethnic groceries or taco trucks. God I miss taco trucks.

We do a reasonable job of making Mexican food at home, and we probably make it once a week or so. But there's nothing quite like a taco al pastor from the taco wagon, dripping with pastor juices and juice from those cute little limes that you can only seem to find at the taco truck. My cravings have gotten so desperate that I even went to Taco Bell in Rutland a few weeks ago. What's worse? I kind of enjoyed it.

So that's the state of things here in Vermont. There are certainly a lot of food-related benefits to living here, like knowing the farmer who grew your vegetables and being able to afford enough space to grow them yourself. I guess it's just up to Anne and I to turn those vegetables into Mexican food on our own.

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15 March 2009

Four Seasons

When I lived in California, one thing that always drove me crazy was people grumbling about how California didn't have any seasons. When I found out that we were moving to Vermont, people would often say was that they were happy for us because we were moving somewhere that had "real" seasons. As an ecologist, I would argue that a region's climate is its climate, and you shouldn't try to shoehorn the weather into some preconceived notion about how the seasons should change. And by that reasoning, coastal California does have seasons, if only two of them: rainy and dry.

But now we live in a place with four, legitimate seasons. We moved to Vermont in the summer, which is pretty miserable. It's hot and muggy (though not as hot and muggy as places further south of us). The fall, by contrast, is great. The weather is cooler and drier, and the leaves are as dramatical as everyone says they are. Winter is great, too (if a bit long), especially because we can walk to work and don't have to drive in the snow too often. Spring on the other hand, is the biggest let-down because the part we routinely associate with spring (trees leafing out, flowers blooming, etc.) lasts about two weeks.

Of course, Vermonters aren't satisfied with having only four seasons. Oh no, that would be too simple. Summer is just summer, like everywhere else. The fall, on the other hand, gets subdivided into two distinct parts: leaf season (when the leaves are colorful) and stick season (when the leaves are gone but the snow hasn't hit). Oddly, winter, even though it lasts about six months, is just winter.

Which brings us to our current season. The late winter/early spring also has its own name: mud season. This comes at the point in the year when you're most antsy to get outside because it's starting to warm up (it was in the 50s today). But there's absolutely nowhere to go that isn't covered in knee-deep muck, or a hybrid of unmelted snow and knee-deep muck. Snowshoe and ski season has ended, but hiking is out of the question. So we Vermonters just grit our collective teeth and grumble about the fact that summer is just around the corner but that the corner seems to be constantly just out of reach, like something you can only see with your peripheral vision. In a month or so, the leaves will be back on the trees, and we'll be surrounded by a green of seizure-inducing intensity. In the interim, I'll try to appreciate this mirror-image of stick season and enjoy the fact that my down coat has (hopefully) been retired for another year.

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07 March 2009

Yo! Spring Beak!

We Green Mountain Eagles have next week off for spring break, and every year around this time "Yo! Spring Break!" by Justin Time flashes into my head. What? You say you don't remember it? To be honest, I don't know why I do, because I only remember seeing it once or twice on Yo! MTV Raps at Roger's house. But I decided this year I would see if I could track it down, and thank you internets, I found the video on YouTube. I don't think you can say 1990 more convincingly without Dwayne Wayne's flip-shades.

Extra special kudos to anyone who can identify the hook that's sampled under the chorus. It's some classic rock staple like Foghat or BTO, but I can't quite place it.

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15 February 2009

Happy (belated) Darwin Day!

I hope you all had a nice Darwin Day on last Thursday (2/12) celebrating the bicentennial of Darwin's birth. (And Abraham Lincoln's, too. What an odd coincidence.) I made cupcakes for my history of science class and we watched part of a NOVA video on Evolution that includes some entertaining re-enactments of Darwin's life, including Darwin wooing his cousin (ew!) Emma Wedgwood. Hopefully they'll remember the cupcakes when I make them read On the Origin of Species later in the semester.

Anne and I also went to a Darwin party that night at our friends Erin and Lindsey's house, where we feasted on finch wings (ok, they were chicken) and a tortoise-shaped cake and drank Captain Fitzroy's rum and Cokes. They probably didn't have Coke on the Beagle, but no need to deprive ourselves. We had a couple rounds of Darwin trivia and even played a rousing game of Pin the Beak on the Finch. I did ok with the trivia, but not so well with the beak game. Maybe next year....

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08 February 2009

The Rest is Noise

I've been meaning to pimp a book that I read over the break, and I've finally gotten around to writing about it. It's a history of 20th century classical music called The Rest is Noise, and it's by Alex Ross, a music writer for the New Yorker. I've always been interested in "modern" classical music, but I didn't know much beyond Shoenberg's twelve tones and John Cage giving concertos of radios tuned to different stations. I read a flattering review of the book on Salon, so I figured I'd read it and learn a little bit more. One of the things I particularly liked about the book was Ross' ability not to just write about the way the music developed throughout the century, but to tie these developments to the social and cultural changes that accompanied them. For example, he has three sequential chapters in the center of the book that describe the way that the twin forces of government funding and censorship impacted the composition and performance of classical music in Stalin's Russia, Nazi Germany, and the US during the New Deal.

All of this would have added up to an interesting and informative book, but what really put it over the edge and made it blog-worthy was the companion website. Each chapter gets its own page with linked video and audio. So while reading about the dissonant sequence during the Rite of Spring that sent Parisian audiences into a frenzy, you can go to the website and listen to a clip of the same section. I thought this was a great example of using multimedia to expand on the printed page, and it really enhanced my reading of the book. I was even inspired to go out and buy a couple CD's of music that I'd read about in the book, and I doubt I would have done that if I hadn't had the music clips to round out my experience.


29 January 2009

Happy Birthday Mac!

Last Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the first Mac, ushered in by that famous Super Bowl commercial. I've only been a Mac user for the past year and a half (or a mere 6% of the lifetime of the Mac). But at risk of sounding like a total fanboy, I haven't enjoyed owning a computer this much since my Commodore 64. If you want to wallow in fandom like me, MacWorld has some bite-sized features covering the history of the Mac over at its website. Anyone else remember Shufflepuck Cafe?