Today was Thursday. My Library day. I’m lucky to live a block away from the main branch; I go there on Thursday afternoons to get a photocopy of the NYT Magazine Sunday Crossword Puzzle and read anything that appeals to me in the rest of the magazine, and to read whatever story is in The New Yorker for the week. It’s been dicey, last week they didn’t have either of the new issues up, so this week I got two crosswords (and an Acrostic) and two stories (“Axis” by Alice Munro from January 31, and “Honor” by Tessa Hadley), which I’ll be reading and posting about shortly.
But that isn’t what made it an interesting afternoon.
Most of the “square” area of Monument Square (Portland’s center of town) was roped off with Caution ribbon. No construction was going on, although there was a structure towards the statue side of the plaza. I thought at first it was a band stage, though that would be odd in the winter. There are concerts every week in the summer, but given it was in the teens today, that wasn’t likely. Besides, the structure was very tall, taller than the statue. And a mechanized snow blower of giant proportion was playing with snow banks.
The library window looked out on this scene, and it was a lot warmer to watch from in there. A woman was talking on her cell phone about the snow blower but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. When she hung up I asked her what was going on. Turns out there’s some big snowboarding competition coming up with weekend. The structure is the “track” and the snow blower is providing, you guessed it, snow. The area is roped off because, well, the snow blower isn’t quite that precise, and snow was flying all over.
You can tell what a sheltered, boring life I lead by realizing that this passed for excitement.
But what awaited me in the pages of the magazines was even more interesting. The cover story of the NYT Magazine is about Shaken Baby Syndrome: how innocent people may be in jail because of the theory, which is in the on-second-thought stage. And the New Yorker included an article about childhood allergies, and how it maybe isn’t such a good idea to avoid exposing infants to peanuts and other allergens, because it just might be this actually increases the chances of future allergic reactions, contrary to what we’ve been told for the past couple of decades.
How interesting. Two medical theories fall in one week. Then again, I’m still miffed about margarine. I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food a few weeks ago, and I’m with him on his basic principles:
Eat food (your grandmother, or great-grandmother if under 40, must recognize it, it must contain no more than 5 ingredients, and cannot contain the words “hydrogenated” or “high-fructose” or anything unpronounceable; Not too much; and Mostly plants. Seems like a nice reasonable approach to me. The guys with the degrees keep changing their minds every generation or so. Maybe it’s time to take their advice with a grain of salt – oops, except, The Man just announced a cutback in the amount of salt we’re allowed to eat, so maybe not.
Other interesting things I found: the ingredient in Jamaican Oxtail Soup that makes it so delicious is “browning”, aka burnt sugar essence, which is pretty much what it sounds like: sugar that is burned and mixed with water. Commercial versions (it’s scary to make and apparently many pots have been lost in the process) are available wherever Caribbean stores are found. It imparts that umami essence so indefinable and treasured, and while MSG or soy plus Worcestershire sauce might imitate it, there is apparently no real substitute. Now I want me some burnt sugar essence.
Then there’s the small-people-texture story. People slipped into architectural models to make them more real to life, more human. People taken out of context and plopped in front of a brand new house some builder wants to sell. Or an office building a firm is about to construct. A company called Falling Pixel (don’t you just love that?) makes CDs of these pluggable people. “120 Casual People” ($70) as the article notes, is a passable title for a comedy film. Maybe an idea for a story? And Realworld Imagery offers 104 Business People. For a little more. Because business people are worth more than casual people. Thing is, I vaguely remember a PBS documentary on advertising, how they shot photos of people doing all manner of things (skateboarding, dancing) in public, then turned them into black silhouettes, added a white cord, and shazaam! iPod ads were born.
I just read another blogger said Thursdays are odd days that don’t really fit anywhere on the spectrum. Sometimes Thursdays are cool. Mine was.