As you’ve likely gathered, A Slight Delay is in the process of a long-overdue facelift, and an equally-overdue return to active service. My activities continue on other sites as well; you can connect to them via the links in the left sidebar while you’re waiting for ASD to be fully back online.
November 14, 2009
It can be hard writing about music, all the “dancing about architecture” stuff aside. You want to say something that will evoke what’s coming through the speakers sometimes, what it makes you feel other times. Actually, forget writing about music; the hard thing sometimes is just listening to it in the first place. Music is all about context. First of all, there’s the pile of emotional baggage that some artists’ work carries with it. Then you also have to deal with a web of connections and connotations that comes with a lifetime of listening to music. Sometimes this is a good thing, especially when that past experience reminds you of something—a throwaway line or bit of phrasing, lyrical or otherwise—that somehow deepens and enriches the experience.
Sometimes, though, it’s just frustrating. I’m reminded of the more frustrating aspect listening to Wale’s debut effort, Attention Deficit.
November 9, 2009
A couple of months ago in this space, I reviewed Gustavo Cerati’s “Deja Vu” as a teaser of sorts to his new album, Fuerza Natural. At the time, I included the disclaimer that it’s pretty difficult to extrapolate the sound of an entire album on the basis of one track, and speculated that this album, like its predecessor Ahi Vamos, was likely to be a more straightforward rock effort. I turned out to be more right on the first point than the second since, as so often happens with Cerati, this disc is anything but straightforward.
A lot of the usual influences are here, including Charly Garcia, Luis Alberto Spinetta, and the ever-present shade of Cerati’s former band, Soda Stereo. There are also surprises here in the echoes of George Harrison and Todd Rundgren. There’s a stopover (“Magia”) in the same ZIP code previously occupied by ELO, and a riff on “Amor Sin Rodeos” that would do a certain Mr. Petty* proud.
November 4, 2009
Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza: Alone in the Crowd. Garcia-Roza’s Espinosa mysteries, of which this is the seventh, need not necessarily be read in sequence. This is a good thing, since that makes this book as good a place to start as any if you’re new to the author. Some series — Armistead Maupin’s beloved Tales of the City books come to mind — tend to rely too heavily on back stories and on the sense of connection that some readers develop with authors’ characters, to a point where the authors seem to skimp on other things that count, like a compelling narrative. It’s to the author’s credit that in this case, as much sense has been paid to crafting a story worth telling, and reading. I won’t spoil the plot (there’s plenty of spoilers available online); suffice it to say, if you’re a fan of Chandleresque detective fiction, with a twist, you’ll find much to enjoy in this book.
Chuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Criticism can be dismal business. I’m reminded of this as I read things that start from the assumption that you can’t say something intellingent about something without a ranking or a handful of stars attached, and some wiseass will likely be reminded of it while reading this.
November 1, 2009
In which we come to the final part of the journey, the part where you scour your vacation destination in search of unique swag to bring back for family and friends. If you’ve ever been to Times Square or the Theater District in Manhattan, or anywhere frequented by tourists in nearly any major metropolitan area in the United States, you’ve already got a pretty good idea of what we encountered in Puerto Rico. In San Juan, one smallish hole-in-the-wall purveyor of cheap Chinese-made tchochkes, in fact, had thoughtfully but bluntly been named, “The Tourist Trap.”
As with any other trip — whether around the world, or around the block — a little persistance pays off. If you’d like something unique from your stay in Puerto Rico, there are two places that we’d highly recommend. This will sound like an advertisement, but rest assured we didn’t receive compensation from either place; we were just overjoyed to find somewhere that wasn’t hawking the same chintzy t-shirts, beach towels, and license plates that you could probably get on the NJ Turnpike (though if that’s your bag, you’ll find no shortage, either in San Juan or in Ponce).
November 1, 2009
The State Department frequently issues travel advisories for various corners of the globe. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, though, you won’t generally see much by way of advisories. This is a bit of a shame, since it would’ve been nice if we’d known before we went that practically the whole island was on strike the day we arrived. The streets of Old San Juan, if not for their distinctive architecture, could easily have been mistaken for a quiet suburb somewhere in Jersey. Both nights we were there, the largest number of people we saw out late at night were a handful of people playing dominoes in the Plaza de Armas. This isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty to do in Puerto Rico. Sure, the museums were mostly shuttered, but once you’ve run the gauntlet of the scores of McDonalds and other chains, there’s plenty to see. A few highlights:
El Morro: This fort is one of a string of fortifications–along with San Cristobal–that defended Old San Juan. If you’re coming to Puerto Rico from the mainland, this can be quite an experience, given that there’s not much on the mainland that’s any older than about three hundred years old, and many of our landmarks are more recent than that. While Puerto Rico has undergone its fair share of development, luckily it hasn’t all been at the expense of a sense of history.
October 25, 2009
My wife and I once spent the better part of a day trying to find a restaurant in New Jersey that served authentic Puerto Rican food. It didn’t turn out to be the easiest thing. I could think of one place in Elizabeth called La Lechonera, but I refused to go back to Elizabeth on general principle, and she remembered a little spot in Lakewood called Yolanda’s Coqui, which was a disappointment. So we were back to square one. Even though New Jersey doesn’t lack for other kinds of Caribbean, central- and south-American, it’s nigh-impossible to find an explicitly Boricua restaurant.
What’s ironic, though, is that Puerto Rico–at least outside of Viejo San Juan–wasn’t exactly an embarrasment of riches when it came to Puerto Rican food either. Luckily, however, it’s not all Chinese, McDonald’s and Pollo Tropical. Read on for a bit of what we found.
October 24, 2009
So we’ve just returned from Puerto Rico. Armed with the knowledge of a week in the Commonwealth, I feel fully qualified to offer this travel guide for your time on the Island of Enchantment.
We’d been warned 1,277 times (conservative estimate) about not drinking the water and told to avoid the streets of San Juan after dark, but this advice, however well-intentioned, only goes so far. The following article picks up where the usual advice leaves off, letting you know where you can find those little touches of home throughout the island, so that you can alleviate homesickness, and so you need not be exposed to the local arts and culture, much less the locals themselves. Fear not; you’ll find reminders of home nearly everywhere you go.
September 10, 2009
In “Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast,” author Patrick McGilligan states that one of the director’s first projects upon coming to America was “Hell Afloat,” a story based on the 1934 Morro Castle fire. It was to have been a typically Langian scenario, full of spies, saboteurs, intrigue, and double-crossing. What the new arrival may not have realized at the time, but would become startlingly apparent over the course of an investigation launched while the linerstill burned on the beach off Asbury Park, is that the story of the S.S. Morro Castle already had intrigue to spare. The people involved could have been made to order by central casting, a motley assortment that included communists, dope smugglers, a haunted and suspicious captain dead under suspicious circumstances, one radio operator suspected of being an agitator and saboteur, and another–the disaster’s unlikely hero–a pedophile and psychopath beneath an unassuming exterior.
The investigation would stretch on for weeks, with passengers, crew, and experts being interviewed and cross-examined. Much as the disaster had been the first to be covered on the radio, so too would the investigation be brought into people’s living rooms. What unfolded may have struck some like a soap opera; passengers accusing seamen and officers of neglect of duty and gross incompetence, while the ship’s crew in turn blamed the passengers for panic and drunkenness and blamed one another for lack of foresight and dereliction of duty, just for good measure. The press, in the meantime, found no rumor or innuendo too small or far-fetched to report. The Morro Castle had run guns to Cuba, and this raised speculation that Communists had set the blaze; the commission also allowed that it might have been spontaneous combustion. Rumors also circulated of looters, stolen jewels, officers shooting sailors, and any number of other things. This is perhaps understandable, in a sense; when the “safest ship afloat” burns in sight of shore with the rapidity of celluloid, anything else must also have seemed possible. In the meantime, the ship’s radio operator George Rogers let slip–after a show of hesitation–that he suspected his assistant radio operator, George Alagna.
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September 9, 2009
A short time after 3 in the morning on September 8, 1934, hysteria seemed to have gripped the Morro Castle as surely as the flames that were consuming the ships’s superstructure. Deck B, where the fire had originated in the ship’s Writing Room, was all but lost, while on Deck A, the flames were closing in on the lifeboats, radio room, and wheelhouse. Decks C and D fared little better, though at least the aft sections of both decks were–for the time being–clear of fire, if not of the bitter, acrid smoke given off by the ship’s wood furnishings and paneling, not to mention layer upon layer of highly inflammable paint, varnish, and polish.
The more passengers awoke, the greater the confusion in the ship’s smoke- and fire-choked passageways. Some passengers were roused by the smell of smoke, some when friends and family pounded on stateroom doors; still others woke to the sounds of stewards clattering pots and pans, or one of the ship’s musicians blowing reville. Nearly all were astonished to find that the fire had not, in fact, been raging for hours while they slept; it was nearly incomprehensible that so much of the vessel should burn so quickly.
The fire’s rapid spread, and accompanying smoke, quickly made the ship’s elevator impassible, and the stairways in public spaces fared no better. While the ship’s crew were aware of, and made use of, steel-sheathed companionways to move between decks, most passengers (save for a few who had been directed to the companionways by crew members) were unaware of their existance. Some passengers were also reluctant to brave the smoke and flames to reach the boats when the fire was less intense, only to find that the way was impassible when they’d finally mustered the courage to try for the lifeboats.
Consequently, most of the passengers, and many of the crew who had tried to help them, found themselves faced with a grim choice: jump–chancing the dark, churning waters in terrible weather conditions–or burn. Some of the crew had, when the fire first broke out, thrown anything bouyant that they could find overboard, in hopes of giving those who jumped over the rails something to cling to. Before the ship’s engines were shut down and the anchor dropped, however, this simply meant that the ship–moving at close to 20 knots into a headwind of about 20-30 miles per hour–left a long wake of flotsam as she moved up the Jersey shore. The fact that the ship was underway also meant certain death for many who jumped overboard and were sucked into her twin screws.
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