(I took the header picture of a Common Loon resting on a pond in Utah on its way north in June of 2015. It was in transition from winter to summer plumage.)

Translate - I dare you. Then make a comment on the funny errors the translator made.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Quill/brasscast: Thoughts about roots, cut short

I wrote this with a quill and with two metal nibs, trying out some "new" old paper, while keeping track of a two-year-old.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fictional foods: apricot experiment update

So last month I posted about salting a bunch of apricots.  I've done some more work on them.  A few days after I started, I saw that the brine was slowly leaking out from the bags, and so I combined both batches into one and put them in a pickle jar.  So much for trying out different kinds of salt.

This is what they looked like after sitting for a month.
 The umeboshi recipe I was working with said to sterilize the vessel with vodka before putting them in it, but we don't keep vodka in the house, and besides, I kind of thought the whole point of people discovering how to preserve food in salt was so that you could, you know, put it in things like jars and barrels without it spoiling?  I've made sauerkraut before in glass jars after just washing them in hot water, and my dad grew up making sauerkraut by packing the cabbage and salt into the barrel with the end of a baseball bat.  So I took a risk: as long as my jar, cup and rocks (to weigh the fruit down and keep it in the brine) were clean, I'd see what happened.  As you can see, they looked fine, and as you can't smell, they smelled just like vegetable matter fermenting in brine should smell.

The next step was to dry them in the sun.  Since I currently have Wednesdays off from work, I decided to let them sit out that day last week and see how dry they'd get.  After all, strictly speaking I'm not making umeboshi, just something very close.
Just out of the jar, drying on a cut-up old undershirt (washed, of course) and paper bag.
At first I kept moving them to stay in the sun while keeping them close to the house, and then when my sweetie had finished running errands, I put them on top of the car.  I thought they might dry out more at the end of the day, but after bringing them in, I decided to pack them into a clean dry glass jar and see what happened.


After a day in the sun.

After a few days in the jar, after drying.  You can see the thicker brine that's seeping out in the bottom.

So they've been sitting in their jar for a week, and so far they're doing fine.  I used one in a bowl of beans I took to work, and I have to say they work very nicely with pinto beans.  Their flavor is not quite like umeboshi: its almost metallic, and is taking some getting used to, but I'll keep experimenting to see what they go well with.

 I'm looking forward to tasting them in a few months and finding out how the flavor develops.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quest cooking: calabacitas

About a year ago I started a Wordpress blog called Quest for the Flame, wherein I started writing about my experiments with efficient wood stoves, among other things.  It's been months since I posted there, and lately on reflection I've found it redundant and too much effort to keep up so many blogs with so much else demanding my time.  So I've more or less abandoned that blog.  Today I'm going to post here about my most recent experience cooking with one of my homemade stoves.

This stove is a rocket stove, made with a #10 can and some smaller food cans.  You can read instructions on making your own here, if you're a cheapskate like me and don't want to pay for one of the really nice ones from SilverFire or Ecozoom; and/or you like to make things yourself.  I've experimented with woodgas stoves too, which I love the idea of, but I've found this rocket stove the easiest to use for cooking.  (BTW, those instructions show a dremel and fiberglass insulation; I used tin snips and perlite.)

After having cooked several pots of rice over this, I scored a big stainless steel wok at the local DI, and since a traditional wok stove is very much like a rocket stove, I thought that using the wok for stir-frying would be a perfect way to use mine.  Yesterday I did my second stir-fry using this, and it turned out beautifully.  The setting was Nunn's Park, close to the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon, a favorite picnic and walking spot.  It was crowded, but we were lucky enough to find a table with a grill, where I set up.


The stove is so efficient that I cooked the dish with only these three sticks - and didn't even burn them all up!
This was a simple dish, more or less a version of calabacitas, using some of the plentiful summer produce we're swimming in.  First, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, with some garlic:

- next, tomatoes with salt and Turkish Seasoning from Penzeys:

- and after that had simmered a bit, scallions and cilantro:

When it was all done, I doused the stove quickly (park regulations forbid open fires during this dry summer) and we enjoyed a nice compliment to our other picnic fare.

Almost no smoke, a good consistent hot flame making for a quick cooking time, and a tasty result.  I hope this gives some useful ideas, and thanks to my beautiful and talented sweetie for taking pictures!

If you want to see more food you can cook on a rocket stove, watch the youtube channel Solid Fuel Cooking, from the Netherlands.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

More heart's blood

I mentioned in a previous post a regrettable decline in pioneer values that I perceive in the developing towns along the Wasatch Front.  Where I live you can see a curious mix of old houses in reasonably good shape, decrepit buildings where closed businesses once stood, and newer stores, office buildings and roads built to accommodate and encourage the post-industrialist consumer lifestyle of today.  It is always sad to me to see how often the older buildings with a cozier, more human, more convivial spirit to them get left to decay and then swept aside, or re-purposed: along one length of a principal street are several lovely old houses that now hold retail businesses (existing perhaps tenuously) or professional offices.

To me this is all a betrayal and defeat of the vision that settled this area, and to my view an honest assessment of the current social and economic order of the Mormon heartland must confess that we have a sad state of affairs.  Land that could be productive, used to house people in modesty, industry and communal self-reliance is regularly parceled out to build luxurious dwellings at obscene prices.  Small businesses feel they must curry favor with the trendy whims of indifferent consumers in order to survive: it is harder and harder to count on a robust spirit of 2 Nephi 26:30 to keep any enterprise afloat (and you can just forget about verse 31).

An unreflective enthusiasm for a gospel of growth and prosperity gives carte blanche to expressions of arrogance and greed that are embarrassing and insulting to an idealistic viewer.  I think it no coincidence that Hugh Nibley wasn't allowed to fulfill a career of scholarly inquiry and social criticism in peace without his persona and legacy being yanked into extremes of adulatory folklore and allegations of the most sordid private sins: our culture has little tolerance and less use for principled and consistent critiques.  And attempted critiques regularly veer into reactionary political stances, which I also find very sad and self-defeating.

But I realize too that self-reliance is hard, and not exciting or sexy.  I think a great deal of the consumer mindset that produces such callous effects worldwide in fact is rooted in the desire for miraculous deliverance: how wonderful it is, after all, to see something like a new restaurant arise from the ground, and to spread its large printed advertisements across the land for miles, with no effort from me!  Is it not something like an experience of grace, to be able to simply walk into a clean, climate-controlled, brightly-lit and fragrant space, with nothing required of me other than to be served, to make my selection, and then have the freedom to leave in search of another similar environment?  Granted, we have to pay for the things we get here, but beyond the money we part with for specific goods and services, the larger message is of this abundance from above and afar: these brands, these buildings, this infrastructure comes to us, lifts us up, and asks nothing more of the worthy among us other than an attentive duty to the specialized abstracted tasks laid out before us in yet another climate-controlled and brightly-lit space.

I think that all this truly fees like heaven to many, many people, in an unconscious or at least little-examined way.  My conscience, in exercise with my intellect, is still set against it, but I have a clearer understanding of it now.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 4: Enjoy Life chips (dark, 69%)

Ha!  Thought I'd forgotten about this?  Or dropped it?  I've been doing more tastings, have several notes to type up and share.  Here's one.

Chocolate chips, as I've written before, are good for making into a beverage because they melt so quickly.  Recently I discovered the chocolate made by Enjoy Life: pure, vegan, hypo-allergenic, "paleo-friendly" (as if stone-age hunters would have eaten this!) chocolate that tastes quite good.




And they make chips that are 69% cacao, which is practically perfect.

Here's what we did:

75 g (5 Tb) of these baking morsels
~1 tsp vanilla (I always eyeball it)
4 oz boiling water

It reminded me somewhat of the Baker's, but darker.  It seemed heavy on low-medium notes, with a flavor that reminded me of chocolate ice cream, or chocolate Silk.  It had a good balance of sweet and bitter.  Not quite as deep or complex as others, but a nice solid comfy taste - I can definitely imagine this as a perfect camp drink!  The aftertaste was more roasty than orchid-y, with a bit of lingering fuzz.

My sweetie gave it a thumbs up: a "normal" taste, she said, "straight up chocolate."  Our seven-year-old called it "a little bitter but otherwise good."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A writing milestone

A few weeks ago I received my first rejection notice as a fiction writer.  I had submitted a short story to a local contest back in March, a story I had drafted last year and spent a great deal of time working into what I thought was a nicely polished state.  I sent it in, and then I went back to creeping ahead on my novel.

Every once in a while I'd wonder when I might hear something; it seemed like it was taking a long time.  And then the message arrived in my inbox.  At first I was quite hopeful - I thought I'd written a pretty interesting story, or at least a well-told one.  So I'm ashamed to admit it, but admit it I will: I was crushed.

And then I went and had another look at that story I was so proud of, and you know what?  It's crap.  It's hastily written, it's vague, it's boring, it's irrelevant . . . what ever possessed me to enter it into a contest?

So, there's just one thing to do, isn't there: go back and revise it, and this time take my time to do it right.  I might just be old enough by now to accept this as a necessary part of the process of getting published - after all, I've been through it before, from the academic side.  It's been a few years, and I had forgotten what it was like.

Writers who get published often amass large collections of rejection notices from their early attempts.  I like to think that getting this first one was a breaking of some kind of ice, and now that I've started on this stage I'm that much closer to my goal.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fictional foods: experiments with apricots

I've spent a lot of time building my world, and part of the process of making it as rich and realistic as I can is thinking about what people eat there.  Over the years I've done quite a bit of experiments in the kitchen as I've concocted and invented recipes that I imagine might be on the tables of various lands and peoples.  Something that I'd like to do some day for LTUE would be to help organize a potluck meal with participants bringing dishes from stories they liked - or wrote, or are writing.  M.K. Hutchins, whom I met at the 2014 meeting, had that idea, and I need to talk to her about it again.

You should read her blog: she puts recipes up there, for fictional foods as well as for authentic Aztec chocolate.  And you should read her stories.

So it's apricot season here in Utah, and a nice neighbor let us go and pick from her tree.  This was last week, and the fruits were only just starting to ripen - everywhere I drive I see trees loaded with fruit and it makes me sad.  There's more than I can ever pick or use, and apparently more than most people want to pick or use - one more lamentable loss of pioneer values.  I'll make a quick plug here, to any readers in the Wasatch Front area, for the Glean Utah and Glean Provo Facebook groups.  They need a lot more attention, as do the fruit trees around here.

So, in my tiny attempt to do my part, and enlisting the help of a zealous seven-year-old, I ended up with a lot of apricots that are not quite ripe.  I ate as many as I could, and I still had all these others sitting here, and outside there are still more and more ripening.  I thought about what I could do with these, and I decided that with the ripest ones I would make freezer jam.

And with the unripe ones, I got this crazy idea: what would happen if I packed them with salt and let them sit?  My Japanese cousins had introduced me to umeboshi years before, and I remembered that those aren't really plums but a certain variety of apricot.  Would plain old apricots work?  I did a search and found exactly what I was looking for: yes!

I thought to myself: this is Japanese, but the ingredients - apricots and salt - are plentiful in Utah, and of course also in the environment where much of my work in progress takes place (one of the states there owes its wealth to the salt trade).  So why wouldn't the people in my world preserve some of their apricots in this way?  How they might use these pickled fruits in their cuisine?

So I got started: washed the fruits and picked out the unblemished ones,



packed them in bags with salt (and a bit of vinegar)

I used sea salt for the one on the left, and Himalayan pink salt on the right.  I didn't have enough Real Salt (from Redmond, UT) left to use on this.

and put the bags in a dark cupboard where they'll sit for the next month.

Meanwhile, I also found out that Mexico has a similar food tradition: saladitos and chamoy.  After all, why not?  If you have certain ingredients available, people are going to figure out different ways to combine them.  It just goes to show that while we might identify certain foods or ingredients with a certain culture or place, the world is wide and varied, and the human imagination even more so.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A very short Sunday post

It's late, I'm tired, I go to work very early in the morning, so I should be going to bed soon, but I don't want to go to bed soon because I just got my children down and I have some quiet time to myself.  That is an extremely rare commodity these days - no, not a commodity, a luxury.  Two weeks or so ago I wrote about doing a post every Sunday, so naturally Sundays have made themselves very difficult to post here.  But I'm crawling along, and so here are these words.

This evening we all went for a walk in a local park which we like very much.  It has trails among tall trees (mostly elm, I think, with some maple and scrub oak) and on summer evenings when the golden light of the lowering sun hits those trees it creates a magical effect.  But depending on where you go in there it can also be kind of eerie: there are bits of old rusted discarded things in odd places, and there are also bits of old concrete constructions that look almost like long-abandoned war fortifications.  We explored some of the narrower trails going up the dirt slopes under the elms, and at times I was strongly reminded of the Tarkovsky film Stalker, which I haven't seen for years.

It's the sort of place I can imagine being afraid of when I was younger, or that some older people might be afraid of, the sort of place you can well imagine people gathering for all kinds of sinister purposes.  But in fact, it's a disc golf course, so the greatest dangers are: 1. falling down and 2. getting in the way of people throwing their discs and annoying them.

I like the town where we live.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Zhneshtotmatlitszeth-n'

Today I'm feeling grateful for not taking a bad path in my life.

This has to do with the kind of music I listen to. Music is such an important part of life for so many of us that it's important to be mindful of what music we're listening to and why. I feel good about the music I listen to, which gives my life more richness than I can know. I know I take it for granted most of the time, especially now with the internet.

When I was young I was in danger of going down a wrong path with my music, allowing other people to shape my listening choices in regrettable ways.

I'm talking about rock and roll.

Specifically, I'm talking about how some people tried to stop me from listening to rock and roll, and for a while I was in danger of following their misguided warnings.

I was young and impressionable when I first heard scandalized reports of the evils of rock music: bands with names like Black Sabbath and The Grateful Dead – horrors! It wasn't quite like the movie Footloose – I didn't live in a small town and the church had no problem with dancing (of the right kind), but the knee-jerk fear of the strange and different was just as strong at home and at church. I remember telling my younger sister that rock and roll was devil worship and that I wasn't going to listen to it.

I didn't keep that resolution for very long, for two reasons: my older sister's discovery of MTV and my older brothers' record collection that they left behind when they went away to college. It was a treasure trove, full of Led Zeppelin, Rush, Yes and the like. And as my sister continued to sneak views of MTV at night, she started buying more records of the bands she was hearing: mid-80s stars like Ratt, Cinderella, Poison, Def Leppard, Guns n Roses . . . my parents were very worried. I could tell that there was illicit subject matter in some of the stuff, but I had no clue that “Pour some sugar on me” was supposed to be a sexual metaphor, and I thought that Van Halen must be heavenly messengers after I watched the video of the Blue Angels stunt flying to “Dreams.”

This went on for some years, and as adolescence eroded my innocence I did sometimes suffer pangs of conscience for listening to some of the music that I did. Every once in a while I had to confront some explicit warnings from the authorities. Some I could shrug off without too much guilt, like my youth leader who thought that Queensrÿche's nifty logo looked Satanic. Others were harder to ignore.

One Sunday when I was 17, the Priests' Quorum lesson consisted of a recorded talk by some minor general authority about the perils of inappropriate music. I don't remember the who or when or where the talk had been recorded, but I had heard plenty of this kind of thing over the years, and progressing through my youth I had developed quite a selective ear for the rock music I liked so much. I knew the Rolling Stones were right out, of course, because of the story of Gene R. Cook talking to Mick Jagger on an airplane and hearing out of Mick's own mouth that their music was calculated to drive teens to have sex. (You can read about this in several places, for example here and here.)

In truth, I've always found the Rolling Stones a bit boring, so that wasn't really a problem. I had put aside a lot of rock and especially pop music that I decided was not worth my time – in fact, my 18th year of life was when I was most heavily into Rush and Queensrÿche, and had decided that a lot of other rock music just didn't measure up to those standards. Not to mention that I could see how many of my youth leaders, in being worried about heavy metal, completely missed the more blatant sexual messages in the more mild-sounding pop music they listened to.

So I was feeling pleased with myself as I listened to this talk, and allowed myself a bit of arch amusement at this old guy's immoderate hysteria about rock music, and then he dropped the bomb. He mentioned a song that everybody knew about which had the hidden lyric “Here's to my sweet Satan.” He mentioned this as an example of the really dangerous rock music out there that we just couldn't afford to dabble with.

But he didn't name the song or the group!

I was seized by doubt. Who was it? I didn't ask if anyone in the room knew; I wasn't that outspoken. Besides, I was truly afraid of finding out: what if it was a band I really liked? What if it was Rush? I could already tell that Neil Peart was skeptical about God, and there was that 2112 album cover with the pentagram. I had come to terms with Neil's expression of his beliefs in his lyrics, and I didn't listen to "Ghost of a Chance" or "Anthem."  I could forgive Neil for not believing in God, I could even forgive him from preaching selfishness in his youth, but what if . . .

No, it couldn't be Rush. Could it? Well then who? Maybe it was Black Sabbath? I didn't listen to them, only “Iron Man” when it came on the radio.

The question sat at the back of my mind for years. I wanted to know who had done it, but at the same time I didn't, just in case I might find out that I really had been dangling from the devil's hook unknowing for years. So over 20+ years of the World Wide Web I've never looked it up online – until just a few days ago.

Actually, I stumbled across it, as I was reading about something else, viz: the recent lawsuit brought against - and won by - Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement, for the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven.”  (I won't discuss that in this post.)

I feel like I'm late to the party in discovering this weird little nugget in The Greatest Song in the World, but, it's sad to admit, I have a history of unease with “Stairway to Heaven” and Led Zeppelin generally. The first time I heard it (I was young and impressionable) was with a family member who was analyzing the lyrics and mentioned the possibility that instead of being a song with a Good Message, as seemed plain to me, it might actually be a song with a Bad Message. In other words, what if that “piper” were really the Devil? She never said anything about the supposed hidden message in the recording; I don't think she had heard about it.

And that album cover – well, it was certainly mysterious, wasn't it? Kind of spooky, with those arcane-looking sigils. My due respect for Led Zeppelin was retarded by that initial suspicion, so that the timeless wonder and quality of their music took a long time to erode my wary defenses. On the way, of course I heard a bit of schoolyard and lunchroom rumors (though never the one about the backmasked message): “dude, they wrote the song while they were high on some drug.” “Isn't that song about the devil or something?” “Didn't they sell their souls to the devil?” In the pre-internet information-scarce environment of public schools, any scandalous rumor seemed as likely to be true as the next. It didn't help that I saw a record-burning on the news with Led Zeppelin albums prominently displayed.

By the time I was 17, I had shed almost all of my unease or guilt at listening to Led Zeppelin – I had taped just about all of their songs that got regular radio airplay, and I spent my senior skip day listening to my brothers' old Zep LPs (including #4) on a friend's turntable. Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.

If I had been told at that age that “Stairway to Heaven” had the hidden message “Here's to my sweet Satan” in it, I don't know what I would have done. I mean, I might not have been able to play it backwards for myself to check, but knowing how credulous I was I might have believed it. And that might have caused me even more psychic retardation. As it was, I got rid of a CD I bought of symphonic arrangements of Led Zeppelin songs when I was in my early 20s partly because the artwork made me uncomfortable. It was too . . . magical. I regret getting rid of that CD, partly because of my silly squeamishness, partly because the crushing rendition of “Kashmir” was worth the price alone.

Because the thing is, of course, Led Zeppelin is magical! Good British lads, they tapped into the same rich soil of Faerie that J.R.R. Tolkien did in their own way – after all, Tolkien was one of their big inspirations. I've written already about how much I loved fantasy fiction and role-playing as a teenager, and during that time I vehemently defended these hobbies against the accusations of Satanism that came from “ignorance andprejudice and fear.” I assuaged my feelings of guilt at listening to “Stairway to Heaven” with the thought that a new day dawning with laughter echoing in the forests could be understood not only as an image of the Millennium but also sounded like Bilbo and his buddies having a great time in the Shire (I'd be willing to bet my lunch tomorrow that Plant was thinking of something out of Tolkien when he wrote that line). Forests echoing with laughter sounds like the kind of world I would like to live in.  I want to pack my bags for the Misty Mountains!

If I had had cause to believe seriously that all of this was really tainted by an earnest profession of allegiance to Satan I might have turned decisively and ventured too far down the path away from all that: away from the color, vitality and wonder found in so many creative expressions influenced by or alluding to magic, whether labeled as fantasy or otherwise. I might never have picked up Robert Bly or Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung; I might have decided to really sever my relationship with fantasy fiction for good and all, I might have never started listening to King Crimson . . . who knows, I might have even decided that Harry Potter was of the Devil.

I don't like to think of myself in such a state.

Fortunately, my exposure to this strange and amusing sonic coincidence has come at a stage in my life where I'm more skeptical than I've ever been and also seldom shocked or offended by anything I see, hear or read. And I had already been inoculated against taking backmasking seriously. When I first heard about the “my sweet Satan” hidden message I thought the man was talking about a subliminal message that you might have to turn the sound up or speed up or slow down to hear, not a silly backwards thing. I don't know if I misheard or misremembered, or if the speaker was misinformed and simply took his bad information as a reliable report not needing any questions. I'm more inclined to believe the latter.

Being curious, I've still done my own investigation. I've heard the section of “Stairway to Heaven” backwards, listened to it slowed down, made phonetic transcriptions, heard multiple versions and gotten to the bottom of how that vocal line can sound like “my sweet Satan” backwards. Because I do have to admit: hearing it for the first time was unnerving. After all, hearing any human speech backwards gives an uncanny effect (as David Lynch exploited to hair-raising effect in Twin Peaks). If your mind is primed to hear “Satan” it's possible to assign that word to three utterances in the clip. This whole thing has been a good chance for me to reflect on what I learned in Linguistics about the brain's way of picking meaning out of sound, and the weird things that can result when we impose our need for pattern recognition on random stuff (think of A Beautiful Mind, for example). For years I've enjoyed reading mis-heard song lyrics, and the other day I just about wet my pants laughing to this video of Orff's “O Fortuna.”

Back to "Stairway."  Listening closely and repeatedly – as digital technology makes possible – shows that only the first utterance that you might parse as “Satan” really comes close to having all the right sounds. The others are really just “say” - reversed from “yes” and “fiy” reversed from “if” pronounced with a diphthong. But the glottal stop that Robert Plant started each does sound like a hasty N in reverse, giving those backwards utterances a resemblance to the Standard American pronunciation of “Satan.” In the first (or the last) Robert Plant led off from the glottal stop with a little nasal hum before articulating the dental fricative in “there's still time.” On the reversal that sounds like an N, giving the backwards “there's” a really close resemblance to “Satan,” priming the ear for the “yes” and “if.” Since he pronounces “time” more like “tom” the vowel keeps its purity in reverse and can sound like “my” or “mah” instead of “miah.” That makes it easier to hear “sweet” instead of the “tleet” that's really going on. The L is slightly rounded too, and with some aspiration (the common leaky articulation) of T forwards, there's your SW resemblance backwards. Also the background instruments obscure the vocal sounds, giving an even more vague input for the mind to try to process into something. With such mushy uncertainty, the pattern-making mind could fill in all sorts of weird things – like the nonsense of the rest of the supposed hidden message.

If it had been recorded today, someone might have parsed the reversal as “jest my tweet Satan.” Whatever meaning anyone might extract from that could make as much sense as that silly toolshed. (Now if it had been seeing something nasty in the woodshed, we might have a case here. Though I can't think of any lyrics that would make any sense to backmask “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” The closest I can get is “the stove and tea, it's on, meat sauce, yeah.”)

Now why anyone would think that the mind's desperate attempts to make sense of backwards singing should mean that those improvised meanings are actually assimilated unconsciously going forward is hard to imagine . . . until you remember that people who come up with these kinds of scenarios aren't generally in the habit of thinking scientifically or even critically.

I feel silly admitting a need to have done so, but feels good to fully debunk this rumor through my own sonic/linguistic analysis. Like a Hogwarts wizard dispelling a boggart, I say “Riddikulus!” and laugh.

And I play the song for my children, glad that they are hearing it in its glory, without prejudice.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sticks!

Another of my articles has appeared on the Jung Society of Utah blog today.  Since I always have limited space on the blog there, I decided I'd write a little bit more about my sticks here.

I've finished two sticks in the past year: a sort of baton or wand of apricot for myself, and a walking stick of plum for my sweetie.
 
Part of the apricot baton . . .

. . . and part of the plum walking stick.

I'm particularly pleased with the plum: it came out looking like a walking stick I might see at a gift shop in a park (except that I finished it with oil and beeswax instead of polyurethane or something like that).  It wasn't complicated to make at all: just took some time and care.  That's the best thing about working with sticks, I think: you don't have to be a master craftsman, you just have to take time and care, and I think it especially helps to be in tune with your inner child.
 
The wide tip of the baton, showing the piece of sodalite that I mounted in it.
When I was a boy, I loved whittling sticks.  That was part of their appeal: with a pocket knife I could not only shave away outer layers of bark and grime to let the beauty of the wood shine through, I could also sharpen a stick to a crude spear point, and I had a weapon that has cost me nothing. When you're a child on a camping trip, in woods that might be full of cougars, bears or (especially) monsters, this gives a tremendous sense of security.

I think it would be a cheap and nasty dismissal to assign some kind of crude phallic meaning to this fascination with sticks (although I'm open to the idea of symbolic resonance of that sort in wands and scepters). I don't want to get into a rationalistic picking apart of this fascination with sticks in an attempt to explain it. There are some things that it is well to explain, but others it does your soul more good to just do.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Provo City Center Temple

This afternoon my sweetie and I attended the dedication of the new Provo City Center Temple.  It was done in three sessions and we attended the third, broadcast into a meetinghouse in the town where we live that isn't Provo: I don't think there were regular church meetings anywhere in Utah today, at least not along the Wasatch Front.

They made such an effort to let as many take part in the dedication because this temple has a unique history.  It was built in the shell of an old building that used to be a tabernacle.

The old Mormon pioneer tabernacles are some of my favorite things.  I don't know how many survive now, but for years I've thought I'd like to take a tour of them.  They're essentially large meeting halls, with two levels of seats, and are often used for cultural events as well as church meetings.  The big dome-topped Tabernacle on Temple Square is probably the most famous, and the biggest (at least before the humongous conference center was built).  But the buildings I'm talking about are more like the smaller Assembly Hall on Temple Square.  Several of them were built with Gothic Revival architectural style or influence.

I loved the Provo Tabernacle, ever since moving back to Provo in 1994 and attending various concerts there.  When I heard the news of the fire that gutted it in 2010 I was devastated, as were countless others.  And I thought: the Church should restore it, but it probably won't.  So I was also glad with countless others when the plans were announced the following year to not only restore it, but to turn it into a Temple.

We went through it during the open house, and I have never been in another Temple that I have found as beautiful or moving.  The stained glass windows, the decorative motif of four-petaled flowers, quartered circles . . . dare we even say, crosses?  And all the wood!  There's wood everywhere, stained a rich warm homey brown.  We call Temples the House of the Lord, and this one really does feel like God's living room.  The pictures linked above don't really do it justice.

I can't deny feeling a certain sense of loss at this beauty - flawless and immaculate, but cozy - being reserved for a Temple instead of in a building kept open to public access.  I comfort myself with the thought of the other tabernacles still standing.  And it's also comforting to see a Temple displaying more hobbit-like charm than the cold white-on-white austerity that has been the norm for so long.  I like to think that it's a sign that the culture of the Church is changing for the better.

It's slow though.  There are complex meanings and signals I see in a place like this.  Mormons love luxury, even when they're indulging in pioneer fantasies, and I see a perfect example of that in the interior of this building.  I believe in comfort, in abundance, in wealth, even - but I believe in it as an ideal to be socially made and shared.  And as I see it, that was the ideology that drove those pioneers to make such improbable structures in their frontier settlements.  For a group of people in a place with no infrastructure to speak of to pool their resources and coordinate their labor to raise the most beautiful buildings they could, in brick or even granite, instead of slapping up cheap board facades . . . I understand and share the indignation that Mormons felt when the railroads brought the Gentile rabble from the east with their piddly, trashy saloons.

The tabernacles stand to me as a signal of hope in the promise of collective and cooperative enterprise, an ideal that our culture has for the most part turned away from with a multitude of blindly individualistic sneers, simultaneously gentrifying and uglifying what was supposed to be a Zion society.  To see those empty brick walls held up and filled with something that is so obviously a tribute to the spirit of those early days (even if the work of building was done by hirelings instead of by community effort), and offered up to God, is another sign of hope in my eyes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Typecast: a musical fantasy, Baroque this time

I wrote this while looking after a toddler, so if it's disjointed and ends hastily, you'll know why.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My latest post for the Jung Society of Utah

I've got more posts lined up for this blog, coming soon.  But right now I want to share a link to the latest post I contributed for the Jung Society of Utah:


Pop Psychology? Jungian Concepts in Popular Music: The Shadow


This is the first in a series of posts I've got planned for the Jung Society.  In this post I look briefly at a song by Death, and in the next one I'll look at Nick Cave.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 3: Baker's unsweetened, part 1

(This picture is a link: you can buy this chocolate on Amazon.)

I wasn't going to do this at first, but then I figured, why not?  After all, this is what I used when I first started making hot chocolate the old-fashioned way.  For a long time, this was practically the only chocolate I used.  And despite what I wrote about not knowing better, this chocolate is not bad.  It's a decent, nice everyday chocolate, if you're into drinking this kind of stuff frequently -

like 17th-century Spaniards.  In A New Voyage Round the World (that link will take you to a free ebook) William Dampier wrote:

The nuts of this coast of Caracas, though less than those of Costa Rica, which are large flat nuts, yet are better and fatter, in my opinion, being so very oily that we are forced to use water in rubbing them up; and the Spaniards that live here, instead of parching them to get off the shell before they pound or rub them to make chocolate, do in a manner burn them to dry up the oil; for else, they say, it would fill them too full of blood, drinking chocolate as they do five or six times a day.

I'm not to the point of drinking chocolate that often - not yet.  And I'm sure that Baker's, as cheap as it is, isn't made from high-quality Venezuelan beans.  (I'm guessing that it's made from forastero beans grown in West Africa.)  This chocolate strikes me as a good one to use for backpacking trips or something of the sort.  I say this because I'm thinking of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition, which carried chocolate as part of its provisions.  I don't know for sure what kind of chocolate they had in Santa Fe to outfit overland expeditions like that, but I imagine it might have been relatively cheap, rugged stuff like this.

So, to establish a baseline, I whipped up some of this stuff for the family the other night.  Here's the recipe:
  • 4 ounces chocolate
  • 4 Tablespoons raw cane sugar
  • a little splash of fine vanilla (my sister taught us how to make it by soaking vanilla beans in brandy)
  • 1 cup boiling water
I'll try other sweeteners later; I think the raw cane sugar works very nicely with the flavor of the chocolate.  Baker's doesn't taste as "dark" as others, with what I consider more mid-tones than low or high.  Even the color is paler.  So the more caramel-ish character of the raw sugar fits it nicely.

My sweetie described the flavor as milder and subtler, and that for some reason it reminded her of trees.  Our seven-year-old found it rather bitter, while I found the sweetness level just about right.  The baby thought it was grand, as always.
Detail from Le Dejeuner by François Boucher; the full image is at the bottom of this post.
In conclusion, Baker's unsweetened chocolate makes a good drinking chocolate for common use.  And since it's usually very affordable (right now you can get a box on Amazon for a little over $2, which is as good a deal as you usually find in grocery stores), it's a good one to start with if you're interested in learning how to make it this way.  It's sad that they don't sell it in eight ounce boxes anymore: they're only four ounces now.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Sigur Rós fantasies, part 2 (or, brass buttons)

Brass buttons!  I have a navy peacoat that has brass buttons.  My sister gave it to me over 20 years ago and it used to fit me very nicely.  The thick wool is like armor.  It's shapewear, really: can you tell in this picture that I was overweight?

In Boston, at the birthplace of a great-great grandfather, 1998
Trench coats or dusters are a standard nerd uniform, but they don't have anywhere near the panache of thick wool and brass buttons.  I've decided that if I'm going to be odd, I'd rather do it in a way that aspired to an absolute elegance.

When Sigur Rós released Kveikur in 2012, I held off from getting it for a while, because I was sad that Kjartan had left.  But it's become one of my favorites - especially "Stormur" and "Bláþráður" which share a very similar sound.

In the video for "Glosoli" from their 2006 release Takk, a drummer boy in an old military-style coat leads a group of children.


And the band members have sported costumes reminiscent of military uniforms (or marching band - anyway, with lots of buttons):





Maybe that's why, when I listen to "Stormur" and "Bláþráður," I feel like some kind of fabulous cosmic dragoon, decked out in a splendid coat of sober color, with the thick wool covering a body formed in appropriately manly proportions.  Somewhat like that drummer boy, I imagine myself soaring above the landscape, taking in the vastness of it, or marching along on some purposeful errand - or maybe just on one of my hikes (I'll write more about that later).

I mentioned that my coat feels like armor.  In fact, I credit part of the impetus for my novel in progress to that coat: the refinement and elegance of industrialized aesthetics that produced the clean lines of such a coat (instead of the sweeping curves of 18th-century military dress) attract me greatly, but I wanted to visualize a society that could achieve this sort of thing - and early industrial technology - but without the dehumanizing weapons of modern warfare.  I imagined trains, wool coats, brass buttons and sabers - without firearms.

This was in my head long before I ever heard of steampunk - and my vision was of a cleaner look than the clutter I often see in steampunk illustration and cosplay.  It's been interesting to observe emanations of my teenage visions appearing in contemporary fantasy - from the Mistborn Trilogy to Frozen.

Frozen: Scandinavian aesthetics.  Is this my Danish background coming through?  I saw Babette's Feast for the first time in college, and those snappy military uniforms made quite an impression.  (One of my favorite scenes also is where the storekeeper puts on his postal hat to deliver a letter.)  I grew up in a household with Danish furniture and utensils and so maybe I imbibed an appreciation for Nordic design that way.

I also grew up in a family where we were expected to dress up for many occasions.  This meant that I quite often wore a blazer - and hated it.  I think back on this as something like the way I hated math, even though I was good at it, and for a time even was a member of a competitive "Math League" in junior high.  It turned out that wearing a navy blue wool jacket - with brass buttons - was ideal for playing soldiers after church.  Perhaps I would have been mollified more often in my father's dress code requirements had he appealed to that sense of fantasy - you don't have to dress up, you get to do cosplay.  After all, I did find his old military gear and regalia irresistible, and I have enjoyed dressing in olive and khaki, despite my pacifism.
 
Minneopa State Park, Mankato, Minnesota, 1999

But that's another story. 
 (This post contains affiliate links, which I put in whenever and however I like.  Click or don't, as you wish.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I can't quit science fiction: LTUE 2016

(This post is quite unpolished, but I'm putting it up anyway, because if I wait too long it won't be as relevant.)
I just got done with another year of Life, the Universe, and Everything, the annual science fiction and fantasy symposium held in Provo every February.  I've been involved with this on and off over the years ever since attending my first one in 1995.  While in college in the late 1990s I served on the planning committee, and now that I'm living in the area again I hope to serve on the committee for next year's meeting.

This thing has been going on since 1983.  It's a symposium, or supposed to be.  I haven't observed it continuously for the past 20 years because I've been away for such large gaps, but when I think back on the times I attended in the 1990s and the last few years, I perceive some differences.  Subcultures of science fiction and fantasy appreciation have grown immensely since I was a teenager, with people scrambling to claim the title of "geek" as a badge of honor.  My memory might be distorted, but from what I recall, this did not happen in 1994.

Now there are multiplying fandoms burgeoning with eager new geeks.  I have relatives who number among these, but they're nowhere near as hardcore as the people at LTUE.  Here you see the older generations of nerds: people who were nerds before it was cool.  And now they bring their children.  Fandom and geekdom might be getting popular, but these people are the real deal and they still don't blend in to the mainstream.

I'm reminded of a Cory Doctorow essay I read:

Standing in Melbourne airport on the day before this year’s World Science Fiction convention, I found myself playing the familiar road-game known to all who travel to cons: spot the fan. Sometimes, “spot the fan” is pitched as a pejorative, a bit of fun at fannish expense, a sneer about the fannish BMI, B-O, and general hairiness.
. . . 
Looking for fans isn’t just about looking for heavyset people, or guys with big beards, or people who are sloppily dressed. Looking for fans is about looking for people who appear to have given a great deal of thought to how they dress and what they’re doing, and who have, in the process of applying all this thought to their daily lives, concluded that they would like to behave differently from the norm. It is about spotting people who are dressed as they are not because of fashion, nor because of aspiration, but because they have decided, quite deliberately, that this is the best thing for them to wear.  ("A Cosmopolitan Literature for a Cosmopolitan Web," from Context, available here for free download)

I've thought a lot about wearing costumes to LTUE - some people do.  It's nowhere near as extreme as, say, DragonCon.  It's really not a convention, but I perceive an entropic sort of impulse to devolve it into simply a time and place for misunderstood people to geek out.  I've seen these forces operating since I started attending, and that's part of what drives me to want to stay involved: I want to help maintain its academic mission, keep it focused on and aspiring toward academic rigor.  Along with that goes a recognition of what Cory wrote, and a realization of why I can't stay away from speculative fiction: in its purity, this isn't about pumping out infinite pulpy repetitions of predictable escape fantasies, it's about exploring ideas - and for me, ultimately, it's about imagining how this world might be different - better.

Mormon SF/F fandom - the old kind - is a strange and wonderful subculture.  I don't wholly fit in, and I have my frustrations with it, but I feel at ease there (more at ease than in mainstream Mormon culture for sure).  Despite the many ways I see the culture falling short of what I see as its potential - or because of them - I am drawn back again and again, and after attending LTUE this year I feel even more strongly oriented to who and what I am.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 2: Winco buttons



I discovered these around 2009, if I remember right.  I'm not sure who makes them, but they're in the bulk section of Winco, an employee-owned chain of grocery stores spreading through the inter-mountain west.  They're 64% cacao solids, and they have extra cocoa butter added, which gives them a smooth velvety feeling when beaten up into a drink.  They melt fairly quickly and are obviously made from pretty good beans.

I've been drinking these for a long time, usually with spices added, but of course for this first phase of the experiment, I did them plain, as before, using a third cup of water for two ounces of chocolate.

Our girls thought it was perfect.

My sweetie describes it as quite sweet, with a nice round flavor and a nice aftertaste.  Kind of a fruity note.

I thought so too: to my taste it seems to have more mid-high notes than the Guittard chips, and a reasonably clean finish.  Again, the added cocoa butter gives the drink an extra smoothness, which helps lubricate the thick consistency.

I will continue to use these for as long as I can foresee.  Although a little sweeter than I sometimes prefer, they're nice and luxurious and a good mainstay.  They're particularly good with some flavors that I'll write about later.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

My Sigur Rós fantasies, part 1

(Part 1: Introduction)

I discovered Sigur Rós in 2001, right as they were starting to make big waves across the Atlantic.  Like countless other 20-somethings, I swooned to "Svefn-g-englar" in my candlelit bachelor apartment.  I saw them perform in DC that year, and after the show I stuck around to bug them.  I remember talking to Orri as he smoked and looked around as if he couldn't wait to finish talking with me and get on with the rest of his evening.  As I was leaving the venue I spotted Kjartan and called out "Thanks for the show!"  "No problem," he replied.

Afterwards I felt foolish.  I already knew about fame and how it puts sensible musicians on their guard (I listen to Rush, for heaven's sake).  Watching the interview sections in Heima I was reminded of that.  When people make music that reaches a large audience, their music comes to mean many things for all those different people, and that means there has to be a boundary set up, to prevent the listeners from imposing their projections on their fellow human beings who make the music, who have their own separate lives.

I recognize this, and despite my seven-year-old daughter's wish to fly to Iceland and visit Jónsi (yes, she's a fan too, like many children, as I understand) I know that most likely I'll never be in the same room with those guys again and that I have no right to expect that just because I like their music they'd want to be my friends.

But in my own personal take on their music, and my own interaction with the copy of the version of their persona that reaches me, Sigur Rós is my band in a way that few others are.  For one thing, those guys are my age (I'm not quite two months older than Orri).  Right now the only other band I can think of that I listen to, with members my age, is Aloha.  Since I discovered them I've followed them through the phases of the twenties and thirties, and I've had moments of deep empathetic resonance (which again I recognize can only go so far).  For example, when I saw a clip of their second film Inni, especially with Orri wearing that crown of his.  I can't quite explain, but something in that sight struck me with a deep familiarity.  What was it?  I don't know if I can explain.



Maybe it was a simple recognition of the impulse to dress up when playing the drums.  I have done my share of theatrical self-presentation as a drummer:





And as I wrote not too long ago, I have been feeling this desire for more personal adornment lately.  I wonder how much of it comes from my approaching middle age.  I've been wearing jeans and t-shirts for over 20 years, and as I see more grey hairs in the mirror, not only do I feel a wish to present myself to the world with a dignity and a distinction, but I still have enough of my youthful idealism and turn-of-the-century experience that I want my distinction and dignity to be something more universal, more human, more psychologically whole than the dominant image of the businessman of the 20th century industrialized world.

Sporting my rainforest jasper pendant, brass cuff and a homemade bead bracelet.
  So seeing Orri in that garb was an affirmation, but I could say it was a reminder of our collective mortality also.  However I might explain it, something clicked as I watched, spoke a kind of resigned peace to my mind: these guys will grow old too, as I will.  Watching this with the benefit of my limited experience in a drum chair on the stage, and with the amplification of my own imaginings, I felt I was arriving at a better understanding of what it looks like "from both sides now" to be a creator who reaches a large audience - a goal I still aspire to.

It helps to sweep away even more of the hero-worship that held sway over me in my youth.

I'm going to write in later posts about some of the things their music means to me.  After all, they have encouraged this, with the wordless liner notes and title-less tracks of their third album, and their experimental video projects.  So this is the introduction and there will be more to come in this series.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"It's hard to be humble . . . when you're Danish"

I'm still working on my grandmother's research notes.  Today I'm in the local library, with a carrel by the window and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert on my headphones.  It's nice.

I just found some notes she took from William James - I like William James.  I had started to read The Varieties of Religious Experience a couple of years ago, and this reminds me I ought to try to finish it.  (You can get it for free on Project Gutenberg.)

These notes were bundled with some drafts she had written about Danish history.  My great-grandmother was born in Utah to parents who had recently immigrated from Denmark - Scandinavia supplied a huge number of Mormon immigrants in the early days.  My great-great-grandfather, in fact, was called as a missionary to southern Minnesota (where I also lived for 12 years) and met many fellow Danes there.

So my father has one Danish grandparent, and my mother does too.  And I can feel a certain pride in that heritage when my grandmother wrote: "Denmark came to appreciate and give worth to peace.  She developed ways by which peace could be maintained without aggressiveness in conquest and control of other nations."

I have felt a lot of pride in my Danish heritage and hope to go visit Denmark some day.  I continue to be curious about what Grandma thought and wrote concerning the history of Salina.  Many times I've reflected on what a shock it must have been for inhabitants of a prosperous green low land bordering the sea, to find themselves in a dry landlocked country with red cliffs towering over their new homes.  I think that's one of the distinguishing oddities of American history in general: how many groups of people have tried to adapt ways of life that evolved in certain environments, to new environments that are radically different. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 1: Guittard Extra Dark chips

It has begun!  The Chocolate Project is officially underway with the first family tasting.  For the first few rounds, we will try a variety of chocolate, plain, without spices (other than vanilla).  Then we'll start adding different spices and flavorings and making notes of what works well with what.  Oh yes, this is going to be fun!

I discovered Guittard Extra Dark chocolate chips a few years ago, after having used Winco's chocolate buttons for a while.  These things are 63% cacao, which is a bit sweeter than I generally prefer, but they're convenient to use (they melt quickly into the hot water) and they're made with pretty good beans.  They don't quite have the complex richness that some of the finer brands have, but they're a lot closer that Baker's (which I used for a long time before I knew better).  Their ingredient list: Cacao beans, sugar, sunflower lecithin and real vanilla.


Ready to begin.  (I'm not very happy about the color here - I'll try to do better in following pictures.)
The method is the same for each one we try: heat the water to boiling, pour into the pitcher and beat it with the molinillo.  I got my main molinillo (pictured above) in a Mexican import store in Pittsburgh, and as for the pitcher, I don't know where you can get one.  My sweetie found it for me it at the local DI (Deseret Industries, a chain of thrift stores managed by the LDS Church).  But it's similar to one I found at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Sorry not to have a link to buy one of those yet.

I used 2 oz of chocolate chips and 1/3 cup of water per serving, and made three servings total (I shared mine with the baby).  Here's what we thought:

The baby said: "Nomnomnomnom!"

My sweetie and our seven-year-old both thought it was quite sweet, grabbing at the back of the mouth, with an earthy kind of flavor.  I found it slightly caustic on the roof of my mouth, with a reasonably clean finish and a rich dark flavor.  Not as elegant or delicate in its bouquet of aromas as some varieties, but good and dark.  There's something in its flavor that to me suggests beets, in a good way.  Thick and maybe I would say somewhat fuzzy.

All in all, an excellent chocolate for common drinking.  I've used these for demonstrations in schools due to their ease of preparation and relative cheapness, and I expect I will continue to use them often.  If you want to buy some online, Amazon sells them in packs of four:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thoughts from reading the Song of Roland

Well I read it.  Or most of it.  I read the Norton Anthology condensed version through at least, and I'll have to beg Suzannah's indulgence for this.  Her review is much more detailed than mine (partly since she read the whole thing), but I want to share some of my impressions here.

Having already read the "fanfic" that came from this work, what struck me first and foremost when I read The Song of Roland was its ancient tone.  I know I was reading in translation, but I felt through the translation the same tone that I have discerned in Francis Magoun's translation of the Kalevala - or in the Heaney and Chickering translations of Beowulf.  Or the various translations of Homer that I've read.

I also had a Mormon moment while reading it: at the end, when Charlemagne laments how hard his life is, I thought of Mosiah 29:33:


And many more things did king Mosiah write unto them, unfolding unto them all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people, and also all the murmurings of the people to their king; and he explained it all unto them.

I really like Umberto Eco's essay "Dreaming of the Middle Ages" (in Travels in Hyperreality - affiliate link, you can get it pretty cheap), where he breaks down "Ten Little Middle Ages" of modernity, mentioning Torquato Tasso and Ludovico Ariosto as examples.  I definitely felt the difference between Ariosto's "Spaghetti Western" epic and the original chanson de geste.  Even through translation, Roland felt more barbaric - and Germanic.  I thought more than once of Beowulf (and the Sagas): noble swords with their names and lineages, loving descriptions of fancy armor, long-winded boasts and harangues, even the bit about Roland having plenty of work to do when surrounded by the enemy - that was classic Saga wryness.  It was interesting to see so much of that still manifesting in an 11th century work (though I remind myself that the Sagas themselves were being written down at the same time).

And the other thing: no sex.  Orlando Furioso and The Faerie Queene, with all their sex, remind me of fantasy scenes by Frank Frazetta (also mentioned in Eco's essay), as well as Larry Elmore and Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell (not so different from Ingres' famous scene of Ruggiero and Angelica, really).  The Song of Roland to me is . . . more like a Bolt Thrower album cover, maybe?  At least in the battle scenes.

Maybe that's not quite fair.  But so much violence!  Njal's Saga has that famous scene where Skarp-Hedin splits Thrain's skull as he skates by, so that teeth clatter onto the ice - I thought of that as I read Roland, which in parts was like that scene amplified and repeated at Peter Jackson levels of absurdity.  Eyes flying out of their sockets, brains coming out of ears, blood pouring down over armor . . . I won't lie, it all made me a bit sick.

Some years ago I read Millennium; A History of the Last Thousand Years by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (which you can get used for quite cheap on Amazon - another affiliate link) and was struck by his mention of "aristocratic thuggery" and "noble hoodlums" in early medieval Europe.  I reflected on this as I read the story's depictions of gruesome slaughter and callous hatred (though tempered by tears and grief beyond what modern sensibilities would expect or even accept).  As a 16-year-old, when I was supposed to be reading this for my high school Humanities class, I probably would have thought the battle scenes were just awesome: I loved medieval and fantasy violence so much at that age.

I still enjoyed reading it now, and wish that I had read it at age 16.  Reading Suzannah's comments on it have helped me to appreciate it more finely.  So thanks, Suzannah, for the challenge!  The Sayers translation of Roland is firmly on my wish list, and I look forward to next year's epic.