Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From the Gallery of Heroes - Da Vinci's Mona Lisa X Two


Recently (July 9th, 2014) the PBS Series "Secrets of the Dead" ran a documentary feature about the controversy over the proposed authenticity of a so-called "second" Mona Lisa painting, a work which purportedly was discovered in a British mannerhouse shortly before World War I. The Isleworth Mona Lisa--as it is known--bears a remarkable resemblance to the well-known original, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris; it is clearly not a copy, but a "version" of the same subject at an earlier age in her life, leading naturally to the supposition that it was painted first, and that the "older" version was done later.    

The original Mona Lisa

There is reliable documentation that Da Vinci began work on a canvas referred to as La Gioconda in about 1503-5. The revelation of the existence of this other work has caused a lot of speculation in the art world about its original. Such speculation is inevitable, given the hugely iconic presence of the original Mona Lisa, and the notorious forgeries that have come to life over the last century. 

Could Da Vinci have painted both works, at different times? If so, why? Given what is known about the working procedures within his atelier, it is possible that the Master may have given some responsibility to apprentices or assistants in his studio, to finish an incomplete work, or a study. It is possible that an apprentice may have undertaken a copy in secret. 

Da Vinci was known to be a tireless researcher into materials, striving to refine and improve the effects of pigment by experimenting with the chromatic variations of materials, layering pigments, and so forth.    


The "Isleworth Mona Lisa"

The Mona Lisa has been admired and studied for centuries. Critics and scientists have speculated about how its hypnotic fascinating allure is accomplished. Da Vinci was able to give the impression of life-likeness which is extremely difficult to do. It goes well beyond verisimilitude. The Mona Lisa has a kind of illumination, an animus,  that is uncanny. On one level, this is an effect that has become a kind of cliché among art patrons. The face has a kind of supernatural photo-genesis of presence--not photographic, but clearly an effect achieved through the subtle manipulation of reflectivity. The skin tones seem to glow from within, the very essence of a living soul. 

Against the suspicions of detractors and cynics regarding the new painting's authenticity, a phalanx of experts have run a battery of various kinds of tests--scientific and aesthetic (including carbon dating which puts its creation spot on in the second decade of the 16th Century)--on the canvas, and have declared that it meets all the relevant criteria. It's not a fake, or it's the best, most fool-proof, fake that has ever been perpetrated. The experts not only believe it was done at the correct time, they are convinced that the painter of the original Mona Lisa is unquestionably the creator of the "younger" version. I'm not an expert in these matters, but the discussion was sufficiently straightforward and not in the least evasive. 

The question thus becomes what the significance of this new artwork will be, and what effect it might have on the reputation (and valuation) of the known work. And, obviously, what the value of this new canvas will be on the market. The "younger" portrait seems clearer, and somewhat incomplete in comparison to the Mona Lisa. The detail and background scenes are basically sketched in, though there seems little ambiguity with respect to the essential composition itself. The figure is posed precisely in the same position, and the subject is clearly the same woman. The newer painting has none of the delicate translucency of textures and surfaces of the original. Both seem works of absolutely mastery, though the newer one might be considered to be somewhat less refined in its presentation--perhaps consistent with the youthfulness of the subject. 

I have always been more impressed by the modeling and glow of the sitter's hands, which seem so real that blood flows under the skin. They are angel's hands. The face, which has always seemed quintessentially Italian, is not beautiful. The beauty resides in the artist's evocation, such that the spirit of the woman has been summoned by the skill of the artist, and she peers through the centuries into the looker with a power that transcends inert matter, through the cracks and fading and toning of time, to make a deep and vivid impression.  

The dialectic between the meaning of the subject, and the intentions of the artist, has always been a major preoccupation of writers and critics over the decades. It's an enigma for which there will never be a final, conclusive answer. Artists have routinely made "celebrity portraits" of the gentry, balancing their interest in the commissions with their disinterest in the characters of their subjects. In every sense, patrons of serious artists were merely stand-ins. But in this specific case, the intensity and revelation of method lead us naturally to impute deeper levels of significance to the result. What did Da Vinci really think about this woman, Lisa Gherardini? Did he intend that this specific portrait should carry levels of meaning that no individual subject could possibly fulfill? 

The story is that he may have worked for years on it, perhaps setting it aside for some years, then returning to it again to further improve it. But the appearance of this new canvas complicates the story in several inconvenient ways. Does it somehow de-value the known work, by making it a kind of grand aesthetic experiment? Certainly, investing that much labor and thought and deliberate research into the process tells us that it was more than simply a painting, a casual diversion. It holds all the pressure and drama of the force of devotion, the commitment of a man of superior feeling and sensibility to attain an unique artifact of the evocation of human nature. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy Hour in the Cocktail Lounge




It's been a little while since the mixmaster presided, but the delay has been worth the wait.

Recently I encountered a bartender at a local posh Italian restaurant, who thought he knew everything. He knew all the traditional mixes, and some of his new inventions were on the drink menu. Some barmen think they know more than the customers do about drink combinations, and resent being asked to mix a concoction with which they're unfamiliar. In this case, I asked the bartender to combine two ingredients which he'd never considered together before. After hearing me call out the first two ingredients, he interjected "I don't think that would work. Let me suggest a variation . . . ." I told him I couldn't make him prepare the drink, either he'd do it or he wouldn't. "I just don't think you know how this would taste," he replied. So I told him to forget the whole thing, I wouldn't have a cocktail before my meal. He jerked his head up like a prideful horse and drifted over to another customer. 

I might have told him I had mixed hundreds of different cocktails in my life, and probably knew more about different drink combinations than most bartenders. Mixing drinks doesn't require a Ph.D., but familiarity does matter. Regarding every customer as a rube is one attitude you occasionally find in taverns. James Salter had a funny take on bad bartenders in one of his stories; one character confides to another about their bartender "all these out-of-work actors think they're everyone's friend!" I often wonder what these bartenders really do for a living, or what they'd prefer to be doing. Either they take their work too seriously, or not seriously enough. I'm never sure which. Some seem to think the customer is never right. 

Here are five recipes which have no precedent in the literature of mixology, to my knowledge. So beware, you're entering unfamiliar territory. I don't have a license to mix, and have never taken a bartending course. I can't flip the stainless steel in the air with the greatest of ease, or pour from a great height, but I can shake with the best. My cocktail glasses will always arrive a lovely frosty white. The portions will always be generous, and I'll never water down the goods. 

They aren't named, but I'll have to think of something, if I ever publish them in the collection I'm planning.

1
  
This first is a slight variation on one I posted previously, utilizing the combination of Green Chartreuse and Midori (both deep green), adding rum instead of just dry vermouth. It's another winner, perhaps a bit stronger than the earlier version.

3 Parts Dry White Rum
2 Parts Dubonnet Blanc
1 Part Green Chartreuse
1 Part Midori
1 Part fresh lemon juice
__________________________

2

This one is of a clarity and simplicity that suggests a German white wine, the pear and cherry uniting in perfect harmony. 

4 parts Tanqueray #10
1 Part pear liqueur
1 part maraschino liqueur
1 part lime

garnish translucent lime slice
__________________________

3

Here's Midori again. Though many bars have Midori, they don't use it much in mixes. There are other proprietary melon liqueurs, and I suppose that there is little to distinguish them from one another. The colors of drinks are a nothing but a gimmick, since a little food coloring can do the trick. Blue Curacao is a traditional liqueur, but the color has nothing to do with the orange basis--it's just an artifice. Making cocktails with colors is a fad. Sometimes, if the color of a cocktail is unpleasant, as they sometimes can be, this can be remedied with a little food coloring. Not something I've ever tried, you understand.    

4 parts white rum
1 part Midori
1 part pomegranate
1 part lime juice
__________________________

4

Who'd a'thunk that you could mix praline with orange and lemon? I wouldn't have thought so either, until I threw this combination together. But the result is a revelation. Praline liqueur, for those who don't know, is made to mimic the flavor of praline candy, the kind they sell in New Orleans candy-shops. A dense caramel chock-full of peanuts. When I was a boy, my stepfather used to call it "butter brickle" which may be what they called it in the Midwest. According to Wikipedia, butter brickle is an ice-cream, not a candy. Don't be afraid to try this one, but you'll need praline liqueur to do it.  

4 parts gold rum
1 part blood orange liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part praline liqueur
__________________________

5

This one uses an aperitif called Genepi des Alpes, an odd fortified goods that's made in France. At 40% alcohol, it's potent, and can be taken straight, but as a mixer, it adds its own specific herbal essence flavor. It's made in the Savoy region, near Italy, where the wormwood that forms its primary flavor component is harvested.     


3 parts sweet vermouth
1 part Yellow Chartreuse
1 part cherry liqueur
1 part Genepi des Alpes
1 part fresh lemon juice
___________________________


All of these concoctions are seductive and irresistible. You don't want to like them too much, but just one, of an afternoon, or evening, when you don't plan to do any driving, is a pleasure not to be denied. I've saved you the trouble of wondering whether they'd work, since I've put each of them to the taste test, and all have passed with flying colors. 

  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Minimalism XVII: Huth's Out of Character





I've been meaning to discuss Geof Huth's work for some time, and I finally got around to it when I came upon the cache of things Geof sent me a couple of years back, which included a copy of Out of Character [Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Paper Kite Press, 2007]. 

Huth is what is known as a VisPo artist/poet. Visual Poetry explores, at least on one level, aspects of language as visual representation, hovering unsteadily between language as symbol/signage, and letters as designs in space. Our western alphabet is not pictographic, but nevertheless may be perceived to have qualities which are visually expressive. An alpha-bet of 26 letters may seem to have a relatively limited range of potential graphic possibilities, but Huth nevertheless sees in them rich combinations which he exploits through free arrangement, juxtaposition or interlockings/superimpositions of whole letters or fragments of letter bodies. 

Our Western Alpha-Bet is just one possible letter series. There have been others, such as Egyptian hierglyphic--

     
It doesn't take much imagination to see how purely symbolic pictographic imagery like this could morph over time into more abstract shapes, which can lose their original visual identity to a more "short-"handed notation. I won't go into the history of the Latin Alpha-Bet, either in its written or print versions. The important things to note are that it (1) is what we've inherited as the descendants of ancestral usage, and (2) that the evolution of letters has involved a combination of applied utility and creative invention. Wikipedia has a fair discussion of alphabets

As artists, poets may accept without comment the given structure of their linguistic inheritance. Most poets don't consider themselves to be visual artists, preferring to think about and use language as a convenience for the communication of content, depending upon the resources of rhythm and rhyme which have come down to us in the traditions of verse and rhetoric. There's nothing wrong with these traditions, and I have no doubt they will continue to inspire poets and writers for centuries to come.

Huth has been drawn to the visual, I suspect, in the same way that abstract artists are drawn to explore the technical aspects of pure art representation, except that his interest opens into the additional dimension of alphabetical meaning, and the whole history of what pictographic shape itself can summon in our memory of, and response to, certain kinds of visible structures of representation.

Our responses to such experiments may occur along a wide range of possible meanings. We may see such works as a kind of play, as a rearrangement of a given set of token pieces, as a conflict or struggle between existing nominatives, as symbolic hieratic warnings, signposts, pointers, or as comic satires or parodies of haunting familiars, etc. What seems clear is that the invention of such two-dimensional spatial structures probably begins in intuitive conjecture, or casual play, and proceeds to discoveries and conundra which oscillate with the hum of mystery and delightful riddle.

If such experiments "work" they probably do so because the suggestiveness of their structure connotes strong echoes of visual suggestiveness, which may seem odd or contradictory, or inevitable. 

Out of Character is a small pamphlet, a perfect 4"x4"dimension, with 25 works, each with an elaborate title (in the table of contents). I think I would have preferred a slightly larger dimension, so the printed portion of each page didn't end up in the gutter, which necessitates over-stressing the binding to see each whole page.

"Sound's First Flight"

One could of course see objects like this as a kind of doodling. Nothing wrong with that take at all. But the strength and conviction with which each one is made suggests that though chance and casual variability may be starting points, the progress or performance of the making aren't the point, which seems to me to be the arrival at a finished statement that has an undeniable, adamant resistance to further elaboration. They may be found through adjustment or trial and error, but those are merely pathways to the goal. 

"What We Sea" 

Here are parts of several letters--an A, and E, an S--as well as a serif which may be simply an undenominated flourish or fillip. We could impute suggestive shapes here--which I will leave to the reader--but obviously, on one level, faces or motions or movements or pathways are being suggested. Is the letter S a meander? A less expressive artist might draw an S to suggest a slithering snake--a cliché at best. I'm reminded of the E.E. Cummings poem which ends--

wind
is dragging
the
sea

with

dream

-S

which suggests an anchor or a cloud tentacle hanging down, "dragging" the ocean floor or the surface of the sea. Clever, and a usefully trivial kind of visual pun. It is exactly this kind of casual play that may open doors to the perception of meanings which are hidden under the quotidian intercourse of everyday verbal use. 

"What the Eye Sees the Eye Knows"

K and E and something else disport with a comma and a single quotation mark, locked in a symbiotic struggle which may be seen as forced or happily engaged, depending upon your mood. The ascending curved line has for me a joyous quirky spirit, the piece may be seen to spin or tumble. Perhaps these letters were just floating around like objects in the void and happened to come into conjunction in this way for a fraction of a second, but were captured before they drifted off again. Do the comma and quotation mark signify eyes? Is it too simplistic to imagine this possibility?

"Knowledge and Its Effects"

This piece has a sort of wedge-iness that is reminiscent (for me) of Franz Kline's black on white abstract canvases. Is it appropriate to think of these works in contrast to Abstract Expressionism? One is always unsure with these pieces, what level of suggestiveness is intended, or whether even asking that question is somehow beside the point. Is an upsidedown J merely the broken off fragment of an N? Can a K be commandeered into service by a . . . what? Does size matter? Is this a variation on the jolly roger or a Gadsden design? Is it threatening? Absurd? Are the interlocking bars and loops a commentary about the effect of, or the expression of knowledge? What is knowledge? Is it in space, or in the mind? Is it unstable, like a subatomic particle that lives only for a fraction of a   millisecond?

"The Structure of Memory"

  
Here there is an arrangement of vertical and horizontal lines intersecting with curved and looped shapes. In the imagination, do such alphabetical arrangements occur naturally, the way that events and architectures and echoes are arranged in dreams? Do letters combine and recombine like organic molecules, grand interlocking helixes or vortices, not syntactical or grammatical, but exhibiting a different (new) kind of relationship to each other? Obviously, in Huth's works, or in his mind's eye, they do. 

I'm moved to question the relationship between the titles and the works. It struck me initially that the works don't need titles, and may indeed be unnecessarily limited by serving as pointers to an intended meaning. But of course we're free to accept or reject the suggestion the titles offer. The titles aren't really interpretations of the works, though they may be taken as such; still, I think the titles come after the works, not the other way around. The works aren't illustrations of ideas; the titles are possible angles from which to see them. 

Geof Huth runs an interesting blog, and his interests extend far beyond the works I've considered here. Check it (and him) out. He (it)'ll repay your interest with interest.
           




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Vive La France - The Lady Doth Complain


It may seem a strange pretext upon which to launch into a discussion of the issue of freedom of speech, to cite the sentiments of one of the 20th Century's most notorious cinematic "sex kittens"--Brigitte Bardot--regarding political issues in her native France, but history, and politics, can make strange bedfellows.

In America, our Constitution, by way of the First Amendment, ratified in 1791, has framed the debate on this side of the Atlantic for over 200 years. 

In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, passed by the National Assembly in 1789, and article #11 states "The free communication ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law."   

In America, abridgments of the right of free speech have been cautiously considered, and seldom passed into law. Censorship, based upon community standards, has been aimed primarily at pornography. Attempts by states or communities to censure speech on the basis of content, because it constitutes "hate speech" have been deflected by the Supreme Court, relying on the "imminent danger" principle. In other words, you can say anything you want to or about a person, as long as it doesn't constitute an imminent threat to their person or reputation. Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have attempted to formulate and enforce "speech codes" designed to protect not just individuals but groups from discriminatory content. When challenged, such speech codes have been found to be unconstitutional. In America, free speech remains a strong principle, and we tend to be extremely vigilant in protecting it. 

In France, however, the principle is weaker. The so-called Law on the Freedom of the Press of 1881 prohibits anyone from publicly defaming or insulting, or inciting someone to discriminate against, or to hate or to harm, a person or a group for belonging to an ethnicity, a race, a religion, a sex (or sexual orientation), or for having a handicap. Individuals or media may be prosecuted for such crimes, and imprisoned or fined. The public prosecutor may initiate criminal proceedings against a violator upon its own, and a victim may bring a civil action against a violator as well.           





For those readers too young to know, Brigitte Bardot was in her youth a French film actress, who became a potent sex symbol during the 1950's and 1960's, for her nude and semi-nude scenes. Her notoriety for her unashamed sex appeal was legendary, and she became synonymous with a certain aura of permissiveness in Europe and America during the post-War period. Following her retirement from professional acting at age 40, she has maintained a public presence as an advocate of animal rights, lobbying against animal cruelty. 

In her role as head of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, she has used her notoriety and personal fortune to pursue protections for various animal species throughout the world, directly appealing to governments and heads of state to desist from killing or maiming animals. 

Consistent with her views on animal cruelty, she has spoken out about the ritual Muslim practice of killing goats by slitting their throats. 

Historically, France has been the most accommodating and liberal country in Europe, tolerating large numbers of Muslim immigrants inside its borders. The flow of North African and Arab immigrants into Europe during the last quarter century has accelerated. Muslims now make up as much as 10% of the French population. This has caused a good deal of civil strife. As Muslim numbers have grown, so has its influence. There are many who believe that the growing Islamic influence inside Europe will have dire consequences for the political and religious traditions which have guided French culture for two centuries. Islam has an intolerant character, uniting religious, political and cultural practices into a single unified style of life. 

Christianity and Islam have been in conflict with one another for centuries, and will probably continue to be so for a long time to come. Recent expressions of radical Islam--the terrorist attacks, the resurgent expansionist tendencies both in the Middle East and abroad--have shown that there is a legitimate concern in Western nations about the growing presence and influence of Muslims in their midst. Of greater concern than terrorism, is the threat that Islam may pose to democratic institutions of personal freedom, particularly those of women. 

As the wife of an espoused political conservative, Bernard d'Ormale, former adviser of Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the conservative Front National party, Bardot has openly expressed her negative feelings about the growing presence of Muslims in France--

"Over the last twenty years, we have given in to a subterranean, dangerous, and uncontrolled infiltration, which not only resist adjusting to our laws and customs but which will, as the years pass, attempt to impose its own." 

The Front National has maintained a steadfastly committed position against immigration, particularly Muslim immigration from North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East, seeing this as a threat to the secular value system of the Republic. Though Bardot's initial pretext for criticizing Muslims was their ritual slaughter of goats--a practice which occurs under unsupervised conditions, in private yards, or in the street--she was not shy in expressing her distaste for Muslims. She has been convicted no less than five times in French courts for violating France's "hate speech" laws, the last time in 2012 (being fined $25,000). 

In America, such a case, originating from the justice system itself, would seem quite extreme. But in France, the atmosphere of political correctness has progressed a good deal farther. It might seem tame here to complain about the ritual slaughter of farm animals in private homes and neighborhoods, or about the probable danger to society from the spread of a religion whose traditional teachings and practices are antithetically opposed to our western principles of freedom. But in France, such outspokenness and frankness are suppressed.

   
What are the consequences of preserving the inviolability of an invasive sect, whose religious and political principles are antithetical to our own? Islam is notorious for its fanatical, arrogant intolerance of other religions and ways of life. And yet it's being protected and sheltered by a nation which is itself under threat from the very groups it's harboring. 

It's an ironic absurdity that the pride and dignity of France must be upheld by an old sex siren of a quarter century back. That Bardot's purely political comments should be treated as "hate speech" is a commentary about how far off the spectrum our institutions have strayed, in a futile attempt to appear "fair" and "unbiased"--when the reality is that freedom of speech is being suppressed to suit the interests of a religious cult that preaches violence and strict adherence to an archaic set of backward beliefs and superstitions, which threaten the very freedoms it now enjoys.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The New Wave of Illegals Choking our Immigration System





News reports over the last two weeks have corroborated the rumors of the massive recent influx of illegals streaming across the southern borders into the U.S. 

For the first time, these have included large numbers of children--estimates range from 50,000 to as many as 170,000 since the beginning of the year--some being brought by their parents, others as young as age 8-12, arriving unaccompanied. 

The arrivals have been sneaking across weak points in the border security line, often in remote, desert country where there is no water or cover. 

Because of the enormous numbers involved, our border security and homeland security forces have been taxed well beyond their capacity. 

And because our laws prevent us from deporting such minors expeditiously, border authorities have taken the unprecedented step of simply sending these new illegals to holding facilities across the U.S.

Since there is no way the illegals can be legally processed, they are given notices to appear in U.S. immigration courts, but reliable reports are that as many as 90% of them never show up for their appointments. 

Illegals are being bussed to these temporary facilities, from which they are then released "on their own recognizance" to disappear into the society. 

Border security agents have reported that this new wave of illegal movement is happening because the word is out in Mexico, Central and South America that a new cycle of amnesty is going to occur, and that this is the time to make a run for the border.

Apologists for the illegals cite political and economic reasons for this new wave, but these are the same rationalizations we've been hearing for 20 years--that the kids are poor, are homeless, have no employment prospects, have been abandoned, have relatives in the U.S., are politically at risk in their own countries, are the victims of crime, etc. 

But the plain fact is that they have been told to come here by relatives or friends because this is their best hope to attain U.S. residency and eventual citizenship. 

Our neighbor nations to the south--Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc.--clearly aren't taking care of business, and are even unofficially encouraging people to resettle in America. The pipeline northward through Mexico has become a deluge, all with the blessing and approbation of the Mexican government. 

Our national immigration policy was supposed to have established a secure border, making it harder than ever to enter our country illegally. But clearly that hasn't happened, as countless more "coyotes"--criminal "guides" leading groups across--have sprung up. 

Americans are being persuaded to take in these new illegals as "foster" children, in preference to big detention centers which are little better than low security prisons. 

President Obama has asked Congress to authorize two billion dollars in funds to care for all these new immigrants, and to "beef up" the border security force. 

We keep hearing on the media that America needs to address the "broken immigration system" and institute a new wave of amnesty, while stemming the tide of new illegals crossing the border. The so-called "Gang of Eight" senators have introduced legislation that would "streamline" the road to citizenship for all the 11 million illegals living within our borders, while doing little to improve actual security. The media have reported that Americans "support" immigration reform, though the truth is that Americans really want the problem to go away, and to stop having to deal with the continuing influx.

Our federal government has turned away from the problem illegals create in this country, and now the Obama Administration's policies and public sentiments have sent a message that amnesty and relaxed enforcement will happen, whether or not the Congress moves to solve the problem. The illegals get the message, and they're coming as fast as their legs can carry them. 

Americans are tired of this crap. These people need to be deported, expeditiously and without fuss. This goes well beyond reasonable appeals to common decency and humanitarian principles. 

Enough is enough. Do we want immigration reform? You bet. Send them home!  


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Return of the Grammar Nazi





Lately, as usual, I've been noticing odd pronunciations of words in the media, and by people I see in my daily life.

When I was young, or a young adult, I don't recall now having had this sensation, of hearing odd variations in speech, which bothered me the way they do now.

Is this sensitivity a condition of older age, of some aspect of cantankerous crotchety-ness? 

I often have the feeling that "wrong" pronunciation is an aspect of simple ignorance, or of a poor education.

People who pronounce words wrongly tend to think of language as a simple facility. For them, as long as others "understand" what you're "trying to say" correct grammar or pronunciation simply don't matter. Why speak or write correctly unless there's some reason to do so? Language, after all, is a social medium, whose life is defined by utility.

Lately, I've heard people pronounce the word student (or students) in ways that I don't recognize as typical, either of "American speech" or even as typically English-speaking. 

The way I learned to speak it was STOOd-nt, with the final "t" consonant sound closed off by the tongue against the roof of the mouth, or made soto voce with the upper nasal palate.

But now I hear people saying it these ways:

STOO-den or STOO-denz

or STOO-DENT or STOO-DENTS

or STOO-dun or STOO-duns

These variations suggest to my ear a distinctly germanic quality--which I imagine to be counter-intuitive, since German exerts very little influence on American culture these days. I've even heard this:

SH-DOO-dnz

This last is quite germanic. E.g.: Studenten (plural of students in German). 

I'm not clear about why this word should be undergoing this subtle change. It's almost as if some English speakers are hearing the word as foreign in their own milieu. Who, after all, would devise independently to pronounce student as shtoo-denz in America, today, and why? It's baffling to me.

Hardly anyone has the courage (or the cheek) to correct mispronunciations these days. Everyone seems disinclined to be thought picky or fastidious. It almost seems worse than looking or sounding dumb. 

It seems a part of the current tendency toward politically correct behavior and non-discriminatory courtesy. Ignorance is almost a kind of excused difference.

Stupidity isn't a failure, but an honored (or at least protected) trait. We wouldn't want to hurt someone's feelings by suggesting that they've committed an error. It might cause pain. And pain, or embarrassment, is cruel, or awkward. It's more important to get along, to keep everyone happy, or at least happily ignorant, than it is to single out individual failures.

Maybe, in America, there is no such thing as a correct pronunciation. We're a big melting pot of different cultures and languages in this country. No pronunciation is correct, none is wrong. 

Maybe, in a hundred years, we'll pronounce students STOO-ns, suppressing the D and T consonants completely, simply because enough high school seniors in successive generations were just too lazy to learn how the word should be said. 

Language is a living thing, and we can neither predict where it will go, nor prevent its transformative progress through excessive rigor and regulation. 

My resistance to the decay of words such as student is a contrary motion to the continuing metamorphosis of our common vocabulary. I want the word students to sound like students forever, but a single life is a very brief blip on the graph of time. It's nothing more or less than a temporary convenience. How I feel about it is of no importance, in the larger scheme of the world's sidewise drift. I, like all the rest of the human race, am just a student of the language, not its guardian angel or rueful apologist.

Gabriella's


Though we eat out a great deal, I don't conduct a survey of favorite restaurants, either online or elsewhere, though we often exchange recommendations with people we meet. So it's a special occasion when I do discuss one here.

I've probably had a dozen meals at Gabriella's Restaurant, which is at 910 Cedar Street, in Santa Cruz, California. I have been visiting Santa Cruz for the last decade or so to scout the inventory of Logos Book Store, a big two floor space devoted to used and remaindered stock. With the decay of the retail general used book venue over the last two decades, places like this are becoming few and far between. It was at one of my early trips here that I happened to try this place out for lunch. 



Gabriella's is such an unassuming place, from the street, that you might not even notice it, and even if you did, you might not be intrigued by the entrance which is on the side, by way of a narrow patio. The architecture is vaguely Spanish, with a decorative tile cornice at the roof edge, and ceramic potted plants ranked along the edge of the sidewalk. But the emphasis is not on Latin flavors or preparations. 

You'd have to call it nouvelle cuisine, with a very slight French twist. The wines are American, and the bias is for fresh ingredients, finely prepared sauces, and stylish presentations. The proprietor changes the menu every week or so, so you won't find the same selections unless you go more than once a week. Over the last decade, I've never had the same dish twice, so it isn't a round-robbin; it's a constantly unfolding experiment.   



I had thought to do a review a few months ago, and even took some cell-phone pictures of the meal I'd eaten then, but finally got around to it this weekend. Wife and I drove down for lunch on Friday, with no particular expectations. I ended up ordering the vegetable cream soup (with corn kernals), and wife ordered the pork tacos, which came with a preliminary salad of gems lettuce, avocado, sliced cucumbers, radiches, and a subtle vinagrette. My soup was magnificent--smooth picante and rich.   



I ordered the gnocchi with crushed poricini mushroom, chopped tomato, zuchini, sausage bits, in a silky thick bechamel sauce. The gnocchi were the best I have ever had by far, big, fat, fluffy, consistent, and elegant. And filling!   


Wife's entree was equally impressive, by no means what you'd expect from the picture here. Pork tacos with hot spice (cumin?), a little cream, pepper, avocado, lettuce--standard in the ingredients, with no excess grease.   


The wine was filled with lactic sweetness, hints of apricot, green olive, red apple. the sort of wine, really, which you'd expect to have to pay $60 for, but which was priced at about half that. 





I've reviewed Gabriella's for Yelp@, and I stand behind that verdict. Gabriella's is the small, out-of-the-way place that you'd expect to find in the neighborhood of a large, cosmopolitan city like San Francisco or Portland. But it endures in a beach town which was once no more than a boardwalk amusement park destination. The presence of the UC campus, with its sophisticated faculty crowd, and a diverse community that always evolves around big college places, have made it possible. You can't run a serious eatery like this for locals who spend all their spare time at church or at the local fraternal mens' club. Its customers care about good food, and will pay dearly for it. 

As for me, I'm an out-of-towner, whose periodic visits afford me the occasional chance to verify that this fine, modest, polished little restaurant still survives.  

Long may it prosper!