Things I Loved / Hated This Week #57


A Thousand Miles up the Nile:


I’ve always felt that I was born in the wrong age. Each era of the past is deeply fascinating for me. Everything but the sixties through the eighties — no thanks, hippies and crimped hair are not for me. I adore the modern world, but my era was the time from Victorian England through the early fifties. That, I think, is the loveliest time in the history of the world. I would have been an aristocratic adventurer, going off to Egypt and digging through the desert sands for ancient treasures. Alas, I’m a gentleman of the twenty-first century. One nice part of this is the fact that I can still explore this past time with amazing ease. For example, all the great literature and art of yesteryear is being digitized for our modern consumption. Imagine my delight yesterday when I read about a travelogue titled A Thousand Miles up the Nile, which was written by Amelia Edwards, who inspired the creation of my favorite fictional heroine, Amelia Peabody! In just a few minutes, I had a digital copy on my iPad. It was a first edition scan from a public library and had all the old world charm of cracking open an antique volume. And it is phenomenal. The prose is delicious and when I read the line, “Here are…the usual surplus of idlers who travel for the mere love of travel or the satisfaction of a purposeless curiosity.” I just couldn’t stop smiling, the book is perfect. Next weekend, I’m going to sit myself on the couch and gorge myself on it.

Rosemary & Thyme:

I don’t think there is a British show from the 1990s to the mid 2000s that I won’t watch. I love them all. I don’t feel this way about American television, they just go on and on and on and on. When it’s a good program like Will & Grace, I wish they’d go on forever, but twenty-two episodes becomes tiring. No, I much prefer the British concept of ten episodes or less. You get right to the main part of the show. After I finished Keeping Up Appearances, I’ve been going through serious British withdrawals, so I scanned Netflix for my next obsession. I found it. It’s Rosemary & Thyme. I knew nothing about the show from the onset, other than it was about murder solving gardeners and that French and Saunders did a delightful parody of it. I love it. It’s not a comedy, but it still makes me chuckle, which makes it perfect for me. It’s nice to turn on and watch for fifty minutes as the two woman go to fancy estates and talk about tree diseases and rare orchids and then dig up human remains and go to the pub and get rudely treated by the police for their friendship. I think I’ll binge watch the whole thing this weekend.

French Fries:

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I have developed a great fondness for French fries. I suppose it’s nothing new, I’ve always been a fan. When I was still in school, I think it was high school, there was a restaurant right across the street that made the most unbelievably good cheese fries in the entire world. They had globs of Colby Jack cheese on top and were doused heavily in Cavandar’s, which has ever since been one of my favorite spice blends. The place was awesome. They even had delicious cottage cheese and I would always eat my mother’s fried chicken, I used to eat meat back in those days. Anytime my sister and I could convince her to take us there was a great success and the secret to a happy day. They closed years ago, but it was easy enough to recreate the cheese fries at home, which I have done. But, I’ve never actually made my own fries. It couldn’t be too hard, obviously, they’re just a potato. I had no interest in chopping and frying, though, so it was something that I’ve never done. The other day, as I was reorganizing my cupboards, I came across my grandmother’s old potato chopper. It’s a miracle. You stick a potato in it, press down, and French fries pop out. It probably explains why I’ve gained a few pounds. I’ve been making French fries every damn day. I love baking them soft and then broiling them to get brown and crunch; they’re divine. I made roasted tomato sauce, my lazy delicious sauce — throw some sliced tomatoes, garlic cloves, oil, salt, pepper, and whatever fresh herbs you have on a baking sheet and cook with the fries in the oven, whizz up in the food processor — and it’s heaven. It’s absolutely heaven. French fries are a gift from heaven.

Joanna Lumley:

For the majority of my adult life, I’ve been deeply in love with Joanna. Not sexually or anything, I’m gay, but just with her personality and her spirit and her life. I want to be her, actually. I think she’s wonderful. I’ve surely written about this before, I have a clear recollection of gushing about how much I admire her in the past, but it’s time to do it again. The other day, I spent the entirety of the day watching interviews she’s given, watching the phenomenal documentaries she’s hosted, and flipping through her photographic memoir, Absolutely. I find it remarkable that people can have lives such as the one she has. She grew up in British controlled India and then moved to London to become a model. She had great success in television and eventually became the national treasure that she is now. She’s Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, a dear icon to me and to so many others. But, my very favorite role that she ever played is herself. She’s so caring and passionate and intrigued by the world around her. I get the sense that she’s baffled that she’s lucky enough to have such a marvelous time with her life, and for that I adore her all the more. When I watch her dancing with drunken Greek distillers, surviving on a deserted island, sailing up the Nile like some embodiment of every dream I have ever had, searching for the Northern Lights, or trying to understand the human obsession with feline companionship — I can’t help but just watch her, mouth slightly agape at her perfection and poise and dignity. She is a flawless creation and I worship the ground she walks on. If I ever am lucky enough to meet her (and I’ve had elaborate fantasies of how this would play out since I was in high school — they usually involve a bottle of champagne at Sardis) I think I would just die. I wouldn’t be able to form coherent phrases. I’d be a babbling fool, but I would be so happy. Joanna Lumley is truly one of my greatest role models and I look up to her so much.

Full Sized Baguettes:


When I bought my new oven at IKEA, I was thrilled and delighted, thinking that I finally had one that was capable of holding a full size sheet pan. WRONG. It’s this strange size that can hold the width of a full size sheet pan, but not the depth. I don’t understand why such a horrible creation was ever built. It will hold a half sheet and a quarter sheet pan side by side just fine and I often do this. The best part of this oven, now that I’ve finally accepted its shortcomings, is the fact that I can bake a full-sized baguette in there! It’s marvelous. For years, I’ve been baking delicious bâtards, which are short baguettes, or using baguette pans. These are fine, but they just aren’t as fun as a massive baguette, you know? Maybe you don’t, maybe this is my own personal struggle. It’s a triumph for me, though. I made some the other night and they are just phenomenally good. I had a piece for breakfast with a wedge of cheese and I felt just like I was back home in Paris. It was heaven.




I don’t know why, but this spice is gross in all of its forms. It tastes like soap and acid and I’m no fan. I made a big pot of Sudanese lentil soup this afternoon and I added a couple teaspoons as was suggested by the recipe. I knew that I was not a fan, but I don’t believe in modifying recipes until you’ve at least tried preparing them the proper way. It wasn’t awful, but there was just this awful sour flavor in the soup now from the coriander. It’s probably because coriander is just the seed that propagates cilantro, which I also dislike. It’s awful in everything but salsa. I can handle it in salsa. I managed to fix the soup to my liking by adding a bit of sugar and tossing in the juice of a lemon. Now the sour flavor comes mainly from the lemon, which I’m fine with. Coriander is gross.

Unable to Work Wonderful Museum Job:


I have a nice job and I feel very happy to call many of the people I work with my friends. On the other hand, I realize that this isn’t really the right thing to do for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly enjoy working with teenagers way more than I ever expected. But, I want to do other things while I have the ability. I would love to work in Europe, it’s always been a dream of mine. I know that I probably sound ungrateful because my ancestors surely went to a lot of trouble to settle here in the middle of nowhere, but I’d much rather go back to where they began and live in a village. Even more, I would love to work in one of the great cities of the world. So, yesterday when one of the archaeologists from the British Museum posted a job listing for a museum assistant, I eagerly read through it. I was perfectly qualified for the job. I would have loved it. It included photographing artifacts, setting up exhibits, and answering questions that guests might have. I would have had the time of my life! Sadly, though, I have no right to work in the UK and the time listing of the job was so short that there was not adequate time to request a work visa from the government. And so, this didn’t work out which really rather depressed me. Even if I was poor in London, I’d still be in London where I could go exploring every day. It’s not like here where all I have is a massive estate that I have to manage every afternoon and all night long, there’s no time to enjoy it since it’s constantly in need of work. I whine a lot, but I just don’t belong here. I need to seriously work on something.

Dispassionate Writing:


Writing is currently the bane of my daily existence. To keep myself motivated to write, I force myself to type out a page each day. Most days this isn’t a worry or a bother, it often doesn’t take me more than five minutes to propel the characters of my story in interesting directions. When I was working on Haskell & Eudora (available now for instant download on Amazon at a low price! PLEASE BUY A COPY! YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL, READER!), I was having the most phenomenal time. Words would simply come pouring out of my mind. I had to struggle to contain them. But whenever I go to work on my next novel, Hôtel-Ker-Maria, I have the absolute worst time. I feel that if I can get it right, the book will be a triumph. Maybe not to anybody else to me, but it’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell for so many years. It’s the story of my grandmother’s life in the south of France and it’s fascinating with engaging characters and plots, but whenever I go to actually write it down, it just falls flat. It is boring. It’s not interesting at all. I’m sure there is some key to making it work that I’m missing, but until then, I will carry on writing poetic phrases on the beauty of the Mediterranean and the hearty deliciousness of soupe au pistou, and love affairs with handsome Frenchman. I just can’t understand why I don’t have more fun. I understand the characters. I understand the setting. I know where I’m going. I’ve written the damn thing twice before, but it’s just never right. It’s always stale. It’s always dreadful. I have gone through those drafts with a highlighter to lift out the good bits and it’s loaded with good bits, they just don’t fit in with the rest of the narrative. Before I die, I’m going to get this book right.

Polar Vortex:


Now, I’m being told that all the nonsense going on outside is not a polar vortex, but I am far from convinced. Iowa is almost always unbearably cold in the winter, but I don’t recall it ever being this way so continuoulsy. I’m sadly accustomed to piles of snow, which I hate, and I honestly prefer this polar vortex, but that does not make it pleasant. It’s horrifically frigid outside and inside too. Life is a constant struggle to stay warm. I’ve taken to hiding out in my lounge or bedroom with my space heater on full blast. Even with it constantly puffing out heat, the room is only just livable. I can’t stand to be in my preferred room, the kitchen, since it’s basically made of windows and is far too chilly for me to be sat in working. We really need to do something about this climate change business. Save the oceans, too, whilst we’re at it. In fact, why don’t we use the energy plan Paris Hilton espoused in her sadly mocked presidential campaign?

I would have voted for her had she been on the ballot. She also wanted a fashion police and to paint the White House pink! I’m in favor. Anyway, it’s cold and school was delayed this morning. Winning. A polar vortex is dreadful, but it’s so much nicer than a blizzard!

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