Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Squid Eats: Le Toledo

Montreal is crazy with top-notch bakeries, yet another strong connection with the city's French heritage.  The Plateau, in particular, is home to what feels like dozens.  Thus it was rather bold for Le Toledo to open its doors in 2019.  But if you build it, the people will come.  The place was bustling when we went, filled mostly with young adults, presumably on lunch break.  There were a few families, too (don't these kids go to school?).

We got the Foccacia to share - quite pretty but a little veggie-heavy for my tastes.  A spot of protein would have been nice - more a personal preference than a criticism.  We got something sweet, too, though neither of us quite remembers what.  No faulting the quality of the product.  We'll go again - easy, pleasant and relatively cheap lunch spot in our favorite neighborhood.  It was a little noisy but not oppressively so.  Not exactly a place to sit and relax for a long stretch - at lunchtime, anyway - as demand for seating is high but there are coffeeshops nearby for that.  

I'll order something different next time.  Beyond the pastry options, both savory and sweet, there are plenty of patés, cheeses and such on offer.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Star Trek: Cardassians

Episode: "Cardassians"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 24, 1993

Garak episode!

A Cardassian war orphan arrives on the station with his Bajoran father, arousing the interest of Garak (Andrew Robinson).  When our favorite tailor tries to engage the two in conversation, the boy bites Garak on the hand.  [As our child pointed out, they would have been uncomfortable if a stranger put his hand on their shoulder, too.] Obviously, there's more to this story.  As it turns out, this is not just any orphan but Rugal, the long-lost son of a powerful politician.  Cardassian political rivalries converge at the station while Garak and Dr. Bashir travel to Bajor to investigate.

I am likely to say it every time with different wording: Garak stories are special.  He brings out the best in everyone, both writers and actors.  His mere existence is the perfect enigma to build a story around and Robinson's instinctive feel for the role raises the bar for all involved.  At one point Garak says, "I never tell the truth because I don't believe there is such a thing."  What a line!  What a way to sum up a character in a single sentence!

There's plenty of development to go around in "Cardassians," particularly for Sisko, Bashir and O'Brien.  There are a couple of delicious exchanges between commander and doctor: first when Julian interrupts a communication with Gul Dukat, later when he wakes Benjamin in order to request a runabout.  As for Miles, we see a fascinating conflict between his war-hewn prejudices and his paternal instincts.  An evening meal in the O'Brien's home is layered with meaning: Keiko's naivety in serving Rugal Cardassian cuisine plus Miles's and Rugal's equal revulsion.

Bashir and Garak's friendship has progressed since last we saw them together.  Julian is now more comfortable teasing the clothier regarding his unknown loyalties.  I enjoy the sense that we have missed smaller, more subtle adventures since the last time we saw Garak.  As the audience, we don't need to see all of the minutia in order to feel immersed in this world.

Solid work.  We'll see Garak again in Episode 18.

Acting Notes

Andrew Jordt Robinson was born February 14, 1942 in New York City.  After starting at the University of New Hampshire, he ultimately graduated from the New School for Social Research, then earned a Fulbright scholarship to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.  His professional career started on the New York stage as both actor and playwright.  The first television work was a guest role on N.Y.P.D. in 1969.  He made his big screen debut as Scorpio in 1971's Dirty Harry.  

Robinson had a regular role on the soap opera Ryan's Hope from 1976-78, a gig which earned him an Emmy nomination.  He has also had a successful career as an academic as former director of the MFA acting program at the University of Southern California.  In addition to his 37 appearances as Garak - a job he almost didn't take but he needed the money - Robinson directed one episode of DS9 and two of Star Trek: Voyager.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Squid Eats: Kitano Shokudo

We have long been fans of Otto, a darn close to authentic Izakaya in Montreal.  However, until our most recent visit, we had never been to their sister restaurant, formerly Otto Bistro, recently rebranded as Kitano Shokudo.  While Otto specializes in yakitori and other typical (for Japan) bar food, Kitano Shokudo's menu covers a wider range: sashimi, sushi, noodle dishes, etc.  The cuisine also allows for more North American and specifically Quebecois influence.

Case in point, my wife ordered the duck confit with ramen noodles (mazemen).  Duck confit is, happily, a regional specialty.  She was pleased.  

I went more traditionally Japanese with chirashi, sashimi laid over a bed of rice.  It was in smaller pieces than I expect - not less food, mind you, just cut into smaller chunks.  It was all kind of jumbled together, salad style.  None of this was unpleasant.  I cleaned my plate.  Just different.

The atmosphere was less raucous than Otto and the space smaller.  A quieter meal.  It was a younger adult crowd for the most part, plus some families.  One family with little kids, who unfortunately couldn't be seated, was one we'd also seen at breakfast that morning.  Perhaps also travelers?  Our server was clearly gaijin (foreigner), though she comfortably switched between Japanese, English and French.  Eavesdropping on her conversations with others, I was not surprised to learn she'd had personal experience in Japan.  Prices were higher than at Otto's so a bit of a splurge.  A fine meal, nonetheless.

An odd quirk I noticed in the Montreal restaurant business on this trip: quite a lot of proprietors must be stereo equipment enthusiasts as their collections were often on display.  Such was the case at Kitano Shokudo.  

Friday, March 17, 2023

Star Trek: Gambit, Part II

Episode: "Gambit, Part II"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 18, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Last week's episode continues.  The attack on the Enterprise by the pirate ship was a ruse.  Riker modified the pirate weapons so they wouldn't harm the Enterprise.  Data, currently in command of the flagship, plays along with the game, feigning damage, allowing the pirates to run off believing they've disabled their pursuers.  Picard, meanwhile, discovers what the pirates are after in pilfering Romulan artifacts: an ancient Vulcan weapon.

Interestingly, most critics rate Part I over Part II but I prefer the latter for the simple reason that the acting's better.  There's a lot more Picard and Patrick Stewart spars wonderfully with guest stars Richard Lynch and Robin Curtis.  The secondary narrative tension between Data and Worf is satisfying.  A spin off series with Data as Captain and Worf as First Officer?  I'd be excited for that show.

I'm not such a fan of the ending - too hokey.  It's rock solid Trek but (and) it's hokey.

"Gambit, Part II" includes the most surprising cameo of the NextGen run: NBA superstar James Worthy as the Klingon smuggler Koral.  Worthy, one of the key figures in the Lakers' dynasty of the 1980s and an eventual Hall of Famer, was still an active professional basketball player in 1993.  He met Robert O'Reilly (Gowron) on an airplane and expressed a desire to appear on the show.  O'Reilly encouraged him to meet with the producers.  It takes a big man to make Worf look short.  At 6'9", Worthy towers over the 6'3" Michael Dorn.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Robin Curtis played the role of Tallera/T'Pal, a Vulcan isolationist disguised as a Romulan member of the pirate crew.  The last time I mentioned her on The Squid, Curtis had taken over the role of Saavik in the Star Trek films when Kirstie Allie left.  Curtis was born June 15, 1956 in New York Mills, New York.

Other television work includes Knight Rider, General Hospital and Babylon 5.  Films include Hexed, Ghost Story and Shootdown.  Curtis had a long stage career, including her own one-woman show: Not My Bra, You Don't! - The Sexual Odyssey of a Forty-Nine Year Old Woman

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Squid Eats: Le Petit Sao

Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal) is one of the more touristy parts of the city, containing the Notre-Dame Basilica, upscale hotels, souvenir shops, etc.  As such, it's not our first choice neighborhood as a place to stay but there are still good reasons to visit when we're in town.  Our excuse this time was the Scandinave Spa where we spent a decadent late morning soaking in warm water and such.  Afterwards, we were hungry for lunch.  Google Maps led us to a lovely spot...

Le Petit Sao is a Vietnamese restaurant, a long and narrow set up ideal for a quick lunch and take out - I would guess less accommodating for a sit down dinner in the evening.  Most weekdays, I imagine they do well with the work lunch crowd.  The name translates from a combination of French and Vietnamese to the little star.  We both got banh mi sandwiches.  My wife got the pork, I the chicken.  Both were excellent.  The price was quite reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food.  Service was friendly.  

Le Petit Sao was a nice find.  I don't think I'd head across town for it but it's a good place to remember for future lunches if we're already down there.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Star Trek: Invasive Procedures

Episode: "Invasive Procedures"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 17, 1993

Verad, a disgruntled Trill, hijacks the station, demanding that Jadzia's symbiont be removed from her and implanted in him.  Verad is resentful of the fact that he himself was passed over for the joining and has decided to take matters into his own hands.  

"Invasive Procedures" is an important Trill story which further explores the separate beings which are the symbiont and the host.  It's not an especially good Jadzia story as she is not conscious for most of it, though it does help to establish her self-sacrificing nature.  It's a more interesting Dax story, especially regarding Dax's friendship with Benjamin Sisko.  We see where the lines of loyalty are drawn for Ben - to Curzon (his pal back in the day), to Dax and, most importantly in the long run, to Jadzia.

The episode is also notable for a guest appearance by Tim Russ, the future Tuvok in Voyager.

Acting Notes

John Glover (Verad) was born August 7, 1944 in Kingston, New York.  He grew up in Salisbury, Maryland and graduated from Towson University.  Films include Annie Hall, White Nights and Gremlins 2: The New Batch.  Glover had a principal role on Smallville and also had appearances in Miami Vice and Murder, She Wrote among others.  He is currently the voice of the Riddler in the DC Animated Universe.  

Glover has won his greatest accolades on stage.  After his DS9 gig, he won a Tony in 1995 for the lead in Love! Valour! Compassion!  Glover is gay and has been married to sculptor Adam Kurtzman since 2016.  They've been together since 1993.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Yakitate!! Japan, Volume 4

Title: Yakitate!! Japan, Volume 4
Writer and Artist: Takashi Hashiguchi

via Amazon

Young bakers Kazuma and Kawachi work their way through the Pantasia chain's Rookie Tournament, repeatedly pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat.  Each round's challenge is a specialty (oddity?) of Japanese bread: melon bread, fried noodle bread, animal bread.  Kazuma wins with creative vision, Kawachi with grit.

There isn't much in the way of sexual reference in Yakitate!! but what there is tends towards the dirty old man vibe: objectifying talk regarding a woman's breasts, a competition judge so excited he nearly exposes himself and such.  The manga series is classified as shōnen, comic books targeting teenage boys.  So while somewhat offensive, the sexualized material is not entirely surprising.

Even so, Yakitate!! Japan continues to amuse.  The superhero action comic take on cooking competitions is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Squid Eats: Ma Poule Mouillée

We recently visited Montreal for the first time since before COVID.  The city is only two hours away from our house and in the before times, we'd do our best to go once or twice a year.  At this point, I'm comfortable calling Montreal my favorite North American city - friendly, easy to get around and varied in its offerings.  We generally stay in the Plateau which is less touristy than other parts of the city.  When traveling, I prefer to be in a place where you can see people going about their daily lives - walking their kids to school and such.  The Plateau is perfect.

As I have written before, Montreal is a dazzling food city.  Name a cuisine and there are numerous top quality choices.  One of our favorites: Portuguese.  I'm not sure I've ever had Portuguese food anywhere other than Montreal.  Our target on our most recent trip was Ma Poule Mouillée which translates to my wet chicken or, colloquially, my sissy.  

Whatever the translation, there was nothing wimpy about the food.  There's a half-chicken with piri-piri sauce buried under these fries:

We split the order along with a salad.  Even between two of us, it was way too much food - greasy, heavy and delightful.  Many napkins required.  We also got a half dozen natas, heavenly Portuguese custard pastries.  Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.  We had to save most of the natas for later.

Ma Poule Mouillée is a counter service restaurant - great food for a reasonable price.  The place is popular, drawing a varied clientele.  A family of four sat behind us, the little kids very excited by the pastry options for dessert.  An older couple came in for their take out order.  The line to order never waned while we were there.

I would definitely go again, remembering to order less food next time.

Monday, March 6, 2023

On the Coffee Table: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

via Wikipedia

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes collects twelve short stories about the world's most famous detective.  It is the final Holmes book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1927, three years before the author's death.  Critics often rate this final volume as the weakest of the short story collections, though I feel a few of the tales are worthy of note.  "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" and "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" are unusual for the fact they are told from Holmes's perspective whereas the vast majority of stories are told from Watson's.  I appreciate "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" for the rare glimpse of Holmes's deep, genuine affection for Watson.  Some of the stories veer toward other genres.  In "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," for instance, a former rugby star hires Holmes to figure out what is going on with his wife, whom he caught sucking their baby's blood at the neck.  

And so, I have reached the end of my Holmes exploration, unlikely to seek out the few uncollected stories.  I thoroughly enjoyed my romp.  I was never able to get past seeing Sherlock as Benedict Cumberbatch in 21st century garb, though Watson has a more Victorian image in my mind's eye, complete with mustache and bowler hat.  I generally preferred the short stories to the novels.  While Holmes nearly always arrives at the truth, my favorite stories are the ones in which he fails, best of all when he is out-maneuvered by a woman.

As such, my favorite story of all is one of the earliest:  "A Scandal in Bohemia," featuring Irene Adler.  Adler is one of several characters who feature more prominently in adaptations than in the original Doyle texts.  Nemesis Moriarty and brother Mycroft fall into the same category.  "Bohemia" is, in fact, Adler's only appearance in the originals.  

I am curious now about the numerous adaptations and will keep my eye out for them, especially the various earlier British television series.  

Friday, March 3, 2023

Star Trek: Gambit, Part I

Episode: "Gambit, Part I"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 11, 1993

via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise crew believes the captain is dead, killed in a bar on Dessica II.  In the course of investigating the incident, Riker is abducted by the same band of pirates who, it turns out, are also holding Picard, still alive and masquerading as a collaborator in order to survive.  The pirates are pillaging Romulan artifacts for reasons not yet known.  We're left with quite a cliffhanger as the pirate ship fires upon an apparently defenseless Enterprise.

Season 7 perks up a little after a sluggish start.  Picard and Riker's subtle, coordinated scheming is fun.  We also get to see Data in command for a decent stretch.  His approach to leadership is cold and efficient, though not entirely unappealing.  He is both confident and creative - clearly learned a lot at the chess board.

Even with a bump back up, TNG is obviously running out of steam.  Especially with Deep Space Nine coming into its own, the relatively weak acting skills of the NextGen cast are becoming apparent.  What is supposed to be an emotional exchange between Riker and Troi feels forced and clumsy.  Thank goodness for Patrick Stewart.

Acting Notes

via Battlestar Wiki

Richard Lynch played the role of Baran, the pirate captain.  Lynch was born February 12, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York.  He served in the US Marine Corps for four years before embarking on his acting career.

In 1967, while under the influence of drugs, Lynch set himself on fire.  This not so brilliant choice left him with scars over 70 percent of his body.  As a result of the scars on his face, he was most often cast in villain roles.  Films included The Sword and the Sorcerer, for which he won a Saturn award, Scarecrow and Halloween (2007).  Television gigs included Battlestar Galactica (the original series), T.J. Hooker and The A-Team.  In 1977, Lynch was nominated for a Tony for his role in The Basic Training of Pablo Hummel, appearing alongside Al Pacino.

Lynch died of a heart attack in 2012.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Squid Games: Glasgow

Glasgow is a two-player, tile placing, resource management game.  You and your opponent move around a circle collecting resources.  Together, you build the city of Glasgow in a 4x5 grid in the middle of the circle: parks, monuments, factories, etc.  Each of your assets generates points to be tallied at the end.  It's tricky because you can also help your opponent depending on what you place where in the grid.

The game is a little bit Catan in the building of assets and gathering or resources.  Movement is similar to Tokaido.  The grid is reminiscent of Patchwork.  My wife and I enjoyed Glasgow, though I don't know if I'd play again.  She won our game.  Her two train stations alone gained her a crushing 20 points, though I think she would have won anyway.

The box says ages 10 and up, though BoardGameGeek rates it at 8+.  Game play is quick: 30 minutes estimated.  BoardGameGeek gives it a complexity rating of 2.7 out of 5.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Star Trek: The Siege

Episode: "The Siege"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 10, 1993

Continuing from last week's episode, the station is evacuated in expectation of an assault by the Bajoran faction known as the Circle.  Well, at least that's what's supposed to happen.  In truth, Commander Sisko and a trusted cohort stick around to prevent the takeover.  Meanwhile, Kira and Dax make their way to the Chamber of Ministers on Bajor to deliver proof that the Cardassians are arming the Circle.

It's time to talk about the Bechdel Test and its application to Star Trek.  Alison Bechdel created the test in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.  In order to pass, a work of fiction must meet the following criteria:
  • The story must have at least two female characters.
  • Those female characters must talk to each other...
  • About something other than men.
While the Star Trek franchise deserves some credit for progress for female characters on television - Nyota Uhura, certainly - the number of TOS, TAS or TNG episodes that pass the Bechdel test is pretty skimpy.  It would be easy to believe, for instance, that Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher only get together to gossip about boys.  

This failure did not go unnoticed by critics.  Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were created with an eye towards changing things.  "The Siege" is an especially good episode for the Kira-Dax relationship, passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors.  

Acting Notes

Philip Anglim played the role of Vedek Bareil, Kira's powerful, progressive ally within the Bajoran establishment.  Anglim was born February 11, 1952 in San Francisco.  As a child, he aspired to be a veterinarian but eventually turned to acting.  He graduated from Yale with a degree in English literature.

Anglim is best known for portraying Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man, a role he performed on both stage and television.  The part won him a Tony nomination in 1979 and an Emmy nomination in 1981.  He also played the title role in Macbeth on both Broadway and television.  Films include Malone, Haunted Summer and Testament.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Squid Games: Koi-Koi

For Christmas, my wife got me a deck of hanafuda, a style of Japanese playing cards which are also used in Korea, Micronesia and Hawaii.  I readily admit, despite my time in Japan, I'd never heard of hanafuda.  The deck I have is produced by Nintendo, the video game company which evidently got its start in 1889 as a hanafuda producer.

The deck came with instructions for Koi-Koi, the most popular Japanese game played with hanafuda.  The objective of this two-player game is to create sets of cards called yaku.  Figuring out the yuka is challenging for novices like us - not unlike the challenge of learning all the winning combinations in mahjong.  A few examples:


Blossom Viewing

Five Lights

Unlike western playing cards, hanafuda are not numerical.  They do have suits in a sense, the cards being grouped into each of the twelve months.  Within each month, the four cards have different values, though the values are not printed on the cards.  Some cards have scrolls.  Some have animals on them.  Some have celestial objects.  Only one has a human.  

I can see how the game would be fun after a lot of practice with visual guides.  The cards are small - maybe 1/3 the size of typical western cards - and very pretty.  Our first attempt was rather frustrating but I think Koi-Koi has promise once we learn our way around the deck itself.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

Star Trek: Interface

Episode: "Interface"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 4, 1993

The USS Hera, captained by Silvia La Forge (Madge Sinclair), Geordi's mother, was gone missing and is presumed lost.  Unwilling to accept her death, Geordi takes unnecessary risks with a virtual reality probe, clinging to the slimmest hope that in doing so, he can rescue her.

This was the episode that made the writing staff realize they were running out of ideas for NextGen.  The basic concept of "Interface" is fine and a La Forge back story is long overdue.  But the pace is painfully slow.  Sound and music are noticeably minimal, fostering a too mournful atmosphere.  It all feels like a missed opportunity, yet another Geordi episode that falls flat.  I mean, they enlisted Ben Vereen to play Geordi's father - Ben Vereen, for crying out loud! - and in his one, brief scene, he never gets up from his chair.  

Acting Notes

Ben Augustus Middleton was born October 10, 1946 in Laurinburg, North Carolina.  He was adopted by James and Pauline Vereen who raised him in Brooklyn.  Ben Vereen didn't know he was adopted until he was 25 years old and applied for a passport.  He went to the High School of Performing Arts where he studied with giants of the dance world: Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.  He struggled to find professional work at first but boy, once he did...

There's no other way to put it.  Ben Vereen is a Broadway Titan, on a short list of the all-time greats.  He made his name in two of the biggest shows of the early '70s, playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, then the Leading Player in Pippin.  He was nominated for Tonys for both, winning for Pippin.  The television resume isn't exactly terrible either.  He was a guest host on The Muppet Show.  Vereen, Madge Sinclair and LeVar Burton all starred in the mini-series juggernaut Roots.  

It hasn't all been roses.  Vereen has already lost two of his five children.  His daughter Naja was killed in and auto accident at age 16.  His son Ben Jr. passed away at age 55.  In January 2018, Vereen was accused of sexual harassment by four actresses in a Florida production of Hair he was directing.  He apologized for his misconduct.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Squid Mixes: Irish Manhattan

An Irish Manhattan combines Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters with a lemon twist.  It is, as the name implies, a Manhattan with the rye swapped out for Irish whiskey.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  He used a different name for it, poking fun at his own mentor, Kevin Noone, who took offense at a particular Irish pejorative.  I won't be using it here.

After the Greenpoint, it would seem I have some trust to build back with my wife.  As she was picking up the Irish Manhattan, she asked. "there's nothing else in it right???"  I assured her no.  After tasting, she admitted it was fine, though she still prefers rye.

The drink has strong vanilla notes for me, no doubt derived from the Bushmills.  

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, February 13, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Min Jin Lee

Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee

via Amazon

Pachinko is a multi-generational saga about a Korean family's struggles through the 20th century, mostly in Japan.  The history of the Koreans in Japan is not much discussed in the West.  Approximately a million Koreans live in Japan, about half of whom are not and have little hope of ever becoming citizens despite having lived in the country their entire lives.  Prejudice against Koreans - truly all foreigners but especially Koreans - runs deep in Japan.  They've historically lived in their own ghettos and been excluded from most lucrative professions.  They tend to have the jobs native Japanese don't want - not unlike immigrant workers in North America and Europe.

As such, the tale of Sunja and her descendants is often discouraging.  Her sons eventually make their fortunes running Pachinko parlors.  Pachinko - Japan's #1 gambling addiction - is like vertical pinball.  The industry, strongly linked to organized crime, is run largely by Koreans which does little to help their reputation.  But what can you do when no one else will hire you?

The narrative threads follow various family members over time.  The stories are beautifully told as we fall in love with one generation after another.  The common theme throughout is shame: shame for deformities, for being poor, for being Korean, for homosexuality, for sexual promiscuity, for unexpected pregnancy and on and on.  It's a shame one can easily see as peculiarly Japanese or East Asian but in reality, I don't think it's so different from how we treat people here in the United States.  True, we don't cling to the same illusion of homogeneity.  But we still aren't especially forgiving of people who are not white, Christian, straight, cis-male, able-bodied, etc.  American shame is really no less cruel.  Shame can kill.  

So while Pachinko is not always a happy book, it's certainly an engaging one.  It inspired quite a lot of Japan nostalgia for me, particularly as much of it takes place in Yokohama, the city where I lived, 1996-98 - not too long after Lee's story ends in 1989.  One gripe, and it's a common problem with books like this: the main characters are portrayed as virtuous people treated unfairly.  What's the problem, you ask?  Boorks like Pachinko portray tyranny and oppression on a personal level and darn effectively.  But the message too easily becomes "these things shouldn't happen to nice people."  True, they shouldn't.  But they shouldn't happen to anyone else either.  


Forgive me for a self-indulgent segue.  Though I suppose that's kind of what a blog is for, isn't it?


Yokohama Skyline via Wikipedia

The book has come into my life at an interesting time.  I'm hitting a big birthday this year - I'll let you guess which one.  It's a natural age for looking back over the arc of one's own life story.  Japan will always loom large for me.  It was my place of birth, though from my current vantage point, that is less significant than those two years in the '90s when I lived there as an adult.  

Japan was 25 years ago now, which feels like a noteworthy number, too.  I still think about it every day.  My Japanese was never great - I hardly needed it in a city like Yokohama - but I'm pretty sure I could still order dinner at a restaurant and get a cab to my apartment with little trouble.  I miss politeness.  I miss bars where you can comfortably converse with friends.  And the trains - oh, how I miss the trains!  Public transit in Japan spoiled me for the rest of the world.  I loved that feeling of walking into my local station and knowing I could go just about anywhere in the country given the time and the money.  And, I'd get there on schedule.

I remember standing on the train platform one night and thinking one day in the future, I wouldn't believe it all really happened to me.  While there's a bit of that now, in truth, the experience is a more intense reality than other stages of my past.  I remember Japan vividly.  I can still feel the tatami mats under my toes and smell the yakisoba at the local noodle shop.  If anything, Japan was my great awakening, the grand kickoff to the rest of my adult life.  Everything before - college, high school, childhood - that all happened to somebody else.  Japan was the real me.

Why?  I am a naturally guarded and private person.  For whatever reason, I was able to let go of that in Japan.  Knowing the time was limited and the opportunity rare, I wrung as much as I could out of life while I was there, soaking in experiences and casting a wide net for friends.  Mind you, I was still me and my Japan world was surely shaped by my compulsions and insecurities.  But somehow less so.  I pushed at the limits more than I ever had before or since and the payoff was grand.  The regrets I felt reading Pachinko are the wishes that I'd managed to wring out a bit more - okay, a lot more.  

I don't talk about it often.  I probably write about it here on The Squid more than I talk about it with anyone in my daily life and that isn't very much.  My family all know about it, of course, but even with them, I rarely share specifics.  With others, even close friends, I feel self-conscious whenever it comes up.  While part of me wants to share, another is protective.  I worry it sounds like I'm showing off.  It was never about that.  I didn't go to Japan to impress people and I've always resented any suggestion that I should brag about it.  I went for me, to experience a culture I didn't know, regardless of what's printed on my birth certificate.  And I got plenty out of my time in Japan even if it wasn't at all what I expected to get out of it.  I lived a lot in two years.  

But it's deeply personal - in part for my relationships there, of course.  I met amazing people and made extraordinary connections still vital to me despite the separation of oceans and decades.  I've also come to appreciate over the years how individual my particular adventure was.  My story was different from my parents', 20+ years before.  It was different from those of others I've met since who have spent time in Japan, even those who were there on the same program at approximately the same time.  I cherish my friends from that time, of course, though their reflections, too, can seem differently tinted from my own - they lived in different cities, taught at different schools.  Our divergent paths since have also colored our perspectives of the past.

25 years on, some of the lessons from Japan are more clear than I could have articulated at the time.  The most important thing I learned...

Never undervalue happiness because it doesn't come along as often as it should.

Over two years, I built a wonderful life in Japan.  I was happy, content in a way I had never been before.  I was confident, secure, well-loved, open to others, excited for further adventures.  Saying goodbye to people all the time was hard and living far away from family was no picnic.  But I was happy.  It was a happiness I recognized was rare and building a longer life around it was tempting.

So why didn't I?  I won't lie.  That question needled at me for years.  Mind you, I have a pretty awesome life now, too.  But I couldn't have known that at the time.  Why not stick with what was working?  All of the answers were practical ones.  There would have been details to sort out: where to live, how to make a living, visas to renew and so forth.  There were personal matters, too.  Temporary whirlwind romances, lovely though they might have been, weren't going to cut it in the long run - not for me anyway and likely not for the women involved either.  

In short, the longer I stuck around, the more my life would bend towards the ordinary and predictable.  As long as I was moving in that direction anyway, I might as well do it closer to home where the particulars were less complicated.  Besides, I'm not sure I would ever have wanted Japan to become ordinary.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Star Trek: The Circle

Episode: "The Circle"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 2
Original Air Date: October 3, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Continuing from last week's episode, our heroes on Deep Space 9 must contend with The Circle, a Bajoran faction intent on overthrowing the provisional government.  Meanwhile, Kira, removed from her post on the station, accepts an invitation from Vedek Bareil to visit his monastery in order to reflect and contemplate her next step.  Her spiritual adventure is interrupted when she is kidnapped by The Circle.

"The Circle" is the second of a three-part arc and it serves the middle-volume purpose of expanding upon the narrative set forth in the first.  The trilogy provides our most intimate glimpse yet of the religious and political world of Bajor.  Obviously, it's an essential Kira story, not only because of her complicated relationship with her home world but also because we get to see how important she is to Commander Sisko.  "The Circle" is a good Quark story, too - one that clearly demonstrates his value to the operation.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Louise Fletcher played the role of Vedek Winn, a powerful orthodox religious leader on Bajor.  Fletcher was born July 22, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama.  She received a degree in Drama from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Fletcher had a long, accomplished career in both film and television.  Her legacy is secure having played one of the greatest, cruelest villains in cinema: Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  She won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for the part, only the third actress to accomplish the feat.  In accepting her Oscar, she thanked her parents in sign language as they were both deaf.  In 2003, the American Film Institute named Nurse Ratched the 5th greatest villain in film.

Other movies include The Lady in Red, Firestarter and Cruel Intentions.  Fletcher's television resume is extensive, too.  Early in her career, she was cast in a lot of Westerns - including Lawman and Maverick - partly because of her height.  Fletcher was 5'10", generally a disadvantage but as the male stars in Westerns were also usually tall, it didn't matter as much.  She received Emmy nominations for her guest appearances on both Picket Fences and Joan of Arcadia.

Fletcher passed away just this past year on September 23rd.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Krishnendu Ray

Title: The Ethnic Restaurateur
Author: Krishnendu Ray

via Amazon

Krishnendu Ray, an Indian-born professor of Food Studies at NYU, presents an exploration of the American restaurant industry and the role of the the non-Anglo, non-white, typically foreign-born business owner within that industry.  "Ethnic restaurants" cover a broad range.  What might have been considered foreign in the 19th century - German food, for instance - has been so thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream as to be indistinguishable from its roots.  What might be considered relatively exotic to the middle-class white consumer - soul food, for example - isn't remotely foreign-born.  Most of what Ray examines, however, from the 21st century perspective are the cuisines of Asia, Africa and Latin America which, despite various levels of popularity, still remain at the periphery of the culinary profession.

The book is fascinating, more academic in language and approach than I usually tackle but beautifully written and accessible nonetheless.  Ray's study reveals a great deal about white America's patronizing attitude towards the other.  The author moves beyond the ground-level business experience of the restaurant owner to the world of the professional chef, most intimately the training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) where anything beyond the traditional French techniques struggle to gain a foothold.  Ray draws a sharp line between the pro and the ethnic chef, defined by wildly different career paths.

I now see the restaurant experience - any restaurant experience - differently.  Who is the chef and how is s/he trying to reach me as the more or less typical white American diner?  A fusion menu projects a different signal than one I (probably mistakenly) perceive as more culturally authentic.  How much of my reaction to the food is shaped by the desire for something new?  How much is it shaped by what I expect, especially from a culture - Thailand, let's say - with which I have no direct personal experience?  

Reasonably if predictably, Ray questions the very authenticity we perceive.  What passes for Indian cuisine in the United States, for instance, typically represents only a narrow band of the broad cultural diversity of India.  In truth, all cuisine, even the holiest of holy French cuisine, is regional, not national.  But as a typical white diner, I know what I expect from the Chicken Tikka Masala I order in London and will be deeply disappointed if I don't get it, regardless of whether or not the dish reflects anything I could actually eat in India.

So yes, I recommend the book.  It will change the way you look at the industry and perhaps how you look at American society in general.  For the better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Squid Mixes: Greenpoint

A Greenpoint combines rye, yellow Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, Angostura and orange bitters with a lemon twist.  I got the recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan, another of his Manhattan derivatives.  Regan, in turn, got it from Michael McIlroy of Attaboy in New York.  Greenpoint is the northernmost neighborhood in Brooklyn.

This one was an instant fail for my wife.  She scrunched up her nose and reported, "Ugh, it tastes like cough syrup."  I was not so turned off but Regan would concede, the customer is always right.  You just never know what you're going to get with Chartreuse, a magical and mysterious liqueur.  I would have thought given the ingredients, this would be a winner - and I still wonder if it might be with green Chartreuse rather than yellow - but alas, no.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Star Trek: Liaisons

Episode: "Liaisons"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 27, 1993

via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise crew is engaging in a cultural exchange with the Iyaarans.  Two ambassadors are visiting the ship while Captain Picard departs for a visit to their home world of Iyar.  En route, his shuttle crashes on a desolate planet where he discovers the survivor of a previous crash, a beautiful woman named Anna.  She has been stranded for seven years.  While Picard works to rescue them both, Anna professes her love for him.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, one of the ambassadors, Loquel, falls in love with desserts, first to the delight but eventually the exhaustion of his liaison, Counselor Troi.  The other, Byleth, seems to delight in making his own liaison, Lieutenant Worf, miserable.

The primary Picard narrative was originally inspired by Stephen King's Misery though, fortunately for our captain, his own adventure is less gruesome.  It's still a dark tale by Trek standards, nicely offset by the frequently humorous secondary narrative playing out on the ship.  An interesting side note: the props department had to make some changes to Loquel's sweet treats.  The actor, Paul Eiding, is allergic to chocolate.

Acting Notes

Barbara Williams (Anna) was born October 19, 1953 in Vancouver Island, Canada.  Film credits include Thief of Hearts, Watchers, Oh, What a Night and Love Come Down, for which she was nominated for a Genie Award.  She has been married twice, first to actor Nick Mancuso, second to activist Tom Hayden for 23 years until his death.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Squid Mixes: Bensonhurst

A Bensonhurst combines rye, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Cynar.  It is a Manhattan variant created by bartender Chad Solomon of Cuffs and Buttons.  I got the recipe from a new book to my personal library: The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender's Craft by Gary Regan.  Bensonhurst is a neighborhood in Brooklyn.

My copy of The Joy of Mixology is the second edition of a book first published in 2003, one that has quickly become a must-have for cocktail enthusiasts.  Regan's target audience is the professional bartender but his book is filled with basic tips anyone can use.  It's also highly readable.  I don't intend to read it cover to cover but one could.  There are chapters on history, theory, technique and meaningful blurbs on the individual recipes, too.  As it is aimed for the pro, the emphasis is on pleasing the customer.  A lot of books (by food writers who are not professional bartenders) are rather pedantic - precision is paramount.  Regan is more flexible and forgiving.  I appreciate that.  Regan has fun charts detailing how drinks are related to each other.  I got the Bensonhurst from a list of cocktails that descend from the Manhattan, our house favorite.

As for the drink itself, my wife found it slightly too bitter.  I picked up more of the maraschino flavor.  I had to add a tiny bit of cherry brandy - 1/2 tsp - as we didn't have quite enough Luxardo.  The Bensonhurst is pleasant enough, though certainly no threat to my standard Manhattan recipe.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Star Trek: The Homecoming

Episode: "The Homecoming"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 1
Original Air Date: September 26, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Kira learns that Li Nalas, a hero of the Bajoran Resistance, is alive and being held prisoner in a Cardassian labor camp.  She and Miles rescue him.  She and Commander Sisko both see Li as a potential symbolic leader for a politically fragmented Bajor.  Unfortunately, Li himself isn't so keen on the job.

At the end of DS9's first season, co-creator Michael Piller instructed the writers to concentrate on stories that would break away from NextGen.  "The Homecoming" is the first of a three-part story, one that focuses on the politics of Bajor.  It ends with a good cliffhanger as Jaro, a Bajoran minister played by the un-credited Frank Nagella, tells Sisko that Li will be replacing Kira as the station's liaison officer.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Marc Alaimo played the role of Gul Dukat, one of DS9's most important recurring, and nuanced, recurring characters.  "The Homecoming" is Alaimo's third of 33 appearances as Dukat, though he also had four TNG appearances as four different characters.  Alaimo, was, in fact, the first Cardassian in the franchise - Gul Macet - and the species's makeup design was inspired by the actor's distinctive neck muscles.

Alaimo was born May 5, 1942 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He had an active stage career in both Milwaukee and New York before moving to Los Angeles in 1973.  His television credits are extensive, including guest roles on Kojak, Gunsmoke, The Greatest American Hero, Hill Street Blues and The A-Team.  Films include Naked Gun 33+1/3: The Final Insult, Tango & Cash and The Dead Pool.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Squid Eats: Bob's Diner

Manchester, Vermont has been a resort town since the Civil War, drawing from New York, Boston and everywhere in between year-round.  Most of the people one sees wandering the strip malls are not local residents of the town of under 5,000.  We have met up with Wild Turkey, Commish and family (read here) in Manchester a few times over the years during their summer travels, specifically at Bob's Diner for lunch.  It also made for a convenient stop on one of our recent trips to Massachusetts.

Bob's feels timeless but not old.  The place looks like nearly any 1950s decor diner with the menu you'd expect but doesn't feel run down in the slightest.  One senses it's a popular spot for both locals and the many tourists.  There wasn't a whole lot of snow in Vermont in early January nor was it even especially cold, but that didn't seem to deter the crowds.  I suppose you have to make your reservations at the resorts well in advance so you might as well go, skiing or no skiing.  A lot of the clientele looked about college age - probably got bored hanging out at home with their parents over break.

I got the Diner's Club with turkey.  It was good, though I was disappointed by the lack of a pickle, promised in the menu.  Service was friendly, if a little slow.