Monthly Archives: November 2013

Let’s talk cold turkey

turkeyChickens may be cowards, but turkeys are dumb, straight-talkers, often failures and sometimes winners. At least, that’s what American turkey expressions tell us. Clearly, we have a complicated relationship with turkeys. Despite being America’s holiday bird of choice, the turkey is often maligned in our idioms but sometimes revered too.

Though it’s disputed that any such conversation ever actually happened, there’s an old joke that captures the origins of the phrase “talking turkey,” which Mark Forsyth retells in a New York Times article:

There was a 19th-century American joke about two hunters — an American and a Native American — who go hunting all day but only get an owl and a turkey. So the American turns to his companion and says: “Let’s divide up. You get the owl and I get the turkey.” The Native American says: “No. Let’s do it the other way round.” So the American says, “O.K., I’ll get the turkey and you get the owl.” And the Native American replies, “You don’t talk turkey at all.”

Another theory is that the turkey’s unique gobble gave rise to the expression. Either way, from “talk turkey” came the phrase “cold turkey” beginning in the 1920’s relating to quitting something, usually drugs, outright. One explanation is that cold turkey requires little preparation, like quitting right away. Yet another explanation is that the pale, goose-pimply skin of an addict in withdrawal resembles that of a plucked turkey.

Then there’s “Gobbledygook,” which is an attempt to put into one word the nonsensical sounds that a turkey makes, coined in 1944 by a congressman calling for an end to the use of bureaucratic jargon. So in two expressions turkey talk means both very clear and very garbled language.

The turkey also embodies two other opposing characters: the winner and the looser. A failed movie is a “turkey,” a “turkey shoot” is a term for an easy target, yet “bowling a turkey” happens when a player bowls three strikes in a row. This apparently came out of depression era bowling alley promotions that gave away turkeys to game winners.

We eat turkeys not in lunch meat form only once or twice a year. So it’s no surprise that over time we have come up with a slew of idioms relating to the myth of this celebratory foul. But, it’s certainly curious how many opposite qualities we imbue this bird with. But enough of this gobbledygook, time for some turkey.

 

Love letter to a Brazil nut

1-photo 1My Dearest Brazil Nut,

I write this letter to beg for your forgiveness. I, like so many others, have wronged you, my Brazil nut. You have been looked over, taken for granted, you have endured the apathy of millions and generally been treated as the Ringo of nuts. You, who always seem to find yourself at the bottom of the mixed nuts bag, passed over for pecans and macadamias – those garish nuts with the audacity of taste. You, who have all the subtly of a decent Munster cheese or a day-old wheat germ loaf. You are mediocrity incarnate! And it is time someone appreciated you for those unsung qualities.

Oh, Brazil nut. Has anyone ever told you that your pleasingly amorphous shape is like biting into an Anish Kapoor sculpture? When I hold your nubby form between my fingers and chew your oddly indiscernible texture, it puts me at ease. You ask so little of my taste buds unlike your second cousin, the almond, all crunch and flavor. Oh, but you are so coy! You hide your menacing ways well, but Wikipedia knows your secrets. Your blandness belies a darker side; a penchant for murder! Your solidly built pods are a hazard to the tops of people’s heads. But I like a bit of danger. And I don’t even mind that you masquerade as Brazilian even though you are usually Bolivian. You are mysteriously Latin with a dark past, and that is good enough for me. Though, I am glad that you have dropped your old nickname. That was pretty offensive. And you should know that I’m OK with the fact that you’re not economically viable because your yields are too low and world markets are not positively disposed towards an increase in your production. None of that matters to me. You cost $16.95 on Amazon and that’s not too shabby. You should feel pretty good about that, really.

Oh, Brazil nut. Do you know that I stopped eating almonds entirely after I discovered you? It’s true. Even though you are not as satisfying as they are and you are way heavier to carry around as a snack and I look like I’m eating easers. None of that matters! My love for you may be new, but it runs deep. I wish I could save you, Brazil nut, from yourself and for the world, and also for the Capuchin monkeys who apparently like to crack you open with stones. One day the world will take notice of your multitude of middling virtues. And when that day comes I will raise up a handfull of you proudly in the air, eat several of you in your honor, and immediately forget what you taste like.

Yours forever,
A Brazil nut convert

“There’s a new cafe in town, master”

  • A maid looking for new cafe customers in Akiharaba, Tokyo
    A maid looking for new cafe customers in Akiharaba, Tokyo
  • A billboard for a (No. 1) maid cafe in Akiharaba, Tokyo
    A billboard for a (No. 1) maid cafe in Akiharaba, Tokyo
  • Akiharaba, Tokyo
    Akiharaba, Tokyo
  • Manga themed cafes are big too
    Manga themed cafes are big too
  • And so are whatever this is...
    And so are whatever this is...

You can find just about anything in New York City. Most of the world’s cultural exports end up here eventually, from bubble tea to bike lanes. But Japanese culture has only made its way selectively into this city’s cultural landscape. Despite the growing popularity of Japanese pop culture like anime and manga here in the U.S., the Japanese have largely left the weirder stuff back home, until now. The first Maid Cafe has just opened in Chinatown. Theme cafes are big in Japan, and especially hostess cafes which are a special blend of fantasy and female degradation where waitresses dress up in elaborate and often skimpy costumes and flirt with their, mostly socially awkward, male customers. In the Akiharaba district of Tokyo, young waitresses dressed as French maids, school girls and manga characters in platform pumps and thigh highs hand out invitations on the busy streets to passing potential customers. They were all too happy to pose for pictures too, as I found out.

At the maid cafes in Japan, waitresses greet male guests as “master,” listen dotingly, flatter and giggle behind menus. It’s an exaggerated femininity of the kind that feels uniquely Japanese. But, in some ways it’s familiar. What is Hooters if not a fantasy bar where buxom waitresses serve atomic wings instead of matcha? There is one small, but significantly disturbing difference though. There is no mistaking the Hooters waitresses for girls. Whereas the primary look of waitresses at many hostess cafes, and the popular look for Japanese woman in general, is kawaii, meaning cute, as in young, often a little too young. Hence, the popularity of the school girl look. At the Maid Cafe in Chinatown the French maid outfits are maintained but the rest of the experience has been finessed for the American crowd. The cafe holds special events where “traditional” maid service is offered. But regular service involves no references to guests as”masters,” or cartoonish flirtations, just young women in frilly maid outfits serving chicken curry with heart-shaped rice for $6.95.

 

Day of the Dead: Hungarian style

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Kerepesi Cemetery is the Père Lachaise or Recoleta of Budapest; where the city’s rich and famous are laid to rest. Budapest’s streets are named after many of the prominent writers, politicians and national heroes buried among the cemetery’s shady pathways and grand mausoleums. Personally, I find cemeteries to be an uncomfortable tourist attraction. But it’s difficult to resist the allure of these grand cemeteries if only for their sheer aesthetic power. Especially when on All Saints Day, better known as the Day of the Dead or the day after Halloween here in the U.S., the graves are illuminated with candles and covered in flowers to commemorate the dead who have not yet reached heaven- famous and obscure alike. Today’s Halloween traditions are an amalgam of the pagan and Christian traditions commemorating the dead and celebrating the harvest. In Hungary, All Saints Day is pretty sombre stuff – no sexy vampire costumes for miles, just a lot of people coming to pray and pay their respects at cemeteries throughout the country. Here are some pictures I took at Kerepesi on All Saints Day in 2009.