Monday, June 27, 2011

700 pgs in, a realization

And now I have an excuse to share a beautiful passage with you:

"In September the invasion began. By October the Serbian Army, which now numbered a quarter of a million men, was faced with three hundred thousand Austro-German troops, under the great strategist Mackensen, and as many Bulgarians. It was now necessary for the country to die. The soldiers retreated slowly, fighting a rearguard action, leaving the civil population, that is to say their parents, wives, and children, in the night of an oppression that they knew to be frightful.

Monks came out of the monasteries and followed the soldiers, carrying on bullock-carts, and on their shoulders where the roads were too bad, the coffined bodies of the medieval Serbian kings, the sacred Nemanyas, which must not be defiled. So was carried King Peter, whose rheumatic limbs were wholly paralysed by the cold of autumn; and so, too, before the retreat was long on its way, was Prince Alexander. The internal pain that had vexed him all year grew so fierce that he could no longer ride his horse. Doctors took him into a cottage and he was operated on for appendicitis. Then he was packed in bandages wound close as a shroud, and put on a stretcher and carried in the procession of the troops.

It is like some fantastic detail in a Byzantine fresco, improbable, nearly impossible, yet a valid symbol of a truth, that a country which was about to die should bear with it on its journey to death, its kings, living and dead, all prostrate, immobile."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Does it count as a double blind study if I'm drunk the whole time?

Hi, my name is Tristyn, and I'm addicted to Google Reader.

I have 233 subscriptions (there are 11 different blogs under my "Tobacco" tag alone), scroll through on average 600 - 800 posts a day, and, I realized, retain precious little of what I read. So! A few weeks ago, I decided to give it up for 10 days-- not a very long period of time, but long enough for me to notice some changes in my habits.

For one, I read a lot more, proper books! That was wonderful. I also noticed that I basically didn't use computers at all once I banned myself from Reader, especially since I have a smart phone, and thus can check email, gchat, and look up any necessary information on its browser. This has interesting implications for future hardware purchases, to say the least.

The blogs and whatnot I subscribe to aren't all feckless drivel, mind you, but I found what I missed most was feeling "informed". I'm definitely a news junkie, but couldn't be bothered to read any newspapers or what-have-you to keep up; that habit was too alien. I chafed most whenever friends would discuss the primary (and really, what else is there to discuss in this great wide world), but having come back now it's very clear that I missed very little. This piece by Ben Dolnick quite accurately sums up my feelings about the entire matter (it's hilarious and scarily on the nose, highly recommend it), and I recognize that really, while I do think it's important to be politically aware yada yada, the kind of newswatching I do is of no more consequence than obsessively following sports statistics.

I found that I was much more likely to actually read posts/articles that were emailed to me or posted on my Facebook wall, relatively "starved" for contemporary content as I was. Yep, I'm admitting it: if you email something to me or a panlist I'm on, the chances aren't super high that I'm going to read it-- trying to be better about that now, though.

I also realized that I have no idea what most of the blogs I read are called. Reader just mashes them all up into a convenient little feed, and while in the moment I'll note the author or the source, if I wanted to recall later where I'd read such-and-such about Hieromonk so-and-so, I'd have to either wade through the archives or try to remember a few key phrases and conduct a search. Whether I read something on The Vigilant Citizen or Hit & Run is not an irrelevant fact (or hell, Pactum Serva contra Leitourgeia kai Qurbana, though admittedly the times when there'd be room for that kind of confusion are probably rare).

Finally, the social aspect: I follow 30 something people on Reader, and my favorite feature is definitely sharing and commenting, particularly as most of them live in DC (or elsewhere, I think there are other places in this country, right?) and I don't get to see them very often (and especially now, as New Haven is rather depopulated in the summer). I don't understand Reader users who don't join a hive.

So all in all it's been fruitful, and I am trying to cut back a bit, read my subscriptions more actively instead of just skimming everything and retaining nothing, and consciously make more time when I close the laptop and just read a damn book.

So now I'm going to give something else up for ten days: beer.

This might sound silly to you, as I'm sure there are plenty of people who go ten days without drinking beer and don't even notice it. I, however, have taken to drinking beer pretty much daily for the past few months, and that is good neither for my wallet, nor my waistline, nor my soul-- and of course, I don't want to be the sort of person who drinks more beer than hard liquor, which is rapidly what I'm becoming.

After that, I'm considering in some order giving up the following things: Pandora/iTunes (ie all non-liturgical music), makeup (which will be incredibly difficult for me), jewelry, perhaps alcohol altogether, and perhaps something like cutting back to only 5 cigarettes/day (right now I try to keep to half a pack a day). Any other suggestions? Anything food related wouldn't be terribly interesting, as I'm rather used to that sort of thing and don't find it difficult or strange.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I don't speak German, but I can if you like

While having dinner with my (paternal, non-Slovak) grandmother the other day, she wondered aloud to whom she ought leave her engagement ring- me, or my other female cousin, who lives in Florida. Unsurprisingly the entire table immediately drowned in awkward, I forced out a laugh, told her not to speak of such things, and tried to move the conversation along. My mother, however, simply said this: "Well you know Tristyn's a gypsy, she loves her jewelry. She'd take good care of it."

Jackie O I ain't, let's say-- I've been known to wear ten rings at once, and usually try to pack as much cheap costume jewelry on my arms and face as possible without further piercings (I've even become incredibly adept at pulling everything off very rapidly at TSA checkpoints, to the silent amusement of everyone standing around me). I get this from my maternal grandmother, who, while slightly more subtle than I, similarly finds understatement overrated.

I've been staying with her for the past few days and, after Red Eye ended last night (she hasn't been able to sleep much lately), she took me to her bedroom and pulled out bags and bags of costume jewelry she's collected over the years that she no longer has cause to wear, and asked me what I'd like. I thought I'd highlight a few particularly cool pieces here.

First, the above set, which I've dubbed 'the steampunk earrings'. You place the end of the screw and the metal backing around your ear, and screw it in until it's tight-- it actually doesn't need a piercing. They take a while to put on, but the cool factor compensates.

Is it just me or is this incredibly Gaga? My grandmother is 85, by the way.

Speaking of Gaga, I still haven't listened to Born This Way all the way through, but based on what I have heard she's releasing all the worst ones as singles. "Edge of Glory", really? I also don't really understand how "Born This Way" is on the same album as "Government Hooker" and "Scheisse"-- both of which I've been obsessed with since that Mugler show, which so, so sadly has been taken off Youtube. All that's left are shorter versions with varying mixes laid on top, not the show as it happened-- this one's pretty good, though, and I love this remix, even if "Born This Way" does make an appearance (and yes, I've mentioned this show before, but in case you missed it the first time around, I'm giving you a second chance):

Friday, June 24, 2011

And to think I whined about quinsy

My great-grandparents' wedding
Rudolf and Jozefina
Still haven't found those pictures of him in uniform, though my grandmother swears they're around somewhere. She did, however, tell me an amazing story about him today. As I mentioned, he was a veteran of the Great War. Apparently during one battle he was bayonetted in the gut and shot in the arm-- the bullet went through his hand and up his arm. The Austro-Hungarian army, at this point, couldn't be bothered with its wounded, and so threw them all into a ditch to die-- my grandmother says the surviving officers even tried to poison the ones they threw down so that they would die more quickly. My great grandfather somehow escaped, and a passing farmer hid him in his hay cart and took him to a hospital.

When the war ended, he apprenticed for four years and eventually became a master brick layer. He was already married by this point-- I'm not sure whether he was married before or after the war, but was still living in Slovakia. His wife died, however, and he eventually moved to the States, where he met my great grandmother (also Slovak-- they had actually both came over the same year, though they hadn't known each other in Slovakia) in Astoria, NY.
Yes, it's a German sounding last name, no, that doesn't mean he was German
He died in 1943, when he was only 55, which I guess is why there aren't too many photos of him (not a whole lot of shutterbugs running around in early 20th century Slovakia, where he spent most of his life).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In which I get along splendidly with an Anglican

I was in some fancy restaurant, looking for a table where I could sit down and drink undisturbed. I found a largely empty room and made to sit down, only to find a handsome young man next to me, who was much confused by my attempting to sit next to him. He, I realized later in the dream, was Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, &c &c, but I for some reason didn't realize it at the time, and so he and I entered into a pleasant enough conversation about why it wasn't entirely suitable for me to sit at that particular table at that particular time. I consented, still not realizing who he was, and moved on to some other room.

Here my memory gets hazy, but eventually I find myself drinking socially with the Prince, apparently not terribly long before his wedding-- he had taken a liking to me because I was so thoroughly unpretentious during our first meeting, of course (my brain, unfortunately, does not always avoid stupid tropes in its dream fabrication). We got on very well and he was even flirtatious-- by this time I knew who he was, but was nevertheless more impressed with myself for capturing charming male attention than for capturing royal male attention. There was a point where he had to dismiss me, but asked me what I'd like to drink, as he was willing to order and pay for me before I left, and I remember wanting vodka but thinking it better to order champagne, and so I did.

The dream breaks up here a bit-- at some point, for some reason I was trying to pay for a haircut, I believe? At least the place where I was trying to pay looked an awful lot like a hair salon, but the man at the register kept telling me my card was rejected. I remember little after that.

This was a particularly bizarre dream because while I am something of a crypto-monarchist, the English monarchy has never much preoccupied me, much less Prince William-- if I had to pick favorites, it would certainly be Harry. And yet in the haze after waking I noted with the smallest tinge of regret that William was married.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Slovak som a Slovak budem

When I was home this past weekend, my brother and I went to visit my grandmother, who is unfortunately very ill, with shingles, of all things. My grandmother, you should know, is a tremendous bad ass. Although she was born in Astoria (daughter of a WWI vet and an indentured servant), her first language was Slovak-- and she speaks old Slovak, too, before it got all Russianized/Germanized (depending on the region), like most of the central/eastern European languages did-- whenever I try to teach my youngest brother Russian, she corrects what I'm saying to be Slovak, even though she knows full well I don't speak it. She's been a heavy smoker since she was 17 and quit only twice-- cold turkey both times-- when she was pregnant. She never much cared that Yale admitted me, but still gives me crap for not having made the Slavic Women's Chorus once I got here. Once when we were smoking together outside Red Lobster she went on a lengthy rant about how she, personally, would lead the revolt against Michael Bloomberg and his damnable sin tax policy.
My great-grandparents, Rudolf and Jozefina
(He was so handsome! I need to upload a photo of him in uniform one of these days.)
Now in the past few months, my grandmother has lost use of her right arm and fine motor control in both hands, which bothers her chiefly because she can't work her lighter anymore. My mother, despite being an ardent anti-smoker, bought her a giant button activated BBQ lighter in an attempt to be helpful-- please imagine a woman in her early 80s trying to angle a foot-long red and silver contraption with a large flame at the end toward a very small area near her face using her weak hand. 

So luckily old Rutinka can still work matches, and thus bought a big box of the long ones and managed to wear out the strike pad within a few days. Undaunted (and unwilling to buy a new box of matches just for the strike pad), now whenever she wants a smoke she walks over to the kitchen, turns on the stove, and lights the match on the burner-- even when I was there for a visit, and offered to light her cigarette for her, she steadfastly refused.

While she was doing this, she went on for a while about how lucky she is, given that some people get shingles all over their bodies, and she only has to deal with an useless right arm, and apologized profusely for not being able to prepare a duck dinner for my brother before he ships out to Quantico.

Please remember her in your prayers.

Father's Day, witbier, and mules

Apologies for the radio silence; my laptop's been out of commission for two weeks (still is) and I can rarely be arsed to schlep over to the library when something blog-worthy pops into my head. That said, came across an amusing passage in BLGF today that I realized I could turn into a belated Father's Day post.

Here (Serb, Orthodox) Constantine is recounting the difficulty of establishing friendly relations with his (German, Lutheran) mother-in-law:
"And from her side the efforts to be friends with me are often not very good, though in time she came to like me. It is so with the white beer. Do you know white beer? It is the last of all that is fade in the world, and it is adored by the petite bourgeoisie in Germany. They go to the beer-gardens in the woods and by the lakes and with their little eyes they look at the beauties of their Germany, and they drink white beer, which is the most silly thing you can drink, for it does not taste of anything and cannot make you drunk. It is just like the life of the petit bourgeois in liquid form, but it is gross in its nothingness, so that some of them who have shame do not like it, and order raspberry syrup to add to it. But there are those who are not ashamed of being fade and they would not spoil it with a flavour, and they order 'ein Weisses mit ohne...' Mit ohne, mit ohne, could you have anything that is better for the soul of the petite bourgeoisie that is asked what it wants and says, 'I want it with without.' That is to be lost, to be damned beyond all recovery, and yet there they are very happy, they sit in their beer-gardens and ask for mit ohne. It is altogether delicious, it is one of those discords in the universe that remind us how beautifully God works when He works to be nasty. 
Once I said this in front of the mother-in-law, and do you know ever after she gives me to drink this horrible white beer. And my wife has tried to tell her she should not do so, and my mother-in-law says, 'You are foolish, I have heard him say he likes very much mit ohne,' and my wife she says, 'No, you have it wrong, it is the expression mit ohne he likes,' and my mother-in-law says, 'How can you say such nonsense, why should he be pleased when people say they will have white beer without raspberry syrup?' And to that there is nothing to be said, so I must drink white beer, though I am a Serb and therefore not a petit bourgeois, but a lord and a peasant."
(In case you couldn't figure it out, "white beer" is wheat beer, so if you're one of those ridiculous hefewiezen/ Belgian white types, Constantine's bitching about you.)

This called to mind the day I came back from Russia. Driving back to the Island from JFK, my father asked me how it came to be that I found a mule to ride in the middle of St Petersburg. Now I drank quite a bit in the motherland, but not so much that I'd ride a mule, tell my father about it, and forget the entire episode. Suddenly I remembered that sometime during my final week, when I was having a very rough go of things for a variety of reasons, I'd made my Facebook status, "Got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow." This is, of course, a lyric from one of my favorite Tom Waits songs, aptly titled "Get behind the mule", which is basically about sucking it up and putting your emotional shit on the back burner because there's work to be done. My father, of course, had simply assumed that I'd gone mule riding.

Big Jack Earl was 8'1
He stood in the road and he cried
He couldn't make her love him
Couldn't make her stay
But tell the good Lord that he tried

Got to get behind the Mule
In the morning and plow

(It's also a song about trying to cover up a murder and associated business, but that does not concern the present narrative.)

Point is, my father thought I was literally plowing a field instead of being vaguely emo. He is the best. May we all strive to think so well of our loved ones!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why not be utterly changed into fire?

Finally finished and submitted my application for readmission to Yale College today, after navigating all manner of bureaucracy and overcoming many other hurdles. Had mewithoutYou's "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate" running in my head all day. It might seem schmaltzy at first, and maybe it is, but it's always had some power to me.

And now, we wait.