history


640 Food

It’s not just for breakfast anymore

(Well, actually, it is. For the time being, anyway.)

There I go again, saying I’d abandon the Dewey (R) System and then going ahead and using it anyway. Like I said, the number of hits on this blog is anemic; today, just by accident, I may have found at least one reason why, other than the blog’s having no coherent theme and the likelihood of its being off-putting in polite company. Reason number three: it seems that anyone using a PC without a high-powered microscope probably can’t see the little gewgaws on the right-hand side, the bits and bobs that are so very important to my work here. And, oh, yeah, reason no. 4: this blog is all about me, and as I’m learning more and more, it ain’t all about you.

Be that as it my, I’m asking you all for a favor. I would love to speak with anyone who has any knowledge whatsoever of the origins of the federal School Breakfast Program. By anyone, I mean anyone. Even if you happened to be watering the plants or washing the windows and overheard something when federal officials blew through your town back in the early 1960s and asked all the local city, town or school officials whether students were getting anything to eat for breakfast, please let me know.

I’m doing a research project (full disclosure: it’s with my dad, who used to work for the Agriculture Department) on the School Breakfast Program and a whole passel of other federal child nutrition programs. It’s not a big, dark, secret, Deep-Throat-meets-Michael-Moore type of thing. We’d just like to know how the program got started, who was there when they started it, what research they did, especially in the field, to support getting the federal government involved in school breakfast. I have a whole big  list of other questions I still haven’t finished writing yet. We’d like to know how many sites they visited and who they brought with them.  Respond to me here and I’ll figure out how to get in touch with you without getting all the spammers involved.

Thanks!

John Leonard

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Chinese New Year's on Argyle Street, 1/31/2009

Chinese New Year's on Argyle Street, 1/31/2009

770.2 Miscellaneous photography

After watching the Chinese New Year’s parade, we and a friend of ours got some pho down the street. I have seen many varieties of pho before that included tripe, but this place had them all beat: you could get pho with penis. Next time I’m there, I may ask every single person in the restaurant if they had pho with penis. Not such a big deal, I suppose; bull gonads are quite a delicacy in some parts of the American South.

Whibley, Charles. “The Oldest Guide-Book in the World.” Book review of J.G. Frazer’s 1898 translation of Pausanius’s Description of Greece. Review appeared in Vol. LXXVII of MacMillan’s Magazine (No. 462), November 1897 to April 1898, pp. 415-421. Google Books has a PDF file of this magazine available for download.

Genial History Channel and PBS host Tony Perrottet is hardly the first person to stumble across this ancient tome, but his Web site makes it sound as if the Description of Greece, by the Greek author Pausanias, had lain dormant for 1,800 years until Perrottet unearthed it several years ago in the New York Public Library. His Web site also makes it sound as if the guide had been written by a Roman, or at least with Roman tourists in mind. But if you want to read some really savage critiques of Perrottet’s work, check out this Amazon page.

Enough of Mr. Perrottet. He has, no doubt, already laughed his way to the bank, bad reviews or no. And, I suppose, the profits publishers make off titillating, middle-brow pablum like his enables them to produce works of quality that may not turn a profit until the next millennium.

More than 100 years ago, reviewer Charles Whibley said that the Description had already spawned a cottage industry of European scholarship, the results of which “might fill a library.” Whibley takes a look at what was then the latest contribution to that library, J.G. Frazer’s six-volume, heavily annotated English translation of the Description. English majors like me know Frazer as the author of the foundation work on the modern study of folk tales, The Golden Bough. My English professor made it sound as if this earlier work would be harder to find than the Holy Grail, but I snagged a copy from the McKeldin Library without having to face so much as a single rude French castle guard or a trick question on the air-speed velocity of swallows.

Reading The Golden Bough filled in a lot of gaps for me on European history, and from Whibley’s article, it looks as if Frazer’s translation of Pausanias could fill in a few more. Pausanias began collecting accounts of Greek folk customs before Frazer was even a glint in his great-great-great-great…great-grandfather’s eye, and Frazer finds parallels for each account in the Description in cultures around the world, Whibley says.

Frazer’s work also quotes other ancient historians, whose writings indicate that the tradition of travel writing began long before Pausanias set out for the Greek Isles in the second century A.D., and some of them were Greek. One such predecessor practiced his craft with a lot more verve than did Pausanias, Frazer says. Dicaearchus, a contemporary of Aristotle, “was as jaunty a tourist as ever wore a tweed suit or slung a field-glass over his shoulder,” Whibley quotes Frazer as saying. For all its detail, the Description often comes across as dry, lacking a sense of humor or enthusiasm, Frazer says.

Dicaearchus slings barbs at the people of Athens and other Greek city-states with the same panache movie critic Davey Marlin-Jones exhibited in the 1970s when he trashed bad films, in the days before Hollywood’s p.r. juggernaut co-opted the business of reviewing movies, and now, books. Pausanias could never write the way his Greek antecedent did, Whibley says. “[H]e is, in truth, a Baedeker, body and soul.” I just saw A Room with a View on PBS, so I know that that means “a reliable but unadventurous guidebook that all the British tourists took with them to Italy at the turn of the century.”

Whibley admits he doesn’t know much about this elderly Greek (these links may help broaden our understanding), but he does know that Pausanias “belonged to that class which is born middle-aged…. Were he alive today he would tramp around Europe with a kodak and a green butterfly net, and if he were persuaded to write a book, the book would have to be hidden away for two or three hundred years before it attained its proper value.”

That’s pretty much what I’m hoping for with my work. I’m probably more like Pausanias than Dicaearchus. Somehow, somewhere at some future date some clever Tony Perrottet type may get rich and famous off my intellectual property, while I spend the rest of my life wearing the same pair of white Nikes I’ve had since 1998. I don’t care. I just want what I write to be good. Don’t get me wrong; I’d like the money, but I already have a nice wife, a nice house, a nice cat, and a nice family. Someday, I may even have a nice job again, in which case I’ll probably have to stop blogging.

April 1984. The University of Maryland kicked me out about a year ago. I dropped out of Montgomery College a month ago.

My 20th birthday is on the 14th. I have a blowout. A band plays in my living room. My friend disappears. I find him a little while later in my sister’s old bed with some girl he met from work. I pull them out of the bed. I think she splits. He spends the rest of the evening on the microphone, until my parents come downstairs and ask him to stop.

The girl I was seeing at the time brings her main man, which bums me out. He gives me a Skör bar as a present. The card that goes with it says, “I hope you ‘Skör’ tonight.” I didn’t, but I had a good time anyway. Somebody smashed a guitar on the living room rug. I was picking pieces of it out of the fiber for several weeks.

Later that month, I join Government Issue. I play my first show with them in Georgetown. I think it was the Hall of Nations, in May. A few weeks later we do a short tour up through Connecticut.

Dates and places are hazy, but I remember sleeping in a van in the Bowery in 90-degree heat; hanging out at somebody’s squat in Alphabet City where there was no electricity and some of the stairs were missing; and playing and recording at CBGBs. That week or so we spent in New York is a story in itself.

Then on to Connecticut. I remember doing an interview with some guy named Spazz Jeff, who had a fanzine. We all tried to be funny, but I don’t think it really worked, at least not on my end. I was an arrogant little shit back then, or at least I could be at times.

We crashed at the home of one of the guys in the Vatican Commandos, who really, really wanted us to know how the band got its name. I think it must have been Jim Spadaccini. He’s the earnest-looking guy in the photo on this page. As I recall, our host was very genial, but also very serious. As I recall, none of us were especially interested in that story, but if I had known at the time that Moby was in that band, I might have been impressed, because, you see, I was a snob.

I also remember some squat, beefy guy talking to me outside a show about how his band was getting a reputation as the best speed-metal band in Connecticut. The guy was so goofy—and real—that I couldn’t help but like him.

Seems like the two big, new things of 1984 were microwaves and MTV. Not that either of them were new; that’s just when I first started noticing them. As it turns out, microwave technology had been commercially available for more than 30 years before people started talking about “nuking” their food. I though new Coke came out in 1984, but Wikipedia says it was 1985.