Monday, 24 October 2011

Reviews of Books I Have Read

The Bratsworthian Elegies by Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander
The eminent Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander, poet laureate of Bratsworth, reciting one of his elegies into a recording  machine. Bratworthians so admired him that after his passing, they scraped the speaking tube of this machine for his saliva dribblings, placed the precious drops in a glass vial and put them on display in the Bratsworth Museum of Arts, Culture, Science and Goat Herding History.
In my role as a translator of some of the greatest European authors you've never heard of, none are more lyrical nor deeper in meaning, thought and metaphor than the amazing and unsung Bratsworthian poet, Mr. Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander. Where is this Bratsworth you might ask and if you don't, you should because, obscure as it is, Bratsworth is the true cultural capital of Europe, its influences felt from the lowly ghettos of Antwerp to the lush tundra and icy environs of the Arctic Circle. And Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander is the leader of the Bratsworthian cultural pack. Even the ospreys can be heard calling his name as they circle the choppy waters of the Black Sea, looking for sardines and dried kelp on which to sharpen their beaks.
Oomaplintz-norf norf-oomaplintz-norf norf, sounds the call of the majestic wild osprey. The non-wild ones, like at Bruno's Osprey Rehabilitation Sanctuary and Cheese Curd Manufacturing, barely make a sound except for a low gurgling that sounds more like a mating guinea hen in the low brush and scrub land of West Virginia and certain, deserted parking lots in Medicine Hat, especially around Sven's Bingo Emporium.
The tiny country of Bratworth sits between Bulgaria and Romania and since the Roman times has been mistaken for a garbage dump. It was only in 1983 that British outdoor enthusiast and grasshopper collector, Samuel Ungeworth, on one of his collecting field trips, discovered an entire country flourishing in the flora, fauna and fumes of hundreds of miles of septic waste and a hearty people who lived there and who spoke a language that seemed a mix of ancient Norse and 19th century Yiddish. He also discovered a cultural revolution in the literary, visual and theatrical arts that was soon embraced by all of Europe and was agreed to be so groundbreaking and trendsetting that soon all followed in the wake of its waste-encrusted gumboots. Bratsworth was also the catalyst for a whole new movement in modern dance, based on the meandering routes taken by their famed goat herders as they led their mangy beasts from one garbage dump to the next looking for tin cans, ear wax, ham hock scrapings and other delicacies that the goats were fond of. In fact, it was this ritual that led Mr. Norfenlander to write his one and only play/ballet, Goat On A Hot-Tin Bedpan, which, of course, Tennessee Williams was to steal from later on.
A scene from Norfenlander's Goat On A Hot-Tin Bedpan, as performed by the Royal Bratsworthian Ballet and Theater Company.
But it's his poetry that Norfenlander is best remembered for and especially his Bratsworthian Elegies, which Wallace Stevens called the finest series of poems ever written by a man with a head that resembled a dust pan. Perhaps this analogy is most apt because of Norfenlander's aptitude for collecting the dust of Bratsworthian history, filtering it through his brain and turning so much stray hair and lint and general grime into something beautiful, lyrical and clean considering its filthy origins.
This dust pan and broom are part of the annual Norfenlander Poetry Prize, given out each year to new, budding poets of Bratsworth who show unusual promise. The other half of the prize is a goat, usually older and bound for the slaughterhouse. It is considered a great honor in Bratsworth to save a goat from slaughter, invite it over for dinner and dress it in your dead grandfather's underpants.
But don't take my word for it. Take Norfenlander's words for it instead with this example from Elegy 2, Stanza 6.

Stinkmitzplinfooven noodarden snutz,
Aigen snutz,
Yag borglungen kadasploufungen
Klunga blotspoohaufen,
Kunga punga
Gits zietsmanplimple arf mit lungafil loofpitz,
schnitz, schnitz vingovelstrumpf.

Odiferous goats of dusk,
Clinging dusk,
You penetrate my flinching buttocks
Whooping on beaten hooves riddled with corn husks,
Is this not a trampoline of despair where you can't find your shoes,
Must I jump for hours until someone  finds my shoes and dispenses some aspirin for my bouncing, soulless mood,
Sneeze, sneeze, then spray saliva no more on the strudel cake of doom.

Here metaphor rides roughshod so as not to slip in the mud and goat dung and the repetition of the word "sneeze" followed by a spray of saliva calls to mind Ezra Pound's dictum of oral hygiene and the spread of germs as the facilitator of words that could make a dictator out of a heating duct cleaner and sully a soul until it's reduced to washing linen in the blood of she-goats at a Bavarian clambake. "Bavarian clambake," you exclaim, "I've never heard of such a thing." Believe you me, there certainly is and those Bavarians knew how to throw a clambake at the edge of the Black Forest like it was going out of style, so let's put that to rest right now, okay? And let us not forget the buttocks standing in as a symbol of a quivering and declining European economy and gastronomy, prodded and slapped and prodded again until not even the promise of a force-fed duck will mean fresh liver for the children of tomorrow or at least the next day. Balance that image with defiled corn husks and you can smell the doom in the air like the wash of ozone off a heavily chlorinated swimming pool. Then in Elegy 4, Stanza 3, Norfenlander takes a whole new approach to the age old dilemma of a long and barren goat herder winter and the philosophical pondering that comes from excessive mustache waxing and the surprise visit of a long lost cousin believed to have been killed in an accident at a doorknob factory on the outskirts of Budapest.

Horflingmunsten fluntz
Mit chorckal versht gunt flitzen broot
Stumzlashmuftz zsakasakapaka ja ja twonk plitz
Vlish piptominkyak clotfinstenbrau
Hauf klonken task tsak mit hoofen splotz.

The ventriloquist's underpants
Cast a heavy shadow across the porcupine's brow,
What's that? The plinking of a dissolute piano string
Choking the horse penis of the evening, yes, yes,
Cries the matzoh meal man,
Do not try to stump the house of remorseful goat people
Or the clomp clomp of their childless wombs.
Here, famed Bratsworthian actor and Norfenlander's cousin, Heinzfeld Leif Mictonschmeltz, admonishes his sidekick, Ebner Vishka, for hiding the ventriloquist's underpants. Notice the excessive mustache wax which places Heinzfeld squarely in the goat herding caste even though his suit tells a different story and so does his dummy, even if he does have the words put in his mouth or taken out or something like that. This photo was taken during the run of Mictonschmeltz's one-act play, Soul Stenches and Coattails, loosely based on Norfenlander's elegies.
In this elegy, Norfenlander puts a new twist on the poetic voice by having a ventriloquist stand in as his alter-ego, allowing for him to say things like horse penis and porcupine's brow, bringing the natural world into interplay with the destitution of the Bratsworthian industrial landscape, especially around the animal fat rendering plant and Kolaslov's End-Of-The-Roll Carpet and Broadloom Warehouse. The recurring themes of goats, underpants and clomping uteruses might seem overkill at this point but Norfenlander skillfully tempers their recurrence by introducing the parable of the matzoh meal man, subtly weaving allegory and reality into a seamless fabric, much like Kosalav is able to do with only a smattering of carpet roll remnants, creating an elusiveness of meaning that has no meaning, which in turn gives it plenty of meaning by not meaning anything in the first place, which is no mean feat when your words are brimming with so much meaning it actually hurts your feet. As we can see in Elegy 9, Stanza 15, Norfenlander takes a different tact in which he opens up the dialogue between man and beast, doctor and patient and roofer and shingle supplier all at once, making for some confusion, but after all this is poetry where confusion is at its best, especially at Lancelot's two-for-one shish-kebab night, where the poets of Bratsworth still continue to gather for a little playful philosophical bantering and charred goat meat.

Plitzhagen mein migzoftin hauf hauf,
Vishtuncle naarsnaarsgaard oguntz neef broten
Snussle vit kuchentitsvaarn moidel,
Guntzhaulfinbinen putz und a vatz schmutz und lokshen gossle,
Blauplotz fingendoorzvogen shmuntz eiger soorsmunchkin,
Heif, heif gonosht gizzlungoormaard pipple zugflishten.

My hovering globules of life, oh globules of life,
Do not forgo the broth of your fecund mind or the ant tunnels beneath,
Even webbed feet must be kissed from time to time
And maybe greased with midget fat and fluids of ethereal delights.
Still the shoe inserts may evade your fingers when night drops its mallet of despair,
But the ants in your toreador pants shall always be welcome in our house of goat hides.

I don't know how you feel, but each time I read this elegy the tears drop from my eyes like the poop from the mythical chimera's behind, so rich in nutrients and life-giving aromas and forces that it emits, it actually nourishes all the unborn in a 50 km radius from its source, as well as the ability to impregnate goats from 20 feet away and cook mutton from an additional 10 feet. Of course this all hinges on the amount of ant tunnels in the vicinity and it's precisely this element that Norfenlander, although so briefly touching upon in the elegy, obviously accentuates through the  underestimation of its power and integral role in the Bratsworthian cultural psyche. For beneath the garbage piles and waste and interesting fungi and mosses that grow in the stench, the ants are continually tunneling, creating their magnificent ant cities, but all with the threat of having the earth above collapse on their heads and beneath the Bratsworthian's feet simultaneously, and so both species live in dread of this day and walk softly, even when carrying heavy loads of laundry or root vegetables or escalator parts or burlap sacks of goat droppings. That is why they say, all over Europe, that the people of Bratsworth are the greatest tiptoers west of Tripoli and east of Labrador, a province equally famed for their tiptoers due to the nature of the shifting ice and polar bears that they must sneak by daily on their way to work.
Here, Professor K., a good friend of Norfenlander and renowned Bratsworthian ant historian, explains the effect of ant tunneling on the Brastworthian psyche.
It's also interesting to note the recurrence of shoe imagery, first used in the Second Elegy, although previously it takes the mercurial form of shoes lost on a trampoline, a nifty bit of transposition that puts anthropomorphism firmly back in the hands of the amphibians, while in Elegy 9, it is not the shoe but its inserts that take centre stage. What is the importance of this, you might ask, and I would answer, how come it's so hard to turn the radiator caps in my apartment and then you might ask, is that really what you meant or are you re-contextualizing the shoes through the use of steam heat and I would answer, I haven't pressed a shirt or ironed my pants since before man landed on the moon.
Norfenlander's favourite goat, awarded to him by the Bratsworthian High Council for the Arts on his 70th birthday. As tradition dictates, the goat was dressed in Norfenlander's dead grandfather's underpants, a man who was just as beloved as his grandson because of the bright hue of his underwear. Everywhere he went people used to say, with the utmost respect and sense they were standing close to goat herding greatness, "Hey, there goes that nut case with the brightly colored underpants," and Norfenlander's grandfather, Yonkers Splashgaard, would laugh and reply, "If your goats wore underpants as bright as mine, maybe you wouldn't lose so many to the wolves in the forest outside of Galipsoboline. Not to mention my wife has more teats than your average Romanian gypsy caravan and it's only because of the underpants that this is possible and that I am such a happy man while you all wallow in the septic waste hoping your goats will pump out enough milk to make even the smallest cube of feta cheese that wouldn't even feed a colony of ants during the winter time."
Suffice to say, Bratsworth is back on the map, both physically and culturally and is taking its due place in the course of history and septic waste and the ability of its people to eke and carve out fulfilling lives amongst the debris and goat droppings and it's all owed to one man, one great man who had the foresight to see the future even though he was nearsighted and once even mistook a goat for his wife and a son was born although that's a different story and one most Bratsworthians are loathe to mention. Anyway, it's because of Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander and his wondrous  elegies that the world can at last witness what it must be like to hear the singing of angels and the thrumming and humming of heaven, much like a well-oiled air conditioning unit and believe you me, those Bratsworthians know and understand a fine piece of machinery and would never take one for granted, especially when the goats begin to smell during the spring and the garbage heaps vibrate with the ants beneath and you can smell change in the air like your Aunt Gerta after she'd been dead for seven days and the goats were licking her body and urinating in mourning. That's the kind of poetry I'm talking about and if you don't like it then you can take it up with Songmar Oomaplintz Norfenlander when you get to heaven, but if he's not in you can talk to his cousin, because he's a pretty reasonable guy as long as you compliment his mustache wax and mention his grandfather's underpants.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Saliva Producing Recipes

Fish Brain, Guts and Gill Fritters in Alphagetti Aspic
If fish is brain food it only makes sense to eat the brains of a fish and thus double its potency and effects on the neural pathways. I speak not only as a scientist but also as a garcon de gastronomique. I've put this premise to every cook, chef, dishwasher, waiter and busboy that has found me rummaging around in their restaurant's dumpster bin but they don't listen.
"Look," I say, brandishing my bags of fresh fish guts and heads. "You're throwing out the best parts and it will be your brain capacity that will suffer for your folly. Or your customers' brains, in which case they won't even be able to figure out your 15% tip."
Sometimes they flick their cigarettes at me but my heightened brain power allows me to anticipate the curve and arc of their burning butts and easily evade the trajectory.
The effects of super brain fish power demonstrated in a controlled laboratory environment. This man, Hubert Blork, was once a patient of mine and after I put him on a pure fish entrails diet, he blew the spectronograph reading right out of the water, much like a trout caught on a 5-pound line.
Now, it's obvious that a man of my considerable talents in psychology, phrenology, theology, ornithology, archeology and urology, not to mention my forays into psychoanalysis, hamster habitats  and raising giant frogs, squabs and snails for fun and profit, needs all the extra brain power he can squeeze out of the old clump of gray stuff. So that is why I've come up with this delicious and economical recipe for a fish dish that'll send your synapses spinning while your wallet remains slumbering deep in the comforting nest of your sock drawer. If you don't have a sock drawer may I recommend the lint trap of a dryer or a jar cloudy with pickle brine and oxidized pennies that you can keep behind your dresser. Anyway, I promise this dish will make not one dent in your pocketbook as long as you stick to my specialized hunting and gathering techniques and my unique gelatin made from boiled fish heads recipe. The Alphagetti may cost you a little something but if you look for the dented-can specials they have in some of those Korean mom and pop corner grocery stores, you can snag one of these delicacies with only the change you have hunted for so diligently, and may I say with dignity, on the sidewalk during the week. So, first things first. Pay a visit to your local fish monger but don't let that front door stuff fool you. Go around the back in the alleyway, find the dumpster and start fishing for fish heads and innards using a simple straightened wire coat hangar. A dumpster filled with rotting fish guts is sure to deter even the most resolute of winos, bums and junkies who're looking for cans, bottles, old prescription bottles and cheesecake remains, leaving you to reap the rewards and get the cream of the crop of fish pickings. So, once you have your bag of fish parts, again we're looking for heads, fins, gills and innards, hightail it out of there because it is of the utmost importance to work with these ingredients while still fresh and don't yet smell like my neighbour, Lumpy Balford's overcoat.
Lumpy Balford in his overcoat. Lumpy's face is not blacked out. He just has a very large mole that covers the entire surface of his face.
 Place your ingredients in the refrigerator and if you don't have access to one, again, just like with your wallet, your sock drawer will do. Next, it's time to round up some bread crumbs for the fritter batter. I've never understood people who buy breadcrumbs at the store when there are plenty available if you can beat the pigeons to them in the park. Really, it's no great effort as most pigeons are absolute pigs and not quick enough to beat me to the bread chunks. Nevertheless, I still utilize my specialized arm-waving technique, guaranteed to send pigeons skittering and scattering, leaving the spoils to the victor, which, in this case would be you. I've had a few run-ins with the old men and women who feed the pigeons in the park and try to deter me from swiping bread from the gluttonous birds but as I say, "Hey, look how fat these pigeons are? You really think they're gonna miss a coupl'a pieces of bread?" The only real danger to this foraging procedure are the crows that descend like hell's carrion, so you must work quickly and I've taken to wearing oven mitts after having my hands pecked by these nefarious bottom feeders of the sky time and time again.      
Here is my well-tested and time-proven arm-flapping technique for chasing both fattened and emaciated pigeons away from the bread scraps. Three easy steps guarantee you success and an unlimited supply of bread. The pajama-like apparel is optional.
So, now that you have gathered all your ingredients, it's time to start constructing the dish. Your guests will be amazed that it didn't take you more time or money to create this dazzling display because visually, it looks like a million bucks, even if some of that money came from racketeering, prostitution, drug-smuggling, gambling and chinchilla farming. There are some who may ask, "Dr. Haltiwanger, don't you feel the aspic is overkill in this dish?" To them I reply, "Why cook the pheasant if you're not going to put it under glass. Catch my drift, kemosabe." And on that note, aspic is the first order of business. Take your fish heads, removing the brains first, and place them in a good sized pot for boiling. If you're not sure of what a fish brain looks like once you've cut an opening in the head, I've provided this illustration below, complete with nostril location to give a sense of brain placement in the fish head.
If you still can't find the brain, just pull every slimy thing you can get a grip on out of the head cavity and set aside. Put the fish heads on a rolling boil for an hour or more or until you can't stand the smell any longer and then set aside, preferably on an open windowsill where a cool breeze will assist with the gelatinizing process. If you have a fridge handy, then by all means pop the concoction in there for a couple of hours until the fish head jelly water begins to set (my landlady, Mrs. Grabowsky, has forbidden me from using her fridge for any more of my culinary experiments after my Tower of Meat extravaganza but I'm sure you're not as unfortunate as me and have a proper refrigerator at your disposal). The chemical compound for your gelatin should look like the configuration below, but if you don't have access to an electron microscope for this purpose, just poke the surface with anything pointy and see if it bounces back a bit.
Now, most importantly, before the fish head jelly has completely set, pour in a can of Alphagetti, spreading out the letters evenly for a more attractive visual presentation. The tomato sauce base should also go into the gelling liquid to add some colour to the aspic. Place the bowl or pail of this delightful mixture back in the fridge or on the windowsill or in the broom closet next to one of your closet-aged salamis and begin the fritter and fish innards step. Take the breadcrumbs you've stolen from the pigeons, spread them out in a bowl, or if you don't have a bowl even a clean ashtray will do, and the dip the innards in the mixture, making sure to coat the entrails thoroughly. Some people may wish to first dip the guts in an egg and milk mixture but I find this masks the taste of both the guts and the breadcrumbs and I prefer to let these flavours sing, especially once they've been submerged in the Alphagetti infused aspic. 
These tantalizing fish innards are just begging for some fritter batter to complete their journey from ocean to plate.
Now, it's time for the fritter frying. If you have a stove or hotplate, well, kudos to you. If you're like me and have a minimum of tools and appliances at hand (as most of the great chefs of history are used to), then five or six Sterno cans are just the ticket to get these fritters sizzling and sumptuous to the palate. Of course one Sterno can will also do but you must be patient to achieve the perfect golden fish guts crust. Once the fritters have attained that golden brown colour, drain them on a paper towel, toilet paper or wad of napkins you've pilfered from McDonald's, and then push them into the aspic, which should have solidified nicely by now. Don't be shy. Push those fritters in like a prostate examination. Gentle but assertive is the key to this technique and the recipe's success.
This prostate examination training device is equally good for fritter insertion exercises.
Well, now you're about done. The guests await with baited breath and tongues hanging out. Or at least my dinner guest, Mrs. Grabowsky's cat, who pants with anticipation at my fancy victuals and he knows a thing or two about fish guts and heads and so you may scoff, but a more temperamental and discerning critic would be hard to come by.
Portrait of the food critic as a fat, not so young cat. Mr. Smeely may look like a meat-eater due to his substantial girth but believe you me, this cat knows his fish and can tell a pike from a pickerel with just one sniff.
Well, you may ask, was the dinner a raving success? I for one could not stuff the fish brain and innards fritter and the jellied gills and Alphagetti mixture into my mouth fast enough and as for Mr. Smeely, I believe the hairball he left by the side of his plate is proof enough that this dish will please even the most discriminating of palates. It's true I did not anticipate his sudden trip to the vet not long after the meal nor my bout of prolonged vomiting that almost cost me my gullet but that's the price of fine dining on a pauper's budget.