juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I spent last weekend in Portland (Oregon) with Dee ([livejournal.com profile] century_eyes), and have about a dozen entries I could make on the subject. But while catching up with Devon on the first evening, I mentioned where we'd gone to eat and he replied with, "You review everything." He meant it in a good way. ^_^ And so we begin with: Portland restaurant reviews, from this non-foody, vegetarian, picky eater who nonetheless found a lot of good food over the weekend. For the most part I can only speak to my own biased, limited experience, but nonetheless...

Doug Fir Lounge
We stayed at the Jupiter Inn, so it only made sense to visit their restaurant. I had the Farmer Sandwich with a side of tomato soup for lunch, and while the sandwich was damn hard to eat with anything approaching grace—chunky vegetables and extra cheese make for disobedient filling—the flavor of everything was wonderful: green veg, sweet red pepper, savory cheese, and a touch of bite from the onion in the sandwich with a rich, savory, flavorful soup. We both had the Mac-n-Cheese for a late dinner the next day, which was enjoyable but not quite as good: the breadcrumb topping adds wonderful texture, and the dish is warm and comfort-foody, but the pasta was a touch overcooked and the sauce could have used more garlic to make it pop (keep in mind, I eat a lot more garlic than most folk). All in all, a convenient, quirky place (the atmosphere is wonderful) with a nice menu. We were both impressed.

The Farm Café
Just down the street was this busy little restaurant, but the wait for a table was worth it. Most of the menu is preprepared, so turnaround is speedy—but they sacrifice no quality. I had the Goat Cheese Ravioli and while the cherry tomatoes and hazelnuts on top made for too much textural froo-froo, the flavor—especially of the tomato cream sauce—was divine, and the goat cheese gave it personality and kick. For dessert we split the Sunken Chocolate Soufflé with Coffee Ice Cream, which is made to order. A rich, hot bitter chocolate soufflé with a crispy top and moist heart, topped with sweet, cold, creamy ice cream—the combination of textures and flavors was delicious and decadent, and there are few things in this world better than a great chocolate dessert. We both loved this place and want to return—I think it's my pick for best of the weekend. The menu is extensively vegetarian friendly, and the outdoor seating has an atmosphere which is simultaneously classy, airy, and relaxed.

Grendel's Coffee House (get your website together, guys!)
Across the street from the hotel, and another lovely find. We went here for two light breakfasts, and they offer drinks, pastries, and sandwiches, a variety which makes this a flexible option. The food is simple, slightly above average in quality, with and special attention paid to little details like veg*n alternatives and tea variety. The atmosphere is what sells the place: low-key and off-beat, with friendly staff and interesting patrons, it's a good place for a nice long chat over coffee. This is the sort of local coffee shop that I wish I had in my hometown.

Old Wives' Tales
We came here for a light lunch, and I wish we'd been able to come back for more. Extensively vegetarian- and dietary restrictions-friendly, I love the ethos of this restaurant as well as its relaxed atmosphere. I had the Greek Melt half sandwich with a tossed salad—the salad was good but unremarkable, but the sandwich was lovely: again hard to eat, because it's served open-face and the ingredients are chunky, but the classic combination of Greek flavors in the feta, artichoke hearts, olives, and herbs was just delightful and everything was cooked to perfection. I only wish I'd had the chance to try their Pumpkin Pudding, because it sounds divine.

Café Umbria
Picked as a random choice within walking distance of Powell's, this was a nice little café. Selection is limited, which made for only one vegetarian sandwich—but it's hard to go wrong with a mozzarella/tomato/basil panini and this one was far above average: it was perfectly cooked, the bread texture was wonderful, the ingredients were fresh, and best of all a touch of balsamic vinegar brushed on the bread gave it a punch of flavor that I don't usually see in this type of sandwich and really enjoyed. The staff seemed a little harried—perhaps it was a busy day—which dampened the atmosphere, but the food itself was quite satisfying.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
This is just a quick review for Weeds, season 1 & 2 (Showtime).

Weeds opens with Nancy, a suburban housewife who has begin selling marijuana in order to support her sons and lifestyle after the sudden death of her husband. Weeds begins well with an unusual, intriguing premise, and (with the exception of the child actors) well-cast quirky characters. The writing is sharp, balancing the absurdity of the concept against a fair bit of emotional character development. Between the premise, characters, and too-slick writing, the show tends towards over-the-top, but those instances are played as humor and so the first season of Weeds is a smart, sharp comedy in compulsively watchable, bite-sized half-hour episodes. Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy simply shines—she's a great actor and takes to the show's style with aplomb and surprising depth. All in all the first season is enjoyable, and I recommend it.

The second season however is far less successful, and I'm not sad that I won't continue on to the third. As Nancy goes from a widowed suburban dime-bag dealer to a marijuana farmer dating a DEA agent, the plot simply outscales the show's capabilities: everything is larger, more unbelievable, more dramatic, but it's still conscribed to half-hour episodes. Secondary characters become cameos, character development is overshadowed by dramatic plot twists, and humor is no longer able to explain away the unbelievable plot. It's like watching a soap opera trying hard to be a primetime show. The second season is frantic, fragmented, and wholly unrealistic. There's still some clever writing and Parker is an unflappable lead, but the show starts a swift downward spiral and at the end of the season, doesn't show potential for improvement.

The first two seasons are the only ones currently available on Netflix's instant service, and I have no desire to expend the effort to borrow disks—so that's all I'll ever see of Weeds. I enjoyed it more than I expected, so for some snappy entertainment that still has depth, I moderately recommend the first season. But stop there—as it goes on the show crumples under its own weight, and the loss of the intriguing premise and strong characters is a real disappointment.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I intended to append this to my previous post, but it has grown unexpectedly into a wily, furry beast.

Ah, if only!

So. A few days ago, I ordered leg warmers from Sock Dreams. I abhor pants with a passion that leaves no room for analogy, but my legs get cold. So Devon and I sent $13 to Sock Dreams with fingers crossed and, behold: legwarmers!

Legwarmers from Sock Dreams

They are this pair, specifically: 40 inches of ribbed acrylic and nylon goodness. The verdict? Everything I need them to be. They stay up well enough for lounging around in the bedroom (because when I'm up and walking about, I generally wear pants), they are long and thick enough to cover as much and be as warm as I need, and even new they are remarkably non-itchy (but I suspect it'll take a few runs through the washer for them to reach comfortable). The quality is solid and I suspect they'll hold up well. The price was more than fair, basic shipping is free(!), and they ship out promptly. All in all: recommended.

The only thing is that wearing them feels a bit odd--for, as it turns out, complicated reasons. )

Oh why hello there, navel. How're you?
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I've been dealing with a lot of (entirely generalized, e.g. unprovoked and unpredictable) anxiety the last few days, which is dying off now thank goodness. As a result, I was in search of some mindless activity for when I wasn't calm enough for active consumption (reading) or production (reviews, posts). And I was up to date in all my favorite TV shows.

So I watched Firefly, because it was available and I had never seen it before.

I'll admit that (not a sin unique to me) I have a habit of doubting popular media. In part because I distrust majority opinion, in part because (the guilty bit) I want to be unique and special and not love the same things as everyone else. So I came to Firefly with some doubts simply because so many folk love it so much. I also had doubts because I've lately been running into a high number of feminist critiques and discussions on rape, some in reference to fiction, or science fiction, or Whedon's work specifically. Who knows why all of this at once—a combination of stumbled upon links and discussion triggering more discussion and the controversies over Dollhouse, no doubt. (That and the fact that Whedon, a self-professed feminist, invites such discussions.)

A partial list of those essays:
A Rapist's View of the World: Joss Whedon and Firefly by [livejournal.com profile] allecto / Allecto
Taboos and Tropes: Part II "Rhetoric and Writing about Rape" by Rae Bryant at Fantasy Magazine
Dear Genre Fiction Writers: Quit This Sh*t by K. Tempest Bradford on Jeff Vandermeer's blog
Working in the Dollhouse by Shannan Palma at Feminist SF

I don't agree with the complete contents of all those essays; since I'm not watching Dollhouse, I can make even less comment there. Nevertheless they're all food for thought and having read them I came to Firefly with worries and open eyes.

I found the show just above average in most ways. I've never seen the huge appeal to Whedon, so perhaps I'm just not the ideal audience for his shows. The dialog is clever, Kalyee is a entirely lovely, and the plot had promise—River's story in particular makes me wish that the series had run longer that we might find out more about her in a less frantic and trite method than the film Serenity. On the other hand, the space cowboy theme is patched together (better to take the Cowboy Bebop route, cowboy mentality in a scifi setting; actual cowboy aesthetics are hokey on a space ships), many of the characters are two-dimensional (and some, like Zoe, barely manage that), and the episodic format is wearying: episodic can be done well but here, where a routine starting point undergoes an unexpected twist by the opening credits, then turns into a frolicking adventure, and is tied up within forty minutes, continuing for fourteen episodes in a row, it's not well done—indeed, it's unbelievable.

For the most part, Firefly is witty, unusual pulp, fun if not groundbreaking, and largely harmless. But yes, there are issues of gender and sexism which bother me a bit. They're characters, sections, little niggling things, not the majority of the show. But they're still there, and they bugged me.

There's Zoe, who appears to be a powerful black woman but actually has no personality of her own: she's defined as Mal's second in command and as Wash's wife. As Mal's second, she's a plot point, supporting him and bringing his plans to frutition. As Wash's wife she's a source of contention between Wash and Mal, she's Wash's motivation, and she's wife and sex object which humanizes and sensualizes—no, better, sexualizes—the ship. And that's all she is. Even when Wash directly confronts her (in "War Stories") about the difference between her personal opinion and Mal's opinion, she cannot make one. Zoe totes guns and she makes a clever quip or three about Mal's judgement, but she makes near enough no decision which is strictly her own. (One of the only ones she does make, to return for Mal in "Out of Gas," occurs entirely off screen.) She's powerful only in appearance. In reality, she's barely a character and has no autonomy.

But what really got me is Inara (who is a Companion, akin to a courtesan) and her relationship with Mal. When she first comes on the ship (in flashbacks from "Out of Gas"), she makes it clear to Mal that he is not to enter her shuttle without express invitation and that he is to treat her with respect (specifically: not refer to her as a whore). He agrees and then consistently betrays both of these edicts. This is part of Mal's character as an equal-opportunity asshole, but he claims, in "Shindig," that he respects her even if he doesn't respect her career—not that that stops him from invading her privacy. Inara always has a sharp retort to Mal's disrespect but as the show progresses it becomes obvious that they both harbor affection for the other, culimating in a scene where Inara cries after Mal has sex with another sex worker ("Heart of Gold"). So, get this: an independent, educated, employable woman who has chosen and enjoys her career as a paid companion and a sex worker rightly demands that a man treat her with respect; when he intentionally treats her with disrespect not only is it a sign that he actually cares for her, she also proceeds to fall in love with him.

That doesn't seem so "shiny," to me.

There are other little things, like stupid sexist Jayne who functions as a flimsy foil for asshole but good at heart Mal; con artist Saffon's confrontation with Mal, where he threatens her with sexual violence in guise of a "wedding night" ("Our Mrs. Renyolds"), like Wash's poorly concealed and would-be humorous desire for an wife as subservient as Saffron (Ibid.), the fact that Inara uses "whore" to describe non-Companion sex workers even though she takes offense when called it herself ("Heart of Gold"), and no doubt others which I'm forgetting now.

Is Firefly the scariest anti-feminist show I've ever seen? Goodness, no. It wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting, either, coming to it as wary as I was. And I want to say "feminist issues aside, it can be an enjoyable if mediocre show"—but that's just the point. I know that tearing media to pieces can seem to pull all the fun out of it, but feminist issues should never be set aside, even if they make entertainment somewhat less entertaining. Ignore them, and you tolerate them and allow them to persist. And where sexist media persists, sexist mentality is free to thrive. It doesn't mean boycotting and hating every questionable show or book. It means keeping eyes and mind open and being wary of sexism (and indeed any form of discrimination) and how easily it can slip in, even in the work of a would-be feminist writer, even in the guise of humor or ensemble casts or bickering romances. Being aware of those issues and speaking on them helps to prevent them, in the long run, and that's worth the cost of a little less fun.

(But was Firefly and feminism the best choice for my anxious brain? Not so much. I almost wish I'd been able to take it at face value, for the sake of entirely mindless occupation. Next time I should stick with My Little Pony.)
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Having just discovered a new artist, I've lately been thinking on my listening habits—how and why I listen to music.

Said artist is [livejournal.com profile] s00j/S.J. Tucker. You can listen to and download her albums here, and to say it outright: I recommend her music. I discovered Tucker through [livejournal.com profile] saveours00j, a coalition of fundraising efforts that sprung up after she was hospitalized (as a traveling performer, she has no health insurance). I'd heard of her before, of course, through various journals that I read, but only recent began to listen to her music.

I never like music when I first hear it. At first listen—starting with Quartered: The Songs of Palimpsest because I had just finished the novel—honestly, I was not impressed. Tucker's voice was raw, the lyrics were too obviously based on the book, and there was just nothing there to grab me. But I've listened to Maynard James Keenan sing and not liked it, just because the song was new to me—and if you know my deep and abiding love for Keenan (and it was a Puscifer song no less, which is my favorite of his projects), then you can imagine how impressive that is.

Almost every time, I need to be familiar with a song before I grow fond of it. That doesn't mean I need to know it by heart; indeed, I usually spend my first listen or three with the song running in the background, ignoring it and growing unconsciously accustomed. Once the song is familiar, I can return to it—actively or just again as background music—and if the song is good, easily come to love it. This, I think, is even truer for a new artist which bringing with her a whole new sound, rather than the near-familiar sound of a new song from an artist which I already enjoy.

I don't know why that is. Perhaps because I prefer that music which I know and won't distract me unless I want it to, since I often keep music on in the background while I read or write. Perhaps I'm so distracted by the unfamiliarity of a new song that I can't appreciate what I'm hearing.

I do now—appreciate it, I mean, as Tucker is concerned. In fact, I can't stop listening to her. Her voice is richer by far than I thought. Many of her songs are based on myth, experience, or novels—and where in the latter case I suspect they do not quite stand on their own, but that doesn't decrease their value. (Some of my favorites have such inspirations.) But what keeps me coming back is so hard to name: her music is often simple, her own raw voice and a guitar, but Tucker imbues it with a spark, the very definition of "greater than the sum of its parts". Energy spills through her voice: the human which is the divine. It's difficult to explain without verging on purple prose, but—but hers is the sort of music which makes my heart and throat feel warm.

Finding music like this is why I push through my immediate apathy or dislike for everything when it's new. I listen to shite, too, and unremarkable music, and songs which I like well enough but which don't inspire long posts. All of that music is enjoyable in its own way, but finding new music which catches me afire with joy and inspiration, well—like the best books, the best films, it crosses that line between entertainment and art and makes me feel blessed for my exposure to it.

If you're interested in giving Tucker a try, my favorites (entirely biased no doubt, but there you go) and some of the I think more accessible (e.g. they stand independent of their inspiration or you're likely to be familiar with that inspiration already) are:

We Are Shangri-La
Firebird's Child
The Drowning
Wendy on Board
Red-Handed Jill
Green-Eyed Sue
as the Wendy Trilogy, along with Alligator in the House

Tucker still has medical bills to pay, an her fundraisers are ongoing—so of course it would also be wonderful to buy her music and contribute to the cause. I actually love listening to her albums on her website, but it's gotten to the silly point where I don't listen to much more. I expect we'll buy them tonight, that I can add them to playlists instead of listening to them on repeat.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Under the cut is a review of the DivaCup, an alternative menstrual product. If you're uncomfortable with talk of vaginas, menstruation, and girl issues, you may want to ignore this entry. Hopefully you won't have to. I encourage all women to read it, because I love my DivaCup and I think it's a wonderful product that others should learn something about. Men may find it interesting to read. Plus, the world will be a better place when we can all discuss or in the very least read about menstruation without shame, fear, or icky feelings. So, without further ado...

My review of the DivaCup. )


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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