Charlemagne's Heir

I'm pleased to report that Charlemagne (Mrs. Charlemagne, actually) has given birth to a first born daughter. Her name is Emmerson James, and she arrives at a healthy 2o inches & 7lb 13oz. Mother, father (who is henceforth to be known as Pappy One-Eye), and daughter are all in great health and looking forward to building a pyramid of diapers, one stinky poo at a time. I'd post pictures, but sadly, there are far too many weirdos on the Intertubes.

Like father, like son

Nice article about Will Conroy, Frank's son, who is a screenwriter. Seems that a movie of Stop-Time is in the works, with Will doing the adaptation.


Me gusta mucho

I got this email that says, in part:
Not a lot of people decide to produce a commercial for a Mexican fruit soda without getting the approval of the brand owner...but we did.
Making commercials is now underground. Can you spot the luminary? I don't even know how to talk about how perfect this is. Greatest commercial of all time or merely one of the greatest commercials of all time? Every shot begs for commentary.

Not even Jane Austen could get published today

Jane Austen freak sent off opening chapters and synopses from Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice to 18 publishers. Then the rejection letters started coming back -- for all of them. And only one editor spotted the fraud.


Atlantic article on workshops

An article in The Atlantic Monthly on graduate writing programs is available online for subscribers here. But if you subscribe, uh, you already have the article, no? So you don't need it online. Little unclear on the concept ... oh, right: moolah. Too bad for us nonsubscribers.

(Update: subscribers don't get this issue, evidently. So never mind about that.)

Good news is a long interview with the article's author, Edward J. Delaney, is available online. A sample:
Another factor is that with these programs there’s usually a certain lag time before it becomes clear whether its graduates are finding success. Harvard Law School can measure its success by something as simple as the percentage of its graduates who pass the bar exam. Or they can gauge how many of its graduates are getting jobs at the top law firms. But with writing programs, it’s understood that for the most part these writers are going to spend a decade or more after graduation toiling away in obscurity just continuing to work on their craft [Slight comfort in numbers here. -- Ed.] So if a student in a program has some success 10 or 15 years later, is that an adequate measure of the program as it exists now? It’s easier for a program to claim that credit if there’s been a lot of faculty stability. If a student who studied with writer X 15 years ago meets some success and writer X is still working at the same institution, then that would seem to be a more accurate measure.
A snippet of what he says about Iowa specifically, and this is so true...
The people there – as at a lot of the schools that are away from the hustle and bustle of the big city—really focus on building a community. Chris Tilghman at Virginia observed that one of the most difficult things to measure is a program’s sense of community. When the workshop ends, you’ve gotten a certain amount of progress. But does everyone then go to dinner together and continue the discussion that was begun in the workshop? Schools such as Montana and the University of Pittsburgh and Virginia and Iowa really spent a lot of time talking about the community they feel they’ve built; whereas in a larger city, it’s a little more difficult. People tend to go their separate ways. Community is part of what has made Iowa work.

Another interesting factor about Iowa is that it has looser requirements than a lot of other programs. But there’s also a lot of open-ended stuff that goes on constantly. For example, while I was there, Charles Baxter spoke. He did a reading in the evening and then the next morning he did a Q&A. And those events were absolutely jam-packed. From what I gathered, that’s how it always is; the people in The Workshop never want to miss a learning opportunity, even if it’s not a formal class.


The little differences

Vincent: You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

Jules: What?

Vincent: It's the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it's just - it's just there it's a little different.

Jules: Examples?

Vincent: Alright, well you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don't mean just like in no paper cup, I'm talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald's. And you know what they call a, uh, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules: They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system, they wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

Jules: What do they call it?

Vincent: They call it a Royale with Cheese.
Some more that I've noticed:

* Using English that's just a little bit off. Our favorite orange juice is called CoolBest. The slogan on the carton: "We keep it Cool, you get the Best!"

* Bread starts out crusty and gets softer as it gets stale.

* When you leave a room, even if you don't know anyone and haven't spoken to anyone, such as in a gym locker room, you're supposed to say goodbye, and everyone says goodbye to you. Speaking of gym locker rooms, the door to the men's locker room at our gym opens at an angle that reveals the room to the whole gym. All they had to do was put the door hinges on the other side, but no -- found this out the hard way, looking up as I was drying my body to see everybody working out through the doorway. And one other thing: at the gym's co-ed sauna, you are required to be nude. "No Clothes or Swim Attire Allowed."

* People do things on bikes you wouldn't believe. Multiple dogs, children swinging off baskets or balanced on handlebars, texting on cell phones, lighting cigarettes or joints, carrying three bags of groceries, giving rides to one or even two friends, who sit on the back looking bored -- or stand up on the rear bar. The postmen and police ride bikes. We saw two cops commandeer a couple bikes while chasing a suspect. They later returned the bikes and thanked the owners. Saw a woman pulling a homemade wooden cart behind her bike. In the cart, a toddler and a puppy, hugging each other.

* Different priorities in government. A smoking ban is coming next year, and folks are wondering what will happen in coffeeshops (hash bars). And the government panel said the other day that they are planning on screening the employees off -- not the patrons -- behind smoke-proof glass, with customers free to smoke throughout the shops. The problem? It might discourage people from working there because it would make it difficult for employees who so desire to smoke on the job. They are looking into solutions. You would think I'm kidding. You would be wrong.

* Stores close at 6. All of them, except restaurants. It means you have to plan ahead. It also means you don't have the elderly working nights at round-the-clock product-mausoleums such as rural Wal-Marts (there are of course no Wal-Marts here because of the labor laws). "Everyone should go home to their families at the end of the day," is how one Dutchman put it to me. On Thursdays -- "Shopping Evening" -- stores are open till 9. Sundays, everything (except bars and restaurants) is closed, actually closed. There will be a pharmacy open in every town, that's it. Monday mornings, things open an hour, hour and a half later than usual. For obvious reasons.

* When they talk about the weather, they are supremely confident: "Tomorrow it will be 26 degrees by 3 o'clock." "Next Saturday it will rain in the morning."

* All banking is electronic. No checks, just automatic withdrawal. When a company hasn't set up automatic withdrawal yet -- the water company, for example -- they send you a bill in the mail. You write your bank account number on it, sign it, and drop it back in the mail. No postage needed. All bills come with prepaid envelopes. No ATM fees, no matter which bank's machines you use.

* You buy your rock concert tickets at the post office.

* At the library, there are information booths with stuff for youth, about drugs and teenage pregnancy and so on. But they are not propaganda -- they puncture myths on both sides of the debate. No, LSD does not cause DNA damage. No, despite the anecdotal evidence that abounds, marijuana is actually not linked to long- or short-term memory loss once the effects subside. Not that the Dutch need worry about these things as much as the U.S. does -- both drug use and teenage pregnancy levels are far below U.S. levels. Also at the library, you pay for Internet and borrowing DVDs. Equivalent of four bucks to borrow a DVD.

* You can buy beer at 16 -- not that I've ever seen anyone carded, ever. Our local cafe is always full of high-schoolers who are well-behaved and friendly -- and drinking. They are learning to drink moderately in a social setting, instead of getting shitfaced on their own in secret somewhere and driving home (you can't drive here till 18, and you can't afford it anyway with gas at $6 a gallon). The news item in the states a few weeks back, about the mother facing two years in jail for serving alcohol to her son's 16-year-old friends ... was greeted with dumbfounded uncomprehension by the Dutch people we mentioned it to (it was no doubt happening all over town as we were talking). Ditto the teen in Georgia doing ten years for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old. Absolutely incomprehensible here.

* Occasionally, a grocery store runs out of something. I mean. actually. runs. out. There is no diet iced tea today. You are to shrug and drink something else. Once there was no milk.

* You are required to get liability insurance, which pays for your lawyer and settlement if someone tries to sue you, for tripping them on the sidewalk or something.

* The default is dogs are welcome in shops, even restaurants. In places where they are not welcome, you will see a "no dogs" sticker, one of which says, "Alas! I cannot come in!" with a picture of a crying dog.

* If a restaurant is doing renovations, they remain open and everyone works around it. You wince at the hammer blows, duck under the ladders, squeeze past the drywaller, belly up beside the thirsty electrician.

* When you sell your house, you take everything with you: appliances, fixtures. We heard of someone who took their wood floors. We still don't have light fixtures because they took them, and I'm afraid to rewire, not knowing the wire colors yet. Need to get on that.

* Cheese comes in three types: Young, Mature, and Old. All are yummy, but Old is the yummiest.

* The Daily Show is not daily. It's a one-hour best of, shown on Sundays -- on CNN (think about that for a second). In case you were wondering, there is no Fox News Channel, at least not from our cable company. We do get Comedy Central -- with "The Office," "South Park," "The Simpsons," and -- strangely -- "Third Rock from the Sun" and "That Seventies Show." We get about 50 channels, with 10 in English. On Dutch local news, they will find a way, even if they have to go out of their way, to show nudity.

* And we spied this at a nearby corner:

Chick stoplight


Marilynne reviews Annie Dillard

Marilynne Robinson has a review of the new Annie Dillard novel The Maytrees in the Austin American-Statesman (a reprint from the Washington Post -- couldn't quickly find it on the Post site). Calls it a "classic of cosmic realism." Anyone read the Dillard book or plan to?