Sunday, September 23, 2007

4 Songs

On a weekend where both Eugene and Tim have posted about new music, I figured I'd better blog about music too. I don't have a TV, and I haven't been to any shows, but since I last reported on the state of my iPod (5 months ago), I've acquired 2.73 GB, 640 songs, and 36 albums. And, to the shame of having a John Mayer album, I can now add a Fall Out Boy album. My full music library no longer fits on my 4 year old iPod and I can listen to music on shuffle and think "what the hell is this?" or "I have this?"

Here are four songs that found their way onto my iPod in the last 5 months (and if any of you guys has some odd desire to actually listen to what I'm listening to, let me know):

1. Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails

The only song that for which I haven't found an appropriate YouTube video, but you can listen to the entire album, The Stage Names, on their myspace page. I've already expressed my love for Okkervil River, but I just can't help myself. A lot more rock and with a more modern sound than their previous albums, but with somewhat of a draggy middle where things get a little too twee. "Unless It's Kicks" is probably the best song: a driving rock anthem to not letting being in a rock band wear you down. But it cannot beat "John Allyn Smith Sails" for pure awesomeness. The song starts acoustic, with a narrative about the poet John Berryman and his 1972 suicide, then segues into a cover of "Sloop John B." the traditional most known by its cover by the Beach Boys. "Sloop John B." people! Listen to it

2. Elliott Smith - Waltz #2

I found a live version of this song off the XO album somewhere and it's great: sad and sweet, melacholy and anger over the people we should know best but who are forever out of reach. Here's a similar live version:

Truthfully, I don't own a single Elliott Smith album; I'm fearful of spending the money and finding that his whisper-singing drives me nuts ("speak up! I can't hear you!"). And finding the original album version of the song does nothing to reassure me (it's audio only):

With the heavy drum line, it make me imagine that they're playing in some honky-tonk bar. And someone please explain the backing vocals to me. Why?!

3. The Smiths - Girlfriend in a Coma

I've been singing this 2 minute ditty for days now. I can't explain it, but I know it's brilliant (because "it's serious"?).

4. LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great

This song hasn't been released as a single yet, so I'm not sure if this is the actual music video for it (and the song seems to be a little faster than my album version) but whatever:

LCD Soundsystem has gotten a lot of press as sort of confessional indie music with an electronic dance music soul. The album, Sound of Silver, is pretty good, although I kind of think that "Someone Great" is the only can't miss track. But I can't help but wonder: who is supposed to listen to this music? What sort of giant electronica wave is LCD Soundsystem supposed to be on top of? Most people listen to electronica when they want to stop thinking and start dancing. Are people really going to start listen to it on the radio while their driving to work? Are they going to play this in Starbucks? What are we, French? (Yeah, I really don't know what makes me think that this is what the French do.)


Monday, September 17, 2007

What I Learned This Summer

So, truthfully, I don't remember 90% of the things I intended to put in a post with this title, but I'll give it my best '10 minutes after finishing one work assignment, 10 minutes before starting on another' shot:

1.) The way Germans say 'cool' is really cute. No really. It's like 'kuhl' with a bit of a rising intonation (you have to say it with a little smile). Ask Sean. He does a pretty good imitation.

2.) Even more surprising, salad is really good in Germany. In the U.S., a side salad (even in some really nice restaurants) is a couple pieces of limp iceberg lettuce. I've never seen iceberg lettuce in Germany. All the salads have really great looking and tasting greens (sadly, I don't know the names of different kinds of lettuce) and corn. Salad is really good with corn.

3.) Bring cash when you travel. In Germany and a lot of other places, credit cards aren't widely accepted (and bring small coins and make sure you've broken that fifty; no one likes to give you change).

4.) As terrible as I feel for being a stupid American and not bi- or tri- or quadlingual like some people here, it wouldn't matter if I knew 10 languages if one of them wasn't English. It's not just the language stupid American tourists use in Paris and worldwide, it's the language French tourists use in Budapest, the language Italian tourists use in Prague, etc. So, that's something. (Totally unrelatedly, everywhere I went I saw Japanese and Chinese tour groups. But I also saw young Japanese couples traveling on their own. Given what I know about Japan, not all of these couples could possibly be conversant in English, so they must be winging it. Pretty adventurous and impressive.)

5.) D'oh, I totally had a #5 and forgot it as I was writing #4.

[Updated 17.09.07, 11:44pm: Ah-ha! 5.) Did you realize that Canadians, the British, and all the Germans I've met refer to English units as 'imperial units'? It makes sense, but, honestly, it never even occurred to me and I'd never heard the term until I moved to Germany. I once tried to explain to someone that no American would ever use the term 'imperial units,' but they didn't really get it.]


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Summer's Over

I put Sean on a bus to the airport this morning (which explains why I'm at work at ten before 9AM). It'll be pretty weird without him. For one, I'll have to -- gasp! -- cook and clean for myself. But we basically moved into my current apartment together, so it'll take some getting used to just living there alone.

One the plus side, I can stop watching out for my nosy landlord (and start looking for him). He showed up one day a week or two after Sean arrived and was not happy at all to see that I had a guest. We avoided him for the rest of the summer by very paranoidally sneaking Sean in and out of the apartment and assiduously avoiding saying my landlord's name three time while looking in the bathroom mirror.

This probably also means that I'll start blogging more. I'm thinking that I should do a wrap-up of what I learned this summer.

Finally, there's some possibility that the Chicago Cubs will make the playoffs. What should I do if they make the playoffs? Playoff games might start at 2 in the morning. And the only option I'm aware of is paying for in order to listen to them. Suggestions?


Monday, September 03, 2007


My summer of tourism is almost over. It is supposed to be capped by a trip to Amsterdam this weekend, but, while train tickets were cheap, hotel rooms have been impossible to find at any reasonable price. Prague is a pretty good way to end a series of trips, though. Unfortunately, I'm too scattered these days to do Prague justice (in blog form), so you'll have to make do with a bunch of photos and some random notes.

The Old Town Square has this astronomical clock

in the tower of the Old Town Hall:

Before each hour, a giant crowd grows:

They're here to catch a glimpse of this (figures of the apostles pass the windows and wave -- it's not that exciting):

The other buildings in the square are pretty cool. Like this one

and this one, where Tycho Brahe is buried (sadly, when we wanted to go, it was closed).

From the top of the Old Town Hall, there's a nice view:

You can also see across the river to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.

We spent one afternoon up there at Prague Castle, looking at all the pretty buildings, a few museums and the gardens on the other side of the castle (and on the other side of a moat). Two neat things I learned here. 1.) Even after the introduction of Christianity, burial rituals were more informed by pagan beliefs and people were buried with limbs bound or dislocated and covered by rocks to ensure they'd stay put in the grave. 2.) You can stand in the room where the Defenestration of Prague which touched off the Thirty Years' War (the Czechs seem to be the inventors of defenestration; this was the second Defenestration of Prague) occurred. But those guys survived the defenestration unharmed! They landed in a pile of manure.

The house where Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler lived is up by the castle. It's now a restaurant (Sean and I stopped for a beer), but with nary a mention of Brahe or Kepler. (By the way, it's possible to get 0.5 L of beer for the equivalent of 1 euro in Prague.)

To get to the other side of the river, you can cross on the Charles Bridge

Here's the view from the bridge at sunset.

There's a crucifix on the bridge of with golden text in Hebrew reading 'holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.' The Lonely Planet guidebook explains that the text was funded by the fine imposed on a Jewish man who had been convicted of debasing the Holy Cross. At one of the old synagogues in the Jewish quarter (now a museum), it explains that his offense was in a coded letter to a friend, which was never deciphered.

Several blocks from the river is the Powder Tower (there's no particular reason I threw this in there; it's just cool looking):

We spent another afternoon going to many of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter. This is the Old-New Synagogue, built in the 13th century (and inside it really feels like it, if that makes any sense). It's still in use.

There are more than 12,000 graves in the Old Jewish Cemetary, dating from 1478 until 1786. The tombstones pile onto of each other and the ground slopes up from the path as they added more dirt to put in more graves.

The most famous person buried here is probably Jehuda Liwa ben Becalel, Rabbi Löw. Here's his tombstone and some of the people praying at it (I didn't see people praying at any other tombstones). He's probably best known for the story of his creation of a golem to protect the Jewish ghetto. According to legend, the golem's remains are hidden in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue.