Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.
Around this point in the summertime, I start pondering redemption. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity, the sweat weighing me down; maybe it’s the untold quantities of tequila I’ve inevitably consumed by now in the form of frozen margaritas; maybe it’s the voluptuousness of summer produce, the tempting clefts of peaches and tomatoes, the throbbing purples of blackberries. Whatever makes it so, perhaps you’ll agree that July is the sinfullest month, a good time to repent and to remember Arkansas’s own Greg Alan Brownderville, who will lead to you to the Lord and back with his first poetry collection "Gust," published in 2011. "Gust" has it all: old-time religion, Delta hoodoo, plenty of sweaty Southern nights, Heavenly Highway Hymns, tamales, grills, turkeys…..even a tornado. Highlights for me include “Lord, Make Me a Sheep,” which details a Pentecostal conversion experience, and “Holy Ghost Man,” a tribute to a charismatic preacher/chronicle of gradually shifting faith, but if you get your hands on "Gust," you’ll have to read the whole thing, gripped as you’ll be by the spirit of it. I’ve been variously baptized in my lifetime—sprinkled by Presbyterians, dunked by Baptists—but neither compares to "Gust" as a religious experience.
I'm recommending "Sugar Water," a track that captures Japanese duo Cibo Matto at almost their weirdest (that superlative probably belongs to "Beef Jerky" or "Know Your Chicken") with an honorary mention to the band's cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March," a detailed list of literal and metaphorical items found in the runoff during Rio de Janeiro's stormiest month.
A benthic platyctenid ctenophores. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.
Check out the pictures and video from this just-concluded 69-day Deepwater Exploration voyage to the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the world's oceans. It was performed by the Okeanos Explorer, which is NOAA's oceanic research vessel. (NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the same folks that bring you tornado warnings and so forth.) You'll see bubblegum coral, frogfish, hydrothermal vents and all manner of echinoderms and cnidarians and other benthic delights.
The deepest part of the Marianas Trench, the Challenger Deep, lies about 6.8 miles beneath the surface of the ocean. That's about the same distance between the Capitol building and the Walmart on Chenal and Bowman in West Little Rock. For a better sense of the scale involved, here's a helpful illustration from xkcd.
I'm so persnickety about cooking eggs. And, no, I'm not just a fussy cook in general; I am slapdash about plenty of culinary exercises (vegetable handling, in particular, comes to mind). But EGGS: the line between repulsive and resplendent is just so very fine. So, I've worked long and hard to perfect (yes, I said perfect) my process for boiling eggs so that the white is solid and the yolk is melted gold. Some people call this preparation "soft-boiled," but for some people that means that the white is also not completely solidified. Are they therefore "medium-boiled"? I've also heard them called "ramen eggs." Call them what you want, these are The Goods. And, unlike other "perfect soft-boiled egg" recipes, this one involves no steamer baskets, thermometers, &c. (This process was described—complete with scientific exposition—in a life-changing article I read online, but I've lost the link and adjusted through trial and error.)
1. Begin with an egg laid by a happy hen. The eggs I use are typically refrigerated (for shame!), which I confess ONLY because it does affect the timing.
2. Fill a medium saucepan one finger deeper than egg-deep.
3. Bring water to a hearty boil.
4. Gently submerge your egg(s), one at a time.
5. Set a timer for one-and-a-half minutes.
6. At the end of one-and-a-half minutes drop several ice cubes into the boiling water.
7. Wait for the water to return to a full boil.
8. Remove saucepan from heat.
9. Set a timer for five minutes.
10. At the end of five minutes hold your saucepan under cool, running water until the hot is replaced with room-temperature water.
11. Peel your perfect eggs.
12. Consume your perfect eggs.
Water is at the heart of Roman Polanski's classic "Chinatown." The film is set in Los Angeles, where a severe drought has government officials considering expensive plans to save the city. After the chief engineer of the city's water department turns up dead, J.J. Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, leads us through a web of corruption. Despite being made in 1974, "Chinatown" belongs among the best noir films of the '40s and '50s. The main thing separating it from the likes of "The Third Man" and "Sunset Boulevard" is Nicholson, who plays the detective role with a few more loose screws than Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Faye Dunaway, whose nuanced performance perfectly matches Nicholson's.
In many ways, "Chinatown" conveys the same spirit of Los Angeles that Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliantly unruly movies do today. Polanski's film, which takes place in the 1930s, falls neatly in the time between "There Will Be Blood" and "Boogie Nights," capturing the city after it was barren wilderness but before it became a hotspot for celebrities, surfers and sex. What remains consistent throughout that timeline is a tendency towards deviance in politicians, prospectors and porn stars alike. As critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review, "the crimes in 'Chinatown' include incest and murder, but the biggest crime is against the city's own future, by men who see that to control the water is to control the wealth." Those men certainly made a profit, but I doubt they had any idea of what Los Angeles would become.
I watched this movie for the first time a couple weeks ago, and it certainly won't be my last viewing. If bad weather keeps you from these other aquatic recommendations, cozy up and watch "Chinatown," whether it's your first or fifteenth time.