Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Letter to the Editor

This is the e-mail I posted to Ebury Publishing and their response:

I am currently reading The Year of Eating Dangerously by Tom Parker Bowles and have become very concerned about your editing staff. Small errors keep cropping up and I am only on page 120. Mr Parker Bowles writes "a once-secret city and birthplace of the atom bomb that destroyed Osaka." My initial reaction was to check to make sure that my American history lessons were not entirely revisionist and that Osaka was not also bombed along with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then later determined, perhaps this was a simple editing mistake. Later Mr. Parker Bowels does credit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have being bombed--atomically with no mention of Osaka. The following chapter I encounter Mr. Bowles in China calling himself a gai-jin on page 87. Why would Mr. Parker Bowles refer to himself in China with the Japanese word for foreigner rather than the Cantonese word (since he is in Hong Kong) gweilo or the Mandarin laowai? Then soon following this blunder, on page 120 Mr. Bowles talks about the National People's Congress where "Bush senior puked into an astonished President's lap." Mr. Bush senior found himself ill in Tokyo and disgraced himself with the Japanese Prime Minister. Are you sure that Mr. Parker Bowles was ever actually in China. Or is Mr. Parker Bowles and your editorial staff of the opinion that one yellow country is just the same as another? I am quickly losing faith in Mr. Parker Bowles' book and in your publishing company. I understand how difficult it is to edit and I know that this is not intended to be high journalism. But at the same time, I do expect, non-fiction books that I read to be mostly parsed of blatant non-factualisms such as the ones I have come across.
I am perplexed and disturbed by this book--so much so, this is the first time I have ever felt compelled to write a publisher. I can understand taking liberties and stringing a bit of a tall-tale in travel writing. Paul Theroux is quite an artist at it, but these errors ring of something else entirely.


Their response was:

Thank you for taking the time to write with regard to The Year of Eating Dangerously. I am Tom’s editor and am grateful to you for alerting me to these mistakes and the possibility of others. (If I had not been on maternity leave at the time it went to press I would have known about them long ago.)

Tom’s travels and the resulting book are infused with fervor and excitement, but as his editorial team it was our responsibility to ensure that enthusiasm was always backed up with accuracy, so that the understandable muddles of a traveler’s notes don’t make it into the printed word.

And clearly that didn’t happen here. The copyediting process went very badly wrong – the team were already aware of this – but clearly not enough was done to ensure linguistic and historical accuracy even after we knew it had gone wrong.

After your email we will be reediting the paperback before any reprint goes to press.

If there are any other questions I can answer pls don’t hesitate to get in touch. Or indeed if there are any other Ebury press titles I can introduce you too please let me know.

Best wishes

Hannah MacDonald

My Comments:

If you caught the name Parker Bowles than Yes, it is The Parker Bowles of Charles and Camilla fame. His status makes me all the more disappointed in the errors. I was already getting tired of the book. Except for the first chapter which is based in the UK the two other that I have read--at a chile tasting in New Mexico and now the chapter on China, he seems to winge and prattling on about how much he misses safe food, McDonald's, and his comfy life in England.

China is truly a country with some of the most amazing food I have ever tried or seen--often mind bending. Fierce looking cats, mouths permanently pulled back baring their sharp teeth. Skinless, they hang from stalls almost as if warding off evil spirits. Other things in the markets that I couldn't even dare guess at but the guide book assured me that a variety of penises were among them.

A night festival along the Li River that offered tiny frogs skewed whole on bamboo sticks. So very cute, all lined up sitting one on top of the other. And a whole rabbit covered in some sort of pastry. I remember feeling that perhaps I had jumped down the rabbit hole of Wonderland. The haunting dreamlike images of that festival hang with me even today

The outdoor butcher stand at the village Saturday Market in Southern China where a scraggly dog would make brave forays to snatch tiny bits of left over meat off the table. The eel that jumped out of his bucket to dance on the restaurant dirt floor before being returned to the tank, thus ensuring that he had yet one more day to live. The street side vendor's soup pot with a chicken thigh & leg complete with the foot brazenly poking out. The pigs in bamboo pokes carried in a stacked pyramid of six on the back of motor bikes. The cold I had cured on the Trans Siberian by drinking powered snake's gall bladder. Sharp and strong but itseemed to have worked--or maybe that was just the vodka mixed with the Pear(?) Tang procured at the food commissary in Beijing.

No, all Mr. Parker Bowles really gets around to is complaining about stinky tofu in China. Yes, it smells--and perhaps he encountered much stronger varieties than I did. And, yes, even what I tried was far too sharp for McDonaldized tastebuds but it was by far the least of the things that I would remark on in the wonders of Chinese cuisine and of "the people that will eat anything with four legs except a table." It will be a challenge to finish the book. I will. But, I may have to vent several more times on it before it is done.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Looney Tunes?

I often work overtime in Valencia on Sunday afternoon. Santa Clarita has an extensive trail system that is really nice. There is a mile marked trail near the library that is 5 miles out and 5 miles back in. The start of the trail is in the Lowes Shopping Center lot. The Starbucks with a restroom makes it an attractive start. When I am properly motivated, I like to head down the hill early. Get a decent run in, head to the gym for a shower, grab a bit of lunch and then head to work.

Several months ago, I was running between mile 2 and 3 along the wash right behind the Toyota dealership when I spotted a road runner crossing the path in front of me. I like road runners they are truly distinctive little birds. We don't have them in Oklahoma, so I am fascinated with how they scoot with determination. My day was made. I am always pleased by what can be seen on the trail. I continue about a hundred yards further and what do I spot. None other than a Mr. Coyote lazily scratching his ears in the wash. I glance up heavenward to make sure there isn't an anvil waiting to crash down on his head. No, no anvil. I realize I am not actually in a cartoon so I watch Mr. Coyote to make sure he continues to be lazy. When I look again, he is gone. This is the interesting thing about coyotes they are fast and quiet. He wasn't any more interested in making an introduction than I was.

I am fine spotting rabbits, roadrunners, distant coyotes and other small scrubland life, but my one true worry is happening upon a mountain lion. Last year after the fires, there were quite a few sightings in Santa Clarita. Perhaps that was also why the coyote was down there, too. I hadn't seen one on the trail until after the fires. And this day was actually the second sighting I had had of one.

The first time I saw a coyote was about a month after the fires. I was running back--also between mile 2 and 3 when I noticed something that looked like a dog in the middle of the trail. Only he really didn't look like a dog. He didn't have dog vibes about him and when he slunk under the fence, I sensed that he really didn't move like a dog either. I looked around and no one was on the trail ahead of me or behind me. These are fairly well used trails, so I was surprised. I continued by and when I warily passed the brush near him, I saw him warily eyeing me pass by. Yep, this was no dog. After I safely got passed I exhaled.

About a minute later there were other people on the trail. Of course!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

From Bilked to Trusting Your Postman

A couple of weeks ago, I received a telephone reference question. Often when the questions do not deal with books we may or may not have in the library, they can be pretty unusual.

The question started off normal enough. The woman wanted to know what the orgin of bilk--as in to bilk someone out of money--was. Simple enough, I just did a quick dictionary search on the internet. Meanwhile, the woman tells me that her dictionary did not have an orgin for the word. I concur that this is indeed what I found. "Well, maybe that is why my friend didn't understand when I used the word." She continued with "I think it might be Scottish, my grandfather often used bilk." I held my tongue and did not tell her that maybe she should contact the boys down at Oxford English--they would probably be interested in her theory.

Scarcely before I could comment, she changed tacks with me and asked if I thought that if she used bilk in a legal letter if she would be understood. I explained that used in context it should be understandable. Then she blurted out "You should be able to trust your postman." It seems that she has come to the conclusion that her postman has indeed bilked her out of what might be a considerable amount of money. Considering that somehow he convinced her to write a personal check to pay his insurance. And then he had her take him to JC Penney and made her buy him clothes with her credit card.

Not sure how to respond, she said one more time "You should be able to trust your postman" before give me the book and number of a bible verse. "Excuse me ma'am?" She repeated the book and number and asked me what kind of picture I might see from the verse. I explained that I wasn't familiar with the verse. She then told me that her name was Mary Catherine but she wasn't Catholic. In her family there were a lot of Marys but none of them were Catholic. She liked to imagine painting pictures from bible verses.

I quickly understood how the postman--bad postman--was able to bilk her out of money. Fortunately, I got another phone call, wished Mary Catherine the best of luck and hung up. The great thing about working with the public is that you never know how a simple question will turn out.

I'm just sad that there are Mary Catherine's way too innocent for the likes of wolves in the disguise of your friendly neighborhood mail carrier. Or maybe the bilking postman was just a figment of Mary Catherine's imagination. Some days are more surreal that others.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some days happen all day long

I should have known what the day had in store for me when I tore my fresh out of the box pantyhose this morning. Not just a simple run that a little nail polish could patch but a significant rip that meant I spent $5.99 for a contorsionist act, 30 seconds of wear, and the sad realization that I would have to shimmy myself into another pair. Damn! I can imagine that the Oracle of Delphi would find pantyhose a suitable substitution for enviserated birds, if she were in practice today.

I checked first thing in the morning to see if Mattress Man was still living behind the library. Yep, still there. I entered the library to find that copy machine out of order with the a self-check out machine following suit. It took the copy guy about 2 hours to decide that he needed a part he didn't have and the check-out machine guy hadn't shown up. My staff meeting was interupted before it ever started with a call from region wondering were I was for my 11:00 interview. Damn! I had it scheduled for Thursday!

I returned from the interview with the news that we wouldn't be hiring the candidate that everyone thinks is a nice guy. I had a ten minute lunch and a hand full of Hershey Kisses to steady my nerves. The staff meeting happened. Only, we came out of it to a report that the police and paramedics had just been called. What?!? With relief I heard that nothing had actually happened in the library. Rather a young guy that had staggered in the library with the story that he just crashed his bike when a car clipped his wheel. Within minutes the lobby was swarming with men in uniform. (Wait, that was the highlight of the day--wow they hire them good looking!). The kid was taken away on the stretcher leaving me to deal with getting his bike secured and writing up the required Security Incident Report.

Next comes, a customer complaint about a part-time staff member, the ensuing coaching, and decision to release her from up above. Not the first complaint by a long shot, I just got the pleasure of metting out finality to it. One week on the job and I am already pink slipping employees. It's tough being the bad cop sometimes. I want to be the good cop, sometimes!

I looked up at the clock and blessedly it said 5:00. I got in my car and enjoyed a quite ride home up the hill. Next time I rip my pantyhose, I am calling in sick!

Monday, April 14, 2008

On the Run

I alway pack my running shoes when I travel. I don't always get around to running but if the urge does overtake, I am boy scout prepared.

While I was home, I tried to minimize the weight impact of Southern mostly fried food so I made the effort to lace up the old sneaks a few times. My general pattern is to run over to my aunt's house in the morning for freshly brewed joe, talk story for a while and then run back home. Total mileage a grand total of 2.3 miles.

On Sunday late afternoon after a massive feast at my brother's house, I put on the kicks and responsibly detailed my plans to my mom. The Plan was to run to the by-pass stop about 1/2 mile past my aunt's turn off, then swing by her house for a brief howdy before heading back home.

All went according to plan until I turned around at the by-pass stop. Not one but two big dogs--Hound of Baskerville size dogs--were waiting for me to come back through. Where did they come from? They weren't there when I ran through just minutes ago. Just my luck. I briefly weighed my options and determined the path of least resistance would be the safest course. I headed around the by-pass. My 3 mile planned run suddenly became a 6 mile pavement pounding. It seemed that everywhere I looked there were dogs on the loose.

When I returned, I asked my mom if everyone in town let their dogs out on Sunday afternoon. My mom, explained that in fact, they were let out on Friday after 2:00 when the dog catcher left for the weekend. She also added that it was well known that the dog catcher was also afraid of dogs! Go figure.

The local paper advertized the 14th annual Dogwood Days 5K run on the following Saturday. I pondered chipping in my 20 bucks for the cause (the beautification of downtown Idabel or maybe the lining of local bigwigs pockets). On Saturday morning, shortly after finishing my 24 ounces of coffee and a bowl of cheerios I decided that since my sister was parked in front of my car, I might as well walk up town and run the damn race. Hey, that's only 3.2 miles and I can walk it if nothing else.

I registered, started the race and was amazed that I finished the first mile in sub-10. Hey, I'm not as much out of shape as I thought I was. Then about 5 minutes later the coffee and cereal caught up with my. Oh, my aching side-stitching gut. The 64 year old guy behind me catches me, chats with me a bit and then passes me. Why oh why am I doing this to myself. I could be having another cup of coffee in the quiet of my mom's kitchen.

The aches and stitches gradually release their grips and by the end of the 5k I find the energy to sprint in with the 64 year old finishing just about 35 seconds ahead of me. My time: a not very respectable 34:40. I grab some water and a banana while and wait around for the awards ceremony. Lo and behold, I win first place in my age group. I perk right up and graciously accept my medal. I proudly wear my medal all the way back home and show it off. The caveat is that I just happened to be the only one in my age group running! I could have shuffled along the entire route and still come in first.

Nevertheless, I love my medal. I have four now. Three finisher medals for three of the four marathons I have run and my shiny first place medal for the slowest 5K I have ever run. Sometimes, you just have to appreciate the irony life throws at you.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Neighborhood Abattoir

Shortly after I arrived home, my mom asked me to go to Lyndel McGowen's for some sausage. I asked who Lyndel was and why we might go to his home for sausage. She informed me that he used to be the butcher at Piggly Wiggly before it became a Choctaw Casino and that now he was working out of his home butcher shop.

We drove approximately 2 blocks east and two blocks south before pulling up to his home. As I surveyed the peeling paint, Dr. Pepper machine and shed out back, recognition dawned on me. This was the house that always had deer hanging up out front during deer season. My mother confirmed this as we knocked on the shed door. Out comes this rather tall man clearly of the strong Scottish heritage his name suggested. He was dressed in a rubber apron and boots. "Oh, Hi Nita, you will want to go into the other door down there, I am in the middle of dressing three hogs and there is a lot blood--go down there and I will be through in a moment." I gaze past his shoulder at a pig hanging on hooks. I realize the strong smell permeating the air is pig's blood. The hanging pig seems to be gazing back at me so I move quickly to the other door.

We enter, Lynden comes through--globules of blood still on the toes of his boots, smears of the same on his white coat. My mom confirms that she wants to buy all the sausage he has--five pounds and that it is $1.50 a pound. The smell is not even marginally better in this room. As I dig $7.50 out of my wallet I feel completely out of my element. Somewhere along the way suburban sensiblities became instilled.

Lyndel returns with five white paper wrapped pounds of sausage in a black garbage bag. Wasn't this a scene in Pulp Fiction? If not it should have been. After what seemed like hours of small talk about daughters, grandchildren, plans for the sausage and me becoming increasingly light headed, we leave.

The next morning, I enter the kitchen and immediately notice the aroma of the frying sausage. At first, I was unsure that I would be able to eat the sausage, considering how bruised my psyche was from the buying experience. But the smell enticed me to take a bite and as my mother promised, it now ranks as the best damn sausage I have ever eaten. It is amazing how much your tastebuds sing when the product doesn't have all the fillers, the sulfites, and what ever else they put in commerical sausages--re-read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle for details. Believe it or not, the best thing of all is that my mom actually had to add some fat to cook this sausage--that is how lean it was!

We had one more morning of Lyndel's sausage before I left. By the time it was ready, I had a Pavlovian response going. Honestly, I don't really like sausage that much. I eat sausage maybe 2 or 3 times a year, but as I ate Lyndel's sausage I wondered how I could get a supply of his sausage to California.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Bittersweet Homecoming

Yesterday I took a walk around Idabel and did not find much pleasure. Everywhere I looked, I saw boarded up empty buildings. Grand Leader Department Store-closed. S&H Department Store-closed. Main Street and Central were dotted with empty shells of space or spaces that have survived in a new incarnation. The State Theater, where I had my first job, is now a law office; the boutique next door a funeral home; the old bank the new City Hall--I am not sure what the old City Hall now is. My childhood home--gone and replaced with a drug rehabilitation center, Piggly Wiggly grocery is an Choctaw Nation casino. Two former churches are now funeral homes in addition to the aforementioned boutique. In fact, it seems that death and vice are the only thriving businesses in town.

Home after home are morbidly similar with their sagging roofs, chipped faded paint, boarded windows, satellite dishes, and big dogs tethered (I hope) in fenceless yards. This is where I grew up. The town looks like a former debutant fallen on bad times. She no longer has the energy to get herself gussied up on Saturday night. And when she does she digs through her closet she finds of out of fashion tattered dresses. Her wrinkles showing and her mended shoes glaring. No one tries to look too closely because to do so is painful.

When Werehauser came in in the seventies, there seemed to be a lot of promise. But the veneer of that promise has worn off and my hometown is faced with the reality of low education, little industry and a dependence on gaming revenues, welfare and government subsidies. The only buildings that do not show marked signs of disrepair are those supported by gaming or social welfare.

I feel like a stranger here and I am. I am an anomaly to many and to others I am the one who got out and made something of myself. Coming home is always bittersweet. To see the one time potential drained of the town as Walmart moves the heart away from the center and leaves a swath of disuse and disrepair. I realize that town after town across the U.S. are undergoing similar events and I am devestated. I feel that our hearts, our ties are being fragmented.

Tight knit families have spun out of contact with the busy business that is now our pattern of life. I ask about cousins and other relatives that I grew up with and am answered with "I have no idea what has happened to them". I am no better. I will see my older brother for the first time in 5 years today. My life is alien to his and his family almost strangers. We use my mother to keep tentative bonds. What will happen to us when she is gone? Will I find my way back to this place? I don't know.