samedi, octobre 14, 2006

Expensive Times at the Rex

After getting home at 8h00 last night, you can imagine that I pretty much collapsed into bed, with the intention of sleeping well into the afternoon. Alas, it was not to be. At around noon, I heard a knocking at my door. One of the networks is down. Some of the students have a paper due Sunday morning, so I had told the students to knock on my door as soon as any of the networks went down. Making a mental note to take a nap later (never happened), I threw on some clothes and started working on one network. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from one of the students telling me that another network was down. While I re-set the first network and left it to re-sync to the ADSL server (for some reason, this takes FOREVER for one of the networks), I headed off to fix the other one. This one could sync to the ADSL service, but just couldn't make a connection to the internet. I forced it to cycle through log-on/log-off procedures for a while, and eventually something took. About an hour later, the first network finally sync-ed and everything came together.

I braced myself for a day of network failures, but nothing ever came of it. I suddenly realized that I had nothing dinner-worthy in my fridge or pantry, so I headed off to the grocery store. I was still in a slightly dazed, morning-after state, so I took my time and slowly perused the shelves. I eventually headed home with a large collection of foodstuffs, including a fresh whiting fish. I like how they sell the whole fish completely untouched, and then clean out the organs and snip the fins at the moment that you buy it. The fish certainly looked fresh, and it tasted pretty darn fresh later that night.

I was curious to see if I could use the steamer setting on the pressure cooker to steam some rice and some fish together, so I got the steamer basket and took a look. The holes in the bottom were just too large for the small-grain rice that I had on hand, so I fished out a rice pancake (those things you use to wrap cold vietnamese spring rolls) and placed it on the bottom of the basket. It fit perfectly! I punctured a few holes through the rice pancake for the steam, and then I laid a thin bed of risotto rice. I thought the rice would take long to steam, so my idea was to bring the steamer up to pressure, then open it up, then put the fish in and bring the steamer back up to pressure. The whiting was small enough that it should be well-cooked by the time the cooker got up to pressure. In the end, the rice cooked very quickly, so I should've but the rice and the fish together at the same time. Also, the rice pancake sort of dissolved in the process, which meant that I had an over-sticky bed of rice for my fish. I put some of that minty olive-oil that I had bought yesterday over the rice to lube it up a bit (haha, lube!). The fish was perfect. Although the skin had burst in a few places, the flesh was thoroughly cooked but still very tender and juicy. All in all, a great meal. My only complaint was that the whiting had very fine bones, so I spent a lot of time picking out little bones from my teeth. Feh.

I spent a few hours in the evening preparing for my next night out. You see, Luciano was playing at the Rex, so this seemed like as good a time as any to check the place out. Luciano tends to spin minimal techno and tech-house, and I've only had a couple of opportunities to see him spin. The Rex is a legendary club in Paris that saw the rise of several important French DJs and producers, including most notably Laurent Garnier. Aside from the historical details, I've also heard that the club has a great sound system, so I was anxious to check it out.

The party started at midnight, which meant I shouldn't be getting there until 2h00 roughly. However, the métro trains stop running around 1am, and I didn't want to be stuck paying for a taxi or taking the night bus into town. So, off I went at about half past midnight. When I switched to the 8 line to head towards the Bonne Nouvelle stop (where the club was), I got on the train and headed towards a bunch of empty seats at the end of the car. When I got there, I realized why they were empty. An hours-old, half-dried splotch of vomit coated the rear wall and part of the floor between these seats. In retrospect, I should've taken that as a sign.

00h00-03h00? : D'JULZ

I got in line and heard from Greg that he was running late. It wasn't yet 01h00 and there was almost no line, so I just sauntered off and took a walk along a block or two. If the line stays this short (indicating few people inside), I might just hit a nearby café/brasserie for a (most likely cheaper) beer before heading into the club. When I returned from my walk, the line was suddently longer. It wasn't insanely long, but it was now a proper "this club is busy" line. Forget the drinks, I needed to get in line.

The line moved faster that I had expected, and it looked like I was going to be well inside the club before Greg arrived. Either way, I was too far forward in line to let him jump in with me without eliciting comment. So I dropped out of line, took another walk, and then got back in line. Waiting is fun! Thankfully, Greg eventually showed up and nobody got pissed (at least audibly) when he joined me in line. I wasn't sure what the "line etiquette" was here in France, since I hadn't paid much attention during the last few outings I had made. I tried my best to observe the norms while I was waiting for Greg, but no good examples came up. I made a mental note to be more cognizant of the etiquette/rituals of before and after the event.

We eventually got inside, although not before being subjected to a bit of arbitrary "you, wait wait over there." Also, Greg got a playful ribbing (figuratively speaking) from the bouncer for his rather light attire. It was pretty cool that night and Greg was wearing a woven shirt-undershirt combo unbuttoned rather low. Most Parisians were wearing layers, so Greg and I stood out as "hardy northern folk" in an amusing way.

The club inside was already *packed*. The club had surprisingly low ceilings, was pretty wide and very long. While still not the size of, say, Crobar in Chicago or Guverment in Toronto, it was big by Parisian standards. It was also EXPENSIVE. I mean, I've paid 4.50€ for reasonable beer at Nouveau Casino and Batofar and felt pretty vexed, but a 1/2-pint of crappy Kronenberg beer cost me 6€!! That's almost $8 USD! For half a pint!! Of crap!!! The mixed drinks started at 10€ and went waaaaay up. I gritted my teeth and bought a beer, but Greg had thought ahead and gotten rather buzzed before arriving. After that, I think we each got one water, and that was it.

D'JULZ's set was a pretty straightforward mix of techno and tech-house, but I wasn't paying much attention, since I was busy trying to find put down my bag and dance. After a while, we ended up near the front of the room, which left us in a good spot to see the room and be in the thick of things, but also meant that we had to maneouver between a crush of people, a speaker stack, and a !@#$ing smoke machine.

The sound was indeed very good, although perhaps not as mind-blowing as had been suggested by some reports. It was clean, no audible distortion, powerful bass and some sort of dynamic compression or EQ shaping on the high-end to keep it from ever getting painful. On the other hand, it was never the kind of wall-of-clean-but-gut-rumbling-sound that I heard with Turbosound systems in Toronto.

03h00-? : Luciano

When Luciano came on, I was totally in love with his trashy 70's Italian porno look. He had a black muscle-t (on a skinny frame), black hair down to his shoulders, a total pornostache and this hilarious string of mardi-gras beads slung over one shoulder and across his chest. It was just too good. I took out my camera, and a security guard who was passing by tapped me on the shoulder and shook his finger at me. Apparently, photos are not allowed. However, this was too good to pass up, so I waited a few minutes, and then tried to take a shot from the crush of people at the front. The result was grainy and dark, but you can sort of make it out. Click on the image for the full-sized version.

While Greg was in the washroom, I noticed that Luciano a popular track, one that I couldn't place, but had heard almost every time I've been out in Paris. What was unusual was that the crowd was booing. Then I realized that something was missing: the bass. At this point in the track, there should be a booming kick drum pounding through the room. Instead, there was just the wash of upper-register synth pads and articulating percussion. Without warning, the bass came back, and the crowd cheered, many of them lifting their hands over their head and/or pumping their fists. Everybody danced with renewed vigor. And then, after only one or two groups of 4 beats (i.e., 1 or 2 bars), the bass disappeared again. The crowd began to boo and whistle and heckle. A couple of bars later, halfway through a group of 4, he drops the bass back in.

By the time Greg got back, Luciano had stopped taunting the crowd by erratically dropping and witholding the beat, but Greg quickly picked up on a similar anomaly at a broader level. He noticed that Luciano switched between high and low intensity very often, rather abruptly, and not at the expected moments (i.e., structural downbeats). This was an ongoing technique for Luciano: sudden highs and lows, frequently breaking groups of 16 beats (4 bars, the most common length of a 'significant' chunk of music and therefore the point at which changes in texture are expected). While this could be praised for "fighting against convention" or "doing your own thing," I found it hard to shape my dancing to it, and that became annoying. All I could do was move from beat to beat, but I couldn't match his shifts in intensity with analogous dance moves. I've argued elsewhere (not published, but maybe sometime soon) that dancing helps those of us who listen to Electronic Dance Music to process what we're hearing; we don't just mirror what we hear, but use our body as a way of better understanding it, as well. So, I found that Luciano's procedures constantly foiled my body, preventing it from helping me understand where he was going and what he was doing.

Of course, I still had a great time, and Greg and I danced for hours. Greg hit the showers (so to speak) around 05h00, and I eventually left around 06h00. Luciano was still playing, but I was TIRED. Also, the students had that paper due at 10h00, and I wanted to at least be in my room a few hours before the deadline, in case there was a network outage.

As I made to leave the club, I picked up my bag and noticed the unmistakeable scent of bile. Oh fuck. Somehow, I had managed to put my bag down in a puddle of vomit. Obviously it had been an empty stomach (i.e., someone drank too much), because I was spared the sight of half-digested food. On the other hand, the shoulder strap of my bag smelled strongly of puke and it looked like the bottom of my bag had been soaking in it for hours. Gritting my teeth (I did a lot of gritting of teeth that night), I shouldered my bag and headed out. I rode the métro home, trying to avoid standing too close to other people and trying to block out the smell of someone else's vomit.

As I left my métro station at Porte des Lilas, I noticed that my boulangerie was open...but I had a bag that smelled of puke, and there's a good chance that some of that got on my hands. Ain't no way I'm buying bread in this condition. I sauntered home, immediately threw my clothes into a decontamination pile in the middle of my room, washed my hands several times, and started to work on my bag. Mercifully, nothing inside had been touched, but the bag needed a complete washing. I emptied it of all its contents, filled the bathroom sink with hot water and laundry detergent, and got washing. At 8am, I left the bag to soap in a fresh batch of soapy water and I finally headed to bed.

vendredi, octobre 13, 2006

Canadian Techno & Galleries Lafayette

The day started rather gently, thank goodness. Friday is usually my day off from the Centre, so I got to sleep in a bit. Not too much, though, because I had arranged to visit the room of a student between 10am and 11am to fix her network connection. By the time I got there, the problem had sort of resolved itself, but I didn't let that stop me from messing with the settings to see if there was anything to prevent it from happening again.

As I was heading out, I was told (again) that the cleaning staff had skipped a couple of rooms because they weren't orderly enough to be cleaned. Both of the students this time were kids that I didn't expect to be messy (based on the times that I've been in their rooms), so I began to wonder if the cleaning staff are using unreasonable standards for orderliness. I chatted with the front desk folks about it, and they've started a policy of actually going to see those rooms that the cleaning staff deem uncleanable. In the meanwhile, I sent emails to those two students, carefully wording my email to make it clear that the blame wasn't presumably on them. Later that day, I got emails from both of them with discriptions of the state of their rooms that day. From the sounds of things, they had both done a good job cleaning up; their only sin was that they left dirty dishes in the sink. Hardly a reason to skip the room entirely. Ah well, we'll see what comes of this as the front desk folks start inspecting the "offending" rooms. Either way, I don't want to be sending out "you're too messy" emails without good reason. In the end, I'm the one that looks like a jerk if they're constantly telling me that the rooms are unacceptable. Meh.

I had a lunch date at one of my colleague's place; the plan was that I would bring my leftover ají de gallina (of which I still had TONS) and we'd have lunch there. Her appartment building has this beautiful garden courtyard (not really a yard, more a path or alley) and her apartment is all exposed beams and ancient masonry. Anyway, I prepared some garlic rice to go with the ají, and arrived there to find that she had made rice too! At least she made a different kind of rice (white basmati), so we some of each with the ají. My garlic rice was prepared with a medium grain rice from the Camargue area of France (South coast, between Nice and Perpignan), in a pilaf-style preparation that left a glossy coating of butter and garlic. Her rice was light-jasmine basmati with a drier, grainy finish. She had prepared shredded carrots with lemon juice as an entree (shredded carrots is a popular "light" entree here) followed by the rice and ají as the main plat. Instead of dessert we had a cheese course (ah, France!) and some great coffee.

I had heard that Galeries Lafayette, the department store to end all department stores, was having a crazy weekend sale, so I decided to go check it out. I totally thought that G-L was along the Seine near Châtelet, so I took the métro to Hôtel de Ville and started walking west along the river. I passed another department store called La Samaritaine that was closed for renovations, but nothing until I hit the Louvre. Undeterred, I looped up to rue Rivoli and headed back east, expecting to see the buildings for G-L. Instead, I saw more buildings for Samaritaine, although they had obviously been sub-letted to other businesses:

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I continued down rue Rivoli, bounced up to Les Halles, across to Centre Pompidou and through the gay "strip" of the Marais (rue Ste. Croix de la Bretonnerie) and down rue Veille du Temple. Still no Galeries Lafayette. Maybe I had mixed up my directions and they were east of Châtelet. So off I went, ambling east along the Seine. Along the way, I found these amusing spots:

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Of course, closed for a union break.

I ended up near Ile Saint-Louis, so I headed onto the island for a quick stop at Berthillon. Good God, are their ice creams ever amazing. Actually, the sorbets are by far the best. I continued along the island to an olive specialty shop called Oliver & Co. They always have amazing Olive varieties available here. I picked up soame green pincholine olives (which are AMAZING) and some green bouteillan olives (which I haven't tried yet). The pincholines are not too salty and very meaty and firm. I also picked up a small bottle of olive oil infused with herbal mint. Instant pasta seasoning! It's also great over rice, I've discovered.

Anyway, I asked the store clerk for directions to Galeries Lafayette, and they said it was near the Garnier Opéra house. Ahhhhh. I was totally in the wrong district. So, off I went to the nearest métro station and over to the Galeries. The Galeries is actually three separate buildings with several floors of retail space. The main building has 8 floors (if you count the rooftop terrace) and this amazing 1912 glass-and-steel dome.

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I went up to the rooftop terrace thinking to get a bit to eat at their "brasserie," but it was more a bare-bones drink stop with food service that ends halfway through the day. Also, the service was horrible. If you're ever at G-L, I'd suggest going up to the roof for the view, and then walking down one floor to the main food court area for better grub. The view isn't worth the 4€ coffee and crap service.

In the men's building (yes, menswear has its own 4-storey building) I found a really nice scarf for 30€ (it was normally twice as much) and a Pierre Cardin shirt for 55€ (normally 80€). I also found a zillion things that I will never be able to afford. G-L includes a grandes marques section in both their men's and women's sections that provides floorspace for some of the big fashion houses. So you can shop for Dior, Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood and more in the same space.

One of my favourite moments in the whole experience was the men's underwear section. Clearly, French men have more "varied" tastes in underwear. The section itself was easily 4 times and the size of a corresponding American one, and there were less of the "traditional" boxers with plaid patterns, and far more g-strings, boxer briefs with a lot of "shaping" bright colours and sheer fabrics. There was even one pair of boxer briefs that had a see-through back (yes, think about it). What amazed/amused me the most, though, were the underwear mannequins. There was just no way to discreetly snap a picture, but they had these mannequins all over the department that extended from thighs to waist and had these incredibly muscular, defined butts and avocado-shaped genitalia. It was hilarious. It was also a bit ironic, since the vast majority of French men have skinny, skinny butts.

Once the crush of people overwhelmed my desire to shop, I headed home and got ready for my night of Canadian Techno. Woo!!

So, Batofar books two DJs from Toronto and Montréal (Jack Fairley and Mistress Barbara, respectively) and calls it a "Spéciale Canada." Note the image of a caribou on both sides of the flyer, just to underline the Canadianness of the evening. Of course, I couldn't miss it. Considering she isn't that far from Toronto, I've only seen Mistress Barbara a handful of times, and I've definitely enjoyed what I've heard of Jack Fairley while I was living in T.O., so I ate a late dinner, finished blogging my ají de gallina recipe, and headed out.

23h30-02h00 : Hervé AK

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Hervé's set sort of started a night-long progression from microhouse to tech-house to full-on techno. His set stood somewhere between the first two genres; there was microhouse's fine beadwork of treble- and mid-range percussion, as well as tech-house's resonant bass kicks and intense, full textures. In reference to the "episode" and "return" modalities that I had conjured up for Richie Hawtin's set last week, there was less of a feeling of "episode" or departures, and a more constant feeling of "return", "here." Hervé consistently selected tracks that had a dense, heavy tech-house texture, with few departures into lighter or more abstract fare; instead, he choreographed little moments of departure by stripping away the bass or messing with the EQ's only to bring it back a bit louder a few moments later.

I made friends with a guy standing next to me during the set who was doing his best to pop-lock in a very crowded space. At some point, he asked me if I had heard the Canadian DJ's before and I explained that I was actually from Toronto. He suddenly beamed, "You're Canadian?!" Suddenly, it was all hugs and soul-brother handshakes. Later that night, he offered me some of his drink when he noticed that I wasn't drinking (I was rationing my intake, since drinks are expensive). Of course, one good turn deserves another, so I went to the bar and bought two vodka-tonics: one for him and one for me. When I handed him the drink, he seemed genuinely surprised; a moment later he asked, "How long are you staying in Paris?" "10 months." "Gimme your phone number, then." See? It's not so hard to make friends in Paris.

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I love this shirt.

02h00-03h00 : Jack Fairley (live set)

Fairley's set seemed centered more over tech-house, with a sort of nod towards microhouse or glitch sounds. He played a live set (i.e., no vinyl, just sequencers and other gear), which used tech-house procedures with mostly microhouse materials. I find that there are two main differences between tech-house and microhouse:

  1. Microhouse creates its density in the upper registers, creating complex (if minimalistic) patterns of mid-to-high frequency samples over thin bass patterns; whereas tech-house finds its density towards the lower end of the register, and not just with complex bass patterns, but with resonant samples and thick textures.
  2. While tech-house mostly draws on the sampling material of "classic" techno (i.e., a mix of accoustic drum kit samples and drum-machine / synthesized samples), microhouse substitutes these sounds with a vocabulary of fuzzier, lighter, sharper/shorter, more granular samples drawn from a glitch / noise aesthetic.

So Fairley's set was consistently bass-heavy and dense and his upper-range textures were more sparse, but his sample-set drew more heavily from microhouse. Oh, and for the record, his shirt says "The 'Fun Ship' Ecstasy."

03h00-06h00 : Mistress Barbara

So, I first have to apologize to Mistress Barbara for this picture. I'm stunned by the violence that my camera has unleashed upon her countenance. Please rest assured that she looks great in person. The problem was that I was right up against the stage, so this was taken from a rather unflattering, nostril-enhancing angle.

Mistress Barbara's set was very much techno. The closest thing I heard to tech-house from her was Audion's (a.k.a. Matthew Dear) "Vegetables" from his Suckfish release. She kept the intensity at a pretty consistent high; unlike Hawtin's episodes and returns, M.B.'s moments of departure only really occured when she was managing the transition from one track to another. That much being said it was a great set, especially as a headliner: high intensity, loud resonant bass, and that audio sleight-of-hand that gives the impression that everything is always getting more intense.

I don't have much in specific to say about her set, because about an hour into the set I made friends with a cute boy from Galicia, who kept me distracted for the rest of the evening. (Yes, I got his name, and yes, I got his number; that's all the detail you get. =] )

06h00-08h00 : Brian Tuü

I definitely have a fuzzy memory for this set, largely due to some distractions (see above), but he continued with the intensity left by Mistress Barbara, but pushing more towards a minimal techno / glitchy sound. I left around 07h00, caught the metro back to my place, and fell into bed.

jeudi, octobre 12, 2006

Time flies when you overbook yourself

Well, there's a few good reasons why I didn't get my Aji de Gallina recipe up online until friday night. Most of them had to do with the mad rush that was Thursday. I got to work in the morning and realized that I had agreed to tutor a stagiaire (intern) on a database platform that I wasn't familiar with. My task was to bring her from 0 to competent with this program quickly so that she could start a database project.

The meeting was productive but LONG, so I didn't get to lunch until late in the afternoon. As I ate lunch, I was reminded by other doctoral students at the Centre that the Doctoral Seminar was meeting this week at 16h00. Damn. Greg had bought me tickets for a concert by The Knife (crazy Swedish electro duo) for tonight. Well, since clubs in Paris don't get going until midnight, I reasoned, a rock show won't start until 10.

The doctoral seminar wrapped up around 18h00 and as I headed out the door, I noticed a text message from Greg. Turns out the doors open at 19h00. He was planning on meeting in front of the concert location (La Cigale) at 19h30. Since there was at least one opening act, we could be pretty certain that The Knife wouldn't start until at least 20h30 or 21h00, but it made sense to get there a bit earlier to stake out a choice spot in the theatre. Any plans of catching up on blogging tonight went out the window as I dashed home, changed bags and ran back out the door. As I was leaving my place, I got these shots of this amazing sunset reflected against the cloud cover:

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1/40 shutter, exposure ISO 100.
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1/25 shutter, exposure ISO 100, +1 exposure bias

Anyway, a fair bit of rushing did manage to get me there around 15 minutes late, which was pretty amazing considering that I crossed Paris twice during the late rush hour. A friend of Greg's was holding some seats for us, so we pushed our way into the theatre, did some furtive text-messaging, and eventually located our seats. Most of the seats in the theatre had been cleared for a dancefloor, but there were still about 4 or 5 rows of seats left at the back, under the balcony overhang. After a day of running, without dinner, and with two glasses of wine in me from the doctoral seminar, I was pretty glad to sit my ass down for a while.

The opening act was totally wrong for the occasion, which made for some interesting tensions. There was a guy at a concert piano and a guy at a laptop. Sometimes the guy at the piano would pound out spasms of Ligeti-style tone clusters, sometimes the guy at the laptop would produce muted, low-key house beats. Occasionaly they would coincide to create something between Philip Glass and stereolab (but without any of the great synth sounds, mind you). The main problem was that they (the pianist especially) were fond of making use of long silences (think John Cage's "One" for piano), as well as "prepared piano" devices that require complete silence to be audible (i.e. reaching into the piano and plucking or scraping the strings). Obviously, this did not jive well with the crowd that was showing up for the electro/rock act of The Knife. The sound guy and a few people who I presume were fans of the opening act would occasionally let loose with a piercing "sssh!" Rarely did it achieve more than a minor reduction in volume, at the expense of further disturbing the performance.

Eventually, the act came to an end, followed by polite applause. After a few minutes, a DJ set himself up on the right side of the balcony to spin some tunes. From his look of displeasure, I think we were supposed to have hushed down again to marvel at his creative genius, but again ambient music as an opening act to electro was a bad idea. Naturally, it was mistaken as precisely that: ambience. So everybody happily continued chatting and waiting for The Show that would be The Knife.

The Knife finally did come on and they were great. Since most of their music is electronically produced and hard to "perform" live, their options for onstage performance were limited to the female half singing and dancing, and the male half dancing and playing air-drummer with a set of drum pads. So, they compensated with a inspired art direction. They had white screen behind them, on which they projected a neverending series of fantastic videos (see their website link above for some of their videos), while they also had a translucent screen in front of them, on which they projected another layer of visuals. Throughout the show, they played with complex lighting, had a life-sized puppet crank an old movie projector, and projected various grotesque faces onto objects that would sing along with the lead singer. The performers themselves were in black full-body suits with neon orange facepaint around their eyes and cheekbones. It all sounds bizarre (and it was), but it was really imaginative and—most importantly—very entertaining. I like entertainment that entertains me. The photos below were taken without flash (thus, long exposure; thus, blurry), which does little justice to the look of the evening, but gives you some idea of the setup.

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After a good night out, I headed home, contemplated about going out again (apparently there's a club called Pulp that is good on certain Thursdays), but thought better of it and called it an early night. Besides, there's a Canadian techno night at Batofar Friday night, and Luciano is spinning at the Rex on Saturday night. I need all the sleep I can get!

mercredi, octobre 11, 2006

Belated Ají de Gallina

OK, so this blog post is being dated to Wednesday, but I'm actually writing it Friday morning. When you read Thursday's post, you'll see why I didn't get around to it.

Wednesday was a long day at work, it took a fair bit of effort just to get out the door 30 minutes after I was supposed to leave. I was still thinking of doing a shopping run for a few things, but at that point I was pretty tired, so I just zipped home and started making...

Ají de Gallina

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  • 1 hen (if need be, a chicken, but reduce cooking time)
  • Aromatics (onions, carrots, celery)
  • 1 head of Garlic (½ for the stock, ½ for the sauce)
  • Cooking Oil (1 or 2 Tbsp.)
  • 2 large Sweet Peppers and 2 Hot Peppers (1 if you're using a habañero). This is for a medium-spicy result; adjust to taste.
  • 2 medium-sized Red Onions or one huge one.
  • 3-4 tbsp. of Cumin
  • 2-3 tbsp. of Tumeric
  • 2-3 tbsp. of Ají Amarillo (I suppose you could do without, but, well...)
  • At least ½-loaf of stale Bread (more = thicker sauce), preferably whole weat or rye.
  • ½ L of Milk.
  • 2 cups (or more) of Walnuts or Pecans
  • Serve with: bed of rice


  • Hands
  • Pressure Cooker or large stockpot
  • A couple of mixing bowls and/or casserole dishes for holding things
  • Strainer
  • Hand Blender or traditional stand blender

Day 1: Hen and Stock

  1. So, start with a hen and basic aromatics you would use for making stock: i.e., onions, carrots, celery. In this case, I had bought a "pot au feu" packet that also included a parsnip and some leeks. Halve the veggies lengthwise and don't even bother to peel them (the onion skins give good colour). Lay a bed of veggies, starting with onions, on the bottom of your pressure cooker (or pot).
  2. Take the hen, stuff a couple of smashed cloves of garlic in the body cavity and fill the rest of the cavity with veggies (this helps the carcass hold its shape and makes it easier to remove later). Lay it on top of the layer of veggies in the pot.
  3. Use the remaining veggies to fill around the hen. Drop in the remaining garlic cloves (remember to leave ½ of the head for the sauce). Salt, pepper, water. If your're using a pressure cooker, take note of the instructions that came with your pressure cooker on how far to fill it. If you're using a stockpot, enough water to cover the hen by an inch.
  4. If youre using a pressure cooker: bring to boil and cook for 45mins-1hr after the steam valve begins to hiss. If you're using a stockpot: bring to boil and reduce to a simmer; simmer for at least 3 hours.
  5. Leave overnight to cool. If you can't wait that long, take the lid off the pot/cooker to cool for an hour, and use tongs or two spoons when removing the carcass.

Day 2: The ají

  1. Ideally, the contents of the cooker/pot should be completely at room temperature. With your (clean) hands, reach in and remove the hen and place it on a large dish or casserole.
  2. These next steps require the use of hands, so if the carcass is still hot, you just need to wait.
  3. Set up a working station sort of like what I have in the photo below. Ideally, you'd do this on a tabletop or counter with something liquid-proof underneath (or something absorbent) and two bowls: one for the meat and one for the "remains." These photos were taken after I had begun working on the carcass.
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  1. Separate the hen's flesh from the bones and shred the meat along the grain, to create string-like strips (see image).
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  1. You will have a fair bit of skin and bones and cartilage left over. Chuck it.
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  1. Pour the contents of a stockpot through a strainer and into a large bowl. Toss whatever is in the strainer and keep the stock. Put the stock and the shredded hen to one side.
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  1. Heat enough cooking oil to cover the base of the pot. Chop the red onions and peppers (both hot & sweet) and toss into pot. If we were in Peru, we wouldn't need the mixture of sweet and hot peppers; we would use about 5-6 ajíes mirasol. See images below for a suggestion for cutting the onions for an even cooking.
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  1. Sautée on medium-high heat until the the onions have become glassy. Be wary of the fumes coming up from the cooking hot peppers.
  2. Add the remaining garlic, smashed or chopped, with cumin and tumeric. You may have to add some oil to keep the powdered spices from sticking. Mix to coat well and let the garlic mellow off. NOTE: Tumeric is some serious stain-making mojo. Don't wear anything light-coloured and/or valuable while working with this.
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  1. Add about ½ L of stock and bring to a boil. It's better to add too little liquid now, because it's a pain in the ass to reduce this mixture once the milk and bread have been added. If you want, you can add most of the stock now and reduce it before the next step, but reserve some stock for thinning just in case.
    Also, this is a good moment to add the ají amarillo.
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  1. Take the stale bread and lay it down in a casserole dish or bowl. Pour milk to almost cover it and let it soak. After a few minutes, mash with fingers (see below for before/after shots).
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  1. Add milk-soaked bread to mixture and stir at a simmer until the bread begins to come apart and the sauce begins to thicken. Add more bread+milk if needed; the sauce will loosen again when you blend it. NOTE: you are now in scalded milk territory, which means STIR FREQUENTLY, or you'll be scraping burnt milk solids from your pot for days.
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  1. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a bit. If you're using a hand blender, simply drop the walnuts/pecans into the mix and blend. If you're using a "standard" blender/mixer, spoon the mixture into the blender in batches, being careful not to overfill the blender. Either way, you want a smooth finish with bits of crushed nuts.
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  1. Toss in shredded meat and mix. Add stock if the sauce is too thick. You can use the leftover stock to prepare a bed of rice.
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  1. Serve on a bed of rice
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mardi, octobre 10, 2006

What just happened?!

Wow. So Tuesday just came, smacked me around, and left. And if that seems to be in the wrong chronological order, you're very filthy.

I arrived at work and thought that I was in for a bit of a recovery day after Monday. All was quiet for maybe half an hour, and then things picked up with a vengance. A certain instructor asked me to stay after my work hours to do some repair on a Microsoft Entourage mailbox. Note to anyone who works in IT support: if anybody asks for support for Microsoft Entourage on Mac OSX, run screaming. I was there 3 hours later than I should've been, and I still don't have a solution for the problem.

I had planned on finally doing that run for tech-related stuff (audio interface, small-scale mic, etc.), but I left work at nearly 6pm and I was pissed off and in no mood to shop and then deal with the rush hour traffic on the métro with my arms full of bags. So I went straight home (with a detour through my boulangerie for a mood-management pastry =] ) and got to work on my ajì de gallina. The plan is to make the dish tomorrow (with recipe and photoblogging!), but part of it needs to be done overnight. Actually, you can do it the same day, but it's difficult to hand-shred a poultry carcass when it's still piping hot.

Still with me? For those of you who didn't get queasy at the sight of the words "carcass" and "shred," ají de gallina (Hen with hot pepper sauce) is like Peru's version of a curry. It involves cooking up and shredding a hen (or chicken) then making a complex sauce that is strongly spiced with peruvian hot peppers, cumin and tumeric. The sauce is thickened with milk-soaked bread, and then puréed with walnuts or pecans. The shredded chicken is mixed in and it's served over rice. (See tomorrow's post for the detailed recipe and pictures.)

So the plan for tonight was to do the first step: 1) Cook the hen. I had managed to borrow the pressure cooker from one of the building staff, so this wasn't nearly as time intensive as it could've been. I started with a pot au feu package that I found in the grocery store (a bunch of carrots, an onion, a parsnip, some celery, leeks, and more carrots). I roughly halved or quartered the veggies (these don't make it to the final dish, they're just there for the stock), laid some down as a bed in the pressure cooker, tossed in the hen, and surrounded it with the remaining veggies. I also dropped about half a head of garlic in the the mixture. Salt, pepper, water. Then bring to a boil. Since I was using a pressure cooker, I only had to wait 45 minutes from the moment the steam valve began to hiss. In a conventional stock pot, this would probably be 3 hours at a simmer, maybe more. Either way, you want the flesh to fall right off the bone. Also, if your're cooking with a chicken instead of a hen, you should cut the cooking time a bit, lest you cause the flesh to fall apart in your hands.

That was all for tonight. I set that thing to boil, checked my messages, did some blogging, then turned off the stove and let it cool down. The pot was still hot when I went to bed.

lundi, octobre 09, 2006

"He isn't that handsome,"

Okay, before I get to "what I did today," let me wrap up some unfinished business from Saturday.

While at the M_nus party, just as Richie Hawtin was getting ready to start his set, a guy dancing next to me turns to me and says "He's not that handsome, you know."

I tried to balance the confusion in my eyes with a friendly smile, and he tried to clarify: "Richie. I mean, he's got a good face on him, but he's not that hot."

I presumed that this was comment was in reference to the wild cheers from the crowd that greeted Richie's appearance onstage. I shrugged in as French a manner as I could manage, and said, "Well, I dunno. I didn't really come out tonight for his looks. I'm more here for the music."

As if I had just explained volumes, he smiled and nodded, "Oh, you're a fan."

And then with a smile that could have been either conspiratorial or patronizing, he returned to dancing.

Huh? Although I don't mind sexualizing DJs (I mean, sex permeates these events, so why should the DJs be asexual or chaste?) the attractiveness of DJs--especially male ones, especially in techno, especially among strangers--is a pretty unusual topic. Admittedly, ever since he moved to Berlin and got the "Berlin dandy" haircut and the ubercoolische t-shirts, he's been working his own androgynous form of sexual mojo. I can't say it's much my thing, but it certainly hasn't inspired me to spontaneously remark on it to a total stranger standing next to me. In fact, I'm pretty reluctant to make those sorts of observations about male DJs to anybody male that I don't know personally. Alas, clubs may be more "mixed" and queer-friendly these days, but it still isn't a good idea to risk having your actions misinterpreted as same-sex courtship.

Actually, I wondered afterwards if that guy made that comment as an "I'm gay, are you?" sort of gesture. But if he was, he should've taken my willingness to discuss male attractiveness as a hint and kept on chatting me up. To complicate matters further, I've noticed that straight men here are pretty comfortable discussing male attractiveness, so it's not inconcievable that the queer subtext of our conversation was not the point of the endeavor. Queer or not, none of this explains his last statement. Wha?

So, what I did today: I worked a LOT. For some reason, work was white-hot busy from the moment I got there. As I arrived, I had two possible hard-drive failures waiting for me (they had emailed me the night before) and an instructor waiting in the hallway as I arrived (DJ: you can guess who this is). From the moment I arrived to the moment I left, I didn't even have a chance to check my email. On the upside, I felt pretty productive and I managed to line things up in such a way that I was ready to leave by the end of my shift. No staying late this time, thank you.

After work, I decided to take care of some shopping. I still needed to buy an audio interface for my mac (and iMic will do fine, if I can find it), possibly a microphone (Mark Yeary: what were the makes and models you lent me?), an umbrella, and a list of food items. I headed over to République, where there was a mac-friendly audio store. It was closed. Of course; it's Monday. Monday is "the other Sunday" of France and most of Europe. For those stores that stay open on Sunday (a lot of bakeries, food vendors, restaurants), they often take Monday off instead. Apparently, this sometimes applies to retail stores. In fact, it applied to almost everything. I headed over to Darty to see if they might carry the tech-y stuff I needed (at least they were open). Then I headed over to the Télégraphe métro station, because I had heard of a good butcher just west of rue Pelleport on rue Ménilmontant. I wanted a decent hen for my ají de gallina. After a certain incident at my local grocery store, I had everything but the hen waiting in my pantry. After a not insignificant amount of walking, I discovered the butcher was closed. I walked down rue de Belleville for about 8 blocks to the area near the Jourdain métro stop, because I had seen some nice grocers and epiceries there. All of them were closed, except for a muslim butcher who looked at me in horror when I pointed at his lovely chickens and asked him if he also sold hens. It's like I asked him if he also sold human remains. Jeez.

In the end, I took the métro back to my place and just went to my usual freakin' grocery store (which was open, thank <deity>) which had ONE hen left sitting on its shelves. At least I got a lot of exercise.

When I got home, two of the WiFi+ADSL routers decided to go bonkers (repeatedly) so I lost a couple of hours trying to get those back online. Then I noticed that we were using bandwidth at nearly impossible rates, which may explain why the router was getting bumped off the grid. There are about 10 people connected to each WiFi router, and each router is on a 20Mbps line (that's the advertised rate, but it's probably lower). Considering that the internet activity lights on the routers are constantly flashing, night and day, at high rates, suggests that there is some serious file-sharing going on. Sigh. I'm reluctant to play internet-police with the students, but if somebody starts up a filesharing program and doesn't throttle their downloads, they can sometimes prevent others from getting onto the network, cause important packets to be lost or stalled, and get us periodically kicked off the grid.

For the moment, I sent out an email to the students telling them to slap a bandwidth limit on their filesharing programs and to minimize internet-heavy programs, but I suspect that this will just give more bandwidth to those who ignore my email, and I'll still be left with overloaded networks. My next step will be to get some sort of traffic monitoring program so that I can figure out who's the biggest bandwidth hog on these networks. Port-filtering may not work with newer file-sharing programs, but blocking MAC addresses is pretty effective.

Mac Geeks: any suggestions for traffic monitoring software that runs on OSX?

After spending an inordinate time on the web searching for such software (it's funny how being a network administrator is %50 knowledge and %50 paranoia), I gave up and got to writing up the Sunday post, which kept me up till 3am. Ouch.

dimanche, octobre 08, 2006

Sunday is Addendum Day

Well, I can summarize Sunday really quick: I slept in late; a student woke me up around noon to ask me about an internet problem, then I went back to sleep. Then I spent a few hours writing the post for Saturday night, then I went back to sleep. At some point, I made some pasta and drank some of that Aslatian red wine that I had bought on Friday. It was good, but not as tasty as whatever Alsatian red I had at Bofinger a month ago.

So, what to do with all the empty space in this post? Fill it with crap from Saturday that I forgot to post in Saturday's post. First off, I have this video from a moment in Richie Hawtin's set (it's 50MB large because I was loathe to compress it, so I suggest you right-click(PC) or option+click(Mac) it and download it for viewing). As I had suggested towards the end of my post for Saturday, there is a certain way that Richie organizes his sets that allows him to "get away" with injecting more abstract, non-dancefloor-friendly tracks between the pounding, "woo! partay!" ones. This video actually marks a moment when Richie makes a return from a "sparse" track to a "full" track. However, the puny internal mic attached to my camera only captured the middle band of the frequency spectrum, so the effect is entirely lost. It's funny, because this moment was pretty electric as I recorded it, but it's pretty unexceptional when you strip away the hi's and the lo's.

Actually, I want to retract the terms "sparse" and "full" as well as "low" vs. "high" intensity, and replace them with some other terms yet to be determined (will I have to resort to a Chakrabarty-style "type 1/type 2" binary?). Some of the "episode" tracks he used were very full with the density of musical layers they employed, and some of the "return" tracks only consisted of a pounding bass kick and a few well-placed, high-pitched samples. Similarly, I can think of many minimal, sparse, abstract tracks that are very high-intensity (see esp. most of the work of Jeff Mills, whose aggressive minimalism was likened to monastic asceticism by Simon Reynolds).

As silly as it may sound, the two categories I am working with might be better termed "far out" and "right on." In keeping with my idea of Richie's sets as episodic structures of departure and return, it seems like some of the tracks in his set trace a path both away from and eventually back to a place that can only be located by generic (i.e., transposable, translatable) expectations. This set of expectations, in turn, is continually sedimented by the return to "right on" tracks; what is offered and accepted as "right on" sets the frame of reference for "far out," all of which might shift over the duration of a set.

On the other hand, "full" might be recuperable to something I'm getting at. The qualities of these "right on" tracks aren't entirely arbitrary. For me (and, based on verbal and nonverbal language, for most of the folks around me) tracks that mark arrival make greater use of the full sonic spectrum—and, thus, the utter failure of my video recording above. I think this points to a conceptual pivot around plenitude and presence. Somehow, immersion becomes density, saturation becomes precipitation, "now!" becomes "here!". If I run with this idea, I would also argue that this "pivot" works both ways. My body certainly remembers the tactile presence of sound during those "right on" tracks. When a broad spectrum of frequencies are pounded through the body at high volume, sound becomes materially present, even if temporally evanescent.

Underlying both sides of this is intensity. As I had suggested earlier, even the "far out"/episodic tracks can be intense, but, in "right on"/return tracks, this intensity somehow precipitates into the experience of presensence, fullness, immersion, density. Now, I don't mean to claim that intensity produces presence and plenitude in some absolute and universal sense. Rather, this aesthetic practice channels and stylizes an aspiration for density through intensity. In fact, I might reword things a bit and say that intensity precipitates into the feeling of all these things. I may not leave the club any more present or complete than I was when I arrived, but for the duration of those moments of return, I felt something.

Holy crap! That's a lot of writing, and I didn't even get to my second topic for today. That will have to wait for tomorrow's post. In the meanwhile, here's some notes to myself about where to take this thread:

  • What about the social? Where does the crowd fit into this?
  • Crowd as a cluster of people present to each other's experiences of intensity/density.
  • Not only is there an aspiration for presence and plenitude, but an aspiration for intimacy and connection.
  • Intimacy here is itself an aspiration for a future together (thanks, Lauren Berlant), marked by a search for mutual emotional/affective transparency.
  • "Do you feel it, too?"