Category Archives: miscellaneous

Sarah Recommends

This may become a series if anyone finds these at all useful, so let me know.

Today, in “Sarah Recommends,” we have:

  • Movies
  • Books
  • CDs
  • Random

Movies: Underground

undergroundIn the category of movies, Sarah recommends that you watch Underground. Underground(Serbian: Подземље, Podzemlje) is a 1995 award-winning film directed by Emir Kusturica with a screenplay by Dušan Kovačević. It helps to know some general Serbian history before watching this movie, but you could still gain something without knowing. The movie spans a long period of wars for Yugoslavia– WWII, the Cold War, and the Yugoslav Wars. The movie centers around two best friends., Marko and Blacky. When it starts they are carefree, and enjoying life. Then the Germans invade. The main characters are wanted because they are communists, and they go into hiding underground in a shelter underneath Markos’ grandfather’s house. Marko moves his own younger brother, a stuttering zookeeper, along with his money; Blacky, Blacky’s three year old son Jovan, and various others into the shelter. He stays above ground with Blacky’s mistress Natalija. For whatever reason, whether to keep Natalijia for himself or to keep the fame, money and power to himself, Marko maintains a farce that the Germans are still occupying the country even after Tito comes to power. He keeps the basement dwellers making arms for him that he continues to profit from, not for the resistance, just for profit, and then later as a profiteer in the Yugoslav wars. He has his Grandfather slow down the clock, so eventually the denizens of the underground believe they have been there 15 years, when in fact it’s been 20.  Then the monkey uses the man-made tank to bust through the walls and escape, at which point Ivan goes after him and Jovan and Blacky go to single-handedly defeat the Germans. The whole movie is symbolic, and full of satire, and the end particularly is surrealistic. A brass band following Blacky around provides not only the soundtrack to his life, but an excellent movie soundtrack. Underground is simultaneously the funniest and the saddest movie I have ever seen.Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times nailed it when he called Underground a “sprawling, rowdy, vital film laced with both outrageous absurdist dark humor and unspeakable pain, suffering and injustice.”

Books: Man in the Dark, by Paul Auster

maninthedarkIn the category of books, Sarah recommends that you read the 2008 novel Man in the Dark, by Paul Auster. Man in the Dark is more accessible than the last Auster book I read, Oracle Nights, where half the story takes place in footnotes. That said, it is still very much a postmodern novel and sometimes a bit much to wrap your mind around. It’s a story about a man (August Brill) who used to review stories for a living who tells himself stories at night when he can’t sleep to keep his mind off of the real story of his life. In one of these stories he tells himself at night, a version of the United States exists similar to ours, except 9/11 never occurred. Instead, New York seceded after the 2004 elections and a terrible civil war ensued. The main character in this story, is brought from our world to this world in order to complete a mission to put things aright. His mission, in fact, is to kill the man telling the story, to kill August Brill. It’s things like this that make the novel post modern, but at it’s heart, Man in the Dark is a love story. The real importance of the stories is how they intersect with Brill’s real life, and how he cannot use them forever to avoid his real life. In his real life, his wife, whom he divorced then got back together with but never remarried, is recently dead; he has broken his hip in a car crash; his daughter is recently divorced; his granddaughter’s husband has been murdered in Iraq; and there are three generations embodied in the three people living under the same roof. It is a love story to life, even though he is often times disillusioned with it, it is clear that Brill has loved deeply in his life, and in spite of regrets, continues to do so, now with his family and the memory of his wife.

CDs: Madvilliany, by Madvillain.

In the category of CDs or music albums, Sarah recommends that you listen to the 2004 album Madvilliany, by Madvillain. Madvillain is an American underground hiphop duo consisting of MF DOOM (MC) and Madlib (producer). Why should you listen to this? In one track, they rap over accordion music. Need I say more? I mean really. Seriously. Okay, I’ll say more. This is smart rap, with great flow, great lyrics built from a wide and varied body of knowledge, and a unique sound. This is the rap with alter egos, with heroes and villains and a story line. The only hiphop that is of that vein that I have seen make it to the main stream is Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. Madvilliany won’t be found on any top 8 at 8 radio shows, but it has met with great critical acclaim and has shown up in various underground type spots, i.e. on the Boondocks cartoon, etc.

Random: La Prima Mr. Smooth Coffee beans

In the category of random, Sarah recommends the Mr. Smooth blend of coffee beans from La Prima espresso roastery that is carried by Simpatico Espresso.A wonderful mix of Indonesian coffees that feature low acidity and an earthy, good body.


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What Greeted Me This Morning, and, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

You had to be there. That is not a good way to start out a description. Because it doesn’t tell you, my reader, anything. But it is also true. However, I will try to describe my experience this morning the best and can and explain what it meant to me.

I closed at the coffee shop last night. When I left, nothing was amiss. When I arrived this morning and unlocked the door, there was something noticeably out of place. Within a direct path from the door to the cash register there sat a pyramid of coffee cups, and atop it, a construction engineer action figure who looked like a cross between Bob the Builder and the Village People guy…


That was definitely not there when I locked up last night. I thought it was strange, but kind of cool. The sun was rising higher and shining directly on the little man and and his mountain. As I began to think that I may be dreaming, or crazy, my co-worker arrived and he saw it too. He wanted to know if we could leave it up as installation art.Then he took a picture of it with his Poloroid camera. He wrote a caption that was a poem and a piece of art in and of itself.


He came in the night/ built a mountain/ to watch the sun rise

I drew a sketch of the sculpture on receipt paper. The poloroid, the poem, the sketch…it got me thinking about a piece I had read a couple years ago, and written much longer ago, called “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” This is a work by German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin, written in 1936. In it, he discusses the distance between an original piece of art, or even a landscape, and it’s reproductions, and reproductions of reproductions. He says, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” This applies with me trying to tell you about the experience as I had it when I first discovered the cup montain with the builder action figure. The “you had to be there” element. Benjamin also says that  a piece of artwork or even a landscape, “is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter.” He talks about the “aura” that an original thing has, and how it is depreciated the more it is reproduced. But what if it becomes something else? For example, the poloroid of the sculpture with my co-workers words scrawled on it. I think that is an original piece of art in and of itself. And  maybe it is true that a reproduction of anything is not the same as the original. But it is better than not getting to see it at all. Reproduction brought art to the masses, made it accessible. I could never afford a Rembrandt, but I can get a print of it to hang in my living room. And if I appreciate it and I enjoy it, then….maybe something is lost, but something is also gained. And sometimes with a transformation, like the poloroid, happens. Then doesn’t that have it’s own “aura” so to speak? You can read the whole text, translated, of Art in the Age of Mechanical reproduction here:

Afterward: When the perpetrator of this sculpture arrived he said that he was so happy there was an action figure of a regular person he had to buy it. That it looked like someone’s Dad. Ah, the beauty in the ordinary.



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Driving Sr. Moya

Horacio Castellanos Moya

Horacio Castellanos Moya (Photo: Heather Mull)

I volunteer with the City of Asylum Pittsburgh, and today I had the pleasure of driving one of the writers, Horacio Castellanos Moya, to a reading/q&a session at Westminster College in Greensburg, PA. I had never driven there before, so I got directions from Google Maps. We got there without a hitch, and talked the whole time– philospohy, physics, religion, writing, etc. After we got off of 79 we were in farm country and passed many Amish buggies (Horacio’s first time to see them). The Amish houses all have blue painted doors. Once there, the professor who arranged for Moya to come, along with three other professors and three students took us to dinner at Rachel’s Roadhouse. Never one to turn down free food, I had the portobello pasta. During dinner I talked with two of the professors, Camila  of Argentina who says my Spanish is good (i think her ears are kind), and James Perkins who was the only professor along from the English department (the others were from the modern languages dept). I translated some of the ongoing Spanish conversations for him and also talked about poetry and literature with him. We got back to the college and had some downtime in which I had coffee and looked at books. Camila showed me the cafeteria, the “soul” of the campus, as she said, and James showed me his favorite spot on campus, a long narrow area with comfy chairs in front of a floor to ceiling window with a view of the campus, including the man-made lake supposedly in the shape of Alabama. One of the president’s of the university is also said to have water skiied on it. Then it was time for the reading, where Horacio read from his novel Senselessness (excerpt). He read the entire first chapter and part of the sixth. I absolutely have to read it now. It is about a horrific tragedy (massacre of indigenous peoples of honduras), but also has humor. He said sometimes you have to laugh or you will cry. I say that when there is humor and lighter moments in a book, it makes the tragic ones hit even harder for the stark contrast. After the reading, he took questions. One man asked to hear the first page in Spanish, which Horacio complied with. He reads in the same rhythym in both English and Spanish, something I noticed about Russian poet Ilya Kaminsky. The Russians also laugh in the face of tragedy….I guess it is a human thing. Don’t want to get too philosophical here right now, because we got enough philosophical on the carride home to last me at least a week. We also manged to get a little lost. Those roads are sooo dark and there were no stars out even to guide us. When we realized we didn’t recognize anything anymore, we tried to back track to a point where we recognized, but somehow got off the course and ended up in a city. There was life and we could stop for directions finally. Then we realized it was Grove City so we just got on 79 and went back to Pittsburgh.

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Happy Pi Day!

A Pi Pie

A Pi Pie

3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510….

how i celebrated pi day

how i celebrated pi day

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Latte Botany: A Lame Attempt

Fireweed from Alaska maybe?  Haha thought not!

2 fireweed

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List #1: Collection

In my life I have collected POGs
I have collected foreign coins
I have collected Barbies
I have collected match box cars
I have collected weight
I have collected grudges
In my life, I have collected Eeyores
I have collected Hard Rock Cafe bears
I have collected crushes
I have collected broken hearts
In my life, I have collected detritus
I have collected cavities
I have collected bruises
I have collected baseball cards
In my life, I have collected comic books
I have collected books I haven’t yet read
I have collected rocks
I have collected self help books
I have collected a smattering of languages
In my life, I have collected words
I have collected paper
I have collected trash
I have collected belly button lint and toe jam
In my life, I have collected baseball helmet sundae dishes
I have collected letters
I have collected World Series pennants
In my life, I have collected porcelain dolls
I have collected Drexel colored pencils one and two at a time
I have collected rejection letters
I have collected love notes
In my life I have collected song lyrics
I have collected part of Moonlight Sonata on piano
I have collected the sounds of rain drops on roofs and windows
I have collected mosquito bites
In my life, I have collected karate trophies
I have collected injuries
I have collected what other people left behind
In my life, I have collected stories
In my life, I have collected deep breaths
In my life, I have collected the names of planets and dinosaurs
I could not collect time

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Existence of the Jackelope

I first learned of the jackelope on my trips to New Mexico. For the uninitiated:

The jackalope is an antlered species of rabbit, unfortunately rumored to be extinct, though occasional sightings of this rare creature continue to occur, suggesting that pockets of jackalope populations continue to persist in its native home, the American West.

The jackalope is an aggressive species, willing to use its antlers to fight. Thus, it is also sometimes called the “warrior rabbit.”

Our host made an oragami jackelope out of a cloth napkin and had convinced a few of the girls of its existence. I thought it a tall tale, but today I encountered first hand evidence that the jackelope at least once existed 😉

At the Texas Roadhouse restaraunt with my parents in Boardman, Ohio. Behold:


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