Monthly Archives: April 2012

Shadd Piehl on Pigskins

On April 26, 2012, Shadd Piehl drove over from Menoken to Fargo, picked me up from my place, and from there we headed over to Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) for a bout of poetry readings hosted by Red Weather press. Between my place and MSUM, though, we stopped by Mick’s Office, a tavern in Moorhead. Below Shadd recounts the time he spent shaving hog skins in Minot, North Dakota. Since hog skin is similar to human skin, these come in handy for burn victims who are on the mend.

Shadd is what in the business we refer to as a cowboy poet from the northern Great Plains. After the poetry reading, we caught a burger at JL Beers, and then went across the street to the HoDo (not to become legends, though). As I charge through my own graduate training, Shadd inadvertently made me think about how in the future I would think about the past (or what is now the present). He remembered and told particular stories now absorbed by the urban Fargo-Moorhead landscape, these from the time he spent getting undergraduate and graduate degrees some years back from NDSU and MSUM.

One of the only known April 26, 2012 photos of Shadd Piehl in the Red River Valley.

In addition to writing and reading poetry, Shadd fixes fence, sings in a band, and teaches English classes in Bismarck, North Dakota. Actually, I don’t know how regularly Shadd fixes fence. But that’s something it seems a cowboy poet ought to be doing on the northern Plains from time to time.

Houston Syndrome

Houston Syndrome is not like Paris Syndrome, the latter defined by one author as “a collection of physical and psychological symptoms experienced by first-time visitors realizing that Paris isn’t, in

fact, what they thought it would be.” Or, more to the point, Houston Syndrome (or this “syndrome” in general — I guess it’s legitimate since it has a Wikipedia entry) is not specific to Paris, but has more to do with the feelings produced when expectations come into discord with reality. 

This last weekend I experienced what I have come to diagnose and call Houston Syndrome. Please note: Houston Syndrome is different than Paris Syndrome. Houston Syndrome has less to do with expectations of Houston coming into discord with reality, and more to do with an indifference or ambivalence to Houston in the first place. Therefore, there isn’t any expectation that can come into contact with reality. In Houston, for example, there are many skyscrapers, and these are sprinkled with ground-level shops, migratory residual from the massive relocation that took place due to Hurricane Katrina (2005). Anyhow, the realization of Houston Syndrome came to the fore when I visited a creole and cajun lunch eatery, and had some of the greatest shrimp étouffée known to humanity. I assert this for several reasons, and perhaps this is why Houston Syndrome is a good thing to experience: in the back of my subconscious I know I had read plenty of stories about Hurricane Kate dislocating New Orleans’ers (among others) to Houston. Until sauntering into the creole and cajun eatery, though, I had no expectations. Perhaps since I had no expectations was in fact my expectation. There, that’s the take-away: don’t have expectations, but be sure to pack sensibly for any trip.

Also, Houston has many new (aka, less-than 60 or so years old) skyscrapers with a lot of mirror-type

Note how the sky reflects off the mirrored windows on the skyscraper, creating the illusion that the Art Deco-like cap on the top is floating in the sky.

windows (technical definitions pending). One of the many skyscrapers visually gives the ground-viewer a sense that it is floating. When looked at from above, though, the reflective glass, well, reflects the city below, arguably giving a sense that it is deeper than reality — again to return to Houston Syndrome unfolding before my eyes. The visual is in discord with reality, and so on and so forth.

Paris Syndrome and Houston Syndrome have been happening for a long time, so don’t sweat it. If you feel you’ve become afflicted with this, I wouldn’t recommend scheduling an appointment with or shelling out cash for a psychiatrist or psychologist, even though buying those friends can indeed be important for certain folks having certain crises from time to time. Instead, purchase and read Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (U of Michigan Press, 1990). I came across and discussed this title while chatting with U of North Dakota’s Ancient Historiansome years ago. Within you’ll notice that Ancient Romans experienced this kind of timeless syndrome as well: what they thought Rome was, and what Rome actually was. Aesthetics and life is fantastic that way.

Houston, TX downtown, the skyscraper images from Google Earth.

Fargo’s Airport: Some Notes on Documenting the Documenters

There’s a bit of psychological preparation necessary and intrinsic to flying, at least since the G.W. Bush years of 9/11/2001. This is how my experience played out on April 11, 2012 with the friendly Airport Security citizens in Fargo’s Hector Airport. Typically a passenger approaches the nylon cattle gates and begins to mentally cycle through exactly which order they ought to temporarily remove the necessary items and elements from their persons. Keep smiling, folks, keep smiling.

Your friendly Airport Security People at work. They are doing their job.

Now remove your bracelets and rings and necklaces and cell phones, rip that belt off your pants, then shoes (Thoughts of “Hurry! Untie those damn shoes because a line is building behind you and you’re holding the whole damn show up!!!” rattle through the brain and smiles remain on the surface), wallet (there goes my identity), pens in your pocket, keys (whoops — security just inherited another small Swiss Army tool of mine, once again), change, watch (if for some reason you’re still wearing one), and then take the laptop computer out of your briefcase and, if you prepped ahead of time, remove the ziplock baggie full of gels and liquids (toothpaste, contact solution, deodorant) that you remembered to purchase the night prior at a Target or an Über-Walmart. Then you get (you don’t “have to” if you want to fly) to be instructed through the latest in technology, the ProVision ATD. It’s basically pretty sweet. My only critique would be to design a monitor for the person being scanned to watch as well. The same monitor that the Airport People get (or have to) look at. Step into the cylinder and throw your hands in the air so the two vertical batons can swoop around your front and back and sides. Whoosh, whoosh. “You’re free to step this way, sir.” Nice, they called me “sir” — automatic knighthood (Quixotic Romanticism still in our 21st-century lexicon).

Tony Bourdain and Marilyn Hagerty

As of late, Anthony Bourdain’s outlook on the world has evolved. For a long time we looked toward Bourdain to provide us with a kind of debauched interpretation of the culinary world, channeling H.S.

I captured this photo of the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota on March 31, 2012. This is the south elevation, the photo taken from a moving car.

Thompson and Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad among others. Tony started it, but the audience (us) came within its gravitational pull and continued to grow. Pretty soon large amounts of people depended on him to say what we wanted him to say.

At least since 2008, various episodes of “No Reservations” have come across as contrived — there’s only so many times a beating cobra heart can be eaten before one runs out of original ways to describe it. Now he’s saying something different. And it irks many, since it deviates from expectations.

There’s an expression that people either stick to their guns, or they fall into a rut. Perhaps Bourdain felt he was in a rut. For some time. And now he wants to shake it up, in this case with Marilyn (who has a Wikipedia entry here), and she is coming into a similar orbit that Bourdain did: thrust into a situation that she had little control over. She just wants to play bridge, take notes on what she’s eating in Grand Forks, and sip a little Crown from time to time.

History and Social Science in Houston, Texas: Western Social Science Association Conference 2012

In a couple days a small cohort (or more like a squad) of NDSU historians will descend on Houston, Texas to take part in the 2012 Western Social Science Association conference (the program here). This year Tom Isern is the official conference Program Coordinator, so he went down early (“down” is the direction you need to go to get to Tejas when you live on the northern Great Plains). There are a couple discussions or panels I’ll be sitting in on, and since I was getting my thoughts in order with pen and paper I thought I would just as well blog them.

  • On Thursday, April 12, 2012, about 1630 hours, I’ll be partaking in a book discussion with Tom Isern, James Beattie, and William C. Schaniel. We’ll be discussing James Beattie, Empire and Environmental Anxiety: Health, Science, Art and Conservation in South Asia and Australasia, 1800-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). The key phrase is environmental anxiety, and it considers how nineteenth-century Christianity (which at the time was loaded with romanticism, among other things; perhaps it still is?) and positivistic science (similar kind of situation) anticipated certain environmental results after arriving on the scene (aka, colonizing) throughout the globe. When these theoretical anticipations fell into discord, it resulted in a type of psychological torment, or environmental anxiety. In many ways this work holds thematic continuity with Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden, or Publius Vergilius Maro’s Eclogues, at least an exploration into how humanity has understood nature, and how humans have or have not altered said nature. We’ll likely talk about the word nature itself, and what it means to be natural or unnatural — I often feel unnatural even though Homo sapiens in the evolutionary scheme of things are natural. Once again, though, the word nature can be a slippery one, and its abstraction is one of the reasons why it has persisted (speak in metaphor if you want your statements to have staying power throughout the ages). Isern and I, among others, are anticipating that today’s politicians will appropriate the phrase “environmental anxiety” if they haven’t already. The latest phrase I cobbled together was Industrial Christianity 2.0, a sort of hyper-Max Weberian model for the 21st century.
  • On Friday (04/13/2012) at 800 hours (CST) I’ll be showcasing a poster in, well, the Poster Session. It deals with issues as to how the public has remembered the various sites of memory and mourning that are connected with the Dakota Conflict in the Minnesota River Valley in 1862, and the subsequent Sibley and Sully punitive campaigns in Dakota Territory in 1863 and 1864. I’m working on a research seminar paper for Dr. David Silkenat that deals with this, along with understanding how contemporaneous massacre sites and sites of memory, conflict, skirmish and mourning have been interpreted too. This includes the massacre sites of Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado, and the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho. I’m in the midst of considering the global implications during this period, when empires (see Russia, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, French, British, Chinese, and so on) sought to assimilate at best and annihilate at worst the indigenes whom were labeled as not fitting the imperial or national mold. For example, the Maori of New Zealand really gave the Brits a go in the 1860s, and so on and so forth.
  • I’m still rounding out thoughts on the panel that explores the Aussie flick, “Red Dog,” and that will take place on Friday (04/13/2012) about 1300 hours (CST). The trailer is just below:

And some out takes here…

  • Notions of Human’s Best Friend surface with dog movies, so last week Isern and I tossed around some ideas. I was thinking about grounding this in prehistory, or those stories anthropologists often tell that explain how otherwise non-domesticated dogs became dogs. Hunter-gatherers invariably create trash, and this trash contains scraps of food, or bones to chew on. Eventually four-legged creatures work their way close enough to the human trash piles for a free nibble, and then they start nibbling away more regularly, and eventually relationships between human and dog form. Pretty soon we’re wondering why dogs circle two or three times before they lay down in the corner of a house, or something along those lines. It probably has to do with being hard-wired to push down foliage and tall grasses before taking dog naps. Homo sapiens have been around anywhere from 200,000 to 150,000 years (we pushed our way out of east Africa) and only sedentary for the last 6,000 years or so. There’s the wolf-dog Two-Socks in “Dances With Wolves,” and there’s the usual suspects of Lassie, Rin-tin-tin, Turner and Hooch, Beethoven, Lewis and Clark’s newfoundland retriever Seaman, and some areas of east Asia that still consider it a delicacy. The floor remains wide open, anyhow. This “Red Dog” flick also has similarities with the work camps and crew culture springing up in western North Dakota’s Bakken oil field these days, too.
  • Also on Friday (04/13/2012) at 0945 hours I’ll moderate a panel with Erika Wright and Anthony Amato entitled, “Unpredictable Developments” — so far I haven’t thought about where this panel will go.