Monday, December 21, 2009

Waiter! There's a fractal in my food!

*dramatic sigh*

Romanesco cauliflower, I think I love you.

Oh! Just look at it --- those gorgeous turrets, that stunning color, the self-similar logarithmic spirals...

Here's another angle on my delicious darling:


But now that you've seen the object of my desire, can you blame me? I mean, how can you not love a vegetable that instantiates the Fibonacci sequence? And with loads of vitamin C and fiber to boot!

So what's a girl in love to do? Boost the broiler, break out the tarragon mustard and make a roux, of course. Yummy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the street where you live

Michael and I moved recently. Most of the problems that come with homeownership were anticipated: a small leak in the roof, closet doors that don't close properly, loose tiles in the shower floor that lead to an archaeological expedition through three layers of renovations (long story). But at least one problem I hadn't anticipated: the difficulty in explaining to people where we live.

This isn't because our address is particularly complicated. It's just that the street where we live isn't one of the major ones that's immediately recognizable, even to our fellow Philadelphians. So what I'd like to have is some way to refer to the neighborhood where our house is located. You know, like Queen's Village or University City --- or Islington or Le Marais. But this, as it turns out, is no simple matter.

Without giving the game away (don't want the Intertubes to know my address, now :), let me say that we live on the east side of the Schuylkill river and close to it, south of South Street and north of Washington Avenue.

Like, kinda, here-ish:

Where is this? What's it called? The problem is that this hasn't traditionally been much of a jumpin' neighborhood, real-estate-wise, so there hasn't been any consensus on how to refer to it. But that's changed recently, as evidenced by the fact that yours truly and her charming consort have moved in.

Due to a lack of more specific terminology, a lot of people have been tempted to call this area South Philly. While that's technically true, it's also problematic. As Michael likes to point out, "South Philly" is both a genus and a species name for neighborhoods. Anywhere south of South Street counts as being in South Philly. But that's a huge chunk of real estate, and it doesn't differentiate between my neighborhood and the neighborhood that the sports arenas are in (and let me tell you, those need to be differentiated!). That's the genus-level use of the term. The species-level use refers to the old Italian neighborhoods that straddle Broad Street, south of the Italian Market. You know, Rocky territory. Yes, it shares our zipcode, but it ain't our 'hood. So to speak.

The alternative to South Philly is Center City (aka "Cenner Ciddy," as the locals say), the area that was the city in William Penn's original plan:

But we're clearly not in Center City. That's not because Center City is uninhabited --- unlike other large East Coast cities, people actually do live right in and around the main downtown business district (I'm talkin' to you, New York). But even still, it's agreed that South Street is the southern border of this area; it's the bottom-most street on this map. An alternative neighborhood name thus suggests itself: South Center City. Not bad, honestly. It has a ring to it, and the nickname has its merits: SoCy. Plausible, and possibly even accurate. But let's try some alternatives before we settle, shall we?

I've also heard this neighborhood referred to as "South of South [Street]." Again, plausible, and possibly even accurate. But the abbreviation is SoSo. SoSo? Really? I think not. One of my neighborhood-dwelling friends has tried to convince me that this is the very essence of Philly irony: a genuinely cool neighborhood nevertheless named SoSo. I repeat: Really? I think not.

Along the same lines, South Square has some promise, despite the area's general lack of square-ness. But the "official" designation for South Square, at least according to the posted signs on the lightpoles, is that it starts at Lombard and stops at Kater. Not only is this a good three blocks north of where I live, it also defines a ludicrously narrow rectangle-shaped neighborhood with no particular character, as far as I can tell. Plus, it's the name of a grocery store.

In casting about for a solution to this problem, I have discovered that there are, in fact, two officially-sanctioned terms for this area. The first is Graduate Hospital, which our real estate agent used in her description of our house. For those of you who aren't familiar with Philadelphia, let me explain: The Graduate Hospital neighborhood is named (duh) for the Graduate Hospital at 18th Street between Lombard and South, which is a good five blocks east of where we live and at least six blocks north. Seriously, people, that's a world away. Especially considering that the Graduate Hospital itself has now been converted into an outpatient facility for Penn Med and conjures up images of depressing, fluorescent-lit brick buildings with run-down Rite-Aids on the the first floor. Note to world: Ew. I don't live there. Second note to world: The abbreviation for this neighborhood designation is G-Ho. Um, I think not.

The second officially-sanctioned term for our area is Schuylkill, after the river which forms its western border. From the way things are going, I suspect that this is the term that's actually going to stick. It's reasonably accurate and pretty easy to get along with. Well, except for the fact that I don't live in a river, and no one can spell it correctly. (Stupid Dutch.) Can't we do better?

Turns out we can. A quick bit of research on the history of the area turns up the best goddamn neighborhood name ever: The Devil's Pocket. Here's the story: This area used to be predominantly Irish Catholic, and a priest once claimed that the kids in the neighborhood were so naughty, they would even steal a chain from the devil's pocket. Cool, eh?

Unfortunately, the best source for this story that I can find is Wikipedia, which mistakenly reports the boundaries of the neighborhood as the boundaries of the Naval Square housing development --- which is impossible, since that area wasn't residential until Naval Square opened in 2004. Just goes to show that you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. Nevertheless, Michael and I are going to do our damnedest to try to get this name back into popular usage. It might not be entirely accurate, since our house isn't technically within the parish of the church in question, and real estate agents don't seem to like this particular neighborhood designation, although I can't imagine why not. Still, we're pretty close to the official area, and it's just too cool not to make the effort. I mean, imagine the conversation: "So, where do you live?" "Oh, I'm from the Devil's Pocket." Hell yes.

Further reading:
For an outdated article on the area (designated as "Schuylkill/South of South" but with info on the Devil's Pocket), go here.
For your daily dose of real estate TMI, go here.
For a recording of Vic Damone singing "On the Street Where You Live," go here. No, I mean it. Do it now. I don't want to be the only one with this stuck in my head.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A mixed marriage?

Michael will occasionally use the phrase, "Nice work, DM!" to indicate approval. When he hears "DM," he thinks "Danger Mouse," the British import TV show of his youth.

When I hear "DM," I think "dungeon master."

Question: Who's right? Bonus question: Who's geekier?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting Biblical

My parents named me Deena. I'm glad of that --- really, I am. It's unique but not bizarre, and it's recognizably Biblical without being stereotypical.

But one runs into some problems when one has this name, as this week's Torah portion reminds me. This week, we read about what has not-so-subtly been termed The Rape of Dina, yet another episode in the epically dysfunctional family saga that is Genesis. There's been a lot of scholarship on whether it actually was a rape, or what the character of Dina was, or what lessons we're meant to draw from the characters' actions and reactions and all that, much of which is fascinating and some of which is flaky post-feminist grot (see The Red Tent for the overlapping set). Frankly, none of that makes a bit of difference since all most people associate with the name is the rape thing.

I know that this isn't not the sort of thing that tends to come up in your usual cocktail party conversation, but still, this isn't the most flattering kind of story to have associated with one's identity. Picture this: little me, in my Hebrew school class, learning about Bible stories. I'm surrounded by kids with names like Joshua and Rachel and Rebecca and Benjamin, and everyone's talking about the stories associated with their names. Oh, you're named after a matriarch, and you were a high priest, and so on. "Ooh, what about me?" I ask, innocently, excited to learn more about my illustrious namesake.

"Well," my teacher begins, slowly, "Dina was the only daughter of Jacob. She was Joseph's sister."

"Wow," I say. I'm kinda jazzed by the whole "only-daughter" thing; it makes me sound special. "What did she do? What happened to her?"

"Er...umm...ask your parents. So, does anyone have questions about the homework?"

Since then, of course, I've made my peace with the whole rape thing. As I said, it's not the sort of thing that tends to come up very much, and when it does, it actually tends to make for good conversation. And at this point I'm more grateful for my name's uniqueness than I am puzzled by the many interpretations of my name's story.

Just don't get me started on its spelling.