Pedant’s Delight

Posted by Cila Warncke

I’m not sure which is sadder: that I love poring over lists of commonly confused English words or that I am happy to publically admit I do so. Both will undoubtedly come to haunt me.

The cards are stacked (quite properly, I imagine) against all professional aesthetes, and no doubt we all deserve the dark, wordy, academic deaths we all sooner or later die. — Zooey JD Salinger

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Chichen Itza – welcome to Maya Disney

Posted by Cila Warncke

Hell is other people, according to Sartre, and he never even visited Chichén Iztá.

Welcome to the show

Welcome to the show

Despite the overwhelming quantity of tourist press I was looking forward to seeing Chichén Iztá, the “new wonder of the modern world”. Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc whetted my appetite for picturesque ruins and walking across straw-coloured grass beneath cornflower skies, eagles overhead, lizards below and so forth.

As it was, a combination of bad navigation skills and bad timing very nearly melted my resolve to venture forth, but I finally happened across the bus station, had a lunch of sopes and chocolate biscuits and settled in for the ride. Bus journeys are one of my favourite things in Mexico. I love tucking myself into a musty seat, armed with random foodstuffs (on this journey, a giant bag of juicy, piquant, freshly-peeled tangerines, purchased off a little boy who jumped on the bus at one of the pueblos with a cooler full of fruit slung on his arm), a notebook, a camera and music. I like watching the sky and the unhurried, unvarying plains of the Yucatan snake past. Better still the villages with their neat, empty squares dominated by pink, yellow or blue colonial churches and dogs sagging in the heat. Beyond the squares lie Crayola-hued concrete block houses mingled with traditional, thatched Mayan cottages.

The signs get bigger and more professional as we approach Chichén Iztá. Cenotes! Artisans! 25km to Chichén Iztá! Taste of Yucatan! Swim in the sacred blue waters! 5km! Welcome to Chichén Iztá! Behemouth tour buses eddy in the parking lot, jockeying for spaces. To the left a giant banner, to the right the Mercado. Initially I feel a spasm of irritation when I realise it’s a few minutes to four, and the last bus back to Merida leaves at ten past five. Should I stay overnight? I decide to buy my entrada and take it from there. By the time I’ve taken two wrong turns in a maze of yapping American children, ice cream stands, gift shops and giant concrete planters my inclination to linger is nearly gone. Emerging from the parado turistico into a gauntlet of voices I resist the urge to turn around and walk straight out.

Basura

Basura

Hey lady. Senorita. Amigita. Mas barato. One dollar. Ten pesos. Cual te gusta? Mixed with: Scott! I’ll be right over here. Did you read this plaque? The other side of the pyramid looks nicer. Get in the picture. Oh my gawd, then he was like…. Sweet Jesus. It’s Glastonbury without the music, or drugs. Or something you’d find in a hotel foyer in Las Vegas. Corporate sponsorship is only a matter of time.

A creatively sunburnt conglomeration is sitting on the cropped grass around the splendid pyramid, El Castillo, as if waiting for the next band to arrive. They are bawling to each other in that peculiarly penetrating American tone. The Justins, Jennifers, Joshes and Jessicas of the world, concentrating and projecting their privilege from the space between the tip of their noses and the point of their chins. It’s a shame, because El Castillo is beautiful. Or would be if it weren’t surrounded by old ladies in sunhats; bare-chested, cigar-puffing goons on day trips from Cancun; and families trailing nappies and bags of pork scratchings.

El Castillo

El Castillo

I am definitely never coming back so getting a couple of dozen photos sharpish is priority. I do a lap of the pyramid, dodging tour groups and whining couples. The only thing I really want to see, apart from El Castillo, is El Caracol – a spiral-staired astronomical observatory. Taking a deep breath I plunge into another self-contained hell of hustling vendors. Everything from jaguar masks to embroidered handkerchiefs is going for 10 pesos it seems. Casi gratis, one vendor points out. Hellonwheels. That’s less than 50 pence. Anything that cheap definitely isn’t worth having. Sucking up a breath I swim through them. Peace on the other side.

El Caracol (snail) is the one outpost of this godforsaken themepark that looks like it might have some magic left in it. I can’t get close enough to tell, exactly, because – like everything else – it’s roped off. The crumbling curve of the tower carries itself with dignity, though, imposing a sort of stillness over its little empire. I flop down on the grass and watch a hawk drifting past. This would be good on a starlit night.

El Caracol

El Caracol

Behind me a man on a moto is mumbling into a radio, urging us in crackly tones to make our way to the exits as the park is closing. Ye gods. On my way across the main square I snatch a glimpse of what I came to see: the setting sun of the spring equinox tracing a triangulated shadow down the side of El Castillo, the undulating mimic of a serpent’s body meeting the roaring stone head at the base of the stairs. The awe-inspiring mathematical, astronomical and architectural nous behind this phenomenon is rather lost in the welter of tourists shouldering for a shot, and applauding when the sun emerges from the cloud. A man in yoga trousers and dreads flexes his bare torso. His girlfriend’s nose is pierced.

Taking a wrong turn towards the exit I happen across the ball court, snap a couple of photos then leg it for the entrance. Time to escape. Getting out is more fun than being there. A man gets on the over-crowded, past-due bus just behind me. I squeeze into a row of Mexican kids. A boy in the seat in front of me gets up, “sientate con tu marido,” he says, gesturing to a stranger. What the hell. I swap seats. “Hi. They seem to think you’re my husband.” The stranger looks at me for a second then we start laughing.

Commonly Confused Words*

Posted by Cila Warncke

*If you insist on writing, learn the difference, please.

Useful

Useful

There is no way to write this post without coming off like a pedantic arsehole but, as they say, if the shoe fits…

Certain words are commonly confused in otherwise literate copy, which makes me think that some people honestly don’t know the difference. For the edification of absolutely no one, here are some persistent offenders.

Rein/Reign
If I have to read one more time about some artist’s “rein” at the top of the charts, or someone “reigning in” their ambitions I’ll weep.

Rein
1: a strap fastened to a bit by which a rider or driver controls an animal —usually used in plural
2 a: a restraining influence : check b: controlling or guiding power —usually used in plural
3: opportunity for unhampered activity or use

Reign
1 a: royal authority : sovereignty b: the dominion, sway, or influence of one resembling a monarch 2: the time during which one (as a sovereign) reigns

The carnival king and queen will reign for a year. The driver has to rein in the horses pulling their float.

Discrete/Discreet
The couple having an affair may have left the hotel “discreetly” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they left “discretely”.

Discrete

1: constituting a separate entity : individually distinct
2 a: consisting of distinct or unconnected elements : noncontinuous b: taking on or having a finite or countably infinite number of values

Discreet
1: having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech : prudent ; especially : capable of preserving prudent silence
2: unpretentious , modest
3: unobtrusive , unnoticeable

She made discreet enquiries and learned the outcome. In discrete letters to the panel members she made her feelings clear.

Wet/Whet
One does not “wet” one’s appetite, nor “whet” one’s whistle.

Wet
transitive verb 1 : to make wet

Whet
1 : to sharpen by rubbing on or with something (as a stone)
2 : to make keen or more acute : excite , stimulate

The cloudless sky whet her eagerness to go windsurfing. First, she wet her finger to test the direction of the breeze.

Definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online

Experimental Cooking, Pts I and II

Posted by Cila Warncke

I love peanut butter with a greedy, by-the-spoonful-out-of-the-jar passion, so when I spotted Lazy Day Peanut Noodle Salad on my favourite recipe site, 101cookbooks.com I got kind of over-excited.

Being in Merida rather than San Francisco meant a few substitutions. Out went soba noodles, asparagus, tofu, sesame oil, rice vinegar and garlic and in came wholemeal spaghetti, red pepper, chile poblano, fresh spinach, fresh coriander, mushrooms, carrots, sunflower seeds, lime and olive oil. (Only the peanut butter, peanuts, spring onion and chili flakes made the recipe leap unscathed.)

Chile poblano

Chile poblano

I made the dressing using lime juice in place of rice wine vinegar, with plenty of red chili flakes, of course. Everything else was pretty much as you’d expect. Chopped all the veg, chucked the spaghetti on to boil, then added first the carrots, then a couple minutes later the pepper and chile poblano (roughly the size of an ordinary green pepper but with a mild chili kick), then a minute after that the spring onion and spinach. Couple more minutes on the boil, drained and tipped into a big bowl where I tossed it with the peanut dressing then chucked handfuls of sunflower seeds, salted peanuts and coriander in.

It didn’t come out looking anywhere near as elegant as the original version, and to my taste it should have been a bit more peanutty (the lime really cut the peanut-butteriness, so I might experiment with something else next time) but we scoffed the lot so thumbs up.

Jicama

Jicama

I’m on a bit of a local ingredient kick and bought jicama the other day. It’s a big, ugly lump of a root and I had to Google it to find out what the hell you’re supposed to do with it. Eat it raw, apparently. I have my doubts about eating raw anything you could use as a defensive weapon in the case of burglary but when in Rome… so I had a crack. The flavour is decent enough: slightly sweet in a rooty, parsnip-y kind of way. Unfortunately it bears plenty of textural resemblance to raw parsnip as well, which I can’t cope with. I stuck it in the fridge and waited for inspiration.

Roasting, frying and steaming all crossed my mind, but the oven here is a weird little creature I don’t understand and I instinctively felt jicama would be fry-resistant. Finally I decided to steam and mash it. Whacked it into the steamer and pootled off to check my email. Ten minutes later the rigid fruit was unscathed. Twenty more minutes and it was still raw carrot consistency. I refilled the steamer. Ten more, no joy. Boil it, perhaps? Just past 10PM, after half an hour at a brisk boil it dawned on me why Mexicans eat the damn stuff raw. It WON’T cook. Christ only knows what kind of super-cellulose it’s made of, but they should use it in fortifications. Bored of boiling, and hungry, I decided to stir-fry it with red onion, red pepper, spring onion, tomatillos (which, apart from making me think ‘fried green tomatoes’ every time I chuck them in the pan, are sublime) garlic and a tin of tuna. Plus the usual lashings of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chili flakes, salt and freshly ground pepper. I drizzled the lot with fresh lime juice and ate it with corn tortillas. It was good, but more involved than I’d bargained for. If I’m going to fuck around in the kitchen for over an hour I want more to show for it than stir fry.

Tomatillos

Tomatillos

Writing is like Fucking…

Posted by Cila Warncke

A portrait of the artist's desk

A portrait of the artist's desk

Writing for a Living: a Joy or a Chore? the Guardian asks, and famous novelists answer. Literary navel-gazing amuses me because nobody gives a goddamn what writers think about writing, apart from other writers. And they only to scroll through the words to see whose neurosis most closely match their own.

This, of course, writers know; our sense of forever shouting into the wind is what urges these uncoveted confessions. Our hopeless hope that someone, anyone, cares. I’m a novice in the holy order so my doorstep remains uncluttered by reporters enquiring on behalf of Guardian Books — so far. They will come, one day, and I will be ready. Poised like the kid at the back of the class, itchy-palmed, waiting for the one question I know the answer to.

Writing is an unsought compulsion. It is as financially unrewarding as a crack habit and twice as inexplicable. Joan Didion said writers are, “lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents.” According to George Orwell we’re, “vain, selfish and lazy.” Guilty on all counts. And the punishment: daily frustration in pursuit of my greatest pleasure. “Writing is like fucking,” Hunter S Thompson noted, “It’s only fun for amatuers.”


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