Wibble Wednesday: Abductions and Love Affairs (Genesis 12:1–17:21, continued)

I gave פָּרָשַׁת לך לך short shrift last week because I was busy, so I hoped to return to it this week. If I ever have a slow week maybe I’ll do two at once. Then again, maybe not. Anyways, in our previous installment, we explored mostly the cultural context of the Abraham story, rather than anything that actually happens in it. Today, I’ll roll through some of the occasionally mystifying elements of Abram’s calling and the early activities of his wanderings.

Our forefather, going nowhere fast

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Bánh mì in Louisville (part 6 of an onging series): Namnam Cafe

The weekend before last Shannon and I intended to go to Simply Thai, but it was mobbed, so we walked across the street to Namnam Cafe instead. I took copious notes, but took my time in writing up the actual review, I’m afraid. Also, in other news, the French Indo-Canada Food Truck kickstarter was successfully funded! Someone or a small number of someones poured a lot of money into it on tax weekend, so I hope sometime in the next few months to review it too!

[Photo of a sandwich from Namnam Cafe]NamNam Cafe on UrbanspoonNamnam Cafe (318 Wallace Avenue) is a fairly hip Vietnamese casual place which opened last year on the St. Matthews-Clifton border. It falls on to what is to my mind the wrong side of the divide (I’m still somewhat bitter about the time the St. Matthews police hassled me), but has much to recommend it: a bright, cheery ambiance, an apparently authentic menu, and a pleasingly diverse list of local beers. Generally speaking, I don’t go too much out of the urban core of the city, and I’m generally a bit dubious of Viet cuisine outside of the South End, so even though this was on my list, it was easy to overlook and I put off actually coming here for a long time. Their menu has a good range of standby casual-Vietnamese foods, including noodle soups, noodle salads, rice dishes, and the like: it also has four varieties of bánh mì: pork (analogous to a thịt nướng), chicken (gà), tofu (chay), and cold cuts (thịt nguội), all for $6 except for the thịt nguội, which is $6.50. We waited for some time, but it’s a sit-down place, and relaxation is the rule.

As the image above might make you suspect, the first thing that leapt out at me was that the baguette, well, wasn’t. Shapewise, it was more akin to a bâtard; texturally, it was overcrisped and internally a bit insubstantial. Since I’m a bread purist, this was a major immediate strike against it. On the brighter side, several of the vegetables were just right: the carrots were well-pickled with the right sharpness and crunch, and the cucumber was a solid, substantial spear. There was no daikon among the pickles, alas, and the pork, although moist and flavorful, seemed to be a slightly gristly cut. The mayonnaise was extremely abundant, which together with the airy roll led to a fair amount of leakthrough, and it was a surprisingly sharp and spicy mayo, when compared to the often sweet sauce used elsewhere. The cilantro was present but only really as an afterthought, and I didn’t detect any of the telltale tang of fish sauce, either.

It’s definitely a different take on the Viet sandwich than I think of as authentic. At places like Zanzabar and Ramsi’s I can kinda give that a pass as a creative interpretation, but here at a place with an ostensibly straightforward take on Viet cuisine I’m honestly at a loss as to whether to ascribe the rather major deviations from the form as creative license or as inauthenticity. Certainly nothing about the fillings was outside the boundaries of what I would label as a “good sandwich”, although the bread I’d consider markedly unmatched to it, but it’s by no means something I could in good conscience call a “good bánh mì” because it was lacking in so many of the flavor elements, and textural elements, which make a bánh mì.

Wibble Wednesday: Daddy Don’t Live in that Ur of the Chaldeans No More (Genesis 12:1–17:21)

Woo, I’ve managed to get through three weeks without slacking! This week’s section is פָּרָשַׁת לך לך (“Go, go!” portion), which takes us out of Sumerian myths and into Judaic mythohistory. There are a lot of ideas I’d like to explore here and it’s been a busy week, so I might give myself an extra week to mull them over, but I thought I’d at least try to get something out yet today.

The quick snarky summary: God might’ve forgotten that people don’t live as long as they used to, so he waits until his chosen agent is positively geriatric before giving him marching orders. He hobbles around, acquires wealth, and rescues his nephew from scrapes, but in other respects doesn’t much resemble Scrooge McDuck. God repeatedly promises greatness, but other than keeping his wife from getting raped doesn’t actually deliver, to the extent that Abraham figures he’s going to need a backup plan in case Sarah never actually has any kids.

The when, where, how, and why

Wibble Wednesday: Glub glub (Genesis 6:9–11:32)

Another fine Wednesday, and time to wibble. Today’s the second section of the Torah, פָּרָשַׁת נח (“Noah” portion).

The quick snarky summary: We’re only a few chapters in, and God, who created the world back at the start of the book, has decided that it’s not quite what He expected and that he’ll take a mulligan. On reconsideration, he figures that he doesn’t really want to spend a whole ‘nother week putting it back together, so he decides to just kill almost everything and outsource the repopulation aspect. After performing this onerous task, his deputy goes on a bender and passes out in a gutter. Two of his kids take him home and put him to bed, but the third didn’t help, and that’s why there are black people and why it’s OK to enslave them*. Everyone lives in Babylon and has kids, and some of those kids try to build a tower, but they end up inventing linguistic speciation instead.

* No, really. The religious justification for chattel slavery in America was that black people were the descendants of Canaan, and that Genesis 9:25 justified keeping them as property.

The whole sordid story

Cerebus the Aardvark, volume 1: Cerebus, by Dave Sim

Dave Sim is a polarizing figure. On the one hand, he’s a giant in independent comics publishing, and his accomplishment of viably sustaining a self-published comic series over a long and ambitious series of plot arcs makes him an undeniable and significant part of any conversation about independent comic books.

On the other hand, he’s a raving nutbar, given to misogynistic rants and fulminations against liberal attitudes. He’s kind of like a more independent and more gender-oriented Frank Miller, in that he has earned both acclaim and scorn from the comics-reading community at large.

Cerebus is the first of a great many “phone books” which collect his magnum opus, the 300-issue megaseries called (straightforwardly enough) Cerebus the Aardvark. At this point in the game Sim’s hot-button topics hadn’t come to the fore, so it can be enjoyed for what it is, which is a spoof of the wealth of Conan-derivative comic properties. Although, with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t help but wonder how much of his future lunacy was visible at this point in his career (comparing him, unavoidably, to Frank Miller, whose present-day “lovable quirks” were actually quite detectable themes even in his early work).

Based only on the 25 issues collected in this work, it’s hard to see where either the criticism or acclaim comes from. At this point the work was still very much in a finding-its-footing mode, with affectionate parody of the whole Howard-derived Conan mythos and related works (e.g. Red Sonja) forming the core of the work. Unfortunately for my review, I’ve not had much experience directly with the whole Conan mythos, so I can’t really offer much commentary on the extent to which the parody hits the mark there, and when he does stray out of the genre, his parody is a lot more uneven: the characters of Elrod, the Cockroach, and Charles X. Claremont don’t seem to bear any particular similarity, except for the broad lampooning of names and appearances, to their progenitors: as an example, Elrod of Melvinbone is a flamboyant extrovert who for some reason talks like Senator Claghorn, a far cry from Michael Moorcock’s mopey albino.

Artwise, it’s still finding its place as well. It’s mostly black-and-white pen work, with a notable exception in the gray fill used for Cerebus himself, making him stand out on the page. The art is generally solid but sometimes action is a bit muddled, and the lettering suffers badly from “P”s that look like “D”s, which is a particular problem in the not-infrequent wall-of-text pages. Even pages which have a full series of panels often have about a paragraph of text at the top, so this is a very texty work, to some extent not making the best use of the drawn image to tell its story.

And as for those early warning signs of crazification I was looking for? Well, they’re mostly not actually present, which is OK by me. There’s a modest amount of institutionalized sexism which is somewhat unavoidable given the subject matter, since any pastiche or parody of Howard has to engage or mimic his fairly loathsome gender issues (mercifully steering clear of his equally loathsome racial essentialism). There’s a certain amount of skeeviness in the handling of Red Sophia, but since her schtick basically boils down to, “ha ha, those womenfolk, always yammering and driving the men around them crazy”, it’s well-trod ground already pretty well established by newspaper comics, so I might give Sim a tentative pass here.

But while there’s not much to inspire disdain yet, there’s also not much to inspire praise. The art is pretty decent for its style, but the story thus far is pretty uninspired, and the humor is awfully hit-or-miss. I’m given to understand that the overall style of the work eventually changes in a way which makes it more interesting, but if you go into reading this particular volume wondering what made Dave Sim a significant figure in independent comics publishing, you might not actually find that question being answered.

Wibble Wednesday: In with a Bang (Genesis 1:1–6:8)

I figure I need a feature to keep me on schedule, so now introducing: Bible Wednesdays! Wait, that’s not alliterative. Now introducing: Wible Wednesdays! Wait, “wible” is ugly-sounding and not actually a word. Now introducing: Wibble Wednesdyas!

So, I’ll go through a short chunk-o-Bible each Wednesday until I run out of bible chunks. I’m a secular Jew with a vague knowledge of Midrashic and Talmudic views, so the overall tone is going to be scholarly but not deep, interested but not believing. Sure, you can get that elsewhere, but not with my deathless prose! I’ll be using the JPS translation primarily, because I have it on my bookshelf and because it occasionally has footnote clarifications for particularly unusual words and phrases.

The Torah comes pre-chunked into 54 parts, so I’ll go through them in that order, starting off with פָּרָשַׁת בְּרֵאשִׁית (“In the beginning” portion). Yes, this means I’m about 6 months out of sync with actual Judaic reading practices (which would study בְּרֵאשִׁית in the autumn), but, hey, I’m a heretic, so what do you expect? So, without further ado, time for some wibblin’ ’bout the Bibble.

The quick snarky summary: God creates the world. Then he does it again, in a different order. He tells humans how to enjoy paradise forever, but they fuck it up. A quarter of the people of earth are killed, and the guy who did it lights out for the east and gets political asylum. Everybody has lots of kids with suspiciously nameless women, and every generation moans about how kids today don’t respect their elders and are too busy to behave righteously, with their agriculture and their iPhones.

Blow-by-blow analysis of the story