Week of June 2, 2004

The Joy of Lex
Grammar school: I just finished reading Lew Prince's review of the current local production of the opera Carmen [May 26]. Although I appreciate Mr. Prince's zeal and enthusiasm for the production (even more so as one of the leads is a dear friend of mine), I wonder, as a huge fan of English, from what language is derived the word "krewe"?

Is it really necessary to stoop to such street vernacular, more closely associated with rap music than opera, in an effort to describe a new and different twist on an old work of great beauty? Isn't standard English, when used properly, sufficient?
Howard Gotfryd
Brooklyn, New York

Food for Thought
Nibble quibble: That thing Michael Renner so dismissively described as "Chinese restaurants where you get to boil your own tidbits in broth" is called hot pots ["Stoners," May 26]. It has been a tradition in Chinese cuisine for a few hundred years. It is not a gimmick.

The idea is to gather around the hot pot as a family in order to keep warm. The cooking of the sliced pieces of food also takes the meat juices and puts the flavor into the broth. The first part of the ritual is to cook and eat the meat. The second part is to put vegetables and noodles into the broth to make a noodle soup. Once you down the noodle soup, the body is heated to the point where you can face the bitter cold.

It is best that you learn about the food traditions before you castigate them as gimmicks.
Peter Wung
Richmond Heights

Rollin' on the River
Muddy waters: Sometimes an outside pair of eyes can lend perspective to issues that the natives no longer bother to investigate as related to their own heritage. Case in point, your May 19 issue [Randall Roberts, "Mississippi Drifting"]. I'm a long-term transplant from points west and have spent a fair amount of time researching certain historical aspects of the area. A professional environmental association to which I belong sponsored a nighttime river cruise on the Becky Thatcher several years ago. At the time I was a state hazardous-waste inspector and that night kept a weather eye on the various smokestacks to see what they were pumping out while the regulators were home in bed.

As a member of the board of directors at the time, I was lassoed into doing something special for the cruise -- this evolved into me assuming the mantle of an ad hoc character known as the "Voice of the River." Mucho research ensued. I got on the mike (I hate that everyone spells it "mic" now, sounds like they're insulting Irishmen) and discussed the colorful and almost-forgotten anecdotes of our riparian heritage. By the time I began, the engineers were already slightly lubricated, making them more receptive to the message. I discussed the origins of the Piasa bird legend, suggesting that the then self-referenced (and referenced as such by no one else) "environmental president," George the First, would make a good sacrifice. I mentioned that passengers used to be mystified at the habit of the riverboat men, who daily would scoop up a ladleful of Ole Miss water and slurp it, chug it, down it. A lady once asked the captain why, and that worthy replied, "Because it scours out your bowels, ma'am!" Ulysses Samuel Grant, when he was a failed hardware salesman trying to make it on what he called Hardscrabble Farm down there in Affton, later said about the Mighty Mississip', while booming down it in 1863, "too thin to plow and too thick to drink. It stinks." And more of same, to the entertainment of all. I'm thorough, but I delve into history mainly for the juicy bits.

I guess St. Louie really is insecure, because it seems like anyone who ever took a leak here while passing through on the way to someplace more interesting ends up with a star on the Loop's Walk of Fame. (I'll have to reread Kerouac to see if Cassady ever puked in a Fulton gutter -- hurry up and claim them!! -- Sorry, Joe Edwards, it's the town, not you.) We focus on Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the Bard of Hannibal, as a "St. Louis" guy (that'll getcha two marks), while forgetting Captain William R. Massie, riverboat guy extraordinaire, who's not only buried at Bellefontaine, but the bullet that went through James Butler ("Wild Bill") Hickok's brain ended up lodged in Captain Massie's wrist. Yep, he was there in Deadwood across the poker table, and while I think about it, it's like the Kennedy "magic bullet" supposedly ending up in Governor John Connally's wrist. Weird, huh? (And now that Deadwood is such a deserved hit on HBO, maybe more people will look into this, hmm?)

But what I can't forgive you for, in terms of forgetting your own heritage, is that you keep referring to the Mighty Mississippi as the "Big Muddy." NO, NO, NO!!! Even people I know who've lived here all their lives bought into that bullshit due to the laziness of our educational, nay, our faulty gestalt-gapped cultural-transmission system. It's another example of the dumbing-down of America, going with the easier-to-absorb, streamlined faux-history because it doesn't require any investment of brain power, like the fact that much of the Pocahontas/John Smith story was lifted from something that happened with the settlers and Seminoles in Florida somewhat earlier. The GED version of America...sad but true. Here's the real poop, folks:

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