Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Royal Photobomb

URGENTLY NEEDED: Your opinion. Which of the two people ruining the photograph below is funnier? Is the better photobomber…
A. The unhappy girl
B. The creepy guy

Answer in the comments!

Link to full-size photograph


Filed under Reality

Live Blog: The Royal Wedding

Okay, folks. My local pub doesn’t open until the ceremony actually starts, and I can’t afford to miss anything, so I’ve got a live stream going on the BBC website. Time to do some live-blogging:

10:02 AM: A reporter stands in front of a crowd in Hyde Park. The crowd starts cheering like maniacs because they’re on camera, and the reporter calmly says, “There’s been a lot of this.” He then turns to three women who have turned up in wedding dresses, and one of them says, “It’s not too late for Wills to change his mind!”

10:05 AM: David Cameron has arrived in Westminster Abbey. His clothes are hideous and hilarious at the same time. Jacket, vest, trousers, and tie are all different colors: the vest and trousers two different shades of beige, the jacket black, the tie an off-lavender.

10:11 AM: The crowd in front of William’s house is shouting, “We want Will!”

10:11 AM: They’ve got a Sikh security guard. Why do I feel like that wouldn’t happen in America?

10:13 AM: William and Harry emerge from Clarence House in a car and drive to Westminster Abbey. Announcer: “I am told that Prince Harry does have the ring in his possession.” Good. We were worried about that.

10:15 AM: There’s a full military band on the grounds of the horse guards, but the royal cars just drove right past so they didn’t play anything. This has to be intentional. Maybe they’re there to entertain “the crowds which were gathering at 5 o’clock this morning.” Knew I shouldn’t have woken up at 9:15.

10:18 AM: Prince William’s uniform, as Colonel of the Irish Guard, is pretty awesome. He looks way sharper than David Cameron.

10:19 AM: At Westminster Abbey, two guards open William and Harry’s car doors simultaneously. That takes practice. Harry is smiling and laughing. William kind of has a big head, but that might just be the thinning hair. I like Harry; he seems to have a slight lack of decorum. He just stepped off the red carpet a couple of times.

10:21 AM: There are a bunch of trees in Westminster Abbey.

10:22 AM: William is talking to a woman with an enormous blue hat with lots of of flowery and twiggy things sticking up. “Twiggy” is a word, right?

10:23 AM: “The Sultan of Brunei is making his way into the Abbey.” He looks way sharper than David Cameron. “The King of Tonga is next to arrive.” He’s a big, tall man but aging, with a limp, and uses a walking stick and a walking person-next-to-him for support.

10:30 AM: The royal family comes in via Volkswagen buses. Historian Simon Schama notes, “It’s as if they’re a football team playing away.” But he says it admiringly, because nobody is allowed to be the least bit sarcastic, or even amused, I suspect.

10:32 AM: Another thing that wouldn’t happen in the USA: the bride’s mother’s outfit was designed by Catherine Walker, a fashion boutique whose styles are now, since Catherine Walker died last year, done by an Iranian guy named Said Ismael. Kudos, Said. She looks way sharper than David Cameron.

10:37 AM: The extended royal family piles out of their buses. They look like a bunch of totally normal people, all slightly too happy to be here, and they’re a chatty group. The only way you can tell they’re royalty is that all of them seem Distinguished. Except the pre-teen girl who keeps fiddling with her hair.

10:38 AM: Here comes Charles. The BBC website has just posted this photograph from Thailand:

This is just silly.

10:42 AM: Who on earth is in this car and why are they wearing an outfit entirely of butter-yellow? And such a boxy hat?

10:45 AM: It seems a little old-fashioned to me that whenever it’s time to critique somebody’s fashion, the male announcer quietly hands everything over to two chatty women. Actual quote: “It’s a fan-bloomin’-tastic day for British fashion.”

10:47 AM: Uh, so it turns out the person in all-yellow with a big yellow cylinder on their head is… the Queen. Sorry, United Kingdom. I hope I haven’t offended you. If it is any consolation, she does look slightly sharper than David Cameron.

10:50 AM: Wow, the household trumpeters should have practiced that a bit more. Couple of really wrong notes in that fanfare.

10:52 AM: The BBC camera has a great shot of Catherine Middleton’s right shoulder. The male announcer says, “It’s a delightful view.” Man, I wish my family had a whole fleet of Rolls Royces to transport everyone to my wedding.

10:54 AM: Pause for actual insight. I wonder if Catherine Middleton is ready for this. She’s got the waving to the crowd thing down. But does she really want this, to basically spend the next sixty years of her life–all of it–being a person who makes crowds happy by showing up and waving? They say marrying a man is marrying into his family, but that’s far more true here, when marrying William is marrying into William’s job and your own new full-time employment. I guess she has to want it; she has to be ready for it. It takes a very special kind of person, someone who doesn’t mind the incredible public burden, the paparazzi, the constant use at ceremonies as a kind of addition to the decor, because you at least get to be with the man you love and have your tea in really fancy teacups.

Of course, setting aside the fact that your job as a royal is to decorate public occasions and be glamorous, Kate’s actual job is to have children. Do they do tests? Now that we have technology, did William and Kate have to get their fertility checked out?

11:01 AM: One of the woman announcers confirms the identity of Kate’s wedding dress designer, and the other one actually says, “Yay!” I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say “Yay!”

11:03 AM: Kate walks in, looking slightly nervous. Suddenly I realize: this is the first actual wedding I’ve ever seen. I haven’t ever been to one. Certainly hadn’t watched one on television before. Just fake weddings in movies. So, here’s to seeing my first wedding.

11:06 AM: Props to Charles for choosing fantastic music for Kate’s entrance.

11:10 AM: Okay, asking all the  guests to sing when you have one of the world’s greatest chamber choirs is silly. Even Elton John is mumbling.

11:13 AM: Jesus, Harry, stand still! Either he’s on a boat or he’s rocking back and forth on his feet like a schoolboy. He should take notes from Mr. Middleton, standing stock-still and looking as if he was born to be here. A very classy man, and much sharper-looking than David Cameron.

11:15 AM: When I get married, nobody’s going to get away with any threats about “the dreadful day of judgment.” Sorry, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, but that’s a load of bullfeathers.

From the BBC stream

11:18 AM: This is kind of magical.

11:19 AM: Rowan Williams’ eyebrows are in fine form today:

From the BBC stream

11:20 AM: Pronounced man and wife. Still kind of magical.

11:26 AM: Kate’s brother James commits the first major fashion faux pas of the day:

Pictured: how to not wear a tie (from the BBC stream)

11:29 AM: Memo to John Rutter: Could you have made your new choral composition for today a little more boring? Oh, no, wait, you couldn’t. I could have written this music when I was 12.

11:33 AM: Time for a sermon. I’ll try not to be irreverent. I’ll focus on a bit at the beginning: “This is a joyful day.” It’s easy to forget that, because this is also a cynical day, a media frenzy day, a day wrapped up in questions like, “Who designed the dress?” “Why didn’t Kate say she’d ‘obey’ her husband in the vows?” and “Why do monarchies still exist?”–this is also a day where two people are getting married because they love each other. And, beneath the layers of sermons and formalities and red carpets and really bad music by John Rutter, every so often you get a little glimpse of what this is really about. People in love. That’s when the magic kicks in. It’s not because they’re royalty. If the BBC filmed two people in the slums of Mumbai crawling out of a box and joining hands in marriage in the middle of a muddy street, the same magic would be there, too.

11:36 AM: My own expert consultant writes to me, “Kate is wearing far too much eye makeup for this occasion.”

11:50 AM: The tempo of this thing confuses me. Prayer, grandiose tune by Parry, …another prayer? What’s the plan behind this order?

11:52 AM: The household trumpeters botching their fanfares, again. A couple of those notes were sharper than David Cameron.

12:05 PM: William Walton’s “Crown Imperial” march showing up all the earlier music with its sheer excellence. The royal couple are departing.

12:07 PM: And the live BBC feed blacks out. They haven’t left the building yet! Now the website is acknowledging that “this content doesn’t seem to be working.” After a few minutes I switch to PBS. They’re getting in the carriage. That is a GREAT carriage.

12:11 PM: Whoa! The horsemen pulling the carriage are wearing trim white wigs!

12:14 PM: Kate is looking down at her lap. Is she texting?

12:17 PM: That band in the horse guards parade that was quiet earlier is playing “God Save the Queen,” getting drowned out by the frenzied crowd and a helicopter.

12:19 PM: There was never a “you may kiss the bride” thing, was there? That’s one marriage myth I’ve had busted today. Or possibly the church are prudish.

12:29 PM: Everyone’s heading back to the palace; all the fun stuff is over. On the other hand, check out this hat:

According to my expert consultant, this is Princess Eugenie. (From the PBS stream)

12:35 PM: The excitement seems to have died down, so I’ll move on to getting some work done. Later I’ll head down to Westminster if it’s at all possible given the crowds. It’s been fun, and more than a little interesting.


Filed under Storytime

On a Boat

Take a ferry in Istanbul some time. They’re special places.

The ferries which cross the Bosphorus have not changed in many years; in fact, when a recent upgrade plan for some of the boats asked customers to vote for a new design, they instead voted to re-use the old design. Outdoor decks at the front and back, gigantic interior rooms with glorious views and rows after rows of benches. A little kiosk sells snacks. Two men stand at the entryway, when the boats are at dock, selling traditional bread. A waiter roves the ship with a tray full of glasses of tea.

Pictured: the most popular man on board

The view is one of sea gulls bounding up and down in the air alongside, aiming for the breadcrumbs which accommodating tourists and/or kindly locals continually toss overboard. The Bosphorus–neither sea nor river but instead the world’s narrowest strait–is an appealing blue, even in the poor April weather. Worth pointing out: on this humble ferry, you are traveling between two continents. In some ways, you are also traveling between time periods, because Eminönü, on Europe, is the historical district of Istanbul, home of the Hagia Sophia, the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, and Topkapı Palace.

On the Anatolian side (Turks don’t say “the Asian side,” though signs on the two bridges over the Bosphorus do say “Welcome to Asia”), the street hawkers sell bouquets of flowers for one lira ($0.66). These are for commuters returning home, to spruce up the flat or surprise the spouse. On the European side, the vendors are fishermen selling fantastic-looking fish sandwiches: freshly-caught fish sizzle on the grill, with buns, lettuce and also-grilling onions on standby. The price is four lira ($2.62).

The ferries became our main means of transport to and from Europe after a few days. Driving in Istanbul is an absolutely dire experience: my aunt and I once made 20 kilometers in excellent time before spending the last kilometer in traffic so unmoving that it took us 55 extra minutes to make the 1km. (That’s 0.65 miles per hour, folks.) My aunt apparently doesn’t use the ferry all that much, which makes a bit of sense–its main European stops are in touristy areas–but for sheer atmosphere, it’s the only way to travel.

This boat is probably traveling faster than the cars above.

There are also ferries which simply cruise up and down the Bosphorus, for no other reason than to pass an hour or two out enjoying the water. A few private yachts are making their way about, too, and if you want you can rent one for your wedding. On a fine summer’s day, one could have the ceremony out on the deck and then move indoors for a fine-dining meal. I wouldn’t object.

How many cities are as big on boat transport as Istanbul? Venice, obviously, but that’s very different. Liverpool relies fairly heavily on ferries, as do Sydney, Halifax, and Seattle. But I bet none of them have roving tea salesmen, or indeed roving salesmen of all stripes–one afternoon, a guy came into our deck and demonstrated a line of vegetable peelers.

It works!

Take a ferry sometime. Try to do it in Istanbul, of course. They’re a communal experience, with much more of a group atmosphere than an Underground car or a bus. They’re relaxing, a nice break from all the bustle of before and after (and in Istanbul, there is a lot of bustle). And, sometimes, you get to see the sun set on another century.

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The Five Best Burgers I Have Eaten (So Far)

One of the more wonderful moments I enjoyed in Istanbul was biting into a hamburger, of all things, and suddenly deciding to dedicate the next two or three hours of my mental processes to identifying my all-time top five hamburgers, John-Cusack-in-HighFidelity-style. (By the way, if you haven’t seen High Fidelity, just go to Blockbuster now, seriously.)

This is based on memory. It is also based on pure personal enjoyment rather than anything like an objective standard for the measuring of burger quality. I’ve tried to go into enough detail, where possible, to recreate the magic.

Disqualified Due to Sheer Outrageous Cheekiness: The Garbage Burger, Max & Erma’s, Midwest, USA. I’m not even sure the Garbage Burger counts as a burger; it’s more like a pile. The cooks at Max & Erma’s, the only chain on this list (and the only place on it twice, sort of), decided to put every single burger topping possible on this burger.

10 ounce patty. Lettuce, tomato, red onions, pickles, six (6) kinds of cheese, mushrooms, bacon, white onions (grilled), marinara sauce, and guacamole.

Who are they kidding? It's the single messiest food item I have ever encountered.

Yes, I have eaten a Garbage Burger. And by “eaten,” I mean, “attempted to eat and utterly failed.” Given that it’s estimated at 2,600 calories, that’s probably a good thing. Mine was served basically as a gigantic pile of Stuff, and fell apart so quickly I remember scooping it up with a spoon. But oh, the flavor: it was like getting bombarded with flavors. It is the 1812 Overture of hamburgers.

Someday, somehow, perhaps I–with another extremely hungry person–will again order one of these behemoths, and perhaps then we may finish it.

5. Salmon burger, somewhere in Vancouver, Canada (2002). I feel bad about forgetting where I ate this; it was on English Bay, just south of Stanley Park, at a restaurant with a rooftop terrace where you could watch the sun set.

The thing I remember most about the salmon burger was, it was really, really sticky. Like, paper-napkin-stuck-to-your-fingers sticky. It had been marinated in soy sauce and something sweet and placed in a gentle bun, and nothing got in the way of the excellence of the salmon. Kind of want to go back and see if it’s as I remember it.

4. The Kitchenette Burger, The Kitchenette, Ortaköy, Istanbul, Turkey (2011). A hamburger whose outstanding creativity and bewildering array of toppings don’t stop it from being elegant. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that so much stuff on a burger can produce a result which feels so natural: a chorus of flavors in unison.

Let’s break the burger down and see how it was done.

The Kitchenette Burger, Kitchenette, Ortaköy, Istanbul. Click for full size.

The first key is clear: a really good bun. This one was sesame, and toasted, not until black around the edges but until it had a nice crunch. The second key is even more obvious: great meat.

This is one of two burgers on the list with “Turkish spicing.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but Turks spice their hamburger patties the way they spice their köftes (meatballs), with things like cumin, garlic, parsley, and diced white onions.

The usual suspects (lettuce, tomato, onions, a pickle I removed) are there. But then the twists: kaşar cheese (sometimes “kasseri”), spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and a sort of tartar sauce with capers and tiny diced bell peppers. Innovative, very Turkish, a distinctive but classy twist on the burger. And as soon as I took the first bite, I knew it was one of my favorites.

3. Barbecue burger, Max & Erma’s, Midwest, USA (2000-2005). Unlike the Garbage Burger, with this one Max knew where to stop. Barbecue sauce. Bacon. Cheddar cheese. Juicy, smoky, marvelous meat. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

2. Backyard burger, my house, Boerne, TX (2005-2010). The second burger on the list to use “Turkish meat,” because my parents are geniuses. My dad does the grilltending himself–charcoal, not gas, of course–and the result is juicy, flavorful hamburgers which taste like home. They’re a comfort, a welcome, a pause to enjoy life in our backyard. I prefer to add the following eclectic group of toppings:
– lettuce and sauteed sweet onions
– Danish havarti cheese
– hickory barbecue sauce (avoid Kraft, it’s oversweet)
– just a little bit of wasabi
Yes! Wasabi. It adds that undertone of kick which makes the burger (white-hot with juices and just off the grill) absolutely perfect.

Well, not quite perfect. The one thing holding my family hamburger back from the top spot is that we have never quite solved the bun problem; wheat buns from the grocery store taste to me more like ways of holding the ingredients than actual additions to the flavor. There has to be a better way–even a better brand in the store. We just haven’t quite found it…

Who could possibly keep our family’s home burgers and their incomparable bliss in second place? I’m glad you asked:

1. 814 Burger, 814: A Texas Bistro, Comfort, TX (2010). I don’t remember all that much about this burger. Its memory is wrapped in a golden fog.

I remember thinking it didn’t have much to it. Lettuce, onions, tomato, pepper jack cheese. Some kind of sauce. A kaiser roll. But as soon as I bit into it, all that faded away.

Aside from being in a more or less pure state of bliss, the only concrete thing I actually remember about the burger was the meat: so thick, so juicy and fresh, not smoky but still characterful, perfect. I remember not believing it. And that’s the last memory before I slipped into euphoria.

Of course, like all mystical experiences, this may have been an illusion, some sort of trick of fate. I’ve only had the 814 burger once. And I’ll tell you this: the moment I get back to Texas, I’m going back to have it again.


Filed under Edibles

The World is Hungry

Pop philosopher and noted stater of the obvious Thomas Friedman once wrote a book arguing that globalization is making our entire world closer, creating a planet where the playing field between countries is increasingly being leveled. His metaphor for the effect of globalization was his title: The World is Flat. With all due respect, I can think of a sentiment which both does a better job encapsulating our new global exchange and which has the benefit of not being obviously, uh, wrong. The world is hungry.

My recent trip to Istanbul suggested, powerfully, the idea of cuisine as means of globalization. Istanbul’s culture today is sharply divided into several camps: the “traditionalists” who are Turkish at heart, and more specifically Anatolian or (if you want to call them that) Middle Eastern, the hip youngsters who are defiantly European in outlook, and all manner of types in between. There are two axes (from axis not axe) to position yourself on: the eastern-western front, and the secular-religious one, obviously correlated but not the same thing.

The result is that where natives eat is a function of their economic status and their cultural orientation. As it happens, my family is at the far European end of the spectrum.

I was staying with my step-aunt M., and her Istanbul is one of hip cafes where waiters wear ties and Frank Sinatra croons on the muzak system. This is the Istanbul where I ate a superb hamburger, and a better steak than you can get here in England. (NOTE TO ENGLISH FOODIES: If you think you can disprove this, I’d be happy for you to!) But this is also an Istanbul where people think Lipton makes good tea. Something is gained, something is lost.

M. has an interesting way of explaining this dichotomy. “What annoys me most about the BBC and travel shows about Turkey is, they say that Turkey is ‘East Meets West,’ right, but then they only show the dervishes, or the old mosques. They never leave Sultanahmet [the historic district], they never show the European side of Turkey, so people still think we’re making carpets.”

And it’s true. The crux of the ‘East Meets West’ analogy remains, to this day, “Oh, goodness, part of the Middle East is on our continent!” That might be geographically true, but it misses the point; culturally, too, Istanbul is a mixture (“If there is only one word for Turkey,” M. repeats, “it’s mixture!”). That’s how this is a city where M. takes me to her favorite Catholic church, or where women in headscarves send texts on Blackberries, or where “Miss Turkey” has become an Idol-style TV show with a flamboyantly gay judge, or where my step-grandmother can sit in the living room reading a newspaper with a topless model on the front cover.

I bet this woman's on Twitter.

And that’s also how Istanbul served me maybe my favorite tiramisu.

There was a lot of alcohol in it. Not that that had anything to do with my critique

M. doesn’t really go to the traditional restaurants in Istanbul; she can eat that cuisine, and very well, at home with her mother. The “Turkish food” spots she does hit are often chains, or places with, for example, Mexican decor (though no Mexican food). So, strange to say, I went a whole week without eating börek, or good baklava, or even a kebab.

There are many sides to Istanbul; I got to see the European culture, maybe to the exclusion of the “Turkish” one, this time, and that was interesting because it’s not something you catch on TV shows. In a way, that makes sense. Why turn on the Travel Channel to watch a report on a subculture that wants to be more like you?

That’s the basic paradox of the hungry world. Our cultural imperialism means that Pabst Blue Ribbon is one of the most expensive beers in China, there is a McDonald’s at Dachau concentration camp, and one of the most popular shops in Turkey is Mango. We go to places like Istanbul to explore what the guidebook cliches might call “another world.” Only, there are an awful lot of people in that “other world” who really want their world to be more like ours.

The truth is that there are many Istanbuls, a different one for nearly every street. The Istanbul with world-class burgers and tiramisu is just as fascinating, in its way, as the Istanbul where fishermen sell their day’s catch, filleted, fried, and in a bun, for $2.50. (I am, though, confused that a nation with such a tradition of tea would drink Lipton. Do the Swiss eat Hershey’s bars? Do the Italians go to Pizza Hut?)

But the increasing mixture of Turkey will continue to confuse tourists, and I understand that. Of course they will want to see the dervishes and the Grand Bazaar, and skip the glitzy bistros. That’s not likely to change.

After all, does it make sense to go to places like Istanbul to See How the Locals Live when the locals want nothing more than to live like you?

"We have met the Turk, and he is us."

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Filed under Ill-Informed Opinion


So long for now, friends! I’m off to Istanbul until April 18 to visit family and eat extremely large amounts of Turkish food. I’ll bring back tons of pictures, a few good stories, and no doubt a few blog essays. Not sure about bringing back the food.

See you in a week!

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Reading Keeler V: The Spectacles of Mr Cagliostro

Before I began reading The Spectacles of Mr Cagliostro, one of Harry Keeler’s earliest novels, I was warned by several Keelerphiles that it not only was rather good, but genuinely scary. This is true. Yes, there are a few eccentricities here and there, but nothing like those the later books will feature, and Spectacles really does feel personal, emotional, like its author was frightened by his own material.

He had good reason. For much of the novel, Keeler writes about his own experiences, in a way; as a 20-something, he had been thrown into an Illinois insane asylum by his mother, for reasons which are strangely unknown, and there he lived the nightmare of a perfectly sane man trying to persuade his captors that he did not belong. Recent psychological studies have discovered that this problem, though not actually pervasive, is common enough to be a worry: in 1973, David Rosenhan launched a legendary experiment in which various perfectly healthy people claimed to “hear voices” and then languished in mental hospitals, waiting for somebody to realize they were actually sane. Rosenhan himself was trapped in an institution for two months.

Jerome H. Middleton, the hero of Stephen Keeler’s novel, is trapped for a shorter time than Rosenhan, but in truly harrowing circumstances. In a delicious catch-22, he is the victim of an elaborate, indeed byzantine conspiracy to make him look paranoid. He witnesses a staged meeting of assassins and is committed to an insane asylum, where one of the employees really is trying to kill him. Brilliantly, Keeler has the asylum staff reply the only way they can: “That’s exactly what they told us you’d say.”

Of course, Harry Keeler wrote a happier ending.

Jerry is like a fish trying to flop out of a tight net. Eventually, I started squirming, too. If you’re stuck in a nuthouse, how exactly do you get out? Jerry knows he’s the victim of a plot, but the plot has made him look paranoid already. Meanwhile, the schemers are about to sucker him out of his $10 million inheritance (this is 1926; after inflation, that’s $122 million).

There are a great many downright terrific scenes in the asylum. Somebody (Francis Nevins?) wrote that the scene where Jerry is strapped down for a spinal tap is the scariest, most intense moment in all of Keeler, and it is genuinely frightening. One has to conclude Keeler himself suffered this indignity and wanted to impress his readers with the horror he, too, had felt. Another great scene has Jerry finally learning the sad truth about another man in the place who appears just as sane as he is.

Best of all is the moment when Jerry sits down for a shave–in the barber’s chair of a hired killer with a nice, sharp razor blade. I would have actually gone farther than Keeler there, though: there is room for some really terrific dialogue, with sinister undertones. It would work especially well on a movie screen, the barber in a slow, leisurely walk around his new victim, asking innocuous questions (“sideburns?”) fraught with all sorts of cruel subtexts which the victim slowly begins to understand. It would be like the madhouse Sweeney Todd. There are a couple other cinematic moments, too, like when the chief conspirator lies in wait for Jerry at a boarding-house, revolver in hand, and finally hears his visitor arrive.

But of course, it wouldn’t be Keeler without some silliness. In this case, there’s an unlikely love story, and a pretty serious plotting issue, rare for Keeler: Jerry has lived in Australia all his life, yet no characters remark on his Australian accent. Weirder, nobody believes in him when the conspiracy replaces him with a double from England. In fact, a celebrated psychoanalyst named Herr Meister Doctor von Zero analyzes his dreams and decides he is from Canada!

Another absurdity is the title spectacles: a set of dark blue goggles which were allegedly once property of Cagliostro, an actual mystic (or con artist) from the 1700s. Jerry is supposed to wear them for an entire year to satisfy his father’s crazy will, although this plan is aborted when he gets thrown in the insane asylum.

Cagliostro. He must have taken the goggles off for a moment

It’s a pity that Keeler decided to forge a career writing the “spectacles” kind of story, rather than the “sane man trapped inside” kind of story. Of course, other authors did that well, and nobody else could achieve the kind of deliriously imaginative, perverse stuff Keeler did pursue. But The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro is a surprising look at Keeler the genuinely accomplished suspense writer, and Keeler the man. Forget all that stuff about goggles and loving nurses and Chicago being “the Land of Heart’s Desire,” and forget silly dialogue like “‘Do you mind speaking just a little louder, Jerry,’ Fortescue interrupted, cupping his ear with his hand. ‘I got my ears full of water in the swimming tank at the Chicago Athletic Club to-day, and you’re competing with a miniature Niagara Falls just now.'”

No, what really matters is this: how do you escape a perfectly-laid trap? If the whole world thinks you’re crazy, how do you know you’re sane? If there’s a plot to say you’re paranoid, how do you know you’re not? This is the scary, impressive meat of the book. And it’s a sign of Keeler’s fidelity to his set-up that when Jerry tries to go Shawshank and hacksaw his way to freedom, even that doesn’t work. The most strongly fortified prison is the mind.

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