You know this was one of those weeks where I just couldn’t think of what to write. It was the first time since August ’04 I didn’t have a request for a particular topic for Nyogtha and my brain was empty of ideas I thought readers would enjoy. Originally I had planned to discuss anti-matter, but IP’s archway format doesn’t all for writing out even simply equations as subscript seems to kill the system, so that’s right out.
Then I realized I should just talk about the most popular and/or well known form of folklore out there: Urban Legends. I did a brief commentary on a few urban legends about a year and a half ago, but never really talked about the concept as a whole. So it’s worth covering, because I’m actually kind of miffed at myself that I haven’t and we’re two volumes and nearly 100 columns in.
What is an Urban Legend? Quite simply the best way to describe it is with an old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” That’s exactly what an Urban Legend is. These are strange stories that have a ring of believability to them, because the stories are found almost universally in many cultures, countries, and languages.
An urban legend’s recanting is always about a friend of a friend or a friend of a relative. Perhaps even the core of the story WAS actually true at one point in time. However, through fictionalization, exaggeration, and so on, the story becomes little more than a tall tale. Each region/dialect/etc will have variations of the tale, but you’ll end up with a common thread that gets spread around to a variety of people, and BECAUSE so many people hear the story and have other people saying, “Oh yeah, I heard that too.”, they assume the tale they have been told is factual, even with the underlying outlandishness.
The most common urban legends tend to involve Stooge-esque slapstick or some level of bathroom humour. The other common variants involve ghosts like a phantom hitchhiker or feature a 1950’s level morality such as the crazy guy with the hook.
Urban Legends were once primarily an oral tradition. However, the internet has taken the concept of Urban Legends and created its own variant. We have false stories spread across the internet and we even have a website, Snopes, to keep track of the new digital legends.
One of my personal favorites of the past few years that was created by the internet was Real Zombism. Supposedly a parasite was found that would rejuvenate the body after death and make it react violently for up to two hours before shutting down again. It managed to fool quite a few people due to its resembling a BBC News article, with links even leading back to the BBC. In truth the article was simply an April Fool’s joke (Check the date) and the fact it was found to be an edited article of this REAL BBC news story.
Another of my favorite urban legends is the concept of alligators dwelling within the New York City sewer system. In fact, this one is actually traceable. In February, 1935, the New York Times indeed ran a story in which an alligator was found in the New York sewers around East 123rd street. Note that this is a single alligator, and was the only one that was EVER found. It’s not surprising that there was an alligator in the sewers. Alligators can survive just about anywhere and have been found in sewers before. So how did a single lone alligator dwelling on human refuse become a worldwide concept that would eventually grow into, “There are albino alligators living within the confines of the New York sewer system because a bunch of people flushed baby alligators down there, and they managed to survive and breed and now don’t go down there because they crave human flesh.”? Well there are three major factors that created this urban legend. let’s look at them all.
1. In 1959, the book, The World Beneath the City, Robert Daily interviewed Sewer District Foreman Teddy May, who “admitted” that until 1937, there were packs of alligators dwelling in the New York sewer system, until he had them eradicated. It would turn out however, that Teddy May, unbeknownst to Robert Daily, was a well know leg puller, tall tale teller, and trickster in addition to being District Foreman. Because of this erroneous story being published in this highly credible book, the Alligator fantasy took off.
2. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection would routinely use the alligator legend in commercials, publicity releases, and even made the non-existent gators their mascots.
3. In 1989 the book, Black Swine of the Sewers of Hampstead found that the most large cities with a complex sewer system has the urban legend of the sewer dwelling gators. These legends could be traced back as far as the 19th century.
All these things added up after a century of rumour, gossip, and taking the piss until many people across the world, and specifically in New York truly believed that gators were roaming beneath their feet.
So, you may be asking, why CAN’T an entire pack of alligators manage to dwell in the 6,500 miles of sewage pipe that lie beneath New York City? That’s a lot of pipe to cover and not enough civil servants. It comes down to two reasons. The first is that a 10-20 foot animal is rather hard to miss, but in the end it’s simply there is not enough space or food in the sewer system for an animal the size of an alligator to function and survive. There’s also the occasional floods in the sewer during heavy rains that would drown even an enormous reptile like an alligator. So no my readers, as cute a story as it may be, there are no Alligators dwelling in New York’s sewer system, and there only ever has been the one that was caught 70 years ago.
I had high hopes for the food section. Widro and I talked about raising the cultural level of our readers who seemed content enough with choreographic fisticuffs or the literary level of Brian Michael Bendis, which is of course akin to a fourth grader with ADHD. The food section was conceived because of how popular the recipe part of Nyogtha proved to be, with a lot of people enjoying the recipes after trying them out at home. Alas, although we had some excellent writers and columns hosted here for a while on Itallian cuisine and wine, it’s down to yours truly and Danny Wallace acting as your principal gourmets at Inside Pulse. With the advent of 3.0, the food section will be dropped. Nyogtha will of course be around, but with even more of a focus on the dark and spooky.
I figure to mourn what could have been and to sigh at the level of lowest common denominator our readers willingly choose to be, I’d do a restaurant review just to show you what COULD have been.
Fugaise in Minneapolis, Minnesota: 07/13/06
Last night my friend Dan Dockery and I decided to go to Fugaise for dinner. It’s one of only two dining establishments rated by Gourmet in the Twin Cities, so we decided we owed ourselves an excellent meal.
From the outside, Fugaise looks very small indeed, but inside it is an average sized bistro with an excellent ambience. The music is more akin to trance than your typical nigh-elevator music you find in fine dining place, and the artwork is pretty eclectic. I liked the atmosphere immediately. Both Gourmet and the restaurant’s website list Fugaise as French dining, but as a person who eats a lot of French food, I didn’t get that feeling at all. It was more haute’ cuisine. That’s not to say Fugaise was a disappointment. Far from it.
I had a hard time choosing my starter. It was a tossup between the Soft Shelled Crab in citrus vinaigrette with avocado and cucumber, or the Veal Terrine. Luckily we had an excellent waiter in a young man named Jeremy who steered me towards the Crab. It was excellent. I only wish there had been more. The crab was prepared perfectly, to where the outer layer was akin to pork crackling in texture and addictiveness. The flavour was strong but not overpowering, and was arguably the best crab I have found in the twin cities with Azia’s crab cakes putting up any real sort of challenge. Considering that it is nigh impossible to find decently prepared crab in Minneapolis (mainly due to issues of freshness and the fact that I grew up in an hour’s drive of Maryland, which is the best place in the States for crab), so I was ecstatic to find a place that didn’t make me nostalgic for Mid-Atlantic or New England shellfish. Dan chose not to get a starter, instead enjoying the excellent complementary bread provided to all tables.
Our main courses were decidedly different, but both were enjoyable. Dan had the Saddle of Lamb with artichokes, arugula and an anchovy on top for good measure. I tasted only a bite of his, so I can’t give a true review of his meal, but from what I tasted the lamb was good. Not great, as I’m a firm believer that lamb and duck need to be served rare and this was a little too cooked for me, but the seasonings were nice and the anchovy added just the right level of salt to compliment the meat.
My meal was the Wild King Salmon which came with a portion of Israeli Cous Cous and a curry nage. The salmon was perfect. It was so flakey and tender, the mere touch of my fork caused it to crumble. The Cous Cous (which as some may not know is a pasta) was equally tender and absorbed the Nage better than the salmon did and really helped to bring out the flavour. Quite good indeed.
Dessert was enjoyable as well. Jeremy provided Dan with a glass of Beerenauslese, which had a caramel scent to it and was quite pleasing. Although I don’t drink alcohol, I do enjoy the aroma of dessert wine, and Dan, who is more a vodka person from my outings with him informed me the Beerebauslese was quite enjoyable. I ended up having a piece of dark chocolate cake filled with a hazelnut caramel sauce and topped with cinnamon ice cream. It was very rich and extremely sugary. Quite good, although I had a sugar buzz almost instantly and for most of the remaining evening. Dan had the same occurrence with his dessert, which was a frozen berry souffle which I believe had a blackberry sorbet inside it. It looked quite good, but I didn’t dare try it. Just too much sugar.
The entire meal came to just under 100 dollars for the two of us, or about $20 a dish. Although the food was quite good, the price might keep the younger or less affulent of the city from going there. This might not be a problem until you compound it with the fact that the outside of the restaurant is very nondescript and it’s not well advertised to the general residents of the city. When we ate there, Fugaise was only a third full.
The best reason to go to Fugaise would be for an anniversary or perhaps a date in which you are hoping to “close the deal.” The atmosphere is nice and the food is very good. It might break the average Minnesotan’s wallet, but depending on your circumstances for going, your palette will thank you while your bankbook will curse you.
7/10. Good, but not great.
I don’t know why, but I love the movie, The Rundown. In quite possibly the only time I have EVER enjoyed the Rock, his bizarre portrayal of a very bad ass repo man who only wants to retire and become a French Chef appeals to me. Stifler and Christopher Walker don’t hurt either. Anyway, I watched the film the other night with a female friend of mine and she caught the beginning b it by Emeril Legasse on the radio and asked me if porcini are real mushrooms or if that was, “a movie thing.” Indeed they are, although they are someone hard to find outside of Italian markets, depending on where you live. As long as I had been thinking about porcini, I thought maybe I should do a recipe with them, so that you may be able to find and try the flavour of the mushroom first hand. Roasted Garlic and Wild Mushroom Risotto
40 cloves garlic, separated and unpeeled (Yes. 40. That’s about 2 bulbs/heads).
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (as always, there’s no point in getting any other kind)
3/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 pound mixed fresh wild mushrooms, sliced (any combination of shitake, crimini and so on)
Salt and pepper
1 cup shopped shallots
2 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried if you can’t find fresh)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice. (Arborio is generally owned found in Italian specialty stores as well, so if you can’t find it, white rice will do)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 & 1/2″ 4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
2 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach leaves
1/3 cup FRESHLY grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the over to 400 degrees F. Combine garlic and 2 tablespoons oil in a small baking dish. Bake and stir occasionally until garlic is golden and tender when pierced with a small sharp knife. This will take about 50 minutes.
2. Cool the dish slightly. Peel the garlic. Chop enough garlic to measure 1/4 cup tightly packed. Refrigerate the remaining garlic for later use.
3. Place the porcini in a small bowl. Pour enough hot water over the mushrooms that they are ever so slightly covered. Let the mushrooms stand until soft. This will take about 30 minutes. Drain Porcini. Squeeze the porcini dry and chop them.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large non stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fresh mushrooms and saute them until they are golden and the juice has evaporated. This will take about 7 minutes. Stir in the porcini and cook for 1 more minute, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Ad the shallots and thyme. Saute until tender. This will take about 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir, making sure the rice is coated by the shallot mixture. Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost evaporated. Mixed in the chopped garlic and 3 1/2 cups chicken broth. Bring the concoction to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice is tender and the mixture is creamy. This will take about 20 minutes. If you feel the risotto is drying out too much, you can add a little more chicken broth.
6. Add the mushrooms mixture and spinach. Stir until spinach wilts. Stir in the cheese. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve.
In Culture, Danny Wallace helps me keep the food section alive, and Mr. Kennedy talks Bigfoot
In Games, Josh Miller reviews New Super Mario Bros., and Chris Bowen got to play every single version of Madden ’07 out there. I know! We have articles there. If I were you I’d write every member of the game section and tell them to stop sucking, because I am not going to carry an entire section for a four straight years.
In Wrestling, Eric S. assumes I’d book vampires and goth chicks onto ECW when instead I would have hired Tenzan, Don Frye, Kojima, La Parka, the Blue Meanie, and attempted to create a tag division by getting New Jack/Shark Boy, the Eliminators, and so on. I mean, go for the ECW guys (or people that would fit in nicely) that still have name value or at least can go. Saturn and Kronus can still go and who wouldn’t enjoy an Eliminators vs. say La Parka and Psicosis match? Oh, and Mr. Michaels reports Brock Lesnar has quite New Japan. Brock, stop burning your bloody bridges? Where do you have left? TNA?
In Movies, John Cavanagh says what every G1 fan is thinking: WHO THE FUCK LET MICHAEL BAY BE IN CHARGE OF THE TRANSFORMERS FILM??? Travis Lemmon also gets plugged for trying to get you to read a book.
In Music, Gloomchen shows me that Joan Jett isn’t ad dead as I thought she was, and KDP reviews some band I’ve never heard of.
In Figures, PK shows me a PLANET HULK figure.
I don’t watch TV
In comics, everyone hates that Wally isn’t Flash anymore. Boo hoo. Now you know how I feel about Barry Allen.
And so ends another Nyogtha. I’ll be back next week to talk food and folklore with you all.