Posted: Sept 1, 2021
I was cooking one afternoon a couple of weeks ago for our usual evening dinner with Malcolm, Martha, Gabriel and Gerhard and was watching the Olympics. I am a bit of an Olympics junkie, watching whatever event the live feed is spitting out and absorbing all the minutiae offered whether about the athletes personal bests to date, their training regime, the diets, previous records or performing in different weather conditions. Now when the Olympics are not on, I have no interest in diving or running or throwing a shot put, but during the Olympics … well that’s anther matter.
So leading up to the Olympics I go into training. The exercise of watching hours of coverage is just the opposite of exercise so you need to be in shape. Nevertheless, by day three or four of competition my gut is large, my eyes the size of saucers and I should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery.
To offset these perils of binging the Olympics, I try to do other things while watching, like cooking or refinishing part of the mahogany on some of En Plein Airs trim. It is actually a nice combo. While cooking and enjoying the heptathletes competing in the long jump I realized how my relationship with measurement has changed over the years. The Olympics is all about measurement of course. Whether it is the length they have flown through the air on a pole vault, thrown a javelin or the time it takes to run 400 meters it is all about those measures.
Growing up when I did (born in 1954) and where I did (Canada) we had a legacy of Imperial measures from before the enlightenment (when we changed to metric in April 1975) so like many of my age from Canada, I use a crazy mix of measures. I drive in Km/hr, do my carpentry in inches, think of temperature in Celsius and weigh myself in pounds. Add to this the other common measures – teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, half cups, B cups and C cups. I envy the younger people who have a more streamlined life.
It got me to thinking about an old buddy who has an interest in measurement. He collects various old instruments for measuring and has a particular fixation on those measuring or calculation devices that were the state of the art – until they were not. Its tough to decide where his interests fit on the fetish spectrum. Watching the Olympics from Tokyo reminds me that the Japanese have a term Otaku which means: an interest that is more than a passion and less than an obsession. Good term if you don’t want to call it a fetish, I think.
Of course, he as an Astrolabe and a Sextant, the original GPS devices for sailors to determine where they were in the ocean from the location of the stars and would be seriously messed up on cloudy or rainy nights.
He has several slide rules of course. The slide rule was the device that was the best tool we had until electronic calculators took over that role. Right up to the early 1970’s this was a compulsory math instrument for high school students. It was what many of the calculations were done on for the Americans to put a man on the moon. If you were an Engineering student in the 1960’s wearing one in a holster on your belt indicated you had a license to calculate.
This took on a competitive aspect of course when various universities would compete for doing calculations and these competitors would use both their eye/hand coordination, and muscle memory skills with much too large a mental processor to zip the sliding parts back and forth to come up with the answer in record time.
One of my buddy’s valued objects is a slide rule he bought from the University of Chicago Engineering School of computing.
It is almost eight feet long and was attached to a wall behind the instructor in a large lecture hall. The professor would demonstrate its use to the eager engineering students and they would follow along using their regular sized slide rules.
So what happened in 1974? Well, the electronic calculator cost had come down enough to make it suitable for general use by the public and overnight the slide rule was not only second fiddle, but was eliminated. Poof.
Some measurement devices do endure of course. He has an Omega Seamaster Professional Chronometer– the same one that James Bond had in one of those thrillers but my buddy claims his malfunctions because all it does is tell time. And the time it tells of course while not as precise as the least expensive of smart phones today is pretty damb accurate and based on a technology that has not changed essentially in hundreds of years.
I think that part of his interest in these technologies and their obsolescence is looking to find what are real measures that last and have meaning, like the measure of a person. Relationships, integrity, loyalty. It is interesting that none of these are really quantifiable yet are more highly valued as measures than the quantifiable ones.
When I worked on the food prep areas of cruise ships, we had to be precise in our measures so Mr. Mcgillicutty’s soup would be exactly like Mrs. McGillicutty’s and so when he raved about it over cards, Dr. Garfunkel would order it the next day and have the same dining experience.
And as a guy who likes to cook and occasionally bake, I get the importance of the use of measures, but increasingly I am drawn to those things that are more fluid or nuanced than precise. If you read many of my posts you will know of my bromance with Jamie Oliver and Jacques Pepin and the whole movement to experimentation, adaptation, and interpretation. Those concepts require some structure, and a goal but not as precise a measurement. Now I am talking cooking here, not baking – and measures in baking are a bit fixed.
It was only after I wrote this and was relating to Ciara the focus of this piece, that Ciara pointed out the obvious.
I use a measuring cup that was given to me by my Bebe. Now, if you don’t know who that is I would suggest going back to my posts from 2020, 2019 and few from 2015 and earlier. She is my paternal grandmother, from a little island off of Brittany, who has now passed. She gave me an old glass measuring cup when I was first starting to work on the kitchens of ships and she mistakenly thought that my job related to making food, more than the truth of it which was working in a food preparation plant for pigs at sea. It was very tired even then, and over the years with use, and too much time in dishwashers, all the numbers have worn off completely but because it was from her it is one of the few measuring cups I have on En Plein Air, and it is what I use almost exclusively and think of her when doing so.
But the point here is that it is reflective of my take on the world today. I know that when it is largely filled, its one cup, and when its about half full it’s ….well you guessed it – half a cup. It is important that we get things largely right and measure them properly but perhaps not as important that we be precise and beat ourselves up or beat up others for not being as precise. This “sorta measure” is where I am today in trying to understand how to move forward in understanding life, particularly life in Covid times.
After reflecting on this clear glass object a bit, I decided to introduce another item in the Django shop. It is the Django Bisous Measuring Cup. There are no measures, but you will still know how to use it. Coming soon….
After posting this I received a note from the partner of the buddy who is into collecting all the measuring stuff.
I had called it an interest and his partner pointed out to me that when they moved to their current house they did so partially because the little park that is close to them is called MEASUREMENT PARK and has various measures shown on poles.
Ok, so that definitely puts his interest on the fetish spectrum.