December 12th, 2003


Foam wars

A new coffee place opened not far from my house. Of course I had to go in and check out the lattes. The first one had almost no foam, even though I asked for extra. The second time I went in, I actually had a conversation about foam and what I knew about it (which isn't a lot), and the guy fixing the drink spent quite a bit of time doing what he thought was right to get me extra foam. But in fact it looked good from where I stood at the counter but fizzled before I even got out the door.

Some places make good foam and some don't, and it is fairly consistent. Elaine says it has part to do with the machines they use, that some are just a lot easier to use, to get it working right (she worked at Borders, in the food section, for a while). My suspicion is that this new place doesn't have that kind, and neither do several other places I check out periodically.

This morning I went to one of my regular joints. They hardly ever get the foam right, but sometimes they do. I sipped but didn't pull off the cap until I got to work with my large latte. I was surprised to see quite a bit of foam there, holding up. As I kept drinking, and took out my spoon to scoop some up, I noticed it was looking odd. It had a weird consistency that was more like that of sour milk than of good foam. I think the milk was past its prime. Ultimately I threw the drink out.

Of course, as I write this, I think of how many people in the world have real problems to worry about.


I have now read four books by Iris Murdoch. The last, The Bell, is perhaps her best known. It has a cohesiveness and finish that are clear and as unambiguous as she gets, from what I've read.

There are several themes or characters or actions that seem to take place in all of her books:

Stories tend to be about several characters, although a few are given more weight;
One person always dies;
Themes of religion, love, good, bad predominate;
There seem always to be persons who struggle with temptation, usually sexual temptation, and who justify their transgressions to themselves either successfully or not;
There are "enchanters", people who draw others to them for no apparent reason;
There is a kind of humor usually. I've noticed that it tends to work like a shaggy dog story, a little like John Irving - the slow creation of characters and circumstances accumulate and culminate in some scene that is visually entertaining. Not cause for guffaws but usually a few smiles.

It is hard to like any of her characters completely.

In the Bell, I came to like the two central characters by the end of the piece, but I was often irritated by them and didn't fully take their sides until I felt they were finally becoming "good" people. In another book, I took to one of the characters until she had thoughts about where she was going, just before she died, that really pissed me off.

Murdoch tends to overspeak. Her characters are forever thinking, sometimes the same things over and over, and we are not given enough space to work out their thoughts because they are given to us. I feel this is a fault in her writing, that she does not leave enough for us to work out and wonder about.

Was a movie ever made of The Bell? It seems like a perfect story for a film. The visual nature of film would necessitate leaving out most of the mental hand-wringing, which I think would lead to a tight, good story that could be better than the book.