Pi Day Rabbi(t) Hole

So today is 3/14/2020. Pi day. This is was already a fun holiday for me because it gave me an excuse to eat pie. Last year I had quiche for breakfast, pizza for supper, and for dessert, of course, pie. I think I went with apple. This year, however, I wanted to expand the parameters a bit.

Pi day is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. I’m a fan of Albert Einstein, but celebrating his birthday is a little difficult. I could try dressing up like him, but that sort of thing’s a bit outside my wheelhouse. I could make some cookies with an atom symbol or something on them. I might do that next year. I did do some semi-scientific research in his honor, but then I do that almost everyday. So as much as I’d like to honor Einstein, it’s difficult to find ways to really celebrate.

Now the connection might not be entirely clear, but a month or so ago I was watching Hunters, which is an over-the-top Tarantino-esque TV series about a group of people who hunt down former Nazis living in the US in the 70s. The series is something of a mixed bag. The side characters are great, Al Pacino does some of the best work I’ve seen him do, and there are some heart rending dramatic scenes. On the other hand, the main character is a bit annoying, the series tries to be funny at not quite appropriate times, and the ending was a twist that seemed unsatisfying and didn’t even really make sense to me. Anyway, there’s a necklace that features prominently in the series. It’s gold necklace with a pendant of the Hebrew word “chai,” (pronounced like “hi” but with more throat action on the H) which means “living.” It looks a lot like the greek letter pi with an apostrophe in front of it.

Image result for chai necklace
Chai necklace

So I thought…Chai Day! And of course once you write it out in English you can’t help but think of chai tea. So I could drink come chai while I ate some pie. But that doesn’t make a bit of sense with out the connection to the Hebrew symbol. It seemed I had a…Jewish problem.

Well, I could be like Hitler and try to eradicate all the Jewishness from the holiday, or, I thought, I could lean into it. I’m not Mexican, but I like to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I’m not Christian, but I celebrate Christmas. I have perhaps a little more claim to St.Patrick’s day, but I’m only a quarter Irish, and that’s from the protestant part of Ireland at that, so technically I’m doing that wrong too. Besides, I’m half Polish and the Nazis didn’t like them either, and my Dad gave me some Bar Mitzvah money when I was thirteen because he liked that tradition. So I think I’m completely in the right here. It is my right as an ignorant American to culturally appropriate whenever I deem it… appropriate.

Albert Einstein was Jewish, and there are also other connections. Like the Darren Arronofsky film Pi, which was about a Jewish mathematician who tries to find God’s telephone number and goes insane. And then there’s the rabbinical discussions of descriptions of pi in the Torah. Really if you want to have a Jewish day, Pi day is a pretty good candidate.

So what sorts of things could I do to celebrate Jewish culture? Well there’s Purim, which I know about mostly from the film For Your Consideration. That coincidentally happens in March…You know what? I should have totally looked into that more. Maybe next year. But I wanted something I could make that was culturally Jewish, but not tied directly to the Jewish religion. So I settled on Shakshuka. It’s basically chili, only with red peppers and eggs instead of meat and beans. So maybe not like chili at all. I made it last week to try it out. I made it for supper, but it’s really more of a breakfast food. It’s a very bright and spicy dish. If you eat your scrambled eggs with salsa, it’s a lot like that, except the emphasis is on the tomatoes and peppers rather than the egg.

Shakshouka with five cooked eggs on top of tomato sauce in cast iron skillet
Shakshuka

Shakshuka is really more a dish of Israel, the middle east and surroundings, than a specifically Jewish dish. Really Einstein probably ate German food anyway. But it was still fun to try something new. I linked to a recipe but it’s not that complicated really. You sautee onion and red pepper together in olive oil, add a can of chopped tomato and spices, then add eggs and cover till they’re cooked.

I also wanted to find a mixed drink to celebrate the day, and after doing a search for Jewish cocktails, crossreferenced with spring, I found the Cel -Ray Spring tonic. It’s kosher or something, I guess. You take some cucumber wheels and some celery and muddle it with a wedge of lime and then add vodka, lime juice and ginger ale. Not bad, but I probably didn’t muddle it enough or strain it enough, because I had bits of vegetable still in it, which isn’t something I like. Pulp free OJ for me, thanks.

Cel-Ray Spring Tonic. | Photo courtesy of W&P Design.

So if you like Pi day, but maybe you aren’t a fan of Quiche or you want to try something different, maybe try some Jewish dishes. At the very least there’s bagels, which are circle-shaped. And maybe have some chai with your pie for dessert.

March Playlist

As far as music goes, the main holiday of March, at least for me, is St. Patrick’s day, which normally means Irish songs, of which there are quite a few. However expanding that out a bit, Irish songs tend to be about bragging or confessing things. They are all about identity. Most of the time it’s along the lines of “this is who I am, screw you!” but it can also be “this is who I am, forgive me” or “This is who I am, how the heck did I get this way?” So sure, traditional Irish songs belong in this month, but also, oddly a lot of rap and hip hop songs, and a good deal of the punk rock genre.

Parallel Universe – Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Christ, I’m a sidewinder
I'm a California King
I swear it's everywhere
It's everything."

This seems like an odd choice at first, but this song, despite having scientific and metaphysical allusions, is primarily about the singer defining themselves. Also the video is of a live recording of the song in Ireland. So there’s that.

There’s a lot of neat things in this song. It, like many things I enjoy, contains numerous juxtapositions of the numinous and the quotidian. Basically it’s very dreamlike. 

I don’t know for sure what the band was feeling when they wrote this. I found this video discussing their style where the commentor says that the “nonsense” of Red Hot Chili Peppers’s lyrics is the result of them being students of funk and rap schools of music. Still, I enjoy interpreting dreams and poetry, and I think this dreamlike song might have some meaning behind it after all; so I’m going to give this a go.

Like I said earlier, this is a song about the singer defining themselves, but the way they define themselves is through a comparison between themselves and and the listener, and between themselves and the universe, AKA California.

As an aside, I’m using “singer” and “listener” here in the poetic sense. The “singer” isn’t necessarily Anthony Kiedis but rather the character he portrays in the song, and the “listener” is not necessarily you or me, but rather the character that the “singer” is singing to, which in this case is probably a girlfriend or someone in a similar role.

This song appeared in the 2001 album Californication, and anyone familiar with the songs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers knows that they have a love-hate relationship with the state. The crux of the title song of the album is that the culture of California, that is, the worship of fame, glamour, pleasure, and art, is something prevalent throughout the world and in all areas of society. One of my favorite lines from the song “Californication” is a reference to the planet that the Death Star blows up in Star Wars. “Alderaan’s not far away, it’s Californication.” 

So California, for the band, is not just a state in the US, but a state of mind. Nietzche would call this a Dionysian state, as opposed to a cold, calculating, but moral Apollonian state.

The chorus has the singer saying that he’s a sidewinder. A dangerous, poisonous, cold blooded creature that slithers on his belly. He’s also, however, a “California king”. He is simultaneously confessing that he lacks Apollonian morality, and bragging that he is a master in his Dionysian domain, and this domain is everywhere, it’s everything. 

The other aspect of this song, which seems to be between the singer and a girlfriend, is that of metaphysical one-ness. The song starts “Deep in a parallel universe it’s getting harder to tell which came first.” The parallel universe is, I think, the universe that exists for the girl, her “California.” The singer seems to realize that the girl’s universe is just as beautiful, just as intricate and cosmically awesome as his own, and strangely, by seeing this he becomes more aware of the beauty of his own universe.

The complexity doesn’t end there though. Because by the end of the song the singer talks of how his song affects the girlfriend, bringing her to tears. This isn’t entirely a good thing. As much as her universe is just as splendid as the singer’s, it also has many of the same flaws. The very fact that something he can sing can move her means that, on some level, there is some psychic wound that they share. There is glory in that, but also a measure of tragedy. How do you ease the horrible feelings you have of loss and regret, if they are everywhere, in everything, including the parallel universe that exists for the one you love?

Well I don’t know, but I guess whiskey probably helps.

Bad Reputation-Joan Jett

“I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
Never been afraid of any deviation
And I don't really care if you think I'm strange
I ain't gonna change”

This song is a rebellious, take me as I am song that is almost a call to arms. Joan Jett’s voice is marvelously rough and brassy. She could sing just about any punk rock song and it would be outstanding. But, while some of her songs can be a bit repetitive and shallow, this song has some actual lyrics, it has a message, and it’s great.

Maybe it’s a little odd that this would make the top of my list. While I suppose I too have qualms about the stifling expectations of the patriarchy, it’s arguably not really something I have to deal with that often as a male living 40 years after this song was first recorded. I grew up nerdy in the South, though so I’ve been called strange and weird with the contemptuous sneer of the “in” crowd. It’s probably something everyone has to deal with to some degree, even people in the in crowd. So while the song doesn’t perfectly pertain to my problems, and has even less to do with my issues in my current life (nowadays rebellion for me is deciding to take a day off work) I still appreciate the commitment to being true to who you are in the face of peer pressure and the pressure of authority.

You know what? I don’t give a damn if you think it’s odd. I’m going to keep it at the top of my list anyway 🙂


Carrickfergus-Celtic Woman

“But I'll spend my days in endless roaming,
Soft is the grass, my bed is free.
Ah, to be back now in Carrickfergus,
On that long road down to the sea.”

A sad Irish tune. But it belongs in March not just because of that, but because even here the singer is placing themselves in the universe. 

Carrickfergus is a town in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland is where my grandfather on my father’s side is from. About twenty years ago now I took a trip with my father and some relatives over to Ireland. We took a tour around the whole island. The first beer I ever had was a Guinness at the pub where they filmed The Quiet Man. Just about everything in Ireland looked beautiful. I remember us visiting some thatch roof homes on a warm sunny day. I think we were looking at my grandfather’s childhood home or perhaps just an example of what it might have been like. We were walking through high grass for some reason and there was a swarm of insects near the corner of one of the houses. Normally not a pleasant thing to behold, but even sweating slightly in the heat and not entirely sure where we were going, I couldn’t quite get the idea of fairies out of my head. 

We visited Carrickfergus as part of the tour. I wasn’t that impressed with the actual place. Ireland is riddled with castles and once you’ve seen one the others aren’t as exciting. We got souvenirs and did the usual tourist things. While we were in Northern Ireland though, we met with some of our relatives who were still in the area. They were very gracious hosts and made potato soup for us and talked about various things. Potato soup was something that was always on hand in Ireland, and it was always excellent. Nearly every restaurant would serve the soup along with a piece of thick sliced bread and that was, oddly, enough. I’ve never had a soup like it in America. Irish potato soup is thick, hearty, and tasty. American potato soup is usually thin and bland. 

We visited Belfast in  Northern Ireland, which was pleasant, even with the not so distant threat of the IRA (the “troubles” ended about three years earlier). There was a string quartet that played Pachelbel’s Cannon at one of the street corners, which has always been one of my favorite classical pieces, simple yet increasingly complicated as layers of instrumentation are added. I have to stop and listen whenever I hear it done well, even thought it’s perhaps a bit over played at weddings and the like. the thing I enjoyed the most about Belfast, though, was going to an arthouse cinema. They had a small book store in the front end where they sold…well they were these thin paperback summaries of novels but made by fans and with literary criticism. I got one about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Then my dad and I saw a German movie starring Franka Potente.  

There were many more wonderful moments on that trip. So while the actual castle of Carrickfergus wasn’t my favorite part of the journey, I still feel the wistful desire to return to Ireland and see all those sites, including that one, again. 

There are many different versions of this song sung by different people. Celtic Woman does a nice job, but the reason why they are ones in my playlist and not the Dubliners or some other band is that my mother liked them a lot. My mom had very particular tastes in music. For her the singer had to be able to sing, which when you consider how often singers get by on attitude and character nowadays, was something of a tall order. She would hear something raucous and strident, and say “Daddy must have had some money.” She enjoyed older music from the fifties and sixties, and some country music, particularly the songs that had a sad narrative to them. 

At any rate, she and her friends went to a concert by Celtic Woman, and she really enjoyed their take on the old Irish songs. When they sing, each syllable is understandable and each note is clear. She got an album for one of her birthdays, and I copied it to MP3 for her, so they ended up on my harddrive. Me and Dad and my brother would sometimes make fun of how breathily feminine and borderline pretentious they were. She would laugh and maybe make fun of how noisy our music was.

It’s been almost five years since my mother died, and these Celtic Woman songs are still on my harddrive, and I can’t help but find them beautiful.

Ah to be back now…

Other Songs:

mull of king tire-Paul McCartney

Last Man on Earth-Cory Branan

(the audio is crappy in the beginning on purpose for effect)

Madder Red-Yeasayers

Kirsten Bell stars in this video! Weird yet touching.

Silent Melody-Working for a Nuclear Free City

Mo Ghile Mear – The Cheiftains

Citizen of The Planet – Alanis Morrisette

I’ve Been Drinkin’ -Jeff Beck featuring Rod Stewart

Danny Boy-The Celtic Women

Genius(Destruction is our function)-Pitchshifter

Pauline- Eleni Mandell

Bakudan Koushinkyoku (Marching Bomb)-Ningen Isu

Man of La Mancha(I, Don Quixote)-Man of La Mancha

(I’m a )Liar-Rollins Band

Mohammed Ali (and Me)-Cory Branan

Minor Thing-Red Hot Chili Peppers

All on Black-Alkaline Trio

HIstory of Drunks-(the)Melvins