Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying this week.
If you aren’t well-versed in weird Twitter and fall more in the “the internet is a fascinating place I want to learn more about” camp than the “the internet is mostly a cesspool where I check email, research antiques and look for craft ideas on Pinterest” one (a rough approximation of how the Millar family breaks down, by the by), you should listen to “Reply All’s” recent podcast about Pepe the Frog. It’s a fun and fairly pithy explanation of how a somewhat obscure indie cartoon character, a fairly grotesque looking stoner frog named Pepe, became the go-to meme for white nationalists for Donald Trump to such a degree that Hillary Clinton now has an explainer about Pepe on her website. It’s a good explanation, but listen to the podcast instead; it’s much more fun. Along the way, you’ll learn a little about the infamous messageboard 4chan and “rare” internet memes, the slipperiness of irony on the web and the etymology of international webspeak “top kek.”
I thought I had my bases covered when it comes to Little Rock’s ethnic grocery stores — and yes, I wince a little at the dated, whitebread ring to the assumed homogeneous American baseline implied by that moniker — but I was evidently wrong.
I shop at Sam’s or Mr. Chen’s when I need something East Asian (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.), Ali Baba for Middle Eastern goods, Asian Groceries for dahls and curry components, and whatever tienda happens to be nearby for Mexican and other Latin foods. But what if I desperately need, say, pickled herring or a two-pound wheel of Bulgarian cheese? Turns out those and other sundry European obscurities are available at Indian Grocers, which is on Rodney Parham Road near North Shackleford (it shares a strip mall with Franke’s cafeteria, but if any culinary cross-pollination has resulted, I’m not aware of it).
Why exactly Indian Grocers — which, as its name implies, mainly purveys products from the subcontinent — carries such a large contingent of Slavic and Nordic goods is unknown to me. It’s wonderful, though. A dozen varieties of Ritter-Sport are on display inside the front door, and there’s a cold case crowded with delicate jars of caviars and roe spreads and fish bits at the end of one aisle. Eastern European cheese products coexist with blocks of paneer; pumpernickels jostle the chapatis in the freezer. I bought a loaf of Latvian rye bread, a tin of stuffed cabbage leaves, four pounds of red lentils, some pita and a passionfruit soda. I also randomly plucked what looked like a decade-old TV dinner from the frozen case, but it inexplicably rang up as $17.99 and I quickly backtracked. Explore with caution.
There’s such a thing as a learned suppression of one’s need to take things literally, and as far as I can tell, it’s a vital prerequisite skill to have in your toolbox if you’re a person who’s studied Greek and Roman mythology, even casually. Sure, Aristotle tried to put his foot squarely down in the concrete, naming and classifying and dissecting and counting and defining, but isn’t it Aeschylus’ “Oresteia” that comes up in talk of criminal justice systems, or Euripides’ “The Bacchae” that makes its way into conversations about smashing the patriarchy? There’s something in the supple, slippery language of myth and drama that, when translated by a skilled hand, can set your mind spinning with poeticism and punch in a way that “Nichomachean Ethics” isn’t likely to do.
That immediacy and red-hot imagery drips from the pages of Anne Carson’s lusty Hercules-and-Geryon love triangle novel, “Red Doc>,” and from its much earlier predecessor “Autobiography of Red.” A compendium of otherwise Sapphic-sounding fragments weaves in nonancient words like “kindergarten” or “sandwich” or “hockey practice” so seamlessly we spill over them without pause, and the reader is probably a dozen chapters in before marveling at how easily the literal slipped away, how easily sentences like “Don’t pick at that Geryon you’ll get it infected. Just leave it alone and let it heal, said his mother rhinestoning past on her way to the door. She had all her breasts on this evening” are absorbed, the reader having forgotten the story’s (loose) basis in ancient myth, on surviving pieces of Stesichorus’ “Geryoneis.” Both books are astonishingly quick reads, due in part to the amount of negative space afforded to the page to lend the poetry its pulse and pace, and if I were pressed to explain why I find them so compelling and magnificent, I’d probably cite how willingly the reader suspends the literal in favor of the symbolic, how the books don’t so much require the reader to disengage the literal and the logical as render the effort unnecessary; the poems have already led her halfway down a road of anachronistic myth before she even realizes she’s taken a step.
— Stephanie Smittle