Sunday, January 22, 2023

Too Poe to be true.

Before I get into this week's main topic, I'm going to revisit a thing that has consumed this blog (pardon the pun) for the past couple of weeks: bread. This isn't about low-carb bread, though -- it's more of a news-you-can-use thing.

I was looking at low-carb breads at the grocery store today as an employee stocked the shelves. We fell to talking (this would never happen in DC!) and he told me that some of the "fresh" bread they sell is actually shipped to the store frozen. As an example, he showed me the best-by date on a loaf of ThinSlim bread: it was sometime in October. I am not even kidding. So the bread was baked who-knows-when, then frozen and put on a truck. Somewhere along the line it thawed. Then it got put on the shelf. 

But it's not fresh. Fresh bread has a shelf life of about a week before it starts getting moldy. If the bread you're buying has a best-by date that's farther out than about a week, you're buying stale bread. He said some of the stuff they sell in the in-store bakery as fresh comes frozen, too.

So a word to the wise: Check the best-by date on your bread. Now if you've got some at home that's more than a week old and it's not, y'know, green yet, I wouldn't throw it out. (I'm famous for ignoring best-by dates anyway.) But just be aware that something you're buying that's supposed to be fresh might not be.

And I'm gonna stick to making my own bread.


A few nights ago, I watched The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix. The plot, if you haven't seen it: it's the 1830s, and the officials running the brand-new Army officer's academy at West Point hire a retired police detective, Augustus Landor, to solve the gruesome murder of one of their cadets. Another cadet makes himself so useful to Landor that he takes him on as an informal partner in his investigation. The name of this invaluable inside man? Why, Edgar Allan Poe. 

Public Domain

The movie gets pretty fanciful from there. More murders ensue; Poe falls for a pretty young thing and earnestly tells her that she's the subject of his poem "Lenore"; and the wholly implausible denouement has echoes of his short story "The Pit and the Pendulum." 

But...Poe at West Point? Really?

That much, at least, is true.

Not only did Poe undergo officer training, he enlisted before that, and he did pretty well for himself. That's according to Dave Kindy, a freelance journalist who wrote an article about it for the Washington Post. Poe was 18 when he enlisted in 1827, and he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming promoted to sergeant major -- the highest enlisted rank. He was supposed to serve for five years, but the Army released him early, in 1829, so he could undergo officer training at West Point.

Poe thought he'd have to spend only six months at West Point before receiving a commission -- but once he got there, he found out he'd have to undergo the regular four-year program. At that point, he applied himself to the task of getting kicked out; as legend has it, he was once told to show up for a drill "with cross belts and under arms" -- and he did, wearing that and nothing else. 

He got what he wanted. He was court-martialed for disobeying orders and neglecting his duties, and was dismissed from West Point in March 1831. 

From there, of course, he went on to become an icon of American literature, authoring numerous poems and short stories, inventing the detective story, and building a reputation as a well-regarded literary critic. He also warred with his foster father, John Allan -- his parents died when he was a child -- and married his 13-year-old cousin, who later died of tuberculosis. He was likely an alcoholic and chronically broke, and he died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore in 1849, just 40 years old.

Anyway, Poe was indeed at West Point during the time period in which the movie was set -- but the rest of the story is made up. Some of Poe's fans may be bothered that the plot didn't stick closer to the truth of Poe's life. But as much of a fan as I am, it didn't bother me; Poe's persona, as it has come down to us, is so wrapped up in the macabre that it would be surprising if a story about him did stick to dreary reality.

As to the movie: Christian Bale plays Landor, the retired detective. gives the film three stars and concentrates in its review on Bale's performance, which seems weird to me, given how much of the early part of the film is given over to Poe's part of the story. Harry Melling plays Poe. Apparently I've seen him in a bunch of stuff -- he played Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter movies, and he was one of the chess players in The Queen's Gambit -- but he did a credible enough job in this film that never for a moment did I wonder where I'd seen him before.

The denouement, as I said earlier, is implausible, reeking as it does of the usual satanic tropes, and I wasn't totally sold on the twist at the end. But The Pale Blue Eye is worth a watch -- if only to see how many Poe-related Easter eggs you can spot (I had four of six).


These moments of critical blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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