Nico Mara-McKay Posts

New Tree

I dislike gardening, so it’s fortunate that I only have a small front garden, and a tiny vegetable patch in the back yard.

Today I planted a little tree in the front garden, which annoyed my neighbour, who proceeded to advised me that he intends to prune any branches which cross the property line. After saying he was fine with the tree.

He’s concerned that it will hang over his non-existent car in his non-existent driveway. Which he will pave. One day. And the tree’s ok. Except he’ll prune it if it crosses the little fence to his property line. But it’s fine.

Right. I think I have  a few years.

How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays, by Umberto Eco
Harcourt, 0-15-600235-X, 248 pp., 1992, 1994

I always feel behind in my reading: many of the classics, certain authors, certain works by certain authors. No matter often I remind myself that there’s only so much time to read in any given day, or that I’m relatively young and will have time to catch up, this feeling of being behind persists.

Thus, when I think of Umberto Eco, it’s usually as a novelist. In this capacity he is probably best known as the author of The Name of the Rose (1980, made into a film in 1986), Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) and, more recently, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2006). But he’s written far more non- than fiction; on philosophy, linguistics, literary criticism, and the present selection of delightful parodies. And I had no idea he could be so funny.

As Eco explains

I read a fair bit. Perhaps not as much as Sarah Weinman, but she’s a professional reviewer with the luxury to spend all her time reading, and by day I serve as a senior business analyst. Still, I do ok.

Inspired by Weinmen, and a few friends who track what they read, for the first time in my life I’ve started keeping a list. It only includes books I’ve finished reading, and while I’m listing the graphic novels, I’m not counting them. Not because they’re not “real literature” (though that may be debatable), but because they’re so short. As of today I’m at 25 for 2009.

I tend to read several books at once. Some books make great subway reading. Others prefer a quiet afternoon and a nice cup of chai. Others still keep me up all night wondering what’s going to happen next, when they’re supposed to lulling me to sleep.

While I’m not a career reviewer, I do write reviews for websites and magazines, and also to better organize my thoughts, interpret and integrate what I’ve read.

Titled with a with a cute wink the apocalypse, The Four Horsemen features Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. On September 30th, 2007 they sat down together and filmed a two-hour unmoderated discussion. It’s a wonderful thing.

While I’m an atheist, this isn’t a requirement to appreciate four brilliant men philosophizing brilliantly about religion, atheism and the state of the world.

I’ve read a couple of Dawkins’ books (namely The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker) and two by Hitchens (Why Orwell Matters and God Is Not Great), but this is the first time I’ve really heard any of them speak.

The video, filmed by Josh Timonen, has been provided by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (what a name!) and has been available on YouTube for about a month in two, one-hour segments.

Naturally, with their genius so well publicized, they require no introduction, but for the uninitiated, from left to right they are Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

An alarming number seem to be misinformed about the beverage known as “chai”. This little essay aims to clear up some of the confusion.

Please feel free to share this link with your friends if they’re under the dreadful misapprehension that there is such a thing as “chai latte”.

The truth about lattes

Latte is simply Italian for “milk”. According to The Internet, caffelatte is a contraction for caffè e latte, or “coffee and milk”, similar to the French café au lait.

A later American corruption repurposed this sensible designation to signify a specific beverage “typically prepared with approximately one third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately 5 mm (¼ inch) thick on the top”. Absurd, but so it goes.

Notice that neither the Italian original nor the American corruption refer to tea. Lattes remain a beany sort of thing.

The inaugural post on my latest website,, new home to all things Nico. Though if you’re reading this, you’re…