Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I know that it's been a very long time since I've last written anything. That's partially because I missed so much work from the snow that when I went back, I worked long hours (from approximately 9-5) to catch up and partially because another of our delivery drivers had to leave for a family emergency and that left me to do both my job and her job for an incredible eight hours a day. I hit the ground running every morning and hit the bed with equal enthusiasm each night. I have delivery stories to tell, and a very funny idea about what Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Usher would have to say about me delivering auto parts in rural Arkansas listening to their music ("WHAAAT?" says Lil Jon), but what I want to write about tonight is the Academy Awards, and more specifically, the rowing scene in "The Social Network."

I'll start with the definition for "Umami." It is one of the five tastes, together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It is popularly referred to as "savoriness." Honey is sweet, lemons are sour, coffee is bitter, and pretzels are salty. Umami is a little different, it simply adds body to food, gives them heft. It is the difference between Sam's Choice Cola and Coca Cola. I buy Sam's Choice because it's cheaper, but I prefer Coke. I thought it was the packaging or the advertising, or the desire to pass up the cheaper product for the name brand, but it turns out it's umami. Coke has it, Sam's Choice doesn't. There are people who study this, who make a living tasting food and determining this quality. For me it's more vague, it's just this imperceptible balance that you can't quite define, but you know you crave. It's a kind of perfection, this thing you seek without knowing exactly what you're looking for. And when you find it, you know it.

Since I learned the definition of umami, or rather, since I learned of the concept of umami, I've found myself applying it to everything. I'm fascinated by it. My favorite pair of jeans has umami. That song "If I Had a Boat," by Lyle Lovett has umami. John Hannah reading W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" has umami. The rowing scene in "The Social Network" has umami. I saw the movie a few weeks ago. I saw it because I like Jesse Eisenberg and I was excited to see what Trent Reznor would do with a movie score. I liked it because it turns out that Mark Zuckerburg is one of those people who are such geniuses at what they do that they are totally mystified by human behavior and because of the rowing scene. I'm going to do my technologically-disinclined best to upload a link to this scene here so you can see what I'm talking about.

The whole movie is pretty good, but this scene stands alone. It's a very simple scene. They're just racing boats. The song is very simple. We've all heard the tune so many times I can't remember where it originally came from. It's recognizable, but somehow sinister - which I like. I've watched it several times trying to figure out why it gives me chills. I'm not sure, but I think it's this: If you'll watch, the entire scene has a rhythm. It follows a beat. Everything works together, the images, the acting, the editing, the sound, like in those few minutes everyone put forth their very best effort at the thing they're best at, purely, and it all came together like a dance.

Even after writing this I'm not sure what to make of umami, or if I'm describing it right. Maybe, in the larger, Annie's-over-thinking-things sense, it's different things to different people. Certain things just resonate with some people. For me it's my Gap jeans, it's a songwriter singing a simple song about riding a pony on his boat, it's "He was my North, my South, my East, and West, My working week and Sunday rest" in a Scottish accent. It's people rowing boats to a song we already know, and finishing a sentence, taking a hot bath and going to sleep.

Thanks for sticking with me, those of you still reading. I'll try to be better about posting more regularly.


  1. Annie,
    I'll try this again since it didn't seem to take. I saw the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it. I never saw the Umami until your post. Now I'll have to go see the movie again just to see what else I missed. Good job, Tom

  2. I like your description of this word so much that I hope to use it as a band name one day :)
    That connection / culmination of senses is exactly what I long for in making and performing music.

    Through Wikipedia I found that the Chinese Characters are 旨味 Zhǐ wèi which translates to "aims to taste."
    It's like hitting the target, as you suggest.

  3. "In the Hall of the Mountain King" composed by Edvard Grieg.