Petri Dishes: Getting cheesy

May 26, 2020

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Good morning, everyone! I hope you had a pleasant weekend! Let's converse!

Last night, I dreamed I went to the small cheese factory in Zitlow, Wisconsin, about 30 minutes or so southwest of where I live in Appleton. I parked on the side of the road a few steps from the factory. Face mask donned, I entered and, not unsurprisingly, a worker was raking together fresh cheese curds for bagging. Off to the side, two others were taking batting practice. One pitched curds; the other, plastic bat in hand, tattooed curd after curd onto the wall behind the pitcher. Both were masked and apparently missing baseball (or hating curds). A customer stood off to the side stuffing his mouth with curd after curd. "Are they squeaky?" I asked, and he nodded yes. "May I have some?" but he shook his head no. "Why not?" I asked. "Get your own," he said, pointing to the wall. And there my dream ended. I'm still hungry for a bag of fresh curds. Baseball, not so much.

This is a vivid one! Now I miss both curds and baseball. I had a long dream where everyone I went to high school with was trying to bake something at the same time -- but I guess, in retrospect, that was not a dream at all, if Facebook is to be believed. 

I have also been having vivid and bizarre dreams, moreso than usual. They frequently become so strange or alarming that they wake me from a dead sleep! It has been this way since February and by now I am extremely tired. In my most memorable one, I was having lunch in an institutional cafeteria with Sonia Sotomayor. We were shooting the breeze, as one does while dining with an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I believe she had a chicken caesar salad. My dog, who can admittedly be obnoxious, suddenly entered the cafeteria and sat by our feet begging. Sonia, without missing a beat, kicked him across the room, where he landed, befuddled, in a large pile of white boxes labeled "FOOD" in bold black lettering. I woke up in an emotional maelstrom, feeling embarrassed by and worried about my dog, betrayed by Sonia, and angry at SCOTUS and the entire country in general.

I can't believe Dream-Justice Sotomayor kicked your dog! At least he landed softly in a dream-pile of boxes. That is a dream to beat. 

...but I thought you'd like this. I was going to say it's safe for work, but that's not really relevant at the moment, is it? And in case you are hesitating to click on an unknown link...I'm the OP who recounted Dvorak research last week or the week before.

I do like it! Don't worry everyone, I clicked the link, and it's safe!

When you have learned a foreign language, what milestones indicated to you that were starting to think in that language? Dreaming in the language is one people commonly mention. Here’s another one of mine. When I (born and raised in the U.S.A.) moved to Sweden, a street sign was a (figurative) milestone, when I noticed I could read it and not think of a certain superhero. The street name contained the letter å. The diacritical marks on the Swedish letters åäö give the letters special pronunciation and are required for proper spelling, but they are largely invisible to native speakers of English—U.S. newspapers usually omit them in proper nouns, for example. In the town where I lived, there was a street (gata) whose name, translated into English, would be “Boatman Street.” One day, I biked through an intersection and realized that, for a few seconds, I had simply thought of a Boatman when reading the sign for Båtmansgata.

That is a real triumph! I am impressed that you did not think of Batman. A friend who is fluent in something like six languages said she could always tell that her understanding had improved when she became able to pun in a new language, so that's another possible milestone! 

Dear Dr. Petri: In the last few weeks, I've been receiving an inordinate number of calls and emails from distant acquaintances that I haven't spoken to in years. Are they genuinely interested in my well-being, or are they just checking to see if a musical chair might be opening up soon? Thank you for your guidance in this matter. Signed: Glued To My Seat...

I think they're either genuinely concerned for your well-being or bored, honestly! The phenomenon of hearing suddenly from distant acquaintances you haven't spoken to in years is one I've been experiencing a bit of too, and I hope it does not indicate an interest in my chair. 

I saw a tweet about two petri dishes that were coughed on -- one through a mask and the other was not. Which one were you?

I hope I was the one through the mask! That one had a much nicer-looking outcome. 

Follow 'Alexandria Petri' on Twitter, while this is the 'Petri Dishes' chat with Alexandra Petri ... do you have multiple personalities or ...

Simple explanation: a typo! The i is not mine and belongs to the ancient library or the Virginia city. 

Although it showed a big difference, I assume this was due to bacteria, not viruses. I wonder if they'd be similar. Maybe so, if, say, the viruses are mostly passed along via the same sort of droplets (that were stopped by the mask) the bacteria are. Is this comment relevant to this chat? Isn't it? ISN'T IT? I dunno. Maybe not.

I think that was the implication, yes! And sure, I think so! 

I can’t speak any other language, but noticed that after binge-watching “Dr. Who” I dreamed in a British accent. Really.

Jolly good!

Almost any comment is relevant to this chat.

You can have curds.

Yes I can! I am a dairy heir!

Did Weingarten just burn this chat?


My neighbor is no longer living next door. I don't know what happened to her. My hope is that she went to go live with one of her kids and that her lease was up and they decided not to renew. My fear is that she died. We weren't very close, but passed notes back and forth occasionally and I took her to a folk festival to see some music groups for an afternoon earlier in the year since I knew she liked that sort of thing. It was to "celebrate" her birthday and I was going anyway, so I drove her and got her in. I also offered to go out and do errands around mid-March but she never took me up on it. I've googled and I don't see an obituary, but I have found someone who is almost certainly her son. Is it creepy to write and ask if his mom is dead? I could just ask if her mail is being forwarded maybe? We just got our primary ballots so there is a reason....

My impulse would be to ask in a more open-ended way. As you say, it could be that she went to live with a kid after the lease was up. You could say, hello, strange inquiry, but I think I used to live next door to your mother, and I have not seen her around in a while. I really enjoyed getting to know her a little while she lived around here -- we had a great time at X music festival earlier this year -- so I am hoping that she is still doing well, just moved elsewhere! I wish her the best wherever she is! And wish you the best, assuming that I am correct that you are her son, although I still wish you the best even if that turns out not to be the case! 

Not those exact words, but that sentiment? Or what does chat think?

Oh boy, you're gonna milk this one.

Before you start: I know it's not a very gouda pun. 

I mostly have dreams about Cancer-Cat (who passed away 2 years ago) and my dad (who passed away 4 years ago). But they're really pleasant dreams and involve lots of complicated adventures and I wake up happy to have been able to be with them again.

I'm glad you said that! I have been finding that too, lately; it used to be an extra punch in the gut when I would wake up from a dream about doing something with a loved one and realize that the person was no longer around, but now I'm glad to see them, even if we are rushing to bake a cake with my high school class. 

We're gonna havartime with this.

We will keep going until we all are wrinkled and have gruyeres.

Seriously, Alexandra, could you devote one chat-- or a special chat on another day-- where your many devoted followers ask you questions about your process in delivering your columns? E.G. Do you pitch an idea to an editor or does an editor suggest you take a crack at it? Do you consult resource material, such as a list of potato varieties, or is your mind just filled with all manner of arcane information, readily accessible at short notice? Do you write the bulk of your column and then revise it to add references, related ideas, etc., that weren't there in the first draft? And as was said in "The King and I", "et cetera, et cetera...and so forth." Please?

I'm not sure it would take a whole chat, but I'd be delighted to! As far the questions you pose, I usually pitch an idea but sometimes I will get a suggestion, and then I usually try to get some research material (for instance on how long a potato needs to sit in the ground, and at what depth) before diving in. And then I write through one draft and leave many things in bold or otherwise marked of which I am not sure and about which I want my editor's thoughts, and then it goes through several revisions until we are both pleased, at which point it rolls forward down the conveyor belt to the copy desk and ultimately publication! 

If you were to write about universities planning to definitely bring students back to campus in the fall, would you say it's funny or absurd? I've been hoping you'd write a column about that.

Currently it seems absurd! I guess from one perspective it is better to have a plan of some kind, which you can then modify or cancel as you obtain more information, than not to even attempt to have a plan? But I think the ability to modify or cancel it is key. And there is a great deal I don't know! (Although it seems equally absurd, if less dangerous, to continue to act as though your hastily cobbled-together Online Experience is equivalent to attending in person and try to sell people on it and charge them the usual amount. I understand everyone is in a tough place now, I know that teachers are doing yeoman work, but it is a very different experience and I do not think has the same value!) 

Once in high school, and it only happened once, I conjugated a verb in the subjunctive in Spanish instinctively. Didn't think, oh, I better check to see if subjunctive is appropriate here and decided it was and then used it. I just did it while working on homework. Then realized what I had done and went back to check it and saw that it was the right call. Of course, I never came close to really thinking in Spanish, but I figured that was a step along the way. At which point, my progress really ended. Also found out that year that I was literally the only person in the class who was reading and doing our Don Quixote homework by myself. Sigh.

In a way, being the only one attempting the quest to read Don Quixote unassisted is the ultimate Don Quixote experience! 

i have always had v vivid dreams but these past 99 months whoo boy! Still in color, dialogue, music but now with smell and sounds.....feel like i am tripping

Smell and sounds? Are you sure you're not awake?

These puns are making my blood curdle

Just skim them. (Is this a pun? I think it is not; I am just using the word.) I like cheeses. I edam. 

I want to see a youtube of someone caught napping on zoom.

So I continue to be reading Rousseau's Confessions, and he described reading aloud to some friends a letter he had written to Voltaire, and one of his listeners pointedly fell asleep as he read. He believed that the man did it on purpose to humiliate him, but I don't think he adequately considered the possibility that his letter was not interesting. 

Sigh. My on-line Classic Literature reading group foundered on Don Q, which made me very sad, especially since we had gotten through the dreadful "Mysteries of Udolpho" together. Every so often I try to revive interest but only one person will respond.

You should suggest something classic but short, maybe! Or... wine? 

puns such as these make me grin like a Cheshire cat.

Cheese puns are the GOAT!

2% of them are good enough.

I came up with a knock-knock joke in my first year of French in high school: Frappe, frappe! Qui va la? Alençon. Alençon qui? "Allons enfants de la Patrie. . . " (First line of the Marseillaise)

Hey! If this were Casablanca, Ricotta applaud that joke. 

Why should I invest in lovely cat furniture (i.e., beds) when it appears the cats are content to sleep on my legs and my arm?

Because it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg? 

Edam: the cheese that's made backwards. (I know I posted this here before, but it was *years* ago!)

That French knock-knock joke is great! I came up with something very similar, but not as elegant, and it's mostly in English: Knock-knock. Who's there? Alonzo. Alonzo who? Alonzo from Fond du Lac. Alonzo from Fond du Lac who? Alonzo Fond du Lac patrie....

This is great! Please keep your Marseillaise-based knock-knock jokes coming! I had no idea this was a genre and I am thrilled!

When it's cold outside I chèvre til I'm bleu

That pun was grate!

Udder torture. I am cowed.

Why are cows such bad debaters? Because their points are always mooed.

Last night, Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) yelled at me for not knowing a Depeche Mode song. Not sure if it was a real song (which means I actually knew it!), or if my dream self made one up. (I'm not usually that creative.)

If Trump loses in November what's your fallback plan vis a vis employment?

Um, to continue doing what I am doing with redoubled gusto. 

The OP who bemoaned the fact that no one else participated in the Don Quixote reading group might consider searching for Free Online Courses. For instance, "Yale Presents a Free Online Course on Miguel de Cervantes’ Masterpiece Don Quixote"

There are tons of swell lectures online! There is another Yale one about the history of pandemics, I think through the same portal, that my husband has found extremely interesting. 

Thank you. I've watched a lot of on-line lectures, but I really miss my virtual book-club friends. Although I did become good friends with my co-moderator who lives on the other side of the country, which is definitely a gain.

Enough punishment.

And on that note, I think I had better skedaddle! This has been very enjoyable! 

I will see you back here next week, or on the blog, or on Twitter

One announcement: my new book, Nothing Is Wrong And Here Is Why, comes out one week from today! And I'll be virtually conversing about it June 2 at 7 PM with the excellent Emily Nussbaum via Politics and Prose, if you want to say a virtual hello! 

Have a good week and be safe!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
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