Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holiday Flicks

I bid you all adieu from my self-imposed Blog-O-Day for the month of November with the following list of my favorite Christmas time movies. Please notice that I used the time window of Christmas time which nowadays stretches from at least the first week before Thanksgiving to the 7th day of January. Yeah, yeah, I’m stretching it, but I’m just trying to stay modern.

Two movies usually not associated with Christmas and hardly ever played, even during holidays, on commercial television are Diner and Nobody’s Fool. Aside from being great holiday movies, these two movies are in my favorite 20 movies pile.

Nobody’s Fool
"Mr. Sullivan, you're wearing a necktie. Are you in trouble with the law again?"
In Robert Benton’s most excellent and faithful rendition of Robert Russo’s fine novel Nobody’s Fool, a superb cast of Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and the supremely divine Jessica Tandy (who died before the film was completed). Bit parts were aged wine performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dylan Walsh, and Gene Saks.

The script is to die for; complete sentences were transferred out of Russo’s book. It’s a story of redemption, kindness, hate, the web of small town social interactions, and, in its own quirky way, love. The visible action falls into the Thanksgiving to Christmas time period of one year but the ghosts of the past are forever weaving in and out of the scenes. Jessica Tandy and Paul Newman work off each other with an ease that only comes with age. The little tics, the slight smiles, the clever banter, the ease the comfort; you’ll be stopping and replaying some scenes quite a few times.
I’ve seen this movie at least ten times and it has not lost its shine. I’ve read Russo’s book at least two times and hopefully you will read it as well after seeing this movie. This is about as perfect a movie as one can see.

"You know what word I'm not comfortable with? Nuance. It's not a real word. Like gesture. Gesture's a real word. With gesture you know where you stand. But nuance? I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong."

Barry Levinson's first major movie, Diner, takes place a few days before and then after Christmas, 1959 in Baltimore, Levinson’s home town. In addition to directing Mr. Levinson provided a great script with quite a fewmemorable lines. As most of you know, great movie lines are a necessity for how you maintain any close relationship. The movie line should be insightful and funny. Brevity is a good thing as well since memorization is not one of our strongest suits these days of instnat information access. The great lines associate persons, actions, past relations and future plans into one quip that allows you to merely say 5-10 words to a person and have that person (who is hopefully as enamored of the same movies as are you) comprehend the specific and unique feeling/thought that your are having. Mouthing a movie line can give you cache that your own words could never match. You should be careful not to overuse movie lines as then you’ll be viewed as a parrot and not the self-deluded original person you think you are. As this exchange synopsizes:
"Beth: That's very mature Fenwick.
Fenwick: Fuck Mature!"

Blackadder's Christmas Carol

"Baldrick, you wouldn't see a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord, singing "Subtle plans are here again!""
Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Patsy Byrnes, and Robbie Coltrane gather together and demolish any vestige of human kindness possibly associated with Christmas. The result is that you’ll be laughing all the way through while recognizing the types portrayed in this Brit tv series. . Some favorite lines are here.

White Christmas

"Well how do you like that? Not so much as a "kiss my foot" or "have an apple"."
If there’s an older movie that I’d gladly see each Christmas, it would be this Michael Curtiz directed musical comedy. The Script, as with all of the other movies listed here, is excellent with quite a few choice words to throw out. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are a delight, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney get to exercise their pipes on a regular basis and dancer Vera-Ellen is the va-voom factor in this movie. There’s snow, good deeds gone bad, songs inserted into dialogue with the minimal need to suspend belief, and positive vibes a plenty. There’s even George Chakiris in his pre-Sharks days taking a spin with Vera-Ellen.

The Family Stone
"Don't dilly-dally there, pretty lady. We're all gonna be down here talking about you."
To borrow something from Bertrand Blier, you’ll be getting out your handkerchiefs for this recent Christmas movie. Strong performances by Craig T. Nelson, Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson, and the divine Claire Danes and quite decent acting by Sarah Jessica Parker and Dermot Mulroney, without excessive emoting on anyone’s part, make this movie worth watching each year. There is quite a bit of sadness at the end but it’s handled with a minimalism that gives credence to the emotion rather than blanketing the movie with easy tears. The family dynamics are well-portrayed and (mostly) not sugar-coated. The cinematography, from the beginning, makes you feel as if you’re snowed in. An excellent movie to cuddle up in a blanket with folks you want to score points with to prove you can do empathy.

*** Addendum ***

The ever-loving wife, on a visit to see what verbal concoctions I'd been brewing up on the third floor, noticed that I'd neglected to mention one of the all-time best Office work/Christmas season movies, namely,

Desk Set

Bunny Watson: "I don't smoke, I only drink champagne when I'm lucky enough to get it, my hair is naturally natural, I live alone... and so do you.
Richard Sumner: How do you know that?
Bunny Watson: Because you're wearing one brown sock and one black sock.

Ignorance can be bliss and blissful is what I aim to be when I watch this movie so I'll ignore all of the tomes tumbling lately from the upended rumour/gossip/trash bins regarding the personal lives of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Desk Set was originally a play written by William Marchant. The screen play was written by Phoebe Ephron, who also produced Nora Ephron and Amy Ephron. Spencer & Tracy, in their last film together, are, as per their usual, a lively pair. A job interview on the roof of a building on a cold winter's day is especially memorable as is a vaudevillian style piece involving an apartment, wet clothes, 2 men, 1 woman, and a bath robe. Enough said about that. Rent the movie. Granted, Christmas is almost an afterthought here. But the movie does take place during this time of year and renders a legitimate idea of what Christmas office parties were like in the days of No Casual Days. Remember Christmas Office Parties? Nah, neither do I. I've heard tall tales rendered of them prior to the current Dark Age of Litigation that has killed them off like dinosaurs.

How was this 30 straight days of posting? Let me direct you to Mr. Sgazaetti over at Isolglossia for his final word. I could not have stated it any better and certainly not as humorously as he has.


An Understanding of Sorts

Knowledge, I've heard told, is a good thing.
Laughter, so it has seemed, is not something to scoff at.
Truth, when presented in a finely honed style, is almost palatable.
Objectivity, a vein running through the latter three, is best handled with doses of subjectivity to promote individual understanding and agreeability.

And Understanding? Well, that can be a hopeless cause as it is an inverted pyramid of comprehension that can tip over at any time due to the always present Other Items of Interest. How we understand ourselves, our family, our co-workers as well as we do is a miracle of no small portion.

So, one resorts to books, specifically an encyclopedia, for answers. Of course, if one has recently teared assunder a set of encyclopedias before, then, discarding them, understanding must be sought elsewhere.

But where?

Well, thanks to the Internet and its off-the-edge denizens, we have the Uncyclopedia. Are answers truly there? Let us investigate.

From the Uncyclopedia, a link to a "well-researched" section on You Know You're Croatian When.

Some excerpts to guide you toward this particular understanding:
1) You're trying to convince people of purity of Croatian languange by using English.
2) You're 100% positive that your country is most beautiful in the world, despite the fact that you've never crossed the border.
3) Lunch on Sundays has more courses than Amerikanci have for Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner.
4)Your uncles argue about where the sun set in their home village.
5) You can't have a meal without bread/rice/pasta.
6) Upon reading this list you are either showing it to other people who are not Croatian hoping they will, despite all the crappy truth, think that being Croatian is cool, or you are offended, and you're assuming a Serb (who else) wrote it.

If your interest is piqued, there's also General Tidbits about Croatia, Croatian History, & War of Independence.

Note: This Path to Understanding was pointed out by Mr. Michael Manske, who resides, speaking from out-of-body, here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just a Chicken about Ducks

Funny timing.
Here, the devine Blogzira writes about what happy duck famililes are doing to push her over into the vegetable garden. Permanently.

While, here, the bloodthirsty Mr. Sgazzetti smacks his soon-to-be-chomping lips at pictures of frozen geese and ducks parked in a grocery freezer, like cordwood ready to fuel his upcoming holiday festivities.

I'd have to side with Blogzira on this. I was never much for geese or ducks anyway. Especially ducks.
Chickens, I'm o.k. with. I mean, as far as stuffing, frying, raosting, and eating them. There's a poem by Pablo Neruda regarding chickens. Can't think of it right now; I'll stop by later to append it here. Basically, he writes of them as having eyes of nothingness. No souls. No life.
But, ducks? Well, ducks are the closest bird to human that I can think of. Can't do the eating thing anymore. In the bowels of childhood memories, there are the cartoon ducks that always seem put upon. I laughed at Daffy and Donald then. Now, older and while possibly not wiser, at least wizened, I empathize with both Donald and Daffy. Especially Daffy. Eating Daffy would tilt dangerously close to self-cannibalism. First, there's the bill, the ridiculous bill. Then there's the waddle, the dark pin pricks of eyes, the pert tail feathers, and, finally, the imagined stream of words they quack at me.
I'm a wuss about ducks.
My son volunteered one summer at a bird rescue organization in Delaware. He already loved birds so it wasn't a question of how he'd handle the responsibilities. What was most difficult for him was leaving each day because ducks and ducklings followed him around most of the day, quacking their suggestions and thanks. As a kid, when we visited the Philly Zoo, he'd hang around the ponds and streams just staring at the ducks. White tigers? Naked mole rats? Nope, hardly a glance. But a wood duck or even an everyday mallard? He'd be hooked for half an hour.
One summer, I'd picked up a box of ducklings to take to a friend who wanted to re-stock her pond. All the way home, the high-pitched quack-pips were a joy. Once in a while, one of the bolder birds would stick its head through one of the breathing holes, just checking to see that I was paying attention to the road and not to them. How could I even think of eating these beauties? I'd have to be mad. Mad, I tell you! It was hard enough parting with the dozen ducklings after only an hour's time with them. How could I ever willingly bite down hard on their flesh?

I'm with you, Blogzira. It'll only be a matter of time before Mr. Sgazzetti changes his bird tune; his son Adam looks like a duck-lover to me. And I don't mean a lover of eating ducks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On the Road...Again and Again

Back by popular demand (well, I'm assuming that Whisky Prajer's request speaks for all of Canada, or at least, for Ontario so I'll say back by Canadian demand), here's a short list of some of the road music that eased the miles on my last run to Pittsburgh.

Billy Bragg: Brewing Up with Billy Bragg. Brought this older cd along specifically to hear The Saturday Boy again, a song that Isoglossia had mentioned a while back as one of his favorites. Ah yes, nothing like grammar school self-delusional love to get one's old memories front-loaded to play:

We dreamed of her and compared our dreams
But that was all that I ever tasted
She lied to me with her body you see
I lied to myself 'bout the chances I'd wasted.

Faster paced blues, especially solid guitar work always makes the trip enjoyable. Along on the ride with me were:
Jimmy Rogers w/ Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters (a live recording going back to 1993): I love Mr. Rogers, who is unfortunately not in our house any longer (One of my all time favorite blues albums is his Blue Bird). This particular recording finds two great blues guitarists of two quite different styles playing off of each other for over an hour's worth of scorching fun.

I'd brought 2 of John Mayall's older recordings with me as well, The Turning Point and Jazz Blues Fusion. The former sounded a bit dated, so I just listened to a few of the cuts, "Room to Move", of course, and "Saw Mill Gulch Road". The latter was my introduction eons ago to the late trumpeter, Blue Mitchell (whose cd, The Thing to Do, was also played, somewhere up in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Jazz Blues Fusion is a mess of a great time. Along with Mr. Mitchell, Clifford Solomon on saxes, and Freddy Robinson on a very lively guitar gives one a great reason to listen to each and every cut. Mr. Mayall's voice is his usual high and dry out-of-key then in-key ranting self. Fortunately, there are enough fine musicians waiting for their solos such that Mr. Mayall sings a few verses and then he steps back to let the pros do what they do so very well.

Along for the trip was the recent Metheny/Mehldau release by Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau. Simply gorgeous...but not the type of music to listen to when one is driving alone. I ended up listening to it when I pulled into Pittsburgh and had 3 hours to kill. It put me into a zone where clouds seemed to fly through the car windows and rain water washed over my feet. Luckily, I was parked for these effects.

But on the road?

The old reliables:
Suba's Tributo: How a Serb ended up in Brazil as one of the top recording producers is both an interesting story and an enchanting tale of ambition and love of music. A tragedy that he died at 38, a very talented and inventive musician and producer.
The Iguanas' Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart: As usual, these guys do it all. R & R. Los Lobos-like Hispanic ballads, long jazzy interludes and all with a solid drumbeat pushing you forward.
Tony Allen's Lagos No Shaking: The drummer for the late Fela Kuti has put out a few albums of his own. This is one of his best. As usual, there is a gang of folks to help him out and keep the spirits high. As one chorus goes, "Don't morose your face!". And this cd will most certainly not let you do that.

Stanton Moore's III, Medeski, Martin & Wood with John Scofield on Out Louder, Viktor Krauss' Far From Enough (with Bill Frissell, Jerry Douglas, & Steve Jordan), Kathleen Edwards' Back to Me, and Wynton Kelly Trio w/ Wes Montgomery recorded live, Smokin' at the Half Note rounded out the other cd's that made this trip enjoyable.

Last and definitely part of the mix (this cd, for some reason, sounds best descending mountains. It's a juggernaut) was Ozomatli's Street Signs. Blasting "(Who Discovered) America?" is hard to top when you're entering Pittsburgh driving downhill on 376-East.

And a final note.
While waiting in Pittsburgh, I had a chance to start reading the most excellent short story collection written by a certain Darrell Reimer. I didn't get a chance to finish it in Pittsburgh since I re-read most of the stories twice, before moving on to the next story. With a bit more time on hand, I'll be finishing it this week. If you folks have enjoyed reading his alter-ego's blog, you will enjoy his book. I encourage you all to buy it.

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Just Another Sign of the Times

I have been ordered to Make my own sign by Jagosaurus and I know better than to do otherwise. So,

If you want the civil engineering or council planning board member in you to come out for a peek, go here. It's a test of your creativity within a very limited medium.
Otherwise, ignore this chance to show how you can work while handcuffed and get on with your fabulous life. I'll just stay here and work on license plates next.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Someone Else's Company

You'll have to wait until this Friday for Mr. Terry Teachout to issue his opinion on the John Doyle directed Company currently at the Barrymore Theatre. His acquaintance, Ms. Litwit has a short entry of the current version of Company here.

if you want to read a fabulously passionate, detailed, expertly broken down and concerned review right now by someone who can talk about this musical from every possible angle, go to Chazzy G's review here. It would have been worth the price of admission just to sit next to him during the performance as he went through the lows and highs of this production.


Impending Niceness

An apology is immediate. An entry is pending. Re-reading the last two posts have only resulted in a wee bit of embarassment on my part. The tone on both was certainly not indicative of all of the pleasantries that have taken place over the last 5 days. Effective humour does not usually leave a bad taste in one's mouth; sarcasm, while barbed, does not usually leave everything coated in bile. While I won't go back and do a window-dressing on the last two entries, I will stop by here sometime today to (hopefully) add sunlight to what were dark descriptions of the holiday just passed.

Must have been all that butter damming up the reserves of human kindness somewhere in the outer extremities.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hot Flush

Yesterday's Feast began a while back with giddy anticipation.
The menu.
The Philly Italian Market shopping.
The stove time management spreadsheet.
I even got to dust off some Operations Research calculation models I hadn't seen since the previous century's MBA days.
It's as if all of my professional and life training was comng together for this day.

Then, on top of all that, I got to do one of my favorite things. Drive long distances. If I'd been born a few decades earlier, I could have had my dream job.
A chauffeur to the rich. On my long distnace trips, it's quite easy imagining doing my best John Williams (II) to my daughter's Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Well, she is my Ms. Hepburn, so I'll just fake the Brit accent for self-delusional reasons.
Seriously. Since I was a kid I thought that chauffeurs had the life (and the uniform). I'm not referring to the prom chauffeurs. No, those other guys driving foreign-made limoes, not extended Hummers, SUV's, or half-block long Caddies. A semblance of riches without the assemblance of wealth so taxing on one's spirit. Some would say that being someone's servant was offputting, but let me prick that balloon of snobbery right there. Aren't most of us, to some extent, involved in servitude? Being a chauffeur, to me, was a position where you admitted, right off the bat, that you were a servant and then moved on with the enjoyment of your life.

These are some of the goofball ideas that would roll in as I rolled on down the PA Tpke. Music was plentiful and it was "I'm so alone" loud. Or, as the ever-loving wife puts it, at Bachelor Volume. The weather was crisp and clear. What a better way to spend your day than bringing your daughter home for the holidays?

Meal preparations went exceedingly well with no dust-ups. Our guests were all that one can hope for. Funny, engaging, and hungry. Hopefully, next year, same cast same venue. Candles were lit for the dishwashing machine as it seemed to be on the the Möbius strip of continual loads. The dish brigade fed the sudsing machine as it cleaned up course after course.

The celebration ended the next day with the traditional Boiling of the Sink Drain. Large pots of steaming water were poured down the kitchen drain, cleansing the pipe-clogging remnants of butter-infused meats, pies, and side-dishes. We stewed around like fat ticks wishing a tasty purge were available for us as well. Well, I hear carols being sung and bells being rung so I know Christmas tolls for us in a short month.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Late Afternoon's Walk

Another day of warm weather finally drove us out of the house. The fear and trepidation we'd felt as a result of being bombarded by news of the Black Friday hordes had us taking to the mattresses. Barricades had been concocted from turket bone remnants and the bags and bags of trash that had resulted from the big day. We even had cases of empty bottles from various nations just as backup if we were attacked. We could always refer to Saddam's tape for further instructions as to the bottles' use.
But after much of the peeking out between the blinds, we felt safe to take to the roads for a walk about the place.
Delaware has some great parks and places to perambulate. One place we like to go is Winterthur. It combines a nice hilly terrain with a touch of trespassing. The estate, open to the public nowadays was just another estate of the many in Northern Delaware previously owned by the Family DuPont. Winterthur was such a large estate that it had its own postal code and its own baseball team. With a season pass, you can saunter around the grounds all year, with the exception of Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. During the summer you'll see many bridal parties traipsing about for photo ops. The gardens are justifiably world reknown and the museums on the ground are unique in their displays. During Kennedy's short term in office, the Winterthur museums were cleaned out of furniture as practically all of it was borrowed for use in the White House. It's quite quiet here and a fine opportunity to hold one's hands behind our respective backs and stroll around, thinking deep thoughts. A weel-packed pipe would not have been out of place at all.
I can't recall how many times I've been here, not that it really matters. Each time I always get a sly grin at some point, thinking this will be the time we'll be rounded up by the Winterthur constables (don't even know if they actually exist) because we're walking the mighty DuPont grounds. In jeans and running shoes, to boot. Must be the remnants of some Croatian serf's blood still thinking the lord's going to be coming back soon and then we'll all be in for it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Just a Pie

As Mr. Sgazzetti has pointed out on several occasions, and I liberally paraphrase this, "The only thing better than a pie is many pies".
Mathematically, that's reducible to "Pie are Squared". As weightedly hinted at by Whisky Prajer, here's my (not wholly plagiarized) recipe for a Rum Pecan Pie.

This version of Pecan Pie is a touch different. Heavily borrowed from Mark Bittman’s excellent How to Cook Everything, the procedure and ingredients are as follows.

For the pie crust, simply follow Mr. Bittman’s recipe to the letter. I used his Pre-baked Flaky Pie Crust directions found on pp 685-686 of the hardcover version.

I've used other versions of a pecan pie recipe and found the following works out the best for me. Usually. It requires a minimum of corn syrup (FYI, Mr. Bittman uses none) as a tip of the hat to Southern style versions of pecan pie. It also asks for a leap of faith. More on that a bit later.

For the filling, you’ll need:
2 ¼ cups of shelled pecans
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
( I like to use Trader Joe’s Evaporated Cane Sugar which has a better aftertaste than refined sugar and seems to have a lighter touch of sweetness. All of this could, of course, be imagined and evidence that I’ve been completely duped by the ivory toned whiteness of the sugar.)
¼ cup of brown sugar (You could use the Evaporated Cane Sugar and just cut out the brown sugar)
2 tablespoons of Dark Corn Syrup
A pinch of salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter, melted
2 heaping tablespoons of Myers Dark Rum
(I can’t vouch for other dark rums. Any time a recipe calls for rum, I reach out for Myers. It’s a bit more expensive but it has no nasty back taste and there’s a deep fullness to the taste. What’s heaping? Hold the tablespoon over the filling. Start pouring, filling the tablespoon at a moderate clip, flipping the tablespoon, and refilling the tablespoon one more time. After you’ve filled the tablespoon the second time, you stop pouring. That would be 2 heaping tablespoon. What is one heaping teaspoon? Only a Buddhist could answer that question.)
1 Tablespoon of pure Vanilla Extract
A pinch for the cook.   Indications of love go a long way when you're in the confines of a hot kitchen.

What to do with all of this stuff:

1) After you’ve baked the crust as per the instructions above, spread out all of the pecans onto a large enough baking sheet. Put it into the still hot oven (425 degrees) and leave them there for about 4-6 minutes. Occasionally (o.k., after 3 minutes) pull out the sheet and stir the pecans around so both sides are roasted. After the pecans are hot to the touch, pull out the sheet. Take half of the nuts (or more, if you prefer small size to large) and mince them up. If you’re a real nutcase about pecans, take half of the un-minced nuts and put them through into a thoroughly cleaned coffee grinder. Grind until you have a powdery consistency, but before you’ve ground the pecans into a paste. Leave the different-sized pecans off to the side.

2) Beat the eggs well. Very well; your wrist should be screaming for Bengay. When the eggs are very foamy, add the sugars, salt, corn syrup, and melted butter. Stir a few times to combine the ingredients.

3) Pour this concoction into a non-stick frying pan (I use a small non-stick wok-ish type pan for this) and place on low-medium heat, stirring continuously. The mixture will start getting thicker, almost taking on the consistency of scrambled eggs. Since you have 5 eggs in that mixture, it will start smelling eggy as well. This is where the mentioned leap of fate is required. You may think you’re making an omelet at this point...and you will be if you don’t stop at the correct point. When the mixture is hot to the touch and it’s still coagulating, take it off of the burner immediately. If the mixture has started to boil, you’re past the point of pie and well into omelet. A very, very sweet omelot, but an omelot nonetheless.

4) If the mixture is not an omelet, add the dark rum, vanilla, and all of the pecan permutations and stir well. You should be looking at a thick pool of brown, once you’re finished.

5) Pour the mixture into the still-hot pie crust and bake for 30-35-minutes. The mixture should still be moist and, if you lightly shake the pie, some wobbling should be on display. If there’s no wobble, you may have over-baked the pie. Not to worry! Eating it requires just a bit more milk or vanilla ice cream generously heaped on the Rum Pecan Pie. Besides, once the pie is served, folks are well into that "I have eaten and I am full." part of the dinner, so an appearance of pie, in any level of doneness, will usually be accompanied by an initial groan.  Calm the growing groans by offering coffee, tea, or some single malt.   Behold how the liquids soothe the roils of Eater's Anguish.

6) Let the pie rest on a cooling rack for 20-30 minutes before serving.  Ignore all of the Siren's Pleas, even though some folks love to put a dollop of ice cream on top and slice a piece of scalding hot pie so as to burn their tongue and simultaneoulsy cool it. This serving methodology is not recommended, though it makes for great dinner theatre, something you may want to consider if family stories, having been unfastened by the single malt, are too freely being let loose.

As Mark Bittman points out, the main difference between this pecan pie recipe and most others is the minimal use of corn syrup. In his own recipe, Mr. Bittman does not use any corn syrup at all. The concoction that you are making is more custard-like than the usual super-sweet corn syrup version. It tastes different. I will not say it’s better. As with most things food, it’ll be your own taste buds that’ll make the decision for you. The one thing that I can say for sure is that this recipe won’t leave that sweet & harsh corn syrup in the back of your throat. Now, if that’s what you’re after than you can go here.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Taking One's Seat

(In lieu of a Thanksgiving post today and still trying to follow the letter of the NaBloPoMo rules, here's a piece I've been working on, off and on. Hope it's not excessively misanthropic).

It's lunch time here in mid-Delaware. Pickings are few for meal possibilities. Some folks bring their own and cram into a small unventilated room with a perpetually loud tv hanging on the ceiling, blasting soap operas or local news at you. Seating is limited, moods are low, and the smell of cleaning products puts a crinkle in your nose. So, most of us head out for grub during the work week.

Due to the high level of people contact I have at work, I tend to drive out solo. It's not that I don't like people...well, o.k., I don't (though I'm not alone on that issue) care for them...excessively. I'm happy, perfectly happy, sitting in an eating establishment with a newspaper or a book. I've seen more people doing this sort of thing where, years ago, I tended to get strange looks at times. But, no more "Whatcha readin' for?" comments or "We've got ourselves a reader" moments. Bill Hicks had left the room. Folks were taking up the printed word! Or, simply got tired of their fellow man.

Positioning the paper is important. It acts not just as reading matter but also as an indicator to anyone approaching your table that you're into some serious reading and "No, really, it's not you. It's an earth-changing article I have to get through before lunch is over", just will not come out right, no matter how carefully or succinctly you state it. So, after claiming a table I open the newspaper on the diagonal, shutting off one sode of a table completely. I tend to sit side-saddle at a table, indciating that I'm here only temporarily and I'll be off in a flash if unwanted social engagement is engaged in.

Not too friendly, right? Well, if you've been caught up in enough empty or dangerous conversations (they being any that stray into the minefield of office gossip), you know that silence and some down time from office life are necessary components of a safe scenario at work. The subscription to the NYT is a very cheap medication against the infection that I've seen enough folks suffer when they go out with colleagues from work. It's a guarantee that lunchtime will see someone getting loose or nervous and then finding themselves in trouble before they even leave the diner. I can't explain the viciousness of gossip; most of these folks are good people. Talk has a life of its own and it's your own life it may be claiming, if you're free with your thoughts and words. I'll stick to the paper, it's gossip I can deal with


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Pre-emptive Toast

...but how does one feel?
One grows used to the weather,
The landscape and that;
And the sublime comes down
To the spirit itself,

The spirit and space,
The empty spirit
In vacant space.
What wine does one drink?
What bread does one eat?

Excerpt from The American Sublime by Wallace Stevens

Kenneth Roxroth, listening to our conversations, said: "You don't know how to talk to each other, you just exchage monologues." He hit upon a trait of Central Europeans (not only Poles?). But we are aware of it and it makes us uneasy, for the personalline and the tribal line intersect here. Me? Or the civilization in whcih I was raised.
Monologues by Czeslaw Milosz

Excuse the glasses filled and soon to be held high above our heads. Preparations are in high gear and the weather is co-operating. It's been raining all day and the high winds have been whipping the hurtful droplets into our faces and into our clothes. The food items have all been plucked and parking dilemnas minimized. Everyone seems eager to get out of the weather and into the comfort of home, firing up the stoves, equipping the kids with potato peelers, colanders and newspapers. Turkey and chicken are washed and zested up. Pies appear from small piles of flour, nuts, or pudding-like pumpkin. Plates of salami and cheeses float around, islands of sinful nourishment to stoke the nighttime cooks.

I wish all you cooking tonight and tomorrow good cheer and may your burns be minimal but not so small that you couldn;t coax a conversation from them.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pick up Time

Time was dictated by the meter. Or, rather by my feeding of the meter. A one hour max on the street meters meant an hour spent at a corner Starbucks. Rent there for a chair, a table, and window view onto Forbes Avenue consisted of a Vente Some Caffeine Thing and a coffee cake requiring heavy chiseling to separate the cake from the marbleized cap of a topping.
Another hour feeding of the meter was spent two blocks away at the ground floor gray-toned cafeteria of the Carnegie Museum of Art. More libations here, but this time some healthy green tea concoction loaded with honey. Ah, honey, the nectar of any bear preparing himself for hibernation. We've gone to this museum a few times before and enjoyed it immensely. The museum is especially easy to lose oneself in and lose track of time. With my time handcuffed by the meter, I opted to sip and read.
A third hour was spent gnoshing a lunch at Pamela's, also on Forbes Avenue in the Squirrel Hill section of town. Pamela's is home of a breakfast special christened the "Big Lincoln", an early morning choice guaranteed to torpedo any plan you had toward eating in moderation.

Why all the meter hopscotching? A day trip westward to Pittsburgh and back eastward. It's Thanksgiving Break at the daughter's university so I was more than happy to go pick her up. A vacation day from work. Five hours of uninterrupted time with her. A great way to begin the first of many days of celebration as we enter that time of the year, Holiday Alley.

Apologies for a short entry. These 10 hour drives are hard on the creative juices.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The Receiver

My short play in the Field of Stereo Gods ended yesterday with the heave-ho of my 18 year old Carver Receiver 900. When Bob Carver, audio equipment madman extraordinairre, left Phase Linear and formed his (first) company in 1979, folks on the edge of really hi-fi were encouraged. His madness always seemed to benefit those of us low in cash and high in hopes. If a Mark Levinson amplifier cost $10,000 (in 1985), Carver duplicated the feat for $1,500. Great news to those of us in need of hearing pin pricks on our recordings. I'd been getting by on Sherwood, TEAC, and Kenwood equipment for quite a while, simultaneously paging through Stereophile magazine, the ogled king of stereo porn, for the real equipment.
Then one day in the mid 1980's, Mr. Carver, expanding into a new product line, came out with a receiver. Specifically, The Carver Receiver 900 with the patented Magnetic Field Resonator. Wow. It wasn't a; it was The. And a Magnetic Field Resonator, to boot. Had no clue what fields I'd be resonating but if Mr. Carver felt a need for some magneticism in his resonator who was I to feebly protest.
The receiver served me quite well for 15 years and then one day its right channel output went out. The left sounded beautiful, still. I held on to the 20 lb monstrosity for another 3 years, unplugged and silent. Hopes for repairs were quickly shot down.
The cleanout this past weekend had a broad broom and The Carver Receiver was swept up with the other detritus.
I offered a feeble excuse. "Look", I implored pointing out the finely tooled control knobs,"I am getting older and my hearing's range is decreasing. Who knows, I may go deaf in one ear?!"
"Hopefully my right ear", I muttered to no one in particular.
"Then what? I won't need a stereo receiver; I'll do well enough with The Carver Left Channel Only Receiver with Magnetic Field Resonator!"

My family looked at me as if I was boarding that last train out of town. They shook their heads and left me alone to bid adieu to The Carver, but I don't think it heard me. I was speaking to the wrong channel.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Knowledge, the Old Way

Putting off the inevitable doesn't work out too well unless you have the fortune of dying. I was still alive today, so inevitability slapped me upside the head.
Time, space, and the Law of Accumulation all came together in a perfect wave. Today marked the deadline for the slimming of some possessions. My possessions, that is. The kids are coming back to roost for the long Thanksgiving weekend. That meant the books and cd's I'd squirrelled away in their rooms had to be recovered Then, moved up to the loosely-labeled "office" on the third floor. Gravity, that nasty mistress, demanded that most of the printed matter tumble back down to the first floor, nicely arranged in a pyramid of boxes.
My heart was in pain. We had a complete set of the Encylopedia Britannica, from around 1965, that we'd been hauling from apartment to house. They were an entrusted family treasure that my folks had scrimped and svaed for shortly after they came over here from the Old Country. To them, having the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner were the indications that you had become an American. For me, they were very similar. Both encyclopedias and the Kirby weighed about 600 lbs and were tough to maneuver. The main difference between the Kirby and the Britannicas was that you could spray paint with the former, a feature we never took advantage of. There was an inscription inside the first volume of the Britannica's dedicating all this accumulation of knowledge, respectively, to the Queen of England and to Lyndon Baines Johnson. The pages of the 25 volumes were crsip, not brittle. The burgundy covers were hardly worn from wear.
But no one wanted them. Not a single library. Not even Salvation Army. They all had enough encyclopedias to insulate their basements with or to brick up their firepaces with these tomes. "Besides", they pointed out, "This is all available on the Internet." Oh, such cruel words and expelled with surly lips!
Sadness, indeed, as we took utility knives and cut off the hard covers so that the encyclopedias could at least be recycled. Every once in a while, I peeked out the window to check if the police cruiser had pulled up, lights flashing, to put us under arrest for such a dispicable act.
But no constabulary of the printed word came. When we were dumping the de-nuded volumes into the trunk of the car like cadavers of knowledge, no one showed up to interrogate us. The car's back end sagged noticeably, perhaps in sympathy with how all must sooner or later be recycled. We should have just gone over the edge and had a bumpersticker, Fahrernheit 451: Now that's Good Readin', pasted on the rear bumper.
I clmbed back upstairs to the now orderly office. Five other large boxes of books had accompanied the mauled encyclopedias. They were not to suffer the same fate, at least for a while. Some library still believed in the idea of books and they were more than happy to relieve us of the moral burden.
They said I could even come around on visiting hours M-F 9:00 am until 8:00 pm. I told them I'd be by in a few months. Until then, I'll be doing penance for having expelled the Britannicas from our warm and allegedly welcoming home.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Uniformative Bones

You folks have probably heard of the bones of a Neanderthal fellow being found that would suggest that Mr. N. and Mr. C (Cro-Magnon) man may have been sharing the same cave address for a while. What I didn't realize, until my daughter pointed out, was the bones, or, specifically the bone fragments are from Croatia. Specifically, a cave in Croatia, caves being the predecessors to Moose Lodges and Elk Clubs.

Somehow, this did not surprise me. When I lived there or visited, I remember quite a few of the Croatian women saying to their husbands/sons/male colleagues, "Ma baš si primitiv!" This is a multi-purpose phrase which, depending on one's inflection, may mean;
1) "Look, I realize that you just started walking upright but could you act a bit more cultured the next time we go out!"

2) "No, you tie each shoe lace seperately on each shoe. Tying the two shoes' laces together will make us late for the Upper Sava Draughtsman and Window Embellisher Award ceremony." (you see, inflections in Croatia carry a full 3 set piece of luggage of words with them.)


3)"Come to bed, my darling. I've never met no one like you. But, please, clip your toenails; we're not primitive, you know."

It all makes sense now. These women knew they were dealing with the closest thing to that primitive human being, Neanderthal Man, known to us kiddies as Tata, Uncle, or Gospodin Crnić.

An excerpt from here indicates the high level of science practiced in the Land of Croats.

"Paabo, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues presented an initial analysis of Neanderthal DNA in this week's issue of the journal Nature. Rubin and his collaborators presented their own analysis in this week's issue of Science.
Both are based on DNA extracted from a bone that lay in a Croatian cave for 38,000 years.
"It's rather small and uninteresting and was thrown into a big box of uninformative bones" at a museum in Zagreb, Croatia, Paabo said.

Please notice that the box in question, the one with the uniformative bones is big. Big not being a scientifically determinable word, I'll imagine it's the size of a refrigerator packing crate. How many more answers to Life's Questions may be in that box?

Please, don't ask the Croatian scientists. Their wives still refer to them as "primitiv".

Kudos to the daughter for pointing out the WSJ article and not calling her dad, "primitiv".

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Big Meal

I love cooking the Thanksgiving meal. It’s the closest our kitchen gets to being the place of boiling oil and flesh and personal intrigue that Anthony Bourdain chronicled in his Kitchen Confidential.

Our kitchen is long and narrow. Very narrow. If both my ever-loving spouse and I are in the room simultaneously, you’d be hard-pressed to slip a Santoku between us. Just as a note, the closeness is not due to our oversampling of boiling/frying/baking foods as they're being prepared. Like I said, our kitchen is narrow; it is the Kate Moss of kitchen designs. Over the years we’ve practiced a dervish-like dance of knives and colanders, with the clinking of steel and crashing of pots being our musical background. For certain meals, one or the other retreats from the preparation field as we know there would be calamities of a disproportionate size.
Thanksgiving brings its own big honking toot. Foods only made once a year, visitors unfamiliar with the holiday family drama, time schedules limited by one stove and one oven. And that stove/oven? Over 20 years old and limited in its BTU output; you light the gas burners, put your head, sideways, on the stove top, and blow in hopes of adding additional oxygen to increase the heat. Somehow, it always works out. The finished items have a certain enjoyable edibility, which on occasion and with enough spices and luck, turn out almost wonderful. Well, memorable at least. An excess of food is always made. We tend to spread our bets on taste by going for the multiple plates rather than just 3 or 4 dishes. Our more successful T-day meals, statistically speaking, end up with the cooks suffering a higher proportion of nicks and burns. Following this reasoning, our best Thanksgiving would be one where my ever-loving spouse or I would lose a digit or limb. Our dreams of retirement somewhere later in this century preclude loss of any body parts, so we’ve refused, thus far, to destructure ourselves for the sake of a meal.
So, tentatively, here's where we hope to end up next Thursday.

Most Important Ingredients
Friends who kindly accepted a seat at our table on Thanksgiving.

A Beginning
A short glass of homemade Rakija

On the Plate
Juha/Chicken Soup w/ Noklice
Fresh Cranberry Sauce (w/ Orange rind)
Mushrooms Berkeley
8 lb Turkey Breast (Brined o’nite with water, Kosher salt, rosemary, peppercorns, ginger root, celery, oranges)
5 lbs of fried Chicken Breast & Tenderlings
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Baked Jarslberg Macaroni w/ Bechenel (mucho!) cream sauce
String Beans with Garlic and Ginger (Thank you NYT Wed. food section!)
Basmati Rice and Green Peas w/ Meyer lemon-infused grapeseed oil
Homemade Bread

Couch Food
Pecan-Rum Pie
Pumpkin cream Pie
Vanilla & Strawberry Ice Cream
Loose teas, coffees (a current favorite here in the sticks is New Mexico Pinon Coffee)

The Liquids
Perrier Lemon
Nouveau Beaujolais
2003 Corzano e Paterno Il Corzano Rosso Toscano
2004 Freiherr von Heddesdorff Winninger Uhlen Riesling Spatlese Trocken
Other medicinals available

On the (CD) Platter
Herbie Hancock – The Piano
Charlie Haden Hank Jones – Steal Away
Duke Ellington & Ray Brown – This One’s for Blanton
Bill Charlap Trio – Written in the Stars
Peggy Lee – Trav'lin' Light
Bill Charlap - Stardust

Tomorrow, Saturday, off early to Italian Market in Philly for salami, peppers, mascarpone, mozzarella, and something else that may strike my fancy. Food & friends on Thursday! What can be better?

How are your (American) Thanksgiving plans coming together?

Note Bene: The all important after-Thanksgiving recipe for Turkey Chile has been provided by Whisky Prajer here. Not being a turkey fan, I was most pleased to use this recipe last year to salvage the remains of T-day. Can't say enough about this recipe. A bowl of this chili, a hunk of crusty Italian bread, and a bottle of brew and you'll be enjoying Black Friday as you relax the day after.

Note Bene duo: Searchie has provided some gems of recipes. I can't believe she actually provided the recipe for Grand Marnier-Apricot-Sausage Stuffing, in particular. And all without being under duress. Next T-day, I'll definitely be trying these out. This year, unfortunately, the meal is like one of those super giant tankers. Once the course is set, it takes forever to make a turn. Thanks, Searchie!


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Drive Home Review #2

Gypsy Caravan (Putomayo Records): Released in 2001, this Putomayo collection cuts across Europe on a Gypsy (now known as Roma) trail. France, Spain, Hungary, Serbia, & Macedonia are represented by 11 different musicians.

1. Diri, Diri, So Kerdjan? - Romanyi Rota
2. Mori Shej, Sabina - Kalyi Jag
3. Pena - Saban Bajramovic
4. Gipsy Song - Vlatko Stefanovski
5. Les Yeux Noirs - Coco Brianval
6. L'Amour S'Envole - Thierry Robin
7. Al Likindoy - Miguel Angel Cortes
8. Korkore Zav Ande Kalyi Ratyi - Romanyi Rota
9. Kutka Avel E Sej Bari - Amaro Suno
10. Codru - Djelem
11. Sza Tele Zsav - Ando Drom

Every time I've picked up a Putumayo recording I think , o.k., this is the time that they've finally put out a shoddy product; they just can't be perpetually and consistently good.
Well, they still are. With "Gypsy Caravan", they've done it again. As with most of their recordings, unless you're a polyglot (that would be you, Alcessa) you listen to the sound of the words and their intonation, forgetting about trying to understand the words' meanings. The booklet that is provided gives you quite a bit of detail of each band, the song, some related history, and key translations of the lyrics' segments. Again, you listen for the tone and let the singers' voice take you along. The musicians on all of the songs are first rate. For some folks, it may be difficult to get through some of the songs the first time through; the singers' styles are quite different, in most cases, then what an American ear may be used to.
Be patient, though, and you shall hear. An example would be the Serbian singer Saban Bajramovic. Living a full life would be an understatement for this man. Living a cat's nine lives would be closer to the truth. This seeps through his song, not necessarily a tiredness but rather a resignation touched with shredded remnants of hope. It takes a while to warm up to him, but you'll be a better person for it.
The production, as is usual of Putumayo, is excellent. On a first run through, the cd comes together well and it only improves with additional listenings. There's quite a bit of Django Reinhardt in Coco Briaval's "Les Yeux Noirs". Accordians dispersed all around, especialy in Vlatko Stefanovski's "Gipsy Song". Simply a great escape from a day's usual boring ride home. Keep both hands on the wheel! No finger snapping allowed!
Favorites include the Stefanovski song, Kalyi Jag's hypnotic "Mori Shej, Sabina", Amaro Suno's "Kutka Avel e Sej Bari", the jagged duet of violin and wordless singing of Djelem with the song "Codru", and the simply gorgeous album ending "Sza Tele Zsav" as performed by Ando Dromo.
Putumayo's done it again. Seemingly a perfect global d.j.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse @ Fillmore East 1970 : With a fistful of positive reviews, this release, the first of a promised many from the vaults of Neil Young's live recordings, came out on Tuesday, the 14th. As an avid fan of Mr. Young it was my duty to pick it up. $18.99 @ Borders (these folks are nuts; another post on their slide to mediocrity later). $12.88 @ Amazon (but who can wait!!). Other assorted stores, $12.99 to $14.99. Short version? This newly arrived cd was barely being discounted. 6 songs, 4 of them listed as averaging 3 & a half minutes. "Down by the River", listed as 12:24 while "Cowgirl in the Sand" is 16:09. Why am I noting the times? Because they're bogus and this album is a rip-off....mostly. CD container is devoid of any information except the very basic. It's certainly not something you'd be missing if you download/burn some of the songs, i.e., is Reprise really trying to sell this cd or just get folks ticked off? "Wonderin", a nice enough song is listed as being 3:35 in length. I've listened to this cd multiple times and, while my cd player acknowledges it being that length, the music stops at 2:12. That's right, 2 minutes 12 seconds. The remainder, almost a minute and a half, is the audience clapping. This same song disparity holds for all of the times listed for the 6 songs. While I like live albums, I don't listen/buy them because of the sound of that one hand clapping. With Neil Young & Crazy Horse, I expect a live recording to have almost every song in the 7-15 minute range, especially if the recording is back frm the old days of the early '70's.

What saves the album are 2 songs. The 2 long songs, "Down by the River" and, specifically, "Cowgirl in the Sand". For anyone who doesn't give Young chops for his...chops, have a listen to the latter. The muddy shrieks that become his signature style are evidenced in this 1971 recording. He throttles and chokes the guitar for its last ounce of loudly driven pain; no one can sustain this level of bared emotional electricity as well as Mr. Young. Crank it up high, as you should with all Young & Crazy Horse collaborations, and feel his pain.

Zuma is still my favorite Neil Young & Crazy Horse recording, with1990's Ragged Glory a very close second. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live at Fillmore East 1970 will not change my affection for those 2 albums whatsoever. I wouldn't recommend this cd to anyone but a Neil Young nutcase fan (uhhmm, that would be me), unless you can pick it up for $5.99. Download/burn "Cowgirl.." and you've got the only keeper from this cd. I'm still in shock that Borders had the cojones to charge $18.99. Just another indication of their continuing loss of reality's grip.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Some Changes

I don't know about any of you folks but I think Blogger is on an active campaign to change its users over to the New and Improved Beta version. My blog has crashed a few times in the past week and when I've been posting entries it's taken forever to have Blogger accept them. So, I've reluctantly gone to the beta Blogger version. Things seem to be a bit more spiffy, as Whisky Prajer pointed out when he switched. But that one nasty thing is a pain. I can post comments on folks who blog using other programs or who are on the beta Blogger; I can't post comments on folks who are on the older version of Blogger (Sorry Gwynne! I posted the most hilarious comment today and it's gone....somewhere. Well, I thought it was hilarious, maybe your version of Blogger thought otherwise and simply trashed the comment as not meeting a certain standard of civility and hilarity). They say they're working on it!?!? So, until I come up with an alternate plan of commenting, please accept my apologies all those folks still on the non-beta Blogger version.

The post below, a paean to Whisky Prajer's book release was my 500th post. How fitting that the magic number involved such a fine gentleman and his accomplishments. Paraphrasing the old Philadelphia voting philosophy, "Buy early and often." Christmas time is coming; what better gift to give than a book by someone you the blog sense of the word.

Finally, if anyone reading this blog has problems, now that I've beta-ized myself, please let me know. I'm wondering if I'll be abel to reverse the process.

Book Birthing

Mr. Whisky Prajer, an amusement writing machine of the blog variety has ventured into the thinner air of authorship. He has been throwing chum out to his avid blog readers for weeks. Yesterday, he laid out the hook. I've bitten and hope to be reeled in, in about 2 weeks or so. At least that's what the folks at Lulu are promising.

Whisky Prajer is one of the blogs I read on a daily basis. Actually, I read it more than once daily because his postings always invite comments, interesting in their own take on things. WP always answers back, so the conversations sparked by his entry often become discussions leading to other entries. He's a wizard with words and a sly master of the bite and the nip of humour, because a point made with a laugh or a grin is usually one that's easily taken. I encourage you to buy the book. If you've been reading his blog, you know it's for a noble cause.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

He's Watching and Writing

Mr. Sgazzetti over at Isoglossia has a particularly uproarious entry today. Get on over there!
He has a List of Grievances regarding a certain person he had the misfortune to be sequestered in class with while in college. As with most of the bits he writes, Mr. Sgazzetti's misfortunes are turned to riches. A blogging alchemy, I think.

Two choice bits from the List of Grievances:

"(She unloaded on us) flamboyant sneezing, with relish; looking pointedly about for acknowledgment of achievement in form of highly unlikely wishes for her health or blessing "

"(Among her other crimes she was guilty of)exceeding classroom luggage allowance "

An Idle Matinee

"Cheap! That’s what this is about."

I noticed the 100th person in the winding line most probably didn’t hear the comment as he was still engaged in the belt-through-the-belt-buckle-passage quandary. Must have been a long night and an early rising that had him here at the Omniplex for a matinee showing of the movie I was going to, in short time, be regretting soiling my eyes with.

"No.", he calmly replied. "It's thrifty."

"I know thrifty and , trust me, this is not thrifty. It’s cheap, plain and true.", she said turning on him the full fire of her beliefs. If he had a pocket mirror, he would have seen "Cheap" had been branded onto his forehead. (Well, actually it would be "paehC" that he'd be seeing).

The ever-loving wife and I usually get to bantering if we’re queuing (If you want to be clever and combine the 2 words, be my guest. You can even O.E.D. it, although I think they’re past the "B"'s and "Q"'s at this point.). We are not, I think, the Loud People. Usually. Other couples, perhaps still early in their marital bliss, still evidence excessively high levels of enthusiasm for the marital exchanges. So, for the two of us, veterans of public private discourse, this exchange was a trip down memory's lane.
Volume constituted importance and passion.
My ears pricked up and bent slightly in their direction.

The line was much longer than I'd anticipated. Most matinees I attend are sparse of movie watchers. Sometimes, there are more attendants than attendees. That is how I prefer it; the less people, the better. For some movies, only a big screen will do; a dvd at home just doesn’t cut it. A forced march to the local multi-screen is in order.

I favor not attending movie theaters, at all. The level of noise booming on both side walls of the theater you're in takes away enjoyment from the movie you're watching. Then, there's the general low level of social behavior that one has to endure at a movie theater. Talking, predicting, scene-comparing, louder-than-necessary chewing/munching/container-opening, yelling-across-aisles-at-friends-who-are-yelling-back-in-equally-strong-voice, criminally prosecutable bathing habits, etc. You’ve all gone through it and, most probably, it's not a unique experience. It's something that happens each time you’ve gone to a movie theater. Why pay full price for this behavior? It’s not as if the movie shown at 12:00 has lesser actors than that same movie shown at 8:30. And it's more packed at night than during the day.

"This is not only thrifty, it is less wearing on the soul", he offered as an indication of his sound reasoning.

Picking up the handkerchief, she thrusted, "No, I know thrifty. Thrifty is a virtue, like Grace or Empathy . Cheap is a vice."

The rabble was getting louder as we approached the glass-protective ticket booth. We were still within earshot. I debated whether to buy the tickets or hang around for the knockout.
"Sorry, was that vice or vise?", he inquired, sharpening his blade.

"Hmmm. Actually, it’s both. Cheap’s a bad habit that turns into a socially demeaning activity that eventually turns into a vice that probably has some 3 digit criminal code attached to it. Cheap’s also a vise, squeezing the limited social interactions out of your lonely misanthropic life. Don’t you see? Being cheap is a drain on your soul and since I’m here in line with you, a drain on mine as well."

Oh, she was good! Would the movie offer this type of repartee?

"Misanthropic?" he protested lightly, buckling to one knee. "Isn’t that too scathing for 11:00 in the morning? I’d prefer cynical, if you wouldn’t mind."

Silence. Some minor parrying. Some preening. Some licking of wounds.

"Look, we've been in this line for 15 minutes. Cheap or not, can we ride it to the end? If the movie is good, then we got a bargain. If it's bad, we'll feel good that we didn't pay full price for (dreck).", he offered, his neck bared.

She looked up slightly, seeing her words had done more than intended, and nodded.
"O.K., but you've really got to work out this "cheap" thing. It reflects poorly on you, you know. Sort of cheapens your character." Twist !

He sagged a little more. I sighed, in empathy, perhaps a little bit too loudly. His eyes caught mine and we exchanged knowing glances over the generational gap.

It was a most beautiful day out there that day. A day that demanded one's full attention out of the house and not enclosed in a movie theater. A matinee, while saving a modicum of money, was costing them (and us) a stroll in the park in 70 degree weather in November or simply a seat in a backyard, wineglass in hand, face tilted up and following the sun’s path like a sunflower.

The guy had nothing. Nothing except hopes that the movie, with its potential laughs and moments of delight, will lighten the day they've chosen to be in darkened quarters.

As we were to find out shortly, the movie flunked a happy and sunny day. A bite out of our souls. I didn't see that couple once we entered the noisy echoing cave of stall # 3 in the multiplex. I'm not sure if they enjoyed the movie or not. For their sakes, I pray there were some laughs. Their performance was much more interesting. On our way home, we talked about them rather than the movie. Veterans, we were careful about picking sides but, instead, reworked some of their dialogue into an appreciative critique of a couple still struggling for the unspoken understanding.

And matinees? I’ll probably be going solo, with much lower expectations. A cheap thrill if ever there was one.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Going Nowhere to the Movies

In addition to seeing A Disappointment of Major Proportions on Saturday, the clammy, rainy weather of Sunday gave me an excuse to see some Netflixed movies I'd shunted aside. Had to keep the DVD delivery train on its circuitous route, so I punched them through. Is there a DVD player out there that has a turntable like the multi-CD players, thus minimizing any need to get up from the couch for 6-8 hours? Call it the DVD-Slug model.

Kontroll was up first. Bulcsú (Sandor Csányi), Hungary's version of Chris Noth, roams the Budapest Underground as a ticket control agent while deep in a funk over his previous career, of which we find out little but one that he was a genius at. A hooded villain makes an occassional appearance, usually in the form of a fast-moving shadow. Symbolic? Actual? Demonic or simply perpetually stuck in Halloween dress? Who knows?! Bulcsú (Magyar for deep-thinking hunk) gets beat up by:
1) Subway gangs.
2) Old women with canes.
3) His workmates, one of whom is a version of George Clooney, after 3rd rate plastic surgery.
4) That shadowy villain.
He finds solace and happiness underground with a subway driver and his daughter (who walks around in a bear costume for most of the movie. Don't ask. It's nothing kinky, just an outfit without explanation). Eventually, the villain is supposedly crushed by one of the subway cars, our sharp-chinned hero realizes he's in love, and he and the bear-costumed woman (who has shed her fur and is in a Tinkerbell suit at the end) take an escalator into the light. The supporting cast proves the universal point. There are some truly ugly-looking folks down there in the depths of the subways. Must be the fluorescent lighting.

Next on tap was Afterglow, a great movie if you want to see Montreal, although my favorite movie with Montreal as a character is still the Robert DeNiro flick, The Score. Nick Nolte, doing his best loveable Grizzly Bear interpretation while dressed as a handyman, and his wife, the incredibly beautiful yet approachable Julie Christie, have one of those screwed-up modern arrangement marriages that allows them to have affairs and indulge in the act of marriage as well. Everyone is emotionally scarred, on the precipice of throwing themselves off of any available tall building structures, of which Montreal has plenty of. An annoying piece of film-making punctuated with the presence of Lara Flynn Boyle, an actress guaranteed to heat up the annoyance factor.
Montreal looked, as ever, gorgeous despite Ms. Boyle's efforts.

Finally, there was A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg. Andy Griffith enjoys himself way too much in his role of Lonesome Rhodes and, thanks to that over-the-top performance, so will you. He combines an inviting goofy smile with a strong, threatening, physical presence that will shock those folks only familiar with his later days of Mayberry and Matlock. He's got a strong set of pipes, which he exercises well as a downhome singer. He is utterly convincing as a scoundrel and a shyster; almost Robert Mitchum-y in his darkness.
This movie was the best of the crop this weekend and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Borat:A Word in Khazakstan roughly translated as humour that...

...consistently misses the mark. Any mark.

Yeah, I saw Borat. Yesterday, in fact. Anticipation was high. Atmospherically, it was can't-breath-due-to-lack-of-oxygen high. My future happiness in life was riding on the humor of this movie.

As a gift for a special occassion, the ever-loving wife gave me a cd. She was probably getting tired of hearing, "It's only (insert a number here) days until it comes to a theatre for viewing its pleasures!!!".
She was especially getting tired of those "!!!!" I was adding to any proclamation I was making.
"I am deporting the garbage out of the doors. .......... !!!!!! It was obvious I was looking forward to the movie and was in high intensity mode in trying to coax her to accompanying me. I laugh less comfortably with strangers.
So, listening to this made it easier to oil her locked resistance. The cd is, well, it is the fantastic. Great musicians. Great reviews! Bulgarians, Romanians, Roma, Serbians, Macedonians. Sorry, no Kazakh stars. There's even a cover of "Born to be Wild", which, while minimally acoustically linked to the original version, is an earworm in its own right.

The Anticipation of the Laugh was stoked higher. The ever-loving wife, despite her unease with the gross bits she'd heard about, even agreed to come along. We went to a matinee. A post of that will wait for another day.

I knew this was not going to be a movie of subtlety. I expected some gross bits, ones meant to get the GCD's into the theatre. But, that was o.k. with me; they would at least leave the theatre knowing how to correctly pronounce "Kazakhstan".

Your high-browed folks may complain that this view is so fatalistic. I'd just point out to them that, latest election results to the contrary, over 60% of Americans still think Saddam was intimately invlolved with 9/11 events. Enough said about that.

What I wasn't ready for was the plethora of infantile, puerile, sophomoric bits. I'd put up with a few, happy enough to be polishing jewels later. But the jewels were few and far between.
The humor teacher bit.
The car buying bit.
Even the bear as protective action bit.
But the bad taste from the motel wrestling bit, the dinner bit, and all of the other bits that simply fell flat was too much. How the movie received all of the positive reviews for laughs can only be explained by our unquenched need for humor in films and the current dearth of it. The one thing I got out of the film was the need to acquire one of those dark purple light testers they use in CSI to check for dried human bodily fluids on motel/hotel sheets. I'd strongly suggest weraring shoes and slippers in a hotel/motel room all of the time. After watching this movie, you'll have doubts about sleeping overnight anywhere except on your own bed.
The country he comes from has got to be Borathstan, not Kazakhstan. Yes, Borathstan. The only other country on earth equally qualified with a person who thinks he's funny,...not is the United States, since we, most unfortunately, have the Borat-like Bill O'Reilly. Our only saving grace is that we don't have to deal with a movie by O'Reilly. Yet. He may start getting ideas based on Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Heaven help us then.

My advice. If you haven't seen the movie yet. Don't. Say your moneys for other possibilities. Instead, use your entertainment dollars for the week to buy this and this. Put the former on the cd platter. Put the latter ("Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry") in your paws and read. And laugh, a lot. The latter activity was not readily available in the movie.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Church Remains

On a recent trip to that wonderful city of Pittsburgh, we went on a search for St. Nicholas Church, the first Croatian parish church in North America. From information I'd culled off the internet I had mistakingly thought that the church was still active. These photographs were taken in 2002. Surely, the last 4 years would not have seen such a precipitous drop in appearance and, more importantly, liveliness.
But it had. We skipped over the low "No Trespassing" sign and climbed the stairs. All of the doors were bolted, all of the stained glass windows boarded or protected by iron screens. The church is located on East Ohio Street, also known as Route 28. A rundown, littered, and unused sidewalk is all that seperates this officially designated Historic Landmark from the 4 lane speedily travelled East Ohio Street. This is Spring Hill, a residential area in need of some love and money. I hope the church is physically able to hold on until a dedicated effort can restore it. Perhaps not to its original intent of worship. But other possibilites exist. Going west on East Ohio Street, making a right onto 31st St. Bridge and then, shortly after, a left onto Liberty Avenue, you'll pass by the Church Brew Works.

There are many ways to worship; I don't think your God will mind if you hoist a few in His name. Besides, Pittsburgh needs another good brewery/restaurant, done in a Croatian style.

As you can see, one of the statues is missing from its designated place of vigilance while in the background another, what is probably, smaller statue of the Virgin Mary is surrounded by falling tree limbs and grasses pushing through the concrete walkways.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bringing Out Our Dead

The Dead
The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats
of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,

which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.

by Billy Collins

Consistently, the bathrooms at funeral homes are the cleaniest and the least encumbered with sentimentality of any bathrooms you'll be visiting in your lifetime. The latter characteristic is a peculiar one for me, because if there's one public bathroom I'd expect sentimentality it would be that in a place associated with tissues, deep breaths and sighs, labored breathing, and uncontrollable tears. Perhaps the lack of the cloying art and knick-knacks is very deliberate. The funeral home bathroom is the only room in the house allowing anyone to be in a private and lockable place. These utilitarian rooms must contain as many heartfelt outpourings and tear stains as any Catholic confessional. The funeral home bathroom offers your only privacy for not only bodily but, more importantly, spiritual relief. The mirror in the room is strongly bolted to the wall so as to absorb the weight of never-ending sadness it views, with each successive occupant.

We had been at one such funeral home on Wednesday, in the Alexandria, VA area. An uncle had died, ending a drawn out struggle with cancer. Upon arrival, we repaired to a bathroom to spruce up and splash some awakening water in our faces. We checked the mirror for appropriate face settings. The image stared back, sadness etching in from the background until our faces were in full pallor mode. Opening the bathroom door was a task now as we were burdened with the weight of the previous visitors' emotions along with our own.

For a long time I could not come to grips with the feeling of sadness that swept over me whenever I went to a funeral. For the funerals of known relatives or close friends' parents, the heaviness was understandable. However, for some funerals, I had never met or I had exchanged only a minimum of words with some of the people whose funeral I was attending. I'd assumed that the funeral was for this one person, this one body that I hardly recognized. It took me a while to realize that each funeral may have 20-100 attendees who are alive, but a geometric progression of that number of attendees no longer with us. And it was we who had brought these dead people along. It was the cumulative weight (Is 21 Grams the correct weight of each emotional departure?) of previous funeral headliners that filled our sack of sadness.
But isn't that at least one aspect of what funerals are about? Sharing our goodbyes for the body at rest and joining that person with all of the bodies we've given our final salutations to in the past. Each funeral has us bringing out our own personal dead. Our dead parents. Our long gone relatives. Why, even the dead who we never saw but who were woven into family lore since we had first asked our grandmother or mother to tell us stories of our long lineaged families, were there with us. It seemed a miracle we could even stand during the services.

But we did. It was a simple ceremony at a church just down the road from Mt. Vernon. I figure even George may have strolled by the casket; he was always interested in the company he'd keep.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pittsburgh Streets

A mural on Craig Street, just down the street from

the Duquesne Incline, on a hazy lazy November Pittsburgh Sunday.

(Click on pictures for larger size.)


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