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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

The thing about being a grown up who isn't living paycheck to paycheck is that I can now do things that I wouldn't have even dreamed of in my youth.  On a recent trip to Portland, my spouse and I woke up one morning, the only thing on the agenda being dinner reservations at six o'clock, and decided to rent a care and drive out to the Columbia River Gorge.
A waterfall as magnificent and memorable as any in the country is located just a 30- minute drive outside of Portland. Visiting Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot-tall roaring, awe-inspiring cascade of icy water, lets you experience the power and beauty of nature up close and with ease. From the parking area off of I-84, a 5-minute walk is all that separates you from the exhilarating spray at the base of the falls.
According to Native American lore, Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a hidden place to bathe. Although you can see the top portion of the falls from the highway, to view both tiers you have to walk to the viewing area located in a carved-out opening in the rock face. Tilting your head up in the narrow rocky confines of the steep cliffs, you get a mind-boggling perspective on the sheer magnitude of the falls.
  The Ranger Station is a little under powered with people who know what is and isn't open as a result of the fires last summer, so be patient if you go about exploring the sites around the falls, but it is a spectacularly beautiful site.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Death of Stalin (2018)

This is flat out brilliant.  It is a movie set at the end of Stalin's life, after decades of purges of every sort imaginable.  At dinner one night, the Russian elite are drinking and telling macabre tales, and at the end of the evening, Lavrenti Beria, the sadistic head of the secret police, turns to Georgy Malenkov and tells him that he is on the most recent list of purges, and urges him to drive his car into a tree and be done with it, it will save them all time and money.  Once Stalin dies, there is the inevitable jockeying for power that would occur in any such government, and oddly, Malenkov is suddenly up on top, ever so briefly.  The back room deals, the ruthless killing of anyone who knows anything to save face is stunningly pulled off, culminating in a Red Army coup and Nikita Khrushchev somehow, almost improbably, out on top.  Crazy like a fox, he is, but the bitter laughter that pervades the movie is very similar to the tone that I got when I was a visitor in modern day Russia.  The vast corruption and the inequities that are outside of the control of most pervade the country today.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dams on the Columbia River

 Dams are complicated.  What we get is pretty green, pretty affordable power.  What we loose is wild rivers.
The Columbia River is a mighty powerhouse of a water way.  It is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest.  The Columbia and its tributaries have been central to the region's culture and economy for thousands of years. They have been used for transportation since ancient times, linking the region's many cultural groups.  It is the pathway that Lewis and Clark took once they left the Missouri River and went westward to the Pacific Ocean.
Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the Grand Coulee dam, and in Bob Dylan's tribute to Woody, he also mentioned it.  We did not get up that far on the Columbia on our last trip to Oregon, but we did see the Dalles Dam.
Humans have inhabited the Columbia's watershed for more than 15,000 years, with a transition to a sedentary lifestyle based mainly on salmon starting about 3,500 years ago.  So when damming the river, the legacy of the salmon as both a food source as well as a cultural icon needed to be preserved.I hadn't thought about fish ladders in a very long time.  Here is the fish ladder around the dam.  It is possible to watch very young fish through a glassed window making their way up the ladder--which is remarkably difficult to manage, it turns out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lady with a Parasol, Hiroshige, 1815

The Figge Museum in Davenport has a large collection of wood block prints by the two most famous Japanese artists.  It is true that while the men designed the prints, it was largely left to women to craft them, but the scenes and the styles are quite magnificent.
This particular print was in the Frank Lloyd Wright display at the museum.  That is fitting, as these prints influenced lots of artists that came after them, and are in many ways timeless.
Hiroshige grew up in a minor samurai family in what was then Edo. His father belonged to the firefighting force assigned to Edo Castle. It is here that Hiroshige was given his first exposure to art: legend has it that a fellow fireman tutored him in the Kano school of painting, though Hiroshige’s first official teacher was Rinsai. Though Hiroshige tried to join Utagawa Toyokuni’s studio, he was turned away. In 1811, the young artist entered an apprenticeship with the celebrated Utagawa Toyohiro. After only a year, he was bestowed with the artist name Hiroshige. He soon gave up his role in the fire department to focus entirely on painting and print design. During this time he studied painting, intrigued by the Shijo school. Hiroshige’s artistic genius went largely unnoticed until 1832.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In Darkness (2011)

I have been quite thorough in watching most if not all of the Academy award nominated movies of the last couple of years, but going back a bit further, I have not been as complete.  The Best Foreign Language film nominees can be tough to watch.  They deal with difficult topics often, and while they are incredibly well done, they are often a challenge.  This is one such example.
Socha is a sewer worker in Lviv and he was no saint. An anti-Semite who before the war was exploiting and cheating Jews, he used the sewers to stash his loot and realized he could make money by selling food and supplies to these survivors. He started off as  a thief but he changed.  He used his occupation as an excuse to come and go in the Nazi-controlled city and even had a plausible reason to go down into the sewers.
The film doesn't inquire too closely into how Socha found adequate food, blankets and medicine for so many people, at a time when such things were strictly rationed. The black market was his domain, and he knew where to look. But the time came when this arrangement was no longer convenient or profitable for Socha. By then, he had witnessed unspeakable atrocities carried out by the Nazis and had come to know the Jews as individuals. He had a change of heart and then became determined that they must survive no matter what. This involved many risks and much danger, and he was responsible for saving their lives.  No one is without sin, but the story is both a true one and one that makes you grateful even in these difficult political times.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Kilaeua Caldera by Thomas Moran, 1886

I have loved the Hudson River School of painting for an awfully long time, and they were a productive lot.  In the past month I saw this and others in the San Diego Art Museum in Balboa Park, and another painting by Moran at the Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa.  This particular one seems timely, in that the Kilaeua volcano is once again erupting and causing no end of havoc, but is good to remember that Mother Nature has a long trajectory.  Don't forget that.
Thomas Moran is possible the best known of this school of painters.  He returned to England, from whence he came, to study Turner's use of light, which is evident in much of his work.  Moran's trip to Yellowstone in 1871 marked the turning point of his career. The previous year he had been asked by Scribner's Magazine to rework sketches made in Yellowstone by a member of an earlier expedition party. Intrigued by the geysers and mudpots of Yellowstone, he borrowed money to make the trip himself. Numerous paintings and commissions resulted from this journey, but the sale of his enormous (7 by 12 feet) Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872, National Museum of American Art) to Congress shortly after passage of the bill that set Yellowstone aside as the first National Park, brought Moran considerable attention.  He painted many more throughout his career, and this is a nice example of his work.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Handmade Life

There is so much to be unhappy about, and I feel like it is even worse for people my children's age.  A corrupt government, making all the wrong decisions and for the wrong reasons, a president who cannot speak for more than a minute or two without lying, and elected officials who ostensibly are there to represent the people instead cow towing to big oil, the gun lobby, and oh so much more than only makes their future bleak.  And they are trying to cut off healthcare to the elderly and the poor, while sucking Social Security dry.  The one ray of hope that they have that I admire is that they are valuing things that are made by hand.  They are growing vegetables and making bread.  These glasses are made by a housemate of ours from college, Marcia Wiley at Wiley Ware, and they are to me a great example of bringing beauty and art into your life in simple ways that matter.  There is hope, but you really have to vote. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Good Lie (2014)

This is a movie that is a little bit too long on the front end, and just about right from then on.  It is not a feel good movie, but rather a feel right movie,  where lonely people in America help refugees of an African conflict.
The movie does not settle for being simplistic and condescending, rather presenting an honesty of the struggles and barriers that everyone involved faced that compensates for any of the more obvious tugs on our tear ducts, most of which arrive in the latter part of the film.  The primary source of this authenticity is a cast populated with South Sudanese actors who captivate without pretense. Two of the three male leads, as well as the actress who plays their sister, were caught up in the conflict before fleeing their homeland for asylum elsewhere. One was a child soldier, the other two lost relatives in the war.  These are traumatized people who need some luck and some hard work and some aptientce to make progress.  A good watch.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Beast, Portland, Oregon

My spouse and I have been on an incredible (and probably unsustainable) year of eating great meals in great restaurants around the country.  When in Portland we had the chance to eat at Beast, which used to be a pop up establishment and now is on the first floor of a house in a funky neighborhood in Northwest Portland (a solid five miles from our downtown hotel, which is only relevant in that we walked there).
The thing to know about this place is that the ever changing menu is delicious, the atmosphere is very funky and informal, and you are going to be sitting with strangers unless you come with a big party.  As a not very social diner, this is okay with me occasionally, but not as a general rule--on this occasion one of our fellow diners was someone who could end up in my first novel.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Coconut, Almond, and Blueberry Cake

I love all things Ottolenghi, and since one of my sons has been ramping up his baking game, I got his dessert cookbook out of the library and this one was intriguing because of how little flour it has.  So it is an option for both gluten free flour substitution and for Passover.
  • 200g/ ¾ cups plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, then set aside to come to room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 180g/ 1 2/3 cups ground almonds
  • 60g/ 2/3 cups desiccated coconut
  • 250g/1 ¼ cups caster sugar
  • 70g/ ½ cup plus 1 tbsp. self-rising flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • finely grated zest of 2 lemons (2 tsp)
  • 200g/ 1-1/4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 20g/ ¼ cups sliced almonds
  • Grease and line a 9 inch spring form or 23cm round cake tin. Preheat the oven to 350F 180C/160C.
  • Place the almonds, coconut, sugar, flour and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk to aerate and remove the lumps.
  • Place the eggs in a separate medium bowl and whisk lightly. Add the melted butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest and whisk again until well combined. Pour this into the dry mix and whisk to combine. Fold in 1 cup/ 150g of the blueberries, then pour the mixture into the tin. Sprinkle the last of the blueberries on top along with the flaked almonds and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Keep a close eye on it towards the end of cooking: the large number of eggs in the mix means that it can go from still being a little bit liquid in the centre to being well cooked in just a few minutes.
  • Set aside for 30 minutes before inverting out of the tin, removing the baking parchment and placing the cake the right way up on a serving plate. It can either be served warm with cream or set aside until cool.
  • This will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container or wrapped in aluminium foil. It also freezes well for up to a month.