Search This Blog

Monday, June 30, 2014

Palais el Badi, Marrakesh

This site was a wonderful mix of old and new the day we were there.  The palace took twenty five years to build, with construction finally completed around 1593 and was a lavish display of the best craftmanship of the Saadian period, but at this point it is almost in ruins.  There are hints at it's former splendor, but that is what they are--hints.

El-Badia Palace is hidden behind its red coloured pisé walls and apparently it can be a bit tricky to find. After entering through the so called Green Pavilion we came in the enormous courtyard with four sunken gardens with orange trees and a swimming pool. Going to the left we reached a staircase - just behind a nice fountain with zellij tile work - to a viewing point with views of the courtyard and the remains of the of the palace (to the other side is a view over the roofs of Marrakech to the Koutoubia Mosque, with some stork nests nearby on the ramparts).  Don't miss the dungeon and the restored minbar (in the only renovated part of the palace).  But the real point is the scale of the place, which reflects the scale that the sultans lived on.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengetu

This is a complicated book that is set in Uganda in the 1970s at a time when there remained no optimism related to independence and before the realities of civil war destroyed the country.  There are many stories that could be set against this background, but this story is not so much about Uganda but rather the fate of a child of the revolution who ends up traumatized and silent in the United States.

There are two Isaacs in the book. One is a brave, impetuous revolutionary at Kampala University. He taunts rich students, plasters the halls with flyers, and eventually stokes a small revolt, which will spiral out of control both for him and others. He yearns for vengeance or justice, or something else that he can't quite define.

The other Isaac, is a cautious, bookish young man to whom the fiery Isaac will eventually give his name and identity as a kind of exit visa from dangerous times. The milder Isaac grew up outside Uganda on a farm, dreaming of university and rereading the dozen or so Victorian novels he had nearby hundreds of times. He cares less for justice than he does for survival. The story goes between a black man making his way in America  (with an illicit relationship with a white woman that he cannot bring himself to tell what he has done and what has happened to him) and the worsening civil unrest in Uganda.  Powerful, wonderful, awful, and mesmerizing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chicken with Rhubarb

During the summer I do one of two things for vegetables--I get them at the Farmer's Market or I join a CSA...well, let's face it, some summers I have just not really fully enjoyed the bounty of living in a farming state and skipped both of the above options.  However, it is a better summer with the first two options in play.

This year is a CSA year (too many Saturdays are occupied), and this is what we did with the rhubarb and some of the garlic scapes.

  • 1 (5 1/2-pound) whole chicken, cut into eight pieces
  • ~1 tablespoon salt
  • ~1 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 2 tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 2 stalks garlic scapes (or garlic cloves would work fine)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4-6 fresh rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon honey, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1.  Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Place in a bowl with the thyme sprigs and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove thyme from bowl with chicken, reserving thyme.  Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer pieces to a platter.
3.  Reduce heat to medium. Stir in onion (white and light green parts) and cook until soft. Add garlic and reserved thyme; cook 1 minute more. Stir in wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of pan. Add rhubarb, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.
4.  Return chicken pieces to pot in a single layer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes for breasts and 20 to 25 minutes for legs and thighs, transferring chicken pieces to a platter as they finish cooking.
5.  Whisk butter into rhubarb sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with sliced onion greens.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Moroccan Lamps, Lanterns, and Lighting

Sometimes you bring home everything that you see on a trip that appeals to you and sometimes there is so much that to have it all is just not possible.  The later was my experience on my recent trip to Morocco--to give you an idea of that, I got home over three months ago and I am still writing about it.  I will not be able to write all that I think about Morocco either!

One of the things that I left for the next trip is a glimpse of the Sahara Desert, which is a popular tourist destination, and the other very appealing thing that I left behind was a Moroccan light.  I love the metal lampshades that are ubiquitous--they come in all shapes and sizes and patterns, and the light that falls upon the room walls is magical and artistic and reminds me of long ago tales of North Africa.

The one glitch in my love affair with Moroccan lampshades is that I live in a Vicotrian house that was built in the American Civil War--it is just not the sort of house that you can picture being lit up with Moroccan lights.  That is the part that I have to figure out before I go back--exactly where would I put such a beautiful light to fit just right into the space that it is in.  In the meantime, I have the memories of what I loved--and one of my friends has some of these magical lights in their house and I can visit them there.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Quo Vadis (1951)

The translation of the title means' "Where Are You Going?"  One can always ask that question, and it can be taken literally, but in this case I beleive it is metaphorical.  We watched the movie not so much for the story but for the setting in the mid-first century in Rome.  My son is beginning a Classics major, and I find that while the story in the movie may have little to no historical relevance, often time they have gotten the costumes and settings down quite well.  This movie is close to 3 hours long and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in 1951, including best musical score, two best acting nominations, and best picture--it is an epic movie, ino ther words, in both scope and quality.

The movie chronicles the treatment of Christians in the Roman Empire under Nero, starting in 64 and going up to the end of his regime in 68. It quite nicely illustrates the conditions of the empire under Nero, the sort of man that he was, and the people he surrounded himself with.  It is a nicely illustrative rendition of Nero's obsessions and why they were so destructive, ultimately leading to the end of the Julio Claudian emperors.  The film blames Nero for the Great Fire of Rome in 64--historians blame the long hot summer and the shoddy construction of the houses where the fire started, but agree that Nero did not return to Rome, despite the devestation, until his own house was threatened.  His behavior afterwards, where he built a sprawling palace on land that was once occupied by houses that burned, reinforced the opinion that he was not broken hearted about the devestation.  Reportedly he rebuilt Rome in a way that was rational and aimed at preventing another fire of that scope--houses needed to have stone fronts and first floors rather than just wooden ones.  Nero had more water brought to the city via aqueduct and constructed many fountains so that fire could be fought more easily, and he fed and sheltered everyone after the fire.  No matter.  He did blame the Christians and did crucify them as responsible for the fire.  There are other factual errors in the rendtion of history, but it is well worth watching none-the-less.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Palais de la Bahia, Marrakesh, Morocco

This site is not particularly old by Moroccan standards, but those are high standards indeed.  It was begun in the mid-19th century, but the embelleshment of the palace, which is what makes it so spectacular, was done at the end of the 19th century, employing the best artisans in the land for 14 years.  No wonder it is so amazing.  The one take home message from a trip to Morocco is that htis is a place where artisans still know how to use their hands.
The El Bahia palace is situated in the south of the Medina and is approached by a long garden driveway.Once inside you are directed by arrows on the wall which take you through a succession of rooms and courtyards.The decoration in the rooms with the tiling,carved wooden doors and ornate ceilings gives you a good idea of what is exquisite about Moorish architecture, especially if you are not venturing beyond Marrakesh.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moroccan Slippers

I arrived in Morocco having seen pictures like these in every guide book I looked at--and it was not an exaggeration--these slippers were everywhere.  They come in many different shapes and colors.  Some of them have backs and some of them dont.  Someof them are wide toed and someof them have the pointed toes.  They come with embellishment or plain.  It was very clear fromt he very first day that it would not be hard to find these shoes.

 I knew that I needed to get a pair of the pointed toed Aladdin shoes, even if I rarely wore them, because they are so iconic of the place.  I bought them at the leather cooperative in Fes, where I first learned that tanning leather is a very smelly business indeed and that I have an unaccoutnable love of goat skin that I will endeavor to deny for the sake of goats everywhere.  I bought a pair, and in retrospect I wish that I had bought quite a few pairs to give away.  they are inexpensive and marvelous at the same time.  Not to mention that they bring a smile to your face when you see them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In a World (2013)

This is an enjoyable movie that had a couple of nice subtexts to go along with the text.  The story involves Sam (played by Fred Melamud), a gifted voice over artist who is employed to do trailers for movies.  He is very self-absorbed, but acknowledges that while he has an excellent voice, he was not the best voice.  His narcissism makes him one of the worst kinds of parents--one who cannot tolerate any sort of success in his offspring.  His daughter Dani has chosen the easiest of paths--she is a conierge in a high end hotel, catering to the whims of the rich and famous.  She dodges any direct competition with dad but she is miserable, as evidenced by her distracted interactions with her husband Mel, who adores her.  Carol (played by Lake Bell, who wrote and directed the movie) is another story.  She has a great voice for trailers, but the industry is dominated by men--which Sam does not bemoan.  In fact he encourages her to pursue a dead end nitch part of the business (foreign accent coach, an arena designed to keep her "down on the farm" in the voice industry). 

Carol is more or less content with that, but when the opportunity to do some voice over work comes up, she grabs it and has some success.  Which makes Sam crazy rather than happy--he immediately wants to squash her down, to remain on top himself.  There are a couple of sweet threads of romantic comedy and romantic drama that run through the movie, each of which is well handled, and overall the movie is a good one.  Not too deep but with something to think about.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Additions to Ramen Soup

I add this recipe for every college student that I know and love, for now and in the future.  The recipe appeared in the New York Times from Roy Choi, who insists that these variations take ramen from the ordinary to the Korean American sublime--and having tried it, I can't help but agree with him.  This is one of the best tasting fast food options that is readily available in everyone's pantry. 

Here is his basic recipe.  Pay particular note to the egg poaching technique.

1 pack ramen noodles with flavor packet--omit oil packet if it is an option, add hot pepper packet adjusted to

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 1 slice American cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 scallion, thinly sliced              

  • 1.
    Bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the noodles and cook for 2 minutes. Add the flavor packet, stir, and continue to cook for another 30 seconds.
    Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the egg. Do not stir; pull the noodles over the egg and let sit for one minute to poach.
    Carefully transfer everything to a serving bowl, add the butter, cheese and sesame seeds and mix. Garnish with the scallions if desired
    The other options are to add addition chopped fresh herbs, left over vegetable side dishes that might work with the soup, and thinly sliced meat.  Choi's point is that the butter and the cheese make the noodles all the more interestingly flavored, and he is right about that.  I buy the ramen that have not been flash fried, which take a bit longer to cook, but have significantly less fat calories. 

    Saturday, June 21, 2014

    The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

    When you decide to read a book by an author that you have never read before based on a review of the book in a magazine, you may find yourself unprepared to intelligently discuss the book in a crowd of people who know her work.  I was at a Father's Day brunch, having just finished the book in short order, and when I mentioned th book, a well read woman across the table from me said, "Oh, yes, she the author who has magical elements in ther book".  My initial thought was no, that's not it, but on second thought, that was definitely there.  One of the two main characters was born with webbed digits, swims prodigious lengths of the Hudson River, and may or may not need to hold her breath under water. The mermaid reference is undeniable.

    The reason that I didn't tumble to that when I was reading the book, which is set in 1911 in New York City admist terrible abuses of immigrant laborers and the beginnings of unions, is because the two main characters immigrated to the United States as children, worked to maintain themselves at an early age, were each abused in their own ways, and are both damaged by childhood trauma.  Eddie did a stint as a gangster, and is estranged from his father, while Coralie is put on display by her father, eventually in a sexual way.  So not altogether happy stuff, and the backdrop is that the factory owners are willing to kill to keep their businesses just the way they are.  Yet despite all, the story ends on a happy note, and it is quite entertaining along the way.

    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Her (2013)

    I loved this movie on the level that wherever I am I see people, young and old, staring at their smart phones in many inappropriate places.  Like at a very nice dinner with a dozen people sitting around the table I will see someone attending to their phone while a stimulating conversation is swirling around them.  So beware, this is a cautionary tale.

    Theodore (played remarkably by Joaquin Phoenix) is an ordinary guy that we can all relate to.  He checks his e-mail on the ride home from work. However, his smart phone and its earpiece work in a futuristic way that is different from ours, and soon it becomes clear that "this is something of a science-fiction film, set in the not-too-distant but distinctly fantastic future. A big part of the movie's charm is just how thoroughly Jonze has imagined and constructed this future Los Angeles, from its smoggy skies to its glittering skyscrapers to its efficient mass transit system (well, that part is harder to believe).

    This sets the stage for an unusual love story: Theo, still highly damaged and sensitive over the breakup of his marriage, falls in love with the artificially intelligent operating system of his computer. The movie focuses on Theo's interaction with his OS, Samantha. Samantha is reorganizing Theo's files, making him laugh, and developing something like a human consciousness.  It is interesting and troubling simultaneously. Samantha is a computer, so she has the ability to process data at a higher speed than humans.  Who can compete with that?  And while Samantha's programming is designed to make her likable to Theo, and soon we are liking her too.  She seems like the perfect girlfriend.  Except that she is not real.

    In the midst of the heavy implications of falling in love with a machine, the movie finds time for real comedy. At first Theo feels a little odd about his new "girlfriend," and then finds out that his pal Amy (Amy Adams) is getting caught up in a relationship with the OS left behind by her estranged husband. The movie never appears to be an all-out satire, Jonze drops potentially frightening hints about how the existence of artificial intelligence in human society might affect us. It is either very depressing or very thought provoking, or maybe a bit of both, with a satisfying ending.

    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    The Camel's Eye View

    Riding a camel was not the only touristy thing that I did while I was in Morocco--I bought a rug, I had my head wrapped into a turban, I bought a fez and balloon pants, and I seriously considered changing all the light fixtures in my house into the wonderful brass lamp coverings that I saw everywhere-- but a camel ride is the obvious choice for the most touristy thing that I did.
    Pictured here are the two camels my son and I rode, and he atop his camel. 

    Here are my retrospective thoughts on the experience.  First and foremost, it is a shock when the camel stands up.  I was completely unprepared for the sudden altitude change.  One minute I am easily climbing onto the camel's back and seemingly instantaneously to that I am 12 feet off the ground and holding onto the saddle with a death grip.  Once I reassured myself that I was indeed atop the camel, I hung on for dear life and the rest of the ride was pretty enjoyable.  For about 15 minutes.  After that I became seriously concerned that if my life depended on me riding a camel to safety that I might fail at the task.  That is a very wide hump.  The muscles on my inner thighs were not conditioned for a long stroll in the savannah on camel back.  The good news is that I was once again on terra firma in about 60 minutes, and after the shock of going up, I was better prepared for the speed with which the camel descended to the earth and managed to disembark the ride with a modicum of grace.  I know it is the ultimate desert cliche but in the end, I would recommend a camel ride.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    General Tso's Chicken

    After my recent trip to China, where I ate regional Chinese cooking morning, noon, and night, I returned to Iowa ready to make another attempt at cooking the same cuisine at home.  The unfortunate truth is that aside from a very good Szechuan restaurant, my home town has uniformly unacceptable Chinese food available.  So it is not just a desire but a necessity that I cook it myself.

    I have been doing a reasonable job using jarred suace mistures with an array of vegetables from our summer CSA to make a good Chinese dinner once or twice a week.  I wanted to get some frequency down before I ent for more nuanced recipes.  Not so with my spouse--he dove right into trying to create something from scratch.  This was really good.

    Marinade cubed chicken (1.5 pounds) in:
    light soy sauce (2 TBS),
    1 beaten egg,
    ½ tsp black pepper,
    then stir in 1-2 T corn starch.
    Next flour chicken pieces well, set aside--use your chop stricks to move the chicken from marinade to flour to a plate.  Deep fry chicken until browned--this can be done in a small pot in batches to minimize the oil you use.
    Meanwhile make sauce:
    2 T dark soy sauce,
    2 T oyster sauce,
    2 T brown rice vinegar (Chinaking vinegar) ,
    1 T rice wine (Shianxing),
     3 T sugar,
    ¾ cup water, 
    1 T corn starch
    In wok, heat up a little (2 T) oil, then add 4-8 chile peppers, 1 T each of chopped garlic and ginger. Then add sauce and 4 T chopped scallions.  You can sprinkle the top with sesame seeds, and you can serve with steamed broccoli as well. 

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    Philomena (2013)

    This movie is based on a true story about an elderly Irish woman searching for the toddler son that she was forced to give up for adoption as an unwed teen living in a convent run by pious nuns who thought all the pain their charges endured was entirely deserved. The movie could be terribly dreary, but it is not.  Most of its pleasures come from the way it confounds expectations.

    Philomena (played masterfully by Judi Dench) is a middle class woman with common tastes.  She dresses practically, does not pass up a free meal, and is happy in her life of family and romance novels except for one thing.  She unwillingly gave up her three year old son and on his 50th birthday, she tells her daughter her guilty secret.  She gets help in her quest from Martin Sixsmith (acerbically played by Steve Coogan with just the right mix of irreverance for the church and sympathy for Philomena), a recently unemployed reporter who remains convinced that he is destined for greater things, just not right at the moment, when he is riding our a political maelstrom that got him fired.

    Martin agrees to help Philomena and his cynicism balances her optimism beautifully.  They start at the convent where while they claim that all papers related to what happened to adopted children were burned in a 'fire', the papers demonstrating that the girls willingly relinquished their children and all future claim on them remain intact.  Sixsmith tries to get access to a nun who was there at the time Philomena was but is blocked--luckily, the bar maid at the local pub gives them a clue to look in America.

    The story has a bittersweet ending, and not one that exonertes the church in any way.  The discovery of a mass burial of children at an Irish convent in the news recently only reinforces the evils of the past, but while Sixsmith damns them, Philomena forgives them.  It is a simple story that arouses complicated feelings in a very kind way.  Beautifully done.

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    The Berber Colors

    One of the many things that I loved about my recent trip to Morocco was learning more about the ancient tribe of Morocco--the Berbers.  As with any ancient tribal culture, it is not so much one culture but many, but there are similarities that bind them together. 

    One is the colors that repeat in their hand crafts--the tiles pictured above are the artisanal interpretation of the colors that are found in the Atlas Mountains, pictured below.  Once I understood that, I started to find the things that are man made in these colors more organic, more in harmony with the environment that they come out of, and the more they remind me of my Moroccan trip.

    I was visiting a friend recently who had just come back from India.  Like me she had bought a rug (and like me it was more beautiful than she imagined the rugs in India to be, and also more expensive than what she thought she would come home with), but in addition to that she bought a tile table.

    I visited a place where tile tables were definitely and option, but after the rug (and a beautiful set of hand painted dishes in Berber colors) I felt a table was, well, off the table, but I think that will be the purchase of the next visit.

    Sunday, June 15, 2014

    Chinese Cucumber and Garlic Salad

    There are many delicious dishes that I had on my recent trip to China, but only one of them did I have twice--this refreshing cucuber salad that is both simpe and refreshing, the perfect dish to add to a repertoir of cucumber salads for the summer.  You can make this with chilis or without.

    1 cucumber, cut into bite-sized pieces
    4 cloves of garlic minced
    1/4 tsp. sugar
    dash of toasted sesame oile
    1 tsp. light soy sauce
    1 tsp. brown rice vinegar
    dash of salt to taste
    pepper flakes to taste if desired

    Toss the ingredients in a bowl and mix, taste, and adjust the seasoniing.  It should have a prominent but not overpowering garlic flavor (the region of China I had this in is know for it's small flavorful garlic bulbs).  The sweet-salty-sour flavors should be balanced, and if you add hot, add that balance into your mix.  The salad can be served at the beginning of a meal or as a side dish.

    Saturday, June 14, 2014

    Anchorman 2 (2013)

    I want to be perfectly clear that htis is not a good movie.  I find Will Ferrell to be wonderful in dramatic roles and less so in comedic roles, but Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd also fall quite flat in this movie.

    So why write about it? It is not simply to warn you off.  It is to reflect on the time within which the movie is set, which is the beginning of the era of the 24/7 news channels.  The movie perfectly captures the essential prolem that these channels perpetuate, which is that when it is not possible to fill all that time with in depth reporting on actual news that they just make stuff up and call it news.  These guys go from washed up newsmen to sought after TV personalities based not on talent but on being completely outrageous.  Never let the truth get in the way of telling a sensational story.  That is what we have stooped to, and that is where we remain.  But maybe not for long--I read a poll last week that the average age of people who watch these shows is over 60 years old.  I did not read the original data, so it is unclear if that is because to be able to watch at noon you have to be retired, or if that is the entire pool of people who watch, regardless of the hour, but if it is the later, then perhaps their days are numbered.

    A few weeks ago I read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about the Golden Age of Journalism, where crack reporters revealed the inherent corruption in American business and politics, which sawyed public opinion and led to progressive changes in the country.  Anchorman 2 convinced me that those kind of changes are not possible in the era of fake news masquerading as real news. 

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Childhood Cancer Deserves a Better Spokesperson

    Charles Hemenway, MD, PhD (who speaks, by the way, not like the majority of pediatric oncologists that I have met) wrote a review of the movie "The Fault in Our Stars, based on the book by John Green about two characters with childhood cancer.  While he acknowledges that a work of fiction does not have to be accurate, what he goes on to say denegrates the cancer experience of all children who have undergone treatment, regardless of their outcome.

    The most outrageous thing he says is that dying from a childhood cancer is not common.   Yes, getting cancer is rare for children, but once you have it, dying is not all that rare.  As a physician, a 30% mortality is nothing to minimize, and as a parent that number is absolutely heartbreaking.   These are children, after all, who have not yet had a chance to experience the things that bring joy into many of our lives, including the experience of falling in love.  The question he should have answered is "Does this happen?" and the answer is that it most certainly does--children with cancer are frequently hospitalized and attend cancer related events together, and they have many opportunites to meet each other, to fall in love with each other, and to know children who have died.  That is a reality he has apparently failed to appreciate in his years of caring for his patients. 

    Next on my list of complaints is the use of the word 'cure', because for the vast majority of survivors of child hood cancer, they have significant health and psychiatric effects from their cancer experience.  In the June 2013 issue of JAMA the first article to prospectively evaluate the long term effects of cancer treatment noted: At age 45 years, the estimated cumulative prevalence of any chronic health condition was 95.5% and 80.5% for a serious/disabling or life-threatening chronic condition for adult survivors of childhood cancer.  That means almost everyone has problems from their treatment.

    Finally there is his denial of the emotional trauma of cancer and the effects it has on families.  That is not as inexcusable as dismissing the children who die, but it is a close second, and it neglects the literature on the subject.  I am not saying that cancer is necessarily a different experience than other life threatening illnesses.  It is, however, life threatening, and that trauma ripples out across a family, and remains there over decades.  Cancer is no walk in the park, no matter what age you are.

    I know this rant is long, but I want to close with how much I loved John Green's book, and his depiction of the emotional roller coaster that happens with serious illness and at the end of life. Don't pay attention to the nay sayers, the  joy that can be found for dying teens in his book is a ray of hope to be hung onto.  He brought childhood cancer to the attention of many and contributed to dimishing ignorance.  Which is more than can be said for Dr. Hemenway's reveiw.

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

    George Will: Socially Stupid, Generally Clueless, Simply Misogynistic, Or Worse?

    I know that it is regretable to respond to someone you know shares none of your values, but really George Will?  The op/ed piece that ran in the Washington Post this past week is really out of bounds, even for someone with your record.  To suggest that there is some kind of status in being sexually assaulted is beyond insulting.  Many women graduate from college without experiencing sexual violence, but the vast majority of those who do not are targeted by sexual predators, and there is no glory in that story.  Stop with the 'they asked for it' and stop thinking of sexual violence as sex--it is not.  Additionally, the prevalence of sex on the college campus that I teach on seems to be no more prevalent than when I went to college 35 years ago.  What has changed is not how often sexual violence occurs, but how often people tell what happened to them.  Duh.

    I am baffled by the conservative opinion of women.  We do constitute half of the eligilbe voting population, and while there is plenty of evidence out there that voters do not vote in their own best interest, and that married women are more likely to vote for conservative candidates, there is a limit to the amount of abuse the gender will tolerate.  Saying not only are women to blame for being assualted but that they glory in it is one example of putting your foot over the line.  The Todd Akin line, for example, where it is impossible to ignore the fact that this man lacks respect or admiration for women.  Maybe he even crossed over the line with a woman when he was in college, I do not know.  Is it the conservative columist's equivalent of the pedophile's excuse that the children enjoy sex with them, but that society just won't tolerate it?  I do not know.  No matter where it comes from it is deeply offensive.

    White men in general and old white men in particular appear quite fearful of the changing world.  Hopefully his ideas will go just as he has predicted the opposition to gay marriage would go--that they are literally dying away.  Good ridance.


    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)

    I love Wes Anderson and it was impossible for me not to love this movie as well.  He is an auteur director--you would have no trouble identifying this as his work even if you didn't know he had done it, because it has his unique pacing and sense of comedy stamped all over it.  The sheer volume of great actors that appear in it--Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinson, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Willem DeFoe, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton to name a few--shoudl be a hint that actors find him enjoyable to work with.  There are many small parts amongst a couple of larger parts, and all of these actors are capable of carrying the lead role, but choose to be in a movie where they are just a small part of the overall story.

    The story itself is almost secondary to the atmosphere that Anderson creates, which is an odd combination of slapstick comedy viewed as if it is within a snow globe.  The owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a decaying skeleton of it's former glorious self, is relaying the story of how he came to own the hotel.  It is not a happy story nor is the ending one that is uplifting, but the viewer cannot help but laugh early and often at the antics of each exaggerated character.  If you love Anderson's work you will not be disapointed, if you do not know his work, this is a good place to start, and if you don't, well, too bad, because this is what is fun about movies.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    Canada by Richard Ford

    This is the story of how 15-year-old Dell Parsons's life was derailed and permanently changed by a single, spectacularly uncharacteristic act by his mother and father: a barely planned and ineptly executed bank robbery.  It is essentially about the consequences of a sudden tragic rupture in the fabric of an ordinary family life.

     The narrator, Dell Parsons, now a retired English teacher, looks back with a kind of bemused detachment on the unlikely events that unmoored him from his ordinary life and pitched him headlong into an uncertain future. From the start, it is apparent that this is someone trying to make sense of the past. What is important here is not the event, but its long aftermath.

    The book is divided into three parts. The first, concerning the crime and its immediate fallout, is set in the mid-to-late 1950s in Great Falls, the Montana town that Ford has used as a backdrop in some previous stories. The second describes Dell's clandestine flight to an even more downbeat town just over the border in Canada and his new life as a kind of odd-job boy for a mysterious American fellow exile, Arthur Reminger. The third and final part of the book, a short postscript set in the recent past, mostly concerns Dell's visit to his estranged sister, Berner, who is living – and dying from a terminal illness – in Minneapolis. There are several moments in the book where Dell seems on the verge of some great epiphany, but arrives instead at a smaller understanding of the strange trajectory of his younger life. He spent the rest of his life wrestling with what happened that was beyond his control, puzzling to stay positive and afloat, but ultimately misunderstanding the world his father chose and having that misunderstanding become his life.The faults of the father are passed on to the son. The older Dell, though, who guides us though the strange jolts in his life calmly, step by step, does not so much misunderstand the world as keep it at a safe distance, so justifiably wary is he of the sudden, cataclysmic turn it may take. This strategy seems to have worked and, by the end of the book, he seems a remarkably accepting, even contented, individual.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Moroccan Berbers

    No trip to Morocco would be complete without an examination of the native culture.  There are two things that I wish that I had done on my recent trip and spending more time in the mountains, learning more about Berber culture is one of those things.  I did manage to come home with a Berber rug, but that just whetted my taste.

    Berber history goes back to prehistoric times-- their culture has been around for at least 4000 years or maybe more. Calling themselves Amazigh, the proud raiders, they fought against the Romans, Arab, and French invaders. Even though the Romans and others have tried to colonize the Berber people, they have managed to preserve their own language and culture and in reality were never beaten!
    Berber language is primarily oral in nature, although they have had their own writing system for more than 2500 years. Modern Moroccan Arabic is strongly influenced by the native Berber language.
    They are a cafe au lait skinned people and have been called by many names: Libyans by the ancient Greeks, Numbians by the Romans, and Moors by medieval Europe.  Islam came to the Berbers in the ninth and tenth centuries. Prior to then, most Berbers across Africa were Christian or Jewish. Two great Islamic Berber dynasties, Almoravids and Almohads, ruled large parts of Spain and northwest Africa.  Today, most of the twenty-seven million Moroccans are either Berbers, Arabs, or Moors (people of Berber/Arab decent). Their ancestors became the Almoravids and Almohads that built the mighty Moorish empire that ruled Spain, Portugal and Northern African.

    There are many of today’s Berbers who continue to live in the mountains of Morocco while the Arabs and Moors live in the cities, though it is very common these days to see Berbers running, owning and operating small shops and other commerce endeavors.
    Stories have characterized Berbers as nomads using camels to cross the Sahara desert. Most today are farmers of the mountains and valleys in Morocco. They were traders in the earlier days. Berber’s long recorded influence affected commerce by establishing trading routes between the West African and the Sub-Saharan region. They transported goods from beyond the Sahara desert to the Northern Moroccan cities. Merchants were considered in a higher class than the farmers, however, through history the roles have mostly been reversed.  Think about a mountain visit if you are going to Morocco to learn more about this ancient culture.

    Sunday, June 8, 2014

    The Lego Movie (2013)

    To love this movie it really helps to have been a long term fan of Legos over the past 20+ years.  And I think that you are likely to either love the movie or be left wondering why other people loved it so much. 
    One review I read likened the movie to Mel Brooks doing a spoof on 'Toy Story', and there is some merit to that analogy.  The story revolves around the tension between the two approaches to legos--either you get the kit and follow the instructions to the letter or you make stuff up as you go along.  In my house, each new box of Legos got made by-the-book one time and one time only.  After a suitable period of use, it then ended up in a sizable tub of Legos from other sets acquired over the years and then all of these parts would be routinely assembled into creations that combined Lego pieces from all eras.  The Arctic igloo would find itself on a pirate ship.  The figures would have mix and match wardrobes.  A Viking axe might be part of a construction worker's ensemble.  It is that spirit of creativity that is being advocated for in the movie, with an uptight Will Ferrell presenting the opposing point of view (he is a fan of Super Gluing the finished product together so that it would remain in perpetuity in the form that it was designed to be in).  So if you love Lego's and what they meant to either you or your children (versus the parent who cursed them because they scatter everywhere and are particualrly painful when stepped on in bare feet), then you are likely to overlook the wooden characters and over the top pop songs and enjoy yourself.

    Saturday, June 7, 2014

    Tanning Leather the Old Fashioned Way, Morocco

    This enormous rooftop leather tanning and dying operation is a sight to behold.  Located right in the center of the medina in Fes, it is a craft that is still done the way that it was hundreds of years ago.  When you enter the building you are handed a sprig of mint to hold under your nose should the smell of the pigeon excrement that is used to dye the leather prove overwhelming, but in reality, the area is so large that you hardly notice the smell.  Well, almost.
    The thing that I learned that day, besided the fact that I definitely did not appreciate the work invovled in dying leather and that I am blessed not to have this as my job, was that I really find goat skin incredibly soft and supple.  I did not make a purchase that day, but I filed that information away for some future time when I might be able to use it.

    Friday, June 6, 2014

    Maya Angelou's Buttermilk Biscuits

    RIP Maya Angelou.  You are an inspiration to those who have suffered trauma, and you have offered words of wisdom on how to manage that.  I was surprised to learn that you were also a passionate cook.  May your memory be a blessing, and may your biscuits nourish both body and soul.

    Buttermilk Biscuits
    Makes 24
    4 cups all-purpose flour
    ½ tsp. salt
    6 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 cup lard
    2 cups buttermilk
    All-purpose flour, if needed
    1. Preheat oven to 375°.
    2. Sift 4 cups of flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add buttermilk and stir until dough leaves side of bowl.
    3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth. Roll out to ½-inch thickness, and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or water glass. (If using a glass, turn it upside down, dust rim in flour, then cut biscuits.)
    4. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.

    Thursday, June 5, 2014

    The Monuments Men (2013)

    The movie is based on a book that chronicled the work of real people who labored to salvage the thousands of works of art that were looted by the Nazis during WWII.  They were a band  of mostly middle-aged men and a few women who interrupted careers as historians, architects, museum curators and professors to mitigate combat damage. They were called  the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Allies, and they found and recovered countless artworks stolen by the Nazis.
    The movie got mixed reviews but I very much enjoyed it--there is a balance between the horrors of what the Germans did during the war and the men who risked their lives to save Europe's art heritage for future generations to enjoy.

    The Allies knew of the salt mine at Altaussee thanks to a toothache--this is portrayed in the movie and is based on a true event. Two months earlier, Posey (one of the monuments men, played by Bill Murray)  was in the ancient city of Trier in eastern Germany with Kirstein (another of the band) and needed treatment. The dentist he found introduced him to his son-in-law, who was hoping to earn safe passage for his family to Paris, even though he had helped Herman Goering, Hitler’s second-in-command, steal trainload after trainload of art. The son-in-in-law told them the location of Goering's collection as well as Hitler's stash at Altaussee.

    Hitler claimed Altaussee as the perfect hideaway for loot intended for his Linz museum. The complex series of tunnels had been mined by the same families for 3,000 years, as Stout (George Clooney) noted in his journal.  When Stout arrived there on May 21, 1945, shortly after hostilities ended, he chronicled the contents based on Nazi records: 6,577 paintings, 2,300 drawings or watercolors, 954 prints, 137 pieces of sculpture, 129 pieces of arms and armor, 79 baskets of objects, 484 cases of objects thought to be archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries, 1,200-1,700 cases apparently books or similar, and 283 cases contents completely unknown. The Nazis had built elaborate storage shelving and a conservation workshop deep within the mine, where the main chambers were more than a mile inside the mountain.  The work of these brave souls was largely fogotten, and kudos to Clooney for telling their story.


    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

    This year, for the first time ever, I had read 5 of the 6 finalists for the Booker Prize before it was announced--but as fate would have it, the sixth one, this book, won.  It is an epic novel, 900 pages in all, that details a murder mystery that is convoluted from begining to end, and a cautionary tale about love and greed.

    It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a woman who has worked as a protitute and is an opium addict has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.  It is simply told but the scope of the deception and the intrigue is slowly rolled out in extenisve detail, leaving the reader with sympathies towards some and recognition of the venal qualities of man in others.  The author is a word smith of the highest order, and while the book is long, one is disappointed that there isn't more when it is done.

    Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    Moroccan Cauliflower

    I love Paula Wolfert's new book "The Food of Morocco".  The photos are very reminiscent of place, and I am looking forward to doing more of the food.

    This is a modification of her recipe so that the whoel thing can be done roasted rather than on the stove top.

    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1 cauliflower, divided into florets
    2 tsp. sugar
    1/2 can diced tomatoes
    2 tsp. paprika
    1 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds--crushed with pestle
    1 tsp. kosher salt
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    2 tbsp. chopped parsley
    1 tsp. preserved lemons, minced
    1/4 cup olives, pitted and chopped small

    Toss everything but the parseley in a roasting pan (olive oil last), roast in 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, depending on how carmelized you want the cauliflower to be and serve.


    Monday, June 2, 2014

    The Headless Woman (2008)

    I watched this movie because it was required viewing for a Film Analysis class--the theme of the week was how sound and image can be synergistic in a movie, becoming bigger or more dramatic than the sum of their parts--and that definitely fits with this movie.  The opening scene is hard to follow because people are talking the way they normally do--all at once--so it was hard to follow just one thread of the conversation because there were several occurring all at the same time. 

    This is no action movie.  In fact, there is remarkably little dialogue to go off.  Rain is a consistent theme throughout the movie, and that you can hear loud an clear.  People are a little trickier.  The movie takes place in a somewhat desolate Argentinian town.  The central character, Verónica (María Onetto), a middle-age woman who runs a dental clinic with her brother, is a big fish in a small pond.  Her house is small, but it is filled with servants.  The people around her afford her a bit of shelter from the real world.

    The story revolves around Verónica’s brief meltdown after her involvement in a possible hit-and-run accident. In the movie’s opening shot, four boys with a dog cavort in a roadside canal along a nearly deserted rural highway as an approaching car is heard.  After that, Verónica barely speaks.  She is in an almost fugue state for quite some time, with people around her answering questions posed to her, seeming not to notice that she hasn't said a word herself and looks persistently bewildered.  When she does come around a bit, she finds that there is very little evidence of the accident--no dead bodies, no medical reports from her ER visit, no x-rays--we saw it happen, but did it really?

    There are sexual liaisons that seemingly add little to the plot--Verónica has a fling with Juan Manuel (Daniel Genoud), a cousin of her husband, Marcos (César Bordón). A lesbian niece, recovering from hepatitis, is unrequitedly besotted with her.   What it comes down to is that while Verónica is not acting like herself at all, her family and servants continue her life around her without her.  By movie's end, she is starting to work again, even as she reamins functionally mute.  The end.

    Sunday, June 1, 2014

    Wind Sculpture by Anthony Howe

    I have always loved sculture that moves.  My favorite part of the movie Twister was the sculpture by Evan Lewis seen in Aunt Meg's yard.  I love how the wind brings out the grace of the sculture in a three dimentional way.  I also love that the speed of the wind changes the sculpture.  This work of Anthony Howe's is spectacular--he calls it 'Octo', but it reminds me more of the movement that jelly fish make as they move through the water.  It is peaceful and mesmerizing and beautiful all at the same time.