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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Green Road by Anne Enright

This book was long listed for the Booker prize this year, but I would have picked it up to read anyway, because I like this author.  She is Irish and she is a chronicler of the modern Irish experience. Her books that I like best are set in her homeland, and this is no exception to that rule.

The story chronicles the five living members of the Madigan clan.  Rosaleen is the mother and her four children are Dan, Emmet, Constance and Hanna.  Hanna and Constance live in Ireland and Dan and Emmet do not.  The Irish diaspora is well represented here, as are the varied textures of differences that exist within families.  Dan is gay, Emmet is commitment avoidant and perhaps intimacy impaired as well, Hanna is an alcoholic, and Constance is the child who pretty clearly will take care of Rosaleen when the time comes.  The book introduces them each on their own, and then brings them together under one roof for Christmas when Rosaleen decides to sell her house.  She does so in order to give each of her children money because none of them seems to be able to manage that on their own.  The writing is at once direct and lyrical.  The one thing it lacks is an ending that ties it all together, but that is an acceptable flaw in my mind.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

While We're Young (2014)

Whenever someone does a movie about aging and tries to both get it right and to be funny, it is a fine line that is fraught with difficulty.  This movie has an excellent cast and it really does a good job of being occasionally very funny about a couple coming to grips with middle age. 
Josh (played by Ben Stiller) is a slightly obsessive, slightly narcissistic documentary film maker with almost no sense of humor about his work and less of one about aging.  When his doctor tells him he has arthritis in his knee he is so incredulous he thinks it is some other sort of thing that they are using that word to describe but it could not be degenerative joint disease.  His wife Cornelia (played by Naomi Watts) is a film producer and the daughter of a famous documentary filmmaker (played deftly by the wonderfully understated Charles Grodin). 
They are getting old, they were unable to have children, and their friends are having babies in their forties, which is of course exhausting them and making Josh and Cornelia feel left out.  Into that void step Jamie (played by Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (played by Amanda Siegfried--this movie has a great cast).  Jamie is an aspiring documentary film maker, and while the younger couple invigorates the older couple, you can see that it is not going to end well for Josh.  The ending is largely what you would expect it to be, but the dialogue is crisp and real and the whole thing is well worth watching, especially if you fall into Josh' demographic.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stalin's Seven Sisters, Moscow, Russia

It turns out that I find some aspects of Stalin's architectural projects appealing.   The Moscow skyline is largely defined by the seven towering skyscrapers nicknamed “The Seven Sisters.” Also known locally as “Stalinskie Vysotki” (Сталиские высоткиStalin’s High-rises), they are one of the leading architectural legacies of the Stalinist period in the city. The Soviet Baroque architecture that The Sisters embody is seen by some as unattractive (as stated above, not myself); the buildings themselves are somewhat controversial due to the fact that some see them, with their looming size and towering spired spires, as  reminders of the grim Stalinist repression. However, while debate still continues on whether these buildings are beauties or beasts, there is no doubt that they have become a major representation of the Soviet era and modern-day Moscow.  Pictured here is the sister that is the university, and from this spot, you can see the other six sisters.  The only one that I went into was the Hilton that is near the Moscow train station--it has a marble lobby and high ceilings that you would expect from looking at the exterior.  These buildings were solidly built in the post WWII era and serve as a reminder of what communist architecture was all about in Russia.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Marrying of Chani Kauffman by Eve Harris

I loved this book.  Maybe I finished it in a day because it is steeped in Orthodox Judaism, but maybe not.  There are two relationships that the book revolves around.  The first is the marriage of Chani Kauffamn, who at 19 is closing in on spinsterhood.  She started off her marriage search being sought after, but after a number of rejections her suitors start to reject her.  That spells trouble not just for her but also for her numerous younger sisters.  So when Baruch shows interest in her, she is motivated.  While their time together is highly regulated, they do get a glimpse of each others personalities, and to the reader it seems like a good match.

Baruch's mother couldn't disagree more.  She makes a point of inserting herself into the process in a way that is out of keeping with the cultural rules of courtship and she does two things in the process.  She gives Chani some power over her because she wants it to be a secret, and she shows her hand.  Chani doesn't have to pretend to like her future mother-in-law.  She just has to woe Baruch.

The other couple int he book are a rabbi and his wife from Chani and Baruch's community.  They started off their lives together in Jerusalem and they didn't always follow the rules.  Now the rabbi is choking his marriage with his increasing piousness and while he knows that it is killing his marriage, he cannot stop himself.  While one relationship blooms the other is dying on the vine.  Very well written.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Danny Collins (2014)

Al Pacino does an admirable job of portraying an aging rock star who is reduced to playing his big hits for audiences.  It yields lots of cash but no enjoyment.  He is drinking heavily, snorting lots of cocaine, sleeping with a much younger woman who he doesn't seem to much enjoy, and going through the motions.

Then one day, for his birthday, his long time manager (played by Christopher Plummer--this is not a cast full of youngsters) gives him a letter that John Lennon wrote to him in 1971 but which he never got.  It advises him that he should stay true to his roots, not to compromise, and that he and Yoko would be happy to give him advise on how to do that.  The manager does not seem to anticipate the amount of regret this is going to engender in Danny.  He goes about seeking redemption in a big way.  He stops touring, moves to be near a son he fathered in a one night stand but with whom he has no relationship, and tries to stop drinking and start writing music again. As is so often the case, the path to virtue is paved with temptations and disappointments, and Danny, while very charming, is not immune to those dangers.  In the end he wins some and he loses some, but he is very enjoyable to watch along the way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Indian Spiced Eggplant

I made this as my first eggplant dish of the summer.  I wanted something that was in the realm of ratatouille but a different spice profile, and this really hit the spot.  It would be great with a vegetarian Indian dinner.
  •   3 tbs. vegetable oil
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the ginger and spices and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. In batches, add the eggplant cubes and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the eggplant has softened slightly. Return all the eggplant to the wok, then stir in the canned tomato and water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minutes until the eggplant is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with salt, garnish with coriander and serve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The History of Rain by Niall Williams

I am finishing up the books that were long listed for the Booker prize last year while I also work on the new long list, and this was one of the few I had left over.  It is written in a peculiar voice that I enjoyed but did not love.

Ruth Swain from County Clare is looking back over her life.  She is young and confined to her bed by an ill-defined illness, making her seem like she is from a by gone time.  She is surrounded by the thousands of books that belong to her father, who is part farmer, part amateur scholar.  Everyone in her family is what she calls a long story.  So she proceeds to tell that story in a way that is at once convoluted and beautiful, with some aphorisms thrown in to make her point.

The book’s central enigma is Ruth's father Virgil, a poet and farmer like his classical namesake, who reads William Blake to his cows. Somewhere between epic and family saga, the book is an unabashedly unfashionable, a lyrical paean to the pleasure of reading and to serendipity: leafing through her father’s volumes, Ruth discovers maps, envelopes, notes pressed between rain-mottled pages, finds her orange Penguin copy of Moby-Dick bulging with “the smell of complex humanity”, getting fatter with rereading because “the more you read it the bigger your own experience of the world gets, the fatter your soul”.  The book is not just well written, it has a good ending.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Paradise (2013)

I like Octavia Spencer and Russell Brand and I love Diablo Cody as a writer, but somehow this movie didn't put it all together. Maybe Cody writes best when she is writing about ordinary people.  The movie is largely set in Las Vegas, where it can be argued that the lowest density of normal per capita is to be found in the United States.  It seemed like a quirky story but it fell a little flat.
The story is that Lamb is a young woman who is badly burned in a plane crash.  She has fragile skin grafts over a large percentage of her body and she is really angry and pretty disfigured.  She leaves her sheltered narrow Christian right community for the most debauched city she can think of with the intention of going wild.  Between her naivete and her lack of insight into what is motivating her to begin with, she has what is essentially a terrible time.  Fortunately, the movie is better than that, but not a whole lot better.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

First Impressions of Moscow, Russia

I get why women are at once mysterious and hard to live with.  My poor spouse, who had already been to St. Petersburg as a child and had no real desire to return, agreed to spend one of our precious vacations on just that, a trip to Russia, because it was one of the countries I felt I had to see before I go.  It was not something that was going to get better with time or go away all together.  Without much ado, he agreed to the plan. He did it as a favor to me.

I have always wanted to go to Russia, but I was also somewhat worried that it would kind of a scary place.  I love the onion domed architecture and the culture that produced such a rich literature, but I was wary of a place that had produced Stalin and Putin in recent years and a whole string of despots throughout it's history.  I decided up front that we would need a guide, that I couldn't just hope for the best, which is how we usually travel.  We like to go with a dictionary and a phrasebook and the kindness of strangers as a rule, but I felt like Russia would be an exception.
I turns out that I had it all wrong.  I wanted to see Moscow, but I wasn't excited about it.  The fact that I loved Moscow was my first hint that I had been wrong about it from the beginning.  One of the persistent questions was how they were being perceived in the press, and the answer was not well at all, of course, and it has had the inevitable effect on tourism.  This picture accurately reflects how I think about Moscow, a mix of new and old, ethnically diverse and all around surprising. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

I loved this book.  It is linked to the author's previous book, Life After Life, where the main character, Ursula, has many lives.  Meaning she has a series of unfortunately events and occasional choices that lead to her demise, and yet she comes back to do it all over again.  This book is about her younger brother Teddy and his life.  Which does not go exactly as hers did but he does not get second chances.
Teddy is a steady, if somewhat lonely boy who grows up into the man that you would expect.  Any hint of passion he might have harbored has been squeezed out of him by WWII, where he participated in numerous bombing missions over Europe and ended up in a POW camp.  There is a good portion of the book that reflects on that experience and the emotional consequences for both the soldier and their extended family.  Teddy never has much more than a friendship with his wife, and he can't connect at all with his daughter, Viola.  She grows up to be a selfish and fragile woman who very poorly parents her own children, abandoning them at a young age and feeling sorry for herself that no one is pampering her.  At least part of that is related to her own parenting, and her children barely emerge with a capacity for intimacy, almost all of it coming from Teddy's attempts to make it right for his grandchildren.  A thoughtful, insightful, and well written book.  Do not miss this one.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Russia?

I did an exercise in thinking about my personal priorities and then using those things that are important to me to future plan.  The area that I have the most yearning in is in the arena of travel.  That wasn’t exactly news to me, but what was a revelation is that there are a number of places that I have not been that I definitely want to visit that are places that I want to go to before I get much older.  I am not one of those people who think that I will age slowly.  I don’t think that 70 is the new 50.  I am pretty clear that when I am 70 I will feel 70.  So I do not want to wait to pursue my dreams until I retire.

One of the places on my “must see” list was Russia.  It has not been a good year for Russia in its international relationship with the western countries.  Their support of the invasion of Ukraine has landed them in some sanctions, and that combined with the world-wide drop in gas and oil prices has caused a devaluation of the ruble and a concomitant drop in tourism.  The good news is that makes travel to Russia quite affordable, and a good value trip.   So off I went, living in the moment  and I am so glad that I did.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tapetes of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca

Teotitlan is an amazing place to see weavers in action and this is the the studio and home of Isabela. 
Weaving in Teotitlán dates back to 500 BC. The earliest weavings were done on back strap looms using cotton and ixtle. Today, the weaving is done on peddle looms and the fabric of choice is wool. This change took place in 1535 with the arrival of Dominican bishop Juan López de Zárate. He introduced wool and the first loom, shipped from Spain across the Atlantic. The use of natural dyes and weaving predate the conquest, but it was the European invasion which jump-started a cottage industry producing serapes and tapetes or rugs. Slowly the town grew, and began specializing in rugs which were initially sold within the state and to a certain extent, in different parts of the country. Now, exports from this town reach foreign shores too.
For centuries the families of the Zapotec weavers of Teotitlán have handed down the weaving tradition to their children with the art of weaving in many families going back six and seven generations.
The town has more than 100 workshops showcasing a large selection of handmade products, including tapetes, serapes, jackets, ponchos and dresses. Almost all the guided tours make a halt at the town’s weaving workshops giving visitors an opportunity to see a brief demonstration of the weaving techniques and at the same time, purchase some of the famous products.

Brightly colored tapetes (rugs) are my favoritesome with traditional Zapotec glyphs, others imitating twentieth-century designs. Most of them feature representations of Zapotec diamonds, rainfall, maize and mountains.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

This book was long listed for the Booker Prize last year, and it is an excellent example of the sort of book that makes the cut for that prestigious award.  It is beautifully written and vast in it's scope.  The reader ends the novel knowing much more than when they started.  The book makes you think.  It is not a very pleasant book to read, however. The lives of these people are miserable.  Which is appropriate because they are by and large miserable people.

The book centers on the time period of the Naxalite insurgency that began in 1967.  The rebellion has held a strong hold on the literature of West Bengal that was addressed specifically in Jhumpa Lahiri's book The Lowlands. The tragedy of state jackboots crushing idealistic students smitten with communism weighs heavily on the collective imagination. This dramatic chapter of India’s recent history has now been beaten to death in this novel, in similar fashion to the government's treatment of the rebels.  The story follows the downward spiral of the Gosh family as they lose face and financial standing with the changing times.  Which they adapt poorly to.  The book is beautifully written and if you are a fan of the Booker nominees, you will not be disappointed, though you may be depressed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Frankie and Grace (2014)

I am of two minds about this series.  The first is that the cast is so stellar that it is a must watch program.  Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston all have had illustrious film and television careers and are likable characters.  They are also actors who are over 70 years old playing characters in that age range, which is an anomaly in modern entertainment (they all look great for their age, but not insanely great, so it is believable and not depressing).  The second is that the show just really does not live up to the hopes you  might have for it.  The dialogue is stilted and falls flat on more occasions than not.  That said, I would recommend it.

The story is that Grace was married to Robert and Frankie was married to Sol.  Sol and Robert have been friends and business partners for decades, but Grace and Frankie were more like water and oil.  Grace is all about elegance and appearances and Frankie is touchy feely artist type.  The couple's friendship was driven by the husbands and the wives tolerated each other.  Then Sol and Robert reveal that they have been having a romantic relationship for twenty years and now they want to live as an openly gay couple and get married.  Neither Frankie nor Grace want to remain in their marital homes so they both move to a beach house that the couples shared.  Under these circumstances the four of them share two abodes, just for different reasons.  The contrast between the two men trying to live as openly gay men and the two women trying to navigate the waters of being single and dating in their seventies is a good comic environment, but the execution is less than perfect.  I hope for a better second season.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Iglesia del Presioso Sangre de Cristo, Teotitlan del Valle

Yes, it is true, I do like churches.  These enormous, grandiose, over painted and overblown buildings don't do much for me as places of worship, but I love them as architecture.

This village is considered to be one of the first that was founded by the Zapotecs around 1465, and the church is in the center of town.  . It was originally named Xaquija, which means “celestial constellation”. According to research done by Manuel Martínez Gracida, there was a large stone split in half with the name of the Stone of the Sun. It was the first idol of the Zapotecs here. It was believed that a god came from the heavens in the form of a bird, accompanied by a constellation of stars to found the temple hereTeotitlán del Valle was refounded as a Spanish village in 1527. The church of the town and municipality and was begun in 1581.   The facade of the church is made of quarried stone called cantera with decorative stonework in the main entrance and choir window. This church was built on the site of a local Zapotec temple, which was destroyed when the Spanish arrived, replacing it with this church. In the foundations of the church, some of the construction of the original temple can be seen. On the side of the church is a small archeological area.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Loved Ones by Mary Beth Hughes

This book got wonderful reviews, which is what led me to read it, but I have to admit that I really did not like it.  Not at all.  Not one person in the book could I sympathize with or care very much about.
The story chronicles the dysfunctional Devlin family, both before but mostly after their son dies.  Speaking as a woman who had a brother die when she was ten, the effect of a death in childhood reverberates across the lives of all those involved, but it doesn't necessarily go this poorly.  It’s a cold almost humorless book, firing shots of dysfunction, addiction, and poor mental and physical health with absolutely no intervening commentary.  It is well written but the aloofness of the tone made it hard for me to really reflect on the content, and I learned nothing from reading it.  Which is not to say that I always have to learn something, but it is nice when that can happen, and disappointing when it doesn't.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

When Your Youngest Child Turns 21

I was recently looking at a picture of my extended family that was taken when my second child was born 25 years ago and I suddenly realized that my parents in that picture were my age today (my mother and I are exactly 25 years apart in age) and somehow, while the math works out perfectly, I was shocked.  I do now get that while I most definitely feel my age, that I was not particularly good at figuring out where they were in their lives at that time, because for sure I didn't think about them the way I think about myself right now.  Perspective is a terrible thing to waste, so I hope that I can make something of this other than the fact that I have gotten much older than I realized.  The gift and the curse of having few mirrors in my house.

The age of majority is a moving target, but I think that other than renting a car, most people would agree that a person of 21 is indeed an adult, at least in terms of the law, if not otherwise, and today my youngest crosses that momentous threshold.  So I am officially done with one phase of my life as a parent.  I am not really sure that I am ready for the next phase of parental responsibilities, but one doesn't get to delay moving forward.  It happens, with or without you. So I hope I can enjoy the ride.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Life After Beth (2015)

The review that I read that said it best characterized this movie as getting into the zombie genre in a new way, but then it couldn't find it's way out quite as well.

Beth and Zach have been dating but are not at a serious phase in their relationship.  Then Beth dies from a snake bite on a hike through the woods, and Zach's unresolved feelings about Beth lead to a complicated bereavement.  He spends a lot of time at her parents house, who are understandably grieving as well.  Zach's family, who are somewhat shallowly portrayed here, really don't get what he is going through.  Then one day, Zach sees Beth at her parents house.  Alive.  Or seemingly so.  He has the normal response to this, which is to accuse her parents of lying about Beth's death and searing up and down to his parents that she is alive.  They think he has gone off the deep end, and Beth's parents try to get him to shut up about it because she has come back as a zombie.  The movie falters in the middle and ends strong.  If you are the fan of the genre, then you are an inherently forgiving movie fan, and will likely enjoy but not love this movie.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Vietnam war was complicated.  We got into it for the wrong reasons, we stayed in it far too long, and the fact that we were losing from the get go led us to do unspeakable things there.  This book begins at the very end of the war.  The South Vietnamese general in charge of the evacuation has delegated a trusted person to make the choices.  The general doesn’t know it, but the captain he’s put in charge of those decisions is, in fact, a Viet Cong spy. 

The unnamed narrator is being sent to America with the top brass for the other side in order to keep an eye on them in their new land.  He is resigned to his task, but there are a number of things about it that he does not anticipate.  The first is the tremendous fall from glory that they will all go through.  The general does have plans to reorganize his supporters and resume the fight with the communists, but in reality he is struggling to make a living and lacks both the time and the resources to mount a fight in the country he abandoned.  The other is that America changes all the players.  The third is that the narrator is a sympathetic man, making the title of the book a double entendre.  The book is well written and thought provoking, and well worth a read.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Zucchini Pancakes

Yes, I am posting a lot of zucchini recipes of late, but the truth of the matter is that the summer squash is very versatile and lends itself to a number of flavor profiles.  On top of that, it is very plentiful this summer, so I am off and running with trying new recipes.  This concept is alternatively called a pancake or a fritter, and really it is neither, and since I can't come up with a better title,  I am going with pancake.

  • 1 lbs. zucchini (about 2 medium), grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup flour I used gluten fee)
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives or scallions
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
Place zucchini in a colander set in the sink and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes, then wring zucchini dry in a clean kitchen towel. Place zucchini in a large bowl and gently mix in egg, flour, chives, and cornstarch; season with salt and pepper. The important tip at this point is to cook them immediately.  The zucchini continues to leach water out and once you ad the other ingredients it is time to cook them and fast.  They do keep warm well, and they are good room temperature.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, drop 1/4-cupfuls zucchini mixture into skillet, flattening slightly; cook until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per side.
These can be served with either sour cream or a Greek yogurt, or they can be served with an Asian dipping sauce.  I personally like them plain.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rewrite (2015)

This is a largely predictable Hugh Grant romantic comedy.  So if you have always had a soft spot for those, and you are comfortable with Grant looking his age (which is 54, and while he is a very attractive man in his 50's, you wouldn't mistake him for a much younger man either), this will be a nice light movie night movie.

Grant plays a once-acclaimed, now down-on-his-luck, Hollywood screenwriter who is compelled by his financial circumstances to head east and teach a script writing class at a small college in remote and rainy Binghamton, New York.  Immeidately upon his arrival he sleeps with an undergraduate student and then admits her to his class.  He is utterly clueless about the ethics of this, but every viewer is more clued into college morays than he is, so from the very beginning we know where the movie is heading.  Marissa Tomei plays the perky, insightful, and talented non-traditional student we know from the start that he will end up with (she does not look 50 years old, which is what she is).  Light and lovely and in the mold of all Hugh Grant romantic comedies.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Communion Town by Sam Thompson

Today is the birthday of my eldest child, which is also my anniversary as a parent.  This book describes a place that is all too believable, and not anywhere that I would want him to live.  That said, I read this because it was long listed for the Booker Prize last year, and on the eve of the 2015 list being announced, I wanted to finish up a few of the 2014 list that I hadn't read.  This is an unusual book about a city that I could never quite figure out if it is in the present or the future.  The town is definitely imaginary, and the book consists of 10 short chapters in a mix of literary styles, each focused on a different character, with only the thinnest of threads connecting them.  
He introduces us to menacing interrogators and artful butchers, lovelorn songwriters and meandering tourists, pretentious detectives and gritty gumshoes. Each offers a distinct take on the city they share, and a different view on life and makes it meaningful as well.  I think this is really close to great, but not quite there as stories go.  It is of course beautifully written or it wouldn't have garnered the attention of the Booker crowd.  An author to watch.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Wee Willy's Wonderful Rub

This is our main go to all-purpose rub, and it is good on anything.  Ribs, brisket, chicken, and anything in the pork family, but especially pork shoulder.  It is modified from the Jameson's book Smoke and Spice.  We tend to quadruple the ingredients when we make it because it is so delicious.
  • 3/4 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder (can use garlic powder if you don't have)
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne
Mix the spices thoroughly in a bowl. Store covered in a cool, dark pantry. Makes about 2 cups.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Song One (2015)

This did not get great reviews, but I definitely liked it.  It is a subdued, almost awkward, romance and it does not have much in the way of comic relief that hit the right notes for me.

Franny (Anne Hathaway) had a big fight with her brother Henry.  He dropped out of college to pursue his music.  She ignored the YouTube links he sent her on the songs he was working on.  She hadn't spoken to him in six months when her mother (Mary Steenbergen) calls her home from her research in tribal customs of Berber women in Morocco because Henry has been hit by a cab on his way home from busking in the subway and is in a coma.  Franny is heartbroken and guilt ridden, which translates into her going through Henry's notebooks that chronicle his musical journeys and following in his footsteps.  She goes to his favorite diner and brings him pancakes to smell.  She records street sounds in places he went.  She goes to a concert of his favorite musician, James Forrester, and tells him about Henry after the show.  James is an introspective indie musician who is more shy than rock star. Franny gives him a copy of Henry's song, and after he listens to it, he seeks her out, and so the romance begins in the shadow of tragedy. 

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Judy Blume is a goddess amongst writers of young adult fiction, but this is her first novel for adults in 15 years.  And doing the math, she is rapidly approaching 80, so her years of writing may not go on too much longer.  And this one is a good one.

The book is fictional, but it is set at a time and place that are real.  There were three commercial airplanes that crashed taking off or landing at Newark airport, and they all had civilian fallout in the town of Elizabeth, NJ, where the author was a teenager at the time.  It is unthinkable that three planes would crash over that period of time in the United States as a whole, much less in one location, so the audience who will read this will have little experience with those events.  In fact, when I was reading the book, I thought that the situation was too extreme to be believed, which is another good example that real life is often more extreme than what we would be willing to accept in a work of fiction.  The book is told primarily from the standpoint of teenagers, who are in the midst of juggling important issues that adolescents face, but are also affected by these three disasters that affected their town.  The book puts you in their shoes and allows the reader to have a sense of what it would be like to feel so vulnerable and targeted.  There are also many sub stories that are told.  Recommended, especially if you are unfamiliar with Ms. Blume's work. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sesame Lime Chicken

This is another good marinade for grilled chicken, especially with some Asian influenced side dishes.

  • 4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Asian-style fish sauce
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 limes, as needed
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, more for grill
  • Sesame oil, as needed
  • Coarsely chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • Thinly sliced red or green chilies, seeded, for garnish (optional)
  1. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound each to an even thickness of 1/2 inch. Do not make them any thinner or they could dry out.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger and garlic. Grate in zest of 1 lime and squeeze in its juice. Whisk in peanut oil. Place chicken breasts in bowl and turn breasts well to evenly coat with mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Remove chicken from fridge while you heat the grill.
  3. Light the grill, building a hot fire, or heat your gas grill to high. Once grill is fully heated, brush breasts lightly with peanut oil and place chicken on the grill. Cook until undersides are browned and chicken is about halfway cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip breasts and grill until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes more.
  4. Transfer chicken to a platter. Drizzle with sesame oil; garnish with lime juice and cilantro, and chiles if desired.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Unbroken (2014)

Ok, this is not going to make me unique, but I have to say that I liked the book more than the movie.  The story is a compelling one.  Louis Zamperini (aptly played by Jack O'Connell)
grew up in an immigrant Italian family in Southern California.  He was born as World War I was winding down, and while he had a propensity for getting into trouble, he found that he had a gift for running.  He had very little in the way of coaching but managed to be on the 1938 Olympic field and track team with Jesse Owens. He was looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics in 1942, which of course never happened. 

Zamperini went from Olympic athlete to airplane bombardier in the Pacific, was in a crash landing and survived in a rubber boat in the ocean with two of his crew, and then was captured by the Japanese and was a prisoner of war for the remainder of the war.  He got to Tokyo, but not the way he wanted to.  The movie is largely about the WWII part of his life, and significantly truncates the before and after part of the war.  I could have done with a little less sadism  and more of the long term effects of the abuse that he suffered while he was a prisoner of war.  That would have been great to illustrate the long term psychological effects of trauma for a man who was clearly exceptionally strong prior to the war.  It would have been destigmatizing.  Oh well.  Overall it was a good telling of a good story.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

I did not know this when I read the book, but this is not the first time someone has written about Mazie Phillips, the real life woman of the Lower East Side who worked the ticket booth of a local cinema and was renowned for her calling to walk the streets of her neighborhood during the Great Depression, giving the those who were down and out dimes and nickels for food, bars of soap, and not surprisingly, after you read the book, sips of booze from her flask.The first was Joseph Mitchell, who wrote a piece on her for the New Yorker in 1940.  Attenberg takes the truths of Mazie's life and writes a novel of historical fiction around a bold and brave woman who overcame many obstacles in order to have a life for herself, and while she did not have a lot, she compassionately shared with those who were less fortunate than herself.  This book works as a stand alone novel, but it also serves to remind us that those days are not behind us.  The demonization of the poor is alive and well in the 21st century, and Attenberg's novel is a gentle nudge to the reader to think about their own personal beliefs about society's responsibilities to its citizens.

Monday, August 3, 2015

I Must be Old

As of today, both of my parents are in their 80's.  Happy Birthday Dad!

So what does that mean for me?  Well, they did not have me late in life.  In fact, when I was growing up, my parents were the young ones amongst my peers.  So no matter how you look at it, I am no spring chicken myself.

Reports have it that your siblings are the ones who know you across your life span, but I would contend that while that is true, your parents have a pretty good shot at coming in second or at least third in that race.  They almost certainly hope that they do not under any circumstances outlive you (I am pretty sure that while it is hard to loose a child when they are still in childhood, it is no easier for a parent when the child is 60 and they are 85.  Age does not change the nature of that bond).  I would never have believed it if you had told me that I would still be a child to someone well into my 50's, but the fact of the matter is that that is indeed the truth.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Obvious Child (2014)

Do not be fooled by the trailer.  This movie is a dark comedy starring a woman who does stand up around issues that no one wants to talk about and no one wants to hear.  Donna (played ably by Jenny Slate) works in a book shop by day, and has an amateur comedy routine one night a week. She has a reasonably good and reasonably adult relationship with her parents, a good and loyal friend, but her life is not exactly on track.

Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy), who is a deeply decent guy and has what she sees as a one night stand to get over being dumped by her boyfriend and losing her job.  Max pursues her but she is hesitant and then she discovers that she is pregnant.  the decision of what to do is not a struggle for her, but how to interact with Max is.  It is like a little bit of a window into a real life.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Funeral Parades in Oaxaca

When I was in a town in the Oaxaca province I was able to witness a funeral parade through town.  In this region when people die they are returned to the family home, covered with a white sheet and placed either on the floor or on a table, four lighted candles outlining a rectangular perimeter around them.  For the next two days the family and close friends maintain a prayer vigil known as a velario. Children are included; from a very young age they grow familiar and comfortable with these customs.

Visitors gather in the home of the mourning family; food is served to all who stop to pay their respects. It is customary for visitors to bring a gift of money or food. Many guests stay the night, seated around the deceased, joined in prayer.
When the coffin is delivered to the family's home, the deceased's clothing and belongings are placed inside with the body. That the dead will make use of these items in the afterlife is fitting with the belief that not only do they live on, but that they return annually in spirit, provided their loved ones anticipate their arrival.
   Then the funeral march begins.  It is a mournful celebration.

Regarding death, poet Octavio Paz once said, "The Mexican ... frequents it ... caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it ... he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain or irony."