Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Coming in October

The Mann Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary award in the British Isles and the Commonwealth, announced the long list of this year's nominees. You can find them at Omnivoracious. Some familiar names on this list. The prize, worth about $80,000, will be announced in October. Meanwhile, this is quite a formidable reading list that will undoubtedly take until then to get through. Should you be interested, of course. There will be a short list in a couple of months if you'd rather wait.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

retirement routine

Between reading about and listening to talk about health care, the Birthers movement, Gates and beers at the Whte House, you would think my life was full to overflowing. But as others have said, there's not much news today. Except that Sonia Sotomayor garnered one Republican vote on the committee from a fearless Lindsay Graham. Full Senate vote next week. Welcome to The Court, Madam Justice. (I don't actually know what female justices are called. I know males are called Mr. Justice. Females are called Miss Justice? Mrs. Justice? Ms. Justice? I like Madam.) So she must have "proven" herself worthy. Feliz, Sonia.

But back to retirement. I have never for one nanosecond regretted my decision to retire and leave the big U in the lurch. But retirement ~ that is, unstructured time during which you do not have to be anywhere or do anything or prove to anyone that you are worthy of what they like to call a paycheck ~ sometimes leaves me feeling that my options are too open, that I can't decide how to best use my time. So I sit in my favorite reading chair, prop up my feet, and surrender my attention to the printed page. Of course, that only happens after my morning walk, my several cups of coffee, and the NYT crossword.

This is my current project. And a project it is. A 600-page novel, "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese. Mr. Verghese is a writer of prodigious talent. He has written a very large story in the sense that it covers continents, families, social and ethical issues, joy, tragedies both experienced and averted. It was recommended to me by a friend who is a careful and discriminating reader. "It will take a while to get through it but it is worth every effort." I have read about 75 pages and I am totally hooked. Our library is closing down for three weeks for the first stages of its expansion (very necessary) and I think I have timed my check-out of this book so that I will have plenty of time to finish it before the next person on the list starts agitating for its return.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the glory of caravaggio

Last night I finished an excellent book about the finding of a lost painting of Michelangelo Caravaggio. It is written by Jonathan Harr, who also wrote "A Civil Action" about a water contamination case against the town of Woburn, MA. I read that book and saw the quite excellent movie. This book, "The Lost Painting" is about the search for and discovery of one of Caravaggio's most famous paintings, "The Taking of Christ" (1602). Harr weaves a great tale of brilliant research, dogged detective work, serendipity, egos, and ultimate triumph. He has a great story to relate with a fascinating cast of characters and he does it superbly well. "The Taking" is now in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.l

My only face-to-face with Caravaggio was at the Pitti Palace in Florence in 2007. I had done a bit of reading about the holdings in that spectacular museum and was looking for "The Sleeping Cupid", its only work by Caravaggio. I searched every gallery and couldn't find it. I asked one of the (bored) guards and was pointed down a hall through three or four collections. There, in a small room with rather dim light was this exquisite painting. It was hung at about eye level (for me) and seemed to glow in the light. I stood for probably 10 minutes looking at it, trying to see everything on the canvas. I left and went out into an indoor courtyard in the middle of the museum where visitors could sit and rest. After a while I went back and looked at it again. There he slept, lying on one wing, the other barely visible as an arc above his right shoulder, his lips slightly parted to show his tiny teeth. Its sweetness and innocence, the vulnerability of the worn-out Cupid moved me to tears.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

good things

This morning's Farmers' Market was bustling and lively when I got there at 8:30. The political tables had been set up, the musicians were staking out the best spots, the espresso wagon was going full blast and the line was already long. Here is a tasty sampling of today's offerings.

Three varieties of beets.

Big, beautiful bunches of bright orange carrots with the greens still attached.
They look like real food.

I call these strawberries "clone-berries" since they all look identical.
But believe it or not, they are very sweet and juicy.

I brought home a bag of these for grilling. My favorite!

There are four different "artisan" bakeries that sell at the market.
The staff of life has never looked so good.

No explanation needed.

And for dessert. . .

These will enhance our picnic table.

Bon appétit!

Friday, July 24, 2009

white on black or black on white?

How did this Henry Louis Gates business get so out of hand? Was it Gates' fame? Was it the Cambridge policeman's insistence? Was it the President's unfortunate word choice? Or was it the extreme media hype from both sides that fanned the flames? I have been listening and reading about this incident for three days now and it's about time to lay it to rest. I overheard someone on Fox (I think it was Juan Williams) say that this is going to be the BIG news item of the weekend. And if you have Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in your corner the controversy will take on a life of its own and mushroom out of sight. I can't believe the MSM is spending this much time on this thing, given what else is facing this country. Perhaps they think this is sexier than, say, health care, the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., etc., etc. OK, if it's going to be that big I guess I'll weigh in with my measly 2¢ worth.

First I will grant that everyone involved behaved badly. Gates lost his cool; the cop lost his, and the President's "stupid" remark didn't help. From what I read about how this all started, someone saw Gates trying to get into his home in an affluent section of Cambridge, got suspicious and called the cops. It was initially reported that the call was made by "a white woman." I have not heard or read that allegation again. Nonetheless, let's start there. Is this a case of "What's a black man doing in this neighborhood?" or is it something else? Then there's Gates himself, no shrinking violet. He comes home to be confronted by a cop who doesn't believe that Gates is who he says he is, much less the owner of this nice house. The fuse has been lit and shortly thereafter it all blows up. The president is asked a landmine question in his press conference and steps right on it. Another explosion. And we're off and running.

Just for fun, let's redraw the whole scenario. A respected member of the Harvard University comes home to his nice house in an upscale section of Cambridge. He has trouble opening his front door, asks the taxi driver to help him get in and is so accommodated. A few minutes later a policeman appears at his front door and challenges him about his presence in that nice house and demands he provide identification. The professor balks at this; it's his own house, for God's sake. Why should he have to prove anything? The cop insists; the professor refuses. Tempers flare. Finally the professor takes out his driver's license and his Harvard ID. But the cop is not satisfied and makes an arrest based on a claim of "disturbing the peace" or something akin to that. The professor is handcuffed and taken to the police station. He is subsequently released, no charges are filed, and the police chief "regrets" the incident.

The only difference in this story and the one above it is that this time the nice professor is white and the policeman is black. I can only imagine what the media would be saying in this case.

The saddest thing I read in this whole flap was the advice black parents have to give to their kids, and the advice most of them got from their own parents. Don't argue. Don't raise your voice. If you're going to get your license out of your pocket, tell the cop what you're doing so he doesn't shoot you. Say "sir" a lot. Even if you know you did nothing wrong and that this is simply harassment, don't react. In other words, don't get "uppity." That was Gates' mistake.

I've read many stories by black men and women who have been stopped, harassed, ignored, blamed and punished for no reason other than their race. If you think we live in a post-racial society, think again. Having a black president hasn't made it so.

On the other hand, maybe this wasn't about race after all. Maybe it was all about police power and your rights a individual citizens. That makes it even scarier.

There. You are now 2¢ richer. Or poorer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

the madness of Colonel Nicholson

Tonight we watched one of the most powerful films of the '50s, "Bridge on the River Kwai." We were one again captivated by the tragic, misguided, mad efforts of Alec Guiness, Colonel Nicholson, to cling to the principals of the honorable soldier. It is a brilliant performance. A brilliant screenplay. A movie almost too painful to watch. I've seen this film probably five times. It never gets easier.

Monday, July 20, 2009

good news from the medical front

My sister is finally out from under the care of various medical facilities ~ Yale New Haven Hospital and Branford Hills Convalescent Care Center ~ where she has been for FOUR months. She took a completely innocent trip to Guilford, CT to celebrate granddaughter Ruby's 4th birthday and ended up in the ICU at Yale. This is not unheard of; she often pays an emergency visit to that fine establishment when she is visiting. But this has been a particularly grim stay entailing some bad surgery (amputation of toes and a femoral bypass "procedure") plus a long, drawn out rehabilitation therapy. She was at Yale for three months, at Branford for one month. But on Wednesday the assorted medics gave her the green light to return to her daughter's home for two weeks of out-patient therapy. Vic and Tom have made their return reservations for Sunday, August 2. They have been away for almost five months. They were planning to be gone for three weeks. The plants have probably died and the milk has definitely soured. But who cares. I am hugely relieved that she has made a good recovery and will be back in time to receive me as a visitor for a few days. We did not stop there on our way back from Mexico so it has been 9 months since I have seen her. Too long. We will drive down a week after they get home. That's time enough to get new plants and fresh food, don't 'ch think?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

the 3/4 century club

Today is Mr. C's birthday, and it's a biggie. So departing from our usual routine when celebrating almost anything, which is to treat it as business as usual, I announced I was taking him out to lunch at a French restaurant. We have known of this place since it opened over 3 years ago but, as I said above, it takes the lever of Archimedes to get him out of the house and into an eatery.

La Provence is located on the line between Roseville and Rocklin, perhaps 30 miles north of Sacramento. This area is beginning to be built up but it could still be classified as "country-ish." It has been quite a while since I was in Provence but I imagine it hasn't changed too much, and this place would fit right in. High ceilings, wide French doors opening onto a lovely garden patio where, if it hadn't been 105º we would have sat, crisp napery, un-trendy dishes, glasses, flatware. Very nice. Three nice, roomy, light-filled dining rooms, each seating 50 or so, a handsome bar. I ordered a seared salmon salad, the Birthday Boy ordered Coquilles St. Jacques, we shared a crème brûlée that was a very close second to the one we had at some out-of-the-way cafe in Barcelona. That one set the gold standard. As for wine, a luscious, oak-y Cote-du-Rhone white. Everything was perfect. Isn't that nice, for a change?

The staff was setting up the terrace for a wedding reception that was to begin at 4 PM, in the high heat of the afternoon. But with all the umbrellas and flowers and pretty decorations it looked cool and inviting, until you walked outside, of course. Unlike our usual 15-minute meals, we lingered for two hours enjoying everything about it. We will go back.

I watched the second part of the BBC "Wallender" series last night and this one was much, much better than the first. I had read the book so knew what the plot line was. The acting, the sound editing, the screenplay were all a vast improvement from last Saturday's episode. Brannaugh looks as seedy as ever. The final one is next week.

And now, it's time to take a dip in the pool and cool off from this insane valley heat!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

bulletin from the literary front

Two new literary events to note.

The first is the publication of Steig Larsson's second novel, "The Girl Who Played With Fire." Larsson is the author of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" that was a big read last year. This new book is the second of a trilogy that he finished before his very untimely death five years ago at the age of 50. Again we are propelled through the story by Lisabeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in the environs of Stockholm. The book was reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in the the New York Times. She gives it an extensive and, for the most part, a favorable review. And she's one tough critic. I have put it on reserve in our local library.

The second piece of news is that Yann Martel, who wrote the astonishing "The Life of Pi" for which he won the Mann Booker Prize, has gotten a mega advance for a new book, as yet untitled, to be published next year. According to the article, the new book is, again, an allegory about the Holocaust involving, again, animals. "It relates the story of an encounter between a famous writer and a taxidermist who is writing a play that features dialogue between a donkey and a monkey, both imprinted on a shirt." I can't wait. I found "The Life of Pi" to be a wonderful, funny, clever and imaginative story. But I think it's one of those books that you either love or ignore. I loved it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Farewell, Walter

This is the man who brought me the news of John F. Kennedy's death, in his halting, emotion-filled reporting. This is the man who told us that the Vietnam War was a mistake and thus insured LBJ would not run again, who anchored the news of the moon shot, lo these 40 years ago. In my household growing up, when it was time for the news my mother would say, "Quiet. Walter is on." (Later on it became Huntley-Brinkley she followed so faithfully.) This was the man who was called the most trusted man in America. Who, on the news, can claim that title today?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Meet Dorothy

For my long-time readers: you may recall that when we were in Florence in 2007, I saw, admired and remarked on this.

Later on we went up to San Miguel and I saw, admired and remarked on this

Now take a look at this!

This is Dorothy, my new Smart Car that I picked up this morning. Why Dorothy? Because she is my ruby slippers. Hop in and she'll take me someplace magical! I have wanted one of these beauties since 2000 when I saw them all over Paris. Now I have one of my very own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Verdict*

*With apologies to John Grisham

Back to the courthouse this morning to begin the trial. I listened to the Sotomayer hearings on the way and hated to get out of the car just as things were getting good. But duty called. The panel listened to the evidence ~ mighty skimpy ~, broke for lunch ~ I ate in the car and listened to the hearings ~ and reported back at 1:30. The judge gave us instructions, the attorney's summed up, and we went to deliberations at 3 PM. At 4 PM we delivered our verdict: guilty on both charges. As for the facts, it was a penny ante meth possession charge that, had the defense attorney given us a shred of evidence to refute the DA's charge we probably would have acquitted. But that's not how it turned out. I can only hope that the hapless defendant is on his way to rehab and not durance vile.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

I reported to the court house this morning, hoping it would be only a walk-on. After 1 1/2 hours the judge came into the jury room to say that the case for which my group had been called had settled and we would not be needed. For that trial. Instead, he had another trial on tap and my jury pool would be used. We were dismissed and told to come back at 2:00 PM.

I tore home to watch what was left of the first day of hearings for Sotomayor. I got to hear her deliver her opening remarks; what an accent! Brooklynese at its best. Earlier in the morning on the radio I heard a bit of Jeff Sessions ~ what a fine Southern gentleman he is! He, himself, couldn't get confirmed to the federal bench by his own Republican party because of his extreme racist positions ~ and that Arizona intellectual heavy-weight John Kyl.

Back to court at 2 PM for another attempt to dodge the wand. Despite playing my trump card ~ "He's a retired lawyer in the Public Defender's Office" ~ neither the Public Defender nor the District Attorney saw fit to send me on my way and I got tapped. I am now seated on a jury for what has been described by the judge as a "2-day" trial. Details when it's all over.

It's hotting up at last, here in the valley. Expected to be 103º by Wednesday.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

one scoop or two?

It's crepe myrtle time here in the valley and all the trees and shrubs are bursting into eye-popping, mouth-watering bloom. The pinks and purples and reds and lilacs are dazzling.On our walk this morning we saw these luscious blossoms throughout several neighborhoods.

The plants look quite ordinary and uninteresting for 10 months of the year. Then, as the heat in the valley rises, POP! Out come these incredible little blossoms.

This beauty lasts for 6 weeks or so, and then the florets dry up and fall off. Our neighbor to the back has four or five tall myrtle trees in the pale pink color. A feast for they eye.

So what'll it be? Raspberry, grape, strawberry, or pink grapefruit ice?

On a more mundane but nonetheless delicious topic, last night was Part I of a three part BBC production of "Wallender." The series is based on the character in Henning Mankell's detective novels. Our (anti)hero, Kurt Wallender, is played by Kenneth Brannaugh who has all the moves as described by Mankell. He's overweight, over worked, a tad seedy, messy, takes his work far too personally, and is in a marital mess. I have read several of the Mankell books, all set in and around Stockholm, Sweden. After two or three they become a bit formulaic, and good old Kurt makes the same mistakes over and over, but what's not to love about a rumpled Swedish do-gooder. This is not Brannaugh doing Shakespeare, but he's very good. Episode 2 is next Saturday evening. Consult your local PBS station for date and times.

Speaking of crime scenes, I report for jury duty tomorrow morning at 9 AM. For the sake of justice and the rule of law, let's hope my panel is excused early. The Sotomayor hearings are sure to be far more interesting than anything the Yolo County DA can come up with.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the avid reader

Bookstores are my favorite places to hang out. Better than bars. Better than bargain basements. I don't spend a lot of money in them, thanks to our splendid libraries, but I have spent several fortunes in time, browsing the stacks, taking notes on what's new, what titles/authors look intriguing. So it was this morning when I went into our ONLY indy bookstore, The Avid Reader. I actually did make a purchase of a children's book for a certain birthday girl. While waiting for it to be gift wrapped, I overheard the following conversation between a dad and a 4-year old girl with a high voice and a no-nonsense attitude.

4-Year Old: Dad, come up here with me. I need more books.

Dad: You don't think you have enough books?

4YO: Dad, you always tell me you can never have too many books.

There is a pause in this chat-up while the 4YO browses the shelves. Then she pipes up,

4YO: Dad, read me this book.

D: OK, let's sit here. (There are comfy chairs in the kids section for just this sort of thing.)

I can hear Dad's murmuring voice. Then,

4YO: Dad, slow down. Don't turn the pages so fast. I can't see the pictures.

Soon Mom goes upstairs and there is general chat about our 4YO's apparently extensive library to which she wants to add a few new titles.

Mom: How about this one?

4YO: Mom, you don't understand. Dad just read that one to me. I'll find something else.

By this time my package was wrapped and off I went, secure in the knowledge that reading is still a happening thing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

be good to myself

Today was my "Take Care of Me" day. It started with an early walk in the cool of this valley morning. Gardens are all looking splendid. Then it was on to a fantastic facial. I don't to this very often so it's a real treat. There was soft music, candles, good smells, lots of interesting potions to slather on and towel off. The process started with a nice, relaxing mini-massage followed by creams, steam, a masque that smelled like some sort of vegetable paste, eye patches that weren't cucumber slices but smelled similar, a tightening spray that smelled like a martini, then more massaging of the arms and legs, more steam, more hot towels, more lotions. It was marvelous. An hour and a half later I knew I wouldn't look 16 again, but I was hoping for at least 45 ~ 45 was a good year for me ~ but alas, I look just the same. Just cleaner.

The next indulgence will be to watch "Our Man in Havana" this afternoon. This 1959 movie, with Alec Guinness as a vacuum salesman, Noël Coward, Ernie Kovacs, Burl Ives, and Maureen O'Hara is one of my all time favorites. A witty, cynical comedy about spying, set it Cuba. For me it's like watching "Hopscotch": I've seen it so often I know where all the laughs are but I laugh anyway.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

the lunch wagon

On the back road to Woodland there is an auto junk yard. Parked on its lot is this Mexican taco wagon that serves up delicious food for a ridiculous price. I stopped there this morning on my way home from doing errands and bought for lunch 2 tacos de lengua (my favorite), 1 taco de pollo and 1 taco de asada. That will be $4, please. The lengua was wonderful; tender and tasty. The asada was way too salty and tough. The pollo tough and dry but not too salty. A big helping of salsa casera saved it. They also sell al pastor, a spicy pork concoction, and real goat birria. I am going to try those two next time. This is the only taco wagon I've see in these parts, which is surprising given the big Mexican population around here. There may be others hiding about but I have yet to find one. This family also has a sit-down restaurant in Woodland called El Michoacan. They are not from there; they are actually from Tepic, in the state of Nayarit. Tepic is one of our usual stopping spots on the way home. One of these days we'll have to actually go into the city; we buzz by on the outskirts, spend the night at La Paloma, and go on our way.

Our mild, lovely summer weather continues. Usually we are battling to keep cool in 99º heat. Not so far this year. Sunny during the day, cool mornings and evenings. Great for the garden. Not so great for heating up the pool for swimming. It will end soon, however, so we are enjoying it while it lasts.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday matinee

This is an utterly delightful, frothy, silly homage to Spencer Tracy and you souldn't miss it. Given the rest of the drek out there, it's worth the time and money.

Also worth the time and money is this book, originally recommended by Nocomma, a voracious and discriminating reader.

As for the rest of the week ~ Ricci at the court, Farrah, Michael, and, yet again, Palin ~ most of it went by in a blur. Everyone else has commented; I'll refrain. Just let me say that this world is a very weird place.

Forgot to include this photo in my Bozeman submission. Here he is at 15 months; long, lean and very funny.