Friday, March 26, 2010

Cool Video

This is the kind of entertainment that's kind of hard to find in the years since vaudeville disappeared (by which I mean, since the Ed Sullivan Show was canceled). Luckily YouTube keeps it around. Here's the great Ricky Jay doing something a little different with a deck of ordinary playing cards:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Simple question this week: who is the spectral baby in the above photo? Put your guesses in the comments section.

Last week, I asked you who Catie was puckering up for in a cropped photo, and Theresa correctly guessed that it was for baby Joseph (though I can't verify that it occurred at Carolyn's wedding). Thanks to all who played, and good luck with this week's teaser!

More Friday Family Blogging

This shot is a little older than the one in the previous post-- going back to last New Year's. That's Helen, Natalie, Raechelle & Nic, with Hershey poking his nose into the foreground. This may be the only picture I have where Helen actually posed cute instead of making a funny face.

Friday Family Blogging

I thought maybe the western branches of the family might like to see a brand new (well, two days old) picture of the youngest member of the clan. So here's a shot of Emma looking pretty darn cute (says me).

A Quote for Friday

Here are some words of wisdom from the great Roman thinker and orator Cicero (106-43 BC):

"Everyone has the obligation to ponder well
his own specific traits of character. He must
also regulate them adequately and not wonder
whether someone else's traits might suit him
better. The more definitely his own a man's
character is, the better it fits him."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Light Posting for Awhile

I'm heading to Germany for a week this afternoon, and so consequently there will not be many (if any) posts here for the duration. I should be back in time to post some pictures of the trip by the end of next week. Thanks to all who read this blog regularly, and don't forget to come back when I do.

Thursday's Quote

James Agee (1909-1955) was a poet, novelist, screenwriter and journalist. Back in the 1930s he collaborated with photographer Walker Evans on one of the most unique books ever published in this country: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a documentary in prose and pictures of a sharecropping family in Alabama. This quote comes from that book:

"In every child who is born under no matter what
circumstances and of no matter what parents, the
potentiality of the human race is born again, and in
him, too, once more, and each of us, our terrific
responsibility toward human life: toward the
utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of
terrorism, and of God."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Classic Joan Jett

I hear tell that there is a new movie on the horizon tracing the rise of the Runaways, the girl group that launched the career of Joan Jett, and I'm kind of looking forward to seeing it (hoping it might be worthwhile to show in my Popular Music & Society class next fall). Anyway, here's a latter-day song from Joan with the Blackhearts. This clip dates from 1998:

Soup Diary 100324

I have to admit I'm starting to get a little tired of trying new varieties of soup just for the sake of novelty. A couple days ago I was out for dinner at a place called Curry's in Buffalo, and they make a mean house specialty: banana pepper soup. But the soup de jour was chicken barley, and since I could not recall ever having chicken barley before, I ordered that instead. Make no mistake, this was a decent cup of soup, but it was also exactly what you would expect, namely chicken soup with barley instead of noodles. So knowing what chicken noodle is like, and knowing what beef barley (which I've had lots of times) is like... well let's just say there were no surprises in how the chicken barley turned out. I may have been slightly optimistic of different results because the banana pepper soup is so good, but I think if I'd gone with my gut I would not really have bothered. Sometimes it pays to stick with the tried and true, at least when the other option promises only long odds of surprising you.

What I Did Sunday

Over the weekend I went with the Rosieks to the Tilman Road Nature Preserve. Here are a few pictures, starting with the family's next album cover (can't you just see that on a 12x12 lp sleeve?) above.

Next are a couple of Andromeda, above moving so fast she practically looks like she's running on water...

... and here in a more dignified pose (though I hate to think what it is she has in her mouth.

I may share some more pictures from this excursion later, after I've had a chance to do a little processing enhancement.

The Last Movie I Saw

For many years now the University of Buffalo has offered a weekly film seminar that is available to students for credit but with the screenings also open to the public. Every semester when they publish the upcoming slate of films, I tend to drool a little as it always includes a wide array of classics that I've never seen, or never seen on the big screen (or in some cases, not in many many years). Unfortunately, I've never been able to attend a session because I'm never in Buffalo during the school year (and there are no screenings over the summer or Christmas breaks when I am there). Finally, last night I got my chance to go to one of these things, and it was great-- it kind of took me back to my own undergraduate days taking film classes at UB with Alan Spiegel, Stefan Fleischer, Bill Simon and Milton Plesur. Hosted by English professors Diane Christian and Bruce Jackson, the seminar included some introductory remarks, and then post-film discussion, which proved to be nearly as interesting as the movie itself.

The film was A Woman Under the Influence (1974), directed by John Cassavetes and starring Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, which I had never seen before. To be honest, it was not the title from the schedule I would have preferred to catch (last week, they showed The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which seemed much more appealing to me). I haven't actually seen many of Cassavetes films, and those I have seen I've liked very much, but something about the story of a woman's emotional breakdown sounded just a little too movie-of-the-week for my tastes. I should've trusted that Cassavetes would know how to handle such material in a fresh and interesting fashion, which proved to be the case. This was a very, very good movie, by turns moving, harrowing, and funny. Much of the post-film discussion rightfully focused on the fact that, while the audience has been set up by Hollywood conventions to measure such a plot in relation to good guys and bad guys (e.g. bullying husband vs victimized wife), there are no such hard divisions here as the characters display the kind of moral and emotional complexity for which real life has yet to define comfortable or reassuring patterns. Rowlands and Falk are really good at constructing the details of their relationship, both good and bad, which allows one to recognize the true horror of the breakdown while retaining some sense of possibility for rebuilding the family as time goes on (though it's hardly a sure thing). It's not the kind of movie that I can imagine watching over and over, but I've got the feeling that if I do see it again, even more will be revealed about the nature of these character's lives and their connection to the emotions and actions of real people. One would hope the result of that is a heightened sense of empathy for the various demons we are all confronted with on occasion.

Today's Quote

John Adams (1735-1826) was one of those founding fathers whose thoughtfulness and insights helped shape what this country became. Here's an example that bears remembering today:

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever
may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the
dictates of our passion, they cannot alter
the state of facts and evidence."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Wave Rockabilly

Here's a clip of a nice Rosie Flores performance of a song she originally recorded about ten or twelve years ago on her Rockabilly Filly album. Still sounds pretty good to me:

Soup Diary 100323

I think my Mom feels a bit motivated by my frequent comments here about soup I've had in restaurants to try and surpass them with her own creations. A couple days ago, she definitely made a solid hit with some cream of potato soup. This is one that falls in the category of comfort food, as I remember it being a fairly regular staple of my childhood diet. Mom has certainly retained her touch over the years, in fact maybe even building on earlier foundations by adding a few more creative flourishes (I don't think, as children, my siblings and I would've stood for any green stuff floating in our soup, like parsley), but it's nice that she retains all of what made it so special in the first place (like the splash of paprika on top). Let's just say that Mom's soups have carved out a special category all their own, which pretty much sets the bar for all the other stuff I write about.

Quote of the Day

I haven't quoted the eminent American journalist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) in awhile, so let's go ahead and rectify that situation with the following:

"An idealist is one who, on noticing that a
rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes
that it will also make better soup."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Classic Seventies Soul

Everyone always remembers the great soul music of the sixties, starting with Sam Cooke and running through the Impressions, Otis Redding, and all the great vocalists and groups on Motown and Stax, but there was still some great stuff coming out in the early seventies (before disco kind of ruined everything-- which I actually only half-heartedly believe anymore). Here's an example of a great song from that later period courtesy of the Main Ingredient:

The Last Movie I Saw

The Ghost Writer is the new Roman Polanski movie, maybe the last for awhile or even ever (if you don't know why, you're probably better off). It's very entertaining in a Hitchcockian sense, by which I mean it requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief for a movie that purports to be about real people in the real world (as opposed to some sci-fi or fantasy concoction). To be honest, I've generally found Alfred Hitchcock's films to be rather silly, and they only work if you're willing to come to them with a high level of credulity, which they don't always earn (from my perspective, and I know I'm in a minority here). There are points in Polanski's film where I could feel my eyes rolling below my brow, but to be fair they were few and far between. The cast-- Ewan MacGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, and a truly great Tom Wilkinson-- is really good at establishing an air of tension and suspense (it was also a special treat to see Eli Wallach in a small role), and the plot has enough of a connection to real historical events to create at least an illusion of relevance, so overall it was an agreeable way to spend a couple hours. Polanski of course long ago established that he can generate suspense, and even besides the nod to Hitchcock, this looks and feels very much like a classic thriller from the 1970s (I'm thinking Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View). Given that there aren't a lot of contemporary movies made in that classic style anymore, it was something of a treat in that regard; but I do wish he'd tightened up the sillier aspects of the script, and maybe he would've actually made a classic.

Soup Diary 100321

My first cup of soup at Fables (the coffee shop in the Buffalo library) in about three months turned out to be a real knee-buckler, and it was a surprise since it was a variety that I've always eschewed when it popped up on the menu before: broccoli cheddar. It's not that I don't like broccoli cheddar, but it's become such a staple in so many places that I end up having it a lot when there are no other options. At Fables, there's always another choice, so I typically pick one. But I figured I ought to give their version a shot and I am soooo glad that I did. This has immediately jumped to the top of my list of favorites, at least in a tie with the Sweet Potato Poblano (which I'm starting to think may have been a one-time thing as it doesn't seem to come around regularly in the rotation). A couple things make it special: first, it is not just chunks of broccoli in a melted cheese broth which is typical. Instead, the soup was a rich broccoli puree (with some bigger florets) with some really sharp shredded cheddar melting on top. And the real treat was that it was spiced up with some crushed red pepper which gave it a definite and unexpected kick. Easily the soup of the year, so far. I can't even imagine how it might be surpassed, but one can hope.

Monday's Quote

I thought this was rather appropriate on the day after Health Care Reform passed, especially since much of the opposition argued that it would be better to do the changes in smaller pieces. It's from the former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863-1945):

“Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated;
you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Great Anita O'Day

I can't believe it's been over a year since I posted a clip of Anita O'Day, easily my favorite jazz singer. Here she is performing at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival (filmed as Jazz on a Summer's Day), embodying the term "cool:"

Good Eye, Ben

In anticipation of our forthcoming trip to Germany and the Czech Republic (when we expect to be taking lots of pictures of buildings and urban sites), Ben and I walked around snapping pictures in downtown Buffalo yesterday by way of practice. Turns out the kid has a pretty good camera eye. Here are a few of his photos, starting with the McKinley Monument and City Hall above.

Here's one of the towers at St. Paul's Cathedral (I imagine we'll be seeing some churches in Europe as well ;-).

Here are some steps on the back side of the Cathedral.
The Dun Building is one of the great examples of nineteenth century urban architecture in downtown Buffalo, with some really cool detail work around the doors, as you can see.

And, finally, a nice shot of the Bank of Buffalo/Gold Dome Building. Having Ben along on the upcoming trip means we'll have almost twice as many pictures to share than if I were going (and snapping) alone!

Sunday Funnies

As far as I can recall, Bill Watterson only went to this well a couple of times-- that is, producing a Calvin and Hobbes strip that looked like one of the soap operas of the funny pages (like Rex Morgan MD). I posted the other one a few months ago (with Calvin and Susie playing house), and this one is almost as good. I hope you like it too.

Philosophy for Sunday

Today's words of wisdom come from the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius (121-180), and might be worth keeping in mind during the debates currently consuming our government:

"PUT yourself in mind, every morning, that before that
night you will meet with some meddlesome, ungrateful
and abusive fellow, with some envious or unsociable
churl. Remember that their perversity proceeds from
ignorance of good and evil; and that since it has fallen
to my share to understand the natural beauty of a good
action and the deformity of an ill one; since I am
satisfied that the disobliging person is of kin to me,
our minds being both extracted from the Deity; since
no man can do me a real injury because no man can
force me to misbehave myself; cannot therefore hate
or be angry with one of my own nature and family.
For we are all made for mutual assistance, no less
than the parts of the body are for the service of the
whole; whence it follows that clashing and
opposition are utterly unnatural."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Classic Big Star Song

It was sad to hear of Alex Chilton's passing a couple days ago-- he was one of the most respected and influential (though largely ignored-by-the-masses) performers of his generation, especially with his band Big Star. Here's perhaps their most famous song, live with Alex singing lead from just a few years ago (after the band reformed after a long, long absence). If you like this song, you should definitely check out the rest of his catalog:

A Few More California Pics

Here are a few more photos I thought I'd share of my trip last week to Los Angeles. Above is a telephoto shot of downtown Hollywood, taken from the Griffith Observatory. The cylindrical building just left of center in the foreground is the famous Capitol Records Building on Vine Street. The skyscrapers in the right background is Century City.

Here's a big newsstand open late on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I think I'm going to work on this one, maybe convert it to black & white. You don't often see big magazine racks like this out on the street anymore.

This was a street performer, also on the Third Street Promenade. There were a number of singers and musicians out the night we were there, even though the pedestrian traffic was actually pretty sparse (this was around 10:00 at night).

This pelican was pretty sanguine about all the passersby on the Santa Monica Pier, even though just about everyone stopped to check him out and snap a picture or two, like me.

Finally, a lonely clam digger on the beach in Venice. I really wish his reflection was a little more evident in this shot, but I like it anyway.

Gee, What a Surprise...

Sometimes it seems like the only appropriate response to something so obvious is to paraphrase Captain Renault in Casablanca: I'm shocked-- shocked!-- to discover the Tea Party movement is riddled with bigots.

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Tom Slick was produced by the same good folks who brought us Rocky & Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle (namely Jay Ward and company), in fact I'm sure many of you will recognize some recycled voices. Good stuff from a long, long time ago...

Funny Quote

Hard to believe that this particular insight must go back at least thirty years (and probably more). It comes from Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx (1890-1977), who knew a little something about the subject:

"I find television very educating. Every
time somebody turns on the set, I go
into the other room and read a book."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cool Song

One of the biggest losses to rock and roll this past year was Jim Carroll, whose band made one of the greatest debut albums of all time. Carroll was actually better known as a poet, and his Basketball Diaries is one of the great memoirs of the 1960s (though not for reasons that generally come to mind in relation to that period). Here's one of the tunes off that debut by the Jim Carroll Band (called Catholic Boy). Really good stuff:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

This week's question is pretty straightforward: who is Catie puckering up for in this (cropped) picture? Put your guesses in the comments section as always. You can also make funny comments about the weird finger beard if you want.

Last week I asked you who Emma was giving the semi-evil eye. It took quite awhile, but Natalie has once again joined the winner's circle with her late guess that it was in fact me, Dr. [Uncle] John. I guess I really scrambled everyone's thinking on that one by basically saying it was aimed at me in an earlier post. By the way, credit for that photo should go to Emma's sister Helen, who snapped a classic. Now get your guesses in for this week!

More San Juan Capistrano

The fish in the fountain at San Juan Capistrano Mission were really friendly. They swam right up to the edge of the water and stuck their snouts out like they were expecting to be fed.

The colors in the flowers and cactus that were all over the place was quite striking-- reds and greens against the creamy colors of the adobe buildings.

I couldn't quite get the right exposure, shooting often into or out of shadows into bright sunshine (and I haven't had a chance to work these over in PhotoShop yet), but this gives you some idea of how pretty the grounds are.

Here's another part of the grounds, which at one time might've been where they grew grapes (check out the barrels in the wagon).

Last, here's a section of the front wall of the original church, which was destroyed by an earthquake just a few years after it was first constructed back in the 1700's. The statue commemorates Father Serra, who headed up the mission in its early days.

In case you were wondering, we didn't see any swallows. But then, we weren't there on St. Joseph's Day (when they are said to return each year) which, coincidentally, is today.

San Juan Capistrano

Last Friday, Bill and I spent the first part of the day visiting the old Spanish mission at San Juan Capistrano, an hour or so down the Pacific coast from Los Angeles. On the way we drove through some really pretty coastal communities, the kind that more-or-less define California for those of us who mostly know it from the movies and television-- beaches, flowers, lots of adobe and ranch style architecture, etc. We expected that the mission would be kind of isolated, but it was dead center in a bustling little town, and quite crowded already when we arrived (though mostly with school kids clearly on a field trip). Here are a few shots of what we saw:

This is the fountain in the first courtyard. You can see that the place was crawling with youngsters-- there were about six school buses parked outside the mission walls.

Here's a look at part of the interior courtyard. I believe this is the "corridor" along which the kitchen, pantry, and dining areas were located.

There was some really elaborate gold work around the alter in the chapel. Very ornate, especially in comparison to the relative austerity of the pews and the rest of the church.

A bench and some flora around the edge of the interior courtyard.

You really get a sense of how much effort has gone into restoring the mission, which until the 1930s had fallen largely into disrepair. This corner of the garden is indicative of how lush the whole compound is today, after it was revitalized by the flow of tourists over the past sixty years or so.

Soup Diary 100319

On our last night in California last week, we had dinner at a Polish restaurant in Santa Monica. Beets are about my least favorite food (aside from seafood), so I wasn't tempted by the borscht, and went instead for a cup of the cream of mushroom barley soup to open my meal. It was a nice, flavorful soup having the taste of beef as much as mushroom, with plenty of barley. I followed that up with some beef stroganoff which was pretty good too-- in fact, having much the same flavor as the soup. Overall a good solid meal from beginning to end, to which the soup was a definite plus.

More Friday Family Blogging

A picture of "baby" Marenka practically screams out for some balance, so here's one of her brother "baby" Gerik. Now that's a kid who looks like he's having a good time!

Friday Family Blogging

The back of this picture of Marenka is stamped with the date November 1989, which seems impossible. I mean, that's more than twenty years ago! I think the people at Kodak (or wherever this was processed) are just playing with my head.

Friday's Quote

Lars-Erik Nelson (1941-2000) was one of my favorite journalists, writing acolumn for the New York Daily News and regularly popping up in a number of other places like the New York Review of Books and Village Voice. The following is slightly scatological. but necessarily so, and hits on a truth that too few in the media (or elsewhere) seem able to discern:

“The enemy isn’t conservatism.
The enemy isn’t liberalism.
The enemy is bullshit."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the Road

There will likely be no new posts here for a couple days, as I head out on the road for a bit. I should be back with some family stuff by Friday though. In the meantime, feel free to go back and participate in last week's Family Quiz.

Cool Music From Africa

Tinariwen is a band with a revolving cast of members from the eastern deserts of Mali. I heard them on a compilation a few months back and finally found a copy of their latest album. Here's a clip from a show they did a couple years ago:

Soup Diary 100316

After strolling the beach in Santa Monica and then Venice last Thursday, Bill and I stopped into a diner just steps away from the sand for some lunch. It was a warm day, but not too hot to order soup. Mine was Chicken Vegetable, and it was very lush with big juicy chunks of chicken and a nice variety of vegetables in a very tasty broth. I imagine this is pretty easy to make, but that doesn't necessarily mean it always turns out so good. The key in this case appeared to be that most of the chicken was dark meat and it seemed like the onions had been carmelized. The turkey club I had was also excellent, on really think sliced whole wheat toast. If this is what they mean by California cuisine, then I'm hooked.

Here's a picture of the decor in the place where we ate (with Bill in the foreground):

And here's one looking across the street from where we sat at a building which has adopted, whole-hog, the oceanic theme:

The Last Movie I "Saw"

While in Los Angeles, Bill and I figured we ought to catch a movie, considering that we were in the "film capital of the world." Not only that, but there are movies that play in L.A. that it's reasonable to think will never make their way to a screen in Montana. The film we decided to see was The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, the new film directed by Terry Gilliam, of whom we are both big fans. But, we weren't reaaly willing to spend a couple of hours in the middle of the day (bright, warm, sunshiney day!) in a dark theater, so we decided to attend the late show (10:00 start). What we did not reckon on was how tired we would be after cramming as much activity as possible into that bright, warm, sunshiney day, the result of which is that we both ended up nodding off periodically during the movie. What I recall was great to look at, very much in the tradition of Gilliam's earlier Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Brazil. But after my first very brief nap, I was lost as far as the plot was concerned. I hope to get another opportunity to see it on the big screen because, as I say, visually, this was an exciting movie and though Gilliam's output is somewhat checkered in quality, it certainly promised to live up to his best work (I can't really comment on Heath Ledger as one of the main characters, because though I recall his introduction, the next time I saw him on-screen, he was Johnny Depp). It's funny, but it just occurred to me that the last time I went to see a Gilliam film in a theater, The Brothers Grimm, there was a power outage halfway through and the theater ended up giving us all refunds and I've subsequently never seen the rest of that movie. I hope that doesn't happen with this one.

Postscript: I just found out that Parnassus is playing this week in Helena at the Myrna Loy Theater (about the only place in the state that shows such movies anymore), but I'm heading east tomorrow and won't have the opportunity to see it there. How's that for bad timing?

Quote of the Day

Henry Adams (1838-1918) was both the grandson and great grandson of presidents, and carved out a pretty substantial career for himself as an historian and author. Here's a line that gives you some idea of the quality of his thought:

"Nothing in education is so astonishing as
the amount of ignorance it accumulates
in the form of inert facts."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Great Song

Here's a video of the song "Good Shepherd" which propelled the Jefferson Airplane into the Fourth Round of the Battle of the Bands on Dr. John's Record Shelf this week. The images in the slide show seem to all come from the Woodstock Festival, where the Airplane performed back in the summer of '69, around the time this song was released on the Volunteers album:

Pictures of California

I just returned from a quick Spring Break trip down to sunny southern California, where I took a whole bunch of pictures. I haven't had time to really go through them yet, and may not for awhile since I'm heading off on another trip in a couple of days. But here are a few that seemed to have turned out okay. If nothing else, they give you some idea of how great the weather was while we were there (a big part of the appeal of going of course). I'll probably post a bunch more in the coming weeks. Above is a shot of a duck pond in a small park n Wilshire Blvd. in West L.A. I was waiting there while my friend Bill took care of some business at the Polish consulate a couple blocks away-- the reason for the trip.

Next is a picture of the Santa Monica Pier, our next stop. This is one of my favorite spots in the area-- and last Thursday was such a nice warm and sunny day it was a perfect time to visit.

I have a nice telephoto lens for my new camera, which came in handy shooting the surfers out on the waves, like the one seen above. Some readers may remember that on my visit last year (and using a different camera), I posted a couple of really long shots from a distance.

A little later that afternoon, we stopped by the La Brea Tar Pits, and this gentlemen played us a nice rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind."

Across the street from the Tar Pits and LA County Museum of Art (which you can see reflected in the windows in the background)is a giant office building. In front of it is this display, featuring actual panels from teh Berlin Wall, now painted by a variety of artists with images that have something to do with the Wall's history (some are more obvious than others). This is actually part of a bigger project, and I gather similar sections can be seen at other sites in this country and elsewhere.

That gives you kind of a snapshot of our first few hours in L.A. I'll post more pictures as I get a chance to review the rest of those I took (over 450 altogether).