Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins -- Already Missed

Damn! I always liked Molly Ivins, but living in Texas gave me new appreciation for just how funny she could be. This is a loss for larger than life women everywhere and anybody who loves laughs.

(Photo by Steve McConnell)

From her last column:

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

Joining the Frog Brigade

We cruised down to CT to join the pals for a celebratory lunch with Miss Wendy, the birthday girl (pictured). After our comic car trouble (which didn't feel too comic at the time), we headed out across the Berkshires for the lovely drive down to Willimantic, the new Smithereens CD and other tunes fueling the drive. We had a relaxing evening with the birthday gal who actually made a fabulous dinner for us (the terminally lazy folks). We watched Matador, Spaced (the very finest comedy series ever), Dylan Moran's Monster, then, stuffed with risotto, we vegged and talked while half-watching Aliens and Alien 3. It seems like we have to drive a long way to just relax, but we did actually do it.

Up the next morning, we enjoyed some fine scrambled eggs and a leisurely morning before joining the rest of the gang at Asian Bistro, where the line was forming. I guess the restaurant is doing okay (in contrast to some of the other establishments there previously). A big turn out in Miss Wendy's honor, including the usual suspecte like the Boojums, QOE and Johnny 10X, Marko and even the elusive Bilokur (who showed about an hour late, which is rather early for him). Our wacky hibachi chef entertained us all with high-flaming hijinks and a squirt bottle of saki (right, Cheryl?). The food was sublime (I had salmon, with a few freebie shrimp). You can see why the place has been a success.

While Miss Wendy went off to try her luck at the casino (and her luck was good!) we headed off to Robert's to deliver some more (belated) birthday gifts and say hello to Jordan. Robert of course had some tasty food waiting for us -- mmm, chicken skewers. But we couldn't linger, so off homeward we went to be greeted by a very lonely Kipper who cried until he was picked up for a cuddle. I started reading the paper, but I was also enjoying the second half of Jane Eyre which, of course, reminded me I needed to write a chapter of the serial! It's funny -- now that Alice is at the funeral, there have been ads for "child loss jewelry" from the Google ad bar. So I guess the content is finally affecting the ads, but the "reader" isn't very sophisitcated.

Monday, January 29, 2007

As Inspector Clouseau Might Say

The case is "solv-ed."

The only problem with our new car? Well, see, they only had one key when we picked it up but hoped to find the other one. So we swang by Lowe's and had a duplicate made right away. The problem -- new keys? They have chips in them. So if someone tries to copy your key and steal your car, the car "knows" there's no chip and won't start.


So, now the car is fine. They still can't find the other key, but have promised to reimburse us for a second key, for which we have to go to a Honda dealership (bought our Honda from a Toyota dealer because they had a better deal on used cars).

I guess this also solves the mystery of the dashboard light that looks like a green key...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Memo to Self

Never hurts to be reminded to keep a positive outlook!

We're off to Connecticut this afternoon after a start on the wrong foot thing morning, but we expect that things will only get better from here. The occasion is of course Miss Wendy's annual birthday event, so we'll be meeting up with the Frog Brigade (AKA our pals from the Quiet Corner) at the very fine Asian Bistro just a stone's throw (okay a very long throw) from the Frog Bridge in Willimantic. So, yay!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Review: Pan's Labyrinth

We went last Saturday night with a few friends to see this long-anticipated film. First stop on the bitterly cold night (although not as cold as today, brrr) was the Ultraviolet Cafe next to the Spectrum 8. Tasty sandwiches! We met up with Lou there and had a chance to chat before running back next door to the theater, where Mary Ann, Mandi and Donna already had seats (thanks!). After sitting through the trailer for Volver again (of course, fittingly), the film began.

The first few moments are oddly reminiscent of Miyazaki's Spirited Away, with young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) finding the overgrown old pillar just a few steps from civilization's track. Placing the odd rock she had found into the eye of the statue, she's surprised to see a spindly insect emerge from the mouth of the pillar. "I've just seen a fairy!" she announces to her mother (Ariadna Gil), who is weakly leaning against the staff car trying to keep from throwing up. It's a wonderful opening, setting up the main tenets of Guillermo de Toro's vivid tale: Ofelia's dreamy longing, her mother's struggle, the vague menace of the military (soon to be anything but vague) and the distant father (Sergi López), their final destination. The last player -- Mercedes, the stubbornly determined servant played with a vulnerable ferocity by Meribel Verdú -- appears when the motorcade arrives at the converted mill.

But I've skipped over the very beginning: using the language of fairy tale, del Toro presents a framing narrative about a princess lost from her beloved underworld as the camera drifts from a prone and bleeding child to a spinning subterranean world. He has spoken much about his love of fairy tales (such as this recent interview on Fresh Air). While most of th audience probably takes this as metaphor, there is no reason not to read the story as real (albeit fantastical). The power of fantasy and belief are at the heart of the narrative. While easily dismissed as "childish nonsense," Ofelia's powerful determination to shape her reality shines, even in the face of her mother's cajoling disapproval and her step-father's bloody fascism (literally in this case, he's one of Franco's men).

The boundaries between what we perceive as reality and as fantasy are often hard to determine. The titular labyrinth certainly seems to be real to everyone -- not so the faun at its center. He is a figure both imposing and inviting. Del Toro has said that he wanted the figure (one from his own childhood dreams) to remain a "neutral" figure, neither good nor bad, but a true representative of nature. As we know, nature can be both beautiful and dangerous, always implacable. When he sets the tasks for Ofelia, we don't know whether to see this as an escape from her mother's suffering and the Captain's cruelty, or the possibility of winning release from an intolerable life. The imagery moves fluidly from the delightful to the horrific (although as Gene was quick to point out, the most horrific moments were the ones that were most real -- ewww! I'll never look at a darning needle again without flinching!). There is the delight when the spindly insect observes the picture Ofelia shows it, telling the creature "This is what a fairy looks like!" with all the certainty of a child. At once it reshapes itself into the "true" form. There are also terrifying images: the giant toad at the bottom of a tree and the Pale Man (like Pan, played by Doug Jones), all maggoty white and pendulous skin with his horribly displaced eyes. Like Spirit of the Beehive (another movie that deals with the devastation of Franco's cruel reign), the film highlights the way children attempt to deal with adult crises, not by fleeing their fear, but by embracing horror.

I'm not sure I want to say much more about specifics -- if you haven't seen it yet, you must. It is one of the most visually beautiful films I've seen in some time, and the excellent cast draws you completely into the story. I feel encouraged that there is such a strong return to the fantastic in films recently -- I think the LOTR films did a lot to awaken that hunger for it. It's a draining experience as all great storytelling should be; we all came out of the theatre a little dazed and had to repair to the Fountain for some pizza and onion rings to get our feet back on the ground. We wil ahve much to chew on for a long time yet, thanks to del Toro's Pan.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

There's Always Time For...

...silly internet quizzes:

What Fantasy Archetype Are you?

The Mentor
You are the prestigous Mentor! You're akin to Gandalf (Lord of The Rings), Merlin (ARthurian Legend), Obi Wan Kenobi (Star Wars), Aslan (Narnia), Door (Neverwhere), Dumbledore (Harry Potter) and Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander (Wizard's First Rule). You are wise and knowing, and know that there is not much time left for the Unlikely Hero to defeat The Totally Wicked Villain. Only you know the true motives and past of The Villain, so it's up to you to teach the Unlikely Hero all he has to know. Be careful as you'll invariably regret not telling The Unlikely Hero things sooner rather than later. You like teaching and often care very much for others.
Take The Quiz Now!Quizzes by

Monday, January 22, 2007

Team English!

Hey, I finally appear on-line as a member of my department, thanks to the dogged determination of my department chair, Kate. Immortalized with both a smirk and the last of the pink hair, but I am finally there!

I like how the link location for the picture is easily read as "school o' farts" -- tee hee!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Must get!

During a discussion of international horror films on the Horror in Film and Literature list, Todd Mason mentioned the following film (which I will have to research and find one way or another):

But I still need to see the Nigerian/"Nollywood" film with the demon-possessed kitten with eyes that can shoot out death-rays...

Oh, yes! But will it be on Cute Overload?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door

One of the most disturbing books I have ever read (and we know that's saying something) has been turned into a film. Dallas Mayr, AKA Jack Ketchum, wrote a fictional account of the gruesome 1965 killing of Sylvia Likens. What makes the story -- both the true story and Ketchum's novel -- so stunning is the nature of the crime: she had been horribly beaten and mutilated over months by a gaggle of neighborhood kids supervised by the woman at whose house Sylvia and her sister were boarded by their carny parents. It still stands as Indiana's most shocking crime.

Ketchum's novel is remarkable for its beauty as well as its horror; he captures a lost time of innocent childhood that falls slowly but inexorably into unimaginable degredation. The typical reaction to unthinkable events like this is to stop at the question "how?" Through the young main character, the reader falls down that particularly terrifying rabbit hole, too. I've known so many people who read it and said that they wished they could stop reading it, but couldn't. The awful banality of evil -- that it might take only an unexpected opportunity to bring it out -- is the real chilling heart of the tale.

It promises to be a harrowing film. The script by Phil Nutman and Dan Farrands has been pronounced by Ketchum to be superb, and it's produced by Andrew van den Houten ("Little Mary"). It's hard to believe that they don't have a distributor yet, though they may be in at Tribeca (fingers crossed). If you're interested in seeing this on the big screen, help spread the buzz! You can read more at Fangoria

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Sigh -- no longer in England, but I can still be grateful for many of its gifts, including (but not limited to):

*The UK cell phone for next to nothing (thanks Brad & Liz!)
*Mulligatawny cup-o-soup(!)
*Jaffa Cakes
*Cadbury Whole Nut
*Cadbury Instant Hot Chocolate
*Books on and by British comedians

Ah well, one can't be on vacation all the time unless one is rich and idle and I am neither (at present). It's the second day of classes, which means I survived the first including my first grad class. It will be interesting to see how it develops. I keep saying I will do less and somehow I always seem to be doing more (including now Boskone). The schedule is up for PCA, so that's something to plan as well. And pay for -- as well as the Tove Jansson conference, which is a bit trickier as paying for things overseas always are. Why can't banks be like Paypal?

There's always more money to spend -- including for a new car. This time we're not going to nickel and dime it, but buy something a little more recent that (we hope) lasts a bit longer.

Oh and the weird thing -- one of our neighbors has taken to singing bizarre spiritual songs at top of his voice about ten pm every night. It might be the guy next door (with the Jesus bumper stickers) but when we looked out the window after being startled by the sound, we couldn't see anything.

Back to work (and mulligatawny soup) after one more time-waster:

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Empress Kathryn the Possible of Goosnargh Leering
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Monday, January 15, 2007

Publication: Icons of Horror and the Supernatural

Yes, it's already been out according to Amazon, etc., but my copy of this two volume set finally arrived today (increasing the likelihood that the check will arrive soon and at the right address). It looks good, as Joshi's projects generally do, and features writers like Brian Stableford, Paula Guran, Darrell Schweitzer and Richard Bleiler (as well as me, of course). My piece is on "The Sorcerer" throughout history from Lucian's Alexander to Alan Moore (thanks to Gene for the background on Doctor Strange).

A pity that I couldn't get my bio changed in time to reflect my new appointment at Saint Rose, but with luck that won't be changing any time soon, so future projects will have the right information. There's a small typo that misidentifies one of my works in progress, but again, that's a minor quibble. Surely any interested party will find my website easily enough.

We woke up to a coating of ice. If I had not played hookey, I might have had my class prep for tomorrow's start of classes done already, and thus I would have been able to stay home drinking hot chocolate and reading novels. Instead I had to be up early and in my office where I toiled to more or less feel like I have prepared for tomorrow. I'm teaching my first grad class! Exciting and daunting -- I'll have to watch that tendency to give them way too much work. But we start with Beowulf and end with Njal, so how bad can it be?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

2007 UK Tour (Leg One) Part Two

At the party I was lucky enough to hear about the most fabulous object, the alarm clock I must have. It includes the voice of Stephen Fry saying various things upon one's waking such as, "I am so sorry to disturb you, sir, but it appears to be morning. Very inconvenient, I agree, sir. I believe the rotation of the earth is to blame, sir." What better way to face the morning?

We, however, faced the next morning with some trepidation and no Stephen Fry, as we had been up so late and got rather a slow start. The Brookses dropped me off at Regent's College before heading off on their visits and I settled into my little room at the college where I had first been after my freshman year at Michigan State. Things have changed a bit in the intervening years, oddly enough.

But I had no time to dwell as I was off to Great Dunmow (pictured above), land of the medieval flitch trials, so that meant a trip off to Liverpool Street to jump on the express train to Stansted. After some humorous misunderstandings I finally caught up with my pal Bogie and had a lovely pub lunch with the whole Bogie clan (not to be confused with "bogie" and yes, when in Britain I do try to visit only the people whose names begin with "B"), then lots of lively conversation until rather late -- and of course, I came away with a handful of entertaining disks to take away (thanks again!). Next time, I have to come while it's still light out enough to see the wonders of the garden -- and the rest of the village. Then it was back to Stansted, on the train and then through the darkened park to my little room. The ducks called still at midnight and the song birds awoke me in the morning. Life could be much worse.

The meeting began the next morning, where I met some colleagues from my college (yes, have to go across the pond to meet folks from across the street, so to speak). While chatting with some other affiliates, I found that some were going to see a performance of Spamalot! Ooh -- I knew I had to see if I could get a ticket. I didn't think there would be any performances on a Monday night, but there was, hurrah! Yet again, sitting in the gods, but all I really missed was a tiny bit of Tim the Enchanter's head during his first arrival (accompanied by the usual sense of vertigo while climbing to my seat). What fun -- I hope to force Gene to see it too when he comes along in May (you will go to England in May, Gene, we are all mesmerizing you with this thought -- others feel free to ignore, unless you too would like some of the action-packed fun!). What makes the show so much fun even for people who have all Python dialogue memorized is the rearrangements of material into new juxtapositions and the silly show-ness of it, which of course is central to making it a musical. Just like the original "Camelot" number, Idle's script skewers the conventions of musicals then uses those same conventions to make a satisfying show that works both as a comedy and, yes, a musical. There's something deeply joyful about a huge crowd of people singing along (twice!) to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

On the second day of the conference, a speaker mentioned the current show at the Tate Modern, "Test Site" by Carsten Höller, part of his Unilever Series. I had to go! Giant slides that stretch from each floor to the bottom of the Turbine Hall (you can watch live video of the ends of the chutes on line). I got my tickets and headed up to the third floor slide. You have to get on a little canvas sliding cloth with a sort of pocket into which you thrust your shoed feet, then fold you arms, tuck your chin and slide. It's odd, the sudden sensation of falling then the sort of ribbing that slows your descent before you pop out onto the main floor, blinking and disoriented. The fourth floor slide gives you more of that strange and helpless sense of falling and even more dizziness, but by the time I got to the fifth floor the lines were shorter and the padding greater (like skater gear for elbows, and a recommended hat which no one took). I actually looked out of the slide as I went down -- more dizzying, but I was finally able to enjoy the view rather than just worrying about falling. Highly recommended.

There was a dinner at the college that night -- which turned out to be rather a swanky affair for which I was entirely unprepared and felt terribly awkward and uncomfortable (although my immediate seat mates proved entertaining). It was held in the library at the longest table at which I have ever sat and had lovely food and too much wine. It was so much nicer to go back to Hanwell and the comforts of a friendly home (after I finished all the shopping I needed to do). We finally had our GBK dinner and it was terrificly tasty. Then a relaxing evening and an easy-going morning before I had to finally pack up my bag and head home in the wind and rain. Many thanks to my friends (especially Brad and Liz and Sophie!) for making my trip another fun one.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

2007 UK Tour (Leg One)

Apologies if the title invokes images of Mr. Spiggott (spigot by name, spigot by nature), but as this is the first of three planned trips, might as well do what I can to disambiguate them, as they say. Let's see, when I last bothered to write, I had arrived in Hanwell and was anticipating a lovely fish and chips dinner (yum!). The same day flight had a surprising lack of jet lag, a definite plus and I felt rather chipper after my long day that had started the rather early and included falling up the steps at the hotel in Boston.

The next day we were off to drop Sophie at school, then head to a birthday lunch for Brad at GBK, the New Zealand sensation now with a branch in Ealing Broadway. To our dismay, the whole block was experiencing power outtages and we were out of luck. Little did Brad know, another pal of his had flown over from France to join us which created a bit of a problem to keep it a secret *and* move to another location without Brad wondering too much why Liz kept texting with her phone. Fortunately, he was still surprised when we turned the corner on the way to Cafe Uno and ran into Brucie. A nice leisurely lunch later, we picked up Miss Sophie and did a little shopping before heading back to Chez Brooks where video games and later, pizza (mmm) were much enjoyed.

Saturday was my day to see the History Boys in town, so I left early to leave the busy household to prepare for the onslaught of the parties that afternoon and evening. Good thing I left early: the Central Line was down. Argh! This was the day I made the realization that public transport is like computers. You take it completely for granted until it's not working and then you curse it like mad because it's so inconvenient. So off I went to jump on the replacement bus service and thus saw things I had never seen before (as I would usually be underground). Well, the interesting-ness of that faded as the time ticked away and particularly when we arrived at Shepherd's Bush only to find that station gated too. Argh! Fortunately, everyone was in the same boat, so we all implored the staff for guidance and soon I was on a bus to Oxford Circus where, alighting from the bus I found myself soon soaked and very glad I had the red wool cape (such a bargain!) to keep the rain off my face.

I had a little less time than I had expected to peruse the bookstores on Charing Cross Road before the show, but I did at least have a little time, but (oh horror!) found nothing that made me buy, although I thought seriously about one or two things (including the first of a few books on Eric Morecambe that I am now kicking myself for not getting, but it did end up being an expensive trip). Then of course it was on to the Wyndham's for the play. Standing room only! And lots of very moist folks crowding into the theater.

It was interesting to see it with another cast -- easier to concentrate on the play itself, which is different from the movie version in some interesting ways. In many ways, the film softens the narrative. The second narrative weaving through the first weights events more carefully than the wholy straightforward chronology of the film does. Nice to see Cousin Jasper on stage -- the cast were all excellent and the view from sitting in the gods gave a good perspective on the shifts behind the scenes. Terrific show and I was so glad to have had a chance to see it.

The play ran rather long (not quite three hours) so I decided to head back, this time taking the more circuitous (but speedier) route via Paddington, because the train to Oxford stops right at Ealing Broadway. Thus I made it back to Hanwell in far less time than it had taken setting out and got back to Chez Brooks during the lull between the two parties and so fed my face and chatted with folks and prepared for the second wave and Liz's superb beef casserole (which seemed more like a Boeuf Bourguignon -- mmmm, need that recipe!).

More later -- so much to do! The semester starts Tuesday and am I ready? Ha!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hello from Hanwell

-- where we're celebrating Brad's birthday (how old, may you ask? Hmmmm, I've heard that he's 5 according to Sophie...) and had a very fine lunch and about to have some tea and more relaxing. It's a tough life, eh?

Well, after falling down in the hotel in Boston and banging my knees, things have only gotten better. There were enormous lines at the airport, but I got through in time and on the plane. Nice, quiet flight -- and I would have finished my book jsut as we were landing, but we had to hover around for a while which wasn't too bad because we had a beautiful view of London all lit up. I like the daytime flight -- no jet lag to speak of! Very nice.

Tomorrow -- History Boys, a little shopping and a party!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

England Awaits!

Off to Beantown tonight to take the early flight to London. Unusual -- the flight leaves in the morning and gets me there the same evening. We'll see if this reduces jet lag. So much to do! Friends to see, gifts to deliver, meetings to attend -- and at least one play. I'm sure I'll manage a little shopping as well (I always do). Charing Cross Road is too hard to resist. But first I better finish packing. I'm not any less excited about going, but I realize I've become a bit blasé about the process at this point. I remember when I spent days packing -- not anymore! But I did have to take a bigger bag ("you're gonna need a bigger bag...") because it's packed full of goodies for a certain birthday boy.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reprinted: Walpurgisnacht

My short story "Walpurgisnacht" has been republished by The Pagan Activist. Drop by and refresh your memory of this short story set on the dark night of April 30th, the time when witches are supposed to fly across northern Europe. I originally wrote this for a Take Back the Night event at UConn. I figured it might be the only thing that wasn't poetry, but I think the relevant subtext (child abuse) was too subtle for a reading -- it works better in print. But writers are notoriously bad judges of their own work.

Some traveling evangelists knocked on the door today. I smiled as I sent them away, because of course it made me think of the first episode of Black Books (see the quotes; Bernard welcomes an unexpected visit from Mormon missionaries). But I haven't begun to even think about taxes... yet.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Year End Delights

A nice surprise to come home to: Elena has posted the birthday lunch video at her American Blogress site. All 57M of it! So, if you want to start your year off right, go check out Elena's cartoon debut on ESPN!

Albany really is Lebowski land: there's a giant bowling pin in someone's back yard by the Thruway, just north of the New Baltimore rest area.

Saturday we headed up to Saratoga for tenderloin (like buttah!) and hootenany with the Crispinus clan. Yummy food! Thanks, Krista and Dan. Kaity kept us entertained when she was not freaking poor Hamilton out. I now know four chords instead of three and everybody had fun playing the Hello Kitty guitar (how could they not?). It's colder up there -- more snow than the dusting we got. It was awfully chilly coming home.

We got up early the next morning to head down to the city to catch Julie Taymor's Magic Flute at the Met. The fabulous costumes were indeed gorgeous. All the kids (and not a few of the adults) emitted gasps of delight when the dragons first flew around the stage after curtain went up. The dancing bears were just wonderful (even Stephen Colbert would have to love these bears!) as were all the birds and the stunning costumes. It was great fun and an amazing spectacle.

Later as we stood waiting for a subway at Times Square, Gene noticed the signs saying there was no exit to the street for that day only -- how could we forget where we were? Just a few hours later (or perhaps, even then!) the streets would be crammed with thousands of celebrating folks (as it happened, we saw them later on tv). Of course, we were heading down to the Strand to see if there were any books that needed liberating. We headed back to Grand Central just in time to catch the 5.51 to Poughkeepsie (but not Robert's call).

We called Robert back and he invited us to stop by after the train got in. He was having dinner with Anna (another fabulous feast!) but there were some faboo leftovers for us when we got there. He even persuaded us to stay the night so we enjoyed some tasty Veuve Clicquot not having to drive that night. We ran upstairs just in time to catch the ball falling in Times Square on the tv, toasting one another as the new year began.

On the road back home this morning, I saw a raven, perched on the divider between the lanes on the Thruway. Good omen for the new year!