Saturday, December 30, 2006

Review: The History Boys

Yes, we finally saw it. We went to the first matinee yesterday, reward to myself for finishing the first draft of the paper due tomorrow. Rewards are important -- especially with something like writing where the end result is usually a long way away from the initial "completion."

Not surprisingly, the only place the film was playing was the Spectrum 8, Albany's best movie theater for the discerning film fan. I think we've been to it more than any other theater, including the one nearest us. The theater was surprsingly packed for a weekday, but as Gene noted, it is winter break (although we were among the youngest folks there, so perhaps it is normal for the Spectrum).

Of course, I was already predisposed to love the film. It's hard not to enjoy a film that grapples with some of the key issues that continue to plague teaching when you're a teacher (particularly in the No Child Left Behind era). It's hard not to romanticize the idea of teaching (in contrast to the daily struggle of making progress as a teacher). I don't imagine that my students will go on to become artists and scholars; I'm happy if they can still understand references to books we read earlier in the semester.

Bennett's play turns on a number of complex issues, but a central one is what sort of knowledge is important. Richard Griffith's Hector conveys his love of literature and its magic, mixing the high and the low to keep students from pretentious navel gazing. The slick new instructor, played by "Bright Young Thing" Stephen Campbell Moore, turns the students toward the efficacious in order to win their desired goal -- admission to Oxbridge. Naturally enough, the boys themselves become a pendulum between the two approaches, alternately swayed one way or the other as they feel the benefits of each approach.

But the key moment comes from the much overlooked Totty, played by the amazing Frances de la Tour (last seen as the giant Madame Maxime in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). She disposes of both approaches with an insightful spade of feminist scholarship, snapping, "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket." Typically enough, the men smirk behind her back and go on with the mock interviews.

It's only a moment, but it's the best moment of the film -- and it's a film filled with wonderful moments. While many of the moments are expected, there are a number of surprising developments and a lot of good laughs (this is Alan Bennett after all -- Gene pointed out how very Bennett-like the weaselly headmaster's last speech is). I can't wait to see the play in London!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Coolest Yule Gift Ever

Wow -- it's great to have talented relatives! Look what Robert made for me (the picture doesn't do it justice):

Talk about your one of a kind item! He made these charms from 18k gold. A bobbin, a spindle and a ring -- the three tokens carried by young Hallgerd in my novel Pelzmantel represent her link with the past and the responsibilities that lie in her future. Handed down from mother to daughter, the three items reflect the timeless reminders these women have had to keep in mind to rule fairly and well.

The bobbin for guidance through wisdom and sense,
The spindle for drawing out all excellence,
The ring for binding the oath to this land
To love and protect and be at its command

I just can't get over it -- what a great surprise. Thanks again, li'l brother!

And he spoiled us with food, too. A birthday cake, prime rib, crab legs, baked mashed potatoes and asparagus (well, there had to be something healthy). Yum! All under the watchful gaze of Joey Heatherton.

We had a great Xmas eve dinner over at Anna's (thanks, Anna -- hope you're feeling better!) and a lot of talk and good times. So stuffed from all the food, I may not need to eat for days. And the weather wasn't bad either (fair bit of rain last night, but no snow), so we walked around in the greenery, fed the ducks and even enjoyed the koi pond (yes, with yule crown).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cool Yule

We're at Robert's enjoying a little time away. We got here last night after Gene had to work a Saturday (ugh, how happy are folks who get service calls on the Saturday of Xmas weekend? Not very). Robert had a big tray of sushi waiting for us which was very yummy.

Today we sipped mimosas while decorating the tree. Showing those pagan proclivities, I had an impromptu puppet theater with figures from the nativity scene (maybe it was the mimosas) which Gene dutifully filmed on the Treo. We're off to Anna's for an afternoon party, and later... who can say?

Pictures to come -- Gene was snapping photos earlier. I'm wearing my Yule crown of holly and mistletoe and bells.

Relaxing is good. We have a stack of Xmas cds and a pile of British comedy dvds. Holidays are good. Hope everybody we know is having a good time today!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

History Boys

No, it's not the review of the show, unfortunately. We had planned to hit a matinee yesterday and unexpectedly (well, I suppose if we had thought about it, it might not have been a surprise) ended up in a an unbelievable snarl of traffic downtown and missed the show's start. So, another day. But I did get a ticket to see it in London!

I was thinking of trying for a half price ticket when I got there, but found I could order a cheap balcony ticket online and not have to wait in line. Yes, it is still possible to see West End plays for reasonably cheap, unlike Broadway. I had actually gone on line to check ticket availablity for the Punchdrunk Productions version of Faust, which I had read about in the NYTimes. There's a performance on Jan 9 that I might be able to attend, but tickets are not available on line. So we'll see.

Well, soon I'll get to see the film, and a bit later, the play (at last!) and who knows -- London is full of opportunities. I get to see friends and hang out and relax. How good is that?!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Catherine the Great

We finally got around to seeing For Your Consideration and while it was not really successful, it did feature Catherine O'Hara, one of the funniest women in the world. She managed to give her character, aging actor Marilyn Hack, both hilarious moments and actually warm and touching ones as well. Celebrated first when she and Andrea Martin anchored the otherwise male cast of Second City Television, who can forget her wonderful Katharine Hepburn or the borderline suicidal ex-star Lola Heatherton? She is the center of the film despite the star-studded cast, including most of the other truly funny women working today: the wonderfully loopy Jennifer Coolidge (her short scene with Ricky Gervais is just priceless), the razor sharp Jane Lynch, the fearless Parker Posey, and an almost unrecognizable Rachael Harris. In part, that may be the biggest problem -- an embarrassment of riches that distracts from the connections, and like A Mighty Wind, there's a little too much fondness for the characters (not all of them! wow -- there are some brilliantly oily Hollywood types). Comedy requires distance; we can't laugh at people we care for and as ridiculous as O'Hara's Marilyn becomes, we pity her desperate vulnerability. A mixed bag, the film has some wonderful moments through out, some laugh out loud, some so tiny but wonderful (Larry Miller proves once again a master of minute) that while ultimately a failure, I'd gladly watch it again.

And while I'm on this tack, I want to rant a bit about Christopher Hitchen's ridiculous tirade "Why Women Aren't Funny" in the January issue of Vanity Fair. First -- huh? As a woman surrounded by funny intelligent women, I say again -- huh? There’s the usual folderol about how women can’t do stand up because they’re too busy birthin’ babies, then backed up by examples Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron and Roseanne Barr.

Old much? At least two of those women used to be funny, so that’s something, but get with the times, Hitch. Leaving aside for the moment all the funny women from his native shores (off the top of my head, let’s just mention Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Julia Davis, Kathy Burke, Caroline Aherne, Tamsin Grieg, Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge…and the list goes on and on and on) there are so many funny women on these shores that it’s impossible to list them all. Even going back farther than Hitch himself does to mid-century stars like Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller, their crowns have been more than adequately carried forward by contemporary women like the ones mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, as well as, oh let’s just mention, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr, and the ever fabulous Julie Kavner.

Two words, Hitch –- Amy Sedaris.

The fact is there have always been funny women -- admittedly, a lot of Hrotsvit’s jokes were lost behind the pious posturing of her Christian moralizing, but still! But humor does generally require intelligence and there is a certain kind of Neanderthal male that fears any show of intellect on the part of women. Fortunately, the world is full of smart, funny men who like smart, funny women (and in my case, marry them).

Of course, this is not too surprising coming from a man who has gone from a Trotskyite to a neocon. Men do tend to get more conservative as they get older, but it’s a pity Hitchens’ self-imposed cocoon has kept him from experiencing some of the best comic minds out there -- just because they happen to be female. Open your eyes, Hitch, and your mind. You’ll laugh a lot more.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice

The darkest day is passing now (technically up here in the north, it has already passed) and the return of the light always brings with it hope, even if the cold intensifies. There are songs to sing and various celebrations of which the best known are still Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanzaa, but throughout the known history of this world, this has been a time to feel hope after the dark days and dream of the spring to come. It's still a long way off, which is why we need those February celebrations to keep us going through the cold and snow. The new moon falls on this day as well, so we have a return to light even in the night sky.

Hey -- and it's Frank Zappa's birthday, too. So, don't eat the yellow snow, all you mudsharks!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Great Singer or the Greatest Singer?

Can you tell classes are over? Not that I don't have a million and one things to do, but after a training session on archiving all my Blackboard files (dead easy) my first thought was "Can I find some good Vic vid on YouTube?"

Well, of course!

Vic sings "Dizzy" with the Wonderstuff on MTV3 with the usual Vic and Bob stage crawling -- not good sound or image, but hey, it's YouTube the land of many wonders that you might not otherwise be able to see (although I have a PAL tape of Vic videos that I need to transfer).

If you think that's bad, at least I didn't put up a link for Mulligan & O'Hare or Slade in Residence!

Glimpsed on this Morning's Walk

About eight turkeys; one dead squirrel and perhaps a quarter of another; one red balloon, half-deflated...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Up Against the Wall 4

The latest issue of Up Against the Wall is online! It features interviews and reviews of all kinds of faboo stuff, from Anya Martin's take on the Dark Shadows dvds to an interview with horror/fantasy/sf cover artist John Picacio.

Yeah, and a review by me, too (hey, gotta self-promote on a day like today with two rejections already, argh).

Celebrating with Friends Old and New

We headed over to Northampton yesterday to meet up with our pals at India Palace for my birthday lunch. We started running into folks right after we left the Raven, no surprise (well, only surprise is that we didn't meet them in the Raven). We also got calls from both sets of folks before we got to the restaurant, so I had a chance to thank them for their gifts as well. The staff at the restaurant was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of a table of 16, but they coped and we were easy going enough that it wasn't a problem.

I don't know if their other customers shared that opinion. It was quite a voluble crowd and like the Garden Party, everyone was there and there was indeed magic in the air. There were the Queen and Johnny 10X, Marko, Rod and Elena, the Boojums Joey and Cheryl, GK4 and Donna, Miss Wendy, Robert, and meeting them all for the first time (wouldn't that be a bit intimidating?), Dan and Krista and Kaitlyn.

It was the most wonderful gift to be surrounded by our family of friends. We're so glad to be back in the Northeast (not that we don't miss our friends down in Houston!) and with folks we have known so long. Of course, even though I repeatedly said that was the only gift I needed, they loaded me up with fine birthday swag, too. Wow -- amazing generosity, guys! The gifts ranged from the thoughtful to the personal to the wacky and all were very much appreciated.

After a long and laugh-filled lunch, we headed off for shopping around town. Northampton has the advantage of being about the same distance for all of us as well as full of terrific shopping opportunities. We kept running into one another the rest of the afternoon, and by the time the shops were closing, those of us left headed over to the Tunnel Bar for a relaxing drink. Swanky! Gene and I had never been there, so it was quite a treat. The big overstuffed chairs make a great little private enclave, so we chatted until quite late, but finally had to make our way back home (grades were due today!).

It was a great birthday! But has anyone painted their cats yet?

New friends: we headed over to (near) Peebles Island Saturday night for a Yule celebration with some new local friends. Yummy food (pot luck!) and lots of laughs, singing and a new tradition: the wraparound! Various gifts were wrapped in layer after layer of wrapping paper, which each person would have a go at it, taking off one of the layers. You never knew if you would get nothing or something fabulous. It was a lot of fun. So we're getting to know people here, too, and having a good time doing it. It's always hard to move to a new area; we're lucky to have a lot of "built-in" friends in the region, but we're also making new friends which is very pleasing.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Graduation Day

It was my first graduation day at Saint Rose. I had to be up early to catch the bus to the Empire Center (Home of the Egg!) with the rest of the faculty. Fortunately, we had labeled the box with the caps and gowns very clearly, so we didn't have to hunt for them. Now no longer in the big box taking up space here at home, but hanging in the closet in my office.

Quite a bit different from UHD graduation in Minute Maid Park. The convention center is at least set up for this kind of event. They had refreshments for us faculty but I didn't actually partake with the thought of sitting for a couple of hours. I did have my PDA (AKA the Sampo) with me, so I could read during the less engaging portions, but I was curious to see how Saint Rose graduation woudl be different. Smaller college, smaller list of names -- particularly for mid-year graduation. As it's my first semester, I only knew one graduate. I'm sure int he future I'll know many more.

They had us line up by seniority, so of course the newbies were all in the back where we could learn the ropes without too much stress. It always feels funny to be wearing these medieval robes and funny hats. Somehow the solemnity always leads to a few giggles. Of course, the proud parents and gleeful friends provide the most entertainment, shouting, whooping and clapping for the graduates.

We were back to campus by noon!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Queen: Jane Tennyson Gets Royal

We had dinner last night with pals Kim and Kelly at El Loco, a sort of nouveau Mexican restaurant. Very good and healthy dishes (whole wheat quesadilla!), good taste, although it did not quite assuage my longing for Tony's quesos flameados. Then we headed over to the Spectrum 8 to catch a film; well, when I say we, three of us went -- Kim, poor Kim, went home to grade. How very sad!

We saw The Queen featuring the always reliable Helen Mirren, who when she's not classing up horrible fiascos like Caligula or bringing criminals to heel in Prime Suspect uses her spare time to turn in Oscar-worthy performances. Or at least Golden Globes, as of today I gather. It is a fantastic performance -- I won't say it makes you sympathize with the queen, but you do kind of pity her for being a living antique in a world that finds her veneer unfashionable.

It takes place at the time of Diana's death (even now still making headlines) and shows the chilly reaction the royals have to the event in contrast to the tears and wailing of the public. It's amazing the effect it had -- seeing the footage again I still found it hard to grasp. If he had married Parker Bowles (and no, it's not possible to hear that name without hearing "Nooooo!"), it wouldn't have happened, yes for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because she's plain. Because Diana was beautiful, people projected all kinds of feelings onto her. We're easy prey to glamor.

As the film unfolds, the then-fresh Tony Blair (Bright Young Thing Michael Sheen) realizes the mistake the family is making and tries to get them to "modernize" but they don't seem up to the task (James Cromwell is not nearly vicious enough to be Prince Philip). The bubble that surrounds them is well maintained by Lord High Everything Else Robin (played by the wonderful Roger Allam, last seen as the very evil Prothero in V for Vendetta) who is genuinely stunned to see other servants crying over Diana, assuming they all share his opinion of her (which is of course the queen's).

There's a bit of heavy handed symbolism, but it's such an interesting story and Mirren is just captivating as HRH. It'll be interesting to see if she does get the Oscar nod; considering that she doesn't die or play a hooker, the odds seem against it. But the gorgeous scenery of Scotland -- wow, it was just lovely and made me want to back again. A nice long tour of the highlands would be wonderful: maybe when we win the lottery!

This morning on our walk we stumbled across a baker's dozen of wild turkeys. We wouldn't have seen them at all if we weren't tsking about all the junk people had chucked from the their cars on Boght Road, but there they were. Some were sitting on a fallen tree, the others pecking about on the ground. When they realized we weren't continuing our walk, they started to slowly make an exit. We tried to get a snap of them, but they were far away with too many trees in between. So here's a picure from the Michigan government:

Ooh -- forgot to mention! They showed The History Boys trailer before the film -- coming December 22. Hurrah!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wise Words from Ancient India

The Tirukural is an ancient Indian book of wisdom, written in Tamil probably between 100-300 BCE. I actually get a verse a day from it. Today's missive had a very striking comment with great resonance for me. In the email version I receive, it was rendered as:


The wound caused by fire heals in its time;
the burn inflicted by an inflamed tongue never heals.

I decided I wanted to see the original, so I GoogledTM for it and found this:

129. தீயினாற் சுட்டபுண் உள்ளாறும் ஆறாதே
நாவினாற் சுட்ட வடு.

The fire-burnt wounds do find a cure;
Tongue-burnt wound rests a running sore.

The art of translation is a lively one, but in either case, the sentiment is vivid and resonant.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Electric Kawaii!

As we're a little short on funds this year and trying to avoid the whole tragic silver comb/watch fob fiasco, we bought one present for the season to share between us. But it's a doozy:

What could be more kawaii?! Fender and Sanrio join together (with a little help from Target -- free shipping even) to get girls rocking and we benfit. It's a real Fender guitar. Gene is teaching me chords and being very patient. It's so much fun just playing music. No, we're not going ever be rock stars, but that's not the point. People just don't make their own music anymore and it's a real pity. It used to be that everybody knew how to make some kind of music, but now everybody passively listens to professionals. Forget that -- make some noise, have some fun. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said,

Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Speaking of kawaii, we finally saw all the episodes of Jonathon Ross' "Japanorama" (or as he says, "Japanawama"). Above is a still from his interview with Minoru Kawasaki, director of "Crab Goalkeeper." We learned a lot of new things that we had never seen before (beetle sumo wrestling! creepy Super Dolfie collectors!) and learned a new term for a concept we had noticed before but didn't know it had a special name: "kawaii noir"! Like the cute but dangerous Gloomy Bear who is adorable, neotenic and pink -- but a bear! Sharp claws and an instinct to bite -- so he attacks poor Pity, the boy who rescues him as a cub (I guess Timothy Treadwell never saw Gloomy Bear). Kawaii noir still has the kawaii reaction but with a twist. The show is terrific fun and Ross is a hoot as always, jumping into any new challenge with abandon, even dressing up with super-famous Japanese phenom [yes, really], the former wrestler who now appears as "Hard Gay Man" (it's a different culture, ain't it?). Japan is notoriously homophobic, so it's peculiar to see this cartoonish character become so popular -- even among children. Many teachers apparently think he's a bad influence because kids go around imitating his moves (there are two, thrusting his pelvis and shouting "Hard Gay!").

Well, hmmm -- wandered away from the HK guitar, eh? Well, it's fun and for the future, there's always accessories to get, too!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scholars and Artists Grant

I received a nice surprise this weekend -- in the form of an email from our Provost telling me that I was one of the lucky ten who will be receiving a Scholars and Artists Grant from the College. Yay! This means time and a little money, so I can focus on completing the Anglo-Saxon book project and get it to a publisher (fingers crossed) by next fall. I'm beginning to get better at this grant writing process!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Beatum Diem Tenurem!

Or words more or less to that effect -- gratulatio, Crispinus, on achieving tenure! As Catullus said, the golden light of your radiance reflects upon us all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Nineteen Degrees

It's a bit to get used to again, feeling those temperatures below freezing. The snap of the frozen grass is a memory so old I could not forget it even if I haven't heard it in years. As I went out for my walk this morning, the cold felt particularly biting. I think I need mittens -- my black leather gloves, although they have Thinsulate, are not going to be enough for things like shoveling snow. The importance of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth becomes very clear on a day like this. Let the cilia do their work.

By the time I got to the top of the hill to head west into the very strong wind, my fingers had warmed again even if my cheeks had become numb. At least going a bit later (closer to 9) there was far less traffic. My red wool cape may not be all that aerodynamic, but I figure the wind resistance just adds to the aerobic workout. I couldn't figure out at first how I got Nick Cave's "Henry Lee" in my head, but then I recalled the lyrics,

and the wind did howl and the wind did moan...

although the groans came mostly from the bare tress rubbing against each other in the wind as if trying to stay warm. It seemed odd to have a murder ballad in my head when I was in such a good mood, but in the midst of life we are in death. I had already on my mind when I awoke that today's date is a very sad one; I was nearly all the way back down the hill when I saw the lifeless body of one of our local cats, soft peach and white. It must have been struck by a car. It was one of the cats Kipper stared at out the windows, crying. Poor little thing -- but it's a busy street and people just don't care.

Not every thing can be mended; destruction is a much a part of life as creation. But occasionally we can stave off the inevitabiliy of dissolution. I mended the broken gnome with some tacky glue (thanks, Susan). He's pictured here in pieces, along with my ever appropriate mug from the Museum of Funeral History in Houston. It sports the legend, "Any day above ground is a good one." Indeed.

After gluing him back together, I put him in the window to dry. Now he faces out to the porch like a child staring from the sick room, eager to rejoin his friends outside.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Broken Gnome

Now I realize what that loud crash and thumping sounds was. I guess somebody left the building very unhappy...

We'll see what glue can do!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Krampus Eve and a little snow

It will be Krampus eve tonight and we have a dusting of snow. When I went out for my walk I saw a lot of chaos everywhere as people drove over the light snow packing it into ice, particularly on Boght Road where I usually walk. It's a hill and, of course, there was a good deal of sliding, so I cut my walk short and instead cleared snow off the car and driveway (also aerobic!).

It seems that around here if you start to skid on the ice, the thing to do is to blow your horn. Not sure why, but I saw that scenario repeat a few times this morning. By the time we went out to go to work, the roads were mostly clear, though we still drove with caution (it's been a while).

We got a cool Krampus card from the Boojums -- no surprise, eh?

And if you don't know who the Krampus is, clearly you need to buy a copy of my chapbook When Little Joe the Krampus Met! All I have to do is find the box that has all the chapbooks (including the frog ones) and I can list them for sale here and on the website. In the meantime, enjoy this vintage card:

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Well, the upshot of the endoscopy is that I don't have the bacteria they suspected most likely, so I probably don't have an ulcer, but they're giving me ulcer medicine anyway (famotidine: side effects may include "fussiness"). And I'm supposed to change the way I eat -- mostly by eliminating anything potentially troubling to a stomach, including (but not limited to):

caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, fat, bacon, tomatoes, cream (and cream soups, ice cream, etc.), spicy peppers, peppermint... and the list goes on.

Perhaps the most painful thought is giving up my morning tea, which is as much ritual as beverage. But it would be nice to get rid of the persistent reflux, so I have to resign myself to mending my ways. Of course, this is less than inspiring, particularly in the midst of the holiday season when people are making such tasty dishes and richly fatty desserts.


Well, let me console myself with something from Cute Overload:

Friday, December 01, 2006

Preview: House of Black Wings

Chicago film maker David Schmidt has just posted a lot of news on the website for his new Lovecraftian film House of Black Wings, which will be wrapping up shooting in December. I can't wait for it to come out!

I may be biased, of course. You may recall my glowing review of his witty adventure-comedy Sword of Hearts in the premiere issue of the fabulous Phil Nutman's Up Against the Wall magazine.

But having had a sneak peak at the script and some photos from the shoot, I feel totally justified in gushing. If you're tired of endless torture-foo (which seems to be Hollywood's only conception of horror at present), you too will yearn to see a film that has heart and character as well as plenty of chills.

Trust me -- and check out the website for fine snaps of the artwork and filming!