Sunday, July 31, 2011

Insomnia can be interesting sometimes

At 12 PM I should be asleep. I am usually not. I have an overactive mind like my twelve-year-old dog has an overactive bladder. Therefore, I think a lot, and he pees a lot. I've heard writing your thoughts down at night can help relax you. However, my mind moves way too fast (from smartness???) for my hand to write down complete sentences. So last night, I solved the problem by making a "barely-legible-by-any-one-but me-which-is-good-because-my-thoughts-may-sound-really-stupid-the-next-morning" list.

So I present...
Things I Don't Understand and Don't Really Care to Learn More About 
(and an attempt to catch up in number of posts with Mom...)

1. Why the guy grabbing Debbie Harry's butt looks so sneaky on the  "Best of Blondie" album cover.

2. Why Elton John likes Tony Danza so much.

3. Why no one has lung cancer on Mad Men yet. (props to the editor of this video).

4. Why dog shows exist.

5. Why Facebook doesn't let you like "likes".

6. Taxidermy

7. Taxidermists. 

8. Why people are so concerned about the sounds falling trees make.

9. Where Ms. Frizzle buys her clothes.

10. Why I typed this post instead of something more intelligent.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Personal Geography

I've been thinking about Saul Steinberg's famous 1976 New Yorker cover showing a narrow, New York-centric view of the United States, which consists of Manhattan, with some other vaguely imagined places in the distance. The joke is that New Yorkers have a rather skewed sense of their own importance.

I think it's funny, even as a former New Yorker, but in reality, the same myopia exists for the part of the country that's missing from the middle of Steinberg's map: the "heartland," the "real America," the part that isn't, presumably, within easy driving distance of an ocean. The irony inherent in people in the center calling themselves the "real America," though, is that the majority of Americans live on the coasts.

Somehow or other, 53 percent of Americans aren't real.

If New Yorkers are myopic, Kansans are blind.

Stereotypes aside, we all have our own personal geographies. The places we've lived have sharp details; the places we've been are a little hazier. Places we've read about, seen on the news or in movies, exist somewhere in our brains, but barely.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are real cities to me. They aren't just filled with landmarks, but with supermarkets, libraries, and people. Rome and Florence, where I've been three times over many years (and, maybe equally important, hundreds, if not thousands, of times through books and art classes), are like a collection of snapshots.

Cairo? Camels and pyramids pop into my head, along with men wearing fezzes. I'm almost positive there are neither camels nor pyramids in Cairo, and that almost no one wears a fez, but all that I've got to go on are clichés in my head from old movies and fuzzy memories of pictures in elementary school geography books. They've been updated a bit by more recent images in the news, but adding tanks to the the mental image of camels doesn't improve things much.

Not a fez in sight, either.

And then there are the places that are almost theoretical. I vaguely know that there is a place called The Maldives, but I haven't the vaguest idea where they are or what they look like. I'm not even sure if I should refer to the place in the singular or the plural? Is it The Maldives or are they The Maldives? Does anything happen there? Has anything ever happened there? Surely it must have a history, a people, a government, an ecosystem, some distinguishing characteristics -- but for me, beyond its name, it doesn't exist at all. I didn't know Grenada existed until Ronald Reagan invaded it in 1983. And now all I know about it is that Ronald Reagan invaded it in 1983.

All of this started running through my brain after I read Anthony Shadid's article in today's New York Times on the sudden resignation of most of Turkey's military command. The article does a good job of explaining the importance of the event in terms of both Turkey's current politics and its history. The Turkish military has pretty much run the country for most of its modern history, partly by casting itself as the guardians of secularism. That era appears to be over.

But it started me thinking about how little I know about Turkey, and how much more I would like to know. This history is interesting in itself, and the historical tension between religion and secularism, and military and civilian control, seems directly relevant to what's happening in Egypt right now, where the military, which, less then six months ago, seemed to be the defender of the revolution, may now be making its control permanent.

I think most of us "know" history the way we know geography -- events in our post-childhood lifetimes are relatively clear, events we've heard about from older people who lived through them a little blurrier, and other than that we have vaguely remembered bits and pieces from textbooks and news stories, mixed with a lot of ahistorical stuff from television and movies, that leaves huge gaps in our knowledge.

The older you get, the more "history" you've experienced. Unfortunately, the older you get the more time you've had to fill your head with fake movie history, as well. It's hard to separate the true from the faux.

I thought, what do I know about Turkey?

1. It shares a border with Greece, and one with Iraq.

2. The capital is Ankara. Not Istanbul. (Not Constantinople).

3. It was the center of the Ottoman Empire, which started sometime in the middle ages and ended sometime around the end of World War I. I know it was important, but I don't know why. I don't know how it came to be, or what brought it to an end. It's one of those things in history that I think a reasonably well-educated person ought to know, but I don't. I "know" it the way I know that there was a War of the Roses and a War of Jenkin's Ear -- by name, but with few, if any details attached.

4. In the early 20th century, the Turks committed genocide against Armenians. The Turks still don't admit this, but no one else doubts it. Hitler took it as proof that extermination of a people is something history doesn't long remember.

5. Ataturk was the first leader of "modern" Turkey, sometime after World War I. He was known as a "reformer," which I think simply means that he tried to get Turkey to be more "Western" and secular in outlook (and I vaguely remember that one of the "reforms" was encouraging Turks to wear Western hats, not fezzes; I think there was actually a "Hat Law." Apparently, he did not think fezzes were cool).

When I learned about Ataturk in high school, he seemed to be a hero, at least to the people who wrote my World History textbook, but looking back, I remember the Shah of Iran being described in much the same way (only without the fez antipathy). It's hard to judge how much that you learned in high school is true. An awful lot of what you learn in high school turns out to be nonsense.

6. Through much of my lifetime, Turkey seemed to have one military coup after another.

7. Through much much of my lifetime, Turkey has had a lousy human rights record, particularly the oppression -- or more accurately, imprisonment and torture -- of its Kurdish minority.

8. Several years ago, Turkey chose a prime minister -- Erdogan -- from a conservative, somewhat religious party. That seemed to freak some people out at the time -- what would happen to the secularist tradition Ataturk had established? -- but now Turkey is more commonly viewed as a model for the region.

It seems I know I know eight things about Turkey, which is not very much.

I'm not sure exactly what the point of this post is. I think it is not really about Turkey, or history, or geography. It's about learning. Sometimes, when you want to know more about something, the first step is figuring out what you know, and what you don't. And you need to give yourself a chance to see that there are things you think you know that are completely wrong.

If you get too sure of what you know, without examining it, you end up sounding like this:

One reason to study history is to learn from the past.

Another is to not sound like Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Normal's Overrated

Last weekend, we saw a decent but disappointing production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at PCPA. It was set in the 1920s, and the advertising for the play mentioned that this was, of course, the fascist era in Italy (Mussolini came to power in a coup d'état in 1922, quite a bit earlier than I think most Americans realize), and this historical background would play a role in the production:
DeLaurier and his team have chosen to set this production in 1920s Italy. With the romantic style of the “Cole Porter era” to draw on, as well as the European Jazz age in Italy that embodied the smooth cool debonair swash of polished youthful masculinity that had survived the devastation of WWI and contrasts starkly with the rise of Mussolini’s Fascist movement, the production team plans to capture the romantic quality of great music, art and lifestyle played out against the backdrop of changing world politics.
I'm not sure how you contrast fascism and "polished youthful masculinity" since fascism makes a fetish of youthful masculinity, but I still thought that mix -- Jazz Age and fascism, light and dark -- had some potential to be very interesting. Two Gentlemen of Verona is far from Shakespeare's best work. It's whipped cream on stale cake, with a little mold at the edges. The whipped cream: Proteus loves Julia, and Julia loves Proteus. They are separated, but get back together at the end. Valentine loves Sylvia, and Sylvia loves Valentine, but her father, the Duke of Milan, has betrothed her to another man, Thurio, who is rich, but thoroughly obnoxious. In the end, Thurio gives up and Sylvia gets to marry Valentine.

Essentially, it's a screwball comedy (and a b-movie version of one, at that), so setting it in the '20s or '30s suits it well. Light and frothy. Whipped cream.

But there's way too much sugar in that cream, and that's not even the worst bit, not the mold on the stale cake underneath, which is that two of the major characters are practically unplayable. Julia is so giddy and moon-eyed that she'd seem simple-minded if played by a preteen, but when played by an adult, the character seems completely untethered. At times, she's embarrassing to watch, like a less intelligent Michele Bachmann (and, honestly, a less intelligent Michele Bachmann is quite a feat.)

Proteus is worse. The majority of the play deals with the fact that he falls in love with his best friend Valentine's girlfriend, forgets all about Julia, and plots to get Valentine thrown out of town (or possibly killed), so he can steal Julia. And in the end, for no apparent reason, Valentine and Julia both forgive him, and all's well (so to speak).

So, one of the "gentlemen" is a jerk, and the woman he's going to marry is a twit.

Best of luck, guys. I guess.

You can't have a happy ending about two young people getting together if you can't make the audience care about those people, and I'm not sure it's possible to care about the union of a cad and an idiot. Maybe Hugh Laurie can evoke compassion (even twisted love) for a despicable human being, but he's one hell of an actor, and House also has the advantage of being surrounded by other, more sympathetic characters, whose concern for him, and acceptance of him as a brilliant and charismatic mess, the audience can identify with. Unfortunately, Valentine and Sylvia are no Wilson and Cuddy, and they can't redeem a turd of a character like Proteus.

Yes, I am saying that a good television show trumps third-rate Shakespeare. I'm a snob, but I'm not an idiot.

That's why PCPA's setting intrigued me. Take a piece of froth like Two Gentlemen of Verona, and set it in a fascist milieu? That could be mismatch on a grand scale, but I usually find art works that reach for something difficult and fail more interesting than works that avoid risks. Could the dark element distract from, or comment on, the flimsiness of the play, maybe twist it in such a way that you didn't notice the implausibility of the plot and the unlikeability of the characters? And how would they use the revised setting? The Duke and Thurio would surely be fascists. Would the outlaws be partigiani?

I hadn't read Two Gentlemen since college, and barely (and not fondly) remembered it at all, but I really wanted to see what they would do with the new staging.

The answer? Not a thing. If there was anything in the production that hinted that there was a world in Milan in the 1920s that existed outside of telefono bianco films, I missed it. That left me with a perfectly adequate, traditional, normal production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why I Am Not A Baker (crappy phone pictures included!)

One of my first "pins" on Pinterest (my newest favorite interent thingy) were Sugar Cookie Bowls.


See? Don't they look delicious and very pretty? Oh, wait, those aren't mine.


Yep. Those are mine. Let's get a better look...


A delicious crumbling mess. No really, they taste delicious, but they don't exactly have the best physical apparence.

We put chocolate ice cream in our cookie bowls messes. Good, but very sweet.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Teenage Wasteland

Over the weekend, we watched Election, which I'd seen before, but Lucia hadn't. When it was over, she said she had a sudden desire to watch a lot of "teenage" movies, and I know how she felt. Watching a movie in a narrow category often makes me want to do a marathon of similar movies, to see how they compare. Childhood, teenage, high school, and college movies -- they all sort of overlap -- are especially interesting because the genre's been around for more than half a century and that gives you the opportunity to see how visions of childhood and adolescence change and stay the same over time.

I need a list of movies I'd like to see.

Not surprisingly, Google turns up lots of lists of the best school movies ever made. I started with Rotten Tomatoes' list of the Top 25:

1. The 400 Blows
2. Let The Right One In
3. Good Will Hunting
4. Entre le Murs
5. Dazed and Confused
6. If...
7. An Education
8. Heathers
9. Au Revoir Les Enfants
10. Election
11. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
12. The Freshman
13. School of Rock
14. Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
15. Carrie
16.Half Nelson
17. Animal House
18. To Sir With Love
19. The Breakfast Club
20. Rushmore
21. Hoosiers
22. Notes On A Scandal
23. Starter For 10
24. Dead Poet's Society
25. Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

I bold-faced the ones I've actually seen, and italicized the ones I've never even heard of. I realize "best of" lists are kind of weird, and often designed to provoke controversy, but this one seems very strange to me. I loved To Sir With Love when I was a teenager, but I saw it again recently and didn't think it held up well at all. On the other hand, how do you make a list of school movies without including the original school movie: Blackboard Jungle? To be fair, I haven't seen it in years, and don't know how well it holds up. But I don't understand a school movie list that includes To Sir With Love and not Blackboard Jungle. And does the other grandfather of all teenage movies -- Rebel Without A Cause -- count as a school movie? I don't remember much if any of it taking place in a school, so I won't argue that it should be on there, but it's definitely one of the more interesting movies about teenagers.

And maybe it's just a baby boomer thing, but where's American Graffiti?

Then there's the weirdest (to me) omission: No Ferris Bueller? Can anyone explain that? Anyone? Anyone?

I need a new list.

Entertainment Weekly did a list of 50, which throws in Rebel Without a Cause at number 4, American Graffiti at number 6, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off at number 10. This looks like a much more promising list, so here it is, taking out the already mentioned, the overlaps, and the ones that seemed like completely idiotic choices (inevitable in a long list). Once again, I bold-faced the ones I've seen:

2. Fast Times At Ridgemont High
7. Clueless
8. Boys N The Hood
11. Say Anything...
12. Mean Girls
13. High School
14. Donnie Darko
16. Lucas
17. Peggy Sue Got Married
18.Rock 'n' Roll High School
19. The Last Picture Show
21. Grease
23. Cooley High
26. Pretty In Pink
28. Back To The Future
29. Gregory's Girl
31. The Karate Kid
33. Hoop Dreams
35. Brick
37. Friday Night Lights
38. Bye Bye Birdie
39. The Virgin Suicides
40 Risky Business
42. Fame
43. Stand and Deliver
45. My Bodyguard
46. Flirting
49. Sixteen Candles
50. Splender In The Grass

It was especially interesting to see Frederick Wiseman's 1968 documentary High School on there. That would be really fascinating to see again, but the hard part is finding a copy.

So the list is interesting, but overstuffed, and it still includes To Sir With Love but not Blackboard Jungle.

I really need a list that includes Blackboard Jungle.

Thank you, Newsweek. Although, honestly, you lose points for including High School Musical.

Next step: Make a list of teenage/school movies I'd like to watch or re-watch.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Childhood Memories

I love when you come across something completely random on the internet. But unlike the Human Calendar, The 50 Things That Remind Us of Childhood, got my brain motors working. This list was clearly not aimed at my generation, considering I didn't know more than half of the stuff on any of the three lists. (Seriously, what the heck is this thing.)

I was trying to come up with a list of things that all generations could reminisce about, but then I realized that would be really hard, considering much of the world's history hasn't been discovered yet. This is my short list, that I hope will cover multiple generations.


Yo-yos actually trace back to 500 B.C. where they were made of wood, metal or terra cotta. In 1866, James L. Haven and Charles Hettrick of Cincinnati, Ohio, recieved a U.S. patent for a toy called the "bandelore" In 1928, Pedro Flores, a Filipino American opened the Yo-Yo manufacturing company in Santa Barbara, California. A year later, Donald Duncan purchased the Flores Yo-Yo Company, and later opened the yo-yo factory in Luck, Wisconsin. I bought a green yo-yo at a drug-store about 5 years ago (still have it!) and it came with a DVD of how to do Yo-Yo-tricks. I'm thinking that the woman above didn't get a how to DVD.


Dr. Seuss had a lot to say, even though his books had very few words. How the Grinch Stole Christmas criticizes people's obsession with material items during the holiday season. Horton Hears a Who! argues that people should work together despite personal differences. What I remember most about Dr. Seuss is the illustrations. The colors and cutesy shapes appeal to children, and maybe even adults. I remember having a big book of many Dr. Seuss stories and I remember loving the illustrations in If I Ran The Circus.

"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?"

Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was the most innocent show ever. Could you really be offended by a guy in a cardigan with puppets? 

My Memories:

Dress-up and Barbies (sometimes together) = I had still have some of a plastic bin of clothes, mostly hand-me-downs but also some costumes. And Barbies...a lot of them...and a house...and a convertible...and many outfits ranging from veterinarian to gymnast to supermodel. I think Barbie's full name might be something like Mrs. Dr. Princess Barbie *unknown last name* M.D.
Legos and K'nex = Hand-me-downs from Angelo. I remember, he and I (mostly he) tried to build the roller coaster, but after much use of those sticks and connectors during his childhood, many pieces were gone. Legos were fun, but I was disappointed because we only owned one "Lady Lego".

Winnie the Pooh...on VHS = This is critical because in 70 decades or so, I want to be able to tell my grand-children fascinating stories about the "tough days" of not just being able to click to start your movie. I also remember (and found!) the series I had. I don't remember the specific ones, but I did have at least ten. They may have been Angelo's; I'm not sure.


Teddy Grahams, Fruit Roll-ups, Gold-Fish: Basically, when trading food at lunchtime, the three things you want. Nutrition is not a concern of an eight-year-old.

Nostalgia is fun!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How to Eat a Veggie Burger

I switched to mostly vegetarian meals about a year ago. I use the term "mostly", because the fact is: I like meat. I refuse to give up my Thanksgiving turkey (Actually, I could give up the turkey, but not the gravy-laced stuffing!), and occasional BBQ ribs from our local and best-ever rib-joint. It was pretty easy to give up the boring daily meats: sliced turkey, tuna-fish, and meatloafs, because I didn't love them to begin with. The last time I did eat meat was by accident about a month and a half ago (Hawiian pizza is not not pineapple pizza, for the record).

1: Know Your Meats

Because there are so many variations on the term "vegetarian", it's difficult to keep them straight.

Here are the restrictions of each term:
  • Vegetarian = Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian = Doesn't eat fish, poultry, or mammals.
  • Ovo-Vegetarian = Doesn't eat fish, poultry, mammals, or dairy.
  • Lacto-Vegetarian = Doesn't eat fish, poultry, mammals, or eggs.
  • Pescetarian = Doesn't eat poultry or mammals.
  • Vegan = My Personal Torture = Doesn't eat fish, poultry, mammals, dairy products, eggs, or honey.
  • Mostly Vegetarian = Cheating Vegetarian = Me = Eater of everything, but limits meat consumption as much as possible.
2: Know """Meat""" is not Meat

Mom made really delicious soy burgers from Yves Meatless Ground Soy Crumbles, a few nights ago. You should know that soy is not meat. When you bite into that chunky burger, and expect beef, you will be extremely disappointed. If you can get yourself to thinking that a burger is just a sandwich, and not required to have a dead animal on it, you will likely enjoy your burger to be a delicious energy source.

3: Know Your Proteins/Veggies

If you're not eating meat-based burger, you should pack some protein source in that patty. Beans, soy products, nuts/nut-based products, are your standard choices. The amount of protein you need depends on who you are. BUT, there have been studies showing that many Americans eat too much protein, which has consequences.

If you don't know your way around the kitchen too well, I recommend Dr. Praeger's Caliofornia Veggie Burgers. The brand knows how to make delicious, healthy, vegetarian options, without loads of chemicals.