Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snow - Falling Slowly

We've seen snow in nearly all its forms this winter - as tiny pellets, as freezing rain, slow and stately, whipping horizontal on the wings of a blizzard, even accompanied by thunder and lightning. Last week's banks of fluff turned to stone under a cold rain, then were blessed with a softer coat last night.

I am reminded of this passage from Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing: "The snow in the pass was half way to the horse's belly and the horse trod down the drifts in high elegance and swung its smoking muzzle over the white and crystal reefs..."

Did you see Cormac McCarthy at the Oscars on Sunday? They cut to a shot of him and his young son as the Coens were accepting the Best Adapted Screenplay award for their version of his book No Country for Old Men. That was my second favorite moment of the night.

My first was, of course, the entire Once narrative arc - First, the tension as the other best song nominees did their fancy stuff; Amy Adams's verbal gymnastics and Kristin Chenoweth's smiling soprano made their Swartz/Menken songs seem hard to beat. Then the satisfying sweetness of Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard's duet, followed by the swoop of my stomach (perhaps a bit of what Colin Farrell and John Travolta felt when they slipped on that same slick spot onstage) as Travolta pulled the envelope out of his pocket. And Yes! Such real, un-Hollywood beauty and energy as the two take the stage. Tempered with a little disappointment, Irglova's stolen thank you moment. And a surprise ending - Jon Stewart heroically steals it back! And we get to hear her lovely heartfelt speech.

I believe this may explain why none of the other songs from "Once" (I thought the driving "When Your Mind's Made Up" and the anguished "Leave" to be compositions as strong as the delicate song that won) were nominated. Only songs that are written for the film in which they appear can be considered for nomination.
My third favorite moment of the night? A 1954 clip of Bette Davis, looking like a pixie alien in her little sparkly hat(!) as she hands the Best Actor award to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jane Austen (by way of Andrew Davies) Kills Me Softly With Her Song

Have I mentioned I'm a fan of screenwriter Andrew Davies' 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice? (The final episode airs tonight on on Masterpiece, giving the Academy Awards a run for its money. Tivo will be humming!) As I've been watching the rebroadcast of the series, I'm realizing how much I've internalized Davies' words. I so often hear them in my head, a 19th century narration for our 21st century lives.

Our weekly frenzied tumble to make it on time to gymnastics spills out the back door punctuated by my barking orders and I hear "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and to laugh at them in our turn?"

Of our daughters: "Our life holds few distinctions, Mrs. Bennett, but I think I may safely boast that here sit two of the silliest girls in the whole country."

And of dear husband: "He is perfectly amiable. If you only knew his generous nature. He is truly the best man I have ever known."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tree Bahrz!

Ten minutes of impossibly cute Russian second graders truckin' and jivin' in proficient English thanks to Carolyn Graham's Jazz Chant Fairy Tales.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

You know how sometimes you can hear an old story and it suddenly says something brand new to you? Casablanca leaves you cold when you're in your twenties and ten years later, you feel it. You read Cinderella to the kids over and over again, but one bedtime you hear a new nugget of truth in the archetypes of heroine and helpers, hindrances and happy ending.

It happened to me this week. I'm sure you've heard this story or a variation of it:

The student seeking enlightenment goes to the teacher and asks, "Isn't there some other way besides doing all these dishes?"

The teacher replies, "Grasshopper, do you see that door? You must walk through it and cross the room within to the door on the other side."

"What is the difficulty?"

"Inside the room you will find all your darkest fears, all the horrors and anxieties and pain that you keep deep within you."

"How can I do this?" asks the student.

"Keep your feet moving," says the teacher. "And know that none of it is real."

It's a story as old as time, as familiar as "you are your own worst enemy." A story as classic as FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," as pop culture as Luke Skywalker's vision of fighting Darth Vader, whose mask falls away to reveal the face of Luke himself.

But this time, for some reason, I believe it; I got it. What are these fears I've been fighting? Oh they're legion. The kids are not alright, my book is not going to happen, the neighbors must think I have Tourette's.

But today I know none of this is real. My kids are not just alright, they are magnificent; the book is so happening and I should be so lucky if the neighbors chalk it all up to Tourette's.

Blue Sky

We've had little more than two days of sunshine this entire February. But Randy, who spent last weekend in Santa Monica, sent me this pic and the reminder: Clouds and dark are temporary. The sun always shines.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pants and Possibility

There are so many pleasures and talents to be found in the returning 1995 series Pride and Prejudice. Andrew Davies' screenplay is so much more faithful and fun than that recent film (Kiera who?) Flitterbudget Lydia is played by Julia Sawalha in a role that is hilarious to compare to her fastidious Saffron in Absolutely Fabulous. Alison Steadman, who is so moving as the mother of a bulimic daughter in Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet, amuses as the annoying Mrs. Bennett. Jennifer Ehle fills the screen with humor and wit and sweetness.

Mr. Darcy's surprise appearance, soaking wet after an impromptu swim, is supposed to be an "iconic moment" in Colin Firth's elevation to the pantheon of period piece sex gods, but, for me, I'm agog at the scene that follows when Darcy (now dry and proper) and Elizabeth take a slow walk on his property.
"There is another person in the party who more particularly wishes to know you," he says. "Would you allow me to. . . Might I ask too much to introduce my sister to you?" And Elizabeth replies, "I should be very happy to make her acquaintance." The evening light is behind them, illuminating the silhouette of her legs within her skirts. I laugh when I describe this scene to Randy because there is such an ocean of passionate subtext under the quiet lines. I roar, "I WAAAAAANT you to meet MY SEEEEEEESTER!!!"

I'm a geek for this production. I've watched it and re-watched it, had some intense conversations with other fans, typed "Mister Darcy" as my first search term when I got Internet access at home, complained about the detrimental additional footage on the DVD version - let me explain this last one.

(Skip this paragraph unless you are as big a fan for P and P minutiae as me.)

So in the third act, Darcy, probably on his way to propose again, finds Elizabeth in distress at the Lambton Inn. She shares with him the news that her sister has eloped with a scoundrel and he comforts her, and then quickly takes his leave. She whispers, "I shall never see him again," thinking he is still repulsed by her shameful family.

In the original production, we don't see Darcy again for a while, but later find him searching dark alleys in London and come to realize he was behind the rescue and hasty marriage of Elizabeth's sister. We assume that his rapid exit from the weeping Elizabeth was in order to start immediately the search for flighty Lydia.

But in the "extended version" on DVD, we see Darcy in a less heroic light. Instead of being left to imagine he has rushed off to London straightaway, we get one more scene of him hanging out at Pemberly on yet another evening in the drawing room. The unmarried Miss Bingley says something nasty about Elizabeth (again) and Darcy puts her in her place. But. We've seen this kind of exchange elsewhere. We don't need to be shown again that Darcy is fond of Lizzy and that Miss Bingley is a bitch. And by seeing Darcy at leisure at home, we lose his sense of urgency to help the woman he loves.

In the original, less is more and judicious editing saves the day. I'm praying they don't show that extra scene in the current version on the air.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Absolutely Marvelous

Say ye who borrow Love's fleeting spell, What is this sorrow naught can dispel?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today is my parents' 49th wedding anniversary. Never separated, they died together in March of 1969, one month past the tenth celebration of their marriage.

Although Ron and Bernadette each showed talent and enthusiasm as children, the marriage gave them the supportive and loving partnership to fulfill the promise of their youth.

They grew up four miles apart from each other in the Chicago suburbs of LaGrange and Clarendon Hills. In his twenties, Ron joined the Air Force and traveled to bases in Arizona, Texas, and Colorado and as far as Okinawa. Bernie went downstate to school. But these travels were mere circumlocutions around the center of their worlds -- family. They eventually returned home to their parents and siblings, met sometime in 1957 and were married two years later on an overcast and cold day, with snow piled around the church doors.

In their ten brief years together they packed so much life. Four children, a thriving and demanding family business, care of the home. Collaboration with friends to found a Montessori pre-school. Local activism for civil rights. Teaching at the parish church, spiritual work to deepen their faith.

Now they have four beautiful grand-daughters who inherited their grandfather's drive and platinum hair, their grandmother's regal height and merriment.

Finishing the book for their fiftieth would be a fitting gift, don't you think?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Project Bookshelf

"Who has the biggest teeth?" asked Mia at bedtime. So she and Daddy set out on a little World Wide Interweb research. Surprise - it's not the shark.

Behind Randy you can see our brand spanking new built-ins, completed today, just begging for their load of books. I'm so excited. I can't wait to dive into the boxes that have been waiting patiently in the basement since we moved in, what! Yes, four years ago. And finally give the dusty and patient pages a home.

Like me, Sue Spengler loves other people's bookshelves. So much more revealing (and less ooky) than the medicine cabinet or fridge, bookshelves can start conversations, spark requests and opinions, deepen friendships. Sue is collecting pictures of bookshelves at Expose Yourshelf. Check it out! Send her a shot of your own favorite shelf!

I so loved taking the picture that I sent in. What a pleasure to connect again with those beloved objects, like looking through a photo album of old friends. Brilliant, funny, charming friends.