Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Holiday Poem with Apologies to William Carlos Willams

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the Christmas cookies
that I baked
for you

and that
I intended to put
in your

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so crunchy

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Seasonal Joys

Mia's starry eyes fixed on the Goodman stage. Her whispering to me, "He said that!" when the Ghost of Christmas Present uses Scrooge's own words, "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" And Larry Yando whom Randy and I have enjoyed as Jafar in the CST's Aladdin and as Dr. Pangloss on this same stage in a Mary Zimmerman Candide, Larry Yando who was a delight in the lead, especially after Scrooge's conversion when he tries to fool Bob Cratchit by acting a cartoony version of his old grumpy self. He pounds the table and growls like an exaggerated bear, the glee bubbling up behind his pretense. I laughed, and cried, of course, at my favorite lines: "Father is so much kinder than he used to be!" and "God bless us, everyone!

Christmas cookies for the neighbors (sugar cookies with the girls wielding the cookie cutters; chocolate mudslide and Martha's fruit and nut cookies with pecans, macadamias, chopped apricots, dried cherries and coconut, yum!)

Teaching myself to play "Christmas Time is Here" on Mia's piano. And then later, sitting next to Mia at the computer, both of us staring at origami photos on the net and figuring out together how to fold a tiny paper piano to give to her piano teacher. I used the same site to find a pattern for a five-pointed star and taught Mia's classmates at the Christmas party on Friday. And they all did it! I love third graders.

The fresh perfume of paperwhites, a surreal touch of springtime in the gloom of short days. (Sometimes, around four in the afternoon, I'll look outside and wonder for a second, "Is this an eclipse?!" then remember, no, it's just winter.)

Nora showing us her new game, "Fwoggy DJ," by squatting like the world's cutest blond amphibian, then hopping in a spirited way that makes my middle-aged thighs and knees wince while she holds an invisible earphone to her ear with one hand and scratches an invisible turntable with the other.

Wearing mile-high hair to Randy's Christmas party, playing three games of pool and winning twice, even if they were sloppy wins (Ian the new assistant called a different pocket for the eight ball and Ian is an honorable man; Matt from marketing scratched on the eight), dancing like mad to Rhianna's new mournful-joyous song and many, many others.

I hope your happy season is also full of fun, friends and family!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend"

Call me a teensy bit obsessed. Can't tell you what I love more, the forward moonwalk, the gawky pirouettes, the minor key, the giant shoes, the somersaults, the single take. There's even a little bit that reminds me of the Super Bowl Shuffle.

But I'm not alone. Here's a beautiful cover and here's a hilarious homage.

Such heartbreak in a synthy club song. Why not consider it a companion piece to Adele's "Someone Like You" (since I like to work Adele into almost everything) and imagine Robyn as the Other Woman?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Anniversary to My Blog!

Our 2006 Christmas card. Out the window you can see, thanks to some Photoshop derring-do by dear Hubby, the fallen tree of my second post.

And our big girls this fall. Mia still smiling, yet with different teeth, Nora still reaching.

It's been five years today* that I started We All Fall Down and what a great ride it has been. Thank you for visiting, my dear readers. Here are few of my favorite posts and oddities from the last five years of writing.

The Point

The girls have transformed from a four year old sprite and her babbling, near-animal toddler sister into a pair of young almost-women. Writing and sharing our family adventures and my own mothering/wifing/being foibles has been both more and less than I originally conceived - less, as I explain here, and more fun, more funny, more healing, more surprising, more connecting, more communal that I had ever hoped.

I'm #4! I'm #4! I'm #4!

Google "sodden prose." Go ahead. This totally cracks me up. I'm also on the charts for "half of life is showing up" (let me take this moment to give Woody Allen some belated thanks) and "Happy Anniversary, Dear Husband," for which I am inordinately and absurdly proud. I will take what the search engines give me.

Only The Good Die Young

Last year was a particularly brutal one and my blog both showed it and helped me through it. During May, as my uncle Phil was leaving us, I only had the energy to post a dark song and an innocent one. That year the world lost Phil, the inspiring Mary Scruggs, and my friends Katy Maguire, John McGinnis, Rachel Levin Troxell, aaaaaaaaaand Paul Mooney.

(Sorry, I have to put in that last bit. Mooney was such a funny dark cynic; he had an ongoing joke about his family never getting the fun they wanted AND having to wait to hear they weren't going to get it.

Paul: (monotone loud-speaker voice) These are the parties that won't fit on the super fun boat ride. Anderson, Smith, Harris, Bailey, AAAAAAAAAAND Mooney!)

Writing the grief was my way to remember and keep the love burning. I miss my friends. I don't seek meaning in their deaths - I refuse to sacrifice them or anyone else I have loved on the altar of my enlightenment, but I do believe I owe them living my life as well and as happily as I can.

Even with the deep losses, writing the five years have been a joy and a celebration for me and I hope a bit of pleasure or interest for you. Hopefully my words have not conveyed so much about the falling down as the getting back up again. Now, let's DANCE!!!

*That is, if you believe the chronology of the posting dates, which I kind of remember fudging because I thought, with newbie, there-must-be-rules-to-this-blogging-business tentativeness, that if a post uses the word "November," it must BE in November.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Original Version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

Solomon Linda (sharp suit on the left) was a South African singer and songwriter who worked cleaning and packing for a Johannesburg record company in the 1930's. In 1939, with his band The Evening Birds, Linda recorded his composition, "Mbube," named for the Zulu word for "lion." The mesmerizing chug of the low-voiced chorus below Linda's high improvised wail made an infectious groove and the 78 rpm record was a South African hit. Although the song sold over 100,000 copies, Linda sold his song rights to the record company for less than two dollars.

Fast forward to the 1950's and folk historian Alan Lomax gives a copy of "Mbube" to Pete Seeger. Thinking the song was a traditional song, handed down and of fair use, Seeger took the chorus of "Uyembube" ("You are a lion" in Zulu), translated it phonetically to "Wimoweh" and recorded it with his folk group The Weavers. The song went on to be recorded internationally by dozens of musical groups, including the doo-wop boy-band the Tokens for whom the song went to #1 on the pop charts, the Kingston Trio, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Jimmy Cliff. In what may have given the song its largest audience, Disney used "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the film and stage musical The Lion King.

Solomon Linda died destitute in 1962. It was eighteen years later before his family could afford a tombstone for his grave.

Another tragic story of an artist denied the credit and rewards for his work? Yes, but there's a happy coda. In 2000, Solomon Linda's daughters sued for the rights and royalties to "Mbube." Six years later, they won. The settlement gave Linda's heirs "payment for past uses of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' and an entitlement to future royalties" and acknowledgment of Solomon Linda as its co-composer.

Justice prevailing adds another zing of joy to one of the music world's happiest compositions.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tom Waits Sings A Song For The Day

Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house

The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the house

All your cryin don't do no good
Come on up to the house

Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house

The world is not my home
I'm just a passin thru
Come on up to the house

There's no light in the tunnel
No irons in the fire
Come on up to the house

And you're singing lead soprano
In a junkman's choir
You gotta come on up to the house

Does life seem nasty, brutish and short?
Come on up to the house

The seas are stormy
And you can't find no port
Come on up to the house

There's nothin in the world
That you can do
You gotta come on up to the house

And you been whipped by the forces
That are inside you
Come on up to the house

Well you're high on top
Of your mountain of woe
Come on up to the house

Well you know you should surrender
But you can't let go
You gotta come on up to the house

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Only To Be With You

Mia's minimalist "Straw House." All it needs is a little name card on the wall and her masterpiece fits right in at the MCA.

There was a soft and jazzy version of a U2 song playing in the sushi restaurant Friday night and as we stepped outside after dinner, I tried to belt out a verse, but Mia was holding my hand to ward off the November chill and Nora, who had skipped ahead, turned around under a neon bar sign to look back at us.

Nora pointed to the ground with amazement where her post-dinner peppermint had fallen out of her mouth and shattered on the ground and Mia laughed and "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" died in my throat.

I have found what I was looking for, although it has turned out rather different and worlds better than what I sought when I was not yet a mother.

We had a great Chicago weekend together as a family. The girls and Randy and me, and all the pleasures of the city we love.

"You're a sweet momma," said the nice lady sitting next to us at Wishbone the next morning and although I demurred at the moment and gave my good girls all the credit, I was milking the complement all day.

"That lady at the restaurant said I was a sweet momma, girls, SO DON'T YOU FORGET IT!"

I'd chosen the restaurant for breakfast that morning for its history.

"The last time we were here was the morning after our wedding!" I told the girls, and then told Taxi Driver #2, and then the hostess who seated us and then again the nice lady and her friend at the adjoining table.

That sunny morning in 2000, my dear college friends Beth and Michele and Dianne had been with us and here we were again, with two other delightful and whipsmart girls.

In the cab on the way over, I had to laugh at how delicious looked all the other breakfast places we passed - I was hungry - but Wishbone was so worth it, not just for the sweet memories and the fulfilling sense of life's circle, not just for the spinach omelet with black beans and hot sauce, but also (not unimportantly!) for the cartoony animal artwork that kept the girls busy with I-Spy and 20 Questions.

"I see a tiny black heart," Mia said. "I see a butt," said Nora. She was talking about the flying fried eggs with faces and legs and ahem. There was a transparent pregnant cow and giant flower light fixtures and we had a great time.

And my corn muffins were made extra wonderful because of an unexpected delay - our cab ride there had been interrupted by the raising of the Randolph Street bridge for three sailboats headed to winter storage. We hopped out of Taxi #1 to get a better look. As the street tilted up at a crazy angle and the streetlights moving into the air reminded me of Paris folding over on itself in Inception, I was so happy that the girls were able to see this special Chicago moment.

After breakfast, we headed over to the Museum of Contemporary Art for their monthly family day. The giant Phone Bone installation was gone from the plaza in front and I had to tell the girls a cleaned up version of the story we'd heard from a friend of a friend about its sale.

"So Penny Pritzker bought the statue," (I refrained from adding, "not knowing what phone bone meant," although that was the story,) "and had to find a place to put it! She had a giant crane moving it around her house and she finally decided to put it in the yard!"

The girls were not impressed, but they did like the abundant crafts and the scavenger hunt and the video about the making of Untitled, Chicago artist Scott Reeder's giant and ethereal painting made by spray-painting dried spaghetti noodles scattered over the canvas. I loved how the museum tied in the children's activities to their current minimalism exhibition The Language of Less. After helping the girls make a 3D outline of a house from neon bendy straws and tape, and then festive banners from cut and glued silver paper, we were all primed to walk the galleries and talk about how amazing things can be created from the simplest of materials.

We split up after the museum - Randy watched the end of the Nebraska game with the girls while I checked out the Exhale spa as part of the launch of Chicago Spa Moms. (You can sign up for a week of free yoga classes and discounted spa services, too! Check it out here, but hurry, the offer is only good through December 3.)

On my way down State Street to Exhale, I walked by a wedding party taking family portraits on the steps of Holy Name Cathedral. The bridesmaids wore wine-red dresses and the family filled up six or seven rows of the front steps. A few blocks down, I spotted craggy-skinned and totally-handsome-in-real-life William H. Macy, wearing a shaggy beard and blond hair to his shoulders.

"Hey! Hi! I love your work!" I said as I passed him and his friend and got a satisfying "Hi!" in return.

My new favorite self-portrait.

Exhale was lovely and relaxing, and the Bears game the next day a very different kind of fun. Movies, Dave and Buster's arcade and some great Italian food were tossed in there too, but the best part of the weekend was just the four of us, making each other laugh, placating the grumpy, holding hands as we crossed the street, enjoying the company.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I, Being A Woman Born

I'm on my third month of taking a little pink pill every day and on my third title for this piece about the experience.

I started with "Flying on Progesterone" but since summer has ended, that flight has descended to a cruising altitude not quite so ebullient. So I moved on to...

"Menopause? Me? Don't You Mean... Mani-Pedi... Applause, No? No? No?"

...but its promise of finding something funny about insomnia and heart palpitations couldn't be kept for the life of me so I'm sticking with the first line of one of my favorite poems.

The pill contains 100 milligrams of progestin, which is a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone. Its prescriptive functions range from preventing women from getting pregnant to helping women stay pregnant, from reducing the damage of traumatic brain injury to slowing the growth of endometrial cancer cells. And it can reduce the symptoms of perimenopause, the transitional phase before menopause.

I went to the doc initially for what I thought was some pretty serious PMS, lasting, oh, just about all month long. I knew it wasn't depression. Too sporadic. Too many moments of happiness. Too much lightness and frenzy. A serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Zoloft sounded like a bad solution, a misdiagnosis. A blood test revealed I had a low level of progesterone, a sign of perimenopause.

Progesterone is the soother in the cocktail of hormones that flies in our bloodstream and bathes our nerves. It balances energy-spikers like adrenaline and cortisol, those heart pumpers who help us run from the saber toothed cat, or jump out of the way of the truck, or get out of bed in the morning, but who are awful companions every minute of the rest of the day.

I was relieved, if a little surprised, to have a diagnosis, but it was some time before I filled the prescription and a little while longer before I actually started taking the pills.

There had to be a worst day, the day I knew I would not kick this by sheer will. But the worst day didn't turn out to be what you might think; it wasn't the loudest or the teariest.

And the worst day wasn't the April morning I scurried my girls out of my uncle's house, my kind uncle who had invited them to a sleepover at his place in the southwest suburbs with his granddaughters, who had prepared special gifts of clay dinosaur eggs and mineral science kits - like their own grandfather, my father, the jeweler, might have done, had he the time.

That wasn't the worst day, even though I sobbed as I drove away because at that point in the spring I could not bear to hear anyone correct my children, even gently, and because in the sharp and cobwebby place that was my world then I could not hear the man talk with pleasure about caring for his grandchildren every week without my own answering brokenglass thoughts ringing in my head like an echo chamber: Who takes care of my children? Who cares for my children? Who do they have?

On that day, at that moment, those sad questions exploded in my brain, obliterated nearly all the sense and self-sufficiency and compassion that normally rule. Because the answer, of course, it that I do. But I was lost in a sea of need. Now I look at painful questions like those and let them float away, like a balloon on the wind, or a leaf on a stream.

That wasn't the worst day, even though Nora's "I'm hungry" from the back seat nearly broke me and the search for breakfast in the endless looping hell that is the Jane Addams Toll and 53 and Algonquin Road led us to a mostly empty strip mall with the world's most potholed parking lot. A no-name mini-mart and one guy behind the counter who looked like he'd been there all night.

That wasn't even the worst moment, buying the girls crappy plastic-sleeved chocolate donuts with tears streaming down my face. In such a setting I actually felt a little reassured, a bit at home. God knows how many mornings those cluttered shelves had seen red-eyed women with their children trailing behind them; there was comfort being in the sorority.

Walking back to the car somehow lightened, I thought, not for the first time, that I wasn't sure I was suited for the pristine and mild suburbs. I missed the City and her garbagey streets; I missed Her thousand daily tales of woe and glory, disaster and renewal. She's a regular Scheherazade, Chicago is, isn't she?

No, that wasn't the worst day. The the worst day, the day when I at last accepted I needed to let go and take the damn pill, was when I came across a couple of lines in the therapeutic book I had been clinging to like J.D. Salinger's Franny clutches The Way of a Pilgrim:

"To put it simply, emotions are signals within your body that tell you what's happening. When something pleasurable is happening to you, you feel good; when something distressing is happening to you, you feel bad."

"Not for me," I thought. "Not now. Whenever anything happens to me, I feel bad."

So I finally said Enough. Enough with my repugnance over giving up control, enough with the self-righteous my-body-is-a-temple purity that has always kept me away from drugs, prescription and recreational, and that is revealed as only so much bullshit if it does not serve me or my kids.

The first day I knew the drug was working. The feeling of crawling on gravel was gone.

When I woke up after less than eight hours of sleep, I was tired, but the day was not ruined.

Now I feel good. I don't feel drugged or numb or blissfully apathetic - I feel like me, only more, let's say, calibrated.

The monster in Mom has retreated.

Now, needing to make the decision between doing laundry or dishes first does not undo me. Deciding when to make a left turn across traffic is no longer excruciating. An invisible hair tickling the back of my arm when my hands are plunged in the dishwater is no longer the stuff of high drama.

Before the pill, when Mia fell off the kitchen chair and scraped her back, I howled louder than she did. Which was not what she needed. Last week when she caught her finger in the back door, I could quietly soothe her, put the finger under cold water, know she needed to sit down and hold onto someone, kiss her head and have Nora fetch the car keys for the doctor.

This pill is helping me take care of the kids the way they deserve, gently and patiently.

Don't think I'm a contented fat pussycat now. There's still yelling. And seven days before my period, I'll still feel a little crazy. And every single time I hear "Someone Like You," I sob a bit, but who doesn't?

We crowded onto an elevator last month and even though the passengers weren't mobbed enough to touch, a woman in the back, her white hair in a chic haircut, said, "Oh no!" and forced her way out with her husband in tow.

"Are you okay?" I asked as she passed and when she said, "No!" to a not unusual situation, I thought "Been there." And "My sympathies." I knew how she felt - I could remember it well -- when the up and down elevator ride of this lovely old world was just about unbearable.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Big Bill Broonzy "When Did You Leave Heaven"

When did you leave heaven?
How did they let you go?
How's everything up in Heaven?
I'd love to know.

Why did you trade heaven
Just for these earthly things?
Why did you lose your little halo?
Baby, why'd you drop your wings?

Have they missed you?
Could you get back in?
If I kissed you,
Would it be a sin?

I am just only human,
But you are so divine.
When did you leave heaven,
Little angel mine?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day of the Dead Greetings!

Shrine and photography by Brent and Serena, Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Click on the image for more detail. Brent bought the skull with his allowance money when he was twelve. I'm partial to the kitty fishing for skull.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Read Me at The 3Six5 Project!

The 3six5 is a crowd-sourced blogging project that is attempting to capture 365 writers' experiences during one year. Chicago has its own local offshoot and the participants range from night club entrepreneur Billy Dec to shabby-chic style maker Tereasa Surrat (Found, Free and Flea; A Very Modest Cottage.)

Here's my contribution, about a trip to the costume store. As always, thanks for reading!


Happy Halloween! Look what I made! I'm not crafty in any way and actually, my work here was more assembling than creating but look! Look how cute the little owl is and how spooky-pretty are the black and purple paper chrysanthemums! I curled each one of those petals and let me tell you, that's 72 of those suckers per flower. Randy was calling me Sisyphus near the end, but I found the whole mindless curling process relaxing. Hold the blade of a scissors against the paper petal with your thumb, secure the center of the blossom with your other hand and pull. Instant curl! So satisfying. I also got a green square boxwood kit that uses the same technique from Paper Source - I can't wait to start on the December wreath!

And looky looky at these cute retro Halloween stickers I got from Uncle Fun!

And these. Mia helped with the styling. Don't you love them? Very Ranken-Bass, or should I say Franken-Bass? Snort!

Evil Scientist and Witchy-Poo detail.

Mother Nature is hard at work making her autumn decorations too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Love

I love my Cleopatra Halloween costume! I want to wear it all day, even though Halloween's not until Monday. I want to walk around in my flowy white gown that gives me great cleavage and my black heavy-banged wig and tell people little factoids from Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra bio. OMG, I'm turning into one of those crazy teacher ladies who impersonate historical figures to make History Come Alive! No, I really just like the fake bling bling.

You know what I love even more than my Cleopatra costume? Hearing the doorbell ring while I'm checking out the fake pearls on my headdress. And remembering the garage door replacement guy is scheduled for today.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Morning Gratitudes

Thanks to you, Chicago Marathon runners who brought such beauty to our first look out the window this morning with your mass of flickering legs against the morning sun and who brought such inspiration when we got to the edge of your stream and called your names and made you smile.

You sucked up the sounds of the city as you poured by and left in your wake a strange stillness as I trotted a little fraction of your distance down the canyons of Michigan and Randolph. Thank you for providing a little adventure for us later as we tried to get off the island you made out of the Loop.

Thanks to you, sweet and funny doorman at the Merchandise Mart Holiday Inn who was determined to find us a way out of the labyrinth of pedways and stalled escalators and back hallways and service exits and down to Kinzie, the only street allowing passage under the runners.

Thanks to Publican for a fine salty brunch and to Alma for the idea. Thanks for making Randy so happy with the wine-poached eggs on his Benny and thanks to Randy for letting me steal the spicy raw beets from his Bloody.

Thanks for the Sunday morning memories of Saturday night, Chicago Blackhawks. Your national anthem spectacle, your twin Zambonis, your hilarious between-period obstacle course for toddlers on skates, all made fans of my girls at their first game. And thanks to dear sweet husband who took the girls while I got to head out appropriately alone to In The Next Room or the vibrator play at Victory Gardens.

And thanks to you, Sarah Ruhl, (formerly of Wilmette!) for the sweet and funny poetry you conjured out of the subjects of electricity, 19th century clinical vibrators, and the discovery of love between a husband and wife.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff vs. Cleopatra: A Legend by Hollywood

I'm thick into reading Stacy Schiff's recreation of first century BC Alexandria, the opulent Egyptian coastal city that was home to the ancient world's greatest library and a 300 foot tall lighthouse that brought home fleets of quinqueremes, war vessels powered by five tiers of rowing slaves. The city itself was dressed in walls of alabaster, ivory and red granite and played host to elephant parades, political intrigue and extravagant banquets served on gold plates and scented with incense. And ruling over all, the legendary Pharaoh Cleopatra.

Schiff's new biography Cleopatra: A Life tells a true story as wondrous as science fiction, of a woman ruler believed to be divine. Brutality, excess, and marriages between immediate family members were the rules of the game. Fratricide, filicide, uxoricide and all the the other -cides were commonplace in efforts to keep ultimate control of the country and its wealth.

Schiff's accounting of this world is astounding, not just by the jaw-dropping subject matter, but by her work of faithfully tracing the story itself. The record is full of holes, the ancient accounts colored by contradictions, slander and sexism. "As always, an educated woman was a dangerous woman," writes Schiff, and Cleopatra's education and power proved so threatening to her first historians that her early image had to be smudged out, then recreated as that of a sexy vamp, a seductress of great beauty, luring great men to their doom with her kohl-lined eyes.

But that is the Myth, the kudzu of history, as Schiff describes it, that rushes in to fill where facts are absent.

There is little evidence that Cleopatra was a great beauty, but much that she was intelligent and well spoken. Rich, resourceful, flattering, clever and witty, yes. A sexy seductress? Eh.

The mythologizing of the history-makers works to diminish the pharaoh queen who in life was capable of raising armies while exiled in the Syrian desert. Making Cleopatra's sexuality the source of her power instead of her considerable intellect, inspired leadership, extensive education or natural talent reduces her to a less threatening figure to the male power structure. Making her a seductress makes her morally suspect.

Schiff: "What unsettled those who wrote her history was her independence of mind, the enterprising spirit." To the first century poet Lucan, she "whores to gain Rome."

Modern movies did not originate the Myth, but have done much to perpetuate it. In a 1999 TV miniseries, a young and sinuous Cleopatra makes rolling out of a rug in front of Caesar as sexy as a veil dance. No surprise that the HBO miniseries Rome has Mark Antony calling the queen a wh0re before they preside over throne room orgies.

Even the supposedly "educational" video, "How Beautiful Was Cleopatra?" from the UK's Open University uses overtired sexist stereotypes and Playboy-style silhouettes to make its Neanderthal point:

"She did what women have done for centuries: used her sexuality to manipulate men."

While many films have exaggerated Cleopatra's sexual powers to the diminishment of her intellect, one movie seems to have gotten at least part of her culture correct - the opulent Alexandrian spectacle of which she, as one of the richest women in history, wholeheartedly took part.

I saw Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1963 production of Cleopatra years ago and all I remembered was

1) it was long;

2) it was overwrought;

3) it had less kitschy pleasures than my favorite sword and sandal epic, The Ten Commandments;

4) the two stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, began their tumultuous relationship on set, although both were married at the time; and

5) the excessive budget nearly bankrupt the 20th Century Fox studio. (Actually, the film recouped its $44 million budget - about $300 million today when adjusted for inflation - after a few years of theatrical and TV showings.) And...

6) ...there was this one scene, where Cleopatra makes a dramatic entrance in front of the Romans. The pageantry was out of control, with a wild parade of animals, dancing girls, colored smoke, a bird flock release and hundreds of men pulling a Sphinx-like parade float bearing Cleopatra and her young son dressed in gold. The first time I saw it, the scene looked to me like wildly inaccurate Hollywood exaggeration.

What a surprise to read in Schiff that Mankiewicz got it about right. She describes an Alexandrian parade: "a Dionysian procession had introduced gilded twenty-foot floats to the city streets, each requiring 180 men to coax it along. Purple-painted satyrs and gold-garlanded nymphs followed, along with allegorical representations of kings, gods, cities, seasons....Fires erupted and died down; lights flickered from statues' eyes; trumpets blared spontaneously." Seems the only thing anachronistic in this movie scene was Elizabeth Taylor's wink!

It has been refreshing to read Schiff's revision of Cleopatra's Myth that parses the legend into less simplistic likelihood. I can't wait to see what she does with the bacchinalia and the asp.

You can read more posts about Cleopatra: A Life here. I received a copy of the book from the publisher with no obligation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Christina Haglid & Friends at the Architrouve Gallery

Dear friend Christina has a new show opening this Friday at the Architrouve gallery, with two of her fellow fine art conservationists from Joel Oppenheimer.

From the gallery: "The attention to meticulous detail as a conservator combined with ... intuitive skills of an artist exemplifies the three superior artists exhibiting for the first time together."

Christina's paintings are mysterious and mesmerizing, based on minute observation of the natural world that produces images so intense, they are nearly spiritual. A purple flower of the herb borage, lit by the glow of a paper lantern and suspended over water; a ghostly boat under a foreboding sky; stardust and cellular membranes. Her watercolors compel us to consider the slightest tug of a silken strand, the hush of waves, stillness.

She has recently expanded her usual tiny canvas by several inches - I teased her and asked her if she had to start using brushes with more than five hairs.

The show runs through November 18th. Come see her beautiful work.

Meticulous Detail: Conservator's Paintings. The Architrouve, 1433 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Michigan Vacation With Kids: Saugatuck

Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

Feeling a little Simonion nostalgia for our Big Trip, after all, it was a whole month ago and the details are getting soft. No man in a gabardine suit, but there was a bit of "I'm lost," while everyone was sleeping. Oh, you know me; there's always some falling down. But most of the days and nights were very happy; I'm flying high on progesterone which made the whole trip possible (I will save the TMI medicinal details for another post.)

Small towns sometimes give me the Been There Done Thats, (Love ya, Delavan!) but Saugatuck just keeps getting better and better. Of course it is our gatekeepers, dear cousin Sally and her lovely hubbie Erik, who enrich and deepen our time with dollops of family love, local culture and stories from the front lines of small town life.

Erik is a part time first responder for the fire department, (his pager took him out of bed five times the Saturday night we arrived but he was sweet and amiable as ever over breakfast the next morning at the Elbow Room) and Sally does design and cheerleading for the historical society and the chamber of commerce so they both have their hands deep in the good stuff of this beautiful arts and agriculture community.

There's news of a big developer from Oklahoma trying to buy up land north of town, (he offered one landowner with acres of untouched nature the grand sum of one meeellion dollars.) There's a drive to save a Douglas root beer stand from the '50s, built from 110 curved redwood staves in the shape of a giant barrel.

(I'm always tickled at how the characters in the small town stories keep cycling through - like a play with a big cast but few actors who are compelled to play multiple parts. The guy who runs the dune ride, the restaurant owner, the fire chief, all keep reappearing wearing different hats. The mayor catered the wedding of my friend Chris, who has a summer house here, and who, to my thrill, I ran into when we were both taking morning runs along beautiful Lakeshore Drive.)

Sally's current projects (of many!) include the design of The Village Table, "a delicious history of food in the Saugatuck-Douglas area" including stories of a 1917 fried muskrat banquet (sauerkraut on the side) and plenty of yummy contemporary recipes from local restaurants. Drunken Shrimp Sambuca from Everyday People, anyone?

The Village Table devotes an entire chapter to that local favorite, ice cream, and after dinner on Saturday, Sally gave the girls a plastic baggie and helped them pour in sugar, half and half and some vanilla extract. They sealed up the bags, then placed them in larger baggies with salt and ice. We helped the girls squeeze and pummel their bags and five minutes later, voila! Ice cream!

Can you guess how much the girls love coming here?

Sunday was rainy, so we took the girls to the Express Yourself Art Barn where the girls happily painted ceramics under cheery Christmas lights and giggled as they slurred the name of the place. The barn door was open to a view of the cool rain and a gorgeous Midwest garden in bloom.

The sun had reappeared by the time we were finished so we headed for the historical museum on the shore of the beautiful Kalamazoo River streaming north on its way to Lake Michigan. We parked at the base of the 323 step staircase that takes you over the wooded dune to gorgeous Oval beach. Sally thought the stairs would be too much for little Nora and I agreed, but guess who was the first one to the top?

Her bolt up Mount Baldy caught up with her later, though, after the chain ferry and the ice cream and trampoline-bungie jumping. Nora slept for two hours in Randy's lap while Mia and I walked to the Douglas Beach to dip our toes in.

At our modern Saugatuck rental house, there was a big screen TV but no cable. A DVD player and a single Lars Von Trier DVD. I found this really funny. So did Erik, who knows the gloominess of the auteur who defies the bonhomie of the rest of Denmark.

Dune ride views. Developers are drooling to turn this land into a gated community.

Chain ferry! We loved the guy with the propeller hat.

I'm pulling the chain ferry! I loved the chance to slip in a bicep workout.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Tree of Life

(You can whisper this review to get the aural feel of The Tree of Life. Not that the narration of Terrence Malick's film made any sense. Words are only there as a vehicle for the narrator's solemnity.)

A child walks down the middle of a small town street at dusk.

The camera floats behind him, before him.

A woman caresses the boy's shoulder, his closely shorn head.

Tilt up to new spring leaves in a tangle of tree branches.

A face of pain.

Laughter for no discernible reason.

A woman runs and plays with her children, with no cares, no chores, no friends, no inner life except that of the joy and pain her sons and husband give her, no connection to the actual life actual women live.

A man who cannot escape being The Movie Star Brad Pitt moves through the frame as the father. His face shares the same lines as the boys', but harder, embedded in failure and bitterness, uneraseable, unforgiveable and unforgiving.

The suburban streets of 1950's Waco, Texas, but never in the heat, only the soft air of spring twilight.

The mother's perfect period dresses. Plaid, pink, oversized buttons.

Light on a river.

I sit in the theater and I think, Watching this film is not entertainment. There is no diversion here, or escape. None of the typical rhythms of Hollywood - setup, punch, setup, punch. This is work. This is beauty; this is Art with a capital "A."

I know Malick took over an entire neighborhood in a small Texas town, sent the residents away and shot hundreds of hours of improvised footage, just searching for "the unrepeatable moment." The way the boys and their parents move in the home and yard and street reminds me of paper dolls being bounced around by a child in aimless play.

Cut after cut after jarring cut from street to backyard to frog to pained face to garden to wandering figures in a green, deserted landscape. People in rooms full of light and empty of life.

The mother gets a telegram and weeps.

Sean Penn in a cityscape. Sean Penn's silent, nameless woman.

Vague words on the soundtrack. Something something something about grace or knowledge. Nothing clear enough to be poetry nor plot, except Sean Penn's voice saying: "My brother died when he was nineteen years old."

The film takes on the shape of grief. The initial chaos. The flood of memories. The search for meaning.

Attempted comfort from an older woman, perhaps a grandmother, that only deepens the pain on the mother's face: "You still have the other two boys."

Babies. Toddlers. Mother's kisses, Brad Pitt's wonder at a baby foot.

And then.

An enormous flock of black birds, fluid as mercury, undulating, glittering, amazing. A shot worth the entire film.

Lava. Smoke. Worlds beginning. Glowing cells. Hordes of life. One hundred hammerhead sharks shot from below, silhouetted against the glowing surface of water. A glistening sea dinosaur at rest on the sand at the moment the sun has slipped below the horizon.

The film comes alive for me. After great loss, this is the only place to go, to the place of greatest abstraction, back to the beginning of beginnings, to the ends of time, in search of answers that are not there, but must be pursued, nonetheless.

I grab Randy's hand -- he had been sucked in from the first moment, he tells me later, but that's him, the image guy while I'm the word girl. Our compared experiences later were almost opposite -- my slow warm up, his problems with last half hour, my appreciation of the moment when Sean Penn meets himself as a child.

"Why is that woman walking down the middle of the street?" I had whispered to Randy, exasperated, before the dinosaurs won me over. His answer, from one who works with beauty shots every day of the working week, "Why is that woman walking down the street? The tree canopy looks the best there. Don't look for logic." He could hardly believe I asked the question.

And it is a man's film, after all, much time spent with boys wandering through overgrown alleys, their random innocent violence born out of boredom and experimentation. Themes of a father's terrible love for his sons, a boy's adoration of his mother.

I understand Cannes giving the film the Palme d'Or; I also understand my sister-in-law in Orlando laughing her head off at the entire thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Trompe L'Oeil Pour La Bouche

What's this? A Chicago style hot dog on a sesame seed bun? With its traditional tomato and neon-green pickle relish? And a side of fries with ketchup?

No! It's cake! Pound cake bun, chocolate chip poppy seeds and more waffle cut cake for the fries. With lots of artery-clogging "ketchup" icing.

Creating this confection at the park district made my girls happier than eating the results.

Ew. And what's this? Some disgusting leftovers from a late night poker game? Can't you just smell the stinky soot? My throat is closing up and my stomach's churning, just from the sight of it.

Well this, my friends, was a savory course at Moto, where Randy and I had our recent eleventh anniversary dinner. A Cuban sandwich made with brined pork shoulder and pickles, costumed as a Cuban cigar. A Monte Cristo with Iberico ham and Manchego cheese disguised as a Montecristo smoke. And a veggie version with smoked and pureed red pepper for the illusion of burning embers. All wrapped in collard green "tobacco" leaves with edible wrappers. White and black sesame seeds were finely ground to give the illusion of ash, then freeze dried so a misty "smoke" wafted up as the dish was served.

A burst of laughter and "That's disgusting!" was my shocked reaction when this Halloween dish arrived at our table. "That's a new one," said our waiter. "Although I have heard, 'I'm not eating that.'"

And I almost didn't. Had to lift my napkin and hold it between my eyes and all the repugnant baggage those little sandwiches held.

"Now I know what the girls feel like when I offer them a new food," I told Randy. I think I could more easily have eaten a cricket. Of course, they were delicious.

And finally, not really an optical illusion, but cute nonetheless. The remains of one of the celebratory lunches for the Optimus 15th anniversary week. They also munched on Big Star with a side of live mariachi band, Donut Vault for breakfast and Lowry's prime rib served from their rolling silver carts.

The day Randy sent this pic, I had a veggie hot dog for lunch and the girls declared their grilled cheese burnt and inedible. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Across Lake Michigan in Two and a Half Hours

Yesterday we arrived home from a ten day vaca in west Michigan. Wanting to avoid the soul-sucking experience of stop and go traffic heading west through Indiana and hoping to give the girls an adventure, I booked space on the car ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee. The trip turned out to be a blast.

Muskegon has seen better days -- we passed abandoned factories with broken windows and chased tumbleweeds through an empty downtown at rush hour Monday night and 9:00 on Tuesday morning. But the sunset over the inland lake adjacent to downtown was gorgeous, we found a decent hotel (Corporate-Victorian, if you can imagine that) with a nice restaurant next door (Thai sweet potato chowder) and our ferry passed a gorgeous beach state park on the way out of the harbor. From the sundeck we waved to fishermen and kids on the shore. A little tension when a fishing boat took its sweet time getting out of our way and another Bozo decided to cross our bow.

"This is heaven!" said my excited six year old when we climbed from the car deck to the passenger lounge with its big windows, comfy seats, snack bar, movie screens and decorative silk flowers. The girls played with a fashion design game I'd saved until the last day and narrated to me the plot points of Rango playing silently over our heads. We jumped up from time to time to check out the maps on the wall (Lake Michigan has depths over 900 feet!) and brave the wind on the sun deck. Thirty-four knots is forty miles per hour but feels faster. "Open your jacket and the wind will pick you up like a sail," I told the girls and half believed myself.

Amazing wake. Serene blue wavelets as far as we could see. In what felt like moments, a dreamy Milwaukee appeared in a pastel haze under a cloudbank.

Chicago has gots to get one of these things! It's the only way to fly!

Nora lost her second front tooth the day before.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Three films by three guys traveling the world, finding all kinds of beauty and inspiring us to Move, Eat and Learn. (Like we need any inspiration to eat. Just make that Move, Learn and Drool.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Happy Fifteenth Anniversary, Optimus!

NSFWUYEAO (Not safe for work unless you're employed at a cool post-production company.)

So....this is how my husband's company celebrates its fifteenth year.

And the big reveal - A hooked rug depicting the five partners as, well, I'm not quite sure. Greek gods? Roman senators? Philosophers? Fallen angels? And Craig Leffel as a cupid/cherub/baby Jesus? Make of it what you will. But obviously a labor of love.

Clockwise from the baby, Craig, Scott Yurks, Glen Noren, Tom Duff and my dear Randy.

Rock on, Optimites! Keep on Truckin'!

Block Party Friday night! Come on by! 161 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago. 2:30 to ?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chris Knox - Not Given Lightly

I'd love to save this for Valentine's Day or my dear husband's birthday, but I can't wait to share it. One of the greatest love songs ever.

Free Tickets to The Adventures of Pinocchio!

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of The Adventures of Pinocchio is a warm and wonderful show for kids and adults. We took our girls last weekend along with their Aunt Rebecca, Uncle Dave and cousins Jess and Dylan from Florida. Our entire crew was charmed by the funny jokes, whirlwind dances, sweet puppets and magical stagecraft. The music is complex and interesting and the story has been made fresh with new ways of entering one of your favorite old stories. You won't want to miss the transformation of the naughty boys into donkeys (my girls' favorite part) or the charming thief pair of Fox and Cat.

And you can see the show for free tomorrow! Call the box office at (312) 595-5600 and mention the promo code "FRIENDS" for up to six free tickets at the 2:00 show on Thursday, August 3. Did I mention that's tomorrow? So you need to act fast.

You're welcome! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ten Things I Learned Cooking for Nine Weekend Guests

Saturday dinner. Clockwise from upper left, cornbread with grilled onion, honey, cinnamon and cilantro. The peach salad discussed below. Christina's baby potatoes and red and purple carrots from the farmer's market. Grilled lamb with garlic and herbs over minted couscous.

If you leave the butter out, the butter will get soft and the butter will get eaten.

You will use all the knives. If a new knife set has arrived to replace the sword whose tip broke off on the Thanksgiving turkey breastbone, don't set aside the old ones. You will use all the knives.

Need to defrost puff pastry in a hurry? Place it in a cast iron skillet. (Actually, I didn't learn this last weekend, just used it. We first saw this tip years ago on Alton Brown's cooking-science show. Works great for frozen meat, too.) Takes out the cold faster than on a counter top or plate.

Mayonnaise from scratch is super easy! It's just whipped oil and egg yolk. And some lemon and salt. Virginia said she has made some delicious with horseradish. But if all you have is a blender instead of the food processor with its nice attachment in the top for adding the stream of oil into the whipping fluff and if you have to take off the blender lid to add the oil, get ready to used the lid as a kind of shield for the oily, yolky splatters. Don't worry; it's part of the fun.

The raw bite of onion for a crab salad (made with the homemade mayo, chopped celery and dill) can be made less harsh by chopping, then rinsing, then freezing. Who knew?

If you're debating whole trout in foil packets on the grill vs. whole trout tied in kitchen twine and fried in a cast iron pan on the grill: Cast iron, baby! The foil packet with its herbs and baby tomatoes and lemon slices will be fragrant and delicious, but the results were a little limp and wet for my taste. I loved the crispiness and shiny color from the cast iron pan! Just be careful when flipping - the flesh is delicate and Fishy's little head may fall off. Which, bright side, does open the door to certain guest's childhood memories of sibling fights over who got to eat the eyeballs.

Three ingredient salads, just cucumbers, pineapple and basil, or say, just peaches, red onion and basil again, can make beautiful music. Oh, but here's the rub - the little differences that make a big impact. Use the small pickling cukes (more flavor, less likely to be waxed) and slice them thin on the diagonal. And grill that pineapple to a smoky sweetness. And dress either salad in the best olive oil you've got, with some fresh cracked pepper. Fabulous, baby.

Don't believe Martha when she says bake the puff pastry for 30 minutes on the top rack. Check it every ten. Be grateful Dufour gives you a second chance slab in their 14 oz. package.

Marshmallows roasted over a fire, then dipped in a chocolate fondue and squished between graham crackers must be the most perfect way to make a s'more. No cold, waxy chunks of Hershey's. Use hot cream poured over chopped Icelandic bittersweet chocolate. Let sit for five minute, then whisk smooth. Vanilla or liquor optional.

Chinese five spice is a revelation. Spicy, sour, sweet, salty, amazing. Try it, as Martha suggests, in a blackberry-plum pie, with some cracked black pepper for good measure. Complex and luscious.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Classic Vacation Plans

So...Mackinac is spelled with an ending "c," but the final syllable is pronounced "naw."

As in, "Naw, we don't got no cabs." Not a car on the island, which means we'll be looking for rental three-wheelers since removing the girls' training wheels in May proved an overly hopeful and sadly premature idea.

Or taking the horsies. Or spending our time at the Esther Williams Swimming Pool and in the fudge shops.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wisconsin Dells Old School

Our first trip to the fabled dells of Wisconsin! (Dell as in one of the lovely wooded and ferned little valleys than trickle into the Wisconsin River, cut through the soft sandstone that only appears here and in three other places on earth - Pottsdam, Germany; upper New York state; and Switzerland. But don't let that little factoid fool you into thinking that this was any kind of an educational trip, or even a recreational one, if you consider that kind of fun to involve physical exertion in a quiet place of natural beauty. This was a family vacation, which means it's really about the kids, which means there was some measure of the inevitable compromise and upset and disappointment and tantrumming and existential doubt -- why are we here? -- all the goodies that accompany any memorable and worthwhile venture when four divergent personalities, all of whom can have their immature moments, step out of their usual element.)

Anyway, the Dells! Good times!

Randy and I had a little Bingo competition going with invisible scorecards for every bit of fantastic people sighting - an "I Heart B00bies" t-shirt on a guy I doubt was promoting breast cancer awareness, wicked sunburns, the lady with the swim coverup that gave the cartoon illusion of a bikinied bathing beauty underneath, a Viking horn hat before 9am... "Bingo!"

Me: "Why does the Walgreens sign say 'don't forget the aloe?' If you use sunscreen in the first place, then you won't need aloe!"

Mia says, "This place is heaven! It's like a kid designed it!" as we passed the little pink shop candy shop called Goody Goody Gum Drop. Later, she cried, actual tears, "I don't want to go!" on the morning we left.

We stayed at one of the huge resorts on the strip, which was what it was. I fell for its mammoth Trojan Horse towering over the go-cart track and the hotel's ersatz-Collosseum facade with its cardboard archways displaying fake windows hung with fake curtains over a fake reading lamp next to a fake comfy chair. Did the actual rooms have any of those comforts? What do you think? But each guest did get to wear a green plastic water-park entry strip on her wrist during all three days of her stay! And the girls loved climbing into the bunk bed.

(Note for next time -- we might go with one of the cute mom and pop motels on the strip to keep up with the retro vibe of this special place in south central Wisconsin.)

Most of our trip felt like a journey back in time. The Duck boats have been around since WW II, and the rusty jokes of our young driver were straight out of the Borscht Belt. ("And to your left, you will see... a tree!" "And this gorge is named Blackhawk Canyon after the famous Native American leader, Chief Canyon!") (Next year, we'll take the upper dells boat tour - you don't get to ride in an amphibious piece of history, but you do see more of the dramatic river scenery upstream.)

Tommy Bartlett's waterski show is celebrating its 60th year in 2011 and its "iconic images of summer," as the baritone emcee called them, tapped in to some ancient and deep pleasure center of the brain, somewhere between memories of the The Go-Go's "Vacation" video and the first thrilling time at the circus.

A shaggy haired, scrawny-calved kid was sweeping up popcorn with a broom in front of our row before the show started. "It's our first time!" I told him, feeling kind of sorry for the guy. "Is it yours?" He didn't laugh, probably another one of those college kids bored with this tourist-city summer job, like the girl taking our names in line at Paul Bunyon's Cook Shanty who said, "You've never been here before? I wish I hadn't." The sweeper kid didn't laugh at my lame little joke, exactly, but he did help me find the public beach I was looking for on the map stretched out in my lap. Then he went on his way and I asked Randy to take a picture of the rows of lawnchair seating set up in the section next to us - so cute! The setting was so lovely, on the shore of a shady cove of the Wisconsin River.

Then there was some kind of disturbance, a guy yelling under a boat turned over at the shoreline; two audience members jumped up to offer assistance, then stopped -- it was my sweeping buddy, and another kid, making a joke about being trapped under the engine.

Oh. They're clowns. Classic. Turns out my buddy was part of the show, the director of the show, in fact, and a heck of a water-skier. Barefooter too, which made me think of my bloggy friend and barefoot skiing enthusiast, Karen Putz. Hey-hey, Karen!

Favorite tricks: The pyramid, of course. And two skiers doing a 360 around the towboat as it suddenly slows and turns. And another unplanned trick, when the middle skier of three fell and the boat made this pivoting maneuver and pulled him back upright while the other two skiers stayed in motion. "Dancing on a stage of water!" said the emcee.

There was more of the time machines sensation where we ate, and we ate good, baby. We got used to our restaurants' proud signs: In Business Since Before You Were Born! I had fabulous grilled walleye in the cosy and comfortable Del Bar ("This building designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright!" is something you hear a lot around here) and beautiful salmon at the Ishnala Supper Club, overlooking Mirror Lake. The Johnny Depp movie about John Dillinger shot scenes here. The sun was setting over the trees and reflected off the lake into the room in a kind of golden haze. Lovely.

Please note the "ALL YOU CAN EAT!" I did. Although I also had to ask, between bites of fried potato, "Isn't it all you MAY eat?"

I gained two pounds on all the indulgence, which is what you get when you "go for full immersion," as my Dear Good Sport of a Husband put it. Fresh donuts at the Cook Shack, licorice from the candy store, most of the virgin fruit daiquiri Randy brought to the side of the kiddie waterslide where I was watching Nora slide and run back to the top, slide and run, slide and run. Although that Marie Antoinette part of me, the part that complains about her uncomfortable green plastic wristpass and expects the lumberjack cook shack to have a fruit plate, probably kept me from overdoing it as much as Culver's wanted me to.

Oh you cursed little plastic green bracelet, unwelcome accessory, Dells necessity.

My kids crack me up.

Like I was saying.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ah, July

Allium and spiderwort. Oh no, is that a noxious garlic mustard in the back? Bleh. We've got ripe serviceberries, too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"You Cut Up The Clothes in The Closet of My Dreams"

Joshie Jo Armstead sings "You Cut Up the Clothes in the Closet of My Dreams" from the stage play Don't Play Us Cheap filmed by the great Melvin Van Peebles. His stage direction had earned the play a Tony nomination.

I first saw this performance in May, 2004 the night Adriana La Cerva was killed off The Sopranos. Still in shock from the brutal surprise of her death, too stunned and wound up to go to bed, I kept flipping through the channels after the credits until I found this strange film.

A crazy devil and Esther Rolle(!) were running around, the sound quality left something to be desired, but once Joshie Jo started wailing to the hummed accompaniment of the other party guests, I was caught on the piercing hook of her groove.

You cut up the clothes in the closet of my dreams
You pulled off the sleeves and ripped out the seams
Got me a needle, got me a thread,
Got me a thimble and I'm moving straight ahead

If the extended metaphor is entirely silly, if the performance has more enthusiasm than precision, if the yellow hat distracts, none of these could diffuse the perfect power of Joshie's song at that first moment to express exactly what I was feeling about poor doomed Ade.

We knew Adriana was dead the minute the feds had her in their interrogation room. She had been a dead woman walking for weeks. But we still held out hope, like she did, dreaming of escape on the open road, even as Silvio takes her on the final drive to the endless woods. Damn you, Silvio, you cold blooded killer. Damn you, Christopher, killer of innocents. And damn you to hell, Tony, for making it all happen.


So why am I bringing up this retro topic from way back when before my Nora or this blog were even born? Beats me. I'd offer the pop culture suggestiveness of Mob Wives or news bits about Matthew Weiner's Mad Men new season, but in truth, neither sent me to the Youtube.

Perhaps it was a certain poignant line (No remedy for time, only consolations or ...One might have said that she had learned to use the diminished nature of her voice to maximum effect, that is was a lesson in how to live with damage, how to make peace with it and use it for what it can do...) out of the legion in the sad old book I'm rereading this month. I don't know. All I know is I love the sound of a woman's voice redeeming her pain through the beauty of her song.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Verve-Pipe's New Family Album

Monday night the affable duo of Brian Vander Ark and Donny Brown of The Verve Pipe ("The Freshmen," "Photograph") played a charming set from their new release, A Family Album, at the Chicago offices of the music marketing company Vervelife.

Brian and Donny made sweet harmonies like nobody's business while a crowd of toddlers and pre-tweenies in the front row boogied to the beat or stared in fascination. A few kids played a little arrhythmic accompaniment with extra drumsticks while Donny Brown rocked out on the snare and the glockenspiel -- and I was grooving right along with them, thinking These guys are awesome! and Oh, THAT'S a glockenspiel - one of those handheld xylophone thingies from marching band!

Our hosts, Vervelife, brought The Verve Pipe guys to Chicago (the happy name coincidence is no more than that) as part of their launch celebration for RhymbaKid and RhymbaTween, two promotional music stores for brands, with all kid-friendly content.

The girls and I have been grooving to the The Family Album CD this week as we drive to piano lessons, to summer school and the library. This is great music for kids and grownups alike with melodies that go in really interesting and unexpected directions, like the heartfelt and soaring ode to "Cereal." There are plenty of funny lyrical moments that make me laugh out loud, especially "We Had to Go Home," a song about a birthday party that needed kiddie bouncers. My six year old particularly relates to that one. And the eight year old teenager described the joyous track, "Wake Up" as "so good!"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Few Questions For J.J. Abrams

(And one question for you, Dear Reader: You do understand, don't you, that the following will contain revelations of Super 8 plot points that may cause you disappointment or distress if you have not yet seen the film and if you are the kind of viewer who loves your surprises?)

So, Mr. Abrams, I enjoyed your Super 8 film, very fun and exciting, very good casting of the young kids, but I had a few lingering questions I cannot shake.

Are Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning) half-brother and sister? You know, the main kid and the older girl who grow closer over the course of the film. Was there an earlier version of the script that revealed their mother left the boy's father-sheriff for the girl's blond bad-boy father Louis (Ron Elard)? Why does Louis react so strongly to seeing Joe with Alice? Why did the neighbors say of the sheriff, "He has never had to be a dad before"? Was there an earlier version of the script that explained all this?

No? No? Am I stretching about the sibling thing? Well, then, why was the relationship between Joe and Alice so chaste? No kiss, no passionate hugging, just one grasp of hands and the line, "I feel like I know you" that read more like a Luke Skywalker - Princess Leia kind of affection than an adolescent boy crushing on a pretty fourteen year old from school.

AND did the monster really eat people? There's only one crunching sound late in the film and a shot of a bloodless foot, but we have not felt a great deal of menace from the alien -- he sneaks up and grabs people, but for all we know, it could be so they could communicate with it, and understand it and help it.You may have answered this one for MTV, but if it does eat people, why then did it have a psychic connection with them? Being eaten by a extra-terrestrial and feeling empathy for it don't really go hand in hand.

AND Mr. Abrams, why did you choose to end the climactic scene -- the one when Joe, caught in the monster's claw, communicates with the creature -- by having the monster get distracted by a signal from his spaceship? Could there have been another way to go, perhaps in a more heart-felt, less half-assed direction than "Okay, you can live because my Phone-Home is ringing?"

Could you have built up the human-alien relationship a bit more by making the kids help the alien get home -- I know, I know, I bet you discarded this kind of possibility because you wanted to avoid making a redux of E.T., but really, it would help if you had given the kids something to do besides just rescue the girl -- who we are not really sure is in peril (see bloodless foot above.)

Since Joe and his buddies don't have anything to contribute to the monster's escape, and since there's no relationship there, what did you envision the audience to be feeling when we watch the monster climb aboard the ship and take off? Relief that the danger is over? Regret because an opportunity for education and friendship has been lost? Wonder over the amazing spectacle of the ship itself? Or just, "Oh look at the cool way it crawls into the cool ship"?

Thanks, Mr. Abrams. And again, great casting. That blond kid with the braces who likes to blow up firecrackers is awesome.