January 2005 Archives

seed catalog time

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The seed catalogs have been pouring in the past few weeks. I resisted ordering anything until now, but they just put out the seeds at Home Depot and Lowe's, which are much cheaper but have limited selections. Now that I know what they have, I can get the basic stuff from the big box stores and order more unusual things from the internets.

Tonight Georg and I had fun browsing Richter's, an amazing herb catalog. Their descriptions of the medicinal herbs are a bit, um, credulous, but we only wanted culinary herbs so I don't care what wacky claims they make about the medicinal plants. We ordered seeds of epazote, ancho chili, and lamb's quarters (a Mexican green). Also shallot bulbs, and plants of two kinds of mint, one citrusy and one mild one for salads, orange spice thyme, a heat-resistant tarragon, and lavendar. Yay!

They're in Canada and they won't ship the plants until it's warm enough up there, which will be a bit late here. But still, the plants are all perennials so I think they'll be fine. I can't wait!

the boots

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boots.jpgI can't believe I haven't posted this yet. Georg gave me the boots for my birthday! The glorious Fluevog Twiggy boots. Believe it or not, they look even better in person than in that photo. And they fit me perfectly. I have the best boyfriend.

I need new clothes to wear with my boots!

blowup

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January 29 movie: Blowup. You know, if I'm supposed to like and appreciate something because it's Great Art, I usually end up hating it. Especially with movies. I like movies that entertain me, make me laugh or make me think. Being told to admire the artistic merits of a movie that isn't entertaining puts me right off. This is a prejudice that I'm trying to overcome, but I'm sorry, it's true in this case. Antonioni is just a boring fart who made boring movies. How could he make such a dull movie with such an interesting topic and setting? It's a suspense movie about a mod photographer in London who accidently photographs a murder. Sounded like it would be an exciting thriller with great fashion and art direction. Well, he got the clothes and the sets, but damn this movie was dull. Nothing happened for the first hour, and then when it finally got going he kept interrupting the flow. Plus the hero is a relentlessly unpleasant person. And what was that shit with the mimes playing tennis? I guess I'm trying to say that I did not enjoy this movie at all. Well, the photo shoots in the first few minutes, the clothes they were wearing, were fab. Herbie Hancock did a nice soundtrack. And it was nice to see Jane Birkin (Serge Gainsbourg's great love) in a movie, even if her part was totally stupid and demeaning. That's about all I can give this movie.

So much for great art.

zatoichi's flashing sword

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January 29 movie: Zatoichi's Flashing Sword. This was the first Zatoichi movie I ever saw! A friend of my parents told me about the series, he had watched it when he was stationed in Japan in the 60s. He lent us this one on DVD and my dad and I watched it together. Guess what, Zatoichi gets involved in a war between rival gangs. They're fighting about the rights to transport people across a ford. There's a great fight scene in which Zatoichi puts out all the candles, so they'll all be in the dark, then ends up with the top half of a candle (still lit) sitting on the blade of his sword. Makes for some nice lighting effects, as he turns and points the sword with the candle on it at the various baddies.

The violence level increases again -- not the body count this time but the amount of blood, which used to be none but is now substantial. And the end is more grim than a lot of the others I've seen. Also I think this may be the first Zatoichi movie in which no woman falls for him. The daughter of one of the warlords does treat him very well, but there's no indication of any feeling beyond simple generosity.

monkey business

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January 28 movie: Monkey Business. I was so tired last night that I blew off the Icicles show and watched this instead. And fell asleep in the middle! I fell asleep in the middle of Monkey Business. That's how tired I was. But I made it through the Maurice Chevalier impersonations, my favorite part, then thanks to the magic of the DVR I finished the movie in the morning.

Do I even need to say anything about this movie? It's one of the Marx Brothers' earliest movies and one of their best, I think. One really weird thing: the theme song, which shows up a few times (in the opening credits, Harpo's harp number, and briefly whistled by Chico), was also used in the Hitchcock movie Rope. It was the tune the twitchy sidekick villain kept playing on the piano, shifting into a minor key and faster tempo as the movie progressed and he got more stressed out. It really put a weird spin on hearing the same tune in Monkey Business, especially at first when the tune was making me uneasy but I couldn't place the reference.

in bad taste

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Jan 25 movie: In Bad Taste. Documentary about John Waters. I was surprised to realize, while watching this, that I've only seen two of Waters' films: Hairspray and Serial Mom. I thought I had seen more of his movies but I guess that's because he's such a cultural presence. I don't recall liking Serial Mom but I don't think I really got it at the time. The clips they showed made me want to see it again.

As Georg pointed out they filmed several of the interviews at the American Visionary Art Museum, the sponsors of the Kinetic Sculpture Race and the Artscape art car parade. That was cool. I've been to 4 events at the AVAM (3 times as a participant, once as a spectator) and I've never been inside. I should do something about that. I've heard it's a great museum.

the last of mrs. cheyney

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Jan 25 movie: The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. Romantic comedy set during a weekend party in an English country manor, starring Joan Crawford and William Powell. This movie was okay, a pleasant enough way to kill a couple of hours. But Joan Crawford isn't my favorite, there's something a little too fake and mannerly about her performance when she's trying to play a character with class. Or maybe she was always like that, I don't know. William Powell is always great, but he's better with someone like Myrna Loy or Carole Lombard, with whom he has actual chemistry. Also this movie commits a (to me) unpardonable sin: everyone but Crawford is supposed to be British, but almost all of them speak with their normal American accents. It's really confusing. Accents or no, there's good supporting work by Robert Montgomery and Frank Morgan.

The movie was shown on "guest programming night" featuring Bill Cosby, of all people. Robert Osborne seemed surprised that Cosby had chosen this movie, and the Cos couldn't really provide a reason beyond "I saw it once and liked it." Cosby also looked totally slovenly: wearing U Mass sweats and cap, Birkenstocks with white socks (ugh!) and dark sunglasses, and slouching so deep he was practically lying down in his chair. What a jerk.

inclement weather preparedness

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Looks like we're getting something tonight. Maybe snow, maybe ice, maybe just rain. I think rain is most likely, though snow would be fun, and of course ice has me worried. Enough ice to cause major power outages is unlikely I think. But still, we were caught so off guard by that big ice storm two years ago (or was it 3?) that this time I was bound and determined to be prepared.

Here's the Casa FunnyStrange Ice Storm Checklist:

  • candles (check)
  • firewood (check, thanks to Georg the wonderful, who split a big stack of wood today)
  • kerosene (a bit stale, but check)
  • groceries (check, and may I suggest avoiding Whole Foods the day of a storm. HT was fine)
  • kitchen clean (check -- last time we couldn't stand washing dishes in the icy cold water, and the kitchen got disgusting fast. This time I washed all the dishes, cleaned up the kitchen and even scrubbed down the stove. Which will work if the power is out! Hooray for gas!)
  • cell phones charged (check)
  • battery power supply charged (check)
  • clean laundry (almost done)

I think that's it. The only thing I forgot was reading material, but Georg has some newish books I haven't read yet. I'd love to have a fire going right now, but we have reservations at the Brazilian steak place for my birthday dinner, weather permitting. And I wouldn't want a fire going while we weren't home, so there's no point lighting one now.

One last tip: if the power does go out, unplug your computer! In the last ice storm there was a power surge when the electricity came back on and my computer got fried. It was on a power supply/battery backup at the time.

without reservations

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Jan 24 movie: Without Reservations. Claudette Colbert plays the "authoress" of a wildly popular novel, apparently a ponderous tome about the ideal man who represents America's future. (hey, I wonder if she was supposed to be Ayn Rand?) On a cross-country train she meets two GIs, John Wayne and some other guy, and falls head over heels for Wayne. Problem is, he thinks her book is hooey, and so she hides her identity. Then they end up in a road movie having lots of wacky adventures.

I'm a huge fan of Colbert but Wayne does nothing for me. The two cancel each other out here, leaving the movie a big dose of "meh." Plus, a Claudette Colbert road movie is almost by definition going to look bad in comparison to It Happened One Night. They should never have tried to make that lightning strike twice. The one thing I really enjoyed in this movie was a cameo by Cary Grant, playing himself and refusing to play the main character in the movie version of Colbert's book. If I'd picked up on the Ayn Rand thing at the time that would have made me enjoy the movie more. She had to be Rand the way she kept droning on about the grand symbolic themes in her book.

the devil and miss jones

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January 23 movie: The Devil and Miss Jones. Was there a porno movie with this title? Because the title seriously makes me think "porn." And I'm not exactly a porn aficionado (hey! no remarks!) so it would have to be a pretty famous movie for me to know the title. The intro by that stupid Mankiewicz guy didn't say anything about it. Can I just say that I hate that guy. Why did TCM bring him in on weekends? What was wrong with Robert Osborne? Osborne sounds like he's actually seen the movies, knows who the actors are, and might conceivably have come up with his remarks himself. I'm sure they're both reading from a script but only Mankiewicz sounds like it. Who decided that being the grandson of somebody important makes him a good choice to host movies on TV?

Okay, enough ranting. The Devil and Miss Jones. Was a comedy with a social message, but not too serious, light and very funny, and had nothing whatever to do with porn. The Devil is Charles Coburn, a billionaire businessman who goes undercover as a lowly clerk in one of his holdings, a department store which is reportedly going union. Miss Jones is Jean Arthur, a salesgirl in the shoe department who takes Coburn under her wing and teaches him about life and kindness to your fellow man and blah blah.

The movie has a fairly leftist message: the union organizers are brave and noble champions of the downtrodden, while the store management, the bigshot lawyers, and Coburn (before his epiphany) are greedy, petty, nasty people. So it surprised me to learn that the director, Sam Wood, later provided key testimony to HUAC. But then again those were the days of the studio system so maybe he didn't have a choice about doing this movie.

i guess pigs are flying too

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Today I discovered that Quark offers free technical support! By phone even! The company that is famous for abusing their customers and is hated by the entire graphic design industry. They would have been bankrupt years ago if there had been any viable alternative in page layout software. And now they're offering free phone support to all registered users -- nay, all users who can produce a serial number. They didn't even ask me to confirm who I was. How the heck did that happen?

My problem was that when I upgraded my system, QuarkXpress lost its activation file and went into "demo" mode. No saving or printing files. I tried reinstalling the program but it didn't do any good.

So I found out about the new free tech support from the Quark website. I idly read the page while I was on hold, including a testimonial from someone who had been so happy with their support call to Harry that their faith in Quark had been totally renewed. Aw. But the funny part is that my tech support guy was named Harry too! The same guy! What are the odds?

Well actually, I suspect from "Harry's" accent (sort of British, but fading into South Asian) that it was a pseudonym. Maybe every man answering their phones goes by Harry. That would let every customer think they were getting the same guy for follow-up calls. Anyway I don't care what his name was, he solved my problem. Whew!

charade

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Jan 23 movie: Charade. Considering this starred Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and some fabulous clothes by Givenchy, it's kind of a surprise I had never seen it before. It's a fun, stylish thriller. Hepburn and Grant are fabulous, although I heard that he didn't like playing a romantic part opposite a woman so much younger than himself. Would that today's stars had the same scruples! James Coburn is always fun, although he has a film-killing Texas accent (by which I mean, whenever he speaks you can't think about anything except how bad his accent is). Also a nice supporting part by Walter Matthau, who helpfully dates the film by expositing that the CIA is the successor to the OSS, but the agency is so new no one's heard of it.

I was pleased with myself for figuring out the big surprise just a few minutes before I think I was supposed to. That's the best way: I get to feel all clever, but I haven't spoiled the movie for myself. And I was even more pleased with the movie for throwing one last twist at me which I wasn't expecting at all. That was a nice way to finish things up.

magnetic je ne sais quoi

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Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings were amazing! Tons of fun. They played for over an hour and a half. The doors opened at 8:30 but they didn't go on until 11. Which we should have expected. If we went to more shows we probably wouldn't be surprised by things like that. I got Miss Jones to sign a CD for my friend Patricia, who couldn't make it to the show. I should really go to sleep but I'm not at all tired.

cultural index

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Just stumbled onto an interesting culture quiz. You pick your preference in 100 either/or questions. Fred Astaire vs. Gene Kelly, The Great Gatsby vs. The Sun Also Rises, Jackson Pollock vs Willem de Kooning, that sort of thing.

As it turns out, the quiz measures only how close your taste is to that of the author. I probably wouldn't have taken it if I'd known that in advance, but it was still interesting to categorize my preferences.

The author said he would choose column A in all 100 questions. I was almost evenly split: 43 from column A and 37 from column B. (I didn't answer 20 of the questions because I have no opinion on some of the choices, notably those relating to opera and dance.) He was trying to make a point, I think, that a person's tastes -- for example, preferring Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly -- tell you something about them. I think he's right that people can't be pigeonholed, since according to his cultural index I'm neither like him nor unlike him. But I do think that knowing a person's tastes in specific instances increases your ability to predict their other preferences.

Actually I think this is a skill. I have a friend with an amazing ability to predict books or comics I would like. Everything he ever gave or lent or even just recommended to me was a winner. But I know we do not have identical tastes. He likes things that I don't; he just doesn't recommend them to me. He used to work in a bookstore which I imagine must have helped develop this skill.

thirteen update

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I haven't posted about Thirteen for a couple of days because it's been depressing and scary and also I was too exhausted by the whole ordeal to write about it. But, she seems to have turned a corner. Maybe the antibiotic finally kicked in. She's not in tip-top shape but she is starting to act like herself again. Normal walking around instead of endless agitated pacing. I feel like I've got my dog back.

Unfortunately Thirteen still paces all night long, at least she has the past couple of nights. Even with earplugs it seriously interferes with our sleep. But today she was able to lie down and rest without painkillers, for the first time since last Tuesday. So I have high hopes that she'll rest tonight too, and maybe Georg and I will get some sleep. I cannot even describe how tired I am. I haven't slept for more than a couple hours at a time in a week. I was thinking I was going to have to bail out on my own birthday party at the Sharon Jones show tomorrow. But now that things are settling down here, I think I'll be okay with going dancing tomorrow night.

Speaking of which, Sharon Jones tomorrow! Killer music, dancing, and my birthday! Drinks at Tyler's before the show! If you're reading this, you should be there!

long night

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Spent 5 1/2 hours tonight at Stoneline, upgrading their older computer to system 10 and installing Quickbooks. Everything went great: the old computer took the upgrade just fine, networking and printer sharing is working, Quickbooks upgraded the old data file without any problems. There's just one hitch: now that 10 is installed, the computer can no longer recognize its built-in Zip drive. This is a fairly big problem because they use a couple of Zip disks to carry key data back and forth between the home office (where I work) and the shop. But now we have no way to read a Zip disk at the home office.

He bought one of those little keychain USB drives to use instead of the Zip disk, but he had trouble getting the payroll data to run on it. Some critical file didn't get copied or something. I was going to try myself, but now I'd have to drive out to their shop in Hillsborough. Which I guess I'll have to do anyway when he's ready to install system 10 there too.

I wonder if there's some kind of driver I need to download for the Zip drive? I should have thought of that while I was there, but it was after 10 pm and I wasn't thinking so good.

that would be no

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So I have this page on my site about copyright for collage artists. It's not legal advice or anything, just the information I turned up while I was researching the issue for myself. I made the page because there's so much misinformation floating around online about copyright, and I got tired of having the same arguments over and over with people who are utterly convinced that their particular misinformation is correct. I wrote everything I knew up on a web page and added links to the Copyright Office website so people could check it out for themselves. I tried to leave out my opinions because I didn't want to add to the din of competing theories. Of course I have opinions about what copyright law should be, and how much appropriation a careful artist can probably get away with, but that's not the point of the page.

The copyright page didn't used to get much attention, but I think someone must have referenced it in a book or something. Because the past few months I've gotten much more email related to it. Most of them are just to say thanks for collecting this information, which I really appreciate. Or to ask a specific question about usage, which I usually don't answer because I'm not qualified to give legal advice and I don't even have enough time to keep up with correspondence with my friends.

Occasionally though, I get a message that really annoys me. (And if you, dear reader, found my journal through the copyright page, please don't be offended. I'm clearly not talking about you.) Usually these are from people who are convinced that they've found a never before discovered loophole in copyright law which makes their unauthorized usage totally legal. The most common one is the idea that if they are using Photoshop to apply filters to a copyrighted image, they are changing every pixel. So therefore their copy is a new, original creation, not a derivative work.

Pardon me for saying so, but that's absurd. If that were true then every copy of everything would be an original work, because it wouldn't contain any particles of the original. A photo of a painting, a burned copy of a CD, a reproduction in a magazine or book of a photo, a photocopy of a book, heck every published copy of a book: all these would be new creations, not derivative works. Obviously that's not the case.

But I digress. The point is that I used to write back and try to explain the flaws in these theories, but would always get mired in interminable debates that reminded me why I stopped having these discussions in the first place. So now I just don't answer these messages and I feel much better. (I should point out that it's not the leaky theories that annoy me; it's the endless debates, the expectation that I will research the leaky theory for them, even repeated requests from one guy that I phone him to discuss it!) Last night, though, I got a message that took the cake:

"I'm an artist, who dabbles in collage. I find your site to be very informative, but I'm a skeptic. Can you tell me a little about your experience and credentials, regarding copyright law? "

Um, no. That would be no. I cannot and will not tell you anything about my experience or credentials. The former because I already explained on the front page of the copyright site, and if you couldn't take the time to read it there, why should I write it out again. The latter because, as I say on the page, I have no credentials. Just the ability to find information that is readily available.

I guess I should be ticked off but this message is just funny. My credentials? It's not like I'm a journalist, or a university instructor, or anything like that. I'm just some idiot who put up a web page. My information is free, and worth every penny.

helpful tip for a limping dog

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No, this tip doesn't have anything to do with helping the dog. Well, indirectly. The tip is how to figure out which is the bad leg. It's sometimes difficult to tell if the limp is not very bad.

Here's the tip: When a dog is favoring one of its two front legs, its head tends to bob up and down as it walks because it's trying to lift its weight up off the bad leg. So the head bobs up as the bad leg touches the ground, then down as the good leg hits the ground.

Thirteen's limp was bad enough that we could tell just by looking at her feet, but watching her head bob did make it easier. Her head definitely drops as she puts down her right foot. I don't know if this works for other four-footed animals. I would imagine it doesn't help with a limp in a back leg.

Thirteen's limp is better by the way, but her pacing is much worse. The tramadol seemed to get less and less effective, until by yesterday it didn't help at all. I took her back in this morning and the vet told me that it's unlikely she would have built up a tolerance to it already. But, tramadol can in rare cases cause agitation in an animal. So it's possible that she was in less pain, but was still acting freaked out because the painkiller was freaking her out.

They gave me another painkiller for Thirteen. This one is called buprenorphine, and as you might guess from the name, it is an opiate. A schedule III narcotic to be precise. It's a liquid but luckily I don't have to inject it into Thirteen. It's still in syringes though. I'm supposed to remove the needle from the syringe and stick it in her mouth where it will be absorbed by her gums. While trying not to stab myself, which don't worry, I'll be careful about not accidently injecting myself with a narcotic.

We only have 2 days worth of it, just to get Thirteen feeling more comfortable while (we hope) the antibiotics do their thing. If her craziness the past few days really was a reaction to the tramadol, then I guess 2 days will be enough. If not, then I guess it's time for more tests. How can they tell if an animal has cancer? Would it show up on an Xray? I hope so because she's already had Xrays and they didn't see anything. She did have a couple of lumps they could feel, but they aspirated the lumps which turned out to be harmless.

I looked up buprenorphine online but all I found out so far is that it's used to treat heroin addiction. That's good to know in case Thirteen ever gets into heroin. It's also expensive. $5 a dose and Thirteen is supposed to take it twice a day. That's the vet's cost by the way; they didn't charge me any markup on it. Have I mentiond how much I love St. Francis? They also didn't charge me for the appointment today, or for keeping Thirteen all afternoon for observation. Which they had to do because they didn't want Thirteen to be alone for her first dose of buprenorphine, and I had to rush over to the HKB office and deal with a crisis. That annoyed me, I really wanted to be there for Thirteen, but once I got there and looked at the problem, I realized that I really did need to be there. The problem being that if someone places an order and their connection is lost at the precise moment the transaction is sent away from our server and to the credit card company's server, the order is completely screwed up. I thought there was a pretty slim chance of that happening. But it happened two days after the order facility went live, and some poor shmo got charged $156 more than they should have been. We refunded their money and worked out a solution, we think, but it's hard to know because we can't really duplicate the conditions of the problem.

Anyway, back to Thirteen. The folks at the vet's office put her in the "luxury suite," which means the bathroom. It's a lot roomier than a pen, has a big soft dog bed, and they put a baby gate in the door so they could keep an eye on her. But as it turned out, she kept an eye on them instead. When I picked her up they said she hadn't rested at all, but had stood in the doorway watching them all afternoon. Sigh. Only my dog would be so suspicious and fearful of strangers that you could pump her full of narcotics and she'd stand there watching you for five hours. At least she wasn't pacing.

Once we got home she lay right down. She's been resting for an hour and a half, which is the longest she's managed to keep still since Friday afternoon. So I guess the buprenorphine is working. Three cheers for opiates. I hope she'll rest long enough to let me get some rest. The past couple of days have been incredibly draining. I don't know how people manage who have to care for a sick animal or person for any length of time. They must have superhuman patience.

the program

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January 23 movie: The Program. I'm not sure if this counts as a movie for the list. I watched the whole thing, but fast forwarded through all but 5-10 minutes. It was kind of funny on fast-forward: it was like, "Duke, Duke, tobacco warehouse, Duke, hey where did that huge stadium come from, Duke, Duke." I was looking for the scenes filmed at Ninth St. Bakery, where I used to work. This is the second time I've watched this movie for that sole reason. And I still didn't recognize the Bakery! I carefully scrutinized every scene in which peope ate. But no damned Bakery. They must have thoroughly disguised the place. Or maybe my friends who still worked there totally lied to me. Oh yeah, the movie "spent a day filming there" and my friends "were in several shots." Right.

With all the fast-forwarding the whole movie took about 20 minutes. Even that was too much time to waste on this incredibly stupid movie. That's 20 minutes of my life that I can never have back!

tokyo drifter

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January 22 movie: Tokyo Drifter. Whoo-ee, this was fun! Mid-60s yakuza movie with a crazy cool visual sensibility. Lots of super-saturated colors. I particularly liked a scene where the hero is walking through deep snow wearing a powder blue suit, and a nightclub in which everything (walls, piano, people's clothes) is yellow. I was reading a Seijun Suzuki fan site which said that "eccentric" use of color was a trademark of his, which his studio didn't appreciate. According to the fan site they often forced him to make black and white movies just to prevent his exploration of color. Which is a damned shame; the colors are practically the main character of this movie.

singing in the rain

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January 22 movie: Singing in the Rain. I love this movie so much that I don't really have that much to say about it. Lots of great singing and dancing of course, and a funny story too. I think my favorite character is Jean Hagan as Lina Lamont, the spiteful star with the horrible voice. I've heard that she was a composite of several silent movie stars whose careers were ruined by talkies. But then again, I've also heard that this phenomenon (silent stars who couldn't act with their voices) was grossly overstated, and really the studios used it as an excuse to reassert power and get rid of a bunch of actors who had too much clout.

The only thing I don't like about this movie is the interminable "Gotta Dance" sequence. It stops the movie dead in its tracks, goes on forever, and doesn't even have that much dancing. I don't know why Gene Kelly had such a thing for those stupid fantasy dance numbers. I always fast forward through that part, but last night I was watching live so I had to mute and wait for it to be over.

zatoichi and a chest of gold

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January 22 movie: Zatoichi and a Chest of Gold. Zatoichi Madness continues with the blind swordsman helping a bunch of farmers rescue their stolen tax money. Zatoichi is starting to head into superhero territory: this is his most heroic and altruistic purpose in the series so far, he also rescues a little boy, and when the farmers suspect him of stealing the gold and beat him up, he doesn't fight back. But just so you know he's still Zatoichi, he sneaks into a bathhouse with a lady, then picks his nose while sitting in the bath with her. Ew!

The violence level has gone way up. We think that he killed more people in the totally gratuitous opening credit sequence than in the entire first movie. Also this is the first one to establish a time frame for the series: Zatoichi visits the grave of someone who died 3 years previously, which is marked "1842." Well I'm sure it said something else, I doubt Japan used the Western calendar at that point, but that's what the subtitle said. The plot focuses on a corrupt government official and there were a few things we didn't understand, probably because we're not familiar with 19th century Japenese politics. Still this was a good entry in the Zatoichi series.

you only live twice

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January 22 movie: You Only Live Twice. Back to "lame Bond" again. Connery's sheer force of cool couldn't save this one, especially when he was forced to dress up like the most unconvincing Japanese man ever. He looked ridiculous. Less convincing that Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed. It was the same villain as in From Russia with Love, this time revealed to be Donald Pleasance and looking exactly like Dr. Evil. Also the pool of deranged bass with frickin laser beams strapped to their heads. Well okay, actually they were piranas.

The only good thing about this movie was the Japanese bond girl played by the same actress as Suki Yaki from What's Up, Tiger Lily? I think from now on if I have any desire to watch a Bond movie, I'll stick to early Sean Connery or one that's specifically recommended to me (i.e. On Her Majesty's Secret Service.)

the subject was roses

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January 20 movie: The Subject Was Roses. A young Martin Sheen plays a WWII veteran who comes home to bickering parents (Patricia Neal and Jack Albertson). I did not enjoy this at all. It may have worked as a play, but it didn't translate well to a movie. Partly because it was so obvious that the source was a play: almost the entire movie limited to a small area, the way the actors over-project their dialogue, even the style of dialogue felt stagey to me. But beyond that, I've decided that I really don't care for late 60's family dramas. It's obvious that Sheen's "angry young man" is supposed to be a shining beacon of truth-telling, exposing the rotten core of the unhappy family. But to me he comes off like a smug, rude little snot. I kept wanting to shake him and tell him not to talk to his parents like that.

from russia with love

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January 19 movie: From Russia With Love. Okay, now I get the Bond thing. This one was also campy and silly, but Sean Connery is cool enough to carry it off. Roger Moore, not so much. As Georg pointed out the source material for Austin Powers is abundant: the villain stroking the kitty cat, the matronly Russian henchwoman, etc. I don't actually remember anything about the plot except that they were in Istanbul, there was a gypsy catfight, and the bad guys had daggers that popped out of the toes of their shoes. Austin Powers should have ripped that off too, it was so silly.

really big brain

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Lisa had a birthday yesterday, and a party to go with it! I didn't take my camera but Lisa B. Rockmeier got photographic evidence. The party was great fun, though the most hi-larious moment was Rick! and me acting out finger puppet amateur porn. Actually it was almost all Rick!: my sole contribution to the effort was the line "I've got a really big brain," because of course the brain is the sexiest organ. (Also because my finger puppet did indeed have a really big brain.) There are rumors that the finger puppet porn flick was captured on video, but I haven't seen it. Another amusing moment was comparing gross foods we have eaten with Lisa B. None of us had ever tried haggis, but I had had blood sausage once. My memory of it was "What's all that dark stuff?" "That's blood." "What are those white chunks?" "That's fat." "I don't think I'll have anymore, thanks." Lisa B. impressed us all with her extensive description of Marmite. Which sounds really gross.

We left a little before midnight, which was earlier than I would have liked but unfortunately not soon enough for Thirteen. She's on painkillers, but I'm supposed to be weaning her off them. So I don't give them to her until she starts acting like she really needs them. Which means that I shouldn't be away from her for any length of time unless she's recently had the pain pills. By the time we got home she was in bad shape, then she woke me up again in the early am.

Besides the problem with her spine (which we think is the problem, but at this point it's still a guess) she's also developed a severe limp in the past couple of days, heavily favoring her left front leg. Georg and I suspect that it's unrelated: when she's trying to get our attention she kicks furniture, knocks over trash cans and so forth. (Thank god the only trash cans she can tip over are the small ones that contain only paper trash.) We think maybe she knocked something over and it landed on her leg or something.

I talked to the vet this morning and she agreed with our speculation. So for the meantime, we're allowed to give her the pain pills when she needs them, and call the vet's office again on Monday for another status report. Unless her limp gets a lot better tomorrow I'm going to ask them for an appointment to check out the leg.

We had two parties to go to tonight, at David's and Rick!'s, but we blew them both off. Partly because of the weather, which threatened ice and may have produced some, but mainly because of Thirteen. Going to a party and having fun and then coming home to her pacing because she's in pain was just awful. I couldn't stand to do that to her two nights in a row.

I feel really bad about missing the parties, but in truth I'm so exhausted that even if the weather had been fine and I had given Thirteen her pills right before leaving, I wouldn't have enjoyed it. I don't know why I'm so tired. Work has been stressful, but not unusually so. And I haven't done much yardwork because of the weather. I guess it's just all the worry about Thirteen is wearing me out. Also not sleeping so much because she keeps waking me up.

Today all I did was split some wood, watch TV and take a nap. Well, I did do a little work, but only a teeny tiny bit that hardly counts. Also I started working on the plan for the vegetable garden. It's kind of complicated, but it seems like things will go better if I plan it all out rather than just buying plants and sticking them into the ground willy-nilly. I have a template with the outline of the bed so I can draw different versions of the plan in pencil. I tried doing the whole thing in Illustrator but pencil and paper seems easier.

I did learn some important facts about wood splitting: First, logs that already have a crack in the end are easier to split. Second, small logs are also easier to split. Third, logs that are so small they tip over with every strike are still easy, but annoying.

kind hearts and coronets

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Jan 19 movie: Kinds Hearts and Coronets. According to Robert Osborne this is the movie that made Alec Guinness a star. The funny thing is, he isn't even the star of the movie. He just steals every scene he's in.

Guinness plays eight members of the noble D'Ascoyne family who are eliminated so that angry young Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), son of a lowly branch, can inherit the dukedom. (Actually Price offs six of them: one dies of natural causes and one goes down with his ship.) It sounds gruesome but it's extremely funny, especially with Price's detached, self-serving narration throughout.

Guinness's ability to play all eight of the D'ascoynes is amazing. He really looks like eight different people. Some of it is makeup, but mainly it's acting. They do use special effects once, in a scene where all the family members are seated together in a church.

TCM also showed The Ladykillers, but I didn't record it because I had already seen it.

the lavender hill mob

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Jan 19 movie: The Lavender Hill Mob. It was Alec Guinness night on TCM, and I recorded a couple of his Ealing movies that I hadn't seen before. This was a very funny story about a meek, unambitious treasury worker whose bosses refuse to promote him because he "lacks ambition," while he secretly plots a caper to steal £1,000,000 worth of gold, melt it down and smuggle it out of the country as phony Eiffel Tower souvenirs.

Like all the Ealing movies The Lavender Hill Mob is dryly hilarious, both when the caper is going off without a hitch, and when it inevitably spins out of control. I think my favorite scene is when Guinness and his partner (the souvenir exporter) advertise for assistants by shouting at each other on a bus about an unlocked safe, then waiting at the site and hiring on the spot the crooks who show up to rob them.

I'm always amazed at how Guinness can transform himself just by changing his demeanor. He's famous for it in Kind Hearts and Coronets, but he does it here too. The meek treasury employee seems like a totally different person from the mastermind gold thief.

safe harbor, here I come

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The new WXDU schedule came out today and I'm splitting Thursday nights from 10-midnight for the spring semester. I love having a show during the day, and I'm going to miss Sarah R. and Howard. But my work schedule has been so much busier lately that Monday afternoons have been a problem. Every show I've done in months, I've found myself driving to the station thinking "damn it, I don't have time for this, I should have asked for a sub." Once I get there and get started I always have a great time, but still, getting there is always a problem. Which seemed like a sign that I should ask for a show outside of work hours.

Honestly I wasn't expecting to get it, I figured everyone wants prime time. The weird thing was, programming actually called me to make sure Thursday 10-12 would be OK! I feel so special. This time means Georg will be on right before me. But we're both splitting, so we could arrange to be on the same week or on alternate weeks. I think we're going to go for alternate weeks, simply because we have such similar taste in music. If I have to follow Georg I'll never get to play the good stuff from the playlist.

In dog news, Thirteen has been sleeping peacefully all day. All I had to do was drug her. Wow, these opiates sure are convenient.

mystery street

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January 18 movie: Mystery Street. Last night Sylvia and I had another meeting of the NC Ricardo Montalban Appreciation Society. It was great fun! We had soft tacos with picadillo and chard with potatoes, and fried beans, all courtesy of Rick Bayless. Sylvia commented that the picadillo tasted like barbecue, which makes sense: it has tomatoes, sweetness from the raisins, and both spicy and smoky from the chipotles in adobo.

I was a little disappointed in the chard. The potatoes made the sauce kind of gluey. On the other hand, Georg and Sylvia insisted that they didn't think it was gluey. So maybe it's just that I haven't cooked potatoes in awhile and forgot how they cook up. The recipe has you boil the potatoes in broth, then add the whole thing to the chard and cook off the liquid, then stir in Mexican crema. Maybe next time I'll boil the potatoes in water, discard the water and then add fresh broth. That would get rid of some of the starchiness I think.

Okay, so the movie. This is my favorite Ricardo Montalban movie. It's a detective story, not a romance, and he never takes his shirt off. But in a way that's one of the things I like about it: instead of being typecast as the "latin lover" he's a smart, savvy professional.

I wonder what Montalban movie we'll watch next? We've already seen my two favorites (this and Fiesta) and Sylvia's, My Man and I. Hmm, maybe Neptune's Daughter. Probably it will depend on whatever TCM shows next.

January 17 movie: The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. I enjoyed this in the theater, and enjoyed it again on DVD. The extra scenes added a lot of depth to the story, although one thing I was really looking forward to -- Faramir and Eowyn getting together in the Houses of Healing -- was only barely touched on. Still, barely touched on is better than completely absent. Saruman's scene was excellent too. I can see why Christopher Lee was pissed off that his scene got cut.

As I suspected, the hobbits are all the same height, even though Merry and Pippin are shown growing taller after drinking the Ent-draught in the extended version of the second movie. No further elaboration on the controversial "who stole the Lembas bread" scene. I'm interested in what they say about it in the commentaries, but I'm not up to watching the whole movie again right now.

the tango lesson

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January 17 movie: The Tango Lesson. I'd already seen this movie, and had read some reviews back then. The reviews seem to fall into two categories: people who hated the movie and called it self-indulgent, and people who accuse the people who hated it of being sexist. Since the movie is about a relationship between an older woman and a younger, handsomer man, anyone who dislikes it must have a problem with powerful women.

I don't think I'm sexist, but I didn't much care for the movie. It's about a film director named Sally, played by director Sally Potter, who learns the tango from Argentinian dancing star Pablo Veron, played by Argentinian dancing star Pablo Veron. Meanwhile she's trying to make a movie (which seems completely wretched from the few clips they show) but is stymied at every turn by pencil-pushing studio executives who just don't understand her vision. Sound self-indulgent yet?

The good thing about the movie is the dancing. Lots of beautiful tangos and beautiful tango music. There's a particularly nice dance scene among four people at the end.

pets get the best drugs

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Well it's not nearly as bad as Mimo's string incident, but we're having our own mini-health crisis over here. Perhaps crisis is too strong a word, but it seems like everything is a crisis for an elderly dog like Thirteen.

About a week ago Thirteen started pacing again. Pacing and panting and fussing at us all the time, day and night, keeping me from working, keeping us awake, and generally acting like she was in pain. At first I thought it was the sudden change in weather aggravating her arthritis. Aren't damp weather and drastic changes in atmospheric pressure supposed to bother arthritis? Am I remembering that right? Anyway, I have a prescription of Rimadyl for Lina, which I started giving to Thirteen twice a day. At first it worked pretty well, she could sleep most of the day or night after getting a pill. Unfortunately by Sunday it seemed much less effective.

Called the vet, got an appointment and spent most of the day there with Thirteen yesterday. They gave her a full physical, blood and urine tests, an radiographs. No definitive answers yet but they think it's the spinal infection again. The vet said that there was more fusing of vertebrate than there should be after having already treated it during the summer. The vet also told me somewhat reproachfully that they like to have a followup radiograph after the antibiotic, to see if it worked or not. Which I would have been happy to do, if anyone had ever told me that before yesterday. I didn't say anything though. No point in arguing about whose fault it is, I just want to fix it.

Anyway, we will find out the results of the blood and urine tests today. In the meantime we went ahead and started Thirteen on two weeks of Clindamycin (sp?), a new antibiotic for the spinal infection. Also we have a few days' worth of Tramadol, another painkiller. Thirteen has to take both Tramadol and Rimadyl for five days, then we have to stop the painkillers and see if the antibiotic is working.

They didn't give me info booklets on the new drugs, but I looked them up and Clindamycin can cause life-threatening colitis. I already knew that Rimadyl can cause kidney failure. So I have to go out into the yard when Thirteen goes out, and make sure her bodily functions are all normal. Good thing I have that fur hat. Tramadol doesn't seem to have any fatal side effects, but it is addictive. The vet only gave me enough for 3-5 days though, so I'm not too worried about ending up with a junkie dog.

The bad news about Clindamycin (besides having to go out in the bitter cold and watch Thirteen poop, and also having to give her 3 capsules twice a day! plus 2 tablets of Tramadol 2-3 times a day! jeez!) is that it is expensive: about $5.50 a day. I already bought 14 days' worth, and if it works she'll have to take it for another month. If it doesn't work, the bottle we have now will have been wasted, and we'll have to start another round of expensive diagnostics.

The vet commented that I didn't seem scared by the costs involved. I said that it's not like money is no object, but it's also not the most important factor. I'm not going to withhold treatment just because of the cost, if it really will help Thirteen.

The good news is that Thirteen's heart and lungs are no worse than they were in the last radiographs, last summer. That's good to know. Other good news is that they don't see any signs of cancer. The vet found a lump in Thirteen's armpit, but it turned out to be harmless. Whew.

(Can I just say that I wish the name for a harmless fatty tumor, lipoma, did not sound so much like the word lymphoma? I nearly had a heart attack when the vet told me Thirteen had a lipoma in the armpit.)

Last night Thirteen seemed pretty good in the evening, but then she was up all night pacing again. Turns out that Tramadol only works for 4-6 hours, so it must have worn off just as we were going to bed. No wonder she kept us up all night. Tonight I'm going to give it to her right before bed.

toasty

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Since everyone reading this (at least, everyone local) is well aware of how fricking cold it is, I won't waste time describing the fricking coldness of the weather the past few days. Instead I will just say that I now understand why people like fur. My mink hat is amazing. Even when the cold air cuts right through my coat, the hat keeps my head toasty warm. I'm wearing it right now, inside the house. Which is also fricking cold.

Sylvia told me she believes that fur, a renewable resource, is better for the environment than fleece and gore-tex, which use petroleum products. "Renewable resource" is kind of an icky way to think about small animals, and I'm still uncomfortable with the cruelty involved. I'm just glad my hat is vintage so at least I can tell myself that the minks on my head were killed forty years ago. I wonder how many minks it took to make that hat. It looks like just one.

the great escape

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Jan 15 movie: The Great Escape. I might have been a little more charitable towards the Bond movies if I hadn't followed them up with a truly great action movie. The ingenuity, drive and sheer determination of the prisoners as they plan their escape is amazing. And all the more impressive knowing that the movie is closely based on a true story. The movie is funny too, like the sequence where the three Americans in the camp spend weeks snitching all the potatoes, build a still and distill the potatoes into rotgut, and then surprise the rest of the camp with a 4th of July celebration.

The attention to detail is also very nice: for example when Richard Attenborough first arrives at the camp, there's a strong implication that he's been beaten by the Gestapo and he has a weird bruise around one eye. As the movie goes on, the bruise gradually changes into a scar, which he still has at the end.

I wrote this movie up already last year and can only add an embarrassed admission that I haven't yet read any of the books about the true story. I even put a hold on the one by Paul Brickhill at the library, but I never picked it up.

Jan 15 movies: Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and The Living Daylights. I've never really gotten the appeal of James Bond. I'd seen a few; some were reasonably entertaining, some were totally lame. None made me think that this should be a major movie franchise. Some cable channel (Encore I think) is showing a marathon all weekend, and I was feeling lazy yesterday, and what better time to give the series another try? I watched James Bond all afternoon and honestly, didn't see anything to change my opinion.

Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun were both Roger Moore movies, and man oh man did they stink. Awful! Nothing but bad jokes, bad car chases and bad sex. At least The Man with the Golden Gun had Christopher Lee. He's always good. And he looked so young! Well actually, not young. But young compared to Lord of the Rings. He looked so ... middle-aged. Also I finally understand why Krusty the Klown has a third nipple. I never got that joke before.

(This movie also seemed comical because I kept thinking about Woody Allen and hearing the title in my head as The Man with the Golden Gub.)

The approach to sexuality in these movies is so adolescent. All about conquest with no emotional involvement, but still heavily romanticized, with the silly fantasy settings and the PG-13 action. Everything about Bond is adolescent. Not just the sex but the super-spy thing, being better than everyone else, the silly gadgets and so forth. James Bond is like that boy you knew in junior high who kept making up ridiculous stories about his superman-like abilities. Maybe the people who like the series got into it when they were adolescent boys. Like Piers Anthony and twelve year old girls. I have never met a fan of Piers Anthony who didn't start reading him when they were a twelve year old girl. But I digress.

The Living Daylights was a little less stupid. (I guess it says something about me that I found a chase scene with two people sledding down a mountain in a cello case less stupid.) Georg opined that Timothy Dalton didn't get a fair shake at playing Bond, because the Roger Moore movies were so awful they had driven away most of the fans, and camp value was all people wanted from the series anymore. There was also that little historical awkwardness of wanting us to root for the plucky Muhajadeen in Afganistan. Well, hindsight and all that.

house of flying daggers

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Jan 14 movie: House of Flying Daggers. I haven't checked, but I think this may be the first movie I've seen in a theater since Hero. Which is kind of funny. Apparently sweeping martial arts epics by Zhang Yimou are the only thing that will pry my butt off the couch and get me to a theater.

Before talking about the movie I have to mention the trailers. We saw one for Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, which looked so good I actually applauded in the theater. His Shaolin Soccer was brilliant. And as Georg pointed out, since it's not being released by Miramax, there's a good chance it won't be chopped up to hell.

The bad news in movie trailers was Kingdom of Heaven. Which is a grand, heroic epic about the Crusades. You heard me, the Crusades. During a problematic (to say the least) war in the Middle East, Hollywood comes out with a movie glorifying the ugliest episode in Christian-Islamic history. We were both so appalled that our jaws literally dropped. How much lower can Hollywood sink? What's next, a heroic epic about the Conquistadors? The Albigensian Crusade? The Inquisition?

Okay, enough about that. Hopefully the Crusades movie will stink as badly as Alexander did, and sink as fast, and then I won't have to hear about it again. Now on to the movie we actually did see: House of Flying Daggers. It was excellent. Zhang Yimou is brilliant at sweeping epics. The visuals are amazing, the fight scenes are terrific, the cinematography is exquisite, and as usual his sense of color (not just to make the movie pretty but to carry meaning) is beyond compare. I never read reviews of movies I plan to see, but I would imagine that everyone is, or at least should be, talking about the two big set pieces: the "Echo Game" at the beginning, and the battle in the bamboo forest. Both scenes are amazing.

This felt like a romance set in an adventure story, unlike Hero which felt more like an adventure movie with a love story in it, if that makes sense. Which brings me to my only criticism. It's not really even a criticism, just my personal issue, which is that Zhang Ziyi leaves me cold. She just doesn't do it for me. She was okay in Crouching Tiger and Hero, where she only had to support the better actors. Maybe by the time she's Maggie Cheung's age, she'll be able to carry a movie of this scope. Too bad she can't do it now. (In my opinion of course.)

Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro were both good, very convincing. (I'd seen them both in other movies but didn't remember them until I looked them up on imdb.com.) But the two of them can't hold up the triangle on their own when Zhang is in the middle doing nothing for me. In what should have been a heartbreaking tragic ending, I just sat there thinking. "Wow. Nice scene. Too bad Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh are too old for this part. Whatever happened Brigitte Lin?"

Which is not to say that I didn't like the movie. I loved it. Just that I was emotionally disengaged; the romance story didn't draw me in.

zatoichi on the road

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Jan 14 movie: Zatochi On the Road. Again my thanks to IFC for showing all these Zatoichi movies in order. We don't know yet if they're going to show them all, or just the early ones. But we're definitely enjoying it while we can. This was the fifth in the series, and (we think) the first one to be a completely stand-alone episode: no characters in common with the other movies (excepting of course Zatoichi). Also the violence level has racheted up. This time Zatoichi is helping a nobleman's daughter get home to Edo before her evil husband's soldiers find her and kill her. Zatoichi exposits that the girl stabbed a man in the face to get away, but she acts way too meek and helpless throughout the movie to make that believeable. Anyway, this is classic Zatoichi: he sets rival gangs against each other, kills a lot of people, the girl falls in love with him and he ditches her. Because he's a loner.

Zatoichi is the unlikeliest romantic hero I've ever seen. He's not handsome, walks with a stoop, has a weak chin, his face is always dirty and sweaty, and in this episode we learn that he talks with his mouth full. The big romantic scene between Zatoichi and the girl takes place while they eat rice balls, and he talks with his mouth full of rice and has rice all over his face! Then they're ambushed and he jumps up and kills all the bad guys, with rice still stuck to his face! Bizarre and brilliant.

the palm beach story

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Jan 13 movie: The Palm Beach Story. This is one of my favorite Claudette Colbert movies, but now that I've seen them both in rapid succession I have to say that Midnight edges it out as my favorite of her romantic comedies. But then there's It Happened One Night ... damn it, I can't decide. They're all wonderful.

As Preston Sturges tend to do, the plot is difficult to sum up in one sentence. It features Colbert running out on the husband she loves (Joel McCrae) and hooking up with a wealthy bachelor (Rudy Vallee, playing "John D. Hackensacker," and guess which real-life billionaire he was supposed to be). She hopes to manipulate Vallee into giving McCrae the $99,000 he needs for his kooky invention (an airport suspended above Manhatten), while pretending McCrae is her brother so he won't interfere. Mary Astor plays Vallee's man-crazy sister, and one of the high points of the movie is Robert Dudley as The Weinie King, a cranky old deaf man who helps both Colbert and McCrae. Another highlight is the Ale and Quail Club, proving that drunk rich guys with rifles are funny! And Vallee gets to sing which is always nice.

bad news and good news

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In the garden: The bad news is that I took up the rest of the black plastic -- about 15' worth -- and uncovered 5 more stumps. The good news is that none of them are near as big as the big one, so I'll be able to dig them all out myself. Several of them may not even need the digging bar.

The other bad news is that it got cold again yesterday. Nasty rainy and cold, and who knows when I'll be able to work on the yard again.

At work: I had a meeting yesterday with a client, an oral surgery practice which wants to add some spiffy new features to their website. The bad news is that I had completely misunderstood what they wanted, and had researched the wrong features. The good news is that what I thought they wanted -- allowing patients to schedule their own appointments online -- would have been very difficult to implement. There aren't many options because few practices want it. Medical appointment scheduling is really complicated and most practices think letting patients do it themselves would cause so many problems it wouldn't save them any time at all. Which, as it turns out, is exactly why the practice I work with doesn't want it. What a relief: I thought I was going to have to go in there and tell them they can't have what they want.

The other good news is that while I was researching online appointment scheduling, I picked up enough information on the features they do want -- online submitting of patient information forms, appointment request form, automatic email appointment reminders and followup reminders -- that I was able to discuss it with them relatively intelligently. So the meeting wasn't a total bust. It will be a nice project too. Not the most complicated I've ever worked on but due to HIPAA, more complicated than if it were in another industry.

happy birthday from sharon jones

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The most amazing Sharon Jones is played at the Cradle on January 27, two days before my birthday. So in lieu of a party, I hope that all the cool kids and crazy cats will join me at the show for an evening of birthday booty shaking. It will be like having hundreds of people at my party!

mrs. miniver

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Jan 12 movie: Mrs. Miniver. The mother of all "life on the homefront" movies, none other than FDR credited Mrs. Miniver with being the single greatest influence on American civilians learning how to cope with life during wartime. Greer Garson plays an upper-middle class British woman (in other words, rich but not titled) holding her family together in the early stages of the war. Made just after Pearl Harbor, the Minivers and their village try to maintain some bit of normalcy in their lives, while wondering if "normal life" even means anything anymore. It's lower on the melodrama and higher on the drama than Since You Went Away. Which makes sense since the war had much more immediacy to the family in Mrs. Miniver: the village is bombed repeatedly, the son is in the RAF, the father (Walter Pidgeon) gets volunteered for a brief but dangerous mission at Dunkirk, even Mom faces off with an escaped Nazi in the kitchen. Everyone is very British and stiff upper lip and "I say old man, dashed bit of luck there" when the house gets bombed. But the movie is incredibly affecting, even moreso than Since You Went Away. Don't think I'm a sap but I'm tearing up now, just thinking about the final scenes. Okay, I am a sap.

The only false note for me was Walter Pidgeon, who totally has an American accent. He didn't even try. Everyone else really is British or at least does a passable impression of it, and here's this American dad sticking out like a sore thumb. I spent much of the movie wondering if the character was supposed to be American, in which case how did he end up in that little village and why didn't anyone ever comment on it. Really distracting.

since you went away

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Jan 11 movie: Since You Went Away. I didn't mean to watch this again so soon, but I was flipping channels and came across it about a half hour in, and I was hooked. I had forgotten all about the part early on where Jennifer Jones has a childish crush on Joseph Cotten. The two of them had such good chemistry; I wish they had made more movies together. And Agnes Moorehead is great fun as the villainous neighbor, wondering "why do they have to have so much flag-waving?" and then opining that if everyone had hoarded food like she did, there wouldn't be any shortages at all.

My only negative comment isn't so much about this movie, but in general: why do so many black housekeepers in movies incorrectly use big words for comic effect? It's really not funny and it happens in a lot of old movies. Perhaps it's supposed to suggest that the servant class weren't just uneducated, but uneducatable: give them a two-dollar word and look how they mangle it. So therefore why feel bad about keeping a whole class of people down, when they couldn't do any better. And that is my political rant for the day.

the lady eve

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Jan 11 movie: The Lady Eve. This movie is up there with The Philadelphia Story as one of the great romantic comedies. Barbara Stanwyck plays a card shark who falls for her mark (Henry Fonda), then after he rejects her sets out for revenge by posing as Lady Eve Sidwich and making him fall in love all over again. It's hilarious, though I don't have much more to say that I didn't already say last time.

the bourne supremacy

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Jan 10 movie: The Bourne Supremacy. Ooh, shiny! Action and suspense! Georg and I both thought this was good, but not as good as the first Bourne movie. To some degree this is because Franke Potente got killed after ten minutes. Sorry if I spoiled the surprise, but you can tell she's not long for this world one minute in, so it's not much of a spoiler.

portrait of jennie

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Jan 9 movie: Portrait of Jennie. A strange, thoughtful movie about a struggling painter (Joseph Cotten) who meets and falls in love with a woman (Jennifer Jones) living outside time. I can't explain it better than that and I'd rather you see it than read my hamfisted attempt to describe the plot. Robert Osborne said that Selznick originally planned to make this movie with Shirley Temple, and film it over the course of five years so that the actor would actually age along with the character. But then he met and fell for Jennifer Jones, and good thing too because I can't imagine anyone else in this movie. She does an amazing job of portraying Jennie as a little girl, teenager and then mature woman, without modern make-up techniques to do the work for her.

The funny thing about this movie is that I've seen it at least once before, but I remembered the ending completely wrong. I won't say what I thought because that would give everything away. But I will say that I liked my ending better. It was more of a gothic romance type ending.

a day at the races

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Jan 9 movie: A Day at the Races. This lesser Marx Brothers movie is still quite funny. Probably the most famous thing in it is "Get your tootsie-frootsie ice cream!" My favorite bit is when Groucho has dinner with a scheming woman. She keeps saying "thank you" and he keeps snapping right back "thank yao!" It's one of those things that doesn't translate well to print but trust me, it's funny.

so proudly we hail!

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Jan 7 movie: So Proudly We Hail! Another wartime film from Claudette Colbert. In this one she stars as a nurse in Bataan. According to a title card the movie, made during the war, was inspired by the true story of eight nurses who managed to get out of Bataan before the whole region fell. As you might imagine, the movie is pretty dark. They tried to make it inspiring but when the eight nurses get out, they leave behind everyone else in the movie. They didn't even know about that whole "Bataan Death March" thing when they made the movie, but the knowledge of history made the story even more grim.

clerks

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Jan. 6 movie: Clerks. We had just watched the documentary so what the heck. My main feeling is that it's funny at all, but jeez, Kevin Smith didn't have much interaction with women at that point in his life. The female characters talk more like a lonely fanboy's imagination than like any woman I've ever met, and the resolution for them is kind of appalling: one ends up catatonic because of having had sex with a corpse, and the other walks out intent on degrading herself sexually because she's mad at the main character. The first time I saw this movie, years ago, I wasn't so repulsed by that stuff and was more able to enjoy the movie as a whole.

army air forces training films

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Jan 6 movie: Army Air Forces Training Films. TCM showed a series of short films made during the war by the Army Air Forces. This sounded like it would be really boring, but actually it wasn't at all.

First we saw a recruitment film starring Jimmy Stewart, who was apparently in the Army Air Forces at the time, though he never said what he did. I gather that some actors in the military didn't seek special treatment (for instance Clark Gable volunteered at age 41 and was a pilot in combat duty) but others had pretty cushy jobs (Ronald Reagan worked in the press corps and never left California). They never said when this film was made, but we guessed it must have been fairly early in the war. Stewart's pitch was basically that men should join the Army Air Forces because you made good money, got good training, and didn't need a college education to be an officer. The optimistic tone of the movie was a bit shocking. Stewart made the war sound like a grand adventure and constantly used sports metaphors (like referring to enlistment as joining an All-American team). It made me think of a British recruitment film I saw a long time ago, starring Leslie Howard. That movie was much more grim, all about how the Empire would band together courageously in the face of terrible odds and so forth. Stewart's tone was much more "go team! rah rah!" At least Stewart didn't use cowboy metaphors. I guess that was Reagan's thing.

After the Jimmy Stewart movie was a narrative film about how captured airmen should handle enemy interrogation. The men are separated and one by one they fall for every trick in the book, inadvertently giving up tons of critical information about an upcoming mission. There's a nurse who pretends to be sympathetic to them and lets the doctor yell at her so they'll think she's on their side, another who poses as a prisoner, and so forth. They don't even know anything official about the mission, but they know a bunch of seemingly useless details which the Nazis trick them into revealing and then piece together in order to figure out the mission and crush it. The movie ends with the commander of the failed mission explaining what happened, then turning to the camera and saying "Don't tell. Don't. Tell. DON'T TELL!"

At some point I realized that I had seen this movie before, but the first time I didn't realize it was an army training film. I thought it was just a movie with no-name actors.

After this was a documentary made at the time about the Army Air Forces film division. This was really boring and I only watched about half of it. We also did not tape "How to Recognize the Japanese Zero," starring Ronald Reagan. But there was a clip of it in the documentary which made me wish I had taped it. Apparently it was another narrative, about friendly fire because of soldiers who can't tell the difference between their own planes and the enemy's. Now that I think about it, I may have seen this one before too.

you'll never get rich

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Jan 5 movie: You'll Never Get Rich. Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth star, and this is going to sound cold, but my main impression of this is that now I understand why the Astaire/Rogers movies are the only ones people remember. Hayworth gives it her best shot, but she just isn't a good match for Astaire, on or off the dance floor.

Astaire also seemed to be trying to shake off his image and come across like an ordinary joe, which is another big problem with the movie. He's an army private who spends most of the movie locked up in the guard house for a variety of minor infractions, and looking, if not ill-at-ease not totally at home with the character. He only seemed to come into his own at the very end of the movie they let him put on white tie and dance.

now, voyager

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Jan 4 movie: Now, Voyager. This is still one of my favorite melodramas, nay, favorite movies. There are a few false notes, mainly focused on Paul Heinreid's daughter, whose dialogue is sometimes painfully treacly. But the movie is full of wonderfully complex relationships. All the principles except the little girl -- Bette Davis, Paul Heinreid, Gladys Cooper, Claude Rains -- are at the top of their games. When so many movies have people acting in random ways, for no other reason than because the script told them to, it's a treat to see a movie about character growth that makes me believe it.

snowball effect: the story of clerks

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Jan 4 movie: Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks. We briefly feared that this would turn out like IFC's "documentary" on Spinal Tap, nothing but a series of celebrities recounting their favorite parts of the movie. Fortunately, it was instead an interesting and funny look at Kevin Smith's youth, how he got interested in filmmaking, how he made Clerks and how the movie got picked up by Miramax. The most interesting part to me was about his two best friends from high school, with whom he had had some kind of falling out that none of them wanted to talk about. Smith originally cast one of the friends as the lead in Clerks but the guy basically blew it off (showed up not knowing any of his lines even though he'd had the scrpt for a month). So Smith fired him, but then put him back in the movie in a bit part (one of the customers). I'd love to know more about that story.

antm fans

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I just saw Mercedes from season 2 of America's Next Top Model in a runway show! It was the Fall 2004 Rock and Republic show. (Don't ask me why Fashiontrance is still showing Fall 2004, when Spring 2005 clothes are in stores and the Fall 2005 runway shows are about to happen. That's a topic for another post.) Mercedes looked cute, maybe not as polished as the other models, but comfortable on the runway and having fun.

I hear on Television Without Pity that she's also recently been in national print ads for Hewlett Packard and Target, on the cover of a wedding magazine, and in the Kohl's ad circular last week. On the show they criticized her constantly for being too commercial, and granted, catalog work for Kohl's isn't "top model" prestigious. But heck, she's working, possibly more than the winner from her season.

matisse, picasso, and a stump

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Pretty good day today. Got up early and worked, then went to Raleigh to see the Matisse/Picasso show with my friend Patricia. The show was a bit "meh" -- they didn't have any really big works, and the few really interesting things weren't by Matisse or Picasso, but additional paintings they had included for context -- but I was there for the company, and that was delightful as always. Patricia is a great friend. We had lunch in the museum cafe, which was nice though a little pricey.

After the show there was more work, of course, but I got a couple of hours in the yard. I worked on the big stump, then when Georg got home he worked on it too. And we got it out! It took about three hours total. That landscaping bar is amazing. You can see in the photo how big the stump was. You can also see the nifty gardening clogs my folks gave me for my birthday.

Now I'm totally exhausted. Just finished watching a movie and may watch another. And then, a good night's sleep. That is if the dogs don't wake me up. They've been total freaks the past few nights.

Much as I've been enjoying the yardwork, I have to say that I'm a bit frustrated by the lack of visual results. A friend said recently that she wanted to come over and see my progress in the yard, and I realized that there wasn't really anything for her to see. After 5 months of hard work, the yard still looks pretty much the same as it did when the landscapers came at the beginning of August. Not to knock the landscapers, but I think they basically did quick fixes. Cutting everything down to the ground, but not digging anything out. It looked fantastic, but if I had neglected the yard the way I always did before, the jungle would have come right back. What I've mainly been doing is killing weeds, pulling up vines and digging out unwanted shrubs so the jungle doesn't come back. Which is important, and I'm glad I'm doing it, but there isn't much to see for it. Beyond that, it being winter means that everything is dormant. So the few plants I have put in look pretty bare.

I used to know someone who renovated a house: she and her husband stripped the house down to a bare shell and rebuilt everything: walls, floors, plumbing, electrical, everything. She told me that they expected the demolition to be 50% of the work, and the rebuilding to be 50% too. But actually the demolition was about 80% of the work. But they didn't know how fast the rebuilding was going to go; all they knew was that the demolition was taking way longer than they had hoped. She said it was very frustrating and discouraging to keep slogging along without feeling like they were making any progress. But then they were thrilled when they finally starting putting in the walls and everything came up so fast.

I hope that my yardwork will be the same. All that digging and weeding and mulching, and the yard looks basically the same as when I started. But in about three months it will be time to start planting, and I hope the garden will spring up as fast as my friend's house did. That will be the fun part!

To that end, seed catalogs have started arriving in droves. It's so much fun to read them and imagine planting all those flowers. I keep the Southern Living garden book in my lap so I can look up every plant that seems interesting. Unfortunately most of the catalogs I've gotten so far are from New England, and many of the plants they feature wouldn't do well here at all. Still, there are so many flowers to choose from.

the morning after

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After trying my hand at stump removal yesterday I feel pretty sore, but in a "wow, good workout" way, not a scary "uh oh, I overdid it" way. Which is a relief. Who needs a gym membership? Well, I guess I may feel differently when it gets cold and nasty again. But as long as I can work in the yard, the gym seems totally pointless. I am going to take it easy today though, and either do no yardwork or something non-strenuous.

landscaping madness

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It's been Landscaping Madness (as my friend Nellorat would say). Even with such beautiful weather this whole week, I only made it into the yard twice, but I got tons done.

I made great progress on that bank along the driveway. Cleared another 5 foot section of vines, and most importantly found out how to remove stumps myself. My ultimate stump digging technique is unstoppable! The photo to the left shows 2 stumps I removed today. It's hard to get a sense of scale in the photo, but the stump on the right is about 6 inches wide at the top. Hope you don't mind me tooting my own horn, but I'm rather proud of myself!

I followed the instructions on this web page. He suggests a tool called a landscaping bar. Which is a 6 foot long pole of solid forged steel, with a 2 inch wide sharp blade at the end. You dig a trench around the stump, then stab the blade of the landscape bar into the trench and work it back and forth. Keep stabbing the bar all the way around the stump, angling it a bit inward so you gradually cut away the roots from underneath it. Eventually the stump starts wiggling, and soon after you discover that you've chopped through the last roots and it's out.

As you might imagine, this is hard work. I thought pulling out vines was hard work, but I had no idea. The landscaping bar is taller than me and really heavy, which makes it a bit difficult to handle. It has to be heavy to cut through those roots, but all that lifting the bar and stabbing it into the ground and I was totally winded. My shoulders are really sore now. Still, it was worth it. It felt so satifying to pull those stumps out of the ground. Made me feel like I can do anything. Gardening is so much better than going to the gym.

panther

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Don't you hate when something is screwed up at work, and it's a mess and you have to fix it, and you can't even complain because it's totally your own fault? I hate that.

The screwed up thing is at Stoneline. Last night I went to install the 2005 update for their tax tables. Turns out it only runs on the latest version of Aatrix, the payroll program, which is two versions newer than the one we're using. I get on the phone to order the new version, but the bastards had closed ten minutes before (5 pm Central time). Search the Aatrix website and it looks like they don't even sell the program anymore; it's bundled with Quickbooks now. Okay, so we have to update Quickbooks. No problem, I call the Apple store and they have it in stock. great, I can run over there and buy it, go back to Stoneline and install it, not problem. Except that the new version of Quickbooks is system 10 only. And Stoneline are still running 9. Yikes!

So now we have to get them upgraded to 10, and we're not even sure their computers can handle it. Well actually, one of the two computers probably can, but the other one seems doubtful. We have to get them upgraded at both the home office and the shop, because he writes the paychecks at the shop and I do the payroll taxes at the home office. And we have to get it done now, because it's 2005 and they're still using 2004 tax tables.

It looks like what we're going to do is get a new computer for the shop, and upgrade the one in the home office. If we can't get that done by next Wednesday, I'll install Quickbooks on my own laptop and take it in with me.

You might be thinking that we should have dealt with this a while ago, and you'd be right. And it was my screw up, can't blame it on anyone else. The problem is that Aatrix kind of sucks. You have to wait until after your last 2004 pay period to update the tax tables, they don't give you any way to go back after you do the end of the year conversion. So by the time we were ready, the Stoneline folks had left for a 3 week vacation. And I obviously couldn't have bought a new computer without them. Still, I should have figured out what was going on while they were gone. I was just too wrapped up with a huge web deadline and my own vacation and that whole stomach flu thing and so forth.

On the bright side, I think that once they get used to system 10 they'll really like it. I will too, because I won't have to deal with 9 crashing anymore. Also, because of all this I went ahead and upgraded to 10.3 on my laptop. Just installed it about an hour ago. It doesn't seem too different. Except the Font Book, which is so cool I nearly wet my pants. Finally Apple built something into the system that will let me preview fonts! I have so many fonts that without Adobe Type Manager it's really hard to keep track of them. Mail seems to work better too.

stage door

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January 3 movie: Stage Door. Tremendous ensemble movie about young women sharing a boarding house and trying to break into the theater. The cast is amazing: Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, Adolphe Menjou, and that's just to start. Constance Collier (the mean older sister in My Man Godfrey) has a nice turn as a jaded goldigger, as does Andrea Leeds as the movie's tragic figure. This is very much a women's story. They don't go all the way to the all-female cast gimmick like The Women, but the few male characters are nearly invisible. Menjou plays the only male part you could even call a character.

catching up on movies

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December 24 movie: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The Mystery Science Theater treatment of this movie is revered, but honestly the movie is so bad that there isn't much for them to do with it. Still, it's great to see Joel's version of MST3K again. TV's Frank and the invention exchange! Gypsy and original voice Crow!

I know I watched a movie on the 31st, but I can't remember what it was. Darn!

January 1 movie: Zatoichi's Crazy Journey. Also known as Masseur Ichi, The Fugitive, the fourth in the series has Zatoichi getting involved in a conflict between two warring gangs. Which is basically the plot of most Zatoichi movies. I like the stately pace of the early Zatoichi movies, but I have to say that after four movies it's getting difficult to keep track of all the recurring characters. There's something to be said for the episodic, later films.

January 2 movie: Midnight. I love this movie! Have I ever mentioned how much I love this movie? Oh yes, I have. It still has Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore, and it's still hilarious. The best part is still Barrymore braying into the phone, pretending to be Ameche's drunken daughter (you really have to see it for that to make sense). But it's all funny.

in with the new

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If January 1 is a harbinger of the year to come, then 2005 is going to be good to me. I slept in, then had a nice lazy morning. In the afternoon it was so warm I sat outside for awhile with my dogs. After I had been sitting for a few minutes a few birds came back to the feeders, and I got a crappy photo of the red bellied woodpecker on the suet feeder. I really need to get that zoom lens. Last time I tried to buy it, I discovered that all the good internet camera stores are closed for the Jewish high holy days. And I don't want to order it now because all my money lately has gone into boots and hats and fabric. Maybe for my birthday present to myself.

It was too nice a day to go back inside so I did some yardwork too. The yard is pretty much dormant, but this warm spell has confused a lot of plants into sending out new growth. There are a bunch of little shoots in the hydrangea bed which could be monkey grass, which we dug out of that bed before planting the hydrangeas. I hate that stuff. So I will optimistically call these shoots early bulbs that are a little too early, until forced to admit otherwise.

The pansies are doing great. They love this warm weather. I wish I had planted them closer together. They haven't spread that much so the bed looks like a big brown patch with spots of color here and there. I followed the instructions on the label, but I've heard since that it's OK to give annuals much less room than the recommendation. They look more full and when they grow together, the plants act as their own mulch. Apparently that's how they do it in English gardens. They don't use much mulch, they just plant everything close enough to grow together.

Anyway, after admiring the pansies I got to work. Pulled up the sheets of black plastic from the side of the yard, which turned out to be a much nastier job than expected. Puddles of water had collected on the plastic, and then leaves had fallen into the water and started to rot. The whole thing smelled fetid, and so did I by the time I was done shaking the leaves off the plastic (10' × 40' sheets) and wrestling it into the wheelbarrow.

I moved the plastic to the top of the slope outside the fence, along the road. It's a colossal pain in the ass to get a lawnmower up there, so we decided to plant it over with something else. Not entirely sure what. Maybe daylilies, maybe dwarf sunflowers. Sunflower seeds are expensive, at least the interesting varieties, but I guess that once you get started you can collect seeds and plant them again the next year? That would be great. But anyway, whatever we end up planting out there we have to start by killing off all the grass and weeds.

After wrestling with the foul-smelling plastic I went back to digging out vines and forsythia in the long bed that will be the vegetable garden. Between yesterday and today I got almost done another 5' section. It's slow going; those vines are tenacious. I pulled out 6' lengths of root, many times. The forsythia was more of a problem though. There's one stump that completely kicked my ass. I hacked at it with the axe until I realized that I was doing more harm to myself than to the stump. It has a few tiny nicks but it's basically intact. I have no idea how we're going to get rid of it. There's supposedly some chemical you can put on a stump to disintegrate it. But I have no idea if it works, or if it's safe for a bed that will have other plants in a few months.

I worked on the yard until I was completely wiped out, then Georg and I watched some TV: a Monty Python marathon on BBC America, and a little bit of the Mummer's Parade! They were showing it on WGN I think. For those of y'all who've never been near the Philadelphia broadcast area on New Year's Day, the Mummer's Parade is this awesome, day-long affair featuring four categories: comics, fancies, string bands and fancy brigades. Everyone wears elaborate costumes made of lame and sequins and ostrich feathers. And lots of people wear back-boards or carry umbrellas. There's a special walk called the Mummer's Strut that they do with the umbrellas.

Apparently it has some kind of connection to the medieval tradition of mummers beyond just the name. The parade website has links to a bunch of British organizations that perform mummer's plays.

We only got to see about an hour of the string bands. Luckily I had asked my folks to tape it for me so I can watch, well not the whole thing, but from noon on. So I'll get to see some of the fancies, all the string bands and all the fancy brigades. My favorites are the string bands and the fancy brigades. Although it's been a long time since I've gotten to see the clowns or the fancies, so I might like them better now. The string bands play music and do a whole performance with dancing and big props. My favorite string band that we saw did a scarecrow theme, unfortunately I forget the name of the club. The captain had a giant backboard that looked like sunflowers growing up his back! Georg's favorite did a Cajun theme. All the performers were dressed up like animals you would see in in the bayou: frogs and turtles and lobsters and crawdads. The turtle guys carried little dollies, then lay down and rolled along the pavement like turtles walking! We also saw Quaker City, who apparently win almost every year. You can really tell who has the most money: their props are bigger and nicer, their costumes are glitzier, their choreography is more professional and their music clearances are better. This time they did a patriotic theme called "United We Stand" or something. Gee, hyper-patriotic jingoism in a parade. What a concept! I bet they won too.

They do all kinds of innovative things now, but I have to admit I have a certain nostalgia for the days when they all played the same music ("Oh Them Golden Slippers" and "Putting On the Ritz" were two of the most popular) and the dance routines were all similar. Also they didn't allow women in the parade back then, which sucked, but it did provide for a long tradition of cross-dressing. For me the quintissential image of the Mummers was a Teamster in a coconut bra and grass skirt doing the hula while a bunch of guys in sequin-encrusted lame suits play "Oh Them Golden Slippers" on banjos and saxaphones. Good clean fun, Philadelphia style.

After the Mummer's Parade we made a nice dinner: salmon filets with horseradish sauce, acorn squash, and broccoli. Then we watched the fourth Zatoichi movie and then I went to sleep. If every day in 2005 is as good as that, it will be a great year.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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