Wednesday, June 19, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Mark Twain

Title: The Prince and the Pauper
Author: Mark Twain

Prince Edward of England accidentally switch places with his doppelganger, Tom Canty, whose life of poverty and brutality on the streets of London could hardly be less like his own.  The plot thickens when the King, Henry VIII, dies and Edward must succeed him.  The novel, first serialized in 1881, was Mark Twain's first historical fiction work.  The already famous author wrote the book after his second European publicity tour.

Tom's adjustment to life in the royal court is mostly comical.  All of his attendants attribute his evident amnesia to madness.  But he adapts and, indeed, grows to like his new station quite a lot.  Who wouldn't?  Edward's transition is a lot more perilous.  Miraculously, he survives Tom's abusive father long enough to be rescued by Miles Hendon, a down-on-his-luck nobleman.  When Edward and Miles are soon separated, the prince turned pauper is exposed to the darker side of pre-Elizabethan England.

Through both stories is woven a quest for justice.  Both boys witness, from opposite perspectives, the unfairness of the criminal justice system.  Each, while acting as King, exacts reforms.

As I have written before, I love Mark Twain.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is certainly one of my all-time favorites.  I've also read Tom Sawyer, The Mysterious Stranger, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, parts of Life on the Mississippi and Innocents Abroad as well as numerous short stories.  This was my first time reading The Prince and the Pauper.  It shares theme with other Twain works.  For a time, Edward falls in with a gang of thieves, clearly a fantasy the author likes to indulge - a midwesterner's version of pirate tales.  

Most interesting to me, the Miles Hendon character serves a similar narrative function to that of Jim in Huck Finn.  Both men rescue their respective protagonists from abusive fathers and save the boys' lives numerous times over the course of the books.  The psychological insight revealed in these relationships is ahead of its time.  It's much discussed in education and other industries focused on children: a child with a troubled life can survive and even thrive with the help of just one adult (can't be a parent) who cares about them and believes in them.

There's more Twain on my shelves.  I'm looking forward to spending more time with his work.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Squid Mixes: Manhasset

A Manhasset combines rye, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth and lemon juice with a lemon twist.  Essentially, it's a Perfect Manhattan with lemon juice rather than bitters.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  I assume it's named after the town in Long Island but I couldn't find anything regarding etymology.

The recipe contains a misprint.  It calls for 1/2 part of dry vermouth and 1/2 part of sweet but the actual measurements list the dry at 1/4 oz. and the sweet at 1/2 oz.  Quick internet research wasn't especially helpful either.  Some had the two equal, some favored the dry, others the sweet.  So, I went with Punt e Mes, a combination of both and my wife's favorite vermouth anyway.  

The result was quite nice.  I generally favor whiskey drinks, my wife lemony wins so this is a good one for pleasing both of us.  I'm not sure either of us would take it in favor of a Manhattan or a Sidecar but it's still a good one to have in the repertoire.  

Our child gave me a most thoughtful Father's Day gift: a magnifying glass I can keep in the kitchen.  As I get older and my eyes get weaker, it has become increasingly challenging to read fractions in drink recipe books.  It has already come in handy.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Star Trek: Eye of the Needle

Episode: "Eye of the Needle"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 7
Original Air Date: February 20, 1995

The Voyager crew discover a wormhole, one that leads back to the Alpha Quadrant!  Could it be a way home?  There are two problems (initially): the opening is only a few centimeters wide, obviously not enough for the ship to get through.  Also, it connects directly to the heart of Romulan space.  Even so, a plan is hatched.  Using a probe as a relay, they should be able to transport the entire crew to a Romulan ship on the other side.

Without a doubt, this is Voyager's best story so far, perhaps even the first great episode of the series.  Even (especially?) in speculative fiction, the most effective narratives connect with the audience on an emotional level.  "Eye of the Needle" toys with a particularly vulnerable emotion: hope.  It's the first episode to deal meaningfully with the toll taken on a group of people lost and far from home.  Even though I, as the viewer, know perfectly well there are still six more seasons to go after this one and the gang doesn't actually make it back until the end (spoiler), the characters don't know that.  We see the hope on their faces - even for Torres, who professes not to care - and we see it snatched away.  100% relatable and perfectly executed.

There's more.  Their contact on the other side of the wormhole is the captain of a Romulan science vessel named Telek R'Mor.  At first, he is skeptical and really, who can blame him?  Once Janeway convinces him they are who they say they are and, more importantly, they are where they say they are, he reluctantly agrees to help them.  The encounter is a welcome and likely intentional contrast with the Enterprise's experience in "Balance of Terror."  Telek R'Mor is a multi-dimensional Romulan.  As a scientist, he is genuinely impressed by our heroes' technological achievements.  Janeway is ultimately able to win him over partly by appealing to his devotion to family.  By the end of the story, he is willing - perhaps even proud - to serve as their champion.

As if that weren't enough, there's a rewarding Kes-Doctor story, too.  To say Kes has quickly become a capable medical assistant would be a gross understatement.  She has a remarkable memory and is eager to learn.  She has also noticed how disrespectful the rest of the crew is towards the Doctor and brings the problem to the captain.  Janeway is at first reluctant to take on the problem but Kes convinces her.  The Kes-Doctor relationship is the first on the show to exhibit genuine warmth.  Full credit to both actors.  In a touching moment, the episode ends with the Doctor expressing a desire for a name.  The idea evolves into a running gag over the course of the series but in the moment, it's very sweet.

It's a solid episode, first minute to last.

Acting Notes

Robert Picardo (Doctor) was born in Philadelphia, October 27, 1953.  He went to Yale, initially for pre-med but he ultimately graduated with a degree in drama.  He has solid music credentials, too.  He sang with the prestigious Society of Orpheus and Bacchus at Yale and also performed a major role in the European premiere of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass."  

Picardo hit Broadway in 1977, first in Gemini, then in Tribute.  Among the Voyager principals, he probably had the best on-screen resume coming into the gig with a regular cast role on China Beach and recurring roles on Alice and The Wonder Years.  Pre-Trek films included Innerspace, Gremlins 2 and Total Recall (voice role).

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Squid Eats: Flavors of India

via Flavors of India

A new Indian restaurant is always an exciting thing.  We recently visited Flavors of India in Essex Junction for the first time.  It's right across the street from the railroad station, a location with good visibility but I wonder how many people are actually stopping in.  We met friends there at 6 on a Friday and we were the only customers.  

The offerings are standard (for the US) Indian fare.  We ordered a fairly typical assortment to share: naan, chicken tikka masala, lamb mango, saag paneer, vegetable biryani.  Interestingly, nearly everything on the printed menu lists cashews among the ingredients - a no-no given my allergies.  Fortunately, they were able to make adjustments.  The same is not true for the online menu.  I wonder if that's intentional or if they're even aware of the discrepancy.  It's BYOB so we brought our own beer and cider.  The kid had hot tea.

Food, service and decor were all fine.  We'll definitely be back.  It may, in fact, be our closest India place so it could be a reasonable takeout choice, too.  I do worry about the lack of customers.  I hope they survive a while. 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Star Trek: Destiny

Episode: "Destiny"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 14
Original Air Date: February 13, 1995

In a joint project, scientists from Bajor, Cardassia and the Federation are working to establish a permanent communications link through the wormhole.  But a Bajoran prophecy warns of trouble.  Commander Sisko, still uncomfortable with being identified as the Emissary, must navigate tricky waters through the political and religious complications.

Sisko's personal journey from denial to acceptance of his role as Emissary is an essential theme of the series from first episode to last.  In the broader sense, his attitude defines his relationship with the Bajorans.  On a more personal level, it impacts his relationship with Major Kira and ultimately of course, his understanding of himself.  In "Destiny," as the prophecy appears to come true, we see one of the first sparks of belief for Sisko.

I'm not a huge fan of the Emissary arc.  It's meaningful and well-executed, yet it makes me uncomfortable.  Part of it is my own non-religious life experience, I have to admit.  But I'm also wary of Star Trek overemphasizing the importance of the individual in any story.  It feels un-Trek to me.  Wesley's chosen one narrative in joining the Traveler: not a fan.  The god-like importance attached to a young Spock in Season 2 of Discovery: not a fan.  Such matters are more the realm of Doctor Who, Marvel comics, Star Wars... to me, they feel out of place in Star Trek.  

Acting Notes

Tracy Scoggins played the role of Gliora Rejal, a Cardassian scientist who takes a liking to our man, Miles O'Brien.  Scoggins was born in Galveston County, Texas, November 13, 1953.  Scoggins was an accomplished child athlete, winning diving championships by age nine and swimming medals by 13.  She was on the varsity gymnastics team at Southwest Texas State University and nearly qualified for the US Olympic diving team.  She graduated from college with a degree in physical education.

After college, she was recruited by a modeling agency, working in both New York and Europe.  Her first acting job was a guest appearance on Dukes of Hazzard.  Regular roles on The Renegades and Hawaiian Heat, both short-lived series, soon followed.  She found her way to the Dynasty franchise, in which she was cast in the role of Monica Colby, appearing in two episodes of the parent show, then all 49 episodes of the spinoff, The Colbys.  She was also a regular for a time on both Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Babylon 5.  Films include The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Popstar and The Cutter.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Squid Eats: Paradiso Hi Fi Lounge

I have a new favorite restaurant in Vermont.  Paradiso Hi Fi describes itself as "a listening lounge with creative cocktail and culinary programming in Burlington."  The cuisine is "New England-inspired."  Take that to mean what you will.  The result is awfully tasty.  My wife and I have been a few times now.  Our most recent visit was our first time bringing our child.

The food menu includes small plates and large plates, intended to be shared - recommendation is two plates per person.  This time, we got pickles, sourdough pull apart rolls and smoked bluefish drop dumplings for small plates and rhubarb and fennel salad, green onion gnudi and rack of lamb for the large.  The combo made for good balances with hot/cold, meat/veggie/starch and sweet/savory/sour.  My wife's a big lamb fan but not always easily pleased at restaurants.  She said she could have eaten about three of the rack of lamb plates.  Dessert was good, too.  We got one of each from the menu: preserved blueberry tart for my wife, honey cake and fly me to the moon, a root beer float made with rye bread ice cream, for me.  A stunning meal all around.

Rye bread is clearly a favorite flavor for the chef.  The best item we've had at the restaurant involved a rye bread sauce.  I don't even remember what the main feature of the dish was supposed to be.  That sauce was the star.

A DJ spins vinyl to accompany the meal - the music is pleasant, though hardly conventional.  On a previous visit, we were introduced to a fascinating Japanese prog rock band called Kikagaku Moyo.  I recommend you check out their song "Smoke and Mirrors."  We were hoping the music would be a hit with the kid but they found it a bit too loud.  

The drink menu is fun, too, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  Most of the drinks are named after songs or are otherwise music-inspired: Yacht Rock, Push It, The Policy of Truth, etc.  I ordered a beer, something I've decided to do more often in restaurants.  I feel it's more cost-effective than cocktails.  Unfortunately, all of the beers on offer were in cans.  I'd have made a different choice if I'd known.

Wait staff is highly attentive.  I really like the vibe of the place, though I can understand how the music might not please everyone.  The price is on the higher side so while I have no problem claiming Paradiso Hi Fi as my new area favorite, there are better value choices around.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Star Trek: The Cloud

Episode: "The Cloud"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 6
Original Air Date: February 13, 1995

via Memory Alpha

Given Voyager's predicament, addressing limited supplies is going to be a major factor in long-term survival.  Last week, it was the search for dilithium that lead to trouble.  This week, our friends encounter a nebula which is rich in omicron particles, a resource essential to their power reserves.  Of course, this is Star Trek and the nebula is not what it seems.  It is a living organism and our heroes have inadvertently caused it injury.  They do their best to make things right.

The series's most famous line is featured in "The Cloud," delivered by Captain Janeway: "There's coffee in that nebula."  The line was repeated by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station in 2015.

"The Cloud" is a significant world-building episode, the world aboard ship, that is.  The broad theme is Janeway finding her proper role among the crew, a role certainly complicated by circumstances.  Tom Paris recreates a Marseille pool hall, Chez Sandrine, on the holodeck which becomes a favored social hangout spot for the crew.  The captain joins the gang at the end of the story, setting an important contrast with Jean-Luc Picard's reluctance to join the officers' poker game until the final scene of the final TNG episode.  Janeway is pretty good with a cue in her hands, too.  Kate Mulgrew did her own "stunts" at the pool table.

Janeway and Chakotay attain a new level of (platonic) intimacy as Chakotay guides the captain in a vision quest to find her spirit animal.  The writers were cautious in utilizing Chakotay's Native American heritage.  They wanted to be respectful, not playing too much on stereotypes.  They walked a thin line with the vision quest idea but I think it works here.

Neelix promotes himself to Ship Morale Officer, bringing hors d'oeuvres to the bridge during a tense moment.  Comic relief?  I suppose - still more than a tad annoying.  And frankly, The Doctor trying to get everyone's attention on the view screen (see image above) is much funnier.  In a more revealing scene, Neelix goes on a brief tirade to Kes about the crew's general recklessness:

"These people are natural born idiots if you ask me. They don't appreciate what they have here. This ship is the match of any vessel within a hundred light years and what do they do with it? Well, uh, let's see if we can't find some space anomaly today that might RIP IT APART!"

While Kes manages to calm him down, Neelix is not exactly wrong in expressing his concerns.  Perhaps the idea was for him to share what could just as easily be going through an audience member's mind from time to time.

A couple random thoughts for the road...

  • I've often found Kate Mulgrew's voice a bit grating but I've come to hear it in a new light (mixed metaphor - sorry).  Imagine Katharine Hepburn as Kathryn Janeway and it works just fine.
  • How did cast and crew manage having three Roberts in the principal cast?  The answer (thank you, Google): Robert Beltran (Chakotay) was referred to as "Robert," Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris) was "Robbie" and Robert Picardo (The Doctor) has evidently always gone by "Bob."

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Robert Duncan McNeill was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, November 9, 1964.  He attended the Julliard School in New York.  In 1986, he scored the role of Charlie Brent on All My Children, the fourth of six actors to play the character over a 24-year period.  He also appeared with Stockard Channing on Broadway in Six Degrees of Separation.  He made guest appearances in The Twilight Zone, L.A. Law and Quantum Leap.  He'd previously appeared on Star Trek as Nick Locarno in "The First Duty" as previously discussed here.

Since Voyager, most of his high profile work has been in producing and directing, notably for Chuck, Resident Alien and Turner & Hooch.