Sunday, April 26, 2015

On the Road: Arlington National Cemetery

This past week, our daughter and I made our annual April visit to see my parents in Washington, DC.  The Purple Penguin is generally content to hang out with Grandma on her own which means I usually have an opportunity for my own adventures in town.  Despite growing up in the area, there was one major Washington sight I'd never gotten around to visiting: Arlington National Cemetery.  On Monday morning, I set off to rectify that.

Arlington National Cemetery is the most famous military cemetery in the United States.  Contained on the grounds are the remains of two Presidents, 367 Medal of Honor winners and surely thousands of others.  More come in nearly every day, as I was reminded by the white hearse that was leaving as I arrived.  The beautiful grounds are built upon the hill of an estate formerly owned by the legendary Confederate general, Robert E. Lee.  One can hardly help feeling moved walking amidst the endless sea of gravestones remembering those who have served, officers laid to rest alongside enlisted from the Civil War to the present.

Anyone living under the illusion that we live in a classless society would quickly be convinced otherwise at Arlington.  As one moves uphill, the markers get bigger and the ranks more impressive.  One sees a lot more generals and admirals near the top.  Even those with less distinguished military careers gained esteem as senators or captains of industry.  On the other hand, the cemetery's most revered memorial contains the remains of three soldiers who were never identified:
It was a beautiful, though warm day so I wasn't too keen to hunt down grave markers.  However, I did make a point of finding one:
Marshall never served in the military but certainly deserves his place for his extraordinary civilian service to the country.

The gravestones of Medal of Honor winners are marked, though I only saw one:
Click here to learn more about Staff Sergeant Windrich, including his award citation.

I am glad to have visited Arlington and recommend it to anyone with time and good weather in the Washington area.  The sun was certainly nice but I could have done with a cooler day.  In the visitor's center, there were some nice wintery pictures of the grounds, suggesting it might be meaningful to go again at a different time of year.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Flambé

Title: Chew, Volume Four: Flambé
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Rob Guillory
via Amazon
The excellent comic book series Chew continues with Flambé, collecting issues #16-20.  Strange writing appeared in the sky at the end of Volume Three and much of Four is devoted to unraveling that mystery.  Public reactions to the writing range from panicked lawlessness to religious fervor.  The stories continually push the edge on the disgusting but while I'm not as impressed as I was in the beginning, I'm still enjoying the series.  Layman has quite a knack for strong cliffhangers and the end of Flambé is no exception.

Half the fun of Chew is the food powers some of the characters possess and Flambé introduces a couple of new ones.  Daniel Migdalo, a former FDA agent, is a Voresoph meaning he becomes smarter the more he eats.  New character Peter Pilaf has an unnamed power which allows him to control people with food.  There's also The Vampire lurking around the periphery.  I've rather had enough of vampires in pop culture but given the overarching food theme of Chew, I suppose it's appropriate.

On the Coffee Table: Manuel Vázquez Montálban

Title: Off Side: A Pepe Carvalho Investigation
Author: Manuel Vázquez Montálban
via Amazon
Off Side is one of a series of novels the Spanish author Montálban wrote about Barcelona-based detective Pepe Carvalho.  In this story, a newly signed center forward at FC Barcelona is receiving poetic death threats.  The book was published in 1989 and reflects a time of profound transition for the city, spurred by preparations to host the 1992 Olympics.  The story also provides an intriguing view of the soccer world's underbelly.

The book's language is frequently delightful, even in translation (courtesy of Ed Emery).  A couple of my favorite passages:
As long as there are young prostitutes, there will also be contemporary art, he thought, and this thought proved to him that he had reached the desired level of alcoholic surrealism.
She was about forty-nine, but looked fifty. Carvalho had often observed that people who looked a year older than they really were were very bitter people.
However, it's less than satisfying as a mystery novel.  The reader knows everything while the detective (slight spoiler) never manages to piece much together at all (end of spoiler).  Carvalho's an endearing character, though - a bit cranky, pedantic about the things that are important to him and indifferent to the things that aren't.  He's passionate about food and its proper preparation.  Apparently, other books in the series focus more on the culinary world.

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: May 2015 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, May 29th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: April 2015

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History
Authors: Jenny Volvoski, Julia Rothman and Matt Lamothe
via Chronicle Books
Perhaps no one can claim to have achieved greatness without help from someone along the way.  The Who, the What, and the When celebrates the men, women and a dog behind some of history's legendary figures.  Each chapter is written by a different author and illustrated by a different artist.  Among the highlights for me:
  • Lulu Peyraud, mentor of Alice Waters, chef and restauranteur
  • Hiroshi Arakawa, coach of Sadaharu Oh, Japanese baseball legend
  • Michel Siegel, father of Jerry Siegel, Superman's co-creator
  • Jack Sendak, brother of Maurice Sendak, children's author extraordinaire
  • Frank Wild, right-hand man of Ernest Shackleton, explorer
  • Alma Reville, wife of Alfred Hitchcock, film director
  • Ian Stewart, the Rolling Stones' sixth man
Some of the sidekick's featured are reasonably well-known: Anne Sullivan Macy, for instance, Helen Keller's miracle worker.  For many others, I didn't even know about the front (wo)man before.  With all of the artwork, it's an extremely pretty book.  It's not the sort that makes me want to run out and learn more about all these folks but it is an easy, enjoyable read.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post May's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is May 29th.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Star Trek: The Magicks of Megas-tu

My friends and I are embarking on a new journey to watch all 22 episodes of Star Trek's animated series.  We'll be posting on Wednesdays.  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of our adventure.

Episode: "The Magicks of Megas-tu"
Series: Star Trek: The Animated Series
Season 1, Episode 8
Original Air Date: October 27, 1973
via Memory Alpha
Once again, humanity is on trial.  It's one of the franchise's favorite storylines: beings from another world demand the Enterprise crew answer for the injustices perpetuated on Earth centuries before.  This time, our friends encounter Lucien, a not-so-thinly-veiled Lucifer.  The demon brings them down to the planet Megas-tu where the inhabitants hold them to account for the Salem Witch Trials. 

"The Magicks of Megas-tu" was originally pitched for TOS but was rejected.  The episode generally fares very well with critics for its dazzling visuals and the morality play.  I don't think I'd rank it among my favorites so far but I enjoyed it.


In the original story concept, our friends were supposed to meet God rather than Satan.  For whatever reason, the latter was an easier sell to network executives.  Interestingly, Larry Brody, the episode's writer, had been faced with a similar situation while working on the show Police Story.  NBC was alright with the depiction of sex between a man and his mistress but NOT between a man and his wife. 

Lucien was voiced by James Doohan.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants.  Next week: "Once Upon a Planet."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Family Movie Night: Rififi

Title: Rififi
Director: Jules Dassin
Original Release: 1955
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Rififi was American director Jules Dassin's first film in five years after being blacklisted in Hollywood.  Based on Auguste Le Breton's novel Du rififi chez les hommes, the movie tells the story of a beautifully executed jewelry heist that unravels disastrously afterwards.  The robbery itself has inspired several copycat crimes in the real world since.

Parts of the story are riveting: the heist, of course, and also the final act involving the abduction of a child.  The character development that fills the rest of the time is less compelling.  The men are all rotten.  The women are all blameless and treated horribly.  Black-and-white footage of 1950s Paris is quite satisfying.