Sunday, June 30, 2013

Family Movie Night: The Man Who Knew Too Little

Title: The Man Who Knew Too Little
Director: Jon Amiel
Original Release: 1997
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

They can't all be winners.  Generally, we do pretty well with our Family Movie Night picks but every once in a while, a stinker.  I take full responsibility for this one.  It has its moments, and we'll get to those, but The Man Who Knew Too Little is a fine example of a high-concept film gone awry.

The title is a spoof on Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much but the plot is actually closer to North by Northwest.  Bill Murray plays the part of Wally, a goofy, well-meaning American who pays a surprise visit to his brother in London.  Through a series of misunderstandings, Wally is mistaken for a hitman involved in an espionage conspiracy.  To complicate matters further, Wally is not aware of the mistake.  Madcap adventures ensue.

As mentioned above, the film is not without redeeming qualities.  The opening credit sequence - a lost art in 21st century cinema - is very nicely done.  Bill Murray is dependably funny and the rest of the cast is adequate if not spectacular.  In hindsight, I might have picked a different film to introduce Our Girl to Murray's work but he is amusing.  There's a fun Russian folk dancing scene just before the story's climax. 

The trouble lies in narrative development.  I'm generally alright with plot complexity but I decided fairly early on that I didn't particularly care what happened next - never a good sign.  Wally's naïveté could be endearing if executed properly but in the end, I was just disappointed in him.  Interest wavered for all three of us throughout.

Better luck next time, Squid.

Wimbledon 2013: The Middle Sunday

Bernard Tomic is tennis's resident bad boy.  The 20-year-old is currently the top-ranked Australian man on the ATP tour and he's into the second week of Wimbledon for the second time in his career.  At his best, he looks like the sort of player who could challenge for Major titles for years to come, especially on faster surfaces.  At his worst...  well, his worst is pretty bad.  He has walked off the court in protest in one match and been accused of tanking in others.  He's had legal troubles away from the court, too.
Photo via Bernard Tomic

Tomic's biggest problem is his father, the proverbial nightmare tennis parent.  In May, John Tomic attacked his son's hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, outside of a hotel in Madrid, leaving Drouet with a broken nose, a cut above the eye requiring stitches and a bruised neck.  As a result, the elder Tomic was banned from the grounds at the French Open and also Wimbledon.  The father-son relationship is so toxic that Bernard once approached a chair umpire and asked that his father be tossed from the stands (not granted).

I've never been a fan of the bad boys in tennis or any sport but it's hard not to feel some compassion for Bernard Tomic.  He's hardly the first athlete to have daddy issues but few have had to endure them in the glaring view of the public as he has.  He's an adult now and responsible from his actions.  One hopes for his sake and that of the sport that a heavy dose of maturity will see him through to brighter days.

Tomic has had a good Wimbledon so far.  He's taken out two seeds: Richard Gasquet (9th seed, France) and Sam Querrey (21st, USA).  He faces former finalist Tomas Berdych (7th seed, Czech Republic) in his next match. 

Yes, I am going to gloss right over the big story of the past week: the early round demises of both Roger Federer (3rd, Switzerland) and Rafael Nadal (5th, Spain), winners of nine of the past ten Wimbledons between them.  Actually, I will say this much: no one should be surprised that neither (especially Fed) is the player he once was.  There are also still chapters yet to be written for both.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: July 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, July 26th.  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, June 28, 2013

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 2013

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: Macbeth: The Folio Edition
Writer: William Shakespeare
Artist: Von
Image via Sprezzatura Macbeth

My exposure to Shakespeare began in the second grade when the sixth graders put on a much-abridged performance of Macbeth for the school.  Perhaps because it was my first, Macbeth has always been my favorite of The Bard's plays.  Then again, there is so much to like about The Scottish Play.  Murder, intrigue, insanity, power lust, dark magic - what's not for a boy to love?

We read the play in high school, of course.  Surely, everyone in the English-speaking world does.  The real treat of that experience, though, was a school trip to the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre in Washington to see the tragedy performed live.  The production was mesmerizing.  The scene with Banquo's ghost - accomplished literally with smoke and mirrors - will stay with me for life.

Shakespeare has become a big part of my life over the past several months. My teaching partner, Drama Guy, is an extremely gifted educator who has done a great deal to reinvigorate my own career over the past two years.  He is also a Shakespeare nut.  This spring, we co-directed Romeo and Juliet at the middle school where we both work.

In each of the past three years, Drama Guy has produced Shakespeare plays at the high school with tremendous success.  This was his first time trying it with middle schoolers.  While my drama chops are not up to DG's level, literary analysis is very much in my wheelhouse.  I spent a lot of time with the students helping them understand their lines.  The process had its ups and downs, of course, but I was quite sad to see it all come to an end.  Usually, I'm relieved when a performance is over.  I ran the light board for the show and actually got a bit teary as I brought the lights down on the Prince for the very last time.

Part of my wistfulness was over the students, of course.  The cast were wonderful and quite a lot of the more talented ones will be moving on to high school next year.  The ones who put the most work in definitely got a lot out of it.  I also realized when it was over that I was going to miss Shakespeare.  I've read a few Shakespearean plays and seen several more performed but this was easily my most intimate interaction with his language. I don't think it's possible to work that closely with the material without being affected by it. The thought of taking on a similar project with a younger, less experienced cast next year is daunting but we're cautiously optimistic. We're both keen to try them on Macbeth!

My Wife has had this comic book version of Macbeth since high school.  Von's interpretation, which includes the full text, is long out of print - a shame because it's very nicely done.  Reading Shakespeare in graphic novel form feels a bit closer to a stage performance than mere text on the page.  Missing are the annotations one would find in a Folger edition or similar but the illustrations help provide context.  From a comic reading perspective, panel- and text bubble order are occasionally confusing.  I am eager for more Shakespeare in general and will certainly seek out more graphic novels.  John McDonald has a series that looks promising.

Any other Shakespeare enthusiasts out there?  If so, you must check out Shakespeare Uncovered, an outstanding PBS series from this past winter.  If you're looking for a good film version of Macbeth, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood is excellent.

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 July's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is July 26th.

Monday, June 24, 2013

On the Coffee Table: Raina Telgemeier

Title: Drama
Author and Artist: Raina Telgemeier
Image via NPR

A music teacher by trade, I've recently become more involved with the drama program at the middle school where I teach.  I was officially co-director for two plays this year: Annie in the fall and Romeo and Juliet in the spring.  I say "officially" because in nearly all theatre matters, I defer to my more experienced teaching partner.  We shall call him Drama Guy.

Drama Guy and I share an office.  One day, he dropped this book on my desk, saying "I don't give a lot of gifts but I saw this at the book store yesterday and thought you might enjoy it."  Drama is the story of Callie, a seventh grade girl who works as the set designer for her middle school's drama department. Telgemeier's graphic novel provides a light-hearted glimpse into the often terrifying world of adolescence.  All of the usual he-said/she-said insecurities abound but Callie thrives in her drama club family.

My own theatrical experiences are very limited.  I only did one play in high school and that was plenty.  There were many reasons why but in the final analysis, it was pretty simple: I didn't like the actors at my school very much.  The musicians, on the other hand - I liked them a lot.  Even the actors who were my close friends were usually musicians first, actors second.

I did, however, have a lot of friends in the stage crew.  Now that my life has taken this new interesting turn, I regret not taking advantage of such opportunities when I was younger.  Better late than never, I suppose.

I like a lot of things about this book.  Callie is a very believable character - not too pretty, not too plain, just normal.  She's a good friend but far from perfect.  Her drive to succeed, to leave no problem unsolved is highly admirable.  She has predictable obsessions with finding a boyfriend but the story resolves the issue in an unexpected and satisfying way.  Her friends' revelations of sexual preference are handled gently and realistically - as matter of fact rather than taboo.

As soon as I'm done with this reflection, I'll be handing the book to my daughter.  I think she'll enjoy it.  She's drawn to strong female leads and Callie certainly fits the bill.  I have also suspected for some time that a long-term interest in theatre is inevitable once she has the opportunity.  It combines all of the things she loves: stories, art, music, dance, etc.  A recent interest in textile arts has developed.  She asked for and received a sewing machine for Christmas.  The costume designer, Liz, is Callie's best friend and I think Our Girl would be excited to see such possibilities for her own future.

Baseball Tunes: We Are Family

The disco classic "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge was released in September of 1979, right in the middle of baseball's pennant race.  Willie Stargell, star of the Pittsburgh Pirates, claimed the song as an anthem for his team.  The Pirates went on to win their division by two games, sweep the NLCS and beat the heavily-favored Orioles in the World Series in seven games.  Memories of the '79 Pirates are forever inextricably linked to the song.

My own favorite use of the song is the opening shot of The Birdcage. Pure cinema magic:

My Baseball Fantasy

Vermont League: won, 5-4-1 (66-44-10 overall, 1st place out of 12 teams)
Maryland League: tied, 5-5 (59-54-7, 4th of 10)
Public League: 85.5 Rotisserie points (2nd of 12)
My Player of the Week: David Wright (Third Baseman, Mets) with 3 home runs, 5 RBI, 5 runs and a .361 batting average

Photo via

Wimbledon 2013: My Picks

Just as I did with Roland Garros, I'm taking a safe pick on the men's side and a long shot on the women's.

Men's Singles Champion: Novak Djokovic (1st seed, Serbia)
Photo via Audemars Piguet

As the top seed and a former champion (2011), the Djoker would be a solid choice to take the title even if the draw gods had not smiled upon him.  But smile they did.  The rest of the Big Four - Andy Murray (2nd, UK), Roger Federer (3rd, Switzerland) and Rafael Nadal (5th, Spain) - are all on the other side of the draw.  As such, Djokovic won't have to play any of them before the final.  He is nowhere near the lock that Rafa is in Paris but he should be the man to beat.

Women's Singles Champion: Na Li (6th, China)
Photo via TopNews

Because picking Serena Williams (1st, USA) is too easy right now.  For starters, the Williams sisters own Wimbledon.  Venus and Serena have each won the singles title five times and they've also won the doubles title together five times.  Venus isn't playing this year so Serena isn't entered in the doubles draw which means she'll be well-rested.  Plus, the 31-year-old is playing as well as she has in years, having just come off a title run at the French.  Picking against her is crazy.  I'm just the guy to do it...

Na Li is one of my favorites, a thoroughly charming player who has proven she can win Slams given the chance.  Her title at Roland Garros in 2011 was one of the best stories in tennis of the past few years.  If Williams stays hot, no one else stands a chance.  If she falls, someone's gotta be there to pick up the pieces.  Why not Li?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Family Movie Night: Pinocchio

Title: Pinocchio
Directors: Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney and Bill Roberts
Original Release: 1940
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

I first saw Pinocchio as a young child at the Kennedy Center back when it was home to the American Film Institute.    The part I always remembered best from that early viewing was Geppetto out searching for Pinocchio in his nightgown.  The Disney classic is based on The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.  Initially a commercial flop, Pinocchio survived to become one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time.

Geppetto is an old, lonely wood-carver.  One day he builds a puppet named Pinocchio and wishes that he might become a real boy.  A fairy comes while the old man sleeps and grants the wish... sort of.  Pinocchio is alive enough to move without strings but in order to become a real boy, he must prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish. 

While the thematic material of the early Disney films is quite dated in 2013, the cel animation is  stunning.  Today's CGI works cannot match the depth and texture of Pinocchio.  The movie's most lasting legacy, however, is its music.  Pinocchio won two Academy Awards: best original score and best song.  "When You Wish upon a Star" would become the iconic song of the entire Disney empire.

I like this Bill Evans rendition a lot:

On the Coffee Table: Marjane Satrapi

Title: Chicken with Plums
Author and Artist: Marjane Satrapi
Image via Of Books and Reading

Satrapi is the creator of the seminal Persepolis, an autobiographical comic series originally published in French which became an international publishing and film sensation (my review here).  Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux Prunes in French) tells the story of the final days in the life of Nasser Ali Khan, a relative of Satrapi's. Whereas Persepolis was serialized, Chicken with Plums was published whole as a graphic novel.

The story is dark, both literally and figuratively.  Khan is a professional musician in 1958 Tehran, a master of the tar, a traditional Iranian plucked string instrument.  He goes into a depression spiral when his wife breaks his treasured tar in a fit of rage.

(Ethnomusicological aside: the similarity in the words guitar, tar and sitar - not to mention the similarities in those instruments' designs - is not coincidental.  We have the Islamic Empire to thank for that - as well as many other substantial contributions to world culture.)

Eventually, Khan decides he wants to die. Rather than taking the direct approach to suicide, he secludes himself in his bedroom, waiting for death to come to him.  Over the course of eight days, we learn the causes of his misery - mainly a lost love from his youth and a marriage to a woman for whom he has little if any affection.  The confrontation with mortality is both deeply personal and heartbreaking for all involved.

A high proportion of the panels are set against a black background.  Nearly all of the characters are in dark clothing as well, occasionally even depicted in silhouette. One of the most chilling images of the book is of a family sitting around the television watching news of the Iran-Iraq war breaking out - black silhouettes against a black background.

If you are new to Satrapi's work, I'd recommend beginning with PersepolisChicken with Plums is a worthy follow-up.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

On the Coffee Table: Tom Swift

Title: Chief Bender's Burden
Author: Tom Swift
Image via University of Nebraska Press

Charles Albert Bender (1884-1954) was the go-to pitcher on one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball: the Philadelphia Athletics club that won four American League pennants and three World Series titles between 1910 and 1914.  When legendary manager Connie Mack needed a big win, Bender was his first choice to take the mound.  Then, after one terrible game, Game 1 of the '14 World Series, everything fell apart.  Bender started the day as one of the most reliable players in the sport.  At the end of the day, he was a has-been.  It is one of the cruelest, most mystifying tales in the game.  As Swift's biography clearly attests, the reality was more complicated.

The Chief Bender story is about a lot more than baseball.  Bender was a member of the Ojibwa tribe, thus the sadly inevitable nickname.  While not the first Native American in Major League baseball, he was almost certainly the most successful.  Racial prejudice was a fact of his life from beginning to end.  An alumnus of the now infamous Carlisle Indian School, Bender endured taunts and slurs from players, fans and journalists throughout his career.  Even the obituary writers couldn't resist.  "Chief Bender Answers Call to Happy Hunting Grounds," wrote The Sporting News.

Swift's account is very engaging.  The story is told in medias res, interspersing tales of that fateful day in 1914 with summaries of earlier triumphs.  As a result, it's occasionally confusing to remember which game is presently under examination.  Regardless, the point is clearly made: Bender was a phenomenal pitcher and his "one bad day" and its aftermath were the culmination of numerous external factors.  His baseball contemporaries held him in very high regard.  Ty Cobb, one of history's most notoriously bigoted athletes, considered him the most intelligent pitcher he'd ever faced.  Discussion of his life after pitching is relatively brief, but warming.  Bender managed to stay in the sport in one capacity or another for the rest of his life and was remembered with affectionate admiration by those who knew him. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On the Coffee Table: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi

Title: Oishinbo: A la Carte - Volume 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Writer: Tetsu Kariya
Artist: Akira Hanasaki
Image via VIZ MANGA

Early on in my Japan adventure, my supervisor took me out for dinner in Tokyo.  "You know how they say there are about 40 different words for snow in Inuit?" he asked. "The arctic gets so much snow that one word to cover all of the different kinds of snow is inadequate.  It's the same with Japanese and fish.  We eat a lot of it.  That's why we have so many more different words for fish than English does."

Had I been in a more argumentative mood, I might have pointed out that England is also an insular, seafaring nation with great piscatorial appetites.  I kept a diplomatic silence because 1) he was an awfully nice guy, 2) he was feeding me and 3) the whiskey sours had me very merry indeed.  He could have told me he was the Emperor and I'd have nodded politely.

Over time, of course, I would learn that he was absolutely right.  It's not just the matter of words for different species.  All modern languages have that, I imagine.  Japanese has at least five separate words just for tuna, representing different parts of the animal.  Fish names vary by region, by stage of life, by preparation, and on and on.  Seafood is truly a way of life for the entire nation and the language reflects that.

Volume 4 of the Oishinbo: A la Carte series focuses on this central aspect of Japanese cuisine.  Many Japanese believe that any fish worth eating is best eaten raw so most of the book is devoted to sushi and sashimi.  However, grilling and frying techniques are also explored.  To the creators' credit, they do not shy away from concerns about parasites in raw fish.

As I wrote in my review of the first three volumes, the overarching story of the series is not particularly interesting.  It's the food that keeps me coming back for more.  Descriptions of dishes like grilled salmon skin and shinko sushi genuinely make me salivate.  Oishinbo especially piques my curiosity about regional cuisines, something I certainly did not explore adequately while I was there.  Perhaps someday.  Books will have to do for now.  They're a lot cheaper than plane tickets!

On the Coffee Table: The Playboy

Title: The Playboy: A Comic-Strip Memoir
Writer and Artist: Chester Brown
Image via Drawn and Quarterly

The Playboy collects issues #21-23 of Yummy Fur, a comic book series I first discovered as part of this year's A-Z Challenge.  The story, originally entitled Disgust, chronicles Chester's 15-year-old adventures with the magazine, Playboy.  While the content is certainly adult-themed, there's substance to the narrative - not just pure smut.

Brown's autobiographical work is frequently sexual in nature.  Anyone who has ever been or known a 15-year-old boy (or girl, for that matter), is well aware of the preoccupation with sexual identity inherent in that age.  Chester certainly finds gratification in images of naked women but his pleasure is accompanied by deep shame, fear and embarrassment.  His efforts to hide his magazines from his parents and whatever other probing eyes he contrives are thoroughly documented.  In one memorable panel, Chester encounters his neighbors while trying to hide the Playboy issue he'd just bought.  He is tiny, while the adults loom above him - more appropriate to the perspective of a small child than that of a teenager.

Image via Wikipedia

While current pop culture usually portrays the male psyche as the slobbering, urge-driven hound, the truth is a lot more complicated.  Brown's frankness is startling, yet refreshing.  I'm glad to have read I Never Liked You (collecting Yummy Fur #26-30) first, though I now also understand elements of the later story better.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Baseball Tunes: Go, Cubs, Go

Steve Goodman, folk singer and lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, wrote the song "Go, Cubs, Go" in 1984 at the request of WGN, the team's broadcast partner.


In 1981, Goodman had written "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" about the team's long history of futility (last World Series championship in 1908 - the longest title drought of any team in US professional sports).  Baseball people being notoriously superstitious, the Cubs had banned him from performing it at Wrigley Field.  In the video, he is playing from one of the nearby "Wrigley rooftops" - not actually on stadium grounds:


In September of that same season of '84, Goodman died of leukemia at the age of 36.  Four days later, the Cubs clinched their first playoff berth since 1945.  In the years since, "Go, Cubs, Go" has at various times been the official team song and the official victory song.  In April 1988, some of Goodman's ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field.

My Baseball Fantasy

Vermont League: won, 6-4 (61-40-9 overall, 1st place out of 12 teams)
Maryland League: lost, 3-7 (54-49-7, 5th of 10)
Public League: 87 Rotisserie points (2nd of 12)
My Player of the Week: Carlos Gonzalez (Left Fielder, Rockies) with 3 home runs, 6 runs, 8 RBI, 1 stolen base and a .476 batting average

Photo via Colorado Pro Sports

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Family Movie Night: Beauty and the Beast

Title: Beauty and the Beast
Director: Jean Cocteau
Original Release: 1946
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

Numerous films have been based on the traditional fairy tale, Beauty in the Beast.  The Family Movie Night favorite at our house is Jean Cocteau's 1946 classic, La Belle et la Bête in French.  Cocteau was a 20th century renaissance man, a master of numerous art forms: poetry, novels, plays, art and film among others.  Cocteau's films, including Beauty and the Beast, were ahead of their time in the use of visual effects to create ethereal, dreamlike sequences.  The technology was, of course, quite primitive by 21st century standards but the more basic camera tricks were no less effective.  My favorite scene is Belle's father's entrance into the Beast's castle:

While the visuals are undeniably stunning, I find the story's pacing to be uneven, thus a 3 rating and not higher.  The (over)acting's quite stylized, not unusual for the era.  Both leads are beautiful: Josette Day as Belle and Jean Marais (Cocteau's lover of 25 years and star of several of the director's most famous films) as Beast/Avenant.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • The film is subtitled, a treat for Our Girl as she kept asking My Wife about the French.  It would seem I'm not the only one who's become more interested in the language from recent travels to Quebec.  I don't know if it cut into the enjoyment of the movie for My Wife but I thought it was sweet.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the Coffee Table: Oishinbo

Title: Oishinbo: A la Carte -
- Volume 1: Japanese Cuisine
- Volume 2: Sake
- Volume 3: Ramen & Gyoza
Writer: Tetsu Kariya
Artist: Akira Hanasaki
Image via Amazon

Oishinbo is a long-running cooking manga, first published in 1983, with 109 issues and counting. The English translation has been compiled in a themed, greatest hits format.  Each collection focuses on a particular area of Japanese cuisine without regard to the overarching story.
Image via Amazon

Yamaoka is a food journalist placed in charge of the Ultimate Menu project for Tozai News.  Kurita is his partner on the project who eventually becomes his wife.  Yamaoka's nemisis is Kaibara who is also, rather inconveniently, his father and culinary mentor.  Father-son relations are strained, to put it mildly, and the conflict is the main vehicle by which cooking philosophies are explored.
Image via Manga Worth Reading

Frequent visitors to The Squid already know the significance of Japan in my life.  I've spent five years of my life in the Tokyo-Yokohama area - two as an adult and three as a child.  My time teaching English in Japan was undoubtedly the formative experience of my young adulthood.  Nothing pulls at the nostalgic heartstrings for me like thoughts of Japanese food.  I certainly couldn't afford much in the way of fine dining while I was there but memories of even the daily staples are transporting.  As such, these three volumes frequently left me both wistful and salivating.

Oishinbo pre-dates and undoubtedly influenced another manga series we've enjoyed: The Drops of God (reviews here, here, here and here).  Story parallels are obvious: a male-female culinary puzzle-solving duo, significant Daddy issues and so forth.  There are also similar patterns in the visual presentation.  Most of the story is in a fairly cartoonish style.  Close-up images of the food, on the other hand, are more realistic and richly detailed.  Similar contrasts are used for the wine bottles in Drops of God.

While the discussions of food and drink are wonderfully engaging, the broader story isn't worth too much.  Character development is minimal and plot lines formulaic.  Occasionally, the series tries rather clumsily to tackle serious issues such as alcoholism and cultural insensitivity.  In terms of story, Drops of God is the superior manga.  However, any food geek will find plenty to love.  Cuisine is a wonderful window into the soul of a culture and Oishinbo reveals much in terms of the Japanese view of themselves and their place in global society.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Baseball Tunes: O Canada

"O Canada" is, of course, Canada's national anthem. The music was composed by Calixa Lavallée in 1880.  The French lyrics were written that same year by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, the original English lyrics in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir.  The English lyrics have since been revised twice, adopted in their present form in 1980 when the song officially became Canada's anthem.

"O Canada" is performed at every game played by the Toronto Blue Jays, home or away.  The song is also performed, along with "The Star-Spangled Banner," at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.  Sarah McLachlan in 1996:

My Baseball Fantasy

Vermont: won, 7-3 (55-36-9 overall, 2nd place out of 12 teams)
Maryland: won, 6-4 (51-42-7, 4th of 10)
Public: 86 Rotisserie points (2nd of 12)
My Player of the Week: Jordan Zimmerman (Starting Pitcher, Nationals) with 1 win, 12 strikeouts, a 0.00 ERA and a 0.60 WHIP

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Family Movie Night: Chops

Title: Chops
Director: Bruce Broder
Original Release: 2007
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Image via MIAJE

Every year, the best high school jazz bands in the United States send audition recordings to Lincoln Center in New York in hopes of being invited to the Essentially Ellington Festival.  Chops, a documentary directed by Bruce Broder, chronicles the adventures of one such band in its quest for the first place trophy.  Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida is one of the top performing arts high schools in the country.  At the outset of the film, the school's jazz band had been invited to the festival two years before but had not placed in the top three.

That's the plot, which is satisfying enough in an inspiring sports movie kind of way.  That's not why you need to see this film.  The talent of the students will blow...your...mind!  We meet two of the Douglas Anderson students while they're still in middle school and you will not believe what these 13-year-old kids can do. 

Do you like being inspired?  Do you love jazz?  Do you believe in the importance of arts education?  Look no further.  Chops is your movie.  Part of me feels I should share this with students but I know I'd be heartbroken if they don't like it. 

"When you love the music, you take risks."  Amen.

Roland Garros 2013: Eight for Rafa

Rafael Nadal has further cemented his status as the greatest clay court tennis player of all time.  The claims of others become increasingly ridiculous with each passing year.  Rafa has now won Roland Garros eight times, the most any man has ever won an individual Major.  His 12 total Majors also puts him in very exclusive company.  Only Roy Emerson (with 12), Pete Sampras (14) and Roger Federer (17) have won as many.
Photo via TopNews

Hats off to David Ferrer, though, for making his first Major final at the age of 31.  The hardest working man in tennis may not ever have this opportunity again but whenever he does decide to leave the sport (worth noting: no sign of that impending), he'll have a stellar resume and the rock-solid respect of everyone in the locker room.  He was no match for Rafa, his friend and countryman, but few pose much of a threat to the king with clay underfoot.

I missed the match of the tournament, Rafa's semi against Djokovic on Friday.  Whether you watched or not, I highly recommend Brian Phillips's summary on Grantland - very funny.  My Wife found it, in fact, and enjoyed it immensely. Her interest in tennis is reluctant at best.

Congratulations to Serena Williams, too, who now has a Double Career Slam - she has won each of the Majors at least twice.  Add this to her Double Golden Career Slam in doubles, which includes her Olympic efforts, and her claim to Greatest of All Time status is ever improving.  Steffi Graf still wins the numbers game, at least in singles: 22 Slams overall (Serena has 16), including at least four at each Major plus two gold medals.  For what it's worth, my women's pick, Agnieska Radwanska, lost in the quarterfinals - her career-best result at Roland Garros.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Baseball Tunes: Here Come the Yankees

"Here Come the Yankees" has been the official song of the New York Yankees since 1967.  It was composed by Bob Bundin and Lou Stallman, recorded by the Sid Bass Orchestra and Chorus.  I mean no disrespect to Messrs. Bundin and Stallman, who were just doing their job.  However, this is the city that spawned Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, The Cotton Club, Aaron Copland, the Met and Leonard Bernstein.  And, love 'em or hate 'em (for me, it's the latter), this is one of the greatest sports franchises in the world.  Something classier than a 1960s ad jingle is in order.

No doubt thinking along the same lines has led the following to become the Yanks' unofficial song, also quite fittingly played by teams in the organization's farm system.

Sinatra was a Jersey native and a devoted Yankee fan.

My Baseball Fantasy

Vermont League: won, 6-4 (48-33-9 overall, 1st place out of 12 teams)
Maryland League: won, 7-2-1 (45-38-7, 4th of 10)
Public League: 84.5 Rotisserie points (2nd of 12)
My MVP for the Week: Jarrod Parker (Starting Pitcher, A's) with 2 wins, 11 strikeouts, a 1.35 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP

Photo via The Afroed Elephant

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Squid Eats: Homei Bistro

My parents were in town this weekend for Our Girl's dance recital.  While Saturday was mad with performance prep, we had Sunday to relax.  We decided to ignore warnings of impending thunderstorms and make a jaunt up to Quebec, evidently my parents' first trip to Canada in over 30 years!

The region of the province which borders Vermont is called Canton de l'Est (Eastern Townships in English).  The rolling countryside is dotted with charming towns, apple orchards and wine vineyards.  My Wife has had her eye on a restaurant in Dunham, Quebec called Homei Bistro ever since the establishment received a glowing review from Seven Days, Burlington, Vermont's weekly newspaper. 

While we did drive through a couple of showers, it was bright and sunny at lunchtime.  We sat outside quite comfortably in the breezy courtyard.  The service was friendly and cheerfully accommodating to the Anglophones.  I would describe the cuisine as Asian-Italian-Canadian fusion.  My chicken teriyaki wrap shared the menu with with mussels and poutine (Quebec's regional dish) among other offerings.  The wrap was fine but even better were the pork and cabbage spring rolls we got as a side dish.    Beers from the neighboring Brasserie Dunham are available on tap.  I had the IPA - very nice.  The real treat, however, was dessert...

Naturally, our daughter wanted dessert.  The waiter raved about the brownie but Our Girl ordered the cheesecake.  Well, either something was lost in translation or he made an executive decision as to what she really wanted because what arrived at the table sure looked like a brownie topped with vanilla ice cream.  Not displeased at all, she happily dug in and offered me a bite.  Well...  she was lucky I gave it back to her.  According to My Wife, the look on my face said it all!  Absolutely divine!  Mistake or not, he definitely brought the right dish.

Over dinner later, my mother asked us all what our favorite part of the day was.  While the others all talked about the joys of wandering the village (unaware, we arrived in Dunham on the weekend of their La Clé des Champs festival), Our Girl and I were in agreement - it was the brownie!

Roland Garros 2013: The Middle Sunday

Roland Garros tends to be my weekends only Slam, meaning I'm generally only able to watch on the weekends.  France is 6 hours ahead of the US east coast so I'm at work when most of the tennis is played.  Wimbledon would present a similar problem except that it's during the summer.  Ah, summer...

You've gotta love the Internet, though.  I can still follow the tournament online.  I do miss DirecTV for the fact that one can choose between five different matches during the first week.  Relying on streaming, I can only watch whatever match NBC feels I should be watching.  Given my limited opportunities, it's not such a huge deal - yet.  If I can't get a reliable connection for next Sunday's men's final, we may need to rethink things.
Photo via TennisWorld

The biggest tournament surprise so far?  Four American women in the fourth round.  That doesn't happen very often at Majors any more, especially not on clay.  The star of the first week, by my reckoning, was Jamie Hampton, an Alabama native.  Hampton took out two seeds - Petra Kvitova (7th seed, Czech Republic) and Lucie Safarova (25th, Czech Republic) - en route to her first fourth round in a Major. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 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, June 28th.  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: