Friday, July 28, 2023

Star Trek: Whispers

Episode: "Whispers"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 14
Original Air Date: February 6, 1994

via Memory Alpha

After coming back from a mission, O'Brien finds everyone treating him differently.  He grows suspicious of a conspiracy on the station and suspects he's the only one aware of it.  He escapes in a runabout in order to warn others but finds even Starfleet brass have turned against him.

Two O'Brien stories in a row!

I think 29 years is past the statute of limitations for spoiling the twist at episode's end.  In the final scene, we learn that the "O'Brien" we've been following is the imposter, a replicant who was meant to be used to undermine peace talks in the Parada system à la The Manchurian CandidateThe Parallax View and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are acknowledged influences on the story.  The use of the word replicant is an homage to Blade Runner.  

Critics have asserted that "Whispers" doesn't hold up to rewatching once you know the twist.  To be honest, I'd forgotten all about it which, in some ways, speaks to the same problem.  In effect, even with the wrinkle, the narrative isn't especially memorable.  The acting's good.  Rosalind Chao (Keiko), in particular, plays the dilemma well: needing to preserve the secret that she knows this Miles is a fake while also needing to protect herself and Molly.

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Todd Waring played the role of Ensign DeCurtis, an engineer on the station - essentially taking over O'Brien's duties while Miles is under suspicion.  "Whispers" is Waring's first of two DS9 appearances.  Waring was born April 28, 1955 in Ballston Spa, New York.

Films include Love & Murder, Take and Heartland.  Television appearances include Wings, NYPD Blue and The Young and the Restless.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Squid Games: Can't Stop

Be forewarned, Can't Stop is the most addictive tabletop game I have ever played.  The name is 100% appropriate.

Can't Stop is a race game.  2-4 players strive to move their pawns from one end of a board to the other according to the rolls of four dice.  You can keep rolling as long as you like if you can keep moving.  However, if you ever have a roll you can't use, you lose all of your progress for that turn.  The concept is so simple.  The best ideas usually are.

I've been playing Can't Stop for a few years now.  It is by far my most played game on Board Game Arena and for which, at least at the moment, I have the highest rating.  Its appeal is potent.  My wife was ready to buy it after trying it once.  One grasps strategy over time but the best plan unravels quickly if your opponent is rolling better than you are.

I recently introduced the game to two friends, GerMAN and a longtime, much valued colleague I shall call The Pilgrim.  The Pilgrim and I were roommates on a trip to England once upon a time.  He wanted to see everything!  They both enjoyed the game.  I won this time, benefiting from my experience and their beginner's caution.  They seemed eager to play again some time.  It's not a great game for chatting.  You play or you chat.  Can't Stop is way too distracting to do both.

Obviously, highest recommendation from me.

Monday, July 24, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Lamia Ziadé

Title: Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979
Writer and Artist: Lamia Ziadé

via Amazon

Bye Bye Babylon is Lamia Ziadé's graphic memoir about her childhood in Beirut, when one of the most beautiful cities in the world was reduced to a war-torn hell-scape in a matter of weeks.  Ziadé was seven years old when the Lebanese Civil War erupted.  Her story begins with the images of Bazooka bubblegum, Kraft marshmallows and other consumer products familiar throughout the world.  It soon moves to the weaponry of war, pictures that shouldn't be part of anyone's normal day, let alone a young child's.  Her artwork appears painted rather than drawn, with sharper lines for the war and political material than for the dreamier, mostly pre-war elements.

Though I didn't plan it that way, this was my second read in a row with Babylon in the title (see here).  Both this and Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon draw on the biblical/historical story of a great city lost.  There are common themes as the communities in each adapt to the realities of war: supply shortages, inconsistent and unreliable communication from the outside world, violence, lawlessness, death, uncertainty, fear.  There's an essential difference, of course.  Frank's work is fiction.  Ziadé's is the real deal.  The Lebanese Civil War really happened, a deeply embedded experience for millions.

Ziadé offers an intimate view.  There are sweet moments throughout her story, even after the war begins but one always feel horrors lurking on the next page.  The author has lived in Paris for most of her life but clearly still loves her native country.  She makes me wish I could visit Beirut before the war.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Star Trek: Sub Rosa

Episode: "Sub Rosa"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 31, 1994

via Memory Beta

Beverly Howard Crusher's grandmother has died.  The doctor and the rest of the crew attend the funeral at the Caldos colony, a terraformed community designed to look like a village in the Scottish Highlands.  A mysterious young man is in attendance.  Beverly soon learns the man was her grandmother's longtime lover, Ronin.  Our good doctor soon falls in love with him, too.  Sadly, this is Star Trek so he is not what he appears to be.  He is a corporeal entity who has been kept alive by multiple generations of the Howard family with the help of a special candle.

"Sub Rosa" is TNG's attempt to appeal to the romance novel fans.  The story was inspired by the film The Innocents, in turn based on Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw.  The episode is much panned, even by the cast.  Gates McFadden's own reflection is the funniest: "I was basically in love with a lamp! This woman is a doctor and falls in love with a lamp! How the hell does that work?"  

I'm not going to pretend it's a good episode - it isn't.  But I have no issue with the idea.  There's plenty of room under the franchise tent for a woman's sexual and sensual fantasies.  "Sub Rosa" definitely pushes the eroticism limit for a family show time slot and that was a big part of what bothered the faithful at the time.  You know, women aren't supposed to be like that, especially one of our women.  It doesn't bother me.  Honestly, TNG doesn't handle intimate relationships well in general.  Much of the problem is the confined box in which the characters are allowed to play.  Let them be real people with lusts and vulnerabilities and maybe stories like this won't always feel so awkward.

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Duncan Regehr (Ronin) was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, October 5, 1952.  Show biz started early.  He was the host of a teen talk show on the CBC at age 14.  He also did figure skating in high school.  He received theatrical training at the Bastion Theater School in Victoria, British Columbia.  Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. 

His best-known role was the lead in The Family Channel production Zorro.  "Sub Rosa" was the first of four Star Trek appearances.  Other guest appearances include The Greatest American Hero, Murder, She Wrote and V.

Regehr is also an accomplished artist.  Painting and drawing are his media.  He had his first public exhibition in 1974 and he has works featured in collections as far flung as China, Denmark and Scotland.  In 2000, he was granted the appellation Royal Canadian Artist by The Royal Canadian Academy of Art.  Check out his work here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Squid Mixes: Salto e Mes

The recently discovered Leap-Year Cocktail has become a popular drink at our house.  My wife describes it as a "Sidecar for grownups."  Given our new practice of substituting Punt e Mes for sweet vermouth in as many recipes as possible, the Leap-Year became an obvious target.

We did a side-by-side comparison.  The one with Punt e Mes is on the left, the one with sweet vermouth on the right.  The first obvious difference is the color, the Punt e Mes bringing more red to the party.  The Punt e Mes also supplies the raisiny flavor we first experienced in a Manhattan, providing dimension which is absent with sweet vermouth.

Alas, I've found other Leap-Year recipes using Punt e Mes so I don't get to rename the drink.  Even so, we've come up with a pet name for this variation.  My initial thought was a Leap-and-a-Half.  Punt e mes, you see, means 1.5 in Piedmont Italian.  My wife asked what leap is in Italian: salto according to Google Translate.  Naturally, everything sounds better in Italian.  So, Salto e Mes, it is.

There's still the matter of a garnish.  Harry Craddock's original recipe calls for a lemon twist.  Why not a cherry?  A quick side story...

Inspired by our quest for the ideal Manhattan, and maybe spending less than $22 on a jar of cherries, my wife recently tried jarring her own.  Fortunately, sour cherries are easily obtained in Vermont this time of year.  Her first effort (she doesn't remember where she got the recipe) went quite well so the battle was on...

Cherry Battle: Luxardo vs. Homemade Candied Sour

The harmony between Luxardo cherries and the ingredients of a Manhattan is downright luxuriant so neither of us was expecting to prefer the homemade ones.  The sourness of the latter is nice, though, and it would certainly be worth finding a more appropriate cocktail pairing for them.  My wife feels the sour cherries might be nice before drinking the Manhattan, a garnish aperitif, if you will.  It would seem the consumption of our favorite cocktail is taking on ritualistic aspects at our house.

I believe I'm alright with this.

Winner and Still Champion: Luxardo

Nosing their way into the Manhattan drinking ritual: homemade candied sour cherries

Full disclosure, I wrote the cherry battle chronicle before our Leap-Year experiment.  I am pleased to say we have now found a happy mixological home for the new cherries.  They work beautifully in a Salto e Mes. 

So, our home recipe for a Leap-Year Cocktail, affectionately known as a Salto e Mes:

2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes
1/4 oz. lemon juice
1 homemade candied sour cherry for garnish

Shake, strain and serve.

Monday, July 17, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Pat Frank

Title: Alas, Babylon
Author: Pat Frank

via Goodreads

In 1959, Pat Frank, a journalist and government consultant by day, wrote a novel based on the great what-if scenario of the era: what would happen if the nuclear war everyone feared actually happened?  Alas, Babylon follows the story of Randy Bragg as he leads his family and community after Soviet missiles have destroyed much of the United States.  Fort Repose, a fictional Florida town, is isolated enough to have been spared direct attack and the resulting radiation.  But with the major cities in rubble, the comforts of modern civilization are severely limited and eventually exhausted.  Survival is the initial drive, then adjustment, then ultimately acceptance and rebuilding.

Pat Frank was clearly a practical man. While there is some exploration of relationships, subtlety and nuance are as scarce as food and potable water.  Instead, the author focuses on community management.  Over time, Randy and his group overcome supply shortages and lawlessness to forge new, meaningful lives.  As a survival narrative, Alas, Babylon is thoughtful, thorough and even hopeful, no doubt providing a template for other post-apocalyptic stories to follow.

Not surprisingly, attitudes towards sex and race reflect the time period.  Gender expectations are firm, roles and responsibilities delineated.  The story is pro-integration but there is still a patronizing attitude towards the black neighbors.  And yet, the emergency results in a woman President (shocking!) and several of the female and black characters are portrayed in an heroic light - Latinx characters decidedly less so.  By late '50s standards, Pat Frank would probably pass for progressive but he sure wouldn't now.

If you're interested in a more factual account of what surviving a nuclear attack is actually like, I can't recommend the Barefoot Gen manga series about the Hiroshima bombing highly enough.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Star Trek: Armageddon Game

Episode: "Armageddon Game"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 30, 1994

via Memory Alpha

Bashir and O'Brien help two long-warring races dispose of their biological weapons.  Unfortunately, they soon become assassination targets.  The two escape but are stranded.  Meanwhile, Miles has been infected by one of the weapons.

This week's episode is also about developing the bromance.  Originally, it was supposed to be a Dax-Bashir story but fortunately, someone thought better of it.  The Miles-Julian arc provides a lot more room to grow.  I like the fact that, at least in the beginning, the relationship is built largely upon their annoyance with each other - or at least Miles's clear resentment/irritation/whatever with Julian.  After all, real world friendships can evolve the same way.  You see all of the faults but given enough time together, you start to care about each other.  Over time, it becomes a highly relatable bond.

"Armageddon Game" was nominated for an Emmy for the hairstyles.

Acting Notes

Darleen Carr played the role E'Tyshra, a T'Lani ambassador who initially celebrated our Starfleet friends but eventually became one of the hunting party.  Carr was born Darlene Farnon on December 12, 1950 in Chicago.  She was born into a family of musicians, her father an orchestra leader, her mother a singer.  

Before even appearing on screen, she had a voice career in film.  She dubbed voice parts in both The Sound of Music (including the higher parts for her older sister, Charmian who played Liesl) and The Jungle Book.  On screen, she appeared in Monkeys, Go Home!, The Impossible Years and Death of a Gunfighter.  Television work came a little earlier, beginning with The John Forsythe Show - later The Smith Family and Miss Winslow & Son.  She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the miniseries Once an Eagle.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Squid Mixes: The Williamsburg

Now that we have a bottle of Punt e Mes (initially acquired for this drink), many new cocktails are accessible.  Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology, seems particularly fond of it.  He got the recipe for The Williamsburg from Brooklyn-based bartender Clif Travers.  The Williamsburg is a Manhattan variant combining bourbon, Punt e Mes, dry vermouth and yellow Chartreuse.  Funky mixing math: with Punt e Mes and dry vermouth in equal parts, you still have a 2:1 ratio with vermouths but now it's 2:1 in favor of dry.  Woah.

The combination isn't too different from a Greenpoint.  You switch out the rye for bourbon, impose a different vermouth regime and skip the bitters.  Frequent visitors may recall my wife wasn't so impressed by the Greenpoint but she was willing to try The Williamsburg anyway.

Chartreuse is always the wild card in a drink.  There are so many interesting flavors in the liqueur that you can never be sure what's going to pop out when it plays with others.  This time, I got an apple Jolly Rancher vibe along with something else I couldn't quite label.  My wife acknowledged the hard candy taste but still didn't care for The Williamsburg.  She was willing to finish it - she hadn't been with the Greenpoint - but wouldn't ask for it again.  Still too cough syrupy, she says.  

Friday, July 7, 2023

Star Trek: Homeward

Episode: "Homeward"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 17, 1994

The Enterprise responds to a distress call from Worf's brother, Nikolai Rozhenko.  Much to the distress of our heroes, Nikolai has been helping villagers in a pre-warp civilization in violation of the Prime Directive.  In fact, as we eventually learn, he's fallen in love with one of Boraalans and she is pregnant.  Nikolai has a clever plan for rescuing the villagers from their dying planet and, reluctantly, Picard agrees to help.

"Homeward" gets mixed reviews from the critics.  Many don't like Picard taking on the enforcer role in a situation where we, the viewers, are set up to see him as in the wrong.  I appreciate Trek stories like this, though admittedly the original series did them better.  I enjoy a good moral dilemma and the Prime Directive always delivers.  Quite often, leaders in the real world - even the ones we see as the good guys - are put in these situations and the right choice is not always obvious.

Historical context is relevant.  The Prime Directive was first introduced in 1967, at the time an obvious response to the Vietnam War.  Gene Roddenberry was not a fan of the US's involvement in Southeast Asia.  Much of the Trek philosophy was built around his objection so a futuristic, Starfleet policy of non-interference, especially with developing cultures, made a lot of sense.  

Global politics were different in 1994.  War in the Balkans dominated the headlines and attitudes towards American involvement ran the gamut.  Was there any way to enter the conflict without making it worse?  Wouldn't we simply become another warring faction of many?  Who were the good guys anyway?

But there was genocide.  Ethnic cleansing was happening in Bosnia and everybody knew it.  By not getting involved, were the United States and its allies complicit in the murders and the rapes?  The questions were not easily answered.  There were UN sanctions and trade embargoes.  Peace was negotiated.  The fighting continued.  If you weren't alive at the time, trust me.  In February 1994, all was an unholy mess and the path out of it was far from obvious.

Now consider Picard's position.  Obviously, there is sympathy for the Boraalans.  (Is the alliteration between Bosnians and Boraalans a coincidence?  I doubt it.)  But the Prime Directive is clear and as ugly as the consequences of following it can be, the question remains of whether breaking it is truly in the best interest of all.

Imagine you're the captain.  You've signed on with the firm largely because you share its moral grounding.  You know these tough calls are part of the job.  Is it ever okay to violate the holiest of principles even if it means extinction for an intelligent species?  What would you do?

The Worf/Nickolai story is satisfying.  The brotherly tension is thick.  Worf resents Nickolai's disregard for his responsibilities, in this and all situations.  Nickolai clearly loves Worf and also chafes at his more conventional attitudes.  Fortunately, there's resolution and understanding by the end.

Acting Notes

Paul Sorvino (Nickolai) was born April 13, 1939 in New York City.  He started as a copywriter for an advertising agency.  While attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, initially for voice lessons, he decided to go into acting.  He made his Broadway debut in 1964 with Bajour.  In 1972, he was nominated for a Tony for his performance in That Championship Season.  

In 1990, Sorvino played the unforgettable mob boss Paulie Cicero in Goodfellas, widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made - certainly on a short list for the past 50 years.  The movie cemented his Hollywood legacy, yet he regretted that most of the public saw him as a thug.  He was a strong choice for father figures in general: Juliet's father in Romeo + Juliet, David's father in Moonlighting and Murray's father in The Goldbergs.  He was also proud of playing Kissinger in Nixon and a deaf lawyer in Dummy.  He was also an accomplished sculptor.

Sorvino was married three times and had three children from his first marriage, including two actors: Michael and the Oscar-winning Mira.  He passed away in 2022 from natural causes.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Squid Eats: Bleu Marine

My wife and I recently spent several days in Quebec City, partly to celebrate our wedding anniversary and partly to facilitate the emotional transition to summer.  While we visit Montreal as often as we can, this was only our second trip to the provincial capital.  The last time was ten years ago.  
via Wikipedia

Quebec is one of the oldest European settlements in North America, dating back to 1608.  It's a prettier city than Montreal by a long shot and more touristy, too.  It's also more French.  The average Montrealer switches effortlessly between at least two languages.  Quebec is different.  While most in the service industry speak English a far sight better than either of us speaks French, the accent is strong and there's a lot more searching for words.  Geography matters.  Quebec is further from Ontario and further from the US border than Montreal.  Sure, New Brunswick isn't far away but the northwestern part of NB is also largely French-speaking.  Quebec has historically, and probably not coincidentally, held a lot firmer to its own Francophone identity than Montreal has.

We stayed in Old Quebec amid all of the prime-target sightseeing spots.  Naturally, there are plenty of lovely restaurants in the area.  Our first night, we went to Bleu Marine for dinner.  The restaurant's concept is unusual.  You choose between four or six courses.  Chef Claudine Déry picks the dishes, each with a wine pairing (optional).  You explain any dietary restrictions and the night is on.  The pace is slow, the warm and knowledgeable wait staff attending only as needed to explain the dishes (and wines).  No hovering.  As you relax into the evening, the conversation flows.

For my wife and I, it all began over food.  Before we started dating, we went out to dinner with a group of mutual friends at Soho Steak, a long-gone French bistro in Lower Manhattan.  She and I had only known each other about a week.  She ordered steak tartare as an appetizer, something I'd never even heard of before.  I turned up my nose at it - raw beef mixed up with raw egg? - but asked to try.  She was impressed that not only was I willing to try it but also admit that I liked it.

For me, that single bite was about so much more.

The steak tartare was not merely good.  It was a revelation.  Flavor exploded, then melted gently on the tongue.  Mouth feel.  I didn't know mouth feel was a thing until that steak tartare.  I didn't know food could be like that.  Who was this woman who knew such secrets?  It was a profoundly exciting moment in my life.  And deeply sexy.

Before meeting her, I can't say I knew much about food.  My parents appreciate a good meal and certainly taught us to do the same.  I had just spent two years in Japan, a culture that takes eating quite seriously indeed.  But I didn't actually know anything about what I was experiencing.  

My wife started cooking for her family when she was 14.  What began as a chore became artistic expression.  She read about food.  (All those books I post about?  She read them all first.)  She worked for food magazines and listened when she was taken out for meals.  She drew from her Lebanese heritage.  Combine the accumulated knowledge with her inherently sophisticated palate and her genius for project management and you get quite a talented cook.  She even considered a career in the the profession.  Luckily for me, she didn't pursue it.  We probably never would have met.

A dinner like the one served at Bleu Marine would not have happened in my life before meeting her.  Fine dining wasn't part of my experience and not only because of the price.  (Full disclosure: Bleu Marine ain't cheap.)  Previously, food, however good, was part of the back drop to the event.  With my wife, the meal is the event.

Our dinner (four courses):


Scallops dusted with bacon

Sweetbread - a first for me

Deconstructed strawberry shortcake

The scallops were our favorite, though the gazpacho was nearly as dazzling for me.  Sweetbread - lamb pancreas - was not as weird as I was expecting.  It's certainly better than haggis!

Bleu Marine is a definite winner.  I'd go again, provided it's for a special occasion and/or someone else is paying.

Monday, July 3, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Ruth Reichl

Title: Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Author: Ruth Reichl

via Amazon

Comfort Me with Apples, memoir of food writer extraordinaire Ruth Reichl, starts in 1978 when she first left professional restaurant service to become a critic.  It ends about five (?) years later when she learned she was pregnant with her son.  Along the way, she got to be friends with nearly everyone in the American food world and survived several personal hardships to reach a point of apparent satisfaction.

Reichl is exceptionally generous in sharing the intimate, emotional details of her journey.  She leads us through affairs, divorce, remarriage and, most difficult of all, the quest to have a child.  Her florid language around the dining experience is enchanting but she never loses sight of the human context - for the preparers, the diners or herself.  I appreciate that.

I judge all food writers against M.F.K. Fisher and Calvin Trillin.  In the dinner party of my dreams, I would angle to sit between the two of them, eager to soak up their charm, wit and unwavering love for food.  I would not put Reichl in their category.  Her name-dropping, while impressive, was tiresome.  I also found her a bit self-centered, though perhaps that's inherent in the memoir form.  On the other hand, neither Fisher nor Trillin was ever a professional cook so Reichl provides a level of expertise the other two don't.  And to be fair, she paints colorful portraits of her famous friends.  The biggest name drop of all is actor Danny Kaye, apparently an expert amateur cook.  While predictably arrogant, he is also one of the warmest and most disarming characters in Reichl's story.  The author includes photos and one is of Kaye and herself at her wedding.  You can see genuine tenderness in his face as he speaks to her.  It's awfully sweet.

Comfort Me with Apples is an enjoyable, engaging read.  I doubt I'd seek out Reichl's work again but I wouldn't turn it away either.  I'm certainly pleased for her that she found true love and became a mother.