Wednesday, November 29, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Romeo and Juliet

Title: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Author: William Shakespeare

Two stupid teenagers fall in love and are dead by their own hands two weeks later.  Yup, that's more or less the story.  It's worth noting their love was complicated by their feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues.

Before we go on, let me make clear that I love Shakespeare and I have personal attachments to R&J that will always be meaningful.  But I hate the story.  I love the language.  It invades my soul.  But I detest the story.

When I first read R&J - in 9th grade English class as is the case for many if not most American high school students, I asserted that it glorifies suicide, an irresponsible message to teenagers.  I know more now and realize that the psychology behind self-harm runs a lot deeper than I imagined it did when I was 14 (Juliet's age).  But the double suicide still bothers me from a narrative standpoint.  It's a cop out.  The beef between the two houses is magically settled once, separately but simultaneously, they drive their children to despair.  It's too easy, a lame payoff outweighed by the crushing loss of the two deaths.

And how soon after the curtain falls do the blame games begin?  Sure, in the moment, trying to impress the Prince, they say they'll build commemorative statues for the doomed lovers as a celebration of their devotion.  But no doubt, the muttering under the breath begins as soon as they leave the tomb...

So yes, I hate the story and good luck convincing me I shouldn't.  But I still love this play.

Of all Shakespeare's work, I have the most intimate relationship with Romeo and Juliet because it was the first one I helped direct.  It was my job in that particular production to help the principals understand what they were saying.  Shakespearean language is challenging for even the most passionate scholars.  For your average middle school student, it's practically gibberish.  But the story must be told.  Going through the balcony scene(s) line by line leads to powerful moments of discovery for both actor and coach.  Prior to this experience, I would have said Mercutio was my favorite character but the most gratifying roles to explore in this context were the Nurse and, of course, Juliet.  Watching a 14-year-old girl play the most important 14-year-old character in world literature and seeing her eyes light up when she realizes the three words in "Three words, dear Romeo" are "I love you"...  I will never forget that moment, a life highlight to be sure.  

I've heard many say Shakespeare is overrated, either because they don't understand it or they feel others - Dante, Milton, Marlowe - should get more attention.  They may have a point on the latter assertion.  However, I know what Shakespeare's words did for me when I truly let them into my heart for the first time.  Perhaps I could experience the same with other writers, indeed I hope so.  But for now, I believe in the unique magic of The Bard.

In this latest reading, I thought about what this particular story has to say about love.  Truly, a lot of it is deeply unhealthy if you take the broader view.  I was struck, however, by a passage from Friar Laurence:

...the sweetest honey 
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite:
Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

In general, I am one to argue that to love lightly is to live lightly.  But I can't deny the wisdom in these words.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Squid Mixes: Phoebe Snow Cocktail

The Phoebe Snow combines brandy, Dubonnet Rouge and absinthe.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  We tried it twice over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The first time I used too much absinthe.  The recipe calls for a dash.  The quick pour I did straight out of the bottle was definitely excessive, even between four glasses.  The result was plenty tasty - not even over black-jelly-beanish according to my wife.  But with absinthe, clocking in at 110-proof, flavor is only part of the concern.  For the second batch, a couple days later, I was a lot more cautious and the result was an improvement.  Less is more.

If only I'd had my actual dash measuring spoon with me...

Phoebe Snow was a character in a publicity campaign for Lackawanna and Western Railroad at the turn of the 20th century, intended to promote the company's use of "clean-burning" anthracite.  

via Wikipedia

Phoebe Snow was also the stage name of a 1970s folk musician, best known for her hit "Poetry Man."  Interestingly, the Phoebe Snow Cocktail isn't even the only drink associated with the advertising character.  The Brandy Alexander was created for a dinner celebrating her.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Star Trek: Emergence

Episode: "Emergence"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 23
Original Air Date: May 9, 1994

All is going haywire aboard the Enterprise and the trouble seems to revolve around the holodeck.  First, a steam locomotive invades Data's Shakespearean Tempest-scape.  Then the ship's computer takes control of the vessel, whisking our friends off to lord knows where.  Back to the holodeck.  Aboard the train - not just any train but the Orient Express - our heroes encounter characters from a wide range of programs: knights in armor, two flappers, a hayseed and a Capone-era gangster.  What's behind all of this madness?  In time, we learn the Enterprise is giving birth to a new life form.

The story's creation began with the jumbled up holodeck program idea, the writers wanting one final send-off for the holodeck arc.  The ship going berserk concept was built around it.  As has become all too common in this seventh and final season, the end result is awful.  Are there fun moments?  Sure.  I enjoyed the opening as Picard explains the Prospero character to Data.  But most of the tale is just irritating, like an anxiety dream you can't quite shake.  The new life form concept feels exactly like the half-assed afterthought it was.  

Only two more episodes to go.

Acting Notes

David Huddleston (the train conductor) was born in Vinton, Virginia, September 17, 1930.  After serving briefly as an officer in the Air Force, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Huddleston had a long and varied career on screen, both big and small.  Films included Blazing Saddles, Santa Claus: The Movie and The Big Lebowski.  He had the title role in each of the last two.  On television, he made appearances on numerous high profile shows across multiple decades, including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Columbo, The Waltons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Charlie's Angels, The Wonder Years and The West Wing.  

Huddleston passed away in 2016 from heart and kidney disease.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Squid Flicks: A Man Escaped

Title: A Man Escaped
Director: Robert Bresson
Original Release: November 11, 1956
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

via Wikipedia

Fontaine (François Leterrier), a member of the French Resistance, is held in a Nazi prison during World War II.  He awaits likely execution.  A Man Escaped tells the tale of his complicated scheme to break out.  It's based on a memoir by André Devigny.

Fans of Shawshank Redemption will feel right at home watching Fontaine's patient, methodical approach to his escape.  Letterier even looks a bit like Tim Robbins.  I've found no direct inspirational link between this movie and the 1994 film, nor Stephen King's original novella but there are obvious similarities in the stories.  Regardless, A Man Escaped would fit in well with any prison film binge fest.  

The power of A Man Escaped lies largely in what one doesn't see.  In the opening scene, while riding in the car to the prison, Fontaine makes a run for it.  We hear, rather than see, him being beaten before being dragged back to the car.  Later, we hear machine gun fire when his fellow prisoners are executed.  During the escape sequence, with the need for silence emphasized, each individual sound seems magnified.  The only music used is Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, K. 427.

Once again, World War II proves to be the narrative well that never runs dry.  It's interesting to see the war story the French were telling themselves in the 1950s: the tale of resistance rather than the tale of collaboration.  History is like that, I realize.  I know full well that there are uglier sides to American involvement in that war and others than many of my compatriots are comfortable discussing.  It's just interesting.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Star Trek: The Wire

Episode: "The Wire"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 22
Original Air Date: May 8, 1994

Garack episode!

Our favorite maybe/probably spy is having brutal headaches and displaying dramatic mood swings.  His buddy Doctor Bashir is eager to help.  Turns out, Garak has an implant in his brain, first given to him when he was a member of the Obsidian Order, Cardassia's intelligence agency.  It releases endorphins to help an agent survive torture.  But the device is not meant for continuous use.  Garak has grown dependent and the implant has run out of juice.

"The Wire" is an addiction story at its heart.  It also provides the deepest development yet for Garak.  As he battles the withdrawal symptoms, he tells Bashir several differing, even contradictory tales of how he came to be exiled.  Desperate, the doctor travels to Cardassia Prime in order to question Enabran Tain, the former leader of the Order who initially gave Garak the implant.  Tain gives yet another perspective on Garak's history, though much like Garak, doesn't provide much in the way of clarity in answering Bashir's questions.

What do we learn about Garak through it all?  He was definitely a spy and a talented one, at that, with what was once a bright future.  Something went wrong.  We can't be sure what because once he gets through the worst of the withdrawal, he tells Bashir that all of the stories he told were true, "especially the lies."  But he did something.  Tain clearly hates him, affirming that Garak deserves his exile and whatever anguish it brings him, either physical or psychological.  

No conclusive details.  Answers only invite more questions.  And that, my friends, is why the Garak story is awesome.  And watching actor Andy Robinson work his magic is always worth the price of admission.

Acting Notes

via Criminal Minds Wiki

Paul Dooley (Enabran Tain) was born Paul Dooley Brown in Parkersburg, West Virginia, February 22, 1928.  Growing up, he wrote a comic strip for the local newspaper.  He joined the Navy at 18, served two years, then came back to attend West Virginia University, graduating in 1952.  

When Dooley went to New York to pursue a showbiz career, he got his start as a clown at children's birthday parties.  Fortunately for all of us, he soon made some important connections with powerful people.  Mike Nichols discovered Dooley and cast him in his Broadway smash, The Odd Couple, first in a supporting role.  Dooley eventually took over as Felix when Art Carney moved on.  Playing opposite Walter Matthau was fortuitous as well.  Matthau helped him get signed by the William Morris Agency.

Dooley is a man of many talents.  Stand-up comedy got him on The Tonight Show and into Second City, the Harvard of comedy troupes, where he worked with Alan Arkin and Alan Alda.  He is a writer, too, which led to co-creating the The Electric Company, a work of children's television genius produced for public television in the 1970s.  Much more recently, he published a memoir: Movie Dad: Finding Myself and My Family, On Screen and Off.

Indeed, on screen Dooley is best known as a movie dad, most memorably in Breaking Away and Sixteen Candles.  Pixar fans would recognize his voice as that of Sarge in the Cars movies.  He's had a long career in television, too, including guest appearances on Bewitched, The Golden Girls and Desperate Housewives.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Squid Eats: Molly's

As noted in my most recent State of the Blog post, one of my closest friends has moved to central Massachusetts.  While this has certainly required emotional adjustments for me, I'm pleased to report that we've managed to see each other surprisingly often since the move in June: twice in Vermont and once down in Mass.  This past weekend, we began the search for good spots midway between, beginning with Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College.  First stop, lunch...

Molly's Restaurant and Bar, originally called Molly's Balloon, has been operating for 40 years.  It's very family-friendly.  Each table is set with crayons and coloring paper.  We saw loads of kids.  While the menu offers child favorites like burgers and pizza, there are more interesting options for us adults.  My buddy ordered poutine from the specials menu.  Our waitress insisted on calling it POH-teen rather than the poo-TEEN we are accustomed to in northern Vermont and Montreal - must be a New Hampshire thing.  I got the Gochujang Chicken Bowl.  I usually steer clear of Asian food in non-Asian restaurants but it was actually pretty good.

The service is very friendly.  Our waitress was professional - a bit aggressive on the up-selling but we managed to resist.  The decor is dark wood with lots of Dartmouth sports memorabilia on the walls, including Ivy League football standings posted behind the bar.  I would go back, though there are other interesting options in town to explore.  Importantly, Molly's is close to The Fourth Place, a game and comic book store where we'll definitely be lingering on future visits.  

Friday, November 10, 2023

Star Trek: Bloodlines

Episode: "Bloodlines"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 22
Original Air Date: May 2, 1994

DaiMon Bok is back (see here).  Still bitter about Picard killing his son in battle, Bok has found Picard's own son, Jason Vigo, and has threatened to kill him as vengeance.  The Enterprise rushes to the Camor system in order to save the young man from Bok.

Wait, Picard has a son???

It's the sequel no one wanted.  Well, that's not entirely true.  Producer/writer Jeri Taylor had asked Patrick Stewart if there were any aspects of his character he'd like to explore and he responded that it seemed a shame the Bok-out-for-revenge story had never been resolved.  "Bloodlines" was the result.  There are now three NextGen episodes left.  The series is gasping for air.

The long lost child trope is an important one for Trek.  It's a central element in Wrath of Khan, of course.  I suppose it's believable enough for a spaceship (or sea) captain: woman in every port and what not.  It feels different with Picard, though, than it did with Kirk.  Captain James T. was well-established as an interstellar playboy.  Jean-Luc has never been like that (often to Patrick Stewart's own disappointment).  There's a sheepishness when he admits to his relationship with Jason's mother.  It's endearing.  

Acting Notes

Ken Olandt (Jason) was born in Richmond, California, April 22, 1958.  Not long before this appearance, he had the lead in the series Super Force.  Beyond Trek, television guest spots include Riptide, V and Murder, She Wrote.  Films include Leprechaun, Summer School and Falcon Down.  Orlandt has also done significant work in production and financing, including co-founding Unified Film Organization, LLC.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Sarah Glidden

Title: Rolling Blackouts
Writer and Artist: Sarah Glidden

via Amazon

Sarah Glidden tags along when a couple freelance journalist friends travel to Turkey, Iraq and Syria in the early 2010s.  The primary goal of the trip is to uncover the stories of those displaced by the US war in Iraq: Kurds in Turkey and Iraq and Arab refugees in Syria.  Also joining the trip is Dan, an ex-Marine who had previously done two tours in Iraq.  The journalists are hoping to include his story in their project.

Embedded journalism - where a journalist is placed directly into a military unit for an intimate and often dangerous perspective - is a common practice in wartime.  Sarah Glidden's (admittedly less dangerous) experience feels like a comic book writer being embedded with journalists.  As a result, the war experiences the group hears are intertwined with Glidden's fascination with her friends' process.  Through her, we learn that the story you seek and the one you end up with are often quite different from each other.  Interview subjects don't give you the material you expect.  The truth can seem clouded by self-delusion or flat out dishonesty.  Mistrust of Americans and/or journalists impedes access.  

The group doesn't observe any combat directly.  Instead, they witness the everyday lives of refugees and exiles.  As such, we see the war from an indirect but deeply human level.  While everyone they talk to is reasonably safe in the moment, they have each been through a lot.  And the reaction to Americans run the gamut.  The Kurds typically see American involvement in the region as a positive as their own status has been boosted.  The Arabs are more resentful - and understandably.

A lot has happened in the region since - in fact, a lot happened between the trip and the ultimate publishing of the book, including the Arab Spring and the outbreak of civil war in Syria.  Since then, American withdrawal has had a brutal impact as well.  And that's not even getting into everything happening in Israel and Palestine.  American/Western intervention typically comes with its own brutally high price, no matter the best intentions of the participants.  Glidden's book doesn't offer much in the way of answers - how could it?  Instead, there are more questions.

Rolling Blackouts is an engaging read.  The artwork is simple and relatable.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Squid Eats: T. Roots

When we first visited Northampton, Massachusetts as a family a few years ago, T. Roots was recommended to us as a good place to get bubble (aka boba) tea.  While it remains that, the restaurant is so much more.  

One doesn't see many places that highlight Taiwanese cuisine.  Most restaurants within the Chinese cultural sphere provide a highly Americanized version of Cantonese food.  Finding anything even suggesting a different regional emphasis is a delightful surprise.

Much of the menu is familiar to any pan-Asian food enthusiast: dumplings, noodle soups, fried rice, etc.  There are also less common options like dry noodles - very spicy, no joke, beware!  The chef's specials menu is highly intriguing.  The worldwide phenomenon of bubble tea itself is, in fact, Taiwanese in origin.

Since our first visit, we've been back many times.  I was in a hot noodle mood on Sunday afternoon so T. Roots was an ideal choice.  Our child and I both ordered chicken udon noodle soup.  My wife got pork and kimchi fried rice.  Mine was comforting but rather light on the flavor.  Because of my adventure with dry noodles (see above), I've been shy about testing the dishes rated "spicy."  Next time we go - and I can't imagine we won't be back - perhaps I'll be a little more daring.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Star Trek: The Maquis, Part II

Episode: "The Maquis, Part II"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 21
Original Air Date: May 1, 1994

Last week's story concludes.  Our heroes need to rescue Gul Dukat and prevent a war between the Cardassians and the Maquis, a group of Federation settlers in the demilitarized zone.  All in a day's work.  

Fortunately, Part II is better than Part I.  Dukat development continues to be a highlight and there are great moments for both Quark and Commander Sisko.  Quark excels in his prison cell exchange with Sakonna, the Vulcan gun runner he is evidently still trying to seduce.  His cost-benefit analysis argument for the Maquis making peace with the Cardassians instead of attacking them is absolutely brilliant.  A Ferengi trumping a Vulcan with logical reasoning?  That's good Trek.  

Sisko's soliloquy runs deeper.  After a dispiriting conversation with Admiral Nechayev about his Starfleet responsibilities in the matter - basically, preserve the treaty between the Federation and Cardassians at all cost, the Maquis be damned - Benjamin rants to Kira:

"On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it's easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven't been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!"

This is a big deal, not just for this story but for the entire Star Trek concept.  From the beginning in 1966, we, the faithful viewers, have been sold on a premise: the Earth of Star Trek's time had solved all of the problems plaguing the real world of the 1960s.  Prejudice and pointless war were relics of the past.  We, the Earthlings, had evolved beyond such pettiness and were thus worthy of exploring the cosmos.  Furthermore, having achieved this higher morality, we were entitled to stand in judgment of those who had not.  

So much of what makes Deep Space Nine awesome is its challenge to the accepted premises of the franchise.  The Next Generation has had many stories about bad seeds within Starfleet but this is different.  Here, the entire idea of moral superiority is being questioned.  Just as The Clone Wars did for Star Wars, DS9 broadened the philosophical playing field for Star Trek.  It's good to test the assumptions.  It makes for rich stories.  It allows the concept to grow.

Evidently, there was much debate among the creative staff about whether or not to kill off Calvin Hudson, the leader of the Maquis, at the end of the episode.  In the end, they decided against, presumably hoping to bring him back.  Unfortunately, the Maquis never gained much of a purchase over the long run.  There are a few more stories but both the group and their arc are eventually overwhelmed by the Dominion.  Even on Voyager, the Maquis identity of some of the characters doesn't hold much relevance beyond the initial stages.

Acting Notes

Tony Plana played the role of Amaros, another Maquis leader.  He was born José Antonio Plana in Havana, Cuba, April 19, 1952.  His family moved to Miami in 1960.  He graduated from Loyola Marymount, then trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Plana has made guest appearances on 24, Desperate Housewives and Body of Proof among other series.  He won a Satellite Award for his portrayal of Ignacio Suarez on Ugly Betty.  Films include An Officer and a Gentlemen, Three Amigos and Goal!  He teaches acting at both Cal State - Dominguez Hills and Rio Hondo College.  

Plana is an active volunteer for civil rights and immigration reform.