The Omnipresence of James Franco in My Life

broadway barks

James Franco & A Cat

This past weekend James Franco participated in the annual Broadway Barks adopt-a-thon event and posed for a bunch of publicity photos with this adorable 3-month-old tuxedo kitten named Totes McGotes. Totes McGotes is an Anjellicle Rescue Cat, just like my Ali! And I’ve been volunteering with ACR at least once a week for a year and a half now. Very cool to have this kind of celebrity promotion, but unfortunately when Franco posted some of the pics on his social media outlets with the caption “YOU’VE GOTTA BE KITTEN ME!” and “adopt a pet,” he didn’t mention the name of our organization, the ASPCA, or the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.

WHATEVER, JAMES. Totes McGotes can promote himself for adoption. Just look at dat wittle face. (Excuse me. I don’t know what came over me. It’s just that KITTENS!!!)

Or you could click here to read more about our awesome no-kill, grassroots, volunteer-run animal rescue nonprofit. Adopt adopt adopt.

Ahem. We can now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

OK, fine. So I do love how both James and the kitten are making smoldering, come-hither faces at the camera. It’s almost like James Franco needs a loving forever home too.

And I do have this weird hobby of posting photos of famous people with cats on Pinterest. For example:

Bob Dylan & A Cat

Bob Dylan & A Cat

John Lennon & A Cat

John Lennon & A Cat

Andy Warhol & A Cat

The point being, of course, that only really cool people have cats. Or interact with cats. Or pose with them for photographs, at least. But now I’m off topic.

My point is that James Franco is always popping up in my life! He is the only famous person I’ve ever seen in real life without having to, you know, pay money to see perform or whatever. (He was at the same preview performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” on New Year’s Eve 2012. He was wearing a striped scarf. He also loves Southern literature. We might be the same person.) Funnily enough, almost everyone I know who’s lived here for a year or more seems to have a Franco-sighting story. One of my co-workers has seen him trying to bum cigarettes off NYU students. Another saw him eating tacos, like a normal person. JAMES FRANCO IS EVERYWHERE, I TELL YA.

For example, Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” is one of my favorite novels, and who adapted it for film, both directing and acting in the movie version? James Franco. Whose novels do I see on display tables every time I walk into a bookstore? James Franco’s. And who was filling up my Instagram feed, until I remembered that is one of the few things in life I have control over, and unsubscribed? James freaking Franco.

A couple months ago there was some controversy because James Franco sent skeevy text messages to an underage teenage girl visiting NYC from Scotland. She had seen him perform in “Of Mice & Men” on Broadway, and tagged him in a photo she took of him as he was leaving the show, signing autographs, etc. And then he private messaged her wanting to meet up a hotel room. Um, ew.

Anyway, when this news broke, my Twitter-savvy co-worker announced it to our little desk area, as he always does with news items of personal interest. And I was like, “NO, PLEASE DON’T LET THAT BE TRUE. WHY WOULD HE DO THAT?” Because again, um, ew.

My co-worker then asked if James Franco was, I quote, “my boo.”

Me: NO, I AM JUST DEEPLY FASCINATED BY HIM. It’s also how I feel about Kanye West. And no one likes Kanye West. His music, yes, But Kanye the person, no. I mean, why does James Franco have to make so many kinds of art? He paints, he writes reviews for Vice, he teaches creative writing at UCLA, he’s written books. He did a book-signing at The Strand last month! And, of course, he acts in movies and now on Broadway. One person cannot possibly be good at all those things!

Co-worker: You sure have a lot opinions about someone who you claim is not your boo.

Me: Touché.

(For the record, I still don’t know how someone I don’t know personally can be “my boo.”)

Needless to say, it made perfect sense to me that of aaaaaaaaaaaalll the famous people/Broadway actors and allllll the nonprofits participating in this past weekend’s adopt-a-thon, James freaking Franco would be the one paired with an Anjellicle Rescue Cat. Go. Figure.

OK. And James Franco was maybe kinda sorta really great as an ’80s James Dean-esque stoner rebel kid in the wonderful series “Freaks and Geeks,” whose cancellation after less than one full season is a great injustice to classic high school television shows everywhere. That is one version of James Franco I genuinely appreciate.

Do yourself a favor and Netflix this series, OK?

Do yourself a favor and Netflix this series, OK?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My favorite things: Summer edition

Welcome to NYSummer is in full swing now, and as I sit here in shorts and a tank-top, I find it hard to believe just a few months ago I was bundled up in layer upon layer upon layer. Seasons are crazy, man. Especially when the only seasons you’ve previously known are hurricane season and not-hurricane season. (: I last did a roundup of current obsession in the dead of winter, so I figured it was high time for me to do another one.

1. The Morgan Library & Museum
Morgan LibraryOh my god, I am convinced this place was built just for me. I found out that JP Morgan — ya know, like the supah-famous banker — was a bit of a bibliophile and that nowadays his former home, library and study are a museum open to the public. And on Friday nights, you can get in for FREE-NINETY-NINE. My favorite price of admission! So of course I had to check this place out.

I was fully ready for a Beauty and the Beast-esque moment, in which I saw a glorious three-story private library filled with leather-bound, dusty tomes. But I got so, so much more out of my visit than that. First of all, the library room itself is GUH-OR-GOUS. The detail in the tapestry over the gargantuan fireplace and in the ceiling paintings is of the caliber typically reserved for cathedrals and other such places of worship. And who am I kidding? For me, visiting this library was a religious experience.

The museum is filled with exhibits about the history of the written word, including a Gutenberg Bible — Morgan owned three (!!!) — and a first edition of “The Star Spangled Banner” sheet music, complete with a typo. (Copy editors: important, since ALWAYS.) But the things that moved me most were handwritten drafts, edited galley proofs, journal entries, and personal letters from my favorite authors. The first one I saw was a draft of a Walt Whitman poem. I literally could not breathe when I saw it. I spent a whole semester in college studying Whitman, and to be less than a foot away from a piece of paper he touched was just too much.

I also saw scribbles from the likes of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and more! I thought my heart was going to explode, I really did. (Hello, Nerdiest Fangirl Ever, Party of One.) The thing that touched me the most about these artifacts were seeing how many revisions and insecurities these now-renowned writers had about their work. We like to think of genius as a gift, of something easy and lucky. But so many of the Great Literary Masterpieces are the product of So. Much. Hard. Work. I was completely floored.

The piece at the museum that was most memorable to me, however, was a collection of fragments of Sappho’s poetry recorded on papyrus in the third century B.C. I could not move when I saw those little scraps of paper. All I could think about was how absolutely incredible it is that humans have been creating stories for much more than 2,000 years, and what’s more, they’ve been so kind as to have them written down to share with others. And I still get to participate in this great scheme of storytelling, every time I edit a Word document or lay out a page in InDesign! I am humbled and blessed and awed. Human beings are amazing.

I just stood there in awe, and this stranger next to me also totally got it and was in awe, and then finally he said, “Absolutely incredible, isn’t it?” And I used all my energy to say, “Yes. Yes, it is.” HUMAN MOMENT OF CONNECTION, RIGHT THERE. I love museums.

 

2. Stay Gold – First Aid Kit

First-Aid-Kit-band-photosI saw these two lovely, folk-singing Swedish sisters at ACL in 2010 on my 21st birthday weekend. They were one of the morning performances, meaning they were not a big deal and pretty undiscovered. Two albums and four years later, they’ve come out with “Stay Gold,” and It. Is. Fantastic. I’ve been listening to it on repeat. These ladies have always had an incredible set of harmonious vocal chords, but they’ve really matured their songwriting with their latest album.

I saw them perform at Webster Hall a month or so ago, and I was blown away by how much their stage presence has developed. Also, they are adorable. They introduce their accompanists in unison and curtsy, etc. Love them! They make me long for a sister I can record albums with.

3. Friday Night Lights

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I can’t believe I’m addicted to a TV show about a fictional high school football team. But at the same time, I totally can. Friday Night Lights is one of the best representations of Middle America I’ve ever seen. I love how Texas-centric this show is (cowboy boots, country music, BBQ, H-E-B, a Dairy Queen thinly disguised as an “Alamo Freeze”), but in so, so many ways the town of Dillon reminds me of my own hometown of Niceville. I mean, we did go to state semi-finals and finals. But in Florida, not Texas. (I sat next to our Lyla Garrity in my Algebra II class, I swear! She was dating an older guy on the football team, was on the cheerleading squad, was the perfectly adorable Christian girl-next-door type, and her dad owned all the McDonald’s in the county.) Part of the reason I never wanted to watch this show, despite both Netflix’s and friends’ recommendations, is because I went to every single home and away football game at my high school as a member of the marching band. Why would I want to watch an imaginary team play?

tumblr_le9sttBSLS1qbujvho1_400Thankfully, this show is about much more than football. My favorite character, hands down, is Tami Taylor, the coach’s wife. She is so flawless as a wife, a mother, a guidance counselor/principal, a friend, a community member, you get the idea. Connie Britton is killing it in this role. Even when Tami makes mistakes, as humans do, Connie’s performance makes me support her 112%. Also, to be honest, I love the way she talks! I wish I could call my husband “hon” and not sound like a total drag queen. Tami & Eric’s marriage is perhaps the most authentic, exemplary  marriage I’ve seen presented on TV. They have their hurdles and challenges, but they are such respectful, loving, and sacrificial partners to each other. I’m not even embarrassed to say I think that they are great role models, even though they’re not…you know…real.

On a slightly more lowbrow note, I wish someone had just said “Google image search ‘Tim Riggins'” to me about five years ago. Case. Closed. Sign me up to watch “this football show.”

tim rigginsSorry, but no one I knew in high school looked like THAT. That would be because this actor is at least five years older than me (nine, to be exact…Lawd!). Also Canadian, not Texan. Behold, the magical delusion of television!

Bonus points to Friday Night Lights for having a character go on to play for Texas A&M and for using actual Texas high school football footage as B-roll. One of my college friends (who, I would like to note, is one of two football players I’ve known who was not a total jerk) appears in the first season this way! Whooo.

But seriously, I cry an average of 1.2493 times per episode because the writing is so good/hormones. OK, and Coach Taylor’s speeches are the real deal. (He reminds me a lot of my high school band director. And I know music programs aren’t sports, but that man would either inspire or beat perfection and ambition into us, so help us, God. There are some teachers who view what they do as a job, and a select few others who few it as a vocation. You’ll know the latter when you meet them within minutes.) Living in a ginormous city, this makes me so nostalgic for small town life, where everyone not only knows everyone, but everyone genuinely cares about everyone. And where everyone is passionate about the same thing, at least for one night a week.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t stop watching this show. TEXAS FOREVER, JAY. TEXAS FOREVER, RIGS.

I’ll stop now, I swear.

riggins 3

riggins 4

OK, now I’m for-reals done. I swear I roll my eyes at redneck, alcoholic jocks in real life, but on TV…

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Good reads: Book picks from the first half of 2014

Home

Six months into the year, I finally decided to end a three-month blogging hiatus to talk about that one thing I can always, always talk about: books. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 40 books in 2014, with ambitions to read longer volumes like Lonesome Dove (which, to be fair, I did read in its entirety). But with just one full day left in June, my halfway mark, I’ve read a grand total of 26!

I really need some new hobbies.

Anyway, I wanted to call out a couple of my favorite reads so far this year, one novel and one nonfiction book. Beginning with the one I just finished this afternoon.

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” –Home

I’ve had this volume sitting on my bookshelf for years now. This is a quiet, simple book that demands the reader’s full attention, so you definitely have to be in the right mood for it. But, boy, give it some time to let these characters and their troubles simmer around in your soul, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of this story’s power.

Home is a beautiful, heart-shattering retelling of the prodigal son parable, a slow-paced domestic tale about the aging Rev. Boughton and his troubled relationship with his forever-rebellious son. Told mostly through the eyes of Glory, the minister’s middle-aged daughter who has returned home to care for her aging father after suffering a tremendous heartbreak of her own, we watch as now-grown Jack Boughton returns to the family after a painful 20-year absence, bearing the emotional and physical scars of alcoholism, a 10-year prison sentence, a history shadowed with thievery and lies, and a lifelong sense of alienation from his own family’s home and faith. Rev. Boughton loves his prodigal son deeply, despite his many misgivings — most infamously his fathering a child with a young, poor farm girl in his youth — but still struggles to accept Jack’s rejection of Christianity. In fact, it is probably Jack’s struggle to accept the idea of salvation that hurts Boughton most deeply.

The novel is also the companion piece to Robinson’s second novel, GileadHome takes place in the same small Iowa town (called Gilead), and the main characters float between that story and this one, especially the town’s two aging former ministers: Rev. Boughton and his lifelong best friend, Rev. Ames. I like that despite the obvious religious undertones in books about two preachers’ families, Robinson’s novels are never preachy. If anything, her novels are an honest depiction of faith, of its failings as well as its triumphs.

Glory, Jack, and their father shuffle slowly from scene to scene in this book, from the front porch to the parlor to the kitchen, completing tedious rural chores like weeding the vegetable garden, scrubbing down the laundry, and fixing up the run-down family car. Lighthearted moments of recreation include impromptu performances of Sunday hymns and a reasonable game of checkers. Nothing much happens. But each character carries a great deal of hidden burdens and inner turmoil as they slowly, lovingly try to piece their family back together, as well as their own dignity — before it’s too late.

This is a book with little plot, but much to reveal about humanity — about brokenness and hope, about sin and forgiveness, about regret and grace. If you trod along through this novel patiently, you will be rewarded with the best kind of weep at the end, I promise.

This author has a new novel coming out the day before my birthday this year (!!!), called Lila, about the rough upbringing and mysterious past of Rev. Ames young wife. I can’t wait to see what humble and beautiful prose Ms. Robinson has in store for us.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Nothing to EnvyThis is an utterly gripping, terrifying nonfiction book about a real place deeply enshrouded in mystery to outsiders: North Korea. Journalist Barbara Demick follows six ordinary North Korean citizens who defect from their country, following their escape from the crushing dictatorship to the outside world.

I loved that this story reads a lot like a novel. When we are introduced to the main characters, they are young and joyfully being indoctrinated into the North Korean ideology. As their stories progress, and they begin to question everything they know — coming to some pretty shattering realizations — I got chills. Chills, I tell you!

The breadth and depth of North Korean propaganda is fascinating and eerie and horrifying all at once. It’s hard as an American to imagine a country in which the political leader goes so far as to eradicate all religions, rob such faiths of their powerful symbolism and mythologies, and utilize them to make his citizens unfailingly loyal to the state. North Koreans even refer to the current calendar year based on the birth year of Kim Il-sung. (I’m getting the chills again.) This book completely immerses the reader in that culture of utter obliviousness and forced patriotism. This is the kind of stuff I wish kids — and by “kids,” I mean high school students — were required to read in school. Totally eye-opening.

I read this after reading the novel The Orphan Master’s Son for my book club, which is a novel that takes place in North Korea and which was pretty good, especially insofar as it made me desperately curious to know more about the real North Korea. I also watched two documentaries about North Korea, National Geographic’s “Inside North Korea,” which was like a crash course to North Korea, and “A State of Mind,” which follows two North Korean schoolgirls as they prepare for their gymnastics routine in the Mass Games, the world’s largest choreographed performance held in honor of Kim Jong-Il’s birthday each year. Did I mention it’s UTTERLY TERRIFYING?

“Inside North Korea” has a whole plot line about some kind-hearted doctors giving free cataract-removal surgery to North Koreans and then they have this big “unveiling” of the newly healed eyes, and each person hysterically thanks the “Most Glorious Leader” (that’s Kim Jong-Il, in this case) for their restored vision and cries and does praise-dances like they’re a bunch of born-again Christians getting baptized in the Mississippi on an Easter Sunday. Except they’re talking about their dictator. The guy who starves them, manipulates all their media and education, and… well, there come those chills again…

Mass Games

Lots of people doing things in unison at the Mass Games to celebrate the “Most Glorious Leader.” Giving me nightmares, and stuff.

So basically I went on this really big “learn everything about North Korea” kick for a few months, and now I’ll never sleep peacefully at night again.

Sorry to end on such a depressing note. What’s your, uh, favorite uplifting read you’ve finished lately?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A whimsical stay at the Grand Budapest Hotel

tumblr_n21u7uBLRo1qa1ubyo1_500On Friday night, Sean and I went to see Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, at the cinemaplex in Union Square. We actually tried to see it the Saturday before because New York and L.A. got an early release on the nationwide date, but lo and behold, it was totally sold out from here until tomorrow.

The plot is a little complicated to explain, as it’s a story within a story within a story, all nestled together like Russian dolls. Wes Anderson uses different screen dimensions to help make the different time periods a little more clear. At the heart of the movie is Zero Moustafa, owner of the now-faded Grand Budapest Hotel, reflecting on his youth as the hotel’s lobby boy under the tutelage of elegant concierge Gustave H., who is well-loved by his wealthy patrons, until one day he is accused of murdering a Madame D. and stealing a priceless Renaissance painting, and is then consequently imprisoned. All this set against the backdrop of a fictional European pre-WWII nation on the brink of change and turmoil.

tumblr_n2he01MGDT1qhqo72o1_500We have been on a bit of a Wes Anderson kick for the past couple of years, going through all of his films. I don’t know why it took me so long to get into them — I’m a huge sucker for romantically old-fashioned (some might even say, “twee”) things: cardigans, ballet flats, used bookstores, pastel macrons, rusty typewriters, Moleskine calendar pocketbooks. So it makes perfect sense that I would adore the whimsical nostalgia of Wes Anderson’s dollhouse worlds, each frame a perfectly arranged visual feast of the antiquated (careful cursive handwriting, rotary phones, telegrams) seeped in Polaroid-esque tones of yesteryear. I love his quirky characters, and I love the enchanting soundtracks.

Did you know Wes Anderson was born in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he met actor and longtime artistic partner, Owen Wilson? I think it’s so cool that these two Texas boys are still such BFFs and loyally make movies together.

tumblr_n1ha69O7we1qhbn7lo1_500I thought Grand Budapest Hotel, while clearly following Anderson’s iconic aesthetic (just look at his palette of blues, pinks, reds, and purples! swoon!), was also a bit different from his previous films — although in an enjoyable way. This story seemed a lot more fast-paced than some of his others, complete with a prison escape with the perfect Anderson touch — tiny little pickaxes and hammers smuggled to the prisoners via delicate pastel pastries — and a resulting chase scene reminiscent of vintage Looney Tunes cartoons.

But the overall theme was still distinctly one of nostalgia: of the last glory years of eastern Europe before the explosion of WWII and the Iron Curtain. It was charming, but also a little unsettling, even if the Nazis were goofily renamed the “ZZ.”

With the recent movie release, there have been several interesting articles popping up about what makes Anderson’s movies so visually appealing. I think it’s because they have a certain simplistic storybook feel: here are the little people in their little houses, watch them move across the page. The Vulture recently published a story on how Anderson characters always move in a straight horizontal line across the screen or in a straight vertical line either directly toward or directly away from the camera. Like such:

suzie

And then this brilliant montage popped up recently, revealing the perfect symmetry of Anderson’s shots:

I can’t tell you how happy this supersymmetry makes me. If you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson movie, you should give them a try.

My favorite is Moonrise Kingdom, which is the first movie we saw in theaters after moving here, and I remember the heavy air conditioning at the theater was such a welcome relief from sweltering in our apartment as we moved in furniture and unpacked our things.

It is my quintessential summer film; I love the story of these two adolescent outsiders becoming good friends and falling in innocent prepuscent love. Plus, it has everything you wanted in a summer as a kid, whether you’ve personally experienced these things or not: sleepaway camp, canoeing, a secret penpal, window seat reading, beach dancing, a kitten stolen away in a picnic basket. Ed Norton dressed as Khaki Scout troop leader, goofy khaki shorts, hat and all.

moonrise kingdom

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My favorite things: Winter discoveries

IMG_2599

Carl Schurz Park, our neighborhood park, after a recent snowfall

After what felt like six months of winter, today it is sunny and a glorious 48 degrees outside (who would’ve thought 48 degrees could feel glorious?). We’ve started our Saturday with homemade peanut butter oatmeal banana pancakes and French press coffee, I’ve been cuddling with Ali and reading a fascinating book (Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick), and this afternoon I’m taking Charlie-dog for a walk. As it turns out though, all this time cooped up has been a good opportunity for making discoveries.

Here are a few of my favorite (new) things:

1. The ‘Before’ film trilogy (Before SunriseBefore Sunset, and Before Midnight):

Before SunriseThese are some of the most romantic films I’ve ever seen (Sean enjoyed them too! added bonus!). In Before Sunrise (1995), young 20-something American Jesse crosses paths with French college student Celine on a train crossing Europe, and the two end up spending a day and night together wandering the streets of Vienna. Most of the movie is just the two talking about everything and nothing together, and the dialogue is just fascinating. The kind of conversations you’d love to eavesdrop on the bus and would be saddened when the two got off an earlier stop than you. And the chemistry between the two is just so palpable, you’re dying to find out if they get together in the end.

before-sunset-boat

In the sequel, Before Sunset (2004), Jesse and Celine, now in their 30s, reunite in Paris for an afternoon — nearly 10 years after that fateful night in Vienna. Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke are just as wonderful together, as always.

before-midnight-1And in the final installment (although I hope it’s really not the final final installment), Before Midnight (2013), we follow Celine and Jesse, now 40-somethings, for a day in southern Greece. We just watched this one last night, and let me tell you, these movies just keep getting better and better. I won’t spoil anything about this one for anyone though. It is just such a cool idea to follow the same two characters and their changing relationship over the decades; Delphy and Hawke also helped write the scripts for the second and third films. I just love both these characters so much, and each film is a wonderful emotional journey full of comedic, poignant, and bittersweet moments. The series seems to be both answering and begging the questions: Is there such a thing as a soul mate? Or is love just a matter of chance? Are relationships dependent upon some amount of fate, or are they ultimately the product of intentional commitment?

2. Brushing up on my French on Duolingo

tumblr_n19bpkxqWP1sgr8axo1_500A few of my college friends were getting really competitive about something called “Duolingo” about a month ago, and I had no idea what they were talking about. It turns out it’s a free language learning website/app that provides free education and also harnesses brain power to translate web pages into various languages. I took the French placement test and have been hooked ever since. I don’t think it’s so good for learning a new foreign language, but it is pretty effective for review. I have bought a few French review workbooks over the past couple of years, but nothing has motivated me so much as a little friendly competition and game-like elements. Some of the sentences are laughably random though, since I’m pretty sure they’re pulled from eclectic websites. C’est la fille qui peut lire un menu. “This is the daughter who can read a menu.” Okay, then.

3. Nora Ephron’s writing

IMG_2648I can’t believe it took me approximately a half-million views of You’ve Got Mail to realize that Nora Ephron also has published collections of essays. I borrowed a copy of I Remember Nothing from the library and positively devoured it in one day. I’ve loved David Sedaris’ essays for what feels like ages, and Nora is the female equivalent of that. She had one essay, in particular, “Journalism: A Love Story,” which I really loved. She writes about her enchantment with the speed of the newsroom, and her rise from mail room clerk in an era when female college graduates were confined to the lowest ranks of news organizations, to successful byline-boasting reporter.

I feel like Nora Ephron and I could have been really good friends, despite the age difference. She writes that her ideal afternoon would be a frozen custard from Shake Shack, followed by a Lactaid, followed by a walk through Central Park. Yes, we would have gotten along just splendidly.

4. Bob Dylan

IMG_2695I’m positively dying to read Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles, Part One, but after fruitless attempts to obtain either a library or a bookstore copy, I’m settling for the lovely box set of Dylan’s records Sean bought with some of his birthday money. This is another one of those things, like Nora Ephron, that’s I’m kicking myself for taking so long to try out. I love American folk music, and Bob Dylan is one of the originals. Of course, everyone and their mother has heard a Dylan song at some point in their lives, whether they were aware of it or not, but I never really listened to it, you know? I’m considering listening to all his early stuff an education in and of itself. Major props to the movie Inside Llewyn Davis for kindling my newfound interest in Greenwich Village of the ’60s and the birth of the American folk movement.

5. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

191132747_0322_Bernadette_Where_tcm20-1862557This book was so much fun! I’ve been wanting to read it for quite some time now, after much praise among my neighborhood book club. This is the zany tale of eccentric middle-aged mother Bernadette, who lives as a practical recluse and then disappears altogether, just days before a family cruise to Antarctica, leaving her gifted 13-year-old daughter, Bee, to follow a hilarious paper trail of emails, memos, news articles, and more to find out just what happened to her mother.

The author, Maria Semple, was a writer for the TV show Arrested Development, whose quirky humor I adore, and that really shines through in this book. It also predominately takes place in Seattle, and I recognized a surprising number of restaurants, cafes, and notable places from our honeymoon there, which only added extra appeal for me. Unlike Gone Girl or some other mystery thrillers I’ve read recently, this book manages to remain lighthearted. The core story of Bee’s admiration of and loyalty to her mother, despite all of her flaws, is charming too, of course. Recommended for anyone who enjoys chortling and smiling; also good for childhood fans of Nancy Drew.

IMG_2646

IMG_2652

Let’s hope that spring is just around the corner!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living: Lonesome Dove

book coverI did it! I read all 950-ish pages of Larry McMurtry’s Western epic Lonesome Dove! So glad to kick that one off the bucket list.

And guys! I really, really, really enjoyed this novel. I never in 1,000 years — okay, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic — would have thought I’d enjoy an essential cowboys-versus-Indians book as much as I just did. This book was everything I had hoped Lord of the Rings would be, but just wasn’t for me (sorry): page-turning adventure, breathtaking landscape descriptions, tragic tales of lost loves, incomparable character development, and a bromance to end all bromances. Probably Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call would shoot me down if they knew I referred to their fierce loyalty and decades-long friendship as a “bromance,” but that’s what I’m gonna call it.

The plot is almost mind-boggling simple for a book of this length: two former captains of the Texas Rangers, past their heyday of driving out Mexicans and the Comanche from Texas, are running a sad cattle company in a hoinky-doink bordertown called Lonesome Dove when their old pal Jake Spoon turns up, on the run from the law in Arkansas for accidentally gunning down a man, and then plants the idea of rounding up some boys and some cattle and heading to Montana, where the land is free for the taking for those willing to brave the wild, unsettled frontier. Commence really long cross-country cattle drive.

Or as Gus puts it simply, “‘Call’s gone to round up a dern bunch of cowboys so we can head out for Montana with a dern bunch of cows and suffer for the rest of our lives.'”

Gus McCrae

Gus McCrae

Although all the gun-slinging, cattle-wrangling and prairie-traversing really did rope me in (hardy har har, see what I did there? With my cowboy-appropriate puns?), what kept me going through this brick of a book were the characters. My God, if those men didn’t feel real to me by the end. I had to stop and stare at the walls a bit in recovery when I finished, which is always a sign of a book that has taken me taken me to new places and introduced me to people that I’m not quite ready to let go of just yet.

For a very male-dominated book, as you can imagine, the female characters were so fleshed out! I loved sassy, strong-spirited Clara, and my heart broke time and time again for the beautiful, withdrawn prostitute Lorena, forever betrayed and hurt by men. All of the characters were so well-developed, you fully understood their motivations, even when they made terrible, immoral choices. I think that is a tremendous accomplishment on the author’s part.

But my absolute favorite character was Gus. He is easily one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, right up there with Atticus Finch and Harry freaking Potter. That is a pretty big deal.

I usually HATE when authors spend ages describing the geography of the characters’ surroundings (cough cough, Tolkein, I’m lookin’ at you, cough cough). But in this case, the geography was so much more than mountains or valleys or plains. The geography deeply affected the characters’ well-being, both physically and psychologically. And maybe I’m a little prone to be moved by descriptions of the American frontier than, say, Middle-earth. Speaking of which, I loved the epigraph to Lonesome Dove, especially after finishing the whole book:

“All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” -T.K. Whipple, Study Out the Land

I can tell why this novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. More so than an epic journey, it is a moving portrait of a special time in our history. Moving a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of cattle to uncharted land and battling both the elements and rightful native owners of that land was a big deal. And it makes for a gripping, memorable read.

This book made me laugh out loud in public, and also cry. And gasp. Any book that does that is more than worth your while, in my opinion. I can’t wait to watch the miniseries on Netflix!

Pro tip: The phrase “uva uvam viviendo varia fit” that is written on the sign for the Hat Creek Cattle Co. in Lonesome Dove is a butchering of the Latin for “a grape is changed by living with other grapes,” or more straightforwardly, “we are changed by those around us.” Yeah, just let that sink in for a while within the context of the story. You’re welcome.

P.S. Sean’s friend Patrick called me immediately after learning I’d finished this book to discuss it because he also loved it so much. I love that.

P.P.S. Texas forever.

lonesome dove

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Surviving the polar vortex

parkGreetings from the Arctic North! Or at least, what feels like it to my imagination. We have reach the bleakest of bleak times: the dead of winter. I don’t know how anyone here is faring well with their New Year’s fitness-related resolutions because I’m pretty sure the only thing these continuous weeks of below-freezing temps, snow and icy winds are good for is wrapping up in a blanket and drowning your sorrows in Netflix marathons and hot cocoa.

snow 2

snow 1I still find myself enchanted by the utter transformation of Central Park in the snow. It emerges as a miniature Narnia; you can half-expect to see Mr. Tumnus come plodding along the wooded paths, umbrella in hand and invitation to afternoon tea perched on the lips, at any moment. See this bench in the Shakespeare Garden here? On one of the blissful days when I had secured my job but hadn’t yet started working, I spent a whole August afternoon curled up in that exact spot, reveling in the dappled sunlight and the campiness of Valley of the Dolls.

The actual streets and sidewalks one has to navigate each day, however, are an entirely different story — one filled with many lost hopes and dreams and plenty of dirty slush. People only seem to be out and about when absolutely necessary; on the weekends, the sidewalks are eerily deserted, only a brave few navigating the rock salt rubble and goop.

pancakesI am incredibly eager for spring: for the daffodils that seem to peek up from every crack in the sidewalk, to shed my puffy down coat (and hat and gloves and scarf and boots), to breakfast on scones at the Conservatory Boat Pond again. The last two weekends have been so brutal, we’ve cozied up in the apartment and made oatmeal banana pancakes instead of moseying on over to our favorite corner diner. Surprise! Our pancakes are better. (:

I do believe I am starting to develop cabin fever though. I think that has to do with it getting dark by the time I leave work combined with the hurrying extra-fast from Point A to Point B to avoid getting frostbite. The first round of this beast known as the Polar Vortex, I couldn’t feel my thighs by the time I got to the subway station — it was -15 F with the wind chill! I saw people sprinting in the direction of the train station from blocks away, which was an amusing sight, despite the bitterly cold circumstances. To solve the frozen thigh problem, I took to wearing tights under my pants last week, which was effective for the outdoors, but made me feel like I was sweating out all my toxins at a sauna once I got to the office. (On blistering hot summer days when I sweat off all my makeup and deodorant by the time I arrive in the morning, I have to wear a cardigan indoor to prevent goosebumps. You can’t win in that place!)

aliAll this time cooped up indoors has motivated us to explore out-of-the-ordinary hobbies. Sean has started picking up his guitar again, and I’ve busted out both the yoga mat and some French grammar workbooks. There’s the pancake-making, of course, and I’ve decided to finally tackle that intimidating Western epic of a novel, Lonesome Dove. We’ve also started watching The Wire on DVD, which is a crime drama about the street drug trade in Baltimore, and will keep us quite occupied from here until next New Year’s.

And to stay warm, we’ve been exploring all varieties of foods that can warm a person from the inside out. I’ve made taco soup and shepherd’s pie, but on the weekends, we’ve been trying out a world of “chicken noodle soups.”

First off, we decided to visit an authentic ramen-ya to see what all the fuss is about, as we had brushed off ramen as overly salty and reserved for a poor college student’s dinner. We went to Ippudo in the East Village and after waiting for what felt like FOREVER (ramen is very popular in the cold), we were led to a large communal table and all the servers greeted us joyfully in Japanese! We both ordered the “Akamaru Modern,” which is pork soup noodles topped with  “umami dama” miso paste, pork chashu, cabbage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. Not your boring old microwaveable Cup ‘O Noodles! It was a giant bowl of delicious.

ramenBut this past weekend we found a real gem! Cafe Himalaya, a Tibetan/Nepalese hole-in-the-wall, with cheap, piping hot eats. Here we tried the thukpa, a traditional Tibetan noodle soup with lots of veggies and hearty pieces of tofu. Once you mix in the house-made spicy chutney, this stuff will clear out your sinuses really well, I promise. I guess the mountain dwellers would know how to make an incredibly satisfying winter’s meal. For $6.99 and easily over two servings in one order, we will definitely be back before we see the other side of freezing up here. And next time, I’m getting the hot tea! Give me all of the warm.

thukpa

How do you keep warm on frigidly cold days?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized