Monthly Archives: February 2014

My favorite things: Winter discoveries

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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.

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

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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

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