Breakfast with Pandora caters to everyone interested in ancient Greek and comparative mythology, good stories, the craft of writing, food, theology, education, and other humane things. Ask a question at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.
According to the tasting notes at our local wine shop, the wine we enjoyed last night is redolent of "La garrigue": an arid landscape native to the south of France and characterized by aromatic herbs such as wild thyme, rosemary, and lavender.
Photo from the wineshop.
Most of the time, tasting notes in wines don't mean a whole lot, especially those that go beyond common tastes such as red, blue and black fruit. How do we know what "leather" or "tobacco" tastes like in a wine?
Still, it's fun to savor wine on the tongue and see if you can pick out something. It's a game that requires no video equipment, RAM, or operating system. And it was a no-video Friday at our house last night, so wine tasting was high on the list of entertainment options.
Skeptical as I am, I was not expecting to taste "la garrigue" in my wine, even though I spent a fair amount of time in southern France in my youth and count that season as one of the happiest and soul-satisfying in my life.
But danged if Le Garrigon Côtes du Rhone 2007 (organic, made by Daniel Couston) didn't come up with a pronounced burst of smoky herbs, as if I was smelling a distant brush fire fanned by a Mistral. It was really fun to get this, and tasty as well with a braised pork chop in orange sauce.
I lived in France with a family that liked consistency. We always started dinner with a puree of vegetable soup that was pale green and perfect for taking the edge off my appetite. Every day of the week had its own entree: lasagna on Tuesday, hamburger and french fries Wednesday, and so on.
And the family drank the same wine every weekday, which they bought by the tankful from a local producer. Opening a bottle with a corkscrew almost never happened in that family. I think they may have considered it a little snooty, or at least way too expensive, the way we might consider it better to buy double packs of Cheerios from Costco rather than variety packs of single-serving boxes of cereal.
At the proper time, I presented the family with a bottle of characteristic California juice: Sebastiani Zinfandel. Back then, you couldn't get more California than that. They made a big deal out of opening the bottle, pouring it, asking questions about my home.
Then the paterfamilias tasted it and said it was like the wine he drank in Algeria during the war.
Quelle honte! Dissed by the French again.
The wine my family drank was plenty good, and they made it go farther by adding water. After a while I was happy to expect that same taste every day. It felt comforting and familiar in a place where I was never sure whether I was getting my genders correct.
After I left France, I figured I would never taste that particular wine again. But I did, round about 1991 or 1992, when my best friend was living nearby with his new wife. My friend is also a France veteran, and he or I bought a random, inexpensive bottle of Côtes du Rhone (such as this one). We sat down to dinner, and at the first sip of the wine my entire French experience came rushing back, a la the ratatouille scene in the movie "Ratatouille."
A tear passed down my cheek.
The wine last night was not like my everyday wine in France. I hope to taste that some time again. I think I will have to go back to the south of France for it. I will let you know when I find it.
I went in to District 9 thinking it was going to be a major triumph for me in the iron stomach department. I'd read a review of the movie warning that it had graphic violence, and lots of it. I believe the phrase "multiple dismemberments" was mentioned, along with more f-bombs than exploding ones. Usually that's a deal breaker for me, but the film has been getting such positive buzz I figured I'd take one for my readers and post about it.
I saw the film with impressionable young sprout dear son, who is a newly-minted junior in high school and driving now. He was seriously bent by seeing the director's cut of Blade Runner on DVD, so I told him that if he wanted, we could leave early. Son brushed off my suggestion like a wildebeest slapping his tail at a fly.
The simile is apt. District 9 is shot in South Africa, a place that would seem to be fertile for good stories. I posted on the Iliad-like Tsotsi (made in Botswana) a couple of years ago. Both these films are gritty and grace-filled with the kind of all-or-nothing urgency of grace pushed to the edge.
But unlike Tsotsi, District 9 is at its core a "summer movie," (as someone who'd seen it said afterwards), one that's intended to be an exciting, fun-filled romp.
Gritty, grace-filled, and fun. Like I said, great myth.
District 9 is science fiction, which is to say it has aliens and an Independence Day-like flying saucer hovering over a city (here, Johannesburg). But unlike the 1996 blockbuster, which trades on earthlings' dread of extraterrestrials as incomprehensibly hostile to all things earthly, the aliens in this movie are pitiable refugees, their mothership disabled.
As the movie explains via its documentary-style storytelling, the aliens are given a section of the city called District 9, which becomes a slum set apart from human society by a wall. The movie revolves around what should be done for and to the aliens, who in addition to being pitiable, are also disgustingly inhumane.
So what qualifies District 9 as great myth?
First of all, great myth entertains. It holds us for the entire time the story is being told. There wasn't a moment during the movie when I wasn't enthralled. This happens very seldom to me, since I am so analytical about stories. There is a moment where the ordinary guy hero, Wikus van de Werwe (played by Sharlto Copley, a walking amphetamine overdose), is shooting his way into an underground bunker. It had been a while since the movie started, so I thought, "This is the end. He won't get out of this, and this will be the end of the movie."
In fact, we were only something like halfway through.
A couple more times I thought the same thing. What can happen now? Obviously this is the moment where the hero dies. And yet the plot continued to unfold.
Second, great myth hits us where we live. The South African writer and director, Neill Blomkamp, takes pains at first to build up the aliens as ugly, disgusting, subhuman, and unworthy of our esteem. But gradually, gradually, with the introduction of two alien characters (importantly, a father and son), we come to see the aliens as the good guys and the multinational exploiting corporate mercenaries as the villains (Blackwater International, anyone?).
There's nothing like finding an underdog where there was no underdog before, and finding a villain where there was no villain before. This is a summer movie in that there are men (and aliens) in white hats and men in black hats, and it's not tough to figure out which is wearing which.
That's why towards the end people were cheering whenever an evil mercenary was splooshed by the super-powerful alien weaponry. What a turnaround: the aliens are killing the guys with the helmets and the guns, and we're cheering.
Third, we welcome the humanity, grace, and tenderness within the destruction. A great story has depth, and levels. Within the serendipity of cheering for the aliens, there is the honest surprise of a relationship that develops in the triangle of the human, Wikus, and the alien father and son. Americans, as a nation, do value community within diversity, we do want to give people second chances, we do want to think the best of others, despite our racial past.
District 9 carves out for its viewers a tender awakening to the "humanity" in the aliens, with not even a smidgen of sentimentality or emotional cheating. The film is shot with a brutal filter that washes out color, and most of the movie is set in shantytowns that are among the ugliest places I have ever seen in the world. Yet, you can't help feeling optimistic about the ability of the human (and alien) spirit to transcend its circumstances.
I like about South Africa that despite its painful history, it continues to try to be honest as a country about the ability to heal and not to deny. That corresponds with my ethos for sure. So I'm going to love a movie that shows what South Africa is about.
That's the tip of the iceberg. There's plenty more here, but for now we'll call a halt. As I've written before, I don't consider myth to be exclusively ethereal stories about the gods that were told thousands of years ago. Myth is here, today, with us, allowing us to cope with our everyday anxieties and the tough paradoxes of life. It may be that District 9 will be forgotten in a few weeks, years, or months. But stories just like it will continue to be told, as long as we are human.
Over at Hugo
Schwyzer, where feminism now, today is the main event, aposton the
ramifications of a study that says "college-aged women did
sixteen hours more work" per week than their male counterparts.
Apparently college boys are playing a lot of video games, and
co-eds are making sure civilization doesn't crumble.
From Hugo's perspective, the crisis of this study has to do with women working too hard, trying to be perfect. But there is another angle. I have posted
beforeon the evolution of male
roles, and I do believe that boys and men are going through one
of the most difficult psycho-social moments in the history of the
species-- at least in middle-class America. I can't speak for
other cultures and classes.
situation: since about 1960, men have been expected to cede an
increasing amount of power to women. And, contrary to history and
tradition, they have been expected to do it willingly.
process, and with a lot of fits and starts, women have acquired
an easily measurable amount of public power, in the form of jobs,
choices, laws, rights, and expectations. It has been a
men gotten in return for giving up power? A lot of not easily measurable things. A more humane way of life. The opportunity to share
more fully in the raising of children and managing of a
household. More mutuality in marriages.
traditionally do not value these things. We value power,
competition, and the ability to hoard, consume, and destroy
resources. We have allowed women to civilize us to an extent,
because there is something in us that values that. (As one woman
once said on a radio broadcast encouraging guys to contribute
money to a woman-oriented cause, "C'mon guys. You like us. We're
soft, squishy, and we smell nice.") Many of us do, however,
remain tempted to go cross-eyed on occasion.
So the fact
that young men are losing themselves in aggressive, competitive,
destructive video games while attempting to ignore responsibility
and pretend that society doesn't exist-- well, it doesn't
truthfully, this has been going on for a long time. The
civilization of guys is a primeval thing, and it is a
present-day, present-moment thing. The wonderful story of Enkidu
is a great example of that.
Enkidu is a supporting
character in the ancient (4,000 year old) epic of Gilgamesh, a
story which was first told around 2000 BC and went through
several versions through more than a millennium of transmission.
The epic, according to Professor Tsvi Abusch, combines "the power
and tragedy of the Iliad with the wanderings and marvels
of the Odyssey."
Enkidu is the best
friend of Gilgamesh, the hero of the epic, and the one who goes
through all the power, tragedy, wanderings and marvels. Enkidu
shares some of that excitement, but his most interesting moment
is his introduction:
of his body was hairy and his (uncut) locks were like a woman's
or the hair of a goddess of grain. Moreover, he knew nothing of
settled fields or human beings and was clothed (in skins) like
a deity of flocks.
In other words, he was
playing video games in his pajamas all day.
quite true: Enkidu was also actively an enemy of civilization,
disrupting the hunting of animals. Trappers were put out; this
wild man was destroying their livelihood.
solution? Gilgamesh, who was king at the time decreed that a
prostitute go out to Enkidu and attract him. Enkidu liked the
prostitute and stayed with her "for six days and seven
the animals that had been his friends shunned him, and he became
a protector of shepherds from lions and wolves. Later, he went to
see Gilgamesh, wrestled with him, was defeated by him, and the
two became great friends.
began the enculturation (some say "humanization") of Enkidu by
introducing him to some of the best things about civilization.
Then, importantly, Enkidu finished his maturation by intimate
contact with a powerful, civilized man.
For modern-day Enkidus,
there are a lot of women interested in civilizing or at least
spending six days and seven nights with them. But you see where
that has got us. Lots of Enkidus playing video games
and enjoying themselves in other
I think the key is the
contact with a strong, responsible man, someone guys can look up
to. Not many of those good men are out there or have ever been
out there. Now, in the brave new world of equality, mutuality,
and less opportunity to die early in war, they are even more
My son has had the great
advantage of contact with lots of responsible men (besides me) who are fun to
be around, in the form of coaches, teachers, pastors, youth
leaders, and friends of mine. I try to do the same by my friends'
sons, and this year I'll be advising a bunch of teenage hero boys
who are facing the great challenge of these transformative days.
With God's help, I'll do okay. I'll keep you posted on developments.
Premiere night at the local cinema was crowded, only single seats available in the main body of the auditorium, so we sat in the fifth row, the better to see Meryl Streep having a grand old time impersonating cookbook author and proto-celebrity chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia.
Streep was her normal, incredible self, almost making herself invisible under that floppy wig. Definitely worth an Oscar nomination.
But to me, the best performance of the night was not Streep's, and it was not Stanley Tucci's as Julia Child's husband Paul, though they had terrific chemistry and great lines. Tucci also did a fantastic job in Big Night, another movie about food.
Amy Adams, whom I first loved in Enchanted lo these many moons ago (2007!), did the best job. Not the best job playing Julie Powell, the blogger who in one year made all 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Adams did a great job impersonating Meg Ryan, who, if she were still young like Adams is, would've been the best choice for playing herself in the role of Powell.
Nothing much happens in Julie and Julia-- it's just plain fun, with a lot of great lines. The best one is probably the one that earned the flick its PG-13 rating. Look for the remark about the pasta.
What tension there is comes in the depiction of blogger Powell as a neurotic writer with confidence problems. Doing this, she looks and sounds exactly like Meg in When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle: the short hair, the skinny figure, the turned-up nose, the big, expressive eyes, the lying down in frustration and exasperation, the spunkiness, the adorability.
This all makes sense. The writer and director of the film is Nora Ephron, who also wrote the three movies above, and directed the latter two.
Although I like Meg Ryan a lot, and Amy Adams too, I sure wish Ephron had used more imagination in the depiction of Julie, because I think Adams is a brilliant actress and doesn't deserve to be Ryan.
And what about the movie? We laughed and laughed with the premiere crowd. Everyone was in a terrific mood afterwards. There's something to be said for a film that celebrates the can-do spirit in a perfectly straightforward way. Witty, charming, refreshing.
A hat tip to my fellow blogger Michael for this item first seen in the Herald (UK) Scotland edition.
In a review of an arts festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, critic Mary Brennan reported this on the Royal Ballet of Flanders' "The Return of Ulysses":
Its choreographer, Christian Spuck, comments wryly that in Homer, which is the inspiration for his clever, witty modern ballet, the faithful Penelope only rates about three lines in the entire Odyssey. Spuck puts her centerstage, surrounded by importunate suitors...
Read Michael's excellent disquisition on why the "three lines" comment is as inaccurate as saying the Empire State Building is three feet tall. I don't have an exact count, but Penelope rates closer to 3,000 lines in the Odyssey than three.
My question on reading this was, did the choreographer and critic really believe Penelope only had three lines to herself in Homer's entire poem? If they are "arts" people, shouldn't they have a basic understanding of one of the classics of western literature? Or, more narrowly, shouldn't they have at least taken a look at the poem to verify if three lines is all Penelope had? Seems like very few for one of the best known characters from the ancient world.
Besides, in the brave new world of feminism since about 1970, Penelope has been hugely discussed as having her own spiritual journey to complete. Could that really have escaped a "modern" choreographer's notice?
Then I thought, maybe Spuck was making a sarcastic joke: he comments "wryly" that she "only" has about three lines. Did he mean, oh yeah, she's just so TOTALLY a minor character, wink wink?
But then Brennan reports that Spuck puts Penelope "centerstage," as if this is his great innovation.
I know I'm being a terrible snob, but I'd sure like to know whether Mr. Spuck and Ms. Brennan both actually think Penelope has 3 lines in the entire Odyssey.
Apart from that, I'm sure it would've been fun to see the ballet.
was mainly about competition shows-- the kind where contestants
are eliminated week by week.Survivorwas the
first of this kind, but there are dozens now, something to suit
everyone's interests. There's one about losing weight, there's
one about dancing, and there's even one about losing weight while
The point of
the article is that contestants in these shows are pushed to
physical and mental limits in order to improve the watchability
of the shows-- everyone loves suffering, especially if it's
real-- and yet very, very few of the "stars" of these lucrative
shows, the contestants, make any money off of them while they're
I was all
ready to whip off a post about how reality performers should be
unionized when I decided to take a step back and ask an expert
about the situation.
loves competition shows. She's currently wild aboutDesignstar,
which has just started its new season, but she goes crazy
Think You Can Dance,Project
Next Top Model, andThe
Fashion Show. As a tween she cycled
between the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, but nowadays, in her
early teenage herodom, she wants to study human social behavior,
especially at its extremes.
I watch most of these shows with her, and we comment on what's
going on. I figured she had a healthy understanding of the
complicity we have with the producers when we feast on
But when I
asked her if she thought it was unfair that competition show
contestants are not paid, her response was, "Life isn't fair.
That's what you told me, isn't it?"
bedrock contention was that no one was forcing these people to be
in reality shows. She said over and over that they must know what
they're getting into when they sign up for them.
continued, by going on television, the contestants were getting
exposure and showcasing their talents for making money in other
And "If they
were paid," she argued, "they wouldn't try as hard to win the
gal is a vegetarian with a soft spot for dogs, cats, and pigs.
But that soft spot doesn't extend to people, I guess. She is my
own Artemis, protector of the wild and slayer of the
really had no counterargument to offer. As long as people keep
signing up to do reality shows for the sole privilege of being
humiliated on national television, there's nothing any of us can
do. As daughter pointed out, "It's not going to change
anything if I stop watching those shows. They're still going to
put them on."
I have to
give kudos to my girl for her principled stance on meat-eating,
and for her iron-clad arguments about reality shows. Maybe she's
got her compassion right where it needs to be. Why
care about reality show contestants when they're the ones who
signed up for their own execution?
least on Designstar, there's some humanity. Thisweek,
when one of the contestants was unable to finish her project and
quietly took some time in the ladies' room to lose it (the
cameras didn't go in there with her, but microphones did), a
couple of the others helped her to make her space look a little
more decent. And guess what? Someone else got axed that