Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Broken Branch

Herewith a brief photo essay. 

We have a lovely row of trees that flower in the spring. 

Just a few weeks ago, on my daily walk with the dog, I noticed one branch has severely broken--the right angle is the break. The buds were forming all over the tree, including on the broken branch.

Today, as I walked by the same tree, I noticed that the downed branch was in full bloom, as was the whole tree. 

So, I take heart in this sweet message from nature--a broken branch can still bloom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy birthday, Will in the World*

Once again, my favorite morning pick-me-up is the Writer's Almanac, wherein quotidian anniversaries are noted.

So, from today's entry, I am reminded that today is the accepted date of William Shakespeare's birthday.

Out of curiosity, I ran a quick search of previous blogs I have written (there are some 671, but who's counting?), there are 19 ... now 20 ...which deal with or mention William Shakespeare.  While there are certainly other subjects that I have written about as frequently, writing about Shakespeare ranks near the top of my preferred topics.  Not surprising, of course, for someone who was an English major (that would be me) nor for someone who was perhaps the greatest writer in the English language (that would be Shakespeare).

Here's a measure of his impact, as the Writer's Almanac reported it:

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and was a master of the language of various social classes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined 3,000 new words, and he has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. Shakespeare gave us such commonly used phrases as "a fool's paradise," "dead as a doornail," "Greek to me," "come what may," "eaten out of house and home," "forever and a day," "heart's content," "love is blind," "night owl," "wild goose chase," and "into thin air."

So, happy birthday, Will.  Thank you for adding infinitely to the richness of our understanding of human nature, for adding so much to the English language, for giving us phrases we use every day without ever thinking who penned them in the first place.

*For an excellent accounting of the making of Shakespeare, read Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Helping Malik

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking our dog around the block, I encountered a young man.  It was one of those miserable days in what has been a miserable winter.  True, we were inching toward spring, and had had a day or two with temperatures above freezing.  But this day which had promised to be a touch warmer turned out to be cold—with a wind that cut through my jacket.

As this young man approached, it was evident that he must be a student at the nearby high school walking home. We live near a large apartment complex, and frequently have students cutting through our neighborhood.

What caught my eye about this young man was that he had NO coat on.  He had his arms tucked down inside his pants, in an effort to keep warm.  I always make it a point to acknowledge the students I see walking through our neighborhood—so, I said to him “you look cold.

His answer surprised me a bit—“I’m lost.”  Thinking he might want directions, I asked where he was going.  “To ____ High School.”  Now, he was walking from our school district high school and the one he named was another school which is over three miles from where we were.  Such a walk could take him over an hour.

And he was walking.  Without a coat. On a cold day.
Well, I said, I know where that high school is—why do you want to go there?
So I can get to the place I need to be, he answered.
I asked why he didn’t have a jacket on, and he shrugged with that mixture of nonchalance and cluelessness one sometimes sees in young teens.

I couldn’t just let this go—so I told him to walk with me to my house, a few doors from where we were.  As we walked, I asked him his name—Malik.  I asked what grade he was in—9th.  And I asked about favorite subjects, which teachers he had.

As soon as we got to my house, I asked him to wait, while I could get a jacket for him.  While he waited outside, I popped in my house, and quickly filled my husband in on the situation.  Immediately, my husband said he would drive Malik to the other school. 

My husband then went to the basement, and got a jacket for Malik.  Then we went outside to Malik, who very quickly put on the jacket.  We told Malik to keep the jacket and that my husband would drive him.
I then asked—where does he need to go from the other high school?  Oh, from there I can walk to Zion Church, he said.

My husband and I knew exactly where he meant, so my husband said he would drive Malik there.  Thinking that Malik might want to tell someone he was getting a ride, I asked if he wanted to call his mother, but he demurred saying she was at work.

So, my husband headed off with Malik, took him to the church where Malik went up to the door and rang a bell, knew what to say to get in, and went inside.

We haven’t seen him since. Every now and then, I have thought about Malik.  I hope he stays the sweet young man he seemed to be—only with a touch more common sense in remembering to bring a jacket to school on cold days. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Movies that Won't Go to the Oscars

By now, dear reader, you know I love movies. Every year, I wait for the Academy Award nominations, and then my husband and I go on a mad dash to see as many of the "favored" films as we can.  This movie affinity also means I pay attention to which movies top the charts--the primary measurement now being which movie grossed the most in any given week.

Frankly, sometimes it is downright appalling what drivel is foisted on the viewing public AND the public responds enthusiastically.  This past week's top movies:  Noah; Divergent; Muppets Most Wanted; Mr. Peabody and Sherman; and God's Not Dead.

Coming in at Number 6 is The Grand Budapest Hotel--and that's one of the movies we went to see this week.  More on this movie in a minute.

But, first, a digression.  Maybe you are old enough to remember when movies came out, and slowly by word of mouth their reputation spread.  A movie might start slow, but eventually it had time to catch up and become a hit.  Well, not anymore. Clearly, the profit a movie makes drives how long it stays in theaters.  No time for word of mouth, for a slow reputation to build.

Personally, I don't like to go to movies on the first week of their showing in our area--avoid crowds, etc.  But, sometimes, by holding back we can miss a movie's showing in our area.  We also like to patronize some of the independent theaters that still exist--so we sometimes wait for these places to bring in a movie.

So, what movies won't go to the Oscars?  I have noticed--and have also read--that when a movie is released during a year is calculated to make it Oscar-worthy or not.  For example, the earlier in a year a movie is released, the less likely it is to get an Oscar nomination.  Of course, some movies never aim to be nominated, and their release is pegged to holidays--summers, Thanksgiving, Christmas--in order to be the movie that makes a huge profit.

When I learned that a movie based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, I couldn't wait to see it.  We saw Monuments Men last week.  In many ways, it is a good movie.  Oh, the acting isn't the greatest; there are times that the dialogue is somewhat stilted; and the plot greatly simplifies a complex aspect of World War II.  However, the movie does portray a story that few of us know. And one that ALL of us should know.

We may have read about recent discoveries of paintings, stashed in an apartment owned by Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, most if not all of which had been confiscated--stolen--from Jewish families during the war.  What we might not know is that the Allies made a concerted effort to find, recover and return art works that the Nazis had systematically stolen and stashed.  As the Americans and British Allies are making a mad dash across France and Germany, they are not only racing to keep the Nazis from burning or otherwise destroying great works of art. They are also racing the third party of the Allies: the Russians.  They want to take the art and abscond with it back to Russia.  So many Russian lives were lost, why not take some art as reparations.

The movie centers on a small group of U.S. art experts, led by George Clooney and Matt Damon.  All the character names are fictionalized from the historic figures, which is a bit frustrating.  There is also a wonderful role played by Cate Blanchett, who was a French museum worker who catalogued many of the stolen works of art that came through her museum.  The movie also focuses on two signature pieces of art--the Ghent Altarpiece, and the Bruge Madonna, sculpture by Michelangelo.  While many thousands of work were stolen, the movie (following the book) focuses on a few works, no doubt to help the viewer appreciate the enormity of what they were doing.

All in all--this is a feel good movie.  It is also a cautionary tale.

The other movie we went to see--another early in the year release --was The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Curiously enough, were I doing my pre-Oscar reviews, I might have paired this movie with Monuments Men.  Both movies deal with the effects of World War II.  Both movies revolve, in part, around works of art.  Where they diverge is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is entirely fictional, based on a made-up country, the result of Wes Anderson's incredibly creative mind--he is director, producer, author, and screen play writer.

The movie tells the story of the hotel, now owned by a solitary old man.  The story begins in the late 1960s.  The hotel, once grand, is now practically in ruins, showing all the signs of deterioration seen so many places across eastern Europe after Soviet occupation and domination.  It is set in the country of Zubrowka--don't bother to look for it on maps.  It doesn't exist.  An author is staying in the hotel, and encounters the old man.  He is the one with a tale to tell.

The tale is of the hotel and Gustave H., played with a fine comedic touch by Ralph Fiennes.  Gustave H. is the concierge of the hotel who does everything, make that EVERYTHING to make his clients happy.  The plot follows a mad-cap path through the hey days of the hotel, to the reading of the will of a grand dame who loved to stay at the hotel, to the framing of Gustave H., to a thoroughly dissolute son of the grand dame, to a brass-knuckled enforcer for the son, to prison, to the Alps, to ... Oh, just go see the movie!  

In addition to seeing Ralph Fiennes, look for F. Murray Abraham, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson--and one or two other fine actors. 

If you like Wes Anderson (and I do) you may find this to be his best movie yet.

I suspect neither of these movies will get a nod at Oscar time--but I still found them hugely enjoyable, and worth a night (or afternoon...which we retired folks can do) out.