Monday, December 27, 2010


No doubt a few movie watchers stumbled accidentally upon the Irish movie The Eclipse, in expectation of seeing romantic vampires and teenaged angst, but they would have been misled. Hopefully though, they stayed with the film, which does have a supernatural element, because it is a wonderful production with fine acting and beautiful scenery. Although partly a ghost story, and even a romance, as well as a commentary on literary festivals and boorish writers, it is primarily about grief and letting go. I was a bit confused about one ghost, or I guess more correctly a pre-ghost, of a elderly man dealing with the loss of his daughter from cancer, bitterness at his lot in life, and anger at his son-in-law. Ciaran Hinds is awesome as the widower, dealing with his two children after the loss of his loved wife, as he also continues his teaching duties and his volunteer work at the annual literary festival, where he comes in contact with a beautiful writer of stories about ghosts just as he starts having visitations. Added into the mix is her being stalked by a smitten, pretentious, drunkard (ugly American?) brutish author (played well by Aiden Quinn). There are beautiful shots of Ireland. Although it is rated R, for language and some disturbing scenes, older teens could certainly handle it. The banshee cries are unnerving, however. I heartily recommend the movie, if you don't mind a few scary parts.

Monday, December 20, 2010


When one thinks of China, even in the late twentieth century, one often contemplates the economic giant, modernizing and dominating the Asian theatre if not the entire world; one thinks of huge, bustling cities and tough governmental control. But there are many seamy undersides, one of which is portrayed in Blind Mountain (2007). In the last decade of the twentieth century, a college-educated woman is kidnapped from a big city by flesh peddlers and is forced into marriage in a remote northern village. Stubbornly and persistently she resists her enslavement, despite brutal beatings and rapes, isolation and constant surveillance, repeatedly trying to escape or contact outside help. Members of the family use every tactic at their disposal to control her, from participating in her initial rape to attempting to draw her in through inducements and talks with women similarly betrothed, and the family eventually celebrates the pregnancy that develops. The entire community, in fact, accepts and embraces wife stealing, from top authorities on down---a rigid system that forces women into compliance and blocks any outside interference, even from national police authorities. The misogynistic families will do anything to win sons, but their destruction of female offspring leads to a large male population needing brides. The very attractive Huang Lu plays the determined, angry Bai Xuemei, who despite her brutalization, still finds time to help educate the young boys in the village. She is caught up in an affair (partly in hopes of using it to escape her captivity), but it is ferreted out by the family, and the man is driven from the village (seemingly more for having broken the strict system than actually cuckolding Bai’s husband. Each disappointment ratchets up her determination to escape, leading to a desperate conclusion. As disheartening and maddening as the film is for those rooting for Bai (reminding me a lot of how I felt at the injustice portrayed in the Iranian movie The Stoning of Soroya M.), there are lovely film sequences and beautiful backdrops, and the acting is pretty good. Some sections are a bit lengthy. One wonders how Chinese authorities reacted to the film (as officially such treatment of women is forbidden) and if this condition still exists. There are small insights as well, such as the payments expected for medical treatment (which I was surprised about since I thought medicine was socialist there), to the willingness of so many people to turn a blind eye. It is a film worth watching, but it will leave the viewer angry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prez O

I kind of like Robert DeNiro's assessment of the prez in a recent issue of Esquire:

"Everybody can criticize. But at the end of the day, you know Obama's intentions are in the right place."

Monday, December 13, 2010


Quiet hovers round building bend,
a presence missing, no sad portend,
furtive angels do what they will,
note from harp string fluttered still,
this biting wind, too cold to bear,
cheek scarred with a crystalline tear,
Magdalena’s gone, my token joyage,
thoughts are on your silent voyage.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Outside of one's relationships to family and close friends, most friendships are little more that fleeting acquaintances, ships passing by. If one's world is like a fragrant meadow, we would often be little more than butterflies visiting different flowers and occasionally scraping wings in pursuit of life’s nectars. But there are always favored flowers, petals that irresistibly invite, a kind smile and little compliment that brightens each day. If I were a butterfly, then it was I who over the last few years found myself frequently gravitating to a lovely flower named Magdalena Agosto. I always took the same path to the No Name Deli in hopes that I would catch her taking a break from her duties at the neighboring medical clinic, standing there with her cigarette, or eating a quick meal, or catching up on a page or two in her books, often fantasy romances. Maggie was from Puerto Rico, and she always called me Papi, and we chatted about books, children, and other topics that struck our fancy. She had a fairy’s laugh and always a twinkle in her eye, a devilish smile, and she almost always mentioned her daughter. She loved butterflies, and occasionally I would find something with one on it, or a piece of Puerto Rican painted pottery, and she was always delighted with them. I still remember how excited she was when I found spanish translations of the Twilight series. She was the same age as I am, and we connected. She never failed to put a smile on my face.

Today, one of the nurses came out from the clinic and told me that Maggie was gone. Aneurism. I am still struck dumb. It is amazing how such a small friendship, when it is gone, can leave a scar in the heart. I have felt like crying all day. I am going to miss her so much. A corner of my meadow has gone dark and it will be with heavy wings that I pass by it. I wish well to her family, her son and daughter, and grandchildren (I think there are two), and her many sisters and brothers. Descanse en paz, Maggie. This old butterfly will never forget you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The Friday night production of Columbia Classical Ballet's annual Nutcracker at the Koger Center for the Arts delivered a sweet present to holiday dance lovers. It was full of change, and most of it for the better. The company, which appeared a bit smaller and younger this year, put on a delightful production that was sharp, colorful, and filled with more motion that I can remember seeing in past presentations. Artistic director Radenko Pavlovich introduced many new scenes and faces; alas, there were many missing as well. I missed seeing my favorite Japanese ballerinas, Akira Manabe and Kaori Yanagida, as well as my Brazilian friends, Renata and Waldelei. And the biggest absence, for me, was not seeing my son Joey up on stage, but he decided he wanted a sabbatical this year. I also missed working behind-the-scenes, especially watching the dancers from the wings, which I always find interesting (though I didn't necessarily miss children-sitting duties); but Joey got to see the performance in its entirety for the first time in years and he enjoyed it. Unlike past performances, there weren't the frequent clothing mishaps of last year---in fact, the new costumes were colorful and well put together. It seemed to me that the men, this year, outshone the women; I liked that Radenko put men in scenes that I can't recall them being a part of before. There were far fewer children involved, who at times gummed things up (probably to the chagrin of many parents, who naturally want to see more of their little darlings).

The majority of changes were to the first two sections, starting with the opening scene featuring ice skaters cavorting and fighting. Radenko did away with the well-trod former opening scene (that had featured a string of dancers crossing the stage to attend the party). The new scene was more riveting and enjoyable, and I hope he keeps it in. I also loved that he finally got rid of those darn giant bat heads and went instead with masks. Returning dancer DeeDee Rosner stole the entire show with her portrayal of grandmother in the party scene. She absolutely nailed it, and the crowd loved her. I wonder if she has considered musical stage. Usually Larry Payne, as Mother Ginger, gets the laughs from the audience, but DeeDee outdid him this year for comedy. I wasn't thrilled with the rat/soldier portion as compared to past shows. Joey didn't like it all, especially that the rats had the guns and the soldiers kept marching into the fire with swords.

Many returning dancers---Zolton Boros, Edward Persondek, Lauren Frere, Aoi Anraku, Oleksander Vykhrest, Saif Wilkes-Davis, and others---reprised former roles or took on new ones, and they all did a good job. Individual dancers were better than others, and there was the occasional slip, but they seemed energized and as if they were enjoying themselves.

I was impressed with two additions to the company. I really enjoyed Russian Ivan Popov, who danced for a while with the San Francisco Ballet, and Brazilian Jose Pereira.

The second half was not so different from past performances, and didn't quite live up to the promise of the first half, but it was still enjoyable. I didn't care for the costume worn by Ryosuke Ogura, a new member, in the Chinese dance. That one could stand some revision as well. The Arabian scene was not as well danced as in the past.

Overall, it was a nice night of dance. The boys were very good and Joey was riveted. I hope it gets him back in the company soon.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Curse you, Pat Conroy! Another night and most of a day immersed in one of his offerings, My Reading Life; so often have I been consumed by his words and mesmerized by how he retroactively tickled hidden ivories of my own life. And he is wrong when he asserts he never taught after his experience on Daufuskie; perhaps he did not stand before a gaggle of students, but his books entertained and instructed me from the start, a gripping sojourn begun with The Lords of Discipline, a gift from my mother. I tracked down The Boo and The Water Is Wide, and devoured them too, and have swept through all his remaining books (though, I haven’t been able to force myself to read the cookbook). I have many literary loves now, but Lords will remain one of my all-time favorites. I remember quivering outside a USC auditorium, lucky to listen in as he spoke about James Dickey (a speech reproduced in a chapter here), eager to get a glimpse of him, laughing as he told the river story, understanding his impressions of Dickey firsthand (whom I met several times, but did not like); and then he emerged, surrounded by a flock of adoring fans, and I managed to squeeze through and offer my hand, which he took. He looked as if he expected me to ask for his autograph, but I just stared (no doubt with a shit-eating grin) and said, “I just wanted to shake your hand.” I love that my former boss and mentor (in many ways) Matthew Bruccoli allowed me the opportunity to attend, even if I was there to work.

My Reading Life is less a list of important reads, although it is that too, than a memoir of people and places, family and friends, who instructed and influenced his writing. Anyone who loves his stuff will revel in the chapters that flesh out what they already know, because his books have already revealed many of his personal demons. Yet this book is by no means depressing or difficult; the stories are painted with humor and love, and maybe even a little comeuppance, and a dose of humility (possibly forced, as he must know how good he really is). It is also a call to writers, especially younger ones, to read voraciously, experience vicariously and personally, and, it seems, to blaze a path no matter what others say or how they criticize. He sends love letters to some of his favorite authors---Mitchell, Wolfe, Tolstoy, Dickey, among others----as well as explains the importance (and flaws) of people such as teacher Gene Norris, librarian Eileen Hunter, bookseller Cliff Graubart, bookman Norman Berg, and a cast of other colorful characters. I loved his passing relationship with a Japanese man while both were in Paris, as his breakfasting partner asserts in response to the arrogant waiters that Japan should have passed over Pearl Harbor and attacked France. If you love Conroy, you will feel as if you are listening in his parlor, and hopefully it may bring new readers to his novels.

Monday, November 15, 2010


A review from Slate of a new book on ballet that is worth reading.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Gamecocks win SEC East chamnpionship for the first time, while defeating the Gators in the Swamp for the first time as well. Awesome victory, well-played game, the team played hard and within themselves. Now to greater challenges.

Friday, November 5, 2010


William Saletin said it well:

"Politicians have tried and failed for decades to enact universal health care. This time, they succeeded. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and both houses of Congress, and by the thinnest of margins, they rammed a bill through. They weren't going to get another opportunity for a very long time. It cost them their majority, and it was worth it.

And that's not counting financial regulation, economic stimulus, college lending reform, and all the other bills that became law under Pelosi. So spare me the tears and gloating about her so-called failure. If John Boehner is speaker of the House for the next 20 years, he'll be lucky to match her achievements."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"The contradictory characterizations of him as fascist or socialist only serve to confirm the truth—--he's a raging moderate. And satirists don't do well with moderates, especially thoughtful ones. In addition, Obama rarely makes gaffes and has no salient physical or temperamental features. And sinking popularity isn't a critique. Even SNL's main rap on him is his unflappability, hardly a vice in a world leader."---Garry Trudeau

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Who but a brazen crazy person would go one-on-one with blank paper or canvas armed with nothing but ideas?

---Mark Vonnegut,Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So: A Memoir (2010).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Tonight, I watched a beautiful Japanese movie, Departures, (2008) by Yojiro Takita. A cellist (played by Masahiro Motoki), forced to make a career change, stumbles into the profession of preparing the deceased for their cremation. It is simply a wonderful film with great, well-performed roles that speaks to dignity, forgiveness, honor, love, and regret; the Japanese way of honoring their dead is absolutely lovely and perfect. I was greatly impressed. I cried at least four times. The story is also about finding your place in the world and a profession that suits you and then taking pride in doing that job right; accepting and supporting the ones you love, and coming to grips with past wrongs; honoring the people who helped you; community; and accepting the step at the end of life that is a gateway to another existence. Ryoko Hirosue and Tsutomu Yamazaki were wonderful in their parts. Kimiko Yo, who plays the secretary, was very good too. Not only were depictions of the ceremonies portrayed beautifully, but the scenery was breathtaking as well. I really encourage people to watch this movie; I am certain you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?"
Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?"
And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?"
But Conscience asks the question, "Is it right?"
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


GAMECOCKS WIN! GAMECOCKS WIN! ALABAMA #1 goes down. First time for the garnet. Am I excited. You betcha.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010


M. A. Orthofer, expressed a sentiment in his blog Literary Salon about publishing houses that I have believed for a while now, when seeing too many egregious errors in books I have read over the last year or so:

Is there a production manager/ copy editor/ editor left at any of these houses ?
Is there anyone who bothers reading the books any longer ?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recent Reading

An eclectic group of books I have attempted recently, so I thought I would present some thoughts about them. Kind of like a mini-review. Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea is an excellent and well-written account of an American mountaineer’s obsession with providing schools and community development projects for the mountainous, isolated northern portions of Pakistan. It is a good introduction to life in this region, and sheds light on many of the diverse customs and attitudes of the tribal peoples. It should be taken as a manual of how charitable (and even governmental) assistance should be provided to needy areas, as well as a primer on how to temper that anti-Western anger. We need more Mortensons. In honor of my friend Cheryl, trapped in Wyoming, and who is the baseline by which I have come to judge Canadians, generally (and favorably, cause she is a really nice person), I read Will Ferguson’s Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, a delightful collection of short accounts of his many trips to different parts of Canada, humorously told. I like Ferguson’s work, in addition to the comedy, for its emphasis on history. Milton Murayama’s Five Years on a Rock was an interesting fictionalized account of a Japanese picture bride in early twentieth-century Hawaii. Lewis Owens’ Bone Game and Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster novellas were a quick change of pace. In Bone Game we have a murder mystery wrapped in Native American academic culture; in Lobster, we follow the thoughts and actions of a manager as he closes down for the last time the Red Lobster he has been employed at while dealing with a semi-mutinous crew and a former girlfriend on the staff. Kinsella’s Dance Me Outside was a small collection of funny stories about Canadian Native Americans, though I was troubled with the voice, as it seemed to present a skewed and somewhat negative portrayal of the culture. Ok, I’ll admit it. . .I read Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, which was a nice bit of caramel corn. If you have children in third to fourth, you may want to add How To Scratch a Wombat, a followup to the children’s favorite, Diary of a Wombat, which I found delightful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


If it were not for the fact that the great Joseph Heller didn’t die until just before the turn of the century, I would swear that he (or some portion of him) was reincarnated into Iranian-born writer Shariar Mandanipour, because his Censoring an Iranian Love Story was as weirdly enjoyable to me as was Catch-22. Mandanipour tells a story of a writer trying to craft a romance while having to deal with the oppressive censorship of a fundamentalist Islamic bureaucrat. The writing is witty, funny, critical, sarcastic, and ironic. The author frequently becomes part of the story itself, revealing a little of the troubles experienced by all writers who become intimately connected to their characters, but he mostly uses the love story as a baseline in which to critique modern Iranian society. I frequently laughed out loud at his jabs, but the book also tells an underlying chilling tale, and reveals for readers the high level of hypocrisy, idiocy, misogyny, and oppression currently rampant in Iran (a country he may not feel comfortable living in, but one that he clearly loves). For anyone interested in Iran, I heartily recommend this book. He criticizes the deporable treatment of women, the atomic program, censorship, social restrictions, brutality, stalinistic watchdogs, and other aspects of life there. “Every day became days groups of people were killed for freedom.” One wonders how many people in Iran have disappeared or been incarcerated. But many of Mandanipour’s comments are universal as well: “my father was absolutely right, and that is why I disagreed with him.”
The author does, however, seem to fall into the trap many foreign-born literature majors who become writers seem to: he wants to show the readers just how widely read he is, by dropping illusions at almost every turn to well-known (and lesser known) works. Some of this is ok, but at times it seemed a bit of a stretch.

Friday, September 10, 2010


It is amazing (and also frustratingly angering) that recent actions of the clearly crazy Terry Jones, pastor of a miniscule evangelical Florida church (who was out to garner attention), set off worldwide protests and absorbed so much domestic attention (all the way up to the White House and amongst the presidential-wannabes). If a kook chooses to do idiotic things, is it absolutely necessary that reporters cover it? If all the media types decided not to pay attention to this ridiculous representative of religion, would his actions have resulted in anything other than a small pile of ashes and nary a ripple of impact on the world stage? Here again we have a situation where a small segment of society has pushed the (hopefully) more-sane majority into a reaction (can we say Tea Party?). Jones does not represent most evangelicals, and certainly not most Christians (although, yes, there is much anti-Islamic sentiment in American society), no more than does Al Qaida represent most Muslims. When are people going to accept that Christianity, Islam, Judiasm, Buddhism and every other religion (as well as national, racial, and cultural classifications) seldom are monolithic in belief and teaching (seems to me they argue among themselves all the time)? I know it is human to classify, often in simplistic terms, but I wish people would think more clearly, especially those whose reactions and statements can set off violence and discord. Can I get an "Amen" on that?

Monday, August 30, 2010


The stoning of a human to death, even if the crime being punished is horrendous, is one of the most inhumane, barbaric, dehumanizing, and cruel tortures that can be inflicted upon a person, especially if the community carrying out the sentence knows the victim. The horror is magnified when the person is innocent of the crime they are accused of. Stoning still exists in Iran, and its use there is but one criticism the world hurtles (justifiably) at the fundamentalist state. While some feel little sympathy for criminals, the punishment can also be carried out against those accused of adultery, a heavy penalty for an all too human sin. But in Iran some victims are most vulnerable to this terrible fate---women. Recently the case of Sakineh Ashtiani (a forty-three year old woman who apparently may have been coerced into admitting wrongdoing and also had language problems) has garnered international attention and condemnation. It is within this atmosphere that the movie The Stoning of Soroya M. vividly demonstrates not only the horrors of stoning, but also the misogynistic state of affairs in Iran. Based on a true story, it recounts the heroic efforts of Zahra (beautifully played by the lovely and husky voiced Shohreh Aghdashloo), wilfull and determined, who tries to protect her niece (the mother of four children) from the machinations of her spouse Ali (effectively and menacingly played by Navid Negahban), who wants to obtain a divorce on the cheap in order to marry a fourteen year old. Ali is a greedy, corrupt, manipulative, and brutal man, who terrorizes his family. Yet he has powerful allies in his little village (a mullah with questionable past and a weak mayor), and after weakening her position financially, and then actively soliciting her help to aid a newly widowed man and his son, they use false claims of adultery (as well as strong-arm tactics against the widower) to railroad Soroya straight into a hole and a rain of stones. Zahra then makes it her mission that she will not allow the story (and her niece’s bravery) to go unreported, and she enlists a French/Iranian journalist’s help. The movie pulls few punches and is vivid and direct, and emotionally draining. It is a heavy indictment against radical fundamentalism, woman-hatred, poor education, and male-dominated dictatorship. Although some scenes are very difficult to stomach, I encourage everyone to see it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Just watched a nice documentary titled The Cats of Mirikitani, about Jimmy Mirikitani, a scrappy, independent eighty-year old Japanese-American artist who was living on the streets of New York City and doing his paintings and drawings (staying at this time at night in the enclosed plastic flower display area owned by a Korean shopkeeper), until the filmmaker happens upon him and ends up taking him home and assisting him to get into better housing (initially as a result of the results of the 9/11 disaster that happened as she was filming him nearby), while recording his work and memories. He was born in Sacramento and interned at Tule Lake during WWII, and that experience heavily influenced his art. He was separated from his family and apparently had not communicated to any of them (most of his mother's family were killed at Hiroshima) for more than 50 years, as he moved east (first somewhat forced to work on a farm, and then to New York, where he claimed to have cooked for Jackson Pollack and served as a chauffeur in NYC). The film is a loving portrait of an artist and tough man, and in the end he forgives his anger after visiting Tule and reconnecting with his sister. His art is amazing (and one wonders how great he could have been if he had been allowed freedom and wasn't discriminated against).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Bich Minh Nguyen's Stealing Buddha's Dinner is a very nice memoir of one Vietnamese girl's experience growing up as a refugee immigrant in Grand Rapids, Michigan; her family's hurried escape from Vietnam as the communists won; and her view of life as an outsider within American society (mostly school), as well as her role in an unusual family. It is a sad story, in many ways, especially as the truth of her family in revealed and the pain that can be inflicted by intolerance. Food is a unifying theme throughout the story (and also literature). My favorite members of the family are her grandmother Noi (serene, loving, unperturbable, devout) and, oddly enough, her stepmother Rosa (who reminded me much of my mother, with a slightly more activist bent, who seemed to keep that family together, and deserved more creidt and love [at least from my perspective]). Some of the author's troubles resulted from the kind of person she was: shy, studious, middle child, self-critical. Much of her story resonated for me, as I was not an immigrant (although my mother came from Ukraine when she was about sixteen) and I didn't look ethnically different than most of my classmates, but because many of her feelings are universal. Her story made me think about my family who were caught in the post WWII diaspora, some of whom made it to America, many of whom I have never met or only barely met when I was very little. (I also have a large family on my Dad's side that I didn't even know about until a few years back, and I have never met, but that's another story). Although my childhood was roughly a year before her's, I still connected to the cultural landmarks she mentions (music, tv shows). But I felt that she was truly blessed to be raised by members of her family and near people of similar background---my ex-wife is Vietnamese, but she was orphaned (and adopted at age 2 by a white family in northeastern South Carolina) and grew up with few connections to Vietnamese culture, but she experienced many of the struggles and challenges of being different (or being treated as different). Of course, every person's experience is different, no matter their background, and growing up is a challenge for most of us, but it is interesting to see how others dealth with their worlds, or remembered how they did so. This is a good addition to the growing body of literature of the immigrant experience.

Monday, August 23, 2010


For anyone who enjoys the humor-laced travelogues of British writer Michael Palin or American Bill Bryson, I heartily recommend adding the work of Canadian Will Ferguson to your list. Although this recommendation is based solely on the highly entertaining Hitching Rides with Buddha, I suspect that I will be delving into his other books soon in hopes they are as good as this effort. Ferguson, who taught English in Japan and is workably fluent in Japanese, decides to hitchhike from the southern end of the island(s) country to its northern –most point, roughly corresponding with the seasonal flowering of the sakura (cherry trees). Largely comprised of small vignettes covering successive rides or stays in different locations, Ferguson deftly lays bare (nay---punctures) many of the myths and attitudes held by Japanese about their country, people, and standing in the world, as well as their fascination/disgust/fear of the outside world, especially America. What emerges is a land of diversity; of people with enormous generosity, friendliness, wonder, balanced by narrow-mindedness, racist-thinking, and over-inflated egos. No doubt there will be some in Japan who will call for his passport to be permanently confiscated and his carcass banned from reentry (what would he care! He stole his wife from them already) because of his often less-than-flattering portrayal, but it seems to me that he has a great deal of affection and respect for the people, even while puncturing their contradictions and egomanias. The Japanese come off often as something akin to enthusiastic, cautious, conformist plowhorses with their blinders firmly affixed. While the author has penned standard travel-guide material, this account will keep you laughing, while at the same time open your eyes to a wonderful and contradictory nation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


In this time of bubbling racism and bigotry that percolates from the murky depths of hatred and narrow-mindedness, blinding Americans to the constitutional rights of citizenship and freedom of religion, it is a good thing to read of past mistreatment of minorities in this country (and in other countries as well). The forced internment of loyal Japanese Americans from western states is a terrible blight on American history, and it is fairly familiar to most schoolchildren, largely because of books such as Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar.

But the mistreatment of citizens of Japanese descent also occurred in Canada---in some ways parallel to that experienced in the United States, in other ways more severe and long-lasting. Along the western coastline, their property was confiscated (if not outright looted) and the victims were forced into holding facilities or to locations in the interior. Some could argue that it was necessary for wartime protection, but what happened thereafter was an even greater crime, as they were forbidden to return to their homes and farms following the war, and were made to disperse throughout the country or return to Japan. This story is forcefully and beautifully recounted in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan (more a memoir than a piece of fiction), which has become her best-known work.

Kogawa’s primary skill is poetry, and it shows in her prose. She lovingly, yet firmly, portrays the plight and resilience of a family as it deals with separation and loss, both of individuals and community (not once, but twice). An example of her prose is, “The dust, light-winged as soot, is swarming thickly across the flashlight beam. . . everything, I suppose, turns to dust eventually. A man’s memories end up in some attic or in a Salvation Army bin. His name becomes a fleeting statistic and his face is lost in fading photographs, the clothing quaint, the anecdotes gone. . . Potent and pervasive as a prairie dust storm, memories and dreams seep and mingle through cracks, settling on furniture and into upholstery. . .” Kogawa frequently shifts from the narrative into sidebars of near poetry.

The story is told through the eyes of Naomi, a kindergarten-aged child, as she struggles to understand the loss of her parents (father was a doctor) and grandparents [as well as her encounter with a pedophiliac neighbor before the war], as her aunt (and later uncle) and neighbors are relocated to Slocum. The mystery of her mother’s fate, trapped in Japan when she goes just before the outbreak of hostilties to care for her sick parent and never returns, is slowly revealed. Her father manages to return, for a short while, but then likewise disappears from their lives. She is forced to live in a small home nestled near a mountainside, but at least they still have a community. After the war this community is destroyed and dispersed, and (as if they are being punished for their heritage) they are forced to labor on a beet farm (“perhaps some genealogist [sic?] of the future will come across this patch of bones and wonder why so many fishermen died on the prairies.”). Luckily, she has the loving care of her Obasan (aunt) and uncle (a master boatbuilder and carpenter), as well as her music-loving brother (determined to ignore his Japanese roots as much as possible). Although the story is sad, heartrending, there is also much beauty and love in it. I will likely try the sequel, Itsuka.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Tonight I watched two documentaries about Myrnmar (Burma) and the democracy movement against the brutal military dictatorship there. The first, BURMA VJ, follows the efforts of a small group of underground reporters with handheld video cameras as they attempt to document a 2007 uprising led by the monks. The people are suffering from famine, ethnic cleansing, poor medical access, no freedoms, political repression, torture, and worse. The second, CROSSING MIDNIGHT, focuses on the plight of ethnic minorities (one-third of the nation) as they flee from military oppression (mostly in the countryside), and the efforts of a small group of doctors and teachers who have established a medical/social-servive compound in Thailand and who cross the border to provide medical care (often via backpacking) and other social and educational services. Both documentaries are riveting and heartrending, and they open a small window into the internal affairs of a terrible regime. I heartily recommend these films to anyone interested in international affairs, and more specifically, the plight of the Burmese people. I am lucky to have about a dozen Burmese living near me. I talked with one today (I think he was ex-military) who has been my neighbor for about three years, and he said they were very truthful.

Monday, August 9, 2010


When will my days of joyfull reading cease?
Not til I can't make another spine crease!

Friday, August 6, 2010


"Bushisms, which I collected for many years, often hinged on a single grammatical or factual error. Palinisms, by contrast, consist of a unitary stream of patriotic, populist blather. It's like Fox News without the punctuation." [Jacob Weisberg, A Grand Unified Theory of Palinisms, SLATE, 6 Aug 2010)

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Flap of wings, so lightly dusted,
this withdrawal barely trusted
sweet nectar to her now-furl'd lip
into the breezes wings do slip,
off she goes, toward other bliss
receding wave from a beach kiss,
and like a setting sun is stilled
the early eve is quickly chilled.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


James Lee Burke’s latest contribution to the Dave Robicheaux/Clete Purcell series, The Glass Rainbow, is largely a familiar romp across the swampy, over-fished storyline that fans of these books have come to love and expect. One gets comfortable with Dave and Clete, knows how they will react to each other. You know that one or both of the intrepid crusaders is going to be shot at (and most likely wounded), will chase despicable villains (both domestic and foreign), battle criminals and local law enforcement, experience betrayal, suffer hallucinations, and visit brutality in full measure on miscreants of every stripe. Both men will put their feet in their mouths. Clete is going to corner a bad guy in a bathroom and dunk his head in a toilet; he is going to bust someone up in anger and spend time cooling off in a jail cell. You just know it is going to happen. Burke’s writing, though, will carry along the reader, interspersed with short lectures on the history of Louisiana, evils of power and corruption, struggles of addiction, power of friendship, beauty of the bayou land, and resiliency of the people. Once you’ve become addicted to the travails of the Bobbsey twins from homicide, you know you are going to jump in the boat for the ride.

However, there was something a little more off than normal in this volume. While Burke is guilty frequently of repetition and unimaginative dialogue, he often counterbalances it with beautiful, detailed, colorful description and face-paced style. [And both people who actually read my reviews will recall my past complaints. J] But things got worse this time, almost as if the book didn’t have an editor to reign in Burke’s writing; as if Burke couldn’t recall what he wrote a day or two earlier. There is the familiar habit of giving different characters the exact same idiomatic language---one knows there will be the inevitable mention of piss (or spit) in someone’s mouth or a punch bowl, for instance, or someone will be brusquely requested to “get the [insert a variety of items, from grits to unmentionables] out of your mouth “. It isn’t so bad when it happens from book to book, because, well, they are the same characters and you expect a measure of consistency in their speech, but it happened several times too often in this book. Burke must have used “taken off the board” a half dozen times. He used the full name of the characters, nearly all of them, ad nauseum. He mentions certain facts repeatedly (such as Alafair’s rescue from the plane wreck). How many times did we have to hear mention of “the grotto that had been built as a shrine to the mother of Jesus,” in almost exact wording? I suppose that it may not bother most readers, and I might be overly sensitive to it, but it does bother me, and I think it takes away from Burke’s good passages.

Does this complain mean I will forgo reading the next installment, should there be one? Heck, no! Bring ‘em on!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Recent events have pointed out serious problems with modern media---or, more correctly, propagandists---and how people react to and use information on the net. The firing of Shirley Sherrod for allegedly making a statement seen as reversely discriminatory was unjust and knee-jerk; the original report that lead to her dismaissal was downright dishonest and inflammatory. Although I believe idiots such as Andrew Breitbart have a right to post opinion and rant anywhere they wish, they should be held accountable when purposely and premediatively issuing false information and altering media to inflame passions and adversely affect a person's private life. Especially someone whose record of helping people was considered rather sterling.

What makes all this even worse is that Breitbart admitted that he falsified his material (both in misidentifying her position at the time of the recalled incident, taking the sound bite clearly out of context to stain her reputation) in order to attack the NAACP, with no regard to the adverse effect it might have on Sherrod. He said he did so because the NAACP pointed out the rather obvious and blatant racism of some members of the Tea Party. Well, only the blind of heart (or racist individuals themselves) could fail to interpret many images held by Tea Partiers at their rallies as anything less than patently racist and offensive.

There really is no standard governing what passes as journalism and opinion today. Anyone---and I include myself---can say whatever they wish, pretty much, and get away with it. That FOX used Breitbart's blog to report on and condemn Sherrod, and others, is nothing new (Rush pioneered in that realm decades ago); I do not consider FOX reputable at all.

What also bothered me was how quickly mainstream media, the NAACP, and many individuals, all the way up the political chain, failed to ask questions and didn't allow Sherrod to truly defend herself. To their credit the WH, USDA, and NAACP quickly apologized for their too-quick judgements. Even FOX, or at least some commentators, reversed their criticism, except Breitbart. I hope he is banned from appearing on FOX programs, is sued heavily by Sherrod (isn't knowingly publishing false information liable?), and has a much-more-skeptical lens placed on every report he delivers in the future. He is a reactionary provoceteur---not a journalist---and should be treated and recognized as such. Even by FOX.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Some thoughts on recent movies, both at the theaters and on dvd:

Predators: Predictable; follows along the original story path. I enjoyed it, although it isn't great. Adrien Brody was ok, and It is wonderful to see another Braga on the big screen. Some of the characters and dialogue was weak. It could have been a bit more scary or intense.

From Paris With Love: Overall, not very satisfying. It was as if the writer or director couldn't dcide if it should be a comedy along the lines of a Jackie Chan farce or something like a Bourne Identity. Travolta simply was miscasat, adn the sidekick was weak. Some of the action was decent. The writign was terrible, not much better than a highschooler coul have done, as far as I am concerned.

Book of Eli: Although reviews were generally disappointing concerning this movie, I actually like it. I thought Denzel Washington did a credible job, Gary Oldman is always pretty good, and Mila Kunis was fairly good. Ray Stevenson was solid, and I didn't even realize that Oldman's wife in the film was Jennifer Beals. Kudos to the set designers and location planners (or whatever they call them). Some aspects of the film were weak, but overall, I guess because of my liking for postapocalyptic stuff, I enjoyed it.

The Messenger: Solid, sad movie. Woody Harrelson was excellent.

Edge of Darkness: This title easily applies to Mel Gibson's personal life right now. The movie was ok, nothing outstanding, but not bad. Gibson is an older detective whose daughter is killed in front of him and everyone assumes that he was the target, but he starts discovering that she had secrets and had tried to expose the darker, sinister inner workings of her weapons research company. Kind of Lethal Weapon meets Silkwood meets Sixth Sense.

Robin Hood: Pleasantly surprised by the modern version of the prestory, though it was sappy at times. The boys resisted going, but in the end they seemed to like it. I enjoyed Cate Blanchett's Marion. Most of the cast was decent, in fact.

Daybreakers: Vampires rule. . literally. Decent movie.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Halle Berry and Del Torio were very good. Depressing, slow film, but very good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The disintegration of a family is never easy to witness, and it seems even more disturbing when it is a Japanese family (well hinted at in the opening scene as a storm rolls in), because of the rigid need to maintain authority and keep up appearances. One of the benefits of watching foreign films is hopefully getting a glimpse into the workings of the world, and I was distrubed and interested by Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata (2008), as the viewer watchs a newly downsized middle-manager struggle to control his household and find employment commesurate with what he had once held. Although homelessness and unemployment are fairly well known in America, it somehow comes as a small shock when you see its portrayal in Japan. But several aspects of the film left me cold, and, even angry. The main character (played by Teruyuki Kagawa) is not a likeable fellow, and I don't think he was likable even before he lost his job. I certainly did not like the way he treated his wife, almost indifferently (one of the best and moving scenes is when she asks of help getting up from a couch, and yet her husband is so self-absorbed that he has already walked away), though she struggles to maintain a beautiful home and provide all the motherly responsibilities to him and their two sons. Taking into account some of the violence against his youngest son is partly a result of his emotional implosion from having to take demeaning (for him) employment (which I applauded actually, because he was willing to do it for his family, even if it hurt, rather than take an easier, more permananet, way out), he still does not seem one who could handle any threat to his authority. In fact, while not directly stated, I think he lost his job partly because he would not accept a downward position, which I know can be hard for anyone. His two sons both seem to have little real respect for him, want to get away from him. One decides to join the US military and the other attempts to play piano, despite dad's expressed refusal to alllow it on both counts. The younger one is especially bright and will fight against unchecked, overbearing authority, either by his teacher or father. The mother (played by a very lovely Kyoko Koizumi) is faithful and stalwart in keeping the family runnign along, even whne she knows her husband is lying to her. She maintains his authority and doesn't challenge him (can it truly be like that, or is she a weak character?), even when she could have blunted or even stopped him from certain of his decisions. The filmmaker, im think, tries to show that the father has redeeming qualities, such as his taking the poorer job, standing in handout lines, and givign back lost cash he has found, but it never really works, even the part in many western films where the father grudgingly acknowledges some special talent one of his offspring has exhibited. Basically, I just didn't like the guy. Even the piano teacher (Haruka Igawa), who should have been a more likeable character, just doesn't seem to pull it off. In the end, I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I wouldn't place it in the highest rank. I wonder how my Japanese friends reacted to it, as I am sure there were cultural clues that simply went over my head.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I have been waiting for this---National Champs in a major sport for the Gamecocks men---for more than twenty years, and I know the Gamecock nation has been waiting even longer. And what a great game it was. My hat is off to the great team we face. . .the Bruins of UCLA. They fought like champions and gave it their all, and it makes the USC accomplishment all the more sweet. And not only did USC finally reach the pinnacle, they stepped on Clemson a couple of times in order to get there. You couldn't ask for a more perfect tourney. The Cocks simply refused to give up, scrapped and scrapped, and got a few nice breaks. Major party tonight! Here is video of the winning hit:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore is like a beautiful piece of jazz---enticing, almost mesmerizing, and slightly unnerving. And no doubt, like many pieces of music, there will be those who passionately hate or love this book. I fall somewhere in the middle, though I really enjoyed the magical fantasy and was drawn along with the storylines. One is the tale of fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura as he escapes an unhappy home in search of a mother and sister who left him with his artist father when the little boy was four (and whose dad creepily predicts an Oedipal experience). Kafka (a name he gave himself) is drawn to a strange supporting cast, among others, that includes a beautiful older woman who cannot forget her long-dead lover and a sexually conflicted (no offense to anyone) librarian who helps him mature and achieve some focus for his future. The other is about a delightful and kind old man, Nakata, struck somewhat mentally challenged by a mysterious event that occurred on an outing when he was in elementary school during World War II, who has acquired the talent of finding lost felines (because he has learned to talk with them). He is drawn on a quest to complete a mysterious task, and gains a willing assistant along the way, in the hope of attaining a measure of normality. A murder helps propel the protagonists toward their entwined destinies, and the book can easily be seen as a search for closure. There is much to delight readers. . .spirits who take the guise of pop culture icons, conversational cats, time warps, unnatural events. . .and the characters and stories are compelling enough to keep one’s attention. Yet, there are facets that make one take pause (such as incestuous connotations and animal cruelty). I am still bothered by Murakami’s insistence that his characters (all of them) be well versed in or drawn to western music and literature (rather than at least pulling in some Japanese themes or culture), and his occasional repetitiveness (even from other books, such as his fixation on bayonets, penises, and cats, for instance). One does have to make many leaps of faith. The book will also, I think, invite literary critics and scholars to find connections with many other writers (such as Salinger, Gaiman, Baum, Lewis Carrol). Still, in the end, for me it was a satisfying read.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Tonight I watched an interesting Russian film, Alexandra, by director Alexander Sohurov. In this slow, but touching, film an elderly grandmother visits her officer grandson at his remote base in the Caucasus Mountains (Chechnya, I think), a dusty patch of frontier in a troubled corner of the Russian empire. She is a tough lady, who wants to see what is going on and even leaves the base by herself at one point to go to the nearby market, where she interacts with some of the local population. In many ways she is a typical matron, criticizing her grandson's appearance and lack of wife, notices his work feet and scraped knuckles (from disciplining a soldier) but she also is never dainty or restrained from doing what she wants to do. The film seems to be making judgments about the war through her eyes and experiences: the youthfulness of the troops, the tough discipline, the poor equipment and supplies. The men, for the most part, are amazed and smitten by the presence of the old lady at their base, and treat her with respect and almost a longing for their own families. There may be a bit of a message about the destruction the Russians have laid upon the region, but it is not heavy handed. The film, instead, tries to (I think) focus on the humantiy of all people, that despite differences, individuals can get along. If you are looking for an upbeat, action-packed thriller, this movie is not for you, but it is interesting and worthwhile. Obvioulsy much of the subtleness is lost on me, as I don't speak Russian, but I think I understood the movie fairly well.



I know the garden is left untended
to flower and die as you intended
an occasional trip down a row, maybe

Pulling a weed or planting a seed,
but I need a visit very badly indeed,
for I am dying at the root, you’ll see.

Earth is so dry, and I’m really trampled
foulest disappointment I have sampled,
but my pain is naught compared to others.

My core has shriveled, I’m barely a weed,
and perhaps I could lose even my seed,
don’t deserve help, but I’ve got my brother’s,

And my sisters too, they all have pitched in
have forgiven my wrongs, each and every sin
but only you can renew this field, to invigorate.

Just a tear from your eye could water the ground,
and soothe the root-pain, though I’ll still be bound,
I hope you can come soon, or it may be too late.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicles

Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a wonderful, almost Alice In Wonderland tale, of a young newly unemployed legal asssitant from Tokyo whose wife walks off and disappears (apparently for another man) and who struggles to find and rescue her, even as he slips into an increasingly surreal world populated, among others, by ex-Japanese soldiers with dark secrets; a prophetic sister team; a mysterious mother-and-son psychic-healing duo; an evil politician (his hated rival and brother-in-law); and a troubled, smart, teenager who seems to have a special bond and relationship with her older friend, as well as a mysterious plot of land. Some people might even compare Murakami to Vonnegut, with his mix of historical events, humor, and unusual events. The strongest parts of the book, I feel, are the stories told by Mamiya and Hondo, and the enjoyable letters from young May. I don’t ant to go into the story, which follows a lot of different paths, and unfortunately, does not tie up all the loose ends. I know some people don’t like that. But it is an intriguing and enjoyable story to follow, nonetheless. I do not want to give away too much of the story.

The book struck many chords with me, which gave it even more punch. I sympathized with Toru after his wife left, and he struggled to understand why she had gone to the one individual that she could never have expected her to. Murakami masterfully details Toru’s confusion and hurt, and it brought up painful feelings for me. The author also touches on historical events that, to the best of my knowledge, are little discussed and (from what I heard from many Japanese students) not taught about Japanese activities in Manchuria during World War II (shades of Slaughterhouse 5?) and the trials of Japanese POWs in Russian Siberia. There is a sweetness in the relationship between the older man and younger woman. Murakami also mixes in a little erotica, a dash of mystery, dreamlike sequences, odd behavior, and brutal imagery.

Murakami is a great writer, but some things confuse me. I can’t tell if he is writing the books for a Western audience or just includes what he enjoys about Western culture. Although the story takes place in Japan and the characters are all Japanese, you get the feeling that it could just have easily been located in the Midwest. Surely some of the characters would have liked something of Japanese culture? Do all Japanese drink, smoke, and wear western items, and listen to western music? Murakami is constantly inserting references to western literature (is he showing off that he is well read?). It does not take away from the story in any fashion, but it made me wonder. I also at times feel that he is a bit too repetitious, too frequently reminding his readers of events that they should be fully aware of. Despite this qualm, I really enjoy his storytelling.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I still feel a phantom caress,
a gnawing silent emptiness,
too strong to deny or even tame,
a nagging unquenchable flame.
It still burns, but heats much less,
No ashes fall, mocking passionless.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rob Crosby

A consistent strong breeze issued off the Congaree River, cooling the rather large crowd that gathered to hear Rob Crosby and his band play tonight. The boys and I (along with two neighbors) attended the second event in the Rhythm on the River concert series put on at the Riverwalk Amphitheatre. The crowd was clearly excited to hear the local boy, and he did not disappoint them. The opening act was a woman (I think her name was Wells) who sang about three songs; she didn't have a commanding stage presence, but she did have a nice voice. Most of the music was a mix of country, folk, and blues, and most of it was very enjoyable. It is not my cup of tea normally, but I really liked the covers of James Taylor, Bob Dylan, and Carole King songs, plus several of his originals were really nice too. The song I enjoyed the most was a little piece called "Til the Last Shot is Fired." I also liked "Pray For Me"; the crowd favorite was probably "Rise Above It." My friend Fred was there and we got to chat. The kids mostly ran around along the river; we watched a black snake shimmy up a tree. A few greyhounds made an appearance, and you know me, I had to go greet them. Overall, a nice time had by all.

Friday, April 30, 2010


To anyone interested in El Salvador and the Sanctuary movement, I enthusiastically recommend a short novel, MotherTongue by Demetria Martinez. A New Mexican poet and journalist who was once jailed for her alleged participation in smuggling Central American refugees, Martinez has written an often lyrical, poetic story of a young woman (Maria) falling in love with a Salvadoran refugee (Jose Luis, a divinity student of liberation-theology bent) and dealing with the emotions and consequences engendered by that relationship (as well as a forgotten, troubling past of her own). Although at times the shifts in tense and voice were somewhat disconcerting, as well as the jumping around in the telling of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. Several times I stopped, re-read, and even underlined sentences and passages that I just liked, such as: "I thought my arroyo of grief had long ago dried up, leaving only an imprint of the storm." Another, "the letters lassos with which I struggled to rope in feelings that galloped off in no clear direction." The book is full of these gems, which makes the rather simple story so much more vibrant and moving. I think especially women will like it (although I hesitate to call it feminist writing, because its messages are broader than that). It would be a great book for high schoolers, because it might bring up a lot of discussion possibilities. . . about U.S. participation in the third world, reactionary movement in South America and the destruction of the peasantry and leftist activities, the impact of terror and torture, the human spirit (good and bad) and risk, love, taking chances. There is a lot packed in this slim volume. One could whip through it in hours, but it is best to read it in sections, enjoying each tidbit separately. I was, however, slightly unhappy with the ending, but I can't say why in order to avoid spoiling it for the reader.

DISASTER (haiku)

A hurricane of oil
nears the pristine swampland of
Louisiana's future.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I believe
the size of one’s soul
as it hovers in heaven
is linked to life
No doubt,
expanded spectral orbs
of mountain climbers
and fighter pilots,
world travelers and thrill seekers,
parents and poets,
will almost be as large
as those of

Monday, April 19, 2010

BOMBER (haiku)

How many McVeighs
stand in those Tea Party lines
waiting for their chance?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

PASSING (haiku)

I hope you get to
take the soundtrack of your life
to heaven with you.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Took the boys for their first trip to Carowinds, the large amusement complex that straddles the North Carolina-South Carolina border and is the largest park of its kind in the immediate area. The best way to describe Carowinds is as a carnival midway on serious steroids. Some of the monsterous rides are impressive and scary. The place was owned by Paramount, and since its recent sale the rides have been renamed and repainted, and the gigantic Intimidator has been installed. I would not let the boys on that machine yet, as the securing system looked too scary for me, but otherwise I let them ride on just about anything they qualified for. And luckily Chimo just qualified by the tips of his hair. Overall, it is geared toward satisfying the thrill passions of young adults. There is little sense of fun and fantasy, which I would have enjoyed, and no real display of music and art (the rides are accompanied by blaring rock and such). I like being able to mix thrill rides with entertaining ones (along the lines of Disney and Universal). Perhaps they had one, but a large playground installation would have been nice for tots. We were there from the opening of the gates until the park closed. Unfortunately, four rides broke down while we were in line. Twice we weathered the wait and mechanics were able to get the rides back on line relatively quickly. I also must compliment the cleanliness and attractivenesss of the park, and the overall pleasant and helpful manner of every attendant we came in contact with. And the organization seemed pretty good.

The most awesome ride I was willing to risk was Afterburn, and it was quite impressive. The boys liked Nighthawk (former Borg) the best, but they also enjoyed Carolina Cyclone, Goldrusher, Flying Ace Aerial Chase, Ricochet, Thunder Road, and Woodstock Express (I also rode this one, and it reminded me of an old fashioned roller coaster). When I ride one of those thrillers, I want to be tied down with multiple restraints! :) None of us wanted anything near Drop Tower or Extreme Skyflier (ok, we are woosies). Oddly enough, the boys flatly refused to ride Southern Star (a Viking ship that does a full loop), but I did and enjoyed it. We all rode Scream Weaver. I paid extra so Joey could drive, with Chimo as passenger, the Thunder Go-Carts. We enjoyed Action Theater (featuring Sponge Bob), although if this was where they used to have the simulated NASCAR race show, I think I would have really enjoyed that. We rode the Skytower twice (though I wish I could have ridden up there at night). Boo Blasters was ok, and the boys rode the bumper cars several times. Rip Roaring Rapids was enjoyable, and you will likely get wet; forget about staying dry on Whitewater Falls! I was prudent and decided not to ride, and the boys were absolutely drenched (though they dried fairly quickly). ***[Adult side note: If I worked there, this is where I would want to be! ;) Can we say wet t! Yes, indeed!!]*** Boomerrang Bay (the waterpark area) was not open, but I would like to try it some time. Mostly I just rode the Bench Ride while the boys enjoyed the more daring ones.

Prices were a bit excessive for some items. I don't drink beer, but surely would have balked at the price, which I was told was something like $11 (perhaps it is a way to discourage overdrinking). A burger was near $10; four little wings, $5. The corndogs I bought the boys were nearly $6 apiece. I guess you come to expect that, but it still felt excessive. The games were anywhere from $3 to $10. Not many were taking advantage of the games. I bet they would have a lot more activity on those if they dropped the price.

If you go, take sunscreen. An extra shirt for each child might be good, if they get wet. Prepare to stand in line for long periods, of course, so wear comfortable shoes (though the attendants were efficient and the lines moved along pretty well, unless there were mechanical delays). It wasn't too hot while we were there, but I imagine it gets oppressive during the summer, so I suggest you hydrate well, and to buys drinks and use the water fountains frequently. One nice part of standing in line was that we met a lot of interesting people who were fun to chat with, both young and old. Overall, we had a really good time.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Girl Phase

Was driving about with Chimo, after dropping Joe off at dance, and Chimo started talking---as he does almost nonstop---he says at one point, "Yep, Dad, I think I am now in the 'like girls phase." How so, I responded. "Well, you know, sometimes you like them, then sometimes you don't." Then he starts telling me about some girl in kindergarten that cornered him and told him that he was not a real boy unless he would give her (she had a lot of freckles) a kiss. Well, apparently he gave in and did so, and then he says, somewhat bemused, "and that changed my whole life."

Dad was quietly chuckling to himself.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


The boys and I camped overnight with Cub Pack 28 (about seven dads and eight sons) at Santee State Park, which is a wonderfully well-maintained and beautiful wilderness area alongside Lake Marion south of Columbia. We drove down through Elloree and stopped for lunch in Santee, and then motored into the camp area, which was on a bluff overlooking the water. Nearby a well-organized (and amazingly quiet) Boy Scout troop from Summerville operated an efficient camp. The only drawback for our sweet placement was suffering howling winds coming off the lake, which whipped through until around four o'clock in the morning. At times in the tent I thought we were on some mountainside; when we went to bed I feared the tent might not make it through the night upright. It helped lower the temperatures quite a bit, but overall the day was very nice. Luckily I decided to bring along a warmer outfit as well as a blanket. One nice side benefit was that it sounded as if we were next to an ocean, and that helped make sleep very comfortable; couldn't even hear nearby I-95.

The boys mostly played war-related activities all day: building a fort on the banks of the lake (I called it Firebase Santee), marching about, getting soaked in the surf, and going on patrols. They captured a huge dead catfish that floated ashore (and were banned from carrying it up to the campsite). We hiked on the Sinkhole path, spied on an alligator (we were surprised to see one out and about; it seemed to be protecting its nest, so we did not venture too close), and checked out the sinkholes. While hiking, I was bringing up the rear. Chimo said to me, "Dad, if there was a sniper in these woods, you would be the first to go, cause you're the biggest target, and the slowest." We had cheeseburgers for dinner, followed by smores. I even tried a little venison sausage, which wasn't too bad. Basically the boys cavorted, while the dads sat around talking about work, movies, a little politics, and other guy stuff. I got to see osprey. I think the boys and I had a really nice time.

Rain drifted in Sunday morning, but it was mostly light. The boys ate pancakes and bacon for breakfasat. Then they headed off for more maneuvers, while the dads broke camp. Overall, it was a pleasant, relaxing camping trip. I took the boys over to the pier afterwards and let them fish for a while. I don't know how this was possible, but Chimo caught a snail on his hook. On the way back, Joey mostly slept. We stopped for lunch at Ryans.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Would obsession with art provide a good storyline for a movie? Yes, indeed. Especially when three wonderful actors collaborate to present delightful characters. In The Maiden Heist, Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, and William Macy are three long-serving museum guards who have become captivated by different pieces of art and are rattled when a new art director sells the collection in favor of a modern installation, and the men are devastated by the news. Then they come up with a scheme to save their favorite pieces. Walken was especially good as the lover of a painting called The Maiden; he spends hours observing it,a nd when he goes home he puts on his beret and reads about French painting. I thought his facial expressions, and dialogue with his wife, were wonderful. Freemen, whose character apppears to be gay, plays his role perfectly. There is a bit of slapstick comedy and wackiness, but it is the interaction of three very different men who find common ground and a common cause that is so great. I highly recommend this movie, for all ages. How the guys didn't garner (at least, I don't think they did) any awards for their performaces, is beyond me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Read two fairly interesting novels recently. In Pete Dexter's Spooner, the author tells the story of the relationship between a young boy, an odd troubled kind of slacker neer-do-well, and his codependent yet patient ex-naval officer stepfather who connects with the young man but never seems to understand him. Dexter is one of American's best novelists, and the story is humorous and enjoyable. I also read Gillian Flynn's second novel, Dark Places, the story of a young woman gradually coming to the realization that her brother may not have killed their family (he serving a life sentence), and that her seven-year-old testimony against him may have been wrong. You never really get to like Libby, but you want to know what happened. The narrative is told not only through her eyes, but flashbacks told from that of Ben, the accused, and Patty, the mother. It is a pretty good read, and I would recommend it. Slipped in between these novels I read Christopher Moores delicious third novel of wacky vampirism, Bite Me, following on his Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck. His books are like catnip to me, I just can wait to read them. They are funny and light, and I really like them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I saw two willows

rising sun ballerinas

dance in the midlands.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Had the flow of tears and love displayed after the performance of Aladdin on Friday night actually watered a desert, an oasis surely would surely have bloomed. Although crying is normal for the last show of the season, in this case the tears were shed in sadness for the large number of beloved dancers who are leaving Columbia Classical Ballet for new opportunities and to return to their homes. (See my last post). Renata, Waldilei, Akari, Kaori, Riiko, Zoltan, and Kazuki (all good dancers and even better people) will be missed. I loved watching them on stage. It was hard for me not to join the waterworks.

Oh, yeah. . . the show itself was very nice, despite a few missed parts (in which ad libbing ensued), an occasional muffed lift, a slightly awkward landing. Aladdin was full of color and movement, and it was a real delight. Cudos for whomever painted the backdrops, because they were beautiful. Overall, the costumes were very nice (well, ok, I wasn't all that wild about the peasant smocks), especially those of the ballerinas (after the opening scenes). I thought the white headresses on the peasant guys, however, looked a bit like mammy caps (think GWTW). These minor distractions aside, I thought the dancing was wonderful and the crowds seemed to enjoy both shows. I was worried that children during the outreach performance might not stay with it, but they remained captivated, and it is a wonderful thing to have youngsters getting an introduction to the arts.

The best performance (for me) was put on by Waldelei Goncalves as the genie (in the morning session). I have watched him dance for three years, and he never really got the opportunity to shine like he did in this show (although he was good in all his shows), but he was perfect in this role and he really danced wonderfully. . .expressive, strong and sprightly, and clearly enjoying himself on the stage. He seemed to be having more fun than almost anyone. Although he claims it is his last time (he will turn instead to teaching) , I hope he relents and keeps on dancing, at least a little bit. He and Renata are such warm spirits and ambassadors for dance, and legions of youngsters will benefit from working with them.

The regulars were great too. Lauren, Kaori, and Akari were beautiful, as usual. There were times when a few dancers seemed to be going through the motions, as enthusiasm lagged (particularly in the second show), but no doubt that was a result of burdened hearts and weighing down spirits. It is the first time I recall seeing Aladdin, and some parts were hard to follow (I thought it was odd they used a metal pail in the first scene), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I suspect dance critics with more experience than myself might find things to complain about, but I was delighted. And there were little parts (miscues) that made me smile. As when, during the rehearsal the ballerinas got their jewel baskets messed up and hilarity followed. Or when a younger dancer strayed out from the wings and gestured wildly to the other side, I guess because someone missed a cue. I keep telling my son that mistakes are part of dance, in fact, are part of every artistic endeavor, and that when one is made, the performer should just carry on as if nothing unusual happened. He will learn. Joey had a small part, but I thought he did well. He was critical of himself (grading himself as a C in the morning, a B+ at night), which shows me that he is aware that he has much to learn, but that he felt good on the stage. All the kids did well. When the littlest tots (as always, a crowd favorite), in their green outfits clamored out for their part, I quipped to a parent backstage, "There goes Pavlovich's Thundering Herd! (think Marshall University)." They were so cute.

OK, now it is time for me to find my Kleenex! :) I know there will be many more great dancers to see and meet in the future, but I will really miss this ensemble.

Friday, March 5, 2010


In my relatively short (about five years) association with the Columbia Classical Ballet, mostly as a parent and fan, there has been much joy and learning, getting to know a diverse and frequently changing cast of characters, and coming to understand better the hard work and beauty of dance, sometimes from a privileged position (such as standing in the wings backstage or watching rehearsals). The CCB has over this period done a wonderful job of blending the talents of young American dancers with a flavoring of worldwide talent. But there has also been occasional sadness, bordering on loss for me, as change is a certainty. For instance, when Brazilian brothers Junior and Humberto quietly snuck off a few years back, like ghosts in the night, to join other companies, I was dismayed and disheartened (though I understood the dynamics and was happy for them as well). Every year I suffer a sort of melancholy as a dancer or two that I have come to know or enjoyed watching perform, leaves for a better opportunity or to return home. But this year, like a flash flood in a western arroyo, the landscape of local dance has been scoured and swept downstream. So it is with much trepidation and sadness that I go to see this weekend Aladdin, knowing that when the final curtain falls, several of my favorite dancers are headed off to distant parts of the globe. My spirit is darkened, my heart pained. I already miss them.

There are times I wish I had been introduced to dance as a child; that some special connection had been discovered in me (such as happened with my son) so that I could have possibly found a hidden talent for movement and the stage. But no, my interests lay elsewhere, and I treasure them; but I have been increasing enamored by dance and dancers, enjoying the motion, color, precision, and presentation. Inwardly, there is something that pines to be included in such a group (particularly if related to the arts). Maybe it is jealousy of their talent, possibly borderline infatuation and awe (and that goes for anyone who special skills). I always felt that way, even when I was in school; I seemed to know the members of each clique, but was never allowed into any inner circle. And of course, I am an outsider to the special world of ballet---not part of the close-knit fraternity that bonds dancers (like soldiers or cops), that allows them to mesh as a team despite petty rivalries or personality clashes. Only wealthy patrons and backstage support seem to be allowed into that fellowship in any true measure; the rest are often treated with varying levels of attention---from polite disdain to near contempt---for usurpers are not of the chosen. Some dancers do not respond to a friendly salutations, or shy away when approached, and many simply ignore the "lesser" folk. A few I have met surely fit the description of divas, and others sometimes seemed cold and superior.

But the last few years at CCB have been wonderfully different, largely due to the warmness and friendliness of a select group of dancers who embraced my sons and, happily, me. Just as the Teixera brothers were departing, I was introduced to a couple (part of a incoming group of dancers) who also hailed from their homeland. Almost immediately Renata Franco and Waldilei Goncalves welcomed this outsider, just as they seemed to acknowledge everyone, with warmth, class, and good humor. Their first year here was a challenge for them, but they persevered. I enjoyed visiting them and seeing how they were doing. In many ways, they became the beating heart of recent companies. For three years I greatly enjoyed their friendship. I will miss Waldilei’s impish grin and easy manner, his salutation "Hello, Jim," whenever he saw me and came over to chat. I don’t think I ever saw him angry or frustrated (though I know he was at times). He even humored me by listening to my music suggestions and ideas on dance. Renata has that inner spirit of a mother and teacher, and I smile inside when I think of how special a life their children and future students will have with them. She reminds me in many ways of my mother. She served as the ballet mistress this past season and was beloved by her students. The couple returns to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to teach ballet, settle down, and begin a new life. I hope perhaps one day I can send my son down there for a year or so of training from them, should he stay in ballet. Through them, in part, I have come to enjoy the combination of modern and classical ballet, as promoted by groups such as Groupo Corpo, which hails from their hometown.

Also leaving CCB are a trio of beautiful and talented Japanese ballerinas, as well as one Japanese male dancer. I will miss the striking elegance and shy friendliness of Akari Manabe, who seemed to anchor the company on stage with her graceful movement, long arms, and ever-beaming smile. I loved sections where she and Kaori Yanagida danced together. Of all the dancers leaving, she seems to be the one who would most like to stay (although I could be wrong) in Columbia. I imagine that plenty of companies, in the United States and overseas, will be jumping at the chance to get her to join them.

Although I less often spoke with Kaori, she also was always pleasant and cheerful. She will be returning to Hungary with Zoltan Boros, who also danced with CCB. Both have been strong performers in the company, and I know they made many friends here. I suspect their sojourn in Eastern Europe will be short, as certainly they will get plenty of offers worldwide.

The two other Japanese dancers to depart are, Riiko Kitayama, who returns to Canada (though there is the chance she may return) and Kazuki Ichihashi, who joins a company in his homeland. Kazuki got a little more attention and did some really fine dancing; Riiko will be best remembered as the Chinese dancer in the Nutcracker. I had the pleasure of meeting her mother as well.

I’m not sure who else will be leaving the company, and surely there will be new faces. There will be a different feel next year. I suspect the company will take on a less diverse flavor, at least for one year. I hope CCB continues to draw talented young dancers to Columbia. And thank goodness for Facebook, where I will continue to follow their careers when I can.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Tobias Wolff’s In Pharoah’s Army is a well-written, entertaining, and humorous account of the author’s army career and service as a young artillery (translator) lieutenant attached to a unit in South Vietnam, a stay that included his participation in the infamous Tet Offensive. Comprised mostly of short anecdotal stories, the book reveals both the horrors and humor of participation in war. Some stories were especially good, such as (with his sergeant) his appropriating a color television during a bustling trade in "war mementos") so that they could watch Bonanza and his saving a small puppy from the spit. He seems brutally honest in his descriptions of his actions (including noting that he literally shit in his pants after a grenade failed to explode under his truck), the behavior and attitudes of the local population, his less-than-sterling performance (which included the shelling of the nearby town), and his family and relationships (including his scam-artist father). It has been drilled in my head that Tet was a lesson for the Americans, but Wolff points out that it was meant to be a lesson for the South Vietnamese. I enjoyed this book and recommend to readers who want to learn more about the war.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Dumas’s Funny in Farsi is a humorous collection of stories about a young Iranian immigrant to the United States as she deals with her parents and her new life, from elementary school to her marriage. A wonderful addition to the growing body of immigrant literature, there are heartwarming and funny tales of her father’s frugality, people’s kindnesses and ignorance, memories of family and homeland. There are plenty of insights into Iranian culture, both overseas and here, as well as simple family dynamics, told with a humorous view. Her experience visiting Paris is delightful, as is the story of her father’s incompetent repair skills. Anyone interested in a quick laugh should pick up this book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


As the world becomes smaller, traditional cultures are heavily influenced by encroachments of modern life, so much so that in time many eventually disappear. I recall recently that the last known member of a native East Indian group passed, taking with her the language and culture of her people. And this process, of course, is not new, though modern technology seems to have accelerated it. In Nick Reding’s Last Cowboys at the End of the World the author sought to come to some understanding about the changes experienced by one group, the gauchos of Chile (who migrated out of Argentina as it was modernized). In Patagonia these independent and tough individuals (who often prefer being alone) work as sheep and cattle raisers in the high mountains of southern South America. Although not very religious, they are strong believers in the Devil and witchcraft. They resist newcomers, to the point of extreme shyness, and suffer the effects of isolation in such a hard country. In fact, boredom and isolation seem to be the root of violence and drunkenness. Reding spent most of his time living with Duck and Edith, and their three children; Duck was the foreman on an absentee-owner ranch. One of the most harrowing incidents happens when the author is attacked by his host, seemingly (as later explained) because he is trying to elicit some sort of emotional response from the writer, who had tried to maintain his distance and objectivity. There are fascinating and funny details of cultural nuances, from the manner of drinking and sharing mate (tea), which can reveal the unspoken intentions of the host. Although the book is uneven, there are wonderful parts, such as his description of his participation on a cattle drive (after he lied about knowing how to ride a horse), attending a dance, tagging along with a cattle rustler into the neighboring Argentina, facing a street gang in one of the towns. I loved when Duck turned to Reding, who had screwed up royally, and says, "If idiots like you could fly, Nico, the sky would be cloudy every day." I also was fascinated by the collogialisms, such as when a person tells another that they know they are holding back on some tidbit of information, "I can see the tail of the rat in your trap." These are stubborn and proud people, and yet there is humor and desire, jealousy and spite, sadness and despair. Although I was acquainted with the gauchos’ history somewhat, this book was an interesting, revealing exploration that broadened my limited knowledge. I think it is a good addition to the literature on the effect of modernization in Latin America.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Addiction. It is a terrible thing. And not all addictions are of the alcohol-and-drugs variety. Some people are attracted to the adrenaline rush experienced by putting one’s life in peril. And at times the search for this escalating rush borderlines on a death wish and puts others in jeopardy as well. It is this addiction that is explored in The Hurt Locker, a movie that follows a U.S. Army bomb-disposal squad the latter stages of their deployment in Iraq. Without being overtly patriotic or critical, the film highlights as well the trials of military duty in a war zone, the camaraderie and bonds among service people, the emotional responses to deadly duties in the extreme. It avoids artificially raising the tension with music and overwrought dialogue. The photography is gritty and realistic (at least it seemed so to me). Jeremy Renner stars as the adrenaline junkie bomb tech determined not only to defuse IEDs, but to understand the devices and the bomb makers. He was wonderful in the part, as were his top sergeant, played by Anthony Mackey, and specialist, played by Brian Geraghty. Ralph Finnes has a nice cameo role as a CIA contractor trying to cash in on the capture of two high-profile Iraqis. But the film is not star driven. I haven’t spoken to any soldiers who served over there, and I am quite interested in finding out how they reacted to the story. I have a feeling many will say that its portrayal of life there is spot on.

Monday, February 15, 2010


One of the slight downfalls of single parenting is occasionally having to sit through a movie that you don't find all that appealing or interesting. In this case, it was Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. It just didn't make much sense (and that is bad, even for a fantasy). Do we really expect he will be this wonderful fighter in one day? Some of the fights and challenges were weak. Ok, I did enjoy the Las Vegas challenge. The two lead actors seemed lame to me. The guy who played the satyr did an okay job. Still, it was rewarding because my sons enjoyed it, and that makes it worthwhile. But it wasn't much advanced over what they watch on Saturday mornings. I do see the comparisons some have made to the successful (and far superior) Harry Potter movies. I wonder if the books, which I have yet to try with my boys, might be better.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


How can they chirp, those mindless bugs?
Soon to expire in gecko’s mouth-hugs.

But now they hop on the warm’d sand,
as if they’d found fertile new land.

Dumped out of an old coffee can
into glass-box---quickly they ran.

Some climb up warming-rock cords
find escapees along our baseboards.

Those who remain sing in that space,
must know time’s short for cricket race.

Anaximander, oh. . .that’s his silly name
he’ll hunt down each of his insect game.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


W. P. Kinsella's The Iowa Baseball Conspiracy is a delightful blend of magical realism and baseball history. The protagonist, Gideon Clarke, has been infected by his dead father's seemingly sole knowledge of a month-long supra-extra-innings 1908 baseball tilt between the Chicago Cubs and an all-star team of Iowa farmers from a local baseball league, whose entire history (along with that of the original town) seems to have been collectively and completely wiped from people's memories. No archive or newspaper of the day records such a notable tilt. Yet Clarke, and his father before him, are obsessed with researching (in vain) and proving (nearly in vain) the existence of the confederation. Although tantalizing clues and memories surface, it is not until a special night that Gideon, along with his best friend, slip through a dimensional crack in the time-space continuum (yeah, I watch Star Trek!), and the truth of the forgotten events come to light. As with all of Kinsella's books that I have tried, there is a soft humor and evident love of baseball, and his stories often unravel comfortably (can anyone really say they didn't like the movie Field of Dreams, which is based on Kinsella's stories). Although at times it can lag, you come to care for the characters and root for them, and you want to know their ultimate fate. For me, one character, Sunny, Gideon's wife, touched me the most, because she seems to be suffering from the same condition that my ex-wife had (borderline personality disorder). There are many subthemes, such as loyalty and friendship, Native American rights and mysticism, unrequited love, determination and obssession). It is a nice read and I recommend it.

Monday, February 1, 2010


If the brutal description of a man literally melting to death in a basement laboratory after a psychotic episode led him to pour chemicals down a drainpipe and then light a cigarette, as well as details of mental and physical ravages caused by addiction to this drug, does not rivet one’s attention to the dangers of this "epidemic" in America, I don’t know what can. Nick Reding has written a riveting account of the impact of meth on a small town in Iowa, particularly factors that contributed both to its manifestation and adaptation, in Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. Anyone interested in the fight against drugs and the battle for the American heartland should read this book.

There are villains aplenty. One could pillory the producers, dealers, and users---and certainly they bear a large responsibility for their plight---but Reding focuses on economic and cultural pressures that allowed the "epidemic" to nearly destroy small towns throughout the country. There are many groups whose culpability is shocking and unforgivable. Huge pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists, helped along by willing lawmakers, blocked any regulation of ephedrines (sold in cold medicines) because of the huge profits (as well as failed to impose effective immigration controls); corporations (in this case agricultural and food processing) wiped out good-paying jobs and reduced employment rolls, then brought in low-paid illegal laborers (mostly from Mexico), which helped gut local communities, destroy households, plow under family farms, and burden health services; small-time producers who hooked several generations, only to be swept aside by a rapacious and aggressive group of Mexican cartels; illogical and ineffective punishments and policies that failed to address underlying causes. A common theme is that an unwillingness and laxity in protecting the American people because of greed or failure of nerve will be taken advantage of by corrupt individuals smart enough to realize an opportunity for a quick buck. The route taken by drug dealers is especially worrisome, in addition to the damage done to individuals and society (both directly and residually), because other groups such as terrorist organizations, also capitalize on the flaws in our system. Against this juggernaut a few hardy souls were determined to save their communities, and fought to restructure their towns in response to changing times. I will never drive through the Midwest again without passages from the book ringing in my head. Although there are signs of hope, this book should make readers angry and (in good muckraking fashion) make people call for better policing, policy making, and protection of small businesses.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Following the career advancement, investigations, philosophical struggles, and cultural explaining of Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the main character in John Burdett's Bangkok series has been one of my favorite literary excursions over the past few years. Sonchai, the half Thai/half American (farang) son of a former prostitute and current brothel owner (he is a part owner), is a devout, spiritual Buddhist who wrestles with the karmic implications of his role as a minion (and later consigliere) of his boss, one of the two leading drug barons in Thailand. We are first introduced to him in Bangkok 8, suffering from the loss of his best friend and police partner who is murdered via use of poisonous snakes, and his exploits are continued in Bangkok Tattoo and Bangkok Haunts, which are interesting and enjoyable but did not quite live up to the first book. Along with his mother and boss, other recurring characters include his faithful assistant and devoted foil, Lek, a pre-op transsexual male (katooey); a female American FBI agent that he taps for special intelligence when required; an Army general and rival to his boss in the drug trade; and numerous prostitutes and colorful personalities who come in and out of the stories (not to mention the rather interesting victims of the crimes he is investigating).
So it was delightful that Burdett's recent addition, Godfather of Kathmandu, was as strong and interesting as the first volume. Jitpleecheep here is dealing with the heartrending loss of his only son and his wife's decision to run off to a Buddhist nunnery, as he is called to assist in the mysterious murder of a prominent and wealthy American film director, while at the same time brokering a high-stakes drug deal with an equally mysterious Tibetan lama (Tietsen), who wants to use profits from the sale to get back at the Chinese. He is valuable to his boss because he can easily traverse the different cultures. Soon he is immersed in the complicated worlds of Chinese/Thai secret societies, a brilliant chemically-dependent pharmacist murderess, a tantalizing Tantric mistress/actress, a upward striving junior police detective, and other members of Thai society (as well as individuals in Tibet and Hong Kong). In all of the books the protagonist talks directly to the reader, explaining various aspects of culture and religion, as well as his thought processes as he works his way through various investigations. There is no way for this reviewer to assess how accurate the author is in describing the inner working of Thailand, but the stories are colorful and engaging, and I recommend them highly. Almost all of the characters are richly complex and compelling. Burdett's descriptions and explanations of Thai society are equally good.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Last night I was treated to two magicians. I took the boys (after dance practice for Joey and finishing reading Call of the Wild with Chimo) to see the local magician John Tudor at the Columbia Children's Theater. I would say he is an entertaining, though average, magician, but what he is really good at is developing rapport with the kids (and the adults enjoyed it too). The seventy-plus crowd was receptive and appreciative, and he put on a pretty nice show. He blends silly puns and a bit of storytelling with his sleight of hand, and overall I had a nice time, as did my boys (which is what it is all about for me).

Then I watched a real magician, Devon Downey, of the Carolina Gamecocks, as on the hardwood they defeated a #1 team for the first time in their history, the previously undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. Even had the Cocks lost, I would have been proud of them, because they played hard for the entire game. Yes, we got a few lucky bounces (you simply need a few of those to counter some things), but I have to applaud his teammates as well, who stepped up when they needed to, on defense and in providing a little point support. Downey made about four or five shots that were nothing short of amazing, and I am glad that he got to showcase his talents to a national audience. The crowd was wonderful, and I don't think they stopped jumping on their feet for practically the whole game. The win was especially shocking when you factor the loss of two first-string big men we have lost for the year. I hope one or two big-time prospects saw the game and consider coming here to play.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I hear snapping jaws of intolerance
and hatred, dripping with bile of
irrational anger: stoked, stroked, fired
by pseudojournalists and narrow-minded
commentators spinning fabrications
like deadly spiders in darkened holes,
each web of deceit mending the false
strands, repeatedly sheared by truth,
how dare they take the sacred name
of painted Patriots protesting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Tonight, Columbia was treated to a wonderful experience, a crowd-pleasing performance put on by the Columbia Classical Ballet and several guest artists from around the world. Lifechance: International Ballet Gala of the Stars not only gathers great dancers and offers fresh material to dance lovers of the Midlands, it raises money for charity, in this case for the Palmetto Health Children's Hospital Special Care Center. It also, I think, allows local dancers the chance to work with their peers, develop new skills, and form networking friendships that can be helpful down the road. Despite its size, Columbia does not lack for opportunities to see a wide range of dance, but this annual event (the fourteenth)---put on largely through the hard work of Radenko Pavlovich---brought together a diverse and accomplished group. This year's production was probably the best attended and most rewarding ever. Thanks to our good friend Renata Franco, the boys and I were treated to excellent seats and we left the auditorium inspired and thrilled. The Koger Center seemed to be practically sold out and the dapper crowd was in the mood for high-level entertainment and was very appreciative of the presentation. They came to see the best young dancers displaying their talents and they were not disappointed.

The star of the show was hometown favorite Brooklyn Mack, whose coach and mentor is Pavlovich, and he did not let down his legion of local fans. Although many of the male danceurs were excellent, when Mack steps----no, SOARS---onto the stage, he is a thing of beauty and energetically shows why he is such a sparkling talent. His jumps are tremendous, his enthusiasm infectious. He feeds off the crowd, and the Washington Ballet is lucky to have him as a principal. His Song for You, done to the music of Donnie Hathaway (one of my favorites) was wonderful, as was his duet with Grace-Anne Powers in Le Corsaire (though I think I would have liked a better selection of costumes for that one). Many times I heard people gasp in awe and comment positively on this jump or that move.

Not to be outdone by any measure, the corps of Columbia Classical Ballet gave three beautiful performances. While Satanella and Majissimo were delightful in every way, I was simply blown away by the job they did in Assassin's Tango. It was an absolutely delightful arrangement, and it had the crowd atwitter. I thought all six ballerinas and the six guys were great (and as always, the ladies were lovely). I must compliment the choice of costumes, especially the black outfits, in all three parts. The dancers were crisp and seemed to be enjoyed themselves. Lauren Frere and Journy Wilkes-Davis have become something of a pair on stage (they also starred together in the recent Nutcracker), and since both are tall and svelte, they match well in their duets. Of course, my favorites are Renata and Akari Manabe, but then again I am somewhat biased. Akari can simply melt you with her smile and Renata is a genuinely beautiful spirit. Kaori Yanagida (and I think Aoi Anraku, though I might be wrong) got the center stage in the first dance. DeeDee Rosner and Kaleena Burks were also great. I think the company really showed the crowd how lucky we are to have them here. Satanella was very good and set the tone for the evening. They can really be proud of their performance tonight. I may not be a ballet afficiando, but I was really impressed and pleased to have seen it.

I will not bore you with a detailed description of every guest performance, though I will say that they were uniformly excellent and each brought a different flavor to the banguet. We were treated to dances put on by five members of the Boston Ballet. Several really stood out. Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga's Tsukiyo pas de deux was sensual and impressive. Cirio is strong, almost feline, in her command of the stage. I thought there was a little too much arm movement in As One, but overall, she is impressive, as was her partner. Jeffrey Cirio, James Whiteside, and Whitney Jensen were also good.

Two dances given by members of the Trey McIntyre Project of Boise, Idaho, were crowd favorites and extremely well performed. Chanel DaSilva and Dylan G-Bowley's Wild Sweet Love was athletic and playful, and really got a rousing reception. G-Bowley's Nitelite was equally impressive. I would love to see Mack and DaSilva share the stage in a duet someday.

The adorable (ok, she's only thirteen) Alexandra Parsons of North Carolina danced two beautiful numbers and she definitely has a wonderful future ahead of her. Alexander Buber (of Belarus via Japan) was crisp and light in much of his dancing, and I enjoyed the Flower Festival at Genzano, with the lovely Kayo Sasabe. Much credit should be given to Sasabe, whose initial foray onto the stage was interrupted by a technical glitch; the crowd warmly applauded her return. Rounding out the first act were Meaghan Hinkis and Alberto Velazquez, from New York's American Ballet Theater, in Don Quixote, and I thought both were good, though Hinkis seemed to outshine her partner.

My only criticism was that too often, dancers standing in the wings had their shadows projected onto the backscreen, possibly by the lighting being at a bad angle or the performers standing too close to the stage. For example, it was disconcerting when G-Bowley was performing his modernist dance, to see the shadow of Parsons twirling behind him. Most people probably didn't even notice it, though.

Overall, I think the night was wonderful. I am delighted that my son dances with this group. I wish I was about twenty and could dance with them. Much thanks should be given to the cities of Forest Acres and Columbia for providing funds for the arts, because we are a much better community because of it.