Thursday, July 29, 2010

Julie & Julia

Julia Child's Kitchen on display at the Nation...Image via Wikipedia
Last night we watched Julie & Julia. Yes, we're behind everyone else. All the movies we watch are borrowed from the library, so we have to wait until they are available. We haven't rented a movie in nearly three years. The last time it was from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. Today, as far as I know, neither company even exists any longer.

Julia, as everyone in the world knows by now, is Julia Child as channeled by Meryl Streep, who can do no wrong.

Julie is Julie Powell, which happens to be my mother-in-law's name. Both the movie Julie and the real life Julie created a blog in which she reported on cooking her way through Julia's famous book on French cooking, giving herself one year to cook all the recipes. In the movie, at least, she actually did it.

For once I actually liked a movie more than Roger Ebert, whose sometimes overgenerous reviews I always read, even if I read none other. Ebert's insightful eye did serve to deflate my initial impression, but while he rated the movie with two and a half stars by his system, for reasons he articulates well, and I am impelled to agree with, I nevertheless registered nine stars on IMDB. I don't go that high very often. And I did it because it was so much fun watching Meryl Streep caricature Julia Child and because I loved watching the two women cook with abandonment and enthusiasm, and maybe because I enjoyed watching a movie about two basically happy marriages where nothing bad happens to spoil the fun. (Well, Julie's husband gets fed up with her obsession for a day, but that's easily resolved.)

Perhaps I was just in a mood for a light, popular, romantic tale. I like the movies When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail and thought Julie & Julia has a similar sheen to it. Believe it or not, I did not realize until afterward that Nora Ephron wrote all three. Duh.. I guess you could say she's an author with a recognizable voice.

I am not a cook, but believe I could be good at it. Yet I don't want to get into cooking because I have some of the craziest eating habits on the planet, and am best off on a daily basis if I don't even think about food and stay as far away from it as possible, eating only when absolutely necessary. I can barely eat at all without gaining weight, despite the miles I put in on the road, and if I cooked, I'd give up running and working out so I could do nothing but eat. And that would be Bad. So I'm glad that other people know how to cook and share their skills with people like me. Meanwhile I was content to be a food voyeur.
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Bright Star

Portrait of John Keats by his friend Charles B...Image via Wikipedia
Last night we watched the movie Bright Star, about the (short) life of John Keats — or at least about last part of it.

Good movie. The dialog is captivating, particularly the snippy repartee between Keats' romantic interest Fanny Brawne and his friend Charles Brown. Fanny and Charles never do learn to get along, consistently despising one another in their mutual possessiveness of Keats.

The costuming is extraordinary. Fanny Brawne was said to be a gifted seamstress who designed and sewed all her own clothes, and at least in the movie, apparently also for her whole family. Some of their attire is edgy and almost bizarre. The movie was nominated for an Oscar and also by at least one other organization for its costuming.

The cinematography, too, is simply astonishing, with a presence bordering on 3-D to the imagery. At the top of Roger Ebert's review of this film is a picture of Fanny Brawne in a field of blue wildflowers, in a pose vaguely reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina's World," but of an entirely different palette. In the film this scene took my breath away. Ebert makes special note of it in his review, describing it with the words: "There is a shot here of Fanny in a meadow of blue flowers that is so enthralling it beggars description."

The acting is OK, not Oscar caliber. The main character in this portrayal is Fanny Brawne (Kerry Fox, also the best performer), not Keats; the story focuses on their brief, hopeless, and unfulfilled romantic relationship. Keats had no money or steady income as a starving poet, so was never able to marry Fanny or anyone else. He died in Italy at age 25, apparently of tuberculosis, leaving such a formidable legacy of work, largely unrecognized at the time, that he is remembered today as one of the great Romantic poets. Naturally, a great number of Keats quotes creep into the dialog, in greater proportion as the movie progresses. The closing credits roll over Keats (Ben Whitshaw) reading an ode.

Bright Star, I suppose, will appeal primarily to women. The style of the era being what it is, some of the verbiage, including even the quotes of poetry fragments, may seem a bit syrupy to some persons. Romantic era aesthetics focus on experiences that touch the emotions deeply, in contrast to (and in reaction against) the methodical, refined detachment and intelligence of the Enlightenment that preceded it. Matters of deep emotions would certainly include the type of love between members of the opposite sex that we today also label "romantic." (I'm not sure if that term was used for it before the Romantic period in art, but the reality has been a part of our common experience since the beginning of human existence.)

I don't think this movie got a lot of publicity when it came out last year, and it's not the type of thing that is likely to be found on many people's summer viewing lists. Nonetheless, it is very much worth seeing by those who aren't afraid of a film designed to stir the heart.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ultrarunning Hyperbole

Certain tainted words occur repeatedly in journalism about ultrarunning, all of which cause noisy alarms to go off in my head whenever I see them. The four most frequent culprits are:
  • crazy
  • grueling
  • test[ing] limits
  • extreme
Rarely have I ever read an article about ultrarunning by a non-ultrarunner that does not use the word crazy to describe the distance or the mindset of the runner.

I've never read an article written by someone who doesn't do it himself that doesn't describe the 135-mile Badwater race through Death Valley to the Mount Whitney Portal, or a 100-mile mountain trail race, or for that matter a 24-hour race as grueling. It's as if grueling were an automatic part of the event label: "Next month I'm going to do a grueling 24-hour race, and the month after that, a grueling 100-mile race." They're all grueling, right? I don't know of a single such race that anyone would consider easy.

The knee-jerk response of many runners, when put on the spot with a question about why they runs ultras, having not prepared an answer beforehand, is, "To test my limits," or words to that effect. Sometimes it's, "To see what I'm made of." And guess what? The answer is always flesh, blood, and bone, just like the rest of us, and in the case of ultrarunners who like to talk about their sport, perhaps also a larger than usual internal bag of poo.

I can't remember when I've ever run any distance to test my limits. God help me if I ever reach them. Then what? Congratulate myself and die?

And to persons who customarily view a standard marathon as the "ultimate challenge" (which, when you see several thousand persons young and old of all levels of fitness lined up to start, you realize it's far from being), any distance longer than that must be extreme. (See my article Half Crazy.)

To me, the word extreme brings to mind the world of X Games, the domain of testoserone-fueled backward-hatted, muscle-shirted, tattooed and pierced, foolhardy risk-takers who live on the edge of life and society (and a few of their female counterparts). I've always maintained that ultrarunning in general, as tough as it is to do well, is not an extreme sport in that sense of the word. That category of activity, in my view, must include elements of great danger over which people have little control — like jumping out of airplanes and bungee jumping. Also, I don't care much to watch rock climbers without ropes for the same reason. It's just stupid to risk one's life that way.

Which is not to say that there are not certain events in ultrarunning that could be classified as such. The Barkley, which hardly anyone ever finishes, is pretty weird, but at least no one has died doing it yet. So is the Marathon du Sables across the Sahara Desert. Some people think of the Pike's Peak Marathon as extreme, but I would call that an unusually tough marathon with one big hill, not an extreme event. One day I ran into an old man running down the street wearing a Pike's Peak Marathon t-shirt. We stopped and talked. He was in his mid-seventies, had run the race eight times, and was planning on continuing to do so as long as he was able. Didn't strike me as an extremist. He did it because he could and knew how, not to tempt death, which at his age was likely not far away no matter what.

So the next time you hear about some crazy extreme runner finishing a grueling 100-mile race in orer to test his limits, don't believe it.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

My Grandma

My Grandma Newton
  • had no automobile;
  • had no television;
  • had no radio;
  • had no telephone;
  • had an ice box instead of a refrigerator until 1952;
  • had no modern record player;
  • didn't own a book except a Bible;
  • didn't think much of music except hymns;
  • didn't approve of my father's choice of profession;
  • didn't approve of dancing;
  • didn't approve of alcohol;
  • didn't approve of card playing;
  • would play Dominoes with me by the hour;
  • never left the house, even to go to church, most of her adult life;
  • basically had no life at all;
  • but was probably well-suited for playing Farmville.
It was not until recently that it ever occurred to me that there was anything unusual about her.
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