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Ten Things I’m Digging Right Now (Retroactive Edition)

November 16, 2013 Leave a comment

No apologies for the nearly five months that have passed since my last post. Since then I’ve sold a house, bought a house, traveled to Colorado, published a 100-page annual report, run miles after an energetic toddler and watched more baseball games than I care to even talk about. There are busier people than me. There are more stressed-out people than me. But I’ve been occupied enough that pleasure-writing has taken a back seat.

But right now I have some time, some energy and some idle thoughts to share. Here are some thing that have had me thinking, speaking out and geeking out over the last five months:

Matterhorn1. Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn

It’s the shame of most freshman history classes: All the most relevant history gets taught at the end. For instance, my freshman history teacher (a basketball coach… I know, shocker) spent the first month and a half of the semester on Reconstruction and never made it past Pearl Harbor. I read about the Cold War and Vietnam myself, on the last day of class. It’s really kind of tragic: My father, my father-in-law, my uncle and many men I love and respect fought in Vietnam or in its immediate aftermath, and yet I knew next to nothing about it.

Not so now.

Marlantes’ unbelievable novel is as close as someone like me will ever get to spending time in the bush. Everything, from the horrific leeches to the insane boredom of waiting to the stark terror of imminent death, was so believably related (primarily through the eyes of a young Lieutenant) that it felt like a work of non-fiction. It isn’t, though Marlantes was a Vietnam vet and I have no doubt he based many of the characters–few if any of them completely likable–on real people. I wasn’t in love with the ending, but how can you be when the subject of the book itself is horrifying and, ultimately, pointless? If you’re into historical or wartime fiction, Matterhorn is a must read.

2. Shortstops

The Cardinals need one. I’m not ready to delve too deeply into that World Series just yet, but I’m excited by the search for someone to replace this: (click on the image for animated gif)

Kozma

#NeverForget

The Cardinals may go expensive and trade for a Troy Tulowitzki. They may go for someone less talented but more reliable (and cheaper), like Jed Lowrie (for what it’s worth, this is the move I currently support, provided they find a big outfield bat). At this point, as long as they don’t trade Michael Wacha, which they won’t, I’m not going to be too upset no matter what they do.

Third base and right field are almost as intriguing as SS, but I’ll save that for a Winter Meetings post. Or just follow me on Twitter; I usually unload my baseball-related mental diarrhea over there.

Hobbit3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was at the opening day of all three Lord of the Rings films in the early ’00s. (Yeah, I know.) I can still sit through an 11-hour, 20-minute marathon and not get bored. But I was hesitant to see The Hobbit. First of all, it’s The Hobbit, which is the Tom Sawyer to LOTR‘s Huck Finn–decidedly simple compared to the master work. You know, for the kids. Second of all, I was bummed Peter Jackson and New Line decided to split it into three movies. How can a single, fluffy book fill almost nine hours of film without slowing down? For these reasons, and the fact that I have a two-year-old and therefore never, ever go to movies, I didn’t watch the first installment until a couple of Saturdays ago.

I was fairly blown away, and very much impressed. The LOTR-film-geek in me loved all the callbacks to the original film, from Howard Shore’s score, to the consistency in title fonts, to the re-appearances of Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Elijah Wood and, more significantly, Ian McKellen. But really, it’s a fine work in and of itself. It expands on the book by beefing the story up with lore from Tolkien’s lesser-known Middle-Earth works, and even sets the stage for the events of LOTR. Purists are mad because the next two films apparently out-and-out make up new characters and put old ones in the story where they don’t belong. I’ll reserve judgement until I see the rest of the trilogy, but in the first film didn’t really notice and, more importantly, didn’t care.

Here Thorin Oakenshield is a less brooding, if less interesting, Aragorn. Martin Freeman plays Bilbo with twice the spine of Wood’s Frodo. The orcs are nastier, Elrond surlier, the Sackville-Bagginses… Sack-ier? The rest of this trilogy may be a disappointment (though I don’t know how you can say that when I get to see Evangeline Lilly act again), but you can bet I’ll be there next month for The Desolation of Smaug.

Maybe even on opening night.

4. Nearly Famous Deli & Pasta House

Our new house is less than a mile from this place, and it has turned into our casual-Friday-night-with-Harriet spot. It’s super kid-friendly: The meat and cheese tray ($6) includes lean cuts of turkey and a variety of cheeses, plus more fruit than you could every buy at a store for $6. They have other, more common kid selections but this is by far the best meal we’ve found for H at any local restaurant (Nonna’s does it right, as well). For us, the Friday night specials take the cake; Nichole actually had a dream about the chicken picata once. The specials can be on the pricey side for casual fare, but they come with a large cup of soup or a salad and a delicious dinner roll. A nice beer list and underrated wine menu round things out nicely. And we’re still home in time for bath, stories and bed.

We are such south-siders. Ugh.

5. Cleaning a pool

Oh yeah. Our new house has a pool. We weren’t looking for one. We didn’t particularly even want one. But when you’re willing to pay asking price for a certain house, even if it doesn’t have a pool, but it does… why the hell not? The best part was, the previous owner cleaned it all up prior to us taking over and we were fortunate enough to get enjoy it for much of our unseasonably warm September, which gave me a month to get used to cleaning it and using the equipment and chemicals. My goal by next Memorial Day is to be a cleaning machine.

GoF5. Grave of the Fireflies

For the last three-plus years, I’ve been slogging my way through Roger Ebert’s list of 340-some Great Movies. I watch them at random, whichever one comes out of the hat next. I’ve learned a lot about film. For instance, I love Italian films but hate French. I typically like Japanese movies more than German, yet Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo is the best foreign film of the 164 I’ve watched to this point. Until September the “Saddest Film” race was a close one between Forbidden Games, concerning young children (and a dead dog) in occupied WWII France, and the “old-man-with-a-dog-but-no-home” Italian film Umberto D. Until I watched Grave of the Fireflies.

Holy cow. I’m not sure I can go into much detail here, but I’ll try.

First of all, it’s animated and from Japan, though not anime in the conventional sense; there’s nothing fantastical about Grave of the Fireflies other than the story. Don’t shy away from the dubbed version; it’s high-quality, though subtitle traditionalists may argue.

So anyway, this brother and sister, probably 14 and 6, respectively, live in Japan during the ceaseless bombing by American forces toward the end of WWII (not THE bombing, but bad enough). Their mother is killed, and they become transient, forced to the streets by a cruel aunt. In the end, the bombs and burning and exposure cause… nope. Never mind.

But the POWER of this film. My god. It’s quiet and beautiful and sad and perfect and in its own way extremely joyful, and the fact that it’s a cartoon only accentuates these things. Animated children can be made to act and express in ways that real child actors simply cannot, and the effect–when applied correctly–is beyond description unless you’ve seen it. Do yourself a favor and rent this movie. And buy a few boxes of Puffs, just to be on the safe side.

7. The Springfield Art Museum

Something else local! I’ve had some business dealings with this institution over the last six months, and I’m very impressed. It’s a first-rate facility and a hidden gem of an art collection, though I am woefully uneducated in both architecture and art, and furthermore they’ve brought on some really excellent folks to lead it over the last couple of years. If you haven’t been lately, go. It’s free, and your taxes support it.

8. Mary-Louise Parker

I watched the first four episodes of Weeds. I didn’t like it, and I know enough about the latter seasons to know it’s not worth sticking it through. However, MLP’s bit part in The West Wing (I’m currently watching Season 4), as well as her Google Images page, is enough to make me have a forever-crush. She could go Method to play the title role in a Chris Farley biopic and I would still find her fetching.

one-fish-two-fish9. Dr. Seuss

Harriet is going through an animal phase, so the fantasy creatures and lengthy rhymes of Dr. Seuss are not her favorite at the moment. But there was a phase, and I desperately hope there’s another, when she loved Dr. Seuss books more than anything. And I love reading them. Out loud. It’s always my goal to make it through an entire book without screwing up. I practice my inflection from One Fish, Two Fish in the shower. I get passages from The Sleep Book stuck in my head throughout the day. Nichole and I have an entire theory about Mr. Brown and Mr. Black from Hop on Pop. I’ve already decided H is going to get The Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas for Christmas. And if she doesn’t like them I will read them to myself.

10. Pope Francis

Nuff. Said. Almost enough to make me want to be Catholic. Okay, not almost. But almost-almost.

Until next time.

ML

Categories: General