What the first summer-like day on the river can look like. . . .
I read The Great Gatsby the other day. I couldn’t remember if I had previously or not; I thought I might have in high school, but really couldn’t remember anything about it. Upon reading it now, I don’t think I ever did. I did, however, find it to be a great read, and certainly deserving of its place in the pantheon of American Literature. It remains very readable, which can’t be said about many 88yo novels.
I read it in preparation for seeing the new movie adaptation from Baz Luhrmann that is due for release this weekend. I’ve been seeing previews for it since last fall; wild visuals of raucous parties, dancing women, and modern music, all rendered explosively in, bane of banes . . . 3D.
I won’t be jumping on the bandwagon that has been rolling through the social media sphere, though, where it is expected to make snarky comments about the idea of this book being adapted to 3D, etc. Maybe that’s a graduate school thing, I don’t know, but having read the book I feel like a modern treatment of it like this is perfect. If Luhrmann and the excellent cast get anywhere near pulling it off, I think it will be great.
Why is the excess of a big budget and 3D perfect, you may ask? Because that is exactly what the movie is about! Excess. Obsession. Shallow people clinging to soulless desires that leave them miserable. Doing the wrong thing over and over again. I’ve seen some people refer to it as a love story, but it’s a kind of love I can’t imagine wanting to be a part of because it comes with so many price tags. It’s a spectacle that is really a thin veneer covering something terrible, and I think it could be fantastic.
So I’m eager to see it. Maybe too eager now, I don’t know. I don’t know if I will get out to it opening weekend, but I know I will eventually.
I’m curious to know what other folks think about it. I suspect there are plenty who are affronted by the idea to the point of not even being willing to give it a shot. Maybe it just looks like a bad movie to some, I don’t know. I’m fine with that, I have a similar attitude to the new Lone Ranger movie. But that’s a different topic for another day. . . .
Today I’m grateful that we still live in a culture that values the preservation of art and literature, even if it seems at times we don’t. Because if we didn’t, I would not have had the opportunity to read any of the writing of one of my literary icons, Henry David Thoreau. I was particularly grateful yesterday when I went for a long saunter in the area I live as a way to pass a gloriously beautiful day.
I’m thinking of this today because it happens to be the 151st anniversary of his death in 1862. He died a few months shy of his 45th birthday, which means I’ve outlived him. I’ve not read all of his writing, nor have I read any actual biographies, though I did read an excellent book last year called The Thoreau You Don’t Know: The Father of Nature Writers on the Importance of Cities, Finance, and Fooling Around by Robert Sullivan. While it isn’t a biography, per se, it still provides insights and facts about the man’s life that I found fascinating, and brought him to life in ways he never has been before to me. Highly recommended to anyone with any interest in Thoreau, and what the world was like in the community he lived in during the time he was alive.
This gallery contains 9 photos.
I was out of town the early part of this week, and apparently it snowed at home again. Yesterday, however, felt like an early glimpse of summer, as you can surmise from these pictures. We took the dogs out to … Continue reading
Steve Earle has a new record out called The Low Highway. I’ve had a love/hate with Earle over the years. Used to love him, but over the last few years have really lost interest in him and his music. I picked this up because he is coming to Missoula again this summer, and I’m thinking about going to see him because I’ve never seen him live. Maybe this will help me decide really where he and I stand, once and for all. Anyway, these are the liner notes to the new album, and there’s a ton here I relate to.
There’s something calling me out there. Always has been, ever since I was old enough to stand out on the highway and stick out my thumb. I was younger than you’re probably thinking when I first discovered that there is, indeed, a space between where we’ve been and where we’re bound and depending on our intentions and our resolve it’s either a vast galaxy filled with the promise of the brightest of all possible futures or the blackest hole in the Universe. I’ve personally peered through through both ends of that telescope and I’m certain of nothing but I’d wager that the last song I ever sing in this world will be low and lonesome and contain at least on reference to a thoroughfare of one sort or another.
My hitchhiking days are long behind me now. I’m an upscale gypsy, flying first class or rolling down the highway in a three quarter of a million dollar bus but there are still nights when I can’t sleep and mornings when I’m up at first light riding shotgun, watching the miles slip beneath vulcanized wheels. I’ve been on every interstate highway in the lower forty-eight states by now and I never get tired of the view. I’ve seen a pretty good chunk of the world and my well-worn passport is one of my most prized possessions but, for me, there’s still nothing like the first night of a North American tour; everybody, band and crew, crowded up in the front lounge, eating Nashville hot chicken and Betty Herbert’s homemade pimento cheese, swapping the same tired old war stories half shouted over the rattle and hum of the highway. And I’m always the last one to holler good night to Charlie Quick, the driver, and climb in my bunk because to me it feels like Christmas Eve long ago when I still believed in Santa Claus. God I love this. And God help me if I ever forget to count my blessings when I walk out on a different stage in a different town night after night to find an audience out there, people who paid hard earned money to hear me sing MY songs! They’ve been coming since 1986 and they’re still coming even in the midst of the hardest times that most folks now living can remember. It’s tough out there, from Maine to San Diego, St. John’s to White Horse, Galway to Helsinki, Byron Bay out to Perth but they always show up and they know every word to every song and sometimes they sing along with me. And because they show up, because YOU show up, I still have a job, when a lot good people, through no fault of their own, don’t.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Good stuff. Maybe my sense that the man has become, with his success and his image (which seems to me often to be so carefully cultivated), a parody of himself, is entirely off base. Not for the first time, I’m hoping I’m wrong.
Two scenes from two different books, written from parts of the world that couldn’t be more different. First, from The Raven’s Gift by Jon Turk, who, in this scene, is on the tundra in Siberia. He has just joined a couple reindeer herders in their camp; he is being mocked for carrying kielbasa when there is so much “free meat on the tundra.” The hunter (George) says it’s the funniest joke he’s ever heard. Turk decides to expand on the theme:
I decided to add to the joke, so went back outside and returned with a can of corn. Even though it was heavy, we had taken it to share with someone as a special treat. George was neutral about the corn but excited about the can.
“Could I have the can?” he asked. “I have many uses for it.”
I smiled and went back out to our sleds, returning this time with our sugar, which we kept in a plastic jar with a screw-on lid. I poured the sugar into a Ziploc and handed George the jar.
George beamed, stood ceremoniously, and took it gingerly from my outstretched arms. After screwing the lid on and off several times, he put one hand over his heart. “This is a good jar,” he announced. “I will carry sugar in it, just like you did. I will take care of this jar. I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. Like my teapot. My teapot and my sugar jar. For the rest of my life.”
After dinner, we laid out our sleeping bags and dozed off. Sometime in the middle of the night, Nikolai got up to stoke the fire. There were holes in the rusted stove and flue pipe, so tiny orange spotlights danced on the inside of the canvas.
Next, from near where the Malagarasi River dumps into Lake Tanganyika in Africa, where writer Richard Grant is bidding farewell to Ryan Shallom, the guide who led the expedition for Grant down the river, from his book Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa:
We finished our drinks, and I got up with the empty whiskey bottle to find the trash bag. Ryan said, “A local would treasure that bottle. Why don’t you give it to one of those women?” I went over toward the blackened lean-to where women were boiling palm fruits and breathing acrid black smoke. A young mother came forward to retrieve her pointing toddler, and I offered her the empty bottle, hoping she wouldn’t be insulted by a gift of my trash. At first she didn’t understand. She thought I wanted her to go down to the river and fill the bottle with water for me. Then I explained in my atrocious Swahili that it was for her, a gift, and her face lit up with amazement, gratitude, disbelief at her good fortune. It was a fine, strong bottle and would probably be the most substantial possession in her hut.
I walked back into camp, reflecting on all the whiskey bottles I’ve thrown away in my life. Mustafa predicted that she would still have that bottle years from now, unless of course someone stole it from her.
So the point of all this is to reflect on how all too frequently it’s easy to get caught up in what I don’t have, as opposed to being grateful for what I do. We recently moved, which was a big step in a direction we’ve wanted to make for years (lowering overhead, which lowers required income, basically), but was also expensive and came, like so many things, at a time that wasn’t necessarily convenient. Also had some unplanned mishaps come up in the same time frame (vehicle repairs, veterinary bills, etc.) that became those “three steps back” after a couple forward. So we’ve been pinching pennies to get caught up like I haven’t for some time, watching the mailbox for checks arriving from my freelance writing gigs, counting minutes until payday, etc. During that time I’ve been, at times, pretty cranky. Not so much outwardly, but Julia and I have talked about how paralyzing it can feel, and my inner peace has been difficult to maintain. It’s not even so much that there are things we need that we don’t have — we’ve been eating every day, have a roof over our heads (one we OWN, not one we’ve mortgaged from someone else), etc. It’s just the idea that if I wanted to go out and spend some frivolous money, or see a movie on a whim, I can’t, and that is an affront to my overly-entitled sense of how things should be. And that is ridiculous, I know it, but it still happens.
Today I am going to make a point to feel gratitude for where I am, what I have. And make more of an effort to maintain that feeling, because I’ve got it pretty damn good.
Spent some evenings last week watching the 3 episode miniseries that the History Channel produced last year, Hatfields & McCoys, via Netflix. This was one of those Kevin Costner things where he looks all grim and conflicted the entire time; lots of beards, lots of spittin’. As it’s sort of a Western in a way, it isn’t too bad. Costner tends to do pretty well with Westerns (though I found his 1994 version of Wyatt Earp to be pretty much unwatchable). People must have liked it, because word on the street is that “the show set a cable viewing record as the top-rated entertainment telecast ever for ad-supported basic cable.” That’s pretty impressive.
The story is of course about the infamous feud between two Appalachian families back in the days just after the Civil War, the Hatfields and the McCoys. I’m no scholar of exactly what went down, but it’s clear there are some liberties taken in this version, even if they are based in events that actually happened. It’s still fascinating, and makes me want to know more about what really happened. The miniseries essentially roots the feud in a combination of events, the crux being a disagreement between the two family patriarchs, Devil Anse Hatfield and Randolph McCoy, over when it’s okay to haul ass and abandon a lost cause on the battlefield (i.e. Hatfield says, “Screw this, I’m going home!” and bails on the Confederate army, while McCoy stays on). Other stuff happens, people are stubborn, teenagers get naked together, and hot lead is exchanged.
I didn’t think much of the first episode. I found the writing to be pretty lame in parts, with too much cliche’ and melodrama. In fact, if it’d been entirely up to me I might not have watched it beyond that. But I allowed myself to be talked into watching the rest, and I’m glad I did, because it got better. Not great, but worth watching. None of the characters were particularly likable, and everyone was pretty much a hard-headed dumbass, but I suspect it takes a few of those to pull off a blood feud in the first place. I thought the best actor in the bunch was Tom Berenger as Jim Vance, Devil Anse Hatfield’s older brother, and something of a loose cannon and instigator of violence. I’ve always been a fan of Berenger, and he does a great job in this show. It was great to see him delivering the goods again. The main stars, Coster (as Hatfield) and Bill Pullman (as Randolph McCoy) inhabit their roles just fine as well. It’s worth watching, if you’re into this kind of thing. I’d give it a solid B- or so. Not spectacular, but I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time watching it.
One other thing of interest: it was filmed in Romania. Romania is obviously beautiful. Julia (who used to train horses for a living, as well as do all that fancy shmancy show jumping) says Pullman’s inability to ride made him hard to watch, and that Costner, for all the cowboy movies he’s done, should be able to ride better. In their defense, I saw an interview online where they talk about the Romanian horses being particularly problematic because none of them were gelded, so all they wanted to do was raise hell and fight each other.
If you don’t know what a gelded horse is, I can’t help you.
At sundown he led me past the snoozing security guards and out through the metal security gates that separated the backpacker compound from the local village. We walked along a deeply eroded street of dried terra-cotta mud, past huts and shacks, a barbershop with two chairs and a solar panel for the electric clippers, past a woman selling tomatoes stacked in little pyramids on a spread-out kanga, a group of jumping, pointing children yelling out “Muzungu! Muzungu!” and many pairs of watchful adult eyes. We sat down in a restaurant with a palm-thatched roof and no walls. It had two tables, a mud floor, and four planks of wood for chairs. “Ah, this is more like it,” said Milan. “Some local flavor, bro.”
The waiter was young, dreadlocked, and dreamily stoned. We ordered chicken masala and watched him saunter back to the kitchen to tell the cook, who sent out a boy for onions, called him back, gave him some money, and told him to pick up a chicken as well. Twenty minutes later, with no sign of the boy, Milan was twitching and vibrating with impatience. He stalked into the kitchen, pointed his forefinger, and gave the waiter and the cook an angry blast of Swahili. They sent out another boy to find the first.
Swahili is a mixture of Arabic and African Bantu languages. It contains several words for “hurry” and “rush.” They all come from Arabic, not Bantu, and they carry a negative connotation, implying that hurrying will botch the job.
Milan sat down and fumed. Fifteen minutes later the boys returned with two onions and a freshly killed and mostly plucked chicken. The cook started cutting it up, then answered his phone and wandered off for ten minutes. He came back, finished cutting up the chicken, and started on the onions. He was in no hurry, and it turned out that he had no reason to be in a hurry. The restaurant only had six plates, and they had all just gone into service on the other table. By the time the other diners had finished their meal, and the cook had washed up and dried the plates, the masala would be done perfectly.
As a recent arrival, I found it entertaining and fascinating to watch this process unfold with such amazing slowness, but it drove Milan crazy. Here was everything that bedeviled Africa’s progress and exasperated him about the motherland. “Where’s the system? Why is it so hard to plan ahead? I mean, put away a few shillings and buy some fucking onions, you know. If you want to make a living selling chicken masala, make sure you have a fucking chicken, man. And do some prep work, cut the fucker up ahead of time. Look at this. We’ve been sitting here for an hour and forty minutes now.”
This gallery contains 9 photos.
Wandered around downtown a little this weekend and shot a few images in Missoula (click an image to see a slideshow). It was a typical spring day: at times sunny, only to feel like a gigantic storm was imminent moments … Continue reading
I spend quite a bit of time parked along the south bank of the Clark Fork River as it passes under Higgins Bridge downtown. Julia has a part-time gig at Betty’s Divine, and, as we are currently operating on one vehicle between us, some days she works I take her to work and then pick her up later. It is an opportunity to sit and read, get out and walk, and even just watch the water. I love it, and I’m grateful I am able to live in such a beautiful city. There are surfers and kayakers playing on the waves. Fishermen casting for trout. Walkers, joggers, and bikers of all ages and fitness levels sharing the trail. Wildlife too: just a couple days ago I watched an osprey dive-bomb from the sky, submerge, and emerge with a fish in its claws. Beautiful.
I do my best not to take it for granted.