Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hodgepodge 336/365 - Cult Movies

Over the last few days, we've watched two "cult film" DVDs: A Boy and His Dog (based on a Harlan Ellison novella), with an unrecognizably young Don Johnson in the lead; and Repo Man, with Emilio Estevez and the recently late, and ever great, Harry Dean Stanton. At least, I consider them cult films—meaning, offbeat, at the very least. I figured there'd be a list somewhere of such. And sure enough! A humongous one, on Wikipedia. There's also a short one—just twenty-five—at Rolling Stone. Although Repo Man makes the latter list, A Boy and His Dog doesn't. But never mind. It is. Whatever those people might think.

Per Wikipedia, a cult film is one "with a cult following, obscure or unpopular with mainstream audiences, and often revolutionary or ironically enjoyed. . . . Cult films are defined as much by audience reaction as they are content." They also tend to be small-studio productions, not mainstream Hollywood.

Movies on the Rolling Stone readers' poll that I, too, love are:

The Princess Bride (#23)
Blade Runner (#18)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (#17)
Fight Club (#16)
The Blues Brothers (#15)
Repo Man (#12)
Donnie Darko (#10)
Harold and Maude (#6)
A Clockwork Orange (#5)
Pulp Fiction (#4)
This Is Spinal Tap (#3)
The Big Lebowski (#2)
and of course . . . The Rocky Horror Picture Show (#1)

But a few more that I would mention, from the immense Wikipedia list, are:

12 Monkeys
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
anything directed by Werner Herzog (starting with Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, alphabetically anyway)
Annie Hall
Bagdad Cafe
anything written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich etc.) 
anything directed by Christopher Guest (Best in Show etc.)
the Coen Brothers' movies certainly count (Blood Simple, Fargo, etc.)
Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni: I will never forget the scene at the tennis court)
David Lynch and Blue Velvet
. . . good grief, I'm still only in the B's
Brazil, directed by Terry Gilliam
John Hughes's movies (Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
Kevin Smith's films (starting with Clerks, which does make the Rolling Stone list [#19], though I've never seen it . . . but maybe I should?)

Okay. That's enough. I did verify that A Boy and His Dog counts at least somewhere as a "cult classic." I might scan the Wikipedia list some more and see if there are any (ha ha) that I've missed, and might want to add to my Netflix queue. Anything's possible.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Hodgepodge 335/365 - Book Report (Murder at La Fenice)

Donna Leon, Death at La Fenice (1992)

I am in a serious work crunch, and usually when I'm working, I don't read: not more words! But if I do read, it's generally a mystery—a little "genre" fiction, with plot and, hopefully, interesting characters. True escapism.

My current crunch is such that I rather need occasional escape.

I had read this book before (it started dawning on me partway through), but it's the first in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon, and I wanted to get reacquainted with the dottore, as he's referred to, before tackling further stories. I also liked the fact that this takes place partly at the concert hall of La Fenice, which I visited last April—a good program with conductor Jeffrey Tate (Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 7 in B Minor, D 749, the "Unfinished"; and Alfredo Casella's Symphony Op. 63). But mostly, I was in the mood to go back to Venice, even if only via literature.

The story itself is fine: a world-renowned German conductor, possibly with a shady (i.e., Nazi) past, is killed during a performance of La Traviata—cyanide. Commissario Brunetti starts tracking down possible culprits—the new, younger wife; the diva soprano, or perhaps her lesbian lover; an impresario, whom the conductor promised a favor but then did not deliver on . . . Eventually he figures it out. It's a slow process (several Goodreads critics complained that it was far too slow), but I didn't mind: for me, the beauty of the book lay in the character of Brunetti, along with the police he was surrounded by (his interactions with his superior, tellingly from Sicily, are a hoot). And in La Serenissima—the city of Venice—herself. When it comes to mysteries, the plots are often of secondary concern for me. (Though they'd better end believably! This one did—believably enough, and with just the right amount of foreshadowings thrown in, one realizes in hindsight.)

There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, as seen through the eyes of a native: the utilitarian businesses that residents rely on, and how they were being pushed out by gaudy tourist shops; the nearby island of Giudecca, which "lived in strange isolation from the rest of the city"; a morning shrouded in thick fog; the cemetery island with its daily visits by women intent on beautifying graves with bundles of flowers.

And Brunetti is smart and wry, attentive and thoughtful.

In one scene, he is summoned to his supervisor, Patta's, office (a man who demands "to be addressed, at all times, as 'Vice-Questore' or the even grander 'Cavaliere,' the provenance of which title remained obscure"). Patta asks where Brunetti is in the case, then concludes: "In other words, you've learned nothing important?"
  "Yes, sir, I suppose you could put it that way."
  "You know, Brunetti, I've given a lot of thought to this investigation, and I think it might be wise to take you off the case." Patta's voice was heavy with menace, as though he'd spent the previous night paging through his copy of Macchiavelli.
  "Yes, sir."
  "I could, I suppose, give it to someone else to investigate. Perhaps then we'd have some real progress."
  "I don't think Mariani's working on anything at the moment."
  It was only with the exercise of great self-restraint that Patta kept himself from wincing at the mention of the name of the younger of the two other commissarios of police, a man of unimpeachable character and impenetrable stupidity who was known to have gotten his job as part of his wife's dowry, she being the niece of the former mayor. . . . "Or perhaps you could take it over yourself," he suggested, and then added with tantalizing lateness, "sir."
  "Yes, that's always a possibility," Patta said, either not registering the rudeness or deciding to ignore it. He took a package of dark-papered Russian cigarettes from his desk and fitted one into his onyx holder. Very nice, Brunetti thought; color coordinated. "I've called you in because I've had some phone calls from the press and from People in High Places," he said, carefully emphasizing all the capitals. "And they're very concerned that you've done nothing." This time, the enunciation fell very heavily upon the singular. He puffed delicately at the cigarette and stared across at Brunetti. "Did you hear me? They're not pleased."   
  "I can see how that would be, sir. I've got a dead genius and no one to blame for it."
  Was he wrong, or did he see Patta mouth that last one silently to himself, perhaps preparing to toss it off himself at lunch today? "Yes, exactly," Patta said. His lips moved again. "And no one to blame for it." Patta deepened his voice. "I want that to change. I want someone to blame for it." Brunetti had never before heard the man so clearly express his idea of justice. Perhaps Brunetti would toss that off at lunch today.
Goodreads critics also complained about "stilted" language, but I liked the formality. It fit the character of a man whose family had lived in Venice for generations, and who took pride in that, no matter how down-at-heels the city had become: she was still beautiful, and uniquely so.

Here is the entire list of Commissario Brunetti books, complete with Goodreads star-ratings. I'll be reading more of them, I warrant.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hodgepodge 334/365 - Driving

It did not look like a Lincoln to me, but it drove like one: slow and lumbering (despite its zippy lines and advertised 4WD). So when it went straight, I turned left. When I pulled up to the intersection that would bring us both to the freeway onramp, there it sat, at its freshly turned red light. Me, I was about to get the green. Yes!

Sometimes it's the small victories that make you so very happy.

This is a Lincoln, vintage 1968. It almost deserves to be
slow and lumbering.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hodgepodge 333/365 - Cartoons (Michael Leunig)

I don't know how I stumbled on Leunig's humorous, soulful creations looking at the "follies, foibles, and joys of the human race," as the Sydney Morning Herald puts it. It must have been on a visit to my brother, who lived in Sydney for a while.

A fifth-generation Australian (he is now 72), the cartoonist and poet Leunig was born—and presumably still lives?—in Melbourne. In 1999, he was declared an Australian Living Treasure. A couple of his recurring characters are the Duck (bringing wisdom) and Mr. Curly (something of a court jester). Here's a Q&A Leunig did with the Australian National Library a couple of years ago, musing on his fifty-year career.

And here are the Duck and Mr. Curly in conversation:

. . . I was actually casting about for another cartoonist I love, but I can't recall his name (Stine? Steinberg?). I've got a book of his somewhere—easily recognizable because it's bound in thick cardboard with drilled holes through all the pages, held together by binder rings. When I find it, I'll add some of his cartoons here. . . .

But for today, it's Leunig. Enjoy! (Click to view larger.)

Some of his work is cheerful, or at least peaceful and hopeful.

Some, though, is rather dystopian—a little angry, a little negative. Not without reason.

He also makes short, minimalist videos. This one's in the cheerful category.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hodgepodge 332/365 - Stats

I started out using blogger/
blogspot back in 2009, for no real reason at all. I don't even remember how I stumbled on it (or, for that matter, why I thought starting a blog was a bright idea). But it seemed to work, and I posted a few writings—seven that year, and two more the next. Then the blog languished, until I got the crazy notion in 2015 of doing a daily post. And since then, I've been blogging here . . . well, a lot. (Too much, if you ask me, but I'm stubborn, and a goal is a goal. I guess. I sometimes wish I could find a worthhile goal. But that's another story.)

Anyway, I sometimes look at the Stats page here on blogger. It mainly mystifies me. Like, I'm pretty sure that more people look at my blog than show up in the stats. (I have the proof that when I've freshly posted something and my husband looks at it right away, I still have zero views.) Not that many people do look: my views are in the double digits, and always have been. (Well, unless they're in the single digits.) I don't care. I'm not doing this to get famous. I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this—oh wait, yes: discipline—but in any case, it's not to get famous.

But back to Stats. One thing that does mesmerize me is the map. And the countries that people who actually look at this blog represent. Just now, for instance, I shot this "Today" map:

For the week, a few more countries get thrown in: Portugal (I think I have an actual follower there: Portugal shows up regularly), Hungary, Netherlands, Russia.

This fascinates me. I want to know how they found this blog, what they were searching for that led them here, who they are. Are they repeat visitors, and if so, why? 

I am about to wrap  up this 365, and I'm thinking of migrating to Wordpress—mainly because I've heard repeatedly that it's difficult to submit comments to the blogger site, and I want to hear comments. But also, I know that it's easier to have an "alert" list on Wordpress: the ability to send an email and let people know when I've posted something. Since I expect to be posting less once this 365 is done, I'd like that capability. I'd like to have a regular readership, that I know about.

I hope Wordpress provides a map like blogger does. I love that map.

Who are you, you there in Portugal? I know you're out there. And that pleases me no end.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hodgepodge 331/365 - California State Symbols

While pondering what to write about today, I stumbled on an article about the newly anointed California State Dinosaur, Augustynolophus morrisi, a type of hadrosaur—plant eaters known for their mouths shaped like duck bills. This, a year after a state fabric was declared. You probably guessed it: denim (think Levi Strauss and blue jeans).

This got me to wondering about California's other state . . . ummm, what would these be called? Attributes? I'm sure there's a list out there of them all, if only I knew what to search for. Instead, I can search individually, off the top of my head. Like, California State Reptile: the desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, adopted in 1972. That makes sense (though I would have voted for the horned toad, but never mind: the desert tortoise is a perfectly awesome reptile too). And the State Amphibian: the California red-legged frog, Rana draytonii, adopted in 2014.

Ah, and that last search netted me what I was hoping for: a list of "California State Symbols, Songs, and Emblems" (which has not yet been updated to include the new dino). Wikipedia, it turns out, also has a list. Most of the state symbol designations may be found in sections 420–429.8 of the California Government Code. This is serious business.

Here are a few more plants and animals that California has claimed as unique or special to itself. Oh, and a few foods and minerals as well. And my favorite fossil (largely, I confess, because of its smily name), to keep the new dino company. I love lists!

  • Animal: California grizzly bear (as seen on our flag, if no longer—not since 1922—on our lands), Ursus californicus (designated 1953)
  • Marine mammal: California gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus (1975)
  • Marine reptile: Pacific leatherback sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea (2015)
  • Freshwater fish: California golden trout, Oncorhyncus mykiss aguabonita (1947)
  • Marine fish: Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicundus (1995)
  • Bird: California valley quail, Lophortyx californica (1931)
  • Insect: California dogface butterfly, Zerene (or Colias) eurydice (1972)
  • Flower: California poppy, Eschscholzia californica (1903)
  • Grass: Purple needlegrass, Nassella pulchra (2004) 
  • Lichen: Lace lichen, Ramalina menziesii (2015) 
  • Fruit: Avocado, Persea americana (2013)
  • Grain: Rice (2013)
  • Nut: Almond (2013)
  • Vegetable: Artichoke, Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus (2013)
    Benitoite, from our neighbor
    San Benito County: gorgeous!
  • Mineral: Gold (1965)
  • Rock: Serpentine (1965)
  • Gemstone: Benitoite (1985)
  • Soil: San Joaquin (1997)
  • Fossil: Saber-toothed cat, Smilodon californicus (1973) 
And in case you're wondering, the State Dance is West Coast Swing. And the State Folk Dance? The square dance. Both designated in 1988.

And there you have it. Meanwhile, while doing my research, I noticed that Indiana is in the process of designating a state language. Yeah, you can guess that one as well. So unnecessary . . .


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 330/365 - SAR

It's been quite a while since I've gone on a Search & Rescue callout. The national forest locally has been closed since last year's Soberanes Fire, so people aren't supposed to be going into the backcountry and getting lost. And in fact, they haven't been! So that's good, though it's given us less work. We've gotten the odd car-over-a-cliff and suicide (people love our high bridges) this year, but I haven't been available for one reason or another. Occasionally we get a call to rescue someone who's scrambled (illegally) down to the beach below the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I have ceased to respond to those calls: the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade tends to get there well before we do (it's a good hour-and-a-half drive for us, never mind the response time of the team to the substation), and that means we almost invariably get canceled en route. I let the paid deputies and super gung-ho volunteers answer those calls. I've got better things to do.

But a lost person: that's an all-hands-on-deck situation. The IC (incident commander) needs as many bodies as possible, to send in as many directions as possible. And yesterday, we had a missing hiker.

It was at Arroyo Seco, a popular campground and swimming area on a river that is normally mellow enough itself, but is surrounded by a steep—sometimes very steep, and high—canyon. Last April we conducted a rescue and a body recovery of a couple of people who had fallen off a raft in a high volume of water (not the case now) in the gorge. Another time, a woman who had slipped and fallen was brought up to safety, along with her dog, with a ropes system. It's a good idea to watch your step—and stay out of fast water—at the gorge.

Yesterday's case involved a young woman (37) who was camping with several friends and decided to take a solo hike at 4 p.m., "to the waterfall." She said she'd be back for dinner but didn't show up. Our first SAR team callout came at about 11:30 that night, and a few of our team headed out to start searching. I joined in on the second operational period the next morning.

Ultimately, it wasn't us who found her but a volunteer wilderness ranger (that's one of my other volunteer hats) who had been the last to see her the day before. She'd gotten turned around and headed down a drainage in the wrong direction. She got wet; it was a cold night, and all she had for warmth was a cotton shawl. She was not a happy camper. But eventually she decided to hunker down—she described creating some insulation out of brush and leaves—and then, later, turned around and tried to make her way back. At a certain point, out of frustrated desperation when she hit a big pool, she yelled for help. The ranger happened to be on the trail right above her. Soon she was hoisted out of the canyon by H-70, the local CHP chopper, and all was well! Success story—the best sort.

As always when I respond to a SAR callout, I was glad I went. I really enjoy the camaraderie, the teamwork, the feeling of doing something useful, of helping someone. I got a great hike in with my good friend Bob and we were able to catch up. We even saw a tiny horned toad and a tarantula! My life was complete!

Here are a few random pictures that I took and that my colleague Alain took. It was a good day. I'll try to remember that the next time my phone starts erupting with messages.

Our team leader Ken, contemplating the gorge
Eric radioing in before plunging into the cold water
(he's wearing a wetsuit, but still)
Jerry went with Eric: they make
quite a duo!
Here we are that morning getting briefed:
that's Ken on the right, and I'm in the middle
with Bob in the hat to the left; I am always
happy to try to keep up—I mean, hike—
with Bob
Another view of our briefing: we were a pretty small crew,
but fortunately it was all that was needed
A beaut of a swimming hole

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hodgepodge 329/365 - Artist (James Prosek)

This evening we went to this year's Wild & Scenic Film Festival, an annual fundraiser for the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, of which I am a proud member and volunteer wilderness ranger. It was eight films, each of them very interesting, I thought. One was about Doug Tompkins, founder of North Face and (this I did not know) the man, together with his second wife, Kris (CEO of Patagonia for twenty years), behind the founding of a good half dozen–plus national parks in Chile and Argentina. He died in a kayaking accident in 2015, but Kris is carrying on their work. Another was about the wild & scenic Rio Grande of northern New Mexico (one of the first eight to be so designated, in 1968) and a Native American family that runs a river rafting outfit there, teaching about the river and about native ways. There was one about a man and his dog, Genghis, going on a 60-mile hike through Utah for the man's 60th birthday (you can watch the whole thing here: it's only nine minutes long). And one about the importance of quiet places that allow you to really listen (here's a teaser). And one about the fight by the Indigenous Gwich'in people of northern Alaska to save the Porcupine Caribou herd and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from Washington's rapacious lust for oil.

The one I perhaps enjoyed most was called Elk River (you can see a trailer here, or read a National Geographic article about it here) about one of the eight herds of elk that winter outside of Yellowstone and every year migrate to their summering grounds, mostly in the park. It's an epic journey, and one that an ecologist and a migration photographer (he sets up motion-sensing cameras in the most desolate places) decided to follow on horseback and on foot and document.

An artist, the Connecticut native James Prosek, was also featured in Elk River (here's a newspaper story about him called "Why Force Nature into Boxes"), and I was struck by his beautiful depictions of the natural world. So I thought I'd share some of his pieces here, because how else are you going to run into him? The second image here was shown being created in the film. Isn't it gorgeous? I'm sorry I wasn't able to find the titles for many, or dates for any. (Click to view large on black.)

The take-home message from this evening's films was a quote from Edward Abbey: "Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul." Every single one of these films involved people who are actively doing something to better understand, appreciate, and help the earth. They are an inspiration.

A mural created for the Smithsonian's
The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art
From a book by Prosek, Bird, Butterfly, Eel
Flying Fox with Gun
He writes books (and really likes fish)
And engages in taxidermy (often from roadkill that
friends bring him): this one is called Flying Fox with Lady's Slippers
Ha ha, just kidding: this is Audubon. But, y'know?
Love his workspace!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Hodgepodge 328/365 - Photography (Pete Turner)

I had not heard of Pete Turner until today, reading a story about him upon his death Monday at age 83. I was struck by the beauty of his color photographs, which he started taking and processing as a 14-year-old, back in 1948. He worked on assignment for magazines, and his photography has also been used on over 80 album covers, mainly jazz. Here are some of his photos (mostly from the article I cite above, where some of them are described in terms of process or inspiration). He did amazingly beautiful work, especially considering most of it was well before the days of Photoshop.

And here are a couple of his album covers: