Boston marathon weekend

Just had the loveliest long Patriots Day weekend. Ben, Kim, Eliot, Jonathan, Joe and new girlfriend Kara, and the Parker family all came up to watch Ben run the marathon. The weather, food, and company could not be matched.

This is Jonathan and me at the U.S. women’s Olympic trials on Sunday morning. They looped through downtown Boston, across the river to Cambridge and back again, several times adding up to 26.2 miles:

We ate Sunday brunch at the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown – ah memories! I reminded the owners who I was, and they cheerfully remembered their former waitresses Hope and Tami, the best in the business:

Ben at the 25th mile. He finished 235th overall and, even better, smoked Lance Armstrong by 8 minutes. We cheered from our lazy spots on the Comm Ave median:

The silver sea of finishers in Copley Square:

A couple highlights from the weekend, besides the marathon itself: we had a pasta party at our house Sunday night, sauce courtesy of Lutheran choir friends/Ben’s grad school friends Chris and Anne, and are now indulging ourselves in the leftovers. Three sauces – one with capers, olives and tuna, one with chicken, spinach, and cinnamon, one with veggies – mmmmm. Also, the weekend seemed to be full of praise songs that rotated through our heads, and at one point we turned the forgettable tune “Come Now is the Time to Worship” into an unforgettable a capella chorus full of soft, rich harmonies. I never thought it could sound so good.

Done…DONE, I tell you!

No more looming papers, tests, group projects, classes. No more THESIS on the horizon! And I can’t properly express my elation at this prospect of freedom after handing in my last paper EVER! It was poorly written, of course, but who can blame me?

I have enjoyed my time at B.U. The summer in London was what originally attracted me, and that proved absolutely worthwhile. I’ve been under the tutelage of experts and feel privileged.

But I am now a master (mistress) and don’t plan on ever returning to school.

Now back to reading Middlemarch.

Harry v. Bart

This insightful point/counterpoint appeared in The Times today, comparing two of the most popular little-boy-icons, Harry Potter and Bart Simpson. Both have movies coming out this summer. In my snobby estimation, both belong in the ranks of pop-culture-characters-who-are-also-worthy-of-high-culture-criticism. They appeal to a ridiculously wide range and large number of people, yet also warrant multi-layered analysis. This piece does a good job of hacking away at those layers. But who wins? I have a hard time deciding…but as I value a sense of humor, I’ll choose Bart. Harry takes himself too seriously. Granted, he’s perpetually in mortal danger, but all the same – take a chill pill, Potter! Plus, I don’t much fancy British lads.

Both writers hint at what each character represents in terms of national character – the British stiff upper lip and sense of nobility, the American propensity for rebellion and unconcern for birthright. However, these stereotypes are getting outdated at both the individual and national level, perhaps because of globalization, perhaps for some other reasons. I can’t quite articulate what I mean at this point – maybe I’ll write a refutation of American/British/European stereotypes a bit later, if I can drum up stats and anecdotes to support me. For now, I’ll just say that national characteristics die away as individuals homogenize across cultures. Not completely, but I can see it trickling in, especially in urban areas. At the same time, nationalism in general may be stronger than ever (see Gordon Brown’s push for Britishness last year). This is just a gut sense I have for a complex issue.

Anyway, I’m going to deviate from the rest of the world in its dislike for the fifth Harry Potter book. It might actually be my favorite, even with all the new plots and characters and all the darkness. Somehow, the revenge on Dolores Umbridge, encompassed in Fred and George’s escape from Hogwart’s and in her humiliation at the hands of the centaurs, was the most satisfying part of the whole series for me (could change after the 7th book comes out). I’m sure it will it be even more satisfying on film.

This (spiderman) and that (the bad plus)

First order of the day, I must make my opinion known about Spidey the Third. Normally, I watch blockbuster epics on opening night because I love the experience, not because I think they’ll be really great movies (see Star Wars III, Superman, and Pirates of the Caribbean II). All of these movies are pretty good, and I liked the first two Spidermen. At least they entertained and had good stories to tell. So I wasn’t expecting much less for the third one. I should have. Read this review to get an idea of my opinion.

Frankly, it’s the worst movie I’ve seen in quite some time. What do you get when you mash together
1) No coherent or compelling story (or, if you’d rather, several disjointed plotlines)
2) No suspension of disbelief
3) Two pathetic, unconvincing main characters
4) Black gook from outer space (since when does the change from good to evil mean changing from “dorky awkward” to “dorky cool”? I’m sorry, but it’s all just plain dorky to me.)
5) A climax where, inexplicably, a butler spills the beans after keeping his mouth shut for no apparent reason. Hm, looks like Raimi found a convenient way to fill that plot hole.
7) unsympathetic and boring villains (a lot of people liked the Sandman, and yes, the special effects were cool, but the character was too distant, too mysterious, and frankly, too boring; and I won’t even talk about Topher Grace’s fang-man persona – ugh).
7) Glaring lack of visual cues, horrible screenplay, and so-so acting

I could go on and on. I will admit a few redeeming qualities, although it’s dubious whether redemption is even possible for this horror of a movie: like Heidi, I loved the scene with Bruce Campbell; there were some good action scenes; and there were some quality themes of forgiveness and doing the right thing. However, Toby Maguire’s “you always have a choice” narrative to conclude the movie prompted me to respond, cynically, “Yes, you always have a choice…unless, of course, the black gook takes over.”

All right, there’s my rant. I wasn’t going to write it, but after snooping around the blogosphere and finding so many positive reviews, I couldn’t resist.

Second, buy Prog by The Bad Plus. They cover David Bowie and Tears for Fears. What more could you want? Oh, they’re also tight and have great composition. Truly a unique jazz sound. I’m writing my papers to their sounds right now, and it’s going swimmingly.

Back to the grindstone…

A conservative perspective on war

Like Evan, I would like to hear more conservatives speak out against Bush’s foreign policy. Why aren’t there anti-war rallies run by conservatives and not by socialist wackos? Where have the conservatives been?

Here they were, before the 2003 invasion. “A case against preemptive war,” written by conservative Paul Schroeder for a magazine run by Pat Buchanan. For some reason, as I was reading this yesterday for a class, I started welling up – not because I’m a passionate anti-war zealot, nor because I’m idealistic, but because this viewpoint was so blatantly ignored when the administration toed the Iraq line. It is false for anyone to suggest that if one is conservative, one should be on board with the president. Not that plenty of conservatives aren’t on board with him still; but I would suggest, as Paul Schroeder does, that Bush’s foreign policy is anti-conservative.

The article’s a bit long, but here’s a nice, pro-America bit:
“In dealing with real, major evils and threats to both the United States and the world such as those once represented by the Soviet Union, China, and their allies, we have won not by waging preemptive war for ‘regime change’ but by deterring opponents from aggression and relying on outliving them, proving the superiority of our own system, and ultimately inducing peaceful change. That is the real American way.”

Here’s a hilarious bit from The Daily Show’s John Oliver, speaking of being pro-America:

It’s summertime in boston

I am reclining by the bay window, letting the warm southwest breeze flood in as I slog through another paper.

Meanwhile, the backyard is evolving.

Soon enough, it will be summer in London. But for now, I’m ready for some lazy hazy days and a thunderstorm or two.

London-bound

It’s a glorious day to cross the pond. We leave this evening for our summer in London, and I can only hope the weather is this nice on the other side. This day filled with laundry and packing reminds me of our family getting ready for road trips to Iowa or St. Louis or the beach. I would always go to bed at 8pm the night before so the morning would arrive more swiftly (and because we often left before dawn, with thermoses of coffee by Dad’s side in the driver’s seat and young, wiry bodies sprawled across the seats and around the floor). Last night, though, we stayed up until midnight doing some last minute cleaning and watching episodes of The Office. And we won’t reach our destination until dawn tomorrow, when I’m sure I’ll be nearly hit by the first car I see (or don’t see) driving on the wrong side of the road.

This morning’s lack of food necessitated a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts. I need to remember that, when I don’t have coffee in my body and I’m not wearing contacts, I’m much less coherent at communicating my order to the cashier.

Yesterday, we went with Bria and Evan to the Edward Hopper exhibit at the MFA. It was amazing. Set us back a bit, but it was worth it. I’ve never seen an artist whose work in two different media (watercolor and oil) looks strikingly homogeneous. The detail and precision of his watercolor paintings was hardly distinguishable from the oils. I remembered seeing a Dali watercolor exhibit in Vienna and noticing the stark difference in both form and subject matter between these and his surrealist works (which I believe were mostly done with oil). Hopper exhibits very little difference. He also painted as many countryside scenes as the quiet, urban-commercial works with which we all associate him. His lighthouse projects stood out, as did his depictions of Victorian houses. Regardless, I was happy to see Nighthawks for the third time (twice before at the Chicago Institute). It used to be my favorite painting, before I fell in love with all of Vermeer’s work (especially this). But Hopper has reached iconic status in the American realist school and has managed to appeal and stay relevant in the age of increasingly abstract art.

South kensington impressions

South Kensington is perhaps the wealthiest part of London (I’m not sure how it compares to Chelsea). “It’s not the real London,” people keep telling us. It crawls with American students, ex-pats, and glitzy, sunglassed Brits who live and/or work here. Around our block I’ve seen several magistrates and embassies from around the world – Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Thailand. And there are many ethnic cafes and restaurants – Indian, Moroccan, French. Yet these and all the shops have a similar hip feel, even the drugstores; every product is neatly packaged and organized and branded with lowercase words. Giant, beautiful Hyde Park sits down the block, filled with small schoolchildren wearing adorable uniforms and sun-hats. Shadeless residential streets gleam white in the sun, Parthenon-esque with their rows of columns proudly supporting them. One particular corner of a nearby block exudes such a soapy laundry scent that I expect bubbles to spill out from the windows at any moment.

In short, there is nothing gritty about South Kensington. Nothing like the Lower East Side or Dorchester, MA, obviously. I expected the change but am still adjusting. However, I do feel at an advantage having lived here before. I’m already accustomed to the quirks I had forgotten about – the switches on the outlets, the showerheads, the idioms of the language, crossing the street, buying long, thin jugs of milk, seeing pasty shops on the corners. My pocketbook, however, still has a bit of adjusting to do.

Tomorrow we take a field trip to the world headquarters of Reuters news service. We have the morning free, so I might visit the National Gallery. I’m excited for many reasons, not least of which is the prospect of leaving this neighborhood for more “London-like” regions.

Funny little story

So we strolled through the National Gallery today amid throngs of schoolchildren taking guided tours of the paintings and offering astute observations about each one (very Charlotte Masonian). In one room, a guide explained this Mattia Preti work, The Marriage at Cana, to several youngsters:

 

He pointed out the dog in the left lower corner, remarking at how it stared at them from the painting. He then said, “You know, we can’t tell whether a dog is a girl or a boy just by looking at it. So can someone give me a name that would work for either?”

The first boy to speak was inaudible, but the guide’s response revealed all: “Oh no, well, you can’t very well call a dog ‘Unisex,’ now, can you?”

I’ve been cracking up all day just thinking about it.

CBS is cooler than Viacom

The CBS corporation, once part of old Viacom, has proven its mettle and merits over the “new” Viacom for one simple reason: its bold, healthy, market-savvy relationship with Youtube. Funny, because both CBS and Viacom are still controlled by the same person, Sumner Redstone. As the link shows, Redstone’s love/hate relationship with Youtube is bizarre. Why integrate CBS into this bastion of new media with one hand, and then sue the dickens out of it with another, a measure that, if successful, will likely put Youtube out of business? It’s like he’s living in the Dark Ages and estranging the key 18-49 demographic, while simultaneously throwing a bone to these same constituents, clearing the path for a time when new media is the only media that exists.

All irrationality aside, I say, thank you, CBS, for giving March Madness highlights to those of us who lack working TV’s. One small favor I would ask, though: how about making the live games compatible with Macs?

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