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A quick one while I’m away.

On this date, 9 years ago, I got Gmail. Here is my entire post from that date:

OK, I have a Gmail account now. I think I'll hold off on posting the exact address here ... suffice to say that if you've ever sent me email to, or, or ... anyone of those ... well, take the same username and attach it to and you've got my new address. It isn't yet my primary address ... that'll take awhile, I imagine ... but here goes nothing, anyway.

I think I still have a Comcast email account. Sonic still exists, and I’m always happy to recommend them, but in Berkeley I don’t get the speed from Sonic that I do from Comcast.

it's tuesday night in ronda, i don't know when that is for you

We slept through breakfast this morning, and thus missed our first José Maria repast. We stumbled out a little after 1:00, hoping to get some food before stuff shut down for siesta. The weather is uncharacteristically cool, and we don't really have clothes for that (it will be warm again tomorrow). Robin had some tortilla de patatas tapas and a couple of cafe con leches. I had a bocadillo con jamón serrano y queso. I also had a Fanta Limón. We walked into town and came back in time for a siesta. 

But siesta had to wait. José Maria made a big pan of paella... a lot of his family was here, his mother, two daughters, one grandson, one aunt, and we think one son-in-law. He invited Robin and I to join them, so we all sat down for some midday paella. It was an honor. I got to practice my Spanish with a whole family of Andalusians. Later, a lovely couple from the Netherlands who had just arrived at the hotel joined us, giving Robin a well-earned chat in English. Finally, José Maria's aunt talked to me about ways to find family in Estepona. 

Eventually we took a nap. As I type this, it is about 8:00 PM. I just woke up. When Robin awakes, we'll have to figure out how to brave the cold to get dinner. I expect this will be the last time on this trip that we have that particular worry. 

I'm typing at the blog website using José Maria's surprisingly useful wi-fi, via my Nexus. Don't know if I will be able to post very often in Nerja, but I should manage a daily post while we are here in Ronda. 

Here is Robin in the jardín with her new friend :

13 - 1

day one/two of our trip

One of the oddities about traveling to Spain is that you lose a day. We left California on Sunday morning and now we're going to bed. But it's Monday night.

Flight to Paris was ok, but there's been flooding or something, so our plane sat on the runway for a long time, which meant our flight to Malaga was delayed. So we arrived late to our hotel in Ronda. My first shot at using Spanish came when we got lost in our rental car on the way to Ronda. We pulled into a gas station and I asked for directions. They weren't easy (go to the other side of the Burger King and turn left), but I understood them well enough to get us back on track. 

When we got off the plane in Malaga, we immediately got bocadillo con jamón and two Fanta Limons. Later in Ronda, I had two more Fantas. 

Finally to bed.

much ado about nothing (joss whedon, 2012)

This will be far too brief, less than the film deserves. But I’m off to Spain tomorrow, and I wanted to get a couple of thoughts down while the movie was fresh in my mind.

I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare’s comedies … among other things, I never laugh at them. It takes a gimmick to get me to watch. The gimmick in this case, of course, is that Joss Whedon did it and populated the cast largely with his usual bunch of acting cohorts. No one is bad, and a few stand out. Amy Acker really is as good as I’d heard as Beatrice (I read an interview where Joss said she is the best actress he’d ever worked with … wonder what Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku thought of that). Fran Kranz is cast against type as Claudio, and is very good. And Nathan Fillion steals the show as Dogberry, which is amazing considering Dogberry is just the kind of character I never like in Shakespeare. (Tom Lenk as his sidekick, Verges, is also good.)

Whedon makes the modern-day setting work, which is hard to do. The cast handles Shakespeare in a natural fashion, and I admit it’s nice to see Shakespeare done by Americans (well, Nathan Fillion is Canadian). 8/10.

friday random ten, 1976 edition

These will be kinda brief for the next few weeks, as I’m writing them all at once before I leave the country for a bit.

1. Bob Dylan, “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)”. In retrospect, Blood on the Tracks was the winner in the bunch of mid-70s Dylan releases, but at the time, Desire seemed just as important. Nowadays, I don’t think anyone wants to hear “Hurricane” or “Joey”. On this track from Desire, Dylan sings with Emmylou Harris. It’s hard to find the original on YouTube, so the link is to the White Stripes cover.

2. Patti Smith, “Pumping (My Heart)”. The version on Radio Ethiopia is tight … makes your heart pump. The version on the video reminds us that the chorus revolves around the phrase “total abandon”.

3. Vicki Sue Robinson, “Turn the Beat Around”. Love to hear percussion.

4. The Andrea True Connection, “More, More, More”. True was a porn star who became a one-hit wonder. This one hit #1 on the disco charts, and she did chart with a couple of other singles, but this is what she’s remembered for.

5. Boston, “More Than a Feeling”. The very thing that made it great is what made any follow-ups so unlikely. It’s a perfect record … how do you top that? Especially when what makes it perfect isn’t anything recognizably human. It’s not a feeling, it’s more than that.

6. Klaatu, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)”. There was a rumor this band was The Beatles under a pseudonym. The rumor was incorrect.

7. Heart, “Crazy on You”. They weren’t The Beatles. Not a bad Led Zeppelin rip, though. They’ve lasted a lot longer than Klaatu, as well.

8. The Wild Tchoupitoulas, “Meet de Boys on the Battlefront”. They only recorded one album, less than 35 minutes of music. But it’s 35 minutes that has never grown old.

9. Johnnie Taylor, “Disco Lady”. Some songs require that you say, “They don’t write ‘em like that anymore”. “Move it in, move it out, shove it in round, disco lady.”

10. David Bowie, “Stay”. Arguably my favorite Bowie track of all time. I’ve never paid enough attention to the lyrics to know what it’s about, and I can’t tell which guitar is Carlos Alomar and which is Earl Slick. Don’t care, either.

[Edited to add a Spotify playlist]

raise the roof

The new roof is done, and it only took three days. The folks at Wonderlin Roofing Systems were terrific from start to finish. Yes, we had a problem because in our stupidity it didn’t occur to me that the removal of the old roof, combined with the absence of a ceiling in the attic, would result in some rough moments. But that was Monday … this is Wednesday. Yesterday they laid down the plywood, today they did the shingles. They also installed a few vents, and replaced our old fan. All in three days. It looks terrific … it’s all ready for the solar panels. Once again, I get to recommend a company that did right by us in every way. If you’re reading this and ever need roofing work done, check out Wonderlin.

Here are a couple of pictures … don’t really show much, but better than nothing. Here’s a picture of the house back when we painted it a few years ago:

new paint one

You can see some of the wear and tear on the roof. Here’s what it looks like now:

new roof

what i watched last week

Making a late appearance this week due to the work on our roof.

Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1952). French classic effortlessly manages to be all things to all people. It’s a story about children (although it’s not a kid’s movie), it’s an anti-war statement (although there are very few war scenes), it’s about innocence (and the loss of innocence), it’s a very serious film (that includes some humor, as well), the title literally accurate (but it is also misleading). Many people respond strongly to Forbidden Games, and for the most part, Clément earns that response. He seems to be trying for an innocent style to match his story; there are few, if any, shameless moments designed solely to make you cry. It’s hard to imagine it being made today … our ideas about children and death and innocence have changed, so Forbidden Games seems a bit more fantastical than was probably intended. But it lacks the kind of syrupy glop a 2013 Hollywood version would add; there is a lot to respect here. Ranks #684 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time, which is surprisingly low … it dropped almost 300 places since the last TSPDT list.

Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 1959). Often called the best courtroom drama ever made, Anatomy of a Murder moves right along … the 160-minute film is never boring. Everyone does a good job, and there are some favorites of mine in the cast: Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick, Eve Arden. It was controversial in its day for its subject matter (rape is a key plot point) and the use of words like “panties” and “sperm”. But I confess I never felt like I was watching a classic. Rather, it seemed like a really good episode of a TV series, like the best Perry Mason of all time. And while I appreciated the casting of McCarthy-era hero Joseph N. Welch as a judge, in truth his non-acting was the most awkward thing about the film. It’s #582 on the TSPDT list, moving in the opposite direction from Forbidden Games. Anatomy has gone up almost 300 places since the last list.

The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1973). Time has changed my perspective somewhat on this movie, which I remember liking quite a bit when it came out. Some things remain powerful, most obviously, Nicholson’s performance. Randy Quaid is also good, although the cast as a whole is fine. Robert Towne’s profane script is filled appropriately with fucks and shits. But I seem to have lost some of my appetite for “two experienced guys show a young guy how to be a man” movies (it definitely fails the Bechdel Test). I prefer movies like this one, which largely ignores women, to movies that includes women just to demonize them. But I’d say the 40 years between the film’s release and my watching it again have lowered by overall opinion. Rather surprisingly, it’s #918 on the TSPDT list.

life sucks when you don't have a roof

We're having solar panels installed, and the first step is to put in a new roof. It's time, that's for sure... We've been here 25+ years without doing the roof. But there are things we didn't think of, obvious things. There is no real ceiling in the attic. Today they removed the old roof. Tomorrow they will begin putting a new roof up. But as I type this (on my Nexus, the computer and other important stuff are in the attic), the attic is open to the skies. There are no shingles.... There is no ceiling... Just sky, wooden slats, and plenty of room for squirrels to come in and attack us in the night. Plus the attic is covered in the leftovers of a day spent tearing up the roof. 

friday random ten, 1962 edition

You don’t hear it much anymore, but back in the day, a lot of people spoke of the years between 1958 and 1962 as a bit of a wasteland for popular music. In ‘58, Elvis went in the Army, and Little Richard joined the ministry, while Jerry Lee Lewis saw his career nosedive when it was discovered he was married to his 13-year-old cousin. In ‘59, Chuck Berry was arrested on a trumpted-up Mann Act charge, while Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. The main reason for this narrative, of course, is that it makes the appearance of The Beatles in 1963 seem like a moment that saved music. I’m not denying the power or importance of The Beatles, but there was a lot of great music before they arrived. Thus, a 1962 edition of the Random Ten.

1. Bob Dylan, “Freight Train Blues”. Dylan’s first album didn’t sell (5000 copies at the time). People listen to it now because they know what was to come, but that’s unfair … there is plenty to like, much of it unpretentious. Like “Freight Train Blues”.

2. Jimmy Reed, “I’ll Change My Style”. Jimmy Reed’s music was as basic as the blues could get, which may be one reason he was covered by so many rock and rollers over the years. His 1962 album, Just Jimmy Reed, is a long-time favorite, in large part because of the participation of “Mama” Reed helping out where she can. It’s a very casual album … at one point, you hear the engineer ask Jimmy to play anything that crosses his mind, and Reed concocts the song “Oh, John” on the spot. “I’ll Change My Style” is actually different from the usual for Jimmy, with its organ and horns.

3. Arthur Alexander, “You Better Move On”. Trivia note: Alexander is the only songwriter covered on record by the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan. I know it’s so, Wikipedia told me so. (I knew about the Beatles and Stones, but Dylan was a surprise to me.)

4. Gene Chandler, “Duke of Earl”. Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl.

5. Peter, Paul and Mary, “If I Had My Way”. Their first album came out in 1962. It made it to #1 on the Billboard charts, and they won two Grammies for “If I Had a Hammer”. But I’ve always been partial to this song.

6. Claudine Clark, “Party Lights”. A one-hit wonder who deserved better. Clark is a triple threat here: she wrote the lyrics, wrote the music, and sings the hell out of the song. On paper, it just seems like a plaintive attempt by a teenage girl to get her mother to let her go out to a party. But Clark sings those lyrics like her life is on the line. Rarely has more passion been poured into a song. If you only click on one video link, make it this one.

7. Dick Dale, “Miserlou”. Now and forever known as the Pulp Fiction song, “Miserlou” was an old, Middle-Eastern folk song (Dale had Lebanese heritage) that sounded different coming from the King of the Surf Guitar.

8. Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”. Barbara Lynn was an anomaly in many ways. She was an R&B singer-songwriter who was also a fine, left-handed guitarist. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” was her biggest hit, making #1 on the R&B charts.

9. Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion”. For a long time, I thought Little Eva was a fake name to hide the fact that Carole King was the vocalist. Listening to it now, I can’t hear King, and I don’t know why I ever had the notion.

10. Sam Cooke, “Twistin’ the Night Away”. Is this the greatest record that refers to The Twist in the title?

by request: hamlet (laurence olivier, 1948)

This is another of those not-really-a-request requests that arises out of the suggestion that I include the movies that didn’t quite make my Facebook Fave Fifty list. Hamlet would have been #69.

Despite my doctorate in English, I’m woefully uninformed about Shakespeare. I favor the big tragedies, having seen several versions each of Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello. The rest? I’ve read them all at some point, seen a few, never been a big fan (although I’m looking forward to Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing). Olivier’s Hamlet is criticized by some for eliminating large parts of the text, and I respect that criticism, but it doesn’t matter to me, except as it informs Olivier’s interpretation of the play. Much as a screenplay writer will remove parts of a novel during adaptation in order to focus on the decided-upon themes of the film makers, so too does anyone attempting a Shakespeare play make decisions about what will bring focus. When Kenneth Branagh makes a four-hour Hamlet, including all of the original text, he is making a statement about what he finds important, and he is likely appealing to purists. But I’m not convinced Branagh’s version is the “right” way to do Shakespeare, any more than is Olivier’s.

I’ve seen many film versions of Hamlet. I barely remember most of them. Mel Gibson, Kevin Kline, Ethan Hawke … I’m sure they were fine, but I was never inspired to watch them again, and they leave little impression on me now. On the other hand, I’ve seen Olivier’s Hamlet many times, and never tire of it. I wish I could pinpoint why that is. Certainly, Olivier makes the most of the title role, and the staging is atmospheric in its debt to Citizen Kane. Perhaps I like the fact that Olivier states up front what his focus will be: “a man who could not make up his mind”. I find this reductive, at best. But it’s Olivier’s take, and he works with it. I prefer an interpretation that knows what it is doing to one that is slavishly loyal to the “real” play.

There is one other film version of Hamlet that sticks in my mind, and not only because I’ve seen it more than once. That’s the 1969 Tony Richardson production with Nicol Williamson as the Danish Prince. Williamson is so intensely over-the-top that you can’t forget him, even if you tried. His Hamlet is a babbling, weepy mess … I’m always reminded of Kael’s line about Anthony Hopkins as Claudius, “one rather wishes he were left in peace to rule the country, since Hamlet is obviously unfit.” Richardson and Williamson had an interpretation and they went with it, and I don’t know how it looked on stage, but on film, with almost the entire movie shot in extreme close-up, and with Williamson on screen for most of the film’s running time … well, like I say, it sticks in your mind, you won’t forget seeing it, and I think it’s a bit of a disaster. (I like Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, though.)

But back to Olivier. I’m tempted to say the play’s the thing, that Shakespeare is what makes any version of Hamlet great, but then, not every version is great, is it? And if the play truly is “the thing”, then wouldn’t Branagh’s full version by definition be the best? Yet it’s Olivier who gets my highest rating, and it’s Olivier that I’ll watch the next time I’m in the mood for Hamlet. 10/10.