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I continue to read the wildly inappropriate series by Steven Erikson, dripping with gore and ghastly violence. I have even–to my shame–introduced my dear friend Cathie to the Dark Side. She too has descended into the depths of this terrible addictive series.
What can I say–è più forte di me.
So today I was listening to a scene where some unbelievably horrid violence has taken place, and the Dark Lord ShadowThrone–once ruler of a mighty empire on earth, and now God of the Realm of Shadow—appears once the battle is done. Cotillion, dark Second to ShadowThrone, is with him, and somehow the conversation strays to…ShadowThone’s mother: “every time we end up in the same room I can see the disappointment in her eyes, and hear it in her voice. “Emperor? Oh, that empire. So now you’re a god? Oh dear, not Shadow? Isn’t it broken? Why did you have to pick a broken realm to rule? When your father was your age…” Aagh, and on and on it goes! ​”
​Cracks me up!​

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I was calmly reading a review of what seemed like an interesting book, The Fear Factor, about the abnormal lack of empathy that characterizes some humans, so that they have no compunction causing pain and terror to their fellow beings. The author, Abigail Marsh, a psychologist and neuroscientist, goes into the subject and has an interesting thesis to offer. However, she then opens up into a more general discussion of human behavior, and I was charmed by the following quote:

"Describing the extraordinary evolutionary change that enabled mammalian mothers to feed their young with milk, she writes: “Imagine if you one day discovered that you could shoot hamburgers out of your armpits at will. That’s basically how incredible lactation is.”

HAHAhaha! That certainly livened up my morning commute! I kept my arms firmly DOWN at my sides, in case any errant hamburgers might be squirting out.

GiantBaneRecently I have noticed ads from a streaming service, urging me to FEAR NOT THE SUBTITLES! Accentuated by the intense gaze of Kristofer Hivju, the actor whose international fame consequent to his role in Game of Thrones has made the hearts of his fellow Norwegians swell with patriotic pride.

Comrades, I subscribed!

And leaving Mr. Hiyju and Norwegian Noir aside for the time being, settled on Italian detective Montalbano. Heavens, so molto Italiano—the driving of fancy cars at lunatic speeds! The dress casual but so elegant! The supreme importance of good food! The wonderfully expressive faces and gestures!

The series takes place in Sicily, that island of fabulous antiquity set in a turquoise sea, famous for its volcanoes, its immensely complicated history–and of course, the Mafia, ever looming in the background. Our detective has grown up understanding the delicate balance an upright man must develop, to be an officer of the law under these circumstances.

The stories are good, not so totally farfetched as to make one groan, but complicated enough to entertain. But what most entranced me was the infinity of people and faces in the show—rugged, lined faces, old people with warts and bristling eyebrows, vividly individual men and women all passionately arguing, laughing, eating—real people. It made me realize how many shows I’ve seen that are skewed to show just young people—and, not only young people but young beautiful people. Pretty to look at of course—but how tedious it becomes, particularly when set against Montalbano’s world.

Every night I think, time for something different, but then find I can’t resist just one more bout with the brusque balding detective–eyebrows waggling, hands windmilling, mouth going a mile a minute—solving yet another heinous crime. As Lawrence’s mother-in-law used to say when discovered having a forbidden treat: “è più forte di me”.

The Magical Red Shoes

The first dance performance of the season–for which I virtuously purchased season tickets, thus demonstrating my support for the arts–was a dazzling performance of The Red Shoes, a full length show based on the old movie. The Washington Post reviewer was disappointed to find it not quite up to the movie—never having seen the movie, I allowed myself to be enchanted.

The show was created and choreographed by that naughty wunderkind, Sir Matthew Bourne–famous for his gay version of Swan Lake. Which, I will own, I did not entirely love. But then neither do I entirely love the traditional version. Quite the reverse, in fact–deadly old chestnut which you would have to pay me to watch. But the Bourne version is not winning my vote either…

However, The Red Shoes is another thing altogether, charming and witty. The music is a mélange of music by Bernard Hermann, who composed scores for films: Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and many others. You’ll be thinking, whoa, what a dog’s breakfast, but in fact it works very well. The show was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous dance, astonishing sets, deliriously silly and wonderful costumes. Bourne’s dancers are very athletic, and the women are much more, how to put it, voluptuous, than traditional ballet dancers. The dancer playing Victoria Page (= ensorcelled by the red shoes) actually had breasts—unheard of for most ballerinas. Possibly Bourne allows his dancers to eat the occasional cupcake, something which traditional ballerinas can only dream of.

Flamboyant scenes, one after another—dancers rehearsing, cigarettes hanging from those beautiful mouths—dancers partying at the beach, wearing the most amazingly garish swim suits while bouncing matching beach balls–

—and, oh my, the brilliant ballet-within-the-ballet, which at one point became nothing but elegant black silhouettes against a white backdrop. This was a SHOW, comrades. I came out of the theater still smiling.

Next week: La Bayadère. Sigh.

Burglar, banker, father

My father loved the poems of Emily Dickinson; quoted them often, so that those poems are twined in the hearts of his children. One of them was in my mind yesterday.

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod;
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels, twice descending,
Reimbursed my store.
Burglar, banker, father,
I am poor once more!

The mother of a close friend of mine died recently, and it was a sad bad time for her. For me too, not that I knew her mother so well, but that she was a part of my life, as the parents of your friends often are.
In the midst of life we are in death.
But in the midst of death we are in life!
Yesterday I got two joyful messages from two friends–both new grandparents, both so happy to welcome this new soul to the world. These two new humans were born on opposite sides of the Atlantic, both are hale and hearty, and both bring such happiness to their families.

Welcome, little ones! And farewell to the woman who had lived on this floating world for so long, almost a hundred years.

The Wild Wild West

Having lavished money like a drunken sailor on various subscriptions, I was able to watch fabulous opera last night: Puccini’s La Fanciulla Del West–the Girl of the Golden West! Lawrence and I saw this exact show years ago at the Met (see post about it here), and here it was on my home screen, up close and personal, thanks to the Met Opera Streaming Service.
I couldn’t help but notice, by the way, that some of those opera singers could really do with a orthodontist’s care (see, being able to observe this kind of detail is one of the many amazing advantages of streaming opera on a huge screen!)
I love, love this opera, sentimental and silly though it is. AND, the soprano actually survives to live happily ever after with the tenor! After she saves him from being hanged, that is.

Then, they head out of the camp: “Goodbye my California, Goodbye my beautiful high Sierras.” One does wonder where they plan to go–Nevada? Mexico? Will Minnie establish another bar, also featuring nightly Bible classes?

Puccini’s vision of the west may not exactly jive with ours: e.g., one of the lads starts sobbing loudly in Minnie’s bar, homesick and missing la mia mama–and all the rough tough miners join in, they ALL miss their moms! As a mom, I find that charming. But non-moms may have a problem with the scene.

As it happened, I had been treated to a VERY DIFFERENT vision of the Old West in a recent show. In this show, the west is a resort world, peopled entirely by extremely realistic robots who are there to entertain the extremely high-paying visitors. Some fairly ghastly scenes are enacted, demonstrating that one man’s idea of entertainment is another’s of hateful mayhem. What makes Westworld a show worth watching is…. Anthony Hopkins. Riveting actor! He plays the resident genius of the place, whose vision created it and its almost human inhabitants.

As with all these modern shows, the opening credits are masterly, a rapturous vision of an incredibly advanced 3-D printer printing a horse and then its rider, see it here.
Fun to watch, this show–though once the initial magic fades, one starts wondering about, well, logistics. A number of watchers had the same problem, and there is a collection of questions people have asked, for example, is there a carpenter running around repairing all the shot out windows and busted doors every night? What does the park’s legal waiver look like–Do most guests just sign it like an itunes update? Buzzfeed has an amusing assortment here.
Entertaining. Though without Hopkins, it would just be another sci-fi & sex extravaganza. And what’s wrong with that, you’ll ask.

The other day as I plodded down the escalator–GOING HOME AT LAST! -the station suddenly burst into song. “Plinketty plinketty plinketty” sang the speakers. What ghastly fresh hell was this? Then, the train roared in, I got on and forgot all about it.
Except, the next evening, and the next, and the next, there it was, that offensive noise. What deranged buffoon thought this was a good idea? Perhaps Metro has a Department of Irritating the Customer Even More Than the Loony ‘Schedule Adjustments’ Already Do?
Finally, it maddened me to the point of complaining to the station master–and just as I finished my polite but heartfelt statement, up trotted another elderly lady who loudly disagreed with me, saying that she LOVED, LOVED the music.
Sighing, I retreated to the bench to await my train. “Plinketty plinketty plinketty” sang the speakers, and I silently ground my teeth in rage.

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