Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Thing is not the Memory

Sometime in the summer of 1993, my father and I made a trip to the Saturn dealership across the river and bought my first adult car that was to be all my own. It was to be an early graduation present for my Master's Degree. Dad was worried that he might be retired by the time I got my MA and was sure he would be by the time I got my Phd.

In the grand tradition of my father's "nothing in life comes free, you have to learn responsibility", the arrangement was that we would each pay for half of the car with me sending him money each month to help cover the payments. In the end, I only ended up paying on the car for a year, because my father suffered a massive stroke the following August, and insurance paid of the rest. Paralyzed on one side of his body, his plan to retire in a few years was hastened, because he didn't have the physical capacity to return to work.

Instead, he worked at physical therapy, hoping for the day when he would be strong enough to go back to his job (or volunteer as a driver for others who had suffered strokes and incapacitating injuries). But that was not to be. After a few months of slow improvement, his recovery stopped progressing. While he could hobble very short distances with the help of a leg brace and quad cane, the furthest his upper body progressed was to regain the useless ability of being able to shrug his left shoulder, while the rest of his arm dangled limply beside him. He held on for a little over a year, but his spirit never recovered.

Then he was gone, and I was left with a memory for a father. A memory and car. Dad was a big car lover, so somehow it seems fitting that the last big thing we did together before his was buying a vehicle. Even though I haven't driven it in ages, somehow the car sitting there in the driveway always felt like a little piece of him was still here. This is in some ways silly, because he was not one to hold onto a car until it was run into the ground. He was always trading up. Still, the association with him was the one thing that held me back from selling it when I bought my current car a couple years ago after the Saturn broke down one time too many.

Since then, the Saturn has been sitting in the driveway, collecting dust and holding memories of trips through California, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and even Canada. It has gotten lost in Compton, sputtered up mountains and broken down in five states, visiting such American landmarks as covered bridges, the Corn Palace, Carhenge, Mt. Rushmore, Sky City, Disneyland, the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, the House on the Rock, and the Space Needle along the way. It was the birthplace of the mythology of Shoema, Goddess of Footwear and shopping lists for blue sun glasses, bunny ears, Ricky Martin CDs, and cold medicine. I've laughed, cried, and rescued a kitten from the shoulder of I-5 in that car. In short, it holds the memories of my 20's and early 30's and of all the fun my father would have wished for his daughter (and perhaps some fun he might not have envisioned).

So, why did it come as such a surprise to me this past weekend that I was so sad to sell it? I hadn't realized that I would be. It didn't really hit me until I was cleaning out the remains of my personal effects (obviously very important stuff, considering that it sat in the car for over two years without me missing it). Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to cry. I considered calling the deal off, then decided against it. I really can use the money.

In the end, I am okay with my decision. The thing is not the memory. Besides, the car gave me a new memory the day I sold it. Unbeknownst to me, there was a hornets nest in the passenger side door. Yes, that's right, a hornet's nest that I did not notice early in the day while I was cleaning the car out. No one noticed it, until the two guys buying the car decided to take it for a spin around the block. I will never forget the sight of my car backing out of the driveway, only to have the door fly open and a grown man jump out, waving his arms around and screaming like startled Ned Flanders. My dad would have laughed to see that. I know I did. (Don't worry, no one got hurt.) More importantly, however, they still took the car and I now have my memories AND money in my pocket for something fun. My dad would have wanted me to have fun.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Festa Italiana

One of my favorite events each summer is Portland's Festa Italiana. It has become a tradition that my mom and I go to the opera night in Pioneer Square (or Piazza Italia, as the organizers insist on calling Portland's living room for the duration of the festival). Whatever you call it, the prospect of a warm summer evening and a serenade is always irresistable. There is nothing like hearing lovely music and enjoying good food as the sun goes down.

The thing that made this year's festival extra special is that we knew two of the singers performing. Whenever I hear either of them sing, I find myself amazed at the fact that these are the same people I've barbequed with at Oaks Park and shared jokes with at various celebrations. As people, they are so normal and down to earth, but their art is transcendent, beyond the realm of us humble, small humans. Getting to hear them tonight in their professional milieu on such a lovely, warm evening was a real treat.

Really, even if I hadn't known two of the five singers performing, I would have loved it. They sang many of my favorite pieces, opening with Verdi's Brindisi from La Traviata and continuing on to do a bit of Mozart (La ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni and Sull'aria from Le Nozze di Figaro), as well as a number of pieces I'd never heard before, but loved and will definitely try to revisit.

All of this has the effect of making me think I could be ready to move into an autumnal opera phase. Somehow opera is a good writing soundtrack on rainy, fall days (not to mention that some of the love songs are delightful to fall asleep to as one fantasizes about loves of ones own). Besides, I haven't been in a good opera phase in quite some time and could stand to fill in some of my Bildungsl├╝cken. My knowledge is definitely very heavily Mozart and Verdi centered with a little Bizet and isolated pieces from other composers thrown in. Really, the more I think of it, the more I believe an opera phase might be just the right thing for me. Besides, it might even inspire me to pick up my abandoned mystery, which features, of all things a rather nasty and spoiled operatic tenor (unless he decides he would rather be a baritone, which could easily happen).

For now, however, I think I will just bask in the memory of a lovely night filled with a setting sun, a warm breeze, and music that makes me feel as though my soul could float all the way to heaven just listening to it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Something in the Air

Let me begin by saying that I like children. I really do. They can be charming, funny and surprisingly insightful for short people with little life experience. What I hate are parents who think it reasonable to inflict their ill mannered children on the world at large, while taking no responsibility for their behavior.

While I understand that even the nicest children have testing moments in which one coud swear they'd succumbed to demonic possession, some of the things one sees leaves little doubt that the behavior is not a momentary outburst, but the product of conditioning that says "It's fine for me to act this way, because my parents aren't going to enforce any kind of behavioral standards anyway."

Take, for example, the eight year old I saw at Safeway yesterday. When I first encountered him and his mother in the cereal aisle, he was up in her face, squacking about her buying the wrong sugar coated breakfast candy. When I last saw (or perhaps I should say heard) them, they were in the shortest checkout line in the store with no one behind them (which I presume was no coincidence). The spawn of Satan was sitting in a cart doing his best Veruca Salt impression screaming "I WANT Gatorade!!!!" over and over at the top of his lungs, while his mother just stood there pretending not to hear him.

Despite what I knew would have been a shorter wait, I bypassed their line, opting for one at the other end of the checkout area. In my haste to get away from young Damien, I ended up behind woman with three little, blonde monkeys, who would have been cute, if one hadn't be screeching "Wheeeeeeeeeeeee-ooooooooooooooooh, Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-oooooooooooooh, Wheeeeeeeeeee-oooooooooooooooh" at the top of her lungs like a pint sized air raid siren, while her slightly older sister repeatedly whined "stooooop" and their mother pretended not to hear either of them. I know she was pretending, because she was standing closer than I, and I swear the sound actually made something deep inside my cranium explode.

In the mother's defense, she was busy warding off monkey #3 as he simultaneously occupied himself with ripping her Safeway card, then her money out her hand all while trying to climb onto her shoulder, using the small suitcase slung over it as a step ladder. If that wasn't enough, he also managed to wrestle the card away from the checker as she was trying to swipe it, making me wonder if he was training to be a mugger when he grows up. Frankly, I don't think I could take it if I were his mother, and not even out of noble, altruistic reasons like lack of migraines for my fellow man, but for my own sanity. I just can't imagine actually living with that when five minutes in the grocery store had me weighing whether I might actually prefer a sharp stick in the eye to listening to another minute of their noise.

What are even worse, though, than these inattentive parents are those who seem to expect the rest of the world to be responsible for the moral fortitude of their offspring. They are the people who seem to take Hillary Clinton and her African "It takes a village..." proverb a bit too literally. This may come as a shock to them, but it actually does not end with the words " the parents can slack off and take no personal responsibility for their children's upbringing".

This has been particularly on my mind since a recent phone run-in with a woman from the Dove Foundation, who became irate when I suggested to her that perhaps if people like her are so concerned about the "...gratuitous sex, violence and anti-family values that their children are exposed to at the movie theaters and on their own video/DVD players", they might consider monitoring what it is they watch. Her response to this was basically "monitor, schmonitor" and that what we really need to do is "hold Hollywood accountable" and get rid of "objectionable programming". This begs the question: Who gets to decide what is objectionable? Certainly there is a grey area somewhere between porn and Barney.

While I'm all for a parent's right (even responsibility) to shield her kids from things she doesn't want them to see, I fail to understand how that translates into no one should be able to see them. What's objectionable for a five year old is not necessarily so for someone of my age (a young plenty-nine). Not everything is suitable for young eyes and ears, but that is where the parents should come in. I guess it's easier to censor than it is to take an active part in their children's entertainment and education, just like it's easier to infringe on other people's happy, non-migrained time at the store rather than discipline one's children and expect them to behave with some semblance of manners and courtesy toward others.

Thus sayeth the curmudgeon...

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Pink Martini 2
Originally uploaded by Martina.

While I'm not sure that August has been marked with dignity and grandeur, I am certain that it has been a busy month. This has been a good thing, since I'm still in trying to distract myself as I wait for everything to start coming up Millhouse again. I have to think it will. It has to, right?

My optimism is, I might add, not aided by the fact that everyone at work has wedding fever due to our other Miss M. becoming Mrs. Whateverhisnameis in two weeks. I am truly happy for her, even if the timing of her joy is not amenable to my emotional highs and lows. It's hard to not speculate on my future as the proprietess of a house full of cats when everyone around me is getting married and having babies. Oh, yes, there are babies too (though not for the other Miss M.....yet).

Frankly, the revelry has been spinning out of control this month! There have been bridal showers, baby showers, and birthdays out the wazoo. It seems like half the people I know have birthdays in July and August. July clocks in with five birthdays (two of them significant - one of them coinciding with yet another celebration: Squirmador General Loquacious Robespierre Squeekmann's anniversary. Apparently I really like Cancers.

Back in July, it was all novel. The cake, the gifts, the natalatory celebrations! Then came August with the bridal parties, the baby showers, and the birthdays of 3 coworkers, 3 more friends after that, and (most importantly) my mom's birthday. While I adore you August people, we really need to talk about spreading your joy OUT a bit. November is a slow month. Or what about February? NOBODY has a birthday in February (except, as I recall, Mr. Halfbirthday, but he's been out of the picture for years). Who want to more to February?

Seriously, I think I've had more cake and cupcakes (oh, carrot ginger cupcakes you were so deliciuos!) in the past 3 weeks than I have in the past year. In the past month, I've planned a wedding shower, a birthday potluck, and a birthday brunch. The brunch was probably the most fun, because it was for my mom, and she tends to be loath to plan anything for herself that makes her the center of attention. Her birthday celebration included a brunch party, a delightful Pink Martini concert (when are they NOT delightful?) at the zoo, and the promise of some short road trips when I have my time off next month.

So, while it's been exhausting, it's been fun (even if it means there are a lot of people who aren't me getting presents and it's right in the middle of the presenty dry spell between March and Christmas). I really need to look into celebrating half-birthdays again. I had a boyfriend once, whom I had totally convinced of the merits of the half-birthday, causing him to become delightfully squirrely around Sept. 20th as he tried to make sure someone would be home to sign for the flowers without actually revealing that they were coming.

They were a nice almost surprise. There are a lot of them in life. I keep telling myself that perhaps even the things preoccupying me will also end with a nice surprise. For now, I'll just have to wait for time to take its course and try to avoid eating any more cake.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Devil Prefers the Film Version

Not long ago, my boss loaned me her personal copy of The Devil Wears Prada. While my boss is no Miranda Priestly, there is a certain irony in someone who has the capacity to make her employees so crazy loaning one of them a book about a boss who makes people crazy.

Truth be known, even though I was keen to see the movie, I never intended to read the book for the simple reason that I hate "chick lit. I hate the name. I hate the plot lines. On the likability scale chick lit is down there with Oprah's Book Club, and you know how I feel about anything related to Oprah, whom I like to think of as my celebrity nemesis.

How I feel about Oprah is the polar opposite of how I feel about Meryl Streep, whom I have loved ever since seeing her in the film version of Issak Dineson's Out of Africa when I was a teenager. It is one of my all-time favorite movies (not to mention a book that is well worth reading).

Back when I first saw the film, it's main appeal was the sheer beauty of the filmscapes. Now, many (many) years later, after having experienced the beauty of Dinesen's prose, I realize that the beauty of the cinematography reflects the poetry of the author's own words:

If I know a song of Africa, - I thought -, of the Giraffe, of the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a color that I had on or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of the Ngong look out for me?

In one short paragraph, Dinesen captures what we all want - to matter. If there's one thing people all over share in common (actually there are many things!), it is for their song to be heard. No one wants to die unnoticed, unloved. I suppose that, at least in terms of her art, this is something that need not worry Ms. Streep.

It is because of this that I was so interested in seeing the Devil Wears Prada movie. While it cannot be compared to Streep's earlier movies like Out of Africa or Silkwood (it just can't, they're totally different worlds), Streep is expectedly delightful as the self-absorbed ueber-bitch, Miranda Priestly. Priestly is rumoured to have been inspired by Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, for whom Lauren Weisberger worked early in her career.

Wherever the character came from, Streep, more than any other element (even the great clothes...well, some were great...Oh, Anne Hathaway, why did you agree to that weird getup with the odd off the shoulder sweater/blouse combo and newsboy cap?), makes the film entertaining. What I expected would become a tedious character in a novel (I was right, by the way), is so craftily rendered by Streep's soft, controlled voice and expressions that she somehow manages to escape becoming just a charicature.

Miranda is a study in bitchiness, yet there are moments when Streep manages to make her an almost sad figure. I'm not saying that she is ever likable (it's hard to like someone whose song includes soul sucking), but Streep's portrayal does hint at a depth that would be lost in the hands of a lesser actress. Plus, she wears some awesome shoes.

Kicky shoes aside, is it a great movie? The best movie ever made? Well, probably not, but it is entertaining. It diverted me from my concerns for almost two hours and I'm still not sorry I paid full price to see it. Trust me, that means a lot. I am cheap and generally unwilling to pay more than economy pricing for movies not involving Johnny Depp. So, all in all, I can in good conscience recommend getting to know The Devil (as long as you do it via the movie and not the book).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (*not necessarily in that order)

One of the best things about a great story is that it can appeal to anyone (even Hermits!). So, it is not suprising that my "no-one-will-ever-love-me-because-I-am-destined-to-die-old-alone-and-surrounded-by-cats" retreat from the world as I try to understand how someone could just disappear after four years and a lot of talk about the future has been filled not only with kleenex and unfullfilled hopes, but movies. Sometimes a good story about someone else's life is the best diversion from one's own. That's where the movies come in. Books too, but today is about movies.

The Bad

As movies go, there were some real klunkers in the 1st Annual Lonely Hearts Film Festival. Take for example the Bollywood meets Jane Austen film I rented in hopes of inducing forced mirth. It seemed like a good idea. Who wouldn't be cheered up by a lighthearted romp with bright costumes and cheesy dance numbers??? Me! That's who! Unfortunately, the characters were NOT mirth inducing or even light hearted, just annoying. There's just no call for that. The name of the film escapes me (I'm probably repressing it), but its memory makes me want to pummel the director with a piece of stale naan (and my fists...actually mostly my fists) until he begs forgiveness for having squandered two hours that I will never get back.

The Ugly

Undaunted by my Bollywood experience, I moved on to the BBC production of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. It was a bold move, since I'd heard less than positive things about it. Still, I loved the book. With such a great story, how bad could the screen version be? As it turns out, pretty bad. In fairness, it's not that everything about it sucked. The show is a little dated looking (understandable given it's age), but the acting was ok. It's just that the production values were so poor. Maybe things turn around in disc 2, but disc 1 looked like a cable access program directed and designed in a joint high school drama and AV club production. Poor Neverwhere. You could have been so much better. I just know it. Maybe one day after everyone has graduated, they'll try again. If they do, call me, I bear no grudges. I may be ruined for love, but I will give you a second chance, Neverwhere!

The Good (Saving the Best for Last)

On the more welcome other end of the spectrum there have been some movies that actually managed to divert my obsessive mind for a couple of hours. They ranged from poignant, but perhaps not as great as I'd expected (Brokeback Mountain, you have become a victim of your own hype) to spooky to funny to just plain entertaining. While there are many things one could delve into in the realm of writing, acting, cinematography, score, etc., when all is said and done, the thing that makes a movie great for me is that the sum of all these elements is that they've created a world into which I can escape for a few short hours. With that in mind, (unless I become distracted by something shiny) my next few posts will highlight some of the star features in my summer film fest (which could also be termed Martina's Movie Recommendations).