Sunday, February 22, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

I went to the Lincoln Center Theater early in the evening on Wednesday, having taken a vacation day since I've got some left over from last year, intending to see The Class. But since the times were inconvenient, I wound up going to Waltz with Bashir instead. It had been raining and I've worn through the soles of my shoes so I sat there cold in the thankfully-only-part-way-full theater in my wet socks, eating a bucket of popcorn and using my coat as a blanket. 

I hadn't been totally sure I wanted to see the movie because I haven't been feeling totally up to seeing depressing things lately. But I'm so glad I saw it, and in the theater. It's an oddly beautiful movie, not just about war but also about the nature of memory and history. And it's so difficult to watch but at the same time never feels like a chore.  

I think that the ways in which we construct our own histories--both consciously and unconsciously--are fascinating. History is most interesting when we consider it as a narrative that we construct. And that is the framework within which Waltz with Bashir plays out. The protagonist is trying to reconstruct his own past using the faulty memories of his compatriots, and in the process shows us the tragedy of the 1982 Lebanon War. As a story told in dreamscapes and recollections it has a surreal air, and yet it always feels like you're seeing something truthful. That truth, though, is a personal truth, the tragedy one of individuals as well as nations, and the film acknowledges the importance of that at the same time as addressing the broader subject of war and how people forget and remember, how they lie to themselves and others. 

The only thing I was unsure of was the sudden switch from animation to live action newsreel footage. It was as if the filmmaker was trying to remind us that this was something that actually happened and not a work of fiction. But I don't think it ever felt like fiction in the first place. And I don't think it was any less truthful because it was drawn not filmed. It felt like we were being provided with proof--see, this was awful, this was real--but I think that with a work of art so consistent in its aesthetic and so emotionally engaging,  we don't actually need any proof to believe in it. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Winter's Tale

I'm not really sure what the thinking behind The Bridge Project's production of The Winter's Tale was. Let's solve this bifurcated play by making it completely schizophrenic? I can understand the desire to move Shakespeare's plays forward in time, but I'm not sure it's so effective when you have a classical setting complete with a statue that comes to life a la Galatea. And then to take the second act, different enough as is, and insert a folk-singing, anachronistic Ethan Hawke among our frolicking shepherds and nobility in disguise the former of whom perform bawdy dances with balloons? It's like Mendes looked at the play and figured, "Well screw it. It's not exactly Shakespeare's best work so why even bother trying to create a cohesive theatrical experience?"

If that's the case, I don't entirely disagree. It's definitely not one of Shakespeare's masterpieces. In fact, it's not really that good a play at all. You might as well try to do something with it. I'm just saying, maybe pick a thing instead of doing all different things and making it seem even less like one piece than it already does. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I started this entry almost a week ago and I'm only now finishing it. I did mean to be blogging this past week but instead I decided that, now that the series is almost over, it was high time I started watching Battlestar Galactica. So that's how I've been spending all my spare time. A girl has got to have priorities. (Just not necessarily good ones. [Not that watching Battlestar Galactica is a bad thing to do. But it would be a good thing to take breaks.]) Anyway...

My mother baked with my sister and me all the time when we were little but our repertoire was pretty limited. We mostly made tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, rugelach, and gingersnaps. Which are all excellent things to make, really. But I think of two of those types of cookies as seasonal to begin with and I've never really enjoyed making cookies, and I'd rather have pie or ice cream, so I haven't really baked a lot of them.

Still, the little section of the office where my cubicle is located was having a cookie day Monday. Which is how I ended up searching the fantastic Smitten Kitchen for cookie recipes. I wound up making Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies and Green Tea Shortbread cookies (minus the white chocolate ganache because I don't care what it's supposed to be complimenting, I don't like white chocolate). The World Peace Cookies were fabulous. The Green Tea cookies were...fine.

Normally February would seem like a great time for baking. The only problem is my apartment management and I have very different ideas on what constitutes a livable temperature. Combine that with the run of warm weather we had and I'd like it to be a good 15 degrees cooler than it is. When the oven was on for awhile it got up around 87 in the kitchen. So that made things a little less fun than they otherwise would have been. Oh well.

The dough for the World Peace Cookies was a cinch to make. And it only requires ingredients I generally have around the apartment anyway. I love it when I can bake without going shopping. Also I'm trying to save money these days so the fact that the recipe doesn't call for anything fancy or expensive is a definite bonus. I mean I'm sure you can use expensive, fancy chocolate and the cookies turn out glorious but I used fairly middle-of-the-road stuff and the cookies still tasted awfully good.

Making slice-and-bake cookies from scratch is a new thing for me and while forming the logs was easy, it turns out that I have no idea how big an inch-and-a-half is. I made these cookies again today and used a measuring tape this time around and as a result I can say with some confidence that the first time I made these the logs were easily over two inches wide. Oops. To compensate and make sure I had enough cookies to bring to work, I cut them a bit thinner than the half-inch wide they were supposed to be. So the cookies ended up being broader and flatter than they were meant to be. But as long as things still taste good I just figure that mistakes aren't that big a deal. I do have to admit though, that I like them best at their prescribed size and washed down with milk. Like that, they're about as satisfying a cookie experience as I can imagine.

The Green Tea cookie dough was also easy to make but did require me to go out and buy matcha. And since I couldn't find the unsweetened kind the recipe called for I ended up cutting back on the powdered sugar in the recipe just a tiny bit to compensate. It's not an overly sweet cookie, which is good since I don't have all that much of a sweet tooth.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned also, by the rather unappetizing color of the dough. And it was a fucking pain in the ass to roll out. First it cracked and then it stuck horribly. I ended up rolling it out between a couple sheets of plastic wrap. And once they were baked the cookies were a much more appealing green than the dough had been. They're light and crisp with just a delicate taste of green tea. Not so much as to be overwhelming but distinctly noticeable nevertheless. Now if only I liked shortbread better.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Bend in the River

Naipaul is, for me, a particularly good example of why it's not necessarily conducive to your reading enjoyment to know too much about an author. (My less literary example being Orson Scott Card: I loved Ender's Game in middle school. Now I wouldn't be able to read one of his books.) The thing is, I think Naipaul is a fairly brilliant writer--which isn't to say I could get through The Enigma of Arrival--but I have a difficult time separating his fiction from what I know about him. I don't really know how one does that. 

I mean, how do you read a book set in Africa and not let the knowledge that the author is a racist alter the way you read it? I shouldn't put it that way, really. I don't think that's desirable. But I also don't think that you want that knowledge to occlude your ability to appreciate all the genuinely good things about a book. And for me it does. 

Sunday, February 01, 2009

On Books and Other Miscellany

With all the eulogizing of Updike this week I've been forced to think about the fact that I've only read half of one of his books (Rabbit, Run, assigned reading for a 20th century American lit course) and, quite frankly, decided that was more than enough. How convenient then, that there's a recent post on The Millions about glaring gaps in the reading of the contributors. The most interesting part of that post to me--and, seemingly, to a number of critical commentors--is this:
When it comes to playing readerly "I Never," there are rather a lot of burly man-authors, chiefly twentieth-century man-authors, whose work I've never read. Hemingway (other than the 4 page story "Hills Like White Elephants"), Kerouac (a bit of his poetry; enough of On the Road), Roth, Updike, Kesey, Heller, Burroughs, Cormac McCarthy, Vonnegut, Pynchon, Moody, and Foster Wallace all fall into the category of authors I haven't read. Many of them fall also into the category of authors I have no interest in reading. Perhaps it is that I intuit (or imagine - not having read them, it is hard to say) a masculinist, vaguely misogynist aura that has put me off; Or, as in the cases of Pynchon and Foster Wallace, a virtuousic formal complexity or grandiose heft, that I also associate with the masculine artistic mind. [ . . . ] Well-founded, my prejudices certainly are not, but I do not apologize for them or intend to renounce them.
Well, I've read at least a bit of a bunch of those writers over the years--Roth (The Plot Against America), Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions), Pynchon (Crying of Lot 49 aka the short one), Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Heller (first 70 or so pages of Catch-22), Kerouac (On the Road)--and I can't say grouping them together makes a whole lot of sense to me. But despite that, I tend to think, good for her. If reading something doesn't give you pleasure on some level, why bother? If the idea of reading a book doesn't particularly interest you why pick it up when there are so many other good books that do interest you? 

Personally, I tend to at least try to read everything and then just give up part way through if I'm disinterested. Which is usually pretty quickly. I never even made it to the crime in Crime and Punishment. And I recently told my cousin I would read A Confederacy of Dunces but I've stalled out a couple chapters in and really might as well return it to the library. It might actually serve me better to just skip these books I don't have much interest in reading in the first place and am only looking at because of some misguided idea that I should read them. Food for thought. 

Various notes:
According to the New York Times there's going to be a new advertising campaign aimed at getting locals to go to more Broadway shows. My suggestion? Find a way to lower the ticket prices. Significantly. I don't know how they should do it--hey, it's not my job to get people to the theater--but they should find a way. Because the prices are just too high. 

I broke a mirror last night. I'm not superstitious, but I was put out since it's my roommate's mirror.  I've never liked it much at all, but I still feel guilty. I've been such a klutz lately. In the last month I've broken two glasses and now this.

Somehow I ended up with plans to go to my grandparents house this evening to watch the Super Bowl with family. I've watched approximately 0 minutes of football this year, but I read Margee's Girls Guide to Choosing Your Super Bowl Team (Part I, Part II) over at SportSquee, so I figure I'm set. Right?