27 11 2006

I attended another beer-tasting tonight. This one featured eight(!) beers designed to show why Philly is the best beer city in the country. On the whole, I didn’t enjoy these beers quite as much as the beers I tasted during the session devoted to black beers. I did particularly like Victory’s very hoppy Storm King Imperial Stout, the Chocolate Thunder Porter from Lafayette Inn, and Weyerbacher‘s Double Simcoe. The common theme? I’m a sucker for a beer with a lot of flavor….

As I did last time, though, after having so much beer, I fell asleep on the train going home. Happily, unlike last time, I managed to wake up before my stop. Whew. I even fed myself a couple of doughnuts and gave myself a pep talk before getting on the train—but I still couldn’t fight the beer-induced sleepiness. I obviously need adult supervision at all times.


Authors I’ve Given Up On

26 11 2006

Open Book
This is a meme, of course (from Crooked Timber and Prettier Than Napoleon).

1.) Thomas Pynchon — Who has the time or patience for Pynchon? I know everyone’s all ga-ga over the new Pynchon, Against the Day, but I gave up 15 years ago with Vineland. Don’t even bother letting me know how the new book is. I really don’t care.

2.) Julian Barnes — Barnes has been repeatedly shortlisted for the Booker Prize, I know, but A History of the World in 10½ Chapters was just too much for me. If having one chapter narrated by a woodworm hadn’t been enough to turn me off (oh, it was), all the subsequent references to ships (I hate novels about sailing) and all the postmodernist theory (yawn) would have. Yikes.

3.) Jane Hamilton — My old book group read A Map of the World (before it became one of Oprah’s selections, mind you), and it left me feeling incredibly impatient. Let’s see. The two-year-old daughter drowns while she’s on the protagonist’s watch. A short time later, the protagonist is falsely accused of sexual abuse. Oh, and the family farm is failing, too. Did I mention the protagonist’s debilitating depression? Gosh, how could I have omitted that? What next, Hamilton? Why not just send in locusts, famine, and pestilence, too? Please.

4.) Tom Robbins — I tried Another Roadside Attraction. I tried Jitterbug Perfume. I just felt dizzy. Ugh. And, hey, I’m being fair. I’m not even holding Gus Van Sant’s awful film treatment of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues against Robbins.

5.) John Irving — I was probably too young when I first tried to read The World According to Garp. A few years later, though, I still didn’t care. Maybe Irving’s speaking to the generation or two before mine? Or to an upper-middle class audience? Or to a particular upper-middle class audience that existed 30 years ago? Or to no one?

Honorable mention: William Kennedy, author of Ironweed.

My Cirque du Soleil Résumé

25 11 2006

Because it’s on my mind, because I’m an inveterate list-keeper, and because I’m afraid I’ll forget, here are the Cirque du Soleil shows I’ve seen:

Dralion — Cirque du Soleil came to Philadelphia for the first time in October 2001, and I was there. I remember the post-9/11 security warning we were given in the Grand Chapiteau, and I remember being completely taken with the show. I think The Ex enjoyed himself, too.

Alegria — The Ex and I saw this in July 2004. I think this was Cirque’s third visit to Philadelphia. (I somehow missed Varekai.) We had great first-row seats, and I especially remember how we were enveloped by a seemingly neverending paper snowstorm that was a part of the show. The soundtrack to Alegria just may be my favorite (so far).

O — By far, this is the best Cirque show I’ve seen. O is based in Las Vegas, at Bellagio, and the show has absolutely taken advantage of having its own permanent set. O is water-themed, and it’s simply amazing how the water ebbs and flows on the set. When I visited in December 2005, the smell of the chlorine was almost overpowering. (I later described the theater as smelling like a nuclear chlorine accident, if that makes any sense.) But it was absolutely worth it. And the water acrobatics? Well, wow! I saw O by myself, when I visited Las Vegas to attend the National Finals Rodeo. (The original plan was to go with the Soulmate-Who-Got-Away.)

— I had so much fun in Las Vegas in December 2005 that I returned in March 2006. Solo, again. Sigh. My guidebook said was the best of the then-four Cirque shows playing in Vegas, so I booked a seat at the MGM Grand-hosted event. I liked , but it certainly didn’t displace O as my favorite Cirque show. There’s more of an attempt in at plot development, but it’s a skeletal (and uninteresting) plot. What’s striking is the amazing stage, which propels the performers through the, um, air. It’s not water acrobatics, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Quidam — In July 2006, the Grand Chapiteau returned to Philly, and I went with a friend from work. My favorite act probably involved four acrobatic young women who performed with large wooden spools, apparently known as diabolos. Quidam is most memorable to me, though, because one of the clowns brought me up on stage from my first-row seat, along with three others, to perform a skit. It’s hard to say no when the circus spotlight is on you…. It seemed like we were up there for a long time, and I just got more and more nervous as the skit went on. (The experience has actually caused me to consider whether I have some sort of anxiety disorder.) I did get a few laughs, though.

Delirium — November 2006; I just blogged about this, of course.

Update: In December ’06, when I was in Las Vegas again for the National Finals Rodeo, I caught Zumanity. Zumanity is Cirque’s adult-oriented show, held at New York-New York Hotel and Casino. Since I was in Vegas by myself, I was a little nervous about seeing a show designed, um, to titillate. I was skeptical, too, because some of the reviews I’d seen weren’t all that complimentary: One said I’d see little more than tarted-up stripteases, and another warned that a man-on-man love story was played for laughs. Happily enough, I didn’t find either of those things to be true. Certainly, the show wasn’t as acrobatics-oriented as most Cirque fare, but it still had the Cirque “feel.” The show was adult (gee, that’s more naked breasts than I’ve seen in a lifetime), and witty. I’d go again—but probably only if I had a date.

Catching Up—Gluttony, Stoicism, and Delirium

25 11 2006

What else have I been up to? Well, yesterday, of course, I had the as-promised Thanksgiving dinner with my buddy. It was almost a disaster. We had a reservation for the Thanksgiving buffet at a country inn. When we got to the inn, though, it was mobbed. About an hour late, we were finally seated. Ugh. I also didn’t enjoy jockeying for position with other buffet-goers in the long-ish lines for turkey and pumpkin pie. I’m thankful (ha!) I don’t have to do that very often. The food was fairly good, though.

On Wednesday night, I saw The Queen—the film starring Helen Mirren. It tells the story of how British Prime Minister Tony Blair helped Queen Elizabeth II save herself from herself after the death of Princess Diana. QE2 viewed Diana’s death as a private family matter, and, apparently, she didn’t initially see how her failure to grieve publicly was hurting the Crown. Blair, the young modernizer (and, ironically, leading a party with not-insignificant republican sentiment in it), badgered her into doing what needed to be done.

The Queen has gotten raves, but I can’t honestly give it more than three stars (out of four). Mirren is superb. She manages to look like QE2, and Mirren makes you see how QE2 submerges everything in the service of British stoicism. That said, The Queen mostly portrays the Royal Family as unidimensional cartoon characters. Prince Charles comes across as a vain dimwit. Prince Philip is a dithering idiot. The Queen Mother is merely irascible, if sort of delightfully so. I’m no royalist, but it’s silly to portray real, accomplished people so lamely. (See, for example, the Wikipedia entry on the Queen Mother. She was no cartoon figure.) In this setting, it’s easy for the young Blair—played by the, um, deliciously handsome Michael Sheen—to come across as the only capable figure in sight. It’s all just too easy. I enjoyed The Queen, but I don’t think it’s a brilliant film. Enjoy it for the performances of Mirren, Sheen, and Sylvia Sims as the Queen Mother. Be careful, though: The plot will hit you over the head.

Last weekend, I attended a performance of the Cirque du Soleil show Delirium. I’m a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, and Delirium was my sixth Cirque show. Unfortunately, I guess I have to say it was my least favorite Cirque experience. Going in, I knew that Delirium was different. The typical Cirque du Soleil show is a sort of upscale, crazy circus, featuring amazing acrobatics, droll clowns, and a vaguely Surrealist theme. In the big top (er, sorry, that’s the Grand Chapiteau), the music is not normally front-and-center. Still, I love the music, which is avant-garde and sung in imaginary languages.

In Delirium, the music is supposed to be the focus, and that had me excited. Unfortunately, Delirium‘s music is far too straightforward. It’s something you might hear on Broadway or, actually, in some lesser venue. The music is in English, and it’s all too familiar. The acrobatics and visuals are stunning, as always (although since Delirium isn’t performed in the big top, Cirque is limited by how much it can do). But the music keeps getting in the audience’s way. It just seems silly to pair something so, well, mundane with the unusual human activity occurring on the stage. At one point, the Everyman—whose dream Delirium is supposed to be—expresses relief that what’s happening is only a dream “because this is really, really weird.” Unfortunately, Cirque forgot to write the “really, really weird” soundtrack to Everyman’s dream.

Philadelphia Flyers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

24 11 2006

For the second year in a row, I spent Black Friday at an afternoon Flyers game. Maybe this is my new post-Thanksgiving tradition…. Anyway, although the Flyers are off to an awful start to the season, they managed the win today—despite being outshot, 41 to 22 (yikes). Credit has to go to Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki for making one save after another. Given how few wins the Flyers have so far, it seems a little weird that my first game of the season was a win for the home team.

Actually, the Blue Jackets are playing some pretty dismal hockey, too; they’ve lost eight straight. There was some added intrigue to the game, too, because the Blue Jackets’ new coach is Ken Hitchcock, whom the Flyers fired early in the season. Surprisingly, the Flyers fans didn’t give Hitchcock any particular grief.

I sat next to one of those fans, this one fairly well lubricated, who manages to have something to yell after nearly every play. His voice carried, too. It always seems like there’s one fan, somewhere or other, that everyone in the stadium can hear. I didn’t, um, particularly enjoy being so close to the megaphone. Ironically, he put his fingers in his ears every time the Flyers went on a power play, triggering a little noise sponsored by the local power company (the Peco Power Play, of course). Believe me, Mr. Megaphone was way louder than anything that came over the P.A. system. Egad.

Question of the Day: Heartbreaker

24 11 2006

Broken Heart
What’s your favorite heartbreak song?

Submitted by esta86.

I’ve already described why Jann Arden’s “Insensitive” is my favorite heartbreak song. You don’t want to hear just that story again, I’m sure.

So, stealing my blogging buddy Jenny‘s idea, how about a complete playlist? This playlist isn’t composed entirely of heartbreak songs; instead, it’s a sort of a chronology of my, um, heartbreaking relationship with the Soulmate-Who-Got-Away (SWGA).

1.) “Insensitive” by Jann Arden – When SWGA dumped me for the first time, circa 1996, the constructive angriness of this song really sort of helped me. It’s a good place to start.

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes
Your casual good-byes….

2.) “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman – When I was moving away from SWGA’s hometown, I invoked this song (which was one of my favorites, one we’d heard together and talked about one night) in a letter. SWGA didn’t “give me one reason” to stay, but he later told me he’d considered it.

Give me one reason to stay here,
and I’ll turn right back around.
Give me one reason to stay here,
and I’ll turn right back around.

3.) “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette – The summer after I left—and, really, for a year or two—I was angry with SWGA. I knew we had something together, and I knew he knew it, too. Whenever “You Oughta Know” came on the radio, I empathized with the bitterness in the lyrics.

And I’m here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away.
It’s not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me.
You, you, you oughta know.

4.) “Headed for a Fall” by Jimmie Dale Gilmore – I’ve already blogged about how much I love the album that contains “Headed for a Fall.” I learned, either directly from SWGA or one of our mutual friends, that he was struggling, emotionally. I sort of hoped I was mixed up in that. Or, at least, that he was struggling with the loneliness that was the natural result of his choices (with me and others).

Don’t put your dreams way up there in the clouds.
I don’t think that’s what It’s all about.
You can’t get much higher when you’re so above it all.
I’ll be waiting here when you hit bottom.
I believe you’re headed for a fall.

5.) “The First Cut Is the Deepest” by Sheryl Crow – I’m actually not a huge fan of this song, but it really conveys something important about my post-SWGA relationships. Whether or not he was the first man I fell in love with (and the answer to that is a definite maybe), my feelings for SWGA were constantly with me after that, constantly coloring how I felt about other men. Especially The Ex, whom I met in 1998.

I would have given you all of my heart
But there’s someone who’s torn it apart.
And he’s taken just all that I have
But if you want I’ll try to love again.
Baby, I’ll try to love again but I know
The first cut is the deepest.

6.) “Missing” by Everything But the Girl – Even though I went on with my life, falling in love with The Ex (really), I missed SWGA. And after The Ex and I became serious, I heard much less from and of SWGA.

But now you’ve disappeared somewhere like outer space.
You’ve found some better place.
And I miss you – like the deserts miss the rain.
And I miss you – like the deserts miss the rain.

7.) “Don’t Marry Her” by The Beautiful South – Sometime in the late 1990s, I guess, I heard that SWGA had really fallen for someone, finally. Part of me couldn’t be happy for him.

Those lovely Sunday mornings
With breakfast brought in bed.
Those blackbirds look like knitting needles
Trying to peck your head.
Those birds will peck your soul out
And throw away the key.
Don’t marry her, fuck me.

8.) “Here You Come Again” by Dolly Parton – My relationship with The Ex, probably largely (but, hey, not entirely) because of me, started to disintegrate in 2002 and 2003. Suddenly, SWGA was back, calling me every day. We were talking and laughing. I sometimes think The Ex and I might’ve worked through our problems if it hadn’t been for SWGA’s return into my life. I needed a friend, though, and SWGA was there. I couldn’t help myself.

Here you come again
Lookin’ better than a body
Has a right to.
And shakin’ me up so
That all I really know
Is here you come again
And here I go.

9.) “Something About What Happens When We Talk” by Lucinda Williams – The Ex and I separated, finally, in 2004. SWGA was there for me. We talked and talked. And, as always, those talks seemed like so much more.

Conversation with you was like a drug.
It wasn’t your face so much as it was your words.
Cause there’s something about what happens when we talk
Something about what happens when we talk.

10.) “Broken Arrow” by Rod Stewart – Damn it, I was in love again.

Who else is gonna bring you a broken arrow?
Who else is gonna bring you a bottle of rain?
There he goes moving across the water.
There he goes turning my whole world around.

11.) “Let’s Stay Together” by Tina Turner – I’ve loved this song since, well, 1984. (I was so completely into Tina Turner in the mid-1980s.) The original Al Green version is super, too. It’s here because I was in love, and I wanted it to last.

Let’s, let’s stay together
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad.

12.) “Don’t Explain” by Herbie Hancock, featuring Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan – This is an old Billie Holiday song, about being in love with someone who probably isn’t entirely true. I’m not saying that SWGA was cheating, at least not physically. I am saying that I was ready to forgive him for hurting me in the past.

Hush now, don’t explain.
Just say you’ll remain.
I’m glad your back, don’t explain.

13.) “I Thought You Were my Boyfriend” by The Magnetic Fields – Suddenly, we were together in New York, and the SWGA was telling me he had doubts. He didn’t know if we were together, if we should be together.

You told me you loved me.
I know where and when.
Come sunrise, surprise surprise, the joke’s on me again.

. . .

I thought I was just the guy for you and it would never end.
I thought we were supposed to be like glue,
I thought you were my boyfriend.
I thought you were my boyfriend.

14.) “Insensitive” by Jasper Steverlinck – We’ve come full circle, sort of. Dumped again by SWGA, this time in 2005. The same song, sung by someone else, seems like a good place to end.

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes
Your casual good-byes….

I created this playlist over a year ago. For awhile, I was listening all the time. For better or worse, and I’m hoping it’s “better,” I haven’t listened in a good long time. In fact, I’ve been thinking of adding an “I’m better now” song to the end of the playlist. Any suggestions?

And, um, am I better now?

Question of the Day: Tasty Thanksgiving Treat

20 11 2006

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
Submitted by Brennan.

Not only is my mother’s stuffing my favorite Thanksgiving dish, but it’s probably my favorite thing about my absolute favorite holiday. That’s a lot of favorites, huh? Anyway, Mom’s stuffing is cornbread-based, seasoned with plenty of sage and turkey, um, juices. Having lived here and there and everywhere for the past 20 years, I know there are many different kinds of Thanksgiving stuffing. Depending on the region, you might find oyster stuffings, chestnut stuffings, apple-flavored stuffings, and on and on and on. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal in Oklahoma, Texas, or Arkansas, though, you’ve probably tasted stuffing pretty much like my mom’s. That said, hers is the best I’ve ever had.

Sadly, I won’t be home for Thanksgiving this year. Traveling across the country for what amounts to a long weekend has never been easy, of course. Flying anywhere is so much worse now—with the long security lines, the tiny bottles of gel in plastic baggies, the shoeless shuffles through security checkpoints, the crowded airplane compartments, the late departures, the missed connections. I just can’t face all that twice in the course of three of four days.

So I won’t be home this year to enjoy Mom’s stuffing, turkey (I love turkey), homemade cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and coconut cream pie. Gosh, I don’t know how she cooks all of that. And I don’t know how I eat it all, but I always manage.

This year, I’ll be having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, joined by a friend whose family also lives a long way away. I’m sure the restaurant will fix a competent Thanksgiving meal, and I’m sure I’ll eat too much.

But I bet I won’t like the stuffing.