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The Capital Fringe is going on and I bought a 6 show pass. Here are my comments on the first two shows I saw:

America’s Wives: This play is sort of based on a Yoruba folktale. I think I actually know the folktale in question. I definitely know related ones from a number of cultures in which one family member is rewarded with gifts and another one tries to get the same gifts but misunderstands the whole process and is punished. The twist is that this version, in which the two family members are co-wives, is tied to American racism. The first wife of America is a white woman, while the second is a Nigerian woman, who the first wife abuses. The second wife’s child is stolen by a bald eagle, but she refuses riches and keeps begging for her child back. Not only does she get the child returned, but she gets to keep the riches. The first wife then tries to set up the same situation, but places the riches above the child. The other catch is that it wasn’t her own child, but one she stole from another (Native American) wife. She gets worthless items (e.g. rocks instead of jewels) and, finally, just the bones of the child.

That’s an interesting concept and the notion of dealing with race via the multiple wives of America is intriguing. A lot of the language was poetic (including rhyme). However, the whole thing was a bit too heavy-handed for me. I don’t think that, say, shopping at a Columbus Day sale inherently makes someone a racist. And I don’t buy the implication that white people don’t have conflicts over how they feel about America.

I liked the concept, but a touch of subtlety would have made this a much better play. Getting hit over the head isn’t likely to change anyone’s minds.

Shopworn: The writer of this play, Derek Hills, is also a storyteller and he and I have several mutual friends, though I don’t think I actually know him. The play is set in an antique store in a Southern country town. The store’s owner has died and left the store to her two sons and the young woman who worked there with her. The two sons are very much unlike one another, with part of the tension based on their feelings about their Southern heritage. The one who now lives in Brooklyn has a black girlfriend who comes down to share in the eye-reolling. And then the dead woman speaks, via an Aunt Jemima cookie jar. Which is not the only racially questionable item in the store, leading to more of the conflict.

This sounds like it could get preachy, but the humorous interplay of the characters balances things out well enough to save it. There’s some backstory about the mother that isn’t as developed as I’d have liked it to be. And the woman working in the store sometimes seemed quirky without any good reason. Still, this was a funny show and I thought it was worth seeing.

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19 July 2018 @ 04:54 pm
The theme for Week 29 (July 16-22) is Music. My father used to like to say, "I have a very musical family. Beatrice plays the guitar. The children play the piano. And I play the hi-fi." The really musical person on Dad’s side of the family was my grandfather, who had a cantorial degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary. I have not confirmed this, but I have reason to believe he had been part of a chor that toured throughout Lithuania. In practical terms, he often sang Yiddish songs at various gatherings at our house and I was his designated piano accompanist, largely because my brother was more inclined to show off his solo prowess.

My mother’s side also had a musical line. Aside from her guitar playing (which she learned by watching Folk Guitar on PBS), her uncle, Morris Schwartz, was a musician. I was told he played saxophone in Benny Goodman’s orchestra, but have not been able to confirm that either.

My musical ability (despite the piano lessons and a couple of years of viola in elementary school) is more in line with my Dad’s. Though nowadays we call it a stereo.

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18 July 2018 @ 02:23 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Oliver Knussen composed an opera based on the book Where the Wild Things Are. Melanie Kantrowitz was a poet and activist, writing a lot about Jewish women. Marion Woodman was a psychologist who wrote The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter, an excessively Jungian analysis of eating disorders. Peter Carington was the Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988. John A. Stormer was a propagandist, best known for None Dare Call It Treason. Henry Morgenthau III was a television producer. Carlo Benneton co-founded the clothing company that bears his name. Nathaniel Reed co-wrote the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Puzzle Follow-up: If you are interested in the puzzle I brought to the NPL con, here’s a link to it.
road to bocon puzzle

While I am Linking to Things - a Friendzy: Here is ghost_light’s birthday friendzy. Probably of more interest to the LJ crowd vs. DW but lots of us use both, n’est ce pas? And lots of people could use more friends.

Weather and Baseball: We had one hell of a storm yesterday afternoon. Fortunately, it was fairly brief, but my power must have gone out at home for a few minutes (based on the kitchen clocks) and there was a lot of flooding. It did stop hours before the All-Star Game, at least. I will admit that I don’t really care about the All-Star Game, but my obsession with Jewish baseball players has me happy that Alex Bregman was the MVP.

Speaking of Treason: I am not quite convinced that Trump’s remarks at the press conference with Putin, disturbing as they were, qualify by the constitutional definition. The question is how one defines an actual enemy. Without a war having been formally declared, I could argue that Russia is not officially an enemy, no matter how much I believe they are in practical terms. Lawyers complicate everything.

Further Proof I am Tired: I saw a reference to a DC superhero show and it took me a minute to realize they were talking about comics, not the District of Columbia.

Ch-ch-changes: I’ve decided to write about only new graze snacks, as I was finding it hard to find things to say about the umptyumpth bag of microwave popcorn.

I need to get better control of my time and space. I am not sure how to do that, but I am thinking I should aim for leaving one unscheduled weekend a month. What I really want to change is the rotation of the earth, but I’ve been advised that is not within my bailiwick.

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17 July 2018 @ 10:38 am
I’ve been out of town for a few days, this time in Milwaukee for the National Puzzlers’ League Convention. This was my tenth time attending this event, which moves around every year. I normally try to come in a few days early to do some additional touring. This year, however, I have been rather swamped at work and I had been to Milwaukee a few times before. I flew into ORD on Wednesday night (after a brief, weather-related delay at DCA) and stayed at an airport hotel that night. The Courtyard by Marriott in Des Plaines is right next to the Rivers Casino and you may take it as a sign of how exhausted I was that I did not go there at all. Alas, I was not really any less exhausted in the morning, as the hotel’s sound-proofing was inadequate and there was a lot of traffic noise.

I got a ride to Milwaukee with a couple of other puzzle people (Gotcha and Fork – I should mention that NPL members use noms instead of their real names and I will refer to them as such here). We got to the con hotel, the InterCONtinental, about noonish. Fortunately (and a bit surprisingly) my room was available. I left my bag there and went down to the 2nd floor, where there was a table for handouts. I put out the puzzle I had brought and picked up a bunch of puzzles others had provided. I also did assorted socializing, which culminated in having a quick lunch with a few people and then going off to do a walk-around puzzle, involving a mixture of puzzles and trivia questions centered on a pub crawl down Old World Third Street. When we got back to the hotel, I went to my room to rest for a bit. Then I went down to the lobby to meet up with a group to go out for dinner. There is a pre-arranged opportunity for people to go out in groups to interesting restaurants and I ended up with 7 other people at Mader’s, a nearby German restaurant. The menu is a bit meat-heavy, but I was able to order trout, which was quite tasty. I also had an interesting grapefruit kolsch, which was a sweeter beer than I would normally drink, but went well with the trout – and with the warm weather. It was an excellent couple of hours of good food and good conversation.

The official program started Thursday evening. Things started with first time attendees introducing themselves. That was followed by Krewe by Two by Joey and Kryptogram, in which we were divided in pairs and had to come up with yes/no questions which we thought half of the people would answer each way to. There was also voting on which were the most interesting questions. My favorite question had to do with whose zodiac sign ended in the letter "o." It didn’t come anywhere near a 50-50 split as we had a disproportionate number of Virgos at the table. I enjoyed this game, except that most of the teams were moving around between tables and that is always a bit challenging in a crowded room. That was followed by Three of a Kind by Bluff. In that game, teams tried to guess words in a category and predict the third one from the first two clues. We did reasonably well, but not brilliantly at this. The final game of the official program that night was Four-Letter Follies by WXYZ. This involved pairs listing four-letter words in various categories, with the catch that the two people were trying not to use any of the same letters. We also changed partners after every round. I came up with a good strategy in which one of us would try to use the vowels A, O, and Y, while the other would use E, I, and U. We didn’t plan anything about the consonants, but this worked well enough for me to end up with one of the high scores on the game.

But there is also the unofficial program. I played two Jeopardy! games – one by B-side (Milwaukee Jeopardy!) and one by Cazique and Saxifrage (Last Minute Jeopardy!) Both were rather too pop-culture heavy for me to do particularly well and I caught on to a key aspect of the latter way too slowly, but I had fun. I think I went to bed about 2 a.m.

I started Friday with a Volksmarch around downtown Milwaukee. There’s some pretty cool architecture, but I was limited in time to enjoy it as I was meeting a local friend for lunch. TJ and I had a reasonably good meal at Shah Jee’s, which serves cheap Pakistani food. We also walked around Bastille Days a bit before she had to go back to work. Then I went back to the hotel and decided I needed a nap before doing much of anything else. I was supposed to co-solve one of the conference cryptics with Carpe Diem, but she was looking for me while I was napping. And when I got up to look for her, she was napping. I ended up co-solving Mr. E’s cryptic with Dugeel, after which Carpe Diem and I got started on Fraz’s. We got fairly far, but there were other things to do – like eat dinner and do more puzzles.

The official program on Friday started with Points of Order by Jangler and Noam, which was a trivia game involving ranking a set of answers in a given order. For example, one question required listing a series of cities in order of population. My team was sure that Miami was the largest city, but I guess the standard metropolitan statistical areas are not what one would expect, as both Memphis and Milwaukee turned out to be larger. We also ended up failing to score on one question just because we didn’t manage to copy our answers from scratch paper to the answer sheet in time. Next up was Dropdown by Arcs. This involved listing answers that fit various categories, with the catch that you had to try to use the same letters in each answer as in the longer one below it. For some reason, this was hard for me to get my head around, though I did contribute a few useful answers. Finally, there was Swap Quiz by Rubrick, in which a set of trivia questions had words swapped between them, making ridiculous questions you needed to try to answer. I could answer most of them by the second question, but I did forget what was going on a couple of times, so didn’t score particularly well.

As for the unofficial program Saturday night, I played Noam’s Jeopardy! game, which was excellent. I did quite well, largely because he had some categories that were right up my alley, e.g. Centenarians, a subject of great interest to those of us who play in a ghoul pool. Then I played two of Dart’s games. Faster is always fun, albeit difficult. New this year was The Big Idea which involved guessing answers from a series of icons, which were revealed in groups. I was terrible at this, because I am just not a good visual thinker. We finished about 2:30 a.m. and I went to bed by 3.

After breakfast on Saturday, Carpe Diem and I finished Fraz’s cryptic. Then came the business meeting. The good news is that 2020 will be in Toronto. The bad news is that I won’t be able to be at next year’s con in Boulder, Colorado, as it is going to conflict with an eclipse cruise I will be on in South Pacific. That’s disappointing, but the con scheduling was driven by a significantly cheaper hotel rate and I can't fault people for voting in accord with their financial interests. And, of course, the cruise scheduling was driven by the sun and the moon. Oh, well, it’s not like I’m not already used to my life being a schedule conflict.

After lunch, there were a few official program games. That started with Time Test by Willz, which consisted of seven wordplay puzzles. I did not quite finish these in the allotted half-hour. I did better with Meshing Around by Manx. After that was the flat-solving competition, which I barely glanced at before opting for a nap in lieu of attempting it. Flats are a sort of puzzle, essentially cryptic clues in verse, which have a lot of variant forms, only a few of which I am really comfortable with. I am considerably better at napping.

There was a glitch with the con photo as we had to change locations, supposedly for insurance reasons. I am not sure how having a lot of people on narrow steps is better from any liability standpoint. I really have no interest in these things, so I should probably have just tried for a longer nap. Then came dinner, including the Golden Sphinx Awards (given for contributions to The Enigma), and a bunch of waiting around for the extravaganza, a set of linked puzzles, which is generally one of the highlights of con.

This year’s theme was Charm School, which had each time attempting to graduate from a school of magic. There were 9 puzzles to start with, with the twist that each answer had to be decoded using a set of five "magic wands" with letters on them. Each solved puzzle got you an additional puzzle, but the important part was that solving all of the first 9 got you a metapuzzle. My team could have been more efficient with how we approached some of the puzzles, particularly Puzzle 9, which had a very confusing conclusion, not helped by our getting bad advice when we asked for help. (That’s the catch with having multiple authors of an extravaganza, not all of whom apparently understood all aspects of it.) While this wasn’t my favorite set of extravaganza puzzles ever, there were some good ones and I did think the final payoff from the meta was very clever. I also felt that everybody on our team did contribute to solving, which is important to me.

After the extravaganza, I co-solved another cryptic with Capital R. I ended up going to bed relatively early (maybe 1:30 a.m.?) since I had an early-ish flight Sunday morning. It’s a good thing I believe in getting to airports early, as my 8:30 flight from MKE to ORD was delayed and I would have missed my connection had I not been there early enough to switch to the 7 a.m. flight. That even gave me time to eat breakfast at ORD before my flight to DCA. Our landing got delayed about 20 minutes as they put us in a holding pattern to clear the air space for a VIP. Still, I got home at a reasonable hour and promptly collapsed.

I feel like I did less stuff than I have at many previous cons. I also feel like I barely spoke with a few people who I usually spend more time hanging out with. I have no idea where some of the time went. But I did have a lot of fun and it was good just to get away from work for a couple of days.

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10 July 2018 @ 01:46 pm
The theme for Week 28 (July 9-15) is Travel.

I’ve said before that I think of my family as being, essentially, nomadic. My maternal grandfather, Simon LUBOWSKY (originally Szymek CHLEBIOCKY) is a good example. He was born in Tykocin, Poland. He studied at a yeshiva in (then) Palestine. I have no particular details about this, but remember having been told that the yeshiva was in Petah Tikva. He then moved to Havana, Cuba where his younger brother, Willi, knew somebody who would teach him watchmaking, which was a far more marketable skill than being a rabbi. He met and married my grandmother, Lillian SCHWARTZ(BARD), there and she brought him to the U.S., where he lived out the rest of his life in the Bronx.

His mother, Pearl GOLDMAN (probably originally GOLDWASER), was, we believe, from Zambrow, Poland. As far as I know, she never left Poland, but she had a brother, Isie, who fled to Mexico City to avoid conscription in the tsar’s army. Then he came to the U.S. via Brownsville, Texas. Another brother (I think Moshe, but don’t have good evidence) went to Buenos Aires. And a sister, Goldie KATZ, took a more normal path to the U.S.

My father’s side also includes journeys from Lithuania (including modern day Latvia and Belarus) to Argentina, Uruguay, and South Africa. The latter also includes modern day Zimbabwe.

I currently have relatives who live in Israel, France, and Cambodia. Willi passed through Canada on his way to New York. Oddly, I don’t know of any relatives in Australia.

I may yet end up the first in my family to live on another planet.

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09 July 2018 @ 03:34 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Steve Ditko co-created Spiderman. Claude Lanzmann was a documentarian, best known for Shoah. Shoko Asahara was the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, and was (along with 6 of his followers) executed for the sarin attack they perpetrated in the Tokyo subway in 1995. Vince Martin was a folk singer, best known for his work with Fred Neil, including "Tear Down These Walls." Alan Johnson was the choreographer for several films by Mel Brooks. Tab Hunter was a 50’s heartthrob actor.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: What with the Fourth of July being a Wednesday and my having my vacation time committed, I stayed in town. There are plenty of things I could have done, but the one I couldn’t resist was watching the Red Sox play the Nats. That did mean braving a certain crowd level on the metro, but I can handle that.

I’ve generally gone for the cheap seats at Nats Park, largely because of the views of the Capitol. Unfortunately, there has been so much construction in Southwest that you can just barely see the dome now. So I may switch my strategy in the future, as I can get a fine view of construction cranes in lots of other places. That would also make it faster to get to the better selection of concessions down on the field level concourse.

In the celebrity department, Elizabeth Dole made an appearance on behalf of a charity involving people who care for wounded veterans. And members of the cast of Hamilton sang the national anthem. There was, inevitably, a bit too much of gratuitous patriotic display. I will rant about that some time, but there are other things that are higher priorities for rants right now. (As a teaser, top of that list is my utter disgust at the discharge of dozens of immigrants who enlisted in the military with a promise of citizenship.)

As for the game itself, the Red Sox won, which is, of course, important for the state of the world. (Why, Scott Pruitt resigned the very next day! See!) What mostly made the difference was Eduardo Rodriguez, who pitched well. Erick Fedde, who started for the Nats, lasted just over an inning, claiming an injury, though it isn’t apparent what (if anything) happened.

Other Life Forms: I went to see this play at Keegan Theatre on Friday night. The story involves two couples on dates, arranged via an on-line dating service. One date is going well; the other, decidedly not. Vegetarians, libertarians, geologists, space aliens – there are all sorts of types who could be just wrong for you. Though, personally, I could easily see myself being attracted to a vegetarian, space alien, geologist, which has nothing to do with the play at hand. (I have dated vegetarians, geologists, and libertarians. I have not knowingly dated a space alien, though I have had my suspicions.) But to get back to the play, there’s a major plot twist that comes midway through Act 1.

Overall, this was a very funny play, though the second act got a bit preachy. It was still fun, overall. I should also note that the performances were excellent, particularly John Loughney’s as Jeff.

The Weekend: This was a rare weekend with nothing scheduled. I think that was the first such weekend since January.

I had good intentions involving all sorts of getting things in order, but my ambitions were outweighed by my need for regular naps. I did go out to see a movie in an actual theatre on Saturday (The Catcher Was a Spy about Moe Berg), to do some grocery shopping, and to have lunch with a friend. I was also supposed to help her with some paperwork, but she was having computer issues.

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06 July 2018 @ 10:48 am
The theme for Week 27 (July 2-8) is Independence.

Nobody in my family was anywhere near North America in 1776, so U.S. independence didn’t immediately impact my family history.

Lithuanian independence came after World War I and that did have a big influence on my family. Jews were expelled from much of Lithuania during the war and forced into certain Russian provinces. With Lithuanian independence in 1920, they were able to return and enjoy the rights of citizenship. Until, of course, the Russians invaded in 1941.

The other country whose independence mattered to my family is, of course, Israel. My great-uncle, Nahum FAINSTEIN, fought in the war of independence (after surviving the Kovno ghetto and Dachau). His children and grandchildren have been privileged to grow up in a country where they control their own destiny.

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05 July 2018 @ 09:46 am
Chia Coconut Cookies with Special Blend Black Tea: There’s one teabag and two cookies in this snack. It has 110 calories. The tea is good, though not particularly unusual. The cookies seemed a bit drier than in the past, but it could also be my faulty memory. They’re still tasty and not super-sweet.

Sweet Rhubarb Jam: This is a mix of apple slices, rhubarb slices, and dried cranberries. It has 100 calories. This is one of my favorite Graze fruit snacks – a good mix of sweet and tart. It’s unusual combinations like this (that I would never have thought of on my own) that are a lot of why I subscribe to Graze.

Sweet Mustard Ranch: This contains pretzels, sour cream and onion cashews, and mustard breadsticks. It has 130 calories. It’s very tasty – especially if you eat all the ingredients together.

Natural Vanilla Seeds: This is a mixture of vanilla-glazed pumpkin and sunflower seeds. It has 170 calories. Wow, these are delicious! I am talking a revelatory level of goodness. Just a bit sweet, with a perfect amount of vanilla flavor. As I already said, wow!

Lightly Salted Popping Corn: This is 130 calories worth of microwave popcorn. It’s pretty much the perfect portion size and pops up quickly and thoroughly, with few orphans. I’m not sure that there’s much more to say about it.

Peanut Butter & Jelly: This is a mixture of salted peanuts, raspberry strings, and vanilla fudge. It has 220 calories. The raspberry strings are especially delicious. A good sweet snack.

Sweet Memphis Barbecue: This consists of barbecue peas, salsa peanuts, and wild rice sticks. It has 190 calories. It’s got good crunch and is pretty tasty, but I’d like it to be a bit spicier than it is. Oddly, my favorite component is the wild rice sticks, which aren’t at all spicy.

Vanilla Pear Energizer: This is a mixture of dried pear slices, vanilla pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and almonds. It has 150 calories. I like all of the components of this snack, but I don’t think they harmonize particularly well. I found myself saving the vanilla pumpkin seeds for last, as they are the most interesting.

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03 July 2018 @ 02:46 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Big Van Vader was a professional wrestler, as was Matt Cappotelli. Constance Adams was an architect who designed space habitats and spaceports. Richard Benjamin Harrison was a Pawn Star. David Goldblatt was a South African photographer. Joe Jackson was the patriarch of the Jackson 5. Harlan Ellison was a science fiction writer. Liliane Montevecchi was a Tony-winning actress. Dame Gillian Lynne was a dancer and choreographer. Alan Longmuir was the bassist for the Bay City Rollers.

Charles Krauthammer was a political commentator. I agreed with some of his positions (primarily on Israel and on Trump) and disagreed with more. Regardless of that, I will always be grateful to him for founding the Jewish classical music series, Pro Musica Hebraica, which put on excellent concerts of music that deserves to be better known.

Donald Hall was a poet, essayist and critic. I heard him read when he was Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 2006. I particularly like that he wrote poems about baseball. I’ve also always loved the title of his memoir String Too Short to Be Saved.

Baseball Americana plus Michael Lewis: Wednesday night was book club, so I normally wouldn’t go out on Thursday night. But a friend had gotten free tickets to hear Michael Lewis (the author of Moneyball) speak at the Library of Congress. The ticket included early admission to the Baseball Americana exhibit, which officially opened on Friday. I got there too late to see much of the exhibit, so I definitely need to go back and spend a few hours there.

As for the talk, he was very entertaining. He apparently had a bit of high school baseball glory and his coach compared him to Catfish Hunter ("he also didn’t have a fastball"). My favorite line was that "children’s sports exist for the moral education of their parents." That was part of an anecdote about his children playing baseball in Berkeley, where the ideal was for a team to finish at .500 and then them being on travel teams where they had to cross the hills and play against Republicans. Overall, it was a very entertaining talk and I’m glad I went, despite my tiredness.

Better Said Than Done: Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done storytelling show at The Auld Shebeen. I told a story about the more normal summer camps I went to. I was having trouble finding an ending, but a spam email I got on Friday morning led me to exactly what I needed. It’s always fun when something works out in an unexpected way. Overall, it was a good show and the audience was responsive.

Hamilton; I saw Hamilton at the Kennedy Center on Sunday. It was very impressive, but I was glad for the open captioning as I could not have kept up with the rap sections otherwise. I’d argue that the rapping serves the role of operatic recitative, making the show closer to opera than to traditional music theatre, though really the whole thing is sui generis.

There are numerous historical accuracies, though I suspect the majority of them are Ron Chernow’s fault, rather than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s. The most egregious has to do with Angelica Schuyler, who was actually already married when she met Alexander Hamilton. I also think John Adams was treated unnecessarily harshly, though he was, after all, obnoxious and disliked. I’m also annoyed at the complete absence of my favorite founding father, Gouverneur Morris.

But whatever the historical flaws, it succeeded in making me more interested in Hamilton’s life and career, which makes it a success overall. I’d also be interested in seeing it again, as I know there are things I missed. (I did catch references ranging from Sondheim to Gilbert and Sullivan.)

I’ll also note that the orchestration is a bit strings-heavy, which is a good thing in my book, but might not be in everyone’s. I wasn’t really crazy about much of the choreography, which I thought was often a bit more frenetic than necessary and has way too much of people jumping on chairs. Still, I would probably benefit from seeing it again and being able to focus more on the staging without the distraction of the captioning.

As for performances, I thought Austin Scott (who played the title role) could have been more energetic, as he was overshadowed by Nicholas Christopher as Aaron Burr and, especially, Carvens Lissaint as George Washington. But this is definitely an ensemble show and the cast did, in general, work well together.

Bottom line is that it is, indeed, a great show. But I still think Guys and Dolls and West Side Story are the best musicals of all time.

I should also note that it is a nice change when the audience demographics look fairly diverse, instead of the more typical experience of a theatre full of older white people. I have been to way too many shows where I am one of a handful of people who can walk unassisted.

Living on the Surface of the Sun: Sheesh, it is hot out. I was outside a bit more than I’d have preferred yesterday, since I went to see the documentary Three Identical Strangers at the DC JCC. And today I discovered that a shuttle bus I needed to take was running only every half hour instead of the normal every 15 minutes, so I roasted while waiting for it. It would have been helpful if they’d put a note to that effect on the schedule board at the stop, instead of the schedule change from March of last year that was posted.

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02 July 2018 @ 02:46 pm

  1. Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein. I suggested this to my book club and it got enough votes to end up as one of our selections. This is a mixture of information about memory techniques and Foer’s personal story of his attempt to win the U.S. Memory Championship. I found this thoroughly fascinating. Given that the women of the book club are all in an age group where we do worry about losing our memories, we had a good discussion about it, too.

  2. Susan Feldman (editor), African Myths & Tales. On the plus side, this book identifies the tribal origins of the stories included. It very usefully includes several variants of the same story (from different tribes), allowing one to compare them. But I could have used more background on the tribal groups and their histories. At the very least, a map would have been helpful. As for the stories themselves, there are only a few I have any interest in telling, but that is typical of folktale collections.

  3. Maisie Mosco, From the Bitter Lands. I believe this has also been published under the title Almonds and Raisins. It has to do with a Jewish family who have emigrated from Russia (really, modern day Latvia – they are from Dvinsk) to England and their struggles to settle into life in early 20th century Manchester. Sarah, the matriarch of the Sandberg family is a strong character, holding the family together through World War I and the Depression. Her eldest son, David, has to sacrifice his own ambitions for the good of the family, which leads to other types of tension. I found this an interesting book, though some of the transliterations of Yiddish words were bizarre.

  4. Ann Hood, The Obituary Writer. This was another book club book. It’s a novel involving two women – one in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake; the other in the northeast in 1960. The former story was more interesting because, even though the woman involved has put her life on hold until she finds out the fate of her lover, at least she is less whiny than the 1960 woman who I thought had gotten what she deserved by manipulating a powerful man into marrying her. I figured out fairly easily how the two stories were going to connect. That did not, alas, make me like the characters any better.

  5. Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I read this at the recommendation of a friend who compared it to A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project, both of which I had enjoyed. I’m pleased to say it was a good recommendation. Eleanor Oliphant is a socially awkward woman who tries to change her life when she falls for a rock star. In the meantime, she’s become friendly with a nerdy guy she works with. There are a lot of amusing incidents, but there are also serious undertones. I was also surprised at part of the ending. Overall, I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly.

  6. Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie. Atwood based a poetry collection on the journals of a woman who came to rural Canada in the 19th century. She ties the poems about isolation and struggling to belong to modern life, imagining Moodie at the end as an elderly woman on a Toronto bus. Interesting, but I prefer Atwood's prose to her poetry.

  7. Maisie Mosco, Scattered Seed. This is the second book in the trilogy that started with From the Bitter Lands. I’m not sure if I have the third book. (These were out of the Mom collection.) This one focused on the next generation of the Sandberg family and is somewhat focused on how involved with Judaism they want to be. That includes a couple of people marrying out. There are particularly interesting female characters. I enjoyed reading this, though I am not sure how interesting it would be to non-Jews.

  8. Meryl Gordon, The Phantom of Fifth Avenue. This was another book club book, and, actually, another one I had suggested. It has to do with Huguette Clark, the heiress to a copper fortune, and the complicated dispute over her estate. She spent the last 20 or so years of her life living in a hospital, despite not having any physical health problems. During that period she gave away a lot of money, including $31 million in cash and property to her primary nurse. There are a lot of characters to try to keep track of, which made this book a bit of a slog at times, but it was still worth reading. We had a good discussion about how other people should live their lives. There is, by the way, at least one other book out about Huguette Clark and I may decide to pick it up someday.

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