Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Among the bohemians

From our rental car
on the ferry to Tadoussac
So as not to miss the ferry 75 kilometers away at the Saguenay Fjord or the whale-watching boat in Tadoussac, we left our hotel in La Malbaie before 5 a.m. I added three half-hour contingencies, one for traffic, one for the ferry, and another for good measure. The Deans were nothing if not prudent.
    The first traffic of note that were cars and trucks just unloaded from or waiting to be loaded onto the Tadoussac ferry. Indeed, we did have to wait about twenty minutes for the next ferry, during which time I had a pleasant conversation with a Québécois towing a boat behind his SUV. He had more English than I French, so informed me in English that he was going fishing. "I'm going to catch a trout."
    The Deans were also lucky. (I started to say are lucky, but why tempt fate?) We arrived in Tadoussac with plenty of time to have breakfast at the restaurant where we planned to have lunch after whale-watching:

    Café bohème tries to live up to its name, with many canvases on its up- and downstairs walls reminiscent of the twenties and thirties:

    Upstairs was cozy, with the bay partly visible through its windows:

    Although I didn't know it yet, the embarkation point for our whale-watching boat would be to the left of the private boats in the distance, and the Centre d'interprétation des mammifères marins to their right:

Click to enlarge

And, back for lunch, there were those desserts I spoke of on Saturday:

Click to see Saturday's post

If you are ever in Tadoussac, let a hostess at the Café bohème "assign you" a table. She'll even let you sit on the front veranda if the weather permits.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Among the baleines

Got some great photos up off Tadoussac, Quebec ten days ago, where we'd taken a day trip from La Malbaie for a boat tour to watch whales on the St. Lawrence River and the Saguenay Fjord:

I of course have to confess that I didn't take those from the boat, but from the back-lighted display at the Centre d'interprétation des mammifères marins (Marine Mammal Interpretation Center), which we visited afterwards:

[More such images here]
    As my friend Ken Marks kindly remarked to comfort me: "If you get a good shot of a whale, you've had a damn lucky day. I once when out on a boat in search of orcas. Got nothing but a black flash here and a black flash there."
    Or, as the guide at le Centre d'interprétation des mammifères marins told, "It took three years to get the photographs for the 18-minute documentary you are about to watch."

A few of my own, modest photos follow, taken of and from the boat, using one or the other of our Nikon Coolpix cameras (my wife's P100 and my P300, which I use for digiscoping—all shots hand-held):

Our boat, as we waited to board

Zoom to the Hotel Tadoussac
(We didn't stay here; it was a day trip from La Malbaie)

One of twenty or so images in "sports" mode

Another one of twenty or so images in "sports" mode

Haut Fond Prince Lighthouse,
out in the St. Lawrence from Tadoussac

St. Lawrence coast east of Tadoussac
(the north side of the river)
Mouth of the Saguenay Fjord
(Tadoussac ferry harbor to the right)

A Minke whale (a baleine)
A couple of Beluga whales
we were told that they live here year-round
I tried to make movies, and did manage one that shows several belugas jumping (white flashes, to paraphrase Ken), but it's so jumpy I fear that you'd suffer eye strain or headache if I showed it to you.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Always on Sunday: Lark Rise to Candleford

Sundays feature a movie review. The column's title is a play on the title of Jules Dassin's 1960 film, Never on Sunday.
My wife and I haven't missed an episode of Lark Rise to Candleford, which is currently being broadcast by UNC-TV at 7 p.m. each Sunday.
    Here's the basic scoop:
Lark Rise to Candleford (BBC TV 2008-11, 40 episodes) [Wikipedia: A British television costume drama series, adapted by the BBC from Flora Thompson's trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels about the English countryside, published between 1939 and 1943...Set in the small Oxfordshire hamlet of Lark Rise and the wealthier neighbouring market town of Candleford towards the end of the 19th century. The series chronicles the daily lives of farm workers, craftsmen, and gentry, observing the characters in loving, boisterous, and competing communities of families, rivals, friends, and neighbours. The narrative is seen through the eyes of a teenage girl, Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan [see photograph]), as she leaves Lark Rise to start a new life under the wing of her cousin, the independent and effervescent Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha), who is postmistress in Candleford.] [E]
    We're looking forward to the sixteenth episode (Episode 6 of Season 2) this evening. We love it. As one reviewer wrote on the Internet Movie Database website (IMDb.com):
Granted, it's a fairy tale, but it's a mighty pleasant one. And after all, what's so bad about having one show on television that actually leaves you feeling better about people?
I realize that syrupy recommendations like that get old fast. In fact, I read only a fraction of IMDb's viewer reviews. But here's another one:
This series is beautifully made with wonderful actors, it's wonderful Sunday night viewing. It is not complicated but is very addictive. Week by week you seem to grow to love the characters and the places more. It reminds me in a funny way of "Darling Buds of May," with its gentle pace and lovely scenery and a glimpse of a different bygone era, which although it probably never existed it is still nice to watch and imagine it did. And anything with the lovely Brendan Coyle in it gets my vote! [He plays Laura Timmins's father, Robert.]
    If the name Brendan Coyle seems familiar, he plays Lord Grantham's valet, John Bates, in the current BBC series, Downton Abbey, which I noticed in Woodstock, Vermont this week the public library is exploiting to raise money; they're selling "Watch Downton Abbey" bumper stickers or something.
    But Lark Rise to Candleford reminds me too of The Darling Buds of May (1991-93, with Catherine Zeta-Jones). We enjoyed that as well, spotted it in the Mebane public library's TV collection. It features the fine comic and dramatic actor David Jason (as the father of the Zeta-Jones character), whose1992-2010 detective series, A Touch of Frost, is reliably, suspensefully entertaining. We watched all of its forty-two episodes in (I swear) less than a month (by way of Netflix instant download).
    Another viewer reported something perhaps surprising about Lark Rise to Candleford:
There are many story lines yet they all link into one, the acting is superb and hilarious [?], an extremely worthwhile period drama and I am very pleased to say that my cousins who are 15 and 17 year old males, are absolutely obsessed[emphasis mine]. Who knows, we could have them watching Jane Austen next!
The writing, too, I think, is superb. For example, in the last episode we watched (Season 2, Episode 5), the postman Thomas Brown, played by Mark Heap, is feeling lots of pressure to marry Miss Ellison (Sandy McDade), who has made it clear that she very much wants to have children. Thomas, however, who is a punctillious Christian with a well-thumbed Bible, is horrified by the thought of being a father, despite his being manifestly very good at soothing the Timmins's new baby, whom the postmistress (Dorcas Lane) is taking care of for a few weeks to give Laura's mother a rest. He has even gone so far as to protest that God has made it very clear to him that he is not cut out for fatherhood. Dorcas shrewdly leads Thomas to question why, then, is he so good with the baby? Shortly, Thomas realizes that he is being shown signs and wonders and readily relents, to everyone's delight.
    "How true to the man's character," said my wife.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Little bursts

One of the short stories that comprise Elizabeth Strout's 2008 novel, Olive Kitteridge, is titled, "A Little Burst."
Olive's private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as "big bursts" and "little bursts." Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee's, let's say, or the waitress at Dunkin' Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really. [pp. 68-69]
    I read the story Thursday, on our return flight from vacation in Vermont and Quebec.

Here are some of the little bursts I experienced while away from home:

When we entered Terminal A at Logan Airport for our return flight, I recognized the first person I saw, the tall African "porter" who eight days earlier had managed the airport's courtesy wheel chair for my wife upon our arrival from Raleigh-Durham.
    "I know you!" I said. "Do you recognize us?"
    He didn't seem to recognize me, but when my wife appeared through the door behind me, he threw up his hands in greeting. He obtained a wheel chair and got my wife seated, then put one of our carry-ons under the seat and pulled the other as he pushed my wife toward the head of a line in the Delta baggage check. I tagged along, pulling our two larger bags.
    He then proceeded to shepherd us through security, down a floor in the elevator, and on to our departure gate.
    Before taking his leave, he pressed his palms together in front of his face and bowed his head, then squeezed both of my wife's hands. I stuck in a hand to get some squeeze and to leave a five in one of his. What a dear, courtly man.
    After I finished reading Strout's short story, this regal man's being my wife's porter again was the first little burst I remembered from our vacation.

In Tadoussac, after our return from a whale-watching cruise the preceding Friday on the St. Lawrence River and up the Saguenay Fjord, we had lunch at the Cafe Boheme. Our desserts were so délicieux that, having failed to take a picture of them on our plates, I re-visited the dessert cabinet. Camera out, I looked up to discover myself being smiled upon bemusedly by one of the young women who attended customers.
    Such a smile! Such loveliness to discover beholding me! Such desserts!

A sort of caramel-filled mousse cupcake
"Croustillant au Chocolat"

At the Woodstock Inn on Monday, I had written a note to my sister who was convalescing from surgery to mend a broken hip, and I needed a postage stamp. The concierge told me I could purchase one in their gift shop.
    The woman behind the counter there told me they just sold the last one.
    "But," said the man she had been talking with when we entered, "I'm just off to the post office to buy some."
    "Where is the post office," I said, holding up my envelope.
    "Oh, I can take care of that for you," he said.
    "Great," I said. I handed him the envelope and pulled change out of my pocket. "How much is a stamp these days?"
    "Oh, never mind that," he said. "It's on me."

Our first evening in Woodstock, Vermont (the preceding Sunday), I was passing its Norman Williams Public Library and thought I saw a light on, so I started up the steps.
    "Not open," called out the observant man I'd seen piling up branches around the big tree in front of the library.
    "Ah," I said, "will it be open tomorrow?"
    "Nine o'clock," he said, with a reader's confidence.

During our light dinner last Saturday on the sidewalk at Café Chez-Nous in La Malbaie, Quebec, a tiny chartreuse insect landed in my wife's water glass—fallen, I assumed, from the tree under which we were situated. I offered to rescue it with a spoon, but my wife waved me off.
    Moments later, the little creature had rescued itself by swimming to the edge, ascending the wall, and perching uncertainly on the glass's rim, where it proceeded to circle for some minutes, seeming to try to figure out its next step.
    I'm reminded now of Robert Frost's poem, "A Considerable Speck," which ends with the lines:
I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind.
    I offered the bug my paper napkin, and, after considerable hesitation, he walked onto it.
    I was about to carry him to a flowering plant along the sidewalk when the waitress returned and the little fellow seemed to fly or jump onto her.
    I still hope he made it safely from there to the bosom of what served for home.

Last night, our second night back home, both my wife and I at points during the night awoke thinking we were still in a hotel room. I couldn't even identify what hotel it might have been as I tried to remember which way it was to the bathroom. I think it's over there. And it wasn't until I passed through its door that I realized I was back home.
    "We weren't confused the first night," my wife said, "because we let Siegfried sleep on the bed. We slept more soundly last night."
    We actually started out last night with Siegfried on the bed, but he was on the "love seat" (his usual bed) this morning.
    I think I sleep just as soundly with Siegfried on the bed as off, but perhaps he doesn't?
    Did he awake on the love seat last night imagining he was still at the kennel?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fish for Friday

This column serves up fish caught by casting our hook into the waters of recent correspondence, thus abstaining from our usual practice of blogging on anything whatsoever.
   Only fish will be served that we think will be good for you, either for information or for provocation to think about something new, or about something old but from a different perspective.
Mitt Romney says that he differs with his grandfather about marriage. Mitt believes it should be between one man and one woman. His grandfather believed it should be between one man and several women.

Wall Street Journal, July 16:
Next year, when Yale University welcomes students to its joint venture with the National University of Singapore, campus political life will likely bear little resemblance to that of its Ivy League model....
    [The] Singapore campus won't allow political protests, nor will it permit students to form partisan political societies....
A Yale Classmate comments:
Has [Yale University President] Levin forgotten that he’s the keeper of an academy, not a business? Is the corporation totally driven by the "globalization" profit motive?
    Or does someone have a justification for an academy without freedom of speech and freedom of assembly?
And another, commenting on the comment:
While I agree with the fundamental premise that Yale’s mission does not involve founding colleges throughout the world, we should remember that when Yale was founded it was not exactly a bastion of free speech or free assembly. My puritan ancestors (including John Maynard, who arrived in the Bay Colony in 1638) were for freedom of religion only as applied to themselves. Jews, Quakers, and even Anglicans were not welcome. Accordingly, the fact that a new college in Singapore is going to have to make accommodations with a less than perfect democracy hardly surprises me. The important thing is that those who are there fight for the freedoms that we have but that weren't given to us but won through generations of struggle.
Babbling brook


    Tired of eating in restaurants, my wife and I shared beans and rice near this spot Wednesday evening. The brook runs through Woodstock, Vermont as its water falls toward the Ottauquechee River, now less than a quarter of a mile away.
    To create the video, I hand-held the Nikon Coolpix P300 that I use for digiscoping.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thor's Day: God, une belle hypothèse

Joseph-Louis Lagrange
Thursday of the week is devoted to airing out religion and religions. The column's title, "Thor's Day," comes from the etymology of the word Thursday, literally "Thor's Day."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Always on Sunday: Warrior

Sundays feature a movie review. The column's title is a play on the title of Jules Dassin's 1960 film, Never on Sunday.
My wife wouldn't watch Warrior with me. Too violent. Men going to war in an octagonal ring defined by cyclone fencing?
    But up front, before I say another word, I loved it.
    Would I love to go to an actual mixed martial arts tournament? No, I don't think so. Not even if offered free tickets and all expenses paid.
    For, despite the carefully studied and staged realism of the fight scenes in Warrior (about ten of them), the violence is acted, not real. And none of the actors got hurt (badly).
Warrior (2011: Gavin O'Connor) [The youngest son (Tom Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nick Nolte) returns home, where he's trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament—a path that puts the fighter on a collision corner with his older brother (Joel Edgerton)] [E] 6-3-2012
    Actors Hardy and Edgerton had to be schooled intensively in mixed martial arts. The other actors in the ring were professionals. They had to be schooled to do their thing for make-believe, not for real. Their schooling emphasized not maiming Hardy or Edgerton.

You know, actually, I don't need to say any more. You're either going to watch Warrior or not based on
  • what I've already said,
  • the short summary above (from the Internet Movie Database; and there's a more detailed plot summary there if you need to know more),
  • my rating the movie Excellent, and
  • how closely your taste in movies matches mine.
    If you study my list of Last 100 Last Movies Watched and compare your ratings of its movies you've seen with my ratings of them, you can develop a sense of how well our tastes match.)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Crinum Lily's second season

I was delighted to hear my wife shout out recently (July 15) to tell me that her Crinum Lily (Crinum Ellen Bosanquet) was in full bloom again.

    The flower's first blooming is shown in photos I took last July.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fish for Friday

This column serves up fish caught by casting our hook into the waters of recent correspondence, thus abstaining from our usual practice of blogging on anything whatsoever.
   Only fish will be served that we think will be good for you, either for information or for provocation to think about something new, or about something old but from a different perspective.
You know that old saying about people who do not learn from history being bound to repeat it? The world is proving that today.
    The problems with cleaning up capitalism are two-fold: 1) it has gained acceptance simply because it has survived so long; 2) it has done so with much government aid, yet has avoided the "socialism" tag because much of that backing was military and infrastructure support.
    The main reason capitalism has succeeded is because instead of ending slavery in the Western Hemisphere, it "offshored" it. This gave Western capitalists a huge advantage over less savvy, less mercenary regions of the world.
    The second reason capitalism has succeeded is it never had to factor the cost of environmental ruination, human suffering, military support, and industrial subsidies into the true expense of doing business.
    With those advantages so deep-seated and accepted, only a revolution will ever change it—a revolution not unlike the one that brought Castro and similar individuals to power.
    For business people to claim that capitalism is the opposite of socialism is absurd. If not for all the "non-capitalists" paying taxes for military support, environmental clean-ups, and the highway/railway/seaport infrastructure that make capitalism function, it could not possibly succeed.

On July 13, at a hundred campaign offices nationwide, thousands of MoveOn members delivered a message to Mitt Romney demanding that he release his tax returns. It's working. Pressure is mounting from all sides.
    Romney's campaign is now saying he "retired retroactively" from Bain Capital before Bain really hit its stride outsourcing American jobs. He also earned a $100,000 annual salary while supposedly not involved in Bain "in any way."
    And from just one year of past tax returns, we know Romney has tucked away potentially millions in a Swiss bank account and notorious tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
    Even Romney's Republican allies are publicly telling him he has to release more of his tax returns.
                [–Justin Ruben, MoveOn.org Political Action]

It seems to be a normal "guy" thing (and lately also more of a "girl" thing) to want to keep score at anything we do. In my view, that has been the real secret of the success of Facebook: a place for people to flaunt their friends "score" and their presumed superior lifestyle to others. Isn't 98% of it basically Hey, look at me?
    A lot of the Facebook addicts I know today were cocaine addicts back in the 80s and 90s—models, art directors, ad execs, etc., and I can tell you they were slimmer, better looking, and a lot more productive and fun when hooked on cocaine instead of Facebook.
    It's amazing to me how so many people today live absolutely dead-end boring lives because they are on Facebook eight hours or more a day, yet they keep posting, Hey, look at me!

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. Well, for example, the other day my wife and I went into town and went into a shop. We were in there no more that ten minutes. When we came out, a cop was writing out a parking ticket. We went up to him and said, "How about giving a senior citizen a break?"
    He ignored us and continued writing the ticket. I called him a turd. He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having worn tires.
    So my wife called him a shit-head. He finished the second ticket, put it on the windshield with the first, and started writing a third.
    This went on for about twenty minutes. The more we abused him, the more tickets he wrote. Personally, we didn't care. We had come into town by bus and noticed that the car had a Romney sticker on it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thor's Day: God's existence proved

Rene Descartes famously said,
"Cogito ergo sum."
Thursday of the week is devoted to airing out religion and religions. The column's title, "Thor's Day," comes from the etymology of the word Thursday, literally "Thor's Day."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The animal lovers convention, part 3

[continued from yesterday]
Having just been introduced to give a speech on "The Appreciation of Pets" to the annual convention of pest controllers, I don't know how I managed to stand up, but I did. I rose and walked to the lectern, the butterflies in my chest battling me the whole way.
    In a Toastmasters club meeting, when you're called to speak impromptu on a table topic, your stomach often fills up with butterflies. A purpose of table topics is to help people learn to control their butterflies.
    But I was feeling worse than a butterfly infestation. I was about to address two thousand strangers—for fifteen minutes! I think I had dragonflies in my chest.
    In a high voice, I squeaked, "Thank you," to polite applause. I struggled to relax and bring my voice back down to normal.
    "As your chairman said, I will talk on the topic—" I cleared my throat. "The Extermination of Pests."
    I cleared my throat again. "Good morning, fellow—" I frowned and cleared my throat some more.
    "Good morning, pest controllers! You are gathered here, two thousand strong, to celebrate your heritage of...of exterminating pests. And...and there's a lot of it about these days...a lot of pests...Why, every American, without exception, has pests...."
    Oh, my dear reader, it was a long, long fifteen minutes. And even now, nineteen years later, I don't know how I got through that speech. But I did. There was no standing ovation, no tumultuous applause—not much applause of any kind.
    But I did get through it.
    The chairman even made me an honorary member of the National Pest Control Association and placed on my head their official headgear, an orange baseball cap with a gangly black spider on the bill. He received loud applause for that.
    Then he handed me a check for $3,000 and whispered, "See, those fortune tellers sometimes know what they're talking about."
    I still have the cap, too, but the uniquely honoring spider is long gone.
    And I finally figured out why there weren't any Toastmasters in the audience that day. Pest controllers naturally think they can control their own butterflies.

Self-portrait made on July 15