At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

view from mt baldy Posted by Hello

Friday, September 17, 2004

Book Reviews

Rubin, Harriet. Dante in Love: The World’s Greatest Poem and How It Changed History. Simon and Shuster.

Library Journal: “Rubin is well versed in Dante scholarship, and she skillfully draws on various translations of the Comedy and an array of other academic works. Yet she could have organized her knowledge better; much of the text seems to flow from one idea to the next without articulate transition. Recommended for academic libraries.” Publishers Weekly: “The infectious blend of accessibility, erudition and practical wisdom that characterized Rubin’s previous The Princessa is abundantly present in her Dante in Love. That Rubin is able to interweave—without oversimplification—such occasionally arcane material into a compelling and fast-paced narrative speaks to an overall sense of great learning lightly worn and of a trust in the reader’s intelligence not always evident in such popularizing accounts.” Kirkus: “Pleasant, informative. An almost ecstatic exegesis of The Divine Comedy, with breezy commentary on all three of its canticles. There are some eye-openers here for general readers and those unfamiliar with the poem. Rubin’s summary of the theory that Dante’s views of Gothic cathedrals in France inspired the architecture of the Comedy, her emphasis on the importance of memory in medieval societies, her unfettered enthusiasm for the poem—these are the real attractions. As, for the most part, is her felicitous prose.” Wilson Quarterly: “Dante’s enduring devotion to Beatrice, Rubin contends, is what induced Dante to write. This weak echo of Shakespeare in Love, in which only Gwyneth Paltrow can inspire the Bard to finish Romeo and Juliet, is hardly as compelling as Rubin’s taut reading of the influence of exile on the Comedy. The real love here is Rubin’s passion for Dante. She follows him relentlessly and imagines what he saw. Combined with her erudition and wit, this love makes Rubin a trustworthy Virgil to guide us through Dante’s exile.” Choice: “Dante scholars will not find any new information here, because Rubin intends this very readable book as an introduction to The Divine Comedy. She provides much background information on the period during which Dante lived and wrote, and she succeeds well in giving a portrait of the age. Essential.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I took last Thursday and Friday off and went to Adobe Town for a long weekend getaway. The Southern Baptist Convention runs a large retreat center in the conifer-clad Sangre de Cristo mountains, and our university owns a "cabin" on the grounds. (The word led me to expect something rustic but it's actually a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house, larger and more nicely furnished than the house I live in.) The university lets staff rent the place for $25 a weekend, a mere pittance taking into account the inflated hotel prices in that touristy region. The only disadvantage is that the waiting list is about a year long.

Thursday: It took me six hours of driving through sparsely populated farm and ranch land to get to the retreat center in Glorieta. After unloading the car and taking a nap, I drove the twenty miles of curving and rolling interstate through the desert hills to Santa Fe. I meandered a bit around the historic downtown and then ate at an Indian restaurant which was good but pricey. I enjoyed the Maharaja beer, a foamy Bombay brew I had never heard of before. After dinner I drove to a movie theater to watch Confidences Trop Intimes (see below).

Friday: I didn't know it when I reserved the cabin last year, but this happened to be Santa Fe's "Fiesta" weekend. The celebration commemorates the uncontested Spanish retaking of the city in 1692 from the Indians, who had led a successful "Pueblo Revolt" twelve years earlier. So this day I hung around the downtown plaza to watch the festivities, which opened with a procession of flag bearers, dignitaries (the Archbishop, the Mayor, Governor Richardson), mariachi musicians, and local youngsters dressed up as conquistadors, Spanish and Indian princesses, and Franciscan friars. There were some speeches, historical skits with forgivably bad acting, lots of mariachi music (both scheduled performances on the sound stage and impromptu concerts that kept breaking out on street corners and alleyways), and Indian dancing by local Pueblo dwellers, all permeated by the smell of fried food served up at booths lining the city square. Later in the afternoon I took a quick look at some old churches and then decided to walk to a New Mexican restaurant I read about in a travel guide. I underestimated the distance and spent about 40 minutes in the heat walking through residential and business districts, but was rewarded at the end with a spicy bowl of posole and a cold Dos Equis on tap. Walking back to old town, I took in some flamenco at the historic Lensic Theatre. I admired the performance more than I enjoyed it, to be honest. Heels blistered and feet aching, I was glad to get back to the cabin and relax.

Saturday: I devoted this day to hiking. It was alternatively fun and miserable, peaceful and scary. The trail I took rose 2,700 feet from the retreat center to the top of Mt. Baldy, site of an old forest service fire tower. The weather was perfect and the crisp mountain air exuded a Christmas tree fragrance. On the way up I saw a couple of empty shells of cars from the 1930s and a pile of rotting lumber where a hotel used to be. The trail went mostly through conifer forest but occasionally there were bright glades of aspen and green alpine meadows. The hike was strenuous and I considered giving up a couple of times, but the occasional bend in the trail lured me on with the hope that the end was just around the corner. Eventually I made it to the east-west road that led to the lookout point, and took in the spectacular vista from the top step of the fire tower. (The cabin was locked up.)

The foot trail continued down the other side of the mountain, but I decided to go back the way I came, just to be safe. So ironic...I practically skipped back down the dirt road, thinking about how much easier it was going downhill and about what I was going to have for dinner. The time passed deceptively quickly until I realized that I seem to have gone further down the dirt road than I initially came. After a few more minutes I decided I had definitely passed by the trail. Two mountain bikers regally arrayed in synthetic fabric and polystyrene armor zipped down the road. I flagged them down and asked about the trail; one said "Oh, you way overshot it. We've been descending for about ten minutes. I'd say you've got at least a fifty minute hike back up." I groaned inwardly. It was getting late, I was already exhausted, and now I would have to slog upward, at a steep grade, for an hour more. I tried to suppress thoughts of becoming a Reader's Digest true survival story as I alternated hiking and resting. Around five o'clock I made it back up to the top, but even after scanning the wayside carefully I simply could not find even the traces of a trail. I went up to the fire tower and found two women--middle-aged, leather-skinned, fit specimens who looked like they had plenty of hiking experience--sitting at the base drinking water. They assured me that the continuation of the trail going down the other side of the mountain ended up at the same trailhead in the valley. So down I went for another two or so hours, worrying as the sun fell that the women were mistaken. But as dusk settled I stepped out of the woods and limped towards my car. Strangely, though I had only had a handful of peanuts for breakfast, I didn't feel hungry, and when I dragged myself to Furr's cafeteria in Santa Fe I could only force myself to take a few bites. Does physical exertion shrink your stomach?

Sunday: The last day of Fiesta. I ate breakfast at the retreat center (appetite most definitely returned), packed up, and drove into town for the festival day Mass. A procession similar to Friday's headed from the plaza to the Cathedral. Four men bore on a litter an old statue of the Virgin Mary, "La Conquistadora," that General De Vargas himself had brought to Santa Fe at the reoccupation. The Mass switched from English to Spanish, and being familiar with the liturgy I knew what was going on. Most of the service music was Mariachi; the stations of the cross were Hispanic folk primitivist paintings. At the end of the Mass about a dozen Indians in traditional garb danced up the aisle to the booming of leather drums.

There were a few more activities scheduled but I needed to get on the road.

Screenings last week:

Zatoichi (The Blind Swordsman)--So-so Samurai flick. You know the drill: itinerant bladeslinger wanders into village and singlehandedly cuts down hordes of gangsters. Unnecessary flashbacks slow down the plot. The CGI blood spurts are cheesy. Totally out of place song-and-dance routines. Pretty good decors and costuming though. I've decided I like Kung Fu better than Samurai movies because the former at least have intricately choreographed fights, whereas battles in the latter tend to consist of artless slashing and stabbing.

Confidences Trop Intimes--French drama about Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire), a housewife who, showing up for an appointment with a psychologist, walks into the wrong office and pours out her tales of marital discord to a lonely, introverted tax attorney (Fabrice Luchini). Even after the misunderstanding is cleared up, Anna foregoes professional help and continues the informal tete-a-tetes. Though understated, the movie has enough conflict, wry humor, and sexual tension to maintain interest. Sometimes the visual cues were too obvious--blatant zoom shots on Luchini's fidgeting hands or Bonnaire's cleavage, for instance. Since I could see myself becoming Luchini's character in a decade or so, I can only hope it isn't too unrealistic that destiny would drop a woman like Bonnaire into a confirmed bachelor's lap--which is also the question I asked myself when watching Remains of the Day.

Link Dump!!!

Report questions alcohol's heart-healthy effects. This is strange: "Analyzing data from a decade-long study, researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of heart disease, but only among whites. Among black men, the opposite was true -- alcohol consumption was associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death from heart disease."

Alcohol increases risk of breast cancer.

Even small amounts of alcohol can damage the fetus.

Green tea extract fights liver damage in mice

Miyazaki's latest gets warm welcome at Venice Film Festival. "The audience who packed the 1,000-capacity hall exploded into applause and whistles for more than five minutes after the show." Something to look forward to.

Parisian police stumble upon mysterious underground cinema. A group called the "Perforating Mexicans" has taken credit for it.

Forthcoming biography of Django Reinhardt from Oxford University Press.

I don't think I'll be ordering this book for our library.

Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Church of Greece, has instructed churches in the Athens area to start conducting New Testament readings in Modern Greek." Protestantizing!