Friday, November 21, 2014

Mr. Sammler's Planet: Mr. Sammler Is the Moon

(I read this novel for the Classics Club challenge.)

For much of Mr. Sammler's Planet, Artur Sammler reminds me of a gasping fish on a garbage heap. In some ways, he is also like the moon.

Why is he gasping for air?

Sammler is living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1960s. He has a keen eye for all the ways society is crumbling. He makes note of the crudeness and immaturity, the lack of dignity and stuntedness in people's behavior. As an intellectual, he is asked at one point to give a talk at a university and is soundly rejected by the audience for being old and impotent. Society, he thinks, has been given over to children and barbarians.

Had the book stayed on this level, of an elderly intellectual analyzing the defects of the society around him, it would not have been as interesting as what it becomes. Because, even as Mr. Sammler assesses the surrounding degradations, he doesn't think that he has any solutions to offer.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Week in Seven Words #232 & 233


Inside, it's quiet. There are dead plants and a warm, wet smell. A machine is whistling from another room. Rot and the promise of monsters in the middle of the afternoon.

Among flowers, a firefighter, frozen, clutches a small child.

From the border of her yard, she watched the ships pass in and out of the harbor. Even after they slid from view, she remained where she stood and observed how the water resettled in their wake.

Dashing across a road with no crosswalks, drivers unwilling to slow down or stop.

Smoke spreads from the grills, and music blares, and motors hum. Festivity means as much noise and odor as possible.

Wind sliding over bright sunny water.

They're crowing, they're pushing each other around, they've inked their baby-fine skin with flames and hearts. They're so young and so hellbent on piling experience on themselves, no matter what the cost, because they think that's the way to grow up faster.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): What's in the wine and in the window seat?

Title: Arsenic and Old Lace
Director: Frank Capra
Language: English
Rating: Not Rated

"Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops."

So says Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), a drama critic who at the start of the movie gets married to Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) after years of confirmed bachelorhood. En route to their honeymoon, they stop by the house of Mortimer's kindly old aunts, Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha (Jean Adair), who are known in their community as generous women, donating toys to poor children, visiting the sick, and performing other charitable acts.

As Mortimer discovers, after a look under their window seat in the front parlor, their idea of charity also includes killing off lonely old men. It takes some time for Mortimer to wrap his head around the fact that his aunts could be doing this.
Mortimer: What happened to him?!
Martha: He died.
Mortimer: Look, Aunt Martha, men don't just get into window seats and die!
Abby: Look now, dear, he died first.

Up until that point, Mortimer had assumed his family's madness was confined to his older brother, Teddy (John Alexander), who believes he's Teddy Roosevelt - and that his family's darker impulses were confined to his other brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey), a sadist who hasn't been seen in 20 years (but of course will show up, with Peter Lorre in tow to up the creep factor).

Meantime, Elaine - who doesn't know what's going on - is wondering why Mortimer suddenly seems so absent-minded and panicky, so unready to embark on their life of wedded bliss. (When there are too many bats in the family belfry, is wedded bliss possible?)

Arsenic And Old Lace Poster.jpg
"Arsenic And Old Lace Poster". Via Wikipedia.

Priscilla Lane has a thankless role as a woman who spends most of the movie getting shoved aside and bodily carried out of rooms. As for Cary Grant, his performance took some getting used to because it was too hammy (like, huge double-takes and expressions of HUH?). The other actors, especially Hull, Adair, Massey and Alexander, were spot-on in their roles. Also, Jack Carson in the role of a friendly but oblivious policeman.

It's a strange, funny dark comedy, which frays at the end like many comedies. There are hilarious scenes, numerous twists, and jokes that take time to develop and pay off. Fun for any time of year, but especially Halloween, if like me you prefer to avoid gory slasher/monster movies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn Hike: Franny Reese State Park and Walkway Over the Hudson

Here's a blueprint for a brilliant hike in the autumn.

Take the Metro North from Grand Central Station in NYC. The view from the train window, the Hudson River:


Get off at the train station in Poughkeepsie (last stop on the Hudson line):


Walk south, paying attention to what some of the buildings are called. (Washington Irving is a major literary figure in these parts.)


Cross the Mid-Hudson Bridge on foot (this isn't the famous pedestrian bridge in the area, but it has a footpath, so you can share the bridge with motor vehicle traffic).


Look at different signs on the bridge.


Then look north along the Hudson.

Because that other bridge you see? That's the Walkway Over the Hudson. It's the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, and it's where you'll be ending your hike.


Fall foliage is stunning.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Week in Seven Words #230 & #231


Stolid and tall, drifting ahead of us like the mast on a ship.

Red and yellow kayaks, like slices of fruit candy, bobbing on the river.

They work hard to create the impression of a shared reality, even as their hearts splinter.

We have no solutions, only complaints. But it's reassuring to find people who complain about the same things. The shared noise is heartening.

The whine of pigeons flapping by my ears.

Fisherman by the railroad tracks, what will he find? Rubbery fish? Tires that have come alive with fins and scales?

Harried women in a chilly supermarket; they're carefully made-up, their eyes fogged.


In a battle that spans multiple eras and realms, who will win: Plants or zombies?

The pond is still and lets the sky steal across it. It's a safe place for the sky to settle down a short while. No waves or ripples will chase away the clouds.

Goal: To rush to the end of the piece and then dance away from the keyboard.

One trait I want to avoid as much as possible is fretfulness. I don't want to lie prostrate before my fear and call attention to myself with it.

He had the vague hope that if he stopped doing anything, time itself would stop. Instead it's flowing around him and nudging him along, while he struggles to keep his footing.

I like community gardens grown in old broken places. A scarred part of the city now bears vegetables and redolent plants.

Enough people say they like something, so then others like it too. And some dislike it just because too many others like it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Salem, Massachusetts in October: 25 Photos

(From a half-day visit on Columbus Day.)

The Witch House

(It's the home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges involved in the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s.)

The Custom House

(At the Salem Maritime National Historic Park.)

Ropes Mansion Garden

(This garden is in back of a home dating to the early 1700s.)