Thursday, May 31, 2012

Worth Watching: Swing Time (1936)

Title: Swing Time
Director: George Stevens
Language: English
Rating: G

Swing Time introduces Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire) to Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers), and they're obviously going to get married and dance together as long as they both shall live, but only after they work past several plot contrivances.

At the start of the movie Lucky has a fiancee, Margaret (Betty Furness); they treat each other like distant acquaintances. Penny is pursued for half the movie by a possessive band leader, Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa), who at times has the speech patterns of a Bond villain. In one scene he's gloating sedately and says to Lucky, "Hello, Lucky... or perhaps you should call me lucky today," and I started to picture him cradling and petting a white cat.

Maybe I imagined him as a Bond villain to make his character more interesting. You see, I wanted more from the romantic rivals in this movie. The filmmakers put them in enough scenes to make you think they matter, but by the end, Ricardo and Margaret might as well be made out of cardboard. Even though people watch these movies for the musical numbers and for Rogers and Astaire's cuteness and chemistry (and those elements are strong enough to make Swing Time worth it), the filmmakers could have still treated story and character with more care.

Penny scolding Lucky in Swing Time

Astaire's character is called Lucky because he's a gambler as well as a dancer. Most of the time he comes across as glib or bumbling, sort of likable but also flat. None of the gambling scenes in Swing Time is suspenseful, because the outcome is obvious each time and given the flimsiness of the plot it's not even that important anyway - you're just waiting for him to flirt with Rogers, sing to Rogers, or dance alone or with Rogers. And have Rogers sing to him, which she does a few times in the film.

The movie picks up when Rogers first appears as Penny, a dancer and dance teacher. One of the reasons she and Astaire were a good team was because they complemented each other. Rogers was a great dancer but didn't have nearly as extensive a background in dance or dance training as Astaire, who was incredible; however she was the better actor by quite a bit and could suggest depth, vulnerability, and inner conflict in her characters even in a movie like this which isn't big on character development. She worked well with both drama and comedy, and pretty much every scene that spotlights her in Swing Time is entertaining. After Penny the most enjoyable character is her friend, Mabel (Helen Broderick), a middle-aged gal who's seen everything and takes pleasure in zinging people with witty lines.

Lucky and Penny first meet at a cigarette machine after Lucky's manager, Pop (Victor Moore), comes down with a bad craving ("I'd give my life for a smoke," he says). From that auspicious moment their relationship is expressed in some banter, some songs, and most notably through dance. I've been taking jabs at the silly parts of Swing Time so to be fair I'll emphasize now that the dance duets are wonderful and also beautifully highlight different stages in the Lucky-Penny relationship.

The first number, "Pick Yourself Up," is playful, light, and energetic, and my favorite of the three dance duets in the film. Penny has just gotten to know Lucky, and when she dances with him here he finally gives her a favorable impression of himself, after managing earlier in the film to annoy and humiliate her. I love the choreography, especially towards the end when they're leaping over the low barrier surrounding the dance floor. Rogers especially looks like she's floating, and I love her dress.

Fred and Ginger dancing the Pick Yourself Up routine


The second dance duet, "Waltz in Swing Time," is full of the grandness of love; they're no longer in the flirty getting-to-know you stage. This really is a beautiful number, with rich sound and abrupt changes in tempo, and watching them you feel like you're getting swept around the dance floor as well.

Fred and Ginger dancing the Waltz in Swing Time


Then the third dance duet, "Never Gonna Dance," is a sorrowful wake-up call. They remember that Lucky has a distant acquaintance a fiancee. Oh no. And Penny is going to give in to the charms of Ricardo Romero. So it's one last dance for the road, full of longing and things that can never be and a love that will go unfulfilled. The number unfolds on two different floors, with Astaire and Rogers dancing separately up a grand curving staircase in between.

Fred and Ginger dancing the Never Gonna Dance routine


Astaire also gets spotlighted in a solo dance number, "Bojangles of Harlem," a tribute to an incredible tap dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who made cinematic history dancing alongside Shirley Temple in the 1930s in a few movies where he played tap-dancing servants (due to rampant racism, talented black entertainers of the time were by and large consigned to simpleton and/or servant parts when acting on-screen). Maybe it would have been nice to have gotten Robinson himself to appear in Swing Time and dance on his own too, because Astaire's dancing in the "Bojangles of Harlem" number doesn't resemble Robinson's (after looking it up, now I know why: Astaire's dancing style was inspired by John Bubbles, another innovative tap dancer).

On a positive note, the "Bojangles of Harlem" number is energetic and inventive; the best part is when Astaire is accompanied by three of his shadows, looming on the wall behind him and dancing right along with him. A great moment in movies and dance. The downside to the number is that it's in blackface. Actually Astaire's face is grayish, and he doesn't go for any racially stereotypical behaviors or physical characteristics, so he keeps it as classy as it can be. The most cringeworthy moment comes before Astaire starts dancing and involves a grotesque pair of giant legs hauled off the stage at the start of the number, with their shiny black shoes sporting a face on the soles.

What other musical numbers are there? A strong singing duet, "A Fine Romance," where Rogers shines (she's cute when she's in a strop), her performance giving richness to the cheerfully silly lyrics. Astaire gets to impersonate a seal. Incidentally another version of the song that I like is a duet with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. But Rogers and Astaire are the ones who first sang it, out on a snowy day.

Fred and Ginger in the snow for A Fine Romance


I wish the movie as a whole would have been worthy of the musical numbers. There are good non-musical scenes and sparkling dialogue, but the plot is just ridiculous. Had the story been stronger, with more at stake, I think the musical scenes would have also been better: intensifying something that's already powerful. "Never Gonna Dance," for instance, might have been even more poignant had the romantic rivals in the movie possessed even the remotest chance of laying claim to Lucky and Penny.

Instead the musical numbers just pop in and out, not quite fitting in with everything else. They come, they go, ending too quickly, and it's back to the awkward plot contrivances and, towards the end, the long moments of forced laughter (I've seen this in other old movies, where the actors just laugh and laugh merrily on screen, because it's supposed to show us that they're full of fun and joy, when really it sounds desperate, like they ran out of dialogue and now have to do something to tell us that things are funny and that maybe we should be a good sport and laugh too). Fortunately Ginger Rogers and Helen Broderick help prop up the non-musical parts with some life and wit.

*All images link back to their sources (Rotten Tomatoes and Virtual History).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Week in Seven Words #120

alfresco
Early Sunday afternoon I sit on a bench by the fountain, my face brushed by its windblown mist as I eat a hamburger.

cultivar
It's one of the best kept secrets of the city: a small rose garden crackling with bumblebees.

fullness
It feels like late summer here in the Ramble. The air in the early evening is heavy and warm; the trees look about as full and green as they'll ever get. I find a quiet place where the path slopes down to the water. Long-stemmed purple flowers grow there, and the light reflecting off the lake shimmers on the tree trunks. It's a deep gold early evening light that soaks into everything.

pastime
From the sidewalk they look like odd modern sculptures in metal or harsh plastic. Just as I'm about to walk by, it hits me: they're game pieces. Game pieces as big as people. I climb the steps to the sunlit plaza where they're displayed, among them chess pawns and the wheelbarrow from Monopoly.

recidivism
They've invented a game where I'm a visitor at a museum who can't help but touch everything that's on display. As a punishment I'm to be repeatedly shot at with plastic space commando guns and dragged into a jail cell from which I will have to break out, so that I may go to the museum again and repeat the process.

stagy
It's an operatic evening. I'm not at the opera myself, but I do walk across a curving stone bridge that looks like it could be a prop for a soprano to stand on and sing. Then I go by the opera house when it's darker. The fountain lights are on, and the windows are golden.

unfurling
At the end of the pier, the river feels like an ocean. All around us are boats, sunlight, and sky, water that doesn't seem to have an end in either direction.

Windblown tulips at Bowling Green



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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Week in Seven Words #119

asynchronous
More sunlight is what I need. So I go for a walk. Turns out the weather is cloudy and cool, but at least it doesn't rain, and I enjoy being outdoors. As soon as I get home, the sun comes out.

crisp
Papery green leaves layer the trees outside my building. I want to pluck a leaf off its branch and write on it. If I knew origami I'd fold it into a turtle or set it on the wind as a swan.

emanate
In her sleep she sings, proving that music will always find a way to be heard.

exacting
We may be at different stages in life, but here's one way we're alike - we're too hard on ourselves. She's been told she's strong, but she says she doesn't feel strong inside. I tell her that her actions are what count. In spite of any fear or misgivings she's always done her best; she has behaved with courage and dignity and love. It's unrealistic to never feel fear, to always feel strong, especially for someone in her circumstances.

inedible
The store is closing for the summer, and the only things left on the shelves are food products depicted on their labels as starchy yellow lumps with unappetizing names.

infarct
The elevator sounds like it's suffering a heart attack. Will it hold out long enough to get us to the right floor?

nerds
A comment about someone's Facebook photo turns into a discussion of the Battle of Gettysburg and then the Civil War more generally. I'm among my people.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Good Short Fiction: Lichen (by Alice Munro)

Collection: Selected Stories
Author: Alice Munro


Title: Lichen
Stella and David, who were married for over twenty years and have by now been separated for several more, aren't completely out of each other's lives. David is visiting Stella because it's her father's birthday and he's always liked the old man. On this visit he brings his most recent lover, Catherine, a wispy woman who's already on her way to being replaced with someone much younger.

The only person who knows about all of David's sexual shenanigans is Stella, because he confides in her. The dynamic between them is interesting. On the one hand he broke up the marriage with his affairs, and he now looks on Stella's comfortably aging body with contempt. On the other hand, there's no one who knows him better than Stella does, and because of this he's still drawn to her. David can't hide anything from her, which is both a relief to him and a source of unease. As for Stella, she might be repelled by David's behavior and realize that living with him is out of the question, but at the same time he's still a part of her life. Their history with all its love and rancor makes a full separation impossible.

David enjoys thinking of his life as a wild tale with himself at the center of it caught up in rampant passion and sexual drama. He characterizes each woman he's with as a different type (the fragile hippy, the wanton wild child), each one a prepackaged adventure with her own highs and lows, and it adds to his excitement that he can have more than one and try out different kinds. In reality he knows he's making it all up - oversimplifying them, oversimplifying himself, masking the truth with superficial stories the way he dyes his hair and pretends it isn't graying. I started out disliking David but by the end of the story the dislike was mixed with pity for his weakness. His fear of growing old is intense, seen not only in his pursuit of younger and younger women but also in his reaction to Stella's father, who appears to David as something other than human.
To get used to looking at his father-in-law, David tried to think of him as a post-human development, something new in the species. Survival hadn't just preserved, it had transformed him. Bluish-gray skin, with dark-blue spots, whitened eyes, a ribbed neck with delicate deep hollows, like a smoked-glass vase. Up through this neck came further sounds, a conversational offering. It was the core of each syllable that was presented, a damp vowel barely held in shape by surrounding consonants.
As long as Stella's father can safely be seen as "post-human" David can tell himself that he won't have to share the old man's fate. He'll stay young forever, somehow, even as he knows deep down it's a lie. (What I appreciate about his moments of self-awareness in the story is that they seem natural, unlike similar moments in some of Munro's other stories where the characters are too adept at analyzing themselves. To her credit though, Munro is consistently masterful at showing the measure of people's lives and relationships in relatively few pages, what would take other authors a whole novel to accomplish. "Lichen" is no exception.)

Stella I saw as a stabilizing force in the story. David tries in some ways to push her away or punish her by sharing sordid details about himself, but she doesn't react with the kind of violent disapproval that he expects. This in turn gives him a strange acceptance (maybe he needs one person in his life he can't lie to?) while also bringing out the pettiness and ineffectiveness of his actions and his whole approach to life. In truth I think Stella is more disturbed by him than she lets on, but she's determined to be even-keeled, solid as earth. In contrast to David, who lies to people and tries to live in denial about his age and character, Stella tries to chart a course of acceptance: she accepts her body as it is, she keeps active and takes pleasure in what she does, she welcomes Catherine into her home, she treats David with calm, she's determined not to rage against the state of things but instead to take it all in stride, as ugly as it can get. She comes across as much more self-sufficient and grounded than David (and in some ways, so does Catherine).

So what's the lichen that's referred to in the title? It has to do with a graphic photo that David shows Stella (like a child trying to provoke a reaction from an adult) and at first Stella thinks that what she's looking at is lichen. The photo, and the meanings assigned to it, become central to the story. The stories we make up about ourselves and about our lives and the people in it change with time; is there anything permanent, that can be restored or preserved as it is? The photo - and what it depicts - fades with time and exposure to too much light.

Lichen is also symbolic of relationships. In nature it's formed by the symbiotic relationship between a fungus and some kind of photosynthetic organism. A lichen is very different from the individual organisms (fungus, alga, etc.) that it's made up of. The relationship can be mutually beneficial to the organisms, or beneficial to one of them without causing any noticeable change, good or bad, in the other. Or it could be a parasitic relationship, where one of them benefits and the other suffers for it. It's an interesting metaphor for how people get tangled up with each other, and the reasons they stay tangled. What do Stella and David each get out of the remnants of their marriage? And does David attach himself to his lovers because he thinks that through them he can live? The image of David as a fungus wrapping himself around the women in his life and sucking energy from them fits. What, if anything, does he give them?

-------------

Other stories in this collection include Dance of the Happy Shades and A Wilderness Station.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Week in Seven Words #118

affirmative
One piece of advice I'm slowly taking to heart is to say "yes" more often. Meaning that when I think of an idea and the good possibilities it might lead to, I shouldn't immediately start enacting the Script of Self-Doubt ("but wait"/"I can't"/"because, well..."/"it's too much"/"I couldn't really"/"I've never"/"what if...?"). Yes. Yes. Yes!

flashbulb
Lightning at my window in the middle of the night.

footing
A few seats ahead of me on the train are a pair of feet. First they wiggle in the air, then they settle next to the window. The toenails are turquoise.

hindrance
Many employers don't just want you to send them a resume and cover letter - they also insist that you fill out an online job application form. The problem is, the application forms usually ask for the same information that you'd find on a resume, plus they're clunky, inflexible, and cause your browser to quit unexpectedly. What's the point of them? Another hoop to jump through? A way of discouraging applicants who give in to their frustration and quit?

presque vu
The Hummous Kitchen is packed early in the evening, and in the crowd there's an old man with a distinct face, the kind of face you don't forget. Sure enough it isn't his face we've forgotten, but his name. Was he on T.V.? Maybe on Seinfeld or something? Where have we seen this guy? We get a tip-of-the tongue feeling that stays with us throughout the meal. Afterwards a search on Wikipedia through a list of Jewish American actors born in certain decades produces a match - it's Fyvush Finkel. Now I can claim to have spotted two celebrities in New York City. Finkel at the Hummous Kitchen and, a few years back, Lauren Bacall walking her dog near Central Park West.

quotidian
Stitching together the daily routines that had fallen apart the week before.

slate
Solemn and undisturbed - the city in the gray early morning.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Worth Watching: Roman Holiday (1953)

Title: Roman Holiday
Director: William Wyler
Language: English
Rating: G

Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) doesn't have a life of her own. She's shuttled from one diplomatic engagement to another, where her speech, appearance, and behavior need to be impeccable. It's as if she's a Miss Universe contestant every day, all day long, delivering rehearsed lines and looking beautiful in the face of intense scrutiny.

Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann


Sometimes she wishes she could live more freely.

Audrey Hepburn on a motorbike


When her royal good will tour winds up in Rome, she decides to do what the people of Rome do: sit in cafés, eat gelato, endanger pedestrians with their reckless driving, and go dancing in the evening. While under the influence of a sedative she escapes one night from her royal keepers with the intention of only exploring Rome for an hour or two. Instead she winds up in the hands of an American journalist, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who at first doesn't realize that she's a princess. In fact he thinks she's drunk, and is impressed and bewildered by the fact that she can quote from her favorite poems and regally dismiss him from his own tiny apartment when she's half-asleep.

Joe realizes only after a hilarious conversation with his editor that the woman he sheltered for the night is Princess Ann. While her (nameless) country sends agents to Rome to comb the city looking for her, an announcement is made that the princess is ill and can't appear in public. This gives Ann a little extra time to enjoy Rome incognito, and it gives Joe the opportunity to make money by writing an exclusive story on the truant princess and her exploration of everyday life. He doesn't tell Ann who he is (mumbling something about selling chemicals and fertilizers for a living - in other words, journalistic dung?) and watches her as she gets a haircut, visits historic sites, buys a pair of sandals, tries her first cigarette, gets arrested for reckless driving, and dances by the river.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on the Spanish Steps in Rome


While Joe is honorable enough not to take advantage of an anonymous young woman who needs a place to stay for a night, as a journalist there's little he won't do for a juicy story, including trying to take a camera away from a child in order to secretly photograph Ann. He winds up enlisting his friend and photographer, Irving (Eddie Albert), who says at one point, "It's always open season on princesses."

But what Joe doesn't count on is him and Ann falling in love.

Hepburn and Peck embracing


Roman Holiday is a delightful film. It's more funny than I thought it would be. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck are wonderful to watch and well-suited for their roles; there's chemistry and playful friendship between them. And on top of that we get to see Rome; one breath-taking moment that stood out for me was a shot of the Coliseum that showed just how enormous it is.

Then there's the ending, which I thought was crafted beautifully, including those final moments when Joe is walking towards the exit in the grand hall where the press conference was held. The hall looms large and empty behind him. Maybe, just maybe, against all hope, he'll have a happy reason to turn around. There's a feeling of expectancy and possibility, a breath being held, up until the moment when he reaches the exit.

*All images link back to their sources (Flixster Community, Rotten Tomatoes, and Virtual History).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Week in Seven Words #117

compressed
Am I really in Israel? More than once I ask myself that. I leave the U.S. on Sunday afternoon, land in Ben-Gurion airport early Monday morning. The funeral is that afternoon, and I spend many hours in my maternal grandma's apartment at the nursing home, where shiva is being held. And then Wednesday night it's time to go back. I see a lot of my family in those few days (grandmothers, uncles, an aunt, cousins, the spouses and children and in-laws of cousins), and it's the first time in years that the members of my immediate family have been in Israel together. As for the country itself, I get glimpses of it. A walk around the lake in the local park among moorhens, geese and hooded crows. Sitting wedged in the back seat of a taxi cab as it loses its way in Tel Aviv traffic. Running through a crowded souk like a video game character who loses points every time she bumps into someone. Eating delicious breakfasts and going out to lunch at a place that serves shish-kebabs and salad platters with hummous, falafels and Moroccan cigars. On Wednesday night fireworks go off; it's the eve of Independence Day. I catch some of the fireworks from the backseat of the cab that drives us to the airport.

filaments
The plane flies over the northern coast of Spain, all dark at night except for strings and clumps of golden light, shaped like cobwebs, snowflakes and amoebas.

funeral
At the funeral for my maternal grandpa, Saba Yossef (Grandpa Joseph) of blessed memory, whom I wrote about in the previous post, there's an atmosphere of sorrow and reunion as people arrive - many of them I don't know, others remember me when I was three feet tall (I don't remember them), and some I know well but haven't seen for years. Here they all are, mingling outdoors, waiting for my grandpa's body to arrive. The Israeli cemetery looks like a desert, full of stone, bright dirt, cacti and flowering shrubs, strange birds crying out from a handful of trees. The main part of the service is held indoors, my grandpa's body wrapped in a shroud and laid out in the center of a cool dim room. I know it's his body, but at the same time it's difficult to accept that it's really him. It doesn't seem like him; it's only his fragile shell. Where he lies in the middle of the room as a shrouded figure there's emptiness. His presence is felt not in this emptiness but in the surrounding people - in the thoughts they have of him, their prayers, their love, their words of remembrance, their grief, the fact that they're all there. The Hebrew word for funeral is "halvayah"(הלוויה), which at the root of it means "accompaniment." Some of his relatives and family friends carry his body out of the room on a pallet and take him outdoors into the cemetery, and everyone else goes with them, accompanying him on a long walk to where his grave is waiting. There's some recitation of lines from psalms and some more quiet reminiscences. When everyone arrives at his grave his body is lowered in, still in its shroud; there's some sort of receptacle at the bottom (I can't see it clearly), which is then covered by stone slabs. After that the grave is filled in, mostly by one of the men from the burial society, but also by family and friends who take turns shoveling in some dirt. Then everyone walks by, placing small stones on the grave. We stare and stare at this mound of earth dotted with many stones.

granddads
A visit to the grave of my paternal grandpa, Saba David (Grandpa David) of blessed memory, who passed away in 2005. Like my maternal grandpa, he died of an infection - in the very same hospital - after living the last few years of his life in a poor state of mental and physical health. Like my maternal grandpa, he was a fighter. He was a war veteran. He also survived the Holocaust (his tombstone bears the names of close family members who didn't). As a very young child he survived smallpox, after the doctors told his mother that he was a lost cause. Luckily for us, she kept taking care of him.

shiva (שבעה)
While sitting shiva, mourners are not meant to be left alone to brood, to sink too deep into grief. Visitors come bringing comfort, conversation, inappropriate funny jokes, and food. Some of them also bring small children who distract and delight with their antics. It's all a mix: tears, laughter, religious musings, mundane conversation, reminiscences, an airing of personal troubles, and silence.

standstill
On Yom Hazikaron - The Day of Remembrance, Israel's Memorial Day - a nationwide siren sounds twice: a minute-long siren in the evening, and a two-minute siren in the late morning. It's a haunting mournful sound, fitting for a day honoring fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism attacks. When it starts up, playing all over the country, everyone stops what they're doing and stands in silence. Cars and motorbikes stop in the middle of the road; the drivers get up and out and stand beside their vehicles. For those three minutes day-to-day life comes to a halt.

whispered
A heart-to-heart with my maternal grandma, who is used to taking care of everyone else and needs time to sit and talk and consider herself too.

Week in Seven Words #116

bereavement
It was a shock to hear that my maternal grandpa, Saba Yossef (Grandpa Joseph), passed away. In the past few years his condition had been slowly deteriorating, and he spent the last five months of his life in a hospital, fighting one infection after another (he contracted these infections courtesy of the hospital itself, where powerful bacteria are rampant and patient care is uneven, to say the least). But still, he was a fighter. This is a guy who evaded the Nazis when he was 12. He was a war veteran. He fought off colon cancer a decade ago. We kept expecting him to live somehow.

concoct
He liked to make simple, fresh dishes with few ingredients. Salads and side dishes. Though he wasn't a consummate chef like his wife, he was good at putting together quick meals, and his niche in the kitchen was usually one corner of the countertop where he'd stand chopping and sprinkling things and making use of whatever he'd found in the back of the fridge or the cupboard.

eloquence
He also had a way with words, composing blessings, articles, essays, and poems. He spoke well, loved good conversation and swapping jokes. He was even eloquent in his sleep. He could nod off a little in front of the nightly news and start arguing with the newscaster (and he'd stir awake if you tried to change the channel). Though he had strong opinions he wasn't a preachy or rigid person; he liked to be on good terms with people and help them out. Discussions held in a relaxed atmosphere and helped along by good food and drink were much more his style than shouting matches.

expected
Another memory of him is from a trip I took to Italy when I was sixteen with various family members including him. At one point we were in Siena during The Palio, the famous horse race that turns the city into a madhouse, and we'd split up into smaller groups for the afternoon. A few hours later, when we'd regrouped, we realized he hadn't joined us. No one knew where he was. Everyone else in my family immediately became worried or outright frantic - what if he'd gotten lost or attacked or had sat down and dozed off somewhere? - and off they went searching for him. I stayed behind to keep watch at the spot where we'd all agreed to meet, in case he came along. And I remember standing there calmly, not worried at all, thinking to myself that at any moment he was going to come down that street, smiling and relaxed, and wonder what all the fuss was about. And that's exactly what happened. He suddenly appeared, strolling along the street, his smile a trifle sheepish and apologetic, and immediately set about deflecting criticism, soothing worries, and trying to coax people into laughing. I'm not sure what happened - it's very likely he had sat down for a spell and dozed off - but it didn't matter. No worries.

golden
The last time I saw him functioning well and full of life was in spring 2006, when he visited the US with my grandma. One highlight of the visit was taking a walk with him in Central Park. Before leaving for the walk I was asked to look after him, to make sure he didn't fall (he'd fallen a few times before, from what we came to realize were most likely mini-strokes that had made him 'blank' for a moment). He chuckled at the suggestion that anyone needed to look after him; he was good-humored, independent, and wasn't prone to worrying. We had a very good walk that day. We went at a brisk pace up and down twisty paths in the Ramble, and by the lake too. We talked about many things, from world affairs to guys to places we wanted to see. It was just the two of us for those few hours.

musicality
His laughter was gleeful. He also had a beautiful voice and liked to sing and hum at every good opportunity - at the dinner table or during a game of rummy or as he walked. For the past few years, living in the aftermath of a series of strokes, he could barely talk; his voice, when he could talk, was hoarse and flat. He didn't laugh either. But to the end he loved music, was moved deeply by it.

open-eyed
He found something of interest everywhere he went. To him there weren't boring places. When he visited us in the suburbs for instance he'd go exploring by bus or train or foot and visit places we'd dismissed as uninteresting. When I was a kid I used to think of it as one of his endearing quirks, but in recent years I've come to respect this approach, this attitude of always seeing the world through fresh eyes and not letting yourself become jaded. I liked going places with him, whether it was to listen to a concert or hop on a paddle-boat or just walk through a park, in part because he was very much interested in the world. He was alive to it.