Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Week in Seven Words #438

conducting
A tourist family clumps beside me on the subway. When they hear my reassurance that they're on the right train, and that we're all going to the same place – the Staten Island Ferry – they follow me like baby ducklings until they're safely on the boat.

enlivening
He apologizes for talking too much, but there's no need. He's funny, clever, and down-to-earth. His brain is an old bookshop of anecdotes you'd actually want to listen to and historic trivia made more interesting by his theatrical retellings.

goggle-eyed
Two daycare workers push a large mini-van type of stroller with six babies, who stare at us in fascination, as if they're taking a tour of a zoo stocked with strange adults.

padding
A silent, muddy path in the woods. Something is watching me from the undergrowth. A cat.

snuffle
The dog hops onto the couch, where I'm working on some editing. She presses against me and sniffs at the small pile of pages balanced on my thigh. There's a chance that she'll try eating one of them. (She doesn't. Maybe the kind of ink I'm using isn't appetizing.)

unchanging
There's a timeless quality to the park's headquarters. The main room is small and smells of sawdust. The lighting is cozy and dim. Maps are scattered across the table, and posters and diagrams that largely go unread make the walls colorful. I can see the room being preserved this exact way for decades.

vista
The field is shaped like a bowl. It's screened by trees all around, and on one side it's bordered by a broad river.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Week in Seven Words #437

creations
They're on the rooftop garden, sketching. Paths made of loose stones coil through the grass and overhanging plants. Blanket flowers burst from the greenness in pinwheels of red, orange, and yellow.

heaped
The art installation is a pile of boots, basically. It's a work of calculated indifference.

intently
A young man on the subway recites his own poetry. It's clumsy, in parts, but earnest. He speaks it with sincere intent and force of thought.

invitingly
To reach the porch of the pink house, you would walk on a path of uneven paving stones, past flowering bushes, under a trellis, and between two tables covered in a cloth patterned with sunflowers.

rehearsed
The children are arrayed before their parents to dutifully sing.

various
The neighborhood is a mix of quaint shops, charming cafes, industrial barrenness, churches, and patches of greenery.

yield
When the weeds are cleared away from the container, what's left is a lone pepper.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Two Movies Where Women Face Contempt From Their Families

Title: English Vinglish (2012)
Director: Gauri Shinde
Language: English and Hindi, with some French too
Rating: Not rated

Shashi (Sridevi) is a quiet, unassuming married woman who runs a small business from her home selling laddoo, an Indian sweet treat often served on special occasions. Because she doesn't speak English or show much worldly sophistication, she's regularly treated with dismissiveness and contempt by her husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), and daughter, Sapna (Navika Kotia). A shift in her life comes when she flies to New York to help with a family wedding. Secretly, she enrolls in a crash course in English, attended by people from around the world, including Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou), a Frenchman who falls in love with her.


The movie is bright and polished. Much of its depth of emotion comes from Sridevi's performance. Her acting really carries the film and makes even the clich├ęs entertaining. The most moving scene is highlighted in the screen capture above: at the family wedding, Shashi stands and delivers a speech. During one part, she describes the beauty of a family – how a family isn't judgmental and will never make you feel small or mock your weaknesses, but will always give you love and respect. Many families (including her own) fall short of this, sometimes far short. Shashi describes her hopes of a haven free of contempt.

Title: The Heiress (1949)
Director: William Wyler
Language: English
Rating: Not rated

Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is the only child of a widowed doctor, Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), who often reminds her, in various small sighing ways, that she isn't nearly as beautiful, witty, charismatic, or accomplished as her late mother.

Though Catherine lacks a lot of the qualities that would make her a social success, she's still a kind and gentle person who's full of love. Unfortunately, the people closest to her place little if any value on her good nature.

Who does love her? Not her father - something she realizes more starkly as the film goes by. What about Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), a handsome young man she meets at a party? Morris seems charming and tender, and it isn't long before he and Catherine are making plans to get married. But her father disapproves, insisting that Morris is a mere fortune hunter who's pretending to love Catherine because of her inheritance.


The movie is a powerful look at how betrayal and lack of love can harden someone. Catherine's fine qualities wither under the contempt, ruthlessness, and dishonesty displayed by the people she loves most.

Olivia de Havilland has an expressive face and eyes. She's wonderful at playing the sweet-natured, naive, helpful, loving, loyal, kind, shy, and socially awkward woman... and later transforming into the compelling figure of the cold and terrible beauty. (If you feel optimistic, you can hope that one day she will find someone honest and loving, and will not shut out the world entirely. That maybe her capacities for love and trust have not been permanently destroyed.)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Week in Seven Words #436

awry
"It's a little shortcut," the hike leader says. "I think it should be ok." This is our introduction to a narrow, unused cross-country skiing trail bordered by trees covered in poison ivy that we'll eventually have to hang on to in order to haul ourselves up a long muddy slope leading back to the main path.

brushstrokes
The delicate flowers look like they were dabbed onto the greenery by Monet's paintbrush.

sarcophagi
I confirm that no one is buried in Grant's Tomb.

service
She doesn't have big expectations for her volunteer work. Just a little more light, a little more hope, in her own small way picking away at apathy and callousness.

stalling
While figuring out how to work my way into a party where I don't know anybody, I buy time by pouring a fizzy drink into a large plastic cup and slowly peeling off my jacket.

unsteady
She's made so much slime on this patch of wood floor that it's become completely slippery. Even weeks later, I skid on it, startled.

whimsy
High Line Park has a picture book quality. You look out on a jumble of different architecture, colorful billboards, and murals. The route resembles, in turns, a railway track, a forest path, and a city sidewalk.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Week in Seven Words #435

appearances
They're a young couple, boyfriend and girlfriend, looking like they've stepped hand-in-hand out of an ad for chewing gum or smartphone accessories. They're also deep in conversation. As they pass us by, I overhear a part of it. They're discussing whether it's possible to stab someone to death with a pencil.

enthuse
Most of the people in the group are men, and tough-looking men at that, but never mind the stereotypes, because they enjoy making the flower arrangements and giving each other (and the women) supportive comments over the creation of lovely little bouquets inserted into small silver-colored vases.

figurative
In the subway car, a young boy shimmies up one of the poles, shouts, "I'm a Tetris piece!" and slides down.

impressions
The room is dim, and incense burns by a small statue of Buddha. When asked if he's Buddhist, he replies that he isn't but was just trying to create a certain ambiance. A shoeless, quiet-voiced, spicy-smelling atmosphere of meditation.

murmurings
Leaf patting leaf, and one branch rustling to another.

sliced
She thrusts her hand into the soil and jerks it out with a gasp. Her finger is bleeding. She's been cut through her glove. Her first worry is that she's gotten nicked by a piece of glass or, worse, a discarded needle, but it turns out to be a thorn.

split
Pretending that mind and body are disconnected is terrible for one's health. Referring to the body as a mere "sack of meat" – to be disregarded or modified in whatever way you imagine – is profoundly damaging.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Floating Pumpkins, the Battle of Fort Washington, and Autumn Foliage

Two recent NYC parks events worth noting –

One was on 10/28 and involved a flotilla of pumpkins tugged across the Harlem Meer in Central Park by two people in kayaks.

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Here is the flotilla getting set up, around sunset.

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A little earlier, I had walked around some other parts of Central Park, including the Reservoir:

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This brilliant glow was in a clearing a little north of the Reservoir:

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Without meaning to, I detoured to the northwest of the park, where The Pool is especially lovely in autumn:

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And I crossed east again, to where the Harlem Meer is, through the North Woods:

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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Week in Seven Words #434

addressing
It's a sleek open space where the light fixtures look like upside-down salad bowls. Three speakers eventually settle on stools facing the rows of seats. As the sky darkens, they discuss ways to make AI more ethical. From protecting data to detecting biases in programming, there's much to discuss, and there aren't simple answers.

Chasmosaurus
In 15 minutes, I learn more about horned dinosaurs than I ever learned in my life.

heaps
In the lower level of the supermarket, smoke is pouring out of a freezer. A little later, as I wait on line, we're asked to evacuate. Everyone leaves their cart or basket behind, and it makes an eerie picture: piles of abandoned food, much of it perishable, trailing along an empty store.

intermittent
During the storm, it looks as if a lightbulb is flickering between the clouds.

menu
We don't order the oxtail soup. We just marvel at its price.

select
The gift she receives is a doll that says, "I love you," and chuckles like a trapped squirrel. Keeping at a distance, she motions for it to be placed back in its bag and out of sight. Later, we play with the silent pink bear she likes; I help her and the bear down the slide.

virtuosity
On the radio, Vivaldi's Four Seasons comes on played by Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, and Itzhak Perlman. It's a violin extravaganza.