Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day Blizzard

So, what a Christmas, eh? Christmas Eve was clear and fun, good food, good folk, we even sang Christmas Carols for the first time in years. Driving out to Huntington, the moon hung low and big and beautiful in the sky. Christmas Day I got up rather late, then loaded my car with bags of gifts and Christmas cookies before setting off to my brother’s house in Jersey. I put out an extra litter box and extra food for the kitties (whom I would leave alone for a full 24 hours for the first time).

Leaving later than planned, I went out to the car and discovered a flat tire. Front right. I thought it had felt a little funny driving home from the Island Christmas Eve. Sigh.

The closest gas-service station is just around the corner, but its service aspect was closed. It being Christmas and all. So I called AAA. Blessings upon this fellow Jamel, who showed up within 17 minutes of my call, changed the tire, gave me some advice about those little metal things and their rubber caps (without the rubber caps, they little metal things may freeze and make it impossible to put air in the tires. Beware.) He took my broken tire to a station on Hillside (I’ve been there before, they’re the closest AAA station), where I said I’d come first thing Monday to get the repaired tire or, if need be, a new one. It looked pluggable to me. Let’s hope for one less expense.

Off I went to my brother’s place for Christmas dinner. My brother lives a 50-minute drive away, or an hour with traffic. Somehow found myself going 80 on a road where one oughtn’t, but not doing it alone, so I got to my destination in 30 minutes. All around a lovely day until the rumbles of a coming blizzard got louder. My nephew lives down in Arlington, Virginia, where, no matter what the Governor may say on the Weather Channel, they really suck at dealing with snow on the roadways. Should he start out Christmas night, and miss the Sunday Giants game he and his father had planned to watch together? Or wait for his originally planned Monday, which would make everybody happy. Except for the worry that he wouldn’t be able to drive into Virginia when those sanders and snowplows didn’t show up – wouldn’t be the first time.

Alas for my poor brother, my nephew’s wise choice was to drive down in the middle of the night. A lot of fast driving this Christmas, because he made it home in about four hours, when the trip should take an easy five. He beat the snow to Virginia by a few hours, so at least he was safe at home when the storm swept through.

This morning I drove home as the flurries began. In Jersey they were pretty light, but crossing the Hudson the snow came down harder. Home in Queens before noon, and had the pleasure of watching the "Doctor Who Christmas Carol" with a cuppa tea with honey in it and my honeys (a.k.a. cats) around me. Took a nice walk around 3 this afternoon, when visibility was about half a block. Not terribly cold with the wind at my back, but rough stuff when I turned around! I’m looking forward to shoveling tomorrow, a fun way to do some cardio – taking breaks of course. More importantly, shoveling the stoop and walkway makes me deserving of hot chocolate. When I go get my tire, of course, will depend on just how much snow we get.

The cats are happy to have me back, not having starved to death overnight, or resorted to cannibalism. They didn’t even destroy anything. So despite obstacles, we must mark this down as a pretty good Christmas.

Hope yours was happy,

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Ready for snow angels.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taymor's Tempests

Poor Julie Taymor. She has two important projects in the news now, and it’s bad news for both. I have neither seen nor intend to see her Spiderman musical, in which she’s been so remiss as to allow an actor to be severely injured this week, with other accidents earlier in the process. Whatever happened to her puppets? They’re the only performers who can be allowed to be endangered onstage. This is Broadway, not the Roman Coliseum.

And then there’s her highly anticipated film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.” Ms. Taymor’s visual creativity seemed a good match for this difficult play. It is a story, though, and a filmmaker’s job is to tell the story. Ms. Taymor did not. Additionally, and alas, the actors, who did perfectly good work individually, for the most part were not connected to one another or the film. It’s as if they each acted alone in a studio or on a beautiful beach, and Ms. Taymor glued the resulting scenes and her visual effects together. Unlike her cast, the effects were not stellar. Visually, I expected more and was quite disappointed. Where was the director’s voice? What was her vision? Was all this hoopla just an excuse to spend a lot of time in Hawaii filming?

The Tempest” is not an easy play. Its emotions are raw, angry, blissful; its language is intense, lyrical, magnificent. When you hear these actors speak the lines, you’ll hear phrases with which you’re very familiar – it’s a highly quoted play, and for good reason. In terms of the language -- most of which is Shakespeare despite Ms. Taymor’s credit as screenwriter -- all the verse was clear, from all actors.

I’ve seen a number of productions of the play, most of which were disappointing in a few elements, though not always the same ones. Sam Mendes’ production at BAM earlier this year had some good bits, some bad bits and some irrational bits, and good performances and poor ones, including the Miranda (who appeared much too old for the role. Everyone’s too old for it, but they don’t all play it that way.). I saw that rare creature, a Miranda I liked, in the Classic Stage Company production of “The Tempest” in late 2008. The production starred Mandy Patinkin as Prospero, with a willowy Elisabeth Waterston as his daughter Miranda. In that production, Ms. Waterston held my attention, and I believed her to be 15 because she did. In the CSC production, however, I did not enjoy the clown scenes, while in the Mendes production, the clowns were fantastic, their scenes perfectly timed and felt. [My review of The Bridge Project’s production of “The Tempest” is at]

No stage production of “The Tempest” I’ve ever seen was perfect, which is fine – they’re not indelibly “finished” as films are. The theatre is alive, and ever-changing, growing, advancing. Films – and I love film – are frozen in their own time. Even if we’ve never seen a particular film actor before, even if all films for all time were in black-and-white, we can easily discern a 1940s actor vs a 1970s one, just as we can readily spot a Preston Sturges or a Hitchcock or a Coen Brothers film.

Ms. Taymor’s “The Tempest” is not particularly a 21st Century adaptation -- maybe the 1990s. And it’s not particularly hers. Yes, certain effects are smoother now than they might have been accomplished a decade ago, but that’s just technology. There’s no soaring imagination here, there’s nothing in this version that is magically of our time, or really indicative of Ms. Taymor’s capabilities. She did not bring to this story what we expected of her, and that’s what the sale was all about, wasn’t it?

In fact, Ms. Taymor didn’t tell the story in this jagged composition. The backstory is provided early in the film – as it is in the play -- by Prospera, a great Magician (or a scientist, depending on your point of view), explaining to her daughter Miranda what’s happening and why. That she has, by her powers, wreaked havoc on her enemies who, 12 years before, overthrew Prospera’s legitimate Dukedom of Milan, and cast Prospera and her daughter adrift in an unfriendly sea. This betrayal was executed by her own brother Antonio, with the help of the King of Naples. By changing the male Prospero of the play to a female Prospera, Taymor opened up terrific feminist possibilities. Prospera was a scientist, and in her time, that meant she was a witch. This made it easy for her male enemies to overthrow and exile her. And there it sat. This spiffy idea went no further than the audience saying, ‘Ah, of course they used her scientific experiments to call her a witch, and cast her off. Cool.’ But no follow-through.

The tempest of the title is a tool in Prospera’s – what? Revenge? Counter-revolution? Plans of political alliance? She keeps separate her enemies and the innocent members of their party, but as in any political machinations, all the players must come together by the end to give or get their comeuppance.

Helen Mirren’s “Prospera,” a valid and fun deviation from the original male character “Prospero,” is powerful, her verse work perfection, her emotions toward her daughter clear and warm. Her feelings toward her enemies are less clear after the initial soliloquy. And even Mirren could not make playing to an airy Ariel work – you’d think the actors had never met, and for all I know they may not have. Ben Whishaw made for an interesting and musical Ariel, always a tad dangerous and frightening, a terrifying power held in thrall to Prospera. But the connection between “master” and “slave” was missing.

Separately we saw survivors of the “shipwreck” wrought by Prospera’s tempest (the opening storm scenes were quite effective) brought to shore. Prince Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, survives believing he’s alone in the world. Reeve Carney was quite dull in this role. Any male model would have done as well. I don’t know Mr. Carney’s work, so cannot know if this is entirely his fault or if it is shared by Ms. Taymor.

On another part of Prospera’s island, we meet David Strathairn as Alonso, King of Naples, distraught at the loss of his son. Mr. Strathairn is solid, handsome, talented, thoughtful, and his Shakespearean verse does not disappoint. Tom Conti as that “good old man” Gonzalo is excellent, an old pro in the best sense. Alan Cumming is delightful as Alonso’s brother Sebastian, not awfully bright, a follower not a leader, thinks himself a wit – a terrific role for Cumming. Chris Cooper was strong, seductive, and sinister as Antonio, the treacherous Duke of Milan, brother and betrayer of Prospera. The scenes between these four men gave me hope for the film, since they told the story their characters should, despite the odd composition of the shots.

Just as Reeve Carney was dull as Prince Ferdinand, Felicity Jones, while attractive and competent as Miranda, was not a wondrous and wondering creature as I think she should be. Nothing objectionable, but nothing exciting -- Ms. Jones is no Elisabeth Waterston.

As for the clowns – Alfred Molina as Stephano and Russell Brand as Trinculo are not connected to one another or the story, even though they share the screen more than the other actors, with few close-ups. Mr. Molina is more than competent, I’ve enjoyed his work on stage and onscreen for years, but he was just serviceable here. Mr. Brand I’ve only seen in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and he was fine in that, though nothing special. Despite the physical disparity between these two men and Mr. Brand’s hilarious costume, these scenes did not work. To be fair, often the clown scenes in this play don’t work for me (although they particularly did in the aforementioned Bridge Project production last spring, so I know it’s possible). Because I feel like it, I’ll lay the blame for the failure of the comedic scenes on Ms. Taymor as well.

Djimon Hounsou as Caliban was quite good, a creature torn between humanity and …. whatever else he is. He almost redeemed the clown scenes, but not quite. And his makeup was fabulous, due, according to, to Brian Abbot.

Too much of the film did not rise to the level of the scenes between Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo. Mind you, it’s the actors’ work I liked. The scenery was swell, and none of these actors chewed it, but the director does seem to have relied on all the beauty to distract people from these poorly framed and composed scenes. That said, Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh did a reasonably good job, but how could one go wrong photographing good-looking actors and Hawaii? There are too many close-ups in this film – whose choice is that? Of the many things this story is about, estranged and strained relationships are vital, and close-ups don’t tell us anything about relationships. Film Editing is listed as being by Françoise Bonnot, yet I think the flaws in the storytelling – which can be saved or destroyed by editing – here are the responsibility of the director. I quite liked the Costume Design by Sandy Powell.

When finally Prospera’s wrongdoers meet up with their hostess, the originator of the storm that cast them onto this island, nothing much happens. The sparks, the fury, the rancor, the evasiveness, the guilt, all the emotions that should be at play underneath the civility of the meeting and of Prospera’s enforced forgiveness (for she must forgive as she aligns herself to her enemies by wedding her daughter to Alonso’s son Ferdinand) are lacking. I read a brief interview with Cumming in which he implied there was rehearsal for this film, but in that scene, it felt rather like the rehearsals were between actors and stand-ins, and not the actors together. In the final cut, they were not all in the same place at the same time.

You may think I’m being hard on Ms. Taymor, but film is a director’s medium. The director has the vision, the concept; the director has the power. It is her job to pull all the disparate parts together to form a coherent and cohesive whole. To make sure the story is told. Ms. Taymor did not do this.

I’ve read “The Tempest” a number of times. I’ve seen various productions of it, each one succeeding in some aspects and failing in others. My very favorite version of “The Tempest” is, oddly enough, a film: “Forbidden Planet,” an imaginative 1956 science fiction version in which the Prospero is “Dr. Morbius” (played by Walter Pidgeon), stranded on a distant planet for 20 years, where his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) was born. Morbius’ Caliban is Robby the Robot, and the visitors to the planet are the crew of a rescue spaceship. Therefore the “Ferdinand,” instead of a teenaged heartthrob, is a grown man, captain of the Starship….excuse me, Commander of the “United Planets Cruiser,” J.J. Adams, as played by Leslie Nielsen. RIP, Mr. Nielsen. Trinculo and Stephano (the clowns) are combined into Cookie, delightfully played by Earl Holliman. And poor Prospero – he is burdened here by “monsters from the Id.” Now this version is funny and scary, and I heartily recommend “Forbidden Planet.” Alas, much as I had looked forward to Ms. Taymor’s film, I cannot do the same for it.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer to watch my videotape of “Forbidden Planet.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Paris to Venice to.... Chawton?

Near the end of the credits for “The Tourist” is listed the film upon which it is based -- a 2005 French film which is noted in Netflix as extant but not in DVD form: “Anthony Zimmer.” Its description fits the “The Tourist,” which just changed the original film’s French characters to British.

This version is …sweet. It was made to be fun, and it succeeds. Angelina Jolie is far from the smart stoic woman she was in “Salt,” and Johnny Depp far from Captain Jack Sparrow. As is appropriate in a film that tends toward the caper, the authorities are shown as excessive in their zealous quest for thief Alex Pearce, who stole a great deal of money from a British mobster (a chilly, realistic Steven Berkoff), who surrounds himself with Russian thugs. Said mobster’s name is Reginald Shaw. You just know, though, when he was a low level thug on his way up, he was called ‘Reggie.’

Ms. Jolie’s character Elise is allegedly British, and is the only link the authorities have to the whereabouts of Pearce, who’s been in hiding for several years with several billion British pounds of ill-gotten gains. The lead investigator for the Metropolitan Police, who consistently oversteps his bounds and budgets spending lots and lots of money with both French and Italian Interpol agents, is a frustrated civil servant named Acheson played by Paul Bettany. His complexion is as chilly as Berkoff’s, his thinness presumably having more to do with sleepless nights and excess coffee than any exercise regimen. And what does he want? The many millions in taxes Mr. Pearce owes, but more: He wants Pearce’s hide. Acheson’s boss is played by Timothy Dalton in a ragged acerbic style.

We watch the clownish police miss the good stuff – while watching the lovely Ms. Jolie walking down a Parisian street (wondering if she’s wearing underwear that day), they spot an innocent courier doing his job, and miss the interesting partial profile of another man watching Elise. We particularly notice him, of course, because we recognize him. Some minutes later, when the French police have gone off in an entirely wrong direction, we watch Rufus Sewall stroll away. Ah hah! says the audience. We don’t know what’s going on yet, but that’s Rufus Sewall, and it wouldn’t be Rufus Sewall if he weren’t deeply involved in this plot!

Like any good caper film set in Europe, we must take the train from one country to another. On said train, Ms. Jolie follows the instructions provided by her missing lover and picks a man of similar height and build as the missing Mr. Pearce. She easily sets him up for a chump. Said man is a rather sad sack Johnny Depp with bad hair, non-descript clothes, reading a paperback espionage thriller. He is an American, his name is Frank, which Ms. Jolie tells him in all the commercials is a bad name. But his last name is “Tupelo,” so now all I can think of is honey, and a cup of tea to stir it in.

The destination of the train is Venice. Perfection. Alleyways and canals, boats and precious architecture, light reflecting off dark water, and a society we gaze upon without wondering how it got there or what’s going on in those winding little alleys between the buildings that open onto the canals. Claustrophobia, paranoia, pick an ‘oia,’ and it can be put to good use in Venice. Elise invites Frank to join her on her taxi boat, and then in her hotel, where the missing Alex has provided her with wardrobe and jewelry befitting a rogue robber baron’s consort, the sort of people that go to balls in Venice. Unmasked.

Meanwhile, of course there’s a mole in the British police who informs the angry mobster that his goal is in Venice, and he knows the thief well enough to know where he’ll have put up Elise. Now they’re after Frank Tupelo, who is serving his function as the fellow Elise sets up to appear to be the plastic-surgery changed thief. Attack, rescue, attack, rescue, running, climbing, jumping, funny chase scenes in pajamas, people in boats, people falling in canals, all sorts of good fun. As expected, nay required, in any cops and robbers finale, everybody we’ve met shows up again. Including Rufus Sewall, of course.

The script is by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and the director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the quality one might expect from the first two writers. Scenery by whatever deity you choose and old Venetians and Parisians is beautifully photographed by cinematographer John Seale. I'm not trying to throw in a spoiler, since I don’t wish to ruin any innocent fun some undemanding viewers might get from this film, but aspects of the story suffer from the same problems as Act IV scene ii (lines 380-384 of the 1914 Oxford Shakespeare) of “Cymbeline.” Or, of course, any story in which one (or more) characters are in disguise.

When does who know what? Don’t ask. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry on it. Just enjoy the ride.

I’m all for going out to the movies, despite the absurd costs, since there really is nothing like the big screen. Not to mention supporting the economy, supporting new films... Except when they’re retreads of old ones. (Unless they’re remarkably clever and imaginative retakes of old ones, like 2009's “Star Trek.”) In any case, if you would like to see a well written, well directed, and beautifully acted film, with a story that actually makes sense, I suggest staying home.

I just saw, quite belatedly, Masterpiece Theatre’s “Miss Austen Regrets” with Olivia Williams playing our beloved novelist, sharp, acerbic, funny, angry, clever, loving, sad, lonely, remarkable. Greta Scacchi is her elder sister Cassandra, and these two women sit together, silently or speaking, like sisters. It's a lovely thing to watch. Phyllida Law plays their ornery mother. With lots of hardworking, excellent actors, including Pip Torrens, Tom Hiddleston, and Hugh Bonneville, this film is a delightful reconstruction of Ms. Austen’s later years. In the film’s opening, she accepts then turns down a wealthy suitor, landing herself 12 years later in the Hampton “cottage,” Chawton, in which she wrote most of her novels. By this time the author of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park is famous, although her name is not, since it's not shown on the title page or anywhere else. What Miss Austen’s books do show is the depth of her understanding of her society, and particularly women’s place in it. In Gwyneth Hughes script, you’ll recognize moments that Miss Austen lived then put into her novels, you’ll laugh, you'll fume, you'll cry. As directed by Jeremy Lovering, the film is touching and gripping. For Jane Austen fans -- OK, it may be fair to say Jane Austen geeks -- the film is followed by some wonderful audio extras from Jane’s letters, her niece and nephew’s letters, and general reportage on the elusive author. If you’re not a big Jane Austen fan, you don’t have to listen. If you are a fan, enjoy. “Miss Austen Regrets” is well worth a rental -- have a nice cuppa and watch with a cat on your lap.

~ Molly Matera, logging off the computer, but leaving on the light. So much re-reading to do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Millie 1, Hyena 0

Earlier this week I let the cats into my bedroom.

They love running across the entire apartment, landing on the bed, jumping down behind it, and zooming through the tunnel beneath it and back out to the living area.

Since cats don’t know what time it is, the door is closed to them each night when I go to bed. Each morning I’m getting up earlier than before they arrived (this is a good thing), pulling my toes, making the bed, then opening the door to find them sitting waiting for me.

The little ones come right in, and Millie turns in the direction she thinks I should go – toward the kitchen. She does love to eat.

Thursday evening I returned home after dinner in the city. With my phone in my shirt pocket, I went right into the bathroom, where Millie and Wilbur followed me. My cell phone buzzed and rang.

Since I dislike wondering if it’s my phone ringing when it’s not, I had set up some fairly unusual ringtones. When it’s a regular voice call, my phone plays the theme from “Peter Gunn,” a television program from the Sixties. When it’s a text message, it plays a Hyena’s laugh. This may be weird, but I never heard anyone else’s phone ringing with a hyena’s laugh.

The problem is, it apparently sounds realistic, and Millie clearly does not like hyenas. She went wild. She hissed and growled and then leapt up to my shirt pocket to kill the beast. I hastily took the phone out and turned off the ringer and tried to calm her down. Poor Wilbur sat there wondering what his mom was all upset about.

A few minutes later, I placed the phone on the kitchen counter. Again a text message came in, again the damned hyena started laughing and screeching, and again Millie hissed, cowered, arched her back, and sat growling. By this time Chick was awake, sitting on the back of the couch blinking, wondering what was going on. Wilbur stayed on the opposite side of the room watching his mother. Of course I turned off the phone, and promptly deleted the hyena laugh from it. Millie quieted down, but didn’t relax. Nor did the kids. In the middle of the night I got up and opened the door – three ghostly white shapes turned toward me. A tad creepy.

Next morning all was normal – their memories don’t seem to play much part in their lives. Since Millie was found around Forest Park in Queens, I cannot imagine she actually recognized the sound of a hyena laughing – perhaps just a canine type, and those instincts of kitten- and self-preservation kicked in.

Moral of the story – beware of animal voices as cellphone ringtones if you have any animals in your home!

~ Molly Matera, continually catproofing. And wondering -- how can one throw out boxes when the boy so enjoys them?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The King Speaks the Speech

My knowledge of British history between the wars has become, I discovered Friday, rather hazy. In school, I excelled in history classes pertaining to the first half of the 20th century – back in the second half of the 20th century. I still know well the British and American mystery writers of that period, but I had forgotten the names of the real people and the parties and the politics until I saw “The King’s Speech.” My fuzzy memory was not an impediment to involvement in the film’s story, so I can safely encourage others who would not get an “A” in a history class on the period to go see the film. “The King’s Speech” has very little in the way of razzle dazzle (though it has some pomp and circumstance), and no car chases, but it is worth your time. The story is clearly told, its point of view unwavering, and its cast altogether splendid as led by Colin Firth (as the second in line Prince of York, later King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush as the commoner Lionel Logue. The film zeroes in on these two men in a time that would change the tide of western history. And they sure are fun to watch.

The King’s Speech” can refer to two things: first, the speech impediment of King George VI, who, in another time, might have been referred to as Bertie the Stammerer; and second, the final speech of the film, the speech made by a wartime king to his people. The speech impediment would not have been an issue prior to the 20th century and the advent of mass communications via wireless – no, not cellphones or the internet via wifi. The “wireless” was the radio. Although the radio was connected to the wall by an electrical cord and therefore not “wireless” as we use the term today, all the radios in the world were not connected by wires to the place from whence the broadcast emanated. Hence, “wireless.”

[Nor were the Beatles tiny little guys inside my radio, or regular size guys running from a radio station on 34th Street to another in Rockefeller Center playing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” live when I was hearing it, but that’s an altogether different set of childhood beliefs.]

The “wireless” radio was a modern marvel, an equalizer, as well as a destroyer of private space, just as television came to be after it.

King George V (played to perfection by Michael Gambon) seems to be a distant father, to his second son, Albert (Firth), and a disappointed one in his eldest son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). The Queen is played by a coldly regal Claire Bloom. Ms. Bloom’s brief appearances in the film seems to reflect the queen’s brief appearances in her children’s lives, and tend to make us forgive any failures and foibles of her sons. As I said, the point of view of the filmmakers is clear. Not all historians would agree, but they didn’t write this movie.

King George V learned to use the new instruments, the microphone and the radio, to address his people, and expected his sons to do the same. None of this is extemporaneous, all the language is “approved,” and the speeches rehearsed. Edward takes to it readily. Albert, however, while clearly intelligent and well versed in the domestic and foreign affairs of the British Empire, cannot get out three words without stammering and leaving huge pauses – and silence on the airwaves is deadly. Although second in line to the throne, still Albert has duties to perform and he has tried every medical treatment available to cure his stammering to no avail.

Colin Firth was born to play Bertie, later George VI. He is quintessentially British, reserved, with a stick where you’d expect it to be, yet terribly vulnerable in his stance, his eyes, his mouth. The first time he sits down in Logue’s parlor, he crosses his legs and pulls his arms tight to his trunk, as if physically compressing any needs or weaknesses that may emanate in this unfamiliar territory. He is in someone else’s playground, and he doesn’t like it. His stammer is painful to hear, his eyes seeing the words he cannot speak painful to watch. His wife, the future Queen Mum, is played here by Helena Bonham-Carter, more recently seen as madwomen, at which she excels. Her Elizabeth (mother of the future Queen Elizabeth II) is a strong, resolute woman who adores her husband, and works before and behind the scenes to give him the strength and confidence he’ll need in the days to come. The contrast between her and her husband’s mother is very clearly defined in family scenes in which she and Bertie spend time with their two daughters.

It is Elizabeth who pseudonymously seeks out the unconventional Lionel Logue (the wonderfully unconventional Geoffrey Rush), she who maintains the formality of her royal status while inviting the commoner to provide his services in his own way, not the royal way. I quite like Ms. Bonham-Carter in this role – apparently as she ages she can play sane as well as mad.

Initially Bertie, much as he may wish to overcome his stammer, will not play Logue’s game his way, but both Elizabeth and Bertie recognize thresholds passed under Logue’s ministrations that no Harley Street doctors achieved. A decidedly odd and far from comfortable friendship develops between these two disparate men – so uncomfortable that Logue doesn’t tell his own wife that he’s treating the Prince of York until Mrs. Logue comes home to find the royal couple in her parlor. Rush’s Logue is confident, frightened, cocky, subservient, hopeful -- much of this story shows us quotidian moments in this man’s life so he becomes ours, he becomes us. We watch him audition for an amateur theatrical company and fail, then boldly challenge the King of England to overcome his impediment. Rush is a hoot.

It amused me to see Derek Jacobi, clearly an expert stammerer in the “I, Claudius” miniseries, playing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

[Note: If you’re unfamiliar with “I, Claudius,” read the book by Robert Graves and rent the miniseries. It’s fabulous, with appearances by British actors when they were much younger -- some even with hair.]

Wonderful actors pop up throughout the film, including Timothy Spall as a pre-war Winston Churchill (not the usual drawl, but he wasn’t the powerhouse yet, and Spall plays him as a quietly encouraging behind-the-scenes man), Anthony Andrews as Prime Minister Baldwin (Andrews was the pretty young Sebastian in the original “Brideshead Revisited,” and he’s grown gaunt and serious as a prime minister in a tempest-tossed Europe would be), Jennifer Ehle as Logue’s wife Myrtle (smart, to-the-point, and quietly warm), and Eve Best barely recognizable as Wallis Simpson (Mrs. Simpson is not shown favorably here, but Eve Best doesn’t play her as a gold-digger; just as a superficial woman accustomed to getting what she wants, and not considering the consequences to anyone else for so much as a moment.).

The film’s structure and build is chronological, each year bringing the two princes, Edward and Bertie, inevitably to their fates, and each year bringing Bertie and Logue closer to the full disclosure needed to push the accidental king beyond his obstacle. The wireless came closer than the tabloids and long before the internet in exposing the private lives of the powerful. Edward’s insistence on abdicating in 1936 because he could not function “without the help and support of the woman I love” made a private matter public -- his speech over the wireless went out to the entire Empire, on which the sun never set. Once Edward made his irrevocable decision, Bertie had to overcome his own obstacles to take on the mantle of apparent power – that is, he became King, and subject to his people’s needs. He had to be able to speak to them over the wireless, and inspire them. With Lionel Logue’s help, he did.

What Lionel Logue did was more speech therapy than speech pathology. He treated people with emotional and/or physical trauma who’d lost the ability to speak clearly or, in some instances, at all. These could be young men returning shell shocked from World War I, whom no one in the medical professions knew how to help. Or they could be children who, as Logue says in the film, “were not born” stammering, but who came to stammer as they grew up. Simply and clearly, Bertie finally makes bald statements about events of his childhood that preceded the advent of his stammer. No magical cure, this, Logue and Bertie must continue to work and sweat and rehearse so that the King addressing his people could sound as he really was – intelligent, informed, and passionate.

The King’s Speech” is beautifully filmed, the camera lavishing care on the vast interiors of royalty and the halls of power, the tattered wallpapers of the Logues, the rich velvets and stiff collars, the expanses of people gathering to hear their royals speak. From fogbound London to Canterbury Cathedral to Balmoral, the film is photographed splendidly by Danny Cohen and well directed by Tom Hooper. Ms. Bonham Carter’s hats are, of course, marvelous.

This film is entirely sympathetic to Logue and Bertie/Albert (George is the fifth of his Christian names – Albert was deemed too Germanic for an English king coming to the throne as Nazi Germany was rising to the east). The script by David Seidler is succinct and passionate, the acting superb in every scene.

The film is scheduled for a wider release come Christmas. Give yourself the gift of Firth and Rush.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer but not the light. Must re-read my history texts.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

It’s the 7th day. The kids have settled in: Millie the mama, Chick the sister, and Wilbur the brother have grown accustomed to their new space. I’ve almost grown accustomed to waking up to all the throw rugs tossed around the room. Every day they show me something I need to move if I want it to remain intact.

There was that day when the three of them were racing around the kitchen and I heard a timer start. I caught them all on the counter, and the “timer” sound was the oven they’d turned on. Oh dear. Here you see the pressure sensitive controls of my oven, complete with paw prints.

Here you see the solution -- little lids of little plastic crates from Staples, plus priceless duct tape, of course.

I covered the sink cleaning powder, since they appear to have bounced into it and shot its powder all over. They’ve even knocked over the knife block! Joint effort, or Millie alone?

Millie is getting heavier – it’s as if she doesn’t believe she’ll stay here and continue to be fed. The little ones are hungry in the morning, then they go running around, turning the Bose on and off. I’ve rigged a temporary cover and shifted their path to another side of it.

Spent many hours today clearing up the bedroom to make it more habitable – first the closet, threw out some things, made room for other things in the bedroom that needed a new stash. Anything in bags went into boxes or drawers I could close to keep the cats out. I cleaned, I vacuumed, I stashed. Enough done to allow the cats to come into the bedroom when I’m home, so I no longer have to shut the bedroom door constantly. Right now all 3 are sitting in the bedroom with me. Mama Millie is alternately licking herself and her daughter, except when she decides to fight with Chick. Wilbur is disappearing into the pillows (not the ones I sleep on, they’re covered!).

Now, so long as I’m home, they can enjoy the afternoon light streaming into the bedroom, and run an even longer length of the apartment. There are still things to clear out, still wires to tie up, but we all have the run of the whole apartment now. Frabjous.

Just a tad worried about Millie overeating. Maybe I should rename her “Scarlet,” since she clearly thinks she must ensure that she’ll “never be hungry again.”

~ Molly Matera, signing off, tying up a few loose ends while the kids catnap.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Childproofing Continues

Day Two was Wednesday, a gray, rainy day with high winds tossing branches about, whirling leaves past the windows, and whistling a frightening tune. While the storm raged outside, the cats sat about subdued, watching me. Wilbur, who’d napped on my hip the day before, ran from me every time I approached.

Chick was less afraid, but no friendlier. Only Millie responded to my petting, only Millie (the mother, former street urchin) was unafraid. Nevertheless, they were no longer sitting in the windowsill.

By evening, when the winds had died down, they were ready to play, not just with their toys, but with any piece of paper I crumpled in their hearing. The window perch I’d set up the night before their arrival suddenly fell to the floor, happily with no one on or under it. The initial adhesive strip had pulled off the windowsill – I’ll have to find a way to fasten it again, since the kids like that perch so much. In the meanwhile, I’ve wedged phone books between it and a counter stool under it to keep it in place.

Day Three, Thursday, dawned bright and cold. I woke realizing that my reasonably neat home was chaotic with the cats’ toys and their re-purposing of all my stuff into yet more toys. I dreaded the mess, and went out to feed them. They’re everywhere, up on the counter, places they should be and places they oughtn’t. Then they tumble all over each other and make me laugh out loud. I cleaned up after their and my breakfasts then left for an early appointment in the City.

On my return they've rediscovered another window – the birds are back after the storm, and the three are tensed to pounce.

Of course, there’s a window, a screen, and bars on the window between them and the birds, so the birds are not worried. Clearly Chick is the huntress, and when she and her brother fight over a crumpled piece of paper, she wins.

None of this distracts them from their exploration of the kitchen. Suddenly there’s a beeping from the stove, as if they’d stepped on the timer. The kittens are too light to have any effect, but Millie is plenty heavy. I yell and wave so they (all three at once) run away, but then I see that they’ve turned on the oven. Must find a way to cover those buttons if Millie’s going to go walking along there.

Millie’s finally used the second perch at the window from which she can actually see the street and passersby. Unfortunately from there she wants to leap to the sink.

Every day an adventure.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Must see what they’re doing in the other room……

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Childproofing for Kittens

I've been a bit distracted lately, planning more than I'd have expected to adopt some new cats. I’ve had cats as long as I can remember. For the last 25 years, I’ve adopted cats who were 5 years old or so. Well, the last of those died last June, and I decided, after a break and a trip, that as much as I loved my older cats (Dashiell and Rupert Count of Henzau, then Rupert and Milo), this time I wanted to start fresh with kittens. This decision meant two things: First, since my last three cats each lived to between 16 and 18 years of age, I must assume that I’m taking responsibility for these lovely creatures for the next two decades. Second, perches that were unlikely targets for older cats must be assumed alluring and accessible to kittens. Therefore I must childproof my apartment.

The Kitchen
The plants: The herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, and oregano) are not listed anywhere as poisonous, so all I need worry about is a cat leaping onto the table and knocking it all over. In warmer weather – that is, no danger of frost – the herbs live outside, but they need shelter now.

Philodendron. Well, its shoots were hitting me in the head anyway, so they’re now draped across the soffit, and the Aloe plants are hung higher.

Old cats don’t leap much. Mind you, my 17-year-old Milo leapt to the counter stool and then to the counter. So what about those higher leaps, longer leaps, that a young and energetic cat may make….or at least attempt….

Uh oh. Is nothing safe?

Generally cats are happy with this perch by the back window…..

But leaping is a joy in itself, so I am wondering……….What about this one from the piano to the high shelves…?

And then of course there are the wires and cables……….

So, in the past few weeks I’ve made some adjustments to the tangled cables behind the television/cable box/DVD/VCR/Wii cords and cables. At least it’ll be tougher for them to hurt themselves now. Won’t it?

I’ve added two perches to windowsills, which left some jars and things without a home, making for a more crowded counter. I must declutter EVERYthing.

They like this one:

And so far could care less about this one, which is good if I needn’t worry about those tassels appearing particularly alluring.

And of course I added a large litter box for multiple cats hidden behind dark brown rattan. Today when the mama cat (I’ve named her Millie) and kittens arrived, their foster mums left an extra litter box since they thought I’d need it, and we found a place to squeeze it in.

Foster mum had named all three cats temporarily, but I’d already picked names for my new cats (whom I’d assumed would be boys, what I usually have): “Wilbur” and “Chick” after Abbott & Costello’s character names in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Meanwhile, foster mums were calling the girl Betty, and Chick should work for her; they called the boy Charlie (a perfectly fine name), and the transition to Wilbur for him has been easy. Chick, Chica, whatever, doesn’t seem quite right, at least not yet. No matter, they don’t answer to their names anyway!

The tube is the killer.

They love the tube. All three of them, even mama cat. It’s in the middle of my living space. And I’m keeping the bedroom door closed until…. it’s so decluttered as to be “safe?” Oy.

So the space evolves to fit its residents. I’m sitting in Starbucks typing this up, the longest I’ve been away from the apartment with them in it since they moved in this morning. I stepped away for laundry, but then sat with them again, played with them again, and Wilbur leaned in for a good nap on my hip.

When I returned from some quiet time (a.k.a. bill-paying) in the bedroom, the little ones scattered as if I were a new entrant. Millie seems to like me OK. Of course, she LOVES the windows, and the back door, which I eventually closed since they all went just a little bit mad. Everyone goes a little mad every now and then.

Chick likes walking across the Bose, so I’ll suddenly hear static from the radio station she’s displaced. Wonder what’ll happen in the morning when it starts playing a CD! Her eyes, by the way, are not blue, although the photo in the bathroom shows her eyes picking up the color of the walls....

So day one, the only casualty has been one dish. Teach me to leave it next to a stack of books on a table that two kittens clashing in air may bump into to create a chain reaction of sliding….
And of course, they don't just love the windows. Mama Millie wants out, and the kids are pretty curious, too.

Day Two awaits, and more photo ops.

Maybe Thursday I’ll go to a movie and talk through my review with them…..

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ready for Red

Red” was fun. It holds few surprises, but met my expectations for a couple hours of guilty pleasure. The pleasures include Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, and Ernest Borgnine. Yes, Ernest Borgnine. Oh, and Richard Dreyfus. And Mary-Louise Parker. These delightful actors had a good time, and so did we. There are many, many, many explosions, big weapons, car chases, more explosions, bad people, and not so bad. And some more explosions.

If you’re looking for depth and great drama, this picture is not for you. If absurd action and slightly-to-totally-crazy characters played by actors you’ve enjoyed for years are what you need, “Red” will do it.

~ Molly Matera, really signing off this time!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Time to Re-Read Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” flies by. Its running time is over two hours, but you won’t notice. One minute the old gang was gathering in the empty Dursley house drinking Polyjuice Potion, and the next the movie’s over and the tide has turned the story even darker than it started.

The Deathly Hallows” needs long shots in silence, quiet moments where you can tick off the seconds during which no character speaks. Many movies need that, but many filmmakers and studios and producers don’t allow for it. “The Deadly Hallows” achieves these moments, and, hard as it may be to believe, these moments show us that it is not only for pure profit that the producers of the Harry Potter series have chosen to split the last book into two movies. This story needs two parts to do justice to the resolution of the 7-book, 8-movie series. The characters deserve this.

I’m not going to write an in-depth review, especially since the film only opened (quite stupendously) five days ago. No spoilers here. Well, I hope not. The film opens with sad relocations and silent separations. Once again, characters we like go and die on us, and everyone, including the audience, must go on without them. Bill and Fleur’s wedding at the Weasley home goes ahead as scheduled despite the sadness. Life and people -- even witches and wizards-- go on.

The growing evil strikes again, and our three heroes are separated from everyone and everything they’ve known. Harry, Hermione and Ron find themselves on their own, without their network of supportive adults and fellow students, and continue on the quest bequeathed to them by Dumbledore – to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

There are moments when the Harry Potter book/film series puts me in mind of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series: Although both Harry Potter and Buffy Summers are meant (by fate if nothing else) to be lone warriors, they win friends and influence people, remarkably loyal people. And smart! These are people we want to watch year after year, developing relationships that are deep and complex. We’ve watched these children grow up into a hard cold world, and hope they’re smart enough, strong enough, and good enough to survive.

This Harry Potter film isn’t full of laughs, although it has a few – what film that includes Rupert Grint could not. If Daniel Radcliffe has grown into a pretty young man, Grint has grown into a brawny hunk, Ron’s bad wardrobe notwithstanding. Emma Watson’s Hermione is still a delightful and strong leader, and her feelings for Ron are well played here.

We don’t see much of the adults in this film, but that’s a large part of the point. Harry, Hermione, and Ron must grow up in so many ways, and fend for themselves. They must become the adults.

A favorite of mine, Helen McCrory, is here as Lucius Malfoy’s wife, in seconds going from frightened to vicious. Jason Isaacs is wonderful as ever but more so as a trembling Lucius Malfoy. Tom Felton as the dreaded Draco is even better than usual here – yearning, afraid, and somehow far closer to decent than we or he could have thought. Helena Bonham Carter is just right as the mad Bellatrix. I’ve enjoyed her work more as she left behind normal women and moved to slightly mad to totally insane ones. I wonder what her young Queen Mum will be like in the upcoming “The King’s Speech.”

The film’s palette and light are in shades and shadows of darkest nature. The cinematographer Eduardo Serra gives us the wide open spaces of this small island, more terrifyingly lonely space than our heroes have experienced before.

Cheers to director David Yates, who kept the film moving briskly while taking the time to develop the growing personalities and relationships of Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

And cheers to Steve Kloves for a tight script accomplishing the impossible task of bringing the feeling and flavor of the story so far to the screen, and ending with a cliffhanger just when we needed it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,” the seventh of eight films, is vastly superior in my mind to #6 (“Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”), and makes me impatient for summer when Part 2 will open. But then the series will be done, so never mind. I’ll wait quite patiently.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer, but not the light. I have an urge to read the whole series again.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Never Knew

I stopped by the White Horse Tavern tonight. The downtown one on Bridge Street, not Hudson. I made notes on my meeting with SH regarding a variation on my children’s book that was published back in ’06. It’s a new project, and an exciting one. Of course, I continued in note-making mode until I had a chance to converse with Mike and Helen, scribbling bullet points about my list of things, virtual and physical, to do. Which is long.

I had not seen Helen and Mike, the owners (on Facebook, it’s specifically "The White Horse Tavern, Bridge Street" – the “The” matters), since early October. Even when my office moved from lower Manhattan to lower Tribeca last spring, I’d managed to stop by once a month. It was time.

When I got to the White Horse around close of business, there weren’t enough people there. Normally when I arrive, those people who get out of work at close of business have been there drinking for a few hours, but there weren’t even half a dozen people. Soon some 20-somethings in pleated plaid skirts too short for Catholic school showed up to promote an Irish red ale, Smithwick’s (pronounced “Smiddix”) by giving away free pints. No one argued. Alas, I include myself in that. Still, too few folk for “hump day” in the financial district. The reason became apparent in conversation.

Around the corner on Stone Street has always been A.J. Kelly’s, another Irish pub. As of tonight, A.J. Kelly’s is no more. Their so-long-farewell-it’s-our-last-night-in-business-as-A.J.Kelly’s party was in full swing, and apparently no customer paid for anything.

A.J. Kelly’s and the White Horse Tavern lived back to back facing Stone and Bridge Streets, respectively, for decades, linked by a parking lot that one could enter and/or exit from either street. In the past few years, a hotel chain had taken over the space inhabited by the erstwhile parking lot. We’d been waiting for this new hotel to be completed and spark new business for the two bars, as well as the other businesses in the area. Alas, there is still no hotel. This is no surprise to New Yorkers, who just blame the mob for every delay in construction. What with one thing and another, the partners who ran A.J. Kelly’s (none of whom were named Kelly) had no choice but to sell. The good news: The people on staff at A.J. Kelly’s have kept their jobs, and the holiday party reservations will be honored. So A.J. Kelly’s doesn’t exactly bite the dust – under its new management the bar will be rechristened something-or-other-Murphy’s, and will still serve bar food and alcohol, and provide employment.

This is a typical New York story. Why does it hit me so hard tonight? Especially since I haven’t frequented Kelly’s for the better part of a decade…..?

That’s about my friend George.

My friend George and I drank too much in our years together at a massively major investment banking firm. When our offices were at New York Plaza, we drank alternately at the White Horse and A.J. Kelly’s. When our offices moved up a smidge to Old Slip, we went to the closer bars, the Old Blarney (not part of the Blarney Stone chain, although we cheered many a Yankee game at the nearest of those) and then back down to its sibling, the White Horse Tavern. George and I were malcontents, frustrated artists, and we liked to drink and grouse, but the place one chooses to drink -- after all, there are so many possibilities -- must eventually be narrowed down, and the deciding factor is: people. And we really, really liked Mike and Helen, who, at the time, owned and ran both the Old Blarney and the White Horse.

The thing is, tonight, I want to call George. I want to tell him that Eamon (the younger) is still tending bar at the soon-to-be-erstwhile A.J. Kelly’s, and will keep his job after its reincarnation. I want to tell him that I chatted with Mike this evening, and with Helen.

This past summer I wrote George of my resignation from the aforementioned investment firm. I expected to hear joyous congratulations. I heard nothing. Finally our mutual friend KG-D told me why. I am happy beyond measure that George and I had the chance to speak before he died in September. I suppose I never thought my friends could die. 2010 has taught me otherwise.

I never knew how much I would miss him. After all, George moved back down to South Carolina years ago. Still, we corresponded. Occasionally spoke. He visited New York a few times. No matter the distance, I could always write to him. Even if he didn’t answer for months at a time, if something he might want to know occurred, I could and did write. Now, my e-mail provider bounces back messages undeliverable to his erstwhile e-mail address. Now, everywhere we used to go, someone asks me about him, as Eamon did tonight. And every time I have to relive the reality that my friend is dead, I’m shocked. It makes me want to restart my life somewhere else so no one ever asks. So I don’t have to recognize and admit that this man, this friend, of my own generation, is dead. This man with whom I felt free to share my thoughts, my aspirations, this man who shared his thoughts and dreams with me, this man who was my friend… is dead.

I never knew how much I would miss him.

-- Molly Matera, signing off, turning off the computer to do what George would have wanted me to do: Write.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Traveling To My New World

As of 15 October 2010, I resigned from a corporate job I’d had for 14 years. Not the same position all the while, of course, but 14 years in one place. I’d been at the firm as a “permatemp” for five years before going full time, but that doesn’t count from a corporate point of view. From a real world point of view, however, I’d been out of circulation, and out of the job market, for 19 years.

People responded differently to my resignation -- my friends rejoiced and congratulated me. My family wondered about my sanity. My colleagues varied between amazement and envy. As it is, I seem to have a great many expectations to fulfill.

But not yet.

Next on the schedule was a trip. In all those years, I’d never taken off two weeks together, so my first plan was to go away for two weeks. I had no pets at home to guilt me out of it, and I learned how to use my inaccurately named ‘frequent flyer miles’ that had built up over years on two airline credit cards. For this trip, I paid for the rental car in northern California, and hotels, and my last flight home from Chicago. But for the rest, I flew for nothing (except when I gave myself the gift of “economy plus, and that “plus” was just enough).

Before I left, I had planned to write something resembling a journal about my travels, “blogging” each night. Alas, that didn't happen, and the days turned into weeks, and here I am with some notes about my travels, and nothing yet online – except pictures and little videos taken with the Flip camera my team gave me when I left.

To Drive or To Fly
I’ve always wanted to drive cross country, like the guys on that old TV show, “Route 66.” Of course, as a female of a certain age in the 21st Century, working jobs day to day to fuel and maintain the car is not as practical for me as it was for Martin Milner and George Maharis (later Milner and Glenn Corbett – yes, the original Zefram Cochrane on the original “Star Trek”). Were I to attempt it now, I’d doubtless run into snowfall on mountain roads, which would not be fun. I postponed yet again.

My friend Eric has a traveling cat. This little buddy is apparently amenable to the occasional move cross country while Eric works in different regional theatres. I’m hoping my next cat(s) will be more amenable to vehicular travel, but meanwhile….I was on my own.

I have driven cross country. Decades ago I shared the driving with eight other actors. My first paying job as an actor was a non-union US tour of a bowdlerized “The Comedy of Errors” (which ran an hour ten, so yes, it was severely abridged). The nine of us were packed into a white Volkswagen van with our luggage and our costumes. A coffin-like box had been fastened to the top of the vehicle to carry our folding set. This box was not in the slightest bit aerodynamic, and we felt its pull on mountain roads and straightaways in any kind of wind. No speed was to be had in that VW bus. We played in 40 states in no rational order. There ought to be a law that producers must look at and understand maps before booking their actors in absurdly overlapping zigzag patterns around the continental U.S., offering shortened dollops of the Bard to junior and senior high school audiences.

At any rate, I’ve been all over the country, but we were working – tight schedule allowed little time for sightseeing. We drove to our performance site, set up, did the show, broke it down, sometimes talked with the students, then went to a Days Inn that looked just like the last one, found laundromats, ate bad food, and had the time of our lives – the sort of job that would allow us dinner stories for months to come.
A quarter century later, I’d thought my little vacation would afford me a more intimate introduction to a few places, but the time spent in each of the cities I traveled to in twelve days was absolutely insufficient. Like a bus tour around Britain I took with my mother 30 or so years ago, all I learned was which places required and deserved a longer stay.
  • The First Leg -- Northern California, from Sacramento to Mendocino
  • The Second Leg -- A Weekend in San Francisco
  • The Third Leg -- Minneapolis
  • The Fourth Leg -- Chicago

Tuesday, 19th October:
The alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, but my nerves had already awakened me. I grabbed my toes and pulled and stretched, then jumped in the shower. The large suitcase that I’d have to check was already done. I put those last daily-use items into the backpack acting as a carryon overnight case, which would ensure I’d have the necessaries if the airline misplaced my checked bag. The car service arrived early, making me nervous – it does no good to say he has to wait for me. Once in the car, it stank. I cranked the window and pulled out my itinerary, but there was no light in the car either. Since I am anal enough to always carry a flashlight, I could still go over the plans for the umpteenth time.

By 6 a.m. I was checked in and looking for breakfast at LaGuardia. I didn’t want to start the trip wrong, so looked for nondairy creamer at the “Beanery” on the lower level. Powdered stuff, but that would do. When the woman behind the counter brought me my bagel and coffee, I asked for the non-dairy creamer. Apparently she seemed to have never heard of non-dairy creamer until I pointed it out to her. In a coffee and breakfast franchise. I can be patient. I will train myself to be patient.

It was very dark. No darker than midnight, but no sign of lightening before I flew. The two United flights (changed planes in Chicago, of course, where I started off the trip energetically, taking every staircase available). Flying over the middle of the country, then at a lower altitude as we get closer to California, I am amazed at this country, this huge land, the distances between settlements, the tiny roads through mountains, the courageous people who traveled across this land without cars with GPS and CD players. Beautiful, daunting, challenging, remarkable journeys. Mine was easier.

The second flight got us in early to Sacramento, where it was about 80 degrees! There I picked up my rental car – I’d requested a compact, but they provided a 2010 Camry. It drove beautifully, but lacked one of my favorite elements of my much older car – the compass built in to the rearview mirror. Knowing in what direction one’s headed would be especially handy in a rental, I should think. No matter, I read maps. I drove north on Route 5, coming to my first turnoff less than an hour later, and headed west on Route 20. This is one of those roads…. It twists, it turns, it curves, it climbs, it drops, it levels off, then does it all over again. Signs warn 20 mph as even tighter turns show up. This is a video from one of the lovely “turnouts” I used. Slower traffic is demanded to pull over into these turnouts so vehicles can pass, and I happily did so for those cars more confident of the road than I.

I drive and drive and drive and don’t seem to get very far. This is not a highway. On my left the mountains give way to an extraordinary blue lake that goes on forever. It is Clear Lake, and I drove slowly around its northern shore for well over an hour. I pulled over in Lucerne and chatted with friendly people in the tourist office, who advised me of how long it actually takes to get places around here.

I’d been driving for two or three hours when a dashboard light went on saying “Airbag is turned off.” I didn’t turn anything off. I didn’t turn anything on. I kept driving, heading to Route 101.

I’d looked through the AAA Tour Guide for the area, narrowing down potential hotels/motels at which to break my journey to Fort Bragg. Some possibilities lay south on 101, fewer northerly, but northerly was where I needed to end up. I drove up to Willits, “Gateway to the Redwoods,” quickly spotting the strip of motels and fast food joints, but I wanted real food. Wouldn’t have minded a brew either. I drove thither, I drove yon, motels and good food were not near one another, so I parked, ate mediocre Chinese, then grumpily chose a motel.

It was the Baechtel Creek Inn & Spa, and my AAA card got me a reduced rate for a lovely room I’d have been happy to spend a week in it anywhere but Willits. Although the air had chilled considerably by sunset, the hot tub was still hot and bubbly and inviting, and I partook. I watched the light fade from the sky through leafless branches of the trees lining the dried out Creek. It was a lovely set up. Too bad I’d be leaving in the morning.

Wednesday, 20th October
After yesterday’s 70-80 degree weather, the morning was quite chilly, more like the weather I expected. I’d spoken with my cousin, and told her I’d be heading to Fort Bragg, expecting to take an hour or so to get there from Willits. Although my cousin drives these roads all the time (there are no others), it takes her a good hour each time as well. OK, it’s not just me.

Route 20 west from Willits to Fort Bragg is 34 miles long. It’s a winding mountain road. Mostly going slow. Those wonderful “turnouts” allowed me to look around and let faster cars go by. But first I shot this video:

And that was enough of that. I’m afraid there’s no neat ending to that video, since I just pulled the Flip in the window and turned it off without a plan. I wanted both hands on the wheel for this drive. It wound, it climbed, and climbed some more, and twisted and turned and offered fabulous views and terrifying drops. I came to a sign that said I’d gone 11 miles. It felt like 50.

When at last I came upon a sign that said Fort Bragg was 11 miles away, I breathed a huge sigh, and then saw an “Adopt a Highway” sign which read “Fort Bragg: Starbucks.” Starbucks! I can get a soy chai latte! I’d been driving for three quarters of an hour from Willits, which is 34 miles from Fort Bragg. I’ll wait while you do the arithmetic. 23 miles in 45 minutes. No, it wasn’t traffic.

The Fort Bragg Starbucks is right on Route 1 at Walnut, perhaps five blocks from my motel on Oak. I call them for directions (remarkably simple, but I didn’t yet have a map of Fort Bragg’s layout, which is pretty much a grid), then my Cuz to say I was in Fort Bragg. She lives 25 miles or so away in Albion. As you may have gathered, 25 miles is longer here than in the East. I was tuckered.

The Colombi Motel is next to the Colombi Laundry and across the street from the Colombi Market, where I collected the key to unit 5 as well as a box of kitchen stuff – utensils and two place settings for the full kitchen. Love this motel, with its carport (the door in the apartment that led to it has been sealed, wonder why) and friendly layout – separated in a big horseshoe, cozy.

My Cuz came by, and drove me around to some sights in Fort Bragg, good walking spots. Unfortunately the Skunk Train I had wanted to take ran Wednesday morning while I was driving here and Friday when I’d have to start my drive down to San Francisco. Dang! We spent the day walking, talking, driving, with her showing me the sights along the coast, places she and her family had history over the decades. Not to mention “Jessica Fletcher’s” house, which is not in Maine but rather in Mendocino.

This video is in Fort Bragg, “Glass Beach.”

We visited my Cuz’s son and his two young sons in Mendocino, then drove down to where my cousin and her husband live in Albion, or more accurately, on Albion Ridge. For all these years, I’ve written to them at a PO Box. Now I know why. Mailtrucks are not driving up the road to their place. Albion itself has two or three buildings by the highway, then a two lane road winds through the redwoods on a fairly gradual rise. Truly, I couldn’t even imagine driving those roads in the dark, yet my Cuz and her husband and their neighbors do it every day. What a citified wuss I am.

The road to the house, which my cousin had described as ‘rough,’ was barely a road. It was an unpaved rutted track, climbing sharply up then around and around and ever higher up. Car parts appeared on the side of the road with more frequency until we pulled into the clearing before the house. There were ancillary shacks (one for her husband’s glass-blowing workshop, the other who knows), and a tile and brick walkway led the way to the front door. The house is in the middle of the redwoods, huge pane glass windows open to it, and skylights spreading whatever light was available around the house. Sitting inside as the light faded, the redwoods could have been inside with us as we watched first a Yankee game and then the San Francisco Giants game. The Giants won as we ate dinner. Oddly, they have satellite television, but dial-up internet access. Surely there’s a way to harness….something.

At any rate, that was a big driving day for my cousin, once she drove me back to the motel. Thursday we planned an early dinner midway between my motel and their house.

I think I just like sea level. Mountains are not my thing. The Pacific is remarkable, so different from the Atlantic. Similar latitude to where I go on the Atlantic Coast, but too cold in the Pacific for anyone but rubber-clad surfers. And none of them now. Odd out here -- 80 degrees yesterday, 40-50 today! My cousin explained that by saying, “Welcome to California.”

Thursday, 21st October
On Thursday morning I visited some spots we’d driven by on Wednesday and walked the beach, shot some video, talked to dogs and the seagulls gathered around my car. And the one who wanted to stay. This is Pudding Creek Trestle beach.

A walking day around the nice town that is Fort Bragg. Relaxing. Later my cousin and I met for dinner at Silver’s at the Wharf at Noyo Harbor.
The land rises and falls quite a bit here – Fort Bragg is clearly at sea level at some streets, then suddenly the road drops down to Noyo Harbor, which lies underneath the bridge that brings Route 1 into Fort Bragg from the south. We enjoyed a nice dinner watching the sun set over the harbor, ignoring the ball game on the television in the bar section of the restaurant. Unfortunately, the Giants lost. Because I didn’t watch?

Friday, 22nd October
First thing in the morning, I realized I didn’t have my knit scarf, which I’d had at the Wharf. Checked the car, not there. Left early after checkout to go back to the restaurant, but no luck. Alas, the first casualty. And my throat was a bit scratchy. I put my package of Hall’s lozenges on the seat beside me in the car, filled the tank in Fort Bragg, and started on my drive down to San Francisco by 11 a.m.

The morning was foggy along the coast, and I drove the coast road (Route 1) with growing confidence. I guess I could get used to these roads. And the views. Those would be just fine. Total fog over Albion River and Salmon Creek below Mendocino. Happily there were also plenty of places to pull over. I stopped at Van Damme Park to take some photographs then continued down Route 1 to the Navarro River, where I turned into the redwoods on Route128, another two-lane highway. It’s extraordinary driving through the redwoods. They tower to the sky on either side of the road, with glimpses of dim light breaking through. The occasional turnout allowed people like me to pull over and just stare. And take pictures, of course. Otherwise it’s a 50 mile an hour road with the occasional 25 mile portion to allow for tight curves. Nature definitely wins out here.

Eventually the road broadens into the Anderson Valley, which opened up sunny with intermittent light rain. Once the fog lifted, the rain continued steady all the way south. I was looking for Cloverdale, where I’d switch from Route 128 onto Route 101 south to San Francisco. At 1:10 p.m. I stopped for lunch at the “World Famous Hamburger Ranch & BBQ” at the Cloverdale junction of Routes 128 and 101.

A perfect lunch break revived me for the remaining drive through incessant rain to San Francisco. The rain never let up, my throat worsened, the traffic got heavier just where my friend had told me it would, then opened up again. By the time I reached San Francisco, the rain had lessened and the fog took over. The Golden Gate Bridge is awesome even fogged in. Perhaps especially when fogged in. Happily I had picked the right neighborhood for someone who’d had enough driving for a while. By 3:35 I was in my room at the Hotel del Sol in the Marina District. It’s a brightly colored three-story hotel wrapped around a courtyard. It’s cheery.
After moving my belongings from the car and into the room on the second floor, I got rid of the car at the Fisherman’s Wharf Hertz and started to wander. Skies were gray but forbore. It was pleasant walking, and I tackled my first San Fran hill of the trip. Alas, not my last.

That evening I initially walked the wrong way out of the hotel. Lombard goes eastward toward Van Ness and westward back toward the Golden Gate Bridge and Fillmore. Yes, that Fillmore. Toward Van Ness, I found nothing to eat or drink (OK, that’s not really so – Japanese place, Vietnamese place, Thai place, but I really wanted a beer and a burger). I turned northerly toward the Marina and asked some women walking a dog where I could find a simple tavern. We chatted for several minutes, and the girl without the dog pointed me in the opposite direction I’d gone from the hotel. All the action is from Fillmore and west. There I found happiness. Or at least a number of places with comfort food and alcohol. I chose a place called “Barney’s,” which is apparently a chain, but I don’t care. GREAT Halloween decorations, a fine beer list if bottled (I had Samuel Smith “Organic Lager,” which was excellent) and chicken and fries and spinach.

California takes Halloween very seriously. Houses and businesses decorated very well, including this restaurant. Imaginative, good masks, dressed in red and black rags. Some of it creepy, even babies with sharp buck teeth.

Saturday, 23rd October 2010.
Difficult night. Cold really kicked in, and though I got a cup of hot water from the office (for which they charged me until the term “philanthropy!”), there’s no microwave or coffeemaker in the room so I couldn’t dose myself with lots of tea nor heat my herbal pillow. Heard every noise on the walkways, and even with blinds shut it seemed too light. 6:30 in the morning the person upstairs started moving around and never stopped. Woke with shoulders aching. Finally got up snuffling near 9. I opened the blinds to see the rain in the courtyard, as well as an intrepid dad and daughters swimming in the outdoor pool, which was one of the reasons I chose this hotel. Alas, I certainly didn’t feel well enough to use it, so I showered hot water onto my shoulders and went down for breakfast. Nice spread including oatmeal with teas and coffee, but no place to sit inside. There would be seats outside, but it was still raining. I was able to heat the herbal pillow in the microwave on the breakfast table (not sure what it was used for). Had lots of vitamin C in juice forms.

For some reason the Flip camera wouldn’t upload– it only likes the one USB and seems to require internet. Works OK with WiFi but not when I plug in the Verizon broadband thingy. This logic escapes me.

I splurged (in terms of calories, fat, etc.) on a real breakfast at Mel’s Diner (yes, another chain, again I don’t care! It even had the old “jukebox” at the counter!) at Lombard and Steiner. Eggs at last! And not Lipton tea, good tea, in a pot, with honey! Love it! Then I walked up to Marina Green on Fillmore.

Saturday morning I explored the Marina under cloudy skies. After staring at the water and the runners and the gulls, I found that rare gem, a public bathroom right where I needed it. I love San Francisco.

My friend JMA has been working long late hours in L.A., so I didn’t expect her to arrive until afternoon. We finally got together around 3 (I took advantage of the lag time to at nap), caught up a bit, then gathered our rain gear and started walking through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Fort Mason, then through the tourist den of Fisherman’s Wharf. We made our way to Pier 39, but alas, the population of sea lions was quite a bit less than expected: We’ve walked all over New York in all seasons, but since I was already getting sick as I drove down here from Fort Bragg, I couldn’t really keep up very well.

All in all, JMA and I had about 24 hours in San Francisco. By a little after noon, though, the skies opened again and the rain kept up until near 6 Sunday evening. JMA and I walked through it all – except for when we stopped at a charming Italian restaurant, the Panta Rei Cafe on Columbus Avenue and enjoyed some lovely food, a warming glass of Scotch for me and wine for JMA, and watched the San Francisco Giants win the National League pennant. Three nights before, I’d cheered them on with my cousins up in Albion, and they’d won over the Phillies. The following night I paid no attention to the game although it played in the background of The Wharf at Noyo Harbor. Alas, they lost. It’s me. I was happy to redeem myself and watch them win on Saturday. Sorry, Phillies fans. I don’t think JMA spends much time in places where sports fans congregate. She seemed surprised at the excess, the cheering, the mass exodus once the Giants had won, and the continuing celebration in the streets of San Francisco. We walked up some of those crazy hills, tried to help a woman catch her frightened dog, and made our way back to the hotel. Funny thing about those hills, you think you must be at the top, and you’ll find a great view, but there’s always another hill. How can that be?

Sunday, 24 October.
In the morning we overslept, then got over to Mel’s Diner for another good breakfast. Everyone and everything is damp. I wished for the rainboots children wore. I wished for a respite from the rain. We walked toward the Octagon House and found it, but it’s only open a few days a month, and it’s not today. We shopped at a charming place called Jest Jewels on Union Street. Some gifts for others, some gifts for ourselves. By three in the afternoon, I was wiped, and JMA had to start heading back. Off she went with her overnight bag that was the size of the backpack I normally carried from Queens to Manhattan on workdays. Me, I went back to bed.

After napping a few hours and feeling moderately better, I chose not to starve my cold. After all, in 12 hours I’d be up, getting ready for the airport shuttle, before breakfast would be served at the hotel. Eat now. Dinner (spicy fish sandwich and fries) and two pints of Widmers at local “City Tavern” made me feel much better. The horseshoe-shaped bar seated about 25, with an additional dining area focused on a huge television screen. Some of the people seemed rapt by the football game, but everything was a letdown after last night’s big baseball win.

The Marina district is filled with charming architecture, views of the Bay, and plenty of nightlife around and west of Fillmore. I’d recommend it for anyone visiting. Just don’t bring the rain.

Monday, 25 October.
Early morning flight, so I sat in the hotel lobby awaiting an airport shuttle. It took an hour to drive around San Francisco picking up others and then get out to the airport, but it cost $16. Can’t beat it. What can be beat was the appalling mess at San Francisco Int’l Airport with an overbooked Delta flight taking an hour to get through the checkpoint. The flight was cramped and unpleasant and I knew I’d never book another Delta flight again, free or not. Yes, this one too was on “skymiles.” At the gate in Minneapolis, I grabbed a banana and a soy chai latte at the Starbucks, then went in search of my luggage. My friend MM picked me up at the Minneapolis airport, and we awaited my suitcase together, then she drove the short distance to her 1912 house inhabited by three cats and a dog.

I’d also been in touch with an actor friend in Minneapolis, CS. I’d wanted to get MM and CS together since the latter had moved to Minneapolis earlier this year, since MM is a theatre lover and CS is a theatre professional. We arranged something like “high tea” the following day. Meanwhile, MM gave me a driving tour of rainy Minneapolis. It hadn’t been raining until that morning. Apparently I brought the California rain with me.

Minnesota is indeed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Minneapolis has quite a few all on its own. We drove around them, stopping at Lake Harriet to visit its wonderful bandshell. Sometimes we drove around in circles, and we never did find Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books. But by then, I already knew I’d need to return to each of the cities I’d had speedy tours of for a deeper look. I’d find my way to Birchbark next time. When it wasn’t raining. We had a nice dinner at Barbette’s on South Irving, then went home to relax, unpack, do a little laundry, and watch “Castle” with Natalie the Pit Bull.

Tuesday, 26 October.
On Tuesday morning we went to brunch at the Minneapolis Art Institute, a marvelous place. It’s not so big as to be overwhelming, but certainly cannot be covered (at least not by someone like me) in a day. We spent several hours there in the Thaw Collection of “Art of the Native Americans” ( The exhibit includes different regions of North America and the Native Americans native to each area. Each section included a video introduction by a modern artisan – bead weavers, dancers. We were both mesmerized by a video by Nicholas Galanin, an artist of the Tlingit/Aleut and Northwest coast; David Elsewhere danced the program. The fascinating videos were called “Tsu heidei Shugaxtutaan (parts 1 and 2)” and I’ve found them online at:

In the afternoon we met up with my friend CS at French Meadows, a charming place with lots of tasty salads and pastries. The afternoon moved lazily on, and MM invited CS to join us at her home for the dinner she’d prepared. We three made our way back to the house, putting out some cheese while MM got dinner together, but neither CS nor I wished to sit in the living room while MM worked in the kitchen, so we joined her there with our wine and beer, respectively. It wasn’t long before we heard odd noises from the other room. When there are three cats and a dog in the house, strange noises are not alarming, but we went to look. All of the cheese had disappeared, and there was Natalie, happily eating everything in sight. Surely this would have a bad end.

During a simple meal together, MM and CS discussed Minneapolis theatre, of which MM has been knowledgeable for years. I achieve one of my dearest goals – to introduce my friends to one another in their newly adopted cities. Importantly, CS advises me to see “Detroit” at Steppenwolf when I go to Chicago later in the week.

Wednesday, 27 October.
We have brunch late, and I misplace my wallet. I began to panic, thinking of when I last had it, then found it. I also misplaced a pair of pants, inside my luggage! For goodness’ sake, I was totally losing it -- Maybe two weeks is too long a vacation for me.

And yes, Natalie and the cheese had a bad end.

We took the quiet, efficient light rail and explored downtown Minneapolis, where I said hi to Mary Tyler Moore.

In the evening we went to the Guthrie Theatre, which has commissioned a dramatization of Louise Erdrich’s novel, “The Master Butchers Singing Club.” On the way in I again see a strange sign, which I’ve seen in some downtown stores. Apparently in Minneapolis people need to be told where guns are not welcome:

Director Francesca Zambello was enthralled with Erdrich’s novel, and the artistic director of the Guthrie was entranced with the idea as well. Finally Marsha Norman wrote the play, and Ms. Erdrich herself was included in the process. The result is marvelous. I have not read Ms. Erdrich’s work yet, and most of the audience probably had. It’s a Brechtian style of story-telling, and spans quite a few years. The last decades are a bit rushed at the end of the play, but by then we already care quite a lot about the characters. I could have wished for a few more scenes with certain characters and a few less with others, but all in all a marvelous night at the theatre. Inside the Guthrie is fabulous. Outside, it’s pretty odd looking. The skies were still stormy, the winds high, so we were unable to use one of the architect’s darlings, a balcony overlooking the river. Too high for me anyway.

Thursday, 28 October 2010
Arrive at MSP with MM at 9:30 a.m. Checked luggage. Boarding pass in hand by 9:45. Security check done, my shoes back on, by 10 a.m. 10:13 sitting at French Meadows with breakfast, tea, and a bottle of water for the flight to Chicago. So was the disaster at San Francisco about California or about Delta? Based on previous experience with Delta, I’m guessing Delta.

All’s going quite well, but an issue arises: Flight delayed (this one’s United), probably a full hour. Is this a Minneapolis issue? Of course not. The problem originates at O’Hare! Apparently some valve that one might have thought would have been updated in ordinary inspection was not as it should be in Chicago, so the Chicago to Minneapolis flight was delayed while it was fixed, and subsequently our Minneapolis to Chicago flight was also delayed. Still, the gate crew did their best to assist passengers changing planes in Chicago (there were some failures, however), the actual flight was fine, and O’Hare was not at all the nightmare I had feared.

What I noted on landing was that, while I’d started this trip taking all the steps and eschewing escalators and moving walkways, this time I took every shortcut available. I was tired. Nevertheless, I made my way to the trains and took the blue line “L” to downtown Chicago, found the correct bus stop to get me up to my hotel, but grabbed an available cab anyway. My hotel is above the Chicago River, in an area designated the Magnificent Mile. It’s a great location for shoppers, of which I am not one. Far more importantly to me, about five blocks east is Lake Michigan. I took a little walk, and what did I find: A BEACH! In the City. The Ohio Street Beach. Have a look:

Made contact with colleagues at the office – in all the years I worked for the firm, I’d worked closely with colleagues in Chicago, but never went there. Now on my own, it’s time. Met some colleagues at The Gage on South Michigan for a lovely dinner. Perfect spot for me -- what looked like fancy wine list bound in leather was a beer list! We had good food and conversation, then they went their ways and I walked through Millennium Park. Met a Red Rex then found the infamous Bean, which is as photogenic in the dark as it is in the day.

Walking back over the River, climbing stairs, plenty of people out and about, I understand my former colleague’s comment that the quality of life in Chicago is way superior to New York. I’m getting that feeling that she’s right on that count. Once back at the hotel, I went online and booked a ticket to Steppenwolf. Their web site showed four seats available for the Friday performance, and showed exactly where they were. Terrific. Then I got an email for them with all sorts of information about parking near the theatre. When’s the last time you got a useful e-mail from a New York theatre at which you’d just reserved a ticket. Note, no question mark. Clearly a rhetorical question.

Friday, 29 October.
Spent the morning on a boat. This was the coldest day yet, and I had one layer too few on. The Chicago Architectural Tour boat trip was swell, the architecture of Chicago is remarkable, the river tour is well worth it. Just wished I had one more little layer on.

Afterward I grabbed my usual at Starbucks and went back to sit in front of the hotel lobby’s fireplace for a while. After a hot shower, I was ready to start my land tour and walked into Millennium Park in daylight, took more and more pictures of the fabulous Bean (OK, it’s really called "Cloud Gate"), walked all the way through the Park, down to Grant Park and the Art Institute. Here's the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park.
Then headed away from the Lake and toward the River to visit the Chicago office of my erstwhile employer. Visited there for a while, meeting in person some people I’d only known “virtually” for years.

Finally I checked out Chicago’s Union Station. I was told it was a must-see, but I suppose I’m spoiled. It’s quite nice, clean lines, and not as chaotic and dangerous – nor as grand as --NYC’s Grand Central Station. Nor is it as beautiful as Los Angeles’ Union Station. I wonder how many cities have their own Union Stations, and should I take a trip and visit them all?

All through my walk, I was well aware of all the things I was missing, rushing through and past. I’d have to return. It was nearing the end of business, so I started walking back to the Red Line that would take me to Steppenwolf up in Lincoln Park. In between was what I suppose is the theatre district –

I stopped at an Elephant & Castle for dinner and beer and to ask how long it would take from there to Steppenwolf. No one knew the answer until I stated the closest train station. Gee, to the rest of the world, Steppenwolf is a world-famous theatre company. Apparently not in downtown Chicago.

Steppenwolf is at Clyburn/North on the Red line. It’s about twenty minutes from where I was just below the River and a block from the Red line. Exiting the train station, I came up to find a pond. A cement pond between the station and the Apple store was bright and refreshing.

There are several restaurants along the street where the theatre is – I probably should have come up here straight away and eaten. No matter. The lobby of Steppenwolf is welcoming, pleasant, and friendly. I checked my coat and sipped a hot chocolate and waited for the play, “Detroit,” by Lisa D’Amour.

I like the house. The theatre allows for proscenium or slight thrust. From the few boxes house left and right all action below the proscenium would be easily seen. The balcony is quite close overhanging the last few rows of the relatively shallow orchestra.

I like the set. Backyards. The pre-set provides a set-up, or perhaps even story of the play. Stage right a small two-store house with a satellite dish attached to a dormer window. A barometer attached to the back wall, a neat patio, a nice patio set (table 4 chairs and folded umbrella), a propane BBQ, even a small neat flowerpot on the step between the gliding screen door and the patio. Inside we can see bookcases, neatness, the lawn of a well kept as are the low bushes hedging the a/c unit. Such detail (scenic design by Kevin Depinet).

Stage left is a house from the same time, the same floorplan no doubt, but without the same level of maintenance. An old awning over the original door with a battered dirty screen door over it. A fake looking plant on a wooden deck lacking some slats. A few steps stumble onto the brown lawn. Vines and bushes grow at will. Leaves overflow the gutters. Of course there are none on the stage right house gutters. Starting at the same place, the backyards go to a very different places. Fascinating set up.

A lovely blue sky is backdrop to both and I could hear some birdsong. That’s what we can see before the play starts.

The play is one of different lifestyles, different perceptions, and the tales we tell ourselves. The community is, in the words of the playwright, in that first “ring” outside a metropolitan center – that first slightly suburban area where people escaping the city went for their own houses and a short commute. It was doubtless all quite nice 50 years ago. Lisa D’Amour writes sparkling, character-specific dialogue, and the actors create her world with great dexterity and warmth. “Detroit” is a fine piece of work.

The ride back to the hotel is swift – at no time did I wait more than 6-7 minutes for a bus or a train in Chicago, and I felt quite ready for sleep after my chockfull day.

Saturday 30 October 2010.
Mid-morning PKG, LL, and their son and daughter picked me up at the Marriott and we drove down to the Museum of Science and Industry in what I think of as Jackson Park. Reading Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City” as recommended, there are so many places I’d like to go that I’ve missed, but at least I stopped by Jackson Park and what used to be the site of the "World's Columbian Exhibition" of 1893. I’d met my friend’s 7-year-old son before, and he started talking to his ‘Auntie’ immediately. The baby is five months old -- she was silent but thoughtful, attentive, and never cranky. She’s captivated by movement, breezes moving Halloween decorations, people; she’s smiley and likes to lick fingers.

We spent the day at the Museum of Science and Industry, which is great, fascinating, fun, and offered my first Omnimax (re Hubble). The 7-year-old wants desperately to explore the war exhibits, especially the submarine. Someone will take him eventually, but I respected his mothers’ wishes and did not venture inside the German sub on exhibit. The Museum is fabulous, and by the time it closes at four I’m utterly exhausted. I marvel, as ever, at parents, who spend such arduous days and then bring the children home where they all stay up for many more hours. I just want a bath and a bed! But we go to dinner. I’d seen a sign on a subway car the night before that President Obama would be speaking at a “Moving America Forward Rally” on the Common Midway Plaisance – that is, quite near the Museum. Somehow the traffic wasn’t all snarled up, and we were able to eat in Obama’s old stomping grounds.

I spent my last night in a huge room at Doubletree near O’Hare, which offered a very easy trip in the morning after what I expected would be a noisy night. One drink at the hotel bar, a swim, then I should sleep well despite the planes.

Sunday, 31 October. Halloween.
PKG came by the hotel for breakfast on Sunday, so we got to spend a little quiet time chatting. Next time each place I visited deserves a week of its own, especially Chicago. I’m glad to be going home, although to what I’m uncertain – by this time I was thinking of myself as “unemployed” as opposed to “free at last.” Still decompressing from those 19 years, I’ve yet to find my footing in my brave new world, or my new path. Surely if I can be patient with people who don’t know what non-dairy creamer is, I can be patient with myself.

Again I took a window seat, this time on a Jet Blue flight, this time paying full price. I gazed at the fascinating land far below, until the cloud cover was the only view. Even those are beautiful from up here. Back to New York. Time to find new kitties and new work, and eventually a new me. Time to reinvent myself.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. There are more photographs posted on Shutterfly at Still looking for that new path.......