Sunday, October 30, 2011

Let Me Know When You’re in a Better Mood

“Zombies often rise in theaters and on television when times are tumultuous,” observes Andrew Dansby, the Houston Chronicle’s entertainment writer. His Sunday, 10/30/2011, article points out that anxiety is at the root of allegories in movies. It’s not a cyclical thing. It’s not just for Halloween. The trend was wildly evident way before this. It’s the global angst produced by war, disaster, and economic woe.

The leading edge of this recent spate was Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Now zombies, vampires, and assorted other horrors are popping out of the ground everywhere. It’s a sure-fire indication that economic recovery is equally mythical.
Well, I for one will never give in to dystopian scenarios. Flowers grow even on the bloodiest of battlefields. Most people don’t go cannibalistic because of market downturns. And there’s as much drama under the sun as there is under a full moon. C’mon, People! You don’t need Hollywood ripping flesh from bone to get through this!

Granted, we are in dire need of escapism. But why turn to something even more hellish than our actual situation? Get out of this funk. Come to Ammanon!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Requiem for a Worthy Woman

Aunt Vivian at her 100th birthday party
High-spirited socialite, community activist, inveterate gardener; she stood ram-rod straight, walked at least 80 mph, and had a smile for everybody. She didn’t give up mowing her lawn until she was in her hundreds, and even then still worked at her flower beds.

Aunt Vivian, elder sister of my husband’s mother, died Monday morning, October 24, at the age of 103.
She was raised in Galveston, Texas, during the glory days; the days of live bands on the beach, lavish parties in wealthy homes, and a social circuit that rivaled anything on the East Coast. Even though Aunt Vivian lived in modest circumstances with her little sister and single mom – working hard to support both - she kept in the thick of things. Her gregarious nature relished the social whirl.

During WWII she met and married a Navy man, John Smith, a quiet mechanic/gunsmith. After the war, they settled in Mathis, a depressed resort community 50 miles from Corpus Christi. Even after her teenaged son, her only child, was killed in a car crash, Aunt Vivian remained involved in youth work, her church, and the community. Her tireless efforts and dogged determination to inject pride into shabby little Mathis, TX, led to an oleander-lined highway known as the Vivian Smith Parkway.
Two years ago she returned Galveston where she could go into care near kinfolk. To the end, she was a cheerful and gracious woman, aware of her dementia but pushing ahead anyway. I last saw her on Thursday, our day to go out and eat shrimp. There was no sign that she was nearing the end. She was alert, chatty, and eating well. She simply went to sleep Sunday night, and failed to wake Monday morning.

Way to go, Aunt Vivian. Seriously.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Farewell to Arms, Hello Obscenity!

When Scribners published Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms in 1929, the publishing house replaced all potentially offensive words with a series of dashes. This intriguing fact is part of an article, “Up In Arms,” by Ethan Trex in the hilarious magazine Mental_Floss (where knowledge junkies get their fix), the 2011 Golden Lobe Awards issue. No, my IQ is nowhere near Mensa levels, but I still get a huge kick from cleverly written stories about mind-boggling facts.

Back to Hemmingway. Although the author was understandably miffed that even such mild obscenities as “balls” weren’t permitted in a novel about war and sex, he caved in order to get the work published.
And then (get this) he grabbed up a few copies and reinserted the vulgarities by hand. Mr. Trex knows of at least two corrected texts that survive today. One copy went to French literary translator Maurice Coindreau; the other to Irish novelist and poet James Joyce. Joyce’s copy now resides at SUNY-Buffalo’s library in upstate New York.

Wouldn’t Hemingway love writing in this modern atmosphere of obligatory and gratuitous obscenity? Well, maybe not. Where’s the shock value?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Got 3 minutes to kill? Have a look at these movies from Mars

On the news last night Brian Williams showed some clips of a landscape he compared to the Jersey shore. It was all pretty boring until he announced that it was, in fact, Mars.

The probes, Spirit and Opportunity, were launched June and July 2003 and landed January 2004 in widely separated equatorial places on Mars. This video was shot by Opportunity. Conspicuously absent is the Travelocity Gnome.

 Sadly, the logistics of success dictate a landing in the safest location; i.e. flat and boring. These explorer vehicles cost $850 million, after all. Let’s not jeopardize the mission with unnecessary risks. Of course they can be designed to negotiate steep inclines and torturous terrain. But if I remember correctly, there’s something like a 45-minute delay between the sending and receiving a command.

So say you see the rover approaching the edge of a crater. By the time this data reaches you it's 45 minutes old. By the time your frantic “STOP!” command arrives 45 minutes hence, Opportunity has been a mangled splatter of nuts and bolts for 90 minutes. Now you know why this particular area of Mars looks like the Jersey shore.

Click and see:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Take a Grandson to the

This is the one on the Kemah Boardwalk. The downtown Houston location is much more spectacular but Grandma doesn’t take on the high-speed maze of crisscrossing Interstates unless absolutely necessary. I owed him. Before his big brother Mikey started Big School (kindergarten) I was always snatching him up and heading for the Rainforest Café in Galveston. Such a cool place.  Now it’s Gabriel’s turn.

But the Rainforest is filled with trumpeting elephants, roaring apes, and indoor thunderstorms. Since I wanted to at least try to get in a chat with my daughter-in-law, I elected to check out the Aquarium.
Bear in mind that even in the dullest of settings, kids never eat at restaurants. They’re too busy looking around and demanding trips to the bathroom. Given the overstimulation of wall-to-wall live, swimming fish, you can totally save your money. Oh, they might grab a fry or something off your plate in between the piranha tank and the one with Nemo and Dory, but they certainly won’t do any serious eating.
We adults were most mesmerized by the main tank. Interspersed with three sharks, a tiger and two smaller reef sharks, were several enormous groupers. The waiter said they could get up to 800 lbs. Most surprising to me were the two long, green moray eels. I had no idea they were so big.
The food was top quality and elegantly presented, but way overpriced. Here the usual dinner salad was extra. Like, $5.99 extra. So not an everyday lunch spot.

After the meal we went down to the stingray pool. Yes, we petted the stingrays. Very smooth, rubbery and slippery. They’re friendly to humans but not so much with each other. One slapping set-to sent me scrambling aside to wipe off my camera and eyeglasses.
We capped off our adventure with a train ride around all the Boardwalk attractions. It was a good time. But now I feel I owe Mikey again…