31 January 2009

French but not Quite a Francophile

I have an ambivalent relationship with the French. They have this bad habit of separating the Royals from their heads, and then lopping off the heads of passersby and bystanders alike, especially abundantly available courtiers and plutocrats. An estimated 18,000 suspiciously non-revolutionary types were guillotined like carrots on a cutting board and drowned with nefarious zeal during the Reign of Terror. The deChristianised French continued their zealous ways by rounding up their non-Christian citizens during WWII and shipped them off in boxcars (about 75,000 French Jews were betrayed by those Vichy bastards). To this day, some 65 years later, the French government will not allow any "anonymous" reporting or tips to be collected about their citizens (either through tip-lines or worker hot-lines or whatnot). They still have a bad association with snoops who snoop about in their snoopy ways -- and for good reason.

In post-modern France, the government bends over backwards to improve how they treat their citizens, accepting everyone and rejecting few. Many believe recent French administrations have gone too far in their precatory offerings, and the result has been the de facto capture of once quaint cities by radicalized Muslims. Today their citizenry is under fire by an idea as pernicious as any slithering worldview that's ever hopped under their collective Gallic nose. Some day they'll get it right. I mean this is the birth place of the Salon and The Enlightenment for Pierre's sake! When push comes to shove -- it already has and will again with the Islamicists -- the French will once again find inspiration in their tripartite motto of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort. I just hope it doesn't come to the death part.

But, for all their faults, my French forebears have style ... no they have elan. I mean a mid-level bureaucrat having espresso curbside in his bespoke suit appears to the average Yank as Cary Grant. Take an American similarly situated and you have Al Bundy, replete with hand down his pants sitting on Archie Bunker's couch. As much as I love Americana (especially Pax Americana), the French have much to admire. Theirs is the cafe society with its multilinguistic sophisticates, all wearing ensembles sui generis.

even have a calculation for le affair. Here I am not speaking about the adulterous type, but the middle-aged man courting the young coquette seemingly half his paunchy self kind. The French run the calculus amore thusly: take your average MPB male (male-pattern baldness), divide his age by half, and then add 7. Et voila, 60 yr-old Cary Grant can date Grace Kelly if she is *(60/2 = 30 + 7) 37 years-old!!!

Gotta love the French. See my ambivalence? For more French-centric entries, click here!

30 January 2009

Unknown Man

You who are not known. I who am barely known to myself. Ash-heaped dreams, not of conscious accord, unilateral in action, self-inflicted by Adamic nature ... and a weak jaw.

Twice bitten, yet twice blessed with cherubs. More love without a love, though crushed the cuckold curse, a quiver (and life) full of two boys yet to be men, with blessings sought to give.

Decades of mistakes, and another decade of amelioration before restoration come. Hard work is good for the soul, but talent buried is not rewarded. Focused on Creator and the menial task, a better man to come.

Morning Star.  A new page. A new fountain pen and fount of possibilities . . . and restoration come (and restoration come).

25 January 2009

Band of Brothers ... the Next Generation

My Life is forever better for having grown up as one of seven boys. There were some drawbacks to be sure (like hiding food so you can actually eat it later alone), but overall I would not trade my childhood with anyone else's. From a very early age you know that life is not about you; at a minimum life is 1/7th about you, and even that fraction would be stretching it.

Being one of the youngest (there's 16 years b/n me and the oldest), I would get a bit more attention from the parents as the years rolled on and the older boys moved out. Although all of us boys adore our mom, my fondest memories of my early years all involve my brothers.

It's kind of odd, but I don't remember my mom ever sitting me down and reading to me. I honestly can't recall a single book that I read with my mom, though I'm sure there must have been at least one. The home life didn't involve the mind so much as the body.

Early years in our house were about the "hunt." My little brother and I were constantly on the prowl for toys that were available to play with, or even better, older brothers to tag along with. As a result of my early tutelage I learned how to play baseball (hardball, not tee-ball); shoot a BB-gun; throw a football; light a firecracker; ride a bike (launching myself off monster jumps); how to expertly use my older brother Jim's slingshot to hail rock projectiles at the neighbor kids hiding behind the railroad ties in the yard; how to light a match with one hand (every 8 yr-old needs to know this); when to fake cry when caught red-handed trying to light the cat on fire; when to pout when the Malibu Sheriff's office saves you and your little brother from imminent landslide death; and how to courageously become fodder for the older kids' experiments which might involve being dragged behind their ten-speeds on your big-wheel at mach speeds, all-the-while screaming in sheer terror and absolute delight ... until you flipped-over in the street and scraped off half of your elbow with gravel embedded in your shin, chin, and ear canal. Good times.

Toys were often hand-me-downs, with an occasional used bike for Christmas. But, the best times were always being with my little brother who was 18 mos. my junior. We did everything together for about 12 years straight, and then only then were we separated by his untimely visit to a juvenile hall facility up by Lake Tahoe. Not so good times, but I wouldn't change any of them for all of the Lee's, knees and tea in China.

And, now my boys are growing up in a household of boys like their old man (they have a half-brother from their mom's new marriage). They see what it's like to love/hate the guy who takes 1/3 of the cookies, tv time, and attention away from you. It's quite a surreal thing to watch what goes around to come around. They have me to help guide them in their fights and quest for the perfect day (which may or may not involve their brother, though it usually does).

BB-guns are big for them right now. Sunday afternoon hikes into the Santa Monica Mountains with their cousin Ryan, BB-guns slung across their shoulders marching to the top of a hill in regimental form. They crawl on their bellies and shoot ancient bottles hidden like enemy positions in the chaparral. Days wind down with karate battles on dad's bed that often end in one of them falling off to a nasty thud, and then eventual laughter. There is always, for our little crew, time for books. The boys, especially the older, plow through one or two books weekly. And, not Dick and Jane, but Harry and Erragon. Waaay more advanced reads than I ever was brave enough to attempt, with 5x the number of pages.

important for me, however, is to instill in my boys how to be gracious to each other. It's taken me and their uncles a lifetime of learning this. I hope they give each other the benefit of the doubt, learn to forgive quickly, and hone a sense of "I got your back and will kick someone's ass if you need me to." They can fight with each other b/c iron sharpens iron, as long as they move back to play and loving the other guy with alacrity. When I see these two guys playing together, I am taken back 20 years in my folk's backyard with my little brother. A band of brothers is not easily broken, whether that band be seven or two.

19 January 2009

Obama the Chama

It's about that time: the 20th of January that occurs in D.C. quadrennially. Indeed, our Federal Republic exercises its powerful and long-standing tradition of transition of governance, demonstrating to the world what true freedom and an effective democracy looks like.

As I have taught my sons over these last two years during the longest (and costliest) presidential campaign in US history, whoever grasps the antique Bible on this date will be the most powerful person on earth, and should therefore be a person of high character, Lord willing. Such a person should not be a radical of either end of the spectrum. I hope and trust that President (no longer elect) Barack Obama will indeed fit the bill, and my family will be offering prayers for his successful presidency and for America to be blessed under his leadership.

History will also show that Obama ran one of the smoothest and best managed campaigns. Terry Neal (from the Washington Post), used to tell me that George Bush's (he used to always say "dub-ya") camp drove him crazy with boredom because 'W' always stayed on message. He needed to because he wasn't the most eloquent of speakers. Likewise, for anyone who has heard President Obama extemporize, they know as well that Obama is certainly no Ronald Reagan either. When off prompter, you will hear more "umm's" and "uh's" than from any other president. He may usually be eloquent (or 'articulate' as Biden used to say), but these speech-fillers make one sound very, umm, uhhh, un-presidential to be sure.

More than anything, I believe that this new president ran the most charmed campaign as well. I mean, he nailed the trifecta of trifectas: horrible economy (always bad for an incumbent party); unpopular war (made more unpopular by an accomplice media); and a political opponent that was the weakest in modern history. Obama the chama.

But, before I get accused of being a political curmudgeon, throwing a wet blanket on the hype and hysteria happening right now in DC for our new president, let me offer a unique perspective for my family. My boys (11 and 8 yrs-old) are of the same racial make-up as the president with white and black parentage. My boys have never shied away from questions about their race, and they LOVE their mom and dad's families and appreciate their respective heritage. For them to see a person of color with mixed racial ancestry taking the Office of the President of the United States of America, is indeed a proud moment for them and I hope for us all.

Dr. King predicted that in 40 years we would have a black president. To honor his hopes and I Have a Dream speech, Click here to see it here from the BBC.

On My Desk

My desk is a dining table that I purchased from a Macy's furniture outlet east of downtown Los Angeles. Its conversion to desk-work was simple enough; its seemingly limitless space offered enough room for my "stuff": ubiquitous laptop, an all-in-one all-American printer, some stationary and envelopes, a tray for mail and to-do lists, speakers for my tunes (usually jazz or talk radio) while I work, and a half-dozen reference books that I keep close with an amazing set of bookends that I originally purchased for Ben Stein as a thank you gift. (more on Ben on a future entry.)

I also have about a dozen or so fountain and rollerball pens, along with several photos of my two sons; tchotchkes from visits to Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello and my law school (where I visited for 3 years), all in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Man, do I miss that place, with its four seasons and my dog (Mr. Beebe) when he was still alive, and the big backyard with the beautiful elm tree where my ex and I and our first-born had picnics sitting under that elm with our soon-to-be-dead dog and marriage. Wait, what? Yes, you're right ... my desk.

A desk can be a living breathing thing with ghosts of the past and dreams for our future. Don't do what I just did for us, viz., languish in the past where guilt and unforgiveness and unrequited hopes can sour a stomach or feed an ulcer faster than an IRS audit. Dear friend, focus on those corners of your desk where the future lies, waiting for your efforts and for you to breathe life into your dreams!

17 January 2009

Why You Should Watch "A Good Year"

No doubt every great director has a celluloid turd or two up their professional sleeve (Spielberg, Kubrick, even Capra, et. al.). And, I think many film-goers mistakenly believed director Ridley Scott had misfired with A Good Year and avoided this movie for the simple reason that they could not accept Russel Crowe in a semi-comedic role of hedge fund manager-cum-vintner. These moviegoers were misled into thinking that the usually stellar Ridley Scott stumbled in his semi-personal A Good Year.  Personal because of his friendship with the book's author, Peter Mayle, from whence/whom this film was adapted.  And personal as well because the film's location was just down the road from Monsieur Scott's own pied-à-terre.  Allow me, however, a moment Dear Reader to encourage you to take the chance and watch this fine film, if for no other reason that it serves as an enjoyable travelogue that stands up to repeated viewings.

Why do I love this little film? There are many reasons that one could prattle on about in a space similar to this across the Internet (as many hacks like yours truly do): excellent cast, cinematography, blah, blah, blah. All true -- especially the last blah. But, as an avid film-buff, cinephile, or cinéaste, I have seen my share of total crap movies and the rare films that just have excellence smeared all over them like jam on a nicely toasted piece of buttered sourdough. A Good Year is of the latter ilk.

Précis: the film focuses on a hedge-fund manager who is reacquainted with the French chateau and values of his youth after his favorite ex-pat uncle (Albert Finney) has passed away. Max (Crowe) falls in love with a local (Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose), and must ultimately choose b/n the millions back home in the post-modern London of Max's present or the good life found in the convivial setting of Max's past

From its opening shot, you hear the quality that went in to the making of A Good Year with Oscar-worthy work by sound editors Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers (both previous Oscar winners). A Victrola plays a french jazz record, with it's melody aloft, echoing off of the walls and pond of the tree-lined estate. This is an oft-overlooked part of film-making that evinces a real love for the project itself, viz. the SOUND. (Think the first two Godfather films, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.). The score and the soundtrack are equally good here (I listen to the soundtrack weekly). Then there's the way this film is lit by the DP (Phillippe Le Sourd) who paints with impeccable taste. The scenery just soaks up the color and lighting of the French landscape and gives the viewer a visual feast. Ridley Scott and Le Sourd shoot London in a way that breathes fresh life into your typical exterior establishing shots -- perhaps the way only a Briton could direct.

Everyone in A Good Year is terrific. I mean spot-on casting down the line. One of my favorite actors in recent years is Tom Hollander (Possession, Pride & Prejudice), who steals scene after scene. And, truth be told, Russell Crowe does a solid turn here in a role not typically found on his CV. The film works on many levels for me personally, and I find it to be one of those movies that I can watch multiple times (like Wonder Boys, or To Catch a Thief). Bottom line, I thought I'd mention A Good Year and give you a few things to consider and perhaps even pique your interest in seeing one of my favorite guilty pleasure films.