Sunday, April 19, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/19/15: *Gett*-- An Israeli Movie in Bethesda, Smashing the Subaru, Wendy's for Dinner

1.  I drove over to Bethesda this morning and joined two other audience members to watch the 10:40 showing of an Israeli movie,  Gett:  The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.  The movie was psychologically excruciating.  Viviane Amsalem married her husband when she was fifteen and now, after many years, she's had it with him and wants a divorce and he won't grant it.  Only a court of rabbis can legitimize a divorce -- and only with the husband's consent --  and the movie tells the story of Viviane's Bleak House-like years of trials as she tries to secure the dissolution of her marriage.  I didn't know going into the movie that two of my very favorite Israeli actors from the movie The Band's Visit appear in Gett.  First, Viviane is played by Ronit Elkabetz who was Dina, the restaurant owner in The Band's Visit and, secondly, the Alexandria Ceremonial Band leader, played by Sasson Gabai, plays Viviane's husband's advocate in Gett.  Both Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai were unforgettable in The Band's Visit and they are equally memorable in Gett while playing very different characters from who they played in The Band's Visit.  Just for the record, The Band's Visit is an uplifting movie, rich in hope and romance and humor; Gett is, as the title suggests, a trial.  It portrays a trial.  It's a trial to watch. I'm very glad I made the trip to the Landmark Bethesda Row theaters to see it.  I have been enjoying movies made in the Middle East for many years.  Gett is a long exposure of one of Israel's patriarchal systems.  For me, it was compelling, frustrating, engaging, and enraging.

2.  I made sure that a body shop in the local area as well as a claim adjuster will continue to have work when I hit a parking garage pillar with the Subaru after the movie.  Fortunately, the car was not disabled and I got right on filing a claim, rather than procrastinating, but I sure felt foolish.

3.  The Deke and I last did this in late October.  We ate Wendy's cheeseburgers and fries for dinner. I shopped at the Co-op and then flew over to the Greenway Center, picked up our dinner, and we enjoyed it a lot.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/17/15: Navigating Silver Spring, Gregg Toland's Pictures, Kao Thai Plates of Awesome

1.  I arrived in Silver Spring about an hour before Citizen Kane started at the AFI movie theater.  So I learned more about downtown Silver Spring and it was time spent well.  I used the Wayne Street Garage for the first time and it made a huge difference for my getting around downtown and learning my way around.  I'll leave it at that.  I can't quite explain what a big deal all this navigation and learning is to me.

2.  I sat in a 400 seat theater with two other people and watched a 2:10 showing of Citizen Kane.  I suppose it's only about the fourth time I've seen it, and I've never seen it since I bought the cameras I now own and started taking pictures.  The movie's photography stunned me.  I wish I'd had a pause button and could have frozen the screen many, many times to admire frames of Gregg Toland's black and white photography, his genius in creating a wide array of moods, visual moods that perfectly helped tell the movie's story.  Maybe, in past viewings, I was most taken by the story of Charles Foster Kane and its moral/political/social explorations.  Today, it was pictures that I marveled at, that made me want to watch the movie over and over again.

3. Across the street from the AFI movie theater is a Thai restaurant called Kao Thai and I dropped, after some more walking and figuring out of downtown Silver Spring, and purchased Drunken Noodles and Thai Spicy Eggplant, brought them back to our apartment home and the Deke and I found our food to be awesome.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/16/15: Brown Rice and Quinoa Salad, I'd Better Wake Up, Fun with *The Lincoln Lawyer*

1.  I had a couple of cups or so of cooked brown rice left over from last night and decided I'd make a salad with it and so I stopped off at the Co-op for a couple cucumbers, some cherry tomatoes, a tin of almonds, and a bunch of fresh mint and dropped into Safeway for a jar of Kalamata olives.  Once home, I realized I didn't really have enough rice.  Suddenly, I thought, hmmm, quinoa might be fun, so I cooked up a few cups, combined it with the rice I had and mixed in the cucumbers, some red pepper, Kalamata olives and some of the juice from the jar, the cherry tomatoes, and a heaping helping of almonds. I poured olive oil into the mix, stirred it around, added a generous amount of lemon juice, and took out the scissors and cut cilantro leaves, mint leaves, and kale leaves into shreds and mixed that in.  I stirred the greens into the salad and topped it with a moderate sprinkle of red pepper flakes.  I hope I never forget how I made this salad and what went into it -- I now have a record of it here in my blog, I guess!  Every bite tasted different from every other, depending on whether the bite had cilantro, mint, or kale and depending on whether some of the heat from the red pepper flakes was present or if a bite was particularly lemony.  This salad provide me and the Deke with a really tasty dinner.

2.  I unpacked the vaccum packed mattresses and unpacked and laundered the sheets and blankets and I took the big boxes to the dumpster.  On hundred percent sober, I returned to the apartment -- or should I say an apartment? -- put my key in the door and it didn't work.  I tried, tried again, stepped back to make sure I was at apartment #2.  I was.  Then the door opened. "Oh my God!  I'm sorry!  I'm in the wrong building!" I cried out.  "I'd better wake up."  Luckily, the guy who opened the door got a kick out of my mistake and told me it was no problem. I shuffled off, embarrassed, and made my way back to the apartment home I actually live in.

3.  I don't know why, back three or so years ago, the movie The Lincoln Lawyer caught my attention. I might have been curious about a story about a guy who basically lawyers out of the back seat of his Lincoln Continental. I never saw it, though. Finally, tonight, I did.  For me, it was a really fun movie, primarily because of the cast, and because the story was convuluted and fun to follow.  But, oh my, the cast. Yes, Matthew McConaughey was perfect as Mick, a slick, swaggering, hard-drinking defense lawyer whose clients are mostly bikers and prostitutes and other downwardly mobile criminals. When, a wealthy young man living the American Dream seeks his services, Mick accepts, the story gets complicated, and gradually a cast of superb character actors appear, sinking their teeth into their supporting roles, really making this movie great fun.  

First, and she's the best, Marisa Tomei. Others appear, with varying amounts of screen time: John Leguizamo, William H. Macy, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, Ryan Phillpe, Michaela Conlin and more. I had a most enjoyable time watching these pros work while getting caught up in the tangle of the movie's plot threads.  Now I'm ready to contine my brief McConaughey film festival and watch Dallas Buyer's Club, which I have checked out from the library, and, before long, I'll watch Mud.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/15/15: Purchasing Batteries and Updating PayPal, Scan Away, Namya Curry Dinner

1.  I purchased the Deke and me laptop computers at the same time a few years back and now both machines need new batteries.  I stewed over this decision for a couple of days and finally decided to pay extra money and buy from the manufacturer of our computers.  I decided, for no reason other than I hadn't done it for a while, to pay through PayPal and realized it had been about 100 years since I had used my account and everything was out of date -- so buying a couple of batteries got to be even more time consuming as I had to do a million things to get my PayPal account operating again -- ha!  Twice during this purchase ordeal, I needed to get a hold of the manufacturer of our computers and what this is all coming down to is that I am really grateful for the service that allows a customer with questions or concerns to chat online with a service rep.  I have used this chat service several times, very successfully with Norton, and, today, I got my questions answered and a slight problem solved without having to talk on the phone.  That is a bonus for me -- to get information and solve problems in real time without having to be on the phone.  Yes!  And batteries should arrive in the next three days or so.

2.  Having rolled the battery to the top of the hill, I decided it was time to get more of our paper life at home organized. I am ready with the paperwork for my next twelve monthly blood draws, but the big job was scanning and storing our 900,000 pages of tax documents and starting to do a little research regarding how much estimated tax to pay the state of Maryland on my pension earnings. Rock on, ooh my soul.

3.  When I got my echo cardiogram a couple of weeks ago, I also went to Hung Phat grocery and, among other things, bought a curry paste I'd never tried:  Namya.  It's a fish curry paste and its pleasing heat comes late in the sequences of tastes it produces.  I don't know much about Namya curry and was feeling tired and lazy, so rather than look up a recipe, I stir fried tofu, onion, and eggplant and mixed some paste with coconut milk, oyster sauce, and a little sugar.  I combined all of the above and served it over brown rice and it was surprisingly good.  I have work to do in the curry area -- mostly with how thick/thin I want my curry sauces to be, but tonight's experiment made for a pretty good dinner and the Deke will have more at lunch tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/14/15: Pho Ga Thap Cam at Pho Saigon, Was IKEA Half Empty or Half Full?, Carbs Again

1.  During my handful of trips out to the clinic where I see my primary care doctor, I often stop off for a coffee at Starbucks at the Centre at Laurel.  Around the corner from Starbucks is Pho Saigon.  I had never been to the Centre at Laurel at lunchtime -- until today.  I had deposited our tax refund checks at the shared branch I go to in north Beltsville and the Laurel Centre is just a ways up from this credit union, so I had lunch at Pho Saigon today.  To start, I ordered two tasty Cha Gio, crispy, deep fried egg rolls packed with shrimp, vegetables, and chicken, served with a fish sauce with grated carrots floating in it.  I was off to a solid start.  Then I dove into a most satisfying and hearty large bowl of Pho Ga Thap Cam, pho featuring large chunks of both dark and light chicken meat in a light, deep, clove-y broth, and a generous wad of rice noodles.  I loaded up my soup with the bean sprouts, fresh squeezed lime juice, jalapeno pepper slices, and fresh basil leaves that were served on a garnish plate and slowly enjoyed the great variety of flavors and warming richness of this soup.

2.  It's taken us several months to decide (what's the rush? Right?) but the Deke and I have decided to furnish the second bedroom of our apartment home with a couple of twin beds the grandchildren can sleep in -- as well as any other visitors we might have.  I drove straight down Baltimore Avenue after eating my soup to IKEA and my jaw nearly dropped as I entered the parking lot.  It was full of empty spaces.  I'd never seen this sight at the College Park IKEA before.  I slipped between two cashier lines to get to the warehouse part of the store, rather than navigate the labyrinth of the marketplace, and found the bed frames I wanted without much hassle.  When I returned home, I decided I could carry the boxes inside on my own and got that done.  All that's left is assembling them.  It's at this point, well, I vanish.

3.  All the driving around, taking care of things, left me bushed at the end of the day and so when the Deke agreed that a bowl of spaghetti would be a great dinner, I was happy that I'd be fixing such an easy meal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/13/15: Angie Chokes Me Up, D.C. Brau Expedition, Superb Soup

1.  One blood draw every thirty days.  That's what I do now so the transplant center has a fresh sample month to month.  I sauntered into the LabCorp lab I always go to with the kit and the papers the transplant center sent me so the blood sample could be mailed in.  These materials discombobulated the front desk employee.  I thought, before going in, that I couldn't be the first person in the history of the Berwyn Heights LabCorb office to bring in an order from the U of Maryland Transplant Center to have blood drawn and sent to them. I think I was wrong.  Well, the front desk employee, after some huffing and puffing, said the magic words, "Angie'll know."  I knew exactly who she was talking about.  Angie has drawn my blood both times I've visited this office and, sure enough, Angie popped up front, studied the paperwork, sent me to waiting room #3, and came back and drew my blood and I have every confidence she mailed it to Baltimore and all is well.

I've worked with a bunch of really good medical services people since arriving in MD and Angie is among them and, to be honest, her calm, her reassurance, her telling me she'd remember me next time when I return, choked me up.

2.  Right over the border that divides Maryland south of Hyattsville from the upper reaches of north east Washington D. C. sits the first D. C. microbrewery, D. C. Brau.  I had one of their beers Saturday at the E Street Cinema.  I knew, when I drove to D. C. Brau that their taproom is closed Monday through Wednesday, but I wanted to scout it out, wanted to make sure I really knew how to get there.  And I did.  So, now, if I (the Deke and I) decide to go about twenty minutes or so south of Greenbelt for some fresh beer in NE D. C., I know how to get there.

3.  I know the Deke really likes the Chicken Sweet Potato and Kale soup I made once before, and, with this being her first day back to school after spring break, I figured she'd enjoy a soup she really likes -- and I was right.  It's a great recipe with layers of contrasting flavors and we won't be eating it much once the summer humidity arrives, so it was fun to have it today.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/12/15: Lazy Day, The Kid Wins the Masters, Carb Loading

1.  The Deke didn't return home until around 5:30, so no car and the G12 I rely on for transportation out of our neighborhood doesn't run on Sundays.  So, regrettably, no church, but a lazy x 100 day in our apartment home.

2.  Some fellow golf fans would say I did go to church by watching the final round of the Master live online.  For many, it is the most hallowed golf course of all.  It was fun to watch the youngster Jordan Spieth make a handful of nervy shots on his way to securing his first major title -- and fun to watch golfers like Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson do their best to make a run at him, but fall short.

3.  The Deke arrived home, a bit weary, but safe and sound and I whipped up a late evening spaghetti dinner to help us carb load for the upcoming week.  Ha!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/11/15: *Salt of the Earth*, Cherry Blossom Mob Scene, Helping the G12 Driver

1.  The Metro trains today were packed, thanks to the glorious blue skies and the cherry blossoms peaking and the Cherry Blossom Festival events.  I rode to the Archives stop on the Green Line and strolled over to the E Street Cinema and joined six other people for a 2:10 showing of Wim Wenders' and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's documentary movie, Salt of the Earth, a complex retrospective of the life and photography of Sebastiao Salgado. For about forty years, Sebastiao Salgado has traversed the world, documenting with detailed, often haunting, still photographs, among other subjects, workers and their labor in countless countries, victims of starvation in Ethiopia, Sudan, and elsewhere, the atrocities of wars and exodus in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Kuwait, and elsewhere, and the stunning beauty of natural landscapes across the globe.  The photographs ranged between the sublime and the horrifying, the glorious and the sickening.

I was deeply impressed by the movie's gorgeous cinematography.  As I watched the movie follow Salgado as he photographed his current work, exploring the planet's beauty, it was thrilling to see that his son, Juliano, and the other Directors of Photography, made the filming of Salgado at work and being interviewed by Wim Winders, every bit as stunning as Salgado's pictures.  I loved the movie Finding Vivian Maier, primarily for its many examples of Vivian Maier's photographs, but the movie's cinematography was not exceptional.  The visual, photographic experience of watching Salt of the Earth being filmed was exquisite.  The telling of Salgado's story, the exhibiting of his photographs, and the movie's visual presentation of the story were all, in their own ways, stunning.

2.  I walked for a while in D. C., letting the movie settle in, and boarded the Metro for Arlington National Cemetery and from there I walked along the Potomac for a bit, crossed the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and joined the surge of people milling and horseplaying around the Lincoln Memorial, then the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, on my way to be among the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin.  It was a mob scene.  I thought I was at Six Flags, not walking in the history of the Korean War, the life Martin Luther King, Jr, nor enjoying the shade and the splendor of the cherry trees and their blossoms.  I might try to return during the week.  I think there will still be blossoms, say, on Monday, and the theme park/bucket list crowd should be thinned out.  It was a great day for walking.  I logged over 5.5 miles, over 11, 000 steps!

3.  I boarded the 8:30 G12 and a rider had asked the driver to let her off at Research Road.  I really felt like a Greenbelt lifer when I helped the driver remember where Research Road is on her route.  If she doesn't drive the G12 route very often, I can see why she was confused -- it has to with leaving Ridge Road and returning to it again -- and I thought, well, finally, my love of town geography and mass transit routes paid off beyond the eccentric personal pleasure I take in reading maps and riding buses and trains.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/10/15: The Marcus Borg Room, Quiet Vacuuming, Snug and Philomena Lee

1.  The Deke is still in Nyack with Adrienne and Jack and she has our car.  Because the G12 bus runs on either a 30 or 60 minute schedule, depending on the time of day, being without a car takes some planning and patience -- and gives me stretches of time at the bus stop across the street from the Co-op to read.  I returned the DVDs that were due today at the library and did a bit of shopping at the Co-op and waited at the bus stop for about forty-five minutes and read a good chunk of Marcus Borg's Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time:  The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith. Starting twenty/twenty-five years ago, I began to experience a long and slow deepening of my experience as a Christian and an Episcopalian.  This long, slow deepening continues.  Marcus Borg contributed mightily to the deepening of the spiritual life I try to live, both when I heard him give lectures in Eugene and when I read some of his work.  He's a great scholar and has a most admirable talent for writing what he has learned through his many years of research and his personal experience in calm, readily accessible, direct prose -- much the same as his lectures.  I am reading Borg's work while in email conversation with long time fellow teacher and retiree, Dan, who was friends with Borg many years ago at Oregon State University, and we are having splendid conversations about our experiences reading Borg and what we've each experienced in the church over the course of our lives --- and what we are pondering and experiencing now in the later stages of our lives.  Jesus assures us in the gospel of John that in His Father's house there are many rooms.  I'm grateful to be joining Dan and spending time again in the Marcus Borg room.

2.  Our dogs hate the vacuum cleaner and our dogs' shedding gives us the primary reason why we should vacuum often.  Until the Deke returns from NY, the dogs are staying at Molly and Hiram's and I really enjoyed vacuuming the house without having to put the dogs behind a closed door and listening to them scream-bark their brains out while the vacuum runs.  Ha!

3.  I was trying to remember tonight, as I watched the moving and disturbing movie, Philomena, just when I first saw Judi Dench.  A quick look at imdb.com reminded me that she was Titania in Peter Hall's 1968 movie, A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Right.  Then I realized I'd seen her in A Room with a View and 84 Charing Cross Road, but I think she first deeply imprinted herself in my mind as Mistress Nell Quickly in the 1989 movie, Henry V, especially as she mourned the death of Sir John Falstaff.  Since then, I've enjoyed her in a number of movies and other videos (but not yet in James Bond!) and my history with her came rushing into my mind as I loved her playing the role of Philomena Lee, a woman in search of her son, a child born out of wedlock, a son sold to an American family by nuns while Philomena labored at a Magdalene laundry/asylum.  I didn't expect the movie to awaken my longings for my deceased dog, Snug, but that's exactly what it did and so tears rolled down my face, both for Philomena's loss of her son and my loss of Snug, tapping into feelings that are raw and complex.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Three Beautiful Things 04/09/15: Doc Says Heart is Strong, *The Grand Budapest Hotel*, *The King's Speech*

1.  Today the kidney transplant evaluation process, which began on March 2nd, ended.  After taking the G12 to Greenbelt Station, I rode the C2 for the first time and rode through the U of Maryland campus on through a few suburbs to Wheaton Station and then, as planned, walked a mile and half or so south on Georgia/Rt. 97 for my third visit to the cardiology center and had another first-rate experience with the friendly, superb staff there.

I now have passed every test without a hint of a heart problem:  my blood pressure has been near perfect; the EKGs have been great; the echocardiogram showed nothing of concern; and, I huffed and puffed my way through the echo-stress test and the doctor was very pleased with everything he saw as he gradually ratcheted up the treadmill and then looked at the pre- and post-treadmill pictures of my heart.

The story remains the same.  My kidneys are diseased.  There's no going back on that. But everything else inside of me checks out great -- no exposure to TB, good chest X-Ray, no prostate problems, no additional blood problems, no need for a colonsocopy for another three years, and a strong ticker.

I am transplant ready, with the only question being how far in the future the transplant might be.

I celebrated by continuing my walk south on Georgia/Rt. 97 over a mile to the Forest Glen Metro Station, rode the train to Silver Spring, and then walked a half a mile to Denizen's Brewery for a pint of Indian black lager (Sexy Panther) and a plate of bbq and then walked back to the Metro and made my way home on the train and the G12.

I not only learned that my heart is strong, but I walked over 9000 steps over the course of the day.

A good day.

2.  I settled in at our apartment home and dove into a movie double feature and watched two movies entirely different from each other, but both featuring a cast of superb actors.  First, I watched Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I have to admit that I am always at a loss for words to describe the pleasure Wes Anderson's movies give me.  As a writer, Wes Anderson spins odd stories, written with existential oddness.  In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the world is exquisitely detailed and the story is like a ten cent paperback adventure story, featuring bravery, romance, loyalty, cunning, atrocity, and intrigue, always deepened with its explorations of aloneness, emptiness, and its heroes searching for beauty and purpose in life. I loved watching the movie's magnificent cast.  I know I've written this before about Wes Anderson:  it must be a blast to work with him, to occupy the worlds he creates, and speak language so beautifully crafted, and to tell such odd and wonderful tales.

3.  The King's Speech took my evening in another direction.  It is a very different existential story than The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The plot is simple:  can Lionel Logue, a self-trained, undegreed speech therapist and frustrated stage actor help the eventual King George VI overcome a lifelong problem of stuttering?  Bertie/George VI's stammering alienates him, throws him into deep self-doubt, and forces him to wrestle with the very meaning of his existence, not only as a royal, but as a human.

Geoffery Rush plays the audacious Lionel Logue brilliantly as he develops a deep relationship with Colin Firth's Bertie/King George VI, a role Firth completely occupies.  Firth's Bertie is insecure, haunted, quick to anger, determined, and courageous -- he's a difficult client for Lionel Logue -- and I deeply enjoyed the depth of human flawedness and humaneness both characters embodied as they worked together throughout the story with Bertie's deeply embedded stammer.  Tonight, for me, was as moving an evening as I've had in a long time watching exquisite acting.  Lord.  The King's Speech featured, for starters, Geoffery Rush, Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Eve Best, Claire Bloom -- oh my! this was a movie that made me ache with pleasure to watch such superb acting, listen to such an exquisite screenplay, and to be moved by such a noble story.