“Why We Travel” – Pico Iyer


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As readers of this website no doubt have noticed, we travel a lot.

In fact, we have been away almost (not exactly) as much as we’ve been home over the last year, in part because we’ve had a good deal of freedom since Ellen has retired from her professional work. (I got a jump on retirement, when about six or seven years ago I left the school a group of us had created in the mid-70s.)

Traveling has always been important to us. For more than 50 years we have made leaving home and exploring other places a significant part of our lives.

A number of years ago we were reorganizing our library and discovered the number of books relating to travel (guides and travel literature) was growing much faster than our acquisitions of professional books (education/psychology and political/governmental). Then, a couple of years ago we have had to build new space just to contain our travel related books.

In fact, travel literature is another way to leave home without having to step outside of the house. While I prefer to travel than to read about travels, there are a number of wonderful writers that fill the gaps between trips.

All of the above is to introduce an article I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago by one of the travel writers I enjoy — Pico Iyer.

While I don’t think he exactly speaks for me in the article linked to below, he does touch on many of the aspects of traveling, on many of the reasons for traveling, with which I identify.

Perhaps one day I’ll write in more detail myself about this subject. Until then, I will just post occasional travel writing that I find of interest.

If you enjoy traveling, whether in or out of your house, check out Pico Iyer’s Why We Travel, Salon, Mar. 18, 2000.

And if you have a favorite travel writer, please let me and others know who that is and what he or she has written that has been particularly meaningful to you. Use the Comment section of this post to leave the name of an author, an article, or the title of a book about travel that you think others might enjoy.


Broadway as You’ve Never Known It


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I’m not really a Broadway musical kind of guy. In a ‘former life’ I certainly enjoyed South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, and, in ‘more recent times, I’ve also enjoyed such shows as Hair, Les Miserables and even Book of Mormon. Generally, however, I find I prefer dramas to musicals when we are looking for plays to see.

Last week made me question that preference a bit. We saw two musicals on Broadway that were outstanding.

Mind you they were nothing like the traditional musicals.

One was about a dysfunctional family and a suicide (Fun Home), and the other was about the least well known of our Founding Fathers who was killed in a duel (Hamilton), neither of them traditional material for musicals.

Fun Home has won five 2015 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and Hamilton, which has just opened on Broadway, will no doubt and deservedly win every award for which it is eligible.

Here, in the order in which we saw these two remarkable productions, are mini-reviews of the best plays I’ve seen on Broadway in many years.

Fun Home ****1/2

20FUNHOMEJP1-articleLargePhoto by Sara Krulwich, NYTimes

Other than having heard it had won several Best Musical awards, I didn’t know much about this play prior to walking into Circle in the Square Theater.

It’s the story of a family (parents and three children in a small American town) that largely focuses on the relationship between the daughter and her father. We see the daughter, Alison, as a small child, as a young college student, and as a professional graphic artist. Her father, Bruce, is a high school English teacher and restores houses as well as operates a funeral home.

But nothing is as it first seems.

The play is based on a graphic novel/memoir by Alison Bechdel that has been turned into a musical drama (book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori). It’s Bechdel’s coming of age story as a lesbian and learning that her father has long been a closeted gay man. It is also her father’s story and a family tragedy.

It is largely through the music that we come to understand the characters, and while none of the songs are memorable — or are ever likely to make you tap your foot — they serve to let the character tell you their stories and their feelings.

Both the singing and acting are terrific, particularly that of the younger two Alisons (Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs) and the father (Michael Cerveris, 2015 Tony winner for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical). Additionally, one song/scene with Alison and her two brothers is almost a ‘show stopper’, and there is a particularly sad and gripping song by the mother (Helen).

Fun Home is largely a drama (with some comedy interspersed) conveyed through music. It is performed in-the-round, and, perhaps because we were in the front row, we felt as if we were part of the 100-minute production (no intermission), tho I suspect the entire audience also felt they were in the middle of this absorbing drama/musical.

Hamilton *****

hamilton-musical-broadway-02Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, July 2015

If I were still teaching high school history as I once did, I’d find a way to get my students to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. If I couldn’t get them to the theater, I’d show them a video of the production. If I couldn’t get the video, I’d settle for the musical score (expected release Sept. 25, 2015).

American history would never be the same for these students.

The musical tells a story about the rise and fall of Alexander Hamilton in such a manner that you cannot help but be caught up in the telling of it and cannot help but come away wondering why you didn’t know many of its details before now.

Basically, Miranda has taken historian Ron Chernow’s mammoth 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton and has brought it alive on stage. (Miranda wrote the script, composed the music, and plays Hamilton.)

While it is quite faithful to Chernow’s portrayal of Hamilton and the other historical figures of his time, that is not the chief reason why this production is so good and so unlike other historical plays you may have seen. What is unique is how Miranda has made the characters meaningful to contemporary America. They come alive and are relevant to our world through the music — think hip hop, rap, R & B and pop — not what you would usually associate with the telling of an historical story.

The dancing, the costumes, the staging, and the lighting are classic Broadway style. However, Miranda has put Hamilton, the other Founding Fathers, and all of the supporting cast in constant motion. Yes. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Aaron Burr and the three women in Hamilton’s life (Eliza his wife, Angelica his sister-in-law, and Maria, his mistress) don’t just sit around and talk. They all dance and rap on a stage that has a whirling turntable that keeps the action and the actors moving.

And the actors do not look like the pictures you’ve seen of these individuals in our history books nor like their various statues in our monuments. In fact, very few of the actors are white men or white women. In his casting of his actors and in his making the characters contemporary in their actions and in their words, Miranda has brought the past into today.

If all of this sounds a bit weird, know that it works. It’s riveting. And it’s possible to understand much of what happens even if you are not use to this kind of music. While this is not the musical of your childhood, or perhaps like any other musical you’ve ever seen, it is mesmerizing.

I am looking forward to the release of the music on Sept. 25th, and I can’t wait to see this play, yes this musical, again.

Making a Difference: Good on Lebron James


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usa-today-8020934.0Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James tweet:

Every single kid who finish my program will go to college for FREE! @LJFamFoundation

Check out this story: LeBron James will pay for more than 1,000 kids to go to college.

James has said, “I promise to never forget where I came from.”


I can’t imagine a better way to give back to one’s community.

John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”


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Last week, The New Yorker made available online the John Hersey Hiroshima article he wrote for the one-year anniversary of the August 6, 1945 atomic blast on Hiroshima.

I may have read it years ago, but I don’t recall having done so. And I can’t imagine forgetting what he wrote. Having just been in Hiroshima last month, I was drawn to the re-release of Hiroshima and read its 31,000 words in one sitting.

It’s a masterpiece.

Hersey focuses on six ‘survivors’ of the atomic blast:

Miss Toshinki Sasaki, a personnel clerk at the department of the East Asia Tin Works;

Dr. Masakazu Fuji, a physician at a private hospital;

Mrs. Masakazu Nakamura, a widow;

Father Wilhem Kleinsorge, a German priest;

Dr. Terufumi Saski, a surgeon (no relation to Miss Toshink Sasaki); and,

The Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church.

While more than 100,000 people died in the blast and much of Hiroshima was obliterated, Hersey chose to do what had not been done in most of the accounts of the bombing: he told the story of six people who escaped death. While you also learn about the destruction of the city and how many of its citizens died, there is no attempt on the author’s part to discuss the moral, ethical, or political/strategic issues. Hershey simply provides the reader insight into an aspect of the bombing that had not been previously told.

Hersey, who at the time was a war correspondent (he had yet to write his Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Bell for Adano), wrote these profiles without resorting to emotion or to sensation. In vivid detail, he chronicles what happened to six inhabitants of Hiroshima both that day and over the succeeding year. What Hersey thought is not part of Hiroshima.

In choosing to let the ‘survivors’ tell their story and in transcribing what happened to each of them, Hersey has given us what has to be the clearest and most unforgettable description ever written of life after a nuclear blast.

The New Yorker article, which took up virtually the entire August 31,1946 issue of the magazine, was soon turned into a book and has been in print continuously ever since.

In addition, Hersey returned to Hiroshima 40 years later and found all six of the individuals he had written about in 1946. He tells their continued stories in an article also printed in The New Yorker (published July 15, 1985). That Aftermath article has not been made available online, but you can read it as an added chapter (Chapter V) in the Vintage edition of Hiroshima. However, know that Hersey here departs from just letting the six individuals tell their story. He injects himself and ‘a point of view’ to what had previously been simply a direct, vivid account of the after-effects of the destruction of Hiroshima.

If you haven’t read the original article, you have missed a powerful and haunting account of the results of what happened for those who ‘survived’ the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.

DC Area Book Lovers: Save the Date


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BOOKFAIR 17551409420710

(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post photo)

If you love books and are in Washington this Labor Day weekend, don’t miss the annual National Book Festival on Saturday, September 5.

Don’t plan anything else for that day.

Almost 200 writers — novelists, non-fiction and children’s book writers, poets, graphic novelists, food writers, mystery writers, etc. — will be speaking and signing books.  You’ll have to make some hard choices on which authors to hear/see. Louise Erdich, Ha Jin, Ward Just, Nicholas Kristoff, David McCollough, Jon Meacheam, Patrick O’Connell, Evan Osnos, David Quammen, Marilynne Robinson, Jeffry Sachs, Jane Smiley, and Edward O. Wilson are just a few of the authors whose names caught my attention when I looked at the list of confirmed authors.

(To see an alphabetical list of authors and/or authors by genre who will be present, see Bookfest Authors.)

This Library of Congress sponsors this one-day book festival and, it has something for everyone: panel discussions, children’s activities, special events and programs.  Last year (see MillersTime: Books & Reading: Alive & Well ), it seemed as if there were as many children as adults in attendance.

Once again, DC’s wonderful DC Politics & Prose Bookstore will be selling books by every author at the festival.

The festival is free and lasts from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5.

For more details, see 2015 National Book Festival Home page.

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Also of Note: Politics & Prose Bookstore & Coffeehouse has partnered with Busboys and Poets and is now handling the book sales at B & P’s coffee houses/restaurants/lounges. In addition, P & P has expanded its author presentations at three of the Busboys & Poet locations (14th & V; 235 Carroll St NW – Takoma Park; and 625 Monroe St NE – Brookland).

Join Me for a Nats’ Game


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Final available tickets to join me at a Nats’ game.

Let me know by Thursday, August 20th by email or in the Comments’ section of this post if you’re interested in a particular game or games.

First choice will go to ‘fans’ who haven’t been to a game with me this season.

‘Final’ Games:

Thursday, August 27, 7:05 vs Diamondbacks

Thursday, September 3, 7:05 vs Braves

Friday, September 4, 7:05 vs Braves

Thursday, September 8, 7:05 vs Mets

Wednesday, September 9, 7:05 vs Mets

Saturday, September 19, 1:35 vs Marlins – Sec. 127, between home and first. For sale ($50 each) or free if you take a kid (generously defined) with you.

Saturday, September 19, 1:35 vs Marlins, with me.

Sunday, September 20, 1:35 vs Marlins

Monday, September 21, 7:05 vs Orioles

Wednesday, September 23, 7:05 vs Orioles

Update 8/24: Sorry that I couldn’t quite fit everyone in. But there is always ‘next year’ (as those who follow baseball frequently say).

Three Very Different Films


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We’ve seen three very different films over the past couple of weeks. Hopefully, at least one of the three may have interest for you.

Cartel Land ****1/2

large_MV5BMjE1MzI2MzcxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTE2Mjk4NTE_._V1__SX1216_SY640_ Cartel Land tells two stories, both connected to the drug war that originates in and emanates from Mexico. One story involves a vigilante group (“Arizona Border Recon”) on the American side of the border lead by American war veteran Tim “Nailer” Foley. The other one involves Dr. Jose Mireles (“El Doctor”) who takes on the Knights of Templar drug cartel in Michoacan, Mexico.

Somehow, the documentary director, Matthew Heineman, was able to embed himself in both groups and let his camera (as opposed to any talking heads, etc.) tell the two stories.

Actually, the first story, while of interest, is really quite secondary to the heart of this unusual documentary. For me, the most fascinating aspect of the film is what took place over a period of a year in Michoacan.

Initially, it seems as if the fight against the cartel in Mexico is simply a good vs evil story, with Dr. Mirales’ movement, Autodefensa, leading townspeople to fight back against the drug traffickers. But nothing is quite that simple. By the end of the documentary, you know more than you ever did about how the drug world works in Mexico and why it is so difficult to combat it.

What is unusual about the treatment of this issue in Drug Cartel is how much of the conflict Heineman’s camera captures. With the assistance of Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), Heineman takes the audience where most of us have never been.

You may have to search out this documentary, but if it is available to you, it’s 98 minutes will leave you astonished.  The production and content of this film are unique, and, I suspect, will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

Mr. Holmes ****


Not the Sherlock Holmes you’ve come to know and love. No hat, no pipe, no razor sharp mind, and none of his usual dazzling solutions to crimes that stump even the most clever of detectives.

Instead, we have an aging (90+ year old) Mr. Holmes who is struggling with his daily existence, particularly his memory, as he nears the end of his life and as he tries to write the story of the final case that led to his retirement.

What is most wonderful and entertaining about this Mr. Holmes is the splendid performance by Ian McKellan as the long-retired Sherlock Holmes. Supported by two very good performances (Laura Linney as the housekeeper and Milo Parker as her son), McKellan takes us with him as faces his declining health and as he attempts to recall (and solve) an unsolved case.

This film might appeal mostly to an older audience since an important part is about Holmes as an aging man, but it is also a tribute to the young as Holmes builds a relationship with a young boy he mentors (or maybe it’s the boy who builds his relationship with an older man).

In this film, taken from a book by Mitch Cullin, McKellan is a delight. Ellen says, “his performance is award potential.”

Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) ***1/2

POSTER-2-for-ad-copy-bA bit of background for this film is important.

In the early 1960s, not long after Castro had overthrown the Batista regime, Cuba and the Soviet Union set about to make a propaganda film to support the Cuban revolution. Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes Are Flying, & The Unsent Letter) made this film, but it was not well received by either the Cuban or Soviet public, and it disappeared for almost 30 years. When the Soviet Union fell apart, it was rediscovered, and, with the assistance of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, it was restored.

What is particularly memorable about Soy Cuba/I Am Cuba and what makes the film of interest is not the presentation of the reasons for the rise of Fidel Castro (rather heavy handed in its presentation of why the Batista regime was unfair and corrupt) but the cinematic technique. It is stunning. Filmed in high contrast black and white (to exaggerate the story) and with scenes that must have been shot in one take, the visual experience is stunning, not only for its time, but even for today.

While my knowledge of cinematography is quite limited, I was constantly fascinated by the images that appeared on the screen. Perhaps this film may have interest largely for those of you who know more about film making, but there is something certainly unique and memorable about Soy Cuba.

This is what we used to call an “art house” picture. Go for the enjoyment of the technique and dated propaganda efforts.

A Winner


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MillersTime 2015 Baseball Contest # 5: Predict who will lead the AL and who will lead the NL in getting the most All Star votes in 2015. Which of the two will receive more votes?

No one got this contest exactly right.

Many of you thought Mike Trout would get the most votes in the American League (he lost out to Josh Donaldson by just 77,167 votes out of more that 28 million votes between them). Trout did lead off the All Star game, however, with a home run, off Zack Greinke, and scored twice to win the MVP award for the game.

In the National League, many of you had Andrew McCutchen, who did not even come in the top four. Bryce Harper, with more than 13 million votes, easily won over Buster Posey, Todd Frazier, and Paul Goldschmidt. Harper went 0-3 and struck out twice. Frazier won the home run derby.

One contestant, Continue reading »

A Novel and A Memoir: Each Tells a Story Worth Discussing


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Here are two books that consumed me in the past week. I read them back to back and think there is good reason to read them together. They are very different in major ways, one being a novel that takes place in the 1950s and the other being nonfiction, a letter to the writer’s son, written this year. Both are short and both deal with issues of family, race, and society in our country.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, 288 pages


Much has already been written about Harper Lee’s new book. Forget what you might have heard or read about it — a prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird — and read it for yourself. I think it might even be a better novel than her Pulitzer Prize winning earlier book.

In keeping with my generally held view that I prefer readers/viewers to discover the details of a book or film for themselves, I am not going to describe much about the book nor write why I think it’s better than Mockingbird. Though I will say that if you enjoyed Harper Lee’s writing in Mockingbird, I suspect you’ll find her writing style is consistent with that book.

Know that it contains most of the same characters as in Mockingbird, at least most of the important charactersIn this book, Scout (Jean Louise) returns for her fifth annual visit to her hometown of Maycomb Junction, Alabama, from New York, where she is currently living. Set in the 1950s (20 years after the setting of Mockingbird), Jean Louise is now in her mid-to-late 20s, and Atticus, her father, is 72.

This new book can be read quickly. The story that it tells is more complex than Mockingbird and is certainly one that ‘begs’ for discussion.

In case you didn’t know, Go Set a Watchman was actually written first, but Lee’s publishers encouraged her to set it aside and focus on one aspect of her story. As a result, she then wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and her first manuscript (“Watchman”) was ‘lost’ for more than 50 years.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 145 pages


Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me also tells a story, and more, and is written in the form of a letter to his son. The author is in his 40s, and his son is 14.

Coates is largely known for his articles in The Atlantic, where he is a Senior Editor and has been writing for the last few years. He also blogs for The Atlantic’s website. His first book, a memoir entitled The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, was published in 2008.

This new, short book is both an explanation to his son about what it means to be black in America and also a memoir. I suspect Coates wrote the book quickly (it is often repetitive and could use a good editing), but it is a passionate and honest letter to his son. And, of course, it is more than a letter and more than a memoir.

Again, my preference is for readers to discover what Coates has to say without the filter of a reviewer’s lens.

Similar to Go Set a Watchman, Between the World and Me ‘begs’ for discussion.

The Atlantic has a lengthy adaption from the full book which captures much of what is sometimes repetitive in the book itself.  See: Letter to My Son

Japan: Through Ellen’s Lens


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pix of EllnAs I promised last week, below are a few of Ellen’s favorite pictures from our trip to Japan. If you want to see more — lots more — check out her slide show of 126 pictures.

While the 15 photos below mostly capture gardens and temples, our activities were hugely varied.  We went to the Tsukiji Fish Market and Tuna Auction at 5 AM our first morning in Tokyo, wandered through the teenage fashion and anime centers, viewed the city from the Tokyo Tower, and took a hands-on sushi-making lesson. We were treated to a full-on Tea Ceremony and a Maiko (Geisha apprentices) performance. We soaked our weary selves at three different Ryokan onsens (hot spas) until we shriveled. We saw Torii gates, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples everywhere we went (in Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, and Kyoto). We visited a Gold Leaf museum/factory and a Sake museum along with the Edo/Tokyo museum, a ‘float’ museum, and the chilling museums and monuments in Hiroshima.  Of course, there was a baseball game in the Tokyo Dome where we saw the Yokahama DeNA BayStars beat the Yomiuri Giants. We traveled by car, by van, by subway, by train, including the bullet trains, by boat, and we walked at least five or six miles everyday. We saw Mt. Fuji (barely), lakes, waterfalls, bamboo groves, and the wonderful Golden Pavilion. Everywhere there were gardens — miniature gardens, Emperor’s gardens, temple gardens, strolling gardens, rock gardens, ancient ones and modern ones.

Ellen has captured many of these activities in her full slide show.

And if you’re interested in what we ate, there’s a second slide show of 64 photos that just features food pictures. (Brandt Tilis, our son-in-law, will most likely write about that aspect of our Japanese adventures, and I will post what he has to say on MillersTime also.)


J. Signs


Tall Tori Gate


red bridge over stream


B & W Bamboo


arched langtern, strolling garden


Bhuddist wishes


green bamboo




red fish


walking path


Shinto white lanterns




10,000 redone


moss lanterns




Watch the slide shows on the largest possible format you have – desk top or lap top, if possible.

When you click on each of the links below, you will get the first picture of a slide show. Then, to start the slide show, CLICK on the little icon of a computer screen with an arrow in the middle that you will find near the top right hand part of your page.

1. Japan: Summer 2015 Slide Show

2. Japan: Food Picture Slide Show

Travels to Japan: On Being Schooled by the Younger Generation


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golden temple

Once again our children (this time our younger daughter and her husband) have taught us a thing or two.

Although we have traveled much of our lives, we had never included Japan in those travels. My reasoning/excuse was a prejudice that it would be hard to get ‘inside’ the country (the way we have in India), and we would just be “visitors”  there.

Well, I, should have known better. Almost without realizing it, we have been drawn to Japanese art and artisans. Two rooms in our house are furnished with the wonderful Japanese-American furniture of George Nakashima, and in our kitchen, our cupboards are filled with pottery, including our everyday dinnerware, made by another Japanese-American artisan (Ikuzi Teraki of Romulus Craft) who is located in Vermont. We also have two small Asian gardens, one outside of the kitchen and one outside of our sun room. And I just learned that my mother particularly loved Kyoto, something I may have vaguely known but clearly had forgotten.

Anyway, a while ago we suggested to our daughter Elizabeth/Beth and son-in-law Brandt that we take a trip together to a place of their choosing. They almost immediately chose Japan.

Promises have a way of coming due, and so we have just spent two weeks in Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, Lake Ashi, Takayma, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Nara.

four of us

As soon as Ellen sorts through her 3,061 photos, I’ll post a dozen or so and also a link to a slide show for those of you who want to see Japan ‘Through Ellen’s Lens.’ I’ll also have a couple of other posts about some specific parts of our very good trip — probably one on attending a Japanese baseball game, something about the food we consumed (possibly written by Brandt), and no doubt some more details about particular aspects of an incredibly busy two weeks.

Often we try to summarize some key highlights from a trip on the way home so on our ride from Kyoto to Osaka (for our return flight) the four of us came up with questions and then answered them.  Here you go:

The site most likely to remember:

Elizabeth (ET): Tsukijiki fish auction/market in Tokyo and the Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama Bamboo Grove) in Kyoto

Brandt (BT): Bamboo Forest and the Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima

Ellen (EM): The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) in Kyoto and Mt. Fuji

Richard (RM): The three Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) — Gora Kadan in Hankone; Wanosato in Takayama; Sekitei in Hiroshima — and strolling through the gardens (Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and Ryoanji Temple/Zen Garden and Tofukuji Temple/HoJo Garden, both in Kyoto)

Best Day:

ET: The full day Tokyo tour when I walked 24,193 steps

BT: The first day (starting at 3:30 am going to the fish market and ending that night at the Tokyo Dome for a baseball game)

EM: Hiroshima

RM: Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa

Favorite Japanese Experience(s):

ET: Bullet trains and the baseball game

BT: Eating skewers of Yakitori at Tokyo’s Memory Lane (‘Piss Alley’)

EM: Soaking in the Ryokan baths and enjoying the “advanced” Japanese toilets

RM: Baseball game and losing and getting back my iPad three days later

Something you could have skipped:

ET: Tamozawa Imperial Villa north of Tokyo

Brandt: Tea ceremony in Kyoto

EM: Sake factory in Kyoto

RM: Poor guide in Kyoto

Favorite Meal(s), after the superb “Bohemian” restaurant in Tokyo (Only one table in the restaurant and it was ours for three hours.)

ET: Kakinuma in Kyoto and Heiroku Sushi, our first ‘conveyor belt’ sushi lunch in Tokyo (within walking distance of the Meiji Shrine, Shibuya).

BT: Wasabi ice cream and the first ‘conveyor belt’ sushi lunch in Tokyo

EM: Hida Beef (better than Kobe beef) at Wanosato Ryokan (Takayama) and Yakitori Alley in Tokyo

RM: Burnt Miso Ramen Soup in Kyoto (Kyoto Gogyo) & Kakinuma

What surpassed your expectations:

ET: How much English was spoken

BT: Quantity of food served and eaten

EM: Gardens

RM: Total enjoyment of a country I had foolishly avoided

What didn’t meet your expectations:

ET: Kyoto style pressed sushi

BT: Some of those bland lunch time, multi-course meals.

EM: Kyoto as a city (much like other cities), although loved the gardens, temples and shrines

RM: Ditto, Ellen

One or two words describing for Tokyo:

ET: Cosmopolitan

BT: Awesome (would return)

EM: Rivers of People

RM: Quiet

What would you go back for:

ET: Fish pedicure

BT: Cow farm (feeding them beer) and a fishing expedition

EM: More exploration of local artisans, e.g. potters, contemporary crafts

RM: More gardens

First food you want when you return home:

ET: Pizza

BT: Burrito

EM: Nothing

RM: Chinese food

Wished hadn’t packed:

ET: Hair dryer

BT: Umbrella

EM: Rain ponchos

RM: long sleeve shirts

Role taken and/or assigned to each of us:

ET: Step counter (personal total of 176,533 steps (79.2 miles) over the two weeks, which includes some days largely spent on subways, trains and in cars

BT: Navigator (just like Hertz has its “Never Lost” system, we had Brandt to get us wherever we needed to go); taste tester

EM: Photographer (3,061 photos)

RM: Court Jester (provided “entertainment” for the other three with his ‘mishap’ in the Philippines, cracking his iPhone, losing and regaining his iPad, getting shut in an elevator, etc.) and keeper of the tickets and vouchers

Clearly a trip to remember, and one we wouldn’t have done if the ‘children’ hadn’t suggested it. More to come.

Movies Movies Movies


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Here are mini-reviews of four recent movies we found enjoyable, plus links to some we saw over the past six to nine months that are now available in some theaters.



This one surprised and delighted me.

A mainstream movie, it stars Melissa McCarthy in a ‘take down’ of virtually every spy movie you’ve ever seen, especially the 007 ones. It’s a laugh out loud film about a woman who emerges from the basement of ‘Agency’ headquarters to track down and beat the bad guys.

McCarthy is terrific in her role and somehow walks the line between being funny and absurd. She’s helped by a good supporting cast (Miriam Hart, Jude Law, Rose Byrnem, and Jason Statham) and a script and direction by Paul Ferg that kept me laughing (despite myself).

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We saw a double feature on a Sunday afternoon (tho we paid separately for each film). These two were very different approaches to somewhat similar themes — films about young people who don’t fit in and how they ‘overcome’ their unhappiness.

When Marnie Was There ****


I have seen very few animated films and generally avoid them (unless I’m with one of my grandchildren).

This one may make me rethink my prejudice against them (animated films, not my grandchildren).

In When Marnie Was There both the story and the animation grab you and keep you.

The story is of Anna, a 12-year-old Japanese girl who is unhappy, isolated, and withdrawn. Her parents send her to live with a relative in the countryside (Hokkaido), near the sea, and what follows is a mixture of a fantasy, a ghost story, and a mystery. It’s likely based on a fable that is unfamiliar to me.

Even better than the story is the animation. I don’t know quite what makes this film’s production more appealing for me than others I’ve seen. Each ‘scene’ is simply engaging and is a lovely mixture of colors, drawings, and transitions that seem both fantastical and real.

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl ****


The three actors in the picture above make this film worth seeing.

The story is one that has been told before. In this case, it’s about three high school seniors — Greg (Thomas Mann), Rachel (Olivia Cooke) and Earl (R.J. Cyler) — whose lives intersect and who affect each other. Greg has carefully found a way to hide his inability to fit in; Earl, who is black, is Greg’s only friend, tho Greg calls him his co-worker; and Rachel, another senior and someone Greg barely knows, has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Their story is based on a novel by Jesse Andrews (loosely based on his own life?) and who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

All three of the young actors are engaging, and their interactions ring true. Mann is the star, and we see more of him than we do of Cooke or Cycler. But all three seem to ‘get’ their characters just right. They have a way of making the story legitimate.

I suspect audiences will enjoy this film more than some critics, who no doubt will correctly find parts of the film overdone and implausible. But whatever you might think of how the film portrays this story, the performances by Mann, Cooke, and Cycler are terrific and make for an effective, moving film.

Love & Mercy *****

132222_oriEllen and I saw this on a weekday afternoon, where the very young theater employee said, “It’s so cute helping you seniors navigate our new ticket buying machines.”


So, if you’re younger than we are, you might take what follows with a bit of skepticism.

The Beach Boys.

You’ve no doubt heard of them. You might even have grown up with them, or you might think it’s old peoples’ music. No doubt you know more about Brian Wilson than we did when we went to see his story.

If you want to see a biographical movie that is different than most and is truly brilliant, IMHO, check out this one. It’s a story that delves deeply into the psychology of Wilson (the creative genius of the Beach Boys), and it will keep you involved for the two hours that it takes to learn about him. The film focuses on just two periods in Wilson’s life and gives you unusual insights into Wilson’s song writing as well as his struggles with his mental health. It will leave you with a deeper appreciation of his musical genius and what personal torments he experienced over a number of decades.

Wilson is well played by two different actors, Paul Dano and John Cusak. The former portrays him as he ‘was’ in the ’60s’ and the latter as he ‘was’ in the 80’s. The film flips back and forth between the two time periods, but it is not difficult to follow. Dano and Cusak both are outstanding, and several other key actors, Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter and Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy, also give strong performances.

I don’t know how accurate Love & Mercy is and whether it fairly portrays Wilson and the others around him. Wilson and Ledbetter were consulted during the making of the film, and Wilson is reported to have said the film is “very factual.”

I suspect there is a good deal of truth to what you will see. Plus, the script, the music and presentation of the film makes for a fascinating two hours.

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Many of the movies I ‘tout’ on MillersTime are ones we’ve seen in our Sunday Cinema Club, in a couple of the film festivals we attend (Philly & Miami), or in one of the (dwindling) theaters in the metro DC area that show independent or foreign films. If a film is from the first two of these venues, then I know most of you have to wait until those films come out. If your memory is as bad as mine, it’s easy to forget about those films. And not everyone who reads MillersTime, I know, has access to theaters that show independent or foreign films.

So, occasionally, I will mention films that have been nationally released and are now available a bit more widely.

With that in mind, here are some films we enjoyed that are currently being shown in the metro DC area. You can click on any of them to go to the mini review I posted when I saw that film.

Seymour *****

Testament of Youth *****

Clouds of Sila Maria *****

About Elly ****1/2

Gemma Bovery ****

The Farewell Party ****

Wild Tales ****

Woman in Gold ****

Join Me – Nats Tickets in July


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Empty seat

There are three games in July that are available to friends and foes to either join me or to use my tickets for upcoming Nats’ games.

Sunday, July 5, 8:08 PM vs Giants – two tickets available. (Note: For this game, if you get these excellent tickets (Sec. 127), you have to commit to getting to the stadium early enough to get two of the Strasburg Bobblehead Give Aways and promise to give one of them to me for my grandson.)

Friday, July 17, 7:05 vs Dodgers – one ticket to join me in Sec. 127.

Saturday, July 18, 4:05 vs Dodgers – two tickets available in Sec. 117 (behind Visitors’ Dugout, Row H). Tickets are free if you commit to taking a kid with you. (Note: Liberal Definition of a ‘Kid’, but my preference is to give these tickets to someone who is encouraging a future baseball fan to attend games. If no one has a kid to take, then the next preference will go to a Dodgers’ fan, preferably one who has been a fan before they moved West. PS – If you happen to have a kid to take and ever attended a game in Brooklyn, you’re probably the one most likely to get these tickets.)

Let me know by Friday, June 19th by 4:47 PM if you’re interested in any of the above. You do not have to be the first to let me know. If there are multiple fans interested in a particular game, I’ll use some as yet undefined system to choose who gets the ticket(s). Email me: Samesty84@gmail.com or leave your particulars in the Comment section at the end of this post.

I will have a few games also available for September but will wait a bit before I offer those. Pay attention to MillersTime emails in August for an announcement about those games.

“The Precious Ordinary”


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KENT HARUF - 1943-2014Kent Haruf – 1943-2014

This post is going to sound a lot like one from a couple of weeks ago — Summer Fiction Update — wherein I thanked a friend and MillersTime reader for introducing me to a writer I didn’t, but should have, known.

Yes. I got another recommendation of a writer somehow not known to me.

Plus, the subject matter and the writing of both these authors have a number of similarities: their novels are set in small, rural, fictitious towns (Holt, Colorado in this instance), and the characters are more important than the plot.

The ‘new’ author is Kent Haruf. Three of the four books I mention below are a trilogy of sorts. The fourth is Haruf’s final book, written when he knew he was dying and published after his death. Although this last one is also set in Holt, you have not met these particular characters in any of the previous Haruf novels.

I read these four over a very short period of time, a total of four days, as they are all quick reads. While the ‘plots’ are mostly devoid of excitement or complexity, all four novels were page-turners for me.

Thanks to Fruzina Harsanyi for pointing me to Haruf and his final book, which sent me looking for and to his earlier ones.

our souls.indexOur Souls at Night (2015)

I started with this one, his final one, and it hooked me immediately and thoroughly. It is very short, less than 200 pages and can be consumed in one reading. The story centers around two individuals in their early 70s who find a way to combat the loneliness that each is experiencing.

There is much to say about it, but you should have the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.

All of what is special about Haruf and his writing is contained in it.

468171_10150763600105977_76821524_oPlainsong (1999)

This one is probably the best known of the ‘Holt’ books and focuses on six or seven people who live in the town.

Their stories, their lives, overlap and are intertwined. Plot is secondary to character, as it seems to be in much of Haruf’s writing (maybe a bit less so in Our Souls at Night). These are ordinary people presented without being idealized or romanticized. They are generally good people, or at least people who have good intentions, but life events, circumstances, and individual decisions bring conflicts and difficulties for them all. How they respond to these circumstances is what seems to interest Haruf.

Eventide.indexEventide (2006)

This novel is partially a continuation of Plainsong.

There are further developments relating to some of the individuals you already know, but there are also new events and new characters introduced — a young boy who is caring for his grandfather and a new family that is unable to manage the circumstances of their life.

Plot is less important than character, and once again, Haruf quietly, simply, and without sentimentality brings you into the lives and everyday struggles of these characters.

1501168_10152079374670977_1079286281_oBenediction (2013)

I particularly liked this one, perhaps because it mirrored some events from my own life (care taking of a dying parent). We know almost from the opening chapter that “Dad” Lewis is dying, and there is no mystery as to what is going to happen or what happens.

While the story is largely built around a central figure (“Dad”), it is how Haruf presents the events of his life and particularly how he presents all of the important characters in the novel that is so effective. He has a way of bringing you into each individual and letting each of them ‘tell’ you their story.

I have purposely not described the plots nor many details of any of these four novels. Better to approach them, I believe, without knowing too much about what you will discover.

Know, however, that what you will find in Haruf’s works is not some idealized view of rural, small town America. Rather, these are all believable characters — “the precious ordinary” — whose lives are depicted without any need for “suspension of disbelief” on part of the reader. They are all about people you will think about and are likely to remember, and many are people you will like.

And Haruf’s use of language is wonderful. He writes with a quiet simplicity, using only the words that are necessary to convey what his characters are thinking and doing.

If you do not know the writings of Kent Haruf, you are in for a treat.

Ellen: “At Least We Won’t Have to Worry About an August Slump”


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Mostly it’s bad news for Red Sox fans, and it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to get too much better. Other than having a few young players who could be future stars — Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Eduardo Rodriquez — there’s not much to like about this season.

Elln.camdenHowever, there is one bit of good news: Ellen Miller is getting interested in sports’ photography. At least baseball photography.

We (foolishly) went to a Sox vs Orioles game the other night, with the usual result. But Ellen brought her camera and long lens, and here are a few examples of her first serious baseball pictures.

Grind: Extra Fine (Small Circles & Effect: High Contrast), Brew: Color Gels (1/2 Pic & Full Blended Circles), Serve: Stirred (Flash Burn Tone & Brown Bag Texture)

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