“I Want My Country Back”

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From time to time I link to or quote an article that seems to explain something that is going on in this country or abroad, something that resonates with me.

So this morning, I draw your attention to a column in the NewStatesman, Britain’s current affairs and political magazine. It doesn’t cover everything about Brexit (for instance there is nothing about the poor turnout of millennials who ‘backed’ the Remain side of the ballot – Brexit Is What Happens When Millennials Don’t Vote), but it does explain and react to some of what has occurred in the United Kingdom.

Don’t many of us, no matter our political views, feel “hiraeth“? That’s the Welsh word that roughly translates as a deep desire for home, “a home you can never return to, a home which may never have existed at all.”

See Laurie Penny’s I Want My Country Back, published yesterday in the NewStatesman.

 

I’m Reading What You Recommend

I try to read at least one book a month that was recommended/highlighted on last year’s Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers (2015).

Here are a few I’ve particularly enjoyed so far, including some of the comments from contributing readers.

The Door, by Magda Szabo (F). Larry Makinson wrote: “Story of a cantankerous but unforgettable character in postwar Hungary.” Larry was in DC when he was reading this one and kept raving about it. So it was the first book I read in 2016, and I’m delighted I did.

Largely it’s a character study, two characters actually, and you will long remember one of the two. The Door was a NYTimes ten best in 2015: “In Szabo’s haunting novel, a writer’s intense relationship with her servant — an older woman who veers from aloof indifference to inexplicable generosity to fervent, implacable rage — teaches her more about people and the world than her long days spent alone, in front of her typewriter. Szabo, who died in 2007, first published her novel in 1987, in the last years of Communist rule; this supple translation shows how a story about two women in 20th-century Hungary can resonate in a very different time and place. With a mix of dark humor and an almost uncanny sense of the absurd, she traces the treacherous course of a country’s history, and the tragic course of a life.”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (NF). Sal Giambanco wrote, “This may be the the most important book of 2015. With racial injustice and inequality in the headlines, Bryan Stevenson tells the story of Walter McMillan, and he makes the clarion call for compassion in the pursuit of justice in this country”.

And Emily Nichols Grossi was equally enthralled: I haven’t been this moved by a non-fiction, book length work in some time. Written by Bryan Stevenson, co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, it is both memoir and fact-based call to action on behalf of the grim, unequal system of “justice” meted out in America. Stevenson grew up poor in Delaware. His great-grandparents were slaves. His grandfather was murdered on the streets of Philadelphia. And yet he forged on, graduating from Eastern University and then Harvard Law School before moving south to represent impoverished clients facing death row. We are taken through Stevenson’s incredible life story through the lens of several of those he represented and tried to free from what were often completely fabricated claims. The systemic racism that pervades the American justice system is undeniable; if you doubted before and are willing to read with an open mind and heart, you will doubt no more once finishing this critically important work. Stevenson is a lovely writer and a hell of a person.”

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs (NF) (Recommended by Anita Rechler,Cindy Olmstead, High Riddleberger and Matt Rechler). For those of you who have read this Hobbs’ book, Just Mercy is a fascinating and uplifting companion bookIn this case, though the early years of both individuals were difficult, what Stevenson was able to do with his gifts is a story that deserves attention. Stevenson is a true, modern day hero, and what he has done and continues to do is vitally important and deserves to be better known.

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough (NF). Contributor Lance Brisson wrote, “If you think you know all you need to know about the Wright brothers, think again. Relying primarily on letters, diaries, news articles and other written materials from hundreds of sources in the U.S. and Europe, David McCullough has crafted a fascinating biography of the Wright brothers. He tells the story about how they, first and foremost, and other aviation pioneers literally changed the world. Early on the book reminds the modern reader, who likely takes airplane and space travel for granted, that just a little over a century ago birds were the only creatures that could truly fly in the sense that they could control their speed, altitude and direction. The idea of humans engaging in mechanical flight was derided by many as an impossible dream pursued by cranks. The Wright brothers, designers and makers of bicycles in Dayton, Ohio, had the passion to pursue this dream in the face of countless obstacles, including great personal danger. The details of what they did, how they did it and the people their lives intersected help make this book so interesting. McCullough has a knack for bringing to life historical figures that the reader thinks he or she already knows well. He has done this once again with The Wright Brothers.”

I have added Wilbur and Orville Wright to my list of heroes, not just for what they accomplished but also for who they were and how they conducted their lives. We can learn much from their story.  A good and valuable read.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (F). This book was second to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (F) on readers’ most favorite fiction of 2015. Initially, I thought maybe Hannah’s book was ‘chick lit’ as all those who listed it were female readers. But those readers were all friends whose judgment I trust, and when I saw that Hannah was going to be in DC for a book talk, I read it.

Kate Latts summed it up pretty well, writing, “I am not usually a Kristin Hannah fan, but this was a solid WWII story focused on women fighting in the resistance in France. The two central characters are sisters trying to cope as best as they can during the hardships of war. One takes the more passive route and the other as an active resistance fighter. Moving and engaging story.”

Usually we read about WWII, and other wars, through the eyes of men, whether memoirs, histories, or fiction. Hannah believes there are many untold stories about women’s experiences and actions that need to be told. In The Nightingale, she models one of the two sisters after a woman who indeed played an important role in helping downed Ally pilots get to safety. In addition, the relationship of the two sisters and the role of their father add to what is a good story.

Martin Beck Detective series, by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall (F). I mentioned these books in my 2015 favorites as did several readers. Whenever I simply want to escape, I pick up one of the ten of these and get lost in the wonderful character development, detail, and mystery that each one offers. They don’t have to be read in the order in which they were written, and if you want to try one, check out Roseanna, The Man on the Balcony, or The Laughing Policeman. Also, try listening to one while you’re exercising, walking, or traveling. It will help you get the Swedish names and places set in your mind. These folks ‘taught’ Erik Larsson and others what good detective writing is all about.

*               *               *               *               *               *               *

If you’re looking for book suggestions, you can get to the list of MillesTime readers’ favorites in any of three ways:

MillersTime Readers Favorite Reads of 2015. This post includes a list of the favorites of the favorites as well as individual comments by every reader who contributed to the list.

Favorite Books Listed by TITLE, (non-fiction then fiction), then author, then the MillersTime contributing reader. A quick way to scroll through the list, bypassing what readers’ said about each book. You can easily print out this list.

Favorite Books Listed by the NAMES of the Contributing MillersTime readers, followed by title, (non-fiction then fiction), and then author. A quick way to check out what people whom you may know liked best. You can also easily print out this list.

For those of you who may want to see the lists from previous years, simply click on which year you want to review – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: The Alligator Blinked First

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Whenever we travel, we try to add something on to the main trip, either at the beginning or at the end, something extra on the way or on the way home. We call this “A Travel Lagniappe”.*

esm.2We recently celebrated two family gatherings, one in Jamaica, followed immediately by one in New Orleans. So as usual, we added something at the end, spending 26 hours in southern Louisiana, where we enjoyed two swamp tours (Cajun Country Swamp Tours at Lake Morten, Breaux Bridge, LA and Cajun Man Swamp Cruise, Gibson, LA), one terrific meal (Grapevine Cafe, Donaldsonville, LA), an overnight at Maison Madeleine’s Guest House, QuirkyYurt, and a fais-do-do** (La Poussiere, in Breaux Bridge).

(*Lagniappe is a Cajun/French term used in the south and referring to “something extra thrown in.” Not sure if anyone has ever used it in conjunction with traveling, but why not?)

(**Fais-do-do generally refers to a Cajun dance party, and the origins of the term could have something to do with putting a baby to sleep in a cry room off the dance floor so the mother could get back to her husband before he danced with someone else, or it could just mean ‘make a dance,’ as in ‘make a dos-a-dos’. For more on this, see The Fais Do-Do)

Here are a dozen pictures from this “Travel Lagniappe,” followed by a link to a slide show with more pictures if these 12 are not enough for you.

PS – One of the alligators in these photos did blink while Ellen was ‘capturing’ him/her with her camera. Ellen didn’t.

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To see Ellen’s entire slide show (59 photos), use this link: Southern Louisiana & the Swamps.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

 

 

Understanding Trump’s Appeal

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For a few months now I’ve been ‘loosely involved’ with a group of friends who are concerned about what is happening in our politics and who have been exchanging emails about where the country is headed. One of the intents of the individual who brought this group together was to answer the question about how we might direct our energies and move beyond the “divisiveness and denouncing the other side.” The questions he posed were these: “Isn’t it our obligation to seek to understand and look for ways to heal the schism and reduce the divisiveness? Isn’t that our best response to what we see happening at this time in our history?”

One of my bedrock beliefs and something that has formed the core of my professional life (working with troubled children, adolescents, parents, and families) is that before solutions to troubles are possible it is necessary to understand what is upsetting to each of the ‘parties.’

In that light, I draw your attention to a lengthy blog post by someone named James A. Lindsay whose somewhat provocative title to what he has to say is Liberals, Want Trump to Win? Keep Calling Him a Racist.

I hope you will take the time to read what Lindsay has to say. Not because I agree with all of it nor because I think all of his views or his conclusions are valid. What is valuable is that Lindsay writes from the ‘right’ and explains what is so upsetting to others like himself.

Probably the easiest way to read the article is to click on this link, but I am also posting it in its entirety below.

Continue reading »

Six Movies to Consider

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I’m not sure if there is a lack of good films available in the theaters just now, or it’s that we have been so preoccupied with other activities that we haven’t seen very many over the last few months.

But here are a two that we have seen recently and four that we saw earlier in the year in our movie club or at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The latter four are either in the theaters now or coming soon.

Eye in the Sky ****

MV5BNTY4Nzg5MTU0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY2MjU2NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_A ‘thriller’ of sorts that keeps you closely involved throughout its 102 minutes. The challenge is to capture terrorists, and in this film the emphasis is on using drones to carry out an operation.

However, what was supposed to be a capture assignment turns into a kill operation. And it becomes further complicated and tense when a young girl enters the kill zone.

The acting is terrific. Helen Mirren leads a very strong cast (in a role that was originally written for a male actor). All of the major performances are good ones.

Worth your time as a bit of escapism with some issues that are also worthy of exploring.

Ellen gave it five stars.

Sing Street ****

sing.MV5BMjEzODA3MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgxNDk3NzE@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_You might have to look around for this Irish tale of a young boy and a girl who are looking for a way out of their unhappy lives. As often seems the case in Irish films, it is through music that an escape is sought.

Conor (well played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a 14/15 year old boy who wants to impress a slightly older girl, Raphina (also well played by Lucy Boynton) who has issues of her own. Almost on a whim, Conor starts a band, with some advice from his older brother who also is ‘leading’ an unhappy life.

The writer/director John Carney has some how avoided the pitfalls of a coming of age, feel good movie that could easily have gone wrong and been overly sentimental. The story (set in the mid ’80s), the characters, and the music all seem to work well together, and both Walsh-Peelo and Boynton are a big reason it all seems to work.

Ellen gave it four stars.

The Innocents ****

innocents.1.MV5BZTQ2ZTAwOTAtMzg5Ny00MzU4LWI3YTUtNzFlMDUyMmUzMGY2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwMTY3NDI@._V1_We saw this film earlier this spring in our film club. It’s set in Warsaw in 1945 just after WW II has ended. In a convent, a nun, without the permission of the Mother Superior, sneaks a French Red Cross nurse (Mathilde) into the convent to minister to a sick nun. The convent has always prided itself on its separation from the outside world and bringing in an outsider is forbidden.

Based on a true story, it quickly becomes evident that the sick nun is pregnant, as are a number of other nuns, the result of a Russian occupation of the nunnery. What unfolds is largely the story of Mathilde’s interaction with the nuns who have been traumatized by what has happened to them.

The Innocents is a war story that differs from most, and this one is pretty good.

Ellen gave it 5 stars.

Viva****

Viva.MV5BMjE4MTc4Njk4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc4MDI3ODE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,778_AL_Another film club presentation, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know anything about this film prior to seeing it. Directed by Paddy Breathnach, an Irishman, but set entirely in Havana and in Spanish, it’s about Cuban drag performers in a nightclub.

Jesus, the lead character, does ‘make-up’ for these performers and dreams about being a performer himself. When he finally gets his chance, it’s interrupted when his long-absent father, a former boxer, comes out of the crowd and slugs him. What follows is a father-son “love story as the {two} men struggle to understand one another and reconcile as a family.”

While Viva is about a ‘world’ I never knew, and didn’t think I particularly wanted to know, the themes of following one’s dream and of a father and son conflict and resolution could be set anywhere. I don’t know how our film club rated this film, but the audience, myself included, was entranced by it.

Ellen gave it three stars.

 

And finally, of the two we saw in films festivals, the first is worth searching for, the second is to be avoided. As I posted earlier this year:

Dheepan ****

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Though too long and in need of some editing, this film is an absorbing and consuming look at what the refugee experience is like for three, unconnected refugees from Sri Lanka. These individuals flee their war-torn country and end up in another conflict zone, this time in suburbs of Paris. I’m not sure the ending was in concert with the rest of the film or was largely just an attempt to make the audience feel good. Still, this is an engrossing, well acted, and well done film. Given the current events with refugees fleeing Syria and trying to get to Europe, Dheepan is not only timely but also gives insight to what it must be like for individuals and families who must leave their homes and their history in order to stay alive.

Ellen gave it four stars.

The Lobster * 

cannes-film-festival-2015-the-lobster-colin-farrellThis film was highly touted by the festival organizers and was apparently a big hit in Toronto. I couldn’t find much worthy in this one and was never sure what the director intended. Described as a dystopian, dark, comedic love story, it didn’t hold together and was simply weird. It was shocking to us that it was the winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Festival. Maybe we just weren’t smart enough to ‘get it.’ (I should have followed my instincts and not the crowd, avoided this one, and gone to see something — anything — else instead.)

Ellen gave it 0 stars on my 1-5 star rating scale.

I Voted for Hillary Clinton Today

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Ballot

I live in Washington, DC, and the only ballot I can cast that counts on a national level is the one for the Presidency.

DC has a primary election on June 14, 2016 with three names on the ballot: Hillary Clinton, “Rocky” Roque De La Fuente, and Bernie Sanders.

Since I will be out of town on June 14th, I filled out and mailed my absentee ballot today.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.

It was an easy vote to cast.

Given these candidates, there is no doubt in my mind that the former Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is the most qualified and capable candidate of the three.

While I am attracted to much of Sen. Sanders’ analyses of what is not right in our country, I could not vote for him. I do not believe his qualifications or capabilities match Hillary’s.

I understand the enthusiasm of Sanders’ followers and that of much of the younger generations’. I hope they will fight to the end of the convention for Sanders, and if he is not the nominee, then I hope they will get behind Clinton. (If, tho it seems unlikely, Sanders is the nominee, I will vote for him in the general election.)**

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that between Clinton and Trump which of those two candidates I would trust in the White House.

I will vote for Hillary (or Sanders if he’s the Democratic candidate) in the General Election.

 

**Robert Reich’s Advice for Divided Democrats.

More Things I Never Knew, or What I Learned Last Weekend

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We were visiting with our younger daughter, son-in-law, and three-month old baby last weekend, and once again we found out that there are a lot of parenting things we never knew (despite having raised our own two daughters and having been fairly involved in the early years of our other three grand children).

For instance, did you know that a baby is ‘talking’ to you almost as soon as it’s born?

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Yup. There are five types of crying (‘words’) that communicate five different messages, according to Australian mother and researcher Priscilla Dunstan. She has identified five universal sounds that babies all around the world ‘speak.’

When the crying sounds like Neh, with the emphasis on the n, that means the little tyke is hungry.

When it sounds like Owh, with the emphasis on the O, then the baby is telling you she’s sleepy or tired.

Heh, with the emphasis on the first H, the message is about discomfort.

Eairh, with the emphasis on the r, or the rh, then the kid has ‘lower gas.’

Eh, burp the baby.

You can see and hear more about these ‘crying words’ by going to this YouTube site, where Oprah extols what Dunstan has discovered and where you can get a short course in distinguishing the five types of cries.

So when my daughter told me about all of this, I, of course, wrote down all five cries/sounds and followed young Samantha around all weekend, listening to her cries and what she was saying.

For me, most of the cries sounded like Eh, the ‘burp me’ cry. But I know my hearing skills are questionable (I have trouble hearing what Ellen is saying to me when she is in the same room with her back to me).  Fortunately, my daughter told me that these five sounds really only work from 0-3 months, and I felt better.

I also learned there is such a thing as a “Mantra Cry” — something about the difference between a cry for help and one that is not calling for you to rescue.  This is a kind of ‘fussy’ cry, not one that demands any real action by its caretakers. Other things I learned had to do with putting the baby on its back in a crib, lots of new info about how much sleep the baby needs, why some babies don’t poop all the time, and info about the ‘right’ car seats. Also, apparently no matter what your question is about your baby, you can get endless answers/advice from the Internets, often directly opposing answers and advice.

How could we have raised our kids without all this information?

I think we were probably just lucky.

As for Samantha, it seems as if her parents are doing pretty well at understanding her and taking care of her needs.

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Andalusia: Thru Ellen’s Eyes

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To celebrate an important birthday of andalucia-travel-mapphotographer and spouse Ellen Miller, we snuck in a quick ten-day trip to Andalusia in Southern Spain. We began in Seville (Sevilla), took a day trip by train to Cordoba (Cordova). After returning to Seville, we drove through hill towns and farming areas of Andalusia to Ronda where we stayed overnight. We then drove on to Grenada where we concluded our lovely introduction to Andalusia.

First, a few brief notes on each of the places we explored, then ten photos from Ellen’s Andalusia, and finally a link to her slide show:

Seville:

All of our time here was spent walking everywhere, one morning with a guide who asked our interests and proceeded to adjust his tour accordingly (!) and the other two and a half days wandering on our own throughout the city. We learned a lot about how people live, shop, and eat in this thriving tourist town, saw some of the modern touches to this ancient city (to wit an inexplicable public structure dubbed ‘the mushroom’), and wandered through the old tile-making area of the city, which is rapidly becoming a chic place to live, wine, and dine.

For me, the most memorable site in Seville was the Plaza de Toros, the bullring. I’ve never seen a bull fight (we missed one by just a few days), but simply sitting on a stone seat and taking in the scene before us was somehow magical. I had some of the same feeling as I did more than 60 years ago when I first entered Boston’s Fenway Park and saw that wonderful ‘temple’ and its famed Green Monster wall.

While the massive Cathedral (built on the ruins of a former mosque) and the Alcazar (Royal Palace) were worthy of a bit of time, mostly we wandered through the various neighborhoods — the most interesting of which was the alluring old Jewish quarter —  mostly enjoying the narrow streets and white houses with flower boxes and grilled fronts.

And food was a highlight. For a fancy meal, we loved Oriza and its main dining room. But mostly, we found tapas bars, using our guide’s recommendation to be sure the floors around the bars were dirty with napkins (because that’s how you can distinguish a place where locals go from a place where tourists go). We stood at the bar at El Rinconcillo, the oldest tapas bar in Seville, for close to two hours, mostly soaking in the atmosphere, trying to get the attention of the ‘waiters’ behind the bar, and marveling at El Rincolncillo’s unique way of keeping track of what you’ve eaten (in chalk on the bar).

And, despite the touristy nature of it (and our resistance to it because of that), we thoroughly enjoyed a 90-minute evening performance of flamenco dancing.

Cordoba:

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We took a 40 minute train ride from Seville to Cordoba for the day, primarily to see the historic part of this ancient capital.  We enjoyed wandering in the ‘Jewish Quarter’ with its winding, narrow (‘kissing’) streets and looking in on the colorful, tiled patios. As in most of the areas we visited in Andalusia, there are virtually no remnants of Jewish life.

But it was the Mesquita de Cordoba — The Mosque/Cathedral — that most entranced us. Unlike everywhere else in Spain, the Christians did not destroy this massive, columned mosque when they ‘reconquered’ Cordoba. Instead, they simply built a cathedral in the exact center of this enormous and unusual mosque. And thank God, so to speak, that they left most of the mosque alone. Even with Ellen’s photographic skills and my writing, it is hard to capture, in picture or in words, this place. We have seen nothing like the Mesquita in all of our travels. Truly an architectural wonder.

Ronda and the hill towns of Andalusia:

best rondaWe spent a good part of one day driving from Seville through various hill towns and rich agricultural areas on our way to the cliff-side town of Ronda, where we stopped overnight before continuing on to Grenada. The countryside was lush and fertile and filled with olive trees. (Someone told us that 80% of Italy’s olive oil comes from Spain.)

Ronda is in a mountainous area and in the center of Andalusia. The town is built on the side of an enormous cliff and above the Guadalevin River which divides the town in two. The most recent of the three bridges (Puento Nuevo) now connects the two parts of the town, which has become one of the more well-known hill towns of this part of Spain. It is also the home of Spain’s oldest bullring, still in use twice a year. Although not as dramatic as the bullring in Seville, it was lovely (tho I suspect the bulls would disagree).

Grenada:

GrenadaWe left our car in a rental car park at a train station in Grenada — no one was around to accept the keys, but we assume that it was safely received — and spent the next three days walking through what became our favorite stop of this trip.

Sometimes with a guide, and more often on our own, we crisscrossed this ancient city, spending most of our time in the cobbled streets of the Albaicin, a former Moorish neighborhood that has retained some of its heritage, and most of a day at the Alhambra, a partially preserved fortress palace that is another historic monument that almost defies photographic and written description.** An UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a fortress that included, at one time, seven palaces, castles, residential neighborhoods, military housing, watch towers, and extensive gardens. One of the palaces remains and is stunning in its architecture and detailed decorative walls and ceilings. The Albhambra dominates the city, and from every angle is stunning to see.

And as everywhere else we were on this short trip, the food, largely tapas, was memorable. The tapas in Grenada is often free and meant to draw you into a bar, where you’ll not only drink but also order more food. Los Diamentas and Bodegas Espadafor were two of our favorites. Both were filled with locals. The final night we ate at Restaurante Estrellas de San Nicholas where from the top of the Albacian we had a wonderful night time view of the Alhambra. Surprisingly, the food was almost as good as the remarkable view.

(** In being intimidated by the Alhambra, I’m in pretty good company when I say it is a difficult place to describe. Washington Irving wrote, “”How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.” But I did read his Tales of the Alhambra (1832), a series of sketches, stories, tales, myths, descriptions, and observations of the Alhambra, where he spent part of year living in a room within one of the palaces. It’s a good read, especially once you’ve been there.)

bullring

cathedral ceiling

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cordoba shadows

castles in countryside

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ronda village.

Grenada

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To see the entire slide show (68 photos), use this link: Andalusia: Thru Ellen’s Lens.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

I Owe It All to My Grandson

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Scherzer

At every baseball game I attend I am looking to see something I have never seen before. Sometimes that’s not such an easy task.

Last night, it was a no-brainer.

If you follow sports at all, and baseball in particular, you’ve already heard Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals’ $210 million dollar — for seven years —  pitcher, struck out 20 batters in nine innings, to become only the fourth pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that task (Roger Clemens did it twice, Randy Johnson and Kerry Wood did it once each).

I suspect the Nationals were pleased to fork over the million dollars ($30 million a year divided by 30 starts) for that performance. Scherzer had been having a not-too-good year prior to last night as his ERA going into the game against Detroit was 4.60 and his won-loss record was 3-2.

It was an evening I will not forget, especially since I am putting in writing what I saw. When Scherzer struck out his 17th batter, I turned to a fellow Nats’ fan, Don, and said, “I once saw Pedro Martinez strike out 17 at Fenway years ago.” (However, when I tried to confirm that Pedro had indeed done that, I couldn’t find it in the records, although Pedro did strike out 17 Yankees once in Yankee Stadium.)

So much for the accuracy of my memory.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights from last night:

1st Inning: After getting the first batter to pop out, Scherzer strikes out the next two batters, including his friend Miguel Cabrera. Total: two strikeouts.

2nd Inning: Scherzer gives up a single to Victor Martinez and then strikes out the next three batters. Total: five strikeouts.

(Note: I mentioned to Don that Scherzer had already struck out five of the six batters he faced. But most fans didn’t seem to focus on that yet as they were carefully watching former Nats’ beloved pitcher Jordan Zimmermann return to Nationals’ Park for the first time since he left the team this past winter. He got an enthusiastic standing ovation/reception and was even ‘forced’ to step out of the batter’s box to acknowledge the well-earned applause and appreciation for what he accomplished while he was with the Nats.)

3rd Inning: Jose Inglesias, not one of the Tigers’ better hitters, leads off the inning with a first pitch home run that just got over the left field wall. Scherzer then strikes out the next three batters. Total: eight strikeouts.

4th Inning: One strikeout, one ground out, and one fly out to right. Total: nine Ks.

5th Inning: Two strikeouts and a fly out: Total: 11 Ks.

6th Inning:  Ground out and two strikeouts: Total: 13 Ks.

7th Inning: Cabrera strikes out again, but then Victor Martinez singles and Justin Upton doubles. Men on second and third. Only one out. Score at this point, Nats 2, Tigers 1. Scherzer strikes out the next two batters to get out of the inning and preserve the lead. Total: 15 Ks.

(Note: Up to this point, Jordan Zimmermann and Scherzer were in a terrific pitchers’ duel, despite all of Scherzer’s strikeouts. Now with the Tigers threatening, Scherzer was at his best, ‘easily’ putting away James McCann and Justin Upton. In the bottom of the 7th, Danny Espinoza adds an insurance run with a home run off Jordan Zimmermann to make the score 3-1.)

8th Inning: Scherzer strikes out the side. Total: 18 Ks.

9th Inning: Lead off home run for J.D. Martinez. Score goes to 3-2. Cabrera strikes out for the third time on a 97 mph fastball before Victor Martinez singles and goes 3-4 on the night. Scherzer then gets Upton to strikeout swinging and ties the record for most strike outs in a nine-inning game. Two outs and James McCann up with Scherzer, the rest of the Nats, and the 35,695 fans cheering for him to break the record. After a first pitch strike, McCann weakly grounds out third to first.  Total: 20 Strikeouts.

(Note: Far from being disappointed, Scherzer pumps his fist and grins so every one of the 35,695 fans can see how pumped up he was and excited to beat his old team and get back on track, dropping his ERA from 4.60 to 4.15. Overlooked in the excitement of Scherzer’s terrific game was Zimmermann’s good performance, giving up three runs and seven hits over seven innings, dropping his ERA from 1.10 to 1.5, still far ahead of Scherzer for the season. Basically, Zim made one mistake, the home run pitch to Espinoza, which allowed the Nats to win 3-2.)

And a few other things of note:

**In his complete game outing, Scherzer threw an amazing 96 strikes out of his 119 pitches (80.6%) — significantly better than the other three pitchers who also have struck out 20 and a MLB record. Also, no walks and six hits over his nine innings.

**Eighteen of Scherzer’s 20 strikeouts were swinging strikeouts. Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Cabrera, McCann, and Gose all struck out three times. Victor Martinez got three hits and was the only Tiger batter who did not strike out.

**Scherzer had first strike pitches to 24 of the 33 batters he faced, a 72.3% rate.

**Scherzer now has defeated all 30 MLB teams. John Lackey is the only other active player to do that.

**Despite having Jonathan Papelbon warming up for the 9th inning, Nats’ manager Dusty Baker chose to stick with Scherzer in the 9th, even after he gave up a lead off home run, making the score close to 3-2. It’s doubtful Baker could’ve gotten Scherzer off the mound and out of the game in the 9th, at least not without the fans (and Scherzer) going bersek.

**Baker’s moving Daniel Murphy to batting forth and dropping Ryan Zimmerman to fifth paid off as Murphy drove in two of the Nats’ three runs, and would have had a third RBI if Harper had not been thrown out, on review, on an attempted steal. Murphy is now hitting .409 and no doubt better protects Harper from being walked than Zimmerman was able to do.

**Jason Werth’s batting average dropped to .196 as he went 0-4 and left five men on base.

**Dusty Baker who has played in 2,039 games and managed 3,210, said, “That’s the best pitching performance I’ve seen in person” — quite a complement for someone who has participated in a total of 5,249 games, witnessed numerous other games in addition, and is one of baseball’s most astute observers of the game.

For those of you who were not privileged to be at the game, did not see it on TV, or watch any of the replay, you can see in a third of a minute, what Scherzer did. (Please bear with the 12 second ad at the beginning of the video below):

Scherzer’s 20 Strikeouts in 20 Seconds

Oh. And why the “I Owe It All to My Grandson” headline of today’s blog?

I went to the game with the expressed purpose of getting the MVP Byrce Harper Bobblehead giveaway for my seven-year old grandson.

Otherwise, I doubt I would have had the great pleasure of attending and witnessing Max Scherzer’s wonderful performance last night.

Are Strike Outs Overated?

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Strike out

What really matters in determining how well a baseball team is performing?

Isn’t pitching supposed to trump (excuse me) hitting?

Didn’t the Sox spend gazillions of dollars to beef up their starting pitching and their relief pitching?

And aren’t strikeouts important?

So it’s only 22 games into the 162 game season, but a few things pop out if you follow the Sox:

  1. Their record is 12-10 which has them in second place in the AL East, 1.5 games behind the surprising Orioles.
  2. They are next to last in ERA (4.43), giving up 103 runs (98 earned), only Houston is worse in these pitching categories.
  3. They have struck out the most hitters in the AL, 223, but have also given up the most walks, 88.
  4. They only have six saves.

However,

  1. They have the highest hitting average in their league (.278), the most hits (218), the most doubles (63), the most triples (7), and the most RBIs (107).
  2. Most important in this area is they lead the league in runs with 114, 18 more than the second place Tigers and 19 more than the Orioles.
  3. So maybe their record of fewest home runs so far, 17 vs the Orioles 33, isn’t hurting their run scoring.

Plus,

  1. Their fielding has been pretty good as they are near the top of the league with a FPCT of .987 and only 10 errors.
  2. Their record in stealing bases tops the league, 20 (out of 22 attempts), and they’ve thrown out six of nine stolen base attempts.

It sure seems that hitting is trumping pitching, at least so far as the Red Sox are concerned in the early going of this season.

Actually, the most interesting thing about the season so far for me is something that Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sports’ writers has highlighted — teams are striking out almost one out of every four times they are at the plate, the highest rate in the history of baseball, and, he writes, that’s not a bad thing.

Teams seem to believe, he says, “Hit the long ball. Steal bases at a high percentage. Draw walks. That’s still the winning formula.”

Strike outs overrated?

See Posnanski’s article Teams Are Striking Out More and That’s Not a Bad Thing.

Good Theater in DC

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Those of you who read MillersTime with some regularity may have noticed that I have not reviewed many movies of late. Because of extended grandparenting joys and duties, lots of travel, and the wonderful return of the baseball season, we have missed most of our 2016 Sunday morning Cinema Club films, the Miami Film Fest, the Jewish Film Fest, and the DC Film Fest. Plus, we haven’t even made it to a regular movie theater in what seems to be forever.

However, we have somehow seen a number of theater productions and want to draw to your attention two plays — both at Arena Stage — that might be of interest to those living in or coming to the DC metro area. The first is closing soon (May 8th), the second has just opened and will be here until May 29th.

All the Way ****

All the Way

Whether you see this play as a history lesson or because you were in someway ‘around’ during this time in our country’s history, you will not be disappointed. While I have some reservations about the play (see below), none of those have to do with the accuracy of this one year in the life of LBJ.

The play opens as Lyndon Johnson becomes an “accidental president” in Nov. of 1963 with the assassination of John Kennedy. It ends one year later with the landslide election of LBJ as president in his own right.

In between, we see all aspects of this 36th president, and playwright Robert Schenkkan, director Kyle Donnelly, and actor Jack Willis get LBJ just right. For those of you who were in Washington, I suspect the LBJ you see on stage will be the one you ‘knew.’ For those of you who know some of our country’s (recent) history (especially if you have read Robert Caro’s wonderful LBJ bios), you too will recognize this LBJ. For those of you who know the name LBJ as largely an historical figure, you’ll be treated to an engaging history lesson. For all of those who see All the Way, you will leave the theater with a better understanding of the man, how our government works, of the presidency, of politics, and of a particular time in our history.

The one year in the life of LBJ captured here portrays this president at the height of his power, at the most successful time in his life. In the process, it also explores the other players of the time – Martin Luther King, Hubert Humphrey, J. Edgar Hoover, Lady Byrd Johnson, Walter Jenkins, Richard Russesll, Robert McNamara, and others – and how LBJ used them both to hold the country together and to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (There is a second play, The Great Society, by the same playwright that portrays LBJ as he ends his presidency and returns to Texas, a time and a result very different from the successful portrayal here.)

This 2014 Tony Award (Best Drama) is both history and biography at its best.

I did have difficulty (physically) seeing Jack Willis as LBJ. So too with most of the other actors playing their roles as historical figures. (Others have told me they had no problems with that at all.)  Also, even though the Arena Stage production goes to great lengths to deal with the round stage (as opposed to a proscenium one), I found myself struggling to see and hear well when a particular actor had his or her back to me. And for me, not all of the actors were as effective or as skilled as Jack Willis in their depictions of the roles they were playing.

Nevertheless, if you can get to Arena Stage before May 8 (it will not be extended), consider doing so. The play is long (2 3/4 hours), but it nails that time in our history.

Disgraced ****1/2

Disgraced

When I first read Disgraced was coming to the Arena Stage, I read about it being a Pulitzer Prize winning play (2013) and about it being the most produced play in 2015 (30 theaters around the country and the world with another 20 theaters planning to produce it also).

Then I read on Arena’s Stage website the play was “about the clash between modern culture and ancient faiths. The son of south Asian immigrants, Amir has worked hard to achieve the American Dream — complete with a successful career, a beautiful wife and $600 custom-tailored shirts. But has he removed himself too far from his roots? And when a friendly dinner party conversation rockets out of control, will the internal battle between his culture and his identity raze all that he’s worked so hard to achieve? Hailed as “terrific, turbulent, with fresh currents of dramatic electricity” (New York Times), this incendiary examination of one’s self and one’s beliefs will leave you breathless.”

So it caught my attention, but somehow I did not realize that it was about being Muslim in America. I’m glad I didn’t realize that, as I might have chosen not to see it. And that would have been a pity. I would have missed so much.

Briefly, there are five characters (two couples and a younger man) who for 90 minutes (no intermission) on one set explore who they are below and beyond what they have already become. One, Amir, is the son of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant and has passed himself off as a Indian-American who has become an extremely successful lawyer in a Jewish law firm in New York City. His wife, a White-Protestant-American is an artist who is exploring Islamic imagery in her emerging, successful work. The second couple is an African-American woman, also a lawyer in the same law firm as Amir, and her husband who is a Jewish curator from the Whitney Museum. The fifth character is the young Muslim-American nephew of Amir.

As is often the case in stories set around a dinner table, there is much below the surface, and with that as a setting, the audience usually is witness to an unraveling in varying degrees. In this case, the playwright, Ayad Akhtar*, says Disgraced is “actually a melodrama-slash thriller-slash-agitprop-slash-tragedy.”

It’s all that and much more. While it’s primary focus is on Amir and who he really is, it is also about the other characters and who they are. It is about assimilation, about ethnic and identity confusion, and about losing your religion and your community. Additionally, it is about unintended consequences and about where our discourse and rhetoric can lead us.

It’s an intriguing play that grabs you both emotionally and intellectually and deserves discussion.

If you see Disgraced and want to spend an evening over dinner discussing it with us and others who have also seen it, let me know.

(*There is an excellent interview with the playwright that perhaps is best read once you’ve seen the play.)

Some Days Are Better Than Others

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Hats

Sometimes it’s a particularly good day for Sox and Nats fans…and not so good for Yankee and Orioles’ fans.

Sunday was one of those days.

We were at a Nats’ afternoon game that was mostly without excitement for the first eight or nine innings. Strasburg pitched well, except for one pitch (isn’t that often the case for pitchers?) where, although he struck out 10 batters over 7.1 innings, he gave up a three-run homer that broke up a tie game and put the Nats in a 4-1 hole.

Mostly the game was a pitchers’ duel (I enjoy those, but my wife, a fair weather fan — she only goes to games if the weather is fair — prefers more ‘action’). Then the Nats scored two in the 8th to come within one run of tying the game. In the 9th, boy wonder Bryce Harper, who was being given a day of rest (really necessary for a youngster like him?), pinch hit and of course slammed one out of the park to deepest center.

Tie game.

Extra innings.

We had to leave the park for grandparent duties but listened on the radio (still a wonderful way to follow baseball if the announcers are good) and later followed the action on our smart phones. The game went 16 innings before a mostly unknown player, Chris Heisey, who had replaced Harper after the 9th, hit a game ending home run, almost six hours after the 1:35 PM game had started.

GoNats.

As if that wasn’t enough baseball for one day, after we got home, I checked in on the Sox who were playing a Sunday night game. And that was almost a repeat of what happened with the Nats, tho the Sox game only went 12 innings and lasted a mere five hours.

The Sox were ahead 5-1, then 5-3, which they held from the end of the third until the bottom of the 9th, when their new, expensive, and highly touted closer, Craig Kimbrel, got two outs before giving up a double and then a home run.

Another tie game.

More extra innings.

Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, Sox back up catcher Ryan Hannigan had a 13-pitch at bat/walk before Jackie Bradley drove in Hanley Ramirez for the Sox lead. (Hannigan scored an insurance run when he then made it home on a wild pitch.) Sox used an unheralded reliever, Heath Hembree, and held in the bottom of the 12.th

Sox win.

Now it was just after 1 AM (I had moved from the bedroom to the study around midnight in order not to cause my fair weather wife any more loss of sleep and to preserve what was left of my marriage), and I was a bit hyped up. So of course I checked in on the Evil Empire Yankees and was pleased to see they had lost 8-1 and were now in last place. Plus, although A-Rod drove in the Yunkee’s one lowly run, he was now hitting a mere .148.

Then I checked on the current AL East surprise league leaders, the Orioles, and was delighted to see they had lost to the Royals, 6-1.

All in all, about 12+ hours of baseball, and all good.

Some days are simply better than others for obsessed baseball fans.

The Best Ethnic Restaurant Guide for the DC Area

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What does a professor of economics know about ethnic food?

Actually, this one, Tyler Cowen, is someone you should know about and follow, particularly if you live in the DC-VA-MD area (tho many of the things he has to say about eating out are applicable to cities and suburbs around the US).

Three years ago I blogged about Cowen on MillersTime (here and here), writing, “For those of you who know of Cowen, you are familiar with his penchant for seedy, small, ethnic restaurants in the DC area. How he finds all of them and still keeps his day job as an economist at George Mason University and his prolific writing output is beyond me. But he is a treasure, despite (or perhaps because of) his sometimes over enthusiastic reviews or his opinionated posts.”

If you don’t know about him and his Ethnic Dining Guide, you’re in for a wonderful find. Forget the Washington Post, the Washingtonian, Trip Advisor, or Zagats. Cowen is a one man eating machine who simply loves finding and reporting on local restaurants and grocery stores and has been doing so for almost 30 years.  I don’t think he earns any money from this love (his day job is at GMU where he’s the Director of the Mercatus Center for economic policy), but if you’re looking for the best, the most comprehensive guide (free) to ethnic restaurants in this area, check him out:

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide* – April 2016. Start with this.

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Blog – April 2016.  Also, check out this blog version because it often contains Cowen’s latest passions or finds.

Six Rules for Dining Out – Atlantic Monthly, May 2012. An article Cowen wrote a few years ago that contains some of his thinking about approaching eating out in general, ethnic, trendy, ‘top rated’ restaurants, etc.

(*Note. If Cowen gives a phone number for a restaurant, call it before you head out. In some cases, a restaurant may be closed or may have gone out of business and that is not always reflected in his massive list of area ethnic restaurants.)

PS – Update 4/26/16. I was reminded by a reader that one of the strengths of Cowen’s list is that he not only leads you to a restaurant you might not know, but he also gives advice about particular dishes to order. He believes it’s not just about choosing a restaurant but equally important is knowing what to order at that restaurant. His guide is certainly helpful in giving suggestions about what he has liked at particular restaurants.

Also, because Cowen has so many restaurants on his list (and he has a day job not related to food), he does not always have the latest info (Mixtec, in DC, for instance has now been closed for almost six months, and Masala Art, the Indian restaurant on Wisconsin Ave. in DC has gone down hill, perhaps a victim of too much success and the distraction of opening a second restaurant near Arena Stage.). That is a reason to check his blog and not only rely on the massive guide. He adds new ‘finds’ (check out his “Current Favorites” list on the right hand side of the home page of the blog), and he also sometimes updates reviews of previously recommended restaurants.