As always, this post would not be possible without the participation of friends (and friends of friends) who have taken the time to share with me and others titles and comments about what you are reading and enjoying. Think of it as a ‘community’ of readers even if some of you do not know each other. I thank you all for responding to my ‘gentle reminders.’
This 2019 mid-year list is comprised of the favorite reads of 53 adults and 5 small children (10, 8, 6, 3, and almost 2 years of age.) Surprisingly, at least to me, this year nonfiction choices lead fiction 54% to 46%, a reversal of every previous compilation over the past 10+ years. Fifty-seven per cent of the contributors are female, 43% male, a typical breakdown.
I’ve organized the post in three ways:
I. The Books that have been cited by multiple readers are listed first.
II. Next, the Contributors are listed alphabetically by first name — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next and then any comments they made about those books.
III. Two Spread Sheets for quick reference and in case you want to print out either list for future use:
Spread Sheet #1 – Listed by the Contributor’s Name, then Title, Author, & Fiction/Nonfiction
Spread Sheet # 2 – Listed by Book Title, then Author, Contributor, & Fiction/Nonfiction
Also, at the end of this post, I’ve linked to the Midyear and Final lists from 2018, just in case you need more suggestions than those in this Midyear post.
I. Titles that appear on more than one reader’s Favorites’ List.
Beartown, Fredrick Backman
Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate
Beneath the Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
The Lost Man, Jane Harper
Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne
Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, Alex Kotlowitz
Bad Blood: Secrets & Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
Educated, Tara Westover
K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Tyler Kepner
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder & Memory in Northern Ireland. Patrick Radden Keefe,
The Library Book, Susan Orlean
Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, Robert A. Caro
Almost 45 years ago a good friend (Judy White) sent us a photo taken in the Slot Canyons of Arizona during a trip she and her husband Mike had taken to the Southwest. That image has stayed in my mind for all these years. Despite a number of trips to the Southwest to explore the many wonderful parks, a week long houseboat trip on Lake Powell, travels through Arizona and Utah, and numerous trips to Santa Fe and other parts of New Mexico, somehow Ellen and I had never made it to The Slot Canyons. (We did purchase, however, two wonderful photos of these marvels from a small photography gallery in Albuquerque, and they’ve been hanging in our kitchen for at least 20 years.) Recently, we were on one of our many trips to other parts of the world and found ourselves in a canyon, literally half way around the world. We were mesmerized by that canyon and both wondered why we had never made the effort to see The Slot Canyons in our own country.
So about a month ago, we spent four days in Page, Arizona where we explored five different Slot Canyons at different times of the day and night — Ellen with her new lenses and her newly purchased tripod and me with my trusty iPhone.
What we saw, experienced, and will long remember is to us one of the natural wonders of the world. We fortunately have been able to travel world wide and have explored many wonderful cities, witnessed many fascinating cultures, and seen numerous outstanding natural phenomenon.
The Slot Canyons are near the very top of what we would call the best of the natural wonders of the world we have seen in our six to seven decades of travel. We’ve never experienced anything like it. Anywhere.
Below you will see just a dozen of Ellen’s photos from her slide show of about 55 photographs, including a bit of night photography, a first for Ellen. If you find these 12 of interest, we urge you to click on the link below these 12 to get to the slide show. Use the largest format you have (desktop computer, large laptop, etc.) to see the photos in all their splendor. These are not ‘simply’ Ellen’s travel photos (which are pretty good). They are the best photos she has ever taken anywhere, ever.
Also, at the end of the photos in this post, you’ll see some information about how we spent our four days and how you might consider planning a trip of your own.
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. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper and the larger format blows away the 12 that you have seen above.
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Some details for those of you who may have interest in pursuing a trip of your own to this part of the country.
From what we have gathered, before and afterwards, the most intriguing and beautiful Slot Canyons are in the Navajo lands of northern Arizona, specifically just outside of Page, Arizona. That’s where we headquartered for four nights. (No fancy accommodations there, but lots of good local food.)
You cannot go into any of the Canyons on your own, and various companies (all Navajo owned) handle different Canyons. In the two most popular ones, Upper Antelope and Lower Antelope, there are crowds. In Upper Antelope Canyon (the most popular) it is kind of a nightmare. Rattlesnake, Owl, and Cathedral Canyons are definitely more isolated, and you are not likely to encounter many other visitors. For Upper Antelope Canyon and several others we used Adventurous Antelope Tours. Specifically, we took Photography Tours, for which EACH participant must have their own camera AND A TRIPOD. On these tours (about 12-15 people) there is some photo instruction, but more importantly, the tour leaders clear out of the way the crowds of other visitors so you can get your best shots, ones with no one in the way. In addition to their Photo Tour of Upper Antelope, we also took their Three Canyon Photo Tour (included a return to Upper Antelope which made us happy. We also were able to wander virtually alone in Snake and Owl Canyons both of which were stunning.)
We did a third Photo Tour with them at night, which was amazing. It began at 9 PM and lasted until past midnight. Our guide was great and was patient and skilled in helping teach Ellen about night photography. It was worth it. A highlight experience even if the photos were not as pleasing as the day time shots.
Transportation from the meeting point (office of company) to the Canyons themselves is done in a jeep like vehicle. No major walking here. If you do not take the photo tours in Upper Antelope, and take their regular tour instead, you are in a group of 15 or so, but among hundreds of other people on this or other tours. The experience is sort of like walking down Fifth Avenue in New York. (Not great, but probably the best you can do if you don’t have the camera equipment or want to spend the money for the Photo Tours.)
For Lower Antelope Canyon (which is the second most popular one in the region), we used a company called Ken’s Tours. We took the Deluxe tour option, and it was just the two of us, but we assume it could go up a bit in number. We just lucked out. Lower Antelope is not nearly as crowded, and it is spectacular.Our last tour was to the less well known Cathedral Canyon (not a photo tour), and we did that through a company called Antelope Canyon Slot Tours. Not impressive but more walking and that actually made it fun.
We also kayaked into one end of Antelope Canyon and so saw that open end from a different perspective. The group that provided the boats and guide was called Hidden Canyon Kayak.
All the canyons are different. All are amazing in their own ways. Don’t go to see just one, and be sure you schedule a few days to explore. (There are also several others which we did not see. Most people seem just to see Upper Antelope and then leave. Others have so very much to offer.) Our favorites were Lower Antelope and Rattlesnake, followed by Upper Antelope and Owl, but we mesmerized and entranced by them all.
A few years ago I decided that waiting until December was too long a time between posts that share favorite reads among MillersTime readers. As we all age, it seems more difficult to remember what we read in the first half of the year. Plus, it seems that readers of this website have found a midyear list useful as the summer approaches.
So I have started asking about the end of May for books you’ve read so far this year that have particularly resonated with you. And further, I am making a few changes in this call for books that hopefully will make your submissions easier and will reduce my ‘work’ in both reminding you and in collating them.
Please send me just three or four titles at the most, listing the book, the author, and whether it is Fiction (F) or Nonfiction (NF). Also, indicate if you have listened to the book in an audible form.
Limit your comments, if you decide to make any, to just one or two sentences. While I believe one of the best aspects of our sharing our favorites is what we say about the books, let’s see what happens if at midyear we limit that a bit. I know it will help me in putting the list together.
The deadline for your submissions is June 14, just a bit over two weeks from now. Send them to my email: Samesty84@gmail.com
I will limit myself to just one reminder, a week or so prior to the 14th, but if you have some time this weekend, maybe you could begin compiling and send me your list prior to the deadline as that spreads out my putting the list together.
And please keep a full list for the end of the year compilation, which will not limit you to just three or four books and one or two sentences.
Eleven years ago, I wrote about a book I had just read that I couldn’t get out of my mind: Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx (by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc).
“If this book was a novel, readers would probably dismiss it as too chaotic and not believable. But it is in fact a true story, the never ending cycle of living on the edge, the ghetto (largely the Bronx), where the girls get pregnant and the guys sell drugs and go to jail (some of the girls do too.) Somehow, Le Blanc, the author, has gotten inside several families, and the result is you live with them, with all their turmoil, rage, love, and loyalties. I doubt I have ever read a ‘coming of age’ story as intense and memorable as this one. And I’m sure I will remember it for a very long time.”
Now, there’s another one to call to your attention. This one, An American Summer also is non-fiction and is equally as memorable. Ellen and I went to see and hear the author, Alex Kotlowitz at Politics and Prose’s new Wharf store in southwest DC, and while that hour added to our enjoyment and understanding of the book and its author, the book by itself is one we’ll also remember for a very long time.
Kotlowitz calls it a series of dispatches, but it’s in fact a picture of life on the south and west sides of Chicago, 14 stories, some self contained but all about the same subject: what it is like for children, adolescents, young and older men, and mothers and grandmothers, some who are victims of gun violence. Some are perpetrators of violence.
The author set out to write about the summer of 2013 in this troubled area of Chicago (though he says he could have written a similar book about any one of ten other cities in American that actually have a higher crime rate than Chicago). Like LeBlanc (above) he was able to embed himself in the communities and families and became deeply invested in the lives of his subjects, ones who upended what (he) thought (he) knew.
There’s a bit of Studs Terkel (a mentor and a friend) in his approach as Kotlowitz is able to convey and portray a world that is behind the statistics (1990 to 2010 when 14,033 people were killed here and more than 60,000 wounded). Although his stories all begin in the summer of 2013, many then go back a number of years and then forward for the four more years it took him to present his portrait(s) drawn from these 14 stories. His ability to interview, to listen, to interact, and to write about the violence in these lives and in this part of the city is simply as good as it gets for a writer and for the reader. He helps us begin to understand things most of us don’t know and can’t even imagine.
What is taking place in Chicago, and in other American cities, is complicated. It’s complex. And it’s heart wrenching. It’s about Thomas, Anita, Crystal, Nugget, Eddie, Lisa, Maria, Marcello, and their families and friends. It’s about trauma from one generation to the next. It’s about something called “Complex Loss.” It’s about loneliness and fear. It’s also about resilience and the price of resilience. And it’s about forgiveness as a way to cope and a way to preserve oneself.
Kotlowitz doesn’t give public policy prescriptions nor claim
to have answers to what can be done.
But he does humanize people from all sides who live with
this daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and decades long violence, and he gives the
reader an unvarnished picture of life in these communities.
While he gives no answers, he does go behind the statistics,
behind the headlines, and deeply into a world that is out of control.
I suspect you have not read anything quite so revealing as An American Summer.
Put it on your summer reading list. It is nothing like the
summer or life most of us will experience this or any other year.
Check out these five films we’ve seen recently, four reviewed by Ellen and one by Richard. All are worthy of your consideration.
Reviewed by Ellen Miller:
All is True: Ellen ***** Richard *****
All is True, a historical drama that concerns the latter years of Shakespeare’s life, was made for me. Historical films are one of my favorite genres and this one is enhanced by the acting of Kenneth Branagh (as Shakespeare), Judi Dench (as his wife, Anne Hathaway), and Ian McKellen (now 80 years old). With Branagh as the director, producer, and writer, this film “had me from hello.”
The film is set in 1613, immediately following a fire which destroyed the Globe Theater. It opens with Shakespeare returning to his home in Stratford from which he had been long – and frequently – absent. The adjustment of his daughters and his wife to his return is difficult, and he is unsettled. The story of the last three or four years of his life unfolds, and while what is portrayed in the film is not all true, much of it is based on facts of his latter years. But these distortions matter little here as this film depends not on the story itself, but on the acting, the staging, and the filming, all of which are amazing accomplishments.
The combination of the story, the acting, and the cinematography makes the movie mesmerizing. Each scene is filmed as though it was a still life painting, lit only by candles. The acting is taut – Dench, for example, delivers her lines with such expression and passion that her actual words are unimportant. You know exactly what she means. There is so much contained in this film (I keep wanting to call it a play): family dynamics; convention-resisting daughters; titled men and literary figures paying homage to Shakespeare; the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife; and Shakespeare’s planting a memorial garden to honor his son. (Funnily, the deceased son was named Hamnet – who, in this production, is a ghost who haunts his father.)
An interesting note is that Branagh is a Shakespeare obsessive, and he created this film as a bookend for Shakespeare in Love (which we saw and indeed did love). In a way, the play is an elegy, yet it also provides a detailed portrait of a man of creative genius and his many personal flaws.
And one final note: the film was actually released in 2018 so it could be considered for the Oscars. Somehow, it did not receive a single nomination. And that is true.
Go see this. It’s brilliant. It is scheduled to be released May 10th.
Ash Is Purest White: Ellen **** Richard ****
I am not sure how this film came to our attention, but we are certainly glad it did. It is Chinese-made and tells the story of a China we do not know. Perhaps it’s a side of any country not available to outsiders. Even though Richard and I have traveled extensively in China for the last 30 years on our own and with our Beijing and Guangzhou-based friends, we were seeing a side of China we had never seen before. This story was so unusual and so fascinating that about half way through I turned to Richard, at the same time he turned to me, and said, “this is absolutely fascinating.” And he agreed.
This is the story of China’s contemporary gang culture and illegal underground activity. This is a story of rival gangs, of illegal guns, and of maiming, murder, and mayhem. It is also a story of romance and sacrifice.
The film takes place over a period from 2001 to 2018 during which we see the main character fall from being a leading member of the criminal underworld in Datong, near Mongolia, to a broken, sick, and disrespected man. We see his girlfriend endure prison to protect him and survive that hardship to care for him, even though he no longer cares for her. The story is told in three parts that are well linked together.
Ash Is Purest White is filled with scenes (and some places) familiar to us: small cafes filled with working men and women; men smoking and playing mahjong as a respite from their working in coal mines; a boat trip on the Yangtze before Three Gorges Dam is built, high rise modern office buildings, and drab uniformly built worker housing.
The writer-director is a well-known Chinese filmmaker – Jia Zhangke — and here he depicts a view of contemporary China that is not widely known. The pace is slow and steady, allowing you to digest all that is happening as you stare fixedly at Bin (Fan Liao)) and Qiao (Tao Zhao), the fraught gangster couple. This is a big and important story about contemporary China. The acting is extraordinary, and the film raises disturbing questions about contemporary China
highly recommend it.
Hotel Mumbai: Ellen***** Richard****
Here’s a big box office film that really worked. It’s a not a great film, but it is one Hell of a good movie. Batten yourself down and imagine a film of unrelenting tension and drama and prepare to either close your eyes or to cover them at any second. This movie tells a fictionalized account (barely, I think) of the horrifying incident of the November 2008 terrorist attacks on the city of Mumbai, India by Pakistani Jihadists. Ten members of an Islamic terrorist organization organization based in Pakistan carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, including the world famous, elite Taj Mahal Hotel. The movie graphically presents the indiscriminate murder by the terrorists of innocent people at a train station, various prominent hotels, a Jewish community center, a hospital, and a café. A leader who was present only in their headsets encouraged them in their mayhem and guided the terrorists in their carnage.
And horrifying it is. It is based on a Surviving Mumbai, a documentary, and while this movie was a fictionalized account, it rings true. (I am tempted, but I don’t think I can bear to watch the documentary account.) Watching this film is a sobering experience. Its horror is only lightened slightly by members of the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel who risked their own lives to save those who were held hostage there.
This is not a movie about the acting (good, but not
amazing), or the production (stunning at times), but its success is due to the
screenplay and direction of the action. It was so well paced to create tension
and uncertainty of the outcome that I’m quite sure that I didn’t take a breath
from start to finish. I was exhausted by the end of it.
You’ve been forewarned. But see it if you can.
Maiden: Ellen ***** Richard*****
This documentary is an example of why we enjoy being members of the Sunday morning DC Cinema Club. Had we only read a description of the film, it’s unlikely we would have seen it, and therefore we would have missed a film of considerable importance and enjoyment.
The story is about the first all women’s boat to participate
in the Whitbread Round-the-World Yacht Race. The year is 1989, and the race is
a beyond dangerous and grueling around-the-world challenge of 32,000 miles. It
takes six to nine months to complete.
It is the story of the grit and determination of one woman – Tracy Edwards (awarded the Yachtsman of the Year, the first woman ever to receive the award) — and her determined and skilled crew. She and her crew faced incredible odds, first even imagining they could participate in the race, to finding financial support. They faced ridicule from the press and other yachtsman; and no one thought they would even complete the first of the five legs of the grueling race.
The one thing that wasn’t difficult was finding competent women with sailing experience. Edwards was doing this initially for herself to prove that she could, but in fact, she and the crew eventually realized, they were also doing it for all women — to prove their competitiveness, toughness, and stamina in this all male sport. Woven into the narrative were recent interviews of many members of the crew who offered reminiscences and reactions from their achievement. This added tremendously to the quality of the film.
The impact of the documentary comes in large part because of the incredible footage that was made at the time. The boat had a fixed camera on it, and one of the crew members took responsibility for additional photography. In addition, the documentary includes aerial photography, along with video and interviews from on-site TV coverage.
For those watching, the tension wasn’t just about whether the team won or lost the race, but also about the skills and fortitude of the sailing crew and the breakthrough for women. Our enjoyment of the film was further enhanced by having one of the crew, Dawn Riley, present Sunday. She talked about the race, the crew, answered our questions about the film and indicated that their involvement has had an impact (positive) on the participation of women in yacht racing.
The film will be released June 28, 2019. Put it on your list and go see it. For sure, we will take our granddaughter and grandson to see this inspiring documentary.
Reviewed by Richard Miller
Crazy Rich Asians Richard ****
I most likely would not have seen this film if I had not been invited to a pre- festival screening of it by a new friend who is the Director of the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival (Coming up May 31-June 2, 2019).
I’m glad he invited me and that I went.
delightful. Fun. Entertaining. And the story is a universal one, with perhaps a
twist of an ending. It’s a romantic comedy that pleases.
rich Asian man invites his NY Asian girlfriend (who somehow does not know about
his background and comes from a very different economic and social background
herself) to attend his best friend’s wedding back home in Singapore. You can
almost imagine the story. She’s amazed. His mother is dismayed. He’s caught in
the middle. She’s stunned by what she sees, learns, and experiences. I’ll leave
the unwinding and conclusion of the story for you experience on your own if you
film comes from a book of the same name, and we were fortunate to have the one
of the screenwriters, Adele Lim to talk about the film and answer questions
following the screening. The largely Asian audience gave the film and Lim an
only is the story well told, even if familiar, there are good performances, and
the scenery from Singapore made me want to get on an airplane to see the city
for myself. Plus, there’s the food. Dumplings and dumpling making (flashes of
our own Chinese dim sum preparation at Thanksgiving here in DC for the past 40+
For a satisfying outing, see Crazy Rich Americans and then find a good dim sum restaurant in your area to ‘top off’ the afternoon/evening. (Note: Crazy Rich Americans won the Critics’ Choice Award for the Best Comedy, Jan. 13, 2019 and was nominated for a number of other awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – musical or comedy. It has an all Asian cast and was produced in Hollywood.
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The 33rd Annual Washington International Film Fest is coming up (April 25-May 5), and the program looks very good, including many films we haven’t seen or even heard of. Check it out – 80 films from 45 countries over a period of 11 days.
This post adds another reviewer, our dear friend Fruzsina Harsanyi, with whom we usually attend the Miami Film Festival. As we were unable to participate this year, Fruzsina kindly agreed to write about three of the films she (and her husband Ray) viewed and recommend.
Following that Ellen Miller reviews two films we’ve seen recently.
Reviewed by Fruzsina:
Miami Basel: Arts Winter Playground ****
If you have attended the world’s biggest art fair for the past 15 years as we have, you would love this documentary. If you have not been in Miami since the 1990’s when Miami’s claim to fame was the Dolphins, Don Johnson, and drugs, you would be amazed by the cultural and architectural transformation that has taken place. This documentary vying for the audience award at the 2019 Miami International Film Festival argues that Art Basel was largely responsible for making it all happen.
Through interviews with
collectors and gallerists and flashbacks to the years when Miami was a
“cultural wasteland,” the film shows us how people of vision and passion … and
money, who love art could create an “ecosystem of philanthropy” to build
museums, and support performing arts centers and arts education. Moreover, as the President and CEO of the
Knight Foundation noted the goal was and is to build community through art, “to
make art general in Miami.”
We loved this movie because
we love Miami Basel and what has happened to Miami. As a documentary, however, we were generous
in giving it a 4 out of 5. We wish it
had been less a commercial for Miami and more a deeper analysis of how the
decision to bring the famous Swiss art fair to Miami came about. We know Miami’s biggest car dealer, Norman
Braman, was instrumental, but what about famous art families like the Rubells (who,
the director says, didn’t answer his phone call) or Marty Margulies. We wanted to know more about why people
collect and how they decide. But maybe
these are topics for another documentary.
This riveting neo-noir psycho-thriller kept us on the edge of our seats for 82 minutes. Based on the play by Graham Farrow, it tells the story of Robert McQueen, a happily married man whose focus as a professional therapist is beautiful, unhappy wives. One day on the way to work, he is jumped by three masked men, the husbands of three of the women. They believe Robert is having sex with their wives, and they are out to punish him. The scenes become increasingly violent; the plot twists and turns. We see flashbacks that may or may not have happened; we think we have it figured out, and then we haven’t. And why did a rattlesnake appear at the beginning and end of the movie?
During the discussion after
the film, some said they wished it had been longer. Shot in just 12 days in Santa Barbara during
the fires, director Julius Amedume said it was a marvel the film was made at
all because he moved locations so many times to stay ahead of the flames. I, too, wish the film had been longer, but
that was so I could look at beautiful Haitian-French lead actor Jimmy Jean
Louis. I hope it comes to commercial
theaters so I can see it again. Knowing
the plot, I can then just concentrate on looking at Jimmy.
The Mustang *****
There have been so many movies about horses that it’s hard to think of an emotion that hasn’t been explored. Robert Redford as the trainer in the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer was unforgettable. Redford is back as executive producer of The Mustang directed by Laure de Clement-Tonnerre. This time the horse is a wild mustang, the trainer is now 82-year old Bruce Dern, and the lead is a convict played by Matthias Schoenaert (who played opposite Marie Cotillard in Rust and Bone and as Putin with Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow).
This film is based on a true story about wild mustangs – 100,000 roam the American West – rounded up on federal lands and sent to prisons as part of a program to control their numbers by training them so they can be sold on auction or euthanized. The program also serves as therapy for the convicts who are selected as the trainers. One such convict, Coleman Roman, in solitary confinement for 12 years for a violent crime is assigned to work with a particularly ornery horse.
It’s no surprise the he and the horse eventually bond and both are changed in the process: Coleman discovers his humanity and the horse his gentler nature. But how this unfolds is powerful and beautiful. Shot in a Nevada correctional institution, the movie is as much about the prisoners themselves, the brutality and boredom of everyday life in prison, and the fate of the horses as it is about the feel-good bonding of man and horse. We marveled at how a young, female director could get her arms around such a big story in a physically and emotionally rough location in order to give us a story to remember. The Mustang will be in movie theaters March 15.
** ** ** **
Reviewed by Ellen:
Never Look Away: Ellen ***** Richard *****
This Oscar nominated Best Foreign Language Film is gripping, stunning, and mesmerizing – all at the same time. It had so much going for it that its 3 hour 7 minute run time flew by. While it is loosely based on the life story of Gerhard Richeter (a German visual artist born in 1931 and widely regarded as one of the most important contemporary German artists), the story stands on its own as a testament to the development of a young artist, in extreme political times. These times also provide the context for not only his art but the protagonist’s love and a father’s cruelty towards humanity and his own daughter. Take a deep breath and relive some of the horrors of the Nazis and the Russians in East Germany in the 1940a, ‘50s, and ‘60s. The film will grab you, and you will ‘never look away’.
The film covers a lot of different issues of those turbulent times. It opens with a galley tour of “degenerate art” (put together by the Nazi government) by the protagonist as a young boy and his Aunt. The film follows both the boy and his Aunt: hers to a Nazi inspired end, and his as a sign painter, a painter of Socialist inspired murals, and an art student. He meets his love, which is fraught with horrifying complications.
The film was stunningly acted and directed, the photography was subtle and magnificent, the acting was superb. This film was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck — best known for his masterful 2006 drama: The Lives of Others.
A.O Scott (NYT film critic) says it “hovers between psychological drama and period romance.” Ann Hornaday (WaPo film critic) says, it’s “nothing short of a moral reckoning.” It’s all this, and more.
The White Crow: Ellen ***** Richard ****
This film tells a remarkable, and true, story about the famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and his defection to the West from Russia.
The White Crow largely focuses on his life as a 22 year-old, a principal dancer with the Kirov Ballet who on his first trip out of Russia falls in love with the idea freedom and the good life. Through flashbacks to his childhood (cleverly photographed in black and white), and to his early life of professional training, you see the making of the man: an arrogant, thoughtless, self-confident braggart whose confidence in his art was only surpassed by his actual performance of it. This film does not hide his flaws.
The dancing and music, photography and acting (some by nonprofessional actors) of this film is as superb as is the drama of the world of ballet and escaping a totalitarian country under the watchful eyes of the KGB. The director of this movie is Ralph Fiennes who also plays a key-supporting role.
We saw this film in our Sunday DC Cinema Club, and it is not yet out in the theaters. Hopefully, it will make it and be available to a wider audience.
‘In the Feb. 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, there is an Oliver Sacks’ piece that he must have written shortly before his death as I have not seen it anywhere else: The Machine Stops,wherein he writes, among other things, about smart phones and fearing the future. I can’t link to it, but see if you can find it. I liked it (but then I like everything he has written).
They Shall Not Grow Old: Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is an extraordinary documentary film. It is unique in its story telling and the technology behind the production. You’ve never seen anything like it.
Noted director Peter Jackson (the New Zealand film director, screenwriter, and film producer best known for The Lord Rings films) was co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Imperial War Museums in association with the BBC to make a movie to celebrate the centennial of the Armistice, using original documentation. He was given over 100 hours of World War I archival clips and over 600 hours of audio interviews from Britain’s Imperial War Museum (he used audio from 120 of them in the film) and set to making a film that answered the question: What was it like to be in the trenches. Through some technological wizardry to improve the quality of the archival film itself and overlaying of contemporaneous interviews with former soldiers – from the highest to lowest of rank – he has fashioned brisk, gripping historical record. At the end of the film he is interviewed about how he made the film and why he made the choices that he did. (Stay for this interview if you attend the film.)
Go see it. You won’t be disappointed.
(In theaters now)
Bohemian Rhapsody:Ellen Miller ***** / Richard *****
If you evaluate Richard and me by the movies we see, some of our readers might think we are rather dreary people. We do see many serious films, and we generally like them because they tell us something about the world that we do not know, or need to be reminded of. But sometimes we like to go to the movies just to be entertained. If you like to be entertained….go see this movie – Bohemian Rhapsody. This is a film that has been widely panned by the critics, but, in fact, it is a thoroughly engaging story of one man (Freddie Mercury) and the extremely popular band he helped to create – Queen – that rose to fame in the 1970’s and 80’s.
It is a classic bio epic, with a lot of fabulous music that those of a certain age will recall. The story is elaborately told, filmed, and acted — the passion, the family struggles, the relationships of band members, and the pressures of being under a microscope. (All of this is somewhat predictable). It’s a movie about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. You have heard, and maybe seen this story before, but what’s terrific about it is the Hollywood gloss over the grime.
Ann Hornaday from the Washington Post wrote: “Bohemian Rhapsody is just that cinematic unicorn: the bad movie that works, even when it shouldn’t.”
Movies shouldn’t all be examined by the same standard. This one will keep you engaged and entertained.
(In theaters now)
The Invisibles: Ellen ***** / Richard *****
There’s no such thing as too many movies (or books) about the Holocaust. There are great, good, and bad movies about any subject), but this film tells a Holocaust story in a way that is unique and effective. Don’t miss this one when it comes out.
The film is described as a docu-drama, and its presentation feels unique. It involves nearly equal parts interviews, reenacted scenes, and documentary footage focusing on four Holocaust survivors who went underground in Berlin during World War II and survived by the grace of a network of sympathetic German families.
The first person stories are matched with dramatic reenactment of those people as they were in 1940’s, adding to the impact of the personal statements and the dangers, tensions, and fears the invisible Jews faced. The third element of the film is newsreel footage of Berlin at the time, which added a further element of realism to the movie.
This is a stunning film. You will learn things you didn’t know (Goebbels declared Berlin “free of Jews” in 1943, yet there were some 7,000 of them hidden there at that time, and about 1,500 of them survived). You will meet Germans heroes who took enormous risks to shelter and feed the Jews, as well as other Germans who also supported these ‘Invisibles’ (by one account these number in the tens of thousands). Plus, you’ll learn about the risks that the hidden Jews took to inform, liberate, and help others.
This is a stunning movie.
Woman At War: Ellen **** / Richard***
This is an Icelandic film through and through. By that I mean it has a kind of hard-life dreariness to it (and cold and foggy overlay) that so many Iceland films over the last few years seem to have. (Think Rams (2014).
In this very good film a 50-year-old
independent woman leads a double life as an environmental activist fighting the
establishment of an aluminum smelter plant to be developed in the mountains.
She becomes increasingly desperate in her attempts but is stopped in her tracks
when her desire to adopt a child becomes a possibility. There ensues a twist in
the film that keeps you in your seat until the end.
One of the really interesting elements in this film is the music, which lends a surrealistic air to this unusual and a bit other worldly story. The acting is superb.
(Ed. Note.1: Tho I don’t particularly agree that this is a film to recommend, our Sunday DC Cinema Club had a ‘Recommend Rate’ of over 95%, and almost 92% gave it either an “Excellent or Good” rating. Harrumph.)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Ellen **** / Richard ****
We missed this film when it first came out, though I had noted it as I am a big fan of Melissa McCarthy who plays the starring role. Here she portrays a best selling biographer – Lee Israel – who made her living as a biographer of celebrities in the 1970’s and 1980s. The film is based on and follows closely Lee Israel’s memoir by the same title. The story begins as Israel’s writing goes out of fashion, in a desperate move she starts (with a friend Richard E Grant) to forge (or sometimes steal) correspondence of dead writers and sell the letters to rare-book dealers. She makes a good profit as it takes a while before the deception is found out. This is a moving story of a lonely and anxious middle-aged, single woman struggling to make ends meet but who uses her wit, but not to a good end.
It’s an interesting story, for sure, but the reason to see this film is because of McCarthy’s acting. It’s simply perfect. That’s why she’s nominated for Best Actress in the Academy Awards this year.
(In theaters now)
(Ed. Note .2: I’ve noticed that in addition to the films above, a number of the films we’ve seen and mini-reviewed are currently in the theaters…at least in the greater DC area. Look for these which we highly recommend: Free Solo, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, A Star Is Born, Cold War, Capernaum, On the Basis of Sex, Roma, and Stan & Ollie.)
(Ed. Note .3: For those of you who enjoy searching out new and possibly upcoming films, we came across this article from Thrillist – ht Louise M. : The Best Movies from Sundance 2019. We have not even heard of any of these 25!)
Counting the round trip flight to and from Washington-Dallas-Sydney and our travel around Australia itself (by planes, trains, buses, minibuses, rental cars, Land Rover, limousines, taxis, Uber, boats, ferries, cable cars, etc.), we’ve just completed a 30,000 mile trip, making it one of the longest we’ve taken in many years. Also, it was our “last” continent (to explore), although that was not the reason for this trip.
It was total delight, generally making connections and transfers like clockwork, surviving the west to east jet lag handily, and happily exploring the many cultures, climates, and adventures Australia has to offer. We hiked and snorkeled, we ‘cruised’ along the Tasmanian coast, and some of us even climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We took in the opera, visited museums to see Aboriginal and modern art; ate first class cuisine, (gorging on oysters, loving our first tastes of kangaroo, wallaby, and bug tails); hiked trails in Tasmania and visited an off shore island; learned a new language they called English; and came to have a much deeper understanding about the country’s history. We have random facts tucked away in our brains for future use, including but not limited to: why snake bites in Australia are rarely fatal, why you should never turn your back on a crocodile, the ratio of the wild kangaroo and camel populations to the (very small) human one, why so many Australian beaches are pristine, and why Vegemite must be an acquired taste (which we chose not to acquire).
Our itinerary was roughly this: With good traveling buddies Fruzsina and Ray (and under their experienced guidance and with the assistance of a wonderful travel agent based in Melbourne), we began in Sydney and then headed to Melbourne. From there, we were off to Tasmania where we drove to and spent several nights in the Freycinet Peninsula and returned to Hobart, a city that quickly became a favorite. We separated from our friends as they went off to New Zealand, and we flew to the Northern Territory — Darwin — where we spent a couple of days, exploring the Kakadu National Park. From there we boarded the famous train – The Ghan – to Alice Springs and then took a five hour bus ride to Yularu (Uluru/Ayers Rock). Finally, we took a long flight to Cairns and stayed four nights in Port Douglas to explore The Great Barrier Reef and the rainforests before heading back to Sydney and home.
Each stop had so much to offer – natural beauty to fascinating history, unique museums, and gourmet food, wonderful walks and hikes, and, of course, the best of company – our wonderful friends and each other.
“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” – A. Lincoln
This list of favorite reads is comprised of the books most enjoyed in 2018 by 71 adults and five children. Forty-one of them (suggested by thirty-one people) are now on my ‘to read’ list for 2019. (The only way I can read that many, along with other books that will no doubt come to my attention throughout the year, is to fulfill a long considered ‘plan’ of spending a winter in Alaska in front of a fire place. Please don’t mention this to Ellen.)
For the first time since compiling this list (10 years ago!) nonfiction leads the fiction 53% to 47%. Last year those percentages were reversed, and I’m not sure what accounts for the change (aging contributors?). Our youngest participant is almost 18 month’s old; the oldest is approaching the century mark. The rest of you are mostly between the ages of 35- 75. Fifty-five percent of you are women; forty-five percent are men.
While I don’t expect all 76 of you will read all the way through this list (though anyone who does can claim it as a favorite book for next year, assuming you are delighted by the list), know that there is a tremendous amount of information here. Thus, I’ve organized it in several ways, hopefully to make it user friendly:
Section I. The most frequently cited titles (three or more times) are listed first.
Section II. Next, the contributors are listed alphabetically by first name — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next, and then any comments made about those books.
Section III. Finally, there are also two spread sheet lists (see links below) included as easy, searchable references for you to see the titles, authors, and MillersTime contributors in summary form:
(From Ellen’s and my post last year, with a few updates, and which mostly still holds true for us):
People often say the reason they love the movies is because they offer an escape. But that’s not why we enjoy them. We love movies because they tell stories, show us worlds and places we will never know first hand, teach us lessons about life, breathe life into historical or political moments, and/or make us question what we think we already understand. (Ed. additional note.1: And, of course, we’ve been known to see a movie simply for the escapist, thriller aspect of the film.)
Come to think of it, we love movies for the very same reasons we love books and love to travel.
For us, a “great movie” has to have a good story; strong, believable, and well acted characters; great directing; with cinematography, music, and production that adds to the whole. We’re not particularly fans of comedy, satire, or overly intellectual films, where nothing much happens for two hours. And while we can appreciate a “critic’s film” (i.e., a film that critics love but audiences not so much), only sometimes do they rise to the top of both our lists.
We’ve averaged about a movie a week in 2018 (actually a bit more since we rarely post reviews of the movies we don’t really like, ones that are already super popular, or the “big theater” shows). That’s not a bad number, considering the time we travel, how much we read, how much time one of us spends watching baseball in the summer and early Fall – GoSox, and the time we spend with our five grands under the age of 10.
Also, we love going out to the movies. Seeing a film in a theater somehow seems more special than watching one at home, which we rarely do. (We did once watch one at home, our first Netflix movie – Mudbound – thanks to the technical assistance of daughter Annie, as some aspects of the modern TV are still a mystery to us.)
Below is a listing — recap list — of the films this year, 2018, which have received a top rating from at least one of us. We are not going to pull out our top ten for you, even if we could decide on a ten best. Just browse the list and link to our earlier reviews to see if certain ones might appeal. You can also save this list by printing out this post.
Films Either One or Both of Us Rated Four or Five Stars
If you’re looking for some films to see over the next month or two, here are a few we can highly recommend. All those reviewed here, except for the first one, are in theaters now. And below these reviews are others that we have previously reviewed and are well worth an evening (late afternoon noon!) at the movies.
CAPERNAUM (Chaos): Ellen ***** Richard *****
Director, Nadine Labak
The first thing I knew about this film, which we recently previewed at our DC Cinema Club, was that it was the winner of the Grand Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival. I suspected I was bound to be disappointed.
But this film is one of the most stirring, mournful, gritty, and gripping films I have ever seen. It is also heartbreaking, even though it has an uplifting ending. The entire audience was glued to their seats, wondering at the marvel of what they watching, described by long time film critic Bob Mondello in a dialogue with the audience at the end, as a film that could have come from a Charles Dickens’ script.
It is an epic story of a street-smart 12-year-old Lebanese boy who, after being worked hard, beaten, and denigrated by struggling parents and the society around him, leaves home, survives by his street smarts, and then tries to sue his parents for neglect. Along the way the boy becomes the caretaker of a toddler, the son of an illegal immigrant (an Ethiopian woman is arrested for lack of papers). For me, this was the most searing part of the film.
But it’s not just the story of the film that is moving; it was also how it was made. There were no professional actors in any of the leading roles, and each person ‘played’ a personality somewhat like themselves, someone who had a similar life story. There was at times no fixed script -– characters were simply given the outlines of a scene and asked to speak and act as they would if they were in a similar situation. And with one exception, it was shot chronologically and over a period of six months. The poise and presence of each of the ‘actors’ (from the 15 month old to the parents of the boy) was incredible. Five hundred hours of film was shot and then edited into this exquisite work.
We haven’t seen anything this powerful or this amazing in a long time.
Capernaum will be a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. It has not yet opened in theaters in DC. Watch for it.
(Ed. Note: Capernaum will be in theaters starting Dec. 14. Put it on your calendar. Now.)
THE WIFE:Ellen **** Richard ****
Directed by Björn Runge
We were actually late in seeing this film, but we were anxious to do so after seeing Glenn Close in New York, starring in The Mother of the Maid, now playing at The Public Theater. (That production was staged in a theater in the round venue, and we sat no more than 10 feet from Close at any time during two spellbinding hours. The play itself wasn’t remarkable, but she was. We felt it a privilege to witness her work.)
And she’s remarkable in this film too. We found the story a bit hard to believe. A writer is soon to be awarded the Nobel Prize. He (Jonathan Pryce) is the husband of the character played by Glenn Close and is being recognized for the entire body of his literature. His wife has long hidden her role in his writing and has tolerated his arrogance and infidelities of her husband out of overpowering love. When she decides she cannot suffer the indignities any longer, the film takes a sharp turn. The build up to claiming her own place in the long fraught relationship with her husband is what is most intriguing about this film. It’s a timely film and a timely message. While my overall rating is a 4 stars, Glenn Close would get 10 stars if I could give that many.
A STAR IS BORN: Ellen ***** Richard *****
Director, Bradley Cooper
We were also late in seeing this film, and if friends hadn’t given it such sterling ratings, we might have skipped it, as film with big stars like Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, are not usually our thing. But we both were captured by the story and Lady Gaga’s performance.
It’s a big film: big stars, big production, big story (singer on her way up; singer on his way down with compromises all around) set in the contemporary music world. The relationship between the two of them feels real. Each is drawn to the other for their own needs, but they stick together as their careers careen in different directions. The music is wonderful, and it was a pleasure to watch La Gaga perform up close and personal.
All in all, this was a particularly pleasurable “big film.”
FREE SOLO: Ellen ***** Richard *****
Directors, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
With a couple of hours to spare in New York a few weeks ago, we dashed to a movie theater to see this remarkable documentary. We highly recommend it. Richard’s review from an earlier post:
“This National Geographic documentary is an account of Alex Honnold’s (age 33) attempts to free solo climb (i.e., no ropes) the 3,000 foot high El Capitan Wall in Yosemite Park, arguably the most difficult solo climb in the world.
“Free Solo is directed and filmed by the award winning duo of Jimmy Chinn, photographer and mountaineer, and Elizabeth Chai Vasashelyi, documentarian. Their previous film, Meru, told the story of three climbers attempting to scale Mt. Meru in the Himalayas. It won the Sundance Audience Award in 2015.
“You don’t have to care about or have particular interest in rock climbing to be mesmerized by this film. It is both an intimate portrait of the climber and of the film making of this adventure. And it’s a thriller told cinemagraphically. For all these reasons the film will stay with you long after you leave the theater.”
Free Solo is in the theaters in the DC metro area now and in other theaters around the country. See it while it’s available on the big screen. I suspect, unfortunately, it will not be around very long.
** ** ** ** **
And if you can find any of the following films, you’re in for a treat. Click on the film to see my earlier review from our weekend at the recent Philadelphia Film Festival:
“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln
Once again it’s that time of year — when I request you share with other readers of MillersTime your most favorite books read over the past 12 months.
Here are a few guidelines that may help in drawing your list and in making my compilation easier:
1. When I ask for your Most Favorite Reads of 2018, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?
2. You are welcome to send just one title or as many as meet the criteria in #1 above.
3. Feel free to repeat any titles that you submitted earlier this year for the 2018 mid-year review, particularly if, on reflection, the book(s) still meets the standards above.
4. In order to make the list most useful, please do the following:
* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).
* Consider writing a sentence or two, or more (but not an essay), about why a particular book was a favorite for you. Many MillersTime readers seem to be interested in that information.
5. Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.
6. Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2018, just ones that you read over the past year.
7. If you have a child/children/grandchild, etc. who enjoys reading or being read to, feel free to include their current favorite book(s), along with the age of the child.
8. If you have listened to a book(s) in one of the various audio formats, Books on Tape, CDs, Audible, etc., and if they meet your definition of books “you’ve enjoyed the most in 2018,” please include those on your list also. Be sure to identify which ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly.
* Send me your list in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) by Dec. 16th so I will be able to post the entire list by Dec. 30 as we will be on a trip (surprise) starting the 31st. (If you send me your list sooner than Dec. 16, you may be able to avoid my constant email reminders to do so. and that will also allow me more time to put the entire list together.)
Let me be perfectly clear at the outset of this post: I have no personal interest whatsoever in “extreme” challenges, that is, testing myself against the elements, physical, psychological, or whatever one might come up with. Heck, I can’t even get up the courage to watch or listen to 13 out of 14 Red Sox postseason playoff games (see previous post, An Admission). But the two accounts I discuss below (one a film, one a book) of meeting physical and psychological challenges are mesmerizing, well told, and thought provoking. However, even though I have no personal interest in under going such challenges, I am fascinated by what these true stories reveal about human behavior — and attempting to understand human behavior has long been one of my own passions.
There are no spoilers in the two short reviews below as one part of Ellen’s and my enjoyment of these two adventures came about without us knowing the results of either of these “extreme” challenges.)
Free Solo *****
This National Geographic documentary is an account of Alex Honnold’s (age 33) attempts to free solo climb (i.e., no ropes) the 3,000 foot high El Capitan Wall in Yosemite Park, arguably the most difficult solo climb in the world.
Free Solo is directed and filmed by the award winning duo of Jimmy Chinn, photographer and mountaineer, and Elizabeth Chai Vasashelyi, documentarian. Their previous film, Meru, told the story of three climbers attempting to scale Mt. Meru in the Himalayas. It won the Sundance Audience Award in 2015.
You don’t have to care about or have particular interest in rock climbing to be mesmerized by this film. It is both an intimate portrait of the climber and of the film making of this adventure. It’s a thriller told cinemagraphically in a way that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
Free Solo is in the theaters in the DC metro area now and in other theaters around the country. See it while it’s available on the big screen. I suspect, unfortunately, it will not be there very long.
The White Darkness *****
This true story of adventure and obsession was originally a two part story in The New Yorker (Feb. 12 & 19, 2018) by writer and author David Grann (Killers of the Flower Moon, The Lost City of Z, The Old Man & the Gun, and The Devil & Sherlock Holmes).
It tells the story of Henry Worsley, a British special forces officer who idolized Ernest Shackleton and sought to repeat two of Shackleton’s famous polar explorations (attempts to reach the South Pole, 1902-4, and to cross the Antarctic on foot, 1914). Worsley’s journeys took place in 2008 and 2015, roughly 100 years after Shackleton’s.
The printed book is short, 146 pages, including wonderful photos of both Shackleton’s and Worsley’s adventures. It is also a detailed narrative of adventure and a spell- binding story about an individual who pushes himself to extreme limits.
I listened to the Audible edition of The White Darkness, read, ‘dramatized,’ by Will Patton, in (an all too short) two hour and 28 minutes. Consider doing the same yourself. It’s simply superb.
For me these two somewhat short accounts of “extreme” challenges are also stories of obsession, courage, and compulsion. They both go beyond the physical and psychological challenges of each journey. They both discuss the individual, where he came from, what seems to make up who and what he is, and equally of interest, the affect these accounts had on those around the two individuals, in one case a girl friend and a mother, in the other a wife and children.
(Editor’s Note.1: If there is interest, Ellen and I will host one of our ‘pop up’ Sunday night suppers where we not only enjoy Ellen’s good cooking but also exchange thoughts and reflections about these two narratives.
When fellow world traveler Fruzsina Harsanyi (and sometimes travel companion to Richard and me along with her husband Ray) asked if I was interested in a trip to Machu Picchu, I immediately told her ,“Yes.” While not at the top of my travel list, it had long lingered as a possible destination. Richard was never very enthusiastic about it, and, in fact, on an earlier trip to Peru we had chosen to spend four days on the Amazon over Machu Picchu. But here was a chance, with a great friend, to explore this mysterious place about which I knew very little.
The date was set for early October, 2018, and the travel to Lima was easy (with only an hour time change). We worked with our travel agent and a relatively new agency in Peru – Coltur Peru – to produce what turned out to be a perfectly sequenced trip that included a careful calculation on adjusting to altitudes of up to 12,500 feet. With altitude pills to help moderate the changes, we were off.
Lima, where we began our trip, contained many surprises, including its Huaca Pucllana, a towering pyramid, now in the middle of one of Lima’s trendiest neighborhoods, built by pre-Inca societies; the Cathedral of Lima; the San Francisco monastery with its catacombs full of thousand of skeletons; and Convent and its various museums. We also squeezed in two museums the first day and a walk through the charming Bohemian district of Barranco on the ocean. (I was particularly wowed by the Mario Testino Museum (MATE) and a beautifully decorated private home recently opened to the public, where, by chance, we were introduced to the resident.)
But the ‘real deal’ began for us in the Sacred Valley. After making the acquaintance of different types of llamas and learning about weaving and wool dying techniques, we headed to the town of Pisac and its archaeological park. There we got our first glimpse of Inca terraces, exquisitely poised on a steep hill side in the afternoon sun. We were unprepared for the absolutely glory of the perfect setting of our initial site. Our surprise and delight was amplified by every additional individual site we saw in the Sacred Valley from that point on, from Chinchero, Moray, the salt pans of Maras, to Ollantaytambo. Each of these sites is absolutely stunning and fascinating, and the beauty of them will remain with us for a very long time.
After several days in the Sacred Valley, we arrived at the Machu Picchu Citadel (via a 30 minute frightening bus ride up a mountain from the town of Agua Calienties where we were staying). While we did not do the most strenuous hikes, we found that our “climb” that offered us our first glimpse of the iconic Machu Picchu scene was breathtaking (double entendre intended). Our first surprise was that the mountain made famous by every picture is really called Huayna Picchu, while Machu Picchu is a larger mountain after which the entire region is named. Our second surprise was that the Incas, at their most powerful in the 14th and 15th centuries, had no written language, nor had they invented the wheel. And yet their accomplishments in architecture, engineering, astrology, and physics were astounding. We stayed that day until sunset (which was spectacular) and returned for a full morning on the next day when it was misty with clouds temporarily covering much of the view, creating a very different sort of atmosphere. This day we explored the ruins in detail. Thanks to our guide, who was a marvel of facts, stories, and mythical tales, we were stunned by the sum of what had been accomplished at Machu Picchu and throughout their empire.
We left from Machu Picchu on the Hiram Bingham train, named after the famed explorer and modeled after luxurious train travels of yesteryear. We spent a full day in Cusco, once the capital of the empire whose reach and power we could still feel as we explored the enormous stone structures of Sacsayhuaman. Cusco itself is a jewel, (a very lively colonial town which we thoroughly enjoyed), visiting the San Pedro Market, The Golden Temple, the Cathedral, and the historic sites.
We flew to to our last major stop, Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable body of water in the world – that spans both Peru and Bolivia. There our pace slowed down (as did our oxygen saturation rates!), and we moved more to the cultural side of rural Peru; groups of families living on floating islands; families as subsistence farmers; and rich lands being prepared for post-rainy season planting. The vistas were spectacular, and I often remarked that the skies simply couldn’t be real. We found the people we met, whether walking along the side of the road, or those who invited us into their homes on a prearranged tours, open, curious, and friendly. We also went to the little visited site of Sillustani near Puno –– a breathtakingly beautiful necropolis.
Our biggest takeaway will be no surprise. While people generally talk about going to Machu Picchu, we were so taken by the beauty of the Sacred Valley, and other sites we visited around the country, that we learned that a trip to Peru is so much more than one famous single site. We’d urge any fellow travelers to take their time in Peru and see the full range of its wonders.
Below are a dozen of my photos from the trip. To see the full slide show follow the link below. (And thanks to FH for her additions to the above, and for being a most enthusiastic and companionable traveler.)
If you would like to see the entire slide show of photos (highly recommended):