Monday, November 30, 2009
I've read all of this author's books, so I am a fan. But this particular book was unique in that it really was also a mystery novel. While it explored the same intense human relationships and emotional themes that Ford's other books typically cover, I have a feeling the author wanted to try a different approach. The novel, which explores a murder in a family, is essentially a mystery or thriller experience which I found rather refreshing change but it I still wasn't short-changed the pleasure of reading a very well written drama.
This book is about a New York family, the McClouds. This family is about as dysfunctional as a family can get. The present time in the book is the early 90's. Sheriff Dan McCloud, the father, nine-years before, committed suicide leaving his widow and three children, oldest daughter, Celeste, James, the eldest son and Billy, the baby of the family. The family life of the McClouds is complexly entwined with the family of Dan's best friend, A.J. Derry. Almost incestuously!
I quote from the Booklist review:
'“No secret stays buried forever,” says one character, wielding a knife and summing up the action ignited when the nine-year belief that Sheriff Dan McCloud committed suicide is exploded. His uniformed body is accidentally found, shot twice and shoved into a trunk, which also contains his eldest son James’ class ring. Skeletons tumble from family closets in a small town where everyone seems to knows everyone else’s business as James, the family’s pride, returns home, and the legal investigation ensues. None of this is easy on James’ mom, junkie kid-brother Billy, or sister Celeste, now married to Cold Falls’ current sheriff, Nate, stepson of A. J., Sheriff Dan’s friend and partner. Twists, surprises, and cover-ups abound, as Ford reveals the truth about A. J. and Dan and the complex secrets linking their families, including substance abuse, forgery, rape, illegitimate birth—and yes, murder. The reappearance of A. J.’s daughter, Nancy, James’ high-school flame, brings new shock waves of revelation in Ford’s fast-moving yet thoughtful exploration of family love and the things we do in its name.'
I'm telling you this book has more plot twists and more murder suspects than you can keep up with. Which is really why the book reads like a thriller. I just couldn't put the book down.
Alternating between the book's present (the early 90s) and a retrospective look at the time of the suicide, the author slowly unfolds the complex plot and the "truth" of what happened with these two families. And in trademark Ford fashion he presents an indepth multi-dimensional cast of characters who all have flaws. There are a couple of villains, who are actually portrayed with some objectivity by Ford.
I highly recommend this book....and any of Michael Thomas Ford's books.
If you'd like to purchase the book, just click here. You can see some of the other titles by Mr. Ford as well.
Friday, November 27, 2009
This remarkably beautiful man recorded one of the most amazing live performance in concert of a song that I've ever heard (although I didn't hear it live)
I've talked in previous blogs about how much I love Leonard Cohen's music. And Rufus Wainwright, who did an amazing cover of Cohen's Hallelujah. But it would seem that the gorgeous Rufus may have had his inspiration from Jeff Buckley. Listen to this performance of Hallelujah. My heart breaks. Watching this gorgeous man sing with such intensity and passion is truly remarkably beautiful experience.
Jeff Buckley died in a tragic drowning accident in Memphis on May 29, 1997. Since then, he's become recognized as a very influential songwriter/singer for his generation, even though he had a very short-lived career.
A documentary has been made about his life, Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley. And an upcoming movie will feature either James Franco or Robert Pattinson in the title role. The trailer for the documentary is below:
Many performers have acknowledged Buckley's influence in their own musical style, including the exquisite Rufus, who wrote the song Memphis Skyline, as a tribute to Buckley. Watch this video here:
The lyrics to the song Memphis Skyline by Rufus Wainwright:
Never thought of Hades
Under the Mississippi
But still I've come to sing for him
So southern furies
Prepare to walk for my harp
I have strung, and I will leave with him
Relax the cogs of rhyme
Over the Memphis sky
Turn back the wheels of time
Under the Memphis skyline
Always hated him for the way he looked
In the gaslight of the morning
Then came hallelujah sounding like mad Ophelia
For me in my room living
So kiss me, my darling stay with me till morning
Turn back and you will stay
Under the Memphis Skyline
Thursday, November 26, 2009
There are a number of other wonderful songs from this composition and I'll feature some of my other favorites in future entries.
This song is coupled with one of the most beautiful voices, that of the diva Renee Fleming. It is the perfect example of a heavenly song finding the perfect vehicle to deliver it. See. It is perfect in every way.
For the perfect simple beauty of this song and this beautiful voice, I give Thanks. They enrich my world.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I quote from a Time Magazine article from 5/2009: "Polar bears have become the universal symbol of global warming, not so much because they're cute or cuddly (they're actually ferocious and not opposed to cannibalism.)" The photo above is from Time Magazine article and is by Fish and Wildlife Service / AP.
Since these ferocious, cannibalistic animals must become extinct I suggest that another odious, ferocious and cannibalistic creature become extinct. One that has contributed, and continues to contribute to the extinction of anything but their own:
Interesting enough, the elephant, my favorite animal despite its association with politics shown above, is also an endangered species in some parts of the world. Perhaps there is only one species of elephant, the Republican one, that should become extinct?
The sooner the better. Before they exterminate the rest of the world.
I have always made a commitment to refrain from any politicization in this blog. I respect everyone's opinion, but I think that view is an anachronism these days.
I would prefer to create something more beautiful and an alternative to the hideous ugly barbaric and ignoble political world that we live in the US. I will continue the policy with this blog because part of the reason I even do this blog is to discipline myself to look at the world positively, instead of slashing my wrists, which is what one does if one watches news these days.
Forgive my lapse here. Ultimately, the thing that we should care about isn't politicians and faux politicians. But these beautiful creatures that we destroying. Elephants and polar bears.
Not the cartoon characters depicted in the Republican logo above.
Friday, November 20, 2009
-- Edith Sitwell (1887 - 1964)
Seems to be quite a relevant statement these days as well.
Photograph of Edith Sitwell by the brilliant Cecil Beaton, 1927
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I love Rufus Wainwright. He is one of the most intelligent and gifted songwriters/composers. And his voice makes me tremble. He can go from a very deep rumbling base that shivers your timbers to a wail that can break your heart.
Rufus shares one of my own passions: Judy Garland. I won't go into that just yet.
Rufus is as equally compelling visually as he is aurally:)
He was interviewed yesterday on Austin's KUT radio station and it is a wonderful interview with three song performances.
The intro on KUT's website is great:
Rufus Wainwright, son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, has established himself as a songwriter of his generation. He’s an artist with great reverence for the masters before him. He’s captivated fans with his original works, crossing the genres of rock, pop, and opera (Prima Donna premiered at the Manchester International Festival in July 2009 and will make its North American debut in Toronto at the Luminato Festival next summer), and his exceptional tributes covering the songs of his personal favorites, such as Judy Garland. You can catch his live performance on Eklektikos with John Aielli right here.
I've never seen him live in concert although I have seen two DVD recordings of his concerts and he is brilliant. Someday....
The interview is 25 minutes long but I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. You too will see how exceptionally bright this boy is and how gifted musically. And stay tuned to the end because the very best and most moving of the performances is the last song he sings.
CLICK HERE to got to KUT website and then play the recorded interview under "Attached Files"
See my previous posting with Rufus covering Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Click here.
What little concept I had of Evanescence was that is was ala Marilyn Manson, sort of a satan worshipping thing. I have no idea why I thought that. Maybe I saw a photo of the lead singer and she is sort of goth-ish. So I was shocked when I was at Mango Tango with The Bug having yogurt the other day and I was enchanted with the song MY IMMORTAL that was playing on the muzak (what do they call that these days?). The teenage staff person told me and I was amazed.
This word, evanescence, what does it mean? I just looked it up. What a beautiful word.
ev⋅a⋅nesce/ˌɛvəˈnɛs, ˈɛvəˌnɛs/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [ev-uh-nes, ev-uh-nes] Show IPA
|to disappear gradually; vanish; fade away.|
1815–25; < class="ital-inline">ēvānēscere to vanish
To dissipate or disappear like vapor. See Synonyms at disappear.
[Latin ēvānēscere, to vanish : ē-, ex-, ex- + vānēscere, to disappear (from vānus, empty; see euə- in Indo-European roots).]
Here's the video for the first song, GOOD ENOUGH. Will post on their other song, MY IMMORTAL in a future blog.
This video is rather interesting. I abhor the burning of books, or even the thought, but I don't think that this video is intended to mean what this act of hatred usually means. I was also attracted to the use of so many beautiful books in this video, even though they are eventually burned.
This video is about redemption somehow, no? What do you think about the song, the video and the word evanescence.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I know what I'm going to do. Go to the 7/11 and buy a carton of cigarettes. What would you do?
Sunday, November 8, 2009
On my continuing quest to find the perfect carbonara recipe I found the following on line at
http://cookingwithamy.blogspot.com. This one is sans the cream which is I believe an authentic recipe for this classic. Thanks to Amy for allowing me to post the recipe and quote the history of carbonara from her blog site.
I also liked the fact that Amy gave a bit of history of the origins of this dish:
"The alla carbonara in Spaghetti alla Carbonara means in the 'manner of coal miners'. There are more than a few stories as to why it is called carbonara, the three stories I've heard are because the freshly ground pepper topping the dish resembles flakes of coal, or because it was cooked on the streets of Rome over coal burning stoves or finally that the dish was popular among coal miners and so it was named after them. Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a great winter time dish. It's also one of those things you can whip up when you have almost nothing in the house. My favorite time to eat this is late at night for some reason. While I don't mind using bacon instead of guanciale or pancetta, I do draw the line at adding whipping cream. When made correctly this is a very creamy dish, and needs no cream."
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
4 slices diced bacon
1/2 pound of spaghetti or bucatini or linguini
1/3 cup grated Pecorino or Parmigiano (or combination)
fresh ground black pepper
Bring salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water to use in the sauce if needed to thin it out a bit.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon, and saute until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss a smashed clove of garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to flavor the oil, then remove it.
Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps, set aside. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, toss the spaghetti quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (that is why you do this off the heat) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. The sauce should be creamy, not "scrambled egg" crumbly if that makes sense. Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper, a sprinkle more of grated cheese and taste for salt. Serves 2 people.
I shall be making this fine recipe tonight. Anyone else going to try it?
Visit Amy's blog http://cookingwithamy.blogspot.com/2004/01/spaghetti-alla-carbonararecipe.html. The recipe and quote are copyright of Cooking With Amy and are reprinted here with permission. My thanks to Amy for the informatino and great recipe.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
ME WANT! New breed of jets, called "light jets", are being created. I'd love this one: the Embraer Phenom 300
In a previous posting I wrote about my fascination with private jets. In particular, I would love to own a Gulfstream (the newest version the 650 is $60M. see my previous listing about this by clicking here). But they are mega expensive. In recent years, several aircraft companies have developed a new breed of private jets that are titled "light jets". They are designed to be flown by only one pilot, they are much more economical to own and operate and are acceptable at more airports.
This one is one I wouldn't mind having. The Embraer Phenom 300 which is still in testing ($6.85M). It is a larger version of the original tadpole, Phenom 100.
There are several other aircraft being developed. I think this one, the HondaJet by Honda, is awfully cute and stylish but it might be a bit too small. You know, size does matter, to some extent :) It will be constructed with very light weight materials. (About $3.9million)
The Mini-Me of them all though is the Cessna Mustang. Cute name but quel dwarfish for me ($3M).
But if the economy is really limiting your purchasing power you could always opt for this ultra midget jet, the Cirrus Vision SF50. Bit too lilliputian and scary for me. I'd rather to take first class on a commercial jet than squish into this little flying looking coffin thing :) But it's only $1m.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I've you've been tracking with this blog for a while, you know how much I love elephants (among other things). This is an amazing sight. These elephants are artists. See the painting of the tree by this wise old pachyderm!
I found these at a really fun website called Damn Cool Pics: Here was the caption: "these amazing images were made by the Elephant Artist Sri Siam at the Lamphang Elephant Camp in Thailand. It is hard to tell whether the elephants actually know what they are drawing, or that they have learned to imitate a teachers work or their caretaker is directing them how to draw. Nonetheless it is unnaturally fascinating to see them busy."
Check this out.....a self-portrait by one of the elephant artists:
Absolute beauty in every way.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
- Humans routinely breed past the food supply. Most animals are too smart to do this.
- Animals cannot damage the water table. Humans are doing this all over the world even as you read this.
- No animal is ever a hypocrite.
- A cat doesn't care if another cat is black or white, so along as she catches mice.
- You can also trust your cat concerning most of the above examples as long as you realize: Dogs have owners; cats have staff.
- An animal knows when she is dying. However, she does not carry around the notion of her individual death. This, I believe, is the true gap between us and other sentient creatures. It is the root of our discontent, denial and search for escape.
- Animals remember. They have some concept of the simple past, but they live triumphantly in the present. Few of us do.
- Most animals have a sense of humor. Horses seem to have a highly developed one. Humans routinely deny this until they find themselves the butt of the joke.
These are just a few wise observations in the article. Read the rest at: http://www.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/11/02/animals.rita.brown/index.html.
CNN Editors Note: Rita Mae Brown is a novelist, a gay rights and feminist pioneer, a writer of two mystery series and an animal lover. She is an avid horse rider and lives on a farm in Virginia with cats, house dogs and a pack of fox hounds. Her latest book is "Animal Magnetism: My Life with Creatures Great and Small."
Actually, if you're familiar, the scope of the entire Mitford family is remarkable. For those who haven't heard: the Mitford family, perhaps one of the most famous and infamous of last century, were the British aristocratic family of Baron Redesdale. He was the second Lord Redesdale. They had six daughters, Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica (Decca), Deborah (Debo) and one son, Tom. These children were all extraordinary individuals, the product of very eccentric, aristocratic parents, which they called "Farve" and "Muv".
Perhaps what makes the Mitford story so EPIC is that they truly represented the entire specturum of political beliefs of the 20th century. Muv, Unity and Diana were all very pro fascist, pro Hitler, pro Nazi. On the other hand, Decca was devoutly Communist. The children all came of age between the two world wars which perhaps explains their devotion to political ideologies. The first world war had left most of England with an imprint of the horrors of war and many of the upper class were pro-Fascist, primarily because of this fear of war and also their fear of the rise of communism. Fascism, before Hitler, was a political ideology that was fashionable.
If you look at the Mitford sisters, the family for that matter, you see a family that was ground zero, sort of one degree of separation to the most powerful individuals and events in the 20th century. This scope is unbelievable and Decca illustrates just one vast aspect that I was fairly unfamiliar with (still am although now I'd like to read a little more): Communism in the US.
I'll finish my little overview of the Mitfords and then talk about the book. Unity, was extremely pro-Hitler. She moved to Germany and was photographed in the world press often saluting Hitler or making anti-semetic or pro-Nazi remarks. It has been alluded that she was in love with Hitler and he certainly was attracted to Unity, who represented the ultimate Aryan idealyic female.
Unity's sister, Diana, was thought to be the most beautiful woman of her time. She married early into the aristocratic and extremely wealthy Guinness family. Diana and her husband, Brian, started the fashionable group that became known as "Bright Young Things." After a few years of marriage, however, Diana met and fell in love with well-known pro-fascism leader in the UK, Sir Oswald Mosley. Her subsequent divorce from Guinness scandalized society as well as a lengthy affair she had with Mosley, before they finally married. Diana and Unity often times were both photographed with Hitler in German and Muv became quite fond of the Fuhrer, as well. (Unity and Diana at left, Tom and Diana at below left)
On the day that WWII began, Unity shot herself in the head in a park in Germany, however, the wound was not fatal. Hitler eventually had her transported out of Germany back to her family. She was seriously impaired as a result of the gunshot and died several years later from complications.
Diana (at right) and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, were imprisoned most of the time during WWII because of their political affiliations with fascists and Hitler.
Decca, on the other hand scandalized society when she eloped, at the age of 19, with the equally young aristocratic, Esmond Romilly (see photo below), who was the nephew of Winston Churchill. Both went to Spain to help fight the civil war and were both passionate about Communism. They eventually moved to the US. At the outbreak of WWII Romilly joined the British military and was stationed in the UK and Decca stayed in the US with their child, Constancia. Esmond was shot down shortly thereafter leaving a very young widow and baby in a distant land.
Two other sisters were also to become equally as notable as Unity, Diana and Decca just not as scandalous. Nancy (at right), the oldest, went on to become a very respected and prolific writer. The youngest daughter, Debo, married Andrew Cavendish, (their wedding photo below) and upon the death of his brother and wife, Kathleen Kennedy (JFK's sister), succeeded as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, inheriting perhaps one of the most beautiful private homes in the world, Chatsworth. Nancy and Debo were for the most part a-political. Or rather, they didn't represent the polarizing political opposites of their sisters and parents.
Tom died in the war. Pamela lived a long life but was perhaps the least famous of the siblings, although eccentric in her own unique way. Following a lengthy marriage to scientist Derek Jackson, she was rumored to prefer relationships with women for the rest of her life.
Interestingly, all of the sisters except for Pamela, became published and respected writers at varying stages of their later lives, although Nancy and Decca were perhaps the most noted.
I have read several books on the family, including my favorite book from 2008 with The Letters of the Mitford Sisters. I think having that background made reading Decca much easier. This is a large book and very complex. You might expect that description to mean "boring". Not at all. I was riveted to this book the entire time that it took to read. I usually am a very quick reader but this book took me a couple of weeks to complete. I truly would become immersed in it.
All of these sisters are remarkable, strong and unique woman, however, I have to say the Decca was truly the most compelling. To think that she left her family and eloped with her young husband, with the British navy following them and threatening her return. She refused to comply with her families request that she return home (made with cooperation of the British government). She and her new husband were in Spain reporting the civil war. She then moved to the US with her husband and found herself a very young widow in a foreign country. You would have expected that she immediately would have returned to the safety of the family fold.
She so despised her families political affiliations that she loathed the idea of returning home. And she made the very brave decision to forge a new life for herself and her young daughter in the US. She was passionate about one thing though: Communism and the abuse of the downtrodden in the world. This was a universal theme that ran through her long life. All of the girls tended to be attracted to very strong men, or as Muv once said, "Why do all my children fall in love with dictators" (thanks for the quote, Eddie Pattillo).
Each of these women were remarkably strong individuals in their own right but it seems the overwhelming tyranny of Lord Redesdale perhaps instilled in each of them a passionate rebellious streak and an affinity for men who were similar to their father.
Decca, like all of her sisters, received no formal education (they were all very well read however). She immediately determined as a new widow that she would need to acquire a skill. And so she went to typing school. She found work eventually with US government in DC. Eventually she relocated with her daughter, Constancia, to San Francisco, and was followed there by her suitor, the man who would become her second husband, Robert Treuhaft. He was a union attorney and, like Decca, was passionate about communism. They both joined the Communist Party and were subject to the McCarthy red scare hearings in the 50s.
Jessica and Robert also had a son, Benjamin. Nearing age 40, Decca started a period of introspection which was also marked with a return visit to her home of England after almost a twenty year absence. At the same time, Robert and Jessica both started to become disillusioned with the Communist Party, although not with communism itself. They quit the party, which for most of Decca's adult life had provided her with a full-time purpose.
She wrote a memoir which became quite famous. It was titled, Hons and Rebels (originally printed in US as Daughters and Rebels). This began the career which she became most notable for: as a journalist and writer.
Even though she turned to writing she remained a staunch advocate and defender of human rights, primarily black rights. She was heavily involved throughout the segregation battles in the South. Her husband, Bob, fought on behalf of many black people and communists who were jailed unfairly due to racism or the red scare. His role as a union lawyer caused him to be dubbed by McCarthy-ites as one of the most dangerous attorneys in the San Francisco bay area.
One of Treuhafts pet peeves was the funeral industry. This interest led Jessica to write her most famous book, The American Way of Death, which exposed the racket of the US funeral industry. It remains perhaps one of the most influential books of last century in terms of its powerful ability to transform an industry.
She wrote several other books, taught at several universities, wrote magazine and news articles and continued to fight for race issues throughout her life. She died in 1996.
This book, Decca, illustrates just how remarkable an individual Jessica Mitford was. Her most marked characteristics were her sense of humor, her fearlessness and her passionate belief in her principles. She became known as a muckraker and is perhaps the most famous and successful muckraker of all times. She has yet to have been eclipsed by anyone in this role.
I just cannot recommend this book enough. You will not believe the huge network of friends, colleagues and enemies (or as she called them "frenemies") that she developed. She was at times a very hard character and I suspect could be was quite a terrifying force if she were against you. She didn't seem to suffer fools gladly, one might say.
But she was always remained true to her families and friends, despite rather spectacular disagreements and feuds. Particularly between the sisters. Diana and Decca remained diametrically opposed politically and were estranged throughout the rest of their lives. Debo emerges as the familial leader (photo circa 1993, Jessica, Debo and Pamela, the only living sisters).
I read a couple of months ago, Pen Portraits, by Diana Mosley, which is a series of essays or profiles of several of the eccentric English characters she knew during her lifetime. It was a wonderful read as well.
I strongly suggest that you read The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters as well as an excellent biography, The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell.
You can order copies of Sisters at our online website: www.jmvintage.com. Just click here.
Next up in my Mitford reading will be Nancy's book of letters, followed by the collection of letters between Nancy and her good friend, Evelyn Waugh.
The Mitfords are another one of my little obsessions, like courtesans. I think anyone will see why.