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July 3, 1999

Film: Dancing at Lughnasa

A well put-together, very well acted film, but rather depressing for my tastes.

July 5, 1999

Film: La Nuit de Varennes

This '60s French film deals with the attempted flight of Louis XVI from Versailles, where he and Marie Antoinette had been under a sort of house arrest. It's quite amusing in parts. The notorious Casanova (Marcello Mastroianni) plays a leading part in the action, as does Tom Paine (Harvey Keitel.)

July 6, 1999

Film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

This film adaptation of Hunter Thompson's tale of "Gonzo Journalizm &tm;" was highly recommended by one of Tova's friends. It is frenetic and amusing, but goes on a bit too long.

July 10, 1999

With the kids away (George at camp Encore/Coda, Tova visiting her friend Rachel in New York) Harriet and I actually got to go for a ride together! A pleasand fixed-gear ramble, checking out the newer sections of the Charles River paths through Waltham, and a bit of looping through Weston. Stopped at a deli for lunch, and made a visit to the Charles River Museum of Industry on the way back. I've been meaning to check this out for years. It has a lot of very nifty stuff about the growth of industry in Waltham. Waltham was, in many ways, the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution; first in textiles, later in watches.

In the afternoon we met Harriet's friend Connie down by the Boston Aquarium, and went to dinner at the Black Rose near the Quincy Market. Our meal was enlivened by the final of the women's soccer World Cup. A good time was had by all, then we drove Connie back to her new place in Winthrop. I don't believe I've ever been to Winthrop before...as a peninsula, it isn't on the way to anywhere. It has a remarkeable small-town upper-blue-collar feel for waterfront property so close to Boston.

July 11, 1999

Film: Fortunes of War, 1987 with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh

This TV miniseries was Thompson & Branagh's first film together. They play an English couple driven from Bucharest, then from Athens by the advancing Germans in the early days of WWII. The film had its moments.

July 17, 1999

Film: Le Comte de Monte Christo

This 8-hour mini-series was broadcast on Bravo a couple of weeks ago, in French with Subtitles. I taped it because I recalled enjoying the book, which I read in translation many years ago, and because it starred Gerard Depardieu. What a winner! This French production had terrific acting, superb production values, a great story and time to tell it in. What a treat! I found a very nice French site with the full text and much helpful commentary at: http://www.er.uqam.ca/merlin/dj091804/home.html

July 18, 1999

Film: Much Ado About Nothing, 1993

I'd seen this once before, but WGBH broadcast it and I couldn't resist seeing it again. This film was my first encounter with the delectable Emma Thompson, who just knocks my socks off. This is certainly the most enjoyable Shakespeare film I've ever seen; Branagh's direction is imaginative and lively, while not feeling any need for anachronistic gimmickry. Michael Keaton was a wonderfully wacky Constable, and it was a treat to see Brian Blessed again...I remember him fondly from his role as Augustus in I, Claudius.

The only other Shakespeare film that I consider the equal to this artistically is Paul Schofield's King Lear, but that's not exactly my idea of entertainment.

July 19, 1999

Book: Foundation's Triumph, by David Brin

See Foundation and Chaos

This completes the series. I enjoyed it, but wasn't thrilled by it...maybe the whole idea is just getting a bit worked out. I would never have guessed that David Brin was the author.

July 23-25, 1999

Drove up to Maine for the weekend, to visit George at Camp Encore/Coda. Stayed at a B & B in North Bridgeton.

Spent the day at the camp, where George was tromboning with several different ensembles. He's been doing a very intensive program, and has made lots of progress. This camp is perfect for him, full of kindred spirits. He seems to be having a great time.

Concert: David Mallett at The Deertrees Theatre

David Mallett is an old favorite of ours...one of his early albums, Pennsylvania Sunrise was given to us as a wedding present almost 20 years ago. It was nice to finally hear him in person. In addition to being a fine singer/songwriter, he's a wonderful guitarist.

The Deertrees Theatre is a nifty old rustic barn-like structure built in 1933. It is an ideal venue for this sort of concert.

July 24, 1999

Book: The Parable of the Sower, by Olivia E.Butler

My sister sent this book to Tova. Set in the 2020's, it depicts a California in nearly complete social breakdown, where water is more expensive than food, and to leave your walled enclave alone or unarmed is unthinkable. I found it a bit gloomy for my taste, but engrossing.

July 25, 1999

Harriet and I took a nice ride around Long Lake in the morning, before driving home. I can't keep up with her on the climbs, but I can still lose her on the descents!

More than ever I feel that the General Court made a serious error in 1820 in allowing Maine to secede from Massachusetts! I want it back! I'm promoting a movement to re-unite northern and southern Massachusetts. It's true that New Hampshire is in between...but that might be more of an opportunity than an obstacle. It's well known that the people of New Hampshire are not yet ready for self government. A benevolent Massachusetts protectorate over this state might allow us to bring civilization to these unfortunates.

July 29, 1999

I've taken over the Web site of Arts For All, www.artsforall.com, including the Harvey Finstein Music School, where my son is a student and my daughter an alumna.

July 30, 1999

Film: Café au Lait (Metisse)

A French comedy, in the spirit of Spike Lee. Features an eternal triangle with a light-skinned Martiniçoise, pregnant by either the Muslim son of a wealthy African diplomat, or a poor Jewish bike messenger.

In addition to being quite funny, this film features some good cycling footage around the streets of Paris. People who are bothered by vulgar language will hate it.

July 31, 1999

Harriet's birthday. I gave her her own domain, harrietfell.com

Film: The Big Lebowski by the Coen brothers.

I'd seen this before, but it's worth seeing again. A hilarious tale of mistaken identity and inept villany, featuring bizarre bowling-related dream sequences and wonderful cinematography. People who are bothered by vulgar language will hate it.

August 2, 1999

Film: Saving private Ryan

I'd seen this with George on the big screen, but this time I rented the video to watch with Harriet. The opening brought tears to my eyes (again). The D-Day footage is one of the most amazing examples of the art and craft of film making. It does lose some impact by being on the small screen, losing more due to a couple of Porlockian phone calls in the middle of it.

There is a bit of byplay in which the poltroonish writer learns the meaning of the acronym "FUBAR" (F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition)...but I'm puzzled by this. It's my belief that FUBAR is anachronistic in this context, and that the actual G.I. equivalent was "SNAFU" (Situation Normal, All F***ed Up.) I associate FUBAR with the computer industry and with M.I.T...possibly because I learned this phrase from Harriet.

August 3, 1999

Film: Hilary and Jackie

This biopic about 'cellist Jacqueline DuPré and her sister was well made and well acted, though rather depressing--inevitable considering the tragic subject matter.

Morbid musing: has anybody committed murder with a 'cello? Looks like that long point could make a very effective spear...

August 4, 1999

Film: Meet Joe Black

I picked up this video because I've been an Antony Hopkins fan ever since seeing him as Pierre in an excellent British TV version of War and Peace. I found this film very disappointing, bloated to over 3 hours with long, repetitive shots of various actors silently emoting at one another. The premise is goofy, and the dialogue a pretentious, tissue of cliches that even an actor of Hopkins's talent couldn't redeem.

August 12, 1999

Drove Tova out to Ithaca, New York for a pre-registration hiking/rock-climbing trip. Stayed in the house of a college friend of Harriet's. George is still at Camp Encore/Coda.

August 13, 1999

Play: Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it all for You

Firehouse Theatre, Ithaca. Written by Christopher Durang, starring Judy Levitt. Pretty funny take on Catholic education in the '50s, though rather heavy handed. My one year of Catholic education, 9th grade at St. John's Prep gave me a bit of a feel for this, though that was an all-male environment, with Xaverian brothers. I was pretty miserable there. Though one or two of the brothers were decent, others were sadists. That was the year I wound up leaving the Church.

The Firehouse Theatre reminds me somewhat of the Publick Theatre.

August 14, 1999

Picked George up from Camp Encore/Coda. He had a great time.

Operetta: M.I.T.G.a.S.P.Gilbert & Sullivan, Crichton

This is an operetta intended to be in the style of Gilbert & Sullivan, based on J.M.Barrie's The Admirable Crichton. It was nice to see some of my old M.I.T.G.a.S.P. friends again, and the show had its moments. I took photos of the show with my Nikor 105 1.8.

Tova is off to the Woodstock Festival.

August 15, 1999

Bike show at Larz Anderson show. Met lots of old friends and fans. Bought a '50s lady's Raleigh sports with most of the chaincase and front and rear drum brakes for $25. This was originally from Hong Kong. I'll probably part it out...the wheels are in very nice shape, though the hubs are a bit rusty. Also got a 26 tooth 1" pitch Campagnolo chainring. Somebody gave me a 36 hole Hi-E hub.

My one regret was dithering too long over purchase of a very cool front wheel. It was a Phil Wood hub in a 24 hole Fiamme yellow rim, with a spoke pattern I've never seen before: a modified crow's foot, where there was a radial spoke between each crow's foot group of 3. I would have snapped it up right away had it been done with lighter spokes...I should've anyway, though, 'cause the guy only wanted 40 bucks for it.

August 17, 1999

My mother's birthday. She'd've been 85.

Film: Shakespeare in Love

What a lot of fun this was! Now we know the truth about the orgins of Romeo & Juliet!

August 19, 1999

Loaded 3 bikes on top of the car (Harriet's Holdsworth, my PX-27, and the Nishiki Repco for George, and the 3 of us drove to Ithaca, New York. We made a stop in Scotia for dinner with my aunt Betty and Uncle Henry.

Sheldon BrownMy aunt Betty lent me a cool old photo album of postcard-sized photos from the '0s and 'teens. Click on the photo of my namesake grandfather to see more...

Book: The Grass Crown, by Colleen McCullough

This was a book-on-tape from the library, which we listened to while driving out to Ithaca. Set in ancient rome, it deals with the political and military struggle of the late republic, among Drusus, Sulla and Marius. Sometimes a bit difficult to keep the characters straight, but we enjoyed it. This is the sequel to The First Man In Rome, which we listened to on another car trip.

August 20, 1999

Dropped Tova off at Risley Hall, an arts-oriented dorm. Seems like a really nice place, lots of friendly folks. Tova ought to fit in very nicely there.

Bummer is, however, there's no sheltered place to store her bike. I had just done a major workover on her Fuji Del Rey, installing a 14-34 freewheel to get her up the hills, and converting her bike to drop bars with 105 STI brifters. Now it's gotta sit out in the rain locked to a very overcrowded bike rack.

August 21, 1999

The plan was to pick up Tova's computer at the book store, deliver and set it up, then head out to Pen Yan on Keuka Lake, where the cycling is reputedly very nice...but we've got car trouble. Last night I noticed it was complaining a bit climbing the steeeeep hill up to Cornell. This morning it limped a few blocks to get us to breakfast at the Ithaca Diner, then it pretty much died. We called AAA and had it towed to the Goodyear garage, the only place around here that works on Saturdays. The service manager thought it might be a clogged fuel filter.

Turns out the filter didn't do it, so we have to wait for Goodyear's ace diagnostician--and he won't be in 'til Tuesday!

We've got reservations in Pen Yan, but looks like we'll miss a couple of days. We've rented a Chrysler Neon for two days, but that can't carry the 3 bikes, and besides, we don't want to be going back and forth between Pen Yan and Ithaca, so we'll wait 'til they fix our van. (1990 Dodge Grand Caravan.)

Play: Sonata, by Elizabeth Hirchhorn

The Orange Tree Theater Company is a teenage operation, everybody involved in the production is under 18. They did a creditable job with this bit of parent bashing. When the drop-dead gorgeous teenage girl playing the police detective mentioned having spent 23 years on the job my suspension of disbelief couldn't stretch that far.

August 22, 1999

Cycled to Buttermilk Falls (4.56 miles round trip) and swam in the 54 degree water. It was invigorating. We were the only ones there hardy enough to spend any substantial time in the water.

Dinner at the all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet near the falls. Mmmm-mm. Followed by:

Film: Inspector Gadget

Well, it came down to a choice between this and the Blair Witch Project, which didn't appeal to us at all. A particularly mindless and crummy movie. Too bad Connie's apartment doesn't have a TV.

Book: A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge

The spaceship on the cover didn't lie, this is a good 'un! Two competing groups of interstellar traders (well, one is more like brigands than traders) arrive at the same time at the distant planet Arachna. The local sun is a variable, that stays dark for 200 years, then lights up for 35, just like clockwork. When it goes dark, the spider-like inhabitants hibernate in underground "deepnesses" while the atmosphere is frozen. When the sun comes back on, it starts with a major flare that burns everything flammable on the surface. Thus, the spiders (who are very human and likable) are forced to rebuild every generation. At the end of the last cycle, they had just developed radio, so the starfarers consider them ripe for the picking. I won't spoil the story by revealing the plot, but it does feature good science. The starfarers use cold sleep...no FTL nonsense, and have also adapted to life in zero G, with architecture and parks to match. Highly recommended for fans of hard SF.

August 23, 1999

Cycled along the west shore of Cayuga Lake to Taughanuck Falls, went swimming. 71 degrees...almost too warm! 20.98 miles. George is now strong enough to make it up the hills fine, though he's nervous about descending and tends to ride his brakes.

August 24, 1999

Book: Patriarch's Hope, by David Feintuch

I don't know why I don't give up on this vaguely Hornbloweresque SF series--the protagonist is such a neurotic prig. In this one he's risen to be Secretary General of the U.N. but still hates himself. He spends most of this novel in a wheelchair, when he's not doing hand-to-hand combat in zero-G. The main thrust of the novel is to promote the "tough love" "spare the rod, spoil the child" school of militaristic child rearing.

Turns out the car doesn't have any spark. The diagnostician says it's the sensor that tells where the crankshaft is. This is a $60 item, they'll put it in and we'll be on our way at last!

Did the laundry and Harriet returned the rental Neon.

Nope, that didn't fix it. Then they tried the crankshaft sensor, but that didn't fix it either. Turns out it needs the main computer unit, a $400 part! Won't be ready today after all. We've been hanging around all day waiting for the car to be fixed, all for nought.

A bad day redeemed by a very nice evening. We walked over to Ithaca Commons (one of the first US mainstreets to be converted into a pedestrian mall, some 25 years back.) There was a celtic folk quartet playing, and a restaurant right there with outdoor tables (Simeon's.) We grabbed a ringside table and ordered. They didn't have Ithaca Almond Wheat beer, my new favorite, but they had a delicious Belgian beer which was just as good. I had a very yummy sandwich on excellent bread; we sat in the balmy evening eating good food, drinking good beer, and listening to good music. It doesn't get much better. There are worse places to be stranded than Ithaca.

Film: Besieged

This new film by Bernardo Bertolucci deals with a young African woman who escapes the un-named thugocracy she lives in, after we've seen camo-uniformed troops brutally hauling a young schoolteacher off in front of his students. She winds up in Rome, where she supports herself as a maid while studying medicine. Her employer is a strange idle fellow who spends all his time playing the piano, living off a bequest from his aunt. I won't spoil the story, which turns into a romantic triangle a bit reminiscent of Casablanca. Coincidentally, like the last subtitled film I saw, Café au Lait (Metisse), it is a romantic triangle involving a black African, a white man, and a café-au-lait woman. That's as far as the similarity goes, however.

I liked this film a lot, except for the ambiguous ending. I guess it's considered artsy and clever to leave the viewer in suspense at the end of a film, but I don't like it, and it always seems like a cop-out to me.

Another minor quibble: at one point the woman makes her way to the bed of one of the sleeping men while drunk...but it is made very clear that she has drunk an entire bottle of champagne all by herself, she's a small person, and I find it doubtful that she could really be ambulatory after that.

August 25, 1999

Goodyear says the problem was not electrical after all! Turns out we've got a broken "flex plate." This is a part that in an older car would be called a "flywheel." It connects to the drive shaft, and has the gears to engage the starter's Bendix gear. It also contains a flange with a row of cut-outs that tell the crankshaft sensor what's happening. Well, it appears that the middle of this plate/flywheel has developed a circular crack and has separated completely from the outer rim. Goodyear says the local warehouse has one in stock, so we should be on the road tomorrow.

Visited my 3rd local bike shop, finally found one I like, called Pedal Away. This is a friendly Schwinn shop, a marked contrast to the cold and snobbish feeling Cayuga Mountain Bike shop, or the generic Outdoor Store, which seemed more into backpacking and the like than cycling.

I had neglected to pack oil, and was concerned that we'll need to oil our chains if we get caught in rain. I tried all three places looking for Phil Wood oil, but none of them had if for sale (though the Outdoor Store had a bottle on the workbench!) They all tried to sell me White Lightning.

I also needed a new cyclometer magnet for George's Repco. Neither Cayuga nor Outdoor had one, but Pedal Away did, and I had a very pleasant chat with the proprietor. Of the 3 shops, this was also the only one that had anything but mountain bikes and mountain bike parts visible. I never did get to Swann's, which has a good reputation as the local road shop...maybe next time.

We cycled out to Robert Treeman park, swimming in 66 degree water. This was pretty nice. Later we went, again to the Chinese Buffet. 15.24 miles. It's tough to go very far around Ithaca without climbing very serious hills.

Book: Animal Farm, by George Orwell

This was another book-on-tape (I really stocked up for this vacation, and a good thing I did!) This is an old favorite that we've all read before, but it was fun to listen to it, sitting in the dark.

August 26, 1999

Well, we've given up on Pen Yan, at least for this trip. The car should be done tomorrow, but it's about time to go home.

We decided to brave one of the big climbs and visit a local winery, called Six Mile Creek. The climb was quite amazing, but we made it OK. 6.52 miles. We bought a case of wine, which we'll pick up tomorrow when the car is finished.

Book: The Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler

This is the sequel to The Parable of the Sower, and is a bit less gloomy than that. It was fairly gripping, and well constructed, but, again, to pessimistic for my taste.

Book: Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

I've been chugging through this for a while. It is indeed a Great Book, but the beginning is much better than the end. Basically, the whole thing falls when that dweeb, Tom Sawyer, arrives on the scene.

On re-reading this book, I wonder how much the character of Huck owes to Victor Hugo's Gavroche.

It was amusing to note that the wrecked steamboat is called "Walter Scott." Last time I read H.F., I didn't know about Twain's aversion to Sir Walter.

Turns out that Twain had a very bitter hatred for Scott, whom he blamed for starting the Southern Rebellion! Seems all the Southern aristocrats were big fans of Scotts tales of chivalry and glory, and Twain believed that this gave them unrealistic expectations about the reality of warfare in the industrial age.

August 27, 1999

We cycled over to the Ithaca Science Center, a rather nice little science museum/park. It was mostly geared to younger children, but we had fun watching the ball roll-down, and George did some of the puzzles.

Then we went looking for Ithaca falls, which the guidebook said was quite impressive, but turns out to be fairly hard to find. It was worth looking for, however! It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, with its access nearly blocked by road construction. The drought conditions caused the flow to be not much more than a trickle, but the trickle branches and meanders fetchingly down the side of the outcrop. Better yet, it turns out that the basin at the foot of the falls is a laissez-faire swimming hole! We wished we'd brought our swimsuits, it would be a treat to swim in a bouy-free and lifeguard-free zone--I had come to despair of finding such a thing in the area.

Finally the car is done! They took out the $400 computer module, but left in the two new sensors, because it wouldn't be worth the labor to remove them. They gave us a break on the labor, and the whole thing came to a bit under $700--plus our vacation. We drove up to the winery and got our case of wine, and look forward to going home tomorrow. We're pining for air conditioning...it's been brutally hot all week.

We've fallen in love with a local microbrew, the Ithaca Beer Company's "Apricot Wheat" beer. We bought a case to bring home with us...mmmm...mm!

August 28, 1999

AAARRRRGH! We set out for home this morning, and got as far as Corning, 30 miles from Ithaca when we noticed that the oil pressure was dropping and the car was smoking. It was clear that it wouldn't get us home, oil was dripping from the bellhousing at better than a drop per second.

We bought a bunch of cheap oil, and limped back to our second home, the Goodyear store.

Turns out the rear main seal is gone (though this car never used any oil between oil changes before.) They won't be able to fix it 'til Monday at the earliest. We can't wait, we've got to be home on Monday. Saturday afternoon, there are no rental cars available in Ithaca. The service manager calls around, and the nearest one is at the Syracuse airport, over an hour's drive away. He has us wait around the shop 'til closing time, then very kindly drives up to Syracuse, where we rent a Pontiac Grand Am and head for home.

Book: Fortune's Favorites, by Colleen McCullough

The third in the series, a sequel to The Grass Crown. This one is a bit better, and deals with young Julius Cæsar, Pompey, Sulla and Spartacus.

August 29, 1999

Took a whale watch tour with some of the folks Harriet works with in her industrial projects. We had good luck, saw finbacks and a couple of humpbacks that frolicked in the vicinity for quite a while.

I brought an old Nikon F loaded with Kodak Max800, my Vivitar 200 f3 and my no-name 300 f5.6 mirror lens. Mostly shot 1/1000, with the 200 at f12.5. The results look pretty good, I've posted half a dozen of them on the Web

Whale Tail

September-October, 1999

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1975-98:
November-December, 1998 April-May, 1975
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Books:
The Parable of the SowerOlivia E. Butler7/24/99
The Parable of the TalentsOlivia E. Butler8/26/99
Patriarch's HopeDavid Feintuch9/24/99
Fortune's FavoriteColleen McCullough8/28/99
The Grass CrownColleen McCullough8/19/99
Animal FarmGeorge Orwell8/24/99
Huckleberry FinnMark Twain8/26/99
A Deepness in the SkyVernor Vinge8/22/99
Click here for more Books

Spoke

Films:
BesiegedAugust 24, 1999
The Big LebowskiJuly 31, 1999
Café au Lait (Metisse)July 30, 1999
Le Comte de Monte ChristoJuly 17, 1999
Dancing at LughnasaJuly 3, 1999
Fear and Loathing in Las VegasJuly 6, 1999
Fortunes of WarJuly 11, 1999
Hilary and JackieJuly 18, 1999
Inspector GadgetAugust 22, 1999
Meet Joe BlackAugust 4, 1999
Much Ado About NothingJuly 18, 1999
La Nuit de VarennesJuly 5, 1999
Saving Private RyanAugust 2, 1999
Shakespeare in LoveAugust 17, 1999
Spoke

Music:
DatePerformersWork
August 14, 1999M.I.T.G.a.S.P.Gilbert & Sullivan, Crichton
July 24, 1999David Mallett
Spoke

Plays:
August 21, 1999Orange Tree Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sonata
August 13, 1999Firehouse Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You
Spoke

Travels:
August 19-28, 1999Ithaca, New York
August 12-13, 1999Ithaca, New York
July 23-25, 1999Bridgeton, Maine

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