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The Best of The Best of The Best; or, Sliding Into Third

Monday 23 August 2021

“The best of the best of the best” is that marvelous satirical line from Men In Black that Will Smith delivers obliquely against the really over-the-top Marine (or maybe Airman, or Sailor, or Ranger; we are an Equal Opportunity Satirist) to point up just how ludicrous jingoism can be, even when it is the most deserved and especially when it is the most earnest.

Anyway.

We have made our way through all of the first and most of the second seasons of Star Trek. Note to reader: if you legitimately don’t know to which series I am referring here, I pity you, for you were clearly raised by troglodytes on a planet so far in the Galactic backwater that you will, someday in the far future, maybe be able to see the breakup of Pangaea on your telescopes.

If you had telescopes, which you clearly don’t.

Somewhere in the second season of Star Trek is the high water-mark of the entire franchise. Literally, the point from which, although there may be local maximum, there will never again be a zenith that exceeds that which has come before. I can’t say if it was “Miri”, or “City on the Edge of Forever”, or possibly even “The Trouble With Tribbles”; you must decide for yourself.

This is not a Judgement, by-the-by, for those of you with a strict interpretation of Matthew 7:1; this is only a decision for yourself, unless you choose to proselytize it to the masses. Your choice.

So we have probably passed the best of the best of the best of the entire Star Trek franchise. Realizing this is like blowing past a state trooper at 110 and wondering (hoping) if he is asleep, or will be peeling out after you. Kind of exciting and horrifying all at once. And, never worth it, except totally worth it in the moment.

So here we are, with the best of the best of the best in our rear-view mirror.

I’m going to ignore the corollaries to the American Century, or American Exceptionalism, or anything else that might cause me to look into my ancestry and wonder about options that might exist for a reverse Irish Wake.

Moving on.

I might suggest that “Mirror, Mirror” had the greatest impact on the franchise, because

SPOILER ALERTS

ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE

BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD

Ok, so, the concept behind “Mirror, Mirror” was not only directly carried into a two-part episode of “Enterprise”, but it formed the entire basis of the first season of “Discovery”. Lazy plotting, worshipful homage, or clever extension, your choice.

SAFE HARBOR AHEAD

RETURN TO NORMAL.

VAYA CON DIOS

So here we are…oh yeah, did that part already.

The hard part is not the 170-some episodes each of “Next Generation”, “Voyager”, or “Deep Space Nine” that are in front of us. 500-or-so hours of pretty good (sometimes very good, sometimes not-so-good) storytelling is not the problem.

Did you even realize that Voyager and DS9 each had almost as many episodes as Next Generation? Neither will get an Urquhart Day (place that reference you mingy sods, and explain why; show your work!) against Next Generation, but did you think either would get within a full season of that target? No, nor did I.

The high hurdle (in a very, very First World way) is that the next several weeks will be consumed with season three of Star Trek, which is arguably the low water mark of the entire franchise. We are figuratively going from Cemetery Ridge or Maney’s repulse to Appomatox in about ten hours of viewing time. Warp speed, indeed.

It’s okay. None of this is really, in any even symbolic way, very difficult. “Spock’s Brain” and even “The Children Shall Lead” will not cause permanent scarring, even if it feels way at that time.

See you on the other side.

That Wasn’t Such A Chore, Now Was It?

Wednesday 7 July 2021

The saga of the Watch-All-Star-Trek-Episodes-In-Internal-Universe-Chronological-Order-From-The-Viewpoint-Of-The-Major-Characters marathon viewing continues!

When last you joined our intrepid crew, we had just finished watching Enterprise. We have now leapt about one hundred ten years forward, as we have now finished the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, which are the next big block of episodes, and are starting Star Trek. The subsequent seasons of Discovery happen…later.

It turns out that I really don’t like some visual entertainments the first time I see them, but I really like them in subsequent viewings.

This doesn’t seem to be a thing with books; I can’t think of any book that I didn’t like the first time I tried it, that I came back to later and changed my mind about. Visual entertainments, that’s a different deal. Most movies and TV shows are either like at first sight, but quite a few take some time to age (don’t go there…).

So here’s a thing: when OSF runs as normal (nothing is normal right now), we try to get the first preview of each show, and then shows later in the season, including closing. As the cast and crew get more productions under their belts, they get into the roles, and the shows get pleasantly annealed. That first preview can be magical: all the lights falling off the walls in Animal Crackers; the letter that fell from the heavens through a crack in the floor in a show we can’t remember; the time the curtain literally came down at the intermission of Secret Love of Peach Blossom Land. The three-ring circus in Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella that was never the same after the first preview. All so cool.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t gel. A memorable production of King Lear. A production of Caucasian Chalk Circle where we left early and so missed what was apparently a stunning performance by Jack WIllis.

I’ll even admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the first preview of The Unfortunates, which rapidly became one of my favorite shows ever.

So it should be no surprise that the first time I saw part of Discovery when it first came out, I didn’t like it.

I mean, I really despised it.

The Klingons were just wrong.

There was factionalism within the Federation, which breaks certain cardinal rules of Star Trek canon.

The ships got even more huge inside; almost ridiculously so. The bridge of Discovery looks bigger than most theatre stages, and has fewer people on it.

I was a bit concerned that I really wouldn’t enjoy it.

But I did. A lot.

There were a lot of factors this time around that were not true the first time. For one, we watched the Short Treks episodes, which gave a lot of the backstory of the main characters. For another, I focused more on the character development and a less on the plot, at least for the first season. The initial cancelled viewing from the original release took the edge of the…weirdness…so it wasn’t as disruptive.

We actually enjoyed it, especially the second season that was less about A Big War and more about exploration and encountering weird stuff in the universe, and isn’t that what Trek is supposed to be after all? And, once we figured out that much of the first season was really an homage to one of the best Star Trek episodes, that made it better.

And now onwards to the genesis of it all, Star Trek. I refuse to put “The Original Series” after that; if someone doesn’t know what “Star Trek” means, it’s probably hopeless at this point, sort of like not knowing what film “Star Wars” refers to.

We’re watching the original effects versions, and the original versions “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. It’s a personal choice. You’re not vile if you watch the remastered effects, but you’re missing a lot of the idea by doing so.

I was curious to see if the 1960s effects would look “wrong” or “right” compared to the very modern effects and look of Discovery. Since I’ve been watching Star Trek on and off since the 1970s (I’m not *that* old!), the sets and effects are what I expect to see; it’s not jarring at all. Seeing the original crew with the more modern sets and effects was more unusual when I saw the opening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. That was a big visual change at the time.

The other unusual thing about this viewing is that we’re watching the episodes in Stardate order, which is weirder to me than the change of sets and effects. The first three episodes, in Stardate order, are “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “The Corbomite Maneuver”, and “Mudd’s Women”, which are normally episodes 3, 6, and 10 in broadcast order. But it *feels* right in the Stardate order, so far: there isn’t the oddness of McCoy disappearing during WNMHGB, the uniforms don’t change as often, and the general feel and pacing of the episodes is more consistent–WNMHGB feels like a natural extension of “The Cage”, and then “Corbomite” and “Mudd” establish the classic “Star Trek” feel.

Sadly, this will be one of the shorter sections of the saga. With only 73 episodes, we will be done in a few weeks; longer than Discovery, shorter than Enterprise. But it will be one of the best runs, and we’ll savor every bit.

Stay tuned!

How It Started…How It’s Going

Wednesday 2 June 2021
tags:

A couple of months ago, I posted that we were going to start watching the entire Star Trek canon, in the in-universe chronological order; that is, the order the episodes would occur in as experienced by the main characters in each episode. That means that some episodes or movies that might seem to come early, like Star Trek: First Contact, actually come quite late because the main characters (most of the TNG crew, for First Contact) come later in the whole chronology.

That’s crazy geeky, but it has two advantages: one, it gives some structure to the process, and structure is important to geeks; two, and I can’t overemphasize the importance of this point, someone else did all the work to figure out the order.

Yeah, I’m lazy about some things. Many things. Certainly, given the choice of a watching the episodes in an order that’s almost certainly consistent, or spending a couple of years doing the research on what the correct order actually is, I’ll save my efforts for really important things, like editing out the terrible opening credits for seasons three and four of Enterprise and replacing them with the season one credits. Priorities, people.

So what if I’m one of the few people in the world who like the original Enterprise credits? So what if there are only as many of us as characters in Yesterday who remembered The Beatles? It was a crazy time in the world–9/11 had just happened before the premiere, and the mixture of nostalgia and futuristic imagery with the ballad and lyrics from the song “Faith of the Heart“, just worked for me. I also liked the theme to Crusade, so there’s that.

Anyway.

So we’ve finished Enterprise.

I have to say, this is probably the third or fourth complete watching of that series for us, and I am starting to enjoy it the same way I enjoyed the original series. Captain Archer is a fine captain, more angst-y and introspective than Kirk and maybe Picard; T’Pol adds emotional depth in a logical way to Vulcans; Tucker was a good engineer, and a little more of an adventurer than some of the other chief engineers; Phlox was an interesting and unusual doctor. All the main and recurring characters had a lot of character development. Enterprise is definitely more of a character-driven than SFX-driven show.

Something you need to understand about me, if you’re new to this blog. I really like to see the story creators’ original intent for a show, before audience feedback changes it. I really like to go to the first public performance of plays. Technical issues aside, ignoring the benefits to the actors of having practiced a role with more performances, it is the most honest example of what the production team and actors originally wanted to present, without feedback from the audience (or viewership) changing it into what’s more conventionally popular or commercially successful. You might look at my comments on Medea, Macbeth, Cinderella for context. I also get a huge rush out of straight-up novelty; try to show me the same thing three or four or ten times, and I’m gone.

This means I really liked the first season of Enterprise best: it was back to Roddenberry’s original concepts of exploration, as understood by the show’s creative team. Humans were way, way out-classed (and out-gunned) by almost every other species in the universe that they met. Lots of good character building. I loved the way the events of prior episodes–dead and injured crew, damage to the ship, diplomatic successes and failures–continued throughout the season well beyond the usual “recurring guest star” events.

Season two continued much of that, but introduced a huge plot twist that really messed with the characters. That plot twist was…okay, but only just. The great character work carried the second season. Lots of fun, a few great episodes.

Season three was almost a reboot, with a new action-heavy plot line. The exploration theme was still there, a little, but the ship was more often in a battle with alien ships or with the crew infiltrating an enemy base. There was a small contingent of marines added to bulk up the crew militarily, and add a little more character development for the security team. One nice difference between Enterprise and some of the other Trek franchises is that Security personnel weren’t just target practice for the prologue.

Season three also introduced a major change to the theme song. Look, I get that a lot of people didn’t like the original ballad-style theme song (or any music with lyrics, for that matter), but this was worse. Way worse. Bad enough that I spent a lot of time working out how to get the first season credits edited into the third and fourth seasons.

Season four was a grab-bag of plot lines. Some were really good, a couple were almost down there with “Turnabout Intruder”. When a Trek franchise is on the way down, it’s not subtle.

Favorite character? Oddly, probably the recurring character of Commander Shran, played by Jeffrey Combs. He had the advantage of being shown at key points and significant doses. Probably one of my favorite recurring characters in all of Trek-dom (I sense a pattern forming…)

Would we watch it again? Sure, in a couple of years, after we’ve finished this marathon. It’s probably my second favorite Trek franchise after the original series: the ships feel more “real”, along with the plot lines.

And now, on to new worlds…

We just watched the first (in sequence) three “episodes” in the Star Trek: Short Treks series. The Michael Burnham backstory episode is fine, in a Lion King crossover sort of way. The “Q&A” episode, between a very new Spock and Number One, is a great set-up for watching “The Cage” and Discovery. And the episode “The Trouble with Edward” is a complete hoot: not to be missed if you know anything about Tribbles, or a certain contemporary animated show about a family that runs a burger joint. Must see.

And then, “The Cage”. Literally the show that started it all, as this was the pilot for the original series. It was not broadcast until 1988, but had been seen on the show circuit for many years before that, and key parts of the episode were re-cut for the two-part episode “The Menagerie”. It introduced a lot of the technology of the series, including the transporter, communicator, and warp drive. It featured a woman, Majel Barrett in the role of “Number One”, as the second-in-command of a major ship. Telepathy, the concept of all of existence as only imaginary, and a strong female character in command add to making “The Cage” one of the key episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise. While “The Menagerie” has elements of “The Cage” within it, it’s not a complete Cliff’s Notes version. If you’ve only seen “Menagerie”, you haven’t seen “Cage”.

Next up is Star Trek: Discovery. I have to admit a bit of concern about the shift from the 1960’s-era special effects to the very modern effects and concepts of how big Enterprise is; look at the representation of the “guts” of Enterprise as shown in the Short Treks episode “Q&A”. And then, the switch back to the effects of the original series after that.

It’s going to be a fun ride ūüėÄ

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Monday 31 May 2021

It was twenty years ago today (well, making use of the time-traveling posting features of WordPress, anyway) that we found our house in Ashland. Or, as others might say, it found us.

So naturally, we spent a week in Mendocino.

Look at it our way: we just finished our post-vaccination waiting period. We had not travelled in almost eighteen months, which means we went from a flight every couple of weeks (or more), even if only to PDX, to no travel at all, not even a long driving trip. Yes, we did drive to Portland a couple of times for different takeout, but that was all in our own lodging so all good.

We had planned to go to Europe in September 2020; that was a numerically-signficant birthday year for both of us (you do the math), and it was going to be A Blowout.

So much for that.

We had planned to go to Hawaii in May 2020, and optimistically rescheduled it for May 2021. Even if our vaccinations had been complete by then, we still don’t feel comfortable getting on a plane yet.

On the other hand, we were feeling better about outdoor dining, and maybe going into a grocery store (only curbside and deliveries since last March), and an AirBNB that would be just us felt about right for a first foray back into travelling. Add an almost desperate desire for a road trip, and the means to do so, and the die was cast.

Now, I like to plan surprises for Herself. I think she likes them; she’s still here, so that’s a solid indicator. She like seaside places: the deck at Crater Lake Lodge, the deck of an ocean liner, the deck of a house facing the sea. Hmm, maybe it’s really decks she likes?

Anyway, as an alternative to the Europe trip that looked sketchy last March, unlikely in April, and totally dead last May, I had put together a driving trip of California as an alternative. That never made it past August, but it was good planning for future trips–lots of lovely places to stay once we started to feel better about traveling again.

Mendocino is great for a starter trip. It’s small (under 900 residents), isolated, mild climate (about 60F all year), had good Covid numbers (yes, we checked). We hadn’t been there in 20 years or more, having flown in for a day-trip in the early 1990s. There are a number of routes from Oregon to Mendocino, so lots of potential for driving fun.

For the long driving trip that ultimately got scrapped, I had found a couple of rentals right on the coast. The best candidate was a house built in 1960; a little rustic, but amazing views. This is the view from the living room:

So that’s pretty cool.

Day One.

The obvious route is I-5 to CA-20. It’s a perfectly serviceable route, fine if you’re trying to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible.

That part of I-5 is also one of the most boring stretches of road in the U.S. West. I can’t imagine going that way except under extreme duress, like trying to escape a zombie horde.

Another route is across 199, through Grants Pass, Crescent City, and down through Eureka to Fort Bragg (not this one) and down to Mendocino. That’s a fine route; we’ve taken it a few times over the years from the Bay Area to Ashland, when we wanted a somewhat longer, more scenic drive.

But there’s a part of 101 called Last Chance Grade, which regularly washes out a long portion of the road, cutting off access along 101 (and the rest of the coast) between Crescent City and Eureka. The detour goes through…Grants Pass, Ashland, and Redding.

Last Chance Grade washed out in February, and CAL-DOT is still working on re-opening it both ways. A complete replacement will cost somewhere between $300 million and $2 billion, and may include tunneling. There are large chunks of time when it’s simply closed right now, open for one-way traffic for one-hour blocks a couple of times each day, then closed at night. Planning a trip along that route felt like a bad idea.

Another way to go is a short chunk of I-5 to Hornbrook, then CA-96 through Happy Camp, down to CA-299, and into Eureka.

CA-96 is reportedly a very scenic route. Two downsides: there was a HUGE wildfire there in 2020, and additional large fires in prior years, so much of the national forest west of 96 is closed. Grim to drive through.

The second factor is that gasoline is scarce through that area. I’d want to be more sure about my fuel burn before trying that path; it’s about 200 miles between known operating gas stations, at Hornbrook and Eureka. Once, on a long drive from Portland through Bend, we got low on fuel coming down from Crater Lake and had to nurse it (i.e. coast) from north of Shady Cove to Medford. That’s one way to avoid speed traps, but I really didn’t want that or worse on this trip. Maybe I’ll pack a plastic bag full of gas as a backup and try it later.

That left CA-3 south from near Hornbrook to Weaverville, through Shasta-Trinity National Forest. On the map, it looks like a relatively straight shot to Weaverville, then CA-299 to Arcata. We were staying overnight in Eureka; I’ll get to that later.

Did I mention that our cars are possessed?

Yeah, it’s a thing. Our cars like to drive; if we haven’t gone for a longish trip, at least to Medford or so in a while, the car will “arrange” it.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I was driving our red Volvo wagon. People see “red Volvo wagon” and think “mom-mobile”, but this is a car from the late 1990s when Volvo was still making racing cars; this one has a high-pressure turbocharger, 240bhp, Z-rated tires and brakes and suspension to match. A very fun car for long-distance driving.

So I was out getting her to the local car wash, the one down by exit 14, and noticed she needed gas. Normally I’d just have gotten it there, but, being the kind of guy who also shops for toilet paper prices (it’s a guy thing), I looked up gas prices on Gas Buddy and noticed that the Arco across the street had slightly lower prices. Sounds like a plan.

That Arco is like the entry funnel for a pest trap–it’s really easy to get in, but there’s no way out. Well, there is of course a way out, but it’s really hard to get out without getting on to I-5.

Which was the car’s plan all along.

So I got a nice unplanned drive down I-5. Oops, no exit at exit 11. Wait, what do you mean exit 6 is closed? Am I going to California by car for the first time in maybe a decade because the Volvo wanted a long drive? Oh, okay, exit 6 is open, but not the ramp back on to I-5. Fine. So we’re headed for a very scenic drive down Old Siskiyou Highway. This was apparently the main road across the pass before I-5. Really nice, swoop-y drive among the trees. A fine, if unexpected, route for a casual drive.

A while ago I had planned a non-highway drive to Portland. While we didn’t do that trip (yet), I wanted a similar experience for this drive, so on the day we headed to Eureka, I decided we’d take that same road as far south as possible. It was really cold that day; there was snow falling as we got into the higher elevations.

Oops. Did I mention that I forgot to check if the on-ramp to I-5 south (there is no other way across the pass) was open? Yeah, no, it’s not. So we get to the exit and–back north on I-5 to exit 11 at the south end of Ashland. Lovely scenic drive to nowhere.

Eventually we made it down to CA-96 and then CA-3. Nice, somewhat winding road down to Weaverville. Top up for the highway portions, and then top down as soon as the weather allowed. Whee!

Most of the time when I drive my cars, if the cautionary speed limits are, say, X, I’m comfortable with X+10 or over if the weather is good and the road is dry, and traffic is light or none: I know the vehicles from long experience, how they handle, etc. It’s fine, ma. Good brakes.

As you get closer to Scott Mountain however, it gets twisty. Really, really twisty. Even I was slowing down, because sliding down a long steep embankment is not a fun way to start a holiday. Beautiful scenic vistas.

The roads in California, by the way, are really well-paved right now. I was looking on Google Maps (yes, obsessive) at the street view images to get a sense of the road conditions, checking for gravel roads or other undesirable conditions. All of the roads looked okay, at least two lanes and concrete or paved. When we actually got there, it seemed like all of the roads had been freshly repaved in the last year or so. Nice clean blacktop and fresh striping. Great driving!

The plan had been to pack a lunch (the fourteen days on our second jabs wasn’t up quite yet). and stop along the way. Since this whole trip was a surprise for Herself, including the destination and route, she didn’t know what the plan was. I had picked a spot with a view of Trinity Lake, on the southwest edge of the western arm of the lake.

The unexpected detour at the start of the trip scotched that plan; we arrived at the picnic spot way late. Lovely scenic vista; next. Keep the tank filled, just in case.

It turns out California is doing a lot of roadwork while traffic is somewhat lighter. We had to stop three or four times along this part of the route, from Ashland to Eureka, where there was one-way traffic due to road repairs for rock slides. Better to be stuck in traffic than under the slide.

The other advantage to this route was that it concealed the destination (California coast) until well into the second day; Herself is game enough to play along and not check her phone’s maps to see where we were. Even in Eureka, since we were coming in from the Arcata side, you don’t see the Pacific at all.

I’m not sure we had ever stopped in Eureka before. This time, we were staying overnight at a lovely rental we found on AirBnB. Good location, walking distance to some nice restaurants, including this one where we had our first post-vax outside dinner.

The house’s backyard:

Day Two.

Today would be interesting.

We’d been down (or up) 101 a couple of times before, so we had a sense of how it would go.

Have I mentioned the navigation system in the car?

It’s a little dated; almost everyone uses phones these days, but I’m a fan of the built-in system because it has a cool heads-up display that shows useful data like speed limits, exits, and distances.

No, not this:

Ours is more like this:

Still pretty cool!

But the car has it’s own ideas about what’s fun. This time, it showed up as an option in the navigation system: “Avoid Highways”.

Sounds innocuous, right? Get off the highways, find a nice little side road, maybe a frontage road, maybe roads like 99 that go through towns, see a little more of the countryside.

Now, I couldn’t tell you what road we were actually on as we went south out of Eureka. We were on I-5 for a while; there are a couple of places where it’s the only way out of town. The nav system was polite enough to warn us that it couldn’t quite avoid all highways, and would that be acceptable? Then we got off I-5, and the road was again a nice two-lane road for a while.

Then we started to cross small bridges marked “Narrow Bridge”, followed by more two-lane roads.

Then the bridges were marked “One-Way Traffic”.

Then the bridges weren’t marked.

Then the road wasn’t striped at all–paved, yes, but striped, no, and getting narrower.

And going up, and up, and up. Weren’t we supposed to be along the coast?

Up and up, but we were still going past houses, and farm buildings, and the road stayed paved. Herself noticed that we were passing farm buildings at the lower heights, and then really fancy houses higher up. I was focused on what was left of the road. So, all good.

And then the road started going down.

And then is was striped again. Yay!

Look, another car coming our way, probably wondering who the nut coming at them was.

And then we were in Fortuna, gassing up again, and wondering just where the heck we’d been.

Oddly, I can tell you the length of that drive: 21 minutes, 13 seconds, give or take. I know this because, as we started to cross one of the first single lane bridges, the car started to play the “Thunderball Suite” from a James Bond CD. Lots of ominous passages, the occasional “da da da dum” staccato sequence, just perfect for this drive into strange places.

It was an adventure, and wasn’t that the point of the trip?

Eventually we got to Mendocino, and the house in Little River. I’ll skip most of the rest of the drive, much of which was along Avenue of the Giants. If you’re going along that part of 101, it’s definitely worth getting off 101 and take the side road there. Nothing scary, except for a little bit at the northern end, outside the national forest, where the appropriate soundtrack might have been “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance.

Oh, yeah, there was another bit.

Earlier I had written that, when I see those cautionary speed limit signs, I’m okay with taking curves a little faster.

As we were driving from Leggett to Mendocino, we decided–okay, I decided–to take CA-1. Historic, scenic, a beautiful drive.

With a lot of curves.

With curves marked “30”, it’s okay to go a little fast.

With curves marked “25”, I found it prudent to slow down a bit more. Tighter curves, slower speeds. That’s okay, lots of nice scenery.

When the curves were marked “15”, even I was going about 15. Very tight curves, narrow, usually with a steep drop on one side and a rock face on the other. Shoulders? Please.

When we got to a curve marked “10” somewhere along CA-1, and I only remember one marked that way, we were totally crawling. That curve is more like a conveyor belt in an airport baggage handling system; a place where no human is meant to be. It turned and dropped and twisted in a way I’ve never seen and can’t properly describe here.

Then we were out, and rolling into Mendocino.

The rest is another story for a later day.

Where No Geek Has Gone Before…

Sunday 14 March 2021

About a million years ago, or maybe 10 minutes in Covid-lockdown time, there was a show called Star Trek. No “The Original Series”, no “TNG”, no other add-ons to denote a status within a culture; only a few fans wearing costumes and learning to speak Klingon; no theme park rides or virtual experiences. A television show that aired for a few minutes every week for about 79 weeks in all.

I can’t remember seeing it in the original run–I was only about two–but I have to believe I did, probably sitting with Dad (Mom is not so much a science fiction fan).

 

Then…silence across The Federation, as the Gods of Marketing decided that the ad revenues just weren’t up to the cost of the show. It’s always been expensive to do science fiction and fantasy, at least ones that are heavy into special effects and need lots of alien worlds as locations.

 

A decade passed, with fans keeping up the drumbeat to bring it back. Letter-writing campaigns, “The Animated Series“,¬† and lots and lots of growing enthusiasm for a restart.

 

And then, like the Big Bang, an explosion of the Star Trek franchise happened that continues expanding. First The Motion Picture, which was very very Roddenberry–humans way in the deep end of outer space, wondering at what comes out of the void–to get the gang back together. That begat Star Trek:The Next Generation, which begat Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which begat Star Trek: Voyager, which begat Star Trek: Enterprise, which begat…you get the point. Also about a dozen movies and a whole separate parallel universe of Star Trek (the 2009 “Kelvin” reboot).

From the original 79 episodes, the franchise has now become what Peter Lynch would have called a ten-bagger: there are now over 740 episodes from the different series, plus almost a dozen movies, plus the 22 episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, and new shows being made. We’ve seen most of all of it at least once, much of it many times.

 

And we’re going back in.

 

A number of years ago, the dedicated crew at The Star Trek Chronology Project asked a question: is there a way to view all of the episodes and movies in the whole franchise in chronological order as they would have occurred in the universe in which they are set? Not just on a per season ordering, like all of TOS, then the first few movies, then all of TNG, then all of DS9, etc., but on an episode by episode basis?

This is not a simple task. Although Star Trek has its concept of “stardates“, a sort of universal time zone for the whole Federation, a lot of the episodes didn’t have stardates that actually worked correctly based on the actual episodes; for example, uniforms sometimes changed in ways inconsistent with the stardates. Later, during TNG and later series, stardates got a bit more normalized and the concept of canon was more thoroughly observed. Basically, the geeks were running the show, or at least keeping the shuttlecraft on their rails.

To complicate the problem further, there were a number of cross-over episodes with major and minor characters from one series making guest appearances on other contemporaneous series. A few characters even jumped from one series to another for longer stays. And some characters that retired came back (e.g. Picard) for new shows. New shows with wildly different production and storyline values were made (looking at you, Discovery).

 

But they did it anyway.

 

Behold, the complete live-action, Prime Universe Star Trek canon in chronological order: 756 individual episodes and movies, in the order one would experience them had one lived in the Star Trek universe and been able to travel with the various crews in the series.

 

So, someone would have to be an obsessive, completist nut-job to want to watch all of these, right? Surely, at most one might watch one of the themed marathon lists, like “The Worf Saga”.

 

To people who think that, we say Hab SoSlI’ Quch! (you figure it out).

 

A few years ago, we watched all of Babylon 5 in one year by watching three episodes a night, three nights a week. There were some breaks, plus the insertion of the movies, but still, 110 episodes over about twelve weeks. That was good practice for this. Last week, we watched all three seasons of Westworld; we started the afternoon of March 6th and finishing late on the 12th.

 

Which brings us to our latest effort: watching the entire Star Trek Prime Universe in chronological order, start to finish.

 

Starting later this week, we are going to start with Episode 1 of The Chronology, the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Broken Bow”. This is a great episode, symbolically, to start with: it came out on September 26th, 2001. The music and opening titles are all about hope and exploration and looking to the future, and are mostly missing the military overtones of some of the other series. It’s a very Roddenbery-esque, wide-open eyes (at least the first couple of seasons) look at the earliest days of The Federation. We’ll probably do three episodes a night, three times a week. It will take about 84 weeks to watch it all. Twice 42.

 

It’s going to be a long, fun ride. You don’t have to win, you just have to try to keep up.

 

The Big UnEasy

Friday 15 January 2021

So we were in New Orleans for much of Xmas week 2018. Why am I writing about this now? Well, we can’t travel right now, but we can remember what travel was like, and we have friends who might go to N.O., and we like talking about food. No one is making you read this.

While we participated in as much foodieism as possible, Mom was there, and her idea of a big meal is a glass of wine and a crab cake. I think she would have taken all her sustenance from the hotel club, which was very nice as hotel clubs go but we were in N’awlins, dammit, and we were going to eat well!

So:

Friday 21 December:
Because we were starting in PDX and there was no direct flight, we decided to fly through Seattle, because we are developing a fondness for Seattle (Portlanders: don’t judge.). It’s like an East Coast city–the buildings are tall enough to prevent any natural light from reaching the streets, and everyone wears black, all of the time, even at lunch, even at dim sum. We can get a decent NYC fix without enduring a six hour flight and the cab ride from La Guardia, or worse, Newark.

So we get to Seattle. We stayed at the Alexis, which is a nice old-school hotel with big rooms near the Ferry Terminal and Pioneer Square. It’s very handy to the King Street train station as well, so handy for getting from Portland to Seattle. It’s really two buildings that were joined at the lobby, so there are weird ramps in places where no ramp should sanely exist. Note that there has been a major shakeup in ownership among Kimpton, IHG, and Sonesta; the reviews of the Alexis still look good, but we haven’t been back since the changes.

Fortunately, there’s a lovely bar at the low end of one ramp, The Bookstore, which is decorated like a bookstore (always a plus) and serves excellent cocktails and burgers. They probably serve other things, but those are the essential bar foods so that’s what we get. Oaxacan Old Fashioneds [1] and burgers made with way too much of everything good, and we’re done. After dinner or later, a great selection of whiskys and whiskeys. They probably have something else, too, but why bother? So no matter what happens in the rest of your day, as long as you have The Bookstore open when you get back, all can be made right.

Side note: “excellent cocktails” means the highest standard of classic cocktails, like Old Fashioneds, and whisky. Think dark, smoky, leathery. “Fantastic cocktails” are not better or worse, but are in a different category–more fruit, less dark, not necessarily less boozy but different. Porch Swings [2], Mai Tais, classic Hemingway daiquiris. Not better, not worse, just different.

Dinner was at The Butcher’s Table. We went because they were doing cocktail pairings, not wine, with dinners, and that’s a big win for me. The steaks were good, but had sauces, which is a fail to everyone (or should be). Cocktails, mostly Old Fashioneds, were good.

Next was Aquaman at Seattle Cinerama. Don’t judge. Good for an action-heavy superhero flick. The draw is Cinerama itself, a theater so good we would pay to sit in the seats and watch the trailers, as long as they keep us stocked with their fabulous chocolate-covered popcorn. Pro tip: get the 50/50 mix with regular popcorn, the mix of salt and sweet and butter is perfect.

How much do we like Cinerama? We go every year or so (no Covid) to their 70mm film festival. When they fire up their working Cinemascope projectors (think: Death Star for film projection), we are there. We once spent over 20 hours there, no breaks, when The Force Awakens came out. They ran a marathon that started with The Phantom Menace at 1AM, got to Star Wars (none of the “New Hope” crap, please) at 10:45AM, and finished around 10:15PM after the end of The Force Awakens. Only liberal doses of chocolate-covered popcorn, plus a few meals taken between shows, got us through it all. It was EPIC, even if we did have to watch I through III, and VII was essentially a repeat of the original in a lot of ways.

Much, much Bookstore after that last show.

Saturday, 22 December:

On to New Orleans. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. Baghdad On The Bay. Birthplace of Jazz.

Also a city with one of the worst airports in the country. Seriously, baggage claim that makes La Guardia look good. Cramped, low ceilings–like, I can reach up to touch it, hot. No WiFi, bad cell service. Had to go outside to get enough signal to get a Lyft. Maybe it’s better by now. One can hope. Or take Amtrak (not really, not from PDX). It’s really a disservice to its namesake, the incomparable Louis Armstrong.

It was Christmas and we were there with Mom, so we splashed out for club-level rooms at the Windsor Court Hotel. It’s a big hotel; part of the draw is the excellent views from many of the rooms on the side that faces the river. The club level genuinely is very nice, and everything seemed fresh, not as obviously canned/jarred/boxed as many club rooms at large chain hotels. The rooms were nice, reminding me of a good old-school Four Seasons or higher-end Fairmont. Nice lobby, giant Christmas tree. No complaints about any of the service. The mostly-walled courtyard blocks any ground-level view of the neighborhood; it could be 2018 or 1918 for all you can tell from the front door.

Dinner at Brigtsen’s, on Dante Street. It’s near the river, but there’s no view; don’t worry about a window table. It’s a big old house that’s been split up into many dining areas.

This was billed as a r√©veillon dinner, which is a big traditional feast during the holidays, traditionally served starting around 2AM, right after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It’s now more of a big dinner fixed (or mostly fixed) menu served at “normal” dinner times, but it’s still a feast with several courses. I no longer have the menu, but there was likely a salmon appetizer, then classic gumbo, then duck or maybe a pork chop, and then a dessert, probably pecan pie for me. This was not the fanciest menu we ate in N.O., but it was definitely the best of classic Crescent City dining. I remember being very, very happy afterwards, and not just from the milk punch.

Y’all know about milk punch, right? Depending on how it’s made, it’s an excellent way to get really happy (read: inebriated) quickly, because it’s usually made with brandy or bourbon. The milk mellows the booze so that you don’t notice that you’re getting sozzled until it’s far, far to late. But hey, it’s N’awlins in December!

So Brigtsen’s was fabulous. I do remember the gumbo being spot-on, not gummy or gritty or pasty, just right. I’d definitely go back just to eat way too much gumbo there.

Mom came in late on Amtrak, not her fault, but still, hanging around the train station late is not the best way to spend a Saturday night in N.O. The Amtrak station was far more decorative and pleasant than baggage claim at MSY. Easy to get cabs, even late.

Sunday, 23 December:

Brunch at Commander’s Palace. The Palace is an institution; to call most other restaurants, anywhere, a “grande dame” is a slight to Commander’s Palace, which is the canonical grande dame of restaurants anywhere. We were lucky to be seated upstairs near the windows in the back, overlooking the garden. Here, it’s worth trying to get a window table.

This was a traditional big N.O. Sunday brunch, starting with turtle soup with sherry. Hint: you don’t cook the sherry in, it’s poured in just at the last moment so it blends in but doesn’t disappear. Good stuff.

It’s Sunday, and it’s N.O., so of course there was a roving jazz quartet (or maybe trio) taking requests and playing standards.

Did we have the lacquered quail, or the duck confit? Or maybe the short ribs? Maybe the classic hoppin’ john? Who knows. It was good. Same for the dessert, which I’m sure (for me) was pecan pie. Liberal pours of champagne and milk punch to get the morning going.

After lunch we went back downtown for a jazz cruise on the Steamboat Natchez, the last true steamboat on the Mississippi. Most “steamboats” are really driven by diesel engines. On the Natchez, the paddles are driven by superheated steam that flows from the boiler under high pressure through pistons that drive the paddlewheel. Super authentic! You too can be blown up and drowned just like a on a steamboat in the 1800s! Good thing there’s a bar, because what a sinking steamboat needs is a lot of drunk passengers trying to put on what few life vests haven’t been blown overboard or caught on fire.

I would totally do it again, even if the bar were closed. It was really interesting and entertaining to hear about the gigantic sugar plant and the other oddities along the route. But I’m also the guy who loves the Mark Twain at Disneyland, who gets in line early to be able to stand at the front of one of the balconies on whatever ship or facsimile thereof that I’m on.

We had a little time to walk around downtown before and after the cruise. We wandered along the riverfront to near Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, both of which are major tourist black holes. There was a very moving tribute to the slaves who were sold near Jackson Square along the esplanade.

Dinner! Dinner at Galatoire’s! If brunch at Commander’s Palace is the canonical Sunday brunch in N.O., dinner at Galatoire’s is the canonical dinner. It’s bright, noisy, crowded, and just the most fun you can have while seated and eating with utensils (I don’t want to know…). The waiter and mom had a great time (not really, but it was fun to watch). Food was fabulous, and we had a great time watching the big party in the next room. Fabulous sweetbreads, more great gumbo, and likely a main course involving crab, or maybe etouf√©e. Hollandaise sauce. So much hollandaise.

Christmas Eve:

Willa Jean.

If you’re in N.O. and you miss Willa Jean, you might as well go home. Where Commander’s Palace is showy and a little formal, and Galatoire’s is raucous and a little more formal, Willa Jean is the diner that strips away all the formal and fancy and makes you want to dig in with your whole face. It’s pimento cheese with ham and pickles, and cornbread with cane syrup. Fried chicken and biscuits, or just honey and biscuits. A bowl full of short ribs and grits and onions and a poached egg. Many, many Bloody Marys or whisky sours.

But seriously, you’re there for the chocolate chip cookies. Don’t lose sight of that; you came to N.O. to eat these cookies. The owner and chef at Willa Jean, Kelly Fields, literally made chocolate chip cookies for two and a half years to get the recipe just right. It’s the perfect nexus of cookie goodness, along with a side of milk (with a good amount of vanilla and sugar), and a beaterful raw dough (it’s safe). You will be happy.

I really don’t remember how we spent the rest of the morning; I was in a chocolate and sugar fog.

We skipped lunch (or maybe had a snack at the club room) because early afternoon was afternoon tea at the hotel. They take over the lobby each midday to serve a traditional afternoon tea. Don’t get me started on “afternoon” vs. “high” tea, but Americans generally get it wrong (but of course we generally make tea wrong). Expect scones, finger sandwiches, lots of cakes and pastries, and decent tea and champagne. It was a good tea, not fabulous; a lot of the attraction is the ambiance of the setting, with the big tree right there and all the holiday decorations.

Jazz! We need more jazz! So next was a show at Preservation Hall. If you’ve never been there, it’s a small room with benches and no chairs, but the performances are generally about an hour. The setting is rustic, and captures what a small jazz hall might have been like in the late 1800s, even though Preservation Hall dates from the 1960s; the building dates from the mid-1800s.

The show was A Creole Christmas, a mix of holiday jazz and blues. It’s worth it to get the front seats, as you’ll be right up at the musicians, and the floor is flat so the view from further back is not as good. Yes, there’s an intermission and a bar ūüėÄ

We’ve been ordering candy from Southern Candymakers for probably decades. Their main things are pralines and tortues (turtles). We wandered around downtown after the show and bang! There they were, right on the walk back to the hotel. Moderately crowded for Christmas Eve, but we got some to take with us and ordered more to ship. I recommend the double-dipped turtles, which are a regular turtle with caramel, pecans, and chocolate that is then dipped in another layer of thick chocolate. Just one will probably induce sugar-shock but it’s totally worth it.

Christmas Eve dinner was a big choice. Go traditional reveillon? Maybe dinner at Brennan’s? I wanted to change it up and go modern, so we booked Restaurant R’evolution. It’s all modern takes on classic dishes: wagyu short ribs with lobster; quail three ways; a foie gras parfait. Christmas Eve was a largely set menu, and the cocktails and food were all great. Bring your appetites and your gold cards. The setting in the main dining room is incredibly elegant, especially at the holidays; it’s like something out of pre-revolution Russia: think the ballroom scene in Doctor Zhivago before the shooting starts.

That was a long day.

Christmas Day:

Travel during holidays is something that, while I enjoy it, I struggle with, because it means someone else can’t be with their family all day. We generally avoid traveling at Thanksgiving, except for frequent trips to Vancouver B.C., where U.S. Thanksgiving Day is just Thursday there. Travel, food, and no guilt.

I know from friends that some people like working the holidays: good tips, sometimes better base pay depending on what the job is. Chacun √† son go√Ľt.

Occasionally we travel at Christmas, usually to the East Coast to some family site, so that meals on the day are a family affair and not catered. That’s fair game; Christmas is supposed to be a family affair.

But sometimes we need to meet somewhere in the middle, on neutral territory, where no one has home-field advantage. Lots of people get stressed during the holidays; sometimes the bigger the family gathering, the more the stress. Sometimes a small holiday with just a few people is more difficult. It’s not physics, or even chemistry; it’s the emotional ice picks that do the most damage: all that force concentrated at a tiny point can crack even a diamond. And people and their emotions aren’t made of diamond.

Broussard’s is one of those big, rambling restaurants in New Orlean’s French Quarter. Large, open rooms with lots of flower arrangements, all the walls painted white and grey, marble floors; it’s quite the sight. The food was good, not at the top of the list for the trip, but very respectable especially for a holiday morning. It would be good to try them for a regular Sunday brunch.

Christmas mid-day is family and reminiscing. We spent it at the hotel, which is a good place to spend a Christmas day.

Mom was feeling a bit tired after the late night before, so she decided to stay in and skip dinner (I suspect she ordered a crab cake from room service–don’t judge.) She sent us on for our reservation at Comp√®re Lapin, another of the trendy modern-but-not restaurants that was tearing up the pages of Eater and Yelp at that time. I get the impression it’s how a restaurant in the early 1800s might have looked: more tavern and bar than formal dining area.

We didn’t care; the food was smashing. Pig ears; deviled eggs with caviar; tuna tartare; bouillabaisse. Curried goat and pasta (not together). Drum fish. Black-eyed peas and bacon. And always, more biscuits. Definitely worth a return trip.

And that takes us to Christmas evening. And here is where it gets weird.

So, we’re on our own on Christmas evening. It’s too early to go back (maybe 7PM). (Stop.) We’re fed, and neither of us are really barflies or clubbers in any way, so that’s out. Movie? Sure, let’s see what’s playing. What did we do before all the current information in the world was available at any moment on a device that can be carried in a pocket and used almost anywhere people live in any numbers? How did we get along at all?

We tend to be non-traditional at holidays. Thanksgiving in Vancouver often means sushi, Italian occasionally, Russian once, but almost never traditional American Thanksgiving. There was a somewhat memorable Thanksgiving dinner in Vancouver involving surprisingly good curried turkey and sides that were recognizable but similarly about fifteen degrees off true course. So, we’re probably not going to listen to carolers, or look at trees, or visit cathedrals. Not our scene.

Movies, movies, movies. If there had been a showing of It’s A Wonderful Life we might have gone for that; we are not completely without sentinment, but we are picky about our how we choose it. Maybe A Christmas Story for a modern/traditional show. Nope.

Wait, what’s this?

Anna and the Apocalypse? A Christmas musical involving zombies? Set in Scotland?

We are so there.

So, about 8PM on Christmas night, we’re outside The Broad Theatre, which looks nice and friendly in the day and turns out is one of the best movie houses in N.O., but a little divey at night (think: unpaved parking lot with bad lighting and not much traffic on the road late on Christmas night).

Absolute perfection (the movie). If you’ve seen it, you know (stop.). If you haven’t, wait until you’re a little bit in your cups (not too much–not that kind of flick), and put it on a big screen and sit right in front. It’s hilarious, until it gets scary and real. Yes, it’s very very very gory and gross in places, but totally worth it.

So that was Christmas. Everyone was fed, sleepy, and happy.

Boxing Day:

Everyone was rested and recovered from the past couple of days, at least mostly.

New Orleans is really a big area. You see pictures of different pieces, but the bubbles are pretty disconnected. The main part of the city is south of the big lake, between The River and The Lake. The parts that flooded are mostly east of downtown, but the levees that broke are north, along the lake. Water flows where physics says it will.

We took a driving tour of New Orleans, in part to see the levees and learn something more about hurricanes, and also to see the one of the cemeteries. Oddly, we started (after pick-up at the hotel) at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which is across the street from Commander’s Palace (no, we didn’t go back to brunch there). Warning: you will learn a lot about how people dispose of bodies in a place where the soil is not suitable for burial. A lot. Like, a possible origin of the saying “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole”. And then, the levees and overflows where they, well, overflowed. Excellent tour; Ashton at La Vie Orleans; highly recommended.

We were going to go to Dooky Chase’s, but our tour ended close to the National WWII Museum where we were headed anyway, so we stopped instead at Cochon, a great little bistro on Tchou-pit-what-the-heck Street. I remember (I think) fried meat, maybe rabbit, and carrots, and deadly mac & cheese. We sat outside; the day was completely lovely.

Mom was again a bit tired, so we got her back to the hotel and we went to the WWII museum.

Funny story. Cochon is about three blocks east of the WWII museum; it’s an easy walk, if, unlike me, you read your phone’s map correctly. I choose to believe that the compass had been detuned at some point. Yeah, that’s the ticket. We wound up at the Convention Center, which is totally one hundred and eighty degrees in the wrong direction. And then had to walk back.

The museum, however, was totally worth the entrance fee and time spent. I wouldn’t bring kids under about 10 to it; the exhibits just aren’t appropriate. But we had a great time. And, at the end, when we were dog tired from wandering around, there was a bar/cafe/diner with great fries and mint juleps (wrong state, I know. Don’t judge.)

Thursday, 27 December:

Mom left on Amtrak early in the morning; I think we saw her off that morning, but maybe the night before.

Lunch: Willa Jean for a rematch. We lost, again, to a menu no mortal can master, and couldn’t have been happier.

Afternoon spent at Michalopoulos, the gallery of an artist by the same name who has been painting N.O. since the early ’80s. Some of his art is pretty friendly; some is straight out of Night Gallery. You can imagine what we gravitate towards.

Recap:

No bad meals; nowhere that we wouldn’t go again. Big wins with Willa Jean, Brigsten’s, and Galatoire’s in particular. We’d go back to R’evolution but insist on the main dining room; the front room by the bar just isn’t all that.

Huge win with Anna on Christmas night.

We didn’t do a lot of touristy things–no St. Louis Cathedral, no wandering around the French Quarter late at night, no beignets. Jazz cruise, check. Sunday Brunch at Commander’s Palace, yes, but that’s good on its own merits, so not entirely a tourist trap. A lot of people go to see St. Paul’s; is that a tourist trap?

We’ll definitely go back, even if we have to bring our own copy of Anna on our phones to watch in the hotel. But we might take Amtrak from Houston or Dallas or Memphis, just to miss the airport. Really.

[1] Note to reader: good Oaxacan Old Fashioneds are made with mole bitters, preferably Bitterman’s. If your bartender tries to fob off Angostura on you, take your business elsewhere.

[2] Cherry infused vodka, cherry bitters, lime juice, topped with ginger beer.

I Am Not Stanley Tucci

Wednesday 30 December 2020

I am not Stanley Tucci.

I write this on the cusp of a numerically-significant birthday during the worldwide clusterf*ck known as Covid-19 (and becoming Covid-21). Almost worldwide, that is; were that we all were in Australia, or another country with a functioning government. But I digress.

So here we are, on the cusp of the New Year, while I zig between Stanley Tucci as Secondo in “Big Night”, and Stanley Tucci as whatever-the-hell-that-was in “Devil Wears Prada”. I can watch “Devil” every few years (or decades) because it has Anne Hathaway and she’s stupidly cute in almost anything she does, in that way that Betty Crocker frosting from the can at the Safeway is chocolatey and good even though you know the cacao came from child labor and the sweetener is probably artificial. But I can watch “Big Night” almost any night of the week, because I can eat buckets of good risotto but only spoonfuls of buttercream. But I digress.

So here I am watching Stan The Man (Musial reference, go Cards!) do his thing opposite Tony Shaloub who is excellent in almost anything because he’s f*cking Tony Shaloub and he can even make the queues in Cars Land enjoyable. Stanley is still overshadowed by Minnie Driver, who has this weird face that is alien but cute at the same time, because I’m old but I’m not dead. The writers, directors, producers, gaffers, even the freaking second best boy did their level best to make Allison Janey the oh-so-cute Midwestern homespun next-gen Judy Garland grown up and running a florist shop, but it just wasn’t her meter. You see where she’s really headed when she’s at the bar in the black dress. Risotto around her neck in the booth shots. But I digress.

Major props to the cameraman and union hands who did that inside-out-looking-in shot with Isabella Rosselini, who still looks like chiseled Italian marble. Paul Reiser did a conscious or unconscious homage to that shot in “Mad About You”, with his “inside looking out looking in” concept, but he never carried it off and “Big Night” did. Result!

But I digress.

We were supposed to be in London. Or L.A. Or Paris. I lose track, in much the same way I lose track of what day it is; there’s a reset every few days when mail that has aged in the small trashcans in the back hall is released. So we get a fresh start every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday with the newly-cleansed mail. Banner day in the Fenwick-Wilson household. I’ll keep working in those movie references; you don’t have to win, you just have to try to (/and) keep up.

What was the point?

Oh yeah, first-world whining (or whinging). Birthdays wrecked, and significantly-numerical ones, so We Have Declared that no events that should have happened this year have happened; they are Deferred until such time as the world can appropriately support them. Vya Con Dios, May Next Year Be Better Than This One.

Mary Ann died of Covid just today. 2020 just keeps taking and taking.

Relatives have died this year, and others are ill; not Covid, just age. But no one can get to their families to comfort and share the pain; if pain cannot be shared, is it concentrated?

We are now at the point of the story where “Mambo Italiano” is playing, and it’s clear that the participants in the impromptu Conga line are really only there because they have nothing better to do. There’s a metaphor there, but after cider, Japanese whisky, and Scotch, it eludes me. Maybe the idea of unappreciative partiers (and I’ve been one, and probably will be again in the future) circling an empty table has some relevance.

“Big Night” is PG food porn on a high level; it does not go above the point that anyone can view it and appreciate the work that goes into the food, because it stays with classic dishes that would have been in a home during a feast.

Ian Holm.

Where was I going with this? Have I set up the mise en place sufficiently to proceed to the cooking? I think you will have to cook and serve; the chef has left the restaurant.

“Big Night” occupies a window in moviemaking between crazy serious films like “The Godfather”, steeped in the old-school East Coast Mob, and shows like “The Sopranos” that showed off the ugly underbelly of the Mob. Seriously, who thought trying to normalize the Mob was a good idea? Modern Puritans complain about video games and music; it’s the normalization of criminality that’s the problem. At least “Goodfellas” made no pretensions about the mobsters being asocial and amoral.

But anyway.

Maybe there is no point. Maybe we really all are just simulations in some alien video game, or (maybe worse) a simulation 5 or 35 or 355 levels down, simulations all the way down.

Who cares? We are truth, and we are beauty, and that is all you know, and all you need know.

Happy (almost) New Year. Stay well.

So, Easter.

Sunday 12 April 2020

File the following in that list of things you didn’t really want or need to know: we are inveterate nerds (like you didn’t already know that). In high school, a big form of teenage rebellion might have been working on Art class homework and blowing off Latin homework. A bigger one might have been going to a gaming convention for a long weekend in another state without letting my parents know it was in another state, but I also didn’t realize at the time that it was in another state and I was under 18, so technically kidnapping by the adults in the party, maybe. But that’s another story.

So anyway, one regular form of minor rebellion is that we rarely eat anything traditional at holidays. I’m not sure this even counts as rebellion, as we do it not at all to tick off our tradition-keeping relatives but because we generally don’t like traditional holiday foods, with a few exceptions. I¬†think I’ve written in the past about some of our non-traditional holiday dining, starting with Chinese food at college one holiday (which holiday neither of us can recall) and continuing through the decades, often involving non-traditional dining in Vancouver, B.C. One might even say that we started our own tradition of non-traditional dining in Vancouver at Thanksgiving, thus establishing our own tradition and negating any rebelliousness.

Whatever.

So, Easter. We are staying-at-home-and-staying-well this Easter, which, honestly, has never been a big food occasion for us‚Äďneither of us is big on ham, Martha dislikes lamb, and we both can get our own chocolate which is usually of a better quality than most Easter candy.

We did get takeout Saturday from a local restaurant (Thai Pepper) that does a very nice lamb (Indonesian lamb chops with a tangy sauce) and, most weeknights during normal service and on advance notice otherwise, a very nice Hong Kong-style crispy noodles with shrimp or chicken. This was A Big Deal because it’s the first takeout we’ve had since All of This really started here in earnest; our last dining out prior to this was at Morning Glory, a normal lunch on March 13th). The handling of anything that comes into the house these days is very much like the scene from of¬†The Andromeda Strain where the scientists are bringing the infected sample into the underground base, with extra-special handling for foodstuffs.

Martha really likes duck. She goes into great detail about how the duck breast, in particular, needs to be just the right shade of pink doneness inside, but shatteringly crispy on the outside. It’s really hard to do both of those right, and losing either factor usally is marked as a fail against the offending restaurant, so I’m always happy when we can find it. Luckily, the very excellent chef at Coquina, which is only a few blocks from us here in Ashland, knows the alchemy needed to make this happen. So that’s good.

But Coquina is closed for Covid. “Covid” is now an event, like Easter or Passover, observed by the scientifically-literate who understand that viruses ignore religiousity and personal bravery. It lasts as long as needed until a vaccine is developed. Will it be a one-off or an annual event? TBD.

So I spent a number of hours Thursday trying to figure out how to get a duck breast to our new sous-vide rig in Ashland by Sunday. Between the sous-vide and the flagrant use of butter basting afterwards, I was feeling pretty confident about getting a good duck breast onto the table on Sunday.

Turns out that the Instacart-enabled stores in the area do have duck, but only as an ingredient in dog and cat food. Going out to a grocery just to get duck (Market of Choice would probably have it) was not going to happen; our whole-body decontamination chamber is on the fritz, and the necessary expenditure of rationed bleach to cover such an outing was not in the cards.

So we discussed what we would have for Easter dinner Friday night. We have some nice steaks (Costco, but also a local rancher called Salant Family Ranch), but steak and potatoes seemed un-festive. Lots of boneless-skinless chicken breasts, but we’ve been eating a lot of those lately.

So we talked about options, including duck, just in case it was worth braving the zombie hordes (what I call the people who don’t observe Covid) for some (likely frozen) duck breast.

Turns out Martha doesn’t like duck that much. Not just “no zombie hordes” doesn’t like, but before-and-after-Covid doesn’t like. She enjoys it once in a great while as a novelty, but in general would prefer a good steak.

Huh.

But there are tasty comestibles she does like better than steak. We’ll get to that.

There’s a really quirky cookbook from the Eastern Shore area of Maryland that has a number of recipes I like, a few Martha likes, and a few we both tolerate or ignore. One of them is a dish called Lout’s Sprouts, which is a very simple dish of sauteed onions, brussels sprouts, and red bell peppers. It’s quite fresh and appropriate for spring or summer (sure, frozen sprouts), but it uses red wine vinegar which is too astringent. Some people apparently like it what way.

It turns out that replacing the red wine vinegar with rice vinegar gets rid of the nastiness but keeps a little sharpness. Important safety tip.

I happen to like a different dish that is tomato-based, but it’s not one of Martha’s favorites, and it would have eaten into our stash of canned tomatoes,¬†and¬†we are out of white bread, an essential ingredient, so that was out. But we have a five-pound bag of frozen corn and many cans of canned corn, and some nice sundried tomatoes to add a little color, so sauteed corn with sundried tomatoes was definitely an option.

There is something Martha likes more than duck, or steak, or steak-on-duck, and that’s garlic. And one of her favorite things with garlic is the Vietnamese chicken wings from Pok Pok in Portland. They are drenched in garlic sauce and encrusted with tiny bits of fried garlic. This would work.

Now, Pok Pok is also closed in observance of Covid, so even a long takeout drive was not an option. But we (ok, Martha) had cleverly given me a copy of the Pok Pok cookbook for Christmas a couple of years ago, and had more cleverly included some organic raw chicken wings on a recent Costco order.

Huh.

I casually and quietly added some fish sauce to the as-yet-to-be-delivered Instacart order. A bit of panic over the lack of gluten-free rice flour (not sweet rice flour, per the very direct recipe), so I added almond flour instead‚Äďit would be an experiment.

After a very normal Sunday brunch‚Äďwaffles, bacon, scramled eggs, and hashbrowns‚ÄďI set out on the Quest for Wings.

Now Martha does not catch on to surprises too quickly. Did I not mention that the wings were a surprise? Yes. Yes they were. I printed out the recipe‚Äďeasier to manage in a small kitchen than Ricker’s massive ode to Thai street food‚Äďso as to further conceal my plans.

All would have been well except that when I was getting Easter candy out of its hiding place this morning (we are non-traditional, but that doesn’t mean we wear virtuial sackcloth), I apparently threw out my back to some degree. Tylenol helps, but it’s a pharmacological crutch, not a cure, so I would need some help.

Did I forget to mention Easter candy? A local confectioner, Lillie Belle Farms, is also observing Covid this year, with the cutest little whistle-past-the-graveyard bunnies:

Covid Bunnies

There was also candy from Bissinger’s, which holds a special place for both of us.

That was pre-brunch.

Then there was the aforementioned brunch, which included the aforementioned waffles, eggs, potatoes, and bacon. Costco bacon, at least what we get locally, is surprisingly good. Thick, fries up shatteringly crisp, and well-seasoned.

So here we are, me with a compromised skeletal system, and Martha not knowing the score, in post-brunch stupor‚Äďdid you notice that brunch was a complete carb-fest? Stupor.

But I need to get wings (which Martha had been helping to thaw) into marinade into the refrigerator into the frying oil into us. So I get Martha to start prepping the garlic, which is mostly her thing so I don’t feel to bad about asking her to do it. She also chopped the onions for the sprouts and corn.

So she’s chopping the garlic, and then using the teeny tiny Cuisinart chopper thing to really chop it (which is way, way easier than manually chopping it), and she stops chopping the garlic, while still holding the knife, and says “Hey!”

Now, someone holding a knife gets my attention. I went off “paying attention while ignoring you” mode and into “really paying attention, no, really” mode, because my “don’t get eaten by the tiger” senses demanded that.

“Huh?”

“Huh?” is a good non-committal, de-escalational response that one can use when switching between modes of (non-) engagement to avoid hazardous, um, results. People who observe Covid know that it’s extra-important to avoid non-essential injuries during Covid, because first-responders and medical professionals are all crazy busy during Covid. They don’t need the extra work of sewing up casual flesh wounds inflicted by hungry and possibly cranky household members. At this point, I don’t know if it’s hungry, cranky, both, neither, or other.

“I think I know what you’re making!”

Ah, that’s ok. “What?”

“The Pok Pok book, the wings; are you making wings?”

This is good. Now I get the benefit of the thoughtful surprise, and the helpfulness of a willing participant in a culinary experiment. Win win win win win.

So, that’s what we did for our non-traditional Easter feast this year: Pok Pok wings, sauteed corn with sundried tomatoes, Lout’s-almost-sprouts. The wings were fabulous; we will probably have to make them again, frequently. And I get bonus points for the main element being a surprise. It was just lucky that Martha had gotten me that cookbook a while ago. And ordered wings last week. And extra cooking oil. And garlic.

Hey, wait…

 

What We’re Really Watching…

Thursday 26 March 2020

You know how people tell pollsters what they think they’re supposed to say? Yeah, that’s sort of what the last post was.

What we are¬†really watching is probably a lot less…vaunted…than most of what I listed there.

  • Valerie’s Home Cooking¬†Look, she’s still really cute, and she cooks well, and the inclusion of her friends and family make this one of the more interesting cooking shows to binge. Since we’re doing a lot more cooking these days, it’s also practical!
  • Below Deck I mentioned this one before. The passengers are generally jerks. It’s amazing how many of the crew also turn out to be less-than-ideal specimens.
  • Property Brothers¬†These twin brothers have been buying, selling, and remodeling their clients’ homes for over a decade. As with many of the better property-related shows, the cast leads are Canadian, so they have that helpful demeanor down pat. It seems really, really hard to get under their skin in a way that actual angers them (but watch the episode where one client wants a wet bar).
  • Worst Cooks in America¬†Adding Alton Brown as one of the judges to this franchise was a great move, although I think Tyler Florence was actually more supportive as a coach. It’s still a hoot’n-a-half watching people who really terrible cooks try to make anything.
  • Any of the Mike Holmes’ shows: Mike Holmes is an epic force in the modern Canadian building industry. His shows are driven by the theme that a lot of contractors do work wrong, and he is there to set it right. A lot of his clients have substantial personal and financial problems that caused them to go with cut-rate contractors in the first place. We started watching him on CTV when on vacation in Canada years ago; he’s on HGTV adn DIY lately.
  • Love It or List It Another Canadian cast show, but here the agent and the remodeler are competing to see if the clients will keep the remodeled house, or sell it to buy one of the houses that the agent has found. Some hints that the show is a little more scripted than others, but it’s still a lot of fun. The agent and remodeler are like an old married couple (but they’re not).
  • Restaurant: Impossible¬†Ah, Robert Irvine. Such a complex, contemplative, restrained soul…Are you kidding me? The guy loves nothing more than to swing a sledgehammer through a wall! Ashland may hold a record in R:I history, having hosted R:I to rescue the only restuarant to have failed completely before the episode aired. It’s not high drama, and it’s moving more towards the Fox version of¬†Kitchen Nightmares¬†in terms of personal drama, but it’s still more fun.
  • Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares¬† Before Fox, Ramsay actually tried to help struggling restaurant owners and chefs in a serious, thoughtful way. Still a ton of F-bombs, but clearly different from the more inflammatory and contentious Fox product. Definitely worth watching.

Do you see a trend here?

Stay well, and stop touching your face!

 

What We’re Watching While We’re Waiting

Friday 13 March 2020

So I have a bunch of free time on my hands (that’s a completely different conversation), and we are spending a lot more time at home but not in the company of others (We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?)

So instead of actually showing movies in our garage¬†theater, I thought I’d talk about what we might have shown, and what we may or may not be binging on while we wait for the outside world to stop wobbling and settle back down.

1. Max von Sydow film fest:

Max von Sydow passed away recently, something which would normally have gotten higher billing but was justifiably pushed lower by everything else that’s going on. Were we still showing movies, we would definitely be showing a whole series of his films. Here’s what we’d likely show:

  • The Seventh Seal¬†(1957)¬†Ingmar Bergman’s classic about life, death, and plague. Von Sydow plays chess against Death to delay his own (and everyone else’s) demise. This was the film that made Bergman’s reputation and brought von Sydow to the attention of the cinema world.
  • The Exorcist (1973) It’s not the case that von Sydow didn’t work between 1957 and 1973, but much of it was either in Swedish or relatively obscure (e.g.¬†the rather good¬†Hour of the Wolf, also a Bergman film).¬†In¬†The Exorcist, von Sydow plays the role of one of the priests who rid Regan of the demon that has possessed her. It’s a crushingly hard movie to watch, so good but so disturbing on so many levels.
  • Flash Gordon¬†(1980)¬†The epic Dino de Laurentiis treatment of the Flash Gordon mythos–yeah, I really applied “mythos” to a 1930’s serial–with music by Queen and special effects by LSD. Von Sydow plays a top-of-the-heap Ming the Merciless in a film in which all the characters are all way over-the-top. It’s a complete hoot, tons of fun, and crazy to look at.
  • Dreamscape¬†(1984)¬†This movie is kind of a dark, modern version of The Manchurian Candidate; he plays the evil scientist taking over people’s dreams, with the goal of influencing the U.S. President. Very disturbing stuff.
  • Never Say Never Again¬†(1983) Von Sydow is cast as Ernst Blofeld, the evil master of S.P.E.C.T.R.E., in the only feature James Bond film not produced by the Broccoli/Saltzman/Wilson trio. It’s mainly a Connery vehicle, but von Sydow brings a certain sauveness to the Blofeld role that is a step up from the usual Bond villains.
  • Dune (1984)¬†Ah,¬†Dune.¬†That crazy, mixed-up brainchild of David Lynch and the De Laurentiis family. Von Sydow’s role is relatively minor, but it’s one of the best in the film, and the rest of the movie is so … unusual … that it’s definitely worth watching. Oddly, the “director’s cut” is the shorter 137 minute version; Lynch had his name pulled off the longer TV version.
  • Minority Report (2002) Von Sydow is back as The Villain; this time as the corrupt director of a government agency that prosecutes people for crimes they probably will commit in the near future. This is mostly a Tom Cruise vehicle in the same way that¬†Never Say Never Again is a Connery vehicle, but von Sydow is clearly the better actor whenever he’s on screen.

There are a ton more films and TV shows; he has 163 credits over a 60 year career. It’s definitely worth checking out some of the more obscure and less type-cast roles (the 2005¬†Heidi, for example, in which von Sydow plays the grandfather).

2. Call the Midwife

You think you have problems? Try being a nurse midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s and 60s. Poverty, disease, and unexploded bombs are just some of the hurdles that the staff of plucky nurses and nuns must overcome in the normal course of their duties as midwives at a nursing convent in one of the poorest districts of London. The show deals with a lot of social issues of the actual era of the show; from the Wikipedia entry:

[…] nationalised healthcare, barrenness, teen pregnancy, adoption, local community, miscarriage and stillbirths, abortion and unwanted pregnancies, birth defects, poverty, illness and disease epidemics, prostitution, incest, religion and faith, racism and prejudice, same-sex attraction, female genital mutilation, and maternal, paternal, fraternal and romantic love.

With 70 regular episodes and eight Christmas specials, this is binge-worthy viewing that will get you through whole series of good old fashioned lie-ins.

3. Below Deck

There are some shows that you want to watch in a group. There are some shows that you only want to watch alone, sheets pulled over your head, in the dark.¬†Below Deck and its companion shows¬†Below Deck Mediterranean and¬†Below Deck Sailing Yacht are closer to the latter than the former. They are “reality” shows about the crew of luxury yachts and their interactions among each other and their guests.

I have no idea if the show realistically depicts typical luxury yacht guests; many of the guests seem to have the worldliness of 14th century villagers who have never gotten beyond the next hill over. ¬†The crews are a mix of normal and crazy and crazier. Some of the crew you will think should be arrested or at least fired…and then they show up again next season.

Below Deck is a completely guilty pleasure. Get out the fudge ripple ice cream and a big spoon, and settle in for some crazy whackiness.

4. Every Pixar Movie Ever

Except for¬†Toy Story 4, which could have been retitled¬†Chucky Meets Woody, all of the Pixar features are almost universally feel-good films with just a touch of scariness in the middle to keep the action moving, and with plots that are far more for adults than children than most Disney Studios films. Let’s take a look:

  • Toy Story Fun, wholesome, very PG. First of the Woody films in Pixar’s Nostalgia library.
  • A Bug’s Life Bugs! Bugs, Mr. Rico … no wait, that’s something else. Happy, helpful bugs living under and over the ground. A Canadian actor as lead. How could it not be fun and happy?
  • Toy Story 2 More Woody! And Jessie! And Wheezy sings!
  • Monsters, Inc. A little girl, who was supposed to be scared in order to power the Monster world (it’s a thing) gets lost. Aww… She has a blast, the monsters who are trying to rescue her (really) lose their minds trying to keep up with her.
  • Finding Nemo A small fish gets separated from his family and wanders around lost, until he’s not lost any more. A different fish, named Dory, steals most of the scenes she’s in.
  • The Incredibles Pixar takes on the entire rest of the super hero movie world, and generally kicks their tushes (hey, it’s still a Disney list). It’s like every 1960s superhero TV show or movie, just better.
  • Cars While part of Pixar was working on super heroes, another part was going after the NASCAR market.¬†Cars is the result, and the movie and response was so strong that Disney built a whole huge section of a theme park around the concept. The scenery is amazing, taken from all over the American Southwest and Northwest.
  • Ratatouille It’s a rat! No, it’s a stew! No, it’s a send-up of every post-war romance set in Paris, with a strong dash of Victor Hugo thrown in.
  • WALL-E So this is the point where big polluters probably said to themselves “Uh oh, Disney is against us. We’re cooked.” The cute-but-scruffy robot meets the beautiful science probe; classic boy-meets-girl-with-ecological-awareness.
  • Up The first Pixar film, and maybe any animated feature, that actually deals with aging and being old in years but not in spirit as a major theme. Squirrel!
  • Toy Story 3 Rejection (not really), separation, reunification. Ken and Barbie!
  • Cars 2 The necessary bridge between Cars and Cars 3. Lots of cool action and locations.
  • Brave Pixar takes on historical (sort of) fantasy, and produces one of the first modern animated films with a strong girl as the lead character. Seriously, she’s an archer. “Oh, she’s from the other studio”.
  • Monsters University Prequel/origin story to Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully meet at college, in a sort of animated¬†Revenge of the Nerds, but Disney-fied.
  • Inside Out Wow, this one spoke to me on so many levels. First thoughtful treatment in any feature about how the mind really seems to work. I can’t imagine how it appeals to children, but totally killer for middle-aged adults.
  • The Good Dinosaur I have no idea. Haven’t seen it. Pixar’s only box-office bomb. More Disney-like than Pixar-like, according to reviews.
  • Finding Dory Dory was such a crowd-pleaser in Finding Nemo that they gave her her own film. More zany than many Pixar films, but the story is great and the giant winch that Pixar attaches to your heart-strings can’t be ignored.
  • Cars 3 Every story has an arc; this is the logical end of the Cars arc. It’s a happy ending, at least for the heroes.
  • Coco If Up,¬†Inside Out, or Finding Dory didn’t get you, Coco will. Old family intrigue, a mysterious break-up, aged grandmother, and a quest for redemption are the key themes. Heroic animal sidekicks, a notorious villan, and lots of plot tension keep it going. The animation is spectacular and well-worth seeing in 3D.
  • Incredibles 2 Separated in release dates by 15 years and in story arc by about one frame, this picks up literally where The Incredibles left off. The story is fantastic, centered on the characterizations of Elastigirl and Violet, and the explosive Jack-Jack.
  • Toy Story 4 Chucky meets Woody! Not really, but kind of. It gets super creepy in the middle, but then levels out and gives a soft Pixar landing for the series.

That’s it!

Well, I would add Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet to these, as they feel like Pixar films in story complexity and adult-friendliness.

Why am I not recommending other Disney Studio films? Some of those things are¬†creepy. The dead moms littering the landscapes, kidnappings, child slavery, and other unsavorinesses are really, really dark. It doesn’t lighten up until¬†The Little Mermaid (ok,¬†Jungle Book and a couple of others, but still…). But, you do you; if the Disney Studio flicks are what float your boat (and you’re not swallowed by a huge whale) go for it!

5. The Great British Bake-Off

The GBBO (or Great British Baking Show, damn you, Pillsbury!) is the quintessential British cooking (baking) competition. Unlike most American competitions, it’s amazingly cooperative and friendly: no one revels in the losses of their other competitors; bakers actually help each other when possible; there is no apron taken back when someone is eliminated; and all of those eliminated come back to the final to cheer on the finalists.

We tend only to watch the BBC episodes, of which there are seven series. Bake!

 

Finally…

6. Kitten Rescuers

I kid you not, a show (from the Beeb, of course) about RSPCA volunteers and staff who rescue adorable kittens from horrible situations. Some of the footage is rather gory or odious; many scenes from operating theatres.

The bulk of the footage is stupidly cute; save this for when you are your most blue, as there are only eight 42-minute episodes, and no more coming.

 

So we started with The Seventh Seal and wound up at¬†Kitten Rescuers! Now it’s up to you; send your comfort-watch lists, we will all need more to watch before this is all over.