Playing for Time

1. Marcia and I recently took a little weekend getaway trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico (a city we had most seriously considered as a residence before we settled on Sedona) to catch three nights of the 35th Annual Festival Flamenco Albuquerque. The event’s organizers describe it thusly:

Every summer, the National Institute of Flamenco and the University of New Mexico host Festival Flamenco Albuquerque, bringing the finest flamenco artists in the world to Albuquerque. For eight days, the city is filled with the pulse of flamenco, and is transformed into a cultural epicenter for the art form. This tradition celebrates flamenco, the incredible art form that UNESCO declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The lure of flamenco is its ability to explore the full range of human emotion with an intense, vibrant quality that leaves audiences and students alike, captivated.

We have really enjoyed seeing flamenco live in Spain, most especially when it is presented in the tablaos where Spaniards actually go to see shows, rather than in the more theatrical venues that cater to tourists. The virtuosity of the form when performed by masters is truly breathtaking, and it provides a fascinating insight into the cultural history of Spain, with rhythms and vocal styles that incorporate the breadth of traditions and peoples who have built the modern incarnation of that storied nation. The ABQ Festival features such masters, all singing, dancing, playing guitar and offering the distinctive body-based percussion that define the form. Truly wonderful, even if the Spanish late-night traditions had us staying up until 2am most nights, well past our normal bedtimes. We highly recommend this event to you should you be able to find your way to Albuquerque some summer!

Click the image to see some videos of performances we caught in ABQ this year.

2. When we returned from Albuquerque, our home air conditioning was, thankfully, fixed after nearly three weeks of stifling interior heat. We also finally got our car back from the shop just in time to make the road trip, though we are still waiting for a couple of trim pieces to arrive from the apparently endless back order log impacting the auto industry of late. It’s very discomforting and dismaying to not be able to enjoy such basic everyday necessities as home and auto, so we feel much better not having those constant reminders of our remote home location in our faces every day. First world problems, yeah, but that’s the world we live in, so we do feel them.

3. I’ve been hiking every Monday morning for the past couple of months with a group of folks who share my own personal proclivities when it comes to back country exploration and adventure. I’d define those proclivities as a desire to get an intense workout, to climb things that not many people climb, to explore trails that not many people explore, to be bold in letting the lay of the land dictate the route more than the path on the map, and to do advance research to ensure that each hike has some tangible payoff along its route. This past week, we did a fairly strenuous route that took us up to one of the finest pictograph sites that I’ve yet seen, outside of National Park Service protected areas. Here are some images of what we saw in a cave recess high up on a butte above the forest:

This region’s human and natural histories are both deep and extraordinary. I’m more than willing to put in the work to experience them, even if I come home with regular scrapes, scratches, bruises, strains and contusions from doing so!

4. Our son-in-law, John, is an exceptional artist, in both traditional and digital idioms. On one of our visits to see him and Katelin in the past year or so, he shared some work he was doing using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) art processor called Night Cafe. I found it fascinating, in the same ways that I was fascinated by Holly Herndon‘s 2019 album PROTO, which deployed an AI named Spawn that was trained with a traditional folk/gospel chorus to interpret and process vocal and musical sounds. It also reminded me of some of the fun I had in the primordial days of the Web, when emergent (yet still deeply flawed) technologies like the earliest language translation engines produced freakish, poetic magic that would never emerge from the minds of humans. Here’s a piece I wrote about that, with a sample of “translator poetry,” all the way back from 2000.

For my birthday this year, John got me a subscription to Night Cafe and I have been having a good time exploring its capabilities and outputs. Be clear up front: I’m no visual artist, beyond perhaps an ability to capture and process interesting photographic scenes. So whatever “art” emerges from my dabbling with Night Cafe is not my work, but the AI’s. When I first started using the program, I was uploading some favorite photos that I have taken, and then using the AI to process them. That produced some interesting images, but I then decided to give up on visual inputs altogether, instead submitting fragments from poems I’ve written over the years, giving the AI a list of styles or artists I like, and then letting it rip on its own. Here are some of the outputs from that approach that I’ve enjoyed the most (you can click the images to see them in full size formats):

I find it fascinating to see what an AI “thinks” that my words mean, and how it “chooses” to interpret them visually. (As I typed those qualifying quotes around those key words, I found myself thinking: “Hmmm . . . am I being unfairly meat-sack-centric here?”) But even as much as I enjoy these and other similar images as interesting and pleasurable things to look at, I also find myself wondering: Are these my images? And are they art, in any way, or just pictures? Lots of interesting questions there about intention and creativity and skill and attribution and intellectual property, for sure. As it turns out, around the time that I was first fiddling with Night Cafe and thinking about these things, an artist and critic who I quite respect, named Eric Wayne, wrote and posted what I consider to be the best essay on this topic I’ve yet encountered. I encourage you to read it at the following link: Will AI Replace Human Artists?

Rocks in the Road

1. If it’s not been screamingly clear from my posts over the past couple of years, we really are very happy with our life in The VOC. We’ve got a great house, have made many great new friends, and are able to pursue to recreational things (e.g. golf, hiking, etc.) that we like to do when not otherwise productively engaged. But it’s not perfect, of course, because no place is. The one issue that has emerged for us in recent months is the flip-side of the niceness of living in a small, rural area: it can be very hard to get services in a timely fashion that are easy to access in a large metro area. We’ve seen this already with medical care, personal care (e.g. Marcia’s hairdresser), and with trying to get contractors in to do house and yard work. But two more recent events really brought this to the fore. First, we had a fender-bender auto accident, and our car has been in the shop for seven weeks (!) while awaiting parts to be shipped in from across the country. Then, a couple of weeks ago, our home air conditioner croaked just as things were getting super hot here. The service company came out quickly and identified the broken part, but there was a two-week delay in getting it shipped to us. To their credit, they gave us a portable air conditioning unit for our bedroom at no cost to us, so while the days are a bit sticky, we’ve at least been able to cool down when it’s time for bed. Finally, last Friday, the ordered part arrived . . . hooray!

The tech got to work installing but, but, oh no oh no oh no, it turned out to be the wrong part, ugh! The coolant leak was elsewhere! And, of course, the part they really did need is not available in the local market. Dammit! So we did bail to a local hotel for the super-hot weekend, and spent the time in bed watching movies, for the most part. The next part they ordered is now due here this coming Thursday. Here’s hoping it’s the one that does the trick. You don’t realize just how crucial air conditioning is to mental and physical health until you lose it, especially in a desert climate like this one. (Lest you think we’re suffering too much, a reminder that we live about 4,200 feet above sea level, so it’s not as hellish as, say, lower-elevation Phoenix or Las Vegas; when its 115°F there, it’s “only” 100°F here. Small mercies. Plus, you know, it’s a dry heat).

2. On Sunday, to beat the heat a bit, we went up to Flagstaff. It’s only a 40-minute drive, but it’s ~3000 feet higher in elevation, heavily forested, and usually about 10-15 degrees cooler during daylight hours than our home village in the summertime. We did an easy hike in the woods on the north side of the city, enjoying the strong winds through the Ponderosa pines up that way, except when the dust and dirt kicked up in exposed areas, all extremely dry after several weeks-to-months with no rain. When we got done with our walk, we headed back to downtown Flagstaff to get lunch. As we got out of the car, we looked back in the direction we had come from and saw this . . .

Yikes! A quick visit to the Arizona wildfire map site revealed this one had started just a couple of miles north of where we were just around the time that we had started hiking. Glad our chosen trail did not go a bit further than we did! This blaze has been dubbed The Pipeline Fire, and as I type, it has already consumed 21,000 acres. As a perhaps small blessing, it has run up against the perimeter of The Tunnel Fire, which burned about 19,000 acres a month or so back, and had already consumed much of this fuel that could have allowed this one to run further. (Update: Pipeline is now spreading around the north boundary of Tunnel). Here’s hoping our monsoon starts soon. We need it.

3. We finished watching the Danny Boyle mini-series Pistol (which tells the story of the Sex Pistols) this weekend, and enjoyed it. Here’s the trailer:

I’d been iffy on whether I wanted to watch it or not, largely because I’m very familiar with the Pistols’ story, I knew that John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was so opposed to its creation and release, and because the critics had been tepid in their response to it. But testimony from some trusted sources led me to give it a go, and I am glad I did. When it was done, I got to thinking about why the critical response to it was so bland. I think it may be because there’s often an immediate knee-jerk reaction to film bios of people who worked within living memory, as it’s impossible to cast actors who look and act exactly like the way we imagine and remember the characters they play (well, except for The Greatest, where Muhammad Ali played Muhammad Ali), and so the first response (which usually comes from the critics who see it before the regular folks) is often negative for reasons of short-term cognitive dissonance. But once your mind adjusts to seeing the actors as the characters, it all goes down easier. And that’s even more the case in a five-hour-ish mini-series like this, as opposed to the usual two-hour-ish theater film. But the critics don’t re-write their reviews at that point, so their initial bile ends up as the story of record.

I also think the negative reactions can be fueled by the fact that the first regular people who watch things like this are likely to be the biggest fans of the subject, who know a lot about the subject, and so are acutely aware of when the film-makers have had to take creative license to tell an actual story with an actual plot arc, when reality is never as linear and denouement-driven as a movie. So, yeah, I knew there were decisions and things that Boyle and his team had to do to make Pistol a piece of informative entertainment and to keep the story going, and if I was expecting a documentary, then that could lead me to be hostile to his presentation. But it wasn’t marketed that way, and it was told from an unusual perspective (focusing much attention on guitarist Steve Jones and future Pretender Chrissie Hynde, among others, rather than just obsessing about the usual Sid and John and Nancy and Malcolm narratives), and so I was okay when the needs of an entertaining story trumped the needs of strict historical and temporal accuracy.

I remember when the Bohemian Rhapsody film came out some years back and the initial critical response was so savage that, as excited as I’d been to see the film, I found myself waiting until it came out on streaming services to watch it. And then I quite liked it. And in the end, Rami Malek won an Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury. But it took time for it to brew, and if the initial critical response had been the only response, a good-enough film would have been missed and forgotten. I think the Rocketman film about Elton John dodged this a bit by playing more as a fantasia based on a real person (see also All That Jazz) than as a linear biopic; it went way wild on the story’s chronology, but it worked as a great bit of entertainment, helped by the fact that Taron Egerton was that rare case where the actor was somewhat uncanny in his resemblance to and ability to emote his subject.

4. Among the movies we watched during our little hotel air conditioning vacation were three recent-ish “little movies” that were all quite different, but all quite good. I commend them all to you (especially the first one) if you’re looking for something fresh outside of the summer blockbuster milieu:

5. And as a closing note: Is it just me, or has Youtube gotten really obnoxious of late with the embedded ads?

An Appalachian Adventure

Marcia and I spent the last week in the Southeastern high country on a little adventure that included a lot of unusual highlights, along with a deep appreciation for how very lovely and green the southern reaches of the Appalachian Range are. We love where we live on the shoulders of Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, but it was sort of “wow” to be reminded of how grand old mixed and deciduous mountain forests look and feel after a long time away from them. It was also refreshing to visit a part of the country where every plant isn’t aggressively trying to poke, stick, scratch, bite or kill you.

We left a week ago Thursday and spent a night in Phoenix, where we visited with Marcia’s nephew and his lovely family, who took us out for an outstanding dinner at Dick’s Hideaway, where we had some absolutely superb Mexican food, in most generous portions. We then flew on non-stop to Atlanta, rented a car, and drove up to Asheville, North Carolina, where my sister and her own lovely family were marking their 20th anniversary of residence. That makes them old school mountain denizens in a city that’s seen huge immigration and growth since the time they arrived. We hung out at their place for a few days, watching the Memorial Day fireworks at the nearby Grove Park Inn from their deck, eating many pounds of boiled peanuts, appreciating brother-in-law Dana’s excellent bonsai collection, and getting an ongoing Wild Kingdom show as the local bears hung around their yard, and dragged their trashcans around their neighborhood. We had to go shoot bottle rockets at them one night to make them go away. That’s some fine redneckery there, yessir.

We had a great dinner on Saturday night at Ukiah, a “Japanese Smokehouse,” which offered a wonderful combination of Carolina and Asian foods and flavors, served small plate style, so you could sample a lot of different things. Which we did. We also visited the outstanding North Carolina Arboretum (more crazy good bonsai there) and the quirky little town of Marshall, on the banks of the French Broad River. We had a great brunch at Star Diner, and then walked over to the little historic island at the heart of the town, which features an abandoned community center decorated with what I would guess are WPA/CCC-era murals, that have aged wonderfully weirdly.

On Tuesday, we drove over to Knoxville, Tennessee, and I was pleased to realize that we were there exactly 40 years after my first visit to that city, when my high school senior class trip took us to the 1982 World’s Fair. Here’s a photo from that long-ago trip, taken on the very long bus ride back from Knoxville. (If the shirt logo seems incongruous, it was a uniform item from my summer job at White Sulphur Springs in Pennsylvania). I suspect it was intentional that whatever was in my hand was cropped out in this view. Also, note one of my chums sleeping in the luggage rack at top right. It was that kind of trip . . .

Most of the structures and buildings from that Worlds Fair are long gone, except for the iconic Sunsphere (it seemed so tall to me in 1982, but now it seems modest and quaint, a Jetsons view of the future) and the Tennessee Amphitheater (nicknamed “Dolly Parton’s Bra” at the time of its unveiling, for somewhat obvious reasons when you see it). As can probably be divined by the previous photo, my high school crew’s behavior at that World’s Fair was, shall we say, problematic, to the point where our high school stopped offering senior class trips for some time after ours. Oops. Sorry, future seniors. If it’s any consolation, I don’t really remember much of what happened, but I know we had fun.

But the real reason we went to Knoxville was not for me to walk down blurry memory lane, but actually to see one of the most iconic artists in my own personal musical development, along with the musical development of countless millions of other people: Sir Paul McCartney. I’ve been on Team Paul in the “Fave Fab” sweepstakes since my earliest days, always a staunch believer in and defender of his brilliance, even through those years/decades when it was hip in critical circles to denigrate him for not being edgy enough, or for featuring his wife in his band, or for not being John, or for whatever contrarian idiocy critics were peddling at the time. But despite that lifetime of love from me, I’d never seen Paul live in concert, until this week. Marcia is also a big fan (I think Paul’s at the top of her “Hall Pass” freebie crush list at this point), so she also got her first experience of basking in the light of his awesomeness.

The show was incredible: 36 songs ranging from the Quarrymen’s first demo up to recent solo works, with loads of Wings and Beatles and even a Hendrix tribute in the mix, running to nearly three hours worth of music. Paul’s live band (he’s been playing with most of these guys for longer than he played with the Beatles and Wings, combined!) is cracker-jack tight and talented, and it’s jaw-dropping to see how hard Paul plays, and how well he sings, and how much energy he exudes, at his or, frankly, anybody else’s age. He’s a true force of nature, and I was thrilled to be at this show. Poignant moments in the set list included Paul playing George Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele that George had given him, and Paul performing a duet with John Lennon on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” via an isolated vocal and video recording from the legendary Get Back rooftop concert; Paul turned his back to crowd for that one, watching John as he sang. It was powerful.

We headed south the next morning and spent some time exploring Chattanooga, which has done a great job of making the formidable Tennessee River accessible and enjoyable in the heart of its urban core. After another nice meal (are you detecting a theme here?) at Tony’s Pasta Shop, we headed back to Atlanta, checked into our hotel, and set an early morning alarm for our planned nonstop flight back to Phoenix on Thursday morning.

Unfortunately, American Airlines had some other ideas about that. We woke to discover that our flight had been cancelled during the night, and that the only way for us to get home was via a Charlotte connecting flight . . . the next day. Ugh. We made the best of the situation, and took the MARTA train into Atlanta’s Midtown area, where we walked around the spacious and tree-rich Piedmont Park, visited The High Museum of Art (their Howard Finster collection is a highlight), had another exceptional meal at Tabla (saag paneer is one of my go-to dishes at Indian restaurants, so I’ve eaten it all over the world, and I think I’d pick this destination as the source for the best version of it I’ve ever had), and caught what turned out to be a private matinee showing of Alex Garland’s new film, Men. Which was something, shall we say. I’m not quite sure what, but certainly something. (I like weird/ambiguous films, and I like Alex Garland, but after thinking about it for a couple of days, I have to judge this one as a well-made film, but not a particularly good film, in large part for scripting reasons, though the core cast of Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear did do most formidable work with flawed material).

So then, back to the hotel, another early morning wake up, an unplanned and unexpected flight back to North Carolina (both the ATL and CLT airports were utter mob scenes), then onward by air to Phoenix, then the 100-mile drive back to home again, home again, jiggety jig. A nice little adventure, all things considered, and despite the American Airlines annoyances. And, of course, I took my usual photos throughout the week, and you can see my usual album by clicking on the usual sample image below, this one of Paul’s “duet” with John at the concert.

Different World

1. Marcia and I made a brief return to the Grand Canyon this past weekend. We wanted to get some hikes and exploring in, but we weren’t quite ready to do a trek as heinously difficult as the one we did last October. So instead of carrying our tents, bedding, and food down into and back out of the Canyon, we elected to stay at the Under Canvas resort some 20 miles south of the Park Boundary, and it was a delightful experience. Yeah, we slept in a tent, but we didn’t have to carry it. And it had a wood stove, which was helpful when the temperatures dropped to 29°F on Friday night. We ate breakfast and dinner in Under Canvas’ main tent, twice each, and the food quality and ease of ordering and service were both outstanding. We also had live music out under the stars each night, while we made S’mores over the propane fire pits, and it was a nice place to just sit around when you didn’t feel like doing anything strenuous. We’ll do that sort of trip again, for sure. (They’ve got several other locations around the country, so we’re already scouting them out). For our Grand Canyon hike, we elected to take the South Kaibab Trail down to Skeleton Point, down some three miles horizontally and 2,100 feet vertically from the South Rim, just far enough to get a first peek at the Colorado River, waaaaayyyy further below us. (It made our minds boggle that we actually went all the way down there last fall, and then hiked back out, with 30-pound packs). This past weekend, we made it down to Skeleton Point in about 90 minutes, and back out in about two hours, the latter trip slower not only because of the vigorous climbing, but also because of the temperatures, which approached 100°F, with the sun’s position offering paltry shade as we hugged the cliff walls on the way up the various switchbacks. The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back toward Flagstaff and hiked up to Red Mountain, a really distinctive and cool collapsed volcanic formation. I snapped some pics, as I do, and you can see them by clicking of the sample photo below, taken at Cedar Ridge, about halfway down to Skeleton Point. . .

2. For our final years in New York and our first couple of years in Des Moines, I used to go out golfing with Marcia fairly regularly. She’s good at it, I’m not. But during our first stint in Iowa, I just got really tired of not only doing something that I couldn’t excel at, but also of the truly obnoxious “golf bro” culture that was so prevalent on courses there, public and private alike. So I quit golfing at that point, for those and a variety of other reasons. Fast forward to this spring, when for a variety of other, other reasons, I’m going to take it up again. I played nine practice holes yesterday and another nine today. I’m still not good, but I was pleasantly surprised how much muscle memory I maintained from having done it all those years ago. We’ll see how it all plays out. I think the fact that we now live in a place where you can play year ’round, and the fact that there’s a course at the end of our road, and the fact that this is mostly a lower-key, bro-free, retiree-laden community, hopefully will mean it’s easier to go out and have a good experience without having to be rushed by or listen to a shouty gaggle of drunken, cigar-smoking, racist/sexist louts trying to channel their inner John Daly. And I’m always happy to have the extra time with Marcia, so that matters too, a lot.

3. Another back to the future note: when the first Roomba robot home vacuums came out, I had to have one. But we found that the size of our house, and the fact that we had three cats, and the buggy early versions of that particularly home technology meant that our first Roomba didn’t get much done before gagging on cat hair and then spending an hour desperately cleaning and re-cleaning one table-leg until its battery ran out. A few months back, though, Katelin and John told us they had gotten a new one, and that the newer technology version seemed to be working well for them. So we gave it another try with a second Roomba, and I have to say that it seems to be working well for us this time. I can send the helpful little robot out from my phone while we’re out of the house, and so far, it just does its thing, and then properly takes itself home to its little docking station once it’s finished being useful. When I set up the account for the new helpful beastie, I had to give the unit a name. It didn’t take me long to settle on Tarkus, and if you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know why that is. I put a sticker of his eponymous armadillo-tank on Tarkus’ shell, so he’d know who is he, and when he does a particularly good job at his assignments, I’ve taken to giving him a little reward for his good work and service . . .

Clear the battlefields, and let me see . . .

4. I was sorry to read that Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner passed away this week. He was a core member of the interestingly odd Beggars Opera in the early 1970s, before a brief, but high-impact stint with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, appearing on the landmark “Berlin Era” albums Low and Lust for Life. His most lasting contribution to the core rock canon was his amazing riff and music for “The Passenger,” a critical, crucial song in the twinned journeys of Iggy and David at their most enigmatic and experimental. Iggy’s touring band in support of Lust for Life featured Bowie, Gardiner, and the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony) rhythm section, and those shows are arguably among the all-time most legendary live rock events, ever. Ricky Gardiner continued to write and record in a variety of genres until his failing health rendered him finally silent. He was a player, for sure, in the true and best sense of that word. Here’s a nice video for “The Passenger,” if you want to hear why that was the case . . .

A Life of Belief in 100 Books

While fleshing out a full-length book manuscript based on the periodic Credidero series I ran here some years ago (sorry, I can’t link you to it, since I removed those articles from my digital domains), I found myself reflecting upon and consulting a variety of fiction and non-fiction tomes as both references and inspirations. The act of digging through old and recent titles alike led to me to further consider the books which have had the most profound impacts on what I believe, how I believe, and how I communicate my beliefs. Which, me being me, meant that I had to make a list. And then, of course, that meant that I had to share the list, which I do below.

The final 100-book list isn’t limited to the “big topic” themes covered in more detail in the Credidero manuscript, because I had, have, and will have strongly-held beliefs about a lot of “small” topics, too, both in the real world and in the created worlds of countless great story-tellers. Many years ago, Marcia affectionately called me a “crank.” I asked why she said that, and she explained “Because you have strong feelings about too many things.” She was, and remains, correct, and as I was working on the list posted below, I smirked regularly in realization that these are the books that most often pointed me forward in zealous pursuit of some new crank-like obsession or interest. That said, note that I am only including one book or one series (when relevant) per author, since there are a small number of writers who I’ve read in extreme depth, and it seemed reductive to dedicate line after line to such obsessions. I’ve opted to feature only the very most moving and influential works by each author included here, figuring that if one book suggestion moves you, you can find the other works as readily as I once did.

The dates cited in each entry in this list represent the current or most recent publication dates for the available works, per WorldCat.org, and not the books’ original dates of publication. I read a lot of these in the ’60s or ’70s, but most of the books that most moved my early years have since been subsequently released, so I’m going with the contemporary versions, to make it easier if anyone wants to find any of them. With that preamble complete, here’s the list of the 100 books that I’d cite as the most influential in my intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and emotional development over the past half-century-plus.

What would your list look like? Do please share, if you’re inspired to develop one!

The Holy Bible: King James Version. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2000.

Reef Points (1982-1983 Edition). Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1982.

Abbott, Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Vancouver, Royal Classics. 2021.

Adams, Douglas. The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. London: Pan Books, 2020.

Azerrad, Michael. Our Band Could Be Your Life. Boston: Little Brown & Company, 2012.

Bae, Suah. Recitation. Dallas, Texas: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2017.

Baker, Nicholson. The Mezzanine. London: Granta Books, 2020.

Ballard, J. G. The Atrocity Exhibition. London: Flamingo, 1993.

Bazterrica, Agustina María. Tender Is the Flesh. New York: Scribner, 2020.

Brackett, Leigh. The Sword of Rhiannon. Bellevue, WA: Paizo/Palnet Stories, 2009.

Brown, Peter Currell. Smallcreep’s Day. London: Pinter & Martin Ltd, 2008.

Brosh, Allie. Solutions and Other Problems. New York: Gallery Books, 2020.

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.

Burn, Doris. Andrew Henry’s Meadow. New York: Coward-McCann, 1965.

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. The Complete Barsoom Series. [United States]: SFBC, 2006.

Carroll, Lewis, John Tenniel, and Leonard S. Marcus. The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2005.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2020.

Catling, Brian. The Vorrh Trilogy. London: Coronet, 2016-2018.

Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. London: Pan Books, 2017.

Crowley, John. Engine Summer. London: Gollancz, 2013.

D’Aulaire, Ingri Parin, and Edgar Dorin D’Aulaire. D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods and Giants. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986.

Davies, Robertson. The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels; What’s Bred in the Bone; The Lyre of Orpheus. London: Penguin Books, 2011.

Delany, Samuel R. Nova. New York: Vintage Books, 2002.

Dewar, Elaine. Smarts: The Boundary-Busting Story of Intelligence. Toronto: Debonaire Productions, 2015.

Dick, Philip K. The Valis Trilogy. New York: Book of the Month Club, 1990.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Eco, Umberto, and William Weaver. Foucault’s Pendulum. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2007.

Faber, Michel. The Book of Strange New Things. New York: Hogarth, 2015.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Modern Library, 1957.

Gardner, John. Grendel. London: Gollancz, 2015.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 2016.

Gorey, Edward. Amphigorey. New York: Perigee Books, 1981.

Gould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: Norton, 2007.

Grass, Günter. The Flounder. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1978.

Groening, Matt. The Huge Book of Hell. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Harris, Rick. A Book With No Title. Fillmore South, FL: Thoughts on the Dead, 2017.

Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. New York: Harper Collins, 2018.

Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. London: Vintage Books, 2019.

Herbert, Frank. Dune. London: Gollancz, 2021.

Herzog, Hal. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. New York, USA: HarperCollins, 2022.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper & Row, 1995.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. London: Faber and Faber, 1975.

Juster, Norton and Jules Pfeiffer. The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics, 2020.

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Klosterman, Chuck. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas. London: Faber & Faber, 2013.

Koja, Kathe. Skin. New York, NY: Dell, 1994.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Clitheroe, England: Joosr Ltd, 2016.

Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019.

Kruse, Kevin Michael, and Julian E. Zelizer. Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020.

L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. Penguin Books Ltd, 2018.

Lee, Karen An-hwei. The Maze of Transparencies. Jackson Heights, NY: Ellipsis Press LLC, 2019.

Lewis, C. S. The Space Trilogy. New York: New Canadian Library, 2014.

Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press, 2017.

Loeb, Avi. Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. John Murray Press, 2021.

Liu, Cixin. Rememberance of Earth’s Past Trilogy. New York: Tor Books, 2014-2016.

McDonnell, Patrick, Karen O’Connell, Georgia Riley De Havenon, and George Herriman. Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2004.

McNeal, James R., and Scott Tomasheski. The Herndon Climb: A History of the United States Naval Academy’s Greatest Tradition. Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2020.

Montell, Amanda. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism. New York: Harper Wave, 2021.

Morgan, Fred T., and Virginia Ingram. Ghost Tales of the Uwharries. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Bandit Books, 2007.

Morrow, James. The Godhead Trilogy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Moskowitz, Samuel. Science Fiction by Gaslight: A History and Anthology of Science Fiction in the Popular Magazines, 1891-1911. Westport, CT: Hyperion, 1974.

Nash, Ogden. Bed Riddance. Camp Hill, Pa: Book-of-the-Month Club, 1970.

Neal, Charles. Tape Delay: Confessions from the Eighties Underground. London: SAF Pub, 2001.

Nichols, Peter. A Voyage for Madmen. London: Profile Books, 2011.

Niven, Larry, and Jerry Pournelle. The Mote in God’s Eye. [United States]: SFBC, 2005.

O’Gieblyn, Meghan. God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning. New York: Doubleday, 2021.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Penguin Books, 2021.

Oyler, Lauren. Fake Accounts. New York: Catapult, 2021.

Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae. Ann Arbor: Cumberland Yale University Press, 2014.

Peake, Mervyn. The Gormenghast Trilogy. London: Vintage, 1999.

Peary, Danny. Cult Movies: The Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, and the Wonderful. New York: Gramercy Books, 1998.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. London: Flame Tree Collectible Classics, 2021.

Powers, Richard. The Overstory. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2021.

Priest, Christopher. The Islanders. London: Titan Books, 2017.

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014.

Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows. New York: Delacorte Press, 2018.

Ressner, Philip, and Jerome Snyder. Jerome. New York: Parents’ Magazine Press, 1967.

Robbins, Tom. Another Roadside Attraction. Harpenden, England: No Exit Press, 2007.

Rockwell, Theodore. The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference. Annapolis (Md.): Naval Institute Press, 1992.

Shahn, Ben. The Shape of Content. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Sinclair, Andrew. Gog. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967.

Smith, J. Eric. Eponymous. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2001.

Swarthout, Glendon Fred. Bless the Beasts & Children. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2014.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Ulysses. Placerville: Blackwood Press, 1979.

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories. New York: Modern Library, 1998.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. London: Harper Collins, 2014.

Turco, Lewis. The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2020.

Untermeyer, Louis. The Golden Treasury of Poetry. Racine, WI: Western Pub. Co, 1972.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. London: 4th Estate, 2018.

Vollmann, William T. Fathers and Crows. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Vonnegut, Kurt. The Sirens of Titan. London: Gollancz, 2014.

Walton, Evangeline. The Mabinogion Tetralogy. New York: The Overlook Press, 2002.

Waters, John. Shock Value. New York, N.Y.: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995.

Watters, Ethan. Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the Western Mind. London: Robinson, 2011.

White, T.H. The Once and Future King. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass (1855-1892). New York, N.Y.: Library of America, 1984.

Wigginton, Eliot. The Foxfire Book. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1973.

Zamyatin, Evgenii. We. Garden City, NY: Dover Publications, 2021.

This might just be the most personally influential and beloved book in my lifetime of reading. If you have a child in your life, please give them this! Or just buy it for yourself. It’s magical.

Your Turn to Remember

We’re back home in Northern Arizona this weekend after a visit to Marcia’s home city of Minneapolis. We rented a super nice AirBnB right across the street from the hill where Marcia and her friends would sled when she was a kid each winter. Which (because Minnesota) apparently ran from October to May. We had spent a couple of weeks in Minneapolis two summers ago just a bit north of this neighborhood, and it was an absolutely lovely trip. But that was summer, and this was not, and it was made plainly clear to us that 18 months in balmy Arizona has definitely undone 35 years worth of biological adaptation developed from living in frigid Northerly climes. I was cold the whole time, at bottom line.

But that was all okay, as the trip was worth the effort to spend time with Marcia’s extended family, gathered for a celebration of life for her sister Mary Ellen, who died in Phoenix last winter. The celebration was held at Next Chapter Winery in New Prague, Minnesota, owned and operated by members of Mary Ellen’s first husband’s family. It was a wonderful venue, highly worth a visit should you find yourself thereabouts.

Marcia is the youngest of 11 siblings, three of whom have flown away at this point. Seven of the surviving eight were together this weekend (two having traveled from Washington state, one from Texas, and us from Arizona), along with a lot of nieces and nephews, and it’s always lovely to spend time with them all. Here are photos of the five surviving Brom sisters, and seven of the eight surviving Brom siblings, at a great group dinner arranged by Marcia’s sister Carol at Axel’s in Mendota:

We drove several times by the house where Marcia and her siblings were raised, just a few blocks away from our AirBnB. I snapped this shot of their home one morning while out chorin’, and after having had to scrape ice off of the car’s windshield, brrr!

The Brom Family backyard was dominated and shadowed by the Church of the Incarnation, which is where Marcia and I were married in the summer of 1989. Sadly, the church experienced a devastating fire a few months back, but it was good to see construction crews busily working to restore and fully re-open this historic neighborhood hub. For the music nerds who hover about here: this was the hard-scrabble neighborhood that spawned The Replacements, and Marcia had various childhood relationships with the band’s members and their families; the cool “Raised in the City” map of the Mats’ formative years features “Inky” (as the Church and its school were known locally) as key site #17, along with a lot of other neighborhood landmarks.

Since it was too cold and windy and rainy for us to walk outside much (though the Minneapolitans seemed perfectly happy to ramble around in the brisk weather), we rode over to the Mall of America one afternoon to get an indoor walking session in, and also to catch the new Nicolas Cage film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which was quite the hoot, and highly recommended. I also took advantage of the chill to hunker down under a blanket at the house and get a good deal of reading done, including what I’d consider to be the leading contenders, at this point, for my best novel and best nonfiction books of 2022, thus far. Here are links to those, if you need a couple of good reads:

On our last night in Minneapolis, we had an utterly stellar dinner out at a restaurant just across Lake Harriet from Marcia’s native ‘hood. It was an Argentine-inspired joint called MARTINA, and, again, we highly commend it to you, should you need a fine culinary experience while visiting the Twin Cities. Earlier in the weekend, we’d also had some outstanding carry-out dinners from Boludo (again Argentine-inspired, but this time making pizzas) and Young Man (quirky pan-Asian with a decidedly Upper Midwestern twist), both of them located near the intersection of South 38th and Nicollet, right in the heart of Marcia’s childhood neighborhood.

The day after we arrived home, Marcia went out in the blessedly warm weather for her bi-weekly golf outing, and I went out for my regular sunny-day hike. As often as I’ve scrambled up and around and through the red rocks in our neighborhood, I still spot and explore new “trails” (I use that term lightly, since I’ll follow animal tracks that most folks wouldn’t deign to risk), and that was the case yesterday as well, as I stumbled upon a new-to-me cave, and found a passable route up to the top of a prominent local rock structure with sublime and quiet views of one of the busiest tourist hiking zones in the region.

I end this post with three snaps from that hike. I’m happy that we got to spend time with Marcia’s family in the community that gives them their collective “sense of place,” even though it was a sad event that drew us all together this time. And then, I am just as happy to be back in our new-ish home town, feeling good that we’ve found our own great place at this juncture in our lives, beautiful, culturally-rich, and mostly snow and ice free . . .

Adventure Family Deployed!

In March 2020, I was supposed to visit my mother in Beaufort, South Carolina (where she lives, and where I was born), but COVID obviously had other plans for us all at that point, so the trip was scratched. Likewise in April 2020, when Marcia and Katelin were supposed to make their annual Girl Power Trip (they were both born on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day in most of the non-retogressive world)(e.g. not here) to Costa Rica, but that trip also bit the dust, along with several others in the months ahead.

While I know it’s too soon to declare that COVID is behind us, with the entire family as vaccinated as we can be, and with hospitalization rates down significantly, we decided that we’d finally re-schedule those trips this month. We drove to Las Vegas two weekends ago and spent some time with Katelin and John in their fab new house there, then last week, Katelin and Marcia flew off westward to the Big Island of Hawai’i, and I flew east to the land of my forefathers and foremothers. Marcia and I think this is the greatest distance we’ve ever been away from each other in our 35-ish years as a couple. Felt very weird, especially since we’d not spent a night apart since the dawn of the Anno Virum.

Our outbound trips from Las Vegas were both pretty heinous. Marcia and Katelin were supposed to go from Vegas to Los Angeles to Kona, but after tickets were secured, Delta Airlines decided that they needed a bonus stop in Seattle on the way out, as well, to turn a reasonable trip into a full-day-plus slog. My flights (Vegas to Dallas to Savannah) were both way late, and there was a truly horrific storm over the Mississippi Delta, so we were routed down to the Gulf of Mexico to try to get around it. After the fact, I pulled up the FlightAware trip report just to make sure I experienced what I thought I had experienced. I did:

I’ve flown a lot over the years, and I’d say that the turbulence and amazing high-altitude lightning were among the most intense that I’ve ever experienced. It was a relief to hit the tarmac in Savannah a few hours late, but then I discovered that my pre-paid rental car had long been given to someone else, that the taxis that service the airport were no longer running, and that the Uber/Lyft crowd seemed to mostly be asleep as well. I didn’t actually make it to my hotel room until well after 2am, and I only managed to avoid sleeping in the concourse or walking three-ish miles down a dark and narrow country road by convincing an Uber driver to let me pay him cash to jump in a car that someone else had secured.

But then I headed up to Beaufort the next morning, and all was good. I had a lovely visit with my mother, got to see my aunt and her husband for a superb Shrimp and Grits dinner, and hit most of the personally significant spots that I normally visit when I’m in the area. Highlights included the hospital where I was born (and where my Dad died), the house my parents lived in when I first came home from the hospital, a couple of urban shacks where my Mom has lived over the years, Beaufort National Cemetery (where my Dad is buried), Stoney Creek Cemetery (where most of my other ancestors on that side of the family are buried), the Village of McPhersonville (where said ancestors once all lived), Old Sheldon (a ruined stone church that would have served my family in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries), and Hunting Island, which I consider to be the finest beach on the American east coast. (Even though it sustained incredible damage from Hurricane Matthew a few years back). I also got to eat most all of the things I crave when I’m home, including the aforementioned Shrimp and Grits, a Shrimp Burger and hush puppies from the Shrimp Shack, a heaping helping of boiled peanuts, a good bowl of Brunswick Stew, and various and sundry other white trash specialties from the Low Country. Mmm, mmm, good . . . . even if I’m still feeling the salt and fat bloat from that tasty, tasty fare.

I flew back to Las Vegas on Sunday, and Marcia and Katelin arrived back there early this morning after a red-eye from Kona. This time, all of our flights were smooth and on schedule, so that was a relief. I met Marcia at the airport and we motored on home, arriving just after lunch-time, happy to be back in our nest, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed tonight. Marcia and Katelin took photos of their trip, and I’ll probably set up an album for that once they send them all to me. I was my usual photo-obsessed self, and have posted my usual album over at Flickr of the trip’s highlights. You can click on the image of Stoney Creek Cemetery below if you’d like to see what else is over there; most of the snaps are from the Low Country, with some bookends of our time in Las Vegas.

We’re traveling to Minnesota next weekend (Marcia’s homeland) to attend a memorial service for her sister, so I will probably have another post of this ilk when we get back from that. We’ve got a couple of other treks already on the books in the months ahead (California, North Carolina/Tennessee, Albuquerque, and a return to the Grand Canyon), so those will no doubt show up here too.

Got to make up for lost travel time while we can. It feels good to be be abroad again, as much as we love being here, and coming home.

One Way Or Another

1. I posted a few weeks back about my annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament pool, which I usually lose in embarrassing fashion, in large part because I over-think things, and make insider-knowledge, micro-aggressive picks that have little to no basis in the macro reality of the sport and its players. This year, though, I actually won my little group’s bracket pool (!), solely because I was the only person to pick Kansas to win the national championship. For perspective, in most standard pick ’em pools, the maximum number of points possible is 224 (32 points per round, over seven rounds). I won my group with but 95 points (42% of the possible best), probably demonstrating less my adeptness at picking outcomes than the general weirdness of this year’s tournament. Had North Carolina held on to defeat Kansas in the championship game, my sister would have won our group. I duly chastised her for picking the detested North Carolina Shitheels, since we’re from a long and devoted North Carolina State Wolfpack family (our grandfather, our father, and her husband were/are alumni there). Snarking ensued. It would have looked like this, had we been together to do it in person:

2. I also recently posted my picks for this year’s Academy Awards, as I also do on a (nearly) annual basis. I didn’t expect CODA to win Best Picture, but I was happy that it did. It is a glorious, wonderful film. There might have been tears involved when I watched it. But I am sure it was just allergies, ahem. I was also happy to see Jane Campion finally win an Oscar for directing The Power of the Dog. She’s great. Even before the now-infamous awards show slap, I was actively opposed to seeing Will Smith win the Best Actor award for King Richard, just as I was actively opposed to his nomination for playing one my deepest personal heroes in Ali. I don’t dislike Will Smith, particularly, but I also can’t get myself interested in the biographical roles that he plays. I was also “meh” on Jessica Chastain winning Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, though I expected it. The role seemed more like a triumph of hair styling and make-up design than it did a triumph of acting. That said, I do recognize that I’m probably among a relatively small number of diligent contemporary film buffs who was also regularly exposed to the real Bakkers and PTL Club, having been raised in a deeply devout, television-watching family. Film elite voters are always impressed when film elite actors play mildly-laughable country cracker types, but as a one-time mildly-laughable country cracker myself, I tend to find that urban sophisticate “Oh, these rural folks are so quaint and charming and funny and simple and wise, despite themselves” vibe to be often condescending and offensive. Oh well. At least they didn’t give Lady Gaga an acting Oscar. That really would have rubbed me the wrong way, had they done that.

3. Still on the Oscars, I was utterly appalled by the nominees and the winners of the Best Song and Best Score Awards, given that the masterfully musical Annette by Sparks and Leos Carax was completely ignored on the award-giving front. There’s no question in my mind that the finest song to appear in a film in 2021 was “So May We Start,” from Annette, which actually featured in the film, meaningfully, and also featured cast members singing, unlike most of the utterly dreadful nominated songs, which were mainly just shitty fluff tacked on to soundtrack the credits, opening or closing. (The nominated Van Morrison song from Belfast was an exception to that rule, but I loathe Van Morrison with a passion, so that point was somewhat moot in my own mind). Annette‘s score was also sublime, as opposed to the bloat-by-numbers bullshit that the tiresome Hans Zimmer loaded up upon the already intolerable and soul-lacking Dune, which won the Oscar. Bleh.

4. I generally feel just as foul when it comes to the Grammy Awards, where one would think that the voters would actually know and understand music, since that’s what the awards are for, for God’s sake, unlike the Oscars, where the music is a minor side-light. But their choices, too, are often inexplicably awful, in years where there is inexplicably great, even popular, music being completely ignored. That said, I was mildly surprised and pleased that Silk Sonic won the Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammy awards last week for “Leave the Door Open,” from the group’s debut album, which featured on my Best Albums of 2021 list. It’s a funny and sweet piece of post-Philly Soul, organic and “real” in ways that so many popular recent examples of assembly-line pop-by-numbers can never begin to replicate. If you don’t know it, it’s worth a quick spin, as is the rest of the album that spawned it:

5. The 1950 American Census data was released on April 1 this year for free search and discovery. You can dig into it here. I found both of my parents (then children) in the data, among other family members. Here’s my Dad’s family (the only Smiths on the page), and here’s my Mom (her surname was Waters). Nothing show-stopping in either of those reports, but still interesting to see what their respective neighborhoods looked like at the time, and how my grandparents described their work and educational experiences.