Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Meaning.

I watched two movies this week, and both of them have really made me realize what kind of useless media I usually consume. I vow to set the bar a bit higher in the future.

First, I saw The Constant Gardener, with Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes. The movie tells the story of Justin (Fiennes), a rather passionless English diplomat living in Kenya, and his activist wife Tessa (Weisz). Unbeknownst to Justin, Tessa discovers a health-related scandal in Africa, and her detective work gets her killed. Justin begins a quest to retrace his wife's steps and discover the true story of her death. It was an interesting plot woven of world health issues, record profits for pharmaceutical companies, and international political intrigue.

First of all, the performance are wonderful. Weisz is luminous as Tessa. She is probably the true anchor of the film. Fiennes gives a nuanced performance as Justin, although I did find some plot-related motivations towards the end to be a little less than satisfying. Also, the environment of Africa is practically its own character in this film. Faces of Africa, landscapes, the hard truths of life there - it's arrestingly atmospheric.

Secondly, I finally got around to watching Brokeback Mountain. I know - I am probably one of the last people in American to see it. Shame on me, because I thought it was one of the most moving, life-changing movies I've ever seen. Unless you've been under a rock for the past year and a half, you know that Brokeback Mountain is the tale of two cowboys, Ennis and Jack, who ranch sheep together one summer in the 1960's. One cold night, the two men huddle together in a tent to keep warm, and an explosive physical relationship erupts. They both agree that the night was a "one-shot deal," but somehow the two men keep finding one another again, throughout the summer. After the ranching gig ends, both men nonchalantly tell each other goodbye, but the separation is painful for both. Cut to four years later - the men have gone their separate ways, married, had kids. But when they happen to see each other again, old feelings almost violently assert themselves, leading to a 20-year relationship that is by turns passionate, furtive, and tortured.

First of all, performances by Heath Ledger (Ennis) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack) are unbelievable. I cannot adequately describe the performance work in this film. Ledger, who I'd only seen in fairly superficial roles - teen movies, not-so-great romantic comedies - totally transforms himself for this role. Tight-lipped, sun-baked, and shamed, his Ennis provides the tension in the film that powers the plot through to its final, saddening conclusion. Gyllenhaal plays Jack, the more honest, self-accepting of the two men, with an emotion that is strong enough to be real but restrained enough to epitomize the tough guy image of a Western. Both lend a haunting quality to the various ways in which Ennis and Jack try to live their lives, denied of the one thing they truly want.

At the end of the day, Brokeback Mountain is a love story, the tale of two people who love each other but can't be together. This is not untrod territory in Hollywood. However, hanging this familiar storyline on a less-than-mainstream social topic for the movies - homosexuality - proves to be very powerful. The intensity of the two men's feelings for one another, and the delayed gratification that is the bedrock of their relationship, bring their experience into sharp focus for the viewer. Beautiful scenes of mountainous countryside and a strong, simple acoustic guitar accompaniment add to the poignancy. I just cannot recommend it highly enough. It will haunt you. It will make you think. It will move you.

Fair warning - there is one brief sex scene between the two primary characters. If you don't warm to that idea, I recommend getting the film on DVD and fast-forwarding through that part. It is not worth missing the movie over.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In praise of products

In grad school, we used to talk about the mainstreaming of ideas/movements/products alot. The people who first bought new products, for example, were termed "early adopters." They represented an elite segment of society. They were usually monied, they had influence, etc. I have a confession to make. I am not an early adopter. In fact, for some reason I am one of the LAST people I know to make the change to some new, improved technology. And even then, it's usually my husband's idea. (I didn't even have an MP3 player until last Christmas. And it's not even something I asked for. Again, my husband's idea. Ditto with the digital camera. I had operated one at work for years before my husband finally got one for us.)

I'm not sure why I don't jump on the bandwagon. I guess I figure that the product might not work, or that it'll be too hard to get the hang of. Or whatever. But I am changing my ways. Recently, the discovery of several genius new products have caused me to think differently.

1.) I was shopping with a friend, and she noticed that I'd gotten some makeup on the collar of the shirt I was wearing. She whisked a "Tide to Go" pen out of her purse and dabbed the stain. Voila! It was gone within 5 minutes. I HAD NO IDEA!! I am one of the messiest people I know. This thing is made for me. I now carry a Tide to Go with me in my purse at all times, and I have another one in a drawer in my office.

2.) I was giving a party a while back, and I was trying to spiff up the house a bit. On a whim, I bought one of the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers at the store. I was sure it was a gimmick, but I thought, "What have I got to lose?" Well, that thing worked like a charm, taking scuffs off walls, the bottoms of doors, EVERYTHING. I currently have two packages of them under the sink for emergencies.

3.) Lastly, my most recent discovery - the Shed Ender. Now, I had seen this product on television, but I DO NOT order things off TV. But when it showed up in my local Wal-Greens, I picked it up. I have two cats - a short hair and a long hair - and anything that keeps the furball factor down is my friend. This thing worked WONDERS on my long-haired kitty. It removed copious amounts of hair, and she didn't even seem to mind it the way she minds the traditional brush. If you have a long-haired cat, YOU NEED this thing. It will amaze you how much hair comes off your little puffy friend.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stuffed.

Ok, I'm awakening from my turkey-induced stupor to update you on a few things:

1.) I had a rockin' fall party last Monday. On the menu were hummus and appropriate dippers, crudites, sliced pork loin with rolls and a variety of spreads (this appetizer was gone, gone, gone!), chunked-up fruit with a de-lish dip (mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and rum - YUM), pork/ground beef meatballs in a tomato-garlic sauce, an unbelievable salmon spread with fun little crackers (thank you, Barefoot Contessa), chips and dip, assorted cookies, pecan tartlets, and mini carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Oodles of people that I really like came, and I think it was nice to see everyone before the holiday craziness sets in. Whenever I have a party, I think, "Wow! That was so fun! We should entertain more often!" And then I don't have another party for months and months. I'm going to try to work on that.

2.) Thanksgiving was WONDERFUL! I made the turkey, cranberry relish, gravy, and appetizer plates. Turkey - everyone really seems to like my turkey, but it's really nothing special. Here's what I do: I rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and stuff the cavity with cut-up onions and garlic. I butter the outside like crazy and sprinkle it liberally with salt, pepper, and sage. I put it in a pan, and I put some chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to keep the bird moist. I bake it at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, uncovered. This cooks the outside of the bird and helps seal in the juices. Then, I tent the pan with aluminum foil and turn the heat down to 375 degrees or so. Bake the bird for the appropriate amount of time based on its weight. Yesterday, when I was baking a 14-pounder, this was about 2 hours or so at 375. I keep a small sauce pan on the stove filled with chicken broth, butter, salt, pepper, and sage. Every 30 minutes, I take the bird out, remove the foil, baste, put the foil back on, and put the bird back in the oven. Once the bird is almost finished, I baste one more time, remove the foil, and put the bird back in the oven with the heat kicked up to 450 degrees for about 25 minutes. This allows the bird to brown and makes the skin nice and crispy. I usually turn the pan around in the oven once during this process so the bird browns evenly. Once the bird is done, let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour. (Don't worry, it will retain its heat.) It was SO JUICY this year! Yum!

We also had some new side dishes, courtesey of my brilliant sister: balsamic-glazed brussel sprouts with proscioutto, maple-roasted squash, and a sausage and apple stuffing. After which, we laid around on the couch, talking and laughing. All in all, a FABULOUS Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For the love of America.

Ok, so I'm walking down town last week, and I notice an older, well-dressed African-American man walking towards me. He is carrying a briefcase. He smiles at me, and I smile back. As I am walking past him, he stops, sets his briefcase down, and extends his hand. I take it. He then introduces himself and tells me that he has a card that he's created. He reaches in his vest pocket and takes out a small, black and white card printed on heavy stock. He opens it and begins reading. The card contains a rhyming verse, and he is really reading it with feeling. I mean, he has facial expressions and even some small hand gestures to emphasize how "when God created you, He broke the mold," and your love is "good for the mind, the body, and the soul." He's really proud of this card, and he means every word that he's printed inside. When he's finished reading the verses aloud, he tells me that the cards are for sale for $1 each and asks if I'd like to buy one. I say sure, we complete our transaction, and we part ways.

This whole exchange got me thinking that we live in one of the greatest countries in the world. I mean, a man can get up in the morning and have this idea. "Hey, I could make cards and sell them downtown! I could maybe make some money!" So he buys the paper, makes the cards, puts on his suit, grabs his briefacse, and hits the pavement. Talk about free enterprise in action. It doesn't get much more free than that, does it? I mean, he is not asking for a handout. He has something to OFFER. And he's proud of his little cards. And he should be.

What a great country. Geez. There's just nothing like it.

Busy town, busy woman.

A quick report on the Erma Bombeck show at New Stage. I thought it was good; Shirley Simpson is a wonderful actress, and she did a great job. I would absolutely love to see her in more productions, and I will make the effort to do so. The only thing I would have changed - the script is very self-referential. (The show is set up with the conceit that the "spirit" of Erma Bombeck has been allowed to return to Earth to do this special show. This set-up was mentioned and explained numerous times, and I thought it got a little thin.)

Hubby and I went to Natchez this weekend for a little time away. We stayed at a little B&B, shopped downtown, and generally enjoyed ourselves. We also ate a fabulous dinner at The Castle, the restaurant on the grounds of Dunleith. WOW. I had the duck with a roasted apple compote, served with sauteed spinach and wild rice. Brian and I split the crabcake appetizer, but it would be worth ordering your OWN. (Only love for him kept me from eating the whole thing myself.)

We also happened to stumble on an arts and crafts fair while we were there. I picked up some amazing pieces - hand-carved wooden hair clips, a gorgeous hand-made wooden salad bowl (polished to a high sheen - I have been lusting after these at the Craftsmen's Guild for years, but I could never afford them. Buying direct does have its privileges!), a copper ring. We also toured Monmouth, which was all right, but not very much of a tour. Mostly, we legged it around downtown and eyed real estate. (It's a weird thing - every time Brian and I go on a trip, we notice what's for sale and pick up those little real estate pamphlets. I think we have this weird idea that, some day, we'll own several homes and just jet between them, living the high life. How we'll pay for this fantasy existence, I have no idea.)

Oooh, we also stopped for a bite at the Pig Out Inn. We didn't throw caution to the wind (we opted to split a rib plate), but we did sample some of the best potato salad of my life. I talked with the staff and jotted down the ingredients. Now, Brian and I will test exhaustively until we get it just right.

I know. It's tough being me sometimes. :-)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

And it's . . . Christmas?

This week, sis and I went to Miseltoe Marketplace at the Trade Mart in Jackson. For those of you not familiar with the Jackson area, Miseltoe Marketplace is this huge shopping extravagana, which is put on by the Jackson Junior League and features merchants from all over the south. The buy-fest takes place once a year, and the proceeds benefit a charity of the Junior League's selection. They had TONS of great booths. I loved the purses and shoes that I saw there - artful little jeweled bags with matching mules, embroidered silk bags with handles featuring wood inlay, some really carefully-made pieces. I bought a couple of bags and a delicious-smelling garland made of oranges, bay leaves, and cinnamon. (It smells just like Christmas!) We dined at Bravo! before heading over to the market on Friday night; it was a great girls' night out.

These past few weekends, I've been getting my hands dirty. So far, I've planted tons of azaleas, hostas, gardenias, and camellias. Yesterday, I divided irises (is that the right plural?) at Mom's and then re-planted the extras at my house. (I think I ended up with about 50, and I didn't even put a dent in what she has! They multiply like rabbits!) I also put about 30 star-gazer lilies in the ground. Ever since college, it has been one of my favorite flowers. BUT I've never tried to grow it. Pray with me that I don't commit floricide.

Oooh - today I'm going to see a one-woman show at New Stage - Erma Bombeck - which is written by & starring Shirley Simpson. (I know she's on the New Stage board of directors, and she's a performer as well. Unfortunately, I've never seen her on stage. This is my chance!) I'm really looking forward to that, and afterwards, I'm going to try and get together with one of my old friends who is in town from New York. Yeesh! I'm a busy lady these days!