Saturday, July 19, 2008

On the Matter of Weddings: Or Where I've Been

Part of the field where I would have had the wedding.

I have always had something of an attitude about weddings, even when I was young and in love. Dad, on the other hand, had his own idea of what constituted a wedding, and as he phrased it, he only had one daughter. Well, it was kinda like the Green Acres song.
Fast forward thirty years or so and here I am older, more jaded, and definitely more cynical, snickering at the young women clutching their Brides magazine to their chests. At least I was, until the little one got engaged. Unfortunately, she's on the Left Coast. So here I am in Sarasota, charged with planning a wedding. Talk about the unlikeliest of people. All of a sudden, I'm the one sneaking a peak at The Knot. Funny thing is, I'm fully into the thing. Papi's revenge.
I have run into the Southern Wedding. In my New York brain, a wedding reception is supposed to rain food and drink. The other day, my mother reminded me that at mine there were no less than 21 different foodstuffs at the cocktail hour alone. Then there is the whole choreography thing of first dances, etc.... and a hell of a good party.
My friends from Mississippi inform me that I am mistaken. That some weddings actually have... I almost can't write it... cash bars. In fact, they recently came back from a wedding at a big, old antebellum plantation where when one of the gaggle of young boys came back from the pond with an 8 lb. bass, and the adult boys made a bee line for their trucks and started a fishing frenzy in the poor homeowner's pond. True story.
In Sarasota since we are so much more upscale, there is a variant. I've come to learn that a wedding here is an expensive dinner with 3 hors d'oeuvres, count 'em 3, a panoply of unlikely taste combinations and a full bar you pay per drink. My father must be rolling over in his grave. If there is a dance floor at all, it's tucked in a nether corner of the room opposite this same bar. Not surprisingly, many people opt for the beach wedding. Having survived the hellish heat of an outdoor wedding in the summer last year, that's not an option, otherwise I would have suggested a barbeque. Oh, but wait, having it at home-which was my first choice-is even more costly. Rent the tent, rent the air-conditioners, rent the tables, chairs, linens, dishes, cutlery, get liability insurance, a permit from the county.... Yeah, not quite.
Oh, well, you know what they say, "When in Rome.." So here's to my prime rib with a mango chutney salsa. At least it's half the price of a New York fete.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mini Reads for a Friday Afternoon

Well, friends, I've been in reading heaven most of the week, begrudging the time that family, friends and just plain living take. Have I found a marvelous book, you wonder. Not exactly. Just got my hands new books by some of my favorite authors.

First up was Plague Ship by Clive Cussler with Jack DuBrul. Plot is intricate, perhaps too much so, but, boy, what a read! It's just plain fun: you don't read the book, you enter into the Cusslerian world. The writing just carries you along whether or not you find Juan Cabrillo and crew plausible.

James Lee Burke's latest, Swan Peak, although not quite in the same league as some of his earlier works, such as A Stained White Radiance and In the Mists with the Confederate Dead, is a pleasant and riveting visit with old friends Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell. No question here as to plausibility. Reformed and practicing alcoholics, Vietnam vets, ex-New Orleans cops, just people living in the marrow of life, the characters are real people to aficionados. In fact, Clete who's been something of a two dimensional character gets a bit more development in this one. The writing here just keeps you reading. Reminds me of the Penn Warren's "And then" sort of thing.

Finally, I was really excited to discover a new writer, Michael Harvey. Actually, he's co-creator of Cold Case Files, so he's not exactly a new writer, but The Chicago Way is his debut novel. His PI, Michael Kelly, would feel right at home with some of the grittiest detectives in the noir tradition, as well as Lahane's Kenzie. His is a bleak Chicago where corruption and violence permeate the chilly fabric of the city. And don't miss the plot twist. I was suspicious when I saw the praise from Grisham, Connelly, and Reichs on the cover. This is one instance in which it is deserved. I'll be reading Harvey from now on.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fact or Fiction?

Yes, high speed internet is making its way to Cuba via Venezuela. Not to be picky, but does this bit from Information Week seem to have a decided bent? Prominently featured is this quote from the Wiki Leaks report:

"The contract between the two countries, which has been independently verified, adds weight to Cuban statements that the United States economic embargo of the island has forced it to rely on slow and expensive satellite links for Internet connectivity," said Wilileaks investigative editor Julian Assange in the report. "

The supposed refusal of the United States to allow Cuba access has also been in just about every report. But I'm a little confused. Here's Dan Fisk from the National Security Council in May. may interest you to know that the Bush Administration authorized a U.S. company in 2002 to connect Cuba to an existing fiber-optic cable in the Atlantic. That authorization is still valid. The fact is that the Cuban regime has not been interested in providing the Cuban people with Internet access. Further, the President has twice offered to license U.S. non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups to provide Internet-ready computers to the Cuban people if the regime ends it restrictions on Internet access. We are still waiting for the regime to allow Internet access to the Cuban people. I hope you are asking the rulers in Havana the same question. (The full text of his remarks here.)

Wonder why I haven't come across that tidbit in any of the reports?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Meanderings: The Pigeon has Landed

Although my all time favorite comedy is probably Young Frankenstein or Jumping Jack Flash, which was on TV recently, one of the most memorable comedic scenes is to be found in the particularly silly Love at First Bite. Driven from his castle by an angry mob- government types according to Arte Johnson/Mr. Renfield- Dracula relocates to 1970's New York City, where only the tough survive. By the way, how does Renfield know they're from the government? Well, as he explains to George Hamilton/Count Dracula, "they have shoes."

So here is Count Dracula, morphed into a bat, on the prowl for a victim in the Big Apple. Seen through the window of a tenement or project is a dejected, desperately poor family, discussing their plight. At that moment, the unsuspecting bat flies in the window. They look up, stunned, but what do they yell? Are there cries of fear or wonder? No, after a moment's hesitation come cries of "Black chicken! Black chicken!" as they scurry trying to capture the thoroughly humiliated Count who is reduced to feeding on a Skid Row denizen.

The providential fowl is a motif I've had exposure to in life. I once met a Colombian minister, quite a learned fellow, who had graduated from Princeton. His childhood, though, was one of grinding poverty. His widowed mother had raised a large family in those days and in that country. This woman had great faith and would always tell her children, "God will provide."

One day they were walking down the street. Things were at their bleakest: they had nothing to eat. Beset by hunger, the children were complaining. "God will provide" was their mother's reply. Then, as if on cue, a bit fat juicy pigeon landed at their feet. It was a turning point. They remained poor, but circumstances were never again that desperate.

I know, I know, it sounds apocryphal. But this man of the cloth swore it was true. We've seized upon the thought at my house. Think about it. How many times has an unexpected check, or professional opportunity popped up at a particularly opportune moment. Around here, we look at each other and say, "The pigeon has landed." And so it goes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dangerous Ground: Updated

The buzz today is about Obama's Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on his plan for Iraq, which strategy entails some fancy footwork around his earlier positions, despite his protestations to the contrary. The media, however, has zeroed in, and rightly so, on a sentence buried in the discussion of the greater Iraq strategy in which the wouldbe president announces that he would send two additional brigades to Afghanistan.

The hair on the back of my neck rises. Is Obama here attempting to establish his willingness to use force in order to compensate for a perceived weakness on national defense? I suspect Hillary would not have found herself in this position. But it is not an unusual one for a Democrat. It is, however, dangerous. History has long taught that military supremacy is not a formula for success in Afghanistan, as both the British and the Russians learned the hard way. I would suggest that before we become involved in a situation that could well make Iraq look like a picnic, we think long and hard. Would it not make more sense to truly turn our attention to improving the lives of Afghanis?

Obama is correct that we need to pay more attention to Afghanistan. I'm just not at all sure more military is the way to go, and I fear that he may well feel the need to prove himself to our national detriment.

Update: Say it ain't so, Mac. Not to be outdone by his rival, McCain pledges to send three more brigades to Afghanistan. Everything I wrote still stands. Seizing on the lesson of Iraq should not entail forgetting earlier conflicts.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday in the Garden

Gather Ye Rosebuds.... In addition to the leading bookstore indicators, the polls continue to show the Illinois Senator's position heading South. This is going to prove interesting. Read about it in Newsweek.

Every Rose has its Thorn. Lots of press about airline imbroglios this week. There was the planeload of passengers who, understandably miffed because the crew was delayed, booed their pilot. As I discovered, wedged between two very large gentlemen with a decided disinclination to close their legs, it is never a good idea to po the airline people. Personally, as I come armed with a good book, I don't mind waiting off the airplane. Were I stuck on the tarmac, I would undoubtedly freak, being tempted to do what this passenger did here.

The Bloom is Off the Rose. T. Boone Pickens, concerned citizen or savvy investor or both, has launched his own media campaign to address the oil situation. His interim solution: wind for generating electricity and natural gas for cars. Of course, he's building a mega wind plant. Read it here.

A Rose by Any Other Name. In the celebrity news corner, we have a new tell-all book by Madonna's brother which happily coincides with the brouhaha over the supposed demise of her marriage and alleged affair with A-Rod. Just in to the newsroom... Angelina Jolie delivered a matched set by Cesarean section. Ouch!

Guns and Roses. Here's a list of the top ten gangster movies. See how it compares with yours. Personally, Scarface did nothing for me. I couldn't get past Al Pacino's Puerto Rican accent. Where's Donnie Brasco, The Valachi Papers, The Black Hand?