Movie Round-Up

Delicatessen (1991)

One of my favorite films which I saw on the big screen at Brattle Theatre a few years back.  This was the first time Susan saw it and I was surprised that I’d forgotten how dark and gory this post-apocalyptic cannibalistic black comedy was.  Still, it is funny and amazing creative with possibly the best opening titles sequence ever as well as a couple of masterful set pieces.

Delicatessen title sequence:

Classic scene from Delicatessen used in trailer:

Mark Twain (2001)

A Ken Burns documentary about America’s great celebrity author, a man of many contradictions who lead a life both charmed and tragic.  I didn’t know much about Mark Twain’s life beyond a few famous fables so I enjoyed learning about the man and his work in this well-filmed, well-narrated, and well-illustrated documentary.

The Great Escape (1963)

The ultimate WWII prisoner of war film is entertaining if a bit long.  The Germans round up the most troublesome prisoners into one high-security camp and the Allied prisoners respond by planning the most daring escape ever.  The film claims to be based on actual events although a lot of what happens is dramatized, compressed, and composite-ized beyond reality, so it’s best to watch this for it entertainment and symbolic value rather than for a history lesson.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the Eddie Izzard routine on The Great Escape while watching this:

The Historic Pubs of Dublin (2008)

For St. Patrick’s Day, I enjoyed this hour-long journey through the best pubs in Dublin with writer Frank McCourt.  Pubs patronized by writers and revolutionaries are visited as well as good places to enjoy a pint, a whiskey, Irish trad, and some good craic are all visited.  McCourt also leads the viewer to some of the top tourist attractions in Dublin, often conveniently proximite to a pub.

Beer Review: Radeberger Pilsener

Beer: Radeberger Pilsener
Brewer: Radeberger Exportbierbrauerei
Source:  Draft
Rating: *** (7.5 of 10)
Comments:  On-tap at Emmet’s pub in Beacon Hill, Radeberger is served in a tall, slender mug that displays it’s golden color, bubbly carbonation, and frothy head.  It has kind of a grassy/grainy aroma and flavor with a nice aftertaste you can chew on for a while.  Everything about it is kind of smooth and subtle, so one would might find it a little flavorless if one drinks it too fast.

Beer Review: Magic Hat #9

Beer: Magic Hat #9
Brewer: Magic Hat Brewing Company
Source:  Draft
Rating: *** (7.3 of 10)
Comments: Enjoyed a pint of this potion at Doyle’s over the weekend and found it an agreeable if not remarkable beer.  The aroma and taste are sweetened by apricot, making it yet another in a parade of fruity beers I’ve been sampling lately. The apricot is balanced by a hoppy flavor so it’s not overwhelmingly sweet.  The beer is a nice amber color with a good sized head and decent lacing on the glass.  I think I’ve had this beer in a bottle before and not been all to impressed but the on-tap version is more palatable.  Magic Hat Brewing Company is in Burlington, VT so I’m calling for another road trip.

Previously: Magic Hat “Jinx”

Confessions of a St. Patrick’s Day Curmudgeon

While most kids look forward to Christmas, when I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day (along with Thanksgiving) was one of my favorite days of the year.  It was a big day in my family usually involving going to the parade in New York and seeing family and friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  Then there was the music, the stories of St. Patrick, the history of Ireland and the Irish in America.  Growing up in a town where the dominant population was Italian-American, it also helped that there was one day a year where everyone wanted to be Irish.  The element of pride was strong.

Things started to change when I moved to Virginia.  If people celebrated St. Patrick’s day at all it was at a most superficial and sterotypical levely.  Mostly it was just an excuse to get drunk.  I thought St. Patrick’s Day would be better when I moved to Boston, but even in this most Irish of American cities I find the magic of my childhood lacking.  I still look forward to St. Patrick’s Day but usually end up a little disappointed.  Here are some things that contribute to my ambivalence:

  • Wearing of the green – not bad in itself although some people really stretch the definition of green to include lime, chartreuse, olive drab and teal.  Worse, they wear all those colors at once.  I’m more perturbed by the self-imposed enforcers who critcize anyone in green.  In years past I’ve worn sweaters made in Ireland thinking it more authentic, but there’s no pleasing the Green Team.  Which brings me to:
  • Pinching – Who came up with this crock?  I lived 18-years in an Irish-American family interacting with Irish-American communities before I ever heard of the idea that you pinch people who don’t wear green when I started college.  People act as if it’s some ancient Irish tradition, but I’m certain it’s a fairly recently innovation created to appeal to everyone’s inner sadist and I hope it goes away soon.
  • Beads – It seems that wearing cheap plastic green beads is the thing to do these days on St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s an obvious rip-off of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras.  Granted, both holidays are about a month a part, have Catholic roots, and have a lot of revelry, but IIRC even in Mardi Gras the beads are a cheapening of a richer holiday tradition.  Lets can this one too.
  • 364 days a year, one can visit a pub in the greater Boston and hear a great performance of Irish music – traditional or contemporary – and meet interesting people while quaffing a tasty Irish beer.  One day a year you can wedge yourself into an Irish pub with a bunch of drunken frat boys, listen to cheezy Oirish music and drink green-dyed Corona and pay a 20$ (or more) cover charge for the privilege.  Guess which day this is?
  • Danny Boy – once upon a time this was probably a lovely song, but these days this performance is not too far off the mark:
  • Parades on St. Patrick’s day are a good way to celebrate the arts, culture, faith, and history of the Irish people but (in America at least) they are tainted by homophobia, militarism, and racism.
  • The stupid t-shirts

Could be I’m just a grump.  I’m cheered though that my wife brought home Dubliner cheese and Irish soda bread for supper which we enjoyed with (German) beer and (Italian) pasta.  Then we danced to some Irish music with our little boy.  I’ll need to find some new traditions to make St. Patrick’s Day as memorable for him as it was for me.


Book Review: A Portrait of Jesus by Joseph Girzone

In A Portrait of Jesus(1998), Joseph Girzone uses a similar approach that he uses in his fictional series of Joshua novels to understanding the historical Jesus.  That is, to avoid theology, doctrine, and Christology and look at Jesus as a real person who came to earth to spread His message of love and freedom through creating relationships with other people.  It’s a simple yet revolutionary approach and proves very enlightening and inspirational, especially in the early chapters.  Yet, even as something of a Fr. Girzone fan I have to admit that while full of faith and prayerful contemplation, Fr. Girzone is not the best writer and comes across a bit hokey.  In the later chapters he sort of recreates the Gospels in a more common language, but kind of cherry picks stories from all the Gospels into one narrative.  Fr. Girzone also depicts Jesus as unique in relationship with the poor, oppressed, and women against a rule-following, monolithic Jewish religious leadership, which is a fallacy according to what I read last Lent in Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew.  Still, for all it’s flaws this is a good inspirational book.

Favorite Passages

Even though you may be weak, are you focused on God, are you sensitive to the pain and hurt all around you?  This is the essence of the person who is pleasing to God.   Not that accuracy in belief and disciplining human weakness are not important, but loving the Father in heaven and caring for others is absolutely essential  They were the teachings that were critical to Jesus.  Jesus realized few people will ever have an accurate understanding of the nature of God and even the identity of the Son of God, but He knew that it was within the heard of everyone to care for others.  – p. 32-33

And in telling His followers to love as He loved, it constrains us to continually deepen our intimacy with Him so we can understand Him and what He expects of us as His friends, and grow as love grows, naturally from within, without imposing on ourselves artificial imperatives from outside.

As a result, following Jesus and knowing what is expected will always be confusing, as walking in faith is destined to be, Jesus may have explained things more clearly to the apostles, as the writings of the early Fathers of the Church indicate, but even the apostles did not comprehend everything the way we would have desired. – p. 91

Author : Girzone, Joseph F.
Title : A portrait of Jesus / Joseph F. Grizone.
Edition : 1st ed.
Published : New York : Doubleday, 1998.
Description : 179 p. ; 22 cm.
ISBN : 0385482639

Book Review: Faithful Dissenters by Robert McClory

Robert McClory puts the Catholic church under the historical lens in Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church (2000) to show instances when individuals have stood up against official Church teachings and hierarchy.  These dissenters are sometimes punished in their time, but all have been revealed to be prophetic voices whose ideas are accepted by the Church at large to the Church’s benefit.

The Faithful Dissenters include:

  • John Courtney Murray, who proposed the very American idea of “freedom of religion”
  • Galileo, who respectively tried to incorporate his observations of the heavens into the Church’s longtime understanding of cosmology only to have his studies repressed
    • “Still, there are two facts about which no dispute is possible: first, on the scientific issue, Galileo was overwhelmingly correct and the institutional Church was wrong; second, by seeking to quell an idea whose time had come, Church leaders dealt the institutional Church a severe blow from which it is still recovering,” – p. 26
  • John Henry Newman, who insisted that doctrine actually develops bottom-up from the laity
  • Mary Ward, who founded an order of religious sisters active in apostolic works of teaching and charitable work within the world at a time when women religious were expected to be cloistered
  • 16th century Jesuits who realized the changing economy of Renaissance Europe meant changes in the understanding of usury as well
  • Catherine of Siena, who took it on herself to tell the Avignon papacy to shape up and ship back to Rome
  • Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary to China who success converting the Chinese to Christianity by controversially incorporating local Buddhist and Confucian philosophy
    • “In a very real sense, his biographers have noted, Ricci tried to do for Confucius what Thomas Aquinas did for Aristotle: provide a complex belief system witha a philosophical and moral undergirding, thus making the mysteries of the faith more approachable to the people of a specific culture,” – p. 97.
  • Hildegard of Bingen, a visionary with startlingly modern concepts of the feminine divine
  • Yves Congar, an ecumenical activist for fellowship, dialogue and respect of other Christian denominations and Judaism
    • “Congar wrote of two great temptations confronting the Church in every age: “Pharisaism,” that is, absolutizing religious rules and regulations rather than serving the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people; and “the temptation of the Synagogue,” that is, freezing tradition in such a way that cannot develop beyond what was understood in the past.  What the Church must do, he insisted, is harmonize itself more generously with the style of a new society — “a society she [the Church] is called to baptize as she has baptized others in the past,”” – p. 124
  • John Purcell and Edward Purcell, who taught that slavery was sinful at a time when it was widely accepted in the Church

In the conclusion, McClory writes:

In two important respects the dissenters described her are unqualifiedly alike.  First, they absolutely refused to leave the Churh in the face of all their difficulties.  One could argue that this stubborn fidelity, this standing in place while contradicting authority, was the principal factor in their  ultimate success and (sometimes posthumous) vindication.  Second, they did not see themselves as disobedient persons.  They shared a remarkable awareness that submission to God and submission to Church authority are not always the same thing.  Some today might call them “cafeteria Catholics.”  In a sense, they were; they maintained that not everything in the cafeteria was edible. Nevertheless, their acknowledgment of Church authority and their gratitude for what the Church offered them over the long haul never left, ” – p. 164

I thought this was a good book as the historical sketches were well-written and informative.  Additionally, it is written very respectfully, resisting the temptation to condemn those who tried to quash dissent as history’s losers or turn this into a rallying cry for our times.  McClory message is that good people can disagree and some ideas are ahead of their time, but eventually that which is of God will triumph.

Author : McClory, Robert, 1932-
Title : Faithful dissenters : stories of men and women who loved and changed the church / Robert McClory.
Published : New York : Orbis Books 2000.
Description : viii, 180 p. : ports ; 24 cm.
ISBN : 1570753229 (pbk.)

Boston By Foot Special Tour: Literary Landmarks, Continued

An entire week has passed, and I’ve yet to write about Boston By Foot’s special tour of 20th Century writers who lived and worked on Beacon Hill held on March 8th entitled Literary Landmarks, Continued.   This is a sequel of sorts to the regular Literary Landmarks tour which focuses on the 19th Century writers in the same area and is offered every Saturday at 10 am during the regular tour season from May to October.

The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial subject of Robert Lowell's most famous poem "For the Union Dead"
The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial subject of Robert Lowell's most famous poem "For the Union Dead"

The tour covered a number of sites including:

  • Site of Houghton-Mifflin publishing on Park Street
  • The Boston Athenaeum
  • The Massachusetts State House
  • Site of Little, Brown publishing on Beacon Street
  • Joy Street
  • The Beacon Press
  • Mt. Vernon Street
  • Louisburg Square
  • Cedar Street
  • Savenor’s Market
  • Charles Circle
Shadow of the Little, Brown name on a Beacon Street building
Shadow of the Little, Brown name on a Beacon Street building

More important than the sites are the stories of the writers and the literature they produced.  Sadly, the words “depression,” “alchoholism,” “failed marriages,” and “suicide” were repeated throughout the tour, so being a Boston writer was not an easy job.

Writer’s included on this tour include:

  • Esther Forbes, author of Johnny Tremain
  • poet Amy Lowell
  • Samuel Eliot Morrison, author of One Boy’s Boston
  • historian David McCullough who researches his work at the Athenaeum
  • poet Robert Lowell
  • Frances Parkinson Keynes, author of novel called Joy Street
  • Atlantic editor Thomas Bailey Aldrich
  • William Stanley Braithwaite, poet who joined black and white poets together in an anthology for the first time
  • Frances Minturn Howard, who wrote Beacon Hill: Hub of the Universe
  • David MCord, children’s poet
  • Sylvia Plath, poet born in Jamaica Plain who lived on Beacon Hill with Ted Hughes
  • Robert Frost, probably the most famous poet of New England
  • Robin Cook, physician and author of medical thrillers
  • Archibald MacLeish, lawyer, poet and Librarian of Congress
  • John Marquand, author of The Late George Apley and the “Mr. Moto” series
  • W.S. Merwin, poet and playwright-in-residence at Poet’s Theatre
  • Annie Fields, writer, publisher, and host of literary salons
  • Sarah Orne Jewett, novelist and story writer
  • Willa Cather, novelist of My Antonia and other stories of the Great Plains
  • Julia Child, cookbook writer
A plaque commemorates Robert Frost residency as one of the many great writers who lived on Beacon Hill
A plaque commemorates Robert Frost residency as one of the many great writers who lived on Beacon Hill

If you’re kicking yourself for missing this terrific tour, make sure to sign up at so you will get reminders of Boston By Foot special tours. Better yet, become a member of Boston By Foot and take free regular tours, discounted special tours, and tours only available for members.  You can even become a guide yourself by signing up online and attending the Annual Spring Lecture Series which begins on April 11th.

Upcoming tours include:

  • Sunday March 29th, 2 pm – Great Women of Boston (meet at the flagpoles at City Hall Plaza)
  • Sunday April 25th, 2 pm – Revisiting the Waterfront, lead by yours truly (meet at McKinley Sq., by the entrance to Marriott Custom House)

See you on the streets of Boston!

RetroPost: Happy Π Day

Today we’re celebrating a holiday I learned about two years ago.  It is the only holiday dedicated to a number, the number Π.

As my friend Steve posted on Twitter:

Today’s 3/14 and seriously, I don’t see what’s so hard about finding the end of pie. Just OM NOM NOM and you’re there.

I made sure to commemorate the day with a slice of key lime pie at Doyle’s cafe.

Make sure to listen to this Only a Game broadcast of a Pi recitation contest at Harvard University.  I haven’t been able to find any mention of this event reoccuring this year.

Happy Π  Day, to 3.141 and all!

100 Favorite Books of All Time (30-21)

Another “ten” books on my all-time list of favorites in a segment where there’s a lot of cheating going on.  Technically, there are 15 books in this segment alone.



30 The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party & The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Kingdom of the Waves by M. T. Anderson

This epic work tells the story of a young African boy raised as something of a lab rat by a group of Natural Philosophers in Colonial Boston.  Octavian comes of age during the Revolution coming to terms with his status as a slave and the conflicting notions of liberty.  The first book is a masterpiece while the second drags a little, but you’ll want to read them both to see Octavian through to the end of his fascinating account.

29 A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany is a great book about many things: family, friendship, religious belief, childhood, the Vietnam War, illusions gained and lost. If there’s one flaw in this book is that the center part drags on a bit too long with much to much buildup to the ultimate conclusion. But the beginning and end of this book are stellar.

28 Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Tony Horwitz travels through the South meeting with people who have a devotion to the Confederacy that borders on insanity at times (“Cats of the Confederacy” is the best). Yet, Horwitz patiently and sympathetically lets the people he meets speak their peace and really allows their humanity to shine through. This is a very insightful, funny, and sometimes frightening book about America today.

27 The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

Most of Irving’s early novels tie together bears, hotels, and Vienna. This one does it best. A multi-generational eccentric family follows their father’s dream of opening and living in a hotel with often comic, frequently disturbing, and sometimes tragic results. There is a film adaptation of this book too which is pretty good too. This is my favorite of Irving’s novels.

26 Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood & Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

A pair of graphic memoirs tell of Satrapi’s childhood coming of age during the Iranian Revolution, living abroad in Europe as a teenager, and returning home as an adult.  The mix of words and images, reality and fantasy bring a human touch to lives that may only be seen as news headlines in the US.

25 The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit by J.R.R, Tolkien

I’m one of those rare people who never read Tolkien as a child, waiting until I was 18 when a friend told me he wanted to “read Tolkien again for the first time.”  I did and was captured by the great storytelling and invention of Tolkien’s own world of Middle Earth.  I’ve since read it again, and really can’t imagine reading them any other way than all four books one after another, so I count them here as one.

24 Ball Four by Jim Bouton

This is the classic baseball “behind-the-scenes” book. Bouton is a thoughtful, insightful writer and incredibly funny. Plus this diary is an artifact of the gone and almost forgotten Seattle Pilots. I read the most recent edition which is almost twice as long with Bouton’s updates on his career and life. But it’s all the more fun, because Bouton is a character I want to know more about and the further you read into the book the more you feel, as Bouton puts it, like family.

23 A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczynski

An excellent biography about a remarkable man. Olmsted carved out democracy from the landscape, and shaped the values of the American city. I learned a lot from this book.

22 The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Eliel

This is a fascinating book that acts as a quadruple biography for four American Catholics – Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. All four are tied together not just by their faith but by the ways in which they write about Catholicism in a distinctly American way. Even though the four subjects didn’t really associate together much beyond correspondence, Elie masterfully ties together their parallel pilgrimages into one coherent narrative. Interestingly, only O’Connor was born Catholic, and the conversion stories and reasons for conversion for Merton, Percy, and Day are fascinating and surprising. This is one of the most inspirational and just plain good books I’ve read in some time.

21 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

This is an epic book and a thick one at that, but I plowed through it in 2 weeks (at a rate of 100 pages per day) when I was 16 just after seeing the musical adaptation. It was that good that I just couldn’t stop reading. The novel is full of tangents where you may get 100 pages of history of the Napoleonic Wars just as background to a simple plot point. But those tangents are wonderful and you just want to go down those roads with Hugo. Reward yourself by setting aside some time to read this book. Take it to the beach. Seriously. Just make sure you put on enough sun block because you may just lose track of time.

20 or so books to go!