Thursday, July 31, 2014

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins is a 2012 novel by Jess Walter. It was on the New York Times list of Notable Books of the year. His book Citizen Vince (which I read years ago) won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for best novel in 2006. The man can write. I care about his characters, wishing them well.

from the back of the book:
From the moment it opens -on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat -Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is gloriously inventive and constantly surprising -a story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.
favorite quotes:
...he found himself inhabiting the vast, empty plateau where most people live, between boredom and contentment.
Weren't movies his generation's faith anyway -its true religion? Wasn't the theater our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches feature ten thousand sects with a billion sermons -but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it! That summer, the one you'll never forget, every movie house beamed the same set of thematic and narrative images -the same Avatar, same Harry Potter, same Fast and Furious, flickering pictures switched in our minds that replaced our own memories, archetypal stories that became our shared history, that taught us what to expect from life, that defined our values. What was that but a religion?
All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character -what we believe- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story! his estimation, the more you lived the more regret and longing you suffered, that life was a glorious catastrophe...
...the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be... much easier life would be if our intentions and our desires could always be aligned.
It all happens so fast, you wake a young man and at lunch are middle aged and by dinner you can imagine your death. And you were happy?
There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact. -Milan Kundera
Zombies are presented as a "pale, dull metaphor for love". The Donner Party even makes an appearance.

Kirkus Reviews opens its review by saying, "Hollywood operators and creative washouts collide across five decades and two continents in a brilliant, madcap meditation on fate" and closes with this: "Walter’s prose is a joy—funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that's life-affirming but never saccharine. A superb romp." Paste Magazine delves into philosophy and closes by invoking some Big Names:
Big, broad, highly effective satire like this doesn’t appear often—it takes great skill and nuance to create it. When you read Beautiful Ruins, you’ll taste flavors of our greatest satirists—George Orwell, Ambrose Bierce, H. L. Mencken, Jane Austen, Frank Zappa, Garry Trudeau, Flannery O’Connor, George Carlin, Walt Kelly, Stanley Kubrick, even Twain Himself. I expect they’re all smiling along with Horace at this wonderful, funny tale.
NPR has 2 reviews: This one says it "made me want to quit my job, move to L.A. and see the Hollywood train wreck up close"; this one describes it as "a sweeping stunner of a narrative that roams from Italy in the early 1960s to Hollywood and the American Heartland in the present" and says, "This novel is a standout not just because of the inventiveness of plot, but also because of its language".

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Golf Course Pollinator Paradise

I've been driving by this flower garden in the golf course for weeks and finally decided to take its picture. I'm not sure what prompted the planting of this oasis, but I've enjoyed it.

While I was there, I walked around in Audubon Park, which adjoins the Audubon Golf Course. I was particularly noticing the wildflowers on this walk:

I did see some birds and squirrels and actually got a picture of the woodpecker. Do you see it on the trunk of this tree?

The toadstools were so bright it looked they wanted to be noticed:

The park is a wonderful place to walk, picnic, people-watch and just be out in nature while still being right in the middle of the city.

You can tell from this map that it's right in town, not at all out of the way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Muddy's Bake Shop

The Daughter and I went to Muddy's Bake Shop earlier this Summer. She had been there, but I never had. We wanted a place we could sit outside while we had a cuppa coffee and thought we'd try here.

Most uncomfortable chairs evah! To lean back you have to really lean back, so there's effectively no back support at all. The seating inside (yes, of course I went back) is comfortable.

The coffee was fine and the cake was perfection. I had the strawberry cake, which was just the right amount of strawberry-tasty:

The Daughter had the Grasshopper cake you can see in the background of that picture, and she ate every crumb. She saved her sprinkly cookies for later.

The people-watching was unparalleled! We overheard 2 middle-aged-plus men discussing the crime of pruning azaleas into hedges and the fine points of bonsai after they finished talking about a friend of theirs in Mississippi and his trailer. We overheard 3 men who were waiting outside discussing the merits of various by-the-slice pizza options while their compatriots (another man and 2 women) were buying treats inside. When the 3 inside joined the 3 waiting outside, they began talking about exactly how much you have to buy in a place before it counts as "supporting local business". We heard one man saying to another, "I was following Jim, but he wasn't coming here." [That's my favorite over-heard comment so far.] We overheard 4 women talking about the value of just buying the icing separately because then you don't have to worry about eating too much cake.

You can actually buy the icing separately. In tiny little single serving-sized tubs. You can check out their offerings here.

People-watching is a lost art which should be revived. So let's go out there and watch the folks. And let's ourselves provide some little quirk that's worth watching. Me? I wear hats. That's noticeable these days without calling undue attention to myself.

The New York Times has recently brought some attention to them by naming them one of the best places to have pie in Memphis. Memphis Mama has a positive review and photos of the interior. Urban Spoon has a score of 90%. Yelp gives it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Join Bleubeard and Elizabeth's weekly T party at their blog. They are excellent hosts, and you will get a warm welcome there.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Highway 61 Revisited

Highway 61 Revisited:

by Bob Dylan. You can see a map of this highway, which runs through Memphis, at Wikipedia here.

lyrics excerpt:
Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”

Well Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Ol’ Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Pay Phone!

I can remember teaching my kids to use a pay when they were little, and soon afterwards all the pay phones disappeared.

Or, so I thought.

I found this one on Main Street.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson is a 2012 film based on the diaries/journals of Daisy Suckley, in which apparently being a clueless adulteress makes you the hero of the piece. Excuse me while I'm not won over by the idea. The Wikipedia article says Daisy's writings are the only evidence of any kind of such a relationship, although relationships with other women were known.

Bill Murray plays F.D.R.


Empire Online gives it 2 out of 5 stars, concluding, "Disappointing given the talent and situation, dull as ditchwater and historically suspect, another The King’s Speech it definitely is not. Nice costumes, though." TimeOut gives it 3 out of 5 stars, calling it "somewhat uneven and ultimately underwhelming". EW gives it a grade of C-, calls it "tittery" and says, "nothing in those letters justifies the handwork that Laura Linney, as Daisy, performs on Bill Murray as FDR". Roger Ebert gives it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and says, "Murray, who has a wider range than we sometimes realize, finds the human core of this FDR and presents it tenderly." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics rating of 36% and an even lower audience rating.

Friday, July 25, 2014


The Ark is a 2007 animated science fiction short film directed by Grzegorz Jonkajtys.

from the director's web site:
An unknown virus has destroyed almost the entire human population. Oblivious to the true nature of the disease, the only remaining survivors escape to the sea. In great ships, they set off in search of uninhabited land. So begins the exodus, led by one man ...
There's a lot to think about here.

via youtube:

Animation Blog calls it "an inspiring example of the detail animation can obtain." Animation World Network notes: ""Ark" received a Golden Palm nomination at the Cannes Film Festival, an Award of Distinction at Prix Ars Electronica, and a Best in Show Award at SIGGRAPH." Computer Graphics World has some information on how the film was made.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Forgotten

The Forgotten is a 2012 John Puller novel by David Baldacci, 2nd in a series. At 422 pages, I thought it would be longer -much longer- than I'd like a thriller to be; but the sentences are short, and the chapters are very short. It's a quick and easy read. There's a lot of repetition of phrases and images and descriptions. This plot is all over the place, involving human trafficking, murder, elder abuse, financial fraud, pedophilia, gangs, petty sexual jealousy when the strong male protagonist is pursued by two different women, conflicts between local police and the military, exercise routines among the fit, kidnapping, law-breaking by the law officers, rape, and a dog in need of kindness. Poor doggie. I'm sure I left out some things, but it was hard to keep up. Not that it was hard to keep up with the plot. No, that was all too simple to do. The characters were either throw-aways I didn't need to care about or were so annoying I didn't want to care about them. I just wanted to get through the book, and now I have.

You can read the first chapter at the author's web site. I'm not a fan of the writing style and won't read others by this author.

from the dust jacket:
Army Special Agent John Puller is the best there is. A combat veteran, Puller is the man the U.S. Army relies on to investigate the toughest crimes facing the nation. Now he has a new case —but this time, the crime is personal: His aunt has been found dead in Paradise, Florida. A picture-perfect town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Paradise thrives on the wealthy tourists and retirees drawn to its gorgeous weather and beaches. The local police have ruled his aunt’s death an unfortunate, tragic accident. But just before she died, she mailed a letter to Puller’s father, telling him that beneath its beautiful veneer, Paradise is not all it seems to be.

What Puller finds convinces him that his aunt’s death was no accident . . . and that the palm trees and sandy beaches of Paradise may hide a conspiracy so shocking that some will go to unthinkable lengths to make sure the truth is never revealed.
The Washington Post opens its review by saying the book is
a good example of a certain type of commercially successful novel. Its hero is a warrior and patriot who does battle against the forces of evil. Although often outnumbered by his enemies, and face-to-face with death, he never surrenders. Combat aside, he loves children, honors his father —himself a great warrior in his day— and sometimes dallies with women, but only if they leave him no choice. The book is a fantasy, a prose cartoon, but if you buy into its highly improbable plot, it’s readable enough and at times even exciting.
Kirkus Reviews closes with this: "A solid thriller—though someone tell the fact checker that Bulgaria was never part of the Soviet Union."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lisa's Lunchbox

The Daughter and I had been looking forward to trying out Lisa's Lunchbox, and I admit to being a bit disappointed. It was fine enough, but just not as much "cute" and "fun" as we had thought it might be.

I had a panini and The Daughter had a half BLT sandwich and a cup of tomato soup:

With iced tea our individual totals were almost $10. Chips do not come with the food and cost $1 extra. This just seemed high to me. The sandwiches were fine, no complaints about the food, but it was nothing special, and I can get nothing-special sandwiches for less than this. The little patio tables with lunchbox decorations were cute:

but the food is just not gonna draw me back.

I can't love every place I go, I don't guess, and plenty of people are praising it. Urban Spoon has a 96% rating with 54 votes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


(Please join the T(ea) is for Tuesday party hosted by Bleubeard and Elizabeth).

Swann is a 1987 mystery novel by Carol Shields. I've read several of her books and always enjoy them. I read The Stone Diaries before I started blogging, because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. More recently I've read Unless and Larry's Party. I'll continue picking up her books as I come across them. I'm never disappointed by her.

You can read an excerpt from Swann at the author's website.

from the back of the book:
To her neighbors, Mary Swann was a simple, hardworking farm wife; her delicate poems are discovered only after she is brutally murdered. The strange, evocative verses attract the attention of an earnestly self-absorbed feminist scholar, a pompous literary biographer, a virginal small-town librarian, and a curmudgeonly retired newspaper editor. But as interest increases, all traces of Swann's existence -her notebook, the first draft of her work, even her photograph- mysteriously vanish.

In solving the puzzle of Swann's disappearing legacy, Carol Shields explores the larger mysteries of the nature of art, as well as the powerful forces that motivate us all.
Tea shows up a few times in this book. For one woman it's a comfort measure:
Oh, she loves her Friday nights. During the week she's too tired to read, and it's all she can do to keep her attention on the television. But Friday nights: a pot of tea by her bedside, the satin binding of the blanket at her chin, the clean cotton-and-Fortrel-blend sheets moving across her legs, her book propped up in front of her.
Rose's bedside clock says 2:00 A.M. The hour and the grey chill of the room augment the airlessness that enters her throat. Just one more chapter, she promises herself, but she can't stop. Through a crack in her curtains she can see the moon, shaved down to a chip. The tea in her cup has been cold for hours, but she sips a little anyway...
In other places it's used as a distraction, as in "May I get you some tea?" as a way to change an uncomfortable subject. It's interesting to think about how tea and coffee rituals can provide solitary comfort and how they can serve as a social tool. It doesn't just taste good; it's useful! Now I feel all justified and righteous!

The book provides an almost snarky look at academe. The researchers know what they want to find and find it, ignoring all evidence that doesn't support their view. The people being interviewed who knew the poet being researched either provide deliberately one-sided views of the subject or they make up stuff trying to please the researchers.

I loved this book. You can just imagine this actually happening. Biographies just aren't as trustworthy if you question the author's agenda. And posthumous works? Well, I've always been a bit suspicious of works published posthumously.

favorite quotes:
Habit is the flywheel of society, conserving and preserving and dishing up tidy, edible slices of the cosmos. And there's much to be said for a steady diet. Those newspaper advice-givers who urge you to put a little vinegar in your life are toying, believe me, with your sanity.
Guilt has the power to extract merciless sacrifices.
Clever men create themselves, but clever women, it seems to me, are created by their mothers. Women can never quite escape their mothers' cosmic pull, not their lip-biting expectations or their faulty love. We want to please our mothers, emulate them, disgrace them, oblige them, outrage them, and bury ourselves in the mysteries and consolations of their presence.
...women carry with them the full freight of their mothers' words. It's the one part of us that can never be erased or revised.
...a life lived, as the saying goes, in the avoidance of biography.
...perhaps men have a tendency to overlook what is perfectly obvious to women.
The hold most married people have on each other tends to dwindle fairly quickly, but occasionally accident and temperament, so strangely mingled, keep it buoyant.
Publishers Weekly opens its review with this:
Viking has wisely decided not to publish this fascinating novel as a mystery, as it was designated in Canada, where it earned excellent reviews. While two (rather bland) mysteries animate the plot, the book's considerable impact is as a combination of psychological novel and satirical comedy of manners that wittily dissects the pretensions of academia.
Kirkus Reviews says, "... this novel is the triumphant introduction of a mature artist to American readers."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Don't Go Into That Barn

Don't Go Into That Barn:

by Tom Waits. There's a Memphis mention towards the end.

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

Black cellophane sky at midnite
Big blue moon with three gold rings
I called Champion to the window
I pointed up above the trees
That's when I heard my name in a scream
Coming from the woods, out there
I let my dog run off the chain
I locked my door real good with a chair

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

Everett Lee broke loose again
Its worse than the time before
Cause he's high on potato and tulip wine
Fermented in the muddy rain of course
A drunken wail a drunken train
Blew through the birdless trees
Oh, you're alone alright
You're alone alright
How did I know
How did I know

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

An old black tree
Scratching up the sky
With boney, claw like fingers
A rusty black rake
Digging up the turnips
Of a muddy cold grey sky
Shiny tooth talons
Coiled for grabbing a stranger
Happening by
And the day went home early
And the sun sunk down into
The muck of a deep dead sky

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

Back since Saginaw Calinda was born
It's been cotton and soybeans, tobacco and corn
Behind the porticoed house of a
Long dead farm
They found the falling down timbers
Of a spooky old barn
Out there like a slave ship
Upside down
Wrecked beneath the waves of grain
When the river is low
They find old bones and
When they plow they always
Dig up chains

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

Did you bury your fire?
Yes sir
Did you cover your tracks?
Yes sir
Did you bring your knife?
Yes sir
Did they see your face?
No sir
Did the moon see you?
No sir
DId you go cross the river?
Yes sir
Did you fix your rake?
Yes sir
Did you stay down wind?
Yes sir
Did you hide your gun?
Yes sir
Did you smuggle your rum?
Yes sir
How did I know
How did I know
How did I know

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

Don't forget that I warned you

Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea
Don't go into that barn, yea

No shirt no coat
Put me on a flat boat
Dover down to Covington
Covington to Louisville
Louisville to Henderson
Henderson to Smithland
Smithland to Memphis
Memphis down to Vicksburg
Vicksburg to Natchez
Going down to Natchez

Put me on a flat boat
Dover down to Covington
Covington to Louisville
Louisville to Henderson...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July Flowers at the Dixon Gardens

On my most recent visit to the Dixon Gardens, we had just a few days before had thunderstorms and straight-line winds that had taken down power for a number of Memphians, and yet the gardens looked great. How do they do it?

I spent about an hour walking over the grounds. There are a lot of flowers, including Surprise Lilies scattered through the woodland garden:

There are benches placed throughout the property but I didn't sit today. Here are three of these inviting rest spots:

See the man painting in the next photo?

They have a few water features, and these had water lilies in bloom:

People enjoy the flowers while they stroll in the garden, of course, but the flowers can also be enjoyed inside the museum in the form of flower arrangements on display there. I didn't go inside, so I don't know whether or not there were flowers in there on this day, but here are some more of the flowers I saw in the garden:

What a delightful place to spend some time!