9/17/21

Small Towns: Stockbridge, VT to Waterbury on Vermont Route 100


 


 

 

Route 100 is the spine of Vermont. Its 200 plus miles run smack down the middle of the state from the border of North Adams, Massachusetts to the U.S./Canada boundary near Newport, Vermont. It’s no exaggeration to say the route is rural; just two settlements—Morristown and Waterbury—have more than 5,000 residents and it’s just barely so in both cases.

 

In the best of times, Route 100 is the take-your-time way to see Vermont, but in a few weeks it will be wicked slow. It’s the drive during foliage season and traffic won’t subside until Mud Season, as it passes through ski country, with Stowe perhaps the most famous of its resorts. (Serious downhill skiers don’t rate it the best, but I’m strictly a snowshoe guy so I wouldn’t know.) During its peak times (pun intended), you’ll need binoculars to spot a New England license plate.

 

Now is the time to go if leisure is your goal. I’ve written before of southern Vermont on or near Route 100, so let’s highlight the section that passes through the Mad River Valley. On a recent trip to Burlington and the Champlain Islands, Emily and I left I-89 North at Royalton and took Route 107 to its intersection with Route 100 near Stockbridge. The first part of that journey is farm country, which means it passes through no-nonsense villages that cater to local needs, not traveler wants: Talcville, Rochester, Hancock, Granville…. It skirts the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest.

 


 

As the elevation rises and you begin an ascent through a gorge, you will pass Moss Glen Falls just beyond Granville. It’s not signposted very well, but the falls are smack dab beside the road. There’s a small pullover and from there you can walk on a short boardwalk for various views of the falls. At 35-feet, Moss Glen isn’t tall, but it’s wide and picturesque. If you’re part goat, there’s also a 5-mile hike above and around the falls but you don’t have to don boots to enjoy the site from the sneakered comfort of the boardwalk. 

 

Warren Covered Bridge
 

 

Warren and Waitsfield are the two most-visited villages on this section of Route 100. They are both around 1,700 people and are quite different in character. Warren is pretty sleepy until Sugarbush opens and ski season gets underway. Even then its local businesses cater mostly to the après-ski crowd. In the “off” seasons, most folks take a drive past the Warren Covered Bridge, take a few snaps, admire the not-so-broad Mad River and make their way to Waitsfield.

 

Waitsfield Covered Bridge

 

Waitsfield is like a smaller version of the southern Vermont Route 100 town of Wilmington. By this I mean there are also things to do if you’re not hurtling your moral self over the edges of very tall mountains. You can do that if you wish—Mad River Glen is nearby—but Waitsfield also has art galleries, restaurants, a walking trail beside the river, and other attractions. Though it’s the same size as Warren, its three-season energy makes it feel much larger. The Waitsfield Covered Bridge is longer, more scenic, and the Mad River is deep enough there for swimmers to enjoy. Artisans Gallery is a good place to find superb art from local crafters, painters, and sculptors. If you want a light bite, you can sit in a small garden by the river at Three Mountain Café, though I’ll warn you that service can be slow. They do have New York-style bagels, though. 

 

 

 

Also recommended is a short drive away from the village to see the self-descriptive Round Barn Farm. It’s a meticulously gentrified building that’s more of a destination setting and banquet hall these days, but there are lovely views of meadows and the Green Mountains. Plus, the grounds have been beautifully landscaped. If you’re hungry, on your way out of town you can enjoy the counter cultural ambience and tasty offerings from American Flatbread. (Insofar as I can tell, flat bread is pizza with a funkier shape. Good though!) 

 

Near Waitsfield

 

 

You could wait until you get to Waterbury, though most folks don’t want to spend much time in its past-its-prime center until it’s for brews. Waterbury has become so famous for them that it has been nicknamed “WaterBEERy.” I wasn’t so inclined in late morning, but apparently the Prohibition Pig has frothy delights on tap. Waterbury is also home to Green Mountain Coffee, though I must confess that I’m not a fan—too many wimpy roasts for my tastes.

 

We popped back onto the interstate at Waterbury, but if you continue out of town on Route 100 there’s the remnant of an old mill, numerous shops that cater to tourists heading for Stowe, a cider mill, and the town’s biggest attraction, the headquarters of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. We’ve been there many times, so we skipped it this trip. It is, however, one of the most fun “industrial” tours in America. Although the company was sold years ago, the place retains airs of cheekiness, social awareness, and lack of pretension in keeping with the values of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

 

As a small aside, it was something of a fluke that Ben and Jerry’s is in Waterbury and my coffee buddy Steve Herrell is in Northampton, MA. They were all trawling for sites to start a business at about the same time and were looking into the same turf.

 

Rob Weir

9/16/21

Sentencing Inequity and Not Woke at All




 

I’ve been trying to avoid politics–not because I don’t care, but because politics has become a zero-sum game. Wheels spin, venom is dripped, and nothing changes. It’s two sides screaming “Oh yeah!” from opposing sides of a brick wall. Alas, some things prompt the need to comment. Here are two.

 

Remember Michael Hari? In 2017, he bombed a Bloomington, Indiana mosque. Recently, Hari–who now claims to be transgendered and goes by Emily Claire Hari–was sentenced. She/he/whatever received a sentence of 53 years in prison. I shed no tears for Hari, but we must ask, how many people died because of him? The answer is zero.

 

Numerous Muslims testified that they feel fearful because of Hari. They no doubt do. But I come back to that number: zero. One could certainly argue that he intended to kill and that his was a hate crime. The problem is that American justice is supposed to rest upon what actually occurred, not speculation or feelings. Judges are allowed to consider victim statements before sentencing, but they are expected to give priority to the severity of the crime. Hari destroyed a building and 53 years for a 50-year-old who, through luck or ineptitude, killed no one, seems grossly excessive. I can only conclude that the sentence was more symbolic than just.

 

Since 9/11 liberals have bent over backward to show their support for Muslims. Nothing wrong with that, though a strange cultural relativism exists among those who would show no such mercy had fundamentalist Christians bombed the World Trade Center. Let me say it again, lest there be any confusion: Hari intended a heinous crime. At the end of the day, though, this was not Birmingham 1963, when four African American girls died and three of the four defendants–after decades of escaping justice were sentenced to life in prison. That’s essentially the sentence Hari received.

 

If you feel like Hari deserves this, take a look at Paul Hodgkins, the first person sentenced for the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. He was jailed for eight months. Anna Morgan-Lloyd got off nearly scot-free: 3 years of probation. The latest batch coming up for sentencing are expected to receive jail time ranging from 6 months-1 year. A handful of weapons-wielding rioters could get up to 10 years, though I doubt it.

 

Let’s recap: 53 years for Hari, but nothing approaching that for the Capitol rioters who sought to overthrow democracy and invalidate a lawful election. In theory, they could (should?) have been charged with treason, a potential capital offense. I don’t support the death penalty, but let’s take this a step further. Rioters trashed the Capitol, didn’t blow it up, but five people died as a result of January 6. One protestor was shot by Capitol police and four non-rioters perished–one by an overdose, one by suicide after his concussion was misdiagnosed, and two others of “natural causes,” including a heart attack most certainly brought on by the stress of the riot. The final score for these two events: 5-0.

How did the Capitol rioters get off so lightly? Perhaps those crying tears over the mosque need to consider that the real enemy today is rightwing fanaticism. The right has clout and the left doesn’t. Hari is no leftist, but shouldn’t energy and political pressure be focused on things that matter most? Why has the outrage over January 6 I vanished into a sucking hole of distraction and amnesia? 

 

 

 

Shifting gears to what is becoming just another distraction, I’d like to call for a ban on the word “woke” from those who are still asleep–like far too many black athletes. A big difference between civil rights activism of my youth and now is that past activists were willing to run risks, not just make pronouncements. Today, many black athletes are more concerned with capitalism than racial justice. I don’t begrudge those wishing to cash in on their talent, but shouldn’t they also place their money where their mouths are located?  

 

What if black athletes refused to play in states that suppress black voter turnout or don’t deal with cops who kill black people? What if black NFL players refused to play for the Minnesota Vikings until a full reckoning takes place over the murders of George Floyd and Boogie Smith? Why not tell agents they won’t sign contracts for racist pigs like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones? Imagine what would happen if top basketball and football recruits turned their backs at universities in Louisiana, Tennessee, or Texas. I’m not hearing much from University of Alabama, where the percentage of black football players is well north of 75 percent. What does it say when Major League Baseball went to bat against voter suppression by moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, yet the University of Georgia’s football team is filled with African Americans? Too many young African Americans are seeing green more than black. Knees on the playing field are as passe as ice bucket challenges. Wake up! Feet in arenas of states that actually care about justice speaks louder than words.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/15/21

Sports Teams: What’s in a Name?

 

 


  

You’ve probably read that the Cleveland Indians will drop their nickname in 2022 and rebrand as Cleveland Guardians. The Guardians doesn’t float my boat, though I’m pleased they are dumping their racist moniker. This leaves just the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Black Hawks, and the Kansas City Chiefs with problematic names among North America’s four major team sports and I hope they wise up soon.

 

Whenever teams change names, alarmists come out of the woods with apocalyptic predictions unless the decision is reversed. They also drag out tired old “heritage” arguments to defend the utterly indefensible. Actually, nicknames have changed a lot over the decades. Cleveland’s original 1870 surname was The Forest Citys [sic], a nod to the section of the municipality in which baseball was played. It was changed to The Blues in 1882, then to other names: The Spiders, The Infants, The Lake Shores, The Bluebirds, and The Broncos. In 1901, they signed superstar Napoleon Lajoie and became The Napoleons, which got shortened to The Naps. When Lajoie retired in 1915, they became the Indians as a joke. Cleveland once had a Native American player, Louis Sockalexis (1897-99), who wasn’t very good (and an alcoholic). “Indians” was an insult that stuck.

 

Many team names make sense: The Minnesota Twins pays homage to the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul; the Denver Nuggets and San Francisco 49ers evoke the Gold Rush; the Detroit Pistons the auto industry; the Indiana Pacers to the car that leads the field at the start of the Indy 500; and the Edmonton Oilers to the oil sands outside the city. Others are obvious: Dallas Cowboys, New York Mets (short for Metropolitans), The Montreal Canadiens, and the Vancouver Canucks. Animal names are common–the fiercer the beast, the better–and lots of team names were chosen by fans, including the Buffalo Sabres, which is about the only lethal association one can make with that franchise.

 

Colors and long-forgotten words are also inspirations. Many early baseball teams wore distinctive hosiery, hence the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Browns, and eventually the Boston Red Sox, though they had previously been known by names such as the Americans, Red Caps, and Beaneaters. Both the New York Yankees and New York Knicks owe those handles to holdover terms from New York’s original Dutch settlers; the Boston Celtics–with a soft instead of a hard “C”–comes from the Irish population that once dominated its politics. For the record, the Yankees were originally called The Highlanders, but because of the grounds on which they played, not for Scottish reasons!

 

Here, though, are some origin stories with more obscure histories.

 

The Oakland A’s is shorthand for “Athletics,” and has been handed down twice. From 1901-55, the were the Philadelphia Athletics and from 1955-66, the Kansas City Athletics. The franchise moved to California in 1967. Today’s Kansas City Royals–a strange name for a nation with no inherited aristocracy and ditto the LA Kings–were an expansion team.  Actually, the Kansas City Royals are named for the American Royal, a livestock show held in the city since the 1890s.

 

In their “official” history, the Buffalo Bills are named for Buffalo Bill’s Traveling Wild West Show. That’s probably a load of hooey, as William Cody was from Iowa, not Buffalo. It likely has more to do with Buffalo’s Erie Canal terminus. Meat was often shipped via the Great Lakes to Buffalo and, from there, made its way to New York City and other Eastern Seaboard cities.

 

The Atlanta Braves doubly inherited their team’s name–­from the Boston Braves (1871-1951) and the Milwaukee Braves (1952-62). (The Brewers, a team name that makes sense, were a 1970 expansion team.) It ought not to be hard for Atlanta to part with “Braves,” except that racism is common in that neck of the woods.

 

The Chicago Cubs got their name for no good reason other than the fact that they had a lot of younger players when they joined the National League. The San Francisco Giants, by way of the New York Giants, had a lot of tall, burly players. The football team borrowed the name from the former National League baseball team—just like they borrow “New York,” though they play in New Jersey.

 

You can be forgiven if you think the word “Tax” should proceed the surname of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s not the reason, though. The franchise was in Brooklyn until after the 1957 season and was by then known by the diminutive of its most recent nickname “Trolley Dodgers.” (The franchise had many other names including The Bachelors and then, The Bridegrooms!) And, yes, tragic encounters between pedestrians and trolleys was a thing in urban America.

 

The Anaheim Ducks are, indeed, named for the 1992 Disney film The Mighty Ducks.

 

The Memphis Grizzlies? There are black bears, but no grizzlies in Tennessee. That nickname made a lot more sense when the franchise was in Vancouver, until the Grizzlies moved in 2001.

 

You’re hardly alone if you don’t associate Salt Lake City with jazz. The Utah Jazz, however, were originally the New Orleans Jazz, an appropriate name. Why Utah hasn’t changed the name is anyone’s guess.

 

If you’ve been to LA, you probably failed to notice a lot of lakes. Basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers was, until 1960, the Minneapolis Lakers playing in a state known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes. (There are actually more than 14,000.)

 

The Green Bay Packers play in the smallest city of any professional team and are the only professional team that’s community-owned. Nonetheless, Ernest “Curly” Lambeau would have never fielded a team in 1919 without a lot of investment from local meatpacking titans.

 

It’s alliterative, but that’s not why we have the Pittsburgh Pirates. There was a breakaway league in the 19th century—the Players League if you’re keeping score–and when it ended, Pittsburgh signed some players other teams thought were their property. That is, they “pirated” them. Pittsburgh was ruled to have acted within their rights but decided to embrace the label slapped onto them by detractors, a sort of “Oh yeah?” gesture.

 

The Detroit Red Wings came by their name in a (ahem!) round about way. Team founder James Norris (of Norris Trophy fame) played for a team called the Montreal Spoked Wheels in his youth. When he set up shop in Detroit in 1932, he intended the Red Wings as a sort of mashup of the Montreal team and Detroit’s automotive industry.

 

The Washington Wizards came to the District of Columbia in 1973, The team was, from 1963-73, the Baltimore Bullets. After a few years it dawned on team officials that “Bullets” was not a good name in a city with a distressingly high crime rate.

 

 

 

 

 

9/13/21

Kitty Foyle: Ginger Rogers Acts!

 

KITTY FOYLE: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF A WOMAN (1940)

Directed by Sam Wood

RKO, 108 minutes, not-rated (pre-ratings system)

★★★

 

 

 

Ginger Rogers is best remembered as half of a hoofer team with Fred Astaire. Few today recall that she was so well-regarded that she was once the highest paid actress in Hollywood. Rogers won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the titular character in Kitty Foyle. Never once did she put on a pair of dancing shoes.

 

Kitty is a working-class gal from Philadelphia envious of the old-money families of the Main Line–the leafy suburbs along Route 1–and had a serious girl crush on Wynnewood Strafford VI (Dennis Morgan). Imagine her glee when “Wyn,” in defiance of his family’s wishes, decides to start a magazine and hires her as his secretary. The two fall in love and plan to marry, but is Kitty little more than another act of rebellion on Wyn’s part? A meeting with the impending in-laws (Gladys Cooper and Ernest Cossart) is all too much for the feisty Kitty, who quickly surmises the Straffords’ desire to put both she and Wyn in “proper” boxes.

 

Kitty leaves Wyn and Philly for the bright lights of New York City. Along the way she gains some sophistication as a salesgirl for Delphine Detaille (Odette Myrtill) in a shop that caters to the upper crust. She also meets a handsome doctor, Mark Eisen (James Craig) and plans to marry him, despite the fact that he’s on the bland side and poor as a church mouse. Wyn’s appearance in New York throws a monkey wrench into those plans. As it transpires, it’s easier to move than forget, plus Wyn can offer her a lifestyle she can only dream of. First, though, he has to extricate himself from the marriage (and child) he acquired after Kitty walked out.  (There’s another complication between Kitty and Wyn but I’ll leave that for you to discover.)

 

Kitty faces the age-old dilemma of head versus heart. Mark is rock steady and unestablished; Wyn is glamorous and wealthy. The latter is no trifling matter; the film debuted in 1940, a time in which the Great Depression had not yet ended. As the film wends its way toward its conclusion, all we know for sure is that Kitty is on her way either to marry Mark or run away to Argentina with Wyn. In essence, it’s a matter of whether Cinderella will marry the pauper or the prince.

 

Director Sam Wood works from a novel written by Christopher Morley turned into a screenplay by one of Hollywood’s most-talented script doctors, Dalton Trumbo. By today’s standards, Kitty Foyle will perhaps seem too much like a pawn moved by others. Even allowing for the differing expectations of 1940, Kitty’s motives often seem muddled at best, but Rogers is terrific in the role and mostly makes us root for her rather than doing a sociological dissection of pre-World War II gender relations. The film is billed as a hybrid drama/romance, but the quick-tongued Foyle/Rogers makes it seem more of a mildly dark screwball comedy.

 

I can’t promise that you’ll love the film, but I’m pretty sure you’ll never again think of Ginger Rogers as just a dancer. Another thing to keep in mind is that the film released on December 27, 1940. The following December–the 7th to be precise–an event at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, altered American history. As an offshoot, it also changed expectations for women.

 

Rob Weir 

9/10/21

The NFL: Why the King Will Fall

 

 

 

I always snort when people tell me baseball is too slow. The average National Football League airs for just over 3 hours, which happens to be exactly how long the average baseball game lasts. Believe me, way more happens in baseball than in a gridiron match, unless you really enjoy watching men on steroids huddled together and patting each other on the butt. If nothing else, baseball has the excuse of not having a time clock. How can it take three hours to play gridiron, a one-hour sport?

 

You’ll notice that I used the term gridiron. The rest of the world thinks “football” means teams chasing a round ball across a grassy pitch and trying to deposit it into a net. Only in North America do we call that “soccer.” You might have observed that real football is catching on here. You might also infer that demographics suggest that King Gridiron will be dethroned when white people cease to be the majority.

 

That’s a discussion for some other time, though. Gridiron, like baseball, simply needs to pick up the pace. There are far too many just-shoot-me play stoppages. What if gridiron adhered to similar standards as real football?  

 

·      Throw an incomplete pass. Lineup, because the clock will continue to run.

·      Want to kick a field goal before a quarter runs out? Have the kicking team ready.

·      Technology can replace serious-looking referees with a chain. It will say first down or bring in the punting team. Keep the clock running.

·      Allow the clock to stop only for penalties or injuries. If a team is penalized, the offending player must sit for two minutes and his team plays shorthanded. If someone is injured, time is added back by the referee as in soccer, and only s/he knows the exact amount of time left.

·      If the offense doesn’t get a play off in time, it forfeits a down and the clock continues to run.

·      It would help the game flow immensely–especially running plays–were the field widened by 12 feet, as is the case of Canadian gridiron.

·      Get rid of video reviews. Controversy over calls is one of the things that makes sports fun to discuss.

·      Cut halftime in half. Wow, it sure is fun hearing those 15-second clips of marching bands and all the “analysis” from beefy former jocks regurgitating what you’ve already seen.

 

 

Here are some other thoughts:

 


 

·      I’ll bet head injuries would be far fewer in number if gridiron players wore less gear. Warrior garb encourages some players to behave as if they are human missiles.

·      It would help immensely if outside groups tested players for banned substances. The NFL won’t admit it, but it has a drug problem that makes baseball’s steroid scandal look as innocent as a girl scout withholding some of her cookie money. Or maybe you believe it’s perfectly normal for a 300-pounder to run 40 yards in under 5 seconds! That’s the equivalent of over 20 mpg and the fastest hockey players seldom touch 30 mpg on skates over ice.  

 


 

·      The thing that will harm gridiron in the long run is that enough parents will wise up and withhold permission for their children to suit up. CTE is a real thing and it’s doubtful that any amount of tinkering with helmets will change that. Other than beating a kid over the head with a baseball bat, it’s hard to imagine a worse thing to do to a developing brain.

 

Rob Weir

9/8/21

Consequences of Fear a Thrill, Despite Forced Ending

 

THE CONSEQUENCES OF FEAR: A MAISIE DOBBS NOVEL (2021)

By Jacqueline Winspear

HarperCollins, 342 pages.

★★★ ½ 

 

 

British author Jacqueline Winspear has a successful franchise going in the character of Maisie Dobbs; The Consequences of Fear is said to be her 16th. It is the mark of a good writer that you don’t need to have read any of the others to come to know the characters or follow the story. In brief, though, Maisie Dobbs has (at least) a triple life. She is a private investigator (PI) with an assistant named Billy Beale, and also works for British intelligence under the imperious, often sexist leadership of Robert MacFarlane. In addition, she’s widowed but has an adopted daughter, Anna, who is the darling of a rural aristocratic family for whom Maisie is a veritable ward and for whom her father and mother-in-law are employees.

 

As we meet Maisie this time, she is beginning to feel her age. Her reputation was made during World War I, but it’s now 1941, Britain is at war a second time, and London is being bombed by the Germans on a regular basis. The tale’s mystery pivots around young Freddie Hackett, a lad swift of feet who is a runner/messenger for hire. In one of his dangerous sprints across London, Freddie thinks he witnessed a murder in progress. There are several problems. Scotland Yard doesn’t believe him and Freddie can’t speak up too much as he needs the coins he gets to buy food for himself and his mother, Grace. He also has to funnel just enough to his brutal father, Arthur, to waste at the pub. An abused wife and child is all Maisie needs to champion Freddie, but she too needs to tread lightly; there’s no solid evidence to support Freddie’s story and Maisie is already suspect for her unconventional life. Plus, she suspects that André Chaput, a celebrated French major from the previous war, might be the killer and no one wants to accept that. She grows even more suspicious, though, when the body and plane of a French flyer are pulled from the Thames.

 

The Consequences of Fear has a lot of irons in the fire, many of which involve the roles Maisie is trying to juggle. She is being courted by an American political attaché, Mark Scott, threatened by Freddie’s father, given butt-out orders from MacFarlane, and is charged with a highly secretive and distasteful task from him. Maisie has been handed the job of vetting French-fluent young women to be airlifted into Nazi-controlled France to gather intelligence. The life expectancy for those chosen is measured in weeks, not years, and two of the candidates are her niece and a woman she has known for 20 years, both of whom are beloved by her best friend and former nursing comrade Priscilla Everdeen. It’s not as if Priscilla doesn’t have enough on her plate with three sons in uniform. Maisie’s dilemma is stark: duty or friendship?

 

Maisie has to pick her way through entangling thorns that will reopen her own past, including trying to keep her cool and remember the lessons of her old mentor, furtively picking the brain of another former role model, consulting with a child trauma expert, keeping Freddie and Grace safe, acting as a role model for a young woman/driver aptly named Corporal Bright, and balancing her military orders with her PI instincts. Maisie has a well-defined sense of right and wrong, but such distinctions are not always clear during war—especially when honor and old scores are involved. Maisie has to come to terms with fear and consequences, both her own and that of others. As she learns, “Fear [is] sticky, like flypaper….” She’s not always successful in keeping everyone out of harm’s way.

 

This is a thrilling novel about the early days of World War II, a time in which normal life and customary morality were not drawn in either/or ways. Unfortunately, Winspear loses her footing as the novel draws to a conclusion that relies too heavily on forced coincidences. Though hers might not be a happily-ever-after ending, it leans in that direction. Maisie Dobbs is a marvel, but once we’ve seen her flaws and limitations, it’s hard to imagine her as a miracle worker. Or content, for that matter.

 

Rob Weir

9/6/21

Another Round is a Good, but not Great Film


  

ANOTHER ROUND (2020)

Directed by Thomas Venterberg

Nordisk Film, 117 minutes, not-rated.

In Danish with some English and subtitles.

★★★

 

Another Round won the Oscar for Best International Film. Critics heaped praise upon it, though audiences have been lukewarm. Go with the audiences. It’s a decent film, not a great one.

 

This Danish/Dutch/Swedish joint venture follows the travails, triumphs, and let-downs of four teachers in a Copenhagen gymnasium school, college-prep as North Americans would see it, though it’s a bit more than that. In the exam-driven European educational system, students are tracked early on; good grades in a gymnasium are the only entrée into higher education. In this film, teachers are pushed hard by parents who blame them if their children fail to sparkle. (Alas, that seems to be universal.)

 

The central character is Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a former jazz and tap dancer, who is now a soporific history teacher facing entitled adolescents would rather party and be spoon-fed than think. That’s also the teaching scenario for three of Martin’s colleagues: Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nickolaj (Magnus Millang). Martin used to be close to them, but he’s burnt out, depressed, and has trouble connecting with anyone. That includes his wife Anika (Maria Bonnerie) and their children.

 

Martin’s tipping (and tippling) point comes at Nickolaj’s 40th birthday celebration. Even though the restaurant conversation centers on workplace complaints, it doesn’t escape notice that Martin is physically present but emotionally absent. This prompts Nickolaj to discourse on the psychological theories of Finn Skårderud, who postulates that sobriety is a detriment to peak well-being, performance, and efficiency. Skårderud is a real person who claims that individuals are at their happiest when their blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.05 percent. To put that in perspective, most states define drunk driving as 0.08 percent or above, so Skårderud essentially advocates having a buzz going all the time.

 

The four make a pact to test Skårderud’s theory and each is initially enthralled by the results. Martin transforms into a dynamic, creative, and bold teacher whose students jolt to alertness and immerse themselves in history. His family also feels the change, with Anika expressing how wonderful it is to have the old Martin back. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because Skårderud’s controversial research downplays the addictive dangers of daily drinking. If a .05 BAC renders wonders, why not push it to .08 or above .10? What returns can easily go away again; many things in Martin’s life are in severe danger of doing so.

 

Martin is mildly better off than Tommy, a bachelor soccer coach. (There’s a reason why drinking alone is viewed as particularly problematic.) When Tommy shows up visibly plastered for a faculty meeting in which the school’s head (Susse Wold) is addressing rumors of teachers drinking on school grounds, we visualize The Fates unspooling their thread. The others try to curtail drinking, but once new lines are drawn, who can recall the old ones? Martin tries hard to put the lid back onto an exploded can, a process that leads to a post-graduation Zorba-like exuberant dance along the Copenhagen waterfront with students cheering him on. Its ambiguity makes it something less than a Dead Poets’ Society ending.

 

“Ambiguous” would be a good one-word review for the film. It’s billed as a comedy/drama and those ideals often fail to mesh. Note also that Another Round is a fluffier title than the Danish Druk, “binge drinking.” There’s an important definitional shading between the convivial-sounding English title and the social problem implications of the Danish. Is it acceptable to make light of the heavy drinking of students? Is it okay to sneak drinks between classes if it gives teachers more confidence? Are teachers supposed to be peers, or role models?

 

Another Round is well-acted and some might argue a portrait of how things are rather than how they should be. Mikkelsen shines as the very embodiment of world weariness, a very human condition that is hard to convey visually. Nonetheless, in my estimation the film walks a very narrow line across which it occasionally staggers. Even had Another Round handled its subject perfectly and stuck the landing, its premise hovers in the red zone. To add to the danger, Hollywood again seeks to remake a successful European film. Buzz has it that Leonardo DiCaprio will play Martin. Why do I have a bad feeling about that?

 

Rob Weir

        

9/3/21

Art Road Trip: Bennington Vermont II

BENNINGTON/NORTH BENNINGTON OUTDOOR SCULPTURE SHOW

Bennington and North Bennington, Vermont

Through November 7, 2021.

 

Summer and Fall are seasons to be outside. If you’re in southern Vermont any time before November 7, swing by the Bennington Art Museum and partake of its 28 outdoor sculptures and then make your way to North Bennington to see 40 more. (You can easily find its grand old rail station, where you can park, and where you can view most of the village’s works on display. (The bulk of them are across the street in a field beside the Post Office.)

 

You probably won’t know most of the artists’ names and that’s part of the fun. It means that you can take in each work without preconceptions. There is often a tendency to “collect” viewings of famous artists, by which I mean we’ve “seen” works by folks such as Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Jeff Koons, Henry Moore, Picasso, Henry Moore, or Auguste Rodin when all we’ve really done is a quick walk-by. Those artists we don’t know invite us to stop, look deeper, and make up our minds what we think of the work.

 


 

The Bennington works are occasionally political–Matthew Perry’s “Waiting (for Trayvon Martin) or Jose Crillo’s “Lonesome George” * for example–but most of it is ironic or/and whimsical. But enough words from me. Below are some pictures that should entice you to put Vermont on your journey itinerary. 

 

 







 

 

 

Rob Weir

 

*Lonesome George was a Galapagos tortoise who died at the age of 102 and is thought to be the last of his particular species.

 

9/1/21

Small Towns: North Bennington, Vermont

 


 

 

I have no idea how many times I’ve been to Bennington, Vermont, but until recently I hadn’t been to North Bennington since the early 1980s. I visited again about a month ago to see an outdoor sculpture show shared with Bennington. If you like small towns, North Bennington is a good one.

 

It’s indeed a wee place–just 1,697 residents. The village is best known as the home of Bennington College, an institution slowly recovering from a nasty labor crisis, a boycott, and a brief loss of accreditation. In 1994, Bennington College abruptly dismissed 27 faculty members and instantly gained the informal nickname of “Scab College.” It was quite a shock for what was once one of the most prestigious (and expensive) higher ed institutions in America. The fallout was so severe that it nearly went under. In 2000, the college was forced to pay a sizable settlement to the wronged faculty members, though somehow the controversial president was retained. (I guess being an administrator means never having to say you’re sorry!).

 

 

 

These days Bennington College is better known for running the Robert Frost homestead in Shaftsbury, about 5 minutes from the grounds officially, though the driveway onto its grounds is one of the longest I’ve ever seen. It’s a tidy campus, but nothing all that special, so a quick drive through is all you’ll need. After that, I recommend that you head to The Roasted Bean, a really nice coffee shop with great baked goods. Assuming we ever get back to “normal,” there’s also a nice restaurant in the building for nighttime meals called Pangaea. The complex is on Main Street across from the library and a handsome fountain and on the intersection that takes you to the Park-McCollough House.

 


 

 

The Park-McCullough is a grand old Second Empire style Victorian 35-room mansion. It was built for Trenor [sic] Park in 1864. Park made his fortune as an overseer for the mining interests of John C. Frémont, the controversial California politician who came within a whisker of becoming elected president in 1856. Imagine how history would have changed had he, not Abraham Lincoln four years later, been elected the first Republican president. (In my view, Frémont was an unstable egoist. He would have been preferable to the deplorable James Buchanan, but he was certainly no Lincoln.)

 

 

 

As for the house, it’s lovely. The McCullough part of the hyphen came the way most do among wealthy families. That is, a Park daughter married into the rich McCullough clan, specifically John G. McCullough, who was a Vermont governor between 1902-04. Prior to that, he was a Philadelphia lawyer and a California politician. Even if you don’t wish to partake of an indoor tour, the grounds are sylvan and inviting. The house itself is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

North Bennington has a surprising number of industries for a small town. Gun drills, clothes hangers, and snowshoes (Dion) are made there. That’s largely because of dams and swift flowing water in parts of the Walloomsac River. You can walk a block up from The Roasted Bean and see it tumbling over a spillway with a scenic pond behind it. As you’re driving out of the village back to Bennington, there are several covered bridges favored by shutterbugs.  

 



 

 

North Bennington’s crown jewel, though, is its 1880 railroad station. It’s also a Second Empire building and if you need a visible representation of how railroads used to rule the transportation roost, this is it. The village doesn’t currently have passenger service, though negotiations are underway to create an Amtrak link to Albany, New York. If that happens, though, the 1880 station probably won’t be used; it has been repurposed as both village offices and a community center. 

 


 

Even if you only spend a few hours in the region, you’ll be glad you did. Unlike Bennington, its namesake neighbor, there is a paucity of chain franchises. This gives North Bennington “charm,” one of the things people from away come to New England to see.

 

Rob Weir  

8/30/21

CODA the Most Moving Film of the Summer

 

CODA (2021)

Directed by Sian Heder

Pathé, Vendôme, Apple + TV, 111 minutes, PG-13 (language, adult situations)

In English and sign language

★★★★

   


 

At last! A feel-good summer movie that’s not a cartoon, action film, or comedy for those with the IQ of a seven-year-old. CODA is predictable and tries to make you reach for the tissue box, but its heart is in the right place. It has already won four awards at Sundance and is sure to carry off a few more prizes. That’s because it is well-acted throughout and Emilia Jones, its main character, is so good she turns heads.

 

If you wonder about the French production companies and why it features an Irish actor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a Mexican principal (Eugenio Derbez), and a Canadian (Amy Forsyth), it’s because the film is a remake of La Famille Bélier, a 2014 French release. Two writers from that film cowrote the latest production, which had a Covid-related online release that did so well in Europe that Apple TV + purchased North American distribution rights. It’s about Ruby Rossi (Jones), a reclusive 17-year-old high school senior who loves to sing, but has deaf parents. CODA–all uppercase–stands for Child Of Deaf Adults. Being a CODA is tougher than you might imagine. My first professional job out of college was as a juvenile probation officer. One of my most challenging clients was a CODA who was the ears and voice for his parents. He acted out in part because of the frustration involved in not being allowed to have a conventional childhood.

 

CODA is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie Rossi (Marlee Matlin), their deaf son Leo (Daniel Durant), and his hearing younger sister Ruby are a fishing family. Ruby’s daily routine involves waking up at 3 am, tossing on her clothes, waking the rest of her family, and making her way to the pre-dawn pier with her dad and brother to cruise miles out to sea. On good days she returns home in time to get ready for school; on the bad ones, she pedals her bike like mad and hits the high school halls smelling of the catch. Needless to say, she’s not popular–more like the butt of jokes and mean-spirited ridicule. Her only real friend is Gertie (Forsyth), who is a bit slutty and thinks Leo is hot. Ruby’s life takes an unexpected turn when she impulsively signs up for Chorus when seeking a gut course to fill out her senior schedule. She’s petrified of her peers, but music teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Derbez) knows talent when he hears it. Derbez plays a stock character: cranky tough love teacher who tells Ruby and a talented peer, Miles (Walsh-Peelo) either to excel or stop wasting his time. It’s not that he doesn’t care about Ruby’s challenges, rather he thinks she can get a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music if she drives herself to the max. Ruby is like the kid I used to supervise; she hasn’t had the luxury of being a child or an adolescent.

 

Try going your own way when you are the ears for your entire family, and a close one at that. Frank and Ruby are nuts about each other, though they are not exactly versed in social etiquette, and Leo is salt of the earth. CODA also tackles the challenges of making a living from the sea in an age of overfishing, regulation, rip-off vendors, and fishing families forced to compete against each other. Try arguing with a vendor if you can’t hear. Leo can at least read lips, but he still can’t communicate with anyone who doesn’t know ASL (American Sign Language).  Can anything possibly go right for the Rossis? Will Ruby and Miles be able to pull off the duet Villalobos wants them to rehearse? Will Gloucester’s blue-collar seafaring community ever embrace the Rossi family? Does Ruby get her shot at Berklee?

 

Curmudgeons have criticized CODA for being paint-by-the-numbers. Okay, it is! It’s also deeply satisfying, sharply written, funny, and doles out melodrama in small enough doses that we don’t gag. As most know, Marlee Matlin is indeed deaf. She threatened to quit the production unless other deaf actors were cast, which led to Kotsur and Durant coming aboard. All three are wonderful, with Kotsur and Matlin very endearing together. The film, though, is stolen by Emilia Jones, hitherto known for the Netflix series Locke and Key. Not for long. She not only acts, she puts in the work to shine. She spent eight months while on the TV series taking voice lessons and learning ASL and she’s bloody good at both.

 

Yeah, yeah, the film’s a remake with a change of location and echoes of other CODA movies, plus doses of Fame and Once goes to high school. It’s also a terrific ensemble film and so inspiring you can reach for that tissue box without shame.

 

Rob Weir       

8/27/21

Music Round Up: Vanessa Peters, Modeste Hugues, Mags McCarthy, Lia Sampai and More



 

Vanesa Peters

Modern Age

★★★★

 


Ahh! A full-throated, toss-the-head-back and let-‘er-rip female vocalist. Vanessa Peters has won praise before on this blog for her Foxhole Prayers release, and Modern Age is another winner. This Covid-delayed release–she and husband/bandmate Rip Rowan were in Italy when things shut down–was worth the wait. Maybe the final track “Still GotTime” says it all: Well, get a hold of yourself/’Cause the world isn’t ending yet. Modern Age is a high-octane release. Peters opens big with the title track, a memory song and a lamentation on current values–As soon as it’s made, it gets thrown away–and a call to get back to things that matter. Peters occasionally lets the production get the better of her–there’s too much going on in “Make up My Mind”–but she has the capacity to smash through any mix when she puts her mind to it. For instance, she punches through the thump, thump percussion of “Crazymaker” and orchestrates the mix on “Never Really Gone.” There’s a Patty Griffin vibe to “The Weight of This” and a soulful-without-being-soul feel to “Valley of the Ashes.” I really liked this record, though it could use more change of pace such as we hear in “The Band Played On,” but the energy… the voice…

 

Sakili

Creole Sounds from the Indian Ocean

 


 

 

I’ve always enjoyed hearing Cajun and Creole music live because of its rumbustious ardor and its invitation to bust loose. It is, however, a difficult genre to capture on recordings. When we listen, we hear sloppiness. I was curious to see what Sakili would bring to the table. The trio is from Rodrigues Island, a speck that’s part of Mauritius, which lies 350 miles to the west. Their Creole Sounds from the Indian Ocean is aptly named in that they speak a pidgin French/English blend and draw upon various musical styles: polkas, waltzes, two-steps, mazurkas, East African traditions…. They are not, however, for all tastes. Two tracks will allow you to decide what you think. “Mové piti” is a simple tune with hand drum, box guitar, and accordion, the latter driving the melody. It evinces a beach party more than a studio production. Also try “Flanbwayan Laval” from the linked live show in Brussels. You can see the vibe they’re after, but the vocals are occasionally sour and the composition more jam than polish. I’m sorry to say that Sakili quickly lost my interest. 

 

Modeste Hugues and Kilema

Green World: Songs from Madagascar

★★★ ½ 

 


 

 

I couldn’t help but compare the previous release to this one. The title is meant to be taken literally. These two gentlemen hail from the big East African island of Madagascar. Large is no protection against climate change, the subject of many of their songs. It might be a good thing if you don’t speak Malagasy or hear the French buried in the instrumentation, as the sunny nature of the melodies is a respite from the seriousness of their themes. “Ala mainstro” is a blend of soft lead vocals from Hugues with contrasting the sharper toned but precisely fingered zither from Kilema. The combination produces a swaying, hypnotic sensation. The instrumentation in “Tambanivolo” has a rain-like quality and the groove so smooth that it’s easy to lose yourself in it and fail to notice that Hugues and his guitar lie in wait and unleash short, subtle runs and barres that texture the piece. “Holy hiroro” is an instrumental with a resonant and redundant opening, but the composition commands careful listening as it gets richer in small steps. “Kaseseky” is another in the same vein. The only downside is that this recording can sound like much of a muchness if swallowed whole. But there is no denying the duo’s skill and professionalism.

 

 

Short Cuts:

 


Mags McCarthy
is Irish and plays the fiddle, but she made the leap from Cork to Nashville, where she is trying to gain traction as a country performer. If verve alone can do the job, hers is a name to watch. Her video for “Bump” won’t win any PC awards, but is has so much high octane that it threatens to combust. There’s also just enough Celtic flair to it to make it unique in a town of sound-alikes. Ditto her cover of Dolly Parton’s “Light of aClear Blue Morning.” The cow milking in this video is no gimmick; she grew extracting fluids from bovines. If you still doubt the power of her voice, “Strong Enough” ought to convince you. We still have Dolly, though, so one hopes McCarthy will be comfortable being Mags instead.

 


It’s late summer, but if you like pensive music, check out Baluji Shrivastav and his Voice of Flowers: Spring Ragas from India. This 70-year-old Indian/British musician has been an exemplar of musical distinction for so long that he was awarded an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). If you’re not familiar with ragas, they are a classical Indian form that is formal in structure but allow for improvisation. Such pieces take their time to take shape and are not for the impatient. Shrivastav is a master of sitar, dilruba (a bowed sitar), surbahar (bass sitar), and various percussion instruments. Try tracks such as “Raga Shuddha Vasant (Ecstasy of Spring)” or “Celebration” and see where they take you. He often put me in mind of the late Ravi Shankar.

 


If you like glorious female voices, you’ll love Barcelona’s Lia Sampai. Her recent EP Amagatalls de Ilum translates “Light Hiding Places” and comes from “La Nina,” a song she penned with musical partner Adrià Pagès (guitar). It is a fragile, sometimes sad, ditty about a girl hiding in the light and longing to break free. It is a metaphor for becoming a woman and ends on a happy note. Try also the joyful “LaCaixeta” in which we hear Sampai’s bell-like vocals, percussive thumps from Pagès that give way to skillful melody lines on Spanish guitar, and (eventually) a circle of hand clapping to accompany Sampai’s dramatic and intimate vocals. Hers is a clear, powerful voice that will stay with you long after the last note fades. 

 

 Rob Weir