27 September 2005
It was a bird with a striped head. But its bill was pointy, not chunky like a sparrow's. "No, it's a thrush," I said.
Home again, I did some research on the Web. Not a sparrow, nor a thrush, but this. According to the Cornell School of Ornithology's All About Birds site, ovenbirds live in forests and eat insects, but ours was grazing for crumbs under a cafe table.
Must've been just passing through, as we were.
26 September 2005
It hasn’t always been so. I commuted to school on the New York subway during rush hour throughout my teens; I don’t remember it bothering me a bit. One summer I held a series of jobs handing out employment agency flyers on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, opposite the Public Library. Now that’s a place for throngs. And after I got my driver’s license, I’d sometimes drive into Manhattan during the morning rush, savoring the very adult (to my mind then) experience of being stuck in traffic.
But I’ve changed. Probably I’ve lived too long away from big cities. I don’t like walking close up behind people. I like to walk fast, which is itself a city thing, but difficult to do in a throng. Victor has long made fun of my “New York walk,” which kicks in when I feel too pressed in by others. I’ll get my legs pumping and dart in and out of the mass of pedestrians, angling for a clear path; an open vista.
A throng is more than simply a crowd. It is a swarm—a mob with a direction. You feel yourself to be a tiny droplet in the great wave. Or—if the throng is approaching from the opposite direction—you feel yourself to be in danger of submersion. As if you could be forced to go somewhere you don’t want to.
It’s no problem, I suppose, if you have nowhere to be, like my teenage self, sitting in rush hour traffic on a Tuesday morning. But if you do have a destination, particularly if you’re late, then it can be unpleasantly surreal. The whole world is in your way, and no matter how many times you say, “Excuse me,” other people remain impenetrable obstacles. The goal—whether it’s a movie theater, a restroom, or your bedroom at home—comes to seem both desperately important and nightmarishly unreachable.
Luckily, I’m not scared of spiders, and have a live-and-let-live attitude about them. That is, I have a live-and-let-live attitude about them when they stay where they belong, on the outside of the window. Those which find their way indoors tend to meet an unhappy fate, unless they’re very fast.
Maybe the best part is, no more stairs. The quaint wooden platform awaits, and—in a moment—so does the Midway-bound train.
For more information on the Quincy/Wells station, which is the only restored station in the Loop, click here.
17 September 2005
Of course all creatures die, but we don’t usually see the deaths of wild ones (unless we’ve caused them). Live wild creatures are pretty quick to gobble the dead ones up.
I’ve heard of migrating birds dying from smashing into the glass windows of skyscrapers, particularly at night. So that might be what happened. After a bit of Web research, I find that there’s a Chicago organization dedicated to helping bird victims of the glass-window aspect of human encroachment on the planet.
Now I wonder if the bird was just stunned, not dead. If stunned, I imagine it shaking itself out of its stupor in the midst of the swarms of pedestrians passing the Mercantile Exchange at rush hour, and suddenly rising back into the sky, unnoticed by anyone except as a little red dash in their peripheral vision, quickly appearing and just as quickly gone.
12 September 2005
All I know is that in Millennium Park (where I have found myself several times in the past couple of weeks), it is impossible to miss these startlingly beautiful creatures. They’re the more striking in such an urban environment. You see one hovering around some flowers in a planter, which is not so strange, but then it flies off, high (you can’t help but follow it with your eyes, it is so purely attractive), so that its only backdrop is the elegant skyline of Michigan Avenue.
Completely incongruous, which is perhaps what makes it such a smile generator.
11 September 2005
Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were plenty of raves, but my idol
So the verdict is: decent. I laughed, I cried. No, I think I just cried. A lot. But I have a hard time seeing how anyone who has not read the book could possibly understand this movie. Although various plot elements were simplified (enormously), there’s a level of context that’s entirely missing. Nonreaders would probably find Justin and Tessa’s relationship movie-conventional: they meet, hop into bed, follow great sex with commitment and marriage; then little cracks appear in their union, grow into larger cracks, and she dies, leaving him to mourn what might have been.
I am going to try not to comment on the missing complexities, because that’s simply inevitable in a movie of a novel, especially a novel as densely layered as The Constant Gardener. But it’s harder to forgive the omission of LeCarre’s acute moral sensibility: Justin’s transformation from a fairly superficial (though unfailingly polite) civil servant to—first—an appreciator of passionate advocacy (by appreciating it in his wife) and—finally—a hero for a cause.
The performances in this movie were very good, although I wasn’t always delighted with the casting. Ralph Fiennes is a splendid actor, but he wears his emotions so much on his face that it’s difficult to see him as the imperturbable diplomat. I kept wishing Alan Rickman had this part—or someone else who keeps his inner turmoil inner. Rachel Weisz was fine as Tessa and Danny Houston was appropriately icky as Sandy Woodrow.
Recommendation: if you’ve read the book, be prepared for less. If you’ve not read the book, be prepared to be confused.
Recommendation, take 2: Read the book. It’s a great love story, a thriller, a spy novel, and enlightening (and scary) about the impact of multinational pharmaceutical companies.