20 May 2010

Lucky Day

Early this morning, back at the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary, I watched as a flock of Cedar Waxwings landed in the treetops. Their stay around here is brief as they migrate through (I happened to catch them last spring, too, but at a different spot, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, one of my favorite places), so I felt very fortunate to see them this year. It was otherwise kind of quiet, except for one bird's persistent singing: a Yellow Warbler. Which very kindly came out into the open and allowed me to watch its little throat vibrate as it sang.

In the morning I also discovered the hiding place of a little raccoon--in a hole about halfway up the trunk of a tree along the path--I can't imagine how it caught my eye, but it did. But the evening was even better. Because I saw something strange in the pond. A beaver? Gone too quickly. Couldn't tell. Later I saw a raccoon swimming. Must've been a raccoon. But then again... Beaver! Two beavers! Eating leaves, swimming in the pond.

And meanwhile the catbirds singing like crazy.

19 May 2010

Lucky Morning

Today I was reminded of how useful it is to birdwatch with others--especially when the others know more than you.  I'm usually on my own, and my knowledge is limited.  I'm never without a field guide--the convenient iBird app is installed on my iPhone--but first-time bird identification is hard, even if you have great pictures to look at.  Nothing is better than a reliable companion who can say, "Yup, that's a Black and White Warbler" or "Nope, we don't get Blue Grosbeaks here; that's an Indigo Bunting."

Stopping by the Bill Jarvis Bird Sanctuary today, I encountered just such a person, and with her assistance spotted my first Blackburnian Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and Connecticut Warbler, learned to identify a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher with more confidence, and hope to remember the distinctive call of the Great Crested Flycatcher. Together, we also spotted Palm Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, a Wilson's Warbler, and a Yellow-Rumped--I doubt I would ever have seen so many birds on my own.

Truly, a lucky morning and a lovely start to the day.

18 May 2010

The Secret Lives of Dentists and We Don't Live Here Anymore

Without realizing it, I had these two movies right next to each other in our Netflix queue, so we watched one bad-marriage movie after another. The Secret Lives of Dentists is based on Jane Smiley's "The Age of Grief," which I read many years ago. We Don't Live Here Anymore is based on Andre Dubus' novella of the same name as well as his "Adultery," in the same volume. I remember trying to read "We Don't Live Here Anymore" once; found it too depressing.

Both movies are well written, and feature great performers and dialogue. While they deal with similar material, they are very different. In "The Secret Lives..." we get the impact of a wife's infidelity from the husband's point of view. His discovery of her affair renders him literally beside himself--he generates an invisible sidekick (based on a troublesome patient) who commiserates over his predicament and challenges him to confront his wife and move on. We get so deep into the husband's head that we even witness his fantasies about his wife's adultery (he doesn't know who she's seeing, so he imagines her with everyone they know, both individually and in combination).

In "We Don't Live..." we see two unhappy couples destroy their marriages. It's an upsetting movie to watch, but ultimately far more satisfying than "The Secret Lives..." because the action happens before us. We don't have to be told about the impact.

"The Secret Lives..." takes place in a space removed from the action--it's all aftermath. When it was over, I wondered, "Who could imagine this was a good idea?" The other movie made me want to try again to read Dubus' novellas.


This is a well-made film about unlikable people. A blind man with trust issues (Hugo Weaving), Martin, takes photographs so he can test the truthfulness of those who describe his surroundings to him. Constantly on guard against being deceived, he rejects the affections of the woman (Genevieve Picot), Celia, who cleans his house and does his errands but keeps employing her while claiming to detest her. Much of the film is taken up by their backbiting repartee.

After a chance encounter, he makes friends with a young dishwasher (Russell Crowe, almost unbearably young here), Andy, and decides to trust him.


The plot is rather predictable from here: the heavily defended Martin lets down his guard with Andy, Andy betrays him, and Martin learns that being betrayed is part--not all--of friendship. Still, the story is compellingly told, with strong performances and snappy dialogue. The weakest aspect of the movie is that the characters are on the edge of being so dislikable that we don't care what happens to them.

Mostly, they stay on the correct side of that edge.

Artsy DC

The first time I went to Washington DC, at 13, I loved it. I had never seen a city so white (coming from New York in the 1970s), and I found the new Metro amazingly futuristic--so quiet! And the stations reminded me of scenes from Star Wars.

The second time I visited Washington, as a slightly older teen, I found it sterile. I couldn't fathom what I'd liked about it before.

I've been back a handful of times in recent years and with each visit I find more to enjoy. On this last trip I "discovered" the National Gallery. The East Building contains a really stunning collection of modern and contemporary art. The West Building has some wonderful Impressionist works. Also visited The Phillips Collection for the first time, which is a lovely small museum, focused on American modern art--a substantial exhibit of Georgia O'Keefe abstract paintings was ongoing. Liked it so much, I joined.

I felt like I was encountering new (to me) masterpieces everywhere I went. I'd never thought of Washington as a mecca for art--museums, yes, but the Smithsonian tends to come to mind more than the art galleries. Clearly my impression was incorrect. Look forward to returning and exploring further.

Iron Man 2

Who would've pegged Robert Downey, Jr., as an action hero? Perhaps part of the appeal of Iron Man is Downey's unlikeliness. We never get tired of this trope: the moral fuckup on the outside is actually a hero on the inside (see also The Scarlet Pimpernel). We love to think we are capable of more than we seem to be.

In Iron Man 2, the unlikeliness persists and even intensifies as Downey's/Tony Stark's self-destructive tendencies are boosted by his knowledge that the power source that keeps him alive is fatally poisonous. However, representatives of a mysterious group appear, providing Stark with hope that an alternative power source can be found, in the process hinting to Stark that his father was also perhaps more than he seemed.

While this movie is terrifically silly, it is also a great deal of fun. Scarlett Johansson joins the cast as an action hero in her own right, as does Samuel L. Jackson. Also new to the ensemble is Don Cheadle as Rhodey, which I found kind of shocking. As if audiences wouldn't notice that Terrence Howard was Rhodey in the first installment. You'd think they would have invented a brother or something...

Worth seeing if you enjoy comic book movies, especially if you are a Robert Downey, Jr., fan.

If not, not.

17 May 2010

Girls vs. Boys by the House Theatre

This is an exuberant show about adolescent misery. A talented cast sings and dances their way through set pieces on first love, first sex, abandonment, the yearning for deep connection, and the desire to be grown, individual, and unique while also being "cool," or admired.

The House Theatre
does its usual splendid job creating a dynamic production. I was disturbed at first by the glittery guns carried by all the cast members until I realized (it took me a long time--call me slow) that they were metaphorical--emotionally, teenagers walk around like loaded guns.

It's a great show for middle and high school kids. I was somewhat less entertained. In the past few years I've found myself not so interested in adolescent drama--even West Side Story, one of my favorite musicals. I lose patience with the histrionics, no matter well expressed.