...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Single Malt Report: Bowmore, on a boat and in a glass

I'm going to be drinking Bowmore on a yacht this Saturday via "Sail the Pacific with Bowmore".  It's fair to say that I'm reasonably stoked about this.  I encourage folks to snap up this deal while it's around.

Normally, I don't like paying for whisky tastings.  I resisted the annual Peatin' Meetin' due to the price tag, but in hindsight I wish I'd gone.  I'll be saving up for it next year.

When I saw the $150 price on the Sail the Pacific experience, I laughed aloud.  But then I saw the deal in the above link for $65 and bought it promptly.  A glass of Bowmore's 25 year at a bar would be over $80 alone.  Glasses of all five expressions would be at least $150.  Of course, I'm not anticipating full pours but I probably will never have another opportunity to try their 18yr and 25yr.

I'm a very big fan of Bowmore.  I've already reported on four of their whiskies.  I love their limited release Tempest and their 1994 Signatory (16yr) may be my favorite open bottle.

I will be reporting back about the booze cruise.  Until then, a new report on something that won't be on the cruise....

Bowmore 7 year old 2002 (Murray McDavid)

Before I begin this report, I must file the following DISCLAIMERs:

1.  Bowmore is one of my favorite distilleries.  (see: above booze cruise)  But this was not released by Bowmore, it was released by Murray McDavid.

2.  Murray McDavid is a well-regarded independent bottler.

3.  Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram is the best way purchase whisky samples.  (I highly recommend it and will be reporting on this setup next month.)

Okay, reporting recommences......now.

Distillery: Bowmore
Bottler: Murray McDavid
Age: 7 years (2002-2009)
Matured: Bourbon
Finish: Premier Cru Bordeaux (Château Latour)
Limited Run: 1,700
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

I was pleased as punch to see this dram arrive in my most recent purchase from Master of Malt.  I wanted to try a very young whisky -- there are no official bottling single malts for sale in the US with an age statement under eight years -- since they're known to be particularly wild and unsubtle.  And this whisky looked particularly curious, fully aged in bourbon barrels then finished in Bordeaux casks.

How exactly would this work out flavorwise?  Whisky, bourbon, and Bordeaux.  I like them all.  Though I like peanut butter, mayonnaise, and yellowtail sushi and I'm in no hurry to throw them in a blender and slurp that down.

It could be brilliant, but I was taking chances here.  That's why I bought a 30mL sample and not a 700mL bottle.  I took a sip of a separate great Bowmore to get the tastebuds into the right mode.  Then I broke out this 7 year old dram.  I let it breathe for ten minutes.

My wife and I were was watching What Not To Wear, but I left the room so that I could focus...

First I'll try it neat.  A unique color.  Think apple juice with some reds and browns mixed in.  Give it a sniff.  Wow, alcohol.  Maybe sweet wine.  Another sniff.  What is that?  Really, what is that smell?  Another sniff.  I know this.  It's...

Bourbon vomit.

And burnt plastic.  And more B.O. than peat.

Ooooookay.  Should I call poison control before I drink this?  Well, sometimes the nose and the palate don't match up.  So I'll give it a sip.

Texture?  Thick.  Palate?

Dear god.  It tastes like pimples.

Pimples and open wounds.  Rotten cream.  PVC plastic.  Flesh.  F**k, gah.  Mlech.  The finish is hot, bitter, ammonia.

F**k.  Some water on it please.  Let's reduce it to 35% ABV.  It's not clouding, but they say it's not chillfiltered.  I'll cautiously sniff.

There's the bordeaux at the front of the nose, better than before.  Very sugary.  But still musty.  Human musty.  Here goes a drink...

Worms.  This must be what worms taste like.  Worms f**king drowned in bourbon.

The cooler, drier finish switches to overripe tropical fruits.

I sit for a minute considering my wellbeing.  And I consider that Bowmore might want to take their name off of this bottling.  Murray McDavid used Bowmore distillate, but the spirit has been suffocated in bourbon, wine, and wood.

FYI, I lived 'till morning.  I'm starting to understand the great Serge Valentin's qualms with what he terms "wineskies".  I like the taste of whisky, that's why I buy whisky.  Special wood finishes can add complexity and incredible flavor, but sometimes things don't exactly congeal and the result is something that may no longer be whisky.

The distilleries like Glenmorangie, Macallan, and Bowmore experiment with these sorts of things in their labs.  They release what works and dump what doesn't (or sell it for blends).  The public doesn't get to taste the flubs in order to keep the brand in good shape.  It's possible that the independent bottlers don't have that luxury to dispatch with the ill-conceived experiments.

This was so wretched that I will hesitate from buying any of Murray McDavid's fancy finishes in the future.  I don't like pimples on my palate.

Price - Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
Rating - 50

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just because

There are some days that I know are going to be challenging from the moment I wake up.  Today is undoubtedly one of them.  If you're having one of those days too, I wish you well.

In honor of difficult days, here's a video of a man playing a Beethoven piece on his piano for several old, handicapped, injured, and blind elephants in Thailand.  I'll let the video speak for itself.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday: Whisky Gifts

Now that the act of giving thanks is behind us, we may now consume products at a rate far beyond our means......but in the form of gifts for other people!

One of the MANY things I love about Kristen's family is that they purchase gifts that the recipients actually want.  As opposed to purchasing gifts that the giver likes.  For instance, rather than "Happy Hanukkah!  Here's a book that I loved about Malaysian Turtle Bone Whittling!", it's more like "Happy Hanukkah!  Here's that book you wanted and that movie you wanted and that CD you wanted."  Yay!  So when I thank them (much too late) it's actually genuine.  It's difficult to eek out sincere gratitude about the Malaysian Turtle Bone Whittling book.

What I'm trying to get at is this.  If you're going to participate in this bloated consumption party, then it's best to give gifts selflessly, but financially responsibly.  If your nephew wants a PS3, ignore him.  But if he wants a Linkin Park CD, swallow your distain and buy it for him.  Don't get him Miles Davis's Round About Midnight, unless he's of drinking age.  If your son wants Trotsky's 3-part biography, give the commie what he wants (if you can find it on sale, 'cuz damn that thing's expensive.  Not that I know or anything.).

The only gift recommendations that I'll provide are of the whisky sort.  The only authority I have over these things is that I actually have these and enjoy them fully.  So....


1.  Whisky.  Because really, it's the greatest gift next to cash.  And maybe love.

2.  Glencairn whisky glasses

What a cute couple.
Here's a better pic:

Whiskies can be enjoyed in a tumbler, provided that the whiskey itself is good.  The issue with the standard tumbler is that almost all of the aromas escape the drink and completely bypass your nose.  And since the flavor sense is highly dependent on olfaction, you're missing a lot of the tastes as well.

The Glencairn glass was engineered with the input of many of the major scotch whisky blenders and is now often used for professional whisky nosings/tastings.  So that's the official pitch.  But here's what I think works for it:

Aesthetics - It looks great on the table.  It looks better in your hand.
Durability - That base is really solid, which makes this a better buy than many other flimsy whisky glasses out there.
Whisky delivery mechanism - The bowl is bulbous like a mini red wine glass or brandy snifter.  This allows the aromas to release more fully.  Then it tapers up at the top, focusing the nosing goodness and flavor very intensely.

Let me repeat that last note.  The whisky nose and flavor will be INTENSE.

Size-wise, a pour up to the bottom of the bowl curve is about 1 oz.  Mid bowl is 1.5 oz.  Top of the bowl, 2 oz.

My marvelous wife purchased a set of four of these for me for my birthday this year.  They've been in constant rotation ever since.

3.  Whiskey Stones

My great brother-in-law and his fiancee got me a set of 9 of these for that same birthday.  A great birthday.

Made of Vermont Soapstone, these rocks allow you to chill your beverage without watering it down.  It also prevents overchilling which can wipe out much of the great whisky scents.

They really work for any hard liquor.  But since many whiskies shouldn't be chilled at all (warming the whisky brings out more aromas for better or worse), I recommend these for desserty, sweet, digestif whisky.  Or if you don't give a sniff and just want to drink some cool whisky.

They come with a little cloth bag with a drawstring.  You stick 'em in the freezer until you want to use them.  Then rinse them off with hot water (no soap) when you're done.  May I also add, they're very cute.

4.  Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, 6th Edition

Created and edited by the late Michael Jackson.  No, not that one.  Rather, the bespectacled, bushy bearded benevolent brilliant whisky writer. Besides covering almost every distillery (current and defunct) and 1000+ bottlings, it also has a ton of educational information about distillation, geography, casks, and history.  Recommended for whisky lovers of all levels.  You won't even want to read my Single Malt Reports after closing this book.  I'm joking!  My reports will supplement... the... inf... where are you going?

5.  Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012

This is the book that gets all of the crazy press whenever it's released.  Murray (another awesome writer) reviews over 4500 whiskies here.  Yup, I don't know how he does it.  But he's very forgiving as a uisge beatha lover, always looking for the positives in his drink.  Not much educational stuff outside of the reviews, but the sheer scope and enjoyable writing are the big positives.  I don't recommend this for whisky noobs due to how overwhelming it is, and since 99.8% of these whiskies are either defunct, outrageously rare, or unavailable to us Yanks.  But if you know your Talisker from your Highland Park while blindfolded, this is an addictive book.

So there they are, my whisky gift recommendations for Chrismahanukwanzakah.  May the time you spend with your loved ones be blessed and beautiful.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forever is forever

Does anyone else feel a sense of existential dread while watching this?

If so, let me know if you want to go halfsies on developing my new product: Poop Pants.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Single Malt Report: The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old

Distillery: The Glenlivet
Variety: Nadurra (cask strength)
Age: minimum 16 years
Maturation: first ex-bourbon casks
Region: Speyside (Livet)
Alcohol by Volume: 55.1% to 59.7% depending on batch

There are many "The"s in the distillery business.  THE Glenrothes, THE Macallan, THE Balvenie, THE Glenlivet.  But in The Glenlivet's case, the "The" was actually hard won in court via multiple legal battles.  Let's do a little history:

Until 1824, selling whisky in Scotland was illegal.  But since it was happening everywhere anyway, and King George 4 wasn't receiving any tax revenue from it, the government created a legal whisky-selling license.  George Smith's Glenlivet distillery (parked in the Glen of the River Livet) was the first to obtain it.  As the whisky made its way through England and its empire, the name recognition was high for the Glenlivet brand.  So other whisky producers anywhere near (and sometimes not near) the River Livet started appending their whisky name with the word "glenlivet".  It took decades, but after getting the courts involved, the original distillery gained the ability to add "The" to only their official bottlings.

So that's THE Glenlivet to you.

The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich have, for years, been neck-and-neck as the top whisky sellers in the world.  Glenlivet's 12 year can be found everywhere liquor is sold in the US.  There's a 15 year old French Oak, as well as two versions (16 and 18 year) of the cask strength Nadurra.  Above those come all of their ultra-premium bottlings.

Because of Glenlivet's size, their whiskies are always reasonably priced.  That doesn't necessarily mean they're good, but it's nice to be able to buy a single malt and not empty out the checking account. Glenfiddich is priced about the same, and I like their 12 year old considerably more than Glenlivet's.  The Glenlivet's 15 year Fine Oak is pretty decent.  And I most appreciate the Nadurra series because they're introducing cask strength whisky to the American public at about half the price as other distillers' heavy boozers.

As Glenlivet releases different batches of Nadurra (Gaelic for natural) the actual ABV changes slightly.  This is because they are literally bottling the whisky at the alcoholic strength it is in the cask.  They've also left it unchillfiltered which is nice since most of the big whisky producers haven't started doing that (for aesthetic reasons).

Way back in September, I reported on four Glenrothes whiskies (here, here, and here) that I had sampled at a whisky tasting at The Daily Pint.  Because the tastings at The Pint have a long wait time and because their bar is LOADED with awesome selections and because I like to wake the taste buds up with a pre-tasting drink, I ordered The Glenlivet's Nadurra 16yr beforehand.

I always recommend nosing and tasting a cask strength (CS) neat before adding water.  That way you can experience the evolution of scents and flavors as water is later added.  Some CSs are well designed and won't blind you and knock you on your ass.  Some (like Macallan's CS) are actually better neat.  Many aren't.

So I tried Nadurra 16 neatly first.  The color was a rosy gold with green undertones.  Its nose was the pleasant Glenlivet floral and ALCOHOL BURN!  I think I lost nose hairs.  Then I took a sip.  There was a hint of cream before my tongue and lips went numb.

I've had my share of CSs and very few have had this scorched earth effect.  It's fun in theory but frustrating when I want to taste my whisky.  So it was time to temper the fire.

I made the whisky:water ratio 2:1, lowering the ABV to about 40%.  And out came the scents and flavors!  Honey and vanilla jumped on top of the floral nose.  The palate was cream, cake, frosting, and cherry.  And it finished nicely with notes of caramel and green tea.

All in all, this one proves how whisky can be an enjoyable science experiment.  It's also not a bad first cask strength whiskey for folks, especially at this price.  Macallan's own CS is finished in sherry casks so the flavor is completely different and it's priced at about the same level.  I'd love to see Glenfiddich step up to meet the challenge.

In the meantime, The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old is instant whisky, just add water.

Pricing - Good at $55
Rating - 84

Friday, November 25, 2011

George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 4B: The 39 Steps


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2A  and  2B

Chapter 3A  and  3B

Chapter 4A

continuing from Chapter 4A

Hitchcock had just released the abysmal mess of Number 17.  He followed that up with Waltzes from Vienna in 1934, which he too embarrassed about to even discuss.  Waltzes is unavailable on home video in the US, which is just as well for me.  It becomes difficult to watch him flounder repeatedly after all the promise of Blackmail.  His stylings were bursting at the seams in Rich and Strange, but at least were crazy enough to be interesting.  In Number 17 there were random bursts of strange angles and camera tricks that awkwardly distracted from the story, as if he was fighting with the film or with boredom.

As I'd quoted at the end of Part A, after the release of 17 and Waltzes Hitch underwent a bit of introspection.  He was only going to commit to projects that interested him personally, films that would fully involve his craft.

What remains largely unspoken is that after this period Hitchcock never again had a screenplay credit.  Instead he entrusted the writing to others while he focused on direction.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Not to be confused with his 1956 Stewart-Day remake, the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is an abrupt track change to Hitchcock's career.  Working with (at least) five writers, Hitch crafts a classic thriller as if he'd been doing so for his entire career.

As a thriller genre writer, I found this exhilarating.  When I use the term "classic thriller" I mean that it fully fits the structural mold of a thriller that we all use today.  It's easily pitchable:  After a family accidentally discovers a terrorist group's plans, their daughter is kidnapped.  If the parents involve the authorities, the bad guys will kill the girl.  So they are left to search for her on their own.  The first, second, and third acts just pop right out of it.

Thanks to the work of that team of writers (Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood, A.R. Rawlinson, and Emlyn Williams) the film is funnier, faster, and leaner than any previous Hitchcock work.  There are set-ups and payoffs in theme, character, and story.

The two parents, played by Edna Best and Leslie Banks, transition from a bantering but sexually bored marriage to a smart hard-working team throughout the conflict.  The daughter, played by Nova Pilbeam (fantastic name!), arcs from happy-go-lucky to exhausted shock.

Peter Lorre is tremendous as always as the bad guy.  He's really one of the great cinematic presences, absolutely nailing character and feeling the moment he steps on screen.  Here in The Man Who, he's like an evil Ralph Wiggum, a pudgy little demon.  Lorre was also reciting most of his lines phonetically since he'd just left Germany as the Nazis came to power.  But one can't see any issues with the language or the dialogue since he looks so comfortable in character.

On top of this great actor direction, Hitchcock's visual style is present only to serve the story.  Little is wasted, in direct contrast to Number 17.  The lighting progresses from light to dark, white to black, day to night.  The suspense in the concerto assassination scene is textbook perfect, shot to shot, devoid of dialogue.  And the penultimate police shootout is brutal, dead bodies everywhere.

It all feels like it was directed by an old veteran of the form.  Perhaps this is because this director was inventing the form right here.  We are told that the assassination will happen during the cantata performance; the gun will go off when the cymbals crash.  We hear the piece beforehand on a record, then we're in music hall, we hear the music, we see the cymbals, we see the gun, the cymbals, the cymbals, the cymbals, the gun, the cymbals are lifted, the music rises, and...

The 39 Steps (1935)

Sir Alfred goes on to prove that this wasn't a fluke with The 39 Steps.  He brought in Charles Bennett (again) and Ian Hay to adapt the novel by John Buchan.  Together they assembled the first solid Wrong Man-themed Hitchcock film and introduced his first Macguffin.

A Canadian tourist (Robert Donat) is visited by a spy who is then killed his apartment.  The bad guys frame him for the murder, so he sets off across Scotland to find the lead criminal and prove his own innocence while being chased by the cops and the baddies.

Remove the specifics and that's actually the mold for an entire cinematic genre.  The setup could make for a terrifying film, but Hitchcock always keeps the pace moving quickly because he's not aiming for psychological horrors.  He's out for thrills.

The film plays pretty steadily and reliably until the third act, when it propels into the stratosphere.  Donat gets handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll, a woman who's determined to turn him in.  The two are genuinely disgusted with each other and squabble their way up to the ending, when they finally work together to solve the mystery of The 39 Steps.  Carroll is (gorgeous and also) phenomenal in a physically demanding role.

And what is this Macguffin thing, mentioned above?  It's The 39 Steps.  It's the suitcase in Kiss Me Deadly.  It's the suitcase in Pulp Fiction.  It's the microfilm in North by Northwest.  It's the uranium in Notorious.  It's the catalyst that gets the story going, the thing that everyone is after, but "it's the device, the gimmick" (Truffaut 138) as Hitchcock says, because ultimately that one item doesn't matter.  The story it propels is what's important.

So we get the innocent man on the run, the cool blonde, and the Macguffin all here (and executed well) in a 1935 film.  It's all kept to 86 minutes, and nothing is wasted.

Hitch's style has now fully merged with the narrative.  As a result there are no flourishes to point out because everything he does here serves the story.  That's true mastery of the craft of visual storytelling.  He'll make greater cinema, but he couldn't get there without arriving here first.

At this point in their careers, Ruth and Hitchcock seized the rare opportunity they had and showed the beginnings of making good on the promise they'd had earlier.  Ruth though very successful on the mound forced his way to the plate by showing his doubters that he could fulfill a previously unknown potential.  Hitchcock's early films had become financially profitable enough so that he was getting hired out three times a year to crank out picture after picture.  But this sort of achievement was limited, and as his craft began to fray he quickly changed direction and began producing the sort of cinema no one had yet seen.  But here, the two big men were merely carpeting the floor.  The ceiling lay ahead.

Spoto, Donald. The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock. Anchor Books, New York. 1992.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, Paris. 1984.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bad Movies (a short explanation)

As you can tell from my film posts, I enjoy ridiculing bad films as much as anyone else.  Sometimes the criticism is considerably thought through.  Sometimes it's not.

I really do try to find something redeemable in all films because all productions, big or small, are created through herculean efforts by their creators.  No one sets out to make a bad film.  You've seen those eight minute long credit scrolls at the end of a flick.  Hundreds of people put their existence on hold, working 16-20 hour days (despite union rules) for months on end to assemble the best product they can with the resources they have.  American studio productions are miracles of effort.  Sometimes I think of them like living things, created and kept alive by the efforts of countless microscopic cells each performing their function to the utmost of their ability.

But sometimes the result sucks.

And, really, because what we watch is art, the problem is subjective.  Something (or many things) about the movie triggers our "This is Crap!" switch.  I'm going to attempt to turn the subjective a little bit towards the objective by looking at that Crap Catalyst via the Three E's:

Every major film release is powered not only by massive marketing campaigns, but also by our own personal hopes for the product.

On the macro side, tens of millions of dollars are put into posters, ads, trailers, TV spots, tie-ins, toys -- constant visuals (subtle and not) to keep us conscious of the impending opening day.  Everyone needs to know about it so that some will go and see it.  They'll err on going past the saturation point to maximize expectation and excitement.

On the micro side stands the individual potential customer.  We see what's in the theatres.  There are remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels.  Then there are adaptations of books, TV shows, video games, board games, plays, comics, toys, and magazine articles.  Expectations are built right into these films.  That's why they're developed, financed, and released.  If we've seen the first movie or read the book or love the video game, our hopes are set, ignited in our consciousness on the lead up to actually seeing the movie.  Or, if they're releasing an original film, they've attached the best talent that they can get.  This excites those of us craving something (anything!) unique.

Between the macro and the micro forces at work, all of this ginned up expectation is almost impossible to meet and sustain.  Especially since we each anticipate something different.  Failure is almost inevitable.  Wide success is miraculous.

There are also two sides to the economical concerns.  The studio and the audience.

The executives in control of the nine-figure budgets have two roles:  hit that budget on the nose and make that money back.  Thus all of the large decisions are based around the dollar.  A production is greenlighted (not greenlit) when it meets the studio's marketable standards.  They hire above-the-line talent whose films have a history of financial success.  They set up corporate tie-ins, run audience testing, demand content inclusions and exclusions, all to make sure that this $100,000,000 behemoth turns a profit.  That's their career and future right there.

Yup.  (Source)
But those economical choices don't always benefit the product.  Firstly, the recycled ideas turn many of us off or, at the very least, prime the film for ridicule.  Then the talent they've deemed "successful" may not have gained that success via their own labor (see: Sam Worthington, Shia LeBouf, the entire Twilight cast).  Just because their last film turned a profit doesn't always mean they'll take that success with them.  Past performance does not guarantee future success.  And finally, if the content demands by the studio don't blend well with the final product, the audience will notice it.  Tacked on endings, Burger King references, colorful sidekicks, forced romantic subplots, softening of darker material -- the audience can pick that up.  We watch a lot of stuff every day.

Then there's us.  We're the ones paying anywhere from $8 to $18 for the right to sit in the big dark room.  We're the ones paying $5-$7 per drink or snack while we sit in the big dark room.  Turning over that sort of money to see something that we've never seen before influences the way we judge our movies.

Personally, since I've (almost entirely) stopped seeing movies in theatres and instead watch them via streaming or DVD my negative opinions have eased.  It's more difficult to enjoy the small things when massive bright lights are flashing in my face and when I've shed considerable cash.  Conversely, it's much harder to be WOWed by cinema when I'm not seeing it in the format for which it was created.  But it's been an financial decision.  The price of two 3D tickets with one water and one box of candy equals THREE MONTHS of Netflix.  I do miss sitting in the cinema to watch cinema, but simultaneously my expectations are more realistic due to a smaller investment of my limited means.

Ah, the reason I stayed up until 1:30am last night to work on my script.

No matter how hard those hundreds of production staffers work on the film, no matter how well they do their individual jobs, no matter how much money is funneled into the project, no matter how closely the studio monitors the final edits, no matter how great the idea was, no matter the promise, if the execution is off then everything collapses around it.  And by execution, I refer to the writing and direction.

Turning an idea into a great story is a true craft.  Weaving a story into a great script is an entirely different gift.  It's incredibly difficult.  And no matter how many consultants, development staffers, and writers are brought in, if that final script doesn't work on the page then it's going to be a disaster on the big screen.

There are infinite ways that a script can fail.  Here are a few problems that I've stared down in some of my projects: logic gaps, story flow hiccups, inconsistent characters, weak characters, boring characters, passive characters, on-the-nose dialogue, too subtle dialogue, too much dialogue, bad dialogue, bad endings, bad openings, scenes that don't play out correctly, scenes that go on too long, missing pieces that tie scenes together, slow pacing, insufferable second acts, boring subplots, subplots that are better than the master plot, and lazy choices band-aiding bigger problems.

Then the direction has to keep that story and script afloat, turning the pages into moving pictures.  This can be considerably more demanding than the writing.  Directors can fumble the pacing, plot, and characters as well and their work is what people see first.  They're responsible for tone, performances, and the image.  Every square inch of screen space in every second of every scene in a film is an opportunity for failure.

The audience's lives are now packed with visual storytelling, so we will know when films slip up.  And we will judge.  And we will complain online.  When our finances and time are spent watching the story, judgement heightens.

Maximus yells to the crowd, "Are you not entertained?!"

And I yell back, "No!  But I liked you in The Insider."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Trailer Tuesday!


With 3D theatrical attendance declining rapidly, three classics(?) are being pushed into theatres next year with the hope that they'll cash in as well as Lion King 3D.


After releasing, rereleasing, rereleasing, rereleasing, and rereleasing (not an exaggeration) the Star Wars saga on home video -- after rereleasing and expanding them theatrically -- LucasFilms is squatting and squeezing them out in three dimensions theatrically.  Which will be followed by a home video rerelease.

They'll start at the beginning with the unnecessarily poor and BORING Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  If I ever question if my distain for this film is overwrought, all I have to do is press play on this trailer.  I can't even make it through.  Enjoy it in 3D!  For $18 a person!


So let me get this straight, Sir Cameron.  You want me to sit in a theatre for over three hours and watch a period piece that takes place on a boat in 3D?  Weren't you the guy complaining (here, here, here, and here) about all these new releases that were shot in 2D then upconverted to 3D?  Are you not doing that yourself?  Has your swimming pool run low on gold bullion?

I could definitely enjoy seeing Kate Winslet nude momentarily in 3D.  But I would much rather see a real woman nude in 3D.  Without the stupid glasses on.  She can wear the glasses though, that would be cool.  Which is a natural transition for...


Super!  Now I can watch those weird crummy CGI insert backgrounds in three dimensions!  And the mentally-retarded bad guy sidekick who falls down a lot and is never spoken about in polite company too!

The upside to having a daughter:  Girls are awesome.  The downside: this and everything related to Disney heroines.  If I have a daughter, she'll develop role models from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford movies (I mean the early ones, not What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Watcher in the Woods or......on second thought, maybe just Myrna Loy and Grace Kelly films).

Back to the point.  Thank you Disney for encouraging the $100 night out (without dinner!) for a young family of four during this economy.

Meanwhile the rest of the populace will rock some Hot Pockets and pirated pirate movies.  Or affix their monocles, sip cognac, and watch Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.   ME!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Single Malt Report: Taste Off!

This is part of a three-post series on Sauternes-finished single malts:
Day 1: Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or
Day 2: BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish
Day 3: Taste Off!

Before we begin, I must answer the question, what the hell is Sauternes?

It is NOT Burgundy.  It is NOT a red dry Bordeaux.  It is made in the Bordeaux region in France.  Its grapes have been hit by the 'noble rot' fungus which makes them raisiny.  If they are picked at the right time they can make very sweet dessert wines.

So Sauternes is very sweet wine (with a golden hue) that's often quite pricey due to the delicate balance of 'noble rot' needed.  The Sauternes from Chateau D'Yquem isn't even produced in years when the grapes aren't right.

Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or and Benriach 16 year old Sauternes Finish were both finished in casks that had previously used to mature the Premier Cru Sauternes from Chateau D'Yquem.

*Sigh*  You gotta know what you're buying, mate.  I was such a space cadet with this one.  So we'll be going with a little Space Oddity to power the Taste Off:

Aside from their similar wood finishes, both have have a 46% ABV and are unchillfiltered.  The BenRiach is made from 16 year old whisky and has its natural color.  Nectar d'Or is from 12 year old whisky and, since GlenMo doesn't brag about its coloring, I'll bet it has some caramel coloring added---

But wait! You already reported on these.

Sh*t.  Blue Text.  Where have you been?

Biding my time.  Why are you doing another post about these whiskies?

Good question.  The proper way to do a tasting is with more than one whisky.  Comparing and contrasting flavors helps hone those taste buds and olfactory receptors.  Just make sure to have plain crackers and water on hand to clear out the palate often.  Also let the whiskies sit out for some time.  Like with wine, oxidation allows for the nose and flavors to open up a bit.  What becomes apparent is that with all of these factors the whiskies will change and provide different experiences.  You cool now?

Yeah.  I'm cool now.  Please continue.

Thanks.  Here it goes:

Tasting A:
0.6oz, NEAT, in Glencairn nosing glasses, with 25 minutes of breathing time (for the whiskies and I) before commencement...

BenRiach 16 Sauternes Finish:
Nose:  Ether burst leads off, then a sweet white wine like Riesling
Palate:  Thick textured, creamy, toffee w/o salt, cinnamon, overripe cherries
Finish:  Spicy, winey, hot, long

Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or
Nose:  Bubble gum, sweet perfume, brandy
Palate:  Ripe citrus, apricots, molasses, bubble gum, smoother than BenRiach
Finish:  Brief, bananas, cognac

Jeepers, all that oxidation time really changed their structures.  And for the better.  Comparing and contrasting really helped me find more details in each of these.  The GlenMo narrowly wins Tasting A.

Tasting B:
0.5oz, 1 teaspoon of water, lowering the ABV to 36%, in Glencairn nosing glasses, with 10 minutes of breathing time (for the whiskies and I) before commencement...

Nose:  Alcohol calmed a bit, overripe fruit, dessert wine
Palate:  So smooth, just creamy dessert wine
Finish:  Warm, pleasant, dried fruit, Nestle's milk chocolate, cherry cough syrup

Nose:  Delicious candiness, sticky sweet caramels, some hay far underneath
Palate:  Better smoother wine, cream filled pastry
Finish:  Some of that bubble gum from before, cherry flavoring, bananas

Both are much better with water (and all of that oxidation time).  The BenRiach becomes a dessert wine with fruit and milky chocolate, while the Glenmorangie is a sticky creamy pastry.  GlenMo wins again, but not by much.  Two things have not changed; 1.) these are clearly dessert whiskies, and 2.) there's more wine than whisky.  So, approach accordingly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Single Malt Report: BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish

This is part of a three-post series on Sauternes-finished single malts:
Day 1: Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or
Day 2: BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish
Day 3: Taste Off!
Distillery: BenRiach
Age: minimum 16 years
Maturation: Sauternes wine casks
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

Normally, I focus my Reports on affordable, U.S.-accessible whiskies and try to stay away from ultra-premium or rare or UK-only malts.  But I'm making an exception here since this BenRiach 16 year old Sauternes-finished whisky sits in my cabinet.  It's not available to purchase in the US, but can easily be found for sale online by UK sellers (my favorites: Royal Mile Whiskies, Master of Malt, and The Whisky Exchange).

So, why did I buy it from Master of Malt without ever having tasted it?

It was a limited release by the distillery, only 1650 bottles worth (probably four casks).  The distillery was well-regarded.  The price was comparatively reasonable for a limited release.  It was meant to counter thevery smoky other purchase (which will remain unnamed until its own Report) I had made at the same time.  And like the GlenMo Nectar d'Or, I was very intrigued by a Burgundy-type finish.

We don't hear much about BenRiach in the States, so here's a little bit of their ping-pong history:

The Benriach distillery opened in 1898 right near the Longmorn distillery.  Longmorn bought them out then closed them in 1900.  Between 1900 and 1965, Benriach continued to do their barley maltings which were then used by their owners.  Glenlivet bought them in '65 and reopened the distillery.  Seagrams bought them in '77 and released their first single malt in 1994.  Chivas bought them in 2001, then immediately shut them down again.  A small independent consortium bought them in 2004, renamed them BenRiach, and immediately started their bottlings.  BenRiach's Classic range is well regarded, but they've become more known for their dozen or so special-finished whiskies, of which this Sauternes Finish is one.

I sampled this neat and then with two teaspoons of water.  The whisky has a 46% ABV, is unchillfiltered, and has its natural color.  All good things.

So first, I tried it neat.  Its color was a rose-tinted honey.  The nose, very fragrant, was toffee, caramel, and lemon zest.  The palate...

It was with this first sip, a couple months ago, that I immediately realized that I didn't know what Sauternes actually was.  I'm an idiot.  The whisky was candy sweet, syrupy, room-temperature-dessert-winey, with butter and little bit of salt.  The finish was very long, strong with drier red wine.  Enjoyed the finish the most.

Now with the water.  No clouding.  The nose changed subtly but nicely -- butterscotch and dried apricots.  The taste had changed as well.  Now it was full of creams, brown sugar, butterscotch candies, and amaretto.  It's finish was still big on red wine, a little sour, sticky, but with a final moment of clean linen.  That was a nice surprise!

My notes put it succinctly: Dessert, better with water, maybe MORE water next time

Like the Nectar d'Or, this is not an aperitif.  It's a candied appetite negator.  Its finish is always the highlight.  I was a little worried with that first drink, as the stuff in the glass seemed to be more wine than whisky.  But adding water transforms it.  Though I begin to wonder, shouldn't BenRiach have worked that out that balance before bottling it?

Pricing - Acceptable at $70-$80 (includes int'l shipping)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or

This is part of a three-post series on Sauternes-finished single malts:
Day 1: Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or
Day 2: BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish
Day 3: Taste Off!

Variety: Nectar d'Or
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: Sauternes wine casks
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

I've always wanted to try Glenmorangie's Nectar d'Or.  I've sampled more bottlings of Glenmorangie than of any other distiller.  They were the ones who had awakened me to the wine cask finishes on whiskies -- specifically Sherry and Port -- about seven years ago.

The Nectar d'Or has always been $20 more expensive than the "Lasanta" and "Quinta Ruban" so it would have been a pricey gamble to just go out and buy a 750mL bottle.  By some stroke of luck, I found a 100mL mini-ish bottle of it at a little liquor store in Santa Barbara and paid quite a bit for it.  It's a premium one has to pay for a sample, but it's also thriftier than buying a big bottle of something one might not like.

The Glenmorangie distillery, founded in 1843, uses the tallest stills in Scotland (tall as an adult giraffe, they say).  All that height changes the chemical distribution of the spirit's vapors, which is thought to provide the smoothness to the final product.  They, along with Macallan, have the highest investment in cask wood selection in the scotch whisky industry.  For instance, they only use their casks twice (rather than refilling four or five times like many other distillers) to insure richer flavors develop in the whiskies' maturation.

Though their Original (10 year old) is the best selling single malt in its Scottish homeland, GlenMo produces many varieties, most of which focus cask maturation.  I'm personally a big fan of the "Lasanta" which is the sherry finish; I highly recommend that one and will do a Report on it the next time I have a good dram.  The Nectar d'Or always drew me because it looked more luxurious, had the higher price, gets good ratings across the board, and....it is whisky.

There's one more thing I should mention.  I didn't fully understand how it was matured.  I thought it was in a regular Burgundy cask.  I didn't actually know what Sauternes was.  This will come up over the next two parts of this series as well; I'll clarify in part Three.

I poured myself one ounce and let it breathe for about 15 minutes.  I tried the first half ounce neat, the second half ounce with a teaspoon of water.

The color is a light honey with some amber and yellows.  The nose is bright, sweet, no alcohol.  Smells sweeter than sherry.  Then it gets heavier.  Some molasses, buttery caramel, something thick, almost meaty.  The palate is sweet solid balance: whipped cream, dark sugars, dessert wines, and cognac.  The finish sweetens up further, more dessert wine.

With water:
Though this is unchillfiltered, it doesn't cloud up with the water.  But one can see the oil swirling, the color going further towards amber.  There's a little alcohol burn now in the nose, that thick meaty/cheesy scent has heightened, mixed with the sweetness.  No fruits, veggies, or grains in the nose at all.  The palate is all creamy brown sugar and vanilla, maybe a crème brûlée or a custard.  In the finish, ah, that's were the grasses and cereals were hiding.  Plus a little bit of a fresh Krispy Kreme doughnut, still warm.

So, yes, this is more of a dessert than an aperitif.  I like the flavor considerably more than the scent.  Something is keeping me from full-on raving about this whisky.  Perhaps all that sweetness doesn't appeal to my palate like it may have a few years ago.  I don't think that it is $20 better than GlenMo's sherry finish since the Lasanta is more versatile; that one you can have any time and it won't spoil your appetite.

But maybe my opinion will change over the next two parts of this Sauternes series.  For now:

Pricing - Good at $65, Overpriced above $80
Rating - 80

Thursday, November 17, 2011

George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 4A: Rich and Strange


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2A  and  2B

Chapter 3A  and  3B


1917 had ended on a sour note for Ruth and the Red Sox.  They'd finished far behind the White Sox in the final standings.  Their team hitting and baserunning were below league average.  Their pitching remained their strength, but was also bested by Chicago.

Then, just as the season was closing up, the draft for The Great War took away more than half of their roster (as a married man, Ruth was not called up).  Owner Harry Frazee saw this as an opportunity to rebuild, cheaply, and bought up players from teams that were struggling with their financials.  Because the Sox lost their manager, Jack Barry, to the service, Frazee hired big Ed Barrow to manage the team on the field and the Sox's accounting!  Barrow's knowledge of the game was limited but he was a serious disciplinarian.  Barrow and The Babe butted heads immediately.

Ruth spent the entire offseason begging Barrow to let him play the field.  First base, outfield, anything.  The spots were open due to the departed players and Bambino just wanted to bat more often.  During exhibition games, Ruth was once again making baseballs vanish far beyond the field of play.  But Barrow wouldn't budge; Ruth was to pitch.

But since Barrow's strategic acumen was at a minimum, he put Harry Hooper (outfielder and, at the time, the team's best player) in charge of the on-field game.  Hooper knew Ruth's power and he knew it's draw to the fans.  So Hooper appealed to Barrow's financial side (since Barrow owned a share of the team) -- the more at bats for Babe, the more ticket-buying fans fill the seats.  In May, Barrow gave in.

On May 4th, Ruth homered (after calling his shot to the umpire).  The next game, May 6th, he played the outfield and hit a home run.  May 7th, he took a Walter Johnson pitch out of National Park and into a neighbor's yard.  On May 8th, he went 5 for 5.

Two weeks later Ruth had caught the strain of influenza that would kill 600,000 Americans.  But not Ruth.  He would return to baseball two weeks later and homer in four straight games.  He'd hit seven home runs in the span of one month.  Had he hit seven for the entire season, that would have been second best in the league.

In July, more players were called up to fight.  Barrow put Ruth back in to pitch again.  But Ruth had fallen too deeply in love with hitting.  He was already at 11 home runs with only half of the season done, the American League record was 16.  He continued to battle in out with Barrow for the rest of the season.  In July he hit five triples and four doubles, but no home runs.  In August he agreed to return to his pitching-only duties and didn't hit a single home run after than.

The Sox won the pennant, then beat the Cubs 4-2 in the World Series.  Ruth had two spectacular starts, including a six-hit shutout in the opener.

For the regular season, Ruth had tied for the major league lead in home runs, despite not playing a quarter of the games.  He was also first in the AL in Slugging Percentage (SLG), Production (OPS), and extra base hits.  He was also second in OBP, eighth in batting average, second in doubles, fifth in triples, and first in strikeouts (the batting kind, not the pitching kind).

As a pitcher, he completed 18 of his 19 starts.  He was 9th in ERA.  He had brought his walks down, so he finished second to Johnson in baserunners per 9 innings.  Had he been a full time pitcher he would have likely continued his southpaw statistical dominance, but no had ever multitasked to this level in major league baseball.  And no one would ever do it again.

The Red Sox were not fools, Ruth was going to get his appropriate time at the plate next season, but only if the World War did not stop the sport entirely.

Creamer, Robert. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. Simon & Schuster, New York. 1974.
Jenkinson, Bill. Baseball's Ultimate Power: Ranking the All-Time Greatest Distance Home Run Hitters. Lyons Press. 2010.
Jenkinson, Bill. The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger. Carrol & Graf. 2007.
Montville, Leigh. The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Broadway Books, New York. 2006.


Thanks to continuing box office success and a good relationship with British International Pictures, Alfred Hitchcock remained an in demand director.  In 1931, he directed The Skin Game, Rich and Strange, and Mary (the German version of Murder!).  This would be the last time three of his films were released in one year.  From 1932 to 1935 he directed Number Seventeen, Waltzes from Vienna (unavailable on home video), The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The 39 Steps.  The style and quality of these films varied greatly as he was still being hired to adapt purchased properties, and rarely had an opportunity to pursue ideas of his own.

The Skin Game (1931)

Like previous pictures of lower quality (see: Juno and the Paycock, or actually don't see it), Hitchcock was hired to adapt a popular play into a film.  This time it was John Galsworthy's The Skin Game.  Hitchcock didn't even want to talk about this film during his interviews with Francois Truffaut.  Donald Spoto, the great Hitchcock expert who always seems to find something positive in every Hitch film, avoids this one almost entirely.  For good reason.

It's boring.  Stuck-at-the-DMV boring.  It's a pity since Hitchcock viewed being boring as THE directorial deadly sin.  And it's also a shame because it has such a great title:  The Skin Game.  Sounds like a Grand Guignol horror story.  Or a lurid vintage porn film with white slavers and opium dens.  But it's not.

Oh dear. How do I get out of this film? (Source)
It's a land battle between the Old Rich and the New Rich.  This feud between the parents causes larger problems for their children until ultimately one of their daughters commits suicide.

There are themes of modern versus baroque, money versus sentiment, city versus country, industry versus agriculture.  But these are really more like settings than themes.  It's mostly about how the sins of the parents destroy their children.  But with cardboard spoiled characters and a complete absence of visual sense.

It's not schadenfreude that makes me enjoy watching Hitchcock struggle.  Instead, I feel more secure as an artist to witness struggles by the greats, seeing them stumble and labor on their way to an eventual ascent.

Aside from some interesting but ultimately unmotivated POV shots in an auction scene and some ample décolletage bearing in another sequence, The Skin Game flounders as cinema.  Adapting one medium for another is difficult, as even Hitchcock would attest.

Rich and Strange (1931)

(copyright Studio Canal)
Rich and Strange is indeed rich and strange.  It bubbles over with oddity, momentum, and (dare I say) zaniness.  It's an epic romantic comedy, that is anything but romantic.  There really isn't anything else like it in Sir Alfred's oeuvre.
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
     (The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2)
Fred and Emily are a middle class married couple who are dissatisfied with their lives.  Then they receive a big inheritance with the money being earmarked only for their travels.  So they happily set off on a voyage around the world.  On the voyage they fall out of love with each other, and into love with others; she with a military man and he with a fake princess.  Their cruise ship sinks while they sleep and in their escape they are left alone, until Chinese pirates salvage the ship and take them to safety.  They return to their old life and have to figure out how to deal with each other on normal terms.

What makes this unlike any other "romantic" comedy are the details.  Two onscreen deaths, including one graphic drowning.  A spectacularly gruesome dead cat joke.  And the fact that Fred and Emily don't just cutely fall for others outside their marriage.  They actively have sex with them on the same cruise ship.  It suddenly puts the film in grown-up territory that contemporary comedies dare not tread.  And the alacrity with which this happens (especially with Fred and the princess) makes one question if the marriage should continue.  What would normally be light marital quibbling in the final scene is underscored by their sexual choices and the deaths they have seen.  That which is daffy on the surface is actually quite complicated underneath.

(copyright Studio Canal)
And Hitchcock's style, so repressed in the previous film, EXPLODES out of the gate in this one.  A four-minute silent opening, with shadows painted Expressionistically on the walls.  Dozens of silent-film-style title cards pop up throughout, even once the dialogue starts.  There's a dizzying Parisian montage with rapid split-second cuts reminiscent of Vertov and Eisenstein.  And jump cuts!  Then there are fractured unfinished scenes that are tied together with further montage.

Hitch suddenly has film-school brazenness tied to actual skill, with visuals wrapping sophisticated themes.  At moments he seems to be trying to break through to a new style of filmmaking.  It's funny and weird and exciting and...

The film was a flop at the box office.

Unlike The Skin Game, Rich and Strange wasn't an adaptation (despite what Wikipedia says).  The idea was pitched to Hitch and his wife, Alma.  They then did the research and developed it on their own.  Thus it feels so much more personal than the previous film, or most of his other cinema up to that point.

Though it failed publicly, it's an artistic victory for Hitchcock.  He gets to use one of his favorite themes -- people yearning for a more exciting life and then regret when they get it -- and packages it with cinematic excitement.  Could he keep this up in his next film?

Number Seventeen (1932)

No.  A pattern of "one for me, one for them" begins to emerge, as Hitch was hired to adapt ...wait for it... a popular stage play, Number Seventeen.

Ugh.  Even Hitch called it, "A disaster!" (Truffaut 81)  I have to say that it's the worst Hitchcock film I've seen so far.  It's right up there with The Farmer's Wife.  I have so many notes on this.  I'll list only some since they start getting repetitive:

  • Acting is somehow both broad and stiff.  (Insert joke here.)
  • Amateur porn level of line delivery.
  • Written by Ed Wood's twelve year old handicapped son
  • Terrible pacing fueled by strange editing.  Did someone just keep falling on the editing flatbed?
  • Characters keep showing up, each less interesting than the last
  • Characters abandoned when they're no longer of use to the writer?
  • Nominee for worst fight scene in cinema?
  • Every time there's a twist, it gets announced again in the dialogue
  • Every twist stupider than the last
  • The eyelines don't match
  • Quick cutting and weird camera tricks, none of which are motivated
  • The town bus travels as fast as an out of control train?
  • Miniature work is more primitive than Melies' Trip to the Moon
  • Stunts are urine-inducingly funny. Maybe I should watch this in the bathroom.

You get the point.  I was going to write about how this would fit right into the works of Ed Wood and piss on it further.

But then I read a quote by Hitchcock about this time in his life.  I'd never seen him get this personal.  I'm still thinking about it:
In fact, at this time my reputation wasn't very good, but luckily I was unaware of this......I don't ever remember saying to myself, "You're finished; your career is at its lowest ebb." And yet outwardly, to other people, I believe it was......There was no careful analysis of what I was doing. Since those days I've learned to be very self-critical, to step back and take a second look. And never to embark on a project unless there's an inner feeling of comfort about it, a conviction that something good will come of it.
(Truffaut 85)
So, what would come of it?  We'll see in Part B.


Spoto, Donald. The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock. Anchor Books, New York. 1992.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, Paris. 1984.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

LIQUOR ALERT! Destination: Ralph's

Ralphs has the most outrageous sale on liquor and wine in the history of Ralphs.  I'm only telling you this because I've relieved them of all their whisky.  All of it.

One may think "30%? What's the big deal?"  But it is 30% off their sale prices.  And everything is on sale.  Thus:

Tanqueray Rangpur is 44% off.
Belvedere is 56% off.
Jamesons is 39% off.
Johnnie Walker Black is 44% off.
Johnnie Walker Green is 40% off (About $39. You will not find it cheaper in CA.)
Macallan 12 year is 36% off ($35. Again, cheapest in the state)
Macallan 18 year is 35% off ($119.  Same.)

Standing in the liquor aisle, I stopped seeing shapes and colors.  After shopping, I sat in my car staring into space, feeling like I'd just robbed the place.  I THINK this runs until the 24th.

We're going to need a bigger condo.

Dear Kristen, um, there may be some hyperbole hidden above.  I did exercise constraint, but don't look in the garage storage space.

Or am I?

Things we have learned about our condo this week

What the hell is wrong now?
The ceiling may rattle like a jackhammer between midnight and 3am.  How could that be?  Three HVAC (heating, venting, airconditioning) units sit on the roof directly above our bedroom.  One of those three units is out of whack, like an unbalanced washing machine.  It violently shakes every couple of minutes once activated, thusly thumping the cruddy roof above our tired heads.  It does not belong to us, though it sits directly on top of our property.

Thus I have had to employ neighbor conflict resolution (NCR).  NCR is lovely experience that shifts between F*****G RAGE and calm discussion at any moment.

We must begin Yenta Management because any bit of NCR gets gossiped around the entire building in less than a day.  And nothing undoes a successful bit of NCR like a yenta flapping her gums out of turn.

There are battle lines drawn between neighbors.  Holy crap.

This is our apartment. (Source)
Bull. (Source)
Yay, rain!  Boo, bird slamming into our balcony door.

There is no way to drive out the termites.  According to everyone here, the building has been bug bombed, tented, microwave-treated, and orange-oiled.  The termites are here to stay.  I will try to work out a truce with them too.

Also, sparks and smoke may shoot out of an outlet.  Twice.  Yeah, that's pretty cool.  Electrician took care of that problem.  Then two days later we discovered that:

Sparks and smoke may shoot out of a light switch.  Shocking, I tell you!  Hella safe.

Some of the windows originally installed don't actually fit the space cut for the windows.  That may give you an hint about how this building was built.  That discovery was much cooler than the sloppy gap that was punched in the ceiling to install the old smoke detector.

Our sense of humor about this place is quickly dissipating.  The flow of disappointment has rarely ebbed since Day One when I unlocked the front door to find a termite swarm 50-strong bouncing around our living room.

Before purchasing our home, we had set aside a not-inconsiderable bit of savings to spruce this place up, improve our investment, and make it into our home.  Most of that money has gone and will go into simply keeping this place livable.  Those dream projects for which we'd saved will have to wait years or be discarded altogether.  The emotional upheaval that went into this move (which had followed the truly ugly experience of purchasing this place) has now segued directly into the feeling that we walk the tightrope above larger unseen struggles.

Now, I cannot say that Kristen feels 100% the same as I do regarding the sentences in the above paragraph.  She is full of constructive optimism which is a gift that I admire.  But I do know that this has been very draining on us both.  And we're not getting wiser via this "learning".  We're mentally fatigued.  And frankly, I'm getting dumber.

That was supposed to be the whisky's job, not the condo's.

This is the 13th image that shows up on a Google Image search for our condo.
Thought you'd like to know. (Source)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ends and Beginnings (November '11)

As the pigeons participate in public group sex on the streetlight outside our kitchen window (no pics, sorry), I think about ends and beginnings.  Not life-changing ones like home ownership, a new town, and job change.  But rather books, baseball, TV, and whisky.

Part of my evening ritual was to read two chapters of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.  I need to do a little reading before I shut off the lights because I'm old and reading makes me sleepy.

I wish that I could tell you what the novel is about, but figuring out what you're actually reading is part of what makes the storytelling so solid.  It's not like A Clockwork Orange wherein the reader has to sift through another language, but rather Never Let Me Go (which is in proper The Queen's English) is like intellectual detective work.  You sift through what the narrator, Kathy, is talking about.  And as you piece together the universe of the story, her unemotional even-toned voice serves as a springboard for your own feelings -- outrage, melancholy, sadness, or acceptance.  It's very good, and I recommend reading the novel before reading anything about it and before watching the film adaptation.  Seriously, the book's only 288 pages!

But now I've finished it, which means it's time find something new to read.  We have no lack of books here, but I think I'm going to start digging into Kristen's three years of The Paris Review.

The baseball season is over.

I never get all hot and bothered over the offseason and free agency.  The media does because it's their job, and it's their job to keep us reading their often uninformed speculation.  I'm happy that those writers are getting paid, but seriously it's mostly nonsense that'll never come to be.  And if I want to read fiction, then I'll read Fiction.

I'll follow college sports in the meantime.  Maybe some UCLA basketball since our football team is difficult to watch.

Kristen and I watch Mad Men together, via Netflix.  Only three more episodes remaining and then we're all caught up!  Actually she's already finished the last season, she's just waiting for me to get there.  I don't think I've been up-to-date on a television show since Sesame Street.  Mad Men's writing, design, and acting are always admirable.  I want more episodes!

Until Season 5 of Men airs next year, I'll start up Breaking Bad and see if I can ever catch up with that show.

Also, I'm about done with Season 1 of The Wire.  Wow.  I feel so late to the party.  It's Shakespearean (albeit with 50+ "motherf*****s" per hour).  A massive cast of characters - politicians, police, drug dealers, junkies, lawyers - with everything being told from eye level.  The most despicable characters still have clear motivations and make bold gracious gestures at surprising moments.  And the most likeable turn around and do terrible unforgiving things.  I feel like a voyeur, watching a slow motion real life tragedy unfold and being unable to do anything to stop it.  And it's all told via the very minutiae that we writers are told to cut out of our screen- and teleplays.  Two episodes left.  Then Season 2!

Of course there was going to be whisky in this post!  Who do you think I am?

Actually, finishings are few and far between here, as my bottles last between 5 and 10 months.  But I'm down to the last licks of Redbreast 12yr and 1994 Bowmore 16yr (Signatory).  They are both STELLAR, but I'll be replacing each with something new and exciting, one Irish and one Signatory.

This is actually a significant challenge for me.  There are many whiskies that I've been considering, but my purchases need to remain reasonable since we don't have the income here for the unreasonable.  My problem isn't with buying single malts that are too expensive.  My problem is buying too many single malts.  So I'm leaning towards classic unique malts, 10 - 12 year olds, and independent bottlings.  The classics are classics for good reason and affordable independents are fun because they allow for experiences that won't be reproduced in exactitude ever again.  You can count on me Reporting back on my choices.