Last night I watched a bit of one of my favorite movies of all "The Year of Living Dangerously". Linda Hunt did such an amazing job as Billy Kwan, a living wayang (shadow) puppeteer, who tormented by Tolstoi's question about poverty--"what then must we do?". The C.J. Koch book is rather better than the movie, but I like the way Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson just shimmer through the movie. That movie year featured that film and "Gandhi", two movies that shaped me a great deal at the time I saw them, while in law school.
The dilemma of individual responsibility-and individual control--remain so pressing today. What, then, must we do? Kindness is of the light, but there is a dark side to the kind impulse, as the book effectively shows.
When we awoke this morning, a deep, satisfying snow had fallen after all. We get but two or three winter storms a year, and this was our first snowfall this winter. The flakes fell in large, romantic, cinematic waves. I love the sight of snowflakes through a streetlight. We got about 2 to 4 inches of pure snow, the kind of snow which neither ruins roadways nor causes consternation.
I suggested to my wife that we go to the Natatorium and swim. It's roughly five minutes from our home. As I had hoped, it was open but virtually nobody was there. My wife joined several weeks ago, but I went for the first time last weekend. I had avoided it, a bit, because I had this mental image of dreary swim lanes, perhaps taken from the swim team scenes of the defunct television show Felicity. But last Sunday I discovered that the local natatorium is an award-winning indoor fun swim place, with an attraction called "The Lazy River", which propels one, river-like, down a narrow lane in shallow water. It's just a funny way to shape a swimming pool, but it brings out the fun-loving dog paddler in me.
I bought an annual membership and posed for a photo. Then my wife and I went into the play pool. The water was so warm! We floated down the Lazy River, and hiked some "upstream", a rather strenuous activity, except that I learned to bend my legs in a way to avoid directly opposing the current. After a while, my wife went off to work out on machines and such. Not me. I wanted to float in the Lazy River. It was like hiking for me, in a way.
I dog-paddled with my head barely above water, looking like an oversized otter. I suppose, on reflection, that an oversized otter looks like a beaver, so maybe I need to change animal metaphors. I loved to sit in a very heated pool, and watch the snow fall outside through the giant windows which surround the pool.
I daydreamed and thought great thoughts and drifted away, while the swimming required only paddling or kicking to manage. It was great exercise and great fun. I love to exercise, but I insist it be fun. Now I see an all-weather fun way to get tons of exercise.
I noticed that they had a huge spa pool, like a giant concrete hot tub. I sat and luxuriated, while high school girls talked about great workouts for their abs and ways to increase metabolism (things that we never talked about when I was a high schooler, when we might have been more oriented to eternal questions such as "Thick as a Brick" or "Aqualung"
and, perhaps a little older, marveling that Felicity Kendall existed).
It was easy not to engage in undue and inappropriate glances at the girls' appearance, because I had the rogue but saving thought that they were the age of my once-infant 16 year old nephew. My nephew is a great guy, but the idea that these were his contemporaries proved a rather sobering thought. Life is too short to notice teens these days, and I am not sure if I am relieved or sad that I am not 17. I was an interesting 17, but I like myself much better now in many ways. My friends then said I was 17 going on 40, and perhaps I was, so the difference may not be all that great after all.
I got out when the older nice fellow in the pool began telling the girls what to do when people faint from their blood vessels exploding being in 105 degree water too long.
It just coincidentally seemed the time to get out of the water, what with having been in for a while and all. Soon, my wife appeared, fresh from biking, stair-stepping, faux slaloming and all the other things people do when they do not fully appreciate the Lazy River, and we headed off.
Thursday I got in the mail Graham MacKintosh's book "Nearer My Dog to Thee". I began reading it today in earnest today, and find it delightful. MacKintosh's "Into a Desert Place" is the definitive "I hiked the perimeter of Baja California and lived" book, but this book is better even than that classic. The setting is simple--ordinary guy rescues dog from Mexican humane shelter, and takes him into the wooded mountains in northern Baja for a Summer of camping and travel. But MacKintosh's rambling, fact-filled, down to earth style is just so appealing. I can hardly wait to finish it. It's funny. I don't really think much of travel books in general--but I like this guy's work.
We stopped in the chain-but-pleasant-enough Two Rows restaurant, where I had a grilled chicken sandwich and a cup of the "special" chili. The grilled chicken sandwich was quite good, but the chili tasted like it was made in some balkan republic trying to make chili based on a description in a Zane Grey novel. It was, charitably speaking, as charming as,say,cheap store-bought New York picante salsa mixed with ground beef, cooked in a microwave. But they did have a decent, if oversweet, root beer.
We decided to head to the Plano Dollar Cinema, to see if "Master and Commander" was showing. It wasn't, so we went to see "Mona Lisa Smile" instead. We loved the movie, but we understand why the movie is not some people's cup of tea. It's set about the time that each of our mothers was in college, but whereas my mother attended public universities,
my wife's mother went to Skidmore and spoke of college experiences different from, but recognizable as related to, those in the movie.
I thought about how my own college experience at the University of Arkansas bore absolutely no relation to Wellesley circa 1953. On the other hand, my friend J.A.G., whom I met during a Summer abroad in London,
had a Vassar experience that had some of the same hallmarks, if not quite the obvious moral dilemmae. J.A.G. ultimately became a professor of literature with a focus on the medieval era at a remote Scottish university, which, it seems to me, seems like what one does when one goes to Vassar, has a literary bent, and further seems like immense fun. She got a play produced by an English theater company even when we were all in college.
I remember one famous Shakesperian actor who met with her after reading the play, who even set up a signal similar to the "angle of the telescope means life or death" in the old story "Mutiny of the Bounty". For the life of me, I'm not sure how she got so many people interested in doing that play, which ultimately had a rather successful run in the fringe or the provinces (I can no longer remember where--I only remember the protagonist was a man named Evelyn).
I also remember, now that I think about it, that she was so intimidated by the notion of staying at the "world famous" Savoy Hotel that though she was an undergraduate, she signed checked herself in as "Dr. J.A.G.". Now she is a Ph.D., so I suppose it's more a case of temporal fudging than actual fraud. Life is really much more cinematic than Julia Roberts films, if one thinks about it. But I could not help but notice how the film had four actresses to whom the camera
is preternaturally kind--Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's funny how the camera has its favorites, and although some gorgeous people look less gorgeous on screen, others look even more fetching. The movie was worth every bit of the dollar I paid to see it, and perhaps would have justified a few dollars more.
We wanted to have a nice Valentine's Day meal after the movie, but we had not gotten a reservation because the
winter storm's approach had suggested we would eat in.
My wife, who loves pasta (to which I have been cool since a time during the first year of our marriage in which a dish called "pasta shells" became the staple of our diet), suggested a local chain pasta place. But when we arrived there, a person exiting the restaurant advised us that the wait was 2 hours and 25 minutes. We have not found the chain yet worth such a wait.
We wandered for a long time, while my wife looked for a non-chain place called Picasso's she had heard about, but after we found it following a cell phone call to the place next door for address info (she could not remember the restaurant's name),it,too,proved too full. But Sushi Inaka, a Japanese restaurant we had not visited for years, was right next door. We ate teriyaki and tempura. Our waitress was a friendly woman from Taiwan, who was perky/bouncy in a non-irritating way. We had a wonderful meal of Japanese food, topped off with a cream cake in the shape of a Valentine's heart. The snow continued to come down all evening, but it is predicted to melt tomorrow.
We came home, petted our dogs, who, despite whatever instincts may go with their Tibetan ancestry, do not seem eager this year to play in the snow. It was a very nice Valentine's Day, even if it was a white one, rather than a candy heart pink one.