September 24th, 2004

Labor Day party

In the afternoon of Sept 6th, we went to Leah Fisher’s residence for the “not going to Worldcon” party she give on Labor Days when she isn’t making it to Worldcon. This was such a weekend, but was a bit special since the party fell on Leah’s birthday and was a joint birthday party with Henry Osier (Sept. 4th). A cake had been commissioned from Georgie with a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” theme. She produced a beautiful “Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” with the accretion disk of a massive black hole forming the backdrop, while “Milliways” (design based on ‘Thunderbird 5”, which I always thought resembled an electric skillet--) and Zaphod Beeblebrox’s starship hovered in the foreground. (Not the Heart of Gold—pure white and looking like a running shoe is rather dull—this was the one that “looked like a fish.”) We had a good time snacking and talking with the friends who showed up, and went out to Vanity Fair (see review above) after the party broke up.

Salon, 09-10-04

Sue Blom’s salon convened on Sept. 10th, with the theme being the uses and abuse of “special education.” Of course we couldn’t get to the topic until after pumping Sue (who DID go to Worldcon) for gossip and experiences. She had a good time, although she didn’t manage to accomplish any of the serious business she had had on her agenda. We were pleased to hear that Lois McMaster Bujold had added to her collection of awards with a “Best Novel” Hugo for her second “Chalion” book.
Once started on topic, we had a good discussion, largely drawing from our own reminiscences of special ed students, teachers, and programs we had known, concluding that special classes remain appropriate for mentally or behaviorally challenged students (provided they are properly identified as such, and not merely dyslexic or something like that), but that physically handicapped children should be mainstreamed as much as possible, and not, as in old days, lumped in with any and all special needs students. As this is probably what is happening in most schools now, we didn’t reach any profound new ideas, except that budgetary concerns to not justify inappropriate mainstreaming as a way to save money. I had just finished reading Elizabeth Moon’s novel The Speed of Dark, which deals with autism, and so we discussed the particular problems of autists, especially so-called high-functioning autistics who have to live and work in everyday society.

Bardic Dinner, 09-11-04.

The theme of this month’s bardic dinner was “Africa.” I enjoy a cooking challenge, and so had volunteered to be main-dish chef for the month. I decided to challenge the diners as well, and prepared stewed young goat. Goat was supplied by the nearby Hispanic market, a recipe form the library, and “goat spice mix” from the Spice House. Yes, they stock goat spice mix. Apparently, they had a request from some local mountaineers who were going on a months-long expedition to a region where the only locally available fresh meat was goat--. Young goat (or cabrito) is quite lean and, surprisingly, tastes more like veal than like either lamb or venison. This dish was very well received and enjoyed as were the accompaniments of yams, bean and peanut soup, a tabouleh-like wheat salad, and banana fritters for dessert. I also got pressed into reading, since the designated skald ended up with an unavoidable conflict: I started off the “pulp fiction” theme with Captain Spaulding’s Africa monolog, and followed with a couple of chapters from Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, wherein Tarzan fights and kills a lion with his knife, Vachel Lindsay’s poem “The Congo”; “Lukundoo” by Edward Lucas White; and a VERY condensed “good parts version” of King Solomon’s Mines. Note: I know the Lindsay poem is horridly racist and condescending to black people, but not that much more so than Burroughs or Haggard (who has the credulous savages believing that a white man with a monocle and false teeth is a spirit). On the other hand, the poem has a powerful, complex and compelling rhythm and vivid imagery that makes it a very effective piece of art. Delivered with an appropriate apologia, my audience enjoyed my reading of it, although I would no longer dare read it in any less friendly venue.

Ashram, 09-13-04

Ashram convened at the residence of Bob and Judy Seidl about 7:00PM. This month’s topic was “spiritual influences,” meaning chiefly persons who had helped shape your view of the spiritual life. Interestingly, most of the persons cited were relatives, often grandmothers, rather than clergy. My own thoughts included: Selena Fox, the first person I met who seemed to have true spiritual power, not to mention a truly saintly outlook; Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, for her series of “Messages from Michael,” books with their very elegant cosmology; and Georgie, who asks a lot of hard questions about things I had thought I knew the answers to.

Ganesh Chathuri, 09-15-04

Some of our friends have adapted the Hindu god Ganesha, “he who breaks down barriers,” as somewhat of a patron, including naming a business “Ganesha’s Treasures.” The festival of Ganesha occurs this week, culminating on Saturday Sept.18. Many of us will be out of town that day, so we met at a new Indian “bistro” called Saffron, on Bluemound Road in Brookfield, for a dinner in Ganesha’s honor. I am happy to report that everything was excellent. Saffron has a sufficiently large menu of traditional Indian dishes, plus things with a special touch, such as the gulab jamun with warm saffron cream sauce that I had for dessert. A good time was had by all, and Ganesha was thanked for the paths he has opened for us—of which more later.

Fritha Coltrane at Shish, 09-18-04

On Saturday, we went to the Shish café in Madison (technically Middleton) specifically to see Fritha Coltrane, daughter of local artist Diane Coltrane, dance. Shish is a Syrian restaurant, with a menu similar to, but a bit more upscale than, Abu’s here in Milwaukee. Unlike Abu’s, Shish has fish dishes as well as the more standard Mideastern fare. In order to compare, we ordered their sampler, and found that most of the dishes compared favorably with Abu’s, with a few regional differences. The kabobs were very good, and chicken schwarma was different and interesting. Tabouleh here is mainly parsley, instead of the formulation I am familiar with, in which wheat groats are the main ingredient. I think I slightly prefer Abu’s hummus and baba ganoush, and Abu’s falafels are definitely better.
We were there for the first of two sets of Fritha’s dancing. The dining area is an L-shape with tables around the walls and a decently wide aisle which was the area where she performed, in classic café style, working around the waiters. We had a good spot near the bend of the L, and could see as much as possible. We were pleased to see there was a full house. I lost track of the number of dances, but she gave us a good set with a variety of fast and slow dances. For those of you that don’t know her, Fritha takes after her mother, which means she is tall, slim, blonde, and very Scandinavian looking. She has trained in classical ballet, acrobatic dance, and studied with well known Mideastern dance masters, and all of this shows in her work. One wonders what the devotees of traditional dance think when she, with her very pale skin and luminous ice maiden features, performs. From what we could see, she was very well received by a mixed audience. The exception was one bearded white man who seemed to avoid looking at her whenever possible, and got very red-faced when he did look at her. His female companion, however, couldn’t take her eyes off Fritha. Another table of four women were having quite a jolly good time and did nothing to hide their appreciation. We joked with Fritha that her mother’s fabric artistry seems to have come down to her in that her veils seem to move by force of her will alone. When the set was ended, we were able to congratulate her on her performance before heading home.

“Shooting World”

The ground finally having dried up following the spring flooding, Lee Schneider opened up his property in rural Ashippun for target shooting at the Lytherian target range, A.K.A. “Shooting World.” (Since Ashippun consists of two unincorporated wide spots in the road, “rural Ashippun” means you are way out in the sticks--.) We loaded up some of our guns and ammunition and drove out Sunday afternoon, meeting an assortment of usual suspects, plus some young people who were being instructed in shooting and safety. From my shooting box, I produced some inflatable toys to use as targets—a “Barney,” a “Gumby”, and a green space alien. These were greeted with cries of savage glee, and Barney was the first one up against the wall, with one of Lee’s exploding targets attached to his chest. (These are small pyrotechnic devices that go off with a flash and a bang when hit by a bullet.) Barney soon deflated under a hail of bullets, but held up long enough to be blown to plastic shreds when a shrewd shot detonated the target. Gumby and the alien suffered the same fate. In addition, numerous plastic soda bottles, paper targets, and other odd ends bit the dust. Fun was had by all.

Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, 09-20-04

On Monday evening the 20th, we met friends to see Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman at the Downer theatre. I had some familiarity with the earlier series of films, and Georgie has become quite interested in martial arts movies, so we were both eager to see it. This new version starts out in the classic “stranger comes to town” mode employed by classic westerns as well as both the Yojimbo, Baby Cart and Zatoichi films in the past. What makes Zatoichi different, of course, is that he is blind. In classical Japan, blind people were given protected status and the taught the trade of massage. The title character is an itinerant masseur, which gives him plenty of scope to find trouble. In this case, trouble inhabits a market town groaning under the depredations of its gangster element. Zatoichi becomes involved with the good folk of the town, including a pair of orphans seeking revenge, and eventually destroys the criminals. There is a great deal of both humor and tragedy in the film, plus some fantastic elements. Although resolutely earthbound, the movie does for splattering blood what Hero does for flying, so be warned. Zatoichi’s cane sword evidently has a monomolecular edge, since at one point he cuts through a stone lantern without dulling it. And he has holographic hearing that can put Daredevil to shame, since he can do things like cut through the grip of a sword without nicking the hands of the wielder. On the other hand, we saw things we had never seen in more realistic films and wondered why—as when a clumsy swordsman draws his blade and cuts the man next to him. The film has a marvelous soundtrack, in which rhythmic sounds like men hoeing and chopping or rain falling morph into music, and is one of the few films I’ve seen where surround sound gave some actual three dimensional effects.
Takeshi Kitano, A.K.A. Beat Takeshi, gave a rather different reading of the Zatoichi role than that of Shintaro Katsu, who played the blind masseur in the 60’s and 70’s. Katsu was more dignified figure, a massage professional with a deadly sideline. Takeshi’s Zatoichi, with his shuffle, downcast face, gruff mumble and chuckle, seems more an aging hobo who is unexpectedly capable of turning into an engine of destruction when provoked. This gradually changes his inexorable slow progress to something sinister, like Blind Pew in Treasure Island, or Frankenstein’s monster on the march, the more so when he bursts through doors or walls to get at his foes. Very nice supporting performances by Michio Ookusu as Aunt O-Ume, Gadarukanaru Taka (anglicized in the credits as “Guadalcanal Taka”) as her layabout nephew, and Diagoro Tachibana and Yuuko Daike as the orphans. The plot has a couple of nice twists at the end. Plus, the peasant celebration at the end turns into an all-tap-dancing extravaganza. Tap is a Japanese peasant art form? Who knew?