The Casual Blog

Saying goodbye to my Porsche, getting an SUV, and looking at the art of Renaissance Venice

At Yates Mill Pond

Last week I realized it was time to say goodbye to Clara, my sweet Porsche 911.  Clara was kind of like a superpower — flying — but things have changed.  I don’t see as well as I used to, so I’ve become a less exuberant driver.   And I’ve got different objectives, like getting out to woody and marshy areas where the roads are not paved, and cars like Clara get stuck.  

I still enjoy unleashing that amazing engine, working through the gears, and carrying speed into and out of the turns.  But as I’ve changed, the inherent downside of living with a sports car came into bolder relief.  I’m talking about absorbing every rough spot in the road, finding room for your stuff, and the mild athleticism required to get in and out.  Not to mention the painful costs of ordinary repairs.  

The TAPEV (my new ride)

And so this weekend I bid Clara farewell and acquired the new Tiller Advanced Photographic Expeditionary Vehicle (TAPEV).  It’s  a  Mazda CX-5, which is a small SUV, and mine has all wheel drive and all the latest electronic gizmos.  I test drove the Honda CR-V, which I liked, but I found the Mazda slightly better looking and much more fun to drive.  A friend bought Clara and will give her a good home, and gave me approximately the same amount as I gave the Mazda dealer.  

I would have been happy to do the entire sales process on the internet, but since I needed to do testing, I came into contact with some of that old-fashioned pressure selling.  The dealer did not have my preferred color (which they call deep crystal blue mica, and I call dark blue) with my preferred options on the lot, and it took some fortitude to resist settling for something else.  But I ultimately convinced him I was not buying any color other than the one I really liked, and yesterday he came up with the car.  

I like it!  It is so comfortable and easy to drive that I’m almost embarrassed, but not quite.  Setting up high is different, but it seems easier to see what’s happening.  The various safety devices are reassuring, and it’s very pleasant to be able to have a Bluetooth phone connection.  I look forward to many adventures. 

On Friday evening we went to see the Glories of Venice: Renaissance Painting 1470-1520 at the N.C. Museum of Art.  It was a strong exhibit of some 50 works, including masterpieces by G. Bellini and Titian, made in one of the most amazing artistic intervals in world history.  We were particularly excited to see all this since we’ve got our first trip to Venice coming up in October.  

There were a couple of paintings that really moved me, but most of my enjoyment was more about getting insights into Venetian history and culture.  One comment described it as the Silicon Valley of the early Sixteenth Century, generating both incredible wealth and new ideas.  It was a trading crossroads and assimilated influences from Byzantium and Islamic civilizations, as well as rediscoveries from ancient Greece and Rome.  It was a publishing center, turning out some of the earliest printed books.  And these books in turn influenced the master painters and their patrons.  There were a widespread passion for learning and discovery.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say the same?

The early paintings were about religious subjects, though as the decades went on there more classical and secular ones.  I noted that the rich and successful patrons of the artists were prominently depicted alongside some of the Biblical figures.  These paintings were part of a complex and changing culture, and sent multi-layered messages.  I don’t much doubt that the some of these paintings were used for sincere devotional purposes, or that they some involved pure aesthetic delight.  But I was also seeing how they served as displays and consolidators of status, and propaganda for a particular social ordering.  

I took these photographs this weekend at Raulston Arboretum and Yates Mill Pond.  I’ve been trying to use the tripod more, as I did in most of these shots.  It takes more time, but it may be that the more cumbersome process results in more thoughtful images.  Anyhow, I’m experimenting, and trying to find a little moments of peace and beauty.  

My trip to Grandfather Mountain

 

A blackberry flower at Grandfather Mountain

Our mountains in  western North Carolina aren’t especially imposing, compared to the Rockies or the Alps, but there’s something moving about them.  They roll out to the horizon in waves, covered with thick forests, and topped in places with jagged cliffs and wildflowers,  They’re full of life and, for me, memories of long ago summer camps and family vacations.  

This weekend I went to Grandfather Mountain for its annual photography weekend, a gathering of perhaps 100 photographers with several lectures on techniques and time to hike about and take pictures.  

I’d always thought of Grandfather Mountain as kind of a tourist trap.  Though relatively large for the neighborhood at 5,945 feet, it isn’t much more beautiful than its surrounding mountains that don’t have names and charge admission  I always had imagined it as overrun with tourists, and so had never visited it before this weekend.

It was a big mistake to disrespect Grandfather Mountain, and I promise to never do so again. I had more fun than I expected, but also had a somewhat harrowing episode due mostly to my hubris and lack of preparation.  

I started my visit at the mile-high Swinging Bridge, a suspension footbridge that you must see if you’re there, just as if you go to Paris you must see the Eiffel Tower,  It was windy, and the bridge was squeaky, but not terrifying.  On the other side there were rocks to climb on and pretty vistas.  The red rhododendrun were in bloom, along with other wildflowers.

After doing the Swinging Bridge, I noted that that was a trailhead close by for Grandfather Trail, which was described on the sign as “advanced.” This was catnip to me, and off I strode.  In retrospect, I should have planned better for equipment (including warmer clothing and a map) and provisions (like water and food).  Once I got a good look at McCrae Peak, I wanted to climb it, and after pressing on for another hour, I mounted the various ladders and guide ropes up the rocks and saw a  beautiful vista.  

But I got lost on the way back.  The hiking was rugged, over rocks and boulders, requiring careful placement of each foot for each irregular step, and lots of hoisting up and lowering down.  There were almost no other people around.   I never had a fall, but I got some bruises on my legs, and a little bloody when I banged my hand on a rock, and a blister on my big toe.  

I got cold and thirsty and hungry.  Happily, I did not get leg tired — my early morning gym workouts, with all those squats, lunges, and step ups, paid off.  But I started to get a bit anxious by 5:00, and worried about whether I would have to break the rule about getting to your car 6:00.  I even started thinking about spending the night with the bears  Obviously, I survived, but it took almost 6 hours of hard hiking.  

The photography lectures were at a good level for me, and I learned a lot.  I decided to enter one of my shots in the competition.  It turned out that there were many highly skilled photographers competing, but after looking at some of the work, I thought I was competitive in the wildflower category.

 As the winners were announced, I thought my blackberry flower (the first one above) was stronger than the honorable mention.  It also seemed stronger than than the third place finisher, and the second place.  So for a second I thought I was going to win it all!  But  no, I didn’t, though I still liked mine quite well.  

Saying farewell to our best dog

This week we said goodbye for the last time to Stuart, our beloved family dog. He was a long-eared, short-legged Beagle-Basset mix with soulful eyes and a waggly tail.  Stu was with us a long time — from puppyhood to almost 15 (about 100 in dog years).  In his younger days, he was playful and athletic, always eager for walks, and relishing every meal.  He was a sweet, friendly little guy who greatly liked being petted, and he made many friends in our building during elevator rides.  

In these last months, he lost almost all of his hearing and much of his eyesight, and with hip problems he found it increasingly painful to walk. His tail wagged less and less.  

Now Stu’s suffering is over, and I’m glad for that.  In this regard, we often treat our pets better than our fellow humans, accepting death as a reality and helping our animals to have a good death.  But it’s hard.  He added sparkle to the world.  We loved him, and he loved us.  In that way, he became part of us, and changed us for the better.  I keep thinking he’s here, just in the next room, and then remember with a sharp pang that he’s gone.

Speaking of complex emotions, I recommend the edition from last week of the podcast This American Life .   The first of its three stories related to a former physicist talking about Fermi’s Paradox, which raises the question of why, given the evidence we have that complex life can arise, we haven’t encountered any evidence of it elsewhere in the universe.  The reporter felt sadness in thinking we’re existentially alone, and discovered that those around him couldn’t relate to that sadness.  

The second story related to a couple in couple’s therapy with serious problems who discovered that talk was not the primary solution.  The third was about a delightful 9-year-old girl who kept asking her father annoyingly big questions about the world.  He worked on long scholarly answers, only to find that what she was really looking for was to connect with him.  In short, three explorations of the modes of loneliness and possible paths to redemption.  

Insurance problems, a high-powered spin, and Chapel Hill flowers

 

Rita and concrete

Our apartment looks like it’s under construction, with concrete instead of wood flooring in the kitchen and dining room, and the dining room furniture in the living room.  But we’re at a standstill on repairs, pending resolution of an insurance dispute.  Our homeowner’s insurer and the building association’s insurer seem to agree on one thing: that the other insurer should pay.  I’m trying to stay calm and keep the discussions on a positive note, but it’s a challenge.

At Coker Arboretum in Chapel Hill

Perhaps the stress helped my spinning.  Anyhow, I had a new personal best at Flywheel this week:  370!  For my non-Flywheel-spinning friends, this number is a measure of the total energy output for 45 minutes, and it’s a big one.  I was 60 points ahead of the second place finisher.  I can’t explain it.  My approach was simple:  come out of the gate fast, and try to keep it up and not collapse.

At N.C. Botanical Garden

On Saturday I went over to Chapel Hill with my camera and explored Coker Arboretum and the NC Botanical Garden.  The arboretum, which is next to Morehead Planetarium, has some lovely wise old trees and stands of flowering plants.  I found it calming.  The botanical garden has as its mission education along diverging lines, including native NC plants and exotic flowering  plants (including carnivores).  I enjoyed looking about, and got some shots I liked.

A new floor disaster, a glorious chorus, the latest flowers, and provocative art by Abney

Duke Gardens on Saturday morning

Last week we had a minor household disaster.  Sometime in the middle of the night, the dishwasher overflowed and got the hardwood floor well soaked.  Within a few hours, the floor was badly warped, and it began to sink in that we were going to need an entire new floor.  We’d just gotten new hardwoods 10 months ago, which involved lots of packing and hotel life.  We aren’t looking forward to more of the same, though there’s one improvement:  it looks like the homeowners’ insurance will pay this time.  

On Friday we had a delicious Korean meal at Kimbap, then went to a concert by the N.C. Master Chorale.  The theme was war and peace, always a timely subject, and drew on music by Josquin (c. 1450), through Bach, Mendelssohn, and several living composers.  Some of the lyrics were poignant, and the musicianship was at a high level.  This is an excellent chorus!  Congratulations and many thanks to music director Al Sturgis.

On Saturday morning it had just stopped raining when I went over to Durham to see what was blooming at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.  I hadn’t realized it was graduation time until I saw a lot of families with their new grads in caps and gowns posing for pictures.  The flowers were completely different from my last visit, and I was a little sorry my early spring favorites were all gone.  Still, there were some beautiful things growing, and lots of birds singing.

On the way back, I stopped at the nearby Nasher Museum of Art , and checked out Royal Flush, a show by Nina Chanel Abney.  Abney is a young African-American artist, and she’s clearly interested in matters of race, but also in lots of other things, including mass media, gender, celebrity, state-sanctioned violence, and inequality.  She has a bright palette, and a broad visual vocabulary that includes abstraction and figuration.  In some of her work there is a lot of humor, but some is biting and dark.  It’s worth seeing.

At least it was for me.  What you get from an art exhibit depends a lot on what you bring to it.  If you invest some time in looking at art, you start to see more.    

There was a report this week of an art prank in which students put a store-bought pineapple in an exhibition, which a janitor then covered by a glass case and became the subject of art criticism.  This reminded me of Marcel Duchamp’s famous work of 1917, Fountain, an ordinary urinal submitted for exhibit as a work of art.

Fountain was the subject of a show I saw last week in New York at the Francis M. Naumann gallery that presented 31 artists paying it homage.  I’d formerly thought of Fountain as a clever and outrageous stunt, which it certainly was.  But it was clearly more, or we wouldn’t still be thinking about it 100 years later.

Duchamp may have been getting at this:  art is not fundamentally about objects, but how we think about objects.  That is, the distinguishing characteristic that causes something to be a work of art is that we think of it as such.

While looking at art can change us in various ways and make us look at the world differently, we as viewers also are continually bringing art into existence, and changing its boundaries.  The more we are open to new experiences, curious, and brave, the more art can be generated.  At the same time, we keep growing.

Our NYC weekend: travel troubles, eating, and looking

Leaving NYC from Newark

We did a three-day trip to New York last weekend with three objectives: see Jocelyn and some old friends, see the NY City Ballet, and see some art, including the Whitney Biennial. As always, New York was challenging and invigorating.

We flew from Raleigh to Newark on United, which could have been worse.  At least we weren’t physically assaulted and dragged off the plane.  But really, how do we keep getting assigned the last boarding zone?  Yet again, there was that unwelcome anxiety of whether there would be a spot in the overhead for the roll aboard.   And why did they switch to those seats with backs as thin and hard as church pews?

Is the point to remind ordinary customers, the non-elite economy class,  of how far down the pecking order they are, and make them consider paying more?   In fairness, I should say, the flight attendants were really sweet, and I was grateful for their not charging for a vodka tonic.

Transportation near and in Manhattan is more challenging than ever.  We consciously chose  Newark airport this time, since a cab from LaGuardia to Manhattan has been taking longer than the flight from NC. The NJ Transit train to Penn Station picked us up promptly, but went out of service after one stop, and we had to wait for another train.

Stuff like that kept happening.  We were determined to use the subway for longer trips, but there were long delays said to be from signal problems.  And when we wanted a yellow cab, they all seemed to be occupied.  In desperation, we tried Uber, but that was very slow, too.

But no matter, we always eventually got to our destination, and there’s just nothing like New York.  One big thing I learned this time was how easy it is to explore art galleries.  From time to time I’ve gone to gallery shows  when there was something I heard about that sounded interesting, but I’d never before just poked into a bunch of galleries.  I wasn’t at all sure whether they expected you to call ahead, or to show interest in actual purchasing.

A charcoal drawing by Robert Longo from The Destroyer Cycl

But after visiting several galleries on 24th Street on Friday and 57th Street on Saturday, I can say this:  they don’t mind at all if you just pop in and look around.  There are neighborhoods that are full of galleries, cheek by jowl.  I saw some things I liked, and some I didn’t.  But my major takeaway was that art is alive.  Amidst all the luxury goods on Fifth Avenue, art objects might be just another status symbol.  Yet there are real artists saying meaningful things, making us see more and feel more.  

From Keep Out, by Jay Heikes

On Friday, there was a torrential rain, and we got wet doing the Chelsea galleries, and then  soaked getting to 14th Street for lunch with our old friend Bob Dunn at a wonderful Sichuan restaurant, Auntie Guan’s Kitchen.   The rain was gentler when we finished eating and Ubered down to the Whitney to see the Biennial.  This is an exhibit of young, or at least living, artists, with several works of each of the featured artists.  

It’s hard to sum it up, since there were many different ideas and media.  There was a strong vein of protest and political engagement, and also some fascinating uses of technology.  As Sally noted, there were a few things that were repellent, but a little shock therapy can be good for you.  My favorite piece was an environment involving mirrors, interiors, and exteriors by Samara Golden called The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes.  It was at once disorienting and liberating.   I’m sorry to say, it is unphotographable.  You’ve just got to see it.  

At the Whitney Biennial: Exodus, by Jon Kessler

We met Jocelyn and Kyle for fancy drinks at Up and Up on MacDougal Street, and then walked to dinner at Olio e Piu.  My mushroom ravioli was delicious, and the conversation was wide-ranging.

On Saturday I went to an exhibit of ancient Greek art at the Onassis Foundation at 5th Avenue and 51st.   The works were mostly from 500-300  B.C. and drawn from great collections around the world.  The theme was emotion in Greek art and life.  This was a good lens for looking at the work.  There was love, jealousy, anger, and violence — the same emotions we know.

That evening we had a fine dinner with friends at Rosa Mexicano, and then walked over to Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet.  The program, one of the Here/Now series, included works by well established choreographers (Martins, Wheeldon, Ratmansky), and a couple of new choreographers from the company.  The dancers were excellent!  We particularly liked Wheeldon’s passionate pas de deux After the Rain, and Ratmansky’s brand new tango-ish piece, Odessa.

A PB spin, Goode piano, Sapiens and science, and an operatic pearl

Blooming this week at Raulston Arboretum

I had an epic personal best spin class at Flywheel on Friday morning, with a score of 360.  That’s big!  The second place finisher’s score, 342, would also have been a PB.  It was like expecting to run a 10k in 43 minutes and finishing in 33.   I’d like to thank my teacher Matt, and the other fine spin teachers over the years (Vashni, Heather, Jen, Will) who helped me along the way.   

I wish I knew for sure what produced all that energy, so I could bottle it.  It might have been a good dinner the night before (Sally’s Blue Apron Thai cauliflower rice).  It might have helped that I woke up early and did some pre-class foam rolling to loosen the muscles.  Doing more interval work recently at the gym probably contributed.  Also, there were several pretty girls in the class, which tends to increase peppiness.  And it’s possible I drew a recently serviced and well-oiled bike.  In any event, I will not be sharing the number of that bike, as I hope to get it next week.

That night we went over to Duke’s Baldwin Auditorium for a concert by master pianist Richard Goode.  He performed Bach’s sixth partita and three late Beethoven sonatas (Ops. 101, 109, and 110).  These works are well known to aficionados, but they’re also deep and mysterious.  Even after two centuries, the interpreter can still find new things, and bring new life.  Goode communicated the power and cohesiveness of the rich musical ideas, and also sang — literally!   This was musicianship of the highest order, and I felt privileged to share the experience.

At the gym, I’ve been listening to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari.  Harari challenges a lot of widely shared assumptions about our origins, such as the notion that we were the sole human species on earth when we arose some 200,000 years ago.  What happened to the Neanderthals, Denisovans,  and other non-sapien human cousins?  There are various theories, including the possibility that our ancestors exterminated them, as they killed off most of the existing species of large animals.

Harari points up that homo sapiens’ ruthless success as a species is attributable to our brilliance at social organization, and he accounts for this in part by our use of religious, economic, and other social myths. This is thought-provoking stuff, though Harari doesn’t always distinguish between matters of wide scientific consensus and ideas that are much more speculative.

I wouldn’t expect Harari to get everything right, since no one ever does.  A recent edition of the You Are Not so Smart podcast (not yet posted at the web site) noted that medical students are now taught that half of what they learn in medical school will eventually turn out to be wrong. Science is always a work in progress.  Fortunately, the scientific system is built for testing and error correction.

Not so long ago, I’d have thought the value of science was self evident and not in need of advocacy.  Was I ever wrong!  I expect that, barring nuclear catastrophe, science and reasonableness will prevail in the long run, but at the moment, we’re in trouble, with unreason ascendant on urgent questions of the environment, health, and social issues.

Raulston viewed from the Tiller quadcopter

On Sunday afternoon we went to the N.C. Opera’s production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers.  It was a new opera for us, and we found the melodies very beautiful.  The principal singers were excellent, as usual, and the chorus was particularly strong.  The orchestra had a rich sonority and tonal variety.  Conductor Timothy Myers is a brilliant musician, and also a wizard, to conjure all this in little ole Raleigh, NC.  We’re really sorry he’s leaving us for bigger things next year.  It was touching when, in the final curtain call, the company threw roses at him.

Wet flowers, Vidrio, and beautiful dancing

For Earth Day on Saturday, I took a walk on the trail at Swift Creek Bluffs, and found a few late wildflowers, including the pair above.  Lots of birds were singing.  On Sunday morning I looked in at Raulston Arboretum right after it had rained and before it rained again.  I had a close look at some freshly showered irises, a few of which are below.  

 

On Saturday night, Sally and I tried a fairly new restaurant, Vidrio, on Glenwood Avenue just three blocks from us.  It was excellent!  The decor is stylish and eclectic, with an entire wall of large colorful glass serving dishes, ropes, tiles, frames, and other whimsies.  Our server from Argentina had a winning mix of personal warmth and professionalism.  We had an amazing foamy cocktail called an amortentia.  The food was a spin on tapas, with several vegetarian (though not vegan) options.  We particularly enjoyed the agnolotti and the black rice risotto.

Afterwards, we saw the Carolina Ballet do works by director Robert Weiss and choreographer-in-residence Zalman Raffael.  Weiss’s Mephisto Waltz, a pas de deux, was his last work created on Lilyan Vigo, who is retiring after nineteen years with the company.  This waltz that had the smoldering intensity of a tango.  It’s always been hard to take one’s eyes off  the beautiful Vigo, and she was magnificent.  But her partner, Yevgeny Shlapko, was highly charismatic as the Devil.  

Raffael’s Rhapsody, set to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, is a brilliant jazzy ensemble piece, with excellent solos performed that night by Jan Burkhard (back from maternity leave and most welcome), Lindsay Purrington, Marcelo Martinez, Amanda Babayan, and Miles Sollars-White.

Eno River wildflowers, a good spin, and some favorite podcasts

The Eno River, near the ruin of the old pump station

On Friday, I had a mini-adventure exploring Eno River State Park.   I asked a friendly staffer  at the park office for a good place to look for wildflowers, and so found my way to the pump station trail.  

It was a lovely calming place.   I walked slowly, looking for tiny blossoms, some of whom are shy and easy to miss.   Sometimes I got down on my belly for an extreme close up.   I heard the river and a  number of migrant warblers singing, though I couldn’t see them in the new leaves.  

On Saturday morning I did a 45-minute spin class at Flywheel, which I’ve been trying to do once a week.  As usual, it was hard.   I met my objectives of getting 300 points ( though barely, with 301), and staying out of last place.  In fact, I finished first in the class.  I also set a new record for my average heart rate, with 158, and a peak of 168.  And I didn’t die!

Eno flowers-3Most mornings I’ve been getting up at 5:05 and heading to the gym.  I’ve been swimming one day a week, and on the others I do a combination of various aerobic machines (stairs, treadmill, elliptical, bike, row) and weights.

During the non-wet workouts I’ve been listening to some stimulating and fun podcasts.  I usually start with some news in Spanish (Voz de America) and French (RFI), and then explore some history, science, or other interesting domain.  Here are some recent favorites.

S-Town.  I finished the seventh of seven episodes last week, and loved it!    This was done by  some of the same creative folks that did Serial and has a similar format.  It starts out being about a crime in a small Alabama town, but ends up being about a quirky and mercurial guy and his community.  Parts of it are shocking and tragic, but it’s also funny and compelling.     

Radiolab.  These folks focus on science and social issues, and sometimes they’re very lively.  I particularly liked their recent episode on our nuclear command structure, which gives the President complete and unconstrained control of a nuclear force that could end the world as we know it.    That is, we put the question of whether the human race survives or not in one person’s hands.  I learned there’s a pending bill that would add some congressional oversight, which could mitigate this existentially risky situation a little.

Eno flowers-11

Common Sense.  From time to time, Dan Carlin does long form podcasts on public policy matters, and they are well researched and thought-provoking.   His most recent one concerns America’s health care system, which he points out is not by any measure the best in the world, but is far and away the most expensive.   Carlin has some ideas on how we got to this absurd state of affairs, and how we might get out.

Rationally Speaking.  The format here is Julia Galef interviewing smart people about social and philosophical issues.  This week I went into the archive and listened to her conversation with Peter Singer about ethics and animal rights, and liked it a lot. 

Eno flowers-9

 

Waking Up.  This is another podcast where a smart person, here Sam Harris, interviews another smart person.  The most recent one is a conversation with Lawrence Krauss, which covers a wide range, from quantum physics to the under-appreciated nuclear threat to the overhyped threat of Islamic terrorism.

The New Yorker Radio Hour.  Somehow David Remnick manages to edit the New Yorker, read everything, watch a lot of television, and do this podcast. Each episode has several segments, which usually include an author talking about a recent piece in the magazine.  Those are usually goods, though just as with the magazine, there are some that I would skip.  

This American Life.  Even after all these years on NPR, Ira Glass and company are still almost always fresh and original.  

Eno flowers-12

 

Our documentary film marathon

Waiting in line for a screening in the Carolina Theater

Last week we spent four days in Durham at the Full Frame Film Festival, where we  saw a lot of documentaries.  We spent some quality time getting to know black working class families, surfers, Syrian refugees, pig farmers,  ballet dancers, Guatemalan revolutionaries, emergency room doctors, and others.  It was mind-expanding!    

Documentary filmmaking seems to be thriving as an art form.  This was Full Frame’s 20th anniversary, and all of its ticket packages sold out in advance, with large and appreciative audiences for everything we saw.  The Festival selection committee considered 1750 films, and ultimately showed about 100.  At many screenings, the directors showed up and answered questions, and added to our understanding of the films.

We stayed at the downtown Marriott, which is connected to the Festival screening rooms in the Durham Convention Center and the Carolina Theater.  The hotel staff folks were remarkably friendly, and they had a good breakfast buffet.  We got our lunches from the fine Greek folks who set up a tent on site (the eggplant stew and baklava were outstanding), and for dinners found nice places (Indian, tapas) to eat close by.   We saw 16 films, and liked almost all of them.  Here are quick notes on some favorites.

Whose Streets?  This was a street level view of protests in Ferguson, Mo. after the death of Michael Brown, including rioting and police brutality.  You could feel the anger and better understand the frustration of the black community there.

Zaatari Djinn.  A film about the daily lives of Syrian refugee children in a camp in Jordan.  It sounds depressing, but in fact it was quietly beautiful, humorous,  and touching.

Filmmakers and the Rainey family, subjects of Quest, answering questions after the film

500 Years.  An account of what just happened in Guatemala:  a revolution led by indigenous Mayan people who ousted the corrupt president.  It covered a lot of ground — 500 years of oppression of the Mayans, including genocide.  It was inspiring to see the young leaders and protesters.

Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton.  I didn’t know anything about big wave surfing or the most famous big wave surfer in the world, but I sure do now.  Amazing, exhilarating footage of the biggest waves and biggest rides you’ve ever seen, and a portrait of a flawed but remarkable person.

The Last Pig.  Bob Comis, who devoted years of his life to making the most humane imaginable pig farm, comes to the view that he can no longer make peace with the killing.  As he says, and you can see, the pigs are sentient beings — lively and curious.  Comis ultimately can’t see how we can decide not to eat our dogs, and still eat our pigs.  

Quest.  A working class black family in North Philadelphia, with a music studio, a strong community, and random violence.  We get a view of both the stresses and the richness of their lives, with some sweet and intimate moments, like braiding hair.  It took about 10 years to make this film, and it was worth it.  

Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer.  This features Marcelo Gomes, a dancer with American Ballet Theater in New York for the last 20 years.  Now a senior in dance terms, he still looks great and dances wonderfully, and seems like a nice person to boot.

Tell Them We Are Rising:  the Story of Black Colleges and Universities. Starting with the slavery era, we learn about how blacks were educated (or not) in America.  For much of the 20th century, historically black colleges were an oasis in a segregated world.  An important part of the film is about the civil rights struggle and the leadership role played by students.