A beautiful Nutcracker, Xmas spinning, and getting ready for Fiji (including ebooks)

by Rob Tiller

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We were on the fence about whether to go to the Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker ballet this year. There have been many lovely Nutcrackers, even enchanting Nutcrackers, but after many years of cracking, I worried that the magic might be wearing a little thin for me. That Tchaikovsky music is great, but also very, very familiar. It would be a shame to find that the thrill was finally gone. But Will Levine, son of our friends David and Maggie, dancing the nephew/nutcracker/prince, we decided to go again.

I’m so glad we did. It was a particularly touching and magical Nutcracker. Having a live orchestra to play that delicious music really helped, and this was a good band, ably led by Al Sturges. There were the cute little kids and sumptuous costumes and settings. But most of all, there were the dancers. The Carolina Ballet has so many talented artists just now. They looked like they loved their work.

The star of the evening was Lara O’Brien as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her SPF was elegant and assured, highly musical, with a slight note of tragic grace. Her pas de deux with Marcelo Martinez was beautiful and moving — so passionate – I got a bit misty.

Also especially wonderful was Alicia Fabry as Butterfly (the lead in the Flowers waltz), and newcomer Alyssa Pilger as the lead Ribbon Candy. Young Will did well, to the relief of his parents, and us, too. As in past years, there were a couple of little kids who could do fantastic handsprings, and big boys whose leaps seemed to defy gravity. It was all delightful. It took me into a magical place, in equal parts childhood fantasy and nostalgia, and reminded me of many happy times gone by.

In other Xmas news, I had an holiday-themed spin class at O2 this week led by the fabulous Jenn. She announced at the start that she just loved Christmas, and she’d made a special Christmas tunes mix for our spinning pleasure.

It turned out to be some hard-driving rock songs of the season, and she kicked us into a very high gear. There was lots of sprinting (including a killer sequence of fast, faster, and fastest) and intense climbing. One new trick – she can ride out of the saddle with no hands, and she thinks we can, too. I gave it a shot, and verified that it is not easy. Anyhow, the class was fun, in a brutal kind of way. I knew for certain at the end I had worked out.

For our holiday, Sally and I are heading out for a scuba diving trip to Fiji on Monday, which should be incredible. It’s taken a lot of planning, and the logistics are complicated. There are quite a few important pieces of dive gear, photo gear, and other stuff that must not be forgotten (some of which is pictured above).

In addition to all those details, I’ve given some thought to what books I want to read. Reading time is one thing to like about long flights. My tablet device makes it easier (less heavy) to carry a lot of books, but pre-loading was necessary, since I don’t expect to have much if any internet connectivity. Also, the tablet is not a good reader in direct sunlight, so I need some old-fashioned paper books as well.

Here’s a quick listing of my current books-in-progress and new ones that I may get going. The are ebooks unless otherwise noted.
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow. I figured it would be fairly interesting to find out how the Rockefeller became the most successful monopolist in history, and it has been, fairly. Rockefeller was a very driven person, with a high standard of personal morality (a lifelong Baptist) and a low standard of business morality. His trust was a primary inspiration for the beginnings of modern antitrust law.

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. I’m about done with this one. I don’t think the title is much of an exaggeration – big data is transforming many fields, including retail, finance, education, and medicine. definitely worth thinking about.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t, by Nate Silver. The creator of the FiveThirtyEight blog and impressively successful political prognosticator talks about his methods and related things. Based on the first chapter, it appears somewhat padded as a book.

The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business, by Eric Schmnidt and Jared Cohen. I picked this up out of curiosity regarding what the chairman of Google was thinking would come next. I’m about half way through, and finding it not particularly well organized, but there is interesting reporting and thinking on how technology is reshaping our lives. The portion on hacker-terrorist is hair-raising.

Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals, by Steven Wise. The author recently brought a habeas corpus action on behalf of a champanizee, which struck me as a legal long shot, but interesting, and I was curious about his theory.

Ordinary Men, by Christopher Browning. A history of a small group of regular joes who worked at ground level as part of Hitler’s final solution. For a long time I’ve been interested in the question of how otherwise normal people could participate in mass murder on an industrial scale, and Browning sheds some light on this.

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, by H.W. Brands. Franklin is by far my favorite founding father, and I’ve read most if not all of the other major contemporary biographies of him. Earlier this year I read Brands’s American Colossus: The Triumph of American Capitalism 1865-1900, and thought it was quite good, so I’m looking forward to getting his view of Franklin and his world.

Reef Fish Identification (Tropical Pacific), by Allen, Steen, Humann, and Deloach (in paper). There are an amazing number of amazing reef fish in the Pacific, and it’s fun to know a bit about them.

Zukerman Bound, by Philip Roth. I got this as a used paperback (price $4.50) of the three Zuckerman novels (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and the Anatomy Lesson). Roth is my favorite living novelist, and for some reason I hadn’t read these key works of his early middle period. It will be a great pleasure.

The Odyssey, by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles. A classic, obviously.

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman (paper). The embodiment of what is great – and strange – about America. It seems like a good time to read it again.