The Casual Blog

Tag: tulips

Brave little daffodils

I went over to Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Saturday morning to check on early spring flowers.  After a mild week, the temperature dropped almost to freezing on Friday night.  It was sunny but cold and windy when I got there.  It must have been difficult for the early plants, though the daffodils and a few tulips looked cheerful.

To Durham, for an excellent documentary festival, and Duke Gardens

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This weekend we did a documentary film marathon at the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham. Starting Thursday evening, we watched films, talked, ate, slept, and repeated, until Sunday. Our film days ended about midnight, and we stayed close by in the Hampton Inn. This was our third year at the Festival, and each year we’ve gotten a little more adept at getting tickets, getting good seats, getting well fed, getting shelter, and otherwise taking care of business. This year was the most entertaining and thought-provoking yet.

What are documentaries? They start with something real, and try to say something true. Documentarians, like all of us, have their biases and other limitations, and they sometimes make mistakes. But sometimes they’re remarkably wise and brave. The Full Frame staff screened thousands of proposed films, and from these picked 80 or so. Those we saw were almost all excellent.
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We covered a lot of geography, including films set in North Korea, the Indian Himalayas, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mexico, Russia, Finland, Utah, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and the Dark Net. The films that affected me the most were journalistic in orientation, but took on subject matter, or angles on subject matter, that don’t get much coverage in the mainstream press, either because they’re too complicated or too politically risky.

Some told stories that, without the courage and dedication of film makers willing to work for several years, would have never been told. There weren’t a lot of happy endings. But as Sally noted, there were a lot of pockets of inspiration — humans struggling valiantly against difficult natural or political circumstances.

It was also great that for most of the showings, the filmmakers were there to answer questions. Most of the showings we saw were sell outs or close, and there were rousing ovations for the creators. It was a really stimulating weekend. Here are a few of the highlights.

Deep Web. This was the story Ross Ulbricht and Silk Road, the online drug emporium. I thought I was more or less up to speed on the Dark Net, but I learned a lot, and got new perspectives on it and on the War on Drugs. The story of how the Dark Web and cryptography may affect the drug war is potentially huge. Director Alex Winter said he planned to add some material on the indicted FBI agents who worked on the case. Definitely worth seeing.

Meru. The story of the first ascent of an imposing 21 thousand foot peak in the Himalayas, and the three men who did it. I always have mixed feelngs about the sort of adventure, which is at once amazing, inspiring, and just too dangerous. But it was a thrilling cinematic experience.

Overburden. This was about the long sad relationship of Appalachia and coal. I had a particular interest in this, since I come from hearty coal mining stock, and I feel a real affinity for the beauty and pathos of this country. Overburden is the lingo of the mining companies for the plants and soil on the mountaintops that have to be stripped away to get the coal. This film focused on a couple of community activists who raised people’s consciousness on the environmental and social damage of this kind of minng.

Crystal Moselle, director of The Wolfpack, answering questions

Crystal Moselle, director of The Wolfpack, answering questions

The Wolfpack. This concerned a family in New York who kept the kids inside their small apartment for almost their entire childhoods. Something was plainly wrong with the parents, but the kids seemed lively and creative, and probably not permanently impaired. The director, Crystal Moselle, spoke afterward, and gave some added context. She’d worked on the movie for about four years.

Peace Officer. This film was about the militarization of America’s police forces. The prime subject, William “Dub” Lawrence, is a former police officer and sheriff who started SWAT team in Utah that years later murdered his son-in-law. He’s an extraordinary person, who together with the directors spoke after the film. We were particularly happy that this one won an award — for human rights.

Peace Officer co-directors Scott Chritopherson and Brad Barber, and subject Dub Lawrence (speaking)

Peace Officer co-directors Scott Chritopherson and Brad Barber, and subject Dub Lawrence (speaking)

(T)error. This was about the FBI’s campaign against Islamic radicals using informants who try to entrap them in made up jihad efforts. It was a sort of a worm’s eye view, told from the perspective of an informant and a target. It would have been comical, had the subject not ultimately been sent to prison for eight years on a trumped up charge to shut him up. This one won a grand jury award.

(T)error co-directors Lyric Cabral and David Sutcliffe

(T)error co-directors Lyric Cabral and David Sutcliffe

Tell Spring Not to Come This Year. The subject of this was the Afghan National Army operating without the direct support of the US. They didn’t seem like a very well trained or determined fighting force. The Taliban seemed to be getting the upper hand. The battle scenes were vivid and harrowing. The co-director, Saeed Taji Farouki, spoke afterwards, with intelligence and humility.

Dogwood at Duke Gardens, April 12, 2015

Dogwood at Duke Gardens, April 12, 2015

On Sunday morning, we took a break to check out the Duke Gardens. It was a lovely, clear day, and lots of things were blooming, including early azaleas and rhododendrons. The tulips were spectacular. Sally noted that this garden, too, was a pocket of beauty that, in spite of everything, gave us hope for humanity.

Azalea at Duke Gardens

Azalea at Duke Gardens


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On lovely dogwoods, exercise as medicine, and golf with a big big hole

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This week in Raleigh the dogwoods were blossoming. By the time I got to Fletcher Park this morning, they were past their peak, but still lovely. The tulips had come and almost all gone while I was away in Spain, and I was sorry to have missed them. I took some photos of the remains.
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Gabe came out from Telluride this week for a visit with mom and dad. I was very glad to hear of his successful first season in an adult amateur hockey league, in which he scored some goals. He’s kept up his running, and also has been experimenting yoga, using lessons on YouTube. He asked for some pointers on his down dog pose, and also for a demonstration of a headstand. Fortunately, I got up smoothly and didn’t topple over, and he was suitably impressed.
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I heard a doc on an NPR program recently say that exercise is the best medicine. This makes sense. Staying active surely does a body more good most of the time than any pill, injection, or ointment. I’d note obvious exceptions for traumatic injuries and serious diseases, and still say, exercise is tremendously important for health.

So I feel good knowing my progeny are exercising. In a phone call this week, Jocelyn confirmed that she was doing so, having joined a new gym convenient to her subway stop in Brooklyn. It turns out that she, like me, gets a lot of reading done on a cardio machine. Her boyfriend, a former college athlete, has been trying to give her a little coaching on gym activities, which she has strongly discourage. She likes to find her own way.
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I used to be more like that, but now I am usually grateful for knowledgeable coaching. Figuring everything out yourself, even if it were possible, would just take too long. An example: when Jenn, my regular spin class instructor, made an announcement recently that anyone who comes to class regularly should have special cycling shoes, I took it on board. After several years of spinning, I finally bought my first pair of Shimanos at REI this week. Unfortunately, at my Friday class, Jenn was out sick – I’d been looking forward to letting her know I was listening to what she said. Anyhow, the shoes, which clip only the pedals, did change the experience. They allow you to pull as well as push. New muscles can get into the act.
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I’d hoped we’d have good golfing for the weekend, so that Gabe and I could get out for a round, but it turned out to be wet and a bit raw on Saturday, and cool and gusty on Sunday. In golfing news, there were stories about an interesting new variation of golf in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Instead of the regulation 4.25 inch hole, the hole is 15 inches wide. This turns 10 foot putts into gimmes, and 30 foot putts into opportunities.

This sounds like fun to me. The putting is the most frustrating part of the game. I don’t consider myself particularly bad at putting, but you can putt fairly well and still miss – a lot. I wouldn’t propose to change the whole game, since I’m sure there are those who love putting towards small holes more than anything, and some who are uncomfortable with any change on principle. But it would be nice to have the option of dialing down the fraughtness a bit with a larger hole.