Doodad Kind of Town

Mopping Up and More Netflix Adentures
August 29, 2007, 10:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Cleaning up a basement after a flood is damn hard work! My neighbors and I have been spending the last couple evenings pulling wet and ruined items out of our storage closets and hauling the dry stuff upstairs to our apartments. The dumpsters behind our building were piled high and overflowing with old books, clothes, toys and other detritus last night. Heavy, musty smells arise from below and permeate our hallways. And it’s really hot and humid to boot, which just makes it all that much more painful. (But, then again, watching the second anniversary coverage of Hurrican Katrina today makes out troubles seem not nearly so bad.)

Fortunately, nearly everything I lost was of negligible value, most of it just being held in the storage closet temporarily till my next trip to Goodwill. There were just two notable losses. First, for reasons I can’t begin to explain, I was keeping my college diploma -red leatherette binder and all, – in a cardboard box on the floor. Needless to say, this proud proof of my hard-earned Bachelor of Arts degree is now as soggy and sorry-looking as an old sponge.
The other casualty was my Chatty Cathy doll, brought to me by Santa Claus, circa 1963. She was also on the floor of my storage closet – in her original box, now destroyed. Here is my little orphan of the storm in her first, post-flood photo op:
Actually, she’s not looking too bad for a 44-year-old toy that’s been soaking in a foot of water for four days. Don’t ask me what happened to her original blue-and-white, lace trimmed dress. I’m pretty sure this fetching housecoat was made especially for her by one or the other of my grandmothers. Gone is her chirpy, little-girl “chatty” voice – pull Cathy’s string now and she emits a deep, rumbling, gravel-ly sound – kind of like Darth Vader on Quaaludes.
Meanwhile, with the electricity back, I’ve been able to dive back into my Netflix queue, still looking to catch up with the foreign films I somehow never managed to see in college. Last night’s viewing selection was Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona.”
You can Google “Persona” – and you’ll find lots and lots of highly intelligent people rhapsodizing about this film and how much it meant to them and how profound and groundbreaking it is – and so on, so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. I can only respond to them by saying” I guess you had to be there.”
Be there in 1966, that is, when “Persona” was released and broke all that new cinematic ground. Or, at least, “be there” before Woody Allen released multiples parodies of/homages to this film. By 2007, however, I’ve feel like I’ve already seen everything “Persona” has to offer in the way of filmmaking innovation – but I’ve either laughed out loud at it (in Allen’s “Love and Death”) or been bored to tears by its pretentiousness (“Interiors,” “Another Woman”). I simply can’t take the original film on its own terms.
For example, this shot –

doesn’t thrill me with its visual rendering of a disturbed woman’s personality disintegration. Rather, it conjures up for me the closing sequence of “Love and Death” with Diane Keaton and Jessica Harper photographed almost exactly the same positions, but spouting hilariously meaningless dialogue about “wheat.” I tried like hell to find a still of that scene to post here; I couldn’t find one, but you can see the entire scene on youtube.

The only bad thing about spoofs, is that they sometimes ruin my enjoyment of the original film/show/book/song/whathaveyou that they are spoofing. I will never again be able to enjoy the number “America” in “West Side Story,” because of the wicked “Forbidden Broadway” parody in which a disgruntled Chita Rivera sings “Chita Rivera is not Rita/Rita Moreno is not Chita/Chita is Chita and not Rita/I wouldn’t mind if they SHOT Rita!” That’s the lyric that sticks in my mind now whenever I see a production of “West Side Story.” It’s no longer about Puerto Rican immigrants at a dance – it’s about Chita Rivera’s career woes.

Ironic, then, that Woody Allen – one of Ingmar Bergman’s biggest fans (he even uses Bergman’s cinematographer, Sven Nykist, on many of his own films) – has pretty much ruined Bergman’s masterpiece for me.

This Blog interrupted due to Technical Difficulties
August 27, 2007, 1:41 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I got back from New York a week ago, fully intending to blog up a storm about my trip. Unfortunately, another “little” storm blew up by the time I was ready to write.

The first part of my week was hectic – I had earmarked Thursday for some serious writing time. But, as we all now know, a horrific storm hit the Chicago area late Thursday afternoon, resulting in over 500,000 homes without power. Count me among that unlucky half million. My electricity was out from roughly 3pm on Thursday till 7 pm on Saturday. So much for computer time!

My NYC trip a fast-fading memory now, as my energies over the last few days have been mainly focused on dealing with the aftermath of the storm.

I spent Thursday night listening to my IPod by candlelight, trying to make the best of a frustrating situation. On Friday morning, I took a very short shower in freezing cold water (easy to forget that the water heater runs on electricity, too!). After coming home to a dark apartment on Friday night, I decided to go to a hotel, just to be able to read, watch TV and take a hot shower on Saturday morning. I called four local hotels before I was able to get a room. The desk clerk at the Courtyard Marriott where I eventually stayed told me that they had booked 70 rooms in less than 3 hours that day. Apparently everyone had the same idea. I was grateful to have a comfy king size bed to sleep in, some HBO to watch, and a complimentary breakfast in the morning. (Most amusing amenity at the Courtyard Marriott – the “alternative grain”-inspired toiletries: Quinoa shampoo, Amaranth Conditioner, Barley Body Wash. )

On Saturday, I put on my best positive attitude and savored the beautiful weather that had arrived after a full week of nasty rainstorms. I got my hair cut and colored (the salon had power, at least) and even attended a street festival in a neighboring suburb, enjoying jambalaya, peach cobbler and great music (a group called Wedding Band, doing enthusiastic covers of Tom Petty, Guns and Roses, Kiss and Lynrd Skynrd.) Coming home late that night to an apartment with the lights on and the air conditioning running was a wonderful relief.

I joked to a friend today that “you’ll never know how much you’ll miss your electricity till it’s gone.” And losing power for more than a few hours is a pain in the ass. But, as I tried to keep reminding myself, it could be SO much worse. After all, I’m not living in Baghdad. I’m not living in Darfur. I didn’t get wiped out by Hurricane Katrina – my apartment may have been dark and a little warm, but it was intact. So I don’t want to do too much bitching….however….

… even though the power is back on now, the “digging out” continues. Today, I had to throw out everything in my fridge, and make a pricey trip to the supermarket to replenish the food supply. (I didn’t realize how pricey it would be till I added up the costs of replacing my rather large collection of refrigerated condiments. It’s not just catsup, mustard and mayo for me. I keep at least 3 varieties of low fat salad dressing, a couple jars of sugar-free fruit spread, some sugar-free pancake syrup, manzanilla and kalamata olives, and buffalo wing sauce on hand at all times. Call me crazy, but those are staples at my house.). And then, there is the matter of the flooded basement – where our laundry room and storage closets are located. At this moment, there are several inches of standing water down there – tomorrow, it’ll be drained, then we have to get everything out of our closets so the floors can be cleaned. I’m sure some of my stuff will have to be thrown out, though I believe most of it is in sturdy plastic (i.e. WATERPROOF) Rubbermaid bins.

Eventually, I’ll have something to say about New York – my new favorite cafe, early morning walks on Park Avenue, the black, peep-toe heels I picked up at Steve Madden on 86th Street. But it’ll keep till the last of the storm damage is assessed and tidied up.

Start Spreadin’ the News!
August 16, 2007, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m leavin’ today!

Ok, actually I am leaving at 5:30 tomorrow morning. But yes, my destination is New York, New York!

The past week of my life has been overloded with stress in both its emotional and work-related forms. Too much to go into, but it’s definitely kept me out of the blogosphere. However, I am now off for a fabulous long weekend in the city that never sleeps. My objective is to totally immerse myself in Museum Mile and a few of the upper east side vintage/consignment shops – plus take a couple of long walks in Central Park.
I will have all the details when I return. Be good.

Red-Faced Retraction
August 11, 2007, 12:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ok, this is why I don’t blog about fashion or fragrance….

Apparently that fragrance I sampled -and blogged about – last night was not the new Estee Lauder Private Collections Tuberose Gardenia.

It was, in fact, the Lauder classic Private Collections parufum spray with top notes of honeysuckle, jasmine and citrus. No wonder it conjured up memories of Avon for me – since one of my grandmother’s favorite scents was Avon’s Honeysuckle.

Well, I said I had no nose for anything – this proves it! Actually what tipped me off was the packaging. When I went to some fragrance blogs today to re-read their reviews, I saw they were accompanied by pictures of a small, elegant bottle of parfum, with a Josef Hoffman-inspired design – and price tag of $100 an ounce. That is definitely NOT the bottle from which I spritzed my wrist at Macy’s last night.

I blame the saleswoman – I specifically asked to try the NEW TUBEROSE GARDENIA Private Collections scent. Turns out, Macy’s doesn’t even sell this new scent. (I can’t help but believe that in the days when the store was Marshall Fields, I would never have been led astray this way!)

So my apologies to the people at Estee Lauder for inadvertently deriding their newest fragrance. The jury’s still out here on Tuberose Gardenia.

Fragrance and Foreign Films – My Week So Far
August 10, 2007, 12:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I read a lot of fashion and beauty blogs on a regular basis, but I rarely feel confident enough to write about the subject myself. However, tonight I’d thought I’d share my (admittedly unsophisticated) impressions of Estee Lauder’s new Private Collections Tuberose Gardenia fragrance. I say unsophisticated because, the sad truth is , I don’t have a very good “nose” for anything. Be it wine or perfume, I’m chronically unable to detect the notes within. So all I can tell you is that the new Tuberose Gardenia provided me with a powerful sense memory of my grandmother and her collection of Avon cream perfumes. I used to go go through all the ceramic jars of the stuff that she kept on her bathroom vanity, opening and sniffing each one. The scents were sickeningly flowery, overpowering. Nothing I really wanted to wear when I grew up. Unfortunately, that’s the first thing I remembered when I got a whiff of this fragrance.

On an entirely different note:

The deaths of film directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni were written about everywhere last week. There were some particularly good remembrances from Andrew O’Hehir at Salon. But reading those articles brought me up short. I realized that – although I am a self-professed lover of “art” films in general and European films in particular- I had seen precious little of the work of either of these men. The only Bergman films I can remember seeing in their entirety are “Autumn Sonata” and “The Passion of Anna.” And I had not seen a single film by Antonioni. (Although I’d read a lot about him over the years, I was too intimidated by Antonioni’s reputation for slow, ponderous, cerebral studies of ennui and isolation to actually see any of the films he directed. I was sure I wouldn’t understand them , or I’d be bored to tears. Or both. Come to think of it, I have pretty much the same trepidations about Bergman.)

Well, I couldn’t let those gaps in my cinematic experience go unaddressed. I (finally!) signed up for Net Flix and put a number of Bergman and Antonioni films (plus several other directors’ classics I had missed over the years) into my queue. The first of the DVDs to arrive was “L’Aventura,” Antonioni’s first important film.

Here’s what I can tell you after watching it last night: I didn’t love it,exactly, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it this morning. I kind of regretted my haste in sealing it back into the NetFlix mailing envelope only minutes after popping it out of the DVD player; there are scenes I’d like to watch again. Yes, it is slow, and not a lot happens. A group of rich people go out on a yacht for the day and stop at an island. One woman in the group disappears on that island, and is never found again. For the rest of the film, the woman’s lover (didn’t catch the actor’s name) and her best friend (played by Monica Vitti) go from place to place, sometimes looking for their lost friend, alternately professing and denying feelings for one another. Somtimes they hang out with their other rich friends, and sometimes they go off alone together. There’s no real arc to their story, and you find yourself thinking “Where is this going? What does this all mean?” And then you realize, that Monica Vitti’s character is asking herself those same questions in regard to her very existence. She’s passive and flighty, drifting from experience to experience, but going nowhere. Her friend’s disappearance appears to leave her without any central focus in her life. In the final shot of the film (which I won’t reveal, because you should see it yourself), she seems to find some meaning and purpose at last.

There are some striking visuals. I really loved the way shots were carefully composed to underscore Vitti’s sense of isolation. There was one particularly interesting shot of her from a darkened room in the foreground as she stands far out at the end of a very white, long balcony, looking very small and alone. OK, hard to explain, but when you see it, it takes your breath away.

So I guess I have faced up to and conquered my fears of not being smart enough to “get” Antonioni’s films. Actually, I’m sure I didn’t “get” all the allusions and visual symbolism in “L’Aventura,” but it doesn’t seem to matter so much today. I’m looking forward to the next Antonioni film that pops in my NetFlix queue.

Sunny Sunday Roundup
August 5, 2007, 6:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had planned to attend the Kane County Flea Market in St. Charles this afternoon, but my trip there was short-circuited. Half way to the fairgrounds, we heard a scraping noise, which appeared to be the sound of something hanging off my car and dragging on the pavement. Turned out the heat shield over my catalytic converter had rusted off on one side and was, indeed, scraping on the ground. The guys at Firestone were able to remove it, but not replace it (this being Sunday, there were no auto parts places open), but assured me I was safe to drive home. So tomorrow will be a day at the dealer’s – sigh – cars are nothin’ but trouble.

This weekend I managed to overcome my dislike of multiplex crowds to see a couple of smash hits. “The Simpsons Movie” was every bit as entertaining as the best installments of the series and laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish. “The Bourne Ultimatum” was well-acted and sharply directed, but it WORE ME OUT!!! All that on-the-run camerawork, the chase scenes, the fights, the car crashes – it never slows down! And you never get a really good look at any of the exotic locations where the elusive Mr. Bourne does his dirty work. I admired it but I’m not sure I really enjoyed it.


I am postponing my HBO turn-off for at least a month – turns out they will be airing a new Kenneth Branagh-directed Shakespeare adaptation: “As You Like It” (which happens to be my favorite Shakespeare comedy) set in 19th century Japan. The cast includes Alfred Molina and Kevin Kline and a lot of other well-known to semi-well-known actors, but Molina and Kline are the ones who really cinched it for me.

I am not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to Shakespeare; I managed to get through high school and college without studying any of his plays except “Macbeth.” However, I’ve usually loved what Branagh does with his work. I even loved all four-and-a-half hours of his “Hamlet” film and bought it on VHS. (There was also a less-than-stellar adaptation of “Love’s Labour Lost”; Branagh’s decision to make it into a 30s musical was inspired, his idea to cast it with mostly non-singers and non-dancers much less so.) And I do love “As You Like It.” I saw a beautiful production of this play at the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival in the early ’90s and fell in love with it. I hope the Branagh version is at least as good. It premieres August 21.

Finally, the show that makes my Mondays a little less blue is showing new signs of life. “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” has fired up a new season. I felt – and other Bourdain-a-holics I’ve talked to seem to agree – that the last season of “No Reservations” wasn’t quite up to the usual standards; our feisty travelling chef seemed a bit weary of it all. No worries. On his opening show in Shanghai last Monday, Mr. Bourdain was back in good form and got me positively joneseing for some of the soup dumplings he sampled in the opening scenes. This week, he’s heading for New York, and I’m particularly excited about it, since I myself will be visiting the Big Apple in about two weeks. I’m hoping to get some great dining suggestions.

Photo from

My Last Days of HBO; "Saving Grace" Update
August 3, 2007, 6:55 pm
Filed under: Holly Hunter

I recently decided to downgrade my cable package and get rid of HBO. Ever since “The Sopranos” faded away behind that all-black screen (the biggest cop-out in TV history, IMHO), I’ve had little reason to watch. I’ve never warmed up to “Big Love” or “Entourage.” I made it through only the first episode-and-a-half of “Rome.” Any good original movies or comedy specials they come up with will make it to DVD in mere weeks, so why bother paying the $14.99 a month to see them right away?

One summer show, however, almost made me reverse my decision. “Flight of the Conchords” is HBO’s delightfully daffy series about Brett and Jermaine, a folk-singing duo from New Zealand trying to hit it big in the Big Apple. Their only fan is a wide-eyed housewife with a head full of Shirley Temple curls who stalks them in a station wagon driven by her long-suffering husband. Their manager has a day job at the New Zealand Consulate (in an office that resembles a 70s rec room, with wood-paneled walls and cheesy New Zealand tourism posters tacked on the walls.) They play gigs at aquariums and tourism fairs, support themselves with odd jobs such as holding signs on the street to point passers-by to hot dog stands or men’s suit sales. And they have trouble with girls.

What makes the show is the music. There are at least a couple of songs in each episode, and they’re musically adept and absolutely hilarious at the same time. (I am a WAY unhip forty-something whose in-depth knowledge of pop music ends at about 1989, so I don’t know who to compare their sound to. Please forgive me. ) Take these lyrics from “She’s So Hot, BOOM!” : “She’s so flippin’ hot/She’s like a curry/I want to tell her how hot she is/But she’ll think I’m being sexist”

Or from another love song: “You’re so beautiful/You could be a part-time model/but you’d still probably have to keep your normal job”

Is it any wonder they have trouble with girls?

Meanwhile, the news from “Saving Grace”: it’s not getting any better. In the second episode, the show still fails to find its footing. The problem with “Saving Grace” appears to be its schizophrenic ambitions: it’s two-two-TWO shows in one. It’s like “Oklahoma City C.S.I.” and “Touched by a Redneck Angel” all wrapped into one weekly package. The detective story is the better, more interesting part of that package; the spiritual half of the show is pretty half-baked. It’s beginning to remind me of this crappy paperback someone gave me many years ago called “God on a Harley” in which a lovelorn 30-something is visited by God in the form of a burly biker who says things like “Hey, I’m not perfect. When I wrote the Ten Commandments, I made some mistakes. I’ve learned a lot since then!” As I recall, there was even a “brand new. kinder and gentler” version of the commandments in the back of the book which, when followed by the lovelorn 30-something, led her to stop bleaching her hair and find true love with a jazz musician.

“Saving Grace” is on about the same track, with the good ole boy angel popping in to scramble some eggs for Grace while spouting wisdom like “Go to a church, go to temple, go to mosque. Hell, go sit in a tree if it brings you closer to God.” One has to wonder why Grace feels so threatened and disturbed to be sought out by God. It’s not as if she’s being asked to repent or relinquish all her worldly goods; all that seems to be required is that she listen to a paunchy old redneck dispense some Hallmark Card-style wisdom. Meanwhile, the writers keep loading her up with outrageous, good ole girl behaviors – deer huntin’ with the boys! Takin’ on a second lover! Wrasslin’ with that cussed Earl the angel! – that beat us over the head with the message “This little gal may be the town pump, but she’s full of piss and vinegar! ” There’s everything but a neon light over her head flashing the message “Unlikely Candidate for Salvation.” We get it already!!!

“Flight of the Conchords” photo from