Les Barricades Mysterieuses

December 18, 2013

I discovered this lovely piece by Francois Couperin via Andrew Sullivan’s blog and find it mesmerizing. The title is cryptic. It’s a harpsichord piece, but it sounds ravishing in this piano rendition by the great Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Cziffra. You can find it on YouTube but from this link it plays without any advertising.




Francois Couperin (1668-1733)


Gyorgy Cziffra (1921-1994)

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December 11, 2013

Good Wednesday. Dark here and about zero. Oh, what’s the use?

We watched a very silly movie last weekend, “Ice Palace” (1960), supposedly about life in Alaska. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s so bad it’s camp and filled with laughs. Richard Burton with his native Welsh accented English plays a fish processing plant supervisor from Seattle, back from World War I to find he can’t get hired back because the boss doesn’t want him around his daughter, Dorothy. You know how that works out. So Zeb or Neb, I forget the name, heads for SE Alaska to apply for jobs there. No one wants him because he doesn’t take direction well, socks supervisors, etc. so in a roundabout way he meets Thor Storm, a preacher’s son (like me!) who runs a fishing boat. Thor takes on Zeb or Neb and pays him fairly, which amazes Zeb.

But Zeb has bigger ideas and wants to start his own processing plant. Meanwhile, Thor puts Zeb up at his log cabin, where Zeb encounters Thor’s fiancée Bridie (yes, I know—btw she later played Morticia in The Addams Family!). They have a chaste first impression of lasting love (this is 1920 or maybe 1960). Then Zeb heads for Seattle to get bankrolled. He returns to build a processing plant and puts up fish traps to catch more salmon. (His foreman is played by Jim Backus, the voice of Mr. Magoo.) Thor goes bankrupt because Zeb gets all the fish. Bridie tells Thor she’s in love with Zeb or Neb. They fight. Thor heads off on a dog sled to work out his frustration.

Meanwhile, Zeb has married, you guessed it, Dorothy, and brought her back to the Country (sorry, Bridie). He’s a workaholic, she’s bored, they grow to hate each other, they have a daughter. Years pass. Daughter falls in love with son of Thor and a pretty Alaska Native woman (don’t ask) and they elope on a dog sled! Pretty great, and it works out really well until the groom fights a bear. Well, you can see how this develops. Thor and Zeb are at each other’s throat all through the film, Dorothy and Bridie don’t hit it off very well, and daughters always do what they want despite their father’s plans for them.

The film moves on toward statehood, with Thor as territorial representative to Congress. Meanwhile Zeb grows fabulously wealthy, builds an office building dubbed the ice palace (represented by a close-up shot of the then new and still extremely ugly Northward building in Fairbanks) and becomes increasingly bitter because, it seems, money can’t buy happiness. Various things happen that will keep you in stitches for approximately two hours, with occasional scenes of late 1950s Fairbanks and the inside of a movie set. Well worth watching. Even kids will enjoy it. Well, maybe not. Amazon reviewers think it’s “a great movie” except for the guy who complained, “It would not play past the FBI warning.” I’d put it somewhere in between.


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December 3, 2013

Happy Tues. The temp has moved up to about zero after several days of below-Z bottoming out at around -26.

My nephew Ian and his wife arrived Thursday at 5:15 after five days on the Alaska Highway starting at Dawson Creek, BC. They have been gallivanting around town in sub-zero temps like hardened sourdoughs. Ian is a freelance graphic artist whose illustrations you have probably seen without knowing it. He pointed out a Pyramid bottled water package in our garage that he illustrated. Magda is an accomplished architectural photographer. They have been traveling all year, beginning last New Year’s Eve in Santiago, Chile. They headed for Argentina, then Antarctica, then back to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Central America, the Central states of the US, then across Canada and up here. Friday they fly to Barrow for three days to complete their “North via South” adventure.

They have been blogging a couple of times a month at the New Yorker website, with Ian’s interesting and often humorous travelogue and Magda’s stunning photos. They are planning a book. At least, I encouraged them to do so. They published a book about three years ago featuring Magda’s photos of their trip around the world. Anyway, it’s nice having “the kids” (40 and 35) here this week. You can see their work at http://yearoftravel.com/northviasouth/ and http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/photobooth/2013/01/slide-show-north-via-south-from-antarctica-to-alaska.html . The first of Magda’s Canada and Alaska photos will appear this week.

Locally, the news is pretty much the usual, apart from the woman who fell from an 8th story window into the arms of waiting firemen.

Fairbanks woman rescued after falling from eighth floor of Northward Building

The cold and dark are getting to some people.

Two stabbed in dispute over pie in Fairbanks

Gun rage lands Fort Wainwright man in jail

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November 25, 2013

Happy Mon. The day started out early at +12 and has since dropped to -2. Kind of blah looking.

Not too much to retort. My nephew and his wife have made their way from Antarctica through Latin American to the US of A to the Great Lakes and then across Canada and spent the night in Dawson Creek, BC, en route to Fairbanks. Ian, now 40, is doing the driving, and Magda, a professional photographer, is snapping photos along the way. They started out in Santiago, Chile last New Year’s Eve (it was summer there), then went to Argentina, Antarctica, back through Argentina and Brazil, then over to Bolivia and up to Colombia and Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico.

They have had warm weather, with the exception of Antarctica, most of the time. It was chilly across Canada, getting down to -3 at one point. They were momentarily shaken by my report that it got down to -33 here last week, but the forecast is for mostly above zero for the next several days, so they decided to drive on up. Their ETA is Friday this week. I hope the temps hold at moderate. They are used to snow and ice from winter in New York City, but they are not used to extreme cold and long stretches of unpopulated highway with 5 hours of daylight. I’ll be relieved when they get here safely.

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November 20, 2013

Happy Wed. Cold here at -33 after -14 yesterday. There are still about 400 houses without power, so this is bad news for them.

We went to see Gravity on the weekend. It confirmed my distrust of space travel. The effects are very convincing and the story is totally absorbing. With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Well worth seeing on the big screen. Eeeny meeny miney mo will take on new meaning for you. The matinee is cheaper. There is a 3D version that is probably unnecessary but will likely lure most of the talkers and bag cracklers to another theater. We saw it with about 10 other people in a mostly empty theater.


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November 15, 2013

A most joyous Friday to you. Things locally are sort of bad for a lot of people.

Schools closed for Friday; thousands in Fairbanks region still without power due to winter storm

We, on the other hand, got our power back after only about four hours. The neighborhood we moved from in the spring still does not have power, so they are heating with wood stoves and friction. Fortunately, there is no temperature. Zilch. Nada. Zero.

The story out of Sitka about the tree buried in volcanic ash about 13,180 years ago is inner resting. That was about the time people in the Middle East figured out how to domesticate wild dogs and goats and sheep and pigs and cattle. We don’t know how they went about this because they didn’t learn to write for another 7,000 years, and by then oral tradition had worn pretty thin. It was just a thousand or so years before writing that peoples from the Black Sea region rode their horses with chariots and wagons attached into Greece and Eastern Europe and Turkey and Iran and India, bringing with them their language, now called Proto-IndoEuropean, which developed into most of the languages of Western Europe and South Asia that we know of today. They were not welcomed everyplace they went, as has been true of human migrations since the beginning of time.

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November 8, 2013

Friday good. Cool again here at -10 but should get above zeeroo by early afternoon. Nice light.

Not too much to report here. We watched a somewhat interesting documentary on the effects of Canada’s aggressive program in the 1960’s and 70’s to take Indian children from their dysfunctional parents and adopt them out to white families. The film is called To Return: The John Walkus Story, issued in 2000. Walkus was taken from his alcoholic mother and raised by a white couple. Even though his adoptive parents were supportive, it was difficult for Walkus to relate to white culture. He found solace in art, which his adoptive parents encouraged. After graduating from high school he returned to his home village on the British Columbia coast, where he found his place making ceremonial masks, totem poles, and paintings.

Walkus became well known in Canada for his carving and painting, and his skill helped greatly as he tried to reintegrate into Native culture. Other returnees are interviewed in the film who had a harder time making the transition. One young man told how he and his three siblings were found starving and cold in the car their mother abandoned while drunk. He was sent to a farm and it sounds like the foster parents were clueless about supporting Native connections for the boy. They “kidded” him that his darker skin was just dirty, which is the sort of casual cruelty unthinking people dispense.

The film is pretty thought provoking, but it should probably have been longer and have included more footage of the adoptive parents, some of whom were pretty good parents who got no support, as they complained several times, from the Canadian government to help the Native children adapt and flourish. Also, the focus on John Walkus with his great talent tends to overshadow the less fulfilling plight of others who shared his experience. From the public library. One of Walkus’s pieces—

Raven Walkus

John Walkus presenting a ceremonial raven mask to an elder


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November 5, 2013

Happy Tues. Blahish here, +16.

Today is Guy Fawkes day in England. Fawkes was the Timothy McVeigh of his time. He was about to blow up Parliament when King James was visiting, but he was detected and dealt with appropriately—he was hanged, drawn, and quartered. Not a very nice way to go. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an actual conspiracy among English Catholics to take over the government and restore Catholicism as the state religion. At the time it was illegal to worship in the Catholic way, and priests were subject to treason charges and hanging. This happened several times. They owed this to Henry VIII and his shortage of Y chromosomes, which is a long story. Anyway, the discovery of the plot was a happy outcome for most, and it has been celebrated every year on Nov. 5 since.

gunpowder plot 1605


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November 4, 2013

Happy Moonday. If you say moon enough times is sounds like mon. Our word since was once sithens. Same principle. +12 here. No new snow.

We attended a UAF Theater Dept. play Friday evening adapted from Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed about low-paid work in America. For her book Ehrenreich worked for several months at low-paid jobs, including waitress in a diner, Merry Maid cleaning woman, nursing home attendant, and Wal-Mart associate. Apart from demonstrating how difficult it is for many people who hold these jobs to make ends meet, the book highlights how those people view their work and the world generally. Many talk candidly about their “sh*tty jobs” while others are grateful to be employed. The play alternates between job scenes, with a central character playing “Barb” and other actors playing different roles to fit the jobs being depicted. The dialogue is hilarious and fairly foul-mouthed at times, providing a view into a seamy life of insecurity, hard work, and annoying management.

The play is ostensibly a comedy, but heartbreak is just beneath the surface. Where do you live when you arrive new in town looking for work? How do you pay for it? Ehrenreich, who has a PhD in cellular immunology from Rockefeller University, found it was sometimes difficult to pass as a working class person. Duh. You do your best to fit in. I had a master’s degree when I worked as a retail clerk and later as a low-level sheet metal worker in a factory. In those circumstances, you talk and act to be one of the group. Anyway, the play had the audience laughing from the opening lines and kept them entertained to the end. I plan to read the book soon.



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November 1, 2013

Happy Friday. The ghosts and goblins have departed. One small person who appeared as a pretty large spider informed Pam he started out with a tail but “the safety pin got tired.” Not sure why he had a tail to begin with, but it was an interesting idea. The last callers, two normally dressed teen girls, said they had gone costumed earlier in the day, one as Napoleon. A teen who knows about Napoleon! We failed to get rid of all the candy, so if I send out any overly exuberant messages in the next few days, it could be due to a sugar high.

Last weekend we watched an interesting French movie called Tomboy. It’s about a 10-year-old girl Laure who moves with her family to a new apartment block in a different area. Laure likes to do the things boys do because it’s more interesting. Her hair is cut pretty short, so she introduces herself as Michael to the kids in the new neighborhood. It’s summertime with no school and this interesting experiment works pretty well until some complications begin to set in. Michael learns to spit and play soccer like the boys, but when they pee on the grass near the soccer field, well, she hadn’t expected that. Her solution to being invited to go swimming with the other kids produces some hilarious moments—what swimsuit to wear?

Laure has a sweet little sister who likes tutus and girly things, and Laure is a good big sister to her. There are a few adults in the film, including Laure’s mother, who is pregnant and has no idea her daughter is pretending to be a boy. This becomes important when the cute neighbor girl Lisa gets a crush on “Michael” and kisses her. Laure had not expected this either. When neighbor mom gets wind of all this, the fireworks begin. You watch this absorbing story unfold knowing Laure will finally be revealed as a girl and wondering how that will play out. An enjoyable film, in French with subtitles. The child actors do an excellent job. The critics really liked it. We found it at the public library.

Tomboy dvd



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