Saturday, October 24, 2009


Another fantastic Saturday evening, all around.

One thing about not owning a car is that ... I drive an awful lot of cars. My parents' blue car, my parents' green car (the difference between the two being that the green one has, shall we say, limited mobility), my grandmother's car, my friend's father's shiny gold Mercedes - none of the friends I see on a regular basis drive, so I play chauffeur if they supply the vehicle. Or money for lunch; I'm not picky.

Tonight, a friend invited me to see the Weird City Theatre production of Nosferatu ... and I got to drive another car. This time, it was The Purple Subaru.

Another thing about driving many different cars is that you become adept at quickly locating the important levers and buttons. This may not sound like a big deal, but when you're talking about cars spanning different makes, models, and decades, things can get hairy. I thought I finally had my car-checking down to a science, since last time we went to a play I learned that some cars have a cleverly hidden switch that opens the gas tank cover.

So I felt pretty good when I adjusted the seat, adjusted the mirrors, turned on the lights (but NOT the brights), and got the passenger's side door open in under ten minutes. Until we got to the gas station and realized the parking brake was still on.

Things got even better 30 minutes and many miles later. I'd just spent several days in Indianapolis, so it took me a little while to realize that the white plumes coming from under the hood were not steam from hot air hitting cold, but rather smoke. From the air compressor, as we found out a few minutes later. If we ever make it all the way to and from a play without having to consult someone by phone about the car, I'm going to bake myself a cake.

We fortunately got things sorted out, much to the dismay of the eager cab driver who parked across the street to watch us check under the hood.

We were also, for the first time in three or four plays, early rather than late for the showing.

Speaking of which...

Nosferatu is based on both Bram Stoker's Dracula and the 1922 film. It was shorter than most plays I've seen - it started at 8 and we were back in the car by 9:40 - and the sets were sparce. However, I think this minimalism was a good thing. There's no extraneous anything, just the meat of the story, which as a bonus has a neat little twist ending. Also, kudos to whomever was controlling the lighting: it looked great.

Basically, if you get a chance to see Nosferatu, you should; it's showing at the Dougherty Arts Center from now until November first. Tickets aren't expensive, and it's a good way to get into the Halloween spirit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Joshua Bell - at home with friends

When I woke up this morning, the temperature had dropped overnight - from an unpleasantly humid 82 to a delicious 64 - and I could just hear the sounds of the brass section of the marching band warming up at the high school. It seemed like the perfect time to pop in Joshua Bell's new album and enjoy the weather.

At Home With Friends is, as explained in a personal message included in the liner notes, an extension of a tradition from Bell's childhood. The album pairs Bell, on violin, with a number of other talents like Chris Botti, Sting, Josh Groban, Frankie Moreno, and Regina Spektor. The full track listing is impressive:

I Loves You Porgy featuring Chris Botti, trumpet
Come Again featuring Sting, vocals
Oblivion featuring Carel Kraayenhof, bandoneon
Cinema Paradiso featuring Josh Groban, vocals
Para Tí featuring Tiempo Libre, various
My Funny Valentine featuring Kristin Chenoweth, vocals
Maybe So featuring Edgar Meyer Sam Bush and Mike Marshall, strings
Grieg: Sonata No. 3 featuring Sergei Rachmaninoff (Zenph re-performance)
Eleanor Rigby featuring Frankie Moreno, piano & vocals
O, Cease Thy Maiden Fair featuring Nathan Gunn, baritone
Il Postino featuring Carel Kraayenhof, bandoneon
Left Hand Song featuring Regina Spektor, piano & vocals
Chovendo Na Roseira
featuring Dave Grusin, piano
Look Away featuring Edgar Meyer, bass and Chris Thile, mandolin
Variant Moods: Duet for Sitar & Violin featuring Anoushka Shankar, sitar
I'll Take Manhattan featuring Marvin Hamlisch, piano
Left Hand featuring Regina Spektor, vocals

At Home With Friends made for great mood music to leave on today. I may have been influenced by the weather, but I felt that several of the songs invoked the spirit of Fall, particularly Chovendo Na Roseira and Left Hand Song.

Surprisingly, and in contrast with other albums I've reviewed, At Home With Friends doesn't have a single track I actively dislike. That being said, I do feel that the true strength of the album rests with the musical rather than the vocal arrangements. Left Hand Song and Come Again are both good songs, but the tracks that I enjoyed - and that grabbed my attention - most were those which focused on the instruments.

Joshua Bell plays extremely well, and his versatility comes through over the course of the album. Duet for Sitar & Violin, for example, is an intriguing piece (and my personal favorite on the album), as are Look Away and Oblivion. Even better, over the course of the album I was introduced to a number of songs and instruments I'd never heard before.

Overall, I think At Home With Friends was a great idea on Joshua Bell's part.

A very hearty thank you to the One2One Network for giving me the chance to review At Home With Friends!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bouchercon 2009, Day 3


Alek went out for a haircut this morning with dad. He's a shoo-in for "Axe Murderer" in "Axe Murderer/Not An Axe Murderer" now. Although I don't know if anyone plays that game in Lincoln.

While they hit up the barber shop - a place so traditional I can't get a haircut there because I shave my legs - I headed over to the convention center for The MWA Celebrates Edgar Allen Poe panel (Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, Peter Lovesey, John Lutz, Sara Paretsky). During the pre-panel wait, I struck up a conversation with the woman in front of me, during which it came out that I hadn't read novels by any of the authors on the panel - I was there for the content rather than the speakers. The woman asks, "Oh, so you're not a mystery reader?"

Well, I am, I'm just working up from Poe and Doyle and Christie and Stout to authors who are, you know, alive. As it happens I've finally made the transition from authors who are dead to authors who are "extremely old" (his words, not mine), like Michael Z. Lewin. Frankly, though, I couldn't get too annoyed at a woman who volunteers at food pantries and a steam boat museum (!) in her free time. When I'm older, I will be more than happy to become a "full-time volunteer."

The panel itself was interesting. There were people who knew much more about Poe than I ever have - and one woman in a truly cool themed vest - so I walked away with some new information. There was also a discussion about why, if Poe was bipolar (as has been suggested), there's no evidence of any writing from his "up" periods, and the running joke became "where are the tree poems?" Toward the end of the panel, Sara Paretsky randomly bust out with a "Poe poem" that does involve trees. I've done my best to reproduce it here from memory, so if you were also in the panel please feel free to correct me:

I think that I shall never see
A murder committed by a tree
Unless for asshole takes an ax
And gives that sucker 40 whacks
While some fool -let's call her me-
Walks past, and it crushes she.

Afterwards I had quite a bit of free time, even after I spent 20 minutes over at the Crimefest table. I think I might have to see if I can save up the $ necessary to go next May for two weeks: the full package includes trips by ferry and steam train, discussions over coffee, and a trip to Dartmoor in addition to room and board during Crimefest.

The Bouchercon 1934 panel (Ted Hertel, Marv Lachman, Larry Light, Gary Warren Niebuhr...I think), which came after a lunch of White Castle, covered the news, births/deaths, novels, short stories, and pulp magazines of the year. I especially enjoyed the ads from pulp mystery magazines: "dentures by mail", anyone? And, just as things got rolling, a reporter and Archie Goodwin's girlfriend showed up, so they conducted an interview during the panel. The last panel was The Sting Goes On (John Billheimer, Michael Bowen, Sean Doolittle, Jack Getze, Richard Thompson - except one of them called out sick and I don't remember who it was), which had a surprisingly small audience. I have no idea why more mystery fans wouldn't want to sit through a panel on cons; they appear in nearly every mystery I've read. Regardless, all the people who didn't attend missed a very fun/funny conversation ("I'm so slow, if I wrote guys trying to run the 'fiddle game', they'd be using a piano").

After The Sting Goes on, dad and I walked around the city a bit, up Mass. Ave. The "artsy" district was quite a disappointment in terms of things to do, so we made our own fun with my camera.

However, I'm not certain how much of what we took would be considered "serious art."
There's nothing that makes me want to enter a gallery less than "Serious Art" on the window. There's all sorts of free and fun art outside.
There was supposed to be a screening of one of the A&E episodes of Nero Wolfe, but technical difficulties (in the vein of "tapes don't go in a dvd player") nipped that in the bud. We did have a nice conversation with an author (Roberta Rogow) who kindly sang a few snippets of song for us. Once the room cleared out and people headed home, we got bored and wandered the convention area and, as usual, created our own fun.

I had a brief Zen moment where I found myself
but it passed.

All following photos published with apologies (and thanks?) to Michael Connelly, Martin Limon, Rick Mofina, the moon, the creators of James Bond, and shoe shiners everywhere.

I thought I'd end with a photo of dad and me on our thrones. Because "throne" makes me giggle.

Photos will be added tomorrow night. We have to get to bed early because there are free books tomorrow morning.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bouchercon 2009, Day 2

Today had the fewest number of panels I wanted to attend, so we began the day with a brief walking tour of Indianapolis. Large swathes for Monument Circle were closed for renovations, so we moved on down a few blocks to the war memorials.
One thing I adore about places where the weather makes sense (if you live in Texas, you have to agree with me that our weather doesn't make any freakin' sense) is the fall colors. Or rather, the glorious riot of color that happens outside. We had a great time photographing the trees, frollicking with satyrs, misidentifying statues ("Look, it's Lenin!"), uncovering discarded gin bottles, taking artsy photos, stalking squirrels, and eyeing the local Scottish Rite building. We were going to try and get closer to the building, but Al thought he spotted some death-laser turrets on the tower. We settled for some performance art, instead. There was also a brief scare at the public library, with what we thought was a giant scary alien. Actually, it might be a giant scary alien, just one that moves rather slowly.

On the way back we stopped in an alley for a gag photo, where I saw this lovely piece of artwork, which you can click to enlarge if you can't read. Love it.

Around 3 we moseyed on over to the convention to sit in on the How I Met My Protagonist (Julie Kramer, P.J. Parrish, Charlaine Harris, Martyn Waites) and Murder At The Edge Of The Map (Leighton Gage, Christopher G. Moore, Tamar Myers, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Stanley) panels. The first panelist had a talented moderator; it would have been easy for Charlaine Harris to dominate the conversation - not because she's an attention hog, but because she's the most famous - but instead the mod kept things pretty balanced. I may have to finally read one of Harris' novels, and I'd never heard of Martyn Waites, but his books sound interesting.

The Murder panel was fantastically intriguing: the focus was on writing mysteries that take place in far-flung (from the United States) places. The authors covered everything from superstitions in Thailand/Brazil/tribes of headhunters (no, really) to the local traffic of these places and exactly how good are hyenas at disposing of bodies? [Answer: they eat literally everything].

Between panels I did a bit of author-stalking. Liza Cody was wonderfully polite when I stopped her twice in the hallway. The first time was to ask the name of the novel she read from last night (Gimme More) during the Dirty Rotten Liars gameshow. The book proved difficult to find in the dealer's room because I guess it's not widely available in the U.S. yet. We even had to convert the cover price from pounds to dollars - not a difficult task, thanks to the fact that I spend far too much time on ebay. Then I pounced on the poor woman a second time to ask her to autograph the book. She was very nice, and although I considered that authors might not enjoy being asked for autographs outside of signing times, I took heart from the fact that she didn't tell me to go to hell; she does not appear to be the type of person who falters at being blunt :-). So, that was my exciting interaction with an author for the day, and I think I'm going to enjoy Gimme More, but I want to finish Hard Line first.

Dinner was at TaTa Cuban Cafe, where dinner - and especially the mojitos - was delicious.
After dinner it was time for a nap (or, in my case, troubleshooting the cable that connects my camera and laptop) so we could catch the late showing of Surrogates.

Three quick notes on Surrogates, because I just noticed that it's almost 1:30 in the morning. First, it is a brilliant example of successful world-building. Second, it's a bit slowly-paced, but well-written and interesting. Third, Bruce Willis kicks a fair amount of ass and looks great (and I don't even need to add the modifier "for his age"). 4 1/2 stars.