Culture weeknote 1

Trying a different tack here, since my interest in blogging has been reduced to all front-end tweaking and no back-end writing, which I'm sure is fun for everybody. Clearly I need a focus, and one that's easy to maintain based on existing lifestyle factors and available free time.

The Paris Review Daily runs this regular feature called The Culture Diaries, where different writers track their cultural intake for the week. They're huge fun to read for a nerd like me who loves scannable lists, diaries, and recommendations, so I'm going to steal that stocking and stuff myself inside it. These will be long, so I guess you'll be in trouble if you don't like reading long, but I like the idea of keeping notes rather than throwing up all these disparate short posts during the week, so we'll see where it takes us. Wonderland, I hope! only on more of a hobo level than most of the writers engaged by the Paris Review. I'm also working backwards here from what I remember of the week, so it's weighted towards TV and missing a lot of reading. Next week I'll try actually taking some notes.

Saturday Jan 29

2:00 P.M. Post-morning run, had to catch up with my Netflix queue, so I tore through Easy A and Gone Baby Gone while I painted my nails and read Runner's World. I'm a passive-aggressive Netflix user: the DVDs sit for days and days and then I watch them all in a tawdry hedonistic celluloid overdose. There was also a nap in there someplace.

Easy A was better than I expected, thanks mostly to Patricia Clarkson in a great turn as Emma Stone's mother, all girl-power support and slutty nuance. Stone was delightful, too, but the set-up was way too drawn out and over-explainy. I guess people really don't know what The Scarlet Letter is about? That's sad.

Gone Baby Gone was slightly worse than I expected, since it's approximately three movies tied together in a totally implausible way. I say pick one ending and make me believe it. Thumbs up to the Brothers Affleck, though, and to Amy Ryan for going all-out hateful and never looking back. Wow. That is one barn-burner of a performance.

7:00 P.M. Attended a fifth anniversary "It's Angie Day!" party, which was also the first anniversary of anybody being invited to this party, or even knowing it existed. The world needs more parties like this. In celebration of Angela Lansbury, we drank champagne and watched The Manchurian Candidate on SarahB's brand new LG HDTV, which has this awesome tracking aspect that makes everything look like it's filmed on a Twilight Zone sound stage in the 1950s. Very up close and personal. We also brainstormed a couple of fringe show ideas, including my favorite, Angela Lansbury's Anchor Babies. Look for it next August in a basement near you.

Sunday Jan 30

2:00 A.M. Slumber party! Watched Gaudy Night on DVD. Since it was late, we fast-forwarded to the good parts. There aren't many.

10:30 A.M. Coffee and the latest episode of Law & Order: UK. As always, we will take any excuse for a Harriet Walter Weekend.

12:00 P.M. Roxie and I ate mini-quiches in our sofa bed while SarahB sat on hold with the Kennedy Center to order our tickets for Follies in the spring. It's been a long time since I've taken a Sondheim road trip. Too long, really.

3:00 P.M. Home. Read Can You Forgive Her? on my iPad. I started this in early December but my used paperback copy was so old the binding came apart in my Incredible Hulk grip. I downloaded it FOR FREE instead, which is one of the 10 Wonders of the Kindle store. The book is like a million pages long and is only the first in a series of six, so this will take a while, a sort of quasi-forced servitude that one enters into willingly knowing very well it may never end. And no, I didn't forgive her. I was so very glad to see her go.

While I was at the Kindle store, I downloaded the rest of the Palliser series, along with The Way We Live Now. Free Trollopes for everybody!

7:30 P.M. Attended the closing performance of A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons. This is one of those shows that I hate to see end; it's just painful to me to think that there's a world out there now where this play isn't happening. Theatre's a real heartbreaker like that.

Monday Jan 31

6:30 P.M. Read this week's New Yorker and New York magazines. It's my Monday night ritual, along with a big ol' glass of Monday night wines.

9:00 P.M. Watched the final episode of Downton Abbey, which is a massive PBS editing failure. So bad! It takes all these huge unexamined leaps forward in time and then asks you to care about a pregnancy that lasts all of five minutes. At least I'm hoping it's the PBS cuts that are bad, and not the episode itself, which would be disappointing any way you slice it. The series as a whole was phenomenal. Me want more! (They're filming more.)

11:00 P.M. Started my nighttime Dorothy L. Sayers read-through again with a chapter of Whose Body? It's relaxing, since I know all the stories, yet I always find something new. Plus I like going to bed with Lord Peter.

Tuesday Feb 1

I have zero memory of this day even happening.

Wednesday Feb 2

2:00 P.M. Thanks to the Mighty Blizzard of Chicago, I got to enjoy a snow day with the rest of my Illinois brethren, only missing this, of which I would have had a front-row view from my old apartment. I spent the day as one should, reading Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist and downloading the full UK version of Downton Abbey from iTunes. I only made it through three episodes, though, because it was my night for The Merchant of Venice on Broadway, which just reopened after a month-long hiatus.

7:30 P.M. Long play short: pretty hateful, huh? I need to start reading classic plays before I see them, especially Shakespeare, since I usually sit there all "Who's this dude?" and "What the fuck just happened?" My mind doesn't thread the needle the way it used to (old brains), especially in the balcony at the Broadhurst, where the lady next to me was fitted with an assistive listening device that belched forth the reverb in all directions. Distracting! Lily Rabe was wonderful, in a Stockard Channing punctuating-by-pointing kind of way, but is also the kind of naturalistic stage actress who should be miked (or miked better), because she speaks in a lot of asides that are impossible to hear from the balcony. Al Pacino does not have this problem. The bathroom queue at intermission was a mess. Terrible line control.

11:00 P.M. Came home and read this article on crowd dynamics in The New Yorker. According to John Seabrook, most crowd disasters aren't "panics" but "crazes," where the "people are usually moving toward something they want, rather than away from something they fear." Since the folks at the rear have no idea what's happening at the front, they'll reflexively press forward when the people in front of them press forward, and can't tell when the front meets an obstruction. The ones who get caught up in the wave can literally be swept out of their shoes and off their feet, and those who die are usually suffocated, not trampled.

11:30 P.M. More Whose Body? What a cheery night.

Thursday Feb 3

9:30 P.M. Parks and Recreation time. Chris Pratt scrambling down the hallway like a monkey in Rob Lowe's "adventure shoes" was the funniest thing I've seen on TV all season. Andy was my least favorite character when the show started, but now I love him more than hot dogs. He's a completely realized nutbar in an assorted bag of treats.

10:00 P.M. DVR of Cougar Town. Yes, I'm finally loving Cougar Town, right before it heads off on a two-month vacation. Love the guy playing Bobby (I think his name is Bobby).

11:00 P.M. More Whose Body?

Friday Feb 4

6:00 P.M. Received an excitable mass family e-mail from my father predicting a huge win for the Packers on Sunday:

I just heard they are going to have Bill Murray in to give the motivational speech from "Meatballs." Oh boy is this gonna be great. Oh no, that's from "Animal House." Oh well, I think you are starting to get my point, I'm pshcyhed. Don't know how to spell that but I think you get the point. We are gonna win by at least 2 touchdowns. Mark my word!!!! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. love, Dad

Hardly any of that makes sense, but Kyle replied with "It just doesn't matter!"Meatballs counts as culture in my family. I'll be watching the Super Bowl from New Jersey, obviously.

11:15 P.M. Law & Order: UK on BBC America. They put Harriet Walter in a turtleneck for once. Yes to more flattering sweaters and fewer ill-fitting manly suits, and more Jamie Bamber crying. I love him as Detective Superintendent Matt Devlin but hated him as Apollo on BSG. That American-in-space accent must have strangled something vital.

Saturday Feb 5

12:30 A.M. Finished Whose Body? It gets really good at the end, when Lord Peter has his shell-shock breakdown and then almost gets poisoned by Julian Freke. The character really doesn't come together until you get his backstory and all that World War I stuff. I'm also a big sucker for long written confessions by criminal masterminds, especially when Sir Julian writes, "In spite of the disastrous consequences to myself, I was pleased to realize that you had not underestimated my nerve and intelligence, and refused the injection. Had you submitted to it, you would, of course, never have reached home alive."

1:00 P.M. Abbreviated Parks and Recreation season two marathon, followed by a nap. (This maiden voyage of weeknotes has purposely omitted a lot of naps.) I've volunteered to start writing reviews for Parks and Rec at Give Me My Remote and need a refresh on Pawnee history. My favorite cold open is from the episode "Kaboom," when Leslie's on speakerphone with a credit card rep who lists all these purchases she suspects are fraudulent, including Jessica Simpson hair extensions and tuition to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The look on Leslie's face when she tells Tom she majored in potions at Hogwarts is priceless. Amy Poehler is such a versatile comic actress, heads and tails above Tina Fey (much as I love Liz Lemon). Unfortunately these episodes also remind me how much I miss Louis C.K. as Leslie's cop boyfriend Dave.

3:30 P.M. Read Three Sisters on my iPad as part of my Wednesday night resolution. I've never seen a production of this and have in general been a little meh with Chekhov onstage (sacrilege!). It's so easy to get tripped up by the names, first of all, and the relationships between characters are seldom obvious to a novice, all these soldiers passing through and random hangers-on starting anecdotes in medias res. There's a great introduction to this translation by Laurence Senelick, which gave me a solid base to start from and a list of things to watch for.

8:00 P.M. Saw Three Sisters at Classic Stage Company, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Masha and Peter Sarsgaard as Vershinin. Look at all those a's, of course they had to get maarried. It was written in the cosmos.

My early study helped immensely, as I was alert to the Themes ("I feel as I have always felt") and could follow the flow of the narrative rather than getting stuck on the occasionally far-out lingo of the updated text by Paul Schmidt; Marin Ireland in particular had some ear-clanging lines ("Hey, Andy!" etc.). Gyllenhaal and Juliet Rylance, as youngest sister Irina, were marvelous, as was Paul Lazar as the willingly cuckolded Kulygin, who insists on being happy no matter what. George Morfogen's teeny tiny role as the servant Ferapont really blew me away, though; you could tell he was operating on a whole different level of understanding with this story, that it was leaking out through his bones or something. 

At intermission, the ladies next to me chatted about the New Yorker article on crowd control. We all agreed it would be a horrifying way to go. Željko Ivanek was in attendance and I passed Kevin Kline on my way out the door. Nobody in the crowd panicked.

11:30 P.M. Taxied home to find a postcard of this Vermeer from the Frick in my mailbox from SarahB, who lives five blocks to the north: "Something has to be said about living in a city where you can walk 10 blocks to see something like this up close and in person all within a lunch break. Damn it's good to live here!" Amen to that, sister.