Sean and I are slowly searching out haunts in our new Atlanta-area home. Tonight we discovered our first Italian place, a lovely restaurant that combines a hole-in-the-wall feel with casual elegance.

Scalini’s is located on Cobb Parkway in the same shopping center as the Best Buy, just above I-285. A huge green light-up sign stretches across the restaurant’s section of strip mall, proclaiming “Scalini’s Italian Restaurant” to the deep parking lot and the roadway beyond. A purely decorative awning runs above the front window, which looks into the dimly-lit bar, and a windowed front entryway provides a glimpse into a cheerful foyer.

Upon entering, we saw a high-ceilinged room dominated to the left by a long refrigerated glass case, displaying its meats and vegetables before a wall filled with dried goods and spices. To the right, past a towering Lady Liberty statue, was a passage through to the bar, and the hostess was straight ahead, guarding the way to the rest of the restaurant.

At this point I was wondering if we were underdressed…but we were greeted warmly and escorted back beyond the bar to a very casual seating area with private booths. There, most surfaces–the walls, the backs of booths, even some light fixtures–were covered with graffiti, messages from past guests, just like at Rhinehart’s back in Augusta. The area was cozy and private, too, with a narrow walkway running between rows of booths so small they could almost be called cramped, their seat backs going almost to the ceiling. The table was plenty big enough, and the booth seats just, so we settled in comfortably.

The menu was expansive, with appetizers, pastas, meats, seafood, and several desserts. Each meal was served with a large salad that included lettuce, tomato, and beets. I was pleased to discover that I found the beets delicious. Meals also came with a bowl of delicious freshly-baked rolls, served with oil and garlic.

We started with a stuffed mushroom appetizer that was the only disappointing part of the meal. Maybe the kitchen was rushed, as it was a bit late in the evening. Maybe their recipe wasn’t great. Whatever the reason, the mushrooms were passable, but not wonderful like the rest of the meal.

Sean’s main dish was a seafood alfredo that looked absolutely divine…scallops and shrimp with fettuccine dredged in that amazing creamy sauce. I had Cannelloni del Mar: lobster, scallops, and shrimp with cheese, baked in a pasta tube with rosatella sauce. It was an extraordinary medley of flavors.

We managed to eat about half of the shared salad, all the mushrooms, a couple of rolls, and about a third each of our entrees. I did find room for some fantastic spumoni, which I think was pistachio and chocolate, served with a cookie of lower sweetness to temper the taste. Finally, full and happy, we strolled back to the car with three to-go boxes.

Tonight’s dinner was a fantastic experience. I was captivated, both by the food and by the ambiance. It looks like Scalini’s is going to be a favorite!

Review: Where the Wild Things Are

This movie, like the book that inspired it, is written in the language of children. I had a little trouble immersing myself in it and was really only able to grasp how it made me feel hours later. Being grown and accustomed to stories with a different structure–more complex, perhaps, but also with more obvious fundamental truths–I was at first put off by the seeming lack of foundation. After some time to think it over, though, I would have to say this is a good film for parents to watch with their children, if not something that’s going to entertain adults.

The film tells the story of a boy learning that his way isn’t necessarily the best way and that sometimes it’s hard to understand or do anything about other people’s pain. It’s a story of growing up. But more than that, it’s a story of finding and nurturing happiness through caring about others.

These conclusions aren’t immediately obvious. There’s no narrator, and no character steps up and says “treating people badly is wrong, and here’s why”. Instead, we see the moral obliquely, through the characters’ actions and their consequences.

When Max’s sister’s friends destroy his igloo, he’s hurt and angry. The boys have crossed a line–a line that is only visible to Max. To Max, retaliating to snowballs with snowballs was perfectly acceptable, but he doesn’t comprehend why they’d chase him back to his igloo and then break it in to get to him. The audience can see that the boys think it’s all in good fun, but Max interprets their actions as maliciousness, and his sister’s lack of understanding as abandonment.

Later, Max urges Douglas to throw dirt clods at Alexander. Alexander protests, but Max pays this no mind and has Douglas throw more dirt. It’s only when Alexander becomes extremely upset that Max realizes anything’s wrong. He comes full circle in this scene–now he’s the boys, and it’s all in good fun, except someone inadvertently got hurt. And like the boys, he doesn’t know what to do until much later, when he finally apologizes.

Having seen hurt from both perspectives, Max realizes it’s not as simple as he thought it was. It’s not that people choose not to do things Max’s way because they don’t like him. It’s that everyone has their own wants and needs and feelings that are different from Max’s.

The Max/Carol relationship is very important. Carol is Max’s analogue in the Wild Things family–he’s the one who feels lonely and scared and fights those feelings by acting out.

Max feels lost and alone at the beginning of the film. His dad’s gone, his mother’s busy, and his sister is going through her own kind of growing up. When his mom splits her attention even more, inviting a man over, Max feels abandoned. This is similar to how Carol feels about KW running off to hang out with Bob and Terry. Max feels that his mother should focus her attention on him. Likewise, Carol wants all of KW’s attention.

To try and get that prized attention, Max acts out in the kitchen. His mother doesn’t react the way he wants her to so he fights her. It ends with Max biting his mother, and his mother screaming “What’s wrong with you?” It’s a total rejection, one that sends Max running out the door and down the street and through the fence and onto the boat.

Later, Max sees similar behavior in Carol, behavior he can’t understand or control. He’s afraid…and that fear causes him to withdraw from Carol. At that point he begins to understand his mother.

While these are the two examples of role-reversal that stuck out to me the most, the film is rich with them. The structure is therefore quite simple: introduce a perspective, then answer it with an opposing one. But the conclusions are never expressed. Max leaves the island without teaching the Wild Things anything more than basic love. And we don’t see Max and his mother talking about what happened; all we see are looks passed between them and a strong embrace. We are left to find the lessons Max learned on our own. The closest we get is Max’s comment to the Wild Things, “I wish you guys had a mother.”

Because the moral of the story isn’t obvious, I imagine many parents’ gut reaction will be to not show this movie to their children. If you ignore the reversals that teach Max to see more than one side of a problem, you’re left simply with a string of wild and violent behavior, many times frightening, overlaid with the grim prophecy of Max’s teacher about the death of the sun and the human race. It’s a dark picture that parents might feel they want to protect their children from.

But the movie is highly teachable. It’s certainly not a film to let children watch by themselves, and it absolutely must be discussed afterwards. But the structure of the film allows for some very good instruction on the nature of human relationships, what it’s like to make tough decisions, and how to find happiness in an uncertain world.

I would suggest parents ask their kids questions about Max’s feelings and motivations at different times in the movie. “How did Max feel when the boys smashed his igloo? Why did he act out in the kitchen? Why did Max run away? Why did he decide to go home?” Through discussion, parents can help their children reach the conclusions Max did.

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Fringe, season 1

* This post is rife with spoilers. *

The season finale of Fringe answered a lot of questions.

For awhile I thought William Bell was dead, or that he had never existed. We never saw him.

I knew that Walter and Peter had been saved at the lake, and that Walter now owed the Observer a favor, but I could always tell that there was something more to that story and I didn’t know what.

Olivia started getting flashes of what I assumed were various other universes.

Now, after the season finale, it seems there is one main alternate universe. Liv’s flashes all came from that same universe…a universe in which 9/11 didn’t quite go the same way, and in which there was some other, more recent attack. After seeing the finale, I speculate that her flashes are due to the fact that that universe is starting to merge with ours. The “soft points”, from which radiate all manner of phenomena, are only the beginning.

It also seems likely that the kickoff point for the dimensional collision was Walter’s selfish snatching of another Peter–I’ll call him Peter’–from the alternate universe when his own son died. Indeed, the place where I imagine that theft took place–the lake where the two of them were saved–was the soft point Jones was able to use to open the doorway. I presume what actually happened was Peter drowned, Walter went to the alternate universe and retrieved Peter’, and the Observer was helpful in some way, but told Walter that at some point he would need to deal with the ramifications. The stealing of Peter’ was obviously a huge dimensional event–matter was taken from one universe to another, and has existed for some time in a place where it doesn’t belong.

William Bell has been living in the alternate universe for “months”, at least. (That’s how long Nina Sharp claims she hasn’t seen him.) It’s possible that he’s there in an attempt to stop or delay the merging. Perhaps he didn’t realize until recently that Walter stole Peter’. Once he knew the reason for the soft spots, he tried to compensate by shifting some of our universe’s matter–himself–into the other universe to replace what it’d lost.

I imagine his move will end up being too little, too late. Since Bell’s a completely different person, it’s not an equal exchange. And even though it’s not clear what role time plays in this, the fact that the exchange took two decades to happen will probably also have an effect, unless Bell has been there longer than Nina implies.

What confounds me at this point is where the show can possibly go from here. What will we discover about alternate universes? Will we end up able to cross between them with impunity after all? Or am I right, and does dimensional travel without equal exchange cause irreparable damage that will ultimately lead to a universe-collide? If we’ve answered most of the questions about why these events are happening, what kind of questions can we ask next season?

The revelation that Peter’ isn’t from this universe adds a new layer to Walter and Peter’s relationship. We know that Peter’ considers Walter to have been an abusive father. I’ve seen some speculation that it was Walter’ who was abusive, and Walter was a loving father who was too late to spare Peter’ from his father’s abuse. I think it’s more plausible, though, that Walter didn’t know how to relate to Peter’ because Peter’ wasn’t really his son. Whenever Walter is able to connect with Peter’ in a meaningful way, he is so delighted that I imagine it doesn’t happen very much. Walter was trying to bring his son back, but instead he brought home a stranger, and I imagine that fact, plus the guilt over what he’d done, plus the pain over losing his real son, drove him to abusive behavior and insanity.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Peter’ finds out about all this.

More on The Great Santini

When I first finished The Great Santini, I mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of random violence towards the end. I now believe I know the purpose of that violence, but I’m not sure the purpose makes it any less random.

What’s interesting to me is that the majority of the violence came from people who were not the titular abusive character.

I went into the book expecting first-hand depictions of horrific child abuse. I described the indirect mentions and tension fully anticipating that they were leading somewhere dreadful. But the book was not that facile or straightforward. Most of the abuse was in the past; it guided the present but didn’t appear in it. It led the reader to the conclusion that if Bull’s kids would have just done things his way, everything would have been fine, and he really wasn’t that bad a guy after all.

It’s brilliant. Because this is exactly how Ben Meecham was feeling.

The random violence and killings stripped Ben of his support systems. His best friends were either killed or jerked away from him. He had nothing when the final blow came, and he ended up filling the hole in his life with the one man he knew best. At the end of the book, in a twist on the archetypal “mentor dies, hero accepts his destiny” story, Ben started becoming Bull.

He started becoming the man he’d spent the entire book resisting, hiding from, and going along with to appease. He started becoming what he insisted he never would. And it happened because that was all he ever knew, and when that was gone–when Bull died–a part of Ben needed that presence, and the only way to get it was to bring it back himself.

If Ben had had Toomer around, or Sammy, when his father died, I imagine things would have gone differently. He would have had other men in his life to remind him of what he wanted to be. Mr. Dacus was a father figure, the father Ben could never have, but ultimately he approved of Bull, and Ben took that approval to heart.

And with Bull dead, without the constant reminders of fear and uncertainty to guide Ben, it would only be that much easier for Ben to forget what he had hated and embrace the love he wished he felt for his father when he was alive.

This story felt true because it was true, and I think that truth greatly added to the experience. There are flaws. I pointed out a perspective problem in my original post; I never found anything later to disprove my view that it wasn’t intentional. And there was that feeling, again, that the violence in the latter half of the book came out of nowhere solely for the purpose of guiding Ben down a path towards his father.

But the prose was startlingly poignant, and the dialogue was sharp. I imagine that writing this novel was both cathartic and instructive for Pat Conroy, and I look forward to seeing how he pairs that experience with his natural gifts in later books.

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The Great Santini

The other day I posted on Twitter, “It is absolutely GORGEOUS outside in Augusta, Georgia!” Stu responded that that tweet put him in the mood to reread his Pat Conroy novels. I’d never read any Conroy, so I asked Stu for suggestions, and on his advice started reading The Great Santini. This post contains my thoughts so far; I’ve just made it to Chapter 12.

(Since I’m reading on my iPhone’s Kindle app, I can’t reference page numbers, so I will quote the text where appropriate.)

The book’s about a family dealing with an abusive father, a Marine fighter pilot named Bull Meecham who is known as “The Great Santini”. The prose simmers with nervous tension as it draws slowly towards what you know is coming, what has been foreshadowed from the beginning. You don’t see the abuse directly at first. You have to wait several chapters for it. Instead, you see almost-abuse. The story flirts with the line Bull Meecham will cross, and since you don’t know where the line actually is, you never know when something bad might happen. It’s very artfully done. It gives you the same feelings the children are dealing with.

The first horror is a fairly small one compared to the dreadful things Bull Meecham has been threatening. But that leads to some specific revelations that up the tension. It’s certainly not over yet. I’m curious as to where it will go and what conclusions will be drawn.

One thing that has struck me, though, is the somewhat uneven writing. At times Conroy’s prose shines, leaves me in awe. From the last paragraph of Chapter 9:

Here in the night [Ben] thought that somehow the secret of this marsh-haunted land resided in the quivering flesh of oysters, the rich-flavored meat of crabs, the limp of the flower boy, and the eggs of the great turtles that navigated toward their birthing sands through waters bright with the moon.

But other times Conroy does a little too much “tell” and not nearly enough “show”. There are even times when the perspective changes so abruptly that entire blocks of prose are cast in confusion, and I’m not sure that effect was intentional.

In Chapter 10, our third-person limited narrator brings us the basketball match between Bull and his son Ben through general descriptions of the action and glimpses into Ben’s thoughts. The entire chapter could be said to come from Ben’s perspective…save for an odd paragraph:

…Ben thought that he had a great equalizer working for him, called youth.

Ben was five feet ten inches tall and weighed 165 pounds; his father was six feet four inches tall and weighed 220 pounds. But Ben had been correct when he observed that Bull had thickened over the last years. He had become heavy in the thighs, stomach, and buttocks. The fast places had eroded. Rolls of fat encircled him and he wore the sweat suit to keep his new ballast unexposed. He was planning to lose weight anyway. There was nothing Bull Meecham hated worse than a fat Marine.

It took a long time for Bull to warm up and it gave Ben the chance to study his moves.

This sudden intrusion and just as sudden withdrawal of Bull’s perspective is extremely jarring. This isn’t the first time we see Bull’s thoughts, but it is the most awkward so far. If the text had continued in Bull’s perspective it would have been fine, but instead it snaps right back to Ben’s.

I considered whether or not that paragraph was Ben’s impression of his father’s thoughts, but it doesn’t really read that way–especially not the line “he was planning to lose weight anyway”.

Chapter 9 begins with a description of a woman who has come to the Meecham house. We do not see her thoughts. As if watching a movie, we read about how she arrives at dawn and waits. Then we see Bull Meecham run out the back door, and before we know it we’re in his mind.

The woman was sitting on the back steps when Bull Meecham hurried out the back door. He was on his way to the air station for additional briefings on the squadron he would soon command. Before he reached the first step, he stopped and regarded the dark Buddha blocking his passage. If there was a single group in America that Bull had difficulty with over the simplest forms of address, it was southern blacks. He had nothing at all to say to them so he generally retreated into his self-aggrandized mythology.

This paragraph should have stopped with the word “passage”. The last two sentences give us information, but not knowledge. They sound like a description Conroy might use in a character profile to remind himself how Bull should act. As I wrote on Twitter, it seems apologist. “Here’s why Bull’s acting like himself.”

We could understand these points about Bull by observing his actions. We don’t need to have it all spelled out.

And where is this commentary about Bull coming from, anyway? Our narrator sometimes has Ben’s observations, very rarely Bull’s or another character’s, and then sometimes, as now, a seemingly objective insight. The shifts are confusing and break the rhythm of the prose.

Just as we sometimes get too far into a character’s head or receive a bit too much spoon-feeding, sometimes we also don’t get enough description of the action of a scene. In Chapter 10, Bull says hurtful things to his children, but they don’t seem much different from the things he typically says, so when all of a sudden the kids are crying, I’m surprised. I could have used a few more details to ease the transition. Not an explanation of why being teased for being short would upset Matt, but an inkling of his mental state before and during the teasing. Was his face flushed? Did he look earnest when he was begging to be allowed to play basketball? Sometimes you have to read a little too far between the lines, and other times there’s nothing to read because it’s all overexplained.

Conroy shines when he’s presenting action and dialogue. One of the most powerful scenes, Ben’s talk with his mother in Chapter 11, includes very little description at all. There’s repetition of three themes–shoe tying and untying, cigarette lighting and smoking, and Bull’s basketball practice outside–and then there’s revelatory dialogue, evocative in its sarcastic directness. And that’s all that’s needed.

The best scenes with Bull don’t go into his head at all, but simply describe his behavior: Chapters 1 and 6, in which he gets up to no good in his natural habitat, give us far more insight into the man than a discussion of his history, pride, and competitiveness ever could.

The problems seem to crop up during critical scenes involving Bull’s abusive behavior–scenes between Bull and his children. I’m wondering if that’s the reason for it.

It’s known that this book is based on Conroy’s own childhood experiences. This sort of thing has got to be difficult to write about, especially when it’s happened to you. I’ve never been the victim of physical abuse, but I can relate in other ways. There’s a guilt and a shame that are extremely hard to get past.

It’s easier to deal with individual pieces of the puzzle than it is to attack the main problem all at once. That could explain why scenes involving Bull and Ben on their own are fantastic while scenes in which they interact are less so.

Were I Conroy’s editor, I would suggest not writing or appearing to write from Bull’s perspective at all. I’d treat all standard scenes as if I were an objective, non-omniscient observer, including scenes involving Bull. But I’d go into Ben’s head. The book may be called The Great Santini, but it’s about Ben. That was made obvious in Chapter 2. If Ben’s in a scene, I want to see the scene through him–and not through anyone else.

Those are my observations so far. Of course, I’m not done. We’ll have to see how my evaluation changes as I continue reading.

Sweet Lou’s Crab Shack

Today I decided to try a new place for lunch: Sweet Lou’s Crab Shack on Broad Street near 13th.

Sweet Lou's Crab Shack

I noticed the place the other day–there’s a huge blue banner with the restaurant’s name and a neat-looking crab right over the door. Today, upon closer inspection, I see the name “Sweet Lou’s Coffee and Bagel Sandwich Shop” on the windows. I’m not sure I would have been as intrigued by that…so bravo, Lou, on your rebranding!

Close-up of banner

The place is done up like a beach restaurant/coffee shop. You really just have to see it. I would have sat inside to enjoy the decor, but I was the only customer and it’s beautiful outside, so I opted for the sunny Broad Street view.

View of Broad Street from my table

The girl behind the counter has reddish hair and a smile like Christina Applegate’s. She plucked me up a menu off the coffee table in the couch and chair lounge area near the back of the joint. Looking over the selections, I was surprised at the number of items that did not involve crab. I noted that they have breakfast, sandwiches, and entrees, and they’re a little pricey. I settled on a fish sandwich called “Harbor Breeze”, a fruit salad (the sandwiches don’t come with any sides) and a can of Diet Coke.

my meal

I waited about 25 minutes for my food, but it was worth it. The fruit salad consisted of a large, pleasantly smooth green bowl filled with grapes, pineapple, strawberries, and kiwi. “Your fruit salad looks amazing,” the girl said as she placed it in front of me. “I’m jealous.”

fruit salad

The fish, light and crispy on the outside from frying, came on a toasted bagel with lettuce, tomato, and orange (probably American) cheese. It was delicious.

close-up of fish sandwich

The prices are a bit steep, and the location, on a block with a payday lender, a nail salon, a planned parenthood office and an imaging service, is not ideal. But the food is delicious, the ambiance is relaxed and fun, and there are indoor and outdoor seating options. It should do well…as long as enough people discover it!

Kyou Kara Maou OST 2 + D

The second Kyou Kara Maou OST was released on April 23. It includes two discs, with the OST on one and a drama on the other.

I haven’t listened to the drama yet, but I’ve played the hell out of the OST.

This soundtrack is wonderful, but there were some surprising omissions. The music that plays at the amusement park during the “apple tree” flashback is one obvious example. I don’t care so much about having that, but I’m surprised that it was left out. I was really looking forward to having the updated version of track 18, 降臨 (kourin, advent or descent), from the first OST. That’s Yuuri’s Maou-mode music…or at least, it’s the music that often plays when Yuuri enters Maou-mode. Tracks 4 and 5 from OST 2 actually claim to be Maou themes, but I will always associate track 4 with Shinou, as discussed below.

Here’s the rundown:

1. 出陣 (shutsujin, Departure for the Front)

2. 曲宴 (Banquet Music)

3. 畏敬~眞王のテーマ~ (ikei~shinou no teima, Reverence~Shinou’s Theme)

Note: This is not the “shin” that means new or ultimate. This is actually the kanji for a person named Shin.

4. 絶大~新・魔王のテーマ1~ (zetsudai~shin maou no teima 1, Immense~New Maou Theme 1)

Note: This “shin” is the one that means new.

5. 必殺~新・魔王のテーマ2~ (hissatsu~shin maou no teima 2, Certain Kill~New Maou Theme 2)

6. 春暖~新・ギュンターのテーマ~ (shundan~shin gyuntaa no teima, Spring Warmth~Gunter’s New Theme)

7. 探求~アニシナのテーマ~ (tankyou~anishina no teima, Quest~Anissina’s Theme)

8. 清風~ダンヒーリーのテーマ~ (seifuu~danhiirii no teima, Refreshing Breeze~Dunheely’s Theme)

This is my all-time favorite track. That’s kind of odd, since I don’t recall ever hearing it in the anime whatsoever.

9. 慈愛~ジュリアのテーマ1~ (jiai~jyuria no teima, Kindness~Julia’s Theme)
10. 悲哀~ジュリアのテーマ2~ (hiai~jyuria no teima 2, Sadness~Julia’s Theme 2)
11. 宿命~勝利のテーマ~ (shukumei~shouri no teima, Destiny~Shouri’s Theme)
12. ありがとう~(インストゥルメンタル1) (arigatou~insuturumentaru 1, Thank You~Instrumental 1)
13. 危機 (kiki, Crisis)
14. 火蓋 (hibuta, Gun Barrel Cover?)
15. 拮抗 (kikko, Rivalry)
16. 光明 (koumyou, Hope)
17. 進軍 (shingun, March)
18. 決戦 (kessen, Decisive Battle)
19. 約束 (yakusoku, Promise)
20. 想望 (soubou, Yearning)
21. 邂逅 (kaikou, Chance Meeting)
22. サブタイトル (sabutaitoru, Subtitle)
23. アイキャッチ (aikyacchi, Eyecatch)
24. 予告 (yokoku, Next Episode Preview)
25. ありがとう~(インストゥルメンタル2) (arigatou~insuturumentaru 2, Thank You~Instrumental 2)