Latest Torture Device

The doctor is thrilled with the progress on my hand. My hand is NOT thrilled with the new rack. It’s called a “Joint Jack,” and  I’ve had it  long enough to get newsprint on it. Good thing I only have to wear it thirty minutes three times a day.

Finger concurs with the weather forecast: It’s going to be rainy and cold over the next day or so.

What I’m Watching Now (Papa)

It has come to my attention that using the same title for all reading/watching entry makes for difficult searches for particular books and movies. Thanks, Christy! From now on, I’ll put at least a hint of the subject.

Another in the series. Also something I watched during the early days of recovery. The true story of Papa: Hemingway in Cuba shows the lion in winter. The great man’s health and sanity are in decline, and he is suffering from writer’s block when a young reporter arrives, just as the Cuban revolution is gathering steam.

The film shows Hemingway (a spot-on Adrian Sparks) bonding with the young Miami Globe journalist Ed Myers, played with understated and puzzled worshipfulness by Giovanni Ribisi. The father-son relationship hits rocky patches because of Hemingway’s increasing illness, but it adds warmth and humanity to what can be a raw and sometimes violent narrative.

Among the most grueling and exhausting scenes are those between Sparks and Joely Richardson who plays his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway. In all their drunken splendor, they rip each other asunder and then attempt to patch up the wounds.

Ed’s encounter with the local mob boss Sal Trafficante (James Remar) adds a twist and new layer to the convoluted intrigue.

There are “lighter” scenes, including one in which Hemingway tries to best his record of sixteen daiquiris that are lined up on the bar at Floridita in Havana. Ed’s dismay and embarrassment at discovering the Hemingways swimming nude establishes the tone for much of the movie.

The backdrop of the revolution, in which Hemingway played a surprising part, roils through the personal story of Myers, his colleague and sometime girlfriend Debbie Hunter (Minka Kelly), and the Hemingways with their coterie of old friends.

Floridita and the Hemingway estate on the outskirts Havana had seen the ravages of time when I visited in the early 1980s. Their more  pristine incarnation in Papa is refreshing. The only familiar image was the cats, descendants of the family that lived there in Hemingway’s time.

What I’m Reading Now, II


The Spirit Catches You offers a perfect balance of current events, history, sociology, and cultural commentary in telling the story of one little girl. Anne Fadiman leads readers to an understanding of how the Hmong became so resilient (and resistant to change). She illuminates the Hmong pride and tenacity that have allowed them to survive successive catastrophes of occupying armies, forced marches, ending with settlement in an alien land. The narrative grows depressing – I kept expecting Lia to die – but the emotional arc rises each time through the valor of her mother, Foua.

Ms. Fadiman writes passionately about everyone, not just the Lee family but their constellation – translators, extended family, shamans, along with the doctors, nurses, social workers, and the Western community folk in their orbit. The amount of work involved in producing the book is stunning with notes at the end adding context and texture.

Though Spirit doesn’t follow Hmong tradition from the beginning, Ms. Fadiman midway through employs the technique of starting the story before the story – from the beginning of time in Hmong tradition. In places the global view of Spirit feels pasted on, but in context it is crucial to the understanding of Lia and her parents.

In the end The Spirit Catches You is a testament to the power of love and dedication to family – as well as an exposé on the need for American institutions improve cultural understanding.


What I’m Reading Now

This is going to be a two-parter. The therapist beat up my hand today, and typing is problematical.

Another in the series, one that I finished during the early days of recovery from surgery. It came as a total surprise that The Sprit Catches You and You Fall Down is twenty years old. While it chronicles events from the 1980s, much of it feels contemporary.

At its most basic, Anne Fadiman’s massive work profiles Lia Lee, a Hmong refugee child, and her family. When she develops a seizure disorder among other ailments, the family and the medical establishment engage in a years-long struggle: the Anglo doctors prescribe a strict regimen of medications; her parents can’t read the instructions and believe that the prescriptions are harming her. They prefer their rituals, which include sacrifice of chickens, which they learn they can’t do in a city apartment.

To be continued…

Letter From Italy

Letter from Italy, 1944: A soldier’s story told in music  has evolved once more. In April 2013 the Greater Middletown Chorale performed it as an oratorio. Two years later, Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio became a film narrated by Meryl Streep. June 17, 2015.

Now the oratorio has returned, this time brought to vivid life by the combined efforts of the Hartford Chorale and the Greater Middletown Chorale, accompanied by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

Letter tells the story of John Meneely, a young doctor who strapped on skis with the rest of the 10th Mountain Division to slog through miles first in Alaska and then up snowy cliffs in northern Italy during the last days of World War II. His daughters Sarah Meneely-Kyder and Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely captured the pain and passion of his letters home in words and music to create Letter From Italy.

This production elevates the work to a luminosity that leaves the viewer/listener enlightened and engaged. Jack Anthony Pott reprises his role as Dr. Meneely, young and hopeful in the early scenes, then struggling when he returns from war. Sheri Hammerstrom adds emotional depth and a soaring voice to the part of his wife, Delia Marshall Meneely. One feels acutely the initial closeness and later distance between the couple. The daughters, all in beautiful voice, add texture and balance in the right places.

It was an honor to sit among a group of veterans who received free copies of Nan’s poems, which form the basis for the oratorio.

This version also satisfied the one of my major complaints by providing supertitles. Even though the acoustics at the Bushnell are brilliant of course but seeing the words helped immensely. The work could still use a judicious trim. Also it’s still not clear until well into the production that Meneely is a physician, a crucial part of the narrative.

Prediction: Letter From Italy will tour the world.  Everyone who saw it is looking forward to the next phase.

Lilacs for Ma

Every year I picked lilacs from my yard to give to my mother-in-law. Here’s my tribute.

Dear Ma,

One of the joys of spring is watching the lilac in my yard bud out and then blossom. It usually happens right before Mother’s Day. You told me that your mother, the fearsome Bertha McRae, always gave you the blooms from her yard. Bringing those flowers to you each year made me feel closer to you and to her. It was a crucial way that I dealt with the loss of my own mother, who died two weeks before Mother’s Day. I can’t believe it’s been twenty years.

Part of the ritual involved pounding the woody stalks with a rock,  violence on those delicate stems. I can still see my mother doing the same with hers. That let the flowers drink, she explained, as she flailed away.

Our shrub generally blooms a few days before Mother’s Day, though I remember at least one year when I called two weeks early. You said you didn’t care as long as you got to enjoy them. Then there were a couple of years when when they stayed around through cooler weather and you received a double delivery.

One of the treats was carrying the big floppy purple-white blooms into your apartment building. By the time they’d been in the car for a few minutes that light magic scent floated out into the atmosphere. Your building was always overheated, so the trip from the door to the elevator gave all the folks in the lobby a treat. And if anyone joined me in the elevator, they were swooning! It made me feel special, and I hope they made you feel that way, too.

You kept the heat cranked in your apartment so the place was flooded with that magic purple scent. I’m not sure how long they lasted, but I know you thought of your mother, as I did of my mother and of you, during that special time.

Now that you are no longer on this plane, I still love bringing lilacs to you. They’re two weeks early again this year, but it’s supposed to be cold over the next few days so maybe you’ll get a second delivery.

Early Happy Mother’s Day, Ma!