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Posts Tagged ‘television’

He’s dead, she’s dead, they’re dead, so now what?

I’ve experienced some loss and grief, and so have you. This past year Netflix has brought us a couple of high-profile short series that, you might have noticed, have death and its aftermath at the center: the unlikely-friends-comedy-mystery Dead to Me and the Ricky Gervais comedy After Life.

I’ve watched them both – Dead to Me when it came out in the spring, and After Life just Related imagethis past weekend. Neither was entirely satisfying, and I’ll say that Dead to Me was especially disappointing considering the cast and that I was predisposed to dislike After Life anyway.

This won’t be a full-scale review, but more of a (brief) reflection on what interested me in both shows: the particular aspects of grief and loss they evoked.

Dead to Me stars Christina Applegate as Jen, a woman whose husband was killed in a hit-and-run accident while out jogging. At a grief retreat, she’s befriended by Judy, played by the wonderful Linda Cardellini (you may know her from Mad Men). There are all kinds of plot twists and the show lurches between dark comedy and more than one mystery – not only who killed Jen’s husband, but who exactly Judy is and why she’s latched on to Jen. I eventually lost interest in the plot machinations. Less convolution would have served the story well.

But there was a truth at the core of Dead to Me that went beyond female bonding.

What gets everything going is Jen’s obsessive, driving need to know what happened. How did her husband die? Why was in that place at that time? Who did this? What could she have done differently? Was she herself at all responsible?

It’s a natural series of questions for this character, given the very real mystery and crime that caused her husband’s death. Nonetheless, it highlights, rather effectively, similar questions that any less dramatic death tends to raise in the hearts of the living: How did this happen? Whose fault is it? Could we have done anything differently?

And whether the death in question was sudden or expected, accidental, natural or criminal, whether our initial reaction is acceptance, relief or shock, eventually the questions and doubts hit, and depending on the specifics and who we are, we might spend some time wondering about it all and even obsessing about our own mysteries. We run scenarios in our head, we ponder the chain of choices that got the dead to the point at which death found them and wonder if there could have been different choices made that would have cleared a different path.

And – as Jen discovers – sometimes the answers we uncover can make us, at the very least, uncomfortable, or even rock our world. When death irrupts into life, the living suddenly find themselves with access to the dead’s secrets – as we go through our parents’ houses and papers, our spouses’ and friends’ records and letters. Some questions are answered, but more will probably be raised – with no one around to answer them any more. We thought we knew them, we thought we understood, we were confident that past events told one story, but in fact the real story might have been something quite different all along.

The thing is, this is true all the time, even apart from death. How well do we know others? Not very well. We live in a narrative that’s only a sliver of reality. That doesn’t make it unreal, necessarily – although then again, it might be.  Death has the power to force the question – what really happened here? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Did I understand anything at all?

That’s the real, essential question of Dead to Me, and I just wish that it had more of a place in the show than wacky hijinks and mystery for its own sake.

After Life is also dark, also a comedy, none of that unexpected as it comes from the mind and pen of Ricky Gervais. I’m not a huge fan of Gervais, especially in his self-important Professional Atheist guise, although I did like The Office and Extras and very much – very much –  appreciate his firm dismissal of transgender activism and other aspects of Cancel Culture. He’s one of the few consistent public figures out there on this score: Yes, I have the right to express my views, no matter how noxious they’re judged to be – and that means others do as well.

Gervais plays Tony, a man whose wife died of cancer some months before we get rolling. They were together for twenty-five years, and childless. Tony works at a small-town newspaper and spends his days having foul-tempered run-ins with various townspeople and co-workers. Episodes are peppered with Tony watching videos left by his wife when she was in the hospital, as well as videos he made of their life together.

The bottom line of the plot here is: Tony has lost his world, and doesn’t see a reason to Image result for after life gervaiskeep existing. Suicide is continually on his mind, even when he chooses against it – that choice gives him, as he puts it, a “superpower” – to keep on living life exactly as he pleases, saying and doing what he wants, knowing that at any point he can just end it.

After a few episodes of this jerk behavior, we have a shift – a decision Tony makes results in a tragedy (although he never really takes ownership of it), which results in him rethinking things – along with a few other encounters, he comes to understand that, yes, he has a “superpower”  – to impact the lives of others for good.

So…(again, spoiler alert) – the last episode gives us the equivalent of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie or It’s a Wonderful Life as Tony opens up to life again, finally realizes that he’s not the only person in the world who’s suffering and sprinkles the fairy dust of good deeds over his surroundings. It’s almost shockingly sentimental.

There’s truth about grief and loss in After Life. Dead to Me brings out the questions a death can prompt. After Life centers on the wrenching world-shifting of loss, the question of what is the world now if my world as I knew and loved it is gone? As well as the possible answer of – it’s whatever and it doesn’t matter and so what.

Probably the truest statement in After Life is Tony’s account of his feelings – he’s an atheist remember – that  “I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her.” As I’ve written before, one of the flashes of empathy I experienced in the aftermath of my husband’s death was just that kind of feeling – being drawn to where ever the deceased was. I wasn’t tempted myself – honestly, I wasn’t – but I understood, in a way that I never had before, how someone, completely lost and thrown out of their world by this kind of loss, could attempt to follow.

The other very true big thing in After Life is the role of others in pulling us out of a loss-centered existence back into life. For Tony, it’s his dog – every time he’s seriously tempted to kill himself, the presence and needs of the dog pulls him back.

The dog plays another interesting role that I’ve not seen commented on – perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Tony is a person with some warmth, but he’s also got (not surprisingly) that Gervais cruel humor thing going on, even with those he loves. Besides the videos left by his wife, Tony watches old videos that he’d made of moments with her – and up to a point, most of these moments involve him surprising her in a borderline cruel way – dumping water on her, and so on. But then, as events start to turn and some light begins to dawn to break through Tony’s nihilism, the clip he watches has a different tone – it’s the moment when he awakens his wife, not with a loud noise or water, but with this brand new puppy, a ribbon tied around its neck. A sign of the goodness of which he’s capable – a reminder.

Back to the bigger truth – it’s what I found over and over again. In the face of loss, I had to ask a question, and the question centered around my kids. How do I want them to live? They lost their dad at a young age. Devasting. Life-changing. Potentially disastrous. How do I want them to live with that? If I choose to live my life defined by loss and who’s not there any more, that’s one thing – bad enough – but to raise kids to be centered on the hole, the shadow, the absence – instead of on the joy that life promises – well, that’s just cruel and even a little sick, isn’t it?

And what follows from that?

If I want this for my kids – why not want it for myself as well?  If it’s good enough for them – to move on and embrace reality, which includes joy as well as pain – it’s good enough for me, too. Live the way you hope those you love will live.

So there’s the truth bombs of After Life: Death rips your world apart, and healing happens when you recognize that you’re not the center of the world.

Life goes on is one way to say it – but in a bigger, more generous sense: Life goes on, and life is full of hurting people – and despite your pain and loss – or maybe even because of it – you can do something to help.

That’s the superpower of loss, when we are honest about it and ourselves – empathy.

There are a few more things to like about After Life and some that turned me off.

  • The vulgarity is that off-the-charts British mode which makes frequent use of a word that starts with c that even I can’t stand to hear. Hate. It.
  • Gervais is, of course, an argumentative, proud atheist, and gives his characters a couple of opportunities to show off against weak theist strawmen. These are boring. The show is Gervais’ and comes from his worldview, fine. But what makes it less interesting in the end, is the underlying assumption that the theist’s answer to loss and grief is of course simplistic and easy and less “realistic” than the atheist’s. Because no believers ever grapple with mystery and shadow and questions,
  • What’s ironic about this is that the conclusion of After Life is certainly heartwarming, but also…simplistic.
  • I’m not big on demanding things of a piece of art – saying, for example, that a character shouldn’t have done something or said something. But I’m going to go ahead an violate that rule here. Gervais’ character is, indeed a selfish, self-centered jerk, but I still found his reaction to his wife’s death wanting – even in that context. He doesn’t, for example, articulate any resentment or questions about her suffering. I mean – she had cancer. So I guess she suffered? And she certainly suffered in the mental and emotional challenge of confronting death. Most people would bring this into their expressions of loss, atheists and theists both.
  • Nor do we have any sense at all of who she – Lisa – was as a person. The “loss” is all about Tony – about his life and his loss and the hole in his world. Yes, it fits in a way, and simplifies the dramatic trajectory, but it’s almost too simplistic. A big part of recovery in loss, I discovered, is being able to live with the dead in a healthy way – not as ghosts, not as dead and buried, but as a presence whose existence had – and has – meaning. You know you are turning the corner when “thank you that this person existed” begins to outweigh “dammit, this person’s gone” in your thinking.
  • And that’s a thought that’s echoed in a broader context by another character in the series – a woman that Tony encounters in the cemetery. He goes to visit his wife’s grave, she’s there visiting her husband’s of 49 years: I wouldn’t change anything. If I went back and changed one thing I didn’t take, I might lose something that that bad thing eventually took me to. You shouldn’t regret anything or think: “Well, if I went back, I might do this or I might do that”

 

All fine. But in the end After Life falls way short because, ironically, the atheist worldview that critiques Christianity for being all simplistic-pie-in-the-sky-easy-answers offers…easy answers. Why? Because mystery and meaning essentially have no place. Tony learns to live better and move on because he finally listens to the people who are constantly telling him he’s good and funny and “lovely.” And his dog needs him. That’s really….it.

This Baptist blogger puts it very well, I think: 

 Far from portraying grief in grey or gritty terms, the series’ world is permanently sun-lit and serene. Tony lives in a fictional town which is lightly populated, he works a dead-end job but is obviously affluent, giving the whole sequence of events a dream-like, heavenly feel. This is undoubtedly intentional, but one has to question the creative ambition behind this. Are we being consoled that grieving without God and without future hope is hard but ultimately enlightened? Are we really probing the pain of personal loss by using utopia as a backdrop?

The conclusions of the drama are as sunny as the summer bleached pavements on which it unfolds. At the opening of After Life Tony is at war with the world, standing up to opportunist thieves, feeling irked by other people’s eating habits, threatening a school bully with being bludgeoned to death with a hammer, starkly rejecting a date, showing impatience with his elderly father, and knowingly helping someone else to commit suicide. So far, so fearless. But the gradual turn around in Tony’s life is hard to quantify against these earlier behaviours, his empathy for others seeming to be restored through conversations with an elderly widow and a feckless psychotherapist. The resolution to the drama is vacuously redemptive with Tony’s goodness turning around the lives of all who are in his orbit. He resolves to treat others well as a means of grace, reserving his ire only for those who deserve to be handled with contempt.

This is all too easy. It is such a shame that a programme which purports to probe grief, which interrogates God, which heralds humanism, is so lacking in self-awareness and auto-critique. Gervais writes as though Beckett never had, as though existential angst is a thing of the past, as though creation simply awaits its redemption through human good. This is desperately naive, and utterly insufficient to face the true realities of living in the rough stuff of a broken world. Gervais does not want God but he longs for good, he does not want absolutes but he does want altruism, he wants to talk about grief but only as a vehicle for humanistic grace. There are depths to loss which are not plumbed here, there are anxieties and contradictions and cross-pressures which plague our existence as human beings, there are deep wounds which cannot be healed lightly, and After Life does little to address or grapple with any of this.

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— 1 —

Much blogging this past week, one post of which migrated over to Catholic World Report. 

Look for some concentrated Mary Magdalene posting coming up over the next week, considering her feast is a bit more than a week away. Also much more Spain blogging – I’ll be doing more detailed posts on the main sites we saw.

Remember my short store The Absence of War, is available here. I have sharing enabled on it, so you can get a few reads for the price of one, I’m thinking.

Also, please check out Son #2’s new novel, Crystal Embers here. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free) And his blog, focused mostly on film, here. 

Reviewer Steven McEvoy on Crystal Embers:

I would describe this story as a retelling of the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, but from a completely different angel. George has been released from his role in the military after a long and hard-fought civil war. He has been sent home, but home is his men, the battles, and the adventure. He does not know where he fits, and a quiet desperation keeps gripping him. His wife, Virginia, is lost in her own way. Her husband that returned from war is not man she remembers leaving or had built up in her memory. And she is no longer in charge or the lands and has a stranger sharing her bed. George is known as the hero who ended the war. She mourns the loss of her child, and it is a child he never met. They encounter a dragon on their land and both of them become enthralled by it. But everyone expects the hero of the war to kill the dragon. 

 

 

 — 2 —

To break things up, here are a bunch of menus from restaurants in Guadalupe, Spain, taken on a brief pre-dinner walk – so I could return to the hotel room, study and translate before we were actually sitting at a table, panicking under a waiter’s steady gaze.

 

 

 

 

— 3 —

A few interesting links:

Yet another article on how modern educational methods have screwed everything up:

Many teachers have told me that they’d like to spend more time on social studies and science, because their students clearly enjoy learning actual content. But they’ve been informed that teaching skills is the way to boost reading comprehension. Education policy makers and reformers have generally not questioned this approach and in fact, by elevating the importance of reading scores, have intensified it. Parents, like teachers, may object to the emphasis on “test prep,” but they haven’t focused on the more fundamental problem. If students lack the knowledge and vocabulary to understand the passages on reading tests, they won’t have an opportunity to demonstrate their skill in making inferences or finding the main idea. And if they arrive at high school without having been exposed to history or science, as is the case for many students from low-income families, they won’t be able to read and understand high-school-level materials.

The Common Core literacy standards, which since 2010 have influenced classroom practice in most states, have in many ways made a bad situation worse. In an effort to expand children’s knowledge, the standards call for elementary-school teachers to expose all students to more complex writing and more nonfiction. This may seem like a step in the right direction, but nonfiction generally assumes even more background knowledge and vocabulary than fiction does. When nonfiction is combined with the skills-focused approach—as it has been in the majority of classrooms—the results can be disastrous. Teachers may put impenetrable text in front of kids and just let them struggle. Or, perhaps, draw clowns.

 

-4–

Speaking of reading, here’s a list of anticipated (by some) books for the rest of the year. Yes, I’m looking forward to Richard Russo’s new book – and a few others on the list. 

 

 

–5 —

 

Maybe you’ll find something to share here – from the “Secular Pro-Life” Facebook page – “Describe being Pro-Life, using a movie (or TV) quote.” 

And if you want to go darker, you can check out the Dank Pro-Life Memes pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I mean – you don’t have to …but if you want to…

 

— 6 —

Who is Sister Deirdre Byrne, mentioned by President Trump in his recent speech?

 

 

— 7 —

More:

Wearing a black veil and full-length white habit, Byrne enters an office at the Catholic Charities Medical Clinic in D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood with apologies for running late. A minor but emergent surgery had presented a few hours earlier. She performed the surgery in a small but well-equipped room down the hall; for more complex surgeries, she works out of a number of affiliated hospitals.

The modest clinic, a convent until it was renovated in the 1980s, resembles any private practice suite. A tour of the first floor reveals a closet-sized but wellstocked pharmacy, a lab, an ultrasound, three exam rooms, and a patient counseling room. Upstairs, there’s a wellappointed dental clinic and a light-filled chapel. There are two full-time doctors in addition to Byrne, several nurse practitioners, and rotating medical students, including some from Georgetown.

It’s clear that Byrne knows everyone in the building and everyone knows her. She’s a bit of a wisecracker, genially answering questions from colleagues and patients, quick with a touch and a greeting. The work of a surgeon and former medical director includes holding doors open for patients, helping to carry a baby stroller down stairs, and directing UPS deliveries.

It’s an informal atmosphere, seemingly lacking in hierarchy. “They all call me Sister Dede,” she says.

Byrne estimates that most of the clinic’s patients live well below the federal poverty line (about $24,000 for a family of four and about $12,000 for an individual). About half are undocumented. Few patients have insurance, but many pay what they can. “It helps with their dignity,” Byrne says.

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, hello there. It’s been busy, hasn’t it? Click back for posts on various other subjects, including my tour of some different kind of Triduum moments here in Birmingham.  I’m Thursdayjust going to digest today. Maybe more later, but probably not.

Watching: We’ll get the negatives out of the way first. Against my better judgment and probably in violation of some moral code, I watched Veep again this week, and man, it just gets worse and worse. I don’t mean in terms of language and such – it’s always “bad” in that respect, but rather in terms of plotting and character and just the whole “humor” department, which is a problem when you’re a “comedy.” This was a total, uncomfortable mess, even more forced than usual. Bah.

Then, also against my better judgment, I finished off season 1 and the first three episodes of season 2 of Killing Eve, the trendy Show of the Moment. Why did I pick it up again after being not impressed the first time around? Well, probably because I didn’t have a book to grab me and after six days of Being With People I needed down time with fake people whose lives did not involve piano or organ lessons, thinking about exams, graduations or me preparing meals.

Verdict? No change. Well – maybe a change, since I like it even less than I did after the first viewing chunk. I continue to like all of the actors very much, but the whole thing strikes me as a shallow exercise in (feeble) wit and style. In that way, it reminds me of House of Cards which I stopped watching after season 2 because in all of the conniving, there was never anything of moral consequence at stake.  How odd that this show – which revolves around the quest to find a professional assassin, for heaven’s sake Image result for killing eve– leaves me with the same feeling. In this case, it’s not that no one is trying to stop the evil (as was the case with House of Cards – everyone was a bad guy), it’s that the reasons they’re in pursuit of this killer are so ambiguous and weird, it becomes all just no more than a psycho-sexual game. Which perhaps is the point, and not something I have an inherent objection to. No, my problem is that the motives of the primary pursuer – Eve, played by Sandra Oh – have been, since the beginning, opaque. We know little about her past, why she’s in this line of work, what’s motivated her in the past, or even what her expertise is. Here she is, for some reason, fixated on this killer. I would imagine that the conceit of a cat-and-mouse game between killer and the law could be legitimately framed in a way to bring out themes of mutual obsession and a twisted sense of desire that in some way echoes a romantic pursuit, but my problem with Eve is that whatever is there seems to come from nowhere and is, as I said, all style and no substance.

If there’s nothing human at stake, it’s hard for humans to be truly interested, and not just entertained. 

Listening:

Finally got back into In Our Time after a winter’s hiatus. Yesterday was this episode on the Great Famine with lots of interesting and balanced discussion on how to deal with humanitarian crises and the complex causes of same.

Musically, a bunch of pieces tossed out by M’s piano teacher to consider for a next piece to work on, including this, this and this. He’s settled on this Prokofiev, which is pretty crazy, but I say that at the beginning of every new piece: No way he can play that. And somehow, every time, thanks to talent, (some) hard work and an excellent teacher,  he does.

Should I write a heartfelt Instagram microblog with a photo of him at the piano to inspire you to believe in yourself, overcome challenges and achieve your goals?

Nah. 

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, this organist. We listened to several of his performances, including this 1812 Overture, this very fun Pirates of the Caribbean and this duet with a pianist of Shostakovich’s Waltz #2, which we play on the piano together.

This evening, I listened to some John Fields Piano Sonatas, which I liked very much, and then a couple of Schubert lieder, including this – why? (Since I usually don’t listen to vocal music while I’m reading – can’t concentrate) – because it was part of the book I was reading, and I wanted to fill out the atmosphere. And the book?

Reading: Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather

The only other Cather books I’ve read are the obligatory-for-Catholic-literary-types Death Comes for the Archbishop a few times and then, a couple of years ago, The Professor’s House. You can read my post about it here. Re-reading it, I can see some of the same concerns in Lucy. It’s interesting.

So first, my denseness. I saw references to this as a “novella” and so knew it wouldn’t be very long. I read it on my Kindle , but not on an actual Kindle app – from this website, with continual scrolling. No pages, and no progress bar. So I’d been reading for a while, a lot had happened, and I got to the end of the current webpage. No more scrolling. Okay. It seemed like an abrupt ending, but perhaps that was the point? I shrugged. That was interesting,  I thought.

I then turned to an article I’d skimmed earlier – this one about Joanne Woodward (sorry, NYTimes, so yes, paywall..sometimes. I find that reading things on different devices can sometimes work around those limitations), who adored this book and always hoped to make a film about it. I got to the end of the article, which described the last sentence of the novel, and I thought, Wait, what? That wasn’t the end *I* read! 

So I returned to the book and sure enough, down there on the bottom was a “next” button. The book has three “books”  – and I’d only read the first!

But by that time, I was tired, so there we have this evening’s read. Which is good, because I wasn’t ready to leave that world quite yet.

Lucy Gayheart is a young woman from a small Nebraska town who is a music student, teacher and accompanist in Chicago. The book opens with Lucy on break back home and then we quickly hop on the train with her an travel back to Chicago. I’ll write a full post on it when I finish, but for now, I’ll mention a few things:

Yes, Willa Cather was a woman, a female writer, but even so, reading a book like this is a useful corrective to the narrow-mindedness of the present, a constrained and ignorant vision of the past in which we imagine a world peopled with gender stereotypes all happily lived and perpetuated by stock male and female characters, waiting for Betty and Gloria to liberate them.

No. Lucy is a person  – fully drawn, person who has an independent life there in the early 20th century, living on her own in the big city, earning her keep – and it’s fine. Yes, there is a sense, hovering here and there, that after this little adventure, she’ll end up back home, domesticated, giving lessons to children in the front parlor – but that’s of a piece, really, with the life trajectories of all the characters, male and female. I don’t know how the book ends yet (I keep reading “sad” in reviews, so….) but I’m going to guess that many of the characters are going to be bumping up against disappointment and constraints – not just the women.

Secondly, a few passages that were striking and beautiful. This one took my breath away, as Cather describes an experience in which Lucy catches a hint of the transcendent on one cold, crisp night:

Lucy felt drowsy and dreamy, glad to be warm. The sleigh was such a tiny moving spot on that still white country settling into shadow and silence. Suddenly Lucy started and struggled under the tight blankets. In the darkening sky she had seen the first star come out; it brought her heart into her throat. That point of silver light spoke to her like a signal, released another kind of life and feeling which did not belong here. It overpowered her. With a mere thought she had reached that star and it had answered, recognition had flashed between. Something knew, then, in the unknowing waste: something had always known, forever! That joy of saluting what is far above one was an eternal thing, not merely something that had happened to her ignorance and her foolish heart.

The flash of understanding lasted but a moment. Then everything was confused again. Lucy shut her eyes and leaned on Harry’s shoulder to escape from what she had gone so far to snatch. It was too bright and too sharp. It hurt, and made one feel small and lost.

On the train, on the way to Chicago:

Lucy undressed quickly, got into her berth, and turned off the lights. At last she was alone, lying still in the dark, and could give herself up to the vibration of the train, — a rhythm that had to do with escape, change, chance, with life hurrying forward. That sense of release and surrender went all over her body; she seemed to lie in it as in a warm bath. Tomorrow night at this time she would be coming home from Clement Sebastian’s recital. In a few hours one could cover that incalculable distance; from the winter country and homely neighbours, to the city where the air trembled like a tuning-fork with unimaginable possibilities.

Finally, this – a passage in which, to use the current lingo, I felt seen. I mean – that feeling of having one’s own life, of being able to set things right without being bothered. That’s everyone’s notion of paradise, right? Right? 

The next morning Lucy was in Chicago, in her own room, unpacking and putting her things to rights. She lived in a somewhat unusual manner; had a room two flights up over a bakery, in one of the grimy streets off the river.

When she first came to Chicago she had stayed at a students’ boarding-house, but she didn’t like the pervasive informality of the place, nor the Southern gentlewoman of fallen fortunes who conducted it. She told her teacher, Professor Auerbach, that she would never get on unless she could live alone with her piano, where there would be no gay voices in the hall or friendly taps at her door. Auerbach took her out to his house, and they consulted with his wife. Mrs. Auerbach knew exactly what to do. She and Lucy went to see Mrs. Schneff and her bakery.

The Schneff bakery was an old German landmark in that part of the city. On the ground floor was the bake shop, and a homely restaurant specializing in German dishes, conducted by Mrs. Schneff. On the top floor was a glove factory. The three floors between, the Schneffs rented to people who did not want to take long leases; travelling salesmen, clerks, railroad men who must be near the station. The food in the bakery downstairs was good enough, and there were no table companions or table jokes. Everyone had his own little table, attended to his own business, and read his paper. Lucy had taken a room here at once, and for the first time in her life she could come and go like a boy; no one fussing about, no one hovering over her. There were inconveniences, to be sure. The lodgers came and went by an open stairway which led up from the street beside the front door of the restaurant; the winter winds blew up through the halls — burglars might come, too, but so far they never had. There was no parlour in which Lucy could receive callers. When she went anywhere with one of Auerbach’s students, the young man waited for her on the stairway, or met her in the restaurant below.

This morning Lucy was glad as never before to be back with her own things and her own will. After she had unpacked, she arranged and rearranged; nothing was too much trouble. The moment she had shut the door upon the baggage man, she seemed to find herself again. Out there in Haverford she had scarcely been herself at all; she had been trying to feel and behave like someone she no longer was; as children go on playing the old games to please their elders, after they have ceased to be children at heart.

Oh, yes, the Melville – The Confidence-Man.  I read two or three chapters and then put it down. I read a few articles about the book and decided that was good enough. I could see that if my interests were slightly different, it would be worth my time, but as such – it’s not right now. 

 

Writing: Not very productive, other than blog posts. Unfortunately. Well, writing-related – it’s my Black Friday season, the time in which my author sales ranking reaches its peak for the year – between Easter and Mother’s Day, essentially. 

 

I did start collating book-related posts on this page. 

Also writing: Movie and fiction-writing son. Lots of posts here, including thoughts on silent comedies, as well as the French film Jean de Florette. 

Today’s the feast of St. Mark. We’re obviously still within the Easter Octave, so we don’t commemorate in liturgically, but here’s the page on the symbols for the four evangelists from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols anyway:

EPSON MFP image

 

Cooking! 

No big Easter dinner here. I didn’t cook – we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. Yup! No shame.

img_20190421_113842-1But I did contribute to the cause by spending a lot of time making a pound cake on Saturday, for post-Vigil celebration. It was a great pound cake – I followed the recipe exactly and it worked well. 

Also did some Chicken Tinga from this recipe – I think last Thursday. 

Monday night: Flank steak using this rub (and steak just a bit more expensive, from Fresh Market rather than the regular grocery story. So much more flavor) and these potatoes, which are a favorite around here. 

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Clickbait. Sorry.

No, not me – this Amy:

Image result for veep the pledge abortion

Probably hardly any of you watch the HBO program Veep , but this plot point from this week’s episode has been nagging at me, so before I share thoughts on the Notre Dame fire, I’ll dash this one off.

Veep is the often funny  – although less so in the last two seasons – show featuring Julia Luis-Dreyfus as  power-desperate politician Selina Meyer and her mostly idiotic and equally craven entourage and sycophants. It’s very profane, and yes – everyone is terrible. 

It’s a show abouterrible, awful, despicable people exploiting us so they can run the country.

And it never pretends that they’re anything but that. I don’t think we’re even supposed to be conflicted about hating these people, as sometimes happens with television and film. They’re hilarious in their awfulness, but they’re still awful. I held back watching it for a while because I assumed it would be nothing but liberal/progressive entertainment types taking easy shots at Deplorables, but – I imagine because of its British roots and original showrunner – it hasn’t played that way at all.

However, I did think the show took a fairly precipitous dive in quality after the fourth season, when the original showrunner and creator of the British series (The Thick of It)  on which it was based  – Armando Iannucci –  departed. The insults and repartee got far more forced and it became almost unwatchable at times.

But here I was, along for the ride for this, the seventh and final season. Let’s check it out. Eh. Okay, with some welcome sharp satire of a Kamala Harris-type candidate and wealthy liberal donors calling the shots and making candidates dance (literally). That was good to see. But…

I’ll just cut to the chase.

In this week’s episode, one of the main characters – Amy Brookheimer, who has functioned in various capacities in Selina Meyer’s administrations and campaigns, has an abortion, and yes, it is played for satire and laughs.

She’s pregnant because of a one-night stand with a former lover and completely despicable human being Dan Egan, who’s also slept with Amy’s sister (and countless others). She waffled a bit about having the baby, but then, at the end of episode 2, she announced that she’d be having an abortion.

This week’s episode had, of course, several plot lines weaving in and out. This one was played as many abortion-related storylines are – that is, centered on suspense whether or not she’ll actually go through with it. I felt, in a way, that the way this one worked was a reflection of  and maybe even commentary on a similar plotline in Sex in the City in which one character sets out determined to have an abortion, the episode leads us to think she did – and we find out at the very end that she changed her mind and would be having the baby.

But not here. We have Amy entering the abortion clinic – clashing with (of course) caricatures of pro-life protesters in deeply profane ways, claiming yes, she’d even prayed about this, then she’s in the room with Dan who makes crass jokes about the vacuum aspiration machine on display (here’s a piece that lays out the dialogue, if you can stand it) – and then the other storylines take over and, of course, someone like me is sitting there hoping that she’d have changed her mind, but then – well, here’s our last scene of Amy in a hotel room, recovering, Dan with her, the two of them still making snappy jokes, naturally.

Yes, disappointing (I know…fiction) …and here are my takeaways.

  • What’s disappointing to me is not so much that this character had an abortion – she’s a fictional character, after all, and given who she is and who’s she’s been, an abortion fits, unfortunately.

No, what disappoints me – although not, I hasten to say, surprises me – are the explanations and justifications offered by those involved with the show. Not that they would treat abortion in this darkly “humorous” matter – I should remind you that in a previous episode, mass shootings were treated in a similar way – as welcome distractions from problems on the campaign trail and thoughts and prayers nothing but words. But  – no, it’s disappointing that, in their words, I pick up the typical attitude to abortion and “women’s choice” and so on – disappointing from human beings who have borne and raised children (actress Anna Chlumsky, who plays Amy, was actually pregnant during the shooting of a previous season). What am I saying? Is abortion exempt from dark, satirical humor? I don’t think so. Maybe. But it’s so very dark and so very horrible – you know, killing kids – that…maybe? For sure, be aware of the darkness as you go. And just maybe, despite their ideological rhetoric – they are?

  • For the fact, however, that those involved with the show discuss the matter the way they do indicate that deep within, they do understand that there is something at stake. In other words – removing an appendix or fixing a pinched nerve or knee replacement surgery aren’t subjects for dark, edgy humor – why? Because there’s not much at stake. It’s not just about social taboos. It’s dark and edgy because people know, whether they admit it or frame it so or not, what’s happening in an abortion – and that a human fetus is different than an appendix. Having an abortion impacts life – Life  – in a way that other “medical procedures” don’t. It wouldn’t be a subject for drama, “dark humor” or controversy if it weren’t. What does that tell us? Anything?

Finally, and despite the right-to-choose triumphalism of Veep personnel, considering the broader context of the abortion in the show’s plotlines and character development, I can’t help but wonder what the final impact on viewers will be. For consider this:

In that final scene, Amy gets a call from a character played by Patton Oswald, one involved in the presidential campaign of Jonah Ryan – it’s an offer to be Jonah’s campaign manager, which she accepts with ecstatic glee.

Image result for jonah ryan

But, let’s remember: Jonah Ryan is, like almost everyone else on Veep, terrible. Terrible and fairly stupid. Amy knows Jonah well and has spent years hating him. HatingBut now she’s leaping at the chance of managing the presidential campaign of a person who, if put in power, would be even more of a disaster for the country than almost any other candidate – and she knows it. But so what? She can put “campaign manager” on her resume. Because, as she chortles my schedule has been scraped clean! 

Having an abortion so you can personally profit from helping someone you know to be terrible gain even more power?

Why yes, I can’t disagree…that’s….

Dark. 

 

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— 1 —

In case you only visit here on Fridays, or this is your first time, do click back through the past few days. I’ve been posting almost every day (well…except yesterday…)

IMG_20190105_111123We are at the tail end of a marathon of piano lessons. Over the past eight days, he’ll have had his two regularly scheduled jazz lessons and four regular piano lessons. The reason is that his regular teacher is in grad school now, out of state, and has been back home for the break – so we’re trying to get as much in-person lesson time in as we can before we have to return to the adequate, but not optimal video lessons.

Phew. And at some point we need to get back to the pipe organ – hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

Other than that we are all about basketball, bagging groceries, one of us prepping to go to DC for the March for Life and two last semesters commencing: one last semester of high school, and one last semester of eighth grade – possibly, probably and hopefully the last semester of traditional school in these parts, period.

Please, God.

— 2 —

Last week, I noted the flood of new works entering the public domain in 2019. Well, here’s a list of a few medieval-related books in the group. Maybe you’ll find something interesting? 

—3–

Also medieval-related, and from the same site: A Medieval Man’s New Year’s Resolutions:

In the diary of Gregorio Dati, an Italian merchant born in the fourteenth century, we can see resolutions tied to this urge to face a new year as a better man in an entry dated January 1, 1404.

While modern people’s resolutions – at least those we voice aloud – tend to target our shortcomings around food and exercise, Dati’s resolutions aim at how he wishes to be a better Christian. He writes, “since my birth forty years ago, I have given little heed to God’s commandments,” and his three resolutions are aimed at rectifying this. First, Dati says,

I resolve from this day forward to refrain from going to the shop or conducting business on solemn Church holidays, or from permitting others to work for me or seek temporal gain on such days.

Next,

I resolve from this very day and in perpetuity to keep Friday as a day of total chastity – with Friday I include the following night – when I must abstain from the enjoyment of all carnal pleasures.

And finally,

I resolve this day to do a third thing while I am in health and able to, remembering that each day we need Almighty God to provide for us. Each day I wish to honour God by some giving of alms or by the recitation of prayers or some other pious act.

These are all things that Dati knows should already be a regular part of his life, but that he hasn’t had much success with. His everyday struggle to do what he should is a familiar one in a world in which we continue to make and break our own New Year’s resolutions.

 

–4–

Peter Hitchens has an excellent, balanced look at Francisco Franco in the pages of First Things. 

This was a promise he fulfilled: Death alone could remove him. A man who had been the contemporary of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt held doggedly on to power into the age of Gerald R. Ford and Leonid Brezhnev. When he went, everything he stood for turned to dust, like a mummy exposed to fresh air after thousands of years sealed beneath a pyramid. The Spanish Christian civilization that Solzhenitsyn admired had been preserved but not saved. It crumbled into a heap of dust and spiders’ webs immediately after the caudillo made his final journey from his stuffy palace to his gigantic, hubristic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. If Franco had been the preserver of Christian Spain, it is interesting to go there now and see how completely it has disappeared. Every element of the 1960s, from sexual liberation to ­marijuana, swept across Spain and, above all, Madrid, not long after ­Franco’s last breath. If he had truly been the preserver of faith and restraint, would they not have survived him in better condition?

What should Christians do about politics? How do we defend what we love without making false alliances with cynical powers? Civil wars are generally disastrous for law, legitimacy, and religion. Elaborate formulas must be devised to forget or bury the recent past. In England, the restored King Charles II passed the marvelously named Act of Indemnity and Oblivion in 1660, in which the whole lawless period of Oliver Cromwell’s republic was legally forgotten. The U.S. must often wish it could come up with a similar formula to spread soft oblivion over the unending resentments of the defeated Confederacy. In Spain, they turned to the monarchy.

But that restoration, Christian in form if not in outcome, only underlined the origins of Franco’s “monarchy without royalty.” The caudillo had been careful to keep Spanish monarchists at a distance, or under his thumb. His rule was not Christian or lawful and could not possibly draw its authority from God, however much Franco might have liked it to. Its origins lay in violent rebellion against the legitimate government, always hard to square with scriptural views of authority. Franco’s state rested on a foundation of bayonets. The caudillo himself may have been inseparable from the relic of the incorruptible hand of Santa Teresa de Jesús, which accompanied him everywhere. But his government, in his own words to his tame parliament in 1961, was built on what he called “an armed plebiscite.” He explained that “a nation on a war footing is a final referendum, a vote that cannot be bought, a membership that is sealed with the offering of one’s life. So I believe that never in the history of Spain was a state more legitimate, more popular and most representative than that we began to forge almost a quarter of a century ago.” Surely, this strange formula, in which the shedding of blood is deemed superior to the casting of a peaceful ballot, shows how much Franco the Catholic was troubled by his lack of real legitimacy, and the impossibility of his obtaining it as long as he ruled.

–5 —

Yes, I am going to write about St. Denis. I just need a bit of mental space. It’s a topic that will quickly spin in all kinds of directions, and I want to keep it simple.

Well, here’s a link to some scholarly writing on a different topic: “What the People Want: Popular Support for Catholic Reform in the Veneto”

The abstract:

Through examination of the unusually rich sources produced by a late seventeenth-century bishop of Padua, the author argues that investigating voluntary devotional practices can demonstrate the spiritual priorities of early-modern laypeople. Seventeenth-century rural Paduan parishes experienced both an increase in interest in various devotions and a shift in their focus that reflect the priorities of Catholic
Reform. Parishioners eagerly participated in the catechism schools promoted by the Council of Trent (1545–63) and enthusiastically adopted
saints promoted by the post-Tridentine Church, demonstrated by their
pious bequests, dedication of altars, and membership in confraternities.
At the same time, traditional devotions also flourished. Although gauging lay interest in reforms in general is difficult and contentious, the author demonstrates that at least when it came to their voluntary practices, rural Paduans were engaged in Catholic Reform and supported a vibrant Catholic culture.

Obscure? Perhaps. Irrelevant? Not at all.

If you are even a bit of a regular reader, you know that I frequently nag you to read some history when you can. It’s an invaluable tonic for despair in the present situation, and it helps inoculate us against unrealistic senses of the past.

So you know how we’re always hearing about “reform” and how important it is, as a church to be open to reform and change? Well, duh. The church’s history is one of reform and response to changing conditions, so in order to understanding how to properly engage in a reform in the present day in a way that’s faithful and effective – it helps to look at the past. This look at a rather narrow slice of history – how reports of episcopal visitations reflect Paduan’s acceptance of post-Tridentine reforms – tells us a great deal about that. I admit that I skimmed through most of the quantitative data, but it’s aptly summarized in the text.

This activity and enthusiasm for participating in parish life is seen
across rural Padua, and both the prevalence and specifics of lay participation demonstrate the areas within the parochial sphere that captured the
hearts of rural laypeople. Rural laity evinced enthusiasm for devotions to
the Holy Sacrament, the rosary, and a variety of other devotions connected
to reform—particularly those of a Marian or Christocentric nature. They
were also eager to support the spread of catechism and the Catholic education of village children. At the same time, they maintained their interest
in time-honored traditions, continuing to support local devotions and their
parish church itself. Lay spirituality in rural parishes, the same kind of
places often bemoaned by reformers as “our Indies,” was vibrant, active,
and orthodox rather than repressed, lackluster, or tinged with heterodoxy.
Some of this was simply continuity from the pre-Reformation era, but as
the comparison between Ormaneto’s and Barbarigo’s records demonstrates, the seventeenth century saw not only a shift in devotions but also a
general flourishing of both reformed and traditional spiritual practices.

So maybe reform can happen?

Oh, and maybe it was possible for the laity to have an informed, vibrant faith before the Second Vatican Council? Perhaps?

–6–

I was very gratified to read Emily Nussbaum’s dissenting view on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel I’m right there with her. 

So I tried to open my heart to Season 2. People grow, people change—even critics, even shows. But the season begins with a tooth-rottingly twee trip to Paris, followed by a cloying trip to the Catskills, a setting far better served by “Dirty Dancing.” It veers from one inconsistent family plot to another, with a baffling focus on Joel, who screws around but finds no one who lives up to his ex. (Despite its feminist theme, “Mrs. Maisel” has more one-line bimbos than “Entourage.”) There’s loads of ethnic shtick, from chain-smoking Frenchies to an Italian family singing “Funiculì, Funiculà.” Things perk up whenever the focus shifts to the salty, bruised Susie, a scrapper from the Rockaways—but even her plots are marred by dese-and-dose mobsters.

 

–7–

All right. As I noted the other day, I’ve put up Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the amy-welbornEucharist on Kindle. 

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

And don’t forget my story!

Oh, and look for me in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to find it here. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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No cute name. That part’s already bored me.

But here we are – Wednesday:

 

Reading:  I finished I Was Dancing last night – and no, I wouldn’t recommend it. Reminder: The author is Edwin O’Connor, author of two highly acclaimed mid-century novels: The Last Hurrah, about an Irish-American politician (made into a film starring Spencer Tracy) and The Edge of Sadness, which won the Pulitzer in 1962, and which was amy_welbornrepublished by Loyola Press a few years back as part of the Loyola Classics series, which I edited. Ron Hansen wrote the introduction for that edition.

I Was Dancing tells the story of one more older man facing choices and acceptance of change and decline. This one is much shorter than the other two, and when I finished it, I thought, well – that book was essentially four or five conversations. Maybe more, but that’s it. The plot is focused: an elderly former vaudeville dancer/comic, on the road for decades, returns to his now-married son’s home to retire. We meet him on the day his son’s ultimatum comes to bear: after a year, today’s the day you have to move on and out to the local retirement home.

And so the conversations – mostly between Daniel (the father) and three of his friends, whom he gathers during the course of the day for support and, more importantly, as his audience. The four – Daniel, his shyster fake-physician, a man abandoned by his wife for another entertainer, and a priest – engage with each other mostly, it seems, for the purpose of applauding each other’s rationalizations of failure – the exception being the priest who is a barely tolerant cynic.

“Well it takes all kinds,” Father Feeley said. “Humanity in its infinite variety. Most of it highly overrated. And most of it capable of anything. A boundless capacity for lunacy, deceit. It all matters very little. In the long run.”

The final section of the book is, of course, a conversation – a terrifically long one in which Daniel and his son Tom hash out all their mutual resentments and anger. I…skimmed it, hoping for some subtlety or layers, but they were not to be found.

So – maybe ninety minutes of my life? Not a waste – there were some amusing exchanges and I liked the priest character. I also learned a bit about what doesn’t work in storytelling – always good to learn more about that.

Watching: I discovered that through my free YouTube TV trial (we cut the cord and have been experimenting with various free trials of streaming services – accessibility to football games being the primary concern) I could access a free trial of AMC Premiere – through which all ten episodes of Lodge 49 are now available. The YouTube TV free trial runs out today (we’re not going to renew it – we bought an antenna and are going back to SlingTV, which carries NFL Network – not carried on YouTubeTV – and the antenna brings in all our local channels fine) – so I decided to try to watch as much of Lodge 49 as I could squeeze in, just to see if my initial positive feelings would hold up. They sort of do – there’s nothing off-putting in the three or so episodes I watched, but the narrative thread seems to have loosened a bit and I don’t feel driven to binge any more tonight – I’ll just wait for the rest to air weekly.

Some thoughts on the whole cutting-the-cord thing. The only reason we have anything at all is because of sports. My older son watched college and pro football  – an old post on why this is not a problem for me – and then college basketball. The beauty of streaming is not only is it cheaper than satellite (or cable) but also that it’s so easy to turn services off and on. No one has to come out to your house and install anything, there’s no equipment to return. We can have a streaming service until the end of March Madness – and then boom, discontinue it – probably this time, forever, since he’ll be going off to college next year.

I’m actually glad the YouTubeTV turned out not to be our best option (it was recommended by all kinds of people, including the guy in line behind me at FedEx as I returned the satellite receiver  two months ago) – but I hate giving that Google/YouTube corporation $$. I mean – we’re all complicit and wrapped up in all sorts of evil corporations, but if I can avoid handing them money – I certainly will.

Eating/Cooking: Not much on that front. My younger son had an orthodontist appointment yesterday, and will be in a heap of discomfort for a couple of days – so the menu will consist mostly of mashed potatoes and pudding.

Short post today. Time to work on another Tech Week post, get that out and then return to some other kinds of thinking/writing.

Image: The Appian Way, Rome. 

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Eh, it works. Let’s try to knock this out in the time between the first rising noises and the appearance outside the door, bookbag in hand.

Update: He beat me. Next goal: get it done in less than fifteen minutes and move on.

Reading: Because of some watching (see below), I didn’t make much progress on I was Dancing, but will probably finish it today. I also remembered that last week I’d started Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the CountrySo that will be next, after the O’Connor.

Writing: Well, all I got done yesterday was blog posts because I remembered that we were serving dinner at one of the women’s shelters in town, and I hadn’t picked up our designated item, so I had to leave earlier than planned for the school pickup and make a Tuesdaytrip to Sam’s Club for that.

Listening: To people complaining about school. Does that count?

Watching: Yes, yesterday was Better Call Saul, and it was good, but not worth an entire post this week. It’s not where my mind is at the moment anyway, because I made the mistake (or not) of watching the new AMC series that they’ve position after BCS – Lodge 49. 

I’d heard a bit about it, but I usually don’t watch shows right when they premiere – it took me a year to get to Breaking Bad – my heart has been broken too many times! Mostly by HBO shows that I got all excited about and intrigued by, settled down to watch the minute they aired, but which then turned out to be overstuffed, pretentious duds – I’m looking at you, Carnivale and, come to think of it, John of Cincinnati, which immediately came to mind when I heard of the premise of this show:

Lodge 49 is a light-hearted, endearing modern fable set in Long Beach, California about a disarmingly optimistic local ex-surfer, Dud (Wyatt Russell), who’s drifting after the death of his father and collapse of the family business. Dud finds himself on the doorstep of a rundown fraternal lodge where a middle-aged plumbing salesman and “Luminous Knight” of the order, Ernie (Brent Jennings), welcomes him into a world of cheap beer, easy camaraderie and the promise of Alchemical mysteries that may — or may not — put Dud on the path to recover the idyllic life he’s lost.

I also thought: trying way too hard. 

But, um..guess what.

really liked it.

Not loved. Not thought was the Best Show Ever. But I’ll keep watching it, for sure. Here’s what I liked – and guess what – depending on the direction of the show over the next couple of weeks, yes, a full post on it will be coming. Because guess what – there’s a definite Catholic sensibility about the piece, something I can smell a mile – or a continent  – away, and sure enough, from an interview with the creator of the show, short-story writer Jim Gavin:

The first image in the book is of martyrdom! You can’t escape a Catholic childhood. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to put us through Catholic school. I’m a typical lapsed Catholic and have problems with the church for all the reasons you might imagine, but in my adult life I’ve discovered some of the theology and find a lot of beauty in it. There’s so much beauty in something like Dante.

Isn’t Dante best known for writing about the nine circles of hell?

(Laughs). Yeah — the beauty of hell! I’m a weird Catholic nerd. I like theology and the idea of mercy really runs through the book. A lot of the characters secretly wish for the world to take mercy on them for just one second. It’s very un-American to ask for help — we almost have to be taken by the collar.

So what’s the Catholic sensibility? I won’t commit fully yet, but right now, two episodes in, it’s about seeking wholeness and a place in the world despite loss, disappointment and a continual sense of indebtedness that seems to define the life of every character: everyone owes someone, everyone’s scrambling to meet that debt, everyone’s life is defined by the debt. Is there hope for restoration? Is there a way to lift the debt? Is there mercy – anywhere?

The answer seems to be maybe. And maybe it’s in this place, a place that Dudley, the ex-surfer at the center, happens upon. He finds a lodge ring in the sand on the beach, unsuccessfully tries to pawn it, and then runs out of gas in front of the lodge, a place he’s lived near his whole life, but never recognized for what it is until now because he’d just happened upon a sign.

So yearning, brokenness, an intuition that there’s something more and then finding it – perhaps even being led to it –  in a place rich with signifiers, a place where people gather in community, a place where mystery – perhaps even a merciful mystery –  is encountered: Catholic.

Ernie: Once we can see that you are dedicated, there's a whole secret 
ceremony.
Dud: Cool, a secret.  What happens at the ceremony? 
Ernie: Well, I can't tell you that.But basically, there's a solemn oath, 
and then, we will begin to entrust you with the mysteries.
Dud: Entrusted with the mysteries.That's so cool. That's all I ever wanted.

I’m prepared for disappointment, but yeah – for the moment, I’m in.

What else did I like about it: The cast and the look is refreshingly diverse – the Lodge’s membership is male and female, of varied backgrounds.  It’s got some familiar faces in it – David Pasquesi, who plays Selina Myers’ ex-husband in Veep is a delightfully loopy “apothecary” here and Adam  Godley – Elliot in Breaking Bad – is the British liason from Lynx HQ to Lodge 49, apparently.

Eating/Cooking: We ate the Ropa Vieja last night, and it was excellent.

 

 

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