Blowup at the Dryden and the Holidays

I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Blowup. I had not seen it before but I was glad to do so. It settles well after a few days: it's art-house and avant garde but still accessible. At least to me where I am now … I imagine it's not unusual to watch this and just not get it.

The protagonist is a fashion photographer. At first he seems a bit eccentric — like a stereotypical artist-type from the late 1960's: that Andy Warhol pop-culture variety. He doesn't seem to agree with society on what has value and what does not — in fact, he seems to have no sense of some things having value and others not. From the beautiful women he photographs to an antique wooden propeller to music to food and drink to people — nothing is any better than anything else.

That is, until he examines his own work and discovers the trappings of a murder. He's intrigued. It's voyeuristic: he works from his safe and familiar nest, observing that which is most dangerous and visceral. And here the film perfectly captures that essence: inviting the strange into your safe haven through a portal — a window, a TV screen, or a photograph.

But then it's all taken away. And in a brilliantly poetic finish, he comes to realize the balance between the real and the imagined — and through that, what has value.

So here we are, at the cusp of another end-of-year holiday season — dripping with the insidiously sticky notion that we should buy totems of love for people we can't seem to find the time to listen to for the whole of the past year. Several thoughts cross my mind.

1

Last month I got this "Amish Friendship Bread" recipe from Ali from someone she works with. I did some Internet research and discovered that it wasn't all that special — and probably didn't even originate with the Amish. It's basically a bread starter: a mix of yeast, flour, sugar, and (in this case) milk — a living yeast culture. The gist is that over 10 days you keep the starter alive (adding ingredients to feed it at one point) then split up the batch of starter 5 ways, make one batch of bread with one of the splits, and then distribute the other 4 to your friends along with the instructions.

My bread came out okay, but I wanted to shove the underlying philosophy back to tradition. I wanted to make it a personal experience, and an evolution. I wanted people to copy the recipe by hand then notate how they changed the recipe and what the outcome was like before passing it on.

Unfortunately, with Christmas shopping and all the frenetic activity, I didn't have the chance. I read, though, that you can freeze a bread starter. So that's what I did. I'll work on it next year sometime.

2

In an article titled Fuck the Cheerleader; Buy a Gift Card, Save the World, the folks at Violent Acres outline why gift cards — particularly those Visa cash-like cards you can get at the bank — are such a perfect gift. The gist is this: you can't be bothered to spend time with people you love, and everybody you know has more stuff than they know what to do with, so you'd like to get them nothing and them to get you nothing — perhaps just spend some Quality Time™ together instead. But, people get all uptight about not giving gifts. So instead of bestowing heavy politics on them about it, just get them a fucking gift card.

I have no idea what the cheerleader has to do with it.

3

No Impact Man is a guy — specifically Colin Beavan — who spent 2007 trying to minimize his environmental impact while living with his wife and kid in a New York City apartment. He posted an insightful piece recently titled The No Impact Dear Santa letter. I've been fascinated by Beavan's trials and tribulations, but this particular post has this poignant personal observation: "I was thinking how when I talked to a bunch of third graders a while back and I said to them, 'How many of you know the feeling of really wanting something and then when your parents finally get it for you, instead of feeling excited, you feel kind of disappointed and sad?' Three-quarters of the kids raised their hands."

Gifts, when given without the heart to back them up end up feeling hollow to me. Last Christmas I know I got some stuff. The only thing I remember offhand, though, is the scarf Ali made for me. I think that's amazing. I don't know how to knit things and although I think I can understand how it's done, I don't have the right aptitude to do the repetition right so it comes out. And she made it.

But most of all is that she backs it all up with her love. Through joyful days and trying days she's still there. It's funny that it's kind of like the scarf: stitch after stitch, row after row — before you know it, it's something meaningful. You know what else: I remember picking out the yarn colors and she wondered whether green and orange would go together, but I insisted.

And you know? Somehow it works.  Twenty months to the day, in fact.

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Thanksgiving 2007

I got up at 7 a.m. and put the turkey in the oven (after having prepared it all last night) and I got the rolls thawing. I got the kitchen cleaned up and then finished up cleaning up the house. I intended to go back to bed but it never actually happened. Ali came by around 10 and I got the coffee going. The flurry of activity around the house crescendoed around noon when I took the turkey out and Ali and I worked on potatoes, broccoli, gravy, cheese sauce, cooking the rolls, and getting the pies warmed up.

My parents arrived around 1 and Ali's parents and kid sister arrived shortly after. Ali had brought her artichoke casserole, my parents brought stuffing and another pie, and Ali's family brought pumpkin bread, wine, and squash. While moms and dads spent some time getting to know one another, Ali and I buzzed around, getting an excellent meal set up that basically went off without a hitch. I thought it wasn't as organized as last year, but then I had no standard upon which to base things and everything I tried was pretty much for the first time. Our guests disagreed and felt it was even better (well it was just my parents and Ali last year so her family was without a point of comparison.)

It all went well and even the pies were well received (I had made pumpkin and apple — apple for the first time). Afterward it was off to Ali's new house so my parents could see it and then everyone went home. All that work for a really great 4-hour period. It's disproportionately skewed toward planning, but that's the name of the game.

So Ali and I got things cleaned up a bit then took a nap. Thank goodness. We slept for 2 hours or so then got up and headed to my friend Rebecca's party. It was once an annual thing, but last year she apparently broke her foot, bought a house, and disappeared. Well the hugely amazing party was back this year — with dozens of desserts that followed an astounding buffet that Ali and I had skipped for our own.

The friends and family there were all very good people. Ali had a great time and was glad she didn't skip it — after all, she planned to get up early to do some seasonal work for our friends business at 5 a.m. the next day. She didn't even leave until 11 or so — although both of us thankfully live just around the corner. I ended up consuming a steady stream of alcohol until quite late — I got home around 4:30 a.m. and considered calling Ali to see if she was up. [In fact she was.]

So it was an excellent holiday overall.

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