Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, A Wonderful 2012

To all of my readers,

The Happiest of Christmases and a wonderful 2012! To those who are celebrating Chanukah, enjoy your families and friends and I hope 2012 brings wonderful things to each of you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Lost Art Of Mingling...

I've always been a person who could get along in almost any social circumstance. While I am rather reserved by nature, those who do not know me well often assume that I am shy when, in fact, I am taking in whatever is going on around me. My friends and colleagues know I rarely miss a trick. In a former life, I often did interviews, and learned how to observe. Both are part of any good writer's stock in trade.

The other evening, I attended a singles function and deliberately sat with a table of strangers thinking that perhaps I might draw out one of them and have an interesting chat. What happened instead was that the group at my table became an audience for the only actor in the room who had just finished a film. Here was a man full of funny stories and jokes who knew how to work at least our part of the room. The end result was that no-one at our table had a chance to meet anyone else. I also noticed, however, that those at other tables stayed to themselves and only spoke to people with whom they were already acquainted.

My standard question after introducing myself generally involves asking about the others line of work as this is not too personal. That was met with, "Well, why don't we wait till everyone sits so I don't have to repeat myself?" More than a question, it was a rebuff. I will not ask this of the same individual should we meet again. At similar functions, I am usually eventually cornered by someone curious about my chair, if not me. Even that was a non-starter in this particular group.

All of this begs the question, whatever happened to mingling? Are we all so enthralled with our mobiles and access to the Internet that we've lost the art of face-to-face conversation? Perhaps middle and late middle aged adults have become so jaded that they no longer enjoy meeting others? If true, then why attend at all?

What do you think?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Any Chess Players Out There?

My computer came with an electronic chess board. I never really learned to play as none of my childhood friends enjoyed the game. The closest I came was when my by now long deceased cousin attempted to teach me the moves of each piece on the board. That was my first and last lesson. He was eleven and I was sixteen. That was a lifetime ago.

What brought this to mind, in addition to the electronic game on this iMac, was a French film. Entitled Queen to Play in English and La Joueuse in France, it was released in the U.S. earlier this year and features   wonderful performances by Kevin Kline and Sandrine Bonnaire.  Bonnaire plays a maid in a small Corsican hotel who chances upon a couple, played by Kline and Jennifer Beals, engrossed in a game of chess. At first startled to find them on the balcony of their room when she comes to clean, Bonnaire's character, Helene, finds herself entranced by the intensity she witnesses. She soon asks Kline, who plays an irascible American doctor, to help her learn the game. While he does so rather begrudgingly at the start, Kline's character soon realises Helene's quiet intelligence, something that isn't given much notice in her life as a housewife and mother or as a hotel cleaner.

The transformation that occurs in Helene begins subtly enough. She purchases a chess set and, unable to interest either her husband or daughter in the game, begins playing against herself after her family has gone to bed at night. Quickly reaching the limit of what she can learn on her own, She enlists Kline's assistance and having faced familial resistance to her increasing fascination with chess, meets with him secretly. As her prowess with the game increases, Kline is soon outclassed and he sends her to a colleague who is a master at competitive chess. She applies to play competitively and is accepted. The film concludes with Helene winning all the rounds with more experienced players than she and emerging as a champion. Her family and friends, who initially see chess as simply a silly game, come to realise the grueling nature of the matches and the mental effort and strategy necessary to complete competition. For herself, Helene begins to radiate a newly-found confidence and pride of accomplishment.  This little gem of a film is also the debut for director Caroline Bottaro and is now available on DVD.

While I don't see myself becoming a chess champion, the allure Helene experienced exists for me as well, so much so, in fact, that I am seeking a teacher or a club for adults.

Until Next Time...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Replacing Jane Austen

My copy of Jane Austen's complete novels has seen better days, the last of which happened in May when the flat was water soaked and the book was used by one of the workers to keep table legs from the wet floor. As you might imagine, I was a bit annoyed upon this discovery but since the pages were loose, the binding cracked from wear and it dated from 1980, I suppose the workers cleaning up the mess saw no harm in using it.

Venturing online to my library system two weeks ago, I was surprised to see only one two-volume set of Austen's complete novels available for borrowing, and one of the two is listed as lost or stolen. As the budget for replacement of lost items is minuscule due to budget cuts, I decided to buy an Austen compilation. This, of course, meant visiting Amazon and other booksellers. You might think that purchasing this item would take mere minutes. However, the dearth of materials available from Jane Austen are rivaled by those about her. There are books on manners and etiquette, tomes on her letters and scads of books written by various Austen scholars. I even spied an Austen-inspired cookbook containing recipes from the period in which she lived. Other books devote themselves to the particulars of Regency England and the expectations for a woman of Austen's class and beyond.

I scoured buyer's reviews of the available compilations, primarily to see which were annotated or illustrated and how each held up with light-to-average use. Not surprisingly, I quickly ruled out most large paperbacks and began looking at used books for a decent hardback copy that was under ten dollars. I also decided to buy a complete compilation and donate it to the library system.

 My Saturday morning visit to the regional library in my neighbourhood saw the usual patrons, parents with small children, teens, legions of adults with laptops, and others using the library's computers. I am usually the only wheelchair user about the place, a subject for another post. Waiting for a quiet moment at the desk, I offered the book to the two librarians, who were thrilled with the addition. I wondered silently how many people approach them with donations of this kind.

 In a state without state income tax, notorious for low property taxes and fewer taxes than are found in other regions of the U.S., we are too often told that budget cuts are the cause underlying lack of services, when in fact, strained budgets are but a symptom. With stagnant wages in an area dominated by low wage jobs, working people are reluctant to pay higher taxes while the wealthy pursue tax breaks. I read recently that while poverty is increasing, Americans of all backgrounds remain amongst the most generous and charitably minded, two sobering thoughts during this season.

Until Next Time...