Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review of "Another Earth"

Jeannine and I were mulling over which of two movies to see yesterday -- "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" or "Another Earth". They're both, to varying degrees, in the science fiction genre, which is typically not Jeannine's favorite, but she chose "Another Earth" because what she'd read about its more intimate, human story appealed to her.

So off we went to Amherst CInema, found seats in an uncrowded theater, and settled down to watch something which boasted at least an intriguing premise -- what looks to be a duplicate of Earth is discovered in our solar system, and this planet parks itself seemingly in Earth Orbit, so that it appears to be roughly as far away as the moon.

Note that I said intriguing -- not logical or scientifically sound.

No matter… on with the show! Caution -- spoilers ahead!

A bright young woman is accepted to MIT, and gets drunk at a party. Driving home, she is drunk and distracted by the other Earth, and plows into a car (which, for some odd reason, is parked in the road… I could not figure that one out -- I don't remember seeing any traffic lights to indicate that they were stopped for that purpose… it just seemed like on a relatively straight stretch of road, this car was stopped for no apparent reason), killing a pregnant mother, her young son, and putting the husband into a coma. The young woman is subsequently sent to jail for four years, and when she gets out, she discovers that the husband has come out of his coma and gone back to his career as a brilliant musician. She decides to go to his house and apologize to him for killing his wife and child (and unborn child, too), but chickens out at the last minute, making up a cover story on the spot about her being the representative of a house cleaning business which is offering a free initial cleaning. After a bit of hesitation, the guy (whose name is John) takes her up on the offer, and thus begins what one other reviewer described as a "dour melodrama".

I wish I'd thought of that description, because that's just what it is. As the young woman -- who is named Rhoda -- comes back again and again to clean the guy's house (he's paying her by this time, even though she doesn't cash the checks), they start to establish a relationship, which eventually becomes physically intimate. She still hasn't told him that she was the one who killed his wife and kid(s), though.

No, she waits until she has gotten her seat on a spaceship to Earth 2 to do that.

That's right -- through a "Why I Should Get A Seat On A Spaceship To Earth2" essay-writing contest, this ex-felon house cleaner (she also has a job cleaning a high school) somehow wins over all other entrants on the planet the coveted ONE available seat on the "United Space Adventures" ship heading to Earth2.

I should point out that before this happens, the nature of Earth2 is revealed on a TV show in which we see and hear a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researcher trying to contact Earth2 by radio… and she does, and the person she contacts is -- wait for it! -- HERSELF. Or, I guess, a more-or-less exact duplicate of herself on the other world.
So now we know that Earth2 is basically Earth1, with possibly -- as we learn through a convenient TV interview with a theorist of some nature -- some variations.

And this gives Rhoda her inspiration -- and the "big idea" at the heart of the movie -- to offer her ticket up to John, because -- as she says to him after he gets wicked pissed at her when she reveals she's the drunk driver who killed his family -- maybe, on Earth2, "they're still alive" (or words to that effect).

Subsequently, he takes the ticket, gets on the ship, and blasts off to Earth2. We never find out what happens there, because the movie ends a few minutes later, after what I suspect the film's director thought would be a "twist ending" worthy of comparison to that of "The Sixth Sense". I won't say what that is, just in case anyone reading this decides to go to see this movie.

Jeannine turned to me after that final scene with a "Is that IT?" look on her face. In fact, I think she SAID exactly that. 

This is one of those movies which starts from an intriguing premise with considerable possibilities, and goes exactly nowhere. There are logic holes aplenty, and they eventually make the whole shaky edifice of the story collapse under its own ludicrous weight. I'll just point out two of the biggies.

We're told that this second Earth in our solar system has been known about for at least four years, and for some part of that time has been huge and visible in the sky, apparently no further away than our moon. And yet, in all that time, there have been no manned or robotic NASA (or private) missions to it, no concerted effort to make radio or laser contact with it, no study of it with the Hubble Space Telescope… in short, NOTHING has been done to establish the true nature of Earth2 until this TV show with the SETI researcher talking on a radio somehow makes contact.

But probably more ridiculous is Rhoda's grand idea when she gives up her spaceship ticket to John, that "maybe your wife and kids are alive on that other Earth, so that's why YOU should go instead of ME". The idea, obviously, is that this could be a way of miraculously restoring him to the bosom of his family.
Well, okay… but what if HE is alive on the other Earth as well? What is John1 supposed to do when he gets there -- kill John2 so he can have his family? 
(Let's not even get into the absurdity of Rhoda being able to casually GIVE her ticket to someone else, like it's a freakin' subway token.)

I wanted to like this movie. I mean, it has things I like in stories -- parallel worlds, redemption through sacrifice, the possibility of changing fate -- but it makes a mushy mess of these concepts.

I will say this, though -- for a low-budget movie, the compositing of the image of Earth2 in the sky of Earth1 was very well done, and probably the best and most evocative visual in the whole movie. Oh, and I am grateful that the self-consciously "arty" shaky camera and blurred images in the first few minutes of the film seemed to give way to more conventional, clearer imagery for the rest of the film. My eyes appreciated that. -- PL

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane day ride

Yesterday was the day Hurricane Irene hit, and we certainly saw some effects of it here -- a lot of rain and some gusts of wind at the house. But nothing like the various scenes of devastation I saw when I opened up my computer this morning. It seems like Vermont was harder hit than we were, with a lot of river flooding, historic covered bridges washed away, and so forth. A friend sent Jeannine a photo via email today, a shot which her son took of a place in Greenfield, MA at which Jeannine and I swam a few weeks ago -- the concession stand was almost completely under water.

The storm effects were so relatively mild at our house yesterday, though, that I decided to see if I could get in my daily bicycle ride during one particular lull in the rain in the early afternoon. Driving into Northampton, I didn't see much in the way of damage, although in a couple of spots, medium-sized trees had come down across the road, but someone had already cut them up and cleared the way.

When I got to Mirage (where I keep my bicycle) I put on my raincoat, and decided to switch to shorts and sandals (with no socks), as I suspected I might get a little wet. And I did, but not in the way that I was thinking, exactly.

The streets in Northampton were almost deserted -- very few people out and about, and almost no cars.

 It was a little eerie, but it made for easy riding. I'd settled on my favorite route, the dirt roads behind the bowling alley, as my path on this hurricane day. The rain was light, almost just a sprinkle, and the air was surprisingly warm. Well, warm-ish.

As I expected, I encountered some large puddles on Dike Road, the first part of the dirt road loop, but no real flooding or impassable areas.  It was actually kind of nice, though I was a little concerned that the storm effects could kick up at any moment and I would get hammered. But that didn't happen.

I had gotten almost to the end of Dike Road when I came across a small car stuck in a deep puddle, and there was a guy behind it trying to push it out. I offered to try to help him with it, an offer he gladly accepted, so I jumped off my bike and waded into the thigh-deep water. Unfortunately, one of the reasons the car was stuck was that the engine had died and wouldn't restart, so all that we had was muscle power. After about five minutes of struggling, we realized that we were not going to get the car out of there. (It might have worked if his wife and two kids had gotten out of the car while we were trying to push it, but that suggestion of mine fell on deaf ears.) I left them to wait for someone they knew who lived nearby and owned a Jeep which could pull them out.

By now, my lower half was pretty well soaked, but at least it was just my shorts and sandals, which wasn't so bad. I went about another half mile before deciding to turn around. I had started thinking that maybe I should head back to the site of that stuck car and offer those people some help in case their friend was unavailable (I'd driven my truck down to Northampton, and could have been back with it in about twenty or thirty minutes). But just as I reached them, their rescuer in the Jeep arrived, so all was well (or so I assumed -- I didn't stick around to see the actual rescue). As I was biking away, I took this shot with my pocket camera over my shoulder -- you can see the car stuck in the puddle in the distance.

And today, as I write this, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and you would be hard pressed to imagine that there was a hurricane yesterday. Here, anyway -- I guess we were luckier this time than some other parts of New England. -- PL

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


It's a curious thing that only later in my life have I become interested in exploring the eastern reaches of my home state. Jeannine and I just got back from staying two nights in Gloucester, MA, a place I think I may have passed through once, many years ago. It's a famous sea town north of Boston, in a little protruding bump of the coastline to which I have never really paid much attention before.

But this trip was not just to put our tourist hats on, though we did do that also. Jeannine has a friend who lives in the area, Pat Lowery Collins, a poet/novelist/painter, and Pat had invited us to see her home and studio and join her for lunch. And she had a show of some of her landscape work hanging at the library in Gloucester, so we wanted to see that, too.

Jeannine found what looked to be a nice inn near a section of the shoreline called "Bass Rocks" -- NOT named after the fish, as I first supposed, but by the sounds made by the waves as they pound against and rush under some of the rock formations. We managed to experience this auditory marvel on our last day -- here's a shot of Jeannine standing on those selfsame Bass Rocks...

... and it was quite thrilling to hear the powerful low rumbling notes which sounded like subterranean thunder.

One place we wanted to check out was a spot called Halibut Point -- curiously, it came up in conversation with our friends Jesse and Megan at their baby shower a day earlier, and also on that same day while Jeannine was reminiscing with her sister Margaret, who, with her daughter Cathy, was visiting us for a few days.
Halibut Point is an area on the coast near Rockport, the next town north of Gloucester, and features a huge granite quarry, just a little bit inland from the shore, now half-filled with water, with chunks of quarried granite randomly strewn about. It is quite impressive, and a bit eerie.

Jeannine and I walked about halfway around the quarry, then decided to head down to the shore and see some waves. We found a likely-looking path and wandered down to an area with some beautiful rock formations.

Off to the left, there was this gigantic pile of what looked like cast-off or undesirable pieces of granite. I was hoping to find out more about this titanic heap when we went to the visitors' center at Halibut Point, but sadly that was closed. I suppose I could probably do some online research to discover the whole story behind it.

After walking on the beach rocks for a bit, we decided to head back up to the quarry to complete our perambulation of its circumference, but -- due to the fact that almost all of the little paths through the scrubby bushes looked very similar to each other, and there was almost no useful signage -- we got lost, and it took us another twenty minutes or so to wander our way back to the path around the quarry. But it was worth it, because it is quite a beautiful place.

(There were a few moments when I found myself thinking about the lake into which Charlton Heston's spaceship crashes in beginning of the first "Planet of the Apes" movie, because parts of this quarry had similar coloration. Or so I remember it, anyway.)

The following day we went to see Pat's paintings at the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library. I say "paintings", and that is how Pat refers to them, but they were all (except for one) not rendered in paint, but instead with pastels. Here's a shot of some of the pieces on display:

No matter the medium, they were all beautiful, capturing the essence of that shore zone where the rocks meet the sand and the surf. (I'm happy to say that one of them will be hanging in our house in the near future.)

After that, we tried to go to the Cape Ann Museum, which was right around the corner from the library,  but they were closed on Mondays. So we decided to walk around Gloucester a bit, do the tourist thing for a while, and found ourselves shortly thereafter admiring the famous statue of the Gloucester fisherman…

… and nearby, the more recent companion piece dedicated to the wives and families of those same fishermen.

Then it was time to wend our way to Pat's house by the ocean (thank you, Honda GPS navigation system!), where we were greeted warmly and given a great lunch, as well as a tour of her studio and writing room, both of which (especially her studio) seemed to me to be fantastic work spaces. After hanging out and chatting with Pat for a while, we took a walk down to the beautiful beach which is no more than a few hundred feet from her place.

Walking around for a few hours in the extremely bright sun had tired us out somewhat, so we headed back to the hotel to take a break for a bit, before trying to find an appropriate place for dinner. And I lucked out in a quick online search, because I came up with "My Place by the Sea" in Rockport, which turned out to be a wonderful restaurant right on the water with great views, food and service.

(I should mention that before going to dinner, we took a quick dip in the hotel pool -- we were feeling too beat to walk the mile and a half to the beach down the road -- and while still wet from that swim, I walked across the road to the ocean, and tested out a new camera which allows for taking pictures underwater. It was fun, and a few of them looked pretty good, but I can tell I need to practice some more to get the best shots.)

(I had to take a photo of this seaweed I saw while doing that -- it was so incredibly green and bright.)

        After dinner, while wandering around downtown Rockport, looking into various small shops, I happened across the following view down an alleyway -- what I think of as the quintessentially small town New England harbor scene.

         And on another street, we ran across this odd but cute sculpture titled "Baby and Frog" by Richard Recchia.

On our last day in Gloucester, we did make it to the Cape Ann Museum, and while not a huge place, it was still fascinating to look through. They had lots of stuff about the fishing industry in Gloucester, including a cool diorama representing the docks and boats of Gloucester, which Jeannine pointed out to me had been shown at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

(I have been fascinated by that World's Fair since reading Erik Larson's book "The Devil in the White City" a few years ago, and it was fun to imagine this diorama having been part of that historic event.)

Another interesting piece that Jeannine pointed out to me was a plaster model made by Leonard Craske, the sculptor of the "Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial" statue we'd visited the previous day. Apparently, he'd had the idea to do a companion piece honoring the fishermen's families, but had not been able to secure the funding to produce it. It's interesting to consider this piece's similarities to -- and differences from -- the statue that was eventually created and installed to commemorate the families of the fishermen.

The visit to the museum marked the end of our stay in Gloucester, but we had one more stop on the way home that promised to be fun -- we had seen the signs for this place on our drive out to Gloucester, and on the way back, I suggested to Jeannine that we stop there for lunch. It's a restaurant called "The Old Mill" in Westminster, MA, and Jeannine remembered going there with her grandparents when she was young. She recalled with fondness that there was a waterfall, and a wooden bridge, and a pond with ducks that a little girl could feed.

And so there were, still. -- PL

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A quick trip to the seacoast, and seeing the last "Frost Place"

Well, we finally did it -- the "Robert Frost House Trifecta". 

Yes, Jeannine and I just visited the third and last of the historic Robert Frost homesteads in New England, the first two being the Stone House in South Shaftsbury, Vermont and the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. The third and last was actually the first, chronologically, in Frost's life, and is in Derry, New Hampshire.

We had decided on the spur of the moment to take a quick trip to the New Hampshire seacoast this past weekend, and had a devil of a time finding lodging. We were hoping to get a room in some hotel with an ocean view, but there were none to be had (none that we could find, anyway), and even some of the usual places in Portsmouth which don't have ocean views were completely booked up.

(We later discovered that part of the reason for that was the fact that Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth was hosting an air show.. and throughout the time we were there, we would often hear the thunderous shrieks of fighter jets and other aircraft overhead. Unfortunately for the fans who attended, the overcast skies cut down on the visibility of the planes... though at one point during a break in the clouds I thought I saw a cool WWII-vintage plane which I think was a P-51 Mustang.)

Finally, Jeannine tracked down a room at a Holiday Inn, and we threw our stuff in the truck and took off. It was later than we usually get on the road for these types of trips, so we didn't get to the seacoast until dark. Part of the reason for that is the fact that we made two stops on the way, one for supper at the High Tide Takeout in Hillsborough, NH (one of my favorite places to eat on the road, and always satisfying), and again a little later for dessert at a place called (I think) Johnson's Dairy Bar, situated not too far east of Concord, NH on Route 4. I'd wanted to stop at this place for years, as I would often drive past it on my way to or from the seacoast, but never had. 

And if you like your ice cream cones big -- I mean HUGE -- this is definitely the place to go. I ordered a kiddie-sized vanilla soft serve for Jeannine and a small twist soft serve for me. The "kiddie" sized cone was what would be a "large' at any dairy bar I'd ever been to, and the "small" was even larger. Crazy! And the hard ice cream cones they were serving were no different.

It was tough, but we both managed to finish off our cones, and continued on to the coast, where we had a nice walk on the sands of Jenness Beach in New Hampshire, enjoying the full moon's light on the waves and the beach.

The following day, while discussing where to go for breakfast and doing some web searching for suggestions, I stumbled upon a restaurant that Jeannine and I used to go to when we lived in Dover, on those occasions when we felt we had enough money to treat ourselves to a breakfast that we didn't make ourselves. It was called "The Wooden Spoon", and back then it was situated right in the middle of downtown Dover, about a fifteen minute walk from our house. Jeannine used to love the muffins they made there, and I have to agree -- they were very good (though not, I must hasten to add, as good as the ones Jeannine bakes). Apparently, over the twenty-seven (yikes!) years since we lived in Dover, the "Spoon" had moved (to Somersworth, NH, the next town north of Dover) and aquired new owners. 

We tracked it down to its new location in the Tri-City Plaza in Somersworth, and although the ambiance was different from the old location (and a little lacking, if you must know, though the people working there were perfectly nice) and sadly, that day they had no muffins! But I did see this thing on the menu that I wanted to try along with my eggs and taters breakfast -- a grilled cinnamon roll.

It was yummy!

We followed this breakfast adventure down memory lane with a trip out to New Castle, NH on our bicycles, which I'd brought with us in the back of the truck. We parked in Portsmouth, and had a great ride out to New Castle. Here's a photo of my right ear and Jeannine following me -- one of my one-handed over-the-shoulder shots, which sometimes work -- as we pedaled over one of the several bridges to New Castle.

(I do want to mention one thing about that bicycle ride -- Jeannine was a little nervous about bicycling on that somewhat-narrow road, with all the cars that pass by on it, but I have to say that every car that went by gave us a wide berth. The drivers seemed to be, without exception, very respectful of bicyclists, which is, sadly, not always the case. But it certainly made this ride a lot less harrowing than it could have been.)

We stopped at a beautiful small park right next to the ocean and enjoyed looking at the water and the rocks and sea grass…

… and smelling the salt air while sitting on the bench under this tree.

After soaking up the ocean ambiance for a while, we decided to continue on another quarter of a mile or so to Fort Stark, the ruined fort I wrote about on this blog several entries ago. I took some more shots from a slightly different perspective, and stitched them together into this small panorama.

The following day was not so pleasant, weather-wise -- it was raining hard from the time we awoke and didn't really let up for the rest of the day, which made our drive to Derry, NH, to see the Robert Frost farm not that much fun. But once there, and fortified with raincoat and umbrella, we enjoyed walking around the property on a short trail through the field and woods. Here's Jeannine posing for me on a little bridge over a stream on the trail…

… and a view from the far end of the field looking back toward the house.

The young man we'd talked to in the gift shop at the farm before going out on our walk -- Alex, I think his name was -- told us that before the house was bought and restored as a Robert Frost museum, it -- and the property around it -- had been owned by the "Frosty Acres Automobile Graveyard". ("Frosty Acres"… get it?) Here's a photo Alex showed us from those days -- you can make out the Frost house in the background.

Unlike the other two Frost houses, where you could wander around as you liked inside, here a guided tour was required to see the inside of the house. We weren't really into being part of a big group, but as it turned out, Alex offered to give us a "lightning tour" of the house, which worked out great.

The first thing he showed us was probably my favorite part of the tour -- the "privy" in what I guess would be called a "mudroom" today. It's interesting in that it is a "two-seater" and the seats are side-by-side with nothing in between them. 

I mentioned to Alex that it reminded me of one of those old "Saturday Night Live" faux commercials -- this one for a product called "The Love Toilet", which was a two-person toilet in the shape of the classic love seat. He remembered it right away, even reciting the ad slogan they'd made up.

Moving on from the mudroom, we went into the kitchen, where we were told that it is thought that Frost wrote a considerable amount of his poetry at the table in this photo.

The rest of the house was somewhat unremarkable, but still interesting to see and imagine what it was like when Frost lived there. I should also point out that, like when we visited the Frost place in Franconia on another rainy day, I was impressed that so many people would show up on a bad weather day to see the place -- I think there were probably about a dozen or so other visitors to the Derry house during the short time we were there.
But now that we've seen all three Frost places, what next? I guess we need to find another series of poet's or writer's house to visit. I should ask Jeannine if she has any ideas. -- PL

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review of "Captain America: The First Avenger"

Jeannine and I went to see the "Captain America" movie yesterday, and we both really liked it (as our daughter, who has so far seen it three times, predicted we would). And we liked the first half, with its quieter moments and character development, more than the second half, with its nearly relentless action and explosions.

But it all came together pretty well, making for a satisfying movie experience.

Chris Evans (who, as TMNT fans know, voiced Casey Jones in the CGI Turtles movie in 2007 and also played Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch, in the last two "Fantastic Four" movies) does a fantastic job playing Steve Rogers, the scrawny but scrappy kid from Brooklyn who becomes Captain America through a "super soldier" experiment conducted by the US Army. The movie magic via which we see Steve Rogers first in his short, skinny form and then later as the fully bulked-up, muscular version is very impressive, and I couldn't see any visible seams. It was completely convincing.

On the way to the theatre, I attempted to provide Jeannine -- who I am pretty certain has never read a "Captain America" comic book in her life -- a rough overview of the character and where he sits in the Marvel universe. I tried to integrate into that description the various tidbits I'd picked up from reading about the movie and how certain details had been changed to fit this new film version of Captain America. It was kind of fun to do that, allowing me to reminisce about some of the great issues of the comics I'd read over the years.

And then we saw the movie, and a lot of the concepts and characters from those comics were up there on the screen, some subtly changed, others almost completely different. But it was a "Captain America" that I think would have made its creators, Joe SImon and Jack Kirby, proud. (Actually, I believe Joe Simon is still alive -- I wonder if he has seen the film and if so, what he thought of it.)

I had fun picking out various references, subtle and otherwise, to bits and pieces of Marvel lore. The scientist who assists the evil Red Skull? He is none other than Arnim Zola, a character created by Jack Kirby during his last run on the Captain America comics in the 1980's (though Zola in those issues was a much weirder sight than Zola as played by Toby Jones in the film). The Red Skull himself, played by Hugo Weaving, is perfectly realized in very convincing makeup which is revealed at a key dramatic moment. The artifact the Red Skull is searching for, and finds, in Norway? It's none other than the "Cosmic Cube" from the comics… and the filmmakers very cleverly put in a line which ties this object of gigantic power into the Norse gods mythology underpinning the movie version of Marvel's "The Mighty Thor", setting up what I suspect will -- or at least could -- be a major plot point in the "Avengers" movie due out next year.

And there's Dum Dum Dugan! Yep, the bowler-hatted brawler from the 1960's Marvel Comics begun by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appears in a number of scenes along with some less-easily-recognizable members of that famed squad of World War 2 Allied fighters… and he even gives the classic "Howling Commandoes" war cry of "Yahoo!" as he blasts away with one of Hydra's super weapons.

Hydra (or should it be "H.Y.D.R.A."?) was one of Captain America's recurring foes in the comics, and they are here in the film in full force, even down to the infamous "Hail Hydra! Cut off one head, and another will take its place!" oath and two-armed salute familiar to readers of the comics.

A nice touch to further add to the continuity of the growing Marvel movie universe is to have Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark, later known to the world as "Iron Man") appear as an engineer working with scientist Abraham Erskine on the "super soldier" project. (I hope there is at least one moment in the upcoming "Avengers" movie where Tony Stark/Iron Man meets Captain America for the first time and mentions something about how his father helped him to become what he is… maybe in the form of a line like "My dad used to talk about you…!")

The action scenes are very well done -- Cap's shield-slinging is particularly effective -- though I found some of the later non-stop action a bit tedious, albeit necessary, I guess. What REALLY sets this movie apart from the herd is the character stuff in the first half, especially in an absolutely brilliant scene which shows exactly why, without dwelling on it or relying on exposition, Steve Rogers is the right choice for the "super soldier" experiment. (Yes, I'm talking about the hand grenade scene shown in the trailers.) It's one of those scenes which makes you feel good about the fact that the people who wrote the script actually THOUGHT long and hard about what they were doing. Jeannine grabbed my hand at the conclusion of this scene -- not because it was really scary or unsettling, but because it was such a perfect character moment, and as a writer, she lives for those.

"Captain America" is a movie I think I am going to have to see again, as I am sure there were a number of things I missed. It will be fun to see if I can pick up on those details in a second or third viewing. And it would almost be worth it just to stay for the very brief glimpse of shots from the upcoming "Avengers" movie which appear after the end credits. -- PL

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dance, flowers, and food

Yesterday, Jeannine and I had a very pleasant summer Saturday. We'd made plans to go to Jacob's Pillow, the famous dance venue in the Berkshires. Jeannine had been there once many years before, but we'd never gone together, and I'd never been at all, although I could recall seeing the sign for Jacob's Pillow on my many motorcycle rides down that scenic stretch of Route 20 in Massachusetts.

When Jeannine suggested we might go to see a dance event there, she left it up to me to pick one. Not knowing much about dance, I chose one which looked to be at the very least interesting in a technical way, because from the image in the advertising, the dancers would be performing on a stage littered with hundreds of ping-pong balls. I found myself wondering how they would avoid slipping on them.

So we set out on a pretty nice, partly sunny day, and found our way via, one of my favorite scenic routes, to Jacob's Pillow, which is not too far off of Route 20. It's a lovely place, lots of rustic-looking barns and outbuildings which house studios and theaters set among beautiful trees and gardens, with many benches and picnic tables here and there. The event we were going to see involved two performances by choreographer and dancer Jonah Bokaer in the Doris Duke Theatre.

And it turned out to be… interesting. In fact, it turned out to be almost exactly what I had imagined it to be -- mostly concept and very little actual dancing. Jeannine was more disappointed than I was, because she likes to see more athletic dance movement and prefers lively music to go along with it (neither was on hand for these performances).

Actually -- and I almost hate to mention this because it reveals, perhaps, exactly what a nerd I am -- both performances made me think of moments from the original "Star Trek" TV series. In the first one, which I think was titled "Recess", part of the "dance" involved a dancer hidden under a huge sheet of white paper which was crumpled up into a heap… and the dancer moved round underneath it, crawling and lurching across the stage. I immediately thought of the way the Horta (the silicon-based cavern dweller in the episode "Devil in the Dark") , moved. It was eerily similar.

And in the next performance, titled "Recess" (this was the one with all the ping-pong balls), at one point hundreds of balls were poured from a chute on the left side of the stage, reminding me of the way the tribbles poured down on Captain Kirk when he opened the grain storage locker on Space Station K-1 in "The Trouble with Tribbles".

Yes, I am a geek.

After the show, we debated if we should try to get in a swim (the weather report said possible thunderstorms, and the sky WAS getting a bit dark) or drive a little further west and check out a place Jeannine has been wanting to go to for years, the Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge, MA. We chose the latter, and although it did start sprinkling on the way there, it didn't rain enough to dampen (literally AND figuratively) our enjoyment of this beautiful place. I think the herb garden, with its beautiful design and WONDERFUL aromas, was our favorite spot. Here's a small panoramic image of Jeannine wandering among the sage and cumin and dill.

I had to stop to take a photo of this bench -- not just for its beauty, but for the fact that my daughter and her roommate would likely appreciate the sign next to it.

There were a number of interesting tree houses on the grounds, and Jeannine snapped this shot of me enjoying the view from the top level of one of them.

There were so many beautiful flowers at this place that I could fill up multiple blog pages with images of them. In lieu of that, here are a few of my favorites from what I shot.

Near the end of our perambulations through the gardens, we came upon the "Children's Garden"...

...which was very cute and featured a "Wishing Tree".

Here are a couple of close-ups of some of the "wish tags" attached to the tree.

(I love the spelling of "unicorn" on this one.)

Nearby, there was this lovely mailbox decorated with living plants…

… and this sign:

After getting our fill of gorgeous colors and shapes and inviting scents, Jeannine suggested we have dinner at a place in Great Barrington. I had eaten there once with my friends Rick and Rob, and had raved to Jeanine about the food. It's called "Xicohtencatl", and it serves what is described at authentic Mexican food.

(Here''s their website: http://www.xicohmexican.com/)

We got great seats on the porch, just as it started raining more heavily. Jeannine had a large plate of scallops which she said were the best she'd ever had, and I had a whole Tilapia on a bed of greens. And it WAS a whole fish, head and all. I had never had fish served that way, and it had also been a while since I'd had to carefully extract the bones from a meal so I didn't swallow any. But it was GREAT. I would heartily recommend this place to anyone. 

We didn't get the swim that we had hoped for -- it poured pretty much the entire drive home -- but it was a wonderful day nonetheless. -- PL