The President-elect let's it all hang out

Like most of us, the President-elect doesn’t mind showing his anger

Three years ago, I wrote this and I think it needs to be posted again….

Living abroad teaches you a lot about your home country.

As I get older, I fondly remember growing up green as grass and how life seemed so much more simple, more wondrous–limitless possibilities!  Imagine my joy discovering sex, drugs, rock and roll all pretty much at the same time in college after having been way too skinny and miserable in high school. Talk about visceral experiences that shape a country, a character–what a couple of decades they were for me–from the Beatles, Kennedy, Vietnam, Black Panthers, Nixon, dot.com and my beloved Dodgers actually moving to LA!

I started paying much more attention to politics after college.  Hard not to.  So when Jimmy Carter put on his sweater and asked Americans to turn down their thermostat to help cope with the OPEC energy squeeze, I was impressed.  We began heating with wood and coal, recycling, doing our part to make America great again.

Alas, clearly I was in the minority, because Carter got booted out only to be replaced with Reagan and Bush–and ever since, American politics never quite seemed to get back on track.  Obama was the sea change we all craved, but he never lived up to his inspiring oratory and remained oddly aloof for a guy who can shoot 3 pointers wearing a suit.

This year, experiencing the US Presidential election from the warm confines of a 1,700 year-old Mediterranean seaside city was totally bizarre. Not just because I had to get up at 3AM to watch the debates but because American presidential politics had devolved into a mean-spirited, reality game show. Instead of substance we got one-liner put downs and tweets.

I knew Trump would win.  Not by much, but it did not matter–the nerve he struck was deep and wide and laid bare the wounds that I feel America has never really tried to heal.  And while it is pretty refreshing to see him poke a finger in the Establishment’s eye by “breaking with historic protocol” telephoning the President of Taiwan (which the NY Times and the US State Department reacted to with hysterical disbelief), his freestyle “my way or the highway” mantra scares the hell out of a lot of Americans.

Yes, I can be happy!

And like most of us, he can also be happy.

Trump’s US (as in us educated mostly white folks) vs. THEM (as in everyone else) rhetoric also caused more than a shudder outside America, where many people still remember hearing stuff like this from some of history’s most sinister figures.

The sharp right, global, neo-nationalist political shift is clear.  But its roots are less so, which made me think about what’s really going on here and why America seems to be such a very different country than it was when I was a kid….or is it?

What haunts me is the “us” vs. “them”.   We’ve all heard this before.  It’s the Jews, the Irish, the blacks….them.  Those people.  Monkeys, Micks, Kikes, Spics. Dagos. They just aren’t “real” Americans.

Could all of this posturing still really be about race?

The idea about creating “pure” Americans, Russians, Germans, Chinese, etc. has always been the Holy Grail of some truly warped minds.  Despite “experiments” to cull the weak, castrate “deviants”, inter-breed Aryans, etc. it’s disease, poverty, war, forced migration and inter-marriage that trump “purity” every time –but somehow a lot of people still believe that racial purity is something really worth striving for, and worse, “protecting”.

Worries about race, often obsessive, have been part of American culture since our forefathers arrived on the Mayflower.  Instead of celebrating their great good fortune that these “brown-skinned savages” taught them how to stay alive instead of killing them on the spot, Mayflower immigrants worried more about how to keep white and Protestant.

Although the Indians called these European newcomers, “paleface”, the epithet was benign.

Naive and gullible, native Americans signed treaty after treaty with the U.S. government, landowners, private companies and others believing they and their pure way of life would be “protected”. Betrayed by the “Great White Father”, it didn’t take long for their paleface oppressors to become “white devils”.

Tribe after tribe was stripped of its property and its pride, forced to live on worthless “reservations” and eventually tracked down and murdered en masse.

To me, America’s native Indians were white people’s first “niggers” and the planned extinction of almost an entire race is still the greatest of American shames.

But I digress.

No one argues that we are not a nation of immigrants, but the nostalgia many have for all those who arrived as “good people” fleeing “bad people” (as Trump likes to say), is yet another way America chooses to forget its often bloody, ruthless racist history against immigrants, people of color and the poor.

Instead of helping hands welcoming the waves of Greeks, Chinese, Italians, Irish, etc. who arrived, they were often met by some pretty nasty Americans eager to take advantage of them (watch Scorcese’s film “Gangs of NY” to get some idea).  Ghettoized and exploited, immigrant America was far more of a crucible than a melting pot.

Unlike the millions who have immigrated here, Americans born here have never lived under tyranny–worried about coming home and finding their parents “disappeared”; watching friends being butchered for not being the right tribe, religion, sect.

Fact is, most Americans take their freedom for granted.  Equality and justice are part of our Constitution. But for more than 80 years after the Constitution, blacks were still enslaved and still being lynched for as much as looking “the wrong way” at a white woman until the 1960’s.

Justice and equality in America for people of color on the lower end of the economic scale is not the same as it is for even poor whites.

Despite being a nation where most of us respect and follow the rule of law, some “justice” is too often at the point of a gun.  In some cities, murder is an everyday reality, no big deal. With tens of millions of handguns, rifles and assault weapons ready and waiting, along with the right to use them whenever you want, no wonder more than 1000 people a month are killed by handguns in the US and another 20,000 each year shoot themselves to end it all.

End it all?  Wait a minute, America is a country where you can be anything, isn’t it?. Where the 2016 average median household income was $55,000/yr.  Where the starting salary for college grads at Amazon, Google, facebook etc. this year is over $100,000!

How can a country that promises so much and makes good on many of its promises be so uncivilized to allow such carnage?

Because this election finally made it painfully clear to me that the root cause of what ails America is its racism–not bad trade deals or an economy built almost entirely on credit.

All Americans know what happens to white collar “criminals” who fleece stockholders for billions and whose Ponzi schemes and reckless management force thousands of employees out of work–a wrist slap or a fine.

For Americans with education, money and the right color, gentle justice is a given–compared to 69% of black American high school drop outs who risk going to jail during their lifetime (only 13% of their white brothers will).

In fact, one in three black Americans will actually go to jail. And despite accounting for less than 13% of the population, blacks are 37% of America’s inmates.

America is not the only country that uses violence to solve its problems.  But when it comes to mayhem and murder, we are really good at killing each other. For those of you who don’t know much about the only war to be fought on American soil since the American Revolution, the sheer numbers of Civil War dead still defy comprehension:

Nearly as many men died in captivity during the Civil War as were killed in the whole of the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands died of disease. Roughly 3% of the population, an estimated 750,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty…”

I believe that the aftermath of the Civil War is still with us.  Despite being beaten, the South was punished economically, politically and socially for decades.  Like Germany after WW1, there was no healing or even an attempt to heal.

As my friend, a retired college professor, poet and writer puts it, the “chickens always come back to roost”.

The peace that followed the “war to end all wars” lasted less than 40 years.

In less than 8 hours, 25,000 Americans lost their lives at the Battle of Antietam

In less than 8 hours, using just single shot rifles and bayonets, 25,000 Americans died at the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War

Although the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, American blacks, Mexicans, Asians and other people of color (and now especially Muslims), still suffer from wounds they have absolutely no responsibility inflicting.

The real American tragedy is that way too much of this abuse is now so woven into the fabric of everyday white American life it goes unnoticed.  Too frightened or privileged to understand it, we choose to become politically correct or incorrect.

Even today, when I go back to the states and into a department store where I could be stuffing my pockets with goodies, my black friends are watched like hawks—“can I help you?”

“No, he’s just looking and by the way, he makes $3,500 a week at Microsoft.”

For decades, banks and other “equal opportunity lenders” drew “redlines” to keep blacks and other minorities out of certain neighborhoods by denying them mortgages if they wanted to buy property there.  Now “illegal”, such practices still go on with a wink and a nod.

As does the practice of purposely selling homes or renting apartments in “white” areas to blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and others to purposely drive prices down allowing speculators to make a killing re-selling them at fat profits.

Even Jesus likes the Donald

Rapturous crowds, praising the Lord and Jesus, for their new savior

Whether it’s a KKK hood, priest’s collar, Brooks Brothers shirt, Muslims on the Haj–white has always been the color of innocence, of good, of purity.  Of all things righteous. 

Black?  The color of the devil–dirty, bad, evil, foul-smelling, foretelling of something nasty.  Not to be trusted.

Blacks couldn't sit at lunch counters and had to ride in the back of buses until 1964!

Unable to sit at lunch counters, in the front of a bus, stay in many hotels until 1964, blacks resorted to “non-violent sit-ins”.  Here angry whites pour food on them and sympathetic whites to show their contempt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember being 12 years old, living in New Jersey, going on a family vacation to Virginia Beach, We had to take the ferry from Delaware.  One side of the ferry the seats were totally filled with all black people and the other side with all white people.  And the two drinking fountains at the front of the ferry? One was marked White and the other Colored.  To me this made no sense because living for years in NYC and then New Jersey, black people were like, black.  Big deal.  Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella were still my heroes.  So I took a squirt from the Colored hoping maybe it was chocolate flavor.  

Nope, same as White.

So I get off the ferry waiting for my parents to bring the car and go up to a guy fishing and pull on his pants, “hey mister, why are all the black people on one side and the whites on another”

And he spits.

Then, in a southern drawl I will never forget, says, “well, lemme tellya son, yo here in da south and these people smell and carry disease, an that’s why we keep ’em separate and call ’em, niggers”.

Well, folks, this is the kind of lesson one rarely forgets.  And repeating it to my mother made it indelible. A tremendous slap across the face, accompanied by a “don’t you ever say that again!”.

The year was 1955.

Zoom ahead 50 years and my friends are still being followed around in shops and discriminated against in employment, where they can live, and on and on.  If you haven’t seen the 2013 movie “The Butler”, which begins with a black cotton farmer being murdered in front of his son because he dared ask why the farmer was screwing his wife whenever he wanted, it’s a history lesson of America’s racial sickness.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

black-lives-matter

Since Americans cannot talk about race openly, we masquerade our deep seated fears of being raped, held up, living next to, working with, marrying, etc. by using politics and religion to defend our “rights” to think and act the way we do.

What about the Constitution? The Bible?

Our racism is so hard-wired and pervasive, it allows us to watch Africa disembowel itself with murder, disease and tyranny while coming to the rescue of any European, South American, Balkan or even Asian country.

Black and white.

And yellow.

Enter China.

When it comes to racial purity, the Chinese are some of the truest believers on the planet, but they are neither black nor white.  It’s the reason I think they are so welcomed in Africa–yellow skin making friends with black skin–helping with education, training, economic support in return for getting raw materials they lack.

As Trump would tweet, “smart, very smart!”  And it is and they are.

Now compare how we whites deal with Africa?  Remember when Belgium owned the Congo? And how long Apartheid was openly supported by America and many European countries?

And what was the source of slave labor that created so much early American wealth and kept England rich?

Still blinded by our racism and our continuing failure to learn anything from history, we now pay others to do our dirty work–which basically means brutally repress and foment the wanton murder of non-whites all over the world who are either in the way of “progress” or simply don’t want to play by our “democratic” rules.

Eager to play proxy, our “allies” are so encouraged to buy American weapons, we are now the biggest arms merchants on earth.

No country is too poor or too rich.  Don’t have the cash?  We’ll lend it to you or take your commodities at dirt cheap prices to help pay for those advanced jet fighters you will never use “defensively”.  And it doesn’t even matter if  your country doesn’t really need our weapons–surely, you will know who to sell them to since our Congress may not allow us to do so.

So in Africa, we provide millions in military support to tyrants like Robert Mugabe and other despots who loot their countries and murder their citizens.  The reason is always to help them “defend” their country against”terrorists”–citizens who want to take their country back, and maybe even make it great again, like Donald Trump.

Who was one of the biggest buyers of our weaponry in 2016?  Peaceful, prosperous, “democratic” Qatar! Do they need them?  Do they have lots of enemies nearby?  Nope, they are our squeaky clean poster boy, quietly selling them on to friendly, sectarian religious fanatics to “keep the peace in the Middle East”, and clearly earning a fat profit in the process.

Pakistan and Egypt are also in the top 10–despite impoverished economies.  And both are brutal regimes where anxious citizens living in fear of their own government is a given.

So now we have a President whose dream is not Martin Luther King’s.  A President who thinks life is all about dollars and cents, getting the best deal, fighting force with force.

Bereft of nuance and basic political acumen, Trump is the proverbial bull in the china shop.  Yes, he will break a lot of stuff, but he will also be looking out for his own kind, which now includes folks he was never chummy with.

As Joe Biden said, maybe he should read it  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Maybe it is me who is still naive, but I really hope he comes around.

When he first met Obama, who he claimed wasn’t even born here, he realized he was smart, nice and even cool–but now thinks he was tapping his phones.  Born and bred in New York City, Trump has known and hired lots of blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other minorities, so at least he’s not completely clueless.

And while he still sees things mostly in black and white, dollars and cents, he also believes that the people ALREADY here, the “good people” who are of all different colors, are way ok….Americans!

Maybe it will dawn on him that people who look and act like these multi-colored, multi-religious Americans living outside the US may also be good people…but their rulers “not so good people”.

Maybe he will understand that racism, not trade, is the great divide.

But unless he and the rest of us honestly make the effort to face our racism, we will be forever be at each others throats all too willing to blame “others” whenever things get tough.

Instead of worrying about a lousy trade deal or building a wall, Trump and the rest of us need to realize that way too often it really is all about race and that while it’s one thing to fund proxy wars abroad to keep us white, isn’t facing a Second American Civil War the far greater danger?

detroit-3-theguardian-co_-uk_-1

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | May 6, 2020

Reflecting on life in the time of a pandemic


Nothing quite prepares us for self-analysis than a near-death experience.

As we recover, still feeling half alive, we realize that somehow every moment we used to take for granted is now really important–the heady perfume of wisteria in bloom; sitting on a rock jetty watching the sun slip into the sea; the sound of soft rain on the roof–life!

Covid 19 has brought many of us as close to a near-death emotional experience as we will ever have.

Like Kubler-Ross wrote decades ago, we are all going through similar stages of our collective new reality–denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.

For me, having lived overseas for the past 20 years, Covid 19 has meant a chance to more deeply immerse myself into what’s important and why.

                       

One of the joys of living in a foreign country is being able to experience an entirely different quality of life.  In so doing, it’s impossible not to make comparisons to life in the country you left.

Sadly, I have watched America steadily become more and more dysfunctional.  A country whose citizens are consumed with a different kind of pandemic—schizophrenia.

                                                                                We is you and me

A nation of almost 325,000,000 exhibiting the best and worst of all that we expect from a democracy whose Constitution begins with the words “We the people…”

A democracy that promises all of its citizens that freedom is their most cherished and protected human right.

Now that the US death rate has passed 70,000 and the percentage of those infected who have actually died is greater than China, where it started, the disconnect between reality and political posturing has entered a whole new phase of schizoid delusion.

As a country we have never been so divided.  So viscerally angry at each other.  Death threats against doctors who advise wearing masks?  Presidential tweets cheering for armed mobs to “free” their state?  The new normal isn’t social distancing it’s social intimidation and a quadrupling of anti-anxiety drug prescriptions.

Why so many Americans still believe what they hear and see from their government is no longer the issue.

We’ve gone way beyond anxiety, denial and anger.

Americans with guns are in state capital buildings; we shot and killed a health worker who was trying to tell someone to wear a mask and now, depressed because we are only getting $600 a week in government-issued unemployment checks, we are being told that China has caused all of this misery on purpose.

As I sit here overlooking the sea, almost as beautiful as this photo taken above Makarska, my thoughts are how important it is to let go of all of this.

Let go of our obsession with the superficial; our constant quest for more; our acceptance of racism; of lies; our growing isolation from the rest of the world; our refusal to learn from history; our deep need to find someone or thing to blame; our shocking violence.

 

      We are all alone, together.

What’s really important isn’t some new revelation about why we have lost ourselves.

It’s simply going back to find what Plato said we should do 2,400 years ago:,

“Know thyself”.

Knowing ourselves means accepting what’s good about who and what we are, and why we act and believe the way we do, as well as what isn’t.  And then doing the work to fix what’s bent, broken, missing.

We are all born full of wonder, love, trust, innocence, acceptance, laughter.

We are not born killers, racists, demagogues, consumers, liars, schizophrenics.

All of these diseases, like Covid 19, are caught, taught, learned.

Painful as it may be to confront our own weaknesses and what we have forgotten, if we don’t, we will continue to suffer as a people–not just being forever jealous, miserable, angry, worried, but cannon fodder for controllable diseases and continuing to follow, trust, elect and believe people we know we shouldn’t.

If we don’t, we will continue to be afraid to change, afraid to love, afraid of each other.

Covid 19 is a rare chance to embrace Kubler-Ross’s acceptance without actually getting sick.

A time to listen to our heart, change, learn and love ourselves and others

 

 

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 22, 2019

Nin, a legendary town that has it all


The historic core of Nin, surrounded by the sea and beautiful sandy beaches

To many Croatians, Nin is respected and admired as where Croatia began–their country’s oldest royal town, the seat of famous dukes and even kings, like Tomislav, Petar Krešimir IV. and Zvonimir.  And Catholics know the town not only for being a diocese more than 1000 years ago, but for its most famous bishop, Grgur of Nin, whose statues are here, in Varazdin (another royal town) as well as in Split. 

One of the many artifacts in the town’s splendid indoor and outdoor archeological museum

But except for sun and beach worshipers who come here to enjoy the country’s longest sandy beach, Nin’s 3,000 year old history and culture is still waiting to be discovered by most tourists.  The problem is that Dalmatia has so many treasures–magical cities, towns, national parks, islands, more–that even Nin has a tough time being a “must” when most tourists only have a few days.  So, maybe after reading this, when you come to Croatia, Nin will be on your must list!

Queens Beach, more than 3km long and all sand!

The story of Nin begins in the 9thC BC when it was founded by an Ilyrian tribe of Liburnians. Despite its tiny size (today Nin only has 3000 residents), complete with a charming medieval old town on its own island connected by stone causeways to the mainland, Nin has witnessed so much glorious history and so much destruction (ransacked and burned in 1646 to save Zadar), its story really is the stuff of legend.

It was so important during the Roman era (its name was Aenona) that in the second half of the lstC AD, the Emperor Vespasian commissioned not only a monumental forum, but also the largest Roman temple on the Adriatic coast–whose foundation stones are still here today, along with a spectacular column 17 meters high!

The temple is really enormous, but without scale it’s hard to really appreciate just how enormous it is. Just look at the house near it and the cars. The column is 17 meters high! The outside circumference of the temple was 33 meters in length and 23.5 meters in width. The shrine inside was divided into three areas, separated one from the other by two columns on each side.

The town’s splendid museum, indoors and out, is located on the island.  It’s beautifully arranged and filled with marvelous artifacts, jewelry, glass, marble and even two restored 11thC Croatian wooden boats!  A chunk of a Roman era vessel, whose wooden beam, frame and planks were held together by an intricate system of ropes, like the ancient Egyptians used, is also here.  

boat 2

At the top of the photo you can see conservators working on pieces of the boat that are kept for later use during the restoration process. 

Just a short walk from the museum is the 9thC Church of the Holy Cross which is open so you can enjoy the now empty, but restored interior.

9thC Church of the Holy Cross

The streets in and around the old town are nicely paved and easy to walk around and enjoy.  We had a spectacular lunch at Stara Kuzina (the old kitchen), one of several places to sit inside or out and enjoy the handsome surroundings.

In addition to its history and culture, the town is famous for its saltworks and you can even tour a salt museum.  Salt was like gold in ancient times and although many of the pans now use commercial machines, some are harvested by hand using similar tools that have been around since Roman times.

Almost as well known as the town’s famous sandy beaches is its medicinal mud.  Blue black in color, you can see lots of folks slathering it on all over to enjoy the benefits.

The town suffered some tremendous damage last year due to violent wind storms and has spent a lot of time, money and energy cleaning up the mess and making what’s here even better.  One of the causeways has been completely rebuilt and should be open by June.

And the town received the coveted European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) award which should also help bring more folks to enjoy its many attractions.

From Split, it’s less than 2 hours to get here and well worth the toll road fee of $10.  You can take the more leisurely coastal road, of course.  The closest big city is Zadar, well worth a visit before or after.  But if you love the beach as well as history and culture and great cuisine, renting a flat for a week or just for a few days and making Nin your headquarters will surely be a great treat!

 


The Romans never did things half way, even their street drains were designed artistically

Dioklecijanova street, the main north/south street inside Diocletian’s Palace, runs from the Golden or North Gate to where it meets Kresimirova street in the heart of the Palace, its glorious, open “courtyard” Peristil.

The Augubio palace, just a few doors up from the corner of this junction, is one of a number of 14-17thC edifices within the Roman walls built by the rich and famous to signify their elite status.

Many are still in wonderful condition, others are waiting to be restored.  The Augubio is mostly restored, with a courtyard and its own well (a real sign of status, having your own source of water!).  Several years back the ground floor was restored and the original Roman stone street and handsome brick arches and other details from later epochs were uncovered as part of a restaurant project with the same name.

As the restaurant scene here has exploded, a lot of places have changed hands as well as menus. Last week, I had a chance to meet one of the new owners (from Croatia, the other is from California).  While we were sitting talking about their fabulous new menu, I noticed what looked like a Roman drain–like the one inside the bank at the corner and another inside the Croata store on the opposite corner–that one, restored and under glass for all to enjoy).

Those drains run west to east…but the Augubio drain is on the north/south axis and the only one I have seen that not only is visible, but is actually working.  “We wash these stone floors regularly,” my host said, “and the water runs right into the drain perfectly”

What a wonderful discovery!

Next time I come, I can’t wait to surprise the maitre d, “hi, can I have a table next to the drain please?”

Even close up, the drain is just plain gorgeous

 

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 5, 2018

Sorry, Oscar. The Shape of Water sinks under its own weight


Now that the winners have been announced, having seen most of the nominated films, I thought I would put in my two cents.

How The Shape of Water even got nominated is still a mystery to me.  We’ve seen this idea many times before, with much better story-telling and character development, like Beauty and the Beast and so many other films.  But this clumsy effort is simply Hollywood movie making at its worst…..a total mish-mash of ideas resulting in an incoherent mess; poorly edited; wretched script and pardon the pun, “watery” direction.

Let’s begin with the noir paranoid 50’s setting.  Even as a metaphor it’s so lame, because clearly the “monster” and the 1950’s have little to do with each other–it’s simply del Toro’s whim of putting his story inside a 50’s envelope.

But does it drive the story?  No, it actually detracts.

Consider this, if the time frame was in another period, say the 80’s, would the essence of the film still make sense?  Of course.

But del Toro’s decision to use the 50’s not only makes no sense, it takes us far away from the fantasy.

Instead of developing the fantasy, del Toro’s decides to spend the majority of time showing us 50’s paranoia and even super clean 50’s cars since the owners who rent them to the studio won’t allow them to look “used”–and then goes even further away from the story by bringing us into the house and life of the monster’s captor–why?  To create tension?  To show us how paranoid he really is compared to the sweet Sally Hawkins, the movie’s heroine?

Michael Shannon, as the monster’s tormentor, really deserved an Oscar!

And the terrible monster?  We’re led to believe that this creature is a threat to humanity.  With typical Hollywood nonsense, we get to see cheesy “top security” vault where the caged beast is transported to and then all sorts of further nonsense with the military and others stewing about what to do with him.

But when we finally see the monster, whoaa–a cartoon character worthy of Marvel.  Humanioid with goggles over his eyes?

Is this the best the director can do?

Girl meets monster….sorry, we are NOT afraid

And instead of a subtle nuance, we get it all telegraphed:  the heroine is deaf and the monster can’t talk.  She is all empathy surrounded by evil, except for her stereotypical girl friend, whose dialogue sure ain’t 50’s!

Teaching the monster to say the word “lemon” is treated like some profound moment of a connection between a love-starved woman and an alien.

Please.

On and an on and on this film goes trying to create some sort of tension and real mystery when we know from the very first encounter they will clearly be together, and having telegraphed the gill slits, clearly, she will get hers.

I hope he loves lemons!

So of course, we have to watch the monster be repeatedly brutalized by his paranoid captor—but for what purpose?  Since this is just another gratuitous directorial whim, of course, the director lets us know that the result of all this “torture” is simply to set up the finale, which again is so telegraphed and poorly staged, it’s almost laughable.

Indeed the decision to kill the beast rather than actually stop torturing it to find out it if is sentient comes as no surprise.

Since there is clearly no interest in keeping him alive, and knowing he can be kept as calm as a pussycat with a simple electric cattle prod, why all the security, secrecy and torture?

The monster surely could have been much more developed.  We are shown that he has tremendous powers, but then somehow is unable to even get out of his tank?

At one point he is being kept alive in a bathtub, but “is dying” and needs to get back to the sea OR ELSE!!

But of course, somehow before he does, he miraculously recovers to save the day, surrounded by what looks like the entire city police force–who just as miraculously, with a clear kill shot, simply stand around like stage hands doing nothing since the director just wants the scene to look meaningful.

I mean it’s one thing to suspend belief because, hey, it’s a fantasy.  But with such a thin story to hold the film together, continuing to immerse us in such detailed 50’s noir “reality” takes what little juice is left and leaves us yawning,.

Where oh where is the editing in this film?

The only bright spot belongs to Michael Shannon, whose over the top sadism is remarkable–a fabulous performance by any standard.  But who gets the nomination? Richard Jenkins, a wonderful actor, who cheerfully breezes through his lines as if he was in an entirely different film!

Sorry Oscar, but The Shape of Water sinks under its own weight.

 

 

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | November 8, 2017

Kirov’s Death and the Dervish–exciting and uneven


Death and the Dervish, here the soul of the tormented Ahmed, in a body suit, dances a duet with him

One of the great Balkan novels, Death and the Dervish, by Mesa Selimovic, is a story of bureaucracy, betrayal and a search for the self.  The book recounts the story of Sheikh Nuruddin, a dervish residing in an Islamic monastery in Sarajevo during the turbulent 18thC when the Ottoman Turks ruled over the Balkans  After his brother is arrested, Ahmed must descend into the Byzantine world of the Turkish authorities.   After harrowing experiences, he begins to question his entire existence and find resolution by searching for his very soul.  Published in 1966, some feel the book is also a metaphor for the author’s views on the Communist society of the times.

Kirov stages it magnificently, with towering set pieces and wonderful costumes that capture the story’s dark Kafkaesque essence.  Although several dancers were off their marks for some dramatic lighting, the scenic design, lighting and evocative music by fellow Macedonian Goran Bojcevski were compelling.

Tomislav Petranovic as Ahmed, was outstanding

As the tortured Ahmed Nurudin, Tomislav Petranovic, new to the company, was outstanding.  Muscular and athletic, his performance revealed both the yearning and anger of a soul in torment.

Ajla Kadric, in a full body suit, was haunting as Ahmed’s soul–she danced poetically, full of restrained passion.   Salvatore Cerulli, also new to the company, lit up the stage when he appeared, but it was Irina Ciban Bilandic who was dazzling each time she was paired with Ahmed.  (After she got pregnant, we wondered what would happen after the birth of her child….would she return or retire?  Clearly she has come back with even more poise and power. And those extensions!)

Also in fine form was Ivan Boiko as well as the brothers Dimache.

Having recruited a new group of very talented dancers (replacing some members, who left over both personal and artistic differences), this young Macedonian choreographer has brought a completely new oeuvre to Split.  Whether it’s 9 to 5, East/West or his other works, Kirov’s dramatic, physical choreography with ambitious staging and music to match marks a new era for the company.

While clearly very talented (he has worked all over the world)–some of his choreography is breath-taking, like watching Irina gracefully slide hands-free off Tomislav’s back– the Kirov lexicon relies a lot on what we have seen before in his other works–and in Death and the Dervish, despite the flashes of brilliance, for me, the production often devolved into repetitive motifs.

Most surprising was the ending.  It was surely meant to be a powerful moment when Ahmed unmasks death.  But instead of being surprising, it was predictable and abrupt and the music leading up to it seemed out of place.

So in sum, a wonderful evening of exciting ballet, but not quite as resolved as it might have been.

 

 

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | November 7, 2017

The art of making plov at Stari Barin in Split


One of the most celebrated Central Asian meals is plov.  Traditionally made only by the man in the house, this wonderful spice infused rice-based layered steamed “casserole” of lamb with carrots dish takes hours to prepare and infinite patience to get just right.

We still have fond memories of Uzbek plov served up by a friend deep in the heart of Russia a decade ago, so when we stumbled on Stari Barin (“the old Duke”) a new restaurant just outside central historic core of Split (fittingly located on Tolstoy Street), we ran in and after downing several skewers of beef and amazing manti, a sort of Central Asian ravioli but much better), we were invited back for plov “in a few days”.

When the call came, we were THERE!

Leonid, the owner, invited me out back to see the grand unveil.  There in the corner was his cast iron pot and as he lifted the lid, the smell almost made me swoon….wow, plov in Split!  He gently scooped the top layer of rice and carefully placed it on the waiting plate.

Next of course, would come the layer of carrots….essential to plov along with those exotic spices.  Again he dipped his ladle into the lovely rice and scooped out some carrots.

Finally down into the lamb and onto the plate again where it was whisked to the table along with another plate for us to devour…it was soooo good we ordered two more to go!

If you get a chance, Stari Barin in Split….for wood grilled pork and chicken, plov, manti and more.  And most main courses are around 65 kuna or just $10 for such made-with-love cuisine.

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | October 10, 2017

Split’s fabled waterfront Hotel Ambassador finally gets a new life


Splitski hotel Ambasador kupio je 'kralj Birkenstock sandala'

Vacant for decades, the Ambassador and its location are considered the jewels of Split’s waterfront

Built in 1937 and vacant for decades, the Ambassador sits directly on the western promenade of Split’s waterfront Riva.  It’s one of only two direct waterfront hotels in the city (the other is the 3 star Jadran at the end of the promenade that abuts the city’s wonderful Zvoncac park).

Being such a prize property, the battle for ownership went on for years with lots of false starts until finally one of the Birkenstock family members who lives in Brela (famous for their shoes, remember?), bought the place lock, stock and barrel.

According to real estate reports, the new 4 star hotel will have 80-100 rooms, underground parking and up to six apartments.   And for that fab waterfront locale, will pay the city a hefty annual rent for the privilege and privacy of being on its own piece of the Riva.

Demolition of the old Ambassador Hotel began today

The build will take 18-24 months…with the plan to have the place ready for the 2018 season.

Everyone in Split will be waiting to celebrate, that’s for sure!

 

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | October 1, 2017

St. Michael, guns and klapa singing–Sept. 29th in Split


As part of the Day of St. Michael, the defender of the Church and patron saint of police. Split’s men and women in blue show off their arsenals.

Being a 95% Catholic country, Croatia has a rich tradition of celebrating the saints…and many of them actually come from this part of the world.  Among the most celebrated is Sv. Mihovil, St. Michael, the avenging archangel of the Church, patron saint of police and other “defenders”.

So tourists as well as locals can enjoy the many festival performances that are an integral part of saint’s days like St. Michael’s, a performance stage is set up on the waterfront Riva.

But it was a little startling to see an array of assault weapons and hand guns framing the stage as an octet of men in blue sang traditional klapa–and boy were they good!

Singing traditional klapa, members of the Split police were up on stage as part of the St. Michael feast day.

Considering how rare it is to even see a uniformed police officer walking around the city or a police car, it was quite a site seeing all the weapons, commando dress and officers and rank and file filling up the Riva enjoying their patron saint’s day clearly having a wonderful time.

Another adventure is always surprising Split!

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | August 27, 2017

7th Annual Split Blues Festival Outdoors at Zvoncac!


The 7th Split Blues Festival wound up a three day gig last night with a quartet of groups featuring Be Ha Ve from Zagreb, Harpoon Blues Band and Trio Trabacool from Split and Raphael Wressnig and the Soul Gift Band playing past midnight.

The venue this year was the park at Zvoncac, just in front of the Jadran Hotel and the small marina at the end of the Western Promenade.  The crowd was smaller than I thought it would be, around 2,500 for the Saturday show, but the energy was high and the music, well, what can you say about the Blues!

My love affair with this genre began in college when I managed The Cloud, a Boston blues band.  Although we never landed a contract, we did open for Chuck Berry and gigged with some groups that went on to fame and fortune like the J. Geils Blues Band, whose original name, a reflection of the times, was The Hallucinations.

So it was a lot of fun to get back into it last night and even hear some memorable covers of songs like Sunshine of your love and Gimme Shelter.  Let’s hope the Festival gets some decent sponsors so it can continue to bring in talent from around the globe in years to come.

Mike Sponza

Mike Sponza from Trieste

 

Raphael Wressnig & The Soul Gift Band

Rapheal Wresnig and the Soul Gift Band from Austria/Italy

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