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.


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

There’s always something going on in and around Diocletian’s Palace.  If you have been here, as you enter the substructures under the south part of the Palace,  there is a small, open well-like structure filled with brackish water that visitors like to throw coins into.

Every so often, a workman siphons the water out and scoops up the coins and tosses them into a bucket.

According to local staff, several hundred Euros a year are collected, which are used to help support the continued upkeep and protection of the Palace.

The substructures of the Palace are a constant reminder of just how sublime Roman (with the help of a lot of Greek slaves) architecture can be.  Made of limestone, travertine marble, brick and mortar, with carefully notched out blocks to make sure the building wouldn’t collapse in an earthquake, the substructures are as beautiful as they are functional.

The southern part of the Palace is at sea level and the area from the central Peristil north is much higher, so a cavernous substructure was created to hold up the south side of the Palace–where the emperor and his family lived.  During Diocletian’s time, these vast basements were primarily used to store wine, olive oil and other effects.

300 years after Diocletian died, the Avars and Slavs overran this part of the Roman Empire, conquering Salona, the then capital of Roman Dalmatia, a cosmopolitan city of more than 60,000.  Fleeing for their lives, the safety of the Palace seemed a perfect refuge.

Fortunately for them, Byzantine rulers living in the Palace, let these refugees in–but made them live in the substructures–even today, you can still see staircases and outlines of roofs down here.

Since the Palace walls were never breached by any enemy, the refugees felt so secure that for more than 1000 years, residents never moved out.  Instead they eventually began building their own houses up above, using chunks of the Palace and bringing in other stone.  The once gloriously wide, straight, elegant Palace streets became a warren of buildings both small and large.  When the Venetian arrived–and stayed for more than 400 years–they built their own palaces within the Palace.

The result of course, is what we see today–much narrower streets and many, many more buildings (and churches) within the Palace that its original structure.

And what happened to the substructures?  The new residents and those who followed  simply dug holes in the streets and alleys where they built their new homes and threw building debris, garbage, human waste and more down into the “basements” where they once lived!

When they were dug out, archaeologists were amazed to find so much intact–after 1,700 years of continuous occupation all that debris literally filled up the substructures and preserved them beautifully! More importantly, once revealed, archaeologists were able to re-construct what the use and dwellings above must have looked like.

There are lots of older structures than the Palace of Diocletian, but precious few have been continuously lived in for such a long time and are in such a remarkable state of repair.  To the local workman collecting modern coins from a small well inside a 1,700 year old Roman building, it’s just part of his job.

But to me, living here, it’s part of the never-ending adventure that is Split.

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | August 2, 2017

Kuwaiti billionaire’s $100 million yacht Samar motors into Split

Kutayba Alghanim yacht

For the second time in as many weeks another $100 million plus mega yacht pulled into Split, this time the proud possession of a Kuwaiti billionaire–but for $425,0o0 week, it can be yours too.  Complete with helicopter, the Samar sure was a sight tied up the Western Promenade here today.

Complete with its own helicopter, the Samar on its mooring at the Western Promenade

Here are a few particulars about this superyacht:

Yacht Samar

The yacht Samar was built at Devonport Yachts in England to a design of H2 Yacht Design, withLaurent Giles as naval architect. The luxury yacht has a steel hull and aluminum superstructure.

12 Guests and 20 Crew

She can accommodate 12 guests and a crew of 20. Samar has large pool, a gymnasium, a cinema and several bar areas. She has an opulent interior.

A Mini Cooper and a Helicopter

The yacht carries several toys, including a Mini Cooper and a Bell 407 helicopter.  

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | July 17, 2017

Raging wildfire threatens Split!

Smoke fills the sky casting a dark shadow over the city. this photo was taken from a neighborhood about 6 kilometers from the site.


The wild fire had reached the populated area of Dracevac, less than 3km from where we live.  This photo was take from our roof.

The fire was so out of control, you could see the flames spreading down the hillside

It’s been a wickedly hot summer with temperatures in the mid 30’s–almost 100F–for weeks.  With no rain, the threat of wildfires here has never been greater.  The predominant trees here are pine, and when they catch fire, filled with tar and sap, it’s explosive….the flames spread quickly from tree to tree and the parched ground grass, practically like hay, is the perfect tinder to keep the flames going.  The smoke can be seen for miles here and with the fire high up in the hills in-between the rocky crags, it’s almost impossible to fight.  Although housing here is concrete with little worry of burning, the olive trees, vineyards, orchards and vegetable farms that many people living up in the hills depend on for their livelihoods is really under threat.

On every rooftop, people gathered to watch the blaze

Last year almost 70% of the vineyards in parts of Korcula were wiped out from fire.  And the year before, the vineyards on the Peljesac peninsula too a direct hit from the flames there.

It’s days like today that make you think, yes, a gorgeous part of the world, surrounded by blue skies and the sea–and Mother Nature just around the corner letting you know that she’s in charge….always.

UPDATE:   The fire is now greatly expanding and waves of fire fighting aircraft are now being used, which we can see swooping in from our roof, dumping chemicals on the blaze to try and contain it.  News reports now claim several houses in the area are ablaze and a call for fire fighting equipment from around the region has been made and trucks and personnel are on their way.

July 18 UPDATE

Still burning, the fire is slowly being contained….friends who have houses nearby fought the blaze with water hoses, but so far we have not heard about any loss of life…..both malls were evacuated because of smoke and we lost power for several hours last night…’s how the media is handling the story:

Posted by: viewfromtheriva | July 17, 2017

Queen Mira docks in Split, welcome aboard for $2 million a week

92 meters long, the luxurious Queen Mira is the largest mega yacht to dock in Split this year

It’s always a real kick to go by the Western Promenade of Split’s waterfront “Riva” and check out the yachts tied up for a day or two on their way around this part of the world.  There are always some real beauties with fabulous names and fabled home ports like Gibraltar, Valleta (Malta), the Caymans, etc.

This week the Queen Mira is here, a megayacht with its own pool, a crew of 30 plus and cabins for another 36.  Complete with helicopter pad, this kind of ne plus ultra cruising is for the rarefied few who can put up a cool $2 million a week to charter this literal queen of the seas.

A stunning pool, plus a sauna, steam room and all sorts of other goodies on this ship.

This photo isn’t as glam as the first one, cruising along smartly at 17 knots–the Queen has a 7,000 nautical mile range by the way—but it shows how it dwarfs the mooring along the Western Promenade here in Split:

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