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Friday, October 19th, 2007
1:12 pm - Big D in DC

Went down to the Mall on Wednesday to hear the Dalai Lama's public address. You don't get to be disappointed when you have an opportunity to him speak, but in this case the address was all about Tibet and the occassion of receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, not  spirituality. He could have read from the phone book though, and you still would have felt your soul moving toward enlightment just from being in his general vacinity. 

Good crowd. Nice mix of ages and a wonderful presence of folks in Tibetan garb, including plenty of monks in their Redskin colors. Security including Capitol Police with automatic weapons was a bit of a bummer, but it came with the venue.

current mood: calm

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Friday, May 6th, 2005
10:14 am - Travel in America - C is for Casinos
These days it is hard to travel anywhere in America and not sleep within an hour or so of a casino. There are exceptions of course: Texas most particularly, Maryland south to Georgia too, Ohio and Utah and others I suppose, but it certainly seems that the rule is that you can gamble if you want too. Even the states without casinos tend to have lotteries, keno, pull tabs, OTC or tracks featuring various sorts of animal racing with pari-mutual betting.

As an investor, it seems to me that a smart buy would be whoever makes slot machines. Everyone is making and buying “casino-quality” poker chips these days. At one time it seemed as if the accumulated weight of old National Geographics was what threatened the stability of the planate. Now it is clearly those 11.5-gram poker chips being bought up by all of those folks watching the endless reruns of the World Series of Pokers. But, poker chips, decks of cards, or even gaming tables would have to be too small a part of any corporation’s overall business to be significantly reflected on the bottom line, but slot machines get rotated out and changed so often that slots should be a good business for someone, plus there simply are so many of them out there and the number grows all of the time. Lots of places that call themselves casinos only have slots. Casinos themselves should be a good business too. MGM-Mirage and Mandalay Bay Group have been very good to me over the last couple of years, but I still haven’t found that slot machine play.

Everyone knows about Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, but I was surprised by how nice St. Charles on the western fringe of St. Louis was. In Missouri the law limits players to buying $500 worth of chips every two hours in what has to a fruitless effort to control compulsive gambling. You can still lose $6000 a day if you want to hang around for 22 hours and 1 minute. The permanently anchored riverboats on the St. Louis waterfront are less appealing, but St. Charles has a pleasant Vegas quality.

Tunica, Mississippi on the other hand is Las Vegas east. The casinos are spread out more than Vegas, or even more than AC for that matter, but they are all very elegant and very hospitable.

Harrah’s on the edge of the French Quarter in the Big Easy may be the only place left in America were the Black Jack dealer stands on 16, yet another reason to visit that extraordinary city, at least in the fair weather months.

There are now 8 casinos within an hour’s drive east of San Diego, Sey Cuan, more or less in El Cajon, being my venue of choice. If you’re in central California doing the Sideways tour, there is perfectly acceptable casino just outside Solvang, within a 15 minute drive of the Hitching Post.

Last month I played Texas Hold’um at the Tulalap Casino just north of Seattle and was told by one of the players that he had collected souvenir chips from 46 casinos and card rooms in the greater Seattle area.

There are 4 or 5 casinos in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, and some north of Lansing in Michigan.

Most of New England doesn’t have casinos, but the two huge venues in Connecticut put slots and table games within an easy drive of most New Englanders.

There is a fairly shabby Seminole casino in Immokalee south of Ft Myers, Florida, but it has some of the loosest Texas Hold’um tables that you could ever want to find. If my game ever gets good enough to go pro, I am definitely starting there.

The tribes of New Mexico would look to be generating enough gambling revenue to buy back all of the land, or at least all of the politicians they could possibly want, but the sad thing of course is that they have been pissing away their earnings on very expensive and largely pointless D.C. lobbying efforts.

I can’t decide whether all of this is good or bad. People throwing away money is always bad, but at the same time it is always so. I remember a guy I sat next to at dinner recently trying to tell me that anti-smoking campaigns weren’t necessarily good things if people who quit smoking became obese or used their newly found spendable income to drink to excess. To the extent that that logic is valid, I suppose it applies to gambling as well. If there aren’t casinos there are always plenty of other foolish ways to throw away one’s money.

Too, each of us who gambles imagines that we are better than the crowd and that new money is always welcome in the game. However that may be, the fact is that today when traveling in America, C is for Casinos.

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Friday, March 18th, 2005
2:06 pm - Travel in America: B is for Boston
When I first thought of this I wanted B to be for Badlands, my favorite golf course in Las Vegas, but for the last twelve months B can’t be for anything but Boston even though my visits there never took me inside Fenway and I’ve never seen the Patriots play. I was in Boston for a week last summer and again for six days in January without doing any of the sports things that dominated Boston’s mythic year, but had great visits anyway. Never been whale watching there either.

Boston is the quintessential East Coast city. Museums and shops, history and architecture, and clubs and bars surround you on every side. It’s also a deadly serious food town, and one of the very best places in America for just walking around. Combine the two, as in walking around the North End with a canolli from Mick’s in your hand, and you’re close enough to ecstasy to get yourself in trouble. I’m told it’s a great music town, but as with Austin I can’t say from personal experience. You can’t gamble in Massachusetts, but Connecticut casinos are just an hour and a half or so away.

It was hot in July and snowing in January, but that’s part of the Boston experience too.

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Thursday, March 17th, 2005
2:08 pm - Travel in America: A is for Austin
Haven’t posted in quite a while, been doing a lot of traveling working a new gig which has soaked up most of what little creative energy I have. That, and being in a blue funk since November. No one was more stunned by the election results than me. I had been all over this country and hadn’t seen more than a handful of Bush people anywhere, but mostly I was visiting campuses and campuses pretty much anywhere are these islands of blue even if the sea around is red.

But now I’m sort of hitting my stride workwise and funkwise, so thought that maybe my travels might work as fodder for a series of travel bites. This is the first of what I hope to be a complete alphabetic tour of spots that I have checked out for business and pleasure over the past eighteen months.

Have to say that I cannot imagine that the Fates would ever be so unkind as to require that I live in Texas, but if it were to happen, I could almost make it work in Austin. Austin may be in Texas but you can spend a week there, even when the legislature is in session, and see precious few cowboy hats. I go down every couple of years for an annual 6-10 day program of lectures and workshops on Mayan hieroglyphs at UT, a kind of fantasy baseball camp for geeks. Everyone who is anyone in the field is there, and amateur glyphers get to rub elbows and interact with the best and brightest.

The event is timed for UT Easter break, as are Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music festivals. Sooo even for geeks there is plenty to do in Austin in the spring. One year I did a golf school before the Maya meetings. This year I did the lectures, but blew off the workshops and instead went to nine movies in three days. The film festival is great, but most people only think of music when they think of SXSW. The music was just starting the day I left, so I can’t say.

Austin is a serious food town. It has truly wonderful Tex-Mex and barbeque, and quite fine seafood and sushi too, and it’s Texas so there are always steaks to be found. Great bars and clubs, including Ginger Man on 4th near Lavaca with 83 beers on tap. Never quite know what the weather will be this time of year, but Austin in the spring is definitely worth the gamble.

When I first thought of doing this series A was going to be for Athena (as in the 44-foot statue in Nashville’s Parthenon repro), but I’ll handle that under N, or maybe V for Vanderbilt. Just now I am trying not to think too far in advance. I am starting this without knowing what I will do beyond the first four or five pieces.

current mood: busy

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Monday, June 21st, 2004
10:01 am - life is good
It may just be the extraordinary weather we are experiencing, but life seems very good these days.

I have been home for a week or so. Actually did a presentation locally at AU, my alma mater, last week. Thursday I take off for Orlando for the annual AmerLibraryAssn meeting. The work is fun and the pace is easy to deal with.

Next month is the law librarians' meeting in Boston and then out to CA to visit family and spend some time tracing part of the route of Fremont's second expedition for a paper I'm supposed to present at a symposium this fall.

I can barely bring myself to write the words, but it may turn out that being laid off in 2002 from a job that I loved and expected to have forever was a good thing for me after all. It certainly wasn't the intention of those who let me go (may they rot in Hell), but frustrating their intentions isn't the worst part of the present situation either.

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Sunday, March 28th, 2004
11:57 pm - Frequent flyer blues
This month has been unusual in my recent experience. I don't hate it yet, in fact I still feel as though I am stealing money. I love being on campuses, I love talking with librarians, and I love talking about the early history of the Republic, but I have spent a lot of time recently in coach seats of bargain airlines.

Naples Florida, Fayetteville AR, Phoenix & Tuscon, Chester VT, Memphis TN and Jonesboro AR, Philadelphia, and now off early tomorrow for Provo UT to talk about John C. Fremont and Brigham Young with the good folks at BYU, and that's just March. Each comma in the first sentence marks a stay of a few days back in DC. Talk about March Madness!

My head is so firmly stuck in the 19th C., I am trying to decide whether to vote for Fremont or Buchanan in November, but maybe that's just jetlag.

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Friday, January 30th, 2004
10:49 pm - Cold Mountain
Move over Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain, and Deer Hunter. Make room for another great anti-war movie.

Despite the fact that Nicole Kidman disappoints in a role she was wrong for to begin with, I really liked this movie. I think it is one of the best movies I have seen in years, and a hell of an anti-war statement.

I had a grandfather (of the great-great variety) at the battle of the Crater. His was one of the units that rushed in to plug away at Federals trapped in their big hole. He stuck it out in the Petersburg lines throughout that last terrible winter of the war, and survived the weary retreat to Appomattox. I had some trouble with the Confederate deserter as hero in the book, but somehow I had nothing but empathy for that same character in the movie. They kept some of the weak gimmicks from the book (the saw and the bull for instance, not to mention the nearly immaculate conception at the end), but overall it was an extraordinary adaptation for the screen of a very problematic book.

The love story/stories work for me and the price of war on all levels is constantly in you face. I am appalled that Master and Commander was nominated for Best Movie, and this film wasn’t.

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Wednesday, January 14th, 2004
12:08 pm - best t-shirt at recent American Library Assn mtg in San Diego
black shirt, white lettering:

"Read a fucking book!"

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Monday, December 8th, 2003
7:26 am - Heart breaker
At Bobbsie’s funeral (July 21 entry), I said that I would buy an Advent calendar for myself this year. I did.

But, we received a handmade Advent calendar from her artsy-craftsy sister in Saturday’s mail. Behind each door is a different picture of Bobbsie.

I dunno.

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Saturday, November 22nd, 2003
4:49 pm - Eductation really is a lifelong process, if you let it be
I was standing in line this morning at my local Suntrust Bank at the corner of 18th and Columbia. I could look out the window and see a branch of the BanCommercio de El Salvador across Columbia Rd., and a branch of the BanAgricola de El Salvador down 18th. As I listened to each of the three tellers in front of me and both of the managers seated behind me converse with customers in Spanish, I wondered if I was the laziest guy in DC or just one of the top twelve.

How hard can it be to learn to speak Spanish? The opportunities for virtual immersion are all around us in this town. There at least two Spanish language TV stations available without cable, and God-knows how many Spanish radio stations. Every time you turn around you’re stumbling over some stack of Spanish-language newspapers. Yet it eludes me totally.
The only reason I managed to pass Intermediate Spanish at AU was because I had this former Cuban attorney stuck teaching Spanish to dolts like me who felt that people had a tough enough time in this world as it was without his adding to their problems by giving them bad grades. He took me aside once and said, “Mr. Utsukushiyama, if you decide to take any further Spanish courses here at AU, you must take them from me. Otherwise, I will have a great deal of difficulty explaining to one of my fellow instructors how you passed this one.”

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Tuesday, November 18th, 2003
2:24 pm - sometimes everything's in the name
The Salavoran chicken place on Columbia road that opened several months ago as Little Peckers finally changed its name to Pollo Granero.

I'm hoping business picks up.

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Tuesday, October 28th, 2003
8:07 am - PDA
Palm finally came out with a PDA cheap enough for someone to give me one as a gift.

When I was a serious manager type and everyone was saying I should have one, I was too cool to even wear a watch. Admittedly my sanity was repeated saved by not knowing how much time I was pissing away in some mind-numbingly boring meeting, and I never really minded looking around for clocks and staring at other people's wrists, etc., but the whole "I don't need no stinkin macheen" business meant keeping just too damn much information in my head.

Even now when the Michellin folks gave my mother this Palm Zire as a premium for buying an outrageously overpriced set of tires, I twice resisted her efforts to pass the thing on to me. Finally though, she tried one final time at just the right moment when this consulting thing was requiring a particularly complex layering of schedules and I was looking for some easy way of recording business expenses, and I had just for the third time in two weeks doubledbooked fun and business stuff for the same day.

I took the damn thing and I'm loving it.

No great surprise to friends who knew all along that a PDA and I should be a natural fit, but I am absolutely stunned. It's small enough to fit in a pocket and I'm never without it and in just a few weeks have already avoided several doublebooking possibilities and been completely confident scheduling things and been able to record the price of a lunch or the mileage to somewhere before I forgot it.

The graffiti writing is fun, and so far the minimum memory that the Zire has seems adequate to my needs. I never buy the smallest model of anything and I know that if I had gone out and gotten one for myself I would have had to buy something at least in the middle of the considerable price range that exists for these things. I may wind up eventually with a more powerful model, but for the present this start-small-and-see-what-you-really-need approach is an eye-opener. I'm better for having my PDA and I am having fun too.

current mood: busy

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Friday, October 3rd, 2003
10:56 am - a new heir apparent?
The visit with the Japanese went wonderfully well. They're off now for a few days in New England, then off to old England for a few days before continuing on around the planet and back to Tokyo.

A few years ago, my friends in Japan thought they might look into having me appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan, but then decided that it might be best just to have me adopted into the the Imperial family. I think that after this week the Imperial family thing may be back on track.

Wednesday, I went out to KC for a dog-n-pony show at KU. While I was in Kansas, I made a point to eat one of the two steaks I allow myself a year, and it was fantastic, even the baked potato tasted unusually fine.

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Sunday, September 28th, 2003
9:59 pm - How old do you think I am?
Being back at work is proving to be great fun. I am already back working with Japanese sales reps. Two fellows flew in today for a two-day seminar on the history U.S. Government publishing that I will be running out of my home this week.

We met for dinner this evening and after an hour of conversation about Sumo, baseball, Tokyo, and mutual friends, suddenly we were guessing each other’s ages, one of the most familiar of all Japanese conversational conventions when meeting for the first time.

current mood: rejuvenated

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Sunday, August 17th, 2003
9:56 pm - Back to work?
When I was laid off last year, I said that I wouldn't write a series on being unemployed in America, and I didn't.

It's been a funny time. I'm not sure that anything worked quite as I had sort of always imagined a mid-life year off might.

I completed some projects around the house. I now have a lovely patio and one of the two or three nicest small ponds in the mid-Atlantic region.

I did a little travelling alone, but not much. I read a lot and improved my golf game a little, but the time for introspection was largely wasted and I never really overcame the depression associated with employer-rejection. I started out fine, but became less and less focused and more and more disorganized over time.

I never really made a serious run at my one good book idea. Because I was never sure what would be coming up, I never made any attempt to do worthwhile volunteering. I only made a slighly more intense than usual effort to catch exhibits and shows downtown.

Butttt, the truth is I could probably have frittered away the rest of my life this way and not minded it particularly, so long as the money held out. Working or not working, my life is full of friends, theatre, pre-Columbian stuff, golf, reading and writing.

Anyway, it now turns out that circumstances seem to be conspiring to get me back in harness whether I really want to or not.

A competitor of my former employer called out of the blue and has offered me some consulting for more money that I can turn down. The prospect of working on a product competing head-to-head with one that the old boss really cares about may make it too tempting to pass up. On the other hand, too, too often in the past I have let flattery turn my head and get me in trouble. We'll see.

Tomorrow I'm off to Vermont to look this thing over and may well commit to something starting September. Wish me luck (an clarity).

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Monday, August 11th, 2003
4:36 pm - Golf 1884
Last week I had the opportunity to play the 9-hole Oakhurst Links course in White Sulphur Springs, WVa. Originally laid out in 1884, it is arguably the oldest golf course in the country. It hosted regular competitive play for a (very) small membership through about 1900, but then was allowed to return to pasture through most of the 20th Century. It was restored and reopened for play in the early 1990s.

To play today, you are required to play with their reproduction 19th C. wooden-shafted clubs and reproduction 19th C. gutta purcha balls. It obviously is maintained more as a museum than a public golf course. Instead of wooden tees, you take a small handful of wet sand from the bucket on the earthen tee box and make a little pyramid for your ball to rest on.

I never really mastered getting any distance out of the driver (really more of a 2-wood) or the ungrooved irons, and took a total of 54 shots for the round, but playing those 9 holes was as much fun playing golf as I think I have ever had. In fact though, scores of around 100 for 18 holes were considered pretty good in the 19th C. In addition to the needle-nosed driver and a putter that was just a miniature driver, I was playing with what would later be called a mashie (5-iron) and mashie-niblick (7-iron), but they carried no such labels in 1880s, plus a club with the loft of a 3-iron and a very small-head to be used for hitting out of cart tracks.

The fairways are kept cropped by a flock of 40-50 sheep. The sheep are in play and it is a one-stroke penalty for hitting a sheep. I only hit one. You get a free drop out of sheep droppings. It is difficult to get much carry with the gutta purch balls which are harder than modern balls, but despite the shaggy fairways, they get a fair amount of roll.

The greens at Oakhurst are mechanically mowed (mechanical mowers were brought to White Supher Springs quite early to maintain the Croquet lawns at the Greenbrier), although they are kept at about twice the height of modern greens, but they are small, flat and slow so my 54 strokes only included 16 putts. Between relatively light play and the trajectory of most shoots hit to the green with the old clubs, the greens had very few ball marks, being pocked instead by hoof prints of sheep.

The rules are about the same as today, except you can’t pick up your ball until you hole out. Which means that you have to putt around, or over, other players' balls on the green. The “stymie” rule persisted until the early 1950s in professional play.

The weekend before I was there, they had played their annual hickory-stick tournament. Players in the tournament are required to wear plus fours, long-sleeve dress shirts and ties. I am thinking about playing next year.

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Monday, July 21st, 2003
1:04 pm - Life goes on
Today the water hyacinth decided to bloom for the first time this year. The water lilies, the red and the yellow, are both in bloom. The white clematis, which is new this year, is trying hard to do its part and has opened up half a dozen spectacular six-inch blossoms. Unlike young humans, young clematis focus on establishing good roots before they think about being beautiful.

Most of this year’s experiments with new plants are working well. Little neon sapphire lobelias glow in spots sheltered from the full blaze of the sun. Yellow yarrow and white obedient plant, and several shades of nasturtiums are providing wonderful color and a newly introduced ruby red variety of coreopsis looks like it may settle in. Purple fountain grass surrounded by three different types of sweet potato vine are all flourishing in two new large containers on the patio.

But it is still a very sad time. We continue to work emptying out Bobbsie’s apartment. Like most people who didn’t really have anything, she had mountains of stuff. The sisters came down and took back an SUV-load of boxes to RI and the movers came today to pick a small load of furniture to go back to her father’s house. Second Story Books will buy all of the books that the sisters and friends haven’t taken. Joe will take the TV and one of the nieces can wear her shoes. We’ve pretty much boxed up everything else, some for Good Will, some little mementoes for a long list of friends, and some stuff that we will take.

Stranger in a Strange Land keeps coming to mind. It’s as if we are cannibalizing her. Little things that we can’t bear to throw away keep getting set aside to go to our house which is already bulging with our own enormous collection of crap. A clock radio, paring knives, bottles of hand lotion, a big plastic letter “B” that was always on her kitchen wall, etc., etc.

In a rather obvious way we are guaranteeing that we’ll always remember her because we’ll always be using her stuff.

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Tuesday, July 1st, 2003
Bobbsie died late on Saturday.

She smoked way too much and she stayed on the pill way too long. She was a food snob who would only eat real eggs and real butter; there are eggs and butter in her fridge today. Her cholesterol was high and she never got as much exercise as she should have, but she was a year younger than me, she had no business dying.

Originally she was Dorothy’s ichiban tomodachi (No. 1 friend), inseparable since high school in Japan, but she long ago became special to me too. In the thousand years that Dorothy and I have been together, the three of us shared all of the experiences of our lives, great and small. If one of us didn’t see her or talk to her during the day, then her name came up in conversation, sometimes lovingly, sometimes profanely. Holidays, birthdays, weddings, funerals, whatever, all involved Bobbsie. I go on for a while here, trying to work this outCollapse )

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Friday, May 2nd, 2003
10:09 am - Education really is a lifetime process
A few hours before the Light Brigade was mistakenly launched against the Russian guns, the other half of the British Cavalry Division, the Brigade of Heavy Cavalry, found itself between a mass of charging Russian cavalry and the British supply base at the port of Balaclava. The advanced elements, only 300 in number, wheeled left to face the Russians and proceeded to carefully dress their line causing the thousands of charging horsemen to halt in bewilderment and stand watching the brilliantly uniformed British moving around as if preparing for parade. When everything was in order, General Scarlett waved his saber and the British charged, uphill. In one of those “you wouldn’t believe it in the movies” moments of history, the Russians swarmed around the British, enveloped them, then panicked, broke, and fled.

If the Light Brigade had charged then, and done what they were meant to do, cut down retreating enemies (a little secret that most British historians like to avoid, those lances were really mostly for stabbing fleeing enemies in the back), the Battle of Balaclava instead of being just a curiosity would have been an enormous victory and the Crimean War would have ended soon thereafter, and tens of thousands of lives would have been spared and untold suffering prevented.

As it was, at the end of the day the Russian infantry remained in possession of part of the road between Balaclava and the British forces besieging Sevastopol, and the siege dragged on feebly through a brutal Russian winter. Eventually a treaty was negotiated with the exhausted Russians that obtained most of what the Allies wanted, but Sevastopol never fell, and the price of the whole silly thing was much higher than it need have been.

All of which is to say, that A. Tennyson wrote “The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava,” too. It’s probably a better poem than its more popular mate, but its structure is more ambitious and it’s more difficult to get your hands around, so most of us aren’t even aware of its existence.

I recommend without reservation Cecil Woodham-Smith's The Reason Why, a sort of dual biography of the commanders of the Cavalry Division and the Light Brigade. It's a stunning indictment of war then, and, by extension, of war now.

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9:05 am - It wasn’t Bollywood, but hell only a billion people can tell the diff
It’s D.C. Filmfest again and last night’s choice was Tamil director Mari Ratnam’s Waves. The costumes were spiffy, the musical numbers were fun, and the cast was attractive, but this musical soap opera had way too many plot twists for my taste, and its announced 135 minutes seemed to stretch out to at least three hours.

I only gave it one star on my “audience choice award” ballot, but some of our little group gave it four stars. So there you go!

Monday was a very interesting Chilean film about con men trying to scam a fishing village out of its annual harvest of aphrodisiacal shellfish (we all gave it four stars). Saturday we’ll see a Cuban variation on Central Station about an Amelie wannabe postal worker who opens letters from strangers and writes upbeat replies.

current mood: busy

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