For Better or For Worse

I don’t write about it much here but I am a comic strip junkie. If asked I probably wouldn’t say that For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston was a favorite but I did grow sort of fond of it. Johnston is a really good cartoonist. This summer she appeared to have discontinued the strip, and “re-runs” were appearing in its space.

I looked this up and it turns out that Johnston is still drawing the strips. She returned to the strip’s roots, and even her early drawing style, by terminating the complex plots and reverting the principal characters back to a young family. In a letter to her fans on her website, Johnston explains:

Gone was the loose, funny, free-hand line I had started with. As the adventures of the characters became more defined, so did the drawing, until I researched everything, from forklifts to faces, from aircraft to arcades. I was out for accuracy. Every house, every apartment had a floorplan. The furniture and the color schemes had to be consistent- as did the information I gave about the “players”, and if I made an error, you would let me know!

I wonder if her new-found fundamentalism takes as much mental discipline as I think it does. I always assumed creators of long-running comic strips just let them grow organically. Doesn’t keeping your foot on the creative brake take some of the life out of the product? I can barely stand to look at Berkeley Breathed’s post-Bloom County strips. It’s like stuffing and mounting your pet after it dies–Fido’s just not the same as he was. How did Charles Schultz managed to keep Peanuts so simple?

Death to junk mail

A friend e-mailed me a link to an online petition for a Do-Not Mail Registry. This would be like the Do Not Call Registry, which helps us block sales and market research phone calls.

I hate junk mail. I don’t get a lot of mail to begin with, but most of it is junk. I ignore it always. Why does it keep coming? Because you don’t.

I’ve made a couple of lame attempts to combat it on my own, like by contacting the originator of the mailing. But who wants to slave away on the phone haranguing one after another minimum-wage employee to remove my name from a database?

Hey, remember Ed McMahon and “You may already be a winner?” I never understood what his job was (besides being Ed McMahon) or why I should regard any mail with his name on it as legitimate.

W.

I saw “W.” tonight out of curiosity. I didn’t really want to relive the last eight years in Oliver Stone form. So it’s a depressing movie that met my low expectations.

I didn’t see the point of this movie, in which W’s biography revolves around the Iraq War. Stone depicts George W. Bush as a semi-likable goof driven to upstage his formidable father. The rest of the cast manages to make sympathetic characters from the likes Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, et al., portraying them as hapless bumblers rather than devious people pushing a narrow agenda that was guaranteed to produce the disaster in Iraq.

For all the talent of this movie, the performances were very disappointing. Jeffrey Wright, who plays Colin Powell, and whom I usually enjoy watching, appears to have no idea who Powell is, or is confusing him with Leadbelly or a David Alan Grier character from “In Living Color”. Richard Dreyfuss portrays Dick Cheney as if the real Dick Cheney is only impersonating Vice-President Richard Dreyfuss. It was truly awful to see.

The mistake here was to throw all these good actors into this Rich Little contest. Josh Brolin is a dead-on George W. Bush, and he gave a great performance in the absence of good direction or writing, but for the rest the mimicry was distracting. The trend in Hollywood is to laud actors who do impressions of well-known people like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash and Edward R. Murrow. This is a cheap shortcut to artistic expression and it shows in this movie.

There’s nothing entertaining about George W. Bush. From now on when I want to be disgusted by him I will just turn on the news. He may be leaving soon but his mess won’t be for a long, long time.

The recent developments

There was some news last week while I was away. A couple of people asked me who I voted for or thought would win. The people in Argentina were all rooting for Obama. I don’t know why and I don’t think they knew why either, except that they sensed it would be a beneficial change

Let’s hope a new day is coming for the United States of America.

Photos from Argentina

A busy street and cityscape behind a government building with a Córdoba marquee.
A busy street and cityscape behind a government building with a Córdoba marquee.

I’m home from Argentina, a beautiful place with beautiful people. Yesterday’s return trip was smooth but still grueling: four airports and three countries in 28 hours, 12 hours of which were layovers.

Here are the photos. Leave a comment if I got something wrong or if you can help with the architectural descriptions.

Enjoy.

Santiago de Chile

Arid mountains and a blue sky seen across a airport tarmac from inside the terminal.
Arid mountains and a blue sky seen across a airport tarmac from inside the terminal.

Layovers in the airport don’t count as visits, so I can’t say I’ve been to Chile. Can you learn anything about a country from airport terminal gift shops?

Like Argentina, the local edition of Maxim features models with bare bottoms on the front cover. A good start. The moai of Rapa Nui figure prominently in the shop displays, followed closely by penguins. There are wine shops with many, many wines.

A photo book of Chile shows lots of beautiful desert and mountain landscapes. Official maps depict outlandish claims to Antarctic territories. A book of Chilean recipes indicates a varied diet of fruit, vegetables, meats, seafoods, and legumes.

From the window of the terminal I can see that Santiago is surrounded by mountains, a landscape much like southern California. I can also see the Holiday Inn and a billboard of Don Francisco selling cellular phone service.

Notes on Argentina: food, fashion, art, and science

This week Córdoba was hot, around 90 degrees. Lore stayed home from work but she was sick with a cold, so we didn’t go out too much. I have a cold too, or maybe it’s allergies, but I still have been making regular sorties, with and without Lore, from the apartment to anyplace within walking distance. That’s a pretty narrow slice of a country to base my assessments on but here it goes.

Self-portrait photo of the author resting in a city plaza.
Self-portrait photo of the author resting in a city plaza.

Though the weather is hot I wear my long pants around town. The locals rarely wear shorts. I try to avoid being the under-dressed American when I travel abroad. I suggest to my compatriots that if you must, you can be one of the following but not both: fat or slovenly. My efforts at conservative dress do not help me blend in as I wear a floppy L.L. Bean hat in the high afternoon to protect my shiny pate from the accursed sun. The locals wear hats even less than they wear shorts.

The women of Córdoba, as I notice more than is decent, are very thin and very well-endowed and wear very tight clothes of simple fashions: blue jeans with short-sleeve or sleeveless V-neck shirts of a limited palette of colors. Kelly green, royal blue, purple, hot pink, and black appear to be in fashion this year.

Argentinians are carnivores and I have sampled much of their meat. Vendors at the Mercado Sur sell disassembled cows. I didn’t know all of that stuff was inside them. At the wedding, of course, I ate cow in various forms of butchery, and the festivities didn’t end until after a roasted leg was carved up for our consumption.

Plates of slightly burnt empanadas on a table with glasses of water.
Plates of slightly burnt empanadas on a table with glasses of water.

Typical grilled meat, carne asada, is tender, juicy, heavily seasoned (I mean salty), and usually attached to about an inch of fat. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re cutting you’ll get a mouthful of tallow. Meat also goes into empanadas (though you can order vegetable empanadas), choripán (chorizo sausage and chimichurri sauce with your choice of up to 24 different pickled vegetable toppings), and lomitos. Pick a few meats, such as tenderloin (lomo) and chicken, add cheese and eggs, and make a cholesterol sandwich out of it. That’s a lomito.

Why Argentinians don’t drop dead of heart disease by age thirty is a mystery to me. The solution may be the vinos mendocinos, Argentinian red wine from the Mendoza region. There’s also Fernet, a bitter liqueur which when mixed with Coca-Cola can get careless amateurs like me pretty hammered.

The stairway of a mansion's main hall.
The stairway of a mansion\’s main hall.

In addition to all the pretty churches I photographed last week, Córdoba has a many museums, three of them new or refurbished. The Emilio Caraffa and Palacio Ferreyra art museums are attractive buildings with interesting modern and contemporary art exhibits. The new Natural Sciences Museum has big mammal fossils (like giant ground sloths and those huge tank-like armadillo things) and a good exhibit describing the province’s different ecosystems.

A large brown emu-like bird behind a chain-link fence.
A large brown emu-like bird behind a chain-link fence.

Then there’s the zoo. Let’s just say that the zoo doesn’t meet the sanitary, nutritional, or accessibility standards of wealthier countries. The stray cats, starving toucans, and bipolar gorilla (quiet when I saw it behind ominously spiderweb-cracked Plexiglas) tend to disappoint foreigners, but the zoo does have a good collection of parrots and macaws. They also have plenty of ñandus, big South American birds like ostriches or emus.

Villa Giardino

Lore’s sister married on Saturday. We rode up to Villa Giardino, a small tourist town in the Sierras de Córdoba, for the wedding. They were married in a little chapel by an impatient priest (they were very late). In Argentina all marriages are civil marriages (probably the right way to do it), so after the church wedding everybody rode to the Casa de Municipalidad (city hall) for a civil ceremony by a judge.

Wedding-goers approach a tiny white stone and stucco chapel.
Wedding-goers approach a tiny white stone and stucco chapel.
An empty church altar awaits a wedding ceremony.
An empty church altar awaits a wedding ceremony.
A female judge speaks with the bride, groom, and witnesses in a room with an Argentinian flag.
A female judge speaks with the bride, groom, and witnesses in a room with an Argentinian flag.
A driver readies his horse and cart for a wedding.
A driver readies his horse and cart for a wedding.

The bride and groom rode to and from the church and city hall in a little horse-drawn cart. It was adorable if dilapidated. One spring was partly busted, causing the cart to list slightly, and the wheels wobbled on their axle as if they might fall off at any moment. Nonetheless, the cart’s proprietor was very proud of his vehicle. He adorned both cart and horse in white cloth and ribbons. This is not the usual even for rural Argentina, so I’m told, so as we followed the cart in a car around town, everybody on the streets waved and honked and laughed at the spectacle.

Argentinian weddings start late and last all night. The wedding reception was very similar to American weddings, at least for the first six hours or so. Then around 2:30 a.m., just after cake, it officially became the zaniest wedding I have ever been to. Somebody must have flipped the crazy switch because suddenly people were wearing big funny hats (or in some cases plastic prosthetic boobs) and spraying foam all over, sort of like a wild New Year party. The DJ switched to a local variant of Latin music known as cuarteto. There were no slow dances, only fast and faster. We finished up around 5:00 a.m., shortly after the arrival of la pata (roast leg of a cow).

Before cake:

Well-dressed wedding-goers mingle and dance.
Well-dressed wedding-goers mingle and dance.

After cake:

Spray foam fills the air around dancing partiers wearing funny hats.
Spray foam fills the air around dancing partiers wearing funny hats.

La pata:

A chef carves a roasted cow leg as partiers wait with open biscuits.
A chef carves a roasted cow leg as partiers wait with open biscuits.
Wedding guest lounge in patio furniture in the garden of a mountain resort.
Wedding guest lounge in patio furniture in the garden of a mountain resort.

Lore’s family held the reception at a resort outside the village that had been converted from an estancia (a rural estate or plantation). The reception hall was formerly a pulperia, a saloon for gauchos. Since the busy tourist season hasn’t begun yet, the resort was only open for the wedding. Those of us who stayed at the hotel–friends of the bride and groom–pretty much had the place to ourselves. We took advantage by lounging around in the garden all afternoon after lunch.

Adam enjoying the sunset at an outdoor table with wine, cheese, and bread.
Adam enjoying the sunset at an outdoor table with wine, cheese, and bread.

After we checked out, Lore and I walked around town and up a rural road known as Camino de los Artesanos, which has many little craft shops, tea houses, and the like. We walked almost all the way to the next village to find a wine and cheese shop. If you’ve ever had a truly beautiful moment that you wanted to freeze so you could return to it at any time, then you know what it was like: we watched the sun set behind the sierras as we sipped wine and nibbled on fresh cheese and bread. A couple of local dogs joined us, lounging under the table and occasionally begging us with their eyes to let them sample a new kind of cheese. As if that wasn’t enough, three gauchos rode past us on horses.