Is that a Dagger I See Before Me?

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Courtesy of Apple/A24

Macbeth, directed by Joel Coen and shot entirely on a sound stage, was certainly a sight to behold. It was filmed in luscious black and white giving the movie an instant classic look and taking the viewer out of the realm of reality and plunging them straight into the surreal and pathological world of the Thane of Cawdor.    

This was Joel’s first foray into film without his brother Ethan at his side and what a miracle of rare device it was. With his emphasis on camera angles, close-ups, medium shots, long shots, and long and dark shadows, I was reminded of past movies of film noir and German expressionism, such as the films of F. W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Orson Welles. The aspect ratio of 1.37:1, almost square, recalls the classic films of old.

The performances by all the actors were uniformly excellent. Frances McDormand put in a very solid performance as Lady Macbeth. One might quarrel with her interpretation but really, I don’t see how it could be improved. I thought Denzel Washington excelled in his role as Macbeth and both actors played well together. I loved what Coen did with the weird sisters, all three played by the diminutive Kathryn Hunter.

The overall piece was visually stunning, full of sound and fury, and filled with an abundance of symbology.

A very satisfying cinematic event. Highly recommend!

Buffalo Shooting

Image courtesy USA Today

Another heartbreaking mass shooting yesterday at a grocery store in Buffalo New York lies in the intersection of rampant gun violence, racism, white supremacy, and pure evil. While most Americans are not racist fear-mongers a significant portion apparently are. The manifesto written and uploaded to the internet by the shooter references the “replacement theory” that black and brown people will replace white people. This is based on the original theory that “Jews will not replace us” which is an antisemitic trope found in the “Blood and soil “propaganda propagated by Nazi Germany. It is a philosophy based on hate, racism, and white supremacy.  

 Last year, an Associated Press poll found that about a third of American adults believe an effort is afoot to “replace” U.S.-born Americans with immigrants. In addition, roughly 3 in 10 Americans think additional immigration will cause white, Americans to lose their economic, political and cultural influence.

This is dangerous thinking and fuels right-wing extremism that leads to violence. Also, while I am at it, no one in America needs a military-style assault weapon. The damage these weapons do to the human body and the number of people killed in a matter of seconds beggars the imagination. There are too many guns on the streets of America. It is a national health crisis of staggering proportions. Attention must be paid! Every day a person is killed by gun violence on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky where I live. You take your life in your hands when you are out for a walk at night. We need common-sense gun laws now to make our cities safe again.

On the Road to Ajijic

Casa Campbell

Lake Chapala

Earlier this year, my partner Maureen and I made another pilgrimage to the land down under (the border) to visit the charming village of Ajijic, Mexico. This was my second visit and her first. In order to get to Ajijic one flies into Guadalajara then taxis the rest of the way from there to Ajijic. It’s 54 kilometers and the trip takes about an hour costing 500 pesos with tip.

Waiting for us at our destination was the owner of the Airbn we were staying at, Lupita Campbell. We were very happy with the accommodations which, to say the least, exceeded our expectations. We had an entire guest house, La Casita, at our disposal which was beautifully furnished and full of art. We also had a fenced in yard with a fountain and a cabaña in the back. From the roof we had a magnificent view of lake Chapala.

Back porch at La Casa Campbell

Ajijic is wedged between the mountains on one side and the lake on the other. Lake Chapala is the biggest lake in Mexico and is quite beautiful to look at and to visit. It has a wonderful malecon where you can take an evening stroll and watch the sun go down.

The weather is perfect. We were there in January and it was a little cool in the morning but by noon it was quite warm. No need for heat or central air. The hot water heater was warmed by solar power so we had to wait a bit to get a hot shower.

There is a large expat community living in Ajijic supported by the Lake Chapala Society. They are mainly American and Canadians. The locals sometime refer to Ajijic as “Gringo Land.” We have friends who live there and some who travel there quite frequently and we were planning on catching up with them on this visit.

There are many fine restaurants and shops in the village and is a fun place to visit and socialize.

Dan “Buddha” Hildebrandt, Al Mitchell, and Maureen Bacon at Scallion’s Restaurant.

All photographs by the author.

More to come….

War and Rumors of War

Lessons from History

(Image: Getty Images/stock photo)

Once we are through with the 1619 project perhaps, we could move on to the Vietnam War Project.

While we are at it and are stressing over our fighting a proxy war with Russia and fearing the possibility of a nuclear confrontation let us remember that we (the USA) are the only country in history to drop an atomic bomb on another country. And it was we who let the nuclear genie out of the bottle in the first place. One can only hope that we don’t inherit the wind.

And let us not forget we fire-bombed Tokyo, another civilian target, nearly burning that city to the ground. Robert Macnamara, the Secretary of Defense at that time, is quoted as saying that if we had lost the war he would surely have been tried as a war criminal.

This is not to say that we should not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its merciless targeting of civilians, but as the saying goes, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There is a reason we are not signatories to the International Criminal Court.

We can do better and we are doing better I think, but let us not forget from whence we came for he who forgets the lessons of history is forever bound to repeat them. Rather, let us be a beacon of hope to those who love freedom and a keeper of the eternal flame of remembrance for those who have fought and died in war.

Book Review – Nelson Algren’s

Somebody in Boots

Image courtesy of Goodreads

The miners came in ‘49
The whores in ‘51
They jungled up in Texas
And begot the native son

-Old Song

Somebody in Boots was originally titled Native Son, but Nelson Algren gave this title away to Richard Wright who used it to his great advantage.

Boots were a symbol of power, status, and authority. When someone in boots was approaching, you knew you were in trouble: “Someone was coming. Someone in boots. Cass heard his boots moving faster and faster. Such boots were two despisers of small things. They were high heeled sharp pointed, embedded deeply with sharp pointed spikes, shining with sun or bright with rain wet.”

This was Nelson Algren’s first novel and it has all the raw power and awkwardness of unrefined prose. Algren, himself, did not much care for the novel and would rework some of the material into a much better book, A Walk on the Wild Side. He wrote Somebody in Boots in 1936 and didn’t write another novel until 1940. By the time he got to The Man with the Golden Arm he was writing masterful prose and he made his words sing. But, he never lost his edge.

And this is an edgy novel to say the least. Personally, I loved this book and was in its thrall all the way through to the end. It has unforgettable characters and vivid situations and opens a window onto the events occurring in this country almost 100 years ago during the great depression, or the “great trouble” as it was described by one of the characters. The novel ends in Chicago during the 1933-34 World’s Fair. It is a novel of casual racism, police brutality, sexism, and misogyny. It might also be considered an anti-capitalist screed. It details he lives of hobos, homeless, and the haunted.


Cass McKay was a poor young man from the hills of West Texas. He lived in a one room shack with a dirt floor with his brother, sister and a brute of a father. He left home after a savage fight broke out between his brother and father and started riding the rails at the tender age of seventeen. First he went to New Orleans where he got his throat cut by a pimp in whore house. He then went back to Texas for couple of years the hit the road again drifting back and forth between Chicago and Texas, and all points south. He had a lot of adventures along the way.


“Wherever he walked that winter, whether in New Orleans along icy docks or on Railroad Street in Baton Rouge, he saw the vast army of America’s homeless ones; the boys and old women, the old men and young girls, a ragged parade of dull gray faces, begging, thieving, hawking, selling and whoring. Faces haggard and hungry, and cold, and afraid; as they passed, booted men followed and watched.”
In Chicago “He walked up and down West Madison Street every day one ragged bum among ten thousand ragged bums.” He met a girl there by the name of Norah who was down on her luck. She had been working as a seamstress in a sweat shop and lost that job for mouthing off to the boss. She then started working a strip club called Little Rialto after seeing an ad in the Chicago Tribune: “WANTED: DANCER. EXP. PREF. APPLY HAUSER’S RIALTO.-S. STATE”


Cass got involved with her and they started knocking off drugstores together. One night they got caught and Cass end up doing 10 months in the joint. Norah got away.


Racism and police brutality quite often make an appearance on the page and sometimes they intersect as they do in the following passage illustrating once again that the more things change the more they stay the same. Black lives mattered then about as much as they do now.


“One Sam Phillips, black as ink and Alabama born, was in Chicago only two days when he got picked up on South Prairie Avenue by Sergeant M___ of the South Park Police. Sure the boy looked suspicious-he was in rags, and he had no place to sleep and he was a nigger. So what ? So M___ says, “Run eight-ball, or I’ll put you in for vag.” Sam Phillips didn’t know very much, he’d only been in town two days, but Sam did know that he didn’t like jails, and that he could run pretty fast all right. Two hundred yards I’ll give you,” the sergeant offered-and black Sammy Phillips just took it on the lam. He ran 20 feet; M___ dropped to one knee in the proper manner and let her flicker, one through the legs and five to the belly- but he got his promotion so, I guess it’s all right.”


I think it is interesting to go back and read the earlier works of authors you love, like I love Algren. That way you can see their development over the years as an artist. I wouldn’t recommend Somebody in Boots to the newbie Algren fan, but if you have read all his other work, this is a fascinating read. I would recommend, rather, The Man with the Golden Arm, or Never Come Morning. Both excellent.

Fear and Loathing on the Way to Galveston

A trip to the heart of the American Dream

The White Whale as captured by the author

I drove the 117 miles to Owensboro and arrived at Buddha’s in the early afternoon. This was the first leg of our journey to the heart of the American Dream. I gassed up the White Whale, a 2011 gas guzzling Nissan Maxima, the day before, and put together a road trip mix to listen to on our way down to Galveston. We were going to Galveston to recapture our past and rekindle a friendship that had cooled off over the years.

We had both been to Galveston before and though we had separate memories we were both eager to see her pretty sea wall, hear the sea wind blowing, and see her dark eyes glowing.  

I like to listen to the sounds of the 60s while on a road trip with nothing else on my mind but driving fast, grooving to the music, and avoiding the law if at all possible.

Daniel “Buddha” Hildenbrandt was one of my oldest friends and a spiritual adviser. He was also a teacher at the local community college. He taught communications and was fond of saying, “the main problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

We called him Buddha because of the pudgy nature of his physique. He just looked like a Buddha.

When I got to his place, we watched TV until about 5:30 pm when his daughter, Mara, arrived to fetch a key. After she left, we went out to get a bite to eat at Owensboro’s one and only Sushi place. I knew it was going to be a problem when I noticed the chefs behind the sushi bar were Mexican. I had the Hibachi Chicken. It was terrible.

We went back to Buddha’s place for drinks and more TV. I lucked into a Harold Pinter play on YouTube I’ve been wanting to see: “The Birthday Party,” starring Harold Pinter himself and Joan Plowright, in a BBC production. It was pretty good, but you have to be into Pinter to enjoy it. Buddha wasn’t so he went to bed to read while I watched the rest of the play.

The next day was Friday, October 2. I woke to the news that Donald Trump and Melania Trump both have contracted the coronavirus. Is that karma or what?

We are living in strange times. I was thinking of love in the time of Coronavirus. 1,000,000 dead and Donald Trump was still president. This was before the insurrection at the nation’s capital and Moscow had yet to declare war on Ukraine. The best was yet to come.

We packed and loaded the car. We had to make a pit stop in Evansville so Buddha could see his psychiatrist and check up on his meds. Apparently, I am traveling with a madman. That’s OK. We’re all as mad as hatters here. All the best people are.

We finally got on the road and headed west. I figured to push as far into Arkansas as I possibly could before stopping for the night. We made it to Hope, which was in the first ring of hell. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was getting there. We crossed the river Acheron into the abyss. The dreams weren’t broken down there, but they were definitely walking with a limp.

We checked into the Best Western Motel. The maskless clerk behind the desk kept asking us if we wanted one bed or two.

“Two beds, dammit!” Buddha muttered, shaking his shaggy head.

“Do we get a discount?” I asked. “AAA? AARP?”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a discount alright,” the clerk snapped.

“Well, what’s the rate?”

“$75.00 including tax. Do you want one bed or two?”

“Two beds, dammit!”

“OK! Can I see your credit card?”

“Any restaurants in the area?”

“You can Google them and they will deliver.”

“OK. What room?”

“105. Right around the corner.”

Buddha was already heading out the door on his way to the room on foot. I drove around. We unlocked the door and unloaded the car, then took a moment to get settled. Buddha went to get ice.

I Googled the restaurants in the area and found a Pizza Hut and a Dominos. I called both but got put on hold at both places. Well, what could you expect in a little town called Hope, deep in the Arkansas interior? Bill Clinton territory as it were. The town sucked just like Monica Lewinski. Finally, Dominos answered.

“I’ll have a medium Supreme delivered to room 105 at the Best Western Motel, please. When will you deliver it? One hour? Wow! Well, go ahead. We will just have to wait.”

While waiting for the pizza to arrive we made the drinks.

We had picked up some liquor a few exits back. We got separate liquors because Buddha always buys cheap booze and I can’t stand the whiskey he usually gets, so I get something a little better. Turns out he got Ezra Brooks and I got Jack Daniels.

“Well, hell, if I’d a known you were getting Ezra Brooks, I would have drunk your booze. Ezra Brooks ain’t bad!”

“No, you wouldn’t! You’re not drinking my booze! You just drink your Jack Daniels!”

“What the hell Buddha? You don’t think I would have replaced your whiskey? You mean to tell me you wouldn’t have shared?”

“I don’t want to have this conversation right now!”

“Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“OK.”

We drove the rest of the way in silence.

Meanwhile, back in the motel room, we decided to watch a little TV while waiting for the pizza. It was 9 pm EST and 8 pm Central. Buddha grabbed the remote and engaged the “on” button. TV said, “No Signal.”

“Call the front desk and tell them the TV doesn’t work,” I said.

Buddha grabbed the phone, listened intently, punched the dial hooks repeatedly, looked up wild-eyed.

“No dial-tone! Motherfucker don’t work!”

“Call him on your cell phone.”

Buddha stared at the black desk set and started stabbing the numbers into his cell phone.

“Hello? Yeah, this is Buddha in room 105. The phone don’t work…. I’m calling you on my cell phone…. OK…OK…Ok. That’s not why I’m calling you. The TV don’t work either…OK…. OK…Ok.”

He hung up.

“What’d he say?”

“He said he would come down and try to reboot it himself.”

“Well OK then.”

So, we waited a few minutes, freshened our drinks, and munched on some smoked almonds. Pretty soon there was a knock at the front door.

Buddha let in the night clerk who again was maskless, but he was at least pretty friendly. He took the remote and began trying to reboot the TV.

About that time, we got another knock at the door. It was Dominos. Buddha answered the door. He paid for the pizza, $20.00 including tip.

The smell of the pizza filled the room.

“Wow, if you are getting pizza, I’m getting hungry.” This from the maskless night clerk.

“You want a slice?” I asked.

“No. No.”

The clerk didn’t have any luck getting the TV to work either.

“Let’s see, the TV don’t work, and the phone don’t work. Don’t you think we should get another discount?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give you another discount. I’ll give it to you right now.”

And with that, he left.

Buddha and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Then we devoured the pizza.

A little later on that night, the night clerk showed up with our receipt which included our discounts. All in all, an $85.00 room ended up costing us $65.00. Not bad.

We got up early the next morning and hit the road again right after breakfast. It was around Texarkana when the drugs started kicking in. It was only a matter of time before we would see the bats.

As soon as we crossed the Texas state line the environment seemed to change. The horizon stretched out further, the roads became wider, and the countryside a lot brighter. You could see further in all directions. There were also a lot of Trump signs. We were definitely in Trump country. If there ever was time to be traveling armed, this was it.

Donald Trump. The 45th president of the United States of America was nothing more than a screaming hyena, a barking dog, a snake oil salesman, and a carnival barker. But he held a death grip on American politics for four years, and even though he was impeached twice and lost a fair and free election he still has a death grip on the GOP and a large number of the electorate. One-third of the country thinks the election was stolen and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. What a mess! But I digress.

There we were, driving along US Highway 59 with an open road in front of us and Ruby and the Romantics blaring on the radio and I couldn’t help but think that here we are, 20 years into the next century. I remember the 60s as being a beacon of hope when the culture hit a high watermark. If you look back and squint your eyes just right, you can almost see where the crest of the wave finally broke and rolled back. It’s been downhill pretty much ever since.

Next stop: Galveston!

The Weight of Ink

A Novel by Rachel Kadish

Photo courtesy of Goodreads

The Weight of Ink is a historical novel superbly crafted by writer Rachel Kadish. It is not the sort of book I would normally have picked out for myself, but it was gifted to me by someone special and is so well written that I honestly couldn’t put it down.

It is a story of historical sleuthing based on papers found hidden away in an old home in Richmond, Surrey. Ms. Kadish creates a handful of compelling characters to tell her tale as she weaves her story back and forth between plague-ravaged London of the mid-1600s and present-day London.  

The Weight of Ink is the tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam, who through chance and circumstance becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi, and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. It is Ester’s story Helen strives to uncover and what a story it is. Ester documents the Jewish diaspora, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, and the rich trade of the City of Amsterdam, all the while scribing for the rabbi in his London home. And she also lives through the Great Plague. Ester manages to communicate with some of the great philosophers of the day and express her own ideas.

There is also an appearance made by a certain bard who shall be nameless here but was named in the book. I kept waiting for him to appear as there were hints dropped along the way and I was not disappointed.

It is truly a remarkable feat to behold and a fabulous read!

Highly Recommend

Aftershock

The first thriller in a new series

Courtesy of Goodreads

Andrew Vachss writes like an avenging angel who has just been through hell.

I have long been a fan of Vachss and have read all the Burke series. He is sort of a guilty pleasure for me, not exactly literature, but a compelling read nonetheless. The man can write!

I ran across this volume in my favorite bookstore in Philadelphia, Molly Bloom’s, and I just couldn’t resist. Apparently, it is the first book in a new series featuring Dell and Dolly. Dell is an ex-legionnaire who was orphaned at a young age and has no idea where he came from. Dolly was a nurse with Doctors without Borders and their paths crossed when Dell was wounded in action on a mission somewhere in Africa. They fell in love, left their pasts behind, and moved to a small coastal town in Oregon. That is where the story begins.

The star softball player at the local high school walks into school on the last day of class and shoots to death a boy for no apparent reason. She also wounds two others. Why did she do it? Was it justified? That is largely what the book is about. But along the way, we meet some pretty onery characters inhabiting the dark underbelly of the town. We also meet some of the good guys. A small-town lawyer who rises to the occasion and puts on a masterful defense and a colorful expert witness from Kentucky.

The book culminates in a riveting courtroom scene that produces a satisfying denouement.

All in all, a good read. If you like thrillers, this is the book for you. Highly recommend!

Norwegian Wood

A Novel by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is the second Murakami book that I have read. The first one was Kafka on the Shore. I was looking for a second book to get into when I landed on Norwegian Wood. I understand that it is a bit of a departure from his other books, but that is ok because I really loved Norwegian Wood.  It was not what I was expecting, but it was perhaps better than what my expectations were. It is essentially a love story of a young man coming of age in Japan in the late 60s.

In Chapter one, Toru Watanabe hears the strains of the Beatles song, Norwegian Wood, as he lands at an airport in Hamburg, Germany. This song recalls to his mind the loves story of his youth in Tokyo when he was attending college. The rest of the novel tells that story.

In the telling, Murakami evokes the sights and sounds of the turbulent 60s, the songs of the period, the student unrest, and the pangs of falling in love. He has created some unforgettable characters, who by the end of the novel, we feel emotionally bonded to and care deeply about.

Spoiler alert!

There are five deaths in the novel, four suicides, and one illness. But the way Murakami tells it, they are played “off stage” and are referred to rather than happening on the page. This gives a little emotional distance from the deaths but never the less has a powerful impact. When Toru got word of Naoko’s suicide in the last chapter it was like a punch to the gut. I literally let out an, “Oh no!” and went on reading. I don’t usually cry at novels but this was an exceptionally gut-wrenching moment.

I started off by saying this was a love story, and so it was, but I think it was more a book about loneliness, mental illness, and suicide. But Murakami is such a beautiful writer the way he presents his story is not depressing, but quite beautiful and poignant.  I truly loved this novel.