Sometimes you watch a film that feels like a punch to the solar plexus.
In a good way.
I was bored and channel-surfing this week on yet another stiflingly hot evening when, at 10:00 pm, I found a film I had really wanted to see in 2018 when it came out. It received rapturous reviews, including a 15 minute standing ovation when screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
Capernaum — also named Chaos — was filmed in a dusty, crowded Beirut for $4 million, starring a 12 year old Syrian refugee named Zain who’d already survived eight years in that city’s slums. The stars of the film include the most gorgeous baby — not more than a year old — and an Ethiopian woman, his mother, living and working there in menial jobs illegally.
If there is a film that more powerfully shows what it’s like to scrape every single day for food, water, income and dignity, I don’t know what it is.
The child who plays Zain is also named Zain, and was 12 at the time of filming, then illiterate. He is so tiny he looks like he might be eight or ten. (He now lives in Norway.)
Every element of this film is searing: the fate of his sister Sahar, a child bride; his abusive parents unable to care for him in any way; his resilience; the empathy and compassion Rahil shows for him (the mother of the baby) and his, in turn, for her toddler.
There’s a kind of intimacy and immediacy to this film that renders everything more slick and produced meaningless in comparison. It is in Arabic and Amharic with subtitles.
Slumdog Millionaire made in 2008 for $15 million — and which made $377.89 million — is the only other film that comes to mind like this, and Capernaum is much better.
Like Slumdog, it was made on a small budget of $4 million (thanks to a producer who mortgaged his home), and has so far earned $68.6 million becoming a huge and unexpected hit in China.
Ironic that two films about desperately impoverished street children have proven so popular and lucrative.
I sure hope these child actors have also enjoyed some of that wealth!
It’s a pretty American way to spend a summer evening — and, despite years of living in the U.S., albeit in the Northeast — I had never been to a rodeo.
It is, I discovered, a huge sport, with its own governing body and men kept loping past us bearing huge golden and engraved belt buckles, evidence of their earlier prowess.
The idea is to showcase, competitively, so many of the skills that ranchers and cowboys, men and women, use in their daily life.
So Jose, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought us box seat tickets, which meant two battered bare metal folding chairs in the shaded section, at the front ($27 each) and took me to my first rodeo.
I knew, intellectually, competitors could get badly injured and hoped they would not, and only one man limped out of the ring.
The first event had very small children — ages four or five, each wearing a helmet — each trying to stay on top of a large sheep for as long as possible, clinging to as much muddy and matted wool as possible. Most lasted about a second!
More men came out, racing, to lasso a steer, jump off their horse and lash three of the steer’s legs together, fast.
Then men came out in pairs to do the same job.
There was a rodeo clown.
The rodeo clown, a legend in his field photo: Jose R. Lopez
There was only one official photographer in the ring, a man in a pink dress shirt; it was very difficult (as you can tell from my cellphone images here!) to get good photos as only cellphones were allowed for the crowd to use to take pictures.
The rodeo queen and princess thundered by on their horses, with gorgeous turquoise chaps.
Women rode around the ring with large flapping flags of each local advertiser.
Could she possibly be more badass?!
Then a woman came out — of course — riding atop two racing horses at once. Then jumped through flames.
The winner! photo: Jose R. Lopez
The barrel racing was my absolute favorite, with women competing to gallop into the ring, round three large barrels at top speed without knocking one over (a loss of five points for each accident) and gallop back out; the fastest, of course, was a 10-year-old girl who did it in barely 17 seconds.
It was so much fun!
It began at 7:00 pm and was done about 8:30 as all the kids went next door to the visiting carnival to enjoy the small Ferris wheel and other rides.
There were corn dogs and tacos and soft-serve ice cream and (!) deep-fried Twinkies and we had a great chat with a woman who — of course — had lived in Toronto when I did, and a woman named Stephanie, wearing layers and layers of spectacular Navajo jewelry (some of which she was selling), who had hoped to barrel race her horse, Teller (she showed us his picture on her cellphone) but registered too late. She was, for sure, in her 50s, maybe beyond.
There were little boys in chaps, old men in cowboy hats, women in mini-skirts and weathered cowboy boots. The sun set over the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the sky became a watercolor wash of violet.
You know him as one of the kids dealing with the Upside Down on Netflix’s Stranger Things, but if you see him coming now–you should be the one to run. Gaten Matarazzo is producing and starring in a new prank show, Prank Encounters, and Netflix just ordered eight episodes. Deadline describes it as follows:
Each episode of this terrifying and hilarious prank show takes two complete strangers who each think they’re starting their first day at a new job. It’s business as usual until their paths collide and these part-time jobs turn into full-time nightmares.
Do you know what I have to say to this? No, no, no, and no.
Sure, we love to laugh at people’s misfortune–America’s Funniest Home Videos–made a fortune off people falling off step ladders and tripping over the dog. But, there’s a key difference here: people in that show submitted their own videos–they were laughing at themselves. This show sets people up for public entertainment with unasked for humiliation.
And it does it in a very vulnerable time of life–job hunting.
Looking for a job, or part-time work, or freelance work, is emotionally and intellectually exhausting — certainly if you are over 40, 50 or beyond when age discrimination already severely limits options for many people.
Some people have leaped to her defense — she works so hard! — while others simply wonder how so many other hard-working and talented writers are now, instead, desperately grateful to get paid even 25 percent of what she said she earns.
My old reporters’ notebook from the New York Daily News, whose logo is that of a classic old-time camera, the Speed Graphic
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s been a while since I came to live in a small suburban town on the eastern side of the Hudson River, with views of passing barges pushed and pulled by tiny, powerful tugboats. A place where red-tailed hawks glide above the tree-tops. Where one of the nation’s wealthiest families, the Rockefellers, live a 15-minute drive north of us — their helicopter always, annoyingly, thrumming too low overhead as they whisk someone south.
I love living here.
It satisfies all my desires: a beautiful landscape, access to great culture in Manhattan and at local venues like Caramoor and the art film house, Jacob Burns, economic and social diversity, (our town has million-dollar townhomes at the river’s edge, with social housing projects a few blocks inland.) I know the guys at the hardware store and the gourmet shop and the gym.
I’ve also, of course, through work and play, have gotten to know what we call The City, aka Manhattan and its four other boroughs. I know that Houston Street is pronounced How-ston and that Bleecker — perhaps confusingly — manages to run both north-south and east-west. I know where to find free street parking.
It did take me a long time, at least a decade, before I felt this was home. New York, as you can imagine of a city of eight million, many of them with multiple Ivy degrees and the most skilled and competitive in their fields and industries, can feel very intimidating.
It is also a place absolutely and rigidly stratified by wealth, social class and race, with its enormous and imposing private clubs, including the row of Ivy League-only clubs (Yale, Harvard, Princeton,. Cornell) that I’ve only visited thanks to events held there. If you head to the uppermost stretch of Park Avenue, the division between extraordinary wealth and deep poverty is, literally, across the street.
But, if you’re lucky and work your ass off, it can soften enough to become more welcoming.
Here are some images of my life here:
Broadway, baby! The dream of so many performers, and the provider of many well-paid union jobs backstage.
Love this restaurant, Via Carota, on Grove Street in the West Village of Manhattan.
It’s expensive, but very good food, with a spectacular and enormous (!) green salad. The West Village is by far my favorite neighborhood — shaded cobble-stoned streets lined with early 19th century brownstone houses and indie shops and tiny and perfect restaurants like Little Owl. It’s become impossibly expensive to live there, but lovely to visit.
This is our local reservoir. No idea what that building is!
This is an amazing place — built in 1857. Truly a time capsule, on the north shore of Long Island (which lies south of New York City)
Such beauty! I love going to the ballet at Lincoln Center (and opera at the Met.)
Every spring there’s Fleet Week, welcoming ships to New York’s harbor.
The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx. Such a treasure!
Despite horrific rents, some indie bookstores hang on in Manhattan.
I love auctions! I bought two prints at this one, a splurge. That’s my bidding paddle.
Nosebleed seats (highest row at back of the balcony) still affordable.
The view from our home of the new Tappan Zee bridge, spanning the Hudson
The Brooklyn Bridge
Grand Central Terminal — where thousands of commuters head in and out to the northern and western suburbs; those headed to Long Island use (hideous) Penn Station. GCT is amazing: lots of great shopping and restaurants and a food market. Commuting in from our town, now, has risen to $9.50 one-way in off-peak (non rush hour), making a day trip $19 just to enjoy the city — before a meal, drink, subway ride or activity.
I love the details of this building in the West Village
A tug and barge heading south on the East River
This is a place I know well; my husband worked there for 31 years as a photographer and photo editor. I also write for the paper freelance, so have been in there many times.
I always tell visitors to New York to get out of noisy, crowded, tourist-clogged midtown Manhattan as fast as possible and head to quieter neighborhoods like the East and West Village, Nolita and even parts of the Upper East Side, which is mostly residential but has some treasures like this lovely tearoom.
Get to a riverside park and enjoy the views and breezes. Savor a rooftop cocktail or a sunset bike ride.
I haven’t even mentioned Brooklyn (as I so rarely go there,) but it’s full of great shops and restaurants and views.
It’s a long weekend here in the U.S., Memorial Day, and that means — for some — a three-day break from work.
Things have been quiet-ish here for me: lots of pitching of story ideas, attending local networking events and following up with the people I’ve met there — and (!) waiting nervously to hear from two editors about my book proposal.
In an economy where so many are self-employed, work can dominate every day of the week unless you set tight boundaries. It’s also tough for many people with high-pressure jobs to slow down and just rest.
I hope you’re making time for this as well!
Here are some of the ways I rest, recharge and relax:
I try to get to spin class three times a week, 45 minutes in the dark with great music. When not being lazy, I also lift weights, skate at a local ice rink and go for walks. I need the social aspect of being around others as much as the cardio and stretching. I may get back to playing softball, even with a runner to fill in for my bad right knee.
The walkway next to our town reservoir
We live at treetop level, eye-to-eye with blue jays and with ready access to gorgeous walking trails along the Hudson River or the nearby Rockefeller estate (750 acres that one of the nation’s richest families donated for public use.) I love seeing the world change with the seasons — our local cormorant is back at the reservoir!
Little kids get play dates to look forward to. Adults need them too! I make sure each week to set up at least one face to face meeting with a friend, over coffee or lunch. I’ve been working alone at home, with no kids or pets, since 2006. It gets lonely. I also make time for long catch-up phone calls with old friends in Canada (for whom [?!] long distance rates still somehow apply.)
This is a new thing for me, held every Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. in the chapel of our church and led by our minister’s wife. This all sounds starchy, I’m sure, but it’s a truly powerful place to share ideas and insights, to sit still in silence, to learn and to build community. It’s women only, ranging in age from 40s to 80+, and we usually have eight to 12. It’s good to have a standing date with one’s soul.
After my breast cancer diagnosis last June, even a very good one, anxiety has become an unwelcome new companion. Therapy helps.
Found this 1940s diner on a great road-trip last summer, on Long Island’s North Shore
Always my favorite! We just took a quick two-day trip to Montreal, a five-hour drive door-to-door from our home, and it was a perfect break. Sometimes a change of scenery is just the ticket.
Escaping into a great book is a perfect way to de-compress.
I’ve been bingeing of late on British crime and cop shows, so much so it sometimes feels like all-Nicola-Walker all the time.
I just finished the amazing 2015 series River, about a London policeman named John River — who has an unnerving habit of seeing dead people — which also starred Walker as his partner, Stevie. I then watched the final episode of Unforgotten, starring Walker as the lead investigator on a cold case of the murder of a young woman in a small town.
I like a few qualities of these shows: the focus on solutions and complications, rarely on endless gratuitous violence; little to no gun play and much more psychological story-telling than the usual cops/street chase drama and glimpses of beautiful British settings.
In every show, also unusual, the police are shown as human beings with their own complicated emotional lives — whether with their spouses, parents, siblings, children or co-workers.
Some of my favorites:
How can you resist anything with Olivia Colman? This series, initially set in Dorset, with the second season also shot in Somerset, Devon and Berkshire, stars Colman as detective Elie Miller with David Tennant as her partner. The settings are spectacular and the familial twists add to the tension.
This series stars Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stuart and her partner DCI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar.) The opening theme music is especially haunting. I’ve watched the second and third seasons; both involve complicated plots and multiple characters.
This one might be my favorite, now four years old. The premise, a partnership between an older man with some significant mental issues and no friends or family and his fellow detective partner, a younger woman (with a secret) from a crime-ridden family, is interesting enough. I loved Swedish actor, Stellan Skarsgard, 67, as the lead, an actor I haven’t seen much of since his super-terrifying role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — although he has appeared in many of the Avenger films.
Nicola Walker, 48, is surely one of Britain’s best-known and most-seen actresses on television — less so in film.
The Daily Telegraph critic raved “Creepy yet ultimately uplifting, River stands alongside London Spy, Humans and Wolf Hall as one of the year’s best home-grown TV dramas.”
The windswept and isolated landscape alone made me want to hop into a very small airplane and go see it for myself. So much of the appeal of these shows, as someone living in an American suburban town, is the dense interplay of characters living in small towns in impossibly picturesque places.
I would watch French actress Clemence Poesy read a recipe card. She’s amazing in this two-season series, (an adaptation of The Bridge), which involves detectives from France and England after a body — cut in half — is found lying at the exact midpoint of the Chunnel, forcing both nations to investigate and work together despite cultural and linguistic differences. Poesy plays a woman who is somewhat autistic, maybe even someone with Aspergers’, whose single-mindedness confounds many of her co-workers but helps her be a great cop.
Starring Sarah Lancashire, (who, like Nicola Walker, also stars in Last Tango in Halifax), as a weather-beaten divorced small-town policewoman in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire in northern England. Between the thick accents and speed of speech, you might need sub-titles! Her character, Catherine Cawood, lives with her sister Clare, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict. Cawood’s adult daughter committed suicide after being raped and impregnated.
I know…this all sounds horribly grim! But Cawood is a great character and every scene is shot on location.
Edward Norton! Need I say more? He plays Sidney Chambers, a small-town minister helping local detective Geordie Keating, solve crimes. A much less grim and dark series, with lots of humor and domestic issues as well. Also set in 1953, so lots of period costume and details.
This is — of course — the detective’s first name, an Oxford drop-out. Set in 1968, 1969 and now 1970 for the latest season, it offers gorgeous glimpses of Oxford and surroundings. His partner’s name is Fred Thursday and they drive around in a stunning vintage Jaguar.
Life for anyone but the very rich — the physical experience of learning, living and dying — is increasingly mediated by screens.
Not only are screens themselves cheap to make, but they also make things cheaper. Any place that can fit a screen in (classrooms, hospitals, airports, restaurants) can cut costs. And any activity that can happen on a screen becomes cheaper. The texture of life, the tactile experience, is becoming smooth glass.
Which is a terrible paradox.
Without a screen, your phone or computer, I couldn’t be communicating right now with you and with readers arriving at this blog (!) from the most unlikely of places — New Zealand, Nepal, Romania, Zimbabwe, VietNam, Yemen, South Africa.
Without a screen, I wouldn’t be earning our monthly living costs by reading on-line, setting up interviews by email then writing on a laptop and hitting send.
Without a screen, I couldn’t use Skype to chat with friends, and coaching fellow writers and doing PR strategy, with those living outside my town.
And yet…I get lonely and bored if all my interactions are thus mediated.
I get out into nature.
I regularly meet friends for a meal or a coffee.
We throw dinner parties.
A new-to-me weekly meditation group of women.
I host an annual women’s tea party, using an early 19th. century tea-set.
I go to the gym at least three times a week, as much to be social in spin class and afterward as to exercise.
This way of life is often described as “the simple life”. Looking at it head-on, it’s far from simple. This life is actually quite complex, made up of a thousand small, simple things. By comparison, my old urban life was quite simple, made up of a thousand small, complex things. I found industrial life too simple, and thus repetitive and boring. With all of its apps, switches, electronic entertainment, power tools, websites, devices, comforts and conveniences, there was almost nothing left for me to do for myself, except that one thing that earned me the cash to buy my other needs and wants. So as Kirkpatrick Sale once wrote in Human Scale, my wish became “to complexify, not simplify”.
How about you?
Are you trying to lessen your screen time these days?
We live — in the U.S. anyway — in such cruel times. Money is tight for far too many and compassion for those struggling in increasingly short supply. It can feel overwhelming and dis-spiriting to even glance at the news: racism, sexual violence, terrorism, etc.
Which is why the Netflix reality TV show “Queer Eye” is such a treat, now in its third season.
It features five gay men — Antoni Porowski (food expert — and fellow Canadian), Bobby Berk (decorator), Jonathan van Ness (grooming), Tan France (fashion) and Karamo Brown (culture.) If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to check it out.
In every show, the fab five — setting out in a shiny black minivan — choose a man or woman (in one case, a pair of African-American sisters whose barbecue shack is a local legend) to help pull together their life, whether a cramped kitchen, shredded self-confidence or someone just feeling really lost and overwhelmed.
We’ve all been there!
The men are funny, loving, insightful and there to offer the soul balm everyone needs so desperately — empathy, compassion, wisdom, advice, hugs and a lot of kind laughter. Just watching them swing into action is inspiring. Reality TV can be gross, but this feels lovely.
We watched a few episodes this week and one featuring Jess, a 23-year-old African American lesbian living in Lawrence, Kansas, was astonishing. She was adopted — and thrown out by her conservative Christian parents when she came out as gay at 16. She had lost touch with her sister and baby niece. Working as a waitress, she struggled with a host of challenges — but with energy and good spirits.
When the Fab Five show up, Jess is trying to figure out how to be fully who she really is — not uncommon at 23 — with no parental support or love. Karamo, 38, who worked for 10 years as a social worker, is of tremendous help to her, both as a gay American but also an African-American; their scenes together are really powerful.
I love Tan, whose is of Punjabi Pakistani descent — and (!?) speaks with a thick Yorkshire accent.
If you’re simply craving some feel-good entertainment, with a healthy side dose of inspiration, grab the tissues and settle down with me on the sofa!
Attention is now probably the scantest resource on the planet. We’re all overwhelmed and distracted, so how can you get a room filled with (mostly) strangers to sit still and really listen to your speech or talk?
It’s do-able, but it’s also work.
I’ve given many public presentations over the years: to retail students at the University of Minnesota, to retail executives at the annual Retail Customer Experience conference, and many times at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Do I get nervous beforehand?
Unlike most speakers, I never use slides or any other visuals like PowerPoint. If I’m not compelling, slides aren’t going to help. (I get that, with lots of specific scientific or numeric data, these can be essential. They also make taking a cellphone image of them easy and quick for the audience.)
Some people in my audience had done conflict zone work, humanitarian work, newspaper work…
Know your audience and what they need most from your remarks
The single most important element. Until you know who’s going to be listening (or potentially, because at any conference — unless you’re the keynote — your session is competing head-to-head with others in the same time slot) you can’t begin to prepare your remarks.
At my recent presentation at the Northern Short Course, an annual meeting of photojournalists, I was told the audience would be mostly mid-career — yet a high school student and a college senior came up afterward. The ages ranged from 17 to 60s.
Prepare and practice
Never ever ever try to “wing it.” The best presentations may feel spontaneous and casual to the audience — but they are absolutely not. Write out your speech or your talking points, in order, and make sure there’s a logical flow to them. The more you practice, the more you’ll edit and refine. The voice can be casual and conversational but there’s a lot of structure behind it.
Time your remarks
To the minute! Nothing is worse than a speaker who rushes and talks waytoofast or loses track of their allotted time. Listening is tiring!
How do you want your audience to feel when you’re done?
I always want people to leave the room inspired, not tired. I’m not perky or saccharine, but our work is difficult and, even when I acknowledge that, I want to offer practical help.
Breathe deeply, slooooow down and bring a glass of water (no ice)
Take a few deep breaths before you begin, to calm down. Always have a glass of water handy for dry mouth — and no ice! Nothing’s more embarrassing than a pile of ice suddenly shooting down your face and neck in front of everyone. I also think swigging from a plastic bottle is inelegant. It is a performance.
Share some personal stuff
Not confessional, of course, but choose carefully a few anecdotes fully relevant to the theme of your speech that the audience will be able to relate to. Being stiff and pompous is a huge turn-off.
Make sure to leave plenty of time for questions and comments
My most recent presentation was (whew!) 75 minutes…so I timed my remarks for 45 (which is long!) and allowed a full 30 for questions. I still had a dozen people lined up afterward to ask more. If you’ve been engaging, people will want to contribute their thoughts as well.
Don’t rush off afterward
If people want to chat with you one-on-one (a compliment, I think) listen to each one carefully (although keep it moving if the line is long!) and be sure to get their business card; offer yours to them as well if you want to follow up. I think being asked to address an audience is a real honor, so I always looks forward to the new connections we can forge as a result.
Watch other speakers to see how they hold and capture attention
There’s no shortage of inspiring material out there! Celebrities giving commencement speeches, people on YouTube and sooooo many TED talks. Watch how others do it well and get some good ideas for yourself. At the last conference, I watched other solo presenters to see how they engaged their audiences.
It’s rare I actually hate a film, but this one is added to my short list. Starring Julianne Moore — who does her best with a sad-sack role — “Gloria” is a re-make of a 2013 film of the same name and theme.
I hadn’t seen the previous one, but thought — OK, Julianne Moore (who usually makes good films) and who is also executive producer here — I’m in.
I came home and read a bunch of reviews to see who else thought…uggggggh. Every major media outlet loved it.
I just don’t get this film’s appeal.
Gloria, divorced, with two adult children (one with an infant whose wife has wandered off), the other pregnant by a Swedish pro surfer, lives alone in an apartment endlessly visited by a very ugly cat — maybe a metaphor I didn’t grasp? She lives in L.A., works as an insurance agent and has a noisy and aggressive upstairs neighbor.
Yes, her life is limited. But she’s also choosing to let it, which immediately lost some of my sympathy.
She’s 50-ish, and her one great joy is dancing to disco; at a club she meets Arnold (John Turturro) and (why???) falls in love with him — despite a bunch of his backstories that felt so false to me. (He’d lost a huge amount of weight, he was a former Marine, his endlessly demanding adult daughters.)
His character is just so weird and opaque and needy and creepy — yet she keeps ripping off their clothes for lots of sex and nude scenes.
Hey, I’m all for lots of great sex at any age. But with that guy?
I also get the appeal of a regular woman in her 50s living a life that’s just OK, not really happy in any meaningful way. But I found her resolute cheerfulness and passivity extremely depressing.
Maybe that’s just me. From the very first scenes, Arnold struck me as someone to flee.
I won’t reveal the film’s final milquetoast “revenge” scene, but it felt so cliche and so pathetic — this is midlife “empowerment”?! — I could barely wait to leave the theater, where a long line of people eagerly waited to enter.