On the surface, it’s a little weird that digital culture in 2021 would become suddenly obsessed with 200-year-old folk songs about men on whaling boats. They sound like prehistoric oddities, which is part of the appeal. Simplistic in structure, they are deliberately repetitive and full of ideas and references that feel very, very far from life right now. Aside from the word Wellerman, they’re full of harpoons and pierheads and the specifics of butchering whales; the most recognizable lyrics are lines about “rounding the Cape” and the love of bonny brown-haired lasses.
Sea shanties are also resiliently uncool. They’re songs about whaling and strong winds…
One of my favorite songs ever, all nine verses, is by the late great Canadian folksinger, Stan Rogers, Barrett’s Privateers. Few things are as lovely for me as when I find a gang of fellow Canadians to belt out the words — some of which of course curse Americans!
Ted is an American college football coach hired to coach AFC Richmond, a British soccer league — with no knowledge of the sport — because the team’s owner has walked out on his wife, and she wants to ruin the team by hiring an incompetent foreigner.
You don’t have to like soccer to enjoy this (although why not?). It’s got fun characters, some interesting plot twists and, for those of us landlocked in the U.S. unable to visit our beloved England, a nice way to travel, if only visually.
As someone who also finds many Americans too sentimental and effusive, Lasso is very much this — to the ongoing consternation of his team, his boss and pretty much everyone British he meets. He is absurdly, relentlessly kind and outgoing and supportive, to a point you think — ugggggh, saccharine.
He also faces some darker moments in his private life, so he’s a character we can identify with and find relatable.
He does have lots of adjusting to do to his adopted home, from different words and meanings for things (relegation?!) to — what is this?!— his immediate dislike of and disdain for tea.
“Hot brown water,” he says. I can’t look at tea the same way now!
There’s a classic WAG, Keeley, whose bubbly exterior conceals a solid heart, the team owner who’s kinder than she first appears and Nathan, the team’s waterboy who’s been utterly overlooked until Ted arrives and starts to offer him chances to show his stuff.
A local pub plays an essential role, and there’s an ongoing conflict between the team’s youngest — Jamie Tartt, who’s 23 and supremely talented and arrogant and team captain Roy Kent who’s probably 35 or so. It all feels pretty realistic, from the many challenges Ted faces of trying to navigate a wholly new culture — being called WANKER! by everyone — while also trying to manage his troubled marriage from across the ocean.
Certainly in a time of relentlessly restricted travel — when the very idea of getting on a plane, let alone crossing the Atlantic — is impossible, it’s been a real treat to visually re-visit Copenhagen with each episode. So many cyclists (none wearing helmets?!) Canals. The fluttering Danish flag.
I was there once, for 10 days, on my amazing European journalism fellowship. I loved it, even though it was so expensive I could barely afford to eat, given the small size of our travel budget and the very high costs of everything.
The series — which sounds dull as dishwater — revolves around two worlds, Christiansborg Palace, or Borgen (The Castle), seat of all Danish politics, and TVI and Expressen, a TV station and a “red-top” (tabloid) newspaper. The key characters include Birgitta Nyborg, who becomes prime minister in the first season; Kasper Juul, a troubled press secretary — which they, without irony, call “spin doctor”, Katrine Fonsmark, a tall, blond TV reporter turned spin doctor, other politicians and Birgitta’s husband and two children.
As a journalist, I sure enjoyed the many newsroom scenes and the bossy news director, Torben Friis. As someone who grew up in Canada, a multi-party political system, I enjoyed the endless horse-trading in an eight-party system to gain and hold power.
The show covers a wide range of political and personal issues — the massive invasion of privacy Birgitta’s teenage daughter faces when she goes away for in-patient psychiatric treatment or Birgitta’s breast cancer/radiation (the exact same as mine), the back-and-forth affair between Kasper and Katrina, and so on. There’s an episode about prostitution and one about pig farming. It’s also, if politics or journalism interest you, an pretty good look behind the scenes of how each product is actually made — lots of arguments!
I’m a huge fan of music and film and books and it’s fascinating to consume older media that assumed, rightly, a much longer — and much less distracted — attention span.
Different plot development.
For amusement, I once counted every single image in the introductory credits to the HBO series about journalism — The Newsroom.
The difference between its initial 2012 opening credits — with 53 separate images in 1:29 and the 45 images of the 2015 season, in 1:07 — are striking. The second set are super quick jump shots, much more emotional, much more compelling — with Ron Rosen the editor.
One of my favorite film directors is American Kelly Reichardt, whose films move slowly and beautifully, often through a rural, timeless Oregon landscape.
I keep re-watching the 1968 film “2001”, also intrigued by how slowly some scenes unfold and how very little dialogue it contains.
It demands our sustained, often mystified attention — and amply rewards it.
No doubt our brains were wired very differently before the ’90s when we all started moving online, let alone the daily deluge now on social media.
I find it more challenging than ever now sit still for hours and just read.
I often wonder what it was like to live in the 18th century where domestic amusements were embroidery — slow! — or reading or playing a musical instrument. When a letter sent, sealed with wax, took days or weeks or even months to reach its reader. Then the reply.
What different brain chemistry they must have had!
Living through a pandemic and the useless political “leadership” that’s killed so many is bad enough — add to this grief and anxiety that absolutely rob us of the ability to stay focused and pay attention and retain a damn thing.
No one would ever dare suggest that a lethal virus is a good thing.
No one could have imagined that more than 200,000 Americans would already have died — and many more now suffer serious long-term effects.
But I’ve started to notice some changes in how we think and behave that, oddly and maybe shockingly, feel better for some of us — while hurting others! — than how we all lived, unquestioningly, before.
Shared and public places are much less crowded
Thousands of small businesses have closed. Disney laid off 28,000 employees and airline staff, from cleaners to veteran pilots, are out of work.
So it’s not kind to be happy about that. But if you, like me, loathe crowds of all sorts, even before they were potentially life-threatening, this is a huge relief. Our town YMCA recently finally re-opened and the pool has four lanes, open now only one swimmer at a time. (Normally, five, which I would find really uncomfortable. Having someone tap my foot to pass? NO.)
Since my beloved spin class is long gone, I’ve started doing three pool visits a week and sometimes have it all to myself. I would never have experienced our old, overcrowded Y as luxurious — but this is.
I miss such fun, silly, spontaneous moments — like meeting Canadian comedian Mike Myers at a Canadian consulate event in Manhattan
We’re being very , very selective about our relationships
In normal life, we tend to include a lot of people — face to face or through social media — who we may not especially like or admire. It’s a sort of social lubrication, necessary to get things done smoothly and efficiently, even when it’s basically pretty insincere.
In a time of terrible political division, with millions refusing to wear masks it’s really not a wise use of our limited energy to argue with anyone anywhere.
We need every ounce of it for ourselves and families and pets and true loved ones. This is a good thing! Conserve energy.
Now, certainly, seeing anyone in person means de facto assuming risk — even if you’re both masked or outdoors and well-spaced. Is this relationship worth it now?
Fewer relationships can also make for deeper emotional connection
I’ve noticed this. By the time I make a phone date or set aside time to be with someone face to face, why make chitchat? I’ve never been a fan of it, anyway, and now, with COVID’s sudden and invisible lethality/mortality so much closer to all of us, it’s no time for performative intimacy.
We’re being very clear and direct about what we need and expect of one another
I have a friend of many years, a fellow Canadian who runs her own successful business, and who has invited us many times this year to their country house. Much as I appreciate her generosity, I just won’t go and keep saying so.
I finally wrote her a very blunt — not angry — email explaining why: she interacts, for her work, with a lot of people. Many of them are very wealthy and rich New Yorkers (like many wealthy people) do what they please. So I don’t trust their choices, which may affect my friend and me and my husband.
Luckily, Jose and I are fine…This is him earlier in 2020 photographing the Pulitzers at Columbia University in New York City
Lousy relationships and marriages are under an intense new microscope when we have nowhere to flee
There are few experiences more miserable than being confined to (small) quarters for months on end with someone you really don’t like or love.
In regular times, we’re always in motion, we’re always hustling, we’re always consuming, striving, climbing, struggling to get from A to B. And if you are unhappy with your relationships or your marriage, there’s a thousand ways to distract yourself: travel, work, socializing. I’m told that some people golf.
Now, all of a sudden, everyone has to be still. There’s no place to go but inward.
We’re all seriously re-examining our choices, whether about where we work, who we work with/for and how (hard) and where we really want to live now
This is huge.
City dwellers are fleeing to suburban or rural areas, desperate for outdoor physical space and the ability to distance from others. On my recent four-day visit to small-town Pennsylvania — about a 90 minute drive from Manhattan — every real estate listing I read said “pending” and a local told me her realtor friend was working 70-hour weeks.
American life — with no unions, low wages and a relentless capitalist drumbeat of DO MORE FASTER NOW — is typically really exhausting. The pandemic is now forcing millions to think, behave, work and relate differently, and for many months yet to come, whether managers or workers or the self-employed.
Some are planning to leave the United States.
Yes, it’s really hurting some people — mothers of small children especially are at their wits’ end, (one crying on-air on a recent national TV show after being fired by a boss who said “Figure it out” while managing a one year old and four year old at home.)
If nothing good comes of this massive upheaval, maybe it’s some long overdue change.
I just finished my latest Netflix binge, three seasons — 31 episodes in all — of Bordertown, a Finnish crime series set in the real life town of Lappeenranta, a 90-minute drive across the Russian border to St. Petersburg.
Horror writer Stephen King has proclaimed his love for it, and for the lead actor, Ville Virtanen.
I’ve really enjoyed it, for reasons I’ll explain here, but one of them, highly unlikely, is that this summer I interviewed a senior corporate executive via Zoom from her family cottage on an island in Lake Saimaa, the exact setting of this show! The opening credits for each episode are drone images of the lake, whether yachts in a harbor, a huge freighter passing beneath a bridge or logs.
It’s the largest lake in the country — 1,700 square miles.
I’ve been intrigued by the two Finnish women I’ve gotten to know a bit through this new work, my editor and the executive. I’m very interested to visit Finland now, and have been for years since discovering the beautiful black and white photography of the country’s top photographer, Pentti Sammallahti, and buying one of his images at an art show in Manhattan.
It’s a small country, bordered on the east by Russia and the north by Norway and to the west by Sweden, with only 5.3 million people, one of the least densely populated in Europe.
The show follows Kari Sorjonen, a weather-beaten detective who moves to Lappeenranta from the big city of Helsinki with his wife Paulina, who grew up there, and their only child, a teen daughter, Janina.
Unlike most crime shows, their family dynamics are as essential to the story-lines as his work: Paulina has survived brain cancer but she and Janina have a tough time with a man who shows very little emotion and leaves almost every family meal to rush to another crime scene. You really see the effects of his workaholism.
Sorjonen is eccentric as hell — and makes use of a “memory palace” to recall crucial details and make patterns of them to solve crimes. He does this in his bare feet in the basement of their home.
The crimes are varied, and some shockingly brutal, which can get wearying when you watch several shows in a row. But the music is haunting, and the landscapes and homes really beautiful and the characters complex and interesting.
It tends to run in pairs, with two episodes to complete each story arc, but its threads and clues begin at the first episode and go to the final one.
The first two seasons are shot only in summer or fall — with the final third season shot in winter, the crunching of footsteps in deep snow a part of every episode. As someone who loves and misses a snow-covered landscape, I enjoyed that.
And, if you love simple, elegant Scandinavian design as much as I do, you’ll also enjoy the stunning interiors! Lots of interesting hanging lamps, neutral furnishing colors, interesting wall colors and some very nice exteriors, whether a hotel or an office or even a hospital’s interior doors.
One really striking design element — even in all 31 episodes — no bright primary colors like red, blue, green or yellow, or bold patterns, whether in interiors or clothing. The cops all wear black, brown, navy or gray, always in plainclothes and mostly in jeans. The characters all wear shades of gray, brown, cream, pale pink — all of which are flattering to pale Finnish complexions and either dark hair or pale blond. You might see a flash of burgundy in someone’s tie, but that’s it.
And it’s so strikingly unemotional, in American terms — in 31 episodes, I think each parent says “I love you” maybe once to each other and to their daughter, even after she’s been traumatized by a crime. I wonder how much the Finnish tradition of sisu informs this: grit, determination, the pride in just toughing it out.
Hard to admit this, but even after decades living near the city and spending so much time there for work and pleasure, there are still places I have never before been.
Washington Heights, a largely Dominican neighborhood (east of Broadway) and now gentrified west of Broadway, dubbed Hudson Heights in 1992 and mostly white, is one.
With a population of 201, 590 it’s large enough to have three zip codes.
I hadn’t been to the city (as suburbanites call NYC) since February and I really miss it.
I met two long-time friends there for dinner, one who lives a block away east of Broadway and one who made the 45 minute subway ride from her home in Queens, one of the city’s five boroughs. Both are fellow freelancers and one was hired to do COVID contact tracing — but, lucky for some but not him, there have been too few cases for him to trace.
Both had also spent time — even together — in Tokyo and Shanghai so I heard a lot of stories about both, and had never been there either.
Our dinner was fantastic and it was absolute heaven to be surrounded, once more, by people and music and laughter. Some wore masks as did all the wait-staff.
Everyone was outdoors and spaced widely enough I did not fear making this choice to be social.
I live in a nice suburban town and enjoy it, but it is really really boring! There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do since the only sure way to protect your health is to stay out of all indoor spaces, even grocery stores.
So to have a few hours surrounded by bustle and chatter and people looking happy, not terrified, was a true joy.
I even found a parking garage (key!) across the street and remembered one of Manhattan’s space-saving quirks — car elevators.
Total cost, between parking, garage tip and a fantastic meal shared with old friends I hadn’t seen in six months, was about $100.
Her latest, First Cow, is set in the muddy woods of 1820s Oregon, where a weary cook working for a whiny band of trappers meets an on-the-lam Chinese man who murdered a Russian after they killed one of his friends.
It’s not the elegant Jane Austen 1820s of England, with lush green lawns and sprawling estates — but the messy, struggling, brawling world of men trying to establish some sort of life in still-new-to-them America. There are native characters and even un-subtitled dialogue in a native tongue. You feel absolutely in the era.
The contrast between most residents’ mud-floored shacks and the beautifully painted house of the area’s wealthiest man are something — he holds a tea party, yammering on about the latest fashions in Paris and London — while everyone else slips and slides in filthy, ragged clothes.
It’s full of quirky and unexpected moments, like when the wealthy man’s wife, in ruffled burgundy silk, speaks in native tongue and admires the ornate wampum necklace of a visiting chief’s wife.
The film centers on the friendship of the two men, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz and King-Lu, who both really need a break. They have no family or education or money but King-Lu, who has already traveled the world, is filled with ambition. So when the area’s first dairy cow arrives, by boat, their scheme is hatched — they’ll milk her at night and hope no one sees them.
June 2018, The Curtis Cup, a competition held every two years between the best women of Great Britain and Ireland against the U.S.
By Caitlin Kelly
If you’d told me a few decades ago I’d be a golfer, I would have laughed. I’d tried it a few times, thanks to golfing boyfriends. But it all looked hard and boring, as so many people feel it is.
But, as someone who’s been sporty my whole life, I figured I’d try it and if I hated it, stop. I needed to learn a challenging new skill and my husband adores golf and works as a photo editor and archivist for the United States Golf Association.
To practice and learn, you can start at a driving range where you buy a bucket of balls and hit and hit and hit and hit, trying to get stronger and more accurate with the entire set of clubs, from the driver — for thwacking the first ball off the tee, with a huge head and long, whippy shaft — to the putter, used to gently guide the ball into the hole.
The range is a great place to watch better golfers as well, to see what they do so right.
I rarely see women there, but am not intimidated.
Playing a course — with rough, thick grass (let alone thick with rain!) — is much different from the range, where you hit off a small, dry mat. This was a tough course, too, with a lot of hills and sloping putting greens where you need to figure out how to putt gently while calculating the curve needed for the ball to plop perfectly into the hole.
This week we played 18 holes — the maximum — at a gorgeous county course, built in 1926, called Mohansic, a few miles up the road from where we live in suburban New York. The clubhouse is built of stone, complete with chimneys, and at the ninth hole and another, there are small stone buildings with toilets and food and drink. It’s all really civilized.
Our tee time (the time you start play, always pre-determined by the course’s starter) was 8:10 a.m., which meant getting up at 6:30, which is really early for me. It was misty and cool, the perfect temperature as the course’s only trees are along the sides of the fairway, so there’s almost no shade.
We got matched up with a lone player, a man we’d never met, who was an excellent golfer and a very nice guy, extremely patient with me. I’ve been playing for about five years, but rarely play a game, and had never played a full 18 holes, (about four hours), only nine.
You have to hustle!
That course is very popular and we could see others hot on our heels. So there’s no time to rest or take a break. There’s a five-minute rule that if you don’t locate your ball and get moving, move! It’s considered really rude to hold up the people behind you.
And since the best golfers both hit great distances and accurately, it’s newer ones like me who get more tired because I don’t hit as far and occasionally not where I want. (I only hit into sand traps, a part of every course, three times.)
By the second hole, it was drizzling non-stop and by the 15th, raining more heavily. We were all soaked to the skin! I don’t like heat and sunshine when working that hard physically so I was delighted to be cool the whole time.
I saw only three other women the entire day, all staff at the course. There are two ladies’ leagues there, requiring three try-out rounds to even be considered. We’ll see!
The next morning….ooohhhhhhh, so so so sore! I think maybe one muscle, somewhere, didn’t hurt.