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Rounding up the Usual Suspects
Steve's Livejournal
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This morning, both "J" and I went to the eye doctor. My vision had changed slightly, so that my older pair of glasses, which I had been using as a back-up in case I misplaced my usual pair, are now closer to my prescription than my newer pair. I liked the old frames a bit better anyway, so I'm pleased. J got new contacts that work much better than her old ones; she's thrilled.

We also spent some time working on reorganizing our garage. We're sorting things into several groups: trash-trash, recycle-trash, donation, store in the garage, store in the cellar, and "wow, it's great to find this again!" The dry weather is a help, but the heat isn't much fun. Fortunately, the forecast says we should be seeing milder weather, but it's likely to remain dry.

In the evening, I went to get together with six of the same friends I met up with last Thursday. That was fun (except for the traffic on the way there).

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Today is usually our day for Sunday brunch with friends, but "J" and I skipped brunch because the cinnamon rolls I baked yesterday looked irresistible. It would have been nice to get together with the gang, but we were busy savoring the rolls when we would have had to get out of the house, particularly with the combination of construction traffic and sports.

We ended up staying home all day, avoiding the heat outside. The dog had to wait for her walk until late at night, after the temperature had cooled off somewhat. I'm sure she didn't mind that.

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Today I mixed up a batch of filling for the cinnamon rolls (butter, brown sugar, spices), spread it out on the sheet of dough I prepared yesterday, and rolled it up. I sliced it into individual rolls and spread it out on a cookie sheet, with a silicone sheet to keep it from sticking. The recipe recommended letting it rise for one hour, but it took longer than that, maybe because I had refrigerated it overnight. When it seemed ready, I put it into the oven, and prepared a glaze (powdered sugar moistened with a little orange juice) while I waited. After it was done I took it out, and J moved them to a cooling rack. We glazed a couple and tasted them; they were delicious.

J and I also took care of some post-travel errands, and did some cleaning. I also started sorting through pictures we had taken on the trip, but I didn't get all the way through both data chips.

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Today "J" and I had an appointment at the same place as Wednesday job. Technically we're only supposed to use our parking pass for actual work, but we worked there for a long time before we got the pass, and I think the appointment was brief enough that we might have slipped in under the first half hour free parking anyway.

Back home, we spent quite a bit of time on post-travel laundry, and some errands.

In the evening, I gave J a ride to a get-together with some of her friends, then picked her up again later.

Meanwhile, I mixed up a batch of sourdough for cinnamon rolls. I used a recipe from a cookbook, but I substituted whole wheat flour for a third of the regular flour, and added some flax meal for the nutritional value. Who says cinnamon rolls can't be healthy food? I rolled out the dough, but it was a bit too late to stay up for the rest of the steps, I just covered it and put it into the refrigerator. I'll finish baking them tomorrow.

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last night's travel

When I finished writing to my journal yesterday evening, "J" and I were waiting for our Spirit Air flight to Boston. We boarded, and the flight went without incident. In fact, it was quite nice; we even got moved from the cramped regular seats the web site assigned us to somewhat larger coach seats right behind the premium seats, thanks to a lightly-loaded plane and an extra-nice flight attendant. (So, although Spirit Air is terrible in the sense of charging all sorts of fees on top of their low fares, I find them very nice once the planes are in the air.)

In Boston, we retrieved our stuff from the baggage claim: our big yellow bag, plus our two carry-on sized bags that were too large for Spirit's carry-on limits. It arrived quickly, again because of the lightly-loaded flight. Our flight home was on Jet Blue, which was in a different terminal. We asked a few people how to get to the other location, and got an assortment of answers – all correct, but most not very good. We chose the one that was good: go up one level, cut through the Terminal B parking lot, and walk a long way through an inter-terminal passage to Terminal C.

Once we arrived at the Jet Blue check-in area, we got our boarding passes from an automated terminal, which told us to head to the baggage drop area. Before actually checking in our big yellow bag, we moved a bunch of stuff we wouldn't need during the flight from our carry-on bags. The baggage check-in went quickly too.

The really slow part in Boston was the security line. I don't know what was happening there, but it was the slowest security line I remember since the the early years of the TSA. That's probably because I've forgotten a few really long waits over the years, but it was pretty bad last night.

Digression: Although the TSA is justifiably criticized for security theater and other issues, it's a real improvement in the system that preceded it. Before TSA, we had an assortment of private contractors doing airport security. A lot of the contractors were selected because they were the low bidder, not because they were competent, trustworthy, efficient, polite, etc. In some airports, the contractors did a great job. In other airports, they were a nightmare. TSA has its faults, but it's certainly an improvement over the old private contractor system. (Wow, I just praised something done under the Bush-the-lesser regime! Also strange: the TSA was a reversal of the usual right wing doctrine to privatize everything.)
End digression.

Once we were through security, we settled in for the wait between our flight to Boston (which was late, due to lightning in our plane's previous stop) and our flight from Boston to Seattle (which was also late). Apparently Jet Blue had to switch out a plane early in the morning, so every flight that used that plane was delayed.

We had a little food while we waited, but mostly filled time and relaxed.

When it came time to board, things went smoothly. We got lucky on the seats – lots of leg room because we were in the front row, and a vacant seat on our side of the aisle. However, we had to put all of our stuff in the overhead bins (because there's no preceding row with an under-seat space), where it was less convenient during the flight.

Because it was very late, we slept on quite a bit of the flight, along with some reading. Without that, we would have ended up really sleepy this morning.

When we arrived in Seattle – I think around 2 am – the airport was pretty dead. The most numerous people, other than passengers from our flight, were cleaning people. We got to the baggage claim well before our baggage and waited. While we waited, we worked on finding the best way to get our hotel from the airport. Before too long, I spotted our big yellow bag, and grabbed it.

Because the hotel didn't have its airport shuttle running that late, they told us to take a taxi and present the taxi receipt when we check in. We went to the taxi stand, and a few minutes later we were at the hotel. J checked us in, and they refunded the taxi fare as promised. They also coded our key cards for late check-out, since we'll be here past the usual check-out time.

Our room is nice, and in addition to its hallway door, it has a sliding glass door that opens onto a garden with a swimming pool. (Too bad we were too tired to swim, and won't have time to swim today.) The bed is really comfortable, which is the most important thing about a hotel when we arrive in the middle of the night and have to get up in the morning. We fell asleep almost immediately.

today's conference

So, why did J and I check into a hotel in the middle of the night, instead of going home? One, going home in the middle of the night would have meant a taxi ride or a series of buses, because the light rail was closed for the night and we wouldn't have wanted to wake someone up for a ride in the middle of the night. More important, however, J has a conference today at a hotel that's within walking distance from the airport. (We didn't walk because we had a lot of stuff, and we didn't want to spend any more time walking when we needed sleep.) It would have been silly to make our way home, get just a little sleep, then drive back to the airport.

So, this morning we got up, made ourselves presentable, and went to the conference. (I'm welcome there as a visitor, even for meals, because I'm her transportation.) I stuck around for breakfast, then got some things done back in the room (including Livejournal and some research for a software project). She invited me back for lunch, which was a treat; the food was better than the previous lunches at this type of conference. Now it's time for me to pack up so we can go home.

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This morning, "J" and I got up exceptionally early, so we would be ready to get started with our day by the 7 am opening time of most of our hotel's services. We talked with J's sister "C" and C's daughter "T". We worked out final details for the morning: J and I would have breakfast, C and T would go to the pool, then J and I would join them in the pool.

For breakfast we both ordered omelets, plus our usual morning drinks. The omelets were delicious, the tea was better than usual, the juice tasted very fresh, and J had no complaints about her coffee. The weak point was the potato slices that came with the omelets: their texture suggested frozen and microwaved packaged food.

During breakfast we spotted T and C in the pool, and J got their attention. We had our swimwear, and joined them as soon as we finished breakfast.

The swimming was fun. T wanted to play, and I was happy to play with her. J and C spent some time swimming, and some time on the deck chairs talking about things sisters talk about.

After the swimming, we all returned to our rooms and cleaned up. Next, J and I went to the business center to print our boarding passes ($3 to use the computer and printer there, much better than the $20 nuisance fee Spirit Airlines charges). Meanwhile, C checked out of the hotel and tried to keep T from getting bored.

We all met up again in the lobby, piled into C's car, and went to Ripley's Believe It or Not. Although it was not a place I'd be likely to visit without a child in our company, it was a lot of fun. Some of the weird things were replicas, which I'd guess are displayed at every Ripley's, some looked unique, so it may still be fun to visit another Ripley's next time we're traveling with a kid.

Lunch was another selection for the benefit of T: the Rainforest Cafe. The food was good. J and I share a sandwich and salad, which was plenty after the big breakfast. C and T had enough food left over to justify a carry-out box.

After lunch J wanted to avoid much more walking because her shoes didn't agree with her feet, so we got a ride back to our parking by rickshaw. (I'm not sure T was in the mood for a walk either.) When we found that it was raining, the rickshaw ride was even more of a treat.

Soon were back in C's car. She drove us to the airport, well ahead of schedule. We exchanged goodbye hugs, C and T went on their way home.

J and I worked out our repacking, making sure everything fit into the airline's strict limits. Once that was settled we checked our bags, went through an exceptionally quick security line, and settled down by the gate to wait for our flight, which was delayed by lightning in Atlanta. (Lightning and refueling are a bad combination; our plane came from Atlanta.) We board soon.

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Three years ago today, "J" and I married. We're looking forward to many more.
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This morning "J" and I packed. J and her sister "C" went out shopping at an outlet mall, while I waited at the food court and tried to work on my Wednesday job project.

C drove us and her daughter "T" to a fancy hotel and treated us to a relaxing night before our return trip to Seattle, as an anniversary gift (since tomorrow is our third anniversary). We got two rooms, and C signed us up for the one with the better view: 46th floor, rather than the 26th.

We had a nice dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. C and J went for a spa visit, and I relaxed with T, who is a very sweet, well behaved girl. T was trying to learn to play "Chopsticks" on a piano keyboard app on her hand-me-down iPhone. I found an Android piano app, re-learned "Chopsticks", and taught in to T. She was very pleased.

After the spa visit, we all switched to swim clothes, with plans to go swimming. When we got to the pool, they told us that the pool closed at 8 pm. We were all disappointed, T most of all. C was brave and assertive, and complained about the hours, to no avail.

We all relaxed for a while, and I went to get a take out dessert. That was slow, but probably faster and less costly than room service. My milk shake was plain; J decided to save her fruit cup for dessert.

Looking out the window, we got a great light show from the lightning storm. It was fun to watch, but it made it difficult to get to sleep right away.

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In the morning, "J" and I are leaving Maine for New Jersey. We got what looked like a great price on the flight: $309 for two round trips on short notice. But late last night we checked in to print our boarding passes, and got some rude surprises.

First, we confirmed that they charge not just for checked bags, but also carry-on bags. We had a suspicion that was the case, but we had no idea that the fees were so high: $47 during on-line check it, $52 at the airport check in counter, or $102 at the gate. Yikes! (Those prices include a $2 summer surcharge, to make sure everyone has room. How thoughtful of them, to charge an extra fee for a necessary service.)

It gets worse, but I'll save that for morning.)

Continued (after the first comment):
We measured our carry-on bags, and found that their size limit on a carry-on bag is two inches (5 cm) shorter than every other brand (but two inches wider, which is no help if one already owns bags sized for the usual limits). J's mother told us that the last time she flew on Spirit Air, they enforced the limit very strictly; she was one inch over, and got slapped with the surcharge. And when we were waiting to board, we saw someone else get stuck with the surcharge too, for a bag that was about one inch too wise.

So, instead of one checked bag, two carry-on bags, and two "personal items", we had three checked bags, no carry-on bags, and a struggle to fit normal carry-on items in our personal item bags. We didn't want necessities (medicines, etc.), expensive items (electronic gadgets), or possibly restricted items (laptop batteries) in checked bags, so we had to do some complicated rearranging.

One thing I thought of to save some money was to put one of our carry-on bags inside our big checked bag. It fit, but that was out of the question due to another quirk of Spirit Air. Instead of the usual checked bag weight limit of 50 pounds (22.7 kg), their limit is 40 pounds (18 kg). The overweight fee for 40 to 50 pounds isn't bad ($25), but the weight of the carry-on itself would have used up most of the weight limit on our large bag, so we would have had to stuff almost all of our baggage weight into our other carry-on bag. I don't think it would have fit, and we didn't really have time to try endless rearranging stuff anyway.

So, for our personal item allowance, we put most of our small necessities into J's purse, then put J's purse and laptop into a large canvas tote bag. Most of our small electronics (other than J's phone) went into pockets in my cargo vest; I had felt a bit silly wearing it on the Seattle to Boston flight, but it turned out to be a very fortunate decision for the Spirit Air flight. A few tiny items ended up in my camera bag. Everything else ended up in either the regular suitcase or the carry-on size bags that we had to check.

So, what was the damage? J and I each had a first checked bag fee of $42, and we had one second checked bag fee of $52, for a total of $136. Ouch!
On top of that, we'll have to pay again to bring our stuff on the return trip. Ouch again.

Some banks are notorious for nuisance fees, but Spirit Air puts banks to shame. Next time we'll choose an airline that doesn't pile on the nuisance fees; a really low fare doesn't help much if the nuisance fees are so high that the trip ends up costing more after paying for bags.

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Today is my father's birthday. I hope he has a good one!
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Today "J" and I went on a little historical excursion with her parents. We went to Portsmouth New Hampshire, to the Strawberry Banke historical museum. It includes a number of houses dating back as far as the 1700s, restored to a to variety of eras. For example, I think the first we visited was restored to the 1830s, and the last one we visited was restored to its state in 1908. The houses had been owned by the upper classes of their eras: ship captains, textile mill owners, railroad magnates, land investors, and a governor. Parts of several houses were not open to the public because they were rented out as residences or offices to maintain income for the museum during the off season.

We visited about half of the houses before heading to the cafe for a late lunch and relief from the oppressive heat and humidity. Lunch became more than expected when my phone chimed an alert:

Imminent extreme alert

Tornado Warning in this area til 4:45 PM EDT. Take shelter now. Check local media. -NWS

4:16 pm

Having grown up in tornado country, I was worried. I said that there was a tornado warning, but most people shrugged, even when I said that "tornado warning" means a confirmed tornado. J saw my expression, and she took me seriously. She said that if I looked that concerned it was serious. (I was so worried by the words "tornado warning" that I didn't even notice what the alert said, and didn't notice the full text until I copied it into this journal entry.)

J and I went to the counter of the cafe, and the girls behind the counter seemed unconcerned – but they did ask their boss about it.

Meanwhile, a few other people looked like they were paying attention too. One said that the tornado was reported to be only four miles away. Four miles! I tried to convince others that it was serious business, but no one really did much until the museum director came into the cafe and announced that the staff had been ordered to unlock the storm cellar in one of the building, and that people needed to take shelter there as soon as it was ready.

In the meantime, I carried the glasses from our table to the cafe counter, and said that putting it away would mean that much less flying glass if the tornado struck. The girls seemed to be taking it a bit more seriously at that point, and thanked me.

Soon the museum director showed the way to the storm cellar, and people rushed across the space between the cafe and the house with the cellar. Although it was only 50 feet or so, our clothes were soaked through by the pouring rain. Once inside, we climbed down the steep staircase to the cellar.

In the cellar we waited. I said that the warning might be called off in ten minutes, or last for several hours. (I was somewhat wrong about that; in tornado country, a warning might last a few hours, but tornadoes in New England tend to be much more short lived.) I talked with some of the other people there, and found that one of the others who was taking it seriously was from Minnesota, and had seen a tornado there.

As turned out, the warning was not extended past the original 4:45 pm ending time, and we climbed back up the stairs. The emergency was over.

A severe thunderstorm warning remained in effect, and we saw lightning and heard thunder on the drive back to Maine. It continued until about midnight.

As far as J and I have been able to tell, the the tornado never touched down. Still, the warning was serious business, and I appreciate the museum director for taking it as seriously as I did.


Back at Just parents' house we had a delicious dinner: haddock with salad and corn on the cob.

Late tonight we all watched the documentary CSNY Déjà Vu, about Crosby Stills Nash and Young, while they were on tour opposing the Iraq war. It was good.

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Our flight to Boston was uneventful. We looked at the mountains during takeoff; we could see Rainier, Saint Helens, Adams, and Hood clearly. We also read (actual books) for a while, but mostly napped. The flight was about an hour faster than scheduled; the winds must have been in our favor.

In Boston we had a snack, then boarded our bus north.

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Brunch, one away at Pride, one extra ("D")

garden worker for estimate, with daughter as a translator

brother visited for movie, Lone Survivor
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This afternoon, "J" and I went to an appointment. It was way out in the suburbs, but traffic was so light that we got there pretty quickly. The appointment went well.

Next on our agenda was a Best of SIFF film at the Uptown. Traffic was surprisingly light getting into Seattle, but once we got close to Seattle Center it turned into a giant mess. Once we got close to the center of the mess we figured out the problem: there was a graduation celebration there. J had an errand at the SIFF Film Center, and walked a couple of extra blocks because that was faster than the traffic was moving. At least I got lucky on parking.

The film was Marmato, a documentary about the struggle between the people of Marmato Colombia, who have been mining the mountain upon which their city was built since 1540, and a mining company that bought rights to most of the gold. The film-maker lived in Marmato for almost six years before violence forced him to flee the area and conclude the film. It's very good.

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Early this afternoon, I took "J" to an appointment, which turned out to last a lot longer than either of us had expected. Fortunately, I was able to keep busy with my smart-phone while I waited.

Later in the day, we went to get massages, which we really needed. Sitting in a movie theater seat can lead to a stiff neck or back, particularly if we are seated far enough to one side of the theater that we have to turn our heads to one side to see the screen clearly, or (worse) if we end up in a seat that's bent so that we have to sit in it off-center. After as many films as we attended during SIFF, our backs were pretty sore. The massage felt really good for both of us.

In the evening, I gave J a ride to a get-together with friends. She hadn't seen much of them during SIFF, so it was nice that she had a change to spend some time with them again. Later I went back to pick her up.

Later this evening, J and I re-watched one of the short films we watched yesterday evening, because both of us had been drowsy enough that we had a hard time concentrating on it, and because it was good enough that we wanted to make sure we had seen all of it.

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This morning, "J" and I returned to our Wednesday job after a long break for SIFF. On the way there, we encountered the worst freeway merge I can remember – more than a dozen cars stayed in the lane adjacent to the exit-only lane until the last minute, then cut in on the people in the exit-only lane. Those dozen-plus rude drivers didn't really delay our trip to work all that much, but seeing people get away with rudeness is still aggravating. On the bright side, our parking pass still works; on the way in, I wondered whether it might have expired while we were away from work.

Work itself was nice. We both enjoyed being back in the familiar space, doing something productive. It took a while to remember what we were doing when we left off, but once we got going we got quite a bit done.

SIFF volunteer party

After work, we went to the Uptown for SIFF's annual volunteer thanks party. The theater wasn't quite ready to be opened when we arrived, but a staff member walked along the queue handing out Starbucks gift cards while we waited.

At the schedule time, the doors opened. We were greeted with mints, and told that there were chocolates and ice cream inside. Soon popcorn was available too, and even beer (which SIFF is now licensed to sell at regular screenings). The treats were plentiful enough that it seemed like everyone who wanted to indulge was able to.

After allowing time for people to snack, we settled into our seats for presentations by the supervisors of various departments, who wanted to acknowledge their hardest-working volunteers. The presentations were brief but gave gave proper credit to people who donated exceptional amounts of time, and those whose volunteer work stood out in some other ways (such as a driver who was on call at all hours, sometimes driving a celebrity guest and his entourage around past 4 am).

For small-time volunteers (like me – I did three photo shifts, and signed up for a couple more that ended up getting canceled), the event was a chance to applaud the volunteers who did more of the work. I'm glad I had volunteered enough to attend the party, mostly because I wanted to take part in recognizing other volunteers.

The final portion of the party was a screening of the film The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. J and I had already seen the film, so we didn't stick around, but I think it was probably the best choice for the volunteers who were too busy volunteering to see it.

short films

When we got home, J and I watched the short film collection "Amazing Journeys" (on DVD, which J has access to because of her volunteer service). Two of the shorts, The Computers and Twaaga were winners; the rest were nothing special. Unfortunately, we were pretty sleepy, and struggled to stay awake through the latter part of the collection; we'll probably re-watch some of it tomorrow.

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We missed this short film series during regular SIFF screenings, but managed to see it on a screener copy.


Beauty of Mathematics 5 Fair

Fabulous split screen portrait of everyday events and the mathematics behind it. This was an interesting idea, but I think the presentation was a bit too obscure for most people. Also, at DVD resolution, a lot of the text was pretty much unreadable. Fair.


The Computers 9 Excellent

This is the inspiring story of how six gifted young women programmed the first all-electronic, digital computer, the ENIAC, as part of a secret WWII project.

This documentary genuinely is inspiring. This should be shown to every young woman who feels hesitant about getting into a field where she's not certain she will be welcome. Excellent.


Love. Love. Love. 5 Fair

Through the endless winters, every year, her love takes new shapes and forms.

This Russian short is nice and sentimental, but it didn't hold my attention all that well. Fair.


Unfold

Coping with unexpected changes in his life, Mark meets Sara who opens his eyes to a new perspective of the world around him.

I don't even remember this short film, even though I just watched it not long ago. Unrated.


Twaaga 8 Very Good

Eight-year-old Manu loves comics and dreams of becoming a superhero, to be a driving force for change just like President Thomas Sankara.

Although I don't know enough about Burkina Faso to understand the political background of this film, I appreciated the way it told the personal story of a boy who dreamed of becoming a superhero. Very good.


Kay Pacha 7 Good

Maribel and Carmencita, two indigenous girls who work in Cuzco Central Square taking pictures with the tourists in exchange for tips, frame this stirring tale.

This drama about poor indigenous people (two girls, their construction worker father, and their farmer mother) presents a slice of life, and dramatizes the poverty and inequality faced by indigenous people. Good.

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Four years ago today, "J" and I met at a SIFF screening of the film Hipsters. It has been a wonderful four years.

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I met Quincy Jones! (And we saw four films.)
This morning, "J" and I decided to skip the 10 am SIFF press screening, La Mia Classe, because we were out pretty late last night. We tried an out-of-the-way route to avoid the worst of the construction traffic around Seattle Center, and it worked well; I had time to drop off J at the Uptown, park at the Mercer Garage, then walk back to the Uptown rather than running or paying for a meter. We didn't hear buzz about the morning screening one way or the other.

We saw The Great Museum (Das große Museum), a documentary about a Vienna museum during its huge renovation. There are scenes of construction, scenes with conservators restoring treasures in their collection, meetings about how to do various jobs in the renovation, and ultimately the reopening ceremony. I was somewhat drowsy, and I missed bits of the film here and there, but it was episodic enough that I was able to jump right back in after the moments I missed. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

We skipped the third press screening Leading Lady so we can see it at its regular screening (which has a director appearance at the regular screenings). We went to the Harvard Exit for three screenings in a row.


The afternoon film was BFE, about various young people in a town troubled by drugs and drinking. The director was there in person with a bunch of cast and frew, and someone asked what "BFE" stands for. He said, "Bum Fuck Egypt", and explained that during the gangster era, people who wanted to go somewhere when they wanted to lie low, and attributed it to an Arabic neighborhood near the end of a rail line. The film was good.

Quincy Jones!

The early evening film was a 50 year restoration of The Pawnbroker, the feature film debut of director Sidney Lumet – and the film score debut of Quincy Jones. The title character is a Holocaust survivor, emotionally dead because of the horrors he witnessed. The film is excellent.

Quincy Jones was present before the film, and spoke about the experience of scoring the film. He said that scoring a film was quite different from recording music for a record. He answered a few questions and left the stage before the film began.

We thought Jones was gone, but it turns out that he had slipped into the back of the theater to watch the film with the rest of the audience. On the way out, people lined up to exchange a few words with him. I joined the crowd. I said that I also appreciated his score for The Slender Thread. He replied that The Slender Thread was Sydney Pollack's film debut, and the first film he made with Sidney Poitier, so he had worked with "three Sidneys". I said that I should have worn my Sidney Lumet necktie, or maybe my Sydney Pollack tie. He laughed, and signed my SIFF catalog.


The final film of the day was The Circle (Der Kreis), an Austrian film that mixes documentary interviews with historical dramatization. The Circle was both a magazine and a secret society for gay men that developed in association with the magazine. The magazine started publication in 1943 after homosexuality was decriminalized in Austria, continuing several underground publications that dated back to 1932; it was the world's only gay-themed magazine until 1945. The film focuses on the young teacher Ernst Ostertag and his drag-queen partner Robi Rapp, who recall most of the era of the society in the film's interviews. It was good.

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This morning, "J" and I woke a bit later than we had planned, but somehow we managed to get ourselves out the door quickly, looking respectable. Then, between a combination of knowing where the worst traffic trouble spots are and a bit of good luck, we managed to make it to the Uptown in time for the noon SIFF press screening. (Neither of us thought the 10 am press screening, Medeas, sounded like something we needed to see. Buzz was mixed.) I didn't have time to use my parking pass; instead I had to grab a metered spot, but fortunately there was one right across the street.]

• The first film was Life Feels Good (Chce się żyć), a Polish drama about a boy with cerebral palsy that initially leaves him unable to speak or walk, but fully able to learn and understand. It's a solid film, with a very impressive lead acting performance. One weakness was a screenplay that claims to be based on a true story, yet puts words in the mouth of the main character's narration. It's not as good as the similar French film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but it's very good.

There was a short connection between the press screenings, so I only had time to switch parking meters, not to make it to the garage. I managed to move the car and buy time with Pay-by-Phone without getting a ticket.

• The second film was this year's "Gay-La" film, Helicopter Mom, was about a high school boy who hadn't figured out whether he was gay or straight. His single mother is no help, and his father's return to his life isn't much help either. The title sequence is very clever, but the film went downhill from there. Nia Vardalos is very good, and I laughed at some of the gags along the way, but the film was mostly a waste of time. Lackluster.

The disappointing Gay-La film is not typical of SIFF's usual record. Most years, the Gay-La film is a funny comedy with gay themes but plenty of appeal for straight audiences too. This isn't the best year for the Gay-La. (My favorite was Poltergay, in 2007.)

During the break, I had a chance to move the car to free parking, so I wouldn't have to worry about getting a ticket if I slipped up on watching the meter. I got back with time to spare, but a bit short of breath from the run.

• Our first regular (non-press) screening of the day was Shame, a Russian film about women at a submarine base, waiting for news after a submarine accident (similar to the Kursk disaster). The main character is the wife of the sub's first or second officer, who seems comparatively indifferent to the disaster. The film is very good. The director was present, and said that although it was inspired by the Kursk, it combines stories from several Russian submarine disasters, and that Russia has lost about 30 submarines to accidents since World War II.

• After a short break, we attended Seeds of Time, a documentary about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, a protected underground structure meant to preserve as many varieties of seeds as possible, to protect the genetic diversity of food crops even if the plants are lost from their native locations. The film was more a profile of the founder of the seed bank than a documentary about the science behind crop diversity. It was good, but could have been better.

Seeds of Time screened with the documentary short Duke and the Buffalo, about a huge nature preserve in Colorado, owned by the Nature Conservancy, but operated by ranchers who manage the bison herds both to prevent overgrazing and to generate profits to continue operation of the preserve.

During the next break, J and I finally got a chance to have some dinner. We went to Phuket, which did a great job of feeding us promptly during our fairly short break.

• Our final film of the night was B for Boy, a Nigerian drama about a woman with a dilemma: she's expected to produce a male heir for her husband's family, but she loses her pregnancy. Although the story was scripted, most of the specific dialog was improvised, often in single takes – and the acting is excellent throughout. Except for occasional wobbles in the camera work, the film-making is solid throughout. Very good.

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