Over the weekend Mrs. Greenbean and I watched two outstanding films, and I want to share them both with you. This is not so much as a review as it is a recommendation.
Sunday evening we watched Won’t You be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers. It was wonderful. Anyone who cares about the quality of life and world we create for our children should watch it. Keep in mind, children shouldn’t watch it—children should watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood–adults should watch the documentary. Powerful stuff.
Saturday night we celebrated one of our nephew’s birthday by watching Christopher Robin at the cinema. I was prepared to be bored and underwhelmed, as these types of films seem to always overpromise and underdeliver. I was pleasantly surprised. I found the dialogue witty, the story compelling, and the visuals captivating. I think children would enjoy the story, but the real target is parents. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) were delightful, but as far as I am concerned Eeyore steals the show.
We live in such a cynical, jaded, and gloomy world right now; I don’t want to minimize that fact, but watching these two films back to back had a therapeutic effect on my soul. I am grateful for them both.
On the plane ride home from vacation I read the biography Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi. The book is a quick read, has lots of notes, and is compelling in the extreme. It is incredible.
The book is a biography of Lin Zhao, a woman who spent most of her adult life in prison under the evil dictatorship of Mao Zedong in China. She was born in China to what I think of as a middle-class family with intellectual leanings. Lin Zhao became enamored with Mao and communism in high school. In college, she studied writing and journalism for the express purpose of facilitating “The Revolution.” Her initial enthusiasm for communism was likely a reaction against the Nationalists abuses and the general confusion following the invasion of China by Japan and the general unsettledness in the world following World War II.
It wasn’t long before she realized that communism was (is) merely a disguise for a new kind of dictator, and her disillusionment lead to the writing of anti-Maoist poetry. Early in her rebellion against the communist regime, she returned to the Christian heritage she had been raised in and which had been nurtured by Methodist missionaries. She participated in the publication of opposition pamphlets, and for that, was imprisoned. She was in prison for eight years where she was tortured until she was executed in 1968.
She continued to write throughout her imprisonment. Deprived of ink and pen, or sometimes out of conviction, she wrote letters, treatises, and even plays in her own blood on toilet paper, which the authorities kept as a apart of her file. Part of that file was released in 1981, which is why we know of her story. It is a story which ranks with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nelson Mandela as compelling accounts of voices that refused to be silenced.
The book is not always easy to read. Part of this is because of the difficult subject matter of torture and prison, another part is due to my unfamiliarity with Chinese culture and nomenclature. But a big part was the the author’s style. He has an odd time-slip tendency in his writing of moving between years and events without bridges or explanation. Once I got use to this quirk, the reading was easier.
I can’t tell if Lin Zhao was martyred because she was a Christian or if she was martyred because she was a political dissident. Perhaps in Maoist China there was no difference, as the cult of Mao was all that mattered. In that sense, she might be closely akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was no doubt assassinated because of his brave political activity against the unjust and totalitarian Jim Crow regime in the American south, but it was no doubt his Christian faith that lead him to be so brave and daring in his prophetic zeal. That is the way I view Lin Zhao–the more she resisted, the more it became clear her strength came from her inner convictions of faith.
And now, for some observations and pics. Per my usual, I have broken these down into categories.
I was expecting French people to be rude, given all I’d read and heard. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We found the French delightful, conversational, fun, jovial, and good-humored. The only rude people we encountered were tourists from other countries–and I’m taking to you rude American woman who cut in line with your two loud-mouth children at Notre Dame.
Also, the French are a well-put-together group of people. They dress well, carry themselves well, love uniforms, and are incredibly fit. The only overweight people we saw were . . . tourists.
But . . . the French smoke. A lot. We were unable to get away from the noxious fumes of cigarette smoke. It seemed specifically bad in restaurants. No one was smoking indoors, but it was summer and windows were open and sidewalk cafes and . . . fumes!
Most everyone spoke English. We never had a problem communicating.
My new favorite cheese is camembert. Love that stuff. They serve it after the meal to cleanse the palate. Yum.
Oh, and crepes. I had a honey crepe in front of the weird obelisk at Concorde. The guy who made it was funny and wore a little hat.
Duck confit. I had it twice. The ducks on the lake better watch out, because I might just have to try and make that at home.
Baguettes. Every. Meal.
The coffee was good, but they don’t give you a lot of it.
I ate the snails, but wasn’t specifically enamored with them. They tasted earthy to me, like some varieties of uncooked mushrooms.
Perhaps my favorite was the macarons. I especially liked the pistachio.
The Eiffel Tower is really tall. Four hundred feet taller than my beloved Space Needle and five hundred feet taller than the Washington Monument. Of all the things we saw, it was the hardest to navigate the lines, waiting, and the top. It was so crowded at the top that it wasn’t as enjoyable as you’d expect.
We did the Louvre in one day, and we saw all the floors and all the exhibits. All. The. Things. The big time exhibits were nice, like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, but the Egyptian exhibit and the paintings on the top floor (where no one else was) were some of my favorites.
We visited Notre Dame, but my favorite was Sacra Coeur in Monmarte. I actually had a genuine spiritual experience there. It was nice, and unexpected.
We skipped Versailles.
It took a while, but we eventually conquered The Metro. I think I’m as much an expert on the Metro right now as a tourist from another country can be.
The Louvre is monumental, but the D’Orsay is more enjoyable because its size is manageable.
One of the highlights of our trip was watching the new Mission Impossible film, most of which was filmed in Paris, in Paris! That was way cool. The best part was the commercial before the movie started for a doctor who specialized in lice removal.
I thought Delta provided great service getting there and back. Charles De Gaulle Airport is easy to navigate.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Latin District and the night time boat ride on the Seine. Both were extremely pleasant.
We’d been told that going in August would be a drag because people would be gone and the shops would be closed. We didn’t experience that at all. Everything was open and the weather was perfect.
On the plane ride home I read a great book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr In Mao’s China. I’ll probably blog about it tomorrow.
The French way of having supper late, like around nine at night agrees with me.
The picnic we had by the fountain under the Eiffel Tower will stay with me as one of the sweetest memories with my family.
I’ve finished three different books in the past week. And yes, I don’t think you could find three more distinct and different books–not only in subject matter but in style and genre. The first is a history book about the Texas Rangers, the second a weird Star Trek book, and the third is Parker Palmer.
Texas Rangers: Lives, Legacy, and Legend by Bob Alexander and Donaly E. Brice.
I bought this book at a great book store in Kerrville and looked forward to reading it for a long time. The history in these pages is wonderful. I wish the authors would have gone into a bit more detail about some of the individuals and escapades, but their intent is more of a survey than specifics. The main problem with Lives, Legacy, and Legend is at times the prose is not quite clear–as the authors seem to try and write paragraphs in the most muddied way possible to demonstrate their clever way of saying common things.
There are also a lot of digs against “Political Correctness” which I never understood in the text. One reference to it is an indulgence. Two references are pushing it. But by the seventeenth time the authors remind us that political correctness and modern sensibilities have no place in studying Ranger history, the point seems belabored.
There are some great photographs and primary documents, which alone is worth the price of the book.
The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: A Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain ‘Edited’ by David A. Goodman.
Two things up front: I enjoyed this book and laughed out loud several times. Also, it is a quick, easy read, unlike the Texas Rangers book, which is slow, plodding and laborious. The problem is, I think I enjoyed the book because I enjoy Star Trek, and the writer clearly does as well. But I don’t think the book is that well written.
The best are the early pages where we learn things about James T. Kirk that aren’t covered in the television shows or movies. But about sixty percent of the book is really lame plot summaries of shows. Yes, we get Kirk’s perspective on those things, but nothing really new is brought to the table.
But the book is funny. That should come as no surprise because it is written by Goodman, called the ‘editor’ on the book cover, who wrote for Family Guy and Golden Girls. What it lacks is emotional depth. The book was given to me as a gift for Christmas by a kind friend, and I looked forward to reading it, thinking it would give more character depth about the famous alpha male. But nope. Goodman is funny, but he is not that good of a writer. He does more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ and as a result he leaves Kirk shallow.
There are two things that will stay with me a while, though. The first is how Goodman ‘washes’ over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the movie almost everyone agrees is the worst ever. It is quite clever, and I must say I like it. The second was this line thrown in to describe the mind-numbing administrative work of being an Admiral that Kirk hated.
Of course the Obama was over budget and behind schedule. Of course it was.
A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer
I’ve read Palmer before, but not this book. What interests me is that I think Palmer believes he wrote a how-to book, when in reality he wrote about the inner voice, overcoming our fears and paranoias, and the need to learn to trust.
The format of the book is laid out as the steps to forming circles of trust. A circle of trust is a group of people who dedicate themselves to allowing people to hear their own soul in protected communication. It is good material, and I recommend the book to small group leaders of any kind, because the principles he shares are nearly universal.
The book is a gem, but what will stay with you for a long time is the story of the woodcarver. I’ve seen Palmer use it before, but I think his exposition of it in this text is his best.
Of the three books I’ve shared about, this one is the most vital; it is the one I think everyone would benefit from.