September 25, 2017

Dior Exhibit in Paris

If you are interested in fashion and happen to be in Paris before January 7, 2018, run, do not walk to the Dior exhibit at the Louvre’s side museum, Les Arts Décoratifs.

If you don’t buy a ticket in advance, bring an umbrella and a friend or a book because you will most likely wait up to an hour outdoors for admittance. Le tout Paris and female tourists of all ages are flocking to this fantastic homage to the fashion house of Dior.

Not only are the gowns and accessories breath-taking, but the presentation of the fashions is innovative. One large glass panel has a pointillist photo that disappears when the lights are raised to expose the elegant dresses inside the vitrine. Another gigantic glass showcase features a profusion of single-color items such as hats, miniature dresses, jewelry, shoes and other accessories. One follows groupings of red, pink, yellow, green, blue, silver and white items that absolutely delight the eye.

Another stunning display has a ceiling of white leaves that drape above the stunning Dior dresses.

There was another room across the lobby which I did not get to see. Flut alors! The guards are quite firm about leaving the museum at closing time.

Sorry to say that very few men can be seen attending this exhibit. Their loss because the ingenuity of Christian Dior and the subsequent house designers along with the breathtaking museum displays make this a uni-sex crowd-pleaser.

Designs by Raf Simons, John Galliano, Christian Dior and Marc Bohan in a chromatic display in the Dior exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs.

For more information and ticket purchase:
https://www.dior.com/couture/en_us/the-house-of-dior/exhibitions

Farmer’s Fridge for Healthy Food on the Run

At O’Hare airport, I was trudging past the usual fast food concerns with hunger pangs lowering my food selectivity. All at once, I caught sight of an automated food kiosk called Farmer’s Fridge in the American terminal. The bright green colors immediately made me think of fresh and possibly healthy food. Jackpot!

I had brought my own vegetables (don’t ask), so all I needed were some protein sources. Peppered hard-boiled eggs and chicken breast came in cute little hard plastic jars that popped out of the machine after I easily paid by debit card. I also bought a snack with chocolate covered fruit and nuts. Yum!

Some of the larger jars contained veritable full meals with colorful layered ingredients. I plan to check out salads like the Peach Caprese with basil couscous, romaine lettuce, peaches, yellow tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, spinach, pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette, or the North Napa salad with cabbage, mixed greens, grapes, cucumber, chickpeas, avocado, feta cheese, pistachios, dried cherries and vinaigrette.

Heartier dishes like Soba noodles and Salmon Nicoise also appear on the menu. One can opt for protein snacks like Phoenix Bean Tofu or the afore-mentioned chicken or hard-boiled eggs. You can also add various flavors of LaCroix water as one’s beverage.

Breakfast options include almond butter oatmeal, Greek yogurt and granola along with pineapple coconut chia pudding.

The kiosks are refilled every morning with unsold food donated to zero percent, an organization that disperses unused products to local food pantries. There is also a slot on the machines to recycle empty jars.

Farmer’s Fridge food kiosks can be found at venues like McCormick Place, Willis Tower, The Rookery, Revival Food Hall, Block 37, the Merchandise Mart, Northbrook Court and at various hospitals and educational venues. Some kiosks have 24-hour access. For a more complete list, go to: http://www.farmersfridge.com/location

All ingredients, calories and nutritional facts are viewable on the kiosk screen so you can make intelligent healthy food choices.

If you live outside of the Chicago area, you may want to petition the Farmer’s Fridge to add a kiosk to your frequent haunts. Your taste buds and waist line will thank you!
http://www.farmersfridge.com/

Thicker Than Water on MHZ

If you are looking for a fantastic family drama with amazing acting, look no further than Thicker Than Water, a Swedish/Finnish tv production currently streaming on MHZ. Yes, it has sub-titles.

Three siblings are invited to meet at the family-owned inn in the Aland islands which are part of Finland but full of Swedish-speaking inhabitants. Lasse Waldemar (Bjorn Bengtsson) is the bad boy brother who is a failed restaurant owner in Stockholm. Jonna Waldemar (Aliette Opheim) is the beautiful sister who has made her life in regional theater. Oskar Waldemar (Joel Spira) is the resentful brother who stayed behind to run the family business and take care of “mom.”

The mother meets with each adult child and gives them a one sentence message to remember. She then takes a boat out on the water and shoots herself. After all, this is set in Scandinavia. Her female lawyer lays down requirements the children need to meet to inherit their mother’s estate. They need to stay on the island and run the small hotel, together, for one summer.

Family secrets, former loves, personal dramas and sibling rivalry all come to a boiling point during this summer season at the old family compound.

The ten-episode season does have an element of “murder mystery” about it, but the main emphasis explores the bonds between parents and child, brothers and sisters, spouses and neighbors. Thicker Than Water makes for exciting television in any language.

Lincoln In the Bardo by writer George Saunders

One of my favorite fans recommended the novel Lincoln in the Bardo, an unusual and poetically moving work by George Saunders.

Saunders was impelled to write a book about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son, Willie when he learned that newspaper accounts reported Abe creepily and heartbreakingly visited his son’s crypt to hold the recently dead body. Imagine the Pieta with Lincoln and Willie as stand-ins.

Saunders’ book takes place over one evening in the “bardo,” a limbo-like place between life and death and uses true history citations as well as fictional footnotes.

Another book-loving friend found the middle of the book to be tedious, but I found it to be one of the most creative pieces of writing that I have encountered in quite a while. James Joyce’s Ulysses comes to mind as we become privy to the thoughts of Lincoln, Willie and several other “sick-box” residents.

Those who want a speedy plot-driven read should look elsewhere. If you’re up for a challenging mixture of fact and fiction, beautifully and adventurously written, consider diving into the Bardo.

Alan Jay Lerner, wordsmith

Musical Theater geeks will recognize the name Alan Jay Lerner, but the general public may ask, “Who?”
Not only did he co-write My Fair Lady which some theater aficionados consider the perfect musical theater piece, but his creative output also included Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Camelot, all written with composer Frederick Loewe. He won Academy Awards for writing the screenplays for An American In Paris, Gigi and a nomination for the adapted screenplay for My Fair Lady so lyrics were not his only interest.


He also had some other interesting collaborations. With Burton Lane, he created the movie musical, Royal Wedding, and the stage musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever which was recently revived on Broadway with Harry Connick, Jr. and Jessie Mueller. He and Andre Previn penned a musical, Coco about iconic fashion designer Chanel; Lolita, My Love was a written with composer, John Barry; 1600 Pennsyvalania Avenue was co-written with the revered Leonard Bernstein; composer Charles Strouse was his partner on Dance a Little Closer. Lerner also started the movie project Dr. Doolittle but was replaced with Brit Leslie Bricusse.

A little known fact is that Alan Jay Lerner was, for a time, the lyricist for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The second act opener, Masquerade is conjectured to have an uncredited lyric by Lerner.

The celebrated librettist has two other darker claims to fame. He was a patient of Max Jacobsen, “Dr. Feelgood” and was addicted to amphetamines for 20 years. Lerner was also married 8 times and fathered four children. An ex-wife quipped, “Marriage is Alan’s way of saying goodbye.”

Still and all, every time I sing favorites like Almost Like Being In Love, On a Clear Day, On the Street Where You Live, If Ever I Would Leave You and countless other songs, I honor the brilliance of Alan Jay Lerner.

The Good Place on Netflix

When I first heard the premise of NBC’s The Good Place television series, I vowed to give the show wide berth. Still, Kristen Bell had charmed me in the cult hit, Veronica Mars, and who doesn’t like Ted Danson, who just gets better with age?
The Good Place showed up on the Netflix trending list, so I gave the first episode a gander. Call me crazy but this comedy is the perfect antidote to all of the crime shows littering the tv scene. Thankfully, there is no laugh track, the dialogue is snappy and the art direction is eye-poppingly inventive. Not to mention the plot twists that hit you right and left in the 13 fast-paced 21-minute streaming episodes.
Besides Bell and Danson, the cast includes the nerdily attractive William Jackson Harper as Chidi, a former university ethics professor, Tahani, a wealthy philanthropist played by gorgeous Jameela Jamil, know-it-all robot, Janet played by D’Arcy Garden and Manny Jacinto who appears to be a silent Buddhist monk named Jianyu. The show explores cultural differences and the thin line between good and evil within the confines of this goofy after-life.


Who would have thought these serious topics could be funny, but show creator Mike Schur has created a world that is…..well, out of this world. Season Two premieres with an hour-long episode September 20, 2017 on NBC. Hey, I’m there.

FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) and Snopes

With all of the talk about fake news, two web sites have become indispensable for my determining what may or may not be true.


FAIR’s tag line is “Challenging media bias since 1986.” The web site posts stories on current topics using a variety of news sources and aims to provide Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. I especially like FAIR’s list of sites they frequently use for news reporting.

http://fair.org/take-action-now/online-news-sources/

Three of the major categories include Alternative News with sites like Mother Jones, The Nation and the Utne Reader. The Corporate News category contains the world’s heavy news hitters such as Le Monde, BBC World News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters. The Media Criticism and Resources section includes Crooks and Liars (with a funny Nixon cartoon logo), the daily howler, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive and world-newspapers.com which provides links to numerous global newspapers.

I challenge you to check out one new site daily, for a week, to shake up the way you view your news.


If you have a specific news event which you’d like to verify, consider snopes.com, also known as the Urban Legends Reference Pages. Created by Barbara and David Mikkelson in 1995, they amusingly named the site after an unpleasant family in William Faulkner’s novels.

Other sites that test the veracity of topics include:
TruthOrFiction.com
FactCheck.org
The Straight Dope (fighting ignorance since 1973) – http://www.straightdope.com/
The Skeptic’s Dictionary – http://www.skepdic.com/
MythBusters – http://www.mythbusters.com/

In the words of character Joe Friday (played by actor Jack Webb) on the tv show Dragnet, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Trapped on Amazon Prime

People keep telling me that they can’t watch shows with sub-titles, but then they would be missing yet another gripping television program called Trapped, from Iceland no less. The cinematography alone conjures up the most vivid depiction of a winter storm that I have ever seen.
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Trapped is ten episodes of taut suspenseful drama . Chock full of flawed but endearing characters, the series is a tapestry of past and current criminal behavior in this isolated yet starkly beautiful Icelandic town. Local police officials are confronted with a headless and limbless corpse that has also been stabbed through the heart. Crime honchos from the capitol city of Reykjavik are unable to fly or drive to this remote location due to an epic winter storm. The blizzard conditions also keep all of the inhabitants “trapped” in this ocean-side burg.

Focus stays on the local law enforcement officials, Andri, Hinrika and Asgeir who valiantly try to determine the guilty parties and keep more mayhem at bay. Let us just say that the carved-up cadaver is just the tip of this nefarious iceberg.

Multiple plot lines concerning human trafficking, the financial collapse of 2008, a suspicious fire seven years ago that killed a teenage girl and simmering grudges all converge by episode ten. Trapped is quintessential Scandi-noir.

You may not want to watch this series in the dead of winter since the engagingly chilly scenes just may be overkill.

New Amazon bookstore on Southport in Chicago

Since March 2017, Amazon has had a bookstore on Southport in Chicago, the only one in the Midwest. I finally got around to stopping in last night. As a supporter of independent bookstores, I had mixed emotions about the internet behemoth setting up shop in Chicago.

Let me confess that I bought a book. As a Prime member, the store sold me the book I wanted for the low price I had found on the internet. My debit card info showed up on their system confirming that I was a Prime member and away I went with my selected book. The salesclerk said I could also download the Amazon app to buy products in the future.

As a downside, the book selection is not deep. Amazon’s on-line best-sellers are apt to be the majority of books available and all book covers face out which looks nice, but limits stock space further. There is comfortable seating throughout the store for customer use.

The store is also a hub for all things Amazonian like the Echo, the Kindle and the Fire. I was intrigued by the Phillips lamps and light bulbs which can be controlled by digital assistant, Alexa. There were also small items for kids in the children’s literature section.

A coffee bar within the store, but separated by glass from the merchandise, has limited indoor seating. Outdoor tables now overlook the trendy Southport boutique and restaurant crowd.

It occurred to me that Amazon saved the free prime shipping fee by selling me this book for the low internet price. Might they be thinking of using this model for other items they sell?

Amazon has several other business concerns under its umbrella such as imdb.com, audible.com, AbeBooks, Goodreads, Twitch.tv, Woot, Zappos and now Whole Foods Market.

Oh, and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos has also invested in airbnb, Uber, Google and he bought the Washington Post newspaper in 2013. His space company, Blue Origin will begin offering rocket ship rides in 2018. Talk about a vertical and horizontal operation!

Robotic lawn mowers: Honda’s Miimo

A friend of mine uses an electronic system to keep her dog in their fenceless yard. Lo and behold, robotic lawnmowers are now combining that concept with that of the Roomba vacuum to keep lawns clipped and mulched.

The number one on-line choice appears to be the Honda Miimo lawn kit which comes with 3 elements: perimeter wire with pegs to mark your property’s boundaries and to mark off flowers, trees and bushes from being mowed, the robotic unit itself and the charging station.

Using a smart phone app, the owner can set the grass cutting height and the mower proceeds to manicure the lawn. The device can be programmed to only run at night with a sound equivalent to an air-conditioning unit. Contrast that with the ultra-loud power mowers of yore.

The machine finely slices the grass into mulch which is left on the lawn as a natural fertilizer. When the mower runs low on juice, it automatically goes to its charging station and powers up.
The Honda Miimo comes in two price models, the HRM 310 for $2,499 or the HRM 520 for $2,799 so only the well-heeled will be buying these mowers, for now.

A couple of my nephews make money mowing sporting fields in the summer. Let’s hope these robotic mowers don’t come down in price and proliferate until these two young guys are out of college!