Marketa Lazarová

Those who do not suffer can not experience delight.

—-Marketa Lazarová

Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

It was a long weekend and I had some time and decided to check out The Criterion Channel’s streaming collection and, for some reason, chose Marketa Lazarová. The blurb did say it was voted the best Czech film of all time – and that seemed to be enough reason to watch it.

It was not an easy film to get into. It is a three hour historical epic set in the late Middle Ages, full of snow and symbolism as early Christianity battled with the dregs of paganism for the hearts and minds of the peasantry. It is a brutal film – the initiating incident is the robbery of a coach in the winter by a band of bandits led by two brothers. A neighboring clutch of cutthroats tries to muscle in on the action. This sets up a three-way power struggle between the crown (a high ranking bishop is in the coach) and the two rival groups of bandits.

There is kidnapping, rape, dismemberment, a preternatural pack of wolves, a lamb’s head bouncing down a hill… and plenty of brutality and human humiliation.

I’ll spoil it for you – it doesn’t end well.

Still, if you have the patience for it, it is a great movie and an educational, emotional, and entertaining experience.

I think about this movie and try to compare it to… say, Avengers Endgame. Which is the better movie? What does that even mean? How can you compare the two?

I prefer Marketa Lazarová. The plot is not predictable. The characters are real (they act like real… if really nasty… people). The movie forces the viewer to think. I know that scenes from the film will haunt me for a long time (I know I watched Avengers Endgame… maybe twice… but I have no memory of anything that actually happened in it other than some fighting and Doctor Strange’s transportation fireworks circles).

So there are a whole bunch more Czech films on Criterion. I’ve seen Fireman’s Ball ( I have always been a huge fan of Milos Forman) and I think I’ll add a few more to my viewing queue.

So many movies, so little time.

Sunday Snippet, Emprise by Bill Chance

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”

― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Emprise

The thing is, in an isolated tiny town like New Solace, thrown out there lonely in the ice cold windswept plains, there weren’t very many opportunities to meet someone that you might desire. Anyone was lucky to find one. Stan and Emilia were lucky, but there was no other choice. Since they were infants, born on opposite sides of town yet less than a mile away, seven days apart, it was assumed they would grow up to be a couple. Not because of any imagined or real compatibility of their personalities, but because there simply was nobody else.

They married the day after they graduated from high school. Neither of them had ever seen the ocean so for their honeymoon they went to a warm, humid coastal town and decided never to go back to New Solace, even if it was home and they were needed at harvest time.

Stan found work stocking the shelves at a hardware store and Emilia worked in the grade school cafeteria, making huge pots of mashed potatoes and gravy. “Gravy?” she’d ask the children in front of her as they moved through the line with their trays with the already-filled ladle in her hand. They would make fun of her accent that had floated a thousand miles down from the far north. She came home from work hours before Stan and one day, she was waiting for him in front of their apartment building.

“Come walk with me, I’ve bought something,” she said. They had always been very proud of their apartment, although it was too small, cheap, and rundown… it was only a block from the ocean. There was a litter-spoiled bit of beach and a small marina – as cheap and rundown as their apartment. Emilia led Stan to the marina and asked him to close his eyes.

“What? I don’t want to fall off the dock.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your arm.”

They walked out over the water and then Emilia let Stan open his eyes. There was a moldy looking sailboat, resting at a slight angle in the water, tied to the Marina with old, greenish ropes.

“What do you think?” she said.

“What does this have to do with us?”

“I bought it,” she said, “While you were at work. Don’t worry, it was a great deal, we can afford it.”

“But what?”

“It’s a Catalina 22, a very common boat. We can fix it up, parts are available and cheap. We can go on an adventure.”

And that’s what they did. Stan was very handy with tools and had a nice discount at the hardware store where he worked. He scraped and painted and varnished and replaced. It was a lot of work and took almost a year but slowly the boat began to look like a shiny new vessel. Emila wasn’t very good with her hands and she figured her part was the planning stages. She was constantly looking up destinations and strategies. After consulting a bulky thesaurus she announced they would name the boat “Emprise.” Stan made a note to himself to look word up and see what it meant – but he never did.

“I think we need to sign up for sailing lessons,” said Stan.

“Naw, we don’t need that.”

“I think we do, they are available at the yacht club,” said Stan.

“Why? All that stuff is available online.”

The boat was gleaming, supposedly seaworthy, and almost finished. Stan took a few days off for the final touches. The afternoon was warm and he was exhausted when he fell asleep in the small cabin. He woke feeling the boat moving in an odd way and stuck his head out up and looked around. All he could see was waves. The sails overhead were out and Emilia was at the tiller grinning from ear to ear.

“While you were asleep, I decided to take ‘er out.”

“Where are we going?”

“I figured we’d do a loop, find an anchorage for the night.”

“But you don’t know what you’re doing!”

“It’s simple.”

But it wasn’t. Emilia wasn’t even sure how to read the compass – it wasn’t nearly as stable as it was in the instructional videos she had watched. The wind kept switching directions and getting stronger and stronger.

“Did you check the weather?” asked Stan.

“Why? Not a cloud in the sky.”

“There is now.”

They never found an anchorage and had to sail blindly into the night. In the pitch blackness the wind and waves rose and rose until they were caught in a full-fledged storm. The hot rain poured down and the warm sea flung itself up until the boat felt like it was being ground to pieced between the two and propelled by the wind over the edge of the world. Stan was beyond terrified and resigned to death several times. Luckily, in the darkness he could not see the eternal grin plastered across Emilia’s face and he would misinterpret her whoops of joy as cries of terror.

Stan woke to the morning heat of the rising sun to the confusion of feeling an odd texture under his body. He realized it was sand and he had been thrown onto a beach next to the broken sailboat.

“Stan, wake up!” Emilia was walking around, seemingly no worse for wear.

“We’re on an island,” she said. “I thought I’d let you sleep. I’ve been walking around, and it looks like there’s a house a bit down the shore. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney.”

Stan had never felt such a weary pain in every bone as he hauled himself up and walked with Emilia to the house about a mile from where they boat had floundered.

They knocked on the door and an older woman answered right away.

“Come on in, I have some coffee and breakfast,” she said as if they were expected.

The woman was Alice and she had lived on the island for ten years, five alone, since her husband has passed away. They walked together down the beach and looked long and hard at the boat but it was beyond salvage.

“Shame,” Alice said. “It looked like such a nice little boat. Can’t be helped, though.”

“But what can we do now?” asked Stan.

“Well, for one thing, you can stay here as long as you need to, or want to. I can use a handyman to keep up with repairs, the yahoos that come out from the mainland are all useless or thieves. There’s plenty of room. Plenty to eat. I can use some company.”

“Sounds great,” said Emilia.

“But we were looking for an adventure,” said Stan.

“But, you see, there are more ways to have an adventure than to go off across the world,” replied Alice.

Disney World Marathon

My son Lee’s friend Casey is making a series of Instagram short films for him, publicizing his charity to help him run in the New York City Marathon. Here’s the second one.

Please think about donating at this link.

Lee has always been a fan of Princess Vanellope – here’s a drawing he did of her.

Princess Vanellope – drawing by my son Lee

The Honey Process

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”
― Dave Barry

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

I did not set out to be a coffee snob – I really didn’t. But now, looking back, it was inevitable.

Like everyone else my age, my early years were marked by my parents boiling cheap ground stale Robusta coffee in a percolator, recirculating the grounds, through a layer of toilet paper (always out of filters) until it was so bitter it was undrinkable – then drinking it anyway. I remember being fascinated at watching the water bubbling against the little glass knob on the top – the sound of exuberant roiling water and the smell of burned beans. When I got to college my parents bought me a percolator which I modified with some rubber tubing into a crude still – nothing worse than a nascent chemist in a dorm room with something to heat liquids.

Then there was the Mr. Coffee – which made a little bit better brew – but still the coffee itself was terrible. Right after school I spent some time addicted to daily morning coffee from the machine at work along with a stale sugared bread-thing from the next. I gave that up and went through miserable withdrawal when I learned of the screaming high-pitched caffeine headache that stuff would cause. Then came Starbucks, which actually makes terrible coffee (I always think of Starbucks as an office rental place, rather than a coffee shop) but it at least put coffee culture on the map. And it became a decades-long rabbit hole for me, and many, many others.

After years of experimentation I finally settled on a French Press and was happy with it except for the difficulty cleaning it out.

And then along came the AeroPress which I realized was the perfect way to make coffee. I now have two – one and home and a portable model at work.

For a while, I would grind a week’s worth of beans on the weekend. But then, as I fell farther, I realized that it really does make a better cup if you grind the beans fresh… and bought a simple hand grinder for my desk at work.

So now I’m exploring the (literally)world of coffee beans. I learned quickly that I like light roast (the taste of the coffee varietal and location comes through better – plus a bit more caffeine).

My favorite place for buying coffee beans is Central Market. Yes, there are some very good custom roasters in my area, and I will visit them, but each one is somewhat limited and it can be tough to find exactly what I want. Beside, most of the best Dallas roasters have product in Central Market anyway. They have a vast selection of bulk bins full of a wide variety of whole bean coffee and there is something about putting the brown bag under the chute, lifting the handle, and listening to the coffee slide down.

The only downside is there isn’t a Central Market within easy bicycling distance from my house. The other day though I was driving back from some work I did at another location of my company and the route took me by the Central Market at Lover’s Lane and Greenville. I stopped as quickly as I could and found a coffee that looked really good – In-House Roasted Coffee Nicaragua Jinotega Honey Process.

Ok, let’s back up almost fifty years. I was in high school and living in Managua. A good friend had an uncle that ran a coffee plantation in the mountains above Jinotega and three of us hitch-hiked up there over Semana Santa (Easter Break) and had a great time. We spent one night in Matagalpa (an amazing city) and one in the coffee warehouse in Jinotega (the odor was amazing) before making it all the way to the plantation. There we rode horses and explored the area. There was even a miles-long wooden aqueduct that provided water for washing the coffee beans and hydroelectric power for a few lights around the main house. Amazing memories.

So, I have a built-in preference for Nicaraguan… and especially Jinotegan coffee.

I wondered about the “Honey Process” and looked it up. It has nothing to do with honey – it refers to processing the coffee with a layer of the fruit still attached to the inner bean. Supposedly it makes for a sweeter cup.

And the coffee is fantastic. It’s exactly what I was looking for. As I begin to run low I need to get back to Central Market and buy some more. I’m a little worried that I’ll miss out on other good things if I keep buying this – but I can’t imagine anything I’d like better.

I did not set out to be a coffee snob – I really didn’t.

What I learned this week, September 1, 2021

TikTok doctor explains why sneakers filled with human feet keep washing up on beaches in the Pacific Northwest

OK… is this the most clickbait headline ever? The crazy thing is, once you think about it clearly – OF COURSE sneakers with human feet keep washing up on beaches in the Pacific Northwest.


Walking correctly takes work—here’s how to improve every step

Experts explain how to make the most of your daily strolls.


Help Lee run NYC Marathon with Gladney!


Dallas Skyline at Night

Big D Is a Big Deal

Dallas–Fort Worth is becoming the de facto capital of America’s Heartland.


11 Self-Sabotaging Phrases to Drop From Your Vocabulary

We can avoid saying things that unwittingly hold us back.


Zen-like Christmas decorations, Waxahachie, Texas

The Zen rule for becoming happier: Change one thing

Start Small


Bicycle Drag Racer on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Here’s How Much to Ride a Week to Keep Your Brain 9 Years Younger

Cycling definitely helps keep you in great physical shape, but that’s not the only benefit your favorite activity has on your body. According to new research out of Durham, North Carolina, aerobic exercise has some serious perks for your brain, too-like helping to reverse its age by almost nine years.


The concept of schizophrenia is coming to an end – here’s why

Arguments that schizophrenia is a distinct disease have been “fatally undermined”. Just as we now have the concept of autism spectrum disorder, psychosis (typically characterised by distressing hallucinations, delusions, and confused thoughts) is also argued to exist along a continuum and in degrees. Schizophrenia is the severe end of a spectrum or continuum of experiences.


And now, as a palate cleanser – this has become a viral meme, but in case you haven’t seen it…. Those darn kids!

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, 4 A.M. Burrito, by Avalon Dziak

Eating a burrito is like eating a living, breathing organism – you can feel the burrito’s ingredients sigh inside with each bite, each squeeze.”

― Gustavo Arellano

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday, August 31, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago. As I look back 20 years ago… I’m coming up close to September 11, 2001.

Burrito

I’ve been trying,
lately,
to work hard in finding the hard truth
in everything.

But what,
possibly,
could be the hard truth
in a fast food burrito?

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

4 A.M. Burrito, by Avalon Dziak

From Flash Fiction Magazine

New York City Marathon

A Message From Lee

5 years ago, when I committed to running a marathon in all 50 states, I knew that the New York City Marathon would be a jewel to stand out among the rest. To my dismay, I learned that it’s one of the most selective races in the world with less than 3% admitted via the lottery. After 5 years of lottery denials, I’ve finally found a partner with whom to run the marathon with: the Gladney Center for Adoption!

Now, we need YOUR help to run the New York City Marathon together! I am targeted with raising $3k for Gladney by October 15th, 2021 and any donation from you will help us run for miles!

My son is working on raising money for a worthy charity and will run in the New York City Marathon. A good friend of his made the video for him – Isn’t it cool!?

Here’s the link to his fundraiser:

Help Lee run NYC Marathon with Gladney!

Times are tough for everybody, but if you can spare a dime, think about donating. Every bit helps.

Lee’s Instagram

Lee near the finish of the eight mile course. Mardi Gras shirt and Tulane Boxers – worn on the outside.
Running up that hill at the end.

Sunday Snippet, Hummingbird by Bill Chance

“The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.”

― Aesop

Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas

Hummingbird

There was this old, old guy – he was my neighbor and my landlord. I rented half of a duplex and he lived by himself in the other half and owned the whole thing.

We used to talk in the back. It was a covered carport back there and I set up all of my weight lifting iron under the overhang by the alley. I’d spend a couple hours each day out there jacking steel and he’d waddle up when I was finishing for a chat.

He talked about how his wife and kids were killed in a car accident years ago. He said they had a really nice house but he couldn’t stand living there because it reminded him too much of them. He sold it and bought the duplex, “So that it would bring in a little money.”

I think he bought the duplex because he was lonely. Fine with me, I didn’t mind the chat and the rent was cheap.

The old guy was weird. He kept the yard immaculate. He had this ancient aircraft-carrier sized car that he hardly ever drove. It sat there so long that one day when he decided to drive it to the station and put some gas in it he came back in a panic.

“I’ve forgotten where the gas cap is!” he told me.

I looked at the model and year and went to the internet.

“It’s behind the left rear brake light, the left when you are facing the front. The light swings to the side.”

He was grateful for the help and amazed that I could find that out on my phone.

He was always buying hummingbird feeders and putting them all over the back of his half of the house. Some looked like bulgy flowers, some like bottles, some like dishes. He’d fill them with sugar water or red powdered stuff he bought. He did this for years and never, ever saw a hummingbird. It was crazy.

Then one day, I was pumping iron and he came out all excited. He could barely contain himself.

“I saw one,” he said.

“One what?”

“A hummingbird.”

He died the next day. He collapsed on his front walk going out to get the mail. I was at work, a neighbor saw him. They said he was probably dead before he hit the pavement. I guess it was good he snuffed it out front like that – if he had died in his sleep God knows how long it would have been before anyone would have checked on him. I know I wouldn’t have.

Still, I felt bad. I read about his funeral and thought about going. I was nervous because I figured there would be nobody else there. He always talked about how he had nobody left. Then I decided to go anyway. There was a handful of us… the lawn guy, the neighbor, his lawyer, some strange woman standing off by herself….

It was a graveside service. As they lowered the coffin, we saw it. It was amazing. It was like a cloud or a column of smoke, but multi colored. And it moved on its own. Flowing and pulsing, changing shape, growing round then stretching out. The lawyer said something about “Murmuration.” I had never heard that word before… I thought it had something to do with the sound (now I know better, I Iooked it up) which was more like a high-pitched buzzing that a murmur.

It was on the news, it was in all the papers, someone shot a video and it went viral. There were interviews with experts, professors, zoo people and they all were perplexed. Nobody had ever seen hummingbirds behave like that before. Literally millions of them had come from miles and miles to form that huge cloud.

“I have never seen hummingbirds cooperate in a social way,” one expert said, “Especially when you take into consideration that there were several different species involved.”

None of them made the connection that the birds were in a changing formation, a performance, over the cemetery.

The lawyer told me there was a will and that the old man had left me the duplex. I’ll rent the other side out, and get the lawn guy to keep the landscape up really nice; he gave me his card at the funeral. I went next door and collected all the hummingbird feeders and moved them to my side.

I have to make up barrels of sugar water now. Hundreds of those birds show up every day.

Dave Made a Maze

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”
― Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings

A street in the City of the Dead. Family crypts on the left, wall crypts on the right.

I have been spending way too much time surfing youtube videos. I did see one the other day that was almost useful. It was a list of “twenty weird and cool movies you haven’t seen” or something like that. I had seen most of them. But there was one I had never heard of – “Dave Made a Maze.”

It took some time of searching – but I found a place where I could, almost legitimately, stream it.

And it was good. Not great, but worth the precious time it took. It boasts a crackerjack idea (a failing artist decides to finally finish a project, a labyrinth made of cardboard in his apartment – it is much, much larger on the inside, by the way), some good performances (Meera Rohit Kumbhani stands out) and fantastic art direction (the maze is…. well, amazing).

The premise peters out a bit (the weirdness of the initial premise is not maintained) and the dialog is a bit stilted. All in all though… Worth the trouble of seeking it out.