2018 was a rough year, and it’s ending in a dangerous, disheartening way: a partial government shut-down, a steep drop in the stock market, and the growing realization by everybody that we have an incompetent crook with a team of fools in charge.
And look for things to go downhill rapidly as the time approaches for Robert Mueller to release his report in mid-February. Trump is going to get real crazy.
It’s hard to be happy about anything with more than 14,000 immigrant children incarcerated along our Southern border. And two children dead – so far. Their names were JAKELIN CAAL MAQUIN and FELIPE GOMEZ ALONZO. How can this country sleep?
But there were good things in 2018 (I keep telling myself), so here’s the rest of my Top Ten Gumbo --
BEST MOVIE: CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
I haven’t seen everything, but of the movies I have seen, this one stands out. Directed by Marielle Heller (whose work I didn’t know) and written by Nicole Holofcener (“Lovely and Amazing,” “Enough Said,” etc.) and Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”), this movie is a gem: real, funny, smart, sympathetic, and unusual. Based on the true story of Lee Israel, a celebrity biographer whose career setbacks lead her to a life as a literary forger, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? deals with serious problems – loneliness, illness, addiction, the struggle to make a living – inside a sly, dark, buddy-heist comedy. It’s truthful about ambition and the writing life, and has a great feel for New York City.
Melissa McCarthy is brilliant. I knew that she was super-talented (from Bridesmaids, her “Spicey” on SNL, etc.), but I didn’t know that she was this good. And Richard E. Grant as her partner-in-crime might just get a career-capping Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I want to see it again.
(In truth, my favorite movie of the year was probably PADDINGTON 2, but that came out at the end of 2017 and doesn’t qualify.)
Other movies I liked: THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS … VICE … THE DEATH OF STALIN … GREEN BOOK
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? trailer
Melissa McCarthy as Spicey
MELISSA MC CARTHY – as Sean Spicer on SNL
THE BEST OF MELISSA MC CARTHY
MELISSA MC CARTHY – “This Is 40” blooper reel – extremely funny
BEST PARK: PETERHOF PALACE
I’ve been lucky enough to see some beautiful places in my life, but the gardens of Peter the Great’s summer residence, the Peterhof Palace outside of St, Petersburg, were as lovely as any place I’ve ever been. Right up there with Versailles, Schoenbrunn, the Yosemite Valley, Big Sur, and the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.
The palace and gardens are set beautifully on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, with the palace on a tall bluff overlooking the water and the gardens in-between. There are perfectly manicured baroque gardens and gardens allowed to grow “wild.” There were a “Chess Mountain” and a “Golden Mountain” and more fountains than I’ve ever seen in my life. Our guide Mikail timed our visit so that we had a great view of the fountains of the Grand Cascade – all 64 of them! – when they went off. The sun was shining, the air was clear, and we were surrounded by such beauty – both natural and man-made – that we couldn’t believe our eyes.
The Peterhof is the most frequently visited tourist site in all of Russia, and for good reason: it’s absolutely magical.
The site for Peterhof Palace and Gardens
Images of the Peterhof
The Peterhof – Grand Palace, Peterhof Park and Gardens, etc.
The Fountains of Peterhof
BEST BOOK: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
Nothing I read this year moved me as much as this short and powerfully emotional book. I read it in advance of our trip to northern Europe which included a visit to Anne Frank’s house. (The TG couldn’t believe that they didn’t make me read this book in junior high school, and she’s right. This book should be required reading for all teenagers: first of all, it’s written by a teenager who experiences all the normal insecurities and family problems that most teenagers do in addition to the extraordinary peril that she and her family endure.)
Her “diary” wasn’t just a diary: she worked on it, and it shows. It’s a lovely piece of writing. Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with this wonderful, brave young woman.
And in a time of rising anti-Semitism, her book couldn’t be more timely or necessary.
(And my daughter, knowing how much I loved the book and our visit to the “secret annex” gifted me with “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman and Anne Frank.” Can’t wait to start it.)
Anne Frank house tour
BEST DANCE: BALLET IN ST. PETERSBURG
I love to watch people dance, especially ballet. And to get to see ballet – make that, two ballets – in St. Petersburg, the city where the modern concept of ballet was born, was a tremendous experience.
We saw one beautifully danced story ballet “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” (based on a poem by Pushkin, Russia’s true god-hero) at the Mariinsky Theatre by the “Stars of the White Nights” and a “Swan Lake” by the Mikhailovsky Ballet, the B-company in town.
To see ballet danced on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre was the real thrill. This is the stage where Pavlova, Nijinsky, Balanchine, Ulanova, Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov, Vishneva, and countless other immortals danced. It’s where “The Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker,” and “Swan Lake” were premiered. For ballet fans, it’s hallowed ground. (The best equivalents are La Scala for opera and St. Andrews for golf.)
The soloists at the Mariinsky were magnificent. I wasn’t so crazy about the Pushkin-based, social-realist, narrative piece, but it was a good thing to see: very Russian. I felt lucky to be there.
Diana Vishneva dancing SWAN LAKE
The complete SWAN LAKE – from the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet) – the cradle of ballet
“The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” – excerpts from a 1953 film with legendary performances by Ulanova and Plitsetkaya)
BEST MOMENTS: HANGING WITH CALDER
Highest on my list of highlights for 2018 are the hours I spend with my wonderful grandson, who just turned four on December 12th. I’m sure that I would love any grandson of mine, but Calder is an extraordinarily charming little boy. Smart, funny, ridiculously handsome (everybody comments on his good looks), and he likes me. No, he loves me.
With Calder, ordinary things become extraordinary. Walks to the playground … the playground itself … reading books and playing I-spy… singing songs and nursery rhymes … making breakfast (he is my egg-breaker) … building things with playdough and blocks … drawing … chasing him on his scooter and tricycle … and his major passion: gardening.
We do almost everything but watch TV, movies, or any kind of screen. This kid hasn’t seen a TV show or movie his entire life. No “device” either. My daughter-in-law is keeping him as media-pure as she can, for as long as she can. And the results are pretty amazing: Calder is super-smart, imaginative, and extremely sharp at all times. No fuzz on his brain at all.
And there were the extraordinary moments: sitting in the first row of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with Calder in my lap as we listened to the LA Philharmonic Wind Ensemble play Jacques Ibert’s “Trois Pieces Breves” … climbing with him through the tidepools on the beach at Cambria at dawn … watching him play on the four giant eagle sculptures on the Monument of the Corregidora in Centro Historic of Queretaro.
Life teaches us again and again: the best things are the simple things.
Jacques Ibert – Allegro from “Trois Pieces Breves”