Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Michael Tolliver Lives"

As will often happen, while researching the previous post I made a discovery so incredible I almost couldn't finish the last post because I was so excited to write this one.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketJune 1st, 2007, marks the US publication date of a new book by Armistead Maupin entitled - you guessed it - Michael Tolliver Lives. It's been nearly 20 years since Sure Of You completed the run of Tales of the City, and now finally comes word of the seventh book in this beloved series.

This from the publisher:

Michael Tolliver, the sweet-spirited Southerner in Armistead Maupin's classic "Tales of the City" series, is arguably one of the most widely loved characters in contemporary fiction. Now, almost twenty years after ending his groundbreaking saga of San Francisco life, Maupin revisits his all-too-human hero, letting the 55-year-old gardener tell his story in his own voice.

Having survived the plague that took so many of his friends and lovers, Michael has learned to embrace the random pleasures of life, the tender alliances that sustain him in the hardest of times. "Michael Tolliver Lives" follows its protagonist as he finds love with a younger man, attends to his dying fundamentalist mother in Florida, and finally reaffirms his allegiance to a wise octogenarian who was once his landlady.

While "Michael Tolliver Lives" is a stand alone novel, accessible to old and new readers alike, a reassuring number of familiar faces appear along the way. As usual, the author's mordant wit and ear for pitch-perfect dialogue serve every aspect of the story— from the bawdy to the bittersweet. "Michael Tolliver Lives" is a novel about the act of growing older joyfully and the everyday miracles that somehow make that possible.

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Screened: "Stella Dallas" (1937)

The reputation of the film Stella Dallas as a paragon of motherlove suffers, mainly because such a label both reduces and disguises what the film is really about.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPoor Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck), the daughter of a millhand and a drudge (an all-too-brief appearance by Marjorie Main), is an ambitious girl. Entranced by a story of lost love in the weekend photo supplements, she sets out to woo and wed its swain, Stephen Dallas, played by the handsome John Boles.

That she succeeds is a foregone conclusion. That she then transforms herself into a scheming social climber would be easily explained away if the birth of her daughter Laurel (later played as a teenager by Anne Shirley) didn't turn her overnight into the kind of woman whose own thwarted ambitions are sublimated onto her daughter. Stella doesn't seem to know who or what she is, which may also be part of the problem, although it is unaddressed in the film.

Much of this is the fault of the author, Olive Higgins Prouty, whose feminism is unfortunately nearly always smothered in the kind of melodrama that would suffocate a Victorian. Prouty was later to tout psychotherapy in another potboiler made into a tear-jerker (Now, Voyager), but it seems Stella Dallas could use a session or two on the couch as well.

After marrying and becoming Mrs. Stephen Dallas, then having her daughter, Stella can't seem to catch a break. She wants the swell life but doesn't like the swell people who come with it, and they decidedly don't like her. She talks of wanting to be refined, but makes no effort to do so, mainly because the man who loves her tells her not to change. Stella's friendship with Ed Munn (a blowhard played with great verve by Alan Hale) seems to play an equal part in her downfall, inasmuch as Munn seems to have a habit of putting Stella in awkward situations which Stella, for her part, can't or won't explain away.

When Stephen Dallas is shopping for Laurel's birthday present one day, long after he and Stella have separated, he meets his old flame (Helen Dane Morrison, played by Barbara O'Neil), which is bad enough. When it's shortly revealed that she's a widow this rapidly becomes as heart-breaking a scene as any in the film. Gradually, of course, Laurel is won over, and soon Stella is given the onerous task of driving her own beloved daughter away for her own good.

True, there is much in here about a mother's love and sacrifice, but the film's subliminal message seems to rail against social climbing and dating outside of one's class. Since Stella is referred to consistently as an excellent seamstress, it would seem that a truly feminist message would be that Stella should open a dress shop, and so gain her entree to so-called "polite society" in that way. Then again, despite her ability with a needle, much is made of the garish way Stella uses those talents.

If such a suggestion were made by Mrs. Prouty in the novel, it is not present in the film. In fact, I would be eager to read the book, if only because it might serve to flesh out the inner life of its heroine better than a film portrayal can hope to. Not that Stanwyck doesn't try, and in fact, this confusion over her identity may have been intentional.

I doubt anyone but Stanwyck could have played such emotions so naturally, but play them she does, and for all they're worth too. Several times she lets conflicting emotions loose across her face, and it's as much a testament to the clarity of DVD technology as it is to Stanwyck's abilities that we actually get to see them all.

In the film's famous final scene, a bedraggled Stella crowds her way to a window at the Dallas' townhouse, and there witnesses her daughter's marriage. Just to add insult to poor Stella's misery, it's pouring rain; then, for punctuation, she is given the bum's rush by a cop with a truncheon.

It's Mother's Day, so I'll go easier on the film than Mrs. Prouty was on the character. Love and sacrifice are excellent qualities in anyone, including a mother; martyrdom and the subsumation of a woman's identity for her children... Not so much. While there is much to be admired in this production (it's an excellent movie) it serves a modern audience best as a curio, rather than a model.
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RIP King Malietoa Tanumafili II of Samoa

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHis Highness was the oldest head of state in the world; he died Friday aged 94 in hospital in the Samoan capital, Apia. He was also the world's third longest reigning monarch, behind Bhumibol of Thailand (1946) and Elizabeth II (1952), having come to the throne in 1962.

[S O U R C E]
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BC Ferries: Cruising The Straits

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Well, this is the thanks I get for going off half-cocked.

It turns out my big day trip to Nanaimo was a flop, so rather than dwell on the failure of it, I have chosen to look upon it as a) a learning experience, b) a fact-finding mission, and c) an excuse to have a lovely boat ride and take a lot of pretty pictures.

In fact, I took enough pictures to do three or four photo essays.

First, I should explain: the title isn't mine.

There is a legend (which many claim is true, which is the way it is with legends) that either in the 70s or in the 80s (legends not being known for their accuracy) BC Ferries commissioned that very slogan and either was about to or had already rolled out their ad campaign based around it, when someone explained to them what it meant.

Ever since, certain muck-raking bitches (myself proudly included), have refused to let the legend die. I would love to come into possession of some piece of proof that the story was true, and so I am making my wish upon the Internet, which has done so much for me thus far.

Maybe some day the evidence I seek will surface.

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British Columbia's waters are very much working waters: the Port of Vancouver does a massive amount of the Nation's business, car and passenger ferries chug between the mainland and dozens of offshore islands (the largest of which is Vancouver Island) and fishing boats, whale-watching and other eco-tours, cruise ships, and pleasure craft make up the rest.

On this day I took the ferry from Horseshoe Bay, on the mainland, to Departure Bay in Nanaimo, which is on Vancouver Island. It sailed at 3 PM, arrived at 4:40, at which time I turned around and came back on the 5 PM, returning at 6:37 - three minutes early! It cost $11.50 to go, and $5.95 to return, plus $4.50 for bus fare there and back - $21.95 for a nice day out.

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The ferries themselves can be quite large, but they are dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the Coast Mountains. The arrival and departure provide the best scenery (if you can find a spot at the rail between photographers) mainly because the boats are moving more slowly, but also because of the stretch of open water in the middle of the journey.

This is more pronounced on the southern route from Tswassen to Saanich/Victoria.

It can be furiously windy, too, as it was this day. As warm as it was on land, I was wishing I'd worn long pants once I was on the boat. Fortunately there are many places to go to warm up, and the amenities on the boats are ample.

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Leaving Horseshoe Bay, the ferry gets a pretty spectacular view of Vancouver between the mainland (on the left) and Bowen Island (on the right). I was unprepared for this, as it had been 25 years since I'd last taken the trip. Also, 25 years ago, the view would not have looked quite like this. Our little city has certainly done some growing up!

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Mid-water can be the most relaxing. The passage itself is a symphony of blue and grey tones at the best of times. This combined with the sea air and the gentle rocking motion is almost worth the fare itself. Since I have no time or money with which to travel, I was looking for an experience that would feel like travel, and I got it, right down to the relief at finally being home.

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Approaching Nanaimo the spiny back of Vancouver Island looms up; some of these mountains are visible from Vancouver's English Bay (on very clear days). Though it is thought of as something of a backwater populated by yokels, this is a typically urban myth. Most of the people on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are refugees from the city.

Besides which, there are plenty of rednecks and yokels living right here in the city. I know this because, in my line of work, I either deal with them or work with them regularly.

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I don't know anyone who's moved offshore, so I have no pied-a-terre on the Sunshine Coast as of yet. But some day, maybe... I keep telling myself that I'll one day rent a kayak and travel around these islands a little more intimately. I may yet do that as well.

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I was surprised to see so much snow cover so late in the season. Though it's picturesque, it spells potential disaster if a heat wave hits, which has been known to happen in May. Some of the snow cover is glacial, though, in which case, I'd prefer it if it stayed right where it is.

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I decided to end on a poignantly arty shot of a fishing boat sailing off into the sunset. I tweaked it a little, casting a golden hue over what was originally almost black and white. The BC fishery could use a little golden glow right now seeing as it, like all fisheries, is threatened.

I will get the trip to Nanaimo I originally planned, only next time I'll put a little more preparation into it. In the meantime I hope the pictures show that the day wasn't a total wash.
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In answer to alla y'all who seem to think that I was hatched, or came from spores (you know who you are), I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to my mother, Penny.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn addition to being a community leader in Kelowna, serving as President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Royal Canadian Legion there on several occasions, she is also personally involved in caring for the elderly in a palliative setting. She has always been a fervent animal welfare activist, having rescued the 10 cats which live with her, and dozens more from a thoughtless neighbour whose two became thirty or forty recently.

Though I have often cited my grandmother - her mother - as the greatest influence on my life, I would not be who I am without my mother's guidance. Her mistakes, as well as her successes, gave both my life and my ambitions their focus and drive. When I was younger I fought with her (often quite bitterly) and through it all she never once lost her cool, even though I was a real jerk. I guess I was testing her unconditional love. She passed that test, though, as that is the only way she knows how to love.

I can see now that even her mistakes were well-meaning, that I as a teenager turned her protection into smothering and her concern into censure. There were a few years there in which it was anybody's guess whether I would survive myself; I have no doubt I wouldn't have if it hadn't have been for her.

Mother's Day, then, is a very special one for me and always has been. In my heart, every day is Mother's Day.
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