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Category Archives: Culture

Try my French verb conjugator

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I made a valiant effort to learn French. For three semesters, I went to night classes at the University of California (Berkeley) extension in San Francisco. With that foundation, I started reading. I never claim to speak French, and my aural comprehension is terrible. But I did […]

Music soothes the skittish cat

Lily listens to Herbert Blomstedt conduct Richard Strauss’ “Metamorphoses.” The television doesn’t always terrify my cat, Lily. It depends on what’s on. Long ago I started using headphones when I watch television, to accommodate Lily. Loud blockbuster movies scare the living daylights out of her. But she likes music. Last week, after we watched the […]

The Name of the Rose

1986 While scouring for watchables, I recently came across the 1986 film version of The Name of the Rose, on Netflix. It’s truly a classic film and always worth watching again. Back in the 1990s, I read Umberto Eco’s novel on which the film is based. The novel, too, is worth reading again, now that […]

Orchestras hate it, too

Jörg Widmann thrashes to try to help the orchestra detect a beat. Why would anyone pay up to $90 a seat to listen to someone beat on the back, the sides, and the neck of a violin, tunelessly sawing and scraping the poor thing when not beating it? Lots of people won’t, which is why […]

Not a book for the squeamish

Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land. Jacob Mikanowski. Pantheon, July 2023. 378 pages. If some perverse god created the earth, then it’s almost as though that perverse god reserved Eastern Europe as a place dedicated to the relentless refinement of human misery. The book describes how life there has never been […]

Scapegoats 2, Republicans 0

The political death wish of the Republican Party is mind-boggling. Why do they go on fighting battles that they’ve already lost and that accelerate their slide toward permanent minority status and the contempt of history? — at least, in civilized places as opposed to places such as Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. Banning books, and threatening […]

The devil now polls 58 percent in America

But which one is the devil? “The Devil presenting St Augustin with the Book of Vices,” Michael Pacher, 1435-1498 There probably is a way to do the math, but my back-of-a-napkin estimate is that, at the current rate, the Enlightenment will have arrived in America in about 942 more years. The Washington Post has an […]


After watching all nine seasons of “Masterpiece Endeavour,” I found myself in a serious state of Endeavour withdrawal and was desperate for something just as good to watch next. I considered the 1980s series “Inspector Morse,” but it seemed a little too dated (though I love the red Jaguar). I checked Shaun Evans’ filmography and […]

The Oxford Murders

Elijah Wood and John Hurt, set in Oxford in 1993 While beating through the bush for something to watch, I came across “The Oxford Murders,” on Hulu. The film was made in 2008. It’s set in Oxford in 1993. A mystery with Elijah Wood, John Hurt, and an Oxford setting? Of course I was going […]

A strange book about fairies

Source: eBay The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. W.Y. Evans Wentz, Oxford University Press, 1911. edition The English historian Ronald Hutton has persuasively argued that there is no continuous history of paganism in the British Isles. Rather, during the 19th Century there was a revival of, and a romanticization of, interest in Celtic paganism. This […]