Tidy Tidbits: Viewing & Reading


This month, the Sarasota cultural scene re-awakens with orchestra, opera, theater and choral performances.  Not as many as in the new year, but what I’d call a mini-season.  Earlier this week, we had the treat of a session on the costumes for the musical, Evita, being presented by our favorite Asolo Repertory Theater.  This costume brunch featured a Skye conversation with the show’s costume designer along with commentary from the head of the costume design shop and a key member of his team.  Not only are Eva’s gowns and dresses lovely, they are  flawlessly constructed so that quick costume changes can be carried off on stage by other members of the cast!  Very ingenious use of clips and magnets and the like!  Now, I doubly can’t wait to see it all.

We also went to see and hear the Sarasota Opera’s production of La Traviata.  The local maestro is a big fan of Verdi’s works, having presented all of them over the past 28 years, and this was a lovely evening.  The sets were gorgeous and the singing most enjoyable.  We thought that this Violetta was very good and the Alfredo, exceptionally so.  I like this opera because it has fewer characters than some and  one main plot line.  And we saw a performance by the San Francisco Opera a few years ago which meant I was familiar with it.


Female Spies  

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.  Novels about young women during the two World Wars are plentiful these days and practically a genre in themselves.  This new novel, like so many others, has parallel story lines, but takes up the topic of female spies during WWI.  It’s 1947 and Charlie St. Clair, English, is unmarried and pregnant and under the influence of her mother who has her own plans for this unplanned pregnancy.  Charlie, with ideas of her own, is on a quest to find her cousin Rose who has not been heard from in three years.  A cryptic note takes her to London where she meets Eve, a ravaged and emotionally damaged former spy.

Charlie ends up traveling with Eve and Finn, Eve’s aide-de camp and general factotum, in her search for Rose.  The Alice Network of the title refers to a group of real female spies who worked for Britain under the direction of a young Scotsman.  The novel unfolds in alternating chapters between Charlie in 1947 and Eve in 1915.

It becomes a somewhat harrowing tale of danger and torture as Eve shares her experiences during both world wars, and you, the reader, come to understand why she drinks to oblivion and what she has suffered.  While Charlie yearns to find her cousin, Eve is out for revenge, and over time, the two quests become intertwined in ways neither could have imagined.

Eve is a brilliantly drawn character with her stammer and her insignificant appearance.  I enjoyed this novel, but, in some ways, found it more of a vehicle for relating the history of the Alice Network.  The characters Alice,  Violette, and Uncle Edward are based on real spies while the other three, Charlie, Eve, and Finn are the author’s creation.  To me, the pairing of Charlie and Finn was not a convincing one for the long haul.  (~JW Farrington)

November Reflections


If you live in a true temperate climate, like I did growing up, you might say that the months have personalities.  Personalities influenced by the weather and the holidays.  In November, in upstate New York, it got dark early and then earlier and earlier.  And it was cold.  Often the first significant snowfall put in an appearance.  It was a month that was more somber than joyful albeit punctuated by the warm sounds of gratitude and full bellies around a Thanksgiving table.

In the last years before her death, my mother dominated my siblings’ and my thoughts and concerns.  There was infrequent mention of my father who had died so many years before.  I would quietly think about him each November 6 the Election Day anniversary of his leaving us.  This year, with my mother gone two years past, I almost missed this anniversary.

My father was a very warm and nurturing individual.  He played board games and Wiffle ball with us kids and invested significant amounts of time paying attention to and being available to us.  I think he was ahead of other men of his generation.

I still recall with fondness the morning he met me for coffee in the W.T. Grant department store downtown.  I was probably home from college or in my last years of high school.  I felt so grown up to be doing this.  Mind you, this was long before Starbucks and a café on every corner.  Dad met me, we sat on stools at the simple lunch counter, chatted, and then we separately left.  He to return to work, and I to do whatever.  I felt that in his eyes that day, I was an adult.

Sadly, my father died far too young at only 48.  On that fateful Election Day eve, we drove hours through the dark, cold, snow-flurry night to say our last goodbyes.  He was the only one who voted (absentee).  He never got to know and enjoy his grandson and granddaughters nor his great grandchildren.  But he left a legacy of caring and warmth that lives on in us as we remember and cherish all that he gave us in that short time.  And, it being November and Veterans Day, he was also a World War II and Korean War Navy vet.

November can be a gloomy month up north, but it redeems itself with thankfulness on a day to draw close to family and friends.


A very good friend served us these tuna and bulgur stuffed peppers recently, and they were delicious!  So much so that I immediately made a copy of the recipe for myself.  It’s from Melissa Clark at the New York Times.  These peppers are prettier than hers!

Re-entry & Recent Reading


I’ve been back home just a week.  My head is still lingering over some distant ocean, and the time in New Zealand becoming a memory.  The four weeks seemed longer, and now I’m trying to process all that we saw and did.  Probably two things stand out from everything else:  1) it’s an incredibly beautiful country with a range of topography from beautiful seacoast to stunning snow-capped mountains to undulating fields and hills in multiple shades of green; and 2) the people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve met anywhere.

Beach at Kaka Point

I came to expect that when we arrived at our accommodations, we would be warmly received, but that we’d also get something of the history of the place along with the personal back story of the general manager or host.  Making it from the reception area to our room took at least 15 minutes. Upon leaving Arrowtown, Kathy, the hotel owner, insisted in the nicest way, of bestowing hugs on both of us!

Other tidbits:

  • We frequently saw the exclamation symbol, !, by itself on road signs, where there was road work,  but sometimes just as a warning of an upcoming change in the roadway.
  • With one exception of the last few kilometers into Wellington, all the roads were two lane ones with lots of twists, turns and curves.  Often very winding and narrow.  No interstates to speak of.
  • New Zealand is very environmentally conscious.  There are strict regulations about not bringing in food or pests from other countries (lots of bins in the airports for tossing out food items with strongly worded signs about the large fines for not doing so.)  Recycling and other green practices are a standard part of the culture.
  • Smaller towns were a step back in time to the 1950’s.  No fast food chains, but cafeterias and order-at-the-counter places like the Ten o’ Clock Cookie (love the name!)
  • Wineries all seemed to have their own bistro restaurants and were classy destinations for lunch or dinner—and some of the best meals we ate.

    War Memorial in Oamaru
  • New Zealand lost many men in the world wars, numbers out of proportion to its small population.  Every small town had some sort of WWI monument to fallen soldiers, and sometimes also recognition of those who fought in WWII and later wars.
  • Boarding internal flights in NZ was remarkably egalitarian.  There would be quick mention of premium status folks first, but then everyone just got in line to file out to the tarmac onto the plane.  Not the six levels of priority we see here.
  • I visited bookstores in Auckland, Wellington, and Oamaru, and discovered that most of the fiction on the shelves was from the United States or the U.K. with the U.S. predominating. I  browsed the few short shelves of fiction by New Zealand authors and bought one novel which I started, but didn’t finish and left behind.  It occurred to me that with such a small population, it’s probably not unreasonable that there is not a huge literary output.



The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas PrestonPreston’s nonfiction account of the search for what was often referred to as the White City or the City of the Monkey God is an archaeological adventure story.  Except it’s true.  Over a period of more than five years, some determined adventurers who had deep pockets, along with friends with deep pockets, attempted to locate this ancient city in the Honduran rain forest.  With the help of some very sophisticated new technology, they were able to map a potential site hidden beneath thick vegetation.  Once mapped, the plan was to go and spend a couple weeks clearing the rain forest to see what was there.  The challenges included lethal fer de lance snakes, sand flies, mud, the possibility of looting (making it crucial to keeping the exact location secret) and political wrangling of various sorts.  Against great odds, Preston, hired to write about the expedition, and the team of archaeologists, photographers, and others were successful, but not without serious risks to their health and well-being.  (~JW Farrington)


Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.  This is the first book by Anthony Horowitz that I’ve read, but I’m a longtime fan of Foyle’s War, which he created, and have also enjoyed the quirky Midsomer Murders (he was one of the screenwriters).  Although it’s a murder mystery, Magpie Murders, is unlike most others.  You have the umbrella story of Susan Ryeland, author Alan Conway’s editor for the mystery series he writes about detective Atticus Pund.  Then you get all of Conway’s latest book, appropriately titled “Magpie Murders,” except it ends without the last chapter and without resolution.  Our fearless editor, Susan, then goes on a tear to find the missing pages while real life deaths occur and mystery fiction and fiction fiction become intertwined.  Throughout, Horowitz has fun with puns, inside jokes about his own series, and allusions to famous mystery writers like Agatha Christie.  If you’re looking for something different in the mystery line, then this might be it. I found it clever and fun.   (~JW Farrington)


Note:  Photos by JWFarrington (some rights reserved).  Book jacket from the web. Header photo taken at Amisfield Winery near Queenstown.


Down Under: Parting Shots


Our time here is almost over, and it seems appropriate to gather together some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Note:   All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved.)

Ate more chips this trip than ever!
Auckland near lots of law offices
Waiheke Island view
Around Napier
Urban Winery
Oamaru Public Gardens
From the Navigator, Doubtful Sound cruise
Mt. Cook in the background
Sunset over Te Anau
Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu
Arrowtown, historic Chinese Settlement
Arrowtown, Lakes District Museum exhibit
At Arrow Thai, yummy green curry with chicken!
Moeraki Boulders
More sheep!
Picton waterfront
In Wellington
Banks Peninsula
Tussocks, Lake Tekapo
Marlborough region
Queen Charlotte Sound
Brancott Estate Vineyard
Wellington Wharf
The Boatshed, Waiheke