Tidy Tidbits: Around Town


The name may be bland, but the South Florida Museum in Bradenton is doing big things!  The Chief Penguin and I were delighted to be at their groundbreaking this week for a new addition.  It’s an education wing with several new classrooms along with the Mosaic Backyard Universe.  The classrooms will enable them to build on the wonderful partnerships they already have with the local schools and the Backyard Universe is an innovative indoor and outdoor space that will provide new ways for younger children to explore their world.  The new center adds more exciting development to downtown Bradenton (the museum is practically on the Riverwalk) and will attract families with very young children.  It’s a win for everyone!



The project has been in the works for more than five years and there are a number of forward-looking leaders and partners who’ve made it happen.  Current leadership includes two stellar women, museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio and board chair, Jeanie Kirkpatrick.  It was great too to see the museum’s class of kindergarten children wielding their own little shovels.  




The Post

I like films about journalists and the press and I will see any film that stars Meryl Streep.  Predisposed toward The Post as I was, I found it excellent!  Meryl Streep is superb as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks captures gung-ho editor Ben Bradlee.  It was also fun to see Matthew Rhys of “The Americans” showing up as Daniel Ellsburg.

But Streep gets my vote for conveying all aspects of Graham.  Graham was a product of her time, a woman who was raised to be a wife and mother and therefore, invisible; she was a gracious and skilled hostess, and she, like her late husband, was a friend to politicians and presidents.  She never expected to be thrust into the job of publisher and in the critical scene where Graham must decide what to do, Streep’s lips purse, her face wrinkles, she hesitates, and you feel the thought process as this woman weighs all she and the paper stand to lose and what might be gained.  In that instant, Graham becomes a publisher to reckon with.

There are some other marvelous scenes too:  when she’s the lone woman meeting with the bankers and when she has a telling and poignant conversation with her good friend Robert McNamara.  

I remember the controversy surrounding the “Pentagon Papers” and so probably did other moviegoers as the audience clapped at the end of the film.  With all the castigation of the press today and the emphasis on “fake news” by some, this film about freedom of the press is a must-see!  I also recommend Graham’s autobiography, Personal History, published in 1997.



Note:  Photo of Graham from cronkitehhh.jmc.asu.edu

Diaries in Life and Fiction

DIARIES. As someone who has kept journals of one sort or another most of my life, I’m  also interested in the diary as a fictional device.  Here are a few words about my journaling and notes on two recent novels where diaries are key to the underlying story.

My first diary, which I no longer have, was the size of a paperback book with a bright pink plastic cover and came with a key to lock it. I was probably 11 or 12 when I started writing in this and know that my entries began, “Dear Diary.”

Recently I re-discovered a journal I began when I was seventeen and midway through my senior year in high school. I vowed in it to try and write every day. Early entries record my responses to teachers and classes as well as petty annoyances with friends. I am transcribing this journal as a Word document with the thought that perhaps someday my granddaughters might be interested in reading it. This is in keeping with a larger project of transcribing other journals.   I’ve completed our first European trip in 1971 and another one from 1990 when the Chief Penguin was appointed dean of engineering.


The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner  

Meissner presents Mercy Hayworth, a teenager in Salem, Massachusetts, who is a victim of the witch trials, to her readers solely through her diary. In the present day, college student Lauren Durough is hired by octogenarian Abigail Boyles to transcribe Mercy’s handwritten diary. Abigail is distantly related to Mercy, hence her interest in having it transcribed. Lauren, from a rich family, is sorting out her own life and worrying over how she judges or, more often, misjudges others’ actions and intentions.

I am not sure why I liked this novel as much as I did. In some ways, the premise that Abigail and Lauren would develop a closeness is an unlikely one and, one might also question why Mercy’s diary has such a dramatic impact on Lauren. The diary itself is well conceived and convincing, however, and I kept on reading to the end. (~JW Farrington)

The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson  

This is a beautiful novel that deserves to be savored like an extended afternoon tea.  It unfolds slowly focusing on the diary kept by Zinaida Lintvaryova during the several years Anton Chekhov and his family spent summers in the Ukrainian countryside.  Zinaida was a real person, the eldest daughter in her family, and a doctor. She developed a brain illness and began suffering headaches and gradually lost her sight. The Chekhov family did summer in Sumy in the late 1880’s, but the diary is this author’s creation.

In it, Chekhov talks candidly with the now blind Zinaida about the novel he’s working on. Linking the diary to the present are two other women: Katya Kendall, a publisher in London, who sends the Russian manuscript of the diary to an established translator, Ana Harding, based in Switzerland.  Katya is desperate to save her business and hopes the diary will do that.  Ana, who spent time in the Ukraine in younger days, becomes caught up in Zinaida’s diminished life, her friendship with Anton, and their far ranging conversations about life, literature, and philosophy.  For each of these women, Zinaida, Katya, and Ana, the diary prompts a reckoning with her own life—its disappointments and joys, its sorrows and shortcomings.

I was curious about Alison Anderson and aspects of her life show up in Ana.  Like Ana, she lives in a Swiss village and is a translator as well as a novelist.  Obviously, her work as a translator informs the depiction of what getting works to translate involves.  And, since this is yet another historical novel that features a famous author, I found this article in LitHub theorizing why there are so many of these novels of particular interest.  It’s by Helen Mcalpin.  As you might guess by now, I loved this novel! (~JW Farrington)


Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri

This is one of the most intense films I’ve seen recently. When Mildred Hayes, angry and grief-stricken that the police have not made any progress on solving the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, rents space on three billboards to publicly question the chief of police, she sets off a powder keg of hate and violence. Fights, fires, and general unpleasantness color everyday interactions.

Frances McDormand is magnificent as the mother. You want to sympathize with her pain and yet can’t condone all of her actions. You feel for her son and her estranged husband and also for Willoughby, the “good old boy” police chief, and eventually even for immature, misguided officer Dickson who exhibits racist tendencies.  Definitely worth seeing!

Note:  Header photo from www.brandsgifts.ae; other photos by this author.

Of Manatees and Movies

It was a week for birds, manatees, and several very good films.


My sister Ann is more of a nature person than I am. She and Paul visited us this past week and they both enjoyed seeing the shore birds from our lanai.  Lots of great white egrets, white and a few brown pelicans, gulls, a few herons, and even a flyby of three roseate spoonbills.  Of course, after they left, I got to watch three spoonbills up close, foraging for fish in the low tidal mud!

My sister also wished to see a manatee or two, so we drove up to Apollo Beach and the Manatee Viewing Center, near Tampa and adjacent to the Big Bend power station.  Manatees, also called sea cows, are large marine mammals related to elephants.  In the winter, manatees seek out warmer waters and the water around this power plant attracts them in droves!  We probably saw at least a hundred lolling in the water and surfacing every few minutes for air.  They looked brown, some with algae on their backs, and are somewhat bullet shaped, rounded and with very small heads and prominent nostrils.  They are quite an impressive sight.  The viewing center includes a boardwalk nature trail through shrubs and grassland and a 50-foot viewing tower.  

Another day we took our guests to the South Florida Museum to check out their manatees. The museum is part of a network of facilities that provide care for injured manatees. Critical care is done in Tampa and three other locations.  This museum provides intermediate care and rehabilitation before the manatees are ready to be released back to the wild.  Manatees are most often injured by boat strikes and there were three on view, one weighing only several hundred pounds.  The goal is to get them to 700 pounds at least before they leave; they are released near where they were rescued so that they can learn which warm waters to return to the following winter.  We heard a presentation while the manatees, here appearing more gray in color, were feeding which was fun to see.  Among them, these three manatees devour 200 pounds of lettuce a day!


Lady Bird.  You might pair this film with Call Me by Your Name as both feature teenagers grappling with questions of identity and seeking love.  Call Me limits itself to focusing on the intense relationship Elio (Timothee Chalamet) has with Oliver, a visiting older student, while Lady Bird tracks Christine’s (aka Lady Bird’s) senior year, her desperate desire to escape from dull Sacramento, her longing to go far away to college, her battles with her strong-willed and occasionally abrasive mother, and her sexual explorations.

It’s a very fine film and Saoirse Ronan gives a marvelous performance at this girl from the wrong side of the tracks who wants more from life.  Chalamet is also here as one of her boyfriends.

Darkest Hour.  This is a totally absorbing film about Churchill’s early days as prime minister and deciding how Britain will deal with Hitler and his expanding empire.  It’s about leadership, party politics, and the events surrounding Dunkirk.  I felt as if I was really there at that time.  Gary Oldman is superb as the stubborn, irascible, inappropriate, but often brilliant (and right) Winston.  Kristin Scott Thomas is his understanding, bemused, and sometimes frustrated wife, Clemmie.  Highly recommended!

All the Money in the World.  I’ve just seen this film and now want to Google the Getty family and find out how much of it was fiction and how much fact.  Teenage Paul Getty was kidnapped in 1973; his divorced mother implores his grandfather, J. Paul Getty, to pay his ransom money.   Although he was the favorite grandson, grandfather Getty is adamant in his refusal to offer the money.  Christopher Plummer, recruited on short notice after Kevin Spacey was booted out of the role, gives a bravura performance while Michelle Williams is young Paul’s self-proclaimed “ordinary” mother.  The film is too long and slow at the beginning, but I’d see it just for Plummer.

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



End of the Year Tidbits

As December comes to a close, I’d like to be optimistic that 2018 will be a more civilized year.  This year has been challenging on the national level and reading the daily newspaper an exercise in anger, frustration, and discouragement.  Just perhaps, things will get better in the new year, and we can again be proud of our country and not cringe when we travel abroad.

On a happier note, for us personally, it’s been a year filled with the joy of watching our granddaughters thrive while appreciating our son and daughter-in-law as wonderful parents; of savoring the adventures of international travel; of enjoying the stimulation of the local arts and culture scene; of loving being a part of a warm and caring island community; and of being thankful for continued good health!  Here’s to a healthy, happy 2018 for all!



I read a good review of Nicolas Montemarano’s new novel, The Senator’s Children, so when I saw it in Three Lives & Co., I snapped it up.  And read it immediately and quickly.  It’s inspired by John Edwards’ failed presidential campaign and his trials and tribulations.  But it’s told from the perspective of the children, primarily Senator David Christie’s older daughter Betsy (in her mid-30’s during much of the action) and his younger daughter, Avery, product of an affair, and whom he doesn’t really know and who’s now a college student. There’s a little bit of son Nick who dies in an accident.  It’s heartbreakingly beautiful, and you feel for all the members of this damaged family.


Manhattan, When I Was Young by Mary Cantwell was published in 1995It’s a memoir of her life in the city as a college graduate, then wife and mother, and magazine journalist in the 50’s and 60’s.  The book is divided in sections labeled with her address at each point.  Most of her abodes were in the West Village and, for me, her descriptions of these streets and their noted buildings were remarkably familiar and enjoyable.  This is also a coming of age story.   Cantwell lacked self confidence and spent much time questioning herself and her purpose.  She married young, but was not always willing to share her thoughts or herself with her husband, and she wasn’t even sure initially about her job and whether she liked it or not.  Much of what she reveals is painful and raw, but articulately put forth.


I’m aware that The Crown is not a documentary and there have been quibbles about some of what is presented, but I’m finding the second season fascinating and wonderfully entertaining.  Seeing events that I recall somewhat from my youth (Suez Canal crisis, e.g.) played out in detail is re-visiting the personalities of history.  I’m especially fond of Tommy Lascelles who gets called back in from retirement to deal with tricky crises and found Queen Elizabeth’s interactions with Jackie Kennedy believable, even though I don’t think the actress who plays Mrs. Kennedy is completely convincing.

A Place to Call Home.  I was concerned that this Australian series (on Acorn) was verging on soap opera-ish, but Season 5, while looking that way in the early episodes, redeems itself and presents a cast of complex characters and some high drama in the late 1950’ and early 60’s.  Racial prejudice against the aborigines, silence around homosexuality, and the lingering scars of the Second World War are all here.  One of the best episodes, “The Anatomy of His Passing,” is about Douglas Goddard and is so very sensitively done—and highlights how medical times were and were not changing.


Paola’s is around the corner from where we stayed on the Upper East Side.  It was so good that we had dinner there twice!  Standouts are the pasta dishes.  The agnolotti with veal and spinach in a veal reduction with black truffles was outstanding.  Equally good was the trofie offering we shared on our second visit.  This twisted pasta shape is served with green beans and chunks of potato in pesto.  A classy dining room with white glove service.  Definitely a keeper!

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