This 'n' That

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Alice Goldfarb Marquis's new book; Flight '93; A Short History of Language; 31st Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, and more...

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Please, learn our language, customs and code of public behavior.

Walked into one of the local southern California Starbucks this afternoon. Not far behind me were two men who appeared to be of Latin American descent. I waited in line, as the young woman behind the counter took the order of the customer ahead of me. The next thing I knew the two Latin American men were standing ahead of me. The young woman taking orders was confused as to whose order she should take first. Before she could ask, one of the Latin American men handed her some sort of coupon. The young woman accepted it and rang up his order. Containing my "disappointment", I sternly informed the Latin American man that: "There's a line that begins behind me." His response was to grin and utter something that neither I nor the young woman behind the counter understood. In the end, my dignity was preserved as my chai tea latte was prepared ahead of the ignorant Latin American man's order.

As the young cashier took my order, she thanked me for not making a big deal out of the situation. I said: "I don't think they understood me." She replied: "I don't think they did either. It's why I just shrugged my shoulders." And that is exactly the problem. We have "shrugged" our collective shoulders far too long in response to the problem of illegal immigration. It is one thing to enter the United States illegally and not pay taxes or medical bills and lean on hard working American citizens for support. It is another to actively refuse to learn our language - english, customs, and code of public behavior. It is tantamount to a blatant slap in the face.

All are welcome to our blessed country - legally. Once here, please make an effort to learn our language, customs and code of public behavior. If one does not know or comprehend, one inquires. Politely. It is simple etiquette. Do what all legal American citizens do to live together in harmony.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ciao, Alida Valli.

The Telegraph reports the death of Alida Valli, luminous star of Graham Greene's "The Third Man". She also co-starred with Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case". It was the Italian actress's one legitimate attempt to become a major Hollywood star. The film failed, perhaps due to the weakness of the script by producer David O. Selznick and not necessarily because of Ms Valli's performance.

This writer recently saw Ms Valli as Signora Fascioli in "A Month by the Lake", a 1995 film directed by John Irvin. It is an extremely charming film from the Miramax of old -- before the Weinstein's partnership with Disney. The story takes place in Lake Como, Italy. It is 1937 and Mussolini's brand of Fascism is on the rise. But it is a silent and hardly visible threat. Beautifully photographed by Pasqualino De Santis, "A Month by the Lake" is funny, heartbreaking, and romantic. Ms Valli has a somewhat small role, portraying the proprietor of the Villa where Miss Bentley (Vanessa Redgrave) has taken a holiday for the last 16 years. As Signora Fascioli, Ms Valli is unrecognizable at first. It wasn't until the credits rolled at the end that this writer discovered that she had a role in the film. Still, it is not to be missed. If you subscribe to Netflix, place it at the top of your list. It is that good. While you're at it, you might also include "The Third Man" as a second choice. It is Ms Valli's most well known film. And she, Alida Valli, will be sadly missed.

Alida Valli
(Filed: 24/04/2006)

Alida Valli, who died in Rome on Saturday aged 84, achieved brief Hollywood fame after the Second World War as "Valli", before returning to her native Italy and a more distinguished career in films by such directors as Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Michelangelo Antonioni.

Her aristocratic mien made her particularly suitable for costume parts. High-born ladies suffering through unsuitable love affairs were her forte, and never more so than in Visconti's Senso (1954), in which she plays an Italian countess of the Risorgimento torn between patriotism and infatuation with a shallow Austrian officer (Farley Granger). It ends in tears, betrayal, execution and madness.

Although attractive, she lacked vivacity and true star quality. There was always something dejected about a Valli performance, which perhaps explains her failure to capitalise on Hollywood's interest in the late Forties. David O Selznick, who signed her to a contract, wanted a new Garbo, but Alida Valli did not have the charisma to carry it off.

She was, however, ideally cast as the stateless Anna in the Carol Reed/Graham Greene film The Third Man (1949). Hopelessly attached to the memory of her supposedly dead lover, Harry Lime, she goes through the motions of living but is dead inside. It was her finest performance in English, and the one by which film buffs still remember her.

As she aged, her face grew gaunt and staring, opening up a lucrative new career in the field of horror. A key film here was Georges Franju's Les Yeux sans visage (1960), made in France, in which she plays a mad surgeon's partner in crime. She lures young girls to a lonely sanatorium, where he removes their faces to graft on to his daughter's deformed features.

It set a pattern for the future, which was to include two appearances in films by the master of horror, Dario Argento. In Suspiria (1977) she and the Hollywood veteran Joan Bennett played witches running a coven; and in the same director's Inferno (1980) she plunged to her death engulfed in flames.

She was born Alida Maria Laura von Altenburger on May 3 1921 at Pula, Italy, the daughter of a journalist of Austrian descent and of an Italian mother. The family moved to Como, where Alida attended a local school until the age of 15. Afterwards she went to Rome to study acting at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the motion picture academy set up by Mussolini.

After a year's study she was given a one-reel test which was so promising that she was offered a contract with the production company Italcine. Her earliest work is now mostly forgotten - part of the so-called "white telephone" era, a derogatory term applied to the vapid comedies then typical of Italian cinema. Among the better ones were Mille Lire al Mese (1939), which she made for Max Neufeld, and T'amerò sempre (1943), directed by Mario Camerini.

She also appeared in several acclaimed costume dramas, assuming the title role in Manon Lescaut (1939), opposite Vittorio De Sica as des Grieux, and scoring a personal triumph in Mario Soldati's 1941 version of the classic Italian novel by Antonio Fogazzaro, Piccolo Mondo Antico. One film of the period, Ore Nove - Lezione di Chimica (1941), about a schoolgirl with a crush on her teacher, was exhumed after she went to Hollywood and released to puzzled international audiences.

The most ambitious film she made during the war was Noi Vivi (1942), based on the novel We the Living by Ayn Rand, which the director Goffredo Alessandrini simply lifted without the author's approval. In wartime any question of royalties or legal action was academic. The story is set in Soviet Russia, with Alida Valli draped in a shawl to lend it an authentic foreign flavour. A sprawling saga intended to expose the horrors of Communism, it ran for more than three hours and was released in two parts, winning a prize at the Venice Film Festival.

As the war turned against Mussolini, Alessandrini was accused of having "intentionally made an anti-totalitarian propaganda film against the Fascist regime". Five months after the initial release it was withdrawn and consigned to the vaults, where it remained for more than 45 years.

For Alida Valli, memories of the film were marred by personal grief. During production she discovered that her lover, a fighter pilot, had been killed in action. He was the son of a rich textile manufacturer from Como, but his family did not approve of his associating with an actress, and had forced him into an arranged marriage. His was one of two planes shot down by British fighters in a skirmish over Africa; only one pilot parachuted to safety, and it was more than a year before Alida Valli learned that her lover had not survived. Rather than make propaganda films for the Fascists, she went into hiding. Her mother was shot.

She made no films for two years, in the meantime marrying the composer Oscar de Mejo, who later accompanied her to Hollywood and wrote the song All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.

She returned to the screen in 1945 with La Vita ricomincia, a barnstorming melodrama about a returned PoW who discovers that his wife has murdered the man to whom she had surrendered to save her baby's life.

More successful was Eugenia Grandet (1946), an adaptation of Balzac's novel in which she played the title role and which caught the eye of the Hollywood mogul David O Selznick. He put her under contract, casting her in The Paradine Case (1948) as a woman accused of murder and defended by a lawyer (Gregory Peck) who falls in love with his client. Although directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it was a ponderous court-room drama that pleased neither critics nor public.

The films in which Selznick lent her to another studio, RKO, were even less auspicious. In Miracle of the Bells (1948), she played a Polish burlesque queen who becomes a Hollywood star, but the story is told in flashback from her funeral. Audiences found it difficult to care about a character who was dead before the film had begun.

In The White Tower (1950) she was implausibly cast as a mountaineer desperate to beat Lloyd Bridges's Nazi to the top of an Alpine peak; and in Walk Softly Stranger (1950) she was confined to a wheelchair. Were it not for The Third Man, it would be hard to imagine a Hollywood career more comprehensively sabotaged. She set the final seal on it herself by declining to attend an audition for the film Five Fingers, on the ground that she loathed flying and would therefore arrive too late.

Returning to Italy, she floundered in the early Fifties with a series of ill-chosen roles in such films as Siamo Donne, The Lovers of Toledo and The Stranger's Hand, an Anglo-Italian melodrama with Trevor Howard from a story by Graham Greene, in which she played a hotel receptionist. All three were made in 1953. It was a low point in her career, from which Luchino Visconti rescued her with the lead role in Senso, for which she won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival in 1954.

Between 1954 and 1957 she made no films, her career temporarily overshadowed by a sex-and-drugs scandal involving the death of a young girl named Wilma Montesi, found dead on a beach near Rome. The prime suspect was Pietro Piccioni, the son of a former foreign minister. Alida Valli was called upon to support his alibi that, at the time of the girl's death, he was 200 miles south in Amalfi suffering from tonsilitis and a high temperature. She confirmed that she and Piccioni had been staying there in a villa as guests of Carlo Ponti.

When she resumed her career, it was increasingly in character parts in films by leading international directors. One of her finest performances was in Henri Colpi's Une aussi longue absence (1961) as a saloon-keeper who suspects that the tramp who patronises her bar is the husband she lost in the war.

For Michelangelo Antonioni she made Il Grido in 1957, playing a working-class woman; for René Clément she appeared in The Sea Wall in 1958; and for Claude Chabrol she was Gertrude in Ophélia (1962), an up-dated version of Hamlet. Also memorable was her haughty old lady with the priceless literary letters in Aspern (1982), an adaptation by Eduardo de Gregorio of The Aspern Papers.

From 1970 she formed a productive working association with Bernardo Bertolucci, for whom she starred in The Spider's Strategem, originally made for television from a story by Jorge Luis Borges, and played in smaller parts in 1900 (1976) and La Luna (1979). She also appeared in his brother Giuseppe's 1985 film Segreti Segreti.

In addition to her film work, Alida Valli enjoyed a long career on the Italian stage, beginning in 1955 with William Archibald's The Innocents. She also starred in Ibsen's Rosmersholm; Pirandello's Henry IV; John Osborne's Epitaph for George Dillon; and Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. Her television work included The Browning Version and O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra.

Alida Valli separated from her husband, Oscar de Mejo, in 1952, after eight years of marriage. They had two sons.

Information appearing on is the copyright of Telegraph Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. For the full copyright statement see Copyright

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Blogger Wins First Blooker Prize

From Blogger is winner of "Blooker". Read carefully. That's Blooker, not Booker.

First prize for the cook who turned her internet diary into a book
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
(Filed: 03/04/2006)

Food beat sex and New York trounced London in a competition that claims to be the world's most universal literary prize.

The first Blooker Prize - for books that began life as "blogs" (weblogs) on the worldwide web - was awarded last night to Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, an American cult book about "extreme cooking" that has been described as Nigella Lawson meets Bridget Jones.

British hopes had been pinned on Belle de Jour: Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, a book that grew out of an anonymous "blog" serialising the reputed diary of a prostitute that caused a minor sensation two years ago with up to 15,000 people a day logging on to its website.

The winner of the first Blooker is a first-time New York writer, Julie Powell.

To relieve the tedium of dead-end jobs - nannying and working as a secretarial temp - she set herself the challenge of trying to cook all 524 recipes from the classic 1961 American cookbook, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 365 days in her cramped and ill-equipped Long Island kitchen.

Child is credited with having introduced French cuisine to America and is regarded as that country's answer to Elizabeth David.

As 32-year-old Powell tackled her challenge she embarked upon a widely-followed chick-lit-style "blog" in which she recorded each dish as she created it, along with the details of city life and the daily complaints and love lives of the friends who crowded into her little flat to consume her culinary treats.

Little Brown, the mainstream publisher, turned the "blog" into a book and it quickly sold 100,000 copies. It has just been published in Britain and a Hollywood studio is in discussion to turn it into a film.

Powell told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that her favourite to play her in a film was the British actress Kate Winslet. She said: "She can curse right and she looks as though she's eaten French food before."

The organisers of the Blooker Prize,, an American online print-on-demand publishing company, says it wants its prize - which is worth $2,000 (£1,140) to the winner - to become better known than the £50,000 British Booker Prize within five years.

By coincidence, Powell has a connection with the Booker. "The first-ever recipient of the Blooker Prize is the former nanny of the first-ever two-time recipient of the Booker Prize. I think that's kind of neat," she said yesterday

Eight years ago, Powell worked for 12 months as nanny to the family of Peter Carey, the Australian novelist, when they lived in Manhattan.

Carey's Oscar and Lucinda won the Booker in 1988 and he became a double-winner in 2001 with his novel, True History of the Kelly Gang. Powell, whose success has allowed her to buy a better New York apartment, said that the time and cost of her cookery marathon had put great strain on her marriage.

Child's recipes are elaborate, so working outside the house and then cooking often meant that dinner was not ready until after midnight. And the financial strain meant that she was grateful when several fans of her "blog" tracked down her address and sent small sums of money or ingredients through the post.

Powell said: "It was enough to get me through some quite tough times paying the rent. There are 12 recipes requiring a whole leg of lamb. Legs of lamb in New York are not cheap."

Her toughest assigment was following a recipe that needed a whole boned duck. "The recipe was eight-pages long and I had to bone it, keep it from falling apart, stuff it with pate and then cover it with a pastry crust.

"But at the end it was wonderful. It looked just like the picture." claims that "blogs" and "blooks" are the future for literature. There are estimated to be 60 million online "blogs" and they are growing at the rate of 75,000 a day.

The company may be right. A week ago, the Samuel Johnson Prize, a British literary award for the best of the year's non-fiction, unveiled its 2006 shortlist.

On it, for the first time, was a "blook", Baghdad Burning, which is based on the "blog" of an anonymous Iraqi woman.

Information appearing on is the copyright of Telegraph Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. For the full copyright statement see Copyright