problem with the Rhinebeck simulacrum
Monday, December 25 2006
As usual on Christmas morning, Gretchen had prepared me a number of stockings (in this case four, though I still only have two feet). They were filled mostly with a variety of chocolate candies. I'm not a big fan of gourmet chocolate, though I do appreciate milk chocolate and chocolate in combination with peanuts or mint.
Also found in my stockings were a couple of "Mini Kits" published by the Running Press. One was a tiny fondue kit, with a crock so small it could only accept a single strawberry. It was supposed to be placed atop a small wire stand and heated with a candle (which was provided). It came with a list of procedures and recipes in a tiny thirty page book. The other was a "hot stone massage" and consisted of nothing more than a half dozen rounded black pebbles that one was supposed to heat and then hold against a foot (or perhaps something else requiring a massage). For both kits, so much of what was necessary had to be obtained elsewhere that I postulated a mini kit for "going to the moon [and perhaps returning safely]." It might contain a pencil to facilitate writing in zero-G and a tiny flag for unfurling on the lunar surface. The first instruction in its tiny thirty page book would be "obtain a functional and fully-fueled Saturn V rocket."
I'd never seen It's a Wonderful Life, so Gretchen had Tivo'd it so she could show it to me. Afterwards I had to agree with her observation that it was propaganda for the American everyman, designed to convince him that settling down and having an unremarkable life was just fine and dandy and why would anyone want to go and see Paris anyway? I was never a fan of old movies and only recently did I discover why: prior to the rating system there was something called "the code" to which all movies had to conform. This code stipulated that crime should never pay and that events and characters had to demonstrate good morals. This was why old movies lacked subversive ideas, interracial love, and unexpected outcomes. Those times weren't as dull as they were portrayed, their depictions had merely been posed, in the same way that family albums will always be.
This evening the plans for the Jewish phase of the Christmas experience were to cross the Hudson, have a Chinese dinner in Rhinebeck, and then see the latest Almodovar film (Volver) at Upstate Films.
We'd be going with both Rachæl and Zelig ("the Tillsons") as well as Susan the German translator. As always, I was to be the only non-Jew in the entourage, but this didn't prevent me from telling a Jewish joke on the ride over. ("How do you make copper wire? Throw a penny down between two Jews." Zelig had actually told this joke to Gretchen earlier in the day after she'd told him this one: "Why do Jews have big noses? Because air is free.")
I've always known there was something not quite right about Rhinebeck. It has the feel of a town made entirely from cardboard cutouts - right down to the few people walking about on its sidewalks (are there little tracks beneath them?). Today we unearthed a major flaw in Rhinebeck simulacrum. Its Chinese restaurant (the Mill House Panda) was closed on Christmas! This flaw proved to be widespread; the nearby village of Rhinecliff also has a Chinese restaurant, but a phone call soon revealed it to be closed as well. Could it be that Dutchess County, which even has an unnecessary cross in its name, is just too Christian for its Jews to have an acceptable Christmas night on the town? In the end it turned out that the only Asian heathens in the area were running that Indian Restaurant (Agra Tandoor Indian Restaurant) a mile south of town. They had a good turnout of fellow Jewish Christmas celebrants.
Volver was a little tricky to follow for someone familiar with American movie conventions. For example, a homicide early in the movie, one that in a Hollywood movie would have been the central force propelling the plot, ended up being little more than a plot detail. And so much of what was going on happened in dialogue that the exercise of reading the subtitles turned into something of a chore. The scenes were so gorgeous I would have preferred looking at them to reading text. I know, we're supposed to know Spanish by now, but we're a long way from not needing subtitles when watching an Almodovar film. Still, Penélope Cruz is so hot it doesn't really matter what the movie around her happens to be doing.
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