Let us Begin

Fitting quote for anyone on this planet who feels they cannot complete all they should, and all they want to complete in their time on this planet:

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days . . .nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. – John F. Kennedy

For VE Day: Heavy Water War

On the occasion of VE Day, I recommend this series (it is available on Netflix). It is fascinating and frankly, we often forget how important stopping the heavy water production in Norway was; if the Germans had got the bomb before us, it would have been beyond disastrous. The series certainly has its standard 21st century biases — for example, the Americans are made to look like bullying allies, whereas if you read World War II history, rather the opposite is true.

But the basic facts of the sabotage are there, and I love the portrayals of the Norwegian heroes — men for whom we should be forever grateful and who, in true Norwegian fashion, were ever humble about what they did (a profile of one of them here).

My uncle — his war letters website is here — was being trained to parachute into Norway, interestingly enough. It is possible they were considering him to be part of this project, as he had the language skills required. Either way, the likelihood of survival was slim.

I got a kick out of this movie, and I’d love to see this one, but I believe this most recent series to be the best of the lot.

Good Friday

Better late than never, I suppose! I always enjoy attending a Good Friday procession, wherever I am in the world. Last year, I was in Italy; this year in little Italy. I took a heap of pics, but I will only share three today.

I love the different footwear here — especially socks-with-sandals guy and high-heeled lady. Not sure they’re really dressed as sheep-herders may have been in days of yore, but what the heck.

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I get a kick out of these young ones holding up the sign. I rarely extol the multi-cult aspects of Toronto, because I find such carrying on tiresome, but this image is indeed sweet.

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And this, because I have just always loved the story of Saint Veronica.

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Munk Debate

My plan was to write about the Munk Debate on my HuffPost page, but alas, I never got around to it and now it feels too late. So I’ll just post a few thoughts/links here now. I brought my sister with me to see the debate – she had a particular interest in the topic as she has worked with refugees in the past. Further, she is knowledgeable and serious about the Middle East and about the difficulties we face in trying to be humane all while doing our best to not be stupid about our own security.

First of all, some links: Steve Paikin sums up how I viewed the evening, for the most part, and — with considerably more edge — so does Kathy Shaidle (I wish I could write like her!). Barbara Kay and Nicholas Nazar are also worth your time.

I went expecting to like Simon Schama and Mark Steyn and not knowing much about the other two speakers, Louise Arbour and Nigel Farage, other than that Arbour worked for the UN and therefore pleases my Annex-nik neighbours here in Toronto (and Farage decidedly does not). Now, it might seem odd that I attended with the expectation that both Schama and Steyn would impress me, but it shouldn’t. Schama is one of the few literati leftists who supports Israel and his Story of the Jews is quite a treat. And Steyn is, well, he’s Steyn — Sinatra, cats, politics, books, Broadway.

By the end of the evening, I found Arbour to be what my mother would have called “a pill,” and Farage to have been quite reasonable and serious. He and Steyn both showed up armed with statistics, facts, ideals and arguments based on an understanding of events and of history. I had expected the same from Schama, but I was disappointed. Other than his choice of very stylish footwear for the evening, he appeared to be phoning everything in, right down to his closing statement, which consisted of him reading John Donne’s Meditation XVII. The latter is a magnificent poem, but really, Simon Schama, that is your closing argument? It was as though both Schama and Arbour felt it was enough to get up there and say “we should be nice.” Well yes, we should be. I have not a doubt the opposing team agreed with that sentiment. But if we’re blind in our niceness, we will be incapable of helping anyone down the line, which is what Steyn pointed out in his closing argument (which was actually an argument).

There was a smugness in how the pro-side approached the debate, and I think that it was, in large part, why they lost. There was kind of a disbelief — particularly from Arbour — that the audience could possibly do anything other than support her statements. She became quite snarky and snide when she felt any change in the crowd’s mood, any sway in a different direction.

In a way, I don’t blame her for that attitude: I’ve been to many Munk Debates and it is generally a pretty Annex-nik audience (or “Trudeau-pian,” as Steyn called it on his website). Schama, for his part, kept mentioning that he “didn’t disagree” with Steyn and Farage about certain things. I couldn’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have felt more comfortable on the opposing team (particularly given Arbour’s, er, past attitudes about Israel), but couldn’t bring himself to admit it.

I don’t get out much, because I simply prefer to stay home, but I was glad I made the effort. Thanks to my sister, who really provided the impetus, coming from out of town to attend. If you click the link here, you can watch the debate (though you may have to sign in or register or something).

Don Matteo

I’m afraid I became far too emotionally invested in season 10 of the Italian series Don Matteo. The finale aired this past week, and while it is probably not worth reading a lot into it, I have to wonder what it says about Italians that apparently most of the show’s fans/viewers were happy with the ending. (I make this judgment based on reading online reviews and social media critiques of the series, for whatever that is worth.) Basically, this season revolved around a love triangle in which a truly horrible, trashy girl (Lia) wins over the heart of a police captain (Giulio) who is set to marry a sweet, beautiful woman (Margherita) who writes children’s books.

Now, the trashy girl is pregnant by someone other than the police captain and asks him to pretend he’s the kid’s father because, you know, she just didn’t really like the guy by whom she got pregnant. This is just for starters. As the season developed, she did the following: quit her job and moved in with her 60-something aunt and uncle, expecting them to pay for everything and look after her and her baby; pretended to be friends with her rival so that she could sabotage her wedding plans; poisoned her rival; threw herself repeatedly — and in a slutty manner — at the police captain even after he had announced his engagement; was spiteful and resentful that everyone liked the police captain’s fiancée and sulked and pouted about it; made scenes and just generally behaved like a drama queen when she didn’t get her way or when someone displeased her; manipulated and lied about any number of things in virtually every episode in which she was featured (far too many); asked the police captain to be in the delivery room with her regardless of how inappropriate such a demand was, given that a) he had a girlfriend and b) there were countless other people she could have asked; spied on the police captain and his fiancée via a closed-circuit camera (of which they were unaware) when they were on a romantic date, and…more. There was more.

Lia was just the worst. Una stronza.

And yet…she is insanely popular with viewers of the show. When Lia won over Giulio and he humiliated Margherita at the altar, a majority of viewers were happy! Why? I have no clue, but it’s a sorry reflection on Italian TV viewers.

All of this was aggravated by two other factors: 1) Lia’s character is the cousin of Giulio’s dead wife. In other words, he is marrying his dead wife’s cousin. Ew. And the dead wife was terrific — I have no clue why the show’s writers killed her off after Season 8. 2) The actress who plays Lia — Nadir Caselli — has what Italians call a voce di ochetta (roughly translated, a goose voice, a bimbo voice, a screechy, whiny, profoundly grating voice). I found her fastidiosa, una lagna, una stronza, egoista and cattiva. Of course, one of the reasons I watch Italian TV is to keep my level of Italian up, so I guess my contempt for Lia served a purpose. Lagna, for example, was a new word for me.

Further, the show’s title character behaved in an appalling way in the finale. Don Matteo is a priest who spends virtually every episode lecturing everyone and sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, but also being kind and empathetic, even with murderers and rapists and thieves.  And yet, in this last episode, when Giulio dumps Margherita at the altar to run away with trashy Lia, Don Matteo smiles and seems, like, really happy! And then, outside the church, when Margherita is clearly suffering, he doesn’t so much as offer her a kind word or a shoulder to cry on or an invitation to come and talk to him at the church (where he usually helps people in their moments of woe). He just talks about her behind her back with some of the guests. Huh? Gosh, very compassionate and priestly.

So that is my rant – I got far too upset and invested in the series this season. I’ve seen every season now (though not all of them in real time), but I honestly don’t think I will watch if there is a Season 11. I don’t think I can bear Lia’s voce di ochetta for another three months.