Saturday, May 12, 2007


On the opposite end of the little strip mall housing the Lost Dog Café is the Stray Cat Café,* a little bar and eatery dedicated to the feline part of animal rescue. The two establishments are sister restaurants. Several of the Lost Dog's signature dishes are also available at the Stray Cat. Otherwise, the kitty menu is far more modest, offing a good selection of sandwiches, soups and salads; but without the kitchen to produce the fantastic pizzas of the other place (nor coolers to offer their selection of beers). We ate there last night. The Cat's mostly wooden, clean decor is excellent. I think I prefer this space over the canine incarnation. The bar in the Stray Cat is prettier, less crowded, and the joint has thus far managed to avoid the cozy beer-soaked veneer of the Lost Dog. The problem is that I didn't like the food much. The corn chowder lacked the spicing necessary to mitigate the sweetness of the corn (I fixed this at the table with salt and pepper). My oyster and shrimp po'-boy was passable, but its remoulade was too mayonnaisey. The cheese-covered curly fries, cookies-n-cream milkshake, and generic cheesecake were all fine, though. I'll try the place again to give some of the other sandwiches a try. Or maybe just to drink--it really is an awfully nice bar. This evening we get on a train to New York City where we'll spend the weekend. The Met?* Coney Island?* The Maxilla and Mandible shop?* I have no idea what's in store for us. Currently I'm finishing the packing, and then I'll draw the shades in this unit (and on this Update Column) until early Monday morning when we return. Till then, have a look at the three new photos uploaded yesterday. [Cavin]

Friday, May 11, 2007


Yesterday I saw The Lives of Other People (Das Leben der Anderen, 2006).* I’m usually a little prejudiced against seeing any movie I've so frequently seen the trailer for. I see this trailer three times a week. But I wanted to see something and this was available. The movie centers around the Spartan loneliness of one East German Stasi officer in the years leading up to perestroika. By night he interrogates suspected dissidents (always careful to retain their scent for the hounds!), and by day he teaches up-and-coming secret cadets using last night's taped confessions. One night at the theater, his attentions move from the stage to the dramatist sitting in the sidelines. Soon the curtains close, but the officer is still watching. What is it that motivates him into observing this man who is described as East Berlin's only non-dissident writer? With help from a superior with ulterior motives, the officer soon has the playwright's life in full focus: his apartment is riddled with bugs and wiretaps, there's a high-tech command center in his attic. The movie treats the officer and his growing connection to the life of the dramatist with a compassionate understanding surprising for the historical nearness of this paranoid era. Then, events take a turn for the worse in the writer's life: his girlfriend is coerced into a humiliating relationship and his blacklisted mentor kills himself. He begins to question his faith in the party. We watch these things happen to the playwright as well as the officer in the attic, and we see the Stasi's boundaries slowly erode. This is a deeply textured and caring film, with only one instance of boneheaded movie-land melodrama conceived to neatly save the finale from that last unpainted corner. Forgiving this, the movie is utterly top notch. [Cavin]

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I saw the opposite of last week's angry Metro guy* on the red line today. He was a large and unshaven man who was so happy that he kept delightedly laughing loudly while squirming in his hard plastic bench. He was also intoning some running commentary like a radio announcer and rubbing his hands together. Mothers were not letting their prams roll too close to this guy and sadly I wasn't close enough to hear what he was announcing, either; but I thought his gaiety was pretty infectious in a lunatic kind of way. I was heading to see a movie in Silver Spring after doing a little reading over a falafel sandwich platter at the little Lebanese Taverna Café* in the mall there. My book is David Skal's The Monster Show,* which I became interested in after mention in my dear friend Ian's MySpace blog a while back.* The man working the theater's concession stand struck up a conversation about the book while brewing my latte. He'd read an essay from it as part of his film school syllabus and he'd really enjoyed it. I'm only halfway through the book, but I've already learned a lot about the history of monster movie-making, even while mucking through the junky post-Freudian subtextual conjecture Skal has either cobbled together or imagined for himself as the crux of these films. In Skal's thesis, a bald-headed monster or a tall man or a wound or a prop is never just a cigar. The concession man said he thought Skal tried to legitimize b-movies by imagining their social impact as greater than it maybe really was (I'm vastly over paraphrasing). I think Skal tries to legitimize himself, a sad state considering that he is overwhelmingly legit as a historian without all the pop-psychology. [Cavin]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Sunday, we saw a Vietnamese movie--I believe the first real Vietnamese movie we've seen together, though it's depressing nationalist condemnation necessitated filming primarily in Thailand. Journey from the Fall (Vượt Sóng, 2006)* is the downbeat tale of a family divided after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Father is jailed in a re-education camp while his wife, mother, and son endure the hardships of refugee life. Through quirky non-linear storytelling, the movie reaches its depressing end about halfway through, the remaining half devoted to events lending gravity to that climax in a sort-of anti-denouement. It's clever and well-made, if bleak. Tonight we dined at a modest little Mexican restaurant we've occasionally noticed down the street. I should really put that in quotes: "Mexican". It’s a rare place: this decidedly gringo affair reminded me of quasi south-of-the-border type restaurants I frequented as a kid--places with names like Tippy's Tacos and Tijuana Fats, where Mexican beer fans produced "Mexican" cuisine at a crazy US east coast remove. Sunshine called it "Frat Mexican." Nostalgia powered my very real enjoyment of our meal (including Worcestershire salsa, thoroughly salted tortilla chips, and enough grated Colby-jack for a ¡Fiesta!). It did not in any way resemble the food I ate while in Mexico; that's to be expected. The surprise was that it didn't one iota resemble food from the Mexican-run restaurants that began springing up when I was in high school, either--places with names like San Luis and Mi Pueblo. Seventies-era Mexican food is difficult to find nowadays; I relish the discovery of this festive little dinosaur. Sadly I didn't catch the name, so I'll call it "Sombrero Hut" in honor of the multi-colored hats hanging everywhere. If you're ever in Arlington, I recommend Sombrero Hut after about the third month. [Cavin]

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Tonight Sunshine's parents swung through Falls Church and joined us for dinner. This weekend Bet and Cecil attended a wedding in New York, and in some strange way we are apparently located right between Brooklyn and Kentucky. I had been thinking of catching the tag-end of this weekend's ignored Chinese Film Festival* in Silver Spring, but I was ambivalent about it. I'd already missed the really interesting movies screened Saturday and Sunday, and I could take or leave the two previously unknown films being screened tonight. The surprise dinner with Cecil and Bet provided a much better alternative, and meant that I’m home by ten pm instead of close to one like the nights when I have to make my way all the way back from Maryland. Dinner was at Four Sisters in Eden Center, where I had fish soup with thin egg noodles and caramelized tofu in a clay pot with lemongrass and chili. And imported 33 Beer. And the traditional after-dinner iced coffee. Bet ordered the most interesting-looking thing: a Vietnamese crepe, about the size and thickness of a deflated football, filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. Sunshine has gotten to the point where she comfortably and effortlessly orders food, by menu number or title, in Vietnamese. Often, the waiters will ask her questions in the language, and a conversation will ensue. This is always most impressive. Tonight, we tried to ask a bus boy something in English--Cecil wanted the 33 bottle caps--and he couldn't understand us. Bet asked Sunshine if she knew how to say this in Vietnamese, but it's a little too difficult. I noticed that our bus boy was likely Salvadorian, however, and Sunshine had no trouble asking in Spanish. The bus boy seemed surprised, but brought us the caps. [Cavin]

Monday, May 07, 2007


We're currently right between visitors and a looming calendar full of May activities, so we've sort-of played it low-key this weekend. We saw This Film is Not Yet Rated,* a one-sided hot-pursuit of the mysterious, often wrongheaded, American MPAA rating system. In the film, director Kirby Dick hires a private investigation of the rating panel's confidential staff while enlisting notable talking heads to badmouth their experiences with the procedure. While real issues are touched upon offhandedly (extreme prejudice against sex over violence, four decades of mounting prudishness, and the lack of representative oversight to this taste-making organ), mostly its dissent is offered with nary a counterpoint and applied with a figurative hammer. It's often mentioned that hard-to-appeal NC-17 ratings are box office anathema, as is refusing a rating altogether; but the real culprits here, distributors and venues refusing to promote adult subject matter, are hardly fingered in favor of a lambaste of the rating institution itself. This is offered up as de facto censorship so often (and so often with the "de facto" omitted) that viewers can be forgiven for leaving the movie misunderstanding that filmmakers have chosen to cut their films to the MPAA suggestion based on the carrot of a bigger payday than the stickless MPAA. Later, after a nice Indian dinner, we went out to see Spiderman 3,* which I liked far more than many reviewers. It's choppy and crammed with too many factors, sure; meanwhile, Director Sam Raimi's interests lie in the melodrama between characters shouldering heroic (or villainous) burdens rather than the spectacle of their day jobs. Still, his whimsy remains fresh and the movie remembers the rest of the world where other whiny hero films seem to dwell solely within the solipsism of the protagonists. Also, I just had a good time. [Cavin]

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Yesterday's Update* mentioned things Frank and I saw in museums over Wednesday and Thursday, but when I look back over this week it'll be all the odd crap we saw on the Metro that I'll remember. Possibly, the fact that DC's clean and orderly subway system is so conducive to well-mannered district commuters is the reason weirdos seem to stand out. Do similar weirdos fade into the background in NY? That's what popular culture would have me believe; but oddballs are evident here. Or maybe because I like people-watching I observe more than those commuters who read books or stare into space might. The modestly wild-haired gentleman riding the orange line between Court House and McPherson Square Wednesday morning was hardly subtle, however. Over the week, I saw lazily punked-out teens illegally drinking Starbucks on the train, a woman with magenta highlights belaboring the fact that she cannot wear shoes without socks, and other subtler people. This wild-haired guy was different. He boarded the train and proceeded to hold his daily paper open with both hands, propped face-forward in the crook of the sliding door. He stared at the paper with his tongue jutting from his mouth, occasionally cussing. Since he adamantly refused to grip the banisters around him, he stumbled whenever the train moved. This made him really mad: he would curse the train, shake his fist, and pound the walls. He would intermittently yell at other passing trains whenever the doors were open. He had a routine: he'd step out onto the platform and slap his hand on the wall to keep the doors from closing on exiting passengers: "come on, already!" he’d yell, even if no one was actually leaving the train. He was nutty enough that even the commuters reading books noticed for sure. [Cavin]