Saturday, August 11, 2007


I returned from North Carolina for the worst summer weather yet. I don't mean to complain; so far this summer's been pretty nice. Hot, sure, but the worst humidity has been trapped in the eighty degree days, and storms have cleared that unpleasantness away on those days when the thermometer has risen into the mid-nineties. But this week we’ve edged up to triple-digit degrees, heat indexed at nearly one ten--far more hellish than equal temperatures in the comparatively dry desert summers I've gotten used to in México. In Vietnam? Ho Chi Minh City's daily average temperature has been close to ten degrees cooler every single day. It hasn't been any more humid there, either. These days I've been seeking out as much public transportation as possible, relying on the inopportune Oakwood shuttle when I go to the metro, cutting out side trips for lunch and such that add several outdoor blocks to my daily walks. Since it's been in the upper eighties well past midnight, I've drastically cut down on nightly excursions into the backyard cemetery. On Monday and Tuesday, I went to movies in Maryland, stopping as frequently as I could in cool shops to recuperate from the swelter along the way. Wednesday evening, we attended a happy hour with some of Sunshine's coworkers. It was held in an inadequately air conditioned honky-tonk dump cum microbrewery located a thousand steaming feet from the Court House metro stop. Afterwards, we ferreted out the coolest nearby salad joint for dinner (I had jerk tilapia with lime rice and a walnut pear salad. Fabulous). Finally, last night the heat broke a little, rain showers bringing the wind and lowering the mercury to a newly appreciated eighty-something during the day. Hopefully, this will last through the rest of the summer. [Cavin]

Friday, August 10, 2007


Monday's second movie: Luis Buñuel's parable of chaotic spiritual offence, Viridiana (1961).* The title character is a young woman poised to take her nunnery vows, but not before making a pilgrimage to the estate of the widower uncle responsible for subsidizing her catholic schooling. Her mother superior all but forces the reticent Viridiana out into the world this one last time, setting her along a path that will probe the fundament of her lifestyle. Whatever the uncle's initial reasons for petitioning the young woman's visit, he soon becomes irrevocably charmed by her resemblance to his late bride. He becomes unhinged: first begging Viridiana to wear the dead woman's wedding dress, then briefly proposing marriage before shame overtakes him and he recants. Finally, he goes so far as to drug the nun-to-be, stopping just short of rape as shame yet again corrects for his downward spiral. This does not stop him from telling Viridiana that he has, indeed, raped her; and when the convenient pattern of moral regret makes him almost immediately reveal the truth, that he has failed to do so, it is not altogether clear whether she believes him. When the cowardly nature of his prurience ultimately culminates in suicide, she is left with pity and grief and quite possibly the residue of his shame. She cannot imagine taking her vows now, so she decides to move into the dilapidated estate with an eye toward living a life of charity. To this end, she gathers up a motley band of the town's diseased homeless, and gives them shelter on the estate. Buñuel's movie moves toward chaos from here, as everything comes apart at the seams in a way that berates the uncritical application of virtue as well as indecency. Ultimately irreverently comic, harrowingly tragic, and quite moving. [Cavin]

Thursday, August 09, 2007


After getting shots at the institute Monday afternoon, I headed to Silver Spring to see a couple movies. The first of these was John Houston's screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' humid Night of the Iguana (1964).* The good Reverend Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) is in bad shape. He has endured a lifetime of weakness, a recent breakdown, and he's possibly malarial. Not long ago he was barred from his church; more recently he has attempted to escape headlong into the anonymous backwaters of México by operating congregational bus tours. Shortly into his latest excursion, his combination of sweaty desperation and sexy accent has attracted the predatory attention of eighteen-year-old Charlotte (Sue Lyon), an underage laser beam of freely inappropriate rebellion who just naturally plays on the good Reverend's historic failings. "That boy back home said I just grew up too fast" she purrs, and to his credit, the Reverend keeps right on running in the other direction. Not that this spares him the equally focused disapproval of Charlotte's chaperone, a pinched and ruthless woman who is dedicated to punishing the Reverend for this apparent seduction. With a whole school bus of blue haired church ladies, and even his own coworker, turned against him, the Reverend finally hits bottom: hijacking the tourists and disabling their transportation at a coastal posada just outside Puerto Vallarta, a lost tropical horizon where the Reverend feels he can work through his demons to everyone's satisfaction. But its more complicated than that: here at the inn everyone is finally lost, and there are more demons to work through than just his. Huston's charged environments provide a perfect greenhouse for an exceptional cast here, blazing a story by turns passionate, bleak, and occasionally comedic. Williams' pitched gothic could not be in better hands. [Cavin]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The last thing I need to mention about last weekend are the lovely birthday parties. On Saturday night, I returned from a wedding for a Vietnamese dinner honoring Sunshine's big three-oh (where she fulfilled her dream of addressing a favorite Vietnamese waiter in his own language). Then we ended up back at our downtown bar for a full-blown party with presents and everything. Next, after not quite enough sleep, we attended a wonderful backyard shindig for our goddaughter, Bronwen Burr, celebrating her big oh-one. Since her next-door neighbor Sam was scheduled to celebrate the same Monday, the real parents threw a joint barbeque with blue festival tents and MFA writers and green punch and an endless stream of very muddy kids and colorful plastic toys. It was a drag to tear ourselves away, a little after seven pm, just to drive back to Falls Church. At least we made the trip in five hours and four minutes--late Sunday evening being a better time to travel these roads than Friday at six had been. Sunshine was scheduled to work at the normal time yesterday; she collapsed into bed shortly after we'd carried all her birthday loot up to the unit Sunday night. I was expected at the institute's nursing and immunization offices sometime before they closed at four thirty. Sunshine picked me up during her lunch break and took me back to school with her. I was slated to get my second helping of Japanese encephalitis only, but I talked the nurse into also giving me a polio vaccination, in case I'd never actually gotten the required four. Both shots were clear, alive, and injected subcutaneously; neither caused any skin reaction after thirty minutes. After the shots I ate a salad and watched a couple movies in Maryland. [Cavin]

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


My cousin's wedding was quite the production. I arrived ten minutes late and found an up-swept blonde organizer who slipped me into the chapel between the grandparents and the wedding party. Up front, the church was a large showroom decked with potted ficus trees. There were eight bridesmaids and groomsmen, an organist, a singer, two photographers, and three matching sets of children dumping flowers or ringing bells. At the most populous point, there were twenty-three color-coordinated pink and blue members of the wedding party on stage with the betrothed and their minister. At every important new ceremonial step, the entire retinue would freeze in place while the deejays spun an appropriate item from the wedding's soundtrack. Between these three-minute tableaus, the minister intoned the worshipful ceremony into his lapel microphone, his charming North Carolina drawl booming over hundreds in the crowd. I repeated his lines over and over under my breath to get the accent just right. It was far thicker than mine. After the ceremony I needed directions to the reception. I discovered I was in an awkward situation: worse than not knowing anyone at a party is not knowing if you know them or not. My cousin and his new bride, even my grandfather, had been spirited away immediately while the crowd shuffled out of the chapel by pew. I was left in a milling reunion which, by now, was entirely related to me; but I didn't recognize one single person among them. Eventually I asked the minister himself, and then wandered away repeating his directions over and over. The reception was in a church gymnasium down the road. I waited near a table of Vienna sausage pastries until the newlyweds were finally presented to the crowd. Then I shook their hands and then I vanished. [Cavin]

Monday, August 06, 2007


Friday night's drive to North Carolina started off badly. I'd managed to get gas and some sandwiches before picking Sunshine up at the institute, meaning we wouldn't need to stop for anything on the way (luckily, Sunshine had half-bottle of warm water in her book bag). But because of when we started, we were in situ for the worst beltway traffic: the forty-minute drive from Arlington to Quantico took us over two hours. Finally, the gridlock cleared and we eventually checked into our hotel, the quaint little Biltmore* in Greensboro, a little after midnight. The plan was to immediately begin celebrating Sunshine's Saturday birthday at our favorite bar--and we did--but only after a little small town birthday magic: improbably, we ran into a dear friend in the hotel lobby. She was checking in, too, after spending three weeks in New Zealand. The last time we saw her was three years ago. Saturday, Sunshine headed off to do birthday celebrating things while I shaved and put on my suit. I had a two pm wedding to attend in Kannapolis, NC, another hour plus down I-85 toward Charlotte. Juggling handwritten directions and slippery shoes in a heat-inappropriate suit, I managed to wreck into a stopped car on Spring Garden Street. She'd stopped to turn, I'd been distracted, and our left front quarter panel kissed her bumper as I swerved to a stop. The damage was minimal. The kind officer who responded didn't ticket me for failing to decrease speed or for the fact that I was driving on a license nearly two years out of date. The worst thing about the incident was that I stood outside for a half hour in a suit in August in NC. And I was ten minutes late for my cousin's wedding. [Cavin]