All posts by Elliott

Elliott lives on a tidal river in coastal Georgia, loves to fly, writes a bit, works in healthcare for the federal government, and is system administrator for the swiftpassage webs.

‘True Grit’ ; the Coen brothers ride again!

The “western” in Amercan cinema was never one of my favorite genres in my youth. My father had a taste for “cowboy shows” on television back then, and I never much cared for them. I think the stylization and falseness of the archetypical towns, “good guys”, indians, crooks, cavalry, et al, just added up in my kid’s mind to so much phony dreck.

Since then, there have been a number of western films that have won me over: ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’ comes to mind, along with ‘Silverado’, and ‘Jeremiah Johnson’. To those, I can now emphatically add the Coen brothers’ ‘True Grit’. It has a clarity and honesty throughout that just never lapses. The settings, costuming, language, action, story and music are convincing and with a “rightness” that is nearly flawless.

I was surprised to read on wikipedia that it was filmed, edited and brought to market in very short order, with a shooting schedule that started in March of 2010, in time for a “Christmas” release on December 22 that same year. The notes in wikipedia, however, don’t report exactly when set construction or any of the other heavy lifting of other pre-production began. The project was rumored as early as February, 2008.

My admiration for the flick derives almost entirely from the authenticity of these western characters, and, too, how clearly this is a western story told from a young woman’s perspective, or, more accurately, a precocious child pressed into early adulthood through unfortunate circumstances. It is Mattie Ross’ “true grit” which drives the story, not the force of Marshal Rooster Cogburn’s fading “grit”, or the staunch honor of the Texas ranger, LaBoeuf. Mattie is beautifully played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, Cogburn by Jeff Bridges, and LaBoeuf by Matt Damon. While Steinfeld and Bridges both scored Academy nominations (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress), it was Matt Damon who better deserved an honor for transforming himself within his role. He was not recognizably himself, and became the spit and image of the rough but knightly Ranger LaBoeuf.

If an honest “western” is your thing, and you missed this one, or if you, like me, cannot let one of the Coen Bros. films pass you by, be sure to see this one when you can. The dvd/blu-ray disc was released on June 7th. And if you know of other western films you think I might like, please put it in a comment to me below, and I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

‘Blackout’ by Connie Willis – a review

‘Blackout’ by Connie Willis

 I’ve got to begin by saying that it took more than one start at the preceding work, ‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’, before I came to appreciate and love that book. (see this review ) In that instance I decided that my initial resistance derived from the distinctly quirky characters combined with the slow pacing in that work. Both of those qualities eventually become advantageous, especially in counterpoint to numerous plot turns and prat-falls that leap at you in it.

Willis’ follow-up, ‘Blackout’ does not lack for quirky characters and slow-pacing, but, alas, the cook seems to have left out a necessary sufficiency of cunning plot-turns and prat-falls. There is action, but very little sense of forward movement in this novel. A set of characters does have a very significant, shared problem, and individual subsidiary problems engendered by the MAIN problem, which is that they are all time-traveling historians trapped in wartime England during The Blitz, but these characters are so ponderously slow to comprehend and act on their situation, I kept finding myself snarling advice at the leaves of my copy, or pleading with them to change direction. They didn’t listen.

 Set aside the plot problems, Willis DOES have an historian’s love and eye for detail, and this work is resplendent with it. And, too, she has an historian’s love for History, itself. The history her characters are living through is the real center of this work, and the central story is one of a besieged citizenry waging war by sheer endurance, courage, and good humor. That is a story worth telling, but it’s a story of gritty daily privation and nightly fearful hiding away from the bombs in shelters. It’s difficult to incorporate any kind of quest within that story. The time-travelers’ problem of returning “home” to 21st century Oxford, along with their angst that one or more of them may have altered time’s fabric is too hackneyed to serve the need for a unifying quest, especially in a novel approaching 500 pages, and closing with an aggravating,  “…To be continued!”.

 Alas. Yes, the novel does NOT conclude in any way shape or form when you reach the final page. I had this exact problem with another bulky science fiction work I read recently, ‘The Dreaming Void’ by Peter F. Hamilton (see the review ). It’s not insignificant that both books were gifts from the same daughter, (Hmm…) but to the girl’s credit she also gave me the sequel, Willis’ ‘All Clear’. I started it just last night, and have hunkered down in the shelter of my armchair to transit the 600-some pages it offers. I am placing my faith and hope in Willis drawing all the threads into place, and hope to report that it proves to be a tapestry worthy of the The National Gallery in London.

 Magnum opus, anyone?


If you know me at all, then you likely know Ann, my closest friend, my partner and wife, and the defacto CEO of my corporate and corporeal being. This short note is to pay tribute to this wonderful woman, and especially today. As I am writing, she is driving home after a very long week away from our river’s shore. I know she’s feeling pretty happy and good.

What I want to herald and report is that she spent this past weekend helping a dear friend of ours to attend a professional conference in Atlanta. Our friend had shattered his leg in a biking accident more than four months ago, and is still struggling with mobility and healing issues. He absolutely HAD to attend this meeting, or face re-taking state board examinations to keep up his professional licensing.

Ann volunteered to be his driver and help-mate for the four days of the conference. She cut short her quilting vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and drove about a thousand miles to help our friend get to his meeting and home again.

In just a few minutes, she will be getting home to our house on the marsh, checking on her garden, skritching the cats’ furry heads, and taking a look at facebook and the blogs, and seeing this:

Ann, you are such a wonderful person. I am only one person of so many who can celebrate how much good you bring into our lives. Thank you for everything you do. Thank you for being You…



Life in Balance

Portal FlagThis post is about sharing contentment.

It’s just been one of those weeks in which  life hits its stride, the cogs mesh, and everything feels pretty darned good. My “boxes of life” are various, and, as a list, can change around quite a bit, but have always included “Time with Ann”, “Fixing Things Up”, “Flying”, “Work in the Clinic”, “Server Maintenance”; those sorts of things.  This past week it just seems like everything I’ve had time to tackle has felt good, and made me happy.

I think it’s helped, too, that we are enjoying a taste of early spring just now.

The big thing is this:  I’ve made a pact with myself to use the airplane several times every week, even if it’s just for short trips. I’ve been able to arrange things so I have a vehicle (the old LeSharo camper), in position at the airport so I can FLY to work from the airstrip here at the house, if the weather cooperates. The journey by air is trivial, something on the order of 10 minutes if I hurry, but with ground handling the airplane at both ends it doesn’t really save any time.  That doesn’t matter! I FLEW TO WORK!

It isn’t the bragging rights.  It’s more to do with using a skill, and keeping the batteries charged, the airplane’s, that old Winnebago’s, and mine!


Speaking of contentment, a few of our readers might know about the issues we’ve had with our neighbor’s mean-spirited dog over the past two years. Well, I’m very glad to report that after a few serious run-ins with that pest, animal control has come out and read the riot act to the owners, and they seem to have started to control the dog more responsibly. Sometimes we hear him barking, but we never see him anymore.  What a wonderful difference that makes!


Other stray and happy details:

Our friend, Bruce, who had a wretched accident last fall said today that his leg is definitely knitting natural bone into the scaffolding in his leg. We’ve been waiting months for this good news. Mend, Friend, mend! Ann expects to be helping him around at a professional meeting in a few weeks, so he can maintain his professional licenses during this hiatus in his life.

Lastly, I bought an updated navigation radio for my airplane. It was a genuine bargain, as these things go, and I’m delighted with it. It’s a GPS with VFR and IFR charts, and approach plates loaded into it, if that means anything to you. The device is called the iFly 700, and you can check it out here. I might do a comprehensive review of the device eventually.

Thanks for tuning in…  🙂

Dining at Cafe 37 , Savannah, Georgia

Ann and I have a bad tendency to be stay-at-home mud-sticks. After two-plus years of living on the Georgia coast, we can count on the fingers of one hand the new restaurants we’ve visited. So we’ve made a New Year’s resolution and pact with our friends, Ted and Lori, to take ourselves out to someplace new for a good meal once every month.

Cafe 37, 37th Street at Abercorn, Savannah, Ga.

February’s choice last night was Cafe 37 , a cosy and unassuming bistro tucked into the ground floor of a commercial conversion of one of the old houses on 37th Street at Abercorn, in Savannah. The kitchen, we were told, is upstairs, and I forgot to ask if they use a dumbwaiter to shuttle plates and platters up and down. (I always loved the silliness that dumbwaiter-business permitted in old movies, people cramming themselves into them, or climbing up the ropes in noir mysteries.)

Our table was waiting for us, and throughout the evening the service was congenial and precise.

For openers, the table bread was fresh and piping hot. Three of us had the house salad, which was garnished with hot sugar-glazed pistachios and a sweet dressing. Ted shared bites of his escargot in roasted-garlic butter.

The filet mignon at Cafe 37

I ordered the seed-encrusted tuna, flash-seared and very rare, on a bed of couscous, and garnished with tart greens and papaya. Exquisite! Ann had the red snapper in a generous and meaty lobster sauce, with greens, mushrooms and vegetables. We shared many bites, and couldn’t decide which was better. Our friends ordered the tuna, and the filet mignon, which was garnished with baby asparagus, and looked just splendid.

The wives were four-square onboard for Afters, while the men spent a moment hanging back, but in the end one of EACH of the four dessert offerings was ordered and brought to table, with a pact made to take a bite and pass the plate round.  It was a carousel including: 1. A rich chocolate flourless-torte cake. 2. A molten-chocolate-lava dessert, semi-sweet with a dab of real whipped cream. 3. A New York-style blueberry cheesecake. And 4. A fabulous creme-brulee. The plates gathered speed, reversed course, and started making direct crossings of the table as well. Soon it was a free-for-all resembling a figure-8 demolition-derby. Fortunately, no crockery got smashed.

It was a wonderful evening, and for Ann and me, an early St. Valentine’s celebration. Cafe 37 has our whole-hearted recommendation for fine dining in Savannah. I hope you try it sometime soon.

Elton John’s motel room…

Just a short note about the naming of cats. We have two house cats, and a former house cat. The former house cat was named Stormy by his mistress, our younger daughter, more than ten years ago.

According to T.S. Eliot, all cats have three names: the common one used around the house,  then a unique and particular name which belongs to no other,  and lastly a self-secret name. If the self-secret name is NOT unique (Eliot was not clear on this point), I may have found out Stormy’s. (‘The Naming of Cats’ by T.S. Eliot)

Based on the abuse of his “winter quarters”, I have determined that he must be calling himself Elton John.  This porch cat has a heated sleeping box, but when the temps approach freezing at night, and in deference to his age, we bring Stormy inside, and set him up a space in the laundry room.

This morning his quarters look like he was entertaining Benny and the Jets along with the Hell’s Angels in there.

Henceforth, he shall also be known as Elton John, who famously destroyed hotel and motel rooms as thoroughly as Hunter S. Thompson  or Keith Moon.

As I’m writing this, “Elton” seems to have shaken off the excesses of the night, and is now howling for his breakfast. I’d better bring a catnip-mimosa along with his kibble.  Hair o’ the dog, you know…

"Elton John"

Where the Motorheads are: A Visit to Savannah Race Engineering

My friend and neighbor, Ted Wenz, recently relocated his racing motor business from New York to Savannah, Georgia, and, as he’s gotten fully settled in, offered to host a group of his friends and neighbors for a Saturday morning open house.

The centerpiece of the morning was a dyaomometer run of a 900 to 900+ bhp Chevy racing engine.

Enjoy the pics and video!

Here’s the video of the dynamometer run. It’s about six minutes long: