January 31, 2013

'The Lotus Eaters' helps relive- not relieve - the Vietnam War

SAIGON, Vietnam - The Vietnam War has been the subject of many books - fiction and non-fiction - and remains an often-sensitive a political topic in America. I know because I have read about a dozen Vietnam books, including Frances FitzGerald's excellent Fire in the Lake. And I get into Vietnam debates, still.

In my generation - those of us who hit draft age right at the height of the war in the mid 1960s - we are divided between those who served in the military and those who did not. For the record, I had a draft deferment while in college, then in 1968, I dropped out and for about a year was prime-grade draft material with a 1A classification.

I was never called, though I have many amigos who were.

Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters floods back memories from that time. The book is a combination documentary-drama-romance-potboiler that follows a woman photographer's personal and geographic journeys across Vietnam. The main character works as a journalist, so naturally my interest was piqued from the opening paragraphs. I stayed glued to it.

The book took Soli 10 years to write. Ten years! It makes my self-imposed book-writing deadline of April 1 seem pathetic. But the book's smacks of authenticity and research.

Tatjana Soli

I haven't had the heart to start her second book yet - The Forgetting Tree. The person who recommended The Lotus Eaters to me said The Forgetting Tree doesn't show the same genius.

Then there is also the issue of whenever I read a book as powerful as The Lotus Eaters, I have to ponder what it means for some time before I can pick up another tome.

This is not a light book for the beach. But I suspect most people who read it will come away changed, whether they served in Vietnam or not, whether they were a journalist or not, or whether they have been in love.

Or not.

January 28, 2013

Banderas Bay whale-watching tops 11 on a 10-point scale

PUNTA DE MITA, Nayarit, Mexico - A quick Sunday whale watching expedition out of this village on the northwest tip of Banderas Bay brought out the inner child in four of us Sunday.

Adm. Sylvia Fox, amigos Marc and Marci and I hired a panga (an open boat) to take us out to check on the whale action just offshore from a restaurant called El Dorado.

The whales put on a show for two hours, so much of a show that I filled my Flip video to capacity. Sylvia probably shot 800 still photos - some of them National Geographic worthy, I am sure.

As many times as we go out and do this, we never seem to get tired of it.

We capped the morning's boat ride with a lunch (and snooze) at a restaurant called the El Dorado where the fish and shrimp were great.

And the Pacifico cerveza wasn't too bad either.

One of Adm. Fox's 800-plus photos

Below is a short video of the whale jumping, whale-tail thumping, gringos screaming action out on the panga.

January 19, 2013

On the trail of whales and dolphins in Banderas Bay, Mexico

BAHIA DE BANDERAS, Nayarit, Mexico - Admiral Sylvia Fox, Pam DiTomasso and I boarded an outboard-motor-equipped panga this morning at 8 a.m. (Yes, I got up early enough for an 8 a.m. boat trip - hold the comments, please.)

We've done many whale-watching voyages in Banderas Bay, usually aboard a sailboat. We have never been disappointed.

But I was a little skeptical of how much fun it would be, given that in September we were actually swimming in the water with leviathans like these in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the Vava'u Island group.

But a boat ride is never to be turned down. So we went. And, yes, except for my getting a sunburned nose, it was great... Really great.

Think we got close enough?
The captain of our panga, a 28-year-old Mexican fellow named Mario, was fabulous at finding the whales and keeping us close enough for photos but not so close we violated any Mexican rules.

Yes, there are rules about this stuff in Mexico.

Sylvia shot nearly 500 photos
Capt. Mario was a fount of good information. When we spotted the normally placid whales swimming and diving like college students on spring break, he explained that there were as many 10 male whales trying to, um shall-we-say date(?) a female humpback.

On the water, above the water, under the water, love makes the world go around. Si?

He also found us a large pod of dolphins which we stayed with for nearly an hour.

Sylvia used her new (well, it was new when we went to Tonga) Canon camera today, shooting nearly 500 shots in a rapid fire setting. I shot a measly 300 photos with my trusty Canon Powershot 560.

Between us though, we got some great stuff.

Posted below are some of the other photos I pulled from my 300. She will no doubt post some of hers later.

Hmm. 300. What a great name for a movie!

Which way did she go?
Bottoms up!
On the move

Pam and Sylvia

January 11, 2013

Time away from the beach to view the film 'Lincoln'

BAHIA del Sol, Nayarit, Mexico - Adm. Fox and I checked out the sunset last night and then watched the Spielberg film Lincoln that has been nominated for so many awards you might expect it to show up on a Catholic list of those under consideration for canonization.

Lincoln surveys a battlefield
Most of the feedback we received from people who had seen it was that it was pretty slow, ponderous in fact, and in a couple of cases, people didn't finish it.

It is not exactly a James Lee Burke potboiler.

Still, the movie has good points and focuses as much as passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as Abraham Lincoln himself. It's quite a story.

The politics of getting the amendment passed swirl through the movie. And as a long-time observer of American politics, it was fascinating for me to see the politics at work in the 1860s. They were almost as ugly as today. And the politicians were not a great deal smarter.

Lincoln, was clever, of course. And Lincoln had ethics. Ok, there is a stark difference between then and now.

Tommy Lee Jones
Brooding on the movie later, I realized one reason I couldn't take my eyes of it was because the politics in it reminded me of the byzantine inner workings of the university where I taught for 25 years. We nearly had our own civil war there when the university president shifted funds from academics to public relations - then said he had done no such thing.

What I would have done for a General Ulysses S. Grant!

The performance by Daniel Day-Lewis was Oscar worthy. So was a lesser role by Tommy Lee Jones.

In fact Tommy Lee Jones' character really gets the last word(s) in the movie. It's worth watching until the last minute to see him sans his dark wig and you quickly understand why he felt so strongly about abolishing slavery.

Lincoln is worth struggling through.
Daniel Day-Lewis (center) as Lincoln