28 January, 2023

Out for a Stroll in the Snow

I took a lovely walk out at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center this morning as a light snow fell. Just perfect weather for a stroll.



The Corona Diaries Vol. 74: Down Highway 53 There's a Place Called Osseo

(late October 2022)

(Listen to the prelude.)

As happened last year, October rolled around and I found myself with a fair amount of vacation time to use before the end of the year. So I once again planned a trip up to the northwestern part of the state. And just like last year, my first destination was Osseo to meet a couple of friends from high school for dinner and drinks.

On the way up, I stopped at the Black River Falls rest area. It has a lovely scenic overlook a short walk from the parking lot. You go up Bell Mound and then take a boardwalk around it to the overlook.


 

The historic marker noted that the area was home to a mine owned by the Jackson County Iron Company and that the mine’s buildings and pit would be visible from the overlook. I looked and squinted and looked again but couldn’t see them. Later I realized that the marker dated to 1976 and that the pit mine was handed over to the county and had become Wazee Lake at some point in the intervening years. My Frau and I took a swim there back in 2009 and it is magnificent. Water clear as day. Most of the lake is rather shallow but the open mine bit is a genuine abyss and I am told that people dive there to get their certification.

A 30 mile drive north and I was once again in Osseo which lies in the far northeast corner of Trempealeau County. Founded in 1857, the origin of the name is lost in the mists of time but the best theory is that it comes from the name of a character in Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" which was published the previous year.

My time in Osseo last fall saw no shortage of rain and I abandoned my plans to walk a stretch of the Buffalo River Trail as the storms had left many large puddles. This year was dry and warmer, even if the sun wasn’t always shining. I parked, pulled my bicycle out from the back of my car and was off.


It wasn’t long before I realized that I hadn’t put on my shoes which didn’t have mesh sides and kept the wind out. While it was certainly warmer than last year, it still wasn’t balmy out. I cursed as it dawned on me that I had forgotten to pack my other pair of gym shoes and my boots. It seemed that I was destined to have cold feet on this ride.

Although it had rained the previous night, the storm wasn’t of biblical proportions so standing water was merely sporadic. But the crushed gravel wasn’t always firm and my tires sank in for much of the ride. Not deeply, mind you, but my legs did get a workout.

The trail is about 36 miles long and stretches from Mondovi to the west of Osseo to Fairchild to the east. It follows Highway 10, more or less, and is a former rail corridor. The railroad was built between 1887-1890 by regional lumber baron Nathaniel Foster. (I have once source giving his middle initial as G while another C.) Foster owned lumber yards in Mondovi and Osseo as well as Eleva and Strum, two towns which are in between those two. Originally called the Sault Ste. Marie & Southwestern Railway, it would become part of the Omaha Railway and finally the Chicago & Northwestern. The tracks were abandoned in 1975 and dismantled the following year. Eventually the Wisconsin DNR bought it and turned it into the Buffalo River Trail you see before you.

The DNR website explains that the Buffalo River was so named because early French explorers had christened it Riviere de Beeufs since the area was home to many bison back in the day.

The Buffalo River, which I remember being called the Beef River when I lived in the area, looks more like a creek as it wends its way from Osseo westward where it eventually meets the Mississippi River.


Although the river runs right behind my old high school, I don’t recall ever going to its shores while a student there.

I saw no other people on the trail but I did see a young buck who was probably sniffing around for a doe.


No doubt he’ll be running for dear life in a month or so when gun season opens.

Farther down the trail near Strum was this fine dome home. I did not expect to see the legacy of R. Buckminster Fuller in rural Trempealeau County.


When I got to Strum, my feet were rather cold so I turned around and headed back to Osseo instead of continuing on to Eleva, as had been my original plan.

I checked in at my hotel and took a shower before my next destination which was Burly N Bucks, which held the promise of beer, food, and good company.


It was a rather nice small town tavern. I was impressed with the tap beer selection which included Leinenkugel’s from 30 or so miles up the road in Chippewa Falls as well as a couple brews from Sand Creek, again 30 or so miles away but to the south in Black River Falls. Not only was I grateful that there were some fine brews to be had, I also appreciated that the taps had a regional bent. Of course there was Spotted Cow but also Capital’s Wisconsin Amber. 16oz pours of Oscar’s Stout from Sand Creek were a mere $3.25, half the price you’d pay in Madison, I’d bet.

I was to once again meet my friend Jason and a newcomer, Brad, who was unable to attend last year because of his goofy work schedule. This time around, it was Nick who would be a no show.

We had dinner and chatted the night away. Brad and I hadn’t seen one another since 1990 and it was a pleasure to attempt to catch up on over 32 years of life. He seemed to be much like he was in high school, a bit aloof and happy to let others do their thing as long as they let him enjoy a modicum of solitude and the quiet of the country. In between reacquainting ourselves with one another and reminiscing about our high school years, we solved a few of the world’s problems and were flummoxed by kids these days.

Just like last year, no photos were taken. I don't know if this is because we're men, because we're Gen Xers who didn't grow up with smartphones or what. The thought of taking pictures never even occurred to me, although I'd like to show my Frau more examples of the type of people I grew up with.

I felt badly because I had meant to bring up some Nutkrack candied pecans again but completely forgot. On the other hand, Jason bestowed the gift of soap upon me with a couple bars from Chippewa Falls’ newest purveyor of soaps, Ope! It’s Soap. They were beer soaps with the Leinenkugel’s brand. I hope that this gift was not an indication of a hygiene deficiency on my part.


Unlike me, my friends had to work in the morning so we didn’t stay out too late. The plan now is to see one another more often than once a year. Something to work on.

I returned to my hotel, kicked back, and set out to finish the book that I was reading.

********


By all rights, I should have read it back in 7th or 8th grade but didn’t. I also neglected to do so in high school, although I did read Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” then. Several years ago I dipped my toes into the Twain waters once more when I read Letters From Earth. But never Tom Sawyer nor Huck Finn. Having finally read the former, I would say that I should have done so back in 7th grade.

While I enjoy Twain’s writing immensely, I couldn’t help think that it was truly meant for 12 year-old me. Still, there were some funny bits such the scenes in the church which poke fun at religion. I also laughed when Tom and Huck are planning to become rogues and Huck suggests they have orgies because that’s what bad guys do, never mind he has no idea what they are.

I had a couple chuckles while reading it and am happy to have gotten this classic of American literature under my belt but it's not something I plan to return to.

********

The next morning I arose planning on investigating the remains of a town no longer on the maps. But first I made a trek over to Osseo’s general store, Stockman's Farm Supply & More, where I bought a pair of boots and some decorative Indian corn which now hangs in our dining room.


Impulse buy.

The previous night Jason had told me that someone had opened a gaming store in town recently. And so my next stop would be Boards & Bricks.

The store boasts a large selection of Legos, puzzles, board games, and a smattering of role-playing game materials.


I ended up buying a little puzzle of Madison.

At 500 pieces, we stand a chance of assembling it in one night and not having to let it sit out at the mercy of the cats.

Wondering how it was that such a fine store opened up in a very small town, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter. She told that it was opened back in June by a gentleman who had moved to the area from Utah(!) and his dream was to own a gaming store. (I guess Mormons just aren't into Settlers of Catan, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) Well, he made his dream come true…in Osseo. I wish him the best of luck.

As we were talking, the woman glanced out the front windows. I followed her gaze and saw an older gentleman putting a couple of pies into the back of his car.

"I've seen people carrying pies all day," she noted.

You see, just 2 storefronts down was the Norske Nook, famous for its pies. It's a small chain (4?) of Norwegian restaurants scattered around the state. However, the original (OG, as the kids say these days) Norske Nook is directly across the street from the gaming store.

Puzzle in hand, I made my way back to my car and headed west. On the way out of town, I saw this sign:

All your needs taken care of in one spot.

On Highway 10, I ran into a sight I saw a lot of up north - tractors on the highway.


One thing I was not able to do in Osseo was stop in at the Northwoods Brewpub. They have a rye ale to die for but it’s not brewed year round so its availability is a total crap shoot. Oh well. The brewery is in a former condensery - a place where water is removed from milk to make evaporated or condensed milk - and the lovely old building makes for a nice spot to have a brew.

My next stop was to look at the remains of the long lost town of Hadleyville.

********

Bonus photo. I found another (inoperable) pay phone! This one is inside a little neighborhood grocery store in Madison.

27 January, 2023

His name is Eo he seems to understand

EO is a remake/reimagining of Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar. I've never seen Bresson's film so I cannot speak to the similarities/differences.

Eo is a donkey who goes from danger to danger, from predicament to predicament in a manner that reminded me of Forest Gump. It's not that Eo doesn't take matters into his own, er, hooves, on occasion as he does when he takes out a fence to escape a farm. But most of the time he is forced to navigate the vagaries of man-made environments and the caprices of human nature.

When the movie opens, our donkey hero suffers the indignity of being part of a circus act, though he is beloved by one of the other performers, a young woman. The authorities close the circus down and Eo is sent to a horse farm where he assists the horse trainers. These are not draft horses but rather show horses, I guess you'd say. The Adonises of the equestrian world.

We get close-ups of Eo's big brown eyes that may show the animal's weariness or may instead reflect the viewer's feelings. We get flashbacks of the woman from the circus petting him that tempt one to think the movie is showing Eo looking back with affection. But perhaps it was just "I like pets and carrots." Director Jerzy Skolimowski largely relegates humans to the background and instead we get intimate micro portraits of animals - we hear their breathing, horses whinny and neigh, wolves howl, a spider in close-up scurries up a strand of its web, and so on.

There are a couple people who show genuine compassion for Eo, more that show indifference to his plight, and others who are hostile to him as well as other people.

I really enjoyed the little touches that Skolimowski injected into his movie such as the scenes that are lit red and take on a tint of unreality. And then in one scene a gate seems to magically open, as if by Eo's will, to allow his escape.

I'm unsure of the movie's message, at least the one that isn't given to us via some text at the end just before the credits. Human beings both harm and heal Eo. There are wolves would eat Eo but other animals are content to graze. I suppose it shows that humans are animals just like donkeys but also have powers over and stewardship responsibility for creatures even if they simply want to stand around and eat grass.

Special K: Rauchbier by K Point Brewery

I have often bemoaned remarked that precious few breweries from west central/northwestern Wisconsin (think Eau Claire and parts north of it) have distribution down here. I have also bitched complained noted that perhaps the most prominent brewery from that part of the state whose beers are available down here in the south is the brewing projeKt, the Eau Claire outpost of the Simcoe-Citra-Mosaic Empire. They seem to brew nothing but trendy/hype beers, appear unafraid to use Marshmallow Compound #3020 from Amoretti, and do their darnedest to catch the eyes of trendy drinkers with can labels that look like the bastard children of Ralph Steadman and Keith Haring.

But the city of clear water is no mere one brewery town. It is also home to Lazy Monk Brewing, where brewmaster Leos Frank, who grew up in Czechoslovakia, has been keeping the Chippewa Valley region supplied with Bohemian lagers, and other less trendy styles, since 2010. (I am a fan.)

There is now a newer kid on the block - K Point Brewing. It was founded in 2016 as an offshoot of The Coffee Grounds, a coffee roaster that also sells adult beverages, various fancy provisions such as artisanal cheeses and crackers, and the like. And they appear to also be a restaurant as well. I presume the brewery owners are skiing fans as I've read that a K-point is that line that ski jumpers have to land on the other side of.

I've never seen K Point's brews at a liquor store in Eau Claire and am told by brewer Tom Breneman that, while there are a few kegs around town, their beer is mainly sold at the brewery on the city's south side on tap and in K cans. (They also appear to be Lee Iacocca fans too.) Fortunately, I have a stepson who lives in Eau Claire and I trained him well as he was growing up so now he brings me beer as an adult. Recently he brought me a 4-pack of K Point's Rauchbier.

K Point is not afraid of smoked beers as they also offer a smoked Baltic porter and red lager that is described as having "a touch of smoke".

My Rauchbier pour came with a fairly generous loose, frothy, off-white head that lasted a little while. Long enough for it to appear in a photograph, anyway. The lovely amber beer had a slight haze to it but that didn't keep me from spying a few bubbles inside. It smelled smoky, as it should have, but there was also a hint of something sweet like honey or caramel in addition to something also sweet - fruit. Just some fruity overtones that I couldn't identify as being like a particular bit of produce.

A sip revealed a medium-light bodied beer with a fair amount of fizz. It tasted of smoke but I wasn't sure that kind. Was it cherry wood? Or did that just pop into mind because the brewery's website noted that the smoked malt in the Baltic porter was smoked with that wood? People tend to brush off smoke beers by saying they taste like bacon or ham - as if that was a bad thing - instead of noting the subtle differences amongst the flavors that different woods provide. Beechwood and alder offer a classic woody, smokey smoke flavor. But cherry wood smoke imbues things with a little of that fruity-almondy-clovey stuff and I thought that's what I tasted here.

Brewer Tom Breneman comes through again and notes that the malt bill was 97% cherry wood malt. Behind the smoke was a little caramel sweetness as well as a faint plum/stone fruit flavor. Some herbal hoppiness provided a counterpoint to the malt madness as did some astringency.

On the finish that malty sweetness and the fruity taste did the big fade away but the smokiness lingered. (Yes!) A gentle wave of herbal tasting hops came in to add a modicum of bitterness and dryness.

Very tasty! The smoke flavor here was wunderbar! At 4.9% A.B.V., this is something of a junior Rauchbier as I think that word usually conjures up images of a Märzen or a bock or just something a bit heavier and more potent. But this is just a wonderful brew. The firm smokiness doesn't hide other malt flavors and the hops are a bit more noticeable than in other Rauchbiers where you can only tell there are any hops by the fact that the beer doesn't taste like wort.

You have got me hooked, K Point. I will see you soon. Ish. Soonish.

Junk food pairing: Eau Claire is ground zero for horseradish processing in Wisconsin so pair your K Point Rauchbier with a bag of Herr's Kettle Cooked Cheddar Horseradish potato chips while you listen to some Bon Iver for the full experience.

I Lost My Mills Folly Microcinema Virginity

I attended my first Mills Folly Microcinema screening earlier this week which was called "Exits and Entries: Recent Experimental Films".

Experimental film forms a small part of my cinema diet and I usually find myself very ambivalent when I watch things that deviate from the norm. Almost always I find something of interest in experimental films. It might be a stylistic thing such as the cinematography or soundtrack. Or perhaps a character or a specific scene or motif. But I normally find myself grasping for something else.

Sometimes I suspect that I am simply a poor viewer. That I have a deficiency that disallows me from comprehending any kind of intent on the part of the filmmaker. Other times I think, "I know what they're getting at, I just don't find any appeal in the way they choose to get at it."

"Exits and Entries" consisted of 6 shorts. Spirit Emulsion was "Filmed on Super 8 and developed by hand with plant medicines and botanicals" and it looked genuinely wonderful as the flowers and, well, just about everything in the frame, had a spectral tinge. I just felt lost in trying to understand references to Taíno culture. Entradas y Salidas was a moving microportrait of the filmmaker's mother dealing with cancer. Plenty of pathos but I didn't feel like I was drowning in it.

Luminiferous Aether is a short music video with the audio being light transmogrified into sound. It seemed more an experiment than statement. Listening is a portrait of Hildegard Westerkamp, a "Vancouver composer and sound ecologist". It was good but, considering the great importance of sound, I felt that there were times when her voiceover was unnecessary and that the movie should have let the visuals and the sounds of the place do more. Still, a good and valuable look at sound in our lived environments.

My favorite was Swalesong. It's a bucolic fugue which pays to tribute to the North Yorkshire Dales in England. It features a man recording the tones of a river harp, which is apparently a frame with strings strung in it that gets put in water currents so that the strings resonate as the water flows over them. In addition, we see historic photos and hear old interviews with locals about Neddy Dick, "who was infamous for his musical instruments made from nature."

Beautiful scenery and beautiful audio, linking of the past to the present. This one just really struck me and resonated in ways the other shorts that night did not.


I am Spartacus!

A fun little tale. The TARDIS crew land in the middle of the slave rebellion led by Spartacus.

The Doctor ends up enjoying the hospitality of the Roman Proconsul, Crassus. Ben, Polly, and Jamie, on the other hand, fall in with the revolting slaves. They do their level best to help them out - Ben even tries to hire ships to take them to safety in Sicily - but it's all for naught.

Despite the Doctor's best attempts to save the slaves, we are left with a fatalistic ending.

Was at first only MP for Huntingdon

I don't think there's actually any recorder playing in this one.

Despite the cover sporting what I presume is an English Civil War era standard instead of an alien and the name simply being of the supporters of Parliament in that conflict instead of "The ___ of the ____" kind of thing, I started this book oblivious to it being a pure historical.

I liked this book a lot. Ben gets to be a pirate and seek vengeance on the man who killed his friend. There are tough choices and moral ambiguity. Polly must deceive someone she is attracted to in order to keep history from being dramatically changed. The movers and shakers here, the figureheads are not these larger than life, um, figures. The king is something of a pathetic figure - small and weak, while Cromwell's face is littered with warts.

The Doctor and Jamie are a kind of double act which I suppose presages what's to come. My man gripe is that they are essentially under house arrest for most of the story and don't feature very prominently. A lot of pages, however, are devoted to Roundheads and Royalists and the scheming all around. Ben and Polly are agents of action, they get their hands dirty, so to speak, in moving the story (and history) along. The Doctor plays a minor role and acts more from behind the scenes.

Despite the relative paucity of scenes with the Doctor, Mark Gatiss has a fine and fun tale on his hands here. Jamie is funny, if underused, while Ben and Polly really shine here.

I was thinking about this and that, this being Clare Cavendish, and that being Clare Cavendish too

Philip Marlowe returns! Looks like a fun old school noir. Made me think of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.

26 January, 2023

Thank you for being born

When I first heard of Broker, the blurb noted it was from the director of Shoplifters, a movie that I'd heard of but didn't see, although I do believe it was shown here in Madison. Shoplifters seems to have concerned a family of meager means whose members turn to theft to get by. Here, we see a makeshift family assembled as they all get by the best that they can.

Ha Sang-hyeon and his pal Dong-soo take babies left at a church baby box and sell them to prospective parents. One night a young woman named Moon So-young leaves her child on the sidewalk in front of the baby box and walks away. Soo-jin puts the child in the box so that the 2 brokers can go about their business and she, along with her partner Detective Lee, can catch them in the act.

Moon So-young goes back for the child and is forced to track the 2 men down. She does and goes along for the ride to meet a couple looking to buy the baby. It goes poorly and they take a break by visiting the orphanage that Dong-soo grew up in. Long after having driven away, the brokers find that they have a stowaway, Hae-jin, a boy who hid in the back of their van. A family is born.

The members of this new family bond - at one point they thank one another for being born - on a road trip in search of a buyer and are followed by the detectives.

The avuncular Song Kang-ho played Ha Sang-hyeon and I recognized him from Parasite but forgot he was in The Host and Snowpiercer. Bae Doona is Soo-jin and I recalled her from Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending.

Broker is a very good flick that deftly alternated between gentle humor and touching human portraits of people looking to just get by. By and large, it's a light-hearted affair but most of the characters not only go on a journey across South Korea in a van but also go on personal journeys where they undergo change and complete the process by making sacrifices for someone else.

I might just have to rent Shoplifters now.

Liberté, Egalité, Humanité

 

Saint Omer is ostensibly a courtroom drama but it's more than that. A Senegalese woman named Laurence Coly stands accused of infanticide for leaving her 15 month-old daughter on a beach to be swept away by the tide. Observing the trial is Rama, herself the daughter of a Senegalese immigrants who is also pregnant.

No doubt there was some material that went over my head that director Alice Diop intended as commentary on contemporary French society. Regardless, she has created an enigmatic defendant that entranced and confused this viewer equally.

Laurence Coly is not a poorly educated person flailing away in incomprehension of her new home. She is well-educated and very well spoken. While she seems thoroughly Western or perhaps French, she also invokes witchcraft. While the white judges seek rational order and to make sense of the defendant's motives, Laurence herself dwells in the dark, mysterious corners of human passions. Her testimony leads to dead ends instead of illuminating clear cause and effect relationships.

Laurence's predicament greatly affected Rama. Just as the former was alone on the stand, the latter was alone in her hotel room. Rama just seemed to be thrown into an emotional milieu beyond her control. The movie didn't seem to home in on anything in particular that was especially potent for Rama. It was a whole scenario.

The defense lawyer ends the movie with her closing statement that she makes looking directly into the camera. It is a very moving testament to our common humanity and to the power of empathy. Very powerful stuff.

572 Days Later

 

I think I read that Skinamarink was supposed to be like Paranormal Activity but with an even lower budget. As it turns out, it is less Paranormal Activity and more Inland Empire. Walking out of the theater, I was shocked that Skinamarink was being shown at a multiplex and that it had achieved word of mouth success beyond David Lynch aficionados.

The story concerns two children who are in the 4-5 year range. The year is 1995. The pair wake up in the middle of the night and strange things start happening. For instance, doors, windows, and even a commode are disappearing and leaving blank walls and floors. Eventually their parents mysteriously vanish as well. They retreat downstairs to the comforting glow of the television which is tuned to a cartoon marathon. A creepy voice is heard and things start getting rearranged. For example, a chair becomes affixed to the dining room ceiling and VHS tapes suddenly appear on the living room wall. And all of this happens in underlit sets on very grainy video footage.

There's nothing very Lynchian about the general plot but it is rather the style that evokes that director of the surreal. There are very few faces shown here and instead we see their feet and legs, often on the far side of a chair. On the other hand, we get many (sometimes rather lengthy) low angle shots of the tops of walls and ceilings, shots of the TV or a pile of Legos, and low angle shots of dark hallways. I suspect that these are meant to mimic the viewpoints of the kids. We hear them talking but see them very little. Sometimes their speech is not understandable and we get subtitles. Other times we get no subtitles.

I suspect Skinamarinks is trying to emulate basic childhood fears - of the dark, of being alone, and whatnot. While there's a lot of interesting and very creepy material here, the effect is dulled by the long, static shots of walls. The scene where one or both of the kids go into their parents' bedroom is a creepfest of the highest order. And I loved how a cut to the dining room offhandedly reveals a chair on the ceiling. But those shots of ceiling/walls just took me out of the moment.

I tried to find a pattern but failed. Did I miss subtle changes in those shots? We kept returning to the upstairs hallway - the one with the round light fixture - but I couldn't find anything really new. Maybe more or less light, I suppose. I just really wanted to find some kind of pattern, some kind of change with each successive return to that hallway but found nothing.

Like I said, there's some great horror elements here, including a jump scare or 2, and I really liked the ending - very Lynchian - as the house turns into the one in House of Leaves with is non-Euclidian geometry some 572 days later. Those poor kids. But I felt it either needed to be shortened or to have had the long glances down dark hallways joined by other scenes of a less static, but no less creepy, nature. Just a little something more.

Bottled in a strong compression

When AMC Madison 6 closed back in the fall, I was saddened because it could be counted on to screen more arty/foreign films during the winter. That and it was on a bus line. I went into this winter thinking that Madison would have a dearth of interesting fare on offer in theaters. Well, until the UW Cinematheque started up again, anyway.

I was surprised and quite happy to see some of the area multiplexes programming non-Marvel fare and films from foreign lands. As the new year began, I decided to check out more of these offerings thinking that, if I avoided them as I likely would have in prior years because they weren't "arty" enough or didn't have a plot that sounded immediately interetsing, I might be stuck with only mainstream dreck. More or less.

I don't say this to damn Corsage with faint praise because this fictional look at Empress Elisabeth of Austria is quite good.

Vicky Krieps plays the empress and she looked very familiar. I looked her up and realized I'd seen her in the Das Boot TV series as well as the German TV movie, Rommel. As Grady from The Shining might have said, she is a very willful woman. She is discontented with her lot as empress, essentially a bauble for her husband.

The movie chronicles her defiance and acts of rebellion. For example, she gives a dinner party the finger as she exits and she takes her son out on a little adventure that the emperor perceives as having put him in danger. Her discontentment is, I think, partly due to her age. Nearing 40, she finds that her husband is not attracted to her as he once was. But not everything stems from her fading beauty.

At one point her husband tells her that she is there to represent, not to offer her opinion. As a smart woman, she is suffocating in a purely symbolic role as empress and her corsage, a.k.a. - bodice or corset, becomes a potent symbol of the forces that constrict her.

What sets what is mainly a historical drama apart are the anachronisms sprinkled throughout. When I first saw a set of modern glass doors, I wondered if perhaps the filmmakers were just hoping no one would notice given the rest of the scene. But other sets were not of the late 19th century nor was the ship at the end. A clever way to link Elisabeth's travails to that of many women today who are similarly bound and constricted.

Pilsner is bitter, but its fruit is sweet: Le Pils by Working Draft Beer Co.

I did not wear a beret for this review. I did, however, listen to some Ravel because who doesn’t like “Bolero”?

The Bohemians invented the pilsner and then the Germans appropriated it, making the beer a lighter affair in the process. A bunch of Germans emigrated to the United States and a new variation arose which, as near as I can tell, involved a more muscular, adjunct-laden malt flavor than that of their homeland with more hops too. Then in the mid-1990s an Italian brewer named Agostino Arioli invented, by accident, apparently, the Italian pilsner. This Italian mutation is characterized by the dry-hopping process used in its creation. I think so, anyway.

And now Madison’s Working Draft Beer Company offers Le Pils, a French-style pilsner. So what stylings make a pilsner French? Are baguettes part of the malt bill? Is it filtered through a beret? Lagered on a bed of escargot? Maybe the brewers simply need to wear striped shirts and read Sartre.

Looking at the can, it seems that being brewed with Strisselsplat hops is what does the trick. I found an article stating that these hops are from the Alsace region of France. Personally, I find it odd to think of the French growing hops and brewing beer because all they drink is wine, right? A quick look at a map reveals that Alsace borders Germany and surely the region was at some point part of a German kingdom/state or ruled with ruthless efficiency by Prussians. Alsace’s location explains the hop’s Teutonic sounding name. It’s an old hop and the region has proudly loosed another variety called Mistral on the world. New Glarus brewed a tasty pilsner with it a few years back.

I perused the archives and found that I have tasted a beer brewed with these Strisselsplat hops before: Nooner Pilsner (R.I.P) by Sierra Nevada from back when that venerable brewery brewed beers other than IPAs. Strisselsplat was just one of the hop varieties used in that beer and that, combined with several years distance, means I cannot give you an accurate description of this hop’s flavor. However, it appears to be the lone hop here.

Now that I think about it, I am certain that I had this beer last summer at the brewery. I recall the trepidation I felt as I glanced at the beer menu. Was it merely an excuse to make another fruity beer? Should I go with one of their Czech styles instead?

Le Pils poured a lovely gold color which seemed more in line with a Czech pilsner than its German cousin. The stuff was as clear as day and allowed me to see some bubbles inside working their way up to a generous head of fairly loose white foam. The head went away rather slowly. Although my photography doesn’t do it justice, this was a fine-looking and very alluring beer.

While it had a Czech-like appearance, it smelled more German at first with a light, crackery malt scent coupled with some grassy hops. Then I caught a bit of fruitiness in there – something like berries.

A sip revealed a really nice fizziness complementing a medium-light body with a prominent biscuit flavor that had a very mild sweetness. The hops tasted herbal but also fruity with something redolent of melon. This fruitiness wasn’t extreme or dominating. Instead, it harmonized with the other flavors well. Upon swallowing, the hoppy herbal-melon pas de deux danced on my tongue leaving a gentle bitterness and a lightly dry finish.

Le Pils is excellente! It has a great malt flavor that is probably stronger than you’d find in a German pils but weaker than a Czech one. Those Strisselspalt hops add classic green herbal flavors and, thankfully, have a light touch when it comes to the fruity ones. This stuff also has the parfait fizz. You can taste it and feel it on your tongue but the effervescence never becomes an obstacle to getting at the malt and hops. Flavors can be gentle and more subtle because they needn’t worry about being overrun by a bunch of marauding bubbles leaving a sharp acidulousness in their wake.

Having now had Working Draft’s German, Czech, and French takes on this style, I can say that they are the premiere purveyors of pilsner in Madison.

Junk food pairing: For a Frankish beer like this, you'll want to pair it with only the finest haute junk food. Le Pils will pair well with brie & cranberry potato chips.

The Narrative of Ryan Urban of Barron

I am green with envy.

My Twitter pal, Ryan Urban, editor at the Barron News Shield, took a trip to Antarctica last month and has chronicled it at his blog, Urban Rural Column.

That's his photo and you can see it and more in a 2-part chronicle of his adventure called "A long voyage south". 

Part 1

Part 2

Did I mention that I am jealous?

Today I'm gonna ponder like it's 1199

My latest music purchase thanks to the helpful and friendly folks at MadCity Music:

 
 (Candle by Mr. Bill's Workshop.)

My years of Latin in my younger days paid off as I was able to translate the title as "Today Christ Is Born". I was completely unfamiliar with The Boston Camerata, an early music ensemble, when I listened to a CBC radio show about the winter solstice last month. The show featured "Uterus hodie Virginis floruit" from this album (I think it translates as "Today the womb of the virgin flowers/blooms".) and I found the piece to be simply beautiful.

The liner notes say that it dates back to the 12th century Aquitaine. I don't know how it would have been performed back in Eleanor's day, but here it has a rather simple, sparse arrangement with just voice and what I think is a rebec, a medieval proto-violin. The song is gorgeous, if not sublime, and perfect for some quiet contemplation looking at the snow that covers the trees outside my window.


Scenes from a Night - 25 January 2023

I took a short stroll last night and took a few photographs. It wasn't too cold, I was lightly dusted with snow, and got lost in just how much the East Washington corridor has changed the past several years. Madison's industrial past is disappearing quickly and light pollution is on the rise.



"Occasionally" is the operative word here

While I do not watch a lot of experimental movies, I do like to include some in my cinema diet. Such was the case last week when I watched Jonas Mekas' As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty. Made or assembled, really, when Mekas was in his late 70s and released in 2000, it consists of footage he had shot on 8mm and 16mm decades previously. The subject? His life. As I Was Moving Ahead is nearly 5 hours of his home movies, so to speak.

Scenes of daily life in New York City are set against those of his family on vacation. (There's also footage purportedly shot here in Madison but is of another, unknown city.) We see his wife, his daughter, and his cat go about life in their apartment. We also get glimpses of life in the city such as men shoveling snow. Then we're out in the country - Cape Cod, sometimes - and people swim, walk through the woods, etc.

As these images are shown to us, we sometimes get music and, occasionally, it's Mekas himself on accordion. At other times Mekas talks to the viewer about what he is showing us. On the odd occasion we hear diagetic sound, the sound of the streets and its denizens.

Mekas notes at the end that this movie is his memories; it's a record of how recalls his past. And this is indeed an intensely personal work. There are some beautiful passages, and occasional parts with universal appeal. But it's 4 hour and 45 minute running time was challenging, to say the least.

Murders in the Military Academy

Although this movie had a brief theatrical run, I don't think it ever screened here in Madison. Drats!

Based on a novel, the movie is set in 1830 and concerns a retired(?) detective named Augustus Landor who is recruited by the heads of the U.S. Military Academy to investigate murder within its walls. Landor lives out in the boonies nearby. As his investigation proceeds, he enlists the help of one of the cadets there, an Edgar Allen Poe.

Poe is played by Harry Melling who, Wikipedia says, is Patrick Troughton's grandson. And here I am in media res of a Second Doctor marathon.

I very much enjoyed this murder mystery. The cinematography with its grey, gloomy, washed out look was perfect for a macabre tale inhabited by Poe. Toby Jones and Gillian Anderson play Mr. and Mrs. Marquis, a grotesque couple whose motives are neatly obscured. And the ending was wonderful.

My only complaint is that I wish we could have had more time exploring the accursed home of the Marquis family. Those characters were just a lot of fun to watch and I felt oddly short-changed when the movie was over.

Do catch it on Netflix.

We love us some Ben Wheatley

Both my Frau and I really enjoy Ben Wheatley's movies. Recently we finally got around to watching Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. I think this was produced for BBC television and never saw a theatrical release. Too bad.

An extended family gathers at a rented castle to ring in the new year. The black sheep of the family also shows up and we get the expected cracked and sometimes twisted interactions between characters that is a hallmark of Wheatley's style. Uncle Bertie is more than just eccentric and I loved how his transvestism is accepted and his appearance alternately sticks out like a sore thumb and is completely banal. Funny, touching, and laced with some intense emotions - I think everyone will see a bit of their own family in there somewhere.

Now is the time the old gods return

Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched: A History Of Folk Horror is a wonderful documentary that begins with the Unholy Trinity from the late 1960s-early 70s and then heads across the ocean to the United States. From there it's a trip around the globe. Aztec mummy movies! Who knew?

It's 3 hours long but it goes by quickly with lots of clips. I really enjoyed the interviews with filmmakers. Also, some really nice commentary on how these movies reflect the social anxieties of their times. I think some commentators went overboard or made unproven assertions and I rolled my eyes at any and all Freudian explanations. The word "sublimate" was overused, in my opinion.

Still, a great look at the genre and now my To Watch list has grown considerably.

Coming Soon? Return To Seoul

A couple days ago I caught a trailer at the cinema for Return To Seoul, a Cambodian film. Not something you'd expect at a multiplex but I see that it was Cambodia's entry for best foreign film for the Academy Awards.

22 January, 2023

There's Gonna Be a Polka Riot Going On

 

The Madison Polka Riot will be held on 5 February at the High Noon Saloon.

It will feature:

The November Criminals
Sergeant Sauerkraut's Polka Band
Yid Vicious
Forward! Marching Band
Polkalamity
Urban Hurdles
Polka DJs

Brewday, January 2023

I brewed beer! I mean, I helped brew beer by following the directions of a brewer.

It was a lovely day to boil wort and doing a spot of sparging outside.


Let's hope we have the blessings of Gambrinus and all goes well so we have some fresh beer by St. Valentine's Day.

Dave Cieslewicz: Oracle for Our Times










How did his predictions fare?