The combination of COVID-19 vaccination sweeping the nation and social media being a primary form of communication in modern America has produced an unusual situation. We’re seeing a lot more of people’s bared upper arms these days–either displaying the Band-Aid signifying that they’ve got their shot or actually getting stuck by a needle.
This is unusual because the upper arm is a part of the body that normally is blissfully covered by clothing. In pre-COVID times, it would be rare indeed to encounter a friend and have them expose their upper arm in greeting you. There’s a reason for this. Unless you’re a bodybuilder who is working on getting ready for next year’s Arnold Classic, you’re not really paying much attention to that triceps area.
Oh, you may have noticed, with a sad realization of the regrettable realities of aging, that as you’ve gotten older that upper arm area has become saggy, with a flap of loose skin and jelly-like flab that hangs down and sways in the breeze when you hold your arm out. But you thought that, in the priority list of body parts that demand attention in your personal fitness regimen, the upper arms fall well below, say, the waistline, because they are simply not as visible and obvious to the casual observer. That is, they weren’t as visible and obvious until posting vaccination photos suddenly became de rigueur.
We weren’t prepared for this new reality, which is just another way in which COVID-19 has upset our well-ordered, pre-pandemic world. And now I wonder: will the increased visibility of the upper arm cause a surge in people hitting the gym and performing push-ups or other exercises designed specifically to tone those triceps areas, to make for more attractive vaccination photos when the COVID booster shots inevitably hit the market in the future?
In the meantime, we can all be grateful that vaccination shots are given in the upper arm, and not in the belly.
We’re at a weird time in America. At the same time many of us are completing our COVID-19 vaccinations, getting our vaccination cards, and feeling like we are on the cusp of returning to some reasonable measure of personal freedom, and some states are beginning to loosen their restrictions, we’re getting dire warnings from national leaders and public health officials about a potential “fourth surge” of the pandemic in the United States.
(Would it really be only a “fourth surge”? I’ve lost count, frankly.)
The statement made yesterday by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the CDC, is pretty jarring for those Americans who hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just ahead. After reporting on increases in the number of COVID cases (now topping more than 30 million Americans) and hospitalizations, Dr. Walensky went off script to confess, in emotional terms, to feeling a sense of “impending doom” and said she was “scared” that the country could be on the verge of a new surge as COVID variants infect the unvaccinated parts of the population. President Biden also said that “now is not the time” to remove masking and social distancing requirements.
The statements by Dr. Wallensky and President Biden have to rattle the confidence of people who believe a return to “normal” is not far away. The average citizen is getting pretty mixed messages right now. We’re feeling good that vaccinations are being made available to most age groups and seeing lots of social media posts with pictures of bared arms getting jabbed and vaccination cards, and we know that restrictions are being loosened in many places–but at the same time we are getting alarming warnings and, for many of us, we know people who are continuing to come down with COVID even now.
And part of the problem with this confusing mix of data and messages is that it is occurring against the backdrop of obvious pandemic fatigue and, in some quarters, a growing distrust of the pronouncements of our public health officials and concern that they are never going to let the world get back to 2019 normality. The CNN analysis piece linked above describes the unsettled situation this way: “The nation is caught on a ledge between triumph and a late game disaster in a fight against a pathogen ideally engineered to exploit lapses in public health, resistance to mask wearing mandates and the frayed patience of a country disorientated after a year when normal life went into hibernation.“
These different perspectives necessarily inform how people react to the messages we are getting. When the doctor who is the head of the CDC admits to being “scared” and feeling a sense of “impending doom,” is she conveying a legitimate, albeit emotional, reaction to the latest data, or is her message part of the newest effort to keep people frightened, masked up, and in their houses indefinitely?
Now that we are vaccinated, we’re going to try to get about our lives–but prudently. I’m still going to engage in social distancing, and I’ll gladly continue to mask up in enclosed spaces. I don’t think we’re done with COVID-19 just yet.
We got the second part of our two-part vaccination a few days ago, and we’re pretty happy about it. Now, we are not only fully vaccinated, we are also the proud owners of completed, bar-coded, scannable CDC COVID-19 vaccination cards.
The folks who gave us our shots recommended that the treat those vaccination cards like other super-important documents in our lives, such as passports and birth certificates. This advice makes sense, because we don’t know exactly what the post-pandemic world is going to look like. It may well be that we will need to show a completed vaccination card to get on an airplane flight or attend a football game or for some other purpose, so we’ll have to get into the habit of carrying those cards around as a matter of course. And although the vaccination cards are made of light cardboard, we all know that such objects can easily become bent, creased, and dog-eared. So if we want our vaccination cards to have long-term functionality, the solution is clear: get them laminated while they are still in their pristine, newborn state, before pockets and purses and interaction with keychains, coins, pens, and clumsy fingers have a go at them.
Lamination isn’t a service that I’ve ever had to look for before. The only thing I’ve had to have laminated in recent memory is my driver’s license, and in Ohio the BMV does that automatically when you get a new one. There’s no nearby lamination store, to my knowledge. And, surprisingly to me, a Google search reveals that “lamination” is used to describe a variety of services, including industrial lamination, laminated flooring, and eyebrow lamination. Which of those providers would be best suited to take care of our vaccination cards?
Fortunately, we learned that two of the office supply chains in our area–Staples and Office Depot–are offering to laminate COVID vaccination cards for free, so that’s where we’re going. That’s a smart move by those businesses that is bound to establish some loyalty on the part of grateful vaccinated people like us, and we’ll remember their generosity the next time we need lamination or office supplies. It also, fortunately, will keep me from going into a flooring contractor or eyebrow salon to ask if their lamination services can be repurposed.
Yesterday was another ideal day for a hike in central Ohio, with clear skies and temperatures that started in the 50s and eventually touched 70. We decided to stay a little closer to home this time, and ventured just a few miles north of I-270, to the very conveniently located Highbanks Metro Park, to try out the Dripping Rock Trail. The Dripping Rock Trail is one of a series of interconnected trails in the park, which also features a designated dog trail, picnic areas, and open meadows where kids can run around and work off some of that inexhaustible kid energy.
The Dripping Rock Trail is so named, I suspect, because part of the trail follows a small stream that has cut through rock, as shown in the two photographs above, and groundwater leaks from the rock formations into the stream. The trail follows a loop that is a little over two miles, but if you want a longer hike you can link to adjoining trails that will take you to an Adena Mound, some ancient earthworks, and an overlook area The flexibility offered by the intersecting trails is a nice feature, because you can design your hike to suit your interest in exactly how much exercise you want to get.
The trails are natural earth and well-marked, and wide enough to allow for comfortable social distancing from passing hikers if everyone move to the edge and goes single file. Because the Highbanks park is so close to Columbus, the Dripping Rock Trail and other trails are very popular–or at least they were on our visit. Yesterday we got there at about 10:30 and had no problem finding a parking space next to the nature center, but when we left in early afternoon the parking lots were full and people were waiting for departures to find a parking space. If it’s a pretty day you’ll want to get there early if you want to be sure of getting a spot.
One section of the Dripping Rock Trail will give you a glimpse of a sluggish and muddy segment of the Olentangy River through the trees, but for the most part the trail is just your basic walk in the Ohio woods, winding through and around the trees with the small creek for company. There are some easy inclines and declines, but most of the trail is level. So long as you stay away from gangs of chatty hikers, it is blissfully quiet and makes for a very pleasant stroll. And if you are a big forestry fan, the Metroparks people have labeled some of the different kinds of trees that you will see along the hike.
We liked the Dripping Rock Trail, and think it would be worth visiting again in the fall when the leaves start to turn.
In my view, McMurtry’s greatest work was Lonesome Dove, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986. I think Lonesome Dove is one of the greatest works of fiction by an American writer, ever. It is a huge, sprawling novel that was later made into the masterpiece television TV mini-series of the same name, starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call. The book follows those two legendary former Texas Rangers who lead their band of ranch hands and a herd of stolen cattle on a long drive up to Montana and encounter adventure, death, and a host of memorable and often terrifying characters along the way. Every character in that book, from Call to McCrae to Newt, Deets, Lorena, Pea Eye, Jake Spoon, Clara, Blue Duck, and many others, was so finely drawn that you felt as if their personalities were etched into the pages of the novel.
I remember reading Lonesome Dove on a beach vacation shortly after it was published in paperback. Reading that book defined the vacation, because I could not put it down and, when I did, I looked forward to picking it up again and reading on to find out what happened next. As I continued with my reading, I remember feeling horribly conflicted, I desperately wanted to know what happened to all of these extraordinary people moving through this extraordinary landscape, but I also didn’t want the book to end, ever. Of course, it did, and the ending had an enormous impact. I’ve reread it at least once since then, and also have read many of the McMurtry books that looked at the Lonesome Dove characters at different times in their lives.
Reading Lonesome Dove made me chase down the meaning of the motto Gus McCrae adopted for the Hat Creek Cattle Company: “Uva uvam vivendo varia fit.” It was pretty clear in the book that Gus didn’t know precisely what it meant, but he liked the classy association of their dusty Texas ranch with Latin. Finding out the meaning of a Latin phrase was a challenge back in those days, before the internet allowed us to discover stuff like that with a few taps of the keyboard. It turned out that the phrase is bastardized Latin–which seems about right for old Gus–and it means something like “a grape changes color and ripens when it is around another grape.”
In other words, we affect the lives of those around us. That seems like a pretty good epitaph for Larry McMurtry, who managed to affect the lives of grapes like me that he didn’t even know.
We’ve been enjoying The Sinner, a drama series now available on Netflix, and have just finished season three of the show — which offers an interesting twist on detective shows.
The Sinner focuses on detective Harry Ambrose, played by Bill Pullman, who works at a police department in a small town in New York. Each season focuses on a crime (or crimes) committed by an apparently normal person. There’s no doubt about who committed the crime; the show is more about figuring out why they did it. That’s why some people describe the series as a “whydunnit.”
Harry’s methods are unconventional, to say the least, and he becomes more invested in the people who he is investigating than a dispassionate police officer should. As Harry peels back the layers of their characters and learns more about their back stories, he begins to understand their true motives for their actions. And in the process, we learn more about Harry himself, who has a history that is just as brutal and jarring as the other characters and who has been scarred by it, too.
This is an interesting, extremely dark show that will appeal to people, like us, who like the psychoanalysis of characters. Bill Pullman is great as Harry, and there’s lots of good acting by the other cast members who populate each of the three seasons. Don’t watch The Sinner if you want to see good mothering–the show features some pretty awful Moms who will make you appreciate that your childhood wasn’t filled with routine, everyday emotional torture and trauma–or if you can’t bear disturbing scenes or imagery. And don’t watch it if you are looking for by-the-book detective work, either, because you’ll find yourself yelling at the screen as Harry takes another novel and reckless approach to figuring out the “why” of an otherwise inexplicable crime.
The Sinner has been renewed for a fourth season, which is supposed to come out this year. We’re eager to see the new direction Harry will take and to learn more about his tough life–and get in some more yelling at the TV, besides.
This is the time of year when the ducks in Schiller Park are out and about. Instead of hanging out at the pond, as they typically do, at this time of year they clearly feel a certain wanderlust and could be anywhere–crossing the street, emerging from underneath bushes, or strolling across the lawns.
It can be a bit unnerving as you walk in the pre-dawn darkness. You’ll suddenly detect movement near your feet in the gloom and feel a surge of adrenalin in response to the unknown, and the next thing you know there are a pair of ducks waddling past, murmuring in apparent indignation at your presence. With the DuckShock over, you breathe a sigh of relief and continue on your way.
The roaming ducks always seem to be in female and male pairs, which makes me think the wandering is intended to secure a little privacy, away from the rest of the flock at the pond, for some springtime mating. I always feel a little bad for interrupting the roving of my waterfowl chums–whatever they are doing.
The study involved adult participants from 37 states and the District of Columbia who were monitored between February 1 and June 1 last year. The study indicates that, once shutdown orders were implemented in their locations, the adults began gaining weight at a rate of 0.6 pound every 10 days, or roughly a pound and a half of body weight a month. Researchers attribute the weight gain to the effect of shelter-in-place and office shutdown orders that curtailed everyday activities like walking from an office desk to a conference room or walking to the subway and standing to wait for a train. Those little snippets of exercise during the day add up, and people working from home and sitting on their behinds all day don’t get them. Add in the fact that people reported eating and drinking more during the shutdown, and you’ve got the recipe for weight gain.
Gaining a pound and a half a month may not sound like much, but multiply 1.5 pounds by the number of months the various shutdowns were imposed in different states, or authorities were encouraging people to stay at home to curb spikes and hot spots, and you’ve got more than the “freshman 10” weight gain that people talked about back in college. That’s a lot of weight for people to add in a country where obesity had already become one of the largest public health challenges. And, as any adult knows, once you’ve put on that extra weight, trying to take it off isn’t easy–particularly if you’ve fallen into bad habits.
Once the pandemic period finally ends, we’ll start to get some perspective and meaningful data on whether the prolonged shutdown orders, including the current recommendations that even fully vaccinated people should stay at home if they can, were sound public policy decisions. That involves balancing the impact of those orders on the incidence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations against a number of other factors, like depression, suicide, economic disruption and job loss, child development . . . and basic public health issues, like daily exercise, alcohol consumption, and weight gain. We should reserve judgment until all of the meaningful data comes in, but the study noted above shows that there are negative public health consequences to shutdown orders that need to be carefully balanced against the positive effects. It’s pretty clear that the analysis is not going to show a simple, one-sided story.
Most of the TV shows and movies I write about get positive reviews. When I watch a show and like it, I enjoy working through exactly why I have that reaction and then writing about it. This has caused some faithful readers to wonder whether I’m so shallow and accepting of TV fare that I like all TV shows I watch.
I don’t. Take Weeds, the show that was broadcast for a number of years on Showtime. We read an on-line review that noted that the Weeds run on Netflix was coming to an end on March 31 and recommended the show as some bingeworthy viewing, so we gave it a chance. In fact, we gave it more than a chance — we watched all of season 1, and halfway through season 2, before we just gave up and decided life was too short to waste it watching Weeds.
Why did we say “Weeds begone”? Because there basically wasn’t a single character on the show that we liked, or frankly even found mildly interesting. In fact, the contrary was true: we thought Weeds featured some of the most cliched, poorly drawn, and intensely annoying characters we’d ever seen on television. From the wide-eyed, coquettish lead character and would-be dope lord Nancy Botwin, played by Mary-Louise Parker, to her weird and unlikeable kids, to her irritating loser brother-in-law, to the other brainless and self-absorbed characters populating the vapid town of Agrestic, California, we disliked pretty much everyone. Not surprisingly, it’s hard to like a TV show when you have no connection to the characters and hate seeing them on screen.
And there wasn’t much that was original in the show’s plotting or the writing. Although Weeds is described as a “comedy-drama,” we didn’t find much of either. I’m not sure I ever actually laughed out loud at anything that happened in the show, and I certainly didn’t find it very dramatic, either. Good comedy involves creativity and an element of surprise, both of which were sorely lacking in Weeds. And drama requires some characters you actually care about, which Weeds didn’t have, either. The only character who even came close to that standard was Isabelle, the poor daughter of Nancy’s appalling friend Celia Hodes, who we hoped could get away from her ridiculous, domineering, body-shaming mother. But our passing interest in that minor plot line couldn’t carry the day in the face of the onslaught of other irksome characters and groan-provoking plot devices.
It amazes us that Weeds ran for multiple seasons, which just shows you that one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. In our view, though, there are a lot of good TV shows out there to watch–and Weeds isn’t one of them. We think Netflix did the right thing in pulling Weeds.
Yesterday was another beautiful day in central Ohio, with cloudless skies and rising temperatures, so we decided to give our hiking shoes another breaking-in session. This time, we headed north to Mount Vernon, Ohio–about an hour’s drive away–to walk along the Kokosing Gap Trail, which winds its way from Mount Vernon to Gambier, then Howard, and finally to Danville.
The Kokosing Gap Trail is one of a number of Ohio trails that have been converted from old railroad lines to hiking and biking trails through the “rails to trails” program. And the clues to the railroad history of the path are apparent everywhere along the trail: from the width of the paved trails, to the gradual inclines and declines, as shown in the photo just above, to the railroad trestle over the Kokosing River that you cross about a mile and a half from the Mount Vernon trail head. The fact that the trail is paved and largely flat makes it a favorite route for cyclists–including families with little kids on their bikes–who are looking for a Sunday ride. I would point out, on behalf of my biker friends, that most of the cyclists who whizzed past us gave us notice with “on your left” calls as they approached, so we could move over and they could pass with plenty of room.
The first part of the trail runs along farm fields and a creek that is a tributary of the Kokosing River. Once you hit the first railroad bridge and cross the Kokosing (which apparently means “where there are owls” in the language of the Delaware tribe) the river becomes your travel companion, just to the north of the trail and visible through the trees. Unlike the Little Miami River that we hiked along yesterday, the Kokosing has no whitewater and is apparently quite shallow. We did see some fishermen out on the river as we loped along.
We walked along the river for several miles and shared the trail with lots of cyclists and some other walkers, until we were getting close to Gambier, then turned around and walked back to our car parked at the Mount Vernon trail head. It’s interesting how turning around and walking back over the same path nevertheless gives you a different perspective on the landscape. In this case, it gave us a chance to check out the river in more detail.
The entire Kokosing Gap Trail is about 14 miles long, so we only did one part of it. Our plan is to return in the future to walk the entire route in segments, but first we’ve got some other trails to explore.
After our hike through the Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, we drove over to nearby Yellow Springs, Ohio for lunch. And on our way back to Columbus we decided to treat ourselves to a classic Ohio privilege: getting some homemade ice cream from Young’s Jersey Dairy, a legendary spot located on the short stretch of Route 68 between Yellow Springs and I-70. We weren’t the only ones who had that brilliant idea, either; the parking lot was packed with people who were enjoying a beautiful day.
We went through the drive-through and were delighted to learn that mint chocolate chip — my favorite — was the ice cream flavor of the day, which meant we got two enormous scoops for the price of one. I got mine in one of their colossal waffle cones, which admirably holds the ice cream and prevents the drippy, melty spillage that often occurs when you are eating a cone in the car. The ice cream was great — and very reasonably priced, I might add — and the cones lasted until we were more than halfway back to Columbus.
It’s amazing what a day trip outside of Columbus on a bright early spring day after weeks of crappy winter weather can do for your mood. Topping things off with some homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream doesn’t hurt, either.
When you’ve got new hiking shoes, you’ve got to break them in properly. So yesterday we donned our hikers, hopped in the car, and drove to the Clifton Grove State Nature Preserve. It’s located less than a hour from Columbus in southwest Ohio, close to the village of Yellow Springs, and it offers some of the most beautiful scenery and interesting geology you’ll find anywhere in the Buckeye State.
It was a perfect day for hiking — cold enough to keep you from overheating but manageable with simple layering, and breathtakingly sunny with bright blue skies — and there were a lot of people out on the trails, which are well marked and easy to follow. We started by heading west on the north rim trail, which winds along the edge of the gorge and gives you peeks at the Little Miami River, which runs through the bottom of the gorge far below. The little streams rushing off the edge of the cliffside on their way to join the river, as shown in the picture just above, give you a hint of what you’ll see when you get down below.
The Clifton Gorge is so rocky it reminded me of Maine, but in the case of the Clifton Gorge the rocks are limestone and dolomite, rather than the familiar Maine granite. The path from the north rim trail down to the trail that hugs the river is made of natural rock and makes you appreciate having a sturdy pair of hiking shoes.
This time of year is a good time to visit the Clifton Gorge if you like the sound of rushing river water and enjoy looking at interesting rock formations. With the continuing snow melt and early spring rains, the Little Miami River was running high, and because the trees haven’t leafed out you can get good views of the river and the rock formations as you hike along. We didn’t see any spring flowers out yet, though, and the only real green on the landscape was the moss on some of the rock formations, as shown in the second photo above.
After we joined the riverside trail, we headed back to the east. The trail winds along the river’s edge, with the river to your right and the rock formations and cliffside to your left. In the bottom of the gorge the air is cool and sweet and worth as many deep breaths and hearty gulps as you can manage. Many of the rock formations are finely etched by erosion and almost look like modern art sculptures. And to the left the north rim of the gorge looms behind, as shown in the photo just above.
As you head eastward the Little Miami River has its calm spots, where the sound of the water moving past is very gentle and almost soothing. It is wonderfully quiet down there, and the other hikers along the trail for the most part respect the silence. This stretch of the river looks like it would be an ideal location for a peaceful canoe excursion — but that changes dramatically as you continue east along the trail.
As the river cuts through some of the channels between the rock formations in the river bed, the sound of the tumbling water rises to a roar, and you see some pretty aggressive whitewater. This may be a spot where the time of year really makes a difference in the views and the hiking experience. This particular area would undoubtedly look and sound a lot different during the hot and dry August doldrums, when the water levels on the river are sure to be much lower.
There were a lot of people out on the trails, including some student groups. Some were wearing masks, some donned masks as they passed other hikers, some made sure that they stepped to the sides of the trails to socially distance from people headed in the other direction, and some seemed completely oblivious to the fact that we’re coming out of a pandemic and people might be sensitive to not having other hikers shoulder past them on a narrow trail. Fortunately, those people made up only a tiny fraction of the people on the trail.
By taking the route we did — first heading west on the north rim trail, then heading east along the river — our hike ended with a cool waterfall. The trail circles the waterfall so you can see it from every perspective, as shown by the photo above and the first photo in this post. We also saw little stream that is the source of the waterfall plunge off the cliff, which is the second photo above. Shortly after we passed the waterfall we headed back up to the north rim, having enjoyed a delightful hike through one of the Buckeye State’s most scenic areas.
The Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is well worth visiting. Having seen it in the early spring we might decide to pay a return visit in the fall, when the leaves are turning and we can get a different perspective on this beautiful spot.
I think of Justice Brandeis these days, whenever I receive an unwanted cell phone call from a stranger, or am bomboarded with unwanted emails because someone has sold my email address to someone else who wants to sell me something, or when I go anywhere to purchase a product or receive a service and am hectored to fill out a survey and provide more personal information that can be bundled and sold. Because Justice Brandeis was correct, of course: the right to be left alone is a crucial right in our society.
I’m confident Justice Brandeis would be appalled at the many and increasing intrusions into the zone of personal privacy in modern society, be they by overzealous governmental entities, annoying and persistent telemarketers, uninvited emailers, or nosy service providers. And even if you delete the email without reading it, decline to answer the spam calls, and refuse to complete the surveys, the need to do so nevertheless disrupts your solitude and makes inroads on your valuable free time.
The right to be left alone that Justice Brandeis expressed so eloquently is being frittered away, dying the death of a thousand tiny cuts. Unfortunately, giving up some of our right to be left alone is the price we all pay for modern technology and communications devices. Paying that price might be necessary in our modern world, but we should never forget that it is a high price, indeed.
This week marked the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown of our office and the beginning of the remote work period. I’ve been reflecting on that year and our ever-changing, shifting, constantly morphing reaction to it. We’ve all gone through our own stages during the past 12 months, in a way comparable to the classic notion of the seven successive stages of grief: at first shock and denial, followed by pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, and finally acceptance and hope.
The first stage, for me at least, involved feelings of newness and trepidation; I’d never worked from home before, so the technological and behavioral challenges of doing so were interesting and a bit daunting. And there was a certain giddiness to the idea of not going to the office; I remember sharing photos with colleagues of what we had made for lunch during that first week of remote work, and doing a lot of texting.
Then that constant texting stopped, the interest in making different lunches ended, and there was a creeping realization that what was initially presented as a brief interlude was going to last a lot longer than people thought. Weddings, vacations, sporting events, and other things on the calendar got cancelled or delayed indefinitely, and those developments packed a punch. And we wondered, with an element of deep concern, about what a prolonged shutdown would all mean for the economy, our families, and our friends.
This was followed by a settling-in period, where people accepted that remote working was going to be the rule and the work needed to get done, so we would just have to deal with it. New routines were established and adopted, home working spaces were identified, defined, upgraded and reconfigured, and Amazon got a workout.
Then the sameness or staying inside and working in the same setting, day after day, set in, and people began to think more creatively about the situation and whether they could combine working remotely with a much-needed change of scenery. People moved around to change things up. Some people started going back to the office more frequently, while others changed their base of operations to lake houses, second homes, or rentals just to break up the monotony.
As working remotely went on and on, ultimately we hit the trough. I think it began in later autumn, as the pandemic continued to rage and we were heading into winter with no apparent end in sight. That was followed by a grim realization that we would just have to put our heads down, take it one day at a time, and just soldier on through the bleak winter months.
The current stage seems to be one of vaccine-fueled hope that the true end of the shutdown is coming someday soon, coupled with an uneasy wariness. I think the wariness recognizes that there could be more disappointments and case spikes and the discovery of new coronavirus variations ahead, but also involves an acknowledgement that there might be a different “new normal” lurking ahead that we’ll also have to adjust to, somehow.
Dare we say it? We want this to be the last stage, but this year has trained us not to get our hopes up too high.
Netflix offers an awesome array of content — including documentaries. If, like me, you are a fan of Monty Python, I recommend tuning in to Monty Python’s Almost The Truth, a six-part documentary about the troupe that really bent the comedy arc.
Good documentaries answer your questions. In the case of Monty Python, there are lots of those questions. How did these guys get together in the first place? What caused them to develop such a hilarious, zany, irreverent, subversive view of the world? How did a lone American break into this supremely British group? Who came up with ideas like the fabled Parrot Sketch or the “bring out your dead” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Why did animation feature so prominently in what they did? Who came up with the great songs, like the ditty about Brave Sir Robin? And how and why did the group spin apart?
This documentary answers those questions. Made in 2009, it featured interviews with the then-surviving Pythoners, as well as comments from other people who were involved and well-known fans of the group talking about what it was like to watch their work. (I recommend fast forwarding through the comments by Russell Brand, who comes across as supremely self-absorbed and irritating.) I particularly enjoyed learning about the early days of the members of the group — including the important role now-forgotten figures like David Frost inadvertently played in the group coming together — as well as the TV and radio shows that influenced them. Later episodes drill down into the Flying Circus years, their battles with BBC censors, their creative process and some of the tensions that drove it, their legendary live performances at the Hollywood Bowl, the making of their films, and ultimately the untimely, early death of member Graham Chapman.
Influential social figures that touched the lives of millions and forever changed the way we think about their idiom — like the Beatles, or Monty Python, or the first cast of Saturday Night Live — deserve this kind of look back after years have passed and their true impact can be assessed with the perspective that only time can bring. Monty Python’s Almost The Truth gives you some of that perspective and a peek behind the curtain. It’s fascinating stuff.