At The Midpoint

Well, we’re at the midpoint of our three-day Labor Day weekend. And with a beautiful sunrise this morning to spur us on, we are at the moment of decision. What should we do today, knowing that tomorrow is also a day off? Hiking? A long walk? Yard work? Grilling out? Reading? Watching football and savoring a cold beer?

That sounds a lot like exactly what we did yesterday—and it also sound like exactly what we should do today, too. That’s the beauty of the Labor Day weekend.

Gardening Winners . . . And Losers

With the coming of September, we are, regrettably, nearing the end of our summer growing season in Stonington. It’s a time of year when gardeners can survey the fruits of their labors and make some judgments about what worked and what didn’t. Rationally identifying the winners and losers is a key step in thinking about next year’s efforts and avoiding any repeat of mistakes.

I’ve done my analysis and identified winners, losers, and plants where the jury is still out. Fortunately, there are more winners than losers, which means it’s been a pretty good year in the garden.

Winners

Marigolds—Initially planted because they are supposed to help repel deer, these flowers bloomed repeatedly over the growing season and added lots of bright color to our beds, as shown in the photo above. And whether the marigolds are responsible or not, we had a manageable year on the deer decimation front. I’ll be planting marigolds again next year and giving them a bit more room to spread out.

Black-eyed Susans—We’ve got Black-eyed Susans at multiple locations in our yard, and they have always come through like champs, producing clusters of pretty flowers that hold up over time. I bought the plant shown in in the photo above from the local garden store and planted it in May; it has grown to about three and a half feet tall with lots of flowers and provides a nice height contrast with the marigolds.

Geraniums—we planted geraniums in the ground and in pots, and they all grew beautifully. The plants in the ground produced new flowers all summer and grew to tremendous size. We’ll want to give them even more room when we plant them next year.

Verbena canadensis—I discovered these flowers this year when I was looking for something to fill in the small space in front of one of our patches of Black-eyed Susans. The plants hug the ground and spread out somewhat and produced very cool, bold colors, with deep crimson and purple petals. I’ve got big plans for these guys among the down yard rocks next year.

Losers

Phlox—I’ve tried different varieties of phlox in different locations, and they all have failed to perform. One died outright, others never produced flowers, and the one that did produce flowers did so only for a short period. I’m done with phlox.

Grass—Let’s just say our yard isn’t going to be featured in any grass or lawn care commercials. Maine grass seems to thrive where you don’t want it—i.e., garden beds—and promptly surrenders the yard itself to dandelions and other weeds. Figuring out the lawn issues will be the big challenge next year.

Jury still out

Day lilies—I bought two of these at the Deer Isle Garden Club sale in May. The plants have done okay, but no flowers so far.

Lupines—Most of the lupines that I have tried to grow from seeds survived, but only one of those plants has produced the distinctive flower. I’ve harvested more lupine seeds and will be planting them this fall before I head back to Columbus, and I’ll be looking for a big step forward from the existing plants grown from seeds, and some new lupine seed growth, next year.

Pine Hill Preserve

After our visit to Scott’s Landing on Sunday we drove the short distance to the Pine Hill Preserve on Little Deer Isle, another of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust that we had not visited before. The contrast between the two locations could not have been greater. Scott’s Landing allowed for a pleasant ramble on gently rolling meadows and beaches. Pine Hill Preserve is a lot smaller and a lot more . . . abrupt. After a short walk on old quarry road you reach its central feature: a rock outcropping that rises dramatically from the pine forest. It’s a big, steep hill, and you can get a sense of its scale if you look carefully at the photo above and see the two figures at the top who are taking a picture.

The short hike up Pine Hill is a lot more challenging than anything Scott’s Landing requires of a hiker. The key word is “up.” The trail is almost entirely vertical, as the photo above shows. Be prepared to haul yourself up the steep, rocky incline and—because, as any veteran hiker knows, coming down is usually more hazardous than going up—be prepared to get on hands and knees and carefully back down when you are descending on some stretches of the trail.

But when you reach the top you are rewarded by some magnificent views. In one direction you gaze over the rock face, where they quarried some of the stone that makes up the causeway between Little Deer Isle and Deer Isle, and acres of pine trees beyond. In another direction, you can look over the forest to the Eggemoggin Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

Scott’s Landing

Over the years we’ve hiked around most of the properties managed by the Island Heritage Trust, but one of the sites that we hadn’t yet checked out was Scott’s Landing—until yesterday. It’s located on the edge of the island, at one end of the causeway that connects Deer Isle to Little Deer Isle. And that means some good waterfront views, in this case of the Eggemoggin Reach that separates the islands from the mainland. You can climb up White Rock Point—an outcropping of sun-bleached Ellsworth schist, the bedrock of this part of the island—and enjoy a good view of the Reach and the suspension bridge to the mainland.

The property includes a long stretch of rocky beach. We were there when the tide was out, and a family was digging for clams at the waterline down the beach. Clam digging is a popular activity here, especially in the area near the causeway.

Scott’s Landing is an easy hike, with wide grassy trails and gradual inclines. The trails branch off in multiple directions, and inland the site features pretty meadows filled with wildflowers. The property is a popular spot for birders, although we didn’t see many of our feathered friends yesterday. We did, however, see lots of honeybees buzzing among the flowers. That’s a good summer sound.

We also saw some sailboats on the Reach taking advantage of a good breeze to let the wind fill the canvas and take the ships along at a good clip. The Reach is a long narrow channel that is popular with boaters, and it seems like there is always a sailboat on the horizon. At one end of the Scott’s Landing preserve the wildflower meadows rises up an incline, affording a good views of the flowers, the Reach, and the sailboats moving past. I found myself wishing there was a bench at that spot, so I could sit for a spell and just enjoy that scene.

Rain In The Forecast

The weather apps in our phones not only have changed the ways we check the weather, they also are a source of amusement—and amazement.

In the olden, pre-app days, you’d check the weather by looking out the window, or maybe watching the local news for tomorrow’s forecast. But the weather apps give you seven days of weather at a glance, with icons and scientific-seeming percentages about the chance of rain. And when you live in Columbus, or Stonington, or anywhere but Arizona, there’s always rain somewhere in the forecast.

The entertainment value comes from wondering how they develop those awesomely precise percentages, and then watching them change repeatedly. What distinguishes a 30 percent chance of rain five days from now from a 40, or 50, or 60 percent chance? What factors do the apps consider in assigning those values? And the frequency of change makes you wonder why you pay attention to the long-term forecasts in the first place. In the few hours since the screen shot above was taken, Thursday has gone from 50 percent chance of rain to the unblocked total sun icon. What titanic movement of massive weather fronts caused that abrupt change?

The weather apps, like some of our politicians, are frequently wrong—but never in doubt.

Four-Masted Fun

Yesterday morning we drove to Bar Harbor to get a taste of travel on a large sailing ship. Our destination was the Margaret Todd, a 150-ton schooner that carries passengers on a two-hour cruise through Bangor harbor and into Frenchman’s Bay beyond.

The adventure started with a long walk down a ramp to a floating dock and then a climb into the boat. You had to be careful because the ramp, dock, and boat were all moving with the swells in the water, and you didn’t want to fall in—the temperature of the water, which follows a current flowing from the north, is barely above freezing.

We sat along the sides of the schooner, so as to avoid being doused by any water that had been deposited in or on the furled sails by last night’s visit from tropical storm Elsa. As the voyage got underway, the crew invited volunteers to help hoist the sails. Russell contributed his muscle to help get one of the sails fully lifted and secured and got some applause from the other passengers. Once all of the sails had been hoisted the ship headed out of the harbor on sail power.

We first passed an island in the harbor and some lobster boats. It was a brilliantly sunny and clear day, so visibility was at maximum. Even so, I was not able to see the bald eagle’s nest that the captain swore was on an oak tree on that island. Come to think of it, I have never seen any bald eagle’s nest that anyone has ever tried to point out to me. Actually seeing a bald eagle nest and bald eagle in the wild will have to remain a bucket list item.

As we sailed past the island the captain pointed out this bell buoy, which is the only one in the harbor. Even though the waters were left calm in Elsa’s wake, the roll of the tide caused the buoy to sway back and forth and the clapper to strike the bell. The bell makes a cool, very distinctive clang, which would be a signal to any fogbound mariner that Bar Harbor is near.

Out in Frenchman’s Bay, we were out in open water with a wide, dramatic sky above, although we were surrounded by islands, the Schoodic Peninsula, Mt. Desert Island, and the peaks in Acadia National Park. We saw a group of some small dolphins swim by, showing their dorsal fins above the surface of the water, and we enjoyed the sunshine and the feel and sounds of a sailing ship, as the sails creaked and shifted in the light breeze.

There weren’t many boats out on the bay, but we did see this picturesque boat sailing past one of the islands. As we headed back to Bar Harbor, the Margaret Todd pointed directly at some of the mountains of Acadia National Park. That’s Mount Cadillac, the tallest peak in the park, on the right in the photo below.

The Margaret Todd is docked just below the Bar Harbor Inn, an historic hotel. Guest were eating on the veranda and enjoying the sights as we pulled in. Invigorated by the sea air, we headed into a jammed Bar Harbor for lunch. Our walk on the crowded streets of Bar Harbor reminded us of just how remote and quiet Stonington is.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

This Weekend’s Project

I like having a good weekend project. I think having a project to work on, sprinkled in with some fun stuff, makes the weekend seem longer. And if it’s an outdoor project that allows you to see the visible fruits of your labors on Sunday night, so much the better.

Fortunately—or unfortunately depending on your perspective—our down yard provides an endless supply of such projects. One ongoing problem area is found at the base of the big granite outcropping in the middle of the yard. It quickly becomes weed-infested, because it can’t be mowed with all of the big rocks, and it also floods after a heavy rain, due to the rocks just below the surface. The flooding makes it impossible to grow pretty much anything, except weeds and a hearty fern plant I’ve been cultivating. So this weekend’s project was to weed out the area between the rocks, dig out as many rocks as possible to increase drainage, and level out the soil to expose more of the big rocks and reduce pooling of rainwater. The last step would be to cover the area with a dark mulch to highlight the colors of the ferns and rocks and (hopefully) discourage rampant weed growth while giving the ferns a chance to flourish.

Fortunately, the weather fully cooperated with my plans. I pulled out bucket after bucket of weeds, dug out countless rocks, broke up the soil, leveled out the sloping, and then mulched until I ran out of mulch. I also got sunburned on the back of my neck. There’s still work to be done, but I’m happy with how it looks—so far. The acid test will come when we get a good rain and get a chance to see how the area drains, and whether all of that mulch gets washed out.

If that happens, it will just mean another weekend project.

Sunset Lobster At The Burnt Cove Boil

Tonight we paid our first visit of the summer to the Burnt Cove Boil. This classic outdoor venue operated by owner Jake McCarty became a favorite of ours last year, and I’m happy to report that it’s still terrific.

Why is the Burnt Cove Boil great? For one, you get a great view looking straight west at the sun setting over the islands in Penobscot Bay. For another, you eat sitting outside at picnic tables, and there’s just something fun and kind of magical about eating outside on a cool evening. And for still another, the natural remains of your meal get tossed back into the water, to return to the marine ecosystem. If you don’t think it’s fun to fling an oyster shell or crab claw or lobster tail into the seawater after you’ve finished with it, you’ve got another think coming.

But here’s the best thing about BCB: the food is excellent, and Jake is a great host. Tonight we started with local oysters, followed by stone crab caught about a mile away, then corn on the cob and lobsters caught just offshore. Everything was absolutely fresh, and that’s a big part of the reason why it was delicious. We used some rocks —also local—to crack open shells and made a merry mess of our picnic table.

While we waited for our next course to cool we enjoyed the quiet of the cove and the setting sun reflected on the water next to our table. The sky had cleared a bit and it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine. It wasn’t a bad view, either.

By the time our lobster arrived our paper trays were pretty well drenched, but we carried on anyway, ripping the steaming lobsters to shreds in search of every last morsel of succulent lobster meat. And after the lobster came the piece de resistance—individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

By the time we polished off our ice cream sandwiches and took our last swigs of Allagash White, the sun was a blaze of golden glory sinking low to the west and the seagulls were bobbing on the surface of the water. it was a beautiful scene to top off a great meal.

“Yes,” we thought, “we’ll come here again.”

The Trouble With Harry

The other day I called up Google on my phone to do a quick search. As always happens, clickbait articles popped up, including this one on Yahoo about Harry Windsor sharing some new photos of his son and reporting on some of his child’s first words.

You remember Harry, I’m sure. He’s the guy who moved to the United States from the U.K. because he desperately wanted to get away from the suffocating attention paid to him and his extended family and go his own way with his wife and child. But poor Harry seems confused. He doesn’t seem to get the notion that if you want to live a private life and make it on your own, you need to actually live a private life. That means not giving interviews with famous celebrities and participating in docuseries and sharing details about your life that are sure to attract more of the public attention that you claim to abhor.

Harry’s evident problem is that he seem to really like the attention, which he’s gotten his entire life. But it has to be the right kind of attention. Positive attention is just fine with Harry, but negative attention, or any criticism, makes him wonder why journalists and paparazzi and commentators can’t just leave him and his family alone.

Harry’s approach reminds me of our kitchen screen door during the summer months when I was a kid. We didn’t have air conditioning, so the only way to get air circulation in the house on a hot summer’s day was to open the inner door and let any precious breeze come through the outer screen door. But with five children in the family and a neighborhood that was chock full of rug rats, kids were constantly going in and out through the door, which had one of those spring devices that made it shut with a loud metallic clang. After putting up with a few dozen unsettling bangs, Mom would say, in exasperation: “In or out?”

And that notion applies equally to Harry. When it comes to celebrity status, you’re in or you’re out. If you want privacy, live privately. But if you crave some of that celebrity adulation, don’t come around whining when somebody makes a joke at your expense or raises questions about whether you are profiting from your family connections.

In deference to Harry’s tender sensibilities, I haven’t included a photo of him with this post, and because I’m writing this in America, where we don’t have titles–except for nicknames, like the Sultan of Swat or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air–I’ll just call him Harry Windsor. And in further deference to Harry’s apparent wishes, I also promise that I will never write about him again.

The Art Of Presentation

When I first started going out to eat, and for most of my dining career, restaurants didn’t seem to pay much attention to the presentation of the food on the plate, or the design or decoration of the table, or the decor of the restaurant itself. You might get a sprig of parsley on your plate next to the baked potato as you sat in a dim room, but that’s about it.

The American foodie scene has changed all that—and how. In addition to offering fresh, local food that is packed with flavor, modern restaurants pay much more attention to the whole eating experience, from the point of entry to the end of the meal. The holistic approach makes for a far more enjoyable, and interesting, dining experience, where you can’t help but admire and appreciate the effort that has gone into making sure that your meal is a wonderful time.

Aragosta, where we went for a fantastic meal last night, is at the top of the line when it comes to attention to detail. From the bright interior and huge windows that leave the dining room bathed in light and present a terrific view of Goose Cove, to the little touches like the delicate fresh flowers on the table, to the presentation of the excellent food on the plate, the chef and proprietors have thoughtfully considered every detail. And the plates themselves—shown here by photographs of two of our courses from our meal last night—are like individual works of art, featuring beautifully arranged rocks, mosses, shells, ferns, pine cones, white birch bark, and other accent pieces—all of it local. I’ve never been to Japan, but I expect that the experience of dining at Aragosta is a lot like eating in a fine Japanese restaurant.

I’m an old codger who has to resist reflexively thinking that things were better way back when. But I have no hesitation in saying that the experience of dining out in America has improved tremendously during my lifetime, and is light years better now than it was in the ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s. Aragosta is exhibit A in support of that conclusion.

Breaking In The Hikers

We did a fair amount of hiking last summer and really enjoyed it, and this summer we plan to do even more. But this time, we decided to go out and actually buy some legitimate hiking footwear to better deal with the rooty and rocky trails of Maine.

We visited the L.L. Bean store at Easton and were helped by a very knowledgeable staffer who is a hiker himself. (That’s a good reason to go to L.L. Bean for hiking and outdoor gear, in my view — you are helped by someone who knows what they are talking about from firsthand experience.) After assessing the various options and important qualities like weight, tread, and heat retention, I decided on the Oboz Sawtooth II low summerweight hikers. I also bought two pairs of the excellent, well-padded LL Bean socks.

Since then, I’ve been wearing the hikers around the neighborhood in order to break them in before using them on the trail, in hopes of avoiding unwanted blisters when we start hiking in earnest. The Oboz are heavier than my sneakers, obviously, but they are very comfortable and really hug your foot when you get them fully laced up. And the difference in the sole and tread, and the kind of grip you feel, is quite noticeable. So far, though, I’ve resisted the temptation to step in puddles just to test the waterproofing and have limited myself to tromping around on the sidewalks and streets, and the only climbing I’ve done is stepping up on curbs. Still, I think the breaking-in process is working pretty well.

Kish had to prod me a bit to buy the hikers, because I am a notorious cheapskate by nature. But I’m glad she prevailed on me to do it, because I think they will make the hikes more enjoyable, and having the shoes makes me think with pleasure of the approaching summer and the hiking to come.

“Advanced Toast Technology”

Yesterday morning our old toaster gave up the ghost. It had been a good toaster, faithfully performing every toasting service we required of it for years and delivering delightfully golden brown slices at our command, but yesterday morning the heating elements failed. I tried banging it around and plugging it into different electrical connections–in short, the standard actions of someone who has no earthly idea how to repair a toaster but figures it’s worth a shot–but neither of those pointless exercises had the desired effect. As a result, it was clear that we needed a new toaster.

This had a thrilling benefit: it gave us a reasonable excuse to get out of the house and buy a new toaster. Sure, we could have ordered one from Amazon and had it delivered to our doorstep within minutes, but as the shutdown period nears its one-year anniversary we’re looking for any reason to get out and about. So, we seized the opportunity presented by the dead toaster development to don our masks and head to the local Target and support the brick-and-mortar merchants who provide local jobs.

When we arrived at the Target, we were surprised to find an extensive toaster selection, shown below. Target not only featured the expected two-slice and four-slice options, but also toasters that offered significant and unexpected complexity in exchange for added cost. After careful deliberation befitting the significance of the decision, we grabbed the cheapest two-slice toaster–which even so promised “Advanced Toast Technology.”

The promise of “Advanced Toast Technology” concerned me, frankly. If you think about it, toasters have been a rock of reassuring stability in an ever-changing changing sea of technological advancements that has affected even the straightforward world of kitchen appliances. The toasters of the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s would perform perfectly well in a modern kitchen. Decades later, toasters still feature slots for the toast, heating coils, and a knob to be depressed to start the toasting process. No one needs a instruction manual to operate a toaster.

So when I opened our toaster and saw that it had a multi-page manual, it sent a chill down my spine. What unnecessary complexity has been injected into the tried-and-true toaster design? What new parts or elements have been added that might break down and interfere with the core toasting function? Fortunately, “advanced toast technology” turns out to be pretty basic stuff, befitting the timeless toaster functions: extra wide slots “to accommodate a variety of foods,” a removable crumb tray, “bagel & frozen options,” and seven (7!) toasting settings. I was grateful to find that there were no “smart appliance” features that require you to give your detailed personal information to toast a slice of bread. And our new toaster does a pretty good job of toasting, too.

All hail the timeless toaster, ever-immune to the confusing tides of pointless technological advancement!

Goliath

We’re constantly on the lookout for TV shows to binge watch during the never-ending shutdown period–especially when it’s snowy and frigid outside. On recommendations of friends, we just finished the three seasons of Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic lawyer. It’s an interesting show with some really well-drawn characters, but boy! It has got to be one of the most consistently shocking and disturbing American TV shows, ever.

Thornton plays Billy McBride, a once-successful lawyer who has crawled into a bottle after his legal work in a criminal case led to a very bad incident. McBride is a high-functioning alcoholic for the most part, though, and in each of the seasons he tackles a particular case–but it’s not really a courtroom drama show, although there are plenty of courtroom and law firm scenes. (As a lawyer, I simply adopt a willing suspension of disbelief when watching any show about the law and the workings of law firms because of the inability to portray legal work realistically, and any lawyers will need to do that with Goliath.) Much of the show involves deeply unsettling characters and situations: people with disfiguring burns, sexual predators, soullless defense contractors, people who use amputation as punishment and people with amputation fetishes, cold-blooded and crooked politicians, a brother and sister whose dysfunctional relationship involves playing suicide games, and of course Billy’s raging alcoholism and the never-ending issues it causes. It’s one sick, ongoing parade in Billy McBride’s dark little corner of the world.

It doesn’t make for bad TV, although you sometimes will want to cover your face with your hands and watch through the cracks between your fingers. Thornton is quite good as Billy McBride, but our favorite characters are his support team, which includes his daughter, his co-counsel, an escort who serves as his paralegal, and his indomitable legal secretary, who is capable of going through a storage unit of documents by herself to find helpful evidence. We particularly like Nina Arianda, who is just great as Patty Solis-Papagian, a realtor-solo practitioner who becomes Billy’s trusted co-counsel and who has to constantly tell people how to correctly pronounce her name. She’s shown at the far left in the photograph above. Patty’s wisecracks, and the glimpses we get of her family life, are hysterical and much-needed comic relief against the dark backdrop of the show.

We’re told there will be one more season of Goliath, and we’ll watch it with interest just to see what happens to Patty, Billy, and the other characters we’ve come to like. But we’re bracing ourselves already for another deep dive into the seamy, sick world that Billy inhabits.

The Narcos Shows

We’re always on the lookout for binge-watching options during the winter months. On the recommendation of a friend we watched Narcos, which tells the story of Pablo Escobar and the cocaine cartels in Colombia, and immediately were hooked. When we finished the three seasons of Narcos, we immediately turned to Narcos: Mexico, which follows the story of the early days of the Mexican marijuana and cocaine delivery cartels and centers on the brilliant and cold-blooded plotting of Miguel Felix Gallardo, wonderfully played by Diego Luna and shown above at right. Narcos: Mexico was at least equally good and maybe even better than Narcos, from a storyline standpoint, although it lacked the crazed, murderous, plot-driving charms of Wagner Moura, who is terrific as Pablo Escobar.

The Netflix cautionary language for the Narcos shows warns viewers that they should expect to see scenes of graphic violence, sex, nudity . . . and smoking. It amuses me that smoking is put up there with the blood and gore, but if characters smoking bothers you, you’re not going to like these shows, because the characters smoke a ridiculous amount of cigarettes, joints, and cigars. I guess if you’re always in danger of gunmen crashing into your homes and putting a bullet in your head, concerns about lung cancer aren’t at the forefront. And the warnings about violence are accurate, too. The Narcos shows are about as violent as you are going to get, with lots of characters going down in a hail of gunfire or being tortured to death. The shows clearly aren’t for the faint of heart.

But the overall stories — which so far as we can tell closely track historical reality — are riveting, fascinating stuff. The characters start off as good businessmen whose business just happens to be criminal enterprises, but inevitably greed, pride, and machismo turn them down increasingly dark, savage, evil paths, and characters who once seemed okay, apart from their criminal activities, are revealed to be ruthless, bloody psychopaths at their cores. And you’ll also marvel at the appalling dysfunction and overt corruption of the Colombian and Mexican governments and military and police forces of those historical eras, and the cowboy-like tactics of the DEA agents who are trying to stop the flow of drugs into the United States by attacking the cartels at their source. The acting is uniformly good, and the feel of historical reality is total.

It all makes for great television, so long as you don’t mind scenes of bloody shootouts and deadly beatings — and lots of smoking. We’re looking forward to the third season of Narcos: Mexico, when things are supposed to really get crazy.