Ruminating about ‘Roma’

The director Alfonso Cuarón in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, near where he grew up in Mexico City.

You’d think I’d fall in love with “Roma,” the film that’s earned critical praise and a slew of international prizes in the last year. After all, it’s a drama (my favorite genre) set in Mexico; written, produced and filmed by an acclaimed Mexican director; and featuring a Mixtec woman as lead actress.

Last week, at the Golden Globes Awards, the film won Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language and Alfonso Cuarón was named Best Director by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The honors didn’t surprise me, but my initial reaction to the film gave me pause. Why didn’t I gush over it the way I did “The Shape of Water,” a fantastical fairy tale about an assuming deaf-mute janitor and a sea creature being held in captivity? That, too, was written and directed by another accomplished Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, and I found it refreshingly uplifting.

I think a small part of the answer lies in watching “Roma” on the small screen at home (thank you, Netflix), which lessened the impact of the black-and-white wide-screen cinematography. A larger part, I think, stems from not having adequate context.

It wasn’t until after I’d read a couple of reviews that I even grasped the meaning of the movie’s title, let alone its autobiographical theme. The film is named for Colonia Roma, the well-to-do neighborhood in Mexico City where Cuarón grew up in a home with domestic help. The movie was filmed there with painstaking care given to recreating the 1970s era of his youth.

In the film, a young woman named Cleo works as a live-in maid and nanny for a family of five (plus a live-in grandmother) who take her for granted as she rises early to wake the kids; cooks, cleans and does mountains of laundry by hand; and helps the harried mother from unraveling while her doctor-husband is away at a conference.

Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, and it’s a marvelous thing to see an indigenous woman in a starring role. But it’s a slow-moving film — purposely slow — and while there are a couple of dramatic life-and-death scenes in a hospital and at an ocean resort, there’s no tidy resolution either.

But after learning more about Cuarón’s back story and taking into account some discussion about the technical aspects of the film by two leading movie critics, I think this is one film that I need to see again.

I’d like to think I’m not overly swayed by reviews, as I recognize that critics and the public often are at odds on what they consider a good film. In this case, these reviews in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and an interview with Cuarón himself, shed a lot more light on the director’s intentions in making “Roma.”

‘Roma’ lives up to lofty expectations with a beautiful, deliberate and ultimately moving portrait of domestic life – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

‘Roma’ Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s Masterpiece of Memory – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Mexico City as the Director of ‘Roma’ Remembers It (and Hears It) – Kirk Semple, The New York Times

Now the question is, when do I find time for a second viewing?

Photograph: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

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London stories: Hyde Park

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On my first weekend in London last summer, I visited Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

I had the best of intentions last summer when I returned from England to share my experiences in a series of posts I was going to call “London stories.”

I produced exactly one. And funny thing, it wasn’t even about London. It was about my day trip to Oxford, an hour outside the city, where I stumbled upon something called “Soapbox Science.”

Well, here goes Round 2. If I don’t give myself a kick in the arse, it’ll never get done. (Besides, this is a good way to start thinking ahead to July, when I’ll return to teach Media Literacy to a new group of students.)

So why not start with the same place where I literally began my visit last summer? That would be Hyde Park, a big and beautiful green space that I explored during my first weekend in the city.

If you’ve ever visited New York City’s Central Park, then you have an idea of Hyde Park. It’s a gathering place for Londoners of all ages and social classes — a living, breathing tapestry of people sharing a public space with room for everyone. With more than 600 acres of greenery, the park has multiple entrances and activities of all kinds.

On my Sunday afternoon visit, I saw skateboarders, bicyclists and joggers on the paved paths; tourists and residents out for a walk; young adults and couples sunning themselves or cooling off in the shade; families picnicking on blankets; and people of all kinds, in hijabs and baseball caps, renting canoes and paddle boats on a man-made lake. All of this, plus a view of central London in the distance, made for a very inviting, cosmopolitan feel.

I accessed the park from the south side, just across the street from the Royal Albert Hall, where Adele and The Beatles and so many other musicians have performed, and passed by the ostentatious Albert Memorial, named for Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband), right at the entrance.

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As I wandered through, I passed by a grassy area where performers with a Flying Trapeze School were giving lessons, and later spotted a huge sign listing live music and theater at the park. Paul Simon was scheduled that evening, a night after Bruno Mars and a week after Eric Clapton had performed. Damn!

For lack of time, I decided to forgo a visit to the far northeast corner of the park to see the famed Speakers’ Corner, where soapbox orators can pontificate to their heart’s delight. Instead I made my way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It was the liveliest area of the park, with parents joining their children in an ankle-deep circular stream of cooling water.

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From there, I walked along the north perimeter of the park, adjacent to the trendy Notting Hill neighborhood, and headed for the western part of the park, known as Kensington Gardens.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was still in Portland. Shaded trees, quiet paths shared by walkers and bicyclists, and a wonderfully relaxed vibe made me think of Laurelhurst Park in my own city. There are several markers and plaques describing the area’s history and wildlife, including foxes and Great Blue Herons, and I was pleasantly surprised by the park’s scenic lagoons.

Eventually, I made it to Kensington Palace in the southwest corner of the park. The elegant structure was the royal residence for nearly 150 years, from 1689 to 1837, before Buckingham Palace took over that role. Queen Victoria, the longest-serving British monarch during a 64-year reign that ended in 1901, was born here.

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Today it serves as the official residence of the young royals — William and Kate, Harry and Meghan. I balked at the admission price for a tour, especially as the day was winding down, and settled for a photo of the exterior.

I had begun the day by visiting two museums. After a long walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I was more than ready to head home and rest my feet. But as I did, I felt I had treated myself to the best possible introduction to this amazing city.

Viking Pavilion

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With my buddy Steve Beaven, formerly a reporter at The Oregonian and a writer for the Portland State University Foundation.

Portland State’s new Viking Pavilion opened in April with a lot of fanfare on the South Park Blocks — and now I can see why. The $52 million facility provides a new home for the university’s basketball and volleyball teams at the south end of campus.

The 3,000-seat arena has, at most, only about a third of the capacity of its two in-state sister institutions, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, which both play in the more prestigious Pacific 12 Conference.

But the smaller scale is a big part of the appeal of Portland State’s arena. Having been there twice now, I can say that the more intimate space makes it a fun place to watch a game.

Last night, I went with a friend and former work colleague, Steve Beaven, to see PSU play its last preseason game of the year against Cal State Bakersfield. A couple weeks earlier, I went on my own, as a respite from Finals Week, to see PSU take on its intercity rival, the University of Portland.

The Vikings lost a close one last night, 76-71, but easily defeated the U of P,  87-78.

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I sat in the general admission area for the first game and had a great view from the second-level seats. At the second game, it was an even better view from the reserved section, just two rows back from the floor at mid-court. The action is so much faster and the athleticism so much more apparent when you’re that close.

The venue itself is open and inviting, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. At one end of the arena, you can sit as if you were at a long bar counter and look out onto the action. At the other end, there is a reserved section for large groups. On either side, there are additional reserved sections that pass for suites. (Nobody was using them at last night’s game.  Not a surprise, given the low stakes of a non-conference game when students are off for the winter break.)

There are just two concession stands and a couple of places to get a beer or cider (yes, cider, this being Portland). There is also a display of exhibits featuring Hall of Fame athletes as you enter the building.

During halftime last night, I noticed a couple members of the coed stunt team join the line for a snack, something you definitely wouldn’t see at the Moda Center, where the NBA’s Trail Blazers play. That little vignette underscored my overall take of the Viking Pavilion — that the place has the cozy feel of a high school gym.

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I’d never attended a PSU game before now. There was little incentive last year, when the Vikings had to play their home games across town at Lewis and Clark College. Now I’m inclined to go back again.

With affordable prices, convenient parking on the street and entertaining basketball, what’s not to like?

 

Trivia for a good cause

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Members of The Young and The Restless team at trivia night. Clockwise from left: Tom, Richard, Elsa, Lori and George.

Weeknights can be pretty routine at home and pretty slow at most restaurants and bars. But schedule a trivia contest and everyone wins.

Tuesday night found us at a North Portland brewpub where we joined family and friends at a fundraiser for the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a Portland nonprofit that does research and analysis of tax, budget and economic issues affecting Oregon residents.

The event was billed as Economic Justice Trivia night, in partnership with Willamette Week’s annual Give!Guide and in keeping with the Center’s focus on support for policies advancing dequity and inclusion. We were there at the invitation of our daughter Simone, who serves on the OCPP board of directors. We, in turn, invited our friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney, and the four of us had a great evening.

How could we not?

The food and drinks were just fine. We made a new friend. The trivia contest was fun and educational. We showed our support for the Center with a donation. And, to top it off, Tom walked away with the evening’s top prize — a basketful of goodies that included a candy-filled mug and a year’s worth of free haircuts.

The event was held at the Lucky Labrador North Taproom, a spacious and well-lit brewpub in the Overlook neighborhood. I’d say about 60-70 people attended, including guests and OCPP staff, and about seven teams competed to answer two rounds of questions. Simone’s wife, Kyndall, was part of a team.

Naturally, the Guineys and Redes formed a team, too, and we called it The Young and The Restless. A friendly guy named Richard was sitting at our table. He joined in as our teammate and helped us come up with answers to a slew of questions involving Oregon tax policy, state and national politics, and elected officials.

For instance:

We knew that there are 90 seats in the Oregon Legislature, that Tina Kotek is the Oregon Speaker of the House, and that Val Hoyle is commissioner-elect of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. But we overestimated the minimum wage (it’s $12 an hour in the metro area) and we didn’t realize that the home mortgage deduction is the largest housing subsidy program in Oregon — not the Section 8 renter assistance program, as we assumed.

Not your everyday topics of conversation, right?

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We finished in a tie for third place, a respectable showing. More important, it felt good to support an organization that works for the common good in Salem; good to support Simone, who is leaving the board after 4 1/2 years of service; and good to make a new friend.

Turns out our teammate, Richard Gilliam, moved from Chicago to Oregon many years ago to work as an labor organizer. These days, he works in the construction industry,  mentors young men at Jefferson High School and three other Portland public schools, and volunteers on community issues and campaigns.

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Richard Gilliam brought warmth and wisdom (and an occasional right answer) to The Young and The Restless team.

We’re going to try to meet for coffee and learn more about each other. With any luck, we’ll make a stronger showing at the next trivia contest.

 

A date with my daughter

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With my wonderful daughter Simone.

Not to be all Grinchy about it, but I prefer to take holiday music in small doses — and the closer to Christmas Day the better.

But I made an exception this year, and for good reason. My daughter and I went out a week ago today to see LeAnn Rimes in concert at a casino north of Portland. I’ve always liked LeAnn from the first time I heard her as a teenager sounding like a young Patsy Cline.

I knew she was scheduled to perform at the Ilani Resort casino in Ridgefield, Washington. But I also knew Lori wouldn’t go with me on a Sunday night (she’s gotta get up really early to teach a Monday group fitness class). And, truth be told, I had my own hesitation because LeAnn was going to perform a set of Christmas-themed songs.

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Ilani Resort, located off Interstate 5, is owned by the Cowlitz Tribe of SW Washington in partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

But when Simone — out of the blue and much to my delight — asked if I wanted to go to the concert, I jumped at the opportunity. First and foremost, spending time with my grown-up girl is always a delight. Secondly, I’d never been to the casino in the nearly two years since it opened 25 miles north of Portland. And, thirdly, I’d get my chance to see a favorite artist in concert, even if it wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined it.

Turns out I hit the jackpot on all three counts.

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Dad and daughter at home, with our pink pencil Christmas tree.

***

The evening began with a scrumptious dinner at Longhouse, one of 10 restaurants on site at the casino. Ilani made a decision to break from the norm by not offering the all-you-can-eat buffet that is standard at other casinos. As a result, you can pick from several restaurants ranging from budget to fancy, offering steaks, seafood, Asian, Italian or Northwest cuisine, all situated on the perimeter of the gambling floor.

We chose Longhouse, a sleek place that provided us with two seats at the counter where we could watch the chef fill steaming bowls and tantalizing dishes of Japanese food. We opted for hoisin wings, shrimp shumai, a rainbow sushi roll, and a sunomono salad. All of it was so good.

The concert was fun. We joined hundreds of others in a huge ballroom where chairs were arranged in rows just as if you were attending a conference. No risers, no V.I.P. section, no balcony. Just rows from front to back, filled with people who looked like they’d turned out for an AARP gathering. Not kidding, but the median age appeared to be 70.

Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that casinos draw an older crowd. And with this being a Sunday night, anyone who had to get up early for work the next day would have had to take that into account.

We were about 20 rows from the stage with a good view of LeAnn, trim and dressed in white, and her three-piece band. They rocked it for more than an hour, mostly performing holiday songs as advertised. Imagine electrified versions of  “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”  and “Angels We Have Heard on High” among others. But she also delivered a few of her hits, too, transitioning from “Blue Christmas” to “Blue,” the title track of her debut album, while the stage lights were cleverly turned to blue.

She also worked in “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” and “How Do I Live” and “One Way Ticket.” If I had my way, she would have done a couple of Patsy Cline covers, too — “Crazy” and “I Fall To Pieces.”

Now 36, LeAnn still has the same powerful voice that caught my ear in the late ’90s and a comfortable stage presence that reflects years of performing since she was a child. When she invited the crowd to join her in singing a verse or two of one song, I was happy to see Simone jump right in. One of my fond memories as a father is seeing her perform with choral groups in middle school, high school and college, as well as with a couple of mixed-age community groups based in the Portland area.

***

After the concert,  we headed to the slot machines. A surreal experience, for sure, with gaudy artificial lights, rows upon rows of machines, and lots of wishful thinkers chasing their dreams of a big payout.

I took out four one-dollar bills and we lost. I took out two five-dollar bills and we lost.  Never seen $14 vanish that quickly — well, not all of it.

Simone cashed in her winnings — 45 cents — and we called it a night. I pocketed my take — two nickels — and as we drove back home to Portland, I was a happy man. Had a great meal, got a chance to gamble, saw a talented singer and, best of all, spent time with my daughter.

Holiday music never sounded so good.

 

 

 

 

Timberrrrs!!

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With handmade banners, incessant drumming and non-stop cheering, the Timbers Army section is as much a focal point as the game itself.

In all my years living here, somehow it took until last night to finally attend a Portland Timbers soccer match.

The experience was all I expected. Fans of all ages decked out in green-and-gold Timbers gear; a rowdy Timbers Army section that led the stadium in a non-stop stream of songs, chants and occasional profanities; and great action on the pitch.

Before the game, you could enjoy traditional Irish bagpipe music and, a few feet away, be amused by a Bible thumper who evidently thought it would be a good idea to proselytize outside the entrance to Providence Park. (Dude, these folks were headed to a sports event, not church.)

Even with long lines for food and drink and even longer lines to the bathroom, the whole atmosphere was upbeat, and I felt a nice buzz in this place that calls itself “Soccer City USA.”

On the field, the Timbers were dominant from start to finish against their regional arch-rival, the Seattle Sounders. They took far more shots on goal, had far more corner kicks, controlled possession of the ball — and still lost.

The Sounders, focused on defense all night and committing lots of fouls, squeaked out a 1-0 win when a ball deflected off the heel of a Timber defender and found the net late in the game. That “own goal” added to Portland’s losing streak, which now sits at four games.

It’s a shame because the Timbers thoroughly outplayed their opponents. All evening, I could sense the pent-up energy, knowing we were one play away from the entire stadium erupting in celebration. But a goal by the home team never came.

In all my years in Portland, I’ve seen the Trail Blazers, Winterhawks, Ducks, Beavers, Pilots and Thorns. And now, thanks to my friend and former co-worker Mike Francis, I can add the Timbers to that list.

***

Mike and I go way back in journalism. Way back as in to the late ’70s, when I was a young reporter at The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, and Mike was a sports intern. We both wound up at The Oregonian, we both left the newspaper business, and now we’re both working in higher education.

Mike’s just begun a job as assistant director of communications at Pacific University in Forest Grove while I’m teaching undergraduate courses at two campuses in the Portland area.

We’ve always shared a love of baseball, but lucky for me that Mike is a big soccer fan, too. He provided a ticket and a game-day scarf along with running commentary that helped me sort out the players and understand much of what I was seeing, including a nice tradition of waving your scarf during the National Anthem.

I plan to repay the favor at a Blazers game this season. It’s a different fan experience, for sure, one that’s curated by the franchise itself as opposed to the fan-driven spectacle created by the Timbers Army.  Very cool to be part of the latter, even if just for one night.

London stories: Soapbox science

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With a student volunteer at her side, Dr. Haley Mountford leads her audience through a facial recognition exercise.

The esteemed discipline of science has taken quite a battering in the United States on topics ranging from vaccines to climate change. So I was pleasantly surprised to come upon a very cool outdoor educational activity when I was roaming the streets of Oxford on my last weekend in the United Kingdom.

There on a soapbox was a tall, slender woman in a white lab coat imploring us spectators to come closer so we could better hear the presentation she was about to give on facial recognition.

Her name was Dr. Hayley Mountford and she was one of several professors who were participating in the UK’s Soapbox Science, a national initiative to bring science to the masses through a grassroots outreach program.

Eight other scientists, all women, were giving presentations simultaneously in the public square just outside a modern shopping mall.

As a student volunteer flipped through pages of photographs, Dr. Mountford encouraged us to think about which aspects of a person’s face would lead us to recognize that same person in a photograph of them at a younger age. Was it the eyes? Mouth? Nose? Eyebrows? The shape of the head?

She started out with some easily recognizable celebrities, like Beyonce and Justin Bieber, but then moved on to less well known individuals, such as Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper on England’s World Cup soccer team.

And in a nice show of humor, she showed herself in a grade school portrait.

But then she talked about the science of face recognition and told us of law enforcement professionals who specialize in this sort of thing. They become so skilled that they are able to positively identify crime suspects from those grainy images captured on video cameras in banks, grocery stores and elsewhere.

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Dr. Hayley Mountford laughs at her grade-school portrait.

It was a fun, educational science lesson that lasted 15 minutes and I had two takeaways from the experience.

1. What an ingenious way of engaging the public.

Soapbox Science, now in its 8th year, not only takes science to the people, but it also aims to raise the visibility of women in science.

According to the Soapbox Science web site: “We place inspirational speakers on soapboxes and encourage them to engage in and start conversations with the public about their work.”

2.  How lucky I was to stumble upon this activity.

The organizers scheduled 18 of these events in the UK and Ireland this summer. The only one scheduled in Oxford was Saturday, July 28th, from 1 to 4 pm. That was the day I visited and that three-hour time block was precisely when I happened to walk by. Had I passed by earlier or been in another part of the city, I would have missed this entirely.

I’m wondering now if this soapbox idea might work with other professions or audiences. Could it possibly be a way for journalists to talk about their professional code of ethics? Could it be a way for educators to introduce simple math? Or maybe a way for English as a Second Language instructors to do some show-and-tell with vocabulary?

What are your thoughts?

***

This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts reflecting on my recent teaching and tourism experiences in London. I welcome your feedback on Facebook, but I especially appreciate it when people leave their comments at the end of these posts.  — .G.R.

Dazzling day in Tracktown USA

Former prep athletes George and Eric enjoy the action at Historic Hayward Field.

So there we were, sitting side by side in the West Grandstand at Historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.

On my left, Eric Wilcox, a former school record holder in the javelin at The Dalles High School in Oregon. And myself, a former All-League cross country runner at Washington High School in northern California.

We’d come down from Portland for the afternoon to take in Day One of the NCAA Track & Field Championships, a four-day competition featuring the most accomplished athletes in Division I.

Eric is an architect and works for a Portland firm that is working with the university on a massive project to turn Hayward Field into a world-class track and field stadium by 2020. Check out the project here.

Eric snagged the tickets, which put us in a prime viewing spot for the 12 running events held on the first day of the meet. Except for the finals of the 10,000 meter run, all of the events were preliminaries, so we saw multiple heats of each event stretching out from about 4:30 pm to 10 pm.

We also saw preliminary and final competitions for each of the five field events, including Eric’s specialty. All the events featured men. Tonight’s preliminaries feature the women. Finals will be held Friday and Saturday and the size  of the crowd will grow quite a bit for those two days.

To say I was excited for this event is a huge understatement. Aside from attending the first two games of the 1990 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants (yes, the one disrupted by the earthquake), this was the most prestigious athletic competition I’d ever attended.

And because it involved student-athletes rather than veteran professionals in a sport I’d actually competed in myself, it was all the more satisfying.

 

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Quick aside: On the drive down, Eric told me he broke the school record in the javelin as a senior, only to have the very next competitor at the same meet throw the stick even farther. Turns out he held the school record for about five minutes!

As for me, I’d run a 4:38 mile as a junior (a decent time, but not good enough to land me on the varsity) but discovered I did even better at longer distance. As a senior at the league championship meet, I covered the 3-mile cross country course in 15:22, averaging 5:07 per mile, and finished ninth. The top 10 finishers were deemed All-League and our school won the league title.

***

We arrived in Tracktown USA (aka Eugene, Oregon) on a spectacular Wednesday afternoon — warm, dry, blue skies and a faint breeze — and walked into a scene that took me back to the days of regional high school competitions and weekend invitationals.

Only this time I was mingling with college athletes, coaches, family members and other supporters from across the United States. Wherever we went — whether to find our seats, grab a snack or just stroll the grounds — we found ourselves in a sea of Cougars, Trojans, Badgers, Spartans, Hawkeyes, Aggies and more.

T-shirts, baseball caps, backpacks, school flags and other logo-branded items made clear the diversity of institutions: Nebraska, Houston, Cornell, Columbia, Grand Canyon University, BYU, Stanford, Baylor, Coppin State, etc.

The competition itself was amazing — in fact, inspiring. We had great seats near the finish line with a clear view of what Eric described as a three-ring circus: a running event taking place in front of us at the same time that athletes were scattered across the field — long jumpers on near side, pole vaulters on the far side, and shot-putters and javelin thrower in between.

I’ll save some of the details for the photo captions, but let me just say the two biggest highlights were these:

  • Watching Ben Flanagan, a University of Michigan senior, sprint like hell on the last straightaway to catch and pass a Kenyan-born Alabama runner in the 10,000 meter run.
  • Seeing the sheer delight of Denzel Comententia, a University of Georgia junior, after he’d accomplished a rarity — winning two weights events (not just one) in the hammer throw and shot put. The big man bounded joyfully across the field as if he were a Little League player who’d just hit a winning home run.

 

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The dedication and skill of these athletes is something to behold. Whether sprinting, hurdling, running a relay race or competing in the jumps or weights, each of them has found time to be a genuine scholar-athlete on their campus. How rewarding to come to the Northwest and test themselves against their peers, many of whom no doubt will be future Olympians.

I would love to come back to attend the Finals come day. Or maybe the Olympic Trials. Or maybe an international event, once that new stadium is built in 2020.

James Taylor in Portland

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James Taylor delighted fans by playing more than two dozen songs during a two-hour show in Portland on June 5.

For my generation, there is perhaps no singer-songwriter with a more recognizable voice and style of guitar playing than James Taylor.

From the time he released his self-titled debut album in 1968 to the present, Taylor has cranked out an amazing body of work, including 17 studio albums, 6 compilation albums and 5 live albums. In the early ’70s, his music was like a soundtrack to my life with four stellar albums released during my college years alone.

JT turned 70 earlier this year and he’s still touring. Lucky for me.

I was among the thousands who filled the Moda Center Tuesday night for a two-hour show by Taylor and his All-Star Band. Believe me, it was great. His voice still sounds smooth after all these years, and he hasn’t lost a thing in producing beautiful melodies from his acoustic guitar.

With a songbook full of hits spanning six decades, Taylor had no shortage of material — and he chose wisely.

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Sprinkled among his greatest hits, James Taylor provided little surprises, like his version of  Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour.”

He opened the concert with “Carolina On My Mind” (one of my favorites) and “Country Road” and then weaved all over, selecting lesser-known songs of his own about a dog and a pig (“Sunny Skies” and “Mona”) and familiar covers of songs made popular in the ’50s and ’60s (“(I’m A) Road Runner,” “Up On The Roof,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Handy Man”).

The set list, consisting of about 26 songs, included ballads like “Don’t Let Me Lonely Tonight” and a version of the bluesy “Nothing Like a Hundred Miles,” a collaboration by Ray Charles and B.B. King.

Taylor closed his first set with the upbeat “Mexico,” then spent the entire 20-minute intermission just off the stage, signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans. I got the feeling that he really does appreciate his fans, and that he’s probably a pretty chill dude when he’s not on the road.

JT began the second set with “Something In The Way She Moves” (such a lovely song) and went on to perform his biggest hits. “Sweet Baby James” (written for his brother’s newborn son) and “Fire and Rain” came back to back. “Shower The People” (another of my favorites) blew me away, with the fabulous background vocalist Arnold McCuller stepping up to own the last stanza (“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel.”).

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James Taylor and His All-Star Band perform “Shower The People.”

His three-song encore was amazing: “Shed A Little Light” (with its inspiring reference to Martin Luther King), a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” and, what else, Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.”

***

A handful of odds ‘n’ ends:

— This was the second time I’d seen James Taylor, but it sure seemed like the first because I have no recollection of the earlier one.

In the days leading up to this concert, Lori insisted that we’d seen Taylor way back in the days before we became parents. We’d seen him at the Oregon State Fairgrounds when we lived in Salem, she said,  adding that we even went with our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t remember seeing JT live, but last weekend Tom confirmed that it was true. So, yeah, I was wrong — and I still can’t explain the memory lapse.

— Tuesday’s concert originally was going to feature Bonnie Raitt, too, but she canceled plans to tour with Taylor because of an unspecified health issue. Early into the first set, Taylor asked the audience to stand for a “get well” photo that he promised would be texted to her. Would have loved to see Bonnie again.

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A view looking out toward the Moda Center crowd, with a photo (at left) of James Taylor with Bonnie Raitt.

— En route to the concert, I was struck by the sight of so many older people on the city sidewalks — graying, bald and many moving slowly — all headed in the same direction.  Looked like they were headed to an AARP convention. That’s when I realized I was looking at my generational peers and fellow JT fans. Yikes.

— Considering his catalog of material, it would have been easy for Taylor to just come out and play his hits with no variation from the original arrangements. But he kept things fresh and interesting by fully involving his 7-piece band — including saxophone, trumpet and congas — and 3 backup singers. I would think doing that is essential if you’re going to deliver night after night, year after year, in city after city. The current tour began May 8 in Florida and continues tonight in Seattle.

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A colorful background for the song “Mexico.”

— Like so many shows these days, this one featured multimedia images from beginning to end, with an array of video clips, photos, changing colors, snippets of lyrics and more complementing the music. I found it distracting at times, but I did appreciate JT’s recorded voice at the start of the show proclaiming, “I don’t animate a character. I don’t present a version of myself. I present myself.”

That he did.

RBG: A woman to celebrate

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I wasn’t expecting much when I settled into my seat yesterday to see “RBG.”

Sure, I’d heard of this movie about Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and, lately, an internet phenomenon. I knew the film took a look at the life and work of a brilliant legal scholar. What I didn’t realize is how deftly the filmmakers would tie together so much rich material — from archival footage, Congressional testimony, news stories, TV clips, internet memes and interviews — to present a compelling portrait of a woman who has arguably done as much for women’s rights as the late Thurgood Marshall did for civil rights for black Americans.

In a word, Ruth Bager Ginsburg is a powerhouse.

Quiet by nature and tiny in stature, she has been tireless and fearless in using the law to champion the cause of equal opportunity for women. The film touches on a handful of cases she successfully argued before the nation’s highest court to help extend equity to females in the workplace.

While those accomplishments are extraordinary, it’s the personal side of the now 85-year-old justice that makes this movie so endearing. Through interviews with her late husband Marty, their daughter and son, and a host of other friends and professional colleagues, we get a picture of a shy but determined woman who overcame sex discrimination herself in pursuing a legal career when women were actively discouraged from doing so.

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We admire Ginsburg’s resolve and focus as a young mother and wife in law school, caring for her cancer-stricken husband (who is also a law student), raising their newborn daughter, and somehow still finding time to keep up her own studies.

We come to realize that resolve and focus are lifelong attributes, that she personifies an only-in-America success story as a Brooklyn-born  daughter of immigrants who was educated at Cornell, Columbia and Harvard and taught at Rutgers and Columbia law schools on her way to being named to the federal bench.

(It was President Bill Clinton who named her to the Supreme Court in 1993, making her the second-longest serving justice on the current court.)

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 At 85, Justice Ginsburg has  become an intergenerational heroine and pop culture icon.

But more than a sterling legal career, we see different sides of Ginsburg: an opera lover who is witty and warm; able to become good friends with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, an arch-conservative who was her opposite in temperament and personality; able to shrug off falling asleep at a State of the Union address; and able to laugh at a parody of her on Saturday Night Live.

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Lori and I recently saw “Marshall,” a biographical film about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. While it was entertaining and educational and Chadwick Boseman was solid in his portrayal of Marshall, “RBG” has the added plus of presenting the real, live Ginsburg in her own words.

She, like Marshall before her, is a national treasure. Go see this film and you’ll come away with profound respect for a woman who’s left a towering legacy that benefits our daughters and our granddaughters.