Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Two Trumans

On Monday my Mom and I were dazzled by Philip Seymour Hoffman (the gentleman on the right) performing as Truman Capote (the fellow on the left), in the film "Capote," on the first of two pilgrimmages to upscale Scotsdale to see artsy movies. (The following day we returned, with my sister Deena, to see "Brokeback Mountain," which moved me to tears for the third time in two weeks...) Hoffman, long recognized as a brilliant actor, reached a new career peak by capturing this complex personnage, whose effeminate mannerisms and langorous southern pace masked guile and ambition as cold-blooded as the novel that made him famous. I was but a toddler with Capote achieved the heights of glory with 'In Cold Blood,' and by my teen years he was a caricature of a celebrity party person, a regular at Studio 54 with Liza, Rod, Mick, and Margaret (Trudeau, the first lady of Canada, whose New York partying binges with her pal Mick Jagger were that country's biggest embarrassment of that period). I hadn't realized that after the mid-60s publication of 'In Cold Blood', Capote never completed another novel. However, his editorial house did publish his last work, an incomplete novel called 'answered prayers,' which I did read and is gossipy, semi-autobiographical, and self-indulgent. I read it in French.

So, it's going to be a very close race for Best Actor Oscar between Hoffman's Capote and Heath Ledger's astounding turn as repressed gay ranch hand Ennis del Mar in 'Brokeback Mountain.'

Tonight is New Year's Eve. I'm making dinner for my family to ring in the New Year. Monday I'm headed to San Francisco to hang with my friend Carolyn for a day, and Tuesday I fly back to New York..

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Fahrenheit 10,000

Just returned from a two-day trip to Los Angeles with my nephew, Danny. We spent Thursday at Universal Studios in Hollywood, where we took the hour-long studio tour of the entire outdoor filming complex. This included the Bates Motel from Psycho, Whoville from the Grinch, a very realistic airplane wreck from War Of The Worlds, and Wisteria Street from Desperate Housewives. We saw instant flash floods, rainstorms, and earthquakes. We saw streets of rubber foam which, when filmed, look convincing as stand-ins for New York, London, or Paris. Bruce the Shark, from Jaws, reared his ugly head from a lagoon.

I had done this tour 14 years ago with Andres, but almost everything had changed - there have been a lot of movies made since 1991... Most of the attractions in the adjacent theme park were based on post-1991 Universal productions, including Jurassic Park, Shrek, Van Helsing, and Backdraft, Ron Howard's 1992 film about firefighters. The "Backdraft" show first explained how fire effects are created and how actors are able to safely perform amid raging blazes, exploding windows, doors bellowing fire, and burning, collapsing beams. But explaining is not the same as showing. In the final chamber, we were treated to a live, very frightening staging of a fire in a warehouse of chemicals.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Don We Now Our DVDs,
Tra La La... Tra La La... Tra-La-La

On Xmas eve my family & I switched on the DVD player and watched 'Galaxy Quest,' a 1999 film parodying the Star Trek phenomenon - cult fascination with a long-cancelled science-fiction program. It's a slight but amusing confection, a soufflé of a film. It concerns a band of aging TV actors that have been reduced to appearances at supermarkets and sci-fi conventions, when they are unexpectedly approached by aliens in distress, who unwittingly misinterpreted TV signals as 'historical documents.' As they get lassoed into a actual space adventure, it's amusing watching the actors cluelessly attempting the real thing - i.e., when the starship leaves base, its exterior gets badly dented and scratched on the way out... Essentially it's a 2.5 to 3 star film if you, as I, know and love Star Trek, and rather pointless if you don't..

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ho Ho Ho

File under Christmas-or-holiday-of-your-choice Cheer. See humor below.

But first, Quotes of the Day, both concerning 'Brokeback Mountain' and cultural attitudes toward gays:

1. One thing struck me as I watched it: This is what it must be like for gays to watch love and sex scenes in ordinary (i.e. heterosexual) American movies - physically alien but, at best, with an emotional universality anyone can understand.

2. All three performances of the year (Hoffman in Capote, Ledger in Brokeback, and Huffman in Transamerica) in different degrees are about gender crises and same-sex relationships. After 2005, the shaven-headed genie with the earring isn't going to go back into the bottle.

Some Humor:

From The Onion, my favorite feature, “What Do YOU Think?"

Question: “Apopohis, an asteroid that measures over a quarter of a mile wide, may be on course to hit the earth with the force of 100,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic blasts in the year 2036. What do you think?”

Answer 1: "Boy, that's a really long time to scream my head off in terror, but here goes..."
Answer 2: "I hear a mission is being planned to intercept and destroy the asteroid. All I can say is: Not with my tax dollars..."
Answer 3: "This sounds like something that would have to be co-managed by NASA and FEMA. God help us all."

Question: “The European Union is going to impose sanctions against member nations that cooperated with the U.S. CIA-run prisons. What do you think?”

Answer 1"Are they going around accusing people of torture? I mean, apparently we torture people who say that shit."
Answer 2: "It looks like maybe the CIA should return to its former purpose: toppling hostile governments. In this case, the EU."
Answer 3: "So suddenly the fatherland of S&M has a problem with torture?"

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

X Marks The Eve

I want to wish you all a happy Xmas eve, whatever your beliefs, traditions, and plans, from my family homestead in Arizona's Valley of the Sun.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Out In The West Texas
Town Of El Paso...

...I fell in love with a Mexican gal.... That was a #1 pop and country hit by Marty Robbins in my birth year, 1960. It's also a curious story song, since it is sung in first person, but the singer is killed in the end. I stopped in El Paso (pictured left top), stuck in West Texas' extreme corner, kind of in New Mexico's armpit... Draped around hills, the city has a decidedly Mexican flavor, a bit downscale, but the very adobe downtown historic center is charming.
Less charming was my inane inspiration to 'pop over' the Mexican border and check out Ciudad Juarez. Easy to get over, very hard to get back. The first obstacle is the total lack of useful signage, free-for-all drivers for whom lanes and traffic lights are just casual suggestions, clueless traffic cops. I kept going round and round, in circles, unable to find my way back, having to extricate myself with three point turns as dozens of angry Mexicans cursed the whore that bore me (their words, not mine... sorry, Mom). I finally found Avenida Juarez, which you can't get to through most cross streets, because.... it's actually a twenty-block line to cross the border into the US (pictured left, bottom), in which I sat for an hour and half, desperately needing to pee, and rueing the moment I thought this jaunt was a good idea. Ciudad Juarez' vivid colors, street vendor economy, and chaotic, downscale bustle might have been enjoyable under other circumstances. However, after 6 days driving our nation's ultra-efficient, well-signed and well-organized roads, it was a bit of a shock being thrown into the Mexican maelstrom. I am NOT counting this two hour waste of time as a 'foreign trip,' by the way... So, at 2pm, I sped like a bullet the 400 miles remaining to reach my family in greater Phoenix, Arizona, and arrived at 8:30pm, tired and cranky, and ready for a late night dinner. And that's my trip, folks. 2,457 miles of it...

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Adobe Afternoon

Yesterday I finally visited the realized dream of my friends Paul & Susan, who gave up lucrative NY wage slavery for the pastel-colored pleasures of life in New Mexico, crowned by the recent opening of their delightful bed & breakfast. Named 'The Old Church Road Bed & Breakfast,' the place is in two warm and expansive adobe buildings, with many spacious rooms all lovingly decorated with beautiful and colorful original artwork with a local theme. Highlights include a particularly lovely mural - is Rufino Tamayo a neighbor? - and a totem pole garden with a hearth.

Paul & Susan's inn is located in Corrales, New Mexico, easily the loveliest part of greater Albuquerque. Corrales unfolds in adobe splendor along route 448 along the still-young-and-thin Rio Grande. One traffic sign as you enter Corrales says it all:

"Drive Slow and See Our Village
Drive Fast and See Our Judge"

I did manage to get a speeding ticket for exceding their 30 miles/hour speed limit by about 8-9 miles/hour. But it'll be a $74 contribution to a worthy cause.

I'll post their website later on, I have the pamphlet in my glove compartment.

I spent last night in Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico, 150 miles south of Corrales, apparently so named because of the TV game show. from Wikipedia: "Originally called Hot Springs, it took the name of a popular radio program in 1950, when Truth or Consequences host Ralph Edwards announced that he would do the program from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Ralph Edwards came to the town during the first weekend of May for the next fifty years. "

Today: I finally finish my drive, just 400 miles or so to my family in Phoenix, with a quick detour to the West Texas town of El Paso...

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

600 Interstate Miles

Yesterday I rocketed across the flat Nebraska plain for 350 miles and then kitty-cornered into Colorado from the Northeast - 200 miles to Denver, and another 100 miles south to Pueblo (pictured left, presumably in summer.) This morning I woke up to beautiful Rocky Mountain views - all I saw of Colorado yesterday was its flat Northeast, Denver in a sunset traffic jam, and 100 miles of darkness to the South. I stopped in Sterling, Colorado, near Nebraska, for a late lunch of Chicken Fried Chicken - bread chicken, fried like steak, and drowned in delicious white gravy. It's not health food : - )

One disturbing note - 30 miles before Pueblo, at Colorado Springs, there was a sign on I-25 itself informing that the anti-gay group 'Focus on the Family - Visitor Center' was at the next exit. Don't these people have anything more meaningful to do with their lives than to wage a completely futile war against gay people?

Up today: 500-600 miles, but in two phases, bookend-ed around an early afternoon visit with my friends Paul & Susan in Corrales, New Mexico. I hope to finally arrive in Phoenix late Thursday...

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

wow, so NY transit did go on strike after all.. boy, am I glad I'm in Lincoln, Nebraska, on wheels... Don we now our gay apparel, fa la la, fa la la, fa-la-la...

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Happy Birthday, Bart!!!!

And That's About As Far As I Can Go...

Over the (surprisingly) rolling hills of Missouri and Kansas (I expected it to be... flatter), I was up yesterday at dawn's early crack, four hours rolling through I-70, which connects St Louis to the two Kansas Cities. To take advantage of 9 hours of daylight, there's not much time to do tourism. This trip is about seeing the landscape and feeling the vast distances. My main quirk yesterday was an off-interstate trip from Topeka, Kansas northwest to Lincoln, Nebraska - if this had been on an interstate, it would have taken 90 minutes. Instead, I cruised four hours through snow-covered bare trees and grazing cattle, picturesque towns of brick and wood, frozen-over rivers and creeks - this was truly a trip highlight. Kansas City appears to be a major railroad hub, and railroad crossings were in abundance through out my countryside Kansas-Nebraska trek. I'm now at the Marriott in Lincoln, which is actually a decent-sized city, but with only a dial-up connection. Now, I'm off to bed. Got in touch with my friend Paul, who I hope to visit - probably Wednesday - in Corrales, New Mexico.

ps - title of this post is a humorous line, sung by Granny, from the song 'Kansas City' in the musical Oklahoma.. you know, 'everything's up to date in Kansas City...'

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Gateway To The West

Yesterday evening. I reached St Louis, and have lovely view of the Gateway Arch (pictured left) from my 10th floor hotel window. That morning, I had woken up in Louisville, mosied 50 miles south to pay my respects to Abraham Lincoln's birthplace in Hodgenville, crossed the Ohio River into Indiana. En route, I passed Fort Knox, which actually is a military installation. Then, I shot across 120 miles of southern rural Indiana, followed by 120 miles of southern rural Illinois, and crossed the Mississippi via the Martin Luther King Bridge into downtown St Louis. By the riverfront is a wonderful district of restaurants and watering holes housed in restored turn-of-the-century warehouses and factories.

Things I passed in transit over the past few days:
1. Punxatawny, PA (Groundhog Day!)
2. Kent State University (Four dead in Oh-Hi-Oh)
3. Cayuhoga National Park (nothing spectactular, but the desingation does preserve pristine wilderness surrounded by northeast Ohio's industrial megalopolis.)
4. Abe Lincoln's boyhood home, ages 7-21, in Lincoln City, Indiana

Erik was right: southern Illinois is very southern indeed - right down to the accents.

Everywhere I go, a lot of poor-looking people appear to be purchasing way too many lottery tickets...

Today I'm off to Kansas City and points west. I expect to spend the night in Podunk, with no internet access.. But you never know...

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

OK, the Sanders museum's open only Mon-Fri... Next time I'm in Kentucky? : - ) btw, in the other corner of the state, in Corbin near the Tennessee border, is the perfectly restored original KFC restaurant, in beautiful wooden house...

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Edge Of Dixie

Greetings from Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River, which is also the Kentucky-Indiana border. Louisville is the home of Colonel Sanders (pictured left, whose museum I may or may not see this morning) and the Kentucky Derby. I've driven nearly 1,000 miles so far, and I suspect I'll drive far more than the 2,457 mile direct distance from New York to Phoenix. Even if there was a perfect diagonal (there isn't) or I always drove the absolute most direct way (I make small divergences), just stopping for food and gas and hotel would easily add a couple hundred miles if you add it up over a week. I suspect my odometer will pass the 3,000 mark as I approach my family's doorstep.

In the Civil War, Kentucky is one of three states that didn't secede, and fought on the Union side, but also had legal slavery. The others were Maryland and Delaware. That's why Lincoln was careful, in his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, to liberate only the slaves in the Confederacy. Since there was plenty of anti-Union sentiment in Maryland and Delaware already, Lincoln didn't want to tip the balance and be surrounded by enemies - that's also why he waited until the war's third year to emancipate. His hope was that slaves in Southern territory would rise up against their masters, hastening a Union victory. Didn't happen...

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

425 Miles Down, 2000 To Go....

Greetings from Cleveland, where I just spent the night after a long drive through ghostly, wintry, underpopulated Northern Pennsylvania - 320 miles of it - on route I-80. This morning - The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame (pictured left), then, on to Louisville. Also, must buy a new electric cord for my laptop - apparently left that back in Parsippany, NJ.

Happy belated birthday, Aunt Lorraine! She turned 75 yesterday, and I must call her this morning.

Also, it was 17 years ago today that I met my first boyfriend, Andres....

Cleveland is prettier than I expected. My hotel, and the Hall of Fame, both face Lake Erie, which I'm happy to say is still more blue than black...

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Hi, all. I left at 4 yesterday for the airport, rented the car at 5, drove west, and got as far as Parsippany, New Jersey, 50 miles west of NY, where at 7 I gave in to sleep, snow, and darkness. I slept 11 hours, and clearly needed to. Better safe than sorry. Today: I drive to Cleveland, about 7 hours...

Quote of the Day: from Roger Ebert on why 'Brokeback Mountain'is a great movie:

"The filmmakers have focused so intently and with such feeling on Jack and Ennis that the movie is as observant as work by Bergman. Strange but true: The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone. I can imagine someone weeping at this film, identifying with it, because he always wanted to stay in the Marines, or be an artist or a cabinetmaker."

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's not a race.. which is fortunate, since I planned to leave eight hours ago. Guess I will sleep in New Jersey tonight. Yes, it's Aaron, starring in 'Aaron Drives from New York to Phoenix....'

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It Seems To Hang On...

I can't stop thinking about 'Brokeback Mountain' - yesterday I bought and read the 32-page short story, and the screenwriters managed to be utterly faithful to it - incorporating its spare dialogue and structure - while fleshing out the edges and finding great visual equivalents in both the stunning scenery and the souls of the actors. Today: I, too, head west....

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cry Me A Mountain....

It's a movie you can think about for weeks, talk about for hours. So much is said in such quick but vivid brushstrokes. Last night I finally saw the beautiful, heartfelt, unflinching and devastating film that is "Brokeback Mountain." Seldom have I approached a movie with such high expectations and so much information, which the movie (happily) deflates and then grows into something different and rather amazing.. "Brokeback is concerned infinitely more with character-driven story-telling than sending any message, but achieves the same end by engaging and capturing you with a sad story of thwarted and forsaken love and dreams that feels very universal, but happens to be about two men who fall in love in an unaccepting time and place. As a gay man I was elated to see two men in love on a big screen, and while the sex content is economically and tastefully handled - it is sufficient to establish that we're talking about real, physical love that develops into a deep emotional bond. There's so much to say, and I don't want to spoil anything. Also, it's been said better by finer scribes that my modest self, so many incisive observations made with true poetry. We will have more to say in the weeks to come.

p.s. the beauty of both the actual Wyoming setting and of Alberta, where Brokeback was realy filmed, is no way exaggerated. I speak from experience.

Brokeback quote of the day, from Heath Ledger, who played Ennis: "It’s funny, they keep talking about how brave and how courageous it is and I keep saying, “No, it’s brave to be a firefighter, it’s courageous to be an NYPD officer.” I’m an actor; I’m observing, investigating and portraying a form of love and life. Believe me, I’m fine, I’m not hurt from it!"

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

And The Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day...

Back from South America, and my sleep-deprived head is pounding. On Thursday morning, I'm heading for the wild, wild west, lasoo-ing up a rental car and mosey-ing over to Phoenix, via Cleveland, St Louis, and whereever avoiding the snow drifts shall lead me... Unless I change my mind...

Tonight: Brokeback Mountain! I just can't wait.... I'm long overdue for a good cry... This film has blown away nearly everyone who's seen it... Hey, it's making me cry going into it : - ) In this respect it recalls a review of the 80s musical 'The Goodbye Girl', based on the film: "It's the show where you walk in humming the theme song..."

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Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm back. It's frigging cold here.... I can't wait to see Brokeback Mountain tomorrow with Fernando & Sunil - It's been sweeping the awards season, and won Best Picture and Best Director from the Los Angeles Critics, New York Critics, and Boston Critics, among many other accolades. It's the clear Oscar front-runner...

From The Onion, my favorite feature, “What Do YOU Think?"

Question: “Thousands of artifacts that have been taken from tombs around the world often make their way to prestigious museums. What do you think?”

Answer 1: "Well, it would certainly explain the recent upsurge in mummy-curse-related murders at the Met."
Answer 2: "That must be why Getty director Dr. Michael Brand was digging up my mom's corpse last week. It doesn’t explain why he was fucking it, though."
Answer 3: "Look, I'm a realist. I just don't believe in all this superstitious nonsense about 'archaeology' and 'museums.'"

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Imperialists? :-)

Fun Geography Fact at 5am - Puerto Rico has more people (3.9 million) than the world's remaining 36 'dependent territories' combined (3.6 million), making the US by far the world's largest contemporary 'colonial power.' Our 4.3 million 'subjects' represent 57% of the total population of non-independent lands. I'd say we were 'imperialists' except all that we support these people, bigtime, and they all have the much-coveted right to immigrate to the US proper. Besides PR, we have 5 other territories: Guam (168 thousand people), US Virgin Islands (108 thousand), North Mariana Islands (80 thousand), American Samoa (58 thousand), and poor little Johnston Atoll, which, with 368 inhabitants, has less people than the coop building I live in.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our Love

Were any of you lucky enough to see "Brokeback Mountain" premiere last night in NY, LA, and San Francisco? It hits
23 other US cities next Friday the 16th. I'm down here in sunny Argentina, but my heart is on screen with Heath and Jake, and behind the camera with my hero, Ang Lee, who's also brought us the amazing 'Ice Storm' and 'Wedding Banquet.'
I've longed my entire life to see a full-fledged cinematic love story between two men, not airbrushed, but searingly honest. It's also about intolerance, fear, and self-repression, which I did not escape myself, even being raised in the 1960s and 1970s. I just can't wait to see it.

Some reviewers comments:

"Brokeback Mountain is that rare thing, a big Hollywood weeper with a beautiful ache at its center. It's a modern-age Western that turns into a quietly revolutionary love story. " - EW

"Ang Lee's unmissable and unforgettable Brokeback Mountain hits you like a shot in the heart. It's a landmark film and a triumph for Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. " - Rolling Stone

"This film is determined to involve us in the naturalness and even inevitability of its epic, complicated love story." - LA Times

"Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. " - New York Times

"Brokeback Mountain is a tragedy because these men have found something that many people, of whatever sexual persuasion, never find - true love. And they can't do anything about it. " - Christian Science Monitor

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Dirt Star

Yesterday we visited Portobello, a fully automated tile factory in Tijucas, Santa Catarina State, 400 miles south of Sao Paulo, where stunning art is made from plain old dirt. Almost fully automated - there are 20 workers on the factory floor, and 40 engineers upstairs trying to invent fabulous new tile styles, imitating everything from Carrara marble to wood finishing so realistic you'd swear it gave you a splinter. We flew down to beautiful Florianopolis, a beach resort town on an island right off the coast, which was adorable, with dozens of coves, inlets, and a huge salt-water lake in the island's center. My colleague Steve couldn't resist a detour to show off his beach house - he fell in love with the place a few years back during an intensive Portuguese language seminar.

Portabello's website is 'macromedia' - too high tech to download images, but well worth visiting. But if you want to see a great page on tile manufacturing, with a flow chart and more pictures like the ones above, Takasago is good to go.

Sadly, I got back too late for another dinner party at Emerson's - I would have loved to meet more of his very cool friends and taste more of his boyfriend Milton's fabulous cooking.

Tonight I leave Sao Paulo and Brazil and head down to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to visit with Andres for two days. I'm flying home to NY Sunday night, hope it isn't snowed in....

Today is 'Brokeback Mountain' day - I just can't wait - Reviewers are nearly unanimous that it's unforgetable, hauntingly beautiful, devastating, and should make clear to anyone who sees it that gay love is just as real and powerful as any other human love. It got a perfect 100 score from the New York Times, LA Times, Rolling Stone, EW, San Francisco Chronicle, and Premiere, as well as less-liberal publications such as Wall Street Journal, USA Today, TV Guide. Tomorrow award season begins with the LA Critics Association - I am very hopeful..

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Conference being over, I slept 12 hours, and now feel like a seventh-day astronaut on Secanol. Somewhere I gained 3 pounds. Today I'm rushing to tiny Congonhas airport in the center of town, we're flying to Florianopolis in Santa Catarina, two states south of here, to tour a ceramics factory. I expect to be back for dinner, and will fill you in later...

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

From The Onion, my favorite feature, “What Do YOU Think? "

Question: “ Under an agreement with Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, the poor in Massachusetts will receive cheap heating oil this winter. What do you think?”

Answer 1: "Stupid Venezuelans! Don't they know the stuff's valuable?"
Answer 2: "Our government should accept it and then turn around and sell it at a huge profit. In your face, Venezuelan president! And the poor!"
Answer 3: "I think the poor should do the right thing and snub Chavez's offer."

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