Mad Men is back!


You probably think I'm mad to have posted that title. You'll say, but the long-awaited fifth season of Mad Men returned weeks ago! Nay, I say! Those first five episodes (six, really, because the first was a double) were an odd kind of prequel to the real return of Mad Men, which happened last night.

Seriously, a week ago I almost wrote an entry I was going to call "Mad Men and the circling fin." It was starting to feel as though the show had either jumped the shark or was dangerously close to doing so. I know it's heretical to say so, but then it was heretical to say that the emperor had no clothes until someone was brave enough to talk about what they actually saw. Fortunately, the script and performances last night put my fears to rest, at least for now.

By "prequel," I mean that the first five (or six) episodes were loaded with plot points that had to be taken care of. We had to show how it was now 1966—the real 1960s were in full swing. We had to establish Don and Megan's relationship. We had to show how washed up Roger is. We had to show how unhappy Pete is. We had to find a way to get rid of Greg and get Joan back in the office where she was much missed by all and sundry (especially us, the audience). We had to show how Peggy was more obsessed with her job than ever but perhaps was losing her edge. And somehow we had to deal with the fact that January Jones, who plays Betty Francis, was pregnant during the shooting.

There were certainly moments of the old brilliance mixed with the new reality of the times. I love the addition of Dawn, and I hope we get to see more of her life. I loved how Don used the teenage girl backstage at the Stones concert as a one-person focus group, trying to understand how young people think (so he can sell them something, of course). I wasn't sure about the addition of Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), but he has grown on me, and I see how he is an antidote to the obsession that is common at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. His story is becoming interesting, and I hope that goes further too. I love how Ken Cosgrove has his own antidote in his writing, despite Roger's warning. Scenes between Peggy and Dawn were brilliant, as has so often been the case when the scene involves two or more women. And Roger still had all the good lines.

But too much was not ringing true, for me at least. I realize that the relationship between Don and Megan is tempestuous, but I just have a hard time believing them together. And that whole Howard Johnson thing? The violence between them? It could be real, but it didn't feel that way. Pete, new father, married to a very pretty woman, starts going ballistic in the office and has a wandering eye in driving school for a young Scarlett Johansson (it's not her, of course, but the actor kind of looked like her). And he hisses at Don in the elevator, bitterly, that he has nothing. Maybe Pete is suffering from suburban angst, but it seems not to have come from the character organically. And can anyone figure out what's really up with Lane? Do we hate him or just feel sorry for him, as Joan does? And Peggy ripping the Heinz guy a new one, well, I know she's been under stress, but that just didn't seem like her. Then again, maybe Peggy has really lost her way.

One curious thing is that those scripts were all written or co-written by series creator Matthew Weiner. What the heck went wrong? He obviously knows what he's doing, but how did he lose the incredible sharpness and amazing character interactions that were hallmarks of the first four seasons?

And then along came episode seven, "At the Codfish Ball." I felt like Mad Men finally was back on track. And who wrote this brilliant script? Curiously again, not Matthew Weiner, but Jonathan Igla, whose only previous Mad Men writing credit was co-writing (with Weiner) the script for the final episode of the fourth season. The ensemble acting was sharp, the situations all too realistic—Megan's father's disappointment in her, Peggy's dilemma, the scene between her and her mother, and Roger's playfulness turning darker. I loved Roger's very adult conversation with his ex-wife Mona. I loved the scenes between Joan and Peggy. I was absolutely delighted when Megan's armchair Marxist father asked Pete what he does all day, and Pete brilliantly showed him just how it works. And the scene with the Heinz guy over dinner that really started with his wife hinting to Megan in the washroom—wow! Now that's what we expect from Mad Men.

One part of the season that has been good all the way through is bringing Sally into the story. Apparently, Sally is kind of a stand-in for Matthew Weiner himself. He is younger than she would have been. I would have been the same age as her at the same time. The season starts with her accidentally seeing her father and Megan in bed. We see that she is growing up and exploring what it means to be an adult. In this episode, she is secretly calling her former neighbour Glen, who is now in boarding school. And later, she gets all dressed up and attends the dinner at which Don gets an award. Roger, who has gone stag, says he will be her "date." He is the perfect date, charming and witty, treating her just enough as an adult to help her through the evening. But he is still Roger. When Sally opens a door she shouldn't have opened, you can see the disappointment in her face to discover her step-grandmother going down on Roger. And then, at the very end, in the quiet of the night when Glen asks Sally on the phone how Manhattan is, she answers with one very telling word.

I hope this episode was a sign of things to come. The next is written by Weiner again. I hope he is as much on track again as the show seems to be.


The soggy bottom girls

Sorry. Caught a bit of O Brother, Where Art Thou? a couple of nights ago. :)

OK, I'll start now.

This is Vancouver. It rains. We all know that. But I'm pretty sure this spring has been wetter than usual. It has most certainly been cooler than usual. The 30-year average high temperature for this time of year is 15°C. Today, we'll be lucky if we hit 12. It's been that way all spring.

This puts a serious crimp in spring fashion. The weather just isn't allowing anyone to wear the clothes that are out for spring! I see young women doing their best to ignore the cold and damp, but you can't go too far with that. Resistance is futile. Unless you run really hot or are determined to pretend you're not cold, you still need long sleeves, fuzzy tights, boots, and all the things that you thought would have been put away by now.

Sometimes I understand why Vancouver is such a fashion disaster—well, except for yogawear everywhere, which is just inappropriate. Our weather just does not encourage creative fashion choices! We have little excuse during the wet season (i.e., winter). We can always be stylish with warm outerwear, raincoats, tights, and boots. And I like that time of year. But when the wet season impinges on the short dry season, it's discouraging. Too much cool and damp is bad for the soul. Seriously, coming back from a week of wearing summer dresses in New Orleans (despite the two days of heavy rain) was depressing! This past weekend, I got lucky and was in San Francisco for the best two days of spring they've had. And again, coming home to below normal temperatures and persistent rain puts me into a funk.

I totally want to wear my light purple Mavi skinny stretch jeans! But they just don't go with a complete lack of sun. Neither would they look good splashed with rain and mud, and they are definitely wrong with boots. They pair well with neutral tops, but the weather isn't working for those either. Sad sad sad.

Sandals? Not unless you want to ruin them whilst freezing your toes. Dresses with bare legs? You're kidding, right? Light blazers? Too bloody cold!

Supposedly the temperature is supposed to ease its way up toward normal. If that happens, maybe the rain won't seem so bad. But a nicer spring and a real summer would certainly be welcome!

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? The light of hope, I guess.


Whirlwind trip

It wasn't the least efficient trip ever. I have actually driven for about eight hours round trip to see someone for three. This trip involved a couple of hours of driving, several hours of flying or waiting in airports, and several hours of sleep I'll never get back, but at least I did get to spend two full days in San Francisco.

I planned the trip originally to meet someone I've known online for many years but had never met in person. I have a pretty good track record of meeting online friends, and I hoped this would be another successful meetup. Alas, it was not to be. My friend C was travelling on business. Normally, his schedule doesn't change, but sometimes things come up. I had already booked the return flight, nonrefundable of course, when I learned that C_ was not going to be able to stay through Friday night. Still, he wasn't flying out until Friday evening, so I decided I would make the trip anyway. I booked myself a place to stay.

And then, his schedule changed again. His boss said he had to fly out on Thursday night, so I wouldn't see him at all. That was a blow. But I thought about it, and since I have two very good friends, A_ and S_ (who are a couple), in San Francisco who wanted me to visit, I decided to have the adventure anyway. I would also get to meet N_, another online friend.

So on Thursday afternoon, I packed a small bag. After class on Thursday night, I came home and got a total of about three hours sleep. I got up, put myself together, made coffee, finished the last bits of packing, and slipped out the door by around 2:30 a.m. At that hour, the border crossing is quick! I was at Bellingham Airport in plenty of time. It's about a half-hour hop in a prop plane to Seattle, then another hour and a half to two hours to San Francisco. I was at SFO by about 8:30. I took BART (rapid transit) to the stop near my hotel and had some breakfast. Then I went to the hotel, where I was allowed to store my suitcase.

Yep, only 45 bucks plus tax!
After that, first stop: shoes! DSW, to be precise. They have a new store in Union Square, farther up the hill than the old store. I spent a good two hours there. I was looking for some particular shoes—a pair of neutral ballet flats and replacements for my "good" flat sandals that finally reached the end of the line in New Orleans. After much looking and trying on, I found both of those for a good price.

I was also looking around in general, and the tri-coloured satin sandals caught my eye. I almost went for them, but I resisted. I did some more shopping around Union Square in the bright, warm sun. There was some kind of dance thing going on there at noon.

Since I'm thinking fashion even more than usual these days, I was in observation mode pretty much the whole time I was in San Francisco. One thing I noticed was that style didn't look a lot different than it does here. That's not surprising, since both cities have similar climates, or rather micro-climates. The weekend was unusually warm and sunny for this time of year, and days started and ended cool, so people sometimes weren't sure how to dress.

I saw more high heels than I do at home, both among business women and others. I saw a lot of wedge sandals. I saw a little more dressing up in general than I do at home, although given the fashion disaster that is Vancouver, that's not hard to achieve. I did see some similar styles, such as pairing a cute dress with low-heeled calf boots. The street style I saw was OK but not terribly impressive.

Much tastier than it looks!
I ate a healthy lunch at Bamboo Asia, a restaurant with an interesting concept. They have three stations—one Indian, one Japanese, and one Vietnamese. Each has several salads, several bowls, and something particular to that station—Indian wraps, Japanese sushi, and Vietnamese sandwiches. I went Indian and got a Lemon Paneer salad. The base was greens (mostly baby spinach) and other raw vegetables, on which were loaded cooked califlower, roasted peppers, and lots of tasty marinated paneer (fresh cheese cubes). It was delicious! Sorry for the half-eaten bowl. I didn't think of taking a photo until I was well into nomming.

I then went back to the hotel, where they allowed me to check in. Nap time! Unfortunately, I had stopped at Peets coffee, perhaps thinking I was still not going to be able to check in for a while. Or maybe it was just silliness. At any rate, I got a nap, but not a very good one. Then around 5, I met up with A_ and met N_ for the first time. She was great! We all wandered up Embarcadero, looking for a place to have a drink, but the bars along the water were all full. So we kept going up to North Beach (with a brief stop for me to change out of sandals that were not yet sufficiently broken in) to Church Key, my friends' favourite watering hole, where we met up with S_. There we were joined by one more friend, and I met the bartender/manager and several of the regulars. Fun evening! Church Key serves only beer, and they have some great pours from a huge list, some on tap, many in bottles. We had dinner just down the street at Tupelo, at which point I had hit the wall for drinking. I ambled home through the Friday night liveliness of North Beach.

I lurves me some baby goats!
On Saturday morning, A_ came by early, and we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. What a great market! This is California, so of course they already have things like beautiful strawberries and local asparagus. We wandered all over the market. Seems it was "goat day," so there were baby goats and lots of goat products, with samples. A_ bought food for the week. We also bought things for lunch: bread, two kinds of cheese (including some goat cheese), olives, almonds, and strawberries. We left the market via a large craft market where I got Sweetie some earrings.

We had planned to had back to A_ and S_'s house for our picnic, but S_ had to help his friend at the bar with a car issue, so we headed there for our picnic. We added some lamb sausage that S_ brought to the mix, and the manager poured some sour beer (not my fave, but went pretty well with the food). It was a thoroughly enjoyable lunch in great company. Then A_, S_, and I went back to their house to hang out. They have a great view of the bay looking toward Oakland and the Bay Bridge. I petted the kitties, watched the parrots fly overhead and squawk, and relaxed with special friends.

After a light supper that A_ made (from more market provisions), I wandered down the hill, though not quite toward my hotel. No, I veered off toward Union Square and DSW again, where I fell prey to those cute tri-coloured sandals. They were cheap, and I just plain wanted them. They will actually go very well with my favourite dress from Nicole Bridger, so it was not an entirely frivolous purchase. I went back to my hotel, talked with Sweetie on the phone, took a shower, packed, and crashed. I was up early on Sunday, did a bunch of flying, waiting, and driving, and I was home again.


Where in the world?

I found out that Foursquare, the "check in" service, cut off access to the creepy, stalky app called Girls Around Me. The fact that anyone could track women through their check-ins, with their location put on a map, was apparently too much for Foursquare. Bad for business, eh? Foursquare wants you to check in. It won't do to have anyone putting that to bad or dangerous use.

Of course, someone else will do something similar. Find a way to get that information regardless of what Foursquare or Facebook do to their API. The makers of Girls Around Me are already working on it.

I'm a fairly public person for someone who is in no way famous. I have this blog. I just added a Tumblr (more on that later). I'm on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and several services such as Last.fm. On all of those, some amount of my information is available. And if you try hard enough, you can Google me (I am happy to be largely sheltered by a more famous person).

I don't want to give up social networking. I find it too useful. Seriously useful, not just fun. I keep up with events, such as music and art shows, which I would never know about otherwise. I have contacts with people who check their Facebook mail but rarely their regular email. My band has a page. Ladies Rock Camp, for which I am volunteer coordinator this year, has a page. Facebook is a fact of life, my life anyway, and so are the other services to a greater or lesser extent. I have no wish to become a hermit.

And yet I never check in anywhere via either Foursquare or Facebook. I have never set up a Foursquare account. I have no wish to broadcast where I am. Why would I? I'm seriously appalled by the number of people who do this, especially women. You really want to tell everyone that you're at a club or a restaurant or an airport?

And as for people who post Facebook updates to "public," don't get me started!

Even with all my social network engagement, and even though Facebook is against privacy, I have learned as much as I can about keeping my information secure. Almost nothing of my Facebook page is visible to non-friends, and my Facebook friends are at least acquaintances whom I actually know in some way. Anyone can message me, but only friends of friends can request friendship. I set as much privacy as is practical in my Facebook settings. No one can check me in. People can tag me only with my permission. If they ever allow that face recognition thing in Canada (we don't have it right now), I will make sure to turn it off as soon as I am aware. I check privacy settings from time to time, since Facebook has a habit of making "negative-option" changes without telling anyone.

It's probably age. Even though I am far from being a Luddite, I am cautious about how I embrace any technology. I love all that stuff that's available to me now, but I don't just dive into it. I trust people I know. I am less trusting of people I don't know, especially if they want to make money from me. I care about my privacy. I don't want to be stalked. I want to control my own information as much as possible. You should see how many blockers I have running on my browser! I'm sure marketers would hate me if they knew.

It's ironic, I suppose, that I might be heading toward fashion merchandising. I might well end up in a job in which I would stalk any of you who are not as careful about your privacy as I am.



It's been a little over a week since I last washed my face—at least in a conventional way. No, my face is not dirty. The skin is clean, smooth, and in better shape than it's been in a long time. And my two cleansers, toner, and night cream sit untouched, while my day cream has gone down very little. What's the answer to this riddle?

I didn't used to have sensitive skin, but things can change as we get older, and they certainly did for me. I've had slight problems from a mild case of psoriasis for much of my life, but that was usually on my arms. I used to be able to get away with all kinds of abuse for my facial skin.

The first time I really knew my skin had changed was last spring when Sweetie and I were indulging ourselves at a spa in Tofino. The esthetician asked if my skin was sensitive, and I said no. This was not my first facial. So she proceeded with a pretty standard treatment. It was part way through the treatment that she realized that I was having some reaction to what she was using—not terrible, but not the most desirable. When we were done, she recommended some hideously expensive stuff from Comfort Zone. I have actually adopted one product, Skin Resonance Peeling, which is a very mild peel I use about once a week.

Still, no matter what I did, I had problems. I mostly used products from B. Kamins, a company based in Montreal. It's really nice stuff that I was introduced to several years ago. Their day cream is light. Their night cream is a little richer but not too heavy. When I switched from drugstore night cream to B. Kamins, that flaking on the left side of my nose, the result of cream build-up, went away. I was also using B. Kamins toner. And in an attempt to figure out what was going to be better for my skin, I would switch between B. Kamins vegetable cleanser and a cleanser from Neutrogena. All of that seemed OK and as mild as I could find, but I would still have small red spots on my forehead and a dry, red patch between my nose and left cheek that would not go away.

I read a feminist blog called Feministe. Every Sunday, they put up a "Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday" post. Anyone can post links to something they've written, usually but not always something with a feminist slant. A couple weeks ago, I followed a link to a blog post about using olive oil to cleanse the face from a blog called The Feminist Mystique. I thought it sounded a bit crazy, but I read through the post, and I understood what the writer was saying. And I thought, what do I have to lose? It can't hurt to try.

So I put aside both cleansers, the toner, and both moisturizers, as well as the eye makeup remover and makeup remover pads. I began the olive oil regimen. In the evening, I tie back my hair. I pour a small amount of extra virgin olive oil into my hand. I rub it over my face and massage it in. It's a sensual process, and I take my time. I make sure that any eye makeup (mostly waterproof mascara) gets dissolved. Once the oil is worked in, I wet a washcloth with very hot water, wring it out, and hold it against my face for 10 to 15 seconds. It's similar to what happens during a facial. I do that three times, once for the upper part of my face, once for the lower part of my face, and once for my neck. Then I rinse the cloth, gently wipe away any remaining oil from the surface, and pat my face dry. In the morning, I gently wipe my face with cool water.

I'm not going to say this regimen is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm not going to say that everyone should do this. But I will say that I no longer have red spots. The dry red patch is mostly gone. My skin is soft and smooth. It's not oily. I swear that even the sun damage shows less (although I'm not sure that is really possible).

I have to be careful about build-up in those troublesome areas on either side of my nose. I still occasionally use moisturizer before I put on makeup. Now that I know this works for me, I should find some castor oil to add a small amount to the olive oil (my aging skin is dry). I also need to use sunscreen, so sometimes I will do another cool water wipe later in the day.

I have not gone "poo-free." As long as my hair is colour-treated, which might be for a good long time, I will probably continue to use conventional shampoo and conditioner for colour-treated hair. I'm pretty sure washing with baking soda and water and especially conditioning with vinegar would not be kind to my semi-permanent red. But I will certainly continue using oil to clean my face. The results speak for themselves!


Something ventured

Last night, I started the Fashion Forecasting course. I had no idea what to expect, other than that I would be the oldest person in the class, but for some reason I was not nervous. I am better at taking new situations in stride than I used to be.

The class is quite large, 30-something people, at least at this point. Most of the students are, of course, young, or young-ish. There are three guys in the class. The instructor has seven years of experience teaching and designs and markets her own line of clothing (sustainable! locally made!), so she is well acquainted with both the design side and the merchandising side of the business.

In some ways, this class was completely new to me. I am taking it out of interest, not because I work in fashion retail (as several of the students do) or because I have a background of knowledge or even because I have business experience. I'm a poor old software developer with a love of fashion and a knack, I hope, for working on this side of the trade.

One interesting thing to learn right off the bat was that having a knack or an instinct is good, but that fashion forecasting can be learned. I mean, that only makes sense if there's a course called Fashion Forecasting. The main purpose of the course, in fact, is to help us build a "toolbox" of ways to be able to make our own forecasts. It's not hard science, but neither is it voodoo, although often it seems like that to those of us who are primarily consumers of fashion. I will be interested to learn just how it's done. I want to know how anyone decided that it was the right time to market brightly coloured jeans!

I learned other cool stuff. I didn't know that Zara is the epitome of "fast fashion," bringing knock-offs to market almost before a show is over. Apparently, they manufacture in Europe to be close to their markets. I didn't know that Forever 21 is the only company that has been sued, successfully, for paying below minimum wage to garment workers in the United States (the technicality they tried to use is that they contract a factory, not the workers themselves). Did you know that Lululemon Athletica was founded on the principles of Objectivism?

Even though for the most part the subject matter is new to me (being a regular reader of InStyle did not prepare me for this!), it's still school. I have a textbook to read. There will be quizzes. There will be group work and presentations. In many ways, I've been here before. As long as I'm interested enough in the subject, I can do school.

I wrote that this course is a "toe in the water." I have not yet committed to the certificate program. I know there are contraindications to my trying to go into fashion merchandising—my age and lack of background being the main ones. And I have to know that I will be in this for the long (but not too long) haul. But I am not going to be intimidated by kids who know the answers already. I've spent too much of my life being intimidated by things that I thought I couldn't handle. All that led to was settling. I can handle a lot more than I used to think I could. I'm a pretty smart cookie, and I'm here to learn whatever I don't know. I just have to make sure to apply myself and not get lazy.


Eco fashion runway

Vancouver Fashion Week for fall-winter happened when we were in New Orleans. After missing it last autumn, I had told myself that I would go to at least some event in the spring show. I must say, though, that a week in New Orleans was an excellent trade for fashion week.

Fortunately, all was not lost for the seasonal shows. Eco Fashion Week was yet to come. Eco Fashion Week is really where my heart lies. Things like sustainable fabrics and fair trade are very important to me. One of my favourite Vancouver designers is Nicole Bridger, who was at the forefront of the eco fashion movement.

I got in touch with a very stylish young friend who said she was psyched to go. I got tickets for Sweetie, my friend, and myself to the runway show at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

It was certainly an evening for a fall-winter show! After a colder than normal early spring, the weather had improved over the last few days. But not Wednesday evening—rain with a high temperature of about 10°C, if that. I wore not the sleeveless Nicole Bridger dress I had wanted to wear but a plum-coloured half-sleeve dress from her fall-winter 2011 line—with tights and a jacket. A tough night for fashionistas, especially since the show took place at the Robson Square ice rink. No ice, of course, and the rink is covered, but it's basically outdoors. Brrrr.

I wasn't taking notes (or texting or tweeting or whatever some people on the other side of the runway were doing), so we'll see if my memory is better for this than it was for details of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

First up was Indigenous of Santa Rose, California. Indigenous was showing tops, skirts, and some wonderful knit light outerwear, imported from Peru through a fair-trade arrangement and made with materials such as organic cotton and free-range Alpaca. The palette was fairly somber, sometimes with a splash of colour from a hat, but the designs were wonderful. There was one light grey cowl-neck sweater that definitely looked like me, and Sweetie found a light Alpaca cardigan that she coveted. We checked the samples in the adjacent shop and learned that their retail prices are quite reasonable. Unfortunately, no shop in Vancouver sells their clothes—yet. Fortunately, they do have an online store, and considering the prices, it might even be worth the cost for shipping and duty.

The second designer was called Kreati-ka. This was a whole different kind of collection—cocktail and evening dresses. Beautiful dresses! The colour palette was mostly dark, black with brown accents, but the black dresses were gorgeous, often featuring subtle patterns and inventive and very flattering cuts. And in the mix were a few dresses with a blend of colours that is hard to describe. It's like the colours flowed into each other. This was fancy wear, dresses we would love to have but would probably not have anywhere to wear them. We're not really part of the cocktail party and formal affair set. Still, I do lack a little black dress. Unfortunately, Kreati-ka is a private label out of Seattle. It might require some personal contact, and I can only imagine the price tag for that.

The final entry for our show was Canadian company Arm Candy. Arm Candy markets purses as well as shoes and accessories. This collection was from Nahui Ollin, which produces handbags and accessories from reused materials using a Mayan weaving technique. The products are produced under fair trade and sweatshop-free practices in Mexico, with money going directly to the weavers themselves. The materials used are things like candy and gum wrappers and pop bottle labels! Despite this, the company says the bags are durable. The bags were fantastic! Colourful and clever. Perhaps a bit more fun for summer than a match for somber fall-winter, but no matter. And in order to best feature the "arm candy," the models were dressed in simple dresses that seemed to be made of burlap. And they showed off the hobos, cross-body bags, shoulder bags, clutches, and change purses very effectively.

This was my friend's first fashion show. Sweetie and I had been to one before a few years back, but this was at a whole different level. And I really enjoyed it! We all did. Now I want more. I wish I had had more time to see more Eco Fashion Week shows, but it just wasn't possible.

At the close of the show, we were ushered out quickly so they could set up for the 7 o'clock show. We spent a little time looking over the samples, then headed out into the rain. Sweetie and I had not yet had supper, so we all headed to Dunn's Famous, which I had only recently heard about. They feature Montreal smoked meat, and I have to say it was perhaps the best I've had in Vancouver. Smoked meat here tends to be lean, and thus lacking a bit in flavour, but just like Schwartz's in Montreal and delis in New York, Dunn's Famous offers a choice of lean, medium, and fat. The medium was fantastic! Sweetie had hers in a traditional sandwich, while I opted for a Reuben. (My friend had eaten a small meal before the show, so she went virtuous with a Caesar salad.) We both bumped the fries up to a poutine, a small one that wasn't overwhelming but was quite tasty. Even the coleslaw and the pickle were good! This was great deli food. Our excellent server tried to tempt us with cheesecake, but that just wasn't going to happen this time. We are definitely going to have to visit again, but not too soon. Ain't nothin' diet here, honey!


Here there be dragon tattoos

Friday night, Sweetie and I watched the David Fincher version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. We've watched all three of the Swedish films. We've read all the books (more than once in Sweetie's case, as is her wont).

I have to admit that I came to the film needing to be convinced. I had loved the books (though not always Stieg Larsson's verbosity and obsession with detail). I loved the Swedish films of the books, the second a little less than the others, which corresponded to how I felt about the books. I loved the characterization. Noomi Rapace was totally Lisbeth Salander for me, both in how she looked and in how she behaved. I loved the other portrayals as well. Michael Nyqvist was an excellent Mikael—still handsome, but a little shopworn. Lena Endre as Erika was similar, and I thought they were good together. At the same time, I loved The Social Network, and lots of people had told me that Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was very good.

I thought it was very good, but I didn't like it as much as the Swedish version. I'm trying to figure out just why. For one thing, the opening of the American version almost put me off the film entirely. Cool video, cool version of "The Immigrant Song" sung by Karen O, but what did it have to do with the film? I thought it would have been a good opener for a sci-fi thriller. But that's not what The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is.

Fortunately, the opening credits really did not seem to have anything to do with the film. We got right into the story of Mikael losing the libel suit and Lisbeth doing a background check on him for Henrik Vanger. The story moved along well in its separate threads until Lisbeth and Mikael finally come together.

Casting was mostly solid. Rooney Mara truly looked the part of Lisbeth. Daniel Craig is a similar type to Michael Nyqvist. Robin Wright fit the look of Erika. Christopher Plummer was what I expected of Vanger. Stellan Skarsgard made a very good Martin Vanger. The only actor who for me did not fit the part was Goran Visnjic as Dragan Armansky—too young (in real life), too handsome. I also imagined Holger Palmgren to be older, as he was in the Swedish films.

Something seemed a little off to me though. With the Swedish version, I felt like I was seeing a good, reasonably accurate condensation of the book. It "felt" like the book. Here, I felt like I was seeing a somewhat different story. That's not necessarily bad. A film should not stick slavishly to the novel or short story on which it's based. Some things need to be changed for film. But even though this film pretty much told the story, I found some of the changes jarring.

One of them was not the changed ending (of one of the stories, not of the film). I didn't mind that, and I thought it worked just as well for the story as the original ending. There were other things, subtle things. One that struck me was how terrified Bjurman looked when Lisbeth confronted him in the elevator. As afraid as Bjurman was of Lisbeth releasing the evidence on him, he was really much more enraged than afraid. His pure hatred for Lisbeth for what she had done to him overcame his fear. So that felt like a false note. I also didn't like the part that Mikael's daughter played in solving the mystery, which differed from the original plot. Why was that done? If anything, that takes away from how we see Lisbeth.

And ultimately it's Lisbeth who is the heart of this story, and of any film of the story. I liked a lot about Mara's portrayal, or Fincher's direction, or perhaps both. But the main problem I think I sense is that the characterization of Lisbeth lacks subtlety. Rapace's Lisbeth is more enigmatic. You really can't quite figure her out, just as you can't in the book (for a long time). Mara got a lot of it right, but overall I think she made Lisbeth too...human. Too approachable. I love the Lisbeth of the book because she has this power to draw me in despite her weirdness. I love Rapace's Lisbeth for the same reason. But in the American's film, it's almost as if Fincher didn't trust his character or his audience. He wanted to be sure that we liked Lisbeth. In doing so, he took something away from her.

I think that comes out strongly in the relationship between her and Mikael. In the book and the Swedish film, they have sex (when she wants to) and work together. They never really get close, because Lisbeth really doesn't know how to get close—and really, neither does Mikael. They respect each other's work, Lisbeth somewhat reluctantly. She does indeed fall in love with Mikael, in her own way, but she never shows him. The closeness we see in the American film is out of character. That's why, in the book and the original film, it hurts so much when she realizes that things aren't as she had imagined them. They couldn't have been, because that was mostly in her head. Mikael never knew how Lisbeth felt about him because she had no idea how to show him. And, of course, she fell in love with the wrong person, someone who wasn't capable of reciprocating anyway.

Ultimately, Fincher's version is just a bit too Hollywood for me. Not as much as it might have been, but enough to take away from things I love about the story. I didn't groan like I did about the ridiculous changes that were made to The Help, but I was disappointed—disappointed that Fincher couldn't quite let a brilliant story tell itself. While I enjoyed his version, he has mostly made me want to see the Swedish version again.