Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Spooktacular" Third Annual Habitat for Humanity 50K Bicycle Ride

I missed it last year, but two years ago, I attended the first of what has become an annual bicycle ride to raise funds for the local Durham Habitat for Humanity. The entry fee is $25 and one can ride 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) or twice that distance. Both times, I enjoyed the 50k ride.

I was originally planning on riding with four friends, but the forecast was for rain till 10a, and the ride was starting, rain or shine, at 9. All but one decided not to ride, and I was not expecting to ride, either. But the weather turned out to be sunny, though windy. I couldn't hook up with the one friend, so did this ride by myself, though I met some very nice folks. The weather proved to be lovely - in the 60s but with some wind toward the end (I must have pulled in around noon), at times reaching around 20mph!

The route was scenic and not very difficult, with just a few short hills. Next year, I hope that my wife (away at the moment) and I can do this ride on our tandem we hope to have before spring.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Play "Los empeños de una casa" ("House of Desires", Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1683)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was apparently a writer in Spain's "Golden Age" and I quite happened on this performance at Duke University of her play that literally translates to Trials of a Noble House. Somehow it was below my radar (but shouldn't have been!), but a friend had a ticket and invited me. Directed by Rafael Lopez-Barrantes (my friend's friend), Senior Lecturing Fellow in the Department of Theater Studies, the actors were all students. They did a superb job and I was very surprised in the post-performance discussion to hear how quickly they learned their parts - their performance seemed quite professional!

It was a delighful romp of a comedy that garnered a strong review by the local entertainment paper, The Independent Weekly. The inclined set design (credit to Amir Ofek) was amazing, with actors treading on what seemed like a big piece of parchment with "nonsense" words. The story itself was a romantic comedy of errors. One of the audience members turned out to be a local representative of the Mexican embassy, and she said in the post-performance discussion that the English translation and this production was surprisingly true to the original!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Film Mississippi Masala (Mira Nair, 1991)

I saw Mississippi Masala when it first came out in 1991 and enjoyed this unique tale of a family of Indian background living in Uganda. Just back from a lovely short vacation in Italy last night, I found this film playing tonight as part of a Women in the Americas film series through Duke University's Screen Society.

In the film, the family is portrayed as having been in Uganda for decades and considering it home - many Indians had been brought by the British during colonial times. Their daughter, Meena (Sarita Choudhury), was born in Uganda. During Idi Amin's rule (1971-1979), "foreigners" were harrassed and, after a dream in which he claimed that God commanded him, on August 4, 1972 Amin ordered the tens of thousands of Asians in Uganda to leave within ninety days.

The film, comfortably paced, shows the family's leaving their beloved home and settling into hotel and alcohol businesses in small-town Greenwood, Mississippi. The father, Jay (Roshan Seth), is heart-broken and, a lawyer himself, obsessively writes to the Uganda government demanding restitution. Jay's wife Kinnu (Sharmila Tagore, along with other actors in the film having a long and well-established career, such as playing leading roles in Satyajit Ray films like Devi from 1960 and Apur Sansar from 1959) is shown with a calm and pragmatic disposition, urging Jay to make the best of their new life.

Meena literally runs into the handsome Demetrius Williams (a young Denzel Washington) in a minor car accident. On a second chance encouter, they begin to develop interests in each other. Their innocent attraction raises racial tensions, resulting in implications to Demetrius' heretofore successful rug-cleaning business and feelings of honor in both families.

Though I didn't enjoy seeing the film as much the second time around, it's a winner with a great cast. The music is good (I bought the soundtrack soon after seeing it the first time), with Indian, African, Blues, and early rap-oriented tunes. Mira Nair is a fabulous storyteller; though I didn't like her popular Monsoon Wedding (2001), her earlier Salaam Bombay! (1988) was an emotional (and often hard to see - I closed my eyes twice!) and powerful film, and I also enjoyed her Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996). One of my favorite novels is Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, and I'm delighted that Mira Nair has just released a film based on the novel (not yet generally released - can't wait!).