Top 5! - Memorable (Though Not Necessarily Auspicious) Beginnings

I'm sure I'm not the only one who can think of events and experiences in life that started in a particularly memorable way. Often these starts are memorable enough to color the perception of the whole. Here are 5 beginnings that do that.

5 - "Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect."
Okay...this is not going to be like other stories...the now famous first line of Franz Kafka's short story "The Metamorphosis" paints a picture so visceral and horrifying that, every time I've taught this story, I have had to spend a significant amount of time right here, at the story's doorway, because students do not want to suspend disbelief.

4 - The opening 4 minutes of "Charade" (1963).
It's not enough, though it is something, that Charade's title sequence is still one of the most audacious, memorable and catchy examples of the genre from any era. Roll out of that into a mountain chateau with the devastating Audrey Hepburn and the dashing Cary Grant? That's a sure sign that the next 120 minutes are going to be perfect.

3 - "Emissary" - Deep Space Nine, episode 1.
By far and away the best of the Star Trek television pilots, Emissary's opening scene, in which the main character's ship is destroyed and his wife killed by the Jean-Luc Picard led Borg (directly relating DS9 to the TNG franchise), sets the tone for the whole series. DS9 was not to be an conventional Trek. Darker, edgier, brooding, it would become the most compelling of the Trek series' because of its commitment to long-form stories and big, multi-season sweeping arcs. "Emissary" is also full of excellent scenes of characters meeting for the first time. Sisko and Kira, Kira and Bashir. Brilliant!

2 - The opening riffs to New Order's "Blue Monday." (1983)

1 - George H.W. Bush introduces his choice for Vice President, Senator J. Danforth Quayle, to the nation (1988).
The least auspicious induction into national politics in contemporary memory, Senator Quayle's performance on the stump was notoriously juvenile (he was said to have scampered about); his performance in press conferences and on television erratic, incoherent and sometimes loopy. His election is emphatic proof that the vice president selection can not torpedo a campaign.

Top 5! - Best Lines from "The Lion In Winter"

1968's "The Lion in Winter" is my favorite film. Extraordinarily well acted from a script that crackles with energy, I could watch this film over and over. I could listen to it over and over too, because the dialogue is better than any other film I know. Here are 5 of the lines that I hope represent the film. If you haven't seen it, do so - this weekend!

5 - King Henry II of England
I've snapped and plotted all my life. There's no other way to be a king, alive and 50 all at once.

4 - Eleanor of Aquitaine
I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How's that for blasphemy? I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted half-way to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn...but the troops were dazzled.

3 - Eleanor of Aquitaine
Is Philip here yet? Let's hope he's grown up like his father, Simon Pure, Simon Simple. Good, good Louis. If I'd managed sons for him instead of all those little girls, I'd still be stuck with being Queen of France and we should not have known each other. Such my angels is the role of sex in history.

2 - Eleanor of Aquitaine
Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183 and we're barbarians!

1 - Eleanor of Aquitaine
One son is all I've got and you can block him out and call me cruel? For these ten years you've lived with everything I've lost and loved another woman through it all and I am cruel? I could peel you like a pear and God himself would call it justice!

And a bonus exchange between Eleanor and Henry II, ending with the most blistering put-down in film.

H Out of curiosity, as intellectual to intellectual, how in the name of bleeding Jesus can you lose me? Do we ever see each other? Am I ever near you? Ever with you? Am I ever anywhere but somewhere else? Do I write? Do we send messages? Do dinghies bearing gifts float up the Thames to you? Are you remembered?
E You are.
H You're no part of me. We don't touch at any point. How can you lose me?
E Can't you feel the chains?
H You know me well enough to know I can't be stopped.
E I don't have to stop you, I have only to delay you. Every enemy you have has friends in Rome. We'll cost you time.
H What is this? I'm not mouldering! My paint's not peeling off, I'm good for years.
E How many years? Suppose I hold you back for one, it's possible. Suppose your first son dies. Ours did. It's possible. Suppose you're daughtered next? We were. That too is possible. How old is daddy then? What kind of spindly, rickett-ridden, milky, wizened, dim-eyed, gamey-handed, limpy line of things will you beget?

Top 5! - Cuisines

I'm not an especially adventurous eater, the hakarl notwithstanding. There are, however, a number of cuisines which, thanks to thoughtful friends who could help me navigate the menus when I didn't know what was what, I have come to really appreciate and want to get to know better. They are:

5 - Soul Food
I know there might be those of you out there who might quibble that Soul Food might not be that adventurous (or, if you're a philistine, that it isn't even a cuisine), but for a New Englander like me, it certainly was when I tried it the first couple of times. John and I regularly visit a Soul Food restaurant we love in Palm Springs (Simba's), but I think it's time to branch out.

4 - Vietnamese
A cuisine I really want to get to know better. I've had pho, of course, and other dishes that tasted like lighter versions of Chinese dishes, but I'm pretty sure that there's more to Vietnam's cuisine than I know so far.

3 - Tamil
I have a (now) decades long love affair with the foods of India. It was here that I first broke out of the foodways prison that is New England eating (where salt was a spice, pepper a vulgar corruption and boiling the preferred method of cooking everything). But my Indian food experience has been mostly in northern Indian cuisine. Last year I had the chance to visit a Southern Indian (Tamil) restaurant and have a dosa. It isn't much, but it sure isn't northern Indian food!

2 - Moroccan I love me some Moroccan food, but I don't get to eat it nearly enough, even though there are good Moroccan restaurants in LA. Some of the most lovingly prepared food I've ever eaten was when I was in Dimona, in Israel, on a tour with dozens of other LA teachers. We were invited into a private home and served course after course of the most savory dishes...even though I ate this meal 8 years ago, I remember its fish courses, its fruit-infused lamb stews and its complex sweets like it was yesterday.

1 - Afghan
Afghanistan is such a crossroads anyway, it's no surprise that its cuisine melds qualities of Middle Eastern and Indian food in ways that just explode with flavor. There aren't enough Afghan restaurants in Los Angeles! I'm going to be looking for palao, flatbread, dumplings and kabob this year!

Top 5! - Comics to Film (That Haven't Yet Been Filmed)

We live in the Golden Age (I use the term advisedly) of the comic-inspired movie. There are a lot of characters and properties out there that would translate well into film and deserve a closer look by the powers that be. I offer 5 here for your consideration.

5 - "The Establishment"
One of the quirkiest superteams of this decade, the Britain-based Establishment had a brief run under the Wildstorm imprint and is definitely worth picking up if you read comics. It is worth a second look because the characters are subtle and well-fashioned (I loved Mister Pharmacist), the European setting feels increasingly both global and accessible and the writers had a way with dialogue. All of this would translate well to the big screen.

4 - "Nexus"
Horatio Hellpop has the name, the cred and the science-hero-ey out-there-ness to be the hero of the 21st - or indeed the 26th.

3 - "Sandman Mystery Theatre"
One of my all-time favorites (the disastrously inappropriate recent mini-series notwithstanding), featuring powerful characters (Wesley Dodds has great depth, but his girlfriend Dian Belmont, arguably, has even more), a rich 1930s setting and an appealing groundedness. Think Batman without all the naval-gazing brooding. If I were writing this script, I would probably set it during the 1939 World's Fair.

2 - "Global Frequency"
Another Wildstorm entry, this one conceived and written by Warren Ellis, the master of storytelling in the comics form. "Global Frequency" was offered as a TV pilot in 2005 but didn't succeed and, by my read, wouldn't have as a series (though I would have watched). The radical shifts in character and focus issue to issue makes any one of the 12 issues worth bringing to film right now. Deep backstory, richly relevant to the problems of today's world. If you haven't read this - do so!

1 - "Xombi"
The very best of the criminally underappreciated and undersupported Milestone line from the mid-1990s, Xombi tells the story of David Kim, rendered immortal by means of nanotechnology. He's almost achingly believable as a character but he's surrounded by sidekicks and friends who add a levity to what might otherwise have been too serious (Nun of the Above and Catholic Girl...awesome!).

Top 5! - Places I Wish We Could Still Visit (But, Sadly, Can't)

As a traveler, I've always been fascinated with the out of the way and the off the wall. 60 miles to world famous date shakes? Done...

But these are places where it is no longer possible to visit, but I sure wish I could!

5 - East Germany.
I had an East German pen pal when I was a kid and I was endlessly fascinated by his descriptions of his life. Having visited a unified Berlin recently, it would have been interesting to see what life was like during the time of tension and how the East Germans tried to build a society. I wonder what all of that brutalist architecture looked like before westerners came in? And don't forget the Ampelmann!

4 - Greenwich, Massachusetts.
One of the five "Quabbin towns" well-known to local historians of Massachusetts, Greenwich is the only one largely below the water line.

3 - The Old Man of the Mountain.
All New Englanders mourned when the Old Man collapsed in 2003. An iconic image of the region.

2 - The Buddhas of Bamyan.
Yet another crime of the Taliban, the destruction of these priceless statues was a crime against human culture.

1 - Kowloon Walled City.
Torn down by the Chinese and British authorities in the early 1990s, the KWC was unlike any place on this Earth. I am sure I would have been overwhelmed, but I am fascinated by what this place was.

Top 5! - Things I've Done That You (probably) Haven't (and that you might do this year)

Building on a meme I first picked up at Jay Lake's website, here are 5 things that I've done so far in life that perhaps you haven't. Have you? If so - share a comment! Think you might do it this year?

5 - Been in an environment above 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
John and I love Palm Springs in the summer, and two summers ago, during the middle of our summer week, the temperature at our hotel rose to 125. In the shade? Lovely...

4 - Attended a Spalding Gray live performance.
Sorely and deeply missed, Spalding Gray was a virtuoso storyteller and live performer. I was certain I was going to pass out from laughing when I saw his live performance of "Gray's Anatomy" in Columbus.

3 - Seen the complete "Ring Cycle" by Wagner.
John and I saw all four operas (Das Rheingold, Die Valkure, Siegried and Gotterdammerung) over a year while it was being performed by the Los Angeles opera.

2 - Eaten kangaroo.

1 - Climbed a glacier.
The Snæfellsjökull, while I was studying in Iceland in July, 1998. Fun! Only very slight risk of falling into a glacial rift and never been seen again.

Can't wait to hear what you've done that I probably haven't. Help give my year some structure, people!

Top 5! - Words in English That Are The Most Fun To Say

A quick list for y'all today...can't wait to hear what you think - and like to say.

5. Slumgullion (from Scots)...a kind of stew.
4. Praseodymium (from Greek)...element 59.
3. Dithyrambic (from Latin via Greek)...wildly enthusiastic.
2. Taikonaut (from Chinese and Latin via Greek) astronaut from the People's Republic of China.
1. Fantod (origin obscure) be suddenly overwhelmed by powerful feelings (generally of outrage or anxiety).

Top 5! - Things My Advisees Said I Should Do Now That I Have Earned My EdD

One of the best parts of working with young people is that they always come up with interesting ideas when they're posed a question. A month ago or so, when I was really and truly done with my doctorate, I said to them, "well, now what should I do." I meant it rhetorically, but they took a shine to it and the next day, they had a bunch of suggestions. Here are the top 5 (I'm leaving out 'breed exotic animals' and 'start a Rolls-Royce dealership' for being too organic and too unrealistic, respectively).

5 - Get a pilot's license.
I have no idea what this would cost, but it's an intriguing suggestion. My grandfather had one. I am always attracted to hobbies with ruinously expensive gear and a fierce learning curve. It would be nice to fly to Vegas, rather than drive, I must admit...

4 - Have a zero-g experience.
I have said for years now that the first orbital hotel will open before 2020. I intend to visit that hotel. Might just as well start training now...

3 - Go to Alaska.
Odd that this is the second Alaska references in as many Top 5! lists, but I think 2011 will be the year that I complete my inventory of the 50 states. I need Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. Two flights and a single road tip LA to Seattle to Coeur d'Alene to Missoula to Minot and back will do the business.

2 - Work out.
What exactly are my students telling me? Something I've told myself for a long time...

1 - Adopt a baby.
Are we ready?

What do y'all think?

Top 5! - Foreign Policy Successes of the United States

Since Bricole is meant to be a place where all topics are fair game, and since I've always been obsessive about lists and list making (yes, I read "The Book of Lists" in the 70s...and the 2 sequels - shameful, I know), it was only a matter of time before I started list making here. I inaugurate these lists with a short discussion of American foreign policy.

5 - President Lincoln releases John Slidell and James Mason Ending the Trent Affair (1861).
This early diplomatic row between the United Kingdom and the United States inflamed popular opinion in the UK against the United States at a time when the Civil War was still in its infancy and the cause of the Union far from success. The decision by an American ship's captain to seize the Confederate diplomats Slidell and Mason off of the Trent, a British ship carrying them to the UK, proved too provocative for the British to slough off. After weeks of talk of war and rising tensions, the President decided to release the Confederates. They ultimately failed in their goal to achieve diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy. By releasing them, President Lincoln averted what might have been a fatal (to the cause of the Union) UK intervention into the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.

4 - Alaska Purchase (1867)
Secretary of State William Seward's belief that purchasing the Alaska territory from the Russian Empire was a great idea - and it certainly was. The natural resources of Alaska notwithstanding, I would argue that a Russian Alaska would have aggravated Red Baiting in the 1950s, destabilizing American culture and taking this country in a dangerous direction. Soviet nuclear weapons deployed in the Alaskan Panhandle? No thanks.

3 - Signing the Antarctic Treaty
By signing the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, the US and the other signatories placed Antarctica under global stewardship. While this has not always been a perfect solution or easy, it speaks to the capacity of nations to put global concerns ahead of national ones. In the 21st century, global stewardship of resources might be our best hedge against resource warfare.

2 - Reconstructing Japan and Germany After World War II (1945)
The United States, taking the lead in the post-war period in a way it failed to after World War I, put in place systems in both Japan and Germany that lead to two critical features of the late 20th century. First, both of these countries were effectively demilitarized in practice and, most critically, in culture. The postwar economic boom in both countries in the 1950s stimulated the rise of the Japanese and German middle classes and a cementing of those countries into Western systems of governance. This was a tremendous boon to the United States in the generation after the war - when industrial-age America was at the zenith of it's power to provide a better life for its people.

1 - Louisiana Purchase (1803)
It is hard to imagine the United States becoming the country it became if President Jefferson did not take Napoleon's offer to sell the entire Louisiana Territory in 1803, despite Jefferson's constitutional principles. Louisiana guaranteed the long-term security of the country while also demonstrating the idea that the Constitution should not be read narrowly but rather interpreted to serve the needs of the age.