In the Heart of the Sea

Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) Man vs. Nature

NATHANIEL PHILBRICK  specializes in U.S. maritime history and combines his engrossing story-telling sensibilities with fine research. In 2000, his nonfiction National Book Award Winner, In the Heart of the Sea, inspired the 2010 PBS documentary Into the Deep directed by Ric Burns and narrated by Willem Dafoe. Next came the recent 2015 Ron Howard film, In the Heart of the Sea, starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. Of course, Herman Melville wrote the classic Man vs. Nature classic, Moby Dick, in 1851 about Captain Ahab’s obsession for revenge against the mighty Sperm whale. All four versions of the sinking of the whaleship Essex combine the history of Nantucket and the Romanticism between the sailor and the sea and his ship. All versions are worthy ways of spending your time and will enhance your knowledge of Colonial America.

The History 

The 50 by 30 mile stretch of land off Cape Cod became the heart of the whaling industry from approximately 1620-1865. Until the advent of kerosene, the highest quality oil used to make wax candles and light lanterns were from the rendered oil of whales. Dug out from the bulbous head of the Sperm whale, the Spermaceti oil could fill 34 barrels and was most valuable. At first, the Wampanoag and Nantucketers stripped and boiled the blubber from the drift whales which had been stranded on shore. Over the years, sailors ventured further off the coast to deeper waters and discovered pools of Sperm whales. It evolved into a two hundred year industry and sailors became more than hunters. The ships became floating factories for processing and storing the oil. They became merchants and explorers, too. For one to five years, sailors set off on voyages in search of whales to fill the empty barrels lying on the belly of their ships. From Nantucket, the Westerlies pushed them toward South America. They rounded Cape Horn and floated up the coast of Chile to the Galapagos Islands and kicked out into the expansive Pacific Ocean in search of the migratory pools of Sperm whales. According to scholars on the PBS documentary, Into the Sea, “By 1775, 360 whaling boats went out to hunt the whale; 15 came from Nantucket. Fifty percent of the profit of exports in New England came from the whaling industry.” I don’t think it can be stressed enough how important the whaling industry solidified the economic success of the burgeoning northern colonies. Consider that the South had cash crops (tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton) while the North had whales. It is interesting to consider that both regional ends vanquished mammals for their economic success – whales in the north and slave labor in the south. 

New Bedford Whaling Museum, Harpooning the Whale

The Romance

The culture of a sailor and his life onboard a ship was a mixture of extremes. Boredom, while waiting to spot the whale. Then,  “Thar she blows!” followed by the rambunctious attack with harpoons aimed for the lungs, the pull and the stabbing, the gross “flurry” as the whale drowns in her own blood, the shout from the crew, “Chimney’s afire!” and then the three-day processing of peeling off the blubber, melting of blubber, the furnaces stoked and the smells and the slime of oil glistening the faces of the sailors as if they labored in the pits of Hell. Ghastly.

Remember to factor in the religious temperament of the 17th and 18th-century colonist whose explanation of the workings of the world were inextricable with the Bible and Divine Providence. That is, the sailor, the captain, and her ship were “vessels of exoticism, traveling around the globe in the pursuit of conquering the Leviathan, a sea monster from the Old Testament.” The whale was considered evil; man’s conquering was a noble feat. Surviving a voyage was an adventure for the crew and the officers; it defined manhood. The beauty and wildness of nature attracted the sailor. The horizon blended water and sky into a location of unearthliness. There was no time or place. Out in the Pacific Ocean–it must feel to what astronauts feel out in space–one is a speck, surrounded by infinity, overwhelmed with fear and awesomeness.

The Film 

After watching the film five times, I am in admiration of Ron Howard. He followed Nathanial Philbrick’s book with the attention to detail that mirrored the historical climate from the book. The true voyage of 1820 combined an unnatural pairing of the first mate, Owen Chase, (Chris Hemsworth) the “fishy” second-in-command whose natural instincts and assertiveness commanded the respect of the crew, while Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) was more a “social” leader, seeking suggestions, and thereby perceived too passive.

Where Ron Howard might have lost a few critics and fans for lulls in the action was the overarching narration of the telling of the story from the perspective of an older Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who was a cabin boy during the sinking of the Essex and the 90 days lost out at sea. Fighting the shame and guilt of sins committed staying alive, Nickerson is paid by a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) to share the survival story and strange actions of the angry 85-foot Sperm whale, Moby Dick, who “stove” the Essex.

By including this line of narration, Howard blends the history of the story with the American Romantic classic, Moby Dick. Philbrick’s book centers on the recently discovered diary from the 1990s of the cabin-boy, Nickerson, to add a fresh twist to the long staple, Owen Chase’s account of the disaster, written months after the 1820 disaster. Howard respects this and gives life to the orphan boy who found himself at 13 on the voyage of a lifetime.

Ron Howard is criticized for his sappy interjections in an otherwise interesting plot. It’s his Achilles Heel. In this case, while devoting his film to a logical, realistic account, he incorporates the Man vs. Nature elements of the novel Moby Dick by bestowing anthropomorphic qualities to the whale. It’s the climax of the film, so I can’t specifically say, but it is the flaw of the film for me that brings my rating down a notch. I will hint at it: when man and beast come eye to eye, they come to an understanding.

In Nathaniel Philbrick‘s account, the whale struck the ship and was never seen again. The film version embellishes the history by embracing Melville’s book. Those that love Herman Melville and the personifications found in the literature would not have issues with the personification of the whale in the film. If you want a realistic account of events, the climax might feel far-fetched. Does it work? You tell me.  4/5.

American Experience: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World DVD 

Parker, Hershel, and Harrison Hayford (eds). (2001). Herman Melville, Moby-Dick. A Norton

     Critical Edition. Second Edition, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.

     ISBN 9780393972832

Philbrick, Nathaniel. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex., 2001. Print. 

ISBN-10: 0141001828  ISBN-13: 9780141001821

Five Shots: OBX

Kill Devil Hills Beach

North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX) has a history of pirates and lighthouses, THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE, and the location of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous first flight in 1903. Check out this CBS Sunday Morning video about historian David McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers. (A great read).

On the OBX you will discover sand dunes and wild horses and your eyes will fill with brown sugar beaches and water–the Pamlico Sound on the west side and the Atlantic Ocean on the east side. In addition to the history, add Southern hospitality and all the seafood you can eat. The warm breezes and the chilly Atlantic relaxed us beyond measure. Jim and I attended a special wedding at sunset on the beach when the waves turned into silver and the tall grass on the dunes waved under the pink sunset. Living in the desert, the water was therapeutic for us. We were only there for a few days, but in my mind, I’m already planning to rent a house and have a full family vacation at the OBX in the future. But for now, it was a welcome retreat and an opportunity to rejoice in an intimate family celebration.  Which shot do you like best?

Fish Enchiladas at Bernie’s
Kill Devil Hills looking North
Pamlico Sound Tiki Bar at Duck

Pamlico Sound house pier
DSC03659
Bodie Lighthouse
View at the top
DSC03667
Looking down nine floors

Oregon Inlet fishing station. Today’s catch.
Mahi
Waves at Rodanthe
Sunset over Pamlico Sound
Supper’s Ready
The bride and groom and the proud witnesses

 

 

IMO: Welcome to My World

There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve cast myself into the tundra, face first into the arctic blast, alone, as I now live inside my head, writing and editing this second novel. On one hand, that’s how much I miss blogging. Denying myself the fun of sharing thoughts about films, culture, books, and camera angles from my side of the world. Who knew your cheery comments and fun conversations would come to mean so much?

The maudlin side of me put aside, like a stashed cigarette secretly smoked, I have secretly read your posts but haven’t commented, but you all seem fine and well.

Das Buch:   Weimar Germany and the depravity of Berlin. The cabarets, the darkness of sin, drugs, and Bessie Smith. Poor George Hero, my anti-hero bordering on an unreliable narrator, has had a rough time of it since WWI.  I’ve been listening to Philip Glass while I write, and I am glad to report this first part of the novel is completed because Philip Glass wears on my nerves and depresses me, but he seems perfect for putting me in the right mood to represent the dark. In contrast, as if emerging from a cave at noon, the next part of the novel takes place in good ‘ole sunny Arizona. Sally is the feisty young copper cutie, a dancer, who dreams of becoming a Ziegfield girl and star on the Hollywood stage.  She will need her chutzpah to survive the invasive force of her mother. She is cast as an extra in a western. She is determined to become indispensable and befriends Zane Grey and Gary Cooper.  She has a needy friendship with Kay the Hopi Indian, who is a chameleon, sometimes seen as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as Apache, and sometimes she hears the whispers of her mother and sisters wanting her to remember the Hopi way. Meanwhile, she is the recipient of the elaborate gold-plated pistol, hollowed and filled, with the means by which she can free herself from her past, present and have a say about any sort of future. To what extreme will George reclaim the pistol from Kay?

As teacher:  After 18 years, I am counting down the final eight so I can retire. I know it’s a sin to wish your life away–just the working part of it. It’s hard not to this time of year. Spring is the time the drama begins. The school year is drawing to a close. State testing has students restless and apathetic.  Juniors are applying to colleges and seniors have emotionally left high school and await graduation. Teachers are tired and resigned what they are trying to sell in the classroom no one is buying. Teachers compete with students’ cell phones, the prom, sport team demands, and being a cast member in the musical. Is it any wonder they don’t care about John F. Kennedy’s involvement in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights? Gee, if I can’t get them interested in the volatile sixties, this last month of school could be tortuous.

Meanwhile, teachers are grumbling because the new superintendent has shaken things up. The master schedule’s modifications include removing classes with lower sizes to make it equitable across the board. (If one teacher has class sizes of 30 and another only 12, is that fair?)  That means cutting out the advanced and elective classes. Personally, this means all the classes I love teaching have been taken away from me. The gems like AP US History, AP World History, and a big sting, my Holocaust Studies/Recent World History class. Gems because teaching college level courses are the perfect fit for me. I have been struggling with my pride over it. Be a team player. You are a cog in the wheel. Get over yourself. Readjust your attitude. It still hurts, though.

The Vikings and Nationals Baseball: Strangely, I’ve taken a break from watching movies. I’m binging on the television series by the History Channel via Amazon called The Vikings. Man, I love it. When I come home from work, after watering the flowers, one or two episodes with a beer or glass of wine is a great way to relax before starting supper. I’m on series three. I like the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) the best because rarely in films or television do you see the importance of the role of the monk in history, in this case, by preserving the scrolls of Roman England. I’ve been to Ireland and have seen The Book of Kells and love the artistry of the monks’ calligraphy. The character Athelstan straddles the conflict between pagan/Christian religion. Michael Hirst who wrote the series includes Old English and Scandinavian languages when the two worlds collide; it’s delicious to hear the languages spoken.

The culture of the Vikings is complicated. The legends and mythologies have fascinated many for years.

http://www.history.com/shows/vikings/pages/vikings-historians-view

When I’m not watching The Vikings, I am watching the Nationals play baseball. We are off to a great start this year by leading the NL East with 10 wins and 5 losses (.667). My favorite players are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. They bat 3, 4 respectively, and the two are hitting powerhouses. Like Lennon and McCartney, their competitiveness inspires the other to do better. Go Nats!

Books: I’m reading Paula McClain’The Paris Wife. It’s about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their time in Paris during the 1920s. Ernest is trying to become an author and I can’t help but pretend we two are trying to accomplish the same goal. Except he doesn’t have to go and teach teenagers every day. He gets to sit in a Paris cafe and drink all day long while he writes. It didn’t go so well for him in the end, did it? Who knew my students would save me in the end? Ha!

Okay, bye again. Back to the novel.

Love & Friendship,

Cindy

Thomas Hardy and Pints at The Wiseman

garden1-page-001

In 1996, I studied Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) in Dorset County, England for six weeks during the summer.  Dr. Morgan, an Illinois State University professor, was a Hardy Scholar and for over 20 years, he took students to this south-central slice of heaven. Before his retirement, I signed up for the graduate English course as one of a group of twelve. An Elizabethan summer home was converted into an Agricultural College and while students were out for the summer, our group used their dorm rooms and facilities.

img-216113653km sign

The upside to the incessant rain in June provided lush gardens for us to enjoy in July. img-216113732img-216113732

During the day, the gazebo at the top of this croquet garden was the perfect spot for reading Thomas Hardy’s books and poetry. At night, it was the perfect confessional for heart-to-heart talks under the stars.  Thomas Hardy lived in and loved Dorset County so much, he set his novels about the county, but changed the names of the towns and hamlets to fictional ones. For his most famous novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, our time in the Elizabethan mansion was a location spot, too. Hardy’s satirical story of Tess was a sad one. She was a milkmaid who was raped, loved and lost her man Angel. She became a mistress and a murderess. The double-standard of the Victorian female purity makes Tess a significant British novel.

For each of Hardy’s novels, we journeyed to the exact location of the plot and read it there. One such spot was Stonehenge. When I first visited Stonehenge in the late 70s, you could walk in and around and hug the stones, if you wanted. By the time I was last there in 1996, they had roped off the area due to vandalism. Imagine spray-painting one of the druid stones. Blasphemy! Now all one can do is walk around them from afar. If getting close to rocks is your thing, head up north to the other end of the island and take a ferry to the Orkney and Shetland Islands and you can dance around ancient rocks all day long.

img-216114018

One spot (above) in Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the Sandbourne seaside resort area. Very close by is Lulworth Cove where a person can hike the trails for hundreds of miles along the southern coast. When I return to the area someday, I imagine hiking all day, followed by pints in the evening and a night in a B & B. What a great way to spend a summer in England, I daydream. Here are some of my favorite shots that I took.

img-216114005

img-216113939

img-216113842

img-216113929

img-216113907

Speaking of pints, I love English pubs, especially thatched ones. When class was over for the day and we exhausted every angle of analyzing Tess, a small group of us would head off a mile away for evening mingling with the locals at The Wise Man Inn.

img-216113809

img-216113817

Tuesdays were dart night. The league was getting ready to begin when a few of the men from the village had not shown up. There was a grandfatherly type who ran the show and he asked our table of six girls if anyone wanted to fill in. It just so happened I was a pretty good dart player; I had lots of practice when I lived in Scotland while stationed in the Navy.

dartboard

Feeling merry from the lager, I stood at the line, facing the board and wondered where to throw. UK dart players can count backward from 301 and reach zero a lot faster than I can, and the experienced dart players in a league liked to play quickly. It was our turn, and we had 103 points remaining to win the game. My partner, the old gentleman who’d been playing for sixty years, stood next to my ear and whispered where I was to throw the darts. “Triple 20.” Pling!  He whispered again, “Triple 13.” It was like he was in my mind talking to my hand. Perfect. Finally, he said, “Double two.”  Ha! We won the game, and everyone clapped. It was one of my finer moments.

“The Voice”

By Thomas Hardy

 

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

IMO: Baby Talk and the Passage of Time

Fellow blogger, South African/Londoner,  ABBI O,  chronicled her thoughts of pregnancy; when “Little O” was born, Abbi continued her posts about the life-change, documenting her thoughts of motherhood and the demands of her now five-month-old son. Not only does her dry wit make me laugh, she makes me think about the passage of time. Her journal-in-the-making is a clever idea. I imagine Little O when he’s older and turns into Bigger O asking her what it was like to carry him inside her body? To have him? What was he like as a boy? She has gathered her posts and self-published them. She tosses her book to Bigger O and says, “Read all about it.” When Abbi is much older, she will toss the book to her pregnant daughter-in-law, and assure her the fear is universal, the experience is awesome, she understands, and it will bring comfort. When Abbi is ancient, she will revisit herself in words, that worried young woman from her past, and smile at her and feel pride that she muddled through it all miraculously just fine. She’ll look across the room at Biggest O, who is now a father himself, and wonder how time flew by.

Based on a diary, 1785–1812, professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich investigated the entries of a midwife, Martha Ballard. It’s an interesting account because, in the center of a Maine community, she literally touched the lives of everyone in it and provided a glimpse of the values and expectations of gender, the struggle to fight the seasons, impartial diseases, techniques for perseverance, and the cycle of life through births and deaths. It is a rare, profound historical portrait. And yet, at the time of her writing, Martha Ballard was unaware her diary entries would become important one day. Her “voice” varied depending on time and tiredness. Martha was at times insightful, other times clinical, like her profession as she weaved in and out of households aiding the sick. Recommended. 4/5.

In my opinion, Abbi is creating a historical portrait, a primary source. Fifty years from now, a hundred years–two–social historians could look to her blog or self-published book about motherhood and life from 2016 onward from a historical perspective. I read about an abolitionist the other day whose date of birth matched my own, minus a hundred years. She was born in 1863 and lived until 1951. Can you imagine all that she saw? How much the world changed? From the death of Abraham Lincoln through World War II? From buggies to rocket ships? From the telegraph to the television? I wonder what life will be like if I made it until 2051. Just saying the date makes me shake my head in wonder.

Here is the passage of time illustrated by my granddaughter, Amelia. She’ll be four in February.

Where did the time fly? 

Are you not entertained?

Are-You-Not-Entertained-Gladiator

Here continues a monthly series of the music, books, and movies that have occupied my time. 

MUSIC

Spoon

My son suggested I’d like the Indie rock band, Spoon. From Austin, TX, Spoon has been around since the millennium, but I wasn’t listening to them. I’ve been catching up and like their easy beats, clever harmonies, and rhythms that keep you in a good mood. Need background music at a party? They are your band.

Check out this top ten list with more videos by the music pros at CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND

BOOKS 

images

A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). Depressing and insightful. Four stories weave around the political dynamics of Afghanistan from the 1960s to the present. A fast, informative read. Khaled Hosseini writes with a graceful style. If you liked The Kite Runner, you will like this story, too. Though depressing throughout, at least the ending is uplifting. Highly recommend. 4.5/5

 

FILMS 

images-1

Love and Friendship (2016)Sorry, period film fans. I was bored. The great costumes and gorgeous manorial setting couldn’t lift my dislike for the principal character, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale). Maybe if she didn’t treat her daughter like a pawn and wasn’t so shallow and manipulative, I would have laughed at the jokes. Sir James Martin’s character was so idiotic, it was hard to root for anyone except for the daughter, Frederica. I’m in the minority, here.  3/5.  

mv5bmtg5ntuwndiyov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmji2otc3ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_

Sully (2016) In the last decade, Clint Eastwood has rebounded with a formula that works:  he finds quiet protagonists who possess old-fashioned virtues like fortitude, honesty, optimism, perseverance, and fairness; with calm dispositions and a dry wit, they save the rest of us without asking for applause. They are modern heroes. Sully is no different. It’s an entertaining tale analyzing the five-minute flight and emergency landing through many perspectives. I can’t help but feel Clint is trying to tell us something before his curtain closes in Hollywood. How to behave? How best to live? In Sully, humans, not technology, win the day. I sure love the positive message. 3.5/5.  

Good Ol’ Freda (2013)Whether you are a die-hard or casual fan of The Beatles, there are lots of new details to learn from the perspective of Freda, the Beatles secretary, who politely and loyally provides fun insights about the colossal band without blemishing any of them. A great way to spend the evening. 5/5.

mv5bmtuxnjk0ntczmv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzizmteznze-_v1_uy1200_cr9306301200_al_

Son of Saul (2015). This academy award winner for the Best Foreign film from Hungary is unique. Director László Nemes’s interesting cinematography confines the audience alongside a prisoner at Auschwitz who is Sonderkommando, forced to work in the gas chambers, when a boy who survives the Zyklon B assault, the clean-up worker, played by Géza Röhrig, devotes his remaining time trying to find a Rabbi who will give the boy a proper burial. Happenings and people are out-of-focus except for Géza Röhrig. The effect places the audience inside the death camp unable to escape. There are no transitions, no time to digest or refocus. Holocaust films are painful to watch. This was painful but beautiful in its message and the heroic attempt by the worker who salvaged his humanity. Once is enough. 4/5. 

images-1

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). This was my pick for Halloween. I had heard that this Iranian vampire movie was a cult sensation. Set in a worn-down Iranian community which has the flavor of a forgotten Texas oil town, a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) preys on men who disrespect women. Female writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour created unique characters and handles the camera with style. Perfect for Halloween. 4/5 

564300398_1280x720

Swiss Army Man (2016)I’m a sucker for ironies, and there’re so many clever aspects about this crazy film, I fell for the magical realism. I think Paul Dano is on fire–he impresses me every time he’s on the screen. It was great to see Daniel Ratcliffe pull off playing a corpse who teaches the hopeless Hank how to live. The script is superb. 4.5/5

0fa7d311dd93bf7e1f43d51e4ab8650e

In 1948, Jack Cardiff won an Oscar for “creating color with the camera” for his innovations with technicolor. Narcissus is a beautiful, sensory masterpiece about five British nuns at a Himalayan convent who waver in the exotic setting. Light and color are used to express emotion. If you enjoy the technical aspects of filmmaking, I learned a lot about the process of technicolor and the behind-the-scenes story of Narcissus in the documentary below. First, if you want a scrumptious classic to watch, you won’t be disappointed with the cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, Jean Simmons, and David Farrar.  Perfection!  5/5.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑