Friday, January 12, 2007

The Bucies

Here's something I did not know when I selected my nom de blog:

Buce. A word used to describe good times in life. Similiar to "nice" but slightly more radically left.

--From the Urban Dictionary


Ralph has the Ralphies; Oscar and Emmy have whatever they have. So I can have the Bucies, “to describe the good times in life.” Winners can pick up their prizes in the back room of the Upper Crust Cafe in Palookaville at 10 am some Friday, if I remember to show up. If you are still there at noon, I will buy you a bowl of their famous soup, with optional bread and butter. Anyway, the winners are:

Best culinary innovation: Salad for breakfast. Old stuff to the Israelis, new to me.

Best book, non-fiction: I read a bunch of good non-fiction last year: Bruce Bartlett's take-down of the Bush Administration; William Easterly's (original) take-down of classic foreign aid; Jack Weatherford's genial (!) exposition of the Mongol Empire; John Mack's provocative biography of T.E. Lawrence; many other worthy contenders. But I think I'll give the palm to a last-minute entry: a skeptical account of Biblical archaeology which pretty much deconstructs the received account, but replaces it with an extraordinary yarn of its own. I mean Neil Silberman and Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed , and a rosette to Joe Greene of the Harvard Semitic Museum for putting me onto it.

Best fiction: I don't read much fiction, except in the Mr. and Mrs. Buce readaloud club. This year, we got through only three books, but they were doorstops: Cervantes' Don Quixote, T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Dickens' David Copperfield. I suppose it is a contentious question whether Lawrence is fiction or not. Cervantes I can't honestly count because I had read it before. That leaves Dickens' David Copperfield—a novel which, as I've said, has its off-putting moments, but still possesses an unwavering narrative drive and a cast and atmosphere that deserve all the enduring admiration they get. So, Copperfield .

Best foreign language book: I shouldn't kid here: I don't speak/read any foreign language even passably. But I do continue to beat my head against it: I try to read one French and one Italian novel a year, and to scratch my way through a few pages of Greek. This year I did fairly nicely with Ignazio Silone's Fontamara in neat student edition from the University of Manchester, and George Simenon's Coup de Lune--the NYRB keeps me on my toes. But the real discovery James J. Helm's student edition of Plato's Apology – far and away the most helpful piece of intermediate-student Greek I've ever encountered.

Best opera: A personal choice here: Handel's Acis and Galatea, New York City Opera. The NY Times called it a “regular little Easter Bunny of an opera,” and so it was, on Easter Sunday afternoon. Short, spare plot, sparer production, cast of unknowns, all in the “other” opera house-- but a perfect celebration of spring, followed by a long walk in Central Park. New York is magical on two occasions: Rockefeller Center ice rink at Christmas and Central Park on Easter Sunday. We missed the first but made the second, with Handel's music echoing in the background.

Best not-quite opera: The Jonathan Miller production of Bach's St. John's Passion at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They seated us on the stage and there was Miller behind the curtain, slumped in a folding chair and dozing through the first act. As the audience broke into applause, his face broke into a saturnine smile. I got 'em again, he was saying to himself, I got 'em again.

Best play: A tie here, between two productions of lesser-known Shakespeare plays, made convincing by strong acting and near-impeccable direction. That would be All's Well that Ends Well in New York in February and King John at Ashland in August.

Best archeological site: I guess I'd have to vote for Megiddo, aka Armageddon, the Poland of its time, with the great misfortune to be visible and indefensible on the path between two empires—all 28 layers of it, every Biblical archaeologist's final exam.

Best gadget I don't regret paying a bunch of bucks for: That huge memory card in my cell phone. It means I can use it for audiobooks.

Best CD: No contest: Don Quixote de la Mancha: Romances y Msicas (link), directed by Jordi Savall (link). I really cannot understand who would be motivated to produce this lovely high-end multi-lingual text-and-music set, but it is one of the coolest things in my collection.

Best DVD: Season 1 of the Best Cop Show Ever, Hill Street Blues.

Best restaurant: Po at 31 Cornelia in Greenwich Village. We had the great good fortune to spend some time in New York City last spring, and pretty well gnawed our way from one end of the island to the other. We had fancier meals in fancier places, but Po came as near to being an habituelle as we could imagine or wish.

Best museum show: The reinstallation of some 60 paintings from the Phillips Collection, most notably Renoir's Boating Party. The show is over but the paintings are still there at this, one of the best small museums in the world.

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