Tuesday, May 27, 2008


(May 26/08)

Americans in travel don’t actually speak to one another, so much as they announce everything. As if all the precious moments of life are a performance.


Certainly there are fewer of them here in Edinburgh than one would typically find in Venice. A small blessing for the easily irritated traveller.

Last night, I caught on TV the last hour of “Walk the Line,” the Johnny Cash biopic, for which Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar. Joaquin Phoenix was nominated as well, losing to Philip Seymour Hoffman's great take on Capote. The Cash story was overly simple and singular (sad, addicted man with talent is saved by tough love of his life-long sweetheart), and the drink and drug sequences were Hollywood predictable, but something must be said in high praise of Phoenix’s work.

Every time he stepped up to the mike to do a song, some true magic popped loose. Phoenix seemed obsessed with a rare energy. His delivery of these songs was so hot, so sexy, so driven, so exciting, one felt in the sudden company of a great revivalist preacher.

Life and acting careers are strange and unexpected. Whatever else may come his way, may Phoenix remember that in this movie in those scenes, he reached what few actors ever do.

As well, I finished at last the Pat Barker trilogy of novels about the Great War. “Regeneration” and “The Eye in the Door” are both terrific books, but it is the final book, “The Ghost Road,” that won the Booker Prize and is handily one of the great pieces of all time.

Listen to this paragraph, written from the perspective of one of the central characters, Billy Prior, slogging his way through the final days of the battle in late 1918 in France, after a stay in a psychiatric hospital has prepared him to return to the front:

“We are Craiglockhart’s success stories. Look at us. We don’t remember, we don’t feel, we don’t think – at least not beyond the confines of what’s needed to do the job. By any proper civilized standard (but what does that mean now?) we are objects of horror. But are nerves are completely steady. And we are still alive.”

In one sunny afternoon, I climbed the 287 steps to the top of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial and the 251 metres to the windy majestic height of Arthur’s Seat. Not to mention the very many ups and downs of daily course about the city. Not bad for a 65 year old lad who had “minor” heart surgery only three years ago. Modern life is maddening in so many ways and it is miraculous.

In Ristorante Gennaro in Grassmarket, I suffered the welcome illusion that I was in Florence or Lucca. Authentically Italiano on every way, the food was so wonderful. Instead of ordering a first and a second and a third plate, I chose 5 “small” dishes. Ha! A mixed salad, garlic broccoli, fries, bruschetta and a “half” of veggie tagliatelle. Buon appetito!


PelaLusa said...

I'm curious, David, when you start talking, do the Scottish people assume you're from America?

I hope you're encouraging them to visit our Winter Olympics. You can even tell the prettier female ones that a personal tour guide is waiting to show them around ... me!! :-)

David Berner said...

Many do think I am American; but I've been getting that my whole life. So many people think I'm from New York. Even the two couples from North carolina I met in a pub last friday evening, thought I was from either Philadelphia or Brooklyn! Ha!