Saturday, March 7, 2015

Chasing Clichés Again

I can't blame my work load entirely for not blogging in so long ... the Nordic World Championships in Falun, Sweden, were pretty epic, especially with two U.S. women (one of them not even officially on the ski team) medaling in one race, as recapped in this video. And J and I took a surprise trip east to celebrate the life of her Sicilian-born grandmother, who came to Ellis Island in 1915 and finally passed away at age 103. As these kind of events go, it was about the best weekend possible. But work and a backlog of essays and reviews didn't help. I'll just say that I wish Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who recently told professors they should work more as he cut the higher education budget, could shadow me or J (or any professor) for a few days. What a reactionary, ill-informed, anti-intellectual, anti-research, antieconomic growth %$#&*. But I digress.

We've been chasing Utah cliches the past few months, just as we once chased cliches in Germany. In January we went to Zion National Park for a weekend, with a stopover hike in the kind of wonderfully out-of-the-way BLM parcel that John has a knack for uncovering.

Zion has many pools.

And sometimes, you need a guys' shot with the kids, and then a gals' shot. The ladies have been working on their stock photo expressions ever since the hilarious Vince Vaughn mock stock photos started circulating.

No way I'd share the location of the below hike publicly. Talk to me offline next time you head to Southern Utah ...

Besides visiting southern parks when the inversions hit, another cliche of living in Salt Lake is locals' Sundance tickets. After a scarring experience a few years back seeing perhaps the worst film of our lives this bizarre Estonian film in which people starting eating other right about as we walked out J and I were elated that we hit the jackpot this year and saw three out of three great films. Each one is worth putting on your Netflix list.

The first was Mistress America, a charming film about a freshman at Barnard (played by the sister of the actress who plays Jessa on HBO's Girls) who has a series of adventures with her older soon-to-be-stepsister. A really hilarious movie. The second one was Brooklyn, an equally charming and also very funny-in-parts movie about a middle-class Irish woman who emigrates to Brooklyn in 1952, meets an Italian-American, and then anguishes over whether to return to Ireland permanently after her sister dies. Finally, (T)Error is a film that I wish every American could watch. It's a documentary about the FBI's post-9/11 "infiltration" of Muslim American communities. In this case, the FBI hires an ex-criminal to make friends with a Muslim American and entice/entrap him into a terrorist act. The only problem is that the target, while spouting a lot of anti-American garbage, isn't violent or a criminal. It's a morally troubling and ambiguous film. The FBI comes off looking like a bunch of buffoons who take to-no-good-ends advantage of the fact that, after 9/11, judges and juries have basically thrown out our laws on entrapment. On the other hand, the American citizen targeted is a disgusting character who, despite breaking no laws (other than an absurdly trumped up gun charge), tells someone in a McDonald's at one point that "There is nothing wrong with the Taliban." The film contains an almost over-the-top twist that not even the writers of Law and Order could concoct and it's real life. Honestly, my jaw was dropping. I highly recommend it, as well as the related film The Newburgh Sting, which we decided to watch thereafter. This one is a documentary about the FBI's even more shocking attempts in Newburgh, NY, to entrap a bunch of very poor African Americans into low-grade terrorism by paying them $250,000 —  this when one character is literally not eating regularly and another has a massive doctor's bill from a brother's surgery. The characters have no interest in violence (or in Islam for that matter) and in fact try to con the FBI. While all of us want our government to conduct vigorous anti-terrorism actions, these films will make you think more critically when you hear on the news that the FBI "infiltrated a well-armed and -trained terrorist cell of dedicated jihadists ... " And actually, the film provides another excellent argument for why we should give basic healthcare to all Americans and maybe worry more about our own nation-building.

Burgers are a way of life, not a cliche, but work with me here. J and I really prefer to stay in the People's Republic of the Avenues as much as we can. (I don't do well south of Temple. Just last night, for example, we got shut out of what seemed like every restaurant and parking lot in Sugar House.) So to test who has the best burgers in the Avenues, we conducted a very scientific burger pub crawl (augmented with some take-out). 

The candidates were the Western burger with barbecue sauce at Wild Grape, the Bison Burger at Wild Grape, the flagship burger at Avenues Bistro, and the flagship burger at Avenues Proper.

The burgers were systematically divided for blind tasting. 

A good time was had by all.

 Katie is really into burgers.

Which is why her score sheet got a little dirty.

The winner, hands down, was the Avenues Proper, which also has the best fries in the Valley.

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