June 2021 Long Weekend

Coinciding with the plummeting mercury is the long weekend. Aside from the usual two days to cap off the week, Monday represents a public holiday as this commemorates the Queen’s Birthday in our state. About three years ago, I wrote a similar post on Mot Juste. Then, the ski fields were the hottest ticket in town. One must recall that this was before COVID. Three full calendars later, things have changed. Here is a recap of what to expect and what has changed since June 2018.

  • Queensland is the place to be. Before, Sydneysiders were spoiled for choice. Victoria and the sunshine state (Queensland) presented equal options for the weekender. Melbourne and Brisbane are roughly the same distance from Sydney. Victoria offers the best live sports events, is a foodie and arts haven, among other things. Meanwhile, Queensland is synonymous with the surf and sun. If you wanted a more temperate getaway, a cavalcade of beaches, and water sports, then off you headed. However, with the recent number of COVID cases in Victoria, the pick is more clear-cut. For instance, my chiropractor is spending six nights on the Sunshine Coast. He told me that he had planned this trip for a while now. Events are being rescheduled from Victoria to Queensland. Even Melbourne-based AFL had to improvise due to the fourth wave. Some matches were rescheduled to neutral venues.

Game 1 of this year’s State of Origin was moved from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to Townsville, Queensland. This edition marks number forty of the annual best-of-three showcase. The attendance was a robust 27,533. I anticipated another Maroons romp, but the effort of NSW coach Fittler’s boys was pleasantly surprising. From the get-go, they attacked the Maroons’ defence and were accumulating tries by the middle of the first half. The Blues side also had an exemplary kicking game, going eight for eight from goal. Tom Trbojevic netted three tries in a triumphant return. This represented the most decisive NSW win in Origin history.

  • The French Open: different but the same. Three years prior, Ash Barty (who is pictured) was ascending the women’s ranks. A week later, she would win the 2018 Nottingham Open for her second career WTA Singles title. Rafael Nadal would notch up his eleventh French Open, defeating Austrian Dominic Thiem. The latter is regarded as the second-best clay courter on tour. Three years on, another Nadal victory seems a foregone conclusion. Already tied with Roger at the top for twenty grand slams, a fourteenth Paris close-out would secure Rafa sole first-place among male slam winners. There has never been anyone as dominant on one surface. Moreover, nobody has matched his haul, full stop. I recall this conversation many moons ago. Roger had just surpasses Pete Sampras’s fourteen slams. This critter told me that Rafa would one day eclipse Roger. If all goes according to plan, Nadal would pull this off in a couple of nights.

This Open has a curfew for fans, in line with local regulations. Until 9 June, the curfew was at nine pm, which was later moved to eleven pm. The tourney itself was moved forward from last year’s September start to the traditional late-May commencement. Spectators were capped at a thousand and subsequently increased to five thousand. This is the 125th staging of the premiere clay court championship. This time, Barty fell at the second hurdle while her male compatriots – including Alex De Minaur – did not fare so well either. The Fed Express notably withdrew, citing health reasons. He rather favours his chances at Wimbledon, site of his greatest successes.

  • The mid-year sales are heating up. Just like in 2018, the June long weekend sees a gamut of stores hawking their mid-year sales. Now is the perfect time to rug up for the cooler season. Whether you’re after baselayers, mid-layers, gloves, or ski jackets, now is as good as it gets. Stock up on those winter woollies. Apart from clothing, there are reductions across shoes, small kitchen appliances, and electronics. Get your hands on that shiny 5G phone. Better yet, nab that bulky 4K TV set.

Recently, we bought a replacement Thermos from Myer. Earlier, I also picked up some notebooks. I want to start chroniclin’ like Chatwin. DFO Homebush is currently having a Big Brand Weekend, with some stores offering fifty to seventy percent off. However, these storewide reductions come with asterisks. The exclusions make the sales appear farcical. As a kid, my sister pointed out this sign announcing one hundred percent off. My dad, who drove us, was immediately sceptical. ‘That means those shoes are free,’ he told us. ‘Feel free to choose the shoes you want. They’re freebies, after all.’  

Of course, I understand the hesitation. The COVID era has made us think twice about spending big. Unlike before, you wouldn’t spend hundreds on a few branded items. Thinking about the bigger picture is always nice. At the same time though, striking a balance is key. If the past lockdowns have shown us anything, it’s that life’s too short to overthink. When the days were long and the restrictions were intense, we had little options. We still do. We can’t travel to other continents or, in some cases, another state. Social distancing is in place. Some stores are temporarily closed, others, permanently. In any case, one look at the train, in shops, or on the street, and we have braved the tide. Life has gone on.

  • Snow days are back. The ski season will be radically different than last year’s. Instead of empty snowfields, resorts will be booked out. 2020 saw businesses boarded up; passes and bookings dishonoured. This year, demand for snow trips has never been higher. This is directly related with the closing of international borders. The only options for snow enthusiasts are Oz and New Zealand. Niseko (Japan) and Aspen (US) are off the table. The first dusting of snow has arrived at Kosciuszko National Park. The ski and snowboarding seasons are officially here. Time to get those mittens, poles, and snow goggles and work on those snowploughs.

This coming long weekend, we may be in different spots. Queensland is the people’s pick as New Zealand’s too far. Some of us will visit relatives and drive a few hours. Some might head to the snow and practice their flips. Others might be content catching the footy or witnessing another Rafa masterclass. Many will go out of town. Let us just pause and think back to a year ago, when having a long weekend didn’t mean much. We have sure travelled a long way since then.

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Hunter Connection (Wynyard, NSW)

Today we’re going to review a shopping and gastronomy hub in the heart of Sydney. Hunter Connection (HC) has a strategic location. HC sits adjacent to Wynyard train station, near the northern end of the Central Business District (CBD). The Wynyard light rail stop is also in front of the station. I frequent this place since it represents the nearest food court (FC) to my chiropractor. Coincidentally, the centre offers some of the more reasonable eats in downtown Sydney. While grub dominates the scene, the hub also has a number of barbershops. There is a news agency. A few clothing alterations also operate here. Likewise, a mobile shop could be found. The centre also houses a variety store.

An embarrassment of cuisines

The range of cuisines at the FC is impressive. There are four Chinese places, including Famous Lunch. You could have your choice of rice or noodles, plus your pick of two to three viands. One of the Sino outlets is really popular with their made-to-order menu. This is in contrast to the rest of the stalls, which have dishes ready to be served. They also feature four Vietnamese outlets. One of these specialises in banh mi. Another has an array of rice paper rolls. The others sell takeaway boxes.

There’s sushi from the Japanese place and spicy Thai dishes. There are two Malaysian joints: one in the FC and another at the corner of George and Hunter Streets. HC likewise showcases Middle Eastern cuisine. The lone shop has been there for years. Not to do outdone, a budget burger place – full of deep-fried delights – could be found near the escalators. The FC also includes a fresh juice stand. Before I forget, there is also a Subway. I used to buy from them a bit.

Noontime rush

Lunchtimes could be crowded. The FC is a hot ticket in town. If you are caught in the noontime rush, finding a seat is difficult. While most of the places are indoors, there are a select number of outside tables. These would not be ideal in cold or rainy weather. In spite of the pandemic, a majority of food spots are still operating. At the height of the outbreak, sitting was not allowed. Gradually, a few chairs were provided. For months, social distancing under the four-square metre rule remained. Recently, with the easing of most citywide restrictions, the show has gone on. The seating is back to full capacity.

The FC is notable for closing early. By three pm, the whole FC has left for the day. In the early afternoon, and even during peak hour, the stops have already discounted their stuff. The prices are budget-friendly since the eats compete by value. Raising prices would be silly if the trend is to reduce them. There are other nearby FCs: MLC Centre, Australia Square, Gateway, and Westfield Sydney, to name a few. Indeed, MetCentre is a short walk away. None of them come close to the HC prices. There used to a bun place in the basement, but they left some time ago. Also in the latter is a massage parlour.

Enter the dragon

The centre has a few entrances. There is one via George Street. You would take this if alighting or catching the tram. I use the Pitt Street entrance when going to my chiropractor. Along the way, you’ll find the barbershops, the news agent, and not a few food stops. The stores on this side are mostly sandwich stops, with some pasta added for good measure. They also hawk fruit salads. There is also a Hunter Street exit down from the FC. Here, you’ll find most of the clothing alterations. HC also has some mini cafes, perfect for a pick-me-up.

‘A view to a kill’

The Pitt-Street side of the FC has floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It provides a nice view as you munch on your lunch. While sipping your laksa or fighting with your chicken, you would catch sight of the passers-by, the occasional vehicle, and the tall buildings. The vista also offers a snapshot of the current weather. HC is certainly not the latest, widest, or most modern FC. It’s not the glitziest or the avant-garde in dining. Yet HC proffers to two standout features: an enviable location and bargain prices.

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May (2021) reads

Autumn has passed in a whirlwind and winter is upon us. The time has arrived for another reading list. First off is Norwegian Wood, the book that made Haruki Murakami a superstar. This is more of a period novel, first released in 1987. The current English version, which Murakami himself authorised, is by academic Jay Rubin. Next up is The Midnight Library, a Times bestseller from last year. Matt Haig paints a vivid sketch of near-death experiences. The book reminded me of Mitch Albom’s works, particularly The Timekeeper and For One More Day. Finally, I wrap things up with a nonfiction title: Remember by Lisa Genova. The author keeps to her forte of neurological matter and brain science. This represents another popular pick coming from the writer of Still Alice.

  • Norwegian Wood (Murakami). This is my introduction into his prose, and it was a fitting one. The book is firstly a love story, chronicling two years in Toru’s love life. He recalls his first love, Naoko, who was his best friend’s girl. At the time, he stayed in the dormitory. He would amuse Naoko with stories of Storm Trooper, his roommate. He would befriend Nagasawa, who lived in the same dorm. The latter was a Casanova, and they would head to bars to pick up women. The book was set in 1969, complete with stereos, prolific letter-writing, and free love. Naoko gets ill and retreats to the hills.

While studying at university, Toru meets Midori. She is the polar opposite of Naoko: vivacious, impulsive, and candid. Though he is still in love with Naoko, Toru falls for Midori. She is the daughter of a bookshop owner and loves to speak her mind. He visits Naoko at her new pit stop and meets Reiko, who is in the same boat. Together with their fellow inhabitants, they grow their own vegetables, eat mostly fresh fruit, and teach one another new skills. After this, Toru writes to both women constantly, but Naoko could rarely muster the courage to reply. Nagasawa’s narcissism increasingly unnerves Toru, and he distances himself from the former.

He moves out of the dorm and finds his own place. When meeting up with Midori shortly thereafter, his phlegmatic stance and ruminating about Naoko creates a void between them. For months, Midori does not acknowledge him. In the end, tragedy strikes, and Toru takes a break. He wanders along the coast and sleeps in graveyards. After three weeks, he decides that it was time to return to Tokyo. He lets Reiko in as a guest, who finally leaves the shelter. He realises that Midori holds a special place in his heart and phones her.

Norwegian is quite easy to read. The text has eleven (mostly lengthy) chapters. Murakami had released a few novels before this, but – as mentioned – this put him on the map. Norwegian has been deemed semi-autobiographical. Indeed, some of Toru’s details mimic those of a younger Murakami. Their ages are similar. Both studied university in Tokyo and were then newcomers to the metropolis. Student protests overshadowed both in college. An early Murakami creation, Norwegian reveals some of his hallmarks. For instance, the inclusion of a cat and an enigmatic well could be found here. Furthermore, the main character is an only child, another feature emblematic of the novelist.Interestingly, the author admits that his earlier life could not be that eventful. Many decades on, this remains one of his most famous pieces.

Yokohama

Rating: 4.6/5

  • The Midnight Library (Matt Haig). This was a treat from the veteran author. Since being published last year, Midnight has been a mainstay on the Times bestsellers. The book combines time travel with existentialist probing. The use of the library was a brilliant conceit. At the start of the book, Nora Seed is fed up with her banal existence. Her day worsens, she finds no purpose and connection, and at the end, she’s just gutted. Enter, the Midnight Library. The repository functions like a sort of limbo. The shelves are stacked with infinite possibilities for Nora. Her mentor, the librarian, guides her through the process. The clock is stuck on midnight.

Nora picks up the Book of Regrets. She slowly works through these, starting at the major ones before proceeding to minor regrets. She gets to live various versions of herself. She indulges in her life with Dan, her ex-fiancée, and finds that their life together isn’t what she imagined. She goes to Australia, only to realize that Izzy, her best friend, has perished. She lives for fame and fortune but finds emptiness. She survives a polar bear attack in the Arctic as part of a group of scientists trying to deconstruct climate change. She uncovers a simple life looking after dogs in her hometown.

Waking up as a spouse and mother was by far the happiest iteration. She felt something different and deeper: she experienced love for Molly, her child. After each foray, whether they be days or weeks, she ends up with Mrs. Elm (the librarian). Yet, untangling the multitude of possibilities, there will always be a loose end; disappointment will loom in the corner. While in the freezing North Pole, she meets Hugo, a fellow slider. He admits that the limbo is different for various souls. In his case, it’s a video store with his uncle. In all these scenarios, Nora has to improvise. This reminded me of the show, Thank God You’re Here.

In all, Midnight has shades of Recursion by Blake Crouch. I reviewed that last year. The read also reminds me of Mitch Albom. I loved the writer’s creativity, utilising ‘Ryan Bailey’ and ‘Henry David Thoreau.’ He likewise paints a beautiful landscape with his prose. The book has short chapters, is fast paced, and the page count is reasonable. Like most worthwhile novels, the protagonist changes in the end. She appreciates what she has and exudes new joie de vivre.

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Remember (Lisa Genova). The Harvard-educated neuroscientist returns with a dissection of human memory. The book is divided into three parts. ‘How We Remember’ is Part I. The first six chapters comprise this section. This functions as a handy introduction into the mechanics of memory. She emphasises the need for paying attention in order to cinch recollections. We also need to ‘make it meaningful,’ as this adds value to our memories. Visualisation is likewise critical in the process as our brains need cues. In this section, the author unpacks muscle memory, the processes that are deeply ingrained into our psyche – like riding a bike or surfing. She also differentiates between semantic and episodic memory. The former is made up of all our stock knowledge, while the latter is your history, remembered.

Part II is called ‘Why We Forget.’ The author reveals that, as we retell our stories, they become less accurate. The further we are from the event, the more unreliable our accounts. One chapter is titled ‘Tip of the Tongue.’ The average person gets this a few times a day. Genova reveals that this happens more often with proper nouns. She cites the Baker/baker paradox, where subjects would remember the common noun more than the surname. The author also assures us that remembering stuff is not always better. When we do want to recall, we can always use lists, calendars, diaries, and even mind maps. She then discusses ‘Normal Aging’ and ‘Alzheimer’s.’

Part III is Improve or Impair. Genova kicks off the final section with a nudge for people to contextualize. If you’re struggling to remember something, try to retrace your steps. Memories are far likelier to be recalled when the conditions match the original. You are more likely to make associations. She also dedicates a chapter on stress. The latter causes all sorts of ailments, so chilling out is key. Genova debunks myths. For instance, she points out that there’s no scientific evidence that drinking red wine prevents Alzheimer’s. The same applies to dark chocolate, coffee and tea. Instead, she advances certain dietary approaches, exercise, yoga, and meditation.

The author brings this altogether in the fourteen-page Appendix. The writing could get a little technical. However, the short chapters allay this. In general, Genova’s language was quite straightforward. There is no doubt that this is a well-researched book.

Rating: 4.1/5

Present-day Shinjuku
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A puppy’s (healthy) lunch

At the best of times, having pets can rejuvenate your life. They shine a light in the darkness and are your trusty companions. Therefore, giving them the right attention and proper nutrition is imperative. While they may be cute and cuddly, they could turn into Wolfman if not fed properly. I notice odd behaviour by dogs here in Sydney. They don’t bark as much as our dogs overseas. I deduce that this is from a lack of a balanced diet.

Case in point

Last year, my friend and I bought subway sandwiches. We then hung out at the park to eat these. I had already finished my sandwich, but my friend had only gotten one bite. Around this time, a guy was walking his dog. The canine made a dash at us. Sensing trouble, my pal hid their unfinished sandwich behind them on the seat. The brown labradoodle made a beeline for the sandwich and finished it in a few big bites.

Afterward, the owner was apologetic. He concurred that he has been teaching his canine, but that – at two years old – she is still a puppy. He admitted that ‘my dog loves sandwiches.’ He told us that he can buy my pal a new sandwich. My friend said he didn’t need to go through the trouble. My bud refused to accept the guy’s money, but he left the ten-dollar note on the chair. I observed that this kind of pouncing didn’t happen as much in the Philippines.

Another example

One time, I was hanging out at another park. I bought some McDonald’s with me. As I munched on my chips, this Pomeranian was hanging nearby. She kept staring at my grub. Was this normal dog behaviour? I did not flick her a chip as there were other dogs around and I did not want to tempt fate. Compared to humans, dogs have a heightened sense of smell. There has been a plethora of depictions in the media about this. This only serves to foreground canines as ‘man’s best friend.’

Feisty felines

This time, we take a detour from dogs. I hung out at Darling Harbour (in Sydney’s CBD) together with two mates. We had barely sat when this Indian chick took a bite from her pork roll. Suddenly, a pack of underfed cats converged on her late lunch and clawed at the sumptuous roll. The woman tried to laugh it off, but it was a good cautionary tale on the perils of flashing your lunch.

I’m sure some of you have heard about the boar incident. A German man was sunbathing on this beach when the boar stole his laptop. He chased the hog around – buck naked. Some of the beachgoers captured the moment. With his permission, the file was uploaded and became a viral hit.

The secret is out

In spite of these proclivities, most pets could give you pure joy. Dogs are incredibly intelligent and loyal animals. Given the right diet, healthy exercise, and tender loving care, these pets will flourish. Humans have long grasped these attributes, making canines ubiquitous companions. They catch saucers in the park. They guide the blind. They detect anomalies in airports. They rescue people on the beach. They act alongside stars in movies and on telly. Indeed, even Hagrid -with his quaint cottage – has Fang (a bloodhound). They’re the sidekick par excellence – for all seasons.

Invaluable

True empathy for your critters holds no dollar value. Whether they’re adorable lap dogs, border collies, or Saint Bernard’s, you will treat them as another member of your family. You ought to treat them right. I recall this exam for Good Morals in grade one. Part of it was multiple choice. There were a few illustrations, and you would pick the right one. In one question, there was a picture of a dog being spanked. Another choice had the dog being patted. Such an existentialist dilemma, ay? For a moment, I wonder who would’ve picked the dog spanking as their response. My naughty classmates?

Though they’ve been around for millennia, we are just beginning to tap into the tremendous potential of these furry creatures. For instance, the chihuahua can trace its beginnings back to ancient Mexico. Incidentally, one of my peers have found the chihuahua quite annoying, with their high-pitched bark. Shame, since they could fit in your bag and are thus quite handy. Indeed, dogs have supposedly been evolved from wolves. Times have changed and technology has evolved, but dogs remain a large part of human culture. The landline and pager have gone out of vogue. The video store has long left. The typewriter is dead. Instead, the humble canine has outlasted them all.

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2001: a voyage in time

For this week’s post, we turn back the clock…to 2001. Two decades seem like a long time but they sure pass by quickly. Before we teleport to twenty years earlier, let us consider the status quo. The coronavirus remains the biggest concern at the moment. In particular, India has been ravaged. The death toll has been incredible. This is not to say that the pandemic is foreign to us. International travel is not happening this year. Social distancing remains in place. While numbers have been down, there has still been a few local cases. Events have been cancelled and crowd attendance at matches, closely monitored. One need only remember the last Aussie Open. The fortnight began with restricted attendees, only for the tournament to be made crowd-free.

Social studies

Twenty years ago, what was I up to? I was a student in a Catholic school, having just wrapped up an eventful year. I had started reading Harry Potter and was loving it. In December of 2001, I had watched the first Potter film at the cinemas. It was a full house. I would get 95% in social studies, which was the highest in my year. It was by far my favourite subject. Reading the sports section of the dailies became a routine. The education system then was quite different. Nowadays, the Philippines follows a K-12 program where all years are compulsory. In high school, there are now a variety of learning streams which were not present before. 

No Grisham, no Picoult

At my age, I have yet to read some big names like Grisham, Baldacci, Picoult, and Connelly, to name a few. The Da Vinci Code hadn’t been released. That school year, I joined the school paper for the first time. Then, they published three of my articles. I became sports editor the following year. There was no such thing as an iPhone. Neither were there iPads. Facebook was still a few years away. Google had been around for less than a decade. I remember Buwan ng Wika (Language Month), which transpired in August. I recall agape, where we would sit together in groups and discuss matters of the faith. At the same time, we would share a meal. 

Days of yore

Due to the lack of social media, ultra-thin laptops, and emojis, the era had a very different feel. People wrote letters instead of emails. Landlines were still in. There were no trending topics or memes. Online shopping didn’t exist. However, some things were already on hand. Food delivery was happening. We would sometimes order from them when we wanted something different. Halo-halo on Sundays was lovely. Chicken-Joy, palabok, sariwang lumpia, and Jolly Spaghetti were sumptuous. Other times we’d have McDonald’s: Big Macs, cheeseburgers, McNuggets, and sundaes. 

There may not have been streaming services, but pay TV was popular. This brought the world to us: CNN, sports, HBO, and the BBC, to name a few. We were able to catch up on the latest anime episodes, often dubbed in Filipino. Others would view reality and lifestyle shows. Earlier that year, Denzel Washington won a second Oscar for his gritty portrayal of a corrupt five-oh. In lighter news, the first Shrek movie was released on 18 May 2001. It was an inchoate time, where the next phase was just commencing. The time had a nineties feel but shades of 2010’s. I feel nostalgic remembering those days. 

Manila

The following summer, in 2002, I was probably in Manila – a few weeks before the start of the next school year. It wasn’t a vacation; I was there for a reason. Less than a year ago (2000), I joined a school tour to the nation’s capital. We occupied two buses for three days of work and play. We stayed in a dorm. Regardless, I started tuning into Slam Dunk, which would be a talking point for the whole school. I remember visiting SM Manila and did some shopping. I snagged some Jag items. I remember seeing Spider-Man (the original) at the cinemas with family. I also recall twice going to Chinatown. I recall buying some books in a National Bookstore, including The Little Vampire, a Grant Hill bio, and Michael Jordan: a biography. The shop was in Recto Avenue.

‘NBA Action’

Speaking of Jordan, Ronald Lazenby had yet to pen the definitive biography. The late Kobe was only on one ring at that point. Steph Curry was still a teenager. He was tagging along during his dad, Seth’s, dog days. Even LeBron was in high school. At the time, Shaq was the most dominant player in the league. Hakeem was still suiting up, as were Ewing, Gary Payton, and David Robinson. I recall the All-Star game, which I watched for the first time. Kobe talked in Italian. Jason Kidd was my favourite then. The association only had twenty-nine teams and had a second Canadian franchise. There were no outfits in Brooklyn, Oklahoma, and New Orleans but there were in Seattle, New Jersey, and Vancouver. 

Summer

We had four dogs at home. Our house was beside a massive mango tree. Summer spelled vacation time, a respite after the long school year. May would have been the height of summer, with cool smoothies, lots of mangoes, and ice cream. It also meant fruits like santol. As per above, this is also the time of the NBA Playoffs, where legends are made. That May, the Lakers, Spurs, Sixers, and Bucks were still alive. They were the few squads who had a legitimate shot at the Larry O’Brien trophy. While the Lakers swept the Spurs, the Bucks gave the Sixers all they could handle, forcing a Game 7. 

The Lakers pulverised the opposition, going a then-record 15-1 in the postseason. They got out of the West without a single setback. The Sixers were worthy adversaries in The Finals. Iverson dropped 48 points in Game 1 in LA. However, playing 1-on-5 he wouldn’t emerge victorious. My favourite moment of that playoffs was when he hit a shot over Ty Lue late in Game 1. Marv Albert’s sentiment was priceless. The LA title repeat was arguably the sports story of the year. However, the biggest headline belonged to the 9/11 attacks. A terrorist strike at the world’s financial and media hub…in broad daylight? In the aftermath, even a mighty cub named Tiger had to cancel his golfing event. I’ll make sure to expand on this in the future, when I commemorate 9/11 on its 20th anniversary.   

Simple joys

Unlike today, social distancing or wearing a mask were not required. Establishments were not capped at a certain number of visitors. You could enjoy the game as a supporter and did not have to worry. You could go to the beach, get a tan, and not squirm about whether the spell is short-lived. You could go to Reykjavik or Samarkand, the Pantanal or Kilimanjaro. As long as you fulfilled the travel requirements, you were on your way. Going back to the present, we sometimes took these things for granted. These simple joys are more precious than we imagined. Looking forward, what would the next twenty years have in store for us? 

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Ozark (2018) reviewed

I’d been streaming Ozark for some time and have wrapped up the viewing early this week. The series derives its title from the Missouri Ozarks, where a family of four converge to launder money. Jason Bateman stars as Marty White, with strong support from Laura Linney (Wendy Bryde), Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) and other talented actors. Three seasons have been completed, each numbering ten episodes. These individual eps range from 52 to 80 minutes. Ozark’s theme and premise have been compared to Breaking Bad and Narcos. The programme is one of Netflix’s most popular shows. The series is currently in production for its fourth and final season.  

Season 1 (2017)

The first thing you notice about the show is the perpetually overcast weather. Perhaps this is always the case in the Missouri Ozarks. The second thing you’ll grasp is the show’s unusual intro, featuring a big letter O with the characters z-a-r-k within. The latter four letters are always different images. The series starts in Chicago, where Marty lives with his family. He owns an accounting firm and launders money for the Navarro cartel. Del, a lieutenant in the organisation, pays them a visit. He understands that Marty’s workmates have been stealing money. He kills off the entire firm, but Marty gets a deal: he has to launder $500 million in five years. Marty is able to walk away with the promise of being a ‘washing machine’ in the Ozarks.

He then sells off all his assets to pay back the $8 million which his pals have nicked. He also learns that his wife is unfaithful to him, which ends badly for her lover boy. Having moved to the Ozarks, Marty immediately takes stock of his new surroundings. By season’s end, he manages to be a silent partner in a few legitimate businesses. These include a strip club, a funeral home, and the Blue Cat Inn. Shortly upon arrival, he meets Ruth Langmore. Initially, the lass is intent on terminating him and running off with the dough, but cooler heads prevail. She then becomes Byrde’s right-hand. While initially confused about the sudden move, Byrde’s children get the low-down on their disguise.

They meet the Snells, who grow poppies. The two sides clash, as Marty’s expansion threatens the Snell’s bread and butter. Charlotte, Marty’s kid, hangs out with Wyatt, Ruth’s cousin. Marty acts as go-between as the cartel tries to make a deal with the Snells. However, things take a deadly turn when Del insults the latter. This all transpires as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) keeps tabs on the Brydes. Agent Petty even manages to get some snitches against Marty, but his investigation makes little progress.  

Season 2 (2018)

The second season introduces a new party into the equation: the Kansas City mafia. Marty believes that a casino would solve many of his problems. However, he has to have a few things fall into place before the magic can happen. He needs senate approval to open a new casino in the state. The Brydes then have to deal with a lobbyist in his glasshouse. His clout per se could swing the voting in their favour. Through a bit of blackmail, cajoling, and some blind luck, the casino gets approved. In the aftermath though, a state senator falls on his sword.  

Ruth’s father, Cade, is released from prison. He soon becomes a headache with his vices, demands, and domineering personality. Later in the season, Charlotte lets it be known that she wants to emancipate. The family’s drama tires her, and she wants out. We are also introduced to Helen Pierce, the cartel’s in-house lawyer. She is the main negotiator this time between the cartel and the Snells. Marty manages to secure the land from the Snells and they become dispensable.

As a side note, the Snells almost got their operation outed. Wendy helped burned the poppy field. However, the Bureau team managed to find bones from plantation. By swapping these fragments with the Snell’s ancestors, the cartel was able to get them out of trouble. At season’s end, Marty devises a plan for his family to retire from their business. Once the casino is up and running, he intends to bring his family to the Gold Coast. However, Wendy nixes this plan and convinces him that this scenario is the best possible one. Wyatt, unsure despite a uni offer, learns from Ruth that she’s responsible for both his father and uncle’s demise. He becomes fed up with the family and leaves. Agent Petty is killed, and Cade Langmore gets his comeuppance.

Season 3 (2020)

Following the explosive end to season two, the latest instalment sees the Byrde family thriving with their new casino. However, with great progress comes great challenges. The FBI audits the Byrde’s casino and lingers in their business. Charlotte reneges on her emancipation demand but dictates that her parents attend counselling. The couple therapy is a farce with Marty secretly paying off Sue Shelby to side with him during discussions. When Wendy counters with her own bribe, Marty gives Sue a lump sum final payment to keep mum on their illicit dealings. Soon, she is going about in a luxury sportscar. This doesn’t bode well with Helen, who has her eliminated. A Kansas mobster attacks Ruth. She is furious that Marty wouldn’t terminate her assailant. Wyatt becomes involved with Darlene Snell.

We are introduced to Erin, Helen’s rebellious teen daughter. Erin lives with her father and brother in Chi-town. She eventually learns about her mother’s disguise after Ben confronts them. The latter develops a relationship with Ruth but soon relapses. Without the right routine, he morphs into the Incredible Hulk. In effect, the season reminded me of early Six Feet Under. Billy, Brenda’s brother, was just as difficult as Ben. He also dated Claire Fisher but, soon after, became unravelled. The latter half of the third canto was heartbreaking. It also shows that Wendy’s a toughie, as if that wasn’t obvious enough. She has also been in direct contact with Omar Navarro, the head honcho. Throughout the third instalment, she has been championing the cause of expansion. Her desires to purchase a second casino has courted trouble during the aforementioned counselling sessions. The end sees three main characters going to Mexico to meet Navarro. Only two of them will survive.

Compelling

Acting-wise, Julia Garner shines with two Primetime Emmy’s. Meanwhile, Bateman has found his mark as part-time director. He earned himself an Emmy for directing. Critical acclaim has met all three seasons. Some of the actors have grown on the show, including the Byrde children. Throughout the series, the eye-catching Ozarks are featured. Characters have even made use of boats to showcase the lush greenery and serene waterways.

The programme’s humanity is what appealed to me. The characters have their own quirks and flaws, and you could well relate to them. Though the eps are around an hour in length, there’s fairly a lot of going on. You wouldn’t feel the runtime. The fourth season would be fourteen eps altogether. These will be divided into two parts of seven eps apiece. I’m glad I walked into Ozark. With a balanced mix of impassioned drama and compelling action, the series lives up to the hype.

Rating: 4.55/5

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April (2021) reads

This April has been throwback month for me. Stephen King’s Later is the first entry on the list. While it was set in the present, as noted, the title is part of Hard Case Crime. The next read is Baldacci’s latest, the second instalment in his Aloysius Archer series. The work takes place in 1949, with retro cars, outfits, and landlines. Finally, Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines rounds out this month’s finds. The classic transpires in the Australian outback and once again reaffirms Chatwin’s status as a revolutionary writer. For the uninitiated, this travel book was published in 1987. This volume is notable for utilising a hybrid style.

  1. Later (Stephen King). The prolific writer’s latest offering is part of Hard Case Crime, a series of hard-boiled detective crime novels evoking the pulp fiction of the fifties. The protagonist, Jamie Conklin, could see dead people. His mother, Tia, owns a literary agency and they lived in chic Park Avenue. However, the global financial crisis hit them hard. She supports his Uncle Harry, who stays in a retirement home. Precedently, the latter owned the agency. Jamie’s gift was a secret between him and his mum. However, Liz – who was his mum’s lover – becomes privy to the mystery.

Regis Thomas has been the duo’s lone saving grace, with his Roanoke series. However, he suddenly drops dead while working on the climax of his series. His mother then instructs Jamie to pluck the story from the dead man. She then proceeds to ghost-write the finale. Liz was there at the scene as they coaxed the plot from Mr. Thomas. The book was met with acclaim and becomes a bestseller. Liz, having learned of Jamie’s uncanny knack, ‘abducts’ him to seek out Thumper, a dead bomber. Liz never gets the credit she so craves but leaves a pesky ghost to haunt Jamie. The latter gains the help of a former neighbour, Mr. Burkett, who instructs him to perform the Ritual of Chud. While the rite works, Mr. Burkett dies before Jamie spills the details face-to-face.

Life is peachy for the Conklin’s, with Liz and her dodgy dealings out of the picture. However, the latter blackmails Jamie one fine afternoon. She convinces him to force the massive baron to point out the details of a major shipment. While out of cards in the executive’s house, Jamie evokes the ghost of Thumper, who saves the day before bedtime but not before unleashing a horror within. There is one final twist before the plot ends. The book gets its title from the author’s proclivity in using the word ‘later.’ This is a worthwhile introduction into Hard Case Crime. With 69 sections over 248 pages, a bibliophile may only need two full days.

Rating: 4.4/5

  • A Gambling Man (Baldacci). Aloysius Archer returns in another period thriller. Following the events in Paco City, Archer – the wannabe detective – travels west. He stops at Reno, Nevada, where he meets Liberty Callahan, a lass who dreams of making it in Hollywood. Archer wins big at the casino after betting correctly and parlays his earnings into purchasing a vintage sportscar. After running into some trouble in Reno, Archer and Callahan agree to drive to California. Along the way, they meet riffraff who joined them from Nevada. Despite the setback, they trudge on.

Archer is intent on reaching Bay Town, where he yearns to be a shamus. His former associate in Paco City had recommended Willie Dash, who is a private detective. The aspiring mayor, Douglas Kemper, hires them to keep an eye on his enemies. Meanwhile, Liberty tries out at Midnight Moods and seems to be a natural. However, as Archer’s investigation gets under way, the murders begin. A dancer at the club and Kemper’s campaign manager are both killed. There is also a mysterious island three miles out that figures into this mayhem. Dash and Archer continue asking questions, which lead to more slayings, this time a doctor and the elevator sentry. The dynamic duo gets closer to unmasking the truth. They realise that the town’s kingpin, the man whose family built the pueblo, may be the biggest villain of all.

Baldacci crafts an evocative piece that pays homage to post-war America. For the most part, he gets the description, objects, and feel. At times, he focuses on attires and could be illustrative. He could be superficial in Callahan’s dialogues. How Archer manages to gain new friends so swiftly is likewise surprising. In this budding series, the author has shown a penchant of nonchalantly killing off key characters in quick succession. This is reminiscent of The Departed, Oscar Best Picture in 2006. However, the captivating story fuels the book. Most of the action takes place around Bay Town, specifically Midnight Moods and the characters’ home and workplaces. Furthermore, the corruption, inequality, and greed of the townsfolk bear similarity to its predecessor, One Good Deed. As usual, he employs short chapters and full players. I recommend this novel to anyone searching for a high-octane, undemanding period thriller.

Rating: 4.2/5

  • The Songlines (Chatwin). In this text, the author wanders through central Australia in search of the titular creation. Russian-Aussie Arkady accompanies him for the first third of the book. They drive through the country, meeting a motley of elders, kids, and artists. He learns more about songlines and Aboriginal culture. In particular, the traveller is drawn to the Dreaming. The latter is difficult to describe; one needs a paradigm shift. The dreaming is at the heart of their culture, the way ‘things came to be’, how life started. The dreaming is both lore and ethics, land and fauna. Regardless, painters are forbidden to draw their own Dreaming. I surmised that the Indigenous peoples find home in their traditions and poetry, as opposed to material wealth. They mark their territory through verses. They are also incredible storytellers, complete with re-enactments.

After a fairly engrossing 160 pages, Chatwin then refers to his moleskin notebooks. The next fifty pages are full of trivia regarding man’s search for relevance. The rest of the chapters also incorporate these pieces. The writer asserts that man are primal beings and that he derives satisfaction through the journey. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of these vignettes. I admit that I had to skip some of them. The book is not very accessible, mainly due to the trivia. Indeed, as one blogger propounded, they are closer to poetry. However, I gleaned from these bits that Chatwin has travelled far and wide. He’s been to places as disparate as India, Saharan Africa, Pico, New York, and the Serengeti. He’s climbed mountains, ate with nomads, witnessed tribal initiations, and spoke with experts.

The Songlines is much more than a book about Australia. The title is about a worldview, about reason and inculturation, stories and artwork. Having lived these experiences himself, the plot delves into the hopes, dreams, and struggles of a nation. As ancient as the land per se, the first peoples are forced to adapt. We live in strange times. I would add here that Chatwin has a propensity for embellishing; he dresses up his prose for maximum effect. This was true with In Patagonia and more so in this one.

Chatwin gives gripping, first-hand accounts of stories that will live on. Moreover, I would have to reiterate that the author has a wide vocabulary. The text is peppered with foreign words. There is even the odd French phrase. I prefer In Patagonia over this one due to the shorter sections. I had to skip less pages with that one, too. Realise though that this effort remains one of the late writer’s most famous works. In all honesty, I believe though that the book is overrated. The title tries to pack too much.

Rating: 3.85/5

Next read:

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White Tiger (2021) reviewed

Oscars weekend is here, and today I’ll review one of the nominees. The White Tiger is up for Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie is derived from the Aravind Adiga novel. While the book was released in 2008, the film version only premiered on Netflix this past January. At the time, it was one of the top films on the streaming service. A gritty portrait of class struggles, poverty, and globalisation, the production uses an all-Indian cast. Moreover, Tiger was shot on location in Delhi. Newcomer Adarsh Gourav spearheads the ensemble, which also includes some Bollywood stars.

Balram

Tiger tells the story of Balram Halwai, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in Laxmangarh. In spite of his family’s destitution, Balram is a voracious reader. In school, he is leaps and bounds better than his classmates, prompting a visiting scout to offer him a scholarship in Delhi. The same guy labels him ‘a white tiger.’ However, when his pops is unable to pay back the village elder, Balram’s grandma forces him to work in the local tea stall. As a result, he never steps foot in the classroom again.

Balram dreams of working for Ashok, son of the village landlord. The latter has returned from the US together with Pinky, his Americanised wifey. The spouse was a native New Yorker from Jackson Heights. Balram’s grandmother agrees to cover his driving lessons, with a share in his salary. The protagonist is hired as the family’s second driver but is also mistreated. The threat of a reprisal against his brethren is enough to keep him honest. Ashok and Pinky wish to move to Delhi, where they will buy government officials to give them tax breaks. Balram, who wants only to work for the couple, exposes the main driver’s creed. After the latter is sent packing, Balram joins the pair to Delhi. The westernised twosome clash with Ashok’s family.

Cultural capital

As opposed to other family members, the couple treat Balram well but still see him as a lackey. They take it as their duty to enlighten Balram. Throughout the runtime, Balram is often juxtaposed with his wealthier patrons. While the lead has street smarts, his patrons have cultural capital. It’s no secret that the consequence of an education is foregrounded. One’s learning becomes crucial in navigating (and surviving) India. In the ensuing scenes, Ashok is made accountable for the failings of his bosses. The family treats him like an outsider, belittling him even when he’s there. He loses faith in his bosses. Pinky eventually leaves her hubby for the States, which leaves Balram to steady his boss. His grandmother follows through on her promise and Balram squirms to avoid the arranged marriage. Furthermore, grandma sends him one of his younger nephews to learn the ropes from him.

Disillusioned

Balram starts going rogue, using Ashok’s car as a taxi and siphoning gas. He learns of a particularly big shipment that his patron will deliver. He then plots to murder Ashok, steal the money, and use it for good. This is the only way to rise above and roar like a tiger. He does all three and relocates together with his mentee to Bangalore, then the IT hub of the subcontinent. He bribes the police and starts his own lucrative taxi business. He treats his employees with care and does not point fingers in their failings. He reveals that he is now Ashok Sharma.

The making of Tiger

I haven’t read the novel, but I gathered that the movie is faithful to the book. American director Ramin Bahrani also wrote the screenplay. The helmer considered updating the plot to more recent times but gave up the idea since Tiger is a period film. While the script was initially 200 pages long, he managed to winnow it down. Instead of Balram posting on social media, he wrote emails instead. Bahrani considered other more familiar faces for the lead role but thought that the star should be both Indian and obscure. This would tie in nicely with the character’s underdog tag. Bahrani scoured far and wide in India, spending months and trekking through Adiga’s universe. He encountered hordes of faces, before sighting Gourav. The latter repaid the director’s confidence by preparing diligently for the role. Apparently, Gourav blew the filmmaker away during the audition.

The critics’ village

Tiger was released on 22 January of this year on Netflix. According to the latter, approximately 27 million households streamed the movie in its first month. The production was in the top 10 of 64 various countries. The film was met with universal acclaim, citing that it was ‘well-acted, beautifully made…a grimly compelling drama.’ In particular, pundits praised the efforts of the lead and Priyanka Chopra (Pinky). The latter was cited as ‘impressive’ and ‘marvellous.’ The picture has been compared to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The general view though from commentators is that this takes Slumdog up a notch, with its black comedy and savage reparation.

Riveting watch

The movie clocks in at 125 minutes, which is enough to keep you hooked. You couldn’t blame people for pitting it against Slumdog. Afterall, it’s Oscar season and the latter, with eight statuettes, set the bar for Indian-themed flicks. However, I like to contrast it to The Namesake, partly since I’ve read the author, Lahiri, recently. The two are not alike. While Namesake is a wistful drama, Tiger is a brutal correction of caste troubles. The former treads the tricky paths of the West/East divide. While there is some overlap, the latter remains an allegory on progress and seizing the day. The former has veteran actors; a newbie headlines the latter. However, both movies have rated well, and leave you learning more about Indian culture. How Tiger fares on Monday afternoon (Sydney time) would be interesting.

Rating: 4.5/5

Bangalore
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Jaunting through Top Ryde City (NSW)

Recently, we visited Top Ryde City. I’ve been there before. In 2018, I watched four films at the centre, including Ant-Man 2. Top Ryde is much similar to Westfield Eastgardens; there are neither train nor metro stops nearby. West Ryde and Meadowbank stations are the closest, but you’ll still have to take the bus. While being more inaccessible, I have to admit that the complex isn’t particularly remarkable. While Eastgardens has a Myer and the three major discount department stores, Top Ryde houses TK Maxx, Kmart, and Big W instead. The current Top Ryde iteration is a fairly large indoor/outdoor mall, with 78,125 square metres of floor space. This is spread over six levels. This makes it almost on par with Eastgardens (82,687 m2) and over twice the size of nearby Rhodes Waterside (34,646 m2). The mall features twin travelators across the main section. This is peculiar, as other centres around Sydney use the latter as a means to the carpark, basement, or upper level. Aside from Broadway shopping centre in downtown Sydney, you rarely see the travelators dominating the floor area.

Beginnings

The original centre initially opened in 1957. The structure represented the first major open-air mall in the state. The Benjamin’s opened their dream complex after taking in twenty malls in the novel American style. Franklins, the AJ Benjamin Department Store and 400 other smaller retailers, anchored Top Ryde. In 1962, Lendlease took over and saw the arrival of Woolworths and Grace Bros. A ten-pin bowling alley entered in the seventies. In 1986, redevelopments led to the edifice having a new designation: Top Ryde Shopping Square. Grace Bros beget Venture beget Target. A mall reshuffle then transpired, with the food court being teleported and banking relegated to the south end.

Adversity

The growth of several malls within Top Ryde’s periphery spelled doom. Macquarie Centre (MC) opened in 1981, while Westfields in Parramatta and Hornsby kept growing. The institution of Rhodes Waterside in 2004 likewise had a significant impact on foot traffic at the old edifice. On its last legs, Top Ryde was essentially a dead mall with Woolies, Franklins, the bowling alley and ninety specialty shops – mostly banking and service stores. The structure had two floors, with Woolies and the food court on level one. Franklins was on the street level, with busing access. The bowling place and carpark were on the third level.  

Top Ryde City

The edifice was demolished in July 2007 and construction then commenced. The new centre was so named after a consensus by the local Ryde Council. Stage 1 opened in November 2009, with the introduction of Woolies, Big W, Dan Murphy’s, and JB Hi-Fi.  Stage 2 was completed and ready by March 2010. This featured Aldi, Rebel Sport, and sixty other shops. This was also our first glimpse of the fashion area (La Strada). Finally, Stage 3 saw the unveiling of Myer and more fashion outlets at La Strada. This occurred on 4 August 2010. The former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was on hand for the official opening on 20 August 2010. Event Cinemas and other council projects welcomed patrons in February 2011. The original Top Ryde went into receivership. The Hong Kong arm of American-based Blackstone Group purchased the complex in November of 2012.

Twenty-thirteen

My first visit was way back in 2013. I met a friend at the mall, and we saw Captain Phillips. From my first visit, I gathered that this wasn’t a very accessible centre. At that time, Myer was still operating but I inferred that business was bad. I remember my friend ordering this croissant and hot tea for the afternoon snack. We also had a look at Strandbags. We probably had lunch at the food court, but I couldn’t remember what I had. I recall him talking about adding more storage for his PlayStation. I asked a couple of cute lasses where the bus stop was going back. At the time, I couldn’t quite place their accents.

At the movies

The movies were the primary reason for all the other times that I dropped by Top Ryde. I have to admit that their cinemas are nice. This is due to two reasons. One, the cinemas had only been around for less than a decade when I visited. Two, hardly anyone rocks up for movies here. When I asked my ex-neighbour, he asserted that only Event Beverly Hills is doing worse. The centre does have a bevy of dining options, but the aforementioned other centres are much more budget friendly. With their stylish set-up, Top Ryde’s dining precinct gives off a posh vibe. We had a look at some of these spots, which were mostly overpriced. We settled for Mexican grub. While I was making my order, the checkout chick was clearly getting stressed. She was eyeing the growing line behind me.

The stroll

After lunch, we headed to TK Maxx. There was this jacket that was priced at $69.99, with only one size left. I guess the Calvin Klein chest logo was worth the damage. The bag section had some good artsy, monochromatic designs. After looking at their menswear, I had to admit that there wasn’t much. Strandbags was next; I looked through their leather wallets. We went to The Reject Shop and bought some foodstuff. We then visited Best and Less; they had cheap denim. However, the grey jeans were too faded for my liking. There was a water bottle that we considered, but I deduced correctly that the recipient wouldn’t like the design.

Final word

We went to Big W and bought this good-value sheet set. We ducked into Kmart, mainly to see how their own sheets stack up. We did a light shop at Coles, mostly bakery items. We capped off our day at the food court, where I bought some KFC and Asian takeaway to go. We caught a direct bus ride from the mall to the city. Funny enough, the trip took longer than a similar one from MC. There sure were more stops for this one. The departure of Myer left a hole in this centre, one that hasn’t been filled. In addition, the complex is currently on the market. When we took in the centre, there wasn’t much activity – even though it was the school holidays. As it currently stands, there isn’t much reason to swoon over this structure, especially since you’d have to change at least once to get there.

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Fargo (2014) reviewed

Subsequent to my bingeing of Atypical, I have since been devouring Fargo. The series takes its name from the Coen brothers movie circa 1996 and is set in Midwestern America, including Minnesota, Kansas, North and South Dakota. Noah Hawley is the primary director and writer of the programme, which is a fusion of black comedy and thriller. The show has produced four seasons thus far, and I’ve almost finished the first three. Fargo is an anthology series, with different plots and characters for each instalment. There was a significant number of familiar faces in the programme. In short, I’ve seen these role players in other offerings. All four series were critically acclaimed, and the second season got a perfect rating. The characters were uniform in their midwestern accents. All seasons are supposed to be based on real events but have been altered out of respect for survivors.

Season 1 (2014)

The true crime anthology begins in small town Minnesota. The season takes place during winter in early 2006, with the town covered in snow. A drifter, Malvo, enters the precinct and causes mayhem. Billy Bob Thornton does a malevolent turn. Meanwhile, Lester is one of the townsfolk he ‘helps.’ The latter works as an insurance salesman. A former classmate, who now owns a trucking business, bullies him. He neither agrees nor disagrees to let Malvo ‘spank’ his tormentor, Sam Hess. Because of his indecision, he sets off a chain of events that plunges Bemidji into chaos. Lester starts to lie in order to cover his tracks. This progresses to medium, and finally, big untruths. He becomes no different than Malvo.

For almost the entire season’s duration, Lester is not held accountable for his behaviour. Molly Solverson (of the local police department) is on his trail but her boss (Bob Odenkirk) repeatedly side-tracks her investigation. Though a period piece, this is a fine example of bureaucracy. A similar thing would happen with two FBI agents later on in the show. While the latter was a staple in Breaking Bad, we also have Keith Carradine (who plays Molly’s father) and Colin Hanks (Dexter). The latter portrays a cop with Duluth PD who crosses paths with Malvo. Hanks becomes involved with Solverson. Jordan Peele (director of Get Out) was also part of the cast. Peele played one of two FBI agents who were banished to archives after not being useful in a live murder scene. Peele would redeem himself as he connects the dots with Molly.

As a side note, the first season included a man finding a briefcase full of dollars. When Malvo purses him upon learning of his hidden wealth, his life becomes hell. A ransom is demanded, he decides to return his find back to the ground. This is a timely allegory with existential overtones. Is it “finders’ keepers?” Or, when the going gets tough, should it be “finders returners?” There was also a riddle about the hare, fox, and cabbage. How would you ferry them across the river when you could only bring one at a time? The series won three Emmy’s and earned Thornton a Golden Globe award.

Rating: 4.8/5

Season 2 (2015)

The second season is another true crime treat, this time based mostly in both Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. Jesse Plemons was nicknamed Meth Damon while on Breaking Bad. He resurfaces this time as Ed Blumquist, a well-fed butcher who yearns to have his own business. His wife, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), is a beautician. Early in the series, Rye Gerhardt – who was part of a crime family – murders three humans. A judge was among his kill list. While getting some air outside the scene of the crime, things end badly for the killer – thanks to Peggy . The couple then become unlikely matadors. Peggy instructs her hubby to rid themselves of the evidence. Hence, Ed dismembers the corpse, before turning him into minced man. He would then burn the clothes he used to chop up the dead body.

This instalment acts as a prequel to its predecessor, taking place in 1979. Retro cars, outfits, and telephones abound. Carradine is a younger state trooper, instead of a café owner. This time he is played by Patrick Wilson. His daughter, Molly, is still a child. His wife has terminal cancer and has mere months left. Wilson is reminiscent of his daughter later on: tough, resourceful, righteous, and determined. He anticipates a turf war between the Gerhardts and their Kansas City nemesis. This would arise from Rye’s death and the subsequent finger pointing. Peggy and Ed’s dishonesty would worsen matters. Like Lester twenty years later, their fabrications would get bigger over time. For instance, they sold their car for a song and faked an auto accident to wiggle out of trouble. They would even get a hostage to gain the upper hand. Finally, they went on the run. In other words, their deceit would eventually swallow them up and make them afoul of the law. Solverson has trouble getting his voice heard among his colleagues on the force.

Meanwhile, Ted Danson appears as Wilson’s father-in-law. I saw him previously as the architect in The Good Place. Nick Offerman is another recognisable face, being cast in Parks and Rec. Here, he moonlights as Karl Weathers, the town’s lone lawyer. However, my favourite character in this edition is Hanzee, the native American who’s so badass. He’s the coolest outlier on the show without even trying. Emily Haine was also notable in her bit as Noreen, a book-toting absurdist teen who liked to quote Camus. While juggling reads and her role in the butchery, she babysat Molly. Once again, the series competed for a slew of awards and was considered one of 2015’s finest. Like season one, the show had ten episodes and was likewise shot in Calgary, Alberta.

Rating: 5/5

Season 3 (2017)

Though still in the same fictional universe, the third season departs from the norm. This instalment is the first in the series not to be set in Fargo, North Dakota. Instead, the edition takes place in three Minnesotan towns: Saint Cloud, Eden Valley, and Eden Prairie. The events transpire between 2010 and 2011. Ewan McGregor stars in the double role as brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy. The former is the well-to-do ‘parking lot king of Minnesota’, while his hermano struggles as a parole officer. Emmit has a fine house, his brother chugs along in an antique Corvette. Ray begins a relationship with one of his charges, which was a no-no.  

Ray is after the vintage stamp that sits in Emmit’s office, as he believes this is rightfully his. He convinces one of his parolees to steal the stamp from him. However, things go sideways as the intoxicated recidivist loses the slip of paper bearing Emmit’s address. Instead of heading to Eden Prairie, he ends up murdering an old man in Eden Valley. The latter happens to have Stussy’s surname and is the father-in-law of Gloria Burgle, the female lead. Ray and his partner remind me of Ed and Peggy from season two. In a cruel twist of fate, they get involved in a double murder.  

Meanwhile, a mysterious bugger named V.M. Varga appears into Emmit’s passenger seat. Varga bailed out Emmit’s company with a million-dollar loan, no questions asked. Now, V.M. is taking control not only of Emmit’s business, but his home life. Varga likes to tell stories; he’s a veritable quote machine. People might remember the actor as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter. However, he takes a much darker turn in this outing. He’s shady, to say the least. He is paranoid of any type of bad PR and meddles in whatever briefing he deems trouble. He is likewise bulimic. In the show, Varga almost exclusively rocks up in a brown $200 suit and a beige trench coat.

Through this all, Gloria tries to piece together the murders and deceit. She often faces sexism and discrimination at work. Like Molly in the first season, her boss refuses to trust her. She finds an ally in Winnie Lopez, who is with the St Cloud PD. She even travels to Los Angeles to find some answers. Gloria has to contend with the bureaucracy to ensure that the truth prevails. I recognised the parolee, Scoot McNairy, who was in Narcos: Mexico. There was also a Wes Wrench sighting. The latter is the deaf-mute hitman from season uno; he plays a relatively brief but pivotal role in this one. Andy Yu was brilliant as the cold-blooded matador. Carrie Coon was head-turning as Gloria. Ewan McGregor’s Jeckyll and Hyde act was commendable. If you assumed that the third instalment was set in Calgary (again) then you guessed right.

Rating: 4.7/5

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