Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Save the Diamond Breakthrough?

Ed. Note: Can't say whether this will turn out to be a real breakthrough, or just another level of discordancy. But I'm glad somebody outside of City Hall has continued to work on a plan that makes sense for the neighborhood The Diamond is a part of now, and for the rest of the city, as well.

Owned by Richmond's citizens, The Diamond is far too great of an asset to sweep away without such a plan. The Flying Squirrels made a mistake when they backed Mayor Dwight Jones' rejected plan to build a ballpark, etc., in Shockoe Bottom. Now the management of the Squirrels obviously regrets it. Still, no one should hold that against them too much. Their arms were being twisted. The push for Baseball in the Bottom twisted a lot of arms before it crashed and burned.

Now the Squirrels want to stay on the Boulevard. That seems to be what baseball fans prefer. And, for what it's worth I support that concept ... for now. As far as how important minor league baseball really is to the whole community, well, maybe that's what ought to be considered -- maybe even voted upon -- before we commit to spending a lot of money on it down the road. Anyway, I got this info in the form of a press release, by way of email today.

Media Announcement
Nov. 24, 2015, For Immediate Release 
Richmond Group Announces Plan To Transform The Diamond and Spark Economic Development In Surrounding North Boulevard Area (Richmond, Va.)

Calling itself “The Save The Diamond Committee,” a local group of citizens, architects, and developers has created a proposal – Live. Work. Play Ball. A New Vision for North Boulevard – to transform the existing Diamond baseball stadium into a 21st century minor-league ballpark. The proposal also includes a multi-use development plan for the contiguous 50 +/- acres that can provide needed significant tax revenue to the City of Richmond.

Committee representatives – Harry H. Warner, Jr, committee chairman, Randy Holmes of Glavé & Holmes, and Steve Terrill of AECOM – will present the plans and ideas to the media and the public on Wed., Dec. 2, 2015, 2 p.m., at the Richmond Public Library auditorium, 101 E. Franklin St. 
Contact: Harry H. Warner, Jr., (804) 357-8157; NewBoulevardVision@Outlook.com

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Five Film Favorites: French Films

From 'Breathless'

My trips to France have been vicarious: words written by others, pictures created by others. For the most part, what I know -- or think I know -- about France has been gathered and presented to me by filmmakers. Moreover, a good part of what I know -- or think I know -- about good movies has been shaped by countless hours spent watching French films.

Like many baby boomers who grew up loving movies, once I discovered foreign films the French New Wave films exerted a big influence on me. So, for me, the memories of Paris that were stirred up by the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, weren't based on times I actually spent there, soaking up the milieu.

Instead, films I've loved have been brought to mind. Today, Nov. 14, 2015, my five favorite French feature films are as follows:

“The 400 Blows” (1959): B&W. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy. Note: This story’s deft portrayal of a brave boy’s yearning for dignity in an indifferent world kicked in the door for the New Wave’s filmmakers.

"Breathless" (1960): B&W. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Note: An opportunistic thief on the lam becomes irresistible to a pretty American journalism student in Paris. Uh-oh, the guy is dangerous. How long can it last?

"Day for Night" (1973): Color. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut. Note: An engaging look at the process of making of a movie, with the private lives of the cast and crew intermingling with the production.

"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972): Color. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig. Note: Probably prankster Buñuel’s most accessible film, this dream within a joke, within a dream, sparkles with its dry wit.

“Lacombe, Lucien” (1974): Color. Directed by Louis Malle. Cast: Pierre Blaise, Auroe Clement, Holger Lowenadler. Note: How does a naive, nihilistic teenager in France, just looking for a way to fit in, end up running with the Nazi invaders? Hey, why not?

That list of sweet flicks includes only feature-length movies. But today I just can't resist mentioning two of my favorite short films that happen to be French:

“La Jetée” (1962): B&W. Directed by Chris Marker. Cast: Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain, Jen Négroni. Note: A stunning example of how less can be way more. This short New Wave classic about memory, imagination, longing and time is unforgettable.

“The Red Balloon” (1956): Color. Directed by Albert Lamorisse. Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse, Georges Sellier. Note: Using little dialogue, this utterly charming 34-minute French fantasy follows a boy and his balloon friend along the streets of Paris.

From 'The Red Balloon'

To wind up, allow me to quote Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart), the protagonist in "Casablanca" (1942). Speaking to Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman), Rick says: "We'll always have Paris."



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Cheaters

A Veterans Day Remembrance: This 1916 photograph of my grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), was shot when he was in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. At the time he was stationed in Brownsville, Texas, as part of a contingent called up and assigned to protect the border. Mexican revolutionary/bandit Pancho Villa had been crossing over to raid small towns ... or so it was said. The next year the Richmond Blues were thrown into WWI in France. 

The story below is about my grandfather. It's set in the summer of 1959. I wrote it 25 years ago for SLANT. A version of it was later published in STYLE Weekly in 2000.

The Cheaters
by F.T. Rea
Having devoted countless hours to competitive sports and games of all sorts, nothing in that realm is quite as galling to this grizzled scribbler as the cheater’s averted eye of denial, or the practiced tones of his shameless spiel.
In the middle of a pick-up basketball game, or a friendly Frisbee-golf round, too often, my barbed outspokenness over what I have perceived as deliberate cheating has ruffled feathers. Alas, it's my nature. I can't help it any more than a watchful blue jay can resist dive-bombing an alley cat.

The reader might wonder about whether I'm overcompensating for dishonest aspects of myself, or if I could be dwelling on memories of feeling cheated out of something dear.

OK, fair enough, I don't deny any of that. Still, truth be told, it mostly goes back to a particular afternoon's mischief gone wrong.


A blue-collar architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for decades, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wingo Owen was a natural entertainer. Blessed with a resonant baritone/bass voice, he began singing professionally in his teens and continued performing, as a soloist and with barbershop quartets, into his mid-60s.

Shortly after his retirement, at 65, the lifelong grip on good health he had enjoyed failed; an infection he picked up during a routine hernia surgery at a VA hospital nearly killed him. It left him with no sense of touch in his extremities. Once he got some of his strength back, he found comfort in returning to his role as umpire of the baseball games played in his yard by the neighborhood's boys. He couldn't stand up behind home plate, anymore, but he did alright sitting in the shade of the plum tree, some 25 feet away.

This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator.

The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.

As likely as not, the stories he told would end up underlining points he saw as standards: He challenged us to expose the true coward at the heart of every bully. "Punch him in the nose," he'd chuckle, "and even if you get whipped he'll never bother you again." In team sports, the success of the team trumped all else. Moreover, withholding one’s best effort in any game, no matter the score, was beyond the pale.

Such lazy afternoons came and went so easily that summer there was no way then, at 11, I could have appreciated how precious they would seem looking back on them.

On the other hand, there were occasions he would make it tough on me. Especially when he spotted a boy breaking the yard's rules or playing dirty. It was more than a little embarrassing when he would wave his cane and bellow his rulings. For flagrant violations, or protesting his call too much, he barred the guilty boy from the yard for a day or two.

F. W. Owen’s hard-edged opinions about fair play, and looking directly in the eye at whatever comes along, were not particularly modern. Nor were they always easy for know-it-all adolescent boys to swallow.

Predictably, the day came when a plot was hatched. We decided to see if artful subterfuge could beat him at poker just once. The conspirators practiced in secret for hours, passing cards under the table with bare feet and developing signals. It was accepted that we would not get away with it for long, but to pull it off for a few hands would be pure fun.

Following baseball, with the post-game watermelon consumed, I fetched the cards and chips. Then the four card sharks moved in to put the caper in play.

To our amazement, the plan went off smoothly. After hands of what we saw as sly tricks we went blatant, expecting/needing to get caught, so we could gloat over having tricked the great master. Later, as he told the boys' favorite story -- the one about a Spanish women who bit him on the arm at a train station in France -- one-eyed jacks tucked between dirty toes were being passed under the table.

Then the joy began to drain out of the adventure. With semi-secret gestures I called the ruse off. A couple of hands were played with no shenanigans but he ran out of chips, anyway.

Head bowed, he sighed, “Today I can’t win for loosing; you boys are just too good for me.” Utterly dependent on his cane for balance he slowly walked into the shadows toward the back porch. It was agonizing.

The game was over; we were no longer pranksters. We were cheaters.

As he carefully negotiated the steps, my last chance to save the day came and went without a syllable out of me to set the record straight. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t seen what we were doing, but my guilt burned so deeply I didn't wonder enough about that, then.


My grandfather didn’t play poker with us again. He went on umpiring, and telling his salty stories afterwards over watermelon. We tried playing poker the same way without him, but it didn’t work; the value the chips had magically represented was gone. The boys had outgrown poker without real money on the line.

Although I thought about that afternoon's shame many times before he died nine years later, neither of us ever mentioned it. For my part, when I tried to bring it up, to clear the air, the words always stuck in my throat.

Eventually, I grew to become as intolerant of petty cheating as F.W. Owen was in his day, maybe even more so. And, as it was for him, the blue jay has always been my favorite bird.
-- 30 --

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Crybaby Candidates

Hard to blame voters of the Republican persuasion for being grumpy. They're being asked to believe their roster of presidential hopefuls are tougher than Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton.

Clinton undergoes a marathon of questioning at the most recent Benghazi investigation by the House. Much of it was a rather mean-spirited stunt designed to put her in a bad light. She handles it all and emerges looking patient, well-seasoned and totally prepared to serve as president. 

Meanwhile, like pouting children, the aforementioned Republican candidates complain about a few minutes of aggressive questioning by reporters. Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, et al, are pissed off at everybody! The media. The Democrats. Their own national committee's leadership. And, of course, at each other. 

Hard to see such candidates as looking tough, or prepared, when they're so busy being crybabies. So, to me, it's hardly surprising that conservative voters are grumpy. But it is funny.