Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Hill House Bed & Breakfast in Loretto, KY

A B&B situated perfectly 
on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The Hill House Bed & Breakfast
     Lisa Marie and her one-eyed, shih tzu sidekick Rudy James were our hosts for two nights on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Situated just 3 miles from Maker's Mark distillery, it offered exceptional lodgings for touring the other bourbon headquarters on the trail.

Lisa Marie and Rudy James
     Lisa Marie is a natural for making one feel at home.  So much so that she insisted that I had visited there before.  I had not, but the premise was an opening to a conversation that brought us to realize that we had both worked in the home visual display departments at different Lazarus stores.  Staying at B&Bs are all about connections and we discovered several over our three days there.

     We occupied 3 of the 4 rooms available with all of ours being on the second floor.  Each was nicely appointed and we made our picks as to who got each room as we toured each one.  All have slightly different bathroom facilities and themed décors.  Lisa Marie was a former interior designer, which you'll realize after settling in to her home.  She had prepared a nice welcome for us with wine, cheese and crackers in the kitchen bar area.  It was an added touch that we appreciated as we got acquainted with our surroundings and the large outdoor garden patio that was sunken from the parking area.

A Typical Breakfast Entrée
     Growing up in Loretto (and leaving for many years), Lisa Marie gave us the highlights of the town.  There aren't any restaurants so having her breakfast each morning was even 
For Starters…
more special.  Her culinary talents are abundant.  We noticed her starting preparations on one of our breakfasts the afternoon before.  Her recipes are not the easiest and the smiles around the table each morning were an acknowledgment of that.  This was genuine Kentucky hospitality!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

James M. Cain: The Cocktail Waitress; Robert Benton: The Late Show

A perplexing, somewhat dated 
late career novel and a small, understated gem

     While browsing at Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, TN, I found James M. Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress, otherwise known as ‘the lost final novel’ on the cover.  Landmark Booksellers is worth a look when visiting Nashville; it sells new, used, and rare books and sometimes even has a group sitting around talking politics and philosophy.  It’s in a Colonial Revival mansion with various rooms, akin to The Book Loft in Columbus’s German Village and one of the coolest landmarks in that city, each space housing different books by type and genre.

     Actually, the first time I read Cain was in high school with a four novel collection I found at The Book Loft.  Yes, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943, though first serialized in 1936) are suspense classics that present desperate and down on their luck characters in the 1930s resorting to schemes that start simply and go disastrously wrong.  Neither book is as lurid or sexy as the simultaneously prurient and puritanical movies adapted from them.  Bob Rafelson’s 1981 version of Postman, however, sort of goes over the edge and Jack Nicholson was a little too old and ugly in the lead; he didn’t seem that different from the aging husband that he and Jessica Lange planned to kill.  
Barbara Stanwyck
Billy Wilder’s 1944 version of Indemnity updates the action by a decade, thereby leaving behind the Depression-era overtones, and masterfully casts Barbara Stanwyck in the lead.  Rather than playing the neurasthenic wraith of the book, she is sexy, smart, and kinky.  She is so thwarted in her ambitions by a patriarchal society that she thinks up a complex plan, which just happens to be evil, because she’s so bored.  It’s one of those movies where you think, “if only she’d had a chance at a great career, what could she have done?”

     Serenade (1937) was turned into a Mario Lanza vehicle, which I’ve never seen.  It must have been bowdlerized to make it to the screen in the ‘50s because the main character is a bisexual male opera singer, who’s saved by a selfless South American woman.  Cain had wanted to be a singer, but didn’t possess the talent.  At the time, I couldn’t get enough of the book, but I’m not certain I’d feel that way now.  The one that 
blew me away was Mildred Pierce (1941).  It’s a domestic drama about a working mother who makes it big because of determination, grit, and some luck.  Things fall apart because of her Achilles heel:  her wretchedly selfish – even wicked – older daughter that she protects extravagantly.  The daughter finally pulls something so mean that Mildred’s had enough.  The book makes perfect sense, while the Joan Crawford vehicle has to turn into a memory suspense thriller with a murder in order to adhere to the hypocritical Hays Code and for the movie studio execs to be interested.  It’s one of those movies where I thought, “if only Barbara Stanwyck had played the part, this could have been so much more convincing.”  Todd Haynes hewed much closer to the book in his TV version with Kate Winslet.  We haven’t seen it, but the book is a couple of hundred pages, while Haynes’ version is five hours!

James M. Cain
     The Cocktail Waitress (published in 2012, but mysteriously written sometime much earlier) is told from the first person point of view of the eponymous character.  It’s a difficult work to place historically because it wasn’t found until after Cain’s death in 1978, but it feels like it’s decades old.  Here’s a sequence from the first chapter between Joan (the waitress) and her sister-in-law Ethel at a funeral:

     I said:  “Ethel, I apologize for my tone.  I’ve been through quite a lot, and being accused of murder, or something that sounds a lot like it, is more than I can take.  So – “
“It’s O.K.  I make allowance.”
“Now, may we get on?”
“If you’re talking about Tad, everything’s taken care of, and there’s nothing to get on to.”
“Then, I thank you.”
But I sounded stiff, and she snapped:  “Joan, there’s nothing to thank me for, Tad’s my own flesh and blood.  He’s welcome and more than welcome, for as long as may be desired.  And the longer that is, the better I’m going to like it.”

40s Hot Pants?
     They sound like hardboiled dames from the ‘30s or ‘40s, but Cain makes reference to the waitresses wearing hot pants, which I didn’t think came into style until the early ‘70s.  So, there’s the simultaneous double-time of Bette Davis’s Dead Ringer (1964), which felt like 1944 and with the twin characters supposed to be at least ten years younger merged with an episode of Charlie’s Angels (around 1977), where Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly would be skimpily clad, stuck in an impossible male controlled situation, but getting out in the nick of time because of Kate Jackson’s Sabrina and Cheryl Ladd’s Kris.  A college friend of mine thought Angels had its cake and ate it too by presenting strong women solving crimes, but also looking pinup sexy.  The older, established writers and producers of Angels made the more mature supporting characters sound like something out of the ‘40s, while the leads sounded like the ‘70s.  

     The cover of The Cocktail Waitress compounds the issue by making the waitress resemble Keri Russell dressed like Jaclyn Smith in ’77 with a side view of her breasts reminiscent of Jane Russell.  She is regarded by an older man, who’s smoking, and the viewer is put in his place.  Again, this feels double-sided, but so is Joan, the waitress, who ends up with two dead husbands and a dead boyfriend.  Is she a black widow or a victim or what?  Two-thirds of the way in, the book reveals a couple of details that place it in around 1960 or ’61, one of those being the original opening of the musical The Fantasticks.  The other has to do with a notorious medication, which plays brilliantly into the end of the novel.  It reminds the reader that Cain always displayed a ‘justice is blind’ attitude towards his characters.

Art Carney in The Late Show
     Another work that deals with the ‘40s noir movie through the prism of a later – in this case, 1970s – lens is Robert Benton’s The Late Show (1977).  It’s a great title because it simultaneously references the old movies that would play after the news in many TV markets in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the main character Ira, played by Art Carney, is a semi-retired private eye who limps, gets worn out easily, and is slightly deaf, so this may be his swan song, and it underlines that the values of the ‘40s have gone out of style, but so have the beatnik values of the early ‘60s and late ‘60s Woodstock that are personified in Margo, played by Lily Tomlin.  She hires Ira to find her cat, kidnapped by an acquaintance because she owes him money.  The acquaintance is up to his neck in trouble with a fence and the movie is off and running.

     It’s also about cheating, greed, corruption, and psychopaths; just like the best of the noirs, but it’s not elegant like them.  These are working, or not so working, stiffs who live in grubby homes and motel rooms and drive vehicles that might not make it to the next gas station.  They’re aware their dreams haven’t worked out, but they keep plugging away. 
Cassidy, Tomlin and Carney
The lighting feels natural – it’s under lit – and the color hasn’t held up well, though that feels appropriate, but the performances by Carney, Tomlin, Bill Macy, Eugene Roche, and Joanna Cassidy cannot be dimmed.  They seem like they’ve lived in this world and paced those streets.  The texture is casual, almost as if it’s a throwaway, but it comes into deadly focus with an original car chase over lawns in a lower-middle class neighborhood and the final image of a bus stop bench underlines the irony of the entire proceedings.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mammy's Kitchen in Bardstown, KY

Southern through and through

Mammy's Kitchen Front Entrance
     It feels much older than its 2007 beginnings with its quirky interior and diner inspired menu.  Mammy's Kitchen is part barnyard, rainforest, inn, and garden rolled into a café that started as a home accessories, antique and sewing shop. How did that happen?  That's another whole story that you can check out at bardstownmammys.com.

Mammy's on the Backside
     We were looking for a light lunch and found it in the wildly-colored back dining area.  The menu is classic Kentuckian comfort food with some interesting takes that we were fortunate enough to spot.  Lori and I had the Baby Brown, their version of the traditional Kentucky Hot Brown in a lunch-sized portion - a very nice choice.  
The Baby Brown
Slaw Burger

John had the Slaw Burger, evidently more widely-known to others than to me.  I had not heard of this local classic.  Theirs met with a thumbs up.  
Jalapeño Cheddar Burger
Kaylee and Bryce shared the Jalapeño Cheddar Burger sparked with deep fried jalapeños.  They were wowed!  
Fried Green Tomato Sandwich

Eric had the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich that didn't seem quite as special as everyone else's was.  He was hoping the Butterscotch Pie that we ogled on the way in would change his opinion.  We shared it, as Lori and John did with the Chocolate Cream Pie, which was the clear winner.  Both fillings were nice and creamy, but the crusts were a bit hard and pasty.  Service was young and attentive, a combination that patrons at other tables didn't seem appreciate as much as we did. They may have been looking for Flo.
Butterscotch Pie
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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Rickhouse in Bardstown, KY

Once you find it, you'll remember it as a standout

     It had been a long day of visiting distilleries, so we did what any weary travellers would do–ask our host for a dinner recommendation and then act on her advice.  Lisa Marie sent us to The Rickhouse in Bardstown with the promise of a first class steakhouse.  

The Inconspicuous Entryway to Rickhouse
     We used our trusty gps as we pulled into the parking lot with Siri's insistence that the restaurant was on our right.  It was a middle school building, so we started wandering the parking lot when we saw a small sign on a gate to the left of the street.  We had found it!  The lower level interior rooms carried the theme of a rick house, or bourbon barrel storage area, with its intimate space and barrels throughout.

The Main Dining Room
     There were seven of us so we were seated in an area with larger tables and the promise of a very large party's iminent arrival.  Our server promptly acknowledged us and Kaylee was melting in her seat from his Kentuckian pronunciation of "sweet tea".  It didn't hurt matters that he was very nice looking, but definitely all business and professional.  We settled into our seats and reading menus bedazzled with steaks and tempting side dishes.  After a round of Q&A, we made our decisions.
6 oz. Prime Cut Filet and Brussels Sprouts
Five of us were sold on the 6 oz. Prime Cut Filet.  Our other two diners would have the New York Strip and BBQ Bourbon Chicken Half.  All were tremendous–done to order and tender as they come.  The dinners came with yeast rolls (yum!) and two sides.
BBQ Bourbon Chicken Half
Between us, we sampled all that they had to offer.  The Scalloped Potatoes and Macaroni were especially creamy with an eleven (yes, eleven!) cheese sauce.
Scalloped Potatoes

The Brussels Sprouts, sautéed with apples, bacon, cranberries, and brown sugar and bourbon would hold up on any menu.  

Bourbon Brownie a la Mode

     I couldn't believe we were actually entertaining the idea of dessert, but they had beckoned us since first seeing them on the menu.  One of each for the table would satisfy our curiosity.  We thought the Chocolate and Orange Bread Pudding would be the star, but the Bourbon Brownie a la Mode was the favorite all around.  After all, we were in the Bourbon Capital of the World so what did we expect?

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd

A good remake of a Hardy classic that still stings

     Plays are revived sometimes because the right star is available.  This happens less frequently with movies, but happily it occurred with the re-make of Far from The Madding Crowd because Carey Mulligan is perfect to play a big, classic part like Bathsheba Everdene.  (The mind reels with what she could do with Portia, Antigone, Hedda Gabler, or Glenda Jackson’s role of Alex in Sunday, Bloody Sunday if anyone ever decided to re-make and update that classic).  When Terence Stamp told Julie Christie in the 1967 John Schlesinger directed version of Madding Crowd that she was the most beautiful woman he’d seen, I believed it because she was (and still is) gorgeous.  When Tom Sturridge says it in this version to Mulligan, we believe it because she radiates intelligence and spirit and because she possesses a regal carriage that looks exactly like that of a John Singer Sargent heroine, which I realize is about twenty-five years later.  She’s also lovely, but she comes across as emboldened and frustrating, whereas Christie came across as tough and bewildering.

The Dorset Countryside
     This version is much shorter than earlier ones, but what may be lost in texture is made up for in clear character motivation.  Thomas Hardy’s great subject was how the natural world influences his characters and how those relationships then play out.  He generally took dozens of pages to describe physical settings that can be summed up in a couple of ten second shots on film.  Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography beautifully captures the Dorset countryside and the different levels of society with a sharp clarity and deep focus.  Claire Simpson’s editing holds the shot to the exact point of interest.  

Mulligan and Schoenaerts
     Thomas Vinterberg, most noted for directing the controversial The Celebration (1998), practically the thesis for the Danish Dogme 95 movement, has had a tough time with finding the same level of success.  In Madding Crowd, he has quietly triumphed.  He still gets in some hand held camera movement as well as natural lighting in a few scenes, but he’s departed from some of the other rigid rules of that group.  His greatest strength is in getting to the point immediately and casting actors who tell us more about their characters through their physical gestures than in what they say.   Screenwriter David Nicholls has assisted Vinterberg in making the political subtext more manifest, namely in asking what a woman wants, and how the social classes interact in Victorian rural England.

The Final Ambiguous Scene
     The best moments in the movie are the first two minutes when we realize exactly who Bathsheba might become by the way in which she rides a horse, while being watched by Gabriel Oak, and the final scene that is far more ambiguous upon reflection than how it may look while playing.  Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor I haven’t seen before, was more convincing as a quiet mentor/partner as Gabriel than Alan Bates in the earlier version.  His features are asymmetrical in a way that makes him an intriguing camera object.  
Michael Sheen
Michael Sheen excels in the tragic role of Boldwood, who has a far greater emotional investment in Bathsheba than the viewer may initially realize.  Tom Sturridge doesn’t hold a candle to Stamp.  Who could?  Was any British actor ever better looking in his prime?  Part of the problem goes back to the source material, which is why does Bathsheba, so desperate to realize her individuality, get 
Tom Sturridge
taken in by such a jerk?  With Stamp, it made sense because of his looks.  Sturridge has a weird cast to his black eyes; he seems creepy from the very first shot we see of him.  The abbreviation becomes a problem because we don’t get a full sense of how much Troy ruins in Bathsheba’s life. We’re told rather than seeing it as it was in 1967. Hardy got it right by showing a smart woman going after a beautiful bad boy and wearing blinders until it’s too late.  Rowan Hedley is a hoot as Maryann Money and makes every look count as she learns about what a woman can become from Bathsheba.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Eat The Document by Dana Spiotta

Notes from underground as radicals 
reinvent and the truth lies dormant

     Dana Spiotta’s Eat The Document (2005) imagines the two leaders of a group like The Weather Underground actually going underground in 1972 after a subversive incident goes wrong and proves fatal.  A reader may already have an inkling of how this will turn out, but Spiotta’s smartest move plot-wise is to also focus on teenagers in the late ‘90s and their ‘counter-cultural’ behavior. The radicals of the ’67 – ’74 era wanted to change American society by trying to stop the Vietnam War from outside the system of power.  The teenagers and young adults of the late ‘90s are more interested in commenting, mostly with ironic self-awareness, upon the system in which they find themselves.
The Weather Underground
     The course that the female leader’s life followed from 1972 – 1998 proves fascinating history of various political and philosophical views by those living in the American counterculture.  By the ‘90s, they seem like a marketing niche demographic.  The younger generation’s members may seem more articulate and sentient, but they do not lead a physical course of action to challenge – certainly not overthrow – the powers that be.  One computer genius does initiate 
a bold course, but this is to become part of the establishment.  He hints that he might undermine from within, but there’s little evidence he will since he ends up treating his girlfriend in a patronizing fashion.

      Jason, the teenage son of the female radical leader years later, is the only character to be granted first person limited omniscience in his journal.  His observations and longing are sharp and pointed.  They’re also too lucid, almost as if this fifteen year old were writing a position paper instead of a journal.  That’s the only fault I have with Eat the Document.  

    With this and Stone Arabia (2011), Spiotta demonstrates her intense focus on the outsider in American society, whether that may be the outlaw, the obscure, or the eloquent.  She shows that although people may say they want to start over or change their lives, they rarely do unless they have few – if any – other choices.  Her style observes power (corporate, 
Dana Spiotta
governmental, celebrity) in a way that does not distance.  She’s different from Don DeLillo, to whom she’s been compared, in that regard.  Instead, she pulls in the reader to look at the patterns of this era.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Maverick Chocolate Co.

Make it a quick stop for chocoholics 
at this Findlay Market favorite

     If you want to be knocked down from the scent of chocolate, then a trip to Maverick Chocolate Co. at Findlay Market is a must.  We had been forewarned by Lisa, but the initial whiff when opening the door was a bit overwhelming!  Made on the premises , there was a choice of 9 chocolate bars that one can taste from the apothecary jars filled with chocolate floret samplers.  (The interior replicates an early 1900s apothecary shoppe.)  Having just completed lunch and dessert, we were a bit hungover with sweets, so we limited our samplings to two…70% Belize and Prohibition (Bourbon).  Having just completed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, that would be our choice as a take home.  

     As luck would have it, our tasting continued that evening at Bob and Mary's as they served the Belize and Prohibition, along with two other bars as part of their dessert after dinner.  I found Tumbes (82% dark) to be a bitter, intense concoction from Peru.  I have "spiciness" issues so I didn't sample the Fahrenheit 513, a secret blend of toasted chilies and spices.  Eric was coughing a bit afterwards.  You're on your own with that one!  Prohibition hit the spot again with sweet bourbon and smoked salt, but my choice of the evening was the Belize…smooth, with just the right full chocolate flavor for me.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Almost Everything You Need to Know to Travel the Kentucky Bourbon Trail– Part II

A 3 day journey to 9 distilleries


For DAY ONE (click here)
Maker's Mark in Loretto, KY
Whisky the Cat
    After a generous and delicious breakfast, we drove a short 3 miles to Maker's Mark.  I had prepaid for our tour tickets online, which allows you a reservation for the day with a time given when you arrive.  (This is available at some of the busier distilleries.)  Their visitor center is in a house filled with southern charm and residence to Whisky the cat.  From there, the tours take off to the distillery house for a short education on how the bourbon is made.  
Getting Ready to Taste the Different Stages of Bourbon Making
Tasting the different stages of the brew was both enlightening and a scene right out of a kid in a candy store with his hand in the jar.  It was a personal touch full of memories.  The bottling house was not in operation on a Saturday, but the years of advertising displayed along the interior wall explained just how lofty the Maker's Mark brand is in the distillery world.  
Chihuly Ceiling at Maker's Mark
Tasting encountered four samples after which there was a walk through the warehouse lined with a Chihuly ceiling leading to complimentary bourbon chocolates and the gift shop.  Holy Bourbon, what a gift store it was!!  There's every 
Dipping a Personal Bottle
branded tidbit that one could imagine, topped off by the opportunity to dip your own bottle of Maker's Mark in their signature red wax. You won't be able to resist.

Bourbon Hertiage Center at Heaven Hill
     Heaven Hill is near Bardstown and consisted of a short stop at their gift shop and a walk through the museum touted by the name on the building, Bourbon Heritage Center.  A short drive to downtown Bardstown put us at Mammy's Kitchen for lunch.  It's a southern diner full of surprises and tasty food (click here).  

Jim Beam Visitor Center
     Our last stop that day was about 35 minutes to the north -- Jim Beam.  We had planned on taking the tour, but as luck would have it, the tours sold our for the day literally a handful of people in front of us.  But Jim Beam had a great idea–tastings to those who could not get on the tour.  That was 
Dispensing Jim Beam Samples
perfect for us!  The tasting center was a short walk from the visitor center and gift store.  Each of us was given a plastic card for two pours each.  Dispensers were throughout the center with descriptions of their different varieties.  We wanted to sample the flavored ones–Black Cherry, Maple and Honey.  Just insert the card, press your choice of bourbon and a perfect pour goes in the glass.  Jim Beam is located across from the Blenheim Forest and Arboretum containing outdoor sculptures and beautiful plant specimens. 


Bulleit Gift Store
with Bourbon Bottle Chandelier
     After breakfast and saying goodbye to Lisa Marie and Rudy James, we wound our way through some small towns and rolling country on our way to I-65 that would eventually get us to Bulliet on the west side of Louisville.  It's in an urban setting so it comes with a security gate that is manned by longtime employees.  Ours couldn't have been happier doing what he does and greeting us!  Bulleit is new to the tour, 
Tom Bulleit's Presidential Office
even though it is the oldest of the brands, with the visitor center located in one of the original buildings that has been restored to show off their president's office, history and tasting 
Bulleit Cooperage
room.  A cooperage (barrel making) was open in an adjacent building.  There was no one there, but one could imagine the workings from the displays.  Bulliet will be moving in the next few years to a brand new distillery in Shelbyville.  I hope they can maintain some of the historical aspects, but that seems impossible without its current surroundings. 

John Evans Headquarters on Main Street in Louisville
     Downtown Louisville would be our last stop at the Evan Williams building on Main Street.  We were a little early for their 1PM Sunday opening time as the line formed outside 
The Huge Pour at the
Evan Williams Entrance
and into the street.  The Evan Williams Experience takes a Disney approach to its tour, making it a popular one.  It would only be a quick visit to the gift store on the second floor for us.  A stamp to our passport and we were on our way to the Louisville Visitors Center a couple of blocks away to receive our official 2015 Kentucky Bourbon Trail t-shirt for our devotion over the past 3 days!  From there, lunch beckoned at Havana Rumba (click here), our favorite Louisville restaurant.  

Happy (Bourbon) Trails…to you!