BOLLI member Gloria Bernstein has opened a Studio/Art Gallery in the Colonial Real Estate building at 552 Main Street in Waltham. While the space will be officially open for the public by July 1, 2021, it is actually open now for visiting. She reports that she has many new exciting paintings.
Gloria, a member of the National Association of Women Artists, has exhibited at various venues in New York. Before moving to Massachusetts, she served as president of the Sullivan County New York chapter of NOW and a family court mediator.
She has an MFA degree, has published a book of poetry and received awards for her paintings.
Congratulations, Gloria, and the best of luck to you on your new venture!
It was the beginning of summer in the mid 1980’s, and I was sitting in the living room with my mother, her visiting college friend from Paris, and her friend’s sixteen year-old daughter. I had just finished my freshman year of high school and was looking forward to the freedom of summer. My mother made it clear to me before her friend arrived that I was expected to stick around and entertain her friend’s daughter before I was allowed my freedom. What I hadn’t expected was that the daughter had to be the sexiest sixteen year- old on the planet, and…she spoke no English. As I sat there admiring her, I wondered how I was supposed to deal with this gift from heaven. I spoke no French. My mother suggested I take her down to the ice cream parlor just a couple of blocks away.
My mother gave me a ten dollar bill while her friend explained to her daughter what had been proposed. The daughter, whose name I still didn’t know, stood and walked over to me offering her hand. As we left the house, I grabbed the English/French dictionary, and when we went outside, she stopped, faced me, and, with her finger pointed to herself, said “Jane.” I don’t know why, but I was so flummoxed I pointed to myself, and said “me Tarzan.” She giggled, and we were off.
I was on cloud nine. Here I was with this vision of perfection, an older woman no less, about to show her off to my friends at the ice cream parlor. Only a couple of my classmates were there when we walked in, but they clearly were awestruck by my good fortune. As we looked at the display cases, I pulled out the dictionary and began to try to translate the names of the various offerings; how do you translate “Moose Tracks” into French? After some time, I was finally able to murmur “elan des pistes.” I pronounced it phonetically which I am sure did not sound French. Jane cracked up laughing…I wasn’t sure whether it was the name of the ice cream or my pronunciation that was so funny.
Thank god she settled on the “moose tracks” so I wouldn’t have to do any more translating. We sat down at a table, and I was mesmerized, watching her coyly lick her ice cream cone while I slurped my “Cookies and Cream.” By now, at least a half-dozen more of my classmates had arrived and were watching us watch each other. After we finished and I tried to clean my sticky hands with a napkin, she reached across the table with both hands and took my hands in hers, looked through her bangs into my eyes, and said to me in perfect English, “My name isn’t really Jane, it’s Juliette.” I nearly fell off the chair but was adroit enough to respond, “Well, my name isn’t really Tarzan either…it’s Bond, James Bond.” The entire place erupted in laughter.
As we left the store to return home, she took my arm and proceeded to tell me, in her perfectly French accented English…this whole scenario had been cooked-up by my mother and hers, and Juliette though it would be fun. She apologized if I was offended, but I told her that Tarzan was a real man and could take it. I then proceeded to put my arm around her waist as we walked home…while I plotted my revenge.
When we walked into the house, I slammed the door shut, stomped into the living room, and glared at the two women. Both looked shocked and concerned…then I couldn’t help myself and broke-out laughing. I turned to Juliette, took her in my arms, bent her over, then kissed and slobbered all over her delicious neck …she was as shocked as both parents.
Needless to say, that was not only the high point of my summer but of my whole adolescence. When it came time for them to leave, Juliette approached me, took my hand, kissed me on the forehead, and said, “It’s been fun.”
In the 90’s, after email came along, we communicated periodically, but I did not see her again until my wife and I, along with my mother, attended her marriage in Paris. We remain friends to this day.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton. They have led BOLLI courses on architecture, and Larry has led courses on Boston’s history. Larry has been an active member and leader of the Writers Guild as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff. This piece, he says, “Is pure dime store fiction…I was never that lucky.”
Over the course of this past year, when so many have been limited to screen time with their grandchildren, I am almost embarrassed by my incredible good fortune: my young daughter and her toddler live with me. And that boy, my first grandbaby, truly is a “bundle of joy.” (Literally. His name is Sekani, which is Egyptian for joy.) There is nothing more wonderful than holding him, playing with him, watching him grow and learn…unless it’s seeing him with his Mama. They are the best of friends.
And during this strange time, we seem to have made new friends too. Humanity seems to have moved over a bit, giving Mother Nature some elbow room. My friend Anne has seen a bobcat in her back yard in Harvard. Polly has spotted a bear on her New Hampshire property. Our neighborhood online bulletin board features almost daily notices of back yard sightings–coyote, fox, deer, wild turkey, and even, today, a weasel in his winter white ermine coat. The marmot who has lived on our hill for years recently introduced himself to Sekani–while maintaining a respectful six-foot social distance, of course. And at one point, we discovered that an opossum had chosen our garage as his final resting place.
This quarantine has actually forced us to slow down, take walks, and pay more attention to what surrounds us.
It pushed me to turn off the news and get back into the quiet habit of long, leisurely reading. For me, it has truly been the best and worst of times…which brings me to the yang, quite literally the black spot, of this tale.
I love Ray Bradbury. And one of my favorite Bradbury short stories, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, features a man who has just murdered his nemesis in his enemy’s library. As he wipes away potential fingerprints on and near the body, he begins to remove his possible fingerprints from anything he might have touched at the scene. He dusts the glass he had held, the book his host had handed him to look at, the pipe he had been offered. He dabs at the floor around the body again, looks up, and notices…the wall. After deciding that he definitely had not touched the fruit at the bottom of the bowl on the table in the dining room, he eventually goes back and wipes it clean. Hours later, when the police arrive, they find him in the attic–polishing the old coins and the old china, and as they escort him out of the gleaming house, he burnishes the brass front doorknob and exclaims, “Done!”
Lately, I have felt strangely like Bradbury’s obsessed murderer, leading me to suspect that I have contracted a rare variant of the Covid-19 virus: Covid OCD.
It all started with my closet.
There, a host of now-too-big clothing had proved to be too much for the large woven carryall it had been landing in to await a trip to a nearby Planet Aid donation bin. As the pile was now blocking my drawers, I bagged it up and lugged it downstairs. There my eye fell upon the overflowing laundry baskets in the corner, which I bagged and tossed down the stairs as well. When I turned, the rumpled sheets on the bed seemed to hiss and sneer at me until I actually yanked them into place, smoothed the coverlet, and fluffed the pillows.
I had not actually made the bed in years…
Since then, every closet, cupboard, desk, bin, shelf, and drawer in the house has been “weeded” and organized. “Sell by” and “Best if Used by” directives have been dutifully noted and followed. Basement detritus has boarded the local Anything Goes truck. Twenty-seven bags of paperback books and videos have landed in the bin at More Than Words , the youth-run used bookstore in town. Boxes of hard covers from teaching days went to the library, my girls’ former schools, and friends. Stray hard copy family photos now grace album pages, and their digital counterparts are now meticulously organized, labeled, and filed–ready for the next wave. Dishes no longer languish in the sink. Dirty clothes bags no longer litter the laundry room floor. Tasks on the “To Do” lists actually get checked off—done in short order. And the trash bins along the driveway burst with detritus uncovered by the whole manic purge.
Considering the significantly growing number of trash bins and bags on my street on Friday mornings, awaiting pick up, it is clear that this particular offshoot of the virus is not unique to me. It is also clear that it is contagious. My daughter, who has never demonstrated any proclivity for neatness whatsoever in all of her twenty years, started vacuuming her room about three weeks ago.
Clearly, this weeding and sorting and organizing frenzy is about the need to create at least some sense of order in our lives. It is about being able to exert and maintain control over some aspect of our daily existence.
And even though I understand what this condition may really be about, I hear the plaintive calls of old china and other items long relegated to the attic calling my name, wheedling for attention…and I am compelled to respond.
Sue has spent virtually her whole life reading, writing, acting, directing, public speaking, advising literary magazines and newspapers–she’s been known in certain circles as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman.”
The drizzle has let up. After several days of never getting further from the house than the back yard bird feeders, I decide to take a walk. Not many others are out on this Sunday afternoon. The walkers and runners that fill the sidewalks on sunny days are dissuaded today, I suspect, by the iron sky and temperatures only a bit above freezing.
Walking has always been a form of meditation for me, a way to release the stresses of the world. I go without headphones and usually leave my phone behind. Much of the joy of the walk comes from the pedestrian sights and sounds along these suburban roads or, better, in the paths through the parks and sanctuaries that I’m fortunate to have nearby.
Today, I’m first conscious of the click of pen against notebook in my pocket each time my right foots hits the ground. It’s a syncopated rhythm, slightly off the beat—left, right-click; left, right-click. Then, as I start up the hill toward the high school, I become aware of the sound of my breath, the accelerating beat of my heart.
I turn off the main road to an even quieter neighborhood. At first, all seems silent, but soon I become aware of the many sounds that are there if you listen hard enough—some from nature, some from human invention. A distant crow caws repeatedly, its call moving closer. Then, there it is, flapping across the road to a nearby copse between houses. I haven’t seen many crows this winter, although they were abundant in the fall, and I wonder where they have gone. Above me now growls a small single engine plane, moving a few hundred feet up and crossing from left to right as if tracking the now silent crow.
As I approach a corner, three young women cross in front of me keeping a pace that would leave me breathless. But their speed has no apparent effect on their conversation: I cannot hear the words, but it is clear they are engaged in a lively and friendly exchange. They quickly go around a curve in the road, out of sight and hearing.
The quiet returns for a moment, but soon the stillness is cracked by a sound I recognize from my own long distant youth—the clack, clack of hockey sticks. Four young boys fill a driveway with a game of street hockey, fighting over the orange ball that serves as their puck. I have my cap pulled over my ears and my coat zipped up, but the boys, creating heat by their effort, play bareheaded and have discarded their coats on the snow.
I keep walking, choosing my turns almost at random. I see a few people are out shoveling even though much of last week’s snow has disappeared. Here and there along the way, branches brought down by that snowfall lie by the roadside, the still cream-colored scars where they broke from the trees in sharp contrast to the gray bark and winter-dulled grass where they lay.
I pass a baseball field, its forlorn space still covered by patches of snow. There, near home plate, a small bird looks sidelong at the soil—a robin! It’s the first I have seen in months. Far overhead, a jet rumbles.
As that sound moves away, I hear a cardinal practicing his song, preparing for the coming spring. He’s answered by the peter-peter-peter of a tufted titmouse. Now I see them in the naked branches, both silhouetted against the sky.
I turn back toward home, heading downhill now and the syncopated click of pen and notebook pick up the tempo. Several people are out walking their dogs and one woman approaching along the other side of the street pushes a baby carriage. I catch only a glimpse of the child, who appears to be an infant, a few weeks old at most, I surmise. Welcome to a very strange time, I think.
I pause on a small bridge over a brook, lean on its stone wall and gaze down the brook to where it empties into a pond. Most of the ice that covered it only days ago has gone, and I can make out ducks moving across the water.
Home is nearby. When I get there I may make a cup of tea to offset the cold, but I am in no hurry. I can stand here and watch the ducks awhile.
Peter Bradley spent most of his career in business journalism after stints as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a decade teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades. His other pursuits include amateur theater, hiking, painting, cycling, and doting on his five grandchildren. He lives in Norwood, Mass.
At Paul D. Schreiber High School in 1960, each person in Mr. Martinson’s biology class had to do a big project or research paper in the spring. This project had to be ongoing, in-depth, and would count for a large part of our grade. Somehow, I decided it would be interesting to “prove” Mendel’s laws of genetics. Actually, I was going to try to replicate some of the patterns Gregor Mendel had predicted would occur in pea varieties.
I ordered various strains of drosophila, fruit flies, from the Cold Spring Harbor Lab where my good friend Betsy’s sister worked. I decided upon ordering three varieties: regular red-eyed fruit flies, white-eyed fruit flies, and dumpies (fruit flies with very short wings) because I thought those varying characteristics would make it fairly easy to distinguish one from the other.
I visited neighbors who had babies in order to collect a lot of glass baby food jars to hold the assorted groups of flies and their food. I used instructions to mix up an agar and fruit medium as food to put in the bottles. Then I put fruit flies with one pure type into certain bottles, and each of the other types in other bottles, and counted what I had. In the days to follow, I would keep track of each generation. I used a plan about crossing the strains in certain ways. Then I had to observe and count the first generation of flies produced and, after that, the second and third generations of flies to see which and how many inherited the red eyes, white eyes, short wings or long wings.
It was fascinating, but counting them was difficult and involved using liquid ether to put the flies temporarily to sleep. Once etherized, I could empty the flies onto a piece of white paper in order to closely observe the characteristics, separate the flies into groups, and count them. From our local pharmacy, I purchased a can of ether that my mother made me store in our garage since it was so volatile.
Ether has a very strong and distinctive, rather sweet and sickly smell that I may never forget. I actually became light-headed sometimes as I bent over to count the flies. The counting was tricky because you had to use enough ether to put the flies to sleep for the entire time it took to count and sort them but not so much that it would kill them. I knew this was important but had no idea of the amounts to use. Naturally, several weeks into this project, I did not use enough ether, and after carefully counting and sorting the tiny fruit flies, hundreds of them woke up and flew off. We had fruit flies everywhere in the house for a long time. Sitting down to dinner, in the living room, or taking a bath, my family and I would be besieged by tiny black spots before our eyes. But the worst part was that I had to begin my experiment all over again.
Luckily, I had set aside enough of the “pure” flies of each variety that I was able to begin again without delay. Not surprisingly, the next time, as I emptied the etherized flies onto the paper, I noticed that their little wings were at right angles, which was not good. I had killed that entire batch because I wanted to be certain they would not wake up in the middle of counting again. Finally, I figured it out and was able to etherize them properly. Over the next several generations of flies, I was able to do it correctly and ended up with a very successful project. My numbers came out very close to what would have been predicted using Mendel’s laws.
My teacher was pleased and gave me a good grade.
I was happy because I felt as if I were a real scientist, and I have memories I will keep.
My parents were probably just glad I did not knock myself out or blow up the house.
 Mendelian inheritance is a set of primary tenets relating to the transmission of hereditary characteristics from parent organisms to their children;The laws of inheritance were derived by Gregor Mendel, a 19th century monk conducting hybridization experiments in garden peas. Between 1856 and 1863, he cultivated and tested some 29,000 pea plants. From these experiments he deduced two generalizations which later became known as Mendel’s Laws of Heredity or Mendelian inheritance. He described these laws in a two part paper, Experiments on Plant Hybridization that he read to the Natural History Society of Brno on February 8 and March 8, 1865, and which was published in 1866. Wikipedia
 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering. Home to seven Nobelists, the laboratory was founded in 1890 as one of the first
Home to seven Nobelists, the Laboratory was founded in 1890 as institutions in the world to specialize in genetics research. CSHL has played a pivotal role in the emergence of molecular genetics, the scientific foundation of the contemporary revolution in biology and biotechnology. At CSHL in 1953, James D. Watson presented his first public lecture on his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA, for which each later won a Nobel Prize. As director and then president of the Laboratory from 1968 to 2003, Watson was instrumental in developing CSHL into one of the world’s most influential cancer research centers. www.cshl.ed
Susan Bradford was a teacher and administrator who retired from Maimonides School in Brookline and has been a longtime BOLLI member since then. She has led several history related courses and been active on various BOLLI committees. This piece was first written in a BOLLI writing class led by Ruth Harriet Jacobs.
From Fran Feldman: “I do think about writing at this particular time, and your line about managing this pandemic struck a chord.” She went on to offer a fine suggestion for us.
“I wonder if it wouldn’t be valuable to pose one question we could answer in a short paragraph; then we could publish them in the blog. Something like:
1. What has the pandemic taught you about yourself that you didn’t already know?
2. What new ways to manage stress have you devised over the past many months?
3. What’s been positive about the social isolation and change of routine you’ve had to adapt to during the pandemic?”
I think Fran has provided us with a great idea, so I have included all three of her prompts here in an effort to jog your thinking. (You need not, of course, respond to all of them!)
Send me a paragraph (or so) about what you’ve learned during this strange time in our lives. Don’t worry about writing a “formal” item as this isn’t really about writing. It’s about sharing with our fellow BOLLI members/friends. I will compile responses and publish them together. (Send to email@example.com)
Well, BOLLI friends, it’s time, once again, to ask for your help. The most challenging part of managing our blog is getting enough material to post on a regular basis, which is, at least in part, why we’ve had fewer and fewer posts over the course of the past several months. And so, I am appealing to you.
Please contribute to this publication which is, in essence, a venture all about US–who we are, what interests us, concerns us, moves us, inspires us, and more. Your contribution does not need to be a formal item–you can share ANYTHING you like! And, in fact, as we have all been more “sequestered” in the past several months than we had been accustomed to prior to this pandemic, our blog offers us a chance to tell each other how we’ve been managing this time. Think about sharing–
ideas or questions you’ve been considering
books, tv shows, or movies you’ve enjoyed during this time
crafts, hobbies, pastimes you’ve returned to or begun to explore
walks, hiking trails, beautiful spots you’ve discovered or rediscovered
new year’s resolutions? old year’s farewells?
photography, poetry, prose, etc.
interviews of fellow BOLLI members for “Meet Our Members” features (if you like, you can just send me information about members you’d like to see featured, and I’ll take it from there)
There’s really no limit to the possibilities here. So, please send material!
Looking for a new hobby to help while away these pandemic days? Try your hand at cake decoration! These rather amazing examples will certainly inspire awesome ventures–even beyond those the “Cake Boss” provides. For amazing cakes (click here)–enjoy!
Both Brenda Gleckman and Joan Thormann came up with soup recipes for us for the new year… Sweet and Sour Cabbage soup and Mushroom soup.
Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup from Brenda Gleckman
Filling, warming, richly flavorful, almost a meal by itself is this old school Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup.This recipe is healthy, low fat, and perfect for a cold winter day.
For those of us lucky enough to remember our Eastern European mothers’ and grandmothers’ delicious Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage, that recipe, in soup form, will elicit a flood of wonderful food memories. It may permanently erase from your minds those dull, tasteless diet cabbage soup recipes that circulated among diet conscious friends decades ago before the internet.
1 pound lean or extra lean ground beef
2 TBS olive oil
6 cups of water
4 cups reduced sodium beef stock or broth
2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 medium head cabbage sliced in one inch slices
2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar or 12 packets sugar substitute
1/3 cup cider vinegar
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Brown beef in a very large soup pot in 2TBS of olive oil.Add all the ingredients.
Bring to a boil.
Cover and turn heat down to simmer for 30 minutes or until cabbage has softened but is not mushy.
Makes about 22 cups of soup
Mushroom Soup from Joan Thormann
Cold weather is here, so it’s time for comforting soup. I found this delicious easy made-from-scratch recipe in a low-fat recipe book. I modified the recipe, and whoever I serve it to loves it.
One fall day, our Brookline condo association had a get together. People brought soup, bread, or dessert. I brought my mushroom soup. Present at our potluck were a number of residents who had emigrated from Russia, including Yuriv, the building manager. He took one cup of mushroom soup and then finished a second one. After he had enough soup for the time being, he circulated around the room asking who made the mushroom soup. Yuriv finally found me and said, “I must to have this recipe.” I don’t know if he or his wife ever made the soup but I did give him the recipe.
10 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped onion or chopped scallions
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
3 Tablespoons flour
2 1/2 to 3 cups 1% or 2% milk
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 porcini mushroom boullion cubes
1/2 cup light sour cream or nonfat yogurt
5 Tablespoons sherry
Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Stir the onions or scallions in the pan, cook until they wilt about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir. Cook until the mushrooms are brown and about half their original size. Add 2 tablespoons sherry if mushrooms stick. Set aside when done.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Stir in the flour quickly to make a roux.
Slowly pour in the milk, stirring as you pour it in, to get rid of lumps of flour.
Add the bouillon cubes and continue to stir the milk mixture until it thickens to your taste. Sprinkle in more flour or add more milk as necessary.
Stir the onion mushroom mixture into the saucepan.
Remove sauce pan from the stove and stir in the sour cream or yogurt.
Stir in sherry to taste, and serve.
Makes four or five servings.
Note: For those who are not concerned about calories, you can use full fat milk, sour cream, or yogurt. You may also enjoy using cream for some of the milk.
Retired psychotherapist and medical school educator, Brenda has been a BOLLI member since 2004 and a “foodie” all her adult life. She made her first attempt at cooking in August 1960 when she was a new mother living in a third floor walk-up in Washington DC without air conditioning. She was determined to make a pot roast for her husband, a sleep deprived intern at Walter Reed. When the roast she was searing slipped off the fork into the pot and the hot oil jumped onto her nearly bare chest, she ended up in the ER. But that did not deter her, an early and avid follower of Julia Child, and she collected and cooked recipes from every ethnicity. Her recipe for guacamole has gone “viral” and has bestowed upon her the title of “Guacamole Queen.” She cringes when occasionally someone asks if she gives out her recipes. “Why wouldn’t I?” she answers. “It gives me great pleasure to share recipes for good food.”
During her last five years before retiring from Lesley, Joan ended up teaching teachers to teach online–by actually teaching them online. If you know people who need help in this area, she shamelessly asks you to let them know they can find her book on Amazon.
When Joan isn’t occupied with life maintenance, she paints watercolors, makes quilt tops, and listens to audiobooks. Two years ago, she started taking classes at BOLLI and enjoys learning from the SGLs and classmates.
I became sentient in 1966, a little too late to have it help me as an undergraduate student but just in time to ship out with James T. Kirk, the 35-year-old Captain of the starship Enterprise. I journeyed with Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, and the rest of the crew for 79 imaginative adventures from 1966 to 1969 when NBC abruptly cancelled the Star Trek series. Just when mankind took its first step into space with Apollo 11, some short-sighted executives at NBC decided to go in the opposite direction. Seven years later, in a memorable 1976 SNL sketch, John Belushi portrayed Captain Kirk eviscerating the NBC top brass for this ill-advised decision to cancel the show. Every time I hear Belushi utter those final words, “We have tried to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, and except for one television network, we have found intelligence everywhere in the galaxy,” I vividly re-experience that loss.
It was another eleven years until CBS–evidently a more evolved and intelligent network than NBC–decided, in 1987, to continue the journeys of the Enterprise, this time set 78 years after the original series. It was a more lavish production, with advanced special effects, a larger budget, and a more seasoned cast. Patrick Stewart, a celebrated stage actor, was cast as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. But I was still mourning the loss of the original series and refused to accept Star Trek: The Next Generation in its place. Nothing could replace my beloved original version.
Over the next seven seasons, I caught an episode of TNG now and then, and heard nothing but praise for series.TNG continued for 178 episodes. Several years after it ended, I finally swallowed my pride and binge-watched the entire series. I discovered that TNG had stayed true to the essence of the original series and built upon it to offer an imaginative, well-constructed, and thought-provoking collection of stories which explored all aspects of the human condition. Star Trek: TNG dealt with many of the “big” questions of human existence including politics, race, religion, artificial-intelligence, xenophobia, conflict, nationalism, isolationism, Shakespeare, sex, loyalty, and diversity. You name it, Star Trek TNG examined it. Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard, with his wit, wisdom, compassion, courage, and unflinching morality, seemed to personify everything a leader should be. Our world could use someone like him now.
Since TNG ended over 25 years ago, there have been numerous TV series and full-length films expanding the Star Trek universe, and most of them have been very successful. I have watched and enjoyed most of them, as well as two humorous parodies, Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest and Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville. But nothing in the Star Trek franchise during the past 20 years has gotten me really excited until now. I just watched the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, a new series developed for CBS All Access.
The cold open of Episode 1 shows Captain Picard and Commander Data playing poker in the Ten Forward lounge, a setting familiar to all TNG fans. In the background, Bing Crosby’s version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” is playing. This is the song Mr. Data sang at the wedding of Commander Riker and Deana Troi, shortly before Data sacrificed his life to save the crew of the Enterprise in the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis. Both Patrick Stewart and Brent Spinner stepped back into their roles perfectly, as if the eighteen-year hiatus didn’t exist. To old TNG fans, it almost appears that nothing much had changed. Data still displays his intelligence, humanity, and naivete, and Picard is still the witty, wise, and thoughtful Captain we remember. But this is a dream sequence to snare past viewers, and, of course, things have changed.
We learn that Picard has been retired from Star Fleet for more than a decade and is living at Chateau Picard, his large and thriving vineyard in France. He is now over 90 and is assisted by his loyal house staff, a Romulan man and woman. This immediately caught my attention, since when we last saw Picard in Nemesis, there was only a tentative truce between the Federation and its long time enemy, the Romulan Empire. There is much to catch up on.
The new series represents a major commitment by CBS All Access to establish a strong foothold in the Star Trek universe. It is the creation of Kristen Beyer, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, and Alex Kurtzman. Patrick Stewart, Goldsman, Kurtzman, and Chabon are among the show’s strong executive production team, which also includes Rod Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Michael Chabon, a bestselling novelist, science fiction writer, and screenwriter–and an admitted Star Trek fan–is the series “show -runner.” This means he has overall creative authority and management responsibility for the series. The first two episodes are directed by Hanelle Culpepper, an energetic and unflappable filmmaker with broad experience in television. She is the first woman to direct an initial Star Trek episode and, along with Chabon, may bring a younger perspective to the 55 year old Star Trek saga. Episode 1 seems to suggest that Chabon and his team intend to return to the thoughtful, big issue approach of the TNG series, rather than continue the predictable “space opera” adventure trend of the Star Trek motion pictures. But the first episode did include enough stunning visual effects, action, mayhem, and death to keep our attention.
Sopan Deb, in a New York Times review of the new series, noted that:
There are just enough nods to “Next Generation” lore to signal for die-hard fans that this is a show that understands why Picard’s return is so important to them. But it doesn’t lean so heavily into nostalgia to overwhelm a great story. And it is a great story.
The tone and feel of the first episode is intimate and earthbound, as Picard broods about the loss of his friend Data and several other epic events which are quickly revealed. Picard’s interactions with his Romulan house staff, and with Number 1, his companion pit bull, portray Picard as more vulnerable and approachable than he seemed as the imperious Captain of the Enterprise.
In the initial dream sequence poker game, Data makes a large bet which forces Picard to risk all he has left to “call.” When Picard pushes all his chips into the pot, Data’s reaction convinces Picard that Data has the winning hand. Picard begins refreshing his Earl Grey tea and otherwise stalling to avoid laying down his losing hand. When Data asks why he is stalling, Picard, with a show of wrenching emotion, answers Because I don’t want the game to end. He then wakes up. This may be the key to understanding the series.
Through well-paced action and dialogue, we are quickly brought up to date about intervening events and are then promptly immersed in a mystery concerning Data’s legacy, artificial intelligence issues, the cessation of the Federation’s manufacture of synthetic androids, and the appearance of a strange young girl with unique powers who is somehow intimately involved with Picard. The episode is punctuated by scenes incorporating advanced weapons, acrobatic martial arts, mysterious assailants, and lots of dead bodies. All this stimulates Picard to abandon his sedentary vineyard life and get back in the game.
Trailers indicate that Picard is about to surreptitiously acquire a starship, assemble a crew, and launch into the unknown to find answers to these vexing new questions. My reaction to this planned undertaking by Captain Picard is in sharp contrast to how I reacted to that first mission with Captain Kirk 54 years ago. When I was 22, the thought of a 35-year-old hero embarking on an epic adventure was expected and not especially noteworthy. But now that I’m 76, the thought of a man at least 15 years older than I am, who has trouble climbing stairs, undertaking such a mission draws both my admiration and my concern. I will be rooting for Picard to prevail, but I hope he can find time to nap and then stretch a little. I will worry about him because, after a certain age, most folks don’t handle stress well, especially when moving at warp speed.
Critics who have seen the first three episodes report that these initial episodes are mostly “set up” so that both veteran Star Trek fans, and new viewers who have not seen the prior 55 years of Star Trek, are all able to get up to speed. Then, when this much more mature Captain Picard gives his new crew the order to “Engage,” we can all enjoy the adventure together.
CBS All Access has already committed to Season 2, so I am looking forward to “going where no person has gone before” each Thursday night for the foreseeable future.
Live Long and Prosper!
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
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