Georgia on My Mind: “Tangerines”

Lembit Ulfsak in "Tangerines"
Lembit Ulfsak in “Tangerines”

One of the highlights of the cultural scene in Minneapolis-St. Paul is the annual International Film Festival.  This year’s festival boasts over 200 films from around the world with a great diversity of themes, styles, and tones.

This last weekend, I was fortunate to see “Tangerines,” a 2014 film that was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar award, and rightly so in my opinion.  The director is Zaza Urushadze, the producer is Ivo Felt, and the main character is played by Lembit Ulfsak.

The film is a joint Estonian-Georgian production.  It takes place in Georgia (the country, not the state) in 1992 when the Abkhazian-Georgian civil war was raging.  (Am I the only one who was unaware of this war???).   If I understand correctly, Abkhazia wanted their own country, separate from Georgia, and I believe the Soviet Union supported Abkhazia’s desire.  To make things more complicated, there was a large Estonian population in Georgia.  They had been living there over 100 years.  After the conflicts broke out, though, most of them fled back to Estonia.

The main character, Ivo, is an elderly Estonian carpenter who lives alone because his family had all returned to Estonia.  He builds crates to hold tangerines and helps his neighbor Markus with his tangerine crop.  One day, there is a shoot-out between the two factions in front of his home.  Some of the men die, but two of them live, although badly injured.  Ivo cares for both of these men—Achmed and Nika—in his home.

If the ethnic conflict were not already confusing enough, it turns out that Achmed, who is fighting on the side of the Abkhazians, is actually Chechen.  He is fighting the Georgians as a mercenary to help support his family.

Most of the film showcases the tensions between the Achmed and Nika, who threaten to kill each other while recuperating in Ivo’s house.  At the same time, Ivo and Markus are just trying to live and worry about how they are going to get the tangerine harvest picked in a timely manner.  The intense focus on a few characters going through mundane daily rituals, punctuated by occasional bursts of military grandstanding and violence, is an effective and deeply moving way to showcase the horrors and ultimate senselessness of war.

Watching the movie, I had no idea who the “good guys” and who the “bad guys” were supposed to be, which I think was the point.  Ultimately, the director is saying, it really doesn’t matter.

The scenery was gorgeous, the music moving, and the acting was superb.  I especially enjoyed the world-weary yet compassionate Ulfsak as Ivo and Giorgi Nakashidze as the hot-headed Achmed.   I am not sure what ever happened with the Abkhazian/Georgian conflict.  From what I can tell in my brief internet research, the conflict is still not totally resolved.

If you have a chance to see this film, I highly recommend it

Zaza Urushadze, Lembit Ulfsak, and Ivo Felt at the Academy Awards
Zaza Urushadze, Lembit Ulfsak, and Ivo Felt at the Academy Awards

Truman: A Biography by David McCullough

Harry S. Truman (photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Harry S. Truman (photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I recently started reading David McCullough’s biography of President Harry S. Truman. I chose it because  I am interested in learning more about Truman and because McCullough is a very engaging writer. However, at over 1000 pages, the book is rather daunting.I thought it might motivate me to read all of it if I posted on it periodically, rather than waiting until the end.  Right now, I have read about 200 pages.

What has struck me most so far is astonishment that Truman ever became president of the United States.  I do not mean this in a derogatory way to Truman.  I simply mean that he grew up in such ordinary circumstances, far from money, power, or any other kind of privilege.  He was born in 1884 in Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Independence, Missouri.  He had a happy childhood, but it was far from pampered. He worked hard on the farm and also was quite a book worm, with a particular love of history.

He did not go to college because his family could not afford to send him.  Instead, he did a variety of jobs, including farming and working in a bank. Although he worked hard all everything he undertook, he was not particularly successful at anything.  He entered World War I even though he did not have to; he was over 30, with bad eyesight and he was the sole support of his mother and sister.  It was during the war that he realized he had a gift for leadership and he thirsted for more opportunities to exercise it.

If McCullough is to be believed, Truman was squeaky clean morally, with sterling integrity.  He genuinely liked people and got along with most of them.  According to Truman, the only woman he was ever romantically interested in was Bess, who eventually became his wife–only after he returned from WWI and was in his thirties..

It was not until Truman was well into his forties that he became involved in politics.  Even that was as a judge (an administrative positive) at the county level.  Then, when he was around 50, he ran for and was elected as a  Democratic senator on the national level.  The irony of his election is that despite his squeaky clean personal reputation, he was elected because of the famous Kansas Pendergrast “machine,” which had mob connections.  He came to Washington, then, under a cloud of suspicion because “he was sent to Washington by gangsters.”

That’s as far as I have read up to this point.  McCullough is a wonderfully engaging writer, so that the book reads almost like a novel, not at all dry.

Stay tuned for more updates!

David McCullough (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
David McCullough (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

How to Get Fit By Jogging (For Women over 50)

I have been alive for over half of a century.  That means I have lived through disco fever, two Bush administrations, and the spectacle of Miley Cyrus twerking.  I have learned many things on all this time on the planet, and I am willing to share my nuggets of wisdom with you.

Today’s nugget is about fitness.  Jogging is a popular and effective way to get fit.  It is free, and anybody can do it, but women over fifty have to take some special precautions before getting started.  Here are my recommendations.

Proper clothing is essential.  Let us begin with the proper foundation.  If you are a woman over 50, your hormones have most likely caused your boobs to double in size.  You have to be careful not to let those puppies bounce too much or else they may knock out what’s left of your teeth. I recommend investing in a sports bra.  This bra should bear not the slightest resemblance to anything worn by a Victoria’s Secret model.  Look instead for a full-coverage model, preferably made of armor.A good fitting bra that supports your puppies properly should not cost you more than $75.00

Something like this is nice because it includes room for your rows of belly fat.

breast armor

Next, it is important to wear proper shorts.  Theoretically, any type of short should work.  In reality, though, unless you suffer from some tropical wasting disease, you need to be wary of the dreaded thigh chafe: aka “chub rub.”  This chafe happens when “thigh meat” meets “thigh meat” and it is not pretty.  You could use Vaseline or baby powder on your thighs to prevent the chub rub.  Some people say Desitin (the baby rash ointment) works well once the chafe occurs.  But I believe in being well-prepared, so I would recommend purchasing some anti-chafing underwear, which looks like something between a diaper and Dominatrix getup.

thigh chafe

With these anti-chafers and your breast armor, you should be able to wear any t-shirt and shorts and be ready to frolic.

Let’s not forget the footwear.  You will, of course, need to spend well over $100 for the proper running shoes.  Many types are available, and they all boast such fancy technology related to air, suspension, and support, that they must have been built by engineers.

Spending $150 for running shoes will not be enough for the woman over 50, though, since she has undoubtedly suffered from plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and a capite ad calcem.  Therefore I highly recommend investing in prescription orthotics to insert into your really expensive running shoes.  They are only around $500, but your insurance may pay for them.


 Speaking of injuries, if you have run even once in the past three years, you will probably be suffering from a knee injury.  This is no excuse for staying on the couch!  A decent knee brace should not set you back more than $770, and it might even save your knee.

knee brace

You’ll want to invest in good socks, of course.  Make sure you only buy those that manage your moisture with an unnatural fabric and boast a ventilated top to help your feet breathe.  You should not need to spend more than $15 for a good pair of socks.

When you are putting your socks and shoes on, don’t forget your antibiotic ointment, bandaids and moleskin to protect the blisters you earned from working out once already this year.

Although running with your IPod is not absolutely necessary, I find it helpful to keep my energy up. IPod tablets are engineered for maximum funness, and you don’t want to go out into the world without your maximum funness on, do you?  $300 should be enough to get you started.

You don’t want to have to carry your IPod in your sweaty hand, so make sure you buy an armband for it.  Stick the IPod into the arm band and wear it on your upper-arm.

Oh—before you go out the door, don’t forget your headphones to plug into the Ipod!

Now you are all set!

First, warm up with a slow jog.  If it is a hot summer day, this warm-up will probably be enough to get the sweat dripping into your eyes.  For the rest of the run, your eyes will be burning with sweat and you will be blind.

After a few more minutes, you will notice that your head phones have fallen out of your ears.  As you try to fix the headphones while continuing to jog, blind, you trip over your untied shoe and to flying, face first, into the sidewalk.
After waking up ten minutes later, you find that you are bruised, scratched and broken all over. You probably have a concussion.  Crawl home, blood and sweat dripping from every pore.

Post a status update on Facebook to brag about how good you feel after your run.

You’re done!