Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: The Little Drummer Girl

The Little Drummer Girl
The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read several of John le Carré's works, I feel that his particular forte is creating for his characters environments that have an amazing amount of stress. He ratchets up drama by putting his characters in extremely difficult situations and then continuing to crank up the stress level. Of his novels that I have read, the previous epitome of these super stress levels was The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. However, I think the stress in The Little Drummer Girl tops even that work.

The title character in this book is Charlie, a aspiring English stage actress. While on holiday in Greece with some fellow struggling thespians, the young Charlie encounters a tall, dark and handsome stranger who turns out to be an Israeli spy. The job of Gadi Becker (aka Joseph) is to convince Charlie to take an unique acting opportunity. The Israelis know that Charlie has left-leaning views and through a previous boyfriend has had encounters with members of some extremist groups. The Israeli groups's plan is to have Joseph emulate a captured Palestinian terrorist known as Michel. In this role, he will train Charlie to infiltrate a leftist terrorist group with links to Palestinians. The Israeli spy group's ultimate goal is Michel's brother Khalil who is a major leader in a Palestinian terrorist group. Charlie accepts the opportunity and delves into what she terms "the theater of the real."

I think that the book does a great job of presenting both sides of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is much doubt as to Charlie's true sympathies. In the end, the central question of the book is not on which side of the conflict Charlie will end up or if her mission will be a success. The question is if Charlie will just survive the mission with her sanity intact.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Number 500

While I was busy, I managed to blow past the nice round number 500 on my Beer List. The list currently stands at 505. I have previously lamented about not including dates on the list. I could have also maintained the list in a nice chronological order instead of alphabetical order by the name of the brewery and then the particular brew. Regardless, I believe I have done a good job of using Twitter to record my beer consumption.

Based on my Twitter account, beer number 505 was Fuller's Black Cab Stout. #504 was Fireside Chat from 21st Amendment Brewery located in San Francisco. Number 503 was Luciernaga (or "The Firefly") from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales which is located in Dexter, Michigan. I enjoyed #503 at the Wine Merchant of Cary. Number 502 would be a bottle of Oatmeal Porter from Highland Brewing Company which is located in the up-and-coming brewery town of Asheville, North Carolina. Palate Wrecker from Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego was number 501 on the Beer List.

Finally, number 500 on the list was Blue Law Porter from Epic  Brewing Company which is located in the not-so-well-known brewing town of Salt Lake City. According to the brewery's homepage, they are the first brewery in the state of Utah since Prohibition. Not surprisingly, this is the first beer on the list from that particular state. More surprising is that Utah made the list before 21 other states. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming are still missing from the list.

Random note #1, the single entry on the list for the state of Minnesota is Crispin Cider which is technically not a beer. Random note #2, Rhode Island, the smallest state by area, has one beer on the list, Narragansett Lager from Narragansett Brewing Company located in Providence. Random note #3, South Carolina does not have a beer on the list, but Hipster Ale from Evil Twin Brewing in Denmark is actually brewed by Westbrook Brewing which is located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina which is right outside of Charleston.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tour of Italy

Happy Washington’s Birthday/Presidents’ Day/President’s Day/Presidents Day or whatever this holiday in the middle of February is actually called. For this first time that I remember, the company for which I work has decided to include this day as a corporate holiday. Every year, our company give its employees twelve days off from work to celebrate holidays. Several of those days are fixed. The list of fixed holidays varies from country to country and from year to year. In the United States, the list of fixed holidays always includes Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. Other fixed days are primarily based on what day of the week holidays fall. In previous years, fixed holidays have included New Year's Day, the days before or after Independence Day and Christmas, and New Year's Eve. The remaining unfixed days out of the twelve are flexible holidays for the employees to use as they want. For some reason unknown to me, it was decided this year that today should be a fixed holiday.

I am using part of this day off from work to do a blog post. I have previously posted on and about holidays. I suppose that is when I have the most free time. In comments to my previous post, I mentioned that while I have not been posting as much as I did back in 2010 and 2011, I am hoping to post more this year than I managed last year. My stated goal was two posts per month which would be a total of 24 for the year. We are more than halfway through February, and I am working on only my second post. I will hopefully be cranking up my production in the following months.

I am titling this post "Tour of Italy" after the sampler dinner from the Olive Garden. I have never been to Italy however. Instead, I was recently on a business trip to Orlando, Florida or at least the Orlando area. The conference was at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. The conference was in the convention center connected to the Dolphin while I stayed in the Swan. Some of my coworkers enjoyed the local golf courses, but I am not much of a golfer. The conference also hosted a night at Universal's Islands of Adventure, but I passed on that opportunity.

After spending the day standing in a trade show booth, some of my coworkers and I would invariably end up at Il Mulino New York which is one of the restaurants in the Swan. Il Mulino is an Italian restaurant and thus features Italian wines and beer. Their bar menu included five different brews from Italy. I intended to try all five but instead only tried four. Three of the five beers were from Birrificio Ostiense Artigianale which is located in Rome, Italy. ("Birrificio" is Italian for "brewery.") I had two of the three. Pictured to the right is 'na Biretta Chiara which is a pilsner-style lager. As would be expected, I found it tasty. The second was 'na Biretta Rossa which is tasty bock. I did not try the 'na Biretta Kuasapa which is a pale ale.

The second picture on the right is a bottle of Taquamari which is a unique hefeweizen from Birrificio Pausa Cafe. One of the bartenders at Il Mulino told me about the organization that brews the beer helps rehabilitate inmates from local prisons by giving them an occupation. Pause Cafe is a cooperative located in Saluzzo, Italy that produces coffee, chocolate and beer. The beer itself is made from tapioca, quinoa, amaranth, and basmati rice. The bottle has a good bit of sediment at the bottom. I thought the other bartender had erred when she poured the whole bottle including the sediment into my glass. Interestingly enough, the sediment was not yeast (at least not all of it) as I had expected, but tapioca et al.

I also tried a bottle of ViaEmilia which is another pilsner. This one is from Birrificio Del Ducato which is a craft brewery located in Roncole Verdi Di Busseto, Italy. As I have previously stated, pilsners are easy to drink and this one was. Thus concludes my tour of Italian beers from a bar in a hotel located at Walt Disney World.