Great Scots

I have an affinity for Scotland, since many of my dad’s maternal ancestors lived there. When I think of Scotland, I think of wild and windy remote areas and tough, headstrong people who like to have a laugh. I’ve only ever been to Edinburgh—it’s a beautiful city—but I hope to return someday to visit the ancestral homeland and the wild and windy remote areas.

So I was grateful to have the opportunity to see two great Scots speak last week: Alan Cumming and Harry Benson.

Alan Cumming is simply amazing. He acts, he sings, he writes, he photographs. Many people who watch TV know him from The Good Wife; I’ve known him from his movies in the ’90s. And as the Masterpiece Mystery! host, of course.

He was in town to promote his book You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, composed of brief life stories accompanied by photos he’s taken. I could have listened to him tell stories for hours. He seemed so down-to-earth, charming, and witty. I think Scots have their very own version of a smirk and eye twinkle.










He signed books afterward but I didn’t have it in me to stand in line that particular night. But I do love him! I hope he brings his sappy songs concert to New England sometime.

He particularly enjoyed telling the story of meeting Oprah, who inspired the title of this book.












I had never heard of Harry Benson, but when I read the description of the documentary about him—and read that he would be in attendance at a local screening—I had to attend. I wish I could be Harry Benson, one of the world’s most prolific photojournalists. He grew up in Glasgow, getting his start at a local paper and then moving on to the cutthroat atmosphere of Fleet Street in London.

He was asked to photograph the Beatles’ first visit to the States in 1964 and things just went up from there. He has photographed pretty much every celebrity throughout the past 50 years, including 11 U.S. presidents. He was there when Martin Luther King was assassinated and when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. He photographed the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Somalian refugees in the 1990s.

Calling him driven and hardworking is an understatement. But he also was able to connect with loners such as Bobby Fischer and Michael Jackson and gain the trust of countless celebrities and political figures. His sense of humor and no-nonsense style shone through in the documentary, and in real life when he answered questions from the moderator and the audience at the screening.

Both he and Alan survived bleak childhoods to share awe-inspiring talent, grace, and humor with the world. It was thrilling to hear these successful artists share their life stories.

From left to right: producer Heather Silverman; Harry's wife, Gigi; Harry, Boston Globe arts editor Rebecca Ostriker
From left to right: producer Heather Silverman; Harry’s wife, Gigi; Harry; Boston Globe arts editor Rebecca Ostriker

Trashed, as in Waste

I am an avid recycler. However, after watching the documentary Trashed the other night, a sense of urgency washed over me and I realized that I need to step up my game.

I have recycling down, so it’s time to focus on zero waste—that is, how can I prevent the creation of waste at the outset?

I encourage you to watch Trashed; I rented it on Netflix. The film drags along now and then, but I really appreciated the global perspective it provided. Host and producer Jeremy Irons traveled to Iceland, Indonesia, Lebanon, Vietnam (graphic content warning for this section), Wales, England, and San Francisco.

Be prepared to be shocked and appalled. I promise you, you will look at your trash can differently after you watch it. Immediate actions I’m taking include bringing a reusable mug to coffee shops and bringing my reusable bag with me everywhere. What actions will you take?

TV and Movie Excitement


I don’t watch much TV. Maybe 2 or 3 hours a week. So I am overly excited about two upcoming programs that I am planning to watch. The first one being Spike Lee’s documentary about Michael Jackson’s Bad album, which airs Thanksgiving night. I’ll be inhaling my turkey dinner in order to make it home in time to watch it.

On Sunday, I will be watching “Downton Revisited” on PBS. This will tide me over until Season 3 of Downton Abbey starts in January.

Moving on to movies: See Lincoln, will you?? I can’t remember the last time a 2.5-hour-long movie went by in a blink.

I am looking forward to seeing the documentary Chasing Ice this weekend. It’s a film about a team who set up video cameras to record glacial melting. Climate skeptics, here is your proof!

Safe travels and a Happy Thanksgiving to all…

Forks Over Knives


After watching Food, Inc. and King Corn (last year? can’t remember when), I wanted to become a vegetarian. I did begin eating less meat, but I still eat the occasional chicken sandwich or hamburger.

I just watched Forks over Knives. OK, now I really want to become a full-fledged vegetarian. This documentary features the research of a nutritional biochemist and a surgeon (whose expertise is in heart disease and breast cancer). Their research results are astounding. They, along with other doctors, have found direct correlations between diet and degenerative diseases. They believe that hypertension, diabetes, cancer, etc. can be kept in check or even reversed by staying away from animal-based (i.e., meat and dairy) and processed foods.

Dairy is my favorite food group, so I am going to have a tough time staying away from dairy. But I am seriously going to try! If you have been thinking about eating healthier and need some motivation, watch this film!

Eco-Terrorism, Animal Cruelty, and Tort Reform

The Independent Film Festival of Boston is over for another year…sad. It always goes by so fast. I saw three documentaries that freaked me out/depressed me/made me mad for various reasons. So let me share, so you can be freaked out, depressed, and mad as well.

If a Tree Falls

This doc focuses on a man who is considered a terrorist for committing arson. Daniel McGowan is imprisoned in a highly restrictive communications management unit for terrorists, because he helped burn down a lumber company. He was a member of a radical environmental group called Earth Liberation Front, a “top domestic terrorist group” according to the FBI. OK, arson is wrong. But calling people who burn down buildings in the middle of the night and don’t hurt a hair on a living being’s head a terrorist? That is ridiculous. How do you induce terror by burning down an empty ski lodge in Vail?

Project Nim

This doc is about Nim Chimpsky, a chimp who was part of a language experiment in the 1970s. He lived with humans as an infant, and then was taught ASL by a variety of teachers. The head researcher decided that Nim didn’t really learn language (grammar, syntax, etc.), but the guy was definitely communicating with humans using ASL. I thought it was pretty amazing.

But then came the part where he was discarded after the research project ended, and then sent to a medical research lab. They actually showed scientists injecting chimps with drugs in research experiments. I will never forget that image as long as I live. It was horrifying. Luckily Nim was rescued from the lab, but briefly lived a depressing solitary existence (although he was in a sanctuary). The last few years of his life seemed OK; more chimps joined him at the sanctuary. Apparently there are still more than a thousand chimps being used for medical research. OMG, read about what the poor chimps endure.

Hot Coffee

OK, so the first doc mainly pissed me off. The second one depressed me. This one freaked me out. I hope I never need to go court to sue any person or business. This doc is about the civil justice system, and how “tort reform” is screwing the common person up and down and forward and backward.

Do you think that the woman who sued McDonald’s when she spilled coffee on her lap was being a bit crazy? I kind of did, too. WELL, I saw images of her burns, and those are images I will never forget. And, I learned that more than 700 people had complained to McDonald’s about being burned from coffee or tea! The woman just wanted the money to cover her medical expenses. She had to have skin grafts, etc. etc. McD’s and the media just put a PR spin on it to make it look totally frivolous.

And apparently businesses are buying judicial seats for judges who will rule in their favor (by financing campaigns). And many states have caps on damages. So a jury can say you deserve $5 million in damages, but your state may say sorry, there’s e a cap at $1 million. That doesn’t help a family who files a medical malpractice suit because they will need to pay millions of dollars for health care due to a doctor’s mistake.

Well, now I have to find some petitions to sign…