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A pair of planetary pairings

The waning moon rises in the late evening at week’s end and is high in the southwest with the approach of the rising sun. Each night it rises a half-hour later, so that by last-quarter on the 15th it crests the northeast horizon at midnight.
    The moon Saturday night and Sunday before dawn shines a few degrees below the smallest of the three celestial dippers: the Pleiades star cluster. This grouping of stars marks the shoulder of Taurus the bull and is a few degrees to the northwest of Aldebaran, the bull’s red eye. Aldebaran marks one end of another star cluster within Taurus, the Hyades, which is the V-shape of the bull’s face.
    Monday before dawn the moon trails just a few degrees behind Aldebaran. Early morning Tuesday the moon shines less than 10 degrees above Betelgeuse, the shoulder of Orion the hunter.
    Far to the east of Orion is Jupiter, which rises around 3:30am and is high overhead as daybreak approaches. By that time you might be able to spot Venus low against the horizon. The Morning Star is exponentially brighter than Jupiter, but so close to the horizon and the approaching sun that you may need binoculars to pick her out of the haze. Aligned halfway from Venus to Jupiter is Regulus, the blue-white heart of Leo the lion.    
    The other two planets visible to the unaided eye, Mars and Saturn, form a line of their own with the star Antares to the southwest in the evening sky. The two planets shine at nearly the same magnitude, but their colors make it easy to tell them apart. Not so with Antares, whose name literally translates to Rival of Mars. The red heart of Scorpius is farther to the east and is not as bright as the red planet. In the coming days Saturn sinks ever closer to the horizon, while Mars gains ground moving to the east. By month’s end Mars will be just a few degrees from Antares.
    Summer may be on the wane, but the season’s stars still command the evening sky. As the sun sets, look directly overhead for the zero-magnitude star Vega in the constellation Lyra. By 10pm first-magnitude Deneb, the head of Cygnus the swan, has taken the perch atop the celestial zenith. South of Vega and Deneb is Altair, the eye of the eagle Aquila, and the third point in the Summer Triangle.

Two comedians prove dining out is an art

Comedians Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rob Brydon (Underdogs) aren’t really friends, but they converse well together. Following up on a successful series of restaurant reviews (covered in The Trip), they translate the series to Italy.
    From the moment they squeeze into their rented Mini Cooper, competition kicks in. Through six sumptuous meals, the comedians war over who does the best impressions, has the least satisfying home life and the better career.
    On paper, it doesn’t sound like a riveting film, but director Michael Winterbottom (The Look of Love) proves that good dinner conversation is an art.
    Like the first Trip film, The Trip to Italy is actually a summation of a British television show, editing six episodes into a nearly two-hour film.
    Playing exaggerated versions of themselves, Coogan and Brydon are brilliant at playing up their worst traits for comedy. Brydon makes himself desperate for attention and deeply insecure about his regional fame compared to Coogan’s wider stardom. He can’t turn off. Even alone in his room or on the phone with his wife, he whirls through impressions. He is exhausting to watch, but there’s tragedy in a man so afraid of being himself.
    Coogan uses smugness as a shield against his insecurities. He presents himself as an international celebrity, adored in America, partly to twist the blade in his pal Brydon and partly to disguise the fact that he’s lonely and dissatisfied with his career. When Brydon mentions a career triumph, Coogan becomes so despondent he loses interest in the competition.
    In spite of the two actors’ sometimes prickly interactions, there’s magic whenever they converse. Seeking to top each other, they speed through a flurry of impressions and improvisations. It’s hilarious. The moments when Coogan and Brydon manage to crack each other up are best of all.
    The Trip to Italy isn’t a movie for the popcorn crowd. But if you’re in the market for a fascinating look into the mind of a comedian and some inspired cuisine, you’ll adore the second helping of this series.

Good Dramedy • NR • 108 mins.

Plumbing the depths of change

“Our world changed yesterday,” I wrote on September 12, 2001. “Like you, we’ll be a long time plumbing the depths of this change.”
    Thirteen years later, the blue clarity of September 11, 2001 — before 8:46am — seems a farewell look at innocence. Adam and Eve might have seen just such radiance in the Garden of Eden as its gate shut them out.
    It’s a nice image, and there’s some truth in it. Certainly the new millennium seemed to promise a clean start. Certainly this absolute penetration of our defenses was not within our expectations. Certainly we have never felt the same since. Nowadays optimism is in scarce supply.
    Some truth, only. As a nation and as individuals, we had lost our innocence many times before 9/11 — in wars and faulty peace, in slavery and Indian oppression, at Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg, in depressions and assassinations.
    But still some truth. Before, we Americans started things — or we finished the work others were unable to complete. We took this land and settled it. We put our shoulders to the task. We invented and aspired. We lent our might to ending two world wars. We flew around the world and to the moon.
    Since 9/11, we have become a nation of first responders. Our dearest heroes are the firefighters and police who rose to the unprecedented occasions of that terrible day — and the soldiers who followed in their footsteps.
    Since that day, we have been mopping up mounting woes.
    In the Middle East, where outrage begets outrage, we wage our own wars and try to throw our weight on the side of justice — wherever that may be — in the wars of others. We’ve killed Osama bin Laden, but the sorcerer’s apprentices are rising up, lately the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Two American journalists beheaded is not the World Trade Towers. But it is enough.
    In the East, the ice left over from the Cold War is breaking. Russia’s hungry bear is reawakening. China is threatening us not with communism but with clever frauds and computer hacks.
    Here at home, nearly every aspect of life seems in turmoil: police armed for Homeland Security … the old economy trashed before a new one is created … cities bankrupt … infrastructure crumbling … schools leaving children behind … immigrants crashing the borders … health care in divisive crisis … waste — from nuclear to plastic — engulfing us … climate change threatening to drop the bomb.
    And now our America seems the only world force big enough to take on Ebola in Africa.
    So yes, some truth. For all we’d seen and done before 9/11, we still had innocence to lose and experience to gain.
    I read Hillary Clinton this past Sunday, writing in the Washington Post about the new book by her predecessor as secretary of state, World Order by Henry Kissinger.
    “There really is no viable alternative,” she wrote, speaking of “the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.
    “No other nation can bring together the necessary coalitions and provide the necessary capabilities to meet today’s complex global threats.”
    How much that role costs may be a lesson of each generation. Certainly it’s one lesson we’ve learned since September 11, 2001.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

There’s a window of time when things must happen. If we let that window close, it’s gone and we don’t get it back.

Fasten your seatbelts as we blast off for Colonial Players’ 66th season with Rocket Man, Steven Dietz’s 1998 serious comedy about the road not taken.
    Act I counts down like a comedy sketch with a disturbing undercurrent.    Act II is a space shuttle with frequent stops between grim reality and a fifth dimension of beautiful and bittersweet extremes where life runs backward and youth presages the end of possibilities.
    In this surreal postcard from another dimension, you’ll meet Donny (Ben Carr), a landscape architect in the midst of a midlife crisis; his ex-wife Rita (Laura E. Gayvert); their resentful teen Trisha (Paige Miller); Donny’s best friend Buck (Timothy Sayles), a widower with a Noah complex; and Donny’s unacknowledged soul-mate Louise (Shirley Panek), a former co-worker turned divinity student.
    Donny thinks that in another world it could have all turned out differently. To make the most of his remaining time, he has quit his job and jettisoned his worldly possessions to dedicate himself to studying the stars through his attic skylight. He is strangely calm for a man on the brink.
    Given a second chance at life, Rita thinks we’d all make the same mistakes in new and interesting ways. She rants about Donny’s self-centered forgetfulness, while Trisha rants about finding her possessions strewn across the lawn for strangers to take.
    Who is right, Donny or Rita?
    Does he travel to another world, another time or a dream? Does our personality destine us to repeat history?
    The playwright isn’t saying, but everyone has a theory, the cast included. That’s why all are so invested in their roles.
    Carr doesn’t so much act the character of Donny as inhabit him, his face a palette of moods and thoughts that transcend words.
    As Donny’s friend, Sayles is sweet comic relief with perfect timing and a quirky manner to foil the sad insanity that surrounds him. He is miscast only in that his full head of hair lends absurdity to his bald jokes.
    As the insomniac sage Louise, Panek appreciates her character’s inability to transcend the careful detachment she cultivates.
    As daughter Trisha, Miller melds maternalism with emotional distance.        As ex-wife Rita, Gayvert demonstrates an unexpected girlishness in her reunion with Donny, though before that change of personality in Act II, it’s hard to understand why Donny might miss her.
    In life “we demand the illusion of involvement,” Donny says, and that’s what the technical aspect of this show provides. With a set deliberately barren and depressing, designers achieve stunning moods with a soundtrack of space-inspired hits from Donny’s youth and a light grid that debuts with this show. When Donny blasts off into the heavens to the title tune, bathed in a visual wash of dancing galactic blue pinpoints, the gasping audience is also transported.
    In this trip to the road not taken, we are encouraged to “travel further, dig deeper, live more and sing life.” If you can handle ambiguity, you’ll love the play. If not, bring a philosophical friend to help resolve questions.


Director: Scott Nichols. Set designer: Edd Miller. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Terry Averill. Costumes: Hannah Sturm. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Music designer: Jim Reiter.

Playing thru Sept. 27: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (plus 7:30 Sept. 14) at Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

You never know what’s going to happen on the Chesapeake

I had done well on my last three sorties. Now my first bite came in less than a minute.
    I had hooked a frisky spot of about four inches just in front of the dorsal with a size-4 black nickel treble hook and sent it over the side. It headed straight down to the Bay Bridge piling I had selected.
    A strong fish took the bait as it neared bottom. Setting the hook,    I felt immediate resistance, a strong headshake, then nothing. I reeled my line back and found that I had lost my spot. Hook, leader and swivel had been cut off cleanly as well.
    Either a toothy bluefish had hit the swivel when the fish I hooked started its struggle. Or the striper had run to some kind of bottom structure immediately after taking my spot and fouled my line on something sharp. I opened a fresh pack of trebles, red nickel models, bent one onto a section of fresh 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and replaced the lost swivel connection.
    I had been experimenting with these rather small treble hooks for a couple weeks, finding that they were excellent at mouth-hooking the rockfish eating my live spot baits. I could come tight much sooner than when using J hooks.
    Over the next three hours, however, my bait count got ever lower as I released spot after spot that had become exhausted swimming down in the varying currents. I couldn’t find a rockfish of any size to take my bait.
    Heading to the Eastern Shore, I redoubled my efforts. Drifting and fishing a wide area, I marked few fish but garnered nothing.
    Skunked, I headed back toward the Sandy Point ramps and home. As I passed by the previously unproductive bridge supports on the western side, I decided on one last try. I had just three baits remaining.

Back to Go
    Amazingly, with the first drop at the support where I had started the day, I was quickly fast to a strong, fat and healthy 25-inch rockfish. Netting and burying that fish in ice and with renewed optimism, I prepared to hook my next-to-last bait and send it down.
    At the last moment, that little fish squirmed in reaction to the prick of my treble and squirted out of my hand and over the side. Now I had the last bait at the last moment, back at the same place I started out. This was going to be very poetic or a major disappointment.
    I took extra care with this bait, then flipped it out next to the concrete pier. As it swam down toward the bottom I could feel it spurt ahead in panic. Something was chasing it already.
    The fish below quickly engulfed my bait and started running. I set the hook, and a very careful battle ensued.
    The fight went my way. Eventually easing the net under a powerful 24 incher, I was relieved to have limited out. But when I pried open the rockfish’s mouth to remove my hook, I noticed something odd. My red treble hook was stuck firmly in the corner of its jaw, just as I expected, but on the other side of its mouth was another embedded treble, a black one.
    It was my original hook cut off on that fish I lost, still attached to the leader and swivel.
    You never know what will happen on the Chesapeake.

Mountain laurel, blueberries and other acid-lovers, too

September is the best time of the year to transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, andromeda, blueberries and other plants that thrive in acid soils. This is because these species have stopped growing new stems and leaves and are starting to generate and elongate roots.
    So take advantage of fall garden center sales. If your existing plantings are too dense or wrongly placed, now is a good time to dig and transplant.
    Here’s how to assure success in transplanting plants that prefer acid soils.
    First, make certain that the soil you will be transplanting into is adequate.  Acid soils are generally deficient in calcium and magnesium, but only a soil test of the area will correctly identify soil conditions. Each soil test should be made from a composite of five or more core samples. I rely on A&L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories in Richmond for all of my soil testing. 
    Plants like these also need well-drained, high-organic soils. Even if the soil test indicates an ample amount of calcium, I make it a regular practice to mix one-half cup gypsum (calcium sulfate) to the planting soil. To assure an abundance of organic matter, I also blend one-third by volume of compost or pine fines with the existing soil while blending the gypsum with the backfill. Compost adds not only organic matter but also slow-release nutrients.
    Never amend the soil with peat moss, especially when transplanting rhododendrons. Peat moss holds too much water, making conditions favorable for water-borne fungi that attack the roots of rhododendrons.
    All species that grow in acid soils are shallow-rooted. So never dig the planting hole deeper than the depth of the root ball. There is no need to place compost or back-fill under the root ball because of the shallow-rooting nature of these species.
    If you are digging plants that need more space to grow, the outside edge of the root ball you are digging should begin mid-distance between the drip line of the branches and the stem of the plant. If the soil is dry, irrigate the plant well at least two days before you dig.
    After digging, lift the plant by the root ball and not by the stem. If you are transplanting container-grown plants, after removing the plant from the container, use a sharp knife and slash the outside edge of the root ball an inch deep from top to bottom making the slashes two to three inches apart. Since most container plants are grown in soilless rooting media, slashing the root balls and pulling out some of the roots will hasten new root development.
    The top of the root ball should be visible at the surface of the finished grade. Before mulching, water the plants thoroughly to settle the backfill around the roots and eliminate air pockets. A good heavy watering helps to firm the soil in place.
    Apply no more than one inch of compost or pine bark mulch. Never use hardwood bark mulch because it is basic in nature and contains high levels of manganese.
    Azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, andromeda, blueberries and other acid-lovers will tolerate light to medium shade, but they will produce more flowers and be more cold-tolerant in full sun. In commercial nurseries, all of these species are grown in open fields and sometimes covered with light shade in late fall simply to give the plants a better appearance for sale in the spring.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Neither scary nor inventive, this horror should have stayed buried

Deep below the streets of Paris is a city of bones. Most of the catacombs are well mapped out tourist spots, but a secret section of the tunnels obsesses alchemist professor Dr. Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks: The Invisible Woman). She believes these tombs house Nicolas Flamel’s famed philosopher’s stone, which holds the key to knowledge and immortality.
    Scarlett’s father spent his career searching for the stone before committing suicide when his theories were mocked. She has dedicated her life to proving his beliefs. To take her into the catacombs, she recruits language expert George (Ben Feldman: Mad Men), documentary filmmaker Benji (Edwin Hodge: The Purge: Anarchy) and three French spelunkers.
    In uncharted parts of the crypts, a cave-in forces the team into a cavern declared sinister by locals. As they crawl among the bones searching for a way out, Scarlett notices odd things. As team members die, she acknowledges that they may have descended into a realm of evil.
    Will they realize in time the Philosopher’s Stone is really at Hogwarts? Or are all destined to add new piles of bones to the crypts?
    Yet another mockumentary horror film, As Above, So Below deals with themes of hell, mysticism and guilt. Unfortunately, each is handled poorly. Director John Erick Dowdle (Devil) substitutes shaky cam action for tension. Whenever the team comes across a scare, he whips the camera back and forth so that we see blurred images. It’s an endurance challenge for viewers with weak stomachs.
    Dowdle squanders even the most inherently frightening part of his movie: the setting. Claustrophobic sequences are few; if Paris were built on such a spacious sewer system, the City of Love would be at the same elevation as Denver.
    The actors do what they can with weak material. As the fanatical leader, Weeks’ Scarlett is eerily calm in the face of disaster. She manipulates, cajoles and forces her group to bend to her will. Weeks also convincingly sells Scarlett’s haunted past and her determination to clear her father’s name.
    As a mildly claustrophobic nerd who has a crush on Scarlett, naturally charismatic Feldman has little to do.
    With no scares, poor cinematography and a weak script, the only thing frightening about this movie is paying to see it.

Poor Horror • R • 93 mins.

See this flick and you might wish you were dead

In the bowels of Basin City, there are no happy endings. So don’t look for any in these four stories of sex, death and violence.
    Barfly thug Marv (Mickey Rourke: Java Heat) hasn’t made a man bleed in days. It’s starting to get to him. As his impulse toward violence grows, he seeks an outlet to vent his rage.
    Gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Don Jon) is looking to make a score. Never having lost a game of chance, he buys into the richest card game in the city, playing police chiefs, senators and high rollers to take home millions.
    Private Eye Dwight (Josh Brolin: Guardians of the Galaxy) meets his long-lost love Ava (Eva Green: Penny Dreadful) at a bar. She promises love and fidelity if Dwight helps extract her from her marriage to the rich sadist for whom she left him.
    Stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba: The Spoils of Babylon) lost the love of her life because of the threats of a powerful senator (Powers Boothe: Nashville). Now an alcoholic with a tenuous grip on sanity, she vows revenge.
    Director Robert Rodriguez made the first Sin City film — adapted from Frank Miller’s popular graphic novels — in black and white so it looked ripped from the pages of a comic book. In this sequel, he seems to have forgotten what made the original a success. This sequel is so bad that it taints the memory of its predecessor.
    Despite graphic violence, near constant nudity and plenty of pulpy dramatic dialog, this movie is so dull that it could be used in a sleep study.
    The four story lines are smashed together rather than interwoven. The painterly quality so visually arresting in the first is replaced with shots of naked women framed as high art.
    Actors could save this one — were not most of them woefully inept or miscast. Jessica Alba continues to prove she’s one of the worst actresses working today. Gordon-Levitt’s slight frame is dwarfed in Miller’s world of hulking men.
    Only Rourke understands how to work with the pulpy dialog and plot. His Marv — who impressed in the first Sin City — is a sweet lunk who happens to be a dangerous psychotic. Rourke generates both sympathy and fear.
    With nothing but Mickey Rourke’s 20 minutes of screen time to recommend it, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For fails on three counts: film, action and cheap pornographic thrills.

Awful Action • R • 102 mins.

Close as Mercury, far as Neptune

The moon waxes through our evening skies from a thin crescent at week’s end to first-quarter Tuesday September 2. Friday Luna shines just two degrees above the first-magnitude star Spica low in the southwest.
    Sunday the moon appears farther east at sunset, forming a tight triangle with Saturn to the west and Mars to the south. The two planets appear equally bright, shining at magnitude 0.6, but Saturn’s golden glow and Mars’ red hue make them easy to tell apart.
    Monday evening the moon shines at the head of Scorpius, which is marked by three slightly mis-aligned stars. The moon is just one degree above the northernmost of the three, Graffias, shining at magnitude 2.5. Ten degrees southeast of the moon is the red giant Antares, the heart of the scorpion.
    As the sun dips beneath the horizon around 7:40, look in its wake for Mercury low in the west. Binoculars may help you pinpoint this elusive planet. When most people spot Mercury, they are surprised by its brightness, shining around zero magnitude, brighter than most stars. But the innermost planet orbits so close to the sun that it never appears more than a dozen degrees above the horizon during dark hours.
    Mercury has been a fixture of our night sky since the dawn of civilization. The first telescopic observations of the planet were made by Galileo in 1610, but unlike his viewing of Saturn, there was no eureka moment. It was not until more than 350 years later with the fly-by of the Mariner 10 space probe that astronomers learned much more about this elusive planet.
    You may be able to see the farthest planet from the sun, Neptune, before dawn this week. On Friday the outermost planet reaches opposition, when earth is directly between it and the sun. Even with binoculars or a small telescope it will appear as little more than a small blue dot low in the west-southwest amid the dim stars of Aquarius.
    Venus and Jupiter will greet you in the east before dawn amid the glow of the coming sun.

It’s a little late to start seeds but just right to plant seedlings

The best sauerkraut is made from fall-grown cabbage. The best kale and collards have been frosted a few times, growing sweeter with each frost. Fall-grown spinach and lettuce are more tender. Carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga and kohlrabi are at their best when grown in late summer and harvested in the fall. Both cauliflower and broccoli form tighter heads in fall than in spring. I also harvest many more fall peas than spring peas. If you love Brussels sprouts as much as I do, you must get them started now to harvest a bountiful supply.
    There is more gardening ahead, and now is the time to start sowing seeds. If you planted onions this past spring, they should all be harvested by now — as well as the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. So you now have room to start planting your fall crops.
    I have stopped planting peas in the spring because I can make many more harvests from peas planted in August. The cooler fall temperatures promote continuous growth until the killing frost comes late in fall. Spring-planted peas stop producing pods as soon as the heat comes on.
    August is also a good time to make a planting or two of snap beans. If you make two consecutive plantings about two to three weeks apart, you will be harvesting snap beans until the frost kills the plants.
    If you sowed your seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and cabbage the first week of August, the plants will be ready to be transplanted into rows by the end of the month. Seeds of spinach, lettuce, kale, collards, turnips and rutabaga should have been sown by mid August. To grow the sweetest carrots this side of heaven, the seeds should also have been planted before the middle of August, as should a row of beets for greens as well as for the sweetest roots.
    If you haven’t started your seeds, check the garden centers for seedlings of these cool-weather crops.
    Your soil most likely still holds a plentiful supply of nutrients not utilized by the remaining summer crops. Since the soil is warm, the compost you added to the garden is also releasing nutrients. A fall crop allows you to maximize the uptake of the nutrients already added as well as those released during the decomposition of organic matter.
    If you are not going to plant a fall crop, sow a cover crop of winter rye to absorb all of those free nutrients into their roots and stems. Next spring when you plow the rye back into the ground, the nutrients will be there for that crop.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.