Have you wondered how many of those North American truck drivers protesting the vaccine have used uppers bought in a restroom in a stop alongside the highway?

Sometimes I see it spelled “Zelenskyy” (the only double y I can think of) and sometimes “Zelensky.” I assume that has something to do with translating from the Cyrillic alphabet, but I have no idea what it is.

Hearing the news about Ukrainian nuclear power plants, I recalled a book I read last summer, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (2019) by Adam Higginbotham. He wrote that the demand for electricity is expected to double by 2050 and that coal, even though burning it leads to climate change, remains the world’s most widely used source of energy for the generation of electricity. Furthermore, particulates from the fossil fuels electricity plants kill 13,000 people a year in the U.S., and 3,000,000 people in the world die each year from air pollution from fossil fuel plants. Higginbotham points out that nuclear electric plants emit no carbon dioxide and have been a safer electricity generation source than anything else including wind turbines, and new nuclear designs may even be safer.

At this time of the year, the sports channels prattle about what college teams will be the number one seeds in the NCAA basketball tournament. I wonder how much it matters if a school is slotted first or second. A number one seed plays the sixteenth seed in the first round while the second seed plays the fifteenth seed. Are there any statistics on how much difference this makes? And if all goes to form, no matter who is seeded first or second, the number one and two seeds will play each other on a neutral court. 

I just watched Drive My Car. The movie is long and slow-moving and marvelous. It has depth and layers; one of them is that Uncle Vanya is intertwined throughout it. While watching the movie, I thought back to the three or four productions of that Chekhov play I have seen, and I realized that I remembered little of the play. I can’t summarize Uncle Vanya or its characters, but that is not unusual. I retain little of the art I see, hear, or read. I do, however, remember aspects of the first Uncle Vanya I saw fifty years ago, a legendary production. It was directed by Mike Nichols, and Nicol Williamson and George C. Scott had the two lead roles, Uncle Vanya and Astrov. Americans may have mostly forgotten Williamson, but he was called a genius actor by many who saw him. I then knew of Scott primarily from film roles, but of course he first came to fame with Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. The cast also included Lillian Gish, Bernard Hughes, Conrad Bain, and Julie Christie. The production was at the Circle in the Square Theater, which has a thrust stage with most seats, including mine, only a few feet from the actors. And gosh and golly, I do remember how lovely Julie Christie was in her lacy morning dress as she stood a few feet away from me. As beautiful as she was, she could not match the presence and fire of Williamson and Scott. But while those facts and images came back to me while watching Drive My Car, the themes and language of Uncle Vanya did not.

But you don’t have to know that play to appreciate the genius of Drive My Car.

First Sentences

“He could see it now: they were a little mad, the Booths, though each in a different way.” David Stacton, The Judges of the Secret Court: A Novel about John Wilkes Booth.

“When Elizabeth Blackwell decided to become the first woman doctor, in many ways she wasn’t actually the first.” Olivia Campbell, Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine.

“Lexa McCaskill ran both hands through her coppery hair, adding up appetites.” Ivan Doig, Mountain Time.

“The adventure that changed the course of George Bird Grinnell’s life began with a train, and the path of the train, as it crossed the plains in the summer of 1870, was blocked by buffalo.” Michael Punke, Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West.

“One hot spring evening, just as the sun was going down, two men appeared at Patriarch’s Ponds.” Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita.

“Her sister’s drawing room was already crowded when Marie-Madeline Fourcade arrived.” Lynne Olson, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler.

“In early spring, everything had been so different.” Serena Kent, Death in Provence.

“At seventy-three, with his wartime career as president of the Naval Consulting Board behind him, Edison tried to make sense of a new intellectual order that challenged everything he had learned of Newtonian theory.” Edmund Morris, Edison.

“Some years ago, on a sunny Friday in early May, still vivid to crime buffs, a bold new age commenced, or the visible part of it anyway, when Romo Malbonum, the Deckled Don, talked himself into a life sentence to be served in a maximum-security federal prison.” Jethro K. Lieberman, Everything is Jake.

“For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers’ devoted heads.” Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea.

“The Pacific is the loneliest of oceans, and travelers across that rolling desert begin to feel that their ship is lost in an eternity of sky.” Earl Derr Biggers, The Black Camel.

“At the slow beat of approaching rotor blades, black birds rose into the sky, scattering over the frozen meadows and the pearly knots of creeks and ponds facing the Pripyat Basin.” Adam Higginbotham, Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster.