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My summer vacation actually started a week before my time off began ... with a Friday night Jimmy Buffett concert out at Jones Beach, where my favorite singer was scheduled to give a concert just a few hundred yards from the ocean and under the stars. About ten minutes after the concert was scheduled to begin, Buffett came on stage all alone, and said, essentially, the following:

“Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that for the last few years, we’ve never had any rain when we’ve played Jones Beach. The bad news is that in about 15 minutes, we’re going to get some kind of downpour. But we’re not going anywhere, and we’re going to give you a complete concert. But right now, I want y’all to find some cover and get away from the rain and the lightning - and if you trust me as a pilot and a sailor, you’ll do what I say.”

And we all did. It took about 45 minutes for the lightning storm to pass, and then we all went back to our seats even in the rain, and had a simply marvelous time as Buffett took us through his songbook with a combination of showmanship, humor and island panache. It is a measure of the crowd’s loyalty that almost all of us stayed to the very end, wet but happy, as if we were having a party at the end of the world.




Then, the first night of my vacation, I got invited to a press preview for New York Craft Beer Week, out at the Brooklyn Brewery. I took my beer-and-wine retailer son, Brian, with me, and we had an amazing time, tasting some wonderful brews and fabulous food.

I think my favorite of all the companies pouring beer were the Shmaltz Brewing Company, which had an amazing Coney Island Human Blockhead beer, which is aged in bourbon barrels and is amazingly thick and rich, and the lighter but spicy and delicious Coney Island Albino Python. They may be based in New York, but they deserve national exposure. Great stuff. Click here for info.

I’ll also tell you this. There is a little company called My Friend’s Mustard that makes the most amazing whole grain beer mustard ... and any specialty food store interested in having something truly different should contact this company and try to bet some. Because it is really, really good. Click here for info.

Kudos to the folks who run NY Craft Beer Week, which runs from September 16-25. (I wish I were going to be around to patronize some of the events, but I’ll be traveling the entire time. Oh, well...) The effort is a noble one - expose as many people as possible through a wide variety of events to some of the great products being crafted in the Empire State. If you’re interested in finding out out more, click here.

Helluva way to start out a vacation.




The rest of the time was made up - when it wasn’t raining - with reading and movies and lots of bike rides.

I finished two books, one of which I can recommend unreservedly: “The Cut,” by George Pelecanos, which is a tightly plotted thriller with Elmore Leonard-like dialogue, featuring an Army vet turned freelance investigator Spero Lucas who finds himself hip-deep in a murder mystery that takes place on the unsavory fringes of Washington, DC. Lucas is a compelling lead character, and one gets the sense that there are plenty of layers yet to be stripped away, and that we’ll get to know him better in future novels. And Pelecanos is as good as they come - this is a fabulous page-turner, a morality tale posing as a thriller, as good as his “The Night Gardener,” one of my favorite mysteries of recent years.

The other book I read was not so good - I finally picked up a copy of “The Lost Symbol” that I’d bought some time ago, Dan Brown’s follow-up to “The Da Vinci Code.” It is a decent read, and I got through it pretty quickly, but it was wholly unfulfilling even as a popcorn novel. It feels like a paint-by-numbers effort as Brown tries to replicate the formula that made his previous hit novels work, but it feels like formula.




I also saw three terrific movies during my vacation:

“The Debt,” which is a top-notch espionage thriller starring Helen Mirren, involving an attempt by Israeli agents to capture a Nazi war criminal, and the moral hazards they encounter in their lives and work. It feels like a really good seventies-style thriller, and that is high praise.

“The Whistleblower” is horrifying to watch - it is based on a true story about an American policewoman working for a military contractor in post-war Bosnia. In her work, the woman (played by the always great Rachel Weisz) discovers a child sex slave and human trafficking conspiracy that involves her employer and representatives of the United Nations, and she endangers her own life to expose it. There’s great supporting work by Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn, who bring intensity and veracity to a story that deserves to be told.

“Gasland” is an intriguing documentary about natural gas drilling and the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which it suggests can lead to health issues for nearby residents as well as significant air and water pollution. I have to be honest - this is a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing, and “Gasland” made the subject accessible. I think there’s a lot to learn about this subject, and the movie made me want to learn more. Which is about all I can ask of a movie.




And, I discovered “Sherlock,” the BBC series that places the Sherlock Holmes myth in modern times, and in doing so is far more faithful to the characters and themes than the overblown Robert Downey Jr. movies. There’s only been three 90-minute episodes so far, and they can be found on Netflix ... but Martin Freeman is excellent as Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch is a revelation as Holmes. Check it out.




That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

Slainte!
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