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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max Fury Road: Violent, Hyper-kinetic, Overrated

Source: Wikipedia 
"Mad Max Fury Road" is one long hyperkinetic, violent, chase scene. It has received over-the-top reviews; that's why I went to see it. The reviews insisted that "Fury Road" is so good it transcends its genre: teen boy action movie / video game. I was hoping for something like "300," a violent action movie that is better than it needs to be. In fact "Fury Road's" star, Tom Hardy, costarred with "300"'s star, Gerard Butler. But "Fury Road" really isn't any better than any other violent, teen boy, action movie / video game. It's not exceptionally smart or funny or cinematically awe-inspiring.

There's no challenging thought or interesting history. It's just the same old same old: manmade apocalypse, humans in a devastated landscape, evil men doing despicable things, with lots and lots of chasing, punching, kicking, ugliness and loudness. After I walked out of this movie, the world was an uglier place. As I passed cars, I saw the souped-up cars of "Fury Road." Everything seemed menacing and everyone seemed to need a punch in the face. I don't think it's a good thing that movies peddle nihilism as a drug to teen boys.

"Fury Road" takes place in the future. The landscape is desert. An evil and very ugly ruler, Joe, who wears a skull mask and a Darth-Vader-style breathing apparatus, hoards water. Joe uses the water to support his population of war boys, bare-chested, muscular men in white body paint. Joe also harvests breast milk from captive women, and impregnates other captive women, "breeders," with his offspring – future war boys.

Some of his subjects make a break for it. Joe sends out his war boys to catch the escapees. The escapees are trying to make it to the green land of many mothers.

The entire movie, from start to finish, is one long chase scene. It's so fast moving and stimulating that it actually gets boring. You don't know or care about any of the characters. None of the characters are particularly likable. It's so horrible – the quick scene of women's breast milk being harvested, for example – that it becomes laughable. It's very loud and your ears ring after you leave the theater.

Tom Hardy as Mad Max spends the first twenty minutes or so of the movie being bound and tortured. Pretty passive for the star of an action movie. Charlize Theron carries the action, and she is very good. Not bad for a 39 year old woman. Nicholas Hoult is poignant as a war boy who undergoes the closest thing the movie has to character development. My favorite scene in the movie lasted about thirty seconds; Tom Hardy says, "My name is Max." It's a tiny oasis in a desert of violent chase scenes.

Men are bad and destroy and exploit; women are good and nurture. I suspect that this aspect of the film will arouse controversy.

The future is full of white people. In the large cast, only Zoe Kravitz, who is half Jewish and half black, is a bit darker skinned. This aspect of the movie will also arouse protest. The future may be a dystopic no-exit hellhole, but black people should be allowed to suffer in it as much as whites.
The war boys are eager to die for their malicious leader, Joe. Joe promises them that when they die they will go to Valhalla. I wondered if this might not be an allusion to suicide bombers dying with promises of 72 virgins on their minds.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Monastery Retreat Memories Part One

Ten years ago I made a silent, week-long retreat to Holy Cross, a Cistercian monastery on the Shenandoah River in Virginia.

It was one of the most amazing, and in some ways bizarre, experiences of my life.

As soon as I got back, I typed up my experiences. The final document was two hundred pages long. I mailed it to a handful of friends who were kind enough to read it. They asked me when I'd publish it. I never thought I would. 

Now I am rereading those pages. 

I began the monastery diary with a description of something odd and wonderful that happened in November, 2004.


Updating this on June 8, 2015. I had thought to post the monastery diary here on my blog ... but a friend urged me to self publish it. It looks like that is what will happen. I'll announce here on the blog when it is available. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Death of Siblings: Remembering Alone

Mike Goska

For me it's always been all about stories.

I'm not that into things. I think my divorce from things is related to my cognitive challenges. Butterfingers, that's me. I drop things. I don't know how to operate things. I am flummoxed by the challenge of storing things. I own a Stanley tools 25 foot Fat Max tape measure. I have no idea where it is.

I remember being a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic, a dangerous place. It was close to the equator and the following always arrived around six p.m.: sunset, night-long polyrhythmic drumming, bats, eight-, six-, and four-footed predators, and two-legged thieves.

One night I took my lantern apart to fill it with kerosene and – I couldn't put it back together. It had about four movable parts: the lower can that held the kerosene, the upper can that held the wick, a glass globe, and a frame. I could not put these items, that I had just taken apart, back together. I was terrified. The light didn't protect me from the darkness and its dangers, but I felt that it did, and the darkness was coming on quickly. I struggled for half an hour before figuring out that I had one of the parts upside down. That simple.

So, yeah, no, things. Do I own anything that was once owned by my mother? Yes, one thing. A low-cost pendant. That's it, I think.

The stories, though. The stories.

How and why my great-great grandmother was murdered, and the fallout from that murder that lasted for the next one hundred years. How and why my paternal grandfather died, and the impact on my father. His riding in the same jeep with Douglas MacArthur. What his men said to him at the reunion. Why he was in the army twice, under two different names.

The stories.

My sister just died. She is my third sibling to die. I've been talking about the impact of siblings, and their deaths.

Here's one impact. My sister's death is in many ways my own death. I kept waiting for someone to see this and say it: "You are sad because your sister is dying, and of course you are also sad because in a sense her death is your death." No one did so I'll say it. One reason siblings' deaths make us so sad is that their deaths are our deaths as well.

My sister and I didn't have a good relationship. Even so I loved her passionately. My insightful friend Robin Schaffer asked me why. I listed Antoinette's qualities: her intelligence, her honesty, her talkativeness, with me, anyway. She never shut up with me, and I like to talk and I like people who talk.

Later, though, I realized that that list could never add up to my love for her, and that two things really would have done a better job of explaining: Antoinette and I laughed at the same things, and Antoinette and I remembered the same things.

Antoinette's home was put up for sale shortly after she died.

We grew up poor. Our mother hammered this into us. I always assumed I would die in a cardboard box on the street. I still assume that. I probably will.

Antoinette was the first one of us to buy and inhabit her own stable home.

Antoinette's aesthetic was the classic concept of feminine and pretty: pastel colors, soothing motifs. Pink, sky blue, gold, lavender, ocean scenes, starfish, hummingbirds, floral patterns.

Her home was in a great neighborhood on a lovely lot with trees. When she told me that a bear attacked her bird feeder, I was so jealous. She had reached heaven. No cardboard box on the street for her. Her yard was full of plants she bought, planted, and nurtured, including a blue spruce next to a pink dogwood. See? Pretty. There was the girls' swing set, and a wren house inhabited by a real house wren, whirligigs and wind chimes.

Antoinette created that space and kept it alive every day with the turnings of her body, just as an animal forms a den. Shortly after she died, it began to be dismantled, so that the house could be sold. That house will never sound the same, smell the same, or feel the same. The house that Antoinette created died when she died. I feel sad.

I think of my mother's home. I was an abused kid; my home life was hard. But I loved the house. I loved its smells of onions, ham, and bread. I loved the creaking floors and the knot in the staircase that let light through as you walked over it. I loved the peek of the older wallpaper under unpainted corners. I loved the sound of Tramp's occasional pants or scratches at night on the porch, or one of my brothers coming home, clearing his throat, and peeing in the toilet. No sound has ever touched me more than the sound of the heat kicking on that first night in autumn.

I loved what happened when people came over. I especially loved Aunt Phyllis. She was beautiful, and she had something special. She and my mother made each other laugh. It was such a grace. My mother was a different, better person around Aunt Phyllis.

Aunt Tetka and Uncle Strecko came, too. Sometimes Rose and Rudy and Sophie Stupko. They would sing Slovak folk songs. They would speak Slovak, my father would speak Polish, and World War II and the Depression would be re-told.

I was at a family function recently. Everyone was a WASP, including those who had Bohunk ancestors they have forgotten and don't want to know about. Everyone spoke English only. Not a single person there would have known how to respond if I said "A ja taka carna" or even "Chodz." No one had survived anything – no WW II, no czars or Hapsburgs or Nazis. No, they had all survived their trip to the mall. 

I am remembering alone.

Amanda Cooney, a talented photographer, took some photos of Newark's Branch Brook Park when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. I shared the photos on my facebook page. Sue Knight, a well-read woman, quoted A. E. Housman's poem "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now."

Sue's reference reminded me that my brother, Mike Goska, had written a very funny parody of A. E. Housman's poem, "When I Was One and Twenty." It was published in the Lakeland Regional High School literary magazine, or maybe its yearbook. Mike rewrote the poem as "While doing six to sixty," about a prisoner in jail being offered wisdom by his cellmates.

I wanted to snatch that memory back.

I wrote to Matthew Certo, the current principle at LRHS. I asked if there was any chance he could find a copy of Michael's parody. He tried. Principle Certo just emailed me. No luck.

The memory is gone. I am remembering alone.

Antoinette would remember that poem. When she was in the hospital, and in bad shape – that day she did not recognize me – I was talking to her. I would talk about anything. I said, "Antoinette, remember Barry Bogerman?" I was mentioning a guy Mike used to hang out with when he was in high school. And she said, "Yeah, Mike's friend."

This is something – she was barely opening her eyes, she was hardly speaking, and when she did speak she didn't say anything coherent. And she remembered Mike's friend Barry Bogerman.

Mike had two kids: Donald Skidmore and Grace Lydia Skidmore Fowler. Their father died before they could know him.

I was Mike's little sister. I remember things about Mike that no one else who is still alive remembers. I have tried to contact his kids over the years because I have wanted to share these memories. I've never met Lydia; I was in the same room with Donald when he was one year old, I think. Neither of them has responded to my offers to share with them memories of their father. I don't understand. I feel sad. These memories of Mike will die with me. 
Photo by Amanda Cooney
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow. (A.E.Houseman)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"I Love You." "I Know."

Thursday, May 2, 2013, I was meeting with students in the office.

I heard my own phone ring.

My phone almost never rings.

I am phone-phobic. It's a real thing. I have no fear of public speaking, which is said to be the most common phobia. No fear of spiders, which I don't kill, or snakes. But no one calls me and I don't call anyone.

I looked at the caller ID. It was my sister. My sister never calls me. And she is phone-phobic, too.

I picked up the phone. "Hello? Hello?"

No answer.

Oh, my sister. Jerking me around.

Except maybe she wasn't jerking me around. I emailed her. "Did you call me?" No reply.

I put the phone away and went back to meeting with students. But I had a bad feeling. Was my sister just jerking me around? Was I worrying for nothing as I had so many times before?

That evening, after work, I was standing at the kitchen countertop separating school things from food things; ending the work day and beginning dinnertime. I heard the phone ring again. Two phone calls in one day? A very bad sign.

It was my sister's daughter.

The police had received nine 911 calls. My sister had been driving erratically. She was in the hospital.

I clutched the countertop, tried to sound cool for my niece, and turned to stone. No matter what the tests showed, no matter what hope or despair the doctors would distribute, no matter what route the rollercoaster took or when the carny ticket-taker would kick us off the ride, I just knew right then and there. God was fixing to take my sister away from me forever.

I rarely leave my apartment after late afternoon. Paterson has a high murder rate. I gave up hope for dinner and walked the couple of miles to Corrado's for gin. I was almost grateful for the Muslim guys pestering me on Main Street because it's hard to walk after you've turned to stone.

I was confronted with a choice: in or out?


I was an abused kid. There was a familial apartheid. There was a differential standard. You can do to Diane something you'd never do to someone else.

You can dress her in hand-me-downs that are a size too large, but the other children must get something that at least looks nice and fits and matches the kid's gender. You can insult her in front of strangers, but you must never say anything critical of other family members. You can tell her we'll leave at noon to go hiking, and show up at three and say it's too late to do anything. If she gets sick, we really don't need to take her to the doctor.

The abuse was obvious. No one intervened.


My sister and I were different in ways that are really important in childhood. I've always been fat. She was tall – taller than I – and thin. Being thin is everything to young girls; being fat jettisons you into untouchable status, especially in those days, when fewer Americans were fat.

She had a genius IQ.

I was slow to learn to read, to write, to tie my shoes, to ride a bike, to operate a key in a lock, to click my fingers, to tell right from left. I had a speech impediment and could not pronounce "library." I have a vivid memory of the first time I was able to say "breakfast." It was one of those "comes the dawn / I am invincible" moments.

I remember my older siblings trying to teach me to tell time. We were sitting at a table in our house in the evening. All the lights were out except for the light on a Fisher-Price toy clock. Michael and Antoinette were spinning the arms of the clock around. They were walking through the whole process slowly and carefully. They were being very patient and thorough. I realized that.

I had not one clue what the hell they were talking about.

Linear time? Feh. Time was obviously a cycle. We had fall last year; we'd have it again this year. Before? After? The Past? What did these words mean, really? "Before" and "after" were just determined by where you decided to bring the point of your finger down in one vast continuum. "The Past" would repeat as long as human character remained the same.

Wasn't time what you experienced personally? How to take the sum of your heart and distribute it in arbitrary words? Time was what made you stop playing on a summer evening when everything was exhilaration and you could run forever and big brother's voice slammed against your ears, "Get inside!" Time was what would not move when the entire school was massed in ranks to pray the rosary after recess under the May sun. Oops, another kid just fainted. Drag him to the side of the parking lot. How do you communicate these realities with little numbers and colons?

Antoinette could do all these things: read, write, tell time. I could barely ride a bike and she could ski.

I asked her, "How do you have so many friends?"

"Just talk to people."

I listened to how she talked to people. I heard what sounded like insults – bad – but were really just sarcastic teen teasing – good. I poked myself into a group of her friends and tried to do what she did – insult people – and people looked at me as if I were Frankenstein's monster.

She went to football games. I tried attending one. I was born with the aesthetics of a medieval monk. Watching young men bash their heads into each other, and pompom-wielding girls thrash their hair, breasts and legs about in meaningless and frivolous displays. Scandalous.

Antoinette tanned so deeply and had such thick hair people thought she was Native American. She invited me to one of her rented beach houses. I found the noise – just that, the noise – unbearable. Loud rock. Loud voices. Beer. I left.

She called me "poop head." Boring, weird, anti-fun. Birdwatching was not her thing but when she had a car and I did not she took me to cool places like Great Swamp. An English twitcher was struggling to identify an American bird. I quickly and accurately identified it for him. He asked, "How the devil did you know that?" with audible admiration in his voice. Antoinette imitated his accent and his amazement later when telling others how much I knew about birds. She also told people about the Paterson Evening News write-up of my sighting of a rare Lawrence's warbler on the banks of the Wanaque River.


Because I had so many, and because I've lost so many, and because I did not have positive relationships with my parents, I think about siblings a lot.

My brother Phil was killed on my birthday. I can remember well-meaning adults saying to my shell-shocked, tear-stained face, "This must be so hard on your parents. Losing a child is the worst pain someone can feel."

I wanted to knee those people in the groin.

Authoritative voices from the Bible to Freud tell us that it matters when your parents love you, and it matters when your parents support you, and it matters when your parent beats you and tells you that if she weren't Catholic she would have aborted you.

Just so it matters when your sibling punches you in the temple till blood comes out your eye, or beats you over the head with a cast iron and ceramic trivet until it breaks across your skull. Just so it matters if your brother who is a decade older than you carries you over broken glass when your mother tells you your feet are too big for shoes she can afford, and when he tenderly, maternally, coaxes you to eat the drek the government issues to the poor, and when he grows up and decides he wants nothing more to do with you, the child he was forced to parent, when he was only a child himself, and he doesn't invite you to his wedding, and, as he lies dying, the last thing he says to you is "You disgust me, Diane," and you have no idea why, and you remember that sentence in the sound of his voice for the rest of your life. It matters when you trust and love your big sister, and it matters when she betrays you.

Here's a sibling fact. I found out later, when I fell in love with men, that my template for love was formed in my relationship with my sister. Sorry, Freud. Not my father. That feeling of wishing that time spent together would go on forever. That feeling of excitement counterintuitively combined with familiarity. That feeling of eagerness, even when with present friends and having a good time, to be with an absent someone, of "I can't wait to be with her so I can tell her about this."

It wasn't reciprocal. I don't think that my sister loved or even liked me. In "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," there is a scene where Princess Leia tells Han Solo that she loves him. He replies, "I know." It was like that with Antoinette. I loved her, and she knew.

She loved learning and sharing science knowledge with me. We passed stagnant water and she mentioned pseudomonas. "It's completely harmless in that puddle," she'd say, "But in a hospital-acquired infection, it can kill." She used to lecture me at length about our genotype. I never had any idea what she was talking about, but I saw how much it excited her, so I'd nod enthusiastically. She told me that mothers loved their babies because of a chemical called oxytocin.

When she was in nursing school, she explained to me, "This is really cool. I found out in a psychology class why you love me so much. It's because you are the youngest, and you lack parental love. So you look up to me. I, on the other hand, am much less interested in you, because I'm older, and I am daddy's favorite."

Some bad things happened. Bad things happened in my childhood. Bad things happened in recent years.

These bad things wounded me and gave me years of nightmares. After one bad thing I realized I couldn't see her any more.  

We went years without contact.

The past four years have been eventful for me. Three of the events: I broke my arm and subsequently lost my job (they hired me back once the arm healed); I was diagnosed with cancer and told that I had a very low chance of survival (after surgery my prognosis improved significantly); and I was diagnosed with a chronic illness.

I have dealt with each of these as an adjunct professor who makes less than minimum wage and has no health insurance. Under Obamacare, my attempts to get medical attention have gotten worse, not better. Most of this time I have had no car. I live alone; three men have been murdered in front of my building in the past four years. I have a huge fear of anything medical. I've needed Olympic amounts of hand-holding.

In January, 2012, I was walking to work, and I slipped on ice. The first person I phoned was my sister. I left a message on her answering machine telling her that I had broken my arm and I needed a ride to the hospital. She never returned the call.

For the next two months, a co-worker, my boss, and a couple of friends brought me food and medicine. One man, who would probably be embarrassed to be named here, was astounding. He drove me to every doctor's appointment. Robin, previously mentioned on this blog, probably saved my life when, five months after I broke my arm, I got the cancer diagnosis and, without insurance, I could not get a hospital to treat me.

And so, when I received word that my sister had been driving erratically and I had to decide if I was in or out, a few people who know me well said, "Don't go there. You will yearn for a different ending to the story. Given your faulty understanding of the concept of linear time, you will probably also yearn for a different beginning to the story, and you can never get either."

I knew they were right and I knew they were wrong.

See? See what I mean about some words being arbitrary and not coming anywhere close to encapsulating reality? Something can be wrong and right at the same time.

I was in.

I have almost never owned a car. I say "almost" because I did own a car for about two years in my twenties. I've lived most of my life without a car. I just can't afford it, and I know nothing about them.

When I got word about Antoinette, I bought a car. Huge for me.

I bought the car because I wanted to be available to do whatever I could, if asked. I knew I might not be asked. I knew I might be seen in the way I have been seen by my family: as stupid, as weird, as useless, as someone to gossip about, as a punching bag to take frustrations out on when relationships with important people prove irritating.

At first, I scanned my email with the intensity of a marooned castaway scanning the horizon for ships; I was not in the loop; I didn't know what was happening.

I complained. "No one is telling me what's going on. I offered to help. No one is asking me to do anything."

As time went on, I was informed of more developments, invited to more events, and asked more often to help. I put my own stuff on hold. I've got a pile of unanswered mail on my desk about six inches high. 


It was, believe it or not, Siblings Day, April 10. I was stroking the soles of my sister's feet. I was doing this because I had done it previously and she said she liked it. I was speaking to her telepathically, because I knew she probably couldn't hear us anymore. People had been telling her to let go. I wanted to say to them, "Have you even met Antoinette? 'Let go'? Her?"

I said, "Antoinette, there are people you can boss around in heaven." And she stopped breathing within moments of my saying that to her.

Her house was full of people. I signaled to them that she had passed and they re-entered her room.

Four different people said variations of the following: "See? Antoinette waited until she was alone to die," "She waited till everyone who was important to her had left the room before she died," and "She waited until the people she loved were out of the room before she died."

And, of course, I was right there at the foot of her bed. Had been the whole time.


Often, after I left her bedside, as snot ran down my nose as I, white knuckled, steered the unfamiliar vehicle through unfamiliar driving maneuvers in the unfamiliar rush hour traffic on route 80, as I wished that they had invented windshield wipers for eyeballs, I chided myself. "You are crying over someone who would not cry if it were you."

Why did I do it? Why, when I was given a choice between "are you out or are you in" did I choose in?

I loved her. That's it. I loved her.

My love for her, and Jesus' insistence that love, not the final score, is primary, were more important than anything else.

And that's how life works sometimes.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Cook's Tarot by Judith Mackay Stirt

Source: Aeclectic
The Cook's Tarot by Judith Mackay Stirt is a big-hearted, saucy tarot deck in the colors of tropical fruit. With its sultry colors, aromatic dishes and houses full of pets, The Cook's Tarot had me at hello. I had not gotten through all 78 cards when I decided that it would be one of my favorites.

The Cook's Tarot cards are large – 3.75 inches by 5.5 inches. The backs of the cards are light and dark olive green, with a crosshatch pattern created by intersecting spoons and forks. The cards are not fully reversible. Apples appear on many of the pentacles suit, drinking vessels on the cups, knives and skewers on the swords suit, and matches on many of the wands. The images are hand-painted gouache. While Stirt was creating the deck, synchronous events occurred in her own life. A friend died on Valentine's Day; this inspired the three of swords.

The azure shades of tropical seas are among the dominant colors, along with rich greens of an equatorial forest, but the cards span the palette. The Fool's skirt is a swirl of cherry reds and dawn pinks. The Devil hangs suspended in a blob of purple hell. The child in the five of pentacles sports a yellow rain slicker. In the eight of pentacles, a baker labors as the first rays of dawn (or shafts of sunset) add a glow to his otherwise dull kitchen. There are some browns and grays for cabinets, furniture, cats, and a teddy bear in the six of cups. Bottom borders are a subdued gold that complements each color in the cards.

Light and shadow are subtle. The five of cups depicts a depressed woman sitting on the floor of a darkened, midnight kitchen. The dimmed colors, and the shadow cast by a gallon of milk on the countertop, convey the time of day and lack of illumination.

Stirt's style is blunt and bold. There are no fine, fussy details. Her style could be called childlike or primitive. The woman in the Lovers looks a bit like a woman in a Gauguin painting. The naked woman in the seven of cups looks like a Keith Haring outline. There are lots of swirling lines. Sometimes the swirls are steam rising from food, or sugar the Fool spills; sometimes they are vines from which The Magician selects a leaf; sometimes they are the letters of a neon sign behind which the High Priestess awaits. The swirls are like tendrils pulling the viewer into the world of the deck.

Stirt is a nurse. "I had no use for anything other than hard facts and reality. No fairies, dragons, or cute kittens for me, please." She appreciates cooks. "If you cook with awareness, you are nurturing the spirit." Thus these cards are close to everyday life. Repeated motifs in The Cook's Tarot include, of course, food, cutlery, dishes and cups, flowers, cats, dogs, tables, chairs, tablecloths, rugs, windows, beds, dishes, faucets, bodies of water and visible signs of weather: leaves tracing wind, raindrops, shadows and sun. Almost all the cards include large, prominent, human figures, in whole or in part. In some cards, such as the aces, not much more than a hand is visible. A few cards contain no human figures. These include Death, which depicts a wishbone, a feather, a meat cleaver, a stewpot, and thirteen chickens awaiting their fate, and the Moon, depicting dogs, a cat, and the shadow of a crab.

Stirt wants to tell stories with her cards. The page of swords suggests an entire novel. A dramatically-lit woman in a trench coat, wielding a knife, stands between a boiling pot and an open computer laptop. A window is behind her; it blows oak leaves and cold-looking raindrops into the room. Your mind races to fill in the backstory.

There's a great deal of humor in these images, but the humor never undercuts the card's meaning. The Tower is an elaborate meal rendered garbage by a marauding pet and a precariously stacked set of dishes on a tectonically sliding table cloth. The Lovers eat a breakfast in bed prepared and served by an angel. The Chariot is a blue-jeaned shopper pushing a full grocery cart. Perhaps my favorite re-imaging of a classic image is the High Priestess. She is a restauranteur, standing behind the transparent curtain of her establishment, preparing the show, and hiding culinary secrets only she knows. Stirt has a gift for including the minimal details necessary to tell her story. The eight of cups depicts the shins, ankles, and soles of the feet of a human figure in retreat from eight cups; the retreating feet step over a spiral rug.

The World card, a casually dressed woman holding aloft a champagne flute, a map and an oyster full of pearls behind her, didn't wow me as I'd hoped, but there are fewer duds in this deck than in most. Most of the cards are visually eloquent delights. The minor arcana have been lavished with as much artistic TLC as the majors. The five of pentacles is an example. A small child perches on a rainy sidewalk outside a fully-stocked candy store window. You can't see the child's face but the child's posture communicates all the outside-looking-in yearning of the five of pentacles card.

The people in the Cook's Tarot are multiethnic in a way that feels utterly natural and unforced. That the skins of the people in the cards are of various hues is of no more or less importance than that pets are multicolored. Other than the angel in the Lovers card, I've noticed only one overtly religious reference in the deck. The seven of cups depicts a Jewish wedding ritual.

The companion book is 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and 160 pages. Each card receives about one page of text and a black-and-white illustration. Stirt offers a verbal description of the visual image on the card, and an explanation of each of the card's elements. She then offers a few paragraphs on the card meaning, and she closes with a quote.

I was impatient with Stirt's unsourced references to this or that belief attributed to this or that group. Example, "early cultures believed that a single drop of rain fell from the heavens and became the heart of an oyster." Really? Where? When? Who says so? Stirt herself says that "In this age of religious questioning, Tarot has become the spiritual version of church." For that reason accuracy matters. A small complaint; I love this deck.