Saturday, March 31, 2012

From Malden, MA to Malawi, East Africa - "The Lower River" by Paul Theroux

One of my favorite travel books by Paul Theroux is "Patagonia Express." The long journey that will take him to the tip of South America begins humbly enough on the T's Orange Line in Medford, Massachusetts. His latest work - a novel - also begins simply in the quiescent simplicity of downtown Medford and then takes the protagonist, Ellis Hock, back to Malawi, a failed state in East Africa. What Ellis finds there, many years after he had served there as a young volunteer in the Peace Corps, makes this book a fascinating journey through many levels of reflection. Ellis re-examines the nature of life in the village of Malabo and simultaneously searches deep within his own heart and spirit. Along the way, Theroux examines the nature of relationships, the meaning of life, civilization, belief systems,innocence and corruption, the nature of charity.

"The Lower River" is a beautifully terrifying work. The sense of hopeless and isolation that Ellis feels once he realizes that he is a virtual prisoner in Malabo is palpable. The cast of characters is indelibly drawn. Theroux's insights are profound. Hear Ellis' thoughts as he prepares to leave his life in Massachusetts as he nears retirement:

"Although he moved into a condo on Forest Street - the former high school - he and Deena [his ex-wife] still saw each other. Formally, sometimes shyly, they went on dates. They were not quite ready to see other people, and even the sessions with Doctor Bob had not affected their fundamental liking for each other. The dates ended with a chaste and usually fumbled kiss, and Ellis was always sad afterward, lonely in his car. He knew that he had caused Deena pain, destroyed her love for him, made her untrusting - perhaps untrusting of all other men. In the secrecy and confidences of his messages, he had betrayed her. He could be kind to her now, but there was no way to amend the past. On some of their dates she sat numb and silent, suffering like a wounded animal. He could not think of himself, because he knew the hurt he's inflicted on her would never heal.

Ellis dreaded the day when Deena would say to him, 'I'm seeing someone.' He told her how bad business was, and she tried to console him, urging him to sell the building, that the real estate was worth something, that it was an ideal location.

On one of those dates, she gave him the phone - the instrument of their undoing, which now seemed to him as something diabolical Or had it been a great purifying instrument? Anyway, it had uncovered his entire private life, shown him as sentimental, flirtatious, dreamy, romantic, unfulfilled, yearning. But for what? What did all those e-mails mean? What in all this emotion was the thing he wanted?

HE did not know. He might never know. He was too old perhaps for anything more. No momentous thing would ever happen to him. No passion, no great love, no new landscape,no more children, no risk, no drama. The rest of his life would be a withdrawal, a growing smaller, until finally he would be forgotten. The name on his store would be replaced by another. His marriage was over, his daughter gone. He could not remember much of the marriage, and yet he missed the eventlessness of it, his old routine, the monotony that had seemed like a friend. There was a certainty in routine, the torpor it induced in him was a comfort.

The day after Hock got the phone back he went to the store, keeping the thing in his pocket the whole day. After he locked up for the night (he observed himself doing this, as if in a ritual), he walked to the edge of the parking lot, where beyond a fence the Mystic River brimmed, and flung the phone and watched it plop and sink and drown in the water that was moody under the dark sky. (Pages 16-17)

I view this excerpt as a beautiful and insightful reflection on one mans' existential dilemma - and, by extension, every man's dilemma.

He begins his return journey to Africa in this dark place and finds even darker shades of existential challenge in his old village.

This novel is thought-provoking and soul-stirring.

Enjoy the journey!


Monday, March 26, 2012

An Aptly Titled Novel - "Enchantments" by Kathryn Harrison

Rasputin's daughter, Masha, forms a unique bond with the Tsarevich, Alyosha Romanov. Such is the premise of this thoroughly delightful story. Author Kathryn Harrison became intrigued with Russia and its last tsar when she was a girl. As she grew into womanhood, her fascination with the Romanovs and Rasputins expanded along with her literary sensibilities.

The result is that we are now treated to an absolutely enchanting tale in her new novel, "Enchantments." The enchantments in the story are manifold. Rasputin "enchants" the Tsarina and eventually Tsar Nicholas, as well as a long train of female petitioners who succumb to his charms. After Rasputin is murdered,his youngest surviving daughter, Masha, is brought to the Romanov's private Xanadu, Tsarskoe Selo, to amuse and perhaps to enchant the ailing Tsarevich Alyosha, a victim of the royal hemophilia.

The relationship that forms between Masha and Alyosha servesas the emotional core of the novel,and also serves as a wonder platform for fantastic storytelling. This historical novel is based partly on the fact that Rasputin's daughter did survive and eventually went to live in America, where she fulfilled her lifelong wish of performing as an equestrienne and animal trainer. Harrison is deeply influenced by the surrealism of Mikhail Bulgakov, author of "The Master and Margarita." That influence adds a magical and phantasmagorical cast to the novel. I found myself caring about the fate of each one of the colorful characters and mourned the passing of the Romanovs, even though I knew at the outset of reading the book what their fate would be at Yekatarinaburg.

This is wonderful and inspiring writing.



Saturday, March 24, 2012

An Outrage in Boston - Stand Behind Moti of Moby Dick House of Kabob

Please read and respond to this Blog piece by my good friend, Glenn Gaudet. Moti is the kind of person who deserves our support against an intractable bureaucracy.

Moral to the Story… When the Lights Go Out, Keep Them Out

On Tuesday, March 13th, 2012, I was driving into Boston to attend an event at a venue on Boylston Street. On the way in, you could see smoke bellowing from the south end of Back Bay, which is a part of Boston. At the event, the lights went out and we were told that the venue needed to shut down due to lack of power. What I didn’t know until I got outside was that the power was out as far as the eye could see. The smoke on the way in was a power sub-station in the Back Bay that was on fire. The fire took out the sub-station and resulted in a major portion of the Boston power grid to go down with it.

Fast forward to today. I had lunch at one of my favorite family-run restaurants in Boston. It is called Moby Dick House of Boston.

The owner and head chef at Moby Dick is Moti. Moti brought her family to America from Iran to pursue the freedoms that far too many of us take for granted. Moti played by the rules and always has. She came over and became part of this country legally and quickly found that making ends meet with a young family is not so easy. Some friends encouraged her to open a restaurant because her cooking was so good. As a single mother, this was not going to be an easy task. However, she decided to take the risk and opened Moby Dick. The name was based on a popular restaurant in Tehran that Moti’s family went to when she was a child. Twenty four years later, Moby Dick has become a staple in Boston for amazing home cooked Persian dishes. Moti still cooks six days a week.

One of the reasons why I go to Moby Dick is that the food is made with love. Moti greets me with a smile and I leave the rest to her. She decides on which special I should have and she never misses. They are all amazing.

Today, something was off with Moti. She was distraught. When I asked her what was wrong, she teared up and shared a story that moved me to want to take some action. Moti told me that the power outage affected her restaurant and they had to close down. The power was down and the Boston Health Inspectors as they should, came to all the local food outlets and made them throw away any perishable foods. Moti complied before she was asked to and had to throw away thousands of dollars of food (she mentioned $15,000).

Moti has been paying for the mandated insurance for her restaurant for 24 years. She said that she has payed over $240,000 in premiums over this time and never made a claim.

Her insurance company Travelers (and you should Tweet them if you don’t like this) has denied her claim because she opened before a seemingly arbitrary 72 hour window. Moti, playing by the rules opened her restaurant as soon as she could when the power came back on. As I mentioned, Moby Dick is a staple of that neighborhood with local residents and students. In opening hours before the 72 hour arbitrary insurance window, her Traveller’s Insurance agent says that she cannot make the claim.

She also called NStar (the power company responsible for the outage) with no luck on getting any kind of support. Moti also mentioned that a neighboring restaurant purposely waited and stayed closed for the entire 72 hours. Apparently they knew something that Moti didn’t and they were able to make the claim.

There is something wrong in Boston when a local business plays by the rules and ultimately is penalized for this. If you agree with this, please join me in making some noise to help Moti get the respect that she has surely earned to get a resolution to this issue.

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Here are some steps that Glenn suggests we can take initially to be of support to Moti:

Thanks. We will keep you posted.


Next to Normal at the Calderwood Pavillion - Boston Center for the Arts - A Must See

A few days ago I had the privilege of seeing a performance of "Next to Normal." It is a gut-wrenching musical play performed by an excellent ensemble cast. The play, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, treats with respect, humor and pathos the subject of mental illness and the toll that it can take on a family.

Directed by Paul Daigneault, the cast includes Chris Charon, Christopher Chew, Kerry A. Dowling, and Michael Levesque. A special shout-out goes to two current Boston Conservatory students, Michael Tacconi and Sarah Drake. In the roles of Gabe and Natalie, children of a mother who suffers from bipolar disorder, they hold their own very well with the Equity actors in the cast.


by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey | Directed by Paul Daigneault | Music by Tom Kitt | Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company, the Calderwood Pavilion Resident Theatre Company at the BCA

“Grade: A. Agonizingly beautiful!”Entertainment Weekly

Featuring a compelling and surging pop rock score, Next to Normal shatters through the façade of a suburban family dealing with the direct and indirect effects of mental illness. Winner of three Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this intense, emotional and ultimately hopeful musical makes a direct grab for the heart with its story of a family coming to terms with its past and bravely facing its future.

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I was recently in NYC and ended up meeting a couple from the Boston area who see a lot of theater - in Boston and in New York. We began sharing theater-going experiences, and they made the following statement: "We just saw 'Next to Normal' in Boston, and found it to be the most moving play we have ever seen. You must see it." I am glad that I took their recommendation. It is, indeed, a very moving play and beautifully executed production.

This production will be running through April 15.



Monday, March 19, 2012

Mini-Review of "A Land More Kind Than Home" by Wiley Casey

The early rave reviews and blurbs about this novel set the bar high in terms of my expectations. The book far exceeded even those lofty expectations. Writing in a contemporary style that reminded me of Harper Lee with a hint of Faulkner and a touch of "Cold Mountain," Wiley Cash draws the reader into the nether world of Western North Carolina's mountaintops and hollers. The action centers on two brothers - one autistic and the other very protective - both of his brother and of the community secrets. The story is told alternately through the voices of three narrators - Clem Barefield, the local sheriff, Adelaide Lyle,an elderly midwife who has delivered most of the denizens of the county, and Jess, the younger brother in the Hall family.

Much of the conflict revolves around the local Pentacostal snake-handling congregation and its charismatic and mysterious preacher, Pastor Chambliss. Several key citizens die over the course of several decades. Those deaths and the intrigues and grudges that surround them provide plenty of fodder for complex plot twists and relationships. The author clearly loves each of the characters - at once both complex and simple. and as result, I found myself caring about them, as well. The writing is vivid and beautiful.

"A Land More Kind Than Home" is a stunning beginning to what I am confident will be a literary career of acclaim.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mini-Review of "Paris Noire" by Francine Thomas Howard

I love "film noir," and this novel, "Paris Noire," evokes the feeling of this film genre. Francine Thomas Howard clearly knows Paris well, and her love for the City of Lights - as it existed at the end of World War II -comes through loud and clear in this beautifully written story. The cast of characters includes American blacks, African emigres, Caribbean ex-pats and long-time denizens of the various arrondissments of Paris.

This complex tale revolves around Marie-Therese Brillard, born in Martinique but now a French citizen because of her marriage to a Frenchman. Living in Montmartre with her grown daughter, Colette, and her son, Christophe, she seeks to guide her family through the ups and downs of wartime Paris, and through the vicissitudes of complex romantic entanglements.

The story is often violent, sometimes surprising and always entertaining. The Josephine Baker-type character of Glovia adds just the right mixture of spice to the already powerful ingredients that the author brings to this story.

I stayed up later than I had planned to do in order to find out what would happen next. A reader cannot ask for much more from an author.


A Report from the Barricade - Les Miserables Returns to Boston on a Memorable Night

There were technical difficulties galore in Boston last night. In the Back Bay a transformer explosion sparked a three-alarm blaze that has much of the heart of the city without power still this morning. A few blocks away in the Theater District, the Opening Night performance of Les Miserables at the Opera House was halted abruptly early in the second act when the mechanism that moves the iconic barricade on and off the stage jammed.

Just as the students began to mount the barricade, a goddess voice interrupted the proceedings: "We are sorry, but we must halt the performance to take care of some technical difficulties. Please use this time to review your programs." The curtain fell, the house lights came up, and the audience began tweeting. About 20 minutes later, the technical glitch having been solved, the curtain rose and we were once again in 19th Century Paris.

While Boston firefighters were busy dowsing the stubborn flames that erupted near the Back Bay Hilton, at the Opera House the hiatus in the show did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the nearly full house. When the play reached its dramatic and moving denouement, the audience jumped to its feet as one, with enthusiastic clapping, whistling and shouting. The cast seemed to soak in the special "welcome home to Boston" outburst, lingering longer than usual for the curtain calls.

As I mentioned in yesterday's Blog piece, this 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables is special in a number of ways. The backdrops are based on original Victor Hugo sketches, including the one above. Particularly haunting is the backdrop used in the final scene. As Jean Valjean is being escorted to heaven by the spirits of Fantine and Eponine, he sings:"To love another person is to see the face of God." Watching over this elegiac scene is Hugo's haunting sketch of two huge eyes - perhaps emblematic of the "face of God."

Les Miserables will be in residence at the Opera House through April 1.

Treat yourself to this remarkable work of art and entertainment.



Monday, March 12, 2012

One Day More! Les Miserables Returns to Boston in Triumph - Opening at the Opera House Tuesday, March 13th

Anyone who has known me for any length of time is aware of my passion for all things
"Les Miserables." The novel by Victor Hugo represents (in my humble opinion) the most explicit representation of the
Gospel outside of Scripture. I consider the musical based on the novel to be the ultimate expression of the art form that is musical theater. Whenever finances allow, I never miss an opportunity to experience the wonders of Les Miz on stage. Over the years, I have seen performances of the show in Boston, New York, LA, London, Tampa, and Maine!

The point is that I have a large personal data base against which to evaluate the current 25th Anniversary Production that rolls into Boston's Opera House tomorrow night. I had an opportunity to sit in the audience for this this same production and cast a few weeks ago in Tampa at the beautiful STRAZ Center. I was blown away. It may be the best Les Miz cast I have ever seen and heard. The production has been re-staged, and in many ways the newly imagined staging is an improvement on the original - which is hard to top. The iconic turntable has been removed. The only scene in which I really missed the effect of the turntable was the shootout at the barricade.

Carefully chosen sketches by Victor Hugo are now projected onto the back wall of the stage. The effect can be powerfully moving and hypnotic. This is especially true in the scene when Fantine and Eponine welcome Jean Valjean to heaven. The two eyes staring out could very well be construed as representative of God's welcoming gaze.

I know that the brief visit to Boston by the National Touring Company is already almost completely sold out. If you have an opportunity to grab some of the remaining tickets, I urge you to do so without delay.

One Day More!



Thursday, March 08, 2012

Exciting Job Opportunities for Senior Enterprise Solution Sales Executives - Mobility Solutions - Multiple Openings:NYC, Bay area, Atlanta, Memphisi

White Rhino Partners has been asked to assist AT&T in identifying outstanding candidates to fill several key account enterprise solution sales executive roles. Please see job description below and pass along to those in your network who may be qualified and interested in being considered.

Mobility Application Consultant

Application Sales Executive III

Multiple Opportunities in NYC, Atlanta, Bay Area, Memphis

Working as an Application Sales Executive 3, you will implement solution-based sales strategies that uncover new business opportunities and manage account growth within the AT&T Mobility Group.

Primary Job Responsibilities:

  • Success in understanding customer's business objectives and aligning our portfolio of solutions to help the customer meet those objectives
  • To proactively identify, close and deliver application solutions with particular emphasis in the customer's lines of business working with the account team.
  • Proactively utilize in depth technical and sales expertise while leveraging the value proposition, case studies, work flow and ROI tools to drive wireless application sales
  • In collaboration with assigned account teams (Director, Sales Manager and Account Managers) develop plans to optimize mobile application sales in territory by proactively prioritizing targeted accounts and or solutions.
  • Position self as the mobility applications subject matter expert (SME) in territory.
  • Proactively participate in mobility application account and opportunity reviews
  • Build alliances, both internal and external with the mobility partner ecosystem and execute programs across functional organizations to successfully implement application solutions.
  • Serve as the application lead on responses to RFX's and unsolicited proposals.
  • Stay current and maintain a comprehensive knowledge of AT&T mobility application solutions.
  • Utilize sales automation tools as appropriate.
  • Provide timely and accurate account status reports, forecasts, opportunity funnel and business plans to sales leadership and operational teams as required.


· Bachelor's degree in a business or technical field preferred. MBA desired.

· 5-7 years experience with demonstrated success in selling enterprise applications

· Strong business acumen

  • Excellent verbal, written, presentation and interpersonal skills.
  • Proven ability to transfer knowledge to others.
  • Well organized with attention to detail with a passion for winning.
  • Ability to comfortably interact with senior leadership, customer executives and frontline employees.
  • Demonstrated ability to quickly learn a technical product or service.
  • Proven quota achievement acting in a solution sales and or sales support role.
  • Versatile relationship skills in order to maintain strong bonds with people from a variety of backgrounds including technical, legal, marketing, product development, project management and sales.
  • Excellent organizational skills which provide the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously.

Qualified candidates only, send MS-Word resume and cover letter to:

Dr. Al Chase -