Alice and I were talking on the phone ten days ago when I realized she wouldn’t make it to Fairbanks before she returned to Oregon. She’d arrived in Alaska from Maine in June and spent the summer scanning Cook Inlet for beluga whales as part of a research project. She remained in Anchorage for fall semester, participating in an exchange program, The Eco League, between her college, College of the Atlantic, and Alaska Pacific University.

I arrived in Fairbanks in late August and Alice planned to visit University of Alaska Fairbanks with some of her classmates. She had challenging classes and two jobs and soon the semester was nearly finished and she hadn’t made it to Fairbanks.

During our conversation, she mentioned the Anchorage Film Festival, which runs Dec. 3-16.  I remembered Alaska Air was offering special fares from Fairbanks to Anchorage. In no time, we had a plan for and I had a ticket.

After I arrived in Anchorage, I rented a car and headed to meet Alice at her dorm. I followed her impeccable instructions, except the big log with the name of her university was buried in snow and the name of her dorm was not visible for the road. I drove right past her dorm. Driving past our destination and circling back to find it became a theme of the weekend.

We met her college friend, Katija, and her mother, Naomi, for hearty laughs and brunch at the Snow City Cafe.

Alice, right, and Katija, pose outside Snow City Cafe, in Anchorage on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010.

In the evening, we headed to the Out North Theater, and drove past it twice before we called for directions.

We watched the documentary, “The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi,” It’s a fine film about a remarkable jazz legend. I learned about his ground-breaking song “Cast your Fate to the Wind” and his ongoing commitment to musical experimentation, social justice and civil rights. He created the totally hip and memorable scores for the Charlie Brown cartoons, whose melodies run like a leitmotif through my childhood. The last piece of footage hit a sour note with both Alice and me. Unnecessary. Inappropriate. Inexplicable.

After the film we joined Anne Raup, a friend I hadn’t seen in more than a decade and the assistant photo editor at The Anchorage Daily News. We agreed to meet at the Bear Tooth Theatre Pub. Alice guided us to the Moose Tooth, a sister restaurant, so we called Anne for directions. We found the place, where people where queueing for a film fest movie and for food in the main restaurant. We opted for a booth in the diner. Right choice. We lingered for nearly three hours, over pizza, fish tacos, a halibut burrito. We laughed out loud and a lot.

On Sunday, we joined Charles Fedullo for coffee and conversation. He’s now the director of public relations for NANA Development Corporation; he is also a member of the Snedden committee that selected me for the Snedden Endowed Chair this year. We met at Europa Cafe. Alice and I both indulged and chose pain au chocolat to accompany our mochas.

More stories. More laughter. Alice was fascinated by his tales from his short-lived stint for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Sunday afternoon Alice was keen to see the short animation offerings.  At COA, Alice produced an animation based on John Steinbeck’s journey in the Sea of Cortes. We both liked “The Arctic Circle,” with its puppets and moral on the implications of greed. Short, sweet, too the point. We both were moved by “The Lighthouse,” an eight-minute animation from Taiwan by Po Chou Chi. It was like an Asian animated version of Cat Steven’s “Cats in the Cradle.” At least, that’s the hidden soundtrack I had playing in my head as the narrative unfolded. Truly lyrical and sweet story and gorgeous artistic rendering.

Sadly, the sound on some animations was off and it bugged Alice.

“Sound really matters,” Alice said.

She sounded off about “Ping,” a nine-minutes animation from the United States by Jason Oshman. I didn’t enjoy the CGI piece either and thought it would have been the right nine minutes to take a bathroom break.

Alice did like the opening piece, “The Adjustable Cosmos.” Everything was well-executed–the drawings, the narrative, the sound. I also liked the whimsical “Flew the Coop,” a four-minute animation by Alex Luko (USA.)

We made the mistake of sticking around for the foreign shorts that followed the animations.

Dark. Dark. Dark.

Incest. Violence. Suicide. Incest. Sex trafficking. A suicide bomber. Murder. We were wiped out and demoralized when we left the theater. We both remarked that we had wanted to walk out during the two hours of nearly unrelenting darkness and despair. Moral of that story: Follow your instinct. We both would have been happier.

Right about now this blog post is feeling as long as those two hours of foreign film shorts, so I’ll wrap it up.

On Monday morning, Alice ran a few errands while we had wheels then we had a quick breakfast at the Middle Way Cafe, which gave us both a reminder and a taste of Oregon, before I dropped her at her dorm. I wanted to snap a few photos and she humored me, briefly.

Alice poses outside her dorm at Alaska Pacific University on Monday, Dec. 6, 2010 in Anchorage.

Alice returned to data analysis on one of her final project. I headed to the airport.

I drove right past it and had to stop and ask for directions. Of course.