Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Distant, Nuri Bilge Ceylon

The penultimate foreign film of the fall series -- a series without a lightweight film in the bunch, was Distant by the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylon. A young man leaves his village where the local factory has shut down to go stay with a relative of some sort in Istanbul. The relative is about 20 years older, a professional [but not very busy and probably not very successful] photographer. The young man can't find work and doesn't try very hard, the older man tolerates the younger. They talk very, very little. The older man's wife has left him and is immigrating to Canada with a new husband. Nothing really happens, the dialog is minimal, there is no background music, we see some attractive scenes of Istanbul but not the touristy ones except for a few instances of the Hagia Sophia through the fog.

This film was likened to another we saw earlier called What I Did Last Summer, a Russian film with only two actors who were alone at a weather station in the Arctic -- but there was dramatic action in the Russian film although the landscape was barren and the men mostly silent. When the film was over a woman near-by said that it reminded her of the only Turkish book she ever tired to read, Orhan Palmuk's Snow. I laughed and said I know several people, myself included, who were unable to finish it and not one person who actually finished it.

And yet, I do not believe the the Turks are a morose and boring lot. I saw another Turkish film, the name of which escapes me, a few years ago that I liked a lot -- it was a sweet romance but I do not mean schmaltz. True I couldn't read Palmuk's Call Me Red either -- and frankly I read a lot of difficult books. However when I traveled in Turkey I liked the people. Our Turkish guide was the very best one I dealt with in four continents. When we were on a gulet for four days along the Turquoise coast, the four-man crew were very personable and talkative guys. Needless to say, the salesmen in the souk's poured on the charm -- the Turks have been master traders for at least 4,000 years. So why this 20th century literary and filmic dourness? I don't know.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stop and Look - Monday morning

Some mornings, like today, I am focused on email but lift my head just enough to catch a glimpse of brilliance outside the window -- DAWN in all its variety. Unlike any other before. Always different thanks to the clouds.

This was there in these tones for only a few seconds.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Curses on you, Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell ruined many a holiday for me, starting with Thanksgiving. Look at that family, all having a wonderful time together. Look at lovely Grandma and handsome Granddad and the SIZE of that turkey. Look at the "good" china, the silver and the brilliant white damask cloth on the table.

Maybe there are families like that; although I know now Rockwell posed many a scene, took a photo and then painted it for Saturday Evening Post and various other publications. They bear some of the blame too -- yes, you, Henry Luce. Maybe somewhere a family, even as I type more than half a century later, is planning a Thanksgiving just like this. Maybe ... but not many. Many, I hope, are having their own kind of Thanksgiving day. As a very impressionable adolescent I thought that was "how it should be." By then I had only one living grandparent, a very bad cook who lived in a very tiny house where family dinners were never held. No one in the family had good china let alone silver ware. The white table cloths were more likely new vinyl with a flowery pattern. The family was a boring assortment of aunts, uncles, and bratty little cousins. I will say the food was good, much of it was home grown, the turkey was from a near-by poultry grower -- using none of the factory type methods used today. We didn't know there was anything except "free range"

What adolescent appreciates the apple pie she helped make when she knows that once it's all gone she is expected to join her mother and the aunts in the kitchen doing the dishes -- while those irksome little cousins run around outside playing tag and shrieking like banshees. None of the family conversation ever is so humorous that everyone grins with true happiness like those in Rockwell's painting.

Between Rockwell and Luce my brain was imprinted with perfect holidays and the need to acquire china and silver and to regret gravy stains on my white table clothes. Those images were set in concrete, if not marble, in my brain at that age -- an age before [yes, friends there WAS a before] television came to the rural boonies. The damage done took decades to be undone. It took thought, reading, and traveling to many other countries to realize this image of the happy, well accoutered American family with their super sized turkey was all a lie -- except for the super size of any food any time -- but only in America where so many of those people are also now supersized.

I am thankful I have lived long enough to destroy that concrete image and thankful I remember that apple pie, those home grown tomatoes, the other vegetables and fruits that had real flavor and no chemicals -- although often in our kitchen, too much salt and more pepper than necessary was dumped on already delicious food. I am fretful about much that has happened to Thanksgiving in the last half century. I know Norman has been replaced with endless visions on television to unsettle the minds of adolescents perpetually dissatisfied with their families. I knew then and know now that whatever was lacking at our Thanksgiving dinners we loved one another and were that rarity, a "functional" family. Those cousins grew up to be good, honest people with their own functional families. Today I am especially thankful for a dishwasher.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Force of Truth, Satyagraha

The opera, Satyagraha, is as theatrically amazing as this still with puppets suggests. Philip Glass wrote the opera in the 1980s. The Met's new production which was simulcast on Saturday was an astonishing, moving and unforgettable experience. The story, such as it is, shows Gandhi during his years in South Africa -- the formative years during which he began his leadership of nonviolent protest.

Without dialog, but with brilliant staging, program notes and a few date and event subtitle, the story is nevertheless told powerfully to Glass's insistent music which underlies the singing of verses from the Bagavadgita all in Sanskrit. Although the music was never static, it was repetitious but the events moved along, sometimes because the twelve-person special effects group did amazing things with the many puppets, with simple newspaper, cellophane tape, actual fire on state. Robert Croft became Gandhi although he is far from a tiny little Indian man with big ears. Through acting, clothing and the audience's willing suspension of disbelief, Croft and the large chorus became a morality play.

Driving home I thought what a rich, varied, thought provoking, wonderful life I have found here where I thought there would be little compared to the richness of New York City. I planned to see the opera on my own, but, in fact, Rachel was given a pair of tickets by a season subscriber who was possibly afraid to venture into something new. His loss, our gain. It was Rachel's first opera. She enjoyed it. She is both socially conscious and theatrically knowledgeable and open to new music. This was a far cry from my hope to introduce her to opera with, possibly The Barber of Seville or The Magic Flute.

Gandhi's example lives in the current "Occupy" movement that has sprung up and that is currently in danger of being crushed by various municipalities. The needs of the many continue to demand attention in the face of the greed of the 1% just as was true in the beginning of the last century. 4,000 years ago the Bagavadgita spoke of truths that have endured despite all the wars and massive injustices that have characterized what we call civilization. Wisdom exists, but so few look for it and act on it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dire Prediction

Steven Hawking, the astrophysicist who keeps going despite extremely debilitating Lou Gehrig's disease said in an recent interview:

"Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million."

We could say it metaphorically -- we outgrown the nest that we have fouled terribly. We apparently have no ability to find a way to live sustainably on this planet. He says the only hope for humanity, qua humanity, not individuals specifically, is to colonize another planet. That, of course, leaves the vast, vast majority of humanity on this planet facing, the implication is, extinction in what would be a short ecological time ahead.

It's interesting that he cites our aggressive and selfish genes. Indeed, those are the traits that are causing destruction and wars instead of cooperation and effecient working together to steward the earth's resources and to limit population growth so that this Earth can sustain life.

As we go into the annual consuming frenzy in the US that occurs over the holidays, we enact that selfishness and thoughtlessness that leads to depletion of resources. And we are egged on to do so, of course, by those who stand to reap short term gains at the expense of the future. Hawking is a man with both great intelligence and a personal reason [his almost inconceivably difficult physical condition] to be pessimistic. Often pessimists and depressives are the ones who see most clearly the state of affairs.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Taxi to the Dark Side

This Alex Gibney documentary film begins with an innocent taxi driver being picked up in an Iraqi road block, taken into detention in an infamously horrible prison, tortured, battered, so badly that he died on his fourth day there. The documentary goes on to Abu Ghrabe and to Guantanamo Bay. It puts the responsibility for America's immoral, illegal by Geneva Convention, abuse and torture of prisoners squarely on the shoulders of Dick Cheney and Dick Rumsfield and the top military officers who gave the men in the field neither training or minimal guidance about how to treat prisoners. It's clear that an "anything goes" attitude started with Cheney. If I believed in the Antichrist is would say he is Dick Cheney.

The film makes me all but physically sick. It serves to emphasize my long term feelings about the culture of fear that was taught the American people after 9/11 -- the ugly recourse to the most primitive, childlike reactions, irrational, extreme and ineffectual, not to say unjust, inhumane and too ugly, disgusting and stomach churning to be borne. If there were justice in the world, and mostly there isn't, Cheney and gang would be in The Hague in detention for crimes against humanity. They deserve to be brought to justice as surely as Adolph Eichmann. 9/11 was a horrible atrocity but the reaction of America's top executives [puppet mouth GWB an puppet master Cheney] was so psychotically irrational, that I have been repulsed by even a photo of Cheney in the same way I am by a close up of a poisonous snake. This is a movie that is probably seen only by those like me who don't have to be convinced.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pictures of that which cannot be seen

What is this picture? It is inside the heart -- seen from the outside. Impossible? Not. It boggles my mind. This is one picture from an ultrasound scan of the inside of the heart... some specific heart. Not mine.

But I had many pictures taken today of my carotid arteries and heart. They were taken by different instruments, not only ultrasound -- which in process of doing its job growls, squeeks, whoozhes and sometimes sounds like angry territorial monkeys. Also silent pictuees taken of my blood glowing with radioactive isotopes taken by a moving machine that poised itself over my chest and inched it's way up, like a dragon opening its mouth having found me a most unappetizing morsel.

All this high tech imagining is done in order to see if my arteries are open and clear of plaque which is the result of accumulations of cholesterol -- to put it in the plainest and least precise way. Except for the placement of a IV in a vein in my inner elbow -- and the technician was so skilled I didn't feel the needle pierce my skin -- nothing is invasive. Since the women in my family die of congestive heart disease and I had a partially blocked artery six years ago and a stent was placed in one artery of my heart, I qualify for these high tech very expensive exams.

I do not like medical interventions, I feel fine although there is a shortness of breath when I climb many steps. But I welcome these tests which have become biannual; I am happy that the state of my arteries can be ascertained. Chances are the plaque will not build up suddenly so that I would have a heart attack as my mother and aunt did. Times have changed. They had no such tests; my mother had radical heart surgery two days after the doctors had thought she would die within the hour. She lived another seven years. I sincerely believe too many tests are ordered today and freely admit that I am happy these are done on me. And I am doing my part: I exercise, I avoid fats [reasonably, not fanatically] eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Often I think of my grandmother who also died of congestive heart disease who, at my age, could not walk fifty feet without wheezing and gasping. It's possible I will die of a heart attack, but I believe it's equally possibly I will avoid it and live long enough to get some form of cancer since so many environmental pollutants exist against which I have very little recourse. I am old enough to think often about dying. The certainly that it will happen in one way or another is a constant reminder to enjoy every day. I try and largely I succeed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Confucius say ... huh?

The Confucius Peace Prize was awarded by the Chinese to Vladimir Putin. Why Putin? What's he done for peace? Well, the NYTime today reports that it was for his decision to go to war with Chechnyea in 1999. The citation read, in translation by the Times as "His iron hand and toughness revealed in this war impressed the Russians a lot, he was regarded as being capable of bring safety and stability to Russia." This is a peace prize, remember. Is anyone else made more than a wee bit woozy about this line of thinking?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seeing Angels

Angels are appearing in the streets of Cuidad Juarez, on the blocks, on the corners where drug world murders have taken place. These white robed, ten foot tall angels carry cards saying [in Spanish] Murderers Repent according to an article in today's New York Times. They are actually teenage boys from an evangelical church carrying the angel figures and placards. This is a very brave thing for them to do, and they well know it, but they persevere.

I find this a moving and very brave thing for them to do. It may be foolhardy, they are young. Like most young men they do not fully comprehend their own mortality, akso their religious faith is important in making them so fearless. We human beings create art by our metaphoric acts. I would rarely be one to say angels walk among us, but in this instance, yes, they do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sky, sea, rocks

This ring of stones is one of the enduring artifacts spontaneously build at the end of the mile long spit of land where I like to walk. This photo was taken a year or so ago; over the last few months the ring has become more distinctly architected (if that's a word). The outer larger stones are more even and the inside is "paved" with smaller stones, the majority of them white or light gray.

Today was a gift of Indian summer, mid-60s, a perfect blue sky, a calm sea, a few boats near the horizon. I walked out to the end of the spit and sat on the edge of the ring of stones. In such a place, even with a few others walking about, I feel in touch with archetypal peace in nature. I have no enemies to fear there. A gull stood at the edge of the water possibly contemplating me, possibly oblivious. I'm told in a class with a psychologist that even infants at 4 months have a sense of numerosity. I think all people respond to circles, be they stone, glens in the forest, wooden corrals or other structures. The impulse to make the circle of stones and the nearby cairn of which I've written several times, is very basic. A circle, of course is a metaphor for completeness ... I am, thanks to the course, unsure of the difference between a literal thing and a conceptual metaphor. The circle is literal, of course, but I think the conceptual part has to do with the feeling engendered sitting there.

I noticed that the stones were various, six or eight different kinds. All of Cape Cod is glacier-built, its composition is a composite of debris gathered and dumped by the last ice age so these stones came from a variety of places. They are probably different ages, differences of a millions of years. I only know enough to know they weren't originally all mixed together; that they are is a gift -- the circle a kind of jewel box of the history of the earth. While I sit on a fairly recent and certainly fragile small bit of land. I, of course, am far more fragile than the land. But I can touch vast history in my circle of stones, while beyond I am encircled by blue sea and sky. A lovely, lovely day to remember when the gray rains and snows of winter discourage me from walking that mile to the circle of stones.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Contant Change

Biannual clock adjustments have stopped annoying me as they once did. I think it takes my aging internal clock a bit longer to adjust than it used to but that's not important. I rarely have a hard and fast schedule anyway these days.

What the changes mean is that, now that I live in an apartment with a fine view toward the east, I see the sunrises every day ... every day of course when the sky is at least partly clear. A few clouds reflecting orange or pink on their undersides adds to the drama. And, of course, every dawn is different as is every day. I am not a person given to rituals, but I believe in paying attention so I take time to look at the changing colors and the gradual emergence of the Aton, the golden disk worshiped by the ancient Egyptians. At this moment it's behind a tree [well, it seems to be behind a tree] its edges scalloped with leaf and branch obstructions.

Noting the start of every new day should not become a formula. The variability of each dawn reminds us that predictable as night and day are, within the sameness is constant variability. The only constant, as the I Ching long ago recognized is change. "Constant change", an oxymoron that governs our lives.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Overload?

My diet of visual entertainment is much more restricted than most people's. I do not own a television and I choose the movies I see with care -- which includes the documentary film class I am taking which I have chosen as a potpourri with individual films selected by the coordinator whose taste I trust. I chose art films, some old, some new. I am rarely disappointed and usually somewhat stunned for several hours afterward.

Last night I saw The Mill and the Cross a recent film by the Polish film maker whose name I cannot at the moment pronounce or spell. The film is a technical tour de force. He has brought alive Peter Bruegel's painting by that name both by using the actual location and via new cinematic magic that I cannot hope to understand. He gives Bruegel himself [looks very true to life] the role of narrator. There is very little dialogue, most of the scenes are spacious outdoor ones and the many indoor scenes have hardly any speech. There is some music, but little, and children shouting, animals making their noises. But the action which has the soldier of the Spanish Inquisition arriving to root out heretics and finally to enact, almost silently, but very completely the crucifixion, with the miller on his mill high on a hill looking down, apparently unperturbed by the violent as if he were an uninvolved God. If the story were being dramatized in a more usual way it would have been unbearable to watch but as it was, although the people were very real, the viewer remained detached in a way, intellectualizing the allegory and the horror, almost as uninvolved as many of the citizens of the town who continued to go about their daily life as, indeed, the citizens of Jerusalem must have done when the event actually happened. It is visually unforgettable, as If H traveled to 15-- whatever Flanders.
On Tuesday of this week, I saw the film Mephisto, which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1981, by a Hungarian director but very much a German film with the central character (almost always on screen) as an actor known for playing Mephisto [in white face) although he is the one who actually sells his soul to the devil in order to continue working and rising in his profession at the beginning of the Nazi era, pre-war but when Nazism was taking control. The film was full of the glitz and grotesques of the German theatre of that period, full of beautiful blond women (and the actor's beautiful black German mistress). It was a very in-you-face story of compromise and ego.

I am feel somewhat overwhelmed. Saturday the local movie theatre is showing a simulcast from the Metrpoloitan Opera of Seigfried. I think that is more Germanic/ Eropean culture than I can handle in one week.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

7,000,,000 -- Wow or Ow?

Seven Billion people now exist upon this little "third rock from the sun". Is that cause for amazement and wonder? Or is it cause for alarm?

Most of us reading bogs are comfortable people, but we're only a very tiny fraction. At least 80% of that huge number live in poverty. They are hungry, often sick, often too cold or too hot or covered with insect bits, they are ill educated and wonder what struggles they must face tomorrow, they have little hope ... but some because those without any hope commit suicide so there is or has been something of worth and pleasure in their lives. Ponder this huge number of people who have so much less than you have. Ponder how it is that you have so much to eat, so many clothes to wear and they have almost nothing. Ponder what it means to the forests, rivers, oceans, animals and birds of this work that so many people now live on it.

To me this is awesome and very, very scary.