Monday, March 31, 2014

The Secret of No Face (Corn Husk Doll)

Corn husk dolls are a very ancient craft of Native Americans.  I knew little about them and didn't realize that traditionally (at least in the Iroquois tribes) they do not have faces.  I found a book called The Secret of No Face by Chief Everett Parker and Oledoska which seems to be a compilation of many mythical adventures of a corn husk doll who sets out on a quest for a face, a name and a soul because all were taken away from her by the Maker of All Things because a doll became  so entranced in her own beautiful image in a pool that she forgot that her purpose was to bring happiness to Native children.

The doll, though tiny, becomes as much a monster killer and brave quester as any mythological hero from any other tradition in the world. And even after reaching the Maker of all Things, and her return to earth (He lives beyond the Milky Way) she must still find her soul within, in the context of her own people.  What an adventure!

This book  tells the story as it was told among the Ireokwa (their  spelling instead of the French spelling that we still use, Iroquois) which, as most of us learned in school are five nations of northeast (US and Canada).  As I see from Google, other Native groups also made corn husk dolls and have their own versions of the myth. \ The end notes of the book list consultants from several other Native tribes, including Southwestern ones so I assume some of the adventures may be from different traditions.

Throughout the story animals and plants, especially corn, of course, are personified, truth and kindness, valor in a battle and personal responsibility are emphasized.  I am reading, coincidentally  a book about Greek mythology. While heroism is abundant honesty and kindness have little place at all.  The great sin in Greek philosophy is hubris.  It is related to but not quite the same a narcissism, the sin corn husk doll is trying to atone for.  In this story she has help from kindly people, she changes the hearts of selfish beings; it is altogether a more human world view.  I found the book through Amazon, I recommend it. (The art work in it is primitive.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Grand Hotel Budapest

Everyone's talking about the movie Grand Hotel Budapest. So I went to the 2:00 matinee which is usually not very busy at the Cape Cinema. When I arrive about ten minutes before show time the parking lot was so full I had to check that this was not the Saturday of the La Boheme simulcast from the Met.  No, it was people like me who heard the buzz and wanted to find out what it was all about. 

In fact, it was about the airiness of meringue; pure entertainment on a fantasy premise -- a huge resort hotel, a story about how it's present owner, as the hotel is declining precipitiously, became the owner. (Played adequately by F. Murray Abraham, not a favorite of mine.)  It was a convoluted story of East European conflicts, villainous relatives cut out of a will, a suave concierge (Ralph Finnes who's have far better roles) and a brave lobby boy, a wonderful chase scene through snowy mountains, a grand dame and a pure maiden. It was fluffy, meringue as I said.  I feel I wasted the afternoon except many people I know are going to be talking about how delightful the film was and I'll know what they're talking about and mostly not rain on their parade.  I didn't want it to be La Boheme because, to me, although not to hordes of opera lovers, it too is meringue - or probably more aptly maple syrup on Belgium waffles. Too sticky sweet for my taste so I will not be at the theatre next Saturday.  Oh, my, I suppose I'm becoming a bit crabby.  The dialogue wasn't even very witty -- if it had been it might have saved the film... maybe.  Can't win them all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yet Another Day of Snow

Today's blizzard was just working up some energy when I got up at a little after 6:00. Then the winds came from the northeast plastering snow on my east-facing windows so I could hardly see out.  Some globs of frozen  snow/ice remain but mostly they're cleared up now.  The low sky has cleared and resumed it's loft dimensions above the trees and buildings that I normally look at as I sit as my computer here for a brief few minutes glowed with a buttery yellow from the setting sun.  The sky is the blue of a waning day, not a cloud in it.  This blizzard -- it really was a  blizzard which is largely identified as snow and wind-- is over.  Snow is piled around the building in soft, pristine drifts but the main expanse of lawn is only dusted.  My car is clear of snow and most of the parking lot is clear also.  There were areas of ice a couple of hours when I went out with some trash to put in the bin.  A good opportunity to fall and break a bone ... so I watched my step and stayed upright.

Is this the last storm of a long, difficult winter?  We all hope so.  Oh, how we hope so!  but I've seen snow storms in April, not only in upstate New York where they are not unusual but also in New York City where it is very unusual.  I would not like to see it here this winter. 

I have been haunted today by a scene from a movie I saw yesterday. Three Worlds, a 2012 French film about a hit and run accident. The story was so complex and deep it seems more a novel than a film. The scene I keep remembering was in the hospiital after the victim died. A panel of very distinguished looking doctors and nurses asked the wife to donate his body parts. The couple were illegal immigrants from Macadonia who had been working at menial jobs for five years. They had no medical insurance.  The wife asked how much they would pay for the organs. They explained in their highly moral way that the donation would save lives.  The wife burst out that she had been working at minimal wage, that in Macadonia body parts were paid for (probably on a black market), she knew the amounts.  You've given me nothing and you take everything from us, she said, and now you want this.  She would not do it.

Of course I feel organ donation is the right thing to do but the actress's portrayal is anger and despair was deeply touching especially in contrast to the attitudes of the panel.  Much else in the movie was also fine and very nuanced. The film did not have a real ending although it had a finish to the story of the man who hit the Macadonian. This sort of movie does not get made in the US. The opportunity to see things I would never see otherwise is part of what I like so much about being involved with the community college.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Seagull, Chekov

A trip to Boston from Cape Cod doesn't really have to be an entire day's adventure but it was yesterday.  The trip to the Huntington Theatre to see Chekov's The Seagull left here at 10:00 ... well 10:30 as one of the two buses was late arriving, and we did not get back until after 6:00.  It was worth a day -- a very, very find production of Chekov's first (and initially failed) play directed with much humor and good taste by Maria Atkin.  The big draw as Kate Burton playing Madam Arkadina, the narcissistic actress.  Her actual son, Morgan Ritchie, played her stage son, the young writer, Konstantin.  The production was lovely, the casting, especially of the women was brilliant. The men were less individual than the women and I found Trigoran the weakest -- of course he is a popular hack and knows it, a weak person himself.

The play is what w think of as very "Russian" -- everyone talks endlessly about their ambitions and art. The angst is  palpable but Ms. Atkin has the 21th century attitude, we laugh delightedly at Marsha who wears black because she's "in mourning" for her life, she drinks and marries the man she loves who doesn't love her.  Marsha is in fact a minor character in this set of couples who show us different kinds or unrequited love. It's a pleasure to see a play that could be dreary, old fashioned and over-acted made lively and fascinating.  Burton is wonderful and so is the lovely young Nina (Auden Thornton) who had the nerve to pursue her dreams, fails  in many ways, but, by the end has understood accommodation and the occasional bliss of success. 

The Russian audience did not like the first production. Chekov was phlegmatic about the failure; he did not expect it to be a success.  It was his first attempt at theatre and I suspect all writing came to him so easily he, unlike the writers in the play, did not consider it necessary for self-realization. A year or so later, when Stanislavsky remounted the play it was a great success and has been ever since. This seems to me a wonderful instance of just what is talked about so much in the play, what it means to write well and truly, to have observed people and caught them with all their needs and psychoses worn like the latest fashion.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An End to Winter

Lambs are here so it must be spring -- but they're waiting too, in their case for Mama and milk.  Like them I'm waiting.  Yesterday was over 40, sunny and not too windy so I had a brisk walk on the beach, looking at the changes winter winds have brought.  Today is gray and damp.  If the afternoon turns sunny maybe I'll have another walk.  We'll see. The brown grass has been soaked with snow melt and should turn green soon. Robins come by the half dozen to hunt for bugs or worms or whatever edibles are hiding out there.  Now and then the wild turkeys strut across the lawn on some errand only their bird brains understands.

I have a spring break day, nothing on the agenda.  I suppose I should get a hair cut. More likely, if I go out at all it will be in search of some daffodils (at Trader Joe's?) and maybe a cup of Starbucks coffee.  There is cleaning, straightening, rearranging to do but my inspiration for that kind of work is somewhat dependent on sunshine. It's predicted for tomorrow ... like the little lambs, I'm waiting.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What's With My Memory?

I went to Staples because I needed a new toner cartridge for my printer.  I've had the printer about two and a half years and purchased quite a lot of toner in that time. Standing in front of the large wall display of toners I went straight to HP then I stopped. It is 90-something.  But what number? I decided it must be 92.  I purchase the toner and came home.  I had forgotten to take a little baggie of used toners for recycling. If I had I would have known that I my printer actually uses number 96. 

However, when I paid for the toner in the first place the clerk asked for my customer card and but I lost it quite some time ago. She merely needed my phone number. Now over four years ago when I moved here I purchased something at Staples, sans customer card and told the clerk I was new here and the telephone number attached to the original card was outdated. I gave her my new telephone number.  EXCEPT ... I misremembered it. What I told her was one number wrong.  Ever since then, when purchasing something at Staples I give them the wrong telephone number even though the correct number comes trippingly (as they say in poetic circles) off my tongue. Today I gave the  appropriate incorrect number.  That I remembered correctly.

When I got home I saw that the toner I purchased was the wrong one.  So I had to go back, this time taking the used cartridges for recycling, and exchanged the wrong toner for the correct one, and once again I gave the clerk the incorrect phone number that matches what they have on record. It feels like, on this St. Patrick's day, a leprechaun in my memory is playing some kind of tricks, with both wrong and right memories. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Memories, exact and fuzzy

No one seems to know just how memories work -- the photo of a brain here is a bit fuzzy and so is our knowledge of that little organ that is so important. More and more is being learned all the time and I read just about every article that crosses my path. 

It's been a weekend with memories prominently on show -- clear memories, fuzzy memories, debated memories.  Can I say "forgotten memories?" -- if they're forgotten they're not memories any more, except someone else's related memory jogs us and the lost memory becomes fuzzy and then plainer. Is it accurate?  Who knows?  If two people agree that it was raining that day, then probably it was raining.  Although there are false group memories, I've read.

Not only were many memories related at the birthday party I wrote about, but yesterday I was invited to meet a pair of women, one of whom wanted to meet me because she had memories of our former meetings that totally are lost to me.  All I remembered about her when I was told her name and that we could meet at Rachel's house at lunch time, was that I had heard she has a "hyper" personality and that, as young woman she went to a therapist who told her it was all right to be angry about things in her life.  Thereafter she became an erupting volcano of anger at one and all. 

All these years later the anger is used up and she's deeply into New Age-y love and all it's various permutations.  This is easier to respond to than anger -- or maybe not although it's pleasenter (I know that's not a word) to respond to.  Much gushing on her part, sincere but over the top. No, I cannot pull the memory she related to me up from any depths of my brain. We are also told by the brain scientists that normal people do not store all things that happened to them (a few unfortunate people do), we wash out much of the dross, the inessential, perhaps partly during REM sleep, perhaps just because the storage neurons (or wahtever) are reused for today's events.

Mostly memory is still a mystery and may long remain a mystery, despite the horrifying conjectures of a scientists I read a day or two ago (I forget which and where) that our memories can be transferred to computer chips and thus become part of a robot which will essentially be us because it will have our memory/personality.  I don't believe it's possible. He's probably a brilliant man and I wish he'd apply his intelligent to something more immediately useful to mankind.  --  Now, did someone say something similar to the Wright brothers when they were jumping off sand dunes with wings strapped to their backs?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

50th Birthday Party

Well, no, Patrick's 50th birthday party last night did not have a cake like this -- far better!  A blueberry topped cheesecake from Alison's recipe made according to strict instuctions by brother Andrew.  Plus many other delicious deserts that followed a pot luck dinner.  Obviously one is getting older, as am I and ex-husband Joel, when son-in-law turns 50 and daughter will also turn 50 in three months. 

It was a largish party in the community building near a friend's house -- on a partly frozen lake.  The house was ideal for such a party, a large open space, comfortable furniture, kitchen  and fireplace.  Parties are ideally family and friends and this was just that. What made it different was that all guests knew they would be asked to tell a story -- maybe about Patrick, or about aging, or about a personal experience. No one was required to tell a story but about half the guests did.  Stories ran the gamut, many were funny.  Some were memories that revealed things unknown or forgotten -- details that stayed in one person's mind (younger brother thinking he would be literally tickled to death  by big brother -- and waiting years to get even).  It was a very memorable way to celebrate a birthday.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Turkish film: Watchtower

I believe I've seen two previous films made in Turkey.  Yesterday's offering at the foreign film class was Watchtower, a 2012 movie directed by Pelin Esmer (a woman). It was both a beautiful movie to watch -- set in the mountains which went from verdant summer green to glorious autumn golds and reds. The new watchtower man needs to be alone to get over an accident that killed his wife and child.  The bus hostess who becomes a lunchette waitress has big trouble -- she's pregnant because her uncle has forced himself upon her.  It's very shameful, when she tells her mother, the mother only cries and offers no comfort. When the baby is born (one of the fastest primie deliveries on record but convincingly acted), the girl abandons the baby but the watchtower man sees her put it behind a fence and stagger away.  He saves the girl and then the baby; having had a child, he will not allow this one to die and insists the mother feed it. They talk very little, she in despair, he too bottled up to say much until a final shouting match. 

The audience, speaking for myself, wants the story to develop into a romance.  The director is more honest, she ends the story with some hope but without a moment of romance. The movie would be stark were it not set in such a beautiful place. It's a sensitive picture of two people, in a culture with serious restrictions about self-expression.  And it's beautifully acted, especially by the actress.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ritual Twice a Year

For the US, it's that time again: "spring forward" -- we all did it Saturday night supposedly in the wee hours.  For Europe, I've heard, it happens on March 30th.  Here I sit at the computer at 7:20 in the morning -- it would have been 6:30 last week.

I am reading a book about Greek mythology, reading it in little dips each evening because I've heard the stories before but now that I'm older some portion have faded and I welcome the insights of the author as to just what the ancient Greeks were bequeathing to Europe, philosophically speaking.  When humans came on the scene, well after the gods had appeared and the cosmos was in shape, the idea of hubris became important. Those who challenged the gods, (in fact the gods who challenged Zeus also) were in deep trouble. Their sin of hubris, of thinking they were gods or had some of godlike attributes  was a grievous one. 

Perhaps it's only a small sin, to challenge Apollo, who pulls the sun across the sky each day. He's grander than any puny human rule and will appear in timely fashion no matter what. But governments have had the hubris to tell their people -- all their people -- that twice a year they must readjust their clocks, their diurnal rhythms, their habits by an hour.  Must sleep, eat and, most importantly, work at the assigned time. 

What's the big deal? By now I should be accustomed to it and just go with the flow. Well, of course, I do. But always there's an echo in my auditory memory: my mother hated the time change. "One of the damned stupidest laws ever made," she grumbled. And so do I. No government can change the rising and setting of the sun; shouldn't we at least accept some inevitabilities and stop this nonsense?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tim's Vermeer

Tim Jenison (gray beard) is a computer geek, an inventor, a man of ideas and he has enormous stick-to-it-ness when working on project. He feels he's figured out how Vermeer (and perhaps Caravaggio and perhaps a few other painters of the 16th century whose works are amazingly light filled and lifelike got their effects.  He's gone a bit beyond David Hockney's (major British painter) idea of using a camera obscura.

This documentary, produced by the illusionist team Penn and Teller (both of whom are in the movie now and then) shows Tim discovering the process with mirrors and deciding to paint a Vermeer -- in fact "The Music Lesson" which is rarely seen by the public since it belongs to Queen Elizabeth and is in Buckingham Palace.  Tim got permission to actually look at it for half an hour. Of course photographs of it exist so Tim decided to totally recreate the room of the painting -- an incredibly laborious process (probably very expensive too -- but, hey, it's a movie, well a documentary movie).  He met with Hockney and a British art historian who supports the idea of camera obscura.  Eventually Tim -- who is not a painter, has no art training, but taught himself how to make paints as they were made by Verneer, etal -- spent over three months laboriously painting "The Music Lesson" including the laborious detail on the clavier and on the oriental rug that is seen in the original.   To prove he's human he admits after about 3 months that if this weren't a movie he'd throw in the towel).  He completes an amazing painting that seems exactly like the original.  The viewer get a load of information in the movie. I found it totally fascinating.  It's new and it's being  shown in art theatres -- at last on the East Coast (as a Google search showed).  I'd strongly recommend it to people who care about fine art.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Getting to Know You

Parts of your life you want to share,  in the bag.

For a few months I've been part of a growing, changing group of women brought together by Lynn who seems a natural born facilitator. She has invited people she's met over the last six or eight months, all of whom are involved in some creative activity -- but of widely different types -- to meet once a month with some of their creations.  Because we began meeting at a restaurant called The Chat House (which encourages groups like ours to meet there) we became The Creative Chatterers. 

However mostly we were strangers to one another with Lynn as our  Mother Hen. One of our group suggested "Getting to Know You" exercise she used in her career as a teacher.  Each of us were given a brown paper lunch bag and told to put in five items that tell something about who we are.   The bags were bunched on the conference table and opened one by one, each time by someonw other than the bag's owner.  As a group we looked at the items, passed them around, made conjectures such as "this looks like a grandchild", "this person likes sailing", etc.  Then at a count of 3 we pointed at the person we thought it might be from those clues.  Often we guessed wrong because we hadn't yet shared many of our interests nor talked much about our families.

Then the person whose items we'd looked at told about them, what they suggested about her and added whatever other information she wished.  Thus we learned a great deal about one another but the exercise was not intrusive.  Each person revealed what she chose.  It was a fascinating gathering; we all have insights into one another we would never have had before. One person revealed that, as an adult, she had seen her first grade evaluation which said, "pathologically shy".  Yes, she had been very, very shy and still has moments of shyness (although the rest of us did not know that) but she felt that note then led other teachers to treat her a certain way in school (perhaps not call on her often).  Other revelations were surprises.  A friendly woman announced that she's an introvert and suggested others of us might also be as many creative people are -- and we agreed.   So it went.  We were only sorry some of our group were unable to come to the meeting.