Friday, January 30, 2009

Oh, Hugh

"I've never been much of a planner," Laurie says. "I've never really had a big calendar on the wall with 'Invade Poland -- August, Paris by Christmas.' You just sort of stumble from one thing to the next."

- Hugh Laurie, via Variety

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Children are vectors of disease

I do have more to write about Prague and Rotterdam, I swear, but I just had to post about my rejection from the NYC Teaching Fellows program because I love to ruminate on my various rejections from society's institutions.

The rate of acceptance to this program is 10%, and I also imagine they've had more applicants than usual this year since so many people have lost their jobs. Add to that the fact that there are huge budget cuts pending, and a teacher surplus in NYC, and one's odds of acceptance narrow significantly.

Let's not also forget the short-sightedness and monumental bad judgment of the Board of Ed. There's that, too. There was an article in Sunday's Education Section of the Times about immigrant students with interrupted formal education and how the Board is struggling to assist them. And here I am, a multi-lingual applicant with international teaching experience in the developing world, not admitted to the program. Interesting.

Good luck closing that achievement gap, New York!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Saute Ma Ville

Saute Ma Ville channels all the despondency, destructiveness and enraged obnoxiousness of teenage girls into a tight thirteen minute sequence consisting of our heroine (below) destroying a kitchen as she attempts to cook, clean and polish her shoes (and, as she attempts to feed and care for it, kill one cat). A miniature Ackerman gem of hostile domestic surfaces and combustible (literally) female energy, it does indeed "vibrate ... with a sort of David Lynch-ian menace," as Dan Callahan writes in his brief interview with Ackerman here.

Rotterdam, Rain, Movies

Any married Spinster worth her salt knows better than to let her husband gallivant around Europe unchaperoned, which is how I come to find myself in Rotterdam. While Rob makes with the art talk over the next four days, I plan to amuse myself with a haunted house, a maritime museum, walks in the rain, and, of course, movies. The most delightful so far is Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair, Guy Maddin and Isabella Rosselini's tribute to Thomas Edison, electricity, the movie camera and all their attendant thrills.

Update: I saw an old Chantal Ackerman film, Saute Ma Ville (more on that later), and part of a Russian teen-angst movie called Everybody Dies But Me, which was average. I walked to the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in the driving wind and rain, only to realize I'd left my student card in my hotel room -- and I'll be dammed if I'm paying 12 Euros -- so I trudged over to the Maritime Museum where I shivered in my soaking socks and learned a lot about the Dutch East and West Indian Companies (fact check: the museum claims the Dutch West Indian Company ran the colony of New Amsterdam for a time ... and they're right! Bonus points awarded to any reader who can tell me the name of the company man they put in charge of the operation). Why am I obsessed with maritme museums? I can't tell you that. But it's the same part of me that simply *had* to wander along the canals in the January drizzle and look at the boats. That folly was richly rewarded, though, since I wandered my way to the cube houses, which are strange and delightful enough to merit the hike.

Finally, I visited one of the Festival's more whimsical installations, the Haunted House featuring rooms by Wisit Sasanatieng (“Tears of the Black Tiger”, “The Unseeable”), Amir Muhammad (“Susuk”), Lav Diaz (“Death in the Land of the Encantos”) , Nguyen Vihn Son (“The Moon at the Bottom of the Well”), Garin Nugroho (“Opera Jawa”) and Riri Riza (“Eliana, Eliana”). Wisit's room, "Close Encounter With The Ghost" made me jump, Lav Diaz's "Manila's Dark Room" made me really not want to be alone with my thoughts, and Garin Nugroho's "Transformation: Ghosts in Garin's House" was strangely inviting. My apologies to Riri Riza for stepping on the flowers in his "Purificaion Pod."

Between the raininess, the wateriness, the ghostiness and the viewing of some vintage Ackerman, I'd have to say it's been a pretty dreamy day so far ...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What, You've Never Been?

Prauge in winter is generally unassuming, drab and gray ... until it snows. When it snows, "Prague at once becomes a little old-world town all countrified and old-fashioned, quaintly baroque," in the words of Karel Capek. "Even the Vltava does not move; the tram tinkles like a sledge ... Then when the moon shines on it all, what happens cannot even be expressed: Prague crouches down and makes herself quite little; she holds her breath; the snow rings like glass under-foot, the roofs press themselves down to the ground, everything huddles together icily, and it is so light, so strangely light ..." Sorry for the stock photo and quote-heavy post, but I'm far too agog to write anything at the moment. Personal photos and coherent descriptions of Prague Castle, the Mucha "museum" and other delights to follow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Old Fashioned

The debate on the Old Fashioned cocktail continues. The only bottom line as far as I'm concerned? If you order one in a bar, the bartender should most certainly not a) glare at you and tell you it's a really high-maintenance drink or b) ask you how to make it. So I suppose that, for me, in addition to being a tasty beverage, it's also something of a litmus test of the man or woman who makes it.

P.S. I realize no one in this photo is drinking an Old Fashioned.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Best Book Ever?

Courtesy of Strange Attraction, a UK publishing house that "celebrates unpopular culture," comes Medical London: Two Thousand Years of Life and Death in London.

It contains a book of essays, Sick City, which outlines aspects of London’s medical history; Anatomy of the City, a beautifully illustrated full-colour gazetteer featuring London sites of medical interest; and six full-colour maps of suggested walking routes for those who wish to explore the city’s history for themselves. That's right -- maps! And a gazetteer!

So basically, this book -- or rather, wondrous, marvelous cabinet of endless delights -- has everything I love. Disease, history, old-timey stuff, and MAPS! According to the website, it promises to "guide its readers on their own journey through the city’s streets and landmarks, and resurrects the vanished traces of its past."

Um, the only catch? It's strangely unavailable. It came out in December, but it's already sold out all over the place. Apparently you can backorder it on Amazon UK, but who knows if they'll print a second run. Pray for me, kids. I want this book.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Curious New Year

There's something magical about winter afternoons anyway, since they're dark and quiet and it feels like evening by four o'clock, but a winter afternoon in the pre-New Year's Eve maelstrom in midtown is another plot entirely, especially when movies are involved. Entering Loew's 34th street at 3:40, it is empty and quiet and cold; emerging over three hours later it is simply freezing, all static and winter and electric currents, the street filled now with buzzing throngs of people. Me, I'm drained and sad yet ecstatic, having just seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a movie made, it seems, for New Year's Eve.

Think of it: a movie about a man born old who ages backwards, on the one night of the year whose special symbol is wizened Father Time passing the torch to a newborn babe. Symbolism. Yeah. But really, it is a movie of surprising maturity and emotional warmth, a mediation on life and death and transience far more beautiful than, say, the unrelenting bleakness of Synecdoche, NY, and therefore a fitting way to spend the last day of the year (made all the better if you happen to see it with your true love). There's something awfully endearing about the early innocence of Brad Pitt's aged man-child -- his exuberance at growing older, his glee at the discovery of sex and the pure gusto with which he shovels bird shit on a tramp steamer. Secondary characters are grace notes -- not fleshed out exactly, but somehow not needing to be, if you follow me -- rendered with the same glorious simplicity as Tilda's Swinton's good-bye note in the film. Even hackneyed framing devices that shouldn't work are actually brought off by sheer commitment, and the pretty fable of the clock that runs backwards is touching enough to stand alone.

Many moments, in fact, could stand alone and still be beautifully effective. Cate Blanchett's scene in the swimming pool, in which the observation of a youthful, unimpeded female swimming next to her brings tears over the deep sadness and loss of seeing her own aging flesh, would be effective and beautiful even if she didn't have a backwards-aging husband. Speaking of Cate Blanchett's character, I think the decision to make her a dancer is inspired -- what more transient vocation is there? Defined by corporeality and therefore impermanence, the career of the dancer lasts only briefly, the most fleeting in all the arts. And in the final act, Pitt's regression into the body of a child with an Alzheimer-ridden mind is fairly staggering.

So, fresh from this experience, we rush home -- we must avoid the New Year's crowds, and head for the subway like it's the last chopper out of Saigon -- only to find a surreal counterpoint in the televised spectacle of Dick Clark -- poor, aged, stroke-ridden Dick Clark -- passing the torch to a grinning, utterly sincere Ryan Seacrest (Clark's midnight kiss to his wife is ghastly despite being touching, as the love of old people is always touching, because Mrs. Clark's dressed like an early 60s fembot with the tight blond ponytail of that other taut robot wife Cindy McCain). And then to open the paper come morning and find that Donald Westlake died on his way to a New Year's Eve party -- well, it's sad news, but it has a certain style to it, doesn't it?

But New Year's ain't all life and death, and matters of consequence. A Preston Sturges double bill of Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve added levity to this milestone, and as Henry Fonda proposed to Barbara Stanwyck while the two of them were getting aggressively nuzzled by a friendly horse, fresh tears ran down my face, this time from laughter.