I never did a painting in oil before--and it shows. But I was compelled to immortalize our beloved parrot fish somehow.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
When I was a wee lad my father kept the current issue of Playboy on the back of the john. This is the only fond memory I have of him. The other day I remembered a Kris Kristofferson/Sarah Miles photo spread that was exceptionally interesting for a six-year-old, and then I Googled the pair to see if I could find the movie associated with that photo spread.
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea is a most peculiar film. I rather liked it, though it seems "of" the '70s in a way that locks it firmly into that epoch, much like Play Misty for Me or The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Based on a Yukio Mishima novel, the cast features one of the all-time great child villains, an amoral elitist who experiments on cats a la the young Bill Frist. When widow Sarah Miles falls for a Yankee sailor, her son and his compadres are at first curious, then indifferent, and finally outwardly hostile to Kristofferson's sea-faring hero. I'll say no more to avoid spoiling your fun!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
How come I never heard of Kenneth Fearing before? The Big Clock is a sophisticated, cleverly handled noir with a great plot set-up. Its execution is flawless. Another great NYRB re-issue, and well worth a couple hours of your life.
[The Daedalus bookstore in Belvedere Square has allowed me to triple the number of volumes in my NYRB re-issue library of late. They've got cheap copies by the dozen.]
I netflixed Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana. I wasn't in the mood, and only made it halfway. Some of the shots are interesting and mysterious, but the film stock transferred to DVD is much less than pristine. When a film is mostly silent footage of desert with occasional voice-over readings from the Papal Vuh you need a quality transfer.
So I did what I often do when distracted during one of Herzog's not-quite successful experiments: I listened to his commentary track. Always worth the price of admission.
Even before her stroke my mother-in-law was saying that she was tired of cooking. Now she'll help when we cook but she's otherwise not interested. She prefers going out and getting some fresh lake trout.
So when I crave chicken adobo or another Filipino dish I have to make it myself. Adobo is pretty simple. I doubt my approach is traditional, but I like the results.
I cube boneless and skinless chicken breasts a couple days before cooking and marinate them in a mixture of beer, white vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and spices. When I am ready to cook I use a deep frying pan and bring a mix of white vinegar and soy sauce to a boil. I add garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns (and habeneros--traditional adobo is tangy and NOT hot--but I like a bit of kick). Then I add the chicken and simmer and stir regularly until cooked thoroughly. It is important not to over-cook the chicken or it will become tough. Serve over rice.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
A smattering of tales which run the gamut of imaginative fiction from sci-fi to fantasy to horror, often blending elements of each into the others and unafraid of a dash of noir detective story. My faves here? "The Golden Helix," where a crew of people moving from Earth to a planet colonized by humans is hijacked by angels in order to begin a new Genesis; "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff" in which an alien expeditionary force is prepared to annhilate humans unless they prove themselves morally worthy; "It" about a moss monster formed around the skeleton of a missing grandfather; and the Borgesian fable "Bianca's Hands." Do yourself a favor and check out Kilgore Trout's stuff--I plan to read more novels now, above and beyond Godbody, which I loved.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I know next to nothing about British/English cinema. Billy Liar makes we want to explore more fully the celluloid offerings of our mates across the pond.
Tom Courtenay plays Billy Fischer, an overly imaginative young wastrel whose continual lying gets him into terrible difficulties. Screwball comedies which manage to evoke a heavy sadness are rare indeed, and Courtenay perfectly conveys Billy's tragi-comic duality. A fine film, worth watching just for footage of frisky Julie Christie strolling around town. And it's Criterion, so the transfer is exquisite.
And yes, I added this film to my Netflix queue because of Yo La Tengo:
I've been a fan of Ramsey Campbell since reading The Doll Who Ate His Mother 20 years ago. I wrote a lengthy paper about him for a graduate course in the modern short story at Temple University--Dr. Stevick rushed out to get a copy of The Height of the Scream after reading it. I eagerly anticipate Campbell's story collections and novels, and though I've been disappointed often in recent years I had high hopes for The Grin of the Dark; I thought The Darkest Part of the Woods and The Overnight--his two most recent novels--were evidence he was back at the top of his supernatural form.
Simon Lester has a PhD in film, and wrote columns for a magazine called Cineassed until it went belly-up after a lawsuit. He's working two part-time gigs at a library and a filling station to stay afloat, and rents a room from his girlfriend's intrusive and often hostile parents. Lester is trying to rediscover a silent film comic named Tubby Thackeray, whose works have mysteriously vanished. Campbell has written about eldritch horrors re-awakened by a quest for old films before in Ancient Evenings. That book was better than this one, though The Grin of the Dark admirably marries Campbell's passion for film and his love of H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James. Unfortunately the execution is troublesome.
The Grin of the Dark isn't a bad book by any means. It's clever, it's strange and creepy, it's often funny. But though I'm a fan of Campbell's obtuse style, I found myself too often bogged down in pun-laden dialogue, re-reading entire passages just to figure out what was going on. The unreliable narrator is a favorite Cambpell gimmick, and here I saw through it too soon, which ruined the ending. But a sub-par Campbell novel is still far above the pop-lit fray. If, like me, you like ghost and/or horror fiction but you prefer it written by someone who can craft a sentence, then you might enjoy The Grin of the Dark. Particularly if you are also a cineaste.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Pork Heaven started marathon running in his forties. Just a handful of years ago we went for 3-mile runs together and he was huffing and puffing. Now he eats three miles for breakfast.
Polly loved to interact with humans. As soon as someone entered the room he would start to dance, and he was always peeping out at us when we looked. As soon as he had your attention he would dance back and forth, and sometimes he would pick up gravel from the bottom of the tank and put it on larger flat rocks as if to say "keep watching! Look what I can do!" He would put six or seven tiny rocks on the big ones and then wipe them all off with a swish of his mighty tail. Very curious behavior. When I found him dead this morning there was one bit of gravel placed on his favorite altar, but he missed the flat rock in his final crisis. A final offering.
It might seem silly to get all exercised by the death of a fish, but we had him for more than five years, and enjoyed his antics. Several guests at our house have seen Polly and gone on to begin their own aquariums because he was so strange and funny. Now he's dead.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Something peculiar's going on in our aquarium of late. The little fish have been disappearing. Not simply dying and floating or dying and lying at the bottom--but DISAPPEARING completely. One of our biggest fish--Kodos the gurami--looked listless and fin-locked this morning, so I dosed the tank with parasite meds.
A while ago I went to give them their afternoon feeding and the water was murky and half the fish were floating. Polly the big orange parrot was upside-down and completely white. In a frenzied hour I changed 80% of the water but for two-thirds of the tank inhabitants it was too late. Polly is now orange again and looks fine, and Kodos is still around, and Mishak and Abednego are still ok. Jelly Bean, the parrot fish we've had for four years, is down the loo, along with four tiger barbs, a catfish, two red-tailed sharks, two angel-fin tetras, and a red tetra. RIP everybody. The plecos look ok, which surprises me. Usually if some disease is killing fish they croak first.
I'm going to wait a couple days before buying new fish. Nothing like this catastrophe has happened in the five years we've had aquariums. If more die I may just hang up the hobby.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Thursday at Mick O'Shea's Drew, Kristen, and I are playing two sets. Drew is taking the first set solo. C'mon down!
Friday we are playing a conference of international art and music educators at College Park.
Just a few months ago I was playing guitar to myself. WTF?
Saturday, July 19, 2008
No, it's not as good as the first, which makes it double-plus-ungood in a way. But it's got Guillermo Del Toro's fervid imagining of monsters and it's got Ron Perlman, so it has to be good in some respects. It was worth $6.
And, when I walked out of the theater and into the craziness of Artscape I got to see a couple songs by Memphis Gold. They've got a kickass harmonica-ist.
Later, we went to the Load of Fun Gallery for their Erotic Arts Festival. Cha had a photo shoot up and she was doing henna. Those who took advantage of the 'clothing optional' regs were hilarious. I spent a lot of time watching people get into the latex vacuum table. Ridiculous.
I've never read Mishima, and have only a general knowledge of his bio and philosophy. Paul Schrader's film blew me socks off; it's easily the best film about the Samurai worldview I've seen since Ghost Dog. Philip Glass scored Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I love Philip Glass but the RZA's soundtrack to Ghost Dog is hard to beat.
Schrader gets at Mishima through biographical vignettes which are woven into segments from his stories, plays, and films. The culminating moment of the film is of course obvious if you know anything about his life at all. It's pretty powerfully handled here.
Love the vivid color and the black and white sequences; love the set design, which is magnificent. The acting too. Criterion Collection strikes again.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
"Roma? That's Fellini's worst film!" folks told me often. I kept sliding it back in my Netflix queue as a result, denying myself an enormous pleasure. Ok--it might actually be his worst film, but so what? I adored it start to finish, and might actually like it more than Amarcord. Love the ecclesiastical fashion show with roller skating priests and rump-shaking nuns.
Of course now I have a major jones to go back to you-know-where. Many wonderful memories of Rome from March '99 came back during the film.
Monday, July 14, 2008
An excellent short biography of Sidhatta Gotama, placing his revolutionary reforms of yogic practice into context and making reasonably clear the profound importance of his ideas for a Western audience.
Armstrong's introduction explains why it's impossible really to write a biography of Buddha, given the lack of contemporary documents and the likely embellishments of original texts passed down orally. But this is a worthy and interesting attempt.
I'd not seen Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet since 9th grade English class. Miss Weissman cried when she showed it to us and we laughed at her. Let's just say it's a good thing my students couldn't see me after I watched it last night.
It's funny to know what's coming and still be caught up in the action. I found the fight sequences between Tybalt and Mercutio and Tybalt and Romeo unbearably tense despite knowing the outcome.
There are moments which fall flat, and the swelling soundtrack is often unctuous, but much of the film holds up. The enthusiasm of the young actors saves the day.
The actors are good, but of course the true stars of the show are barely restrained by Olivia Hussey's costumes.
Now I'm going to get Zeffirelli's Mel Gibson-driven Hamlet. Haven't seen that for a while either.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I've been suffering back pain for about three months--I've had back issues off and on in the past, but nothing like this. I got so desperate that I bought an inversion table, which arrived today. I spent 20 minutes hanging upside-down and I feel like a new man. My eyeballs almost burst when I went full Monty for the first time, but I adjusted quickly.
Note to self: don't go to the Mughal Garden buffet before inverting.
After 3.5 weeks off the stress of last year is finally starting to fade. Now the stress of the upcoming school year builds slowly. Live in the moment.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
I'd not read Roth in some time, and found at Deadalus for a good price the Library of America volume entitled Zuckerman Bound. Ghost Writer is the first novel in the volume, though it is actually a novella.
An easy way to hook me into a story is to mimic in style and tone and theme the late short stories of Henry James. Roth does so here, and even uses a common James situation: the young admirer of a great artist manages a meeting with his hero and learns hard lessons about sacrifice and gift.
Nathan Zuckerman is 23 and eager to launch his career. Already after having published a handful of short fiction he has been talked up by The Saturday Evening Post. One of his literary heroes is a Mr. Lonoff, and Zuckerman lands the opportunity to meet Lonoff at the master's home, where he witnesses the traumatic effects of a life dedicated to Art. Zuckerman himself is beginning to feel these effects, when he writes a short story about an event in his family and discovers that portraying his family members as they are in real life opens him to charges of stereotyping Jews and anti-Semitism from his father and his father's associates.
Of course this novel is by Roth, so despite its Jamesian pretentions there is masturbation. And yet it is a short masterpiece worthy of its pretentions.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Reading Dreams From My Father re-affirmed my instincts about Barack Obama: that he's a profound thinker, a remarkably compassionate person, and an idealist who's learned hard lessons about making dreams a reality. I'll add to my list that Obama is a damn fine writer.
The book is not simply autobiographical. Obama asks big questions about race and heritage. He writes wonderful travelogue about his time in Hawaii and Indonesia and Kenya. He moves gracefully from the personal and into the universal, and ties disparate moments of his life together in an elegant narrative. Nothing here made me doubt that Obama would be the least manipulative and most intellectually capable person to inhabit the Oval Office in a long time. I doubt George Bush could read a book like this without a dictionary, let alone write one.
But I do have questions. Compassion and profound thinking are gifts to a point; they can also be earmarks of an ineffective leader. Obama is caving on FISA and his statements about Iraq suddenly evince Clintonesque parsing. I know he's meeting with her donors this week, and the reality of two-party politics of course forces him to at least outwardly toe the party line and make distasteful gestures of compromise to please the big corporate donors and the various competing centrist and conservative groups under the Democratic umbrella. Lefties like me who project their hopes on him will have to be patient. Only time will prove us wise or foolish in our choice. Is he doing what he has to in order to win, planning eventually to live up to his ideals? Or is he a mere politician, a moral chameleon who will change his ideals to get power?
Nothing in this fine book gives me pause about my choice to back Barack. I'm in fact more willing after reading this to cut him slack when he does things I think are wrong or bone-headed. Some slack.
I wore my B'more for Obama shirt Saturday while doing errands. An African American gentleman gave me a 'fist-bump for recycling' as we emptied our bins in the single-stream containers at the Sisson Ave center. "I'm angry about the telecom phone waffling," he said. "But I'm counting on Obama to be one of us working on the inside. Sometimes he'll have to compromise in ways that piss us off, and I think we're seeing that now." I told him about the book and recommended he read it as we stood ankle-deep in tuna cans and wine bottles. I told him the book made me hopeful for the first time in a while about the state of our politics. "Michelle will keep his ass in line," the man said as he returned to his idling red convertable Beemer.
The same shirt got me glares as I dropped off a clothing donation at the Anarchist-run 2640 Space. I recognized some Greens there as well. Can Obama pull other disillusioned third-party dabblers and activists together? Can he do what he did in the Chicago slums on a national scale? Can he beat an aging, inarticulate war hero whose policy stances are to the right of Barry Goldwater?
It's a fun time to be alive.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Just as the shirts become available, I find myself unable to drum up the enthusiasm to wear one. And folks wonder why I abandonded the Democrats to support 3rd party politicians for so long?
I was laboring under the misapprehnsion that Obama would be better than Clinton on corporate accountability. Hmmmm.
The shirts are ready to go. Colors available: black, blue, brown. American Apparel 100% organic tees made in the USA.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Some of the "edgy" Cockney/Irish tough hitman thrillers bore me; In Bruges never did. It strays a bit too close at times to smart-alecky Sexy Beast territory, but on the whole I found it quite enjoyable. Bruges is one of my favorite places on Earth, and the town and its art are used here to grand and clever effect.
Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes are excellent. As is Jordan Prentice.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
For years I've been working through Manly P. Hall's Secret Teachings of all the Ages. I found Lectures on Ancient Philosophy much less rough going, and now have my feet of clay more firmly planted on the appropriate Path.
I can say no more lest the unprepared gather truths beyond their capacity. Silentium, after all, est aureum.