Monday, June 27, 2016

Slinky Kitty Stages Stealth Attack

This is a clip I saw a few weeks ago, but it remains as entrancing as it was the first time. 

I like how the guy filming doesn't warn the guy speaking. That tells me the beast is in the habit of stalking him...and then changing his mind at the last minute. Will he do so every time? He certainly doesn't seem particularly amenable to having his nose kissed later. Hmm. And I love the way he subsides on the grass at the end. Probably saying, "hmph! Thwarted again, this skinny git always turns around at the last minute!"

Still, even if he doesn't have evil intentions, he is one hell of a handsome devil. What finesse in his stalking! His name by the way is Kal-El, very fitting since I'm told it was Superman's original name. 

Animals like these are the reason behind my being totally over visiting zoos. Also the elephant seals in Morro Bay whom I met last year quite unexpectedly and since that (wildly delightful) encounter, the only wild animals I want to see are in the wild.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Why, L.A., why?

It's bad enough for me that I have a sense of direction that is downright embarrassing. On top of that, L.A. has to have the most baffling bunch of roads in the world. They have numbers, since they're highways. No, no, they're called freeways here. OK. So you say, what's the problem?

Well, the problem is that I can't figure them out. We have the two big ones, the 405 and the 101. Fine. But often I'll hear someone saying something like, "Did you see the doozie on the 5 yesterday? Boy, it was so slow I had to get off at Avalon and get on the 603. That's faster than the 451, by the way, and then it was cool all the way until I hit the 270, and boy, then I had to...."

Yes. Never mind that I drive even on our surface streets like a woman of 107. What will happen when I have to career around on those numbered things? Ah well. As we say in Hindi, I should just take the No.11 bus. Snicker, snicker. (For those who don't know, it means I'll WALK. HA HA HA.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

French movie Friday: L'ecole pour tous

I'm beginning to think that foreign movies starring children are likely to be a good bet. Evidence: the French gems La Guerre des Boutons and Les Choristes, and the chilling German Nackt unter Wolfen (shudder). Far from being annoying or precocious, the kids somehow sparkled so effortlessly that it left me reeling. 

L'ecole pour tous then is another example. The protagonist, a petty criminal named Jahwad, somehow ends up impersonating a middle-school teacher of French literature. The class he is assigned to is known as the 'dregs' of academia. Even the real teacher would have his job cut out for him. As expected, Jahwad plunges in right up to his eyes, fumbling frantically. Incredibly, the original teacher, the hapless real Jean-Christophe Despalin, helps him along. 

Jahwad's daft friend Yasin, his accomplice in their petty crookery, hangs around trying to understand Jahwad's gig but never does. And there are the other teachers at the school, a decently hilarious bunch especially the lady with the voice like a Sergeant at boot camp. 

Finally, the kids themselves. Oh what an absurd bunch they are! Engaging in what would be considered way-over-the-top banter in my home country, they somehow manage to convey the essential innocence of the very young under their layers of disgruntled, disruptive mob mentality. Scratch that, these kids would not exist in India. Or they would simply be put in jail. For life. But this is French cinema after all. I've come to expect a certain lighthearted absurdity with a vast acceptance of every possible stripe of humanity, and this I got.

The lead (Arie Elmaleh) carries off physical comedy with a feather touch, an able if frail foil to the robust tomfoolery of the teenagers. You feel for the teachers for sure, but I found myself rooting for the rambunctious 8th-graders here. And that's quite a feat for a mere movie to achieve, he he he. 

Director: Eric Rochant
Overall rating: 7/10

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Insert witticism here

I had a friend a few years ago who suddenly dropped out of touch deliberately. She ignored messages and phone calls for months, before I stopped attempting to contact her again. It left me feeling baffled and prickly. I analyzed my every action the last time we had met, attempting to find a reason for the sudden withdrawal. What else can you do? I finally assumed that some major change or loss had occurred in her life and it would be wisest for me to let it go. 

And then we saw each other by accident, at a cafe. She came up to me and we had this awkward conversation. I didn't put on any false airs of being happy to see her but asked her frankly if she was okay. She seemed ill at ease: too hearty, and even a little embarrassed. She ended the brief meeting by promising to call me, which I found odd. She never did call. This must have been six years ago. 

Two nights ago I suddenly decided to text her again. (I never deleted her number.) She explained her point of view, and even if it made no sense to me, I can empathize. The conversation we had was interesting in that it was stripped of all social niceties, and so felt like a relief. This is a big part of the reason for my not having a life-of-the-party personality. I've been called snobbish, standoffish, overly serious, and too businesslike. I have been accused of 'thinking too much.' 

All that means is that when I have a conversation, I want to converse. I am fully engaged and need full engagement from the other party. I am hesitant to open up to people because I'm not sure if they feel the same. No judgment on my part, but I find small talk of little interest. If I cannot have a meaningful exchange I simply prefer not to have one at all. I realize that the problem lies in the definition of 'meaningful'.

I don't know where this post is leading. I think the crux is that I crave authenticity in relationships, a quality I find sadly lacking. Of course over the years I've skimmed off many people who I deemed too unable to understand my point of view, but I still find that a few people I am close to for various reasons are on the other side of the bridge when it comes to openness and speaking their mind.

I'm stuck in this state of feeling baffled and prickly. If only I could hurry up and be one of those people who have a witticism for every time they feel like this.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Readings: Not that sort of girl

Can a long marriage and  a long love affair go hand in hand? This is the central question of this quite astute and insightful story by the reliable Mary Wesley. Told in a no-nonsense, typically English way, it follows the memories of one Rose Peel i.e. Mrs. Ned Peel, just after being widowed. We first meet Rose just after Ned has died. Nicholas and Emily Thornby, her childhood friends, also show up in the first chapter (and fittingly, in the last).

And then Rose starts to reminisce, starting in childhood and her somewhat thorny, disquieting relationship with the twin siblings Thornby, and moving on to her youth and the two main men in her life: Ned Peel, hasty husband, and Mylo Cooper, lifelong passionate love. She meets both at the same time. So why does she opt to marry Ned if she really loves Mylo? Here begins the examination of Rose's character. Through the author's careful pulling back of the layers, you begin to see all the in-between shades of a person's choices, circumstances, motivations, and desires. Not only Rose but all the cast of characters blooms slowly under this insightful pen. 

So we go along for the ride through the years before and after WWII. Rose matures quickly from a shy teenager into the confident mistress of an ancestral estate and its farms, mothers a child, and all the while continues to nurture her love for the elusive Mylo. Elusive because he works for the secret service and travels between England and France at highly erratic intervals. Thus Rose is stranded so to speak, once he leaves her after a rendevouz. Ned the husband is either away in the war or lives in London working during the week and this facilitates the lovers' meetings. Rose's housekeepers, the Farthings, play a surprising but important role in this relationship also. 

What of her relationship with Ned? The writing style here is so convincing that one can have no doubts imagining such an arrangement, a marriage arranged if you will, between two young people in that era. Also a revelation is the suddenly evolved character of Rose's mother after Rose's father passes away; the chapter where she and her mother meet for lunch is the funniest one in the book albeit in an almost mordant way. 

Told without judgement, this is a story about love and life. To distill further, it examines the consequences of craving security while simultaneously being in love with someone who represents the opposite. I'm sure there will be readers who cast a harsh eye on the doings of Rose and Mylo, but I was so struck by the authenticity of the writing that I could not do so. Yes, it was infidelity. And yet (such is the power a writer holds) you understand. That is the great triumph of this author Mary Wesley. I first read her in the droll and engagingly polished The Vacillations of Poppy Carew, and I'll be reading more for sure. She published her first novel at age 71, maybe that explains the altogether sophisticated and effortless style.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Food findings

Yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year. So what did J and I do? Walked to the gym (a good 12 minutes) at noon. Serves us right then that after the workout we decided we were going to faint and to prevent that we would need cooling beverages, stat, that had a bit more oomph than our already-warm water bottles.

Of course we found ourselves in that new little ice cream place located cleverly just opposite the gym. It's a purveyor of Italian ices and creams. And what did J find there, actually paying attention while I drooled witlessly at the pictures of mint chip cups and double chocolate scoops? A mango ice, but sprinkled with cayenne pepper powder and squeezed with lime! I pounced. To make matters better, the owner is a kindly old chap who looks indulgent while you slurp, making you feel you are being watched for the day by a grandparent.

Then today was another little inferno. Triple digits if you please. Fahrenheit, not Celsius of course, can you imagine that, ha ha. But today thankfully we didn't walk but drove to the tiny Sri Lankan place we'd tried once eons ago. Again, I pounced. Something just came loose in my brain at the sight of that food and the smells. Of course the proprietress helped too, matronly and talking in that sing-song Sri Lankan English. There was fat unpolished rice with potato stew in coconut milk, tender green beans, a spicy fried rice and an atomic-level fish curry. Plus a choice of really enticing salads and sambols: one with kale and coconut, one with dried coconut and red chillies, and another with little eggplants and onions. (I had all.) Also the dessert, a heavenly sort of flan with palm sugar that goes by the delightful name of wattalappam

And the regulars kept streaming in, making their inside jokes, catching up with news, squabbling over menu choices and so on. Sri Lankan t.v. was playing. All this and the intense heat shimmering outside gave us the impression we were back in the lovely Bertie's Lunch House somewhere in Colombo, where we had a very beautiful meal one day a few years ago. 

And now, because gluttony is so thankfully rare, I have just eaten a demure nectarine for dinner. That and a homemade popsicle. But Sunday lunches should be devilish. If only my stomach had a respectable capacity to be gluttonous more often.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Drink, put out the fire, and wait

Sometimes it seems like we're living in a world of electronic nannies. Alarm clocks, phones, and every other kind of reminder known to man or beast keep going off. First there's the app I put on my phone to remind me to keep drinking water through the day. (I've been told I don't drink enough, hehehe.) So this reminder keeps reminding me dutifully enough by producing on my phone the sound of a very loud drink of water being poured. And this I appreciate, except for the fact that it pours water even while I'm on a phone call. The other party once asked me in alarm, "What's that???" "Er," I had to answer foolishly, "It's er...that is, I have....uh..."

Well it's not for nothing that I've named the water app the Sea Hag. She's never satisfied no matter how much I update her. Always gargling at me, the fiend. Then there's the seat belt reminder in our car, of course every car has it but that's of no consequence here. No sooner has your posterior touched the seat and you are in the process of belting up, that it starts to go off in a most high-pitched way.  It always gives me the horrible impression that an explosion of some sort is imminent. Sigh. And not to mention that blessed fire alarm in our apartment. Last year one time there was a wisp of smoke, a wisplet really, that went up just before J turned off the oven. That was it, the alarm began. "Fah-yer" she intoned in her insistent way, "Fah-yer". (The lack of urgency in the tone was particularly chilling when combined with the persistence). We scrambled around to open doors and windows and flapped our arms in front of her face but she wouldn't let up. "Fah-yer," she continued, relentless, "Fah-yer." For this performance she has earned the name Dame Naggie Smith. 

Also last year was that one occasion in San Diego when J and I were waiting to cross a street. Cars were still going so obviously we weren't about to leap into the traffic. But no. We had to be told, to "WAIT". This from an extremely aggressive masculine voice issuing from the walk button. "WAIT, WAIT!" he carried on. Finally the tape got stuck, and he went, "WAIT, W-W-W-W-WAIT" making him sound extremely unsure but extremely insistent at the same time. We're still a bit scarred by him, I think. There are times in L.A. that we will imagine we hear the same voice shouting at us while we wait at the crossing. Still, it's preferable to the free-for-all and all-are-free-to-die method of street crossing that one follows back in India I suppose. Pugilistic electronic nanny seems a shade better than death by flattening on M.G. Road, but just a shade.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Foreign movie Friday: Gianni e le donne

Lately I've come to appreciate small, intimate movies that are in the 'slice of life' style. This Italian gem I recently sampled is a worthy example. 

The eponymous Gianni is a retiree in Rome, somewhere on the long end of middle-age. His wife still works, thus he is sent off on various domestic errands during working hours, and this he is content to do. Then there's his somewhat confused daughter and her equally shiftless boyfriend who has moved into their home. There's Gianni's rich, demanding mother who has him at her beck and call. And then there's his friend and peer Alfonso, a rakish lawyer who attempts to get Gianni off the straight and narrow and into the fast lane of late-age sexual/romantic dalliance.

Now this straight and narrow as it were, is very much Gianni's choice. It's just that he has reached a point where he is seemingly invisible to the young women around him. Invisible and inaudible. He is touchingly earnest in his realization, accepting it with a kind of shrugging melancholy. But he has the persistent Alfonso to keep nudging him away from this acceptance; even if we don't know if 'Alfo' is actually successful with the women himself. 

And there are a few very beautiful women around poor Gianni. First the downstairs neighbor, a hazel-eyed sprite who flirts with him relentlessly, turns out to have passed off her dog-walking duties on him. Then the identical blond twins, Alfo's clients; Gianni's mother's caretaker; another woman who is an old flame, and yet another who is an old acquaintance: they make up the rolls as he shambles around amiably trying to see where he can get.

Street life in Rome appears in tantalizing vignettes, as does the stupendous house belonging to Gianni's very old mother. Then there's the scene where he gets lost with the neighbor's St. Bernard. (It's an Italian St. Bernard named Riccardo! I was wildly in love.) And the three old men who sit around on the side street all day, one of them in perpetual sweatpants. There are many such little moments, and it makes you feel like you are looking in through a very accessible little window into the lives of these characters. Ultimately you don't know whether to root for Gianni because that would result in infidelity. At the same time you are wishing for him to have just a little bit of luck...and it is in this easy engagement with your sympathies, whether with Gianni or with any other character depending on who you are, where the script scores. 

There's another film that came before this, Pranzo di Ferragosto, as a kind of first part to the Gianni life stories. However that one didn't catch my attention like this one did, so I'm hoping there will be a third. Gianni e le donne is wry and sweet, meant to be savored for its moments rather like a glass of good wine that slowly freshens you up on a hot afternoon in the plaza.

Director: Gianni Di Gregorio
Overall rating: 7/10
English title: The Salt of Life

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Language, interrupted

My first brush with Spain was when I was very little. Someone had given my dad one of those yearly agendas that had photos from all over the world, the theme that year being children. There was this one photo of a group of Spanish girls about my age, dressed up in traditional costumes, hair pulled back with flowers, earrings, and those long knit shawls that I think are called mantillas. They were against the backdrop of some marvelous old stone church or other in the countryside. I was hooked. For some reason, I preserved that picture. I think I even gnawed at it in hopes that I would end up there, through the sheer force of my will and my newly-acquired canines. (Do 8-year-olds have canines? Don't know.)

Years later I had a friend, a sailor who spent nine months of the year sailing up and down South America. He had had to learn Spanish and had several language books; so what did I do but cleverly persuade him to part with one. (He had moved on to Portuguese.) It was in this way that I got started on vocabulary and basic grammar. I had a lot of time in those days, in fact due to the circumstances I had to stay home. And then one afternoon I watched a t.v. show on the famous walking pilgrimage of Spain, ending in a town called Santiago de Compostela. Again, my only desire was to somehow defy the laws of physics and find myself there. Alas, I did do my research but was beaten before I started. I didn't try to gnaw on the t.v. though, maybe that would've worked this time around.

Youth being what is is, I eventually found a way to escape. Not to my beloved Spain, but to another country, one which actually ended up paying me to stay and study there. Har har. But for some reason it's only now in my third innings here, so to speak, that I have really endeavored to master the language again.

And while master is not quite the suitable verb, I can now stumble along in rudimentary espanol. In fact, I frequently get mistaken for a Mexican chica and become engaged in conversations with perfect strangers. Sometimes I have to sheepishly declare myself when the speaker gets too carried away and rattles on at 90 miles an hour, but most of the time I pull it off. Now to come up with a good Spanish name. Celestina Garcia? I like that; it's the name of the character I played in a school production aged 9, in which my sister had to slap someone, but that's another story.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Another madman, another city, another set of victims. I'm struggling with a lot of emotions at the news of this latest massacre in Orlando, Florida. The overwhelming one is despair.

As debates rage over gun control, homophobia, mental illness, bureaucratic fumbling, and political mileage gained by those running for power, I am weary. 

For such an intelligent species, we certainly know how to be stupid.

Because I feel powerless and close to disillusioned, I do the only thing I can do. Focus on the present, the beauty instead of the horror. Callous as it may seem, every tragedy has only one thing in common for those not affected: gratitude for being not affected.

So I will pay extra attention to the beautiful music I have access to at all times. I will delight more intensely in the light show in my living room every sunset. For every hummingbird I spot, I will give thanks. I will polish the photograph of my mother in her youth more carefully. I will message a friend. 

I will live.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Readings: The Pickle Index

The Pickle Index by Eli Horowitz
A first time for me reading author Eli Horowitz, I was quite taken with this trim little satire: the intriguingly titled The Pickle Index.

It's a scathing look at the control exerted over citizens by a nanny state, but also a tale of ordinary people with oddball skills who just want to live their lives creating something big. In this case, the something big is a circus. A somewhat derelict and not quite successful circus, but, and here lies the poignancy, their own effort at life. 

A mixed bag of characters and a very strange old dog led by one Zloty Kornblatt, clown, make up the circus. An unctuous reporter named Hank Hamper represents the state through his byline in the newspaper: The Srutinizer. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that this Hank actually has a crush on the supreme leader of the state, an enigmatic presence known only as Madame J. Hilariously, the Madame has a "Javanese cobalt octopus" named Simeon as a pet. (I couldn't help being reminded of a certain South Indian leader whose followers practiced the same rank sycophancy. She didn't have any interesting pets, though.)

There were also thinly-veiled representations of the Nazi concentration camps portrayed through cattle train transports for the condemned and the obvious "immolation huts." If there were more subtle metaphors and representations, I do not have enough cultural background to pick up on those specifically meant for the state of this country, but the threads were satisfying enough. 

A slender read, it does make one curious to sample more offerings by Eli Horowitz. This is one of the criteria by which I rate a book: if it's a first-time read, am I enthused to read others by the writer? Or do I not want to bother? 

The Pickle Index was well-executed and funny enough to make me interested. It's a fresh little offering, crisp and tart not unlike a good pickle. (Couldn't resist that one.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

French movie Friday: La delicatesse

Delicacy Poster
This 2011 offering has Audrey Tautou in it. Need one say more? Ever since I watched her as "Amelie" in 2001 I've been entranced, like the rest of the world. In the airy and whimsical "La delicatesse" she plays Nathalie Kerr, an essentially joyful soul who is suddenly widowed one fine day when her beloved husband dies in an accident. She loses herself in grief and takes recourse in her work, and only her work. 

A few years pass before something unexpected happens. This something takes the shape of a tall, blond, endearing, sensitive and all-round decent (Swedish) guy named Markus Lundell who happens to be her co-worker. Nathalie and Markus play off each other's fears, in a way: she is under the shadow of her grief still, and he is so swept off his feet by his feelings for her that he is actually afraid of moving forward lest he hurt himself. Their back-and-forth is awkward, even clumsy; yet lighthearted enough to prise a smile out of the most jaded viewer.

This souffle-light treatment permeates the film. And that's  a good thing, with themes like grief and the overcoming of it, finding love unexpectedly and then having the courage to go with it. Also present is the particular social interplay surrounding a nascent romance within the confines of a workplace. And finally there is the helplessness and desperation of a sudden spark of romantic connection that grows before one has blinked an eye, into the whole of one's life. This growth is more evident in the self-deprecating Swede, to be sure, but Nathalie has her own small battles to wage.

Beauty abounds in the form of the immortal Paris streetscapes, especially at night, and the countryside. Then there's the leading lady herself, tiny and twinkling as ever. You can see why the hapless Markus is so in danger of losing his head. She is radiant and stylish, no doubt, but also has a certain unique charm that is very much suited to the word 'elfin'; and I do agree that there's a good bit of fairy-dust (or is it pixie-dust) sprinkled on her in minute, shimmering flakes. I could almost see the poor actor shouting, "Dammit, Tautou, will you stop twinkling at me for two seconds! I'm trying to emote here!"

Still, his suffering is enjoyable in that it puts you in the poignant position of watching someone fall in love. Because in the end, love is the sweetest thing and happily, La Delicatesse lets you savor this small and regrettably rare truth for its 108 minutes.

Directors: David and Stephane Foenkinos
Overall rating: 8/10

Thursday, June 09, 2016

I wish we had a pool

Image result for bear in LA pool
A black bear decided to visit some local people yesterday. It was a warm-ish day, so naturally, she decided to take a dip in their pool. Then, quite tuckered out, she climbed up the nearest tree and settled down for a snooze. 

I can imagine the state of mind of the humans around her. Pure joy at seeing a wonderful wild beast so close, mixed with pure terror. Thankfully the authorities didn't tranquilize her, just waited for her to climb down once she was refreshed. Which she obligingly did, and then she trotted off into the wilderness. Came dangerously close to the 210 freeway but thankfully didn't actually make it. The best part is, this bear is a repeat offender- she had been previously tagged just two weeks ago making merry in someone else's backyard. Maybe they should just buy her a bathing suit now. It's summer already.

Reminds me of myself when I was a tot. Wandering, snoozing, snooping, coming close to dangerous roads, etc. I weighed quite a bit less than 200 lbs. though, and I hope they never thought of tranquilizing me, heheh. 

Seriously though, I love wild animal sighting stories when they end well. My all-time favorite one has to be the baby seal somewhere in New Zealand who was found napping (upstairs!) on someone's sofa. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Go away, I'm reading

I've gone off the rails again. On my trips to the Central Library I usually consult my list of books that I'd like to read and search for them first before wandering off getting distracted by interesting-sounding titles. But today! Having somehow not made a visit there for a strangely long time, I lost all sense of proportion and simply pawed through all the shelves in front of my face. Lucky for the librarians I didn't actually end up eating any of their precious books. Still, they were kindly and looked at me quite indulgently when they saw me scrabbling through the very highest shelf with what must have been a fiendish look on my face.

J always awaits my return from these excursions eagerly. His reading habits are diametrically opposite to mine, you see. He prefers strictly non-fiction titles, sticking to lighthearted topics such as the Stasi, Russian labor camps, arduous journeys to the Antarctic, or then the inner workings of the human genome or the 900-page thoughts of anthropologists. I too have my fair share of these tomes, but on the whole I will go for the made-up stories, even fantasies of late. 

I had to do the customary book-showing when I got home of course. By the sixth book, he simply started laughing. How had I lugged this burden on my shoulder all the way across town, he wanted to know. No doubt he remembers my moaning when I used to carry my laptop bag to work a couple of years ago, how I used to whine! But if it's full of juicy new books I am quite the sturdy little mule. 

Now to see if the novels match up to my self-created hype.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Purple seasons

I've lived here for a full cycle of seasons now. The other day, looking at the last of the jacarandas, I realized they've been late compared to last year. I still see a few wisps of purple every now and then; they haven't been as full and glorious as last year.

Sometimes I go wandering around the city by myself. I like to take the train, look at people, sometimes people talk to me...but I'm so bad at small talk that they must think I'm one of those enigmatic foreign types with limited English and leave it at that. The stations and some of the bus drivers are familiar now, and that's almost a comfort if I stop to think about it. It's the first time in my life I've gone for an extended period without close friends at close range. And thus, although this time is a kind of monastic and contemplative window I'll look back on when I'm older, any kind of familiarity is almost a balm.

Yesterday we went down to Santa Monica since they'd closed off a 2-mile stretch to all traffic and just thrown it open to pedestrians. A first for the city, I'm told. So we wandered around in the middle of the streets and sat down on a bench when we heard a piano playing. A pianist had set up right there, in front of a cafe and was playing the most beautiful piece. It felt like being in the middle of a life movie as we looked at pedestrians and their dogs and babies walking by to the soundtrack.

Our cab driver back home took an alternate route, through a winding canyon where we glimpsed stunning homes set deep back in the woods. A welcome change from the freeway, even though the signs saying "Los Angeles" whenever I spot them make me happy. It's all like this these days: familiarity is a warm, almost unacknowledged treasure, and the unfamiliarity and mystery is a thrill.

I'm a city girl at heart. I love this one particularly because of the hills and the ocean, and this dry cool air with its long sunshine spread as far as the eye can see. And the eye can see a long way here, there's no claustrophobia. There's color and birds. I can be happy here. Until my feet start itching again.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

'My youth is escaping without giving me anything it owes me'

Youth, someone once famously said, is wasted on the young. The older I get, the more I realize it certainly was wasted on me.  But there are others who are truly in full bloom only in youth. When they start to get a few wrinkles, er...then middle-age is wasted on them, I suppose. And there are still others, on whom not only was youth not wasted, middle-age is a veritable gala!

All this reflection has been brought about by finding a few choice photos (from years past) of my good friend J. Now in the first few months of our togetherness a decade ago, when I looked at his youthful photos, I would be nearly fuming at the injustice of having missed all, how to put this delicately?...attractiveness that he possessed. Of course he was still rather fetching when I met him, that explained at least part of the attraction, har har.

But now? As time passes I realize he is in the category of those fiends who don't age. They simply improve. And he, the lucky sod, is improving on that. It can scarcely be believed, and yet here I am witnessing it. The wily fox! If only I'd known the treat I was in for, all those years ago. But then I was myself young, and as I can see so plainly now, perfectly witless.

Oh well. Maybe some of his beauty will rub off on me as I grow old. He is mortally afraid of my actually fully ageing, I think, because I've been going on for years now how I'll refuse to do so. I'll be the old lady tottering around in red high heels, fainting at the corner where the firemen eat lunch every Friday, being a regular local menace. Or if all goes according to plan, I will be the oldie haunting the best tango places in all Buenos Aires, and the youngsters will all be calling me 'vieja loca'. Or something even rather less flattering. Muahaaha.

Friday, June 03, 2016

French movie Friday: 3 Coeurs

3 Hearts (3 coeurs)
Is there such a thing as true love at first sight? This film attempts to follow the course of three people's lives in the exploration of the question, even if there is no answer forthcoming. Is there ever?

One night in a small French town, a tax accountant named Marc has missed the last train to Paris and chances upon a woman in a hotel bar. They start talking, rather, he runs after her, and we're told they spend the night wandering around in perfect harmony. No names or numbers or other mundane details are exchanged, although they do promise to meet the next week at a certain location in Paris. 

This seems to be the only time the two characters actually do something, as in, take a decision. From here on out, life just takes over. The meeting at the Jardin de Toulieres (jaw-droppingly beautiful, what is it with Paris and its gardens) never takes place. Marc is prone to panic attacks, you see. Or was it an actual heart attack? Anyway, the two would-be lovers are thus separated. Thereafter, Marc somehow meets another woman, falls in love, marries. But ah! this new woman, Sophie, unbeknownst to all, is actually the sister of the old one, Sylvie. Ergo, path to destruction has been charted.

Everyone smokes like a furnace. Sylvie, with all her shrugging and mumbling, displays no real evidence that she is actually potty about the accountant. While he's busy marrying her sibling, she's returned to her own ill-suited boyfriend and pushed off to Minneapolis, poor dear, to live and work in the U.S. I wonder if she had any green card issues, that would've made her come running back to the motherland, what? (I cannot resist cheap shots at the expense of fictional characters in order to relieve my own frustration). The houses and gardens and streets are just tres jolie; even the women have this certain nonchalant, translucent-shirted, unmade up style that is virtually non-existent in Hollywood, and this is all very refreshing to the jaded eye. 

However, the music score jars. It almost sounds like the track to a kind of urban "Jaws" in its menacing tone, meant to be a foreshadowing but ending up as a hammering. And there's an inexplicable voice-over halfway through, which adds nothing to the narrative. Still, despite all this, you do feel caught up with the complications. There are no easy answers, you see, there never are. And in this the script is non-judgmental, at least: a long-ago spark can still burn somewhere in the heart. The element of 'choice' gets away from us sometimes, and we do at least empathize a little even while being exasperated.

Finally then, the ending is ambiguous, how French again. Charlotte Gainsbourg as the inscrutable Sylvie and Chiara Mastroianni as her sister do a fine job, and then the mama, Catherine Deneuve is splendid and moves the plot forward although we aren't exactly shown that. One sub-plot related to Marc's profession goes nowhere. 

Not overly taxing in its telling, the film is fine for a hot Friday afternoon loll on the couch with a glass of cold, lime-splashed Coke. Perhaps if I'd smoked, I would have enjoyed it more? 

Overall rating: 5/10
Director: Jacquot Benoit

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Television for the reluctant

Having been a reluctant television watcher in my previous home, it is still not surprising that I watch a fair bit here. Streaming content is really the way to go- I find it a torture to sit through even one half-hour show on regular t.v. now. Gah! I'm spoiled forever. 

It's also telling that there are hardly any shows from this country in the list of those I'm watching. Let's see the countries represented: Spain, Scotland, England, Norway, Denmark, Sweden. Hmm. Among these, the Spanish ones have been a revelation. Partly because I can now understand them almost entirely with the aid of an occasional subtitle, but also because it brings to light the old and utterly hopeless infatuation with the country itself. 

There are three shows set in Spain I watch. The first, Velvet, is about the lives of the employees and owners of a grand old store called the Galerias Velvet in 1950s Madrid. It's just so good-looking, the show. They've managed a singularly attractive cast, and then the sets, costumes, and the general classiness of the visuals is a real hook. Not to mention genuinely well-written and stupendously performed characters. 

Then there's Gran Hotel. This one's a bit of a potboiler, in that it moves along so quickly and so much happens in every episode. Murder, blackmail, infidelity, secrets, you name it. But here too it's the visual appeal that's very high, the story being set in the very early 1900s in the eponymous Grand Hotel. And I particularly like the older characters, not only because they speak slowly and clearly and I can understand all, he he he. 

And finally, El Internado. I mean, can you imagine me watching a show set in a boarding school and centered around teenagers, but set in this country? Snort! I think not. But plonk it in Spain, and there you have it, I'm hooked. Moreover, I'm in the embarrassing position of actually missing my beloved Marcos and Paula if I don't watch for more than a few days. Gulp. Now what? 

I'll have to do a detailed review on this show alone. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Readings: Tigerman

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway
The first book I read by Nick Harkaway was Angelmaker. Boy what a crazy ride that was, filled with mechanical bees, terrifying sub-human monk villains, a body-changing, immortal antagonist, espionage, a 90-year old heroine, and what-have-you. Brilliant as it was, I was exhausted by the last third of the story.

But here in Tigerman, (even with a title like that) Harkaway has shown us an altogether different side. Tigerman is detailed but not excruciatingly so, emotional but never maudlin, full of questions but never irritating, and ultimately, emotionally satisfying instead of leaving you with a sense of being socked in the eye with the author's own brilliance.

The story is set on the fictional island of Mancreu, doomed because it is set for destruction by the international community due to a series of continual environmental disasters. (But in fact, "for an island with no future, Mancreau had a great deal of present.") Our hero, Lester Ferris, is a British sergeant posted there as his country's somewhat token presence, mainly to show his face around town and maintain the peace. And there's the boy, a local with whom the Sergeant has struck up a tentative yet tender friendship. What Lester wants, and this he realizes as the island nears its own expiration date and people keep leaving as planned, is to adopt the boy since there is no real knowledge of other family. Still, the situation is vague and the best Lester can do is make discreet inquiries as to the boy's situation.

Mancreu's coast also has another shadowy presence: the Black Fleet comprised of illicit ships harbored there for nefarious purposes, but which cannot be dealt with because of the island's peculiar legal limbo situation. So who is Tigerman? He's the persona that Lester takes on, egged on by the comic-book-crazed boy. He's a sort of unlikely crime-fighter against the local mysterious wrongdoings, the hero who remains unknown yet takes on an almost mythic persona to the islanders.

Against the uncertain political and environmental background, this is ultimately a story of friendship, fatherhood, betrayal and survival instinct, told finely with such detail that you know, really know, each character. Harkaway's intricate drawing out of his characters' motivations reminded me of other writers like Lionel Shriver, Mary Doria Russell, or Alan Hollinghurst, in that patient, humorous yet achingly tender way. 
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