Saturday, December 30, 2006

Trappist monks in rural Georgia

I don't even think it's sad that the excitement of my Saturday night has been finding this podcast by the Trappist monks from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. I love to visit the monastery and its shop (fudge made by monks! saints medallions! coffee picked by Venezulan nuns!), and I've seriously considered participating in one of the retreats they offer. I'm a bit too much of a wuss for the retreats, at least just now, but finding that they have a podcast is twenty million times better.

As a side note, I am fairly swimming in awesome podcasts right now. Did you know that Australian public broadcasting is hella great? Today I listened to a concert of temple music from the time of Jesus. How neat is that?

The frustrating film world

How is it that I haven't deigned to see a movie for the wellbeing of my intellect and emotional balance for, like, months, and now all of a sudden there's this glut of them in theatres that I don't want to miss?

This summer I saw exactly two movies in theatres: X-Men 3 and Pirates 2. Neither of those scratched that itch for me, you know the one I mean, but I am a good girlfriend and casual geek, so I went. Before that, I don't even remember. Maybe the last movie I saw in the theatre before that was Good Night and Good Luck (George Clooney in black & white, I'm telling you).

I'm sad that I missed The Fountain, but I'll definitely rent it. I'm sad that I missed a few things out this summer (Shortbus, Little Miss Sunshine), but at the time they just didn't seem important. And I still haven't rented them.

But now, there's an absolute deluge. With The Good German under my belt, I'm dying to get in viewings of Children of Men, Volver, Pan's Labyrinth (okay, I've been excited about this one for awhile), and Perfume. And who even knows what's waiting in the wings that I haven't heard of yet.

I'd love to be able to space these things out (and my bank account would love it even more), but these movies just aren't going to spend enough weeks in the theatres. Drat.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Film: The Good German

It's like I've made a habit of taking myself to the art cinema in North Atlanta to see George Clooney in black & white. I'm not complaining--it's compelling cinema--but I do think it's funny.

What was not at all funny was this film, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's Soderbergh's take on the studio films of the 40s, but with all the things directors and writers and actors wished they could do back then but couldn't because of the Hayes Code. Cussing, sex, violence. All the good stuff.

Thanks to my current film diet, I picked up on a lot of noir and neonoir aspects to the film: George Clooney's detective-ish character getting beat up/knocked out no less than three times; the exquisite lighting; Cate Blanchett's face, especially with that dark lipstick; disillusionment with a world turned rotten; place as state of mind/plague. But what I thought was brilliant about this film was the way it took those tropes and wrenched them inside out simply based on the time and setting. Instead of giving us the traditional noir narrative about an America racked by post-war anxiety and corruption, the place which is a state of mind/plague is Berlin. After the war. Racked by anxiety and corruption. And thus, intensely bigger moral issues get tossed into the mix. America as a place was largely untouched by the war (though not untouched as a state of mind, I'll concede). Berlin was devastated. And even this stands as a noir element, background that is way more important than background: the piles of bricks, the staircase that is impassible in one direction, the shocking amount of debris, rubble, destruction, everywhere.

My only complaint was the heavy-handed Casablanca reframing at the end of the film. Yeah, it's cool that even the loud-talking crapface in the row behind me "got" it. But was it necessary?

And in an attempt to end on a more positive note, because I really did like the movie, here's a link to a KCRW podcast with Steven Soderbergh.

The Good German
dir. by Steven Soderbergh, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What it's like in Arkansas

There are mountains. They are mostly flat on top. There are rocky bluffs, and rocky paths, and rocky streams that flow from waterfalls.

There is farmland. There are WPA projects, like dams and amphitheatres. There are little cafes that serve really good dessert. There are Mexican restaurants that also serve really good dessert.

There's a Benedictine abbey in a little town called Subiaco, and you can walk all around it, even in the cloister garden. The abbey sits up on a hill and it looks tremendous.

Most of all, though, and this is really dorky, I know, but there's this boy who's there right now, and I love him, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I think I might get to.

Book: The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

by Susanna Clarke (2006).

Clarke was on my list of authors to read in the new year, but spending hours in the Atlanta airport this holiday season made me crave short stories. I wanted the sense of repeated accomplishment, of finishing quickly, of not being interrupted and losing the thread.

I haven't read Clarke's breakout debut, but these stories certainly whetted my appetite. None of them were life-changing, but all of them were pretty fun. I have the feeling I'll enjoy her novel immensely, once I get around to it.

My favorite story by far in the collection was "Antickes and Frets," mostly because I've had a lifelong love of Mary Queen of Scots. I also enjoyed "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," because it's always fun to read stories set in other people's worlds, and goodness knows there aren't many worlds I love more or know better than Neil Gaiman's.

I also have to mention Charles Vess's illustrations for the book, which I adore. I don't have much to say on them other than that. His work thrills me and comforts me. I know where I stand when I'm looking at a Vess drawing, but I never know what's standing just out of sight.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Book: Ruby

by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton (2006).

Sadly lackluster. Reads like a watered down, less evocative and less interesting version of most of Block's other novels.

I hope Psyche in a Dress is better.

Author wish list

I've decided on a twofold goal for 2007: to read as many authors as possible whose work I've never read before, and to catch up on the books by my favorite authors I haven't had a chance to read.

So here are my wish lists for both categories:

Unread authors
Jessica Abel
Chris Adrian
Alison Bechdel
Aimee Bender
Jorge Luis Borges
Alain de Botton
Kevin Brockmeier
Susanna Clarke
Alan DeNiro
Cory Doctorow
Keith Donohue
Myla Goldberg
Theodora Goss
Daniel Handler
Alice Hoffman
Elizabeth Merrick
Haruki Murakami
Marisha Pessl
R. Barton Palmer (my old film prof)
Frank Portman
Tim Pratt
Laura Amy Schlitz
Jill Soloway
Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
Jeff VanderMeer
Vendela Vida
Ned Vizzini

Unread books by favorite authors
the Bitch book
Ines of My Soul by Isabelle Allende
Pysche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block*
Ruby by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski
The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford*
The Stories of Mary Gordon by Mary Gordon*
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Collected Stories by Amy Hempel
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
anything Charles de Lint*
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
anything Philip Pullman*
Changeling by Delia Sherman
Doing Time by Rob Thomas
Fado & Other Stories by Katherine Vaz*
Mariana by Katherine Vaz
Saudade by Katherine Vaz
Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson*

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Book: Severance

by Robert Olen Butler (2006).

A strange and beautiful collection, which I read in a just a few hours. It was easy to just let these words wash over me, but stopping and reading carefully and picking out the subtle details really made me appreciate Butler's style. He is witty, touching, and sexy all in the space of a few words.

I especially enjoyed the stories of those who lost their heads in the French Revolution (Madame du Barry was unexpectedly touching); the thought that so many continue to be decapitated in connection with conflicts in the Middle East came as an uneasy revelation.

I will certainly be seeking out more of Butler's work in the future.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Book: Satellite Down

by Rob Thomas (1998).

I have to say that I absolutely love how all of Rob Thomas's writing reminds me of other Rob Thomas writing. I mean this in a good way, in an English-major-who-loves-to-track-references-and-obsessions-and-motifs way. Thomas taught high school journalism, then left Texas for LA and worked on a tv news show broadcast into classrooms across the country. I have no doubt at all that these experiences informed this book. And while I enjoyed it--and I mean a whole, whole lot--I was a little sad that the book ends on such a cynical note. Rats Saw God was much more optimistic. I understand the choice, though, and it reads very truthfully. It just didn't make me swoon with vicarious joy the way I did at the end of my previous Rob Thomas read.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Film: Chinatown.

One of those movies I fell asleep during in my high school film studies class. Don't blame me, blame the fact that it started at 8 am and I rarely went to bed before 4.

Here are the things of particular interest to me (oh I just love lists):
  • wet/dry as a stand in for dark/light in a film shot in color (though some of that dark/light is still there)
  • public municipalities conspiracy as thrilling fodder for detective drama
  • how Faye Dunaway is gorgeous, and then strangely grotesque within moments of each other (teeth, bare skin, forehead)
  • Polanski's interest in (fetish for?) rotting food--see Repulsion
  • what it means to lose exactly one shoe
  • Jack Nicholson's disarming hotness
  • John Huston, in general

    directed by Roman Polanski, 1974
  • Book: Fragile Things

    by Neil Gaiman (2006).

    A charming collection of short stories, some of which I'd read before. I very much plan on buying the paperback edition of this book, but when I saw it on the new book shelf at the library, I had to grab it. (I believe in the synchronicity of these things.)

    Neil's work is special to me in that I have been reading him since I was 15--his voice is familiar, comfortable in some way. Comforting, maybe. Additionally, his devotion to his fans, his prolificness, his explanatory introduction giving some piece of the history of each story, and his wonderful online presence make him, and his work, feel very approachable. One of my favorite things in the world is that I once sent in a question asking for further elaboration on something he'd said in his blog about the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, and he actually responded. My question had no significance whatsoever, but I asked it, so he answered.

    Some favorites from this collection:
  • "The Mapmaker"
  • "October in the Chair"
  • "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire"
  • "Bitter Grounds"
  • "Strange Little Girls"
  • "Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky"
  • "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"
  • "The Day the Saucers Came "
  • "Monarch of the Glen"

    This last was my absolute favorite, a novella occuring two years after the close of American Gods, featuring Shadow in remote Northern Scotland and a couple of characters from the story "Keepsakes and Treasures," which appears earlier in the collection. I read American Gods so long ago that I have this strange sense of not remembering much of the book. I've held onto some very basic plot points, but can't for the life of me remember exactly how it ends. I mention this because I was surprised how familiar Shadow felt to me when I started reading "Monarch of the Glen." I knew him; I knew how he was and how he might generally react to the events of the story. At the close of the story, which is the close of the book, I had the distinct sense that I had just wrapped up a conversation with an old friend. I really like that feeling.
  • Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    Noir in The Oxford American

    Syntax of Things pointed out this great article from The Oxford American, "Dark Harvest: On the Pleasures of Teaching Noir, an Underdog Genre" by Barry Hannah. He lists the main books on his syllabus, all of which I am tempted to read.

    Oh, and did I mention I really want a subscription to The Oxford American now?

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Book: An Abundance of Katherines

    by John Green (2006).

    I just finished this book about 30 seconds ago, and I swear I am this close to writing a full on fucking fangirl letter to John Green about how amazing he is and how his book hit all the highlights of my geek chic fetishy obsessions. Like, labradoodles and oral history and storytelling and fake cuss words and summer live-in sleepovers and tampon strings and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and rural Tennessee--the town is named Gutshot, for Christ's sake--and smart boys and girls who say shit like "emo core" in all seriousness and math equations describing life experience things that you shouldn't possibly be able to quantify and footnotes, can you believe it, footnotes in a freaking book for teenagers.

    This is by far one of the best books I've ever read, and I didn't even have to cry at the end. In fact, I really spent the whole book just laughing aloud a lot, and you know that's saying something.

    Exhibit: Louvre Atlanta, Year One.

    I bought my membership to the High Museum based solely on the fact of this exhibit. Raphael, Velázquez, Poussin (who isn't here just yet)--there was no way I could miss this.

    The exhibit for Year One is broken up into two parts: Kings as Collectors and The Kings' Drawings. Both sections were fairly small--it only took about an hour and a half to view everything. Of course, the crowded museum on a Saturday had a lot to do with how quickly we looked and then moved on.

    Jenny liked the drawings best, as they clearly represent the movements of the artist's hand. I enjoyed the marble busts, but the paintings were really my favorite. Velázquez's Infanta was small but worth looking at (I'd rather see Las Meninas, personally). Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, the centerpiece of the exhibit, drew me in with the eyes, made me understand why this person and this painting are so well known. The portrait goes home at the end of January, and Poussin's Arcadian Shepherds will replace it. There is no end to my excitement about seeing this painting in person--I have a tattoo based on it, and consider it one of the most philosophically interesting works of art I've ever been exposed to. I'm crossing my fingers for a lecture on it.

    There were several other pieces I enjoyed contemplating, though I don't remember their names or artists now. Jenny and I forewent the audio tour, as we wanted to talk to each other about what we saw. But I'd very much like to go back by myself and listen to it.

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    Music: Alela Diane.

    I got my copy of the winter issue of Venus Zine in the mail a few days ago--terrificly free because I wrote a very small book review for the issue--and I've spent this evening flipping idly through it. Great issue, and the cd reviews at the back afforded me a wonderous new find: Alela Diane.

    Her debut album, The Pirate's Gospel, was just released by Holocene Music. You can listen to and download some tracks from her MySpace page. The title track is my fave so far. Now if only I had $15 to buy the whole album...

    A few other recent music-related discoveries: Anji Bee's Chillcast, which I am loving; Daylight's for the Birds, also out of Venus; Largehearted Boy's Best of 2006 list, complete with legally downloadable tracks; and of course, my favorite music blog-ish thing ever, for I am a nerd of incalcuable dimensions, The Music of Veronica Mars. Don't judge me.

    Film: American Graffiti.

    Okay, I'll admit that I didn't finish watching this film, but only because my tv reception turns all crappy when I tune to TCM. It's enough to make me cry, I swear. Anyway, I'll have to get this one out of the library at some point, because the tableaux composed like Edward Hopper paintings were too wonderful for me not to finish watching. Plus the soundtrack is boss.

    American Graffiti
    directed by George Lucas, 1973

    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    Book: Rats Saw God

    by Rob Thomas (1996).

    A brilliant YA novel I got from the library; the girl behind the counter immediately asked, "Do you watch Veronica Mars?" Oh yes, I do, and this book has a lot of things that get referenced later in the show, so I'm glad that I just did my marathon re-watch of the first two seasons.

    That isn't to say that this book has anything really in common with the neo-noir world of VM. At the heart of the story is a teenage boy, Steve, who's incredibly bright but just not interested in playing along. His guidance counselor cuts him a deal: he won't have to take English over in summer school, if he writes a 100 page paper/story, on any topic he chooses. Steve wants to write fiction, but finds himself instead writing the story of his sophomore and junior years of high school. It's the story of the school club he and a friend found, the Grace Order of Dadaists (GOD); it's the story of his strained relationship with his father the astronaut; it's the story of his first love, a fellow nonconformist named Wanda Varner.

    And here's where I have to catalogue all the things in the book that have made their way into VM, because my enjoyment of this book, at least in part, stems from recognizing these things, and feeling right at home in any world created by Rob Thomas. So, Wanda Varner shows up again in the VM episode "Return of the Kane," albeit sans her nickname (Dub), and with a little snitching problem. A reveal towards the end about Book Wanda's indiscretions reminded me distinctly of the plot of "Mars vs. Mars." The title of the book itself gets referenced in an episode title from season two, "Rat Saw God," only this time it's a clue in the bus crash investigation, not something the dadaists spell out with their hands in a yearbook picture. And then there is, of course, the entire snarky tone of the book, which had me cracking up in my room for the one entire evening it took me to finish the book.

    I cried a bit when it ended, too, because Rob Thomas is just that good.

    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    "I take mine noir"

  • a marathon viewing of both seasons of Veronica Mars
  • long days spent alone in my basement apartment, just trying to keep myself busy
  • The Maltese Falcon, my undying love for Bogey
  • Murder, My Sweet
  • the "Out of the Past" podcast
  • Black & White & Noir by Paula Rabinowitz, which has so far revealed to me the melancholy beauty of the photographs of Esther Bubley
  • Bubley's image of a female schizophrenic who had been treated with electroshock therapy--memories of the story my mom told me about my grandmother, who this full on happened to
  • Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Imagery of the South

    While reading Pamela Petro's book Sitting up with the Dead: A Storied Journey through the American South, I came across a piece of particularly striking imagery. She writes about talking with Nancy Basket, a storyteller in Walhalla, South Carolina, who tells her about the Cherokee towns being drowned for reservoirs. "There are some of us... who can still hear the drums sounding underwater."

    Petro relates this to her time spent in Wales, where towns were similarly drowned for reservoirs for the English. There, the story goes, you can hear chapel bells tolling underwater.

    It's a bit of a triangulation, but these images reminded me of, as Jacob might say, the time I spent in Tori Amos purgatory. Amos talked in one interview I remember about hearing the bells toll in the South. One lyric to "Here. In My Head" says, "The bow and the bell, and the girl from the South, all favorites of mine, you know them all well."

    Bells and drums signify multitudes for me. War drums. The bells that tolled by the quarter-hour on campus, which I could hear from my freshman dorm window if the air was still enough, which echoed ominously through the quad if you were standing in the right place when they sounded. The drum of distant thunder. The phrase "for whom the bell tolls," which I'm well aware is a book but fascinates me only as sounds, kind of exactly like "roll of thunder, hear my cry."

    On the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, they call the Pascagoula River the "singing river," because of the songs of the tribal people there, who walked into its depths rather than face fate at the hands of white men. I'm drawn intimately to water as well, something we have plenty of here in the South. I could never imagine being a desert child, a Pine Belt kind of girl.

    Show me a trail and I want to walk it.

    It's still autumn here, which is lovely because I've fallen in love with walking again. I just finished reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, in which he hikes a good portion of the Appalachian Trail, sort of on a whim.

    I've hiked parts of the trail before, but I was quite young, and I don't really remember much about it. In fact, about the only things I do remember are being scared to death of bears, and falling down dangerously close to the edge of the trail as it wound up a mountain. I still have a scar on my knee from that fall.

    I've batted around the idea of hiking more of the trail now that I'm older and enjoy those sorts of things. I don't imagine I could ever do all 2,200 miles of it--for now I've settled on hiking the entire Georgia portion, a distance of about 78 miles (plus the 8 mile approach trail from Amicalola Falls). I'll most likely have to do it in chunks, what with work and all.

    In the meantime, all this reading about hiking has inspired me to get off my butt while the temperature is still in the 50s. Friday I walked around Murphy Candler Lake and marvelled at how much it's changed since the weather turned cold. Yesterday I walked around the Dunwoody Nature Center, which was very autumn-colored and enjoyable.

    Today I headed up to Roswell to hike through Leita Thompson Memorial Park. I ended up doing the 2.25 mile trail twice, plus an extra .25 miles around the lake. My first time around was glorious, and as I reached about the 2 mile point, I took a little side trail up the crest of a hill and discovered three deer grazing happily.
    They watched me warily for a long time, and I took a few pictures and some video, then scared them as I put my camera away. I didn't know before that deer made a weird grunting/whining noise to warn each other of danger, but I heard it clearly just the instant before they all bolted out of sight.

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Book: Madame de Pompadour, Mistress of France

    by Christine Pevitt Algrant (2002).

    Algrant takes a fairly condescending and judgemental tone in her discussion of the life of Louis XV's mistress. I don't think this is entirely justified, as the material she quotes only rarely backs up her remarks. Regardless, it was interesting to learn about the life of little Reinette, the bourgeouis girl who grew up knowing it was her destiny to be the king's lover. I had to peel away the layers of derision, but underneath was a fascinating woman.

    I think her death says the most to me about her grace: "A moment, monsiuer le curé, we shall go together," were her last words, as her priest was trying to slip quietly out the door.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Some true things

    "It's a kindergarten motherfucking sense of entitled, playground morality that assumes just because A is an asshole, B is blameless. It's possible for B to grow the fuck up and act in accordance with a stable morality, instead of leveraging their evil based on some kind of flimsy "Mommy, he started it" excuse. At the end of the day, A is not your problem, because A is not your responsibility. Your behavior is your problem, and what you did to excuse it, because you are the person in charge of you. There are a lot of unanswerable questions here, but that is not one of them, and somebody should have told these motherfuckers when they were younger, because now they are grown up and I am ashamed for them. Your personhood doesn't go in the closet until things get easier -- that's like the one thing I disagreed with Tigh about, down on New Caprica -- it's there all the time. You can't write your bullshit self a hall pass to be "your worst" or commit atrocities right up until the very second that things get perfect and awesome, at which point like a wonderful jackpot prize you get to be who you are "at your best," and how one of these days, you'll get to be that you. As soon as nothing bad ever happens, nobody ever calls you an asshole, and everything is perfect and quiet and still. I'm not saying don't "wipe 'em out," I'm saying be really damn sure you know why you're doing it, because that's the only question that matters. Fucking…be better. It's the easiest thing of the world."
    --Jacob on Battlestar Galactica

    "Think for yourself, because I won't be there with you. Nobody tells you when you're young that pain must eventually lead to pleasure, and vice versa; that a man must break his back, to earn his day of leisure. Think for yourself, because I won't be there with you. Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight."
    --Jacob on Doctor Who

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Stamp carving and travel journals

    I spent pretty much all of today carving stamps at my desk. I've had a sudden burst of creativity, nicely coupled with a fair amount of free time, and though my back and neck ache from craning to see, I am satisfied with what I've done. I've noticibly improved my skills at designing and carving. I wish that I could draw these images by hand, but I've never been good at freehand drawing. I'll just have to resign myself to that.

    I'm also thinking of new ways to document these endeavors, new ways to journal and keep track of things like roadtrips. I want to be able to look back and say, we went here and it looked like this and felt like this. I haven't settled on anything yet, but here is what I know: every journal in my room already has something written in it, and I want to start fresh. I want to keep records of every trip Jon and I make and have made.

    I need to find a way to scan images like my stamps into my computer so that I can post them. My camera can't take pictures at that close range.

    Today on Flickr

    I am really really jealous of all these people with their art skills and their cool travel journals.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Film: Marie Antoinette

    I just got home from seeing this film, and of course I loved it. Of course, I would have a hard time not loving anything involving both Gang of Four and a big orgy of frothy period costumes.

    I don't want to say too much about it, as it feels unnecessary to overthink this one. But of course, Sofia Coppola has made her into all of us, and the minutae of her life feels very contemporary, very understandable to me which I think is somewhat of a generational thing. This was the right movie for this particular moment.

    Marie Antoinette
    directed by Sofia Coppola, 2006

    Today on Flickr

    I discovered Fontainebleau.

    Fontainebleau is the name of both a forest and a château (once a royal hunting ground and the largest royal château, respectively) located about 35 miles southeast of Paris. Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour spent some of their first weeks together at this château. The court went to Fontainebleau in the autumn every year, as Louis XV loved to hunt and did so with much of his free time.

    And in a strange bit of synchronicity, Fontainebleau is also the name of a state park in Louisiana that I hope to visit next weekend. I've been working on a series of letterboxes based on French women I admire; Madame de Pompadour will hopefully be the first carved and planted. I chose Fontainebleau, obviously, for the matching name and season. But the park is interesting in its own right: it contains the ruins of a sugar mill built by Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville in 1829 (it is of further note that de Marigny was also the title of Mme de Pompadour's brother, Abel Poisson, though I'm not sure if/how the titles are related). M. de Mandeville named the area after the Fontainebleau of France. The park has hiking trails, and is quite near part of the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile rails-to-trails conversion. I doubt it's quite as beautiful as the royal Fontainebleau, but I'm excited nonetheless.

    Autumn and roadtrips

    It is undoubtedly autumn here, and driving up the small ridge on my way to work everyday makes my taxing schedule just a little bit more bearable. The trees are tall and all different shades of red and orange, with just a bit of green still peeking out. I am terribly excited to drive the highway outside of Birmingham, on my way to Mississippi this Thursday. I rarely make the drive during the day, but the landscape has so many secrets only seen in daylight.

    Autumn is the season when I think about how I need to be doing autumn-y things. In the summer it all comes naturally--trips to the lake, cookouts, cold beer--I don't even think about it at the time.
    But when it starts to get cool outside, I suddenly find myself thinking of all the things I need to do: visit cemeteries, drink apple cider, go to the corn maze, buy new sweaters, drive in the mountains, eat stuffing and mashed potatoes with my mom, go iceskating, visit Christmas light displays, on and on and on.

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    St. Petersburg: The State Hermitage Museum

    Heidi is on her way to Russia right now, or at least really soon, and I am sitting here at her desk being very jealous. She gets to visit St. Petersburg, and the Hermitage, where Sokurov made my favorite film of all time, Russian Ark. The films spirals through Russian history as though through a dream, never stopping, never staying in one place. The camera work itself is a feat: the film was shot in one take, with a steadycam, a cast of hundreds, the entire Hermitage as the set, and three live orchestras. Particularly affecting are the depictions of Catherine the Great as an aging queen, still spry enough to take a run through her snow-covered gardens with a courtier supporting her, and the scene from the Second World War, with all the frames empty and on the floor, the great rooms dark and bare.

    The Director of the Hermitage ordered everything packed up during World War II and shipped off to safety. The frames remained, however, as a sign to the Germans that Russia would be back to display the glory of its gallery once again. Debra Dean chronicles this devastating time in Russian history in her novel The Madonnas of Leningrad. In the book, Marina, a young docent at the Hermitage, helps to pack the paintings and other pieces away; at the same time, she takes daily walks through the empty rooms, remembering by sheer force of will the pictures that once hung on the walls. She is drawn to the Madonnas in particular; I, on the other hand, wish I could see in person Fragonard's The Stolen Kiss, or any of the Poussin paintings they hold. More than that, I simply wish I sould walk those halls and see the mouldings, the staircases, the gardens.

    I'll most likely never make it to Russia, and that saddens me to no end.

    Today on Flickr

    Castles are cool. So are monks.

    Sunday, October 29, 2006

    Film: La Reine Margot.

    A beautiful and stunning film about Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Catherine de'Medici and wife of the King of Navarre, Henri de Bourbon. Isabelle Adjani stars alongside Jean-Hugues Anglade and Vincent Perez. The film is based on the book by Alexandre Dumas, and while it isn't necessarily historically accurate, it is a delight and a terror. Margot's love affair with La Môle begins only days before the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, and they find themselves endangered by both their love and their stations in life. Adjani is almost too beautiful to stand, as usual; Perez is too, this time around (unlike what I thought of him in Indochine). But truly, I enjoyed this film for its unarguably French style--Dumas was a master, I am now discovering.

    The romantic and historical blend enticingly, and I'm fascinated by what happened in France after this. Henri de Bourbon became King of France when Margot's brother, Henri III, died. The line of Bourbon kings were pretty much adored by the French, ruling from 1589 until the French Revolution in 1792, and even again briefly afterwards. It was a tradition to cut out the heart of a Bourbon king upon his death, and place it in a special coffer. Not until Louis XV did this stop, and most likely only then because he ended his reign known as le Bien-Hai, the Well-Hated.

    La Reine Margot
    directed by Patrice Chéreau, 1994

    Saturday, October 28, 2006

    Excerpt: The Book of the Courtesans.

    Although it is clear that the courtesan would need to have carnal knowledge, what has not always been so evident is the profound nature of what she knew. The realm of sexual pleasure is also the realm of the psyche. To love or be loved, to touch, feel pleasure, passion, ecstasy, to surrender and release engages every human faculty, not sensual adroitness alone but intelligence of every kind. As well as being willing to give pleasure, a good lover must be sensitive and aware, registering what kind of touch, for instance, on which part of the body arouses desire, knowing which mood calls for a robust approach, which moment requiresgentleness, able to laugh or tease while at the same time probing both the mind and body of the loved one for gateways to greater feeling.

    The desire to give pleasure is, however, not the only motive. The deepest ardor of the lover is the desire to know the beloved: to test, feel, see, taste, smell, witness every response, every shade of sensation. In this sense, it is right that Venus as well as courtesans should so often be depicted with mirrors. In recognizing even the subtlest desires of the beloved or in answering these desires with a delicate precision, the lover is providing a mirror for what the beloved feels. The beloved feels known, even ravished, by this intense reflection. And, in turn, the one who is loved feels an echoing need to know, because being a lover as well as the beloved, the desire is to please by knowledge, even know all that can be known at once.

    The urge to consume knowledge can be consuming in itself. Though in an afternoon of lovemaking desire may arc and come to fruition, the desire to know is inexhaustible. The wish is for an impossible thoroughness, a complete union between the knower and the known. Yet as Tullia D'Aragona, an Italian courtesan born at the beginning of the sixteenth century, has written, "...Because it is not possible for human bodies to be physically merged into one another, the lover can never achieve this longing."

    --Susan Griffin (2001)

    Today on Wikipedia

    I learned that Scarlett Johansson will be playing Mary Boleyn in a 2007 film called The Other Boleyn Girl. The film is based on a novel by Phillipa Gregory, which has received some rahter negative reviews. Natalie Portman will play Anne, the more famous of the two sisters.

    Mary is barely known now, though she was the mistress of Henry VIII, who had her sister executed in 1536.