sovay: (Rotwang)
My brain feels more and more like a blank screen every day—the kind belonging to an old cathode-ray television, where the program snaps off with a diminishing zap. I dreamed last night of reading and discussing a famous novel retelling Ariadne and Theseus in a historical context, rather like Mary Renault's The King Must Die (1958), except that Ariadne was a trans woman. It was nothing especially unusual in the archaeological record of Minoan civilization in my dream.

I am reading this article about the virility of fascism and all I can think is that the first time I saw a photograph of Richard Spencer—the one featured in the profile by Mother Jones, reproduced in the article—"dapper" was one of the very last words to come to my mind. He was not remarkably beautiful. He did not wear his suit and tie with a particular grace. Perhaps he has a magnetism in action that only comes out in voice and movement, but since his most famous public appearance to date involves some Hitler saluting (that he now desires to retcon as "fun and exuberance," as if it is somehow excusable to throw the most unmistakable gesture of Nazi allegiance since 1926 if you do it out of sheer buoyant enthusiasm, like spontaneously embracing a stranger in a crowd rather than telling a racist joke at a party to gauge what else the guests will let you get away with), I suspect I am already immune to it. I am used to disagreeing with both pop culture and people I know about the respective beauty of all kinds of public figures; I can't even remember how old I was the first time one of my peers thought it was weird and alien for me not to have a crush on an actor everyone else had unanimously declared hot. My interest in people's bodies follows as it always has from my interest in their selves, so if you are a neo-Nazi, everything below the waist is kaput. Nonetheless, it remains curious to me that even if I look at Spencer aesthetically, I can't see him as anything special. He does not even trip my "interesting face" meter. What are journalists seeing when they talk about his physical appeal? Is it literally just a combination of whiteness, maleness, and semi-symmetrical features? This is the kind of question that makes me feel alien to ask, but so does watching a lot of human behavior; this just more than most.

I finally got hold of the soundtrack for Pride (2014) and now I can't get several hits of the '80's out of my head. Michael Cisco enthusiastically recommended me Frankie Goes to Hollywood at Readercon this summer and he was right.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
So, our anniversary. It was good.

We did not make it to a museum for the afternoon as originally planned, but we spent a nice hour browsing the Million Year Picnic and then we walked up through the already icing streets to dinner at Waypoint. The restaurant is new since the summer, located on Mass. Ave. right where the last landmarks of Harvard Square begin to transition into the outskirts of Central; we had passed by it before, mostly noting its separate sub-menu of absinthe cocktails with names like "Storm Clouds" and "Riding High" and the green-black aquarium blur of its interior at night, a kind of glassy drowned shimmer beyond the double doors. The menu advertised "coastally inspired fare." We didn't know how much of an understatement that was. We arrived dressed to match the decor in our own formal greens and blacks, [ profile] derspatchel wearing the Navy shirt that belonged once to [ profile] nineweaving's father. We were shown past an alcove where a salvaged sign for Russell's Bar flashed the neon outline of a hooked perch into the main dining area, all wood-plank and wave-white marble and brushed steel, ice glittering under the oysters on the raw bar, bell-glass lamps clustering like jellyfish from the beams overhead. The pots of ferns and grasses at the edge of the open kitchen gave it a look of dunes or tidepools. Across the far wall tiled in black and slate-grey and blue, a second enormous fish-sign bent like a dolphin in a mosaic, steadily green-shining "Au Nid du Doré." Everything swam. We ate the sea.

With minnows in my belly and dank in my veins. )

If you have any aversion to seafood, this is not the restaurant for you. The house-baked breads were all oceanic: salt black with squid ink, tart-flecked with seaweed, pungent with colatura di alici—the closest thing to garum in Italy these days—with a moray-colored smear of smoked seaweed butter around the rim of the plate and a little pot of chunky, garlicky anchovy dip topped with walnuts, which were the only thing left by the time the plate was taken away. The oysters came from Maine and Massachusetts, so sea-sweet that I drank the brine out of their shells. My cocktail was called the Ocean Flor, but got away with it by being (a) delicious (b) made with nori gin and absinthe and generally tasting as well as looking like something I should have been drinking out of my sand-cracked onion bottle salvaged from a seventeenth-century shipwreck. Snails came glistering dark on top of a split marrow bone, earthy and meat-buttered, with more seaweed sourdough for scraping out the bone with. There was trout roe pearling the steak tartare, popping a slippery savor into the clean cool beef; the soft-boiled egg halved beside the toast was superfluous. Rob ordered a cocktail that tasted of wet earth and gardens, like coming suddenly ashore; I cannot regret trying the house sangaree with madeira and nutmeg molasses even if it was much sweeter than my usual taste in drinks because it set off a round of quoting Flanders and Swann. The real umamibomb was the squid ink gemelli, even richer and darker than the crusty bread, garnished with pale strips of swordfish lardo—which I am pretty sure is fancy for swordfish belly lox and now my hands-down favorite preparation of a fish I have always considered essentially boring—and a thick mixed crumble of smoked ham, pine nuts, and pecorino. Dessert was cinnamon-sugar donuts with coffee ganache (I did not touch those) and a pear and fig crostata served warm under sesame ice cream (all mine). We were unable to resist the lure of the double-sided absinthe menu and finished with a louched glass each, in Rob's case Jade 1901, in mine Butterfly. I am delighted if bemused by the idea of pre-Prohibition Boston absinthe. Afterward we walked down Putnam to Magazine Street and then to the river, crossing the Charles at the Weeks Bridge and then back again via the Anderson Memorial Bridge. We saw a lot of cat-ice and Canada geese. The Red Line to Davis and the 88 home were surprisingly on time.

And this morning I had a doctor's appointment at a painfully early hour, compounded by not having slept more than three hours after overheating and waking at five-thirty and being unable to fall back asleep before it was time to get out of bed, and I have spent most of the day feeling jet-lagged while still needing to make lots of phone calls and catch up on work, but that was still as sea-full an anniversary as I have gotten without time by the ocean itself. Worth it.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
Today is my third anniversary with [ profile] derspatchel. It's all melted by now, but this morning was the first snow of the season. It has been in many to most respects a terrible year. We are still here and we are going to do something to celebrate it.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
This cat picture is not mine; it comes courtesy of of [ profile] teenybuffalo, who found it on Tumblr:


I was prepared to love this image despite its likely origin as an outsider's sendup of the suffrage movement, but then it turned out to have been an actual suffragette Christmas card, which is even better. [ profile] derspatchel says he can see "Hestia marching, festooned with violets, hoisting a banner aloft with her tail, ready to pounce on any police resistance." Mice and roses, they sing. Mice and roses.

(The actual song "Bread and Roses" causes me to tear up for reasons I do not entirely understand, because I cannot remember ever singing it as a child or communally, but it turned up as a spontaneous and formal expression of workers' solidarity in a scene in Pride (2014) and I disintegrated.)
sovay: (Rotwang)
Today I got my contributor's copy of Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction, edited by A.M. Dellamonica and Steve Berman. I am really pleased about this anthology and the inclusion of "When Can a Broken Glass Mend?" in it. I am looking forward to reading a lot of lesbian fiction tonight.

Also today, parts of East Cambridge were on fire. My mother and I ran an errand unknowingly on the periphery of the area around five o'clock in the evening—power out for blocks, fire hydrants open, blue-and-red emergency lights flashing everywhere. We assumed fire, but were not in a position to see flames and must have been upwind of the smoke, because otherwise I think I would have noticed it on the street. We thought perhaps a transformer had blown. I texted [ profile] derspatchel when I got back in the car and heard different. So far no one appears to have died, but dozens have been displaced and homes destroyed; firefighters and other first responders were coming from Arlington, Newton, Wakefield, Chelsea, miles. The Mayor of Cambridge has set up a fire relief fund, now accepting checks and online donations. I did not know there were such things as ten-alarm fires.

A few days ago I wrote to the Forward to express my disappointment in their otherwise fluff piece about the favorite kosher recipes of the Trump-Kushner family, because I don't care if Ivanka and Jared keep a kosher kitchen, the Forward has no business treating them like just another celebrity couple, and now it turns out the broccoli kugel recipe featured on Ivanka's website wasn't even hers and I just want to talk about why people are referring to this wholly unnecessary episode as "Kugelgate" because when I look at a panful of baked eggs, light mayonnaise, and broccoli, I might think "Frittata?" and also ". . . ew," but definitely not kugel. Are there noodles? Is there cheese? Do you want to step outside about the raisins? It's not kugel!

(I didn't know I had opinions about kugel, but it turns out I really do. I may have to make some in order to cope.)

These are the three political pieces that have stuck with me the most recently: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About," Moira Weigel's "Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy," and Masha Gessen's "Trump: The Choice We Face." I am not entirely sure how to classify the story of Heinrich Steinmeyer, but it is also sticking with me. It does sound like a YA novel. Sometimes that happens to people's lives. Anyway, now-dead one-time actual Nazi still behaving more classily than my country's president-elect.

I am not sleeping almost at all. I would like to write about things.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Unrelated things of a Friday turning into Saturday—

1. While I just wanted to get out of the basement of the Harvard Book Store as fast as possible to get away from the man who took a book out of my hand in order to replace it on the shelf—without either speaking to me or making eye contact, while I was in the process of putting it back myself—I really appreciated my husband's offer to go back to the comics section and either smack wildly at the shelves with a large heavy paperback while shouting "IF ONLY SOMEONE COULD HELP ME PUT BOOK BACK!" or strike a coy pose and teasingly slide the book in and out, in and out between its fellows.

(I got out with a very cheap, very good copy of Iain Sinclair's Edge of the Orison (2005), however, so I won.)

2. So Breitbart is currently urging war on Kellogg's for pulling their advertising from the website and Penzeys is beautifully not backing down on their political talk. I foresee a lot of Ceylon cinnamon Rice Krispie treats in my future.

([ profile] derspatchel: "Oh, and clove, and cardamom, and lemon extract . . .")

3. Tonight Autolycus climbed the refrigerator and then threw up off the top of it. I feel he has struck a blow for cat undergraduates everywhere.

(Still better than the brief, tragic reign of Emperor Poopfoot IV.)
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
I woke up from a dream of writing a chapter which began, "The first movie I ever saw by Derek Jarman was The Ascension." Which isn't true, first because that was Caravaggio (1986) and second because The Ascension doesn't exist, but I had an incredibly clear image of a still from the film: a blue sky running into a blue sea with heavy white clouds on the horizon so that the figure standing at the tide-line appeared to be set in the sky, wearing a bird-beaked mask and a broad hat with long, blue-black plumes and a kind of Renaissance-classical drapery around its hips. I couldn't tell if it was male or female or if it mattered. There were little hints of gilding all around its edges, but they were just from the slant of the sun. It was either an angel or a person who had become one. Because of Jarman, I want to say that the object between its hands was a mirror, but I honestly can't remember either way.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
Rabbit, rabbit. I would love for this to be a good month, but I am feeling really weird about the future right now.

Today was centrally characterized by a doctor's appointment, but afterward I had late lunch with [ profile] derspatchel and my mother at Mamaleh's and discovered (a) they will make you a tongue and chopped liver sandwich if you ask for it (b) a tongue and chopped liver sandwich may be one of my favorite things on a plate. Then I came home and discovered that [personal profile] yhlee had sent me, as an early Christmas present, a deck of Dame Darcy's Mermaid Tarot. I liked the fish-tailed Fool, leaping through a hoop off a cliff into the sea, but I love the drowned sea-captain of the Emperor holding the frozen wheel with a mermaid's hand clasped over his own, the scallop-shelled Chariot drawn by two dolphins, the Wheel of Fortune which is a ship's wheel with a bird-winged siren in the clouds above it (two different kinds of sphinx and a wyvern below), the Hanged Man in his sailor's bell-bottoms and white cap dangling from the yard like an acrobat. Death in tattered pirate's regalia rides a seahorse, flies a flag whose device is a compass rose made from bones, a blue-lipped sailor in chains leaves a bubble trail beneath them. The Tower is toppling in a tsunami. The Moon shows an emerald-scaled, silver-haired mermaid from behind as she dances with her hands to the full moon, black-and-green tentacles swaying from the waves to match her movements. The suits are just as good as the arcana. The King of Cups is dressed like a Roman general of the seafloor, toasting a dolphin which holds another goblet of red wine between its jaws. The Ace of Pentacles wears strings of pearls, starfish in her hair, the five-pointed star disk in her hands as she muses over a table of live shells and fish and seahorses. The Four of Swords apppears to depict a woman staked down in a waving kelp bed. The Five of Wands is an oar battle between as many mermaids. I had been familiar with Dame Darcy's work primarily from the endpapers and illustrations from Caitlín R. Kiernan's In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers (2002); something about the composition and coloring of the Tarot images makes them resemble tattoos as much as anything. The mermaids are of various ethnicities. There are tridents. It's good stuff.

I feel like I've been reading nothing but political news for days, even though it isn't true; at present I am enjoying Heathcote Williams' Forbidden Fruit (2011), a collection of plainspoken, political poems on scientific themes, I bought it for the title poem about Alan Turing and I regret nothing, and Deborah Cadbury's Princes at War (2015), whose American edition better have won a prize for dramatic subtitling—The Bitter Battle Inside Britain's Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII—but which is actually very good and providing me with a lot of information I didn't know, even if occasionally I want to reassure the author that I will understand the gravity of the situations even if she dials back the pitch of her prose. I think I am saving Mick LaSalle's Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man (2002) as comfort reading for some future date.

I am reading a lot of political news, though. This journal would turn into nothing but links if I tried to discuss all of it right now. (Most of it's terrible! The phlebotomist I saw this afternoon likened the next month and two-thirds to the last palmy days of the Cretaceous before the extinction event. Then I think he was worried he had upset me, which was not the case. It was an apocalyptic comparison I had not heard before.) Thing I am still thinking about a couple of days later: while different news sources decide how to handle the use of the term "alt-right," it does interest me that the catalyzing event for committed self-identification or distancing appears to have been the Nazi salutes. I guess that iconography is not as totally denatured as I had feared. That makes it worse that so many people now unironically appear to embrace it.

The HFA has put up a page for the series Busby Berkeley Babylon (it is not the HFA's fault that my brain automatically substitutes Bloom County Babylon), with descriptions of each film. I appreciate the synopses that warn for blackface, having occasionally been unpleasantly surprised. (Swing Time (1936)! Fred Astaire, wanting to perform a tribute to seminal rhythm tap dancer—and your one-time teacher—John William Sublett was a wonderful idea. Your decision to perform it in blackface could have used some work!) I am also strangely pleased that their attempt to grapple critically with The Gang's All Here (1943) starts out reasonably enough and then disintegrates into appropriately Lovecraftian raving: "The mundane, ubiquitous polka dots have become stars, existing not just in the sky but everywhere on Planet Berkeley." I am so looking forward to seeing this movie again.

I like this visual poem: Fatimah Asghar and Eve L. Ewing, "From."
sovay: (Claude Rains)
So I spent most of today feeling like a damp rag, which in combination with the chill and the pouring rain and the early dark meant I did not make it to the protest at the Kennedy School, but after making dinner with [ profile] derspatchel (chowder and biscuits) I actually got out of the house for the Somerville Democratic City Committee's meeting with Mayor Curtatone, which was great. The turnout was impressive for a cold rainy weeknight, with a visible range of ages and ethnicities in the audience; I took over five pages of notes and got to talk to the mayor himself twice, once while I was signing in beforehand (I hadn't realized I was expected to RSVP, but did not mind leaving my name and ward on a clipboard), once afterward with [ profile] rushthatspeaks. I think I was running a fever the entire time, but I don't think I hallucinated that we have an ethical and responsive mayor who said firmly things like "Now is the time to double down on who we are, on humanity, civility, compassion" and "I promise you, we will take no part in breaking up families, rousting people from their homes" and encouraged everyone in the audience to become involved in their community, in local politics, and in the active aid and protection of their neighbors. He talked about the "broken system" of immigration and the myths that surround the ongoing refugee crisis: "Don't let the lie become the truth about why people come to this country, what they're escaping and our role in it." He thought it was perfectly possible for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and/or the City of Boston to futz around with the Green Line Extension to the point of delaying its completion indefinitely, but not for Trump to kill it. I really appreciated his readiness to admit when he didn't have a handy answer or when one of his constituents was asking for something the city was still working on or hadn't yet figured out how to implement. I'm also fine with his philosophy of planning for the worst and then working overtime to make sure things don't slip that far. Rush-That-Speaks asked afterward how the City of Somerville was handling Trump's threat to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities and he responded without hesitation that even if Trump managed to yank the $6 million in question out of the city's annual budget, it would find ways to fund the necessary programs itself; Somerville would not abandon its people or let itself be blackmailed. He talked about his parents, who were themselves immigrants from Italy; he mentioned that his own first language was not English. He slightly has the politician's tendency of hitting on a resonant phrase and using it repeatedly, but he didn't talk in ruts. The thing where he's been mayor of Somerville for six and a half consecutive terms now makes sense to me. I would definitely vote for him over even an ethical artichoke if he ran for governor, but if he just stayed mayor, I would be okay with that, too.
sovay: (Rotwang)
I thought I was over this weekend's illness, but then I walked home from Union Square in the rain this evening and I was wrong. Assuming I do not feel like a damp rag tomorrow, I am still planning on the afternoon's protest, which is proceeding despite the withdrawal of Steve Bannon on the grounds that having Kellyanne Conway speak at the conference as if she were just another campaign manager is one of those things that is not normal and should not be treated as such, and then if I continue to be mobile, I would like to hear what Mayor Curtatone has to say about Somerville in the age of Trump; in general he has said pretty awesome things in the past. So that will be a very political day. Or I'll feel terrible and get to neither of these things and will find something else to do with my time. On account of the ACLU having matching donations today, I gave them money. That's something a person can do while stationary.

In straight-up good news, Jane Yolen has been named the newest Damon Knight Grand Master of SFWA. Her Commander Toad in Space (1980) was not the first non-picture book I read as a child, but it's one of the earliest I can remember and I loved it decades before I got any of the in-jokes. Sister Light, Sister Dark (1989) and White Jenna (1990) shaped a lot of the ways I think about narrative (and almost certainly influenced me to study archery at the earliest possible opportunity, along with T.H. White and various retellings of Robin Hood). I don't believe The Devil's Arithmetic (1988) was the first Holocaust literature I read, but since I associate it with third or fourth grade, it must have been early. The film of Merlin and the Dragons (1991) was definitely one of my formative pieces of Arthuriana. And I get to say all of this while she's alive, which is the really nice part. The thing where I have poetry in some of the same magazines she does still blows my mind.

I really like these photographs.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
That moment when you put on the Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl" to get it out of your head (where it got stuck via the transitive property of "The Great Boston Molasses Flood" after reading the recent research about the molasses flood in question) and then, because of the way your iTunes is organized, realize a few songs later that you are listening to Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of World War II Jewish Resistance and, all right, you probably love Hirsh Glik rather more than the next person thanks to beta-reading A Verse from Babylon more than ten years ago, but don't you think he would have been all right with anti-fascist songs not being so directly relevant again? Yes, I know he didn't write "Yid, du partizaner"—that was Shmerke Kaczerginski—but he's got two songs on the album and "Zog nit keyn mol" is still on mental rotation. This even before I found out that a protest to which I am strongly thinking of going on Wednesday has a Jewish resistance faction. That's cool. (Even if I can tell I am not their target demographic by the fact that I didn't type it out "#JewishResistance" because it makes no sense to me to use hashtags in contexts where they do not actually function as metadata.) I hope somebody has already made a golem sign. These days I am rather in favor of golems that protect as many kinds of marginalized people as needed.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
So it turns out that the reason I felt horrible yesterday and fell over before two in the morning was not only that I hadn't slept at all the previous night, but that I was (and am) actually sick. Congestion, aches, coughing, sneezing, exhaustion, the whole barrel of amusements. I woke briefly when [ profile] derspatchel left for work and somewhat later when Autolycus slithered out from under the covers and circled around to headbutt and purr at me and otherwise gently encourage me out of bed, which I think is going to last only so long as it takes me to pay some bills.

I dreamed of visiting a friend who lived in an apartment building like some dormitories I have known, all dark paneling and leaded-glass windows and built-in shelves. I can remember reading and writing poems in the dream, but I cannot remember how that led to exorcising the ghosts that lived in most of the rooms—Jewish ghosts, but not dybbuks, because they weren't in anyone so much as the books and the doors and the walls. I spoke to them in better Yiddish than I know when I'm awake. I sang to them, a lot, even though my voice is destroyed and will never again work the way I trained it since the time I was eight or twelve and I have lost that most essential part of myself for the rest of my time trapped in this body which I do not want to call a life. I didn't think the ghosts went anywhere, but I thought they liked to be spoken to. The tenants claimed to have fewer problems with them after that. It's a happier ending than Marcin Wrona's Demon (2015), anyway. I wish I could remember the poems I had written.

Apparently there are still major American Jewish leaders arguing that we should give Trump a chance. That his continued defense of Bannon is noise rather than signal, that it is immaterial that his election was celebrated by honest-to-God neo-Nazis who throw Hitler salutes and shout Nazi jargon like it's an in-joke (and whom it is a hugely wishful exaggeration to say that Trump disavowed), that it's no big deal that the explosion of hate crimes post-election includes plenty of swastikas and anti-Semitism, which personally I would have thought was exactly the sort of thing to pique people's self-interest where compassion or fear for other kinds of human being in distress and danger are patently failing. Personally I think it is beside the point whether Bannon himself is a swastika-drawing, slur-shouting anti-Semite or merely willing to encourage and promote the hatefulness of those who are in order to accrue political power, just as I wouldn't start feeling suddenly better about Trump if it could be proven that he wasn't actually a howling racist himself, he just employed and empowered them. The voices you choose to amplify are just as important as the one you speak with. There is a point where the-enemy-of-the-enemy-is-my-friend passes through necessity into delusion and I think we sailed past it when anyone Jewish voted for a man who stole his second most famous campaign slogan from Charles Lindbergh, but then again I don't send money to AIPAC and I'm pretty unimpressed with the Jewish American Congress right now. I am much more in favor of the people with signs like "JEWS AGAINST ANTISEMITISM <— Why is this a thing that we have to say??" Or, as [ profile] ron_newman says, "BE THE GOLEM."

Oh, and where generations of CIA plots failed, apparently 2016 killed Fidel Castro. Good grief.

If you want something nice, here are some Etruscan girls playing knucklebones and eec poetry's "Revenge," both courtesy of [ profile] handful_ofdust. In writing news that pertains to me and other people, An Alphabet of Embers is not only now available as an e-book, it is on sale through the end of tomorrow. And you may wish to listen to this Woody Guthrie mixtape. I am especially enjoying the version of "This Land Is Your Land" performed by Odetta with narration by Will Geer, because it is not at all irrelevant these days to hear a black woman and a queer man asserting their rights to the country they live in. Also, it's just a pretty great version.

I seem to have talked to the internet (and cleaned the catbox, because Hestia was giving me the sad eye) instead of paying bills. Excuse me while I do that and then pass back out.
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
After weeks of accelerating insomnia, I did not sleep at all last night and everything hurts. This is not at all the post I planned to make today, but it has just come to my attention and you will see in a moment why it requires sharing.

Boston-area people! Do you remember that time four years ago when I went to New York City to see Busby Berkeley's inexpressibly batshit Technicolor musical The Gang's All Here (1943) with [ profile] derspatchel and [ profile] rushthatspeaks and [ profile] ladymondegreen and came home raving about Edward Everett Horton's lipstick and Carmen Miranda's tutti-frutti hat? The HFA will be screening this film in early December as part of what looks like a buttload of Busby Berkeley. I'll link to the series page when it becomes available, but for now I wish to point out that the list of available titles includes not just mainstays like 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), but non-musical oddities like Fast and Furious (1938), non-musical dramas like They Made Me a Criminal (1939), and the rest of the Gold Diggers series up through Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), which is the one I haven't seen. Do I think Roman Scandals (1933) with Eddie Cantor will be any good in the usual sense of the word? Do I care? One of these movies is just called Dames (1934). If it wouldn't give me a migraine, I would be strongly inclined to park myself in the front row like Wittgenstein with a couple of cold pork pies and just watch the Technicolor go by for weeks. As I have some sense of sociopolitical responsibility (and not that much money) and don't actually want a migraine, I will probably just bring the pork pie in honor of Carmen Miranda and sit at the back of the theater like usual, but I hope that many of you will join me. The Gang's All Here is really very difficult to explain. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.
sovay: (Default)
Every time I have tried to write about a movie lately, something else politically awful has happened and eaten my time and attention; then there has been life to deal with and no chance to catch up on sleep. On the assumption that this pattern is not likely to change any time soon, here's a movie anyway.

In the spring of 1817, a young woman was discovered wandering the village of Almondsbury in Gloucestershire. Her dress was outlandish, her manners graceful but obviously foreign. She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, attractive and expressive. She appeared neither disoriented nor unintelligent, but she did not react when addressed in English, except to the speaker's gestures and tones of voice. No one understood the language she spoke. She was briefly jailed in Bristol for vagrancy, retrieved by the wife of the same unimpressed magistrate who had sent her away. Eventually, through a combination of pantomime, interpretation, and the imaginative assistance of her listeners, the mysterious stranger made it understood that she was a daughter of the king of Javasu near Sumatra, stolen from her native island and sold into slavery by pirates; having been traded ship to ship across the oceans, she had finally escaped by jumping overboard while off the coast of England and made her way alone across the countryside, eventually fetching up in Almondsbury. She could write in her native language and demonstrated its characters, which looked a little like Chinese and a little like Greek and a lot like nothing ever before seen in England. She observed a vegetarian, teetotal diet and prayed daily to her monotheistic God, whom she addressed as "Alla-Tallah." She liked to practice archery, fence, and dance. From the start, she called herself by the name of "Caraboo." Residing for ten weeks with Samuel and Elizabeth Worrall at Knole Park, Princess Caraboo became something more than a nine days' wonder, especially after experts in the languages and culture of the East Indies were unable to break her story—the more she was studied, in fact, the more convincing her presentation became. She became the latest craze of fashionable society, receiving visitors in Bath, sitting for portraits in Bristol; articles about her were published and republished in the local papers, at which point her description was recognized and the exotic fantasia collapsed. In reality, "Princess Caraboo" was the confabulation of twenty-five-year-old Mary Baker from Witheridge in Devonshire, an itinerant serving girl with a quick ear for languages and a genius for theater. She had fabricated the customs of her country from sailors' tales, travel books, and free-floating Orientalism; her imperious, flowing foreign tongue was a mixture of Malay, English Romani, and her own invented language. She had taken everyone—scholars, adventurers, high society—in. Unpunished by the law despite the seriousness of her offence, still fêted by her public despite the reveal of her deception, the ex-princess took passage for America at the end of the summer. The fullest contemporary account of her imposture was written and published later that year by John Mathew Gutch of Bristol as Caraboo: A Narrative of a Singular Imposition, and almost two centuries later it formed the basis for the script of Michael Austin's Princess Caraboo (1994), which [ profile] derspatchel and I watched over the weekend.

The film is a romanticized version of the story, but not, it turns out, in ways that I mind. Rather than relying on is-she-or-isn't-she ambiguity for its narrative pull, the script wisely opts for lightly observed social satire, treating Caraboo's effect on the surrounding cast as a kind of Rorschach of their characters and Regency England in general. Kind-hearted, discontented Mrs. Worrall (Wendy Hughes) is captivated by the romance and mystery of Caraboo's plight, adopting her guest's taste in brightly patterned calicos and sparking a fad for turbans and bangles among her social set; her efforts to make the princess feel at home include redecorating rooms in a lavish silken style and flying a homemade gold-and-crimson flag over Knole Park as if it were the Javasu embassy. Nouveau riche banker Mr. Worrall (Jim Broadbent) has less imagination than a radish and a lot higher alcohol content and can't believe the deference his wife is extending to some weird vagabond in breeches with her hair tied up in a scarf, but even he isn't too slow to cotton on to the lucrative business opportunities presented by close acquaintance with an authentic princess of the Spice Islands. To the sour magistrate Haythorne (Roger Lloyd-Pack), all foreigners are vagrants and wastrels and not understanding the language in which a trial is conducted is no object to receiving a sentence from the court; to the jaded Lord and Lady Apthorpe (Peter Eyre and Jacqueline Pearce), a foreigner this quaint and beautiful is a diversion worthy of presenting to the Prince Regent (John Sessions! We drove ourselves crazy trying to recognize him until the credits). Kevin Kline gets a chance to exercise both his Greek accent and his air of weary condescension as the snippy butler who has the newcomer judged as a fraud right up until the moment she bites him for trying to look up her skirts. John Lithgow briefly and piercingly steals his scenes as a supercilious philologist who comes from Oxford to debunk Caraboo and leaves with both his assumptions and his heart in pieces. At the center of all of their fascination is the princess herself, like a cipher of the Orient that none of them have ever seen but everyone knows when they see it. Here the film has a great asset in Phoebe Cates, who I understand is extremely famous for some teen movies I've never seen. As both Caraboo and her creator, she is almost never offscreen and for much of the runtime has the difficult job of holding the audience's interest and sympathy while being almost opaque to interpretation—the script is not constructed to tip its hand any sooner than history did. The actress' ability to look the part with her dark, delicate looks and her lightly folded eyes, her unapologetic carriage and her startling dazzle of a smile would count for nothing if she were actually a blank. Instead, in every interaction, we realize that behind the attentive gravity that is her most common expression we can always see her thinking; what we can't see is whether we're watching a fish out of privileged water working to comprehend an entire new culture on the fly or a con artist calculating her next strategic move. When she weeps at a performance of Schubert's Trio No. 1 in B-flat major, the emotion is naked and unfeigned and tells us nothing about the nature of the woman with tears on her cheeks except that she's got good taste in piano trios, even anachronistic ones. She can't be what she claims. No real person from the Indonesian archipelago would so match in every particular the English fancy of an "Oriental princess." So then what is she?

That's the line of inquiry pursued by the film's version of J. M. Gutch, played by Stephen Rea as narrator, adversary, and eventual co-protagonist of Caraboo's story. He's the script's greatest departure from history, although I can see how he evolved from the admiring tone of the real Gutch's narrative, which the film uses to bookend its action. An Irish printer and journalist for Felix Farley's Bristol Journal—"none too successful financially and, I will admit, none too fortunate in love, either"—he's taking notes in the gallery when Caraboo comes up before the assizes for vagrancy; he asks a snarky question, gets a prompt snub, and is left curiously touched and intrigued by a woman he's seen for all of five minutes, standing straight-backed despite her chains with all the poise of royalty waiting for some tiresome but requisite ceremony to be over. At first the Worralls want nothing to do with him, especially since his paper has been publishing what Mr. Worrall blusterously considers libels about his bank; presently an appeal to their Christian charity, not to mention his ability to publicize it, wins them over sufficiently for an audience with the princess. The viewer may recognize him as a danger. He's suspicious and he's smart. He cuts a nice ambiguous figure among the brightly dressed gentry, conspicuously out of fashion in his black coat that doesn't show the ink; his disheveled dark hair gives him the initially misleading air of a Romantic poet rather than the put-upon publisher Coleridge can't be bothered to pay. It's a good part for Rea's lanky slouch and wry deadpan—he's a bruised romantic in a cynic's trade, a boy who dreamed of far-off islands with names like poetry grown up into a man who makes his living from muckraking and monotony, disillusioned with himself and resigned to it. "As a journalist," he comments with stinging prescience, "I know people will believe two things—what they read in the newspapers and what they want to believe. And that's the way of the world." Predictably, he's soon as obsessed with the elusive Caraboo as the rest of the countryside, but with a lovely twist: surrounded by people who have staked their self-images, their social success, and even their financial futures on the truth of a stolen princess from the far side of the world, Gutch wants her to be a fraud, not because he resents her impersonation or even because it will make a better story for his paper, but because he's enchanted with the idea of "an ordinary girl with an extraordinary imagination," tricky and clever enough to reinvent herself as exotic royalty, take the ton by storm, and make her social betters pay through the nose for the privilege. He was never that brave himself. But he has to know, either way, and so we watch his investigations progress as Caraboo's star rises in society, culminating in an all-night fancy-dress ball at which she dances till dawn with the Prince Regent while Gutch, who wouldn't be invited dead to a party of this quality, gate-crashes recklessly in hopes of making her understand that what he can discover, others will soon learn, and rich people don't take well to being made fools of. He calls her by the name he believes she was born with. She gazes at him with wide, dark eyes and says nothing, in English or otherwise.

At times the performances are stronger than the script. It was co-written by the director with John Wells, who also contributes a supporting turn as the decent, credulous parson who first brings Caraboo to the Worralls' attention; it has some nonfatal but noticeable trouble finding its way to the right ending, and while its broad jabs at English hypocrisy generally land ("And as Christians, we are taught, 'Blessed are the merciful'"–"Rubbish!"), its attempts to highlight the harsh social conditions behind its narrative of glittering imposture meet with only partial success. The score doesn't help—pace Richard Hartley and his fine work with Richard O'Brien, it's Hollywood fairy tale where a more period sound might have grounded things better. Maybe I've just developed an allergy to the celesta. Fortunately, the movie fires on all cylinders exactly where it needs to, and that is its deft and steady skewering of Orientalism. I really need to read more postcolonial theory.

There you are; here I am. )

I am sorry that I missed this film in theaters; the only extant DVD has been formatted to fullscreen and in addition to all the spatial and character information that gets lost when that happens, there are some lovely shots that I suspect would have really benefited from 1.85:1 Technicolor, like a dockside view of Bristol Harbour that even on my computer looks like an early nineteenth century painting. Freddie Francis did the cinematography and it's not like The Elephant Man (1980) looked amazing or anything. It furthers my affection for Stephen Rea, whom I honestly think I encountered for the first time in the script of Brian Friel's Translations (1980); it makes me wonder what else Phoebe Cates might have done if she had not retired from acting after Princess Caraboo; it never loses its theme even when the plot occasionally wobbles. It would double-feature quite handily with Charles Sturridge's FairyTale: A True Story (1997), another sweetly pointed period piece about fakery and narrative and belief that I missed in its first run. At this point I have movies like Busby Berkeley's Bright Lights (1935), Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934), John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven (1960), Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's The Most Dangerous Game (1932), and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (2016) on my conscience and would really like to get around to them sometime soon. Between the news and Thanksgiving, this week really disappeared. I am thankful that I got this thing written at all. This imposition brought to you by my imaginative backers at Patreon.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
If I were the kind of person who made macros, I would be making one right now with a shot of Ernie Hudson on top of the Shandor Building shouting, "CNN, when someone asks you if Jews are people, you say yes!"
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
My poem "The Process" has been accepted by Mithila Review. I am extremely happy about this sale; the magazine is a new market for me and their past issues have included such luminaries as Mary Anne Mohanraj, Shweta Narayan, Alyssa Wong, John Chu, Shveta Thakrar, Aliette de Bodard, Kij Johnson, Indrapramit Das, A.J. Odasso, Lavie Tidhar, and many more. This is the poem about Kafka which I read last week in Brooklyn (and if you want to see the livestream of the reading, by the way, it's up and free to view and I will try not to become automatically self-conscious about however I look or sound); it is slated to come out in January 2017. Whatever the world looks like then. In the meantime, damn it, art goes on.

P.S. In fact, I am reliably informed that Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction now exists in the wild. Pick up a copy! I can't wait for mine.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
Instead, being stupid tired, we watched the most recent episode of Comedy Central's Drunk History, "Landmarks," starring Taylor Schilling as Emily Roebling, Liev Schreiber as Victor Lustig, and John Cho as William Shakespeare—I recommend it unreservedly if you can get it to play. Afterward, [ profile] derspatchel had gone into the kitchen to refill my hot water mug when I heard him say with sudden serious urgency, "You have to come see this." He was right.

I swear I can remember telling my cat to get his butt out of somewhere and meaning it metaphorically. )

Autolycus is now more safely ensconced on the kitchen table, catloafed against Rob's laptop for warmth. I am going to wash a skillet and go to bed.
sovay: (I Claudius)
Plans to watch Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (2016) with my parents at the Somerville Theatre tonight were foiled by the evening showtime having sold out and my parents not being up for the late night. We may try again next weekend. It's just as well: I am feeling like a freight train ran me over. I know I've slept since returning from New York, but I really don't feel like it.

In political news, I called Governor Baker's office again this afternoon to remind him that while his cautions against "prejudging" the incoming administration were tone-deaf enough coming after Trump's appointment of Bannon, who wants to model his "economic nationalist movement" after Andrew Jackson's populism (because the Panic of 1837 was so good for the economy) and likens Trump to William Jennings Bryan (I guess on the anti-Black, anti-science front, I can see it) and apparently fancies himself as the new Thomas Cromwell (all the way down to the bill of attainder and execution without trial? Oh, God, now I've envisioned Trump as the late Henry and I can't make it stop. He's still three wives down), they sound downright ostrich-like now that Trump's pick for attorney general is a man whose racist comments kept Congress in the time of Reagan from confirming him as a federal judge and his idea of a CIA chief is a man who transparently lied about the American Muslim response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Baker counseled his constituents to "judge people on the totality of their work, on what they say, and how they pursue what they're up to." That's fine. The opinion I hold of Donald Trump, I have formed based on his words and his actions. If my state governor cannot bring himself to review the evidence similarly and commit to a conclusion, roll on the artichoke. Meanwhile, I need to call Mayor Curtatone's office and thank him for his pledges of continuing support for Somerville's immigrants. Positive feedback is also important.

(I am listening to a lot of Gogol Bordello lately, which is not surprising, but the last couple of days have also left me with Florence Reese's "Which Side Are You On?", which like most people of my generation I learned from Pete Seeger. Especially the stanza about there are no neutrals there.)

In non-political news, or at least political news of a different kind, my afternoon also contained b/w (2010), the first collection from Niall McDevitt, Irish-born poet and psychogeographer of London. He's very good. If you want a comparison, in style, concerns, and allusion his poems most remind me of H.D. circa Trilogy (1946) and Iain Sinclair almost any time, although less so when they're in Bislama, which I take as a tribute to Ken Campbell, in whose memory the collection is dedicated. McDevitt's London is a demotic jumble of ghosts, anachronisms, and magic, inter- and undercut with sardonic, often self-interrogating political observation. When he goes wrong for me, it's because he makes nationality too much of a metonym for the nation. Otherwise, [ profile] nineweaving might like his ideas about nettles, crows, and Shakespeare. Also, if you are interested in the reception and influence of Derek Jarman, you may want this book. The back cover includes—along with a thumbs-up from Patti Smith—a recommendation from Heathcote Williams, an activist and poet himself1 as well as an actor last seen by me as a near-definitive Prospero in Jarman's The Tempest (1976). The most formal poem in the book is a sestina entitled "Wittgenstein in Ireland," which at least for me was worth buying the collection to read; it is dedicated for Karl Johnson, I think conclusively proving that I was not the only viewer to get knocked sideways into obsession and poetry by Jarman's Wittgenstein (1993). The poem "Blue" is subtitled after Jarman and will probably mean more to me when I have seen the film, which I have been putting off because I expect it to hurt. There are other tips of the hat, to Michael Hartnett, Jan Žižka, Mahmoud Darwish, Tony Jackson, Morrissey, Rimbaud. He writes some not quite ghost poems—"George Orwell Is Following Me," "Parolles (A Sonnet)," "At the Yeats vs. Crowley Café." William Blake looks like his primary genius. He also riffs, successfully, on Baudelaire. I will probably track down his second collection Porterloo (2013) when I have not just impulse-bought another book off the internet. Anyway, paging [ profile] ashlyme.

I need to write about movies again. I feel like my brain's been shut off.

1. Wait, he wrote a biographical poem for Alan Turing in 2011? Why did I not know about this? Why don't I own this? Fixing that problem right now.
sovay: (Sydney Carton)
No wonder Autolycus has spent the entire evening coming between me and my computer. It's National Black Cat Day. He is only seeking the attention that is his due. I regret nothing. His purr is wonderfully reassuring.

Meanwhile Hestia has taken to hanging out on a stack of boxes by the door which put her at perfect drive-by petting height. It is really cool to see her flop over temptingly and then not flytrap at all, vibrating with her own small and distinct purr. She was so protective of her belly for years.

Of course, when I tried to take some photographs of them in honor of the holiday, I found Autolycus curled up next to the kettle like a cat who had forgotten that he once burned his foot running across a recently used stovetop and Hestia nestled into the recyling because it's right by the hot-air vent in the kitchen and both of them looking like cats who were much more interested in being warm than photogenic. I'm not sure if the blurriness is low light or low battery or both. Oh, well.

They are our black cats and I love them.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
We are home. The little cats have been fed. Autolycus has clung to my shoulder with his enormous paws and purred thunderously into my ear. Hestia has leaped onto the back of my office chair and shredded it enthusiastically with her ears laid back like a demon rabbit. (I have no idea why she greets me this way.) Autolycus is playing in my office doorway with the red plastic ring off a gallon of cider and I am drinking a lot of very hot water to make up for the dryness of the train. There was another thing we saw in New York, which I wanted to wait until I got home and could get the pictures off my camera to post about.

We found a shrine.

Be positive about the Future but also vigilant. )

I don't know what else to call it. I imagine most New Yorkers on my friendlist have seen it already, but I hadn't known it was happening. Because we were heading for the Strand, we took the Q train from Flatbush and 7th and got off at 14th Street–Union Square; we came upstairs through the turnstiles and I said suddenly and inaptly, "Oh, this is interesting." In front of us was a tiled wall of fluttering Post-It notes of all plain or office-perky colors, carefully excluding most of a newspaper advertisement and I think an offical sign from the MTA and otherwise as thick as mosaic. It continued around the corner, all the way to the foot of the stairs at the northwest corner. They said things like "Love is Love is Love is Love" and "Call your elected officials regularly!" and "CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE" and "Love Trumps Hate Love you Hillary" and "Fired the FUCK UP" and "BE KIND ACT UP" and "Grieve the country you live in. Fight for that country's future" and "Even if you ignore everything else, the man is still incompetent as fuck!" One was a doodle of a dick and balls lettered with Trump's name. One was a two-note-spanning satirical prayer. They blew like aspen leaves every time a train went by, but did not come unstuck. People were writing and adding Post-It messages as we watched. We wrote our own. I totally let down the poetry-reading population of Manhattan by misquoting Auden's "September 1, 1939"—I wrote We must learn to love one another or die, which is a great sentiment but not in fact what Wystan wrote in 1939. If only I hadn't attributed it. [ profile] derspatchel left a sign without words. In terms of public protest art, it's the best thing I have seen since the election. People took pictures and so did we. More people were adding notes as we left. I am very glad that the city is not taking it down.

December 2016

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