Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beep beep

Extracts from Karl Shapiro's The Bourgeois Poet, which I'm currently reading [1]:

" Between the Times and the Partisan, Sestos and Abydos of aspiring poets. Between the itch for popularity and the refined thirst for the avant-garde. Between the picture on the opening page and the quiet hieratic promotion. Between the happy handshake and imperceptible nod of acceptance. Between the goose that lays the golden egg and the tailor who weaves the emperor's clothes. Then silence."


"But I'm no different. I arrange my books with a view to their appearance. Some highbrow titles are prominently displayed. The desk in my study is carefully littered; after some thought I hang a diploma on the wall only to take it down again. I sit at the window where I can be seen. What do my neighbours think of me - I hope they think of me. I fix the light to hit the books. I lean some rows one way, some rows another.

A man's house is his stage. Others walk on to play their bit parts. Now and again a soliloquy, a birth, an adultery."


"When I say the Hail Mary I get an erection. Doesn't that prove the existence of God?"


"This is a paragraph. A paragraph is a sonnet in prose. A paragraph begins where it ends. A paragraph may contain a single word or cruise for pages. Good writing rids itself of style, sanctifies no grammar, is silent more than it speaks. Most writing is bad because the writer never sits down to think until he sits down to write. Most writing is dishonest because the writer doesn't believe what he writes but is honestly trying to find out. Most writing is at the expense of the reader, a kindly fellow who would like to believe you."


"Photograph album lying on the grass, the wind reads you lazily. The wind thumbs my episodes. A few drops of rain splatter my years. There's plenty of sighing for the impossibles. I love the wine stains of certain accidental poems, pale purple Matisse wallpaper. Who spilled that? Some faces are already repressed."


"The molasses of lecturing is sweet and the rum of polemic is good for the stomach. I write prose to find out what I think. Then it is printed. The whole business is irresponsible. But it's getting somewhere: if the polished paragraph won't work I'll pick up mud. There are no rules in this game. You can skewer a king or throw him in the big pond."

[to Baudelaire]: "In fact, aren't you a children's poet? Aren't you the Lewis Carroll of small vice? Your shabby Wonderland of pus and giant nipple, your cats and jewels and cheap perfumes, your licking Lesbians and make-believe Black Mass, O purulence of Original Sin. And always playing it safe in the end, like Disneyland. So many safety devices, pulleys, cranks, classical Alexandrines."

Good stuff. Also watched Venus this evening, which is notable only for Peter O'Toole's mesmerising presence. O'Toole projects a kind of weary classicism effortlessly, and his voice is so exquisite that finely aged whisky would kill to get into that throat. Particularly memorable is O'Toole's rendition of Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day") - in general I would have dismissed a script that uses Sonnet XVIII as hopelessly banal, but O'Toole rescues it from cliche and converts it into something sublime and moving.

Come to think of it, that's pretty much how the whole movie goes.

[1] Thanks largely to this piece by Jim Harrison in the New York Times.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


To sit on the porch at dusk, playing the rain on your guitar. The wind dancing in your courtyard - its swirling skirt, its branches rattling like castanets. The thin trickle of the sound flowing up through the house to drown in the attic's dust.

This is no time to be sad, you say. Never mind the days falling like bunches of ripe grapes. Never mind the man riding to your gate through the storm, death written in his eyes. Never mind the battered suitcases and the photographs of sepia ancestors you can no longer name.

Today you have fingered the silence intricate. Today you have given the butterflies shelter. Today you have taken the wrist of your guitar and known the leap of its pulse. Today you have tied impulse to impulse, woven beauty out of fragile air.

And the light shall never forget how you opened your doors to it. And the moon shall return to silver your palm. And the rain shall haunt your records like a scratchy ghost. And the constellations of the stars shall tremble like strings.

And music, like a young girl, will come when you call her; will thrill to your touch, will forget to be shy.

Monday, January 29, 2007

So little below zero

Walking on the sidewalk, the crunch of rocksalt and ice. The world eggshell white, crackling under my feet. Brittle patches of sunlight that I crush with every step and a thin trickle of melt snaking its way into the gutter.

On the other side of the street an old man in uniform is clearing the hotel driveway, scraping his shovel back and forth across the road as if trying to read a text newly unearthed. The snow mixed with mud now, blotted with footprints, streaked with wheel dirt. Like the soiled wing of a runover bird.

If there is an epiphany here, it is as thin as our breath misting the air, as secret as this common prayer that murmurs from every lip. This morning the earth looks as if it had been dusted for fingerprints and found clean. And the glass of this building, catching the sun's eye, winks back at it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


No, there's no mistake. You have reached 2x3x7. And no, it hasn't been taken over by Aliens from Outer Space. At least, not more than it already had been.

It's just that Blogger finally browbeat me into switching to New Blogger and I figured while I was making changes anyway, why not try out a new template and give all those people who've been complaining about the black background the opportunity to say they told me so?

So. Here's a new template. I'm not crazy about the colour scheme, but I recognise that it's more restful on the eyes. Let me know what you think. Meanwhile, regular blogging continues.

UPDATE (Rinse and Repeat): So you like the fact that it's more reader friendly but you think the colour scheme is boring and not really 'me'. See if you like this one better. No greens, nothing too cheerful - just your basic black, grey and blue. But still fairly readable.

I have to admit I'm kind of partial to this one. I love the all black thing too, but it is kind of hard to read - plus after some 18 months I'm a little bored with it. If you absolutely hate this one, I might think about changing it. Otherwise it stays.

An Old Pillow

After he leaves for the airport she goes back to bed for a while, nuzzling into the pillow as if to blank out the day, trying to find in it the sleep she has misplaced. Absently, her hand slips inside the pillowcase, finds a small tear in the fabric's skin. When did that happen? For a moment her fingers slip right inside the pillow, feeling the dry, crumbling texture of its foam. It's an unpleasant sensation, like touching mouldy bread, and she withdraws her hand quickly.

She supposes it's inevitable. This pillow is old, after all, it's been years since they bought it. How plump it had been then, how soft and fluffy, how easy to sink into. Not this thin rectangle of shrivelled foam lying defeated under her head.

Perhaps it's time to get a new pillow. But she likes this one now, has grown used to it. She remembers that night in the hotel room a year ago, when they'd gone for his aunt's funeral, how she'd tossed and turned all night until he thought it was because the ceremony upset her, when really it was just that the pillow was too thick and she'd felt suffocated. How she'd eventually had to throw the pillow down on the floor and sleep without. And the pain in her neck the morning afterwards.

No, better to stick with this old pillow - the one that she has adjusted to, the one that has adjusted itself to the shape of her sleep.

She sighs. No chance of sleep now. She gets out of bed and leans over to straighten the pillowcase, making sure the flap of cloth overlaps the pillow completely. Then she puts the pillow back on the bed and looks down at it. From up here, she thinks, no one can tell the difference.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Getting it past the guards was easy. He put on his good suit, his lucky tie. He wore dark glasses to hide his eyes, smiled as he wished them good morning. He walked through the familiar rituals of the security check with the easy, slightly bored confidence of the professional traveller. No one gave him a second glance.

He couldn't fool the dogs though. One sniff at him and they knew just how much sadness he was carrying. And they barked and barked until he broke down and wept.

When they opened his suitcase they thought at first that he was a cross-dresser. Until he explained about her, about how she had died, about why he hadn't been able to leave her clothes behind.

They understood, they said. They were sorry. But there was nothing they could do. No charge on which they could hold him. He was free to go.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Magical Moment # 67

Walking out of a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons into a light snow shower. Snowflakes melting on my nose and eyelashes while that electrifying violin solo from the first movement of Winter runs insistently through my head.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Filming Over

As you've probably heard by now, the Oscar nominations are out. It's a fairly pathetic line-up, though I'm still trying to decide whether that's a testament to the insularity of the Academy, the sad excuse for film-making that is Hollywood or both.

I'm also trying to make up my mind whether I want Scorsese to win or not. God knows he deserves it, but having him win for something as ordinary as The Departed seems too derisory a joke. Plus I'm torn between wanting to see O'Toole win and wanting to see Ryan Gosling's performance in Half Nelson get the reward it deserves, knowing full well that Forest Whitaker is the man who's likely to be walking away with the golden statuette (yes, yes, I know that the Academy has to pretend that they're different from the Golden Globes, but I'm hoping they'll do that by screwing Babel). And I suppose it's idle to hope for Alan Arkin as well.

Oh well, at least Mirren will count as one truly deserving win. God bless the Queen.

Meanwhile, by popular demand (one person asked for it) here's my review of Babel.

Monday, January 22, 2007

If I was a drunk man

From the latest issue of the Atlantic:

Drinking may impair your motor skills and romantic judgment, but—if you’re a man, at least—it can fatten your wallet, two new studies suggest. In the first, a pair of health economists found that American males who drank heavily when they were tenth-graders in 1990 earned more money in 2000, on average, than their peers who were teetotalers as teens. (The researchers found no such link for women.) Meanwhile, a study from the libertarian Reason Foundation reports that self-described drinkers (male and female) earn 10 percent to 14 percent more than nondrinkers. Drinking, the authors argue, may help build the kinds of social networks that lead to workplace success. The Reason study also finds that men who frequent bars at least once a month earn a further 7 percent wage boost. For women, however, regular barhopping has no discernible effect—on earnings, anyway.

Dammit, I knew I should have spent more time getting drunk in college.


While I go drown my sorrows in alcohol, you too can be depressed - go check out the growing list of potential sources of sublime misery over at the Guardian blog. Good stuff, though why someone would watch Sasom i en spegel when Nattvardsgasterna or Skammen were available is beyond me.

Oh, and here's my review of Martin Amis' House of Meetings. A depressingly amateur one, given that I actually read the book the whole way through before I reviewed it (which, apparently, is no longer the done thing). Sigh.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Movie Theatre

To enter a movie theater is to embrace the darkness of your own anonymity. To retreat from the sunny compulsions of the day into a cave of undeciphered fires.

You are always alone in a theatre, no matter whom you go with - your intimacy not sexual but religious. You are here to witness a ceremony, you are prepared to believe, and the hush that falls all around you as the screen flickers to life has the weight of surrender. And yet it is not the image on the screen that bewitches and reveals - that is only projection - the true magic, the real possibility, lies in the sacred pregnancy of the dark.

And so here you are again, in this inner sanctum, having mumbled the name of the day's chosen deity and averted your eyes from the ticket counter's assumed disapproval, from the afternoon's imputed guilt. Clutching your bagful of popcorn and smelling the grease of its corruption on your breath, telling yourself to wait until the movie starts, but taking a few bites anyway, just to keep from spilling.

And then the trailers start, ephemeral like dreams - the fractured play of images from which a story could be pieced together if only you had time, but that you will later struggle to recall. And then the credits of the main feature come on, and you let the self go, tossing it aside like a coat into the empty seat next to you.

If you are lucky, you will not need to remember who you are for a few hours now, shrugging back into the knowledge only as you leave, feeling the realities reestablish themselves, emerging into the light of a world that is never as different as you had imagined.

P.S. If you're wondering where that came from - no, I didn't spend the day watching movies. It's just that I've been reading Martin Amis (I'm halfway through The House of Meetings) and have this urge to string phrases together.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


He looks up from the table for a moment, seeking inspiration, gazing out towards the sky.

White, powdery flakes dance before his eyes. It's snowing, he realises. When did it start? He goes over to the window, looks down at the street. Snow covers the grass verges like foam on a beard and the road has turned a slushy white. True, it's a heavy fall. But still, it must have been snowing for twenty minutes, maybe more. And he never even noticed.

It frightens him that this could happen. That on an day of such ordinary promise the atmosphere of his luck could change, that somewhere a line could be crossed and his world could turn blank. That calamity could come upon him unheralded, even unheard. That forgetfulness could fall from the sky even as his back was turned, erasing every colour, concealing every road.

He draws the curtain, switches on the light, goes back to work. But he can sense the fear settling over him; he can feel the silence fall.

Yes, but why are you watching Big Brother?

Of all the silly, irrelevant non-issues ever to have gained public attention, this one has to take the fruitcake.

Never mind that the GoI should have better things to do than waste its time getting indignant about UK television shows [1]. Never mind that saying something nasty to a person of a particular race doesn't automatically imply racism. Never mind that this Shetty woman is obviously acting (who knew she had this much talent?) and that the whole thing is a carefully planned piece of fiction in the first place. Never mind that the woman is on the show voluntarily and could always leave if she's feeling unhappy. Never mind that anyone who signs on to be on reality television is, by definition, a loser who will do anything for publicity, so expecting civilised behaviour from these people is a contradiction in terms. Never mind that it's idiotic to fight a TV show by giving it more publicity and that the producers of the show are probably sitting around this very minute trying to figure out how they can make this controversy last, because their viewer numbers have never looked this good.

It's Television. TELEVISION. This means a) it's NOT real and b) it's supposed to be idiotic and to shock you in the crassest, most obvious way possible. That's what television (especially reality TV) is about. Can you imagine a reality show where everyone sat around and behaved graciously and politely to each other and played tiddly-winks? Who would watch a show like that? In fact, who would watch a reality show where the participants weren't pathetic human beings whom you could compare yourself to and feel superior? Isn't that the whole point of the genre? Complaining that they're not behaving decently is like griping about how the Rambo films have too much violence.

Here's my suggestion: If you find Big Brother offensive, turn off your television sets and read a good book instead. Not only will this mean you'll have a more meaningful experience, leaving reality TV shows to the brain dead troglodytes they're meant for, it's also the most effective way to make the producers of the show sit up and listen.


[1] What's next, I wonder? Are we going to demand that George Clooney be put on trial because of that scene in Syriana where a couple of Indian immigrant workers get beaten up by the police? Are we going to threaten the US with nuclear strikes the next time a US film critic describes Aishwarya Rai as wooden and talentless, since that is clearly a racist slur?

Update 1: Reading through the discussions of this 'issue' in the media and on the blogosphere, it seems to me that what we're seeing is a demonstration of the addictive power of television, which I've blogged about before. In that post, I point to a considerable body of research which demonstrates that television watching is highly addictive, despite the fact that television delivers little or no real enjoyment and may, in fact, be associated with malaise. These studies argue that the reason people continue to watch television is because it creates the illusion of engagement with the real world - that people become unable to distinguish between what is real and what's on television.

That, I think, is exactly what's at play here - here are a bunch of well-meaning people who find what they're watching deeply unpleasant but can't seem to find the will-power to turn it off. And because they're afraid to admit to their dependence, and because they no longer see or acknowledge the difference between a fictional portrayal and a real event, they insist on making the whole thing an issue. It's a fascinating pathology.

(Self-deprecating Personal Note: While I find reality television itself unspeakably dull and annoying, I find the reality of people's engagement with television great fun to watch. There's an irony in there somewhere.)

Update 2: I'm also intrigued by the phrase 'racist bullying'. What has one got to do with the other? Are we to assume that bullying is okay as long as it's not racist? Go ahead and beat up the kid who's smaller than you and steal his lunch money, but for god's sake, make sure he's the same race as you first? Or would it be okay if they were racist but were more civil about it? I wish people would stop confounding the two things.

Update 3: It's been brought to my attention that Ms. Shetty may not, in fact, have known what she was letting herself in for and may not be able to exit the show now because of contractual obligations. Personally, I don't think she's that dumb, but I suppose it's possible. I'm not aware, however, of any evidence that suggests that Ms. Shetty has tried to exit the show and no reason to believe that she wants to or is being constrained from doing so. For the record, though, if she does in fact, feel trapped, and wants to get out, I see some merit in helping her do so, or in having her sue Channel Four for emotional harm caused by incomplete disclosure. Just spare me the crocodile tears.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ode to Toe Nails

Memes are all very well, but if you really want to know what I would say about clipping my toe nails:

Ode to My Toe Nails

O to be clipped and repentant,
groomed and discreet;

O to wander these rooms like a God
leaving crescent moons all over the furniture,
trailing chipped constellations on the carpeted night;

O to be free of the debris of living –
shedding hair, clothes, cuticle, Love –
everything bloodless and too soon outgrown;

O to believe in the smallness of sacrifice,
abandoning claws and the hardening of flesh,
growing the pain out, then cutting it away;

O to stare down at the provinces of my feet
watching them encroach on territories of emptiness
savage colonies of the body’s imperium;

O to be a farmer of the incidental,
gathering the fruits of my bitter harvest
from beneath society’s downtreading toe;

O not to fear the sound of Death’s clippers,
learn not to mourn these everyday losses,
the imagined hurt of what we had to let go.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


It took him four days to reach the village. Four days of riding across the scarred back of this land, the barely healed scabs of the mountains and the canyons like low dry welts. Four days of a desert liquid with mirages, his teeth gritty with defeat and the disbelief shimmering in his heart. Four days with no company but the parching sun and the indifferent moon, and the creak of his old saddle calling out like a bird, and the rope of the thirst tightening around his throat. Four days in which the idea of destination, of arrival, grew hazy with dust, and the news he had brought rattled about in his head like water in an emptying canteen; the conviction growing on him that there was no road, no village, and that he was out here searching for something else - perhaps Death.

Four days in which the wound in his side had turned dry as a mouth, the raw lips of the flesh drawn back to reveal the dirty teeth of the sutures. At least the stitches had held. The old woman who sewed him up had promised nothing - I am a seamstress, she had said, what do I know of wounds? And he had felt like telling her that they lived in times when skin and muscle were cast off as easily as a dress, and men ran through the streets with nothing but their thin bodies to disguise the nakedness of their violence, their nude anger, their obscene hate. Instead he had waved his gun at her and she had done as he had bid, the fear trembling in her eyes, but her hands miraculously steady.

That had been five days ago. Just before he left on this expedition, one solitary rider bringing tidings of destruction into the heart of nowhere. He was there now, staring down at this village he had heard of only in rumour, its ramshackle huts scattered across the desert floor like abandoned packing cases. Or like skulls - the empty sockets of the windows, the front stoops rigid like mandibles. And he imagined the village as the enemy would see it, sitting their horses on this low ridge; how they would pour down upon this sleepy hamlet with their cries and guns, how the bodies would lie fallen in the streets, their shadows lengthening with blood; how the hands of the fire would snatch greedily at these dry roofs, and the screams of flame would rise howling into the sky. He had seen it all before. They called him a boy because as the seasons were counted he was still young, and they sent him out on a boy's chore, but he had seen more horrors in his days than most men were allowed in an entire lifetime, until even despair no longer seemed like a prophecy. He had been sitting there for ten minutes. They had not seen him yet. They would have to be more vigilant.

Riding into the village with the sun going down behind him, he saw an old woman washing the steps of the cathedral. She didn't turn to look at him. The water she was pouring onto those steps was muddy, its colour like rusted iron. And the image of it stayed with him as he rode down the street - the feet of the church being washed in blood while a bell hung from the steeple like a dead man's helmet.

Why am I here? he wondered, as he tied his horse to the hitching rail. This was not his home, these were not his people. Or were they? Did war erase personality, make identity binary? But even if the people of this village were part of this Us that he belonged to, what good would his message do them? How could they fight against the troops that were coming, where could they flee? Death was inevitable here, and his news would only bring its certainty a few days closer, as though he had ridden through the village leaving its mark on every door. Wouldn't it be better to spare them the agony of knowing, to let death surprise them, find them like a bullet in the dawn? No, no, they had a right to know. To be prepared. That is what the captain had said when he ordered him to go. It had not occured to him then to ask how death could be prepared for. It would have been useful to know.

He walked into the saloon, surprised to find it empty except for a grizzled old barman and a drunk unconscious in a corner. He had a couple of drinks, swallowing them down too fast because he was thirsty. "Where is everybody?", he asked. "They've all gone", the bartender replied. "Haven't you heard? The enemy is coming. A man arrived with the news yesterday. Most of the townfolk packed up and left this morning. There are only a handful of us old timers left. They say they'll be here in couple of days. They say they'll destroy everything."

So. He had ridden all this way for nothing. Defeat had got here before him, as usual. He felt disappointment, but also a sense of relief. "You didn't go with them?" he asked the bartender. The man shook his head. "I'm too old to make it across the desert", he said, "and besides, I don't see why they should kill me. I'm not fighting them - I don't even own a gun. I figure they'll come in here and I'll give them all the drink they want and they'll leave me alone. That's how it was in the last war, and the one before that. I figure I'll be all right."

He shrugged. The old man was wrong, of course. This time the rules were different, this time the enemy would destroy everything. But that was the old man's problem. He himself was tired. Tired from the long ride across the desert, but also from all that he had seen in the last few months. Tired of this long harvest of war where he had felt himself grow taller and taller even as those around him had been cut down. He needed a bed to sleep in now, and a clean place where he could dress his wound. Tomorrow he would leave. Maybe he would get clean away. Maybe the enemy would get him. Maybe the desert would. What did it matter? Tonight he needed to rest.

Then he saw the piano. It had been pushed into the far corner and covered with a dirty sheet, but the shape of it was unmistakable. "Does that work?" he asked the bartender. "It hasn't been played for a while" the bartender said, "but, ya, I guess it works." He went over to it, pulled off the covers, lifted the lid of the keyboard, dusted the top of the stool and sat on it. It had been a long time. Imagine finding a piano in a place like this.

He stared at the familiar arrangement of black and white, this pure, touchable altar of harmonic certainties, of unwavering ups and downs. He touched a key or two and listened to the way the sound sharpened the silence, made it more exact. Yes, this old piano was terribly out of tune. But no matter. So was the world. He listened to the silence reverberating around him, the fading ripple of the notes he had played, and thought about the parlour back home, the weekend socials, the sunlight of women's laughter and him so serious and unsmiling, dressed up in his coat-tails, playing mazurkas and toccatas for an audience that sat with smiles at once indulgent and appreciative. Carefully, he slipped his boots off, to get rid of the spurs. Then, with a deep breath, he began to play.

At first he fingered the keys tentatively, not sure if his hands, soiled with months of cordite and gunsmoke as they were, could still recall the fragility of those notes, their exquisite tenderness. Slowly, it came back to him though, the fluency, the song. No waltzes for him tonight, no merry polkas, no sonatas to structure feeling with. Only Chopin, the nocturnes, the nostalgia for that rubbed rose, for an immense beauty shattered into fragments, the notes spilling out of him faster than suffering now, carried by soft winds into the consciousness of the stars, into the unrelenting heart of the desert night, where the wolves waited to howl at the moon and the dust from the passing hoofbeats hung still in the remorseless air.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Marine Drive

Coming around the bend at Walkeshwar, he sees Marine Drive open out before him, its lights glinting off the water. Like a woman admiring her new necklace in a glass. At the other end of its lazy crescent the towers of Nariman Point rise like columns of some star-labelled histogram, impossibly close, and the red glow of the Air India centaur tightens its bow towards the invisible West. The nearness is deceptive, though. This is a city of concavities, of points that have learned to keep their distance, of a future that curves away. The traffic of the years passes swiftly here, but even so the road proves longer than you expect.

And so he drives on: past the aborted flight of three neon birds winging their way off the beach in some grotesque advertisement for the fundamentals of gravity and escape; past the iron-barred gates of Wilson college, its courtyard dusty with summer daydreams; past the battered facade of Crystal and the long line of cars standing outside Bachelors; past the footbridge and along the railway track to the Aquarium, across from which he has seen the waves on wild days fling themselves across the road in suicidal missions, while crowds danced on the parapet, their trousers rolled up around their knees; past the cricket grounds and the flyover; past the long stretch of salt-speckled houses battered by sea-wind, their old-world charm punctuated by gyms and ice cream parlours, by the ship-like stateliness of the Marine Plaza and the alien intrusion of some new hotel that he vaguely remembers being built; past the curving windows of Not Just Jazz, its windows agleam like the deck of some beached ferry; past the last hurrah of the houses to arrive finally at the feet of the towers he once thought were the tallest in the world (told so by a friend in school and not knowing better) but that now seem as ignorant and mortal as giants out of some fairy tale; the tang of the sea breeze through the unrollable windows of his black and yellow Padmini taxi mingling with the smell of horse-shit as he tells the driver, right here is fine, thank you, yes just here, on the side, that's fine, STOP.

He pays the taxi, feeling again the small surprise of not having to haggle or argue over the fare (he lives in Manhattan now, but cannot shake the Delhi reflex that makes him ask the cab driver "How much?" and wait tensely for the answer), walks past the gap-toothed ranks of the parked cars out to where the land ends, not sure what he is looking for.

This is not really land's end, of course - somewhere, in the far reaches of Colaba and Cuffe Parade the land goes on, life continues, opportunity stretches away. This is only a comma, a punctuation mark in the earth's calligraphy. And yet from this point there is no road forward, no path across the sea gleaming like wet tarmac. Only this spine of black rocks disappearing into the water as though the city were some giant reptile clawing its way out of the depths. Or slinking back in. The sea is calm tonight, its subdued lapping no match for the tremendous roar of the metropolis stretching away behind him. And among the boulders the couples he tries not to stare at are holding hands, lost in a memory of the sunset, not trusting themselves to speak. Knowing that from here there is nowhere left to go.

[Reading Vikram Chandra - I'm on page 380 of Sacred Games - always does this to me: makes me nostalgic about Bombay. Ah, well].

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Three-minute Silence

Meanwhile, the world mourns Momofuko Ando - the inventor of Ramen noodles - a man whose work has touched so many of our lives.

Here's the PhD Comic Tribute

And here's a lovely appreciation by Lawrence Downes over at the New York Times.

Personally, I don't eat anywhere near as much Ramen as my single student status would suggest, and then only with additional vegetables to make it a better, more balanced meal (Mom, Dad: Please note!), but I still can't help feeling a sense of attachment to the man who single-handedly doubled my cooking repertoire.

The thing about making Ramen is, it's such a mystical experience, isn't it? It's almost like inspiration. There you are with this set of notions curled and tightly packed together, and then you break this mass of solid confusion into a few smaller pieces (taking care to catch the little bits that fly loose when you do this), let them simmer for a while, and before you know it you can reach in there and draw out one clear strand of an idea, which you then have to loop about in words to keep it from slipping back into the general mess. And each time you do this it seems a little bit of a miracle - you're never sure at what point the dense coils of data turned into a palatable idea, and it's always hard to believe that the transformation really worked. People say PhD students eat a lot of Ramen because it's cheap and easy to make, but I think it's because of the nature of this transformation, because we secretly dream of the day when our research can go from data to results in just three minutes [1].


[1] This 2-3 minute thing, is, of course, a total con. Sure, cooking Ramen takes three minutes - assuming you just happen to have a pot with 2 cups of boiling water handy and like your noodles on the seriously al dente side.

I wonder if there are people who seriously time themselves to make Ramen? Do they spend years in training try to break the 2-minute Ramen? Is it likely to become an Olympic event?

National Chauvinism Week

Did I miss the memo that declared this National Chauvinism Week?

First we had this graduate of the Larry Summers' school of thinly disguised chauvinism, telling us that Men and Women are Different and that some things are more suited to Men and others to Women (presumably any differences within Men and within Women on these dimensions - whatever they might be, since 'Shanky' is not kind enough to spell them out for us - are insignificant compared to this yawning gap between the quintessential Man and the stereotypical Woman) and that you can't be a Man unless you protect your women and carry their 80 kg suitcases up the stairs [1]. It follows from this 'argument' (though calling it that is a travesty) that Feminism is flawed because it keeps Men like Shanky from being Men, which, obviously, is what feminism has been trying to do. [2]

And now we have this Good Samaritan who wants women to stop wearing skimpy dresses, which, according to him, put their underwear on display. Not that he's saying this because he's offended or anything, oh no, he's only trying to protect the Dignity of "our Indian girls" and saving them from the Big Bad Influence of Western Culture. And lest you misconstrue what he's saying, he's not advocating that all women wear burqas (yet), it's okay with him if you wear "not-too-long tops (which some girls can carry off with class)" - isn't that kind of him? What a nice, upstanding, kind-hearted soul he is, doling out advice to women suggesting that they cut back on their individual freedoms in order to uphold his prejudices, and putting in the "little proper thinking" (which, he informs us, is all that is needed to make the right choice between the "right way n wrong way of doing things") so that they don't have to worry their pretty little innocent heads over it. He's even conscientious enough not to put pictures of these dignity compromising dresses on his blog! (Girls: deep breath, then all together say: "Our Hero"). Now if only he'd told them what they should wear so that their appearance can meet with his approval, which, presumably, is their only purpose.

Do the caves these people live in get cold in Winter or something? If this goes on, DesiPundit (who linked to both the posts) is going to have to create a separate section for insecure men threatened by female independence.


[1] Now that I think about it, he may have a point. The world would be a better place if Real Men like this [3] were restricted to hard physical labour leaving the rest of us to do things we're good at, like logic, or grammar.

[2] See also Gawker's response here

[3] I, of course, am not a Man. Not only can I not lift 80 kg suitcases, I'm also firmly of the opinion that anyone who packs an 80 kg suitcase deserves to have to carry it herself / himself.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Three Fun Poems

...because who says poetry has to be staid and serious:


- What'll it be?

Roast beef on rye, with tomato and mayo.

- Whaddaya want on it?

A swipe of mayo.
Pepper but no salt.

- You got it. Roast beef on rye.
You want lettuce on that?

No. Just tomato and mayo.

- Tomato and mayo. You got it.
...Salt and pepper?

No salt, just a little pepper.

- You got it. No salt.
You want tomato.

Yes. Tomato. No lettuce.

- No lettuce. You got it.
...No salt right?

Right. No salt.

- You got it. - Pickle?

No, no pickle. Just tomato and mayo.
And pepper.

- Pepper.

Yes, a little pepper.

- Right. A little pepper.
No pickle.

Right. No pickle.

- You got it.

Roast beef on whole wheat, please,
With lettuce mayonnaise, and a center slice
Of beefsteak tomato.
The lettuce splayed, if you will,
In a Beaux Arts derivative of classical acanthus,
And the roast beef, thinly sliced, folded
In a multifoil arrangement
That eschews Bragdonian pretensions
Or any idea of divine geometric projection
For that matter, but simply provides
A setting for the tomato
To form a medallion with a dab
Of mayonnaise as a fleuron.
And - as eclectic as this may sound -
If the mayonnaise can also be applied
Along the crust in a Virtruvian scroll
And as a festoon below the medallion,
That would be swell.

- You mean like in the Cathedral St. Pierre in Geneva?

Yes, but the swag more like the one below the rosette
In the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

- You got it.

- Paul Violi (first appearance in Shiny; included in The Best American Poetry 2006)


George W. Bush in Hell

(Inferno, Canto XXVI)

Rejoice, America, risen to such glory
That over land & sea your eagle wings have flown
Imperiously, & all the depths of hell resound your story.

Among the caverns there, O sorrowful to set down,
I came upon many of your citizens, a fact
Which can bring no honor to your name.

Upon a blazing plain they lay; my guide picked
His way upon the bridge above, & meekly
Did I follow. Over geysering fires we trekked

& deep within each column of flame could we see
A figure in torment writhe. As on a June night.
When farmers of Vermont watch moon-bright fields seethe

With fireflies—teeming, darting lantem lights
In stands of soybean & com—so it was then
That this eighth ditch gleamed, fire-tongues bright

As midnight LAX or Houston from a DG 10,
The landing wheels opening. The flames along the stygian floor
Streamed like interstate headlights, flaming ribbons.

My guide now spoke, sensing my fear "There dwells
Within each flame a soul in permanent
Auto-da-fa, his sin an inexhaustible fuel.

An oil rig derrick blackening the firmament
With fires unquenchable. These are the givers
Of fraudulent counsel, whose arrogant

Disdain of truth has brought them here."
The flames like flashbulbs crackled the dark.
& as he spoke a single flame drew near.

Inside, a wavering face, lips parted as if to speak.
"Master," I inquired, "Can these shades
Converse with us? For this one I know & seek

To hear his sorrowful relation." My guide bade
The form approach: "This one is also familiar to me,"
He answered. "His deeds of infamy have made

His name renowned in hell. Princeling of a dynasty
Of blackguards, his forebears & brothers likewise bum
Within these terrible precincts." Then suddenly

From the white-hot pyre the face emerged
& spoke: "So great was my lust for power, to lead
My land as my father—now consigned also to these fires—

Had done before me, that I came to believe
In the God-ordained virtue of all my deeds.
Truth was my toy. No counsel could dissuade

My certainty, nor satisfy my cronies' greed.
For to exercise my zealotry I gave them leave
To pillage & bring havoc. Their coffers overfiowed

With booty. O how deeply did we crave
To level Baghdad, to suck its oils dry.
That first night, when my pilots rained a spray

Of fire on its neighborhoods, I cried
For joy. I watched the smart bombs seek their prey
On a television screen three stories high.

Even my generals gasping—such dazzling display.
What thundering shock & awe had I made.
Great Babylon did grovel on its knees.

How mighty was my sword. What matter that so many died
Below, or in the months & years to follow.
My father was revenged, my longing assuaged,

& haughty I walked the West Wing hallways
To the Lincoln Bedroom, where I slept as deeply
As a man can sleep, my enemies laid low.

My apotheosis complete. But see where this has taken me.
Who brought two countries to shame & ruin.
My every cell is napalm. Take pity

On me, you who may leave this fiery tomb
& walk again among the living." With this
the flame drew back & took its place among

the woeful throng, the other flickering tapers.

- David Wojahn (originally appeared in The Kenyon Review, Fall 2005; now published in Interrogation Palace)


Plus Shipping

"inspired by Kokopelli, Golfer-Pelli is a fun-loving symbol for our times."

from one of the 400 mail-order catalogs we received last year.

Certainly it was a premonition of a Navajo warrior that men
in plaid would take up sticks and club a ball into a hole's

submission. And that a god of prosperity and joy, flute
player, source of the wind's conversational obsessions,

secretly longed to represent the beef-fatted, tax-sheltered,
divot-spewing tribe in their hunger for real estate

made green and blemish free, acres of fertilized eternity.
It happened like this: someone named Stan or Rita

spanked their cell-phone open in Manhattan traffic, called
Lou Ellen or Robbie and went on at an ecstatic pitch

about a program they saw on the Learning Channel last night
that document cave paintings in Arizona of this guy

with hair like spiders and a body twisted as if
he'd swallowed a hurricane, and wouldn't it make a hot

knick-knack if we put him in knickers with a seven-iron
in his hands? And later, after the market research,

after paying one company to come up with a name, another
to design the eyes, hips, the casual-yet-indigenous-gestalt

needed to represent a sport built around the prophecy
of leisure, Stan or Rita will confess to something like

inspiration, a little zing, a small frisson disrupting
their preoccupation with fear that screamed low

cost, high profit. And I wouldn't mind if I were ten
or drunk most of the time, if I'd missed

even half the commercials utilizing the dramatic skills
of Super Bowl quarterbacks, the winks of senators

who reached for president but fell one scandal short,
wouldn't care if I forgot Michael Jackson

trying to sell his crotch, Elizabeth Taylor
hustling the diamonds of her scent, if just once

someone would stand before a camera and simply say
I've made this offensive thing but won't leave you alone

until you send me ten bucks. Golfer-Pelli's destined
for mantles, to fill that hole between vase and clock

where space bleeds, needing the bandage of artifact.
And what of the Buddha alarm clock, Shiva spice rack,

the shoe polisher in which red and green fuzzy wheels
pop from Mohammed's ears and spin your leather clean?

Give it time and you'll get a crack at each
and more, for as we eat and sleep there's someone

flipping through a magazine, strolling the open veins
of ruins, touching forgotten texts, sculpted faces

of a people centuries gone, who can't help but think
there's beauty and sorrow and money in every one of these.

- Bob Hicok, from Plus Shipping


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Random Memory - Take 2

Over at his blog, Heh heh describes one particularly drunk and eventful weekend that we spent at WIMWI five and a half years back.

My initial plan was to write up my version of the story - subjecting the whole incident to a Rashomon like retelling - but I realise you're probably better off hearing his version because I don't remember that much of the evening.

Here's what I do remember: I remember meeting up with s. and heh heh and going from dorm to dorm looking for alcohol, like some nomadic tribe that would move on to new hunting grounds when all the prey in the area has been exhausted. I remember eventually making our way to Dorm 13, where fool-jhadu handed me a big coffee mug full of neat bacardi and told me to drink up because we were going to miss the show. I remember thinking this might not be such a good idea, then (because I was already half a dozen drinks past the point of sober reflection by this time) complying by downing the entire contents of that mug down in about three gulps. I remember walking to the auditorium. I remember getting really pissed off because people weren't letting the facchas perform and wrestling s. to the floor in order to teach him a lesson (the fact that I did this in the middle of the stage, and knocked over half the mike equipment in the process did not, at the time, strike me as a contradiction).

I don't remember being carried out of the auditorium and placed on a table in the open air. I don't remember rolling off the table and hitting the ground (though in hindsight it doesn't seem so hard to predict). For all that you need to rely on Heh heh.

I only remember waking up with a bruised feeling in my side, being carried to some unspecified destination by s. and p.j. I remember s. cribbing about how they were only doing this for me because of the grades I got and if he'd got drunk and passed out no one would have cared. I remember p.j. deciding to use this opportunity to demonstrate the Correct Way of Hauling a Human Body, a technique he apparently learnt long ago in a mountaineering course. His demonstration of this consisted of first showing what happened when you held someone the wrong way (the body in question - mine - ended up face down in the flowerpots) or held someone the right way but didn't coordinate it properly (same result) before finally demonstrating the proper way to get the job done.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the basement of D-1 (the girl's dorm) where I was staying (my only friends in my junior batch were both women), and realising with horror that I had an early morning flight to catch in order to make it for the introduction and training program for my new job. I remember thinking I needed to get out of the dorm and find someone who would get me to the airport. I remember standing up. I remember wondering why people say you can't feel the earth rotate, because there it was, spinning about all around me. I remember marvelling at how clean the floor in that room had been kept as I flopped down on it. I remember wondering why I hadn't noticed this when I was standing up. I remember realising that I couldn't see anything more than four feet away. I remember wondering where the hell my glasses were.

And I remember standing in the doorway listening to the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs to the basement. Without my glasses I couldn't actually see who was coming, but I figured there was a 50-50 chance that it was someone who knew me and I could ask her to go fetch one of my friends who would make sure I made my flight (I remember trying not to imagine what would happen if I missed my first day at work because I was too drunk to make it). I remember saying "Hi! Do I know you? I was wondering if you could help me..." and hearing a sudden gasp followed by the sound of running feet, a slammed door and three bolts sliding shut. I don't blame her. I'm not a pretty sight even when I'm sober, and at this point I was unshaven, dissheveled, bleary-eyed and must have looked like something out of a B grade slasher movie. I remember trying to explain to her that I didn't mean any harm and getting no reaction. I remember going back to bed and thinking about how I would spend the long years of unemployment ahead of me.

Eventually MR came and found me and got me out of there. Eventually I made it my flight (thanks to the able stewardship of n.) after sharing a last minute chai with u. and heh heh. Eventually I got cleaned up and by the time the training session started I was my crisp, professional self again. But I have this clear memory of wondering whether I could make it up those steps if I crawled up them on all fours, and not being sure I could.

It was one of the best nights of my life.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Small Disappointment

January 6th, 2007. Temperatures in the high 60s. It's a record for this time of the year, the radio says, and still the people out on the streets wearing their sweatshirts and their light coats, having learnt not to trust the weather, knowing well her fickle ways.

Only the squirrels are deceived. I watch them gambolling in the trees, calling out to each other from the high branches. Lacking calendars, it does not occur them to doubt that Spring is here, to suspect nature of playing tricks on them. They scamper chuckling up the tree trunks, grateful to have made it through another winter.

What will they think, I wonder, when the mercury sinks tomorrow, when the snow eventually comes? How confused they will be, how bewildered. How much they will regret the energy they have spent on this false reprieve, not realising that there may still be bitter days to live through.

I must learn not to think of the squirrels. Of their quiet tragedies, their handfuls of despair. Of these small disappointments that the margins of our lives are filled by.

Friday, January 05, 2007

My New Year Irresolutions

It's that time of the year again. All across the globe, people have been making promises to themselves that they know perfectly well they're not going to keep.

Last year I made a New Year resolution that I wouldn't make New Year Resolutions anymore. I figured I never kept them anyway, so what was the point. This year I find myself in something of a quandary. If I keep my resolution from last year then this means I am, in fact, capable of sticking to my resolutions, which means it makes sense for me to make new ones. If I break my resolution and make a new one this year, then I'm clearly not capable of sticking with my resolutions and shouldn't bother making them. You can see why there's never a dull moment living in my head.

Instead, I came up with the idea of making New Year Irresolutions - decisions I've been thinking about making / things I've been planning to do that I haven't got around to doing yet, and that I plan to continue procrastinating about in the year to come. Here are the five top things I pledge to dither about this year. I might get them done. Then again, I might not. I couldn't say for sure:

1. Decide on a favourite drink

One major point of difference between me and James Bond is the fact that unlike 007, I don't have a favourite drink[1]. When bartenders ask me "What will you have, sir?" there's none of this 'shaken not stirred' business. Instead, I tend to reply with "I don't know, what are you having?", much to the bartender's consternation. At parties I'm like a butterfly, sipping and flitting from drink to drink. Sometimes it's the lyrical aftertaste of a fine Riesling that intoxicates me, sometimes it's the raw burn of undiluted vodka; sometimes it's the bitter melancholy of a well-aged single malt that I'm enamoured by, sometimes it's the deceitful sweetness of a glass of Bailey's; sometimes I long to put four shots of tequila into my brain, while sometimes I'm content to sit quietly by the fire, sipping the sacred nostalgia of fine cognac. And then there's Guinness, and absinthe and sunkissed Jamaican rum. Why, there are even moments (thankfully rare) when I feel like slumming it with a bottle of beer. I figure if I could manage to make my mind up about what drink I really love, I could then move on to other, less important commitments - relationships, real estate, that sort of thing. I think some in-depth research into the merits of these various beverages may be what 2007 calls for.

2. Read the Divine Comedy. And In Search of Lost Time.

Okay, okay, I'll admit it - I've never really done justice to either Dante or Proust. Not that I haven't read them, you understand - it's just that my reading of the Divine Comedy stalled somewhere in the fifth circle of the Inferno (a premonition of things to come, perhaps?) and I've never managed to get beyond Swann's Way. And it's not that I didn't like what I read (well, at least with the Proust - with Dante I kept sitting there thinking I'm sure this must be brilliant in the original), it's just that reading In Search of Lost Time has always felt like a major expedition - like setting off to discover a new continent - and why do that when you have all these convenient little weekend trips through the Booker shortlist that you can make instead? Still, 2007 is going to be the year when I read the rest of Proust. Well, at least the year I get his books out of the library and add them to the stack of 60 odd volumes lying scattered around my bed. Oh, all right, the year I think about issuing out his books so I can think about reading him. Sigh.

3. Pick a topic for my dissertation

Dithering on this is going to be hard. My advisor isn't exactly breathing down my neck yet, but he's been doing lung exercises and showing a startling interest in the diameter of my shirt collars. And the Department chair has taken to muttering things like 'Tempus Fugit' or '5 years isn't much, you know' when I'm around. I suppose I could use the old red herring again - come up with an idea that sounds like it could make a credible dissertation, then write it all up in one paper and proceed to get bored with the entire sub-field and decide to move on to something else. Or I could actually decide on a topic - the only trouble with this being that it significantly increases the hazard that I may actually graduate, and then what would I do? No, better to obfuscate the matter for a few more terms, I think.

4. Travel to Europe

Have I mentioned that I'm a committed Euro-phile? Oui monsieur, Europe is my dream continent - you can keep your Inca trails and your Grand Canyons and your hunts on the Kalahari - for me the lure of your Europe trumps all that.

Not that I've ever been there. In ten years of planned trips, aborted trips, trips cut short, business trips, conference trips, training program trips, etc. - all with arcs supposedly criss-crossing Europe - I've managed to see: a) most of Eastern Switzerland b) a couple of ski resorts in Austria c) Salzburg d) Munich Airport e) Paris Airport (twice!) f) that crummy little bus station outside Heathrow and g) the cafetaria of the Sociology Department at Warwick (thanks, S.). Not an edifying list. Every year for a decade now I've made at least some half-hearted plan to visit Europe, and every year something doesn't work out - I don't have the money, I don't have the time, I've got no one to go with, I've gone and made other plans, I've got someone to go with but they've gone and made other plans and so on. And if nothing else works, there's always my natural laziness to fall back on. So chances are that I won't be polluting the sunny shores of Greece this year either. Still, you never know. I'm going to be flying over Europe on my way back to India this summer, and planes do crash. [2]

5. Change the way this blog is set up

Old blogger / new blogger? Blogger / Wordpress? Black background or white background? Just some of the vexed yet topical questions that I spend absolutely no time considering everyday.

The thing is - I know this blog could do with a facelift, but it seems pointless to put in the effort, partly because, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I have the graphic design abilities of a bat with glaucoma [3], and partly because, let's face it, no one actually reading this blog is here for the way it looks. So chances are this time next year 2x3x7 will look exactly the same as it does right now. Still, you never know. I could run out of things to write about [4] and decide to spend my time decorating instead. So if you visit the site and find it has moved to a magenta background with neon rabbits hopping about, you know I've got a bad case of writer's block. Either that or I've finally decided on a favourite drink.


[1] Otherwise we're practically impossible to tell apart. Well, except for a few minor details involving my inability to handle women, guns or a tuxedo.

[2] Szerelem: If you're reading this, don't even THINK about mentioning the Europe trip you're on. Not if you want to live to see Venice again.

[3] And if you think this blog is hard on the eyes, you should see how bad my dress sense is.

[4] Actually, that happened about 15 months ago

Four Movies

It's been a busy week, movie wise. Watched a couple of films while I was in New York for the weekend, and then caught two more this week in Philly [1]. A combination of a sudden spurt of good movies hitting the theatres and my having the time to watch them (isn't Winter Break wonderful?). Quick thoughts on each, in the order in which I watched them:

1. The Queen

We are very mildly amused. My principal reaction to Stephen Frears quasi-depiction of the most fretful week of that most horribilis of years for QE2 is - who cares? Okay, so the British Royal Family aren't petty and heartless, they're just silly, maladjusted and woefully out of touch, okay so Tony Blair isn't just a smarmy bastard, he's a smarmy bastard with a heart of gold. So what? Based on the reviews The Queen has been getting, I went into the theatre expecting a witty, insightful and / or sensitive portrayal of the monarchy; what I got instead was a dull, ham-handed and obvious faux-documentary - a movie that in its best moments manages to be somewhere between the droll and the bathetic.

Oh, Helen Mirren's performance is exquisite, and the very clarity of her presence in an otherwise mediocre effort makes this a film far more sympathetic to the Queen than the script would seem to justify. You come out feeling that you're on the Queen's side, but that has, I suspect, mostly to do with the fact that Mirren is the only person in the film who manages to seem like a real human being rather than a cheap caricature.

2. El Laberinto del Fauno

Easily the best film I saw this week was Guillermo del Toro's El Laberinto del Fauno (playing under the fairly dubious translation of Pan's Labyrinth). A stunning fable about innocence and war, El Laberinto is a masterpiece of magic realism on screen. Set in World War II Spain, it is the story of Ofelia, a young girl who has come to live with her stepfather and pregnant mother in a small forest outpost where her stepfather, a petty yet sadistic tyrant, is the military commander. Soon Ofelia (and the viewer) is inhabiting two worlds - the real world where her stepfather's high-handed atrocities are being valiantly combated by the guerillas of the resistance and an imaginary world where Ofelia is a lost princess come back to claim her throne, but forced to undertake a series of trials before she can do so.

As the film progresses, these two worlds - the shadow world of the rebel underground and the secret world of Ofelia's imagination become allegories of each other and transfixed between their parallels the story plays out in a dazzling spiral of mirrors. Reflection is everything here - the rebels are dreamers and the dream is a form of rebellion, and El Laberinto successfully blurs the line between the real and magical, sharpening both to the quality of legend.

The risk the story faces is that it could end up trivialising the horrors of war, making them seem childish and sterile. El Laberinto avoids this vividly and in style, providing a fable that is both brutal and unflinching. In the pre-Disney world, there was always something savage about the fairy tale, something bloody and monstrous, and El Laberinto returns to that intuition with flair. There are some fine performances here - Ivana Baquero is mesmerising as Ofelia, Maribel Verdu is captivating as Mercedes, and Sergi Lopez more than pulls his weight as Capitan Vidal - and while there are a handful of scenes that are rather silly, and the ending is a little too upbeat for my taste, El Laberinto del Fauno is, overall, a fascinating achievement.

3. The History Boys

What can one say about a film as delightful as The History Boys? How can one not love a film where characters quote Auden and Keats and Hardy at random, and where every line of dialogue crackles with a crisp combination of erudition and humour. Alan Bennett is a fine writer - at once witty and clever in a preternaturally British way (in a profile of Bennett in the NYRB in May last year, David Lodge describes Bennett as "quintessentially English writer" comparing him to such stalwarts as Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis) - and what he has created in The History Boys is a smorgasbord of verbal delights, an endless lark machine that rattles and hums with infectious enthusiasm. Oh, I'm sure there's a point in there somewhere about the nature of history or the meaning of education or even, perhaps, the eternal conflict between the Appolonian and the Dionysian, but sod it, life is too short, this film is too much fun, and wasn't it Wittgenstein who said that whereof we cannot stop laughing thereof we should not speak seriously?

4. Babel

When I first read about / saw the trailer for Babel, I decided I wasn't going to bother watching it. Then it garnered all these Golden Globe nominations and ended up on a bunch of top 10 film of the year lists and I figured I should at least give it a try.

I should have stuck with my instinct.

I intend to shortly vent about the film at greater length over at Momus, but in the meantime let me say that Babel is a desperately contrived and largely pointless film whose governing idea seems to be that if you juggle fast enough the audience won't notice that you're holding lemons. Whether or not you find the film moving, is, I suspect a function of how you feel about people who are stupid and irresponsible, but not really bad people at heart - if you have sympathy for people like that, you'll probably find the film 'touching'; if, like me, you have no patience with them, you'll find the whole thing unspeakably (heh!) tedious. I can only assume that those Golden Globe nominations are a reflection of the fact that people raised on a diet of Hollywood blockbusters think movies with subtitles are a neat idea.

[1] I'm only counting films I watched in theatres. I also saw Indochine on DVD - liked it, didn't love it, thought it would be a much better movie if they put in an intermission and left out the entire hour and a half before it - but that was more by way of curing post-New Year's hangover.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Rock Paper Scissors

The children are sitting on the stairs, playing Rock Paper Scissors. Suddenly one of them extends his hand, palm upward, fist unclenching in a five-fingered explosion. "Bomb!" he cries, his eyes alight with triumph. "Bomb beats everything."

The others argue. He's wrong. He can't change the rules like that. It isn't fair.

But in their heads they are remembering the things they have seen on the late night news, or that they have heard their parents talk about when they are supposed to be asleep. It's true, the Bomb does beat everything.

In a minute or two they are going to give in to this. In a minute or two they will all be wishing they had thought of it first.

And come the next round they're all going to use it, this new move, this Bomb. After all, it's unbeatable, isn't it?


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Mirror

It's been a week since they moved in but he still hasn't put up the mirror. Even though she's asked him to. Twice. Even though he's been home.

So when she asks him if she looks okay on her way out to office, he pays attention. Puts down his book. Studies her carefully, taking in the impossibly high-heeled shoes, the long black skirt, the flawless creases of the shirt flaring out from the waist to meet the swell of her breasts, the discreet neckline, the tiny kiss of a diamond in each ear, the carefully brushed hair. Eyes still on her, he gets up off the couch, goes over to where she's standing by the door, pushes back the one tendril of hair that's fallen loose and says "You look beautiful."

She doesn't buy it. "No, really", she says, giving him that look of tender exasperation one reserves for idiot children and inappropriately affectionate boyfriends. He maintains eye contact. "Really", he says, putting all the sincerity he can muster into his voice.

He is surprised to find that he means it.

This time she believes it too. She straightens her collar one more time, just to prove him wrong, then grabs her briefcase and heads out of the door.

He goes back to the couch, but he's lost his place in the book. He decides he may as well put the mirror up. That way maybe tomorrow she'll let him read in peace.