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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Prince of Thieves

开始读 Chuck Hogan 的小说。节奏很快,生活细节很生动,在风格和背景方面都让我想起 Mystic River。不是 mystery 类型而是动作 thriller 类型的。很阳刚很男性,所以让我不太感情投入 --- so far。

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最近电子读书器纷纷降价,Kindle 降到139,Nook 降到149,Sony 有一款小的149,一款大一点的169。我要好好考虑下。眼下的顾虑主要是怕自己会 give in to my impulses,一时想看这本书,一时想看那本书,买了一堆东西看不过来。

Friday, July 30, 2010

Phil Hoffman Makes Me Cry

几个星期之前,看龙纹身女续集的时候,撞上 Jack Goes Boating 的片花

说实话,打出字幕说这是 PSH 的第一部自导自演影片的时候,我心里还咯噔一下,因为演而导第一部总是一般般,不会太出色。

可是看他演戏,哎,太好了,他有种特别 vulnerable 的感觉,让我忍不住想把他的大胖脸捧在手里亲一口,让人产生保护他的冲动。所以,几分钟内不知不觉我发现脸上湿了一片。

Thursday, July 29, 2010

音乐

这星期很累,主要原因没别的,还是睡不好。当然这件事只能怪自己,晚上到点不好好地去上床睡觉,挂在 YouTube 上面看以前的电视剧,例如 Gerard Depardieu 主演的基督山伯爵 mini series。皮肤也特别糟,脸上油光光,狂发豆豆,而且 blotchy,一片一片红通通且发出细细密密的小粒。

一到下午三四点的时候就 hit the wall,因为困而呆呆的。这两天发现一个调节脑子的办法,上 NPR 网站搜他们的爵士乐 archives 节目。听着听着就缓过气儿了。这两天听的是 Miles DavisThelonius Monk 的专页,后者比较更抽象,更现代主义一些,我听着还有点儿不懂。不知为什么 Miles Davis 听上去比较 accessible --- 当然,accessibility is not a dirty word. 搞不好内行的乐迷以为我在污蔑 Miles Davis。 然后顺藤摸瓜翻出 Bill Evans (跟 Davis 合作 Kind of Blue),比 Monk 相对要 accessible 一点,旋律比较,嗯,传统。总之,这些都实在是太好听了,让我恋爱的感觉都有,把人带到另一个空间里。

不过这些都是50-60年代和之后的比较现代的爵士乐。我仍然还是很喜欢传统的老派的路线比较固定的爵士乐,只是不同的心情状态想听不同的类型风格。

新不一定比旧高级,只是走不同的路而已。很多时候后人砍出新路,只是因为旧体艺术已经被前人做到了极致顶峰,让后人无处可走了。

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头发又要去烫了。

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ravi Shankar



昨天下午在 Freer Gallery 看完了电影之后,被暴雨困在艺术馆的地下室里好久。没事做,就在礼品店里瞎逛荡,看他们卖的珠宝首饰,瓷器,书和画册,都是跟东方艺术有关的,也有埃及的玻璃香水瓶。都很可爱。晃着晃着,在书架上看见放了几张 Ravi Shankar 的CD,心里好奇。我知道 Ravi Shankar 是 Norah Jones 的爹,是很有名很有名的印度 sitar 音乐家,但是从来没听过他的音乐。

今天上网翻了翻他的音乐和视频,挺有意思的,发现他不仅玩传统的印度音乐,而且跟西方音乐家混在一起,搞了一些 fusion 的东西(例如 Phillip Glass)。我不知道传统印度音乐界对他有什么感想,是羡慕他在西方这么走红呢,还是反感他跟外国音乐混在一起走了味?

草草地听了几段,觉得挺好听,但是完全不懂。可是,很奇怪的,在 YouTube 上瞎碰撞上了一首1974年Ravi Shankar 伴奏的老歌 I Am Missing You,一听之下就差点哭出来,被感动得不象话(原来是 George Harrison 编曲的,比较通俗哈,女声是 Shankar 的姐妹)。

第一诫

昨天去城里看了香港电影系列中的一部《第一诫》,是新加坡影人唐永健在香港拍的鬼片。本来不知道是鬼片,开头之后有点后悔,差点打退堂鼓。后来看看觉得还好,不太恐怖,就继续看了下去。

其实此片是两套常见的鬼片路线拼凑起来的,前半部分是倒霉的余文乐同学演的李警官 sees dead people,到处看见鬼。看了一会儿,对导演/剪辑/制作的手法也摸到了一定的规律:先是采用非常 suspenseful 的音乐和音效吊观众胃口,然后忽然静下来,让观众以为危险已经过去,然后再突然哐当一声巨响,鬼影出现,让意外的成分代替可怕的成分。基本上鬼片/恐怖片大半靠音响效果啦,都是这一套。

后半部分变成了“鬼上身”的套路,就是某个恶鬼从一个人身上跳到另一个人身上。记得很久之前看过一部美国片Fallen,主角是 Denzel Washington,情节规则非常相似,也不知是谁抄谁的,似乎鬼上身的套路在港片里早就有历史。看的时候还觉得挺 clever,之后想一想就觉得很弱智,跳来跳去的鬼就一个,而追捕他两个警探,余文乐和郑伊健两个人都搞不定!太逊了。不过看他俩蔫头蔫脑的样子本来也是靠不住,唉。

总之就是 style over substance。最让我腹诽的是香港电影里的女角色越来越无聊了,花瓶都不能算,只能算墙纸,好闷好平扁呀。

说着说着就让我想起五月份开会的时候看了一半的 Roman Polanski 的恐怖电影 Repulsion,那才叫吓人呢,完全是搞人脑子。那片儿我连一半都没看到就落荒而逃,抱头鼠窜了。

Mad Men: I'm getting a whiplash

Uh, no, not the voluntary slapping Don was asking for.

Yikes! Matt Weiner has some balls to throw cold water on fans who have been expecting some of the old routines. No such comfort, he warns. Prepare for the unexpected in Season 4.

So many snappy lines, so little time.

What an amazing season opening, which seems to be Weiner's proclamation that he will not give you what you want and demand. The ending of Episode 1 is a good example: Rather than dazzling the clients with his brilliance and winning them over, Don Draper kicks them out of the agency over creative differences. The atmosphere in SCDP is positively teetering on the edge of dramatic conflicts and literal fistfights.

I can't wait.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Winter and Night




一天内即看完这本Edgar奖最佳小说(没错,此Edgar的典故就是彼Edgar Allan Poe)。

这套系列里,Bill Smith为主的小说,至今看了两本,都很灰暗很悲惨,想想还是不要推荐算了。也许这就是为什么SJ Rozan要混合交替着写,写一本Bill Smith的,再写一本比较轻松比较温暖的Lydia Chin的。一直写这么灰暗绝望的内容谁受得了,除非你是Cormac McCarthy。

不过忍不住要感叹一下,她怎么能把颓废的中年男人们的调调写得这么生动真实呢?我私下里认定,男性心理和口吻其实比华裔移民文化和人际关系更难真实地惟妙惟肖地写出来,但是她的硬汉派文字风格如此让人信服,上至Raymond Chandler,下至Michael Connelly和George Pelecanos,比谁都不逊色,比谁都不缺半分authenticity。

有意思的是,有读者说,Lydia Chin在Lydia Chin为主的小说里显得有点ditzy,而在Bill Smith的小说里就特可爱。而我觉得Bill Smith在他自己为主的小说里显得太morose,在Lydia Chin的小说里比较可爱。这当然是故意的,情人眼里出西施嘛,所以first-person的视角是很有好处的。

这本小说是一个关于美式足球的故事,但是如果读者以为这故事讲的只是美式足球那就错了。我在网上看到一些人留下的读后感,抱怨说剧情太不真实了,一个虚构的小镇,全部人民都为足球而疯狂,失去了理智和基本的善恶,至于嘛?太不可信了。简直是洪桐县内无好人。且不说美国各地都有这种与外界相对隔绝的小镇,那里从古至今有各种变态的事情发生,即使是这个国家集体全部的历史和现状,也可以在这个疯狂的故事里找到影子。且不说美式足球、棒球、其他职业体育里的corruption and abuse的现实状况比这里描写的情景有过之而无不及,体育只不过是现实的一个缩影。

Raymond Chandler 在他的论述The Simple Art of Murder里面这样解释硬煮派侦探小说的哲学和对世界的看法:
It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization. All this still is not quite enough.

好吧,其实我并不想知道civilization的荒诞与诡异,其实只要有机会我就努力把头埋在沙里,谁叫现实无所不在呢?那并不是我的错。

Winter and Night 是2001-02年写的,如果我在当时看了这本书,未必有那么深的感触。

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One day in March 2003, I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine and having lunch at a sidewalk cafe near the MCI Center downtown (it is now called Verizon Center). Looking at the pedestrians passing by, I commented to the friend next to me how grateful I was to be spending 12 hours a day in the arena watching the figure skating world championships, practically cut off from the world. For this whole week I did nothing but sleep and watch skating, and I did not have to hear or think about the freshly declared war. She nodded and said that she felt the same way, that the competition sheltered us, sort of, from the cloud that was gathering above us and helped us temporarily forget the world outside.

Last Wednesday, I was in a car with a colleague. We did not know each other too well, since I'm new. In the small talk she mentioned that she was in the navy and that she is still in the navy reserve. She complained about PHS a bit, saying that people sitting behind the desk all day do not deserve the same benefits as those who actually saw combat. She is a nurse and works one day a week at a medical center for the wounded who have been shipped back. A friend of hers works in Germany and has been seriously traumatized by the more acute and grotesque injuries from the war. I felt sick. Then, strangely, that same afternoon on my way home, I saw a guy in a wheelchair on the street near the metro station. He was young, had a crew cut, and had that military air. Both of his legs were amputated from the thigh. I had to look away. I'm not hardboiled.

If not everyone around you, at least there is a majority of people believe in something you despise. It can be the reality. How does one live with it? Where does one run?

Once upon a time I asked Henning Mankell: "Do you believe there is real evil?" He replied that he did not believe people are by nature evil, but rather people are influenced to do evil things. Some days I think he is right. Some days I am not so sure.

我爱图书馆

昨天晚上跑到附近书店去买 SJ Rozan 的书,书架上却一本也没有,连2009年出版的上海月都没有。除非有 eReader,要花钱买还得费一番周折。感谢图书馆,今天一早跑去就借到了一本 Winter and Night。另借了一本 Chuck Hogan 的 Prince of Thieves,就是 Ben Affleck 拍的那部电影。

Winter and Night 是上海月之前的小说,Bill Smith 叙述。这是一本关于成年与未成年的美国男人的故事。坦白说,如果没有 Lydia Chin,Bill Smith 这个人物也就是有点意思,只有在对照和互动之下才增加了他的意思。

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shanghai Moon

Every once in a while,会撞见某个作者的书,跟自己有缘得不像话,一拿上手就放不下,连上厕所都要带进去的书。这就是一例。

1937年,一个18岁的犹太女孩子带着14岁弟弟,被妈妈送上去上海的逃难船,离开乌云笼罩的奥地利,在上海的法租界里住下来,遇到了一个中国望族男青年,然后战争爆发了。

60 年后,纽约唐人街的华裔私家侦探Lydia Chin被旧老板,犹太人Joe Pilarsky,雇佣调查一件珠宝失窃案。上海前租界洋房的花园里被挖出西方珠宝,怀疑是当年犹太难民藏起来的,一个专门替犹太难民和受害者打官司追回财产的美国律师正在跟上海政府交涉时,珠宝忽然被文物局的一个小官僚卷走跑到美国。律师到纽约找私家侦探追人,找到了Pilarsky,继而找到了 Lydia Chin。

Lydia 在唐人街的各个珠宝店里询问是否有人兜售某几件珠宝,Joe在犹太人珠宝集散区询问,应该可以把纽约的珠宝业一网打尽了。但是案情忽然恶化,牵出有传奇性 的上海月宝石,据说价值连城,六十年来被很多收藏家追寻而不得要领,而上海月的主人也是这次挖出来的几件珠宝的主人,就是那个奥地利犹太女孩子。难道上海月也要浮出水面了?

这是Lydia Chin/Bill Smith系列小说中的第9本。我去查了一下,作者SJ Rozan 从九十年代开始写这个系列,单号小说是以Lydia Chin为主角(第1,3,5,7,9本),双号小说以Bill Smith为主角(第2,4,6,8本),交替着第一人称的叙述视角。过去我只看过此系列中的一本 Concourse,是系列中第二本,Bill Smith叙述的。两本形成很好的对照。

对照之下发现这个系列的最大特点:作者Rozan驾驭不同人物的独特voice的能力真是强得罕见。两本小说的主角/叙述者,一个是二十几岁的ABC (American-born Chinese) 女孩子,在纽约唐人街坊长大,活泼、外向、莽撞、冲动,跟妈妈一起住;另一个是四十岁左右的白人男,悲观内向、玩世不恭、外冷内热,独自隐居在小饭馆楼上的一个破旧公寓里。两个人的背景、历史、性格完全相反,一见面就唇枪舌战,彼此之间噼里啪啦地放电,但是谁也不肯挑明,遵循 screwball comedy 的优良传统。他的voice跟她的voice各自特点鲜明,导致每两本小说都有自己的风格和口吻,绝无相似之处,简直难以想象是同一个作者写出来的。

总 之很有趣很特别。作者自己是个跟正苗红的犹太人,两个主角一个是唐人街ABC,一个是典型的东岸 WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant),两人之间的化学反应厚得能用刀切,却又一直停留在暗恋和 flirting 的程度,逗得读者心痒难熬。Bill Smith 有点忧郁,有点曾经沧海,第一次读的时候让我觉得有点 morose ,但在 Lydia 的眼光里却亲切可靠,风趣睿智。以 Bill Smith 为主的小说风格冷峻,甚多暴力,独来独往,很硬很阳刚,但不会故意摆出硬汉的虚架子;以 Lydia Chin 为主的小说则 charming, funny, emotional,充满了干干的幽默感,女性的温柔敏感,以及多个女性人物之间的bonding。

实际上作者写许多人物的对话都生动鲜明,三教九流各有各的口气,特别是唐人街里的小混混啦、老店主啦、街坊大婶啦。简直跟 Lisa Scottoline 写的南费城意大利街坊一个调调---只不过文笔更炫更高明。

我刚到美国的时候在西岸居住了几年,那时周围很多是老一代移民和ABC,而大陆新移民很少,所以对他们有一些接触和观察。SJ Rozan 描述的唐人街气氛活灵活现,勾起很多回忆,那种熟悉与妥帖不能用评论形容但是直觉上立刻认同。书中到处撒满了大把大把的 Chinese American immigrant community 中生活细节随手拈来,让我乍舌一个鬼佬怎么会这么熟悉?例如喝茶时把壶盖翻过来就是示意服务生添水,例如街坊旅行社里的细节场景,把我拉回青年时代。细节啊细节,才是王道。

作者笔下的秦妈妈是眼下侦探小说中最有名、最受读者欢迎的配角之一,她是个典型的“刀子嘴豆腐心”的华人妈妈 --- 但她是劳动阶层的第一代移民,在衣厂打工拉扯大五个儿女,而不是自视甚高自以为折堕的知识分子。她常常抱怨小女儿的工作(私家侦探)不是女孩子该做的,唠叨女儿老不结婚而成天跟个 white baboon 混在一起,让女儿又气结又抓狂,同时她又真心希望女儿过上幸福生活,包括暗地帮助Lydia的侦探工作。Ah the inimitable Mama Chin. 每次她一出场,一开口,都会逗得人咕咕笑个不停,好典型好熟悉好亲切。

Rozan 喜欢走老派侦探小说的套路,沿袭 Raymond Chandler 的传统,又向 Wilkie Collins 致敬(月亮宝石)。布局复杂而缜密,在抖包袱和最后揭盅方面都绝不偷工减料,一定会给读者一个充满悬念的过程和满意的结局,而且细节绝不马虎,即使是不影 响到布局的段落也精心处理,不落俗套,不抄近路。Rozan 的老本行是建筑师,我可以想象她耐心地把故事各个环节都细细构思出来,有如画施工图纸,连楼梯宽窄和窗户尺寸也不马虎。

在细致的布局之外,另有浓厚的感情质地,让读者的脑和心都得到满足。在Shanghai Moon里,她显然收集过大量的背景资料,主要是二战时期的上海,犹太难民,租界生活,以及在太平洋战争爆发后日本把欧美敌国侨民关入(闸北)集中营,专门把犹太人关在一起的 ghetto。有些中国读者说不定会反感作者没有直接描写中国人民当时的苦难状况,但她也有提及当时的普通中国百姓处境比洋人侨民处境更恶劣更惨。她对中国近代政治历史的描写(本来就很复杂)虽然有限却也相当准确,并没有很明显的误解和误读。或许更重要的是,这本小说的中心主题其实是战争苦难给幸存者留下的长长的阴影 而不是战争本身,死者倒是长已矣,而给平凡的人与家庭留下的 haunting 却无法磨灭,绝不肤浅廉价,绝不是 cheap thrills。可是不要被沉重题材吓到了,实际上书中的口气幽默温暖,甚至有不少插科打诨,让我经常一边听一边吃吃地笑出来。

我估计不少中国读者可能会反感作者---一个洋人---以华裔女青年的视角和“自己人”口气描写唐人街的物理与人文景色,并且涉及帮派与犯罪的话题, 只追求热腾腾的真实感而毫无粉饰或猎奇倾向,或许更有人会被她笔下一些不合语法的 Chinglish 对白而冒犯了自尊心。所以这套系列我也不想公开推荐给志不同道不合的读者,白白得罪人,自己偷着乐就行了。

她,一个犹太人,用英文,操起 ABC 的口气,讲唐人街的故事。我忽然想起,其实自己也喜欢这样的混杂写法,一个中国人,用中文,操起洋人的口气,讲洋都的故事。难怪我跟她这么投契。

Currently Reading

1. Shanghai Moon by SJ Rozan (audio).
About 3/4 complete. I feel like Knowing's cat Trinity. When I eat something I like, I gorge and feel nauseated, but cannot stop. I'm already looking forward to reading the complete Bill Smith/Lydia Chin series from the first entry, China Trade.

2. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young.
This is supposed to be my bedtime relaxation fluff, but it is funny, sarcastic, and astute and takes aim at everyone: New Yorkers, Americans, Britons, Brit expats in New York, celebrities, journalists, magazine publishers. The author's breezy and cynical prose makes it a bit hard to put down and thus has been encroaching on my precious sleep time.

3. The science fiction novel by James Tiptree, Jr.
I was half way through --- a bit slow but interesting --- before Rozan gripped my heart. Don't know when I'll go back to it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Best! Comment! Ever!

To escape work for a few minutes, I got on Roger Ebert's blog and saw this comment:
(Inception is mind-tickling but not mind-blowing --- that's my assessment.)

David Farrell: While I enjoyed Inception greatly, I had one nagging question after I finished watching it, which is "What do the shared dreamers do if they want to, um, relieve themselves?" I mean, I guess it could be explained by the (spoiler) sedative, but if I'm on a 10 hour flight, I'm going to need to use the bathroom during that time. But, yeah, overall, I thought it was a brilliant, thought provoking film that dared to engage the minds of its audience, unlike the majority of films that Hollywood has been cranking out this year.

Ebert: Characters in movies never enjoy an ordinary pee. Toilets are for the purposes of stashing guns, killing people, overhearing conversations, Meet Cutes, escaping from the party, taking drugs, or fleeing through the window.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

见异思迁

周末的时候讲起读书的习惯,我说我这个人ADD 的倾向越来越严重了,同时看两三本书,耳朵里还在听一本。S 同学骇笑地说你这样脑子不会搞乱么?我就只能一次看一本书,看完一本再看别的。我叹气说都是 Internet 害的,耐心越来越小了,本来就有见异思迁的倾向,现在四周都是 distractions,太容易被新鲜玩意儿吸引而半途而废 ...

Planting Ideas

一些对 Christopher Nolan 的批评并非没有道理,他擅长提出问题,provoke thoughts,但是不擅长对这些问题和思想进一步讨论深入挖掘,即使有挖掘和讨论也比较肤浅。不过,仅仅是这些 provocation 就已经很好玩了,也算独此一家,没有其他影人玩这个游戏玩得这么好,这么 committed。

Inception 里面提出的几个概念都很有挖掘的空间,例如,思想/主意可以是一个非常有力的病毒,种下去之后生根发芽,并且传播出去。这个说法显然来自 Richard Dawkins 发明的 meme 概念。例如,一个念头种下去之后不一定能够保持其原形,可能变形膨胀,自己都无法控制。实际上,有谁能真正全面控制自己的思想和情绪呢?客观地观察一下就会发现,焦虑、愤怒、自卑、喜悦、恋爱等等的时候,我们其实都无法控制自己,也不能说服自己相信本来不相信的概念。另一部电影,Memento,提出的概念之一是过去之不存在。过去的现实,不管多么真实客观,在现在的时刻都是主观的,过去只存在于记忆之中,没有记忆它就不存在。

说到planting an idea in a person's mind,过去已经说过是非常普遍并且相对容易的事情 --- 只要手法得当。我忽然想起这个概念并不新鲜,Agatha Christie 在Poirot系列中的最后一部小说 Curtain 里早有阐述。现实的例子在广告界,跨国媒体工业,都比比皆是而且系统化,连秘密都不是。

Cheri



电影本身没啥感觉,但又勾起了我对小说原著的兴趣。从俏皮机智的对话里能感觉到小说的尖锐和 worldliness,人物的模棱两可与真实感,但电影处理得很不对味儿。Michelle Pfeiffer 太老,又干瘦,男主角 Rupert Friend 太轻飘。 There is something wrong with the movie but I am not sure what. 总觉得偏离了目标。

搞笑的是,在DVD上的花絮中,两个女主角 (Pfeiffer 和 Kathy Bates) 很礼貌很言不由衷地夸了一下男主角,特别是 Bates,说这孩子以后会成为一个好演员,Mwahahaha.

Shanghai Moon

Found and downloaded the audio book from local library last night. This is the latest in SJ Rozan's Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. I was very impressed by the previous Rozan novel, Concourse, but this one I love. It is quite awesome!

The Bill Smith-centered novel has a completely different voice from the Lydia Chin-centered novel. The latter has a lot more humor and feminine perspective. Love, love, love it from the first chapter. It is ADORABLE! :D

(What joy it is to discover a new author and series to plunge into.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

电影之小说

最近看见两个电影 trailers ,本身就有点吸引人,而且小说原作其实更吸引我。

一个是 The Town,原著是惊险小说家 Chuck Hogan 的 Prince of Thieves,讲一个波士顿的穷人区 Charlestown,街坊的主业手艺是抢银行。这片儿是 Ben Affleck 导演的,感觉有点象 Gone Baby Gone 的味道,他继续兜售自家后院的猎奇感。最吸引我的是此片的卡司: 两个男配角一个是 Jon Hamm,另一个是 Jeremy Renner。男主是 Affleck 自己,就他让人有点儿担心。我觉得小说的 premise 有点意思,很硬煮的感觉,想看看。

另一个是 Kazuo Ishiguro 的小说 Never Let Me Go,最近看见一个 trailer,演员包括 Keira Knightly 和新星 Carey Mulligan 。这本书,我的前老板 N 年之前 (N>2) 就推荐给我,一直没看,现在又想起来了。看 trailer 就知道了情节,原因是故事其实跟去年读的瑞典小说 The Unit 差不多。电影本身倒不是特别特别吸引我。感觉比较荒诞的是,原来这么冷僻悲观甚至自虐的题材竟然有不少人写,而且还有不少人读。

Perfection Is Overrated

An interesting quote from Roger Ebert in an article about film criticism that I think applies to many things in life:


There's a human tendency to resent anyone who disagrees with our pleasures. The less mature interpret that as a personal attack on themselves. They're looking for support and vindication.

No movie (or anything or anyone else) is liked by everyone. That is simply the nature of the beast (or the reality of having too many humans living on earth).

I am glad that I did not read any of the massive hype about "Inception" before I saw it, so that I had the chance to take it on its face value and preserve my first, uninfluenced impression.

People are very susceptible to suggestion and hint from their environment. I know I am very susceptible. In that sense, the act of "inception," as Nolan defines it (ie, planting an idea in someone's head to make him believe it is his own), is very very common and need no fancy gadgets and men with big guns to achieve. It happens every day.

"Inception" has many flaws, that is for sure. There are many elements for which I can criticize it. And it is true that Nolan's morality (or lack of) can be a bit disturbing to some, me included. Nevertheless, like Roger Ebert, I do not believe in perfection. I do not believe in flawlessness. A film that is not disliked by someone out there is not worth making or watching.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception

这部电影果然没有让我失望。很好看,很好看。

在很多方面 Inception 跟 Christopher Nolan 的处女作 Memento 有很多共同之处,很搞脑子,故事的中心之一是记忆,主题是罪恶感,对爱人的罪恶感 --- 男主即使没有亲手杀死太太,但太太因他而死。这方面跟 Memento 几乎是一样的,让我忍不住疑心他有过类似的经历,留下了深刻持久的纠结。

影片的一大亮点是演员,整个cast我都挺喜欢的,甚至包括我一直不太待见的 Leonardo DiCaprio,其他的诸位,特别是 Joseph Gordon-Leavitt 我最喜欢,其他还有 Ellen Page,英国的 Tom Hardy,爱尔兰的 Cillian Murphy,日本的 Ken Watanabe,法国的 Marion Cotillard,都是演技派的,每个人都尽职尽责。

剧情相当复杂,进入了四层梦境,有点象打游戏闯关似的,越走越深。有些打斗动作桥段似乎有点为赚眼球或投资而设计,跟情节关系不大,但是中间第二层里有一段无重力浮游的桥段非常精彩,都不知道他是怎么拍的,好炫好神。另外就是美术和视觉效果都很漂亮很特别,是在别处没见过的手法和画面。 Nolan 的确很有天赋和 vision。

此片里面让我很满意的一个设定是,在梦中被杀死就醒来了,而不是象很多旧片子(例如 The Matrix 和它之前的 Nightmares on Elms Street)总是说梦里被杀死在现实里也会死 --- 根本不合逻辑嘛。其他设定中有些不太清楚,估计要等到 DVD 出来之后重看一遍才能彻底搞清。

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gypsy Kings

一直想买他们的“最佳”专辑,一直忘记。实际上在高中的时候第一次听到他们的歌就很喜欢,立刻有颈后汗毛直立的反应。今天又想起来,赶快记下来,等周末回来之后就买。另外再买个 Miles Davis 纪念专辑。

Gypsy Kings 最有名的一首歌 Bamboleo 可以在YouTube里找到。这一首 Gitano Soy 也很好听,好缠绵伤感。

Deal-breakers

Every mating-age person, men as well as women (I believe), has been asked or thought about what qualities his or her spouse should possess. This is one of the best example of the separation between the conscious and unconscious mind. I have never, ever seen anyone's list of "What I want in my husband (wife)" to be truly what they end up with. If you have such a list, you might as well tear it up because the likelihood of your conscious and unconscious lists matching each other is no better than random. (I have no research to back up this claim, so it is my opinion.)

And the funny thing is, the unconscious list always wins. Maybe the word "always" is too strong and absolute. Maybe it is "nearly always." People do end up with what they want. It is not to say that some do not go with the conscious (rather than unconscious) list of what they want, but conflicts with the unconscious wants usually kill the marriage quickly. In nearly all cases, people believe (falsely) that they are happily married because they adhered to their conscious list.

For example, a person may fit all of the written criteria of a perfect spouse, but one tiny defect (for example, a body odor that you dislike, eating with his mouth open if it bothers you, or a mole on the face or too many freckles) can elicit enough visceral disgust to erase all those great qualities you have said you want.

This is why it is entirely useless to draw up lists of qualities you want in a spouse. Because nobody knows what they want --- unconsciously but decidedly. Yes, it may be unfair and stupid that we humans have so little access with our unconscious thinking and have to rely on the half-deaf, half-blind conscious thoughts.

Unlike Freud’s theory, the separation between the conscious and unconscious minds is not caused by active suppression by social norms and childhood/adult learning. It’s just the anatomy and physiology. The human brain is very, very far from a perfect machine, fancy as it already is. Poorly designed and poorly made. Sort of like Windows Vista --- good enough to do some computation, but also full of glitches and inefficiencies and deficiencies.

So all we have is this thin layer of consciousness, a tiny accessory within a giant machine. It can barely pick up what others think and feel and knows only a little more what the rest of the brain thinks and feels. What it doesn’t know, it just makes it up: cobble together some stuff from the outside and some fragments from within and make up a coherent fairy tale to entertain itself. Of course, it firmly believes its own importance. There is no brain but the conscious brain, it thinks. It is wrong, of course, but it is hardly able to know that, because it is not very powerful or smart.
So what’s the point? What’s the point of having criteria for your mate? No point. The true criteria are those your unconscious mind keeps, and your conscious mind can’t even read them. The only thing one can do is follow one’s gut. When your gut tells you something is a deal-breaker, that you cannot stand it, you’d better trust the gut. It is the most powerful thing that controls you.

Also because one is dominated by the unconscious (at least in the case of long-term relationships), it is no use to make predictions on things you have not experienced. Without actual experience, one would never know a certain quality or characteristic bothers you. For example, you would never know a pair of very big feet or the ability to speak Italian ("A Fish Called Wanda") will turn you off or on until you actually see and touch the feet or hear the Italian phrases ringing in your ear. The unconscious mind is excellent at making snap decisions at the moment, but is extremely feeble in predicting the future, especially when there is no past expereince to base the prediction on.

The same goes for making friends, choosing a car to buy, and other choices in life. If someone or something disgusts or repulses you, accept that and move on.

That is not to say that the unconscious is never wrong, but rather that it is much more accurate than the conscious. In addition, someone or something that repulses you today may no longer do so a month or 10 years later. Your unconscious cannot predict that.

There are many people out there that I cannot stand. I used to think that it was not nice and I might be too quick to judge. However, I should have more faith in my own instinct.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Currently Reading

"How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" by Toby Young -- 毒舌,英国人看美国,娱乐界gossip,反正都是很搞的内容。Fluffy, funny, guilty pleasure.

"Brightness Falls From the Air" by James Tiptree, Jr., aka Racoona Sheldon, aka Alice Sheldon. 科幻小说,开头很闷,忽然就有意思起来了。现在又开始坐地铁了,在车上看。

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Matthew MacFadyen in Spooks




本地的PBS在重播这个剧,2003年的 episode 里,Matthew MacFadyen 好瘦好瘦,穿着一件白衬衫晃来晃去,也不需要外套。等到2007 年拍 Death at a Funeral 的时候已经肥嘟嘟的了,连黑西装也遮不住肚腩 ...

Murder at the Savoy (Martin Beck)





这是 Martin Beck 系列里的第六本,原本几个月前就买了,结果再次证明书非借不能读也的道理,放到现在才看完。

这一本与第七本 The Abominable Man 都让我觉得不太好看。主要原因是两部小说都把犯罪动机解释为社会/富人/the establishment 压迫穷人,把凶手的遭遇说得太惨了。我相信肯定有遭遇很惨的人,在瑞典也会有(当然美国就更多),但是如 Kollberg 那样简单地列个年表告诉读者凶手有多惨多惨,太干巴巴了,让读者难以产生同情感。其实让我想起小时候看过的电影 《可怜天下父母心》,感觉被作者 manipulate,拒绝接受。在这方面,Henning Mankell 就改变了手法,将凶手的视角和警察的视角平行叙述出来,提供重要的细节,赢得读者的---也不算同情,但是对动机的理解比较多。

不过里面还是有很搞笑的内容,例如那一对活宝警察,Kristiansson and Kvant,被小孩子取笑而失职的桥段 (polis, polis, potatismos),哇,从来没在其他小说里看见过。还有胖子 Kollberg 背后撮合 Martin Beck 跟同事 Asa Torell 的恋情,真可爱。

最近在网上找哥本哈根的旅馆时挑得眼花缭乱(都好贵!),最后看见一家 Savoy hotel,价钱与位置都颇合理,赶快订下来。知道这不是那个马尔默的 Savoy 酒店,无聊地过过干瘾吧。

世界杯

本来已经把决赛的事情抛在脑后,结果一个旧同事,西班牙人,提醒了我。他问我要不要一起看比赛,我闲着也是闲着,就跑到他家去看了。

这个同事最近很背,他的生化制药小公司终于支持不住倒了,现在正在找工作,焦头烂额。我作为一个无所谓的中立旁观者,心里不免希望西班牙队能够夺冠,安慰鼓励一下他的心情。西班牙队从后半场开始已经全面控制了场面,但是临门一脚实在不够锐利,眼看就要点球对射了,忽然终于被他们进了一球。我笑嘻嘻地伸出手向他道贺。

公平地说: The better team won. 至少在这一场里是这样。

回家上网一查: 八爪鱼 Paul 在本届世界杯里百发百中,八场比赛结果全部猜中。昏倒。

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Outrage



去年这部电影出来之后,很多人都批判作者的手法: out 华盛顿国会里柜中的弯男政客。有人说:你怎么只 out 共和党不 out 民主党?有人说:人家愿意呆在柜子里是他的自由,你有什么权力 out 他呢?你怎么不尊重人家的隐私呢?

这部纪录片的作者们要 out 的,不是躲在柜子里的弯男共和党政客,而是 hypocrisy ,说谎、伪善、通过欺骗而损人利己。如果只是为了方便、恐惧、保护自己、谋得应得的好处,而留在柜子里,没有害到别人,这是隐私,是你的选择。但是一边泡弯吧找情人,一边在议会投票反对平权法案支持歧视法案,呼啦啦打击一大片国民,这也是隐私吗?也值得保护吗?

说实话我知道世界上有很多 Cheney 一家这种人,Larry Craig 这种人,反正就是不择手段,为了达到自己的目的,什么原则和事实都是个屁,怎么说谎骗人都无所谓,一切都可以出卖,一切都可以说一套做一套,hypocrisy 是最拿手的利器,而羞耻在他们的字典里根本不存在。这种人能够横行天下,也是因为有更多的人根本不在乎什么是真的什么是假的,只要让他们爽,让他们暂时觉得 feel good about themselves 就好了,其他人跟自己不同,都叫他们去死。

过去十一年,我在五个地方工作,到处都碰上同性恋同事,而且人数很不少,上个工作的老板还是弯的。有些曾经有老婆/丈夫,甚至有孩子;有些遮遮掩掩的半出柜而已。说实话,我很感谢那些坦然地生活在柜子之外的人,直接迅速地打消了我的疑惑和偏见 --- 来美国之前我根本不知道同性恋为何物。

我知道,出不出柜,是否告诉周围的人自己是弯的,这件事在美国的同性恋社区里仍然很有争议,仍然有很多人---有直有弯---认为留在柜子里 don't ask don't tell 是跟社会相安无事的最佳状态。作为一个直女,作为你的同事、邻居、下属,我赞成 Harvey Milk 在30年之前说过的话: 如果每一个藏在柜子里的同性恋坦白而坦然地告诉你的亲友邻居和同事,让他们知道大家都是普通的正常的人,就能赢得足够人的同情和接受,平等权利迎刃而解。

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Girl Who ... (spoilers)




The second movie in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is opening today.

The third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, was recently released in the US.

I went to the book store and skimmed a bit. Although it is no surprise that Salander lives after being beaten, shot in the head, and buried alive at the end of the second book, I groaned when I read that Zala is also alive after being axed in the head. Does anyone die any more? Oh, puh-leees.

Unless I can download an audio version, I would not have the patience --- especially in this exhausting heat --- to read this book. I don't care 2 straws about Mikael Blomqvist and perhaps just a straw more for Lisbeth Salander. Larsson's writing has the familiar terseness and spareness of other Swedish mystery writers, but lack their humor and grace. I'll just watch the movie when it comes out.

Popular trends always remind me how alone I am. Well, popular trends can kiss my ass.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Duly Punished

The first chip in the domino effect was letting my bedtime schedule slip. The next one was, of course, being unable to get up in the morning to catch the subway to catch the bus. Consequently, I drove every day this week. Summer traffic is usually very light, so I had been able to minimize the time spent on the road for the past 2.5 days (Tue, Wed, Thu morning).

Of course, such good fortune never lasts in this area. This evening I was duly punished for not taking the metro/bus with a >2-hour drive home (one way). The Beltway outerloop allowed no more than 10 mi per hour for the entire stretch that I had to take. I didn't get home (bleary-eyed and p/o'ed) until nearly 8:30.

I think this is a sign from the higher power, whatever it may be, telling me to get my act together and go to bed early, and TAKE THE DAMNED METRO!

Monday, July 5, 2010

闲话

现在要天天带本书和饭盒上班,皮包太小不管用,今天去买了一只布书包夏天用用。可惜本地买不到 CAVA 君曾经推荐过的无印良品布包,只好胡乱买一只格子布包算数。等秋天再另作打算。

假期在家 scrub 浴室,腰酸背痛。太缺乏锻炼了...

昨天还跟婷婷聊到 Trader Joe's 系列商店里的东西好吃,今天就在附近的 Trader Joe's 里发现新产品: 泰国式芒果糯米糍。买回家尝尝是否正宗。

Bulwer-Lytton 奖

加州的圣荷塞州立大学英语系有一个很好玩的文学竞赛,每年评出最糟小说开头奖,以维多利亚时代作家 Bulwer-Lytton 命名:
Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. The contest (hereafter referred to as the BLFC) was the brainchild (or Rosemary's baby) of Professor Scott Rice, whose graduate school excavations unearthed the source of the line "It was a dark and stormy night."

参赛者提供一句小说开场白(必须是未经发表的 original writing),越 cringe-inducing 越好。今年的获奖者是:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mary Poppins and related hoopla




This whole thing started innocently enough. On the way to watching the 4th of July Fireworks on the National Mall, we saw an advertisement in the Metro station for the Disney musical "Mary Poppins", currently playing at the Kennedy Center.

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," Mr. S said.

"What?" said I.

He told me it's the long word Mary Poppins used in the musical, which he watched and loved as a child and still remembers. I said I read the book and do not remember any such magic word.

I did read the book in my childhood, and it left quite an impression on me, like Pippi Longstocking.

"Oh here we go again with the cultural imperialism of Disney," I complained. "They just have to take interesting children's literature and dumb it down to syrupy American musicals."


When we got home, I looked up the Mary Poppins novels. Indeed, the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was the creation of the writers of the Disney musical. Then I discovered that the author of the Mary Poppins series was Pamela Travers, who wrote the first Mary Poppins book to great success in 1934, followed by a number of sequels. The last sequel was written in 1988!

Travers was an Australian actress, journalist, and poet. Like female authors and artists of that time (first half of the 20th century and before that), she used her initials in her published works, as P.L. Travers rather than Pamela Travers, so that she was not instantly judged to be inconsequential and frivolous by critics because her name could be recognized as that of a woman.


What an interesting life Travers had. But that's not the end of it. Apparently there was a big brouhaha behind a 2005 New Yorker article about Travers, written by Caitlin Flanagan, which drew the ire of Valerie Lawson, the author of an exhaustive Travers biography published first in Australia and then in the UK. Apparently Lawson felt that her work was not properly referenced and herself was not given sufficient credit in Flanagan's article, in part because Flanagan interviewed her before writing the article. The New Yorker editor tried to defend their writer and address the conflicts through a letter-to-the-editor and an author's response.

Something seems very familiar to me in all this kerfuffle between the angry letter-writer and the magazine editor, which I accidentally discovered on Columbia Journalism Review Web site while looking up Lawson's book. I am reminded of several occasions in two of my jobs at publishing places. They are no New Yorker, of course, but readers occasionally protested on things they felt strongly about, sometimes justified and other times not. The way this editor dealt with such conflicts is nearly the same as my editors did. I find it all fascinating, but this is probably of no interest to anyone outside of this line of work.

This is how writers argue and fight. :)


So, now, should I go off and re-read Mary Poppins novels first or Lawson's biography of Travers first? I wish I could get hold of at least one of the TV documentary programs about Travers, but the programs were shown only in Australia and the UK in 2006.

July 25

Mad Men Season 4 starts!!!

I can't wait.

I don't see the point of keeping Betty in the story. She's divorced and out of Don's life. Gone. Do we really need to see her in the arms of her new daddy figure?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

食人族 notes

这个故事的最大挑战是感情立场。食人是让人直觉厌恶的事情,怎样才能让读者对人物既反感又同情和认同,要好好地考虑处理。不过呢,希特勒也可以被写得有人性,一定要记住这一点。

Roger Ebert Makes Me Cry

It is becoming increasingly impossible for me not to weep while reading Roger Ebert's blog. He makes me laugh. He makes me cry. He touches my heart, deeply.

A couple of months ago, at a dinner with my colleagues at the job I just left, I happened to sit next to an editorial board member who lives in Chicago. In fact, she has lived in Chicago all her life. Something in her earthy and warm manner reminded me. I mentioned that I am a big fan of Mr. Ebert, especially since he started writing ferociously after he lost his voice to cancer and subsequent surgery.

"We are very proud of him," she said. "He is like our favorite son."

"He is a national treasure," I replied. "A national treasure."

Every other article on his blog left me with tears streaming down my face. A clear, strong, honest, and untainted voice. Added to these are his lack of cynicism and preachiness, his generosity and kindness. He makes me feel better about humanity. He makes me a better person.

Any random entries would serve as fine examples of his writing and his person:

Here's Another Fine Mess

We could learn to open the damn windows when it's a mild day outside. All of this would only be the beginning. Big changes are coming, sooner than we want. They have nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats. They have to do with learning to live without greed--in our personal lives, in our corporations, in our government.

How Do They Get to Be That Way?
When I proposed marriage to Chaz, it was because of the best possible reason: I wanted to be married to this woman. Howard Stern asked me on the radio one day if I thought of Chaz as being black every time I looked at her. I didn't resent the question. Howard Stern's gift is the nerve to ask personal questions. I told him, honestly, that when I looked at her I saw Chaz. Chaz. A fact. A person of enormous importance to me. Chaz. A history. Memories. Love. Passion. Laughter. Her Chaz-ness filled my field of vision. Yes, I see that she is black, and she sees that I am white, but how sad it would be if that were in the foreground. Now, with so many of my own family dead, her family gives me a family, an emotional home I need. Before our first trip out of town, she took me home to meet her mother.
I believe at some point in the development of healthy people there must come a time when we instinctively try to understand how others feel. We may not succeed. There are many people in this world today who remain enigmas to me, and some who are offensive. But that is not because of their race. It is usually because of their beliefs.

Friday, July 2, 2010

打草稿

这个食人族的故事,我需要打打草稿,还要做一些背景研究,眼下的研究目标是蒙古游牧部落的历史和生存形式,特别是成吉思汗之前的分裂形态。

或许可以用做今年 NaNoWriMo project,在十一月之前收集资料和写提纲,然后十一月开工...

NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. 是一个全国性自发活动,参加者争取在一个月里写一部小说,长度至少是五万字。只管写,不管修改,鼓励大家一鼓作气哗啦啦不间断地把故事写出来。

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Yet-Un-Named Story: 1

1. A New Dawn

The howling wind outside the cave grew louder as he crawled toward the corner where he slept. But sleep escaped him again for the third night. The hunger that had been gnawing him from the inside was gone, leaving a deep, numb, hollowness. He felt lighter and emptier, as if he was dissolving into thin air, soon to melt into the wind blowing across the valley below. For a moment he wondered whether the bodies laid outside the cave would freeze in the cold night.

In a flash, the realization finally came upon him that he would soon die, like his kins who were slowly hardening in the bitter wind outside. It was strange that he had not truly believed this fate before, since every one in his family had met with his or her fate after a protracted period of starvation. Yet, deep down in his heart, he had not been able to accept that he was to follow their steps.

Perhaps, his confidence came from his youth. He was 15 years old, by far the strongest man in the clan and fully in his prime. All others were either several years older than he or too young to take care of themselves. He had been the most powerful hunter and invincible warrior. He had killed the most vicious saber-tooth tiger and killed the most enemies who had tried to rob his family of food. He had defeated his older, weaker father and uncles in the wrestling matches to become the head of the family. He had seen plenty of deaths, including his first wife who died during childbirth and his mother who died, not long ago, after eating some leaves she found by the spring. She was driven to despair with hunger and ate anything in sight, like everyone else.

Now, they were all lying stiffly against the stone walls outside the cave that had been their home for generations, as was the custom. Tomorrow morning I would have to crawl out and lie next to my current wife and our child, he thought, and die.

When the morning came he was surprised to observe that he was still alive with even a little more strength than last night. He stood up and walked outside, a hand on the cave walls for support as his legs were getting weaker by the hour.

The morning sun shone on the bodies leaning or lying against the slope of the mountain side around the cave, bringing him only a hint of warmth. Most had not begun to rot because of the cold weather. They were hard and blue. He stared at the small body closest to the doorstep. It was his nephew, only a baby, and one of the first to die along with his mother. Lying next to the baby and his mother was a body of another man, a younger cousin, who died only yesterday.

Suddenly, in his hunger-induced despair and hallucination, a wild idea came to his mind: a story he had heard as a child, a warning, a long-buried memory. He grabbed a stone-knife and began to cut off a piece of flesh from his cousin's emaciated body.

Bill Bryson 的好处

He calls stupid stupid.

Yes, the stupid would be offended to be called stupid, so people hem and haw to find some euphemism.

Still, stupid is as stupid does. Ain't no way around it.

Timon of Athens

During the intermission of Timon of Athens at Folger, I eavesdropped on a discussion among the 3 persons (who looked like a mother with t...

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