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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Windup Girl


The book has many striking qualities, among which is the grammatically correct use of Chinese curse words. Of the multiple (third person limited) points of view --- a white man, a Japanese sex toy, a couple of Thai police officials, a Chinese refugee --- most characters are quite believable. What impressed me the most though is the sense of urgency and tension anyone who's lived in social instability and material scarcity can recognize, but unexpected coming from a white, male, American author.

Most of the time Bacigalupi's writing style sits in the sweep spot between efficiency and literary flourish. The descriptions of a tropical and crammed city teetering on the edge of destruction are often so vivid one could taste and smell it. Occasionally it becomes a bit ponderous and slows down the story. There are passages that immediately recall Graham Greene and the imperialist period SE Asia. What's old is new again, indeed.

In general I am perfectly fine with the moral ambiguity of the story. Oddly, the worst drawn, most underdeveloped character is the white man representing the West. A corporate man who acts more like a CIA agent, a scrubbed version of Alden Pyle ("The Quiet American"). He is the only POV character without a back story.

The title character, the Japanese "windup girl", a genetically modified human who was both vulnerable and physically superior to humans, is also less than satisfactory. A few elements in her story line do not add up --- for example, why did she yearn for a fabled community of New People in the north but never made a real effort to escape the city? She was physically superhuman and, although prone to overheating due to genetically designed small pores, she could have jumped in the river and swam. When she became the target of city-wide manhunt later in the novel, it got increasingly unbelievable that she could have eluded people's eyes. She lived in a slum, a crowded small neighborhood where everyone knew everyone and any strange woman --- especially a pretty one --- would instantly attract attention. Ultimately there is just something about the stereotypical Japanese heroine (in the eyes of white males?), who must be both vulnerable and tough, innocent and kind of dumb, with an unmistakable streak of dependence on men, that really turned me off. Also, the premise of a cyborg trying to become human is a bit old and tired.

The chapters on the always tenacious, calculating Chinese refugee, the passionate Thai policeman, and the Thai policewoman are the best parts of the novel. They are completely believable and vivid, full of layers of complexity and an irrepressible vitality.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Doctor

Motioning me to sit down, he picked up a pair of hearing aid from the desk and put them in his ears. "When you get old, your hearing goes," he smiled apologetically. "This way I can hear you better." His hair and beard were mostly white and both needed a trim, but he had obviously reached an age and place in life that allowed him to completely ignore appearances. On the bookshelf sat several Freud dolls, one porcelain and one cloth. Both had the characteristic white beard too.

When he talked, his blue eyes, magnified behind the thick glasses, were fixed on an invisible spot behind my left ear, as if to concentrate his thoughts or to recall something important. They would flick back to my face every minute or two, and then went back to that spot.

"I am toxo positive, but I have not developed schizophrenia. My sister is also toxo positive and she has schizophrenia. Presumably we were both exposed in childhood. So why is it that she is affected but I'm not?" He said it matter-of-factly, but my mind immediately romanticized this detail. Did he become a psychiatrist and devote all his life to the research of the cause and cure of this disease to save his sister? A psychiatrist might scoff at such simplistic deduction. Still, I imagine that it made for as good a mission as any.

For decades almost no one believed him. Contagious madness? What a crazy idea! It didn't make sense intuitively. A lone voice in the wilderness, making do with whatever funding he could scrape together, he continued to make noise about his cause and made small but steady progress, not unlike Captain Ahab's pursuit of the great white whale. Near the end of his career he was finally heard, and people began to convert to his ideas, after other, more glamorous and fashionable theories failed. Vindication was so close he could taste it. But he was too old and weak to slay the whale with his own hands and might have to hand over the pursuit to others. Yet for the moment he was still hanging on, lingering for another day, another year, even if just to witness the kill, which, perhaps, would be as sweet as revenge.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bewildered

Recently I started going to a writers group. As any writer groups, people share their writing and ideas at every meeting. Some time in October, a writer brought in a short narrative of a slightly odd idea. In a world like ours, there are velociraptors running everywhere. They randomly attack and kill about 200 people a month, but they are allowed to run free, protected from human intervention because, supposedly, they can secret something that are medically precious, a cancer-curing substance from their glands.

During the discussion, we scratched our heads over the synopsis. Suggestions veered into all directions. Finally, the writer himself explained. The idea behind the vicious velociraptors was handguns. Approximately 200 people are killed accidentally by handguns every month (I have not confirmed the statistics), but Americans are absolutely and completely unwilling to even have a conversation about gun control laws. As a French immigrant he found it utterly bewildering.

We discussed this some more. Someone pointed out that, unlike his setup for the story, handguns don't cure cancer. There is no reliable, verifiable benefit to handgun ownership comparable to curing cancer, which accounts for about one in five or four deaths. So the premise does not quite work.

For a brief moment the room was filled with sighs as the memory of the Aurora cinema massacre hung over us. This being in a Washington suburb, there were immediate comments all around that gun control is political death. Nobody, but nobody in national politics, regardless of party affiliation or ideology, dares to speak up against gun rights, and everyone who is not backed by NRA knew to avoid the subject altogether. And the Supreme Court, led by Dick Cheney's hunting buddy Scalia, have put the final word on this in DC vs Heller.

But the French immigrant shook his head and said he just did not understand. Why can't people even have a conversation about this? A cloud of threat seems to gag everyone with any connection to politics. If one is elected (except in DC or Chicago), one had better keep one's mouth shut about this subject. In this day and age, one can talk about racism, slavery, torture, legalizing addictive substances, but one can't talk about handgun regulation, because representatives have been effectively and quickly thrown out of office by the NRA again and again. The tide of public sentiment rapidly turned from 2-to-1 in favor of gun control in late 1990s to majority favoring no more gun control in late 2000s, despite the increase in gun-related killing sprees. Whoever is running the show, don't they strike fear in your heart if you were an elected official? When someone mentions children accidentally shooting themselves with daddy's gun in the house, immediately dozens of people spring up to argue that swimming pools kill more children than unlocked guns. But swimming pools are fun and useful and bring joy to families. What do guns do?

So I wonder, because I don't understand it either. What is it about guns that make people feel so strong, tough, and safe? What is the emptiness that is filled by the possession of guns? It has to be related, in some way, to the potential power of killing other people, killing them dead, without soiling your own hands. What does that mean? How urgently do we need to possess this power to kill our fellow human beings? And how much are people willing to pay for the sense of contentment and satisfaction knowing that one possesses the power? Obviously, the blood of a few small children is not enough, as Huckabee has convincingly demonstrated. It's just a perfect opportunity to blast liberals for not requiring Christian prayers in public schools.

I'm a woman and cannot kill anyone with my bare hands. If I were to live in a society full of danger and fear, I'd want to possess guns too. I think, if we look at who are the most fervent gun right activists and believers, it becomes clear why they have become louder and more fervent, for they have reason to fear, fear the loss of their power and privilege, because the world in which they ruled over others is slipping away. This is one of the few conversations they still dictate.

But still, although it is true that people kill people every day, part of me do not and cannot understand. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mystery of the Squiggly Lines



After visiting Dom Pedro, I made my way to Sackler Gallery. Strolling from the ancient Arabian and Iranian collections to the ancient Chinese and Indian collections, an inevitable observation emerged: We are the same people. How can we not be? Who else, from the Neanderthals in Europe to the Homo floresiensis on Indonesian islands, ever engaged these impractical and meaningless activities? Look at the squiggly lines, repeated dots, and neatly organized markings on pots and pans and dishes and wheels. Look at the drawings flowers, animals, water, the sun and moon, and human bodies. Look at the mixture of colors. What is the use of carving patterns onto a vessel that holds water or wine? Do they make the liquid taste better? And the imitation of flowers and lion heads on plates and dishes, do they make the food more nutritious? There is no practical use for these little "extra touches." And don't get me started on those little colorful beads, stones, shells, and glittering metals. You can't eat them, hunt or gather food with them, cure diarrhea with them, or have more babies with them. Yet they quickly became this all-important thing called "currency" and were traded for all kinds of critical supplies like food and clothes and houses. Everyone did this, all over the world, instinctively and spontaneously, without fighting a few wars or at least holding some meetings to come to an agreement. We couldn't help ourselves.

We are so used to our own behavioral patterns that we take it for granted. Sure, everyone does this, everyone thinks this way. It's so natural that we don't realize how damned bizarre it is. Nobody else does this. No other animals nor our ancient cousins of the Homo genus has shown any interest in seemingly useless symbols. Sure, Neanderthals and Cro-magnons experimented with making and using tools like stone knives and hammers. Even certain smart animals, like ravens, can use tools. But we, modern Homo sapiens, from 100,000 years ago till now, are positively obsessed about abstract representations of concrete, tangible objects and events. For no apparent, practical reason whatsoever, people just began drawing and painting with bright colors on walls of caves in southern Africa. We are not satisfied with a bowl that can hold water and food. We are not content with a piece of animal skin or cloth that can keep us warm. We have to make them pretty. We have to keep the past alive by painting symbols on clay. We have to carve people's faces and bodies into stone, so that we can imagine they are still alive when they're really dead.

So here is the answer to the existence of art, stories, music, language, consciousness, love, the pursuit of happiness, and all this seemingly useless crap. It was probably an accident that we began to convert tangible, concrete thoughts into abstract ideas and play with them as if they were real. We live in our mind and our dreams of symbols. Weird, isn't it? And, somehow, after all, this obsession with the abstract and symbolic is probably the biggest reason that this little tribe spread throughout the world like wildfire, squeezing out and obliterating at least six cousin species who had survived pretty successfully in their settlements as well as many, many other animals. This is what makes us human. 

Dom Pedro



The world's largest cut aquamarine gem came on display at Museum of Natural History only last week. Unlike the Hope Diamond, which has its own Harry Winston display room, Dom Pedro is, at least for now, stuck by the door of the gem display room. This morning, I walked past the glass case twice before finally seeing it.

It is beautiful in a way entirely different from all the other jewels and gems in the room. Not just because it is large, standing 14 inch tall and nearly 5 pounds in weight. Not only because its haunting blue-green clarity reminds me of swimming in Hawaii. It is all these, plus the ingenious "negative cuts" into the back sides of the obelisk, which creates an illusion of light glowing from within. But that is not all. There was something else, something distinctive, that puzzled me as I strolled from one end of the room to the other, comparing the exquisite rubies and intense sapphires set in silver or gold or platinum rings or necklaces with the unadorned Dom Pedro.What makes it so distinctive in this room?

Compare Dom Pedro with, for example, the diamond necklace Napoleon gave to Josephine:


Or the astonishing Hope diamond:


Or, one of my favorite, the star sapphire:



Finally it dawned on me hours after I went home: Most gems and jewels are cut and set in a way that suggests femininity, while Dom Pedro, with its phallic shape, straight lines, and sharp angles, is unmistakably masculine. One can find absolutely no curve in this massive piece of gem. Even the cold, hard, and sharp diamonds are usually cut into shapes that somewhat suggest rounded edges or curved surfaces in order to temper the fragility of straight lines. Not Dom Pedro.

I can imagine the jewel designer Munsteiner chose to cut it just so because of the original cylindrical shape of the uncut beryl. Perhaps he decided that an obelisk was the best viable choice to preserve the most amount of the gem. Or perhaps, I suspect, this was an artistic statement to depart from the traditional feminine cuts of most gems. And how serendipitous to have Dom Pedro housed in one of the museums lining the National Mall, looking out to the Washington Monument.

Somehow this ultra-angular aquamarine reminds me of the ultra-curvy jade carvings of New Zealand's Maori tribes. In the abstract shapes of fish, fishhooks, waves, and animals, there is never a straight line.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Fish in the North Sea

A giant fish lives in the North Sea. Its silvery smooth body stretches for thousands of miles. When it turns, millions of tons of seawater churns up small fish from the bottom. When it flips its tail, islands far away are drowned in a tsunami. It swims in the familiar north sea but dreams of the strange south sea. The birds that fly between the two ends of the world tell stories of pink and purple coral bushes as large as islands, the sky that remains blue for years to decades without a shred of cloud, and the waves that glow green in the black night.

The fish is giant, but the world is vast, and there is much it has never seen. His heart yearns for the south sea.

So one day, when the air stirs with brewing wind and the sea stirs like boiling pot, the giant fish leaps into the air and morphs into a giant bird with brilliant white wings stretching for thousands of miles. It rises with the wind lifting the massive wings that tremble and shudder, struggling with the new way of swimming, swimming in air. Soon the bird learns to glide, glide with the flow of the air, just like it used to glide with the current in the ocean, the tips of its wings sensing and adjusting to the tiny turbulence.

The north sea retreats rapidly, ten thousand miles below. For a fleeting moment the bird is touched with melancholy, and it whispers goodbye to home and friends. The world opens a new dimension. It rises higher and higher, above layers of gray clouds, until it is bathed in blazing sunshine. A freedom sweeps through its entire being.

Errol Morris' Documentary: Tabloid




Despite the rave reviews "Tabloid" received when it came out, I did not enjoy the documentary very much. Indeed, it was slightly disturbing in that it confirmed one of my long-time suspicions: Depictions that are claimed to be true (biographies, documentary films, memoirs) are more likely to be false than fiction.

The facts presented may be facts, but the order of presenting these facts made me think of Errol Morris as a particularly manipulative man who seems to take pleasure in controlling the audience's expectation and interpretation. Of course, every writer or filmmaker does this to some extent, but the way Morris does it is a little too heavy-handed for my taste. I don't like to be so forcibly manipulated. This is in part why I tend to find more truth about human nature and motives in fiction than in biographies and documentaries.

Also slightly disturbing about the filmmaker's invisible hand is a sense of crude judgment exuding from the way facts are presented. The best observations of human frailty tend to contain a kind of amused compassion, which is missing in Morris' approach to "Tabloid."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pain in the arm

It began with a tingle in the skin, the tender patch on the inside of the upper arm that never sees the sun. Within half an hour, the tingle turned into spontaneous, sporadic firing of the nerve endings that sent wave of pain down the arm to the fingertips. The skin surface pulsed with pricks of thousands of invisible pins every few minutes, with a layer of trembling numbness over the pain.

I put my left palm on the right arm trying to stop the pain from flaring up, to hold it down or squeeze it out, but the skin quivered again nonetheless. I held the right arm tightly against my body unmoving and depriving it of cool air. This seemed to reduce the intensity, if not the frequency, of the tingling.

The formula that finally alleviated the pain was holding the arm completely still and distracting my attention with videos. It receded into a constant simmer of tolerable burn with an occasional twitch to remind me of its presence.

After a night's sleep, the pain was largely gone, but the entire right arm was heavy and sore, as if fatigued from heavy lifting the day before. I suspect a virus. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

这个要看


Wagner and Me, Stephen Fry's documentary about his conflicted feelings about Wagner the person and his music.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Emotional Memory Extraction Machine

The machine has an adjustable metal arm extending above the patient's head. At the end of the arm is a hollow shell that looked like a helmet. The patient is seated in a chair comfortably, and the arm is lowered so that the helmet gently fit onto the head. Inside the helmet is a layer of iron mesh that must be snugly wrapped over the patient's skull. The mesh is soft and flexible; it can be expanded or tightened depending on the size and shape of the skull.

The patient is asked to sit back and relax and try to clear their mind. The machine will first take a scan of the patient's brain and map the three-dimensional locations of all the major brain circuits, because every person's brain map is different. Next, the machine will stimulate the relevant brain regions to induce a hypnotic state and suppress the inhibitory regulation of the prefrontal lobe.

Under this hypnotic state, the patient is not unconscious, but rather relieved of all conscious resistance. The patient is then prompted to recall the events and people associated with the disturbing, intrusive, or unpleasant emotions central to her chief complaints. Each piece of memory associated with the emotion of complaint is "treated" by the machine to erase the emotional aspect while preserving the factual memory. This treatment is conducted by applying a short burst of electrical impulses that counteract the frequency of the emotional memory of concern, thus casting the memory into permanent oblivion. The patient is then free of the disturbing or unpleasant emotion whenever she recalls the event or the person, leaving only facts.

For example, a person who has been bitten by a dog in childhood may be traumatized for life and recall the intense fear when she sees a dog or even a picture of a dog. However, once the fear associated with the memory of the childhood incident are removed, she can still remember having been bitten and the pain, but she does not remember the fear. Consequently, she will not be frightened by the mere image of a dog. The treatment has the same effect on the sadness and loneliness associated with one's memory of his or her parents' divorce. The patient would remember all the events and people but lose the feelings associated with the experience. This would allow the patient to view the past with a cold detachment and move on.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pharma Drama

Met up with a former colleague today and chatted about merger drama that exploded after I left so-and-so company. I have heard of similar stories playing out again and again for two decades. Mergers are one of the most wasteful, inefficient, and pointless activity in the pharmaceutical industry. I doubt Pfizer had done any real work at all in the past quarter century besides the endless, exhausting of reorganization. Yet they all keep doing it like lab rats running in the wheel, for no better reason than keeping Wall Street stock analysts happy. Wall Street, who doesn't know the first thing about R&D, is running the show. No wonder productivity and success rate have been dropping like an airplane with both engines blown out.

A few years ago, when mega company bought medium company, everyone was soothed with comforting announcements: We will let you run it as you've always run it. We don't want to disrupt your operation. We want you to run like a well-oiled machine just like before, that's why we spent so much money to buy you.

Before the sound of the microphone dissipated, the backstabbing had already begun. The head cashed out and made his exit. A few others near the top saw the writing on the wall and bailed. Like a boat with a few holes in the bottom, water began to leak in. The vacuum left on the top layer ignited the ambition and hunger among the middle managers like honey on flypaper. A great jostle began.

To make things worse, the mega company gave the medium company a couple of smaller companies to absorb into its structure. Here, they said, you guys get together and figure it out yourselves. This was like throwing a couple of alligators into an already frenzied snake pit. I wonder whether the mega company did this intentionally, just to see who would survive the snake pit and become the last man or woman standing. For the next five years, departments were broken up and shuffled, territories were consolidated and re-shaped, the org chart --- oh the infamous org chart --- was drawn and redrawn and drawn and redrawn again. Bosses came and went. Today you reported to Ms A, tomorrow you might be reporting to Mr B, and the day after? Both.

It is no surprise, then, people at the bottom of the totem pole were overworked, confused, and exhausted, but nothing got done.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

盗亦有道

昨晚熬夜看 Fuchsia Dunlop 的鱼翅与花椒,里面提到庄子“庖丁解牛”的典故,今天心血来潮地去翻蔡志忠漫画之“庄子”系列,找到了动漫版,还挺长的。

讲到“盗亦有道”的话题,把我笑死了:能猜到财物藏在哪里,是为圣;偷东西时一马当先,是为勇;偷完东西殿后,是为义;判断状况是否该下手,是为智;分赃均匀,是为仁。

拍桌子大笑,太犀利了。这么简单的道理,但接受它是违反人性的。

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cabin in the Woods

I have so much contempt for the horror genre that I almost avoided this movie, but then I heard several female (and not horror fans) critics recommend it. Joss Whedon did not disappoint. It's meta without being smug, scary without exploitation, and funny without being corny. Very much worth the viewing. I also love the ending. "Give someone else a chance." :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Doing It the Hard Way

There are more than one way to skin a cat (who invented this phrase?). Most people would choose the path of least resistance --- Not that there's anything wrong with it, nor am I in any position to criticize anyone for it, as I am the queen of shortcuts. Still, I sometimes admire people who intentionally, voluntarily choose to do things the hard way. No, they are not masochists. They are truly good at what they do and have confidence in their abilities. The easy ways do not interest them much. That's why they choose to do things the hard way.

I thought of this after seeing the movie "Argo." The extreme difficulty --- or at least one of them --- lies in the tone. It could have easily turned into exploitation, or jingoistic propaganda, or sensationalism. Affleck handed it deftly, except a bit of an action overkill near the end. The movie was not a complete and total success, but I very much admire his nerves to do such a difficult project.

Another recent example that I can think of is "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. Every mystery writer knows it is nearly impossible to write suspense from the point of view of the murderer/criminal/culprit/whatever. Either you give away too much early on, or you make the reader feel like you're hiding too much from them, and the reader does not like that. Yet ... yet! Flynn made it work, and so well. As the reader, I was deceived, and deceived again, and again, but I did not mind and could not stop. I'm completely in awe.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Transitions (Skate Canada)

Patrick Chan:

2fts, crossover, double 3s, crossovers, 2ft, (4T2t), rocker, 3turn, mohawk, choctaw, (4T), a flat mohawk (3Lz), (StSq), rocker, 3turns, (CCSp), 2fts, 3turn, choctaw, crossovers, (3A), lunge, 3turn, rocker, 3turn, counter, 3turn, (3Lo), 3turn, 2fts, spread eagle, a flat choctaw (3Lz), 2ft, (FSSp), toe hops, 2fts, bracket, choctaw, double 3s, (3F1Lo2S), 3turn, hop, (ChSt), (2A), (CCoSp).

Overall: It almost killed me trying to identify all the difficult turns/steps in the middle segment. He does a string of them one after another, and my eyes are just not fast enough to pick each up in real time. Also, because his edges are so deep, his choctaws and mohawks are clearly identifiable, not the sloppy simply two foot turns other people do. Quality superb. Variety high. Intricacy superb. Difficulty high.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Manipulator

Not everyone bought the image she created for herself, although I suspect she has bought it herself. "With my big heart, I always believe the best of other people," she likes to say, oblivious to the contradictions in her words and action. Sure, some of the lies must have been conscious and intentional, but she might have been convinced of her own good intention or the absolute necessity of these lies. "I have to omit some of the truth because ..." The reasons can range from protecting others from anxiety and panic, to preserving a perfectly viable future, to "I have the right to do anything I want the company is mine alone." Never underestimate the power of self-deception.

The cult personality can manifest in a range of effects. At the top are religious and political leaders with thousands or millions of fervent followers. On a smaller scale are people whom others trust despite evidence to the contrary. Why? I can't speak for men, but in many (not all) women I observe a tendency to let emotional and personal bonds to overtake other considerations.

She loved to proclaim that her employees are "family" and call them "peanuts," and created an illusion of interpersonal closeness beyond the ordinary labor relationship. She engaged in small talks involving personal lives --- her own and others' --- and suggested work and pay as trading personal favors with each other instead of fundamentally economic transactions. Lines were blurred. She invited certain employees to stay at her house and trade personal favors for pay raises. She put her housekeeper on the company payroll by having her clean the office twice a week. She made implied demands of loyalty on employees in the form of friendship or at least the expression of friendship.

Again I doubt all her actions were derived from calculated, deliberate, and fully conscious decisions. Rather she showed a kind of emotional neediness that some women respond to. These women find emotional reward in taking care of childish people, perhaps because taking care of children and child-like adults gives them a sense of intimacy. "Please, use me." They seem to say. By using and being used, a closeness is achieved.

Also helped to brainwash people was the small, close-knit environment. I don't remember who said it --- It is easier to fool a bunch of people together than to fool an individual. When people coalesce, peer pressure works subtly and subconsciously to lead everyone into unreality. Again I don't know much about men, but if you put a group of women in the same room, they can convince each other black is white, night is day, and the sun sets in the east. Perhaps because we are so desperately trying to feel connected as one. There were company traditions that ranged from unprofessional to borderline bizarre, like employees contributed money, voluntarily, to birthday gifts to the owner in expensive handbags and loaded gift cards.

Transitions (TEB)

I'm slowly going through free skates at 2012 Grand Prix TEB. Technical elements are in brackets.

Jeremy Abbott:
Simple 2-foot turns (2fts), stroking, 2fts, short glide, (3Lz), more 2fts, 3turn, stroking, (4T), hop, (CCSp), 2fts, 3turn, short (semi-)spread eagle, crossovers, short spiral, 3turn, (3F2t), 3turn or rocker, 2ft, lunge, (CCoSp), rocker, 3turns, stroking, (3A), stroking, (1A2t), (FSSp), 2fts, crossovers, hops, choctaw? (3Z3t), 3turns, (3Lo), (StSq), (2S), 3turn, (ChSq).

Overall: Not many crossovers or stroking. Mostly simple turns. Few difficult turns. Simple steps before jumps. Quality high. Variety medium. Difficulty medium to low. It might be a little unfair to say the difficulty is medium to low because for another skater the content might be medium, but to Abbott it is obviously too low. He could do these transitions in his sleep.

My TR score: 7.25

Judges' TR score: 8.00

****

Takahiko Mura:

3turn, crossovers, (4T), 2fts, crossovers, 3fts, a flat choctaw, (3Lz3t), 3turn, 2fts, (3A), knee and arm movements, (CCSp), rocker, stroking, counter, (3Lo), 2fts, (3A2t), (StSq), short spread eagle, 3turn, (3S), (CCoSp), 2fts, flat mohawk, (3Lz), 3turn (1F), 3turn, 2ft, (FSSp), (ChSq), hydroblade.

Overall: His transitions are quite spare compared with the top Japanese men, but certainly a lot more and better than Amodio. Quality medium. Variety medium. Difficulty medium.

My TR score: 7.25

Judges' TR score: 7.29

****

Florent Amodio:
Stroking, crossovers, 2fts, (4S), 2fts, 3turn, flat mohawk (3Lz2t), 3turns, crossovers, 2fts, (3A), 2fts, (FCSp), 2fts, (StSq), standing and moving arms, 2fts, (3Aseq), twizzles, 2ft, a flat choctaw, 3turn, (3F), walley jump, a flat choctaw, (3Z), (2A), 3turns, 2fts, 3turn, (3S3t), 2fts, (CSSp), (ChSq), (CCoSp).

Overall: It's so much easier to count his transitions because they are few and simple. No intricacy to speak of. Quality medium to low. Variety low. Difficulty low. 

My TR score: 6.50

Judges' TR score: 7.11

****

Tomas Verner:
1-foot toe turns, 2-foot edge work, 2fts, choctaw, 2fts, (4T), 2fts, 3turns, crossovers, bracket, (2Lz3T), mohawk, rocker, 3turns, double 3's in both directions, (1A), (StSq), (FUSp), toe steps, rocker, crossovers, 3turns, (1A fall), 3turns on both feet both directions, (3Lo), 2fts, 3turn, crossovers, (3Lz), counter, 3turns, (3F), (2A), (CCoSp), (ChSq), (CSSp).

Overall: Not many crossovers or stroking. A good mix of simple and hard turns. Simple steps before jumps. Quality high. Variety high. Difficulty medium to high.

My TR score: 8.00

Judges' TR score: 7.04

****

Brian Joubert:
Stroking, 2fts, crossovers, 3turn (4T fall), 3turn, bracket, 3turns, 2fts, stroking, 3turns (3T), 3turns, stroking, (3A2t), hop and lunge, (CCoSp), hair-stroking, (StSq), 3turns, crossovers, 2fts, a very flat mohawk, (3F), 3-turns, (3Lutz), 2fts, 3turns, crossovers, (3Lo), 3turns, crossovers, (3S2Aseq), ChSq, (CSSp), (FUSp), 2-foot hop.

Overall: Can't say he doesn't have any transitions, but nearly all are 3turns and simple 2-foot turns. Quality medium. Variety low. Difficult low.

My TR score: 6.50

Judges' TR score: 6.79

****


My ranking:
1. Verner, 2. Abbott, 3. Mura, 4. Amodio, 5. Joubert. Amodio is no better than Joubert in quantity or quality, but slightly better in variety.

Verner is better than the rest of the bunch in terms of intricacy, variety, and difficulty, and his quality is as good as or just a smudge less than Abbott's.

The judging quality was not atrocious, but can't be called good either, which is true in nearly every grand prix event every year.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ethan Frome

Am reading this short novel at the moment. It is absolutely striking, made all the more remarkable by the author's background and the time she lived in, and reminds me of George Eliot. This is American realism at its best with a woman's sensibility --- I say this not as a knock but as a praise. I think the literary world can do with a little more women's sensibility.
Edith Wharton

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Brothers

Eric is the elder. He enjoyed a few years of undivided attention until Patrick came along. Eric was more introverted than Patrick. Father favored the younger son, while mother gave more attention to the first-born. They fought, but no more than other siblings. Then the family emigrated to the states. Father was a doctor, and mother stayed home. Patrick fit into school right away, despite the language barrier. Eric took longer to adjust, but his grades were acceptable and he never got in trouble. Life was smooth sailing.

At 10, without any previous signs, Patrick had a brain aneurysm the nearly killed him. During a school field trip, he complained of headache and passed out. The teachers took him to a local hospital, where the surgeon drilled a hole in his skull to relieve the intracranial pressure. He was then transported to a large university and had three more brain surgeries to repair the blood vessels that burst, possibly because of congenital defects.

He lived. The aneurysm left him paralyzed on the entire left side. With rehab and physical therapy, he recovered some function in the leg, but the arm remained useless. He was teased at school. He went to a college near home and commuted.

Just when things were looking up, father died suddenly of a heart attack before turning 60, leaving a frightened wife and two sons. Mother clung onto the boys who had just entered adulthood. She never felt truly at home in the country that remained foreign, but there was no way of turning back. She grew up with the belief that women must depend on men to survive the world, and for nearly three decades her husband was as dependent as any man can be. After he was gone she moved next door to her older brother and depended on him.

Patrick graduated from college and found a job and lived at home with mother. With the help of a few added gadgets, he learned to drive. On the weekend he drove mother to supermarkets and bought groceries and had lunch and dinner with her. He earned a paycheck and enjoyed his colleagues' company. His disability made it difficult to drive more than 20 miles each way to the office, but his colleagues offered him carpool. By all appearances, he was a sweet, easygoing, and well adjusted young man no different from other Asian youths of his age.

His able-bodied brother Eric, however, followed a path that baffled everyone. He got into college all right, but barely passed his classes with all-night computer games and videos. Once graduated, he couldn't keep a job and moved back home. It was hard to say whether it was a blessing or a curse that father left enough money for the three of them to live on. Mother had enough to buy a house with three bedrooms. Eric's share was not enough to allow him to move out and live on his own, but enough so that he did not have to find a job. He hid in his room all night and slept through the day, refusing to socialize with anyone, especially his mother's relatives who lived nearby. His relationship with mother had deteriorated to the point that the two of them could not finish a conversation without yelling at each other. Now he talked only to his brother, who had also begun to lose patience with his seething anger and resentment.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Bride

Among the dozens of photographs shot on the wedding day, only two showed the bride with a tight little smile on her face. In all the other photos, she looked as grave and serious as the day she had taken the university entry exams, unlike the spontaneous, glowing smile on her graduation photo.

The groom was but slightly taller than the petite bride: a square-faced, confident young man. He had recently received his license to practice medicine and been accepted to a prestigious American hospital for his residency. The girl had only met him on three previous occasions and had only a few days to consider his proposal.

"What's to consider? He and his family came with excellent references." Her parents urged her. "He's a doctor and is going to America to make big money. He is well educated and went to the best university. It's a perfect match." 

Indeed it was, as her father and brother were dentists and she grew up surrounded by the smell of disinfectant. She wished he had been taller and more handsome, like the lead actor in the movie she had seen last week, but his square jaw and self-assured manner smile seemed to suggest professional success and familial prosperity. He did not drink, smoke, or gamble. He had a clean romantic history and did not have an ex-wife, mistress, or bastard. Go to America with him, live in a skyscraper, raise a few beautiful children, and have a charmed life. The prospect was irresistible.

It all happened so fast. Before she knew it, they were engaged. Family parties were held at restaurants and hotels. Gifts were exchanged between parents. She was not without ambivalence, but neither did she have any specific objections. No, she had no objection besides "I have not had much time to know him well" or "Is this going to be the rest of my life?" Neither was sufficient to slow down the inevitable train of events arranged by both families. Time could not be wasted, for the girl was soon to be 25, almost too old to find a good match, and the fiance would depart for America in a month. The plane tickets were bought, which caused a stir as no one in the two families had taken a plane trip before.

Yet she was not entirely convinced. Doubts trickled in the back of her mind. A part of her could not quite grasp the concept of becoming a doctor's wife or living in another country or not being able to walk up the street and talk to Mom and Dad whenever she wanted. It felt like a dream, even on the day of her wedding. A big party for the families, that's what it was. She was not sure why she was going through the motions in a clumsy white dress with a lace veil pinned to her hair, but surely no polite young woman from a decent family would make a ruckus in such an occasion and cause her elders to lose face. So she played along and followed orders --- It was easy enough, as someone was telling her where to go and what to do every step of the way.

Indeed she had doubts, but she hardly had time to acknowledge or contemplate them. There was simply no time. The union must go on. 

Forty some years later, when she looked at her photos of the wedding and the grave young face that was once herself, she would remember how odd it all was, the day that began the rest of her life.

邓丽君



这两天在 in-laws 家里,每次出门老头老太坚持要开车,老头在车里放了一盘邓丽君的碟,翻来覆去地放啊放,搞得我也被传染了,到YouTube上稀里哗啦地翻来一堆邓丽君的视频来听。说实话她的抒情歌曲并不是我那杯茶,但是只要是华人谁没听过邓丽君的歌儿呢?

在YT上翻了一会儿发现她的技术真的很强大,虽然一向以“甜美”著称,但撇开音质之外她有很细腻自如、成熟精确的控制,该煽情时煽情,该收敛时收敛,多一分嫌太腻,少一分嫌单薄,恰到好处且极有主见,perfect judgment。难怪啊难怪红遍全球经久不衰,绝非偶然啊。(废话,到现在才明白一点实在是太后知后觉了吧?)

(忍不住来一句不敬的:她唱的大部分流行歌曲并不算难度超大就是了,当然这并不能抹杀她的 perfect interpretation。)

发现一个有趣的现象:邓丽君的中文红歌基本都是比较甜美温婉型的,但她的日文红歌的风格和声音要求比较大,变化比较多,她的处理也常常比中文歌更有力量,更强悍。说起来我更喜欢这种有力的风格。见有人收集的 Teresa Teng in Japan 集锦视频。

Thursday, November 22, 2012

He gives you what you want, and then some.

Finally have time to sit down and re-watch The Hollow Crown: Henry IV part 2. Last night it hit me. Of the many things Shakespeare does, one thing he does exceedingly well (in his best work, of course) is to give the audience what they expect, just like Hollywood blockbusters and popular culture, and then something else that subverts the expectation.

In his time, Shakespeare was no low-budget indie filmmaker embarking on a path of artistic enlightenment separate from popular consumption. He had to sell tickets. He was no Paul Thomas Anderson or Jim Jarmusch or John Sayles. There was no virtue in shunning the box office for art. He had to give people what they wanted. 

So he did. He gave them a ruthless, blood-sucking loan shark of a Jew. He gave them a black man who comes to a white man's home and takes away his daughter with his virility. He gave them patriotic, rousing battle cries on St. Crispin's Day and blood-boiling victory at Agincourt. He gave them a pair of star-crossed young lovers. He gave them the sword-crossing revenge climax they sat through the entire play for. Oh, he was not going to turn away his ticket-buying audience by questioning their stereotypes and prejudices and needs for a good tale with a satisfying end. No, he put on a good show and gave them what they wanted. 

And then he gave them more than what the audience bargained for and, after satisfying their expectations for assurance, he fucked with their mind with just a little more. The loan shark Shylock questions, "If you prick us do we not bleed?" The black man says, "the one that loved not wisely but too well." The soldiers question what was in it for them bleeding and dying in the mud of Agincourt. Falstaff sneers, "What is honour? A word." 

So we leave the theater but are haunted long after. In the back of our mind a suspicion stirs that he was in fact fucking with us, that in fact the Jew is us, the black man is us, and the evil, twisted villain, Richard III, is us too. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alcoholic parents

I have no first-hand experience or knowledge about alcoholic parents, and reading accounts of family members of alcoholics cannot help me imagine or understand their rage and resentment. Oddly enough, a light bulb went on in a recent analogy through a weak and incompetent employer. It is someone in a position of considerable authority over employees, but struggling with a series of failings. She has let her staff down again and again, each time with tearful apologies and promises for improvement. Granted, the failings are not entirely within her control, but then neither is addiction entirely in the control of the addicts. She would always announce bad news via teleconference and never in person, even though she lives no more than 15 minutes away from the office. For the last few months she has ceased to come to the office altogether, as if too ashamed to face her staff. Over time, the tone of these teleconferences descended into weirdness. She was at times suspiciously cheerful and other times frantically gloomy. Promises were made and broken, made and broken, and made and broken. As hope disappeared gradually like the Cheshire Cat, people began to whisper in their offices, roll their eyes, shake their heads, and sigh and shrug.

Then today I read a feature story on vulture.com about Whitney Cummings who grew up in a dysfunctional household. Suddenly it all clicked. So that is what it's like (sort of) to have one or two alcoholic parents. It's a cycle of promise, hope, disappointment over and over, until finally one has no choice but to detach oneself from the afflicted with resignation. Everyone has failings, but somehow some people seem to have a cyclic and pathetic pattern of failings that require the finality of emotional separation, which is closer to death than anger, contempt, or rejection. (I wonder if, 5 years from now, I would find the above written a bit too sentimental or ... whiny.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Projection

This is just a placeholder for a lot more (potentially painful) exploration about how much we (overly imaginative people? everyone?) are emotionally invested in reflections of our own needs, desires, and unfulfilled wishes embodied in another person, a group of people, or ideals and ideologies. And the conflict or contradictions between the real other people and our projection. There is much drama to be had.

Suburbia

This week I'm visiting in-laws in deep suburbia outside of Atlanta.

It is odd how lifestyle in suburbia is so fundamentally different from that in an urban or semi-urban setting. Everyone drives everywhere --- pick up grocery, go to movies, hang out at Starbucks, etc. Naturally people settle into their three- to four-bedroom single-family houses. Their time is consumed by lawnmowing, floor-sweeping, cooking in the open kitchen, and, perhaps, gazing at the big, green backyard for hours on end and napping on the back or front porch. I would bet (since I have no real data to prove the theory) that suburbanites spend more time with their spouse and children and less time with friends and social acquaintances. It takes a lot more effort, time, and gasoline to go out.

There are sidewalks, but no one to walk on them. One person I know takes his daily walking exercise in a mall. He drives 2 miles up the parkway from his house to a shopping mall and makes loops from Macy's to Burlington Coat Factory and back. I can understand why. It feels incredibly lonely for one to walk on bare concrete sidewalks with cars rushing by and not a human figure in sight. Walking inside a mall, one is surrounded by not only blaring neon signs but also straggles of teenagers and their giggles and chatters. Instead of a sense of being surrounded by steel leopards running by you, one has a sense of living in Asimov's Caves of Steel, permanently cut-off from the sun and natural air. Of course, the best setting for a walk is alone in the woods, but alone by the highway is disturbing.

As I've been living in a more-or-less urban setting for years, I've taken my own lifestyle for granted. Perhaps the urban lifestyle has its own unnatural aspects and artificiality. I promise I will reflect on that at some point during this week.

I am not interested in the simplistic, idealized, wishful-thinking-driven theories of Richard Florida. Rather, what I am interested in is how the divergent lifestyles between urban and suburban residents subtly shape their views of life and psychology --- it can't have no effect on a person's mind being surrounded by your house and lawn and the walls of your car versus being surrounded by strangers without such distance and barrier.

The Godwulf Manuscript

Found this "first Spenser" novel, originally published in 1973, in the piles at the second-hand bookstore behind Eastern Market.

It's very Raymond Chandler. Perhaps the most tonally close to Chandler than any other hard-boiled mystery I've read. The only difference from Chandler is that Spenser had sex with female clients liberally, while Philip Marlowe never did so on any of the pages, although in one of the novels it was implied.

Come to think of it, why did Chandler avoid a more promiscuous life for Marlowe and deliberately make him into a medieval white knight in his approach to women? It was in stark contrast with Hammet's attitude toward nonmarital sex. One of the theories I've seen is that Chandler was gay. I have no way of verifying that claim, except that I saw a clip of him at a party some time in the 50s, and the clip was in a documentary about Christopher Isherwood.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Baghead


I giggled like a girl during the first half of the movie. The second half got tense. The ending was lovely and adorable. What's not to love? Love the deceptively casual mumbles of the Duplass brothers. It's bromance, rom-com, and found-footage all mixed into one without any feeling of post-modernist snootiness.

The DVD contains an absurdly cute Q&A with the brothers. To have a brother who is so close that he practically shares your brain must be the luckiest, loveliest thing in the world.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gone Girl

Mwahahahaha...

Yes, I just got to the second half of the hot-selling book (audio) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

It's almost an upside-down, inside-out kind of noir. Melikes. 

Hell has no wrath like a woman scorned. Still, it's funny. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Diana Krall

I love old jazz too. Maybe I'll get her new album Glad Rag Doll. Krall does not sound as old school as Catherine Russell, but still very nice.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Clam linguini



It was a success, if I may say so myself. Based on Mario Batalli's recipe with only 7 ingredients: Fresh egg linguini, short-neck clams, extra virgin olive oil, white wine, tomato, parsley, red pepper flakes.

And absolutely no cheese!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pump Six and Other Stories

八奇嘎路皮的短篇小说集,前阵子从某同学那里揩油过来看。很有趣,大部分是现代 ecological science fiction,设定与人物背景很全球化,非常有(目前的)时代感,而非传统的科幻题材。Ecological sci fi 其实很多年前 GRRM 也写过,但是1980年代的环境问题和今天的环境问题已经大不相同。

科幻小说一贯有世界大同的传统,但白人男作家想象出来的种族大融合最多不过是给面目模糊不带文化特点的未来人物取一个异国情调的名字,例如 Larry Niven 的星环世界系列中的主角 Louis Wu,本质上难脱自己的文化背景。八奇嘎路皮则是真正的 globalization 时代的作家,走过外国路,见过外国人,甚至学过外国话,小说里的中国人、泰国人、乃至住在美南的印度移民,都很有现代感和真实感,小小的语言障碍不能掩盖作者对世界/亚洲形势的理解,他不是殖民/后殖民时代的科幻作家 --- 满纸的“放屁”和“他妈的”用得挺顺溜啊哈哈。

系列中一多半的短篇小说设在“收缩时代” (The Retraction),是我们现在的扩张时代 (The Expansion) 之后留下的废墟,世界上的 fossil fuel 已经用光,也没有核能和电力,能源来自机械动力和农业,而世界农业被控制农作物基因的跨国大公司掌握在手中。虽然是科幻,但话题都是 ripped from the headlines。他的获奖长篇小说 The Windup Girl 也是设定在收缩时代的。

这真的是典型的现代科幻,跳动的完全是眼下的时代脉搏,看世界的眼光和态度也是目前这一代人特有的。

小说集刚读完,还没来得及翻开 The Windup Girl,飓风就来了。真够巧的。

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Il Giovane Montalbano


Much unexpected, the father-son relationship in the series brought me to tears in the last two episodes. It must have come straight from Camilleri's own life, because it is just too true and raw and so uncharacteristically restrained (for an Italian production). So this is why Montalbano could not face his father's death in one of the novels and had to hide in a remote hotel and stuff his face with the best food one can find in Sicily, cooked by an ex-convict. When grief strikes, one always has good food, eh?

Usually I'm suspicious of sequels and prequels, but this one is beautifully done.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Contradiction

Yes, even an avid reader and author of 9 books (none of which I have heard of) can be kind of a rude jackass.

I heard the interview with Joe Queenan (yeah, I know, Joe who?) on NPR this afternoon in the car and was both appalled and amused. He pretty much called everything that's not considered classics "trash" or "stupid." He had nothing good to say about libraries, bookstores, or book clubs. His insights into the classics are also pretty bizarre, like the only way to approach Emily Dickenson is on your knees and what's the point of discussing Shakespeare since the market has spoken about him.

It was just unexpected that the usually serious, safe, mainstream, cautious, and a bit dull All Things Considered would (intentionally, I'm sure) air such a brash interview. I couldn't help laughing. I mean, I think he's wrong, but I also love his gusto. I have my own views on what's trash, which is often another person's treasure, and what's stupid, but I, like most people, don't say it out loud in polite company, but sometimes I would also like to blurt out, "That's garbage!"

This is why I was both offended and delighted by the interview. --- See, I can be contradictory too!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Young Montalbano


电视里连续放了两集,昨晚还因为停电而只看了一半,本周会连续播完,简直跟中国的电视台一样。叹气,Michele Riondino 实在太帅了一点,还满头美丽的大卷毛,很难跟原版 Montalbano 对上号,not that I'm complaining ... 其实我还挺想念 Luca Zingaretti 的,一边看着 Riondino 直流口水,一边内心被罪恶感咬噬,仿佛背叛了 Zingaretti 似的 ... 自责说,objectify 这位男演员实在对不住,年纪轻轻但演技真挺好的,很细腻有层次。

剧情编得太复杂了,看得脑仁儿疼,不过每集都来点儿吃的喝的,关键问题上毫不马虎。

青年版和中年版剧集的风格还是挺近似的,表面上插科打诨、轮番上艳女,一味抓人眼球,但明媚的景色之下有一层淡淡的 despair and resignation。

Giuseppe Fazio 已经出场:


Mimi Augelo 下面也会露面:


亨利四世(上)

把剧本翻出来看看,很多有意思的地方。

Falstaff 替自己辩护说:Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

赶走 Falstaff 就等于自闭于世。Falstaff 就是这个世界。He is all that is profane。又懒又馋又贪又虚荣,成天喝酒偷钱扯谎吵架(打架是打不过的,一定撒丫子逃跑或者装死),一边踩别人一边给自己脸上贴金。Is this why Prince Harry finds him irresistible? Is this why we all find him irresistible?

但是,Harry 的回答更有趣,揭示了他的性格和处境:I do, I will.

别忘了这场戏的起点是 Harry 主动要 Falstaff 扮成父王质问自己,然后又翻过来自己扮父王。排练了这一出戏中戏之后,Harry 真的进宫面对父王,而且应对如流,舌灿如花,哄得亨利四世回心转意,把军队交到儿子手上让他证明自己。在酒馆里毒舌讥笑 Falstaff 的 Hal 跟王宫里哄父王的 Prince Harry,跟自谦“老粗”把法国公主骗到手的亨利五世,当然是同一个人。(电视剧中 Tom Hiddleston 扮演的 Prince Harry 比较纯真甜美容易下咽,不如原著人物那么两面派/阴险/残忍/工于心计。)

没有在大学文学系里读过书,写过 literary criticism,上过精神分析课的莎士比亚显然没学习过描写人物的现代规则 --- 一个人物看似突兀的行为必须用一套内在心理动机或理论解释出来,例如 Ian McEwan 笔下的中年男人一辈子被一场失败的恋爱盖棺定论。莎士比亚那些矛盾而绝不统一的特质/世界观/欲望/动机/行为规律在同一个人身上同时活蹦乱跳地存在,一半是油一半是水,又这样又那样,又想往东又想往西,认爹又是嬉皮笑脸的 Falstaff 又是殚精竭虑的亨利四世。

The contradictions just sit there in one person, with no attempt whatsoever to resolve them.

不过这种矛盾而不统一的人物在莎士比亚的笔下也算少数,大概因为写起来太费力了,而且一不小心就会显得乱和假,被他写得又矛盾又可信,神奇到让我吐血。谁还写过 Prince Harry 这种人物呢?他的动机和天性完全是自相矛盾的,虽然在亨利四世(下)的结尾不得不做出选择(成年礼?),但是我们观众离开剧院的时候心里跟他一样,自相矛盾的两条路线面对面地耗着,Falstaff and the Crown, the world and heaven, the holy and the profane, 虽然不能和平共处但谁也消灭不了谁。

很少有人写共存的 contradictions,并不等于这不是真实而普遍的现象,只是因为我们的大脑不够用,not built to process so much complexity.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Great Storm

Can't forego the opportunity to record the storm, the most violent I have ever witnessed.

*********
It was windy two days ahead of Sandy's arrival, but one day before the air was oddly calm and balmy. The only abnormality was the darkness. On high noon, the sky had an inkiness that bled from the low clouds into the air. It looked like dusk all day.

The rain came slowly in the evening, no more than a drizzle, mild and warm. The night passed peacefully, until the rain intensified in the predawn hours.

I had a strange, anxious dream in the morning right before I woke up. Outside the window it was pouring, but quiet. The trees swayed gently in the wind, not even hard enough to shake off the leaves that had recently turned amber and crimson. From the window I could see headlights moving down the street. Crazy people were still out and about? But I heeded warnings and stayed indoor.

In the afternoon, I went to the exercise room in the basement of the building and walked for a while on the treadmill. A few young residents braved the weather to take their dogs out and let them do their business around the building, before rushing back inside wetter than the pets.

The day moved slowly, especially as I was stuck home and the sky never changed for 10 hours straight. The gloom merely persisted until darkness suddenly smothered everything at half past six in the evening.

The only sign of the passage of time was the wind, which grew more wild and violent as the day inched on. Before the darkness descended, the wind really picked up, tearing at the trees like a raving meth head on a three-day binge. I stood at the window, gazing out with amazement, wondering why none of them had yet been torn down onto the soggy ground after hours of being horribly shaken. They must have at least a severe concussion.

Although it hardly seemed possible, but the wind became even stronger after dark. Ominous noises made themselves heard through the tightly-shut windows like a thousand ghosts howling and jostling and battering each other. The poor window panes shuddered desperately for hours on end, as if just about to be punched through and shatter into mangled pieces.

I am sitting in the living room, waiting for the power to go down. It's a miracle that our lights are still on after a whole day of the worst storm I have ever seen. I doubt we will last over tonight. This truly feels apocalyptic.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Age of Doubt

最新翻译的Montalbano系列刚出炉,在图书馆网站上下载了有声书。Salvo 象个小男生一样地热恋了一把,顺便印证了意大利男人永不停止恋爱的谣言。其实情节有点狗血,有点男性范特西,但被 Camilleri 讲出来不知怎么的完全可以接受。这一本的情节还相当复杂,也很赞。

从明天开始,本地电视台将连续播出“青年 Montalbano” 系列剧,很期待。最近的周日晚上黄金档电视,我一直在追看 "Inspector Vivaldi" 系列。看意大利剧,景色是一大重点,这部外景在 Trieste;另一重点是风采各异的男演员,从男主角到打酱油的小警察到处都是惊喜 eye candy,连不美的老头男主角都很有气势。最好玩的是,老头不仅是威风八面的探长,而且做得一手美味饭菜,今天 swordfish,明天 penne alla norma。

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writers Group

Tonight's Arlington Writers Group was dedicated to writing exercises. Each assignment was divided into three parts: beginning, middle, end. Each person wrote a beginning (with or without prompt, short or long), handed it over to another person to write the middle, and handed over to the third person to write the ending. We wrote for a solid hour and a half and afterward my arm was sore. It was thrilling! The results were often hilarious. I can't tell you why, but making up stories is just my favorite thing to do in the world. I never get tired of it.

The boy sitting next to me looked about 18, and I got to see his writing as we handed our parts around the table. He seemed obsessed with plants. In one piece, he began a story with "He was upset that the bean sprouts he bought was evil and called up the company that sold him the sprouts to complain." In another, longer piece, he began with "He was convinced that he was meant to be a plant and spent hours standing in the sun with palms up." What an odd and funny kid.

NaNoWriMo

刚刚登记了一下。今年真的要 NaNoWriMo 一把吗?真的吗?真的吗?最近工作忙得快疯掉了,直到年底都未必有缓和,但是 ... 说不定越是逼上梁山越有效果。这几天倒是把 outline 写得七七八八了。走着瞧吧。

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mariinsky Ballet: Cinderella




上周五晚上在肯尼迪中心看了一场 Mariinsky 的芭蕾演出。本来还不知道,Mariinsky 就是大名鼎鼎的基洛夫芭蕾舞剧院。这次带来的舞剧灰姑娘不是原版舞蹈而是2002年Ratmansky编舞的现代版,服装与布景都颇抽象,舞蹈布局也跟传统不太一样,动作中加入了一些现代舞和爵士舞的元素,但是远远没到 Matthew Bourne 那种程度的解构。情节方面也有一些略微违和的成分,例如后妈和两个后姐姐的搞笑内容相当的多,到最后失去效果。中间毫无警告地插进一段王子被一群男舞者勾引的舞蹈,前后情节又无联系 --- 这王子一边找灰姑娘一边被男人勾引,算哪门子的童话 --- 让我看得骇笑出声,旁边的观众还向我侧目来着。

但是,第二幕中间和第三幕结尾的 Pas de deux 真是太好看了,看得我热泪盈眶。尤其是两人 close but not touching 地各跳各的段落,真让人汗毛倒竖。

这场演出还出了点意外,原定女主演跳到第一幕后半段独舞忽然背部受伤,匆匆下场。停顿了二十分钟之后,换上另一名年轻舞者顶替上场,结果她表演得充满感情,跟男主(Igor Kolb) 的配合也丝丝入扣,一点没有仓皇感,长得又比第一任美,我几乎觉得赚到了。

Monday, October 22, 2012

Henry V

I should probably go read Henry IV and Henry V again. I just cannot make up my mind which Henry he really is: the fierce warrior king in Henry V or the laughing jesting prince Hal in Henry IV. It seems obvious that Henry does the job of a merciless king pretty well, considering where he started. The streak of kingly cruelty ("I know thee not, old man.") has been there all along. Yet still on the battlefield he continues to doubt his own purposes and righteousness.

One would logically argue that the chronological arch must be the correct trajectory, that the callous youth has to evolve, in the forward direction, to become the responsible adult. Yet I cannot shake the feeling that the ridiculous Hal is just as true if not more so, while the adult is somewhat a projection of his father's wish and Harry's need to become his father's wish. We are all familiar with the "Hero's Journey" theory, as if it were an unquestionable fact for everyone, yet Shakespeare breaks every rule, including the one described by Campbell hundreds of years later. It remains unclear and undetermined who is more real in Harry: the younger one or the older.

The first time I read Charles Lamb's summary of Henry IV, specifically the part where Hal puts on his father's crown when Henry IV sleeps, as a teenager myself, it kind of freaked me out how much I thought I "got it" --- the whisper of "If he is dead then I am finally king now and no one will be mad or disappointed at me any more."

The familial conflicts in Shakespeare continue to freak me out like nothing else, as if shining a light into the darkest and most shameful corner in my mind. To me it is always much easier to understand Hal than to understand Hamlet. It would take more time and experience, and A Song of Ice and Fire, for me to understand (sort of) the bloodthirsty Henry V. But all along I have known the pull of opposite forces: to have fun with Falstaff or to renounce him. To be the good child or the rebellious one. To be free or to be shackled with responsibility.

Hence there is no better example of "the human heart in conflict with itself."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Paolo Bacigalupi


去年在Balticon看见了Bacigalupi真人之后,某同学非法下载了一些他的书,我问他借来,一直也没翻,直到这星期才开看他的短篇集。第一篇一上来就是“小乞丐王军在成都的街上...”,挖赛,现在回想起来,去年好像确实听见他在讲话里提到从中国旅行回来什么的。

刚看完两篇,觉得很有特点,风格很 sensual,略有点神秘感加浪漫派。记得他在讲话里提起,最早写了几篇sci fi/fantasy 混合型作品,后来转写严肃文学,又不喜欢又没人欣赏,于是回到 sci fi/fantasy 的怀抱。果然有些文艺腔,而不是纯科幻类型。

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Hollow Crown: Richard II

Just started watching it, starring Ben Whishaw. The style is WEIRD! I looked it up and saw that Richard II was directed by Rupert Goold, not Richard Eyre. Well, yeah, Duh! As Valley Girls would say. While Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 are reasonably solid and conventional, except a few choices clearly intended to appeal to the 师奶 viewers, Richard II seems ... experimental. Richard II is portrayed as a flaming homosexual, delivering the flowery verses with a strange flat tone, giving various male characters under 40 "the look." And then, what's with all the St. Sebastian references?! Oh, wait, that's also a homosexual thing ...

Nevertheless, all the treachery and usurping and conspiracies and personal grudges that toppled the throne, oh my! The brain screams out, "Robert Baratheon!" "The Mad King Aerys!" Sigh. Some people mash up Stephanie Plum with Urban Fantasy. Some people mash up Shakespeare's history plays with Wagner with ... dragons.

*************
On a more general note about Shakespeare. Well, I mean, how much have people changed? How much have they learned about what the fuck politics is all about? Yes, we now have flushing toilets and electricity and YouTube, but our understanding of the world has hardly moved an inch. I thought I'd never be surprised by good ol' Willie again, but here I am again. I mean sometimes it just makes you weep, doesn't it? What is the point of all the literature in the past 400 years? He's said it all already. The relationship between Prince Harry, Falstaff's little Hal, and his grimy drinking buddies and the dying footsoldiers with missing limbs writhing in the cold French mud. What's changed? Modern suckers are still dazzled by the glorious glitter of power and tell themselves that they are the King's brother by bleeding on his battlefield. "Yet herein will I imitate the sun..."

Monday, October 15, 2012

No Helmet

昨天在 Capclave 听贵宾作家 John Scalzi 提起好莱坞要拍摄他的小说 Old Man's War,而且主演是 Tom Cruise。各种笑料源源不断。拍战争戏,本来演员不仅要穿盔甲而且要戴头盔,但是头盔会遮住大明星那张价值连城的脸蛋儿,所以最后银幕上很可能是一群穿盔甲但不戴头盔的士兵上战场。大家听了咕咕笑一通。

今天在油管上看电视版莎剧 The Hollow Crown 之亨利四世上,结尾处 Prince Hal 和 Henry Percy 决斗。之前战场戏上大家都戴头盔,还一脸泥(这种拍法最早是 Branagh 的亨利五世电影版吧?),简直看不出谁是谁。我还在想,两人决斗时看不出谁是谁怎么办?结果非常不意外地,导演 Richard Eyre 让他们先把头盔给摘下来,然后再决斗。好不容易卡司上两个帅哥来演 (Tom Hiddleston 和 Joe Armstrong),一定不能失望广大(女?)观众啊。

另外,忽然想起莎士比亚这种历史系列剧的搞法,原来GRRM叔的吊胃口系列也是从他哪儿学来的。当年如果老莎也是写完了一本演一本,半天也憋不出续集来,观众肯定要往台上扔臭鸡蛋!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

钦差大臣



今年又被华盛顿莎剧院推销成功,买了六场戏的套票,才二十块一场!而且是好座位!一下子就被说服了。

第一场是最近上演的 Government Inspector,果戈理的剧,在网上查了一下,中文被翻译成“钦差大臣”,太厉害了。

Michael Kahn 亲自导演的,很好看,从头笑到尾。 这个题材,我觉得,首都人民尤其能领会其中的讽刺啊。

The Dragon Master Redux

Although I have said I was quite turned off by Jack Vance's characters and attitude toward women, I cannot seem to forget some of the imageries in The Dragon Master. The setting and the premise were so striking --- it is a world I have never seen anywhere else.

At Capclave today, I was reminded yet again how widely those tired old tropes are still being repeated and recycled. Yet no one has bothered to recycle at least this premise by Vance ever since. Hmm. It gives me hope that this is still an inefficient market and there still are original ideas that have not been written.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Anecdote

为了防止被情节来源者看到(虽然这个可能性微乎其微),这个素材片段必须用中文来写。

 上个星期,联邦劳动数据统计局放出失业人口统计率为百分之七点八,右派保守党一片愤怒,跳出来指责此机构伪造数据,故意让现任总统面子好看,企图操纵大选走向。当然,证据与事实这种事情对于这些人来说是无关紧要的,只要看上去像是操纵,喊的嗓子够响,三人成虎即可。当然,这个局,那个局,领导们关心的终极目的是自己的乌纱帽,在局里几十年爬到顶的官僚,每年每个月每星期都在不伪造不违法的条件下尽量吹嘘自己的业绩,淡化自己的失误。

这个情节是二手见证,从一个认识统计局职员的人那里听来的。据说,这个职员说,伪造数据什么的纯属胡扯,但是其他形式的猫腻随时都有。例如定期的失业统计数据发放,每次是早上八点四十五分向全国媒体公布数据。几家重大媒体(想必有 Reuters, Bloomberg, WSJ 这些机构)抗议说不行,我们收到数据之后还得写稿子贴上网站,会有几分钟的延迟,不行不行,我们要提前拿到数据好做准备写好稿子,我们保证不在八点四十五分之前发放稿件。

这些数据对股市有影响,所以劳动统计局按照法律规定不能提前泄露数据,内部必须保密,更不能放给外人。按理说,这是法律规定统计局做主合理合法的事情,完全可以对媒体说,八点四十五就八点四十五,公平对待,你几点放上你自己的网站关我屁事?但是,美国的联邦政府机构非常软弱,在国会的压力下,不得不让步妥协,允许每个重大新闻媒体派一个记者提前(大概十到十五分钟)进入统计局,到指定的电脑上看数据写稿子。为了防止外泄,进门之前要上交一切与外界联络的工具,包括手机、爱疯、黑莓,手提电脑,平板,等等。

但是,事后有人发现,在八点四十五之前,股市上已经有少量股票浮动跟之后发布出的失业率数据一致,显然有人能够提前知道未曾发表的数据,而且这些股票的买卖与新闻记者进小黑屋的时间吻合,显然还是有人把消息传出去了。

传言者开玩笑说,下次数据发布前记者要进统计局必须脱光了搜查。

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

I have heard of Nesbo (don't have that o-with-a-slash character on my keyboard) for at least a couple of years but was not moved to try him out until I saw a movie adapted from his novel. (The movie is "The Headhunter" BTW.) So I randomly picked up "The Redbreast" from the library shelf.

The first two chapters are very slow-going. The translation (apparently done in UK) was terrible, clearly by someone whose native language is NOT English. The text is littered with bizarre expressions such as "hairslide" (hairpin?) and stuff. I took it up and put it down for a couple of weeks.

I gave it another try on vacation last weekend at the secluded Black Walnut Point Inn on the tip of the Chesapeake Bay and made some progress between eating crabs, crab cakes, and soft-shell crabs. Soon enough I was hooked and have been unable to put it down!

The pacing, oh, the pacing is incredibly clever. The case itself is not terribly complex and follows a thriller/adventure structure rather than a mystery structure (ie, corpse -> investigation -> solution). However, he is soooooooo good at pacing the intertwining chapters with two parallel timelines and multiple points of view of characters. There are chapters that are really exposition with no death or carnage involved, but he is able to keep up the suspense even in the actually mundane segments. Master manipulator this guy is!

Character-wise, Nesbo is clearly weaker than Mankell or Connelly, but he's not too bad and has the familiar black humor typical of Scandinavia.

The best part for me, however, is to immerse in a realistic sense of the psychological conflicts that plagues the Norwegian national conscience in terms of Nazi-ism, the fallout of WWII, and the long-term aftermath. This is something distinctive to Norway, not shared by Finland or Denmark (not sure about Sweden though), which retrospectively explained another Norwegian novel I read a few years ago. Such a nuanced, unflinching dissection of an incredibly complex collective psyche is a rare and unexpected find in a thriller/mystery novel. Just proves again that the mystery genre, if done well, provides the best medium for the grand tradition of literary realism on each particular society and its conditions, on real people and lives, on every particular place and time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jody

She's one of the most bubbly persons I have ever met. She is dark and petite and slim, with head of dark brown hair that explodes into massive curls on wet days and a wide mouth that laughs easily and loud. Olive skin and a nose that is not big but has the characteristic Jewish bump. Her most notable quality though is the nasal, girly voice --- It sounds just like Fran Drescher, minus the dorky snorty laugh.

She loves the heat, loves baking in the sun, which reminds me of another Jewish girl I knew some years ago, a colleague at the pharmacy I worked in. Her name I have forgotten, but her look returns to my mind clear as day. She had long, thick, curly hair down to her back, brown with a hint of gold. Her eyes were green. The same Jewish bump on the nose. Long, narrow face. She also loves the heat, and her idea of a vacation was to sit by the pool in 110 degree dry heat in Palm Springs.

Funny, neither woman was born or raised in the middle east or anything. One grew up in New Jersey and the other in Southern California. Coincidence? Most likely. Although a more romantic speculation for this love of intense heat would be inherited ancestral memory of wandering the deserts for 40 years with Moses.

Jody has a daughter of 4. Her divorce is to be finalized any day now, but her boyfriend's divorce is still pending. He has two children of his own. Together they make a startling handsome couple. She loves to retell her daughter's constant and hilarious wisecracks and her loss of words to respond to them. Filming her daily life would probably make great reality TV.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

A couple of weeks ago I was meandering in the bookstore when I overheard two middle-aged (but older than I) women talking to each other. One said, "He also wrote Fahrenheit 451. Here's The Martian Chronicles. By today's standard it would seem overwritten, but it's really quite beautiful."

Anyway, I bough Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury because I recently heard it recommended. It's kind of slow. The prose is ... old fashioned, a bit languid and laying it on a bit thick. "Overwritten," as the woman put it so accurately, and a bit too sentimental. Funny how he makes the typical middle-American small town life seem so romantic. 

A little past the half-way point of the book, a description gave me an idea about shadows that kills people by drowning them in its darkness. But then I remembered that this idea has more or less been taken up by GRRM. Damn you! (waving my useless fist in the air :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Close Without Touching

Time has washed away 145 minutes of the movie "The Master," along with whatever the story was, leaving only fragments of images in memory. The longest segment etched in mind is the "processing" scene in the dark cabin on the boat. Hoffman demanded that Phoenix keep his eyes fixed on him without blinking. No blinking. Reply without thinking. If you blink you have start all over again. I don't even remember most of the questions, except the ones about having sex with his aunt and his mother being insane.

A greater intimacy between two people cannot occur. In that moment two minds melted into one, and nothing else in the world exists. For a moment loneliness goes up in flames. 

It reminds me of the title of a piece of instrumental music "Close Without Touching". The music itself does not quite live up to the title, but it's not bad. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master

That something unspoken connects the two men (Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd) is undeniable. Exactly what this relationship is, however, remains open to interpretation. It could be a homoerotic current running between them, or a father-son bond of love and hate, or a codependence between the savior and the saved. Are these bonds all the same thing? Especially between men? Don't know. My vote is to the father-son relationship, only because I interpret PT Anderson's previous movies as driven by troubled and contradictory father-son relationships as well. Something between Freddie and the Master reminds me of the clash between Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano in "There Will Be Blood."

There are times during the movie when I wanted to nap or check my blackberry, I must admit. Yet there are also scenes that completely captivate me, like the "processing" Dodd did with Quell. So intense I could hardly blink myself.

Joaqin Phoenix irritated me very badly in this movie. First, I couldn't shake the feeling that this character should have been much younger. Much, much younger. 20 to 22. Phoenix is too old, and looks even older. Second, the Marlon Brando-James Dean-homage-ish grimace is excessive, akin to screaming at the top of his lungs for 130 minutes, "Look! Acting!" I much prefer Hoffman's reserved approach. I know they are supposed to contrast with each other, but Phoenix just annoyed me too much.

Phoenix's posture throughout the movie suggests that Freddie is an ape. We the audience is even told directly that he is "an animal." Dodd wants to tame him, that is also clear. Freddie's posture becomes straighter and more like a man. Yet it is hard to tell whether the glint in Dodd's eye is satisfaction at his creation or disappointment of losing a vehicle to project his own repressed animalistic urges.

The soundtrack is very interesting. It does not always "enhance" or "cooperate" with the scenes. Sometimes it almost conflicts with the scenes. Other times it serves to smooth out visually abrupt transitions. The mix of dissonant modern tunes and 1950s jazzy style is most intriguing. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Ring Cycle

这个星期PBS播放纽约大都会歌剧院今年演出的瓦格纳之尼伯龙指环系列。不知道是全本还是删节本,反正每天晚上我都是看一会儿就去睡觉了,不能坚持到底。

小声说,我觉得故事情节方面尼伯龙指环比Tolkien的指环王系列好看多了,没那么好人坏人黑白分明,而且热血沸腾的爱恨情仇也比底气不足的指环王好看多了。

不过当然尼伯龙指环是不可能拍成暑期热卖片的,不仅因为瓦格纳在美国名声欠佳,而且故事里各种乱伦,孪生兄妹/姐弟,姑侄真爱等等,哇塞,太劲爆了。一眼看出 Star Wars 和 A Song of Ice and Fire 都有抄它的内容。GRRM 叔不仅抄了孪生兄妹/姐弟恋爱的情节,而且把Brunnhilde火化爱人尸体且自己走进去殉葬的情节安到了Daenerys头上。

音乐还好,有一点晦涩但不是很难接受,旋律和和声都很丰富。第一次片段地听当然听不出 leifmotif 什么的,不过唱出来挺顺耳的,Wotan 的低音部分困难点儿,其他男女中音高音的角色都可以接受。只是没有特别吸引我,吸引到必须一气儿听到底不能自拔的地步。

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Revenge

It was exactly the same kind of day. A Tuesday, a cloudless morning with pure blue above, the sunlight blinding. I don't remember what my office looked like then, but I remember Steve the copyeditor at my door, being the first person to tell me to go on the news sites. But I couldn't, becaue WaPo and NYT sites crashed. I also remember going home early and spending the afternoon on the couch staring at the TV. That's about it.

Perhaps this is the closest many people to smelling the odor of death. For me, it was a distant third to 1) Tiananmen Square in 1989, and 2) Los Angeles riot in 1992 (although it was over when I arrived in LA). Psychologically, these two incidents were a lot scarier and intimate than 9/11 to me. By comparison, 9/11 seemed a lot less real or tangible than those two.

People died. Then many times more people died and continued to die 11 years later as a consquence. What's it all for and about? Maybe there is no logic or reason. Maybe a big reason is revenge, tracing its way back to a hundred years past or more. A little while ago I read an article by the movie critic Jim Emerson in which he discussed his own lack of lust for revenge.

As a Chinese person who grew up hearing the folklore and watching the movies, I am among the hotblooded people who do have a lust for revenge. "You killed my father/brother/wife/children. Now prepare to die." The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most popular western classics among Chinese readers. We Chinese fantasize revenge without guilt, perhaps because we do not have the modern social machinery to exact this revenge for us, i.e., the court, police, army, and government. Still, collectively carried-out revenge is still revenge, minus some of the blood lust and personal satisfaction in the process. 

Emerson ponders why audience generally appear to have a lust for revenge, at least in theaters. I had worked that out long ago. Revenge is a way to restore a sense of order in this chaotic world. Although people kill each other all the time for no good reason or logic or justice, the dream of retribution provides a soothing balm on the unbearable reality. The moment a clear and unambiguous revenge is enacted. In the movies, the hero either completes his revenge in the climactic final battle (mostly Chinese movies) or forgives the villain and let him live after defeating and humiliating him (usually movies from the west). The latter is really more about the self-actualization and coming of age than about revenge. We channel our relief through the hero as he walks into sunset.

Well, things don't work out that way in reality, do they? The people who enact revenge get it if they are lucky, but they also fail and die just as often. They don't all safely walk away. Collatoral damage and deaths mount while the avenging party kills the culprit who have anything to do with this lust for revenge. So for those innocents who were wronged in the process for no reason at all, are they due some revenge of their own? Do they star in their own revenge movies? The answer is no, because there is no order or logic or justice in the real world. So revenge is only a dream to give meaning to the sound and fury.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jack Vance


某同学最喜欢的作家中一个是 Arthur Clarke 一个是 Jack Vance。他曾经给我塞了一本 Demon Prince 系列中的小说,我读了两章闷死了读不下去。最近在 GRRM 的自述里看到说大胖子深受 Jack Vance 影响,瞅瞅某同学满书架的 Vance 小说,决心给他第二个机会,于是某同学推荐了另一本,中篇小说 The Dragon Masters,据说是雨果奖得主。这次我耐着性子读了大半,这就快读完了,同时下决心彻底放弃这个人的小说。好吧我承认他很有特点,设定颇为奇诡,文字风格独特,喜用晦涩的词汇,害得我不得不查了几次字典,且口吻冷酷而阳刚。他笔下的人物关系很男性化,不是主仆就是彼此竞争,男性人物冷漠刚硬,女性人物愚蠢无能,都是让我腻味反感的类型。我指着书跟某同学抱怨说怎么女人被他写得跟白痴一样比白痴还没用?某同学嘿嘿笑答,Jack Vance 是很老的老头啦,观念陈旧啦。我说呸,臭老头,我才不要看。

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Closer (Michael Connelly)

No one will mistaken Michael Connelly for a great stylist. His prose is as dry and plain as an instruction manual, and he tends to leave little to the imagination when describing actions. He was a journalist, but he certainly did not write for The New Yorker.

But my oh my is he a great plotter. The cases are fundamentally not too complex, and he respects all the common and identifiable motives: lust, greed, revenge, desire. At the heart of his novels are the ornate, almost labyrinthine police procedures and retrospective, fragmented nature of piecing together the truth. The investigation itsef is the riddle, the heroes, and the reward all wrapped in one neat package.

The order of dropping a clue here and a clue there without giving away the big payoff, while sustaining the narrative momentum and maintaining the crime's inate logic and coherence, is at the heart of the genre and no easy feat (trust me, I've tried it). Some of the literary types like to dabble in the detective genre (just to show off? just for fun?), but they almost always fuck up the structure and often fuck up the motives as well. You think it's easy to lead the reader around the maze for 400 pages without losing their attention and still throw them a bomb of a payoff in the end? Ha! The best mystery plotters do this with deceptive ease. You only notice it when the author fucks up.

In The Closer, Connelly wove an elaborate net in which dangled a big red herring. When the red herring was discarded, however, I was not disappointed because a part of this net was intricately woven into the real answer to the puzzle. After the climax, he threw us a bonus final twist that not only fit neatly into the plot but also delivered an emotional punch.

A few years ago I heard Connelly talk at National Book Festival. He said he does not outline. He knows the beginning and the end of a novel and just writes his way from one to the other. In other words, it's all in his head!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Curiosity




It took a few seconds of staring at the high resolution photo sent back from the rover Curiosity before it hit me: This is Mars. This is damned Mars! Not Earth. Not even the moon. It is a place I'll never ever set foot on, yet it looks ... not too strange. I don't know what that means, except that we had all originally came from the same place and even now with so much distance between us we are made of all the same elements. The entire universe is made of the same fabric, even if there are strands in the fabric we do not understand. Hmm... I don't know what the hell I'm saying. This is just too weird, because it's really not so weird.

The interactive GigaPan is lots of fun! 

Aww man! All this just makes me want to go to Mars! Martians please abduct me... 

橄榄油



上周去买了新鲜蛋面,舍不得胡乱做掉,于是郑重其事地买了瓶从西西里进口的橄榄油,价格中等。开了瓶盖一闻果然比廉价的加州橄榄油香。

切了蒜和 shallots 在油里爆香,扔进在农夫市场买的夏天最后一批西红柿和 basil,加两把剥壳冷冻的袋装 langostines。最后把煮好的面条倒进去。

某同学表示味道很好,我俩都吃了个肚儿圆。

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Soondubu

韩国嫩豆腐的袋装调料已经来来回回地用过很多次了,可是做出来的豆腐羹总是不对头。今天用了两倍的豆腐,汤水量减半,多多放clam肉(我懒得弄带壳的活clam),其他蘑菇什么的照旧,另外多加了一勺韩国超市买来的红色辣酱。这下效果显著,居然真的跟店里的嫩豆腐有点象,歐也!

不过最后那一步打入生鸡蛋还是不行,看样子是工具的问题,没有保温的石头煲就做不出保留在介乎生熟之间的那种效果。

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

See? See?

A couple of weeks after I wrote about the characteristic contradictions in Scandinavian tragi-comedies, here I read a review about yet another Swedish movie built on such absurdist contradictions:
Despite his thuggish looks, Dennis is a sensitive soul who's hungry for love. So the sex tourism goes badly, until he meets some friendly goblins — local bodybuilders for whom Dennis, to his innocent delight, is a legend — and a seasoned princess named Toi (Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard). A widow who owns the gym where Dennis finds a haven from all the loveless hyper-sexuality, Toi has a lot of patience for a prince with a whole lot of baggage and next to no experience.

The movie's plot reads like a stereotypical male fantasy, but the hilarious absurdity is just so ... Swedish.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene


This is the creepiest movie I've seen in years. Since Memento, this is perhaps the best example of effectively using narrative structure to pull the viewer into the character's head and simulate what the character is feeling. A number of reviews complained that the transitions between the past and present are sometimes confusing and indistinguishable. Well, duh. Of course they are indistinguishable for the initial moments. That's just the point. There is only one quick scene of violence in the whole movie, but the second half is so tense that I couldn't tear away from the DVD to go to the bathroom.

As a first feature, Sean Durkin showed great confidence by being very restrained and trusting the autdience's observation and imagination. It can be rewarding if you really pay attention, or incomprehensible if you expect to be spoonfed. Like Roose Bolton, he speaks softly, so that you have to lean in and strain to hear it. By the mere act of leaning in and paying close attention, you left your mind be taken over.

At one point, I was pulled so deep into the title character's mind that, for a short second, I had the illusion that I was a young person without any real means of making a living and surviving the world. In that moment, I was taken out of myself and very nearly became the character. It was a bizarre feeling; I can't say I've ever experienced it before.

One very well-done thing most (male?) reviewers seem to miss is Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson, and a history of sibling tension only hinted at. Let's face it, the architect brother-in-law, played by Hugh Dancy, is written as a self-absorbed jerk. Whatever the family circumstance was for the sisters, one escaped into the arms of a jerk and the other found family in a cult. Also observe how Lucy's feeling toward Martha slowly shifted from annoyance and a hint of envy to concern and sympathy, all the time with an underlying guilt. It seems very realistic to me.

I like stories that fully acknowledge and suggest a larger world outside the frame of the story itself and that the characters live in that larger world with most of it unseen by the reader/viewer, even though each story is in fact confined to the length of so many pages or so many minutes.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Symphonic Dances Rachmaninoff

Heard this piece on the radio and thought "how Prokofiev." Then the announcer said it was Rachmaninoff's last composition after he escaped to New York (Long Island, actually) in 1939.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reinhold Gliere



听广播的时候撞上一首深得我心的曲子,很提神的 chords,但又不突兀。回家一查电台的 playlist,是苏俄时期的近代作曲家 Reinhold Gliere 写的芭蕾 Khrizis, Suite No. 2. 很喜欢。

去查 Gliere 的背景,原来当过 Prokofiev 的师父,Hmm...

Khrizis 似乎挺冷僻的,在 YouTube 上没找到试听版,倒是发现 Gliere 比较有名的作品是个叫 The Red Poppy 的芭蕾。不看不知道,一看吓一跳,原来这个舞剧讲的是苏俄红军在中国解救劳苦人民的故事,主要人物是个美丽的中国姑娘,爱上了苏俄船长,还为他牺牲。哇哈哈笑死我了,原来俄国男人跟西方男人一样对东方姑娘有各种幻想,连布尔什维克也这样。

然后又吓一跳,原来 Michelle Kwan 早在97年即用过 Red Poppy 的音乐做短节目

Saturday, August 11, 2012

热爱和平的瑞典人

... 发明了机关枪。

在电视上看到根据 Philip Pullman 的小说改编的 The Shadow in the North,好奇去 wiki 了一下,然后在条目里顺藤摸瓜地看见小说里的蒸汽枪 (steam gun) 虽然是虚构的,但大有历史依据。至少有一款机关枪是在英国的瑞典工业家 Nordenfelt 赞助下发明生产的,称为 Nordenfelt gun。加上诺贝尔发明的炸弹,瑞典人对现代战争的贡献不下于中国人发明的罗盘对殖民主义扩张运动的贡献。

I'm sure Swedes are well equipped to appreciate the irony.

Snabba Cash and Contradictions

Well, Daniel Espinoza's Snabba Cash (Easy Money) is hardly the best Scandinavian noir thriller I have seen, but it does have something characteristic of this genre that I enjoy.

What I don't like about it are some been-there-done-that elements. One of the three main characters, the spiffily dressed MBA student Johan (middle in the poster), is clearly a Tom Ripley rip-off. The shaky hand-held camera is way overdone ten years ago. The jump cuts that slightly mix up temporal sequence of scenes are very Steven Soderbergh. None of this is particularly new. Plus too many plot gaps can be frustrating to habitual mystery readers who care about logical transitions --- it's an indication of carelessness in the director and editor. I'm sure the novel on which it was based is better. It also lacks the characteristic black/cold/absurd humor characteristic of other Scandinavian noir films. Replacing it is a melting-pot view of the Swedish immigrants and a mixture of Swedish, Spanish, and (I assume) Serbian dialog. The tone is problematic, oscillating between cynical and sentimental. The main character, the blond Swede Johan, is too sleazy looking to garner sympathy, and the Spaniard Jorge (left) is poorly drawn.

Nevertheless, what I like about this and other Scandinavian noirs is the sense of irony and contradictions. I have observed that some people --- mentally healthy and normal, functional people --- have been born without a sense of irony. I suppose humanity does not need it to survive. So then why do some of us have it and some don't? I am convinced that it is completely innate and cannot be taught. I wish someone would invent a checklist to diagnose who can recognize/appreciate irony and who cannot, just like depression or bipolar diagnostic criteria.

About contradictions. The most egregious example in the movie is that the Serbian hit man Mrado (right) is given an 8-year-old daughter that he has to take around to all kinds of shady occasions, playing in the room while others talk about killing, drug dealing, and beating up rivals. In one scene, she is playing with her stuffed animal while her dad was trying out some submachine guns laying on the bed. Hmm... I hope she grows up into a peace-loving girl. Although slightly softened, Mrado is not turned into a kind and loving human being by having a cute little girl around. Ah I must steal this (not the hitman-with-a-girl cliche but character contradictions) for myself!

Petyr Baelish of Sichuan: Echoes of the 3 Kingdoms

Sometimes my mind makes unexpected associations. A few days ago I was talking to a couple of friends, who are of Sichuan (or Szechuan) ances...

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