Saturday, 28 November 2009

So what's going on, mate?

Things are a bit inert these days, and I think the blog reflects this. It’s not that I’ve lacked subjects to post about – in fact, that I’ve just completed an epic sequence of posts on a really heavy subject, so you can look forward to some bad shit going down.

I’ve given my notice from my job here in Paris and I shall be departing from the country shortly. I leave France with an enormous cargo of good memories. Enough to make me believe I’ll romanticise this place in ten years’ time, but what the hell – if you can’t romanticise Paris, then what else can take that role? My next stopping place will be Italy, where I intend to spend my Christmas holidays looking for my next job. I mean to work at sea, this time around. Not sure doing what exactly – I’ll get on a cruise, a fisher-boat or even a pirate ship if that’s what it takes, but I want to be on the big blue. Call it my Melvillian aspiration.

I hope to find the job before the end of January, because that’s when I’m leaving for India. I’ve got a journey planned over there. Three weeks, and who knows, maybe longer – if I were to find a job down there which doesn’t involve something as gross as swiping the shit from cows off the temples, then I might just stick to it. I’d love to spend a few months in India, though probably no more than that. My future is in Europe, as after all is my past.

At the moment, I have just two days of work left to go before I quit this country, so most of my days I am spending evenings in Paris, each one of them a little more final. Shall I return, someday? Who knows. I certainly hope so. Paris gave me a lot, and I have almost nothing to give in return. It’s not much and not total, but in the meantime, here is the only sonnet that I wrote to this city – one which was on commission (the italics on 'Paris' are there because it's meant to be pronounced the French way).

Paris, Paris, I have not come to light
Or spin you, I’ve not come to sing la Senne,
My throat seeks no refreshment from your night
And I’m not asking where to go or when.
For pilgrims are no conquerors, who come
To seek the root of their humility,
That common street where all their roads are one
Behind the mask of your plurality.
Paris, you’re not the basin of my past;
You are a road, but you lead not to Rome.
– And what is Rome if not a bust (the last)
That honours ashes, cinder dressed as home?
Paris, teach me the junctions of the way
For us to noble or ignoble clay.

There will be others. There will be more. But now I need to metabolise what I have seen, what I have experienced and anything else. City of lights, city of shadows, city of damned poets (and overpriced poetry), city of more than I can tell, I could never find the words – much less the heart – for an adieu. I’ll do it my way: thank you, and arrivederci.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

2012 Review

I don’t usually do film reviews on here unless they’re retrospective ones for old films which need to be reconsidered, but I was taken to see 2012 the other day, and at the time of writing I’m sitting on a train with nothing better to do than drawing Mandelbrot sets onto the seats, so here goes.

2012 is an apocalyptic movie, one of those things where five or six characters are given a string of interweaving stories as a backdrop so that the film to stage its special effects extravaganza and we can all enjoy watching big buildings being blow to cinders. In this case the stories belong, in order, to the following folks. #1. The black guy of the day (there’s always a black guy in these films, you could set it in Nazi Germany and there would still be a black guy), who also happens to be the young idealistic scientist who first finds out about the immanent apocalypse. Two clich├ęs in one character, there must have been a special offer or something. Oh yeah, and there’s some government guy who is fat (and therefore bad) who acts cynical and serves as a counterpoint to the idealism of our young hero, yadda yadda yadda. #2. The President of the USA, also black (how original). Then there’s his daughter, who is there so we can give a romance to the young scientist. The US President ends up being one of only two world leaders who refrains from fleeing and decides to die with his people. The other one is the Italian prime minister (LLLLLOOOOOOLLLLL!!!!!) while the Queen of England is shown to abandon her people and bring her insufferable little dogs with her. Good to see that American screenwriters still have as much understanding of foreign political realities as I have knowledge on fucking sheep (and no, my knowledge on the subject has not gone up since the last time I made that joke).

I’m going to go down by a paragraph here, not because there’s any reason to do so, but because I like the idea.

#3. This guy is in EVERY disaster movie, every single one without exception – the white male who neglected his family to write his book and now finds himself connecting with them again through the catastrophe. His family: boy, girl, beautiful middle-aged wife, and the poor jock who married his wife after the divorce – the impostor, basically, whom we shall refer to as the Loser because that’s all he does throughout the movie – he acts as a loser. 4.) A Russian magnate (and therefore bad) with the funniest accent since someone asked someone else if the CIA ‘add yew pooshing too meny penzils’ (LINK), busy trying to save his sons.
Apocalypse when?
This is the film in a nutshell. As you can imagine, all of these people undergo a number of adventures and journeys in their efforts to reach the ‘arks’ that will save them, a few of them die (most predictably, the Loser), and eventually ‘new hope’ is promised. All good? Weeeellll, not really, and this for reasons beyond the fact that this film is basically the photocopy of the five-hundred disaster movies that preceded it (seen one, seen them all, really). I’m sure you’ll be able to pick up on that at first glance – much like you’ll be able to pick up on the scientific loops of logic, the racist / nationalistic political agenda, and all the other stuff that makes this film so bland and generic. So I won’t go into that, but I will instead point out what I thought to be the major flaw with this film, the thing that makes the whole edifice fall down (forgive the irony about edifices falling down). And I think it’s important because it shares this problem with the gazillion other apocalyptic films that have been made so far.

You see, disaster movies couch their special effects’ cabaret in stories of ordinary people trying to escape the disaster. In this, they stage the typical (male) fantasy, here found in the guy who returns to single-handedly save his family and thus reconquers them (also, less emphatically, in the young scientist who bangs the ‘inaccessible’ president’s daughter).

The problem is that these films portray a world in which it is unnecessary for people to take responsibility for their actions. The film goes to great extents to show how the Loser is such a loser and why the writer is in fact the perfect pater familias (eventually the film kills the Loser off, so nobody has to take responsibility even for abandoning him). But the Loser is in fact central to the most moving part of the film. This is a scene in the pre-Apocalypse bit of the movie when the Loser is trying to speak to his wife and keep the relationship together – by care, patience and effort. Alongside the nurturing and attention that he offers to children who are not even his own, this stands in gigantic contrast to the more obvious, pyrotechnic heroics of the real father, who drives a car through explosions or fixes engines in underwater darkness. The film implies that by means of these ‘heroics’ the father is somehow exempted from his real duties as a father, or from paying for his mistakes at the time – the fact that he neglected them in favour of his book is no longer an issue. He is saved by the apocalypse. He gets his family back. Similarly the young scientist gets the girl – enacting the fantasy of someone who has no social skills but gets laid anyway thanks to exterior circumstances, vis, the Armageddon.

A film like this is depressing, of course, in light of the fact that this planet really is dying. It may not do so with the narrative pathos of these movies, but as long as we keep warming up the atmosphere or building nukes, the prospect of some disaster someday taking place on a global scale is very real – simply because we have the power to bring it along. If there’s ever going to be any way of preventing a disaster at home, then it’s going to be by taking responsibility for our actions – and what’s saddening is that the films which are supposed to warn us about these disasters are telling us exactly the opposite of that. They’re encouraging us to forgo our own responsibility and withdraw into our fantasy of apocalypse. Much like the father who failed in his relationship with his family, these films got it wrong. After all, this is how the world ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Second shot at the cinema

Once I wrote about an attempt at going to the cinema which had ended in abject failure. I feel I need some vindication, so here’s a quick sequel of sorts. My second attempt, I told myself, is going to work. I thought this with a profound sense of determination, one of those feelings which seize you when you’re strewn in mud and nothing sustains you but a spark of immortal pride, so I was certain it was truth. I still believe it would have been true if I had ever done anything to actually undertake that second attempt. Unfortunately I seem to find the activity of parking my buttocks under a palm-tree so enticing that I am barely even brushed by any other desire. I don’t think I would ever have gone to the cinema in Martinique if it weren’t for my innate Casanova powers of attraction.

One day I am walking around with a German friend of mine called Mikhail, sporting my snazzy sunglasses and what not, when these two girls woo at us and ask us to come closer. They want to sell us some eucalyptus smoking leaves, and my friend Mikhail, who is a very sociable guy and feels in a particularly jockey mood that day, takes the chance to start up a conversation. I on the other hand am pretty quiet – and somewhat taken aback too. I’ll admit that my tastes are often quite arduous, but even to the locals these two must look like a pair of combat bulldogs. One of them appears like a midway point between a brontosaurus and a World War II German Armoured Vehicle, the other one has a face which acutely evokes that of a frog. When placed together, they seem as attractive as a malaria epidemic. To top it all, and as I realise after approximately twenty seconds of conversation, they are about as stupid as the plants of eucalyptus they were trying to sell.

In any case I am indifferent to it all until the two girls ask us if we would take them to the cinema and to my astonishment Mikhail replies, all merry:

‘Why sure! What better way of spending the evening!’

I drag him aside for a minute and hiss at him: ‘What on earth are you doing? Have you seen those two walking scarecrows?’

‘Andrea, what are you, stupid? Can’t you see they’re pulling our leg?’

Apparently, according to Mikhail, the girls are trying to con us into going to the cinema on our own, walking away from the appointment themselves for a laugh. In short, they are playing a prank. I don’t know how he has reached this conclusion, but the guy insists and even gets quite heated on it. Eventually I think, ‘well, he’s the one who probably knows women better between us two,’ so I let him accept the invitation and we set off for the cinema which the girls have pointed out for us. It is an ungodly trek but I was really eager to go – my ancient desires of staring at a big screen had been instantly rekindled.

So there we march, wondering what film to watch, and when we get there, what do we see? Yoo-hoo! Les beaux mecs! Those two prodigies were there, happily waving at us. I’ll pass on the rest of the afternoon, and I’ll pass on the organizational skills of local cinema (it took them fifteen minutes to realise they were projecting the wrong film and another fifteen to change the reels, a time which I spent engaged in conversation with the brachiosaurus). When the time came to leave, they suggested that we go out to the city and I politely declined the invitation. I didn’t feel like furthering the interaction. Besides, by the time we were at the bus stop, they seemed to have found a suitably stupid-looking guy with a bandana tied up over his head and a truckload of those gigantic fake necklaces which rappers use to compensate for the size of their penis around his neck. They introduce him as a friend of theirs. So at least they are in good company, and I feel a little less guilty when I scuttle off to go home, completely dissatisfied with my time out at the cinema!