梅雨 Diary - Arrival (21-22 June)

Jun. 24th, 2017 08:48 am
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[personal profile] steepholm
On the 21st the sun rose early (as one would expect on the solstice), but not as early as me, nor many other Bristolians, who were making pre-dawn departures in various directions. Some, I've no doubt, were heading east to Stonehenge, but a large contingent was going south to Glastonbury, and I encountered a good wodge of them in Bristol bus station, where special coaches were being laid on at regular intervals.


As for me, I was off to Heathrow, though I did get to see the solstice sun rise in Wiltshire, admittedly over the M4 rather than the heel stone:


The journey all went very smoothly. After some hairy experiences at Schiphol two years ago I'd been worried by the fact that I only had an hour to make my connection at Frankfurt, especially as it involved two different airlines (Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways), but the combination of German efficiency and, er, Japanese efficiency, meant that I needn't have worried.

On the plane from Frankfurt to Tokyo I found myself sitting between two middle-aged Japanese women, both of whom spent much of the next 11 hours in face masks, but who were to play a significant role in my journey.

I'd secretly been a little annoyed by the woman sitting to my right, because she closed the window just before take-off, depriving me of a view I always enjoy. Also, I remembered that you're meant to leave the windows open on take-off and landing, for the grisly reason that it helps recovery workers count the bodies in the event of a crash. I composed a Japanese sentence to this effect in my head, but hesitated to speak it, considering that it would be kind of snotty, however perfect the grammar, and that we were after all destined to be companions for quite a while.

She rose considerably in my estimation when I woke from a nap to find her absent from her seat. How had she escaped without waking me or my equally slumberous companion to the left? A minute later I had my answer, when she returned, removed her shoes, and clambered over both arm rests with the considerate dexterity of a service-industry ninja.

Then, about half hour from arrival, she became a friend for life by positively shaking me to point out a beautiful view of Mount Fuji.

Apart from one very distant blurry sighting from a Tokyo high-rise last year, it was my first Fuji sighting, and it looked marvellous in the clear early-morning sun (for it was now 6am the next day, thanks to the magic of time zones), brown with an icing-sugar sprinkle of snow. Of course, I tried to take a picture with my crappy mobile phone, but captured nothing but a blur. Then I remembered that I'd bought a camera especially for the trip, and dug that out. Unfortunately I hadn't yet taught myself to use it, and my attempts were really no better than before. Eventually my kind companion suggested I photograph the picture she'd just taken with her iPhone. So here it is, my photograph of the next-door passenger's iPhone's photograph of Mount Fuji:


Just like being there, isn't it? Hokusai would be proud.

As for my left-hand companion, she chatted politely with me, asking why I was coming to Japan, and so on, which was a good chance to give my Japanese a light workout. When I explained about the lectures I'd be giving in Tokyo she promised to tell her daughter, who was interested in anime - but added that her cousin (who was travelling on the same plane) happened to live in Kichijouji, near the university where I'd be staying, and would be happy to show me there when we landed.

So it was that I spent my first hour in Tokyo with left-hand companion and her cousin, the latter seeing me through the Tokyo tube in the rush-hour crush (no joke when you have two sizeable cases), all the way to the door of the university. She'd made a couple of remarks about looking forward to getting back to her Japanese life after her stay in Germany (her younger sister had married a German and even taken citizenship), so I thanked her for her "authentic Japanese hospitality" (本物の日本のおもてなし) - which I think pleased her, but was sincerely meant.

I spent the rest of that day meeting people, paying rent, registering at the library and getting online, and so on - more or less in a daze, for it was 24 hours since I'd had any sleep worth the name. I'll leave that aside for the moment - we will meet these actors again - and just give you a quick tour of my dwelling, the Foreign Faculty House, where I am sole resident. The outside I've already posted, but here it is again, in glorious colour:


So far, the rainy season has consisted of bright sunshine and 29-degree heat, and my little patch of garden is alive with butterflies and dragonflies. A murder of crows has taken up lugubrious residence in a nearby grove.

Inside, I have a spacious and comfortable apartment, though rather oddly appointed. The building, being almost 100 years old, is in any case ancient by Japanese standards, with polished wooden floors on the landings to facilitate the swish of kimonos (not that kimonos do swish, but this is the obligatory word to use with female clothing of yore) and, I suppose, the clatter of geta. There is an ominous stairwell that leads up into a void, but from which, so far, nothing has issued. Anyway, here are a few shots of the inside, to give you a feel:


Some of the facilities, though not quite coaeval with the house, have a distinctly retro vibe - but this makes me feel quite at home, my heart spending much of its time in the 1970s in any case.


Japanese error in most urgent need of correction? Why, that would be my habit of pronouncing "Toukyou Joshi Dai" (the abbreviation everyone round here uses for the name of this university) as "Toukyou Dai Joshi", which translates rather unfortunately as "Tokyo Big Girls".

This must end.
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
[personal profile] sovay
Bad news: I just woke up now. Good news: I slept six hours. Frankly, after this week, I'll take it. A few things off the internet before I head out to meet [personal profile] rushthatspeaks and Fox and later [personal profile] phi

1. Solaris has put up a hexarchate faction quiz for Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire! I got Shuos, which is not what I was expecting. Maybe I flunked the trolley question.

2. Girl of the Port (1930) had almost no internet footprint when I watched it—I could find links to contemporary reviews on Wikipedia, but almost nothing by anyone closer to me in time. By now it's been reviewed by both Mondo 70 and Pre-Code.com, clearly from the same TCM showing. Honestly, this is pretty cool, even if I wish it were more like discovering and promoting a cult treasure than a thought-provoking trash fire.

3. I have been meaning to link this poem since Juneteenth: David Miller's "Hang Float Bury Burn." I wish I knew where to nominate non-speculative poems for awards.

impractical arrests

Jun. 23rd, 2017 08:53 am
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[personal profile] lauradi7dw
There was a "die-in" outside of Mitch McConnell's office yesterday, organized by the disability rights group ADAPT.
I don't know the rules about being in hallways outside of Senators' offices, but the building belongs to all of us, so it seems to me that people should be welcome to protest. Not,apparently, or at least not to the extent of taking up all the space in the hall, which may be the relevant aspect of it. Forty were arrested, and many people were dragged away by police, as is traditional in protest arrests. What seemed nonsensical to me is that many of the protesters were lifted out of their wheelchairs and awkwardly carried away. There are videos available online. In addition to being dangerous, how is it practical? What are they going to do when they get to the police officer station - have officers keep carrying them around? There was some video footage of people with electric scooters being pushed in the scooter, but many were taken from their various chairs. Why didn't the police just, I don't know, take the wheelchair with the person in it? Some of those chairs cost thousands of dollars and are custom made - separating the user from the chair makes no sense to me.
sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
[personal profile] sovay
Happy solstice! I was indeed awake all night. I'm still awake. Sleep or no sleep, however, sometimes a person has to yell about a movie on the internet.

Girl of the Port (1930), directed for RKO by Bert Glennon, is a pre-Code curiosity if ever I encountered one: a hopelessly confused adventure-melodrama-romance between a tough-cookie showgirl and a shell-shocked veteran set in the South Seas islands, which is part of its problem. Its title is technically relevant in that the heroine is the only female character of any prominence, but thematically it would have done much better to be released under its production title of The Fire-Walker, after the original short story by John Russell. Story elements include World War I, half a dozen nervous breakdowns, British tourists, mixology, untranslated Chinese, institutional racism, surprise aristocracy, the climactic if no longer eponymous firewalk, and the whole thing's over in 65 minutes, so it gets the plot in with a crowbar. There are really interesting things in it and there are really frustrating things in it and they are not arranged in any separable fashion. I am not sorry to have seen it, but I do not expect anyone else to feel the same.

It opens with title cards, setting the zeitgeist of the Lost Generation: "Not all the casualties of war are in hospital cots. There are wounds of the spirit as lasting as those of the flesh, but less pitied, and little understood. Few know the dark fears brought back from the battlefront. Even fewer know that those fears may be cast out . . . but only by the mind that harbors them." The sequence that follows startled me; I keep forgetting that while the Production Code did its best to reduce the realities of sex, race, and gender to cartoons, it also did a lasting disservice to violence—not the two-fisted pantomime kind where bullets leave no marks and people's eyes close gently when they die, but the kind people should be scared of. We see it in the barbed wire trenches of World War I, where a battalion of British soldiers is getting ready to go over the top. It's cold, dark, ghostly. A young officer is trying to reassure an enlisted man even younger than himself, a hollow-eyed boy whose head is already bandaged bloodily under his tin hat. Five in the morning is zero hour; he re-checks his watch, takes a deep breath, and blows the signal. All together, his men call out their watchword, "God and the right!" and scramble up over the sandbags into no man's land. Their German counterparts affirm, "Gott mit uns!" and do the same. There's little sense of strategy on the British side, just a loose line of men ordered into hell with rifles and nerve.1 They walk into a nest of German flamethrowers. It's horrifying. At first they don't see the danger, decoyed by the smoke and the disorienting concussions of the mortar barrage covering the German advance; then it's too late to get out of range. There is something uncanny and inhuman in the flamethrower troops with their deep-sea gear and the long, long streams of fire they send snaking out before them, licking and curling as if they were living and hungry things. The young officer stands his ground with his service pistol, trying to take the flamethrowers out, but soon he's dry-firing and then a stutter of enemy machine-guns takes him in the leg and the arm; he tumbles into a shell-hole alongside the feebly flailing body of a fellow soldier with some obliquely shot but grisly makeup effects on his face—burned, blinded. He keeps crying about the fire, about his eyes. With his helmet knocked off, we can see the officer's face under its stiff tousle of dark hair, terrified and suddenly, desperately young. "Stick close to me," he said confidently, just a few minutes ago in the safety of the trench, "and don't forget—those Fritzes are nothing but men." But fire is more than men, fire can eat men alive, and it's doing just that all around him. Everywhere he looks, the white-hot hissing light of the flamethrowers coming on and the bodies of men he knew burning, or worse, stumbling through the inferno, screaming. He's trapped. He can't get out. Suddenly he's screaming, too, high and hoarse and raw: "Oh, God, don't let the fire get me—don't let the fire get me—oh, God!" And scene.

It's a harsh opening and the viewer may be forgiven for feeling a little whiplashed when the action jumps years and genres to the rainy night in Suva, Fiji when footloose, all-American Josie (Sally O'Neil, a mostly silent actress new to me) blows out of the storm and into MacDougal's Bamboo Bar. Late of Coney Island, she fast-talks her way into a bartending job with theatrical sass, booting the current barman and introducing herself to the appreciative all-male clientele like the carnival talker of her own attraction: "I don't need no assistance, thanks. My father was a bouncer in the Tenth Ward. My mother was a lion tamer with Ringling. I was weaned on raw meat and red pepper. Boo!" She's petite and kitten-faced, brash and blonde as an undercranked Joan Blondell; her dialogue is a glorious compendium of pop culture and pure, nasal Brooklyn slang. She refers to her pet canary alternately as "John McCormack" and "Jenny Lind," derides a hoary pick-up line as "old when Fanny was a girl's name," and deflects an incipient attack of sentiment with the admonition not "to go . . . getting all Jolson about it." A handsy customer gets the brush-off "What are you, a chiropractor? You rub me the wrong way." When she finds another new patron passed out face-first on a table, their exchange as he groggily props himself up gives a good idea of the script's overall mix of the snappy and the sententious:

"Who in blazes are you?"
"Lon Chaney."
"I'm coming up to date. Usually at this stage I'm seeing Jonah's whale."
"Snap out of it, bozo. Ain't you glad you don't see pink elephants?"
"Lassie, I drink so's I
can see them. They crowd out other things. Four fingers, please."

Asked for the color of his money, the man produces a military decoration: thin and scruffy in an old collarless shirt, no longer quite so boyish with the haunted lines in his face, it's the young officer of the opening scenes (Reginald Sharland, also new to me; he had an eleven-film career between 1927 and 1934 and by turns he reminded me of Richard Barthelmess, Peter Capaldi, and Dick Van Dyke, which is a hell of a thing to say about anyone). He has shell-shock you can see from space. When the bar pianist starts tinkling a jaunty improv on "Tipperary," he recites the chorus in a kind of bitter trance, tellingly omitting the last line about his heart. Josie tries to break in by guessing his rank; when she reaches "Captain," he jolts to his feet like a snapped elastic, giving an instinctive salute and then a haggard smile: "Clever, don't you think yourself?" In a welcome gesture toward nuance, he's fucked up, but not totally pathetic. He's known as Whiskey Johnny, after the stuff he drinks more thirstily than water and the song he'll perform in exchange for free glasses of it, especially when egged on by white-suited local bully McEwen (Mitchell Lewis, wait for it). This sort of setup is usually the cue for public humiliation, but Johnny can actually sing and he grins round at the room while he does it, a slight, shabby, definitely not sober man, drawing his audience in all the same. I had a girl and her name was Lize. Whiskey, Johnny! Oh, she put whiskey in her pies. Whiskey for my Johnny! He balks only when McEwen presses him to sing the last verse, the one that Johnny nervously protests "isn't done amongst gentlemen, is it? Not when ladies are present."2 In response, McEwen insults Josie, Johnny insults McEwen, words escalate to fists escalate to McEwen pulling a knife, Johnny grabbing a chair, and Josie throwing a bottle that smashes the nearest lamp. The oil ignites as soon as it hits the floor, a quick mushroom of flame spurting up right in Johnny's face. He was unsteady but combative a moment ago; in the face of the fire, he screams like a child. "Oh, God, the fire! Don't let the fire get me! Oh, God, let me out of here!" A few voices call after him as he blunders jaggedly away through the crowd, plainly seeing nothing but Flanders and flames, but most dismiss him as a "ruddy coward . . . not worth stopping, with his tail between his legs." The next morning, flinchingly hungover on the beat-up chaise longue in the back room of the bar, he tells Josie the story of how he won his medal, the sole survivor of his company decorated for bravery for cowering in a shell-hole "watching the others crisp up and die—hearing them die—seeing the fire draw nearer, nearer, seeing it all round me—oh, God, don't let the fire get me! Don't let the fire get me!" He can recover a wry self-possession in quieter moments, but he "can't face fire" or even the memory of it: the terror is always just below the surface. McEwen has only to flick a cigarette into a bucket of gasoline to bust him back down to a shuddering wreck, trying to hide in the furniture, chokingly gulping the drink he just swore he wouldn't touch.

Josie's solution is unorthodox but unhesitating: she has him move into her cabin. McEwen can't get at him there. House rules are they don't sleep together and Johnny doesn't drink. As the intermittent intertitles tell us, "Half her time she saw that men got liquor at Macdougal's . . . the other half, she saw that one man didn't!" After eight weeks, their relationship is a comfortable but charged mixture of emotional intimacy and unacknowledged sexual tension and I think accidentally sort of kinky. Each night when she leaves for work at the bar, she locks Johnny in—by now at his own request—so that he can't wander off in search of booze despite his best intentions. He refers to her as his "doctor, nurse, pal, and jailor—and savior, you know. That is, if a chap who didn't deserve it ever had one." His hands shake badly when he kneels to put her shoes on for her, but he insists on doing it anyway, just as he insists on helping with the washing-up even when they lose more plates that way. She treats him practically, not like something broken or breakable; she calls him "Bozo" because she doesn't like "Whiskey Johnny" and he doesn't like "Captain." Eventually, diffidently, he introduces himself as "Jameson," at which Josie shoots him a skeptical look: "I've seen that name on bottles." She's fallen for him by now, which the audience could see coming from the moment she deflated his romantic sob story of a contemptuous fiancée who betrayed him with his best friend with the tartly dismissive "What a dim bulb she turned out to be," but she keeps a self-protective distance, correctly recognizing that she's given him a breather, not a miracle, and in the meantime he's imprinted on her like a battle-fatigued duckling. When he declares his love, she warns him, "Now don't go mixing up love and gratitude, 'cause they ain't no more alike than champagne and Ovaltine." They end up in a clinch, of course, and a jubilant Johnny promises that they're going to "lick that fear—together," waving her off to work like a happy husband already. The viewer with a better idea of dramatic structure vs. runtime waits for the third-act crisis to come home to roost.

All of this is an amazing demonstration of the durability of hurt/comfort over the decades and to be honest it's pretty great of its type, even if occasionally over the top even by the standards of idfic. Both O'Neil and Sharland's acting styles are mixed somewhere between early sound naturalism and the full-body expression of silent film—O'Neil acquires a vocal quaver in moments of emotion and Sharland employs some highly stylized gestures in his breakdowns, though there's nothing old-fashioned or stagy about his screams—but since they are generally in the same register at the same time, it works fine. They make a sympathetically matching couple with their respective fears of being unlovable, Josie who bluntly admits that she "ain't a nice girl," Johnny convinced he's a coward and a failure, "finished." Some of their best romantic moments are not declarative passion but shy happiness, the actors just glowing at one another. The trouble is that what I have been describing is the best version of the film, the one without the radioactive levels of racism that start at surprisingly upsettingly high and escalate to Jesus, was D.W. Griffith ghosting this thing? and essentially make it impossible for me to recommend this movie to anyone without qualifiers galore.

Perhaps you have a little something yet to learn about native blood, milord. )

I do not know how closely Girl of the Port resembles its source story, which can be found in Russell's Far Wandering Men (1929). Since he seems to have specialized in South Seas adventures, I assume some of the racism is baked in; I also wouldn't be surprised if some of it was introduced in the process of adaptation. I can get his earlier collection Where the Pavement Ends (1919) on Project Gutenberg, but Far Wandering Men isn't even in the local library system, so it may take me a little while to find out. Until then, I don't know what else I can tell you. "Frustrating" may have been an understatement. I don't want Sharland, O'Neil, and lines like "There you go, full of ambition. You have your youth, your health, and now you want shelves" to have been wasted on this film, but I fear that they may. Duke Kahanamoku certainly was. Mitchell Lewis, by the way, is most famous these days for his uncredited three-line role as the Captain of the Winkie Guard in The Wizard of Oz (1939)—I didn't recognize him as such in Girl of the Port, but once I made the connection, the deep voice and the strongly marked brows were unmistakable. I like him a lot better when he's green. This damaged recovery brought to you by my stronger backers at Patreon.

1. And kilts, which means they must be one of the Highland regiments, but in the chaos of battle I did not get a good look at the tartan.

2. Seriously? I've got like five versions of "Whiskey Johnny"/"Whiskey Is the Life of Man"/"John Rise Her Up" on my iTunes and I wouldn't call any of them racy. It's a halyard chantey. What have I been missing all these years?

3. Once safely outside MacDougal's, Kalita spits on the coin in disgust and then throws it away in the rain. I really think the script is trying its best with him, but because even his positive scenes rely on stereotypes, I credit most of his extant dimensions to Kahanamoku.

4. With a slur I've never heard before: "That little tabby over there . . . T-A-B-B-Y, tabby. The girl that's trying to make you!" From this context I assume it means a gold digger or a tart, but if it's real slang rather than minced for purposes of the Hays Code, I don't think it widely survived.

5. We are also, presumably, supposed to cheer plucky Josie for finding a way to turn the villain's heritage against him: before she agrees to his blackmail, she makes him swear to keep his end of the bargain on something he won't be able to cheat, not God or his honor, but the carved shell charm from his Fijian mother that he wears beneath his European shirts and suits, the hidden and telltale truth of him. "Swear on this Hindu hocus-pocus," she challenges, gripping it in her white hand. "Go on. That'll hold a Malay." Native superstition out of nowhere wins the day. Looking suddenly shaken, he swears.

R&J as YA? Fanfic?

Jun. 21st, 2017 08:21 am
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[personal profile] lauradi7dw
There is a summer (only seven episodes filmed) series on ABC called "Still Star-Crossed." From the commercials beforehand, I got that it is a sequel to Romeo and Juliet, starting almost immediately after their deaths, with the scene still laid in Verona. Then I mostly forgot about it. I came across the third episode on Monday night, half-way in, and liked it very much. I sometimes shy away from costume dramas because unauthentic costumes draw all of my focus. We only watched bits of "Wolf Hall," which many people liked and which had many well-done costumes, because whenever Anne Boleyn appeared onscreen, I started yelling "wrinkles!" (see # 4 http://www.frockflicks.com/top-5-costume-inaccuracies-in-wolf-hall/) The clothes in "S S-C" don't really pass for Renaissance Italy, but they didn't bother me, not least because it turns out that Rosaline can run flat out without being deterred by her gown, even though the lines (and presumably therefore undergarments) are correct. The street scenes are fantastic. When I learned that the show is based on a book by the same name by Melinda Taub, I vaguely assumed YA, but one of the reviewers on Goodreads called it fanfic, and I think that's about right. Not that there is anything wrong with YA. Upon reflection this morning, I realized that for those of us of a certain age (ie the same age as Juliet when the 1968 Zeffirelli version hit the big screen), Romeo and Juliet *was* YA. People in their early teens doing dangerous things for love, with the background possibility of dying for the greater good (not their main motivation, but it was there). I saw it several times in the theater (the only choice, then), with friends. By the third time, some of my friends had gotten over their sadness at the untimely deaths, but I was still fully engaged. At the scene of Juliet speaking over Romeo's body (I am clearly not worrying about spoilers here), I sobbed out loud. The viewer behind me also sobbed loudly at the same time, and my friends buried their faces in their coats, to muffle their shrieks of laughter.

'Cause I don't tell all I know

Jun. 20th, 2017 05:35 pm
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
[personal profile] sovay
It is almost the solstice and I am skeptical that I will sleep through any of the shortest night, the insomnia is that bad right now. I spend my days feeling like everything is wound in layers of cotton batting and my nights not understanding why being tired does not equal being asleep. I'm losing so much time. On the other hand, the sky is tall summer-blue and the clouds look like there should be the sea under them and I was just reminded that Egon Schiele's Trieste Harbour (1907) exists and that makes me happy, even if my brain is now trying to make Der Hafen von Triest scan to Jacques Brel and that's just not going to work out.

I have to write about something.
steepholm: (Default)
[personal profile] steepholm
My daughter suggested I get highlights, and, intrigued by the process (all those bits of foil arranged elegrantly round one's head, as if one were a fashion-conscious conspiracy theorist!) I took her advice. It made much more difference than I was expecting: at first I was pleased with the change, then doubt began to creep in, and now I'm more or less back to liking it again.

Anyway, here is me bidding a lingering au revoir to Jessie's paws, while Ganesh looks on in the background:


Next time I post it should be from Tokyo!

Being consistent

Jun. 19th, 2017 03:57 pm
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[personal profile] lauradi7dw
I mentioned at the time of each van-on-bridge terrorist murder event in London that I had walked on those bridges, so I will mention that we walked by the Finsbury Park mosque in February. Different targets, same MO.

catching up on the BEMF

Jun. 19th, 2017 10:54 am
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[personal profile] lauradi7dw
My total was only three concerts, all of them Fringe, but I was very happy with all of them. On Friday, I went to hear the USC Collegium's focus on the songbook of Anna of Cologne, interspersed with some shawm + sackbut pieces. Early 1500s, an outcome of the Modern Devotion movement. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devotio_Moderna
The music was great. One of the singers wasn't as good as the others, but they are students (the two faculty members played shawms), so she may not be as experienced. It was at 1st Church in Boston, the same location as the 2015 USC performance. That one was packed. This time there were only about fifty people in the audience. That sounds like a fair number, but since the venue can hold many more, it seemed sparse. I wonder whether it was time of day. Since there are 11 PM concerts, some people might not be able to drag themselves out in time for a 10 AM performance the next day. One person showed up at about 10:40, and was shocked that he only heard one piece - their whole program only took a little more than 45 minutes. An hour is not uncommon for a fringe program, but maybe he didn't know that. As we were leaving, he asked for his donation back. I presume he got it.
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[personal profile] sovay
I do not like to talk about stories while I am working on them or before they have been accepted, but I have completed my first piece of original fiction since the fall of 2015 and I think this is a good thing. A comment [personal profile] ashlyme left was the inspiration; at least I feel it bears the signs of recent exposure to Sapphire & Steel. If I can place it, I'll say more. I am still not doing so great, but I feel it is important to record this sort of thing when it happens. Autolycus, purring at Cape Canaveral volume and trampling on the keys as I type, feels it is important to pay attention to the cat.

梅雨 Diary - Preamble

Jun. 18th, 2017 07:43 am
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[personal profile] steepholm
I was hoping for a few days, after the end of semester marking madness, in which to relax and pack, ready for Japan, but stuff keeps coming at me from unexpected directions: an external marking package here, a PhD student's latest chapter there, a journal article to proofread somewhere else, and so on. I'm afraid to open my email now, because I really don't have any more wiggle room. I definitely shouldn't be writing this post, for example, short as it will be.

But I thought I'd share a picture of the building I'll be staying at in Tokyo - the Foreign Faculty Building of Tokyo Woman's Christian University. At least, I think this is the one:

foreign teachers building

The ground floor is a Women's Study Centre, but the top floor is mine for three weeks, which is to say I'll be the only person living there. Until a few days ago I wasn't sure whether I'd just have a room and shared kitchen, etc., student-style, but it seems I get a self-contained apartment, which is very nice.

I'll give a tour when I get there. As on my previous Japanese trips, I intend to blog this one fairly assiduously: since it's not quite a such a tourist affair this time there may be a little less prettiness to show, but I'm sure that staying in a work environment will have its own points of interest...

My visit coincides exactly with the rainy season (tsuyu, 梅雨), which isn't ideal but at least offers poetic possibilities for an LJ tag.
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[personal profile] sovay
I am not talking much about politics at the moment, not because I don't know the rising number of people confirmed dead in Grenfell Tower at the price of £2 per square meter or that the murderer of Philando Castile walked free because it is more important than justice that a white man should be able to shoot whatever scares him or any of the other appalling, routine betrayals of a society's vulnerable by those with more power in it, but because I am not doing so great at the moment and I don't know what I could contribute other than being upset. [personal profile] truepenny has a list of reasons against Trump and it is worth reading and keeping, because this is still not normal.

I just checked in with the internet and saw that Stephen Furst has died. Pace the New York Times, I never saw him in Animal House (1978) and I don't know that I'm ever going to. But I loved him as Vir Cotto on Babylon 5 (1993–98), second only to Peter Jurasik's Londo Mollari and Claudia Christian's Susan Ivanova and the eventual Regent of Centauri Prime played by Damian London, none of whom had better go anywhere in the near future, damn it. The Centauri characters were overwhelmingly my favorites. They had the morally messiest arcs and besides, I came to Babylon 5 right off Robert Graves' I, Claudius (1937) and its 1976 BBC adaptation; I never had a chance. When my high school's concert choir went to England and France for a week and a half in the spring of 1999, I evaluated Versailles in terms of Centauri Prime. Actual Centauri Prime, I am pretty sure, was mostly a matter of CGI reflecting pools and a lot of draperies on the walls, but I believed in its fabulous age and decadence and post-imperial resentment and it provided me with political lines I still quote literally, as in earlier this afternoon, to this day. "Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots fights a war on twelve." "Arrogance and stupidity, all in the same package. How efficient of you." And Vir, in the face of Londo's nationalist nostalgia, saying something that is by no means less relevant now than it was twenty-two years ago: "Every generation of Centauri mourns for the golden days when their power was like unto the gods! It's counterproductive! I mean, why make history if you fail to learn by it?" He was the kind of character I loved around the edges of stories, accidentally backing into the center of the narrative this time and then going nervously but resolutely forward when he realized where he was, a nebbish with—somewhat to his own surprise—a spine. A good person, which did not mean an uncomplicated one. Very funny, which the character as much as the actor seemed to have developed in self-defense. Not biologically equipped to handle fast food, which I could really sympathize with. I feel he would be unsurprised if amused to see that, unless they've fixed it by now, the Times obituary spelled his name wrong. It got Furst's right, fortunately, which I recognize is the important thing here. But I never saw him as anyone but Vir and it's hard not to feel that's who we've lost.

Ave atque vale.

sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
Every single aspect of today except for the cats and the Double Awesome from Mei Mei has sucked exhaustingly. I am very tired of seeing doctors who don't take me seriously because I'm not emotional enough and then seeing doctors who don't take me seriously because I'm emotional at all. I thought the pattern had broken lately, but here we are again. I am not looking for a medical discussion or recommendations. I am just upset. Also it is pouring rain and while I remembered an umbrella on leaving the house, I forgot boots. My shoes are drying in the bathroom because it is the only room in this apartment with a radiator.

I can't believe I've remembered for years that Michael Goodliffe was Thomas Andrews in Roy Ward Baker's A Night to Remember (1958), but forgot or never noticed that David McCallum was Harold Bride. To be fair, I had also forgotten completely about Honor Blackman, but historically I feel very fondly toward Harold Bride. McCallum must have been close to his age at the time of filming. [edit: Indeed, that's a very young David McCallum.] Chances are good that no matter what, I would have bounced off James Cameron's Titanic (1997) in exactly the same way ocean liners don't bounce off icebergs, but childhood exposure to the British film can't have helped.

This is a very fine ghost poem that I didn't write: Rachel Hadas, "Mervyn Peake (1911–1968)."

I have been enjoying this compilation very much.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
My poem "Dive" has been accepted by Not One of Us. It was written last month after a late night at Waypoint with a drink made with squid ink mezcal. I have had an eye-crunching headache all day and this was very pleasant news.

I was talking politics with my father tonight, because that happens a lot with politics being as they are these days. Context was the number of lawmakers in the country currently terrified of women, queer people, people of color, non-Christians, because obviously each of these demographics is apocalypse personified and God knows what happens if you cross the streams: "What can I tell you?" my father said. "You're really scary. You got a nuke in each pocket, you got the sickle of Death in your hand, you got that witch doll you left at the house—" I feel like I may have turned into a Tarot card. It's hard to be upset by that.

I still have the eye-crunching headache and I have to get up in six hours in order to make sure of catching the requisite buses to a doctor's appointment, so I'm just going to leave (courtesy of [personal profile] selkie) these here.

guns, guns, guns

Jun. 14th, 2017 03:18 pm
lauradi7dw: (Default)
[personal profile] lauradi7dw
The headline of this article is already out of date - it was written before the shooting at a UPS facility in San Francisco

Multiple topics

Jun. 13th, 2017 08:17 pm
lauradi7dw: (Default)
[personal profile] lauradi7dw
I was standing at the bus stop by the Lexington Farmers' Market for the exact duration of this afternoon's storm. I was not struck by lightning, but I did get wet. I waited from about the time of the first drops for maybe twenty-five minutes. The rain stopped almost exactly when I stepped onto the bus. It would have been faster to walk (with all the water pipe replacement and other construction, the 62 & 76 have been running quite late, or not according to schedule, anyway), but I was carrying flowers for a friend's birthday and thought they'd get less shaken up on the bus. Not sure it's true, but they still smell wonderful. Speaking of smell - if one can overhear a conversation in a public place, why can't one oversmell someone's breakfast? I was telling Arthur about why I bought something in a cafeteria, and that was why - the person at the next table was eating something that smelled good, so I got up and bought the same thing.

Hijab cosplay:
Is the video working properly?

Boston Early Music Festival
The two main festival concerts I thought I would like were inconveniently timed - the 5 PM yesterday would have required that I miss tap class, which I didn't want to do, and the 11 PM concert tonight (Music about St Swithun from a thousand years ago) would have meant that I would miss the last red line train, I suspect. I've done a couple of things I really liked as part of the Fringe, though. Yesterday afternoon, I attended the open CPE Bach sing at Memorial Church at Harvard. Not early music, as far as I am concerned, but nice. People have been working for decades to compile all his choral music, aided by someone noticing some manuscripts in the KGB archives when the Soviet Union ended. Russia politely returned the sheet music to Hamburg, where it was written. The sing was open to anybody, but the expectation was a fairly high level of ability. I was barely squeaking by. I carefully sat next to someone who looked like she'd be a good sight-singer (I can't tell you how I knew, but I was right) and dropped out from measures I couldn't cope with, for fear of messing up loudly. Edward Jones, the organist/choir director there, was terrific, and there was a really nice combination of pickiness and praise in his remarks. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have the skill to be able to say something like "one of the tenors is singing " (whatever the one person's wrong note was). We were in the chapel, but I spent some time wandering around the sanctuary beforehand. I don't know that I had ever been there. I was bemused to see Franklin Delano Roosevelt listed on the wall of alumni/students who died during WWII. He did die during the war, while a government employee, but I thought it was a stretch. I said so out loud, and the guy next to me said "He was commander-in-chief." So, yeah, I guess that counts as military service enough to be on a memorial wall (???)
The wonderful old Taylor bell that was removed a few years ago is now on display near the side entrance.
Today's fringe fun was at Old West, two groups singing a cappella choral music (by groups I mean four women in The Marion Consort, three men in Three Little Birds, including the man who has been working on the garden at Old West). The time range was mostly early (some as early as 12th century), lots of it religious music, but not all. The concert finished with all of them singing together an 18th century song by Thomas Arne called "Which is the properest day to sing?" (they concluded Tuesday, which I don't think was in the original version). In the introduction, director Amy Bearden mentioned that Arne is most famous for writing "Rule Britannica" (like the encyclopedia, I guess). She was corrected.

The other topic was supposed to be an inward-looking reflection on why I have been reacting out loud in anger a couple of times recently in ways that I previously would have held in. I don't think I can really blame the heat. Part of it is small things that turn out to be tipping points. I'll think about it some more, and then try again.
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
[personal profile] sovay
Not only have the heavens just burst open with tropically torrential rain and gusts of wind snapping branches off sideways in the back yard, it appears to be hailing. Earlier this afternoon it was a hundred degrees in the overcast.

I know climate change isn't sentient, but I still feel like we're being trolled. [edit] And now the sun's back out and the pavements are steaming. Yep.

Where I've been with myself on my way

Jun. 12th, 2017 11:59 pm
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
[personal profile] sovay
Today the heat was brutal, so we waited until near sunset to leave the house and its marginal shelter of air conditioning; then we walked down to the river, which was new territory for [personal profile] spatch and familiar to me only insofar as I had learned to catch the 95 bus from the stop at the foot of Temple Street. We crossed beneath the overpass with its murals of wildlife and shipbuilding and the old dams of the Mystic River (I had no idea the Amelia Earhart Dam was a thing) and found the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse, where no one seemed to care if I walked out onto the floating dock and watched the rowers sculling on the far side of the river. The water looked black as coffee, the sun lying on it like dust. Frilled rosettes of water chestnut twisted up to the surface—a wildly invasive species that I wish were locally acceptable to harvest in season, since its spiky caltrop nuts are edible, although a different species from the crunchy white slices that come in cans from H Mart. According to the poster on the chain-link, we had just missed National Learn to Row Day. We followed the footpath up to the bridge at Route 16, counting fourteen swans as we went; they glided majestically among the waterweed and tipped forward to root in the silt with the no-warning of physical comedy, up tails all. Either some passerby had tried to feed them hot dog buns (which were now sinking slowly all around them) or they had recently murdered a hot dog vendor. I could see it going either way. Seagulls kept swinging overhead; sometimes they looked exactly the size of the low-flying planes out of Logan. I had not realized how much a little blue heron looks like a great blue heron with the aspect ratio wrong. There was a park on the other side of the river, with a wooden observation tower and a meadow full of rabbits at leisurely silflay. We climbed the tower to watch the rabbits: it looked like it was built of telephone poles and reminded me of the long-vanished climbing structure on the lawn of the Cambridge Public Library that always smelled like a sailing ship after rain, silver-weathered wood and creosote. The sky in the east had turned the light-holding space-blue of summer evening, in the west the sun looked as fiery as Florida. Neither of us counted the rabbits. It was probably unkind to refer to them as Hasenpfeffer, especially since some of them were so small and delicate-eared that we decided they were only a Hasenpf. We only came down from the tower when the midges found out where we were. The rest of the walk was somewhat less amateur naturalist, following the Mystic Valley Parkway past the part-demolished Meadow Glen Mall and the commercial-residential strip that did not exist a dozen years ago when Rob worked for roadside assistance. We came home across the river on the Fellsway. I had a strange moment in Ten Hills when I could have sworn that the sea lay beyond the slant of the houses, the crumbled violet of the after-sunset sky. In the nearly two hours it had taken us to circle back to Temple Street and Mystic Avenue, the City of Somerville had moved in a road work crew that was doing something with jackhammers and floodlights. It was loud. We came upstairs and made sandwiches for dinner, because it is still too hot to cook; Rob went to read about Whitey Bulger and I sat down next to him and wrote this. Autolycus helped by continually trying to interpose himself between my hands and the keyboard. It was a good evening.

Tony awards 2017

Jun. 12th, 2017 05:33 pm
lauradi7dw: (Default)
[personal profile] lauradi7dw
I decided to start with the ways in which I differed from the opinions of NPR's Linda Holmes, and then throw in additional thoughts:
Kevin Spacey could have been left out entirely - everything he was in was pointless, even his introductions to some of the presenters. Credit where due, though, he has a nicer singing voice than I realized. Speaking of singing, Stephen Colbert can't, or at least didn't show any signs of it last night. It is nice to see the backstage shots, but it would have been better with just a subtitle telling which play the people were from - I found Rachel Bloom uniformly irritating. They could have used the time saved to showcase James Earl Jones's lifetime achievement award more, rather than just showing snippets. Pictures of the nominated costumes would have been nice, rather than just part of the winner's speech.
It was good to see bits from the musicals, but unlike any other award show, I liked the acceptance speeches better than anything else. People thanked the usuals (although God didn't get the mentions that happen during the Academy awards), but Gavin Creel (?) specifically mentioned by name the people who funded the scholarship he got to drama school. Someone (don't remember) thanked her grandmother, who had sold her engagement ring to finance the winner's move to New York to try to make it in the theater. Many people thanked family members by name and expressed love, but (unless I missed something), only Laurie Metcalf and Cynthia Nixon additionally apologized to their children for time away from home. A gender distinction.
The street corner doo-wop band singing during the memorial time was just right, as was the fading light when they were done.
Final sentence of Ben Platt's loving speech (which got faster and faster as he tried to stay within the allotted time): "The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful."

Wasted on the Young

Jun. 12th, 2017 09:54 pm
steepholm: (Default)
[personal profile] steepholm
I'm sure this point has been made elsewhere, but since everyone from Eric Pickles to the Daily Mail (and even some Labour supporters) have taken to describing the pledge to abolish university tuition fees for English students as a "bribe", I'd just like to point out that, if you want to look at it that way, corporation tax cuts are a bribe, as are the triple lock on pensions, with free TV licences, bus passes, winter fuel payments, free prescriptions, etc etc. And the NHS, of course. Why get all hoity toity about it only when the young are beneficiaries? It smacks doubly of hypocrisy when most of the people flinging this word about were the beneficiaries of free university education themselves. (I've yet to hear of any of them offering to pay the money back.)

"Bribe" is the wrong word to use in all these cases. Free education is a recognition that we all benefit from having an educated population; the NHS is a recognition that we all benefit from having a healthy population; those who advocate tax breaks do so (in most cases) because they think it will benefit the economy generally. This isn't bribery, just enlightened self-interest.

You might even think of it as paying forward some of the benefits (bribes, if you will) that you received. Or do you think your parents were profligate fools when they bribed you for your love with food, shelter, money, toys? I've no patience with that view of the world, especially when it's so selectively applied.

Tangentially (as I noted on FB the other day), Greg Mulholland's father was on Any Answers on Saturday, arguing that students should be registered to vote in their parents' constituencies rather than the university towns where they live. That way, they won't be able to gang up on poor Tory and Lib Dem candidates like Sir Julian Brazier and, er, Greg Mulholland. Hilariously, he began by saying how much he welcomed the fact that the young had decided to vote this time. He just wants to make sure that their vote won't count.


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