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Friday, December 30, 2011

Jason Moran



半年前偶然听到 NPR 上关于 Jason Moran 的专题节目就喜欢得很,但是后来忘记了他的名字,想找也没找到。最近因为 Moran 被肯尼迪中心请去做爵士乐 curator 他又上了电台节目,于是我也把他给“找了回来”。

我对 jazz piano 毫无抵抗力,而 piano 和 bass 放在一起的质地对比简直太可爱了。Moran 虽然粉 Thelonius Monk,但是演奏风格感觉有一点 classical,当然这也没什么奇怪的,从 classical 开始而转而迷恋 jazz 的人多了去了。

在这个专题节目里,第一首曲子是 Moran 改编 Maurice Ravel ,好听得一塌糊涂,哇哇哇!后面的几首也不错。

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Terrible Time Waster




YouTube, that is.

Got sucked into video clips of "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." For example:

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Help! I can't stop!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Very Long Blogs


While watching the TV series Kingdom I happened upon Stephen Fry's blog. Holy smokes he writes very long blog articles! Ebert's weekly blog entries can run to the long side, but Fry's seem longer. Wow.
One of these days I'll do a long one. Maybe. :P

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Edelstein, etc.

It is fascinating to listen to David Edelstein's year end movie overview because he is another movie reviewer (an example is Roger Ebert) who is very candid about his own feelings and emotional context of his take on movies.

He expressed my exact sentiment when he labeled Steig Larsson's Dragon Tattoo series as a "primitive fantasy" and David Fincher as a "very cruel director." I also agree with him that von Trier's heavy disdain for people is a annoying and tiresome. I'm less inclined to be impressed by impeccable techniques and a vast visual vocabulary than film geeks. In other words, I'm picky about the kind of filmmakers I "hang out" with, which may have some correlation with how picky I am about the kind of people I hang out with.

When it comes to the impression of Steven Spielberg we go in completely opposite directions. There is something lurking underneath Spielberg's sentimentality that disturbs me, but I cannot put my finger on it. A friend once digressed that Spielberg betrayed a carefully disguised tendency to cruelty and calousness in the Indiana Jones series. Not sure if that is it. To me his effort to appear sentimental and innocent or child-like is just a little too laborious to be wholy convincing. Maybe I'm just paranoid.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Michael Clayton



This is one of the most underrated movies I have seen. When I saw it in theater I couldn't quite put my fingers on why I found it so mesmerizing, but it has haunted me all along.

Putting the Blu-ray disc in the player, for some reason I decided to turn on the commentary track first, even though the plot has already faded in memory. Surprise, surprise. I had always assumed that, given it was the first directing effort by a renowned writer, its strengths lie in the dialog, the narrative structure, the plot, and the characters. Those elements are all excellent, of course, but I did not fully appreciate how beautiful it looks.

With only a fraction of my attention on the chatters of Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy (brothers), I stared at the shots and the color scheme. With all the dense and rapid dialog, visually it is remarkably still and uncluttered, with a stark palette and a gaze on faces and eyes. There is a simple elegance in the framing and composition of most shots. The lighting and shadow are exquisite without being showy or self-conscious, and the background lights and shapes have an abstract beauty that is simultaneously delicate and intense.

One of the movie's tricks is fluid scene-to-scene transitions, sometimes with temporally scrambled voice-overs, sometimes with clever editing (see Tilda Swinton's entry scene). Another trick is movements in the out-of-focus background, scurrying at the edges of the frame and the edges of the viewers' consciousness, oozing an ominous sense of conspiracy and dread.

As a moviegoer I am extremely grateful for directors/editors who trust and respect my intelligence and attention. Thank you for choosing people like me to make your movies for.

****

I can think of no other movie that reflects the mood of the era better (2001 to 2008). It speaks to me.

On the commentary track, Tony Gilroy talks about how heavily he has been influenced by the movies of 1970s. The period of late 1960s to first half of 1970s is truly the golden age of American cinema, the end of which was marked by the commercial successes "Jaws" and "Star Wars." One of these days I'll have to systemically watch the classics from that time. It occurs to me that the parallel between that time and ours is no accident. Vietnam war, Civil Rights movement, social unrest, the assassinations, and, to cap it off, Watergate. Deja vu.

Much Ado About Nothing (Cuban version)



因为是个欢乐的剧,被现代化之后(1930年代古巴庄园)还又唱又跳的,我就拉某同学去看了。现代古巴化之后,全卡司美国口音也十分融合了,只有两个配角演员还很热心地拿出了小小西班牙语口音。美国舞台莎剧里不是每个人都能上英国口音,所以有时候满台南腔北调。不知道英国舞台上 Eugene O'Neill 或者 Tennessee Williams 是否有口音分歧。

某同学坚决不看悲剧,上次跟几个朋友一起看“玻璃动物园”就被他推掉了。

Monday, December 19, 2011

一根葱

最近忽然遇见两起事件让我疑心有些人会不会太把自己当根葱?但是别人或许会说我只是将低自尊投射到别人身上。谁知道谁的现实感更接近现实。

如果哪天有人觉得我太把自己当根葱,请不吝留言提醒。

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Dangerous Method




Nearly all the posters of "A Dangerous Method" arranges Keira Knightly's Sabina Spielrein in the middle, between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), a transparent --- and entirely wrong --- characterization of the movie's theme. She is not the woman that came between Jung and Freud and broke up their friendship.

David Cronenberg, who is Canadian by nationality, makes a subtle but conscious case for the Jewishness of psychoanalysis. The riff between Freud and Jung, the movie seems to argue, is largely an ethnic and class divide manifest in academic disagreement.

Buried beneath this ethnic argument is the suggestion that it is no accident that psychoanalysis originated and flourished in the repressive Victorian era in Europe among Jewish medical men (and remain dominated by Jewish psychiatrists to this day), that the permissive and liberating philosophy of psychoanalysis is inherently Jewish, and that Protestants are instinctively unable to embrace psychoanalysis, even an open-minded, intelligent Protestant like Jung.

I don't know enough about Judaism and Jewish culture to judge whether the hypothesis is credible. It probably is to some extent. I do have doubts about whether ethnic and class difference played a large role in Jung's feud with Freud. The movie implies that Jung is troubled by Freud's emphasis on sex as the underlying motivation for nearly all human behaviors and unconsciousness and his implied support of socially unacceptable behaviors (e.g., infidelity), because Jung is sexually repressed and deeply conflicted. One scene in particularly clearly establishes that Freud and Spielrein understand it (the central role of sex) and each other, because they are Jews and therefore not as plagued by sex-related guilt and conflicts as Jung is.

I don't know enough about Jung and his work to judge whether this characterization is real. Again, it may be true to some extent. However, the very fact that Cronenberg is suggesting that the riff between Jung and Freud is rooted in social class, religious, and cultural differences that neither of them has any control over happens to support Jung's theory that cultural heritage heavily influences people's behaviors and unconscious. Isn't it ironic?

I wonder whether Cronenberg has realized this irony. Although Jung in this movie is portrayed as being repressed and unable to fully accept the legitimacy of sexual urges, while Freud is portrayed as being more "liberated" or knowing of the human nature and therefore perhaps "more correct," the movie itself indirectly acknowledges that Jung is just as correct if not more so by tracing his behaviors and decisions to his Protestant heritage.

Fascinating.

Nevertheless, it would be an injustice to suggest that the movie blames the breakup between Freud and Jung entirely on the Jewish-Protestant and class divide. It fully acknowledges the Oedipal nature of their relationship and conflict. I don't know whether all men want to marry his mother, but it seems pretty universal that all men must murder his father to become his own person. The more intimate and affectionate the relationship, the more the son has to kill of the father (even if symbolically) to become an adult.

The intimacy of mentor-disciple relationship is shown is something of a double layer in the movie: The Jung-Spielrein relationship is a parallel to the Freud-Jung relationship. However, the daughter does not need to murder her father to become independent. She separates from him and her sexual desire for him, and becomes her own person in a process that is perhaps as painful as the patricide. The movie makes both types of separation perfectly clear and somewhat symmetrical.

****
Although the movie is heavily didactic with long segments of dialog, Cronenberg's visual language remains ripe with meaning and suggestions. Note the deep-focus shot in the scene above, which keeps both Freud's face in the foreground and Jung's face in the background clear. Similar view is used throughout the movie to keep the patient and the psychoanalyst, who do not face each other, in the same frame with the same clarity. Perhaps he is suggesting that the process of psychotherapy is bidirectional and affects not only the patient.

The acting is interesting across the board. Knightly is fine in the hysterical, manic scenes and slightly laborious in the later "normal" scenes. Fassbender, interestingly, has done two movies and sexual urges and conflicts around the same time. The second movie, "Shame," seems almost like a rebuff to the line in "A Dangerous Method" that sex is the only reliable pleasure for everyone.

Mortensen takes the cake for the best, but also the subtlest, performance in the movie. While maintaining a detached, controlled, dominant, almost manipulative presence, he drops a number of hints of vulnerability and genuine affection.

Jung's wife, played by Sarah Gadon, is probably a little underdeveloped compared with the 3 main characters. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the treatment of this character and the movie's exploration of gender and power in general. She is clearly distressed by Jung's insatiable sexual appetite (depicted through his hearty appetite on the dining table), but she has to make do, even though she is the financial pillar of the family. So, perhaps, she is a counterpoint to the acceptance and indulgence of primal sexual urges. Possessiveness and exclusivity are also a human instinct. When we love someone we want the most we can wring out of that person. We don't want to share and dilute. Or perhaps some but not all of us craves the exclusivity. That is an instinct, not social regulation or repression. Obviously, one man's freedom is another woman's suffering, even if you take society out of the equation.

As such we enter a territory not thoroughly explored by Freud. Social restrictions on individual behaviors have obviously brought on neuroses and conflicts and mental dysfunctions, but they also serve the purpose of keep us living together in close proximity without cutting each other's throat. Such is the human condition. There is never a place where one's own needs and others' needs can exist in absolute and blissful freedom and harmony. We always have to struggle with conflicts and competing needs between ourselves and others, and hope for a tolerable compromise. (People do cut each other's throat every day in the world, after all.)

****
If I have to grossly simplify the movie's plot, it would not be a love triangle in which Spielrein breaks up Freud and Jung's relationship, but rather a love triangle in which both Freud and Spielrein love Jung, but the damned Protestant just doesn't get it.

Manamana

小时候看到一点芝麻街,对这首歌印象很深,但是不知道啥意思。曾经以为他们在说 "Phenomenon",现在才知道根本不是!

芝麻街的瑞典厨师也很逗,很疯狂。

不过最好笑的还是 Statler and Waldorf 一对老头儿。

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Untitled

Once again I am reminded that I shall never know how another person feels.

Zinsser wrote about his Overtone Years, but it was the sentiment of being a fourth-generation New Yorker that got my strings shuddering.

I've not had rootedness for at least two generations. For whatever reasons, I live like HC Anderson --- figuratively, philosophically.

It's neither good nor bad, this life, but I am just reminded that I'll never know how it feels to be a fourth-generation New Yorker and walk by the apartment buildings that your parents and grandparents lived and died.

隔行

今天听见新闻说粒子撞击器那边爆出新闻,Higgs Boson (又称上帝粒子)“可能” 被证实了。

想到不久前的超光速中微子消息,我有点不敢相信,发了个电邮给某同学问这个是不是真的。上次超光速中微子的消息出来,某同学说多半不是真的;这次他答曰十有八九是真的。

其实某同学也不是物理学家,但是学过一些物理的人至少有概念,一个谣言出来能判断可信几率有多高,而外行就完全两眼一抹黑。同理,我对粒子毫无概念,很容易被蒙住,但是如果拿一篇医学生物研究给我看,即使不懂,至少能估计出是不是胡扯。

Mr. Fox



I'm about 25% into this breezy and delightful book. I like it because it does not have the whiff of rotting paper coming out of university English departments.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Attack the Block



Both funny and scary, with a bit of social commentary.

Beautifully photographed and directed with judicious use of special effects. Thankfully the alien monsters were "man in a suit"/puppet, with little CGI. CGI cannot imitate the real fluidity of movements.

A lot of apparently ad lib dialogs, just the type I like.

It is just the kind of movie that has you screaming and laughing simultaneously.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Father Brown

把 Hamsun 暂时放在一边,重读 Father Brown 系列。过去没注意,现在拿着 Kindle 慢慢地读,才品出 Chesterton 的好。

Sunday, December 4, 2011

味千拉面



洛杉矶有诸般不好,只有一样好: 吃。

各种中国饭馆,跟某同学一星期内吃也吃不不过来,只有在味千拉面吃了两次。

说实话我有点怀疑白色的猪骨浓汤不是真正用猪骨长期熬出来的自然白 --- 每日流量巨大的快餐店,很难相信店堂后的厨房里有几只巨大的锅一直在熬猪骨。谁知道浓汤是怎么批量生产出来的,里面放了多少 MSG,不过好吃还是好吃的。黄黄拉面也还算有筋道,对于没吃过真正用手拉出来的日本拉面的人来说。主要是汤面里的肉、菜、汤、面搭配数量已经科学化系统化,恰到好处,深得我心,各个成份多一分嫌多少一分嫌少,刚好被我全部吃光,无论哪一样多一点都会剩下。

某同学十分钟情店里的南瓜 tapioca 糖水,冷甜食一碗,不算特别甜。

放狗一查,味千只有加州与纽约有连锁店,失望。

Friday, December 2, 2011

Meek's Cutoff




Is it Oregon? I couldn't help but feel it was Australia. On film hardly any place but Australia has left such an impression of a complete lack of human infiltration. Sure, you get a glimpse of a half-nekked aborigine, but that just makes it worse. "You should see the cities we built," Michelle Williams grumbled to the lone Indian captured by the white men. The Indian didn't understand her, of course. I wondered whether she was only trying to remind herself of what cities looked like.

The movie is slow, oppressive, and pretty much a long journey into the belly of desperation. In a male filmmaker's hand, no doubt at some point insanity would take over and someone would get killed in a mad struggle. She generally avoided blood and death, but the sense of doom hung heavy without release, even in the end. Even I find it a bit unbearable and fast-forwarded to the ending.

The ending, ha! A cursory Google search can tell you that a lot of viewers are enraged by it. Mightily pissed off. Is it a reaction typical to American moviegoers? Or is it universal? I digress. Anyway, I suspect that if the movie were merely a slow and artsy *film* but spared us the uncertainty and doubt, if there were some relief of closure at the end (even if tragic), people would not have been so angry about it.

********
There is hardly any dialog in the movie, except for the endless boasting of Stephen Meek, played by an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood (I wouldn't have known it was Bruce Greenwood if it weren't printed on the cast list). This character makes me chuckle (but without mirth). Why? Because I know this guy. I have met him a number of times before. I met him in a friend's husband, with whom I had an unfriendly argument that spoiled my friendship with the wife. I met him in a pot-bellied government bureaucrat, spewing bullshit as his subordinates listened in hushed reverence. You can see him on TV on Fox News, CNN, or other news network's talking heads that they use to pass for news. He is the art professor, some sort of expert, or resident intellectual who keeps dropping big words but makes no sense. He is so sure of himself that people look up to him with awe. He freely dispenses truisms that are vaguely profound but entirely meaningless. He is the charming snake-oil salesman. He is usually male, but I have seen him in a woman or two with Ph.D. in social science.

It is really funny (funny ironic, not funny haha) that, in the beginning, the men in the wagon train, which got lost under Meek's guidance, were whispering doubts about Meek and even suggesting that he be hanged. Yet, faced with Meek's bravado, they continued to follow his lead, relinquishing their power and judgment in his hand. He had no idea where he was going, but neither did they. And people would rather follow a blind man than follow their own instinct. Ain't that the truth.

I know that man. Don't you? I often wonder why such a guy is so popular, so revered, so trusted. "Do you see he has no idea what he's doing?" I want to yell at people and shake their shoulders. But people love him and beg him to tell them what to do. Considering the poignant but subtle social commentary in "Old Joy," I was convinced that Kelly Reinhart was making reference to contemporary events.

Surprisingly, "Meek's Cutoff" is a true story. There really was a Stephen Meek, and he really did lead a wagon train lost in the Oregon wilderness. Only there were a lot more wagons following him and the consequence was more disastrous than in the movie. Amazingly, Meek was not killed by the disillusioned mob after many died on the road, although there were rumors. In fact, the real Meek died of old age. Ain't that what always happens?

********
Back to the enraging uncertainty of the ending. I was reminded of John Sayle's "Limbo," which also has an equivocal ending. "It could be water or blood," as Meek says in the movie.

Just recently I was thinking about the human perception/illusion of time as Brian Greene explained. The past and the future may be equally elusive, but the constant, weak electrical impulses and neuronal patterns that are memory give us the feeling that we have access to the past, but not the future. It is not the past that we know, but rather the ghost of the past still living in our brain. What if we didn't have this ghost living in our brain? (Think anterograde amnesia. Think "Memento.") What if we had a similar ghost in the brain that feeds us knowledge of the future in the same way?

So, anyway, what the heck was I trying to say? Oh, the unknowable future. Right. Hmm. We don't know what awaits us in the next minute, day, week, month, year. We could be hit by a bus and die tomorrow. Or gets killed in a plane crash next week. Or get lost in the Oregon desert and die of thirst. At least, living in this era gives us a false sense of certainty. The whole world has been mapped out. If we get lost, click on the GPS. If we are thirsty, turn on the tap. We know the mathematical probability of dying in a car crash or plane crash. We know the treatment for pneumonia, the cause and prevention of cholera, and the way to get to the nearest hospital. We have this cemented sense of safety through our access to a huge amount of knowledge. However, in the time before maps were charted, what was it like, PSYCHOLOGICALLY, to walk into a desert or sail into the sea without a map, without satellite, with no end in sight? I don't know about you, but it scares me shitless. Perhaps this is why we like our movies predictable. Yet isn't this unknown landscape the same as our everyday reality? The desert of tomorrow is as unknowable as the Oregon desert for the westward emigrants? Isn't it also the same for "the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns"?

The Conversation Soundtrack




发现了 David Shire 的电影音乐,很不错,我喜欢。

The Conversation (计划把整个OST买下来)

The Taking of Pelham 123

Farewell My Lovely

(Very retro)

Shakespeare Theater

Nice marketing tactic. I never fall for sales calls but I did this afternoon. $150 for 3 plays for the rest of this season. I picked Much Ado (Cuban version), Strange Interlude (O'Neill), and Merry Wives of Windsor.

Michael Khan at STC and Erick Shaeffer at Signature are so good. Ah, I am grateful for living in the DC area. It is no NYC but soooooooo much better than LA. There was nothing to see in LA last week. Everyone was doing "Nutcracker." Ugh.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

时态

Hamsun 有个毛病让我十分抓狂,这个人喜欢乱用时态,过去时现在时混着乱用。翻译成中文正好没问题,翻译成英文就让人很烦。但是他文字颇妙,尤其是写人物言行与动机错开不一致,我又舍不得不看。哼,哼,这也就是成名作家能 get away with 乱用时态,居然还有人夸奖乱得好!换了无名作者手稿早就被扔进垃圾箱了。

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Currently Reading and Watching

"Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d'Urbervilles" by Kim Newman. One of the better spoofs on Sherlock Holmes, with Thomas Hardy as collateral damage. Told from the point of view of the hapless Colonel Sebastian Moran, the gory and sometimes hilarious adventures of the criminal mastermind cleverly reference and parallel the Canon. The inimitable Irene Adler made an appearance and became the woman who is forever referred to by the professor as "that bitch."

"Wanderers" by Knut Hamsun. I can't seem to shake his spell.

Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" is a curious mixture of various subjects: psychosis in youth (possibly the first sign of schizophrenia), dysfunctional but common mother-daughter relationship (more common in Asian than western families), arrested psychosexual development with links to both perfectionism and ballet, sex and art/dance. They are not entirely tied up in a perfect bow but the connections are there. Aronofsky may be suggesting that arrested psychosexual development in beautiful young women is linked to both a distorted, prudish, and obsessive parental point of view, and that the ideals of ballet may unconsciously represent such a parental view in the audience, which conflicts with the inherent sex appeal in the dance/performance aspect. Art is sex, even the somewhat frigid framework of ballet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rare Export: A Christmas Tale (Or, Bad Santa)



北欧幽默真是墨墨黑,连圣诞老人的传说都能被他们拍成恐怖片来,而且看上去似乎芬兰的幽默比瑞典挪威丹麦的还要更硬上几分。大部分是悬疑恐怖成分,偶尔来一句(绝不翘嘴角的)笑话。

一个无法解释的现象:这片儿里绝对没有女人!父子加铁哥儿们打天下。这说明什么?不清楚。

必须贴一张影片第一男主角Onni Tommila (上图),可爱得要命,在影片里跟他亲爹 Jorma Tommila 出演父子。DVD 中有两个短片,是同一编导在拍这部电影之前 (2003, 2005) 拍的同一题材短片,采用原班演员,其中 2005 年拍的短片 Rare Exports: Official Safety Instructions 里有 Onni 出镜,当时大概只有四五岁,逗死人。芬兰人里一部分有强烈的亚洲特征,跟欧洲相貌一混,效果十分神奇。他们的语言/名字也很绕口,什么时候我得拿来借用一下。

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In The Loop



The dialogue! The dialogue!

去查了一下,天啊,五个人合起来写的对话,我立刻脑补画面:五个哥儿们躲在一间屋子里一边抽烟一边疯狂地互相 insult each other 一边编笑话,然后拍成电影。很久很久没听过这么密集的搞笑对话了。

很多地方让我联想起英国版 The Office,只是设定换到华盛顿DC和伦敦唐宁街,虽然人物都是 minister, congressmen 什么的,但无能和乱搞跟 The Office 一样。It would have been pure hilarity if it weren't also true.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Chute

It was about eight in the evening when I decided to take the cardboard Amazon box to the garbage chute on the tenth floor. The chute is dark and dirty and stank of the seasonal mixture of garbage of a highrise apartment building. In summer, the ghost of rapidly rotten fruits and food rushes out of the pit and hits you in the face. But it is autumn now, so the stink is vague, hollow, with a slight chill of some unknown substance slowly disintegrating into some other unknown substance.

The wall into which the chute opens is hidden behind a door in a small, windowless alcove. A thoughtful design to thoroughly block the stink from creeping up the giant garbage receptacle in the basement. Tonight, however, the little alcove was lit by a dim light bulb on the verge of going out any moment, making the small enclosed space seem especially isolated.

I gripped the handle on the chute cover and pulled it open. With my head slightly turned sideways to avoid being hit by the stink, I thrust the cardboard box into the gaping black hole. Suddenly, with a damp breeze, a soft, shapeless, semi-transparent blob arose slowly out of the darkness and floated, like a jellyfish in deep sea, toward me, toward the light.

I gave out a scream and slammed the cover shut, and rushed back into the hallway, running until I reached the door to my own apartment.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Take Shelter



I was not as impressed with Take Shelter as I had expected --- perhaps I had expected too much. In general, the movie leaned pretty heavily toward the "paranoid schizophrenia" context (ie, subjective delusional point of view), rather than toward the "apocalyptic horror movie" genre. The mood is beautifully created. I just thought the filmmaker could have gone farther. The dream sequences are pretty fantastic, but the movie could easily have used 2-3 more such segments --- even though I was shaking in my shoes already.

One day about a month ago, I was driving home on Rt. 66 from work and got caught in a torrential downpour. On the radio, the news station was blasting tornado warnings in just the same area. The roads were so slick with water that the car was nearly floating. Plus I could see nothing but a blur outside my window and hear nothing but the mad beating of the rain drops. I pulled over to the shoulder several times, heart pounding, hand shaking, breathing hard. It felt like the end of the world, and there I was sitting alone in the car.

According to the currently known of laws of physics, all that has happened still exists in the space-time continuum, and so exists everything in the future. The undetermined nature of time is but an illusion. The future is there, only it is out of the reach of our cognition. So I often wonder what is ahead of now, this moment, for the little speck in the universe that is I, that has already happened, waiting for my senses to enter and surround it and make it real for the sorry little brain in my scull.

Sitting in the car alone in the rain, I wondered whether a short (time) distance beyond was my car swirling in a funnel cloud. The future is right there but I cannot access it. Oh well, at least on that day the world did not end, and nor did I leave Kansas.

So, what will happen has already happened, and the only barrier is our knowledge. We are the way we are, because a large part of our nature is rooted in our oblivion of what lies beyond now. I suppose there could exist a different creature, a creature that sees every spot in the space-time continuum or even just the segment of their finite life span, a creature that has symmetrical memory of the past and future. Such creatures would feel, think, and behave differently from humans, obviously. How? I don't know. I only know that for these creatures there would be no such thing as hope.

********

Come to think of it, our sense of the past is also an illusion. The past exists in a physical sense outside of our awareness, just like the future does the same. Our knowledge of the past, however, exists in the now, in the lazy but continual sparks between neurons or the patterns of a few particular neurons somewhere in our brain, now. It has nothing to do with the actual physical events in the past, just like the girl in the photo, which I am looking at, is not the same thing as the small human female I was 30 years ago. What we are holding in our hands is not the actual past but rather a (now) flickering shadow of the past.

In other words, we have a sense of the forward direction of the flow of time, only because we have memory. Without memory, we would not know what time is. (Of course, like the stars and aliens, time exists outside of human knowledge. Or does it?)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Conan Doyle

... by Michael Dirda, who is of the editor of the book review column in Washington Post.

Last Friday we went to dinner at a fancy place near Dupont Circle. What luxury to be living in the area, I sighed. Within half a mile radius are 3 (!) book stores, including Kramer, the chain books-a-million, and a second-hand book shop which was playing Bob Dylan at 9 pm.

While browsing the shelves in Kramerbooks --- their collections were very distinctively Washingtonian, skewed toward politics, current affairs, social studies, etc. --- I happened upon Dirda's little book On Conan Doyle: Or, the Whole Art of Storytelling. It is more or less fanboy chatter about our Dr. Doyle. :D

Dirda's favorite Sherlock Holmes story is, not surprisingly, also The Hound of the Baskervilles! He claims to be a member of a club known as "Baker Street Irregulars."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Four Weddings and a Funeral

They're showing it on TV tonight. My God how did it ever gain its absurd popularity? Today I find it intolerably annoying and not remotely funny or cute. Argh! Loathsome garbage! (Imagine me waving my fist in the air and scream, "LOATHSOME!")

Thursday, November 3, 2011

物理科普片儿

最近PBS又推出一套四小时科普片儿,讲现代理论物理,看了第一集关于空间的内容,前半部分还是老一套的历史课,从牛顿讲到爱因斯坦到量子力学,但是一半过后就是新鲜东西了,没全听说过,连某同学都没听说过放卫星用陀螺测量引力造成的空间扭曲试验。最后结尾来段新鲜有趣的、未经证实的理论,据说九分可靠,是从黑洞推导出来的:宇宙内四维空间里的一切现实其实是外面一层二位空间上储存的信息投射进来的全息影像而已。换言之,我们都是倒影。

另一条有趣的话题是,空间不是空的,充满了某种“物质”,有质量的物体的质量来自结构中的例子跟空间“物质”互动,互相作用越强,越是“滞”,就越重。这倒让我想起过去的神话般假设,空间不是空的而是充满了某种介质,然后发现了空气和粒子运动和光速守恒,介质说就被甩掉了。当然我听说过黑暗物质和黑暗能量,但是它们是最近才发现的,而所谓空间物质与质量的关系的理论出现在此之前。实际上,上小学的时候,我读过一本苏联科幻小说叫“太空神曲”,里面的一个中心理论是真空不是真空而是某种介质,可以随时从中提取能量而推动高速(半光速)太空飞船,那么星际旅行可以不必自带大量燃料。那小说在八十年代就有中文译本,那么原著最早也得七十年代出版,作者是从哪儿搞来的这套理论呢?结果居然是正确的 --- 好吧,不能肯定是正确的,因为这个所谓希格斯粒子(绰号“上帝粒子”)尚未被超级粒子撞击器正式发现,不过貌似电视上的物理学家都差不多相信了。这个理论是64年发表的,难道苏联科幻作者听说了就与时俱进地塞进了小说里?

这个节目的视觉效果很好,很形象,对解释抽象的理论很有帮助 --- 对于我这种无知外行来说。主持人又采用很多比拟的说法,例如他解释爱因斯坦通过研究光速为什么是不变的而发现了狭义相对论,说“空间和时间此起彼伏的推拉,保证了光速不变”。我咕咕地笑着跟某同学开玩笑说,这是空间和时间的阴谋!他俩商量好了扭来扭去的硬要保持光速固定不变,为的是把我们的脑子搞晕!

Why I don't like LA

In preparation for an upcoming trip, I googled the area for B&N stores in various areas and, disappointed with the sparse locations, googled for other book stores. The density of book stores is so low in the vast and populated LA county that I want to weep.

No wonder I never learned to hang out in a book store until I moved east. One is hard pressed to find a book store while barreling down the streets (ha!) in the congested streets. Kids like me hang out in movie theaters, on the beach, in shopping malls, at Asian cafes, but not book stores.
To my horror, I just realized that, as book stores dropping dead across the country, we are all going the way of California.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Deception

Denise Mina 的有声书。

最近又是听这本书 (设定 Glasgow) 又是看电视剧 Case Histories (设定 Edinburgh),搞得我满脑子苏格兰口音,半睡半醒时脑子里漂浮着苏格兰音的字词 ...

虽然受到 Michael Connelly 的推崇和评论界的追捧,我还是得鉴定为跟我气场不合。节奏太慢,主流文学气太重。因为节奏慢,我基本上把谜底都猜得七七八八。算了,不追她了。

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uncommon Therapy



过去在好几处听说过 Milton Erickson (1901-1980),精神病医生,催眠疗法大师,在二十世纪中段据说很有名气,追随者后来在他那套催眠疗法上系统建立立了NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) 疗法。但是现在的心理学和精神病学里就不经常看见他被提到。

这本书不是 Milton Erickson 写的,而是他的徒弟 Jay Haley 写的,类似学生给老师传记,把老师的病例笔记拿出来整理剪辑一下发表。里面的 cases 写得很神奇,很悬乎。

可以看出为什么 Erickson 的治疗方法后来不仅没变成主流,而且在眼下的文献里很少提到。第一,他行医的时代 (1930年代到1970年代) 医学界和精神科行内的职业准则与现代差别很大,很多当时的合理行为放到现在就有违 ethics。例如他经常给病人下直接的命令,尤其是在催眠状态下发出明确的指令,改变病人的思想,行为,甚至记忆;他还经常瞒着病人安排一些场合与冲突,让病人在不知情的情况下改变对某件事的 obsession。过去医学界的态度比较 paternalistic,替病人作主,医生出于“为你好”的动机,决定基本上全掌握在他手上。后来 bioethics 的发展方向渐渐偏向提高病人的地位,医生需要尽量跟病人开诚布公,让病人掌握选择权(哪怕他们选择得“不好”)。

第二,他的治疗手段和方法非常独特而随意,甚至充满幽默感,我觉得别人根本没法学,也无法系统化之后加以推广。当然,心理治疗实际上都是因人而异的,但是一些根本的技巧还是有规律可循,可以系统地教授、练习、掌握,但是 Erickson 的那一套,似乎很大一部分是建立在他自己的直觉和经验之上,看样子不是随便谁都能掌握的。

*****

Call me a cynic. 我在惊叹的同时又产生一些 skeptical 的念头。写书阐述病例是弗洛伊德开创的精神分析学的传统,很多精神病学家,尤其是流派创始人,写很多本书,记录病例和治疗成果,给自己的理论奠定基础,这些书一般比较通俗,吸引了专业之外的读者。别的医学专科没那么多通俗作品,也没这个传统。这本书里,Haley 直接引用了许多 Erickson 自己记录总结的病案,每一例都是神奇而成功,有一些案例(不是全部)给读者留下“一点即通”的印象,仿佛 Erickson 很轻松地通过一两次催眠就彻底治愈了顽固持久的焦虑或者纠结。我就想,就算是大师也不会百发百中吧?只写成功不写失败,很容易造成偏颇的印象。

同时又想到,心理/精神治疗的一个严格准则是保密性,其实不仅保护了病人的隐私,也可保护医生的名声。除非病人自己跳出来公开地说不仅没被治好还被治坏了,一般情况下弗洛伊德可以随便宣扬自己的方法多么有效,成功率多么高,多么手到病除,也没人能证实他的成功率是90%还是50%还是30%。一个比较有想象力的人甚至可以编造病例内容,天马行空,虚构病历 --- 追查此类书籍中的病人以及现实中的后续几乎是不可能的。

Milton Erickson 是不是象 Haley 描述得那样神奇,我当然不可能知道,不过这些案例读着很有娱乐性倒是真的。

Friday, October 21, 2011

形式

前两天在考虑写一篇小说,全部描写外在的东西:环境,外貌,动作,对话。完全没有心理活动或者 judgment (这人相貌凶恶,语言粗俗,显然是个街头混混)。自然主义。

试验一下,因为我总是爱写心理活动。

然后忽然想起其实电影或者舞台剧本什么的都是这种形式,然后又想起是不是应该参考一下海明威,据说他的小说都是这种形式,我一直没兴趣,因为我偏爱读心理活动。不过还是算了,看了又会被影响乃至模仿。

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Scarecrow

Michael Connelly 的小说很适合听有声版的。这本讲的是精通网络的坏人多么如虎添翼神通广大,听得我心惊肉跳,因为书里的那些手段都很 ... 普通,一点也不高精尖,完全可以想象一个 Google 或 Facebook 的员工随手即可做到,并不需要什么电脑高手黑客。小说中的男主,洛杉矶时报的犯罪版记者 Jack McEvoy 调查连环杀手,在网上 research 的时候被凶手觉察,猎手反被捕猎,凶手轻而易举地就把他的祖宗八代调查得清清楚楚,打入他的 e-mail 和报纸的整个 e-mail 系统,查到他的私人讯息,兵不血刃就打入他的银行账户,信用卡帐户,手机帐户,搞得他提不出钱,打不通电话,住不上旅馆,跟别人通不上消息,行踪被查得一清二楚。过程么,其实真的不难 ...

小说中的另一段情节也让我心有戚戚。女主角 Rachel Walling 被联邦调查局开除,因为她不识时务,得罪了局里的势力,以“跟被调查对象发生不正当关系”为借口而陷害 (这个“被调查对象”是 Jack McEvoy)。离职之后,跟 Jack 上床,Jack 说现在你可以想跟谁搞就跟谁搞,不必担心丢工作了。我听到这里忍不住吃吃地笑出来。

顺手狗了一下这本书的前传,是1996年出版的 The Poet。然后,看见他的小说系列又受刺激了:这个人经常一年出两本侦探小说!GRRM 你不羞惭吗?!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Case Histories



Many years ago I showed a first-person-perspective short story of mine to a male classmate. He said, "The hero is a woman, because no man thinks or behaves like this." Ever since then I have not written anything from the male POV. Now I know the young man who was my classmate and the young woman who was I had no idea how diverse and unpredictable the male and female minds are. Nevertheless, I've always been a little embarrassed and insecure about my understanding of the male perspective or the lack of.

So imagine my shock and delight at hearing author Kate Atkinson confess, "Jackson Brodie is basically a woman --- he is me." on an interview about the TV series adapted from her novels featuring the affable private detective. And the producer of the series happily copped to the fact that the character is a "female fantasy." I had thought the same thing when I had watched the episode last Sunday, but in not so enthusiastic a mindset. Yet, now that I hear the two women admit to it cheerfully, why not? Why the hell not indeed!

Sigh. Bordie is such a Teddy bear. This is not Michael Connelly or George Pelecanos. This is the female fantasy, baby!

I loved the first episode, primarily thanks to the scenery in and around Edinburgh (aaaahhhhh...), and the variety of Scottish accent, which tickles me to no end.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Funny

Saturday evening at 7, I was sitting at the nearest Barnes and Noble's cafe area, eating a piece of cake-like thing known as an Oreo Stack while flipping through the latest Us Weekly. Mind you, I don't usually read Us Weekly (really), but I have heard about their reputation for being trustworthy (really). They claim to double check and confirm their sources before printing any celebrity gossip and break divorce news earlier than National Inquirer.

So, I was flipping through the issue and saw an interview with a 22-year-old secretary in San Diego who claimed to have had a one-night stand with Ashton Kutcher, who is a comedy actor of minor fame for a few badly reviewed movies and a celebrity of major fame for having married Demi Moore. Anyway, the spunky blonde told the magazine reporter that she was invited by some friend's friend to a party held in a hotel suite that was occupied by the said actor, who subsequently invited to get into the hot tub with another girl after everybody supposedly got drunk. Kutcher then invited them to have sex with him. The offer was declined by the other girl but this girl was game. It was almost daybreak, apparently, when they went to bed.

Anyway, all this was mildly amusing. The reporter wisely printed a few of the girl's "like" in the piece to go along with the photographs. She is indeed cute and fresh faced. I was very intrigued by the interviewer's methodical approach to questioning her (a "civilian" rather than a professional celebrity). The person (I neglected to check the reporter's name) interrogated the girl like a seasoned detective, gentle but systematic, probing for all the detailed, such as whether the actor wore condoms during their acts (he did not) and whether he was tender afterward (the girl was ambiguous).

The girl said they started small talking after they both dozed off for an hour or so. The actor said that since he had to act 90% of the time, he enjoyed not acting in moments like this. He then asked a bit about the girl's background. She said she was a Lutheran from Texas. He exclaimed, "OMG, are you a Republican?" And he proceeded to ask her whether she knew anything about politics. The girl grumbled a bit and admitted that she'd heard of Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas. The actor asked her whether she'd vote for Perry next year, and she said she did not know.

This political detail is so out of place in this story that I just burst out laughing in the bookstore. Perhaps it had something to do with my having watched the political movie "The Ides of March" not an hour before. Perhaps it reminded me of my years of living in Los Angeles and knowing how indifferent the West Coast masses feel toward politics. I don't know why but the scene in my head --- a professional celebrity and his one-night-stand in bed talking about politics in a San Diego hotel --- was immensely hilarious.

Due South Season 1

I can't believe they made so many episodes in season 1. A grand total of 24! I'm still on Ep. 1.17.

No wonder the show had lukewarm reception in the US, but was a huge hit in Canada. The humor, sentiment, and characterization are entirely Canadian.

Underneath the absurdity and jokes is a light melancholy, which most likely has something to do with broken families and lost love. Just a touch. I am completely powerless to resist it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pan

把这篇 Knut Hamsun 小说放在 Kindle 上好久了都没去读。

上高中的时候在一本中篇小说集里看见这篇,狂热地着迷,翻来覆去看了很多遍。

来美国之后又找来英文版读了一遍,但是觉得很迷惑,似乎跟第一次读中文版时的感觉完全两样。

前阵子终于重新读了一遍。令我惊诧的还不是作品本身的风格如何如何,而是我自己的反应。原来二十年前的着迷完全是典型的一厢情愿的单恋,对方的性格缺陷被粉红的眼镜彻底过滤掉视而不见,而中年的眼睛立刻看穿猥琐心理,回想起当年的痴迷真是哭笑不得。

虽然猥琐,但还是很能激发我的共鸣,说明我们是同类型的猥琐!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tsunami Song

刚在广播上听见,觉得东西结合的调调很有趣。赶快记下来省得忘了。

Kenny Garrett's Tsunami Song.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Scan Cook



在 PBS 的数码副台上看见一个挪威做饭节目,说实话饭看上去也就那么回事儿,但是主持人 Andreas Viestad 特别逗。他总是在室外做饭,很多时候是阳光明媚(但是看上去不暖和)的夏天,但也有一集是飘着小雪的冬天,他穿着大衣在户外示范 cheesecake 的做法。今晚看见的节目里,Viestad 在湖边树林里搭了两块平石头,下面烧树枝,在石板上烤面包和牛排,然后面包夹牛排,涂上芥末权当蔬菜,我看得笑死了。还自己跑到湖里去捉小龙虾 (crawfish),手指被夹得痛,把小龙虾煮了之后得意地说: Revenge is a dish best served hot. 笑死我了。很北欧的幽默。

Miles Davis




In general I'm drawn first and foremost to piano, sometimes to bass, and am very rarely affected deeply by any of the brass.

Yet, listen to this Davis' rendition of "Round About Midnight" (Thelonious Monk's standard). It is soooooo intimate, so raw but tender. I'm so taken by his trumpet portion that I have tears in my eyes. It is not to say John Coltrane's tenor sax in the second half is any less, but it is just not as personal and vulnerable as the first half and the ending.

Now I want to get Davis' recordings.

Here is a piano version by Monk himself. Also beautiful.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lehrer vs. Gladwell

Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell are an interesting pair of writers. They have covered many of the same subjects or, when they seem to cover different subjects, I soon realize that they are actually examining two sides of the same coin. I have not seen either of them acknowledge the influence of the other writer, yet their shared concerns are too numerous to ignore.

Take, for example, the topic of too many kinds of toilet papers or pasta sauces on the supermarket shelves. Lehrer thoroughly investigated the neuropsychological mechanisms of choosing in his book "How We Decide" and continues to write about it (see his recent blog entry here). He complained about feeling paralyzed standing in front of the countless brands and types of toothpastes.

Tonight I stumbled on a video of Gladwell's talk about the marketing evolution of spaghetti sauce (BTW, I think he is wrong about the "authentic" Italian sauce) he gave in 2007. It is as if he was giving a direct answer to Lehrer: Look, I'm giving you a history lesson to explain why there are so many choices for every product in the supermarket and why it's not a bad thing! (On this issue I actually side with Lehrer, as I too am sick of being overwhelmed by too many choices with hardly any substantive difference. But Gladwell is also not wrong about most people feeling happier when they imagine that there is a product "just for them.")

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Winter Thief



Jenny White's novels, especially this one, remind me of GRRM to an extent. Both seem to have a coolly detached and fatalistic view of the powerlessness of individuals (including kings and pashas) swept by the currents of history. Fatalistic, but not cynical, an attitude derived from their uncommonly vast knowledge of and clearheaded understanding of the real histories of nations and politics.

Her delineation of all the forces at play in and around the Ottoman Empire at that particular moment --- January 1888 --- is almost as impossibly complicated and unbearably tense as the moment before King Joffrey ordered the beheading of Ned Stark. International socialists, Armenian nationalists, Ottoman bureaucrats and secret police, Kurdish troops, everyone has his or her own agenda. Everyone is at odds with each other and, as we already know, bureaucrats who are supposed to be on the same side are more dangerous than your enemies, and the knife is more likely to be plunged into your back than your front.

The macrohistorical elements are beautifully and credibly weaved together. The political landscape is accurately drawn. The ultimate effect is a sense of inevitability and pessimism, especially if you know that the storm brewing and temporarily averted in this book did arrive a couple of decades later, in real life, with its full force of mayhem.

Yet while reading it I was frequently bothered by small flaws that buzz around like gnats around the light on a summer night. Not bad enough to erase the accomplishment in other aspects, but annoying enough to damage my enjoyment. Most of characters are distinct enough thanks to colorful ethnic details, but their motivation from one scene to another or in certain moments are crude and unbelievable. Transitions from scene to scene are sometimes sloppy and illogical. Dialogs and relationships are occasionally unrealistic. The author lets slip her weakness in plotting with some awkward narrative choices and overlapping exposition.

These flaws are not enough to make me throw the book down. In fact, her pacing is excellent. I didn't zip through it in one day like I did with "The Abyssinian Proof," but did stay up till 2 am to finish the last stretch.

White is simultaneously sharp and sloppy. Most important , besides the plotting problem, I can't help but feel deeply unsatisfied with the uneven characterization. Something, a crucial ingredient for a great storyteller, is missing. I can't quite name it, but this ingredient has to do with a deep and organic insight, an unconscious and instinctive understanding of the heart. White seems to lack this instinct and fake it with overly intellectual analysis and argument.

GRRM, on the other hand, has this instinct in astonishing abundance.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk

昨晚看电视正好撞上大半 Hugh Laurie 到 New Orleans 拍摄的音乐会特辑节目 Let Them Talk。他请到一些颇有分量的当地音乐家跟他合作录制,挺有气氛的。Laurie 自己演唱加弹奏钢琴。

Hugh Laurie 唱得,嘿嘿,真的不咋地,至少我这么觉得。(Tom Jones 被采访的时候哼哼唧唧地说 Laurie 唱歌很,那个啥,有点象那个谁谁,而我,咳咳,那个啥啥,挺喜欢那个谁谁的。听得我乐坏了。)但我觉得他的钢琴还不错。更重要的是,我跟他的口味十分近似!他最迷 Blues ,选的歌都很好听,让我多次胳膊上刷刷地起鸡皮疙瘩。这是真爱啊 --- 可以从他痴迷的眼光里看得出,我对此非常理解和认同。

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (spoilers)



对我来说这本书很适合听有声版。如果是读字版的,肯定早就不耐烦扔一边儿去了;但是在上班路上一边开车一边一只耳朵听,两个读书者(一老一少)声情并茂,倒很有趣。尤其是稚气的童声抒发哲学感慨,效果很逗。

小说写得好像哲学教科书,基本上没什么情节,仅有的少量情节也都是滥俗的童话套路,可有可无。我听着听着,每句话里都少不了前缀后缀的复合词,忽然就想起 William Zinsser 写过的拉丁语系和英语的差别。拉丁语系的语言风格就是层层叠叠,绕来绕去,充满 flourish。古英语传下来的词儿和风格则质朴直接,简洁有力。不过现代英语亦吸收大量拉丁语词汇,令律师们疯狂滥用得不像样儿。

Hedgehog 中唠叨的学术气,不知是作者自身职业的浸淫还是拉丁语的天然文化遗产,我偏向于后者。但是同时,不知怎么作者让干燥无水分的人生思辨和哲学感慨听上去有种游戏的轻松感,我疑神疑鬼地觉得她对一老一少两个主角的 “深刻思考” (Profound Thought #4) 和高雅情趣其实带有点不太辛辣的调笑意味。对哲学系学生和教育系统大发牢骚尤其真实加逗人。

提到 Renee 喜欢的侦探小说时冒出 Michael Connelly 和 Henning Mankell 的名字来,不禁让我微笑。可惜我不看战争与和平,不知道能不能算得上品味有文化。

小说结尾让我联想起 "One Day",一般的 contrived,但是在这里倒也不让我多么反感。第一,我私心猜想,作者这么写,会不会是因为下不了手制造一个彻底的灰姑娘与王子从此幸福 ... 的结尾 --- 尤其是让读者脑补一对老头老太彼此上下其手乃至宽衣解带的情景!第二,结尾时 Paloma 的口气真是太日本小说了!想必是有意模仿日本小说中经常干掉主角,然后剩下的主角挥着小拳头发誓要“勇敢地活下去”这种桥段。

The novel struck me as setting a perfect tone of lightheartedness. Indeed a lighthearted tone is perfect for a philosophy professor's novel. Best leave the heavy and complex and "heart of darkness" stuff to real novelists.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Most Delightful TV Show EVER



Due South, of course.

今天在油管上找 Da Vinci's Inquests 的片尾曲 (which is awesome, btw),看见有人提起 Due South。搅得我又回忆起多年前迷恋这套寿命甚短的电视剧了。

找到一些视频片段,里面 Fraser 的口音又逗又可爱,一般地方跟美国口音差不多,但是遇到 schedule 和 lieutenant 就是英式的讲法。

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oyy1EfM6nzg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2qHluHEBG8 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZrGj7Yvax8

Peeved

I'm not an angry person --- not overtly at least --- and do not lose my temper more often than once or twice a month.  However, certain things irritate me like a bone spur in the shin.

This week, unfortunately, I've had two such irritations.  The first was a job ad posted yesterday on LinkedIn for a medical writer.  The recruiter wrote that this writer would be "create guidance's for the department."  ARGH!  It's "guidance" or really style guide.  People who cannot distinguish plurals from possessives, ie, those who write "it's" when they mean "its," really piss me off.

I'm not a grammar Nazi, you know.  I don't begrudge people for misspelling words or missing an article or a preposition, nor am I particularly bothered by double negatives (as long as they are in quotes). But (see, I can even start a sentence with "but") I just hate mixing up possessives!   

The second irritation came from figure skating, specifically, Han Yan's short program at this week's junior Grand Prix competition in Innsbrook, Austria.  Chinese coaches who cut music for their own students are often woefully unqualified to do a barely decent job.  I hate programs that totally butcher the original music!  Ugh, butchered music really grates on my nerves like a dull knife cutting my toe off.  These coaches should be absolutely forbidden to touch any music-editing software.

****

Oddly enough, I do not remember being irritated by grammatical errors in Chinese.  Well, I don't remember seeing grammatical errors in Chinese, in fact.  Maybe it is because I've almost never been around people for whom Chinese is a second language.

Wait, no, that is not the heart of the matter.  A lot of errors in English are made by English-speaking natives, yet I've never seen or heard Chinese-speaking natives making grammatical errors in Chinese.  A lot of mistakes (by native speakers) in choosing the right character/pictogram, yes, but grammar is never a problem.

Conclusion:  Chinese grammar is VASTLY simpler and more intuitive than English grammar.  So simple that no one can mess it up even if they try.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

西游记

昨晚某同学在看一本ABC作者的漫画书,剧情掺入了西游记的一些内容,跟华裔美国孩子的日程生活平行兼混合起来。某同学问西游记到底讲啥的,我就给他略述了一下小说的内容。说着说着,忽然意识到西游记原来是社会讽刺小说,讽刺了从上到下社会各界人士,包括在西天遇见的图书馆门卫,甚至还很有后现代主义地把佛教和道教混在了一起。简直就是 ... 格列佛游记!其实我也没读过格列佛游记,但是大约知道作者是借用神神叨叨的情节讽刺社会上各色怪现象和人性荒谬。难怪毛自比孙悟空,二者的确都是占山剪径的 bandits 头头。

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Indian Myth

War of the Ghosts

One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals and while they were there it became foggy and calm. Then they heard war-cries, and they thought: "Maybe this is a war-party". They escaped to the shore, and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up, and they heard the noise of paddles, and saw one canoe coming up to them. There were five men in the canoe, and they said:

"What do you think? We wish to take you along. We are going up the river to make war on the people."

One of the young men said,"I have no arrows."

"Arrows are in the canoe," they said.

"I will not go along. I might be killed. My relatives do not know where I have gone. But you," he said, turning to the other, "may go with them."

So one of the young men went, but the other returned home.

And the warriors went on up the river to a town on the other side of Kalama. The people came down to the water and they began to fight, and many were killed. But presently the young man heard one of the warriors say, "Quick, let us go home: that Indian has been hit." Now he thought: "Oh, they are ghosts." He did not feel sick, but they said he had been shot.

So the canoes went back to Egulac and the young man went ashore to his house and made a fire. And he told everybody and said: "Behold I accompanied the ghosts, and we went to fight. Many of our fellows were killed, and many of those who attacked us were killed. They said I was hit, and I did not feel sick."

He told it all, and then he became quiet. When the sun rose he fell down. Something black came out of his mouth. His face became contorted. The people jumped up and cried.

He was dead.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Sweeney Todd

不知道 Stephen Sondheim 自己对 Tim Burton 的电影版 Sweeney Todd 有什么真实的感想,会不会捂着耳朵听不下去。Johnny Depp 的嗓音就够粗糙了,但他在整个卡司里还算不错的,其他人的演唱几乎没有一个能听的,还能听的只有年纪最小的小男孩,至少有点中气垫着。最难听的是 Burton 的老婆 Helena Bonham Carter,气若游丝,弱是弱得来 。。。 比我在淋浴里的歌声还差。 让我对 Tim Burton 的看法咵嚓跌下一大截,一巨截,这个人完全不在乎音乐的制作质量么。

看样子 Sondheim 虽然是天才,但脾气非常好,居然没跟 Burton 翻脸,还在 DVD 上出现,说点好话,表示一下支持改编。

九月

八月底台风过境,之后整个九月都在湿漉漉粘答答的空气中度过,不是雨下个没完就是雾气蒙蒙的天,浑身凉凉湿湿,怎么也不肯干,又不冷又不热,又不出太阳,让人没来由的不耐烦。

十月,希望全是秋天干燥的空气和淡淡的阳光。

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Drive (and other digressions)



Last week, Fish Tank reminded me of a thought that once bothered me --- As stories accumulate over human history, will we one day run out of stories to tell? Have we already? Is there truly nothing new under the sun?

I'm sure other deep thinkers have long contemplated such literary apocalypse before, although at least I can claim that I came up with it independently. It seems inevitable (to me) that there are only a finite number of stories, or original thoughts, available to the universe of the human mind and experience. Homer and other classical authors had it easier than modern storytellers, one could argue.

Fish Tank was excellent, yet my brain could not help but drudge up all the similar movies I had seen before. Same with Drive. It is impeccably crafted with a strong point of view, yet I cannot bring myself to use the word "unique."

From the start, Drive immediately recalls the archetypal western: A lone gunslinger with no past or allegiance comes to town. He befriends a good woman and her family. He toys with the fantasy of settling down with such a woman and having a normal life. He feels protective toward them. He is subsequently drawn into violent showdowns to save the peaceful normal people. In the end he rides into the sunset, alone, because that is his destiny, because the lone gunman can never integrate into society. In Drive, the entire setup, down to the ending, pays full homage to Shane (don't they all?).

The interlude involving the voluptuous Christina Hendricks (poor woman), on the other hand, was a halfhearted reference to film noir. Albert Brooks is a somewhat fresh touch in the genre though (I'd hesitate to call him "delightful"). The storyline of crime boss setting up their minor underlings, meanwhile, reminds me of John Woo's The Killer and its predecessor Le Samurai (Melville). Yeah, in this kind of stories, the boss always sells out their employees/contractors, just like bureaucrats. There may be a semi-decent middle manager (Bryan Cranston here, Chu Kong in The Killer), but the big boss is always evil. Did the French audience recognize Alain Delon's le Samurai in the boyish Ryan Gosling?

It's so meta! Nicolas Winding Refn's graphic violence and the strong retro style must have Quentin Tarantino, the king of remixing the old, biting his lips furiously. I suspect a nod to the Japanese swordsmen/Yakuza genre in all the blood squirts that both Tarantino and Refn seem to love. The techno soundtrack, on the other hand, is very European.

A bit of homage here, a tip of hat there. Meta on top of meta, references to references. It's all because we are born too late.

There's nothing wrong with Drive, which is made with a precise eye and a ruthless pair of scissors. (Editing is king, I often think.) I only shudder at the end of original stories as we know it. Or, perhaps, it is merely a hazard of being old and jaded like me.

The Winter Thief

Jenny White 果然又出了一本 Kamil Pasha 侦探小说,我到图书馆去借了来打算慢慢地看。

各种土耳其生活画面与细节,尤其是城市与食物,真让人向往。

A Dream

I was walking in the dark and damp backstreets of an unknown city. The walls were of the color of dirt and soot. The overcast sky occasionally drizzled.

Within a maze of houses, a door opened and ushered me into a small, bare room. Light seeped in from the only window, high up in one of the walls. The air was musty and wet. It was a cellar, I deduced. The room was entirely empty save for a bench set along the wall.

Dr. Watson sat at one end of the bench. Has a murder or some other crime taken place in the cellar? I wondered. Yet there was no body on the stone floor.

"Holmes is coming," he said, without moving.

"OK," I nodded, and left.

...

I was again walking the narrow alleys and streets. The air smelled of rain, yet none had fallen. It was just as well, for I was holding a book in my right arm. The book was paperback but with the dimensions of a normal hardback, and heavy. On the cover, medieval knights on horseback were slashing at each other.

A crack tore through the book's spine at about a quarter from the top. I held it delicately as if I was holding a baby, but it was no use: The crack expanded before my eyes, and the book snapped in two in my hands.

I stood there confounded. It was then that I realized the book was GRRM's next entry in the Ice and Fire series. And it was a pre-publication copy that Amazon had shipped to me by mistake. Should I send it back for a replacement? But then I would not be able to read it ahead of everyone else. Perhaps, I thought, I could read the whole book in their current state, and then return it to get a new copy. Then a thought entered my head: Why didn't I get a Kindle version? But a Kindle version would not have been mistakenly delivered ahead of publication ...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fish Tank



蓝领阶级,Housing Project (在英国叫 Council Estate),单亲家庭,年轻而倔强的穷女孩子被年纪大得多的男人引诱 ... 这个永恒的故事结构,从 Tess of the d'Urbervilles 至今被反复采用。Fish Tank 也不例外。另有之前看的瑞典电影 Pure。

Fish Tank 还让我联想起其他电影,包括 Dardenne 兄弟拍的劳动阶级题材影片,还有陈果的《香港制造》,因为香港制造也是描述困在官方贫民窟,即 Housing Project 里的年轻人的故事。

这片里的女主角固然演得好,不过此类女主总是很相似,倔强而美丽的一朵野花。而 Michael Fassbender 的男主角非常性感但又保持微妙的自然主义,两人的对手戏充满了张力,倒是不太常见的特点。

The Longest Year: The Admin

It is a ubiquitous phenomenon around here that the more you get paid, the less work you have to do. My boss can disappear for weeks at a time, and I can spend days doodling in my office, but the poor admins sitting in open areas have to work all day.

She came to sit outside my office a year ago. She is extremely quiet, even when she is talking on the phone or cutting open boxes of office supplies. Her moves are elegant and precise and absolutely noiseless. She is unflappable.

She looks somewhere between 30 and 35, perpetually neat and orderly. She usually has her long brown hair tied up in a bun, but on Fridays when few people are in the office ("working at home," supposedly) she would let it cascade down in a puff of soft, wavy cloud.

I initiated small talks a few times with her as I dropped off forms and picked up pens and mouse and books. I learned very little, including that she recently moved and has two children. There has never been any mention of a husband, but hints suggest that he is around. They can't afford to buy a house, so they rent a condo. (Me, too!) She said she was born in Texas and lived in New Mexico, but there was not a trace of Texan accent.

So, on Monday, when I passed by her desk, I stopped and whispered, "I'm leaving."

She looked up with not a hint of surprise on her oval face. "Another department or altogether?"

"Altogether." I replied.

Her lips curled up slightly. "I don't like it here either," she rolled her light brown eyes. "They're so disorganized."

"Tell me about it," I chuckled. One of the few sane people around, she is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Longest Year

... is finally over, after 16 months of agony and repression and humiliation and self-doubt.

The truth about this failed relationship, however, is this: It's not me. It's YOU!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

An Interesting Factoid About ...



... Astrid Lindgren.

心血来潮在本地图书馆网站上找 Lindgren 的书(英文版),然后顺手 wiki 一下 Lindgren biography。

生于 1907 年,中学毕业后,在家附近的城里当秘书。19 岁时怀上了老板的孩子,老板向她求婚,她拒绝了!

这是 1926 年哦同学!不是 1996 年哦!

然后,这个未婚先孕的女秘书,一个人从乡下跑到 Stockholm 去谋生,当秘书、打字员,把孩子生下来,自己没钱没法养,就寄养在别人家里,打工攒了钱经常去探望儿子,直到攒够了钱把孩子送到娘家养。几年之后,嫁给当时的老板,但继续给杂志写新闻和文章。然后,儿童小说手稿得奖一鸣惊人...

其实她的人生整个都挺传奇的,但是在我眼中她那个19岁拒绝求婚的决定才是最意外的关键!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Guard



I guess it's Gaelic, for "The Guard" really means "the policeman." The police uniforms and cars had "Garda" on them.

The movie was hilarious, but I must have missed somewhere between 10% to 20% of the jokes, lost in the fog of Irish accent and dialect. Worse, I suspect that all the absurdities marked an Irish sense of humor --- black with a bite --- which went a little over my head. Indeed, during the movie I laughed frequently but a little uneasily, not unlike Don Cheadle's American cop who stared at Brendan Gleeson with equal parts of amusement and disbelief ("Is he truly dumb or just playing so?").

Meanwhile, the writer/director John Michael McDonagh continually referenced Hollywood action movie cliches. The climax especially recalled American westerns. It was very ... self-consciously meta, as suggested by Gleeson's knowing wink. Is that also an Irish thing?

Both Gleeson and Cheadle were impeccable, but who would have expected less from these two? However, it was the freckled boy on a bike with a dog that stole every scene he was in.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chinese fake chicken

I cook, sometimes.

Yesterday I scoured the frig and dug out the last bits of groceries since the shopping trip 2 weeks ago.

I chopped up the green beans and shiitake mushroom into short strips, saute with garlic, added water and covered to steam a while, and then threw in chopped pieces of a wrinkly tofu product known as "vegetarian chicken".

Salt, pepper, a bit of soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons of sugar should do. I dropped a scoop of "lemongrass sauce" from a jar for improvisational fun.

It probably needed five more minutes to soften a bit more, but I lost patience and turned the gas off. Served on white rice.



Lemongrass sauce




Store-bought fake chicken (not my photo).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hunger Games

这本小说实际上差不多是美国版“大逃杀”。不是很合我的胃口,或许未必是作者的责任。情节本身十分血腥野蛮,且含有社会讽刺的暗流,但以 Young Adult 的定位而出版和推销,结果造成一种遮遮掩掩的效果,有些成人化主题完全没法发掘和深入讨论。我觉得或许是自己 cynical 的态度跟 YA 类型小说本身就不太相容。

让我觉得比较有意思的是作者从女主身上流露出的俄狄浦斯情结(女儿版),不知是故意设计的还是有感而发。

Hunger Games 电影正在拍摄中,发行的时候多半会去看看,作为动作片,情节设计颇为惊觫,高潮 和 twists 节奏安排得相当抓人。

Saturday, September 10, 2011

八奇嘠路皮



五月底的时候跟某同学去巴尔的摩的科幻会,有好几个有名的作者到会讲座,包括帕欧罗八奇嘠路皮先生 (Paolo Bacigalupi)。某同学说他现在很红,拼命得奖,没想到看上去这么年轻,还挺帅的。我说,他戴了耳环,穿着又悠闲有款,多半是弯的,而且看上去人很和气亲切的,你上去勾引他一下嘛。某同学扭捏不肯,不过,趁我睡觉的时候,他跑去买了本儿他的 Windup Girl 小说请他签名。(某同学以为他叫八西嘠路皮,我说是八奇,这是意大利语,信我的没错儿,你别跟人家说话把人家的名字都叫错了。)

这两天在读 Hunger Games,不太喜欢,想起来问某同学要来 Windup Girl 看。某同学反复警告我要细心对待,不要折书页,不要弄脏了,不要 ... 因为“是签过名的!” 我翻开首页一看,哇,还有留言呢,“给某同学,希望未来的世界比现在的世界更美好,八”。搞得我都不好意思拿着读了,象我这么不爱惜书的人(经常书敞开着面朝下放着),不如到图书馆里借本旧的乱翻算了。

哼,改天我去追来GRRM的签名。

Friday, September 9, 2011

成都火锅




前几天开车时迷路了,偶然看见路边一家饭馆的中文招牌 “麻辣烫”,而且英文招牌还是拼音 Mala Tang --- 为什么麻辣要当成一个词而在一起呢?麻辣烫三个字应该是平行的嘛。上网调查一下,发现原来是一家成都火锅店。可是,麻辣烫的原意好像不是火锅 ... 吧?

今晚去尝了尝。店是华人厨师和本地洋人合开的,装潢什么的面向洋人顾客,有点拿腔拿调,还好,味道不错。火锅也是单人份的,每人一个专用的小锅。某同学很能吃辣,我就给他叫了个麻辣汤底,给自己叫了个不辣的汤底,然后点了鱼肉、羊肉、蘑菇、青菜。两人吃价格有点贵,但某同学表示物有所值。

吃到一半,一对大学生模样男女在我左边的桌旁坐下,女生是金发洋人,梳马尾辫,对男生说:“我在中国吃过正宗的...” 我的耳朵又竖起来了。然后她头头是道地讲起眼下中国各省市的关税问题,我断断续续地完全没听明白来龙去脉。然后他们就开始埋头大吃,我也继续埋头大吃,关税问题就被搁置了。

不锈钢做的小火锅下面是个酒精炉。该涮的食物都涮了之后,我招手请服务男生过来帮我把火给灭了。他拿起一个很小的盖子,在蓝火苗上一盖就灭了。过了一会儿,某同学也要灭火,很 macho 地不叫服务生,自己用夹生肉的小夹子去夹小盖子灭火,笨手笨脚地折腾了半天,终于给它盖上了。不知为什么我觉得好笑得要命。

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What's in a name?

不记得何时,不记得作者,只记得有个民间故事,刀枪不入的终极大恶人的练门在于它的名字,一旦名字被人猜到它就死了。

今天忽然想到这个故事的含义非同凡响啊,名字(延伸开来就是象征性符号,如语言)在现实中的确有神秘的力量。

Sunday, September 4, 2011

乡下





我对乡下一直有点偏见,自认城市老鼠,一定不会喜欢,一定会闷出油来。结果并不。事先没有任何计划,每日上午坐在 sunroom 里望望海湾,翻翻 Kindle ,在附近走一走,跟店主 Bob & Tracy、厨子 Peggy、其他住客聊聊天。下午跟某同学开车出去找个饭馆儿吃本地海鲜,下午在小城里逛逛,在港边看看船,天黑前回到小岛尖端看日落。晚上坐在楼下客厅的沙发,或者阁楼角落里的沙发床,上上网,读读 Kindle。九点多天黑透了,去外面看看星星。

除了 Kindle 和 laptop 之外,还带了一本 sketch notebook,但是忘记带铅笔,只有一只黑钢笔。白天坐在树下的躺椅上,水边的饭馆儿里,街边的长凳上,画画树,画画船,画画房子,画桌上一杯冰淇淋。已经很多很多年没有动笔了,十几年前自己玩过水彩画,还想去上课,但后来都搁下了。在乡下觉得处处有可以 sketch 的景致和镜头。我并不擅长画画,视觉记忆不佳,且缺乏练习,但是画画让人心情愉快,脑筋清醒。

住宿的旅店周围是个鸟类保护区,看见不少不认识的鸟,认识的鸟类有在海里捉鱼的 blue herron,海鸟,以及白头雕 bald eagle。旅店门前的大树上有家白头雕做巢安家,家里的小娃子一早必站在岛末端的十字架上得意洋洋地东张西望,让我们这些游客远远地留影。还有黑压压的蜻蜓群和几只蝴蝶,包括一只黄色的 Monarch。



在乡下呆了三天后回家,发现带回好多礼物 --- 浑身被蚊子咬了很多包,涂了三天的可的松药膏才消下去。


Thursday, September 1, 2011

奇遇神人

1.

A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of frustration, I got up in the middle of the night and searched for a place for a short getaway. My preference would be a cottage on a cliff in Scotland, but I had no more than a couple of days available. After clicking around a bit, I found the Web site to a Bed & Breakfast called Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island. The photos on the Web site were impressive, and the inn's location on Google Map was intriguing --- It is sitting at the tip of the island, where it juts into the Chesapeake Bay. So I booked a room for 3 days this week and went.

The gravel road leading to the inn confirmed the map's indication that this is a secluded spot. In the office, one of the two inn keepers, Bob, handed me the key to the room. He was a 40-ish chubby white guy with a ruddy face and a carefully trimmed beard around his mouth. His yellow T-shirt, smudged with dirt, was stretched tight by the beer belly, which enhanced the jolly impression he gave.

I made a mention about being a city person and not used to the country. He chuckled and said, "We were city people, too. Tracy and I lived in DC for 20 years."

"You got this place not long ago, no?" I remembered something from the TripAdvisor reviews about the B&B.

"A year ago," he nodded. "I taught music at American U and other places." He also told me that he grew up in Vermont, while Tracy was originally from West Virginia. Bob had taught music at various schools in the DC area and performed on stage in choirs and musical productions. Tracy had been a software contractor for Oracle.

"How did you find this place then?"

Bob's eyes twinkled. "Four years ago, we found the Point on a bike ride. God told Tracy to settle here and take over the inn."

"What do you mean by ...?" I thought he was speaking metaphorically.

"Tracy saw a vision of this place when he was 3 years old," he nodded. "He had been looking for the vision all his life. When we got here, God told him this is it."

"What do you mean by 'vision'?" I stared at him.

"Tracy hears God's voice all the time," Bob nodded and gave a slight chuckle. "He is a preacher's son and talks to God all his life."

My brain immediately cued the song "The Son of a Preacher Man." Thanks a lot, Quentin Tarantino!

"You should get Tracy to tell you the story some time," Bob winked. I studied his face. He seemed to be the type to clown around, and he was smiling at the moment. For a moment I wondered whether I was being punked.

"We had no money and no idea how to do it," Bob said. "But God is good. He led us here. And a year ago we finally took over the lease of the Bed and Breakfast. We've had storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, but He's taken care of us. And here we are."

"It must be nice to know for sure that this is your destiny," I tried not to sound like a damned skeptic.

"We don't know anything," said Bob. "We just do what God tells us. God is good."

2.

I met Tracy by the swimming pool when Bob took me around the property. He was cleaning the pool of the mud and dirt and debris brought by the hurricane. Tracy looked about the same age as Bob, but thinner, a bit less jolly (must be the lack of a beer belly), a little more reserved, and black.

"Bob said you saw a vision of this place when you were ... uh ... a kid," I brought it up when I ran into him in the living room that evening. The curiosity had been eating at me inside.

"Yeah, it is true," he said, "I saw this place in a vision when I was 3, and then I found it at the age of 41." He glanced at the window. "Bob's waiting in the car. We're going for pizza at this place in St. Michael's. Ask me later, or tomorrow, and I'll tell you the whole story."

On the third day morning, I finally caught up with Tracy outside the tool shed. The sun was already high. He took off his baseball cap and sprayed the strongest bug repellent on his shaved head, and then vigorously sprayed his arms and T-shirt. The black flies were still humming around. I had already been attacked by these flies despite repeated spraying --- They bite, and it hurts like hell.

We talked a little. I asked about the history of the inn. His account was clear and well organized, a lot more coherent than Bob's scattered chatter. The place is ripe with religious connections, he told me with a disarming smile and a casual shrug, as if he was talking about turnips.

The area had been privately owned since the inn was built in 1845. In 1978, when the Charismatic Movement in the Catholic church was sweeping the Baltimore area, a devout person happened to visit Tilghman Island and heard about a wooden cross having been washed ashore here. He considered it a miracle. He convinced his church to purchase the land and the inn, and they began having revival meetings here. They planted this cross at the tip of the island, facing the Chesapeake Bay. The group owned the inn for 4 years, until it could not afford to keep it up and subsequently sold the land to the state.

(It seems God did not want them to stay here for too long, I thought. Of course, I held my tongue.)

The state designated the bushy area behind the inn as a bird sanctuary. In 1989, a local couple named Tom and Brenda leased the inn from the state and opened it as a Bed and Breakfast. They ran the place for 20 years. Until Bob and Tracy came along.

3.

"Four years ago, my contract at Oracle ended earlier than expected" Tracy said. "The next morning I lay in bed and asked God, So? What now? What do you want me to do with my life next? I heard God say, 'Take Bob for a bike ride.'

"I laughed and asked Him, 'Are you sure? I don't have a job now, you know. Just want to remind ya, I've got bills due at the end of the month.' He said, go. So Bob and I put our bikes in the car, drove to St. Michael's, and biked all the way down here."

I remembered the bike lanes on both sides of Route 33, the only highway that cuts through St. Michaels and runs to the end of Tilghman Island.

"We got to the Black Walnut Point, met Tom and Brenda, the innkeppers at the time. We had known nothing about this place before and decided to stay at the inn for the weekend. Then we walked down the gravel path to the pier over there ..." He pointed at the wooden pier on the water. "At that moment, I heard God speaking to me in my head, 'This is the place you've been looking for. Stay.' "

He grinned, showing his white, straight teeth. It was a charming, boyish grin that made it all sound as real and natural as breakfast cereal and cold milk.

He walked back into the office and came out with a color photograph in hand. It had a orange hue, probably due to light exposure over time. In it, a smiling boy held a piece of paper with crayon drawings. "It was me at 6 years old. I drew a picture at school, it was the vision I saw at 3. My mother took this photo."

He then proceeded to explain how the drawing corresponded to the view of the Point from the pier --- the sun, a tree growing into the water, a house that looked just like the office, the brown grass growing nearby, and the cross. I shrugged inside. Well, it had all the common elements of children's drawings: The sun, a house, a tree, and a cross, which is not unexpected for a preacher's child. I would not be surprised that there are hundreds or thousands of places on earth that fit the drawing. But I did not want to interrupt his story. I nodded and made some inaudible noise to suggest an appreciation for his miracle.

"I was not too sure about it. I said to God, Are you serious about this? You know we got no money, don't you? How are we going to buy this inn? Nah, you gotta give me a little more hint."

He was suddenly a jovial preacher with an irresistible gaze. I couldn't help but laughed.

"I was talking to God quietly, you know, in my head," he pointed at his forehead. "I was not saying anything out loud. Bob was walking ahead of me, shooting the camcorder at the water. He suddenly turned around and said, 'God just told me that we should live here.' "

We both laughed.

"I was trying to stay calm, and I was trying not to show anything, because I knew that I had told Bob about my vision before. I was still waiting for God to give me one more sign. So I said to Bob that, yeah, this would be a nice place to live, to retire to, for example. But he shook his head and said seriously, No, God spoke to me too just now. He said we should settle down here."

"So ... you did?" I asked.

"Well, it took us 3 years, but we worked on it, and we finally did it a year ago." He did not explain what happened in those 3 years, but I imagine it must have involved a lot of working, researching, saving, and perhaps some borrowing.

For a moment I remembered the American churches' position on homosexuality. I asked him whether he had a particular denomination he belonged to. He said none. The God he and Bob believed in was the God that is everyone's God. "He doesn't care," he pointed upward.

"God knows what is meant for you. Doesn't matter if you have no money or no idea. Have no worry. Have no fear. All you need to do is just ask him. He will take care of you. I talk to him everyday. He tells me everything." His eyes shone bright. I looked away.

"Like?" I asked.

"Everything. What to do. What will happen. What to look forward to. Things about each of our guests ..."

I did not have the courage to ask him what He told Tracy about me. Chicken! I'm still regretting it.

4.

Perhaps it was his charisma. Perhaps it was the sun beating down on my head. Perhaps it was the water, the island, and the birds around me, so removed from my familiar surroundings. On that day I thoroughly believed Tracy, including his daily bantering with his own personal God.

An internal dialog with self is hardly an abnormal phenomenon. Only, Freud called the voice "superego," while Faulkner called it "the problems of the heart in conflict with itself." Tracy's God is his superego, a gentle, supportive, and kind presence, akin to an optimistic and encouraging personal coach, egging on the mortal and weary ego to find meaning in life and walk every mile.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Milky Way



今晚是个大晴天,站在岛的南端看天空,比昨天看得见的星星更多。天空正中一条粗粗的宽带,灰蒙蒙的。其实昨晚就看见了,假设为空中没散去的薄云层而未加注意,今天在同一地带又看见了,而且形状跟昨天看见的一样!我一拍脑袋忽然明白了,这不就是银河吗?看上去不像众多星星聚集起来,而象一条云雾纱巾。上次看见银河还是97年暑假在黄石公园,平时住在城里哪儿能看见这东西啊。

在黑夜里听海水咕嘟咕嘟地轻轻拍着石岸,很宁静。因为地处大陆与半岛之间的内湾 Chesapeake Bay,几乎没有浪,水声是低低的,细密的,要仔细听才能听得见。

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tilghman Island




跑到马里兰 Eastern Shore 内岸的 Tilghman Island 躲两天。夏天就快结束,加上这两天的台风,这里挺安静的,除了来钓鱼的就是岛上住户。

晚饭在岛上一家昂贵的高档饭馆里吃的,吧台边坐了四五个人,餐厅里就我俩。头抬是炸西红柿片儿,上面堆了沙拉玉米丁。主菜一个是桃子酱煎猪里脊肉+polenta+芸豆;另一个是鱼排+油果risotto+玉米丁。我喜欢后者,前者有点 heavy。我吃不下了,但是某同学不顾我的劝阻,任性地点了两个甜点:家制冰淇淋和黑巧克力慕斯。冰淇淋一般,巧克力倒是很劲道,吃得我眼冒金花。

餐厅外面就是浅湾,一条白船施施然驶过。

吃完了已经七点半,开了车回旅馆 (B&B),路上看见日落。红彤彤的太阳夹在水平线和云之间,马上就要掉下去。赶不上回到旅馆坐在 porch 上悠闲地看了,就在路边停了车站着看。好快呀,只三五分钟太阳就没影儿了。

天还没黑透就等着看星星,可惜一直有高云遮着,等到九点半左右终于放晴了些。小岛离都市其实挺近,只有一个半钟头的车程,所以眺望西北方仍能看见红乎乎的城市光污染。不过头顶上还是够暗的,看得见很多明暗不等的星星。上次看见这么多星星是超过十年前的事儿了。

这次到此度假各种麻烦都被我们撞上了,简直象被诅咒了似的。敲敲木头,希望接下来两天别再折腾什么事儿了。

Saturday, August 27, 2011

She Laughs, She Laughs, She Laughs

Three women have laughs that grate on my nerves.

The first is my mother. On the occasions when I point out to her that I am well aware of her intention or motivation that she would rather conceal, she lets out a shrill sound that slits into the trailing dry chuckles. Her mouth opens bigger than it normally does for natural laughter, forming a twisted O of dismay.

The second is the boss lady. She has a special laughter in her bag of tricks that she reserves only for colleagues whose place is higher or on the same level as hers. It is a trilling, girlish, flirtatious laugh that she employs more often and more enthusiastically when there are male colleagues or superiors around or when someone is challenging her competency or veracity. I can smell the nervousness and insecurity intensify as her pitch gets higher and her demeanor becomes more girlish (she is 60). I wonder whether the tactic works.

The third is a colleague. Once a week or so she comes into my office or calls me to complain about being mistreated and abused by her superior. Sometimes, after a particularly frustrated rant, she finds something about her superior to ridicule, such as her hair, and laughs. When she laughs, her nose is scrunched and her mouth is forced wide, her teeth gleaming in the light. I wince.

Cold Weather



前阵子看的 Another Earth 是独立电影圈里的宠儿,我觉得挺烂的,前年的 Cold Weather 也是小成本独立电影,就让我特别喜欢!可见对作品之好恶没法靠类型预测。

Aaron Katz 编导兼制作的 Cold Weather 光凭了一条优势就赢得我的好感:这是一个福尔摩斯小说迷的电影!不仅屡次提起引用福尔摩斯(剧中一个人物表示斑点带子最好看了),不仅小小地开个内部玩笑(男主角特意去买了个烟斗,"helps me think." 逗死了),而且剧本的结构和风格深得福尔摩斯短篇小说的精髓。基本上没有直接的暴力或打斗场面,案情也不是特别复杂,虽然设定是现在,但很有点老派的感觉,时不时还来点儿幽默。(感叹一下:福尔摩斯真是属于全世界的,不受时代、文化、地域的局限,货真价实的风靡全球。)

男主角 Cris Lankenau 毫无福尔摩斯的个人魅力,是个三十左右,有点肉头肉脑的普通青年。全片就是他和妹妹、同事/朋友、前女友四个人的戏,他们之间的对话和交流场景非常低调,真实感忒强,但并不是独立电影里常见的那种漫无目的加 self-conscious 的自然主义,而是饶有兴味又亲切有趣的人际关系。Katz 是所谓 mumblecore 电影流派的代表人士,此类电影以自然主义的人物尤其是对话著名,也就是说,电影里的人说话象现实里那样哼哼叽叽,漫无目的,有时前言不搭后语,不一定每句话都支持主题或者推进情节。我曾经看过并且颇喜欢的 Medicine for Melancholy 原来也是 mumblecore 作品之一。

Cold Weather 另一个深得我心之处是环境景色。Katz 和摄影师 Andrew Reed 深情地凝视 Portland, Oregon 秋天的天空与街景,大部分时候不是下雨就是阴天,人人穿着雨衣胶鞋晃来晃去,好有情调,好有决不粉饰决无矫情的天然情调,逗得我都恨不得跑去溜达溜达。

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hopper @ Hirshhorn




Went to Hirshhorn Modern Art Museum last weekend and was pleasantly surprised by a few Edward Hopper paintings, including the above "Hotel by a Railroad."

It again struck me with the restrained drama and implied emotional conflicts that always haunt Hopper's urban images. How does he convey, simultaneously, the characters' own isolation and their ambiguous relationship?

The woman's grey hair is a surprising touch that reminds me of Maugham --- She is not a youthful blond having a fling with a balding businessman in a hotel by a railroad. Hopper lifts a corner of the curtain over the mystery of the heart, but his spotlight on the characters (coming from right through the window) conceals as much as it reveals.

A viable exercise, I realized at the moment, would be to write at least one story or sketch on each of Hopper's "urban scenery" painting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Longest Year: PML

在这个机构上班常常见到让人拍案惊奇的怪现象。今天开会讨论某个药的某个罕见但严重的副作用,当时在会的有至少四个MD,包括一个在此部门干了二十多年的头头,为了怎样表达很基本的风险数据 (risk estimation) 扯不清。其实很简单,随便一个做过公共卫生研究,分析发表过流行病几率数据的博士生都知道应该怎样表达风险几率,连我这个从来没正式学过 biostatistics 或 epidemiology 的人,没吃过猪肉也见过猪跑,知道一般应该怎样估计和表达此类风险数据。但是这几个MD云里雾里的乱搞,坚持采用一种很含义混乱而且容易误导读者的表格来表达,我提出为什么不用 Kaplan-Meier 图线,被一口拒绝了。后来想想其实原因很简单,在这个机构里,管事儿审查的MD们大多数没有做临床研究或者公共卫生研究的一手经验,全是纸上谈兵的资历,对生物统计一窍不通,听见K-M图线之类的就会眼前发黑。

平时这些问题都是推给统计学家来管的,但是统计学分析一般只用在审查药物的效果 (efficacy),副作用的数据一律拒不经过统计分析,拿出来的只是未经分析过的描述性的数据。这是本机构老掉牙的传统,谁都不敢提出质疑。实际上,那些发病率极低但是后果严重的副作用,依赖传统规则已经完全落后而不够用了,学术界和工业界都早有提出各种统计方法应付数据先天不足的问题,但是这个真正掌权的机构迟迟不肯更新规则,害得大家都跟着后面爬行。过去我在外面不太明白为什么这个机构为什么态度这么保守,是不是害怕被工业界的新统计方法钻了空子。现在从内部看就明白了---因为从上到下管事的人们根本就不懂,身居高位的掌权的都是老头儿老太们,靠了屁股够硬,马屁功够强,忍力过人,就上去了,只升不降越爬越高,但是他们既不懂也学不进新东西新方法新概念。

在这个机构里还看到一个很有趣的现象:很多人把行政头衔跟技术和能力混为一谈。不仅是当官的信奉这一套,夸夸其谈满嘴跑马,深信自己的水平傲视全球,练就一身不懂装懂的铁布衫外衣;而且低层工作人员也一样拜倒在官衔面前,打心眼儿里相信头头的决定必然高明的。当然啦,反正大家都是瞎子领瞎子,谁也分辨不出对错好坏水平高低来,不以官阶为标准还能靠什么做判断呢?总不能靠他们自己的头脑和判断力吧。

Monday, August 22, 2011

音乐消费

星期六拖了某同学去附近的Wolf Trap看露天音乐会,Gypsy Kings。每人三十块的草地票。前后左右都是拖家带口跑来野餐的听众,旁边的一群还掏出了一瓶自家制的Sangria酒。我们俩没经验的,只带了两瓶白开水,觉得有点准备不足。

今天在亚马逊MP3下载服务上翻了半天也没找到比较全套的Stephen Sondheim的歌曲集,只好随便买了一本十八首歌的合集。

Ten in the Morning

Jack Wong sat in a chair behind the sofa. I stared at him across the sofa's back.

He had changed little since I had last seen him over a decade ago: middle-aged, thick glasses with black rims, slightly bulging eyes, short black hair. He was wearing the same white pharmacist jacket as he always did, with the tie knot showing at the neck. I had never seen him in anything else.

"Do you want to come work for me?" he asked. "I still need a couple of people."

"Where?" I asked in a daze. "Where is this place?"

"It's in Venice," he replied. "Pretty quiet. Not like West LA."

"I ... " I should have said I had not practiced pharmacy in over 10 years and did not know half of the drugs' names they hand out nowadays, but what came out of my mouth was, "Sure. After I quit my job at the XXX, I'll come help out a couple of days a week."

He nodded stiffly without smiling. I did not remember ever seeing Jack smile. I had thought him mean and harsh when I first started at the pharmacy, but Ann, the other intern, told me he was in fact a big softy. And so he was.

A trickle of doubt crept into my mind. It seemed too real. The morning light shone in from the big apartment window behind me. The drowsiness that had plagued me earlier this morning was gone. Am I dreaming? I wondered. To test it out, I reached out a hand toward Jack, "Let's shake on it." He took my hand and shook it briefly. I could feel the warmth and the squeeze. So I was not dreaming? I was almost convinced now. Everything seemed so real. Yet, still, something was bugging me, "How did you get in?" I looked behind him toward the door. "I don't remember opening the door for you."

At that moment I woke up. The morning light flooded in my face from the window. I crawled out of the couch and, still oozy, went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Am I so desperate to get out of XXX, that I am willing to go back behind the counter? On the other hand, this job lets me work at home on Mondays, so that I can take a nap at ten in the morning.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

三体 (看完了)

前面的现实部分讲了半天科学,闷,我正看得不耐烦,几乎要放弃了,忽然来了一段很fantasy的游戏世界。什么周文王、纣王、乱纪元之类的,还金字塔,好玩得很,于是又勾起了继续读下去兴趣。哎呀,如果通篇都是这个游戏设定就好了,现代科学家那一套可以统统跳过。

除了全部除掉现实框架,作者还应该全部除掉女性人物。他是太典型的理科男了,一写到“女人”就让我狂笑起来。

看到三个太阳的段落,想起有人想用三体解释A Song of Ice and Fire里面冬夏不规则的现象。即使是没看过三体小说的洋书迷也曾提出双恒星的假设,甚至还计算轨道什么的。后来拿去问GRRM,胖子扑哧一声笑出来,回答说不是的,这是fantasy不是sci fi,不是一条思路来的。据说胖子以后会解释Westeros冬夏之谜,但那将是神话而不是科幻的解释。

**** ****

第一部看完了。

三体星本身的设定很多地方是这篇小说的亮点,可惜牵涉到地球人的部分与之不怎么能搭上界。关于地球人内斗的部分倒是给我一种十分熟悉的感觉,想想恐怕也是因为我跟作者是差不多同一代的中国人才会认出剧情背后所指。八十年代后期,中国知识分子界有一种暗涌的思想,如果能用西方的体制与思想彻底替换掉中国的一切就好了,这股思潮的代表就是河殇。当时有这样的想法也可以理解,正如作者在故事开头一定要联系上文革,文革留下的精神创伤和羞辱自惭让很多人恨不得将“自己”这个identity和与之有关的一切抹个干净。这本小说不知是哪年写的(2006年出版刊登),但是立场显然是站在自我否定的对立面,虽然作者对自我否定者表达了一定的理解和同情。

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Choose (story idea)

On his 65th birthday, Robert went to his neighborhood clinic to pay a mandatory visit to the Choose Machine.

He stepped into a small confined space no larger than a photo booth. An electrical buzz indicated that the machine was scanning him from head to toe and collected various vital signs. He spat in a glass tube and placed it into an open slot in front of him, and stuck his index finer into a hole in the wall for a quick prick. The screening was complete.

Robert walked out of the booth and sat in the waiting room for about 10 minutes before a smiling nurse came over and handed him an envelope. He tore open the envelope and read his fate. He got three choices for the rest of his life. 1) If he was to choose no medical interventions beyond basic primary care, he could live to approximately 80 years old. 2) If he was to choose to deposit $250,000 now, which was half of his life savings, he could get Tier 1 medical care, which would keep him alive up to 90, unless he accidentally contract an incurable infectious disease. This would cover dementia should he had it, as well as termination at the age of 90. 3) If he was to give all of his savings to the System, the machine would guarantee his life through 100 years of age and his mental capacity up to 85. Of course, if he chose 3), he would have to continue working for the cost of food and shelter.

With no family or close friends, Robert picked 1).

(TBC)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fevre Dream




GRRM often says he takes history and "mix it up." Oh how he mixes!

There is something odd about the narrative structure. After three or four climaxes (more than enough for one novel!), he suddenly interrupted the plot for a lull of 13 years. Nine-tenth of the novel takes place in a few months in 1857, but the last few chapters within a few days in 1870. Why? No obvious reason, as the finale could easily be tacked on to 1857 without affecting the story one bit. I have my own speculation, about which I might ask him directly if I ever catch him at a con or a signing.

A couple of places in the book had the effect of punching me on the nose, leaving streaks of tear on my face. One of such passages is in the later chapter that spans those 13 years. It goes as such:

[Captain Marsh] never had visitors, never talked to anyone but his damned annoying housekeeper. She vexed him considerably, but Marsh didn't really mind; it was about all he had left to keep his blood hot. Sometimes he thought his life was over, and that made him so angry that he turned red. He still had so many goddamned things he"d never done, so much unfinished business ... but there was no denying that he was getting old. He used to carry that old hickory walking stick to gesture with, and be fashionable. Now he had an expensive gold-handled cane to help him walk better. And he had wrinkles around his eyes and even between his warts, and a funny kind of brown spot on the back of his left hand. He'd look at it sometimes and wonder how it had got there. He'd never noticed.


You know what the crazy thing is? He was no more than 33 when he wrote that. WTH GRRM? Did you always have an ancient vampire's soul living inside ya?

This is a story about, to a large extent, the complicated business of domination and submission --- Well, why mince words? It is about slavery, like nobody I've ever seen, especially in white American writers, in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn but goes farther. It goes beyond the American slavery, but it certainly does not shy away from that particular giant elephant in the room, casting a silent long shadow over a few hundred years on this place and its people.

His examination of the nature of slavery has resurfaced in the fourth and fifth books of A Song of Ice and Fire, with more depth, more angles, more complexity, and more unflinching interrogation.

****

GRRM's insight about organizational management is pretty astounding. I have never seen such realistic depiction of the tragedy of middle managers, except in David Simon's "The Wire" series. In Fevre Dream, he gave a grotesque and hilarious example: Every time the big boss has a problem, he calls his loyal dog (i.e., middle manager) Sour Billy Tipton over: "You fix it, Billy," he says. "Think of something." Billy acts with far more enthusiastic cruelty toward those beneath him than his boss, because like all middle managers he lives his entire life on the promise of getting a promotion. One more step and you'll be on top. Oh, so close yet so far ...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

岁月神偷

事先听说过此片口碑不错,但是,片头列制作人员的时候,看见张婉婷罗启锐的名字,我的心咣当一沉。为啥呢?因为过去看他们的片子就留下一个十分混杂的印象,有很多好看的细节,但是他们似乎控制不了自己的煽情倾向,最后不矫揉造作一把就不甘心,给我留下一嘴的过分甜腻的苦味儿。

电影开头半小时还算 delightful,虽然李廷治演的罗家长子搞跨阶级恋爱有点琼瑶味儿,这条线小打小闹,暂时被其他好看的人物和细节给淹没了。有些镜头剪辑有点粗糙,但是也被深水埗的街坊细节给淹没了。

直到白血病情节出现!我差点在博物馆的放映厅里仰天长呼:真的吗?要不要又来这一套啊?!一天前我刚刚又被教育了一遍 Erich Segal 的《爱情故事》如此遭人嫌恶啊!当然,爱情故事也有百万忠实支持者,有时候我疑心世界上人类在生理上原本就分两类,一类吃这一套,一类不吃这一套,很不幸我属于后者。张罗两人到底是本来就属于真诚的前者呢?还是出于一种诡异的信念:怀旧不仅要重现旧日的真实建筑,还要重现当时的流行文艺的大俗套?

之后影片就迅速地 deteriorate ,出现一系列匪夷所思的场景。好好的不在香港治癌症,要跑去文革中的北京的医院,开什么玩笑。李廷治跟山口百惠以及他们的老祖宗 Ali McGraw 症状完全一样,毫无病态,容光焕发,美貌只增不减,还吐血!MD 我看得都要吐血了!

如果没有钟绍图这个小男孩,这片子简直没法看。

这算是粤语残片的余毒么?Where is 叶锦鸿 when you need hm?!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Young and Mean

40 years ago, Ebert was not even 30. He wrote in his review of "Love Story" (1970) --

I read Love Story one morning in about fourteen minutes flat, out of simple curiosity. I wanted to discover why five and a half million people had actually bought it. I wasn't successful. I was so put off by Erich Segal's writing style, in fact, that I hardly wanted to see the movie at all. Segal's prose style is so revoltingly coy -- sort of a cross between a parody of Hemingway and the instructions on a soup can -- that his story is fatally infected.

Mean, Roger, you are evil and oh so cool. :D

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