Friday, September 30, 2011
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。
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
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
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
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。
Sunday, September 25, 2011
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.
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
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。
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
Sunday, September 18, 2011
... 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...
Saturday, September 17, 2011
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
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.
Store-bought fake chicken (not my photo).
Sunday, September 11, 2011
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
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。
Friday, September 9, 2011
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？
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
Sunday, September 4, 2011
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
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."
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.
"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.
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.
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