Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Anger... Rising...

Wow, my first ever bonfafide angry post. It's late here in Engerland, and I should probably be turning off the lights and getting ready to sleep, but I could just not let this one slide. Very recently an idiocracy-style Foxnews panel show called Red Eye ran a segment where the host commented on the Canadian military taking a year off by saying that they "didn't know they were even there" and that a country with "mounties instead of policemen" (the only time I've ever seen a mounty has been in Ottawa, where tourists are often seen posing with them) is not a smart country. I was nearly endeared to that particular panel members' idiocracy. (When I refer to Idiocracy, I am referring to the limited release Mike Judge movie where the future is a place where no one has an IQ over 80. I have recently been given cause to believe that certain Foxnewscasters have actually been transported here from that very future.) That particular panel member, I'm going to call him Sergeant Dumbody, also said that he was more worried about Mexicans taking a page out of Canada's book since they were so prone to siestas. "Siesta is actually a Mexican word" he commented. To which the host of the show, in an unmitigated moment of normality (which in the Foxnews Idiocracy actually looks like sheer and utter brilliance - almost as good as the time that other guy on the show looked at the screen, stopped picking his nose with his tie, and his eyes widened with fear and awe as he seemed to realize that those cameras lead out to a tv world somewhere) said, "I don't speak Mexican, I speak Spanish." To which Sergeant Dumbody pithily countered, "Well I speak American. Look it up." Ho ho ho ho ho. Sergeant Dumbody! I will look it up. You are such a wonderful jokester! Such a brilliant satirist! Your word is mightier than any military. All Hail to the word of Sergeant Dumbody!

Of course on a personal level, this dredged up memories of 2002, the worst year for Canadian/American relations, one year after George Bush Jr. forgot to thank Canada for redirecting air traffic, taking Americans into their homes, and driving Americans great distances on September 11th, and the year that 2 Canadians were killed in friendly fire in Afghanistan (the first Canadians to be killed in Afghanistan, I believe) and America was achingly slow to apologize. Not to mention the fact that 4% of all Canadian soldiers sent to Afghanistan die. That's 1 in 20, much higher than the ratio for American soldiers. Luckily, the political relationship between our countries is far better now. I'm not angry at America, I'm angry at Foxnews. And Foxnews is easy enough for Canadians (who also get the network) to take their anger out on.

The host of the show countered that the segment was satirical, and apologized if his comments were "misunderstood." What I love about "misunderstood" is that it suggests that he was somehow operating on a higher level - I could always chock it up to the fact that I don't speak American. In fact, if I did Understand, then what passes for satire in certain parts of Republican America really does just look like a few token xenophobics basically spewing unfunny hatred upon hearing that a historically peaceful ally (that has never been attacked) needs some time to recoup because they've spent the last few years fighting a couple of impossible wars for the very country that's making fun of them. I'm not an American, but if I were, I'd stuff the panel of Foxnews' Redeye back into the same locker that they tortured Nerdlinger with in what they no doubt remember as their funniest joke of all time. Let's hope that nobody hears them muffling for the next four years. Of course, maybe the host of the show was right. Maybe he was operating on some sort of meta level, not satirizing the Canadian military, but satirizing his network's attempts at doing anything. I still can't be sure, so I'll be brushing up on my American. I have a feeling... just an inkling feeling... that if the mysterious language does exist, in most circles it's agreed that in American the word Foxnews still carries its universal meaning of "Thundering *ssholes."

PS: This segment has undone all the good work on Canadian jokes by the nice people responsible for the Southpark movie.

PPS: See that picture of Luke Wilson at the top of this post? He's weeping for you, Red Eye.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

"Should I really be sharing this?" no. 1

Do you ever wish you could sprout wings and fly around? I do. Especially when it's sunny. I bet it'd hurt though. The sprouting part.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Fighting windmills at 25 Down

Call it turning 26. But suddenly, clutching my Young Persons Railcard that is only valid because I was cheeky and renewed it a week before my birthday, clasping at the knowledge that I will no longer get a good deal on theatre tickets, I am starting to feel sensitive about equating artistic breakthroughs with the young. Youth culture is so pervasive, our obsession with youth so complete, that we are barely even aware of it. Look, there are a few places where I can concede that the young rule the roost. In the looks department, for example. I mean, part of the pleasure of watching Channel 4's Skins (and I am just teetering on being young enough to say this without sounding creepy) is how young and beautiful all of the main characters are. Young people have nice skin, good smiles, white teeth, babyfat if any fat at all, it's lovely. That's fine. But. The arts. Why the obsession with emerging artists being young?

Ali told me a great story today over Vietnamese food. I was lamenting that my best play was probably written when I was 18, because it was instinctive, because it wasn't tainted by all the work and productions and drafts and script reading and writing classes I've subsequently participated in. Al countered me with a Borges short story. The story is about a man who tries to rewrite Cervantes' Don Quixote, word for word, without looking at the book. So the man first goes to great lengths to recreate medieval Spain. Then the man tries to go through some of what he assumed Cervantes went through at the time. He tries to live as Cervantes. And the man succeeds in rewriting the epic. The story is a review of this book, which is exactly like Don Quixote, it is Don Quixote, word for word, but the author went through a much more labored process to make it. The reviewer writes that this version, this second version, is far better. The man had to work for it, knowing exactly what he wanted, needing to go so far to achieve it, and what he did achieve is somehow weightier and has more depth.

In the UK, new writing programmes are in no way structured to nurture the people who want to rewrite Don Quixote. At the Soho Theatre, the cut off age for their writers programme is 24. At the Royal Court it's 25. At the Traverse the same probably also applies. What this suggests, which doesn't sting until you turn 26, is that if you haven't made it past needing a writers' group by the time you're my age, you should just give up completely. Truly. This is the message these programmes are putting out. They are not interested in nurturing older voices. It implies that old dogs can't learn new tricks. I think it's sad. Sadder still is that I've been so programmed by our youth culture that I kind of believe it - and I think all of the older writers out there still working on their debuts are worried that this may be true. As if it wasn't hard enough being a writer without theatres encouraging you to give up at 25.

One of the most beautiful books I've ever read was Henri Pierre Roche's novel Jules et Jim, which was later adapted by Francois Truffaut into a film. Roche was a journalist, a bit of a womanizer, and close friends with Picasso and Duchamps. Jules et Jim was his first novel and he wrote it in his 70s. We don't hear many stories like these, but then again, maybe we don't want to. The young are beautiful, with nice skin, good smiles, white teeth, and babyfat, if any fat at all. It's easy to think about those beautiful people starting out, making work, being stylishly bohemian and poor until, through that writing group at the Soho or the Court they're able to make it - just in time (thank goodness!) for their 25th birthday. There's something comforting about that image. Something attractive. But comforting and attractive as it may be, that attitude is probably keeping a lot of good artists from finding the courage to pick up a pen and make something beautiful. And frankly I could care less how good you look smoking a cigarette and eating cheese on toast in your grotty apartment. I care how good your work is. And good work can come from anywhere.

(The Title for this blog posting was stolen from my friend Richard Jordan's play 25 Down which is taking Australia by storm. Richard and I met on the Royal Court Young Writers Group. Back when I was 25.)

Springer for Senator!

Another gem from This American Life, you only really need to listen to Act 1 for the full impact.

In 1991, when I was 10 years old, I used to watch the Jerry Springer show on Channel 47 Cable 4 after school. It was a new show, and it was the first time I felt politically engaged. The show was heartfelt and dealt with important issues in a way that I could understand. What happened to the show the following year always made me wonder if this memory of a classy Springer was hallucinated. It wasn't. Put aside half an hour, then listen to this link and prepare to have your mind blown...


Sunday, 8 March 2009

Etruscans a-plenty

It's nice when a poet manages to sneak up on you and remind you of something. I've always been fascinated by the Etruscans. There's something about a civilization with a lost language that excites me. It's so tantalizing. All that possible writing and poetry - Shakespeare himself might be dwarfed by Etruscan literature - and due to some cosmic mix up, we'll never know what mysteries their innumerable stone carvings contain. Riding the tube on my way to a job interview today, I was reminded of our mysterious friends by Mr. D H Lawrence - a writer who reminds me of a good many things on a consistent basis. In his poem "Cypresses", part of a larger cycle of poems about trees, he says everything I've ever wanted to say about Etruscans and more. Lawrence resisted redrafting his poetry. He preferred to let an emotion wash over him all in one go - and it results in some patchy work - but when his writing works, it soars. Here is the poem that I read on the tube. This poem transports you to a world then gently lets you know that world is lost. Like reading a travel guide for Atlantis.


Tuscan cypresses,
What is it?

Folded in like a dark thought
For which the language is lost,
Tuscan cypresses,
Is there a great secret?
Are our words no good?

The undeliverable secret,
Dead with a dead race and a dead speech, and yet
Darkly monumental in you,
Etruscan cypresses.

Ah, how I admire your fidelity,
Dark cypresses!

Is it the secret of the long-nose Etruscans?
The long-nosed, sensitive-footed, subtly-smiling Etruscans,
Who made so little noise outside the cypress groves?

Among the sinuous, flame-tall cypresses
That swayed their length of darkness all around
Etruscan-dusky, wavering men of old Etruria:
Naked except for fanciful long shoes,
Going with insidious half-smiling quietness
And some of Africa's impenetrable sang-froid
About a forgotten business.

What business, then?
Nay, tongues are dead, and words are hollow as hollow seed-pods,
Having shed their sound and finished all their echoing
Etruscan syllables,
That had the telling.

Yet more I see you darkly concentrate,
Tuscan cypresses,
On one old thought:
On one old slim imperishable thought, while you remain
Etruscan cypresses;
Dusky, slim marrow-thought of slender, flickering men of Etruria,
Whom Rome called vicious.

Vicious, dark cypresses:
Vicious, you supple, brooding, soft-swaying pillars of dark flame.
Monumental to a dead, dead race
Embowered in you!

Were they then vicious, the slender, tender-footed
Long-nosed men of Etruria?
Or was their way only evasive and different, dark, like cypress-trees in a wind?

They are dead with all their vices,
And all that is left
Is the shadowy monomania of some cypresses
And tombs.

The smile, the subtle Etruscan smile still lurking
Within the tombs,
Etruscan cypresses.
He laughs longest who laughs last;
Nay, Leonardo only bungled the pure Etruscan smile.

What would I not give
To bring back the rare and orchid-like
Evil-yclept Etruscan?

For as to the evil
We have only Roman word for it,
Which I, being a little wary of Roman virtue,
Don't hang much weight on.

For oh, I know, in the dust where we have buried
The silenced races and all their abominations,
We have buried so much of the delicate magic of life.

There in the deeps
That churn the frankincense and ooze the myrrh,
Cypress shadowy,
Such an aroma of lost human life!

They say the fit survive,
But I invoke the spirits of the lost.
Those that have not survived, the darkly lost,
To bring their meaning back into life again,
Which they have taken away
And wrapt inviolable in soft cypress-trees,
Etruscan cypresses.

Evil, what is evil?
There is only one evil, to deny life
As Rome denied Etruria
And mechanical America Montezuma still.

Monday, 2 March 2009

The most tastiest things I've tasted

Hello Interlina! I'm about to go off to make some bean soup that may or may not be a success, but in honor of the recent finals of my obsessional show "Masterchef" (trashy but good. Most of my friends have been over this with me. And occasionally, I have gotten people to leave my house through the secret power of putting on an episode of Masterchef) I am going to list the tastiest things I have tasted. This has something to do with the recent suggestion from one of my readers that my best posts are when I list things. I like lists. And hopefully, so do you.

So in memorical order (the order in which I can remember them) -the most tastiest things I've tasted.

1. Mushroom and Truffle Ravioli and foam - Taillevent, Paris
Taille Vent has, for many years, been a three star michelin restaurant in Paris, and so it is only appropriate that it should be top of this list of tastiest things I've tasted. This is the kind of place where all of the waiters wore tuxedoes and there were three people just to show me where the bathroom was. Also, everything came on a gold tray. The pasta for this ravioli was soft and paper thin, and the foam tasted so earthy I thought I might cry soil. To make matters better, this goes right at the top of the list, and yet it's vegetarian. Take that, food memory!

2. Aztec Soup - Mexico.
I was fourteen at the time, and we went snorkeling on an island near Cancun. Later we went into town for lunch, and were assured that this place would not come with a side of Montezuma's Revenge. This soup was meaty, with tomatoes, and - nacho chips. In the soup. And for some reason, it was among the tastiest tastes of all time.

3. Rhubarb Pie - London - my apartment
My old flatmate Victoria had her twin sister stay with us for a while, and her twin sister was a secret chef who used to get paid lots of money to go and stay at rich people's homes and cook for them. One time our other flatmate Felix brought home some fresh rhubarb from his mum's garden, and Caroline made us a pie with it. When I tried to think of my all time favorite deserts, this was the first one I could think of. I was so glad to have this lady staying with us at that very moment.

4. Vanilla ice cream - Berthillon, Paris
Berthillon is generally agreed upon by food critics to be the best ice cream in the world. I was once interviewed on the interweb by some guy with a blog called "The Ice Cream Bloke" outside of a place in NY that was meant to have the best ice cream in the world - and I vehemently denied their claim to fame. Berthillon is so good that if you ever get to go, you should just have a very basic flavor, like vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, because for the very first time you will suddenly understand the point of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.

5. Torro sushi - Nobu, New York
It was like eating a cloud or a dream. Wow, this is becoming a painful exercise.

6. Crab Bisque - Soup Kitchen International ("The Soup Nazi"), New York
Everything you've heard on Seinfeld is true. I would gladly pay $20 and disown a few friends for this stew - complete with huge crab claws.

7. Zalina's soup - Her apartment, Santorini
I'm off to try and recreate this soup right now - it's the kind of soup that begs the question, how can beans and water taste so good? It was spicy, meaty, vegetarian, I just don't know how she did it!

8. Maple smoked Salmon - Halifax, Nova Scotia
A good friend of mine was a fishmonger in the 'Fax, and once when we visited her and partook of what we believed was truly delicious smoked salmon, she as much as laughed in our faces, then proceeded to have us taste maple smoked salmon. It was so rich I thought my tongue would melt off. Truly delicious.

9. Prawn burrito with Guacamole - 3 in the morning, Brooklyn
What came first? The 3 in the morning or the delicious? I'll never know...

10. Apple Stilton Soup - Christmas Eve 1996, Toronto
Peter Jackman, who has since passed away, was a friend of my parents' who made the most delicious foods, but soups especially were his specialties. Together he and Peter Oliver introduced me to the goodness of my first ever favorite flavor, French Onion Soup. But Peter Jackman also made an Apple Stilton soup one Christmas that I'll never forget. My brother thought it tasted like vomit, and I thought it tasted divine. Go figure.