Thursday, November 30, 2006

Travels with Cadfael: The Camera

Steed was off visiting one of his many Aunties when I met up with Cadfael in Rome. We headed for the Cimetero acattolico so I could pay respects to Keats and Shelley. It was extremely hot for September, and when we came upon the a.k.a Protestant Cemetery we made a deeply unfortunate miscalculation of direction: we were just down the block from the main entrance, but we thought it was around the corner. We were midway along the opposing wall before we realized we were 180 degrees from where we needed to be. That wall. That relentless, endless, overwhelming wall. We walked and walked, and still weren’t at the gate. Little cutouts in the stone taunted us with slivers of views of the inside. Still we walked and sweated—-the wall was winning, the stiff upper lip was quivering. Finally the stone gave way to iron.

We went to Keats first, of course. Anyone who cares about poetry would be moved. The tombstone is something you can embrace as a touchstone for everything you love about that great talent. I took many pictures; Cad took many pictures of me with the stone.

I need to stop for one point: the tombstone has a wrong date. Keats died on Feb. 23, 1822. The stone says Feb. 24. I have never seen anyone point this out. There’s a typo on the sacred grave marker of the god of many English majors and it’s never mentioned? Very odd.

Next we found Shelley. Yes, there were newly dried roses on the stone. More photos, Click, Click, Click.

On to a swirl of visiting: Up the Aventine to the famous keyhole in the Knight’s of Malta building, Click; into the sublime S. Sabine, Click; a temporary rest in its cloister Click, Click, so Cad could get on his cell, and I could write a postcard to Steed; then jumping on the Metropolitana, over to the Lateran.

In front of the formidable entrance, we sat savoring some luscious bianco sotttobosco with a Barolo we had picked up (a very different experience from tea with no lemon and marzipan delights.) We were just ready to journey on, when I reached into my bag for my camera—and it wasn’t there. No, no, that can’t be. “Turn it inside out.” No camera.

I went white. Two days' worth of pictures. Keats. Shelley. Me. Cad calmly said we could retrace our steps tomorrow, and take a whole new set of pictures. No. No. Not the wall again. I can’t face the wall.

Think, M.A. When did you last have it?

In the cloister of S. Sabine.

Okay—we’ll go back now. Maybe it's still there.

Cadfael--the gentlemen of monks.

So tired. But we’ve got to try. Back to the Aventine. To be continued.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Anthony Minghella and Morse

Most serious TV watchers Tivo to control their video destiny. I much prefer the chance of coming upon something. I don’t need to control every facet of my life—I like letting the universe have some sway.

By chance I surfed over Channel 13 running a completely random Inspector Morse episode the other night. It is an exquisite series: Oxford as character; decent mystery plotting; unabashed use of classical music, from Morse's opera CDs to the strong incidental music. I hadn't seen a Morse since it first ran, and I was instantly attracted, again, by the bold, unsettled, disorienting narrative snippets that begin the episodes, in between the black credit slates. On this slate (for “Deceived by Flight”) was "written by Anthony Minghella." I did not know this. It’s those layers of discovery, as you move through experience and connect your world, that has always made TV an interactive medium for me.

Morse. Devoted opera aficionado. Minghella. I am squarely in the “Bravo” camp for Minghella’s staging of Madama Butterfly this season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in a production he first staged in London. All of his stunning, bold visual effects serve the story and transform the hallowed art form for a 21-century visual sensibility. Steed remarked, mid sips of a Louis Roederer 1999 Cristal Brut after Act 1, that the story had never been as cogent as it was that night. I quite agree.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Travels with Cadfael

Meet Cadfael—a Benedictine monk I have traveled with from time to time. (My monk isn’t really named Cadfael—that’s the nom de blog I have given him. Although there are similarities to Ellis Peters/Pargeter’s creation, especially the worldliness.) Because he is studying for an advanced degree in Rome, he is often at leisure between terms and free to travel. And we became great travel partners--it was just one of those things. We met in Solesmes a few years ago, when I was studying Gregorian chant and he was a visiting American monk. But that’s a tale for a second season flashback.

This is a Rome snapshot. On my first visit to the ecclesiastical city, Cad was a living audioguide with a wicked laughtrack. He was gracious in revisiting the landmarks he had seen too many times, including, of course, St. Peter's. There was one blip of actual excitement when we came upon John XXIII in an altar. Cad: “This is huge. I heard he had been brought up, but I thought it was an urban legend.” Hip monk humor—it makes me laugh. Lots of Cadfael travels to come—stay tuned.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

No More Apologies

Longtime friends know what a fan I am of the first 2 seasons of Miami Vice. Since Michael Mann hit the big time, I no longer feel the need to apologize for it. I’m thrilled that SleuthTV is replaying them in order. I have just stumbled on an episode that guest stars Viggo Mortensen, Annette Bening, and Lou-Diamond Phillips, and PHILLIPS is given the place of honor as the last guest star with that little special "and Lou-Diamond." Next up came the ep with story by Dick Wolf, guesting Melanie Griffith, Veronica Cartwright, George Takei, and Bill Boggs. It’s the Love Boat of the crime set.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A New York Left Slugfest

Steed and I recently went to the Atlantic Monthly’s reception for the New York leg of their Ideas Tour celebrating their 150th year. It was at the New York Public Library, and the proceedings were elegant and festive, as you would want, including a proper toast with champagne (which, to Steed’s delight, was not overchilled). Revelers were also invited to go to the panels the next day. These events were folded into Paul Holdengraber’s fabulous NYPL Live! series.

On the sign-up sheets, I saw an old acquaintance—Walter Benn Michaels, who would be debating Katha Pollitt and her review of his book, The Trouble with Diversity. I knew Professor Michaels almost 2 decades ago when he was a visiting prof. at Rutgers from UC Berkeley, shortly before he published “Against Theory” in Critical Inquiry. (He’s now at University of Illinois-Chicago.) He brought literary theory into my world, and it turned out I had quite a knack for synthesizing the work of Stanley Fish, Norman Holland, Wolfgang Iser, et al. (At that time, I didn’t question why one would want to do that, which now seems to be the only question.) And with Michaels’s recommendation, I was accepted to the doctoral program in English at Berkeley—but that’s another story.

I knew Michaels when he was a newly minted hotshot prof. On the library’s stage, he was the middle-age establishment, still gangly, but no more glasses. The topic was not his literary acumen, but his position that "the Left” is dissipating its energy on race and gender issues at the expense of leading the revolution we need for an equitable redistribution of the wealth. He arrives at this tenet with some sweeping notions like “race does not exist,” and here’s where the Left, voiced by Katha Pollitt, takes huge issue with him. As did Scott Stossel, of the Atlantic, who was moderating.

This is not a political blog, and I am a political pragmatist in no particular camp. The discussion was animated and hyperarticulated on both sides, and enjoyable to see. I was struck by several things: I was unaware that anyone seriously discusses “the exploitation of the worker” anymore outside of old Woody Allen films (so I guess that’s one of my limitations); Pollitt was particularly concerned about African Americans, of whom there were 2 in an audience of 120 (or so); “the poor” were often invoked—“they” are in great need of saving. This academic thing is not my world. I decided to avoid the one clich√© I had control of, and did not approach Michaels with the “I was your student” babble. Besides, Steed had a pedicab waiting for me (up theme music).