Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blue hot, hot, hot

In Treatment has now concluded. I enjoyed it all, as I wrote when it began, from the rich characterizations to the subtle, solid acting.

Discussion of all manner of details was in full force throughout at Sepinwall’s, where someone brought up the languid deep blue/white lines of the opening credits that represent the noise wave machine in Paul’s office.

Those neon, wavy lines against the black background: they remind me that blue is a hot color for me. Not hot as in desirable-—hot as in temperature.

There are office water coolers that offer both hot and cold water. If I want hot water, say for tea, I go for the blue handle. And then I remember that red means hot. Some 2-handle water faucets use the red and blue signifiers, and I never override my brain fast enough to go to the red directly for the hot water. I’m feeling the cold come out of the blue before I realize what I’ve done. Again.

Color theory, color associations—they relate to fairly primal and basic ideas. Fire itself looks red; the cool ocean looks blue. Right there, the system seems to be easily in place.

But not for me. They are firmly swapped for me.

Yet another detail of life that put me out of step with the “way things are.”

Because of the In Treatment opening credits, I got curious about color theory to see if I could learn anything about my life long color dyslexia.

And that’s when I found this statement in Wikipedia about black bodies:

“It is interesting to compare the traditional association of color with temperature with that of a theoretical radiating black body, where the association of color with temperature is reversed. For instance, the hottest stars are blue and the coolest are red.”

And there it was. Extremes. Learning that nature herself reverses the red/blue color association in the fringes of her extremes was informative and comforting to me.

I have struggled with extremes my whole life, on many levels. Tsunamis of emotion or complete numbness. I have no understanding or ability for anything in a middle ground.

The next time I end up washing my hands in cold water, or my tea bag gets splashed with cold before I switch over to the hot spigot, I will understand why. My basic instinct connects with nature in her extremes, where blue is hot, and red is cold.

And it’s all because of In Treatment. Not bad for tv watching.

Chagall knew something about blue hot. He used it to cast one of his canvases of him and his cherished Bella as blue hot lovers. This I understand.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day: Slainte!

Today is the end of my mini Irish blog-a-thon. Enjoy the spirits of the day.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Here is one great meeting: The Pogues and The Dubliners singing "Irish Rover" together. (Although The Dubliners guy is making up his own words as he goes--Tom Clancy would not be pleased.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Patrick's Day: Irish Altered States

I recently saw two powerful expressions of the grip that alcohol has on the national imagination and soul of the Irish: the film Kings from Tom Collins, and the play The Seafarer, by Conor McPherson.

I met a psychiatrist once who believed that the national Irish affinity for drinking was a product of centuries of oppression/emasculation by the British. (See post below.) Maybe.

Spoilers abound now for the film and play
, but knowing what happens wouldn’t diminish the experience of seeing either. The acting in each is superb.

Kings is a lyric film based on the play The Kings of the Kilburn High Road by Jimmy Murphy. It tells the tale of 6 young Irish guys of Connemara who leave home in 1977 because there are no jobs for them and go to London (of all places) to be day construction laborers. Before they leave, they make a pact that they will only speak Irish to one another. And so the audience reads subtitles for most of the film. (Because most of it is in Irish, it was nominated for Best Foreign Film, 2007. Very cool.)

Of course Irish as a national language was stamped out centuries ago. Its only toehold is in the West where it held on in small pockets from generation to generation.

The film picks up with the friends in middle age, although two of them look like very old men; they are serious drinkers who live only to get from one pint to the next. It follows the tensions between the friends, particularly with Joe (Colm Meany, yes of Star Trek: TNG), the most successful of the lot, who would not give Jackie a job because he was an unreliable drunk amongst the serious drinkers. Jackie was a walking, drowning man, and the friends feel guilty when they can't save him from the ultimate act of despair.

In flashback sequences we see the crew as young men, so full of hope and potential before the years of drinking wore away their life.

Theirs is world without women, although Mairtin is married, and has gone on the wagon for his wife. It’s been two days that he’s been dry when the story starts. But the wake for Jackie proves too much. He feels the pull of being with the lads much more strongly than any desire to be at home with this wife.

Jackie’s father comes over from Connemara to take his middle-aged son home to bury. It’s a very poignant scene as the little Aer Aran plane touches down at dawn in Ireland just as the the lads, barely keeping body and soul together in London, stumble home. The Irish language is a constant reminder of how alienated the men are in their London surroundings, and how deeply they are bound to each other.

The Seafarer is an engrossing, surprising play by Conor McPherson. We are in the lower working-class Dublin squalor of 2 brothers on Christmas Eve Day. The older brother Richard is a somewhat stereotypical happy drunk, as is his friend Ivan. Dick has the spirit, playfulness, and easy devotion of a child, with the mouth of a sailor. He went blind from an accident recently, but does not pity himself. His younger brother Sharky has recently returned home from a failed job opportunity in County Claire. Sharky is considered a failure all around, although from the minute the play begins we see how he does care about his brother and tried to care for him. He is on the wagon when the play opens.

Not so Ivan, the classic “Oh, me head, me head; I’m too drunk to go home to my wife” character.

Into this little wreck of a male trio comes 2 more: Nicky, a friend of the brothers now married to Sharky’s ex-wife, and Mr. Lockheart, although it is not clear how Nicky knows him.

The 5 gents are going to player poker on Christmas Eve. With a snap of the fingers to freeze time, Mr. Lockhart reveals that he is the Divel himself, come to collect Sharkey’s soul.

It’s a startlingly chilling moment. When Lockheart starts to talk about the cold isolation of hell, even nonbelievers in the audience are deeply spooked.

The luck of the Irish is with the men, and they outwit the Devil in cards, with the help of 100 proof potcheen, in time to go to Christmas morning mass, partially attracted by the beer that the monks brew. It’s an alcohol-soaked play, from start to stop.

These pieces both addressed drinking with a consciousness I hadn’t seen before: there is a resignation to alcohol in these men’s lives. Alcoholism is a disease, but most of these blokes seem to be in the grey area between alcoholics and more willfully out-of-control drinkers. Kings in particular makes the distinction that Jackie was in the jaws of the disease, while his friends were just serious drinkers.

Can all these Irish souls be in such constant pain that they need to be continously anesthetized? I don’t know if that’s how McPherson and Collins see it. Some of the characters dance around stereotypes, but then become more dimensional. As for the cosmic root of the drinking--the centuries of oppression idea is not so far-fetched. It's certainly part of what created the Irish epithet: "their wars are happy and all their songs are sad."

To someone on the outside, it’s hard not to see an underlying sadness in these daily lives, and you admire them for getting on with it all, as best they can.

Erin Go Bragh.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

St. Patrick's Day: The Great Yeats

Our Man in Bangkok (aka Tim Footman), having his own poetic Anglo-Saxon soul, drew our attention to The Guardian’s recent “seven greatest poets of the 20th century” thing.

Why 7? No idea.

Here’s their list: Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Sigfried Sassoon.

We can all argue a poet here and there, but not to include Yeats on a list of greatest poets is insanity.

OMIB suggested that Yeats was “disqualified for excess Irishness.” And it’s true that much of his brilliant verse speaks directly to Irish folklore and history.

But so much more speaks about love in the most intimate yet universal ways. His unrequited infatuation with Maud Gonne carved deep sorrow into his heart, and he wrote from there for everyone, no nationalism showing at all, except in the intensity of feeling.

When You Are Old

WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced among the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams...

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways
. . . .
Why, what could she have done, being what she is? Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Friday, March 14, 2008

St. Patrick's Day: Dying to Wear the Green

St. Patrick's Day, Dublin.

When I was in grade school I wrote a special poem one year for St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t remember it except for this excerpt:

“The green fields of Ireland are frosted with red,
Fear of destruction is what they dread . . . .

Who’s to blame, now that it’s all gone?
No one. Just blame it on the Leprechaun.”

I remember that my teacher was surprised at the seriousness of the poem. He said that he thought it was going to be a happy “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” kind of thing.

Well, this was the seventies, and The Troubles were in full swing. “England Get the Hell Out of Ireland” was a banner that most of the counties carried in the parade and a sentiment my uncles liked to impassionedly repeat the during family parties.

I had a young sense of the serious nature of the Irish situation because my father had sat down one night and written out the words to many of the songs we sang (this being long before easy Internet searches).

One song was “The Wearing of the Green”

"O Paddy dear, an' did ye hear the news that's goin' round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground;
St. Patrick's Day no more we'll keep, his colour can't be seen,
For there's a cruel law agin the wearin' o' the Green.

I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand,
And he said, "How's dear old Ireland, and how does she stand?"
She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen,
For they're hanging men an' women there for the wearin' o' the Green."

That last line haunted me: “For they're hanging men an' women there for the wearin' o' the Green.”

The song is an anonymous street ballad from the days of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Influenced by the American and French Revolutions, the Society of United Irishmen—which started as a political organization seeking to gain power in Parliament—evolved into a serious revolutionary force under the great Wolfe Tone.

Wearing a shamrock—or any green—was considered an insignia of the rebellion, and you were hanged for high treason. The British so feared the ethnic identity of the Irish that they would murder citizens under their rule for wearing an ethnic color.

Of course these were the days of the crushing tyranny of the Penal Laws, various statues passed over centuries to discriminate against Roman Catholics and try to force the population into the Church of England. One of the earliest was the 14th century Statutes of Kilkenny that criminalized speaking Irish and banned intermarriage between the Irish and the English.

Under the Penal Laws:

* The Catholic Church was forbidden to keep church registers.
* The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
* He was forbidden to receive education.
* He was forbidden to enter a profession.
* He was forbidden to hold public office.
* He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
* He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
* He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
* He was forbidden to own land.
* He was forbidden to lease land.
* He was forbidden to accept a mortgage on land in security for a loan.
* He was forbidden to vote.
* He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
* He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
* He was forbidden to buy land from a Protestant.
* He was forbidden to receive a gift of land from a Protestant.
* He was forbidden to inherit land from a Protestant.
* He was forbidden to inherit anything from a Protestant.
* He was forbidden to rent any land that was worth more than 30 shillings a year.
* He was forbidden to reap from his land any profit exceeding a third of the rent.
* He could not be guardian to a child.
* He could not, when dying, leave his infant children under Catholic guardianship.
* He could not attend Catholic worship.
* He was compelled by law to attend Protestant worship.
* He could not himself educate his child.
* He could not send his child to a Catholic teacher.
* He could not employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child.
* He could not send his child abroad to receive education.

And to wear green was a capital offense of high treason during the 1789 rebellion. Which is why I don’t mind when the kids paint their faces green for the parade, or Chicago dyes its river or New York its bagels and beer, or someone in San Francisco dyes a dog green. It's all silly, but it honors, in a subtle way, those murdered for trying to keep their ethnic identity so deeply associated with a color.

The hangings still haunt me.

(puppy photo Michael Macor; top photo from Metro. Has other great pictures of green)

Monday, March 10, 2008

heeeeelp meeeeee: Those Damn Spiders

There I was, perusing the Sunday Styles pages of the NYTimes online, feeling all was right with the world, when I spot a fashion feature entitled Arachnophilia.

Love of spiders. I don’t think so.

I have a mild form of arachnophobia, one of the most common fears on the planet. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. We always had some spiders in the house, particularly in the upstairs bathroom. I dreaded going in there, and spotting one, sometimes two, up in the corner, threatening me, sometimes dropping down a bit and them climbing back up again. All that jiggling around made me nauseous.

I know that one time I walked into one as it was dropping down. I know that I had one sitting on my head when I was five or so, and my mother told me and picked him off.

What is it about the spider that creates such dread? For me, they are the embodiment of evil. Not that they are evil themselves, but that in their ugliness, and eight jointed hairy legs, and ability to swing in the air and drop on people, and eat prey that they have caught and anesthetized in their webs—-they embody evil.

I am not alone in this view.

Tolkien Knew.  He Got It.

Hence Shelob, She who lives in the mountain bordering Mordor, and to whom Gollum delivers Frodo. I can’t watch that part of The Return of the King (although in the books she’s in The Two Towers).

But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness."

Then there is the all-time most gruesome spider scene ever in The Fly—-the special effects which were improved upon in the 1986 remake, when the fly with the human head is caught in the spider web, and she is quickly moving in to eat him/it. I would have been much faster with that rock than Helene was.

I never saw Earth Vs. the Spider or Tarantula, but I watched bits and pieces of Arachnophobia on tv in one of those masochistic compulsions to do things that really repulse you.

These spiders were at least safely within the movie screen or could be switched channels on. Imagine my horror, in 2001, when I walked through Rockefeller Centre, near where I work, and saw a family of 35-foot metal spiders!

It was horrible—-my worst nightmare alive in my waking day. There was a mother, a father, and a baby spider. You had to walk underneath them to go north to south in the plaza. The Mommy spider clearly had an egg sac hanging from her. I’m getting light-headed just typing the words.

People are always so worried about religious art in the public square-—why no outcry to these objects of widespread phobia?

Spider as Mother as Art?

The pieces are art by the sculptor Louise Bourgeois:

“For decades, Bourgeois has used the spider to explore issues related to memories of her mother, who died when the artist was 20.

‘My mother was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and useful as a spider," she once wrote...’”

Woah. Spider as mother. The thought gave me nightmares for weeks.

All that summer I lived with a sickening, creepy sense of the spiders waiting over in the canyon of Rockefeller buildings. They were there a long time.

The next summer I was in Spain, touring with a small vocal group, and we went to Bilbao to give a performance at the Guggenheim. We got to our hotel on Nervion River late in the day on the bank across from the museum. I was walking along the beautiful river before dinner, when sparks of light near the museum caught my eye. I walked closer and closer to it, and to my amazement—and complete horror—it was a crew with acetylene torches, securing the last leg of a giant BOURGEOIS SPIDER.

A cold chill went down my spine. Was my trip to be so marred by the presence of evil? How awful. I hated them in Rockefeller Centre, now I felt the evil was following me. (That spider is a permanent installation at Bilbao—lucky you, you can still go and see it.)

Maybe there was some good mojo counteracting the evil presence, because the tour went very well. Besides Bilbao, we sang at Santiago de Compostella, and in Lisbon and Coimbra in Portugal.

On the way home, we had a long enough stopover in London that allowed us to pop in to the Tate Modern. And there, in the book shop, I opened a book about the museum, and there in the frontice spread was a huge photo of ANOTHER FREAKING BOURGEOIS SPIDER.

Apparently, Maman was commissioned for that cavernous Turbine Hall space. What kind of a journey was I on? Why did these gigantic arachnids keep turning up in my path??

And now, the Style section has a photo feature of Parisian women dressing to honor the Bourgeois spider now in Tuileries Garden.

Sigh. There is no escaping THEM!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Is NOTHING Sacred?

Horrible news over at Maud's. Pharmaceutical spammers have hacked into her site and deleted her blog and 8,000 archived posts.

What a devastating, devastating violation for a writer.

Maud, sending you heartfelt encouragement to get the f***king bastards who did this, and then write some more.

UPDATE: Recovery over at Maud's has been successful. I think it is a wake-up call for us all though--this medium is vulnerable.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Wire: "Get their cell phones. The case is in the phones"

Like with The Sopranos, I came very late to The Wire. I tried to get in last season, but the ominous staple gun in the opening episode was a road block. The violence, cruelty, murder, and soul-wrenching tragedy of The Wire proved too dark for me to ingest on a weekly basis.

This final season, the story lines about The Sun in the fore allowed me a way in. And here, even in this tail-end of the episodes, I join the legion of those dazzled by the narrative and the universe itself. Particularly because I can read the expansive summaries/reviews by Alan Sepinwall, and all his loyal posters, connecting ideas back through the years.

What strikes me most, at this late date, is the plot device of the cell phones, and the transmitting of the image of the clock for the meet coordinates. Not only is it a plot device, it is the legal case against the drug dealers.

What a perfect tale for the oft-termed, but-what-does-it-really-mean, media age. The story started with wire taps--a traditional law enforcement tool, where the power to trap comes from intercepting the workings of the old media system of the phone company. Wiseguys and drug dealers have been wise to this for at least forty years now. If they had to speak about business, they would talk in some sort of code. Then came the media shift to the power of mobile phones. Marlo's lawyers told him never to have business conversations on the cells. But sending pictures? It's just a picture of a clock. No laws broken there.

We have all sorts of citizen journalism now, where people send in pictures, or cell phone video, of unfolding news events to wire services or traditional news agencies. These show up on ijournalist sites like Current TV or certain sections of the larger news site. Mainstream network tv shows like CSI and NCIS often show cell phones sending photos of people or crime scenes back to the lab for analysis.

But I think The Wire has the first, highly constructed plot based on the cell phone part of the media revolution. And I think it is a subtle refinement from the epynonmous wire of the first season in 2002.

Some American Studies Ph.d candidate is going to pinpoint this as a watershed moment in American tv in fifty years or so.