Dec 26, 2007

Not A Country For Old Men...

... and not worth four Golden Globe nominations, certainly not one for Best Picture. Good performances, great dialogue, what you can hear of it, clever editing, evocative cinematography, altogether a compelling story, as Bonnie & Clyde was once compelling... All that, but finally thin, unsatisfying, and disturbing: not only because evil limps away to flagellate the world another day, but because good is portrayed as such a lesser force, something finally personal, clownish, tired and sentimental.

As for the violence, by the last 20 minutes, even the director seems to have had enough. The film persona also seems uncomfortably close to Fargo, although here the black comedy is much blacker, less forgiving.

I've never been a Cormac McCarthy fan. Either you are or you're not. And I didn't read this book, which might have made some difference. But despite the problems, there is something that stays bolted to the mind, more a feeling than an image, and perhaps there is one thing to be saved from the story. it is this contemporary view of evil.

Not something that can be ever beaten, but something that's implacable, impervious, and lucky. Did you ever imagine evil as being lucky? The sinister quality here is not heavy black, that signature breathing of Darth Vader, and there's no theatrical aspect. This reaches beyond psycopathic, which after all has its limits.

Segur, as he's called, is much more like an Islamic extremist. A strong believer in nothing at all save the joy of destruction. But he's a mythic extremist, the Bin Laden in the tri-city area. He's also vaguely unfuckingAmerican, vaguely Latin or Mediterranean, with off-color skin and watery eyes, in sum the particular shade of foreigner that reminds you of Jewish stereotypes created by the Nazis.

For Anderson, the film maker, old-fashioned evil, here played by dead Mexican drug dealers and corporate devils, seems like a sail boat next to a super tanker. Here's evil that flips the coin and lets his victims decide, and to be terrorized by the odds. Why? Because even the most evil spirit needs some entertainment, some challenge and heehaw.

There's no good challenge here, no corresponding white hat, which is the real problem with the story. Still, it's interesting to see evil who is forever lucky, yet never missing an opportunity to destroy and so to those who unknowingly help him, he always leaves division and resentment. No deed — good, bad or indifferent — goes unpunished...

* * *

And then in the middle of the night I got up to read that Benazir Bhutto had been murdered. I should have known that, I thought, I should have expected some dark thing to follow the portrayl of something so dark as Segur.

Dec 20, 2007

Holiday Poem For You

At the cirque, under big tops shaped like pointy,
striped breasts, Hamster devils scamper in spinning
cages; three blonde waifs, with liquid joints,
pouring in and out of each other; a clown
filching time out of pocket, sequined girls
twirling far above your head. Then someone
from the audience disappears, before your very eyes.
Afterwards, the hero finally flies his kite.
But before all that, a man Runs through us,
like some hotel red cap, with a box, yelling,
“Package for Mr. Innocent. Package for Mr. Innocent.”

“Package for Mr. Innocent,” you think.
“Ah, but that’s not me. No,but I wish it was.”
To be both innocent and innocent. To be a clean
Sheet for a day. To have little knowledge beyond
fresh sensation, to be of no particular age,
or era, no particular background or filament.
To be without much desire, stripped down to your
briefs, plum out of sentimentality, unable
to second guess, yet able to withstand
relentless curiosity and make out subtle joys
in the foreground.

This is what I wish for you, at the end of the year,
at the end of a luckless, blue year for so many,
wasn't it, and a bad presidency to boot.
But this package remains, for you, now. Take it, go on.
Why not? It's what you’ve been waiting for,
you need only accept to deserve it.

Dec 19, 2007

Love As Imbalance

This is this man, Zizek, who calls himself an "orthodox Lacanian Stalinist". He's from Slovenia and is always standing at the intersection of wisdom and the ridiculous, shouting some compelling nonsense. This is what he has to say about love....

Dec 6, 2007


I had to look at this several times until I believed it was real and not a computer simulation. Isn't this how you've always imagined flying, or swooping as it's called?

Old Valentinos

We are, so to speak, at a little restaurant around the corner from the public television station. In the Mission District. This is the 'faux mission". What was once Latino has become Valentino. What was once a VW community garage is now a sushi bar. What was once a city is now a trendy boutique. Once dangerous, now trite, mealy- mouthed and whiny.

Sure enough look out the window and watch the trendy blue eyes walk on by, upshot hair on older slackers rising to the moon. Youthy folks on the prowl. Meanwhile, we're in tears, aren't we. We can't believe the city has come to this.

The restaurant, itself, is less a la mode than a year ago (this is what I hear, I can't say, I don't think I was ever here), yet still people like to pay for 16-inch white plates, each with a little fist of food. The menu is rodente al dente: rabbit loins, squirrel tips, fish tits. The place is done up in industrial androgyny, cement floors, phosphorescent blue light over the bar, metal chairs. Everything as though on a screen.

And over there, so to speak, there are these three men. Furtive Fifties, low sixties. In a cloud bank, so to speak. Black t-shirts, leather jackets. Drinking vodka and tequilla. Gray not gay, nor particularly metro sexual. What would you call that? One has long hair. Another has a perpetual smile. The third looks anxiety-ridden, torn. They're talking about their wives and girl friends. Several times you hear the word, "bitch".

They're stragglers from Glenda Jackson days, from the old British cinema verite, the old Bore wars, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Then, men were leaning forward, they were hitting out, even their women, they were crude and could care less. Now men are on their hind legs, caught in the prison spot light, cornered and splayed out.

"She's such a bitch," one is saying. "But I'm sure she'd like to see me dead as well."

Stories follow, proofs, clarification and lies. 'Women are always wanting. Men are always giving.' That women feel the same way about men is no matter. These men are tired. They need women but more and more in theory. Yes, why not? Theoretical women, who are wondrous, exotic and erotic. That nothing has changed is devastating.

Men have grown so frail, haven't they? The pioneer blood is below the minimum, and they can't climb to the top of masts the way they used to do. When they finally do, up like very old spiders, they look down and there are the women saying, 'yes, but can you clean the sheets not just open them....' 'Can you extend the yard arm a little?' 'Can you catch the albatross?' 'Can you Errol-Flynn me?' 'Do you see the island of my content?' 'Can you make it all burn off and go away and come home and go away and provide more of this and that....

Meanwhile, the waitress comes and goes. They're having another round. There are schedules to keep. Children are waiting. Ex wives are waiting. Current wives and lovers are waiting. The show has to go on. And here they are back stage, the men, putting on their costumes for Act IV. Flagstaffs and old Hamlets, older MacBeths. Kings fiddling with their crowns, longing for their horses. Flying on their petards.

Dec 5, 2007

The Lion of Dolo

Last spring, Marina got this email from a renown veterinarian in Ethiopia. Here is the vet's story....

Last weekend was quite unusual. I was planning to relax for a couple of days when I received a phone call from the wildlife department: “Rea, can you leave tomorrow for Dolo Odo, to rescue a lion and bring him back to Awash Park, it is quite an emergency and you are the only one who can help us”. I cancelled my evenings with friends and packed my stuff. I checked on the map where Dolo was: South of the country at the Somali border, over 1000 km away from Addis…wow wow…we were running into trouble! Next morning early, off we went on 2 Toyota Hilux, 2 drivers, 1 chap from the department with all the federal confiscation papers, a vet assistant, 2 armed scouts and myself. On the way I was told that this lion was kept as an illegal pet, chained by the neck since he was a cub, the chain being so tight that it digged into its flesh. Recently the international pressure about the lion became so big that the state had to do something about it and ordered nearly over night a rescue mission.

It would turn out to be one of the craziest trips I did for a long time: 4 days, over 2000 km…we drove 63 hrs, I didn’t sleep for 50 hrs. Basically, we drove through the whole southern country, leaving the asphalt highway, going to Kenya to head eastwards, on bad gravel roads towards the arid zone of Somali Land, the roads extremely bad; very hot… I started to worry about the animal, would he survive such a trip?.

We reached Dolo at 3 pm the second day, which is right at the Somali border and went straight to the district headquarters. There was massive military deployment, we were at 20 km from conflict areas as we were told. The chief of the district showed us the lion, he was kept in a little hut, exactly like in the picture taken by a tourist 6 months ago and broadcasted internationally.

But I was shocked when I open the door, I was told he was a juvenile and here stands a fully grown 4 years old male adult. People were standing around and started to make problems so we disappeared again from the site telling them we would come back tomorrow. It was very hot so I couldn’t do anything anyway. We waited outside town until the evening and went back to the place. As hoped nobody was there, our lie worked. It was much cooler, although it started to get dark. I prepared my syringes, briefed my team about the procedure and ordered them to keep silence whatever happened, I didn’t t want to hear a single noise during this operation.they nodded, the lion roared and I started to move to the hut.

At that moment the population of Dolo stormed us, shouting, there were about 300 people around us,very unhappy that we were taking their lion. I hurried in the hut and tried to anaesthetize the animal. He was freaking out, people jumping on the roof, hitting the walls with sticks, screaming…the armed scouts had a hard time to, at least secure the entrance so that they wouldn’t t come in and grab me away. Even I started to shout to back off and the scouts threatened them with their guns…there is nothing you can do against an angry crowd. I focused on my work, knocked the animal down and we hurried to cut the chain, all by torch light, grabbed the animal, loaded him in the transport cage at the back of the pick up and disappeared as fast as possible. There was no way we could stay in town with the animal so we decided that I would stay outside the city with the 2 armed scouts and 1 driver while the others would go back in town and sleep in a hotel.

The animal woke up 4 hrs later and was horribly sick, he threw up for 4 hours… I thought he would die and monitored him throughout the night. But I had noticed before the anesthesia that he was not feeling well, may be he did eat something wrong. We left town at 4 am in order to drive as much as possible in the coolness of the early morning. We had to drive slowly since the road was so bad. We covered the cage with a blue plastic in order to minimize the stress for the animal. He was coping well so far.

We stopped for lunch and after 5 minutes again a huge crowd came running: “it is the lion of Dolo, why do you take him?”. I was amazed how fast the news are traveling in a desert area with no people. They were jumping on the cage, ripping off the plastic cover, women were screaming…we had to run away without eating. We couldn’t t stop anymore and had to keep the car with the lion moving. From then on, I switched driving with the 2 other drivers so that at least 1 could sleep and stop to eat. We arrived in Negele Borena at 6.30 pm.

The hotel refused to have us with a lion and we had to promise him that I would sleep next to the cage with the 2 scouts and if something would happen the scouts would shoot him. We left again at 4 am. The lion did eat and drink during the night. I was happy, until now he was surviving the trip well. My nightmare was to arrive in Awash with a dead body knowing that all the officials were waiting there for us with the media. But it was also clear to me that no wild animal could survive this trip!

We drove the whole day back, keeping the lion car moving (once we tried to stop at a police station but the crowd stormed even the police station). We arrived in Zoway at 8 pm. People were tired but we couldn’t t stay with the animal, too much stress, too much noise and the people. He was not doing too well at this stage, I was extremely worried. So I decided to continue alone with 1 scout and 1 driver and leave the others sleeping there. We switched with driving and we finally arrived in Awash Park at 1 at night. The scouts were waiting.

We unloaded the cage, dragged it towards the new big cage, opened both sliding doors and waited. The lion refused to move out! We kept 1 man on top of the cage to operate the door in case the lion would go in and rotate the shift every half hour. At 4 am the lion was still fast asleep. He was exhausted! The scouts then came to me “the lion sleeps, we are tired, let us also go to sleep”. I replied “OK but stay around, I keep an eye on him”. I sat in the back of the pick up and waited, waited. One and a half hour later I hear him drinking water in the big cage and whistled the guys to come, no answer, then louder “hey guys he is in”…still no answer, just some snoring from behind the bush. So I jumped out, climbed on the cage and tried to push down the sliding door full of rust…oh my nerves! That’s Africa!.

The bang woke up everybody. I was so relieved…my mission was now completed. One scout hugged me and said smiling to me “doctor, now you can have 1.5 hour sleep before the officials come” and somebody came running with a mattress and a blanket and everybody hugged me. I threw it in the back of the hilux and lay down. Of course I couldn’t sleep. Everybody had disappeared, I looked up at the stars and waited until the sun appeared. From time to time I would look down at the lion.

I was so filled with happiness, despite all the exhaustion and realized this animal was walking for the first time in 4 years!!!! Actually he didn’t t know what to do at the beginning, just doing the couple of steps he was used to do before the chain would pull him back during all these years, but after a while he would venture a bit further, surprised by this new freedom.

When the officials and reporters came, I could hardly keep my eyes open, I was filthy, had lived in the same clothes for 4 days and 4 nights, no shower, full of blood, vomit and shit…but right now I didn’t t care anymore, I was far too tired, and the lion was in the cage, safe, alive…that was all what counted!

Dec 1, 2007

Somebody Is Fixing The Dream Car

In the dream, somebody is fixing the car. But now they've taken a break. You've been watching and you've noticed along with everyone else that there is this evil to deal with. The evil is in the car. That's a given. Perhaps, that's why the mechanic has taken a break. No matter, you'll deal with it. You've done it before and let's face it, you love to deal with this kind of thing, to challenge the dark aspect of repair.

So you walk down to the car, which is on a slight slope facing the street. There is no sidewalk, just a gutter. Everything is sloping: the car, the driveway, the street. It's late fall: cold, slightly overcast. The streets might remind you of Troy, Michigan in winter, snowless, drab, killingly gray and you're going door to door to find out how it was that Aileen Wuornos killed all those men, what went on in that chilhood that cold have turned into such a monster.

You walk through some brambles, up a slope and down, and you stand in front of the car. The hood is up, and you see the problem right away. Long sapplings are growing out of the car's body, the chassis, the engine. With the hood open it's like a great metal mouth with long stringy wooden fangs.... The car is relatively new, American, a bright color, the kind of car you would never get except in a dream. The sapplings are everywhere and you wonder whether you'll need a saw to cut them off or whether you can just break them off. And you marvel how they've grown right through the steel, as though the steel were potting soil. Everything's very neat and clean in the way the sapplings have sprouted.

It's all more interesting than bizarre, a little shocking because of the number of these trees, but otherwise not unexpected.

But who cares? The important thing is to deal with the evil that did this. But where is it? It's not here quite yet. Maybe gone for a break. It'll be back. Someone off to the left is explaining it all, and you're asking questions because you've been at a distance. Incidentally, there's a black dog asleep under the car, his head resting on the spoiler.

You stand around, you're waiting for the evil spirit to return so you can deal with it, put it away, you've done this before. Meanwhile, the person off to your left has some more information. If you want, the voice is saying, you could go a few blocks away and deal with that other responsibility because the evil is down there too. You know where that is, right? And you think, Oh yea, I know where that is. Yea, okay maybe I'll do that. Maybe go down, deal with that, come back. By then the thing will have come back to the car.