Friday, February 27, 2009

Harry Potter is the Messiah

But not in the way that you think. Thanks to Daniel Finkelstein at the Times for highlighting this vid from Iranian TV. If it were not so scary, it would be hysterically funny. JK Rowling as the agent of Hollywood Jews, spreading their Kabbalistic and Satanic propaganda via the eyes and ears of innocent Western children? Yeah, right.

Finkelstein headed his post:

"Another installment in my "why not let these people have a nuclear weapon, what can possibly go wrong" series."

Time for the next use of my favourite most expressive word of American vocabulary: DUH!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nancy-Bird Walton RIP

Another amazing aviatrix bites the dust. She did, however, have a pretty good run, living to be 93. Known as "The Angel of the Outback", Nancy-Bird Walton operated an air ambulance service in New South Wales between the two world wars. The Telegraph wrote of her early flying years:

"Setting off with a co-pilot, Peg McKillop, in a fourth-hand Gipsy Moth with two open cockpits and a cruising speed of 80mph, she barnstormed throughout New South Wales, offering joyrides at fairs, occasionally carrying aerial advertising and taking part in air pageants. They navigated over the featureless western plains by wristwatch, compass and road map, sometimes landing in rough paddocks and claypits to ask the way. At night they often had to tie the Moth to a fence for the night to ensure it was not blown away by storms and hope that cattle had not chewed through the fabric by next morning."

This afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in front of this computer, gaily instant-messaging with a friend at her desk about 3000 miles away. It is almost impossible to imagine what it was like in the early years of technology - flying by wristwatch?

The rest of the obituary is here.

Toilet Paper

There are people that say that the English are somewhat obsessed with bottoms and related items. I might quibble with regard to the word "obsessed", but I have also read Lucinda Lambton's Temples of Convenience & Chambers of Delight. North Americans, however, who quiver over the moral turpitude that may be engendered by the sight of a female nipple, yet have tv commercials where bears chat in the forest about toilet paper preferences ... well ... pots and kettles and all kinds of household implements.

So, thank you US environment correspondent for the Guardian for bringing to our attention the shocking news that the american bottom is so fragile that it

" is causing more environmental devastation than the country's love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners. At fault, they say, is the US public's insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom."

The problem is that the softest tenderest toilet paper is made from virgin forests. Recycled loo roll is considered akin to reusing old tp. I have often noticed in this country that even the most gentle lotioned kleenex tissue is of vastly inferior quality to most bottom-wiping material. The question is, can we change this habit? Read the rest of the article here.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has produced a cut-out-and-keep pocket guide for paper products, telling us which are the most ecologically sound. Download it on this page.

Save the trees!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Secretary General

It has just crossed my mind - what does it say about me culturally when I look at the list of Secretaries General of the United Nations, and the only name that I know how to pronounce is 'Kurt Waldheim'?

btw, this may be a rhetorical question :-)

Look, though:

Trygve Lie
Dag Hammarskjold
U Thant
Kurt Waldheim
Javier Perez de Cuellar
Boutros Boutros Ghali
Kofi Annan
Ban Ki-Moon

and there I was thinking I was really rather cosmopolitan ... *sigh*

Mazal Tov to R. Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus!

Photo: Hara Person

This week the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the umbrella organisation for Reform rabbis in N. America) meets in Jerusalem for its annual convention. There, Ellen (seen above earlier today at a service by the Western Wall) will be installed as the second female leader of the oldest rabbinical association in the world. Apart from the fact that she is a member of two families dedicated to their Judaism for several generations, or that her father-in-law A Stanley Dreyfus z"l was my beloved teacher, or even that she is a cousin of my godmother in England; I want to shout out that she is a mensch. I have not met so many in my professional experience, and so I am delighted that she will be our leader for the next couple of years.

The Chicago Jewish News has a nice piece about her here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Conchita Cintron RIP

I love women who break new ground with their careers. Conchita Cintron was one of the first women to become famous as a matador. Yes I am a vegetarian and think killing bulls for sport is cruel, so maybe she only gets four stars instead of five. I hated Margaret Thatcher all through her career, but I can still admire the ground that she broke. The New York Times wrote:

"Cintrón was seriously injured in 1949 in Guadalajara, Mexico, when a bull gored her in the thigh. Carried to the ring’s infirmary, she pulled away from doctors, returned to the ring and killed the bull. She then fell unconscious and was rushed into emergency surgery. That same year in Spain, where a law prohibited women from dismounting to fight a bull on foot, she simulated the kill by touching the bull on the shoulders — where the sword would go — as it passed her, drawing cheers from the crowd."

Now wouldn't it be better if they all did it like that? *sigh*

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Oscars

Well, all the awards for films made in 2008 are over now I think. Here are the 10 moments that caught my attention:

1. Hugh Jackman can dance quite well.

2. There is no bad angle from which to shoot Angelina Jolie - whether the cameraman is kneeling at her feet shooting up her nostril, or allowing only her clapping hands to be seen in shot - she is totally stunning.

3. Maybe if Mickey Rourke had worn a tie he would have had a better chance of winning?

4. Worst camerawork was on the montage of the dead people - half the time the camera was dancing around so much the names were off-camera, and they totally missed Cyd Charisse.

5. Alicia Keys can pronounce foreign words quite well.

6. Brilliant Ben Stiller's impersonation of Joaquin Phoenix was, well, brilliant.

7. If Sophia Loren had had a better make-up artist she could have looked 20 years younger instead of only 10.

8. Thank you whoever decided to do the medley of the best songs!

9. I have a coat lining made of the same material as Whoopi Goldberg's dress.

10. Hurrah hurrah hurrah for Sean Penn's win as Harvey Milk!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

From our Los Angeles Correspondent

"Prisoner sues over 'satanism interference' - An inmate in a Montana prison has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit alleging that jailers interfered with his satanic religious practices.

By Noam Friedlander in Los Angeles

Jason Paul Indreland, who is serving a three-year sentence at the Yellowstone County state prison for drug possession, claims jailers confiscated a medallion that is a "protective symbol" in his religion. Indreland says he has been a practising Satanist for the past decade. The lawsuit claims jail staff refused to return the medallion or allow Indreland access to a "Satanic Bible or Book of Satanic Rituals". The suit alleges that Yellowstone County jail staff placed "Christian greeting cards under (his) cell door," that said "Jesus was ready to save and accept him". The lawsuit also alleges that Indreland was denied medical care for his drug addiction, that he was placed in violent situations and that he suffered harassment and retaliation while incarcerated.

Indreland initially filed the handwritten federal lawsuit last March while he was still held at the jail. The lawsuit names as defendants the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners, Sheriff Chuck Maxwell, Undersheriff Jay Bell and Sheriff's Capt. Dennis McCave, who oversees county jail operations. The lawsuit seeks $3 million for alleged civil-rights violations, $2 million for "the deprivation of his rights and injuries both mental and physical," and $5 million in punitive damages. County officials said they have not seen the lawsuit and could not comment."

I love this! Thank you, Noam. Only in America.

A Revelation by Geraldine James

Geraldine James for me is an actress that when I watch her at work, I think she is amazing - she was brilliant in Blott on the Landscape, she utterly overshadowed Dustin Hoffman with her Portia, she never seems to give a bad performance. Yet, when I do not happen to come across her in something, she does not come to mind at all. Now, however, she has made herself unforgettable with her performances in Little Britain as the breastfeeding mother of her adult son. I was therefore thrilled to read recently the truth about those breasts:

"... the 58-year-old Jewel in the Crown star has disclosed that the breasts the viewers saw were not her own. "They were prosthetic and made by the man who made the fat suit that Matt Lucas used when he played Bubbles," she says in the latest Spectator. "Like Bubbles's, they were low-slung, which was helpful because all I had to do was lift a tiny bit of my jersey and David could pile straight in." Miss James adds: "When I was asked to appear in the American version of the series, I asked if I would be getting the same pair. They told me: 'No, we have got you Nicole Kidman's.' "I wasn't sure if that was going to work – Miss Kidman is, after all, a lot thinner than me. I never did ask what it was that she had needed them for, but they still fitted pretty well.""

NB Not for the American of heart

Susan Hibbert RIP

A lot of the time obituaries celebrate the lives of people who are well-known for their contributions to society and/or their personalities. Sometimes, however, we get the chance to look at someone who was quite ordinary, but was witness to something extraordinary. Susan Hibbert, who died earlier this month, is thought to be the last British witness to the signing of the German surrender in May 1945. She was also responsible for typing up the document, and sending the signal to the War Office in London.

"Susan Heald(her maiden name) and others left inside celebrated quietly. "We had some champagne but we didn't have any glasses so we had to drink it out of army mess tins. We passed the tins around and had a few sips.""

A more complete description of the event is here.

It's Not What it Looks Like

You know those nanoseconds when you think something impossible you wished for has actually come true, and then you realise that it is not so, like falling asleep wearing contact lenses, and waking up to believe, for a moment, that you are cured, but you are not? This picture was one of those moments for me. Bernie Williams working out in a Yanks uniform at Legends Field in spring training - was my favourite ever player back on the roster? Sadly, the answer is no. Bernie was training to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic next month. *sigh*

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shea Stadium RIP

They needed a car park for the new stadium that was just built on the land that was the old car park. Thus, Shea Stadium, home to the Mets of baseball, former home to the Jets of American football, and venue for the Beatles was finally demolished today. Read the NY Times obituary here.

A New (Sort of)Set of Simpsons' Opening Titles

Thanks to ITN & the Telegraph for allowing me to share with you the latest opening sequence for the TV show 'The Simpsons'. Special thanks to the writer of the article that accompanies the pictures, one Noam Friedlander. Details may be found here.

(Auf) Wiedersehen Winston

The Telegraph reports:

"A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government's art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back. The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure. But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks.""

Apparently, President Obama has replaced the bust of Winston Churchill that used to sit in the Oval Office with one of Abraham Lincoln. And what is wrong with that, might I ask?

Nu, a brief ravaj story: many many moons ago the ravaj had to take some examinations called the GEDs in order to enter graduate school. These exams included a maths paper. As the ravaj had not done any maths since she was 16, she was somewhat rusty, and extremely anxious. She was so anxious that there was little room in her brain for anything else. So it was that as she entered the National Liberal Club in Whitehall (London), and climbed the stairs to the exam room, she caught sight of a painting on the wall. The subject looked familiar, but she could not recall his name. All through the exam she wondered ... was it a member of the synagogue? Was it a friend of her parents? Was it the father of someone she knew? She could not get this out of her mind. At last the test was over, and enough use of her brain returned to suggest that there might be a label by the painting from which she could get the information she desired. She went down the stairs, and read the label. She was looking at a painting of Winston Churchill.

Portrait of a Fighter - Rusty Kanokogi

Read about another female pioneer, this time in the world of judo. Joshua Robinson writes in the NY Times:

"Rusty Kanokogi learned to scrap when her name was still Rena Glickman and she wandered the Brooklyn boardwalk. She learned to struggle when her parents ignored her in a tiny house near Coney Island. She learned to attack when she discovered judo in a dojo on Flatbush Avenue. She learned to argue in plush offices when she lobbied for women’s judo to become an Olympic sport. And at age 73, Kanokogi is still fighting."

One could make a good case that she is single-handedly responsible for getting women's judo recognised as a medal sport in the Olympic Games. This is one tough lady.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Louie Bellson's Drumsticks

Hands up if you've heard of Louie Bellson. Anybody? I think it may be a generational thing. He was the drummer of 'Skin Deep', considered by most aficionados to be the greatest recorded drum solo in history, supplanting Gene Krupa in 'Sing Sing Sing' (but not for me. Or Emily). He played with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington ... hey, read his obit here.

I admit I had not hear of 'Skin Deep' until a few minutes ago. However, the pair of Louie Bellson drumsticks pictured above are mine. I have always wanted to learn drums, and still have time to begin. After all, I have the drumsticks. They used to belong to the father of ravaj. He was given them by a grateful student. Her name was Pearl Bailey. She was married to Louie Bellson. I am sure one could not walk around their house without falling over packets of his drumsticks, so he probably never touched them. But you never know ..... RIP Louie Bellson.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Michelle Pfeiffer is back

Michelle Pfeiffer, a beautiful face from recent American movie history that has been absent for quite some time, is back on the radar this week as her new movie premiers at the Berlinale. Especially in Dangerous Liaisons, but in so many other films, I have, let us say, appreciated her pulchritude. As long, however, as she never appears as herself. I was so sad to discover, via an interview on The Ellen Show, that MP appears to be utterly vapid. Valley Girl vapid. I know I am being greedy when I ask for mental and physical luminosity, but it is possible. Emma Thompson. Kristin Scott Thomas. Ok, another American Blonde - how about Jodie Foster? And now Pfeiffer is starring in an adaptation of the Colette novel 'Cheri'. I am sure she will be gorgeous, especially in period costume again. I think, though, that I may skip the talk show appearances.

Friends of Pegah celebrate

Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian who fled in 2005 after her partner was arrested and sentenced to death in Tehran, has just heard from the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that her case will be reconsidered. This is, of course, a good thing. More dubious, however, is this quote from the UK Border Agency, as cited by the Daily Telegraph:

"We consider each case on its individual merits and, whenever someone needs our protection, we grant it. We constantly monitor the human rights situation in countries like Iran and press for an end to abuses, but we do not believe that everyone claiming to be a homosexual from Iran is in need of international protection."

Nu, how close to arrest and execution does one have to be before one is in need of protection?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

2008 World Press Photos of the Year

There are some incredible photos in various categories. I looked at the selection offered here by the Telegraph and picked the above for my favourite. It is by an American called Callie Shell and it won for the People in the News category. It was taken during the Presidential campaign.

One of the major reasons for my quitting a career as a photographer was that I could not be objective when something was going on. In the middle of something terrible, like the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 when I was just starting to establish myself, I realised (although I was not actually there that day - I was at another match) that I could not shoot pictures of pain and misery. That was why I concentrated on sport and theatre - events where there was a previously-established agreement that it was ok to watch. The other? I just wasn't wired that way. However, I still look at the pictures other people take, and some of the best are part of these awards.

Happy Birthday to Miep!

Would you believe it, Miep Gies is 100 today. The BBC reports that she feels unworthy of all the attention she regularly receives as the last remaining member of the group that helped to hide Anne Frank and her family in the house on Prinsengracht. There just aren't enough people like Miep in this world. Bis hundertundzwanzig!

It's Over!

Hello 15th February!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Morgan Tsvangirai visits the Chikurubi prison

The Times reported yesterday the the newly-sworn-in Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, went to the maximum security prison in Harare to visit the political prisoners currently detained there (including Jestina Mukoko). Of course Tsvangirai's original plan was to hold out on making a deal with Robert Mugabe until the prisoners had been released. Oooooops. The Times sees it as an acid test with regard to whether or not Mugabe will actually be sharing any of the power in the power-sharing deal. Read about it here.

Eluned Phillips RIP

Another incredible woman utterly unknown to me until I read her obituary was Eluned Phillips, the Welsh poet who has died at the age of 94. The Independent writes that she:

" ... was unusual among Welsh writers of her generation in that she embraced a bohemian lifestyle which took her to pre-war London and Paris, where she made the acquaintance of such major artists as Augustus John, Dylan Thomas, Edith Piaf, Jean Cocteau, Maurice Chevalier and Pablo Picasso, the last of whom showed her the unfinished Guernica with the paint still wet on the canvas. She even made it to Casablanca, where she might easily have fitted in among the habitués of Rick's Bar. Nearer home, she was only the second woman to win the Crown, one of the major literary prizes awarded at the National Eisteddfod, and this she achieved on two occasions: first in 1967 and again in 1983."

I have probably said it several times, but I am constantly amazed at the achievements of women who lived in circumstances circumscribed by the general limitations on women in their particular time and place. Phillips is another to add to that group. Do read a little more here. The obit concludes:

"She explained that she had written her memoirs in English (and on a computer acquired in her 90th year) so that her many friends all over the world could read about the life of "a simple country girl with itchy feet". The book ends with her standing mischievously in the wet concrete of the Millennium Centre then under construction in Cardiff Bay and the typically spirited advice she gave to many a young writer: "Try to make as many footprints in the concrete as you can – and treasure them."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Vera Brittain film

Thirty years ago (how hard it is for me to write those words because I really do not feel that old at all) I remember watching a brilliant TV series on the BBC called 'Testament of Youth' about a young woman who leaves her studies at Oxford to go be a nurse in a military hospital when WW1 breaks out. The show was based on the autobiographical writings of Vera Brittain, the mother of Shirley Williams, herself a strong female figure in Labour and Social Democratic politics. The Telegraph reports that BBC Films are to make a big-screen version of the book, which it calls "a seminal work of feminism" (an adjective that I find highly inappropriate considering its application in this case).

Thoughts of a Single Person the Night Before

Strangely enough, I've never really been into Valentine's Day, what with him being a saint 'n' all. All around, however, media are presenting dainty images, so I thought I would share a couple that caught my eye:

My favourite couple - TPP & Aishwarya Rai.

An example of the humour required for this season.

Happy Saturday 14th February to you all :-)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Salma Hayek Feeds Sick African Baby

Saw this in the papers online today. Forget the stupid words of the anchors after the clip, I just remember the saying that I know from Judaism (and I also know is found in Islam) - To save the life of one person is to save a whole world.

Dorothy Brant RIP

Dorothy Brant, who has died at the age of 102, was a vital part of the development of female emancipation in Britain that followed the winning of equal voting rights in the late 1920's. The Telegraph notes that:

"The rhetorical skills she exhibited (at half a guinea a time) made her particularly valued. Her efficiently organised women's branches provided speakers' classes to enable women to hold forth on the issues of the day."

Brant's career lasted for nearly 40 years:

"In the post-war Conservative Party she held positions that no woman had occupied before. From 1947 to 1954 she was deputy head of the party organisation in the north west, playing a leading part in the arrangements for Churchill's 1947 visit to receive the Freedom of Manchester, when agile supporters hung from lampposts cheering wildly. She never forgot the furious Churchillian roar which greeted his discovery of an enterprising journalist hiding under a table in his room at the Midland Hotel."

Read more about her here.

Important News about Nasal Passages

This just in from today's NY Times:

The Claim: Never Blow Your Nose When You Have a Cold
Published: February 9, 2009

Blowing your nose to alleviate stuffiness may be second nature, but some people argue it does no good, reversing the flow of mucus into the sinuses and slowing the drainage.

Counterintuitive, perhaps, but research shows it to be true.

To test the notion, Dr. J. Owen Hendley and other pediatric infectious disease researchers at the University of Virginia conducted CT scans and other measurements as subjects coughed, sneezed and blew their noses. In some cases, the subjects had an opaque dye dripped into their rear nasal cavities.

Coughing and sneezing generated little if any pressure in the nasal cavities. But nose blowing generated enormous pressure — “equivalent to a person’s diastolic blood pressure reading,” Dr. Hendley said — and propelled mucus into the sinuses every time. Dr. Hendley said it was unclear whether this was harmful, but added that during sickness it could shoot viruses or bacteria into the sinuses, and possibly cause further infection.

The proper method is to blow one nostril at a time and to take decongestants, said Dr. Anil Kumar Lalwani, chairman of the department of otolaryngology at the New York University Langone Medical Center. This prevents a buildup of excess pressure.


Blowing your nose can create a buildup of excess pressure in sinus cavities."

I am not sure about how to counter the habit of a lifetime in order to protect my poor old nasal cavities. After all, parents and babysitters and teachers put so much effort into training me to blow. Strangely enough, European footballers are sometimes accidentally noticeable on tv blowing their nostrils one at a time. I guess they developed the practice because it is often hard to find a tissue during the middle of a game, especially when you are on national television.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Female Premier?

The result is too close to call, especially since Israel's system of proportional representation means that a coalition government must still be formed. However, for the first and only time since Golda Meir was Prime Minister in the 1970's, there is a chance that a woman will be called to lead the country. Her name is Tzipi Livni. Hurrah for Tzipi. Currently scandal-free, and supporting withdrawal from Gaza. An intelligent, working mother. I'd've voted for her.

Btw, in Israel one does not vote for a person but for a party. However, it would appear that the ripple effect of Obamamania has encouraged the media to present the election as a battle between personalities/party leaders. While I am really much more of a Labour/Meretz kind of voter with regard to party lines, there is no way I would want to see Bibi or Olmert back. Thus my choice.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Is Jestina Mukoko Close to Death?

Denford Magora's Zimbabwe blog is reporting today that Jestina Mukoko is near death. As you may recall, Mukoko has some chronic illnesses for which medication is needed on a daily basis, and she was snatched from her home without being allowed to bring anything with her. Magora notes:

"Zimbabwe's prisons are known for inflicting a punishment known as kafiramberi on their inmates. The word, loosely translated, means "Die Forward". This is a reference to the fact that well-known prisoners and those considered "dangerous" are only ever released when they are almost dead and all invariably die within weeks or a couple of months of being released."

Since Morgan Tsvangirai has come to an agreement with Robert Mugabe, the plight of Mukoko and her fellow prisoners seems to have faded into the background of the political situation in Zimbabwe. Is it too late?

The Undead of Meryton

Just heard of this upcoming publication: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (thanks to NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me), and had to share.

"As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead."

For our first ever A-Level English homework, we were asked to each bring in an example of satire to share with the class. Vicky C brought in "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift, and Miss K loved it. I brought in "Waiting for Santy" by S J Perelman. "That is not satire," hissed Miss K, "that is burlesque!" We studied "Emma" together that year. If only this new book had been available then ...

Clementine Ford Comes Out

Nice necklace :-)

Via Dorothy Snarker and After Ellen I just read about the Diva magazine story in which Clementine Ford (also still known as the daughter of Cybill Shepherd, but her career is somewhat nascent) comes out. The more public figures the better I say, but I have to admit that my main motivation for blogging this is so I could post the above picture.

If You Like Words of More Than One Syll ...

Kudos to the presenter who manages to pronounce all the long words with nary a stutter:

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Peaches Geldof Divorce Horror

So circa 6 months after a quickie marriage in Las Vegas to an indie band guy she had known for about a month, Peaches Geldof will get an 'amicable' divorce. What is the horror about that? Britney did it, why not Peaches? Of course the horror is that a hetero little girl can play with marriage and undo it if it doesn't work, while homo couples who have been together for thirty years do not have the right to that legal bond. I think each time one of these little girls makes a 'mistake' like this, their marriage rights should be handed over to a good gay couple to demonstrate how to do it right.

Friday, February 06, 2009

who was it?

Jude Law's latest film "Rage" is in post-production and will hit theaters later this year, foreign media reports. The edgy murder mystery also stars Dame Judi Dench and Lily Cole and is set in the fashion houses of New York. Directed by Sally Potter, the movie has the 36 year old actor cast as a transvestite supermodel named Minx. Part of the subject matter of "Rage" is the ugly use of beauty in the pursuit of profit.

Steven Berkoff speaks out

So Steven Berkoff says that Britons are anti-semitic. I feel the need to respond with that great American exclamation: DUH! A couple of weeks ago in the Telegraph Tim Walker reported:

"Within days of Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commisson, saying he believed that Britain was the least racist nation in Europe, the actor Steven Berkoff has claimed that its people are inherently anti-Semitic. "There is an inbuilt dislike of Jews," says Berkoff, whose production of On The Waterfront opens this month at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. "Overt anti-Semitism goes against the British sense of fair play. It has to be covert and civilised. So certain playwrights and actors on the Left wing make themselves out to be stricken with conscience. "They say: 'We hate Israel, we hate Zionism, we don't hate Jews.' But Zionism is the very essence of what a Jew is. Zionism is the act of seeking sanctuary after years and years of unspeakable outrages against Jews. As soon as Israel does anything over the top it's always the same old faces who come out to demonstrate. I don't see hordes of people marching down the street against Mugabe when tens of thousands are dying every month in Zimbabwe.""

Wasn't it Golda Meir who complained that of all the places in the Middle-East that might have been chosen to be the Promised Land, howcome we got the only one without any oil? What rotten luck for us, eh? I have been asking for weeks why people do not march in their thousands and throw shoes at the Zimbabwean embassy, or any other major international humanitarian situation. The British may be covert and civilised, but anyone who has lived there for a while knows that the WASPs will never change their minds. After all, to jew someone down is still considered a verb in England. There seems little point, however, in rehashing the whos and the whys and the hows. In the end, it is plus ca change.

Yaaaaay Johanna Sigurdardottir

A bit late but better than never, a shout-out to the new Prime Minister of Iceland (interim), Ms Johanna Sigurdadottir. She is part of the Social Democrat Alliance so after the elections will lose the job since the party is not expected to win a majority. For now she takes the lead, as the country struggles to deal with the repercussions of the collapse of its banking system. While Iceland has had a woman president before, Sigurdardottir will be the first female Prime Minister. O yeah, she lives with her civil partner Jonina Leosdottir, and has two children from a previous marriage. That would make her the first openly gay leader of the modern world :-)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

On a clear day ...

Stuart Jeffries wrote the following in the Guardian on Tuesday. I found it to be an oasis within all the misery we usually read in our new sources. This may be a cliche for those of the snow-laden wastes of Wisconsin or the Rockies. For London, however, it is a once in a generation event, so I include the piece in its entirety:

"On the canal bridge just behind Kings Cross, a policeman took a huge snowball full in the face and - I couldn't quite believe this was happening - giggled delightedly (it must have really hurt). His three colleagues gathered snowballs and pelted the mob of school boys and girls, quite sensibly avoiding head shots (think of the lawsuits). But they were outnumbered and outgunned. And anyway, they were easy targets, these coppers in their fluorescent jackets. And the school children, those alleged dysfunctional products of our greed-obsessed, low-serotonin, broken-homed, intolerably lardy, TV-ruined society, were in a snowy wonderland where there was no school, no rules and nothing to worry about. I've never seen London secondary school kids look filled to the brim with such girlish glee. "See if you can knock his helmet off," I yelled at one girl (which probably made me an accessory to something but I don't care: the delirium is infectious) and she pitched a curve ball that would have hit had the copper not ducked.

It's a scene one barely witnesses in London: one of innocence, albeit momentary; of snow in a city that doesn't do extremes of weather; of hostile battle lines suspended and replaced - just for the day - by playful ones; of gratuitous wonders that fall from the sky and blindside you. Yesterday, London was filled with such wonders. The headline said: -5C and we're all going snowhere. Yesterday, London went on a trip to snowhere, which sounds like oblivion, but is infinitely nicer.

That sound snow makes as it packs under your boots! The velvety swish of car tyres on untreated side streets! That numinous glow that greets you as you open the curtains and realise that even though it's Monday, you are quite looking forward to walking to work, especially if you can make a snowman with strangers you meet on your journey! The way your fingers swell after throwing snowballs while wearing functionally useless woollen gloves! (We need poets to invent names for all these things and write sonnet cycles to their joys). And, above all, the snow's silencing of the great roar of London: usually, I keep my iPod on as I walk to silence London's racket: yesterday I didn't want to. Every side street I strolled down yesterday offered - if this doesn't sound too pretentious in a Karen Carpenter-meets-Immanuel Kant kind of way, which I know it does - an unexpectedly sublime kind of hush.

Yes, yes, I know so far this article this sounds a little like those photos of the Notting Hill carnival, with a white policeman dancing with a nice old Caribbean lady. A deluded paean to an interlude that misses what the real London is like, with its quotidian meanness, stabbings, lonely deaths, rapes, intolerance, greed and woe. But, just for a moment, cram your cynicism and yield, as London did yesterday, to the seduction of snow.

Other cities - Winnipeg, say, Moscow or Bergen - cope with snow, subdue it and go to work through impeccably gritted roads. London isn't like that: it rarely copes with anything; these days, it masters nothing. Equipped with a loveably tragi-comic public transport system, our capital fails on a daily basis. The poor suckers who live here get - at best - inured to this hopelessness. Yesterday London was so hobbled by the snow that the situation was even worse than hopeless: usually six million Londoners get to work by bus; yesterday there were no buses; the tube was even more spectacularly unreliable than usual. Even gnarly cyclists in all kinds of crypto-pervy winterwear were laid low (the nameless gent who I helped back on to his bike on Mecklenburgh Square after a comic slo-mo tumble really should have left his wheels under the stairs). Just for a day Londoners got hit by something special.

For a day at least, Londoners returned to a forgotten innocence. Yesterday the headlines howled about how £2bn would be lost yesterday thanks to public transport disruption. Two words: So. What. We're in the middle of a credit crunch and £2bn is the sort of money a hedge-fund trader might find in the lining of his Armani suit. Yesterday we stopped measuring our lives in coffee spoons, overdrafts and balance of payments deficits. It felt good.

We needed the snow to remind us of that innocence. We needed it to remind us of who we are. We are not just homo-economicus, we can't be defined by the size of our negative equity, the burden of our personal debt, or numbers of en-suites. We need something more this winter than cowering at home noting down how many times Gordon Ramsay swears on Channel 4. Our new year resolutions are broken, our jobs insecure, our pensions worthless, our spirits crushed by January's post-Christmas gloom. We needed something to lift our spirits, to give us the excuse to play to no discernible economic benefit.

And yesterday here it came, free as air, falling on to my bare head as I walked down the canal towpath. I was doing what a human being should do now and again: stare. A Spanish man and I watched a heron dive from the ice into water that is starless and bible black. Would it ever resurface? What could it find down there to eat? We did what London hardly ever allows: exchanged the conspiratorial glances and then resumed the satisfyingly economically unproductive business of staring.

In London, this doesn't happen often. We trust our dour reflexive, self-poisoning moaning as a lifestyle philosophy instead. We like it that way: strangers are strange and Britain, damn everything about it, doesn't work. Why don't the buses run on time? Why are we so hopeless? Why can't something be done (usually by someone else who we can blame for their shortcomings)? And this chorus of self-immolation is taken up countrywide: why, non-Londoners ask, is the capital brought to a standstill by a little snow? Why can't you southern ponces get your act together? And the cry is international too: as I walk through the St Pancras Eurostar terminal, a French couple consulting the warnings about the tube, roll their eyes as one. He said: "Typiquement anglais. Rien ne va plus!" They both laugh, as if to say their Gallic expectations had been confirmed.

And so we surrendered to delight. We found better questions to ask: how do you roll a snowman? Where the devil are my galoshes? What have you done with my sledge? Can one get to work by sleigh? Doesn't Prokofiev sound lovely when it's snowing outside? After leaving the canal, I walked down through virgin snow in quiet back streets nestling right next to the Eurostar train line. A snowy bucolic idyll at the heart of the metropolis. I looked from Camley Street through the snow to the gothic tower of St Pancras - a Caspar David Friedrich painting had suddenly leapt before my eyes.

Over on Tottenham Court Road, there was slush and crowds bustling. Here people were shopping and barking into mobiles, like they do every day. So I took the tube up to Hampstead. I remember an old cartoon depicting gents with handlebar moustaches and ladies in thick bloomers tobogganing (we don't use this word often enough) in Parliament Hill Fields, above the caption "Les Pistes d'Hampstead". I wanted to find out if these legendary pistes still exist. A voice on the tube PA announced: "Due to adverse weather conditions [I think she meant snow, which is not adverse to my borderline hysterical sensibility] there will be delays on the Northern Line." Nobody on the platform batted an eyelid, except for one guy who said: "Delays on the Northern Line, eh. How very unusual". A ripple of giggles passed down the platform. At Hampstead, the lift that took us from the stygian depths to the winter wonderland was filled with giggling students. Everyone was jaunty, striking up conversations with strangers.

As I walked towards Hampstead Heath, I heard whoops and cheers. The heath was like Narnia (though with none of CS Lewis's unwonted Christian allegorising). My God, I told myself as I walked through a heavenly avenue with snow-laden branches bejewelling my steps, this is the most beautiful city in the world! (I was delirious, high on pheromones, snow bonkers, and in need of a good slap).

I stand on Kite Hill, looking across the London panorama below and remember the ending of Joyce's The Dead. "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." My soul was swooning (there, I admit it) yesterday as I stood and saw the snow falling, not on Joyce's Ireland, but on dirty old London, reborn as a thing of beauty. It was snowing from Epping Forest to Heathrow, Upminster to Uxbridge, on duke and dustman in a way that it hasn't for ages and probably won't for a good while. Savour it, I told myself."

I think my favourite line has to be "in a Karen-Carpenter-meets-Immanuel-Kant kind of way" :-)

you'll not guess who this is ...

... unless you already know! Who do you think this is?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dina Vierny RIP

Many's the time that I have had inexplicable yearnings to caress the female figures of Aristide Maillol. And a few years later I finally came out. This week I read of the death of Dina Vierny, and discovered that she was a model for Maillol. The Times says:

"Dina Vierny was born in the Moldovan capital Chisinau in 1919, and she fled Stalin’s Soviet Union for Paris with her Jewish family in 1925. She was 15 when, as the story goes, she was spotted by a family friend at a party. “I have met a girl who is a living Maillol.” he reported to the sculptor. “You must meet her.”

So began a ten-year collaboration between the schoolgirl and the artist, who was then 73; it ended with Maillol’s death in a car crash in 1944. Vierny’s presence, energy and enthusiasm helped to revive Maillol’s career, which at the time was on hold, and even inspired him to go back to painting, an activity that he had long since abandoned."

How soon can we return to a time when the zaftig woman is considered a beauty? The rest of Dina's story is here.

For New Yorkers Past and Present

A blog today in the NY Times has these wonderful pictures of Lego blocks used to evoke memories of NY by a gentleman currently living in Berlin. Many more examples may be found here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What do these films have in common?

Gone With the Wind
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Destry Rides Again
The Wizard of Oz
Wuthering Heights
Mr Smith Goes to Washington
Gunga Din
The Lady Vanishes
The Women
Goodbye Mr Chips
Beau Geste
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
Bachelor Mother
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Rules of the Game
Babes in Arms

Well, I have seen them all. Some of them are rather good :-) Many of them have excellent roles for women. The thing is ... they were all made in the same year. And I only mentioned 18 ... there were more:

Dark Victory
Only Angels have Wings
Le Jour Se Leve
Of Mice and Men
The Four Feathers
Drums Along the Mohawk
The Old Maid
The Man in the Iron Mask
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
The Roaring Twenties

Maybe these 30 or so films were the best of that year - I am sure there were a few I forgot. It just blows my mind that so many classics all happened in the one year. Not to mention Bette Davis, who was in at least 4 of them.

While some of them were action movies, most of them were black and white, and there was little location shooting. Some were original scripts, some were from plays or books, some were historical fiction. I suppose they cost a lot in their day (e.g. GWTW), but there were no computer-generated special effects et al. So why do they endure?

Maybe I am just being nostalgic for what seems a better time. This would be quite stupid of me, considering what was happening in the world at that time. On the other hand, it was precisely what movies were for in those days - a way of coping with the economic and social problems all around. The protagonists triumph over adversity, whether filibustering in the senate, following a yellow brick road, finding a missing old lady, dancing together, getting the information to the colonel, or putting on a show. The good guys get a happy ending, and the anti-heroes teach us a lesson.

Don't get me wrong, I am usually delighted to see a rom-com with 2 beautiful people (say George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer), set in a great city (say New York with lots of shots of the Chrysler Building). At the beginning they dislike each other intensely, or have some other reason for not getting together. There are a few misunderstandings. The audience roots for them and in the end they reconcile. "Sleepless in Seattle is a good example. Almost as good as "An Affair to Remember" :-)

I suppose I may find even more escapism in retreating into the past as well as into a romantic comedy. Or maybe I am still waiting to find the contemporary Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Vivian Leigh, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Paulette Goddard, Joan Crawford, Jean Arthur; Cary Grant, James Stewart, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Fred Astaire, David Niven, John Wayne, Robert Donat, Claude Rains and Gary Coopers.

Who knows? Meanwhile, back to 1939 and fond memories of those who have given me so much pleasure through their work.

PS It occurs to me I mentioned only star actors. Directors also, and all the others (although one is far less likely to see the names of women in those lists) could make this post much longer. Can I resist more names? No. George Cukor, Frank Capra, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch Howard Hawks, Garson Kanin, William Wyler and Busby Berkeley come to mind. Ok. Done now.