Saturday, February 9, 2019

Excellent descriptions of the weather in Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

This morning the countryside, through each and all of the big windows, was bright golden in the sunlight. On the sides of a little hill quite close, beyond the railway cutting, grew a thick hazel copse. To-day, with the sun shining through its bare branches, this seemed to be not trees at all, but merely folds of something diaphanous floating along the surface of the hillside – a flock of brown vapours, here dark there light – lit up in the sunshine.

In this Julia Strachey novel, the characters left less of an impression on me than the rooms they live in and the countryside that enfolds them. The descriptions of the weather are fantastic. And no, the weather isn't always cheerful. The wedding isn't cheerful either.

Out in the drive there, standing about round the motor-car, in the furious March gale, everyone felt as though they were being beaten on the back of the head and on the nose with heavy carpets, and having cold steel knives thrust up inside their nostrils, and when they opened their mouths to avoid the pain of this, big wads of iced cotton-wool seemed to be forced against the inside of their throats immediately, so that they choked, and could not draw any breath in.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Week in Seven Words #449

Among the people listening to the outdoor opera broadcasts: a young couple who have chosen seats close to the giant screen and are now eating noisily and whispering, a young boy who is entranced, a panhandler crouched outside of a pharmacy blocks away, the voice of the soprano an eerie reverberation around him.

"It's not a baby," he insists. "It's an action figure." But she doesn't care. Every small human-shaped toy, including Iron Man, is a baby to her.

The cantor is astonishing. His voice is full of hope and poignancy.

The opening scene is entrancing. The green curls in her hair flow into her shimmering gown, as she reclines among the roots of a tree.

We admire the embroidered birds and flowers on robes the color of pomegranates. We peer at the details on peacock feathers and at rivers ghosting across a canvas. The delicacy of blossoms and snow is exquisite. So are the tigers rippling across the golden panels.

At the restaurant, they move her to a different chair, one that isn't in view of the gum ball machine. Another way to distract her is to ask her to sing; her repertoire includes the classics, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

With a sketch book positioned on her thigh, she sits before a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi that depicts Esther and Ahasuerus. The sketch focuses on Esther, who is close to fainting; her body looks as if it's about to come apart in different directions.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Week in Seven Words #448

The fountain looks like a dandelion in a fuzzy state. Instead of sending seeds into the wind, it releases soft white droplets.

From around the corner of the block, through a lobby, to a cramped waiting room, which doesn't have enough chairs, down a roped-off corridor, into an elevator, and finally up to the sanctum, a broad, gleaming chamber with plenty of cushy chairs and bureaucrats forcing smiles from behind the counter.

Low-key, humorous grumbling from people well-acquainted with bureaucratic inefficiencies.

She writes about the end of a friendship but gets frustrated when the words make the relationship and its dissolution sound trivial. She wants whoever is reading it to understand how much it hurt her.

It's supposed to be a discussion group but it has a cultish infomercial feel to it where everyone is relentlessly bright and empty-eyed.

Her resting face gives the impression of boredom, but her thoughts are energetic, and if you talk to her about an interesting topic, she becomes animated, her eyes brighter and a smile ready to flicker to life.

Just when I'm thinking the street is bland, full of the dull mirrors of office building glass, I spot an enormous church with a dome.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Some Notes on Network (1976), the Dark Look at TV "News"

Title: Network (1976)
Director: Sidney Lumet
Language: English
Rating: R (for language mostly)

For years, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) was a respected, level-headed figure in TV news, but he’s about to get laid-off for poor ratings. After he has an on-air breakdown, one of the network executives, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), sees the ratings potentials of keeping him on. She convinces Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), a hatchet man for the corporation that bought the network, to push for the Howard Beale Show, which turns into a major success.

This is a funny and dark movie that can be painful to watch because so much of our current culture is in it, even though the movie was made in the 1970s. The Internet and other mass media are basically Network on steroids. Some thoughts on the film:

Friday, January 25, 2019

Week in Seven Words #447

She says there's something about me that draws people in a way that makes them want to talk, share their thoughts, and ask questions.

"It's going to take more than one try," I tell the nurse who's about to draw blood. "No it won't," she says with a little smile. And she's right. For the first time I can remember, I'm not poked multiple times; she manages to find the vein in my arm and draw blood in one attempt. "This is amazing," I say, and she reveals her secret: she had spent 10 years working with babies. My skittish adult veins are no match for her skill.

Being peered at like this feels strange. It's an annual checkup, so it's expected, but it's still unsettling to get inspected from scalp to toes (where a mild subungual hematoma stains one nail).

It's a short walk, maybe a mile or two, but it takes longer than expected. There are different conditions to negotiate, such as where to walk so the sun isn't always in my eyes, what to do about impatient, aggressive drivers who are blocking the crosswalks, and where to turn when the pedestrians' route is a thread through construction chaos.

In the middle of the aisle, a girl in a glossy pink skirt hugs a girl with golden ringlets.

The thunderstorm sounds like a throat being violently cleared.

They say they listen well, but keep interrupting the young man and telling him they don't understand him. Even as he tries to explain, they cut him off. When he trails back to his chair, they tell him they appreciate his contributions to the discussion.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Week in Seven Words #446

The waterfall reminds me of a rich lather, soap washing away from a crystalline dish.

A few of us settle at a picnic table. The trees cast large, blotchy shadows. I eat some nuts and dark chocolate. Although we don't have a lot of time to linger in the park, we don't feel rushed.

There's an almost perfect stillness to the water. It bears the imprint of the sky, the clouds, and the hillocks covered in dark green trees.

We trudge along the slick dirt trail, our breaths heavy, our bodies sluggish, and talk about automation and AI, the functions that sophisticated machines will take over.

A deer and her children bound past us, the leaves crackling with their energy. A few seconds later, the leaves are still. The forest is quiet, as if we had only imagined them passing.

We're city-dwellers in a small town on a Sunday afternoon, stunned at how many stores and restaurants are closed.

I find out, after the fact, that he had to go to the hospital. Everything turns out well, but it's still disturbing that I didn't know. I was working, sleeping, going about my routine as usual.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Three Short Stories About Revenge

Title: Casting the Runes
Author: M.R. James (Montague Rhodes James)
Where I Read It: The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

This is an entertaining, creepy, and fairly straightforward story about revenge after academic rejection. A scholar turns down a paper about alchemy and subsequently gets marked for death by the paper's author, a deeply unpleasant man named Mr. Karswell. Karswell enjoys toying with his victim and encouraging dread and despair. (At one point, the victim, reaching for a watch, instead touches "a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and... not the mouth of a human being." I like that – we don't know what mouth it is, but it definitely isn't a human mouth.)

Title: The Method
Author: Janet Fitch
Where I Read It: Los Angeles Noir

"The Method" has a well-written first-person narrator, Holly, who's a struggling actress. She meets a charismatic older guy who becomes her lover and also wants her to gain access to the decrepit mansion of an old actress. The reason he gives her is that some of older woman's possessions are valuable as memorabilia. But the story takes a darker turn, as the narrator realizes certain things about her new lover and the old actress. I liked the details about the mansion, and the way the story evokes the feeling of being faded and used up. A kind of solidarity develops between the two women, and the ending is intense and grim.

Title: The Victim
Author: P.D. James (Phyllis Dorothy James)
Where I Read It: Sleep No More

A man kills his ex-wife's second husband. I especially liked the descriptions of the route the murderer takes to commit his crime and the griminess of the home he lives in. The story is a good study of obsessiveness; obsessive people can be readily manipulated, especially if they're lovelorn.