Saturday, December 29, 2007

Meant for Each Other, a story by Barry Yourgrau

You make a date through the Internet. You meet the girl for the first time at a sake bar. She gulps down a whole bottle of sake by herself. “Okay,” you think. “I guess we know what sort of problem she has. But man, is she cute.”

After two more bottles, the girl falls asleep on her bar stool. “That’s our sweetheart,” grins the bartender, shaking his head at the girl’s snores.

“You mean you know her?” you inquire, uneasily.

“Sure, she’s here every night, with a different guy,” says the bartender. “Whoopee, whoopee.” He winks.

“Really,” you reply. You eye the unconscious girl slumped headfirst on the bar counter. And you decide no matter how cute she is, this first date will also be the last,thank you very much.

And this is how you two meet, you and the love of your life. Four months later you get married and move into a lovely apartment together, where you start to raise a large and happy family.

How you get from point A to point B is a long, complicated, heart-warming, and in many ways wonderfully unbelievable story. But alas it requires someone with far greater narrative powers than mine to properly relate.

Luna Park

... just discovered Luna Park, the Carnival World of Little and Literary Magazines. Wonderful.

from Thomas Goltz, in Baku, Azerbaijan, a Yule-Tide Epistle

Dear Friends,

Last night, I called an old actor pal out of sense of obligation and perhaps to have a 5 PM beer. No can do sez he, as he is performing. What's on? asks I.
'I am playing B---. Be at the Drama Theater at 7 if you want.'
It really did not make much difference what he meant by playing B---, because I realized that I had never see him perform live, and that I had never been in the Drama Theater in the years I have been associated with Az: it was always closed or under repair or I had not time or interest to see Chekov in Azerbaijani. As for Rafiq, I have seen him in films dating back to the late Soviet period, but nothing recent. He is a character actor, and often got stuck playing the role of Armenians; he says he tries to humanize the roles. Accordingly, I assumed the production he had invited me to was going to be something along those lines, and perhaps even a comedy.
Anyway, I drifted back to my crash-pad through heavy traffic, feeling increasingly woozy and not a little irritated that I am sort of stuck in Baku again due to a ticket glitch, and sort of forced to stomach the rampant materialism that the oil boom is bringing to this place: the hideous new buildings, the rows of boutiques and car show-rooms, jewelry stores and such. So I lie down for a cat nap that doesn't kick in, and watch the clock creep forward from five to six and then six thirty and I am about to blow off the entire go-to-the-theater thing because I really am working on two dead cyllinders, but say to myself that it is either now or never and Rafiq is an old friend. So I force myself up, throw down some cold coffee and get out the door to make my way through the traffic-clogged, cold and dirty streets over to the theater, wondering how I can get a ticket at 5 minutes to 7 o'clock and curtain time. At the door, I notice lots of folks all dolled up in near tuxes and heels and much fur, and when the attendant at the door asks who I am I say I am a pal of Rafiq's and suddenly he pushes a comp or something like a program in my hand, and I am sort of whisked up stairs toward row 2 and seat 11, stopped briefly by someone who sees that I am still wearing my coat and told I cannot entire when my old pal the minister of culture appears and I say hello while taking off my coat and then I am inside and in my seat and I realize that this is no ordinary show. It is the 125th birthday celebration of Javit Hussein, a famed Azerbaijani poet and dramaturgue of whom I have some information but whom I have never really read or studied, aside from the general sort of knowledge that one picks up from friends and the occassional article about Azerbaijanis who were repressed by Stalin. The stage doesn't tell me much about anything; the set is minimalist; dark and sort of made up of black boards with names on them. An idiot would recognize that these represent Javit's main works: Mother; Satan/Iblis; Teymur The Gimp/Lame; Sheikh Senan. I have read none of them. Curtain up, as it were, and the show starts with a speech by the deputy Prime Minister, who in effect fills me in on some life detail, including the curious fact that my old pal the late great semi-dictator Heydar Aliyev was the one who managed to convince the Kremlin to allow Javit's remains to be brought back from obscurity in Siberia and re-interred in his native Naxjivan in 1982 on the 100th anniversary of the writer's birth. Usually, deputy prime ministers fawn and fumble for words when evoking Heydar, but this speech is actually straight to the point--namely, that the 25 years bracketing Javit's return and tonight's jubilee have been a time of huge transformation in Azerbaijan. Polite applause, followed by a short video clip about Javit's life, repression and death, and then finally, show time.
The actors seem to stumble a little bit, and Rafiq is nowhere to be seen. I worry that I will fall asleep; my Azerbaijani is good, but this is all literary stuff and a lot more difficult to follow than conversation over a bottle of vodka. Indeed, what I am listening to is elegant Azerbaijani, prose and poetry. And step by step the production improves, while I get drawn in as the main theme emerges: the repression of Javit by enthusiastic new communists, who sling accusations at him of Pan-turanism, pan-Islamism, elitism, bourgeoism and a general neglect for The Revolution and The Toiling Masses, and take apart every one of his master pieces after segments of same are performed. Timur the Gimp (Tamurlane) and his showdown with the Ottoman Sultan Yildirim Beyazit, which splits the Turkic world; Sheikh Senan being forced to drink wine, wear a cross and commit to herd pigs; a weird and wonderful whirling dervish set piece with the national mughamist treasure Alim Qasimov making a sneak vocal appearance, all deliciously staged and clean and closing with the re-appearance of the crowd, mocking and taunting the actor playing Javit the old man before his repression. And then, a booming voice from one of the ornate private balconies nearest the stage, and the crowd turns its adultation and applause on---Rafiq, playing the Stalin/Beria era Boshevik 'baron' of Baku, Comrade Bagirov. The only thing I can say is that he was very, very good--a real professional, and that I felt honored to be his friend. And as for the rest of the production, everything is finally meshing, as state artist after state artist appears to play certain 'classic' roles, culminating in Iblis, or Satan, who lures a youth into a duel with a pal (or brother?) over a gal. Boom boom; regrets; curtain down. Standing ovation--and yours truly stumbles out of the show he almost did not go to, stunned by it all--and even more so when I got back stage to shake Rafiq's hand, only to learn that this was a one-time only performance (whence the initial stumbling at curtain-up?) that I had almost missed. And more.
Reflecting on it all, amazing to witness of the re-birth of Dramatic Theater in post-Soviet Azerbaijan.
Happy New Year to all


Update: related here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Showdown with Iran"

If you missed its broadcast on PBS, or the screening at the Frontline Correspondents Club in London, you can still see the superb documentary SHOWDOWN WITH IRAN, online here.

It's written, directed, and produced by Greg Barker, maker of PBS's acclaimed feature documentary "Ghosts of Rwanda."

Hang in there Chumley's

Chumley's may back. Or WILL be, we read...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

... and NOW more than ever

Before he was a business guru, author, and father of "Envirobabe" Nora M., Michael Maccoby devised and led the #1 college prank of the 20th Century as ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1953, Maccoby, then President of the Harvard Crimson, with the help of fellow staffers David Halberstam and George Abrams, stole the sacred stone Ibis from atop the building of its rival The Lampoon, the Harvard humor magazine know for ITS pranks. In tit-for-tat retaliation, the Lampoon, led by its then-president John Updike, kidnapped Maccoby. Two days later, at a proposed exchange on a bridge spanning the Charles (it was the height of the Cold war, after all), the Crimsonians did a double-cross and drove off with both Maccoby and the Ibis, heading south, with Updike and company in hot pursuit. Arriving in New York, the Crimson trio quickly organized a press conference and announced that in honor of John Reed, a former Lampoon President turned lefty journalist and the only American buried in Red Square, Harvard was donating the treasured Ibis to the Moscow State University. Newspapers splashed the story next day, with page one of the New York Times proclaiming: "Harvard gives Soviets the Bird.”
Today Maccoby publishes his tenth book, THE LEADERS WE NEED. And now more than ever...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rugby Widow by Janine di Giovanni

We are now down to the final countdown of the World Cup semifinal. This is good news because I have not seen my husband in ten days, and I no longer have a family life.
He disappeared a few weekends ago to go to Wales for the big France-New Zealand match, and has not been seen since. Nor have I spoke to him, because he no longer has a voice. He screamed so hard when France defeated the All Blacks that he bruised his vocal cords. All that night, someone kept phoning me but I kept hanging up because there was nothing but croaking on the other end.
Then I left for New York and he was meant to come back home and take charge of our child. Instead, my three-year old son was found dancing in a suit and tie at a Filipino wedding on the outskirts of Paris with his nanny, Raquel.
“Where is my husband?” I asked Raquel, when I phoned transatlantic ally.
“He said he went to the rugby,” she said.
He did eventually return home, and his voice has returned, huskier and two octaves lower. Now he is spending his early mornings with the French team who are in training at the Stade de France. And he has gotten himself into a total state over Saturday’s match, so bad that he can’t sleep at night with nervous anticipation, and is smoking even more than usual.
France will win, he predicts: “It’s the revenge of 2003 when the bloody Brits beat us,” he says. “I hope we gonna humiliate them.”
Humiliation is the key here. Like a lot of Frenchmen, England is my husband’s nemesis, “Our best enemy,” as he describes them. While he will admit to liking Monty Python or Sting, he often mocks me for my British passport. If he is really annoyed with me, he calls me a “bloody rosbif” – the worse insult he can come up with. If pressed about why he does not like England, he will say: “They drink beer and eat pudding! And they are vicious players.”
But even he admits a soft spot for Johnny Wilkinson, the team captain. The one match I watched, I said: “He’s cute! Doesn’t he look like Prince Harry?”
My husband looked at me with disdain. “What are you talking about? Cute? This is a man, a real man. He’s a fantastic player, a remarkable player.”
Now Wilkinson is his greatest fear, his bête noir. “He’s the key to the match,” he says miserably. “I hope Chabal is going to crush him.”
Chabal is the hairy yet sexy monster on the French team nicknamed “the anaesthesiologist” because everyone he touches gets put to sleep, permanently.
Being totally outside the frame of rugby, I find it hilarious and ironic that France is playing England. It would have been so much easier if it was Argentina or Fiji. But no, playing England means so much is at stake for the French. Their massive egos, for starters. How can they face themselves if the red-faced “rosbifs” win? Will another Hundred Years war begin?
So many Frenchwomen have lost their husbands over this past month, and this weekend it all ends. There’s something anticlimactic to it. But it all could end horribly wrong. On the Air France flight flying back from New York to Paris on Wednesday night, I noticed that nearly every man was reading L’Equipe, the sports newspaper, and all of them were focused on something to do with England. All of the women looked neglected and bored.
“It will be a terrible thing if they win,” whispered the man next to me. “I think that France will not recover.”
After tomorrow, my life returns. I will have a husband again, and gradually his voice will return to normal.
If France wins, he will be in a great mood and I plan on asking him several delicate requests I had put off during the tense rugby period. But if France loses… well, I’ve got a spare Eurostar ticket tucked in my drawer for emergency purposes.
Posted to TMP with author's permission by JSL

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Jasmine Dellal's "Gypsy Caravan"

... a documentary by the heroic Jasmine Dellal (above) opened in London this week. It's the "Buena Vista Social Club" of Gypsy music... See it! And here is the filmmaker Jasmine with her collaborator, the legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles.

Andres Velasco Interview, from Monocle Magazine

Last fall Chilean Finance Minister Andres Velasco garnered attention for actions that sound paradoxical: he purposely slowed the economic growth of his country. It was a fiscal maneuver that embodied the long-term strategic vision that has been his hallmark, both as a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and at the Finance Ministry, where he’s served on and off since 1990.

Velasco was born in 1960, and left with his family in the mid-1970s, for Los Angeles. He later studied at Yale, and at Columbia for his PhD. Since then, he’s consulted for the IMF, the World Bank, and was Chile’s negotiator for the 1995 NAFTA treaty. In his spare time, he wrote a pair of best-selling novels that featured much football and some heartbreak. On a Sunday evening two weeks ago, Velasco and his wife, Consuela Saavedra, the young anchor for Chilean TV’s evening news, invited Monocle to their home. In a quiet neighborhood, the 1960s low-slung modern, built around a greeny courtyard, was furnished with Saarinen pieces, abstract painting, and an undue number of books for such a minimalist environment. Consuela bustled about, preparing for her first workday since maternity leave. For a moment the minister, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, was left holding the baby.

JSL: You were away from Chile for many years, but you returned to work on the campaign for the 1988 plebiscite.

AV: If there’s one day in my life where I thought the things one did could make a difference, it was that day, when the dictatorship conceded that they had lost the plebiscite, and would have to hold elections and leave power. I’d helped with some of the ads, mostly conducting background research, and on the day of the vote, I was assigned to be in charge of the team of poll-watchers for downtown Santiago.

JSL: Odd, the idea of a vote over the future of a dictatorship.

AV: Odder, for non-Chileans, that a dictatorship, when it loses a vote, decides to accept the result. The armed forces recognized that the cost of turning back would be too great. Another reason they accepted it was they knew that the opposition was conducting a parallel count. An ingenious sampling method was designed Edgardo Engel, and election results were reported to an undisclosed location. By 7 pm we had a preliminary count, well before the government.

JSL: And when you knew the results?

AV: At about midnight, a large group of us who’d been involved in the campaign—young student leaders, activists, etc.-- walked together peacefully down the main avenue across the city. By three in the morning it was joyous, particularly for the exiles who’d come home. We couldn't believe that without a single shot being fired, simply through the ballot box, the dictatorship had been defeated. That campaign was successful mostly because it had courage and wit and a lot of creativity.

JSL: What do you mean by creativity?

AV: A group of us came up with a concept for some ads that at the time was very controversial within the opposition. Our idea was not to confront the dictators, but rather to soothe people's fears, whether fears about retaliation, or fears that things would become unhinged. One powerful ad showed a demonstrator running away from a policeman during a street demonstration. The kid trips, and the policeman raises his club, and as he is about to strike him the video freezes, and a circle appears around the fallen demonstrator, then a voice-over says, “This Chilean wants no more violence.” You think that’s the end of the ad, but the interesting turn came next because then another circle appears around the policeman, and the voice-over adds: “This Chilean doesn't want any more violence either.” It made it seem that we were all on the same side. And it worked.

JSL: Could you speak about Pinochet’s legacy?

AV: Pinochet stopped being a factor in Chilean politics long before he died. Associations with the former dictator tend not to be a source of votes. Observers from abroad tended to overemphasize his continued presence, and the shadow of that legacy.

JSL: What do you make of Milton Freedman’s assertion that the effect of a free economy leads generally to the end of centralized control of society?

AV: Let me say first that under no circumstance were the dictatorship or violence necessary. As to your question--economic growth unleashes many forces, some of which make difficult the maintenance of an authoritarian regime, whether of the left or of the right. Marx himself said that capitalism is a revolutionary force. On that score, Marx, unlike on many others, was right.

JSL: You've been in government and academia for years. Are these roles complementary?

AV: Problems recur across time and geographic boundaries, so it helps to know how they’ve been handled. One way to think about Chile is the following: Small country. Very well-endowed with natural resources. Geographically removed from the largest world markets but with good human skills. In that sense, Chile looks somewhat like the Finland of thirty years ago. One should ask: how did Finland develop so quickly? We saw that Finland fostered interchange between business, particularly high tech-business, and academia. That would be one interesting way forward.

JSL: Can a country's natural resources be a curse?

AV: It’s a problem when your economy is held hostage to their price cycles.

JSL: Is this why you’ve adopted policies that sometimes slow economic growth?

AV: Taking account of the effects of commodity cycles has been a key to our policy. When this government came in, we gathered a committee of experts and asked them their best estimate for the long-term price of copper. The average opinion was $1.21 dollars per pound, while at the time the price was approaching $3.5 per pound. From that we constructed our budget, saying if that is long-term price of copper we should spend that and no more. The rest we would save for those years when the price of copper is below its long-term price. That meant that in the course of 2006 we ran a budget surplus. Recently, the price of copper has fallen, from a peak of almost four, to around two and a half dollars today. Traditionally, you would expect that as the price of copper goes down the Chilean economy would be in trouble, but we can look at the future without fear because we have managed to save a good deal of the 2006 windfall. This is a policy that breaks with two centuries of boom and bust cycles.

JSL: This is your so-called counter-cyclic fiscal policy?

AV: That's another way of phrasing it: when your income is high, you save. When your income is low, because the economy is low, because the price of copper is low, you spend more than you would otherwise to move against the cycle. This stabilizes economic activity and provides for an economy that grows more smoothly during economic fluctuations.

JSL: Why have you put the government savings abroad, in dollars, rather than pesos?

AV: These savings belong to all Chileans, and we want diversification to protect them. We tend to save abroad when the price of copper is high because those are times when the Chilean peso buys quite a few dollars. We bring those savings back to Chile at a time when the price of copper is low because then the US dollar would buy quite a few pesos. This also stabilizes our exchange rate and so safeguards our export potential.

JSL: Would Chile consider adopting the Euro as a reserve currency?

AV: The creation of these reserve funds dates back only to January first of this year, so this is a process that is just beginning. We're not limited to investing in dollars, and there is no one reserve currency.

JSL: Please tell me about Chile’s privatized pension scheme.

AV: Chile has long had a pension system where your employer directs ten percent of your paycheck toward your own individual retirement account. This system has worked well for people with regular jobs in the formal labor market, where deposits into your account are made regularly. A large portion of people over 65 are now well-protected for old age. However, the system leaves too many people outside. Also, fees are too high because competition among pension-fund administrators is too low. All this is under a wide-ranging review.

JSL: Would those concerns apply to a similar scheme the US is considering?

AV: Certainly, but the United States faces the issue of a pay-as-you-go system; namely, when demographics change, the number of people getting pensions goes up and the number of people financing those pensions goes down. Something has to be done. US experts disagree on how imminent a threat this is. Should the solution to the US pension problems have an element of private accounts in it? Why not?

JSL: Are free markets inherently destabilizing to developing countries?

AV: The problem with many of the free market reforms in emerging market countries was that they were sometimes not accompanied by fiscal policies that would be stabilizing, or there were instances of capital flows from abroad that were eventually reversed and so turned out to be destabilizing. One of the challenges in running an emerging market is to show that you can follow market-based policies, and at the same time foster a predictable economic environment. That is precisely why policies such as budget rules, the counter-cyclical fiscal strategy, and surplus savings abroad are so important.

JSL: How does one make trade fair?

AV: Chile sees trade as an opportunity not as a threat. We were, under Pinochet, rather closed to world trade. Today, we are one of the most open economies in the world. This shift in policies has meant that our exports have grown tremendously, creating economic growth and jobs. When I first joined government in 1990, I wrote a speech in which I included the prediction that Chilean exports would someday reach fifteen billion dollars. I was told to go back and revise that figure because it was so large as to be incredible. Some fifteen years later Chilean exports have reached sixty billion dollars.

JSL: There’s no controversy in passing free-trade legislation?

AV: It passes unanimously, because it’s paid off.

JSL: Is there a dream policy you’ve wanted to implement?

AV: Not so much a policy, but many of my generation have a vision of what kind of a country we should build. The most important thing was that democracy be reinstated. Since then, the country has become more prosperous, with more mobility and opportunity than ever. That said, in Chile, who your family is still matters too much. The neighborhood in which you grew up still matters too much. The name of the school to which you went still matters too much. Chile should be a place where effort is rewarded, and everyone has a fair chance.

JSL: You're married to a woman powerful in her own right. How do you find that?

AV: When we walk down the street, many more people recognize her than me.

JSL: How did you and Consuela meet?

AV: I was a guest on her television show. She asked me about the economy, inflation and so forth…

JSL: You talked to her about economics… and that worked?

AV: Perhaps not. I didn’t see for a very long time, except on TV.

JSL: Are you working on another novel?

AV: A novelist friend of mine gave me a little moleskine notebook and I’ve recently taken some notes.

JSL: Do you still get to follow football?

AV: I was once a devoted fan of the University of Chile team. My team has not been doing very well recently, and the demands of the job have limited my visits to the stadium.

JSL: But at least Chile’s wine industry is doing well.

AV: Foreign sales in particular have flourished. It’s a good example of how foreign trade, and investment of foreign capital and expertise, can work for the benefit of a local industry.

JSL: We mentioned that you were away from your country for many years…

AV: I was away from the country for many years, because one Friday… August 6, 1976… as I was coming out of a football game at school, someone told me my father had been kidnapped. Chile, then, was a dangerous place. My father was a prominent lawyer and academic, and head of the Social Democratic Party. After the coup, he became very active in the defense of people who’d been arrested. In June of 1976, some foreign delegations were convening in Chile, and he arranged to have a say among them. He and some other lawyers provided the visiting foreign ministers with evidence of killings and torture. This, as you can imagine, caused quite an uproar. Soon after the foreign ministers left, my father was arrested, and taken illegally to Argentina. Argentina, then, under that regime, was not a good place for someone who’d been arrested by the Pinochet government. Somehow, he was smuggled into the Venezuelan embassy, left Argentina on a Venezuelan plane, and eventually made his way to Los Angeles.

JSL: What an awful time. That feels far away.

AV: This is a country with a deeply-rooted tradition of electoral politics. When I was a little boy, on election day, my father would put me on his shoulders and take me to vote. That was part of life here. You go, and even if it's hot, or even if it's cold, you stand in line and you vote. There's been concern recently about why voting has gone down from 95 to more recently 80-something vote, which is still very high. Election day is always a Sunday. The country stops and that’s all you talk about. They’re typically in December, which is early summer here, so the weather's nice, just like today. Some people put on a barbecue, and everyone pulls out their TV, and while you grill your fish, you watch the election results as if it were a sporting event. My father died in 2001, and one of the last things we did together was, when the election came, he said, “Take me to vote.” I wheeled him out, pushed his wheelchair to the school where voting always takes place, and stood outside the booth while he cast his ballot. That's the essence of this country. And that's why it was such a painful shock, at a time when we were the only country in Latin America with a democracy, a country with a democratic tradition stretching back almost two hundred years, to have that taken away… taken away for seventeen years. If you're Chilean that's the one thing that you're allowed to get teary-eyed about.

Interview by James Scott Linville, January 2007. An abbreviated version of this appeared in the debut issue of Monocle magazine.

TMP interview with Consuela Saavedra

Consuela Saavedra is the anchor for the evening news for Chilean public television, and wife of Finance Minister Andres Velasco. At the time of the interview, late January, she was on her last evening of maternity leave following the birth of her second daughter.

JL: Tomorrow you return to work. How long were you away?

CS: We have very long maternity leaves in Chile—eighteen weeks. Six weeks before, and twelve after, standard, and I enjoyed it very much. Until then that I’d thought that maternity leaves were too long, a burden for the system. Having just had one I think it's a very good idea.

JL: Who funds the leaves?

CS: Generally, the public system subsidizes them, up to a certain amount, and then it's up to one’s employer to provide additional subsidies.

JL: Michelle Bachelet has been president for more than a year now. Was it surprising to people for a woman to be elected? Was the country simply ready for that?

CS: It was a very particular phenomenon. She became a massive figure, everybody loved her and everyone was talking about her; but the coalition actually had two women competing for the post. She hadn’t had any traditional political career at all. The other half of the coalition decided to put up another woman to compete to see if they could win too, and the other candidate had been in politics for longer, was more traditional. But the first election of a woman wasn't a process as much as a leap. Perhaps people were tired of traditional politicians.

JL: Remarkable… but not controversial?

CS: Everyone talked about it, but no. Interestingly, to compete with a woman candidate the right-wing parties put up a businessman who was supposedly very in touch with people; in a sense not a traditional political candidate either. That election was a different kind of political theater.

JL: How did you and Andres meet?

CS: We had friends in common but the first time we actually met was on TV during an interview.

JL: Discussing?

CS: Inflation, the price of lettuces and tomatoes. It was an interview about economics for a current events program. He was this newly-appointed Harvard professor, some kind of the golden boy, and I had to talk with him about macroeconomics and microeconomics.

JL: For the benefit of other economists, would a discussion of macroeconomics or microeconomics be a better topic in such a situation?

CS: It wasn’t a date, and we didn’t see each other again for years… but I’d say microeconomics definitely, it’s more fun. That said, Andres’s specialty is macro.

JL: Andres tells me you're more recognized here than he is.

CS: Well, I've been on TV here in Chile since '95. My first job, as anchor, was in 1995 at a new TV station for young people, called Rock and Pop. It was fun, but an economical disaster. All of the people who worked there were very close friends, and all are still in the media, now doing fine. Did Andres not tell you that when he went to the Central Market a while ago, someone did recognize him. The man insisted he’d seen him on a certain soap opera.

JL: Did you ever have a chance to interview Pinochet?

CS: Unfortunately not. I tried very hard.

JL: And you were on maternity leave when he died.

CS: The big story. All those years I covered him. I’d even traveled to London when he was arrested, and covered the extradition trial. It would have actually been illegal for me to go to work during my maternity leave to cover his funeral, so I had to sit still and watch it on TV. Of course, I go back to work tomorrow, and now we’re waiting for Fidel to die. News people, we’re all the time waiting for someone to die.

JL: Chile is doing well. Does that make things less interesting for journalists?

CS: For journalists? We can find stuff everywhere.

JL: Is it fair to say that the better job he and his colleagues in the government do, the more challenging it becomes for you journalists?

CS: Exactly right.

Interview by James Scott Linville

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rugby, Husbands, Paris, etc... by Janine di Giovanni

… a recent missive from TMP's Paris-based friend and correspondent…

A few months ago, my husband came home and calmly announced: "It's the rugby world cup this year so you won't see me for a few months."
Whatever. Rugby, like most sports, means nothing to me. I grew up in a household of four brothers, all athletes, and a father who was a track and field star. I was, and am, a terrible athlete. The worse tennis player, a pathetic ice skater, a mediocre skier, a panting runner.
More important, I hate sports on television. The racket of my brothers crammed in a room watching The Super Bowl left scars. All that testosterone turned me into a bookworm who hid in the kitchen baking cookies with my mother.
There are many reasons men and women are different species, and this is one of them. Why would anyone sit in front of a box watching bulky men kick around a ball when you can read a good book, take a walk or lie in the bath?
And so, it was my karmic fate to marry a man who was the French equivalent of my brothers. There is not an ounce of feminine yin in him, not a touch of metro sexual. And Rugby is the most male of all sports. It is, as one male friend (gay) told me, "American football without padding."
I did not realise how serious my husband was about the rugby until a few weeks after his declaration, when he said he was leaving for New Zealand. He was going to film a mythic group of men called the All Blacks for about three weeks. It had been his dream since he was 12 years old and a budding rugby player in Burgundy. His father took him to Paris to see the All Blacks.
"They are masters," he says in the same reverent voice he talks about the Cohen brother films or the trumpet player Lee Morgan.
We do not have a conventional marriage, or life, for that matter, so I did not complain, and off he went for three weeks. He packed his cameras and left whistling for the airport. I don't think, aside from the day we got married (I like to think) I have ever been so happy.
"Do you understand what this means?" he said. "it's the ALL BLACKS."
What is weird is that my husband is a journalist like me who usually reports foreign affairs and conflicts for a major French television network. He was the Africa correspondent for years and is more at home in a coup d'etat than interviewing rugby stars.
A few months ago, he interviewed Mohammed Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president who is impossible to get an interview with. He called me from Teheran totally blasé.
But the All Blacks, no, that to him was a real score, more important than Iran building a nucelar weapon. Even their name, dark and sinister boggles my mind. My husband shows me a film of them doing something called The Haka. It’s an aggressively fierce dance meant the opposing team. They remind me of the monsters in my son’s book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
It was all so weird that I did not believe Bruno had really gone half way round the world to meet them until he started calling me from Auckland.
When he came back, he had ALL BLACK t-shirts for my son, and him (not for me, I got some kind of Maori necklace) and they sat together like a different breed watching rugby DVDs and hooting. My son is three.
And so, rugby has divided the males and lone female in my household. And I think I am not the only woman experiencing this. The country is engulfed in Rugby fever. At the Galleries Lafayette, the Harrod's of Paris, there is an evening of Rugby dating planned for single fans so no one feels left out.
And every metro stop I passed today had a pink or purple poster with weird 1960s lettering: PARAMOUR DU RUGBY 1987-2007. Paramour du Rugby? For the love of rugby? Where does all this passion come from? WHAT ABOUT ME?
"Rugby," my wise friend Ariane explained to me when I whined. "is the yuppie sport, the more chic sport. Everyone is following it these days because it's cool. Football is for peasants."
My husband confirmed this, sort of. "It is bobo," he said, using the French term for bohemian beaugoise, which I guess is what people in Notting Hill are (and I guess what we are). "but it also has roots in the LAND." He talked about the roots in the Southwest where Basque players are short, dark and bulky. "REAL MEN," he said.
I try to enlighten myself. In bed, I read Suite Francaises, a weepy romantic novel, while he reads the sports pages of Le Journal du Dimanche. He pointed out that there is a new book I might buy, written by a wife of a rugby player called LE PETIT GUIDE DU RUGBY POUR LES FILLES. "It will help you," he said sweetly.
I am not so sure. Still, as each day goes by I watch him transformed by the excitement of the world cup, into a different being. He even told me that Poilane, the famous French bakery on Rue du Cherche Midi, has a bread baked into a rubgy ball and perhaps I should buy one.
Rugby has also brought out a sexist side to him.
"Can I go with you to a rugby match?" I asked when he left to go to meet his film crew for a "rugby meeting."
"No." he said. "it's not a game for little girls."
I would like to point out that I am 5'8", nearly the same size as him. And before we were married, when we were posted on the same reporting assignments, I was always the one who managed to get further to any front line, much to his annoyance. So much for little girls.
But I do have a secret weapon. He's called Sebastian Chabal, aka The Caveman or The Anesthesiologist (because if he touches you, you're down for the count). All over France, neglected World Cup women have fallen in love with him. He plays for the French team and is beautiful, in a scary, Neanderthal kind of way.
"He's a monster," my husband sneered.
Still, I detect jealousy. Perhaps The Caveman has had the desired effect. My husband asked me out on a romantic date tonite, just the two of us, and no rugby in sight.

Janine Di Giovanni is the author of "The Place at the End of the World" and other books. Posted to TMP by JSL

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chateau Maravenne

... near La Londe, at the western end of the Massif des Maures, is Chateau Maravenne. This past August, late one afternoon, I stumbled upon it by chance when we were looking for a room. We'd spent the day near Cabasson at a beach (rustic, with white sand, and half-empty except for families with sandpails and shovels). Afterward, we decided to stay nearby rather than push on, and so we scanned phone book listings. The Chateau, a mile or two north of a light industrial park, was an old manor house, half-renovated, half shambolic, and set among vineyards. More about those vineyards in a moment.

Yes, they had a room, said Luc, a hulking mustachioed Provencal in shorts and flip-flops.

Was there somewhere we could eat?

He squinted and held up a knife... a paring knife. In his other hand was peach, a spiral of peach-skin hanging down from it.

After stowing our bags in a room upstairs, showering, a moment relaxing on the terrace outside our room, we took one of the half dozen tables in the garden. We ordered a bottle of rose, a product of those vines nearby. Fifteen euros and superb. Photo from my phone of that bottle at the end of the meal posted above. The plan offered bread with olive and anchovy spreads, home-made gravlax with creme fraiche, then osso buco Provencal... with local herbs as well as orange peel, and then tarte tatin. Twenty euros.

The next morning, before departure, browsing down among the wine barrels, we saw a farmer fill up a large plastic container from what looked like a gasoline hose in the wall. Two gallons of red to go.

We'd soon be staying with friends in Plascassier, and so bought them a bottle of the Reserve, twelve euros. That evening our copains kindly opened our gift and shared it out. Our host, after the first taste, pulled a face, as if he wished he'd put it back for himself rather than shared it out immediately.

Very good, he said. Yes, very good.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Retribution by Nicole Burdette


He turned around like Orpheus and fire was everywhere

I can’t remain here he said
Clumsy and hell-bent
He gave her chocolates wrapped in white
And paced in small spaces

It’s a tough racquet – confessing
As a wolf rises in the heart
He won’t escape his father’s sins this time around
Or his brother’s

Walking down hereditary roads reluctant and slow
It’s an incandescence that only blood knows
Distant like he was for all his success and sorrow
He closes his eyes, with their white Irises
There’s hardly a soul left in eyes that blue

He swears he’ll put his hand in the fire for her
He reads the Greeks define truth
As ”what is not forgotten”
And listens to what’s false

Like twigs broken on a trail
A voice distracts him
He says good-bye and - looks back
As the fog lowers on the other side of the world
Plunged into the water, down fast – helpless, lightless
Down an isle of cypress

Trailed by the furies, who so loudly follow him
He begs them to remember;
“I once led sailors to their destination safely
I drown out the temptation of sirens
I knew the seas”

Now across the ocean that reaches far east
He walks across this eternal prairie
And remembers the fruits of the desert; apricots, roses and peaches
And riding in an elevator in Monterey
A dove-drawn picture flooded with memory and cunning desire


At home visitors come home in from the rain
He’s praying for Dutch courage
Standing under a stoic flag
Why is his devotion so numb?

He remembers the night she sent him into a storm
These supposed Eden’s ride like waves under him
Captured by lust and bedeviled by simpatico
He finds he can not hide this anymore than a fugitive
Can hide himself

The scene changes again
Further down – past the volcano
Are oxcarts and dirty, closed gates
The crowds have had the romance beaten out of them
They mill on the cobblestones
Plaintive and damaged

It was never a question of character
He’d always find what was distinguished in what other people overlooked
But this cloud that hovered tonight, boy
Was surely the shadow of the world
The royal palms and bent coconut palms swung and snapped
Only the paper weights – whose use had seemed minimal
Before, decorative at best
now saved all he had left

He usually picked words
And saved them for another time
Words like ambrosia or deterred
At a loss of words so often
He found it best to do the other thing
And chips fall where they may

Like the genetic creasing of a Stetson hat
Dirty and trampled on – a gift from a relative
Then there’s words again
The ones he’d actually put down
And ones he spoke
He even spoke her words sometimes
It was getting hard to know the difference


Old letters just left
To love like that, sloppy, and have it spill over –
To divulge like that and vanish
Letters, in a box, in a closet, in an attic, in the sky
He didn’t like to be buried like that

The forest was not far off but full of erotic suspicion
Better to watch the towering abandonment of the surf
As it piles up on the beach
It’s been a pilgrimage (defined in 1750 as)
A ‘confused voyage of devotion’

He’d not have altitude sickness this time
He’d grown used to the heights
And surrendered to the falls
He knew humanity could not be objective
And that he had survived the waste
And extravagance of his own tolerance

After a lifetime of black dogs – retribution came
Like an obedient rebel
Even the scholar of fainting American meadows
is witness

He stands behind a heavy door
The wild honeysuckle perfume is potent
It drowns out the mixture of passionflowers and orchids
Even the hummingbirds from Brazil
Or the hours in the afternoon playing chess
Against his infant thoughts of locusts and mulberries
Behind the grove of oak and beeches
He’s living a noble lie; the nobility of impulse
Which was always as chaotic as the void surrounding him

His Olympian detachment –
His crudeness worthy of a turbulent sky
He’d have to exercise courtliness to understand savagery
He had loved
Out there among the Dutch elms and mango trees of exile
He knew, as Einstein said, that
“The moon exists even if no one is watching it”

Posted with the author's permission

Saturday, June 30, 2007

On sad suburban afternoons of autumn by Reginald Gibbons

On sad suburban afternoons of autumn,
the piercings, leather and tattoos that bought
these bungalows from mixing bowls and golf
barbeque and drink beer, watch football, eat,
laugh like ponies--everything has changed
and not a lot except which music blares
through the meat-scented smoke and streaks of sun.
Big motorcyles drip dark staining oil
where Oldsmobiles once waited between breakdowns.
Slightly aslant on windows are the self-
adhesive souvenirs of stadium concerts
by rockers getting osteoporosis;
T-shirts advertise five-pointed leaves;
kids are neglected in the age-old ways,
unkempt and shrieking as they run--or older,
buy their own weed, sneak drinks, ditch school and fuck.
In front yards, back yards, alleys and dead ends
may all these signs convince the distant gods--
or Fate, or The Fates, an absent "G-d," a Christ
somewhere or other, not right here, an Allah
with gnashing prophets, or a great magician,
or the chance events that can destroy a life--
that there's no need to bring down any more
than customary miseries and brief
illusions of good luck on such old, young,
different, same, frail creatures of a day.

first appeared in Ontario Review #62
posted with author's permission

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gypsy Caravan

... a doc by the heroic Jasmine Dellal opens Friday. It's the "Buena Vista Social Club" of Gypsy music...

Green's Catullus

... sounds almost like Frank O'Hara. Prompted by TMP, Jeannie Vanasco writes us:

"His Catullus feels less like it belongs to Green, a distinguished
professor emeritus of classics, and more to some smart sexed-up
barhop, as it should. I have heard (and seen!) that classicists are
the wildest bunch. One classicist I know--an OLD classicist, who shall
remain nameless--drank absinthe on the rocks by Lake Michigan then
stripped and started quoting the most vulgar Catullus to me. I didn't
know what to do! Guy Davenport also has a fantastic intro to Anne
Carson's "Glass, Irony, and God" in which he mentions some classicist
who swam laps naked in the college pool every day before teaching (or
some such detail--poor Carson's packed in a flap-lock box in NY and
I'm in cow town)."

6 by Catullus, translated by Peter Green

Flavius, that sweetie of yours (Catullus speaking)
must be totally inelegant and unsmart-
you couldn't keep quiet otherwise, you'd tell me.
Fact is, it's just some commonplace consumptive
tart you're mad for, and you blush to say so.
Look, your nights aren't solitary: silence
won't help out when your own bedroom shouts it--
stinking Syrian perfume, all those garlands,
both your pillows, on each side of the bed, all
rumpled, and the gimcrack bedstead shaken
into sharp creaking, loud perambulation!
It's no good, no good at all, your saying
nothing. Why? You wouldn't look so fucked out
if you weren't up to some inept adventure.
So, whatever you've got there, nice or awful,
tell us! I'm after you, man, and your lovebird,
want to ensky you both in witty poems.

sent to TMP by Jeannie Vanasco, posted with permission of the translator

Liz Smith, poet, on the Sopranos finale

"There they sat in a restaurant, four not terribly bright, craven, greedy, clueless, messed-up people--one a violent killer--pondering the possibility of manicotti."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Comedy is Hard...

... and perhaps undervalued? Julian Gough makes an argument in Prospect magazine that this is why contemporary novels are less fun. The Greeks thought comedy (the gods' view of life) was superior to tragedy (the merely human). As for me, I'll throw my lot in with us humans.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Caleb Carr: "Life in the Double Lightning Bolts"

TMP received this note from occasional contributor Caleb Carr, in response to Gunter Grass’s wartime memoir, excerpted in this week’s “New Yorker” magazine. He writes:

It bears repeating that the unit Grass joined, 10th SS Panzer, was one of the most vicious at that time, responsible for some of the most serious war crimes at the end of the conflict. There's almost no way that he could himself have played no part in those crimes. Important mostly because of what it tells us about so much of the elder German intellectual leadership today, and the underpinnings of its anti-U.S. moral posturing.

First, as to the facts of Grass' case: 10th SS Panzer Division and its sister, the 9th, were called into being toward the end of the war as prime examples of desperation units. The average age of their troops was reportedly eighteen, but it was well-known that many were a good deal younger, and some were quite a bit older. Their first task, significantly, was to try to plug the proliferating leaks on the Eastern front. Now, a word about the Eastern front: Especially toward the end of the war, the German practice of shipping all "undesirables," i.e. nearly all indigenous peoples and certainly all Jews, gypsies, Poles, and anyone displaying personal "imperfections" back to Germany for slave labor was increasingly giving way to the practice of executing such people in larger and larger numbers on the spot. As Anthony Beevor makes irrefutably clear in his masterful study of "Stalingrad," there was NO German soldier -- regular army, SS, Waffen SS, whatever -- who did not or could not know about all these programs, no matter how hard he tried, and no German officer who did not know of the details. Therefore, to assert that Grass could have been involved in action on the Eastern front, especially in a Waffen SS division, yet simply have been a dutiful soldier ignorant of what was going on around him... It doesn't work. You would have a much harder time making that case for someone working in Abu Ghraib and not knowing what Lynndie England and her boyfriend(s) were up to; and, as some of you have so indignantly pointed out, that case can't be made, either.

But let's say that Grass joined 10th SS Panzer later, after it returned to Germany; it was then involved in the follow-up offensive to the Battle of the Bulge, "Nordwind," during which it came under the PERSONAL command of Heinrich Himmler. If anyone is in any doubt as to what that means in practical terms, let's just say that on at least one occasion a surrounded American armored unit was driven to any and every extreme to avoid massacre -- the same kind of massacre that Waffen SS troops had committed at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. No one familiar with the Waffen SS will be surprised by any of this; it is only the worst kind of Nazi freaks and biker morons that keep the imagery and "romance" of the fighting arm of Himmler's private army alive; for the rest of us, the mere fact that Grass chose to join ANY unit of the Waffen SS is sufficient to nullify any social commentary he may have chosen to make during the rest of his life, UNLESS he had chosen to admit his past FIRST.

An entire generation of now-senior German intellectuals have, to a very large extent, ignored their own history (whether during the war or after it, when their mistreatment of Muslims created the problems that Europe is now faced with) while focusing on every misdeed of the United. In truth, the German intelligentsia since the war, as Grass has revealed, have practiced the same techniques that their nation perfected before and during the war.

-- C.C.

Garden of Eden, in Alicante, Spain

... as recounted variously, a link to come, "Garden of Eden" begins shooting next week in Alicante, Spain. Huzzah. John Irvin directing, handsome Jack Huston as David Bourne, Caterina Murino as Marita, and Mena Suvari as Catherine. As far as I'm concerned Mena Suvari can do anything and anything and anything.

Garden of Eden, found in Alicante, Spain

Production of film adaptation of Hemingway's "Garden of Eden" begins next Monday,in Alicante, Spain. As recounted variously last week, posts to come, John Irvin directing Jack Huston, Mena Suvari, Caterina Murino, Carmen Maura, Matthew Modine...

Series #22 (white) by Page Starzinger

Oil and gesso on canvas Robert Ryman, 2004


As if it were still the 17th century, when conscious
just entered the English language, meaning secret and shameful:


the whitewash of brushstrokes over black. It was like erasing
to put white over it, Ryman says, but gives no hint of what—


everything we have words for is dead.
No wonder, Nietzche said, I forget; so it repeats, like a series


of couplets: In Hebrew darkness is not unrelated to childlessness.
Being 47, unmarried, without children and in love with men who don’t


is not a choice. It’s a compulsion. Last night I dreamt that I was a little
dressed in white, running behind a boy, down a dirt road,


searching for a home, and because we couldn’t tell which was best
we stopped at any house. It was owned by a blind man.


In Jane Eyre, it is after Rochester is blind in a fire that burns his house
to the ground
that he is finally free to marry Jane. And in the paintings,


what is present is what matters. And what is present
is not white paint, but paint that reflects white,


a lightwave, a stream of minute packets of energy photons.

first appeared in Colorado Review, Spring 2007
republished with author's permission. posted to TMP by Jeannie Vanasco

a peek back at Avenue A

This post has been moved to HERE.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Caleb Carr on Bernard Lewis's "Was Osama Right?"

Caleb Carr sent TMP this missive responding Bernard Lewis's "Was Osama Right?" in last week's Wall Street Journal:

Lewis's piece is, unfortunately, a further demonstration that he has lost the laser-sighting he had before, during, and after 9/11; and he's lost it, as have so many, because of a genuine, deep, and almost unbelievable unwillingness to comprehend the complexity and importance of Iraqi Shi'ite politics.

But first off, the piece is an extraordinarily narrow view of the problem, in terms of American society. It is true that the American reaction to the Al Qaeda threat has not yet been deep or broad enough; but that has nothing to do with any inherent weakness on the part of the American people. As I'm often told by people in my impoverished corner of upstate New York State, which gives more than its fair share of troops to the cause, the population of America is still ready to be fully mobilized and to pay any price required -- if the reasons behind both can be adequately and respectfully explained by the administration. That's been problem number one since 9/12. In the vacuum left by that absence, the division of America, regionally and economically, as well as between military and non-military classes, has been the principal operating influence: 9/11 hit a narrow slice of America, in all of this categories; and it may well be that it will take a "major event" that kills thousands of Americans from all walks of life to inspire a modern Pearl Harbor-type response -- remember that the sailors and soldiers at Pearl did come from just such a broad cross-section of America, which was why that attack was felt so hard. It appears that AQ is busily preparing just such an event; the Las Vegas New Year's Eve plot (both Richard Clarke and I had already picked Vegas as the city most at risk, during this phase, although that's likely now shifted, obviously).

Whether they can pull it off depends on several things, all in the balance:

1) Will we allow the Iraqi Shi'ites to finally exterminate everyone even disposed to support Al Qaeda in their country, since AQI and their affiliates are the main force of the insurgency now? "Extermination" may sound a strong word; given what their own language toward the Shi'ia is, given their continued propensity toward what is as close to genocide (NOT "execution styled killings") that they can manage, the Sunni and particularly Al Qaeda extremists have earned it. Furthermore, will we finally abandon Maliki's corrupt government for the true Shi'ite power, the Sistani-Hakim axis, and believe that Muqtada's followers are once again pulling back at their bidding?

2) Is all of this activity being coordinated with/by Ryan Crocker, and is he coordinating with Rice's negotiations with Iran? This would seem a no-brainer, but as we have learned, there's no such thing, in this administration.

3) Will Musharraf survive and get the final upper hand on the ISI, or will he get himself killed/leave Pakistan first? And, if the latter, will AQ get their nuclear device from that source (which is a FAR greater and more imminent danger than a nuclear Iran) in the short or the long run? Will NATO not only meet but increase its commitment to Afghanistan, which is at a critical pass (and which only the Brits and the Dutch seem to take in any way seriously)?

These are the questions upon which the struggle depends on, now; not issues of "American weakness." That IS an issue; but one of rather subordinate importance. The American public is in a state of very profound confusion that the anti-war groups and Congress are choosing to read as blanket opposition to the war; yet reactions to Congress indicate that Americans are looking for solutions, not unqualified withdrawal.

- c.c.

Samuel Beckett's only love poem

why not merely the despaired of
occation of

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives
saying again if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love lovethud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words

terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending

I and all the others that will love you
if they love you
unless they love you

Sunday, May 13, 2007

That Sounds like Zombie #1 from THE BRAIN EATERS

Something struck me as eerie about Jonathan Lethem's recent New Yorker short story, "Lucky Alan." The character Sigismund Blondy, when he speaks, sounds an awful lot like Hampton Fancher, the actor ("The Brain Eaters" of 1958, etc...) and screenwriter ("Blade Runner," etc...).

I suspect this is no coincidence.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Moon for the Misbegotten

... the Old Vic's production of "Moon," which premiere I reviewed last fall in London, has transferred to NYC. O'Neill's play is "news that stays news," so I'm reprinting here...

A Moon for the Misbegotten
Old Vic, London

After stumbling badly with a dire production of “Resurrection Blues,” and closing the theater for the summer, Kevin Spacey and the Old Vic have returned with a magnificent, powerful production of a touchstone of American theater--Eugene O’Neill’s last play, “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” The play, intimate and accessible yet three hours long, is all too little seen (its last major production was more than twenty years ago). Critically it’s been overshadowed by the playwright’s towering masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” to which it serves as a kind of coda. This production, in the hands of artists most devoted to O’Neill--Spacey, the shatteringly-talented and earthy actress Eve Best, and Howard Davies directing--is simply a triumph. These hours at Old Vic were among the shortest I’ve spent in the theater.
Josie Hogan (Best), a full-figured and “real” woman, with a quick tongue and ruined reputation, lives on a ramshackle Connecticut farm with her ducking-and-diving father Phil Hogan (played by the Irish film and theater star Colm Meaney).
They rent their patch, the only home Josie’s ever known, from Jim, a member of the disintegrating Tyrone family seen in “Long Day’s Journey.” A third-rate actor who long ago buried his dreams, Jim now evades his grief with bourbon at the local hotel and with his mad dashes toward the bright lights in New York.
This is a genre-shifting play, beginning as hard-working Josie takes her pleasure in slapstick pranks at the expense of a local millionaire, her own father, and their friend Jim, who hides his self-loathing under his own good-natured high-jinks. In a mortgage melodrama subplot, Josie’s father, fearing Jim will sell out their homestead, schemes to put one over on him. This plan is knocked sideways, when during Jim and Josie’s long night’s journey… of talking, drinking, and carnal wrestling, and delicate caressing… toward day, and something like love, he reveals to her a searing pain at being unable to love without destroying, as well as his humiliation over a betrayal of his dead mother. Josie has her own, more surprising secret that Jim had already perceived. As Josie and Jim begin reluctantly to expose to each other the terrible pain of living a constant lie, the play transforms during these mesmerizing performances into a display of raw emotion and naked humanity. Miraculously, as the morning dawns, O’Neill, writing with the lightest touch, draws these two back into their own skins, with an air of grace still lingering about the stage. The last words spoken by Spacey’s Jim, and the last words O’Neill was ever to write for the stage, reflect what each has allowed the other to give themselves: “forgiveness and peace.”
Two points might give theater-goers pause… first, the Irish accents of the Hogans, Josie and Phil; in fact, O’Neill had insisted in the play’s first production that Irish actors should play the roles of these characters who would have been recent immigrants. Second, the high-plains-inflected music of Dominic Muldowney, reminiscent of Ry Cooder, sounds very odd for the play’s New England setting.
A deep bow, nonetheless, toward Davies, whose Almeida production of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh first brought Spacey to the London stage, and who directed Best in “Mourning Becomes Electra” at the National, winning her the 2003 Critic’s Circle Best Actor Award. Their performances are likely to be award-winning again.

--James Scott Linville

Sunday, April 29, 2007

April is Poetry Month

Partial Clearance by John Koethe

Barely a week later
I'd returned to myself again.
But where a light perspective of particulars
Used to range under an accommodating blue sky
There were only numb mind tones, thoughts clenched like little fists,
And syllables struggling to release their sense to my imagination.
I tried to get out of myself
But it was like emerging into a maze:
The buildings across the street still looked the same,
But they seemed foreshortened,
Dense, and much closer than I'd ever realized,
As though I'd only seen them previously in a dream.
Why is it supposed to be so important to see things as they actually are?
The sense of life, of what life is like--isn't that
What we're always trying so desperately to say?
And whether we live in between them,
Mirror each other out of thin air, or exist only as reflections
Of everything that isn't ours, we all sense it,
And we want it to last forever.

published with author's permission

Historical Memory, by Kirmen Uribe, translated from the Basque by Elizabeth Macklin

Londres. Brixton auzoa. Eskuot batean hiru japoniar.
Afaria egin dugu. Bihar hegaldia daukat Bilbora.
Te beroaz Bigarren Mundu Gerra hizpide.
Japoniako zaharrek horri buruz ez dute ezer esaten,
kontatu du batek. Are gehiago, eskola-liburuetan
ez da gerrari buruz ia aipamenik agertzen.
Gutxi gorabehera, esaldi bakar hau:
“Bigarren Mundu Gerra
1942-1945 urteetan gertatu zen eta
Hiroshima eta Nagasakiko bonbekin amaitu”.

Hegaldian noa Bilbora.
Txiki-txikiak dira hemendik Bizkaiko etxeak.

London. Brixton. Three Japanese in a squat.
We’ve had supper. Tomorrow I fly to Bilbao.
Over hot tea, speaking of the Second World War:
The old people of Japan tell nothing about it,
one says. What’s more, in the schoolbooks
there’s nearly no mention at all of the war.
Or, more or less, this lone sentence:
“The Second World War
took place between 1942 and 1945 and
ended with the bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”

Now on the flight to Bilbao.
The houses of Vizcaya are minute from here.

published with author's permission

Useful Advice by Carl Dennis

Suppose you sat writing at your desk
Between days, long before dawn,
The only one up in town,
And suddenly saw out the window
A great star float by,
Or heard on the radio sweet voices
From wandering Venus or Neptune,
A little hello from the voids.
Who would believe you in the morning
Unless you'd practiced for years
A convincing style?
So you must learn to labor each day.
Finally a reader may write he's certain
Whatever you've written or will write is true.
Then all you need is the patience to wait
For stars or voices.

posted with the author's permission

Anniversary by Mary Stewart Hammond

Tonight they were bringing my brother up from the deep,
nothing so grand as the sea, merely
a quarry in Georgia, barely
a mile or two wide and flooded
to a depth of 200 feet, no bigger
in the scheme of things
than a soup spoon's bowl,
but it held him, it cradled him,
this place vast as death,
small as life. It reduced him
to a speck in the universe.
The size of him, after all,
was vast and small.
It filled the spoon; it disappeared.

posted with the author's permission

Portrait of Man with a Lily by Linda Bierds

After the miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger

Through the window, winter,
black oxen slumped in the pastures. Someone's whistle,
then the chatter of wagon wheels as, carriage
by carriage, some king or black-eyed queen
bobs through the countryside, outrunning the plague.

In the clouds the ice storms gather. Cold sun
tints the ground to the roan of peaches.
And in a silk tunic, Hans Holbein studies

immaculacy: the dust-free room, the lint-free silk,
his wrists and lye-washed hands. Then he strokes
to the back of a playing card-some king
or flat-eyed queen-a tinted ground.

And waits, powders an eggshell, a peach pit, a stone
from the gall of a black ox. Waits. Sits
at the window, where high on the hillsides

dusk's pandemic wash
darkens the carriages, the clouds that offer
their white petals to the darkening province
of space. Until only a clatter

remains--wagon wheels, ice--as he bends
to the card, outlines in miniature
a swatch of cloak. Then smaller still,
a placid, wide-cheeked, tentative face.
Then smaller still, a lily.

posted with the author's permission

Swans by Henri Cole

From above we must have looked like ordinary

tourists feeding winter swans, though it was

the grit of our father we flung hard

into the green water slapping against the pier,

where we stood soberly watching the ash float

or acquiesce and the swans, mooring themselves

against the little scrolls churned up out of the grave

by a motorboat throbbing in the distance.

What we had in common had been severed

from us. Like an umbrella in sand, I stood

rigidly apart - the wind flashing its needles

in air, the surf heavy, nebulous - remembering

a sunburned boy napping between hairy legs,

yellow jackets hovering over an empty basket.

posted with the author's permission

Elements by Katie Hartsock

The air you breathe freezes
on your beard, rough strands
icicled and gleaming like the trees.
I bring my mouth to your chin
and with my tongue
I eat your breath.
We are walking in an ice land;
Does Iceland’s name mean Iceland in Icelandic?
Who names countries
by what they can’t be sure defines them?
The only hints the island lets slip
as to how hot the earth gets towards her middle
are the geysers, the springs, the steam billowing
like a rumor over the blue snow.
I take your gloved hand in my gloved hand
so that you might open
your warm wet mouth again, say
something you have not been taught.

published with author's permission

Friday, April 6, 2007

Charles Burnett's "The Killer of Sheep"

Last Sunday saw the legendarily unavailable film "The Killer of Sheep" by Charles Burnett. What a wonderful movie. Not much in the way of story, but the film has a gaze that's penetrating yet generous to its characters. One thing I especially loved was the constant stream of oblique glimpses into their lives. Example... filmmakers are always taught to get into a scene quickly without entrances and exits, to begin "in medias res." Burnett, instead, begins one scene with kids in a little handstand competition on their front porch. Clearly they're bored out of their skulls. After a good while of this, the father, coming home from work and in a "mood,' enters the frame, distractedly brushes their hovering feet away from his face, dumping the kids over, and lumbers in the front door. Somehow hilarious, and an entrance invested with so much psychological material. Genius rarely comes so offhand.

See it! Meanwhile, a good broad assessment of the film here, excerpted below:

The legendary South Central film “Killer of Sheep,” will be released for the first time in theaters on its 30th anniversary. The film, now in a beautifully restored 35mm print, will be commercially distributed for the first time.

Directed by Charles Burnett, “Killer of Sheep” examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse. Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a teacup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife to the radio, holding his daughter. The film offers no solutions; it merely presents life -- sometimes hauntingly bleak, sometimes filled with transcendent joy and gentle humor.

“Killer of Sheep” played at a handful of colleges around the United States and in some small European festivals before receiving the Critics' Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1981. In 1990, the Library of Congress declared it a national treasure and placed it among the first 50 films entered in the National Film Registry for its historical significance. In 2002, the National Society of Film Critics also selected the film as one of the 100 Essential Films of all time.

“Killer of Sheep” was shot on location in Watts in a series of weekends on a budget of less than $10,000, most of which was grant money. Finished in 1977 and shown sporadically, its reputation grew and grew until it won a prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival.

Thanks to Selva for calling my attention to that piece, and to Natalie for taking me to the pictures. - JSL

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hang in there Chumley's

Chumley's has taken a shot in its ribs... an interior wall at the onetime speakeasy and literary institution at 86 Bedford has collapsed, and the Fire Department is on the scene (pic below). Let's hope everyone's first NY hangout doesn't get "86'ed."

A comment on notes: "There was a spring-fed stream that runs under the building and has eroded some of the original log base timbers that form part of the foundation. Bedford Street had a stream running down the middle of it back until the '30s. One of the reasons why the people in the community survived cholera outbreaks and stuff like that - they had a fresh water supply. Fiorella LaGuardia paved over everything - every street had to be able to fit a police car."

The shortest stories

Ernest Hemingway once said his best work was a story he wrote in just six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Here, by the likes of DBC Piere and Jeff Eugenides, are some other such flash fictions.

Thanks to the all-knowing Chloe Bass, TMP's L train correspondent, for the referral.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Charles Burnett!

to a screening last night, with French Natalie, of Charles Burnett's "The Killer of Sheep," which oddly this month celebrates is thirtieth anniversary, and its first theatrical release. It'd been in Limbo all that time because of a rights issue, a music rights issue I expect. What a brilliant film... or rather what brilliant filmmaking. More about this later.

The Main Point's L-Train Observer

The Main Point continues to encourage response, especially to posts on foreign affairs, points of history, Chile's counter-cyclical fiscal policy, and 20th century Russian poetry. Also occasionally fashion. Thus this guest post from TMP's friend Chloe Bass, a native New Yorker:

Dear Women of New York,

I was happy when the legging returned to fashion-prominence. In addition to the comfort aspect (leggings vs. tights? No contest), leggings also add a nice touch of 80s funk to any outfit. I'm not ashamed to admit that I miss the 80s (or the bit I saw), and judging by the wild popularity of 80s theme nights at bars and clubs, many of you are with me. I was even happy when leggings got back together with their old best girl, the oversized sweater. Whether paired with sleek boots or the still popular Converse high tops, this style is one I'll let stick. (Although I'll admit I breathed a sigh of relief that the tied-to-the-side t-shirt trend hasn't been widely revived.)

Leggings are wonderful -- they walk the delicious line between under- and over-garment. But ladies, let's not take things too far: leggings aren't pants. Judging by a few recent subway rides on the uber-trendy L train, it seems that many of you have forgotten that distinction. Leggings and a t-shirt? This isn't the gym. Leggings and a short sweater? Don't be ridiculous. I don't care how fit your legs are. You look silly. Even Cat Woman is embarrassed for you.

Keep the legging fresh and sexy: don't overuse it. Embrace the glory of clothing that calls attention to your shape metaphorically, not literally.

Yours everly,
Chloë Bass

Dalrymple celebrated again

Saturday yet another party for William Dalrymple and his deservedly-lauded "The Last Mughal," a chronicle of the Indian uprising of 1857. Dalrymple admitted lamentingly that he had, perhaps, the highest ratio of parties to reviews of any writer he knew. I'd go on but my companion, the anony-blogger Libertylondongirl, details the evening here, and I put together my blog so slowly that I could be scribbling it in my own blood without hurting myself.

Oh, Orhan Pamuk is taller than I'd imagined.

April Fools' Days much less fun when it falls on a Sunday. Long ago my old boss George Plimpton used to present me, come spring, with a new surprising bit of news... about the Japanese marathoner who'd misunderstood and thinking the race was twenty-four DAYS rather than miles, had gone missing from the Boston marathon, later spotted somewhere in northern Massachusetts. And so forth.

It was some years before I knew to watch out for him come April 1st. Once, having learned a few lessons from the master, I had some fun in turning the tables, about which another time. On such a day as today I miss such leg-pulling.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Next Wave, and don't forget to bob

Hannah McGill in today's Guardian shines a spotlight on from where will emerge the next wave of world cinema filmmakers... the successors to Cuaron, Del Toro and Inarritu. Nigeria she maintains.

With Africa having become such a modish backdrop for big-budget English language thrillers - Shooting Dogs, The Constant Gardener, Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Catch a Fire - it seems only fair that wholly indigenous cinema should flourish concurrently. And there's a great deal to discover: we are talking, after all, about hundreds of filmmakers working in 1,000 languages across more than 50 countries. Nigeria's domestic industry alone produces around 1,000 films a year, and ranks as one of the world's most prolific film-producing nations. Established directors such as Dani Kouyaté, from Mali, Abderrahmane Sissako, from Mauritania, and the veteran Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal, are attracting new interest, as emerging names such as Burkina Faso's Fanta Regina Nacro and Mali's Salif Traoré find festival acclaim with fresh titles.

On a facing page, Patrick Goldstein offer developing world filmmakers a cautionary tale.

And the US state department helpfully tells our citizens that scary things can happen abroad in other countries. So stay on your couch and watch those films. No. On second thought, go places and see for yourself.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal

Only March but it's like beach season in NYC. If I were headed to the beach this weekend I'd be taking William Dalrymples's "The Last Mughal," the ambitious and definitive account of the 1857 uprising in Dehli. Just begun, the writing brilliant, a volume of great heft. Even more appropriate for a beach in Kerala.

A Bengali friend in Delhi writes me about the response there to the book:

"The big deal in India was that he claimed that he was the first person to look at all the material sitting in the delhi archives and really use them properly in a book - he was right and of course lots and lots of prickly Indian historians were up in arms. Their objection was that you shouldn't touch an archive unless you could read the stuff yourself, and who was will, just an upstart English travel writer who had got himself a translator. But as he said, not being able to read urdu and old urdu, shouldn't stop you from using the most amazing archival material. And that the problem with Indian historians is that many of them are caught up in these finer matters and thus miss out on the gems of material all around them. That it took an upstart foreigner to uncover some of them... Its hit a huge nerve but whats interesting is that the change this book has made here...people are actually beginning to talk about writing narrative history now which they would have scorned for not being serious enough in the past."

also Paris - Radio Nova

... best radio on the internet...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

London Liberty Girl

... dinner last night with the anony-blogger Londonlibertygirl, the Brit culture reporter masquerading as a NY fashion journalist (her link to the right). Bibimbop at Doksuni in the East Village, then drinks in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel. The BH is very strange... the lobby all Spanish parador, the bar a Highlands pub. Looked fake but was somehow pleasant.

LLG reports: "I wore: denim mini. black leggings, patent ballerines, DKNY black jacket, TSE cashmere sweater. Big silver hoops. Ponytail."

I can confirm all, except the labels.

Janine DiGiovanni: Paris Notebook

Like all my Parisian friends, I’ve been exhausted for years. Our reasons vary from small children to an abundance of mistresses. Indeed one recent study shows that one third of the French population does not sleep enough. According to one psychiatrist, insomnia is “the language of distress.” And this being France, the government has decided to step in.

Earlier this month, Xavier Bertrand, the Health Minister, launched a seven-million-euro campaign to study the link between chronic fatigue and job performance. People should nap more, he says, even during the work day. His view is backed by the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, which says even three naps a week after lunch reduce the chances of dropping dead from a heart attack.

“Why not nap at work?” Bertrand says. “It can’t be taboo.”

Only in France. This is a country that already has a 35-hour work week and plenty of vacation. The French also have a higher absentee rate at work than the British or Americans. So how will imposing a siesta change their laziness?

In the Mediterranean or parts of Central America, the siesta is the norm. It is proven they have lower rates of heart disease. But these are cultures which don’t multi-task, don’t do Blackberries while walking down the street and eating lunch at the same time, and don’t produce Richard Bransons or Warren Buffets.

Years ago, a senior hack at my Wapping office gve me a tip. The nurse’s office had a couch. You could feign a migraine and go to relieve your hangover for five minutes. I did it once, but felt tremendously guilty.

But the French, as my friend Jean-Jacques often tells me, “suffer no guilt.” It’s not that they are shameless - they just have a different code. The right to sleep is linked to the French culture in the same way that food and good wine, good medical care and good schools are.

Workers would be annoyed if they did not get their employer-provided luncheon vouchers. And now workers will be annoyed if they don’t get their naps.

I will never forget the day my husband, who works for a major television network in Paris, took me to his newsroom. Then he showed me a unmarked door down the hall, which opened on to a double bed made up with paper sheets.

The room was “officially” for exhausted reporters pulling all-night shifts. “But unofficially, come on, you know what it’s used for.” He then recounted two graphic stories about reporters and their trainee journalists. “It’s better than using the loo, isn’t it?” he shrugged.

This, I fear, will be the future if M. Bertrand gets his way: government-approved naps and a new vogue for workplace affairs. It will be quite exhausting.

Friday, March 23, 2007

POEM: A Day More Like the Next Than Like the One Before by Mark Bowen

The sun raises itself, tired and unsteady,
into a sky tilting with the insolence
of an uninspired painting. It's a mild day,
the temperature of a gentle acid-trip
as experienced by shy, quietly
self-aggrandizing people. I have always
admired the way they look at me
when they can't think of anything
more to say, the way I admire a sword
for the damage that it can do.

posted to The Main Point, with the author's permission, by the heroic Jeannie Vanasco

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

the Web and Ms. Wurtzel

UPDATED... see conclusion.

This morning I was reading Glenn Reynolds, the sharp and prolific web commentator/aggregator, on his Instapundit site, where he writes:

"ELIZABETH WURTZEL COMMENTS ON AUTOADMIT, something we've all been waiting for. I think her attitude is colored by this savage Jim Treacher parody on her narcissistic reaction to the 9/11 attacks."

Please excuse, but I'm too web-clumsy to link to the piece. Nonetheless, he's right in that Elizabeth Wurtzel's attitude about the web-smearing of her fellow classmates is undoubtedly colored by Treacher's savaging of her; but Reynolds also perhaps demonstrates the very phenomenon EW points to. (An early, unedited version of her piece can be found on this site as a guest-post, from Monday. Disclosure: EW has been a pal going on fifteen years, during which I've enjoyed her talent for always saying or writing something remarkable, remarkable in one way or another.)

Backing up… a few months after the attacks of 9/11 a Toronto journalist gave to a New York tabloid column an account of her interview with Wurtzel in which Wurtzel allegedly was unmoved by the human cost.  Was the Toronto journalist's account of their conversation reliable? Was the NY tabloid columnist's?  I don't know… but after the fact she did protest to the tabloid that she had said no such thing.  Her protests fell on deaf ears.  The Toronto journalist's account proliferated, and presumably led to the aforementioned savaging by Treacher that still lurks in a corner of the web. Wurtzel's  9/11 quotes are a canard that still trail her, as evidenced by Reynolds, even now when as a budding attorney she writes on more substantive matters.

Did she say to the Toronto what she was quoted as saying?   I don't know… but I strongly doubt it. I was actually with Wurtzel for a good portion of September 11th. We met up in the early evening at the friend's apartment where, after being forced from her own apartment, a block and a half from ground zero, she'd taken over the couch.  That day, I myself saw more, and I lost more, than I hope I ever have to again. I had to deliver some sad news, but on the other hand I got to share a beer in the late afternoon with my brother, whom my family had been convinced all day was a goner. Enough said. Elizabeth, on the other hand, saw something that no person should ever have to see. That she’s never written about what she actually saw and, so far as I know, never mentioned it to more than one or two people, including me in the immediate aftermath, I respect. This of course would be a rare instance of her not saying whatever popped into her head. Part of what she said to me that night, in one version or another, over and over, as she wept hysterically for hours was “I can’t think about it. I can’t believe what I just saw. I can’t think about those people. I can only think about my cat. My cat is still in my apartment. I can’t bear to think about those people. I can't think about what I saw, what just happened.” What part of this was trauma and somewhat impersonal, and what part grief sprung from sympathy from those nearby? Let's say it was a mixture. In any case, it was perfectly clear, even to her, that she was trying to hold on to her mind by blocking out an overwhelmingly horrific vision and concentrating on one small living thing in her world. Another close friend, older, was hundreds of miles from where we were that day, and simply following her natural inclination tried in her mind to embrace as much of the experience and feeling as she could. And, soon enough, her circumference expanded around her fairly miserably. A year later she descended for some time into her first ever, and only, bout of mental illness. If a week later Elizabeth, who has since she was a teenager struggled periodically with her own mental illness, was going to travel from being swamped by constantly re-envisioning what she's seen to instead mostly speaking about her cat, I for one was not going to begrudge her.

Did that Canadian reporter report honestly what Elizabeth had said? Quite simply that quote doesn't fit with Elizabeth's experience on the day, nor with the things she was saying to me and other friends at the time of the interview, so I seriously doubt it. And when the Canadian journalist later called a NY tabloid to dish on EW... did she recount their conversation faithfully?  Well, I think she simply wanted a headline and a Page Six mention.

Did Jim Treacher in his savaging of my friend, admit that he himself really had no sense of what she'd said in interview, and knew nothing about the reliability of the Toronto journalist who’d offered his account?  Well, no.  But he read it on the internet from a trusted news source!  But when we come to now that journalist's account does have a kind of authority by virtue of its continued presence on various sites on the web, including Wurtzel's Wikipedia and IMDB entries.

I've long suspected that since Elizabeth is so forthcoming about her own bad behavior that journalists feel the normal rules don’t apply to her. Long ago I took her to a book party where she bumped into a New York Times journalist whom I like very much. On seeing him, she exploded, “How could you have written that! I said nothing like that at all.” Apparently the NYT journalist had quote her in a self-damning way in a Style section article. To my astonishment he actually admitted to her that she was right, and he reluctantly apologized... then reversed himself by adding, “But come on, you’re laughing all the way to the bank.” That ("I lied, but it was to your benefit to get a headline") is not the proper attitude a writer should have toward their subject, even if their subject is another writer, a self-dramatizing one at that.

So, in her essay about people smearing others on the web, Elizabeth has a point. Civility, like history, doesn’t always find its ideal spokesperson.

Updated 15 June 2012 to correct spelling, bad grammar, missing words. 

Also, should be noted that both Jim Treacher and Protein Wisdom have linked to this post, offering it as a caveat to their making fun of Wurtzel.  I still believe they've bought into a libelous distortion, but kudos to them for this.  Lord knows I've seen major newspapers and television networks behaving less responsibly.

Lastly, for people like Wurtzel, whom reporters seem eager to misquote, it is a good idea, as so often said by Glenn Reynolds, to make your own recording of any interview.  That's good advice for political candidates too.

Kurosawa's Stray Dog

Am re-watching Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog (1949) on the excellent Criterion Collection DVD. The mini doc recounts a stir over the opening shot of a dog panting feverishly. The film premiered during the American occupation of Japan, and a busybody American woman associated with the ASPCA accused Kurosawa of having injected the dog with rabies to get that wild-eyed effect. This was in the wake of post-war revelations about "scientific" experiments performed by the Japanese imperial army. Apparently this woman was persistent, obsessed even, and brought suit. Was the one blot on an otherwise happy production.

Of course, to get the shot Kurosawa simply had his team take the dog on a run for a few minutes on a hot day.

"The Juniper Tree" by "Philip Glass"

Trouped last night to Lincoln Center for the New York premiere of a Philip Glass opera, "The Juniper Tree"... or perhaps I should say a "Philip Glass opera" because it was very much a PG-branded work and event, performed by the Collegiate Chorale, conductor Robert Bass. It was, I should say here, the work by Glass I most liked-- based on a tale from the Brothers Grimm (Will never forget the gruesome refrain, repeated ad infinitum: "Mama killed me. Papa ate me"), with an accessible melody, and rear-projection of Maurice Sendak illustrations. Co-author of the music Robert Moran, the librettist Arthur Yorinks. There were Glass's signature arabesques of sound... but well I kept wondering if the catchy tunes that overlaid the swirling background came from his collaborator, but I've since read that the composers alternated scenes in this short two-act piece.

The concert's program notes reveal that Glass studied composition in Paris in the 1960s with Nadia Boulanger and made pocket money transcribing Ravi Shankar's sitar pickings. That explains everything.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Carnival of Mixology II

... and this recipe for piscos sours, from Chile:

"Three parts pisco, one part lemon, a drop of bitter, not very much sugar (powdered), and lots of ice. That's the way Chileans have it. Have it in Peru, it will also have some egg-white in it."

new to me

... last night met friends at Lucky Strike on Grand Street downtown. the bartender, a hipster from Veracruz, Mexico, suggested and made a gosling's dark rum, with a squeeze of lemon, and a splash of pineapple juice. new and delicious and needs a name.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elizabeth Wurtzel: A Web of Trash Talk

Some lawyers-to-be should exercise their right to remain silent.

Monday, March 19, 2007

New Haven, Conn.

It's hard out there for a law student. All the stuff to stumble through on the way to that J.D.: torts, property, contracts, evidence, civil procedure, AutoAdmit.

That last item is a new development: a Web site of postings for law schools prestigious and otherwise, where students blab about whatever. An awful lot of it is about other students, most of it mean-spirited. This is all extremely weird for those of us born before the Carter administration, who tend to assume that scrutiny about breast implants-there was a whole thread of discussion devoted to whether one Ms. J.D.-to-be was silicone-enhanced-is reserved for celebrities. The flat, affectless sexual bravado of the trash-talk on AutoAdmit is also a bit of a shock, coming from allegedly intelligent legal minds.

The AutoAdmitters were happily going about their gossip, yakking away like yentas pinning laundry on the clothesline, until sometime last week. That's when the Washington Post ran a front-page story about some young women here at Yale Law School whose careers-if not their lives-had been ruined by some salacious postings. The descriptions of them-sluts and whores-and the suggestions about what might be done to them-rape and sodomy-were showing up on Google searches of their names, and had prevented at least one of them from securing employment.

Since then, Dean Elena Kagan at Harvard Law School and Dean Harold Koh here at Yale have sent out open letters, condemning the nasty communications. We've had speak-outs and write-ins, organized blue ribbon panels and worn red outfits for solidarity, and there's talk of legal remedies and media campaigns. There've been long soul-searching messages on our own Web site, The Wall, in which at least one person has used the word "nomic."

Mostly, the young women would simply like the offending postings removed from the site. This is not likely to happen. Not because it shouldn't-of course it should. But because once again, for about the 80th time in my memory and for at least the 80,000th time in the life of this country, here is an issue in which the right to free speech-as opposed to the need for everyone to just shut up-is going to overwhelm us all.

Cybertalk is about as governable as Iraq, and the First Amendment allows for most other expression, making the U.S. a very loud place. For every interest group that says it's being silenced, for all the people who think they're not permitted to talk back to power, there are the real rest of us for whom the din is deafening. The firstness of the First Amendment trumps everything that competes with it.

Clever attorneys know this all too well. In a scholarly article, Professor Frederick Schauer of Harvard notes, "lawyers representing clients with claims and causes not necessarily lying within the First Amendment's traditional concerns have reason to add First Amendment arguments, in the hope that doing so will increase the probability of success." This is particularly so if you're going to take your case as high as the Supreme Court, which has struck down rape shield laws and permitted pictures that resemble kiddie porn-in the name of First Amendment freedom. For all Congress's threats to pass a bill banning the burning of the American flag, even Justice Antonin Scalia has voted for the right to set Old Glory ablaze, because the First Amendment guarantees it. Free expression is an issue that everyone can agree on: old-fashioned conservative textualists, because it's in the Constitution, and new-fangled liberal interpreters, because, well, it's in the Constitution. The Federalist Society and the ACLU all believe the same thing: the First Amendment means that anyone can say just about anything.

And really, short of that old chestnut-screaming "Fire!" on the main floor of Bloomingdale's-there's not a whole lot you can't say in public. Including the word "faggot," as we recently found out. Social norms may force you to go to rehab for your stupidity, but the law can't touch you at all. Likewise, save for the defined defamatory, there's not much that cannot be said about you. "Exposure of the self to others in varying degrees is a concomitant of life in a civilized society," opined the Supreme Court in 1967. This was decades before "Cops," in the century before YouTube.

In such a world, what to do about AutoAdmit? To start with, pray for mercy, because based on the content of its postings, the future of jurisprudence does not look good. Having done that, plead for civility. Just because we can say anything, does that mean we must say everything? While I could never advocate censorship, I would certainly ask for sensitivity. We all have to live in this world, all seven billion of us, brushing closer and closer together, and bristling in this claustrophobia. Maybe we ought to be slightly more careful before we say whatever it is we feel compelled to freely express. Maybe we ought to stop, have a hesitation, before pressing the send button.

Because people are delicate. The neighborhood rumormongers of yore could cause enough trouble in a small town, but the World Wide Web is really a mess. It's unpoliced, which demands that we be better people, gentler and more humane. Because if not we will surely all go mad. As it is we are overwhelmed: It never stops, we don't know how to stop it, we wouldn't want to anyway, and then we relish complaining about it.

This is how we live now. Do we want to add random postings about ourselves, our private selves, that aren't even true, into this volatile mix? AutoAdmit for adults?

In the mean time, the three young women here at Yale Law School who've been most harmed by AutoAdmit-beautiful and brilliant all-deserve a way out of this electronic shock.

Posted with the author's permission. An edited version of this appeared in today's WSJ.