Monday, November 28, 2016

Cuba, Che Guevara, and a Point of History Secondhand

Castro’s death has renewed an open, vibrant, and sometimes heated debate about his regime and its treatment of Cuban citizens. Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of the Cold War, much less was known in the U.S.—these were not things the American media dwelled upon. An incident while working at The Paris Review with George Plimpton in the early nineties opened my eyes, especially to Che Guevara’s supervision of the detention of political prisoners at La Cabana prison in Havana.

One day, at the office on East Seventy-Second Street, perusing the catalog of Grove Press’s forthcoming books, I spotted a title about which I’d heard nothing—The Motorcycle Diaries, by Che Guevara, which had been published in Cuba in the sixties but had never appeared in English. It seemed a long shot, but from the description of it as a travelogue with an unusual provenance, I thought a piece from it might be something for the Review.

The manuscript arrived a good six months before publication. The writing was fine, somewhat conventional but well observed...

Continued at The Paris Review Daily, who have just offered to publish this item as a post.  Please read the whole thing HERE.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why Filmmakers Love Morocco

Last month I wrote a travel story for The Spectator Life's summer issue about why filmmakers love Morocco, and where they like to stay when in Marrakech.  Also in that article I elaborate the spark that lit my interest in film-making:

Morocco shares many of the advantages that first drew filmmakers to California: year-round sunshine, diverse landscapes, great old architecture and abundant available extras. Just recently Morocco and Britain signed a treaty giving each other reciprocal tax subsidies for film and television production. And since the UK and Morocco are in the same time zone, they keep the same business hours.

My fascination with film was kindled in the New York editorial offices of a literary magazine, the Paris Review. My then boss, George Plimpton, recounted over lunch one day an adventure he had had long before — one of his stunts in participatory journalism — when he shipped off to Morocco to play a Bedouin extra on the set of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.

He described Lean as a figure in the far distance, a speck at the end of a vast gorge, standing beside a camera and orchestrating the spectacle of a massive Bedouin army on horseback. ‘I’m on screen there somewhere,’ George insisted, ‘though I didn’t get a horse to ride on; mostly I stood around and ululated. Lucky that I was so far out of camera range because beneath those Bedouin robes I was wearing my own brown Bass Weejun loafers.’

The Spectator is the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language, and I was delighted to be included in that special issue.  Read the whole thing HERE.

Top image courtesy of La Mamounia Hotel.

The Courageous Choice of a Suit

Polite Notice to regular readers of TMP:

Some months back I wrote for Conde Nast's "M" Magazine a survey of the Future of Men's Fashion, interviewing sundry figures, including one novelist friend who discoursed on the utility of the right T-shirt.  In the end I learned what a courageous choice a suit can be:

You would think that after time away, the hardest part of visiting New York would be braving passport control, baggage reclaim, and then finding a taxi from JFK. Instead, I find it the dilemma of what to wear.

The director Whit Stillman once advised me, regarding an upcoming film-development meeting, “Wear a suit, a blue suit. In truth, it’s worked out terribly for my career, with people mistakenly thinking I might be on the business side rather than creative, but it does still create an impression!”

For writers, every day is casual Friday, and we rarely pay close attention to fashion trends. 

Read the whole thing HERE.

The Role of the Press in a Free Society

I've quoted this line from the legendary journalist H.L. Mencken, and it's good to see an expanded version of this quote again elsewhere:

I believed then, as I believe now, that it is the prime function of a really first-rate newspaper to serve as a sort of permanent opposition in politics, and I tried to show that the Sun, because of its geographical situation, had a superb opportunity to discharge that function effectively. Baltimore was but forty miles from Washington — and the Washington papers were all third-rate, and seemed doomed to remain so forever, for the overwhelming majority of their readers were petty Federal jobholders, which is to say, half-wits. In consequence of their badness all Washington officials in the higher brackets had to read out-of-town papers, and not a few of them, including Wilson, read the Sun, for that was in the days before airships, and the Sun could get to Washington with news nearly five hours earlier than the news in the New York morning papers…The rudiments of the New Deal were already visible in those days, and I did not neglect to sneer at the “utopian ideas, economical, political, and ethical” that were going about…

-- Thirty-five Years of Newspaper Work: A Memoir by H. L. Mencken (link)

Hat tip the Junior Ganymede blog, whoever that is, and also Ed Driscoll.

Tanuja Desai, in homage to Prince

Earlier this month, June 7th, was Prince’s birthday—the Minnesota governor even declared it Prince Day.

In honor that “The Morning Papers,” a collection at Media Diversified, invited writers of color and Prince devotees to reflect.  Tanuja Desai Hidier remembers him in her poem “Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh Purple barsaat ki raat”:

Dearly Beloved,
My mama she loved U
Wrote me when they found U
New England—North London
En route 2 our girls’ school

Trans-Atlantic we mourned U
WhatsApp; Gram-on-phone too…
What’s funny and so true
My memories of U

Take me back 2 that shared roof
Mom, Dad, Raj
(Ur sister too)
And a lifetime of U…

Read the whole thing HERE.

Hat-tip Paris Review, where many moons ago Tanuja worked with this editor.

The Point about The Main Point

 Blogging has been light while I've been distracted by a film project, as mentioned below, but I'll be posting here again on a more or less weekly basis.  
I'll take this opportunity for a look back.  When I started The Main Point blog I described its purpose as a place for observations on culture and politics, news, very short stories, poems, photos, missives from friends.

On returning to the blog I noticed that that balance has been out of whack and that some of my very first posts were entirely consumed with current events and conflicts. As a former editor of a literary magazine, The Paris Review (which is not based in Paris, by the way, and doesn't review anything) and an active journalist covering the arts such had not been intention at the outset.  It is nonetheless a reflection of the times we live in.

With the indulgence of my few followers, and since some of you reading this will be new to TMP, I'm going to point back here to a few earlier posts more in line with my original intentions... and with, um, my actual areas of expertise! So herewith a kind of greatest hits for TMP:

The great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is best known for his samurai epics, but in the 1950s he was fascinated by hard-boiled crime stories and noir. In Hollywood there is now a cult fascination, led by Martin Scorcese, with Kurosawa's movie "High and Low."  "The Bad Sleep Well" is worth similar reverence and has Shakespearean dimensions, but my favorite from that period is "Stray Dog," thoughts on which HERE.

Andres Velasco, until recently the Chilean economics minister, spoke with me in an interview for Monocle magazine, about the proper role of stimulus spending and his notion of counter-cyclical fiscal policies,HERE.

A short story? A very short story... Ernest Hemingway wrote the saddest, and it can be read HERE.

TMP received a missive from the eminent psychoanalyst and business consultant Michael Maccoby on his mentor Erich Fromm, HERE.

Extraordinary times? This month I'm reminded of 1848. Usually though I think back to 1958 and what that must have been like.

Tony Curtis died this winter. Years ago I interviewed Billy Wilder for The Paris Review and he recounted directing Curtis in "Some Like It Hot," as recounted HERE.

A collection of memories about my old boss George Plimpton HERE.

My favorite wine critic Jay McInerney remembered a then-recent bottle HERE.

A number of fascinating missives from novelist and military historian Caleb Carr HERE. Particularly of interest... Carr's speculation on Gunter Grass's life in the 10th SS Panzer division during WWII.

An archive of contributed poetry HERE, including work by Charles Wright, Pierre Martory, and the heroicJeannie Vanasco.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Gone Fishing...

I've been posting infrequently here recently, as I've been researching a Morocco project, but will be back soon.

In the meantime, please consider becoming a Follower by hitting the gadget to the right.