Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feel bad with confidence!

About seven to twelve things have piled on top of me in recent days, from athlete's foot to computer glitches, and I've trundled on like a little choo-choo, all brave and good.
Until this afternoon.
bink and I went for a walk, and I had a good old self-esteem meltdown on a park bench, telling her I feel like a miserable creature in every way, but especially, I confessed, for feeling that way. (Those of you prone to double-dipping yourself will recognize this specious line of reasoning.)

"I want to be confident..." I wailed. "Like Captain Kirk!"

"Fine!" she said. "Feel bad with confidence!"

Bless that girl.
When we parted, I gave a little cheerleading chant, "Give me a B, give me an A, give me a D! I feel BAD!"
Except, of course, now I don't.

Now I'm off to dinner at Joanna's, where we will raise a glass to our new senator--and watch Picnic!

Mifune Smokes

Toshiro Mifune
So odd to see a samurai in street clothes. Or posing all James Deanish.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shelley Winters, A Belle with Balls

I'd heard for three-dozen years about Shelley Winters's swimming scene in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and I finally watched the movie this past weekend. The whole movie is ripe for parody, it's that good!
The scene of fat old Belle Rosen doing her thing to rescue the other passengers, calling up her long buried skills and strengths, can bear the weight of mockery--Winters heaped some on too--because it really is noble and gutsy and graceful. It's got good bones.

Pasta & Playgirls
You know I have a thing for Shelley Winters and other Shatneresque types--people who, as Fellini said of Mastroianni, enjoy their pasta; but I never knew anything about Winters's life. I went looking and wasn't surprised to find out she had a big appetite for all the yummies of life...
Here she is with Marlon Brando, one of her many playmates, during the filming of Streetcar.

And here's a clip of her singing "Lie to Me," in the movie Playgirl (1954):
"Don't make me the belle of the ball, just have a ball with your belle!"

And speaking of William Holden (Picnic, post below), Winters said in one of her autobiographies that she and he had a standing "same time, next year" date.
I couldn't find a picture of them together, but here he is with the wonderful Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday (1950). I like him so much better as the professor who falls for the moll than as the Golden Boy.

Holliday liked her pasta too. Here she is on the subject of glamour photos:
"They told me to wet my lips and open my mouth. I did that and I looked sick instead of sexy. Then one day one of the men said, 'Boy, did I have a great dinner last night.' He mentioned an Italian restaurant. He told me what he'd eaten. Suddenly there was a yearning look on my face. 'Hold it,' he said. 'That's just the look I want!' After that, when they wanted me to look sexy they showed me a menu."

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Kim Novak and William Holden dance to "Moonglow." He's a nobody passing through town, and she's supposed to marry his old college pal, but you know that ain't gonna happen. 'Cause she knows how to clap...

When I was a little girl, once in a rare while my mother and father would dress up and go out. At my eye level, my mother was all high heels, nylons, and skirt edge; and when she moved, the scent of Joy perfume. My father was polished shoes and the tip of a tie.

I thought such creatures were what children metamorphed into when they grew up, but long before I got there, those creatures had become extinct. Perhaps it's just as well they only exist on film now--Picnic (a film you wish would break out into camp but never stops insisting it's serious) shows the terrible strictures necessary to maintain such life forms.
I'd have been like Little Sister (played by Susan Strasberg, Lee's daughter), desperate to escape to Greenwich Village.
But weren't they beautiful? You can almost catch their scent on the warm night air. Peach, and damp cotton, and musk.

As with cigarettes, we may not miss the strictures, but they sure could look good on film. Maybe my favorite moment: when he puts her hand over his beating heart, toward the end, and she moves her other hand on his shoulder, as if to stroke his ear.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Star Trek & 1960s Design, 17: "I dreamed..."

1. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in "Mirror, Mirror," Star Trek episode #33, 1967
2. "...Toreador" 1966
3. "I went to work..." 1964
4. Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett Roddenberry), "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" ST episode #7, 1966

Maidenform Bra 's "I dreamed..." series was a hugely successful ad campaigns that ran from the end of World War II through the mid-1960's.
As always, Star Trek screencaps from TrekCore.com.

Star Trek & Sixties Design, 16: Molded Shapes

1. Knox Gel Cookery, 1963
2. 1950's Stitched Longline Cone Bra
3. "Dagger of the Mind," 1966 (Star Trek episode #9)
4. 1964 Chevy Corvair Snout
5. Barbarella (Jane Fonda), 1968
6. 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback
7. "Dagger of the Mind" (Dr. Helen Noel, played by Marianna Hill)


As always, Star Trek screencaps from TrekCore.com.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

365 - 36: Goodnight Moon



Star Track, Love Is My

That's how the computer translated "Стар Трек, любовь моя," which is the Russian translation of "Star Trek, My Love."

It's been a delight e-mailing back and forth about the English-Russian translation with "Jean-Luc," the Russian Trekker who asked for a Russian version of my vid.
And interesting: What exactly did I mean "Spock was a bit of a pill" and Kirk seemed "a bit of a dolt"?

And what does "No greater love" mean?

That last one was a bit of trouble.
When I used it, I trusted that most native English speakers would recognize its meaning, even if they didn't know its source. (John 15:13, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.") I wonder if I'm wrong... Anyway, I used it as shorthand, not as a religious reference.

But Jean-Luc tells me that she doesn't know what it means and that Russians know the Beatles better than the Bible. (Just like John Lennon said!)
Should we use the whole quote? she wondered.

No, that would make it specifically Christian, which would be all wrong--the characters are not Christian. (Especially not Spock, which is one reason Trekkies objected to "Amazing Grace" being played at his funeral, though I was OK with that: it was part of Scotty's cultural repertoire, and he had the bagpipes.)

After fretting about another way to say it, I finally realized we could just use the second half of the quote--"he gave his life for his friends". Easy, but it took me more effort to arrive at that than you'd think.

Here's a funny thing. Turns out the way you write "Bluetooth" in Russian is "Bluetooth."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

365 - 35: Rain

I sent off the first draft of Slovakia last week (without ever coming to a good understanding of Austria-Hungary), but I'm having a hard time getting back to writing, I mean really writing, a post here.

It's what I remember from when I was writing regularly on geography books: I couldn't write my own stuff. The work knocks off-balance the delicate mechanism that generates personal writing.

In the meantime, I've been liking this self-portrait project more than before. Not because the pictures are great, though I do think they'll look cool put all together at my birthday in March, but because it pushes me--or gives me an excuse--to look at and engage with the physical world, including my camera.
It started to rain this morning and I thought, how can I photograph myself in the rain? I went down to the backyard and tried to use a plastic bag as a camera umbrella but ended up liking this photo shot through the plastic bag better.
It's stopped raining already. If I hadn't given myself this assignment, I'd have sat it out.

Sleeping on the Fire Escape (Weegee)

Top: "Heat Spell" (1938? 1941?)
Below: "Man Sleeping on a Fire Escape" (1943)

I thought of Weegee's famous photo of the children on the fire escape when I was setting up my bed outside the other night, but I'd never seen this other one of the man. I like the top photo of the children better now for having seen the one of the man below it.

What a great pair of photos--the one bursting with people, including the onlooker(s): the bar in the foreground shows us where the photographer is, and the brother looking out the window is another observer, his flashlight another tool of looking--while the man in the other appears to be hanging alone in space.

Weegee's photojournalism is unsentimental but conveys tenderness for humanity. I feel at home with his stripped down photos--they're much how I see us.

More at the Weegee Collection, at Amber Online
Also Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama at the ICP

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

365 - 34: Reading

Reading Christopher Isherwood this evening (cooler, thankgod), on Mortmere's recommendation.

In the introduction, writing in 1954 about returning to postwar Berlin, Isherwood notes that Berlin is a city of "intensely dramatic doubleness," yet:
"...you heard the usual talk about business and sport, the new car, the new apartment, the new lover. 'My God,' I exclaimed to one of my acquaintances, after he had been holding forth on such topics for an hour or more, 'one would think you lived in Minneapolis!'"

. . . . O RLY?

[I couldn't decide which of these photos to use as my daily photo, so I put them both up. Do you have a preference?]

The Moon Is a Laptop

I am too tired and crabby to write. This is just to say I was not eaten by a lion, sleeping outside last night.

Henri Rousseau
"The Sleeping Gypsy"
Tip o' the mouse to Stef.

Monday, June 22, 2009

365 - 33: Hot Nite Out

10 p.m. 88°F (31°C)
Humidity: 45%
(High today 94°F)
God I hate the heat. I don't have air conditioning, and the house is an oven. I've lugged the couch cushions out onto the little outside deck and am going to sleep out here. I took this self-portrait by the light of my laptop. (The green behind me is grape vines.)
I hope the alley's not too noisy tonight. Sometimes when it's really hot like this, the place is jumping. Right now I can hear a couple folks calling to each other in Spanish (lots of people from Latin America live in the neighborhood), but mostly I hear the hum of window fans and air conditioners.

This evening to get out of the heat I went downtown to see the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Good enough, & John Travolta was worth it. Shades of Al Pacino. When did he get so intense? I haven't really followed his career much since Saturday Night Fever. Maybe the time has come for me to see Pulp Fiction...

Afterward I stopped for an Icee and milk for my morning coffee before going home. A homeless guy came up to me at the bus stop and asked for some money, which I gave him. Then he sat down and started talking--he said he hadn't eaten today, which was easy to believe, looking at him. He was rough. He looked at my Icee cup and asked if there were any left. (Hey! Like me asking the senator for the chicken off his plate!) I'd finished it, but I asked him if he wanted some milk. He said yes, and didn't mind if I poured it into the Icee cup. He drank two glasses before the bus came. I asked him if he wanted the whole half-gallon, and he said no, that was OK, I needed it for my coffee in the morning. I'd told him that, and I'm glad he turned it down.

Poli-Sci Me

Mr. F-for-Fundraiser telling me last week that people who aren't interested in politics are dangerously deluded kinda got to me.
Growing up with a father who taught political science, and later hanging out with social-justice folks, I thought politics--of the governmental, policy-making sort, or the radical activist type--was the Grown-Up, Important thing to do.

But I was never attracted to that work--nor am I any good at it. The thing that interests me most at committee meetings is the selection of donuts.

We serve the world best, I believe, by doing work that suits us, and politics doesn't suit me. But that guy's criticism, off the wall as it was (people who avoid politics are like the Unabomber? WTF?), poked my slumbering sense of insufficiency with a stick.

So I was really pleased to get a message in my uTube inbox this weekend from someone in Russia who wants to translate into Russian my fanvid "Star Trek, My Love," (the one about why I love Star Trek, set to the Beatles' "In My Life"), to show at a Russian Star Trek club, saying,
"It's really great that people feel the same way on the other side of the Earth."

Thank you, universe. Once in a while you get a message saying, yes, this work you do serves the world, and even if it's only a small thing, it's a true thing.

Alas, I made that vid on an old (2004) program, and it's no longer readable. But I did save the screencaps, so I could rebuild the whole thing (or the person in Russia can). It'd be a bit of a drag, but for such a fun reason, I'd be willing. (As long as there are no committee meetings.) Just to make sure iMovie can handle the Cyrillic script, I translated a couple lines on babelfish and added them. Yep, it works.
Computer translations are too weird, but these lines should read:
"These guys? I'm with them."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dog Doodles at the Uptown Market

bink will be doodling dog portraits at her booth this Sunday--June 21st--from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the first (of 4) Minneapolis Uptown Market. Besides art, local denizens will be selling plants, food, and other things you can give your father if you forgot to get him anything for Father's Day.

The market runs along 29th Street (parallel to Lake St. & the Greenway bike trail), from Dupont Ave. (by Rainbow Grocery) to Lyndale Ave. South.

Bring your dog along for an on-the-spot quickie ($20, cheap!), or send Lucinda a photograph to doodle from (same price + $5 handling and postage).

Note: All dog breeds and dog-like creatures welcome! Wombats, pot-bellied pigs, and Gorns are all well within the limits of bink's doodling ability. Cats, regrettably, not so much...

In Iran, It's "Football"

Despite being informed last night (post below) that my lack of interest in the details of politics makes me akin to the Unabomber, I know, absolutely for sure, that watching movies from around the world, as I do (sometimes), is one of the best ways for Americans like me to learn about people who insist on calling soccer "football."
Which is to say, the entire rest of the world.

Further, for people like me who prefer stories to political details, films are a way to come to care about people I will never meet in places I will never go (probably).
What better political education is there than that?

So, with recent events in Iran, I got thinking about the people and the stories I know from there.
The Iranian film Offside (2006), for instance--it's an amusing little movie telling a simple story about a group of young Iranian women who try to sneak in to watch their national team in a World Cup game, against the rules barring women. But it's also a thought provoking, big movie about the the complex ways we humans trip ourselves up, politically and socially.
Here, I'll just copy the synopsis from the above Pars Times link:
"Many Iranian girls love soccer as much as their countrymen and sport fans all over the world but, they are prevented by law from attending live soccer matches in their country. Inspired by the day when his own daughter was refused entry to a soccer stadium in Iran, Jafar Panahi’s OFFSIDE follows a day in the life of a group of Iranian girls attempting to watch their team’s World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain at the stadium in Tehran."
What impressed me most was the way the film director shows that the male soldiers who have to guard the caught women are sympathetic to them--they pretty much think it's stupid, too, that the women can't watch the game. It's hard to imagine, from here, what everyday relations are like between the sexes in Iran--like, in what manner do women and men who don't know each other talk to each other?--and this movie gives you a glimpse. It's pretty recognizable, maybe not surprisingly.

And, in the spirit of international cultural exchange, if you are one of those people who think a football is round, you can learn about the prolate spheroid kind (egg-shaped, with pointed ends) and the men who run with it in their arms in this movie, Brian's Song (1971), pretty much the only American football movie I remember watching. It's on the Best Football Movies list.
In fact, it's #3!
I cried when I saw it.
I was ten.

That's James Caan of Silent Running and Billy Dee Williams of Star Wars, yes indeed.

OMG! Heaven Can Wait (1978) is on the list too. It's #48. I forgot it involves football. I thought it was a theological exploration of identity. And it is. But, right, Warren Beatty's character is a football player. Dyan Cannon and Charles Grodin steal the show, I think, as the wife and her lover who want to kill Beatty off.

Uh, so, yeah... that's all I have to say about football.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

1 Among Many

The Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition's
Single-Payer Health-Care Fundraiser and Celebration

Me: Doug-the-Dog? or the Unabomber?

Ever since I was a kid, I've had the capacity to be a bit like the dopey dog Doug in the new Pixar movie Up, who runs up to good people and says with complete and utter adoration, "I just met you and I love you!"

But Doug and I don't go up to just anyone. No. (Especially not after I got rapped on the nose a few times, I don't.) We have honed our sense of who is a Good Person.

Here's an example of my keen Doug-the-Dog radar at work:

Tonight I attended this event to support universal health care, at the invitation of my friend Lisa Nilles. I helped check people in at the door, and I got so busy chatting with people, by the time I got to the buffet, this is what was left:
I turned to Senator John Marty, whom I'd met briefly, and asked if I could have his last skewer of chicken satay. Without missing a beat, he handed it over to me, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have people at fundraisers demand the food off your plate. I'd kind of been kidding, but I was actually very grateful, for his kindness as much as anything.

I'd been feeling a bit jangled from a conversation earlier in the evening with a fundraiser I used to know. I'll call him Mr. F. We'd chatted, and he expressed surprise when I said I didn't know anything about the health-care bill. I laughed and said I was just there for the free food, I'm not much into politics.

Mr. F. thereupon informed me that every time two people speak, it's politics. Every human exchange involves a balance of power. And as an illustration of the error of thinking you can escape politics, he told me that Ted Kaczynksi, the Unabomber, had lived alone in the woods so he could do just that.

Now, I'm pretty sure Mr. F. didn't really mean that I was heading down the Ted Kaczynski trail; but the unkind comparison did take me aback.
I suppose I see his point, but I think it's a little out of focus.

The senator is a politician, but I'm sure he wasn't trading votes for chicken-on-a-stick. He gave it to me without thinking, because I was hungry. You could call that "politics," I suppose, if you want to reduce every human exchange to that word, but that's not what I'd call it.

I didn't actually burst out and say, Doug-the-dog-like, "I just met you and I love you," but I'm saying it here-- to him and to Lisa and Mark H. and to all the lovely people who do the hard political work toward winning health care for all.

365 - 32: At the U Club

1. chandelier
2. ceiling plaster medallion
3. swimming pool, through the window screen
4. mirrored windows in the bathroom

(For my 365 Self-Portrait of the Day project.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In the Mood...

...for operatic French pop.
It's getting late. A storm is brewing outside.
I know!
Johnny Hallyday!
My high school French is just up to figuring out that I don't need to know exactly what he's saying. "les gens qui cherchent la lumiere... les femmes qui pleurent..." (people who search for the light, women who cry...) Good enough for me.
He could definitely be singing about the painful transition from a centrally-planned Communist economy to a free market one.

Here's Johnny...

Yes, just right. The people in this video could be trapped in Soviet-era Slovakia... and he's exhorting them, "live for the best" (what's the English idiom for this?).

Fittingly for me, as more of a film person than a music person, I first became aware of Hallyday as an actor, in Man on a Train (2003, dir. Patrice LeConte). A huge star in France--"the French Elvis"--he is little known here in the US. I see on his Wikipedia entry, he's even nicknamed "the biggest rock star you've never heard of".

This is one of the weird things about being an American (something I've been thinking about that I'd like to write more about)--growing up with the assumption, held by everyone around you, that the world revolves around your culture and then discovering there are honking huge chunks of art, life, love that are fucking fantastic, that have nothing to do with the USA, and that nobody told you about. Heavens.
I just finished Slovakia, more or less. So I'm in a weird mood. A dinner of Star Trek cereal and vodka and tonic didn't help me feeling all mopey and insufficient.

There're still lots of ragged ends, stuff I'll have to rework when it comes back from the editor. How do you explain the transition from a centrally planned Communist economy to a capitalist free market to eighth graders... especially when you barely understand it yourself? And it's all so desperately important and interesting.
Life seems so BIG... and impossible.
You know. The unbearable lightness of being...

Oh, dear.
Yes, definitely in the mood for Johnny Hallyday.

365 - 31: Shower Head



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

365 - 30: Dulce

I went to buy milk this afternoon at the nearby Mexican grocery store and decided to try one of the garish "dulces Mexicanos" on offer by the cash register. I'd always assumed they were fruit-flavored sugar confections. So I was surprised when I bit into the orange one I'd bought: it's a real, whole candied orange, peel and all. Dried first? boiled? and then sugar-soaked.
It's great! Bitter and sweet. Cost a dollar.

Hey! I've taken 30 self-portraits in three months. Maybe I will make it at least to 65...

compassion is our nature

I. Tenderness and Tigers
I googled "compassion images" this morning and found these moving pictures. I like emotionally moving images, sure, but I don't trust their sentimentality. It's too easy, too simple, to be very helpful.
I'm strengthened and heartened more by the photo farther down of a Thai abbot who works with tigers at a sanctuary (from the site Tiger Temple). Touching the heart, yes, but not so easy: I wouldn't choose to sit among animals that could bite my head off.
Life is like that, though. We do sit among tigers--if nothing else, the tigers of our own nature.

Images, left to right: "Compassion" (1897), by WilliamAdolphe Bouguereau; Mother Teresa of Calcutta; unsourced photo of soldiers.

II. Compassion for Self

Last night I put Slovakia to bed about 9 p.m. and sat on the couch with a glass of wine. It very clearly came to me that it's simply not necessary to carry certain burdens into the last third (?) of my life.

By "burdens" I mean something like what Catholics call "sins." I really like the list of the Big Seven (greed, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, pride, sloth). I'd like to write more personally about this, but it's back to Slovakia--finishing the Economy chapter today, d.v. (deus vult = "god willing").

So I'm just plunking down here a couple things I find encouraging in my willingness to let go of some of the burdens I carry. I picture them, this morning, as great big rocks I've piled into the panniers the little donkey of my self carries. The idea of emptying those panniers feels so good!
But it's also like being willing to work with tigers, as the monks at the Tiger Temple do, which is where the image is from.

This summer I've been especially aware of the burdens of resistance and resentment, which are both rocks and tigers. Hmm... I guess some "sins," like sloth, are more like rocks--cold and heavy--and others, like pride, are more like tigers--hot and fast.
It makes sense to me to practice compassion for my own self, since I can so clearly see that much of the harm I do (myself and others) is a side-effect of these burdens.

III. Lighter, Cooler

Catholicism can feel like a pile of hot boulders to me. There've been times I've needed that weight, that heat--they matched what was happening in my life.
But lately, I enjoyed scientific takes on these religious/psychological topics, which feel much cooler. I appreciated this interesting post about altruism from an evolutionary perspective over at Cocktail Party Physics: "be nice: it's what makes us human".

As a Westerner, I find Buddhism to be a little lighter than Catholicism (I know this is an illusion, or anyway an oversimplification, but that's how I experience it). So, from the site A View on Buddhsim, "Compassion and Bodhicitta":

Teachings of H.H. the Dalai Lama at Compassion, the Supreme Emotion:
"Sometimes we think that to develop an open heart, to be truly loving and compassionate, means that we need to be passive, to allow others to abuse us, to smile and let anyone do what they want with us. Yet this is not what is meant by compassion. Quite the contrary. Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion...is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception."
--Sharon Salzberg

"The Dalai Lama shared the following simple practice that will increase loving and compassion in the world. He asked everyone in the group to share it with as many people as they can.

The Practice:

1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same things (to be happy and be loved) and we are all connected to one another.
2. Spend 5 minutes -- breathing in - cherishing yourself; and, breathing out - cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.
3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet. Practice cherishing the simplest person (clerks, attendants, etc., as well as the "important" people in your life; cherish the people you love and the people you dislike).
4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.

"These thoughts are very simple, inspiring and helpful. The practice of cherishing can be taken very deep if done wordlessly; allowing yourself to feel the love and appreciation that already exists in your heart."
The page on compassion ended with a couple funnies.
Humor is indispensable.
This one made me laugh:

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes."

Especially useful when criticizing tigers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Famous Slovak Americans

Paul Newman.
I had no idea.
His mother Theresa (Slovak: Terézia Fecková) was born in Slovakia.

[Part 3 of Things That Won't Fit in My Slovakia Book.]

Vodka filtered through diamond dust.

How's this for marketing? Slovakian Double Cross Vodka is filtered through diamond dust. You can only buy it in the US--at $49.95 for 750 ml.--not in Slovakia. I expect Slovaks know better.
The double cross is a symbol of Slovakia, but obviously this is a vodka for James Bond. His martinis were vodka not gin--Smirnoffs, it looks like. Here's a funny little piece about why Bond orders his martini "shaken not stirred."