Tuesday, May 31, 2016


I just recently finished The Illogic of Kassel, the most recent book by Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas, or at least the most recent to be translated into English. The narrator of the book is an author who was invited to Documenta 13 to perform as an installation in a Chinese restaurant. Speaking neither Chinese nor German he makes up interpretations of the discussions he hears.

Vila-Matas is actually an author, obviously, and he did attend Documenta 13, so it may be tempting to treat this as a memoir. But I'm pretty sure it truly is a novel, even if it doesn't always look like one. Whether Vila-Matas suffers nighttime panic attacks like his hero does - he wouldn't be the first writer or artist to do so - the special medicine he takes sounds made up. The relationship he has with the curators seems fictional as well. I kind of doubt they'd invite a fairly famous writer into their art project and subject him to the sometimes sadistic head games that transpire here, although I could be wrong.

Whatever the balance of real and fictional, it's an interesting read. I think Bartleby & Co. is still my favorite of his, though.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Starr quality

This morning I had breakfast at this place downtown called NicoBella's. It's a nice joint with jazz on the stereo and fauvist-looking paintings on the wall. Another thing I noticed on the wall was a signed poster of Ringo from one of the All-Starr band tours.

As the owner refilled my coffee I told him I liked the poster. There turned out to be a story behind it. He was in the middle of getting the restaurant ready to open, a massive amount of work including construction, licenses, etc. His friend called him up and said he was with Ringo. He goes, "Ringo who?" His buddy says, "Ringo, one of the few surviving Beatles." He figures this for ballbusting and says, "Eddie I don't have time for this." His friend's got Ringo talking in the background but it still doesn't sink in. The friend goes, "Well, do you want anything?" "If it's Ringo, get an autograph for me."

He got it, obviously. Later his friend told him that Ringo said he was one of the few people who ever hung up on him. I said, "You and John Lennon." On reflection, he had some friction with Paul, too, around the time of the breakup.

Really, for someone who comes from humble beginnings, it must be oddly gratifying to become such a big deal people won't believe you are who you are.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Blunt Instrument"

Writers, as distinguished from actors or musicians, are in a solitary field. Many are introverts by nature, but even those who aren't basically work on their own, wrestling with their own hangups in order to get something on the page. So there are fewer blowups and confrontations just because so often there's no one to confront.

Still, there are such things as literary feuds. If an author has any success, that can bump up against someone else's success, and then you get into personal clashes. See Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman, or Gore Vidal vs. anyone.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dodgy upper lip

A few decades ago, it seems like actors weren't traveling across the Atlantic as much. There were, yes, a number of Britons who had relocated to Hollywood, where they'd heard the money was. The inverse, American actors staying long-term in Britain, was rarer by far. And the cost of getting someone to make a special trip was expensive, Like, major motion picture expensive.

The upshot is that if you saw an American character on a British show, the accents were very faux. I've noticed this in, among other things, reruns of Danger Man. This show, Patrick McGoohan's pre-Prisoner outlet, was eventually marketed as Secret Agent in the US, with Johnny Rivers's "Secret Agent Man" tacked onto the credits in place of the original spritely instrumental. It was a mostly high quality program, making good use of McGoohan's moody anti-charisma, but it wasn't a big budget affair by any means.

The tell isn't the accent itself. In terms of phrasing, these players could often pass for people from the larger Midwestern cities, say. But sometimes the scenarist doesn't know the right word to use, so someone says "rubbish" when they'd really say "garbage." Or the stress is on the wrong syllable. Hearing a Yank soldier say la-BORE-a-tree instead of LAB-ra-tore-e is enough to break the illusion.

It need hardly be said that this era saw a lot of painful British accents on American TV as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

So *blargh* that happened

Last night I was not in much condition to blog. Or do much of anything else. After dinner a sluggish feeling descended on me. Then nausea and stomach trouble. And I got a headache that was still there when I woke up this morning, which it was certainly a relief to get rid of later in the day.

From now on I'll hesitate to buy pork unless I can trust it and can trust myself to cook it properly. I cooked this cut for dinner the day after I bought it and it looked and tasted like it was done, but good meat doesn't give you flu-like symptons.

On another note, this is a nice look at the great Minnesota poet and guitarist who is still with us. "Visions of Johanna" truly is an immortal song.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Pharaoh's Curse"

The idea of the tombs of Pharaoh's being cursed is a fairly modern one. The tombs themselves bear no hieroglyphic markings to this effect. Desecrating a pharaoh's resting place would have been an incredible blasphemy, of course, but soldiers would have executed anyone who even tried. Supernatural curses really became part of the folklore during the Egyptology craze of the Victorian Era, and were widely publicized after the discovery of Tutankhamun's final resting place in 1922. While it's a relatively modern idea it's also a fairly short-lived one in terms of people taking it seriously, and by Ellery Queen's late 1940's setting it would be considered a joke.

And while detective fiction does have a certain basis in fantasy, detective fiction with supernatural events is a more specialized field. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Chesterton's Father Brown, and John Dickson Carr's Gideon Fell (a Chesterton tribute) all came across crimes that seemed like they might be spectral but generally had a naturalistic explanation. William Hope Hodgson frequently found evidence of actual supernatural involvement. But Ellery Queen's mysteries in all media had little to do with the first kind of story, and never went near the second.

Friday, May 20, 2016

This way and that

The Big Wiggle from Erin Zona on Vimeo.

Okay, this is adorable and absolutely grotesque in about equal measure. I can't make any guarantees about what your reaction will be, especially watching it right before bedtime. Use your own best judgment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

All quiet on the Eastern front

It's very quiet. I can hear the refrigerator running. Not much else. A car, here and there.

There are students living on this street. Given the time of year, I guess we're a few days, a week or so, from their post-school year flight. And then, some could be back, others not. Change, often, is cyclical.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Shadow Show Me

The anthology Shadow Show comes with the subtitle "All-new short stories in celebration of Ray Bradbury." Which they are. This is gathering of stories written in honor of science fiction's greatest crossover author. Asimov belonged to science fiction fans, but Bradbury belonged to everyone.

The book was published in 2012, the same year Bradbury died. He contributes a short and good natured foreword. Naturally the book stands in his shadow. In truth a lot of the stories presented here seem more influenced by Ray Bradbury's reputation than by his methods. What few capture, and what is very difficult to capture, is the way he emerged along the course of the 1940s as a skewed and sometimes disturbing storyteller.

A few do stand out as tapping into this strange side of Bradbury:

"Little America" by Dan Chaon: A man drives cross-country with a boy, a boy that he keeps tied up and whose nails he makes sure or trim. There's a reason for this, and it's not what you think, and the gradual revelation is pretty cunning.

"Phone Call" by John McNally: A man with a Ziggy-like record of never winning calls into the past and tries to intervene in the murder of his mother by her boyfriend, who seems to have also killed his father. Notable for the interesting place it ends up, plot-wise and emotionally.

"Hayleigh's Dad" by Julia Keller: Sharon and Hayleigh are friends. Sharon likes Hayleigh's dad more than her own, understandably. Hayleigh's dad has told them never to go in the basement. Even if you see much of this one coming, it's still hella creepy.

"Two Houses" by Kelly Link: A crew in deep space exploration awake from cryonic sleep and begin telling ghost stories in a VR recreation of an old mansion. Needless to say, it gets stranger from there. It's fascinating to watch Link mix styles and themes from her own stories with bit's of ol' Ray's, including "The Illustrated Man" and "The Veldt."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of Veronica's Veils"

Goodnight, Gracie.

The great institution of the American burlesque had given up the ghost by the time this episode was aired in 1975. Social change and new media had left it behind. Oh, there were tittie bars aplenty, no shortage of those. But attendees didn't have the patience to sit through baggy pants comics and magic acts, or to watch a lady do an elaborate number that still left her panties and pasties on. As a form of theatre, burlesque has made a comeback in the intervening decades, but the context is rather different. Much of the audience is now female and/or gay, although the milkshakes still bring plenty of boys to the yard.

As it happens, the burlesque of "The Adventure of Veronica's Veils" is already a recreation of something past. The story takes place ten years after Mayor Fiorello H La Guardia had driven the burly-q's out of town in a possibly misplaced but attention-getting fit of moral zeal. Thus officially the troop is putting on a musical about burlesque that just happens to look like the real thing. (Vice cops mill around under the suspicion that it's a distinction without a difference.) Coincidentally or not last week's episode and this one inspect respectively the high and low end of New York's theatre scene.


There's a Stop & Shop near here. I don't go to it that often, because the walk takes a long time so it's actually handier to go to the one in East Providence. But sometimes I need to pick something up there. If it's just a small something I buy then I might pick up bottles on the way back, so as to drop them in the neighbors' recycling when I get back home. I've found out this way that Hennessy cognac is a favorite drink for those who drink behind parking lots.

Last night I had to buy potatoes. When I was coming back it was too dark to pick out any particular kind of bottle. But I did pick one up anyway. The label was off. It looked like a beer bottle, but with a bulging neck. Stout?

On a related note, I bought a new CD player in front of the Y today. New to me, at least. Little thing, it looks to be in rough shape. But once I noticed the power strip was hanging out of the socket and plugged it back in, I learned that it works a lot better than the one I already had.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Stuff to think about

An interesting passage from Rupert Sheldrake's 1988 book The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature:
According to modern science, what first appeared in the Big Bang was light. Then as the universe grew the galaxies and stars were formed; then the solar system came into being; then as the earth cooled, the seas and the dry land were formed; then life arose in the primeval broth; then plants began to evolve; then animals, first in water and then on dry land; then birds and mammals evolved from reptiles; and finally Homo sapiens arose from apelike ancestors.
This sequence differs from the ancient story in the Book of Genesis in several respects, perhaps the most notable being the creation of the sun and moon after the earth and the vegetation upon it. In the scientific account, of course, the sun is supposed to have been formed before this planet, or at least around the same time. Opinions still differ as to the origin of the moon: some astronomers hold that it came into being together with the earth and the planets; others maintain that it originated later and may even have split off from the earth. Another difference is that Genesis places the origin of birds before the origin of reptiles, whereas evolutionary theory derives birds from reptiles.
Nevertheless, the broad outlines of the Genesis myth and the contemporary scientific account are not dissimilar; they have a strong family resemblance. The scientific account is of course far more detailed, and attributes creativity to chance rather than to God. But both, by their very nature as accounts of origins, refer to events that happened before there were people to witness them and can therefore only be imagined, calculated, inferred, or modelled. They can never be statements of observable or observed facts.

This is where the book gets really good. I don't think he lumps the scientific account together with the Biblical tale, but he does point out that they come from the same source, ultimately, and serve much of the same person. Convergent evolution among animals is a decently well known process. Could another kind of convergent evolution affect ideas? If not, why not?

I understand that Sheldrake has something of a crackpot reputation, and some of the more  out there scientific ideas do read more like science fiction. But he's an engaging philosophical writer in a number of passages.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Heavenly mansions

I'd have more of an "excuse" to post this video of this song were today the birthday of either Elvis or or Warren Zevon. But no, both were born in January, and today was actually warm. The song struck me, though, and stayed with me. Evidence that beauty and tenderness can coexist with weird sarcasm.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Queen Watch: "The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party"

The classic tale of detection is a form of fantasy.

This shouldn't be surprising, really. The form was invented by Edgar Allan Poe, who also wrote about, for instance, a man's dead second wife rising from the grave as his deader first wife. It was popularized by Arthur Conan Doyle, a genuine Spiritualist who may have been a bit gullible in general. Writers of the Interbellum Golden Age may have been more rationalist, but the air of the fantastic remained.

Unlike other forms of fantasy, detective stories of the classical type need to act in accordance with the physical laws of the universe. That's the point. A clever reader can follow along, take note of clues, and at least entertain  the hope of solving the crime before the sleuth. Impossible crimes aren't really impossible. If Lord Moneybags was killed in a locked attic room, the solution won't involve the killer jumping out the window and flying away or walking through walls. No, the fantasy is of a social and conceptual kind. It's the idea that a crime may beggar belief and be committed in the presence of absurd people, but that a dedicated thinker can reframe the story in a way it all makes sense.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Just found out about this animated short through the blog "Noirish." It had me rubbing my jaw in appreciation. It's not every day you see all these film noir touches in the same film as a Grinch smile.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mind over matter or matter over mind

Open question. What provides you with calm when you need it. Say your mind is racing but your thoughts just keep going in a circle, and nothing you do seem right. Is there a way you can get your balance back? I don't necessarily mean the Colorado way.

One thing I've noticed helps sometimes is slowing down. Making body movements more deliberate, as long as there's no need to hurry. Speaking slower, albeit not in the "What does the yellow light mean?" sense.

But slower speech can also mean clearer and more resonant. It's not a new idea. Years ago I saw a film of performance artist Robert Wilson crediting one of his teachers with helping him get over a bad stutter, as she advised him to slow down.

There's a variant of this you can help you get to sleep at night too. Although in that case you act as if your body is tired and heavy, even if so far it isn't.