Time: 7:30 a.m., right after a surprising morning run. Nursing a sore shoulder/neck, I thought I’d take a day off to recuperate. But I spontaneously changed my mind this morning and put in a couple of miles. This gives me the opportunity to feel complacent and superior all day long!
Place: At my main home computer.
Listening: Right now, most of my music listening has to be dedicated to the writing of program notes for the Reno Chamber Orchestra and Reno Philharmonic, one of my tasks in life. One set of RCO notes is due this week, and a concert’s worth each of RCO and RPO notes the following week. Every now and again the orchestras program pieces that I’ve already written about, thus saving me some effort. But no such luck this time. Today’s listening and writing will feature two Antonín Dvořák compositions, the Te Deum, which I’ve never heard before, and the Symphony No. 8, which I love love love. Once I get out of program note mode, I’m considering adding a weekly playlist to the blog to highlight the good music I come across.
Reading: As threatened last week, I decided to take up Richard Powers’s novel Orfeo. I’m only about a third of the way through, but am so far finding it an unusually fascinating combination of road novel, bildungsroman, and meditation on both music and life in a time of terrorism. It sounds like an unlikely mix, but so far I’m quite engrossed. Powers’s descriptions of musical works like Gustav Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time are powerful. Also in the reading mix are Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, and Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby.
Viewing: Only two films made their way to my eyeballs this week – both of them very recent films, a departure for this classic film viewer. The Grandmaster is Wong Kar-Wai’s latest film. Most, or at least much, of the critical attention for this movie seems to dwell on the fight scenes. While they’re admittedly done in a very stylish manner, they don’t seem that different from similar scenes in numerous other films I’ve seen (although many who are more knowledgeable than I have remarked on how innovative they are in depicting several styles of martial arts). I was drawn to the more meditative moments in the film, which are many, and recall the director’s films like In the Mood for Love, of which I’m a huge fan. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Zhang Ziyi are always extremely attractive stars, too. Speaking of attractive stars, Scarlett Johansson was the centerpiece of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, which I watched last night. Having read a bit about it, I was expecting it to be strange. But it proved to be even more strange and inscrutable than I’d figured. However, I like inscrutable, and found the movie’s tone admirably creepy and disturbing, and the lack of exposition (or much of any dialogue) most appealing. I can’t help but think that the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and, much to my surprise, my much-loved Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul were influences on the film’s imagery, pacing, and approach to narrative.
Blogging: I’ve managed to follow through on my New Year’s resolution and get 2015 off to a decent start in the blogging realm. Along with two worthy quotations, this week I posted a brief feature on the excellent photographer Fan Ho, whose work is on display at the Modernbook Gallery in San Francisco through the end of this month.
Pondering: While I have been keeping up a regular exercise schedule and, even through the holidays, eating pretty well, I had gone many weeks without seeing any weight loss. Apparently this is routine, as the body gets used to a new state of being. Suddenly, however, this has changed, and I’m down four pounds in the last two weeks. Perhaps the breakthrough I’ve been waiting (weighting?) for has finally arrived.
Anticipating: Tomorrow I am tentatively planning to meet, for the first time in person, someone with whom I’ve been exchanging emails for several weeks. An increasingly common phenomenon anymore, it’s as though you know this person rather well on one level, and not at all on another. You’re meeting both a familiar friend and a stranger, and it’s impossible to know what to anticipate. I hope she will like me, and I her.
Gratuitous Manatee News: Through the fine magazine American Archaeology, I’ve recently learned that the oldest manatee in the world currently resides in Florida. Snooty is 66 years old, was apparently the first manatee ever born in captivity, weighs half a ton, corresponds on a regular basis with students (with some help from the South Florida Museum staff), and enjoys kale, bok choy, and broccoli. He even has his own webcam! Read more about Snooty here, and see the Snooty Cam here. (Photo from Kobee Manatee)
“He had a habit of remarking to bartenders that he didn’t see any sense in mixing whiskey with water since the whiskey was already wet.”
– Joseph Mitchell
“There was just one moon. That familiar, yellow, solitary moon. The same moon that silently floated over fields of pampas grass, the moon that rose — a gleaming, round saucer — over the calm surface of lakes, that tranquilly beamed down on the rooftops of fast-asleep houses. The same moon that brought the high tide to shore, that softly shone on the fur of animals and enveloped and protected travelers at night. The moon that, as a crescent, shaved slivers from the soul — or, as a new moon, silently bathed the earth in its own loneliness.”
– Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
Fan Ho is a photographer, film director and actor. Born in Shanghai, now living in San Jose, and still alive and strong at age 77, he has been winning awards (some 280 of them) for his work since the 1950s. At an early age he moved to Hong Kong with his family. There he documented daily life throughout the 1950s and 1960s in beautiful, even haunting images, with striking contrasts of light and shadow. Most of those images were developed in the family bathtub. His photographs tend to focus on Hong Kong’s back streets, markets, and alleys. As you can see in the examples below, the images are exquisite; you can see more at the Bored Panda website (from which the four images below were drawn).
In the early 1960s he became associated with the famous Shaw Brothers movie empire. Starting as an actor and assistant, he eventually had a chance to direct. Through the late 1980s he made some twenty films for the Shaw Brothers and other studios, some of which were selected for screening at festivals like Cannes and Berlin.
But most would agree that it is his photographs that have had the most lasting impact. In recent years he has revisited his old negatives, exploring combining two images in montage and processing the result digitally. Many of those are featured in the book Fan Ho: A Hong Kong Memoir, as well as an exhibition of the same name that is on display through January 31 at the Modernbook Gallery (49 Geary Street, fourth floor) in San Francisco.
Bored Panda: “1950s Hong Kong Captured In Street Photography By Fan Ho”
San Francisco Examiner: “Fan Ho photos bring mid-century Hong Kong to life” by Anita Katz
Modernbook Gallery: Fan Ho: A Hong Kong Memoir
Fan Ho Photography website
Fan Ho Wikipedia entry
Place: At my main computer at home.
Listening: My life ground to a halt right after Christmas when the Nevada Chamber Music Festival, a series of concerts (eleven in six days) that my employer, the Reno Chamber Orchestra, presents annually between Christmas and New Year’s, began. During that period my existence was tied to the Festival, and fourteen-hour workdays were the norm. Occasionally a meal was allowed, but I didn’t make a habit of it. By all accounts the Festival was a success, and what I heard of the music, which wasn’t much, seemed excellent. While I have a continuing gripe about being such an outsider-menial during the Festival (there are musicians that have been coming for years that I’ve still never met or spoken to), if the audiences had an excellent time, it really isn’t important that the staff does. In any event, music listening and movie watching and reading and eating regularly and other normal activities are only just now getting restarted in my life, and I’m very pleased about it.
Reading: I used to be dedicated to the concept of reading one book at a time, but that has long since gone by the wayside. Currently underway are: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, and Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby. Orfeo by Richard Powers is calling strongly to me, and that may get added to the in-progress list this morning. Also, the to-read stack has gotten larger as I kept rewarding myself during the Christmas season for getting presents purchased by buying myself more books.
Viewing: My only film viewing in the last couple of weeks came last night, when I finally watched Jules et Jim (1962, directed by François Truffaut). It has been a hole in my viewing that I’ve long regretted – I confess that I didn’t even know that the film was set in the 1910s and 1920s! Now I have a notion as to why this film is so loved. The love triangle frame of the story in itself honestly doesn’t interest me too much. But the complexity of the emotions, the acuity with which Truffaut and the actors bring them to life, the way they are underscored and commented on by Georges Delerue’s lovely music, and the beautiful cinematography (Raoul Coutard comes through again!) completely won me over. Now it’s time to explore all the extras that the Criterion Collection so kindly provides.
Blogging: My main recent feature was yesterday’s look at my Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014. To my surprise, it was a fairly productive year.
Pondering: I’m doing my best not to do too much thinking these days. It only makes life more complicated. But I am keeping something of an eye on my New Year’s resolutions – they’re pretty simple ones, like losing some more weight and doing more reading and blogging.
Anticipating: Resuming the normal course of my life again.
Gratuitous Shakespearean New Year’s Resolutions: by Mya Gosling.
When one is a blogger, it’s fairly standard behavior to look back on the past year, be disappointed in how little you’ve posted, and make a New Year’s Resolution to do better. Wanting to avoid being original in any way, I’ve decided to embrace this thinking, and to start 2015 right by looking back at 2014. Since this blog started back in 2010, 2014 was actually, to my surprise, my second most productive year. I averaged about one post a week, which is not terrible. These are the posts that statistics say reached the most people.
1. Southeast Asia Travel Journal
This is actually fourteen separate posts on my February 2014 trip to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. This was also my biggest project of the year, so I wanted to call special attention to it. While I don’t have anything especially revelatory to say in this journal, I’m pleased with how it all turned out. And some of the pictures are nice.
2. Looking at Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert
As far as single posts are concerned, this was the most popular of the year. Perhaps not coincidentally, the most popular post in the history of my blog, by a wide margin, is a similar explication of a painting with a religious theme, Giotto’s The Lamentation.
3. Roger Lipsey: The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art
This is an excellent book on a subject of great interest to me. Along with this review, I followed up with another post with a few thoughts on the same theme, Notes on Spirituality in Modern Art.
4. Chinese Calligraphy, an introduction
This post and its companion, #6 below, were by far my most ambitious project of the year. After seeing the exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, I was desperate to learn more about a subject to which I had previously paid almost no attention. These two posts took months to put together, and while they don’t pretend to break anything like new ground on an exhaustively-studied subject, I believe that the information is accurate, and interesting (to me at least).
5. Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me
A meme that was making the rounds at the time. Ask me about this in a few months, and I may have a new list for you.
6. Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy
A review of the catalog for the Asian Art Museum exhibition of the same name. See #4 above.
7. The Hungry Ghosts
I believe that I first read about the Hungry Ghosts in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and wanted to know more about this theme that ranges more widely, geographically and historically, than I might have guessed.
8. Umberto Eco: The Book of Legendary Lands
A review of a lovely book on a fascinating subject. The art that comprises a good portion of the book is beautiful and very well-chosen.
9. Quint Buchholz: The Library
A work by a very interesting artist that I came across on someone’s Tumblr.
10. My Home Library, the meme
Another meme that was current a while back. Some of the questions weren’t especially relevant to my experience, but many were, and it was interesting to contemplate some of the issues raised.
Last night I posted at Facebook a piece by John Coltrane that was used in the gorgeous, extremely moving film Ida (2013, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski) I watched yesterday. The last music heard in that film is this Bach arrangement, as played by Alfred Brendel (film fans will also recognize this Bach chorale, in its original arrangement for organ, as the opening theme of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris). The austere beauty of the music and Brendel’s performance, and of the film for that matter, goes straight to the heart.
Here too is that John Coltrane piece, “Naima,” that was also used in Ida. So few notes, so much feeling.
Place: At my main computer at home.
Reading: Since my last visit to the Salon, which admittedly was a while ago, I have completed A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands (which I also wrote about), and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, all of which were outstanding. Current reading includes Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto and Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby.
Viewing: My movie viewing was severely interrupted a few weeks ago when Dish Network, my now-former cable provider, dropped Turner Classic Movies along with several other Turner-related networks, including CNN. TCM is my one essential channel, and I gave Dish a couple of weeks to see if anything got resolved. Nothing happened, and therefore I am now a Charter subscriber – both for cable viewing and for internet. So yesterday’s viewing included TCM’s airing of Them!, which fit right in with all of those other (often very good) late 1940s and 1950s films about paranoia and the end of the world and Communism and the atomic bomb. Also viewed recently was Shohei Imamura’s dark, clinical, and remarkable Vengeance Is Mine, and, finally, The Big Lebowski (can’t believe it took me so long to see it).
Listening: Along with a sudden inexplicable interest in revisiting old Genesis songs that I haven’t heard for years (“Mad Man Moon” from A Trick of the Tail and “You Might Recall,” an outtake from Abacab, are current favorites), I can’t point to much I’ve listened to in the last week or two. However, a live performance in Berkeley last weekend of Benjamin Britten’s church parable Curlew River, with Ian Bostridge, is something I hope to write about in the next few days. Watch this blog.
Blogging: I haven’t been very active recently, aside from posting a couple of bits of poetry by T.S. Eliot and Xu Lizhi. But I have a couple of pieces in the works along with the Curlew River notes mentioned above.
Pondering: How I am going to spend my Thanksgiving holiday of five days. Aside from Thanksgiving dinner with the family, nothing is scheduled. It could be a time of writing, or reading, or movie viewing, or traveling, or staring at the wall. Possibly a little of each…
Anticipating: Among my recent technology changes is the addition of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall to my media empire. Even watching several trailers of archived performances last night was pretty exciting, and I will probably watch my first concert today. The treasures they have stored away are many.
Gratuitous Photo of the Week: Alexander Graham Bell and his grandson Melville wandering in Beinn Bhreagh, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1908. I saw this photo in the most recent National Geographic, loved it, and wanted to share.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding from Four Quartets