Wednesday, March 22, 2017

C'est intéressant w/c 20 Mar 2017

As France's Towns Wither, Fears of a Decline in Frenchness (New York Times)
This article is absolutely spot on. Using the provincial town of Albi (in South West France), the writer shows that French regional towns are losing their heart and soul. As shops close, life empties itself from them. It is the same in many places. There are still shops, but they are on the outskirts, in big malls - France has the highest density of malls in Europe (or even small ones: in my home village, a supermarket opened slightly outside the city centre, where footfall has now massively declined). People don't go to independent stores, they don't go to the boucherie, or the fromagerie, or the patisserie anymore: they drive to the hypermarket - sometimes only to go and collect their online shopping (it's called going to the "drive"). And even though they brought it on by changing their behaviour, they complain things have changed and the world is changing too fast. Depressing.

42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Where are you ever gonna see a chorus line of 40 performers? Where? Nowhere else in the West End. So just go see this no-expenses-spared production of the musical 42nd Street.
Just the opening was enough to make my jaw drop. And when they brought out the stairs, the bright lights, the snazzy costumes, and the crazy tap dancing for the iconic finale, I was in another world. Absolutely top class.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

C'est intéressant w/c 27 Feb 2017

Together, Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness (Highline)
An article that resonated with many of my friends and tweeps this week. Society accepts us more, but do we accept ourselves? The self-inflicted trauma and judgement we grow up with is hard to shake off.

Daria 20 Years Later: Producers Behind MTV's Iconic Cartoon Look Back (Variety)
Reading this took me on a bit of nostalgia trip. When I first explained what the show meant to me to my partner, I basically said exactly what most people interviewed in this article said: that it got me through high school, that it kept me sane and that her pride in not fitting in showed me I could survive and would find a way out (cause I always assumed she'd make it out!).

A Buffy Family Tree: 'Bones', and Demons and Rabbid Fans (New York Times)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer is also 20. Another show about the horrors of high school that I loved and shaped my teenage years. Yeah, I watched a lot of TV. :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hidden Figures - review

This is a review for the book by Margot Lee Shetterly that the recent film is based on.

What do you do when you have to wait 4h for your delayed flight? You go to WH Smith, of course! This book wasn't in their top 20 Business Bestsellers - but really it should have been. All the things that can be achieved with dedication, grace, talent and intelligence! Inspiring stuff.

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But wait it's about more than those personal stories. There weren't just 3 black women working for NACA/NASA. There were hundreds. There were hundreds of bright women (of all races) who joined because all the men had left to war, basically. That was their break into their amazing careers (digression: interesting to think what would have happened for women's working life had WWII not occurred!)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

C'est intéressant w/c 13 Feb 2017

Francaises, Francais: et vous qu'est qui vous preocuppe? (Le Monde)
As we gear for a presidential election, Le Monde is meeting and interviewing lots of regular French people across the country. Tellingly, the opening question is "What worries out at the moment?" - giving you a sense of the level of optimism filling up the country! What I also noticed in the interviews is that all the people who live in the countryside are talking about their villages emptying and businesses closing, with a feeling of powerlessness. What's to be done about that?

Nazis: A Warning from History (BBC4)
The 1997 documentary series is being shown again. It includes many interviews with eyewitnesses and people who lived through the 1920s, 30s and the rise of Hitler. "You swan with the tide", said one. "In 1933, it was impossible to predict 1945", said another. It seems insane now that France annexed Germany's most productive region, the Rhur, as reparation for WWI; that the Nazis had their own paramilitary troops (the brown shirts) and the army and police didn't try and quash them; that the two most popular parties in 1930s Germany (the Nazis and Communists) aimed to destroy democracy and each other (the documentary includes recordings of songs from both groups telling how they would fight to the death to defeat the other!). We would be utterly aghast at this today. Chilling stuff.

Film: Patriots Day
I was fortunate enough to get an invite to a pre-screening of Patriots Day, the new film telling the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It's tight, tense, with amazing set pieces (the actual explosion is shown as though you are in it, flying through the air and crashing to the ground). It's very American. It's very patriotic. But it's very well done.

Film: Moonlight
What a special film this is. I don't really know how to do it justice in words. Incredible performances - so direct and moving, beautiful frames and editing - particularly the opening that made me dizzy, and the scene in the ocean. A friend thought the characters were cliches (the good-hearted drug dealer, the crackhead mom, the bully) but the original play is partly autobiographical: these are real African-American lives and experiences, and they can't be dismissed. I'm still processing them and reflecting on them. I think what touched me most was how lonely the main character has been all his life, always on guard - we are shown some moments of connections with others, but they seem so few and far between. I found it heartbreaking.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pina Bausch - Masurca Fogo

A woman wearing lots of fur.
Goodbye! Are you from London?
How do you say leg in Portuguese? Perrrrna.
A man launching himself onto a group of other dancers.
Large video projections - of cows (the sertao?), Latin/Carribean ballroom dancers, the sea, blooming flowers.
A woman wearing balloons and telling the story of her primary school teacher everyone hated ('how pretty am I today, she would ask'). She walks around the stage giving and lighting cigarettes to men. They burst her balloons.
A couple pretending to pass dentures to one another so they can eat. Every time they chink their champagne glasses, the man's loses its bottom. They laugh.

Music used in Masurca Fogo
Bau - Raquel
K.D Lang - Smoke Rings
Amalia Rodrigues - Naufragio
Alfredo Marceneiro - Nos tempos em que eu cantava

Saturday, February 04, 2017

C'est intéressant w/c 30 Jan 2017

Emel Mathlouthi: Kelmti Horra
Kelmti Horra became one of the anthems of the Arab Spring, particularly in Tunisia, where protest singer Emel Mathlouthi is from. I just heard it this song yesterday doing some research at work. She has an incredible voice - its power reminds me of Mariza's, though hers is clearer.

I am those who are free and never fear
I am the secrets that will never die
I am the voice of those who would not give in
I am free and my word is free

Bargaining with Silicon Valley (Dissent Magazine)
Some choice quotes in here, to make you wonder what the rich dudes of Silicon Valley have in their heads:
- certainly a sense of power: "[They] are preternaturally gifted with powers of prediction. (...) Of course, predicting the future is easier when you have the money and power to determine it."
- a somehow disingenuous ignorance of what their ideas could bring about. Think about their lofty goals of transforming the future of work: "The defining feature of the gig economy isn’t really that workers accept jobs through an app on their phone: it’s that they work with no benefits, no job security, and no unions."

The article reminded me that actually this is not the future of work. It is what work used to be like, and still is for some people: "Designating employees as independent contractors is an old trick that tech companies have merely taken to new extremes. Long before Uber and company, this kind of misclassification was pervasive in the transportation industry, as well as construction, agricultural work, and many other sectors."

The final paragraph is a call to arms: "If there’s a cue that labor could take from Silicon Valley, it’s that it pays to envision a bolder future. Rather than genuflecting in hopes of being dealt a kinder fate, labor could focus on making its own destiny—one where all workers have collective bargaining rights and access to universal public benefits. That’s no more outlandish, after all, than the idea that a handful of tech magnates ought to decide what society will look like in years to come."

I joined a union this year.

Love and Black Lives, in Pictures found on a Brooklyn St (New York Times)
A beautiful dive into the life of a black couple through their photo album, from pre-WWII to the 1970s. The writer found the photo album next to a pile of rubbish on a Crown Heights street, and slowly pieced their life together by talking to neighbours, finding family members, going through archives. From the Great Migration to segregation in the armed forces, to the jitterbug and social clubs, and community life, it's a moving account of a life of great changes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book: Widow Basquiat

A major exhibition of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat is coming to London later this year (at the Barbican), and I thought I ought to learn more about this artist, because frankly I knew very little beyond the Andy Warhol association and tragic death.

In a bookstore, my eyes stopped on this memoir and, reading its jacket, I thought, who best to learn about Basquiat than from his muse (and on-and-off girlfriend), Suzanne Mallouk? The book is a mix of Suzanne's stories (told by herself), and writer Jennifer Clements's poetic prose, and is an incredible insight into the life of Basquiat, into the club scene and art world of 1980s NYC, and into his paintings.

The below are highlights, written in Jennifer Clements's style. This is a great book - art history, really, told beautifully.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

C'est intéressant w/c 16 Jan 2017

They are back - my weekly highlights. I am not sure why I stopped this list of stuff that grabbed my attention, but I know I found it useful to reflect upon and share the media/art that I consumed. So, in 2017, I aim to carry on (if only for my own record!)

TV show: Call My Agent (Netflix)
Me and my partner were not sure a TV series set in the world of Parisian elites would appeal, but this production is really entertaining. The dialogues are especially strong, full of wit and finesse. For a touch of glamour, each episode features a plot involving a famous French actress or actor, always in a knowing fashion but done very cleverly. The rivalry between two ageing legends, Line Renaud and Francoise Fabian, is hilariously played, and the angry exchanges between Nathalie Baye and her daughter Laurent Smet can only be described as "so French". A deguster!

Film: Star Wars Rogue One
I massively enjoyed that film. It is very straightforward: the heroine must go on her quest and help save her world, and she does, helped with many a character along the way. It all moves at a great pace, the CGI is fantastic. Superb escapism during these depressing times.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What a lovely weekend...

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What a lovely, lovely weekend where the beautiful present reminded me of the past in a happy way, not with sadness.

Friday was like the first episode of Queer As Folk - when I was a twink, I was way too scared to meet people in gay bars, so I never got to be Nathan, and I never thought of myself as a Stuart, but that night I was Stuart and that was fun! The Nathan I met blinded me with his smile, bravery and attitude to life: he will go far I am sure.

Saturday was like a Sex And The City episode, extended food edition, catching up with true friends and eating starters in one place, mains in another, and dessert elsewhere, cause we can do it now and that felt awesome.

 On Sunday we sang briefly in memory and celebration of little people: overfed, we lounged and kept saying 'we are going to go now', only we didnt cause it was too nice to pet the dog or chit chat for a bit longer. On the bookshelves I spotted Asterix, which took me back to Sundays with a similar feel, reading them all and playing with numerous cousins and telling my mum 'no we can't leave now we've just started to have fun' - when we'd obviously started 4h earlier.

Gracias a la vida!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thank you, 2016!

I guess the overwhelming sensation of 2016 will be that of one's stomach dropping - when you realise you wont make that flight, and then you do; when you see the guy who is trying to steal your phone pull out a long blade; when you face the fact that you have to say goodbye; when you hear that Brexit got through; when you hear about a bloody Bastille day; when you read about the death of Prince; when you hear those horrible stories from war-torn countries; when you wake up at 5am to look at the US election results.

Thinking again, I'd like the overwhelming sensation of this year to be utter joy, the type so strong that you just want to hug everyone - when you first see Brazilian star Ivete Sangalo in the flesh, up there on her bus, singing in the heat to thousands of revellers (you waited so long for that moment!); when you spot good friends across a Brooklyn street and then dance your jetlag away; when Faufau beams her 1-year-old smile at you whatever face you pull at her; when you dine with old colleagues or see old friends in unexpected places and think back on the journey you've all travelled; when the show you've worked hard on is a huge success; when you get an awesome new job; when you visit Venice again, after 18 years, and with your love, at that.

Feeling grateful.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Ballet de Lorraine - Unknown Pleasures

Rambling thoughts about Ballet de Lorraine's Unknown Pleasures (part of Dance Umbrella), a performance of five new works by anonymous choreographers (the music, lighting design and costumes designs are also listed as anonymous).

Is choreography that is a copy of someone else's good enough? And if a famous choreographer just does what we know him/her for, is it interesting?

I loved the 2nd piece, where 17 dancers constantly turn and step into different formations. I instantly thought of Lucinda Childs' work. If it is by her: yeah, I saw a new world premiere by this legend! If it is by someone else: hum nice but not original, since Childs did it all before.

So, wait, am I saying that the work is suddenly less good? I still saw the same performance. It shouldn't be actually: regardless of who choreographed it (Childs included), what we saw was not original. It could be someone copying her style, or herself churning out what we admire in her work.

It shouldn't matter. What matters was the impact we felt, the experience of the moment: those bodies, that music, those steps,

What makes choreography effective, then? What do we value in new choreography? How much does a choreographer's name impact on my appreciation and enjoyment of the work?

Questions I can't answer right now, but boy it was invigorating to go into a theatre not expecting anything, apart from the intuition that it would be good (actually it could have been a total disaster).

Can I ever again lose all my dance baggage when going to see a new work?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Son of Saul - review

Son of Saul is finally here. I first heard about the film during last year's Cannes Film Festival, when I came across this five-star review on the Guardian website.

The plot is beyond horrific and made me think 'that will be a film for the guts': Saul is a sonderkommando in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, meaning his job is to get his fellow prisoners ready for the gas chamber (without panicking them - "there will be coffee after!", someone yells, "and we need carpenters!"), their bodies out of the chamber and to the crematorium, and finally their ashes dumped in a nearby pond. A boy barely survives the gas chamber, only to die minutes later: Saul recognises him as his son and decides to give him, against good reason and in the face of the surrounding hell, a proper Jewish burial. This leads to an attempt to hide the body, find a rabbi etc.

A sub-plot sees his fellow sonderkommandos and some kappos (both groups received better treatment) attempting to photograph the horror and get the photographs out of the camp, as well as planning an uprising.

So, the story itself is intense. Director Lazlo Nemes gives it even more power by always focusing his camera on Saul. We face him head on as he watches new victims arrive, we follow him closely as he walks across the changing room emptying the pockets of the clothes left behind by the people we can hear screaming and banging in the gas chamber next door. His face is rather impassible. We are deep inside horror.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

C'est intéressant w/c 4 Apr 2016

Agnes de Mille's Artistic Justice (The New Yorker)
I was doing some research on female choreographers for work, and found this really interesting article about Agnes de Mille - arguably the most successful of them all. She was very critical of herself, very opinionated, full of ideas and a great writer, which makes for a great read.

New York Times series: Social Capital
Analysing the tweets of a celebrity.

A Dancer Dies Twice (BBC Radio 4)
A documentary on dancing, and letting go, and moving on.

Living and Breathing Martha Graham (New York Times)
Current dancers with Martha Graham Dance Company tell us why they love her work, her technique, and why it got under their skin. Enlightening.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I don't really know what really kept me up until 2.30am...

I don't really know what really kept me up until 2.30am. 
I was hot. 
I was cold. 
I was thinking about the last moments of Harvey Milk (am finishing his biography - the moment he saw Dan White with a gun and must have thought 'oh no!"). 
I was thinking of the last moments of OJ Simpson's ex-wife and her friend (am watching American Crime Story - what terror). 
I was reliving the emotions of our Brazil trip. 
I was excited about doing pecs at the gym in the morning. 
I was singing Shirley Bassey's After The Rain to myself again and again ('after the rain has gone something inside me is dying for you'). 
I was thinking about the intense one-man theatre show I'd seen with Dan and Michael earlier that evening, and one of its monologues: who are we afraid of disappointing in life? Ourselves? Others? (who are they and why?). 
I was worried my phone battery was going to die (it did the night before, I couldn't explain it, no alarm that morning, it made me late for work). 
M thought I was asleep as I was very still, but in my mind thoughts and melodies were racing through, one taking over the next; in my body my senses on high alert. There seemed to be no end to it, but sleep did win over, without me being conscious of it. 
Normally I realise it's coming because I get a spinning sensation (like my bed is flying through a space tunnel) or I start having work ideas (which I have to jot down quickly) or I start thinking ridiculous thoughts (could I get Chaka Khan to sing at my 10th wedding anniversary, wouldn't that be a nice surprise if she just rocked up in the pub we've hired and sang us our song?).
Tonight, will you sing me lullabies?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Brazil trip #6

I did sleep a good 4-5th of our flight but still I feel well tired here on this couch next to a power socket by gate 43 of Lisbon airport. It makes me so emotional: I look wistfully at a beach volley competition TV broadcast (we played beach volley during our trip, it was hilarious), I cry at a Guardian video about an Iraqi cat reunited with his family now refugees in Norway ("Kundush! My life!" sobs the mother when he is returned to them - I can't wait for the cat's biopic to come out at the cinema), I friggin' go all "that-is-so-sad" reading that Umberto Eco has died (question: has anyone every finished one of his novels?), and I react passionately to the lack of available choice in fruit juices at the cafe (haven't they heard of acerola in this country??!). Time for a nap.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Brazil trip #5

So in the end there was nothing to fear about today (Sunday), because we said our goodbyes last night instead.
After a stunning day of hiking and swimming in 3 waterfalls and 4 water holes, and stressfully making dinner (gazpacho, Brazilian chicken), we went to dance forró in a bar. Why oh why did I decide to have a caipirinha with cachaca? (I blame my friend A) 
I started welling up as the singer/accordeonist was asking "meu baião... coração... arranca essa dor do meu peito pra eu não chorar" - I didn't get all the words but I understood the words for pain, chest and not crying. (Can you see where this is going?)
So in the end I just had to cut it short ("Shall we go, M? I am tired") even if  I didn't want to say goodbye.
So in the end I actually don't look down to hide my tears, I look up into the sky, as though gasping for air, my throat is too tight and my chest feels too heavy. I sob in V's neck, I cry on G's shoulder, J, A and T join them to make a circle around me and jump and sing and jump and flood me with their joy for living.
Here's to you, beautiful ones!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brazil trip #4

This morning Thamires, sat in the back of the VW Gol we had rented for the day to go around this gorgeous national park, told me how much she enjoyed reading my posts about the trip. "Even if I'm there anyway. They are so nice! They take you there!" (I paraphrase).
At the end of the day, as we hike down from the top of the Moro de Inacio peak (it takes 10 mins + Valmir did it in flipflops - we are not that adventurous), giddy with the breathtaking views we just enjoyed, and after having been to a waterfall deep in a canyon and swam in a lovely river creek, she says "Ben I can't wait to read your latest chronicle tonight!".
"Oh I don't know if I can write about today, there is too much to say", I reply, thinking that it would be hard to describe how beautiful the landscapes are here, how magical it is to see hundreds of butterflies flying across the dirt road and by the water, and all the flowers, insects, birds all around.
But also I thought I couldn't write because I am feeling quite anxious: on Sunday we say goodbye to our merry gang of friends, old (the ones we came to see on this trip to Brazil) and new (the ones we made during the recent intense days), and it breaks my heart already. 
I am dreading it so much. You know that sensation before hugging someone you don't want to part from... I tend to sort of clear my throat while looking down on the floor (as if the courage to face the moments ahead could be found on the floor!). Also I tend to hope the other person will cry too, and first, so I can say it is their fault I am crying now. Well it was always their fault, but not in that way.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Brazil trip #3

It's 6pm and the beach hut we stop at to have dinner has actually closed its kitchen. (Cause it's a Wednesday night I guess?) But the live band is still playing, and the small crowd of people is loving it so we decide to hang about. At first we watch from the side, then we start swaying our hips, then we get into the groove. Behind us the beach is long, sandy with waves perfect for the handful of surfers still in the water. We face towards many tall palm trees: at their root the sky is that light orange (the color of the fruit juice Valmir made us try yesterday - fruit name unremembed, am pretty sure it ends with a 'va' sound?), at their top the sky is the purple/dark blue of the coming night. People are dancing all around us. A little girl (7 years old or so, big afro with a bright yellow ribbon) makes a choreography (right arm round on 1 beat/left arm round on the other/both arms together slowly on 2 beats) and everyone starts copying her. 

Are we on the set for an advert for Havaianas, Coca-Cola, or the Partido de Trabalhadores?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Brazil trip #2

So Sunday started scarily with that mugging (see previous post), but it also ended magically - with a visit to our friend Victor's grandma. 

Raised to be a lady, she was a natural hostess. She chatted and chatted and chatted (and Michael and I just nodded, understanding 1 word in 5...), asked questions and told us about her love for the local football team (she has written a story whose main character is the club's mascot, a canary bird).

 She also told us she loved playing the piano ('adoro tocar o piano!' - this I understood clearly), and then invited us to listen to her. I was a little late in the parlour, as I was admiring the several paintings she had made and were on display in the living room (some were naive collages, others on plates, many bouquets of flowers, and fishes on glass). And then I heard she had started to play. The instrument was really out of tune, but wow she could play it! 

What made it even more magical is the coincidence that she played Autumn Leaves (one of Michael's favourite songs), and then went into playing a fado she had composed herself for her parents (her dad was Portuguese, from Madeira). And I love fado! What were the chances? This holiday is an emotional overload.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Brazil trip #1

Things I said I would do if I ever got mugged (you know, the things one says while watching a stressful movie scene): 1. Scream loudly "I am being mugged!". 2. Scream loudlly "Police!" 3. Kick him in the balls. 4. Punch him in the face while holding my set of keys. 5. Throw what he is after across the street. 

Things I did not do when I got mugged by a crackhead with a very large knife: all of the above. In the typical post-trauma, guilt-trip way of thinking of my family, I would spend lots of time thinking about what I could have done: kick his knee? pretend to fall so he would stop holding my tee-shirt so tightly? Only later did it cross my mind that maybe he had another weapon, actually, so what I did do was the only right answer.

Things I did do when I got mugged: 1. Said "oh not my phone there are all my holidays photos in it!! Por favor!!" (our friend got his phone taken from him at Carnaval the night before so at this rate we aint gonna have many photos of the event to show you!). hahaha I tried to plead a poor crackhead for the mercy of my first-world digital memories! hahaha 2. I refused to take it out of my pocket, but then he started counting "one.... two...". 

Which made me realise I was, actually, one second away from disaster. (If not the big one, at least something very painful!). I thought about my partner, helplessly watching from the side, about my family, about our Brazilian friends. I gave him my phone and the little bit of money I had in my porta-dollar.

In the picturesque cobbled streets of this old Salvador neighbourhood, as the sunrise bathed the crumbling, colourful houses and the stray cats slowly walked in the middle of the deserted road, the likelihood of disaster striking was actually higher than I thought.