Greece… et ailleurs

This is the third week without running. I miss it. Whatever ruptured, inflamed, broke, fissured, fractured, disjointed, cracked… (whatever it was – I am not fond of seeing doctors) looks like it is about to get better. I took my running shoes with me to Greece for the weekend we spent there but never felt good enough to put them on and go exploring. I fantasized about coursing along the shore, taking in the salty smell of the air and the chilling wind. I thought about the flowering almond trees and about the waves of green grass – a view which I hardly ever experienced in this country. I confess, I have completely forgotten about the stray dogs fiercely defending their vagrancy, about the paths coming to an abrupt end in the middle of nowhere, and about the cars dashing on the small streets, fleetingly reminding those around how well Greek drivers can handle their vehicles.

Often I would try to imagine how would it be like to be in Greece in the winter, without the torpid heat. I can never get farther than a few black and white scenes from Zorba (how pathetically stereotypical, I know) or Eternity and a day – those mountain scenes, foggy and cold. I indulged in creating languorous images of warm indoors, a fire monologuing on the futility of life, cuddling up in a room overlooking the sea, bursting with inspiration, churning one page after another, squeezing in all the holiness the gods raffishly left behind.

Well, it’s damn cold in winter. Those houses are not meant to keep the heat inside. The rain pours down as mercilessly as it does here, the wind slashes your cheeks as thoroughly as back home. I concluded that I should do without. For Rachel Kushner it was a ferry ride (“My aspiration to spend time at sea as requisite literary training died long ago, as a teenager, on a white-knuckled ferry ride to Elba during a torrential rainstorm.”). As for myself… I gave up (too quickly, perhaps) that long weekend in February, walking barefoot on icy marble floors, shoving my hands in the jeans pockets when out for cold walks along the beach, trying not to step on dog shit and trying not to trip over protruding pieces of metal encased in masses of concrete.

*

Murakami had ran a marathon from Athens to, well… Marathon, following the ancient route in reverse. I drove a couple of times along that road and I think I would still not be able to do it. OK, he was escorted by a whole crew, he had a car driving by his side the whole time, protecting him from the maddening traffic and whatever dangerous animals, people or cars were lurking in the heat. It was not the happiest run in his life, it was definitely one of his hottest (he ran in a morning in July), and it was one where he counted the highest number of flattened, scorched remains of dogs, cats and other roadkill paving the street.

Greece! Why do I like spending my summers there? Why do I engage in endless discussions with our Greek friends about how to change this country, about how to make it prosper, about how to get its people to see it for what it is, to find its place in the world today and stop dwelling in a past that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Greece is like the man on the wire now: holding its balance while walking between the two World Trade towers. Down on the street people stare in disbelief. Should they rush away in case the moving speck will come down with a silent thud? Should they stay and watch the show (after all, how often would you have the chance to see something like this)? While Pettit seems to be stepping on very thin air so high up, nobody knows how it will go on. Not even him. Talking about creative ambiguity!

Help, Tennyson! You’re my only hope!
“Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”
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Books, exhibitions, movies…

Books:

Sarah Thornton – Seven Days in the Artworld. Well, this was an eye-opening book. I did not read it for the plot (there is none) and the writing itself is rather weak and often self flattering. There’s not much in the way of an analysis of the artworld (from artists to the art market) but more of a show off, naming names and places and putting oneself there and then, together with these people who are the important ones in the world of art. Well, but that’s all I needed. Made my list already and started checking up. I just have to keep up the tempo (although it is a bit maddening – I have to go through all the names pretty much every day). And I can only hope it will bring me somewhere one day. The more I know, the better.

I cannot believe it took her 5 years to write this book!

Julian Barnes – Arthur and George. A long book. A mixture of policier, documentary, historical novel. But a good one. Hello, Sherlock Holmes! BTW, I think next week the new movie will be in the theaters already. Might try to see it.

Richard David Precht – Liebe: Ein unordentliches Gefühl. Am through with half of it (reading in German is not my forte – I need time) but I am not sure it’s going to be the wow I expected. And I simply hate the ad hominem arguments popping up here and there. That’s not nice, Mr. RDP! Not nice at all!

Susan Sontag – On Photography. Good essays. There is lots to learn about photography in this book. It’s a good analysis, written at a time when film photography started to be mass available. A bit outdated, one would think. Well, I don’t think so! What we go through now with digital is pretty much the same with what happened in the 60’s and 70’s. Again, many names in the book. Some I knew already, some I had to look up. In any case, I have revised (a little bit, at least) my relationship with photography. I need to take things a bit slower when I take pictures. I need to think a bit more and not leave almost everything to the accident. “Just shoot! There will be a good frame you could choose in the multitude you make!” – well, I have to say good bye to this approach. I have to crank it down a notch. Take it slower… L’instant decisif has nothing to do with hurrying up. It has more to do with waiting and waiting and waiting until the time is ripe. Take the scene in, make yourself invisible, keep being interested…

Exhibitions:

Zoe Leonard – At MUMOK. The photographer gathered quite a lot of life experiences. All the things she’s been through, all the jobs she’s done! I like her BW photos. The ones of railway tracks and the Niagra falls and of trees swallowing up fences and iron rods. I am not that sure about the Analogue series. I have to think about it a little more before I come to a conclusion.

Gender Check – (MUMOK) still ongoing for me. I only saw a part of it. Must go back again (which I can do now as often as I want with my new museums card).

The Impressionists – Albertina. There are some nice paintings in the show but nothing to die for. I found the explanations and the examples of fake paintings (a Monet landscape put next to a copy, etc.) pretty obvious. But I started thinking about the evolution of pigments and is something I will be looking into rather soon.

I found it funny that in the upper right corner of a Cezanne painting hang a piece of a paper tissue the cleaning lady used to clean the glass screen with.

What do people who work in museums do when their work there is done? I do not mean the curators, etc. but the cleaning people, the workers hanging the art. Do they know who the artists are? Do they ask? Do they go home and check their prices on Artprice or Artnet? (Well, I cannot imagine they’d have an account for it but you get my point). In MUMOK there were two well built guys, more in the way of bodyguards than museum guards who were walking here and there along a wall and who kept talking and talking. They talk about what car does X drive and if it works well. It was a BMW, it was supposed to work well. They talked about Y’s wife and her tits. But they also talked about the world wide web. One of them had a bit of troubles remembering what the WWW stands for but together they solved the mystery in less than 10 min worth of walking. What do you want? I think they were a bit over 40. Things like this happen… Don’t they?

Movies:

Das Weiße Band – A bit of a shock with this movie. After two and a half hours, when the it comes rather abruptly to an end, I kept looking around thinking “Was that it?”. I wanted more! Haneke did a very good job. He tried to make this movie in Austria but did not find anyone who’d be willing to support him financially. In Germany he had more luck. And now the prizes start raining in… I saw an interview with him where he talks about the work and how they spent months only trying to find the right people for the roles. They screened about 7000 kids and they chose only 10. Pretty much the same was with the adults. They combed the surroundings in northern Germany, where they shot most of the scenes, but did not find enough people. Half of the extras (about 100) come from small villages in Romania. Why? That is where Haneke found people who still look like farmers living in Germany a hundred years ago. All he was looking for were real farmers’ faces… However, the most interesting thing about the movie is the fact that with it Haneke wanted to point out a possible development that lead to the emergence of fascism and NS in Germany.

Avatar – Schwarzenegger at the Golden Globe Awards joked, “If you did not see this movie… you are perhaps the only one…” Judging after the money it makes, it seems to be true. Anyhow, one does/should not see it for the story (we know it and we saw it a million times) but for the special effects, the 3D, etc. Only to get an idea about what the Motion Picture industry can make these days. Well, it can make a lot. Or should I say what WETA can make? Using computers running Linux in that far corner of the world that is New Zeeland. Well, WETA can make a lot.

But let me tell you a little story: Margaret Mead went to Samoa in the ’20s to study the primitive societies. And she wrote a book about it – Coming of Age in Samoa and she pointed out how people there live differently than those in the western world, how the adolescents develop without the “emotional and psychological distress” as we are used to in this part of the world. Astonishing! Well, it was astonishingly untrue. What she saw in Samoa was actually only what she wanted to see. The same here, with Pandora. It is not another world, but the same old one. Just put another pair of legs on this horse and move its nostrils at the base of his neck, make the people a lot taller and make them… blue, etc. It is not an Experience as one would want an Experience to be. Someone called it a Techno Kitsch. I think I might go with this description.

Soul Kitchen – If you don’t feel like doing much in the evening, go see it. It is fun but otherwise not much. It tries to be something it is not (namely, an American movie). But anyway… It’s funny…

Lately

Don’t really feel like writing lately. I want to, I sit at the computer and start typing but words don’t come up. After several good minutes of tossing around I abandon it altogether and try something else. Reading books and blogs, watching movies, planning challenges for the new ubuntu 9.10 I installed on the laptop I have at work, etc. But not writing. The brain in the vat thing; but with a twist. Not for the good though…

Anyhow –

It was Paris. Four days in the city. Planned to go from coffee house to coffee house and restaurant to restaurant (by way of metro) and nothing else but we ended up walking around for miles.

musee d’Orsay + Orangerie. James Ensor – quite a good exhibition. And Ensor was quite an odd fellow. Spent some time watching the impressionists. Le dejeuner sur l’herbe – Manet, laughed at the youngsters trying to get a good and long view of Courbet’s L’origine du monde, etc. etc.
– the new Quai Branly museum (by Jean Nouvel) – one would need several good hours to really understand the whole stuff put on display there. I did not have that but I wanted to see the building. Which is impressive. Inside as well as outside.
The leather walls, the spiraling walkways…
– ended up (again) eating falafels in le Marais, Japanese at Kintaro, good French pastery on blvd. Beaumarchais, and brunching at Le Pain Quotidien. Missed having pancakes at Breizh. The weather was not particularly nice but we still had a bit of sun.
– the red wine was, to my surprise, almost everywhere we went, quite chilled. Did not expect that. What I also did not expect was the smokeless pubs and restaurants. That’s something I like and something I hate not having here in Austria. Bad, Ösies!
– met a friend I hadn’t seen for long and found out about the course she teaches, about Brasil and its impetuous urbanism.

 

Then, it was Carnuntum. The wine thingy in Lower Austria. Managed (again) to taste my way through the afternoon and discovered that the Oppelmeyer family had a good wine too. Of course, Nepomuk has perhaps more to offer for the price but the Pinot Noir 2006 from Oppelmeyer is quite exquisite.

Saw:
(again) Blue from Kieslowski and Zabrisky Point from Antonioni.
Politist, adj. (Porumboiu) – I really liked this movie. Of course, it seemed a bit too long at times but somehow it worked so as it was. One needs time to see it. You have to watch Cristi and you have time to think about what he’s thinking and to think about what you’d think if you were him. Opening and closing doors. Slurping soup… Using a dictionary in a police station… Good! (Thank you, A!).

 

Finished reading… Are you ready? The Time Traveler’s Wife, from Niffenegger. I read it till the end. And did not really get it. It’s not because it is a difficult book. It is not! Once you get over the time traveling thing, it is an unspectacular contemporary novel. Do you remember the dream you had when you were a child, the dream of a friend you’d have, only for yourself, with whom you’d spend time and to whom you’d be close without having to give any explanations to anyone? Well, the book is about that. And what’s more, this friend grows up to be your lover and your husband, etc. Having a cake and eating it too, sort of thing. But the feeling of loneliness is always there. The projection cannot get you over it. The two guys, Henry and Clare seem to me to be just two lonely people. Actually, since you take Henry to be Clare’s projection (which he is not but could very well be), this whole book is about a lonely person and her escapism. They don’t really have friends and their lives are pretty much the same over the years. But I could talk about it a little too long… I’ll cut it down here.

Now I read some stories from Lucian Dan Teodorovici. Which work. Somehow rustic and heavy but they work nonetheless.

 

A (very) small walk through the galleries in the first district…
Krinzinger – Kader Attia – French artist. A few photos, an installation [Po(l)etical] and a wall painted with water.
Mario Mauroner – Usle Civera Family Show – some of the stuff was interesting, some not. I liked the big paintings that look like books in a library.
(again) TB21 – Transitory Objects.

Varia

The Human Stain. The movie. I read the book long time ago and liked it. But it was only now that I got to see the movie. Which isn’t bad, but does not match the book. It’s not easy to match it, anyway, as it is pretty densely packed with stuff to think about. You simply cannot put all that in a feature film.

Philip Roth is one of my favorites (don’t think about the Nobel). I read several of his books and I like the sinew, the strength he is able to convey. And, of course, he’s funny. A different kind of funny, but he can sure make you laugh. The Anatomy Lesson, for example. I think I want to read this again. And The Dying Animal. That was quite a story. Or The Ghost Writer… Where could I find the time? Where? Where?

There is so much to do!

The last couple of weeks I lingered around with Calvino’s If on a Night, a Traveller…. I think I only read about 60 pages. This is definitely not a book that one could read in the underground or in chunks of 20 min. It’s a book that needs time. Hours… to be read slowly… I just cannot do that now…

I had to go back to Hemingway. And now I am almost through with The Old Man and the Sea. I do not need to write about it, do I?

I think (again) about studying. I just like the university. But how to do it? And where? Another Ph.D.? What for? I think it is because sometimes I need to talk to people about things other than work and daily life. Or hear other people talk about it. Time.

This week I saw a photo documentary on Lens (Ernesto Bazano). It was called Sisyphean Days in Cuba. Wonderful BW photos of Cuba. Perhaps I should call all this Sisyphean Days in Vienna. Sometimes there is too much…

The display of the A200 has a problem. Might be broken. Did the last trips in the mountains have something to do with it? I guess not. I have to send it to be repaired anyway. What am I going to do now without a camera? Well, I think I am going to buy some rolls of film and try my luck with shooting analog. The old Minolta sits in the cupboard and just waits. I never shot film with an SLR before so there is something new to try out. I already looked around to see what’s available and I think I’ll go with Fuji’s Superia. I have to shoot a lot less, I have to wait for the right light to be available and I have to learn how to use a new camera. A handicap that could turn into something exciting! And the field of view is so much different on a full frame! So much wider. Definitely will have to try it! I can only hope the weekend is going to be sunny enough.

There is another film I recently saw. The Reader. I think it might’ve been a very good movie if they hadn’t pushed the melodrama button. A bit too much violin and too slow reactions. Winslet was great but Finnes… already stereotypical. This is a movie one could talk long about. Beginning with the relationship between the kid and the woman, going through the moral issues and pride and ending with the film itself as an artistic product.

Not write about it but talk about it! It’s not a very good movie but it’s good enough!

Going up the mountains. This is something I always liked to do and now it finally happens more often (thank you R.!) Hohe Wand, Schneeberg, Rax. Each time a bit more challenging, each time more beautiful. The light was just perfect last time! I think every day with good light must produce at least a good photograph.

Men and Women

I finished reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I have to get used to his style. There is none actually. He just writes. His technique of shaving off any words and phrases which are not vital for the plot is visibly at work. There is no subtlety, no hidden dealings. The story, all of it is right there, in front of you. What you do with it, is your business. In a way, it reminds me of Murakami. The writing does not spark; metaphors do not pop up here and there to make the reading more appealing. Actually, one does not really need them, a story can very well be a good story without much beautification. But I like them, I like this whole metaphor business. Nevermind! This is one of his early works. Am curious to see how his writing develops, what changes occur (if any), etc.. I hope I can follow.

Lady Ashley. Well, it is her I am thinking about (like most of the men in the book, anyway; the “lost generation”). She must’ve been very beautiful. Does this justify though the swarm of men around her? Writers, counts, bullfighters. Old, rich, nice, brutes, young, you name it! The events around the bullfighting are quite well developed. Her aching for the young torero, her using Jake whenever and for whomever she wanted… And he did not flinch once. Always there for her when she needed him. What did he get in return? Nothing more than her company. She must’ve been really something!

Men without Women – a collection of stories by Hemingway. Again, something he wrote when he was young. I think I can grow to like his writing. The first story is quite well written. And with the others I could see his sense of humor, his seriousness, his playfulness. Not that bad (sic!). And I even found myself laughing in the underground when reading An Alpine Idyll. It is funny.

The last story, Now I Lay Me, sent some melancholic shivers down my spine. The main character in the story is in a room where silk worms are being bred. Lots of them, gnawing away at the mulberry leaves. Not being able to sleep, not being able to close his eyes. Shell-shocked…

Back then, in the dusty and glorious Romania, one of our duties, as brave red tie bearers, was to do our best in everything we did. No matter if that were math, literature, sports or breeding silk worms. We had a couple of mulberry trees at the back of our garden and we’d pick leaves (a few plastic sacks full) and we’d bring them to school to feed them to the worms. They came once a year. They were delivered (by whom? I have no idea) and then, as mysteriously as they came, exactly so would they disappear. Somebody would drop by and pick up all the fat and silky cocoons). They lived their short lives on newspapers scattered across ping pong tables in the gym (actually, an all-purpose room). Their long bodies were crawling from one leaf to the next, eating and eating and eating. Late in the evening, at the beginning of autumn, sometimes even without electricity, it was eerie to hear them munching. We did our best! Always!

There was no fear the whole world would disappear when one would close his eyes… No shell-shock. Not until later, in that spring when I realized what happened. As if I suddenly discovered that I was hanging on a tree root above the abyss.

Hemingway

I’ve only read half of The Sun Also Rises but I think  I can somehow spot the Americanness of Hemingway. Yes, I did not read any Hemingway until now but I got a whole collection with most of his books and I do intend to read them (all). After half of the book the intrigue just starts to unveil (at least, that’s what I think he’s pointing to). There are lots of dialogues in there and rather little analysis thus far. Yes, I know he’s not a judge (H) and never will be. Perhaps that’s why he’s so appreciated. Am curious what the rest is going to bring.

In the underground – listened to Sophocle’s Antigone.

Books

LeClezio  – Poisson d’or

I read this in French. Had all the time in the world, but it went rather fast. The whole book is in the title: the gold fish that slips away. It gave me the impression though that at times it moved a bit too fast (as if the author felt he’s in a blind alley and had to get out in order to keep the story rolling). There are lots of scenes that stayed with me, there is a lot of pain in there as well and lots of broken people.

J’avais compris que si les gens ont à choisir entre toi et leur bonheur, ce n’est pas toi qu’ils prennent.

A l’entree, un group de Gitans discutait autour de carcasses de metal, comme des chasseurs qui aurainet depece une proie.

Michael Chabon – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

One can only love them – the two guys… Sammy and Joe. They hold together the whole book like the heavy chains from which Houdini always emerged victoriously. And you have the key. You, the reader. You open it and you (should) know you can only do it because of love. As Kornblum said, “only love could pick a nested pair of steel Bramah locks”. It made a stir, this book. Not very deep a stir but strong enough to feel it.

The words echoed Kornblum’s sound advice, but somehow they chilled Josef. He could not shake the feeling – reportedly common among ghosts – that it was not he but those he haunted whose lives were devoid of matter, sense, future.

//

Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina’s delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat – was, literally, talked into life.

//

The clerk or secretary – a woman, more often than not – pinned to a hard chair by a thousand cubic feet of smoky, rancid air that caught like batter in the blades of the ceiling fans, deafened by the thunder of the file cabinets, dyspeptic, despairing, and bored, would look up and see that Joe’s thick thatch of curls had been deformed by his headgear into a kind of glossy black hat, and smile.

//

The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew that it was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place.

//

He had been lying to her steadily, and with her approval, for years. It was a single, continuous lie, the deepest kind of lie possible in a marriage: the one that need never be told, because it will never be questioned.

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene

Well, good that I stumbled upon this book! I mean, I knew about most of the stuff Darwin’s Rottweiler talks about here but never had the chance to put it into perspective. And that’s what he does with The Selfish Gene. Well, it’s a book which was published long before I was born, actually, but it does not seem to be outdated. I first saw Dawkins talking about this book in the documentary about Desmond Morris (one of whose paintings makes up the cover of the first edition). There are quite some new concepts which were somehow rearranged in my head. Never really thought of myself until now as a survival machine for my genes. Not bad, you genes! Well done! Right… No, really… Sure! Well, I could’ve ended up as a Nematode. They – can you believe this? – well… they (only) live in… I cannot even bring myself to write it! They only live in German beer mats!!!! Lucky them!

Different sorts of survival machines appear very varied on the outside and in the internal organs. An octopus is nothing like a mouse, and both are quite different from an oak tree. Yet in their fundamental chemistry they are rather uniform, and, in particular, the replicators that they bear, the genes, are basically the same kind of molecule in all of us – from bacteria to elephants. We are all survival machines for the same kind of replicator – molecules called DNA – but there are many different ways of making a living in the world, and the replicators have built a vast range of machines to exploit them. A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees, a fish is a machine that preserves genes in the water; there is even a small worm that preserves genes in German beer mats. DNA works in mysterious ways.

//

Genes for indirectly control the manufacture of bodies, and the influence is strictly one way; acquired characteristics are not inherited. No matter how much knowledge and wisdom you acquire during your life, not one jot will be passed on to your children by genetic means. Each new generation starts from scratch. A body is the genes’ way of preserving the genes unaltered.

//

Once upon a time, natural selection consisted of the differential survival of replicators floating free in the primeval soup. Now, natural selection favours replicators that are good at building survival machines, genes that are skilled in the art of controlling embryonic development. In this, the replicators are no more conscious or purposeful than they ever were.

//

Etc.