Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last Night at Last Year At Marianbad

In looking for a clip for my previous entry, I think the film started to grow on me. It has me thinking about it....

Not sure how I feel about that.

Last Year At Marienbad

The COG and I watched Last Year At Marienbad last night.  I remember when this film came out - it won the Lion D'Or at Venice. Every one said it was brilliant. I even had a LYAM haircut. (Still do, as a matter of fact.) But I was too young to have seen it when it was new, and it just passed me by.

So, finally,  we watched it.  That is, I watched it. The COG watched it, too,  but periodically he fell asleep. Then he would wake up and ask me what had happened to which I would reply, 'nothing,'   Once he left the room for 10 minutes to feed the dog and make tea and he didn't miss anything.  Pretty much nothing happens. Even when, for one moment, you think something has happened, it turns out that it didn't happen after all. At least, I think so.  Maybe. I'm not sure.

It was clearly influential. Those old Calvin Klein Obsession ads, although they had much meatier plots and were in color, owed something to the film.

And here's the thing - the French is wonderful. Very clear, not too fast, not idiomatic, but still spoken rather than formal French.  Interestingly everybody uses vous, even the lovers. If they are lovers.

I'm still not sure. Maybe he was mistaken. Or a stalker. Maybe she was lying or really had forgotten.

And then, there was the game of pick up sticks people keep playing.  What was that about?

Here's a bit from the beginning of the film. Not that it matters where it's from - this is pretty much the entire film in a nutshell. Please click twice on the link so you see the whole screen at YouTube. For some reason it only shows part of it here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This Week in the news in Brighton

The strikes and protests in France are getting all the headlines, while protests occuring elsewhere do not make the international news.  I am hereby doing my part to address this problem. 

Headline from the Brighton Argus Friday 22 Oct: 

Two Arrested After Protesters Glue Themselves to a Bank.

Two people have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and criminal damage, after two protesters glued themselves to the doors of RBS bank in North Road, Brighton.
The protesters each glued one hand to either side of a doorframe and linked their hands to create a human barrier at 3.10pm on Wednesday 13 October.
Detective Rex Petty said: "The protesters' barrier prevented people leaving and disrupted the work of the bank, upsetting both staff and customers.
"The pair left after a customer barged past the couple, who unwittingly caused the protesters' skin to be left on the doorframe.
"I am keen to trace this man, as he may be able to provide further evidence. Anyone who was in the bank at the time of the offence who has yet to speak to us is urged to come forward."
A 27-year-old man from Manchester and a 22-year-old woman of no fixed address were arrested two hours later at Brighton railway station. They have been released on bail until 11 November.

Names of Buildings in the Emperor's Private Paradise

I love the names of the buildings in the Emperor's Private Paradise.

The Gate of Spreading Auspiciousness
The Pavilion of the Purification Ceremony
The Pavilion of Prosperity
The Pavilion of Picking Fragrance
The Studio of Self Restraint
The Bower of the Ancient Catalpa
The Hall of the Brilliant Dawn
The Hall of Fulfilling Original Wishes
The Pavilion of Sharing Beauty
The Bower of Three Friends
The Pavilion of the Jade Green Conch
The Building of Luminous Clouds
The Building of Extending Delights
The Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery
The Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony
The Bower of Purest Jade
The Belvedere of Viewing Achievements

and last, but not least,

The Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service

In the Emperor's Private Paradise of the Forbidden City

The COG and I went to an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum on Friday. It was, frankly,  incredible.  In the 18th century, the Emperor Qianlong, made himself a secluded and luxurious private garden to serve as his retirement home.   He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world and a devout Buddhist. (Tho' the COG expressed doubts that these two things are compatible.) At any rate, he had incredible taste and wealth and this garden is a jewel.

The Garden of Tranquility and Longevity, as it's called, is a walled garden with 12 or 15 buildings set on several acres in one corner of the Forbidden City. It is not opened to the public, nor will it ever be.  The exterior has been maintained, but the interiors were neglected since the 'People' acquired it in 1924.   A couple of years ago the Chinese government began restoration with funds from the World Monument Fund.
The picture above is a room from a theatre / party / gathering place in the garden.  The building is called 'The Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service', which I think would be a fantastic name for our house, too. Though our house does not have exquisite carved wood screens or hand painted murals. The mural on the ceiling is painted to look like wisteria is hanging down from an arbor. Probably quite a nice effect in the cold winter of Northern China.

The stuff in this exhibit will not appear anywhere else outside of China and it's breathtaking. Not just pieces of furniture, but wall murals and architectural elements - doorways etc. The mural above shows the use of perspective, learned from Western artists. The Emperor was very fond of little jokes like this - the doorway framing it is real - wood inlaid with something precious- making the mural look as if there's a room beyond with family members in it.

One of the interesting things about the exhibit were little videos about how the conservation and restoration were done etc. But everything else was interesting, too. Both the pictures are from the web, btw.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bridges and Stiles

When I walk, I think. During the hike we took to Alfriston, I was thinking about names. My maiden name comes from the word 'bridge', my married name, from the word 'stile.' Both bridges and stiles are structures built to connect or span boundaries.  And I married across a border and ... etc  Something cosmic in all that.  These are the kinds of things I think about when walking.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because of all the stiles we crossed over, like the one in the picture between two fields near Alfriston.  These are very common in England, where there are a lot of public right-of-ways that cross over privately-owned fields.

By the way, I learned the word 'style/stile' from my paternal grandmother who used to recite a poem/story about an old woman who bought a pig. It had a repeating refrain, 'piggy won't go over the stile and I shan't get home tonight.' ( Click here if you want the whole amazingly gruesome poem.) If you look at the picture of the stile, you can see why the old woman had trouble getting the piggy to go over.

Anyway, on the Alfriston walk we also saw another kind of stile called a 'kissing gate'.  You have to have a certain level of fitness to cross over a regular stile - you must climb up and down. Plus, if you are pushing a stoller or a wheelchair it's difficult at best.  But a 'kissing gate' is easier to go through.

This is how they work.  Imagine a square bounded by 4 posts. 

                                                   A                B

                                                   C                D

Two sides (connecting posts A & B, and B&D) are fenced.  The fourth post (C) has a swinging gate, which moves between A and D.  To go through you move the gate until you can slip around it by standing in the corner by B, where the gate doesn't reach. I snapped this complete stranger standing in the corner (B), about to come through (between C and D.)

I have no idea why it's called a 'kissing gate.'  There is no kissing involved in the traverse.  And I'm not sure it would have helped the old woman with her piggy. In fact, I think that's the point - animals can't get through them, but people can.

Back in Rouen

Next to the tower where Joan of Arc was imprisoned in Rouen, I was pleased to discover this plaque. It commemorates the birthplace of Cavelier de la Salle, the French explorer whose name is known to all American school children, and (judging by the COG's indifference when I delightedly pointed it out to him) unknown to English school children.

From what I can make out, the plaque says "In the Parish of Saint Herbland was erected the house where was born on 22 of November 1643 Robert, Cavelier de la Salle, [who was] assassinated in Texas the 18th of March 1687. He founded near Montreal, on the St. Laurent River, the town of Lachine. He descended the Mississippi River, an explorer and peaceful conquerer. He gave Louisiana to France.

According to Wikipedia (I  love Wikipedia), he was murdered by Pierre Duhaut, one of his own men during a mutiny in Texas. Also, the town may have been called Lachine because his dream was to find a way to China (La Chine, in French). His explorations of Indiana, Ohio and the Mississippi were part of that dream.

Also, he was accompanied by Father Hennepin, who (while travelling without de la Salle) was captured by a Sioux war party and who, at some point, was 'imprisoned' on an island in Lake Mille Lacs, where our family has a summer home.

Or maybe not - Father Hennepin (according to Wiki, again) was apparently a notorious liar.

Continuing the Bulldog motif

A rather charming looking pub in Kemptown, Brighton.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean Miner Rescue

Although it's mostly like watching paint dry, except for the moments when that capsule actually breaks through to the light ( and, not to mention the anxiety about what could happen) I've been watching the miners' rescue pretty much non-stop. I did take a break for sleep after the second man came up but I kept dreaming all night of miners coming out of our basement door, blinking in the light.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Meanwhile, Back in England

One day we went into London to see a Gauguin exhibit at the Tate Modern.  It was a perfect day - warm, sunny and lovely.  Here is the view from a balcony off the exhibit. That's Saint Pauls in the middle, at the end of the Millenium Bridge. Click twice on the picture to see it full screen size.

The Gauguin exhibit was an interesting counterpoint to the Impressionists in Rouen. Gauguin spent time in Rouen and knew a lot of the painters who were exhibited.

But the day itself - just walking around London - was the best part.

And if the panorama isn't enough, here's a little film from the same balcony. In this one you get sound effects, too. At the very end, notice the thatched roof of the Globe Theater on the right, sticking up in the middle distance.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


We went to Rouen for a fantastic exhibit at the Rouen museum - the Inpressionists in Rouen.  It was almost too much, so many many paintings by famous Impressionists of Rouen.  Most importantly, we saw 4 or 5 of the paintings Monet did of Rouen Cathedral. It was very good to see them together, a few blocks from the real cathedral.  The Impressionists liked Normandy for the light (and because it was close to Paris and cheap).

We thought about that we arrived in Dieppe, where the light was amazing.  After a couple of gray, rainy days in Rouen we took a morning train to Dieppe. The ferry didn't leave until 6:30pm so we thought we'd have a mosey around Dieppe. The forecast was rain all day, but by the time we got to Dieppe the sun was shining brilliantly and the color of sky and sea was unbelieveable. Turquoise sea and light periwinkle sky - it looked like the Caribbean.  This picture doesn't capture the dreamy brightness of the colors. Breath-taking.

We walked around the town for a bit, then headed for the ferry, which is a 10 or 15 minute walk from the center of town.  On the way, we discovered an old part of town on the cliffs above the ferry depot.  We stumbled onto the GR21 and hiked a way along the top of the cliffs. I took this picture of Dieppe Harbor looking in one direction and the one of the ferry in the other direction.

French Bulldog

A little Frenchie in Rouen.  Cute.

Joan of Arc in Rouen

Poor Joan of Arc. Nineteen years old when she was burned at the stake by the English in Rouen (which was English, then).  She was captured by the Duke of Burgundy and sold to the English, who imprisoned her in Rouen, in the tower shown in the first picture. She was 'tried', found guilty of heresy  and burned at the stake in the site of the Vieux Marché (now full of touristy restaurants as well as a market).  After her death she was declared a martyr and a saint and she is now a French national heroine.  The second picture is the outside of a modern church built on the site of her martyrdom. The remains of an older church are visible outside. The wooden beams of the interior (3d picture) are supposed to represent the flames that burned her. The stained glass windows are from the earlier, 13th century, church and have been incorporated in the new one. 

Odd, but all the Joan of Arc stuff in Rouen made the city feel a little grim to me. It has always been a story that I disliked and I've avoided it as much as possible.  Thousands of Cathars died for their religion in Southern France -twenty thousand men, women and children in the city of Béziers alone - the entire population of the city.   Yet the death of this one person affected me more, somehow. For me, it cast a pall on the city of Rouen. Maybe it's because she had a name and an age and a known history that she was somehow more 'real.'  Years ago we saw the shop she bought her armour from in Tours. I kept thinking about that while in Rouen.  

Our Hotel in Rouen

Our hotel was in an old building right across the street from the Palais de Justice. Our room was the second window up from the word 'Hotel,' really two windows that angle into a point. The window was right next to our bed.

The second picture is the view from that window.

It was an odd little hotel. No reception area - you entered through a coffee shop/bar and the guy behind the bar checked us in and led us up a winding staircase (picture 3) to our room, which was a pretty good size. It was clean, had a big bathroom and....the view. It was a quintessential French hotel. As in so many old hotels, the walls were covered in textured wall covering that had been painted over - probably because the old walls were so uneven. The staircase was a tight spiral. The wooden treads may have been old , but the railings were new. It was quirky and kind of charming and... the view.

The hotel was closed for breakfast on Sunday, which we thought would be no problem. But it turned out that nothing was open on Sunday morning. We kept encountering little wandering groups of tourists looking for food. Most of them were French, so it wasn't just us.

We finally found a bar that could serve us coffee and then we bought rolls at a bakery by the market. Not a happy beginning to the day. We went back to the bakery and bought jambon beurre for lunch. That's ham sandwiches on a baguette, with butter. My favorite. The restaurants were open for dinner, thankfully.

Would I stay there again? Probably. Maybe not over a Saturday night.  In fact, I probably would not go over the weekend again. I'd go midweek when everything is open.

Aître de Saint Maclou

One of two magical moments in Rouen.

We wandered into this quadrangle without knowing what it was. There was a medieval gate, propped open and people were clearly going through it, so we did, too.  Down a little medieval alley and into this quadrangle.  Clearly it was something incredible, but we only found out later what it was. It was first a cemetary for plague victims in the 14th century, when 3/4 of the citizens of Rouen died.  When the plague struck again, they built around it on 3 sides to form an ossuary on the upper floor. Apparently, after being buried for a while, the bones were removed from the cemetary to make room for new dead.  The lower level was not enclosed - it was like a cloister. Later, the lower level was enclosed and the fourth side built. 

The strange decorations refer, of course, to the cemetary and ossuary and the stone columns supporting the upper level illustrate the Danse Macabre.  It's a little difficult to get information about it - most of the information online is in French as if it's a well known tourist site to the French, but not to the rest of the world. The sightseers there the day we were there seemed to be French.

It's now the headquarters of the School of Beaux Arts. The word 'Aître' is from the Roman atrium. 

A Magical Moment in Rouen

We had two magical moments in Rouen.

One was when we exited our hotel to go find a restaurant for dinner. The sky was full of starlings chirping madly as the cathedral bells rang in the background.

The starlings were fantastic. I was unable to catch the moment they started swarming in the sky, turning this way and that all together, as if they had a choreographer. They were all over the Palais de Justice. Each of the the gothic spires has lots of little points sticking out of them and there was a bird on each one, almost as if they were part of the ornate design. If you look closely in the still picture, you can see a bird on every little thing it was possible to land on.

Really magical.

Rouen and Toulouse.

Rouen was interesting and would have been more interesting if we had done our homework. We wished Sister Rose was there, because she would have done her homework and then she could have answered all our questions, without the need for us to do the homework. 

Maybe it was the weather, but the city itself is grey and felt a little grim, so unlike the warmth of Toulouse.  Funnily enough, it was very like Toulouse in other ways.  They were both important regional cities during the middle ages and, therefore, they were both centers of important events.  There is a cathedral from about the same period and other big old churches. As in Toulouse, the Romans were there, of course, but their impact was not so evident. In Toulouse, one has the feeling that the Roman way of life was embraced and retained as far as possible after the fall of the Roman Empire. Not so  in Rouen. 

Where Toulouse had Cathars, Rouen had Jeanne d'Arc - who was imprisoned, tried, and burned at the stake there.  Toulouse had the regional lawcourts, and so did Rouen.  In Toulouse, they have been sort of replaced by modern buildings, but some important parts are incorporated very nicely into the modern buildings.  In Rouen, they are still standing.  

Unlike Toulouse, Rouen was captured and then colonized by the Vikings, who became the Normans. This may be one reason the Roman influence is less evident. The area went back and forth between England and France a lot of times.  And then there was WWII.  Toulouse was not damaged as much as it could have been.   Rouen was badly damaged.  A lot of important stuff, like the damage to the Cathedral and the Palais de Justice, has been wonderfully restored. While Rouen still has lots of wonderful old buildings, part of the city was destroyed and not rebuilt, so it lacks that feeling of being in a complete a old city, which is so wonderful in Toulouse. And of course, the style of architecture is quite different in effect. 

Still, it's easy to get to and the shopping looked good. So, I'd go back.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sesame Street meets Old Spice Commercial

I love this! It's not showing full screen on my computer, if this happens to you, click twice on it and you'll go to the You Tube site.