Chimera Song Mosaic
Monday, July 11, 2005
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”
-- Omar Khayyam
On Saturday I saw three movies! It was such an indulgent movie-glut. My mom, my sister and I started with The Fantastic 4 (pretty good for Hollywood pap, and to get an idea of what my blonde hair looks like, there is Jessica Alba’s), then my mom dropped off quickly, and my sister an I headed over to the Angelica for Mysterious Skin and The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam. Mysterious Skin stretches one’s tolerance for cinematographically depicting sex with children (I have a fairly high tolerance and loved the quease-inducing Happiness; this makes me sound like such a freak) and was disturbing in many other ways, but overall was quite a wonderful film. In praise of it I can say that it had many surprises beyond the discomforting child abuse vein: it inserted a supernatural scene without apology or explanation, and this didn’t come off as trite or silly or even very awe-inspiring, and I found myself wanting to know more about each and every character in the film, they were so compellingly presented and executed. We saw The Keeper right afterwards, and it was lovely and full of splendor (filmed in Uzbekistan) and sensitive actors, but the pace dragged a bit towards the end, probably because the story of Omar Khayyam does not end with a cinematographically favorable sensationalistic bang, which is actually in keeping with a theme from the Rubaiyat and from the film’s parallel, modern-day story line of a Persian family living in Houston, who are faced with the upcoming death of one of their sons, a teenage boy who is entrusted with keeping the story of the family’s heritage alive (thus the film’s title). I’m not sure where else this film is playing yet because it is the product of Houstonian filmmakers, but it is beautiful and well worth seeing.
Let me see: what else. Oh, I have been training myself by watching a least a couple of DVDs a day. It turns out that American Psycho is not my kind of movie, and in fact I had already seen it before and didn’t realize it! This almost never happens to me, but I guess it did with this movie because I had such a different sense of it. It is really funny, but mostly frustrating. I think it would have been appreciated more if it were released in this decade of 80s-obession because the soundtrack, in that respect, is quite representative. Dude, Where’s the Party? (formerly Where’s the Party, Yaar?) was quite fun to watch, especially because it was set in Houston and had many scenes from U of H’s campus, which I have never been on but have always been curious about. The Dolce e Freddo in the film could be the one that used to be on Kirby near Rice Village (which is now a Ben & Jerry’s—the ice cream place, not Rice Village), or it could be another one somewhere else, maybe nearer to the downtown campus. Either way, as far as I can tell Dolce e Freddo is no more. The same lead actor, Kal Penn, plays Kumar in Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, which I loved. It was actually a funny comedy. The whole time I was watching it, I kept trying to examine it from a philosophical angle since UT Pan-American’s philosophy club hosted a viewing and discussion of it in the spring semester, which I did not attend, but I didn’t come up with much but pretty superficial observations and a jones for White Castle cheeseburgers. Something like the greatest desire is subverted by superficial and oftentimes prurient distractions (or even opportunities for heroism), but the ultimate satisfaction cannot be reached without obtaining saturation of and in the goal itself (in this case, eating like 30 White Castle burgers). I’m not sure what this is an argument for, supreme focus and sticktoitness or hedonism? This film also interested some supernatural improbilities, like Dougie Howser and a cheetah, but it did so in a silly way, not like Mysterious Skin.
I had to read Oh very quickly because I found it under a rug my dog had peed on, and even though this had long dried, the book is unattractively crusty and smelly. I wiped it off as much as possible and have been keeping it on the kitchen counter (why?) and can’t seem to figure out what to do with it. I know I can’t sell it, can’t really keep it with the other books, and don’t think any one would like to take it off my hands, so it remains alone on the kitchen counter, bare space all around it. It was a quick read, and more or less right after that, I read Miniatures and Other Poems, which was also a quick read, so I’m not sure that I’m not combing the two in my head. These are tiny, gorgeous little poems that seem to illuminate a space in my brain while I am reading, but they disappear in a puff once I am done. I would like something that would linger longer. Perhaps they are meant to be read over and over, or perhaps this is just the result of my discrimination against very tiny and fragile poems. They don’t quite seem long enough, or to put it better, substantial, terrestrial enough.
Then I read Tortilla Curtain, which is a parallel story of two couples living in the desert areas outside of Los Angeles, one couple is a have, one a have-not. There is dramatic difference between them, of course, but few of the characters are actually fully developed to the degree to be likeable, even the couple you feel so sorry for, the have-nots squatting in a gully and often going without food. There is an authorial presence that seems to hold all four characters at arms’ (or more) length, a bit of contempt for the clueless and entitled yuppies and contempt for the situation of the immigrant couple, which often reads as a mean-spirited contempt for them. The book made me angry a few times and sad throughout, and I think rather than being dismayed by the couple living in a ditch and eating virtually nothing and getting injured and sick, I was most upset by the tenuous nature of their lives, the way they could depend on nothing, not the next meal nor safety from the elements, nor kindness from strangers, the utter unpredictability of it is something readers of the world have padded themselves from to the point of little awareness of it. But maybe people are always instinctively aware of the possibility of loss and upheaval, or else why would they be so territorial and ungenerous?
I also (finally!) finished Mother Nature, although I have not quite finished all of the footnotes (as I mentioned before, it is extensively and impressively researched), and I found a bit of the overall argument cleanly handed to me at the end in the last chapter, though by that time I have gotten over my denseness and figured it all out. It is certainly a worthwhile read. In the last of the three sections, the one about babies from babies perspectives (not literally, of course), Hrdy presents the most original and tenuous theories about why babies behave the way they do, always asking for perhaps more than they actually need, fully convincing themselves and us that they do need it, and even a bit of why they look the way they do, plumper and cuter than necessary. There are many more surprises, such as intriguing explanations of the possible origins of baptisms (icy water dips to discern the potential hardiness of infants) and the legends of changelings (excuses not to invest in sickly babies).
“In peasant communities, ancient superstitions seeped into ‘Christian’ practices. Among the best known example is the twelfth-century French cult of the Holy Greyhound that grew up around Saint Guinefort, the healer of children, who was worshiped till quite recent times. Shrines to Saint Guinefort were forested locations where babies suspected of being changelings could be left overnight. The cult of the Holy Greyhound grew up around the legend of a loyal family dog unjustly slain by its master. In one version, the master misconstrues evens when he finds blood on the dog’s muzzle. But the dog was no predator. He had been bloodied while protecting the man’s baby son from a snake. The father killed the dog, only to find the baby unharmed. Afterward, mothers brought children who failed to thrive to special locations in the forest associated with the burial site of this martyred dog. They left the infant overnight in hopes that the sick baby would either die without further suffering or recover fully. ‘A Saint Guinefort, pour la vie ou por la mort,’ went one French incantation to the saint—if not a healthy life, than death. Such cults persisted into the early twentieth century despite efforts by Church authorities to suppress them” (Hrdy 466).
The story of the changeling is interesting to me for its mystical qualities, the potential devilishness of it, I suppose. Its one of those creepy things I remembered hearing about from childhood. The idea of a dog being a martyr is also intriguing, especially since I don’t think much worth (in terms of spiritual or intrinsic value) is placed on animals in the modern United States (I think this is stemming from Christianity). Also, I was shocked to read this story of the martyred dog here since I was already familiar with it by way of one of the poems (I don’t have the book with me right now, so I can’t produce the name) in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Miracle Fruit. I read the poem over and over, it so intrigued me. Since the speaker of the poem’s mother is Filipino, I assumed it was a Filipino legend, so I was very surprised to discover it had additional origins. The story could be even older than that, maybe from the early domestication of dogs. So where did it first come from, and where did it go from there? Where else do they tell the story of such a fatal misunderstanding?
What I am doing right now is writing, supposedly. If you can count the typing of someone else’s words to be writing. I have given myself the task of writing three hours a day every weekday for three weeks, and this is day one. I have not managed more than a stab at a poem and a ghost of that poem and then this posting. I am trying to shock myself back into a writing rhythm and hopefully to produce something beyond exercise. I even don’t want to count this blog because the content of it is simply review of what I have read and viewed (and not very substantial review at that). I want to get back into original content and original ideas, not simply reactionary or reductive ones. There can be such a thing, perhaps, as too much research.
For example, word turned to in Esperanto dictionary: Mohametano, Islam-ano, -a (Mohammedan) (but this is an obvious choice because it appears in the top left-hand corner of the page)
Word appears directly underneath first word and also appears to have immediate significance: duono (moiety)