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Friday, 1 June 2007
Erase Racism Carnival
Topic: Raving
The newest edition of the Erase Racism Carnival is up at Angry Black Woman (who has the best South Park avatar I've seen).  It's heavy on the representation, or lack thereof, of People of Color in the (largely US-centered) media, and there's some great writing featured - I particularly liked Matt Cheney's piece on how the "Third World" is depicted in "First World" fiction.  Check it out. 

1:50 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Everything was beautiful at the ballet
Topic: Raving
Although it was a little jarring to find that, as the opening bars of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade played, a reel of Gargamel chasing smurfs unspooled in my head. It's a bit alarming, the number of pieces of classical music that are accompanied by animated picture shows in my head - the Smurfs feature heavily, but Disney and Looney Tunes characters make plenty of appearances, as well.

The first act of Scheherazade was the closing section of the Australian Ballet's current program in Melbourne, Revolutions, which features three works by Mikhail Fokine, the Ballet Russes choreographer who helped revitalize ballet in the early twentieth century. The Ballet Russes is credited with invigorating cultural life in Australia during the company's tour of the country from 1936 to 1940, and Revolutions is an early feature of the Australian Ballet's commemoration of the 70th anniversary of that tour.

I'm glad that I did a bit of research before going to the show, and understood some of the historical background, because the traditionally staged Les Sylphides was a bit underwhelming. Lovely, but not inspiring. I found myself watching closely for technique rather than appreciating the work as a whole because I just didn't find it engaging. Le Spectre de la Rose was livelier and more entertaining, with athletic choreography for the male dancer. My favorite piece, though, was the opening scene from Scheherazade, which received an updated staging, with stunning sets and costumes. The music (once I got over the Gargamel thing) is amazing, and was beautifully played by the orchestra.

I assume it's the educational/historical aspect of this program that helped make cheap seats available, and I'm grateful. The last time I went to the ballet in Melbourne, it was the free 'Ballet at the Bowl' concert, and lovely as it was to sit outside with friends for the performance, the dancers were barely visible. It's wonderful, though, to live in a city where even barely visible ballet is available - the absence of a professional dance company was the one thing I found lacking in Baltimore's arts scene. It's a real shame not to have professional dance in a city, because there's something magical about the combination of individual talent and group effort that goes into a dance performance. The unison work required of the corps, the trust partners must have in each other, the skill of the conductor and the orchestra, the work of the crew backstage - it's amazing that one performance, let along multiple ones, go smoothly when you think about how many things have the potential to go wrong. And when it all goes right, it's absolutely stunning.

The history of the Ballet Russes in Australia (and in Europe) demonstrates what a dance company can add to a community. Not only did Fokine's approach to ballet invigorate dance, but there was an incredibly fruitful collaboration between the Ballet Russes and visual artists like Picasso and Matisse and composers like Stravinsky, Ravel and Prokofiev. The Ballet Russes tour of Australia provided an opportunity for the public to interact with all these forms of art than had previously existed. This tradition of artistic collaboration continues: the modern dance I saw during the Arts Festival, because the Stephen Petronio Company has collaborated with contemporary musical artists like Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, as well as visual artists and fashion designers. I'm glad to have had at least a taste of this interaction while I've been here.

3:09 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006 8:15 AM BST
Monday, 8 May 2006
Must stop watching movies with a social conscience
Topic: Raving
They render me uninclined to find anything of value in my social theory reading, which is a problem since I'm presenting in class on Wednesday and should try to find something worthwhile to say. But it all seems so useless and pointless. Blah blah blah nation-state and military power and modernity yadda yadda.

The film that has done this to me is Deepa Mehta's Water, which centers on a widow house in India in 1938. The widow house was an institution for women whose families did not want to support them. Widows were social outcasts, and in order to support themselves often turned to begging and prostitution. Chuyia enters a widow house at the age of seven, a child bride whose husband dies unexpectedly. She is taken in by Kalyani and Shakuntala, two very different women who draw on their faith to cope with the difficulties their widowhood presents. At the time, Gandhi is challenging British rule in India and a range of oppressive religious and cultural traditions. The question of whether the increasing current of change will make a new life possible for the widows runs through the film. Mehta holds out hope and provides beauty and humor, but doesn't shy away from cruelty and tragedy. Water is a powerful movie, and while its not exactly uplifting, neither is it mired in despair. There is a strong theme about the merits and risks of following the dictates of conscience that I found inspiring.

Unfortunately for me, I must now follow the dictates of my class work and get back to social theory.

11:53 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 1 May 2006
'friendship, humor, art and music'
Topic: Raving
Sunday night, as my reward for finishing marking essays without pulling an all-nighter involving gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair and many bitter comments about attention to important details like using citations and doing so correctly (and yes, I will shut up about the marking soon, I promise), I went to see I Know I'm Not Alone, which is a remarkable little film. And I want to be clear that when I say 'little', I say it because it's a movie that doesn't have grand pretensions. It's all about small but important moments. It's about ordinary people and their lives. It's about the difference that small groups can make and are making. It's about relating to people as people - hearing their stories, sharing in their lives. It's heartbreaking and uplifting and challenging.

Michael Franti, a hip-hop/funk singer/songwriter (whose music I've just started getting into), took a break from his work with his excellent band, Spearhead, to travel to Iraq, Palestine and Israel with a few friends to find out what it's like to live under military occupation. Franti is interested in individual stories. He takes risks to reach out to people: traveling outside secure areas, performing his outspokenly political music for US soldiers, bringing together small groups of people who might not ordinarily interact. He wanders around playing his guitar, and builds a rapport with people whose language he doesn't speak by writing a catchy little song with one lyric: 'habibi', which means, basically, 'my dear friend' in Arabic.

Franti absolutely succeeds in putting a human face on the conflicts in Iraq and Palestine/Israel. I was particularly struck by the clear intention to produced a balanced portrayal of the people on both sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Israeli state doesn't come off well (particularly where the land grab of the wall is concerned), and neither do those who support suicide bombing, but the Israeli and Palestinian people are not demonized. In a particularly brave moment for everyone involved, Franti and his group, along with some Palestinians from a town near the wall, have an intense conversation with some Israeli soldiers they had argued with earlier in the day. Both sides discuss their fears, where their fears come from, and how much they don't like the wall. It's tragic to see how the systems and structures that these people have been shaped by separate them from each other, but encouraging to see that, even if only for a moment, some communication can take place across that gap.

I saw it with Ro, and all we could talk about afterward was how much we wanted to drop everything and go somewhere and do something. And yes, I took deep breaths and reminded myself that, in theory, once all this research and writing is done, I will be in a better position to do that something. I might even have a better idea than 'something' about what I want to do. But I don't know. Franti says he wanted to make a movie about the way people cope with the stresses of occupation, a movie about 'friendship, humor, art and music'. And those are seriously missing from what I'm studying, which makes me wonder whether I'm going about this all wrong - am I learning too much about ways to 'help' people that don't really consider their humanity, or mine? Have I learned too well to see people as problems that need solving? Where's the heart in what I'm studying? It strikes me that we've got the 'head' covered around here, but we're seriously lacking in soul.

9:44 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006 11:57 AM BST
Monday, 16 January 2006
Hows about some nostalgia, hon?
Topic: Raving
Kit advertises Mango & Ginger as 'a blog about loving food'. And she does love her food, providing proof in recipes, pictures, and stories about memorable meals. What I like best, though, is that much of her blog is about loving food in Baltimore, because almost all of my best memories of Baltimore involve friends and food: very literally, in some cases - there have been a number of memorable gatherings at Friends in Fells Point, which, despite tough competition from Brewer's Art and Dizzy Issie's, wins my vote for the Baltimore bar with the best food, and could almost do it on the strength of their crab dip alone.

Mmmmmmmm. Crab dip.

Sorry. Got a bit lost there for a second. The crab dip at Friends is that good. But this is not a post about crab dip (mmmmmmmmmmm). Kit's latest post reminded me of one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday, which was to roll out of bed late and wander around the Broadway Market deciding where to get brunch. The only problem was that there are so many places at the market to choose from, it could take a long time to decide where to eat. But it was a lovely, leisurely way to start off a Saturday, and could, if the mood was right, lead to an afternoon of shopping in Fells Point and an early evening stop at Friends for a beer and crab dip. Mmmmmmmmm. Crab dip.

While Kit's marketing adventures took place in Federal Hill, which is across the harbor from Fells and is one of the Baltimore neighborhoods I didn't spend a lot of time in, basically everything she says about Federal Hill applies to Fells as well - charming, historical, a bit gentrified without having lost all its local color, tends to be overrun with sodden young professionals after work on Fridays, and even more sodden college students from Thursday afternoon onward. But Fells on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is a lovely place to hang out, and when the colleges are out for summer and winter breaks, evenings there can be quite nice, as well.

I have yet to find a neighborhood in Melbourne that does everything that Fells Point could do. Crab dip is probably too much to hope for, but I haven't found a neighborhood here where I could reasonably spend most of an afternoon and evening doing a bit of eating, a bit of shopping, and a bit of sitting on the waterfront watching people. Some of that is, no doubt influenced by the fact that I definitely have less money, and I feel like I have less time than when I lived in Baltimore, but some credit has to go to Fells Point for getting the mix of activities right and being a good neighborhood to hang out in.

8:50 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 20 December 2005
Endorsing Armenia
Topic: Raving
Somebody recently was directed here by googling "Armenia, having fun, going places". I just had to say something, because its such an unusual query (usually I get ones involving essays). If you, whoever you are, happen to come by again, I'm sorry I can't be of more help since my visit was for work and happened in midwinter, which is not the best time to be out and about in Armenia, but I can attest that yes, there are places to go and things to do and fun to be had. At least, there were five years ago. I can't believe it's been five years since I was there. Hopefully, there's even more stuff to do there now. I hope others on the web have been able to be more specific about the whats and wheres (this is usually a good place to get started). And there are wonderful people there. Warm, friendly, kind, hospitable - just really really wonderful. My ramblings about the country don't do it justice at all, but even five years later, I still think fondly of that trip and hope that I'll get a chance to go back someday - even if I do have to go in the middle of winter again.

7:48 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 December 2005 9:02 AM GMT
Saturday, 10 December 2005
Warm and fuzzy
Topic: Raving
"Warm" being the weather this afternoon, which was sunny, with deep blue skies and a crisp breeze, and "fuzzy" being me, after spending this gorgeous afternoon in the beer garden at the Belgian Beer Cafe, sampling Belgian beers and eating mussels. So very perfect. It was splurgy sort of day because Dee wasn't working - she waitresses for two catering companies and her free weekends are few and far between - so we went down to St Kilda, a trendy neighborhood on the waterfront, to hang out for the afternoon. At least, that was the plan. We got a bit caught up in the goodness of the beer and ended up doing most of our hanging out in the beer garden. I can't remember the last time I had an entire afternoon that was just such a glorious haze of good food, even better beer, pleasant surroundings, and enjoyable company. It was just delightful.

11:15 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 5 December 2005
A film to look out for
Topic: Raving
Hey, you non-Australians who have access to a movie theater or video rental shop that specializes in foreign films, you should keep an eye out for a lovely Australian movie called Look Both Ways. I was feeling so stressed and sorry for myself after the whole essay thing this afternoon that I decided a trip to the matinee was in order, and did I ever pick the right film to nudge me out of a pity party.

Look Both Ways is a rarity: a warm, funny, mature, poignant film about grief and loss and hope and relationships. The writer and director, Sarah Watt, says: “I set out to make a romantic comedy, but the stuff of most people’s lives includes what we think of as tragedy, so LOOK BOTH WAYS ended up a bit of both I guess." I can't remember the last time I saw a film where I laughed and cried in near-equal measure, yet also felt compelled to think about the ideas in the film, rather than just what I was feeling.

The story is about a group of people, some previously connected, some about to become connected, who interact over the course of a weekend as they all attempt to come to terms with substantial changes in their lives - a new baby, the death of a loved one, a serious illness. I found it very true to life in its depiction of the awkwardness that surrounds such events. There are moments of startling compassion and wisdom, but there's also a lot of muddling through and unintentional wounding, just as in real life. Watt has a keen but sympathetic eye for relationships, particularly the dynamics within families, and the ways in which people communicate by not saying things to each other.

I was impressed by the range of means that Watt uses to communicate the story. The dialogue is well-written, and Watt makes very effective use of animation (some of it based on her own artwork) to illustrate the thoughts and feelings of Meryl and Nick, the two main characters. There are also two small plots that take place with almost no verbalization at all, relying entirely on the actors' physical expressiveness. It could have been jarring to have all of that going on, but Watt keeps her characters at the forefront at all times, so these different techniques and approaches are kept in service to the story, rather than distracting from it.

The world that the film created was so real that it still feels like I'm in it, even now, hours later. I'm still turning over things that Meryl said and did, and I fell a little bit in love with Nick. I think the last movie I was so strongly touched by was The Pianist. Look Both Ways is less traumatic, yet I find it somehow more affecting, perhaps because it takes place in such a recognizable world. Maybe everyday tragedy sticks with me longer because its easier to comprehend than epic tragedy.

But there's not just tragedy in the movie - there's romance, there are genuinely funny moments, and there are some gorgeous visuals. And lovely music - I will probably be buying the soundtrack. Possibly tomorrow. In short, I really can't think of anything about this movie that I didn't like, and I strongly suggest that you see it if you have the chance.

1:24 PM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 15 August 2005
I have a problem
Now Playing: Mike Doughty: Haughty Melodic
Topic: Raving
It's 11:45 p.m. I have two chapters and an article to read for Social Impact Assessment tomorrow. And after listening to Haughty Melodic three times, I can't decide whether "American Car" or "Your Misfortune" is going to be my new favorite song that I'll hum under my breath over and over until some poor soul stuck sitting next to me on the tram snaps and tries to strangle me.

I should've known better than to put Haughty Melodic on tonight, but I've never believed in delaying gratification. I've been wanting to hear it since it came out in May, and MGM (current holder of the title "World's Best Brother") was finally able to make that happen. Its the first album I've listened to in years that makes me want to do nothing but lie on the floor and listen to it over and over. Most of my music collection breaks down into categories according to what it's good background music for: studying, housecleaning, retaining my sanity on the morning commute. There might be a couple songs that I'll stop everything to listen to, and replay a couple times, and that will reliably turn up on most every mix CD and playlist I create, but generally, I pop in a CD and go about my business. Haughty Melodic I want to soak in.

Some reviewers seem to think that they would've preferred to see Doughty continue in the vein of Soul Coughing's left-of-center, could've-only-come-out-of-New York sonic experimentation. Myself, much as I loved Soul Coughing, I like Doughty's turn toward a warmer, more traditional sound and more structured songwriting. Even within more conventional song structures, he hasn't lost any of his oddball sense of humor or obvious delight in playing with words. On Smofe + Smang, his 2002 concert recording, he was performing "Grey Ghost" with a "fake word" bridge because he hadn't written lyrics for it yet. Now that he has, they go: "Embracing some hard-luck citizen/ Disgraced like some strange Bob Balaban", which is perfect - obscure, precise, alliterative. The lyrics have always been the draw for me where Doughty's work is concerned, but he's a talented musician as well, and rarely runs into the problem of music and lyrics competing with, instead of enhancing, each other.

It's interesting to compare the songs that evolved from Smofe + Smang to Haughty Melodic. I haven't really followed any other songwriters closely enough to get any sense of the process of working through a song. "Madeleine and Nine" was also in development on Smofe + Smang, and I think I liked it better in it's stripped down, acoustic version. I haven't decided yet whether I prefer the plaintive "Sunkeneyed Girl" on S+S or its upbeat incarnation on HM. I'll resolve that question after I determine whether my soundtrack for the week will involve endless repetitions of the slinky, country-tinged, road-weary rasp of "American Car" or the bright piano, embracing strings, and "life's tough, but its a gorgeous day and none of that nonsense has matter for the next five minutes" atmosphere of "Your Misfortune".

I will admit that I'm outrageously biased where Doughty is concerned (see "Janine" on Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom for the point where any objectivity I had went right out the window), and I guess it's far too late to say that I don't want to oversell Haughty Melodic, but I can't imagine that anyone who likes singer/songwriters and appreciates well-crafted, evocative lyrics, wouldn't find plenty to enjoy in Haughty Melodic.

4:16 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 3:53 AM BST
Monday, 25 July 2005
Just a little crazy
Topic: Raving
I was looking at some pictures that Mike Doughty posted from an outdoor gig he played in Boston recently, which reminded me that I missed Artscape in Baltimore this weekend, and I suddenly felt the strangeness of living through winter* in July. Even more strangely, I felt a deep craving for an East Coast summer.

I want to walk out my door and into a wall of hot, heavy air that sticks to my skin. I want to wonder why it is that humidity weighs down my clothes, yet impels my hair to wander far and wide from whatever style I've attempted to train it into. I want to need no excuse for lying around all day, because everybody recognizes that its just too hot to move. I want it to be summer, and I want it to be the summer I know, not the summer here that I briefly experienced when I first arrived, all dry heat and intense glare.

I remember the many little miseries of city summers. I lived through a bad one the summer after college, in a sub-let studio apartment with no air conditioner. I remember lying absolutely still in my bed night with the fan blowing directly across me, hoping I'd fall asleep before I felt the need to turn my pillow over again in a fruitless quest to find a cool spot. I remember wanting it just to be cool enough that I wouldn't start sweating as soon as I turned off the water in the shower. I remember that, when the wind did blow, it only brought in the smell of tar from the roof. And yet the summer that I love is the summer that feels like a sauna and smells like things that haven't been properly dry for days, and right now, as crazy as it sounds, I'm envying all of you who are having that summer.

*This must be qualified with the disclaimer that the season referred to as "winter" in Melbourne would barely pass muster as late fall in most places I've lived.

3:29 PM BST | Post Comment | View Comments (5) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 3:55 AM BST

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