Sunday, 30 December 2012

ISTANBUL IS A MAGICAL PLACE

GHOSTS OF HAGIA SOPHIA
Istanbul
Dec 2012

It is one of the oldest churches in the world. It has been a center of conflict between the forces of Islam and Christianity and secular power, and is now a national monument which cannot hide its power. You cannot help but be moved by this place, and this city.

WHEN BLUE MEETS FUSCHIA
Istanbul
Dec 2012

Across the plaza is the Blue Mosque, and in between, symptomatic of the Disney-fication of the world, is a fountain which changes colours.

Cultures clash but coexist, 24 hours a day.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

FILM REVIEW: AMOUR by MICHAEL HANEKE

Life is the sum total of little moments. Love, enduring love, is the gradual building up, and then withdrawing, of shared moments of life, as though they were coins accumulated in a chest over time. It is the process of drawing down this cache of hidden memories which costs, and it is the unexpected decline when the chest inexorably empties which costs the most. This is the subject of Michael Haneke's absorbing and harrowing film Amour, which deservedly won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2012. An elegant Parisian musician couple, Anne and George (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) gradually descend into the purgatory of their private battle for survival in their apartment, a walled repository and prison of the tiny things which make up the life we take for granted: eating, reading, washing, working, playing, talking....all of which gradually desert Anne as the result of a series of strokes as George is forced to fight a futile rear guard action against the disintegration of her body and her mind. I say harrowing because Haneke pulls absolutely no punches, and the 127 minute film is not so much watched as endured. You watch out of choice; you endure the inevitable.

And this film is endured with one eye on the past, on parents, whether alive or not, and on the future which faces us all. And if you are with the person you love, it is painful. Painful but necessary.

The film is filled with allegory and metaphor. Music, their profession, represents their life's work, their passion, their family, and their regrets. Eventually it too becomes too painful a reminder, and it also stops, replaced by the discomfort of silence. Water represents life. It is the tap running which jars Anne out of her first stroke whilst at the kitchen table. It becomes too painful when the act of being bathed, stripped of her dignity, causes her to repeat the word mal (pain) over and over. It features in the nightmare of George, a harbinger of what he must do. It is the only thing which Anne, with all else gone, can refuse in order to communicate her wishes. A pigeon appears...twice, and is freed once, gently, and the second time, by force. And there is a wonderful story told lovingly by George to the prostrate Anne about being miserable and alone at a summer camp, where his mother told him to signal his state of mind in the weekly post card she had made him promise to send, with the code being flowers (happy) or stars (sad). His last postcard had nothing but stars drawn on it. Flowers and stars.  Happy memories and bitter defeats. White and Black. Light and Dark. Existence and Oblivion. Life.

And all of this is condensed into one word, the only thing worth living and dying for. Love. Amour. The most powerful force in the universe which will force you to fight the battles you don't want to fight. And end them.

My wife gave this film 90 out of a 100. It was too late at night to go into her reasons, but my view is that it has little to do with the film itself, but the uncomfortable fact the movie constantly reminds us of, that the last ten yards are the hardest.

Most critics give it five stars out of five. I send a postcard full of flowers AND stars.

Go see it.

Trailer of AMOUR

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NOAH AND SANDY

My trip to the States began with a visit to the gargantuan movie set of Noah, whose propmaster is my cousin Sandy (Hamilton) in Williamsburg NY and ended with a 700 mile Southern dash away from NY (where I was supposed to catch a now non-existent plane) from Williamsburg Va. (where I was staying with my best friend Randy) to avoid a flood which was Biblical in dimension also named Sandy. Confused? I was, despite the neat symmetry which only became apparent in retrospect. My cousin's wife Linnae, who gave me a book inscribed Noah, Soho, Moto to chronicle our day out in Manhattan/Brooklyn, inadvertently set the tone for what was a momentous few days of four letter words. Noah, Soho, Moto, Argo ( a good flick by the way), Poco(hantas, as we went to Jamestown), Nana (my mother, who benefited from an unscheduled visit) and UhOh, which described the mammoth storm which caused me to change plans, hire a car, and flee south to Atlanta to catch the only British Airways flight back to London. The impending hurricane, which kept on threatening to turn shoreward right where we were, brought forward scouts of wind and rain for days on either side of its epicenter, and did not deter us from living life to the max: ignoring wind and water to play tennis (indoor and out), golf, biking on the Colonial Parkway (adding dark to the aforementioned wind and rain), that visit to the faux village at Jamestown where we were 3 of 8 tourists, a morning at the original destination of the trip, my friend's farm on the Mobjack, which consisted of putting away the Hobie out of harm's way, and a high school football game (also in the rain).  Life with the volume turned up. When we step outside our houses, who knows what surprises await us?


Here are some random images from a memorable 5 days of mayhem and activity.

 FALLEN HERO
Jamestown Virginia
Oct 2012

 MEAT WITHOUT FEET
Manhattan 
Oct 2012

 PEAR SHAPED
Tryon North Carolina
Oct 2012

 QUEEN OF LOVE
Soho NYC
Oct 2012

 REALLY A PATRIOT
Williamsburg Brooklyn NY
Oct 2012
  TODAY I'M A GOOD WITCH
Landrum South Carolina
Oct 2012
JIMI
Soho NYC
Oct 2012

Monday, 6 August 2012

SARDINIA-ROCKFACES

When you stand in the water for hours on end, gazing at the landscape, sometimes the landscape gazes back. Such was the case recently in Sardinia, when what were inanimate objects, simple rocks, began to well......animate, and little by little, I was surrounded by personalities.

All life is one. In the imagination, that is.


 I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

 CURIOUS GEORGE

 IL LUPO


 PALS

 SLEEPING CATFISH


 WHISKERED WINNIE


WHY THE GLUM FACE?


All photos were taken in Villasimius, Sardinia, August 2012.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

WHEN YOU MEET ONE OF YOUR HEROES

My friend Andrea invited me to Wimbledon, but with a special twist. We would have a chance to hit with Stan Smith, who was in the final against John Newcombe when I was in England in 1971 playing tennis tournaments (he lost that year, but won the next against Nastase and was number 1 in the world) and who was always my favourite player. Why? Because he was calm, because he was classy, because he was a gentleman.

He also featured in one of my less proud moments. When I went to see him in Charlotte NC (I can't remember if it was the Davis Cup, which I did go to, but I think not....it may have been just a regular tournament). In any case, he was being interviewed after a match walking back to the locker room. In those days there was no security, and players were....accessible...and nice (with the exception of Cliff Ritchey, who was a sourpuss).

Anyway, I was walking next to Stan, and noticed that his wristband was hanging out of his pocket. Being what my doubles partner and best mate Randy said I was, a twirpster, I made a move to filch it. Faster than you can say fast, Stan's right hand shot out and grabbed my wrist. He looked at me and said (rather forcefully): Do you want it? Uh......Yes, I said embarrassed. Then ask for it....nicely.


Lesson learned.

So, as far as Stan Smith was concerned, I had prior.

What happens when you meet a legend?

Well, if you are like me, your brain scrambles. I arrived early, went to the court, and began knocking up with a nice Serbian girl (who had trained at Nick Bolletieri's). I felt relaxed, loose. Then Stan arrived, dressed in his Davis Cup captain's tracksuit, and thwang.....I tightened up like a guitar string.

We had a clinic, and he gave many good pointers, both in general (stretch, keep your head still and pivot around it, worry only about the point of contact...always out in front) and specifically to me (hold the ball for the service toss in only two fingers, the middle and the ring finger, make your backhand follow through long (I tend to come across it). Then he said we would break into groups and play a round robin against him and his fellow pro and partner Gary and another top teaching pro (Bob?), rotating after every four games. Then there was a prize for the winner.

I started off with Andrea against Stan and a competent player.

And lost 0-4.

I was still tight, completely disregarding what Stan had just finished telling me. This is what happens when you get on a tennis court with someone who used to be no.1 in the world.

So no chance at winning, I thought to myself. Forget it. Just give it a go. Eye on the ball. Head still.  Just smack it.

Our lives are filled with countless moments, the vast majority of which pass into oblivion unnoticed, unremembered. Even those which are important are important only to us, and for different reasons.

I remember two from the rest of that morning. One is hitting a topspin backhand to break Stan as he came to the net (by the way, he was serving a 1/2 speed, it should be added). The second is being down 0-40, having Stan say: I'll give you $100 bucks if you can ace me, and coming back to tie the match, and then winning the last one playing with Stan for two games and with Bob? for the last two. I didn't ace him, but I did ace Andrea.

Then there was the prize ceremony, and I said to Stan's assistant Stuart: Hold on, let me get my camera so I can take a picture of the winner, and having him say: Well, you'd be taking a picture of yourself.

What?

So there you have it.

I told Stan and the assembled folk the pickpocket confession, and while I stood there, Stan wrote on the prize, a racquet, and showed me what he had written on the cover:

TO ERIC, GREAT PLAYING FOR A PICKPOCKET.  STAN SMITH

Franz Kafka once said that life is a series of small scale victories and large scale defeats.

In the great scheme of things, this was a small scale victory, by anyone's measurement.  Except for me.

Life is a great inexplicable circle, and sometimes, just sometimes if you are very lucky, you get to meet one of your heroes.





Sunday, 6 May 2012

CUBISM

 THE SHADOW OF THE BURQA
Oslo
Mar 2008

Your face is your key to unlocking the masks of others. When you start to cover yourself up, you start to veil a path to discovering the world about you, namely the interaction between you and your fellow humans, from which come your insights into the world around you and your contribution to it. Cover this, and soon you are in darkness. 



 THE SQUARE BANANA
Kew 
May 2012

As Manet said, in nature there are no straight lines, only colours. A yellow teapot and some bananas, however, can be packaged into straight lines.

WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRANGER
Kew
May 2012

A variation on Nietzsche. The apposition of fire and energy. Onward and upward.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

HIGHLIGHTS



INTERRUPTION
London
 Apr 2012

The law of unintended consequences struck, as the bomb threat of a lorry driver gone nuts on Tottenham Court Road forced the evacuation of several city blocks, sweeping up this unfortunate girl in the midst of having her highlights done, a portrait of quiet despair and frustration. One can only imagine her reaction several hours later when the crisis abated.



Friday, 6 April 2012

IN MEMORIAM: R. SHAW PETTIGREW

We are all, says Bill Bryson, an arrangement of atoms. What we pass on to the next generation is what we tell them or what they remember. These atoms arrange themselves as memory, in mementos, photographs, or stories which fade and twist with time.

My father died 24 years ago. He was a private man, and shared only that part of his life that he wished to share with us, his children. Whilst cleaning out old papers, I came once again upon a chapter of his life, which, save some very brief stories he told me once, was never open to us. The war.

Due to the efforts of my sister, we discovered that my Dad, who fought in the European theatre, maybe had more to offer than we thought. He got a Bronze Star, and fought along the same campaign as the 82nd Airborne of Band of Brothers, save for the fact he was in the Quartermaster Corps of the 80th Infantry Division. His number was 01595758 and though he ended the war as a Captain, was a 1st Lieutenant when he was awarded the Bronze Star. The Star was awarded via General Orders(Number 231) on 17th September 1945 By Command of Major General McBride. The inscription only says: For the period 7 August 1944 to 5 May 1945 in FRANCE, LUXEMBOURG, GERMANY AND AUSTRIA. It doesn't say for what, other than it was for "meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States."


Only 3500 (depends on who is counting...hard to get a definitive number) were given out of the 16.1 million active service personnel during the War. That, you would think, would merit a mention from my father. But no. He never said a word about it, though he didn't like Germans, as a general rule.

In his papers, I also found the only words he ever wrote about the war.

It's a pity to see these poor people who have saved and scraped all their lives come back to their homes (or what used to be their home) penniless and hungry without any clothing to sepak (sic) of and without the few animals they at one time so proudly could call their own.  What makes it so bad is that not long ago their sense of security was solik(sic) ; they were happy and carefree after four years of long sorrow, but even after that period of time they still had a home they could call their own--suddenly the whole thing has changed. Instead of a clean respectable house there is a rabble of bricks, instead of the few hogs which were looked upon as the winter subsistence there are empty stalls or no stalls at all and in place of the little clothing that was left on the closet hooks their(sic) is nothing.The last is particularly tragic because the damage was done by thoughtless G.I.'s. If there ever were a group of men that needed common sense pounded into their heads, it's these hard fighting, hard living soldiers. No----they didn't take much of the stuff for souvenirs, they purposefully smashed cabinets, mirrors, pictures and furniture, say nothing of tearing the clothing or taking it out of the house and putting it in the gutters. Many times the nicest rooms left in left in the houses seem to be the village latrine. Still these are the same boys that want the world to thank them for what they did--fight the war on another land so our own homes, our own families wouldn't suffer the same fate as the homes and families of Europe have suffered. It's a strange world!

Maybe he received the Bronze Star for his conscience.

After all these years, his memory has never lived stronger, and I have never been more proud of him than I am reading these words he wrote. He was a giant of a man, and he is and will always be my hero, my father.


----------------


Saturday, 24 March 2012

FROM NUNEATON TO ISTANBUL

It was all down to George really.

He suggested it, otherwise no doubt we would have all buried ourselves in iPhone isolation-land waiting for a train back to London. Instead we wandered over to the nearest pub, a sort of lesser of two evils establishment next to another one which was even more downtrodden. Fresh Sunday roasts, £5.95. That kind of place.

On the door was an even better offer, ale for £1.95 provided you signed up for a month's worth. One can only wonder what a month's worth is in these parts.

This is Nuneaton, east of Coventry and Birmingham, where we had just been to see a client en masse. Los Tres Amigos, or more like the Three Stooges really: Mo, Larry and Curly. George, a young and affable Kiwi bachelor; Rafa, a very bright Brazilian young father, and me.

All in suits. The only suits we would see except for the undertaker. But more about that later.

Nuneaton is one of those mostly non-descript places. The highlight of the brief pass-through was the local college, a 60s style architectural lump enlivened by its name: Etone College. Yep, that's right. Etone. At least someone has a sense of humour here. No Bullingdon Club, I bet though.

We sidled up to the bar, where there ensconced were two regulars. Baz, who we never met but whose name was emblazoned across the back of his football shirt..Man City, I believe, or maybe Coventry (I couldn't see the front, but sky blue in any case), and Friendly Guy.

Friendly Guy was sampling the ale offer. George asked for beer and chips (I had a feeling that nothing healthy was going to cross my lips this night). Friendly Guy helpfully offered up that there was no hot food, except for Sunday perhaps. There was, however, a fish and chips shop across the way.

Instead we plumped for beer and nuts.

Brazil's Nuts, as it happens.

No, not Brazil Nuts...peanuts made (or at least endorsed) by Alan Brazil. He, you will no doubt recall, was a Scottish footballer for Ipswich who once his career hit the rocks, ended up playing in Woolongong, Australia, (believe or not I spent 10 days there, sort of a Nuneaton of Australia with beaches) and Baden, before being arrested for DUI and then starting up a nuts business. But it says none of that on the packet. Wikipedia, after the fact.

He was also a broadcaster on Talk Radio before he got sacked, with a flair for the malapropism and inappropriate comment. To wit:
Our talking point this morning is George Best, his liver transplant and the booze culture in football. Don’t forget, the best caller wins a crate of John Smith’s.'[12]
He also authored two books, one entitled: Both Barrels from Brazil – My War against the Numpties.


In short, a man's man. Never give in, Mr. Brazil.


His nuts are the equal of any bag of peanuts, I am here to tell you.

So, his product was worth a photo with Rafa, who topped up his protein snack with some crisps.

Anyway, what could have been a relative uneventful twenty minutes killing time was altered by George, who is still at the age where he will literally talk to anybody. Anybody. I used to be like that, but now I have been tempered by age and electronics.

But not George. Within a minute he had all but proffered his front door key and bank account details. But Friendly Guy was just that. He just wanted to talk.

Friendly Guy first asked us where we were all from, and somehow from that piece of information launched into a monologue about the Second World War, his father in Argentina (pronouncing Buenos Aires to rhyme with View and Air, as in Biew-Nos Ere-es) and how his father witnessed the sinking of the Graf Spee (though he didn't actually say Graf Spee, just that it was a sea battle on the River Plate where the Germans scuttled a ship  (the River Plate, incidentally, was thought by Magellan to be the passage to the Spice Islands, but I digress,in addition to adding parentheses)). He and George had a lot in common, namely fathers who were pilots in the war and ended up in Canada being trained. He said things like. My father went out to Biew-nos Eres, they were quite well off back then you know, well they would be wouldn't they? boats weren't cheap back then. He also digressed on the Ale offer, which involved having to come in 12 times a month , I believe, and draining the casks. This would not pose too much of a problem for him, I shouldn't think.  Friendly Guy was a ...friendly guy...balding, slight paunch (see ale consumption). George and Rafa and I were taking it all in when all of a sudden an elderly gent in a slightly shabby suit entered. He stopped in front of us, obviously struck by three men in suits.

Are you here for the Scottish Free Masons meeting? he inquired.

Pardon me? I said.

Oh.....Are you Mormons then?

Worse, I replied. We're bankers.

Wankers.

That too.

He laughed and sat down next to us. Unusual, people in suits (though he wore one, of a fashion). He was tall, grey, slightly the worse for the wear and tear, and had a gash in the middle of his forehead which he ignored completely.

You staying here? (this was, I neglected to mention, an inn of some sort).

No, we are waiting for the train back to London.

Friendly Guy interjected that this was an international contingent, with a Kiwi, a Brazilian, and an American. Rafa held up his Brazil's Nuts bag.

I see, said the gent.

What is it you do? I asked him, mindful of another suit.

I am an undertaker.

Well actually I am retired, but I am on call Mondays and Tuesdays. Have to stay off the smoosh (??I believe he said smoosh...can't be sure). Can't be going over to the Joneses smelling with Auntie Mildred up the stairs having to cart her down myself. Wouldn't do at all.

Quite.

I asked him, I hope you don't mind me asking, but have you ever watched the television show Six Feet Under?

He brightened up. Yes, it was a while ago.

Was is.....accurate?

Oh no...no...Wasn't that the one with the gay guy?

That's right. My wife and I are hooked on it now.

As he talked I looked around. Baz ,he of the spiked hair, unkempt beard, grey chipped teeth, and sky blue t-shirt, tried to get involved. Mr Undertaker rambled on about how heavy the bodies were, and how....blah blah blah I can't remember what.... The more I took in the scene, I was reminded of a Spanish friend of mine, who listened to a presentation I made on derivatives, and responded at the end with a quizzical look and the following comment which for me summed up Nuneaton.

Muy curioso.

Time flew, and suddenly we had to leave. We interrupted Mr. Undertaker in full flow, and slid out of the table. He gave us each a hand shake which involved covering up the clasped hands with his other hand.

Mustn't let everyone see the Scottish Free Mason handshake, he winked at me.

And boosh. We were gone.

You couldn't make it up.

And to think, tomorrow I am going to Istanbul. Crusaders. Ataturk. The Aghia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Topkapi. Just one quick hop and a step away from Nuneaton and Brazil's Nuts on this crazy planet we live on.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

DUKE-CAROLINA. THERE AIN'T NOTHING LIKE IT...

In response to my mate Tom Wells' commentary, herewith the response to his email that the Smith Center in Chapel Hill went quiet with Austin River's shocking buzzer bomb to beat the Heels.

Quiet as a church.

Indeed.

My nephew, who got rejected from Duke despite getting 1580 on his boards and with me, my son, my sister, my aunt, and her father all having gone there (not enough money given....indeed precious little after the rapacious fees charged), instead went to Carolina, where he is now manager of the baseball team and a RABID, but RABID anti-Dook fan. Did I say RABID? He has turned my sister as well, which believe me, is UNFORGIVABLE.

The amazing thing is that just watching that took me back 35 years as if it were yesterday. Ah the memories, such as when I got fired from my job as a waiter at Harrison's in Chapel Hill for going to the Final Four in St. Louis when Duke made it (Gene Banks, Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski) though I warned them in advance. They didn't bother to tell me, just took me off the rota, and when I turned up for work and said what's the story was told with a shrug of the shoulders, Oh... Will (the small-dicked manager) fired you.  I went and ordered six beers (Heinekens, as it happens, when that meant something), a tuna melt, a cheesecake, worked my way through the whole lot with Will warily watching me from the end of the bar. I then said to the bartender, "I guess that was on the house", walked past Will and said: "Will, what you did was a really bush move, but it doesn't surprise me because you are a real bush league person." No comeback from the weasel.

And I paid not a farthing. 

And that, as they say, is that. I think the fact that a few weeks earlier I, as the only Dookie, went to work with Go to Hell Carolina painted on my cheek might have had something to do with it.

So I have prior, and when every so often God waves his arm and allows the ball to bounce right just this time and tickle the cords as the buzzer sounds, you will forgive me if I get PRETTY F******* WORKED UP by the whole thing.



Sports are life with the volume turned up.

But it is still a friendly rivalry, not like Liverpool-Man U, as evidenced by the birthday limerick written by the erstwhile girlfriend of my roommate in grad school, both Tar Heels.

I can tell you that it is no fluke
One thing about Joel makes me puke
It's bad that he studies
But worse, that he's buddies
With Eric, that Wadhead, from Duke.



Next time, however, it will be Carolina's turn.

And so it goes.