Archive for December, 2011

Dog days of Christmas


I had thought one use of the dog days between Christmas and New Year would be to catch up on some films that are on but I had not got round to seeing. Having more time on my hands than I anticipated I ended up seeing more films in the last three days than I imagined I would. The two closest cinemas running a special offer of € 5 a visit made it possible.

The first film was one that JTO saw a long time ago and raved about but I had not had either the time or money to see. Subsequently I had read others raving about it and now I can see what they saw in the Artist. A silent film in black and white? Yep, though I wonder if it would work as anything other than an homage to the silent black and white films? A very enjoyable film with a good story that is well acted. I can see why it has made so many lists of best films of the year.

After a little walk around in the daylight, including a visit to my favourite place in Strasbourg, I walked to the Star cinema to see my first Michael Fassbender film of the period, Shame. A lot of the pre-publicity for the film was about the full-frontal nudity. There is also a lot of sex thought it doesn’t seem very sexy rather the arrival of his sister to stay with him and the failure to be able to relate to another human results in his life spiralling out of control. An interesting study of the commodification of everyday life where anything to satisfy any need is available all the time and addiction.

Thursday afternoon started with Snowtown. I hadn’t heard much about the film but had seen it included in some people’s best of the year films so I thought I would take a look. I misread the information about the film and thought it was about the Australian mafia. I was still waiting for the story to develop into that after more than ten minutes. I nearly left several times. It is a harrowing film to watch with abuse, rape and then brutality and murder. It was an ordeal to sit all the way through, not a fun film about a serial killer, but then not a fun subject. The way it portrays a young man who seeks an escape from the violence and hopelessness that surrounds him, thinks he has found it only to be sucked into a gang of murders is enthralling.

Afterwards I had to get out of the cinema and get some fresh air and some light.  I ran into a friend and chatted and felt returned to normality in time to catch my second installment of Michael Fassbender in A Dangerous Method. The most traditional of the five films I saw, the blurb for it said it concerned:

“the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein, the beautiful but disturbed young woman who comes between them. Sensuality, ambition and deceit set the scene for the pivotal moment when Jung, Freud and Sabina come together and split apart, forever changing the face of modern thought.”

To start with I found Keira Knightly a bit over-mannered in her acting but an interesting story told well, though not exceptionally.

After walking around the market in Place Kleber and looking at the books and maps for sale in the L’Aubette, where I saw the wonderful decoration of part of the building for the first time, I went back to the Star to see a digital film in 3D, my first 3D film. The Mill and the Cross was the most powerful and life affirming, even though it features the death of Christ. It is based upon the painting The Way To Calvary by Peter Beugel and imagines the lives of twelve of the hundreds of subject in the painting and what happened to them before and after they featured in the painting. At the same time giving an explanation for the themes, meanings and history behind the painting.

Václav Havel II


After my post about Václav Havel here yesterday I got the following message this morning from a friend who was formerly a member of the Riga chapter but is now working in Prague:

He was the single best person I’ve ever met. Walked behind the funeral cortege earlier. Extraordinary. A very peculiar mix of emotions. And some very funny anecdotes.

As you can see in the picture (hat-tip AFP, Robert Michael), here in a commentless piece for the BBC and here in the Daily Telegraph thousands of people joined Stephen to walk behind the coffin and pay their respects.

On Monday I contacted the Czech Representation to the Council of Europe here in Strasbourg to see if they were going to have a book of condolence in memory of the former President. They emailed me back the next day with details of the place and times it was available for signing. This morning I went to the Representation which is at the top of a building on a crossroad, pictured. As I made my way up to the top I passed a number of SAMU staff who I discovered were going into a flat below the Representation.

When I got to the representation the door was opened by a woman and I was shown by a man into a darkened room with the curtains drawn. Near the middle of the room, set at a 45 degrees angle, was a table with a book on it and a pen on an open page, the book of condolence. There was another table more in the corner, closer to the closed curtain windows, which had on it a photo of Václav Havel, some candles and a vase containing some white flowers. I sat down and composed my self then picked up my fountain pen. I read the previous entry from the Representation of Azerbaijan before turning to the next blank page and started to write something based upon Anthem by Leonard Cohen, particularly the lines;

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Whilst writing my piece the bell went. I finished, got up and walked over to the table with the candles on it for a moment of pause before turning and waiting at the door to let the next person in. I was then seen out by the two members of staff and went down the stairs again. At the bottom the SAMU were getting two people out of the lift, one on a wheeled stretcher and the other in a wheelchair heading towards two ambulances on the pavement with their lights flashing. I got on the bus and went home still thinking about the gloomy room and the man I had gone there to commemorate.

Václav Havel


Just over a year ago I wrote here about my admiration for Václav Havel so it will be no surprise that I was saddened by his death at the weekend. On my pile of books to read was “Letters to Olga” which Mr Amazon had only recently bought round on his bike. In 1979 Václav Havel was sentenced to four and a half years hard labour for his involvement in the human rights movement Charter 77. In prison he was only allowed to write one letter a week to his wife, Olga, and he used that chance to write on theatre, society and philosophy. I imagine it will be a different book from the one in the earlier post which covered his time as President of Czechoslovakia then the Czech Republic.

A friend posted the following on Facebook:

RIP Václav Havel, a politician for whom I had much respect, not least because of his literary achievements. In tribute, here is an anecdote illustrating his self-effacing character. If it’s not true, it ought to be. Council of Europe summit, 1997: Strasbourg is packed with diplomats and high-level politicians. Among them Václav Havel, who, during free time, eschews the company of his peers and goes for a walk around town. Evening comes, and Havel feels in need of a bite to eat. He goes into the nearest winstub [Alsatian restaurant] and asks for a table. “Ah, non, Monsieur,” says the patronne. “All tables are reserved for the heads of state.”

That fits with the personality which comes across in the book. Here is a piece from Spiegel featuring a quote from Milan Kundera.

The Ten Rules Of Rock And Roll


I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before, but I was recently in Australia. Whilst there I read quite a lot but I didn’t take any paperback or Hard-back books. One of the problems of travelling on one of the cheaper tickets is getting everything you need for a month into a suitcase for 20 kilos. As I was taking my Galaxy Tab, and as I had downloaded the Kindle App onto it, I used that for my reading. Generally it was a good experience; I enjoyed reading on it, the Tab is quite light and easy to hold and my shoulder certainly enjoyed the lack of weight in my bag. One-click buying via Amazon is frightening in the ease with which you can spend money. The one drawback with reading on the Tab was that it is difficult in sunlight so it didn’t work too well at the beach, poolside and some other places I tried to read, but generally it worked fine and I will do it again.

A long time ago, in the life of this blog, I wrote about my love for the Australian band The Go-Betweens. The early death of Grant McLennan means there will be no more records from the band but the remaining founder member, Robert Forster is still recording, see here. He has also  become a music critic for the Australian magazine, the Monthly, e.g. here. Via the podcast from the Word magazine in December 2010 I learnt that a collection of his writing had been published in book form, though at that time only in Australia as ‘The 10 Rules Of Rock And Roll‘. Listening to the podcast I wanted to read the book (it worked) but couldn’t as at the time it hadn’t got a European publisher; the visit, of which the podcast was a part, was to talk to parties interested in doing so. I looked occasionally but missed it becoming available in September 2011 so I thought my visit down under would be the chance to pick up a copy.

In Hobart and after looking at the Parliament House we walked around the nice but not twee Salamanca area. A highly disciplined visit to The Hobart Bookshop resulted in the purchase only of the book and a copy of the Monthly featuring the Robert Forster article I linked to above. Reading the article about 30 albums reminded me of the Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings and Food‘ as well as the Velvet Underground‘s first album, which I had already identified had disappeared and mentioned here previously. Both the albums were on the list of 30 albums and both were ones I had owned. But reading the piece I realised that though I had converted the other Talking Heads and Velvet Underground albums I owned to MP3 to play on my iPod. I had not done these. I must have mislaid the albums in the various moves I had made over the last 15 years. That saddened me as I love both the albums. It also made me realise there were other albums which I liked and had not made it to Strasbourg with me.

As an aside, a progress report on the conversion of albums to MP3  – I have today converted my 200th album to MP3 so the number remaining is in the tens perhaps 40 or 50. Then to start with the singles and 12 inch records. The 200th album was one of the best in the collection, a well-worn London Calling by the Clash.

I suppose not realising I had lost albums I enjoyed listening to is a consequence of not having a record player and not having listened to them for around ten years, if not more.

Another record to be added to the list of those that I enjoyed listening to but which seems to have gone missing is Playing With A Different Sex by the Au Pairs. On my return from Australia I decided to do something about it and I checked-out eBay. I found a copy of the LP that seemed to be in good condition and was at a decent price. Unfortunately I  was outbid for it. The second time I wasn’t going to be beaten and, having found a copy that seemed to be in a decent enough condition I matched someone else’s prepared bids to exceed their limit and then waited. This time I won and, whilst it has not arrived, it is in the post. The first thing I have bought via eBay. I know I am slow in taking up these innovations, but my virginity is lost, who knows how many other things I might go out and buy?

I was so pleased with my success that I immediately bid for an album I had not owned and lost, but now thought it would have been good to have, ‘Crossing the Red Sea With The Adverts‘ by the Adverts. It has been converted to MP3 and is being enjoyed whilst travelling around Strasbourg. Reader I loved it so much I bought the LP.

PS. OK the Ten Rules of Rock and Roll are:

Oh go and buy the book to find out for yourself……….

Christopher Hitchens RIP


I came late to Christopher Hitchens and have not read greatly of his writings but I have come to appreciate greatly his clarity of thought, his wit and his willingness to debate his view with others. I share with him a hostility to religion and totalitarianism. It is often said and not very often true but the World is a worse place for his passing. A light that pierced the darkness has gone out and we are all the worse that there will not be another article, book or public appearance from the Hitch. RIP.

Here is, typically a much more eloquent remembrance from Norm. Read it. Here’s is the tribute from his brother.

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