Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday commute lxv: toujours l'audace

Does one have the credibility
to say, that although one has
been respectful of Jil Sander
(now under such fateful tran-
sition at the top), one hasn't
gone haywire for the house, to
the extent of enjoying stepping
on an entry as pretty as the 
reflection, preceding, on East-
man Kodak (also in turmoil, top
to bottom)?

It was, I think, the cashmere
cuirass in black which threw one
off guard, and brought forward 
this obvious Sunday brunch tar- 
tan in leatherite ornamentation
as an urgent interpretation of a
Saturday commute. A natural for
the Nob Hill cable car on a windy
ride up from Union Square, or a 
mid-day round at Cypress Point,
the ensemble comes smashingly in-
to its own, need I say, for drinx
on the Sausalito ferry. 

I used to ride that noble vessel
to work for a couple of years,
with a chum in Mill Valley who was
creative director for a massive ad
agency on the Embarcadero. These
were the years of one's red Alfa,
too; and it's hard to know which
could have done greater justice
to this Sanderism, the genius of
the Milk Advisory Board or the
quixotic cabriolet at speed. I'd
gladly stake us all to a Low-
land malt on ice, to find out.

Clément Chabernaud

Friday, May 4, 2012

Suppose it were Friday lxii: let's open a yellow box

"I come from a time" when, to bear responsibility for the photo-graphic image, was a welcome and thrilling, conscious experience. This is a time which has not expired in me but which parallels a time, flourishing as I write, in which responsibility for the photograph is happily exchanged for receiving the images of an impertinent servant, immediately. This ostensible collaborator is the digital camera. The camera which recalcitrantly does not create an exposure at the instant I would have chosen; does not allow focus to dissolve as it does or concentrate as it does in my sight; does not allow my perception of colour and lighting balances to be registered, without extensive post-photographic manipulation, but which does compensate me with an image which can be seen by millions in a few seconds, and which can intrigue me as a spectacle I never saw, myself. Harold Pinter, where are you.

One's first camera was likely a gift. The gift of that camera in one's boyhood, in the "time" I am describing, was an occasion of ceremonial registration of one's accession to yet an other plane of autonomy. I realise how audaciously insensitive some of the observations here seem to be, but these terms are no exaggeration. They are also not the half of it. The gift of a camera meant to be asked what one could say with only what one could see; and this meant being acquainted with the existential shock of how much remained to be done, to develop that function.

For some 60 installments in this series, the empowerments of Friday have been celebrated without ambiguity. It would be perverse if the empowerments of the film camera, enriched as they are by obligation and incentive, demand and discipline, should be seen in any other light. For what do I have this sense of sight, if not to indulge the joy of being taught? Even in this "time," the digital camera allows this perception to emerge negatively, by the sabotage of its connivance. It simply doesn't let my eye enjoy its sense of touch. It does show me how little my sight can preserve or protect what I see.

In my time there still is Friday, recreated and renewed when I crack open a yellow box. I'm restored to going looking, and respecting what I see.

i  Alex Dunstan

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The sound of healing voices

Would it not isolate the most objectionable aspect of enforced convalescence from corrective surgery, as opposed to a continu-ing ailment, to cite its languour? Authorities in these matters, who warn of depression, may be groping for a clinical term, for a truly tire-some imposition. In any case it becomes difficult to tell them apart.

It isn't so much that we wish to be doing something other than lying still but exercising, changing our dressings but limiting our bathing, adhering to drug protocols but also not relying on them. No, actually, this is pretty full-time fun. It's that our mind gathers focus on what would give it the most peace, short of an outbreak of the empiricism virus in the Tea Party. But there you are. Very sweet voices, peculiarly enough, in imagination as much as expression, come to the table first.

Very sweet voices, which can remark with delight in the rushing of water in the sunshine, the cooling of wineglasses in the flickering shade, the flexing of delicate wings to free, the flash of a tulip after a long interval of rain. These voices do exist, one enjoys being reminded, and they are fundamental to our hunger to be restored to the world.

These voices describe the essential scheme for our recovery, in mode as well as in hunger. A protract-ed persistence of acute inconvenience, we find, is better addressed with a philosophical tolerance than with impatience or disdain. It rained a long time, we are told; but somehow we knew it would come to this.

Is it not telling, that the prisoner's escape in Jean Renoir's La grande illusion is celebrated by his delight in the colour of the eyes in a child of his enemy? This is not an argument, but in that way a note of thanks to some bloggers from France. You and I, seeing this tissue, naturally appreciate its celebration of the growing of things for delight. Its artisanship responds to the uncollectibly capti-vating, and it mattered not for whose house, but for the loving eye.

As I lay reading these blogs, I was drawn back to the film I wanted to praise on the morning of my entry into hospital. In them I read nothing less than what distin-guished The 400 Blows, in the eye of contemporary film-maker Jacques Rivette, its best critic:

here and there, an almost unbearable force results from the constant use of understatement, and the refusal of eloquence, of violence, of explanation, giving each image a pulse, an inner quiver. Rivette summarises these virtues, as we all would, as simplicity, but also as genuinely French. I couldn't say, but I know where healing voices are.

François Truffaut
  and Marcel Moussy
The 400 Blows
David Denby, editor
Jacques Rivette
  Cahiers du Cinéma, #95
  May, 1959
Grove Press, 1969©

i, v        Le style et la matière
ii, vi     Valéry Lorenzo
iii, vii   Elisabeth Baysset
iv          Ivan Terestchenko


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Annals of prosecutorial discretion: the absent witness

How do we prepare our children to understand a political trial predicated on collusion against the integrity of the electoral system involving, as an indispensable principal, one of the very least self-interested donors in the history of gratuity, itself? Well, we begin, I suppose, by confiding that the trial is taking place in the United States, just to establish the plausibility of the surreal. But we move from there to inquire, how this prosecution could be mounted without calling this conspirator as a witness. The answer to this question can certainly not be prosecutorial courtesy, to a quiet lady of advanced years, and must touch upon the implausibility of the underlying charge, which is, that she wrote cheques at the drop of a hat, to respond to any demand her accomplice might present.

The very idea that such a quiet lady would so much as possess a checking account in her name, much less operate it with the dimmest accord of her own hand, is so laughable that any physical evidence for it must be suspected as forgery, on its face. Quiet ladies I have known, of not one thousandth of this one's degree of quietness, have been protected by so many tiers of trusts and quite anonymous accounts as to make the spectacle of a portable little stack of chits requiring one's autograph, just about the most hilarious image since Preston Sturges retired from cinema. 

But there is a second reason why this witness will not be called, and that is that so few have mastered what she is to be called. She is so widely referred to by a sobriquet drawn from that portion of the animal kingdom associated with Easter, that she might as well not exist from the point of view of the law. You can just see, the prosecutor's painstakingly crafted chart of that literal maze of trusts from which her conspiracy is said to have drawn its financing, and while at the pinnacle of this elaborate structure he purports to place her lawful name, by which she seemingly doesn't exist. It's not as if her alias were Bugsy. One would not like to go to a jury on the mortal threat posed by a heroine of the nursery.

So the quiet lady is not likely to appear in court, the jury is not likely to credit any scraps which might bear her name, and the case is likely to misfire before those deliberations are even convened, under the general astonishment of mankind at the very thought of disturbing the quiet lady with such a slight in the first place. That some species of judge is actually presiding over this drama without sneezing it off his cuff, will be hard enough to explain to the young, without having to admit to them how discriminatory on their face all such prosecutions are, any more, after the Bush Court outsourced the administration of our elections to what is touchingly called, the private sector.

Monday, April 30, 2012

On schedule, a wonderful blog departs

  I know I have remarked, before, on
  my indebtedness to Valéry Lorenzo's
  reading list, and the same is cer-
  tainly true of Ivan Terestchenko's,
  as one should suppose. It is to his
  that I owed my introduction to Carol
  Reid Gallard's fundamental blog in
  garden gastronomy and culinary cul-
  ture in her département of the Landes.

  She has announced the planned clos-
  ing of her blog just as it had es-
  tablished itself as a relais of re-
  curring bliss in my monthly reading.
  By all means I will keep note of it
  in "Context" here, for as long as
  she cares to preserve it for our
  refreshment. Although we will miss
  the ongoing companionship, there is
  much to be extracted from the site.

i-ii  Mailhos

A fine migration for John Le Carré

A tap on the "search me" button, to the right, will fill in any blank for a reader, on the adoption here of Graham Greene's sense of the word, entertainment, of which he remains the master, when it comes to suspenseful fiction involving diplomacy and its sometimes luridly covert arts - a contradiction in terms which John Le Carré mines consistently to its most interior depths. A generation ago, with Alec Guinness in the lead, British television adapted Le Carré in a memorable series, Smiley's People. 

Last year, the same novel was reworked, with Le Carré co-producing, consulting, and disporting himself in a walk-on part to sing the Communist Internationale at an MI-6 Christmas party. In my maturity, Le Carré occupies for me the place Enzo Ferrari held in the wisdom of my boyhood, as the author of works I implore the gods to issue for the rest of my life, because I love them helplessly. 

Finally to discover a movie which can be respected for being more than faithful (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, 1965), but literally renewing, and knowing in its demanding transfer to screen narrative, affords a pleasure I never really required of Le Carré or expected of our time. Oldman, an actor I've always been able to ignore, is outstanding in this rôle, and his George Smiley's victory is uncannily as the novelist presented it - one of character. 

What is at stake, as almost always in Le Carré, is the state of readiness of a marginalised midlife figure, to distinguish between actual and imagined betrayal, malign and undesigned dismissals, accident and conspiracy, with practiced intelligence and naïve energy. Now, a generation after the first attempt at this text, I'm happy to investigate how plausible this is. So, yes. The guy in the aquascutum turns out to have held on to who he is, against a nemesis he describes as our familiar partisan from Hell -- He is a fanatic, and that is how I know he can be beaten. A fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.

Tomas Alfredson, director
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Focus Features, 2011©

Benjamin Eidem 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What psyches the Nile to flow uphill



   must make it
   rain eruptively
   in Sydney,

   don't you 



i, iii  Tassos


Patient in Porto Rafti

     afternoon lost to
     re-finding the rock
     you can stand on
     way out past the
     raft, the flat one
     that lines up four-
     square with the door
     of the boathouse.

Jonathan Galassi
  The Last Swim
    of Summer [fragment]
op. cit.