; movieschocolatebooks: 2016


Sunday, December 18

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey or how we lose ourselves in translation

Literature is born out of discomfort and uprootedness and Idra Novey, as a translator and a writer, knows how to capture the exile and the journey of the nomad, both physical and literary. Her book, "Ways To Disappear", is an invitation to reflect on the mission and pitfalls of translation, and the way the translator has to emerge and lose herself in the work and life of the author.  

Imagini pentru ways to disappear review

The novel begins in an amazing, unexpected manner with the author, Beatriz Yagoda, climbing into an almond tree with her suitcase and a cigar. It is her way of disappearing from the world. Emma Neufeld, her Portuguese-to-English translator from Pittsburgh -an alter-ego of Idra Novey, who is herself translating the work of the fabulous Clarice Lispector- leaves her fiance and flies to Rio de Janeiro to find her beloved author, Beatriz. 

Rio is flavored and unexpected, inhabited by strange characters like the loan shark, Flamenguinho, the pedant, careful, Roberto Rocha, Beatriz's publisher and editor, and her very different children -Raquel and Marcus. All of them are looking for the author but at the same time, they are on a search of their own. 

Raquel resents Emma's infatuation with her mother and though she has never read any of her books, she is looking for answers, whereas Marcus, unaware of this, finds love in the translator. But every search means shaking or shedding the very essence or skins that they inhabit. In order to understand and connect to the humanity of the author, all characters -Emma, Raquel, Marcus, Roberto- give up their own definitions of themselves and reshape not only relationships, but their very future. 

Where the structure of the novel is concerned, the dictionary entries that blend real word definitions with fictional explanations, the emails inserted on page, the translation notes and the broadcasts from Radio Globo on the author's disappearance and the unfolding of the events, are amazing techniques that work perfectly in the book. Of all the definition that fills its pages, the one for "promise" is intriguing : 2. A verb used to assure a certain outcome, as in, With time, a translator gets used to promising the impossible the way a loan shark gets used to promising carnage."  

The novel reads like an investigation and all these craft elements build up on the mystery around Beatriz's disappearance. The way the images are juxtaposed and infused with a shred of magic realism make the novel incredibly balanced between the real story and the search for meaning behind words: "In translation, this kind of dilemma was known as domestication. A translator could justify moving around the objects in a sentence if it made it easier for her audience to grasp what was going on ...The problem with domesticating was the possible misplacement of truth." 

The novel is concerned with such concepts as misplacement and misunderstanding, as well as with shifting identities and how the translating process relies on an initial state of uneasiness that results into an inhabitation of the very text if essence is meant to be captured. Even so, despite of the translator's devotion to the text and the familiarity with the author, the process is about seeking the truth in the details of the language. In the transmission of art -the work of Beatriz, in this situation- the reader witnesses moral dilemmas, violence, remorse, romance, comedy- an entire array of human emotions that make the book irresistible. In the end, the reader is left wondering about how we gain agency of our work and life equally, by staying true to ourselves and accepting that there are things we are not bound to change.

Saturday, November 19

Evanghelia dupa Pilat de Eric Emmanuel Schmitt by NICO

"CE ESTE ADEVARUL? ADEVARUL MEU, AL TAU, AL ALTORA. … Exista tot atatea adevaruri, cati oameni. Numai forta impune cu armele sale adevarul …Adevarul este o victorie a ta, este o infrangere a altora, mai bine zis un armistitiu. Dar adevarul nu este niciodata singur, de aceea el nu exista."

Crezi sau nu? Esti credincios? A existat Fiul Lui Dumnezeu sau nu?

Intrebari si iar intrebari…si iar intrebari. Indoieli peste indoieli.
E normal sa ai indoieli, este normal sa te intrebi, este normal sa te abati din drum si sa te intrebi daca faci sau nu bine… Evanghelia dupa Pilat este cartea celor cu intrebari, a celor ce se indoiesc de tot ceea ce fac, dar destul de puternici sa mearga inainte.  

Imagini pentru Evanghelia dupa Pilat images

Ma intrebam daca ceea ce fac din punct de vedere religios este corect sau normal? Daca faptul ca ma rog doar cand sunt singura sau merg la biserica doar cand simt deschiderea de a o face...Daca am dezamagit pe Dumnezeu, daca trebuie sa fiu mai habotnica sau mai retinuta sau oare, cum ar trebui sa fiu? Exista oare o norma sau o regula pentru a te prezenta in fata lui Dumnezeu? Este normal sa crezi fara a-ti pune intrebari? Este normal sa nu crezi? Ce este normal? ….am aflat citind.

Normalul nu exista sau altfel spus, normalul este subiectiv, ca adevarul. Ceea ce este normal pentru mine, nu este neaparat normal si pentru altcineva. Felul in care eu imi arat credinta nu este asemanatoare cu a altcuiva…poate in anumite puncte, poate in anumite momente este …dar atat. Adevarul si normalul sunt subiective. Un lucru exista daca vrei sa existe, credinta exista daca vrei. O primesti daca o lasi sa intre, nu trebuie impusa sau fortata de dogme. Am citit si am aflat ceea ce cautam; am aflat ca Iisus se indoia, s-a indoit inclusiv pe cruce : "M-ai uitat Tata?" Este normal sa fii interogativ si ganditor, sa te retragi cand consideri ca nu mai poti face fata si sa nu te multumesti cu ceea ce iti este impus de altii. Evanghelia dupa Pilat ne arata un Ieshua (lisus in aceasta carte) om, nesigur, dar deschis ...un Ieshua interogativ si meditativ, care nu era constient de puterea sa, era modest, era deschis si increzator, era nepriceput in meseria sa umana de dulgher, era om . Iisus era nepriceput. Mi-a placut, am iubit aceasta idee. El, Atotputernicul era nepriceput, dadea gres si cu toate acestea continua, era ghidat de faprele bune si de ajutorul pe are il dadea oamenilor din jur. In timp ce dadea gres in unele, excela in altele, era imperfect… era uman, era ca mine, ca tine si ca toti cei care isi recunosc imperfectiunile….dar care incearca sa fie mai buni sau sa compenseze prin altele…era om.

Imi place idea unii ca exista oameni puternici care isi ararata slabiciunile, interogarile si dezamagirile, uneori, dar care nu se lasa doborati de ele. Ma gandeam ca trebuie sa mergi la biserica, sa fii acolo zi de zi, ca trebuie sa dai bisericii, ca trebuie sa fii trup si suflet acolo …dar nu, am aflat ca biserica nu este o institutie, o doctrina, o lege. Biserica este peste tot, ea reprezinta cunoastere si deschidere catre bine, bun si oameni, este alcatuita sau ar trebui alcatuita din exemplul unui OM care a facut bine, care asculta si dadea sfaturi, care facea bine- care a dat surplusul sau, care dormea in aer liber sau adapostit de ceilalti, care nu dorea maretie, nu dorea averi. Nu era preot cu cerinte si chitante…era o stare de bine, era iubire fata de toti oamenii, era speranta si liniste sufleteasca.

Evanghelia dupa Pilat este un punct de vedere frumos povestit, este o cautare de multi ani. Aceasta carte este pentru adultul cerebral si perfectionist in cautare de raspunsuri, este pentru toti oamenii care la un moment dat s-au intrebat daca sunt sau nu pe drumul cel bun, sau daca trebuie sa fii intr-un fel sau altul, sau daca trebuie sau nu sa fie precum cei multi, daca este normal sa fii diferit. Ce crezi? E normal ceea ce crezi tu ca este normal si ceea ce ai puterea sa sustii...adevarul tau. Acum ma simt normala din punctul acesta de vedere. Credinta mea si felul in care eu o manifest tine de mine si atat, este momentul meu cu divinitatea, este intima si unica. Este ca fiecare. Credinta este unica si personala. Iisus este unic. 

Cartile si studiul nu exclud magia, cuvintele sunt magice, discutiile sunt magice. Degeaba vorbesti multe, daca nu spui nimic concret. Degeaba te lauzi daca nu faci ceea ce spui, degeaba arati doar pentru a bifa un lucru facut de dragul audientei, degeaba te arati daca nu te si descoperi… ramai gol si in cautare de atentie. Poti face multe, poti bifa multe, degeaba…conteaza ce faci pentru tine, cu tine, prin tine. Iisus este peste tot, tot timpul…nu ai nevoie de o confirmare sau dovada, dovada este in tine. Exista daca vrei sa existe, este fiecare fapta buna pe care o faci, fiecare vorba buna pe care o adresezi, fiecare indoiala pe care o ai, fiecare moment de reflectie pe care il ai, fiecare retregare in tine.

Wednesday, October 12

3 Bellezas or how we mirror our own beauty

My Chinese roommate tells me she has to finish her graduate degree by the end of summer and marry while still in her ''golden years''. I know she is twenty-three but I do not know what time span this specific syntagm refers to. I am told it is her early twenties and that her social clock is ticking. She spends a great deal of time and effort on looking impeccable every single day. Beauty is her main asset and the best way to lure the perfect man into her arms. She puts on make up slowly around the eyes on a satisfied smile. She does not have double eyelids. She is safe from painful, expensive plastic surgery and she won't get blind in old age. She shudders when she is reminded of decrepitude. I follow her tiny, alabaster wrist as she gracefully brushes off invisible layers of sparkling powder. She looks back at me in the tall mirror and a little crease insinuates itself between her almond, contact-lensed eyes. 'You still look good for a white woman your age.' The age factor fails me and with no wise reply on my part, I just smile, check my watch and run for the shuttle.

Once I get on campus, I head straight for the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. There is a Spanish Film Club Festival running for two months and I am bent on doing whatever it takes to watch the movies. It turns out it only takes an exchange of polite emails with the head of the department, a very responsive person I am bound to meet eventually. She leaves the DVD with the Administrative Assistant, a smiling, dark-faced woman that has a desk full of miniature elephants, all trunks up and facing east for good fortune. I watch the movie in a cubicle on the first floor of the campus library. The air in the little room is stuffed and somehow I get claustrophobic tingles down my spine. It keeps me away though from the rather noisy entrance area. From behind the glass, people seem to come and go with catlike tread.

Today I am watching 3 Bellezas (3 Beauties), a satire on Venezuela's obsession with beauty and pageants and the way they are a symbol of class and social status. I know this is the country of telenovelas, filled with amazing female bodies and passionate love affairs. Back home, all the women in my family would not lift a finger or dream to do anything on the evening their favorite telenovela runs. If you are not part of the intrinsic conversation related to the twisted narrative, you are not allowed to say a word. This is a world for connoisseurs. However, this is hardly some artificial studio-shot modern Cinderella story. It is rather a slap into the heavily cosmeticized face of the international beauty industry that causes pain and self-doubt. 

Imagini pentru 3 bellezas

A former beauty queen, Perla, mother of two girls and a boy, uses her talent as a seamstress and her income to turn her daughters into future beauty pageant stars. Nothing stays in the way of success: the ten-year-olds are given valuable advice on how to throw up after a good meal, wear heels and shake their behinds, allow older men to get their hands on them for the sake of glory and surround themselves only by other useful human beings. In this world, men - the brother Salvador included - are mere accessories, either absent or later on, cold bastards looking for sexual favors. An accident nearly kills the elder daughter and throws the mother on the way of redemption and religious practises. A different god, much greedier than the one of the flesh takes charge of their lives. It is another manipulative, money-oriented petty world where the body as the vessel of the Lord is a source of exploitation. 

The mother has a change of heart and starts dreaming about beauty competitions once again. Her daughter, Carolina, is bound to become Miss Republica. The other daughter, Estefania, and the son are neglected and left to beg for the mother's attention. Love and desire pull Carolina from the anticipated path and one sister replaces the other. In their pursue for fame, sibling rivalry blossoms and reaches unexpected heights. The movie turns into a dark comedy with horror accents that sharpen the satire and cast a gloomy light over an industry thriving on female body exploitation. 

In a broader sense, the mother is a symbol for dictatorship whereas the children stand for the oppressed and manipulated masses. Power over others and the prospect of glory and admiration lead to desperate actions. Behind the mother's desire to control the lives of her children lies a mountain of frustration and unfulfilment. It is a more comical, more flavored, noisier reminder of Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In and the pursuit of eternal beauty. The extent we are willing to go to be able to like our mirrored versions is incredible. The pleasure we take in having endless pairs of eyes swathe our bodies gives the highest boost to our vanity and goose bumps to the skin. It has ceased to be a personal choice, a reflection of low self-esteem only, it is a cultural thing that defines not only beauty but the female body as well. The movie ends in a spectacular manner, reiterating the vicious circle of vanity and obsession where the mother stands dehumanized, a mere tool of fabricating glamorous outfits for the future Miss Republica. Indeed, princes do not exist but they are pale imitations of genderless crippled princesses.

Outside the cinematic frames, in real world Romania, young women spend time, money and energy on a pair of full lips or a busty figure. They waste their time in the tanning salons and at the hairdresser's, constantly looking for ways to embellish, improve and reinvent their bodies and confidence. It is hardly a matter of choice, it is the exposure to the mediatic abuse that keeps distorting the standard of beauty. Raised in a communist time, when television was only two hours in the evening and some extra more at the weekends, having no access to glossy magazines and the industry of stardom, I grew up unaware of such struggle in a time when social connections meant spending time in the library or in the park rather than twitting on the computer. 

On the contrary, my younger Chinese roommate would hardly ever consider taking a photo without an Adobe Photo shop touch. The multitude of her social devices enlarges her human experience to the point of annihilating any shred of self-consciousness. Inside this virtual world of perfect skin and well-shaped eyelids, she stands a mutant version of a prefabricated concept aimed at commercializing human needs. Throughout cultures, the concept of beauty raises questions about personhood, specific conceptions of the body and power, with little focus on its humanistic approach. To me and her, this is but another thing that sets us apart. I am at ease with the way I look and take little interest in the matter, whereas I feel she is using such artifice to get social recognition. I am curious on how she would feel about 3 Bellezas and the characters' extreme pursuit after a beauty ideal. In the movie, the mother's struggle did not point to her desire to be assimilated to a group or get a collective identity. It rather showed her own insecurity and idolatry for the female body in the cultural context of beauty pageants. 

To me, physical appearance is culturally minimized though I am aware of the current trends in beauty standards in my own society. Such intense preoccupation is substituted for other more or less personal meanings. What I find fascinating about my Chinese roommate is not her seeking after a degree meant to define her social status and reflect on her marriage pursuance; it is this interplay of technology and appearance and the conviction that modernization can also alter her body to perfection. 

Back to the apartment, I find her standing in a perfect piano-playing pose, nibbling on a perfect bowl of immaculate rice. Her thin fingers carefully play the chopsticks with the same deftness she sweeps primer on her delicate jawline. She turns around and smiles a twenty-three year old smile that mirrors back on her innocent freshness. I feel a sudden urge to smudge her finished make-up and at the same time, give her a close embrace. Instead, I am left to wonder about the choices behind my pursuing this graduate degree and how beauty was never one of them. On second thought, I am after a certain kind of beauty that lies under the skin of fleeting human encounters. 

Thursday, August 18

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan or my kind of gal

Marina Keegan had just graduated from Yale when she was killed in a car accident. She was 22. Her collection of nine stories and nine essays became an instant success. It had to do with her being young, pretty, maybe having an introduction to the book written by her professor. It had to do with the reading world being sad that such a sensitive, profound, promising writer ceased to exist before having a chance to grow into a mature tamer of words. Tragedies of this kind strike the world in any field, age range and family. Why should this particular book be any different?

It is the message, the honesty, the language and the fabric of her writing that get stuck with the reader. It is probably a youth manifesto for all the 22 year olds feeling at a loss and at the same time, on top of the world -such an intoxicating contradictory feeling replenishing the hearts and minds of young men and women and other readers emerging in her writing. Still, the loneliness of nights spent in front of computers, roaming streets or staying awake, tired and lost, might ring a bell to many others past their college years. After all, we do live in an age of misanthropy, estrangement, isolation, constantly trying to redefine and challenge stereotypes and gender patterns, in an attempt to reconcile with ourselves and the outer world. 

We do not have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life. 

It is touching how such a young person could be pointing to the meaningful questions and striving to find balance in her existence. In her writing, she did it by depicting and analyzing the small things, the insignificant details and the way she made sense of the world. The big questions and the right answers were sieved through the mind, sensitivity and courage of Marina. I found especially interesting the way she talked about all these Yale graduates full of ideals and big dreams that ended up chasing big checks on Wall Street. Where do we lose our innocence and how do we preserve our inner passions? It is saddening to have such a young woman point to the harsh truths we seek to elude daily. How do we juggle with the priorities, the responsibilities, the love and the reason and still find kindness, first, towards ourselves and then, to those around us? 

I am always moved by such kindness. Especially the reflexive, genuine tender-heartedness of strangers- a mere display of the desire of human connection that goes beyond race, religion, gender, and ethnicity. For Marina, we are all an abundance of people, all in this together. Too short and never too late are another important aspects of her writing. Life comes out as too short to waste energies and wither over trivial matters and it is never too late to make amends and start fresh. Such over used, langue du bois that pushes us farther from the essentials and such an easy way to discard people and chances. Still, inherent to human nature and to the vulnerability we choose to cover from intrusive eyes and minds. 

It is quite hard not to lose the sense of possibility. Most of the times, it just lies there buried under piles of comfort and adjustable pieces of truth we tell ourselves. We stand prisoners to our anatomy and biased views, trapped inside glass houses. We fear the thickness of the walls when in fact, our chains are gossamer and our eyes are blinded by too much light. Outer light when in fact, we need to tunnel out our inside sparkle. 

Tuesday, July 26

Stranger things binging and chocolate revival

When in-between worlds and milestones, binging on Netflix goodies and rediscovering chocolate is way too good to be true. And yet, I have proudly done it: watched the first season of Stranger Things and ate Romanian pecan and ginger chocolate. 

The series is a mixture of fond 1980s film and book memories, a dazzling cocktail of Spielberg, Stephen King, and Carpenter, back when we shared low expectations and tons of enthusiasm. It is indeed a kind of nostalgia approach meant to manipulate and conquer, yet it stands the kind of guilty pleasure you indulge into without any shred of remorse. It is appealing and challenging, a display of good acting, unexpected talent and excellent storyline. Without spoiling much of its ambiguous, yet twisty plot, I'll tell you it feels great to be surprised every now and then by some sci-fi and horror series.

The chocolate is a discovery of mine while taking the less trodden paths in a beloved city, searching for good coffee and getting in exchange great flavors. The bar is called PaulaAna, pecan nuts and ginger with a shred of bourbon vanilla and 34% cacao. In case you have not tried pecan nuts, you have missed on some balanced kind of nut that goes perfectly with candied ginger. They fill the bar in generous chunks and again, seem to get vanish in no time, lingering against the roof of your mouth and at the back of your mind. It brought back to mind old chocolate days and I shuddered at the thought of such addiction mercilessly replaced by coffee drinking. But I choose to believe chocolate is like old love, out of sight, forgotten to taste buds, yet hardly unremembered. Until new love settles in, right?

The lovely book of choice, meant to balance things and harden the spirit, is The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, a journey into the great minds of artists who have come to terms with their estrangement from the world or chosen to filter it through their own sensitivity. We stand alone, occasionally colliding with ourselves and the ones around, the perfect gregarious recluses we afford to embrace. 

Saturday, July 2

The God of Small Things or how History breaks Love

Some of us like to swear on their beliefs and allow intransigence to define their actions. The truth likes the muddled path, thriving in its various shades. Books are meant to essentially challenge our comfort and deliver us from preconceived ideas, bringing us closer to our own vulnerability. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is about the thick layer of humanity we seek after in every human being. We are permanently striving to make sense of the behavior of those around us and the book is but an example of the way history itself influences minor decisions and choices. Caught in between our own natures and the pulsating world around us, the truth shrinks to the needs and whims of outer forces. 

The book is about a pair of seven-year-old twins, Estha and Rahel, living with their divorced mother, Ammu, their uncle Chako, their grandmother and their great-aunt in Ayemenem, Kerala. The family run a pickle business and belong to the Syrian Christian caste. All characters in the book are denied happiness and briefly get a taste at life's mysteries and small treasures before tragedy strikes them all and their fates are sealed. Chako's ex-wife Margaret comes for a visit to India bringing their young daughter, Sophie Mol. The little girl's death condemns the twins and throws them at the mercy of the other family members who play them according to their interests. They end up separated and grow apart to indefinite outcomes.  

The story tells itself like a river flows -rapidly at peak tense moments, slowly like the touch of a lover as it basks its banks in layered narrative. Language is the defining aspect of it, with rhythmical comparisons and dainty tales, striking a frail, yet vivid, balance between past and present, casting a long shadow on the future, revealing enough to tease the senses and question the mind. The book depicts a raw India, torn by caste fights and challenged by Communism, a mixture of heathen and sacred, a spellbound land of spiritual trials shadowed by child abuse, violence, corporation greed, tourism, humiliation and corruption. 

There is also some damned love story between a disgraced woman and an inferior man. Their organic connection, the way their eyes speak and their senses riot, is beyond the boundaries set by History and Humanity alike. It is ancestral and sensuous, infused with breathtaking pain and beauty. And much to its ill-fated course, it renders an acute complexity, mainly due to the writer's clarity of style. Also, the book brings forward some memorable characters such as the blind Mammachi, a violin-playing grandma who runs the family business after the death of her abusive husband. Baby Kochamma, the great-aunt, is prisoner to her own unrequited love for a Catholic priest to whom she bestowed her entire life. The love she did not receive, slowly deprived her of any other shred of love she could have given to another human being.  

The style is at times ostentatious and precious, a challenge for an unprepared, yet curious, reader who will find himself/herself taken aback by the organic throbbing of language that has a way of accommodating the veins of any reader. Alongside all other merits, you are bound to stay with the richness of the book and the perils of over-loving at the mercy of History. Such concept might be unfamiliar to a reader born under felicitous times, yet there are still many parts of the world where love is shaped by the constraints of class, caste, territory, religion, racism, and history.   

Friday, June 17

The Gourmet or what flavor are you?

It is quite frustrating to be reading, immersed in the plentifulness of the language, and craving for food. Reading The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery, I had to stop every other page to either sigh or indulge into binging. It was beyond frustration, actually. It was indulging in the pleasure of the mind and the senses. Some search for the Grail, others pursue love in its various shapes and elusive manifestations, whereas, by reading The Gourmet, you end up questioning the very flavor of you. Like if I were to define the very essence and weakness of myself, what would that taste like? Would I be arrogantly oystered, shyly layered like artichoke, adventurous as a plump tomato, or dry as wine? But then, how would one flavor be enough to define multiplicity? 

The book intends to help sketch Pierre Arthens, a famous food critic, father, husband, lover, friend, master of the house, owner of sculptures, and above all, a bastard. Self-absorbed and cruel, constantly hurting those around, he is an artist. To everyone, no one in particular, to his pet cat, Rick, mostly: ''What is writing, no matter how lavish the pieces, if it says nothing of the truth, cares little for the heart, and is merely subservient to the pleasure of showing one’s brilliance?”

It is both funny and sad to be loved by the cat only. The only being capable of having felt love, the cat pleads for the Maitre's humanity in a rather non-beastly manner, reminiscent of the Casablanca character that inspired its name. A snob and an obsessed man, Pierre Arthens is dying a quite, yet tormenting death. It is pitiful to be surrounded and evoked by people who only hate and despise him because they never sensed a shred of humanity in his actions. Each chapter is saying goodbye to a man no one is sad he is dying. Despite his fervent search for the absolute flavor, his own is never to be regretted and wished for. This would make him at least bland.

I believe the book to be about life in its many tastes and gustatory pleasures. The way it poured from the eyes and heart of Mr. Pierre Arthens, in small doses of love and pain, mirroring his abandonment to food rather than people. The way Patrick Suskind's character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is haunted by perfume and human scent, the same way the famous critic uses his search for the absolute flavor to point at death, desire and decay. Except Mr. Arthens is not a creator of fragrances and flavors, he is a consumer. Trained, demanding, appreciating uniqueness and simplicity alike, he delves into his past culinary delights in search for the taste of pleasure. What is the food that anatomizes humanity in a mouthful? What is better than people, yet profoundly humane? The search for the absolute or the unattainable rendered in the pages of a story that reads witty, evocative and alluring. 

Wednesday, June 8

The History of Love or the lesson of writing

All great readers foster the secret desire of dismantling words to their heart's content and reshaping them into new words that would magically fill pages of books. It is organically connected to our need for stories and the orality of us as human beings. We grow up on fairy tales until we are able to master our own narrative and shape our personal stories. 

My daughter has not come yet to live through books internally, and still picks her readings on a whim. Yet, she wants to write. She fills her pages with random reproductions of daily occurrences and reiterations of images and conversations she or others are part of. She is convinced that a generous amount of written words will grant her free passage into the world of writers. Also, she does it to impress the grown-ups around her, to imitate the acts of beauty displayed in front of her eyes. With children, mimicking means some bonding which generates a set of social and linguistic skills.

She is like one of the main characters in The History of Love, the 14-year-old Alma, determined to bring back love and beauty into her mother's life by finding the truth behind the book that defined their parents' relationship. Beauty generates copies of itself like Elaine Scarry would say in On Beauty and Being Just. Hopefully, beautiful human beings are likely to prompt better, finer versions of themselves in their offsprings. Alma's mother, Charlotte, is a literary translator -aka a maker of words for the beautiful word begets the beautiful deed - who has fallen into depression after her husband's death. Alma, her daughter, takes it upon herself to take care of both her brother's education and her mother's happiness. Loss is embraced in different manners in the book as various characters choose to internalize it and make it quiet or loud, depending on the medium and the filters. It is like the author herself confessed in an interview when asked about the meaning of the story which she sees as ''this opportunity that follows the loss, and this necessary need to act.''

The book reads like a huge memory, where each sequence builds itself like a drawer that pulls out and then returns to its mould only to reveal one stage of a person's loss. Are we just accommodating the thought of  losing one or simply navigating through it? Are we done with bleeding and ready to grow an invisible limb or heart instead of the lost one or bitterly mourning our own version of love that disappeared alongside the beloved? Leo Gursky lost the girl and the manuscript, Alma, named after the female character in the book, lost her father, and Zvi Litvinoff lost himself to the book he translated from Yiddish into English, the book that Alma's father fell in love with. One kind of loss triggers another kind of salvation and so the stories link to each other and weave together in a tapestry of magic realism.

I used to think that every book got me closer to my own pursuit of Greatness and it still does, with every little or huge story I take upon, embody and distill, I am a better self. I cannot imagine word deprivation since being robbed of stories would wither the breathing life of people. Yet, with time, I have come to accept there are no only great books but necessary ones that you stumble upon for unknown reasons and come to cherish for their humor, playfulness, entertaining and humane quality. The History of love has vitality and gradience. You are bound to feel the tingles.

Monday, May 30

Mon roi or how we ran our course

Chuck Palahniuk says we have no scar to show for happiness. Pain exhibits itself in heartache, tears, broken legs or tormented hours, yet how do we quantify our moments of sheer, fleeting happiness? We barely acknowledge them and even when they slap us hard in the face, we keep too numb or too quiet for fear they might be stolen or sieved. We are used to over analyzing, dismantling, filtering every feeling into the very essence of its nature. We are humanly prone to relive every aspect and detail of our conversations, relationships and feelings in an attempt to cross-pollinate to other feelings, other discussions, other snippets of ourselves or the ones close to us. Happiness is something that eludes us.

In Mon roi, it is the exceptional way a rather ordinary story is built, fractured, glued back and then denuded that makes it worth watching. It is the female character that almost kills herself to survive not only the bad blood of her love story but her own feelings. Getting well takes her away from the painful routine and gives her time to scrutinize the decade she spent in the company of a man who crowned himself king only to emerge as a scoundrel. What saved him as a character is the jester like moments that made her laugh and kept him at ease. In between, addiction to drugs, other women and the need to put himself first prevailed. 

This does not make the story of the movie any different than perhaps other stories. It is love gone bad and it comes off as nothing new. It is again important how one surfaces the relation and he/she chooses to move on. In this respect, one of the final scenes where Georgio and Toni meet their son's teacher for a short evaluation, is something that stays with you long after the movie ends. Georgio and Toni have reached a point of tolerance and acceptance of their gains and losses. He ignores her, though in the eyes of the others, he admits his son takes after her in some respects. She tries to engage in a conversation with him but he chooses not to see her. So her eyes lovingly deconstruct every feature of his face, the way his eyes light up and his mouth moves, the way he breathes and then takes a halt to inhale. For a moment, fleeting and mutely happy, she finds a shred of the man she fell in love with.

The gift of the director, Maiwenn, is to give all involved parties, let alone the main actors, Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot, a chance to improvise and add their input to the making of the picture. Both actors have the easiness and the talent to speak lines as they feel without the constraints of a script that might feel unnatural at times. The tender and the sparkling cling together and then crash in an erratic flow of flashbacks and reminiscing details of their tumultuous love. It is a fair, over-toned anatomy of a relationship that might bother some and intrigue others to the point of jealousy, yet it is well acted. It comes with its own nemesis -the idea that women are bound to surrender to adoring men in order to take a taste at that ravishing love that shatters worlds only to point to their own fragility. It is probably going to take some time until women, educated, successful, beautiful are given the right to be in control more, for a change. Instead, they stand bewitched and charmed by men who claim to rule their worlds as mighty kings.

Wednesday, May 18

Biutiful or how life manages to f##k you up badly by NICO

Ana: Dad! How do you spell "beautiful"?
Uxbal: Like that, like it sounds. 

Nu voi scrie despre geniul lui Inarritu, regizorul acestui film, nu voi scrie despre cat de bun actor este Javier Bardem... nu voi scrie cat de multe premii a luat si cat de multe aprecieri are acest film, ci voi scrie amator si omenesc, simplu si ...cred admirativ despre povestea omului frumos din BIUTIFUL, Uxbal- tata, sot, frate, partener de afaceri, prieten...om. Biutiful este un film asa cum e viata, dura, fara machiaj, fara zorzoane, reala...Biutiful te face din visator, real, iti sterge ranjetul prostesc de ametit de pe fata si trece peste tine ca un tren. Te lasa cu gura cascata si cu ochii cat cepele, intrebandu-te what the fuck have I just seen? 

Aceste porniri le scoate din tine BIUTIFUL...ramai cu intrebarea: DE CE??? DAR DE CE? CAT DE MULT SA DUCA? Se spune ca filmele si cartile imita viata...Se spune ca filmele relaxeaza si te poarta in locuri noi si frumoase, ca sunt educative si se mai spune ca filmele sunt entertainment... ei bine...De data aceasta nu mai avem entertainment, nici relaxare...ci palme, multe palme date peste tot, palme ale vietii...nemultumiri, revolte, indignari, tipete si revolte... 

Un film trist. Un tata disperat, care isi ascunde tristetile si tipetele de disperare in fata copiilor sai, in fata lumii, se ascunde si tace. Tace pentru ca altfel nu va putea sa duca la bun sfarsit ceea ce si-a propus: sa aiba grija de copiii sai, indiferent de situatie. Se straduieste sa fie bun cu toti, sa ii impace pe toti, dar sa isi asigure copiii. Ii ajuta pe toti, dar isi asigura copiii, le cauta tuturor un loc de munca si de viata, dar isi asigura copiii, incearca sa aiba o viata cat de cat normala cu fosta sotie pentru a-si asigura copiii, este sarac, dar isi asigura copiii, moare...dar isi asigura copiii. Spera ca si dupa moartea lui vor fi copiii asigurati...Este erou, este eroul copiilor sai, chiar daca ei nu realizeaza inca. Doar observa. Observa cum tatal lor alearga tot timpul. Asa arata un erou. Nu are costum ce sa iti atraga privirea, pelerina sau masca...Nu! Are doi copii carora le vrea binele. Este om bun...caruia viata i-a dat multe de dus...multe si grele. Dar i-a mai dat ceva, puterile unui erou...puteri normale, ca ale oamenilor de rand, dar si supraomenesti... Dar el este pe moarte... se loveste de neajunsuri, nu spune ce are pe suflet...in schimb este glumet, optimist si luptator...pentru copiii sai. 

Uxbal: Look in my eyes. Look at my face. Remember me, please. Don't forget me, Ana. Don't forget me, my love, please. 

Un film mai mult decat ‘Biutiful’ despre un super erou ce ar putea trai chiar langa tine, s-ar putea sa il cunosti sau ai putea fi chiar tu...fara sa realizezi pana acum... 

iu ar biutiful... remember that every time you feel down...please smile :)

Tuesday, April 26

Climates or the movie of three seasons

The love in Climates, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, brings to my mind a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay about fickle love. Some would argue such inconsistency is related to age and lack of maturity, others would blame it on human nature. Either way, it speaks the truth, for love is always about murdering one and letting the other live with the consequences. It does not have to be a violent kind of slaying, the one that makes the headlines, it can be bloodless, yet meaningful. All timeless stories in literature and movies alike, are about the one who leaves and the one who stays, the one who dies and the one who survives. 

Isa and Bahar, played beautifully by director and real life partner, are a university professor and an artistic director caught up in a relationship. We do not get many details on either his field of expertise or the official status of their relationship because it makes no difference. An older man, a younger woman, their love story unraveled across a sunny summer, a rainy autumn and a harsh winter. Bahar, the woman's name, means spring in Turkish, one season their relationship is never meant to relive. Summer is the beginning of the end, when being on holiday, they spend time together, yet their inner feelings and thoughts belong to themselves alone. Their story is done without yelling or violence, without much explanation, reasoning or conflict, as it simply untangles in a poignant, impenetrable, intimate flow. 

The movie is made up of small, beautiful cinematic elements like a minute music box, a Domenico Scarlatti sonata, a wet, unanswered 'I love you', a pair of hopeless hands over the other's eyes, a nervous laughter, a nut on the floor, a pair of exciting pointed shoes and long, mute shots at faces, places and feelings. You get to watch the story, choking on words or sensations, almost feeling the unfiltered light or the sweltering heat on the skin, the crippled rain or the suffocating white blizzard. It is a quiet cocktail of Bergman, Antonioni and Dogme 95 techniques that unsettles the viewer with its snail-like flowing. The story gets punctured every now and then by extreme gestures like Bahar's getting them to fall off the bike or Isa's powerful, shocking possession of his ex-lover. After all, seasons may flow like beads on a string, yet no one can deny their unpredictable shapes and drastic outbursts.

And whether you read or not Millay's sonnet, Climates unfolds like some visual poem, charting the unfailing succession of seasons, the way the world keeps ticking away, regardless of broken hearts and little people. Isa and Bahar lie, suffer, get hurt, harm, cry, love, hate and it is all painted in naturalistic colors, drawing an accurate skeleton of a relationship with its own mysteries.

Saturday, April 23

Son of Saul or clinging to our humanity with both hands

I always come back to Tolstoy's saying about great literature inspired by a man going on a journey and a stranger coming to town. And it reads quite safely and reasonably because it makes you think of the joys of traveling, as a path to self-knowledge or the mysterious aura of the stranger that brings a bout of fresh air in a god-forsaken place or life. But what if the man takes the journey into himself because the stranger has come and disrupted his existence and deprived him of a chance to stay alive? Then, we have a great movie called Son of Saul that makes us shatter at the lack of boundaries of human imagination and the unmatched ability to tell the same painful truth again and again, without rendering it less important. 

This particular piece of truth refers to the drama of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II. He is part of the Sonderkommando, a group of the so-called privileged prisoners who, in exchange for better living conditions and more food, burn the bodies of the dead. And they do it silently, quickly, efficiently, knowing that every two months, they will be disposed of and replaced with a new batch. Some of them choose to fight back and prepare for the right time to attack the Nazi soldiers. Others, like the Hungarian Jewish doctor, performing experiments on the prisoners to save his own life, have turned their skills into a indispensable craft. Saul finds a moaning kid in the pile of 'pieces' he is supposed to help put into the ovens, and claims him to be his son. Then, he gives up his duties and starts looking for a rabbi to perform the Kaddish prayer of mourning. 

The movie breathes into your face, like a disturbing fly that would not go away. In fact, it feels as if the mother of all flies itself has been buzzing into your ears, slowly getting inside your head and guiding you through the story. It must be a fly, for it gets you close to the stench of bodies, and past the abundance of decay and crawling on the walls of burning ovens. If the fly image is not relevant, then perhaps you should imagine climbing the back of another human being- meager, always hungry and thirsty, abused, exhausted, alone, desperate, frightened, humiliated, constantly facing death in the eye. The director Laszlo Nemes makes us Saul's invisible shadow, a kind of shared burden-  his to carry around and ours to bear. He avoids imbuing the story with very disturbing images and sounds and leaves almost everything to our imagination. The horror is slowly unfolding inside our heads and it is for us to decide how much we are willing to put up with or what we choose to believe. Abraham, another prisoner, tells Saul he has forsaken the living for the dead and that he does not even have a son. In his own words, he is telling him hope is a dangerous thing in a concentration camp and if an inmate chooses to fight for something, it should be against the oppressors, let alone a dream. 

To my mind, Saul's natural or fictitious son is nothing but an excuse to find purpose. Under extraordinary circumstances, the human mind resorts to all sort of artifices to cling to the last shred of humanity. Saul aka Geza Rohrig is looking for a symbol of the normality before Auschwitz when his life had meaning and there were things in his care. He holds himself responsible for the boy's safe passage into the kingdom of a lord in the name of whom he has been judged, marked, and sentenced to death. He still loves this maker of lives and beings and he chooses his own battle- the silent, dangerous pursue of a duty that lies above himself. He fails but the image of the Polish boy in the woods is worth a smile and the inescapable end. 

The movie goes beyond meaning and characters and it renders an effective narrative with no drama display or special effects. Saul's character speaks little in a faint voice but his face, gestures and movements express his inner battle. It is as if he walked the premises of the camp naked of clothes and feelings, of hope and cruelty, of routine or fear. And maybe the message of the movie is not about holding on to our humanity but to our faith, the kind of belief in our souls,in whatever there is that defines and shapes us while walking through Hell. 

In an accumulation of small unsettling details, Son of Saul makes us uncomfortable with ourselves, challenges our parenthood and sense of duty and two hours later, we come to realize we have lost some weight. Or have become lightweight. 

Sunday, April 10

In praise of messy lives by Katie Roiphe or the road not taken

I love to read or listen to reviews, interviews and articles in my favorite magazines, newspapers or websites like The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Granta, Electric Literature, worldliteraturetoday or NPR. I am that kind of a bookworm if you prefer mere simplification. I always go beyond the remarkable featured people or books, hunting for words and serendipity moments, and new reading material. In defense of e-readers and my reliable Kobo buddy, I cannot wait for new books to make it to the bookshop shelves, much as I organically enjoy the feeling of a holding a book in my hands. My waiting list is so long, I keep reading three or four books at the same time, depending on my mood and never allow myself to plod across the pages of a novel or non-fiction book if it does not keep me involved. I have come to the conclusion that one has to have fun when reading, as well. And by this, I mean that you need to feel an instant chemistry to the reading material, to capture that rare moment when it reads so well and feels so good, you hold your breath and almost choke on the prospect of ending the book. 

In praise of messy lives by Kathie Roiphe is one book that has the legerity to read itself. It is an intriguing potpourri of essays, critical comments, cultural references, memoir and passionate responses to criticism. She is one girl that either loves the subject and therefore, goes to great length to render it in a powerful manner or simply dismisses it by malicious comments. 

Kathie Rophie is well-read and opinionated. She is a single mother of two kids, Violet and Leo, fathered by two different men. She romantically refers to them as love children. Her book begins with a kind of informal introduction of herself as a woman on her own with a 'messy, bohemian, warm' family. In two of her essays, The Great Escape and The Alchemy of Quiet Malice, she explores the prejudices of parenthood and mothers raising children on their own, making references to literature -The Age of Innocence- and providing various, humorous examples of other people's families. All her pieces abound in literary quotations and she finds a quiet, yet purposeful ally, in books, characters and their authors. 

The essays on Joan Didion and Susan Sontag are meant to filter the obvious, well-known pieces of information on the two intellectuals by exposing them as frail and humane beings with provocative and dramatic comments. She has a penchant for unconventional women like herself that tore down barriers and made a worthy life for themselves. She likes bohemian educated women writers such as Jane Austen who, in fiction, gave all her female characters a chance to find Mr. Right, whereas, in real life, she consciously deprived herself of the prospect of married life which she envisaged as a certain environment to self-effacement. Katie Roiphe chose motherhood and she is ready to prove all prejudiced, judgmental others that being a mother does not make you less of a thriving human being. On the contrary, she militates against parents renouncing their careers or personal goals in life on account of having children -see parents using their children's pics as Facebook avatars.  

She then gives us her own piece of mind on how fantasies shape us and how the impact of controversial books such as Fifty Shades of Grey is but some display of women's submissive nature to men and sexual fantasies. Also, she discusses sex scenes as they are depicted and presented in novels by male writers in comparison with incest scenes abundant in literature written by women authors. In both situations we come to the point of getting so used to these that we read them in a numbed state of mind.

I like her because she is a bad girl, who never talks down to the reader and takes him/her for a knowledgeable person. I like her for sticking it to those parents obsessed with the so-called well-being of their children who put more effort into finding the perfect school for their kids than in actually getting to know their kids. I simply adore her for telling people how Facebook is the modern way of writing our own modern novel where we squeeze in personal info and photos, fostering a false self that is meant to obliviate the pains of real life in defense of the fantasized one. We stand creatures desperate to sanitize ourselves and our children and we often take offense when it comes to such books because they are meant to hold a mirror in front of us by tackling some uncomfortable subjects. By making it fun all the way, Kathie Roiphe does that -she sends us the message we own one life and we should live it to the fullest, without obsessing over conventional judgmental views and a glossy, false existence. 

Saturday, April 2

Desire for chocolate by Care Santos or how we live by our passions

A friend and I were talking about the few books written on chocolate as compared to the huge amounts of chocolate we openly or secretly allow ourselves to eat. According to Karen Coates, anthropologist and food lover, If ever a single ingredient epitomized human nature, it must be chocolate.  It stands one flavor that tore down cultural barriers and came to define civilizations and desires. We crave for chocolate like there is no tomorrow, mainly because we associate it with love, passion, old civilizations, refined taste, joy, and well being. 

From an economic point of view, chocolate consumption is a mark of how well people are doing and we marvel at measuring the kilos certain nations devour in comparisons to others. Then, as in any other situations when an inherent sense of balance must be struck, we associate chocolate production with child slavery practices and we are supposed to boycott large companies by not buying their products or at least, foster a sense of remorse or civic engagement. We don't. We covet it too much to give it up. We stand by our addictions.

Back to my American days, I experienced such a sugar intoxication that my body refused to get closer to chocolate. To anything remotely desert like no matter how hard I tried and how many new things I experienced. I came back, full of stories to share, one passion minus. And, the same friend told me it was a fleeting thing, a sort of readjusting to that particular reality and then slipping back into familiar shoes. But much as I hoped to fall back into love with Lindt, it turned out my American experience cured me of a gut bacteria that gave me the chocolate cravings. 

I might have cut down on chocolate consumption but I still feel drawn to the sight of it in shops, recipes, people and books. Especially in books such as Desire for chocolate by Care Santos, a novel I read among the first since it hit bookshop shelves a couple of weeks ago. What makes it exceptional it is not the chocolate subject itself but the way the author weaves it around the three stories of exceptional women. Here they are: three women sharing a common passion and its object of desire: a porcelain chocolate pot. The book depicts the story behind the birth of such an object and its journey into and out of the lives of women that feel absorbed by it, one way or another. 

Sara, Aurora and Mariana are drawn to the magical pot beyond their control and the stories get carried away in time along with the miraculous drink and their Russian doll nested passions. Apart from chocolate and the pot, there is Barcelona, a place rich in history that binds their destinies across time. If you have never visited the city, the book will offer you a free ride and act like an incentive for taste and mind alike. Books blending food, history and passion are meant to be an instant success or at least to draw readers into the layers of the story that unfolds in reverse chronology under different themes: gender roles, love, adultery, longing, loss, all under the same narrative arc.

From the point of view used to tell the story, the novel uses different person narrations. First, there is the second person that reveals the modern Sara keeping under control every aspect of her life, except her heart. The second part is set in the nineteenth century and reads like a mixture of first person narration and an alter ego. Aurora, the maidservant, is bound to give in to the magical powers of the chocolate pot that draws her into its presence, beyond control. The third part of the novel is a letter/play that renders the unfolding of events through a man's eyes. Together, they take you for a ride in Barcelona, across history and ages, promising no spectacular language display, no exceptional plot twists, no depth of characters, yet somehow manage to leave you, the reader, craving for chocolate if not more. In a word, it is a undemanding, quiet, elegant story that flows beautifully from one end to the other.

The friend I shared the book with, admitted to enjoying the second part of the story the most because it felt the closest to her heart. Indeed, the second story is given more detail and lyrical shape. It is meant to appeal to the sensitive side of the reader and elegantly manipulate feelings of empathy towards Aurora. I, as a modern woman, feel closer to Sara and her story, because not long ago, she was the chocolatiere I wanted to be especially since I was given the chance to make my own chocolate, bean to bar and enjoyed the process beyond words. 

Mentally speaking, I am still in love with chocolate and I like to think of it as a kind of mature love. The crazy, young days of chocolate binging are long gone and I have come to appreciate stronger darker flavors and far-fetched combinations and look deeper for the satisfaction of my peculiar taste buds. I might catch again that bug that ruins gut balance and messes with both body and mind; meanwhile reading about chocolate makes the best surrogate kind of love. 

Saturday, March 12

Americanah or the lesson of self-invention

Two years ago, I spent 4 months in USA on a fellowship, alongside other foreigners from around the world. The people in my organization were working with Native Americans from the Paiute and Shosone Reservation. My boss thought it would be good to join a book reading club to read Sherman Alexie, a very Native American writer, to get some inside perspective on how to better communicate and work with the Reservation folks. I never say no to books so I accompanied her gladly. At the first meeting, the host asked us to introduce ourselves and our people which sounded a bit strange to me. I was the last to talk so this gave me a chance to wonder at the thorough family tree presentations of all other guests. Since I am addicted to reading and secretly foster writing ambitions;), I concocted a lovely story on my half Italian, half gypsy heritage. They were fascinated with my skill to depict how I break plates when angry -courtesy of my Italian hot temper- and how I cannot contain my nomadic, traveling urges of my Gypsy ancestry. Everybody laughed in delight and I felt both ashamed and amazed. My fabricated identity had been forged. 

In USA, you either have the right to reinvent yourself or you feel the pressure of doing so. It almost stands a requirement. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie's book Americanah is living proof of how a foreigner arriving in USA to study and live, slowly and surely, comes to develop a double self on the path to adulthood. The novel does not tell it is a bad thing but rather describes in flashbacks Ifemelu's journey from being a Nigerian young woman into becoming an Americanah. In doing so, she leaves her heart at home to Obinze, the love of her life and goes to Philadelphia for postgraduate studies. She starts a blog, begins to relax her hair, dates a rich white man, loves a smart Black man, buys her own condo, gets tangled in the issue of race, makes friends, aches for people and survives.

The book is wolf in sheep's clothing or a satire dressed as romance. Her love for Obinze from whom she gets separated, is but an excuse to present the bad, the good and the ugly of the two nations: the American and the Nigerian. In doing so, she forges her new adult version of herself and becomes the woman and writer she desires to be. She makes mistakes and learns lessons, but all the time she never loses her ability to filter and digest reality and emotions and to take responsibility for everything she does. The book swings between past and present, from one narrator to the other -Ifemelu and Obinze- adding color and collecting all her dissatisfactions in a silk purse like her Aunty Uju who turns from elder sister, confident and role model into a woman that Ifemelu loves, yet knows she never wants to become. 

The novel is about the sweet nothings you render in an essential manner and although it is, for instance, hard to relate to issues that define Black people and racism, it is interesting to see how the whole concept of race and blackness strictly depends on perspective. Similarly to other writers such as Junot Diaz, this female author creates the female version of the 21st century immigrant character. There is requited an unrequited love that defines not only people but places and national realities as well. One major theme of the book is longing and how we not only miss people but places, memories, stances, versions of ourselves. Throughout all these, we stand fascinated by the little curiosities people foster and cherish. Such details speak of commonalities across geography and gender, race and boundaries because they are proof of our humanity. To me, this is the best asset of the book- the lode of humanity that permeates its layers and its global attire. 

The greatest challenge of an American experience is carrying the weight you feel when you return. It is so intense and confiscating that it splits you in halves that need not to sew back, but sprout into other valid versions of yourself. You come back hating or loving it. You come back an Americanah because you are aware that human identity takes migrating and shifts in and out of yourself because identity is not about nationality but about experience. 

Sunday, February 28

Mustang or the loss of innocence

When a house full of joy, youth and innocence suddenly turns into a wife factory, spirits gets crushed and monsters get out of the closets. And like all monsters, they wear the attire of traditionalism, respectability, and morality. Same old, same old, yet Mustang gives a refreshing view on all things beautiful.


First, there are five lively sisters who celebrate the beginning of their summer vacation by swimming in the sea alongside their male classmates. A neighbor sees them and misinterprets their behavior so their grandma punishes them and no longer allows them to leave the house. The five girls are in the care of their uncle who decides to marry them off to preserve their honor and save himself some trouble. In fact, girls, grandma and uncle all have a hidden agenda. The rest of the story is predictable, tragic and painful. Mustang is an honest, natural view at life at it is, with its struggles and disappointments, unfiltered beauty and pain. 

The movie has the amazing score of Warren Ellis, a talented musician with experience in movie music and former partner of Nick Cave. Its tunes puncture the highs and lows in the story and mix beautifully with the scenery of rural Turkey. Summer is in full ripe, girls are candid, intimate and uninhibited. They riot against the adults'choices and break free. When they can no longer escape the barred windows, they turn inside and survive. Or not, depending on the depth of their hidden wounds. 

Directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven, Mustang is magic due to its sweetness and silent beauty. There is a sense of abandonment in the girls, who come out in unity, a one-being sisterhood of life, only to emerge on their own, once crisis burst out and initial balance is upset. Together they stand impenetrable, divided, they either succeed or fail in contouring their identity. Their own bond reverberates with the older women's identity in the episode of the soccer game escape. The girls enjoy their last getaway together and grandma and the women around the houses that teach them how to grow into meaningful wives, cover up their traces and rally with them against manhood, restrictions and male privileges.   

Strength lies in victory and failure alike and each girl passes an imaginary torch to the next, inside an inner ripple of traditionalism and religious boundaries. The story is narrated by the youngest, Lale, too young to be married off, too stubborn to accept her fate. She is the one whose character gets more focus and better crayoning to the my disappointment. I felt curious about the rest of the sisters, and longing to get more intimate with them. Also, their confined world and the pressure seemed familiar as other Turkish movies depict the women's struggle to escape arranged marriages and harrowing circumstances. Yet, there is also a shred of humor and kindness in the movie -the teacher who goes to Istanbul, the truck driver who teaches Lale to drive, the wedding ceremony that allows the two youngest sisters to escape. It feels as if the director tried to compensate for the tragedy and the misfortunes in their young lives. Nevertheless, one cannot escape the pressure of having others decide what is best for you and making choices in somebody else's name under the false pretenses of love and care. All these and then something make Mustang a necessary movie, one picture that voices injustice and the need to break loose from the hypocrisy that defines religious, traditional family life.

Thursday, February 11

Inside out or Adulthood by NICO

Te uiti la desene animate?
Cum de am devenit adulti asa deodata? Cum de nu mai suntem deschisi noului, greselilor si curiozitatii la fel de usor cum o faceam in copilarie? De ce suntem asa seriosi si preocupati si interesati numai de lucruri serioase? Ei bine? Un raspuns ar fi...viata ne-a facut asa. Uitarea. Problemele ne-au facut asa, alegerile si frustrarile...

Am vazut un desen animat din care copiii nu vor intelege prea multe lucruri, dar pe care adultii ar trebui sa il vada. Ar trebui sa vada cum de au ajuns adulti, cum de sunt cum sunt, cum de bucuria copilariei nu mai este la fel ca in copilarie, cum de nu mai rad la fel de des, cum de au uitat sa se bucure de lucruri mici si simple....Cum de vad intr-un obiect strict folosinta lui reala si limitata. Cum de au devenit stricti cu ei insisi...si cu cei din jur.

Povestea din INSIDE OUT este a unei fetite, a unui copil...cu sentimente, nevoi si dorinte... fiecare fiind un personaj ce ajuta la crearea memoriei. Ce se intampla daca unul dintre aceste personaje pateste ceva? Ce s-ar intampla daca Bucuria se imbolnaveste, daca Tristetea fuge sau daca Furia ia decizii... Daca Frica nu mai participa la luarea deciziilor...si asa mai departe? 

Ce se poate intampla?... Te maturizezi, asta se intampla... Devii serios. Devii singuratic. Devii cum nu ti-ai inchipuit ca s-ar putea sau ca ar exista. Devii adult.

Ce-ar fi sa urmasesti acest desen animat si sa iti amintesti cum te bucurai cand erai copil, cum iti inchipuiai ca soarele chiar are dinti, ca fluturii vorbesc, ca zburai spre luna, ca aveai puteri de super erou...Ce-ar fi sa urmaresti acest desen si sa iti amintesti ceea ce te-a facut sa te schimbi, sa devii pesimist, rezervat si limitat in exprimari? Iti vei aminti ceea ce te-a ranit, iti vei aminti ceea ce te-a bucurat candva, iti vei aminti bune si rele... frumoase si triste... Vei trezi copilul din tine si poate asa adultul va intelege ca a lua o pauza de la a fi adult, nu e chiar o decizie atat de rea...poate un pic grea, da... grea poate fi. Dar vei iesi mai copil, mai relaxat, mai tu...mai optimist si mai vesel si deschis imposibilului precaut. Este in regula sa iti accepti tristetea ce a devenit frustrare in timp, lipsurile ce au devenit resentimente si invidii.... 

Este ok sa fii diferit si curios, este ok sa fii cu bune si cu rele, dar sa stii si sa iti amintesti cum era cand te bucurai de lucruri marunte si cum era, cand imaginatia ta crea povesti doar de tine intelese, povesti unice, minunate ce te umpleau de stralucire in ochi, chiar si cand erai singur.

Sunday, February 7

The Buddha in the attic by Julie Otsuka or how we challenge our humanity

Haruka left a tiny laughing brass Buddha up high, in a corner of the attic, where he is still laughing to this day.

The Buddha in the Attic makes a beautiful writing. It is the story of the picture brides brought from Japan to San Francisco in the decades before World War II. This group of women -Japanese-mail order brides- comes to California to marry men whose pictures they carry in their pockets, along with their dreams and hopes for a better life. Reality fails to see them come true and little by little, they go through life only to witness their world shatter to pieces.

There is nothing else to be revealed about the story. Its simplicity speaks for itself. They come by boat, they meet their men, their hearts get broken, their bodies no longer belong to them, they mother, they work the land, they cook, they clean, they love, they mother again, they cry, they fear, they die, they live, they breathe and then, they are gone. As if the world itself erased all living traces of their presence. In this mass disappearance, their houses, vegetable patches, orchards, pets, clothes, photos, memories are left behind to speak of their passing before season after season bury them. In the beginning, they are spoken of, missed, remembered, asked for forgiveness, written to, then life sneaks up on the ones left behind and soon, the Japanese are but a fleeting memory.  

Julie Otsuka writes a good story that speaks of identity, loss, guilt, blame and redemption. The use of the collective first person stands proof of her allegiance to their fate and misfortune. Her story is the vessel of these women's silent pain. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor cuts their lives short, depriving them of any rights or chance to claim their rights. In a land where they slowly gave up on their Japanese vein to better accommodate the others, they have turned into invisible walking shadows. Moved inland, they lose not only whatever they managed to amass during their lives, but the shred of dignity left in them. In the process, they are deprived of lives, loves, children, houses, money, respect, themselves. Violent uprooting is bound to erase the inner beings and render them powerless in the face of life. 

The ending is quite unexpected in terms of the choice of narrative. The writer switches from we to they; the voice no longer belongs to the women or their dreams and their hidden thoughts, but to the Americans and how they feel about the missing Japanese families. There is guilt and blame in their voices, remorse about the time unspent to gratify and acknowledge their helpers, neighbors and vendors. Their absence deepens the gap and the sense of failing to have acted humanly towards the other.

The book should be dark, yet despite the aching and the almost quiet expression of their displacement, the women's inner thoughts, feelings, emotions and confessions are heart-melting, yet positive. They sound like us, the readers, and it is easy to walk into their shoes and relate to their fears and joys. Nevertheless, like many others, this book stands a lesson to be learnt, a chance to honor these women by reading their story and carrying it not only in our minds and hearts, but beyond. We are as humane as we teach ourselves to be and as alive as we allow ourselves to be. This slender, manicured, unusual novel has the power to tell hurtful truths in a creative, unique manner that is bound to make us better human beings.

Thursday, January 14

Dolfin chocolate or how we love in squares

Dolfin is a Belgian chocolate maker that does things a bit differently when it comes to both content and presentation. The presentation is nothing close to Lindt's extravaganza or the pretentious glitter of Godiva. It could be rather seen as a distant, unassuming, yet dignified relative from the countryside. You know, that kind of Province meets Tuscany remote paradise, a reading nook for people with addictions and the balls to keep them out of the closets. Chocolate explorations are for such people who begin to taste life inwardly. You run into a flavor, an inky thought, a seductive flickering image and it all goes straight inside, to the very pit. 

Dolfin will give you that in its blendings -Noir Aux Poires Amandes Grillées, Noir Lavande Fine de Haute-Province or Au Lait Au Thé Vers Sencha du Japon. This would be like sex talk to some of us. It comes in a little portfeuille kind of wrapping that makes one unwilling to share because we all want to keep our wallet full with goodies to the very brim, right? And then, it is dainty and slim -70 g of decadent delight for the simple, yet demanding taste buds. It feels as if they tried to keep low profile for fear greedy hands and mouths would get hold of it. It is kind of like Audrey Hepburn's elegant smartness in chocolate. Imagine the satisfaction of uncovering and then tasting. Gourmands shall get multiple pleasures.

It would go perfectly with the book I am reading these days - The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams, a domestic realism short-story collection. It is a funny and tragic display of life in its raw and unaccommodating stances. The stories are the opposite of the refined after-taste you should get from the chocolate, yet they match the strong flavor the writing nurtures in its multiple layers. We are damaged and rough around the edges, yet we seek the flawless thread of our potential in every piece of loss and mourning. And as chocolate stands a celebration of our vulnerabilities, so is this polished short story collection that punctures the notable facets of our humanity. To be taken, twice a day, with squares of Belgian blendings. 

Sunday, January 3

Outline by Rachel Cusk or invisibility in sight

And then comes a day when you read a quiet book. So silent that in between the lines, your own thoughts get shape and substance and embrace the content of the book. Outline is a discreet presence, with an author freed of her own body and existence that lives as a mirror to those around.

The remarkable trait of this novel is precisely Rachel Cusk's ability to absolve her narrator of the reader's perceptions and preconceptions, not allowing him or her to label the raconteur into female/male, good/bad, right/wrong. Instead, the mere outline of the yarn spinner gives the reader the opportunity to focus and embrace the true nature of the woman she is. It is one way of getting the reader to be open minded and involved in the narrative, by having him/her fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. The storyteller accepts the shifting in powers, giving all other characters the chance and place to voice their own stories, reflecting themselves into the mirror of her own self. 

We are told that Faye, the storyteller, is fifty, mother of two, a writer flying to Athens for a writing class. On the plane, she sits next to an old and wealthy Greek man with a beak of a nose. He starts telling her the story of his life, the three failed marriages, giving her thorough details about his children, his wives, his challenges, his family members. Faye is invited to spend time on his boat which she does in-between her meetings with her Greek friends and students. She takes a stand of invisibility, allowing herself to breathe in the presence of others, but shifting the spotlights on those around her and their stories. 

The stories of her friends and students build themselves into other stories, like an interminable chain of lives on a string. We walk the exhibition of voices, a distant, yet alive chorus that resonates with Faye's sensitivity and discreet self. All the challenging themes that haunt our lives -marriage, children, divorce, parenthood, identity- are given a voice through the other characters, allowing Faye to be a silent observant, a passive onlooker. Her female subjectivity exults from the voice and shape she gives to these characters, painting them into different, yet similar bodies, all facets of herself. 

This is quite a refreshing piece of work where the difficulty of the technique Rachel Cusk used, speaks of the pleasure she took in this story meant to gratify, at least, the desire of this reader. I felt immersed in the two-day string of conversations that make the novel, in the storyteller's ability to get people to open up to her, while not asking too many questions. It may sound unreal or even look like a writing trick Rachel Cusk employed to draw the attention less or at all upon Faye, yet it is the way it feels at times -you want to stay low into a comfortable layer of passivity, simply spinning yourself around the stories of others. It is intimate without disclosing much. It is how life feels like at times. However, there is no lassitude in listening to others for by actively reading between the lines, sometimes essential little truths about yourself reveal themselves.