Sunday, September 30, 2012

Berowne's 137

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "L" is for Lausanne)
Let’s see now. The above prompt is titled "It must be time for lunch now."
I thought to myself, what are some of the most unusual lunches I’ve had, lunches worth a blog post?
Well, there was one that was really special, a lunch I had on a train way back in the early 1960s. Let me tell you about it.
I was working in France when I got a phone call from my mother-in-law, whose voice was ripe with worry. She lived in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Seems she had some kind of terrible legal problem. The police said they could do nothing; the lawyers she had consulted were incompetent. She felt she was all alone. She desperately needed my help.
I felt like pointing out to her that my knowledge of Swiss law was perilously close to zero, and in addition, this came at a bad time. I was in the middle of an important job: i..e., making a living. However, family is family, so I dropped everything and hopped on the next train to Lausanne.
It’s a beautiful city, of course, so in a way I was pleased to be able to visit it again.
We had been under way for just a half-hour or so when they announced lunch. Great timing; I was starved. I looked forward to something good. Meals on trains in France, as you probably know, can be very special.
The dining car startled me. It was beautiful, but in a sort of old-fashioned “belle époque” style, drippig with dignity. I inquired around and was really amazed to learn that I had, quite inadvertently, hopped on what was quite possibly the most famous train in the world, The Orient Express: Paris to Istanbul; first stop, Lausanne.
This was the train that Agatha – sorry, Dame Agatha – Christie had written about in one of the most famous of her 66 detective novels, “Murder on the Orient Express.” As you may know, she was not just wildly creative, she was one of the best selling writers of all time; her novels have sold roughly four billion, that's with a “b,” copies.
There were not just lacerations and murder in her works; in this train there was also usually romance - (none on my trip, however).
My compartment was in the same period style. Agatha’s room must have been just like this one. She took this train to Istanbul and wrote her famous book about it in her hotel room there.
Well, I got off at the first stop, Lausanne. As things turned out my mother-in-law’s legal problem had been solved before I arrived; it seems there had just been a misunderstanding. But that was okay; I had had an adventure: a very special train-ride.

Here’s a photo of a couple of fellow-passengers. I chatted with the chap on the left; he had had a most interesting life. Someone, I thought, should write about him. :-)
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Berowne's 136

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "K" is for "Kettle of Fish")
Flying to Biafra
Some years back I received an interesting assignment: I was hired to make a motion picture on Nigeria. It was a chance to do something of real value in my film work.
Making the film, which by the way was titled “Nigeria: Its Art and Its People,” wasn’t all that difficult. What was difficult was making Biafra part of the story.
You may not remember Biafra; it was a state in southern Nigeria, and like our southern states back in the 1860s it was secessionist. In other words, Biafra broke off from the rest of Nigeria and formed a new republic, which led to the Biafran War.
There have been so many wars over the past decades that people tend to forget this one, but the Biafran War was a major conflict: after two and a half years of fighting, during which a million civilians died from fighting and from famine, the new republic gave up in 1970 and rejoined Nigeria.
That’s when I showed up to make my movie.
Everything went fairly smoothly in the production; I shot the Nigerian art, the Nigerian people and lots of beautiful scenic stuff. But one day I got a call to meet with a top general; he said the government wanted Biafra to be in the film.
He said there was a marvelous Biafran dance troupe that I must go down and film. This would show that the country was now completely united once again.
I had no idea how this would work out; the war had just ended a few months earlier. In a way I felt better when I learned that what he had requested was sort of impossible.
There were no roads left to Biafra; no train tracks, no air travel, nothing. That old phrase, You can’t get there from here, was highly appropriate. I pointed this out to the general. Didn’t bother him a bit. Rent a plane, he said; get down there! We want that dance troupe in the film!
Well, that was a different kettle of fish; plane-renting had not been in my original budget. But I found a retired KLM pilot with a small plane who made a living from safari groups and such, so for an agreed-upon sum I enticed him to take me to Biafra.
What a trip that was! We flew at 400 feet all the way down; all of Africa was spread out before me – the jungle, the villages, the rivers, the whole deal. Quite beautiful.
We arrived at the Biafran airport – and there was nothing there. It was a large airport with an impressive control tower, but not a person was in sight. My pilot said he had never tried to land at an airport where there wasn’t anybody, but he’d give it a try.
So we landed and waited. There had been some sort of garbled message that folks would be there to pick me up in a van. There was no van. We waited some more.
My pilot had just made the suggestion that we pack it in and go back, when we heard a car’s horn in the near distance. A van arrived. The driver took me to an elementary school, where they were waiting for me.

The sight of the children was appalling. The kids, and everyone else I saw in Biafra, had suffered years of famine and they looked it. I wished I had thought to bring something with me, some kind of food, instead of just a camera.
When I explained to the teacher that I wanted to film the local dance troupe, she was puzzled. There was no such troupe. She believed that someone from up north, when visiting Biafra, had seen how, once she played a disc on her turntable in the classroom, the kids got up and gyrated about, as I guess all kids do when they hear music, and the visitor evidently thought there was some kind of dance troupe.
I didn’t know what to do. I shot the children, in their pitiful condition, dancing about to the music and figured I could maybe make the footage look something like a troupe later in the editing. But I had a terrible feeling about this whole operation.

Those folks had been cut off from everything, all waiting desperately for help from outside – for food, supplies - to arrive, and then I showed up, bringing nothing but an inane request for a dance troupe.

I had never been ashamed of my work as a film-maker, but I have to admit I felt some shame then. I was a person who could get back on the plane and fly north to a life of ease, able to savor a fine evening meal and many more such meals, while the results of the famine were to remain for a long time with all the children, with all the people, of Biafra.

(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Berowne's 135

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "J" is for "Joker")
Summing up Dali’.
All his life the painter Salvador Dali’ had a desire not just to do the outlandish thing, he wanted to be the outlandish thing.
“I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.”
Many regarded him as shallow, a kind of joker, but he could be serious. It was, he reasoned, by ignoring aesthetic concerns that he could approach true art.
“It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning.”

His surrealism, his famous limp watches, summed up this thought. Which brings us to this week’s prompt, a painting by Dali':

“I am making things that inspire me with a profound emotion and I am trying to paint them honestly."
Picture a young man – Salvador was twenty-one at this time – absolutely dedicated to throwing off the shackles of his education and existence and conventional art training.
What fascinated him? What inspired him with a profound emotion?
In “Venus and a Sailor,” it is eros, the erotic force, that was to be his trademark throughout his life as an artist.
A sailor, after a month or so at sea, seeks a woman. To Dali’, this is that most important life force at work because the person the sailor seeks is not just a woman to nestle with; she is Woman – a girl, a mother figure, a goddess from the classical past, and yes, a prostitute.
Dali’ came at this theme from several different angles.
In this version, what a beauty is the goddess; what a nonentity – he doesn’t even have a face – the sailor. He is not all that important in this scenario.
Here's still one more angle.

This would seem to be the most representational. The sailor has had quite a fall; he has become a mere puppet. The ship is at anchor in the harbor. Young Salvador has inserted a small iconic item from that time – 1924 – a “flapper.”
It’s almost as though he is commenting on class differences. It may be just my imagination but as I understand it the sailor, a common seaman, gets nothing; the man making out with the goddess is an officer, or possibly a petty officer.
To sum up, surrealism opened up infinite possibilities for Dali’s wild imagination.

(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Berowne's 134

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "I" is for "Irene")

“You won’t try my energy drink? It’s a perfect way to start the day.”
“No thanks. A nice little cup of coffee, maybe with a touch of milk and sugar, gives me all the breakfast energy I need.”
“I don’t get it. People pay me real money for my work as a professional trainer, but you ignore what I have to say.”
“You probably haven’t noticed – I’m only your sister - but I’m not into weight lifting and all the rest of it. I know you just love that macho reputation, but at times you make yourself almost scary.”
“Whoever said I was scary?”
“Lucille, for one.”
“Lucille? You bring up Lucille? You know as well as I she was a nut job. You couldn’t believe a word she said.”
“Well, the word she said was, you were scary. Once you got mad and broke up the furniture in her apartment.”
“There! You see? Totally untrue! ‘Broke up the furniture’- that’s just plain crazy. We were having an argument and she said stuff that got me a bit upset. She had an old chair she had been trying to get rid of and I broke off one of the legs. That was hardly breaking up the furniture.”
“If breaking up a chair wasn’t breaking up the furniture, what was it?”
“It was helping her get rid of an old chair. But why are we talking about my old girl friend? I broke off with Lucille last year.”
“You broke off? She got a restraining order.”
“Look, Irene. Why are we wasting time talking about her? You said you wanted to talk about Jeff.”
“I know you mean well, Gary. I know you love your sister and you want to protect me and all that good stuff, but it can make my life difficult. I think this is going to call for a revolution in your thinking: it seems you don’t realize that sometimes your actions can be almost lethal. You’re a big guy – six foot three and God knows how many pounds right now.”
“What? Did Jeff claim that I got rough with him, pushed him around? That’s baloney!”
“No, no. It was nothing like that. It was the night I first asked Jeff over to meet the folks. I really thought he might be the guy I had been looking for.”
“Well, that’s wonderful. I sincerely hope it works out that way.”
“I didn’t realize you’d be home. That was the night you usually went to your weight-lifting group or club or whatever it is.”
“Well, tell you the truth, I wanted to meet this Jeff, see what he was like. I only got one sister and I want the best for her.”
“I’ve told you before - I know you don’t get it - but none of this is your business! You have no say in who I go out with, who I invite home! When I saw you talking with Jeff that night, my heart sank. Oh God, I thought, Gary is going to screw this up.”
“Why, that’s crazy. Jeff and I had a fine talk. He’s quite a guy; I admire him. I told him so.”
“Then you may be a bit surprised that I got an email from him today: he has decided we shouldn’t see each other again. Among the reasons he mentioned, he still hasn’t gotten over his talk with you.”
“What? I was friendly, welcomed him into our home. Wished him the best, the whole deal. What was wrong with that?”
“Maybe the part where you mentioned what you’d do if he ever did anything to make your sister unhappy. Breaking both legs or something like that.”
“It was only one leg. But it was a joke, just guy talk! This all hinges on that? And you say he was scared? Ha! Is he a man or a mouse? I don't think he’s right for you after all.”
“I’m going to try to fix things with him. But listen, Gary, because this is important. If you ever see Jeff again – and I hope that won’t happen often – I don’t want you to say anything to him. Nothing! Okay?”
“Fine. Whatever you say. And don’t worry, if ever I do talk with him again, it’ll be just to be friendly and assure him of how much I love my sister and want only what’s best for her.”
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Berowne's 133

(Also for Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "H" is for "Happy.")
I’d be surprised if I was the only blogger who was inspired by the above prompt to think of Will Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
But there’s a problem.
The play is so well known it’s hard to say something about it that hasn’t been said before - and maybe too often. So I thought I’d just mention a few of the lesser-known facts about this delightful work. Let’s start with this:
In the play it’s a night like a dream and everything’s a bit crazy. Large numbers of fairies come out and do their fairy thing.
(Does that happen rarely? No, fairy often.)
It's my duty to point out that Will Shakespeare’s fairyland isn’t like any other. In his plays the gossamer types can be evil.
Will was influenced by the prevailing belief of the English peasants. When something bad happened, you had something, or someone, to blame it on.
If you have a perfectly healthy baby and the next morning it’s sickly, one of them dam’ fairies had come and switched them, took the healthy kid and left a “changeling.”
In addition, the King and the Queen of the fairies – Oberon and Titania – are awesomely powerful. When they’re squabbling, bad weather hits the entire land. Imagine fairies, especially the King and Queen of ‘em, each accusing the other of having had carnival knowledge of other beings.
I don’t know how closely Shakespeare studied his Freud, but there’s no denying that an important element of the play, the wood outside Athens, is the land of the id, the home of the unconscious and uncontrollable impulse.
I think it’s safe to say Will’s Boss, Queen Liz the One, was in attendance at the play’s first performance. Why? Because he goes out of his way to pay her a soothing compliment in the lines he wrote for the occasion.
You see, Oberon mentions that there is one individual who is above all the erotic banter and hanky-panky that goes on: without naming her, he is referring to Queen Elizabeth herself.
It seems Cupid took a shot at her, but to no avail.
Oberon: “A certain aim he took at a fair vestal, throned by the west, and loos’d his love shaft smartly from his bow, as it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts. But the imperial votr’ess passed on, in maiden meditation, fancy-free.”
In other words, Elizabeth is above such stuff; she’s busy creating the British Empire.
Perhaps the most famous single scene from this play has the beauteous Queen Titania falling madly in love with humble Nick Bottom, a weaver.

Nick isn’t much to look at in the best of times. But as I’m sure you know, he has been cursed (as who among us has not?) In his case, the curse is that he has been turned into a jassack.
Doesn’t matter; she still is enraptured by him:
Titania: “Come sit thee down upon this flow’ry bed While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, And stick musk-roses in thy sleek, smooth head And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.”
Too bad, like so many summer romances, l’affaire Titania-Bottom doesn’t last long.
Well, actually, since it’s now the beginning of September, it may be a bit late for a play about mid-summer. (The actual time in the play seems to be some time in May.) But for Will S, time didn't seem to matter.
Basically, it's a happy play. As a producer you can put it on these days as a work of exotic moonshine, a theatrical trifle. Or you can study it seriously – as I have certainly not done in this post - and come to realize that it is a complex and exacting work of art.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)
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