Sunday, May 27, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 119 and ABC Wednesday

("T" is for "trite")
This week we take up the work of Edward Hopper, one of America’s best-known realist painters.
A century ago Hopper had visited Paris, had studied the emerging art scene there in all its forms, but he came down with a style that was all his own. History has shown he was vindicated; his realism is successfully rooted in the presentation of the familiar, the commonplace – we might even say the trite.
But his sharp lines and large shapes, the unusual lighting, create a special meaning and mood.
As for this week’s prompt, a critic said of Hopper: “he achieves such complete truth that you can read into his interpretations of houses any human implications you wish.”
In this prompt the house is seen as very quiet – perhaps there’s even a hint of stagnation – but there’s a psychological impact to the scene. That impact comes from the dark, lowering background, which seems to raise a sinister threat.
When I viewed the picture above I thought of the quiet home life of one of Shakespeare’s most famous couples – the Macbeths.
Surely Lady Macbeth is one of the playwright’s most fascinating creations.
Well before greed and ambition caused the wild, melodramatic actions of the couple, before the killings began, they had a solid loving relationship.
The critic Barbara Everett wrote that, far from being strange bedfellows, “The Macbeths are probably Shakespeare’s most thoroughly married couple. He addresses his wife with extra care, as ‘Love’ and ‘Dear wife’ and ‘Dearest Partner of Greatness’; she is everything to him.”
The public usually thinks of her as a scheming and evil force – which, admittedly, she became. But Lady M originally brought to their life a sense of calm, of order, of practicality. The heart of the tragedy is the destruction of their marriage. She changes. She becomes the one who moves Macbeth to brutality: the killing of King Duncan.
She uses a phrase that stayed with me for years after I had first studied the play. To get her reluctant husband to act, she says, “Screw your courage to the sticking-place!”
Now that was interesting. What was the sticking-place?
Well, if you’ve ever done wood-work, say as a hobby, ever created end tables or chairs or whatever, you have had the experience of using a screwdriver to drive a screw into wood. You twist the screwdriver and turn it and finally it sticks and it will turn no more - that’s the sticking place. She wanted her husband to gear his courage up to that point.
Finally, however, Lady Macbeth is not able to live with her basic error, with what she has done. She has put her image of their future where her conscience should have been. Her nerves go jingle-jangle: her life finally becomes a long, endless nightmare. Barbara Everett: “And she can’t live with it; it stops her sleeping ever again.”
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 118 and ABC Wednesday

("S" is for "Ships")
There it was, the prompt for this week.
A yellow clown, yellow clown…
What could I make of this? What word association, what event could I be reminded of that would allow me to post something of interest?
Then I remembered, speaking of events, the ceremonies held last week in connection with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
The details of the Titanic disaster are now well known. The largest ship afloat at that time; it was the last word in comfort and luxury.
What on earth would a “yellow clown” have to do with that tragic event?
You may be aware that just ten or so miles away from the huge passenger liner as she foundered was another ship lying still in the water, the Californian. The captain of this vessel was one Stanley Lord. He had no idea when he went to bed that evening that beginning the next morning he would become one of the most reviled and most ridiculed ship’s officers in maritime history.
The newspapers of the day, around the world, told his almost unbelievable story, and began calling him names.
He knew the vessel ten miles away was the famous Titanic. He knew that it was firing rockets, which should have been recognized as signals of distress. He told his crew to contact the liner with the Morse lamp and ask what’s up, well aware that almost everyone on his ship was a novice when it came to operating that new-fangled gadget. If the Titanic got a message, their answer was not understood on the Californian. Cap’n Lord rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.
The only man on the ship who really knew Morse code was the radio operator – radio operators were called “Sparks” on the ships of that time – and he had signed off earlier and gone to bed.
Some time later the skipper’s sleep was interrupted again. His second officer was now very concerned. There had been a total of eight rockets fired off on the other ship; something should be done. Captain Lord was getting irritated; people kept bothering him. He said he knew all about the rockets. Use the Morse lamp again, he ordered, and went back to sleep.
The Californian was a ship similar to freighters I have served on. It was the same length and capable of the same speed – if “speed” is an appropriate word for 11-12 knots. It was a humble vessel indeed when compared with the majestic Titanic.
The more I learned the more I realized that Cap’n Lord was actually a pretty good seaman. In the middle of a very dark night – moonless – with small pockets of ice (known as “field ice”) all around, which meant there was a possibility of icebergs, he decided to bring the Californian to a stop and just sit there and wait for morning. With daylight he could find his way south out of the field ice and get on with his trip.
Which, of course, is what the Titanic should have done.
Later Lord was called a coward – a yellow clown? – because it was claimed he had been afraid his ship would have been damaged by the ice if he had tried to get over to the passenger liner. One suggestion was that he was a sociopath; he knew people were dying there by the hundreds and he just didn’t care.
Because of the sinking of the Titanic, the world learned what a remarkably haphazard system then existed for safety at sea. There were no standards or regulations as to the firing of rockets; they could indicate distress or, especially on passenger liners, entertainment. In the future radio operators should be on board all ships and regular Morse code watches kept.
What a morning that must have been aboard the Californian when, some time after six am the crew woke up and went to breakfast. Sparks then went up to sign on and start his day’s work; his shock must have been extreme with the searing knowledge provided by the excited messages on the wire - that a few hours earlier over 1500 people had lost their lives just a comparatively short distance away. And that the Californian could have saved them all.
Captain Lord hurriedly started his engine and headed for the scene of the wreck. His spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. Another ship, the Carpathia, had arrived there earlier and saved some 700 lives. Here’s a picture taken from the Carpathia of the Californian arriving to be part of the rescue effort – arriving some five hours too late. The Californian rescued nobody.
As I mentioned, I believe Steven Lord was a capable ship’s master. However, his great, fatal, mistake was when he was first awakened and told the other vessel was firing off rockets. He should have immediately gotten his radio operator out of bed and ordered him to sign on and find out what was happening with the Titanic. That simple move would probably have saved over 1500 lives.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 117 and ABC Wednesday

"R" is for Relationship
This week’s prompt reminded me (it always reminds me of something) of the time a few decades back when I received a marvelous assignment from the French Government Tourist Office – to make a film on Provence.
That, as I’m sure you know, is the magnificent region in the south of France, named Provence because a couple of thousand years ago the invaders from Italy knew it as a Roman province.
The region still has that combination of sunbaked earth and startlingly blue sky, enlivened with vivid splashes of color, that made it so popular with artists.
It’s a region where you can find farmers who make their living growing lavender.
I decided to make Arles, one of the key cities of the area, my headquarters while shooting the film because of a couple of guys who made it their HQ too: the one reponsible for this week’s prompt, Paul Gauguin, and his friend – for a while at least – Vincent van Gogh.
Two very different types, with two very different styles. Above, Gauguin; below, van Gogh.
By the way, forgive the digression, but have you ever asked a true, native-born Dutchman how they pronounce van Gogh? It’s worth doing. They pronounce it, as nearly as I can reproduce it on my keyboard, “fan HOACHCCCHHH.” (Be sure to wear rain gear.)
To get back to one of my usual interminable stories, I have always been fascinated by Paul Gauguin.
After living a comfortable life as a stockbroker, and you know how comfortable they are, he one day packed it all in and decided to devote his life to painting.
He headed down to, of all places, Arles, and teamed up with Vincent v G. They could, the two of them, remake the art world of that time.
As it turned out, however, living with Vincent was no day at the plage. In the beginning they were good friends. But gradually Gauguin changed from a fawning admirer to a critic and van Gogh did not appreciate his suggestions as to how he could improve as an artist. They soon quarreled often.
Fact is, Vincent’s mental health was obviously deteriorating. At one point he went after Paul with a razor.
Speaking of razors, it was about this time that there occurred the famous episode of van Gogh’s ear. To get the facts sraight, he did not cut off his ear. He just cut off the lower part of his left ear lobe. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to "keep this object carefully."
What Rachel had to say to him in response is not known.
Gauguin left Arles, and a few days later Van Gogh was hospitalized. They never saw each other again.
However, the heavily melodramatic relationship of Vin and Paul aside, Arles was, and still is, a splendid town.
They’ve got a genuine Roman colosseum that’s a stunner.
I shot some of my film in it, photographing a bullfight.
As you might expect, what with the laid-back atmosphere of Provence, the French version of a bullfight is a bit different from that of Spain. The bull doesn’t get killed; he has a little strip of cloth that he juggles between his horns and the “bullfighters” risk their lives to navigate right up to the animal, snatch that thing off his forehead and then jump over the fence and into the stands before the bull can gore them to death. A weird sport but fun to watch. This may be where Al Gore got his name.
(Submitted also to Sunday Scribblings.)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

For Three-Word Wednesday, Magpie 116 and ABC Wednesday

"Q" is for Quartet
What spurs imagination? What creates creativity?
With me, a word person, it seems to have a lot to do with word association.
When I stared at the prompt above – the beauty of the scene, the river and its banks – it’s the last word that struck me.
And suddenly, for no good reason, the following wild scene, featuring a quartet of characters, poured itself out from my keyboard.
Rank Bobbers
Arlene, Bank Teller: “May I help you, sir?”
Lew: “Yeah. Here, read this note.”
Arlene: “Good heavens! You’re not kidding?”
Lew: “Not kidding, no. This is a holdup; I have a weapon. Make this easy on yourself and everyone else. Keep quiet and put all the money there in a bag, then hand it to me. No one will be hurt.”
Arlene (who is visibly trembling): “I’m so nervous.”
Lew: “Sure, I’m kinda nervous myself. But it’s real simple. Money in the bag, bag over to me.”
Vinnie, who’s standing next in line after Lew: “What’s going on here?”
Lew: “Nothin’. We’re havin’ a banking transaction. Be patient; it’ll only be another minute.”
Vinnie: “Hey, you’re Lew Bruschetta!”
Lew: “What? Who the hell are you?”
Vinnie: “Never mind who I am. You have no right to do this! This is our territory.”
Lew: “You’re with the Passaic family?”
Vinnie: “Right. And Edgemere Road is ours. So you better beat it.”
Lew: “We’re okay for Edgemere Road as long as we stay on the east side.”
Vinnie: “God, you’re dumb! This is the west side.”
Arlene: “Is it all right if I sit down? I feel faint.”
Lew: “What? Yeah, sure. Have a glass of water. Take some long, deep breaths."
Vinnie: “Just not while you're drinking the water."
Lew: “To get back to what we were talkin' about, I can’t go to the guys with nothin’. Tell you what we do: we’ll split whatever we get fifty-fifty.”
Vinnie: “Fifty-fifty? You’re the one who screwed up. Make it forty-sixty.”
Mr Cosgrave, Assistant Manager: “May I help you gentlemen?”
Lew: “We’re just discussing opening a checking account.”
Mr C: “I don't mean to dampen your enthusiasm, but I’ve been listening to your discussion; it didn’t seem to have much to do with checking. (Lowers his voice.) Listen, I can be of real help to you guys; I have entrance to the main vault. All you can get out here are small bills.”
Vinnie: “And what’s in it for you?”
Mr C: “Split it three ways – we each get a third.”
Lew: “Whatever happened to honesty in this country?”
Vinnie: “Whaddya say? Let him in on it?”
Lew: “Sure, why not. He can lay his hands on some real dough.”
Vinnie: “Okay, it’s a deal. But – what about her?”
Mr C: “Who, Arlene? Don't worry; she’s smart. She knows it’ll be much safer for her if she says nothing about this to anyone. Right, Arlene?”
Arlene: “Right – as long as we split it four ways.”
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)
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