Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 January, 2007

Mid-Winter Brews

This is my first beer entry of 2007 and I've missed a month! I will start out with announcing a local tradition, Capital's 10th Annual Bockfest, will be held on Saturday, 24 February. Welcome the bock and catch some fish.

Our first entry comes from the Point Brewery and is their Spring Bock. I grant you it doesn't fee like spring right now, but this'll give you something to look forward to when you see the word "spring" plastered across your drink.

The folks at Falls Brewing apparently have a new flavor on the horizon, Hot Tail English Style Pale Ale. Not sure when it's going to be available. To accompany the pulchritudinous figure on the label comes this description:

Falls Hot Tail Ale would be respected on the streets of 19th century England. Maybe. Traditional in all respects. The warm copper color is the result of our use of pale malted barley, with small additions of caramel and biscuit malt. Falls Pale uses lower hopping rates than the American West Coast cousin to the English Pale. The result is what we consider a more widely accepted beverage. Only English hops are acceptable. A creamy tan, long lasting head rests atop. A great brew to drink while watching the Badgers trounce Ohio State. Also great with a burger and fries.

From Tyranena Brewery's brewmaster Rob Larson comes this news:

Currently aging the Devil Made Me Do It! Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Porter with coffee beans from Sumatra (Indonesia really, but Sumatra sound cooler to me as I am a big fan of the game Risk) and Costa Rica roasted by an old friend over at Berres Brothers Coffee in Watertown. Planning on bottling next week.

Tis the season for Sand Creek's Pioneer Oderbolz Bock.

Out east in Milwaukee at Lakefront, they are readying for Mardi Gras with their Big Easy Beer, a blonde doppelbock. No Snake Chaser this year, I guess.

Also on the shores of Lake Michigan is Sprecher Brewing and they are (or shall be shortly) offering their Irish Stout in anticipation of of St. Patrick's Day.

Down in Janesville at Gray's, they are no doubt readying their Irish Ale.

From the venerable Leinenkugel's comes their spring seasonal, Big Butt Doppelbock.

From up north at the Viking Brewery, we have a trio of brews. January saw the releases of Mørketid, a Schwarz beer, and Invader, which is a Dopplebock and is the brewmaster's favorite style of beer. Next month, which is but a day away, will see the return of J.S. Bock, a Helles bock and is perfect for Lent.

The last update is from New Glarus brewing. There are some pictures of their expansion available at their webpage. Things look to be coming along nicely. February brings the next installment of Dan Carey's Unplugged series and this time around it's Belgian Quadruple:

Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, our heavyweight Quadruple tips the O.G. scales at 25 degrees P. Master Brewer, Daniel Carey, sourced the Brett yeast that boldly frames this refined and complex strong ale. First coddled in our Oak lager tanks and then slowly matured in bourbon barrels. This is a bold beer that sips like a refined cordial of nutmeg, dried cherries and vanilla.

It'll be like Christmas all over again.

A couple notes for folks looking to buy brews in Madison. Firstly, my usual source for Viking beers, Star Liquor has been having a hard time in recent months stocking their product. I have found that both Woodman's West and Jenifer Street Market both carry several Viking varieties. In fact, Jenifer Street Market recently finished some remodeling and now have a walk-in beer cooler and Wisconsin brews are exceptionally well-represented. By this I mean that the more micro microbreweries from the central and northern parts of the state get a lot of shelf space. In addition to Viking, Falls is there plus South Shore Brewery. And it's not just 1 or 2 beers by these breweries, but rather every flavor the distributor could get his or her hands on. A truly wonderful selection.

I'd also like to note that Woodman's West carries a large selection of products from White Winter Winery up in Iron River, not too far from South Shore Brewery. Woodman's has the dry, sweet, & black meads, all of their melomels, and the cyser. No bracket/braggot, unfortunately.

Finally, I recently tried a new brew:

Holzfass-Bier's Appenzeller is a Swiss beer and apparently has been available here in the States for less than a year. It is aged in oak barrels for a few months and this comes out in the flavor. It is very mild, almost flat, and so I was disappointed. While it wasn't bad, it wasn't anything to go to Switzerland for either. Next foreign beer I'll be sampling comes from Finland. Stay tuned.
|| Palmer, 2:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

Word of the Week

bluestocking (BLOO-stah-king) n. a woman having intellectual or literary interests
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American Life in Poetry #32


Descriptions of landscape are common in poetry, but in “Road Report” Kurt Brown adds a twist by writing himself into “cowboy country.” He also energizes the poem by using words we associate with the American West: Mustang, cactus, Brahmas. Even his associations—such as comparing the crackling radio to a shattered rib—evoke a sense of place.

Road Report

Driving west through sandstone’s
red arenas, a rodeo of slow erosion
cleaves these plains, these ravaged cliffs.
This is cowboy country. Desolate. Dull. Except
on weekends, when cafés bloom like cactus
after drought. My rented Mustang bucks
the wind—I’m strapped up, wide-eyed,
busting speed with both heels, a sure grip
on the wheel. Black clouds maneuver
in the distance, but I don’t care. Mileage
is my obsession. I’m always racing off,
passing through, as though the present
were a dying town I’d rather flee.
What matters is the future, its glittering
Hotel. Clouds loom closer, big as Brahmas
in the heavy air. The radio crackles
like a shattered rib. I’m in the chute.
I check the gas and set my jaw. I’m almost there.

Reprinted from “New York Quarterly,” No. 59, by permission of the author, whose new book, “Future Ship,” is due out this summer from Story Line Press. Poem copyright © 2003 by Kurt Brown. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
|| Palmer, 6:15 AM || link || (0) comments |

30 January, 2007

Caveat Vinegar Emptor

Unlike the past couple years, I haven't chosen a particular cuisine to explore here in 2007. This is due to the fact that there are several cuisines I'd like to try my hand at and I'm too lazy here early in the year to pick just one. I got a wonderful new mortar & pestle for Christmas so I'm ready to start pulverizing things. Last night I decided that I wanted to try some recipes from Food and Drink in Medieval Poland and began thumbing through the book and found some tasty things to whip up such as Zrazy po Cyprjsku and Szynka Duszona z Ogorkami. The problem is that they require Ocet Kubebowy or cubeb vinegar. The ingredients for this stuff are all attainable but it takes 3 months for the marriage of the flavors to be consummated. So I found a couple recipes without the stuff to try and hope to get the vinegar going tonight. Cubeb vinegar requires sherry vinegar or vino cotto vinegar so I asked The Dulcinea where I can find a store on the west side (where I work) that has fancy vinegars. One place was very close to work - Grape and Company so I called them up. I got Linda, the proprietor, and asked if they had the vinegars I need. She launched into a wonderful description of their vinegar selection which even talked about the varieties of grapes each used. She seemed to be under the impression that I was doing some Italian cooking so I informed her that I was, in fact, recreating 14th century Polish recipes. Her response was one of excitement and we ended up chatting. I made the mistake of telling her that I used to cook for a living and that my recent ventures have mostly involved German and Polish cuisine. And so, when I head over to the store during my lunch break, she is going to try and talk me into teaching a cooking class there. Linda said that she is Italian and that she teaches the occasional class in which she imparts some of her grandmother's most beloved recipes. But, since there are a lot of Germans and Norwegians around, she'd love to have some classes dedicated to those cuisines. I hesitated because I am no chef – just someone who likes to cook (and eat). But she wouldn't take no for an answer and soon I found myself swept up in her enthusiasm. While I didn't commit to anything, I have a feeling that I'll be dragging my spätzle maker there at some point this spring. I can just see it now. There I am pounding pork cutlets and some old Grossmuter is going to lay into me about my technique. I sure hope Linda isn't expecting that I would make anything that is acceptable to today's "healthy" eaters cuz that ain't gonna happen.

While my vinegar ages, I am going to try and make Kurczak Pieczony z Suszonymi ?liwkami which is Chicken Baked with Prunes. Not only does it not require cubeb vinegar, but it also uses bacon. Mmmm…bacon…The dish also involves shredded cabbage and I think I'll get that done on the cabbage shredder I inherited from my dad who used to make sauerkraut. For dessert I plan on making Gruszki Duszone z Ogórkami i Figami which is Pears Stewed with Cucumbers and Figs. It not only sounds tasty but uses rosewater and I have about a gallon of the stuff to use up before I'm 80 and it's all evaporated away.

My last bit of things culinary is that my friend Jason and I have tentatively scheduled next Thursday for a Chicago meat run. You can read about our last venture here. In addition to the usual joints (the Polish places in Jefferson Park and Devon Ave/Little India), I am hoping to make a stop at Paulina Market where they have more salami than you can poke a stick at. Plus the guys there give us Cheeseheads lots of free samples! I hope to have lots of mouth-watering pictures. Speaking of which, I took my camera into the shop just after Xmas and found out yesterday that Nikon is going to fix it for me absolutely gratis.

Lastly (truly lastly), I want to brew another batch of beer and I would like to do a lager. I'm not sure if I'm going to do it from grain, even though I now have a mill. But I want to age it in this crawlspace in our basement. While not exactly a cave, it's basically how my German ancestors did it and that's how I wanna do it.
|| Palmer, 11:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

The Nominees Are

The Academy Awards are anon and the nominees have been announced. Well, for the categories that most folks are interested in, that is. Other than cinematography, I really don't pay much attention to them. I will say, however, that I don't understand how Little Miss Sunshine got nominated for Best Picture. While fun, it was a pretty basic assemblage of clichés. And so on to the cinematographers who were nominated.

Vilmos Zsigmond for The Black Dahlia

Emmanuel Lubezki for Children of Men

Dick Pope for The Illusionist

Guillermo Navarro for Pan's Labyrinth

Wally Pfister for The Prestige

I've seen all of these films excepting The Black Dahlia and I thought the cinematography in each was fantastic. It's a tough call but I’m kind of rooting for Lubezki for his long takes in Children of Men. While the 9 or 10 minute scene in the refugee camp may have been digitally stitched together, it doesn't matter. It and the scene in the van (which apparently wasn't stitched) were brilliant. It's the stylistic choice that counts, not necessarily the technical way it was accomplished. I just get a hard-on for long takes. I don't know what originally attracted me to them, but I've grown to love them as an antidote to the waaaaaaaaay overused MTV style of constantly cutting every 2 seconds. After seeing Children of Men, I got this sudden urge to watch Red Psalm again.

In addition to Best Cinematographer, the Scientific and Technical Awards interest me. The winner have been announced already and these folks get a small ceremony couple weeks before the big event that folks watch on TV. A lot of these awards are for SFX tools but there's also a few for wireless control of remote lens systems. That means the guys named above can place cameras where no camera operator can go and still have the focus pulled precisely for some great shots. It makes me wonder what the opening of Touch of Evil would be like if Welles were making it today. Perhaps it's time for me to rent Writing With Light as it's been a while.
|| Palmer, 9:02 AM || link || (0) comments |

Frontline - 30 January 2007

Tonight's Frontline is "The Cell Next Door":

FRONTLINE/World and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation go inside a terror cell -- believed to be the most serious homegrown cell -- accused of planning mayhem and mass murder in Atlanta and Toronto. Self-proclaimed Muslim fundamentalist Mubin Shaikh, who spent seven months inside the cell as a police informant, describes the cell's plots and politics, and the film follows these radical Islamists to the training grounds of Pakistan.

It airs at 9pm on WPT.
|| Palmer, 6:23 AM || link || (0) comments |

29 January, 2007

On the Gramophone

This week at my podcast I feature Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

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26 January, 2007

The Guy Could Put Them Away

I suppose it goes without saying but holy fecal matter could Andre the Giant drink a lot!!

To wit:

First, consider the number 7,000. It’s an important number, and a rather scary one considering its context, which is this—it has been estimated that Andre the Giant drank 7,000 calories worth of booze every day. The figure doesn’t include food. Just booze.

You won’t find it in the Guinness Book of World Records, but Andre the Giant holds the world record for the largest number of beers consumed in a single sitting. These were standard 12-ounce bottles of beer, nothing fancy, but during a six-hour period Andre drank 119 of them. It was one of the few times Andre got drunk enough to pass out, which he did in a hallway at his hotel. His companions, quite drunk themselves, couldn’t move the big man. Fearing trouble with cops, they stole a piano cover from the lounge and draped it over Andre’s inert form. He slept peacefully until morning, unmolested by anyone. Perhaps the hotel people thought he was a piece of furniture.

Uff da!
|| Palmer, 7:21 PM || link || (0) comments |

The First Doctor Who News of '07

Mother Beeb has confirmed rumors that Doctor Who will get an animated spin-off.

David Tennant and Freema Agyeman will star in The Infinite Quest, a 13-part animated adventure that will run weekly in the second series of Totally Doctor Who.

Totally Doctor Who is a show that runs on a BBC network for kids but I'm not familiar with what the show is about. Looks like it'll be an even busier spring of downloading than it has been the past couple.

In other Who news, Sir Derek Jacobi has been tapped for a role in an episode in season 3. He will play the Professor who is trying to save the human race.

Lastly, this season will feature the Daleks once again. In the 1930s. In New York City. THAT should be cool.
|| Palmer, 7:00 PM || link || (0) comments |

Friday Skin

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Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth was fantastic. The Dulcinea and I went to see it last night and were joined by Charles and Buke. Although I am a review behind, I'm going to talk about it since it is still fresh in my mind.

The film concerns Ofelia, a girl who looks to be just shy of her teens. The time is during the Spanish Civil War and Ofelia is being driven, along with her pregnant mother, out into the country to a military outpost where her new stepfather, Captain Vidal, is stationed. Ofelia's father had been killed in the war and her mother, Carmen, married Vidal and is now heavy with his child. During the drive there, Carmen feels uneasy and has the convoy of black sedans stop so she can get out and walk around a bit. Ofelia wanders away from the cars and finds a stone with some kind of picture engraved in it. She walks some more and finds this big, upright stone that is ornately carved. There is a face on it and it is missing an eye. Ofelia places the rock she found into it and makes the face whole again. We viewers waited for something to happen and something did – a large bug crawled out of the mouth. The convoy gets moving again but the bug follows.

Back at the outpost, Vidal is angry that they are 15 minutes late. He is disdainful of Ofelia and only slightly warmer towards Carmen. He seems more concerned about the unborn child which Vidal is sure is a boy. We also meet Mercedes, the Captain's servant, and Dr. Ferreiro. It turns out both are aiding the Loyalists who are hiding out in the woods nearby. Ofelia meets up with the bug again in the middle of the night and it turns into a fairy, just like the one pictured in her book of fairy tales. It leads her out to a labyrinth behind the farmhouse which has a large hole in the center with stairs leading down. Ofelia makes treads the stairs to the bottom where she meets an eldritch faun who tells her that she is really Princess Moanna, daughter of the King of the Underworld. She is lost in the world of mortals and, in order to return home, she must perform 3 labors. These take Ofelia underneath a giant tree where she must retrieve a golden key from the stomach of a giant frog and to an encounter with a hideous creature of pale skin that barely hangs onto its boney frame and whose eyes are on the palms of its hands. And it eats babies.

As Ofelia adventures in her wonderland, Carmen's pregnancy takes turns for the worse and Captain Vidal gets wind of traitors in his midst. While the creatures that Ofelia encounters are scary, it is Vidal that is the true horror. For example, a patrol captures an old man and his son thinking that they are Loyalists. Vidal sorts out the situation by discovering that they are just as they claimed – hunters looking for food. But he shoots both of them dead and not before smashing the younger man's face in. Cinderella suffered at the hands of an evil stepmother but here the gender is reversed.

While Carmen insists that Ofelia is too old for fairy tales, Pan's Labyrinth is certainly one of the old school variety, in addition to being a film for adults. Long before Disney, "Little Red Riding Cap" was eaten by the wolf; "Goldilocks" was an old crone who intruded upon the bears' home and paid for this by being impaled on a church steeple; and in some versions of "Sleeping Beauty", the prince rapes our heroine as she slumbers and Sleeping Beauty is awakened by one of her infants suckling at her breast. Pan's Labyrinth uses enchantment in the same way as some of the old school tales – to describe the ascent into adulthood. I don't know much about director Guillermo del Toro, but I suspect that he is a fan of fairy tales. The film is self-referential in that, not only is it a fairy tale, but it also examines them from the outside. Ofelia may be forced to lose the innocence of her childhood because of circumstances beyond her control, but she summons the courage to overcome adversity and the strength to make the transition from a fairy tale.

Being an ignorant American, I am sure that there were things that I missed because I am not Spanish and don't speak the language. In addition, I am woefully ignorant of all but the most basic elements of the Spanish Civil War. Conceding this, the film noticeably didn't try to hit the viewer over the head with allegory and or make any obvious allusions to the present day.

Bruno Bettelheim is famous for his analyses of fairy tales through a Freudian lens. So, for example, when the color red appears in "Snow White", he argues that it is a metaphor for blood, keeping in mind menarche. While I don't think del Toro has constructed a film around such an approach to fairy tales, I do think that he put a lot of food for thought into his movie. For instance, take Captain Vidal. Besides being a cruel, sadistic bastard, he is also an embodiment of masculinity or at least a vision of it. He is certain that Carmen will give birth to a boy, allowing him to pass down his and his father's name; although he denies a story about his father wherein the man broke his watch so that Vidal would know what time he died, the captain still carries that watch. And he looks at the watch frequently. Is it merely because he wants to know the time? Or is he looking for a reminder of his father? Perhaps Vidal is fatalistic. Regardless, Vidal as a character embodies notions of father & son and is a parallel to Ofelia. Where Ofelia is moving from child to adult, Vidal is moving from son to father. Pan's Labyrinth is really the story of Ofelia *and* Vidal.

I am reminded of George Steiner's 5 "constants of conflict in the condition of man" when I think about this: the confrontation of men and of women; of age and of youth; of society and of the individual; of the living and the dead; of men and of god(s). While Steiner wrote about how they are embodied in Greek tragedy, I think they're applicable here as well.

Pushing all the theorizing away, Pan's Labyrinth was simply a touching, well-crafted story. The acting was excellent and the photography suitably eerie. Director Guillermo del Toro and the film deserve all the accolades they have received. Go see it as soon as you can.
|| Palmer, 10:30 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 January, 2007

Children of Men

The second film I saw at the cinema this year was Children of Men. I had heard many good things about the film but hadn't (and still haven't) read the book by P.D. James upon which it is based. Director Alfonso Cuarón was familiar to me only via Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and so I was in unfamiliar territory as far as that whole auteur thing goes.

The story takes place in England some 20 years in the future. Theo Faron, played by Clive Owen, is attempting to get a cup of coffee at a local café but the place is bursting with patrons watching the television above the counter which has a news program reporting that the youngest person alive had died. The individual was only 18 years old. You see, the women had become barren in this world. This is never explained in the film and it's all the better for it. With the clock ticking down on humanity's time left on Earth, people became quite angry and most countries have suffered devastating attacks. Only England survives more or less intact. This being the case, the country is cracking down on immigrants hoping to maintain order and perhaps the true blood of the Britons.

After extricating his coffee from the overly-crowding café, Theo steps out outside, takes a few steps, and is jolted when the coffeehouse explodes. There are radicals afoot. Radicals that demand that the government treat immigrants humanely and let them stay. We learn that Theo used to be a radical but now he has drifted into selfish indifference and is an office drone. Still, he maintains a friendship with Jasper (Michael Caine), the terminally groovy hippie who lives in bucolic seclusion with his catatonic wife. Jasper adds some comic relief to an otherwise bleak film that is awash in grays and browns, just like Cuarón's Harry Potter effort. With this film, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has perhaps found a commercial enough film to stake his claim as the heir to Vittorio Storaro. (But he's gonna have to fight it out with Janusz Kaminski.) In addition to desaturated colors, there are (very) long takes and some masterful Steadicam work here.

Theo gets tapped by former lover Julian (Julianne Moore) to help out the radicals. Julian and Theo were together back in the day fighting The Man together. While Theo has opted out, Julian remains committed. She has Theo approach his wealthy cousin to get travel papers for them. This scene is notable for progressive rock fans as we get a healthy dose of "In the Court of the Crimson King" by King Crimson on the soundtrack. In addition, the view from the cousin's home overlooks the Battersea Power Station and Cuarón was nice enough to throw in the giant inflatable pig from Pink Floyd's Animals. Theo gets the requisite paperwork. And more. He must accompany whomever it is that the radicals want to hide.

This ends up being Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who, against all odds, is pregnant. What follows is a chase and after some double-crossing, Theo and Kee find themselves fleeing, not only the authorities, but also the radicals. The final act takes place in a seaside internment camp where Kee delivers her child, is kidnapped by the radicals, and rescued by Theo. This part of the film is tense, action-packed, and all in one shot. The Steadicam operator earned his or her pay that day because the shot lasted for like half an hour. In the scene, the radicals, having captured Kee, hole up in a tenement which is then laid siege by the army. Theo sneaks in to rescue her. The scene where he leads her down the stairs and out of the building brought tears to my eyes. Kudos to Cuarón for not ruining it with sappy music. While I normally don't like the kind of ending that we have in Children of Men, I thought it worked alright and perhaps couldn't have been any other way. Humanity wasn't quite saved.

The film has much to recommend it. The acting was great (although I thought Julianne Moore was miscast) as was the cinematography. Lubezki has also shot, amongst others, Terrence Malik's The New World, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. I will go see any movie he shoots, regardless of director or actor. The guy is fantastic. If you've seen Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban then a shot or two will look familiar. Think the wanted poster for Sirius Black at one end of the screen and Harry Potter at the other.

I'm trying to figure out just how hopeful the films is. On the one hand, it ends with the intimation that humanity is saved. But on the other, most of the major characters who hold out hope and show kindness & humanity as humanity fades away are killed.

There is also a thing with non-human animals. I'd have to watch the film again to really get it down to notice a pattern but it was obvious that our furry friends were not affected by whatever it was that stole the fecundity from women. At the first safehouse that Theo and Kee end up at, there is a dog. A guard says that the dog doesn’t usually like people but it does like Theo. Later in the film, he and Kee are waiting at an abandoned school to meet up with a police officer who will help them get into the internment camp. While wandering the long-abandoned hallways, Theo hears a noise which turns out to be a deer. And the gypsy woman at the camp has one of those little yapper dogs that I find so annoying. A reviewer somewhere called Children of Men the "Blade Runner of the 21st century" or some such thing but it really isn't. In the latter, animals were extinct so electric ones had to be made. The animals here are all fine and they can reproduce. I'm not sure – I'll have to watch again to get this down.

Perhaps it is Jasper that is the real beacon of kindness and hope. After all, he maintains a sense of humor and geniality but, more importantly, he cares for his catatonic wife despite the government having issued suicide kits. And I think that the only scenes that aren't drab and gray are those with him. Theo is the protagonist and, through circumstances, he regains inner strength and the best in him is eventually brought out. But Jasper never lost that strength in the first place.
|| Palmer, 3:44 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Fountain

2007 has been a good year for me and the cinema. I haven't allowed myself into being conned into seeing a movie based on a comic book hero and that's always a good thing because those movies generally suck big-time. But that problem will rear its ugly head again come summer. Nothing I've watched so far has been uninteresting and made me leave the theatre feeling indifferent. And I have enjoyed everything until this point. My cinema going this month has really been an act of catching up with all those films from last year that take a while to reach Madison because we're not a large market.

The first was The Fountain. It is a tale of love & loss as well as one of bleak sci-fi psychology but it is trifurcated into three parallel stories. The story set in the present day concerns Tom Creo, a researcher who is attempted to cure a monkey of a brain tumor. This could be out of his desire as a scientist to discover new knowledge, but more likely it's because his wife Izzi also suffers from one. Their relationship and Tom's attempt to deal with the impending death of his wife are illuminated by the other two stories. One transforms Tommy into Tomas, a 16th century Spanish conquistador who sets out to kill a Mayan warrior for his queen who just happens to also be Izzi. This storyline comes from a book that Izzi has written and given to Tom. I appreciated that the film was ambiguous about whether these scenes were meant to be those from the book unaltered or whether, since Tom is reading the book, they are meant to be Izzi's story with Tom injecting his own elements into it. The last sees Tom recast as Tommy, an interstellar monk who is traveling towards a nebula that the Mayans called Xibalba. His chosen method of transportation is a giant bubble with a bucolic scene inside that includes a tree before which he meditates.

The three stories are connected by having some version of Tom and Izzi in each but also by things such as tree bark and gold rings. Having only seen the film once and three weeks ago at that, I can tell you that there's more to be had but I need a repeat viewing. Many reviewers have labeled the story as being ridiculous and characterize it as Faustian but I have to admit that I didn't see it that way. Izzi is "at one" with her fate – she has accepted it. But Tom cannot. Since the story is about Tom, it delves deeper into his psyche by splitting it in three parts. An advantage of this is that films have to convey interior mental states visually and I found that the split was effective. While I've never had a wife or girlfriend contract a terminal illness, I did see my father lose my stepmother. Besides her death, the two years prior and the three after forever changed the baggage, the preconceived notions that I bring into a movie theatre with me. Another thing I brought to the table were some ideas from King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. While I found a lot in the book to be this goofy pseudo-Jungian mumbo jumbo, I do find myself attracted to their general notions about those four elements and their relation to "mature" masculinity. This is why I think of The Fountain as being about gender in a small but significant way. I looked at the triumvirate of Tomas/Tom/Tommy in terms of king, warrior, lover, and magician. Tomas is the warrior who finds himself impotent against a superior power. Tom is the king and lover; the king attempts to order the world in a certain way but it resists while the lover part should be more obvious. Lastly, Tommy the monk is the magician. He is about transformation. Not only has Izzi been transformed into a tree in those scenes but they are also about Tommy being able to transform his life from one with Izzi to one without her.

As I watched Tom try to deal with loss, I immediately thought about my father. Not only did my stepmother die, I watched my father slowly unravel over the course of three years until he died. (If you've never experienced this, then what follows may make no sense so I apologize ahead of time.) His get-up-and-go attitude withered away until it got to the point where he rarely left the house, barely ate, and slept most of the time. He didn't mow the lawn for months at a time and I had to do it when I visited. I remember all the hate he had after my stepmom died. While no one would have accused him of being hyper-gregarious, he became incredibly spiteful of others. I also recall how his intellectual curiosity and his creatively just disappeared. So, when I think about The Fountain, I think of those storylines as representing these strands of Tom that are depleted and I see parallels between them and my dad. The various element's of Tom personality all try to deal with the same problem and they all run up against a wall. The key is Tommy, the bubble guy. He is the magician. If he prevails, this will allow our protagonist to mourn and grieve and then love again. But, if he fails, then it's over.

The ending of the film is quite ambiguous and no one is quite sure what it means. In my view, the magician was successful. If additional scenes in the present day were to be tagged on at the end, we'd see Tom mourn and then get back on the horse. Soon enough he'd be married to another Hollywood hottie. But maybe that's just me.

Unlike most film critics, I really liked The Fountain. It managed to do something to me that very few films do: make me forget. Most of the time when I'm in a theatre, my mind remains cognizant of that fact. No matter how I get into the story, there's still this something in the back of my head that reminds me that I'm in a particular room watching a movie. But with The Fountain, I managed to lose all sense of place for most of the time. My brain realized that it was enjoying a work of fiction but it got so caught up in the story and trying to understand it that it didn't bother to keep track of where it was located. It was one of those rare times when the lights go up and I find myself a bit disorientated. I got sucked in and found a lot to try and wrap my brain around.

I'd also like to say that the cinematography was great and I love the film's style with it's use of gold/amber hues. The soundtrack by Kronos Quartet and Mogwai was very effective as well. It provided great mood and it nudged, rather than forced, emotional cues.

Folks in Madison can still see The Fountain as Market Square on the west side.
|| Palmer, 11:35 AM || link || (1) comments |

24 January, 2007

Wood For Sheep

Azog Con III was held this past weekend which means that I was down in Lombard, IL enjoying the company of friends, enjoying the company of beer, and gaming until the antelucan hours. Madtown was represented by James, Charles, and myself and our journey began Friday when we hopped into a nice rental car and hit the road. The plan was to head into Chicago and grab lunch before going to Ted's house for the Con.

The trip down was fun. After spending some time BSing, we took advantage of the CD player and listened to some Doctor Who - Year of the Pig. It made for a fun traveling distraction with all of the Edwardian English, Nurse Bultitude making fun of the Doctor's clothing as she spies on him from afar, and the realization about 30 minutes in that one of the characters we'd been listening to is of a porcine nature. And when all of the cows suddenly appear on the beach, well, we were flummoxed.

Arriving in Chicago, we headed immediately towards Little India for lunch. We stopped first at a place that I'd noticed the last time I was down there which served Madras cuisine - Udupi Palace. Sitting down and looking at the menus, it dawned on us that it was a vegetarian joint. I didn't care because there were oodles and oodles of dishes that I'd never seen on a menu here in Madison. And so I convinced my companions to give it a go and that we'd hit a place oriented towards carnivores afterwards. I ordered the onion & chili uthappam; Charles got an appetizer assortment plate; and James got something I cannot recall the name of but was probably Masala Dasai. James' dish consisted of this huge crepe-like thing folded around a core of a spicy vegetable mix. The appetizers included samosas, pakora, and these flat slices of potato that were dipped in batter and fried. Charles reported that the samosa was very tasty with the vegetable mixtures being less "pureed" together than the ones here in town. For my part, I loved the uthappam. It was a large, thick pancake make of rice & lentils. There were chili slices dotting one side of it and it was served with coconut chutney and sambar, a lentil soup that was great. I really loved the tamarind. Digging into the uthappam, I found that there was plenty of sweet, tender onion to be had as well as the chilis. Surprisingly, it wasn't very spicy but was tasty nonetheless.

Then it was time for some meat. Much to our dismay, the Viceroy of India was buffet only so we ended up heading to a kabob joint, the name of which I cannot recall. We all had beef kabob on naan. They were really fucking good and Charles and I decided then and there that Madison needs a kabob joint ASAP. The tender beef was nestled in a pouch of soft, warm naan and it was just so good. Charles was reminded of the kabob stands he encountered in England and the pleasant memories put him in a much better mood.

Our last stop on Devon was the Argo Georgian Bakery where Charles stocked up on their pelmeni which he rates quite highly. From there it was back to the Kennedy and rush hour hell.

It took us a while but the weather was fine and we had my IPass so traffic wasn't a big deal. Arriving at Ted's, we found that only Don had beaten us there. We dropped the cooler off in the garage and brought the rest of our gear inside. As we waited for others to arrive, we played some Settlers of Catan. My brother, Carl, and Glen eventually showed up as did Pete and John. Carl mentioned that the Chicago Tribune did an article on the game a couple months ago and expressed his dismay that no one interviewed said "wood for sheep" or, if they did, that it was not quoted in the article. (You can read it here.) "Wood for sheep" is a very innocent phrase in the context of the game where players trade resources with one another. But it does tend to conjure up images of lonely Scotsmen.

With something more akin to a con quorum, we busted out Cirvus Maximvs, a chariot racing game. Carl had brought a bottle of Blanton's, which is a very tasty and very expensive bourbon. To start the race, we made a toast and had Letha, Ted's better ¾, drop the scarf. My chariot took some damage and I think I managed to cross the finish line with about half a wheel left, but cross it I did. Still, I've got a grudge against James because, when I tried to whip his driver in the face, he stole my whip. The bastard! I can't remember what else we did that night. Drank beer, obviously. Maybe a game of Thurn and Taxis? All I can remember is going to bed around 4.

Waking up around 8, I found that everyone else was awake too. We drank some coffee and I had me some lefse with butter and cinnamon sugar. Don wanted to really break his fast so he, James, Charles, and I went to a local restaurant for some grease. From there it was off to Sam's Wines and Spirits. It was one huge booze emporium. The beer in single bottles was to be found on shelves 30' and about 12' high. They were these walls of bottles. Ales dominated the imports with sections devoted to England and Belgium being the most prominent. The domestic wall had plenty of tasty choices including, oddly enough, Capital. Capital is not distributed in Illinois so obviously some wheeling and dealing was going on. It was good to see that the demand for it was so high that the store used some back channels in order to stock the product. I ended up getting a Finnish beer and a Belgian. Don bought nearly a case while James got some very fancy and highly expensive Italian brandy.

When we got back, I bowed out of a game of Puerto Rico in favor of a shower. But, when Greg, Greg, Scott, and Pete arrived, I eagerly jumped in for Formula De, a Formula One racing game. I think 8 of us raced. As we were playing, Pete pulled out a DVD which featured highlights of the 2005 Formula One season and Ted put it on his huge flatscreen TV. So we had the real deal playing in the background as the game wore on. I tried and tried to crash and take someone out with me but could not manage to do it. Never having played the game before, I have to say that it was quite a bit of fun, especially with so many people.

That evening, 6 of us gathered to play a Call of Cthulhu adventure GMd by Don. He began by taping Soviet posters and pictures of Lenin on the walls. He then placed some red lights around the room and finished by placing a bottle of vodka on the table. It would prove to be Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37. It takes place in the Soviet Union in March 1933. Machine Tractor Stations were depots for Soviet kolkhozes or collective farms and we find that telegraph contact with Karkov-37 ceased in late December '32. And so a team from TASS, the Soviet telegraph agency, is being escorted by the Red Army to the station to reestablish communication lines. I played Lt. Electrician Nicholai Dugov; James was Captain-Technician Alexsandr Triepinov; and Charles assumed the role of Administrator-Major Yuri Kopolev. Escorting us were Scott as Snr Lt. Grigor Fyodorov, Greg as Snr Sgt. Dr Vissarion Ivanovich Liubimova, and a Commissar. When Don read out the parts to play and said "Commissar", my brother raised his hand immediately and it was a good choice. My brother is a big fella and he barked out orders all in the name of the Party. In fact, when he wanted me to pass him a sack of cookies that was next to me, he'd ask me to do so for the Party and/or the Motherland.

I can't recall where we started out from but it was a 10-hour drive to the station in the freezing cold with a bunch of young Red Army boys who tried to smuggle a 20 gallon barrel of kvas onboard. While it was left behind, the vodka wasn't. We stopped for the night out in the middle of nowhere and made camp. One of the soldiers went out hunting. We hear a shot followed shortly thereafter by a scream. Running to see what happened, we found the soldiers cowering by the animal's corpse. Only this was no rabbit that any of us had ever seen. It was completely malformed with one of its eyeballs being the size of a grapefruit and hanging out of its socket. And where it should have had teeth, there were tentacles. This didn't bode well.

We eventually made it to Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 only to find it deserted with some of the buildings burnt to the ground. Plus there were some funeral pyres out behind the barn. The curious part, though, was why one of the grain silos should be surrounded by makeshift posts with every light they could muster atop them. Opening the silo, hundreds and hundreds of gallons of the most foul-smelling water poured out. There were dead bodies on the floor. Plus there was a mummified corpse in the generator truck. Did I mention that we TASS folks weren't really TASS folks? No, we were really agents of a super-secret organization and were sent to find out what happened there, specifically, what happened to the agents from a not-so-secret organization who had been sent a few months ago to investigate the strange goings on there.

Curiously enough, I survived. But I did go quite insane. There was a garbage can just behind my chair and I got scared shitless when John came up and threw something into it. I just saw this shadow out of the corner of my eye and it made my heart skip a beat. Such are the perils of a good Cthulhu adventure, I guess.

It was another late night. Ted, John, and Mike blathered on about their high school days. This included a humorous story that happened after they graduated involving Ted and his former large-breasted French teacher. It was quite humorous. The next morning found folks either readying to head home or to Da Bears game. Snow can even make a suburb look nice and the couple inches that fell earlier in the morning made one forget that you were in Lombard. Since those folks who were going to the game had to catch a shuttle, James, Charles, and I headed out for Madison. After a stop at the pancake joint again. We even got the same waitress who remembered us. Back on the road it was more Doctor Who.
|| Palmer, 3:59 PM || link || (0) comments |

A Tough Row to Hoe

I and some readers have been discussing racism in the context of the format change of a regional radio station hip hop to rock over at my podcast in a post entitled "Hip Hop and Madison Racism". (Since there is a delay with comments appearing on the site, hit "Post A Comment" to read the latest.) el gunate (not sure if he's doing the ee cummings thing or not) wrote in a comment:

and racism is a slippery issue. we can shut down clubs and radio stations for all kinds of non-racist reasons, but if the people affected by those actions are predominately people of color, the overall effect is a racist one. that can be hard to grasp for a lot of well-meaning people, but that's the nature of racism today.

So there I was in a very interesting discussion about race here in my own backyard and now I read about white flight in Atlanta where a suburb of mostly whites wants to secede. It's a wonderful illustration of what el guante said.

The wealthy whites say it's an effort to create a smaller, more manageable government to address their concerns:

Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states.

"The only way to fix Fulton County is to dismantle Fulton County," said state Rep. Jan Jones, the plan's chief sponsor. "It's too large, and certainly too dysfunctional, to truly be considered local government."

Folks on the other side are saying that it will only lead to disaster:

Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.

About 25 miles to the south in downtown Atlanta, the Rev. J. Allen Milner said he is afraid the tax revenue loss would have a devastating effect on those who need government help the most.

"If you take that money out of their coffers, human services will suffer greatly," said Milner, a black man who runs a homeless mission and is pastor of the Chapel of Christian Love Church.

Critics of a split also worry about the future of Grady Memorial Hospital and the Atlanta area's MARTA commuter-rail system — both of which have contracts with the county.

Madison has a comparatively easier situation to deal with when contrasted with Atlanta but, no matter where you are in this country, dealing with race and racism is a tough row to hoe.
|| Palmer, 8:29 AM || link || (0) comments |

19 January, 2007

Cinematheque Spring '07

The UW Cinematheque has announced the spring semester's line-up.
|| Palmer, 8:27 AM || link || (1) comments |

Friday Skin

|| Palmer, 8:25 AM || link || (0) comments |

18 January, 2007

Pam Brews Up BS

Pam Spaulding, the proprietor of Pam's House Blend made a post on Tuesday called "Madison, Wisconsin strikes at marriage amendment with oath proposal" in which she made some ignorant remarks. Firstly:

I want to be happy about this, but this proposed token gesture by the city of Madison does nothing to soothe the real-world wounds of the gay and lesbian population of Wisconsin.

The gesture she refers to is the option for officials to voluntarily amend their oath of office and tag something on at the end indicating their disagreement with the recent change to our state's constitution outlawing gay marriage and anything substantially similar. What Pam doesn't seem to understand is that the amendment to the oath is not meant to soothe the wounds of Wisconsin's gay and lesbian populations. Instead, it is meant to assuage the consciences of oath takers who oppose it. And, contrary to the article she cites, the proposal would make the amendment to the oath voluntary, not a requirement.

Because of the constitutional amendment, Ms. Spaulding says that homosexuals "are now second-class citizens". Wrong again. Gays and lesbians have always been second-class citizens here. The change to the constitution affirmed what was already state law – that same-sex marriages are unlawful. If anything, they are now third-class.

Next she writes:

…for those whose families are now legally vulnerable due to the passage of the amendment, or people thinking about doing business with or moving to Wisconsin, they know that the voters have spoken, and now it's time for gays and allies to speak with their feet and wallets in response.

That, however, doesn't mean deserting those who are still fighting for equality in the state -- Fair Wisconsin did the best they could to defeat the amendment and will continue working for change.
(Emphasis hers.)

So all gay people and folks who think the amendment to the constitution are shite should leave the state. Oh yeah, but send a nice letter of support to Fair Wisconsin. Didn't we just have a holiday in honor of a man who embodied something a little more positive, a little more hopeful than "Give up and move to Massachusetts or California"?

I do agree with her that speaking with one's wallet is a good idea. If you're bound and determined to avoid states that ban gay marriage, then all I can say is good luck because the vast majority of states in this country define marriage heterosexually and deny gays the right of civil unions as well. If you want to move to or do business with a state that is doesn't deny gay folk these rights, then you've got slim pickings - just a handful. Instead of avoiding Wisconsin, why not choose to give your money to gay-friendly businesses? If you want to move to Wisconsin, then move to a gay-friendly town like Madison. Two-thirds of Dane county voted against the amendment. Instead of avoiding our state by moving elsewhere and paying lip service to Fair Wisconsin, why not make that move and join the fight?

As Bill Lueders pointed out, Wisconsin's progressive tradition is as dead as a doornail. But telling people to run away is just plain ridiculous.
|| Palmer, 3:42 PM || link || (1) comments |

The Cinema Show

If, like me, you are a cinephile living here in Madison, then you too probably feel frustrated at reading film critics' year-end best-of lists. Many of the films populating those lists were either released late in the year and had yet to make their way to our neck of the woods or will only see release here on DVD. For instance, how many Madisonians got to see The Death of Mr. Lazarescu on the big screen? (I'm almost positive it never screened here.) Now that it is January, it seems like the big budget films that snuck in under the wire with a December release date are finally making their way here.

Tomorrow sees the opening of Guillermo del Toro's El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) at the major theatres here in town. Considering it is in Spanish and that Curse of the Golden Flower will also be playing in those same theatres, it' will probably mark the first time in a while that the non-arty cinemas in town will be showing 2 films that are not in English at the same time.

I'll be spending some time next week at Westgate as it'll be showing a couple films I am keen on seeing. Firstly is Letters From Iwo Jima, the second of Clint Eastwood's two-part look at the battle. Also is Tom Tykwer's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Tykwer is best-known for Run Lola Run, though I preferred The Princess and the Warrior.

In Chicago, the Gene Siskel Film Center has another great month ahead. February brings a retrospective of one of my favorite directors, Werner Herzog, including what will probably be the only showing of his 2005 "documentary", Wild Blue Yonder, within several hundred miles of Madison. There is also a look at Contemporary Croatian cinema and a lengthy look at African American Auteurs which runs through 8 May. Featured directors will be Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, Charles Burnett, and Spike Lee. Who wants to join me in a roadtrip?

I've noted here previously that David Lynch's latest opus, Inland Empire, is now making its way around the country. It opens on the 26th of this month at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Lynch himself is scheduled to appear at the 2 late shows on the 27th, but they are currently sold out. If the film makes it to Madison, look for it next month.

Speaking of David Lynch, I recently got a hold of a copy of Mulholland Drive – the TV pilot. Before it was a feature-length film, Mulholland Drive was to be Lynch's foray back into television. For better or for worse, ABC rejected it and Lynch developed the pilot into the film we know today. As soon as I get the ability to screenscrape it, I'll do a post on the differences between the two versions. Actually, I hope to make this into an occasional feature with a review of a film or TV show that has been lost in the vaults or has had no US release to speak of.
|| Palmer, 2:35 PM || link || (2) comments |

17 January, 2007

Little Britain

The Dulcinea recently bought the first season of the BBC show Little Britain featuring Matt Lucas and David Williams. It was really funny. Each episode is a series of short sketches featuring recurring characters with some brief introductions by Tom Baker of Doctor Who fame.

That's Matt Lucas above as Daffyd, The character constantly laments that he's the only gay in the small Welsh village in which he lives but he isn't alone by any stretch. So, when other gay folk appear, he does his best to send them on their way as they are intruding on his turf. For example, when the gay Star Trek fan club meets at the local pub, he tells them that they're not wanted there. Considering his attire at that point, it was quite humorous.

That is David Williams as Ray McCooney, the proprietor of a Scottish hotel, who communicates in riddle and by playing the recorder.

Honestly, I enjoy all the characters and skits but I must admit that Williams is my favorite by a slim margin. This is because, when doing drag, Williams reminds me of Graham Chapman from Monty Python. Still, Lucas rocks as Marjorie Dawes, the leader of a weight loss support group.

Do check it out. And why do the British do drag so well and why does American TV avoid it almost completely?
|| Palmer, 8:52 PM || link || (0) comments |

Harris and Sullivan Square Off

Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan are debating the merits of faith up at Beliefnet.
|| Palmer, 8:25 PM || link || (0) comments |

Porcine Stamp Goodness

My ladyfriend pointed this out to me: Sweet & Sour Pork stamps.

In order to celebrate 2007, the year of the pig, China has issued stamps whose fronts are scratch'n'sniff while the glue on the back tastes like the dish.
|| Palmer, 7:40 PM || link || (0) comments |

Beloit International Film Festival

The Beloit International Film Festival starts tomorrow. I shall be spending the weekend is suburban Chicago being a gaming dork but it would make a nice warm-up for the Wisconsin Film Fest in April.
|| Palmer, 7:30 PM || link || (0) comments |

Arbat is a Godsend

Last weekend The Dulcinea and I went to Arbat Russian Restaurant out in Fitchburg. It was my second time there and the first for The D. I am a quarter Ruthenian, which is an ethnic sub-group of Ukrainian, so I was quite pleased when Arbat opened. It had been about a decade since The Russia House had closed and, while Madison has tons of restaurants, Slavic cuisine is woefully underrepresented. (In this Slav's opinion, anyway.) My first go-round at Arbat was a pre-cinema expedition shortly after it opened and one of our party is a pelmeni addict. Seriously, the stuff is like crack for him. My meal then consisted of the cabbage salad, czarski (pork loin stuffed with cheese), and a Baltika beer. Charles satisfied his pelmeni addiction while James had the chebureki, a fried meat pie. While the cabbage salad was quite salty, it was still tasty and I can also say that the entrees were excellent as I sampled those of my companions. And so I was enthusiastic to return.

It wasn't long before we discovered that there were some new menu items, including a new soup, salad, and appetizer; the blini or crepe section of the menu was greatly expanded as was the selection of entrees. When ordering drinks we also found out that the beer list was incorrect and that there were, in fact, several new beers to be had. The Dulcinea opted for a Baltika #6, the porter, while I went with Obolon Premium, one of the newly available brews. The Baltika was nice and heady while the Obolon was a crisp lager.

We started the meal with soup. The D had borsch while I went with the chicken soup with dumplings. Mine was quite tasty. I appreciated that it wasn't very salty and that the dumplings were real rib-stickers. While I'm not the biggest borsch fan, I thought it tasty. The D, on the other hand, raved about it. Great flavor plus it was nice'n'chunky. Oh, and we also got some bread as well.

For the main course The D went with the chebureki (after all, the menu said that "Life without chebureki is a pure waste".) while I opted for golubsti which are cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat. Having an open kitchen, we could watch the cook roll out the chebureki dough.

And here was our food:

The chebureki differ from a pasty most noticeably in that it's deep fried. Also, it contrasts with them and the meat pies I have had in the South in that they are very thin. The dough was very flakey and fried to perfection as they didn't leave much of a greasy footprint behind. The golubsti were also great. These are a food that I ate often as a child and are a component of basically every country's cuisine in Central and Eastern Europe. My Polish grandmother would make them as they were here – in a creamy tomato sauce – while my German father would cook them with crushed tomatoes and sauerkraut. Arbat also threw some shredded carrot in the filling which worked very well.

For dessert we went with the cherry pierogi (dumplings). They were served with sour cream.

They too were very tasty. If you should order them, beware the cherry-laced water squirting out when you dig into one.

While I enjoyed the food & drink very, very much, I do have a trio of gripes. Firstly is that they do not serve vodka. Not that I'm complaining about the beer, mind you, but a shot of fire water seems necessary. Secondly, they should ditch the white bread and lay down more of the dark rye. My last gripe is location. A strip mall in Fitchburg is not the optimal dining location for me but what can you do? I'd also like to note here that the staff on both occasions were exceptionally friendly and cute waitresses with a Russian accent are a big plus.

I have read a couple other reviews of Arbat and, while they were both informative, I was disappointed that neither gave any indication that the diners had had any previous run-ins with Slavic food. It gave me the impression that most folks would approach Russian food as being this weird exotic experience. Surely I am not the only person in town who grew up eating cabbage rolls. Being 50% Slavic, it is frustrating at times to live in a city whose buzzword is "diversity" yet seeing precious little when it comes to a significant chunk of my ethnic heritage. This being the case, Arbat is a godsend.

The other reviews are at Eating in Madison A to Z and Dane101.
|| Palmer, 7:17 PM || link || (2) comments |

Woodcuts at the Chazen

The Chazen Museum of Art here in Madison currently has an exhibition called "Color Woodcut International: Japan, Britain, and America in the Early Twentieth Century".

Color woodcut printmaking was not new to Britain or America when Japanese prints caught the European and American imagination in the nineteenth century. The fresh colors, the simplicity of the materials, and the departure from traditional compositions entranced western artists as well as the rest of the public. In France, this enthusiasm for all things Japanese was called Japonisme, and it influenced artists such as Toulouse Lautrec and Henri Rivière. Likewise, Japanese audiences and artists were intrigued by the possibilities of western art, which was broadly available by the end of the nineteenth century. Artists such as Hiroshige II created images of the strange foreigners and imagined what American cities looked like. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, artists were not content to merely imagine what the other side of the world looked like. As a result, a growing number of artists traveled back and forth between the continents, seeing, learning from and teaching each other. From America, Arthur Wesley Dow and Bertha Lum traveled to Japan to learn the techniques of color woodblock printmaking, while from Japan, Hiroshi Yoshida, Mokuchu Urushibara, and Ohara Shoson traveled to the West in search of imagery and patronage.

I found this interesting because I happen to have a few Japanese woodblock prints. In fact, I brought them to the Chazen a couple years ago and had a couple professors give them a once-over. Unfortunately, I cannot find my notes so I cannot give you any names or dates. But here they are:

The exhibition runs through 25 February and there are a number of lectures being held about it. A list can be found here.
|| Palmer, 6:10 PM || link || (2) comments |

16 January, 2007

MLK Day (Belated)

I'm a bit late with this as yesterday was Martin Luther King Day. But now that I'm in the private sector, I don't have the day off. And so I spent yesterday working instead of blogging.

This is King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. While I'd always heard and seen bits of it, it wasn't until I took a rhetoric class in college that I got to hear and see the whole nine yards and began to understand exactly just how great a speech it is.

|| Palmer, 5:16 AM || link || (1) comments |

15 January, 2007

Polka Documentary to Screen in Wisconsin

When I noted last year that Madison is not a polka town, I also noted a new polka documentary called It's Happiness, which was partly (mostly?) filmed here in Wisconsin. After hitting the festival circuit, the film is finally going to be shown here in the Land of Cheese. Here are the venues and dates:

January 31st, 7 pmOriental Theatre
Tickets available 1/12/07 at box office.
Call 414-276-8711 for information.
Music beforehand by Riverwest Accordion Club and party to follow at Art's Concertina Bar.

February 1st, 7 pm
Schauer Center
Tickets available now at www.schauercenter.org or by calling 262-670-0560.
Music beforehand by The Goodtime Dutchmen and party to follow.

February 3rd, 7 pm
Pulaski Middle School
Click here for contact information.
Music beforehand by 4 year old Zac Brzeckowski and party afterwards.
|| Palmer, 8:25 AM || link || (0) comments |

13 January, 2007

The Colored Faces of Humanism

The face of freethought in this country is overwhelmingly white. With very few exceptions, people who represent secularism, atheism, and humanism in the media are white. People are used to seeing the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens expressing their views but one rarely, if ever, gets the chance to witness someone of color do the same. One of the exceptions to this rule was to be witnessed a week ago on Freethought Radio, a show and podcast from here in Madison by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The episode was entitled "African American Freethought and Atheism" and featured Norm Allen, executive director of African Americans for Humanism.

Allen is the editor of a couple relevant books: The Black Humanist Experience and African American Humanism: An Anthology.

Allen discussed the stereotype of African-Americans as being hyper-religious as well the role of religion in slavery, amongst other topics.

Allen was also interviewed back in November for another godless podcast, Point of Inquiry. That show can be found here. I would also point readers to yet another podcast, Humanist Network News. Their third podcast features McKinley Jones and Taunya Hannibal-Williams of the Black American Free Thought Association.

|| Palmer, 9:46 AM || link || (0) comments |

12 January, 2007

Friday Skin

|| Palmer, 9:35 PM || link || (0) comments |

47th Annual MadFest Juggling Festival

I want to note that the 47th Annual MadFest Juggling Festival started yesterday and goes through the weekend. I don't know that I'll be able to take in any of the festivities, but hopefully some pics and video will appear elsewhere.
|| Palmer, 9:22 PM || link || (1) comments |

God Sleeps in Rwanda

God Sleeps in Rwanda is the second documentary I've seen in this still nascent year about the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide with Rwanda: A Killer's Homecoming being the first.

Rwanda must be an absolutely gorgeous country. I say this because of the opening shot of God Sleeps in Rwanda which is an aerial view of the countryside. It is stunning. The view then shifts down into a town and then to a road showing several women dressed in brightly-colored clothes walking towards the camera with urns atop their heads. We then meet the first of five women to be profiled, Severa Mukakinani.

Severa has a 9 year old daughter, Akimana. Over a shot of them sorting beans, we hear Severa say that she wished Akimana had died like her other seven children.

A brief overview of the genocide follows and I learned that the genocide left the Rwandan population with 70% of it being women. Narrator Rosario Dawson notes that this was a great burden for the women of Rwanda but also an extraordinary opportunity. The focus then shifts back to Severa as she explains how she lost her entire family in the genocide. She watched as her husband and three sons were killed before her. Severa also tells how she was gang raped by more men than she could count which led to her becoming pregnant with Akimana.

While she wanted to abort the pregnancy at first, Severa found that she just couldn't go through with it. She had seen the death of too many innocents already and so she decided to keep the child.

Rape was a tool used in the genocide and it is estimated that a quarter of a million women were raped during that time. As a tool of war, it was coordinated by Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the country's Minister of Women and Family Affairs at the time.

Nyiramasuhuko is standing trial for war crimes and is the first women to be charged with genocide. It is also the first time that anyone is charged with rape as a crime against humanity.

We are then introduced to another survivor and rape victim, Chantal Kantarama.

While Chantal was lucky to have escaped the ordeal without having contracted AIDS, her friend, Fifi Mukangoga, who was also raped, was not so lucky. She talks about her close friendship with Fifi and how they fled the genocide together.

After it was over, Chantel met the man who would be her husband. They now have three children. While Fifi died of AIDS, Chantel was able to build a new life.

As with Severa, Chantal found hope and meaning in her children.

Odette Mukakabera survived the genocide along with her husband and four children. But she found out afterwards that her husband was HIV+ and had infected her. He died in 1999. A former school teacher, Odette became an officer in the Rwanda's National Police Force.

Prior to the genocide, a women in such a position was unthinkable. Also unthinkable was Odette's decision to go public with the fact that she has AIDS. This is apparently taboo in most of Africa. Unfortunately, one of Chantel's children also contracted AIDS but she is unable to afford any medication for him. In addition to being a police officer, she is also a law student and hopes to one day be a lawyer so she can help those also infected with the disease.

Next we meet a pensive Delphine Umutesi. She lost her mother at the age of 10 and watched as her father was butchered. Being the eldest of five children, Delphine was forced to assume the role of mother to her siblings at the tender age of 12. She benefited from new laws in Rwanda including one which allowed women to inherit property and their own children.

Delphine tells of the old attitudes in Rwanda towards women which was that they should remain in the home while the husband supported the family. But the genocide changed that and forced women to do everything themselves. Although she obviously has more than enough responsibility with taking care of her brothers and sisters, Delphine dreams of getting married and having children of her own. She says that several men have proposed to her, which makes me wonder exactly what the cultural norms are in Rwanda for proposing.

The last woman to be profiled was Joseline Mujawamariya. She is her town's top development official with has six underlings. We see her and several others building a road from her village to Rwanda's capital, Kigali. Joseline's position in her village is quite an accomplishment considering her lack of formal education but, given the circumstances, anything was possible. But it was her own drive to do well and contribute to her community that put her where she is. Joseline speaks of men and women working together and of shedding the old ways which disallowed women from participating in the political process.

God Sleeps in Rwanda was quite a breath of fresh air when I watched it. The documentary provided some positive glimpses of Rwanda and offered hope. For these reasons it was an official selection of the United Nations Association Film Festival's "Statement of Courage and Hope". It was an official selection at many other film festivals as well and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005.

As I mentioned above, there were changes in the inheritance laws and it seems these were instituted shortly after we left Odette and Theophile in Rwanda: A Killer's Homecoming. The changes should be no surprise considering the disproportionate number of women in the population. What a shame that it took a genocide for women to be able to gain these rights and for them to assume positions of authority as they are now.

One thing I noticed was how important children were to the women in the video. They survived a genocide and, in some instances, rape as well yet they were not left cold and heartless. These women still looked towards a brighter future while at the same time dealing with the past. Not only does their compassion show through but this emphasis on children also shows how a caring/nurturing side can co-exist with a side that is more about authority and leaderships. By this I mean that, here in America, we have this notion that women in positions of authority eschew a family life to pursue their career, that the two cannot co-exist. Yet here they seem to. Different societies, to be sure, but perhaps the notion is purely American.

Since the video is a short, only a few minutes could be devoted to profiling each woman. Yet I thought the filmmakers did a great job of presenting the women in a complex way. The women were given the chance to give a brief history of their lives, to explain what their lives are like now, and to talk about the changes in Rwandan society as well. One thing that was noticeably absent from the video was religion. I expected one of the women to talk about having been granted strength from God or something similar but that never happened. I have no clue as to their religious affiliations or lack thereof and the omission of religion here could very have been the prerogative of the filmmakers. Perhaps they wanted to emphasize the strength and accomplishments of their subjects without distraction.

Religious or not, these are some truly remarkable women.
|| Palmer, 9:21 PM || link || (5) comments |