"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas magic videos

Reindeer really do fly! This video is restricted from embedding here, so go to the You Tube site to find out the real story behind that flying sleigh! Thanks to talented artist Tenaya for that one - it is embedded on her website DreamSpeak Design. Check out her beautiful Winter art.

Another artist friend makes magical and sometimes rather subversive videos with dolls. You don't have to be "into" dolls to enjoy Tangren's miniature poems and dramas; in fact some who are (fans of dolls), don't, while others who aren't, do. There's just something really special about these and you either get it or you don't. I've posted one of them before. She's currently doing a masterwork, a version of the entire Nutcracker ballet in a series of charming videos, created together with her young niece, but these aren't really "children's videos" - they have treats embedded for all ages and some of the content will go over children's heads. Well, see for yourself. Here are the first two in the Nutcracker series. (Don't forget to Maximize, to see more detail.) Visit Tangrena's channel to see the rest, and some of her other work - and I hope many more of these will be out in the coming year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Internet democracy, and Rip!: A Remix Manifesto (film recommendation)

Yesterday I got one from demandprogress.org saying that Sen. Wyden (OR) is willing to filibuster to help hold back the current attack on Internet freedom, and suggesting that we send him our names to read on the floor if it comes to that. I eagerly signed and Tweeted. Here's the link to go there directly, and add your name if you  haven't done it yet: 

Now, 50,000 in less than a day. Apparently I'm not the only one who knows this is important. Hooray for Sen. Wyden. 100,000 names would keep him filibustering until he dropped (not that I'd want to see that happen) but really, what a great way to help him in the fight. I know politics don't often measure up these days, but when the system is working for us, all the more reason to lend our voices in support, I think.

To me, this is a wonderful story - both about online life and what we can accomplish with it, and about the fact that many people really DO care about Internet freedom (and are, dare I hope, waking up to the crisis). Corporations have already made deep inroads, and will continue to push, but this gives me hope that we can push back effectively. Until we have our own resilient Internet systems functioning, anyway, an online Commons not owned by corporations. Which I hope we'll see before too long.

All of which has everything to do with an important cultural issue that often intersects with restrictions on Internet freedom: copyright and copyleft, human creativity, sharing of work and building upon the past.
The remixers manifesto:
1. Culture always builds on the past.
2. The past always tries to control the future. 
3. Our Future is becoming less free. 
4. To build free societies, you must limit control of the past.

Looking for poster I came across this greatwebsite
Ever since I started this blog I've collected good links on the issue of intellectual property, copyright and copyleft, and the Cultural Commons movement to reclaim human culture for the benefit of humans. I love the reference to the Commons, because it places this issue in a historical context. It's not just about the Internet, the Internet is just the most recent Commons territory, or shared resource, that those in power want to grab for themselves. It all comes down to that: what (other than laws they wrote themselves, fronted into law by legislators in their employ) gives the powerful the right to put fences up limiting life for the rest of us? Certainly no moral, ethical, or even commonsensical right. The Earth, and human culture, belong to everybody. Anyway, some links about all this are collected in a section of the right-hand column of this blog.

Which brings me to this film recommendation. This week on Free Speech TV I stumbled upon a great documentary, Rip!: A Remix Manifesto, which does a beautiful job of telling the story and defining the issue of intellectual property as a concept, and explaining about the ongoing lawfare (I love that word! Saw it first used by John Robb) by monied interests on the creative commons of human culture as it functions naturally. You can also view the documentary online; in keeping with the values propelling it, the film is there for anyone to see, mash up, and even pay for, at whatever level you feel is right for you. Now that's democracy in action. And authentic culture.

Here's a wonderful example of global culture at work in a mashup project - Star Wars Uncut. Now think: why would the filmmaker and the whole creative crew have wanted to discourage this? They probably wouldn't because obviously it only increases the original film's popularity and demonstrates the public's love for it. And makes you appreciate the artistry of the original film even more, even as you love these hilarious but affectionate recreations of it by people without those means. Who would object? Idiot studio executives and their lawyers would. Fortunately they didn't get in the way. I wonder what the story was there. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Laila's Birthday (film review)

As another dawn arrives on the West Bank, Mr. Abu Laila tenderly checks on his sleeping child; his wife awakens; they all prepare for another day. They make their plans: on his way to work driving a cab, Mr. Laila will drop the little girl off at school; his wife will pick her up on her way back home from her day at work; he promises he will be home by 8:00 to celebrate Laila's seventh birthday. It is clear that this event is the rock upon which he must build his day: Laila's birthday. A photo of Laila is on the dashboard of the cab, a touchstone to which Mr. Laila frequently returns throughout his day.

As the titles roll, a number of countries flash by: the 2008 film was made in the Netherlands, Tunisia, Palestine. But one of this film's most remarkable characteristics is its sense of place, and that's the city of Ramallah on the West Bank, Palestine: with the feel of cinema verite, we travel block by block through the city, on the ground, in a cab, in this slice of life in an ordinary day for Abu Laila, an ordinary man. Yet we soon learn that he is anything but ordinary: he was a judge in another country--asked by unspecified agents to come back and serve his country, and then (because of repeated changes in power and government administration) denied that role. So, while he waits for his own form of ordinary life to return to him, he drives his brother in law's cab.

Still, judge he remains, and with grave demeanor and fine judicial discernment he navigates his day as the judge he is, deciding on each prospective customer on the case's merit as he sees it (and denying several of them their ride because he won't have them in his cab). He reminds people to fasten their seatbelts, walk on the sidewalk, or not carry firearms, and they think his admonitions absurd, as they have accepted as normal a world which has lost its moorings. True to his sense of propriety, Mr. Laila goes to extraordinary lengths in an attempt to return to its owner a cell phone left in his cab--and in this society, he almost gets lost in a Kafkaesque police system determined to find a different story in his simple quest to return the phone.

Laila's birthday is a day made up of incidents like this, marked by the judge's stubborn integrity, by his refusal to relinquish his own sense of how things should be or to stop trying to impose it on others. This juxtaposition of his stern sense of order, of what is right and proper, with the off-the-rails situations he encounters, is a rich source of dark comedy as the absurdity of his own position in life expands to a view of the absurdity of his country's life as everyone attempts to carry on. One of the film's most deliciously comedic moments occurs when Abu is in a coffee shop waiting for his car to be repaired in a nearby garage. The television is on and the men in the cafe are discussing, in classic desultory barroom fashion, what they're seeing on the news: those are Israeli soldiers. No, they're Americans. This is Palestine; no, it's Iraq. And on it goes - none of it really makes sense, nor does one have the feeling it really matters, here in this cafe, to know.

Of course, given the time and place, we expect something terrible to happen, and it does, when an explosion hits the garage. Then the conversation moves to the floor, where the men are huddling under a rickety table for protection. What was the explosion? Who caused it? More possibilities are discussed but again there is no answer, and such information seems irrelevant in any case as the story moves on to the scene and the immediate situation must be dealt with.

At the scene, a donkey has been driven "insane" (a panic reaction) by the explosion and people are trying to help it; Abu's car is commandeered to take the injured to the hospital. Later, the car winds up decorated for a wedding and finally he arrives home, birthday cake intact. He straightens his tie, visibly pulls  himself together, still in one piece after his harrowing day, and enjoys Laila's birthday. (I hope that isn't a spoiler; I don't think the point of the movie is to be suspenseful.) The viewer is not betrayed; this is a comedy, however dark, and it has a happy ending. So don't be afraid to see it.

What's in a name? I have to think the choice of "Laila" (meaning something like "night beauty," I think) for both the father and the daughter is a reference to the classic Laila-Majnu story, which I knew from its Hindi version. It's Arabic in origin, having been brought to India by the Muslims, but now is iconic in India in the same way that Romeo and Juliet are in English tradition. In Indian movies (and not just the Hindi ones), references to Laila or Majnu are usually translated into English, in the subtitles, as Juliet or Romeo. It's a tragic love story in which the lovers, from different tribes, are thwarted, Laila (the epitome of Love) is sacrificed and Majnu is driven insane. In this lovely, brilliant film, the land of Laila is similarly riven and its inhabitants, like the confused donkey, are driven into forms of madness, each in their own way, by thwarted destiny and love denied. Abu's is a tribe of humanity riven by forces opposing love and unity, its people's natural course of peace and productivity thwarted, its energies channeled into "insane" behaviors. A reference to the Romeo and Juliet of Arabs seems true and very fitting here.

To this foreign viewer, the genius of this film is not just in portraying the irony of ordinary people carrying on with daily life in absurd circumstances, when war impinges randomly. It does that, but it makes the point in such a way that the message is much more universal because the people are all so ordinary that they they would be completely recognizable in my own town, in a different country, different circumstance, different crises. No matter where we live, ordinary life is just an illusion, because everything can change in a moment.

Mohammed Bakri, who plays Abu Laila, is wonderful as the extraordinary Everyman, his restrained, dignified performance reminiscent of a Buster Keaton or a Jacques Tati, who also found themselves trying to uphold their dignity in trying circumstances--or maybe even more, of a Charlie Chaplin when he found himself in the grip of the machinery of the factory or the state. Of course, here the situation is far more serious. There are also many memorable cameos, especially among the taxi passengers (both men and women). Mashid Masharawi, the director, has created an extraordinarily humane film about the human condition, rich in ironic humor and, I think, a faith in the goodness of people. Or at least a recognition that goodness exists in some of us.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Steady as she goes... in the godforsaken sea (book reviews)

I love being on the water. I always dreamed of living on a houseboat and finally did that, for a few years, in DC. Then I lived on a lake for several years, where where I could swim 24/7. Sailed a little, too. I've loved body surfing in the Mediterranean (when a storm brought in some waves), Hawaii, South India's western coast, and the Atlantic off Assateague Island and Nag's Head. I ran rivers for decades, in rafts and canoes, in several states, starting when I was a kid and my father bought a couple of surplus Army rafts, pretty much pioneering the sport in northern California. But since I've lived here in the mountains, I haven't done any of that, except for a couple of guided tours -- a jet boat ride in the Rogue River's Hellgate Canyon and a lovely raft trip on the upper Klamath. Southern Oregon does have beautiful rivers and some of them are even being set free, with the removal of dams.

And now all the bad news - radiation from Fukushima poisoning whales, the giant toxic plastic soup in the middle of the Pacific, and of course the huge dead zone now from BP in the Gulf... I almost can't think about water anymore, it's so depressing. Here are a couple of books I was able to enjoy in more innocent times, having to do with human adventures on water. These are ones I reviewed in SLJ. Maybe I'll add more later. Most of my adventures were far tamer than any of these (though I did nearly drown twice and suffered a badly broken leg once on rafting trips), I saw enough to appreciate what these people experienced, and their stories are well told.

In this anthology, women writers render in vivid and often moving terms their stories of shipwrecks, busy harbors, big oceans, and small boats. 

Some traveled alone, while others had families or partners. 

One gloried in her work as a mechanic in a noisy engine room, while another rowed long distances alone in silence along the coast, reveling in her strong muscles. 

They were novices or lifelong sailors, captains or crew, aboard to make a living or to realize a dream before settling down. 

One woman learned an important lesson when she made a youthful error in judgment during a yacht race. Another made a naturalist's journey to the Sea of Cortez. Yet another worked on an Alaskan fishing boat. 

Some writers swagger, while others muse; each essay is well written, in a unique voice. Most are original to this volume, though a few are reprinted or excerpted (one rather abruptly). The 20 essays, and the fine introduction by the editor, cover such a wide range of experience that it seems at first that the only thing they have in common is water (and that the women all lived long enough to write about their experiences in or on it). 

But running through all of the selections are threads of quiet courage, an often stunning originality, self-confidence, presence of mind, and a degree of vitality that should appeal strongly to readers of all ages.

Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters  by Derek Lundy.

Arguably the most extreme sporting activity of any kind, the Vendee Globe is the "Everest of sailing races." In this four-month, single-handed circumnavigation, the competitors follow a hazardous route down through the Atlantic to the bottom of the world, around Antarctica, and back again. 

In the "godforsaken" Southern Sea it is difficult just to survive, let alone race. In continuous gales unimpeded by land masses, hurricane-force winds whip up waves several stories tall. Freezing temperatures, poor visibility, icebergs, and sleep deprivation compound the challenge to the sailors, who hurtle through these waters at top speeds in lightweight 60-foot boats. To stay in the race, competitors must not accept help with repairs or stop for supplies.

Lundy relates the suspenseful tale of the 1996-97 race, in which there were a string of disasters, several thrilling rescues, and one competitor lost at sea. Radical new boat designs were put to the test and humans were pushed beyond what would seem possible (one even performed emergency surgery upon himself).

The author writes with such skill that even non-sailors will appreciate the conditions and feats he describes. He is equally adept at showing the personalities, motivations, and gifts of the men and women drawn to this challenge, and brings these unusual individuals to life. Musing on the meaning of it all, Lundy extends the perspective beyond the world of sports, and gives readers plenty to think about. This fine work of journalism should have broad and strong appeal.

I'll probably be adding more links and related reviews to this post later.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Diwali!

Found this nice video on YouTube. Wishing the world a happy Diwali!

Uploaded by erompc on Oct 16, 2009:
Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning is "the awareness of the inner light".Greetings to all- Wishing you and your family very Happy Diwali and Prosperous New Year.

Like many religious holidays, Diwali (Devali, Deepavali) contains symbolism that adapts readily to contemporary circumstances, in keeping with universal and timeless human concerns. Here, the evil tyrant is overthrown, light conquers darkness, and prosperity is wished for everyone. 

Here's another video. I like the music by A.R. Rahman. I think this is from the Swades soundtrack, but correct me if I'm wrong :)

Click here for my Diwali post from last year.

From Wikipedia entry on Diwali

Monday, October 17, 2011

Come Twilight by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: my kind of vampire story (book review)

There are an awful lot of vampires out there these days. I'm not referring to corporations here, but literature. I wouldn't define myself as a fan of the genre, exactly, but in the hands of an outstanding writer the vampire offers fabulous possibilities for viewing the human world from a different perspective. And as a form of erotica, a well written and imaginative vampire story offers a relatively interesting and attractive alternative to the usual heterosexual romance. Yes, I have enjoyed vampires from time to time. There is a reason why they are so popular, especially with women.

I wanted to say something about this because frankly I'm sick of most of the vampires I've discovered infecting popular culture lately. I couldn't get through the first book in the current blockbuster "Twilight" series, finding it intolerably vapid, but here's another "Twilight" with real fangs in it. I guess the thing is, there has to be something more than just the idea of vampires, and teenage girls, to make a book worth reading. This one, for example, is terrific historical fiction, even apart from the vampire content.

Come Twilight (2000) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. 
Among the numerous and diverse vampires invented in recent years, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Prince Ragoczy stands out. From his debut in Hotel Transylvania at the court of Louis XV (1978) and through a long series of popular novels and short-story collections, this paradoxically humane vamp has survived all the terrors of history from ancient Egypt to World War II. 

In ironic contrast to man's documented inhumanity, the vampire Ragoczy is intelligent, ethical, and heroic. Several thousand years of personal growth have taught him to nurture his "victims" with a sensual sharing of their life force, rather than killing them, when he "feeds." 

But here, in a moment of poor judgment in seventh-century Catalonia, he creates a monster vampire who proceeds to terrorize the countryside for hundreds of years. Feeling responsible for this "child", an anguished Ragoczy attempts to reform her. 

Come Twilight is a marvelous work of historical fiction, describing 500 years of Catalonian social, political, linguistic, and ecological changes under the successive rule of Romans, Moors, and Christians. Especially noteworthy is the parallel Yarbro draws between the ecological disaster resulting from the Moors' deforestation of the area, and the failure of Ragoczy's morally deficient protege to survive in a way that connects with life rather than destroying it. 

Episodically exploring one geographical region over several historical periods rather than focusing on a single era, this is an interesting departure from the earlier novels. It assumes some previous knowledge of the series, but new readers interested in the history of Catalonia shouldn't be afraid to give it a try, and fans of the "Saint Germain Chronicles" should appreciate this fresh perspective on their hero's long journey.

(adapted from my SLJ review)
I also enjoy the "Sookie Stackhouse" series by Charlaine Harris, for its humor and satire (but found the TV series based on the novels merely disgusting and unwatchable).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too many issues! The protest is the point.

What a fabulous photo! Says it all: "We're not disorganized. America just has too many issues." And the protest takes them right to the source: the capital of the failed economic system.
From http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/10/the_occupy_wall_street_movemen.html
Wonderful collection of photos there. Terrific site!

People whining and nattering about "lack of focus" just don't get it: at this stage, it isn't about setting agendas. It's about the protest itself. I'm reminded of "the medium is the massage." Here, the protest is the point.

Monday, October 10, 2011

To Mars again: Boundary by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor (book review)

Here's a book that's come up in conversation a couple of times recently. Mars keeps cropping up, for one thing. And the "Face on Mars" crowd reportedly has been shifting their focus to Phobos--where, in the the interior, they think there is an alien base or artifact. Don't ask me. Maybe they got it from these authors.

Boundary by Ryk E. Spoor and Eric Flint (Baen Books, 2008)

As this engaging and mostly lighthearted tale of the first expedition to Mars begins, three friends and colleagues are sharing what they expect to be their last dig in Montana with paleontologist Dr. Helen Sutter. Joe Buckley and Jackie Secord are graduate students about to embark on engineering careers--Joe with the Ares Project, and Jackie as an astronaut.

After a strange fossil is found, anomalies pile up, and A.J. Baker, a genius with new imaging technologies, comes to help document the site. Then a robot explorer he is working with on the Ares Project finds a suspiciously similar fossil on Phobos, the Mars moon, and before long the four are on their way there--along with an equally likable pilot, security officer, and international crew of scientists.

Their adventure of discovery and exploration unfolds in intriguing and surprising ways. Although the existence of Jurassic-age fossils on Mars is a little hard to swallow at first, especially in such a reality-based nuts-and-bolts type of science fiction as this, the fossils do serve to raise valid questions about the future of humans in space. Besides paleontology, engineering, and space flight, the story is also furthered by puzzles in linguistics, biology, physics, and evolution. Add wacky humor, academic rivalries, and even some sweet romances, and it's a very fun read. Science-fiction fans will enjoy a number of in-jokes, such as naming the fossil Bemmius secordeii. Until we really go there, it's a good thing that we have stories like this to keep imaginations firing.

(adapted from my original SLJ review)

Update: aha! A sequel! I have it now and expect I'll get to it soon. It's called Threshhold 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Happy Mabon/Ostara

Equinox is balance. Image borrowed from this site  - thanks!

Depending on where on the globe you find yourself, happy Equinox, fall or spring! Here's it's Mabon and summer is still bravely hanging on though a few colder days have crept in. Now I'm sadly disconnected from the harvest, but I might rejoin the community garden someday if I ever really need to grow food. Or maybe this time it will be hydroponics. For now, there is enough and for that I'm thankful! 

This poem on YouTube captures my feelings of loss for the summer, since that's my favorite season and even with the milder Southern Oregon winter, I still don't like to see summer go. (Use is restricted so you have to go to YouTube to view/hear it. Below, part of the author's statement.) 
Uploaded by  on Sep 19, 2008I wanted to make a video to honour the Autumn Equinox, also known to some as "Mabon". However, the history of Mabon is somewhat hazy, it seems that while the Autumn Equinox celebrations go back before the written records, Mabon itself is a relatively new name for the old festival.
So rather than cause controversy on the facts, I decided to write something myself instead to honour the change of the Season.
... Lisa
Wheel of the Year from Natural Rhythms
 Here's another nice song, on YouTube by Lisa Thiel

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

OSF 2011: Love's Labor's Lost (play review)


Love's Labor's Lost on the Elizabethan Stage is tremendous fun. I'll admit it took me a while to warm to this staging, as director Shana Cooper takes the most gloriously verse-rich text of any of Shakespeare's plays and emphasizes screwball comedy. It sometimes feels like one of those old film comedies where the action is speeded-up to increase comedic effect. I never entirely reconciled myself to a rapid-fire delivery of lines that strayed (to my ear) too often from the rhythms the text seemed to call for; or maybe I was just "off" that night. After a time I did get used to it and let the director tell her zany version of the story in her own way. And it was wonderfully entertaining. Full stars for this one.

The nonstop language-play for which this one is famous begins with the title, which boasts two apostrophes [correctly placed: modern editors take note!] - one a possessive, the other a contraction - and in meaning, elegantly foreshadows the play's ending. That's followed by some of Shakespeare's most clever rhymes and competitive word games, meanwhile satirizing lesser mortals who over-manipulate vocabulary and language for empty effect; and this kind of verbal action, point and counterpoint is carried, with finely honed irony, throughout the entire play without letup.

dressed for a poetry jam in the woods

Whoever Shakespeare was, he was at the top of his game when he wrote this. This might be his most elegantly structured play, too; it occurred to me that, considering all the modifications his plays probably went through by the time they reached the print versions we know now, maybe this one is very close to the original version. Or maybe it's just that it's the one written closest to the time he was writing his sonnets. It just seems so perfectly balanced: characters are neatly divided into social classes of equal weight, and they all interact in an unusually egalitarian way here, too. Then there are the themes: youthful excess and learned responsibility; sex and death (that's foreshadowed in the play's first lines); austerity versus generosity; intellect versus emotion; subterfuge vs. openness. It's all laid out in neat equations somehow. This production deserves full credit for bringing out this quality in such a clear and highly enjoyable way.

With so much food for thought, it's still a comedy -- an essentially silly story of foolish young men, foolish young women, foolish servants and academics and clerics, and it's full of good humor and tolerance for human weakness. So a production that goes flat-out for comedy is perfectly all right, of course. It probably isn't the silliest staging of the play that I've seen  (though most of the others are lost in the fogs of memory by now; I only remember the most recent very well, and that was a delightfully pared-down amateur production). In any case they didn't lose Shakespeare's language entirely here, they just stretched it to the limits of recognition, in service to the director's choice of comedy style.

The costumes are sort of midcentury, and I liked that in keeping with the mood of the production, the destined pairs of lovers are color-coordinated. The set design is wonderful, and after complaining about Christopher Acebo's use of AstroTurf last year in Twelfth Night I have to praise him now for using it again this year: his green meadow dotted with bright purple flowers couldn't have been a more perfect setting for this action, and the other effects (the tent, the scholars' lair) were just right, too. (His set in this year's Imaginary Invalid is genius, too.)
The Princess of France (Kate Hurster) and the King of Navarre (Mark Bedard) are clearly meant for each other--
they share a fashion sense!  Click here for another review I liked.

Best of all, for me, were the moments when the cast broke into musical numbers. Those were total crowd-pleasers. They ranged from the hilarious (the boys with their poetry in the woods; the Muscovite masquerade) to the magical and poignant (the last scene). Kudos here to OSF composer Paul James Prendergast. 
(He had a busy year in 2011: he's also responsible for the fabulous music in Imaginary Invalid, and scored some good incidental music for Henry IV 2 as well.)

The acting company made it all come to joyous life. By the time the cast had taken their bows and the king and queen departed the stage, doing their royal waves to the last, I was entirely won over. I loved it.

Sadly this production isn't selling out regularly, but that's good news for anyone who doesn't have tickets yet. It really is well worth seeing. And the outdoor experience is glorious this time of year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reprise for Labor Day: Two Ballads of Joe Hill

Image from http://recollectionbooks.com/bleed/0119.htm
I promised on Memorial Day that I'd repost this one on Labor day, but really a link makes more sense since I'm not making any changes. It's at

We seem to be in the midst of a renaissance of awareness about unions, since once again too  many people have been pushed too far. Wishing the labor movement great heart, courage, and continued success in these new world circumstances.

Power to the people or, as Joe Hill said in his last words, "good luck to all of you"!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'm Minoan too; Unearthing Atlantis (book review)

Update 8/29: More for Minoans -- Love of the Goddess blog just posted a recommendation of Ode to Minoa by Theresa C. Dintino, a work of fiction set in ancient Crete. It looks good! Synchronicity at work, so I wanted to add the link to that review here. 
Update 4/12: Here's a great blog post on Minoan art that has much to say about the culture.
Thanks to the ever-witty Emily of  poesy galore for posting this great video by historyteachers (and look! many more there, by this artist), which in turn I share here. I've always felt a special connection with ancient Crete. I think I made a living as a sponge diver back then. That's always struck me as a wonderful way to earn a living, though I suppose many sponge divers might actually have been slaves in those days. Who knows. Anyway, enjoy the YouTube (link here in case this doesn't load for you) and Like it there.

A great civilization sitting on a volcano. Hmmmm... this has a familiar ring, a mythic power: Titanic, anyone? Ozymandias? Climate change?

I'll take this opportunity to recommend Unearthing Atlantis, by one of my all-time favorite authors, Charles Pellegrino. He argues very persuasively that Atlantis was the Minoan civilization. I reviewed it back in 1992 for SLJ (what appears below is adapted from that). I absolutely adored this book.

Unearthing Atlantis: An Archaeological Odyssey by Charles Pellegrino (1992) The legend of Atlantis has fired imaginations for thousands of years. The story was already old when Plato told his ``tale which, though strange, is certainly true.''
 Now readers have the good fortune to experience a thoroughly convincing solution to the ancient riddle. Pellegrino is a gifted storyteller who conveys the sense of wonder this tale demands, for the facts are as compelling as any fantasy. He is equally at home in a number of disciplines including geology, space science, archaeology, vulcanology, history, mythology, and Biblical exegesis, and all these perspectives are used to lead readers on a dazzling odyssey through time and thought as the clues are revealed.

As it turns out, Plato was surprisingly accurate, but I'll leave it to the reader to see how; Pellegrino has written an outstanding detective thriller here, and I don't want to spoil the suspense.

women from palace at Knossos (from Wikipedia)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

OSF 2011: Ghost Light (play review)


Every time I think the Oregon Shakespeare Festival can't possibly get better, it does. Ghost Light, a new play by Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone, is a very affecting and wise story--amusing, surprising, and well and clearly told, with a profound punch. It's about its main character's inner psychological state, and at the same time it struck me as a haunting refraction of American culture's broken and transitional condition in the years following the assassinations and disruptions of the Sixties and Seventies. Now that we're going through another period of rending and rapid change, violence and the threat of violence, its hero's story continues to resonate. I feel too close to my own times to judge whether the play will translate well in "states unborn and accents yet unknown," as Shakespeare's history plays still do, but I think it might, because of its art and its psychological truth. It's certainly a fitting addition to OSF's American Revolutions: United States History Cycle, which had such a great start, last year, with American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose.

As the play begins, 14-year-old Jon is watching something trivial on TV when the program is interrupted by a report that his father, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, has just been assassinated at City Hall along with Supervisor Harvey Milk. Then we meet the adult Jon, now a gay theater director. He's working on a production of Hamlet, and he's having a breakdown; he simply can't get past how to deal with Hamlet's father's ghost -- a dilemma that offers frequent opportunities for humor and playful references for the Shakespeare-loving OSF audience, and serves as a perfect way to externalize his own psychological situation, haunted as he is by the ghost of his own father... as well, we learn, as by those of  his own younger self and a very scary grandfather, plus a somewhat ambiguous guardian angel given to morphing, a dream lover, a nightmare film director, and various other characters from his unconscious.

All these dream characters and ghosts sounded impossibly confusing to me when I read the synopsis before seeing the play, and I had a hard time imagining how it would work; but when I did see the play, as the story unreeled and the elements unpacked it somehow made perfect sense (most of the time; enough of the time). These fantasies and ghosts are all, as characters in dreams are often said to be, really facets of Jon's own mind (who knew references to brain physiology and function could be so funny?). Like a multiple personality, Jon's consciousness is in serious need of integration.

Christopher Liam Moore is wonderful as Jon.

Ultimately, with the help of his best friend Louise, who will not give up on him (or let him get away with giving up on himself), he does achieve a very moving resolution that must surely work on a deeply personal level with any receptive theatergoer. That's the main story arc, but it's rich in detail, twists, and humor. And by the way, OSF and its Playbill authors describe the play as being about a father and son, but it's more than that: who hasn't lost a loved one, or had some trauma, and been haunted by it? By the end, Ghost Light really gets at those old wounds -- in a good way. There were a lot of tears and trembling smiles in the audience on the day I saw it, at the last scene.

For many of us who were paying attention to politics at the time of the assassination, the Mayor was a hero, but young Jon also wonders about those who didn't "like" his father, because in his young wisdom he knows they're part of the big picture, too. One of Jon's many challenges--as boy and man--is to accommodate himself to continual intrusions by the many strangers who were also affected, in their own ways, by the loss -- and to the sometimes cruel usurpation of his personal history by others for their own benefit (like a cheap joke on Golden Girls that I remember cringing at when I saw it once). The play is full of strong moments about this dynamic in which the public becomes downright sociopathic in its lack of empathy for the real people affected by tragedy. We see it happening all the time, but this play shows us how it's experienced by some of the "celebrities" being exploited.

Still, because the assassination and its aftermath were played out in the public eye, every aspect of Jon's grief does have its referent in a larger fractal pattern, a more universal loss, as well, or at least that's how it feels to me. This complexity of context was true at the time, and now, when this play is taking its place in the new American History cycle, Jon's story embodies larger themes of American life recurring throughout our history-- violence, politics, a belief in progress, the demand for individual liberty, and more.

Tony Taccone
Most of all, this play is a work of art: it takes all these issues, themes, facts, psychology, all of it, and becomes something more than the sum of its parts, that at times reaches very deeply down into Mystery, and then finds Resolution. Though there were some brief sections that flagged a bit, or some parts that seemed rather too complicated (the play probably will continue to be honed; these are early days) the writing, the staging, the acting (bravos to the cast, every one), and of course the directing, are all superb. Christopher Liam Moore's performance as Jon is amazing, witty, touching; he seems to be on the stage nearly the whole time and every moment is rich and new and commanding.

Ghost Light amplifies and offers new perspectives on themes explored in several of this year's other OSF productions: Julius Caesar looks at political assassination through a psychological lens; Measure for Measure shows politics, morality, and personal liberty in conflict; August: Osage County explores the dynamics of a family fractured along cultural lines; Henry IV 2 shows a nation torn by civil strife but being rebuilt; and, coming back to Ghost Light, we see an individual (and, by proxy, his country) struggling to put a fractured psyche back together. And that's just some of what comes to mind. This all feels very much, to me, like America today.

This use of art to carry on important discussions is surely vital to the health of any culture, but we have very few venues to do it in this country anymore, since corporate interests increasingly control what is said. What are the chances that anything like the Federal Theatre Project (of the Roosevelt WPA years) will emerge and flourish in today's time of economic crisis? The OSF, which continues to thrive in hard times, and is committed to take on the big questions and give us all a forum, is a national treasure.

Long may its light shine. 

Ghost Light will be on at OSF through Nov. 5, 2011. Then it can be seen at the Berkeley Rep beginning January 22, 2012.
More... This review was a tough piece of writing for me, because there was so much I wanted to say, which, come to think of it, reflects the complexity of the play itself and certainly the strong effect it had on me. My brain was firing like crazy! After several drastic cuts to bring the length of this review down and fix its focus, I saved some bits I didn't want to lose entirely and have appended them below (click on link to view, if you're interested in more about this play).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A day in Ashland: Art, music, and shamanic adventures at the Schneider

Earlier, I wrote a post about Todd Barton, the composer in residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He's been doing a series of improvisational sessions with musician friends on Friday noons at the Schneider Museum on the Southern Oregon University campus. I've only been able to get to two of these performances but each was amazing in its own way. I do enjoy hearing new sounds-- and sometimes even like the experience of having my neural pathways blasted open, reconstituted, and rerouted -- so if you like that kind of thing too, there's just one more of these sessions to catch (July 8). Don't miss it.

Enhancing and intensifying the aural experience is the setting: the current exhibit of art in the "expressive tradition" (through August 26), "Views from the Inner Eye" , features three artists-- Morris Graves, Ellen Van Fleet, and M.R. Renjan-- whose suggestive, visionary images worked in interesting ways with the very expressive music as it unfolded (and, in the second session I saw, with dance, too).

As you enter the museum, the first artist you encounter is Ellen Van Fleet, a contemporary Sacramento artist, and her watercolors and collages are a good introduction because they do draw you in.  She says she's interested in "how the eye moves through a painting." She uses repeated painting motions to create "pure visual stimulation of that pleasure," adding, "I don't have a message." 

Some of her paintings, like "Turtle Dove I" at left, are rather sprightly, even cheerful, in the Matisse colors that evoke, for me, the creative, optimistic aspect of Northwest culture that I like best. However "Stripe #3", below, is perhaps more indicative of the mood of much of the music that I heard: some of it was very dark.

"Stripe #3" watercolor collage by Ellen Van Fleet

The next room features the Morris Graves exhibit, and that's where the musicians have set up their instruments. Here's how it is: Under a series of rather brooding watercolors (the one of the snake, below, which I found in Google Images, is very similar to one in this exhibit and might be part of the same series) are several folding chairs and an array of electronic instruments the purpose of which I couldn't begin to guess (I didn't say I know anything about this kind of music - far from it). There are keyboards and things that look like turntables and perhaps drums and - yes - some brass instruments, too.

Morris Graves, "Snake in Moonlight"

The third room is a delightful surprise, as it features the work of an artist from Kerala, M.R. Renjan. The introductory text is an autobiographical sketch that brought back a memory of that beautiful South Indian state (I once lived nearby and visited it). The artist now lives and teaches in Delhi, my other long-ago Indian home. Here are two rooms of striking, powerful images in ink (black, and black and brown) on white foamboard which somehow catch the magic of village movement and of Kathakali, the muscular classical dance of that region, from its powerful, whirly large movements to the subtle mudras of the hands. I like the way an Art Knowledge News article puts it, in words as abstruse yet suggestive as the works themselves (I especially like "Pandora's box of the inner world"):
"The works owe little to the appearance of observed reality. His predisposition towards envisioning the Pandora’s box of the inner world is timely.  He manifests it as charged with the traces of the fabulous, a theatre of pregnant meanings, surprising possibilities, of strange specters and visitations."
 This art, too, is a perfect setting for the music to come. Sadly, I Googled in vain for an example of M. R. Renjan's art to include here. But at left is a Kathakali dancer from Kerala that will probably resonate with you if you've seen the exhibit. If you haven't seen the exhibit, try to imagine this dancer rendered into the abstract, in strong black lines, with probably a lot of other stuff going on too, full of movement, and you'll get some idea...

While I'm discovering all this, the musicians are tuning up. That sound is as new and interesting to me as the music to come.

And so back to the Morris Graves room, and a few folding chairs for people like me to sit and see what would happen next. Some people have clearly come to hear the music. Most seem to know each other, and the musicians. Others appear to be there for the art, but see something going on, and stay for it.

And there is Todd Barton's Waterphone! I've seen that on YouTube. In fact, here's a YouTube of him playing it in an earlier Schneider performance.

In the first of these sessions that I saw/heard, after an early-music recorder piece (which he warned us would be the only traditional music we'd be hearing in the coming hour, and boy was he right about that!), Barton led off the session with an improvisation like this one on the waterphone. The other musicians, Bruce Bayard on Computer-thing and Michael Vannice on a whole collection of brass reed instruments, came in gradually and together they all went for a long, strange, and riveting trip through sounds that -- well, you had to be there. I don't have the theory or the vocabulary to write about it.

In an oddly satisfying paradox that struck me as somehow Mobius-like, the reclusive and visionary Graves worked his whole life, apparently, to create art outside what he called "the machine-age noise" of the modern world. Yet here were musical instruments born of the machine age, making noise that would not have existed before "machines" or the modern age -- and the music they made seemed entirely in keeping with the aesthetic of Graves images--shamanic, otherworldly, and even similarly discordant.

Morris Graves, "Kingfisher" (not in this exhibit but similar to some of the paintings there)
In the face of the abstract, the brain forms stories and images from the patterns it perceives (and, lacking patterns, sees them where none exist) and so this is not to impose my own experience on what the musicians intended or created, but just to describe how my brain took it in: much of the music was simply physical, but at times (and this became a theme for me, that day) I found myself in an old growth forest being logged (surely Barton was playing chain saws, there) at one point and at another, in a deep ocean traumatized by BP, nuclear waste, and plastic. Whales, elephants, chain saws - oh my! Of course all this powerful stuff was balanced with other more gentle, even humorous riffs. A great variation. There was something apocalyptic about the sound I heard that day (though I don't know what others heard, or the intentions of the musicians). Aside from what my brain tried to make of what I was hearing, it was just a fascinating aural journey through a landscape of sounds I'd never heard before. And I love that!

("Wounded Gull"at the Phillips Gallery, a favorite haunt of mine when I lived in that neighborhood in Washington, DC. This is another Graves painting not in the current exhibit, but it reminds me of a lot of the music I heard)
The second performance that I saw, last Friday, didn't have such a programmatic effect on my poor brain, but it was equally strong: this one I experienced as more of an abstract shamanistic trip in a spirit, again, wholly in keeping with the visionary art on the walls, especially of Graves and M. R. Renjan. At times the guys got downright terrifying but the setting was safe so that was okay. (I wouldn't want to hear that in a dark alley or unfamiliar parallel universe, though!) The three musicians from the earlier session were there again, joined by a fourth --Terry Longshore, a percussionist on an assortment of computer-thing electronic drums that he kept getting surprising sounds from. Barton also said we'd be joined later by Suzee Grilley.

Sonoluminescence: Terry Longshore, Michael Maag, Suzee Grilley,
Bruce Bayard and Todd Barton. Performance in 2007.
When Grilley appeared, midway through one of the improvisations, dressed in black, she reminded me at first of that Jules Ffeiffer beatnik dancer cartoon character - remember her? - but I soon got over that: this is a powerfully accomplished modern dancer and she worked magic, seeming to anticipate sounds before they materialized, so perfectly did her movements express the music. She was amazing.

The musicians sat beneath a quotation from composer John Cage, an admirer of Graves. In the text he is saying that he once asked Graves if he sang and danced while painting, and Graves said yes, he did that. And here comes the dancer, who creates a perfect synthesis of the very music being played, and the very painting by Graves, this one, as she passes in front of it. At this moment, it was just like this, the music, the dancer, and the painting:

And then she danced on into the M. R. Renjan room and out of sight, and that seemed very appropriate; I could imagine her fusing those forms with the music too.

And that was pretty much how it all went.

Then back to my car, driving two miles through a beautiful summer day, finally home, in a lovely daze. Bemused and no wiser in the ways of music, but thoroughly entertained by something new to me. Ashland seduces and satisfies, and then offers more.

 The fourth session of "Todd Barton and Friends" will take place at  noon, Friday, July 8, 2011 at the Schneider Museum in Ashland, Oregon. The Schneider Exhibit "Views from the Inner Eye" can be seen through August 26, 2011. Apologies for any misspelled names; corrections are invited.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

OSF 2011: Julius Caesar and Henry IV 2 revisited


I've been fortunate enough to see both these plays a second time recently and it's amazing what a difference a day makes! This isn't about unevenness; although it's likely that some changes have been made in these productions between their preview performances and the ones at the height of the summer season, the fact that I enjoyed both of them even more the second time probably just reflects my own state of mind on the particular days I saw them. So this is a quick post to fill in some blanks that I missed in my initial reviews, and to thank OSF for some wonderful experiences.

Vilma Silva as Caesar and Jonathan Haugan as Brutus

Today I saw Julius Caesar again (here is my earlier post; I covered a lot of ground about the play there, so I won't repeat any of it here). Just... RAVE!!!!!!!!! I liked it well enough the first time to want to see it again, but I have to upgrade my rating now from four out of five stars to, I dunno, about a zillion stars. I was blown away today. It was an incredibly moving and engaging performance.

One difference from when I saw it before was that I was sitting much closer this time (but there aren't really any bad seats in the New Theatre). Whatever the reason, I loved the costumes this time around, where before they left me cold; and the choreography of the actors throughout the scenes made perfect dramatic sense to me today, where before they just seemed to be milling about. And the performances - it just doesn't get better than this: nuanced, powerful, and as clear as epiphany. Though I knew the play well, today it was freshly minted for me; I doubt it's possible to do Julius Caesar any better than this. Maybe it's my new favorite Shakespeare play. Psychologically and politically, it is a revelation.

So what made the difference between a performance that just interested me keenly and one that blew me away? I really can't say. That's the joy, though, of being able to see these productions more than once. There are always delightful surprises. Bravo, all concerned. This is truly great theatre and I'm grateful for it.

Here's a beautifully written review of this production. 

Michael Winters as Falstaff

And last Saturday I saw Henry IV pt. 2 again. (Here's my earlier post on that.) In this case, my experience of the play was not so different than the first time around - except that it was more comfortable and mellow, a beautiful summer evening (where before, it was cold and rainy) and a perfect night at the outdoor theatre. This is more typical of what you'd expect to experience in the "the Lizzie" (as I overheard an actor refer to the Elizabethan Stage recently) throughout most of the season.

I did notice the scenic design more this time, and it is something special: a kind of stylized, erector-set scaffolding covers the background on the Elizabethan stage, and includes a balcony that stretches all the way across the set. This allows for some movement you don't normally see in this theatre, and gives a powerful, ongoing subliminal message about the main theme of the play (or so it seems to me after seeing this production)-- the building of a new state following the disruptions of civil war. Probably I just didn't notice the scaffolding before, in the rain. But this set was another character, almost. Very effective. I really liked that it worked with the Elizabethan stage, rather than ignoring it or fighting with it, as some of the past scenic designs have done. (Such as my personal least favorite, vert ramps covered in bright green Astroturf in last year's otherwise excellent Twelfth Night; they did enable some great physical comedy, but clashed too much  with the Elizabethan aesthetic of the permanent backdrop. At least for me.)

Jeffrey King
Anyway, on Saturday my original impressions of the play and the production were pretty much validated and confirmed, so I felt a little smug about that, and just enjoyed seeing it unfold again in a much more relaxed way and from a better seat (first row, balcony - my favorite). As always with OSF the performances were wonderful. This still isn't one of my favorite plays because personally I just cannot enjoy Falstaff and his lowlifes that much, and this play is largely about them. But Michael Winters somehow made Falstaff more tolerable for me -- maybe because he brought to the fore every bit of wit that Shakespeare put there, behind the obnoxiousness. Also, I'd like to give a shout-out to the wonderful Jeffrey King, who stands out in everything he does with a unique blend of (sometimes rather macho) charisma and strong intelligence (here, as Westmoreland, and particularly last year as a Claudius-for-the-ages in Hamlet).

John Tufts, Ashland landscape, ep 1 of his vlog at http://www.myosf.org/connect/?page_id=688
However, I have to say that whenever Prince Hal (John Tufts) had one of his speeches, a special electricity took over my entire nervous system; he owned that stage. Was it just me? I don't know, but his performance seemed to be in a dimension an order of magnitude beyond anything else. This enhanced effect is probably the result of two factors: (1) Hal's speeches are rare in this play, and particularly welcome and significant if you aren't a Falstaff fan, and (2) John Tufts is one powerful actor. Well, and of course (3) Shakespeare wrote some great stuff.

So- this is not a play for everybody, but if you are interested in Shakespeare it's a must-see at least once; and if you see it only once, this is the production to see!

Fangirl strikes again. I do love OSF!

Update: here's a nice article about Tufts and the Henry vids, and a fine review of this Henry IV 2: "This play is about life. See it." I agree!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Balle! Balle! A little Bhangra for your computer

Thanks to friendly neighbor Meri Walker, who posted this on her blog. Who'd have expected the famously vigorous Punjabi dance form to translate into a kind of yoga for overworked computer users?

Or how about just getting your robot to do it for you! (I especially like the arm movements at about 22 seconds)

Or get up and dance along with this -

Or in full color, a Bollywood bhangra starring a darling cross-dressing Rani Mukherjee (from Dil Bole Hadippa)...