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Archive for the ‘Art & Literature’ Category

A well-read morning pick-me-up!

literary-coffee

Have a wonderful day!

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Thanks to the Caffeina Festival Facebook page.

Thanks also to the lovely and talented Francesca Charlotte Ventresca, one of my most adorable relatives.

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On the eve of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You), fun by Geektroverted!

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I like reading the comics. And by comics, I mean the comic strips one finds in newspapers. [1]

Dilbert, Garfield, Doonesbury, Rudy Park, Pooch Cafe, Non Sequitur, Heart of the City [2]… these are the little snippets of fun with which I start my day.

But there is one character in one particular comic strip that tickles me more than any other.

Sedgwick Nuttingham IV (aka Master Sedgwick, aka Sedgie) in the comic strip Monty by Jim Meddick.

(Master Sedgwick and Jarvis encounter snowball-throwing ruffians)

As per the Gospel according to Wikipedia…

Sedgwick Nuttingham IV is a privileged child who inhabits a mansion somewhere in Monty’s neighborhood. His only companion is his faithful manservant Jarvis, who does anything that Sedgwick desires, from carrying ammunition as Sedgwick hunts Fleshy, to serving as a human target for snowballs, darts etc. Sedgwick’s parents are totally absent. The only other characters that Sedgwick interacts with besides Fleshy are various doctors and psychologists. Sedgwick is convinced of his innate superiority to all others.

(Sedgie at Valentines Day)

Part of the appeal of Master Sedgwick is his singularly repellent aspect. He is an utterly repulsive little toad. The googly eyes, the potato nose, the thick lips… and those teeth! Yeuch. He is a self-centred, self-absorbed, snobby little over-privileged worm. He seems completely motivated by greed and self-interest. How could you not love that?

Even when he does display a glimpse of a ‘better self’, it is soon overshadowed by… well… him!

But I think what I love most about Sedgie is the stilted ‘P.G. Wodehouse’ style of dialogue, especially between him and his manservant, Jarvis. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for that kind of speech. I’ve ready about 50 of Mr. Wodehouse’s novels and collections of short stories and that has held me in good stead throughout my life.

(Sedgie is taken to The Trilateral Council… the Ultra-Secret Society that runs the world!)

So here’s to Master Sedgwick. Though even many fans of the Monty comic strip hate the sight of your pug-ugly face, I think you’re the bee’s knees!

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[1] I must confess that, aside from two or three English language Jewish weekly publications, I don’t buy newspapers anymore. When I do want to check out the New York Times, the Jerusalem Post or whatever, I go to their online editions.

[2] All the rest of which can be found at GoComics.com.

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A carving of a stick figure discovered by archaeologists in a cave in Brazil is believed to be the earliest example of rock art in the Americas and could shed new light on when the New World was first settled.

(No, not THAT kind of rock art!)

The team of archaeologists from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil made the discovery during excavations in 2009 but unveiled their findings in this month’s PLoS ONE scientific journal.

“It shows that about 11,000 years ago, there was already a very diverse manifestation of rock art in South America, so man probably arrived in the Americas much earlier than normally is accepted,” explained Walter Alves Neves, the archaeologist and biological anthropologist leading the team.

The figure, scratched into a cave in Lapa do Santo in central-eastern Brazil, appears to be squatting with his arms outstretched. It is about 12 inches tall from head to feet and about 8 inches wide. The phallus is about 2 inches long, about the same length as the man’s left arm. (Yikes!)

“The figure, which we named ‘the horny little man’, is probably linked to some kind of fertility ritual,” Mr Neves said.

(Seriously? That was the best name they could come up with??)

Carbon dating and other tests of the sediment covering the petroglyph suggest the engraving dates between 10,000 and 12,000 years old – making it the oldest reliably dated example of such rock art found yet in the Americas.

Well, there you have it, boys and girls. Notwithstanding the puerile (and penile) humour, it turns out that people have been living (and drawing randy pictures) in the Americas for a lot longer than originally thought.

Who said Art History was boring?

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For those who have not yet had the pleasure, William Hamilton is a brilliant cartoonist. His works are most often found in The New Yorker magazine. He is also a lawyer and a playwright.  Few people capture the privileged preppy world as well as he.

(Post ‘Official Preppy Handbook’?… or maybe some downward social mobility?)

William Hamilton [1], in a very real way, got me through law school and my bar exams in terms of social interaction. He remains to this day my steadfast companion when I attend virtually any (non-Jewish) social functions, especially of a professional nature.

(The whole ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ aspect is an ongoing theme)

Hamilton’s cartoons shed light on what is, to most of us, a very closed segment of society. It is a world populated by preppies, high-society types, Park Avenue wives and daughters, corporate big wigs, business executives, high-end lawyers, and members of exclusive yacht clubs and country clubs.

(It’s when you overhear people actually talking like this that you ‘get’ Hamilton)

I was introduced to Hamilton the way most of his admirers were… through his New Yorker cartoons. I was still working in the theatre in those days, so many of the nuances of his humour went over my head. I experienced a similar situation later on when I began to follow Scott Adams’s Dilbert cartoons. It was only when I worked in a government agency where the office was set up in a standard ‘cube farm’ plan (i.e. many cubicles set up throughout the office space in a manner remeniscent of a petting zoo) that I truly ‘got’ his humour.

(Always a bit awkward in certain situations, I particularly enjoy the party cartoons)

Similarly, while I enjoyed Hamilton’s characters and situations  and admired his wit and gift for language, it wasn’t until I was put into a position where I had regular contact with a lot of preppies that I fully appreciated his work.

Other settings for Hamilton’s works include gentlemen’s clubs, office board rooms, cocktail parties, the insides of chauffeured limosines… anywhere where his people can let their sparkling dialogue glitter all the more.

(I often say this in court, regarding sentencing someone to ‘community service’)

Over the years, many Hamiltonianisms have crept into my conversation. I can’t help it. Sometimes I am in one situation or another, I open my mouth and out comes one of Hamilton’s snippets of dialogue line right out of the pages of The New Yorker magazine.

Here is a recent example…

I didn’t plan it. It just slipped out. It was tucked away in some ivy league corner of my brain and, at the right moment, sallied forth and presented itself. And, all credit to Mr. Hamilton, it got a positive response from those within earshot.

Here’s another one…

(Of course, the listener has to be old enough to get the reference)

Many of Hamilton’s best pieces revolve around introductions at parties, functions and get-togethers.

For those who’ve found Hamilton’s cartoons amusing, I highly recommend going over to The New Yorker magazine’s The Cartoon Bank and enjoying as much as you can stand.

Until then, I will leave you with some of my favourite Hamilton quips…

Of course you’re going to be depressed if you keep comparing yourself with successful people.

Old is when your daughter announces she’s seeing a younger man.

Someday, you may thank me for breaking what was becoming, in this family, a vicious cycle of inheritance.

You know, when I get over my thing for bad boys, Chip, you’re going to be one of the first to know.

I’ll see if he’s emotionally available.

She’s a Rolex. He’s a Timex.

Oh, God. Here comes the global-village idiot.

Boys, boys. You’re getting loud and no one gives a damn how big your salaries used to be.

I tried a slice of pizza yesterday, and frankly I don’t get it.

Frankly, what’s killing me about this marriage is realizing how entirely preventable it was.

Thank you, Mr. Hamilton, for making my life a better, wittier place.

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[1] Along with Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook and True Prep, and English writer P.G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves & Wooster novels and many other humourous books. After my call to the bar, screenwriter and director Whit Stilman rounded out my ‘social advisory committee.’ Without them, I would be lost.

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The Twilight phenomenon… the four-book series by Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight Saga films based thereon… have not only achieved an astonishing popularity especially among teenagers and young adults but also a commercial success that is impressive, even by publishing and Hollywood standards.

As a confirmed Vampyre Snob [1], I have so far resisted both reading the books and seeing the movies.

What I have done over the last few years is speak to many people, mostly teenagers and young adults, about their personal opinions on the Twilight phenomenon. As a vampyre enthusiast, the whole spectacle intrigues me, albeit not so much as to make me want to partake in it myself… at least not yet.

What I immediately observed was the great divisions splitting the readership and viewership of the entire Twilight experience. I noticed many groups and sub-groups, some quite hostile to one another.

One of the first people I had occasion to speak with extensively on the subject went on at great length about the first book in the series, Twilight, published in 2005 and the film adaptation thereof, also entitled Twilight, released in 2008. The conversation took place within a month of the release of the movie and she was livid. She loved the book and looked forward to the movie with great anticipation. According to her, she could not have been more disappointed. This observation was fairly wide-spread within the sampling of Twilight fans with whom I spoke. There was general agreement, however, that by the second film, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, things had improved and the movie was of better overall quality and was more true to the book. Most viewers agreed that the success of the first movie gave the studio more confidence to give the film version of New Moon a bigger budget and better quality of film making.

One of the most amusing of the divisions, for me at any rate,  was the ‘Team Edward’ vs ‘Team Jacob’ split. Edward Cullen is the lead vampire of the series and Jacob Black is the werewolf. Both young men vie for the attention and affection of the female lead, Bella Swan. It was natural that Twilight fans would split, one side rooting for Cullen (Team Edward) and the other supporting Black (Team Jacob). The Onion produced a very funny ‘news piece‘ in June of 2010, about Al-Qaeda calling off an attack on Washington to spare the life of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, parts of which deals with the Team Edward – Team Jacob split.

What is less discussed, perhaps for obvious reasons given the age of most Twilight fans, is the departure from the classic gothic paradigm of the vampyre as both a sexual and quite literal predator. From what I understand, the Edward Cullen character does not drink human blood but instead consumes animal blood. Also, based on my conversations with Twilight fans, much of the Twilight books and movies are taken up with Edward and Bella’s unconsummated love and yearning for each other. This, to my mind, misses the entire point of vampyre fiction. A vampyre that is not out to bite you and drain you, or anyone else for that matter, of blood? A vampyre that is both virtually toothless (pun intended) and celibate? A vampyre that is not destroyed by sunlight but merely ‘sparkles’? From all I can gather, the Edward Cullen character is the decaffeinated espresso of vampyres. Sure… you could have a decaf espresso and I am sure more than a few people do but… what’s the point?

I am not sure if I will ever read the books. I doubt it. My impression from the conversations I’ve had with Twilight fans is that they are written pretty much for teenage girls. I may break down and see the movies at one point but probably not for a while.

The two-part film adaptation of the final book, Breaking Dawn, is presently being filmed. Part 1 is expected to be released in November 2011 and Part 2 in November 2012. I’ll revisit the subject then to see how the Twilight fans react and if there is anything there that will cause me to change my mind on whether I will either read the books or watch the movies.

Right now, I am reading the Anita Blake: Vampire Slayer series by Laurell Hamilton. Much more my speed. [2]

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[1] See my previous piece on the subject of my vampyre infatuation and snobbery.

[2] ‘Speed’ is a very loose word when describing my reading of the Anita Blake series of novels. One vampyre girl I know (who, btw, provided me with much of the information for this piece) constantly mocks and ridicules me for how long it takes me to finish one of Hamilton’s books. I basically read at the same speed it takes one to recite the book outloud. She, on the other hand, can polish one off over the course of a long weekend.

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There is something about sumi-e artwork that really speaks to me.

Black ink brushed or dragged across paper. A smudge here. A stroke there. A bit more water. A bit less. And in the end a piece of art that captures my imagination and holds my heart.

A lot of it has to do with simplicity. When you think about it, there’s not a lot there. The basic strokes aren’t complicated, although they can take years to master.

I’ve watched sumi-e artists work the ink from a small brick to a powder until it achieves exactly the right consistency. Adding just the right amount of water. Choosing exactly the right brush. Swirling the fibres into the ink, removing excess moisture. All to achieve… perfection.

I can look at a good piece of sumi-e art for a very long time, following with my eyes and mind the ink, how the brush must have worked its way across the paper. The tip. The edge. Light strokes. Heavy strokes.

When done right, the sumi-e art lifts my spirits and calms my heart. I find peace within it.

There are so many things about Japan, the Japanese and Japanese art, history and culture that I admire. Sumi-e is near the top of that list.

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