When Horses and Bison Ruled Europe: Werner Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’

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Watched Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), a documentary about the oldest known painted images. They were found in Chauvet, which is in Southern France, and have been dated some 25-33,000 years old. This place radiates with beauty. An exceptionally sacred area.  Belying the myth of the “caveman,” the images left behind by these ancient artists are evidence of a spiritually sophisticated culture, which likely possessed a complex oral and ceremonial tradition, in which the great animals depicted on these cave walls were immensely powerful and revered beings.

‘Eye of the Needle’, or ‘The Spy Who Pretended to Love Me’: If James Bond were a Nazi agent and played by Donald Sutherland

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When I recently found a pocketbook edition of Ken Follet’s Eye of the Needle, I was reminded of Richard Marquand’s 1981 film, starring Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan. The story is an intimate one, involving a Nazi spy trying to escape with info about the Allied invasion at Normandy, but who gets swept up in the life of a lonely woman and her family off the coast of Scotland. At the same, the film evokes the epic sweep of one of David Lean’s grander endeavors. Richard Attenborough’s work also comes to mind. Obviously, I liked this movie.

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Desert Botanical Garden

For most visitors, the Desert Botanical Garden is a part of the Papago Park area that conjoins Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe.  Moreover, it sits as an oasis, where one can escape the surrounding world of freeways, strip malls, and other features of urban sprawl.  For the Akimel O’odham, or Pima, the Desert Botanical Garden is a reminder of when the land was theirs.  Nearby is the Salt River, or Onk Akimel, which is where the First People—referred to as the Huhugam—constructed one of their many canals.  Eventually, the canal-based civilization that the ancient O’odham created would give way to the more modest villages that Spanish, Mexican, and American migrants encountered throughout more than a century of colonization, which culminated in southern Arizona becoming a part of the United States in 1853, when the Gadsden Purchase was made.  Since then, as the Akimel O’odham land holdings shrunk under the steady flow of settlers entering the Phoenix Valley, the surrounding towns grew into cities, leaving only small pockets of pristine desert behind.  The Desert Botanical Garden, although the product of modern park management, is nonetheless a pleasant diversion, in which one can catch a glimpse of what was once here long before the first subdivision was built.  Please click on the photo to see more images:

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If you ever met your doppelgänger, what would he think of you?

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Spent my evening watching Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Doppelgänger (2003). It’s about an inventor (Kôji Yokusho) suffering from an acute creative block, who encounters his double. What results is a scientific breakthrough, the price of which is murder, not to mention the inventor’s sanity. The story is a dark comedy, which is a complete departure from the kind of films on which Kurosawa built his reputation, namely ‘Cure’ and ‘Pulse’.  At the same time, Doppelgänger clearly exhibits Kurosawa’s fascination with the paranormal.

‘Goth’ (2008): Gen Takahashi’s Ode to Death and Beauty

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Like most adaptations from novel to film, Gen Takahashi’s Goth (2008) is more of an interpretation of Otsuichi’s 2003 award-winning story than a literal representation.  Rather, I should have said stories, as the original novel was more of an anthology of morbid tales than a single narrative, in spite of the recurring presence of its two main characters, namely “Yoru Morino” (played by Rin Takanashi) and “Itsuki Kamiyama” (played by Kanata Hongô).

As such, whereas Otsuichi’s novel recalls a number of gruesome murders that occurred throughout the area in which Morino and Kamiyama live and go to school, replete with the sordid details and an exploration of the killers’ minds, Takahashi’s film focuses more on the relationship between the two main characters.  However, by “relationship” I do not mean anything the least bit romantic.  On the contrary, Morino and Kamiyama are drawn together by their mutual fascination with the horrific aftermaths of killings, a perverse “hobby” that ineluctably leads them onto the trail of a serial killer.

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Even more compelling, though, than solving these crimes is solving the mystery of Morino. She is the antithesis of the cute and exuberantly cheerful Japanese school girl. She is consistently sullen, yet alluringly beautiful in her Black Lolita-style school uniform. As for her relationship with Kamiyama, as mentioned above, it is not romantic, nor is it much of a friendship.  Probably the best way to describe their union is that it is commiserating—they understand each other’s attraction to death.  Consequently, because Kamiyama understands Morino in a way that others before him did not, he becomes the conduit between Morino and her darkest secret.  Indeed, as the story proceeds, even after the serial killer’s identity is revealed, Kamiyama continues to lead the viewer further into what’s hidden behind Morino’s black, melancholy eyes.

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Memorable Times in New Orleans

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From Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar to an on-site filming of NCIS New Orleans, you never know what you’re going to encounter on the streets of the Big Easy.  When I visited recently with my wife Sharon we stayed in the Quarter, which we’ve done regularly for each of our trips.  In particular, we enjoy getting a room at the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, which, in addition to its convenient location, well-appointed rooms, and superb staff, also lays claim to a place in literary history, having been featured in works by Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Ernest Hemingway.  From there, it’s an easy stroll to Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Canal Street, and the Mississippi River.  Before mentioning anything else, I want to acknowledge the jazz quartet that entertained us in the baggage claim area of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.  They were a pleasant surprise, to say the least:

On our first night, my wife and I stopped for dinner at the Bourbon House restaurant, after which we took a walk down Bourbon Street.  Since it was a Monday night, most places were open, however, the street was comparatively uncrowded, making it easy to get around.  While the site-seeing and the music were a kick, getting hit up by panhandlers who were very honest, shall we say, about wanting money to get a fix wasn’t as enjoyable.  In fact, they scared my wife a bit.  Consequently, after dropping in Madame Laveau’s House of Voodoo for some unique souvenirs, we avoided Bourbon Street for the remainder of our stay.

Tuesday, on the other hand, was a completely different vibe.  After a satisfying breakfast at the Criollo, which is the Hotel Monteleone’s excellent restaurant, my wife and I were unexpectedly greeted by a children’s choir performing in the hotel lobby.  Talk about something wonderful!  Needless to say, we felt blessed:

We then headed out and browsed in the shops along Royal Street, where my wife found a gorgeous vintage necklace and I admired the autographed guitar that Jimi Hendrix played at the Isle of Wight, which was on sale for $42,000 at an antiques and collectibles shop.  Wow!

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From there we had an appointment with Royal Carriages, an historic tour that began at Jackson Square and moseyed throughout the Quarter.  Highlights of the tour included seeing the Café Maspero, where Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page met his second wife, the house where Tennessee Williams lived, and the last bank that Bonnie and Clyde robbed before their legendary death in a police ambush.  After our mule-drawn tour ended, we walked down Decatur to the Louisiana Music Factory, then caught some of the live acts on Frenchman Street, among whom was Andy Forest, who was performing for a sparse afternoon crowd at The Spotted Cat:

Our Tuesday evening also included a free concert at the St Louis Cathedral, where we had a nice time listening to Irma Thomas sing Christmas standards.  I say listen rather than see since there was a large pillar blocking our view.  Obviously, we should have gotten in line much earlier than we did.  There must have been close to a thousand people in line ahead of us!  Still, it was a very nice time, which we capped off with a Tempura Udon dinner at the Sekisui Japanese Restaurant on Decatur.

On Wednesday, after some delicious omelets at The Café Beignet, we headed down Canal Street to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is next to the Mississippi River.  On our way we ran into what we thought was the dreadful aftermath of an accident or even a murder, as there were emergency vehicles and police everywhere!  Fortunately, we found out to our joy and relief that a crew was filming a scene for an episode of NCIS New Orleans.  In fact, we had the pleasure of seeing Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder in action!  As for the aquarium, it’s a place that my wife always insists on visiting, which I don’t mind accommodating.  The exhibits are well-maintained and the creatures are delight to see, complete with a shark tank and a pool in which you can pet stingrays:

We never tire of this city with its Old World charms and the pleasant and always gracious people we meet.  We certainly never get bored with the people watching, the street performers, or the delicious food.  Indeed, New Orleans is a pleasure to explore virtually anytime of year, even in the middle of December, which is when my wife and I paid our last visit.  Speaking of which, please follow the link below to a photo album I created on flickr, in which you can see much more than my words can describe:

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Video and photo credit: David Martínez

 

“Sing Me Back Home”: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

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My first trip to Nashville, TN included a day at one of its most important historical destinations, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Equally renowned as a research institution and as a popular attraction, its three massive stories are a temple dedicated to the sonic permutations of the folk, hillbilly, western, and blues music, which have sprung from American soil.

After standing in long line for tickets, which moved rather briskly, I stood in another line for the elevator that would take me to the second floor.  As instructed by the docent operating the elevator, I began my tour with a small exhibit about the Southern country rock band Alabama.  From there it was simply a matter of going with the flow from one gallery to another, in which case after case displayed an assortment of historically important instruments, stage costumes, and other paraphernalia.

For me, “real country” means those artists I listened to on my parents’ kitchen radio during the 1970s.  In which case, seeing one of Johnny Cash’s black suits and matching boots, Dolly Parton’s sparkling coats, or Hank Williams’ guitars brought back a flood of memories.  As a museum experience, it felt very much a like a Smithsonian, only instead of seeing Lincoln’s stove pipe hat or Dorothy’s ruby slippers, you get to see the Pontiac Firebird from the Smokey and the Bandit movies.  For more, please follow the link to a short photo album I created documenting my visit on Saturday, November 12, 2016:

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