Top Ripples 2016

Here’s a wrap of my experience for the year, not that the books or movies are necessarily new, some are, some aren’t, and some are rereads. All top ripples:

 

Movies

Arrival (A different kind of Sci-fi)

Things To Come (Isabelle Huppert)

Paterson (Celebration of Everyday by Everyman)

The Salesman (I won’t miss any film by Asghar Farhadi)

Our Little Sister (Koreeda’s quiet and moving work)

Love and Friendship (Binge watched Whit Stillman after this)

Happy Hour (Worth every of its 317 mins. )

A Better Summer Day (Edward Yang, a late discovery)

45 Years (From short story to film: Upcoming post)

National Theatre Live: The Deep Blue Sea (Impressive)

 

Books

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Culture Making by Andy Crouch

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Words Without Music: A Memoir by Philip Glass

Short stories by Ted Chiang

 

Experience

Five Days in London

TIFF 2016: The Zhang Ziyi Encounter

Paterson: Of Pug and Poetry

Some movies are like the roaring ocean, waves mounting upon waves rousing up excitement, eliciting continuous, sensational reactions. Some are like a bubbling brook, smaller but still boisterous, teeming with life and sounds. The film Paterson is a quiet stream, water gently flows along, seemingly uneventful, and yet, you can sit there by its side and just watch its quiet swirling.

Paterson has been screened at many film festivals this year. I missed it at TIFF, glad I could catch it when I came home to CIFF. For a film about poetry and a loving couple (not dysfunctional, for a change) with a British bulldog named Marvin, a character in his own right, and helmed by a Palm d’Or winning director, it’s got to be a unique experience.

Director Jim Jarmusch has been garnering accolades at the Cannes Film Festival since 1984, with his early feature Stranger Than Paradise. His most commercially known work probably is Broken Flowers (Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury, 2005) with Bill Murray and Julie Delpy. This year, Paterson has once again brought the director to Cannes as a nominee for the prestigious Palme d’Or. 

Jarmusch ought to be applauded for making a film on poetry, for who in this day of mega explosive, blockbuster productions would think of turning Williams Carlos Williams’ poetic notion into a movie. Yes, WCW himself was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey, and his 5-volume epic poem Paterson must have been the source inspiration for Jarmusch.

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The movie Paterson is about an admirer of WCW and an aspiring poet whose occupation may be furthest from the creative process. But that’s exactly the point. Where do we get inspirations and ideas? What kickstarts our creative process? Do we need to climb to the top of the mountain, soak up a magnificent sunrise to unleash our creativity? Apparently not.

We see in the film that the most mundane of everyday objects, like, a box of matches, can spark off a new poem. Jarmusch has his own style of cinematic poetry making: the deadpan, casual expressions of his main character, thus, embedding humour in the serious. Adam Driver (While We Were Young, 2014) is probably the best person to star in this film, not only in name, but in his demeanour. He is Paterson, a bus driver with a daily route of driving bus route no.23 around the small town of Paterson, New Jersey.

We follow Paterson for a week. He gets up at the same time, around 6:20 am, plus or minus 5 minutes, eats his breakfast cereal, carries his lunch box and goes to work. He drives his no. 23 route around town, overhearing passengers’ small talks, brewing in his mind thoughts and ideas, writing down lines in a note book when he has a chance, has his lunch sitting on a bench overlooking the Great Falls of the Passaic River, then back to work. After work he goes home, has dinner with his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks the pug Marvin, ties him outside the bar, goes in and have his beer, chats with bartender Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), meets the regulars Everett (William Jackson Harper) and Marie (Chasten Harmon) and listens to their stories, then walks Marvin back home and sleep.

As viewers we see this seven times over. Reminds me of Groundhog Day (1993). But Jarmusch is clever in sprinkling subtle humour and surprises, quite like life. Paterson is a contented soul, driving a bus may be as fulfilling as writing poetry. Wife Laura is more experimental, and takes charge of her creative expressions more explicitly, like learning the guitar to reach her dream of being a country singer, like interior decorating her home according to her obsession with black and white, or baking cupcakes in her own signature style as a step to opening her own cupcake store. Whatever, the two are a loving, contented couple. Creativity manifests in various ways.

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And then there’s Marvin, who may be the best pug in pictures. He has a role to play too in this mundane plot. His story line is, again, life as well.

That’s about all I’ll reveal about the movie without giving out the spoiler, yes, even for this seemingly uneventful film. But as I write, I’m thinking of another matter. This film is probably screened only at very limited cities, at arthouse, independent cinemas. So, why am I writing about a film that not many of you will actually be able to see? What exactly is the relevance of writing something that few may relate to? Or… is the review a piece of writing that readers can respond to despite not experiencing the film itself?

If you have some thoughts on this, I’d appreciate your input. Throw your two pebbles into the Pond and create some ripples so I’d have an idea.

Having poured out this puzzling thought that has been troubling me for some time, I’m reminded of Paterson’s poetry writing in the basement of his home, his notebook filled with his private thoughts and lines, which nobody has ever or will ever read. What’s his purpose then?

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Other Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

While We Were Young: Wearing the Hat of Authenticity 

A Quiet Passion (2016) at TIFF16

Stillman’s Love & Friendship: More than Book Illustration

Back in 2007, the Welsh-born film director Peter Greenaway made the following stark comment:

“Cinema is predicated on the 19th-century novel. We’re still illustrating Jane Austen novels — there are 41 films of Jane Austen novels in the world — what a waste of time.”

I’m afraid since then, must be to Greenaway’s disdain, more Jane Austen movie adaptations had come out. As recent as early this year, Greenaway had reiterated his stance with an even starker comment: “all film writers should be shot.

Not that he’s anti-Austen, or holds a grudge against Tolkien or Rowling… I don’t think, but that he is pushing for a non-text-based, purely visual medium for movies.

Well, I’m glad his view remains just that, a personal opinion, and that writer/director Whit Stillman had not become a casualty of such an incendiary thought.

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For thanks to Stillman, we have an intelligent, delightful and worthy adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, a first for the author’s lesser known Juvenilia, apart from her famous six novels. The film is definitely not an illustrated book, but a worthy stand-alone cinematic production that Jane would approve.

As for dear Jane, I think she’d be pleased to know that her works are being cherished enough to be adapted into this modern invention called a movie two centuries later, and that in this post-modern era, we have a director by the name of Whit Stillman who’s enthused enough to turn her novella, written when she was still in her teenage years, into a movie production.

The epistolary novella “Lady Susan” was deemed unfinished and published posthumously. So this is a plus as Stillman could finished it for Jane, with an ending that’s aligned with the plot’s trajectory, and in a style that’s so well melded one would marvel at the perfect alchemy of Austenesque characters and language. Smartly borrowing the name of another of her novella “Love and Friendship”, Stillman toys with dear Jane’s uncontested approval.

While written in letters format, “Lady Susan” is highly entertaining. Austen’s talent is apparent on every page. How well she presents her characters merely through their written correspondences. Acerbic commentaries from an 18 year old? Hard to believe. But indeed, here are some lines describing Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), Lady Susan’s only friend Alicia’s (Chloë Sevigny) husband:

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.” (Letter 29, Lady Susan Vernon to Mrs. Johnson)

Interestingly, Stillman has toned down Lady Susan’s language and made her a more amicable heroine. The above lines were shortened and delivered by Kate Beckinsale in a casual manner. Yes, turning the letters into movie scenes are tricky, crafting mere letter writers into flesh and blood can be challenging, something I hope Greenaway can appreciate.

Stillman has taken Love & Friendship to 21st C. audience with fast paced, short scenes. The settings are elegant, the period costumes appealing, overall, a fine cinematic production. It is an apt visual presentation of Austen’s ingenuity. Writing “Lady Susan” while merely 18 or 19, she had seen through the marriage system of her country, understood human nature and foibles, depicting her characters and the main heroine, no, anti-heroine, with piercing sarcasm and generosity.

Having read the novella first could be an advantage as the viewer knows exactly who the characters are and the backstory as the film begins. With the literary source in mind, the viewer can also have a heightened appreciation of the cinematic rendering and alterations needed to make it work as a movie. The fusion of Austen / Stillman humour is most delightful, punctuated with some whimsical rendering on screen that I won’t mention here but leave for viewers to enjoy.

Kate Beckinsale portrays Lady Susan with deadpan astuteness. Deadpan or dead-on, no matter, for Beckinsale is a fine Lady Susan, newly widowed, not too young to be gullible and definitely not too old to flirt for her own gains. Don’t blame her, for she has a sixteen year-old daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to mind, and so, two eligible candidates who need to wed.

If one were to find fault, blame it on the social system allowing the female population only one track to go for sustainability, i.e. to find a husband. The ultimate goal of the marriage contract is more for finance than romance. (Maybe that’s why we love Pride and Prejudice so much, for its triumph of true love.) Here in this story, it’s a social milieu where love is remote and friendship useful. Lady Susan Vernon ultimately finds her conquest, never one to boast, just a project accomplished, all bottom lines met.

Stillman has a wonderful cast to work with, and they look like they had a lot of fun making the film, the most lively being Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). It must be a joy to be silly without restraint, yes, let it all out.

Alicia, Lady Susan’s only friend, is aptly played by Chloë Sevigny, who reunites with Kate Beckinsale from “The Last Days of Disco” (1998) where the two are the yuppie heroines under Stillman’s direction. Great to see the two friends in “Disco” have now emerged as allies yet again, this time in a comedy of manners with real Austen roots.

Stillman is a master of dialogues, and so’s Austen. In both the novella and the film, conversations make the characters. But mind you, Janeites know this, and it shows in Stillman’s film, Austen’s humour is not your roll on the floor laughing type of funny

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but a clever kind of jokes that elicits a knowing chuckle or a smile, ones that exude insight into human nature, ones that you’d want to jot down:

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And for those who have read the epistolary novella penned by a young female writer of the 18th century, one cannot help but marvel at her prodigious astuteness and now director Stillman’s revealing of her brilliant mind. A long time Austen ‘apologist’, Stillman’s previous work “Metropolitan” (1990) is unabashedly a “Mansfield Park” of the time. My favorite line in that movie is uttered by the Fanny Price parallel character Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), when she is talking to Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) about one of her favorite Austen works, Mansfield Park. Tom has not read any Austen but feels qualified to criticize nonetheless:

Tom: But it’s a notoriously bad book. Even Lionel Trilling, one of her greatest admirer thought that.

Audrey: Well, if Lionel Trilling thought that, he’s an idiot.

(But of course, it was Tom who hasn’t read any Austen that has misread Trilling.)

That was Stillman’s debut film. Since “Metropolitan”, he had proven his mastery in the comedy of manners in our times… preppies, yuppies, and maybe someday I hope,  millennials. To say his oeuvre is a conglomeration of Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson would be unfair, neglecting his own style of humour and social observations, although his works do leave traces of all the above.

When awards season comes, I anticipate the film to receive some nominations, specifically Adapted Screenplay, Set Design, Costumes and Hair, and perhaps directing.

Here’s my recommendation: read Jane’s novella Lady Susan first before watching the movie would probably reap the most enjoyment. Afterwards, there’s the bonus. Yes, Whit Stillman has wrapped it all up with the novel Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Was Entirely Vindicated published by Little, Brown and Co. in May, 2016. Icing on the cake.

Jane Austen doesn’t need a defender, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind getting acknowledgement for her lesser known Juvenilia, some works started when she was only twelve. “Love & Friendship” is a first attempt and a worthy homage to her ingenuity. I’m glad there are many prospects. Whit Stillman and Jane Austen make one fine match indeed.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Related posts on Ripple Effects:

Love & Friendship and Other Prospects

Too Much Jane?

Why We Read Jane Austen

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian

 

Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Required Reading for All

Wonder Book Cover

I woke up this morning thinking about Auggie. I missed him.

His extraordinary face with the unevenly positioned eyes, one half-shut all the time, the cleft lip and misshapen ears, abnormal features (I’ve learned not to use the word ‘deformed’ now) indelibly imprinted would elicit fear from those who see him the first time, especially unexpectedly. The shock may send out an uncontrolled gasp or even a scream. And if one is  maliciously driven, tiny-framed Auggie is a ready and easy target for bullying, especially in the setting he’s in now, middle school, the breeding ground for raw emotions and unchecked cruelty in both words and deeds. The ten year old has had twenty-seven surgeries big and small so far in his life. Homeschooled until now, Auggie is stepping out into 5th grade with unimaginable trepidation, mustering a courage no less than that required for all the surgeries he’d faced in his life.

Auggie, or, August Pullman, is a fictional character from R. J. Palacio’s book for 9-12 year olds, but he’s as real as my neighbor’s son, or even, my own. That’s the power of Palacio’s nuanced and realistic writing. This is a book for all ages, a required reading for every human being if I have my way, for Palacio has painted a perfect world.

In a perfect world, there are still babies born with facial abnormality. But that little life is still wrapped with warmth and cuddled with love and acceptance.

In a perfect world, that child will grow up not thinking himself ‘different’ or deficient, but as normal as any other kid his age. He can still enjoy reading his comics, be read to and tugged in at bedtime, master video games, watch Star War movies, play with his light saber, hug his doggie, and all those he loves: mom, dad and older sis. The child knows no deficiency.

In a perfect world, even after that child steps out of his well protected, comfort zone and ventures precariously into the reality of middle school, he can still find friends, however few at the beginning.

In a perfect world, there are still bullies and jerks. The child will still have to face incredulous challenges and learn to ignore horrible remarks more distorted than his facial features. In a perfect world, even in this seemingly cruel microcosm of the human society, this child can still find love, support, acceptance, and life-sustaining kindness.

In a perfect world, that child is considered a gift and a blessing, a challenge for us to be better human beings.

In a perfect world, good will overcome evil.

Seldom does a children’s book has such power over me. Actually, seldom do I read a children’s book, haven’t for a long, long while. But glad I’ve discovered Wonder. Auggie will live in my mind for a while even now that I’ve finished the book. I wish author R. J. Palacio’s Choose Kind anti-bullying movement will continue to flourish.

A book like this deserves a good movie adaptation. A recent announcement has given me hope that a worthy one might be on the drawing board. Well, just with the two being cast so far. Jacob Tremblay, the wonder boy who plays Jack in the acclaimed movie adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room is to play Auggie. His mom? Julia Roberts. As a mother of 10 and 8 year-olds, Roberts would have some insights to instill into her role.

 

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Thoughts on Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups

In the beginning was The Tree of Life.

That was the first work of divergence in the enigmatic director Terrence Malick’s body of work. His first four films spanned three decades–Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005)–productions that adhered to a relatively conventional storytelling approach, albeit still marching to the beat of his own drum. Then came six years of silence.

In 2011, we saw a new cinematic form come out. The Tree of Life emerged like a new life after a long metamorphosis. It was genre defying, with real and imaginary visuals replacing narrative plots, voiceover replacing dialogues. Dually cosmic and realistic, it boldly explored subjects that spanned eternity, from the Creation to the Afterlife. The story focused on a small Texan family during the 1950’s. The latent conflicts and tensions in the family’s relationships, father, mother, husband, wife, sons, brothers, brought forth a series of existential questions. Whispers of inner anguish, doubts, faith, and the search for redemption fill the movie theatre.

I was stunned by Malick’s audacity. This wouldn’t sit well with critics or viewers alike.

Apparently the thought of rejection didn’t bother the auteur, for the next year saw a repeat of the style. For those who thought The Tree of Life was only a one-time experiment were met with the confirmation that yes, this is Malick’s new cinematic style. To the Wonder is another film seemingly devoid of plot, a visual poetry of love, loss, and the human soul. We see again more voiceovers replacing dialogues, characters drifting through dreamscapes. The Tree of Life was only the beginning. Malick has created a new form of cinematic storytelling.

Then came Knight of Cups in 2015. The director that had taken thirty-two years to make his first four films gives us a trilogy of thought-provoking, genre-defying features in just four years. Knight of Cups is slowly trickling into limited screens this spring, but only an ephemeral appearance. In selective cities, it came quickly and was gone. The movie industry is big business, and box office sales is the bottom line, a fact that doesn’t seem to be a concern for Malick.

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Knight of Cups starts off with a parable. A knight sent by his father, the King of the East, went into Egypt to find a pearl from the depths of the sea. But when the prince arrived the people poured him a cup that took away his memory. He soon forgets his identity and his mission to look for the pearl.

The allusion to Pilgrim’s Progress is also invoked. From that, we know the tale of one man’s escape from the City of Destruction and his quest to search for the Celestial City.

Visually on screen, an earthquake shakes up a sleeping man. We later learn that he is Rick (Christian Bale), a successful screenwriter in L.A., well networked with the rich and famous of Hollywood. Rick is roused up from the quake, tiptoes barefoot through shattered glass to get out into the street, an apt metaphor of his life, fragmented, broken like the debris on the ground.

Thus sets the stage as we follow Rick into the high life of Hollywood: parties, night clubs, Gatsby-esque wildness of L.A. and Las Vegas. The film cast interestingly is made up of well-known names from Hollywood (bravo at the parallel). Through all these, Rick appears aloof, a stranger in his own land.

Ummm, not unlike Camus’s outsider.

His agent tells him: “I want to make you rich. All you need to do is say yes. Who do you want to meet? I can arrange.”

Almost as close as another such luring promise… “all this I will give you, if you bow down and worship me.”

 But the outsider is a tormented soul desperately seeking meaning, not riches or fame. Ambivalent relationships with a skid row brother and a father (Brian Dennehy) who is in turmoil living through the suicide of another son are the slings and arrows hurled at Rick. “I died a different way, “ we hear him say.

Women? Six of them, at one time or another. Played by Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freda Pinto, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas. They appear as vignettes, drifting in and out of his life; not all in waste, each has something to offer. One of them has uttered:

“We’re pilgrims on this earth. We’re not leading the life we’re meant for. We’re meant for something else.”

Or take his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), a benevolent doctor who works with the poor. She could have been an inspiring figure, but they had to part. “I just want to be loved,” she says.

Of course, Rick can’t give what he doesn’t have. He too is searching for that powerful love that can complete him.

“Redeem my life… Justify me,” we hear Rick’s voiceover, a thirst which no human can quench.

He must rouse up from his sleep. Remember who you are and your mission. Remember the pearl? Go look for it. “How do I reach you? How do I find my way there?”

I’m glad from the fragments of internal dialogues, I can hear some positive words: “God shows His love through suffering… He leads you through. Regard them as gifts… more precious than happiness… Be thankful for suffering.”

Who would have thought? The reverse of common sense? But then again, how true. 

“You gave me peace, mercy, love, joy. You gave me what the world can’t give.”

Accompanying all these voiceovers is the captivating cinematography. It is interesting to see how three consecutive Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant 2015, Birdman 2014, Gravity 2013) converts soulful anguish onto the screen with lyrical, visual metaphors and well-paced changes of scenes. Faster paced for the ephemeral hedonism, slower for the meditative and transcendent.

The transporting effects are made complete by the musical score. Yes, that’s one of the main reasons I’m so mesmerized by Malick’s recent films. Knight of Cups has a long and expansive playlist with over 50 titles. Among them are these stirring pieces that capture my full attention, Wojciech Kilar ‘s “Exodus”, Arvo Pärt’s “Symphony No. 4 Los Angeles” and the film composer for Malick’s previous two works, the New Zealand born Hanan Townshend’s musical creations.

But one melody stands out and with the scenery on screen stirred me the deepest.

Now what’s the name of that piece? The music overwhelms me with a kind of existential longing, pathos, and deep resonance. 

Yes, got it. I later found out from the movie soundtrack, it was Solveig’s Song from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt”. I made a quick purchase and downloaded the tune and have been listening to it ever since. Like the effect of Smetana’s “The Moldau” in The Tree of Life, I know it will remain in my mind for some time to come.

That’s the reason I still go to the cinema. In that pitch-dark and relatively empty (what do you expect) theatre, I can sit quietly, watch, listen, and think.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

The Tree of Life Movie Review

Days of Heaven

 

In Other Words: Lahiri’s Reconstruction of Self

In Other Words book cover

A couple of years ago, I was surprised to read about Jhumpa Lahiri moving to Italy to live, even just for a few years. Author of four works of fiction – Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland – at the prime of her writing and teaching career, having received the O. Henry Award in 1999, the Pulitzer in 2000, and her latest The Lowland shortlisted for the Booker in 2013, Lahiri decided to uproot her family and move to Italy to totally immerse in the Italian language. That means speaking, reading and writing in Italian.

In Other Words is Lahiri’s brave and candid account as a language learner. It compiles twenty-one essays and two short stories which she wrote in Italian. She uses the metaphor of swimming out into the lake instead of safely hugging the shore to refer to her Italian language learning experience. From her descriptions of the challenges and risks, the loss of anchor, the inability to express herself and be literate, let alone literary, the disorientation, the total humbling, her Italian venture is more like jumping off a precipice to billowy waters of unfathomable depth.

My hat off to Lahiri’s honest revealing of her frustrations and strive for a new identity; yes, after all, language is a major determinant of identity, one which is, unfortunately, superseded by one’s outer appearance and racial features. So it is heart-wrenching to read that despite her love of the Italian language, her total devotion to adopt it not just to live but as a tool of her trade as a writer, she is often seen as an outsider, a foreigner, barred from acceptance. Even when she speaks to Italians fluently in their language, they would respond to her in English.

English, that’s the rub. I was surprised to read that, while the author had achieved so much in her literary career as a writer in English, she chose to discard it to totally immerse in Italian. In the chapter entitled “The Metamorphosis”, she candidly admits that her writing in Italian (which she had been learning in America for some twenty years before) is a flight:

“Why am I fleeing? What is pursuing me? Who wants to restrain me?
The most obvious answer is the English language. But I think it’s not so
much English in itself as everything the language has symbolized for me…
It has represented a culture that had to be mastered, interpreted. I was
afraid that it meant a break between me and my parents. English denotes
a heavy, burdensome aspect of my past. I’m tired of it….”

Of course, that’s also the language that she loved, and succeeded with. The conflict in identity, first as an Indian immigrant with Bangali as her mother tongue, then as a writer in English who had garnered the Pulitzer Prize – an award that she felt she did not deserve – had shrouded her with unresolved tensions. Lahiri had felt deeply the tug of war between her parental heritage and adopted land. A rejection of both had silently crept in. Italian provides a way out:

“Italian offers me a very different literary path. As a writer I can demolish
myself, I can reconstruct myself, I can join words together and work on
sentences without ever being considered an expert. I’m bound to fail when
I write in Italian, but, unlike my sense of failure in the past, this doesn’t
torment or grieve me.”

Unbelievably surprising and honest, written in Italian and translated by The New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein, the bilingual book opens up to a dual English and Italian version. The short essays chronicle the progress of not only an insightful identity search and reconstruction of selfhood, but an invaluable personal documentation of second – no, additional – language learning journey. If this book was published a couple of decades earlier, I would likely have another topic for my thesis in my graduate work on second language learning; not only that, my view of English being the lingua franca, the language holding linguistic hegemony, would have completely changed as well.

After reading In Other Words and my surprising discovery of Lahiri’s ‘tormenting sense of failure’ with the English language (for all its symbolic meaning) or even her ‘undeserving’ feeling towards her award in her writing, I am relieved of a hidden burden. I don’t feel so badly about having had to constantly check and re-check my English: prepositions, idiomatic expressions, phrasal verbs usage, subject verb agreement… All the hurdles that confront me every time I write a post or an article. If Lahiri can be so candid about her frustrations and errors when it comes to language learning, why can’t I?

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 

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My thanks to Asian American Press for allowing me to post my book review here on Ripple Effects. The last paragraph is added in just for my Ripple readers.

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

 The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: Book Review

The Namesake (2006, DVD): Movie Review

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

 

 

 

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 6

An episode of romantic linking and midlife career changes. First the pairing of some main characters: Mary and Henry Talbot, Edith and Bertie Pelham, Isobel and Lord Merton, (again), Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason (now, what’s with Daisy spoiling the fun?) And Baxter and Coyle? Not a reunion I hope.

Midlife career changes are thrusted upon other characters. The most important one is Cora, a job that she has never dreamed of, or dared to think about. Crossing Violet? Definitely not her own choosing. On second thought, after a career of bringing up three daughters, now she’s ready for another challenge. Being the President of the merger of the village hospital with York’s, she’s ushered into a brave new world. Now, that sounds like a much easier task than her previous job.

As for Molesley, his midlife career change is something he hasn’t dared to entertain before, beyond his wildest dream. Need to pass an exam first, but still very exciting. It’s interesting to see that his open tuition to help Daisy is so well received and respected by everyone, while Barrow’s secret tutorial offered to Andy is met with suspicion. But kudos to him for keeping Andy’s problem confidential. O Mr. Barrow, can you ever redeem yourself?

So Barrow is now the in-house piggy backer. The position of under butler is soon to be obsolete. Looks like Mr. Carson has a clearer view of occupational trends than Barrow: “In twenty years time I doubt there’s one footman working at Downton.” Or a lady’s maid, for that matter. Nothing personal, just the end of the aristocratic era. So when Season 6 ends, we’re saying goodbye to all that.

Mr. Carson, you won’t be long either, I’m afraid. The butler too will soon become “a post that is fragrant with memories of a lost world…” Eloquent with words strung up like that can sure open doors for you if it’s your time to leave. Prepare for the day when you’ll have no one to polish your cutlery or fold that bedsheet into sharp corners. Poor Mrs. Hughes, I knew her decision to have the wedding reception at the local school would be her last autonomous say. Would the real Mrs. Hughes please stand up? I sure miss you.

Downton Open House

The main attraction of the episode is the Downton Open House for the local hospital, a charity event. Wait a minute, charging people to come look at your living quarters? Who would want to pay? Yes, as Isobel Crawley says, “even Elizabeth Bennet wanted to see what Pemberley was like inside.” But that’s different though. For one thing, she didn’t have to pay; further, she got a bonus seeing Darcy in a wet shirt. Now, Barrow, since you’ve already warmed up with odd jobs like offering piggyback rides to the kids, get ready to jump into the pond.

No worries, people line up to pay to get in. Good idea! Tom’s business mind quickly turns and comes out with a wonderful idea. Wouldn’t that be a fine source of revenue to help maintain the huge mansion? Sounds like a version of reality. Isn’t Scribe Julian describing Highclere Castle where Downton is filmed?

But still, the question remains in some of their visitors’ mind I’m sure. Why, the pint-size philosopher who pops into Lord Grantham’s bedroom has posed a legit question: why not buy somewhere comfy instead of living in such a big house? Well son, it’s a long story. Never mind that. But one thing we can agree upon, it’s our mothers. They get terribly wrought up about things.

In this episode, we get to see another side of Lord Grantham. He looks like a totally bored little boy trying to entertain himself with all sorts of funnies while sick in bed. Mary in the bath? O my, wait till Mommy hears that.

To London again, Mary brings Anna to see Dr. Ryder, and thank God it’s just normal pregnancy discomfort. But what a great opportunity to do some side shows like… surprise! Henry Talbot must feel like he’s lured by a racing trophy. What a catch, Mary Crawley. Here’s the funny thing, looks like Mary is encouraging Henry Talbot, but when he does get close, she rejects him somehow.

Certainly, she has her bad memory. Matthew died in a car crash. But is that all that’s holding her back with Henry Talbot? Or is it the idea of marrying down? Or too fast too soon? Don’t forget, Mary, Henry’s a race car driver. Time is of the essence. Speed is the thrill. Occupational hazards, no, skill sets.

And romantic characters have the rain to thank, for usually what happens when sudden rain befalls, somehow that would lead to a private escape resulting in the first kiss. It happens in Woody Allen movies and it can happen right here in Downton Abbey.

In contrast, Edith and Bertie are enjoying some smooth sailing, despite Mary’s skepticism. Mary, you need to know, any man willing to take Edith plus a child must be genuinely in love with her. So, Marigold could well be the tester of true intention.

Your take on this episode?

***

With this recap, Arti is taking a hiatus from the pond. There are 600+ posts on Ripple, you’re welcome to spend your time lingering still and throw in your two pebbles. Hope they can hold your interest until Arti’s return.

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 6:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 5

First off, congrats to the whole Downton cast for winning the 2016 Screen Actors Guild’s Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series last Saturday night (Jan. 30).  What a wonderful farewell gift. They’ve won this category four times in the past five years. A nice wrap indeed.

Now, to Sunday’s Downton episode. Scribe Julian of this mild and pleasant final Season has dropped a shock bomb so sudden that the surprise element is no less than Matthew’s car accident at the end of Season 3.  This time it’s even more graphic. You haven’t seen so much blood gushing out of a person, not even in the WWI battle scenes in Season 2.

That’s what happens if your ulcer bursts. Among the horror and chaos, kudos to Robert that he can utter the endearing last words to Cora, “if this is it, just know that I’ve loved you very, very much,” which Cora firmly repudiated, “This isn’t it, darling.”

So we take her words for it and not worry too much. Just a ploy our scribe Julian uses to make sure we haven’t fallen asleep in this mild and uneventful episode. I mean, what we’ve been looking at, so far, is Mr. Mason moving into Yew Tree Farm, Mrs. Patmore preparing food baskets, Mary watching her first car racing, Edith going on a date, and yes, Neville Chamberlain, yes, that Neville Chamberlain, brought into the battle of the local hospital and then the shocking scene happens.

Neville Chamberlain

Let me just recap these mundane events of the evening, albeit I must say, I love the change of scenery for them all. First to Yew Tree Farm. So the Landlord Duo Mary and Tom come to inspect and declare Mr. Mason too old for pig farming. Good Andy comes to the rescue. He’s not only willing to help out but wants to change his career path to become a pig farmer. Daisy is looking at what her future will be like with this ambitious young man and the aging Mr. Mason. Looks like Yew Tree Farm will be handed over to the young soon. But of course, Andy has to start learning to read and write in order to raise pigs. So Mr. Barrow steps in. Is it a good thing I wonder.

Mary Crawley and Henry Talbot, those two are quite incompatible, aren’t they? One craves cars and racing; one loves pigs and property management. One ignores social gaps, why of course, the race track is on pretty level ground; the other esteems her higher position and ‘won’t marry down.’

In contrast, Edith and Bertie, ‘evenly matched’ and ‘balanced’, relating as equals. Those are all Tom’s words reminiscing on his own courtship with Lady Sybil. “Real love means giving someone the power to hurt you.” Tom tells Mary.

And now Edith. Two exemplars for Mary to emulate, or, is she too high up on the horse to see clearly. I’m sure Henry Talbot has his ways. Why, the motor car is the perfect vehicle invented for modern romance, seating two side by side. Look, he’s much more relaxed now than in previous episodes.

So glad to see Edith finally enjoying herself and being genuinely happy. A cozy and elegant London apartment she has, mostly Michael Greyson’s taste. No matter, it’s a place she can call her own now that Downton is Queen Mary’s dominion. A new editor found to manage the magazine, everything under control… except her secret about Marigold. Would Mary her dear sister sabotage that hard-to-come-by peace in her life?

Miss Baxter’s brave move of coming out to be the witness for the prosecution reaps great results as the accused changes his plea upon hearing her name on the witness list. No trial is needed, what a relief. Don’t we hate to go through another Downton trial to see justice done, or undone? Wait a minute, maybe yes, there should be a trial, this time for Miss Denker for defamation and uttering threats.

What I like about this episode is the variation of sceneries and setting. The park where Edith and Bertie take a stroll, the race track, the Yew Tree Farm, and the new home of the Carsons. Yes, even the messing up of the elegant dining table and everyone’s formal attire with splattered blood. Some alternatives for the eyes.

Your take on this episode?

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 6:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

 

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 4

Downton S6 E4.jpg

Scribe Julian sure knows viewers’ heart. In the farewell Season, what better way to end than throwing in some pleasant surprises of reunion. Last week we had Tom and Sybbie back for good. This week, albeit just for a visit, a long forgotten figure, former housemaid Gwen is reintroduced. Nobody recognizes her except her former roommate Anna, and of course, Mr. Barrow, green with jealousy. Indeed, Gwen has reinvented herself. Now Mrs. John Harding and an advocate for women’s education. Isobel Crawley has aptly put it, “a 20th Century story.”

Gwen is an important symbol whose path Daisy would love to follow, leaving service to pursue other opportunities. It all started with Lady Sybil of course, as she’d taken the initiative to open doors for her housemaid. The grateful beneficiary’s dining table reminiscence of Lady Sybil is very moving, a tribute so powerful that even Mary feels ‘chastened’.

Just as Mary allows herself to some much needed self-reflection, she gets a chance to redeem herself right away. As I said in previous recaps, this is a Season of instant conflict resolutions. So to London she brings Anna for Dr. Ryder to hopefully stop another miscarriage. Tom the family driver is always there to help, before as it is now. What would we do if you’d stayed in Boston, Tom? While in London, scribe Julian delivers another quick fix. Now we can all be cautiously optimistic about Anna’s pregnancy.

Gwen’s reappearance not only brings existential reflection to Mary but to our in-house villain Thomas. Now he is mulling over his own raison d’être. This ego trip of being the butler of Downton while Mr. Carson is on honeymoon doesn’t pan out to be much fun after all. What’s the reason for living if you’re constantly in a bowl of cherry pits? But of course, it’s all a way of looking. Robert’s advice to Barrow is: Be kind. You just might see things differently. Now, find another employment.

Miss Baxter has to face some internal conflicts too as she prepares to deal with the devil of her past, not metaphorically, but actually going to trial as a witness for the prosecution regarding Peter Coyle, the man who’d brought numerous young women to their ruins. Now I can see it’s going to be a tortuous ordeal. But with Mr. Molesley’s support, I’m sure she can handle it.

And honesty, going back to the source of all these reflective mulling: Gwen Harding (née: Dawson); can Daisy ever tread her path? Seems like Daisy needs to take an anger management course alongside her academic upgrading. Pounding her potatoes into pulp may be a good way to transfer her anger which originates from her own misconception that Cora promising Yew Tree Farm to her father-in-law Mr. Mason. So now we do see Mr. Mason can actually lease the place, finding a resting ground looking ahead, and Daisy’s dedication to him ever strengthening, the Yew Tree Farm may just be a natural next step for her if she ever decides to let the potatoes go.

So the Dowager Countess Violet has recruited an ally in her friend Lady Shackleton to help her fight to keep control of the village hospital. At the dinner table discussing the issue, we see how each deal with the task at hand:

Lady Shackleton: How can I present myself as an expert when I don’t know the facts?

Violet: It’s never stopped me!

But that’s only the side show. The main attraction is this mystery nephew Lady Shackleton brings along. And I thought it was Ernest, who maybe had just come in from the cold of Antartica. But no, it’s Henry Talbot, the aloof but alluring race car enthusiast, a Goode choice to cast. He’d stopped by Downton once at the end of Season 5 with his fine motor. Mary brightens up and exclaims “Golly!” One word says it all.

Mary, O you’re such a country girl. Allow Henry to take you out on the town. Don’t worry about your shabby attire. Aunt Rosamund’s dress will do. For once, don’t act as the centre of attraction but just lose yourself in this mesmerizing surrounding, The Royal Automobile Club. Yes, there are many places you’ve never been before.

And the happy newlyweds are to be called Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, saving the day for many. Really? Is it so hard to change the name calling her Mrs. Carson? Anyway, what’s in a name. After all, whatever name she takes up now is immaterial. I’m afraid she’s not going to be that Mrs. Hughes again as she herself had predicted when she was planning for her wedding reception.

So the welcome back party for the newlyweds is going to be held in the kitchen. People, just kindly make your way downstairs to join in the celebration.

One small step for one woman, one giant leap for the times. As we hear this my favourite quip of the night:

Violet: I haven’t been into the kitchens for, O, at least twenty years.

Isobel: Have you got your passport?

Keep your passport with you at all times, Violet. This is the 20th Century.

***

Previously on Downton Abbey:

Season 6 Episode 3 

Season 6 Episode 2

Season 6 Episode 1

***

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 3

The language of leave-taking is always gentle, pleasant, accommodating. Looks like this whole season is an extended farewell. While it is what we all want to see, characters we’ve befriended over five years are now coming together for one last time to happy resolutions, it is also sad to see this is their last efforts to entertain us.

And entertained we are, however placidly here in S6 E3. A long awaited middle-aged wedding finally takes place and I’m glad the reception is held in a school house as the bride desires and not in the grandeur of the great hall at Downton. No, I don’t think Cora is being a snob. Mary is unreasonable to accuse her mother as such only to further her own plan to have Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes hold their reception right there in the grand mansion. If Cora is being snobbish, then Mary is downright patronizing.

What’s the greatest farewell gift for us all? Here’s the foreshadowing: “Last night I dreamt I went to Downton again…” Julian Fellowes’s version of Rebecca, equally moving in Tom Branson’s letter.

A pleasant surprise indeed. Tom realizes where home really is, even though he has to go all the way to Boston to find out. The best scenario is always to have someone leave for a short while so that he can come back for good willingly. What more can a viewer ask? Sadly, even the great scribe Julian can’t bring back Sybil and Matthew; he can at least do us this favour with Tom and little Sybbie. Look at how George welcomes his little cousin back, embracing her and softly uttering this endearing word, “Sybbie.” Awww… Even Marigold gives a rare, spontaneous smile.

Next, Rose? I doubt it, since she’s almost everywhere lately, busy living her multiple personas as Cinderella, Natasha in War and Peace, and soon Elizabeth Bennet confronting zombies.

Another gratifying storyline is Edith’s. She’s the Anna upstairs. Something good is finally coming her way that warrants our congrats: Living on her own in London when she’s in town, firing the obnoxious editor Skinner, taking his place and beating the deadline to get a new issue out with some incredible teamwork from Bertie Pelham. Of course, Mary can smell that team miles away, but so what. Edith, go for it, both magazine and team, and the new you.

Edith in S6.jpg

In the slightly darker side, Miss Denker has a major role to play as the necessary nuisance to stir up some ripples in the calm waters of Downton’s final Season. Denke is a more animated stand-in for Mrs. O’Brien, still remember her? But she’s not the leave-in-the middle-of-the-night kind; looks like she’s going to hang on as long as Violet wants her. Violet seems to be fine with her own in-house Punch and Judy sideshow with Spratt and Denker.

After all, Violet Crawley is just too preoccupied with her own Punch and Judy show with Isobel. Now the line-ups are Isobel, Cora, Lord Merton, with Dr. Clarkson shifting ground. How can Violet step down gracefully without losing face, I wonder. Hope this is not as violent a show as Punch and Judy.

And Cora, never thought she can be so angry, scolding a bride on the night before her wedding? Definitely out of character. But the resolution is quick, again, now that’s more like Cora; since we don’t have much time left, so… apology accepted. Mrs. Hughes deserves not just a fancy piece of clothing but her total respect.

Finally, Anna has some good news. But hush, we won’t say more. Having been dealt bad cards all her married life, can this be a real, winning hand? It’s the farewell Season. I trust the handling will continue to be gentle and pleasant.

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 6:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 2

A relatively uneventful episode after the convivial Season opening.

But the few storylines are so apt in exposing the characters we thought we’ve known. First off, Mary is a math whiz, her own sister comments that:

“As usual, you add two and two and make fifty-three.”

No need to decode, just Mary in her most inquisitive and intuitive state. Rose may well be pregnant. The more the merrier.

This episode seems to belong to Mary, for she’s everywhere and uh… yes, Agent of all things great and small, from pigs to pregnancy.

And Lord Grantham, heed your mother’s chiding, “if you can’t say anything helpful Robert, please be silent.”

Why, decorate the Servants’ Hall for Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ wedding reception? I was shocked to hear him say that, same as his daughters. And I thought Robert has turned egalitarian, at least a little bit, as modernity creeps into Downton.

But a butler’s a butler, loyal, honourable, and ever respectful, so Mr. Carson is all gung ho to take up the offer of Downton’s Great Hall. And with Mary’s stepping in to make sure their wedding reception a Downton event, I jump on Mrs. Hughes’s side with no hesitation. A wedding belongs to the bride, no matter how old she is; it’s her day and she ought to be able to choose her own place and plan it in her own way:

“I just don’t want to be a servant on my wedding day.” Of course not.

After all, Mrs. Hughes continues, “we’ll be doing it your way for the next 30 years,” to which Mr. Carson gives no words in reply. What would be the outcome? I wonder. But I can wait, no spoilers please.

Edith’s role as a woman boss isn’t an easy job to tackle, and dealing with an editor like Mr. Skinner sounds like a nightmare. A hint for you, Edith, just imagine: What would Mary do?

So, Mary would enter the Downton pigs in the Fat Stock Show, and will drop by the Drewes’ farm to see the fat piggies. Little George’s first lines “Can we come?” seal the fate of the Drewe family.

Here lies the best storyline of the episode. Mary brings George and Marigold to the Drewes farm to see the pigs while Edith goes to London, and of course, who will be there but Mrs. Drewes? The dramatic effect is much needed for too placid an episode.

And on the day of the Fat Stock Show, Mrs. Drewes’ impulsive act of child snatching is understandable. The only, and too short, tense moment of the hour is finished in five minutes. Too swift a resolution in vacating a family who had farmed there since before Waterloo. An easy case that the wise King Solomon would envy; his was a much harder case of baby sharing.

Talking about the wisdom of King Solomon, his opinion just might be helpful for the prospect of the village hospital and in resolving the family feud. Maybe Violet would listen to his counsel?

 

Thomas Barrow (1)

All those country fairs are best to discover new talents and skills. If job hunting plans don’t pan out for Mr. Barrow, he could alway open up a bowling alley. He could well be an adroit operator.

But why did I think of a Magritte painting when I looked at Thomas Barrow in that scene? Hopefully something realistic and not too absurd will cross his path.

As for the Bates, we don’t want to see any more miscarriages, either in the legal or biological realm. And here we have Mary to thank for being so helpful. Bringing Anna to see Dr. Ryder in London’s Harley Street may well be the most effective act of kindness she can offer her maid, more a friend by now.

And what do you know, one year later in 1926 a Lionel Logue opened his speech therapy practice there on that same Harley Street and proved to be a fateful move for the future King of the Empire. (My extra note, not in the Episode)

Of course, Anna glows after the doctor’s appointment. Don’t we all wish Mr. and Mrs. Bates can live happily hereafter?

***

CLICK on the links to read my other Downton Posts for Season 6:

Downton Abbey rings in the New Year one last time

Type in the Search words to read my other Downton Posts

 

Downton Abbey rings in the New Year one last time

What will we do without Downton in 2017? Will our biological clock even recognize it’s a new year?

But at the moment, let’s just celebrate this monumental achievement for one last time. If Sunday’s Episode 1 of this last Season signifies anything, it’s: tis the Season to be jolly.

This intro Episode has well prepared us for some neatly resolved, long due conclusions, and rightly so. For how can we live with an unsettled ending for any of its characters? They all deserve a good life, don’t they, including Mr. Barrow, the in-house villain? Well yes, but maybe not for a thief and blackmailer like Ms. Bevan.

Thanks to Ms. Bevan though, Mary’s secret is finally made known to Robert. Charlie Sheen had thought of it first: if the secret is out, no one can blackmail you anymore. Simple. But of course, Mary has her point. Tony Gilliangham is just not good enough for her. And the best line of the Episode belongs to our inimitable heroine:

“I’d rather be alone than with the wrong man.”

With that line, Robert knows his daughter can run the kingdom, let alone Downton Abbey.

Talking about good lines, looks like our scribe Julian Fellowes wants to leave us with more indelible ones just as parting mementos.

With this episode, we finally see that Mrs. Patmore has talents other than the culinary. Why, acting as a go-between to sort out marriage expectations sounds as nasty a mission as Ethan Hunt of the Impossible Missions Force would choose to accept. Well, what are friends for. And we applaud her (ugh… awkward) effort.

Yes, Mr. Carson will take Mrs. Hughes, wrinkles, warts and all, with the lights turned off or on. A gratifying, redeeming scenario in an alternate universe far from Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Days.

DA S6 E1

And at long last, Mr. and Mrs. Bates are proven to be innocent of any and all crimes. Mr. Green apparently had more enemies than anyone would have thought. But while the Bates escape the miscarriage of the law, will Anna be safe from the literal, biological kind? Of course we all wish them well in giving Downton some more little ones, upstairs or down, since little Sybil will move to America with her Daddy and Marigold to London with her Mommy, and especially when they have an in-house piggy backer with Mr. Barrow.

Speaking of moving away from the aristocratic nest, I’m glad to see Edith find a place in London that she can be both a mother and a career woman. Although she soon finds being a woman boss is more challenging. But I’m sure she won’t be complaining much as she enjoys the benefits of mixing with the Bloomsbury group and meeting Virginia Woolf.

“I feel I have been given one little bit of happiness and that will have to do,” Edith’s line of self-sufficiency, one that can match her indomitable sister’s willingness to be alone than with the wrong man.

Looks like Downton embracing modernity is the theme this Season and I’m sure Daisy will one day make one devoted and effective Suffragette. Too bad the film has been made or else she’d be one fine comrade fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Carey Mulligan.

Embracing or being enveloped by modernity, Isobel and Violet represent the two camps, the ready and the reluctant. Again, here sparks fly regarding the control of the village hospital. Violet will hold on to her principle, in whatever aspects of life: “Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear.” While Isobel does not flinch, it’s definitely effective for her servants, especially Miss Denker.

Last but not least, Robert brings Cora down to the kitchen, takes cold chicken out from the refrigerator all by himself, and eats a drumstick with his fingers? Do we need any more obvious signs of embracing modernity?

I trust Season 6 will be a delicious treat.

***

What are your favourite scenes?