Saturday, July 31, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #36

Statue of Vināyaka, Ayutthaya. (Ganesha in the Hindu tradition.)

The Good, The Bad and the Weird (2008)

Kim ji-woon is not only one of the world's most stylish directors, he also has a great sense of fun. (There's no better illustration of this than his first feature.)

In the making of this eastern-western set in 30s Manchuria he spent more money than any of his compatriots before him and the result could best be described as a madcap spoof with occasional intermissions for more composed coolness.

The plot as such follows the corpse-littered trail of a bounty hunter, an hired assassin and a train robber as they contest the ownership of a mysterious map which may or may not mark the location of an ancient Chinese treasure. The Japanese Army, the Korean independence forces and the mounted 'ghost market gang' are also interested.

The first twenty minutes are absolutely terrific. Thereafter there are sections, particular those involving action sequences, which are a tad over-indulgent.

But no matter, Song Kang-ho, 'the weird' (last seen in Park Chan-wook's Thirst), is always such a cheering screen presence and is well complemented in this film by two more of Korea's finest screen actors, Jung Woo-sung as 'the good' and Lee Byun-hung as 'the bad'. (The latter was excellent in A Bittersweet Life and the perhaps best thing in the otherwise awful I Come with the Rain.)

Grade: B+

Friday, July 30, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #35

Fearsome beastie, Wat Phra Keaew, Bangkok.

Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador

This mouthwatering show began with an invitation. His Excellency Yoshiji Nogami — the Japanese Ambassador in London — suggested to Rick that he take himself off to Tokyo in order to absorb some of the deep cultural underpinnings of the Japanese relationship with fish. He should then return and design a suitable banquet at the Ambassador's residence for a handful of special guests.

Stein had already been informed that he'd got his Cornish mackerel sushi all wrong. You don't — as he once did on air — just cut up the freshly caught fish and serve it on a little chunk of rice. 'Raw' it may be, but first it has to coated in salt in order to firm up over a couple of hours before being seasoned in a marinade of water, sugar, mirin and kombu (edible kelp). The same technique is applied to sashimi and helps remove any fishy odours.

Sushi wasn't going to feature at Rick's London banquet anyway as when he visited Tsukiji the chef on the right — below — duly informed him that it takes about ten years to learn how to prepare it. (After joking that he'd been a taxi driver until four days earlier.)

I'm glad Stein went to this particular little sushi joint inside Tsukiji because it was one of the highlights of my trip yet by the time I'd queued up and been shown to my place at the bar my camera's battery was dead and I was unable to take any snaps inside. (Many of the pics I was able to take can be seen here.)

The maguro one finds in Antigua these days tends to come from Florida. Rumour has it that the gringo owner of Nokiate used to import his in an ice box inside his suitcase until he got rumbled at the airport.

My neighbour is a Florida fisherman and has filled me in on some of the deeper anxieties of his trade. In the case of tuna you need to get the fish in the boat within about 30 seconds after it catches on the line because the adrenalin released when it starts to fight will eventually increase the acidity within the flesh.

I tested out this little board of tuna sashimi above (one piece already eaten BTW) when lunching with Rudy at Ubi's this week. It was certainly delicious, but not quite a match for the melt in the mouth stuff they serve at the world's largest wholesale fish market.

Sushi has become a form of globalised, aspirational fast food. A couple of decades ago there were hardly any sushi restaurants in London, but they're all over the place now. Antigua Guatemala has at least three now too. In Britain the miniature conveyor-belt model predominates, but I only once saw one of these in Japan (at the Sony showroom) and this had little plates of cake going around it. (Very artistic they were too.)

Nothing compares really with the Japanese way of preparing and presenting this food, as evidenced by the selection of screen shots I took last night from Rick Stein's programme.

By the end of it we both wanted to get on the next flight to Tokyo and V's long neglected project to acquire a live-in Japanese cook is back on the table, so to speak. The Ambassador surely won't want to part with the pair who did most of the work on the night in the embassy kitchen:

It seems that the colours white, green, yellow, black, green and red predominate in Japanese cuisine. (White and red, the colours of the flag are especially favoured.) Freshness and seasonality is all important. The sashimi in the pic below was made with red bream, sea snail, tuna and prawns amongst other things.

Stein and his researcher Takako were also given a very special banquet in their honour by Japan's former (unpopular) PM Yoshirō Mori.

The sashimi course (one of eight) arrived at the table covered by little igloos...

...a technique Rick Stein borrowed for the London banquet:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What a difference a little lack of rain makes

Just 48 rainless hours after this, everything is looking oddly droopy and parched again.

V was out this morning hosing down the road outside and the smell of the moss on the damp cobbles had just enough of the seaside in it to transport me back to strolls along a distant craggy coast with the tide out.

We bought five luscious pineapples for Q3 each on Tuesday, sold to us by one of half a dozen costeños who'd pulled up in a picop and then proceeded to seek out customers on both sides of our street.

Venta loca it turned out to be too. Once things had quietened down they bought themselves some chiles from the local shop and a bottle of pure water which they duly used to wash their hands and utensils. Who says there's no such thing as a regular Chapin with standards?

When offering the first pineapple, its mocho chopped and outer skin removed so that it might be held in the manner of an oversize ice lolly, the salesman had also been careful to cut a sample and hand it over to us on the blade of his knife so as not to touch a single part of the fruit.

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #34

Well guarded litter bin, Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok.

Isla Presidencial, fit the fourth

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A damp afternoon in Antigua

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #33

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Having recently acquired a taste for a bit of dread and foreboding thanks to Ibáñez's Hierro, and with Hans Blix about to shock and awe the Iraq War enquiry in London by declaring the 2003 invasion illegal, it seemed appropriate on Monday evening to turn to Polanski's well-regarded new thriller, The Ghost Writer.

Neither of us have of late been huge fans of Ewan McGregor, especially since he got started with those vanity motorcycle treks. But here he's excellent; even the estuary accent he puts on for the role of 'the ghost' is more than 75% accurate.

Now, anybody who can't spot that this is essentially an absurdified version of the Tony Blair story, shouldn't bother paying to see Inception.

As Adam Lang, Pierce Brosnan plays a prettier, dumber, Scottisher version of the former PM (...and Olivia Williams a certainly prettier and more charismatic version of his wife Cherie.)

Having resigned in a bit more disgrace than Blair, Lang has banished himself to an isolated modernist villa on Martha's Vineyard (which his wife likens to Napoleon's exile on St Helena) in order to complete his memoirs. Unfortunately the current text is a bit of a dog's breakfast and the most recent ghost writer has mysteriously tipped himself off the side of the ferry. Enter Ewan as the unnamed 'ghost', enticed by the offer of $250,000 to get the next flight out to America to finish off the book within a month.

Now, as we all know, Polanski can't really go to Massachusetts, so the northern German and Danish coastlines have been put to use as a fair enough proxy. The receptionist at the ghost's hotel is clearly German but has been dressed up as an eighteenth century New England serving wench in order to divert our attention from the fact. The lady at the ferry terminal ticket booth however gives the game away a bit when she says 'zat vill be fawtee buckz'.

Overall, this is a very good movie, certainly not one to be consigned to the so bad it's (almost) good category, into which must go Polanski's Bitter Moon, which we recently revisited.* It is nevertheless, as the commentator's cliché goes, a game of two halves. In the first period we get a taut and rather theatrical experience rather like an Agatha Christie play, in which we are introduced to a country house full of characters and invited to be suspicious of all of them, at this stage in a fairly non-specific way. It's a testament to Polanski's talent that the mood of unease is so palpable and engaging, even when not much is happening to open the plot up.

The second half begins with a period of discovery and investigation in which the ghost becomes almost certain that his predecessor was murdered, followed by the rapidly ramping up thriller sequence, where credibility does start to get a bit strained.

Why for example, is a serving British foreign secretary able to answer a 212 area code phone at any time of day over an extended period and then able to show up in person within a couple of hours at a remote New England motel accompanied only by a lone goon who looks as if he belongs in a Jean Claude Van Damme movie? And as with Hierro, the 'twist' has rather telegraphed itself at the viewer from an earlier stage in the drama, and I can think of only a few credulous folk who will be rubbing their chins at this point and thinking "you know, there could be some truth in all this..."

Grade: B++

* So good to see a formative Hugh Grant honing his 'steady on old boy' skills!


One of my best friends is currently spending his honeymoon on the Galápagos Islands, suffering a little, it has to be said, from a lack of broadband access, but otherwise content to be rubbing shoulders with giant turtles and komodo dragons, and still able to tweet about the experience.

This remote archipelago remain evolution's ground zero. 201 years after the publication of Darwin's account of what he learned there, I can only claim to have unearthed one credible argument against the actions of Natural Selection in nature. It's essentially a reasoned quibble, rather than one based on observation or experiment — and it goes like this...

Given the known tendency of certain genes to associate themselves in a relationship known as correlation, genes B and B* can be inherited together, even though only gene B is providing an advantage with respect to the environment. Gene B* is thus along for the ride and not being selected for in quite the same way as its partner, and yet nevertheless spreads through the population in a more or less identical fashion.

Now I'm sure you could murk up this neat little protest against Darwin should you choose to delve deeper into the biological complexities of the matter. (Darwin of course knew next to nothing himself about the mechanism of inheritance: genetics. )

But Jerry Fodor — the philosopher who posits this adjustment to our understanding of evolution — has, in doing so, knowingly re-opened one of the great fault-lines in western thinking: between those who favour external factors and those who favour internal ones. See for instance empricism vs rationalism, nature vs nurture, behaviourism vs well, common sense. Fodor looks at evolution as conceived by Darwin and smells a rat, because the process appears to be almost entirely driven, as he puts it, by an external factor: the environment.

Now, for a rational non-scientist (and historian to boot) such as myself, the notion that internal and external factors nearly always work in combination to produce change is close to sacrosanct. So I have to admit to some sympathy for Fodor's position, even while acknowledging that a simple intellectual prejudice may be at work here.

The LRB recently reviewed What Darwin Got Wrong — the book Fodor has co-authored with Massimo Piattelli-Palmerini — and concluded that they have had to create a caricature of contemporary Dawinian thinking in order to find several non-fatal faults within it. So when the pair state that the theory of Natural Selection "overestimates the contribution the environment makes in shaping the phenotype of a species and correspondingly underestimates the effects of endogenous variables," they themselves are underestimating the extent to which scientists include internal or endogenous variables within their modern conception of the 'environment'.

Still, for the reasons described above, I'd find it rare indeed if the most important process of change within the natural world was driven entirely by a combination of undirected variation and external environmental factors, and my suspicion is that biological science will indeed have to accommodate an increasing number of endogenous factors in the years to come.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #32

Temple offering, Bangkok.

'Ichintal Bravo'

Before and after...

Ruth came round with this one on Saturday evening asserting that her father had just dug it up in his güisquil field. We prefer it to yuca. It's more moist and yet maintains an earthy aroma through cooking.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #31

Suburban home with Wat-style roof, Ayutthaya.

Museum Pieces #2

Sticking with the jade schmutter, this rather lovely Chinese Qin Period (?) horse can also be found in the British Museum.

Isla Preidencial, fit the third

Hierro (2009)

Hithcock meets Hideo Nakata in this atmospheric Spanish psychological thriller about a youngish single mother whose son vanishes on a ferry. Much of this atmosphere can be put down to the naturally-occurring uncanniness of the landscape of El Hierro and the tendency of Spanish women of a certain age to speak in eerie whispers.

The aha moment has a degree of predictability about it and Gabe Ibáñez lays it on very thick with the watery symbolism. And what's with the birds? Surely they're emblematic of more than an obvious debt to the master of suspense?

Grade: B (+)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ultimo Encierro

The World Cup went and left a hole in the daily routine that neither the cycling nor the golf was ever going to fill.

We stuck with the latter until it came a bit processional on the final day. D couldn't believe the size of the bunkers at St Andrews. My father has played the old course on a few occasions and swears that at times he doubted he'd get out the sand traps himself, let alone the ball!

For a couple of days after the final whistle in Johannesburg however, we still had those bizarre goings on over in Pamplona, televised by TVe, a 'sporting' event with some semblance to a public catastrophe. In the US they call out the National Guard for less, though thanks to Hemingway Los Sanfermines remain resiliently popular with American travellers, many of whom fork out over one hundred Euros for a balcony package including a share of a view of the mayhem and assorted Navarrense snacks.

The last of the encierros (see clip above) was expected to provide an appropriately danger-laden send off for the festival. And sure enough, the final tally was five hospitalisations, three from gorings. The caramel-coloured bull in the video brought up the rear and for a while refused to follow his mates (and most of the mozos) into the arena before adding to the injury tally. The back-up plan of the organisers seems to be to send in some chaps with rolled up newspaper to whack the bull on the backside in the hope that it will thus recover its forward momentum. For a while we had our doubts that this would work...

I Come with the Rain (2008)

Without the information on the poster that this extraordinarily dreadful movie was the work of Paris-based Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran, one could imagine that it was a collaboration between Mel Gibson and Park Chan-wook...after they'd both been beaten about the head with a hammer until they'd lost the ability to tell any kind of story in a coherent manner.

What we appear to have here is a noxious guisado containing many of the key tropes of global cinematic cool, interspersed with pointless scenes of men in showers or sitting on the edge of beds.

Representing America there's Josh Hartnett's Kline, a former LAPD detective 'contaminated' by his last job, hunting down the serial murderer Hasford, played by Elias Koteas. We get flashbacks to this relationship at various, not especially relevant moments during Kline's new project, an all-expenses paid private investigation into the whereabouts of Shitao, the misplaced son of a Pharma magnate.

Kline heads first to the jungles of the Philippines, where he's told that Shitao was murdered by the goons of a local mining thug who didn't want to contribute to an orphanage. The vaguest of trails takes Kline onto Hong Kong where Shitao does indeed appear to have turned up, performing Christ-like miracles in the long grass outside the city limits.

The police procedural elements of the plot proceed to break down as Shitao inadvertently messes with the missus of evil gangster Su Dongpo played by Korean star Lee Byun-hung. Scenes which appear to be going nowhere are interspersed with others featuring some very icky violence, and all this does somehow lead us to a final crucifiction scene...which may not actually be final after all, but by that time I'd seriously lost interest.

Worryingly, Anh Hung Tran has just finished shooting an adaptation of Murakami's Norwegian Wood.

Grade: C

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #30

Riverside Wat, Ayutthaya.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #27

Elephant tour, Ayutthaya.

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (2009)

Almost as much gore as The Machine Girl, but on almost all levels a better, trashier experience, featuring a string of striking visual ideas.

Mizashima is informed by Vice Principal's daughter Keiko that he is to be her boyfriend. He's the best option in class apparently. Yet the relationship has barely commenced when transfer student Monami shows up and feeds Mizashima some of her own blood inside a chocolate. Now half a vampire, he has to decide where his heart lies. Keiko would seem to have been rather abruptly ruled out when Monami pushes her off the side of the school building, but is soon back as Frankenstein Girl, thanks to the basement experiments of her father and a blob of Monami's blood, which has quite a will of its own.

As well as the central love triangle, we get a politically incorrect insight into Japan's teen tribes, via the high school wrist cutting championships and the ganguro girls ('Black Faced Girls') who not only darken their skin (thus breaking the centuries old male preference for painted white faces) but go as far as to don facial prosthetics and chant 'Yes we can!' All very superb.

Grade: B+

The Machine Girl (2008)

The trailer below will give you a feel for just how much blood is gushing around in this movie.

Most of it is the kind of ridiculously OTT gore that forms the essential ingredient of these low budget Japanese shockers, but there were moments when the contents of my own insides seemed to be dashing towards the exit.

Ami is just an ordinary high school girl until her brother is murdered by a gang headed up by the offspring of a particularly objectionable clan of ninjas turned yakuza. Her early attempts at revenge result in capture and the removal of her right arm. After escaping she hides out at a local mechanic's shop and it so happens that he has the skills to build her a new limb with several deadly weapons incorporated, most notably a chain gun.

The essential awfulness of such movies should never extend to the performances and the production work, as unfortunately it does here. Still, amusing enough for those with strong stomachs and a soft spot for the genre, drill bras et al.

Grade: B (-)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #26

46m long and 15m high, this stunning gold-plated statue — the centrepiece of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha within Wat Pho — illustrates the passing of the Buddha into nirvana. The statue was added to the wat in 18232 to mark the Rama III restoration.

Mamalita's...don't take your best shirt

There are two places in the environs of San Bartolo's plazuela that the locals like to go on Sundays to partake of traditional Guatemalan grub. One is called Mamalita's, and the other...well, just don't.

With our appetites already somewhat blunted by the 'gastronomic' festival, we headed in that direction around one o'clock yesterday. To be honest this was already a little late, because Mamalita's is at its buzziest in the late morning (Sundays only). It's the closest thing to a local equivalent of Spain's pinxos /tapas culture — a place to have a beer and a few snacks before going home for the meal proper, typically consumed a couple of hours after what would normally be considered lunchtime.

This friendly, unsophisticated institution is perhaps best known for its enchiladas (Q10 each, eat-in), but I've never felt up to tackling one of these without a bib...or at least a tatty, desechable t-shirt. On this occasion we ordered some salpicón (shredded beef salad) and guacamol with tortillas to go with our litro of Gallo (above).

Much of the food we've been cooking this week has featured the native herb/weed chipilín. We bought a substantial quantity one afternoon at the market and spent much of the subsequent evening painstakingly stripping the leaves off the stalks. (They can leave a bitter taste.)

The last of it went into V's dish below: seared tuna in a parsley, lime and pepper sauce accompanied by pitta bread and a rice cooked in the pan with chipilín, corn, ejotes, broccoli, cauliflower, raisins and hierbabuena. She sprinkled fresh Italian parmesan over she does with most things, while it lasts. A dash of smoky pimentón also went in, but only after the rice had been fried with the other ingredients. All went down well with Baltika No7.

Same old, same old

This weekend Antigua hosted a disappointingly lame gastronomic festival. V had warned me not to have a big breakfast yesterday because we'd soon be gorging ourselves on interesting Guatemalan goodies, but I already had my suspicions that it would be more enticing to people with cameras than those with plastic spoons.

We stayed about half an hour from twelve thirty until one. It had kicked off at midday and already things were getting disheveled and the cooks representing the various aldeas were apparently having difficulty keeping some of the concoctions warm in their earthenware pots.

V's expectations of discovering something unusual were not met. I can't imagine there were many people there who'd never tried a pepián or revolcado.

Given the corporate sponsorship, the prices were a bit silly frankly. In the end we paid Q20 for a rather miserly portion of pollo con crema y loroco, most of which went back home for the dog. It was essentially a boney piece of chicken covered in cream and butter with a barely perceptible aftertaste of loroco, accompanied by agglutinative white rice.

Some of the selections were very well presented, others less so. San Juan del Obispo made a superior effort it has to be said, and the chef (above) was happy to have his picture taken, unlike some of the viejas amargadas I could mention!

I sometimes despair at the quality of local 'gastronomy'. When people learn to cook here they simply learn to cook the stuff that everyone knows how to cook. A sense of what one might achieve given a little passion and creativity doesn't seem to form part of any of the courses taught here. (Indeed, one woman who had recently graduated as a 'chef' was critical of V for adding basil to her pasta once. Apparently la albahaca is for medicinal purposes only. Gnnngh.)

And it is such a pity, because given the availability of ingredients this could so easily be a gastronomic paradise. But the locals seem to revel in the rutinario, or perhaps are simply afraid to experiment, and most of the visitors don't seem to expect all that much (nor wish to pay for it.)

Anyway, as if by way of compensation we moved on to Mamalita's afterwards, where we knew we'd get some decent traditional fare. (More on that ragged little institution later.) And in the evening we much enjoyed Felipe's caldo de mariscos, which is actually a match for any old tom yam you might already be acquainted with.

So this morning I was resigned to having some serious timba trouble and to have no real idea what the root cause of it had been, but I appear to be in the clear so far (apart from the colic attack brought on by this post!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Museum Pieces #1

Olmec jade head, from between 1200 and 400 BC. (British Museum)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #25

This soup is completely out of order!

Local lipdub

200 out of the 396 inhabitants of Herreruela, a small community close to Toledo, perform a very Spanish version of Waka Waka.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Book of Eli (2009)

I might not have held out much hope for this movie if I'd read the screenplay in advance, but this rather bizarre genre mish-mash The Road meets Mad Max 2 meets Pale Rider comes a spoiler, Zatoichi has benefited from a superior implementation. The cast is particularly stellar: Denzel Washington plays Eli, a 'walker' carrying the last copy of the King James Bible some thirty years after a war/solar flare event has re-primitivised things considerably (though there still seems to be some stockpiles of fossil fuels for those who prefer n0t to walk.)

Eli has been heading West for three decades, a fact that seems a little less absurd once the movie has delivered its big reveal. Gary Oldman plays the township headman desperately seeking a copy of the good book so that he can exploit its potential for manipulating the needy. This apparent recognition of the bad news aspect of the biblical message makes up in part for the fanciful Christian fervour otherwise emanating from this story.

Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour put in nice little cameos as an ageing couple holding out in what seems to be the last farm-house on the charred remains of the great plains. Tom Waits also shows up as a shopkeeper for whom KFC freshening wipes are a valuable commodity and Malcolm McDowell (uncredited) as the man piecing civilisation back together book by book, who has an unassuming little space on his shelf for the book of Eli.

Grade: B(+)

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #24

Statues of musicians, Sawasdee House cafe-bar, Soi Rambutri, Bangkok.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Possesion (1981)

Back in 1983 the New York Times movie critic Vincent Canby reported how Zulawski's cult movie reveals a familiar cultural divide: "One critic reported that the Cannes audience was ''traumatized'' by it. New York audiences may be reduced to helpless laughter." In other words, Possession will either be the most ludicrous film you have ever seen...or you are a pretentious European.

Now here's the thing. This movie shouldn't really have worked for me. In fact it shouldn't work for anybody, but I have a known immunity to the kind of spiritual upheaval that movies like The Exorcist supposedly induce. On a fundamental level, I can't take personifications of evil all that seriously. And yet, although far from traumatised, I was thoroughly entertained, and yes, to a certain extent, disturbed.

It appears that the actors were instructed to deliver their lines — more often than not apparently scripted by a committee of depraved psychotics with phrasebook English — at an emotional pitch fluctuating in and out of what would generally be regarded as normal. Every so often however there are little gems of more lucid dialogue which catch the attention, as if emerging from a neblina of nonsense. ("For the first time you look vulgar to me..." Sam Neil also spouts a lot of stuff about a dog that comes to die under the porch and yelps 'as if it's seen something real'.)

Something similar is going on with the plot. If ever there was one,
Zulawski goes about losing it willfully almost from the opening. Yet most of the scenes still function to drive the narrative onwards, while many imitate the familiar tropes of the genre.

And this is against a backdrop of what I can only describe as histrionic symbolic overload. It's as if the subtext has stormed the Winter Palace of comfortable bourgeois meanings and basically ransacked the place.

If the words and actions are almost empty of meaning, the streets of Berlin we behold are almost empty....but tellingly not completely so. For instance, when Heinrich emerges from the apartment block bleeding, attentive viewers might spot another man running away in the distance.

It's true that Europeans of a certain age will tune into some of this visual suggestion a little more easily. Berlin itself was then the über-symbol of the darker side of European imagination, and cropped up all over the place in the popular culure of the time, such as in this tune from the Mobiles produced a year later. (An 80s aesthetic that was successfully satirised by Not The Nine O'Clock News. I suppose you could read Possesion as some sort of satire too! It certainly has instances of intentional comedy.)

Here the divided city provides a canopy under which
Zulawski can connect a disparate collection of religious and poltical meanings. In particular it serves as the big daddy of the film's emblems of duality and duplication in this tale.

Now if it really were all a load of crock, I don't think I would have fround it so either so gripping as a viewer, or indeed interesting as a writer, because I genuinely think
Zulawski was experimenting with a number of techniques here for telling a story in a tangibly outreageous manner.

Anyway, if you are going to watch it, seek out the uncut European version. The Yanks, in their wisdom, decided to lop off forty five minutes and rearrange the sequencing of some of the crucial scenes in the hope of creating the kind of sense that North American audiences generally appreciate.

The complete version features the seemingly endless scene below in all its gory glory (and in its proper place in the plotline.) Just before Isabelle Adjani's extended freak-out and subsequent expulsion of all kinds of unpleasant fluids, there occurs one of those inexplicable but powerful moments in the movie — and which V has singled out as her favourite — where the French actress, shot to resemble the Madonna (I think!) looks up at a carved image of Christ on the cross and squeals in a somehow disturbingly muted fashion.

Grade: B++

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #23

Tasteful t-shirt, Khao San Road, Bangkok.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #22

A detail from one of the 178 panels depicting the the Ramakien (Ramayana) epic in frescoes extending clockwise around the cloisters of Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok.

Three versions of the Ramakien survived the sacking of Ayutthaya by Burmese forces in 1767.

This Hindu tale, perhaps first written down in the fourth century BC, reached Southeast Asia via Tamil traders at the end of the first millennium.

Although Thailand's religiosity is considered part of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the Ramayana story provided them with an bolt-on creation myth, as well as respresentations of spirits which complemented long-standing local animistic beliefs.

The basic narrative was retained, albeit transplanted to the culture and topography of Ayutthaya. Rama I (1736-1809), founder of the Chakri dynasty, supervised the composition of the most well-known Thai version, and it was during his reign that Wat Phra Kea0 was constructed.

Later on in Singapore I went to the Ramanaya Revisited exhibition at the Peranakan Museum which traced the impact of the poem's spread to Japan in the east and Iran in the west, while outlining how it was repeatedly indigenised to reflect local traditions and ethos.

The mask of Hunuman "messenger of Rama" (below) was produced in a modern workshop in Phnom Penh, Camodia around a decade ago. Hunuman is the son of the wind god and Anjana, a simian. Serving as a general in the army of the Monkey King Sugriva of Kishkindha, he becomes devoted to Rama and leaps across the sea to Lanka to help find the kidnapped Sita.

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #21

Library train, outskirts of Bangkok.

'España, entera, se va de borrachera'

La marea roja, rojos mareados, toda España a arrojar!

It's all over now...for another four years. The super-talented favourites have won, a result that was as much a relief as a joy to behold. How could we ever have doubted them? Even Alan Hansen appeared deliriously happy with Spain's laboured victory. Todos al ritmo de Shakira.

It couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people really. For now at least it will be 'crisis what crisis?' across Spain. It's probably also no exaggeration to suggest that this will be the most unifying event in that nation's history over the past hundred years.

We watched some of the pre and post match coverage on Spanish TV. A Dutch couple who were married yesterday in A Coruña were handed an orange shirt by the priest with the player name Van Aperder printed on the back!

Later we watched a gathering outside a seaside cafe in that same city watching the final on a large plasma screen. When Iniesta's goal went in a passing waiter threw his tray and all of its contents up in the air.

The final itself will be remembered for the Shaolin Soccer approach of the Naranja Mecánica. I lost count of how many Dutchmen hadn't been booked at the end of what was one of the most cynical tactical displays in the history of the finals. A stand out moment in this nervy match was Van Bommel running up to English ref Howard Webb after he'd just dished out another yellow card and gesticulating wildly as if to say 'that's enough, OK???!'

I will also always remember how Casillas broke down in tears after the deadlock was finally broken. One of those cynical Dutchmen even whacked the ball up from the half-way line towards the goal of the apparently stricken keeper in the hope of spoiling the fiesta before it had even really got started.

It was a good thing too that we had a few hours of football nonsense to keep us busy yesterday because it was the grimmest day of the year here in La Antigua...the grimmest of any year quizás.

It perhaps hasn't been the very best Mundiales. There weren't that many great goals, there wasn't a classic match (the third place play-off was bizarrely the most exciting) and, with respect to the undoubtedly wonderful, tweeting, golden-bollocked Diego Forlán, its outstanding star was a cephalopod. And we're surely going to be stuck with those blasted vuvuzelas for a while yet.

I've certainly had my fill of Guatemalan football commentary. Those guys just don't know when to shut up. It's as if they're commentating for radio: when not describing events on screen that viewers are perfectly capable of perceiving themselves ("balón que llega...") they're engaging in embarrassingly uninformed debates on collateral matters and often enough miss the build-up to an actual goal. And, worst of all, they're not even in the stadium, they're just watching it on TV like the rest of us.

If the commentary on BBC and ITV was ultimately superior, the punditry back in Blighty was persistently annoying. I'm not sure I'd really swap Alan 'I've been to the townships' Shearer for all those 'black continent' remarks across the Guatemalan coverage. Or indeed ITV's presumption that we all wanted Ghana to beat Uruguay for Canal 3's presumption that the reverse result was conspicuously preferable.

Anyway, after the match Iker Casillas did the customary interview with his reporter girlfriend Sara Carbonero. She'd taken some of the blame for Spain's upset against Switzerland in the first group match ('distracting influence'), but each time they subsequently come face to face for a post-match chat, they'd both been unshakeably professional. But last night we witnessed what has hailed as 'el achuchón más famoso de la historia.'

During the match yesterday every time Princess Letizia spotted herself on the big screen she looked as if she wanted to jump up
and wave, or even scream "esto es la oooostia!" much to the apparent discomfort of her husband.

We're watching la Roja arriving at the Palacio de Oriente right now, all looking a bit the worse for wear. The cathedral bells are tolling in Madrid. (PS: even the little Infantas can hold the cup, so the argument that it can't be solid gold gains credibility.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Trip pic of the day: Thailand #s 18 and 19

Monks praying inside the main bot at Wat Pho, Bangkok. The meditating Buddha image was rescued from Ayutthaya by Rama I's brother.