Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Transgressive love

Went to see Code 46 this evening and came away disappointed. The basic story follows an ID investigator (Tim Robbins) pursuing then falling in love with the fraudster (Samantha Morton). The individual elements of the film worked beautifully, but ultimately they failed to coalesce into a coherent, satisfying whole. The film had little context or detail, and I found it emotionally flat and a little dull.

But I'm not keen on dismissing it outright as there were numerous individual elements (visual, conceptual and structural) that worked for me and, I feel, will have me rewatching it when it's released on DVD:

- It's a futuristic movie, set in an alternative present governed by a unitary global force. Everyone speaks a global patois of English, Spanish, Italian, French and Mandarin Chinese. Due to the widespread practice of assisted conceptions and sperm- and egg-donated births, people from the same gene pool are forbidden to have sexual relations with one another.
- It is exquisitely shot - eery and ethereal, not edgy like usual futuristic films - around Shanghai, Dubai and Jaipur.
- Key themes revolve around alienation and dislocation, love and transgression, and the conflict between individual and global autonomy, and insiders and outsiders.
- Unusual for a sci-fi movie, Code 46 is short on special effects and plot and long on ideas and vision. It's grainy not slick, rough around the edges with an inconclusive ending, decidedly lo-fi, and the bad guys of the future are not aliens but ourselves.
- Morton and Robbins are endlessly watchable as individual characters, but not together - there's none of the oddly mismatched chemistry of Murray and Johansson in the stylistically-similar Lost in Translation.

Afterwards, we went back to eat in Asmara - a much more rewarding experience.

Related link:
+ Channel 4 review of Code 46

Other links today:
+ Bashing the McMasses. The inherent class snobbery of Super Size Me
+ Richard Dawkins' musings on "race"

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Why I love Flickr

The internet's most empowering value lies in the ease with which new social connections are made. I'm not talking about closed social networks like Friendster, LinkedIn, Spoke and Orkut, which privatise the internet by requiring invitations to join, and focus primarily on who, not what, you know.

I'm talking about those ubiquitous networks in which connections between people, ideas and things are more freely made. These include email, public bulletin boards, chat, P2P, instant messaging, blogs (with comments enabled, of course), and even Amazon customer reviews. I love having the freedom to engage and participate whenever I feel compelled to, within networks of people I may or may not have met in person.

More and more people are using social networking applications in innovative ways. I've come across two examples in the past week. Most of you who read blogs regularly know that Flickr is no ordinary online photo sharing application. It has a photo annotation feature that was most recently and creatively used by Betrand Sereno to share his recipe for lemon pie. When you hover over each hotspot, the associated method pops up (screenshot above). Other peoples' comments vary from the difference between white and brown eggs, to how to make vanilla sugar. I love cooking and, a few years ago, put many of my family's Bengali recipes online, but it's a static site and I love the idea of doing it Betrand's wholly visual way and inviting comments for improvements and variations. Watch this space.

Another inventive use of Flickr is Prandial's "Flicktion" - in which photos of Florentine doorbells inspire and are appended by short stories. An idea that would be even more ingenious if commenters started reacting to, adapting and completely rewriting the stories. Ah, the social possibilities.

Related links:
+ Let's be Friendsters. Social networking sites are spreading like a rash through the internet, but are they sustainable?
+ The truth about why I hate Friendster

Other links today:
+ Please make my perfect cup of tea. Here's a pantone chart you can hang in your office kitchen so your colleagues can make your perfect cuppa based on your preferred pantone reference. Genius.
+ Hell is 57 varieties. Endless choice was supposed to herald progress, but it has only made us more miserable.
+ Space tourism. Sir Richard Branson is at it again.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Bits and bobs

Spent Sunday in Brighton, covering the new media side of the trade justice demonstration outside the Labour Party Conference. Some 6,000 demonstrators from across the UK turned up to voice their "fairer, not freer trade" message on behalf of a variety of campaigning organisations. Here is my "photomentary" of the day.

The UK has its first Islamic Bank. The Islamic Bank of Britain is based on the principles of the Sharia'a, or Islamic Law, which includes the belief that money has no intrinsic value and interest is forbidden. Money is accrued through equitable sharing of profits made through "legitimate trade and investment in assets". Fascinating.

Finally, three more things I’ve learned from the BBC this week:

1. The flatulence of sheep, cattle and other farm animals accounts for 25% of world methane emissions.
2. There are now more different kinds of cheese made in the UK than France.
3. Cancers produce certain odours, which dogs have been scientifically proven to have the ability to smell.

I'm still shaking off a cold, so I'm now going to curl up in bed and start a new book: Poppy Z. Brite's Drawing Blood.

Other links today:
+ Badly served: the isolation of country life
+ Forty years of The Sun. It actually started life as a leftwing newspaper.
+ Come on Barbie, let's go mobile. Mattel introduce Barbie with a mobile and instant messenger in India - and the mobile works!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Great Stone Face

Saw the wonderfully hysterical Our Hospitality (1923) at the National Film Theatre this afternoon - a rejuvenated print accompanied, at the side of the screen, by a live, improvised piano score by Andrew Youdell. Both adults and children in the audience were in stitches all the way through this feature-length adventure movie about a man who falls in love with the daughter of his late father's mortal enemy.

Even though Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush (1925) is one of my all time favourite movies, it is the humour of Great Stone Face - Buster Keaton - that gives me the most satisfying pleasure. Unlike Chaplin, Keaton eschewed sentimentality and happy endings for bitterness, dejection, even death. His characters are existential heroes, deadpanning their way through stoic lives. He was the most silent of silent movie stars.

His biographer, Edward McPherson:

"Keaton was a man who prized subtlety and understood meaning in the flick of an eye, a momentary hesitation, a shift in weight, a motion half-begun. He underscored the big screen spectacle (cyclones, avalanches, stampedes) with the perfectly underplayed detail."

The NFT is fast becoming my favourite venue for movie-watching and I'm incredibly excited that it will be hosting, again, many of the films showing at the upcoming 48th London Film Festival (20 October - 4 November). October's going to be a busy month.

Right, I'm now going to spend the rest of the evening watching all my Buster DVDs. Uncork the wine and unwrap the Maltesers!

Related links:
+ How to make a porkpie hat
+ The International Buster Keaton Society
+ IMDb biography

Other links today:
+ Excuse me, can I have your seat, please? Subway etiquette and morality.
+ The history of the "ethnic" restaurant in Britain

Friday, September 24, 2004

"Heat" with balls

"Victoria just wants someone to be nice to her: Ms Waitress writes - 'Victoria Beckham is a regular visitor to Pizza Hut in Harlow. She only picks from the salad bar and drinks diet coke. She is so thin she looks like a child in a wig from the back. The kids run riot around the place. Victoria sits at the table not talking to anyone except into her mobile. The bodyguard acts more like a father-figure to the kids. She was overheard on a recent visit saying into her mobile, 'I just need someone to be nice to me today'. (FYI: Don't feel too sorry for Posh - she's a renowned tightwad who doesn't tip at Pizza Hut or at her hair and beauty salons.)"
"Illegal animal fights at Baghdad Zoo: Last year after conquering Baghdad, American troops got so bored they paid the keepers of the city zoo to let them go in at night and stage animal fights. Animals were a bit thin on the ground so they scoured the markets to set up bouts - i.e. five quails versus a wolf (victory: wolf). The big wash-out was a bear versus a lion. Apparently they 'just kind of looked at each other and circled round for a bit, then sat down.' Guess this all stopped when they thought up a more exciting game at Abu Ghraib."

Two reasons why everyone should join my favourite email list, Popbitch.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Under the weather

The seasons change and I get a temperature. No surprises there - half my office is ill. The only

good thing about getting sick is the excuse to lie in bed all day, alternating dizzy, snuffly sleep with large helpings of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (family size bar) and 3 or 4 novels.

Other links today:
+ Why do leaves change colour in the autumn?
+ Why do the seasons change?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ladies of Brixton

Went for a lunchtime stroll round Brixton today and met some lovely local ladies. Come and meet them all.

Other link today:
+ History of the UK's 999 emergency number. Link inspired by Kottke's History of the US 911 number.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Family narratives

Last night I went to hear Hanif Kureishi read at the Cochrane Theatre in Holborn.

Hanif Kureishi is one of Britain's most successful authors, and his body of work - novels, screenplays and memoirs - have brought the British Asian experience into the mainstream and opened up the subject to an entire generation.

I prefer his earlier works - books such as The Buddha of Suburbia and screenplays such as My Beautiful Launderette - because they deal, in exquisite detail, with the messy interplay of diverse ethnicities, sexualities and political persuasions, to his later works that focus more on the claustrophobic minutiae of personal relationships. But here I'm passing judgement more on my own tastes than on Kureishi's.

His latest book is a novel-memoir - "My Ear at his Heart: Reading my Father" - describing the discovery of his late father’s manuscript. The manuscript details the father’s life in India, post-partition Pakistan, post-war Britain and his role as husband to an English wife and father to Hanif. The discovery, combined with turning 50, conspire to make Kureishi ponder his and his family's history:

"Some sort of search is beginning. I guess you don't really go looking for your parents until middle age. For me, this has become a quest, for my place in Father's history and fantasy, and for the reasons my father lived the semi-broken life he did. As a boy with one sister and a mother who is an only child, I was fascinated by Dad's large family, by the cricket teams, the swimming, the companionship. A number of my close male friendships have been attempts to recreate what I imagined was a 'brotherhood'."

The reading made me reflect on my own family narratives. As my parents age, I too find myself paying keener attention to their stories of childhoods in India before, during and after Independence, of building a life in England, of negotiating the minefield of parenthood. They're stories that beg to be told, then passed on, before they are lost forever. But asking them to share their experiences with me is uncomfortable, because it throws up the spectre of mortality - for all three of us.

Other links today:
+ The loneliness of being German. In striving to exorcise their past Germans have surrendered their ability to love themselves and their country.
+ The paradox of race and no-race. Geneticists and historians grapple with the gray areas of race
+ Wikipedia's entry on "race"

Monday, September 20, 2004

Guilty secret

I have never watched a Star Wars movie all the way through. I really try to get into them, but fail each time. Sometimes I even confuse Star Wars with Star Trek. However, everyone around me is buzzing about the new DVD boxset, out today, so this is as far as my enthusiasm goes: Star Wars Trilogy Box Set - three of the best movies of all time, apparently.

Related links today:
+ Che Guevara and Star Wars mashup ti-shirt
+ Che Guevara and Michael Moore mashup ti-shirts and badges

Sunday, September 19, 2004

"Sorry, no coloureds, no blacks"

The Museum of Immigration and Diversity off London's Brick Lane is Europe's only known museum of its type - a shocking fact considering the entire history of our continent is based on the movement of economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Set in the heart of the East End, the museum building itself is steeped in the rich British history of immigration - having once been home to a Huguenot silk merchant from the early 1700s, and concealing a rare Victorian synagogue from 1869. Today it chronicles the movement of French Huguenots, Irish, Bengalis and Somalis into the area and challenges each of us to consider our own immigrant ancestry: one of the exhibits, for example, features a mirrored suitcase, the inscription of which invites us to look at ourselves: "All of us are immigrants or descended from immigrants, it just depends how far back you look".

While I was there today, on one of the museum's rare openings to the public (just 10 a year because of the poor structural state of the building), I overheard a museum guide enquiring about a young man's own ancestry and him replying "Oh, I'm just French", to which the guide responded: "That doesn't mean you don't have an immigrant history!"

All the stories told here are of people fleeing political turmoil, famine or poverty. But many people moved here simply because they wanted to. My father left India for a variety of non-urgent reasons: for a sense of adventure, to make a better financial life for himself, to study.

He left a steaming Cochin harbour in 1960 with a newly-minted degree in his pocket and spent 17 and a half days on a boat to Milan. He travelled to Germany by train and had his first experience of snow, which excited him but intensified his homesickness for sunshine and heat. Even though he didn't know any German, he found a job as a manager's assistant and stayed for 6 months, saving money to fulfill his dream of crossing the Channel to England.

Arriving in Victoria Station, London, he asked a friendly, 6 foot tall British bobby for help finding a room. The policeman directed him to an Indian-owned house - a very rare thing in those days - in Belsize Park and my father shared a room with 3 or 4 other newly-arrived Indian men. After a few weeks he started yearning for more private lodgings. Eagerly scanning the newsagents' windows, he came across lots of little, handwritten cards advertising rooms for rent, but all of them had "Sorry, no coloureds, no blacks" scrawled over them. But he persevered and eventually found a room, with a landlady who was so suspicious of him she said he could have the room on the condition that he cooked no curries there and that she had the right to give him 1 day's notice. He stayed there 3 and a half years.

There were so few brown people in north London at the time that to meet other Indians he would simply approach them on the street. Slowly he began making friends and they regularly met up for long walks in Hyde Park and on Hampstead Heath. Many of these remained friends long after I was born, years later. It's a habit he hasn't lost. When my parents visited me in South Dakota, USA, a few years ago, we saw what seemed like the state's only "real Indian", in my local supermarket. My father immediately went up to this man and started chatting. We met his wife and had several dinners together - all within the 3 weeks my parents were in the States.

Anyway, my father eventually got a job as an accounts assistant at the BBC, and when it came time to move in to his own flat, his once-suspicious landlady asked if any of his Indian friends wanted to rent the room!

By the time my mother arrived in 1968, he was well-established in London and she simply fit into his network of friends - a much easier experience, although she has her own immigrant story to tell and I'll save that for another time.

Related link:
+ Never ending story: John Cunningham on the tangled past and present of a museum of immigration (The Guardian)

Other links today:
+ A great panoramic shot of Brooklyn and Manhattan by photoblogger Joseph Holmes - be sure to check out the rest of the photoblog too.
+ My favourite NYC photoblogger at the moment

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Dandies in the Underworld, circa 1640

A wander around the National Gallery today unearthed this little gem from the Mond Room - Anthony Van Dyck's disdainful, haughty and camp Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart. Irrefutable proof that David Bowie and Marc Bolan were not, afterall, the first Queens of Glam.

Related link:
+ The Guardian's portrait of the week

Other links today:
+ Toni Morrison telling black America's 'other' story
+ "Real" "art" or "Mr Grumpy goes to an art museum and comes out belaboring the obvious!" (large JPG cartoon, takes time to load).

Friday, September 17, 2004

Salam Pax returns

I haven't kept up with Salam Pax's Baghdad blog since late last year. During the Iraq war, I - along with tens of thousands of others - was rivetted by this Iraqi's harrowing, funny, sarcastic and finely-observed reportage from the frontline, and by the fact that he was young, artistic, gay (a frightening thing to admit to being even in post-Saddam Iraq) and loved the music of David Bowie. So I am excited to discover that he is posting again. Here are two of his most recent posts:

01 Sep 04:

"Went to Sadr City again today. I don't really like going there very much, it depresses me. It looks bad, it smells bad and there are no happy faces just worried old faces and frowning young ones. and I seem to have slept on the wrong side of the bed; I woke up in a lousy mood. What I saw there can only be described as a provocation. Sadr City is not just surrounded by American tanks but they seem to have cut it off the rest of the city.

"Very few shops were open on the street, a guy who was just closing told me why. Mahdi Army was on the attack just further down the street. They have had a difficult night here and he showed me where a mortar fell and damaged his shop and by the sound of it they were still at it.

"Why do I think the American presence today is like poking a stick into a hornets nest? because many of the Mahdi guys will be coming back whipped and feeling they have wasted three weeks and what do they find when they get home? More Americans at their doorsteps. Not just a couple of tanks, but totally surrounding the center of the district. Am I surprised that there was a fire exchange?"

27 Aug 04

"[Iraq's leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani. Does he need a Queer eye for the straight guy makeover? I mean look at the beard! he is trying to throw his weight around these days and he really needs to work on his image. Ungroomed facial hair will not get you very far habibi."

More Salam Pax entries in the run-up, during and after the war:

09 Mar 03:

"A BBC reporter walking thru the Mutanabi Friday book market ends his report with: "It looks like Iraqis are putting on an air of normality". Look, what are you supposed to do then? Run around in the streets wailing? War is at the door eeeeeeeeeeeee!

"In order not to disappoint the BBC; me, Raed and G. put on our "normal" faces and went to buy CDs from Arassat Street in a demonstration of normality. After going first into Sandra’s fruit juice shop and getting what people from foreign would probably call a poor imitation of a banana and apple smoothie, we spent half an hour contemplating the CD racks at music shop. Raed being the master of talk-and-slurp-at-the-same-time technique was trying to steal away my "normality" by reminding me that I will be wasting my 10,000 Dinars because there will be no electricity for the CD player."

"Other normal stuff we did this week:

- Finished taping all the windows in the house, actually a very relaxing exercise if you forget why you are doing it in the first place.
- Prepared one room for emergency nasty attacks and bought "particle masks" - that’s what it says on the box - for use if they light those oil trenches, the masks just might stop our lungs from becoming tar pits. They are very hot items since the word on the trenches spread, you can buy one for 250 Dinars and they are selling faster than the hot cakes of bab-al-agha."

11 Mar 03:

Riverbend (a young woman living in Baghdad and contributing to Salam's blog):

"Salam, you've reminded me that we have to get to duct-taping the windows (did you use an 'X' pattern or the traditional '*'?). [Salam: the * star is good but with particularly big windows I have been using a plus and Xs in each quadrant].We've all been talking about the war, discussing the possibilities, implications, etc. but it really hit me yesterday when I got home and 'lo and behold! There were no pictures or paintings on the walls! So I asked, stupidly, "Where are all the pictures?" I was told that they've been 'put away' because who knew what might come tumbling down if a bomb fell particularly close... Otherwise, yes, we are living normally- going to work, cleaning house, eating, drinking. Life doesn't stand still every time America threatens war."

16 Mar 03:

"How could "support democracy in Iraq" become to mean "bomb the hell out of Iraq"? why did it end up that democracy won’t happen unless we go thru war? Nobody minded an un-democratic Iraq for a very long time, now people have decided to bomb us to democracy? Well, thank you! how thoughtful. [...] Do support democracy in Iraq. But don’t equate it with war."
"Do you know when the sight of women veiled from top to bottom became common in cities in Iraq? Do you know when the question of segregation between boys and girls became red hot? When tribal law replaced THE LAW? When Wahabi became part of our vocabulary? It only happened after the Gulf War. I think it was Cheney or Albright who said they will bomb Iraq back to the stone age, well you did."

22 Mar 03:

"Today the third [day] in the war, we had quite a number of attacks during daytime. Some without air-raid sirens. They probably just gave up on being able to be on time to sound the sirens. Last night, after waves after waves of attacks, they would sound the all-clear siren only to start another raid siren 30 minutes later."

23 Mar 03:

"There are no waving masses of people welcoming the Americans nor are they surrendering by the thousands. People are [d]oing what all of us are, sitting in their homes hoping that a bomb doesn’t fall on them and keeping their doors shut."

02 Apr 03:

"Actually too tired, scared and burnt out to write anything. Yes we did go out again to see what was hit. Yes everything just hurts. Conversations invariably use the sentence "what’s wrong with them? Have they gone mad?" I can’t stand the TV or the lies on the news any more. No good news wherever you look.

"Baghdad is looking scarier by the minute. There are now army people everywhere. My uncle will have to move out of his house because there is going to be an anti aircraft battery installed too close to it, the area where we live does not look too good either, we are surrounded by every sort of military outfit there is. Every school in the area is now an army or party center. I avoid walking in front of the school in our neighborhood, I try the ostrich maneuver; see no evil = evil has vamoosed out of existence."

22 May 03:

"So the "interim Iraqi government" got screwed. Quelle surprise!! Not too hot about any of them anyway and this way we get to blame the Americans for the screwing up of our future. They have been involved in creating the mess we are in now, they should take responsibility in helping us clear it up. Ummm, let’s put it this way so no one gets pissed off: Pretty please with sugar on top, don’t leave now and let the loony mullahs stick me on a pole and leave me in the sun to think about my "Sins"."

23 May 03:

"Pool side at Hamra hotel. Where every journalist wishes he had a room reserved. If they sit long enough there they could just forget that there was a war going on outside the hotel fences. Jennifer Lopez squeaking out of the speakers and cool $5 beers with over priced burgers and salads. [...] They come in carrying cameras, sound gear or big folders with a red cross on them. Minutes later they are sipping on a beer wearing as little as they can.

"Raed simply refused to get out of the water, he kept telling me that the moment I would walk out of the hotel doors I will be back in Baghdad: no electricity, lines at gas stations, prices as burning hot as the weather and a life that looks as if it will never return to normal. You couldn’t define normal now anyway. Have you seen how a fish flips on its sides when brought out of water? This is how it feels in Baghdad these days. You are not even sure if what you say is going to get you a black eye."

"It is difficult, a two sided coin. On one side they are the US Army, invader/liberator - choose what you like, big guns, strange sounds coming out of their mouths. The other side has a person on it that in many cases is younger than I am in a country he wouldn’t put on his choice of destinations. But he has this uniform on, the big gun and those darkdark sunglasses which make it impossible to see his eyes. Difficult."

30 May 03:

"If it weren’t for the intervention of the US, Iraq would have seen saddam followed by his sons until the end of time. But excuse me if I didn’t go out and throw flowers at the incoming missiles."

07 Feb 04:

"Two days ago I spent the night at my apartment instead of staying over at my parent’s. I don’t go there too often anymore; it is too close to the "green zone". Too much gunfire at night. By now almost every Iraqi can tell the difference between a Kalashnikov (what the so-called resistance is likely to carry) and the sound of the machine guns US troops have. The constant reminders that it is not over yet."

Related links:
+ Where is Raed? Salam Pax's Baghdad blog.
+ Shut up you fat whiner! Salam Pax's new blog.
+ Salam's story (The Guardian interview).
+ Iraqis seek a voice via blogs (The BBC).
+ Iraq timeline, 1979-2004 (The Guardian).
+ Iraq timeline, February 2004 to present (The Guardian).
+ Salam Pax: The Baghdad Blog (Salam's book).

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dreaming spires

Had a day off work and have just returned from a lovely day in Oxford, ambling through the city and meeting up with old friends still there. Though I studied and worked in Oxford for - gulp - 8 years, I still get a little tingle of awe every time I return. It's a city I still cannot take forgranted.

When I was nine, my family visited this city of dreaming spires (I fall for this cliche every time, sorry) as tourists and I remember standing in the middle of Radcliffe Square, gazing round at St Mary's Church, the Bodleian Library, All Souls college and the Camera dreaming of medieval monks scurrying to class on foggy mornings and the clippety-cloppety hooves of horses, never really imagining that one day I would have the privilege of actually studying there. I also remember cycling through the Square at 5 in the morning, late for rowing on the Isis and not a bus or car in sight and having a surreal moment when I truly believed I had been transported back to the middle ages. The city still surprises me like that. Thank goodness.

To cap a perfect day, I had the pleasure of sharing the bus back with a beautiful young Anthony Kiedis lookalike. Siiiighhhhhhh.

Related links:
+ University of Oxford
+ Some photos of Oxford (taken by me today)

Other links today:
+ Critique magazine's special on writing
+ Did the man who wrote The Merchant of Venice and created Shylock actually meet a Jew? (Reg. req.)
+ Will Wright on The Sims 2. I'm fascinated with this game although I never have the patience to play more than 10 minutes of it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Eritrean evening

Tonight a big group of us invaded Asmara in Brixton. This Eritrean restaurant is owned by husband and wife Tedros and Haregu and sits squarely in the middle of Coldharbour Lane. It was my first experience of Eritrean cooking and it won't be my last. I'm hooked.

Haregu spooned steaming dollops of meat stew on layers of a sour, fermented, spongy pancake - inerja - which we tore off from the plate and scooped up the stews with our fingers (no cutlery here!). Inerja is made from teff - one of the world's smallest grains, measuring roughly 1/32 of an inch in diameter. Apparently, around 150 grains equal the size of a kernel of wheat.

We ate several different kinds of stew, including kulwa (tender pieces of lamb fried in a spicy sauce), derho alicha (a richly spiced chicken concoction), gored gored (tartar beef cubes with spiced butter), fried spicy potatoes and spinach sauteed in olive oil, lemon, garlic and chilli. Eritrean spices include hot chilli pepper, basil, garlic, ginger, black and white cumin, and cardamom.

Some of the group opted for the vegetarian platter - also on layers of inerja. The veggie option included ajibo behmilti (spinach with ricotta and spiced butter), shiro (finely ground chickpeas with olive oil and spices) and temtemo (a spicy lentil stew).

A wonderful evening, to be repeated often.

Related links:
+ History of Eritrea (BBC)
+ Eritrean cuisine

Other link today:
+ Full text original Quarto editions of Shakespeare (British Library). This is so exciting!

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Please visit

Gluttony in Banglatown

Spent a gluttonous day at the Brick Lane Festival today. Brick Lane is a street in east London that is in constant cultural flux. The first community to settle there was the Huguenots in the 1700s, followed, generation on generation, by Jews, Somalis, Bangladeshis, and now middle-class "arty" yuppies whose vintage clothing and art shops cluster around the Bethnal Green end of Brick Lane. Brick Lane was the place Jack the Ripper roamed, Stalin and Trotsky shared a flat, and the suffragettes headquartered.

Bangladeshis came to the area as seamen in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and the cooking skills they practised on the boats led to the opening of Britain's first curry houses. Today, Brick Lane's alternative name is Banglatown, so named because the large Bangladeshi community continue to thrive there: sari and fabric stores, Bangladeshi mini-markets and endless traditional and fusion Bangladeshi restaurants and cafes huddle both sides of the narrow street.

The Brick Lane Festival takes place every year and is billed as "a celebration of trade and culture". As we walked down the street, we greedily stuffed ourselves with a smogasbord of Bangladeshi food from stalls that lined both sides: Bengali sweets (rosogollas, gulab jamun and chom choms), savoury snacks such as namkeen, and, of course, curries: we ate pilau rice and a very spicy lamb curry, followed by veggie samosas and shish kebabs, all washed down with Cobra beer.

A music stage was set up in Allen Park: saccharine Asian pop music that was nothing like the hard-hitting underground Asian drum & bass at the Gunnersbury Mela, but the police presence was just as strong. South Asian gang warfare is rife in London and a festival or mela is the perfect site for inter-gang sparring. The 50-odd-member Brick Lane Massive - largely teenage boys - controls the Brick Lane area. The Massive and other gangs such as the Drummond Street Boys, Cannon Street Posse and Shadwell Crew are all hangovers from the 1970s, when south Asian gangs formed among the second generation to protect themselves against the racist National Front skinheads. Today the bloody battles are more frequently between the gangs.

A good day in all. View my photos from the Festival.

Related link:
+ The real Brick Lane

Other links today:
+ Remember this (In a secret Paris cavern, the real underground cinema)? Now read this (Paris's new slant on underground movies: Clandestine group reveals how it built its cinema beneath the city) . Just fascinating.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

9/11, life goes on

Spent a chilled out day in Richmond, along the River Thames, today, cheering boats in the Great River Race. Some 200 river craft took part - Viking longboats, Hawaiian war canoes, Chinese dragon boats, gigs, skiffs, curraghs, shallops, wherries, whalers and other boats I can't pronounce. The race started in Richmond, southwest London, then continued along the Thames - passing under 14 bridges, through Westminster, along the South Bank and finishing up at Greenwich, some 22 km away. But we stayed in Richmond because it is such a pretty little town, and explored the river path west. A few photos on the right (click on Photoroll) -->

Afterwards, saw the interminable The Terminal (sorry - I'm tired). The film resorted to stereotypes from the get-go: bumbling, fumbling Eastern European; mad, paranoid and plate-juggling Indian; vapid, airhead stewardess; love-struck, Mexican Romeo; laid-back African-American; sinister airport immigration officer (okay - perhaps the latter was spot on). However, I was too bored to be outraged.

I think the BBC put it best: "The Terminal is like standing under a waterfall of vomit for two hours and occasionally being let out for air."

Better to watch "Here to Where", the story of the real Mr Terminal - Merhan Karimi Nasseri - who has spent 16 years living in Charles de Gaulle airport.

Related link:
+ Guide to sleeping in airports

Other links today:
+ US marks three years since 9/11
+ Metafilter thread as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Simply, chillingly harrowing.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Cult of Che

I finally saw The Motorcycle Diaries tonight at the Ritzy. I had been holding off seeing it for all the hype - not only surrounding the movie, but surrounding the iconic status of Che Guevara also. I've never quite understood the "cult of Che" as eulogized on hundreds of students' t-shirts and bedroom walls (students whose fees have no doubt been paid by mummy and daddy and who claim to understand oppressed peoples' lives without actually knowing any). Though I respect his political views, I have never quite reconciled the political rhetoric with his relentless, bloody, murderous violence.

You've read all the reviews so you know that The Motorcycle Diaries is based on the 23-year-old Ernesto 'Che' Guevara's 8,000km road trip from Argentina to Venezuela, with his friend, on a dilapidated Norton 500 motorbike; know that the trip exposed this middle-class medical student to the harsh and unjust realities of peasant and indigenous lives; know that the seeds of Guevara's "revolution" were thus sown on the road.

But I must admit that despite all my reservations, Walter Salles' movie quietly seduced me with its tender charm. Not only was the accounting of Guevara's political coming-of-age unsentimental and balanced, but the cinematography is one of the best I've ever seen. (It also helps that Gael Garcia Bernal as Che is extremely easy on the eye!)

Related links:
+ Che trippers
+ Terrorist chic in popular culture
+ Call them assailants, bombers, captors, commandos, fighters, guerrillas, gunmen, militants, radicals, rebels, or activists. Anything but terrorists.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Kuindzhi's Dnieper

I have no idea why I decided to go to the Russian Landscapes exhibition at the National Gallery tonight. I have never been to Russia, never desired to go to Russia, and although Crime and Punishment is my all time favourite novel, I am ashamed to admit I have never even read Tolstoy or Chekhov. Perhaps it was the gorgeous painting on the exhibition poster that lured me in (all big skies and wide open vistas that had me hankering for the Dakotas). Perhaps it was the fact that my knowledge of Russian art involves little more than either religious icons from the middle ages or revolutionary Stalinist posters.

Actually no, I think it was the offer of free vodka cocktails that did it.

Many of the paintings in the exhibition were derivative of either 18th century Italian art (rustic, rural scenes suffused with soft golden light and groves of olive-coloured trees) or 18th century German Romanticism (heroic and wild landscapes a la Caspar David Friedrich): picture-postcard art that wouldn't look out of place in any suburban living room.

But one room dazzled and made my visit to the exhibition entirely worthwhile. Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi's work presaged Expressionism by several decades. His unique handling of colour meant that the vistas he painted shivered and glowed to the point of other-worldliness. Morning on the Dnieper was like a misty, milky, translucent apparition. Whereas the same scene at night - Moonlit Night on the Dnieper - shone with such a green phosphorescence that it looked like it had been electrified from behind (indeed, when the artist originally exhibited this painting in 1880 against a black curtain and under artificial lighting, visitors were so convinced it had been lit from behind that they kept trying to peer behind the canvas).

Kuindzhi is certainly worth more investigation.

Other links today:
+ Even the Mona Lisa's smile wears thin after a trillion cheap posters
+ Abundance is the curse of classical recording. Enter any classical store or website and you will be overwhelmed by repetition - the same works, done over and over again.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Grassroots TV

Dissatisfaction with mainstream, corporate media and the widespread availability of media technologies such as video recorders and audio machines have triggered a slew of independent, do-it-yourself media projects across the world in recent years. "Media guerillas" such as Brazil's TV Viva, Germany's AK Kraak, New York's Paper Tiger and the UK's Indymedia produce alternative, grassroots news and documentaries, create their own channels of distribution, and screen their films in outlets - internet, public access TV, cinema cafes - that encourage audience participation rather than passivity.

Tonight at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, we attended an evening of short films and discussion protesting the activities of the World Bank and the IMF in developing countries, to commemorate those institutions' 60th birthday this year. Films included "Sakhalin's Black Tears" about the environmental and social devastation of Billion Shell and Exxon Mobil projects off the coast of Russia, and "Traversing Peoples' Lives" about how the World Bank finances community disruption in Cameroon.

I found three of the films particularly potent. The first was "Voces Argentina/Argentina Voices" by Indymedia's Zoe Young and Dylan Howitt, documenting the rising frustration of a population with their president and government. The second was Biju Toppo's "Development Flows from the Barrel of the Gun", which focussed on the narratives of indigenous and local communities in India's Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh who have been dispossessed by foreign-invested, large-scale development projects - dams, ports, mines - on their land. The third film was Guerillavision's "Capitals Ill - Back on the Barricades", which took a sardonic, street-level look at the anti-globalisation 'Reclaim the Streets' protests in Washington DC, 2000.

Grassroots media at its best.

Other links today:
+ Did the first Americans come from, er, Australia? Evidence suggests that the first migration came from Australia via Japan and Polynesia.
+ The spectacular rise of the female terrorist

Monday, September 06, 2004

A night in the suburbs

A lovely late summer's evening - an ice cold beer, a hunk of chocolate, and a wonderful book: Hanif Kureishi's first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia - a coming-of-age story of Karim ("an Englishman born and bred - almost") yearning to escape the South London suburbs, desperate to discover his own identity separate from those of his Asian father Haroon and his best friend Charlie Hero, and struggling, ultimately, to negotiate his way out of 1970s Britain. I can't think of a more perfect beginning to the week.

Other links today:
+ Is the US high noon over? Reflections on the declining global influence of American popular culture.
+ Spotlight on Pedro Almodóvar
+ War on fat. Is the battle against the bulge just fuelling fattism?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Hopper at the Tate

When I was a teenager, isolated in Kentish suburbia, I couldn't relate to England and its claustrophobic, cluttered provincialism. So I sought solace in the existential philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard, the desert plays of Sam Shepard, the poetic adventures of Jack Kerouac and the painted bleakness of Edward Hopper.

Hopper's paintings in particular perfectly conveyed the loneliness and desolation I often felt during this time. It didn't matter that they were iconic images of an America I had never visited; somehow his paintings transcended space and time and instead stood for a certain mood and emotion that was universal.

Today we went to the Hopper retrospective at the Tate Modern. I've moved a long way - emotionally and physically - from those lonely times, and yet today his paintings still managed to evoke in me feelings of alienation.

An intensely emotional experience.

Other links today:
+ McDonalds (or MaDonal) arrives in Iraq. Let the colonisation begin.
+ Theories of play.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Spidey on the magic roundabout

Saw Spiderman 2 at the IMAX tonight. A thoroughly enjoyable movie in breathtaking surroundings. I had never been to the IMAX in Waterloo. It's the UK's largest cinema screen - more than 20 metres high (apparently that's the height of 5 double decker buses) and 26 metres wide, with a 11,600 watt digital surround sound system. I was quite motion-sick by the end of the film, but am now hooked on the IMAX experience.

The transformation of this area is astounding. I remember when it was a wasteland - dead underpasses where people slept rough. Now the IMAX building sits like a magic roundabout in the middle of Waterloo. Extraordinary.

Other links today:
+ A code for dark times. The modern world is a terrifying place. Small wonder adults are taking refuge in fantastical and mystical novels.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Phototelling in Brazil

I'm entranced by photographs for the stories they reveal (and conceal), so it is a joy to discover (via metafilter) the photographs and online documentaries ("photomentaries") of Geoffrey Hiller. His most recent photomentary dazzles. Canto do Brasil (requires Flash, sound and a fast connection) describes the African history and experience of Brazil through photographs and music from contemporary Salvador Bahia, Minas Gerais, Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
"Salvador Bahia was Brazil's first capital almost five hundred years ago and the point of entry for six million African slaves. Facing West Africa, Salvador is closer to Senegal then Peru and remains the spiritual home of African religion, art and culture in Brazil today."

Related links:
+ Geoffrey Hiller's other photo projects
+ Interview with Geoffrey Hiller
+ Musarium - a collection of photo stories from around the world

Happy birthday, internet

I completely missed the fact that the internet was 35 years old yesterday. My forgetfulness shows how ubiquitous the internet has become, I guess. Luckily, The Register did not forget:
"It was 35 years ago today that ARPANET, the military network widely regarded as the progenitor of the internet, was switched on. The Advanced Research Project Agency Network was a wide area network run by the US Department of Defense. It was used to test new networking technologies. It wasn't a communications protocol, as such, but made it possible for users to send and receive messages to and from the Interface Message Processor subnetwork."

Related links:
+ The Internet at 35: Still evolving (CNN)
+ A brief history of the Internet

The Hamburg Cell

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as photos of the hijackers appeared in every newspaper, on every website, and on every newscast, it was impossible for most of us in the West to build up an image of these men without the blur of confusion, pain and hatred.

It's taken three years, but the UK has just televised a dramatisation of the events leading up to 9/11 from the perpetrators' point of view. At the heart of Ronan Bennett's script are the stories of Ziad Jarrah - a young student born a Muslim but raised Catholic, distracted, shy, torn between flesh (women) and Allah (jihad), and Mohammad Atta - a loner, close to his parents, scornful of the "immorality" of Western society, resolute in his dedication to jihad. It paints a picture of disparate Muslims in Germany whose collective loneliness is assuaged by prayer meetings and stories from Tunisia, Chechnya, Bosnia, Palestine and Kashmir. The story takes them from German student life, to the Afghanistan training camps and on to the Florida flight schools.

To my knowledge, this drama is the first anywhere in the world to attempt to portray the events of 9/11 from the hijackers' perspectives (it is based on court transcripts, investigation files and personal interviews with partners and acquaintances) and it has done so from an admirably level-headed place. We'll never really know what went through the attackers' minds, of course, but at least some creative attempt is being made to understand.

I hope this will be shown in the US soon.

Related links:
+ The Guardian review
+ Edinburgh International Film Festival review
+ 9/11 movie makes Edinburgh debut (BBC)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Nerds against Bush

At the Republican National Convention, NYC, this week (via boing boing):

Related links:
+ Bikes against Bush
+ 1001 things to hate about the convention
+ BBC blog from the RNC