Thursday, December 30, 2004

Asia tsunami disaster

Donate now.

If you're in the UK:

DEC - 0870 60 60 900
DEC - Disasters Emergency Committee

If you're in the US:

Red Cross - 1-800-435-7669
Red Cross - American Red Cross. Be sure to select "International Response Fund".
Oxfam - Oxfam America

Donate via - nearly $12 million raised so far.

To find out about friends and relatives in the region:
ICRC: The International Committee of the Red Cross

Up-to-minute news, plus information on donating from other countries:

Tsunami Help: Tsunami Help
BBC: BBC Asia Earthquake Section

Photos from the Tsunami aftermath: Flickr photos

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Still ill and in shock at the devastation in Asia, but listening to a lot of music. Here are some of my favourite albums that came out this year:

"Musicology" by Prince.
Prince back to his funky, rare groove, sexy best.

"You are the Quarry" by Morrissey.
Lush melodies and vitriolic lyrics from Manchester's most famous miserablist.

"Medulla" by Bjork.
Acapellas, dissonant harmonics, Inuit throat-singers and the awesome Robert Wyatt. Haunting and sublime.

"Antics" by Interpol.
Detached, icy rock. The Psychedelic Furs for the noughties.

"Egypt" by Youssou N'Dour.
Restrained yet lyrical homage to Senegal's Sufi traditions. Mesmerising collection of devotional songs.

"The New Danger" by Mos Def.
Hard-edged mix of rock and blues, hip hop and funk, soul and R&B.

"Bubblegum" by Mark Lanegan Band.
This man sings for the Devil. Dark, dusky and dense rock.

"Franz Ferdinand" by Franz Ferdinand.
Art house cool but with tongues firmly fixed in cheeks.

"Scissor Sisters" by Scissor Sisters.
High camp, vaudevillean, old school disco funk.

"Hot Fuss" by The Killers.
The electronic 80s return. Not as sardonic as the Ferdinands, but a rollicking ride nonetheless.

"Love Angel Music Baby" by Gwen Stefani.
Bubblegum electric funk. Frothy, sultry and fun. In short, perfect pop.

"The Tipping Point" by The Roots.
Back to basics hip hop. Wonderful.

"Love is Hell" by Ryan Adams.

Romantic and world-weary, with a gorgeous version of Wonderwall. The only Adams album I cherish.

Others I loved included: "Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; "Van Lear Rose" by Loretta Lynn; "Dear Heather" by Leonard Cohen; "To the 5 Boroughs" by the Beastie Boys; "Sonic Nurse" by Sonic Youth; "Fly or Die" by N.E.R.D.; "Funeral" by the Arcade Fire.

Have a happy new year.

Related link:
+ Giant list of lists for 2004, including Best Albums of 2004 from the likes of the New York Times, the NME and The Onion A/V Club, to Best Art, Best Video Games, Best Theatre and Top 100 Science Stories.

+ Susan Sontag dies at 71

Other links today:
+ The loneliest whale
+ How to be creative
+ Seasons one and two of Northern Exposure is out on Region 1 DVD. I really must get a multi-region player.
+ Colouring books for adults
+ House of Flying Daggers. The crisis of the Hollywood hero is forcing cinema audiences to look east for their superhumans.
+ When you strip away all the pious fiction, what is left of the real Jesus?
+ Paradise is paper, vellum and dust. Libraries will survive the digital revolution because they are places of sensuality and power.
+ The BitTorrent effect. Movie studios hate it. File-swappers love it. Bram Cohen's blazing-fast P2P software has turned the Internet into a universal TiVo. For free video-on-demand, just click here.
+ Quake may have made earth wobble. The deadly Asian earthquake may have permanently accelerated the Earth's rotation - shortening days by a fraction of a second - and caused the planet to wobble on its axis, US scientists said on Tuesday.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I want, I want

Is it too late to add these egg poachers to my Christmas wishlist?

I have spent too many hours bringing water to the boil, whisking it furiously into a whirlpool, then dropping the egg in its swirling centre and waiting, in vain, for the egg to poach itself into a pretty little ball. Well, no more.

One of my favourite meals is a slice of thick, crusty white toast, heavily buttered with unsalted Normandy, and an organic egg on top, poached so lightly that the yolk explodes like nectar against the tongue. A twist of rock salt and black pepper. A chilled glass of Bucks Fizz.

Hm, sounds like a perfect Boxing Day brunch.

Other links today:
+ "I want to see the real Japan." Inspired by his 12-year-old son's passion for Japanese pop culture Peter Carey booked a family trip to Tokyo. Could the generation gap be bridged?
+ On being a photographer
+ Tokyo Times. My new favourite blog from Tokyo.
+ The Vice guide to everything
+ John Maeda's Simplicity blog
+ Control of creativity? Fashion's secret. Film and music industries might heed the wisdom.
+ 10 tips on writing the living web. An oldie but still a goodie.

+ Is it true that the word "cowboy" did not originate in the American West?

"The first use of the term cow-boy (it was originally hyphenated) was in England. In the 18th century it simply described a young boy who tended to the cows. The rough and tough adult cow-boy, however, does originate on American soil. But not where you might think.

"Even at the time of the American Revolution, what is now the upscale New York City suburb of Westchester County was hardly part of the wide open spaces. It always had more crabgrass than sagebrush. And the only place it was ever west of was New England. But back then it was the home of many loyalists, or Tories, who sided with the British against the revolting colonists. Among the toughest were the guerilla fighters who signaled their attacks by ringing cowbells, from which they got the name cowboys. Yahoo."

More trivia at Creative Idleness.

+ Radio interviewer: "Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?"

John Cage, irritated: "Why is everyone asking me about old age these days? You know, I do know how to prepare for old age. Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same ever since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceeding well prepared for my old age."

Via Icograda.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Hallucinating lemons

Whenever one of her 13 children got a cold, my grandmother paid a few rupees to a local man to climb up the mango or papaya tree in their Assamese garden, and retrieve the small terracotta jar the family had affixed to the bottom of the beehive. It would be filled to the brim with honey that had slowly oozed out from the bottom of the conical hive. She would then sieve it of wax and other hive debris, uproot some ginger, pick a few lemons, and make a hot honey, lemon and ginger juice to drink.

Many cultures around the world have a similar cold remedy. This recollection was my father's as he attempted to persuade me not to buy a honey and lemon cough syrup from my local pharmacist but to brew my own on the hob.

For I've been slain by fever and flu for the past week. Confined to my bed with barely enough energy to sup the natural linctus and sip at spoonfuls of that marvellous "Jewish penicillin" chicken noodle soup, I've also been having hallucinatory dreams of letters of the alphabet chasing each other in chariots around a racetrack, and calendar time stretching and skewing out of sequence across the sky.

Haven't had any energy to read, but thank God there have been some wonderful films on TV to drift in and out of: North by Northwest, LA Confidential, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Thomas Crown Affair and, tonight, Thunderheart, set in my beloved western South Dakota and concerning issues close to my heart.

I'm feeling much better than I did even two days ago, but it's not been the greatest start to my vacation.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Live the questions

This is exquisite:
"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

Rainer Maria Rilke
"Letters to a Young Poet".

Just in time for Christmas:
+ Heard the Cocteau Twin's Frosty the Snowman and wanna hear more? How about Beck's Chanukah Funk, Axl Rose's White Christmas, or I Farted on Santa's Lap by the Little Stinkers. An alternative Christmas album.
+ Flickr sucks!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Infinite bustle

Mark Slouka praises idleness in the November issue of Harper's:
"Idleness is not just a psychological necessity, req­uisite to the construction of a complete human being; it constitutes as well a kind of political space, a space as necessary to the workings of an actual democracy as, say, a free press. How does it do this? By allowing us time to figure out who we are, and what we believe; by allowing us time to consider what is unjust, and what we might do about it. By giving the inner life (in whose precincts we are most ourselves) its due. Which is precisely what makes idle­ness dangerous. All manner of things can grow out of that fallow soil. Not for nothing did our mothers grow suspicious when we had 'too much time on our hands'. They knew we might be up to something. And not for nothing did we whisper to each other, when we were up to something, 'Quick, look busy'."

For most people I know, the holiday season signals the relentless onslaught of social commitments - parties, dinners, more parties. But for me, life slows gloriously down. Christmas is a time for family, but mine in this country is tiny. Christmas in India is a very different affair, but here in England there is none of the usual freneticism. Peace and idleness marks my holiday this year. A time to take stock before the New Year. I may use it to catch up on a year's reading.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Prickly père

Finally saw the delightful French ensemble piece tonight about social advancement and the quest for love that everyone around me has been raving about. Look At Me (Comme Une Image) is a character-driven comedy-drama that focusses on the tensions raging within an extended circle of friends and family in the Parisian art world.

Lolita is a sensitive young student singer battling with weight, self-esteem issues and the over-wrought ego of her writer father. The arrogant and pugnacious father, Etienne, is in turn struggling with the needs of a wife young enough to be his daughter, writer's block, and against a literary world that is beginning to overlook him in favour of younger writers. One such writer, who Etienne takes under his wing, tussles with critics who have, until now, ignored him. And his wife, Sylvia, gives Lolita extra singing lessons so that she and her husband can curry favour with Etienne and his infamy.

Are you still with me? Look At Me somehow balances all these egos to produce a witty and moving film, which also has an exquisite soundtrack featuring the choral music of Monteverdi and Mozart. The BBC has aptly described it as "French as Camembert and Sacha Distel, only considerably less cheesy".

Afterwards, we hot-footed it to Malaysia Kopi Tiam in Chinatown, where we downed iced red bean drink, and stuffed ourselves with mixed vegetable curry, curry laksa mee, yam cakes and herb jelly.

Other links today:
+ I am curious (BLACK)! Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane turns black for the day in this hilarious and very cheesy edition of the Lois Lane comic.

+ HP is sending digital cameras to a remote Papua New Guinea tribe, whether they want them or not. Absurd and insulting.

+ The rebel sell. If we all hate consumerism, how come we can’t stop shopping?

+ Homer Simpson uses tabbed browsing! Strictly for nerds like me.

+ "Web designers have dropped the proverbial sketch book and traded it in for Microsoft Word and CSS." Airbag declares personal web design dead as standards and the blog format create generic designs.

+ "Significant amounts of dioxin poison could remain in Yushchenko's system for the rest of his life, in effect continually poisoning him and leaving him permanently disfigured." What is dioxin, anyway? Where does it come from? And are its effects reversible?

+ "Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat?" What I like about Scrooge. In praise of misers.

+ Dom Perignon was originally employed by his wine-making abbey to get the bubbles out of champagne. Thank God he failed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Wetless water

The New York Times Magazine has compiled a list of great ideas from 2004 (registration required). Here are a few of my favourites:

Concrete you can see through:
"Losonczi, a 28-year-old from Csongrad, Hungary, is the inventor of LiTraCon (shorthand for 'light-transmitting concrete'), which is made by adding glass or plastic fibers to the usual blend of gravel, sand, cement and water. A LiTraCon wall, though sturdy, is as translucent as an oilskin lampshade. Shadows seep through from one side to the other, even if the slab is of prison-grade thickness."

Eyeball jewellery:
"Here's how it works. An ophthalmologist anesthetizes your eye, then makes a microscopic incision in the conjunctiva, the eye's transparent outer membrane. The doctor drops a tiny piece of jewelry (called JewelEye) into the incision, and the procedure is over."

Listening for cancer:
"When a cell turns cancerous, its internal machinery alters: it might divide more rapidly, and its walls could take a new shape. Those changes, Gimzewski surmises, would produce distinctive rates of
vibration and thus distinctive noises. He has already measured the acoustics of some cells going through death cycles. When he measured an inert yeast cell, its lack of movement produced a dead-sounding hiss. And when he immersed a bunch of yeast in alcohol, the cells emitted a creepy 'screaming' sound as they suddenly perished."

Underwear for animated people:
"When Pixar animators were creating this year's hit movie 'The Incredibles', they noticed a certain limpness in the movements of a key character, the diminutive fashion diva Edna Mode. Her skirt appeared to sag and crumple as she walked. The animators could have taken the trouble to iron out the glitches frame by frame. But they devised a more clever solution: the studio fitted Edna with a virtual petticoat. While her underwear is never actually seen onscreen, it nonetheless helps keep her clothing in place. Welcome to the world of invisible animation."

More great ideas from the New York Times (Registration required)

Other links today:
+ Online shopping is growing 26 times faster than on the High Street, and nearly 50% of the population make their purchases through the net. Quel surpris!

+ The libraries of five of the world's most important academic institutions (including Stanford, Harvard and Oxford) are to be digitised by Google and made available for search and reading online. This is very exciting news.

+ The world's tallest road bridge is higher than the Eiffel Tower, at more than 300 metres.

+ The question "did IBM cheat?" in the chess match between computer Deep Blue and chess master Garry Kasparov is the focus of new documentary Game Over: Kasparov And The Machine. But the more interesting questions for Wired that the documentary leaves unanswered are: "Can a machine improve upon the human brain's most complex activities? Is Deep Blue a sign of real advance toward artificial intelligence? Does Deep Blue's success shed any light on what makes a human a human?"

Monday, December 13, 2004

Office Xmas party

I'm a bit reluctant to write this post because most people's experiences of an office Christmas party are a mixture of excruciating boredom and drunken embarrasment.

But ours was a relatively civilised affair that began in a local pub and ended up at a pizzeria. Conversation veered from political straplines and living on an American Indian reservation (me) or travelling through Morocco or New Zealand, to which two public figures we are most attracted to (Anthony Kiedis and Johnny Depp for me; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sven Goran Eriksson and Barbara Windsor - not for me!) and which Rizla papers are the best for rolling your own.

Despite the alcohol, no one got off with their boss, danced on a table or divulged their desire for blowing up the office building. But it was fun nonetheless.

Sorry to disappoint.

Other links today:
+ Famous athiest now believes in God
+ Osama who? Reg. req.
+ The cost of the US war in Iraq
+ Gwen Stefani on songwriting: "Tony called me and I was like, 'Dude, I suck.' And he was like, 'Dude, come over.' So I went to his house and a bunch of our friends there were playing these tracks that Tony was doing that were, like, stupid. I was like, 'You did not do these.' And he's like, 'Yep, you wanna hear your tracks?' And I was like, 'Nuh-uh, you did not.' So he pulls out this one and I'm like, 'Oh my God, that's my song.'" Huh? Via Popbitch.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

East meets West

Ate at Bodean's BBQ Smoke House in Soho today. Fantastic food: creamy, chunky clam chowder, BBQ ribs with coleslaw and beans, key lime pie that was not too sweet, and a few Bloody Mary's. Bright tartan carpet, leather booths, brisk (and cute) waiters. With Chattanooga Choo Choo streaming through the bathroom, in all it was a really comforting afternoon.

Then back home to watch Goodbye, Lenin! on DVD.

When Christiane wakes up from a coma, her two grown children try desperately to prevent her from discovering that her beloved East Berlin is no more. The Wall has come down, the statue of Lenin is being hawled away by helicopter, Coca Cola is advertising on a wall outside her apartment and her favourite pickles are now being imported from Holland.

But Christiane is not to know this because in order to speed her recovery by not causing her undue stress, her children and their friends fake TV news reports of the continuing triumph of Communism, replace the labels of Dutch pickle jars with Russian ones, and blindfold her during a surprise trip through the city to their country cabin. Her daughter somehow manages to hide the fact that she gave up her economics degree for a job at Burger King, and her son manages to convince her that all these modern cars on the road and strangers moving in to neighbouring apartments are the result of people fleeing West Germany for the non-consumerist values of the DDR!

I quite liked this German update of the Rip Van Winkle story for its quirkiness and absurdities. At times it was also quite touching.

But the mother is merely a pawn for her children's antics and you have to wonder how an intelligent, politicised woman would be so easily duped for so long. The movie would have been far stronger and more powerful had the script fashioned a Christiane more savvy to her children's games.

Related links:
+ How the GDR became cool

Other links today:

+ One of the things that struck me about William Gibson's novel "Pattern Recognition" was the stealth marketing tactics of one of the characters, Magda, employed by companies to name-drop their products casually into conversations at clubs, on the steet, and in stores. So I was interested to read a recent New York Times article on hidden persuaders.

+ "This was not architecture for humans, but architecture for machines, everything ordered to assist the movement of molten steel, and winnow out the slag, all intake and outtake, converting one form of matter to another." The pleasures and pathos of industrial ruins. I never thought I'd be so interested in reading about steel, but I've read this post three five times already.

+ Peace-bombing. "The Thai government has dropped an estimated one hundred million paper origami birds over the country's Muslim south in an unusual peace bid after a surge of violence in the area."

+ The Yes Men — "anti-corporate activist-pranksters" - strike again, but this seems particularly cruel to the Bhopal victims who were also duped into believing a big payout was pending.

+ You can now rent DVDs from Amazon UK

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Evening in Morocco

Spent a wonderful evening at home with friends where, as usual, we put the world to rights. I cooked a Moroccan spread:

Some photos from the night.

Other links today:
+ The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory trailer is now out, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, who alone is enough to make me see this movie (I rarely enjoy remakes but I'll make the hormonal exception here).
+ Hidden London. A gem of a site.
+ Computers can be compared with the "little black dress - reliable and functional, there when you need it, and readily accessorized to be as individual as you are." Intel's new study on women and technology.
+ Is the low-carb boom over? I lost 28 lbs last year on this diet, without resorting to low-carb products. Just keep it natural and it's easy.
+ Photo site a hit with bloggers. Gushing article on Flickr by Wired.
+ Some Firefox 1.0 tweaks
+ Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters

Thursday, December 09, 2004

552 books

I recently came across an interesting editorial in New Media Age. With freedom of choice comes the curse of indecisiveness:
"A little while ago a friend mentioned to me that he had calculated how many books it was likely that he was going to be able to read during the rest of his life. He had calculated, given his current reading patterns, that he had the capacity to read another 800 books. However, having established this finite figure it had now become more of a burden than a guide. How could he justify picking up a trashy novel at an airport when there were thousands of great works still to be read. For every Harry Potter, a Tolstoy falls by the wayside."

Based on my poor current reading patterns, my age and likely death-date, I have another 552 books to read in my lifetime.


Here are four books I want to include in that 552 total, from The Economist's books of 2004:

The Lambs of London. By Peter Ackroyd.
"A novel of intrigue set around a small bookshop in Holborn Passage in 19th-century London and the discovery of a document in Shakespeare’s own writing. The Lambs are a young brother and a sister taken into the confidence of a 17-year-old antiquarian. As clever and vivid as any work of Mr Ackroyd, a man deeply at home in the London of the past."

Cloud Atlas. By David Mitchell.
"In this feat of brilliant pyrotechnics, six interlocking stories mix the voices, among others, of a journalist in Governor Ronald Reagan’s California and a voyager crossing the Pacific in the mid-19th century."

Snow. By Orhan Pamuk.
"A novel about the tensions between Turkey’s urban, secularist elite and their long-derided Islamist opponents. By the leading interpreter of Turkish society to the western world, it deals with such familiar Pamuk themes as faith, identity and betrayal."

In Tasmania. By Nicholas Shakespeare.
"For many people, Tasmania is an island of the imagination, distant and alluring. Nicholas Shakespeare weaves a cast of unlikely characters into 200 years of Tasmanian history."

And from the New York Times' books of 2004, I'm looking forward to:

Four Souls. By Louise Erdrich.
"A vengeful, partly comical plot that ranges about in time and space, rising in pitch to conclude in gorgeous incantations and poetry."

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age. By Kevin Boyle.
"An account of the murder trial and eventual acquittal in 1925 Detroit of a black doctor who fired on a mob that had come to drive him from the house he bought in a white neighborhood."

I still haven't completed my own personal list of books to read this year. Bearing in mind how few books I have left to read in my lifetime, I could never conduct this no-reading experiment. Up until this year I used to get through around 5 (non-work related) books a month. So another of my new year's resolutions for 2005 is to read more and at least double my lifetime total.

Are you with me on this?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Little Punjab

Spent the day with my father, shopping in Southall. Southall is unofficially known as Little Punjab because of the high numbers of East African and Indian Sikhs living there since the 1950s and 60s. They have their own pub, which accepts rupees and serves tandoori chicken, and a branch of the Bank of Baroda, alongside the usual sari shops, Indian grocery stores and Indian cafes.

View photos

Other links today:

+ Long-lost Cambodian soldiers emerge from the jungle 25 years later. They thought the war was still going on.
+ Why does evangelical Christian capitalism seem so strange to the rest of the world?
+ Bringing the past to life. The pros and pitfalls of the BBC's attempt to digitise its archives.
+ The tangled Internet. Is it time for a new one?
+ The true measure of success. Forget GDP. A better metric for prosperity is Gross National Happiness.
+ On this day, 1980: John Lennon shot dead.
+ In pictures: Remembering John Lennon

Monday, December 06, 2004

Bumping into Oscar and friends

Out and about with my parents, we bumped into Oscar Wilde and his friends. A little awestruck, we later retreated to Asmara restaurant for some Eritrean sustenance.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


My parents are currently visiting me but, in between spending time with them, I've also managed to do some web housekeeping this weekend.

It seems the world and his blog has already discovered the greatness that is, but after hearing about it for several months, I've finally registered and collated all my bookmarks on it.

For those who don't know, is a bookmarks management system that allows you to access your bookmarks from several computers as they are all held on a centralised server. You can categorise your bookmarks in any way you want. For example, mine include tags such as "culture", "music", "food" and "london".

Because all users are encouraged to tag their links, I can then search for all links relating to "japan" in the database and refine the search further to include only blogs written in Japan about art. And because these are sites people have taken the trouble to bookmark as their favourites, I'm less likely to come up with some of the random results I get with Google. I can also find out the most popular sites in a category, eg "wine" or "linux", and discover "politics" sites I had never heard of before.

Flickr is another social application. At its most basic, it is an online photo management system that enables people to upload and display their photos. However, if you make the photos public, any registered user can comment on any photo, making Flickr more like a mass photo blog. Like, you can tag all your photos and through searching on tags, eg "santa fe", "black and white" or "cricket", you can find similar photos to yours and people who like to take photos of similar subjects. Online friendships can be fostered that may or may not spill over into real life.

Here's my page and here's my favourites page listing the sites I visit regularly.

I've only just started uploading my photos to Flickr but haven't passed August 2004! But as soon as I have a bit more time, I'll start uploading with a vengeance. Keep an eye on the column to your right ("My Flickr") for my most recent Flickr stream. In the meantime, there's always my Photoroll on this site, which is more up-to-date.

Related links:

+ Why I love Flickr
+ Beginners guide to
+ Interview with creator
+ extension

Other links today:

+ Ack, these are pretty ugly blogs from Microsoft Spaces.
+ The immortality debate: 'Don't fall for the cult of immortality' versus 'We will be able to live to 1,000'.
+ How to eat sushi
+ Saving Jesus. In the aftermath of the US election, the Christian Left searches for its voice.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Fiddle dee dee

Two friends of mine have just returned to London for two weeks, from Dubai. An English and Pakistani couple with two babies, they had reluctantly moved to Dubai in September to rejuvenate her father's ailing cosmetics business there. By the end of their first week, photos of them had already made it into an issue of Time Out Dubai, cigarettes in one hand and drinks in the other, dancing away at a night club - not, by their own admission, the best first impression to make with prospective business clients or the other parents at their sons' new nursery! Regulars on London's psy-trance club circuit, they're back in town briefly for what looks likely to be their regular London club fix. Dubai has a club scene, but it's not hard enough for them, and in spite of Dubai's cosmopolitan vibe, they still feel the pressure of the city's stark social divisions between the Gucci-clad rich and labouring poor. Their return to London gives them a much-needed break from Dubai's strict social dichotomies. Which is lucky for me, because it means I see them more often, as I did last night.

This evening, I was planning to see the brand-spanking-new digitised classic Gone With The Wind at the NFT, but my God it's so cold here in London, so I opted to watch an old copy on DVD, curled up in the warmth of my sofa at home. I first watched this movie in hospital in 2001, when its lush scenes, vibrant colours, tight editing, artfully-composed camera shots and superbly-plotted (though not very politically-correct) script pulled me through some very dark hours. And it thrilled me again tonight - more so, having just discovered it was produced in a benzedrine haze. I even had a proper intermission for some hot chocolate and cookies (alas, no bennies). Lovely.

I have a stack of old classics on DVD I am planning to re-watch as the weather gets chillier, including three of my all-time favourite movies: Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush, Giant with James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Misfits with last-ever performances by Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Plus some newer all-time favourites: The Right Stuff (with, swoon, Sam Shepard), Annie Hall, and Blade Runner. Just what cold winter nights are made for.

Other links today:
+ So why do you blog?
+ Is Truman Capote really remembered for just one book ("In Cold Blood")?
+ Ivory towers should be built on merit. "It is patronising to working-class students to suggest that Oxbridge should 'positively discriminate' in their favour."
+ Should a urinal have topped a 'most influential modern art' poll? They're taking the piss!
+ An amazing compendium of food blogs, an amazing amount of food. My kind of people.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


As a small child in Bangladesh, she was passionate about ancient Kathak dancing, but had to practice in secret because her strict Muslim father did not approve. So when she moved to London, she was determined her son would not be so deprived.

The son's natural inclination was to throw himself around to Michael Jackson songs, but Ma persevered and encouraged him to study classical Indian dance with the great dancer and teacher Sri Pratap Pawar. As a small boy visiting his mother's homeland, he would hang upside down from trees in the hope that his thoughts would tumble out of his head and into the ground, whence answers would grow.

Later, under pressure from the English Bengali community to go to university, the son did a degree in contemporary dance and discovered modern choreographers DV8, Pina Bausch and Jiri Kylian. Now 30, Akram Kahn is also inspired by the films of Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai and Quentin Tarantino.

In Akram Khan's second and current dance production, both classical Indian and contemporary western dance and music share the stage. "Ma" was born out of Khan's readings of Arundhati Roy's essays on the displacement of Indian farmers by big dam-building programmes. The essays made him reflect on the complex relationships farmers have with a "mother earth" that is both nurturing and unforgiving.

The production tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was a truly holistic experience, merging theatre, music and dance into a maelstrom: flailing limbs, Kathak chanting, thumping tabla, wailing cello, Sufi song, combat rolls, searing green and white light, soothing amber light, caressing wordscapes, rolling heads, suspended bodies, bare feet skittering across the stage, and flashes of pure silence.

And yet the confusion was perfectly contained within the ek-do-tin-one-two-three geometrical precision of the Kathak dance and chant, which Khan described after the performance in a question-and-answer session as "clarity within chaos".

An intensely visceral night.

Related links:

+ "Everything in Indian music works mathematically and is very logical. Once that's understood, the music can be appreciated in a different way, and you can start playing around with the rules. There's a lot of improvisation, and the complex patterns we work from are more simple than they look." Akram Khan speaking to Culture Kiosque.

+ "Ma is the Hindu word for earth and it's into this work that Khan as choreographer unloads his most pressing questions. While his programme notes tell us the work is about issues of land, kinship and belonging, Khan is also investigating what happens when Indian and western styles of storytelling and performance share the stage." The Guardian review of Ma.

Other links today:

+ "Five trucks converge on the house across the street from my sister. The neighbors were deep frying a turkey in the backyard and something went wrong, the grease caught fire and flames shot up to the second floor with a roar like a jet engine. Boiling hot grease went flying everywhere. The turkey, I was told, exploded. A propane tank that held the fuel to heat the grease was a danger. A fireman asked the owner if he had a garden hose (but there was a hydrant on the corner!). He aimed it at the grease, which more or less went nuts, splattering everywhere, but the flames were out." David Bryne's Thanksgiving.

+ 100 things to do before you die, compiled by scientists, is a little book that's out just in time for Christmas:

  • Measure the speed of light with chocolate
  • Take samples of our own DNA
  • Order liquid nitrogen to make the world's smoothest ice-cream at home
  • Swim in a bioluminescent lake
  • Have a new species named after you
  • Assist at the birth of an animal
  • Write your name in atoms

+ TV in Hindi via the red button

+ In Korea, email is for the elderly only

+ 'Blog' is top word of the year

+ Under all that ice, maybe oil. Soon the effects of global warming on the ice caps will be the least of our problems. (Reg. req.)