Thursday, June 26, 2003

Mini-golfing in Berlin
(posted from Hamburg)

When you visit a city and stay with locals, a different side of the city presents itself to you. Locals know the best bars, the best cafes and the usually hidden parts of the city. The inverse of this is that they are blissfully unconcerned with the aspects of the city usually laid out for tourists.

The best example of this was when walking near the city center with Mina and Sophie and Mizha. I was walking next to Mizha and he points out, as a side comment, an afterthought, ' Oh. This wall here is part of the Berlin wall, you know.'

The funny thing is that we had been by here before but nobody had bothered to point this out before. The wall was not a destination or a thing to be ogled at but had been part of our travels all along, interwoven with our walks throughout the city.

The entire visit was like that, full of impromptu moments:
- We found what I am convinced is the best and cheapest pizza in Berlin.
- We watched Sophie's womans chorus belt out folk songs at a club in East Berlin, with their teeth blacked out and dressed in garish clothes.
- We stayed in a flat in East Berlin thick with artists and heavy smokers
- Walking near a children's park, we stumble upon a strange, spinning contraption that looks like it violates every safety law one could think up and is surely illegal in every other country in the world. The five of us spend the next hour jumping on it and laughing and narrowly avoiding death.
- We played miniature golf in a small park teeming with locals. Sophie bests us all. My own scorecard is full of too many funfs and siebens.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

I overslept but it is a sunday so that is ok. The bbq yesterday was exhausting. I played host, watched friendships form among strangers, had old friends and new friends drop in. MV tells me that she thinks this party was fantastic because the number of people was just right and everyone spoke to each other instead of hovering inside their clique. The party ended with the italian neighbors dropping in with champagne and vanilla ice cream. Now that can be added to the wine and desserts that went unfinished.

I was woken up by a call from M. and as I race to the phone I stub my toe against the corner of the bed. So I answer the phone as I am howling in pain. M. asks calmly 'Ummm, is this a bad time?'

M. couldnt make it to the party but we want to see each other before I go off to europe. We have coffee near Dolores Park and she tells me about strange dreams she has had. Somehow the conversation turns to topic of light and darkness and of how we maneuver in this world among so many uncertainties and about moments, beautiful, ravishing moments of revelation. Later at Adobe books we discuss Jung and Jaynes and Burning Man.

Later, after leaving M., I run into Z. I havent seen Z in a long time and she looks good. She seems to be with her boyfriend and he has no idea who I am.

Later, A. is stumbling at me with blood running down her nose and face. She had fallen right before I arrived. I grab her and offer to take her to the emergency room. But she seems to be ok. It was the shock that had disturbed her.

Tonight, I leaned back in a hottub. The twilight was just arriving and I watched the stars, brightest first, make their appearance in the sky. Their appearance seems so random that I am moving my head back and forth excitedly as if looking for meteors. Only after enough have appeared do I remember that these strange new things, seemingly random, also form familiar constellations.

Friday, June 13, 2003

A few things:

This article (via drinkme) reminds me of how little we still know about our own social dynamics. I wonder if we will ever be able to separate our instincts from our own volition or if we have even phrased the question properly.
I'd always thought that to be truly "human" was to recognize and overcome petty instincts, to look beyond that and try to overcome the stereotypes of your own background, to look forward and realize that each of us embodies a place and a large list of subscribed precepts. But if you go too far in the other direction and try somehow to transcend it all then you may be leaving behind too much.
Aren't concepts of beauty and passion and good and triumph based fundamentally on our own ability to weave something complex out of something simpler, to intellectualize our instincts?

I am co-hosting a bbq on saturday. It should be fun. I am not generally the party-host type but my co-host is more of one so i am drawing on some of her social energy. Its also a good chance to use the garden and a good excuse to clean the house.

I am flying to europe next week. I am taking the infamous san francisco-frankfurt direct flight on United. Its a 12-hour flight but made more bearable by the fact that I'll be flying business class (put more simply, all the liquor i can drink.) I'll be in Heidelberg, Hamburg, Berlin and maybe Amsterdam. I'm tempted to cut out Amsterdam since I've already been there twice in the past couple years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Pola X is Carax's adaptation of Melville's Pierre (yes, the author of Moby Dick). The film manages to be as wild and impenetrable as the novel. Themes of incest, love, death mingle casually. The protagonist has everything and discards it all. He sheds his wealthy garb and descends into the other world, the world that has always writhed at his feet.

Unlike most descents into madness and hell, this story has a peculiar quality to it. His quest, his attempt to find the "great lie" that flows like a muddy undercurrent, is not as he believes, the quest for a universal, a shared and vital preoccupation. It is as we discover merely his own tangled misconceptions, his naivete about the mechanics of the world and about the slime-covered rocks upon which he has always planted his feet.

Ultimately, the protagonist of Pola X is like a hermit who emerges into civilization and informs us tired inhabitants of his wide-eyed observations. Unless he can tell us something new, unless he can re-weave our scattered threads into somthing at once coherent and also miraculous and new, he will lose our attention. Not every stranger is a Gulliver or a De Tocqueville. Some are just lost and wandering souls.

I saw this after Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi) in what was for me a micro-festival of French cinema. These two films are unalike. Whereas images of Pola X will quickly fade, the images from Vagabond will stay with me for a long time.

The wandering soul in Vagabond, a young homeless French woman, is not pretending to be anything other than what she is. The film collects her story as best as it can, the pieces of her life that she has left with strangers. Their attempts to define or understand her, to draw her character, are really statements about how they view themselves in the world and how she has redefined them. In this sense, she is like a mirror to others.

The girl from vagabond is compelling because she is frighteningly real. The film has the feel of a documentary and I walked away from it stunned at the questions it had slyly posed. Who are we besides the impression we have left with others? Some who encounter her despise her lack of self-regard; others envy her freedom. What does it mean to be free and what shackles have we already accepted and tucked beneath our sleeves?

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Dore draws Tennyson's Elaine

Monday, June 02, 2003

Free Oysters

Ok. How come nobody had ever told me that you can get free oysters every Friday evening at El Rio? Delicious, creamy oysters too.

Well, nobody that is until last week when I was at an art opening. I was talking to the artist and some other guy and somehow the subject of oysters came up. You know, she confided to us, El Rio has free oysters every friday evening and they have been doing this for like 20 years!

She said she was there all the time and so the three of agreed we would all be there the following friday. Not surprisingly, I was the only that held to that appointment.

Still, the place was lively. I found the oyster line and soon discovered that I had walked into a Cheers-like atmosphere of regular oyster fiends who convened here every friday. They were only too happy to welcome me into the fold, giving me all sorts of newbie advice like how to hold your newly-acquired oyster so that you would not drop it as you rushed back to re-join the oyster line as soon as possible.

Also I found that dealing with the mildly crazy oyster lady who opened and dished out our oysters seemed to involve some other unwritten rules. But these things were beyond me as a beginner.

So I got my fill, shared a couple drinks and waved goodbye to the oyster people. But, I'll be back.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

My parents have just told me they are spending the month of June in their house in Mexico. This is a house they have been working on, off and on, for about 10 years. They plan to retire there and it is now finished.

Its a small house, with mediterranean touches, and an adjoining cornfield. My father built a little bright yellow house in the cornfield which also serves as a small guesthouse.

It is in the mexican state of Michoacan which is lush and tropical. Like most rural tropics, the area has its disadvantages - regular insect seasons, unreliable power and other services - but also advantages such as gorgeous scenery (local jungles and volcanoes) and delicious local fruits.

I am a fan too of the tropical weather. The kind where the sky is sunny and clear one moment and then the next, stormclouds fly in like angry gods, rain pounds heavily against the stones, thunder roars in your ears and, perhaps an hour or so later, the clouds move on and the sky is again clear.

These colonial villages in Mexico have a distinct european feel. Few people have fridges; you buy your fresh bread everyday from the baker, your meat from the butcher. Everyone buys their fruits at a central market.

The designer and architect of my parent's house is my uncle Jorge. He is one of those multi-faceted men, brilliant in his own peculiar way. He has been a figure in Mexican politics, has founded charities, runs his own scholarship fund, promotes authors (he recently handed me a strange book on metaphysics which I dont quite understand) to publishers, builds houses, lobbies governments, and has been working hard to bring rural parts of Mexico into the modern world.

Here is a picture of him with my parents house in the background.
selection effects

I thought at first that I would use this weblog to talk about ideas. I have ideas all the time and they come quickly, evolve rapidly and often though not always become something fully formed.

Sometimes, as when i want to pursue something further or drag it out over several days, I'll write a note to myself. But this note is incomprehensible to anyone but me. More often though it will just remain a note in my head.

I rely almost entirely on my memory for appointments and meetings, for addresses and phone numbers. So, it is the same with ideas. But the problem is worse because ideas, unlike phone numbers, can also mutate rapidly, join with other thoughts in my head. So soon after I write something down it becomes stale and no longer relevant.

I do enjoy reading other idea weblogs. It seems that other authors are able to overcome this problem I mention above and present their ideas in small digests. The key, like many things we discover in life, is a selection effect at work. Let me explain.

Many people think they can meet other people at bars or parties. What we all know however is that bars and parties are great for meeting the type of people who like to go to bars or parties. The introverts who would rather spend an evening with their books are much more difficult to find and thus, at least for me, much more precious.

In any case, a similar selection effect is at work in the weblog world. It favors ideas that can be presented in its format - small digests, cluttered with links. Or long asynchronous conversations.

My best ideas have been "whiteboard" ideas often presented in a small social setting. That is just how I work. I can think fast and develop something new for you while you watch. Then I can retreat, let some more ideas infect the original, and soon after, present something to you that is original and new.

By the time I finish writing a post, even a short one like this one, I have already revised it in my head many times.