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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Infinite density.

I was recently reminded of an amusing experience I had while looking at a painting in what I think was the Louvre. I initially wanted to share this on Twitter but I could not sufficiently condense the anecdote so I share it here. Incidentally, I have done a quick virtual tour of the Louvre in search of the painting that lies at the heart of this anecdote but I was unsuccessful. Upon consideration I've decided that it's perhaps best if this story lacks visual illustration. It will become clear why this is so.

A number of years ago I was leisurely strolling through a museum, glancing at paintings, knowledgeably reading the descriptions, attempting to look more cultured that I really am; you know, the usual. My memory is vague on which museum this might have been but I do remember the people I was there with, which places this particular anecdote in the Louvre in Paris, a few days before New Years 2007.

I came upon a room that held a number of paintings, one of which drew my attention by virtue of its large size. It depicted, if memory serves me, some anonymous (or not, I don't remember reading the description) battlefield on which a battle had just taken place. Corpses, trampled fields, various types of weaponry, etc. all over the place. Now, I know nothing about the art of painting so I shall refrain from attempting to guess what style, or even what period, it was painted it. It was big, it was old, it had dead people; I was intrigued.

I'd strolled ahead of my companions and had lost sight of them so this large piece offered me a chance to linger and wait for them to catch up. I adopted the required stance -right elbow in left hand, chin resting in right hand, feigning erudition- and inspected the piece in front of me in great detail. It was when my companions had nearly caught up with me that I noticed something both disturbing and amazing on the left-hand side of the painting.

Said left-hand side depicted two figures, presumably survivors or perhaps even winners of the battle, on horseback travelling away from us, the viewers. Due to the size of the painting (it filled the wall completely; a good 15ft high and 35 to 40ft wide) the figures strolling away from the battlefield were very large themselves; literally larger than life. This includes the horses. One of these two horses had a tail that was jauntily pointing upwards, the animal presumably content with winning or at the very least surviving a vicious battle. With the tail out of the way there was nothing to conceal what lay beneath, and this was the very thing that, if not shocked me, definitely drew my morbid attention: a horse's asshole the size of my head.

The thought processes occupying my brain when it registered this gaping orifice in the backside of this horse were numerous and varied and after several seconds these impressions coalesced into a number of specific thoughts:
  • Firstly, I was impressed with this painter's dedication to anatomical correctness; while the equine anus was frightningly large it was in proportion to the size of the animal depicted;
  • Secondly, I could not help but wonder why this particular painter had decided to paint such a jaunty tail on the one horse knowing full well that as a result of this he'd have to spend time and effort on painting what can only be described as a horse's ass;
  • And thirdly, finally, and most bafflingly, I then realised with startling clarity that this painter, this anonymous visual chronicler of history, spent an unreasonable amount of time and effort on, say, deciding which exact shade of brown he'd use to paint this asshole, or contemplating how the light of the sun would hit this animal's rectum, and so on and so forth.
The sheer single-mindedness of this painter -so determined to show reality in all its incarnations, to reveal where others would obscure- seized me and while I was looking into an unacceptably large equine arsehole I was in fact seeing, with distinct clarity, the mind of this artist, his passion and his fearlessness, his agony, his ecstasy, his rage and his folly. My eyes saw a horse's ass but my mind saw the artist in a way that an MRI scan sees a brain, through and through. I was touched by this display of honesty, bravery and artistry.

When I tried to point this out to my companions it was promptly ignored and I was dragged along to go look at a statue of a man with an abnormally small penis, which made us giggle.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Less is more.

In recent weeks I've stumbled across a number of articles dealing with one of my favourite pastimes, the creature feature; the articles in question wondered aloud whether or not CGI monsters are as scary as the old-fashioned man-in-a-suit. One such article, written by the folks over at @denofgeek argued that no, they probably are not, and in a quasi-response to that article the people over at @moviesdotcom in a sense underpinned that conclusion by listing the few instances in which a CG monster did manage raise a few shackles.

I think any film lover in his right mind will find it hard to disagree with the point these two articles are trying to make and I am no exception. However, I've decided that I do have something to add to the discussion (if you can even call it that). Plus, it's my blog so I'll pontificate if I want to.

So here's my two cents.

People are often quick to express their dissatisfaction with computer generated imagery -whether it's the Transformers, the aliens in Signs or the gophers in the latest Indy- and that is of course perfectly alright; the appreciation of films and the characters, situations and backdrops therein is entirely subjective. That being said, when discussing this with fellow film geeks I often detect a subtle yet vital fallacy in their reasoning. In very broad terms the fallacy is this:
Most monsters in films are crap. Most monsters in films (nowadays) are CGI. Therefore it follows that CGI monsters are crap.
Even if the conclusion at the tail end of that non sequitur seems to have some merit (most monsters are crap), I find this reasoning to be too easy and slightly unfair.

Here's what I see as the crux of monsters in modern-day cinema: detail. An excess of it, to be precise. And while this excess of detail may be a result of CGI (CGI allows filmmakers to be detailed), I don't think it's fair to dismiss computer generated imagery on the whole as a result of it*; CGI is merely a tool and just like you cannot fault a hammer for hitting you on the thumb you also can't fault CGI for making monsters less scary. It's the persons wielding the tool that are responsible. To illustrate I must make use of an example, a recent creature feature that both the aforementioned articles mention as a good example of CGI usage, Attack Of The Block.

The creatures in Attack Of The Block are the perfect illustration of that old adage, less is more. In the film -which takes place on a single evening so darkness prevails- the creatures are hinted at rather than shown, and when they are shown, they are perfect in their simplicity. What makes these creatures so singularly menacing is their near invisibility; they are little more than a hole in your field of vision, a black gap in the fabric of space. It's the approximation of a monster rather than an actual one; it's almost as if the filmmakers used negative space to create these creatures. The fluorescent blue teeth are a golden touch that seal the deal.

Juxtapose this exemplary use of CGI against, say, the vampire-zombies in I Am Legend. CGI allowed the makers of this film to show even the smallest detail; every fold of skin and every bristle of hair is rendered in perfect, High Def detail. Seeing the claws on its fingers and the menacing look in its bloodshot eyes does not (necessarily) increase the fright-factor, in fact it is often detrimental to it. By rendering a monster so crisply and so clearly you also render it sterile and in a way, harmless, no matter how angry it looks. The suggestion of terror lurking in the shadows is replaced by this beige creature that screams unnecessarily loudly and unhinges its jaw in a way that, well, kind of makes you giggle.

But I'm rambling. My main point is simple: it's not because of CGI that monsters no longer appear to be frightening, it's because of the filmmakers employing CGI. Less really is more, especially when you wish to instill fear in the viewer. Just because CGI allows you to show everything doesn't mean you have to. In fact, please don't. Because if you don't, the viewer's mind will fill in the blanks, and it's that reflection of one's own psyche that makes a monster truly terrifying.

The monster under the bed is only scary for as long as you refuse to look under the bed.

* I am not implying the two aforementioned articles dismiss CGI on the whole but I do often detect this tendency when the topic comes up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Legend has it...

... that if you go to Japan and travel even further east you will find an old man living on the coast just 40 miles east of Tokyo. If you give this man half a million dollars or something of equal value he will agree to take you to an island just off the coast that can't be found on any map.
FnordThis island is occupied by people without faces or names, who hold powerful grudges over the most trivial of matters. When you arrive at this island the first thing you will see is a swimming pool that is never open. Just beyond the pool you will find a town that is filled with cats.
FnordThe old man will then instruct you wordlessly to find a white cat wearing a pink bow. If you ask the cat how to get to Mexico, she will stand up and ask you for three things: your name, your face and your soul. If you agree to give them to her, your face will vanish and you will forget your own name. You can live on the island and have whatever you desire, but you can never leave the island.
FnordThe only way to get off the island is to find the cat again and ask for a Fnord. The next day a van as black as midnight will pull up in front your house. You will hear a knock at the door, and a voice will ask if you want to come to a party. No one knows what happens if you answer the door.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two For One Euro.

We were already nervous and on edge due to the serendipitous nature of our rendezvous here and now we also felt tiny and insignificant, gawking at this behemoth of a structure hulking over us. The thing was lit up brightly, illuminating the Parisian night; it shone a reassuring shade of old-fashioned yellow, the hue of decades-old newspapers, like it was adorned from top to bottom with the fragile carbon-filament light bulbs of yesteryear. I strained my ears trying to detect the frizzle and crackle of the filaments burning but if it was there it was drowned out by the hustle and bustle befitting France’s greatest tourist trap. As we were standing under it, within the square delineated by its base, it struck me how the tower resembles an enormous incandescent alien hand reaching down from the sky, its four fingers plunged violently into the earth, trying to snatch us up and steal us away. This flight of fancy was interrupted by a street vendor attempting to push a rose into your hands. You expertly waved him away.
Indent“Well done,” I said, struggling to find something, anything to say.
Indent“Thank you,” you said, turning to me and smiling. There was a respectful (or nervous) two or three feet between us but still it was quite clear that you had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. Several elevated heartbeats of silence followed before I spoke again.
Indent“They’re a hassle, aren’t they?” I nodded towards the street hawkers which seemed to permeate the area. The hawker/tourist ratio seemed skewed; that there was at least one hawker for every two tourists can’t be good for business, surely?
IndentYou just nodded, smiled, lifted your camera to your left eye and snapped a few shots.

We’d met, physically that is, only a few hours earlier outside the arrivals lounge of Charles De Gaulle airport but we’d been talking online for months before that. ‘I met someone on the internet’ always sounded hopelessly hip when someone else said it but now that it was true for me it felt awkward and silly, but awkwardness and silliness never stopped me before and certainly wouldn’t now. We were always going to meet and when the notion of Paris appeared on the horizon, we jumped at it.
IndentActually meeting you turned out to be less awkward than I’d expected but more awkward than I’d hoped. I’d been on the road for close to seven hours and standing there outside the arrivals lounge waiting for you was the first moment of non-movement I’d had all day. As a result of that I didn’t see you exit the arrivals lounge, giving the impression that you didn’t so much arrive as appear out of thin air. It seemed befitting, somehow.
IndentWe shook hands, kissed politely on the cheeks, said our hellos, stared at each other, grinned. Touching you, if only your hand in mine or my lips on your cheeks, felt exactly as surreal as I expected it would.
IndentThis was it. The hardest part was over and done with. Physical, as opposed to digital, communications had been established. Now all that was left was to find our hotel in this traffic jam of a city, the city of lo-- of light.

“Two for one euro? Two for one euro?”
IndentI just shook my head at him and you dismissed him with a curt “No thank you”. The place was emptying out; it was late and damp and cold on a nondescript Thursday evening and tourists were gradually going back to their hotels, skewing the hawker/tourist ratio at the base of the tower ever more and more.
IndentWe were standing in the centre of the square of the base of the tower and you were eagerly snapping shots left and right, the big camera pressed to your eye, giving you the allure of an adventurous, rogue photographer; flashes of you boating down the Amazon river with that same camera, in search of some undiscovered tree frog or river snake flashed through my head. You craned your neck and pointed the lens straight up into the belly of the beast, like a greasy paparazza shooting an up-skirt shot of the latest teenage starlet gone astray.
IndentBut there was no click.
IndentYou lowered the camera and kept looking straight up.
Indent“Huh,” you said. “Would you look at that?”
Indent“What is it?” I asked, looking at you looking up. I hadn’t really been able to pry my eyes away from you since I first laid them on you at CDG.
Indent“It kind of... kind of looks like a spaceship when you look at it from here. Look.”
Indent“I’m sorry, it looks like a what?”
Indent“A spaceship!” you exclaimed. “Come here and look already”. You reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me closer. I craned my neck and looked straight up into the yawning mouth above us. A slight sense of vertigo came over me, either because of the intimidating size of the structure directly above us or because of my proximity to you and your hand on my arm; probably both. “See? A spaceship.”
Indent“Wow, you’re right!” I said and marvelled at a view that reminded me of every ‘80s science-fiction film I’d ever seen.
IndentStanding there looking up we didn’t notice that a hushed silence had come over the place; sounds had become muted as soon as you mentioned the word ‘spaceship’, as if a thick fire blanket had been draped over, not only the tower, but the entire city. We also failed to notice that every street hawker had stopped moving and turned their faces towards us.
IndentOne of them slowly started walking towards us.

It was a cheeseburger that finally broke the ice between us.
IndentThe hotel turned out to be much less untraceable and decrepit than we’d both expected and after flopping down on the beds for half an hour or so to rest our feet and let the bizzaro situation dawn on us we decided that we’d need to locate some form of sustenance; we needed food, asap!
IndentThe deluxe cheeseburger --yours medium; mine well done-- with fries and a recently deceased salad which they served at the bistro just around the corner from the hotel suited our needs perfectly: big, greasy and reasonably cheap but served in a place that looked posh enough for what would be our first real dinner together to not go down in history as a cheapskate date.
IndentThis was after all Paris.
IndentThe garçon was appropriately flirtatious with you as he flung the steaming plates on our table and after we’d stared at our meals for a good 45 seconds with knife and fork in hand our eyes met and in that moment there was a shared understanding of the fact that this would not, nay could not be handled delicately. The cutlery, along with our manners, was promptly dismissed as we simultaneously grabbed our burgers in our hands and murdered it with our teeth.
Indent“Hey, listen,” you said ten mirth-filled minutes later, a speck of burger sauce glistening proudly on your chin, like the sole survivor of a shipwreck desperately clinging to a piece of driftwood. “The Eiffel Tower is close by, right? You think we could pop by for a quick visit before we go back to the hotel and call it a day?”
Indent“Absolutely,” I replied. “Garçon, check please!”

“Qu'est-ce que tu viens de dire?”
IndentI looked over my shoulder to the lanky, deeply black man who’d approached and addressed us. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Not interested.”
Indent“Anglais?” he then said as he kept approaching us. As I waved him away I still failed to notice that the eyes of every street hawker in the area were on us. You were looking straight up, still captivated by that exercise in retro-futurism directly above us.
Indent“No thank you,” I tried again.
Indent“Non, non, qu'est-ce que la dame viens de dire?”, the man said before he shook his head and switched to faultless English. “What did the kind lady say, sir?”
IndentHe was standing no more than three feet away from us at that point, the whites of his eyes contrasting starkly with the shiny blackness of his face. His dark grey turtleneck sweater and black jeans looked years, if not decades, old but there was a certain crispness to him, like he had stepped out of a century-old photograph only moments ago.
IndentHis voice was oily and fluid, a low and pleasant timbre that managed to snap you out of your reverie. You turned around and looked at him.
Indent“What I said?” you asked him.
Indent“Yes, m’lady,” he replied. “What was it you said not two heartbeats ago, please?”
IndentYou narrowed your eyes and shook your head. “I’m not sure, why?”
Indent“About the tower, please?” he said, glancing up reverently at the structure above us.
Indent“Oh, that?” you said, chuckling at the silly nature of your remarks about the tower earlier. “It just struck me how the thing, you know, kind of looks like a spaceship when you see it from here. Wouldn’t you agree?” You looked up again and my eyes followed yours, but the black man kept staring straight at you, his smile ever widening as tears ran freely down his cheeks.
Indent“Merci. Merci beaucoup,” he said, his voice breaking. Then he, and every other street hawker in Paris, vanished into thin air with a slight popping sound.

We noticed the rumbling before we noticed that virtually everyone around us had vanished. As the ground shook violently we saw the few remaining tourists run for safety. I grabbed you and you me and we both blurted out ‘earthquake?’, more a question in search of conformation than a statement of fact.
IndentAn instant later, before we’d come to the conclusion that following the other tourists’ example would be wise, the massive concrete slab beneath our feet started cracking and breaking as easily and effortlessly as a pane of glass dropped to the floor. We were rooted to the spot and with my arms around you I pulled you to the ground; running away to relative safety was no longer an option with the ground undulating around us like it was. Big wedges of solid concrete were rising and falling all around us like we were stuck in the middle of level 4 of some ‘80s arcade video game. Only the patch of ground beneath our feet seemed to still be anchored to the earth while around us an ocean of concrete was heaving as if caught in a perfect storm.
IndentIn a crescendo of earth-shattering noise the small buildings at the very base of the tower’s four slanted legs simultaneously seemed to both disintegrate and explode and showered us in debris. As I attempted to shelter you from the worst of it your arm shot out, your finger outstretched towards the sloped leg of the tower that was in your line of sight. You shouted something.
Indent“What!?” I shouted in your ear, attempting to make myself heard over the din of the madness happening around us.
Indent“The tower! Look! It’s... it’s rising!” you shouted back into my ear. I looked to where you were pointing, to the base of the south leg of the tower and where a moment ago there was a small structure there was now nothing but air, as if the tower had pulled itself free from the earth itself. I quickly glanced over my shoulder and saw that all four legs had somehow detached itself from the ground.
IndentThe Eiffel Tower, 7.000 tons of steel latticework and rivets and paint and light projectors, was hovering a good 40 feet above where for the past century or so it had been anchored to the earth and was, as we were looking at it in sheer astonishment, still slowly rising.
IndentThe ground around us had settled down as the tower had detached itself, allowing us to slowly rise to our feet from our huddled position, and as we rose we witnessed the unbelievable: the tower gliding soundlessly through the air, slowly but steadily moving away from us, rising ever higher straight up into the night sky. With my arms still around you we stood where the tower once stood, amid a sea of broken concrete and snapped cables.
IndentSuddenly the place was lit up when a blinding yellow light lit up directly above us, exactly between the four now air-born legs of the tower. Simultaneously we lifted our hands to shield our eyes from the light but before we’d completed the movement the tower omitted a fierce shriek, the light flashed brighter still, and the tower shot away at a speed almost too fast to see.
IndentWe stood there, staring up at the now empty night sky, sirens blaring in the distance and coming ever closer. You turned towards me, looked at me, blinked twice, swallowed hard and spoke.
Indent“Can we go back to the hotel now?”

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Matter Of Time.

“Wait. So… what? You’re going to steal a time machine?” Lily asked, shaking her head as if trying to dislodge the cobwebs of Felix’ twisted logic from the nooks and crannies of her mind.
Indent“No no,” Felix said. “Geez, Lil. You’re being so linear!”
Indent“Explain it to me again, then.”

The sky looked mildly depressed –the colour of freshly laid tarmac, an ominous shade of grey– and was gently pelting the earth with lazy, heavy snowflakes, dusting the city in a downy layer of white. The coffee house, crowded but not unpleasantly so, smelled of overpriced coffee beans and fresh, crisp winter and radiated the kind of manufactured cosiness that seemed to be de rigeur these days. Lily and Felix had managed to secure two large, comfortable chairs with between them a table so tiny it only barely offered enough space for the absurdly large, steaming mug that stood precariously atop it. Lily held hers in both hands, the steam pleasantly wafting into her face. She closed her eyes and inhaled the cinnamon-y smell of her beverage-with-a-ludicrously-unpronounceable-name; machi-something. London was happening on the other side of the large window behind her back.
Indent“The thing is,” Felix said, bringing Lily back to reality, “it’s only a matter of time before time travel will be possible. With advances in technology increasing exponentially I’m convinced we’re almost there. We’re ready for it, you know, as a species. And just think, as soon as someone takes up time travel, the linear nature of his life, his existence, becomes void.” Felix started gesticulating in his obvious enthusiasm. “The trajectory of his life through time will be untethered, zooming forward, folding back in on itself; it will be anything but, you know...”
Indent“Yes! A time traveller’s life bends and twists all over the place like... like a deflating balloon flying through the room.”
Indent“Your metaphors stink.”
Indent“I know. But it’d be great, right?”
Indent“I think so, yeah,” Lily said, taking an infinitesimal sip of her coffee, breaking eye contact and looking away. A snow-covered double-decker bus thundered past outside the window in a blur of red and white, strawberries and cream. “You know,” Lily then said, her eyes mischievous and large above her mug, staring into the middle distance, “you could argue that we’re all time travellers already, travelling forward through time one minute per minute, every minute of every day.”
Indent“Exactly!” Felix exclaimed, slapping the tiny table, almost knocking his coffee to the floor. “You got it! The trick to becoming a bonafide time traveller, though, is to be able to control the speed of that forward motion and even reverse it. When you’ve managed that, well, the sky is the limit.” As he said this his gaze rose to the ceiling and he made a sweeping gesture with his hand. Lily giggled discretely into her mug. His sense of drama was charming.
Indent“Okay, okay,” Lily said. “So you think this’ll happen in your lifetime? You think you’ll be a time traveller, one day? Is that it?”
Indent“Spot on. I’m convinced that it’ll be sooner rather than later that it will be possible and I’ll be the first in line!”
IndentLilly giggled and looked at her watch. “That seems as good a moment as any to nip into the bathroom for a second. Hold that thought, though, I want to know more,” she said as she got up and placed her over-sized mug delicately on her chair. Felix watched her snake her way to the bathroom.

He couldn’t believe his luck. One moment he was scouting the place that rents out safety deposit boxes to tourists at Waterloo station, and the next this girl seemed to appear out of nowhere and almost literally stumbled into his arms. He wasn’t exactly sure what happened in the following moments –a frenzy of apologies and smiles and charm from her and a collection of vowels and awkwardness from him– but before he knew it they were strolling out of Waterloo station and he was telling her about the fabric of space and time and she actually appeared to be interested.
IndentHe’d been endeared when she was as happy as a child when they exited the station and stepped into the snow; she actually shrieked and started skipping around, catching flakes in mid-air, tracing out figures in the snow on the ground and on cars; so happy, in fact, that he was swept along in her giddiness, even though he generally hates the snow.
IndentWhen they approached the coffee house she insisted they go in there and order the largest cup of coffee they had and even though Felix was appropriately trend-savvy to feel a aversion towards the consumerist nature of these kinds of places he felt compelled to give in to her wishes; when a pretty girl asks you to have a cup of coffee with her, other urges come into play that instantly override any impulse to be trendily contrary. They went in and here they were.

“I consider myself an enterprising individual,” Felix continued before Lily was even sitting down properly. “A risk-taker. A forward-thinker. So really, I want to treat this time-travel malarkey as a business opportunity. There has to be money in there somewhere. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Indent“I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes to that,” Lily replied, not wanting to interrupt Felix’ flow with unnecessary debate. The warmth of the mug in her hands held close to her face and the intoxicatingly unfamiliar smell of the beverage was making her pleasantly woozy.
Indent“I mean,” Felix said, unfazed by Lily’s complacency, “the fact that we’re talking about it now, and that I’ve been thinking about it all this time already proves that I’ve taken my first steps towards exploiting these developments. But here’s the kicker, you see? I’ve come up with a plan. I’ve decided that time travelling is not something I’m going to exploit, or even do, it’s something I’m going to invent.”
IndentThis got Lily’s attention. She lowered her mug into her lap and cocked her head to the side like an inquisitive puppy. “How do you reckon that? What are you, a scientist, one of those quantum mechanics?”
Indent“No no, none of the sort!” Felix snorted. “I drive a FedEx van, for cryin’ out loud. No, I’m going to steal it. I’m going to steal the designs of a time machine.”
Indent“You... wait?” Lily paused, looked away, blinked twice. She bit her lip in a way that made Felix’ heart melt a little. She looked back at him. “How does stealing the designs of a time machine make you the inventor? That just doesn’t follow. I could steal, I don’t know--” she waved her hands around, struggling (and failing) to come up with something appropriately contemporary “--the designs of the T-Model Ford but that would not make me the inventor, would it? The thing exists, it’s here, it’s probably patented like you wouldn’t believe.”
IndentFelix just grinned nefariously. “Yeah. But a T-Model Ford can’t travel back in time.” He paused for effect. Lilly narrowed her eyes and looked at him, the implications of his intentions falling into place in her mind’s eye. “You chew on that for a while,” Felix said. “I have a gallon of coffee in my bladder right now, gotta go, hold my seat, will you?” An instant later he was pushing himself past the other patrons, rushing towards the bathroom.

Lily took a deep breath and glanced at her watch, a cumbersome thing, large and heavy on her wrist. It was hard work, pretending to be unfamiliar of a story she’d heard dozens of times during her training. Felix had taken his time coming to the brunt of the matter, but she had him close, she felt it. He had basically already told her all she needed to know but she needed him to clearly articulate it for intent and motive to be established.
IndentShe loved his unpredictable mind; she had to admit that this first-person account was much more engrossing than her textbooks back at the academy, mainly because Felix had turned out to be exactly as eccentric and singular as her instructors had told her he’d be, and then some. Regardless, she was here to do a job and she planned on doing it right.
IndentShe was enjoying this time frame, too. She’d read about coffee and coffee houses, she’d seen pictures in books, and now here she was, sitting in one and actually drinking the stuff. And snow! She’d actually walked in snow, touched the stuff wth her bare skin! A story she would be telling at every birthday party for the rest of her life. It was those kinds of perks that got her to sign up at the academy in the first place.
IndentShe felt like she had all the time in the world in this pleasant bubble of reality they were inhabiting, but fact of the matter was she’d have to leave soon. She sipped her coffee again in an attempt to ignore the irony of her situation and marvelled at the taste.

“I’ve been mulling it over,” Lily said after Felix had returned. She tapped her watch; it bleeped quietly. “Break it down for me, how do you intend to do this?”
IndentFelix grinned. “Sure. Sometime soon time travel will be invented, I’m sure of it. We’re ready for it. We’re on the brink. And at some point in my life, whether it’s when I am 40 years old or 80, the underlying technology that makes time travel possible will become public knowledge, just like everyone now can find out how a car works. At that point I’ll travel back in time and give myself the designs, and hey presto, I’ll be the genius who introduces the world to time travel. Bob’s your uncle.”
Indent“Bob’s your... never mind,” Lily said, recognising the 20th century idiom. She took a deep breath, tapped her phone again and got up from her chair. She stood in front of Felix, still seated; she loomed over him, straightened her jacket and looked intently at her watch.
Indent“Whuh? Is it time to--” Felix said but Lily cut him off.
Indent“Felix Edward Hinman,” Lily said, her voice as stern as her face, “you are under suspicion of unrightfully appropriating the original designs of the flux capacitor and thereby of chrono-fraud of the highest order under statute law 1142α, articles 471-c through g of the year 2112,” Felix shifted uncomfortably in his chair, “and in light of today’s developments you have been found...”
IndentShe looked at her watch, hesitated a beat or two.
Indent“Yes, you have hereby been found guilty of this crime which is punishable by non-existence.” She looked up, into his eyes. Felix looked back, incredulous but unsettled, and saw sadness in her face.
IndentLily blinked, looked away, looked back into his eyes and mouthed ‘I’m sorry.’ Then she tapped her phone twice and vanished into thin air, like a television set being turned off.
IndentFelix gasped, eyes wide, heart pounding. He looked around but no one seemed to have noticed this girl just disappearing. He felt his blood rushing and his skin crawling, like the air in the room was closing in on him, squeezing him like an invisible vice. Then a clap, as loud and unexpected as a thousand people snapping their fingers simultaneously, and Felix too blinked out of existence, erased from the annals of history.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


You'd think that as you get older, you'd (by definition) get more experienced at life and living and consequently also get wiser, more discerning in your tastes and, god forbid, more articulate and literate. I've found this to be not so.

Where a decade ago I would not hesitate to read anything from Shakespeare to Salman Rushdie to José Saramago to Umberto Eco, these days I tend to shy away from the more challenging literature; so much so that I gravitate towards novels titled 'The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break' (no joke) or non-fiction written by a certain British motoring journalist who shall stay anonymous to protect that shred of dignity I like to imagine I still have left.

This worries me, because while I'll be the first to admit that I'm not by far the sharpest tool in the shed, I do consider myself well-read, well-informed, astute and knowledgeable; this is something I take pride in. And as my literacy seems to decrease I feel that those other qualities diminish, also.

A somewhat logical explanation of this is that a decade ago I was still a student of language and literature, immersed in that world of epic poetry, academia, proto-language, etc. But I do clearly remember reading challenging literature not because I had to, but because I wanted to, and I see no reason for that desire to slip away over the years. Yet, is seems it did.

What I suppose it is, is raging apathy; a (subconscious?) avoidance of anything that requires a more than average amount if exertion of any kind, in this case cerebral. I think Mumford & Sons said it best in their song 'I Gave You All':
"If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won."
I cannot deny that apathy is, in a way, my greatest vice, holding me back from being perhaps something more (or at the very least different) from what I am now, but at the same time apathy has been a good friend, shaping me into someone who floats through life carefree, untethered, free of stress, all qualities which allow me to enjoy life all the more.

That being said, I think I owe it to myself to agitate that grey mud slushing around in my skull, to poke it with a stick, rouse it and to pose it a challenge every once in a while, just to see whether that desire I found so enjoyable a decade ago is still hiding out somewhere in the folds and creases of my brain.

But first I have a book about a smoking Minotaur to finish.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Morning ritual.

A distinct sound breaks the silence and fills the room, the contrast between silence and sound so stark that it seems to alter the very room itself, as if it bends space and time, warping the physicality of things.
Fnord My heartbeat increases and my body jerks; no matter how subtle the sound is –I’d picked a soundbite from a videogame from my childhood, gentle and recognisable– is still startles me every time. I turn onto my side, towards the sound. I open my eyes and immediately find the source of the sound, my phone lying next to my pillow, radiating a white-ish light suffused with hints of red and green. I reach out, grab the phone, bring it to my face.
Fnord As every morning, I can’t believe it’s time to get up already. I feel like I fell asleep mere minutes ago, as if time loses all meaning when my consciousness is not around to notice it and ceases to go by one minute per minute when I don’t actively experience every one of those minutes. In a better man these ponderings might lead to a questioning of the fabric of time but it’s just too damn early for that.
Fnord I stare at the phone in my hand with eyes feeling as if they are newborn, the screen –with a text I can’t be bothered to read– flashing on and off to achieve maximum irritation. I blink. The sound is not very loud but still my mind in its entirety is occupied with a burning desire to make it stop.
Fnord Two buttons blink on and off in unison with the screen, one red, one green. The concept is a simple one: the red button stops the alarm dead in its tracks and the green one stops the alarm also and activates the snooze feature, allowing me another hour of much needed sleep. My mind, however, fails to grasp this deceivingly simple concept and I struggle to come to a decision about which button to push to turn on the snooze feature. I feel my mind groaning, as if it is clambouring out of a deep dark pit of apathy and misery like the mighty Kraken being released from its resting place deep under the sea after eons of nothingness.
Fnord The phone, unperturbed, keeps burbling its merry little tune at me.
Fnord My mind is torn. While it cannot determine which button to push to achieve snooze, it is very much aware of the fact that the wrong button would lead to a need to reprogram the snooze feature, right here, right now, a task which seems as insurmountable as eating the moon. I feel like a member of the bomb squad attemtping to disarm an explosive devise in some anonymous war-torn country; your rigorous training as an explosives expert has allowed you to come this far but now it’s down to these last two wires, one red, one green, and you simply do not know. Which do you cut?
Fnord I blink at the phone, my thumb hovering over the two infernal buttons. I hesitate for a second before I come to a decision and push a button. The sound stops immediately and a liberating silence fills the room. The screen stops blinking and radiates two words at me: Alarm Disabled.
Fnord “Motherfuck!” I mutter, searching my mind for any information regarding reactivating the snooze feature and finding only darkness and self-pity.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Forever endeavour.

The bath was running. A couple more minutes and it'd be fine. Just enough time for one more drink before the big event. The grande finale. The show stopper, so to speak.
Fnord He'd always been good at holding his liqour, a skill as dubious as it was useful. He tried to remember the first time he'd had a drink but it was ages ago, a memory submerged in the murky depths of his mind; it was certainly a drink older than the oldest wine in existence now. What he did know was that he'd always been appreciative of the effect alcohol had on him; with his lifestyle and background and what he’d gone through, the horrors he’d seen, the atrocities he’d committed, some dulling of the edges was never a bad idea. This day, however, patiently waiting for the bathtub to fill, he made sure he didn't drink too much. He wanted to remain sharp and alert. As sharp as you could be after that many glasses of Johnny Walker Red. But hey, alcohol thins the blood, so bottom's up.
Fnord Turning off the tap filled the room with an oppressive silence, a silence that pressed down on his shoulders and which seemed to compact the few cubic feet of reality he inhabited; a pressure that seemed to increase even further when he dropped his tattered robe to the floor. He instantly felt the steam, rising from the bathtub and filling the small, dingy bathroom, doing things to the skin of his soft spots; muscles relaxing, scar tissue tightening, the tiny hairs on his inner thighs and lower abdomen quivering, a pleasant warmth enveloping his genitals. Despite his age and reputation nudity had never felt comfortable to him, not even when he was alone; he didn’t need an audience to feel awkward. He supposed nudity wasn’t strictly necessary today but he couldn’t bring himself to stepping into the tub fully clothed.
Fnord His toe broke the surface and the serene glass lake under him rippled as he lowered himself into the water. It was slightly too hot for comfort, but comfort wasn’t a priority anymore; any illusions of comfort, in his life, in this world, he’d abandoned long ago along with his innocence, long lost in all the wars and violence he’d seen in his too many years. With his hands on the edge of the tub he kept lowering himself, the outlines of his body distorting as he looked down, the water refracting the contours of his waist and torso this way and that. When the water reached his chin, drenching his full, grey beard, his knees arose from the water in front of him like two reverse Atlantises; bald, bony islands, a castaway’s worst nightmare. He shifted his feet, crossed his ankles and the two small islands submerged again. Involuntarily, he thought of his brother.
Fnord He closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. Another one. He searched his mind for doubt, contemplation, hope, anything that he coud grab, hold onto for dear life, something that would allow him to climb out of this tub, shrug it off and get on with his life. He didn’t find any, which, he thought, must mean he’s at peace with this. Every shred of redemption had abandoned him long ago. He gave his mind the final chance to speak now, or forever hold its peace, and silence was the result. That settled it. This was happening. Right now.
Fnord A razor. Such an innocuous little sliver of steel alloy so thin that you’d hardly expect to feel a thing as it breaks the skin; like a hot knife through butter. It felt so flimsy and filmy between his thumb and forefinger that he thought he was holding nothing but air; it seemed almost unsubstantial, non-existent. An ethereal killer. Perhaps, he thought, if I imagine to be clenching nothing at all between my fingers it will be easier. A pantomime instead of the real thing.
Fnord However frail and diaphanous the razor may have appeared, he díd feel it as it cut through his skin. He was surprised at the amount of pressure it needed before the skin was pierced and opened up and how easily the razor’s edge dug its way into the underlying tissue after that. He was acutely aware of the sensations; as if it was happening in extreme slow motion, at 2500 fps. He felt the tendons and muscles snapping and jerking as the razor sliced through them, almost directly followed by a sickening popping sensation as the razor pierced the ulnar artery; the pressure of the blood pumping through it, duly diluted by the booze, making the pop seem almost audible. It nauseated him but he carried on, quickly slicing along the length of the artery.
Fnord The intensity of the colour struck him even before the realisation that his wrist was literally gushing blood; such a vibrant, electrifying explosion of red, full of life and promise. Immediately the water around him clouded, blood and water not really mixing but dancing and swirling around each other, creating tiny weather systems in the bathtub. He stared at his wrist —no longer experiencing the pain as pain, but as something numb and senseless— and regarded it as if it no longer belonged to him. The wrist laid open before him, the blood gushing out in unison with his heartbeat, which he felt reverberating through his body like a lazy drumbeat. He stretched his fingers outwards, then balled them together in a tight fist. The blood kept coming.
Fnord The smell of something metallic and musky entered his nose.
Fnord The opposite wrist went surprisingly easy. He’d expected to have trouble using the other hand since its wrist was already cut and bleeding heavily, but the hand remained astonishingly operational considering the muscular damage. In less than a second he’d doubled his injuries and both wrists were bleeding profusely, the coffee creamer whirls of red in the water giving way to a uniform diluted redness, like summer lemonade.
Fnord Now he’d wait.
Fnord And hope.
Fnord The room swayed, his limbs felt heavy, even in the water, and his eyes closed.

His eyes opened. Realisation washed over him as he stared at the ceiling above the tub.
Fnord He tilted his head forward, looked at the clouded, tinged water, and his eyes immediately found the razor blade, floating at the end of the bath tub, near his shins. He lifted his arms out of the murky water, the wounds virtually gone, no more than a thin red brown-ish line on both wrists, and even that was fading before his eyes.
Fnord He sighed wearily.
Fnord “God damnit,” Zeus said, his voice booming through the little space, before he clamboured out of the bathtub and picked up his robe.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Cinematical city.

As I was watching Sherlock Holmes again just now --in which there are many shots of London, with one in particular that caught my eye depicting Victorian era traffic crossing in front of the Big Ben (see here)-- I came to a realisation.

New York City does not actually exist.

I know. It's a shock. But hear me out.

As I witnessed the shot described above I realised how it must have been a logistical nightmare to achieve, closing off Westminster Bridge Road, emptying it of all traffic and tourists for the duration of that shot, moving in the era-appropriate props and actors, shooting the scene over several takes; a daunting task, surely, even with the aid of digital wizardry.

Now consider New York City, a city we've all seen a million times in a million films; every street, building, alley, skyscraper, intersection, shopping mall has been filmed and documented from every possible angle in films big and small. Now, every single scene in every film that depicts a location in NYC requires a similar type of preparation as described above.

Which would mean that the entire city would be closed down pretty much all the time. And since this is a clear impossibility, I have come to the conclusion that New York City is not an actual city but a place built for cinematic purposes only, like the backlot of a film studio, only larger.

I'm quite sure of it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Philosophy 101.

Happiness, however elusive a concept it may be to describe, is something we all know and strive for in life. We are expected to be happy; society tells us we should be happy. And if you’re not, make adjustments and make sure you get there, sooner rather than later. Happiness is often regarded as an end goal, something we slowly (or rapidly) move towards, something we reach, like life’s finish line; once you’re there, it’s clear sailing. One could argue that the meaning of life, if such a thing exists, is to acquire happiness and subsequently spend your remaining days in a constant state of blissful happiness; what that happiness is, what shape and form it presents itself in, is another matter entirely and differs per person.

However, ask anyone whether or not they are genuinely happy right now and chances are the answer will be a shrug and a ‘Yeah, sure.’ Very few will respond with a heartfelt ‘Yes!’ and those that do, I daresay, only do so because they think it’s the right answer, the answer you want to hear or the answer they are supposed to give. Why is this? Are we incapable of being truly happy in this very moment? I postulate that happiness, as a phenomenon, as an emotion, an experience, does not exist in the present moment.

I propose that happiness is an after effect of past experiences, something that can only be experienced in hindsight. Happiness as an active emotion --as something you experience in the moment, in the ‘now’, like anger or grief-- does not exist – you will only find happiness in the past. What that boils down to is: happiness is something that exists in memory only. The present moment is too littered with the daily chores and worries, the jetsam and flotsam of a life being lived, to experience it as happiness; the current moment has the potential for happiness but it’s only when seen through the murky waters of memory that happiness can be recognised and determined.

Memory places a filter on your memories of past events, filtering out the everyday undesirables, the mundane trivialitites of existence, which allows you to regard a particular memory separately, clean of the debris of everyday life, and (all subconsciously) judge it for what it’s worth: a moment of happiness, or not?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


I am completely inept both in front of and behind a camera, so whenever I do shoot a picture worth sharing it's usually due to blind luck. Such as today, when I wanted to take a picture of a lovely sunrise as I was driving to work. So, there I was, driving up 110 k/h, attempting to catch a sunrise in my viewfinder by leaning over to the passenger's side trying to get as close as possible to the far window with my camera phone that was still handily attached to my ears through a set of earplugs with a cord that was just a tad bit too short. It was an awkward bit of slapstick; also, potentially deadly.

This was the result:

Not bad, right?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sensible grafitti.