cairn at gullfoss

so it seems i could use a pair of glasses. it's not the sort of dire need with which i deserve to need glasses after years of wearing empty frames recreationally - o college - but it is the sort of need i probably should have addressed before attempting to see all of 2013's best picture/director/actor/actress academy award nominees (i am nearsighted in my left eye, apparently, and while i don't need glasses to drive, my optometrist noted that i might consider them if i was, you know, super-into film or theatre). i'll be getting a big old black pair from moscot's, for 1) they have been selling specs in our neighborhood for a century and 2) my four-eyed idol is marcello mastroianni in 8 1/2. joe says tortoiseshell frames would look better, and i say compromising one's vision for piddly aesthetic reasons is unforgivable. there will be time to sort these things out, for saving up for a pair of prescription moscot glasses is going to take four thousand years.

i'll be on a train somewhere between new york and washington dc as the oscars are actually distributed next month, - o vacation-planning without one's datebook at hand - but i'm taking this nominee-watching business very seriously this year; i've got just four more to go, in fact. joaquin phoenix, i'll see you in hell.


amour (film). i saw amour at film forum, a west village indie house known for its banana bread (beloved of derrida, apparently) and its horrible older patrons (after abandoning the 3:30 showing because the only seats left were in the front row, several couples emerged from the 4:00 theater to abuse the manager for heating it too slowly ["it has been freezing in there for several minutes!"]). i went from quietly despising them before the lights went down to squirming on their behalf once the film began, for it's their nightmare: this is the feel-bad movie of the year, a devastating story of infirmity's thefts (in a nutshell, emmanuelle riva and jean-louis trintignant are an octogenarian invalid and her husband/caregiver, respectively). if you're already aware of how it ends or don't mind spoilers, read through richard brody's negative review and how readers have responded to it; amour, as it were, gazes also into you.

django unchained (film). quentin tarantino... can photograph the hell out of a southern landscape (+) but botches a key scene at the end of his movie by front lighting a character who's supposed to be facing a blank wall at dusk (-). he gets away with dropping jim croce's "i got a name" into an antebellum buddy scene* (+!) and spoils the mood of a retributive bloodbath by yoinking a character out of the frame with a vaudeville hook (stylized violence could be fine, but the style should be consistent: this character dies in part because another character is torn apart by dogs, realistically, earlier in the movie). christoph waltz and leonardo dicaprio are great and really really great (+); samuel l. jackson as an old man and QT himself as an australian are distracting and really really distracting (-). can an egomaniac be afraid of his own talent? get out of your way, boss.

the impossible (film). more of a science fair project than a movie in some ways: HOW DO WEALTHY TOURISTS REACT TO A NATURAL DISASTER? a father will run around for two days without a shirt or shoes, even though they are probably offered to him. a mother will save all little boys in her path despite horrific wounds. little boys will grow up fast. the actors responsible for these reactions are all doing good work, but they're a bit stuck when it comes to developing dramatic tension. the impossible's scenes of the 2004 tsunami hitting thailand are fantastic - the CGI deserves a slew of technical awards, and the editing is top-notch - but when we realize fairly early on that every member of the family has survived (the impossible is based on a true story, and it's called the impossible - one could argue that we know this going into the movie, really), all we're left to wonder is how long it will take them to reunite and why the filmmakers spend so little time with the tsunami's domestic victims. the first question isn't especially interesting, and the second - well, that's another sort of movie.

les misérables (film). i did my darndest to give les mis a fair shot, o my brothers. i avoided reviews, i made a point of seeing it at the mighty ziegfeld, i tried to attribute my hatred for the london stage version to the fact that i saw it over spring break when i lived in oxford and was exhausted and kind of ill as i whispered silent prayers for someone, anyone, to shoot the insufferable gavroche. after all that, i think i appreciate the film even less than i appreciated the musical: the female characters are flat and feeble (helena bonham carter's madame thénardier is the only one with significant agency, and she's a grotesque), the history is maddeningly vague (does anyone leave the show knowing what the june rebellion was actually about?), the singing is all over the place (russell crowe's mush-mouthed inspector javert might actually be a somnambulist, poor hugh jackman is obliged to chant like a country vicar, and toothless anne hathaway chews so much scenery in "i dreamed a dream" that she creates an emotional vacuum at the beginning of the movie, forcing everyone else into endless, affectless refrains like singing waiters in times square). i hated les mis so much i'm actually kind of angry at poor old victor hugo, which i realize is like blaming david bowie and freddie mercury for "ice ice baby" and yet i can't stop the feelings. thank god i didn't have glasses.

silver linings playbook (film). the lovely and talented jennifer lawrence is the pork chop hollywood tied around bradley cooper's neck to get me to play with him, and i am okay with that transaction; he's a pleasant surprise in silver linings, more charismatic than i've seen him since the good old alias days. he's no jimmy stewart, mind you, but this is solid romantic comedy, and he and lawrence have fine flawed-boy-meets-flawed girl chemistry. that said, jacki weaver (as cooper's mother and robert de niro's wife) is the only character who consistently presents as more than a collection of symptoms. a cookie for her (and, okay, for the set decorator who name checked the midnight meat train via a neighborhood marquee).

*i am ready for a quentin tarantino v. wes anderson dj battle.


a friend of mine tweeted a link to a fine slideshow of tattooed women over at the new yorker's photo department blog this morning. "Anyone riding the Brooklyn L train these days," maria lokke writes, "can see that tattoo culture is thriving, especially among women. In fact, 2012 was the first year in which more women than men were tattooed in the U.S (twenty-three per cent of women, compared with nineteen per cent of men)." lokke then quotes margot mifflin in the introduction to her bodies of subversion: a secret history of women and tattoo: “Tattoos appeal to contemporary women both as emblems of empowerment in an era of feminist gains and as badges of self-determination at a time when controversies about abortion rights, date rape, and sexual harassment have made them think hard about who controls their bodies—and why.”

when i was a senior in high school, a friend and i drove up to los angeles to be tattooed. the little parlor she knew, a hole in the wall at the end of sunset boulevard, didn't ask either of us for ID—which was excellent, since we were both underage. i handed over the eight-pointed star i'd drawn at home after hours on the floor of my bedroom with the liner notes from mellon collie and the infinite sadness, and twenty minutes later its twin and three tiny attendants were weeping black ink into a patch of gauze on the back of my neck. i didn't have a pixie cut in those days, so my star was my secret until i decided to break cover by sweeping my hair up in a bun for a trip to the mall the next week. "hey," my little sister said as she trailed behind me with our mom. "is that real?"

i am more today than a grease spot on the parquet in front of what was robinsons-may's cosmetics department because my mother knew then what self-determination meant to me (i couldn't be pretty or popular, but by god, i could alter myself as i chose: i pierced my ears in front of my mirrored closet door for the first time when i was in fifth grade). she and my father asked me to have the tattoo removed, and they paid for its removal; they even agreed to begin the sessions after winter formal. i got a taste of the life of a tattooed lady in the months between that day at the mall and the afternoon of my last appointment at uc irvine's laser clinic. "so," a sweet-faced classmate asked, "are you a witch?" the dermatologist was more secular: "so, which gang are you in? how drunk were you when this happened?" he hated that i insisted on keeping one of the tiny stars and spoiled the before-and-after photographs in his office album.

i didn't have a car at college, so i got my second tattoo at the shitty redwood city storefront parlor a bus ride away from campus. after paging through illuminated manuscripts in every undergrad library i could access (freshman research papers, if i had shown such love to you!), i chose a cross from a ratty san francisco goth club flyer in my boyfriend's RA's dorm room, and i think i love it more now than i did when i was still recovering from christianity. the artist stopped after forty-five minutes, saying that i was swelling too much and he'd have to finish another time, and when i came back he said his needles had been stolen. i came back again and he himself was gone; they said he'd disappeared with his sketches and receipts. i got a guy at laguna tattoo, the shop on PCH a block from taco loco and just below the vintage shop that sold me my first crushed velvet coat, to finish up the detail work. soon i'll have had it for half my life.

you know the story of my third tattoo, and the story of my fourth is tangled up with the story of our trip to the isle of man, and for another time. why do i tell you these things at all? i surprised myself this morning as i responded to a friend who didn't feel the appeal of tattoos as emblems of female empowerment: "tattooing does feel a bit like the opposite of the powerlessness a gal feels when, say, an ob/gyn refuses to sterilize her," i wrote. i haven't spoken much of my adventures as a woman who knows she doesn't want to have children and it's possible i'll never do so here, but in my case that statement is true: these permanent changes to my body are visceral self-actualization.

funny what a tramp stamp can mean to a girl, innit? it's a passport stamp, as i once told another friend. i can lose faith to experience and firmness to time and stumble out bandaged onto a sidewalk in california or reykjavik or douglas and think my god, what have i done?, but each bit of that ink recalls a birthplace.


There's an anecdote I love. Samuel Fuller wanted to shoot a film with an arguing couple, and he's out at this farm, and while they're waiting to set up the next shot he discovers a chicken out in the yard chasing a cat around in circles. He sees this and says to his cinematographer, This is the perfect metaphor for the arguing going on inside—we shoot this, then we pull back into the room and see the actors. They do it and it's perfect. And if you'd written that into the script, the producers would have said, We've got to train a chicken to chase a cat? That's going to be expensive.

(joachim trier to lorin stein, "from the proceedings of the first annual norwegian-american literary festival," the paris review winter 2012)


joe at the reykjavik art museum

In the previous episode of The Library, masked pirate-magicians said they would sell Prince Wing a cure for the spell that infested Faithful Margaret's hair with miniature, wicked, fire-breathing golems. (Faithful Margaret's hair keeps catching fire, but she refuses to shave it off. Her hair is the source of all her magic.)

The pirate-magicians lured Prince Wing into a trap so obvious that it seemed impossible it could really be a trap, on the one-hundred-and-fortieth floor of The Free People's World-Tree Library. The pirate-magicians used finger magic to turn Prince Wing into a porcelain teapot, put two Earl Grey tea bags into the teapot, and poured in boiling water, toasted the Eternally Postponed and Overdue Reign of the Forbidden Books, drained their tea in one gulp, belched, hurled their souvenir pirate mugs to the ground, and then shattered the teapot that had been Prince Wing into hundreds of pieces. Then the wicked pirate-magicians swept the pieces of both Prince Wing and collectable mugs carelessly into a wooden cigar box, buried the box in the Angela Carter Memorial Park on the seventeenth floor of the World-Tree Library, and erected a statue of George Washington over it.

(kelly link, from "magic for beginners")


feather in a spider's web, NBD

A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, "a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole," was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn't have much to work with.

"Come on," Jillette said. "Steal something from me."

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

"Fuck. You," he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette's pen.

(adam green, "a pickpocket's tale," new yorker 01.07.13)
i returned to a vintage place down on lafayette yesterday afternoon to reacquaint myself with a regally evil black coat i discovered there a week ago. "you're back for the dolce," they noted. i guess i'd gone on at length about how it made me want to lurk in alleys and pick pockets.


fireworks in prospect park

the year, internets. she is new. i've wrestled a refill into my bright red exacompta desk planner (no digital planning in 2013! or 2012, or 2011, &c.), the party pants have migrated to the back of the closet, and drinking before noon will be taboo for at least a few months (holiday brunches, you are uncompromising). i continue to pooh-pooh resolutions, but it pains me that (per my archives) i posted only 73 times last year; comments or no comments, then, i'll be more prolific. i have also decided to flash more leg. adjust your own plans as needed.


ippudo (restaurant). the vegetable hirata buns are high on my Greatest Sandwiches of All Time list, and the ramen is the best in new york (sorry, totto). it took us three passes to get a table when my sister and brother-in-law were in town last week, and not one of us held a grudge.

joseph anton (book, ongoing). salman rushdie's third-person memoir about the decade he lost to khomeini's fatwa (the imam called for his death in february of 1989 after the publication of the satanic verses, and he spent the next ten years under the british government's protection) raises a lot of questions: was his second wife really that crazy? should i read the verses again? do i have to start liking paul auster now? joseph anton - the two-thirds of it i've read, anyway - is both personal testimony and a stomp-your-feet-until-the-earth-trembles tale of how brave the publishing industry can be. who could tell a story like that about an ebook?

kitchen confidential (book). i thought anthony bourdain deserved a substantive shot at impressing me. he didn't.

life of pi (film). ang lee's majestic, no-foot-out-of-place compositions are precisely the sort of thing one wants to see in 3D - precisely the sort of thing i want to see in 3D, anyway - and i can't imagine a more graceful adaptation of yann martel's novel. it's treacly where the book is treacly, but it also makes you gasp where the book makes you gasp, and richard parker the digital tiger is a fine, fine tiger. possibly i cried when he suffered. i will not apologize for my feelings about tigers.

magic for beginners (book, ongoing). purchased on the strength of a staff recommendation at the strand; kelly link is, per both jonathan lethem and neil gaiman, "the best short story writer working today." i'm miserly when it comes to compliments like that, but i can tell you that "the faery handbag," her collection's first story (available free here) is the most original thing i've read in too long. fuck yeah, kelly link.

mission chinese nyc (restaurant). the hype is merited; we've ordered the takeout once and been to the restaurant twice, and i'd happily queue another three times this week if i thought my sore throat could take the heat. arrive at 5 with your whole party for a shot at the first seating; send a scout ant to get on the list early and plan to be in the neighborhood for an hour and a half if you can't. vegenauts, you want the (vegan versions of the) thrice-cooked bacon, the stir-fried pork jowl, the peanuts, and all of the pickles.

zero dark thirty (film). i will need to watch zero dark thirty again, for joe and i saw it when it was showing in like two theaters in the city and five in the whole country, and fools were swiveling flashlights, loitering behind the last row, and rushing in and out of the theater at our screening. it was particularly bad during the sequence in which the navy seals kill bin laden, and i was too jittery to focus. what the hell, people? i think i prefer the hurt locker, as i thought kathryn bigelow managed to flesh out jeremy renner's character in a few key scenes and i missed that with jessica chastain, but i admire her decision to tell a story that's still unfolding. is it cool that her film implies that enhanced interrogation brought bin laden down? i do think it would have been cowardly to make a film about the war on terror without addressing the fact that we tortured people. ZDT isn't a masterpiece, but it reinitiates conversations we don't have nearly enough.