quarta-feira, fevereiro 14, 2018

The Post, by Steven Spielberg

This is a very nice movie, better than most of Spielberg's "grown-up" movies (I always thought he was much better with adventure "teenage" movies like Indiana Jones or ET, when he tries to be serious he tends to be too moralistic and becomes somewhat parochial, in a very American way). This one is a newspaper movie/thriller in the best tradition of All the President's Men, with great performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and, obviously, very relevant to the present American situation, when a constantly lying president declares war on the press. These were the values that truly made America great, and whose erosion is making it increasingly irrelevant. Unfortunately, Americans seem to be getting used and immune to their administration's lies and shamelessness.

terça-feira, fevereiro 13, 2018

Call me by your name, by Luca Guadagnino

I had seen so many good reviews of this movie that my expectations were pretty high - or not that much, since I usually get somewhat mistrustful when something is too praised. But it's actually a very good movie, a tender nostalgic evocation of the discovery of love and sexuality, in a beautiful setting, very well directed and with an outstanding performance by the young Timothée Chalamet. It somehow reminded me of Conte d'Été by Eric Rohmer, probably because of the european atmosphere, the depiction of long and lazy summer time and young people 's experiences of love.

I liked the movie more after I'd seen it, when I knew the Oliver character was 24 years old. Because, while watching it, I thought he should be about 30, and that bothered me a little, somehow it didn't ring true that, as much liberal minded as the parents could be, they should be comfortable with their 17 year-old son having a fling with a much older man; then everything fell into place when I realised he was only 24. Maybe Armie Hammer, handsome as he is, was not the perfect casting? Anyway, they had a great chemistry on screen.

The Book of Dust - La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman

I was ill when a good friend lent me a book to read, saying something like "It's a beautiful fantasy, it will take your mind away from troubles". It was Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman, I had never heard about him, but ever since the first few pages, when Lyra was sneaking in the Oxford college library and Pantalaimon flew around her as a moth, I was captivated and enthralled. The strange yet familiar world(s) depicted are fascinating, and the story and the characters are great - I loved Northern Lights and soon read The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. I find Philip Pullman's universe (or better, multiverse) much more interesting than C.S. Lewis', to whom he's so often compared. It's curious how the movie adaptation failed; I actually found it not inferior to the Tolkien movies adaptations of The Lord of the Rings; Nicole Kidman was an excellent Mrs. Coulter, and the movie was visually very beautiful. But of course the books are so much more interesting.

So I was curious when last year there was a new book developing the story, and now I read it and liked it very much. There is no more the fascination of discovering a new world, rather the pleasure of returning to an old familiar and beloved one. It's another beautiful narrative, that adds information about daemons and Dust, told in a gripping way that makes it a page turner. The new characters, Malcolm, Alice and Bonneville, are as engaging as Lyra, Will or Mrs. Coulter. And I always like the way good fantasy and sci-fi writers deal with real important subjects to make us think, in this case the dangers of religion, single-mindedness and youth indoctrination.

I am looking forward to the next volume.

terça-feira, fevereiro 06, 2018

The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood


Like many people since the 70s, I first heard of Christopher Isherwood as the author of the story that inspired the movie Cabaret; unlike most of the people that then read him, the movie didn't make me read him, quite the opposite, it actually pulled me away from it for many years - until now. I enjoyed the movie, it has very good musical acts, but I found the story feeble and far from appealing (guess it would have been different if it had been A Single Man, a movie I watched many years later).

Anyway, I kept stumbling across Christopher Isherwood's name along the years: he was published by the Hogarth Press, he was admired by Gore Vidal, his portrait (with his partner Dan Bachardy) had been painted by David Hockney... So I kept him in my to-read list.

And now I finally read him, and understood what all the hype was about. I was overwhelmed, it is really first class writing, I hadn't enjoyed a book so much in a long time. Not only the writing is beautiful and the stories engaging, but the characters are unforgettably created - even more than the famous Sally Bowles, there is Arthur Norris, Otto Nowak, Natalia Landauer, Bernhard Landauer, even fraulein Schroeder, all incredibly believable and endearing each in its own way.

It is so good to find great fiction, to feel there are still so many books to read and enjoy. Isherwood absolutely deserves his fame, it's a wonderful author.

sexta-feira, fevereiro 02, 2018

Requiem


I've been thinking a lot about her lately, and wanting to write about her, but keep shying away from it out of fear of not doing her justice.

She was born in Guinea-Bissao, from a middle-class family, worked as a government clerk and was happily married. Then she got pregnant, and then everything went wrong: eclampsia, renal failure, a plane to Lisbon to get dialysis. Then here she was, alive but alone in a foreign country, with no support whatsoever from Guinea's embassy, as so many other renal patients. That's when I met her, as another recently arrived patient from Guinea.

I instantly took to this very fat and beautiful young woman, with the most happy smile and friendly demeanour I have ever seen. She was the kind of person that is born to be happy, always optimistic and with an indefatigable love for life, even when things went terribly wrong. And wrong they went, time after time. She lost her relatively comfortable life in Guinea, her husband soon found another woman. With no money, she had to support herself with cleaning work. A renal transplant failed, vascular accesses failed, the bone complications of secondary hyperparathyroidism crippled her and gave her constant pain and a hip fracture, she suffered from several blood stream infections from her catheters, she got hepatitis C.

A second transplant worked for a few years, but rejection followed, and she was back on dialysis. Meanwhile, she kept struggling with poverty - I remember being appalled when I knew her landlord had removed the doors and windows of her flat in winter because she was late with her rent.

But through it all, she almost always managed to keep her good spirits, her sunny disposition. She used to ask me about my children, and then always said: "Take care of me, I'm your oldest child! I'm counting on you!" "You'll never get rid of me, mark my words!" And her hearty laugh always warmed my heart, and I'd tell her: "Yes, you're just as foolish as my kids!"

And thus many years went by, I was her doctor for 22 years. It was always a pleasure to meet her, her smiling black face, her colourful outfits and afro wigs so typical of an attractive West African woman. We shared jokes about her weight, I would tell her how worried I'd be if she ever get thin.

And now she is dead, as so many of my patients. Another of the many complications she suffered from, only this time she didn't make it. And I'm so sad. Because it really felt like she was my oldest daughter. She was born to be happy, but fate dealt her a really gloomy hand. And I'm SO sad. Could I have helped her more? I feel so useless sometimes. She deserved such a different life.

quarta-feira, janeiro 17, 2018

Native Realm, by Czeslaw Milosz


An interesting book, very insightful in what regards Poland's recent history and subjects as nationalities and the ideologies and day-to-day living during the Cold War. I did not always agree with the somewhat aristocratic points of view of the author, but his is a lucid voice, and always pleasant to read. All in all, a very good book.

domingo, dezembro 31, 2017

Valencia

I love Spanish cities, and had never been to Valencia yet, so it was a great pleasure to discover it. It's a beautiful city, lively, big and diverse.


We stayed at a nice hotel near the Estació del Nord, a beautiful building from 1917, right next to the Plaza de Bous (bullfighting arena). It's right in the transition between the Eixample - the modern city, full of big ornate apartment buildings, sometimes veering a little too much on the wedding cake architecture - and the Old Town, with its many big and small squares, churches and cafés.


The Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the Plaza de la Reina and the Plaza de la Vierge are all big squares lined by beautiful buildings - the Post Office, the City Hall, the Cathedral, the Generalitat - and with lively café terraces and Christmas markets. But the small squares are even lovelier, with so many shops and small restaurants.


With its Baroque and Gothic façades, the Cathedral is an impressive building, and it houses no less than the Holy Grail. We climbed the more than 200 steps of the spiral staircase of the Michelet tower to enjoy sweeping views over the city.



The Central Market is a bustling food market, with its vegetables, fruits, hams and fish stalls. Literally across the street, the Lonja de la Seda is a Gothic cathedral of commerce, with an impressive hall with tall columns, rooms with amazing painted ceilings and bawdy sculptures in the porticoes.


The museum of Fine Arts and the Ceramic museum are very interesting, as are the St Vincent's crypt and the Admiral baths. Then there is the old Carmen, and the gardens del Turia, a green belt encircling the Old Town where a river used to run.



Then there are other neighborhoods, like the Benimaclet, with its feeling of quiet village crossed with bohemian quarter, and the Cabanyal, the old fishermen's neighborhood near the sea.



The City of Arts and Sciences is definitely worth a visit. I like the Calatrava buildings, the Science Museum is extremely interesting and the Oceonagraphic has very interesting and beautiful specimens - just don't pay attention to the awful cardboard "rocks". And I had my first experience of Imax with a NASA documentary on the Hemispheric.



And the gastronomy? Valencia is the paella home par excellence,and we dutifully ate 5 excellent paellas on the five days we were there. But there are also the esgarraet, pumpkin pudding and lots of tasty tapas.


All in all, Valencia is a beautiful city, well worth a visit.






domingo, dezembro 24, 2017

The Journey, not the Arrival, Matters - an Autobiography of the years 1939 to 1969, by Leonard Woolf


I finished Leonard Woolf's autobiography, and am really glad I read it. Leonard Woolf was indeed a great mind, and it's amazing how clear minded he was in his eighties. I so much agree with him on so many levels, from what constitutes true civilization to the importane of pleasure and the value of justice and fairness. The account of Virginia's final illness and death is moving, but it's his musings about old age, the meaninglessness of most of our life's work and the reflections on the world's state and on what is meant by civilization that are really worth the reading. How much better the world would be if there were more people like him.

I would accept the risk of immortality, if I were offered it, but I do not worry about my inevitable death. As one grows old, one is forced to think of it, for it grows nearer and nearer; the time comes when you see that people are surprised to see that you are still alive, when you know that, if you plant a tree in your garden, you will not be alive to stand beneath its branches, or, if you buy a bottle of claret "for laying down", you will probably die before it has matured.

Justice and mercy - they seem to me the foundation of all civilized life and society, if you include under mercy toleration.

The most civilized civilizations have always counted pleasure to be a very good thing, and the most uncivilized civilizations have always puritanically frowned on happiness.