Notebook

That was the whole point, after all. To do with a few swipes of a blade what years on an analyst’s couch, or in an asylum’s cell, failed to accomplish. Freeman expended a great deal of energy trying to gather evidence for these beneficial changes. He kept meticulous records and was diligent about staying in touch with all of his patients, monitoring their progress. He looked for signs of improvement everywhere. Sometimes he saw evidence where others didn’t. For example, he always photographed his patients before their operations, then at some interval afterward. He developed the negatives himself and spent time peering into their pre- and post-operative eyes, reading them like tea leaves. In papers and presentations, he liked to point out how the eyes of most of his female patients looked notably more fearful and anxious pre-operatively. (He failed to attribute this to the fact that for the pre-operative pictures he almost always photographed the women while they were naked, while for the post-operative ones he almost always photographed them while they were fully clothed.)

Luke Dittrich, “Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness & Family Secrets”.

Posted in Notebook, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Going up or coming down?

Posted in Photography

Over-hyped & over here

Every critic in America seems to be raving about Paul Beatty’s novel, “The Sellout”. I wish I knew why. My review in The Times:

the sellout paul beatty“Swiftian satire of the highest order,” declared The Wall Street Journal. “Among the most important and difficult American novels written in the 21st century,” gasped the Los Angeles Times. Not to be outdone, the San Francisco Chronicle anointed Beatty — poet, author of three previous novels and editor of an anthology of African-American humour — as today’s Mark Twain. In Britain, Simon Schama has joined in too, acclaiming a “howl-a-page assault on the pieties of race debates in America”.

Really? Beatty is an original and irreverent talent, but his hallucinogenic morality tale, conveyed in cheerfully profane language, is a slender novella, with slender characters to match, pumped up to grandiose proportions. By the time you reach the end you are left feeling you have been pummelled into a state of exhaustion by a storyteller who lurches from one improbable excess to another. Beatty doesn’t so much throw bombs as launch an entire squadron of B-52s. The noise is intoxicating at first; before long it just becomes deadening.

Posted in Literature, Race, Reviews | Tagged , , ,

Readers vs burners

In honour of #NationalBookLoversDay, the Japanese poster for Truffaut’s  adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451”. [HT: @41Strange]

fahrenheit 451

Posted in Film, Literature | Tagged , ,

Nina’s man

The arrival of “The Philips Years” – seven albums spanning the mid -1960s – gave me the perfect excuse to revisit some of Nina Simone’s most idiosyncratic recordings. The “Pastel Blues” set, for instance, seems to get overlooked nowadays, but it’s every bit as absorbing as the later RCA release “Nina Simone Sings The Blues”. The opening track, “Be My Husband”, is actually credited to Andrew Stroud, the  Harlem detective who became Simone’s spouse, manager and all-round Svengali. It’s a strange feeling to listen to the lyrics and recall what Stroud was capable of in real life. “Simone made no secret that she was attracted to Stroud’s macho, aggressive style,” explained her most recent biographer Alan Light, who described what happened at a nightspot not long before the wedding:

Stroud seldom drank, but on this night he was downing white rum. They stayed late into the evening, until it was almost closing time. During the course of the evening, a fan came over to Simone and handed her a note, which she slipped in her pocket. This exchange – its meaning presumably amplified by the alcohol – upset Andy, and when the newly engaged couple left the club, he started pummeling her.

“He started raining blows on me,” she said. In the cab, he beat me all the way home, up the stairs, in the elevator, in my room. He put a gun to my head, made me take out all the letters that Edney [her childhood sweetheart] had written to me, and he examined them with my hands tied behind my head… Then he tied me up and raped me.”

In different accounts of the incident, the details Simone offered would vary in their severity – though the incident was clearly terrifying regardless of the specifics. “My husband beat me nineteen hours, or perhaps it was nine,” she said in another interview. “With a gun at my head after the beating was finished, and laughing, saying, “You thought I was gonna kill you, didn’t you?”

“I had a gun,” Stroud said. “I took the bullets out of the gun and I was telling her, “If you don’t do this, that, or the other, I’ll shoot you, whatever.”

He grabbed her again, leading her down in the elevator and through the building’s courtyard; a bellman on duty turned his head away. Simone saw some policemen, but Stroud said, “You think they’re gonna help you? As far as they’re concerned, we’re just two niggers on a Saturday night.” Stroud said later that he knew the cop who saw them and that (especially since Stroud outranked him) he wouldn’t help.

He took her, bleeding in the street, up to his apartment, and continued to beat her until his hands and knuckles were bloody. “After he was exhausted, he tied my legs and my hands to a bed and struck me , and raped me, and fell asleep,” she said.

Depressing, very depressing. (I reviewed Light’s book in The Times earlier this year.)

Posted in Uncategorized, Music, Reviews | Tagged , , , , ,

On Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill

A beautiful afternoon. I think it’s only the second time I’ve ever been there. My loss.

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Bossa nova: poetry, not easy listening

katie derham

When it started, I thought Katie Derham’s BBC4 documentary was going to be yet another of those clichéd, sun-kissed strolls along the seafront. I was wrong. Derham – who has spent a lot of time in Brazil over the years – clearly has a genuine passion for the music, and she and her production team did an excellent job of weaving together the complex cultural and political history. In some ways, it was a video counterpart to Ruy Castro’s book (which is glimpsed in the background in one shot). Mônica Vasconcelos, Joyce Moreno and Paulo Jobim were among the guests adding expert commentary. All in all, one of the best music documentaries I’ve seen in a year or two. Bossa nova is one of the most maligned and misunderstood styles on the planet. After watching this documentary, only people with a tin ear will still think it’s elevator music.

(After writing that, I discovered that the Guardian’s TV reviewer describes the programme as “inoffensive” and “middle class”: “I love a bit of bossa as much as the next person, but by the end of the documentary, it had all become a bit too sophisticated and noodly.” And with that she probably went back to listening to Kylie Minogue or The Smiths again.  I despair sometimes.)

Posted in Brazil, History, Music | Tagged , , , ,

Comedy masterclass

Quite an evening. My review of Bill Burr’s show in Bristol:

Sometimes there is a fine line between being a world-class stand-up and one of those taxi drivers who won’t stop ranting into the rear-view mirror. Part of the joy of this exhilarating display was never quite knowing when Bill Burr was being cantankerous or just toying with his audience’s prejudices.

The American comedian was given an ecstatic reception when he arrived on stage. Yet in this marathon performance there were passages, especially when he talked about race or feminism, when some fans wondered if that brash everyman persona had gone a step too far. The shaven-headed fella with the ripe Boston accent might almost have been morphing into Donald Trump.

“Is it the Aryan haircut not making you want to come along with me?” asked Burr, sensing a ripple of unease. Undaunted, he plunged ahead, presenting himself as a liberal who has the contrarian urge to question every liberal preconception. Donning the mask of the confused, beer-drinking heterosexual, he stumbled around, trying to make sense of the world.

Posted in Comedy, Reviews, US politics | Tagged , , , , , ,

Faces of Brazil

rio olympics poster

One of the official posters for the Olympics. (“It’s really hard for us in Brazil to choose one artist to represent the Games.”). When it comes to ideals of feminine beauty, on the other hand, the country still seems to prefer to play by the old colour-coded rules.

brazil models

 Whenever I’ve been in the country I’ve been struck by the way glossy magazine covers still opt for European faces. It’s almost as if most of the population doesn’t exist. In  a country that’s supposedly colour-blind, the discrepancy is all the more jarring. Do Brazilians really not notice? A few years ago, at a PR event on Sugar Loaf Mountain, I say through  a corny promotional film for the state airline TAM. After a while I realized something odd was happening: almost every member of the polished, ultra-professional staff smiling out from the screen was white. I was so startled that I began  counting. In all, there were about 26 —  cabin staff, pilots, executives and so on. Then, at last, a couple of black faces appeared: two elderly, itinerant street musicians — from Copacabana, I think. And that was it. As I pointed out to a colleague, could you imagine an American company trying to pull a similar trick?

Posted in Brazil, Photography, Race, Sport, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Notebook

“Have you ever looked around the common room and seen what kind of men they are?”

“Of course,” said Traill; “but,” he added modestly, “I’m not observant, you know. I’m not at all a clever kind of chap.”

“Well, you would have seen what I’m telling you written in their faces right enough. Mind you, what I’m saying doesn’t apply to the first-class public school. That’s a different kind of thing altogether. I’m talking about places like Moffatt’s – places that are trying to be what they are not – to do what they can’t do – to get higher than they can reach. There are thousands of them all over the country – places where the men are underpaid, with no prospects, herded together, all of them hating each other, wanting, perhaps, towards the end of term to cut each other’s throats.”

Hugh Walpole, “Mr Perrin and Mr Traill”.

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