Monday, February 25, 2008

Ultimate Road Trip Film: Wild Strawberries

This weekend I was watching the ultimate road trip film, Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman. It was Saturday, and the morning sky looked like the sun was about to set. It was cold in my garret, the computer comfortingly warm sitting on my lap.

Watching the film made me think of many things. Although nowhere near the 78 years of the main character, Professor Isak Borg, and the actor as well (the wonderful Victor Sjöström), it made me reflect on my own life, of opportunities missed, loves lost. The wonderful thing about entering one of these nostalgic, indulgent reveries after a Bergman film is that his exemplar - nostalgic, but cleared-eyed and unsentimental - doesn't let you slip into self-indulgent slush. It's the nature of life: if you live, and if you remember, then you will regret. I suppose when you are 78 you can't do much more - no time left to change things - but at my 30-something age, time still to make changes for whatever things I think I have missed (or so I told myself, the mantra I repeated to myself again and again -- don't worry I was at home, not on the street!)

The film also made me think about great art and feeling , indeed great feeling. Though I love many cerebral masters of many art forms, there is something about great art that rouses great feeling, that is powerful, that makes you alive, that indeed adds a reason to live. And then I thought of - with pleasure and longing - the great films, music, poetry, novels, paintings, theatre that I had seen. And all their ideas and feelings were somehow concentrated into a powerful melancholia. I didn't want to cry, nor to sleep, nor to escape, but to create. Have you ever seen a beautiful color when you're out walking and wanted somehow to rub it on a piece of paper and capture its essence? That's want I wanted to do with this feeling. I was restless, and no song I put on could calm me.

I thought about all the art that I had created in the past in such moods - not great art perhaps, but art nonetheless - like leaves pressed between the pages of books on my shelf. They are beautiful, my creations, beautiful in their humanity, if not great in their imperfection.

* * *

"Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?" ~ John Keats.

* * *

"Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther." ~ John Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Lindsay-Lohanesque Rehab or Jack Bauer Rescue Me or Have You Ever Eaten a Hazelnut?

Do you know how every celeb worth their salt has done a stint in rehab? A spokesman announces that he or she has retreated to a rehab center in the Arizona dessert to deal with his or her issues. Well, here I am in Cyprus, doing just that. Well granted that LL is both truly talented and truly messed up, and I am neither. (Don't give me a hard time on this -- have you seen -- truly seen -- Freaky Friday?) And also let me grant that this is a hotel and not a rehab center. And also let it be said that I'm not any kind of addict because I don't want my parents to start thinking that about me...

Well, Mom, Dad, I am an Internet addict. I picked this hotel because it had (was supposed to have) wifi. When I arrived last night I found out it did not. I threw a fit. A bottled fit. This morning I did my best impression of a very busy, very important person who just has to work (I'm "working" now), and they upgraded me to a suite with a hardline. It is offseason after all. Other than me, one romanticish couple, and one couple with a baby, there is no one else here. In this hotel. In this town. On this island. (Other than the natives, who seem to hide.)

When facing the bleak prospect of an Internets free weekend, I took some consolation that I had remembered to pack the remaining 3 DVDs of 24 Season 3 that I have not yet seen.* So I figured worst case, it would be a veg out weekend. Fortunately, things have turned for the better. I trundled down the road to some very beautiful mosaics. On the way back stopped in at the market and bought two bottles screw-top wine and two bottles of water (notice how mature I am - wine and water in equal proportions, even at lunch).

After a burst of sun, it is cloudy, but (I live in London and laugh in the face of clouds and) am looking at the sea. I think I'll actually do some work now (for 15 or 20 minutes).

Then I'll lie in my bed, and wait for Jack to rescue me.



P.S. Have you ever eaten a hazelnut? I feel a little bit silly, like one of those people who doesn't understand that tomato sauce comes from tomatoes rather than a tube, but today for the first time I ate a hazelnut. Now I have had hazelnut ice cream (fave), hazelnut chocolate, and even (hate to confess this) hazelnut coffee (in my defense, it was the late 80s, and back then we thought these things were sophisticated). But never had I had a hazelnut until this morning. And you know, it tastes like a hazelnut!

* I see you shaking your head, saying to yourself, "Poor BB..." Then this vision bifurcates. In one, version you say, "Nutters, truly off the rails". In the other, you say, "Used to have better taste." Then to both I reply meekly that I also brought Hana-Bi and Wild Strawberries. In the first, you reinterate, "Nutters, truly nutters." In the second, you just shake your head sadly as though watching someone spread a layer of caviar on wonderbread.

Monday, February 11, 2008

An early spring

I was in detox mode. No not from that, nor that, but the other stuff, you know? The only thing I could bring myself to do was walk. I walked to Hampstead Heath, and then walked on the the heath (coming from a place that doesn't have too many heaths, this is still pretty exciting -- these English place names, heaths and moors, and whatnot).

I thought this would be a PH style this-weekend-I post, but I realized I didn't quite have the style or substance for it: This weekend I watched all of 24 (season 3). This weekend I drank a good bottle of wine (oops, there's one wagon I fell off). This weekend I cooked soup (sweet potato and cauliflower, from a book by Peter Gorden) and polished it off whilst polishing off the aforementioned 24 (season 3). I slept early, but slept badly, having caught a cold (was it wandering the heath? or was it from a girl at Godiva who cheerful announced the she had a cold while offering me a chocolate to taste -- I took it anyway).

But there was that walk on the health. My eyes felt heavy, the air pleasant, but laced with just enough cool to keep you balanced between alert and drowsy.

It was sort of like this:


Friday, February 8, 2008

Nobel prize nominees (several months too late)

Is there a Nobel prize in wellbeing? Or instead can a chocolate maker qualify to win the Peace Prize? If so (and why not?) then I believe these are the nominees.

I've previously written about the awards for "loo of the year", but this something at a different level altogether. Have you tried these before? As you would expect, they first came to me in a contraband shipment from Europe when I was living in New York and I was recently updated by another contraband shipment here in London. You look at the package and think, what an absurd idea, trying to capture a dessert in a chocolate bar. Why not let dessert be dessert, and chocolate be chocolate? Two families, both happy. But the genius is that they do.

You bite into the the thick square and you are suddenly awash with the unctuous taste of the crème and then after a moment the cruch of the brûlée bit. That's it! They have really captured it and wrapped it in a bar!

The geniuses who created this are clearly capable of magic. Why don't they create an inspiration bar, or just quit messing around and create a bliss bar? Oh, of course, that's what they've already done.



P.S. Here in London I have regular access only to the crème brûlée and tiramisu flavors. I tried the lemon tart in the aforementioned contraband shipment. But if anyone wants to ship me the chocolate tart and macarons (gasp.... sigh...) then you'll earn my eternal gratitude.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Warning! Geek alert!

Actually, I think geek is one of those self-actualizing word. By using it, you become one. So now I am (truthfully always was).

I am bundled under the duvet, in my garret apartment, the wind howling and rattling the windows like the wheelhouse on a ship, imagining I am like the starving artists romanticize in Puccini operas, whereas instead I am just recovering from a week of dumplingbinding (and truthfully a Brazilian party I went to last night). Well, rose colored spectacles, fantasies, dreams, unbounded.

I wish I could take credit for this, but a friend put me up to writing a question into the Undercover Economist column at The Financial Times. The ideas were hers, the words joint, and the name mine. Actually, I was so skeptical that our question would make into the column that we made a bet of one very good bottle of champagne on the outcome. She does not owe me a bottle of Krug. But I now owe her a bottle of Ruinart. Life could be worse, much worse.

* * *

Credit where credit’s due. An article written by Tim Harford on the 26th of January, 2008.

Published on Dear Economist in The Financial Times.

Dear Economist,

I am perplexed by the enormous publicity devoted to the subprime debacle while micro-credit lenders have been showered with praise. Isn’t Countrywide just a micro-credit lender for the US, except that people are borrowing for homes rather than bullocks? And why are borrowers in developing countries so much better at repaying their loans?

Bombay Beauty

Dear Bombay Beauty,

No problem explaining why it is easier to repay a microfinance loan: the loans are a lot smaller. Beyond that, you have a point. Microfinance loans, like subprime loans, target poor clients in underserved communities, and charge high interest rates.

The economist Dean Karlan argues that the difference is largely about spin. We hear about the far-away people whose lives have been transformed by microfinance, and we hear about the subprime defaulters whose lives are in a mess. But Karlan points out that micro-credit borrowers do default, and that subprime default rates are much lower than you would think. And while some subprime borrowers were duped by complicated loan terms, financial literacy is even worse in developing countries.

Karlan also argues that micro-credit “group liability” schemes are overrated. In such a scheme, friends and neighbours have to make up the shortfall if someone can’t pay. But an experiment carried out by Karlan showed that such schemes put off borrowers without increasing repayment rates.

None of this is to condemn microfinance. Rather, it is worth remembering that poor people can benefit from access to credit, even if the credit is expensive – and even if they live in the US.

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