Monthly Archives

October 2015

The Pleasure of Eating Alone

October 26, 2015

Dear Reader,

Before I moved to Boston I had never eaten in a restaurant alone, nor had I ever sat in a theatre alone and watched a movie. There was always this slightly unidentifiable aversion to the idea of doing either of those activities alone. One could, perhaps, go to a museum alone or sit in a cafe and read on one’s own. But to eat dinner in a restaurant or sit in a darkened theatre? These are the province of date night. The tables around one will undoubtedly be filled with couples teetering on the edge of their burgeoning romance! How awkward, how pathetic, how almost rude it would be to sit solitary at a table for two and slice into a steak.

And yet, I knew almost no one when I moved to Boston. I was single and just starting grad school and although I made friends quickly I was still rather unattached in a new city. So I went and saw Blue Jasmine on my own and was utterly entranced by the freedom of liking something that much and having that experience all to myself. Since then I have been to the ballet alone, arrived at parties alone, eaten in many restaurants alone, and seen countless movies all by my not-so-lonesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing these things with loved ones. But there is something quietly lovely about doing them alone. So this weekend, I did it again.

I took the slow T line so I could read the book I am absorbed in.The Pleasure of Eating Alone- TPIAT

I wandered down to Newbury Street and shopped, happy to be the customer instead of the salesgirl for the day. I wanted to buy far more than I could afford, as per usual. But what I really wanted was a very excellent burger. Yelp was unhelpful and Newbury Street simply could not afford me (or the other way around). So I headed back towards home to try a place I have been meaning to eat at for the last two years.The Pleasure of Eating Alone- TPIATThe Abbey, in Washington Square, is a great spot. It is warm and inviting with that whole lots of exposed brick, dark wood, candlelit tables and the like vibe. The bartenders have various UK accents and black and white photos of the Abbey Theatre, in Dublin, decorate the walls. The menu looks and is delicious and they serve up a very decent burger, fries, and Guinness. The Pleasure of Eating Alone- TPIATI sat and ate mouthfuls of burger, dragged my fries through mayonnaise, dipped bread in their harissa hummus, and read my wonderful wonderful book and I thought- how in the world could anyone find this pathetic? This was solitary joy.The Pleasure of Eating Alone- TPIAT A chat with the Irish bartender about the upcoming Rugby World Cup finals was the perfect cap to the meal. I will certainly be back this coming Saturday to watch the match there because The Abbey is delightfully and simply moreish. I recommend it heartily.

Happy Monday everyone. Enjoy the beautiful fall day 🙂

Crimson Peak and the Art of Gothic Perfection

October 19, 2015

“I will read you their names directly; here they are in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time. ‘
‘…but are they all horrid? Are you sure they are all horrid?’
‘Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.”

-Northanger Abbey

Dear Reader,

Guillermo de Toro seems to have strayed into my bedroom and taken all the books off my gothic novel shelf, mixed them together in his mental stew, then recruited my favorite actors to bring the resulting screenplay to life. Excuse me while I gush. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightFirst, Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. Horrific things do happen and ghosts do haunt the heroine’s steps, but they only serve to show her that something is very very wrong in her world. “The ghosts are metaphors” she prophetically declares early on in the film. The movie has been marketed as a horror movie for the Halloween season, yet the trailers contain almost every scene in which a ghost appears. As in Pan’s Labyrinth, the human beings are the monsters. The ghosts do little but point and sob and warn. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightThe plot is simple and you have absolutely seen it before, which is part of the point. Edith Cushing (Maria Wasikowksa), American heiress and aspiring female novelist, falls deeply for Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) penniless baronet with a dream to use Edith’s money to restore both his family’s good name and their crumbling estate. He brings to the marriage a creepy overbearing older sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) who mournfully plays the piano and offers tea and a remarkable lack of sympathy. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightEdith and Thomas marry and he whisks her back to his immense gothic pile of an estate. The rest is an unraveling spool of gothic perfection. Blood (ok red clay) drips from the walls of the mansion, ghosts with meat cleavers in their foreheads point mournfully at locked doors and horrifying secrets (what’s behind the black veil???), and sexual hunger and deviance practically ooze from every pore. Edith tries to discover why she is seeing all these apparitions that no one else sees while trying to grow closer with her mysterious husband and chilly sister-in-law. So she wanders through corridors late at night, candelabra held high as snow drifts through the hole in the roof and the whole mansion sinks slowly into the bloody earth. Every shot of this movie is beautiful and terrifying, conveying lushness and tactile pleasure and internal rot. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightBut as in every gothic story, the ghosts are mere signals that something is indeed rotten. Victorians and their predecessors wrote gothic stories in order to give voice to deep fears and fascinations. Thus they are really explorations of (often deviant) sexual desire, abandonment, child abuse, taboo, destructive love, progress and its consequences, poverty, and death. Take away the ghosts and the Sharpe siblings are simply two abused children who grew into damaged adults. Edith is pure and loving because she had a happy, though sexually innocent, youth. Their treatment of her and the resulting consequences of their actions are occasioned by fear of poverty and a loss of both home and heritage. Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightBefore I continue my gushing, however, I have to explain something about all this. My prediction (and some early reviews bear me out, although this one agrees with me in every respect) is that many people will dislike this movie. Del Toro has created an intricately crafted masterpiece with this movie but unless you have a fairly specific background, I think it will be hard to appreciate it or understand fully what he is doing. The plot is formulaic- but that is entirely intentional. Del Toro is referencing the original gothic novels of authors like Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and Matthew Lewis, the later gothic revivals of authors like Poe and Stoker, and mid-twentieth century cinema renditions of the same. His film is a house built on their foundations and without much deviation, this storyline is the storyline. It is the plot of RebeccaJane EyreThe Fall of the House of UsherThe Mysteries of UdolphoNorthanger Abbey, and many others. It is the story of an innocent in a house of doom and it can be found at the heart of the gothic tradition. And Del Toro treats it masterfully, making his heroine a beacon of light, dressing her in gorgeous gowns of gold and white, making her the archetype of the new twentieth-century woman with her facility on the typewriter, her interest in inventions and progress, and her desire to become an independent woman through her writing. Chastain’s Lucille is her perfect foil, a perfect pre-raphaelite goddess when she lets her neatly coiled hair down and bares her shoulders (and wields a knife).Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightCrimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightSir Thomas Sharpe is a younger, more handsome Mr. Rochester, something Del Toro winks at roguishly by having him recite practically verbatim a monologue Rochester delivers to Jane in the middle of the novel. Hiddleston plays him as the perfect tortured Byronic hero/villain who is torn between the dark and light sides of his nature. The whole movie begs to be analyzed by Victorianists and Hammer House of Horror lovers alike. It is simultaneously a nineteenth-century gothic novel and a twenty-first century dream of the Victorian era. Del Toro understands that gothic novelists created a myth of Victorian England in order to explore the uncomfortable, the obscene, and the grotesque. Crimson Peak is his addition to a well-established tradition that counts such luminaries as Poe, Stoker, Shelley, Hitchcock, Bergman, Marquez, Angela Carter, and Joss Whedon among its contributors. I fear that without an established interest in that tradition this movie will not land, but for those that it is aimed to enthrall, the experience is nothing short of a phantasmagoria of gothic perfection.Crimson Peak- The Person I Am TonightFor the uninitiated or the previously uninterested here is my advice: go into the movie expecting characters that are both carefully created individuals and also archetypes. Edith Cushing is an interesting character in her own right but she is also “the innocent heroine.” Lucille Sharpe may be a tragic and ill woman but she is also the “dark mysterious villainess,” and Sir Thomas is the “brooding Byronic antihero.” Del Toro slowly develops both characters and plot, so don’t expect to be watching a movie that is in line with modern pacing- this movie is slow and intricate like a Victorian three volume tome. It is meant to be melodramatic and stuffed with very obvious metaphor. It is meant to be a bit ridiculous. Gothic novels are supposed to be a little silly so that, while exploring your fears, you can also laugh at them. It is a spectacle- you could clearly see a Crimson Peak ride at Disney World. But its gorgeous horror reveals very human darkness, despair, hope, love, and survival. You don’t have to be a Victorianist to relate to that.

The Devil in the White City

October 14, 2015

Dear Reader,

I haven’t really left my house to do anything but work in about a week. This makes blogging to you sort of difficult. I haven’t done anything besides work, read, and watch Bernie Sanders say pretty words in that wonderful accent of his. Despite this, I want to say hello and at least give you something interesting. So here is a taste of what I’ve been reading.

The Devil in the White Citydevil-in-the-white-city-book-review-powerpoint-5-638

Erik Larson has recently published a new book about the Lusitania. This is the perfect time, therefore, for you to read his most acclaimed work, The Devil in the White City. I have a hard time getting into nonfiction for some reason so it took me a few tries to stick with this book. Now that I am about halfway in, I couldn’t be happier that I have. Larson juxtaposes the gargantuan efforts of the men who created the Chicago World’s Fair with the horrific murders perpetrated by H.H. Holmes, widely considered the first American serial killer, during that same period. I was already fascinated by serial killers but this book has made me even more so. I highly recommend you check it out.

I’ll have more for you on Friday… probably. I promise to do interesting things again soon.

The Third Policeman

October 7, 2015

Dear Reader,

There are few things so funny as the existential dread of finding oneself in a strange land unable to recall one’s name, waiting for three insane policemen to build the scaffold on which they will hang you for a crime you couldn’t have committed. That is only a bit of the strange and dark hilarity of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.The Third Policeman- TPIATHow does one go about explaining what this book is about? Logically, I could say that a man commits a murder and then, after encountering the ghost of the man he murdered, goes to a police station in order to get some answers. While there he meets two extraordinary policemen whose theorems about the world around them drive him madder and madder. The third policeman remains one of the main mysteries at the heart of the story, something the title initiates and the book remains mysterious on for much of its length.The Third Policeman- TPIATBut there is nothing logical about this book, although there is a lot of fantastical confabulation. The main character, who does not know his own name by the time he reaches the police station, is obsessed by a philosopher named De Selby, who is even more ridiculous than the actual characters you will meet. Footnotes about his attempts to dilute water, for instance, sometimes run over and through many pages. The Third Policeman- TPIATAnd then there are the bicycles. The whole text is riddled throughout with one of the policeman’s theories regarding bicycles. He believes that people’s atoms become intermixed with the atoms of their bicycles when they bounce on rocky roads while riding. Thus, if you are a frequent cyclist, you become part bicycle and your bicycle become part you. In order to prevent this, the policemen frequently steal at-risk bicycles and hide them. The Third Policeman- TPIATAnd if that all doesn’t sound hilarious, then believe me it is absolutely side-splittingly hilarious. It is a fairly quick read, although I felt the need to take a break every once and a while because it is just so trippy that sometimes you need to come up for air. It is also brilliant, which I perhaps haven’t emphasized enough. O’Brien has a way with words, to put it mildly. So put this one in the bicycle of your basket, cycle up to the Arnold Arboretum, grab some coffee at 7 Pond, and enjoy.

Murder Prequels

October 5, 2015

Dear Reader,

My binge of the last two weeks has been a combo of Gotham and Bates Motel (with a sprinkle of the new season of Outlander thrown in). Watching these has made me think about prequels and why they are having a surge of popularity. Comic book-wise we have always liked origin stories. But the prequel series, perhaps most popularized by Smallville, has its own appeal. So let’s talk about the popularity of the murder prequel.Murder Prequels- TPIATGotham is really strange. It is kind of all over the place, with moments of really entertaining craziness and other moments of just what are you doing please stop craziness. Jada Pinkett Smith, for instance, is amazing. She is over the top and sexy in a kind of predatory insect kind of way. I love her. Murder Prequels- TPIATSelina Kyle, the girl who will become Catwoman, is suitably cat-like and quirky and her budding relationship with Bruce Wayne is really interesting if you know anything about their relationship in the comics. In general, the show is full of easter eggs and cute nudges to comic book fans, but also full of plenty of action for those who are not as well-versed comic wise. Murder Prequels-TPIATBates Motel follows the same idea- let’s take a look at how these characters became who we famously know them to be. Bates Motel shows us Norman Bates as a seventeen year old who has just moved to the town where he will famously murder a blonde in a shower. We get to explore his relationship with his mother, played by the incomparable Vera Farmiga, and see how a sweet but unbalanced teenager could become the murderer we know he will someday be. Murder Prequels- TPIATWhat’s great about the show is that you can see every episode moving all of the characters towards the events of Psycho. Norman becomes more and more disturbed, Norma becomes more and more possessive and odd, and everyone else tries to understand what exactly it is that is wrong with them both. Murder Prequels- TPIATOne of the strengths of the show is that it isn’t afraid to introduce characters to the show that are not in Psycho. Gotham, on the other hand, makes you feel like every single character you see is going to one day become somebody in the DC universe. It makes it a bit hard to believe that any permanent harm can come to anyone, as you know that they all have to be around in fifteen years. On Bates Motel, pretty much everyone is fair game for murder.Murder Prequels- TPIATSo why prequels? Why are we interested to see the minutia of famous character’s past lives? For Bates Motel and Gotham, I think it makes total sense to want to create stories like these. The whole payoff of Psycho is finding out that Norman Bates has (spoiler alert here but you really should have already seen this movie) his taxidermied mother in the house. Is taxidermied a word? So how exactly did he get there? I certainly understand the desire to know. And as for Gotham, every Batman movie starts with and heavily references the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It is the event that shapes everything else. I will say I think Bates Motel does a better job because they have chosen to make the protagonist old enough that one can imagine getting to the events of Psycho by the end of the show. Gotham’s Bruce Wayne is so young that it is hard to believe we will ever get to see the payoff of all this leadup. Will we ever see any of these people actually become who they are supposed to be? It seems like the answer will likely be no, which feels like too much of a tease. Check them both out. Quick binges, my friends.