Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Stumbling on secrets

On the way to the library today I almost stumbled over the remains of a dead mole on the sidewalk (something I dont see very often as my cat seems to be more partial to gifts of the mouse persuasion). There it lay, curled in on itself like a little ignoble comma, its fur strangely reminiscent of a piece of aged velveteen that I once had in a drawer as a child. I realized that a mole is a creature that I have ever only seen in an inanimate state. I see evidence of their existence from time to time; ruined plants, furrows in the soil, tales from angry gardeners, and all sorts of mole prevention devices in catalogs, but they almost never make any corporeal appearances aside from the occasional gnawed and moldering corpse.

At those times it is as if they had accidentally been tossed up from the depths, like one of those fabled giant squids that no one has seen except in a decaying condition on the shore, or half digested in the belly of a whale. In death these creatures seem to lose some sort of essential charm that once kept them securely hidden from human eyes while they were alive. They appear suddenly, as clues to an unseen world, one that we can only imagine...light less tunnels under the earth or depth less trenches under the ocean. They are the mute keepers of the unknown's secrets. Hmm, perhaps that little mole wasn't so ignoble after all....

Romancing the Tomato

Have you ever eaten the perfect fresh tomato? I dont mean those cold, anemic bits of watery matter that you find languishing atop an iceberg side salad, or the plump skinless affairs in cans (that though tasty always have the unsettling appearance of limp butchered carcasses). Im talking about a fruit that was never shipped across country in a refrigerated truck, that ripened naturally on the vine and still seems to hold the mellow warmth of the sun even when sitting in your kitchen, and that isn't perhaps the perfect red globe that we see in seed catalogs, but a mysterious blend of colors with little ripe mounds bulging haphazardly here and there.

A tomato like this has an almost fetishistic appeal for me, I have tried (and failed) to find its like in super markets even when I know it is out of season. It must be the eternal foolish optimist in me, but every winter I find myself seduced by those disarmingly symmetrical bright red plum tomatoes that have been imported from sunnier climes. Each time I learn that the only way to salvage these bits of false advertising is to add them to a dish where they will boil down and their shame can be hidden. With New England's short growing season and cantankerous weather its no wonder that I await the tomato's grand entrance at local farmer's markets in the summer with bated breath and that I will pay ridiculous amounts for a single pound, returning home with stars in my eyes and thinking myself the happiest person in the wold.

If you have a good knife, the tomato's flesh parts under it like butter, and cubing it for salsa or slicing it thinly for a sandwich becomes a sensual undertaking, one that you will draw out as long as you can. I still remember rather shamefacedly, the half hour that I wasted cutting the first tomato of this season...I had brought my knife to exquisite sharpness and I could almost feel each tomato atom separate from its neighbor as I drew the knife between them. And oh that first bite, when what wikipedia tells me are called locular cavities, rupture and your mouth is flooded with the tangy, moist, gel-like pulp. After a season without tomatoes I always find the taste to be surprisingly rich, like the condensed flavor of a hundred sun-filled summer days.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dusting Off Some Golden Oldies

Last night I uploaded the special double album BladeRunner soundtrack that Itunes has released and what a strange feeling it is to listen to it. I have literally been trying to get my hands on the album for years, but something always cut me off at the pass. I first ordered it on Amazon in those chaotic pre-Ipod days, and after waiting for two weeks for it to arrive, I was told that it was no longer available from that seller. I tried again some time later, but the CD that the seller sent me was an album of orchestral covers with no Vangelis to be seen. You can understand how I became a bit frustrated. After a time I simply forgot about it, who knows what made it come into my head again last night. Now, sitting in my living-room with the volume cranked up to 11, I am overcome, and the wait was all worth it. There’s a certain pleasure to be had in finding something again that was lost long ago....I suppose it’s a bit like coming home in a way, it allows us to briefly meet our past eye to eye.

And oh the score; poignantly sweet at times and always haunting. Vangelis expertly carries the theme of the film through with his clever juxtaposition of fragile chimes, piano, and heartbreakingly delicate vocals (As in Rachael’s Song) with coldly soaring synth soundscapes. It really is the plaintive sound of humanity trying to surive in a world where meaning seems lost.
I was born in the early 80's and I still fondly remember a time when artists like Vangelis, Kitaro, and Tangerine Dream took up long-term residence in my tapeplayer. Its nice to see that the music of that era still holds an appeal for me (god, writing that makes me feel old). In some ways it’s a bit heavy-handed and experimental for my jaded ears, but there is an exuberance and a passionate embrace of (what was then) new music technology, that I cant help but respond to. Maybe tonight I’ll dust off some of my other old albums and see if I can still reconnect with those past selves as well.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A true Master of Horror

Just started watching the UK produced Showtime series The Hunger, and though I have only seen two episodes so far and am thus perhaps premature in reviewing it as a whole, it has really grabbed my attention. It is similar to Masters of Horror, in the sense that each episode is its own horror-themed vignette, but that’s about as far as the comparison goes. If you're like me and found most of Masters of Horror dissatisfying because of the sophomoric directing (can these directors truly be called Masters??), the heavy handed and predictable plots, and forced acting, then The Hunger will be a welcome relief.

Perhaps the key is Ridley Scott as producer; each episode has the same carefully crafted and almost catastrophically atmospheric sets that I have enjoyed in all of his films, and have come to see as his trademark; decaying luxuriance, a former grandeur brought to ruin by decadence. Add to this a sense of maturity and subtlety in the writing, and you've got a show that makes many American produced series appear bumbling and childishly obvious. There is little emphasis on gore, the gratuitous nudity normally associated with the genre is replaced by a thoughtful and dark eroticism, and lasting chills take the place of jump-scenes.

Perhaps most importantly, the stories avoid what I see as one of the most common pitfalls of Horror, over-explanation of the punch-line. Instead, a lot of the whys and wherefores are left to the imagination of the viewer, and half of the thrills are psychological rather than visceral-how refreshing! So if you like horror that isn't dumbed down, and doesn't cater to the current adolescent fervor for gouts of blood, then I think you'll find The Hunger to be a very pleasant surprise. And joy of joys, you can watch the whole first season on Instant View on Netflix....just make sure you take a break to eat now and then.