April 02, 2014

Something New by P. G. Wodehouse

Hey guys, please forgive my absence. I don’t have a great reason for being gone that long, it was mostly because of work. And partly because of winter. Anyways, I’m back and eager to share my latest obsession: P. G. Wodehouse.

But let’s start from the beginning.

Back in December, I read a million books just to finish my 2013 to-be-read list. One of the books I read was a collection of Chekhov’s plays.

Wait, let me go even further back.

Winter sucks. I don’t want to complain because, chances are, you live in a much colder climate than me. But I’m Brazilian. Snow days have zero appeal to me.

So, if you’ve ever read Chekhov, you know that even though it's incredible, it is also depressing as hell. Characters are stuck in the Russian countryside, sick of the snow, wishing to scape their own hopeless emptiness. Just like me during winter.

But I exagerate. I just wanted to read a funny book, but not any funny book. A classic funny book, which is hard to find.  That's when I discovered P. G. Wodehouse. I started with one of his earlier novel, Something New (or Something Fresh, the U.K. title).

The story is about two young Americans who find themselves in London, bored with their writing jobs. An opportunity arises for them to go to Lord Emwrosth’s castle in search of a stolen collectible item (a scarab). Both want the 5 thousand-dollar reward. Competition and romance ensue as the American characters try to come to terms with odd aristocratic customs.

In truly Seinfeld manner, the plot gets tricky and complicated but eventually all characters and circumstances are interconnected somehow.

I’m not really sure what subgenre this book is in. Romantic comedy/light detective story? Whatever it is called, I love this genre. This book is right there with Moonlighting and The Thin Man.

Because the only thing better than a detective story is a detective story where both detectives are romantically involved.

Needless to say, I couldn’t put the book down. I was reading it at home, listening to it in my car, sneaking a chapter here and there at work 

However, before my enthusiasm gets out of control, let me give a little warning: comedy is subjective, tragedy is universal. My sister tells me that I’m not funny. My mother is the only person in the world who found In Bruges funny. Some people find violence funny (Quentin Tarantino, I’m talking to you).

So, to be more specific, this book will most likely attract the anglophile that finds English castles interesting and aristocracy hilarious. It will also attract readers that like a touch of romance but don’t want it to dominate the plot.

Unlike most classics, Something New was a laugh-out-loud page turner gem. A real winter-blues antidote for those times where a search for a lost scarab is the only thing that will get you out of your funk.

Have you read any of P. G. Wodehouse's novels? Check out 13 P. G. Wodehouse quotes guaranteed to make your day better

October 16, 2013

The most overrated and underrated: Andrew Wyeth

Above the Narrows - Andrew Wyeth (1960)

Andrew Wyeth was a contemporary American realist painter. Even though Wikipedia calls him one of the best known artists of the 20th century, I first heard about him last month. I was at the National Gallery in D.C. and saw this painting:

Wind from the Sea - Andrew Wyeth (1947) 

I was blown away (the reproduction doesn't do it justice, it's much, much more impressive live). As always, I researched more about him when I got home (a month later).

His works have this constant melancholic mood, but are also very beautiful and evocative. Some are even painfully sad and bleak.

Adrift - Andrew Wyeth

To my surprise, many critics dismissed his work as corny Americana. Funny enough, when asked to choose the most overrated and underrated artists of the 20th century, art historian Robert Rosenblum said Andrew Wyeth was both.

Luckily, many critics like Paul Johnson are admirers of his work. His work even inspired the look of M. Night Shyamalan's movie The Village. The house were Joaquin Phoenix's character lives was based on the one in Wyeth's painting Open Shed.

Plus, doesn't Bryce Dallas Howard's character wear a yellow coat like this? (And there was all that talk about the "bad color" and so on. It's been a while since I last watched this movie!)

Squall - Andrew Wyeth (1986)

Anyway, it's great to know that an artist I just discovered and loved is being rightly admired.

What do you think of Andrew Wyeth's work?

All images from WikiPaintings (except # 4) 

October 09, 2013

Movie collectibles: awesome or lame?

There's something so ambiguous about collectibles.

For the person who is buying them -  the person who has seen the movie hundreds of times, memorized the lines and basically wished they could live in the movie - a collectible is a sensible purchase. For everybody else, it's a waste of money. And perhaps a turnoff.

There's this episode of Big Bang Theory where this is presented perfectly. Leonard and his friends buy the time machine used in the movie "The Time Machine" which seems awfully big for their apartment. 

Leonard thinks it's the coolest thing he's ever owned. Howard calls it a chick magnet. Real chicks, though,  are not impressed. Penny calls all of them pathetic for wasting their lives with toys like the time machine.

I can see where she is coming from because I never spent huge amounts of money on collectibles or kept things inside their boxes in mint condition. I was more the type of person who befriends movie theater employees so that they can give me movie posters.

Is that really less lame?

To me, objects like a "Lord of the Rings" ring or a "Clockwork orange" purse (yes, I owned both) served a different purpose. They were people filters. People who got the reference were insiders, like minded people and possible friends. The ones who didn't were outside the loop, cultural parias.

Pin from The Truman Show via Zazzle

It sounds awful,  but luckily I realized it in time and stopped that attitude. (However, I feel most people do that, in one way or another.)

As time passed by, I got rid of all my movie collectibles. But lately, I've had my eye on some really cool objects. They are the ones showed in this post (whether they are cool or not is highly subjective). I think I can make them work in a non-snoby, nerdy-in-a-good-sense way. I mean, when you know the first lines of "The Illiad" by heart, it just makes sense buying this ring, right?

No Conquest ring via ModCloth

Do you like collectibles or think they are way too nerdy?

October 02, 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey is certainly less famous than other Jane Austen novels like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. But it is not less fun or charming. It has all that good Austen stuff: despicable villains, exciting balls and, of course, a dashing hero.

To be honest, it took me longer than I expected to finish this book. Probably because the book tries to criticize and make fun of Gothic literature, which was in vogue at the time. I have the feeling that I miss out on a lot when it comes to satires because I don't fully understand what is being criticized. I’m not familiar with Gothic literature and much less with the hype surrounding it in Austen’s time.

Nonetheless, Austen presents the paradox of cute, delicate young girls enjoying horror stories in a very funny way. In a dialogue between Isabella and Catherine, the former says she has prepared a list of Gothic novels for them to read together:

- I have made a list of ten or twelve [novels] of the same kind for you.
- 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.

Apparently, our teenagers that love gory horror movies like Saw are quite similar to 19th century readers of Gothic literature.

But don't let this stop you from reading Northanger Abbey. Mr. Tilney makes it all worthwhile. 

I liked him a lot, maybe even more than the protagonists from other novels. (Of course I'm referring to you, Mr. Darcy.) 

Northanger’s hero, Mr. Tilney, knows how to play it cool. He is mysterious, smooth, don’t overreact when the heroin is rude or acts crazy. He likes the same things she does, but knows how to joke around as well.

He even warns Catherine of the danger of being obsessed with all things Gothic. I wonder what Jane Austen herself would think of the current obsession with all things Jane Austen.

Have you read/watched Northanger Abbey? 

(I haven't watched the Tv movie where the pictures above come from, but I was stupid enough to go watch Austenland. Word of the wise: just because the movie has a British actor in it, that doesn't  mean it's good.)

Images: 1/2 and 3 (though lame Photoshop was all me) 

September 25, 2013

The Dead Christ supported by an Angel

(Hi, there. I'm back again. Please forgive my lack of posts. Once again it's part because of life and part because I can be a total slacker who doesn't want to read anything but shampoo bottles. But let's get serious.)

The Dead Christ supported by an Angel by Antonello da Messina

A little bit of history
Date: 1475 – 76
Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

The painting portrays a seated Christ who had just been removed from the Cross after the Crucifixion. On the left we can see the place where He was crucified. On the foreground we see skulls, clear indications we are on a cemetery and evocations of death. 

A little bit of technique

Antonello belongs to the Renaissance period, which was very rich in innovations and artistic developments. He was born in the South of Italy but he has influences from Venetian and Flemish art. According to the Museo del Prado's website, Antonello mixes characteristics of northern origin —visible in the landscape and in Christ's hair— with a monumental treatment of the anatomy and a concern for volume and perspective that are clearly southern.

A little bit of enthusiasm

When I first saw this painting I was taken aback by the motionless, wounded Christ, reminding us of all the sufferings He endured during the Passion. 

But what I find most unique about this painting is the crying angel. In other Pietas, it's common to see people in the scene: the Virgin Mary, Saint John, Saint Mary Magdalene. Some even place Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and other disciples on the descent of the Cross.

Deposition by Rogier van der Weyden also in the Museo del Prado.

Antonello chose to paint the angel, which presents some challenges. An angel, a being of pure intellect, might distance us from the scene and take away the human sadness and emotion of it. Could an angel faint or twists his hands like we see it being done in the painting above? Certainly not. 

But Antonello makes up for this in many ways, making the painting just as emotional as other Pietas filled with people.

First off, the angel is not only carrying Christ's body but he's also crying. 

He is reacting to what just happened. He is also staring right at us, as if he couldn't bear to say anything. He has child-like features and a small size, increasing the pathos of the painting. It is as if the painting were saying: it's not just the people, the Virgin Mary, all the Saints and disciples present, that were sad. No, even heavenly creatures have nothing to do, but weep.

Secondly, there's only one angel. In other works, we see two or more angels. 

Pieta e Angeli by Lambert Sustris

The fact that the angel is by himself calls our attention to how desolate the landscape is. It reminds us of Christ's own sense of loneliness and abandonment during His ordeal in the Calvary. There's no one there: the Apostles fled, the centurions ran away in fear, the Pharisees left in desbelief.

The depiction of the angel, aided by details like the drops of blood falling from Christ’s hair, make the painting so moving that we feel like joining the angel and crying too.

For a great audio explanation of this painting, check out the museum’s website.

What do you think of Messina's painting? What is your favorite type of Pieta - the ones with angels or with people (or both?!)

June 05, 2013

5 movies I love to hate

Sometimes disliking a movie is not enough. 

There are movies I've seen more than once and that I tried to understand and enjoy but ended up abhorring them. My feelings towards these movies are just as intense as my feelings towards the movies I love. (You know how they say the opposite of love is not hate but indifference?)

And the funny thing is that, even though everyone is entitled to their own taste, there are some movies that everybody loves. Have you ever said you don’t like a certain popular movie and the other person just stared at you with open, incredulous eyes as if you said you didn't like ice cream. 

These are the five movies that when I say I don't like them people go “How can anyone not like....?”

1) Pulp Fiction

Never argue with Tarantino fans. They stand up for him like I stand up for Nutella.

If we are being honest (and unpopular) I'd have to say I don't like any Tarantino movie. I haven't seen Inglorious Basterds and don't feel the slightest inclination towards watching Django Unchained. I remember watching Kill Bill and feeling like blood was coming out of the screen and leaving me drenched at the end. Weird, right? You know what's weirder? Laughing at violence. 

2) Modern times

                                                 Admit it, you don't like this movie either. 

This is a big college hit. People in English departments worship Charlie Chaplin. It’s not that I don’t like silent movies, because I love Buster Keaton’s. I just don’t care for the persona that Chaplin created or that corny feeling of every movie he makes.

3) Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Oh Audrey, do people really watch this movie or they just love you for your clothes?

I do admit that Audrey Hepburn is an icon. I also know it was Truman Capote who wrote the book, but that doesn’t make it good either. Holly is a shallow, empty character who has all this elegance but no intelligence or morals for that matter (the scene where she encourages Paul to steal always bothered me). I can’t sympathize with the characters or their fates. I’m afraid what draws people to this movie is Audrey Hepburn  and not the story.

4) 2001

My first disappointed was discovering this actor was not Michael J. Fox.

People go a little crazy when it comes to 2001. After watching 2001, some fainted, others wrote doctoral thesis about it. Everybody agrees is an out-of-this-world experience. I hated it. The Shinning, A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove are just as complex and much more watchable. 

5) Star Wars

The only reason I watched Star Wars in the first place

Maybe you had to grow up in the 70's to like this franchise, because come on... Nobody started liking Star Wards based on the last three movies, right? It's sad because there are six movies and none of them is a match for, say... Lord of the Rings.

What movies you hate (and all your friends love)?

May 29, 2013

6 ways to organize your books

Do you remember that episode of Friends where Ross’ girlfriend has a really messy, dirty apartment and in the end Monica shows up at her house saying she can’t sleep because of it and offers to clean it?

I totally understand Monica.

Not so much her urge to clean, but I have organized my sister’s and my mother’s wardrobe voluntarily just... for fun. 

I assume most people don’t understand this, which is why sitcoms always make fun of borderline OCD characters such as Monica, Niles from Frasier and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. For me, being organized just comes naturally and I like organizing my closet and bookshelf in different ways.

If you struggle to keep your books organized or are just looking to shake things up a bit, here are some ways I have organized my book shelves over the years. 

1) Alphabetically
The simplest and most obvious way to organize your books. It will make you feel like your bookshelf is a real library.

2) Subjects

This is particularly useful when you’re in college and need to do a lot of research. Keep all books in the same topic together. I had three main groups: Literary criticism, Novels, and Brazilian authors.

3) Most used
I’ve always kept the books I use the most extremely close to the table where I work. My dictionary and thesaurus are always at an arm’s reach. You’ll save time if the books you use often are not scattered all over a book shelf or sitting way over at the highest shelf.

4) Color

Not practical at all but great as a decoration device and a way to add more color to a room. Even if it’s not as perfect as the picture above, rearranging the books you already have by color you will make a beautiful effect. If you can stick to this system and memorize the colors of your books, you can start buying cheap books just because of their color.

5) Emotions
Let's be honest, sometimes books save lives. Organizing your books based on the emotions they produce can be helpful. The next time you get home desperately needing a laugh or a  pick me up, you know exactly where to look for. Can you imagine being in a dark mood and all you can find are Stephen King books? 

6) No system, just insanity
I’ve read somewhere that keeping things always in the same place is bad for the memory. So for one month I organized my books in no specific order, just to see if I remembered where they were. Because this is rather time consuming I only advise it to those who really are trying to improve memory.

Always try to organize your books to fit the needs you have right now. 

Recently I decided to organize my books between read and un-read. So that I can easily go through the books I need to finish and avoid buying more books.

Asking yourself how your bookshelf can work for your lifestyle is the best way to start.  

Are you the chaotic type or the Monica Geller type? How do you organize your bookshelf?

Images via 1, 2, 3

May 22, 2013

Alba Madonna by Raphael

Alba Madonna by Raphael 
A little bit of history

Date: 1510
Located in the National Gallery, Washington D.C.

This painting depicts one of Raphael's favorite subjects, that of Our Lady with the Infant Jesus. However, unlike his famous Madonnas, this one presents another figure, Saint John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin and precursor, as a child. All three figures look directly at the reed cross Jesus holds, a reference to his future crucifixion. The knowledge of Jesus' cruel death is shared by all of them and so is the acceptance of sacrifice in each of their lives.

A little bit of technique
Raphael was not only extremely talented but was also constantly introducing innovations. While the round format of the picture was conventional in Florence, the picture has a seriousness that his other Madonnas lack.

The Virgin's pose is noteworthy. It looks like a complicated and unusual way to sit (not to mention uncomfortable), but through Raphael's mastery the Virgin's pose is effortless and natural. According to the National Gallery "that apparent ease was considered a virtue at the time: sprezzatura, which meant avoiding any appearance of effort in making something fine. It was an ideal of courtly behavior and Raphael embodied it in his art".

A little bit of enthusiasm
I wasn't such a big fan of Raphael's until I saw some of his paintings, such as this one, live. His ability of taking something complicated and turning it into something natural really makes him a genius. His paintings definitely deserve deeper study, but their beauty is noticeable from the first moment you set eyes on them.

His aesthetics might not exactly be in vogue right now in the arts, but I do believe that in other areas, such as dance and fashion, there's still a great desire to make something complex in technical terms but with an appearance of ease and naturality.

Because of that we will keep coming back to Raphael for inspiration and guidance.

What do you think about Raphael's Madonnas and ideals?

Image via Cnytr

May 15, 2013

Midnight in Paris


I have a love and hate relationship with Woody Allen.

So much so that I only watched Midnight in Paris because it was being played at my gym. The movie was so interesting that I ended up working out for much longer that I wanted to.

Midnight in Paris is about a young Hollywood writer, Gil, who is inexplicably transported to 1920’s Paris every night. There he gets a chance to enjoy the company of Hemingway, Dali and Bunuel – all extremely creative people unlike the snooze that are his fiancĂ© and friends in the present.

While none of the characters understands Gil’s nostalgia, the movie supposes the audience does.

I, for one, am normally very pessimistic about the present and being in a gym where everybody (including myself) is spending lots of money, time and energy on losing weight through moronic exercises probably enhanced the feeling that we are all in pretty bad shape.

Don’t expect a great conclusion to Gil’s dilemma though.

Between a barren, boring present and an electrifying past he will compromise. The only problem with that is that is a bit conformist and not original.  Conformist because there is a big difference between dreaming of living in the past and looking at your present critically. Not original because how many recent movies end with the message: “be happy in the present, follow your dreams, don’t sell out and find a quirky girl who loves you for who you are”? Of the top of my head I can think of Stranger than Fiction, Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks.

What’s strange is how Gil came to terms with the present. It's only because he discovers everybody is nostalgic and unhappy with their present - whatever that time that is.

It's what Woody Allen puts in the mouth of one of his characters "The present is unsatisfying because life is”.

It's as if life would be awful no matter what time period you live in, which is a little tricky. 

On one hand, people that are nihilists like Allen would definitely be unsatisfied with the present no matter when they lived in (just like people that find a purpose in life manage to live well in any era). 

On the other, it's not like all time periods have the same advantages or disadvantages. Living in one period is not the same as living in another, as any grandpa can tell you.

I wonder if deep down Allen believes Gil will be happy. 

I'd say, based on his other movies, that he thinks Gil should be happy his life is not totally horrible. But I guess anyone who thinks life is that unsatisfying cannot be happy for long.

What did you think of Midnight in Paris? What time would you like to live in? (I'm highly favorable to the 1920's myself)

May 09, 2013

Reading in trains

Sorry everyone for leaving the blog a bit abandoned. I was half busy, half out of town and half without ideas.

Speaking about traveling, I had a very difficult decision to make on my last trip - what book to read on the train.

It might seem a banal decision but it’s one I take seriously. Even though technology helps passing the time while on a train or an airplane, you can’t trust technology or an airline taste in movies.

I learned my lesson when on my last plane ride I watched School of Rock (for the tenth time) and ended up hating it for good.

It’s just like that “what book would you take to a desert island” game. In both scenarios you are stuck in a place with nowhere to go, nothing to distract you and a cannibal sitting next to you. 

So before boarding any type of vehicle that requires the use of the verb ‘board”, I think about the book I’ll read. The most practical choice is the book I’m reading at the moment. 

I wish it were that simple.

I was reading the library’s copy of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and I wouldn't risk something happening to it. I know from experience that losing the book is not the worst that can happen to it. I once had to buy my college’s library another copy of Paul Auster’s The New York trilogy because my dog peed on it. In his defense it was on the floor and in my defense I didn’t keep the peed book to myself.

Another issue is weight. Art through the ages is too heavy and C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man is too light.

The subject of the book is something else to consider. Many people read in trains so that no one will bother them, but the thing is: you don’t want to talk to a strange stranger.

If you have a strange stranger sitting next to you, you just want to bury your head in a book and give the impression you are a medieval scholar. But if you have a tall dark stranger type sitting next to you, I bet you’d be kicking yourself for not being the type of girl who packs lipsticks instead of books.

So a trip book must be multi-action: interesting and not embarrassing.

At last, I took Shadowplay, a non-fiction book about the works of Shakespeare.

It’s the book I’m reading at the moment, it’s medium size, neither embarrassing nor a conversation killer. It’s also mine so if anything happened to it, I wouldn’t look like a careless punk in the librarian’s eyes.

What books do you read when you travel? 

Image via National Railway Museum

April 17, 2013

My museum purse

I love going to museums and while I was visiting the National Gallery in Washington the other day I realized how important it is to have a light bag filled with everything you need to enjoy your museum trip.

Here what I usually take with me:

Museum purse

1) Small notepad and pen. 
Once I had to ask the security guard for a pen and wrote notes about the art works in my hands. Another time I had to come back to the museum to copy the name of an interesting book that was quoted in one of the explanation boards. After this I learned to always carry a pen and a small pad – everywhere, as a matter of fact.

2) Cash
Sometimes the audio files' booth doesn’t accept credit or even debit cards, so it’s good to have some extra money for this.

3) Camera
I used to be a little skeptical about this and never took a camera with me. I guess it's optional, but cellphone cameras are pretty light. 

4 and 5) Water and a little snack. 
I always take an inexpensive water bottle because some museums don’t allow water so you might have to leave your water in the entrance. Also most museums don’t allow food, but you can sneak in a cereal bar or some fruit.

6) Strap bag
Comfort is key. Strap bags allow your hands to be free and you can't put too much extra stuff in them.
What do you take with you in a museum trip?

April 10, 2013

Eastwood for Easter: Gran Torino

I’ll be honest: I’m not a big Clint Eastwood fan.

I stay clear of any type of western, no matter how much they try to lure me by associating themselves with spaghetti. Growing up, I have a faint memory of watching a movie with Eastwood and either Johnny Deep or Christian Slater, can’t remember which. His last movies were simply painful to watch and too disturbing for a second watch.

I couldn’t even finish watching Bridges of Madison County.

Gran Torino, on the other hand, is a completely different case.

Eastwood is Walt Kowalski, an intolerant old man who, after his wife's death, has to deal with his estranged family, an insistent priest and too many immigrants in his neighborhood.

Walt is alone and feeling completely alienated from his environment. As a Korean war veteran and a long time worker of a Ford factory, he doesn’t fit in a world of ethnic gangs and cocky teenagers.

Things start to change when his neighbor Thao tries to steal his coveted, vintage Gran Torino. Under Walt’s wings, Thao, also alienated from his surroundings, will learn how to be a straight up guy.

Many people don’t like this movie because Eastwood’s character is just so politically incorrect. But there's more to the movie than Walt's rants. At times, the movie is very funny, like in the scene where Walt and his barber teach Thao how to talk like a man. There are also very moving dialogues, such as the one when, replying to a man talking in a foreign language, Walt approvingly says: “You said it, brother.” 

Following the general tone of his latest movies, Gran Torino has some strong scenes, but it is a much easier watch than Changeling or Mystic River.

And whether we like it or not, Walt is one of the most interesting things about Gran Torino. He is this crazy 80 year old Dirty Harry - who will totally surprise you in the end.

For last year's Easter I talked about the film The Passion of the Christ and this year I chose Gran Torino. It deals with very real human dramas and several modern problems but presents an utterly Christian solution to them. 

Who knew a Clint Eastwood movie would be such a fitting option for Easter?  

Have you seen Gran Torino? What do you think about Clint Eastwood movies?