Legends Never Truly Die Away


Peter O’Toole, the lead character in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, a role which led him to be considered one of his generation’s most respected actors, passed away yesterday at 81. I tried watching this epic movie in my youth, but a four-hour movie about skirmishes in the Arab desert somehow failed to capture my addled teenage brain back then, even if blonde blue-eyed, six-footer O’Toole was quite the dish in his prime.

I recently acquired a beautiful Folio Society edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence—the original Lawrence of Arabia—who wrote about his involvement in the Arab Revolt on which the film was based. What sold me on it wasn’t so much the blurb on the Folio site as much as this description of a paperback edition:

This is the exciting and highly literate story of the real Lawrence of Arabia, as written by Lawrence himself, who helped unify Arab factions against the occupying Turkish army, circa World War I. Lawrence has a novelist’s eye for detail, a poet’s command of the language, an adventurer’s heart, a soldier’s great story, and his memory and intellect are at least as good as all those. Lawrence describes the famous guerrilla raids, and train bombings you know from the movie, but also tells of the Arab people and politics with great penetration. Moreover, he is witty, always aware of the ethical tightrope that the English walked in the Middle East and always willing to include himself in his own withering insight.

Earlier this week I got a great deal on the audio edition of the recently published Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson, of which Janet Maslin writing for The New York Times says: ‘For those already fascinated by Lawrence’s exploits and familiar with his written accounts of them, Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful, big-picture version only enriches the story it tells.‘ So now it seems I’ve got my work cut out for me: read T. E. Lawrence’s book, then listen to Anderson’s, after which I should be well prepared to fully appreciate the movie version.


Tanti Auguri, Birthday Girl!


Today is Monica Vitti’s 81st birthday, so I thought I’d send her best wishes and show her beautiful face in her prime to embellish my blog (besides which, current photos of her proved nearly impossible to find). I’ve heard of her since I was very young, but I don’t believe I ever saw a movie she was in, so I decided to have a little Vitti festival by borrowing L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961, with Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau), and Eclipse (1962, with Alain Delon) from the library, all in Italian with English subtitles, and all directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and forming his famous “trilogy on modernity and its discontents”. According to wikipedia, Antonioni “redefined the concept of narrative cinema” and challenged traditional approaches to storytelling, realism, drama, and the world at large. He produced “enigmatic and intricate mood pieces” and rejected action in favor of contemplation, focusing on image and design over character and story. His films defined a “cinema of possibilities”. Should be interesting. And nice to look at!



Pink Reflections, Bishop’s Pond. Watercolour on paper by David Milne, 1920

So last night, I waited on the phone for about 45 minutes to speak to the good people at Apple so I could order my own iPhone 4S; I’ve been due for an upgrade since last December with my current carrier and my now ancient iPhone 3G threatens to give up on me at any minute. Turns out when they said the phone lines would be open to take orders starting at 12:01 a.m. on the 7th, they meant Pacific Time. So I waited all that time because essentially, the crew manning the phones was telling all the hundreds of thousands of callers who also assumed Eastern time the same thing. Figures.

This afternoon, I have an outing with my new friend, 93-year old L. I was supposed to go see her art show with her, and told her I’d call her last week, but then was too low to talk to anyone. She called me yesterday and I said “so when are we going to your show?” and she told me it was over. These are the kinds of things I feel guilty about for the rest of my days. But apparently she still wants to be my friend, since she did call me after all. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has added a whole new wing which includes a concert hall, and they are having all kinds of events to celebrate the inauguration this month. I had already purchased tickets in the Spring to go see two concerts with my new friend which are coming up a couple of weeks from now (a Beethoven recital and a Balinese dance and music performance). This week they have a bunch of activities exclusively for friends of the museum, so when I got the schedule last week, I reserved two free tickets for a session of 5 short films about Canadian artists. I had planned to invite L and was glad when she took me up on it. If I could go back and choose between her show and the short movies, I’d obviously choose to see my friend’s art. oy. But moving forward, it should be an interesting program, which is as follows:

Quebec in Silence
Gilles Gascon, 1969, 10 min, no dialogue

Canadian Landscapes
Radford Crawley, 1941, 18 min

The World of David Milne
Gerald Budner, 1962, 12 min

J. W. Morrice
Gerald Budner, 1985, 18 min

The Group of Seven – A Northern Shore
Harry Dunsmore, 1990, 28 min


An Update (long overdue)

The clouds have lifted. I also managed to spend a couple of days away from the computer this week. I’m trying to wean myself off a little because one of my art classes (watercolours) is starting on Monday, then I have a full day painting class starting a couple of weeks from now and of course I’ll also have assignments to do at home, so won’t be able to spend so much time on LT chatting about life and books (mostly in that order). It’s about time I got started on art classes again though, because I haven’t worked on any art projects at all in the last couple of months, something I’m not particularly proud of, though I did get lots of interesting reading done (will post reviews shortly). Continue reading


In Memoriam


Fantasy Island for the Criminally Insane

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane ★★★

“Ashecliffe Hospital sat on the central plain of the island’s northwestern side. Sat benignly, I might add. It looked nothing like a hospital for the criminally insane and even less like the military barracks it had been before that. Its appearance reminded most of us of a boarding school. A mansarded Victorian housed the warden and a dark, beautiful Tudor minicastle served as the quarters of our chief of staff. The compound was composed of lawns and sculpted hedges, great shady oaks, Scotch pines and trim maples, apple trees whose fruit dropped to the tops of the wall in late autumn or tumbled onto the grass…”

This rather charming depiction of the setting, from the prologue by our narrator, the elderly Dr. Lester Sheehan, comes in sharp contrast with the disturbing quality of events that transpire over a four-day period in 1954. The story begins as U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aula are making each others acquaintance on a ferry bound for Shutter Island. They have been sent there to find a patient, one Rachel Solando, a delusional woman interned for murdering her three small children. The case quickly takes on surrealistic overtones when it becomes apparent that the patient has vanished from her locked room which offers no possible exits, in a building heavily guarded by numerous staff members. Marshall Daniels becomes convinced that a cryptic note left behind by the woman holds important clues. But a thorough search of the island fails to produce any trace of Rachel Solando and the note proves impossible to decode. Concluding that he and his partner can’t help with the case any further, Daniels soon decides they should leave island, but is told there will be no ferry service and that the lines of communication have been cut off from the mainland due to a violent storm that is rapidly headed in their direction.

I found it difficult to form a fair opinion about this book, as I saw the movie adaptation only a few months ago. While the book does leave a little bit more to the imagination, the movie was a fairly accurate rendition of the story, so that the reading of it proved disappointing since the surprise elements of this psychological thriller were lost on me and there was little else to sink my teeth into. Because of this, was inclined to give the book a fairly low rating. However, I decided to take into account the positive impressions of the movie which I found engrossing, filled with unusual characters and situations (not to mention visually stunning). The first half of the story held me captive. I was awed by the thrilling twists and turns and more than willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, but about halfway through it all began to fall apart for me as one improbable thing after another kept piling up and I caught on to the outcome much too early. Again, to be fair and give credit where it’s due, the payoff at the end is quite good and I won’t give anything away so as not to spoil the experience for anyone. Unfortunately for me, I saw the signs all along and while I wanted to root for Lehane for the way he built up all the elements of what is ultimately a well told fantasy, I couldn’t help but wish the surprise element had been greater. All in all a good book. Just be sure to see the movie after reading it.

As a side note, it’s interesting that I didn’t see that this book and the one I read previously (see my review for Regeneration) both shared the setting of a mental hospital until I had read quite a few chapters. But then again, these two books couldn’t be more different from one another in every other way, except for the fact that in both cases, the psychiatrists are depicted as people who truly had the wellbeing of their patients at heart and adopted humane courses of treatment, even though the periods in which the stories take place can be compared to the dark ages of psychiatry when invasive approaches we now consider barbaric were more commonly used to cure mental disorders.


A Cozy, Homey Boxing Day

Here’s a little photo gallery of pictures I took today (click on the thumbnails to view them full-size). I hadn’t seen my collection of Christmas decorations in quite a few years, and took them out just in time for my dad and I to enjoy them on Christmas day. We had Cherry Clafoutis which was quite delicious, followed by a gift exchange and then quiet time chatting while I played around with some paint. I gave him a framed watercolour (you can see it here), and I got a giant bar of Swiss chocolate to satisfy my chocolate cravings for quite some time, along with a couple of great books; Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler, a born and bred Mile Ender who had plenty of admirers and detractors alike and who often said that one of his goals was to write at least one book that would
be read after his death. I’m sure his wish has been fulfilled many times over since his passing in 2001. As it happens, I’ve never read him and wanted to discover his writing through this very book. I don’t know if he ever wished for movie rights too, but the soon-to-be released movie version is coming out in theatres, probably in a week or two. I also got Super Sad True Love Story which came out to glowing reviews this year. It’s written by Gary Shteyngart, another author I’ve been wanting to read for some time now.

Of course I couldn’t resist taking pictures of my kidz too. I dressed up Coco as the gift he’s truly been, since this was our very first Christmas together. He put up with our little impromptu session without grumbling although I wouldn’t say he had a ball exactly. Mimi refused to pose for me altogether, a very rare occurrence, and Ezra was just being his grumpy old self, an occurrence which is not rare in the least.