Book review: Love In The Time of Cholera

Posted by Bel. The time is 11:20am here in Wellington, NZ.

This book is a romance of the sort of absurd proportions that it seems only the hot-blooded South Americans can get away with.

Florentino falls forever in love with Fermina and when after a secret engagement, built up through barely a spoken word, she arbitrarily changes her mind, and he cares not. He waits throughout her 50 year marriage to the dashing Urbino and professes on the day of his death that he loves her still and hopes that now they have a chance to be together.

Perhaps it's called Love In The Time of Cholera because it makes the reader feel a bit ill?

Oh, I jest, I jest. But you do have to be in the mood for this kind of novel. And you have to be willing to buy that someone would stake their heart on someone they barely know and who rejected them. Yet this is the tale of undying love - plus of course, of all the action he gets during those intervening years. (Red hot Latin lovers, as I was saying.)

Plot aside, Garcia Marquez's writing is just amazing. Many a pencilled line was drawn under phrases which stopped me in my tracks. (Unfortunately my copy has already been loaned on, otherwise I would be quoting verbatim right now.) His is a style that which you will either love or hate, with long sentences (paragraphs, and chapters) that may well put you off - or you will be swept up and oblivious to the lack of structure in this way.

The focus of the book shifts from character to character, in time and location, with lots of flashbacks and flashforwards, covering a several parallel lifetimes' events in great detail. It's not until more than a third through the book that we see things from Fermina's perspective.

Until then, her dramatic actions seem very arbitrary and hard to comprehend. Her character is just a shallow thing, adored by the men for no good reason other than her beauty (especially as she is loved from afar by Florentino, who doesn't even really know her). But once we get inside her mind, she is easier to admire. Essentially, however, this is more a tale of obsession and of love for love's sake.


Whatever you do, do not, repeat: do not watch the film version of this book. The movie Love In The Time of Cholera may look like it might be good, with its reputable cast and decent director, but it is NOT. It is AWFUL. Even if you think "well, I hate long-winded writing and I'm not much of a novel reader anyways, but I feel like a nice mushy romance - let's get this out of a Sunday afternoon" - STOP! Resist! Do not do this to yourself. Please.

And if there is any chance of you reading the book, I double my pleas. Just avoid the film, at any costs.

That is all.

Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Sort of recommended.
English translation published 1988. Set in Columbia, late 19th C - 1930s.
#44 from 'The List'

Rapist Polanski granted bail

Posted by Bel. The time is 10:06am here in Wellington, NZ.

Things have been a bit quiet since the initial furore when Roman Polanski (pictured here in January 2009) was taken into custody.

But this morning it was announced that a Swiss court has accepted the convicted child rapist's request for bail - set at $4.5 million, US dollars I assume.

While still currently in jail, it is mostly likely he will be put under house arrest while he continues to fight extradition to the US, where he fled being sentenced for his crimes in 1978, over 30 years and one Oscar ago.

House arrest might be a crap option for you or me, with our bare cupboards and no Sky TV and board games we're already bored of, but for Polanski, it's going to be quite awesome actually.

Because, in Switzerland, he owns a property on one of the world's most expensive ski resorts! It's known as 'The Hand of God' because the locals say that God rested his hand there as he created the world. WOW!

And Polanski's chalet is called 'The Milky Way', probably because it is freekin sweet, like a Milky Way bar. Check it out:

I think the comparison is fitting.

You can read more about it here on The Times, if you wish, they have quotes from the locals about how charming he is, buying fresh bread each day and so on. I guess, what with the electronic ankle alarm and all, he might have to arrange for home delivery from now on and just enjoy the epic view out the window instead. BUMMER!!

More on the bail announcement here:

Swiss court agrees to grant Polanski bail, but he remains behind bars for now [Updated] - LA Times

Polanski wins $4.5M bail, house arrest likely - Yahoo News


Posted by Lou. The time is 5.05pm here in London, UK.

The UK National Lottery has released a list of 50 Unsung British Heroes. Six of them are women - six! - and no women appear in the Top 10 despite friggin' Baldrick - Baldrick! The fictional character from Blackadder! - reaching the #6 spot. Surely when considering unsung heroes those that missed the recognition they deserved because of their gender and/or race would be the first people to investigate?!

Well, I shall focus on one of the heroines - this woman sounds spectacularly interesting! Why is there not a legend? A Hollywood film? Why do we not know about her?

Via BBC online:

It was only when the distinguished doctor James Barry died of dysentery in 1865 that it was discovered "he" was in fact a woman called Mary Ann Bulkley.

According to the Science Museum, Bulkley saw very few career choices as a woman, so she hatched a plan in which she would become James Barry. After graduating from medical school in Edinburgh, she worked at St Thomas' Hospital, London, before joining the Army.

A successful career as a surgeon followed, in India and South Africa, and she eventually rose to the rank of Inspector General in charge of military hospitals.
Her methods of nursing sick and wounded soldiers from the Crimea meant she had the highest recovery rate of the whole war, and she also performed one of the first successful Caesarean sections, in 1826.

Apparently a Dutch filmmaker is making a feature about her - let's hope that and this dumb list combine to give her some of the recognition and attention she (and so many other forgotten heroines) deserve.

[I've chosen not to link to the list so as not to give it the attention it doesn't deserve]

Book review (sort of): Martha Gellhorn, journalist/novellist, kicking ass and taking names.

Posted by Bel. The time is 4:38pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Many fruitless times I have typed The Face of War into the Wellington City Library computer and have had zero results come up. I couldn't just skip a title that is on The List, so I decided I would 'read around' Martha Gellhorn instead.

I found some of her fiction in stack and a travel memoir on the shelves. As I'd managed to figure out that The Face of War was a collection of journalistic essays, I went with Travels With Myself And Another as the next best thing and a good place to start.

And what do ya know, folks, we have not just another instant winner great read, but a bona fide heroine to add to the Bona Fide Heroines list.

Martha Gellhorn reading documentation on how smoking is evil.

Travels With Myself And Another starts off with a funny, dry and decidedly non-PC tone that only gets more funny and less PC as the book goes on.

Gellhorn opens by saying that no one really wants to hear about anyone's travels. The moment you mention the sights you seen, their eyes glaze over. But travel disaster stories are a whole other thing, to be traded and devoured and relived in a thrilling way unimaginable at the time. This book is her collection of "horror journeys", where her indefatigable adventurous spirit lead to disasters in various foreign forms.

Covering various continents and decades of her life, some of the most entertaining anecdotes come from Gellhorn's resolute spirit butting up against, well, against pretty much everyone.

This covers from a camp East African guide who refuses to drive her anywhere when they go on safari, to the terrible travelling companion that her partner of many years Ernest Hemingway was while they traipsed through pre-industrial China.

Gellhorn with a local and "U.C.", short for 'the Unwilling Companion'.

After devouring these well-crafted tales and being filled with wanderlust, I needed to know more about Martha. Her wikipedia page only filled me with awe, as it breezily listed her career which careened from the Spanish Civil War, to being among the first to arrive at Dachau, to covering the conflict in Vietnam and even in her 80s still reporting from the front line. It is no surprise that this determined woman chose to take her own life when her health began to fail in her 90s.

You can imagine my JOY when I stumbled across Caroline Moorehead's definitive biography Gellhorn: A Twenty-First Century Life, in my favourite Wellington secondhand bookstore, Arty Bees.

I am only up to chapter three and already she has met and interviewed Diego Rivera and Sergei Eisenstein - this is aged 21 years, after dropping out of college and moving to Paris, striking up an affair with Colette's stepson.

Her dramatic life may yet make it to the silver screen. Variety reported last year that a biopic was planned, as Gillian Anderson's production company had bought the rights to Caroline Moorehead's biography. With a female writer/director attached, this could be promising - especially considering that Scully won't have to go all Oscar-bait to play the role:

[anything] by[/about] Martha Gellhorn. Highly recommended (durrr).
Published 1934 - 1988. Set in pretty much everywhere.
#43 from 'The List'

The Big One: Wellington's roller derby final

Posted by Bel. The time is 3:25pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Saturday was the Richter City Roller Derby showdown, with Smash Malice and Brutal Pageant facing off for the last time this year. With one win apiece in the earlier bouts, a big night was brewing.

Smash Malice in the leopard print; Brutal Pageant in pink and red, sashes obscured. Click for large.

For those not familiar with how a roller derby works, here are the short and sweet rules of a bout. (It's a bit like quidditch.)

Roller derby is relatively new to New Zealand's shores, but it has been embraced with enthusiasm. You certainly have to be whole-heartedly committed to put your body through the rigours of what is a fast paced, full contact and no-holds-barred sport.

I overheard a conversation in the toilets which echoed my thoughts: "I'd love to do it, I mean, it'd be fun... but oh my god." "I know. Oh my god."

Mid-jam pile up. Looks like it's turning into a brawl, but I'm pretty sure it didn't. Click for large.

It makes for a great spectator sport (and on Saturday there was over 1000 people at the TSB Arena). A friend commented that there is a kind of trashy NASCAR atmosphere - which is so true, and which helps make it so awesome.

You cheer, you boo, you have a few drinks and eat some fried food. You buy a ticket for the raffle and regret not making a sign proclaiming your love for your favourite skater to enter into the half-time competition and generally just wave around and use to get the attention of your mates sitting on the opposite side of the track.

My favourites (on team Smash Malice - I have some friends/coworkers associated. Just as well because I don't think I could have made a decision based solely on the sartorial options) are Punk Pantha, who was a guaranteed super-points-scorer each time she slipped the jammer 'panties' on over her helmet, and Huttbreaker, because she just owned the track. From Brutal Pageant, I love/hate Goldie Scorn, because I knew we were in trouble each time she rolled up.

We left feeling exhilarated and a little bit exhausted. Because each jam lasts two minutes at the longest, the night has a hectic 'perpetual motion' feel to it - I can't imagine how tired the people who actually spent the whole time on their feet (wheels) were feeling!

Skaters go past in a blur while an official looks on. Click for large.
(Note those in 'suicide seats' at back. And someone from Brutal Pageant in the penalty box, har ha!)

Smash Malice came out winners of the final, no doubt thanks in part to my particularly rambunctious cheering. It was a close call at one stage though, when their jammer got sent to the penalty box and Brutal Pageant took the chance to bring the scores within one point of each other. Nerve-wracking!!

I'm looking forward to the release of Whip It later this year, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, based on a roller girl's memoirs. Starring Ellen Page (and a veritable gang of cool girls, including Zoe Bell and Juliette Lewis (Scientologist though, ugh)), in anyone else's hands I'd be worried they were cashing in on a 'trend' and Hollywooding the girl power of it. But this trailer fills me with joy:

For a much better selection of much better photos from The Big One, check out Jed Sloane's flickr.

Dear President Obama ... (an open letter on Afghanistan)

Posted by Bel. The time is 9:11am here in Wellington, NZ.

From Brian D McLaren's website. Hat tip to the Bartlett for the link, via Google Reader*.

Dear President Obama ... (an open letter on Afghanistan)

I am a loyal supporter of your presidency. I worked hard in the campaign and have never been as proud of my country as I was when we elected you.

I'm writing to ask you to find another way ahead in Afghanistan. I wrote a similar letter to President Bush when he was preparing for war in Iraq.

I believe now, as you and I both did then, that war is not the answer. Violence breeds violence, and as Dr. King said, you can murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. As the apostle Paul said, evil must be overcome with good, which means that violence and hate must be overcome with justice and love, not more of the same.

Obviously, you know things the rest of us don't know. And you have pressures and responsibilities the rest of us don't have. But we have based our lives on the moral principles that guided leaders like Dr. King, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. We share a profound faith in a loving, non-violent God. We share a commitment to live in the way of Jesus the peacemaker. That's why escalation is not a change we can believe in.

I don't argue for leaving Afghanistan high and dry as we've done too often in the past. Evil can't be overcome by passivity or abdication, but only by positive good and creative action. In that spirit, I offer this humble proposal:

1. Take the 65 billion we would have spent there in the coming year and turn it into an aid and development fund. If you want to go farther, you could put a value on the cost of American lives that would be lost there (I have no idea how this inestimable cost could be calculated), and add that sum to the fund. 65 billion could build a lot of peace-oriented schools and hospitals in Afghanistan. It could serve as start-up capital for a lot of new businesses and it could pave a lot of roads. It could train a lot of police officers and it could enhance a lot of social infrastructure. It could give hope to a lot of women and girls who currently don't have much hope, and it could provide a lot of constructive outlets for men and boys who right now don't have many options besides picking up a machine gun and joining a warlord.

2. Other nations might contribute to this fund as well, and the fund could be extended into the future based on the number of years our military would have been engaged in Afghanistan. The fund could be administered by the US, or better (in the spirit of international cooperation), an IAEC-like agency could be created, subsidiary to the United Nations, to monitor progress in Afghanistan.

3. Then a set of benchmarks could be set, and the money could be released for development in Afghanistan as the nation reached appropriate benchmarks. This fund would be an enticement to mobilize public opinion in the direction of peace and justice, as people would know that their lives could be substantially improved if their factionalized leaders would start collaborating nonviolently for the common good.

4. With this kind of approach, the people of Afghanistan (and Pakistan) would have two clear choices. Al Queda and other extremists offer violence and unrest. But the international community would be offering support for order, rebuilding, collaboration, justice, and peace. This choice is a much clearer and better one than the choice between two groups of leaders who both depend on violence to achieve their aims.

5. Conservatives could support this kind of approach because it emphasizes personal choice and responsibility among the Afghan people. It would come alongside them in their own nation-building efforts at their own best pace, rather than trying to impose our own nation-building on them at a pace we determine. Progressives could support this approach because it changes the role of the US in the global neighborhood - from reactive bully or intentional dominator to responsible neighbor and partner for the common good.

Mr. President, you have my respect and my prayers at this important time. I believe you have the intelligence and insight to find a creative way to use a new kind of force in the world ... something far more powerful than bombs, guns, and bullets: the generative force of creativity, of justice, of collaboration, and yes, of hope. Can we find a new and better way to help Afghanistan rise out of chaos and complicity with Al Queda? You know the answer many of us will shout and chant: yes, we can.

With respect and hope,
A citizen

*Any other Google Reader fans out there? I have gotten hooked and it has improved my life dramatically/destroyed my professional productivity.

Away We Go to the cinema (Bel's review)

Posted by Bel. The time is 3:49pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Thanks to, I got a sneak preview of Away We Go, which is due for general release here in New Zealand next week. Directed by Sam Mendes from a script by husband and wife team, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, this film is a romantic comedy with real laughs and no sickly sweet after taste.

Lou mentioned in her review that some people might be irritated by the film, whereas other would really connect with it. I think the film is enough of a crowd-pleaser that it could be recommended generally - it is in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine, with that same edgy humour and occasional poignancy, not to mention its portrayal of your 'average family' as being pretty much dysfunctional.

Many of my friends and extended family have plunged into the world of parenthood over the last couple of years, not to mention myself. There was more than one cringe of recognition and unintended raucous burst of laughter, I'll tell ya. The host of supporting characters, played to perfection by actors from Jeff Daniels to Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Melanie Lynskey to (love her) Catherine O'Hara, would seem over the top if they didn't bring to mind so quickly... this person... that person...

I'm not familiar with Vida's work, but much of Egger's writing has dealt with themes of abandonment and establishing identity and searching for a sense of propriety while throwing off boundaries. I liked the way this film explored this, and that it was done in the context of a monogamous couple, happy within their relationship.

The film was shot by cinematographer Ellen Kuras, who has collaborated with Spike Lee and Michel Gondry among others, and her work here is subtle but impactful (similar to Lou's feelings regarding Sam Mendes' directing).

To read Lou's review of Away We Go, click here!

And click here to read a great interview with Our Dave, talking about the creation of Away We Go and why Sam Mendes got on board, as well as his screenplay for Where The Wild Things Are, what Toph is up to know, and other things that are just fascinating to know if you care about him as much as we do. Which you should.

The Heart Is a Lonely Handbag

Posted by Bel. The time is 10:41am here in Wellington, NZ.

Carson McCullers' The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter as a clutch handbag by Olympia Le-Tan

Stylish and somewhat practical, I love these beautifully embroidered handbags made by Parisian Olympia Le-Tan.

Handmade in limited runs, Le-Tan chooses the first edition covers of her favourite classics to recreate. She says, "unfortunately the covers of books nowadays are not as nice as they used to be".

And yes, Christmas is coming up - but don't get too excited. I dug around and found that these puppies cost about $1,500 each. I'm not sure if that's US$, pounds or euros - but either way I think I'll have to stick to just putting books inside my boring old bag, the usual way...

Read more with an interview with Olympia Le-Tan at Dazed Digital.

My review of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (including ravings about the gorgeousness of the first edition's cover design) can be read here.

Films: something old, something new, something bonkers, nothing blue

Posted by Lou. The time is 12.20pm here in London, UK.

I totally forgot another of my festival outings - French-Senegalese film The Absence. After 15 years in Paris a successful scientist comes back to see his grandmother and hearing- and speech-impaired younger sister in Senegal. His sister is a stranger to him but is desperate for him to learn to communicate with her - he however has no interest and is heading straight back to Paris. Then out that night with a friend he discovers that his sister is working as a prostitute and embroiled in a dark underbelly of the city. She gets in trouble with her pimp lover and goes on the run, and it is up to her brother to find her before the bad guys do.
The sister is treated in an unrelentingly bleak manner - by her brother and the bad guys. I read the film as her being a metaphor for the country itself - desperate for help from the ex-pats who have the education and resources but who aren't interested, and caught in a web of violence and corruption of the criminal underbelly. A noteworthy aspect is that the film was entirely introspective in terms of the state of the country and its future - whilst there were the nature signs of imperialism from the west, it was kept in the background to what is told as essentially a Senegalese story, situation and solution.

I attended a bad film club screening of Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, surprised to find out the film actually exists and isn't just a piss-take fake trailer. Whilst it does certainly exist, it is probably the worst film ever made - but utterly hilarious from start to finish when viewed with the live comedic commentary provided by the two people who run the bad film club. Do not ever watch this film in any other circumstance - it is just awful: the effects suck, the acting is appalling, it is the worst script and plotline of all time, and it is made in an horrifically amateur and gobsmackingly crap manner. Let me tell you the plot to help convey this:

A maverick marine biologist played by Debbie Gibson (yes, the '80s pop-singer) is in a stolen submarine (we don't know why) and comes across a giant iceberg that whales are smashing themselves against because the American military have dropped a charge down there which goes off and shatters the iceberg away into nothing immediately releasing and enlivening a mega shark and a giant octopus that have been frozen for 17 million years. Mysterious things are happening: you know, a giant octopus destroying an oil rig, a mega shark leaping out of the water to take a passenger jet out of the sky, and a giant whale turning up dead with big chunks missing. She meets up with her ridiculously Irish mentor to go "hmmm" whilst looking into microscopes and pouring liquids into each other trying to figure out what killed the whale. But then they are sent a DVD of her submarine trip in which a fuzzy freezeframe reveals the shark and octopus, which she apparently didn't notice at the time. They join up with a Japanese scientist and the navy and in a cardboard set, I mean high-tech US navy sub (coincidentally identical to the big navy ships and the Japanese subs (where they speak English, by the way)), they pour coloured liquids into each other trying to figure out how to get rid of the threat posed by the giant beasts but strangely the coloured liquids just aren't revealing an answer. After our maverick and the Japanese scientist have sex in a broom cupboard (navy subs do have broom cupboards apparently) they realise the key is pheromones. So they decide that naturally they should plant the shark pheromones in San Francisco Bay, and the octopus pheromones in Tokyo Bay (because choosing two of the most populous bays in the world is the obvious thing to do). Things go badly (who'd've thunk) and death and destruction occurs (mostly off-screen) and so they decide to lead the beasts to each other. Somehow they all very quickly get to the original site of their finding (this is merely coincidence) but whilst the mega shark that can travel at the speed of a jet is chasing their submarine they stop to have a gun stand-off between the driver and the captain. Eventually the shark and octopus fight to the death, the end.

Yeah, I know.

I finally got round to seeing the classic tale of Joan Crawford's hideousness as a mother, Mommie Dearest. It's quite interesting to watch now, seeing it as a cult classic, knowing that at the time it was meant to be a serious drama. As a serious drama it is ludicrous, but seen with the perspective of time it's brilliantly over-the-top. And I know what Halloween costume I'm going to have next year. There's only one more thing to say really: No wire hangers!!