Most Prolific Blogger of the Year
Most Alcoholic Blog of the Year
Most Uncomfortably Personal Blog(s) of the Year
China-Basher of the Year
Most Diverse Blog of the Year
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
.... like show business!
Yet more Christmas punsterism. Forgive me.
A few weeks ago, the students of the University of Wisconsin at Madison took advantage of a heavy fall of snow to have a massive snowball fight. They were hoping to get into the Guinness Book of Records - but, as it was all a bit impromptu, no Guiness representative was able to get there to verify the number of participants (must be a pretty tricky thing to do with an event of that kind, anyway!). Better luck next time! Apparently, they do this almost every year.
It seems, according to Wikipedia, that the official American record is still that set at Michigan Technological University nearly 4 years ago. However, a new - Guinness-recognised - world record was set on the 14th October this year by this monster snowball fight in the Belgian city of Leuven, with a tally of 5,768 participants (how do they count them??). They had snow that early this year in Europe????
After more than 7 years of enduring variously crappy Chinese Internet connections....
after 2 years or so of massive censorship interference and steadily disappearing web-based proxies....
after several months of gradually disintegrating functionality with Tor/Privoxy/Firefox....
finally, I have signed up to Witopia.
And, oh my good god, it's FAST.
[Not without a few teething problems, though: the installation was fiddly. Connection to the chosen server often seems to fail first time. And Explorer has got its knickers in a knot with "the new add-on" and crashed a couple of times. Moreover, many of the problems that have been bugging me lately - limited user interface in Blogger, inability to leave blog comments - are still plaguing me, so I must assume that the problem lies with Firefox rather than with Tor. But, you know, overall - WOW! This is a brave new world of Net-browsing!!]
Somewhere just to the north of my new apartment complex there is a big government building of some sort. Well, I know there's a hospital hereabouts, but I'm not sure if it's that. I wonder if there might be an army base off one of the hutongs I haven't yet discovered.
You see, we get rather a lot of very loud, very shrill exhortations to love the Party and so on blaring over a tannoy at odd hours of the day.
And most mornings at 10 (possibly every morning, but I don't notice it unless I'm in my study on the north side of the building) we get March of the Volunteers, the national anthem. This is not a tune I want to be hearing that much of.
the upstairs neighbour's shower
sounds like rain
rain in the tropics, heavy drops on a tin roof
rippling rattles of bright thuds
throbbing through my whole apartment
dinning through my tin-roofed head
loud, too loud, yet oddly restful
while still preventing it
but impossible to resent
a reminder of rain
rain in the tropics
a reminder of another bed, another time
a conversation about rain
A recent jotting, this, perhaps no more than a sketch. Not quite a poem, but something in that awkward middle ground between poetic prose and notes for a poem. All the same, I rather like it. A pure stream-of-consciousness thing: the 'creative process' here, such as it was, consisted simply in suppressing a lot of what might have been included - trying to identify the source of the noise, trying to get back to sleep, the details of the images and memories that came to mind, that final conversation and where it led. Less is more.
Well, I wondered if in fact I should have said 'Lily Olay', the shameless floozie of a saloon singer that she plays in the clip from The Great Race below.
I've always had a weakness for singers (and shameless floozies?), and I remember being quite smitten by her in this sequence when I first saw the film, aged about ten. I think watching this again might be another of my nostalgic Christmas treats - although it's not a great film otherwise, and seriously overlong thanks to the superfluous Prisoner of Zenda pastiche at the end. This, however, is one of the great saloon songs (and it is, of course, followed shortly afterwards by an epic saloon brawl [only currently available on YouTube in French! I've just added the video of this – and a few more great screen punch-ups – over on The Barstool.]). Oh yes, and Peter Falk is pretty funny as Max, the bungling sidekick to Jack Lemmon's villainous Professor Fate (clearly a model for the Dastardly and Muttley cartoons).... but I digress.
Dorothy is not quite my 'type' really (blonde?!), rather too petite at 5'4" (although she got supersized in the now obscure '50s sci-fi comedy The 30ft Bride of Candy Rock), but she did have an irresistible cuteness... and a flair for comedy... and a great singing voice. And although her film career didn't really take off, she did crop up in a number of minor classics from the '60s that I remember fondly from childhood viewings a decade or so later - Good Neighbor Sam, That Darn Cat!, and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Back in those distant days, I also caught a one-off nostalgia re-run of an episode from the ABC television show that really made her name at the start of the '60s, The Roaring 20's (unnecessary apostrophe!). In this she also played a chanteuse, the rather less alluringly named 'Pinky' Pinkham. I think my favourite of her numbers from this is You Do Something To Me. There is quite a bit more of her on YouTube (including this rather unsettling clip of her impersonating Al Jolson in blackface!); although, given that the show was set almost entirely within her nightclub, and she usually sang two or three complete songs in each episode, and it ran for two full seasons... well, there ought to be a lot more. Perhaps more of her songs from this will have emerged if we return to that search in a year or two's time. One of the more engaging oddities to be found at the moment is a guest appearance in a musical episode of Dr Kildare, where she duets with Richard Chamberlain on I Like New York In June.
Enough of this noodling. Here's that saloon song, He Shouldn't-a, Hadn't-a, Oughtn't-a Swang On Me - music by Henry Mancini, and fantastic lyrics by Johnny Mercer which fairly zing with slick rhymes (in many cases, double rhymes; I remember even as a kid being blown away by that Texas/solar plexus/reflexes triple-whammy!). Enjoy.
I am not a Web-slut, like some people. I don't browse and roam at random, all over the place. I am fiercely loyal to the sites I like, but there are very few of them.
Therefore, my recommendations of other blogs and websites have been considerably less than monthly. In fact, we haven't had one at all for quite a while now.
I think it is high time that I wrote an encomium for Running After My Hat. Its author, JES, has become my most regular commenter over the past year or so (and a valued personal correspondent, tech guru, and occasional Web research assistant too), but I do not recommend his blog purely out of friendship or gratitude - it is thoroughly excellent in every way: consistently well-written, amazingly wide-ranging, stimulating and amusing.
I particularly love his occasional What's In A Song? feature, exhaustively researched essays on classic songs, covering the history of their composition, musical structure, pop culture trivia, memorable performances, and many other fascinating side avenues too.
Another great favourite is the regular Friday post where he takes a poem from the whiskey river literary blog as the starting point for a stream-of-consciousness (sometimes more of an avalanche-of-consciousness) collation of loosely related poetry, prose, song, and much else besides. It is always a highlight of my week, and I can hardly wait to see what he's going to entertain us with today (since he's based in America, I don't usually get to see his Friday morning post until Saturday).
If you haven't yet clicked over on to his site from one of his comments here or one of my previous mentions of him, please do so at once. You won't be disappointed.
It's been a rich few weeks on my companion blog, Round-the-World Barstool Blues.
I've posted a video of a moving performance by Beijing folk singer Zhou Yunpeng, and a link to a video profile of my favourite Beijing bar, 12 Square Metres.
I've also expressed my anxiety at the possible disclosure of my identity.
And just now I have posted a tribute to my favourite barmaid (and one of my great, foolish crushes of the year - although I accepted that she was far too young for me, and I think the affection she inspired in me was really more fraternal than lustful).
All well worth checking out.
Continuing an occasional series of re-treads of 'highlights' from the e-mail bulletins I used to assail my friends with in the first half of the Noughties…. this little bit of whimsy is from the early months of 2001.
One of my correspondents - cruelly recalling that in one of my past lives long ago I was a Classical scholar - has challenged me to produce a Latin and/or Greek rendition of the motto 'Better to be lucky than smart'.
Three weeks after I started moving in to my new place, I have still scarcely made a dent in the unpacking.
I haven't yet cooked anything more elaborate than a bacon sarnie in my kitchen.
The foot of my bed is still barricaded by a pile of bin bags containing clothes and surplus bedding.
In the living room - the most unusably cluttered area of the apartment - the summit of my achievement has been to clear a narrow path between the teetering piles of boxes in order to give me a view of the TV from the sofa.
Ah, but now, but now.... I face a week or two with virtually no work at all (and, probably, two or three months with scarily little work - the Christmas/New Year/Spring Festival double-[triple- ?]whammy plays havoc with one's annual income projections); so, I really should be able to get stuck into the problem.
Yet still I procrastinate.....
(Maybe I should turn the computer off?)
The other day, this post from blog-buddy JES put me in mind of a favourite tale I heard from my father many years ago, which I added in a comment (unfortunately, in a brain-dazed state, I added it to the wrong post). I think it bears repeating here. I don't have that many fond memories of my dad, but this is certainly one of them. [Although I always harboured some doubts as to whether he'd really done this. It seemed so out of character.]
My father, not usually the sort of chap to indulge in such japery, told me a story about his days in the army (in Palestine, in the turbulent years just after WWII and just before the creation of the state of Israel). He and a friend created a phoney advertising campaign, both formal and informal (posters and graffiti around their camp; and, I think, also a few jingles on the local Forces' radio, and maybe even a brief film ad at the Saturday evening cinema show). It kills me that I can't now remember the brand name of their invented product, but it was something corny (and American!) like Spiffo or Flub. They only had two pictures to use, but this produced a brilliant juxtaposition that suggested their slogan. One was a portrait of the young Frank Sinatra, just becoming known to British audiences (I imagine, through contact with all the American servicemen stationed in Britain during the war). The other was of a mushroom cloud from a recent A-bomb test. "Frank Sinatra says…. it's atomic!"
The genius of this jape was that there was never any other copy at all in these ads, no suggestion of what the product might be – but, apparently, after a couple of weeks or so, scores of people were demanding to know when it would appear in the camp store. Whatever it was.
The power of advertising! I learned an important lesson from this story.
What substance is the most difficult to clean up after a spill?
The spillage of what substance on the kitchen floor would be most likely to exacerbate my intermittent ant infestation?
The breakage of what in my kitchen would be most mystifying?
The breakage of a large jar of honey
What would be the most inconvenient and annoying moment to discover such a breakage and spillage?
Just as I am about to head out of the door for a work engagement
Yep, it is quite a challenge to the ingenuity to find a way of clearing up a large puddle of thick, sticky goo, studded with tiny shards of broken glass (using only Chinese cleaning products, which are not of the best).
As far as I can work out, a plastic bag of sugar - the top of which I'd folded over and taped down when moving apartments the other week - unstuck its fastening and slowly began to uncoil itself. The springiness in the plastic was evidently sufficient to topple over the adjacent jar of honey (it probably wouldn't have been sufficient to push open the cupboard door, but since I am still in the process of organising my new kitchen, I'd left the doors open) and propel it into space. An interesting trajectory - it fell in the middle of the floor, having moved at least a foot away from the edge of the cupboard in the course of dropping about 6ft. I'm no physicist, but I can't see an end-over-end tumble achieving that. Maybe it fell on its side within the cupboard, and rolled a few inches first to build up speed?
Either that, or I've got a poltergeist.
At least I figure the week can only get better from here on....
I attended a particularly stimulating talk at The Bookworm this week given by Nick Admussen, a young American academic and poet based in Beijing, examining some of the crossover between Classical Chinese and modern Western poetry. (Here's a fuller account of the lecture, from Canaan Morse on Chinese translation website Paper Republic.)
I thought the most interesting piece Nick introduced was this, a sort of free-form riff on 'The Ballad of Lovely Women' (麗人行, Li Ren Xing) by Du Fu (or Tu Fu, 杜甫, 712-770) - widely considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest poet of the Tang Dynasty 'golden age'. Many of his works, like this one, were bitterly satirical of the opulence, corruption and cruelty of the Tang court in its declining years.
The curious thing here is that the American poet, Frank Bidart, is a professor of English, and apparently knows no Chinese at all. His version of the Ballad is adapted (with an infusion of some additional historical background) from a prose rendition published in 1967 in The Little Primer of Tu Fu by the British Sinologist David Hawkes (who died this summer: the link is to his obituary in The Guardian). This book is, I'm told, an excellent introduction to the great poet's work, but has been long out of print (well, I had heard that it was recently reprinted again; but I haven't been able to find any evidence of that online).
Nick used both versions to raise the question of how one deals with references which are opaque to the modern audience. Hawkes, like most academic translators, tried to remain faithful to the allusive spareness of the original, but provided voluminous explanatory footnotes. Bidart chose to incorporate the 'footnotes' into the body of his poem: the significance of the pepper-flowers in Du Fu's work would be deeply obscure to most modern readers (and perhaps to many contemporaries also?), but Bidart found it such a striking image that he elaborated an extended gloss on it. I was reminded that when, a while back, I attempted an English version of Catullus' Quaeris quot mihi… , I elected to omit three whole lines (all that stuff about "between the oracle of sultry Jupiter and the tomb of old Battus" - in Catullus' own time it was considered an elegant literary sport to work in such abstruse nuggets of guidebook information about a locale; but for us today, it is otiose and irrelevant knowledge) ... and the pseudonym of his lover ('Lesbia' carries other connotations today. Few people now know that Catullus - in thus anonymizing his lover - was paying homage to the female Greek poet Sappho, one of his main artistic influences, and a native of the island of Lesbos.)... and even the key word 'basiationes' (I think we know what he's really talking about; and it's not just kissing!). Translation - it's hard.
Apologies for the digression there. We're supposed to be focusing on China today, not Rome. Here's Frank Bidart's take on the famous Du Fu poem. (I'll try to add the bridging version between the two by David Hawkes in the comments.)
[I would have liked to include Du Fu's original too, but.... I'm afraid I'm not very good at searching for stuff in Chinese!]
Tu Fu Watches the Spring Festival Across Serpentine Lake
In 753 Tu Fu, along with a crowd of others, watched the imperial court—the emperor's mistress, her sisters, the first minister—publicly celebrate the advent of spring.
Intricate to celebrate still-delicate
raw spring, peacocks in passement of gold
thread, unicorns embroidered palely in silver.
These are not women but a dream of women:—
bandeaux of kingfisher-feather
netting that clings to the breathing body
veil what is, because touched earth
is soiled earth, invisible.
As if submission to dream were submission
not only to breeding but to one's own nature,
what is gorgeous is remote now, pure, true.
The Mistress of the Cloud-Pepper Apartments
has brought life back to the emperor, who is
old. Therefore charges of gross extravagance, of
pandering incest between her sister Kuo and her cousin
are, in the emperor's grateful eyes, unjust. Her wish
made her cousin first minister. Three springs from this
spring, the arrogance of the new first minister
will arouse such hatred and fury even the frightened
emperor must accede to his execution. As bitterly to
hers. She will be carried on a palanquin of
plain wood to a Buddhist chapel
deep in a wood and strangled.
Now the Mistress of the Cloud-Pepper Apartments,—
whose rooms at her insistence are coated with
a pepper-flower paste into which dried pepper-
flowers are pounded because the rooms of the Empress
always are coated with paste into which dried pepper-
flowers are pounded and she is Empress
now in all but name,—is encircled by her
sisters, Duchesses dignified by imperial
favor with the names of states that once had
power, Kuo, Ch'in, Han. Now rhinoceros-horn
chopsticks, bored, long have not descended.
The belled carving knife wastes its labors. Arching
camel humps, still perfect, rise like purple hills
from green-glazed cauldrons. Wave after
wave of imperial eunuchs, balancing fresh
delicacies from the imperial kitchens, gallop up
without stirring dust.
With mournful sound that would move demon
gods, flutes and drums now declare to the air
he is arrived. Dawdlingly
he arrives, as if the cloud of
suppliants clinging to him cannot obscure the sun.
Power greater than that of all men except one
knows nothing worth rushing toward
or rushing from. Finally the new first minister
ascends the pavilion. He greets the Duchess of
Kuo with that slight
brutality intimacy induces.
Here at last is power that your
soul can warm its hands against!
Beware: success has made him
incurious, not less dangerous.