Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Am Not Your Negro

Raoul Peck's documentary is not perfect, but damn close enough. James Baldwin is both subject and co-auteur here, some 30 years after his death. As conscience and philosopher of the civil rights movement, Baldwin readily acknowledges that he stood outside the movement in a number of ways– his exile to Paris, of course, but more fundamentally his not having put his life on the line as his three heroes– Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X– quite literally did. But in reality, the danger was always there for an outspoken and haughty black man, the smartest and most articulate man in the room– the danger doubled given his homosexuality.

The film is visually stunning, and you could listen to Baldwin's impassioned, dignified, and yes, superior accent (what to call it... Harlem Brahmin?) all day long. Samuel L. Jackson's voice-over narration is a different animal entirely, but Baldwin's voice rings through the words.

I had some problems with the movie's critique of whiteness through film and TV clips of Doris Day and the like. I'm not big fan of Doris Day, but I also know enough about whiteness to know that she is not its only manifestation, and from Doris to the hate crimes of the people responsible for Medgar Evers's murder is a stretch. Peck aspires to define whiteness as intrinsically the denial of blackness, but there are many shades of white, and even John Ford's westerns were more subtle in their politics than Peck is willing to acknowledge here.

That said, the movie is essential, and Baldwin is too. As Darryl Pinckney wrote in his review of the film, I Am Not Your Negro "is a kind of tone poem to a freedom movement not yet finished." Now streaming on a service near you.

Monday, January 15, 2018

People are smaller now

At the local public library used book sale yesterday, I picked up a couple volumes of poetry (hardly the first time!): a nice hardcover of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, and Li Ch'ing-chao's Complete Poems, translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. Two great poets and Renaissance women.

Barrett Browning...
Before Barrett was ten years old, she had read the histories of England, Greece, and Rome; several of Shakespeare's plays, including Othello and The Tempest;portions of Pope's Homeric translations; and passages from Paradise Lost. At eleven, she says in an autobiographical sketch written when she was fourteen, she "felt the most ardent desire to understand the learned languages." Except for some instruction in Greek and Latin from a tutor who lived with the Barrett family for two or three years to help her brother Edward ("Bro") prepare for entrance to Charterhouse, Barrett was, as Robert Browning later asserted, "self-taught in almost every respect." Within the next few years she went through the works of the principal Greek and Latin authors, the Greek Christian fathers, several plays by Racine and Molière, and a portion of Dante's Inferno-all in the original languages. Also around this time she learned enough Hebrew to read the Old Testament from beginning to end. Her enthusiasm for the works of Tom Paine, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Mary Wollstonecraft presaged the concern for human rights that she was later to express in her poems and letters.
Li:
Li Qingzhao was born in 1084, in Zhangqiu located in modern Shandong province. She was born to a family of scholar-officials, and her father was a student of Su Shi. The family had a large collection of books, and Li was able to receive comprehensive education in her childhood. From very young age, she was unusually outgoing for a woman from a scholar-official family.
Before she got married, her poetry was already well known within elite circles. In 1101 she married Zhao Mingcheng, with whom she shared interests in art collection and epigraphy. They lived in present-day Shandong. After her husband started his official career, he was often absent. They were not particularly rich but shared enjoyment of collecting inscriptions and calligraphy which made their daily life count and they lived happily together. This inspired some of the love poems that she wrote. Li and her husband collected many books. They shared a love of poetry and often wrote poems for each other as well as writing about bronze artifacts of the Shang and Zhou dynasties.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Don't Leave Just Now

A great heartbreaker from a band that specializes in them.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A few more fungi

Return visit to Foothills Park today... The beautiful Laccaria amethysteo-occidentalis is in fact nearly the color of amethyst; Coprinopsis lagopus (?) is a perfect hairy little thing that like all inky caps transforms and composts itself; an enormous amanita, edible if you dare (I don't); and a lovely yellow bolete...







Saturday, January 6, 2018

After the rain

A dry winter in NorCal so far, but we got a splash the last day or two. Foothills Park is vibrant and starting to spring...

Two varieties of Hericium, on nearby logs... H. erinaceus...



... and H. coralloides...



Moss, yerba buena, and miner's lettuce among downed bay laurels...



Moss (Dendroalsia?) likes the weather...



Lichens are likin' it too...








Silk tassel (Garrya elliptica), peak bloom... up close the flower looks like a chain of lacy bells...

Bay laurel doing what it does best...



Something yellow and slimy...




And some wee club-like fungi, sharing space with some wee ripe puffballs...




Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Binge-reading Penelope Fitzgerald

It's a New Year, and I need to get back into the blogging habit... is that a resolution or wishful thinking? Well, here's a start...

Penelope Fitzgerald's novels tend to be quite short– verging on novellas– so it's not a huge commitment to read a few of them at a stretch. Each is exemplary in storytelling, character development, sense of place and time, language, tone, and wit.

Among the themes Fitzgerald limned in her books, the pitfalls of romanticism (small r and big R) is a constant. Many of her best characters are hard-headed realists who nevertheless can't quite resist succumbing to a romantic notion; meanwhile the truly romantic fools are subjected to pointed but sympathetic satire.

Fitzgerald often liked to end a novel full stop, with an appearance or re-appearance that prompts, "what happens next?" Trite in the hands of a lesser artist, movingly satisfying in hers. The natural solution to every such cliffhanger is: read another of her books.

The Bookshop (1978): Florence opens a bookshop in a small coastal town. Feathers are ruffled. Tragicomedy ensues.

Offshore (1979): Intersecting lives of houseboat dwellers on the Thames. It won the Booker prize. We have a few communities of houseboats in the Bay Area, from the most famous (Sausalito) to San Francisco to Redwood City. Fitzgerald's novel is utterly convincing in its portrayal of the kinds of outsiders who would choose to live on the watery urban margins, and the simultaneous strength and limits of their communal solidarity.

The Beginning of Spring (1988): A Moscow-based British printer must care for his three children when his wife leaves him, as well as deal with the strange politics of Russia on the eve of the Revolution. Blogged already here. Perhaps her best.

The Gate of Angels (1990): A chance encounter results in love at first sight for romantic Cambridge physicist Fred Fairly, and in curious attraction for pragmatic, hard-knocks Daisy Saunders. As in The Bookshop and Offshore, The Gate of Angels employs Fitzgerald's gift for drawing vivid, complex female characters as a vehicle for her understated, humanistic feminism.

The Blue Flower (1995): A historical novel based on the romantic obsession of the early German Romantic Novalis. It is a fascinating if bizarre little tale, and its fictional re-creation of a very different time and place on the cusp of entering modernity is believable and compelling.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The world is my oyster...

... or the oyster is my world... Banana slugs, like many humans, find oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus) tasty, as well as, perhaps, aesthetically pleasing...


Coyote Hills

This fascinating little Fremont park in the East Bay Regional Park District features a lovely freshwater marsh separated from the Bay by low hills covered in colorful outcroppings of Franciscan complex chert, and a Native American site with shell mounds. The small visitor center includes an expanding exhibition on the local Ohlone people, past and present. The outcroppings are fun with kids, if you keep your eye out for the abundant poison oak, and are fun for lichen lovers of all ages...