Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sigh Baby Bunting

Twelve year old Dakota Fanning's new film Hounddog is causing controversy, not because it contains a rape scene, but because it is Lewellen, Dakota's character, who is raped. The little girl out of Charlotte's Web!

Either she is too young to be able to handle such material, or she isn't.

Either she should never have signed up for this project, and her family and agent have failed to protect this child from commercial exploitation, emotional trauma and moral corruption, and are guilty of setting an arbitrary closing date to her childhood; or she is perfectly able to deal with this material, and her family and agent have thoughtfully and courageously given her the opportunity and support to do work of this nature and standard.

Just as Venus and Serena Williams' father recognised and coached their talent.
And Wolfie Mozart's supported his.

If you have an extraordinary talent amounting to a vocation, an unquenchable desire to play tennis or the violin, to act, swim, compose, paint or write for hours and hours, day after day, for years, because that is when you are most alive, then perhaps you would find what the rest of us think of as a normal childhood confining, frustrating and unnatural?

Is Dakota simply exceptionally gifted, a very young and dedicated actress, with a wisdom beyond her years? Or is she an exceptionally gifted young actress who has been fast-tracked out of childhood by the projects she has been allowed to take on? And if the latter, is this good, bad, or just another variation on real life, so if she's fine, then the rest of us should get off her case?..!

One of her previous directors described Dakota Fanning as 'seven going on forty'. Hounddog director Deborah Kampmeier, whose personal history forms the basis of this film, calls her an 'old soul'. I am almost persuaded that she is indeed just fine with this project. What kind of reaction she may face from her peers remains to be seen. And the press are all over her, with judgements and headlines about her family and her agent.

Other girls have been here before. Eleven-year-old Brooke Shields played a child living in a brothel in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby. At fourteen, Jodie Foster was nominated for an Oscar for her role as a pre-pubescent prostitute in Taxi Driver. Both coped with their roles and the fall-out therefrom, and have grown into well-balanced, creative professionals. Dakota's parents seem very caring and careful of both of their daughters - though I imagine many people will revise that opinion now. Fingers crossed for this extraordinary young actress who comes across in interviews as a wise child, a real professional, and a lovely kid.

This article in Slate raises some questions beyond the immediate 'Should she/they or shouldn't she/they?

How about this: But the truth, as anyone who has recently been to the cinema knows, is that Dakota Fanning has been making dark and creepy movies for years. Over her seven-year career, she has become a small, blond embodiment of America's fond hope that scarred children can be restored to childish innocence. It was only a matter of time before the trauma she faced would be rape.

.,...... In the intensely violent Man on Fire (2004), she is a neglected, love-starved child who is kidnapped for ransom money, and watches her beloved bodyguard (and only true friend) get brutally shot in front of her as she cries his name. She is later rescued, but he dies for her. In Hide and Seek (2005) she plays a troubled 9-year-old whose mother has recently died; terrible things happen, but in the end, she appears to find some relief from her emotional suffering. ... In The War of the Worlds (2005), she watches as aliens destroy her world, transforming it into a landscape literally flowing with blood, and her father kills a man in order to save her life, while she sits nearby. She is brutalized and subdued, but by the film's end—when she reaches the cozy brownstone where her mother is—she appears ready to be absorbed again by the consoling rhythms of domesticity; one feels that even her toys are intact.

Of course, she's also done Dreamer and Charlotte's Web.

However, watching Man on Fire, I could not separate my response to the trauma faced by the character Pita, from my awareness of the 10 year-old handling those scenes, that dialogue. Whenever I see a film, or an episode in a drama series, where child actors are involved in scenes of great violence, cruelty or distress, it troubles me. Occasionally there will be a baby crying in its cot, scarlet and tear-streaked: how do they film this? Who explains motivation to a six-month-old? Is colic a useful quality in the neo-natal actor?

Do parents simply stand back until the shot has been completed satisfactorily, before giving baby a cuddle and singing him a lullaby about his college fund?

What about the toddler standing crying its heart out? Or standing there on the verge of tears. An eighteen-month-old faking heartbreak to order? (Not to be confused with emotional blackmail which is a learnt skill!)

Just one more thing. Remember when Haley Joel Osment cornered the market in the melancholy and the downright miserable (Sixth Sense, AI, Pay It Forward)? In addition to wondering how he coped and, after a while, anticipating the likely mood of any film he appeared in, I remember thinking that he had been cast as much for his vulnerable look as anything else.

I have since become convinced that for a child actor to have a megabucks Hollywood career, as opposed to being cast as Lost Boy 3 or Bad News Bear 17, it helps to have a particular face shape - heartshaped, or with a fine jaw/pointy chin; pale, pale skin; and almost preternaturally wide-spaced eyes. Fey. Elfin. Vulnerable. The sort of face that conveys desolation, fear, pain and grief well, i.e. truthfully (cos the kid does have talent) and attractively, i.e. without doing anything unappealing like turning scarlet and producing noxous fluids from various orifices.

Because Dakota Fanning is not the only child working with dark material: children's movies inhabit a safe world, but in many adult films, children are victims, part of the 'everything' which has to be destroyed so that Hero will take on Villain in a good old-fashioned 97 minute orgy of bullets, car/helicopter/motorbike/roller skate chases and explosions. Our modern fairy tales.

I had a little gallery by way of illustration, but it seems to have e-vaporated. The faces belonged to Dakota Fanning, Haley Joel Osment, Elijah Wood, Christina Ricci and Winona Ryder. Some of them could be siblings, depending on the angle of the photo. I don't mean that the children themselves are gloomy and prone to depression. There are plenty of happy smiling pics. In fact, Dakota Fanning gets my award for World's Best Smile. She's absolutely beaming in most photographs.

But - if it's ok for these children to play roles in films about domestic abuse, violent crime, cruelty and ignorance, how can we draw the line at sexual violence? Surely, to return to Dakota Fanning's latest film, it's a little late to start worrying about the erosion of her childhood innocence?

To be honest, I'm more concerned with the implications of the Vanity Fair (March 06) Tom Ford photograph of the then 12-year-old in Chanel frock, styled in glam-grunge with those direct, worldly-wise eyes. (Pity Scarlett Johannsson & Keira Knightly, who probably wish they hadn't done that cover!)

This is the age of Manga, and the big-eyed innocent adult child. Of androgynously alluring 'ageless' fairy art. Of three, four and six year-old girls in scaled down adult fashions, with bare shoulders and belly buttons; and teenage girls and young women attempting to live on 3 calories a day to achieve a boyish - androgynous - Size 00. Of children in First World countries being surrounded by images of sexuality, and being sexualised younger and younger, while Third World countries are fighting to eradicate child marriage and enforce a minimum age of consent. Of international paedophile rings and Internet porn, anxiety in the vestry, and front page 'candid' tabloid photographs of knickers straining over celebrity crotches on the lowest shelf at the newsagent's, next to the children's comics. It all adds up to a dangerous blurring of the border territory between childhood and adulthood.

People have always been fascinated by sex. Of course! Sex is a natural part of life, no more nor less, but it has become a dominant, perhaps the dominant cultural theme in the west. Between consenting adults please. There have always been teenage preganancies, often the result of consensual sex, despite minimum legal ages and statutory rape laws. Rates have been falling, as a result of better sex-education and realistic public health attitudes to contraception. Nowadays, though, our healthy, well-nourished children reach puberty younger and younger, with 9 year-olds sprouting in all directions. But they're still children. Mentally and emotionally.

However, with this blurring - insidious and blatant at the same time - of what constitutes childhood, childlike behaviour, interests and activities; and what is unmistakeably the preserve of the adult, we put our children in danger. If magazines, films and fashion houses are making children sexually self-aware earlier and earlier, some of our sprouting nine-year-olds may find themselves in very dangerous territory by the time they are eleven. And it may only be a matter of time before some cretin stands up in court and says of his young victim, 'She asked for it.' and genuinely thinks he has a case, because she walked the walk, and talked the talk. Never mind that she was just copying behaviour she'd seen in a film, or in her big sister.

Never mind that she was at least five years away from the age of consent.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Jobs in Dubai article

Extracts from an interview with the owner of, part of an ITP article. Interesting reading for those aiming to make an informed decision on using an online recruitment agency to find work in Dubai. Follow the link to the original article.

Windows: We spoke to Mike, a graphic designer, who in the three-month period he was signed-up with you heard nothing at all.
Nofel Izz: “Whichever employer gets in touch with you, they'll directly contact you because they have all the information. People don't have the concept… and Hot Jobs - everything is automated, the employers get in touch with you directly. It's strange that people here don't have the concept of an online recruitment company.”


Windows: In terms of what people expect from Jobs in Dubai, do you think it's worth trying to reduce the number of dissatisfied customers - whatever that is - by changing or amending the site to help them regard you as similar to Monster?
Nofel Izz: “First of all, the first thing we tell people is, it's not a guaranteed service. There's no guarantee you're going to get a job. You can always get your money back.”


Hot Jobs

Jobs in Dubai

Buyer compare.

One for Dad

Happy Burns Night-as-was!

Up yer kilt!

............though with Glasgow at -8 today, I expect they were all wearing their thermals last night!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An apple for the student

Today I had a bad case of blinkered teacher.

It's the second semester, and final year students face coursework deadlines in all subjects. This means that they absolutely must manage their time so that they can work towards these deadlines, while at the same time keeping up with daily classwork and homework assignments. It takes tremendous organisation and discipline.

One student is currently doing two major coursework assignments under my supervision: a 3500 word Research Commission for IB Theatre Arts; and a 4500 word Extended Essay, a compulsory extra-curricular assignment designed as a bridge to undergraduate work, which she has also chosen to do in my field. She researched both during her summer vacation last year, gave me a first draft of the Extended Essay last term, and yesterday presented me with a restructured Extended Essay, plus half a Research Commission, with evidence of considerable fresh research, all done over the winter 'break'. I duly went through both, pencilling comments and questions in the margins, noting errors in spelling and syntax; and saw her at lunchtime today for a twenty minute tutorial.

I realise now although I went through both pieces with her, noting good points, and pointing out shortcomings and areas which require more thought, more work, more more more, I completely failed to recognise and acknowledge all the effort, enthusiasm and dedication that this eighteen year old has put into these assignments in order to get them to this point; the fact that she has done this during a so-called vacation after a very demanding autumn semester; and the evidence of how diligently she is working to meet all the requirements of six subjects plus plus.

I was so busy looking at where the exam candidate was supposed to be going that I overlooked how far the teenager had come, and what an achievement that was. Of course, she came for guidance, but some appreciation would have been nice. No wonder she looked subdued by the time I was done.

I don't care what anyone says about the good old days, the continuing decline in academic standards, and so forth, most of these students work their tails off to meet one requirement after another, and often several at once.

Praise where praise is due.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


While I was trying to enlarge this small image, stolen from Muriel, it pixelated all over the place. So I'm doing it again, to demonstrate: instant cross-stitch pattern!

It takes a bit of fiddling with, but it works. Must try low-resolution colour images next.

Burj Al Arabiheeheeheehee!


OK, I admit it, I nicked this image from Adventures in Dubai, and he nicked it from someone else, but the reason I've nicked it is to direct you to Moryarti's post on the subject of Burj al Expati al Arabi. Burj Raju Al-Aghati, Burj al Boris Evanonovi, Burj Al Dubai Taxi & Transporti, and Burj al Constructor al Alabori.

As I said before,

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Wonderful Dollmakers' Site

I haven't found a dollmaking magazine that I like, but I found the Dollmaker's Journey website for cloth doll patterns and supplies. (No-one makes mere ragdolls anymore!). Out of dozens of designers providing patterns at an average US$10 each, here are just five.

Breadline, by Mary Ann Hull

La Femme, by Arley Berryhill

Grace, by Delys Brady

Angel in a Wreath, by Jane Coughlan

PopTops, by Julie McCullough, one of my favourite designers.

On my wish list, Susanna Oroyan's Anatomy of a Doll: the Fabric Sculptor's Handbook; and one day, when I've worked my way through that, Designing the Doll:from Concept to Construction. I shall look in the library for Patti Medaris Culea's Creative Cloth Doll Faces, which looks like great fun. Patti Culea's doll patterns, and mouthwatering 'stitchery tome' - a 3D sampler course - are also at Dollmaker's Journey.


This vacation, I've been trying out software and online services.

As I reported earlier, I've found Picasa useful and straightforward for improve and resizing digital images.

My new external DVD writer remains a source of anxiety: Habibi managed to convert one of my mini DV tapes to DVD without too much trouble. I also managed one, but not before wanting to scream and cry and throw everything out the window in the face of my apparent stupidity. Sigh. I shall try it again soon, because I still have six summer tapes, all last year's kabuki, and some entertaining Merry Wives backstage material to convert, and there will be more to come in our last months here. So I will learn how to do this calmly and efficiently.

A friend invited me to join Facebook, where we have a common interest group. I'm disinclined to launch personal info into cyberspace (says the blogger!) but I did my homework on Facebook's history and practices, and I'm happy to use it for sharing photos of groups and events with the other people involved. Previously I was emailing massive files that took time to go, and then might be rejected if sent to a work email account with an upper limit on file sizes. Useful. But I'm not going down the news and chat route.

I belong to a large family but you know what it's like when everyone's scattered all over the planet and busy with day-to-day life; and this year Mrs Organised here did not actually get around to posting all those really nice local Christmas cards she had written by December 5th to be sure of them getting to Europe by the 25th. Oh help. So I went looking for one of those private network websites I'd heard about, and found the most appealing. I've taken advantage of the month's free trial to gauge interest, but in the meantime I've gone ahead and uploaded pics from family holidays and get-togethers over the past few years. I didn't resize them, so they've taken up a great deal of the allotted storage space, but this way I thought that everyone could download print quality files of their favourites, and then I'd have a cull in a few months, and resize the ones I leave up. That way there's plenty of room for everyone else's!

So far only one of my brothers has posted photos, but my sister and one of my sisters-in-law are up for it, and I'm hoping my dad's going to post some of his cache of black and whites and sepias. (Dad! Hint!) Mother has still not been persuaded to log on to my blog (or anything else) at the library, but I've sent her a MyFamily invite, and one of my brothers is going up for a visit this month, so you never know!

By the way, Google offers its own version of the family site, with the advantage of a direct link with Picasa so you can upload directly, but with my blog on Google's Blogger, and the fact that when I moved from the Beta version they made my Gmail account log-in my blog log-in, plus the appearance of sidebar links relating to the content of my gmails, I'm beginning to feel a bit antsy about Google. It's everywhere. Big Google is Watching Me.

Of course, with Armageddon and the End of Oil approaching, this will all soon be academic, so maybe I'd better just Print Everything, or else burn CD back-ups of everything, in the hope that, with the combined efforts of our future goat, house cow, chickens and ducks, and possibly pig, plus a little ingenuity, we can learn to run a computer on methane.

Oh yes, and I have sent my first e-cards. I used to think they were a feeble substitute for 'real' cards, until my friend Cathy started sending me totally wack singing ecards for my birthday and at Christmas. I just love them! I play them over and over! So I thought I'd try to make up for my Christmas card failure with some New Year e-cards. An 'ecard' search took me to the Cirque du Soleil website, of all places. They're here this month, doing Quidam, which I've seen on video, so I was curious. Fab. The only possible hitch is that they might not get past some spam filters. Hey ho, what to do?

Monday, January 08, 2007

More of the below: 3 self and selves

Blogging. Telling it how it is. Oh absolutely!

How interesting to be invisible in public.

Who shall I be today?

There’s some kind of public self: a compound (stable but not fully fixed) of nature and nurture overlaid with subjective experience; unconconsciously filtered through personality; consciously filtered through personal morality, consideration for others, and an instinct for social survival and preservation of the core self.

By the way, how much of that gets filtered out of the blog version? What gets, um, enhanced? Arguably, you can’t fake intelligence, humour, culture, etc., though some may try. All blogs, to some degree, represent personas.

Assuming a straightforward relationship with one’s immediate colleagues, readers, whatever, there’s the other person’s – subjective - perception of ‘me’.
Friend, do you recognise and accept, or recognise and ignore, my less appealing qualities?
Foe, how does that question apply to my finer qualities?
Both, do you agree on which are which?

The public self: perhaps a matter of perception, perhaps only measurable by what it does, and how it does it.

And by way of illustration, here are one blogger’s impression of other bloggers she reads.

The family self: subject to closer and more frequent observation, and in a wider variety of situations; especially if some of the observers are children. Children are, after all, the most dispassionate of observers in many ways: while they may not immediately recognise the significance of an action or word, it takes its place in their expanding sense of the world in which they live, perhaps only to be examined years later; whereas partners, on the whole, come under the category of friends - friends, moreover, who have chosen us, which introduces a few more quirky variables to the equation.

The real self: possibly darker or more vulnerable than either of the above; certainly more complex. Who sees it? Perhaps everyone, including me, is aware of part of the whole, but probably no-one, not even me, gets it all. Certainly no-one, not even me, can predict with complete confidence what I will do in any particular circumstances. Variables again.

Nor would I want to be 100% predictable. To even want to know oneself so well suggests a worrying degree of self-absorption, and detachment from the curious business of living. This does not of course apply to me, because I’m a pre-menopausal woman and I’m supposed to think about stuff like this!

To want to know someone else to that degree suggests other problems, at least to me!

On the whole, it seems to me that the person I am now is fundamentally the person I was at birth. Had I been part of a cloning experiment, and the collection immediately dispersed throughout the world, then even allowing for some of us being placed with families of different races, or not even with conventional families, if those who survived to adulthood were brought together, I suspect that we would find we shared many common threads of experience – had made similar choices - because our different upbringings and environments would have worked on a common genetic, physiological inheritance, and the undefined, and undefinable elements that make me - me. Arguably, if our collective nerve held, we would discover as many differences and similarities amongst ourselves as exist between brothers and sisters in a single family, who share common genes and upbringing, in addition to the elements that mark them as distinct from each other.

At the same time, however, there must surely be significant differences, because our different upbringings and experiences would have encouraged or discouraged, perhaps even suppressed, specific aspects of the original me.

As a teenager, I was interested in ESP for a while, and worked my way through the local library's collection of books on mind and spirit. This brought me to Sybil, a fictionalised account of living with Multiple Personality Disorder, which was made into a miniseries in 1976, though I haven't seen it. I didn't see the 1957 film The Three Faces of Eve until years later. Such is the depth of my research.

As I understand it, multiple-personality disorder arises when a child experiences something so far beyond what its complete self can cope with, that a facet of its personality, its strength unalloyed by other, less forceful facets, assumes control for as long as necessary. However, if this happens once, it can happen again, with other difficult challenges triggering the emergence of other one-dimensional independent selves. If enough such selves emerge, or if those selves who do have sufficient strength to come through frequently, the 'original' adult experiences the loss of days and weeks. The novels and films - with different degrees of integrity - are based on doctors' documentation of the condition, and the process of therapy and eventual recovery.

Much more common, I guess, is schizophrenia, including the type that involves hearing voices which harangue the victim to do things that are utterly contrary to his or her wishes and values. The only schizophrenic I ever met was an old lady who lived alone in a flat, with a daughter who never visited, and upstairs neighbours who tormented her by playing 'Three Blind Mice' over and over on their stereo. In fact, the daughter visited frequently, only to be accused and abused; and the nursery rhyme only played in the old lady's head. Maybe it wasn't even schizophrenia, but a hideous form of senility; I never found out.

But when it comes to the voices version of schizophrenia, where do those unacceptable urgings come from?Returning to the bounds of the normal, we have play, fantasy, make-believe, theatre and cinema, and also role-play as used in training (as well as therapy). Dolphins, cats and chimpanzees may play, but only humans play-act, which requires not only imagination, but spontaneous creativity, and the ability to willingly (and temporarily) suspend disbelief.

Konstantin Stanislavski, from his base at the Moscow Art Theatre, devoted his life to developing and refining his System of actor training, which would enable his actors to play the new realistic dramas becoming popular in northern Europe at the turn of the 20th Century. The flamboyant skills required for melodrama and variety shows did not serve actors trying to portray the nuances of individual experience in Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' or Chekhov's 'The Three Sisters', or the works of Shaw in England, and O'Neill in the States. and later.

Lee Strasberg went on to develop the more famous Method, or 'method acting', on the back of Stanislavski's work. Associated with Marlon Brando, The Method is the foundation of realistic acting, and the central plank for actor training in the US, whose popular culture favours naturalism over symbolism or stylisation on stage and in movie-making.

Among the techniques Stanislavski developed at the Moscow Art Theatre, was 'The Magic If', a rehearsal tool that could enable an actor to get 'inside' the character s/he was playing. Actors would work through a series of questions 'as if' they were their character, questions such as 'Who am I?', and 'What do I want?', to establish an alternative reality to inhabit in the play. Emotional Memory is another technique, to be used with training and understanding, which can channel the actor's memory of an emotional experience into his playing of a role. At no point should the actor 'lose' himself in the role, but just as an audience suspends disbelief during a play, the Method actor can be said to inhabit a role.

Stanislavski and Strasberg are now so mainstream that schoolchildren and amateurs of all ages, without ever having heard their names, use elements and developments of their techniques. A piece of advice often given to actors is that, whoever you're playing, you need to have some sympathy with your character.

This is fine as long as your character is the good guy; rather unnerving if it's Hannibal Lecter or the Marquis de Sade. How do you have sympathy, or any kind of common ground with such a character? What does that say about you?

Then again, how do you play a fully rounded 'realistic' character while disapproving of him?

Just as most children demonstrate an instinctive aversion to playing the bad guy in games, and to investing baddie role play with any depth, we need to reassure ourselves that it's only pretend, and maintain the distance between our wholesome selves, and the depraved 'fantastic part' we're playing. However, the process of opening up a connection between the two is unsettling, because if we have a shameful memory of a petty cruel or dishonest action that gave us a buzz of illicit pleasure at the time, then drawing on that to play a part raises personal moral questions.

There are a number of actors I admire, among them Denzel Washington. In the DVD bonus material for 'Man on Fire', Tony Scott describes how, when Denzel Washington comes out of his trailer, he's in role as Creasy, a man whose entire way of life hinges on being a loner. He (Tony Scott) was worried that Dakota Fanning, who plays nine-year-old Pita Ramos, would be upset by her co-star's touch-me-not coldness, but she knew enough to recognise his particular approach to a role.

More worrying are stories of actors who deliberately stay in role, on- and off-set, for the duration of shooting. No wonder Hollywood marriages strain!

It may be the party animals who get the headlines, but most of the finest actors are remarkable only for their ordinariness in day to day life. They must be tapping into something when they're on stage or on set, but they can leave it behind when they leave the theatre or lot. Benign sybils.

Final thought: the Sybil was a medium. Cinema and theatre are media through which we are transported, without leaving our plush seats and popcorn, into another experience, another view. Doesn’t this endow live performance with an element of shaman ritual, with the actors as shamans?

As for cinema, you could say they’re our link to the bigger picture, especially if they’re on IMAX. ;)

More of the big stuff: 2 - religion and faith

Anyway, back to me!

and an element I can identify - Religion

The Roman Catholicism which was a central plank of my childhood gave me a sense of wonder about creation, and creativity; a fund of stories about human goodness, kindness and courage; a system of values; and a sense of common experience with everyone who has ever lived in belief in the divine - in whatever framework – but also a disturbing knowledge of what people will do to themselves and each other in 'defence' of that framework.

It predisposed me to be on the one hand optimistic and proactive, and on the other to view the human race as deeply flawed and very very dangerous. That old good and evil thing. God and the Devil. The conflict that sits at the core of every one of us that makes sleep, gin, ganja, shopping, squash, sex, mindless TV and sitting cross-legged on a hillside contemplating our inner glow (Oh! Religion again!) so very appealing.

However flawed my particular framework might have been; however much I chafed at the restrictions and responsibilities it required; and however spurious its core might be (Dang!); it was a framework, and, as such, as much support as cage. When I rejected both Holy Church (religion) and – no half-measures here – God Himself (faith), it therefore left a large void in my life. Not just about what to do on Sunday mornings, and what to say when I dropped something big and heavy on my big toe, but about what it was all for. Existential angst is putting it too strongly, but Christianity, so central to western thinking, is essentially linear. A quick review of the first part of the catechism, by way of illustration:

Q. Who made you?
A. God made me.

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and be happy with him forever in the next.

There! In two sentences, we cover the two biggies: who we are, and why we’re here. An ample and familiar lap to climb into with your blanket, and fall asleep in with your thumb in your mouth. It’s a good thing. The opiate of the masses………. Oh no!

Actually, oh no. As with most of history’s more resonant soundbites, it only tells half the story – but does it blindingly well. Marx had an agenda, after all, not that one could blame him.
Interestingly, Orthodox Christianity, particularly Russian Orthodox, is very much about stoic submission (Though I think Sto himself was a Greek.) , which raises the question, how far did Russian Orthodox Christianity shape the Russian character, and how far was it shaped by it? China and Russia, the two cultures where the centrally controlled, monolithic version of Communism took hold, were both part of the Mongol Empire for a large portion of its two hundred year history, and it was not the Mongol way to woo or cultivate local talent in any field: exclusion was presumably simpler than integration.

"The Mongol Empire (1206-1405) was the largest contiguous land empire in history, covering over 33 million km² at its peak, with an estimated population of over 100 million people….and at its height, it encompassed the majority of the territories from southeast Asia to central Europe.
One of the more successful tactics employed by the Mongols was to wipe out urban populations that had refused to surrender; in the invasion of Kievan Rus, almost all major cities were destroyed; but if they chose to submit, the people were spared and treated leniently. ………………………The Mongol Empire had a lasting impact, unifying large regions, some of which (such as eastern and western Russia and the western parts of China) remain unified today, albeit under different rulership."

Thereafter, these ‘unified’ regions continued to be highly centralised under their Tsars and the Emperors. Nature or nurture (if that’s the appropriate word)? Anyway, the Russian Orthodox Church (which was itself oppressed) preached submission (in common with Confucianism): persevere through earthly trials without complaint, and be with God in the next.

The Roman Catholic Church preached much the same thing but to the comparatively individualistic peoples of western Europe, who had their fair share of invaders, shifting borders and alliances, but did not, even though the Mongol Empire extended a finger as far as west as Venice, share the subjection of their neighbours to the east. I get the impression that the heart of Latin American Catholicism, imposed with fire and the sword (the original market forces) by Isabella's conquistadors and priests is closer in quality to Orthodox.

So yeah, to return from this dizzying digression, and facetiousness aside, RC is big on rights and responsibilities, yin and yan for Christians. (Oops! Facetious again!) The point is, if you're brought up Christian (whatever the specifics of title and tradition), you know where you are: you know there’s a master plan, and a Master Planner; you know that there was a Beginning, that there will one day be an End, and in the meantime, you’ve got comprehensive navigation tips, in handy user-friendly story format, to help you navigate the tricky bit in the middle. Sometimes it will be tough (disease, war, famine), but there’ll be fun stuff too (weddings, birthdays, children, friends) and the important thing to remember, what makes it all worth while, is that God loves you, and one day it will all be ……… heavenly.

And if you chuck all that, and embark on a new, officially Godless life, all that God-given purpose and direction has to go too, and it’s down to you, the Self-Help section in the bookshop, and your ‘Friends’ DVD collection. The whole of western culture is essentially linear: littered with terms like ‘the dawn of history’ and ‘the end of time’. (We’ve also got ‘the four corners of the globe’ but that is definitely beside the point.). We’ve had revolutions in the name of progress, of building a better future. All our fairy tales end Happily Ever After.

So then what?

The whole of Europe went through this once upon a time. They called it the Renaissance, the triumph of Humanism. I learnt that in History. Sorted.

O brave new world that has such people in it!

By the way, here's a map of the world's religions at the time of writing.

Identity, philosophy, popular psychology, religion, stuff like that: 1 - psychology & philosophy

I am curious about the complexities of who we are, and how we integrate the different, often contradictory aspects of ourselves.

Like most people I know the names of Jung and Freud, and that apparently everything is my mother's fault. Actually I thought that this was the central tenet of adolescence, but that, like acne, you grow out of it, but of course, these were men.....

PhilipLarkin famously blamed both parents, though his second verse might be about Jung and Freud. How come the happy people don't get famous? Imagine the million dollar best-seller, I have a great life! My parents taught me all I know, God bless'em! (Oh go on, let me miss the point if it amuses me. I don't get to do smug very often.)

From Oprah, Frasier and The Simpsons, I have learnt that families are important in determining who we are.

So I've got the main psychological theories covered.

Thanks to Monty Python I can list lots of philosophers too, and thanks to Sophie's World, I even know some of what they had to say when they'd sobered up. Actually, I must confess that I didn't finish Sophie's World. This might be the time to get it back from whoever I lent it to, or take a stroll down to House of Prose. (I obviously don't have anything else to do, with a new term starting next week!)

Yet dilutions of all of these theories have become part of how we westerners see ourselves and our world, even though most of us have probably never done our homework.

Incidentally, while Psychology is a Humanities option in the International Baccalaureate programme, all Diploma students study Theory of Knowledge: "The course discusses how the student is able to know something. The student is described as a "knower" who attempts to find knowledge, where knowledge, as defined by Plato, is 'justified true belief'.................................... The course is formulated and centered around one main question: How do you know?" Interesting, hm? A good subject for an International School, where every class contains intelligent, articulate people of several nationalities, cultures and religions; some of whom may be in positions of public influence in later life.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Today's Walk

We went for a walk with our cameras.

The sun was out, and so were the little boys,

and the big boys,

under a blissful sky.

And we saw......


Down at Jebel Ali Village Pond.

If we had this kind of weather all year round, no-one would ever leave.

And furthermore.....


From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their heads beneath white wings
By water cool,
Or finding curious things
To eat in various mucks
Beneath the pool,
Tails uppermost, or waddling
Sailor-like on the shores
Of ponds, or paddling
- Left! Right! - with fanlike feet
Which are for steady oars
When they (white galleys) float
Each bird a boat
Rippling at will the sweet
Wide waterway ...
When night is fallen you creep
Upstairs, but drakes and dillies
Nest with pale water-stars.
Moonbeams and shadow bars,
And water-lilies:
Fearful too much to sleep
Since they've no locks
To click against the teeth
Of weasel and fox.
And warm beneath
Are eggs of cloudy green
Whence hungry rats and lean
Would stealthily suck
New life, but for the mien
The bold ferocious mien
Of the mother-duck.


Yes, ducks are valiant things
On nests of twigs and straws,
And ducks are soothy things
And lovely on the lake
When that the sunlight draws
Thereon their pictures dim
In colours cool.
And when beneath the pool
They dabble, and when they swim
And make their rippling rings,
O ducks are beautiful things!
But ducks are comical things:-
As comical as you.
They waddle round, they do.
They eat all sorts of things,
And then they quack.
By barn and stable and stack
They wander at their will,
But if you go too near
They look at you through black
Small topaz-tinted eyes
And wish you ill.
Triangular and clear
They leave their curious track
In mud at the water's edge,
And there amid the sedge
And slime they gobble and peer
Saying 'Quack! quack!'


When God had finished the stars and whirl of coloured suns
He turned His mind from big things to fashion little ones;
Beautiful tiny things (like daisies)
He made, and then
He made the comical ones in case the minds of men
Should stiffen and become
Dull, humourless and glum,
And so forgetful of their Maker be
As to take even themselves - quite seriously.
Caterpillars and cats are lively and excellent puns:
All God's jokes are good - even the practical ones!
And as for the duck, I think God must have smiled a bit
Seeing those bright eyes blink on the day He fashioned it.
And he's probably laughing still at the sound that came out of its bill!

Frederick William Harvey, 1919

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Growing Season 3

I'm starting kabuki with another year group this term. Last year, we took Shibaraku as our text, touring an adapted version to The Japanese School and to Zayed University. Shibaraku is pure entertainment, and as such was a very good play to cut our teeth on, given that I was teaching from scratch.

This year, with that experience behind me, and a bigger class of students who have just done impressive work on The Merry Wives of Windsor, I want to look at something more substantial, and see if we can get closer to an authentic interpretation.

The trouble is that although kabuki is a feast for the senses, with its immaculate sets; elegant, often sumptuous, costumes; and music which, once European ears begin to attune to Asian musical scales and instruments, is utterly beguiling; many of its plots are rooted in the implacable samurai code which put duty to one's clan before everything else (or on what can happen as that code becomes a anachronism in an evolving society) ; and many of the plays involve heartbreaking sacrifices and deliberate cruelty. Getting a handle on the so-called 'aesthetic of cruelty' through which, to quote the Japanese Theatre scholar, James Brandon, 'violence and pain are made beautiful by abstraction' is quite daunting.

Moreover, in the 19th Century when Japan was in painful transition between feudalism and no-one-knew-what , (and my current read was written) the social and economic disruption of the time was reflected in its theatre. (Someone must have written a book on the type of theatre produced by cultures and societies in crisis. On the one hand there's the escapist fare of 1930s Britain, and 1940s cinema in the US;: and on the other there's the dark, dark humour and satire that is the crookedly painted grin of near-despair - Revenge Tragedy in 17th Century England; Kabuki in 19th Century Japan (tho' K. started in the 17thC.); the famous inter-war (Now there's a happy term!) cabaret of Berlin; Absurdism in post-war (Uhuh) France; Agit-Prop in Apartheid South Africa. It seems to me that what you get depends largely on whether the centre is holding, and people just need time out from being brave and all doing their bit towards a perceived common goal; or whether everything is in flux, and no-one - but no-one - really knows how it's going to end.) What kind of theatre - movie-making - novels - will the first quarter of the 21st Century produce, I wonder - in Europe - Asia - the US - Africa - .........the Global Village...........


Excuse me as I get back on my chair.....

I'm currently working my way through Kabuki, Five Classic Plays in search of the right text. The day before yesterday, I read Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani (Ichinotani Futaba Gunki) which is a classic (yup, like it says on the cover!) play in which a general, in accordance with the implied wishes of his lord, sacrifices his son to preserve his honourable enemy........ Yes. OK. And it is a wonderful play.

AND..........., Brandon says in Five, sacrificing one's child for one's lord is dramatic fiction; there is no historical instance of it in Japan. Strange, then, that it occurs in so many plays, with such poignancy. The samurai class didn't watch kabuki, preferring the more refined Nō and kyogen comedies. The audience for kabuki's samurai stories was the merchant class of Edo (Tokyo) Osaka and Kyoto, in a period of prolonged peace in which the samurai class was becoming more and more irrelevant, and soft. This urban audience's concerns (JB again!) centred on earning a living, seeking out pleasure and love, and being part of the exciting and ever-changing bustle of activity that was life in the great cities. Maybe their fictional samurai were no more realistic than our movie pirates - who apparently never went in for making people walk the plank (I know!) and also, more plausibly perhaps, didn't generally look much like Johnny Depp , either. Good grief!

Damn! Couldn't get a bigger pic!

The Greeks had their cathartic tragedies and ribald comedies. The Romans enjoyed the comedies, but chucked tragedy in favour of blood sports. Hollywood gives us Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and plenty of reasons not to move into Elm Street, or name your children Jason, Freddie, Damien or Carrie. Hmm. The Human Race, funny haha or funny peculiar?

Ooh! Ooh! BBC World is carrying a story on a comedy, 'Mein Fuhrer', made as a means of helping Germans explore how and why so many Germans followed Hitler. Brave man. Spiegel online has an article entitled Fun with the Fuhrer Wow. A German blogger has a trailer which she introduces as The real true story about Adolf Hitler! Helge Schneider is Adolf Hitler. Hilarious comedy about the most disgusting person in history, besides G.W.Bush. If you speak German, the trailer is on YouTube.

I don't speak German, so I can't offer an opinion, except on the place of comedy in our lives. I digress, but it's an interesting variation on the use of humour as a coping mechanism when we're faced with the unspeakable. In 2003, when I was in London, there was a satire, The Madness of George Dubya playing. I wish I'd seen it. At the time, I suspected it might do me good, but I was still so incredulous, bitter and nauseated by the actions and attitude of this arrogant moronic pawn of the dark powers of your choice, that I wanted to howl and vomit every time he appeared on TV. So I didn't go. Shame.

End of digression!

Then I read 'Love Letter from the Licensed Quarter' (Kuruwa Bunshō) a comedy about a lovers' tiff, at the end of which, his family takes him back and pays off all his debts, so that he can buy out her contract from the brothel (in the 'licensed quarter') where she - as a matter of honour - is earning her keep. Then they live happily ever after. After that I went out for a walk in the uncomplicated evening air.

Yesterday I read 'The Scarlet Princess of Edo' (Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshō) .

(Here, scarlet does not have the same connotations as in the West, but refers to the akahime or traditional 'scarlet robe' costume, which denotes a royal or aristocratic lady...... although Princess Sakura does fall all the way to the bottom of the pile before being restored to her original status.....just after the final curtain.........). Written in 1817, it reflects all the - um - joys - of blind transition. Adultery. Betrayal. Cruelty. Murder. Forced prostitution. Also Honour. Courage. Perseverance. Uxorial Devotion. Filial Piety. Paternal Pride. Maternal Tenderness. Self-Sacrifice. Very Nice Kimonos. Great Hair. Extraordinary Sets. All six acts of it.

After that (Your Honour) I went to Mall of the Emirates, looked at some very handsome window displays, succumbed to temptation in the Virgin video sale, and went to Cafe Paul for a piece of perfect apricot pie (perfect) and a pot of that beautiful Paul blend tea. Feeling better.

I suppose what makes these plays rather overwhelming in combination is the impression of being plunged into a completely alien culture, through a medium that speaks to the mind and emotions through all the senses. Of course, my experience of reading these plays now, having seen DVDs, heard recordings, and been involved in production - though not of any of these - is quite different from the first time I read some of them, a little over a year ago, with only a couple of Internet video clips for reference, but James Brandon presents these transcripts of performance with tremendous attention to visual and aural detail, as well as explaining the mechanics and techniques, and the underlying themes and ideas.)

The specific dilemmas and conflicts, then, and the strategies and solutions the characters resort to, might spring from an unfamiliar social code, and be expressed in an unfamiliar theatrical framework, but the relationships, the tension between individual desire and duty to anotheer party, and the emotional territory of adult life are essentially the familiar; and the whole piece plays out inside your head. Strong stuff.

Today I was transcribing my notes and doing a detailed analysis on my laptop (which is currently working - yay! - though it declines to connect to the Internet. Not a problem today, cos I've got a stack of Limewire downloads, and I put the more soothing ones on continuous shuffle, with the odd bopper like Walking on Sunshine in the mix, so I could have a little bounce now and again, to break things up a bit. After three hours of this, though I had had ENOUGH, and went out for a walk with my camera. No doubt a jog would have been a great deal more beneficial but Ha!

See Peas/Primordial Slime/Potato entry from this morning, and neighbour's veggie patch from the first bit of my walk. This is the rest of it.

3 o'clock leaf shadow

A proper palm tree - not one of those straggly California weeds! Note the irrigation tubes - not indigenous. (I mean the palm tree!)

Close-up - natural palm fibre matting

room for expansion

pampas grass on bad hair day

umbrella plants with new growth sprouting straight up

new blossom

mature blossom

The Trouble with Tribbles....

is their tendency to spread, climb,

and multiply.

Which is where our garden maintenance guys come in. Almost everything planted in The Gardens is quick-growing, and quick-spreading. All the groundcover plants have world domination built into their cells; and what looks like savage and thoughtless pruning is actually appropriate for the vigorous - nay rampant - growth habits of our potential urban jungle. I honestly thought those cheerful little yellow things would suffocate everything around them, but, five years on, everything seems to co-exist quite successfully. But the tribbles, and most of their groundcover buddies are on my list of what not to plant when we find our personal pocket paradise in Spain. Jajaja!

There you go, picture perfect lollipop trees. In a couple of months, these will be splendid again, with their red and gold leathery shields reaching for the sky and dotting the grass with colour.

The Growing Season 2

There's a serious gardener in the next building!

I love tendrils. I love the can-do energy that sends curly-whirly feelers out in search of sunlight, air and rainwater.

Courgettes! Zucchini! Courgettes!

No idea. Radishes, maybe?
See how they've made a raised bed of sweet soil on the sandy ground.

Ah. Netting. Good idea.

Everything that Habibi planted on the balcony has done well, apart from the carrots, which simply never appeared. Perhaps it has something to do with the three doves that have flown down every morning for weeks, and just love to perch on the so-called carrot trough? There are a couple of bulbuls that also swing by most days. Hmmmm.

Netting. Must remember that for future reference.

The Growing Season

Out on the balcony, we have


and signs of evolution, from rainwater on December 14th,

to primordial slime revisited on January 3rd.

We would have got rid of it at the first sign of a mozzie maternity unit, but it's obvious that UAE mosquitos haven't had much experience of algae. No alligators either, at least so far. Meanwhile our little water feature is rather beautiful, in a strange and lugubrious, Addams Family sort of way, so it stays til it dries up, or intelligent life emerges.
And then there's..............


Nature's bounty, newly emerged from an extended sojourn in the essential 'cool dark place' (bathroom! sob!). Technically, I suppose there's a rugged beauty in the interplay of shades of lavender, Spring green, and translucent white, but.......

we will be purchasing a new bag of compost tomorrow.