Saturday, February 17, 2007

An Experiment in Fluid Dynamics, or, How Not to Open a 4L Winebox

1. Place 4L box of wine, preferably, red, on top shelf of open kitchen shelving.

Note: While the shelf unit may be free-standing and empty, a richer experience may be anticipated if the unit is in a corner close to walls and a door, perhaps next to a worktop surmounted by a microwave oven or similar; and the lower shelves of the unit filled to capacity with crockery (bowls are particularly effective) , storage jars, and smaller kitchen appliances.

2. Raise arms above head, and remove cardboard seal from front fascia of winebox, creating an opening.

3. Insert fingers into opening and locate circular plastic valve unit set into foil winebag.

4. Grasping valve securely, pull through opening in front fascia.

5. When valve becomes jammed behind cardboard, pull firmly.

6. When button on front valve gets stuck on corner of cardboard, thus releasing a narrow but powerful stream of red wine over your upturned face, gasp in manner reminiscent of asphyxiating fish, and lower head to enable wine to pour over back of shirt. Do not release grip on valve.

Note: Shirt, though absorbent, will not measurably protect floor, but may be neatly wrung out later, or used in creative tie-dye experiment. (This is particularly effective, if you have had the forethought to choose a shirt of aesthetically pleasing hue, known to tone or contrast well with red wine stains.)

7. With head thus lowered and both arms still raised, use one hand to balance winebox and other to further manoeuvre valve, in order to fully pull it through the opening in the fascia, thus releasing button and stopping flow.

8. When flow unaccountably increases, vocalise loudly, taking care to keep head lowered as in #6. Vocalisation may take whatever form deemed appropriate to the situation: grunts and whoops may serve; shrieks are perhaps more appropriate for freshly chilled white wine, but research in this field is limited, and findings remain inconclusive; profanity may seem appealing, but in this writer’s view has no place in the realm of Science; clear enunciation of the name of a companion within auditory range is perhaps most practical, particularly as #10-12 require the services of an assistant.

Note: Gasping, or the involuntary and abrupt intake of air, is not recommended, due to the potential for an involuntary intake of wine into the trachea, with results which must necessarily be a distraction in the subsequent critical stages of the experiment. The spectacle, familiar in various wine-producing cultures, of the waiter imbibing a stream of the local elixir from a bottle or carafe raised high at arm’s length, requires rather more rehearsal and control than can be claimed in this early experiment.

9. At this point, take note of the fact that the valve is now in one hand, the winebox in the other, and the entire contents of the internal winebag, responding to gravity and atmospheric pressure, are now cascading over the shelf unit and your now dripping form, and bouncing exuberantly in all directions. This indicates the unlooked for separation of valve from bag, and the need for the services of the above-mentioned research assistant. Continuing to employ selected vocalisation technique, until you have elicited a proactive response from said assistant, (See #8) take a firm grasp on the winebox with both hands, and in an instinctive bacchanalian sequence of movement, transfer it first toward, and then away from, you, to end with the box resting on its back on one outstretched hand.

10.At the completion of this manoeuvre, atmospheric pressure will continue to drive the remaining liquid from the winebag, but the earth’s gravitational pull will initially cause it to be contained inside the winebox. However, as the perhaps misleadingly titled ‘winebox’ is not, in fact, designed to contain liquid unassisted, the continuing play of the previously cited forces will fairly rapidly generate a minor vinous fantasia from the now compromised seams and edges of said winebox. If you have continued vocalising through #8-9, your research assistant should now be on hand to observe and assess the situation, in preparation for practical engagement.

Note: Since this is your first foray into applied fluid dynamics (outside the environs of the shower or swimming pool), it is important to remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to respond. Be spontaneous! Exercise the mysterious creative power of human ingenuity, a power which has engendered some of the most felicitous scientific discoveries, and wonders of civil engineering, even as it continues to baffle scientists!

In consideration of likely feelings of physical fatigue, or the onset of temporary hysteria engendered by the excitement of scientific enquiry compounded by the exercise of an unfamiliar breathing technique, you should now delegate management of the winebox, indeed, of the remaining stages of the experiment, to your research assistant.

11. Having assumed this responsibility, your assistant may elect to adopt a supine position directly beneath the flow, in a manner reminiscent of the waiters cited in #8. As the stream widens and diverges, you may perhaps choose to do the same.

Note: Disregard anxieties that your action might compromise your findings, as there are a number of features of your laboratory space, and, indeed, of this experiment, which may already have invalidated it for the purposes of publication in scientific journals. You can address these when evaluating this important initial work, and preparing your grant application.

Alternatively, your research assistant might choose to transfer the winebox to a large, liquid-proof vessel, and/or attempt to reinsert the errant valve. While this course has much to recommend it, it would be advisable to ensure that the winebox remains on its back.

12. Once you are both satisfied that all is complete, you have a number of options:

  • Ignoring the drips and streams of claret on every surface, pour yourself a glass of wine and retire to another room to write up your notes.
  • Ignoring the drips and streams of claret on every surface, pour yourself a glass of wine and retire to another room to watch the DVD you set up twenty minutes ago .
  • Get out the cleaning materials: it’s going to be a long night.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Egrets in Dubai?

On several mornings now, at about seven o'clock, I've seen between two and ten white birds at the Emirates Mall interchange, on the grassed part inside the loop, where the road from Jebel Ali turns up and over the Sheikh Zayed Road, heading fro the Police Academy.

I thought they might be egrets, but here's a picture of a Little Egret from Kenya, and I think they were smaller. Plus, this is the distribution: Widely distributed including Southern Europe, much of Asia, North and East Africa, Australia and New Zealand. (i.e. everywhere except the Middle East!)

Has anyone else seen them, and can identify them? They're delicate, snowy white, and quite beautiful.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Femmes (et hommes) d'un certain âge..... plus plus!

For a school project I have been looking for representations of life in old age in mainstream films. We all know that in a predominantly visual medium dominated by Hollywood box-office values, middle-aged female characters generally function as background or minor counterpoint to male protagonists. And if you're an actor over sixty it seems to me that you have two character options, picturesque or grotesque - either in a rocker or off it - arf!.......sorry........
Oh, and there are always deathbed scenes.

There are honourable exceptions in the middle years: contemporaries of Kathy Bates, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton have enjoyed these women's screenwork for decades, and will always want more. English stage actresses Helen Mirren and Judi Dench have broken through good and proper, and Maggie Smith's up there having a great deal of fun, I think. Jessica Tandy - very talented - became everyone's favourite little old lady in Batteries Not Included, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and Driving Miss Daisy. I can't remember, but I would imagine she was in Cocoon, too, with husband Hume Cronin. Hopefully, the Talk-To-The-Hand generation will get over Lindsay Lohan and the vacuous Hollywood Teen Diet and find their own A-List to grow up with.

Still, but, however, (second cup of coffee, here!) I wish that those of us who can't get to her stagework could see more of Judi Dench's phenomenal range. Unfortunately, casting directors seem to have filed her under T (Terrifying) subset steel magnolia/rose/gardenia, bitch-queen, bitch-goddess. Yes I know she does them so well, but, Newsflash: Judi Dench can do sexy, sparkling, vulnerable and very funny as well as formidable and ferocious; more people should get to see that! It was such a treat to see her and Maggie Smith in Tea With Mussolini, and Ladies in Lavender.

I was struck by a newspaper feature describing this as the Silver Foxes' Oscar season because Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep are all up for honours. An industry commentator cautioned against seeing this as reflecting a more inclusive attitude within Hollywood, because affluent teens and twenty-somethings remain the target market. More telling is the increasing DVD market: apparently, we creakies would rather stay in than go out, and, being blessed with the patience, wisdom and home theatre systems that come with advancing years, are content to wait for movies to come out on DVD. In fact, it appears that distributors are now trying to take two bites of the apple at once. There have been rows in Germany and the UK recently, with cinema chains withdrawing films because of near simultaneous DVD releases which disregard an unofficial convention of a four-month gap between cinema and DVD release. Good grief, could we grown-ups count for something in big 'ol forever young Califo'nia?

Anyway, I have been trying to find a copy of On Golden Pond (a film I have avoided since its release) for its portrayal of relationships across generations, or Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, or Grumpy Old Men, for their inversion of ideas of what it means to be old. (I don't think they're quite ready for Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give, or Barbra Streisand's 'relationship counselling' sessions in Meet the Fockers. Plus, getting fired won't look so good on my CV.) No joy.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of working with 11-14 year-olds, it makes no difference that their actual grandparents are educated professionals with driving licences and laptops, or practise yoga, or come with them on family skiing holidays; nor that they have full use of all limbs, teeth and faculties, and a sense of humour to boot. Oh no. Say 'old man' or 'old woman' to a twelve year-old, and s/he immediately doubles over, clutches an imaginary walking stick, and commences shuffling and hacking round the room, glaring through narrowed eyes at everyone else; the epitome of the Old Man in the fairy story:

(This is actually the commedia dell'arte character Pantalone, the 16th Century stereotype of the grumpy old man!)

...or the Old Crone of the fairy story.

(This painting is by Atanur Dogan)

Perhaps I should add that this is an age group for whom Keanu Reeves is old, and who respond to the pop music music of two years ago with rolling eyes and gasps of disbelief - of course, they may have a point about that........ ;)

Anyway, I resorted to the 2003 Disney movie Secondhand Lions, which stars Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment and Michael Caine, and which I'd heard good things about but never actually seen.

(spoiler alert!) It turned out to be engaging redemption movie
in which a rootless boy finds
a family and a sense of himself,
and the old man finds a new
reason to live............
Ok, you can look now!

Living in the middle east, I had mixed feelings about the content of the story-telling sequences, but given their tongue in cheek Boys' Own Hero style, I decided to run with it. All things considered, this an upbeat and entertaining family film with warmth and humour, and the storyline is bolted together pretty well!
If the core is somewhat hackneyed, Robert Duvall invested it with something more in his role as Uncle Hub. (He made his screen debut as Boo Radley in the 1963 movie To Kill a Mockingbird, which I watched just two nights later. I must find what else he's done.)
I noted, but didn't watch, a feature on HJO (playing Walter) entitled An Actor Comes of Age. I hope that this is the case, and that now that he's older, he will be allowed to break the typecasting and extend his range.
Michael Caine had a pretty good grip on the accent, and a very nice handle on the character of Uncle Garth. I really enjoy his work, from the classic Get Carter to Little Voice to Miss Congeniality, and now this. Lovely. (BTW, if you saw Stallone's Get Carter, forget it. A travesty. No comparison. Michael Caine gives the performance of his career inthe 1971 Get Carter. Go get Get Carter!)

I did find a sequence I could use, so I'm happy.

And finally, girls, look to the future with optimism, and never underestimate the appeal of the older man......

To Kill a Mockingbird

I love the novel.

Last night I watched the film.

Classics, both.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dal'ouna in Dubai & Abu Dhabi

This is Ramzi Aburedwan, who grew up in Al Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, and won a music scholarship to study the viola in France, where he and fellow students created Dal'ouna in 2002. In concert, as in this photo, he plays the bouzouki.

Last night, Dal'ouna played a wonderful two hour set at Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre (It's a mouthful, but the alternative is DUCTAC. Oh, puhlease...) up at the top of Emirates Mall*.

None of these pictures are from that concert, but whether they're playing in Dubai, Jerusalem, Angers or Abu Dhabi, you get an ensemble of fine musicians and singers, and an evening of delightful Palestinian music, from soulful ballads, to traditional folk songs, to contemporary jazz fusion.

You can find the Dal'ouna French language website here.
And here's a translation from the programme:

Dal'ouna's music is ......... a confluence between Palestine and France and a fusion between purely traditional singing from the Middle East and jazzy melting compositions played with classical western instruments (viola, clarinet, flute, guitar, piano) and... traditional Arabic instruments (bouzouki, oud, derbouka, bendir....). The work is not frozen in either traditionalism or classicism: it is on the contrary open to outside influences.

[Since 2000, the group has played in Palestine, or for Palestine in France, Belgium and England.] Most of the concerts take place in Palestine, where, twice a year through Al Kamandjâti (The Violinist) Association, Dal'ouna and other musicians crisscross Palestinian refugee camps, villages and cities. They bring music to children, through music-training workshops and concerts.

If you live in Abu Dhabi, grab the chance to listen to Dal'ouna. This visit has been organised by the Friends of Bethlehem University.

Last night's concert was so good! Dal'ouna's line-up varies from tour to tour, but on this one there's Ramzi Aburedwan himself, Tareq Rantissi on derbouka (an hourglass-waisted drum that you tuck under your arm and rest on your thigh) and other percussion instruments, Ziad Benyoussef on the oud (Arab lute - and if you've never heard jazz lute, here's your chance!), Mohammed Najem on clarinet (and a flute that looks like little more than a length of cane) Mohammed Al Quttati on accordion, and singers Ouday Khatib and Noura Madi.

Highlights - too numerous to list - but musicianship - oh yeah.
The percussionist was amazing. Very serious too. He never left the stage, played a variety of instruments, and played the most extraordinary array of rhythms and sounds throughout the concert.
The clarinettist - well, I've never heard Arab-style clarinet, before, but this instrument was made for those slow low melancholy swoops, and long high notes. If you've heard Fairouz (or if not, Cleo Laine), and you've heard clarinet (Mozart, Weber, Acker Bilk playing Stranger on the Shore), play them in your head, and you'll hear what I mean.
I'm not a fan of the accordion, but in concert with the strings, or playing musical tag with the drums and clarinet, this works: there's a long piece about the sea, in which the accordion trots out the central phrase; reduces it to a dropping pattern of only two notes, to accent a long improvisation, at least an octave below, on the oud; and then picks up again. Some of the pieces are plain old jamming sessions!
Of the two singers, Nour had a strong clear voice which really had the range for these apparently straightforward songs where the chorus routinely highjumps an octave from the verse, and she sang with great simplicity, allowing the songs to shine. She began her first song unaccompanied, and I should have liked to hear more.
Listening to her, I was humming choruses (with the people around me) discovering that these Arab folksongs have melody patterns remarkably similar to their European cousins (as I now recognise them), but with distinctive Arab characteristics in the trills, slides and those jumps. Lastly, Ouday, who was perhaps fourteen or fifteen, with his strong boy's voice as yet unbroken, came on to sing a long, long song of such power and delicacy that it seemed beyond the scope of anyone his age, but with such clarity and integrity that we were all mesmerised.
The singers came and went throughout the set, as did the accordionist and the clarinettist, and the evening rolled on in a finely blended programme of solos, duets, and ensemble pieces.

All in all, though I did not understand the words of the songs, or indeed of Ramzi Aburedwan's introductions to the songs, I had a very good evening out! Just one thing, when I mentioned the two hour set, that's what it was: they played without a break. Take your water bottle in with you if you go tomorrow!

Dal'ouna is on at Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation on WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 7th!

I'd post a link, but the main Time Out ticket page is down, but so you'd better contact the venue direct:

The Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, Old Airport Rd (02 6215300

Situated beside Qasr al-Hosn, the foundation is housed in a delightful modern building of Islamic design with arching white colonnades, cool courtyards and restful gardens. The Cultural Foundation has an important library, theatre, cinema, lecture rooms, meeting rooms, an exhibition centre and coffee shop. The centre hosts numerous cultural events, including concerts with international and local artists, classic film festivals, art exhibitions and workshops throughout the year. Open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

So now you know!

Such talent. Such music. Such an important cause. Just go!

*DUCTAC: Great arts centre, very poorly signposted. The entrance is from the top T-Z carpark or escalator, directly opposite the top entrance to Magic Planet, almost completely hidden by an escalator and a fire exit sign................. Here's the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre webpage. I'm good to you!

Friday, February 02, 2007

High Flight

Today I came across this poem in a thread elsewhere.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
I have read it several times over the years, and flown on the back of its absolute joy, that sense of being alive that we experience sometimes, but which I for one can't describe without suffocating it in words. (If you've been here before, you know this!) John Magee caught it perfectly.

However, reading down the thread, to discover that this pilot was only nineteen when he died (in a training accident), shocked me; cutting through all the insulation I have assembled to deal with the realities of the nightly news. I sat here with tears streaming.

Perhaps we're never so consciously alive, with our future at our feet, as when we're eighteen or nineteen. Not since we cut our first tooth, said our first word, took our first step, have we so encapsulated the hopes, dreams and pride of those who love us.

Gone in a minute.

John Magee's poem took me to John Magee's parents, holding their boy's poem written on the back of an envelope, knowing there would never be another one; and to all the other parents I've seen crying on the nightly news, whether howling in agony outside a mortuary, quietly accepting their country's flag, or staring blankly into the camera in what's left of a wherever they used to live.

It's a shame the human race has such a powerful urge to kill for what it wants. And such a readiness to die for its beliefs. I wish I had a magical solution to offer as a coda to this sad entry, but as far as I can see, it's often the magical solutions (Let's do it My Way!) that lead to the worst bloodshed.

Instead, here's John Magee's sonnet on the burial of Rupert Brooke, in 1915.

We laid him in a cool and shadowed grove
One evening in the dreamy scent of thyme
Where leaves were green, and whispered high above —
A grave as humble as it was sublime;
There, dreaming in the fading deeps of light —
The hands that thrilled to touch a woman's hair;
Brown eyes, that loved the Day, and looked on Night,
A soul that found at last its answered Prayer...
There daylight, as a dust, slips through the trees.
And drifting, gilds the fern around his grave —
Where even now, perhaps, the evening breeze
Steals shyly past the tomb of him who gave
New sight to blinded eyes; who sometimes wept —
A short time dearly loved; and after, — slept.