Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lady of the Camillias

I used to read Salon, the online cultural magazine a lot back in the late 90s when I did most of my surfing in the cyber café below the video shop I used to work in. I have been out of touch a lot since then but the glory of RSS feeds has effected a rapprochement.

The first piece I read was an interview with Camille Paglia, the great American maverick feminist, one of the few of the type possessed of genuine wit, charisma and a thrilling ability to excoriate the true fools of this world. I hadn't heard much about Paglia either lately so it was good to get back in the groove. She has pertinent things to say about the Democrats' rabid zeal in throttling the Mark Foley case to death for short-term political gain, restates her view that Clinton was the biggest sexual harasser in the US for what he got up to as both governor of Arkansas and in the White House, and she also has this hilarious spiel about Bush's foreign policy and its wilful vindication of Noam Chomsky, a man whom I have begun to tire of more and more these past few years:

The feckless behavior of the Bush administration has been a lurid illustration of Noam Chomsky's books -- which I've always considered half lunatic. Chomsky's hatred of the United States is pathological -- stemming from some bilious problem with father figures that is too fetid to explore. But Chomsky's toxic view of American imperialism and interventionism is like the playbook of the rigid foreign policy of the Bush administration. So, thanks very much, George Bush, you've managed to rocket Noam Chomsky to the top of the bestseller list!

Well there was Hugo Chavez too... There are few militant leftists in the US willing to think and pronounce lucidly on real political matters, in a way that might mean defending political enemies and criticising seemingly natural allies. We should all be thankful for Paglia, a breath of fresh air in the stagnant fug of political discourse in the United States.

It'll Cost You The Shirt On Your Back...

A few weeks ago I was moaning about football teams wearing such unappealling team colours as black and grey, and I was also lamenting the ugliness of the design of many team strips these days. So I am now happy to compliment Inter Milan on their new, Nike-designed kit, which is simple, understated and uncluttered by extraneous elements that are often tacked on to make it slightly different from last year's model and thus justify fresh purchases by the faithful.

Seanachie uses the word 'retro' far too often - and far too often in a postive sense - but I like the fact that this kit recalls the one sported by Helenio Herrara's cattenaccio cloggers back in the late 60s, the same that were humbled by Celtic in Lisbon in 1967. Celtic return to the city tomorrow to face Benfica. A win will see them almost certainly through to the second round of the Champions League

Neverending Art

Typing away on this here I hoped to be able to listen to live coverage of the Derry City-Sligo Rovers FAI Cup semi-final (I am detained at home on this Hallowe'en night waiting for a plumber that has failed to arrive). RTÉ were providing coverage, but only on their Long Wave and Medium Wave services, suitably retro given that that was how I listened to League of Ireland football back in the bleak 80's on 'Sunday Sport'. I eventually gave up until I realised that BBC Foyle would be covering it too. How easily I forget the presence of British rule in Norn Iron. I made this realisation a bit late, three minutes from half-time to be precise, and within those three minutes Sligo had gone from 1-0 to 3-0 down. Disheartening stuff and I soon went elsewhere for diversion. Another season over for the Bit O'Red, though not a bad one either in their first year back in the top flight.

Before I cottoned onto the Nordy Beeb I was listening to Tom Dunne's 'Pet Sounds' show on Today FM, hoping for crumbs of information on the hourly sports round-ups. Among all the glum British indie rock was an interesting new number from former A House frontman Dave Couse, an updated version of the old 1991 single 'Endless Art', which featured a list of illustrious dead 'creatives', and which also featured a memorable video by Damien O'Donnell, who later went on to direct East Is East. This time artists, musos, and actors who have expired since the original version get a mention, such as the great Dermot Morgan, Marlon Brando, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, Rory Gallagher, 2Pac, Hunter S. Thompson and, a bit controversially perhaps, Leni Riefenstahl. The song is more stripped down than the original, and it sadly lacks the buzzsaw guitar and arching strings that so distinguished the earlier version. Still, it's nice to see (or hear) it back again. It's not the first time it has been updated though; Couse produced a version féminine in 1992 to counterbalance the slight that there was not a mention of a single female artist in the original. Worth downloading for those that do not know the song.

Seriously Bad Music

A week away from the blog, more than I had intended but the past week was exceptionally busy, between juggling two jobs and then assuming my new-found weekend muppet-drinker status. I struggled to be in my apartment for long enough to sit in front of the computer and neither was I devoted enough to hawk my laptop around to wi-fi hotspots around Paris.

I will start off again however with a fine piece from The Guardian last week by Phillip Hensher, a writer I have always had a lot of time for even if his subject matter is sometimes a bit too recherché for someone with as simple tastes as myself. Hensher rightly pours scorn on rock (or pop)-classical crossovers. Such affairs, such as Sting's latest album, covering songs by the Elizabethan lute composer John Dowland, are usually vulgar displays of pretentiousness designed to concoct some prestige for mediocre musicians who have long been ploughing the same dreary furrow.

Popular music need not try to compare itself to classical music; it is technically, intellectually, and usually conceptionally inferior. And I say that as someone that would sooner spend his days listening to The Fall or Peaches than Verdi or Puccini. Popular music, be it made with conventional instruments or machines, is at its best when it is simple, and often better still when it is minimal and repetitive. It is no different from traditional or folk music that preceded the age of recording; the basic levels of intent and capability are the same. Great pop songs such as 'C'mon Everybody', 'Like a Virgin', 'Teenage Kicks', Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' have often no more than one hook and they run with it. They may not be musically sophisticated but they produce in their modesty a resonance as rich as more exalted works. But they have their limits too, limits that are often acknowledged by the better and smarter pop musicians. It is when rock stars start to get ideas above their station and, as Hensher notes, draft in better musicians to work as amanuenses and arrange their ditties that things get embarrassing. Music of a wider intellectual, technical and yes, emotional range is more often produced by composers and virtuosi of a higher stamp. Popular music, and by that I mean art-rock collectives such as Godspeed You Black Emperor or Sigur Rós as much as Kylie or Pink, need not bother their head about this fundamental reality. There are occasions when popular music does get elevated to a minor art form, but in this case it is more an amalgam of theatre, performance art and popular song, something that has not changed much since Henry VIII first strung his lute to write 'Greensleeves'. And it is always best when it is at its simplest.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Only As Long As It's Broad

Listening to Ian Dempsey's Breakfast Show on Today FM a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to hear that Broadband internet has become a bit of a talking point among the Irish, despite the fact that hardly anybody in the country seems to be able to get the damn thing. Those good people at Eircom are offering a 2Mb per second service for €54.99 per month, a steep enough price for a service that sounds suspiciously slow. A quick check with my French ISP confirms that yes, 2Mb p/s is awfully slow. My €29.99 per month gets me access to a 28Mb p/s ADSL service as well as about 90 TV channels (admittedly almost all of them crap) and unlimited free calls to landlines in 28 countries. That puts Eircom and its Irish rivals in the shade a bit but, to be fair, there are few countries in the world with broadband capabilities as developed as France's are, and their telecommunications infrastructure has been like that since long before the Internet. Bahnhof, the Swedish ISP claims to be able to supply service up to 100 Mb p/s though that may be restricted to business clients, while Italy's serena.com's 2Mb p/s is similar to Eircom's though, at €24.99 per month, less than half the price.

Viewed from over here, this is further vindication for not living in Ireland any more. If something as basic as Internet access is so expensive and shoddy, what claim can Europe's 'most dynamic economy' have to being worthy of a 21st-century country? That a country that has made much of its money out of hi-tech industry should be struggling with antediluvian technology suggests that the money is not being saved for a rainy day. Investment is something that the Irish have more of a problem with than spending cash readily. Apart from the whines of Irish people and the brief success of Eddie Hobbs' 'Rip-off Republic' last year, the Irish are quite happy to be had over a barrel when it comes to parting with their cash for utter shite. The Irish like to moan about the price of drink in Dublin and elsewhere but nobody is forcing them to spend €100 or more on a Saturday night out. When it comes to consumerism we have a fatalistically masochistic attitude; secretly we like the pain. And, it must be pointed out that this is a time when we are paying tax at lower rates than ever, and very few infrastructural improvements worth talking about have been effected. God knows what the attitude will be like among the Plain People of Ireland when money needs to be found for these improvements when the economy slows down. There'll be no more running back to Brussels for help and the Irish will be left with their expensive computers that will be no damn use on antiquated telephone lines.

'Our' Fathers, Not 'Their' Fathers

As I mentioned last week, the unrecognised contribution of French colonial soldiers to the liberation of the motherland has been acknowledged in the film Indigènes. Clint Eastwood's much-trumpeted Iwo Jima drama Flag of our Fathers has however omitted any mention of the 900 or so black soldiers that fought for the liberation of the island. Warner Brothers claim that the film is 'correct based on the book [by James Bradley]' which is surely the most laughable defence imaginable. Nobody can claim that Eastwood is racist, given his regular championing of African-American culture and the strongly anti-racist strain of many of his films, but it is an egregious omission, one that may have been forced by suits anxious at going for the 'right demographic'.

It has always been interesting that African-American soldiers have been better represented in European films about the Second World War, though this is less due to a more enlightened worldview than the fact that they were simply more visible to Europeans in those days. Thus black American servicemen appear in Rossellini's Paisà and Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun. And then there are the cases of Korea and Japan; in Kwangmo Lee's Spring in my Hometown, there are black American soldiers featured during the Korean war, while Kim Ki-Duk's Address Unknown, treats of the racism that the mixed-blood children of Korean women and African-American soldiers have faced in Korea. In Kenzaburo Oë's novella The Catch, a pair of Japanese children are fascinated by the black American soldier held captive in their village after their country's capitulation. It is true that American soldiers were racially-segregated until the Korean war but that did not stop The Dirty Dozen from portraying them, and tackling the issue of racism too. I know of few other American movies about the Second World War that have done the same.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Misspoke In the Wheel

Hitherto obscure US State department official Alberto Fernandez has hit the news by describing his country's policies and behaviour in Iraq as 'stupid and arrogant.' That he did so on Al-Jazeera, the media outlet so often the target of the US military's homespun brand of 'media management' has seriously pissed his bosses off. They first tried to claim that he had been deliberately misquoted by the devious Arabs - the interview was conducted in Arabic, which Fernandez speaks fluently - but Arabic speakers at the BBC stated otherwise. Now a clearly chastened Fernandez has retracted his remarks, admitting that he 'misspoke', a deliciously strange word that could have been drawn from the lexicon of the Red Tsar himself. Close observers of the leader of his country would point out that Mr Bush has been prone to 'misspeak' on a few occasions. Considering that the average State department employee would probably be residing a few rungs up the intellectual ladder from Dubya, perhaps Fernandez's comments are more than a careless slip of the tongue? In any case now he has, shall we say, 'de-spoken'.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hungary 50 Years On

The fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian uprising takes place this week, amid continuing political turmoil, as a result of the shenanigans of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. Much rot has been written about the uprising, such as a piece by Kathy Sheridan in last Saturday's Irish Times. The rebels are portrayed in Western Europe by ignoramuses as persecuted victims of Communism, fighting for a free market and a return to a Catholic state; they certainly were victims, but like the reformers of the Prague Spring twelve years later they were committed socialists who did not see any need to do away with the more positive aspects of the socialist system. They were certainly not Catholic or pro-capitalist zealots as many imagine them to be. The Hungarians had a democratically-elected Communist government in the inter-war years and the memory of Miklós Horthy's puppet fascist wartime regime was still fresh in the memory. The government of Imre Nagy and the thousands of brave men and women who fought the Soviet invasion had no desire to dispense with a welfare state, wealth redistribution or secularism.

Of course their faith in Moscow's tolerance for reform was cruelly dashed and for many in the West, who had chosen to disbelieve the warnings of Orwell, Koestler and others about the ills of Stalinism, this was the end of their flirtation with Communism. Janos Kadar, the puppet installed in Nagy's stead was to eventually liberalise the Communist state by stealth but the scars of the crushing reaction to the uprising remained. There is a great interview in today's Libération with the Hungarian-born journalist and academic Pierre Kende, who fled his native country following the invasion, where he analyses the effects of the rising on Hungarian history and society.

Putin In Overdrive

There seems to be no end to the poorer qualities being revealed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Butcher of Grozny has in recent weeks expelled Georgians legally living in the Russian Federation, seen one of his most high-profile critics, Anna Politkovskaya murdered, and joked with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the rape charges facing President Moshe Katsav. Now he has alleged that Georgia is gearing up for a war in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, something which the small Caucasian state might consider a little beyond its means when faced with the military might of Russia, not to mention its liberal interpretation of both the rules of engagement and the Geneva Conventions, as evidenced by the war in Chechnya. But Putin still alas commands much support in Russia. The Russians like their strongman tyrants.

Friday, October 20, 2006

That Friday Feeling

Being now a 9-5 person again for the first time in many years the advent of the weekend has assumed a new significance for me. I am usually finished at 4.30 on Friday evening and those precious two days ahead of me dangle inticingly. Though my responsibilities elsewhere have not been exhausted and I still have a couple of weeks of weekend work to go, I can see myself turning into a Saturday night drinker, an enthusiastic participant on 'Amateur Night' as bartenders and seasoned drinkers call it. But not tonight. Football in the morning.

Really Simple, Like

Does anybody else use RSS feeds? I'm sure that for many they are an indispensable tool to access information every working day. I however do not know a single other person that uses them. I have used a number of readers over the past year or so, my favourite being the free one Vienna, mainly because it is free but because it is easy and practical, and operates as a browser in itself, thereby allowing easy downloads and links. For some reason some feeds imported via Firefox do not always validate due to HTML issues but the same feeds work fine if you click on the RSS icon in the address bar on Safari (and yes, you can get Underachievement feeds this way, folks). While RSS as its full name 'really simple syndication' suggests it saves much time in accessing news stories, the net result for me is that I end up reading far more nonsense online, because I have a rather bulimic appetite for importing feeds in order to find out what is going on in the world. That's how this blog gets to you, folks.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Two French Films

Two French films that have been generating pages of press coverage since their releases last month. The first is a film that has been hailed by the French media as a revival of the Nouvelle Vague spirit. It is the third film by Breton director Christophe Honoré, Dans Paris, which stars two bright lights of the French film industry Romain Duris and Louis Garrel as brothers bumming around in their father's apartment in the 16th arrondissement, a swish pad with a balcony view of the Eiffel Tower. Garrel is the younger, a student with a penchant for picking up girls by charming them on the street - a male Parisian feature that is much more endearing onscreen than in real life - while Duris is undergoing a deep depression after getting dumped by his girlfriend, with whom he had moved to the countryside. Now back in Paris, he spends most of his time in bed, refusing to eat and crying at regular intervals.

Their father is a writer of sorts, who barely indulges their fecklessness and worries periodically about the sanity and safety of his older son. Nothing much happens in the film, as in many French arthouse productions, and there is minimal character development by the time we get to the end. The debts to the Nouvelle Vague are so large as to potentially overwhelm the film or render it an annoyingly postmodern homage: the improvised playfulness of the characters indoors is straight out of the Godard of À Bout de souffle and Une Femme est une femme (if one closes one's eyes one can see a palimpsest of Jean-Claude Brialy wheel about the apartment on his ten-speed racer), while the chance meetings on the familiar streets and bridges are reminiscent of Truffaut and Eustache. The lengthy inconsequential dialogue could have been written by Eric Rohmer, or even Jacques Rivette. But the film never seems strained; even if the film's raw material can in no way be called fresh, there is a briskness and charm to it that allows it to shake free the whiff of déjà-vu that does it darnedest to dog it from the beautifully simple opening credits.

Even the presence of Garrel, the sort of spoiled bourgeois man-boy Parisian that I particularly loathe, with his eminently punchable face and ridiculously bouffant hairstyle, fails to sour things. He has been dreadful in two awfully pretentious films in the past couple of years, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers and his father Philippe's Les Amants irréguliers, both films set during the May '68 riots but here he is just about tolerable. Duris is, as ever, both subtle and touching, bringing a quiet grace to a role that he could easily have drowned in petulant overacting. A point to make about the film's spirit is the condition I was in when I saw it: sleepy from lack of sleep the night before I was having trouble following all the French dialogue, which is both heavily accented and fast. So I decided to stop straining to listen and to simply absorb what I could hear. I feel I missed very little of importance but the film's impression was still strong. I look forward to seeing it again and listening more attentively.

A completely different film, and still top of the French box-office after three weeks is Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes. Bouchareb has been working for more than ten years as a producer of interesting independent films such as the work of Bruno Dumont and Ziad Doueiri's excellent Lebanese Civil War comedy West Beirut, here he turns director to tell the oft-forgotten tale of North African servicemen who fought as volunteers to free the 'motherland' France during the Second World War. There are many in the English-speaking world who never tire of sneering at the French record in the Second World War and the way they capitulated to the Nazi invasion, though had the UK shared a land border with Germany, as ill-equipped as they were at the time they would have been just as easily overwhelmed. The man who knew this most at the time was Winston Churchill. To dismiss the French part in their own liberation is similarly disingenuous; the taking of Marseille and the advance through Savoy towards Alsace and Lorraine was a vital part in the liberation of France and opening up the route to Berlin. And, as this film reminds us, many of those involved were Arabs from the colonies (and servicemen from the Black African colonies too).

The film gathers the four-biggest French Arab male actors, and the ensemble cast carried off the Best Actor award at Cannes this year: Sami Naceri, who is most famous for his starring roles in the Taxi films; Jamel Debbouze, the darling of new French comedy, and who has been seen in Amelie Poulain and Luc Besson's recent A.N.G.E.L.A.; Roschdy Zem, probably one of the best French actors of his generation, who has played everything from boxers to social workers to cops to drug dealers and who often lifts the most mediocre of urban dramas with his presence. Then there is Sami Bouiajila, probably the least known of the quartet, who has acted in films by Arnaud Desplechin and Michel Blanc among others but who is hardly the sort to carry a film on his own. Here however as the Corporal Abdelkadder, he steals the show, being the noble, diligent type that sees to the needs of his men, particularly the illiterate Algerian peasant played by Debbouze, while also needling his pied noir Sergeant Martinez, with whom he has a troubled but mutually-respectful relationship. Abdelkadder is also unafraid of voicing his opinions on independence for the Arab and African colonies, equating the fight to free France from Nazism with the desire for freedom for his own people.

It is an old-fashioned war film, unremarkable for the most part in its plotting and scripting; many of the characters are a bit shopworn but the novelty of seeing Arab protagonists in a historical setting from which they have been systematically hidden generates enough interest to ignore these shortcomings. Critics might claim that the film's agenda is politically correct, observing racial quotas for its own purposes but the film admirably eschews a simplistic castigation of the ungrateful French. Though the racism prevalent at the time is detailed in the censoring of Messouad's (Zem) love letters to his Marseillaise lover, the film engages in no retrospective reshuffling of the relationship between the colonised and the French, one which was uneasy but often one of genuine respect on the part of the Arabs.

The film in its simplicity and its overfamiliarity makes it somewhat like Saving Private Ryan, though the pedantry of Spielberg's brutal battle scenes is missing. Bouchareb's battle scenes are thrilling and well-mounted, and the finale in a deserted village in Alsace is a superb conclusion. The film's closing title card reminds us that pensions paid to soldiers from the former colonies were frozen by none other than de Gaulle himself in 1959, and that despite a Council of State edict in 1999 that the pensions be reinstated, successive French governments have failed to do so. That French political parties can live with such a shoddy treatment of men and women who risked their lives for the freedom of France is shocking.

The film also offers a poignant reminder of what has been lost in the past sixty years. A grudging respect has since vanished due to a bloody war of independence in Algeria, followed by the rise of the far right in France and the country's indifference to the fate of its immigrant populations. These days French Arabs face the worst type of racial discrimination, the worst of probably any country in Western Europe, being tagged with every form of epithet from thief to misogynist. As Debbouze, who is an astute social commentator as well as a great comedian said in a recent interview in Le Nouvel Observateur: 'When you were a kid, you had to prove you weren't a drug addict or a scooter thief. Now it's more difficult. Young people have to prove they're not terrorists, that they don't beat their wives, that they're not anti-semites." The success of Indigènes is heartening, and hopefully it will be replicated internationally, which may go some way to making Europeans view the Muslims among them with a bit more humanity.

Artistic Licence

The new Swedish goverment of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's Alliance for Sweden has seen two of its new cabinet appointees resign after only ten days in power. After Trade Minister Maria Borelius resigned having been caught hiring nannies on the black, new Culture Minister Cecilia Stego Chilo handed in her badge for the same misdemeanour, as well as a failure to pay her TV licence for sixteen years, which, for a Minister for Culture might raise eyebrows even among a people as legendarily uncivic as the Irish.

When Reinfeldt's government took power a couple of weeks back I was not too concerned as Sweden's conservatives these days are more like so-called socialists in most other parts of Europe and are unlikely to attempt the (relatively) disastrous social rollbacks that Carl Bildt's early-90's government effected, though Bildt is back in government as Foreign Minister. And besides, after almost ten years of rule by Göran Persson's SDP, a change is not a terrible thing for a couple of years, and neither is the far right involved, as has been the case in Norway and Denmark. Change might even be healthy.

What is amusing though is the fact that minor offences can be such causes for concern in the body politic. One part of me giggles while another part salutes this alertness to a rot in the state of Sweden, an alertness that has its root firmly in Protestant righteousness. Irish people would laugh at you if you suggested that tax evasion was a resigning issue. And so would many other peoples in Europe. No surprise then that Bertie's doctoring of the substantial payments he received from friends and donors while Minister for Finance in 1993 should see his governments rating rise. We have a lot to learn from those self-righteous Swedes.

Zip Up Your Mickey: My Story

A week into my new teaching job I already feel like a teacher, consigned to wear the cloak for decades to come. The rites of passage were bestowed on me today ten minutes into a language class with a group that I have teaching for the past week. After a breezy introduction to the lesson I noticed that a row of girls in front of me were smirking uncharacteristically (I feel I must point out, to satisfy the prurient, that they are all between the ages of 25 and 35). Instantly I felt that something was badly wrong. I was wearing a pair of sta-prest slacks that are so comfortable that often you forget to zip them up. And so it was: upon turning towards the blackboard I realised that I was flying lower than Mohammed Atta at flight school.

And so I was left in the difficult situation of having to raise the drawbridge while being the centre of attention in the room. I resumed position behind my desk though this was a flimsy barrier as all the students could see under it. I strategically ad-libbed and ordered my charges to read a passage that they were due to come to ten minutes further on. While they were distracted I lifted the anchor, though I could swear it was audible to everyone in the room.

It was all to no avail as by then my usually sanguine composure had been shot and my face had turned a telling peuce. I might be able to lie but my corpus has much more difficulty in this respect. Now I am no longer the cool new teacher (and, to be honest, I probably never was) but I am the standard buffoonish schoolmaster. I can already see my trusty students morph into the Bash Street Kids at this literal dropping of the guard.

No Green Bottles

While in Stolly's tonight watching Chelsea beat Barça 1-0 in the Champions' League, and while the expat crowd as usual, drank the bar dry of bottles of Heineken and Budvar, an observation I have previously made sprang to mind. French guys don't drink bottled beer, even when it is cheap (and in Stolly's 33cl bottles of Heineken at €4 and Budvar at €4.50 are cheap by Paris standards). They are more likely to go for the cheapest of the cheap lagers or pay for a bit of prestige by ordering a mouldy Kilkenny or Guinness from a line that hasn't run in over two days. It makes no difference if these lads are seasoned drinkers or people in for a shandy (or panaché as the locals call it) after work, they still won't touch beer in a bottle. Why is this?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Having dinner with a pair of expat Paddies the other night, the Internet was summoned when we all got a bit biccied and I got my introduction to Langerland, the latest in excellent satire to come out of Ireland. Hilarious, offensive, irreverent and witty it is a worthy successor to the fondly-remembered Slate. Does anybody know if any of the guys from the Slate have a hand in this? My favourite is 'What Have The Brits Ever Done For Us?' Stellar.

Monday, October 16, 2006


An unexpected pleasure, and one of the best films of the films so far this year is To Get To Heaven First You Have To Die, the third film by the Tajik director Jamshed Usmonov. I had seen his previous one, The Angel On The Right, which was released in 2003 and treated of the release from prison of a small-town alcoholic. It was an impressive, if not overly remarkable film. To Get To Heaven though is a real breakthrough for a director who benefits from a generous attitude from French producers who provide him with skilled technicians as well as the necessary funds.

The tale tells of Kamal a young married man unable to consummate his marriage due to what are probably erectile problems. He goes to visit his cousin in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe for no apparent reason and on the way and while there he stalks women with little success. Even when his cousin books him a date with a prostitute his faltering returns as it does when one of his stalkees invited him home. The film takes a turn for the slightly generic when the woman's husband catches him in bed with her and, instead of assaulting him, urges Kamal to help him in a few raids on the wealthy homes of the capital. The husband, played by Maruf Pulodzoda, the alcoholic of The Angel On The Right, is a physically fascinating villain, his brooding, barely-constrained violence contrasting superbly with the glazed impassivity of Kamal, whose Buster Keaton eyes enquire, provoke and frustrate.

The film is full of scenes that operate as mini-narratives and which lurch towards one possibility before sidestepping in another direction. The first of these is the opening scene where Kamal strips for some unclear reason before we realise it is a medical inspection, and then the doctor's probing questions about his marriage night suggest that he might just be an old pervert. We are about forty minutes into the film before the first ordinary, less-than-brilliant scene arrives; the film's average soon picks up again though. Highlights are the scene where Kamal follows an attractive older women on his train journey and the scene where he helps a flirty woman bring her shopping home only to discover her husband when he reaches her apartment. The photography and editing are second to none, and though the chain of fantastic scenes might suggest an overabundance of brilliance, the film never seems strained or too rich. Elsewhere it is almost perfect: there is very little dialogue but when there is it is excellent and often mordantly funny, and though the mise en scene is painstakingly precise the action does not seem mannered or choreographed. There is real emotion in the characters and the acting is never catatonic, as is often the case in art movies of this type.

Of course the film is not perfect; as the plot summary above indicates, the plotting is perfunctory in the extreme and characters, such as Kamal's cousin disappear as mysteriously as the Fool in King Lear. There is also something mechanical in the passage à l'acte which allows Kamal to overcome his condition, in the spirit of the title. But the film's superb technique and direction married with its detail, at once economical and rich makes it unforgettable. What really clinched it for me was the insight into everyday life in a city and country we know so little about it gives. Central Asia looks fascinating, a whole sub-continent that was obscured to the world for so long under the blanket of Russianness. This is a film I recommend everyone see; you will not be disappointed.

A Strange Sad Case

In the news in France, and presumably more so in South Korea, is the tale of two infant corpses that were found in the deep freeze of an expat French family's house by the father of the family, who was unaware that they had been placed there by his wife, who gave birth clandestinely twice, and has apparently since confessed to a third infanticide, though this has been reported only in Korea, and the family are currently been held back at their French home in Tours.

What is especially bizarre is the fact that the two babies were born seperately in 2002 and 2003, in other words, before the family moved to Korea last year. It seems that the mother Véronique Courjault, 38 transported them from France to Korea without them ever being detected. A further strange twist is provided by the news, again from the Korean media, that DNA tests have shown that her husband Jean-Louis, was the father. He denies this and denies knowing of the two births, and one might be inclined to believe him as it was he that averted the police to the discovery.

The Koreans are claiming that the French authorities and the defence team are being arrogant and racist in not taking the affair seriously. Expat French whose children attend the Seoul lycée where Madame Courjault taught are having uncomfortable frissons at the news. While all information on the affair, whether it is surfacing in France or Korea is hazy and it will be some time before the truth becomes clear, it seems obviously that there is a person with a severe mental illness at the centre of it. It is a terrible thing to say when the case occurs the death of two, and possibly three, children but the storyteller in me keeps thinking of what an intriguing novel or film the affair would make. Im Song-Soo, director of last year's The President's Last Bang, an excellent account of the assassination of Korean president Park Chung-Hee in 1979 is probably one of the many Korean filmmakers keeping a close eye on the affair.

Trials of Two Iranians

Israeli President Moshe Katsav has today been arrested on charge of raping a female colleague, after complaints of sexual assault by six women. Is this the first time a head of state has ever been arrested in this way? I recall a former Malaysian Prime Minister being tried on trumped-up charges of buggery a few years ago but he was not in office at the time and was framed by his political enemies. While I believe in the innocence of anyone until proven guilty, that such a thing could happen demonstrates the strength of Israeli civil society, which has much to admire about it in spite of that state's often disgraceful treatment of the Palestinian population.

Meanwhile the President of Katsav's country of origin, Iran, the zany Mahmoud Ahmedinijihad has claimed that his American counterpart, one Mr Bush, is guided by Satan and that Mahmoud himself has inspirational links with God, which is a lot like what Bush himself is reported to have claimed on a number of occasions. As Leonard Cohen once said, one of us can't be wrong. Or can we be? Who is more evil, Iran or Satan?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Vikash Says No

Maverick footballer Vikash Dhorasoo is undergoing an existentially stimulating passage in his life, having just become the first French footballer ever to be sacked by his club. Paris Saint-Germain fired him for 'disobedience'; Dhorasoo in a moment similar to Herman Melville's Bartleby saying 'I'd prefer not to', refused to train the day before the recent return tie against Derry City and PSG also allege he stole a confidential document, a club fitness programme, which Dhorasoo showed to the media. Vikash should now have more time to focus on his film projects and the good side-effect of this affair is that it separates this most likeable of footballers from the most dislikeable of clubs. Dhorasoo is likely to have careers that lead him far beyond the football field.

Double Double

Twice this week I encountered identical people dressed the same. Once, on rue du Faubourg St-Antoine, where I saw two redheaded women in their forties, probably twins, wearing the same yellow coats and jeans-hoody combo and the same large sunglasses that elided any possible dissimilarity between them. They looked like something out of a David Lynch film.

Then on Thursday night, cycling through the Marais on my way back from The Knife, I saw two burly, shaven-headed guys, possibly a gay couple, dressed in the same bomber jackets, yellow polo shirt and blue jeans. At what point does dressing casually become dressing up? Or become fancy dress, even?

Män In Black

Seanachie's first outing to a big gig in a few months took place on Thursday night, when he got on his bike and whisked himself up to La Cigalle to see The Knife, back in town for their second live show this year. The Knife do not really do live music, mechanical instruments are few and far between on their recordings, and like many electronic acts before them they use a few extra devices to beef the show up. The first of these is that both Olof and Karin dress in all black, with balaclavas, something they probably would be unlikely to have done in the heyday of European terrorism. I quipped to a friend of mine who was at the show "how do we know it's them?" and he said "because that's what they looked like last time". So far so seen before, in the tradition of Kraftwerk, Altern8, Slipknot and so on. I even think Alice In Chains did something like that once. The pair are active enough on stage, Olof beating a few melodies out on his drum panels, Karin dancing and clapping her hands self-consciously as the beats thunder around her. It was Andreas Nilsson's projection-and-light show that had everyone talking after their gig up the street in La Loco in June and it is an impressive sight, projections on two screens - one behind the stage and a transparent one in front - shifting from abstract Norman McLarenesque animations to weird montages of surfers and gogo dancers. Then there is the phantom organ-grinder standing behind who grinds out a strobe, his face changing with each projection.

But there was music too. There is a lot of backing track played, included some of the male vocals, provided on record by José Gonzalez and others, but the band are not lazy. Most of the songs are distinct from the versions on the albums, Seanachie's own personal favourite 'You Make Me Like Charity' (which has the wonderfully enigmatic chorus 'you make me like charity instead of paying off taxes') was transformed into something more anthemic. Most of the tracks played were unsurprisingly off the most recent album 'Silent Shout', including the gentle 'Marble House', the recent single 'Like a Pen' and the magisterial 'We Share Our Mothers' Health' a song that swallows the ambient air in as ferocious a way as The Fall's thumper from last year 'Blindness'. And there was 'Heartbeats', covered this year by José Gonzalez and the success of that version no doubt propelled The Knife further into the minds of people. Some say that Gonzalez's version is better; it's not but it does demonstrate how strong and how brilliant a song it is. The concert was short, no more than fifty or so minutes, as has been the case lately with the band. I suppose they were a bit warm in those costumes. So it was back to the bar which was full of lovely Swedish eye-candy. I should do this more often.

What I Learned This Week

That the businesses on rue de Rosier, Paris' most Jewish street are split along sectarian lines, on each side of the street, the Sephardim on the north side, with their falafel and kebab houses and the Ashkenazi dumpling and borscht restaurants on the south. Still no cheeseburgers to be had at Mickey's New York Deli, and only Chez Marianne opens on the Sabbath.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Don't Pay The Ferry Man

Cynicism has long bitten the Seanachie instep, to such an extent that he walks with a pronounced limp this days, so he has always been, shall we say, a bit intransigent when it comes to the burning issue of Christopher Davison - or, as he is better known by his glittering stage name - Chris de Burgh. Few pop singers have sought glamour in the heritage of the Anglo-Norman ascendancy. But then few pop singers are like Chris de Burgh. Chris lives in an irony vacuum, which can only explain why he turned out such inappropriately hilarious anthems for so long, and got so stroppy when people started taking the piss out of him. When his daughter Rosanna lifted the Miss World crown a few years back, thereby laying to rest forever the cruel stereotype that Irish women are all mingers, she mumbled that her Dad has been shoddily treated by the Irish media and public, which presumably puts the 'pint-sized popster' (©Gift Grub) on a similar level with Noel Brown, James Gralton and other people that did not pity themselves quite so much.

Now Chris, who has for a long time been out of the public eye for reasons other than his daughter's excellent desire to work with children and his dropping of the hand with the family's nanny at inopportune moments, claims that he has the power to heal. Which will be a grim irony to those many thousands of people that fought long and hard to overcome the trauma induced by 'Spanish Train', 'Patricia the Stripper' and 'Lady In Red' in order to see them as the tacky kitsch classics they really are. Chris' hardcore fanbase, of whom I know a few, are caught in a similarly hermetic frame as their idol, and they also resemble fans of The Eagles, who take it as a given that Don Henley and Glen Frey fronted the greatest rock band that has ever strung a Stratocaster. My question is, do Chris' healing powers extend to those that have rarely been too persuaded as to his otherwise undoubted greatness?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Young Turk

It is Nobel Prize for Literature-time again. Every year conservative writers whinge that it is only lefties that get honoured, and usually for "politically-correct" reasons. It is true that most of the winners are men or women of the left, and the worthiness of some is dubious, but the reality is that most of the good writers of literature in the world - and I emphasise the word "literature" - are left-wing. There tend to be some exceptions, such as 1999 winner V.S. Naipaul, but the right-wing literati are a poor lot.

This year it is the liberal Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk that has been honoured, and, in my view, a bit prematurely and for overly political reasons. I recall reading in The Observer a couple of years back a gushing piece by Pamuk's friend and translator Maureen Freely, who said that Pamuk was due a Nobel any year now. And now it has happened, soon after his abandoned trial for 'insulting Turkishness', an affair which demonstrated the infantile nature of the modern Turkish republic and which garnered Pamuk much support and publicity in the West. Pamuk born into a wealthy, francophile family has always positioned himself on the border between Turkey and the west, often in a strained tendentious way, such as in his impressively-written but overrated international bestseller My Name Is Red. A Turkish friend of mine, who is no firebrand nationalist nor a strict Muslim, and who reads widely, dismisses Pamuk with the epithet 'asslicker'; and he knows whose ass is being licked. I have yet to read his more recent novel Snow, which treats of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey, but I was impressed by the extract that I read in Granta. But I have been left cold by both My Name Is Red and The New Life, the earlier novel, which was the fastest-selling book in Turkish publishing history. I am sure that Pamuk will become a Nobel-worthy writer at some point. He is still young as world-renowned writers go, only fifty-four, but just yet he is not the match of more recent winners Kenzaburo Oë, José Saramago, nor even his contemporary Elfriede Jelinek.

Yes but...

A spirited performance by a severely-depleted Ireland rescued Steve Staunton last night as they drew 1-1 with the Czech Republic. However the fact that Staunton can still be in a job means that nothing has been learned from Saipan. Looking objectively, a home game against a team such as the Czechs should be a win for Ireland; otherwise there is no point in turning up for international game. That we are now grateful for a draw pulled out in adversarial circumstances only emphasises how far we have fallen. Staunton still has to go; he is out of his depth and as long as he remains in his job - and John Delaney in his - Irish football will remain mired in the dark ages.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Another Fine Mess

Ireland will be missing 16 of their squad for the European Championship qualifier against the Czechs tomorrow night, including their two first-choice goalkeepers. The FAI claim that Steve Staunton's position is safe, regardless of the result. We all know how votes of confidence in football turn out. Our chances of reaching the finals should be over by this time tomorrow. How have we fallen so far so quickly? Our players might be for the most part average (and few of them are primadonnas as many in the Irish media have claimed) but look what Lawrie Sanchez has done with far less for the North. The FAI's website has been largely taciturn since the game in Nicosia, preferring to concentrate on underage football matters. Is there any hope at all that John Delaney will follow Stan out the door this week?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Good Feeling About This

Le Pressentiment, the first film directed by the eminently admirable French actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin, takes place in Belleville, right up the street from chez moi and many of the locations are familiar to me on a day-to-day basis, including the funfair at the Bastille end of boulevard Richard-Lenoir, where I drunkenly shot at the rifle range last night with a few friends - real bullets as the poor guy at the stand informed us - and the actual cinema where I watched the film itself, the Majestic Bastille, right opposite the funfair. I remember John Banville telling of watching Polanski's Repulsion back in the 1960s in the very cinema that features briefly in the film. While Le Pressentiment is not quite Polanski there is a similarly pleasing weirdness to this coincidence.

The film is based on a 1930s novel by Emmanuelle Bové and treats of a wealthy lawyer who abandons his family to live a life among the great unwashed. The film takes the premise as a given and spends very little time on it, concentrating instead on the lawyer, played by Darroussin himself, and his relationship with the traumatised teenage neighbour whom he takes under his wing. The presentiment of the title is of something that surfaces in the last 15 minutes of the film and remains ambiguous beyond the closing titles. The film shares the humanism of the films of Robert Guédiguian with whom Darroussin has made about a dozen features, and the novels of Daniel Pennac, which are also set in Belleville but the film has none of the sentimentalism of either of those. The film is quietly remarkable and it is particularly lucid on the phenomenon of gentrification: no matter how sympathetic to the proletariat the middle-class interloper might be, the class difference is inelisable. I read this week an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur with the young Breton director Christophe Honoré, whose new film Dans Paris will be reviewed soon on this blog. He lives close to Belleville, on the crossing of rues Jean-Pierre Timbaud and Oberkampf and asserts that there is no aggressiveness towards him displayed by the Arabs, Africans or proles of the quartier. He makes it sound like he wishes there were.

I was mainly struck by the Darroussin's character's habit of nodding off while reading which is identical to mine, the eyes slowly shut involuntarily and the book held between the fingers keels over, no longer of any use. It is nice to know that somebody else has the same problem as me.

Flower of Scotland

As I said in the last post, congratulations to Scotland on their trevellyan work in beating France 1-0 at Hampden Park (France have all of a sudden been elevated back up to 'best team in the world' status by the world's media). It was an old-fashioned international, a limited Scottish team holding out against a rampant French in the first half and then taking one of their few opportunities in the second half. Derry City played more football at the Parc des Princes last week than the Scots did at Hampden yesterday and at times the gap in class seemed as stark as that between the Candystripes and PSG but you cannot begrudge Scotland their win. It is a shame that the country that has traditionally been the best exponent of the beautiful game in the British Isles were incapable of holding onto the ball for longer than thirty seconds but they played to their strengths and so the scoreline says. David Trezeguet, looking increasingly a spent force and not yet 30, was a particularly ungracious loser saying that 'if Scotland qualify it will be pretty bad, because they are not a proper football team', while adding that he could not have been offside for the goal he scored because the defender knocked it back to him, which will be a revelation to the hundreds of thousands that were watching it on television. Much more admirable were Trezeguet's teammates Thierry Henry, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribéry and the batty coach Raymond Domenech - to whom I am slowly beginning to accord some respect - who accepted their failings in a game that they should have won against a team that fought well and stymied them as much as possible. Real professionals and they will soon bounce back and will have no trouble qualifying from this group. I wish Scotland the best of luck; eliminating Italy would be a great laugh and for the first time ever the Scots are playing like the Irish. I hope Steve Staunton's men are paying attention.

Cyprus 5 Ireland 2

People with at least a passing interest in Irish football will have already made up their own mind about this result. Considering that most of the empty seats in Nicosia were explained by Cypriot fans protesting against their team's bad form, an appropriate protest by the now long-suffering Irish fans would be to desert Lansdowne Road for the game against the Czechs on Wednesday night. I did not watch the game, partly because the memory of the same game spoiling my birthday at the same time last year was too raw (reading a pre-match article in The Guardian which stated that we were outplayed by Cyprus - despite winning - was too much) and partly because France-Scotland was on at almost the same time, well done to the Jocks on that one. I had a bad feeling about the Ireland game since Steve Staunton picked up his suspension in Stuttgart last month. Reports indicate that Cyprus might have scored even more. As a Danish friend reminded me after the game this is one of the biggest humiliations ever in international football. We were not merely beaten by an opportunist opponent but completely embarrassed. The players, the coaching staff and the FAI need to understand this. After four defeats in five games it should be clear that Staunton is not up to the job and he has to step down after Wednesday's game. And the FAI's entire executive board, who promised a 'world-class manager' to us last winter should be next to go. Putting a Charlton-era old boy in the hot seat was obviously a conveniently cosy appointment for them but they have been sorely found out. The corruption within the FAI is not in any way more different from that in Irish society as a whole but I think it would be an interesting experiment if running this rotten organisation might be outsourced for a year or two to the GAA. As charmless as the flat-cap gombeen men might be, they get things done, and generally in an efficient way. This most Irish of sporting associations is the least Irish in terms of competence. We are not going to get anywhere near Austria/Switzerland but the rot should be stopped straight away all the same.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Eyes Wide Shit

It is nice to know that Stanley Kubrick shares my opinion of his last film Eyes Wide Shut; according to an interview given to the Guardian by Kubrick's friend R. Lee Ermey (he who played the colourful drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket), Stanley thought that it was 'a piece of shit' that had been ruined by the interference of its two stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Ermey also claims that Kubrick was a shy timid man who allowed himself to be swayed. This might be the case but I also remember seeing him bullying Shelley Duvall in a particularly mean fashion on the set of The Shining. I am also well capable of believing Kubrick's claims of interference by Cruise and Kidman but to be totally honest, despite all the talent involved in the film, Kubrick himself, screenplay by Frederic Raphael and source text by Arthur Schnitzler, the finished product looked like it had a lot more wrong with it than self-indulgent performances. And surely Kubrick could have cast the film otherwise.

The funniest thing to be read in the Guardian article is Kidman's standard luvvy declaration of her love for working with Kubrick: "it was incredibly rewarding, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat." In the trailers for Lars von Trier's Dogville, there is a scene where Kidman, out of character, says the same thing in the video confession booth that von Trier had set up. As is well known, on the set of that film, von Trier answered Kidman's anguished query "How can I make you love me, Lars?" with "Let me fuck you and give me all your money". Life brings its own rewards.

Hammers of Hell

New Argentine national boss Alfio Basile is not too impressed with West Ham United; he has advised surprise signings Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to leave the club as soon as possible. Seeing as the two players have struggled and the club not won a game since they joined, it might well be a present-day equivalent of Alberto Tarantini, as suggested on this blog five weeks ago.

Rovers Return

Sligo Rovers march on to the semi-finals of the FAI Cup following a pulsating quarter-final replay with valiant non-leaguers Killester United, who equalised three times before going down 4-3 after extra time. It could well be Sligo's year once again, twelve years on from their last success; it has to be admitted that their path this year has been fairly easy - two non-league teams and Bray Wanderers - but nobody asks questions once you get to the final.

Happy Birthday to Me

Birthday celebrations for Seanachie today, who shares a birthday with a number of personalities, including Kate Winslet, who first saw the world on the very same day 31 years ago. I have always known that other people celebrating at the same time include Niall Quinn, Bruce Grobbellaar and Gerry Adams. Wikipedia tells me that other birthdays today include those of Britt Ekland, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of Brazil, who has been going through a rough time lately, Elisabeth Shue, and among the departed, Carole Lombard, Barbara Castle and, closest to Seanachie's heart Le Corbusier.

A number of famous folk expired on this day, most notably Anwar Sadat, assassinated in 1981, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Stewart Parnell, hence his memorial Ivy Day falling on my birthday every year. Not that anyone celebrates it anymore but I never knew, all those years, reading Joyce's funniest story 'Ivy Day in the Committee Room' that the day in question was my own birthday.

My favourite event that fell on this day is undoubtedly the momentous day in 1966 when the United States banned LSD. Far out.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Gallant Effort

'What The Toll Tells', the latest album by recondite San Francisco folksters Two Gallants came out at the beginning of the year and has been largely overlooked since then, by myself as much as anyone else. I was a big fan of the lilting melodies and tales of frontier loss and brutal vengeance in their first album 'The Throes', especially the long ballad 'Crow Jane' and the chuggingly spiteful 'Dyin' Crap-Shooter Blues'. The new album is more difficult than the first one, while carrying in the same vein. Though the band are favourites on the Indie scene in the US, their lyrical preoccupations have more in common with Dylan, John Prine or Steve Earle, and 'What the Toll Tells' is a grim cinematic trail through death and failure in American history, as its title indicates. Half the songs are more than seven minutes long, which is unusual enough these days, and might be called 'leisurely' only for the unease that underpins all the songs. Two Gallants write historical songs, in the same way Patrick O'Brian or Gore Vidal write historical novels. It is an album that is likely to be more successful in the long term than the short and it is a grower, and should be respected as such. I still find the band's name, taken from the title of Joyce's most devilish short story, a bit incongruous though. And their use of the word 'nigger', in however a contextual way, in the chorus of 'Long Summer Day' is a bit foolhardy.

Limbo No More

After a quiet first year in office, Pope Benedict XVI is hardly ever out of the news now. A more bookish figure than his predecessor - he prefers a modest Volkswagen Golf to the Popemobile - Ben Sez (as they call him in France) is dismantling one of the oldest concepts of Catholic dogma - limbo - in an attempt to win converts in Africa and Asia, two parts of the world where God is still King. The move is to allow stillborn children to go to heaven, which they do not as long as limbo is there. Islam is a bit more flexible in this regard, allowing stillborn souls free access to paradise. I will inevitably be profane in viewing the Pope's effort in a mercantile fashion, as a marketing ploy in a price war with rival religions. Or maybe it is only a case of pragmatic management, a way of speeding up the queues, like New Labour have been trying to do with the NHS. In any case, the abolishment of limbo is unlikely to have repercussions for those of us who actually got born, or so it seems to an eye as theologically naked as mine. What does the future hold for limbo dancing then?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Generic tags in any branch of the arts are ad hoc most of the time and as often as not they are unsuited to the job that they do but nowhere is this so much the case as with music. The great Marxist critic Theodor Adorno in his book The Culture Industry back in the 1930s, declaimed the recent coining of the term 'classical music', which he termed 'barbarous'. Adorno believed that there was only 'serious' and 'light' music in the world. Which is not all different from what Kurt Cobain said sixty years or so later when he dismissed the term 'alternative' music; as far as Kurt was concerned, the only acceptable 'alternative' music was an alternative to bad music. Adorno did not care much for popular music, or at least not the type that was beginning to be mass-produced by the still-young recording industry. I have read many desperate rationalisations of Adorno's views by cultural studies academics, terrified at their very field of study being called into question by one of their heroes; these poor folk point out that Adorno died in the late 60s and may not have had the opportunity to listen to the Beatles to change his mind. And people always point out that his dislike of jazz was based on exposure to the worst type of white-boy swing jazz. It is irrelevant what Adorno might have thought of 'A Day In The Life' or 'A Love Supreme'; the core of his argument, that our music literacy and capacity for musical understanding has been irremediably damaged by mass culture, holds true.

But back to the tags, those labels that people put on popular music. Rock n' Roll is the one we all remember but has long lost its roll, and rock has split up into subgenres of heavy metal, speedcore, grunge, trash metal and so on. 'Alternative' and 'indie', redolent as they are of spotty male students with bad dress sense and dubious personal hygiene, has always been a turn-off for me - or at least since I answered to the description above. 'Electroclash' is a newer one, which is not bad but it makes it a bummer looking for 'London Calling' on your iTunes. In fact it is iTunes that brings the whole labelling of music genres into question; if you've got hundreds of different genres on your iPod or iTunes, as many people do because the tags and files come from all different sources, it is almost impossible to ever hear songs again if you shuffle genres. Because computers, seeing the world in 0s and 1s, do not really care too much for the difference between Merengue and Salsa. Just that insulting, blanket term 'World' works (surely a modern counterpart for Adorno's barbarous 'classical' music). Music will eventually be rationalised to the hilt by official terms such as iTunes official terminology: 'Alternative & Punk', 'Electronica & Dance', 'HipHop & Rap' etc. And no matter how fresh the term might once have been, it never sounds right to describe the music it purports to. I used to know a wealthy Californian girl who opined that Björk was the 'most punk-rock singer there was'. Whatever you're having yourself.

Papal Intervention Sought For Hi-Jinks

It seems that any hijacking that invokes a Pope must be as bizarre as possible. Such was the case with the hijacking of a Dublin-London Aer Lingus flight in 1981 by former Trappist monk Laurence James Downey, who demanded that Pope John Paul II divulge to the world the Third Secret of Fatima. Earlier on today a Turkish military deserter and conscientious objector on the run in Albania hijacked a flight from Tirana to Istanbul in a rather unsubtle way of getting political asylum. The man in question Hakan Ekinci had previously written an open letter on the internet to Pope Benedict XVI asking for his help as Ekinci is a convert to Christianity. I'm sure that Herr Ratzinger, wearied after the furore caused by his casual quoting of a medieval Byzantine emperor's views on Islam, will have rolled his eyes to his boss up in heaven upon hearing the news. On board the flight, which landed without further incident at Brindisi in Italy, were a number of world-class beauty queens including Miss India, Miss Singapore, Miss Malaysia and Miss Philippines. All in Albania for a beauty contest, naturally. The BBC also quote an Albanian journalist on board, by the name of Ermir Hoxha. Any relation to the former dictator, I wonder?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Right Royal Mess

In the news is the revelation that the brother of French presidential hopeful Ségolène Royal planted the bomb that blew up the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in 1985, though it has long been known that Gerard Royal was a member of the French Secret Services involved. The revelation was made by another brother Antoine in an interview with Le Parisien this weekend, which comes amid a number of accusations from Royal's family that she has sullied the name of their late father by calling him authoritarian. Whether this news will sabotage Royal's presidential ambitions is doubtful - the majority of French people, of both left and right, could not give a monkey's about the Rainbow Warrior, and many of them might even view the bombing as a patriotic act - but this is big news, unsurprisingly, in New Zealand, where Greenpeace are calling for the extradition of Gerard Royal. Which might provide for a colourful affair should Ségo gain the Elysées Palace next year. Not that M. Royal is ever going to be sent packing to New Zealand by any French president, be it his sister, Nicolas Sarkozy or anyone else. This is the most arrogant and one of the most insular countries in Europe we are talking about after all.

Any Colour You Like As Long As It's Black

While watching Tottenham defeat Portsmouth at White Hart Lane yesterday I noticed that Pompey were wearing an incongruous all-black kit. It is a long time now since teams would consider a clash of colours as the only justification for changing their colours but the appearance of Portsmouth's black kit, similar to the change kits of dozens of other clubs, indicated how homogenised the game has become in recent years.

In the days of the old Football League it was actually forbidden for a club to have registered colours, either home or away, black or dark blue, as it clashed with the referees' standard colours. Then the Premiership came along and teams, led by Manchester United (Eric Cantona was clad in black when he kung-fu kicked that Crystal Palace fan) rushed to all wear the same colour. The reason has little to do with football and much to do with merchandising, black shirts are more likely to be worn by 'fashion-conscious' football fans as, theoretically they look better with jeans than bright red, blue or yellow garments. One might point out that football shirts look good only with equally shiny shorts when worn on a football pitch but some people are swayed. This was also the reasoning behind the dull grey kit worn by Man U a few years back (pictured above), which Alex Ferguson blamed for a defeat away to Southampton, as the players could not see their teammates, so blended in were they with the crowd. Lyon even wear black only in Europe, rather than the white or red that they sport in the French league. I for one cannot accept a team wearing shiny black, because it is nigh impossible to tell one such team from another, be it Portsmouth, Everton, Chelsea, Lyon or Juventus. And I'm not that gone on grey either.

All The Right Keys

Flavour of the minute is Magic Potion, the new album by Ohio bluesmen The Black Keys. Not as instantly catchy as Rubber Factory, their previous one, nor is there much development, either musically or lyrically. But then again, what does one expect from the blues? A good album though, the sound is as swamp-dirty as before, and, as ever, there is nothing more than drums, guitar and voice in the mix. Even a hoary line such as 'My heart is on fire, from a strange desire' sounds perfectly in place.

My queries about the remix of CSS's (as they are now known) 'Let's Make Love...' have been answered. It is the Spank-Rock mix, taken from the EP, which is also accompanied by a mix by the mighty Diplo. Both possibly better than the original, which is high praise indeed.

While I Was Away

Little activity on this blog in the past week, in spite of all the wonderful things out there in the world to write about. The news of Florida Congressman Mark Foley's salacious e-mails to an underage Capitol Hill page was my favourite snippet that surfaced in the past week. Foley was a member of the House Missing and Exploited Children Caucus, providing a suitably comic demonstration of the venality and hypocrisy of the GOP in affairs of the cock. Is this the same party that succeeded in getting Bill Clinton impeached? Of course there is a serious side to Foley's shennanigans and especially to the efforts of the Senate and the Republican Party to keep the matter hushed up for the past seven months. There may be a bit of blowback come the mid-term elections in November.

Bertie Ahern has kept things lively on the Emerald Isle with his mea culpa - or should that be mea ne culpa? - garnering sympathy from the Plain People of Ireland, few of whom have the same access to interest-free loans from well-heeled friends, and as Seanachie predicted last week, he appears to have got away with it, for now, if that trusted barometer of probability Paddy Power is anything to go by. Far be it from Seanachie to ply on the 'told you so's', but, as predicted a couple of weeks back, Michael McDowell's reign as PD leader, and Tánaiste, has got off to an awful start, with opinion polls suggesting that the Peeple think that McDowell was a bit mealy-mouthed in his assessment of the Taoiseach's behaviour. Mickey Mack should be nice and crisp when they take him down off that line. In the meantime, Bertie has paid back the loan, with interest, according to the Sindo, who are taking an unusually hard line with the Drumcondra barrow boy. So I suppose we can all move on then?