Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Found Art

Towards the end of the Second World War, an America soldier by the name of John Pistone broke into Adolf Hitler’s house in the Bavarian Alps, along with his accompanying platoon. He took for himself a souvenir, pilfered from a nearby desk or bookshelf. This story has surfaced on various home pages’ news sections across the internet, each with a concluding emphasis on the importance of the souvenir’s return to Germany.

Pistone’s post-war prize—not only a symbol of Hitler’s defeat, but also a personal trophy of glory, self-awarded for making it, for having been therewas a photo album, which inside it contained a collection of photographed paintings Hitler wanted for Nazi Germany’s new institution devoted to the arts: the “Fuhrermusuem”. Why shouldn’t he have stolen it? I’d take inventory on the man’s house had I been there, having suffered his atrocities.

It didn’t matter what was in the book (it might as well have been something as universal as the Odyssey), but where the book was found. It’s not every day you stumble into a surrendering dictator’s abode; and it’s even a rarer occasion to take home with you, back overseas, a little hard-bound artistic collage of Nazi-coveted artwork. This soldier, just happy to be alive, to have made through hell, would have been just as content returning home to his wife and kids empty handed to revel in the successful years of post-war glory. But his stolen treasure added the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the spiked bayonet at the end of a rifle; and the book would forever remain on his bookshelf or desk—maybe polished, maybe covered in dust—just as the fuhrer had once kept it on his. Maybe one day, the soldier’s kids would knock it down carelessly, and he’d catch them in the act; then reprimand them, then soften them back up, and use this as an opportunity to tell them of how their “good ole’ granddad busted some commie ass” during his militaristic heyday.

A bragging right, that’s all it was. To be placed on a fireplace mantle, and be looked upon by curious neighbors and local photographers, then passed on to the next generation, and then the next—until the museums took it.

It could be that while it remained in the hands of John Pistone, the art in the book was appreciated. Or it could be that not a single photograph in the book’s pages had been looked at critically since Hitler looked through it and said, “That one!”

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Avatar is emotionally involving, and convincing as far as modern day humans’ intentions are concerned. The futuristic, military equipment and gargantuan bulldozers used by the humans in the movie were only slight exaggerations of the real world. Its special effects bring Final Fantasy-esque landscapes to life, and the precipitous hanging cliffs—known in the film as the “Hallelujah Mountains”—could with ease trigger anyone’s acrophobia.

The Three-D I thought to be unnecessary; it often got in the way of the films intricate forest scenes. The characters ran wild through trees for most of the movie and my eyes often lost focus, distracted by the blur of intercepting branches. The Na’Vi’s unique faces and their world’s unexplored colorful creatures would have been easier to absorb had they been depicted more definitely; without the awkward, oblong protruding angles Three-D offers.

The addition of the depth dimension was not just for show—it sends an underlying message pushing the “moral necessity of seeing other beings fully.” (The realization that Three-D was used intentionally, however, won’t come to most viewers until after the movie, so it doesn’t save the film from being seen as a superficial, three-hour display of graphics and scenery.) The Earthlings saw the indigenous tribes of Pandora as savages, standing in the way of natural resources (much like we see the “uncontacted” tribes of the Rainforest today). They saw only their animalistic and natural qualities, but failed to consider their souls, intellect, or cultures, which is what separates all people from animals.

Avatar also offers the idea that humans, like the Na’Vi, were once also connected to the Earth as they are. This makes me wonder: did humans and animals at one time also have extending pony tails which physically conjoined, as well spiritually and mentally connected them to the wildlife? Was this trait, deemed unnecessary after our neglect and taming of Earth’s spirit, discarded as evolution progressed? Avatar was exhilarating to watch, and its subliminal spin brought new life to the ancient tale of colonialism versus aboriginality.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! It's barely past noon and it's already started raining. The weather forecast flashes in front of my eyes as I leave the front door: a bright yellow sun hanging loosely on the screen, covered on one side by precipitous raindrops and on the other by foreboding clouds. Risk of thunderstorm. Alert. Alert.

My bike sits chained to the rack where she left it; too bad I missed her this morning. Since I woke up I worried if she had remember the combination to the lock or not (thank God she did). Maybe that's what the call was about earlier. Had I managed to stay awake long enough to call back I would have known for sure. On my way out of the parking lot I notice a couple, lying together in the grass below the billboard. That could have been us below that billboard, had I only picked up my damn phone.

I start biking home and wonder if I'll make it to my doorstep before the real downpour begins. This was just a taste, a drizzle, teasing and playing with us, an appetizer for the meal that was about to come: a three-course platter of lightning, thunder, and gale force winds, and a light rain embossed in a stale humid air for dessert.

It's typical for someone to picture the worst scenarios while commuting home during harsh weather conditions: family members trapped between cars in highway ditches; children struck by lightning under trees near playgrounds; fathers driving on a highway during a snow storm Jack Frost-style, seconds from crashing. I picture myself in a tornado, spinning endlessly on my bike with my hands gripping the handlebars and my legs kicking violently. I'm the cow from Twister, moo-ing my way through a whirlpool of dust and debris. I'm little Dorothy, caught in a storm; but instead of a house all I have are two wheels and some pedals, and my Kansas is just Central Ontario. My Oz is my imagination.

Even now as I hurry past the red fire hydrants, the left-behind yard toys, and the unchained bicycles across numbers of front porches that are soon to been air-raided by my imaginary typhoon, for a just a single moment I let go of my sense of urgency and focus my attention on the raindrops hitting my forehead. They cool my skin in ways that a splash of icy water from the sink could never do, for they aren't frozen but merely chilly. They tease my skin with the promise of refreshment, prolonging my enjoyment as the time interval between each drop shortens. Not even the fatigue and soreness I was beginning to feel in my thighs from the strain of biking is noticeable anymore. It's not easy to depart from the physical world when you're in motion (and not very safe), but once you do it truly is something to enjoy, to be proud of. Letting go relieves stress and eliminates anxiety. It doesn't eliminate the conflict, just like painkillers don’t eliminate the cause of the pain; but it provides a temporary solace, so that once you’re refreshed you may think more rationally when faced with bigger problems, those that even painkillers can’t fix.

Pulling up to my driveway I see my reflection in our large living room window from across the lawn. My hair looks half-soaked and disheveled, and my pants are splattered with mud. Today is the last day of school, and I have nothing to show for it but a backpack full of hand-outs that will soon fill the recycling bin up to the brim, or burn bit by bit in the fireplace. Nothing at all is different about today’s arrival home on my bike than on any previous day throughout the year. Judging by this weather, it surely doesn't feel like summer. Maybe a week later it will settle in. Maybe once July comes the sun will show itself, and I'll get to sleep in on a Saturday morning without that feeling of having wasted half a day, that I get so often on school-year weekends.

"Some times a thousand twangling instruments will hum about my ears, and sometimes voices."

I often find I like quotes more than the books I read them in. I chicken pick 'em from dialogues, disregarding their context. I place them on the cover pages of essays, on notecards, on my Facebook status, on blog titles...

The above quote is originally from Shakespear's Tempest, but I first read it in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The passage, in the latter version, gave me goosebumps, and I read it over and over again after finishing the chapter, and then again after finishing the book, and then again before returning it to the library. It's quoted by Mustopha Mond--one of the Word Controllers of Brave New World's utopia--upon hearing that the Savage found the civilised world's music beautiful.

Apparently, during Huxley's stay in Hollywood, he tried his pen at screenwriting, and produced forth a screenplay of Alice in Wonderland, to be read by none other than Walt Disney. Disney refused the proposal because "he could only understand every third word."

"Do you remember what Miranda says?"