31 January 2017

[literature] I've Read Proust, And Here's The first Things I Thought About That

Just over two years ago I took up what, for many readers, is Everest: Reading Marcel Proust.

The work, many of you have heard of, if only as the punchline of a Monty Python joke (one of its most memorable, which is something, as this was part of the tag end of the series, after Cleese had left). "The All-England Summarize Proust Competition", which is absurd as a title in and of itself, was skit in which three entrants (two individual men and a chorus collectively as the third) attempted to cogently summarize the sweep of the seven-volume masterwork of the modern novel, In Search of Lost Time, a single novel in seven parts actually, in only 15 seconds.

How long is ISOLT (or, in French, A la recherche du temps perdu)? Wikipedia gave the following stats: 4,215 pages; 1,267,069 words. Perhaps needless to say, the prize went not to any of the contestants, but to the 'girl with the biggest tits'.

Sex sells.

Anyway, reading it was not always easy. There were stretches of days which I didn't crack open the volume I was in. It's called an 'oceanic' work; sometimes it was like swimming one. I'd never seen sentences that long, a writer so involved in describing every nuance of a thought, and, in places, as dry as the Sahara. ISOLT hits some beautiful highs and some very, very self-indulgent lows and middles. In more than one way, it's not one book, but several.

But was it worth reading? Definitely. My opinion of this book will probably evolve over the years to come, so this is far from the last word on it. But here's what I think, thus far:

The book is a great journey. It's much like life itself, within the mind; who amongst us doesn't have incredibly highs, low lows, all connected by banal betweens? In the more abstruse sense, though, the book tells of the paths that a person can take through life, and how they seem different, until that one moment when the epiphany happens and you see all the ways of your life as different versions of the same way, or two ways that intersect in more than one place. These observations we frequently miss, because we are looking for other things at the time.

In the course of the novel, Marcel is striving. He wants to create, to love and be loved, to be successful and celebrated as an artist. For many years, it eludes him. He wants to be a writer, but just never has all the pieces to start the story he feels he has in him.

At the end, though, understanding that time holds all the lost and wasted years in the folds of the ages to be revisited if one wants to take the time to look over them all, and seeing the evolution that time imposes on the very world he sees, and seeing that Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way are unified in the person of Mlle. Saint-Loup, he realizes, as the joke goes, that the material for his art was in him all along. The experiences of a lifetime that have not only aged his generation towards death but which have also made of him an old man. There he is, near the end of his own days, and all of a sudden, at last, with the enlightenment that the change of time provides, there are all the tools in front of him to create the art he had within him all that time, and knew it, and couldn't yet coax out.

At this point, it's the last 100 pages of La recherche that speak to me the loudest. I've tried to compel myself down avenues of artistic absorption and expression only to have every one of them sputter out before I've gotten very far. In that part of the book, the fictional Marcel is aging, and after years in sanitaria is aware of the heavy hand of mortality upon his shoulder. He's not at the end of his world, but he feels he can see it from there, and instead of frightening him and making him despondent that human life is a limited thing, it only fires his enthusiasm, with a brief plea to fate that he should live long enough to encompass his art, he energizes and digs in joyously.

The record of the research of his artistic material up to the point it attains critical mass is the six and a half books up unto that point, it all matters and enters into it: Bloch, Elstir, the Guermantes clan, the little clan of the Verdurins, Balbec, child hood, the madeleine, the relationships between all the people he knew, Charlus, Robert de Saint-Loup, the little band of girls, Albertine, Swann, Odette, everything united by his epiphanies about time's passing and catalyzed by the realization that Mlle. Saint-Loup united Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way into a grand unified whole.

At this point, as a starting point for my integration of the experience of reading Proust into my intellect and life, I'd say that the cogent thing for those of us who have tarried at realizing our own art to the point of thinking that we may as well give up, we'll never be the artist we fancy ourselves to be, is that we may not have hit that catalyzing moment just yet. We must be ready for it when it arrives, be watchful and aware, but try not to be too despondent or too aggravated that our motivation and firing up hasn't happened yet.

That … that's a troublesome thing on its own. You have to be ready, but you can't be too desperate or it may continue to elude you. Like the thing that runs from you until you stop looking for it, and then it comes to find you, you lose time while you define the terms and limits of your struggle.

It's like this, in a way: I, as many SF fans, adore Dune, that inconic Frank Herbert novel. But, for many years, it was beyond me. I found the beginning dull and densely worded, and couldn't get past the first 50 pages or so. Then, one day, it took off with me, swept me through it, and left me wanting to read it again. And I did. I've reread it many times since: there was a year, not too long ago, where most of my reading for the year was rereading Dune. 

I wasn't ready for a long time, but then, suddenly, I was.

And the last part of La recherche reminded me hard about that. I must be ready, I must keep prodding and searching until the suggestions my wife have given me, the way she and other people look at me, the way I look at myself, the talents I know I have within me just out of fingers' reach … there will be a catalystic place where all of a sudden they fall into the place.

But I have to keep pressing. Gently, firmly, maybe not too frantically, but continually.

There's a feeling of Zen in that. At least, Zen as I understand it.

But that's why sticking to the whole of In Search Of Lost Time, despite some of its dryer parts, is important. It all matters, in the end. It all becomes a perfect whole. 

[pdx_liff] Welcome To Portland. Please Drive Tenderly.

Seen late Sunday night, eastbound on E Burnside St, just coming up to the Laurelhurst gateway at E. 32nd Avenue:

I'd never seen that one before.

Now, I know heartbreak is different for everyone. But what's just ahead is Portland's legendary Music Millenninum store (as called out by the sign), and just beyond the traffic signal, deepest, darkest Laurelhurst. I don't see how MM is anything like a heartbreak, but Laurelhurst may be one if interest rates are your monkey.

I do know that "Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead" is the title of a hit pop music single first interpreted by the Marvelettes in October 1965, but just because it's just down the street from MM, that must be coincidence.

Still, drive tenderly, Portlanders. The love you save may be your own. And buckle up.

28 January 2017

[pdx_liff] Burgerville Existentialism

The reader board at the David Douglas Burgerville, which surveys the corner of SE 122nd and Stark, asks an eternal question:

I have obtained BV waffle fries, but do I actually get them? Do I understand everything a tasty Yukon Gold BV waffle fry implies? The subtexts? The meanings.

I can only philosophize for a limited time. I can only get waffle fries while they last.

Which pretty much sums up existentialism for me at this point.

I totally understand Walla Walla sweet onion rings, though. I must go on the record there.

[Wy'East] Two Mount Hood Sunrises

< I haven't posted any Wy'Eastage for you all lately, so here's a couple of shots from the past two days. This first one was from 122nd in front of Rossi Farms again, and got me for the salmon color of the clouds which gradated into blue with the thinning of the clouds themselves.

This one, looking east on NE Killingsworth Street just west of the I-205 entry. I enjoy the play of emotions brought on by the intersection of the natural world and the artificial world, looking through our artifice into the nature we tend to build over.

I enjoy the interplay of emotions, of which, thinking about this, are incredibly torn.

27 January 2017

[art] Cartoonist, Caricaturist, Best Kept Open Secret: Dick Gautier

The actor and entertainer, Dick Gautier, who died last week aged 85, was, as is glibly bandied about, known for a few things. He incarnated, so to say, the robotic CONTROL secret agent and KAOS defector known simply as "Hymie" in Get Smart. He also memorably embodied Robin Hood is the far, far too-short (as in less than one season) Mel Brooks-created TV spoof When Things Were Rotten (a show which needs no introduction or explanation to people I know, which should clue one as to what sorts of friends I prefer to have). He also, through the 70s and 80s, appeared innumerable times as a TV guest star, either in a drama or comedy or as a guest on a talk show or a panelist on a game show. He was kind of everywhere for a while.

What was elided from the obituaries and not commonly known seems to be that he excelled, in his way, at caricature, and had more than a modicum of talent as a cartoonist. He also, from 1985 through the 1990s, produced a number of how-to-art books, starting with The Art of Caricature in 1985. I found two of his several how-to books at Powells last weekend. Here they are.

The Creative Cartoonist is a general approach to cartooning for pleasure and possibly for profession, and Drawing and Cartooning 1,001 Caricatures further expands his record of knowledge of that particular art.

Both books are really quite delightful. Gautier has a casual, self-deprecating style of writing that wins over the reader by presenting the text as though it was being spoken by a very nice acquaintance who loves to draw, loves to talk about it, and likes to show other people. His style is very low-pressure: he wants you to draw but he wants you to draw at the level that'll make you happy. And though his directions are simple, they aren't simplistic. Gautier clearly was someone who loved to draw and loved to think about about drawing when he wasn't.

The book The Creative Cartoonist starts, as many of them do, with the head. He shows you simple ways to construct a face and how many shapes you can make one of …

… a simple yet broad catalogue of standard facial expressions …

… and basic instructions on how to make it realistic and how to make it cartoony. There is nothing complicated here but if you follow his directions and practice and have fun at it, he gets you started on a good foot.

There are people who draw for accuracy and realism, and people who just want to draw, have a little fun, and people who want to draw just to impress their friends. The Creative Cartoonist is a fine book for anyone who wants to start casual.

For those who want to kick it up to a certain level, Drawing and Cartooning 1,001 Caricatures has a lot to offer as well. Reading the text, I got the idea that Gautier had a certain sensitive spot about caricaturing; it is a lampooning of the subject and, as such, has to be handled with a soft touch. It can be a great and funny homage or jump a fine line and border on an insult with a touch of viciousness. Gauthier needn't have worried, though: these caricatures of actors Dennis Franz and Roy Scheider come through with a sense of affection for the subjects:

And, of course, what book of caricature is complete without Jay "Why the Long Face?" Leno?

All drawings were, of course, made by the author, which is why I like that back cover above so much. The portrait of Leno in the upper left, the realistic one, is outstandingly well-done, I thought. The distortions, while expected, bring a certain sense of style to the caricature … they show an artist who is confident in his materials. That's what I expecially love to see.

Gauthier's caricaturing system works by studying the face and deciding what are the most remarkable features (what he calls 'dominant') and the less remarkable features (what he calles 'subdominant') and working within that hierarchy. Accentuate the dominant features and have the subdominant work with them. The result is a caricatured face which, while looking little like the reality, has enough of the reality in it so that there's no mistaking the identity of the personality.

He also introduces us to three levels of caricature. The first, portrait charge, is clearly caricature but is only slightly distorted. These would make a good cartoon character version. The second is the straight-up caricature, and the third would be an impressionistic rendering, where the dominant features command and the subdominant all but fall away.

To show he's a good sport, he did himself: Here is Dick Gautier in portrait charge version:

… And here he is in caricature and in full-on impressionistic mode.

By his reasoning, his face is full of dominant features save the nose ("but I'm working on it", he mocks himself in the text), so in the impressionistic version, the nose utterly disappears.

Dick Gautier wasn't widely known for his art, and that's kind of a shame, because he has much to offer the beginner. His friendly style and accessible instruction are the perfect approach for someone who's afraid of doing their own art. He's no Andrew Loomis, but Loomis is the Holy Grail. Gauthier is a pal who you can hang around with … and who will take you into the art world gently, with no pretensions.

They're books I'd give any beginner.

26 January 2017

[film] It's Time To Let Buckaroo Banzai Go

There is one thing in life that I will brook no things which one has to brook when one attempts to brook one is my love of Buckaroo Banzai.

The full title of the movie, made in 1984 is, of course, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension. In this movie, the title character, a Mentat-level scientist-neurosurgeon-rock and roll guitarist and band-leader (seriously. I'm not kidding) born of a Japanese father and American mother, finds himself as the pivot in a cosmic war between two colors of reptilian ET called Lectroids when he figures out how to pierce matter itself and access a place defined as the 8th dimension.

It's not a place I'd go on a vacation, unless I took a mortal enemy there, and left him. Them. Whatever.

Anyway, Dr. Banzai's piercing of the 8th dimension gets the attention of Dr. Emilo Lizardo/Lord John Whorin, played with scene-chewing glee by John Lithgow. Whorfin, who had been biding his time in the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane since 1939 (not long since Orson Welles's famous War of the Worlds interpretation, not entirely co-incidentally), knows that since the Earthling scientist has made the breakthough, returning to the 8th dimension to rescue the remainder of their trapped comrades has become possible, and he goes on a rampage, gathering the Red Lectroids who did escape with him in 1939 to either steal the technological key to interdimensional travel (the oscillation overthruster) or get his own version to work and complete the revenge upon the Lectroids who stranded them there to begin with as punishment for insurrection, the Black Lectroids.

To human eyes, the Black Lectroids look like Rastafarians and the Red Lectroids look like uptight white men. And unless Banzai and his crew stop the Red Lectroids, the Black Lectroids will gull the Soviet Union into a nuclear first strike on the USA.

But, no pressure. It's all in a days adventuring for Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

And if I keep trying to explain it, it'll be all about explaining it, and I feel myself getting farther and father away from the point. It's a crazy, fun movie which tried to revive the spirit of pulp adventure and SF and largely succeeded. causing a group of cult fans (of which I am one) to take the movie to their hearts more or less permanently. Anyone wishing to question my bona fides need only see my BB patch collection, hither:

I am, in my heart, a Blue Blaze Irregular.

I mean, I even have a vintage copy of the BB novelization. Doubt me not.

I told you all that, to tell you this:

Over time, because the movie was presented as just one story in the many adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, like all franchises, fans have always wanted more. The end of the movie boasts the encouragement to Watch for the next adventure of Buckaroo Banzai: Buckaroo Banzai against the World Crime League. Fans have hungered for decades, now, to see this notional movie. Sadly, though, for many reasons, most of them apparently having to do with who owns which rights to what, it's never happened. But, for a brief time last year, it looked as though it would have a rebirth.

Kevin Smith, to whom anybody who is savvy enough to follow me this far should need no introduction (but if you aren't savvy enough, he did Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) got in touch with W.D. Richter and Earl Mac Rauch, respectively the films director and the story's writer, and began the ball rolling which should have resulted in the property becoming an Amazon original series. Should have been, but the rights monster eventually came round and burned down Tokyo; in May, 2016, on my birthday coincidentally, the creative collaboration was announced; but then, just four months later, in November 2016, Smith bailed, leaving the project in limbo.

2016 killed not only David Bowie, Prince, Chekov, and Gene Wilder, it also killed Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. Lethal.

It was after I heard the news that I thought for a while about it. I was one of those fans who thought maybe a little more BB would have been welcome. I was.

I'm not anymore. I tell you why.

Buckaroo Banzai was a thing of its time. The actors defined the roles; I can't think of BB without seeing Peter Weller's face; Penny Priddy will always be Ellen Barkin; Perfect Tommy will always be Lewis Smith, and nobody could carry off New Jersey the way Goldblum could. Those actors are more than thirty years older now. It wouldn't be the same.

But it's not just that shallow observation that makes me think that Old Moe Mentum has swung the other way. In the 80s, we had one foot in the the future but the other was dragging its reluctant way out of a rather hoary past, the sort of past that the seemingly relentless Gerry Marshall nostalgia factory was making a ton of money repackaging and selling. Buckaroo Banzai was crystallized out of a modern world that had rosy ideas of a certain past full of tall, noble, mostly white heroes who were pure of heart, sharp of mind and unimpeachable of intent. And a reimagining of the pulp-hero aesthetic then made a certain amount of sense then; these days, having an arch-enemy named like Hanoi Xan comes off like a dented can that's been left on the shelf about 15 years too long (I saw a clip in which Ellen Barkin's Penny Priddy character accuse the Lectroids of being tools for Hanoi Xan (who is, incidentally, the head of the World Crime League) and hearing the name just made me cringe somehow.

Even the idea of a group calling itself the World Crime League sounds trite.

It was at that point I realized, my friends, that the ship has sailed. We BB fans may want to see a new extension to the BB mythos, but the things that make it nifty to us, don't really apply any more. Truly, we can't go home. It's a different world now, and BB, along with the things we cherished as kids in the 80s, don't really apply anymore. Well, not as they were, anyway. These days, BB would be rebooted, rethought, reimagined, recast, and turned into some odd, dramatic gritty thing that took itself far too seriously, and maybe that would sell … but it wouldn' t be Buckaroo Banzai.

But we do have this lovely little gem of a perfect cult film, a thing of guileless charm and manic wit, which saw the old pulp franchises thought an 80s lens, lightly, with beloved actors playing unironically idealized characters. Whenever I watch it, I imagine that this is a thing that's part of a fictional franchise that could have been, if the parameters of the universe were tweaked, just so.

I'm for letting Buckaroo Banzai be Buckaroo Banzai. I mean, look at the brobdignangian top-heavy thing Star Wars has become. Sure, it's enjoyable, but I'm seeing some big time stretch marks.

But, of course, that's just me.

24 January 2017

[Out122ndWay] Goodbye, Tina's Corner: The Very Last Day Of A Very Good Diner

I come to you today, my friends, in something of a state of mourning. I lovely place has been, and now, a lovely place is no more.

I'm speaking of a little family-run diner that I've spoken of before. Tina's Corner, at SE 122nd Avenue and Harold Street, has permanently closed.

Tina's Corner, the diner

It sits, a smallish blue building with five big picture windows in the north face, on a lot that seems rather large for it. Inside, despite the perspective the camera gives it, it's actually kinda small.

The bathrooms were nigh-microscopic.

Against those picture windows, six rather spacious booths. next to that, a counter with six stools. In the back, free-standing tables … a handful of two-tops that could be slid together and a couple of six-tops.

It was always busy, but never overwelmed. But this was different. We were there on the 21st of January and, after the 22nd of January, after eighteen years of making locals damnably happy, Tina's Corner was to close, permanently.

This was, for me, the very last day of a very good diner.

Foreground: Paying the bill.
Background: the archetypical diner kitchen. For real.

There was nothing fancy, haughty, or elite about it. It was come-as-you-are dining of the kind you used to find all over Portland. It was charming and quaint, decorated a little like your grandma's house. And it felt like it, too.

Festooning the walls were skilfully-done graphite-on-bristol portraits of people, taken from photographs. They always were delightful, and the artist was presumably available for hire.

Goodbye, on the edit. 
The windowsills along those picture windows held the most adorable batch of knickknacks, and there you were, back in your grandma's kitchen again. Little bears holding up skillets that said TODAY'S MENU on them. Those little bobbly things that ran on solar power. Happy little animals and kitchen things. 

On each table was a tray with an embarrassment of condiments: three kinds of hot sauce (Tapatio, green and red Tabasco), little jam and jelly packets, salt and pepper. The reason I thought Tina's Corner was a li'l ol' slice of heaven, was this:
The taco omelette that argued there is a God,
and God wants us to be happy.

There was a lot of regulars saying goodbye that night, and I was saying goodbye to this. The Tina's Corner taco omelette. This took me back to the days of Quality Pie on NW 23rd. And it amazes me that more breakfast places don't have it. Seasoned ground beef, cheese, a bit of salsa (this time, not), cheese. But just try finding one. Now, there's one less place. The taco omelette pictured above, of course, was superb. The hash browns were ideal, that moist, pillowy mass of fried and shredded potato that is so very satifying.

I did not go away from this hungry. I am melancholy; there will never, likely, be another one like it in my life (my waistline may thank me for that, but my soul will be a bit harder to satisfy).

The most interesting customers were a family behind us in the very last booth before the wall. At one of the six-tops, four Portland Police officers were taking a break and celebrating the one-last-meal at Tina's; the kids in the booth were big face of Portland's Finest, and the supervisor who brought up the rear greeted the kids though the window, and were rewarded with one of those Jr. Cop badge stickers the police give out.

What I liked the most, outside of the simple, sincere fare was the feeling of sitting there. You didn't feel like you were in outer Southeast Portland so much as you did you were at a roadside diner on some highway going into the mountains. It's right on the edge of town, right on the edge of forest. Just a little north of Foster Road, where the wilderness (or at least what passes as such, within the Portland city limits) take up. You feel way out on the edge but you aren't so far out, not really. But the view was unsurpassed.

It's said that the new property is going to be yet another in the interminable march of marijuana shops that seem to be springing up in more places that are absolutely necessary. No longer will area pot-smokers have to make the harrowing trek all the way to just north of Division on 122nd. I mean, it's probably all they could do to get there without getting dysentery.

But, Tina's Corner is gone, now, and we shall miss it.

Maybe it's time to get round to the Gateway Breakfast House. I mean, if it's good enough for Presiden Obama …