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Monday, November 16, 2020

Repost Re:Post

I have recently been pestering FB friends with longish arty-farty stuff, pieces that I once would have posted here. 

So I'll try to remember to post them here as well/instead. 

E@L

New Yorker articles - prereading for MANK

 

"There is a theme that is submerged in much of “Citizen Kane” but that comes to the surface now and then, and it’s the linking life story of Hearst and of Mankiewicz and of Welles—the story of how brilliantly gifted men who seem to have everything it takes to do what they want to do are defeated. It’s the story of how heroes become comedians and con artists."

There's a piece by movie critic Richard Brody on David Fincher's new bio-pic fillum Mank, about the making of Welles's (ha!) Citizen Kane, in the current New Yorker. It discusses Pauline Kael's long 1971 article, also in the New Yorker about Mankiewicz, "the Central Park West Voltaire" more than the movie as far as I read. But I would consider this (the Kael) essential pre-reading before watching the movie, although a) I haven't finished it, b) I haven't seen the new movie obviously and I can't remember much (cough) about CK and c) it's probably behind a $-wall for most/all of you.



The Brody article quotes a 1978 biography of Mankiewicz with this line Mank was prepared to say if he had turned up the Oscars (he didn't) and Welles didn't. (Citizen Kane had won Best Script with both their names on it, even though Welles contributed SFA and he initally had wanted sole credit.) “I am very happy to accept this award in Mr. Welles’s absence, because the script was written in Mr. Welles’s absence.” Comic or con?

Either way, I think Voltaire would have approved, as does

E@L


Friday, November 13, 2020

Some writers. Phew! 

I managed to get through the audiobook of The Great Fire a few years, it was a long struggle, but I enjoyed it by the end and found it both intellectually and emotionally satisfying (and I had a sense of avhievement - like completing Ulysses or, should I ever, Infinite Jest).



Warning: Shirley Hazzard does not assume you are stupid or poorly read... 

I tried again after that to read The Transit Of Venus but could not get my teeth into it. I am sure that is both my failing and my loss. Every small pulse of emotion can have such import that flows through the characters' lives, which are seemingly impossibly dense with thought, feeling, empathy, and reflection - and literary references.


I sense late in life that some people are like this in reality. Was it something I said in 1983?

Not ever being able to remember peoples' names, faces, where we met, or what I said or did to/with them had insulated me from many such regrets. Not all, but many. Someone should write a book, maybe 

E@L.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Days Of Past Futures



The link to Expat@Large.blogspot.com is the eight tab from the left on the bookmarks bar of his browser. E@L is not sure why it remains in such a prominent position as it never gets a hit these days. 


Has E@L nothing to report? Has he no opinion on anything? About getting his coffee order correct? About troublesome taxi drivers? About toasters that require three runs through? About books and movies? About the rise in populism, and political insanity. About both conservatives and liberals being painted into unreasonable, irrational positions in the corner of their ideologies by the sloppy brushes of social-media propaganda, a shaken and stirred paint can of silliness from the radicals at the extreme ends of the colour chart (this is E@L stretching a ridiculous metaphor to its breaking point with his hasty thought of RED OR DEAD through to WHITE POWER: it's not a racist comment)?


What about work? Yeah, what about it?


What about his health? Heart attacks, and major surgery? What about major new health issues, and staring into the abyss yet again? Indeed, what about it? [Abyss says, Hey E@L, you back again?] 


About leaving Expatriatdom for good?  About - shudder - riots and plagues? Read on McDuff... 


~~~~~~~~~


In Oct 2017, an suspecting E@L was invited into the Lair of the Black Demons, one of the meeting rooms next to the CEO’s office, to meet with the relatively new CEO and the HR person. Uh oh, he thought. And appropriately, because uh oh is what happened.


Softly, contracting her cheek muscles to elevate the sides of her mouth (is that a smile?) HR person said, "We have decided that it's best to bring you in line with the other staff..."


Uh oh.


"So, E@L, you have been a valuable employee for nearly 14 years, but it’s best that all CAS [clinical application specialists] are on similar contracts, so from the end of this month [THIS MONTH!!]...


... we will be removing your housing allowance... [inevitable really, E@L has been riding this caboose of the expat gravy train for way too many years - not that he is complaining!] 


... and your utilities allowance... [turn off the freaking air-con and live like you're in a kampong!] 


.... as well removing your business class flight privileges... [NNNNOOOOOOOOO!], 


.... and ending the repatriation clause in your contract.” [was that still in there?] 


Uh fucking oh. Expat in name only for E@L. He slumps to the desk, slides to the floor...


"We understand that this potentially would require you to downsize your apartment [AAAaaaarrrrrrghhhh! Not E@LGHQ!]. We can help you to obtain a real estate agent to find a less expensive place for you."


"Did you say no housing allowing from NEXT month? NEXT month?"


HR lady retracts her risorial musculature slightly again. “Yes.” CEO says nothing. He has said nothing thus far for the meeting, which is worrying, until E@L remembers that he can’t speak English.


“Do you want me to resign, is that it? Or is there a package? Can you offer a redundancy, same as you did for  ******.” 


“No, E@L, we don’t want you to leave, we really need you. We just want to pay you less. It’s not been a good year. Please sign this document to show you understand and agree to these changes to your contract.”


E@L, in shock, shakes his head, asks for some time to think and excuses himself. He returns to his desk.


~~~~~~~


First thing he does when back at his desk is look for a copy of his contract. He has kept them hidden in a secret cache in an envelope labelled ‘contracts’ in the middle drawer of his desk. He should remember to lock that drawer. He should try to find the key.


When he subsequently reads his contract for the first time in years (unlike the new CEO who has a highly marked-up copy on his dartboard), he sees a paragraph that states that all of the benefits he is being asked to rescind, to be stripped of, would have been automatically lost if he had taken up permanent residency (PR) or became a Singapore citizen, presumably by getting married. He quickly discarded the thought that the recent discussion with HR constituted a subtle offer of matrimonial bliss. 


E@L was writing an email to point out this (PR, not matrimony) when said HR person came to his desk and placed the document in front of him again. 


“Could you please sign this.”  


HR person actually did this. [In subsequent occasions, such as when E@L was unwell, HR person provided excellent and personable support. But not this day.]


“I’m not signing that!” cries 


E@L. 


(to be continued) 

  


Pessoa In Disquieting Times

"History rejects certainty. There are orderly times when everything is wretched, and disorderly times when everything is sublime. Decadent times can be intellectually fertile, and authoritarian times fertile only in feeblemindedness." 
The Book of Disquiet. Fernando Pessoa  Section 214(410), undated. (Probably 1930-33) 
As he read the papers (i.e. his Facebook feed), E@L thinks we've hit the Pessoan jackpot, with all these times at once. 

Every post is either wretched, sublime, intellectually fertile, or feebleminded, or combinations and permutations thereof.

Ah, who is he kidding. T'was ever thus. He is certain of that.

E@L

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Disquiet In The Soul


Here are the Kindle notes I highlighted from the book I finished recently: Soul by Andrey Platonov.

Background: It's 1935 Russia, a writer is sent to find and reunite the cultural people of his youth, who had been dispersed and lost in the deserts between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They don't want to be found, however, don't want to be reunited. They haven't the will to live or the energy to die. And yet...

Sound depressing? Well, it isn'... OK, well it is a little bit. Naturally I loved it, mainly for lines like these:

~~~~~~



"We can live without thinking anything and pretend we’re not us.”
==========

There are no living people here, only people who haven’t yet died.
==========

They sat on the ground and fell into thought, even though, given their advanced years, they had already had more than enough time to think everything through and arrive at truth.
==========

Sigh. I should be wise by now.
==========

“Things just say themselves in my mouth—I don’t know why.”
==========

...from them came the sounds of ... people carrying on their old discourse with one another, an eternal conversation, as if they lacked the wit to come to a definite conclusion and fall silent.
==========

...this master of samovars was unable to forget what, even just once, had touched his heart, and anyway life is too short — you can’t forget everything.
==========

The song told how every human being has their own pitiful dream, some beloved insignificant feeling, that separates them from everyone else — and this is how the life inside us closes our eyes to the world, to other people, and to the beauty of the flowers that live in the sands in spring.
==========

"I’m not a rich man, I’ve nowhere to live but my own body.”
==========

~~~~~~~

You get the idea.

~~~~~~~


Doesn't that all sound like Fernando Pessoa? His Book of Disquiet - I've blogged about him before - sits on my bedside table. The Portuguese multi-poet-personality from the same era as Platinov. It must be a modernism thing. I wonder if anyone has ever linked them before?

Here are some Pessoa quotes (pasted from Goodreads, not me - you want me to get up, go to the bedside table 12 feet away, pick up the book and find some quotes myself? What are you on? OK maybe later.):


“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”
==========

“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd - The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”
==========

“No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it”
==========

You get the idea. Life is shit, people are shit, but hey, Tim Tams make an excellent chocolate straw for your white Russians, and someone else is always more unhappy with things than you are (or are pretending to be).

Pretending? Just ask

E@L

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Sand Archive - Goodreads Review

A Sand ArchiveA Sand Archive by Gregory Day

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


The narrator works in a second-hand bookstore in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Gregory Day works in a second-hand bookstore in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Or worked: it closed its doors at the end of last year (2018). The narrator has issues with pretentious or nervous customers. I have anxiety when confronted with pretentious book-sellers. Gregory Day is a nice person, doesn't seem to have trouble with customers. He carried a box of books to my car for me, smiled and we chatted briefly about the store's closure. I didn't get anxious.

I read a piece in a local newspaper about the passing of a singular character in Geelong, the man who worked to save the sand-dunes from destroying the work of those who built the Great Ocean Road from Anglesea to Apollo Bay, and on other beaches on the Surf Coast of Victoria. That's around Bell's Beach, for those who remember the first Point Break movie. The article said a novel had been written about this man (whose name escapes me). The novel was written by Gregory Day, an award winning writer, who works at arguably the best second-hand bookstore in the region. (I'd mark the old Daylesford one as tops. Or was it Hepburn Springs?)

So, I had to buy the novel.

Unfortunately, the heavy burden of being in the proximity of so many books has worn Gregory down. The names of authors and musicians and biographers of writers from his bookshelves just keep spilling out. At first I thought he was being ironical with a pretence of the snobbery that had always set me on edge in bookshops (was my choice of books sneer-worthy, or intellectually impressive?). Eduardo Galeano (I had to look him up too), Proust (in Lydia Davis's translation, mais oui), Flaubert, Tolstoy, Enid Blyton (which made me think he was havin' a laugh), Sartre, Louise Cruppi, Faure, Cesar Franck, Debussy... all mentioned in the first few pages. After doggedly continuing, I was not sure about the author's intention to be ironical. Helene Cixous, really? But I pushed on further.

FB Herschell is the character who resembles that local man whose obituary I had read. He is a mysterious, dare I say phlegmatic, man who has been taking notes on his work on the sand-dunes of the coast and written them in a published book. He was a frequent, quiet visitor to the books-store. The narrator, Gregory's alter-ego, has Herchell's notebook and as he reads it, he places between the lines the story of Herchell's visit to Paris in 1968, ostensibly to study the management of sand-dunes in the south of France. In the city of love, Herschell has become obsessed with the daughter of the man he has come to study with (I hope I am getting this right, I refuse to go back and check), then gets caught up in the Paris riots, finds out about an Algerian massacre on a bridge there, gets to visit the lady's phlegmatic father's farm, stays in their moulin, I mean old mill-house...

And then I gave up.

I was halfway through the novel (it had taken over a month to get that far) and three times had Day used the word "phlegmatic". Thrice, as Day would himself say, no doubt. He insisted on calling the mill-house a "moulin", and many other words that could easily be written in English without any loss were italicised and in Francais. But it was when he spoke of an "indelible heap" that I closed the book for the last time. Heaps can't be indelible. Memories can be indelible, impressions (caused by heaps?), ink stains. Sigh. It is a molehill of an issue: a poorly chosen metaphor, I've written hundreds of them myself, but it became a mountain range (an impassable heap) I could not cross.

I really wanted to like this book, about a fascinating local character, written by a well-liked, award winning, local author, a nice man who carried my box of books for me.

Unfortunately Gregory Day carries his own box of book learning too heavily on his sleeve, and his novel has so many marks of non-ironic pretentiousness that I, a normally phlegmatic person, must whinge, and give it only 2 stars.

Mine is the lowest rating on Goodreads, so obviously other readers have really enjoyed the book. Perhaps I am being harsh. Perhaps if I had finished I would realise he WAS being ironic, perhaps a French moulin is a completely different thing from an old English mill, perhaps there are more phlegmatic people around than I have previously noticed, perhaps heaps are indeed indelible in some mysterious way, but, at the moment...

As Miss Piggy would say: "Pretentious? Moi?"


E@L? Je suis E@L!


View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

In Unrelated News: Umbrella Sales Have Plummeted


E@L has noticed, or their presence has been thrust upon him by the number of diversions and obstruction to his perambulations lately, sheltering awnings being constructed on footpaths (motorised-scooterpaths, motorised-skateboardpaths, shared-bikepaths) all around District 11 in recent months. He first noticed it when bus-stops were becoming linked to other bus-stops and to MRT stations with these rain aggregators and warm-air accumulators, and when very high shelters were being built over the driveways of condos and the petroleum dispensing convenience stores in his vicinity.

Rain aggregators? Because there is no guttering, the water falls in sheets from either side in drops larger than rain itself and, if there's a wind, it blows them onto the pedestrians (scooter riders, skateboard riders, bicyclists) with an enhanced density no matter where they traverse under the awning.

Warm-air accumulators? Because the hot sun blasting onto the roofs of these shelters warms them up like an oven to cook the scalps of passing alopeican pedestrian (etc.), while the exhaust from passing traffic gathers in its lees to makes the air taste stale and noxious.

And what happens when one walks in their umbrage, expecting an alleged degree of protection, as could possibly be the case, E@L concedes, in certain instances, and one had therefore left home sans umbrella and sans beret, but then, without warning, they stop. One becomes bereft of their shelter on exiting District 11, E@L supposes. E@L will tell one what happens. When the weather is inclement, or extra-clement as the case may be, one gets wet, and the bald ones get frontally, parietally, and temporally scorched.

Is this the Singapore one is comfortable (oh so comfortable) living in?

Add to this the luminal pollution! Singapore already has the highest light pollution score in the world, and when the many globes in these pathways are turned on at night, they will add (by reflection from the expanded areas of concrete beneath one's foot presumably) to this plethoric aura, it could jump a few places even higher!

By the way (way = path, geddit?), speaking of concrete, in order to foot (foot = walk, geddit?) the stands for this urban extravaganza, some of the paths do have to be widened, and so the council of District 11 (did E@L tell everyone he lives in District 11?) has decided it is an opportune time to build over many of the open drains which festoon the area. Shame! These rain-water runoffs do not sit filled with noisome stagnant "water" as in many other SEA cities (Bangkok, Jakarta, take a bow) but act efficiently when the downpour hits, and their lusty bubbling sounds are most restful E@L finds, from the shelter of his umbrella as he trudges in sodden sandals down the slight rise from Spooky Mansion* on Gilstead Rd. Hardly any of the children from the adjacent kindergarten fall in and get washed away, never to be seen or heard from again. Those open spaces are often the homes to well-rooted trees of prodigious size and they really add to the indiscrete charm of this bourgeois part of town. E@L will miss them (the trees, the gutters, the bourgeoisie), as he often does, fortunately, when rolling home mostly inebriated and partially disoriented from a night at various pub trivia events (his sole social encounterings these long, wearying days).

~~~~~~~~~~


~~~~~~~~~~

But E@L's sense of outrage is actually more of political and economic nature, and the prior observations are demonstrative of mild (indeed hypothetical) inconveniences to himself. Grumpy E@L Syndrome. Something akin to the infamous existential angst the great German writer Thomas Mann experienced when confronted (y-fronted) by the inconvenience that No.4 size underpants were too small, and No.5 size underpants too big. "Acid indigestion and constipation!" he exclaimed.

~~~~~~~~~~

The true cause of E@L's adversarial stance to these structures is their demonstration of the outlandish profligacy of governmental expenditure - viz: it must cost a fucking fortune. Yes, surprise surprise surprise, the Singapore Gahmen has shit-loads of money. Obviously. Money to spend on completely unnecessary projects like these. (Take a fucking umbrella, people. You live in the fucking tropics! It's either going to be fucking hot, or fucking hot AND fucking raining at 2pm!)

Point being: they could be allocating this money elsewhere - especially social welfare (how many aunties and uncles cleaning up after in hawker centres for a pittance because they have no other income, or a living pension, or family support?), and a minimum wage... The Gahmen can complain about the loss of billions on bad investments, yet still have money floating around to fund grandiose extension to the MRT systems (already brilliant) and these dicky-little footpath covers. Jaysus!

~~~~~~~~~

Singapore political blogger Yawning Bread recently asks the question as to why would a country feel proud that hawker food is really cheap, and answers that it should be a national embarrassment that many Singaporeans don't make enough money to afford anything more elaborate. Hawker food for Singaporeans could be thought of (if it wasn't so brilliant) as the equivalent of what Maccas is for the indigent and for poor families in other countries. YB's issue is that lack of a minimum wage is screwing the spread of income, and income disparity is the underlying reason for cheap food in hawker centres.

Maybe we ought to be ashamed of our hawker prices and food court scene. The contradiction between the wide demand for cheap food and the high per-capita GDP suggests something really wrong with income and wealth distribution in Singapore.

~~~~~~~~~

When E@L hit the town in 2004, he purchased the most brilliant laksa he had ever had for $2.50. Now, 15 years later, in certain stalls in certain hawker centres, he can buy an equally damn good laksa for, maybe, $4.00. The YB link above cites a mothership.sg article on a hawker stall where the $1 price of a nasi lemak has remained unchanged for 32 years. You can't tell E@L that costs of producing this deal of a meal haven't risen extortionately.

And people says there's such a thing as progress!

~~~~~~~~~

Mind you, since certain changes *cough* have progressed (regressed?) at work, E@L's salary is not a million miles/dollar from what it was in 2004, and in fact it is a tad reduced from those yawning heights, plus he doesn't get business class flights on long hauls anymore. Even so, he remains a (slightly less) ridiculously overpaid expat, dragging away employment opportunities from locals, and he can go to Woolies and rack up a $200 bill in a heart-beat. (You can too, rich reader!)

Or E@L can get a taxi to a hawker centre, as has often done, which may seem perverse ($15 ride to get a $10 feast - including a large Tiger) when the MRT and buses are so cheap and convenient.

There is a bipolar wage level in Singapore... Income disparity. Do we blame capitalism, fascism, the PAP/Gahmen/Lee family, cult of personality, Thomas Picketty, Obama, Reagan & Thatcher & Malcolm Fraser, cultural Marxbrothersism, libertarianism, communism, Ismism?

Or do we blame "foreign talent" such as

E@L?


*Spooky House.



Saturday, December 29, 2018

Toothbrush



"I owe my life to dental hygeine!" Batman to Robin, circa 1968.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

E@L takes his mum to the bathroom so she can brush her teeth.

She is walking ahead but parks the four-wheeler in the bathroom doorway with the front wheels leading in and blocks herself. E@L has to coax her come back out again, to turn the four-wheeler around and to reverse back to the doorway. She can then turn slowly around, clockwise, step away from the four-wheeler, hopefully not leaving her left foot behind as she twists. It was her right hip that was replaced 10 years ago and that one works fine. Slowly, dreadfullly slowly, like every other action, she scuffles her foot around and straightens it to her body. With her right hand she reaches to the door frame by the bench and then leans forward to move her right foot up ahead. Her left hand can come off the pusher now, and can move to the door-frame too, and then her right hand can go to the bench.

She is the end of the bench actually, where her right hand is holding a lot of her weight as she stoops, and so long as her feet are not overlapping she can remove her left hand from the door-frame. Her left foot is still turning, her right foot is coming forward again, and yes, her right hand now slides to the corner of the bench, and she can eventually place her left hand next to it. She is inside the door, standing at the bench's corner, and only has to shuffle a little to her right and around to get to the front of the bench in order to access the sink properly and to do her teeth.

She turns and looks at E@L with upraised inner ends of her eyebrows. "Are you looking after me?"

"Helping you brush your teeth, mum."

"Who's looking after me?" Concerned eyes in deeply-creased face, so many years of weather and of more concerns, a young widow's concerns amongst others.

"We're all here, your beautiful children, all forty-eight of us."*

She scoffs and smiles. "Phff. I only have two children."

"More than enough!" E@L says.

"I'll say!" She gives a little laugh.

She shuffles further to the front of the bench and E@L stands by the doorway at the end.

"Here's your brush."

He hands her the brush, which has a grey unmarked, plain stick-like handle made of a material he is unsure of and doubts he's ever seen before. Its shape is very old-fashioned: there is a slight waist to it, but otherwise it's straight up and down, no fancy curves, rubber inserts or indentations, nor any attempt at fitting to the form of a user's hand. It looks like it might have been made of pumice stone in ancient times, but it is soft in the hand, and smooth. And anyway, the head looks normal.

Mum turns on the cold water tap, transfers the brush to her right hand, turns it to face up, and, to E@L's slight surprise, begins to rub the bristles of the brush into the nozzle of the faucet, back and forth in the running water, scraping the bristles across the inside of the tap's orifice.

E@L has never noticed her do this. Or has he? Perhaps he didn't take it in, but this day there is a slight shimmering of deja-vu about the act. Has he ever even watched her brush her teeth before?

It strikes him as a habit she must have acquired long ago. Why? Perhaps, as the youngest in a family of seven kids who were so poor they would share a brush, she had to scrape brother and sister cooties from it? No, Granddad was never that poor. Or maybe she had to take it to school and use it after whatever lunch at St Brendens Convent School the nuns would provide. Or did they bring their own lunch, her sisters and brothers, Grandma having made several sets of sandwiches for those of her children still at school with the bread she had baked the weekend before. Mum (although she was not called mum at the time), after folding back the grease-proof sandwich paper to be re-used next day, would still have to retreive the brush from within her leather satchel that had her name hand-printed in gold ink on the flap just below the handle, and maybe the brush could get contaminated in there, unless it was wrapped in a clean handkerchief? She used live only two onion-farmed paddocks away fom the school: E@L wonders if she went home for lunch?

She is leaning in low over the sink, her stoop more pronounced, and she takes her half-plate out from her mouth and, with it in her left hand, rinses it in the running water. She then scrubs the false teeth with the wet brush. E@L holds a tube of toothpaste and says,

"Here, put some toothpaste on it."

She nods, and holds the brush out for him to squeeze a small dollop onto it. But she only uses the paste for the teeth remaining in her mouth, her real teeth. She scrubs for twenty seconds at most, rinses the brush, places it back in its porcelain cup, which is where E@L's conventional Oral-B brush is also residing for this "holiday", although with a traveller's protective hood clipped over its head. He no longer bring his electric brush - it is so bulky and the battery dies so quickly. She leans in further still and with her now free right hand scoops some water into her mouth, sloshes it around and spits it out, one or two darkish spots of dinner's roast pork alighting in the sink.

E@L passes her a clean hand-towel and she wipes her face. She raises her left hand and covers her mouth as she puts her teeth back in and, uncovering her mouth suddenly like an exaggerated kiss, gives her son a big smile.

"Thank you for looking after me," she says deliberately, and winks at

E@L


* Some might say don't be ambigious or facetitious when caring for elderly people with progressive dementia, but mum still has many moments when the dementia lets her wicked sense of humour bubble out from under that forgetfulness and lostness, and the Sundowners Syndrome added with her long-standing anxiety (what she calls The Fear). When that receptivity to cheekiness goes away, it will mean someting. Exactly what, we'll find out.

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