Monday, October 31, 2005

Making an Exhibition of Oneself

Monday 31 October 2005

So yesterday I went to the International Centre.Venue for the Foreign Artists Exhibition.Runs Tuesday through Sunday.Apprehensive.The taxi driver tried to make conversation.I tried to resist correcting his mistakes.My inner child Bob,grammar monitor was screaming in my head.I suppressed him.Barely.Incidentally why is one of the first questions always"How many sheeps is there in New Zealand?".Must remember to choose a non-agarian country next time.

Upon arriving at the fourth floor I was met by a choas of activity.People signing up and organizing their stuff in the display room.I felt immediately humbled.Awkward.Seemed many paintings and photography.Real art rather than the kids stuff and rainy afternoon filler that most people see as paper mache.I dont think i'll do much to dispel that image.
I tried to find an area away from most critical gazes.
A large beer can holding pony tailed man advanced towards me,arm extended.Yeech human contact.I briskly shook his clammy hand.Jim,one of the main organisers was very friendly and helpful.He advised me about the display and lighting.I arrived at 11:30 and left at 2pm.
Id sketched out where and how I wanted things displayed.It took longer than I thought to space and pin stuff.Plus other people came round to look and made encouraging noises.Mostly.This matronly woman steamed over glanced dismissively at my efforts uttered "Paper mache" and sailed away.At least she was honest.I noticed later while doing the rounds said woman was displaying these stereotypical watercolor prints of hydrangeas and other flora.Chocolate box stuff.
I'll go back on Friday and mix with the masses.On Sunday after the end of the exhibition theres a small party which should be interesting given the variety of nationalities involved.Yesterday I met a German,some Brazilians and Mexicans as well as a mixture of English,Irish and Aussies.
Was kinda funny leaving the pigs and frogs behind.I imagine its much like a parent letting go...the challenge is out in the real world to survive the criticism of others...whatever.

Watched this recently.Amazed at Christian Bales physical transformation.He lost about 4 stone.Looks like a cross between an Aids victim and a concentration camp survivor.The story itself is perplexing and confusing.Like Memento it plays round with time and it keeps you guessing what has,had or will happen.The movie itself is shot in mostly blue,gray industrial tones.Very moody.All the reviews Ive read speak of all the references to Polanski,Kafka and other literary things.If I were more educated or knowlegeable id have picked them and sagely nodded"ah that shot was a homage to Polanski".
Not being a film litterati however Im unburdened with this so I could enjoy this DVD even at a superfical level.

Couldnt let the week pass without some comment about this woman.None of the students at my school knew her and only a few teachers.I had to do a history course at Teachers College so was at least familiar with her name.
Briefly on December 1 1955 she refused to give up her seat as required on a Montgomery bus to a white man.Her subsequent arrest led to a 381 day boycott of the bus system organised by Martin Luther King.I read this week in a newspaper that her act of defiance sparked the creation of the civil rights movement in America.Both Rosa and her husband later lost their jobs,were harassed and threatened and moved to Detroit.
Rosa received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 the highest award the U.S government can give a civilian.This week to finally honor her life her body will lie in state in Washington an honor usually reserved for Presidents and other high profile people rather than a 42 year old seamstress who felt " I had a right to be treated like any other passenger"Rest in Peace.

Many Japanese words sound similiar.Can be amusing or embarassing.Take for example the words for cat "neko" and the word for meat "niku".I'll let you imagine the scene when you confuse the two in a butchers shop.....

More Spelling Mistakes.
You would expect that December 25 and the shopping extravaganza that revolves around it from the end of October to early January would at least be spelt right.Of all the words in the English language surely this word has reached some kind of awareness in terms of spelling.But no! Imagine my disgust when i saw a sign in an upmaket boutique displaying the following example of the "cold-blooded murder of the English tongue" ok drum roll please and execution squad at the ready...the crime against humanity read "Merry Cristmas".I know its only missing an "h" but surely such a well known person or persons and common expression should be spelt correctly.Needless to say Bob my inner grammar Nazi was beside himself, It was all I could do to walk by.Bob wanted me to rip up the offending message or point out the error which would be lost on the shop staff. Should the sign be displayed next week I'll have to take a photo of it and see if I can get it on this blog.....  

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cant Get No Connection

Monday 24 October 2005

So 3 Fridays ago I did it.Finally gave in and bought a shiny happy Apple notebook.I'd been wrestling with the idea of getting an internet connection and updating my computer.I have an old computer I bought off a roommate some four years ago.It chugs along with a good video game card.Unfortunately its prone to crash and frequently requires rebooting.
I wanted something more stable,reliable,modern.Having seen the versatility and user-friendliness of Macs firsthand in Prague last year while getting my TEFL certificate I set my heart on one.A couple of other factors swayed my decision.First an Apple store recently opened in Nagoya.Secondly since my building has been painted Ive been beseiged by door to door salesmen selling cheap internet deals.So I finally caved in and signed up

The actual ISP deal is quite sweet the first 2 months service are free.Its easy enough even for an illiterate non Japanese speaker like me.The ISP company offers a free English support phone line.Which is good as their equipment only comes with Japanese manuals.Likewise the Mac which has an internal English manual only.The whole process takes a month or so from sign up,delivery of modem and installation by their staff.Or Not.The staff at my work handled the phone calls and arranged for the installation date.
So last Friday a company rep duly arrived.he entered my humble apartment and bowed duly while removing his shoes.So far so good.

There followed a sharp intake of breath and much wailing and gnashing of teeth as he cast his eyes on my new computer.
"Muzukashii"....difficult he uttered as his eyes rolled toward the back of his head.Evidently he wasnt conversant with the Apple O/S or Macs.
He arrived at 12:30 pm.Left at 3:00pm.In between there was a lot of fiddling.Much hand wringing.Head shaking.Muttering Repeated calls to his companys support line.As suddenly as he appeared he choked out a dispirited "Chotto Matte"....please wait a moment ....and departed.Defeated.
I continued to dust and clean my apartment.Resigned to the fact that things are never as simple as they seem.
At 4pm another rep turned up.Again the bow followed by the anguished pained look.I was beginning to feel guilty for having purchased such an inconvenient machine in the Land of Windows.

However by 5pm he'd managed to get me connected to the Net.His cellphone battery died as a result of prolonged calls to the support line for instructions and inspiration.I gave him mine.Round 5:15 he handed me back my phone.A friendly American woman on the other end explained that my password had an error in it.As a result there was a problem connecting me to the company email and other services.They would send me another in 6 days.I thanked her and praised the persistence and patience of her co-workers.The now beaming Japanese man left.Happy that I understood the situation and happier still that he didnt have to explain it to me in English.
I resumed washing the mugs I used to make my visitors tea.Having nothing to do all afternoon and standing round like an expectant father I find in such trying circumstances a cup of tea has certain curative soothing powers.
End result....a fibre optic "hikari" connection fully operational.Which Im happy with...till a student told me that its probably only fibre to the building and once there cable is used from the apartment buildings server to the individual apartment computers resulting in significant reduction in speed...whatever...

Been putting the final touches on my paper mache pieces ahead of this weekends Foreign Artists Exhibition.I have to take my works down to the Nagoya International Centre Sunday morning to set up for next weeks display.Between the computer saga and paper mache I havent had much time to read or watch anything of note though am currently enjoying a collection of O Henry short stories.He has a wry turn of expression and a freshness that makes it easy to see why he continues to be popular....

Monday, October 17, 2005

Gardening At Night 17th October 2005

Gardening At Night
Back home in New Zealand its now spring.Back home before coming to Nagoya I rented half a house which came with a sizable backyard and a vegetable patch.
I was reminded of my veggie garden as I meandered through the streets to work today.Here and there wedged between houses are small plots of cultivated land.

Back home I grew tomatoes,lettuces,various other vegetables and at last count 10 varieties of sunflowers.Spring was a busy time after the inactivity of winter.Different seeds and plants had to be selected and purchased.Fallow earth had to be tilled,turned over and fertilised.None of this chemical fertiliser.All natural leaf mold,grass clippings,blood and bone,chicken shit and seaweed were dug in.
A huge pear tree which provided shade over the garden produced an abundance of pears.The surplus I also dug in .Greedily devoured by worms,insects,birds and a resident family of hedgehogs who earned their keep as pest control agents.Often you could hear and see them at work their raspy,asthmatic breathing at dusk.
There were three main plots in which I rotated the crops as per my battered Yates Gardening bible.Along the fenceline I grew sunflowers of various hues and heights.
Ranging from the dwarf pompom types to the 2-3 metre regal Russian specimens with their large seed bearing heads providing food for the local sparrow population.

I also recall getting home after work and spending an hour or so each night weeding ,
watering,staking trimming and the numerous tasks required maintaining a garden.
Towards summer after the initial crops had been sown Id anticipate which kind of lettuces to sow for summer salads.Would it be the flashy frilly red green breed or a more reliable older conservative type.One summer I even tried to grow the yellow oval shaped low acid Italian tomatoes ...with mixed results.
Gardening is a very contemplative dare I say hands on interest.I envy the old men and women I saw today bent double in their plots.Here in Nagoya I only have a small balcony populated by a few desultory cacti and a listless rubber plant.Hardly enough challenge to keep my gardening skills up to par.
The Dictators
With its 165 or so pages of references and notes to say Richard Overys "The Dictators Hitlers Germany, Stalins Russia" is impressive is both an injustice and an understatement.The book is his attempt to put both regimes into their historical,political and social context.
Chapters deal with the ideas,political,social and cultural ambitions.Its an engrossing read.I just wonder how long it took him to assemble all the sources and then distill the results of such scholarship into such a compelling and coherent read.
One of the more interesting chapters deals with the relationship the dictatorships had with the existing social organisations such as the churches,trade unions and the legal systems.The use of terror,periodic purges and control of public opinion is described in some detail.
I never realised the extent to which the ideas of eugenics and biological engineering were used and subverted to murder ,castrate and sterlise not only Jews but other "asocials" or deviants such as gypsies,mentally ill,handicapped children and sexual offenders ....all in the pursuit of a superrace.
The sheer detail and density can be overwhelming at times I glazed over the chapter on controlling the economy.
Overall though, one of the weighty works of my year and thought provoking.How its possible for a regime or cliche to gain control then change and establish its own mindset and inculcate the younger members of its society.
The author also tackles the problematic idea of dissent.An ordinary citizen may baulk at some of the regimes policies yet happily comply with others when there is pressure from your conscience, fear for your job,family and reputation as well as state coercion in the form of concentration camps.
As he puts it however both systems didnt arise from some alien visitation but were populist dictatorships fed by mass participation and accepted by significant fractions of the population.
All in all it took me a month or so to read which in my opinion seems a fair trade off given the quality ,depth and wealth of detail in this 651 page book.
Bagels and a Blue Monday
One of the small joys and consolations of Mondays as I make my one and a half hour trek to deepest ,darkest Nagoyas suburbs is the thought of having bagels for lunch produced at the shopping centre bakery.When I first was assigned this task some 3 months ago there were three types baked...plain,blueberry and cheese.Proudly displayed.
Slowly but surely the display shrunk along with the disapperance of the cheese bagels.Imagine my horror today when I arrived to find the display completely gone and only the plain stodgy bagels hidden in the corner.Seems bagels havent been selling like hotcakes and their popularity has faded due to the fickleness of customers.
As if to compound matters ColdPlays new album was being played on our schools sound system.The predictable repeated rise and fall in each melody seems sure to induce either sea sickness or insanity caused by frequent exposure.....

Monday, October 10, 2005

Something In the Air

Something In The Air
Monday 10 October 2005

So we havent had a head teacher at my small English conversation school for the last four months.We coped.With the paperwork.With all the attendant problems that arose.Not total anarchy.Relaxed atmosphere.No sweat.No condescension in the ranks.
Till last week.
We got a new titled teacher.A kind of uber-head teacher.In charge of 5 schools.In his mid twenties.On the way up.Going places.
He stinks.Literally.Physically.Badly.Excessively.
"His epidermal pores show no signs of being obstructed " to steal a phrase from O.Henry.
Not to mince words he exudes a sweet sickly earthy aroma.A great unwashed fuming overripe stench.Body odour and noxious cigarette cigarette breath.Lethal.
So thick it lingers long after he exits the room for a clandestine nicotine fix between classes.Leaving those poor souls behind gagging in his sullied wake.For the sake of anonymity I'll call him Tony because thats his name.
The Pong Remains the Same
There are a number of things about this situation that get up my nose.Firstly,how can he be so unaware,so oblivious of his lack of personal hygiene and its impact on those he works with?Secondly, why hasnt someone tried to clean the air and brought the matter to his attention?
Sure he's in a position of authority which makes it all the more difficult to broach this problem.
Finally, if i do poke my nose in,how do I do so without raising a stink?
Do I tell him alone, diplomatically and sensitively or do I form a tar soap and lather lynch mob and outright confront him?
Or should I just wash my hands of the whole thing and sweep it under the carpet?
Then again am I duty bound to tell his superior about this scenter of distraction and get his boss to deal with it?
Never had to deal with this problem before, never thought I would ether.
Self Indulgent Weekend
It rained last Friday and Saturday.I stayed in.Armed with the just released third series dvds of "The Sopranos" and one litre of Hagen Daz classic chocolate I made some real progress at finishing my paper mache bits and pieces for the Foreign Artists Exhibition on October 31.The advance advertising says there will be some 60 artists so Im feeling somewhat ambivalent and a little fraught whether I can justify displaying my flying pigs,paper mache brains and broken hearts among the photography,painting,poetry and sculpture.
I really enjoyed The Sopranos.As one of the writers said in a commentary the characters evolve and develop.Unlike say the one dimensional cardboard Friends.
By the end of the third season things have become pretty bleak for most of the cast.A few continuing and developing story lines will expand in the next season im sure.Its interesting the way things are never cut and dried,people,motives never completely black and white.
Things are never resolved neatly in one programme but may linger until the end of a season or dwell on to the next.The show seems to treat its viewers with some sembalance of intelligence,no join the dots,signposted in your face exposition.You are rewarded for watching diligently;some comment about an event in another show or series brings recognition and realisation otherwise missed.The mixture of violence and gallows humor, the unstable personalities for me make this an enjoyable series to view.Roll on series 4 whenever it gets released here in Japan I can only speculate.
Thank You.
Last and by no means least something pleasant to end on.Much appreciation to the reader who emailed me about two Alex McCall No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books I was unaware of.
I hastened down to the local bookshop last week and ordered them.Should be here by Christmas according to the staff.
Thank you :)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Art For Arts Sake

Art for Arts Sake
Monday 3 October 2005

"Art is inconcievable without risk..without freedom and boldness of imagination.Real art comes as a surprise.You cant foresee the unpredictable, or regulate the unruly" Boris Pasternak

I was reminded of this passage last Saturday when i saw a small exhibition of Pop Art at a local gallery.All the heavy weights were there Hockney,Lichtenstein and of course Warhol.
Pop Art or "popular art " began in the 1950s and 60s as a reaction to the more obscure less accesible movements. On display were not only paintings or huge canvas prints (one with Lichtensteins trademark dots was almost hypnotic ) but there were also steel sculptures,collages a refrigerator packed with metallic foodstuffs and an installation labelled Civilisation accumulation of garbage packed into a clear waist high plastic box.
The last exhibit was a reclining nude couple done in all too realistic plaster and resin which drew a lot of interest from the curious crowd.
Overall an interesting show but i felt it was somewhat dated.Maybe it was shocking in the 60s some of it seemed passe .Maybe because some of the works have become so well known and part of every day life it no longer comes as a surprise and as relevant or challenging as it was once.
The Dictators
The Pasternak quote comes from Richard Overys excellent history of Hitler and Stalin titled "The Dictators".One of the chapters deals with Cultural Revolutions in both Russia and Germany.It describes in detail the efforts of both regimes to control art, culture and its expression through political regulation and centralisation.
In Germany for example a Reich Chamber of Culture was set up which was divided into 7 subordinate chambers which were further divided into further areas of control.Thus the Chamber of Visual Arts had control of a Chamber of Landscaping.
As well as government regulation, censorship and purges were used to control what the state saw as culture.Hundreds of artists,film directors ,writers were excluded from membership of state regulated organisations in both countries.Papers were closed down,books ,music were vetted.On the other hand state patronage was given to those whose work promoted each systems cultural outlook.Each state actively used the relatively new media of film and radio to literally broadcast its view to its population.
I'll give a more detailed review of the book in the near future when ive had time to digest it.
The Broken Umbrella
This is the name of a small Japanese eatery in Tajimi where I work.Taken there one night last week.Off a sidestreet past a pachinko parlor you enter a gap in a wooden wall about half the size of a normal door.No signage. Just a broken bamboo umbrella hence the name.
Upon entering we were warmly greeted by the two women proprietors.The small interior is U shaped in configuration.Customers sit on cushions round the outside while the women serve drinks and cook inside the U shape.Dark painted pine and shelves laden with customers numbered bottles pass as interior design and decoration.Local pottery dishes are used for crockery.On the U shaped wooden counter food is set out.Fish with their glazed eyes and gaping mouths stare at you from one end while fresh clumps of mushrooms,vegetables and meat crowd and vie for your attention.In the background muted jazz plays.I settled for some kebahs of grilled pork and onions and a large bowl of mushrooms sauteed in butter and ginger.Very friendly and comfortable atmosphere despite my lack of Japanese and surprisingly cheap compared with similiar places in the big smoke of Nagoya.
Watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.Wes Andersons latest offering.A pisstake of Jacques Cousteau and his TV marine documentaries.On a deeper level it might be seen as a modern Moby Dick with Bill Murray as Ahab chasing his own whale in this case a Jaguar shark.Like the Royal Tenebaums its also about,paternal and general.
One of my favorite scenes involves the antics of a killer whale performing in the background of a scene with Murray and Blanchett.Its very difficult to concentrate on the conversation as the whale performs various tricks and barrel rolls.
The soundtrack involves one of the sailors performing David Bowie standards in Portugese while some of the marine animals are animated surrealistic creations.Both these things add to the quirkiness of the movie.a strong cast including Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum hamming it up.I also liked Angelica Hustons character as Zissous ex-wife.T
The DVD has a commentary with Anderson and some other people involved with the film.Its somewhat difficult to hear at times as its done in a restaurant where they worked each day surrounded by other noisy diners.There are though some interesting insights into characters and some observations on Proust which seems somewhat highbrow in these days of "The Dukes of Hazzard" and its ilk.
Random Thoughts
My horoscope last Sunday said i should end "unproductive friendships".Got me thinking.What qualifies as an unproductive/productive friendship.Can you quantify,cost analyse a friendship?
Can you make a profit and loss account, a financial statement?
Credit or debit the drinks and presents you have showered and shouted friends.Do a cost benefit chart? Do friends gain value over time? Can I write off a failed relationship as a tax loss.Do friendships appreciate or depreciate over a tax year?
Can I write some friends off as charity cases? Are they tax deductible?Should I send a monthly statement or invoice those friends who made me wait and waste my time? Do I send out final notices that friendship services will be terminated in 30 days should payment not be forthcoming?
What amounts to a productive friendship?The reinforcement of your own biases,prejudices and conceited opinions by other like minded idiots?The knowledge that someone shares your own skewered views?
I think it Gonna Rain
Scavenging in the local used cd shop happened upon a Jools Holland and Friends cd.Amazing some of the stuff that winds up here..ive found some rare New Zealand material on the shelves.Anyway theres a nice cover by David Gray...mournful comes to mind.
Weatherwise its finally decided its autumn and abruptly dropped the temperature by 5 degrees.Its probably the most pleasant time of the year bar the early days of spring.No more cockroaches and lower humidity make for better sleeping patterns.I seem to have survived another summer here with some vestige of sanity.Another postive is the variety of food available in season the mushrooms and nashi pears are probably my favorite though the local oranges or mikans run a close third.
Mac Attack
Still looking at getting an Apple G4 IBook.Went to the Apple Shop and got another quote.Only 188,000 yen.Six months ago I was quoted 230,000 yen and that was without the new Tiger o/s.
Having only used Windows Im not sure if i can make the jump and handle the innovation.Its my own kind of cultural revolution in a sense.....