Archive for March, 2011

This week there have been many stories about the Japanese maintaining their civility and dignity as they struggle with the aftermath of the earthquake :

“Emergency centers, where more than 450,000 evacuees are being housed in stadiums or schools, are neatly organized, with people constructing origami boxes made of newspaper in which to nestle their shoes. This is a country where people do not wear shoes inside, and the habit extends to the little islands of blankets that each evacuated family claims in their emergency shelter” (Time’s Global Spin blog)

The stories reminded me of episode ten in the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects about a Japanese clay jomon pot, made around 5,000 BC. Presenter Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, says:

Jomon pots are used as cultural ambassadors for Japan in major exhibitions around the world. Most nations look back to imperial glories or invading armies – and I think it’s extraordinary that a technologically, economically powerful nation like Japan proudly places the very origins of its identity in the early hunter-gatherers. As an outsider, I find the meticulous attention to detail and the patterning of the surface, and the long continuity of Jomon traditions, already very Japanese.

– author Marie Mutsuki Mockett gives us an insight into modern day Japan in her wonderful piece Memories, Washed Away ;

– the Daily Mail on the courage of the Fukushima fifty workers at Japan’s stricken nuclear plan ;

– CNN on how Japan’s religions confront tragedy ;

philosopher Alain de Botton on tsunamis and Stoicism ;

– an interesting take from Larry Elkin on the Japanese emperors’ speech explaining a constitutional monarchy to Americans :

We have seen many times how monarchs can inspire their people, raise morale and even change history, all without any real political power at all. Royals are at their best when suffering is greatest and they provide whatever relief they can.

Japan’s suffering is the greatest it has seen in a very long time. I hope their emperor can help the Japanese through these trials.


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The birth of a word

MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language – so he wired up his house with video cameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son’s life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch “gaaaa” slowly turn into “water.” Astonishing, data-rich research with deep implications for how we learn.

Deb Roy: The birth of a word | Video on TED.com.

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Being musical is one of the many talents that I do not have. So in order to learn more I have been working through The Great Courses’ How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.

The lectures by Professor Robert Greenberg make the subject so approachable that I have unexpectedly become a huge fan of polyphonic Renaissance choir music (and I now actually understand what polyphonic means).

I subscribed to the Chorworks podcast and have just made my first choral download.  It is quite surreal to walk around the modern streets of Manhattan while listening to Latin singing.

I have become addicted to Magnificat‘s performance of Spem in alium, composed by Thomas Tallis in around 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each:

Simply managing 40 independent parts so that they sound well and don’t tread on each other’s toes is hard enough. But Tallis goes beyond simply managing. He uses his eight five-voice choirs in every conceivable combination, sometimes flowing into each other, sometimes set against each other, and saves the glorious 40-voice sound for dramatic high points. (The Telegraph)

Linn Records – Thomas Tallis: Spem in alium.

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I had been upset about a work-related email since yesterday but woke up this morning to the horrific news from Japan which put things into perspective and I quickly got over myself.

– David Abraham, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations based in Tokyo, writes about the search for solid ground ;

Civility still reigned though: pedestrians waited for traffic lights to turn green before they crossed the road and no car horns blared. (New York Times)

– The London Review of Books also has an eye witness account ;

– Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically;

– In Focus has photographs of the damage  (The Atlantic)

– but things would be a lot worse without Japan’s remarkable disaster readiness (Frum Forum) ;

– one of my favourite journalists, Nicholas Kristof, covered the 1995 Kobe earthquake which killed more than 6,000 people when he was Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times and he offers some words of hope :

In an essay in the Times after the Kobe quake, I ended with a 17th century haiku from one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho:

The vicissitudes of life.
Sad, to become finally
A bamboo shoot.

I find something noble and courageous in Japan’s resilience and perseverance, and it will be on display in the coming days. This will also be a time when the tight knit of Japan’s social fabric, its toughness and resilience, shine through. So maybe we can learn just a little bit from Japan. In short, our hearts go out to Japan, and we extend our deepest sympathy for the tragic quake. But also, our deepest admiration.

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In honour of today being the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, The Guardian has put together a list of the world’s most inspirational women.

I am surprised that Dame Helen Mirren is not on the list – not only has she played really strong women, such as in Prime Suspect, but she also shows that you can continue to look fantastic in your 60s.

Top 100 women | World news | guardian.co.uk

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My February 2011


The Clock (Christian Marclay) – so good it was worth a three-hour wait on a freezing February morning in New York


Skippy Dies (Paul Murray) : funny and poignant and makes  me very glad I don’t have to relive my teenage years

True Grit (Charles Portis) : the dialogue in the movie made me want to read the book and the novel lived up to my expectations

The Imperfectionists (Tom Rachman) : the only imperfection is in the title, absolutely loved this book


Flamenco Hoy by Carlos Saura (New York City Center) : transported me back to my holiday in Cordoba and made me want to take flamenco lessons


Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) : beautiful performance by Javier Bardem although the lesson of this bleak film seems to be that we live short painful lives without any beauty.  I am more of a Vicky Cristina Barcelona-type of girl

The King’s Speech :  the second time round you really notice how fantastic Colin Firth‘s performance was, a worthy Oscar winner

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The funniest article I have read for a long time is Tour de Gall, AA Gill‘s review of Parisian restaurant L’Ami Louis in Vanity Fair.

This is his description of the dining room before he even gets going on the food :

It’s a long, dark corridor with luggage racks stretching the length of the room. It gives you the feeling of being in a second-class railway carriage in the Balkans. It’s painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.

-more seriously it makes me ashamed that the government of Bangladesh is trying to take over Grameen Bank (Nicholas Kristof) ;

– new word watch : “precariat” – people whose lives are precarious because they have little or no job security, from precarious and proletariat (The Big Picture) ;

– new word watch II : “aerotroplis” – a city planned around its airport (The Wall Street Journal) ;

– old words used in an inspirational way: Clarence Jones, author of Behind the Dream, chooses the five best speeches of all time (The Browser) ;

Martin Luther King, Jr was the only person I have ever observed or known – and I’ve never ever seen or heard anyone do it since – who could compose a speech extemporaneously in real time and while he was speaking. Like we use computer skills, he could cut and paste in his mind from previous speeches or writings and he could insert those excerpts into his real time speech. It was an extraordinary ability. It was a transcendental experience to be there. It was like watching lightning captured in a bottle.

– visual inspiration : photographer Timothy Allen’ stunning images of people living in the world’s most extreme environments (BBC).

Have a good weekend.

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