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Archive for September, 2011

Author and journalist George Monbiot has some good career advice:

“So my final piece of advice is this: when faced with the choice between engaging with reality or engaging with what Erich Fromm calls the “necrophiliac” world of wealth and power, choose life, whatever the apparent costs may be. Your peers might at first look down on you: poor Nina, she’s twenty-six and she still doesn’t own a car. But those who have put wealth and power above life are living in the world of death, in which the living put their tombstones – their framed certificates signifying acceptance to that world – upon their walls. Remember that even the editor of the Times, for all his income and prestige, is still a functionary, who must still take orders from his boss. He has less freedom than we do, and being the editor of the Times is as good as it gets.

You know you have only one life. You know it is a precious, extraordinary, unrepeatable thing: the product of billions of years of serendipity and evolution. So why waste it by handing it over to the living dead?”

Tariq Jahan, whose son was killed during the UK riots in August, talks to The Independent about being inundated with letters of condolence from all over the world and continues to set an example for us all:

Despite everything that happened, he won’t accept politicians’ rhetoric that we live in a “broken society”. He speaks of the sense of unity that drew 35,000 people to Haroon’s funeral. “It was amazing,” he says. “It was beautiful. It made me respect the public even more. There are a lot more good people than there are bad people… but unfortunately the bad people find a way into our lives a lot easier.” (The Independent)

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Just realised that my posts for July and August have been sitting as drafts for ages without being published.  So, this is what I have been up to apart from going to visit my friends and family in the UK and Spain over the summer:

Books

Small Island & The Long Song (Andrea Levy) : the best kid of historical fiction as I learnt about Jamaica through great characters and storytelling

Let The Great World Spin (Colum McCann) : my favourite book so far this year which really captures New York

The Tiger’s Wife (Tea Obreht) : magical mix of superstition, tigers and civilian suffering during wars

Conversations with Myself (Nelson Mandela) : the great man in his own words

The Heart of Haiku (Jane Hirshfield) : everything I wanted to know about haiku and more

Cinema

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky) : who knew ballet could be so scary

The Fighter (David O’Russell) : ever since watching this film I have become much better at keeping my hands up and defending myself when boxing

Saw the two films above on my plane flights and the ballerinas turned out to be just as tough as the boxers

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (David Yates) : my favourite book in the series and the film lived up to my expectations

Another Earth (Mike Cahill) : interesting and original concept which stays in your mind – a duplicate Earth appears in the sky and scientists discover it is exactly the same as ours, even with the same people. Does this give you a second chance at life ?

Senna (Asif Kapadia) : best sports documentary I have seen. I idolised Ayrton Senna so the film made my cry all over again despite the fact I knew exactly what was going to happen

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I am lucky enough to have seen Mark di Suvero’s sculptures at Storm King Art Center. However, it was a completely different experience viewing them juxtaposed against the Manhattan skyline on Governors Island:

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I went to a special screening of Warrior at Lincoln Center just because mixed martial arts  is my way of keeping fit:

Tom Hardy stars as Tommy Conlon, a former wrestling prodigy who returns home to Pittsburgh after a stint in the Marines and grudgingly enlists his estranged father (Nick Nolte) to train him for a tournament dubbed “the super bowl of mixed martial arts.” Meanwhile, Tommy’s brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a high school teacher desperate to support his family in a lean economy, also sets his sights on the tournament’s winner-take-all purse.

The fight scenes were great but what kept me enthralled was the story of this damaged family and the fantastic performances – especially from Nick Nolte. I knew going in that Tom Hardy was British but had no idea that Joel Edgerton wasn’t American until I heard his Australian accent when he was interviewed after the film.

One thing I took away from the film is  that Brendan’s trainer made him work out to classical music. I tried it yesterday with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and No.7 and had one of my best sessions – so I recommend it .

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Orphan elephants

National Geographic has a wonderful piece on the the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the world’s most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation center:

“Spend enough time around elephants and it’s difficult not to anthropomorphize their behavior. “Elephants are very human animals,” says Sheldrick, sitting one afternoon on the back porch of her house at the edge of the nursery grounds, the wide, acacia-dotted plains of Nairobi National Park sprawling in the distance. “Their emotions are exactly the same as ours. They’ve lost their families, have seen their mothers slaughtered, and they come here filled with aggression—devastated, broken, and grieving. They suffer from nightmares and sleeplessness.”

What makes this particular moment in the fraught history of elephant-human relations so remarkable is that the long-accrued anecdotal evidence of the elephant’s extraordinary intelligence is being borne out by science. Studies show that structures in the elephant brain are strikingly similar to those in humans. MRI scans of an elephant’s brain suggest a large hippocampus, the component in the mammalian brain linked to memory and an important part of its limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions. The elephant brain has also been shown to possess an abundance of the specialized neurons known as spindle cells, which are thought to be associated with self-awareness, empathy, and social awareness in humans. Elephants have even passed the mirror test of self-recognition, something only humans, and some great apes and dolphins, had been known to do.”

Michael Nichol’s photographs are amazing.

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I finally visited the High Line in May even though the park had been opened in 2009. It hasn’t taken me quite as long to get to the new extension, which opened in June, and it is still amazing to see what has been created out of a disused railway line:

Happily, the same elated reaction that greeted the first segment occurred again this summer, as the newly completed middle portion of the High Line revealed that rather than being simply more of the same, the park is evolving into a much more varied experience than many had anticipated. The newly completed half-mile stretch feels different from the first in that its route is straighter and narrower (two tracks wide as opposed to four in the southernmost section). It makes fewer jogs and lacks the extravagantly sweeping arc of the northern end of the viaduct, which will bring the High Line to a dramatic culmination when the entire project is finished. (The New York Review of Books )

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On a recent flight I watched Fire in Babylon, a fascinating documentary on the West Indies cricket team. I remember watching their test matches against England when I was a teenager but am ashamed to admit that at the time I had no idea of the political importance of their victories.

One of my favourite scenes in the film is when a member of the crowd holds up a sign saying “Black Wash” after the West Indies beat England 5-0,  a resounding win over their former colonial masters.

The trailer for the film sums it up perfectly, “They brought the world to its knees and a nation to its feet”, as the team accomplished a winning streak of 29 Test series between 1980 and 1995. As the great Sir Viv Richards says in the film: “My bat was my sword.”

I would have known a lot more if Andrea Levy’s novel, Small Island, had been around when I was young. She tells the story of Jamaican immigrants to England in 1948 just after they had fought for the Empire in the Second World War.

Although it is very recent history, it is shocking to read about what people went through purely because of the colour of their skin: “A devout Christian, Curtis was asked not to return to his local church for his skin was too dark to worship there” and “Louis now believed bloodyforeigner to be all one word.”

 One Englishwomen says: “All those coons eyeing her and her daughters up every time they walked down their own street. Hitler invading couldn’t have been any worse.”

When Hortense, who had been a teacher in Jamaica, arrives in England she asks herself how the “Mother Country”, which she has known all her life, does not know her:

Can this be that fabled relation you heard so much of? This twisted-crooked weary woman. This stinking cantankerous hag. She offers you no comfort after your journey. No smile. No welcome. Yet she looks down at you through lordly eyes and says, ‘Who the bloody hell are you?’

I imagine my parents received similar reactions when they arrived in England from Bangladesh in the 50s and 60s. Yet it is heartening to see that progress is possible as our family is now a wonderful mix from Bangladesh, Spain and England.

Andrea Levy’s latest novel, The Long Song, is set even further back in Jamaica when “the coffin with the words, ‘Colonial slavery died July 31, 1838, aged 276 years,’ was lowered into the ground” and “a joyous breeze blew.”

The treatment of the slaves was even more shocking , including women:

Half-way between the town and Shepperton Pen, they had come upon a naked slave woman, tied to a coconut tree by her arms. As her feet could not reach the floor, she was slowly spinning in the sun’s heat. Dangling juicy as roasting meat upon a spit, crows kept pecking at her to test her as food. As she spat and kicked to shoo them, she would start to spin faster. She had been beaten before being tied up—with a stick or a short riding whip—for her skin, dusty and black, was in places torn off, creating a speckled pattern that appeared like dappled sunlight upon her.

and children:

The small boy had been running with messages to rebel slaves—a crime—there was no doubt in Howarth’s mind upon that. But the boy was then sealed into a barrel which was roughly pierced with over twenty-five long nails hammered into the shell. The boy, still trapped within that spiky cask, was then rolled down a hill.

This further explains why the West Indies cricket team was so important:

And for any number of legendary West Indian fast bowlers – a proud lineage that ran from Andy Roberts to Curtly Ambrose – the ball was a bullet. If the odd bruise was inflicted, the odd bone broken, that was as nothing compared to the suffering of the African people under the yoke of slavery. (The Daily Telegraph)

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