Can you tell how tired I am from my intermittent posting and general lack of coherence? I stay up late and sleep badly and get up early. Last night I dreamed there was a huge earthquake in Grantchester. Shockwaves ran out under the green grass like ripples on a pond.
Archive for July, 2008
“What has she done?”
“She’s dropped the keys through the hole into the DVD cabinet. And it’s locked.”
“Can we hook it out?”
“I’ll get a coathanger.”
“Too stiff. There aren’t enough degrees of freedom.”
“Sure there are. Let me try.”
“No I’ll do it.”
“Huh. It’s not going to come up that way.”
“I wonder if we can get it through this slot?”
“No way, the keys are too thick. Do we have a magnet?”
“No. How about if I go through here and lift it up to you?”
“That might work. There you go. Steady…”
(The keys are now hanging off a bulldog clip that is too big to go through the hole. What we should have done in the first place.)
Seriously great day, the first for a while. Morning playdate with the other Armistead Maupin parents, who are all gorgeous and charming and interested in the same kinds of gossip as I am (this year’s School District lottery having furnished us with way too much material, unfortunately.) Side trip back to Bernal for Claire’s piano class, during which I started a new-to-me Kerry Greenwood that is irresistibly reminiscent of my beloved Sunshine, which if you haven’t read, do! (The book list on the left there is so far out of date that it may never be caught up.)
The playdate went on for satisfying ages, at the end of which I was trembly with hunger and about to fall into that unable-to-decide-what-to-eat state when in the nick of time I remembered El Metate! Alemany works as a handy teleport from Excelsior to darkest Mission, and then there was a parking space (there is never a parking space) and twenty minutes later I was stuffed full of breaded fish tacos and happy as a pig.
When we got home there was a parking space! (There is never a parking space!) And the downstairses were just getting home, so Claire was swallowed up into their entourage and Jeremy and Julia had a nap, and since my services were not required I went to the mailbox and got a chai and cookies from Nervous Dog and dropped over to the Murgisteads to hang. And now I am home, with dinner-makings and a new piece of terrace-knickknackery, and the J’s are awake and the cat is healthy and hydrated and happy. Seriously great day.
Stupid cat ate the wet food! And has been quite charming ever since we got her home, setting aside her understandable objections to the meds.
She may need a new epithet. But I won’t rush it. She’s bound to do something awful soon.
The stupid cat won’t eat wet food. She never has eaten wet food, of course, but I wish she would tonight.
She had her teeth cleaned under a general anaesthetic this morning, and the vet extracted three teeth that had deep lesions and must have been causing her a fair bit of pain. She’s had her teeth cleaned before but she’s an old lady now, and it was hard to drop her off this morning. The gloomy part of me was convinced she would die under the anaesthetic, or at least savage a vet nurse. Or the sky would fall. Rock on, gloomy self! You’re the life of the damn party.
One time when I went to pick her up after she had her teeth done, the stupid cat made me feel like a big shiny hero. She was all cranky and hissing and backed into a corner of her cage, but as soon as she saw me she crept into my arms and purred. The people were wowed by my cat-fu! Today, not so much. She was as pissed off at me as she was at the entire rest of the world, and she wanted us all dead. I had to trick her into her carrying cage by hiding it under a towel.
She’s an expensive waste of space, that cat, and a standing joke among all our friends. (Your cat sends you to the emergency room one time…) I call her my id, and it’s not quite a joke. I like it that she’s beautiful, coal black with yellow-green eyes and the world’s softest fur. But that’s not why I love her. It annoys me that she’s a bitey little bitch, but that makes no difference to how I love her.
I just love her. She doesn’t need to have a point. And if I can feel that way about something small and cranky, I suppose other people can feel that way about me.
Finally finally finally got to see Up the Yangtze, on the fourth try. Lots of handheld camera work, which makes me physically ill; even the memory is making me queasy as I write this. Staggering film nonetheless. China has always been fascinating, but for the last ten years it’s become, or has gone back to being, the tumultuous center of all human life, or maybe it always was and I am just less young and foolish than I used to be. There are cities in China I have barely heard of, that are three times the size of London. Did I say staggering already?
Up the Yangtze starts as a nostalgic cruise by a Chinese Canadian director down the Three Gorges, one of the last such cruises before the dam gates close in 2011 and the entire region is flooded. Then the film dives into the lives of two of the employees on the cruise ship. Jerry Chen Bo Yu is a goodlooking teenage boy from a middle-class, urban family; but he is not a fraction as handsome and charming as he thinks he is.
Yu Shui is only sixteen. Her family has been farming the land abandoned by the people of Fengdu the Ghost City as they moved out of the way of the floodwaters; which means that over the course of the film, the patched-together shack itself disappears beneath the river. The time-lapse sequence in which we watch the farm drown is as effective a memento mori as I have seen. Nevertheless this was a smart choice on the part of Yu Shui’s parents, as these desperately poor, illiterate people grew corn and potatoes there and were able to raise three healthy children, at least for a while.
Yu Shui wants to go to university and become a scientist, but there is no money for her to finish high school (and she didn’t do well enough to earn a scholarship.) So she ends up on the cruise ship, learning English and crying into filthy sinks after endless washing-up. I had jobs like that myself as a teenager, but it was to pay my horse’s vet bills, not to feed my mum and dad. And in any case I sucked at that kind of work and swore to get a job sitting on my butt, and sure enough thanks to my parents’ generosity and other large chunks of unearned privilege, I did. My heart went out to Yu Shui and to all the people like her, who deserve better.
(The Westerners don’t come across well at all. For a start, we’re funny-looking, with our weird pink faces and blue eyes like cold marbles and colourless wavy hair. But worse, we are arrogant sons of bitches. One woman says to Jerry, as she’s leaving the ship: “I have to congratulate you. You were much less obtrusive than I expected you to be.” He feels pretty much the same way about her.)
Werner Herzog gets thanked in the acknowledgements and, like Encounters at the End of the World, Up the Yangtze works better than most science fiction. We don’t need to imagine contact when it’s happening all the time, between people who might as well be from different planets: Canada and China. The film achieves a lot, but I think what I will remember longest is the shy, complicated heroism of Yu Shui’s father and mother. “How could we do this to you,” her mother asks Yu Shui, “if we had a choice?”
It’s been crazy. I got that bistro set for the terrace and we’ve had friends over nearly every night to sit out there and drink sauvignon blanc with us. Which has been delightful, except that I am always hungover which makes me even grumpier in the mornings. Hard to imagine but true. On the bright side I got chunky gold streaks in my hair, and between that and the excellent European foundation garments making me feel like a million pounds sterling, I am probably the cutest I have ever been.
On Saturday Claire and I went to Armistead Maupin Elementary for our first garden day. It’s sort of miraculous: there’s this sliver of land between the school and the fence, and it has been planted with corn and lettuce and herbs, peaches and currants and hazelnuts. I met the PTA presidents and a bunch of other parents and Devon the eco volunteer, and Claire met Ivy and Toni who are also going into kinder and might even end up in her class.
We helped build a cob bench, a mix of clay and sand and straw that is sort of like adobe. Claire and a bunch of the other kids mixed it by stomping it with their bare feet, then we all squished it around the stones that make the core of the bench. Very primal to be building with these ancient materials: good villagey bonding experience.
Today I finally paid attention to my car’s loud whiney noise. It was whining every time I turned a corner, which was annoying because I turn corners a lot. Takes a village to fix a car: the cool punk rock bikers who live with lovely old Stan down the street diagnosed it instantly when I parked beside them yesterday as low power steering fluid.
I considered changing it myself until I researched the matter online and found that the wrong kind of fluid will cause your power steering to INSTANTLY EXPLODE or something, so I took it to Jerry’s where they fixed it as part of an oil change. Because this was Sunday and they were shorthanded I was conscripted to help them push an SUV into the garage. I love my mechanic. And my punk rock biker neighbours.
This afternoon Claire and I picked blackberries on Bernal Hill, and made them into pie.
Project-based learning isn’t something you impose on kids; it’s the sea in which they swim. With three months of martial arts under her belt, Claire was mad keen to see Kung Fu Panda. So much so that she painted the panda before we went, insisted on dim sum (Aust: yum cha) for dinner, then improvised what she claimed was Chinese-sounding music during piano practice when we got home.
I had some issues with the film. The character setup was trite, especially in the opening scenes – Po wants to do kung fu you say? But his father wants him to take over the noodle shop? Pardon me while I pass out from boredom. Much worse: the other heroes resent the newcomer in their midst and insult him and are mean to him. What kind of worthless fu is that? Looks like no fu at all to me.
(On a somewhat related note, do American filmmakers really not see what they are doing when they have characters run vertically up through the debris of collapsing buildings? Or have frightened crowds flee from walls of dust? It strikes me as profoundly uncool to work out your 9/11-based traumas in such transparent ways.)
I enjoyed the film a bit more when the it managed to partially-subvert the tedious old Chosen One plot. I’m less violently allergic to Chosen Ones than I used to be, now that I have decided we are all allowed to be the Special Predestined Protagonists of our own lives. (Aren’t I generous.) But it’s a dull trope, undemocratic and unfair. I don’t appreciate heroes like Harry Potter, who are all glowy and adorable Just Because. The rest of us have to work for a living! I like stories where the plain people do the needful by dint of hard work and cooperation. Like, uh, LIFE. Or Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. Or life.
Julia, meanwhile, is making breathtaking cognitive leaps around language. Her speech is clearer and more precise and nuanced every day, and she is on the brink of understanding the relationship between letters and words. The last couple of days it’s been all about Museum ABC. “D is for dances! E is for eggs!”
You want to know my idea of a hero? Two little girls asleep in the next room. I may still be able to bench-press both of them at once, but trust me: not a force in the ‘verse can stop them.
The excellent Spanish class that Claire and Julia attend has its own DVDs and CDs of original music; one of the tracks we all like is about opposites, and ends “Triste, feliz; triste, feliz.” Sad, happy, sad, happy. I’ve taken to singing this to Jeremy when I’m feeling particularly mood-swingy.
And it’s been that kind of a week. I cried with happiness over two newly-announced pregnancies, both hard-won and full of hope. And I cried with the other thing over having to buy flowers for two funerals, one long-expected but still wrenching, the other out of the blue and incomprehensible.
And life just keeps tumbling on. I cook dinner and order school uniforms for Claire and the uniforms arrive and she puts them on and is transformed into a schoolgirl! My baby! Not possible. She has a wobbly tooth!
I am very keen to see Up the Yangtze, the documentary of the last cruise up the Three Gorges before they were dammed. I think a lot about the villagers whose homes were drowned.
Time is a river.
I planted grape vines on my terrace. I’m going to put flowers out there too. The tomatoes Aten’t Dead. I figure if we put a cafe table and chairs out there we’ll have effectively a whole nother room in the house, right? Right?