Saturday, March 31, 2007

This, That and the Other

I'm on another of my four-day weekends, coinciding with two developments -- the temperature dropping ten degrees (mostly a good thing -- having to use the air conditioner in March is a bit much) and losing all internet service, at least for a few days (I'm currently on the patio of Eclipse di Sol, pictured above). So there's gonna be a delay in mental institution pics, part two.

So, a little roundup of various things:

* Two quick book reviews:

#11 -- "A Crack in the Edge of the World" by Simon Winchester
#12 -- "Rumpalla: Rummaging Through Albania" by Peter Lucas

Winchester is one of those guys that makes science accessible and readable for dumbos like me. This one is about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and it's pretty interesting. I'm far more engrossed in the anecdotes than the science -- the details of the earthquake, how people reacted, the tangents that Winchester pursues, and the tale of his 21st-century trip to see some of the seismically-active parts of the U.S. A lot of the geology isn't so much lost on me as just not really my thing. A nice diversion from the stuff I usually read, and a few of the things mentioned in here are enough to make me want to read up a bit more, so thumbs up.

I found "Rumpalla" unexpectedly, on a table of beaten-up paperbacks in Tirana's Rinas Airport, the only English-language book in a sea of Albanian versions of John Grisham or whatever. I'd never heard of it, and I held out hope that it was the Great Modern Albania Travelogue I've been hunting for.

Unfortunately, it isn't. It's got some interesting insights -- Lucas was the first American journalist to enter the country after Enver Hoxha died, and he continued regular visits over the next decade and a half. He's got a good eye, and it's interesting to see the country changing.

But it jumps around a lot, and needs some heavy editing. Most bizarrely and sometimes uncomfortably, a lot of people irritated Lucas along the way, and he feels compelled to mention all of them.

So, the quest continues. Next up will probably be "The Accursed Mountains," but everyone on earth seems to hate that one.

* * *

Like an Albania travelogue, I'm also always looking for some book, some film that will properly capture the haunting aspects of the desert. "The Sheltering Sky" sucked, "The Woman in the Dunes" left me cold. A friend of mine recommended Antonini's "The Passenger" some time back, and it's finally out on DVD, and I watched it a couple weeks back.

At the beginning, I thought I'd hit paydirt: gorgeous shots of the North African desert, a dissolute and directionless hero (played by Jack Nicholson). Unfortunately, it never really has much of a plot. Burnt-out journalist Nicholson finds an acquaintance dead in their African hotel, and decides to switch identities with the guy. So far so good. But from there, it meanders through England, Germany, and Spain. The journalist's wife starts looking for the guy who's now actually dead. Nicholson goes to lots of restaurants. He meets a girl. He finds out the guy whose identity he's assumed is not so advantageous.

In between, there's lots of horrible dialogue -- meaningless, trite lines, dealt with more gravitas than they deserve. Lots of nihilistic yammering. Lots of shots of Maria Schneider in a tight blouse (I'm all for that, I admit). Lots of feigned deepness.

Really beautifully shot, though. Maybe watch it with sound and subtitles off?

* * *

Ok, signing off now. Hopefully the home internet will return soon.

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