Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nothing but the tooth

I'm having root canal ("endodontic therapy") tomorrow – surely these are words to strike fear into anyone of a certain age (those I've mentioned this to have all shuddered theatrically). My dentist, who appears to be in his late teens, assured me that it no longer hurts as they're better at the drugs now. The dentist visits of my childhood certainly inhabit a bleak place in my memory: agonising pain, endless bad vibrations, a never-ending desert vista of arid desert and jagged rocks. One dentist told me to stop being a silly cow, but only after my mouth was jammed with instruments, fingers, and the wet rubber sheet of a dental dam. The music playing in the background became the soundtrack to horror and the strains of Vivaldi have a sinister effect on me even now (bolt upright like a Brave New World baby subjected to an electric shock).

Perhaps I exaggerate for effect, and the current dentist does have a TV affixed to the roof for distraction purposes, although this is ineffective due to a combination of poor reception and Ellen de Generes; but I lie there, even though it's relatively painless, thinking of the torture scene in Marathon Man and waiting for it to be over.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

you being in love

you being in love
will tell who softly asks in love,

am i separated from your body smile brain hands merely
to become the jumping puppets of a dream? oh i mean:
entirely having in my careful how
careful arms created this at length
inexcusable, this inexplicable pleasure-you go from several
persons: believe me that strangers arrive
when i have kissed you into a memory
slowly, oh seriously
-that since and if you disappear

ask "life, the question how do i drink dream smile

and how do i prefer this face to another and
why do i weep eat sleep-what does the whole intend"
they wonder. oh and they cry "to be, being, that i am alive
this absurd fraction in its lowest terms
with everything cancelled
but shadows
-what does it all come down to? love? Love
if you like and i like,for the reason that i
hate people and lean out of this window is love,love
and the reason that i laugh and breathe is oh love and the reason
that i do not fall into this street is love.

e.e. cummings

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The pity of war

I was thinking about Anthem for Doomed Youth, the first poem I ever memorised, when I watched Restrepo, a documentary released in 2010 and made by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (who was recently killed in Libya). Restrepo is the story of a valley in Afhganistan, named by the US soldiers stationed there after their friend and platoon medic, Juan Restrepo, who died there.

The overwhelming impression on watching this film is how young and naive the soldiers are and, ultimately, how futile their occupation is: they refer to fighting for their country without, at first, any reflection on how the battle for a benighted little outcrop in a foreign valley could possibly fit that description; then, as the reality of their situation sinks in, they realise, implicitly if not explicitly, that there is no reason for them to be there, no purpose to the deaths, and no meaning to the sacrifice. It's a profoundly depressing film, in many ways, in the sheer banality of the everyday existence in stultifying conditions, punctuated by brief, fierce skirmishes with an almost unseen enemy; the fear of overgrown children under fire; and the terrible anguish of loss with no gain.

Hetherington and Junger were criticised for their lack of objectivity as embedded journalists; but it's clear from this film that they were incredibly, almost recklessly brave; and they don't need to be didactic (there's no voiceover): terrible events speak for themselves.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Anthem for doomed youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Hills of Zara

About 15 years ago, on holiday in Madrid, I saw a pair of shoes in a shop window and fell in love with them. The brand was Spanish and its name was Zara. I bought the shoes (black patent leather, vertiginous heels, t-bar, round toe, 1940s style, with a slender ankle strap that fastened with a button) and wore them till they fell apart. Zara came to London and, when I was in Hong Kong, opened there. It became just another shop to me, albeit somewhere you could always rely on finding cost-effective copies of vastly more expensive catwalk designs, with flair and style and always a little in advance of anyone else on the high street. The clothes were well made for the price (often in China of course) but would start to look shabby fairly quickly.

Apart, perhaps, from the opening of a self-appointed supercool store like Bathing Ape in Queen's Road, Central (they're probably still queuing outside it now), and give-aways of bags of rice or free mah jong sets where some poor old character out for a freebie would always get trampled underfoot by ravening crowds, I never saw anything in Hong Kong quite like the hubbub outside the new Zara in Pitt Street Mall. It's Zara's first store in Australia; even so, the atmosphere, and lines of women queuing outside, were astonishing. As I passed by this morning, on a rather miserable cold day nearly two full weeks after the place opened, there were four people waiting outside at 8.50am.

I know I am perhaps being reactionary, and needless to say I would never dream of joining that queue, but doesn't the very fact that everyone will now be wearing Zara mean that any other brand would in fact be more attractive? Sadly, the other stores were failing to capitalise on this concept; one nearby had resorted, in what looked horribly like desperation, to featuring supersized letters spelling "SEX" and (in much smaller letters) "& fashion" in their window display (pictured above).
Lest anyone think, however, that I've turned my back on fashion and, by implication, am sneering at its acolytes, never fear: I am still as interested in shoes as the next woman, and here are some rather attractive sandals by Zara to prove it. Looks expensive, looks like, maybe, ChloƩ, but costs less than $100? It must be democracy in action.