Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Some More Photo Albums

Saturday, May 26, 2007

In Dreams

Last night I dreamt I was onstage singing 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' with Sting at a Police concert in my housing estate (the stage seemed to move around my streets a good bit). Embarrassingly I got the occasional word wrong, but there were backing vocalists to help cover my mistakes. In a subplot (don't you love dreams with subplots?), debate fiercely raged over a stage for the gig. Apparently the nearby pier/promenade (I live nowhere near the sea) had been built by The Police, but recently sold and half demolished (it now looked like a half-demolished factory), and some felt it would make a great location. Don't ask me. I was concentrating on my singing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Lives of Others

Given my earlier rant dealing in part with insane ideological systems and lost ideals, it was wholly appropriate that soon after writing I went to see 'The Lives of Others' (Das Leben der Anderen). Excellent movie, excellently performed (Ulrich Muhe is wonderful, but then everyone in it is pitch perfect). It brought back many vivid memories of my Berlin trip to the Stasi prison (thanks Phil). What an insane regime! As the film astutely says of the Stasi, their aim was 'to know everything'.

It could be argued that the movie went on a little longer than it should have; the final event of the 1984 (they even got the year right!) storyline would have been a powerful point at which to end. However, I don't think any viewer with half a heart would forgive the few jumps at the end. Great stuff. And to think it was director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's first feature (and he wrote it)!


Not a Good Day for Ireland

Well, it looks like Fianna Fail have done it again. There's no point in complaining any more. If this is what the Irish people want, I throw up my hands, after washing them, of course. This is democracy in action and if our future is blighted, at least it will only be due to more of the same. Having said that, I hardly imagine Rabbitte's Labour Party of instigating a Stalinist regime. Broad stroke politics, for good or ill, have disappeared. And for the most part, so have ideals.

That's the way of democracy in the West, I suppose, and probably something we have learnt, presuming people can learn at all, from the Twentieth Century. Then we had a century of ideological fervour, and so politicians of sociopathological criminality. If ideas take too much hold on the political imagination, politicians risk sliding into an unreal world of fictions. Now, and for the last few decades, we have a more 'moderate' approach. Ideology has taken a back seat to self-interest, in turn leading to governments guided by their own self interest. In contrast to earlier pathological criminality, we now have self-interested crime. Where before a Hitler or Stalin wiped out nations for insane ideas, now we have a Bush or Blair wreaking havoc for profit. That is the mindset that characterises, albeit it on a supremely petty level, Bertie Ahern and his party. (Witness the Minister for Finance without a bank account.)

The anomaly in the above, of course, is Blair who gives a very persuasive appearance of actually believing in his actions. He may well be a minor throwback to ideological politics, he's certainly a Tory, but every time I think of Blair I recall an event from way back in 1997, either just before or just after Labour's famous victory. I was working on a kid's online adventure game at the time, and the project team had drafted in a public relations guru from Britain. I was still a little struck by the Blair promise at the time, so we got talking about him. Indeed, our guru had worked with him. So was he the idealistic angel he appeared, I asked. She wouldn't buy a used car off the man, was her reply. Hhhmmm. As I say maybe he's sincerely an idiot. Maybe he just seems so.

Even I will admit that given the choice between sociopathic crime and self-interested crime, the latter is preferable. At least, it is understandable. Given a real choice, however, I would opt for a political landscape free of crime altogether. I suppose that really is just too idealistic.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lots and Lots of Photos

I have found it a lot quicker to upload pics on the Facebook website, so for more images click below on your place of choice:

I'll add more soon.

Finally Some Thailand Photos

The Mekong

Reclining Buddha reclines
Reclining Buddha plays peekaboo

Khao San
Koh Lanta
Koh Pha Ngan
Koh Lanta

More photos of Thailand can be seen on the Facebook site.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflections in a Scanner Darkly

All my bus tripping allowed me to get a lot of reading done and by the time I got to the Naas Road in Dublin, I had read 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said', the title coming from a 1600 John Dowland song.

Were it not for some small clumsy sci-fi elements (eg. the Callisto cuddle sponge!) and, more seriously, a needless epilogue, 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said' might almost be Philip K. Dick's masterpiece. It tells the story of Jason Taverner, a tv celebrity and singer with the world at his feet, who suddenly, and quite mysteriously, finds himself in a world where he does not exist. It could almost be a sci-fi reworking of Kafka's 'The Trial', with elements of the Book of Job thrown in (although it could be argued that 'The Trial' is a Twentieth Century reworking of Job anyhow). Dick is more restrained than usual in his use of wild ideas, concentrating more on the character of Jason Taverner and the personalities he meets than mindblowing effects. This is not to say the bizarre isn't present, and there are a number of strange scenes left without proper explanation (eg. the skeleton in the bathroom, the attempted murder of Jason), but this is Dick in thoughtful mood. And one of his main preoccupations in this novel is with women.

Dick was married several times and it is tempting to believe that this is an autobiographical survey of the various women in his life. If this is the case, it is not entirely flattering to Dick himself. In it we see a vain man incapable of love encountering many different incarnations of womanhood with a consistent lack of understanding. Genetically engineered to abhor of pain, Taverner is as fanatically enthusiastic about pleasure, and fails to acknowledge anything in between. For all that women feature prominently throughout, Dick could never be a feminist and it is the men in the novel who get the most sympathy. Taverner may be vain, but he has lost everything. Buckman, may be a version of '1984''s O'Brien, and involved in an incestuous relationship with his sister, but he is the most complex, and arguably the most sympathetic, character in the book. Almost all of the female characters on the other hand, with the exception of Alys, who scares Felix Buckman, define themselves in terms of Jason Taverner and sex.

There are many different definitions of love given throughout the novel, as there are many instances of the various forms it may take. Jason is a Six, genetically engineered to always ensure his own survival. If, as 'prunelike' Ruth Rae claims, love is living for another person, Taverner is genetically incapable of loving. His vanity and self serving nature contradict every defintion of love proffered. For instance, he cannot understand Buckman when the police general discusses a parent's love for a child. Love almost always seems to involve pain and Taverner cannot handle pain acting as it does against the survival instinct. However as Ruth Rae also says the survival instinct always loses in the end, we all die, even sixes. There are no truly profound insights here, but what there are have the ring of authenticity, hard won lessons born of experience.

For all the pain of the book, it is often very funny. There is one paragraph in particular that I think warrants a full quotation:
"He trod across the wall-to-wall carpet, which depicted in gold Richard M. Nixon's final ascent into heaven amid joyous singing above the wails of misery below. At the far door he trod on God, who was smiling a lot as He received His Second Only Begotten Son back into His bosom, and pushed open the bedroom door."
It is probably fitting that the carpet is part of the interior design of a paedophile's apartment.

As in many of his books, Dick here gives drugs a metaphysical dimension. What is startling here is the almost plausible explanation he gives for KR-3's effects. Baloney sure, but it is perhaps the first time I have seen narcotics and Kantian metaphysics mixed to such strong effect. Bizarre. Unlike a book like Heinlein's 'The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag', where the novel is so strong, the explanation cannot quite sustain it (though the very last paragraphs are poignant), here the solution to the mystery is so incredible as to force us to look at what has gone before in a transfigured light.

So why that epilogue? It feels very much as if it was tacked on to please a wider audience. Conrad did something similar in 'Nostromo', telescoping into sixty pages many years of his hero's life after spending four hundred pages dealing with a few weeks. He did it again in 'Chance', though in both cases it is to turn a happy ending into a sour one. Dick's epilogue has the opposite effect, but as in Conrad's books, it fails to convince the reader. Indeed in the case of 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said', it seems to contradict the implied ending of the rest of the book. If there is anything positive to be said for the epilogue, it is that in reducing what has gone before to a scrutinised segment of the many years later described, it subverts the hyperreal intensity of the story, making mundane what seemed sensational. Again though this fails to convince me.

In the last week or so, 'Next', a purported adaptation of Dick's 'The Golden Man' has been released. I will not be going to it. I have seen enough (trailers, etc.) to know that the heart of the short story has been jettisoned, with the movie appropriating the least interesting aspect of the story. 'The Golden Man' was Dick's antidote to the wildly optimistic vision of evolution that gave rise to superhero tales like those of the X-Men. He instead posited a vision of evolution that could take what might appear to us a backward step in order to move 'forward'. 'Next' takes one of the characteristics of this next stage creature and wraps it up in yet another action thriller.

It is interesting to note how many of Dick's short stories have been adapted into films compared to his novels. Novel wise we have 'Bladerunner' and 'A Scanner Darkly' (and perhaps 'Abre los ojos'), while varying in their faithfulness to the short stories they claim as their bases are 'Next', 'Total Recall', 'Screamers', 'Paycheck', 'Imposter', and 'Minority Report'. Personally I can understand this. Dick's novels are overloaded with ideas, too many for your standard Hollywood fare, and, to be fair, probably too many to make a coherent, dramatic, mainstream narrative. 'Bladerunner' had to excise much of what made the novel interesting, while 'A Scanner Darkly' is hardly a mainstream movie. In contrast his short stories generally take one idea and run with it. Unfortunately being short stories, they rarely provide enough content for a full ninety minutes and Hollywood must pad it out with filler. Often the filler takes the form of a chase; witness 'Paycheck' and 'Imposter', and probably 'Next'. Generally the short stories are not held in as high esteem as the novels, something that I feel is unfair. 'Beyond Lies the Wub', 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale' and 'On This Dull Earth' are etched in my mind, while the opening from an early short story called 'Stability' (I think) must have inspired the introduction of Sam Lowry in the film, 'Brazil'. Ironically I feel it is the 'lesser' novels, such as 'Eye in the Sky', 'Dr Futurity' and 'The Crack in Space', the potboilers, that would probably make the best Hollywood fare. They could be classy B-movies with just enough eccentricity to appeal to a jaded audience, but with narratives strong enough to carry viewers with them. Sometimes a thought-provoking, intelligent book does not make an engrossing, entertaining movie. Hollywood prospectors should bear this in mind before they go mining Dick's back catalogue.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

From the Republic to the Kingdom

After all that Beckett, it was a relief to find live music in An Spailpin Fanach. I didn't stay long as I had an early start the next day, but a pint of Murphy's and the music of a laidback fourpiece ended my day well.

Kinlay House, my hostel, never really impressed me. Dingy and in need of renovation, it isn't the worst I have been in, but it could be so much better. My single room gave me privacy of a sort, but positioned on the first floor by the stairwell, I got to hear all traffic, up, down and stationary. Ireland is 'blessed' with many American tourists and when they are not confiding secrets in deafening whispers in ten bed dorms, they are shouting them up and down stairwells. I turned over on my sagging mattress (I had tried the upper bunk, but it was no better), and eventually ignored them. Again there was no trouble getting up early the next day and at 7 a.m. I made my way to the shower. The morning before the dorm's ensuite shower was freezing and I had high hopes for the communal shower on the first floor. Surely it would be warmer. No, colder. Scientists claim water freezes at zero degrees. I beg to differ and point to Kinlay House for proof. My suspicion is that they do not turn the boiler on until later in the day as the hot taps in the sink were cold too, but warmer later. Not much use to me. I doused my head I quickly got dried and dressed.

The coach driver to Tralee was all for people getting their tickets from the vending machine (the sales desk was closed), but the machine was broken. 'You'd better have change then,' he growled. Frantically I managed to get some, paid my dues and headed off to the Kingdom at 8.30.

The triangular bus station at Tralee lies on the edge of the town centre, so impressions are a little desolate when you arrive. Walking into the town centre though, things brighten up. It's still a small town, tiny after Cork, miniscule after Dublin, but with a sense of growth pervasive throughout its streets. It's busy and new malls and shops show that some money is coming the people's way. Seeing as it was lunchtime, well, you know me at this stage. The Red Herring made an nice, inexpensive seafood lunch. Onward then to Annascaul, a town on the Dingle peninsula famous for nothing except Tom Crean.

Born near Annascaul, Tom Crean was on every major Antarctic expedition at the turn of the century, living through Scott's ill-fated mission, and joining Shackleton for two runs, including the infamous Endurance expedition of 1914. Crean was with Shackleton on his desperate, and successful, quest for help, when the rest of the Endurance's crew were trapped on Elephant Island. This was not the sole example of his heroism and courage, but perhaps the most famous. When he retired from the British Navy, he retired to Annascaul, married a publican's daughter and set up his own pub, what is now the South Pole Inn. It's sad to learn that he eventually died at age 61 from appendicitis, though he was in the best of health all through his life until then (despite some tender feet from his frost-bitten days). Having seen the Antarctic and admired this quiet hero, I had to complete the pilgrimage by visiting the South Pole Inn.

I thought twice about this plan when the bus eventually drove into Annascaul. A street with ten bars or so (some of which actually opened later on), two shops, several b and b's and not much else, it didn't strike me as a hub of tourist activity. Off the bus behind me three American girls got off evidently thinking the same thing. I had booked Annascaul House two days before, but had been warned no one would be there before 6, though I could leave any bags I had in a nearby pub. The girls, all students of South Carolina University, had booked the b and b too and were now asking themselves why. Offering whatever help I could, we all headed off to the South Pole Inn, ironically to get out of the cold wind. Apparently they had flown from Barcelona to Dublin and now for some inexplicable reason travelled to Annascaul. They hadn't even heard of Tom Crean. Fishing my timetable out of my pocket, I suggested that there might be more life and certainly more fun waiting for them in Dingle. They didn't need much persuading and off they went.

I stayed drinking, eating and reading how a mystifying Irish public was going to vote in our sleaze infected Government yet again. At least the fire was warm. Six o'clock came around.

The door to Annascaul House was opened by a bespectacled Kerryman covered from head to foot in paint. I let that pass, letting myself be ushered in to what was very apparently a family home. A young girl sat by her twin baby brother and sister watching television. The sitting room and dining room were one and all in all it was cosy, but still a family home. Upstairs Noel led me to my room and pointed out the dvd player and collection of dvds in the wardrobe. I was more grateful to see the comfy beds and soon settled myself down for an hour or so's reading. By 9, I was rested and showered - eventually a hot shower - and made my way to the South Pole Inn for the undoubted entertainment of live Irish music, a warm fire, crowds of smiling faces and a good pint.

The place was, with the exception of four die hard locals and a table of three female diners, empty. Live music was only on Saturday nights and the upstairs closed except for functions. On the plus side the fire burned and the pint was nice, but this was not what I was expecting. I sat there nursing my drink, staring at the photos of Crean and the Endurance expedition that covered the walls and wondering why the hell I had come here. Three attractive American girls had gone to a no doubt livelier Dingle (well, it had to be, hadn't it?), while I stayed in an empty bar. Eventually an unwise local let slip that there was a 'crowd' up in the Randy Leprechaun, mainly comprised of Paddy Wagon tour. I set out into the cold wilds of Kerry on my own expedition.

Walking up the cold street, I saw that some of the bars that had earlier been closed, now had lighted windows. Some were no bigger than houses, indeed looked inside like houses, and open or not, customers were thin on the ground. Surely the Randy Leprechaun pulsed with life? It had to be somewhere. And what was a Kerry 'crowd'? I thought with wonder of the exaggeration that went into a Kerry Mile.

I suppose compared with where I had been, there was a crowd in the Randy Leprechaun. Four locals sat by the bar while the Paddy Wagoneers, around fourteen twentysomethings, filled a couple of tables and played pool. And there was a jukebox. While I waited for my pint, an old local waved me to a seat beside him and I got talking.

Apparently locals rarely came out before 11, though more fatally everyone was terrorised by 'them' and didn't come out like they used to anyhow. I wondered confusingly for a while who 'they' were. Tourists? Paddy Wagioneers? Were young Kerry houligans speeding along the roads threatening the lives of more godfearing folk? I asked in my stumbling fashion for more information. Well, it wasn't the Paddy Wagoneers. They seemed to form the main bulk of business in the town. No, the bastards who were terrorising the townsfolk were the Gardai. They, apaprently, hadn't nothing more to do except stop drink driving and people were now staying home from fear of apprehension. Even my elderly informant had been caught at a checkpoint, though having only had four glasses of Guinness he had been under the limit, or so he thought.

It was tough these days, he told me. Youngsters didn't want to get up early and milk the cows. In fact farming was no longer for them and Kerry was losing its young people to farflung places like Sydney and New York. I couldn't disagree, nor blame them. As a city slicking Jackeen, I could no more understand getting up at five in the morning to milk cows than the Kerry sons and daughters. A town of ten bars and little else didn't strike me as much of an incentive to stay either, though the beauty of the landscape is something hard to match anywhere. Beautiful greenery only goes so far though. The man left.

I had been feeling comfortable in the bar, not the distant Dublin stranger I thought I'd be seen as, when I asked for another pint. Before my eyes the barman poured the pint of Guinness straight. No three quarter fill and settle, straight. I could understand, if not accept that, in Vienna, but in Kerry. I made it known I was not impressed. The bartender tried to laugh it off, but I persisted. I know my Guinness and he should too. This was purely a thing done for the ignorant tourist and that wasn't me. He didn't take it back, but charged me less and did not do it again, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth in more ways than one.

Surprisingly my b and b host came in then (and his Guinness was poured properly). Dots speckled his glasses and I thought then that it was raining outside. I discovered later the dots were paint Noel was a painter and decorator, as I should have guessed when he opened the door. He sat down and I was glad to find he was in conversational mood. He confirmed the old man's tale of police terror, though we steered clear of the problems of emigration. Noel had, I found, done his own travelling, and before their children he and his wife had been to Malaysia, South Africa and elsewhere. He would go back to Malaysia in a moment, he told me. More farflung places. Now though he kept his adventuring to the local walking society. With so much spectacular scenery around, walking was no mundane affair and before long I was thinking of joining them in some of their future treks.

While we chatted the noise from the Paddy Wagoneers rose. The Paddy Wagon is like the Oz Experience or the New Zealand Magic Bus, though on a smaller scale, taking a small group of young tourists around the sights and lodging them in hostels. There had been a group staying in Kinlay Hose in Cork too. In true young backpacker style they got out a pack of cards and started on their drinking games. I heard the familiar words, 'Never have I ever...' and again eavesdropping a little, I was pleasantly surprised to hear some original bawdy propositions put forward. Noel told me that sometimes when several buses arrived together the place would be jammed with these rowdy tourists. Glasses would be passed around making a collection for any girl who would strip, so entertainment was plentiful. Nevertheless I had to wonder why the tour had stopped here for the night when Dingle town, surely a more authentic party town, and one with far more sights to see, Tom Crean aside, than Annascaul, lay only twenty five minutes down the road. Annascaul accommodation was no doubt cheaper and, if the tourists were being short changed, certainly the locals were not.

It transpired that his presence in the pub was not entirely social. Close to closing time he made a round of the pubs, picking up any stragglers who might attract police attention should they drive, and offering instead a b and b bed of safety. The South Pole Inn would more than likely be packed now and draining his pint he headed there on his own personal expedition. I finished my drink and looking wistfully at the female Paddy Wagoneers deeply engrossed in their drinking games, left to cross the road to my bed.

Over breakfast the next morning, a big fry up, I chatted with Noel's wife, a woman from Artane in Dublin. All in all, they were a wonderfully friendly family, my room was comfortable and, despite the lack of town life, I had little to complain of. If I had not partied the night away, I had at least had a chilled out day. At 10.45 I got the bus back to Tralee, The American girls were once more on board and their trip to Dingle had been party filled.

At once point I had contemplated going to Galway, but a cursory look at accommodation websites suggested rooms were hard to come by and expensive when found. I had had a nice break and now it was time to go back to Dublin, so that is what I did. The only fly in the ointment was a driver who insisted on playing The Frames. It irks me to live in a country that insists on celebrating that band. Glen Hansard's histrionics actively annoy me. I stuck on my own headphones and read hoping it would go away. Eventually it did, though by then I was home.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Last Tape was Krapp

The Triskel Arts Centre were showing Beckett's only piece for cinema, 'Film', and two pieces for television, 'Quads 1 + 2'. I had seen 'Film' before and, despite 'starring' Buster Keaton and featuring some animal slapstick, knew that I was not in for a barrel of laughs. Blame it on my masochistic streak. Anyhow getting there early I got to watch half of it once. Then they started it for the main screening. The movie is in glorious silence, so I was well able to hear the slobbering of some idiot chewing gum or something behind. Three minutes before the end the screen went blank. Of course, had I not seen it before, I might have thought this was Beckett's ending, but it wasn't. The lights went up and the phantom gum chewer was revealed as a cute French girl. She was French; I hear her speak. Sometimes the stereotypes are true. Unable to fix the screening, they put on the next two pieces. Four guys walking around a square. Again. And again. And then in the last piece, again, only without colour or music. Beckett is cool! Though let me qualify that with the words of Wayne and Garth: 'NOT!'. Well, sometimes I grant you, he is. I love 'Waiting for Godot' and 'Krapp's Last Tape' works too, but sometimes performance art, as his later stuff seems to have become, just doesn't fill the bill. Still I am not going to say it in a public theatre, certainly not in a silent public theatre. Unfortunately when they got around to playing 'Film' again, all of it, some old fart behind decided to do just that. All through an already painful screening, we were treated to this fool, who really was old enough to know better, not only rubbishing Beckett, but showing he had not the slightest grasp of what it was about anyway. (For those of you interested, it's all mixed up with the existential dichotomy between the subject and the object, and how to be seen, or, in this case, filmed, objectifies the person, depriving them of a real living existence. There I said it.) I'd say the old fart was Krapp in the flesh, only Krapp showed a little more awareness of what preoccupied Beckett. Thankfully it was all over in under an hour. I just came online to find the location of a pub, now I'm going for a Murphy's. Well, when in Cork...!

Art Break

Continuing on my culinary exploits, I visited the Farmgate Cafe above the English Market today for some tripe & drisheen (black pudding). Well, it was meant to be black pudding. In texture, colour and taste (or lack thereof), it was closer to the congealed chicken blood I had in China. When last I had tripe, in Florence, I had found it somewhat salty. Today, drowned (attractively drowned I admit)in milk and onions, it was, like the drisheen, fairly tasteless. A mere whisper of lamb coloured the rubbery effect. In short then, well done though it was, I was a little disappointed. Still gobbled it up though. The market by the way is fantastic; small, a lot smaller than those of Australia, it nevertheless had enough fresh seafood, meat and cheese to set my tastebuds quivering.

The day began with clear blue skies and when I emerged from the market, the sun was strong and it was hot. Very much by chance I strolled into Bishop Lucey's Park, a small patch of green cloaked with lunchtime workers. I propped myself against a wall, ensured the sun beat directly down on me and listened to Carmina Burana for an hour. There was enough female distraction to accompany the music and make the hour one well spent.

I had heard tell that the Crawford Municipal Gallery was one worth visiting, so now in a relaxed and aesthetic frame of mind, I hunted it down. It warranted its reputation. Firstly there was a small, but excellent exhibition of the works of Cork sculptor, Seamus Murphy. Although much of his output is comprised of portraits, such as De Valera and James Connolly, there is a stylistic individuality to everything that lends them distinction. Nothing is merely a straight forward representation. far more than his portraits though, his religious statues are austerely stylised, and in some of his sketches I couldn't help but see a little of the Aryan. Apparently he wasn't a great fan of modernist sculpture, but I don't think he was as distant from it as he might have hoped.

The exhibitions of Irish works from the 70's were a mixed bag, but they did give me the opportunity to discover two more works by Daniel O'Neill, an artist I have some time for. Upstairs an arresting painting by Wilfred De Glehn, 'The Captive' caught my eye, but it was a room devoted to Harry Clarke that really blew me away. It is amazing how much his illustrations have informed how we visualise the work of Edgar Allen Poe. Great stuff. Of course, it's his stain glass windows that attract all the attention (rightfully so), so when I had my fill, I made my way out to UCC to see his work in the chapel there. His figures are very distinctive, with big stylised eyes in finely etched and shaded faces, faces more realistic than those eyes. Good stuff.

University College Cork is a fine college, and showed itself to great effect in the sunshine. Going into the Gluckstein Gallery, I looked at a lot of contemporary Chinese works. It brought me right back, so it did.

Wicked Webs and Women

Well, a warm, strong sun rose on Cork this morning and, in an effort to beat the rush to the shower (actually there was no rush), I was up to see it. One thing about sleeping in hostels, it puts you into a disciplined regime and one I wish I had the will power to follow by choice.

Last night after dinner I took myself along to a cinema. One thing I was curious about in the new 'Spiderman 3' movie, was how Danny Elfman would adapt the theme this time. As the movie began, I was distinctly underwhelmed by what had been done to the music, and when the credit was shown, I suddenly realised why; Elfman had been dumped for Christopher Young. A bad omen if ever there was one and one which foretold a lot of truth. The movie is dreadful, truly dreadful, with moments that unintentionally had the audience alternately laughing or cringing. Alvin Sargent, who also wrote the screenplay for the second installment (though I note Michael Chabon had a hand in the story), is here hampered with 'help' from director Raimi and his brother. I could see the points at which Sargent might be saying 'That doesn't make sense' and Raimi saying 'Don't worry, they'll buy it, they'll buy it. We have to fit the villains (ie. Venom) in'. Anything that depends too much on the goodwill, instead of the intelligence, of the audience is doomed to failure, and this fails. Even Bruce Campbell, taking off John Cleese as the French waiter in the Mr Creosote sketch, can't help matters. A waste.

To continue on the movie theme, many claim that 'Abre los ojos', the basis for 'Vanilla Sky', is an uncredited adaptation of Philip K' Dick's 'Ubik'. While there are some similarities, particularly with respect to artificial realities, I am finding more of a similarity with the book I am currently reading, 'Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said'. Admittedly I am only a quarter way through, but the vain man lost in an incomprehensible world meeting psychotic women strikes a common chord with the Spanish (and later American) movie.

I got a bed in Kinlay House hostel and ended up in a ten bed dorm (although only 6 were taken). As usual, there were the couple of American guys who had gone to sleep earlier stopping anyone from turning on the light. Then later (2 a.m. later) there were the American girls shouting in whispers about those 'creepy Swedish guys' they nevertheless chased (or were chased by) all night. I make no apologies for listening. Seeing as they woke me up and spoke so loud, I couldn't exactly do anything else. One was apologising to the other for kissing the 'cute' one whom the other apparently fancied. Then there were the questions about whether the Swedes had wanted sex or not (ha! As I say these were young girls), and whether they had been buying the girls food and drink all night to get them to 'give out'. Anyhow it didn't matter, the Swedes were going the next day. But did the Swedes know they were American. I kid you not, one said, 'Economics is power. They know us because we have more money than them'. Such insight! Eventually they descended into a debate about possible future conquests; 'I want an Australian one!', 'I'd like an Irish one, but you never find them in hostels!'. Hee, hee, hee.

So after not much sleep, I was happy enough to get up at 7.30. The first thing I did on getting to reception was get a single room for tonight, then I moved my things, and then had breakfast - provided - a continental breakfast, ie. toast, jam and tea. The place is central to the city, if a little dingy (in that it reminds me of Sydney), but I have a B and B booked for Friday night in Annascaul, the birthplace of Tom Crean, Antarctic explorer. No trip to the South Pole would be complete without a visit to his pub.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Still Hungry for Good Food

I went into Waterstone's Bookstore to get some suggestions from the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. Predictably there were no guides on Ireland, but there was a couple on Western Europe. I settled on Zanzibaar for dinner and later after passing some very tempting Italian restaurants, found myself there. I was disappointed. When they can't even get garlic bread right, something is wrong. The Irish Stew came out with a skin on the top, apparently having waited under a grill until I was finished the starter. Ah well, at least the waitress from Hamburg was jovial.

Bopping up and down again

Not being able to take too much more of Dublin, I hopped on a bus this morning and am now in the Republic of Cork. I have passed through here on many occasions, but haven't actually stayed too long. So far so good. It is a nice little city. However, the bookstore I visited had too many bargains and I had to resist or risk creating another heavy monster of my small haversack (already bursting to capacity). I will resist. I must resist. Anyhow I'm hungry. Off I go in search of food.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Back to Reality

Time to get myself back together again.

Recently I got a mail from one of the Brians from the Antarctic trip and in true Irish style we met up last Friday for drinks. O'Neill's of Suffolk Street, I decided, not having been there for years, and so I found myself at the upstairs bar around 7.30. Brian arrived and I suppose neither of us have changed too much in the intervening six months. All change on the domestic front for him though; house gone and renting, broke up with the girlfriend, etc.. In past times Brian did his own world travelling, certainly more than me, and we swapped experiences until around 10 when, aware that a friend of mine, Nigel Place, was playing a gig in Smithfield, I proposed we shift venue. We did, but too late, Nigel was finished, and the bar, Thomas Read's, was empty. I had seen Nigel play a few weeks previously and he is blossoming right now, so it was a pity we missed him. Apparently he plays London in a few weeks so that might give me an excuse to travel to England and see a few people. Without music though, I concentrated on drinking and conversation, giving my reasons why the South Pole will always be a lifetime highlight for me. As you might guess I was truly plastered by the time Nigel offered me a lift home.

It was good to see Brian again though. I think he intends to visit Central America next and I wish him well.

Most of my time has been spent like that, meeting up with old friends, catching up on things. Last Wednesday it was the turn of two good college friends of mine, Claire and Liz. Claire had her two sons along, young kids, and before the end of things I was swapping pooh insults with them in the middle of Marks and Sparks. Later, it being Liz's film evening, the two of us went to 'The Painted Veil' (I don't think either of us were in the mood for 'Spiderman 3'). Norton and Watts, who produced the film too, played their parts well and, predictable thought the whole thing was (hateful husband and wife discover they actually love each other in the face of a cholera epidemic), it was pleasantly done with a nice soundtrack and beautiful Chinese visuals. It brought me right back to Yangshuo, with all the limestone hills etc..

That movie was one of the few I have seen on a cinema screen recently. Before I went away I used to see at least three movies a week, sometimes a day, having a yearly ticket for a city multiplex. I have resisted getting a new pass, not being sure if I'll be in this country for the forthcoming year or not. Also my tolerance for cinematic rubbish is not what it once was. And on top of that I have been getting caught up in satellite movie channels and seeing a lot of old classics. For instance, I caught the last hour of 'The Untouchables' this morning, this despite the fact the dvd lies upstairs on my shelf. You just flick through casually and end up wasting an hour. Having said that, that movie is one of De Palma's better moments (and Mamet, for that matter), but what really sets that movie off is Morricone's magisterial score. The horse ride at the Canadian border is a mighty Morricone moment.

And besides all this I have been reading. The glorious new incarnation of Chapters Bookshop on Parnell Street furnished me with several Philip K.Dick books and I have steadily made my way through four of them; 'The Penultimate Truth', 'The Simulacra', 'Now Wait for Last Year', and 'Dr Bloodmoney'. I have tried to read them in chronological order and it is interesting to see the development of his ideas, the recurrence of certain debates (totalitarianism, fascism, the fake and the real) and his growing assurance as a writer. In the first two books, for instance, simulacra, dictators, time travel and deception all figure. They all figure in 'Now Wait for Last Year' too, but this is a far more mature work and broaches a topic that was to become more important in his later work: drugs. Somewhat in the way Dick uses drugs in 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch' (and unlike any other writers except maybe Stevenson in 'The Strange Case of Doctor Jeckyl and Mister Hyde' or Machen with his 'The Novel of the White Powder'), in this novel drugs enable a metaphysical change as opposed to a purely mental one.

Each of these books, great fun though they are, are to some extent hampered by the wealth of ideas they contain. There is often just too much going on. 'Dr Bloodmoney' has a lot going on too, but, set in the aftermath of World War Three, there is less emphasis on new technologies, religions or realities, and more stress on character. Dick says himself in his afterword that he is proud of the characters in his novel, and it is a far more mainstream work. However, my old writing teacher, Sheila Barrett, had a similarly themed work called 'Walk in a Lost Landscape', and I couldn't help comparing the two. For all that 'Dr Bloodmoney' tries to ground itself in a somber reality, it is still too fanciful (telekinetic phocomelus, cats with language, a twin living within his sister and conversing with the dead) to accept on all levels. Sheila was a lot more restrained and probably the better for that. Curious to see San Francisco figure as the venue for Dick's post-holocaust tale. As far as I recall it all figures in George Stewart's glorious 'Earth Abides', and I think it figures in 'On the Beach' (though I could be wrong on that one).

Otherwise I have been reading some Roald Dahl and Wells. In the case of Wells, I occasionally read 'Food of the Gods' on my mp3 player. Not one of his better works. Wells was never a great comedian and this attempt at humour keeps me fairly stony faced. I believe there is a horror movie version of this that is a lot more funny, albeit unintentionally so.

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