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lunedì 26 marzo 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is the winner of the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction!

I am pleased to announce on my blog that The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka has been selected as the winner of the 2012 PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction. I wrote about this beautiful novel in one of my posts. It's a poetic novel that tells the story of Japanese "picture brides" brought to California in the early XX century.

The four other finalists were:

- Russell Banks for Lost Memory of Skin

- Don DeLillo for The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

- Anita Desai for The Artist of Disappearance

- Steven Millhauser for We Others: New and Selected Stories

giovedì 22 marzo 2012

Colours, my new iPod, and Chagall

Since the end of February I have been craving for colours. The colours and smells of the coming spring, of nature slowly coming back to life. The colours of chocolate, fruits, the delicate shades of freshly baked bread. Colours blossoming on barren trees as they start to bloom. Colours on my clothes: flowery scarves around my neck, gaudy earrings and necklaces. My new iPod - actually my first mac thing - can shoot photos, and though I have a wonderful camera for that,I really enjoy taking pictures with this tiny thing, so practical and quick. I also childishly enjoy the program "Camera+" to edit pictures and play with their colours.

Being so hungry for colours made me think of one of my favourite painters, Marc Chagall. I adore his paintings and I connect them to many pleasant memories, especially one solitary trip I took from my home town to Genova, by train, to see an exhibition of his bible-related paintings. The exhibition was hosted by the town's Synagogue and it was truly interesting and well worth the over 4 hours trip there.

Chagall was a Russian-French artist, described by art critic Robert Hughes as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century". As a matter of fact,Chagall's world is the colourful, beautiful, magical world of the "Schtetl", which is a diminutive form of Yiddish shtot, "town", and was typically a small town with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe until the horrors of the Holocaust destroyed them all. It hurts to write this, to think it actually happened.

Chagall wrote a book, a biography simply called Ma vie (My Life). I read it a long time ago but it's one of those books that simply stays forever. It is written in a language that, under a simple surface, hides infinite treasures: totally unexpected metaphors, lively descriptions of people, places, states of mind, everything so vivid as to convey a visual and even tactile impression. Like a version of his paintings made of printed text. My edition of his Ma vie is full of pencil marks, and what I meant to do when I started this post was basically to translate some passages from it, because when something is so perfectly beautiful it's useless to talk about it. The only thing to do is plunge into it.

"All about my father seemed to me enigma and sadness. Inaccessible figure.
Always tired, worried, nothing but his eyes to release a sweeter reflection, greysh-blue.
Tall and slim, he would come home in his greasy clothes, soiled from work, a faded red handkerchief popping out of his pocket. Evening entered our home with him.
He would draw out of his pockets loads of sweets, ice-cold pears. He would distribute them among us kids with his brown, wrinkled hand. (...) An evening with no sweets and no pears out of Dad's pockets was a sad one for us.
That peasant's heart, poetical and softened with silence, was familiar only to me."

"in the muttering of prayers the sky seemed bluer to me."

And dreams oppressed me: a square room, empty. A single bed in one of its corners, and I'm on it. Darkness closes in.
Suddenly the ceiling opens and a winged creature descends among glares and thunders, the room fills up with a swirl of clouds.
A flutter of wings.
I think: it's an angel! But I can't open my eyes, too much light, too much glow.
After fumbling everywhere, it soars up again and leaves the room through the hole in the ceiling, bringing with him the light and the blue air.
Darkness closes in again. I wake up."

lunedì 19 marzo 2012

A Simple Life, by Ann Hui (許鞍華)

Today it is both my birthday and Father's day, so my little family had double celebrations. My daughter decorated our heart-shaped cheesecake before going to school, and afterwards she spent the afternoon at my parents' place, while Mum&Dad went to the cinema. We watched a new Hong Kong film by Ann Hui, called A Simple Life.

The film is based on the true story of Roger Lee (Leung), a film producer working between Hong Kong and Beijing, and his lifelong relationship with the amah (maid) who has worked in his family for 60 years. His family emigrated to the US and he is the only one staying in China. She has no relatives at all.
As the title suggests, the whole film is about the small, simple, heartwarming things of daily life: making food, eating together, cuddling the cat, opening old boxes where objects and photos are stored and sharing the waves of memories each of them carries. It is of course about the simple life of this woman, who has no family of her own but who is truly loved by everyone who has the chance to know her.
Everything is described with warm simplicity, day-to-day expressions of love and devotion are never annoyingly sentimental and yet succeed in making you participate with the characters's feelings. The film starts when Roger Leung is in his 30's and Chung Chun-tao n her 70's. We understand that he has suffered a stroke. They live together with a cat she cherishes and he is working on a film. On a day when Roger is out working she suffers a stroke too. As she wakes up in a hospital, she's hardly able to move but she seems to accept her new condition with strength and positive resignation. She decides to retire and move to a nursing home for elderly people.

The film follows the life of the old lady as she gradually gets to know the other patients, the Nurse supervising the place, and as she spends time with Roger who visits her as often as he can.
The film is obviously sad, yet in such a calm and serene way that it leaves a feeling of warmth and domestic intimacy, a sense of life flowing, old age and death being a natural part of its process.
A delicate film about growing and being old, about friendship, respect and gratitude, and about the big meanings hiding in small, ordinary things.

domenica 18 marzo 2012

I'm back!

I've been away from my blog because I had no internet connection for quite a long while, and I was also busy working on lessons and translations and above all for several weeks I've been in that particular state of mind - a blend of excitement and disquiet - that makes it hard to focus on one thing. I've been reading a lot though, and I've seen some films truly worth writing about. I will write some posts soon.
During my unquiet days, gardening and taking care of my 4 bonsai made me feel better... close to the earth and to small, essential things. And my 3-year-old daughter made everything much more beautiful just by being there and showing her happiness.