Monday, August 18, 2014

The Film that Kept Me Breathless

The drawings in the first half were oh-so-Japanese

I admit I am still under the spell of, J.G. Ballard's fictionalized memoir, Empire of the Sun, especially the scene where the boy although interned in a camp by the Japanese feels exhilarated as
 Japanese planes fly over.

Miyazaki's film "The Wind Rises" [Se levanta el viento] is at least as much of a triumph as Ballard's novel.
 This is not just my humble opinion, it has won prestigious prizes and was nominated for many more--if you're curious, you can go to Meanwhile, if you have the chance to see the movie, you will be initiated into the intricacies of Japanese bowing and much, much more.

Yes, some visuals could have come out of the Disney Studio, but the viewer is well into the film before that happens. During the first half,  the drawings continue the tradition of Japanese prints; the sample above, the best I could find online, gives only a faint idea of the artistic quality of the movie.

I eventually forget many compelling films I see, but I doubt I'll forget this one, not only for its breathtaking visuals starting with the boy flying over fields in a dream, but for its unwinding of the way the Japanese saw themselves alongside Americans and Europeans. They felt small, poor and the butt of stereotypes, all contributing to the real  Horikosh''s dream to create the Zero, a plane that would send American airmen to a fiery death.

But mostly, because of the conflicting emotions I felt as I watched the movie. I wanted the Japanese engineers to solve technical problems, I felt dismay when a plane crashed, but simultaneously, I felt shock when I saw the prominent red suns on the wings.

A thinking person's movie relevant to the way we viewed the world then -- and view it now.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

New bread on the block

Cilantro bread, savory as is or toasted, especially with melted butter
Available, when you're lucky, at Mega and maybe La Comer.

Fig Season Right Now in Guanajuato

You will see them in the markets and sometimes outside. I eat them with goat cheese (sold outside the Mercado Hidalgo, left side,  Thursday and Sunday mornings), oh so good!

Another cheese and fruit snack or dessert I like is fresh cheese (quesofresco) with quince paste (ate de membrillo), available in the Mercado Hidalgo--ask for the stall. A little of this traditional favorite goes a long way. The ate keeps almost forever. Convenient to have on hand for an unexpected guest.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

GIFF 2014 Wrap-Up

Already looking forward to GIFF 2015? Turkey will be the invited country.

                                                     NExt year's featured country, Turkey;
                                                     a land of coastlines and waterways
                                                     but mostly as dry as our part of Mexico

This year I went to feature-length films::

          Poland: Ida: an unforgettable film deliberately made in black and white
          Mexican debut films: Los Angeles, Todos Estan Muertos
               (the prizewinner for Best Mexcan debut film) Afterward I learned why the verb estar is used.                        [state of being, even for dead people]. 
         Documentary about the Huichol artist, Santos de la torre
         Australian documentary: 52 Weeks
         Documentary about Roger Corman's work

        At the Sunday showing of prizewinners, I saw a powerful short demonstrating the change Alzheimer's           wreaks.(a man in his sixties marries a showgirl; she is the one who suffers the disease). The first half,      handheld hlack&white, the second, recent half professionally shot in color with voiceover.     .
I returned to the Auditorio del Estado to hear 87-year old Hollywood veteran producer-director Roger Corman speak. You could say he pulled back the curtain revealing film-making in all its complexity. His first week working as a newly graduated Stanford engineer, he decided he would follow his muse--movies. So began his sixty-year long career directing and producing. He and his wife seprately still produce films....

B movies, also known as exploitation movies, refer to the same kind of film--lots of action, little characterization. Often they succeeded in being what they set out to be, but my take on his version of Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of the Red Death, is that sometimes a thousand words are worth more than a movie. In Guanajuato, two of the Poe cycle were shown in the cemetery just before midnight,. 

Corman explained that the subtext is as important as the words of the script. Part of his success stems from recognizing trends in pop culture like motorcycle gangs and drugs. (He anticipated Easy Rider, but in a typical Hollywood twist, did not get the contract.) 

The one time Corman moved into A grade movies--with The Intruder, a hard-hitting film about racial attitudes and mob behavior--critics praised it (you can check out reviews at Unfortunately,t the audience stayed away. For the rest of his life, Corman made B movies. Woody Allen had even worse luck when he made his serious film Interiors.

After the formal interview with Corman ended, two dozen members audience members asked about his techniques, his relations within Hollywood, film-making decisions and more.. Corman answered each carefully, never showing his years.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Summer Book Fair: The Other Show in Town

Across the street from Panaderia La Purisimia, you'll see browsers and buyers milling about at the summer book fair in Plaza de la Reforma. Most used and new books are in Spanish, but along the left side a vendor sells large photo books about Pozos, our city and Guanajuato mining at mildly discounted prices. Many inexpensive books for children available too.

The bookseller at the back offers a better-than-usual selection of paperback fiction in English but somehow I ended up with these three strenuous items. Keep watching to see if Zinsser has an effect on me.
Last day: Sunday, August 3

Friday, August 01, 2014

GIFF Painting the Town Red; Meanwhile, TV Shows Police Beatings in Puebla

First about the Festival. This year, I'm a happy film buff, pleased that the Guanajuato International Film Festival shows more feature-length films than before. For starters, here are a few photos giving the feel of the GIFF, but I urge you to scroll down to the report about a real event ignored in the mainstream news...:
60 people watched  the documentary about the renowned
 Huichol artist  Sanchez de la Torre.
At the Cervantes, they were sitting toward the  rear.

Like me, keeping up their strength between films 

                                                                       * *

Principals onstage to talk about the Polish-Mexican film Six Degrees
  filmed in bothcountries
Deciding, as usual, the hardest part

* * * * *
After seeing the colorful film about Sr. De la Torre making art--a mural he painted now is displayed at the Metro station near The Louvre, but he was not invited to the opening-- I walked over to a small nearby restaurant. I walked in on a black-and-white scene on the large television that shocked me. The owner and his teenaged son were staring at footage of police brutally beating demonstrators.

I judged from the coverage it must be Mexico. "Where?" I asked.


"Is it worse than Guanajuato?" He nodded.

"How can they do this? "Those people have rights.".

Looking right at me, he said, "Estamos en Mexico."

I didn't start on a history lesson about my own country. I wanted him to keep talking.

"At least they're showing it on television," I said.

He let me know I wouldn't see it on Televisa."We watch a cable news channel here and at home."

I followed up by checking the headlines at a new stand today. None of them reported the beatings.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cervantino Fever 2014

As always, yesterday Guanajuato folks filled the main floor and first balcony of Teatro Juarez to be among the first to know this year's International Cervantino Festival program  And always, the speakers felt no need to hurry through their speeches. So here's a joke  I heard afterward:
Guanajuato hillscape behind , Japanese sun on both sides

"A good speech must be like a bikini, short, showing much but leaving something to the imagination." 
Waiting their turn
  Un buen discurso debe ser como un bikini, corto, enseƱando mucho, pero dejando algo a la imaginacion.

Whoever made the exuberant video that followed   the speakers knew what what to do. It was short, showing much, but, yes, leaving parts uncovered.

The program is so full  the list that follows is almost like a Thanksgiving dinner described by the cranberries, but here goes:

The opener :Japanese taiko drummers

The closing: Ruben Blades (Panama by way of New York), known as the salsero intelectual.
In classical music, two performances by the Arditti Quartet (USA), seven by the Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder playing all the Beethoven sonatas

Three nights of folklorico-the National Folklore Ballet of Amalia Hernandez, the: Nuevo Leon Dance Troupe; and the OSUG ballet folklorico + at least one night of ballet (from Bulgaria)

A concert version of West Side Story (Amor sin barreras)

Jazz and world music as always at the Ex-Hacienda Gabriel de Barrera

Movies, pantomime, acrobats, world class marionette shows

Guanajuato's own Capella Guanajuatense and Zephyrus

Spotlight on Shakespeare: somewhere between half a dozen and a dozen offerings of his plays during this 450th year from his birth, including a local project involving young people from four Guanajuato communities (El Proyecto Ruelas) alredy rehearsing scenes to present

At the Alhondiga, an African woman playing the kora

I'll stop here although I have probably skipped the event (possibly from Mexico) that will propel you to the box office (taquilla) tomorrow when tickets for individual events go on sale.

Despite this horn of plenty, people talk about what is not being done this year."What? only the Entremeses tis year when Cervantes was Shakespeare's contemporary?" (my translation)

A fraction of the audience pouring out of Teatro Juarez
On the other hand: much baroque music and music on Shakespearean themes, literary programs honoring the centennial of the nationally beloved poet Efrain Huerta born in Silao, and art exhibits including Guatemalan textiles and photos by Rodrigo Moya from an archive that has been closed for thirty years; and at the train station every night of the Festival, hip hop, vallenato and other dance music for young people. I always marvel at how the FIC offers something  for every age and taste.

Stay tuned for more on the nooks and crannies that make the Cervantino special.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Opening of the Dam at the Presa de la Olla (La Apertura)

Today I was one of the happy throng on a bus going up Paseo de la Presa. Especially in a wet year this is a happy, happy day for Guanajuatenses. 
A bench with a view of the water rushing out
First I did the obligatory walk past the stalls lining the walkway, thinking about what I would eat on my way back. Then I heard the sound of the water going over the dam. I didn’t trouble to ask whether the event actually started on time or whether it was set to start earlier than I thought. I was happy to be there; it didn't matter.
A favorite thirst-quencher

Afterward walking home down Paseo de la Presa, a route I don’t take often since moving to another neighborhood, I stopped by two new restaurants to check out their offerings, took several candid photos, and kept sipping at the plastic glass of tepache (fermented pineapple drink) I had bought at one of the stalls. I had already eaten a gordita de nata (tasty raised hotcake) and was carrying a six-sided blue and white dish I plan to use for peanuts.

I also saw two friends I hadn't seen for awhile as I was walking back. Silvia mentioned she had heard me read the Pacheco poem (see my other blog  Julian asked, “You’re coming from the Apertura?” I guess he knows I have eclectic tastes, as likely to go to imbibe popular as well as high culture.
Let's face it, cockroaches come into almost everyone's house at this time of year. 

The Apertura takes place the last day of the two-week-long San Juan Festival. Yesterday I bought herbs, mint, lavender, and flat-leaf parsley, at the annual plant sale. I have my own way of dealing with cucarachas.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Guanajuato Museums: In The Gene Byron, Songs of Love and Loss

Renee Bouthot (soprano), Susan Hammond (piano) and Djamilia Rovinshaia (viola) started the afternoon of March 23 with Canadian folk songs by way, moved on to a modern arrangement of Sephardic songs sung in their original language, Ladino, and went on to German lieder and a heartrending selection of of Gershwin songs. Both
Renee singing before a full house. Photo from El Correo  
Canadian musicians have had impressive careers, with  Bouthot founding The Ginger Group, a women's trio that specializes in Canadian music, their songs available on a CD, Hammond is known throughout Canada for her radio program Classical Kids as well as for performing on the piano. Rovinskaia is the first violist of our symphony orchestra.
Wine and conversation afterward:Miriam Uriarte with Araujo father-son duo


Friday, April 25, 2014

Guanajuato Performances: Hansel and Gretel; Cri-Cri

If you're a child at heart and haven't yet been to Hansel and Gretel at the Juarez, tonight, Friday the 25, is the only chance left to see this exhilarating local performance of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera, first presented in Weimar, Germany in 1893 with Richard Strauss conducting. By the way, the composer's sister was wrote the libretto, not Herr H.

As if the much loved, well-paced opera isn't enough, many of Guanajuato's finest bring the opera to life, giving the event a special fillip for the audience (who fill the main floor and the first two balconies) and have come to watch people they know bring the spectacle to life..

What a lot of coordination putting on an opera takes! With Kate Burt as the general and stage director, the city's fine singer-actors bring out the universal appeal of  the opera, so much so that I was startled when finally the cookies on the witch's house materialize as children dressed in traditional Mexican clothes!   

Opera is theatre saturated with music. Putting on Hansel and Gretel to life has meant skillful casting, set design (and construction), costumes, lighting, super-titles, dance, instrumental music and whatever else I am leaving out, including finances and poster design. With hours of planning and effort, Kate and her cohort manage to get it all to work, although due to the design of the Juarez, I found the supertitles hard to see from my seat 3/4 of the way back in the luneta.

The brother and sister were such convincing twelve-year-olds that I forgot two skilled women were in the roles, always in character as they sang and acted. I was delighted when a "fire" blazed in the witch's oven, with the contrast between the witch's abode, an embodiment of any child's fantasy and the simple house where the children lived. I could even see a menacing wolf and hawk on the forest backdrop.

With Christian Gohmer, conductor of the Sonora Symphony, in Guanajuato to coordinate and conduct the music, and many well-known local musicians in the orchestra pit, who can ask for anything more?
Well, there is always more. Last weekend at Casa Cuatro, parents and children (in fact, unaccompanied adults, too) were treated to the songs of Cri-Cri, a favorite for three generations of Mexican children.
Believe me, the singing and clapping that took place while the Cuarteto Academico played the songs made me wish my twin grandchildren were sitting on either side. The biggest sing-along hits: El Raton Vaquero (The Cowboy Mouse) and La Marcha de las Letras (Alphabet March).