Sunday, August 18, 2013


The same three horses at different times in the same space. Proof that the camera is still the invention closest to a time machine. Making uncle Eadweard proud.

Photo by Mr. Cruz

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spanish contribution to the English language: an observation

Amour fou, c'est la vie, la vie en rose, savoir faire, je ne said quoi, qui lo sa, faux pas, raison d'être, vogue, amateur, affair, voyeur, chauffeur, suite, cuisine, corset, culotte, douche, finesse, apperitive, bon appétite, bon voyage, bon-bon, prêt-à-porter, lingerie, burlesque, derriere, à la mode, ménage a trois...

It's fascinating to look closely at those words or expressions from other languages that become of common use in English. The French tongue, as in the examples above, lends to the English vocabulary, words that describe an accepted debility for the pleasures of the flesh and the senses, which may –in the opinion of some– enlighten the soul and enrich the human experience. "Live the moment sans rien regrette! Because tomorrow we might be (and in fact will be) dead", mort, fin. These words acknowledge the complexity of human relationships beyond moral limits or stifled constrains, arbitrarily set by society and religion. These mots indicate a certain level of comfort with the mysteries of life. They seem to proclaim with confidence, "We don't need to have all the answers to be happy; nobody is parfait but it's alright. Let's have another glass of champagne (Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay or Savignon Blanc will do) and make love right now, right here, on your parent's antique chaise-lounge!". They define the essence of the bon vivant French esprit, a joie de vivre, as it were.

Similarly, in Italian we have words like paparazzi, dolce vita, opera, spaghetti, al dente, pizza, fritatta, casino, mafia, Machiavelli, commedia dell'arte, mamma mía, diva, Madonna, espresso, machiato, cappuccino, grande, venti... These ambassadorial vocables also show a gusto for life and an inmemorial appreciation for plain good fun, even if sometimes it means to be attained in less than wholesome ways. But unlike the French, they fail to scratch beyond the surface gilded with many layers of glossy Catholic guilt (and that exuberance of double letters). "Let's eat uncomplicated but tasty food that even children love, listen to beautiful music, raise the spirit, buy a good pair of expensive shoes or get a nice tan at the beach, top it with gelato and don't worry about reality (because it might get depressing), la vita e bella!"
In the same optimistic vein, Italian has the magical power to make every dish sound delicious, like in the following examples: "Mazzarelle alla teramana", which in fact is no other than tightly wrapped rolls made with lamb's lung, heart and tripe; or delicious "Torcinelli": rolled strips of lamb tripe, sweetbreads, and liver cooked in caul fat, mmmm! Buonissimo!

The Russian language gave us intelligentsia, Molotov (the cocktail), troika (and perestroika), kalashnikov or vodka, words that paint the Russians as smart, temperamental, belicose... and, fond of drinking and of the letters "k", "i", "o" and "v".

As an aside, Russian roulette, French kiss, Italian job, German engineering, Dutch oven, Made in USA, Belgian beer, Nigerian e-mail, Swiss cheese, Euro-trash, Turkish bath, Indian summer, Egyptian cotton, Mexican divorce, Chinese torture and Spanish fly are examples of misnomers that often carry a heavy load of prejudice and their use should not be abused.

Germans have their share with words like Gestalt, Doppelgänger, achtung, angst, Bauhaus, Jägermeister, kaput, spiel, zeitgeist, wunderkind, wunderbar (origin of the word wonderbra), Volkswagen, wiener and hamburger, and they denote these volks are seriously profound, complicated and precise.
Words starting with the prefix "sch...", like "schlep" are invariably of Yiddish origin, and are meant to spice the informal schmoozing of New Yorkers and schtick a witty and knowing schmile on our faces. Failing to do so will only reveal that you are either not a real New Yorker or anti-Semitic. The popular tonic water "Schweppes" being one of these funny words, as well as others as varied as schedule, scheme, school, schizoaffective, scherzo, Schopenhauer or Schenectady.

We have seen so far how these words help define the stereotypes that simplify the characteristics of different countries and their cultures to a level comprehensible by the average anglocentric person.

Now, what happens with Spanish? Adios, amigo, barrio, bodega, cafetería, conquistador, cojones, chorizo (not to be confused with schoritzo: a Jewish-German sausage seasoned with paprika and garlic made with lamb instead of pork), Cuba libre, defenestrar, embargo, guerrilla, hacienda, hasta la vista, incomunicado, loco, Lolita, mano a mano, macho/machismo, margarita, marijuana, matador, mosquito, nada, paella (for some reason pronounced: payeya), rumba, tornado, derecho, salsa, siesta, sombrero, vigilante... well, I think you can easily reach to your own conclusions about the Spanish contribution to the English language.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Life among giants

Good evening everybody, in order not to jeopardize my ongoing research, I'll introduce myself under the assumed name of Tabby. I live in semi-voluntary seclusion among two giant upright cats with supernatural powers who serve and guard me. This type of giant cat is fascinating, so allow me to share with you some of my observations. For those of you not acquainted with the upright giant cat, I'll start describing some of their most relevant physical features.

The giant cats are mostly covered in fur-like coats, except for their faces and paws, the result being rather aesthetically unpleasant, until you get accustomed to it. Their coat changes color and sometimes texture every day, shedding it every night before going to sleep (which, by the way, they conduct in the normal horizontal position). Upon waking up, the first thing they do in the morning is go under running water for a few minutes. I often jump in the large basin right after and lick the droplets, trying –in vain– to teach these gentle savages that the water is meant to be drunk, not poured over you. After this strange ritual, they grow new fur in a matter of minutes, have breakfast and disappear through the door to a place unknown, sometimes for the better part of the day. My only guess is that they might go hunting. If not, where do they procure the food? Food doesn't grow on trees! (some giggles).

As I already mentioned, this race of cats is aproximately around ten times our size. They balance their huge bodies on their hinds, like in an excruciatingly painful circus act. I don't fully understand the benefits of this behaviour, since I, being much smaller, can run faster in my fours. One possible advantage is that it frees their long and deformed but dextrous paws to do all sorts of handy tricks. For example they are able to open food containers, replenish my water bowl, clean my box, comb my coat, as well as move silly strings and a variety of toys in front of my face, open and close doors and windows, move objects from one place to another, including me (which I hate) and thousands of other little tricks that I still have to find their utility for. I suspect they perform them mostly to keep themselves entertained. Other physical features are unremarkable, their ears are round and chubby, their fangs underdeveloped, and certainly they don't seem to have great sense of hearing, vision or smell.

These cats are, in general, good-natured and docile, obeying most of my commands without delay, so it seems they must have a basic understanding of our language, which unfortunately is more than I can say about myself regarding theirs. The giant upright cat's rudimental form of verbal communication is made of many complicated meaningless sounds that they certainly use more than necessary and for no obvious purpose, except perhaps because they find the sound of it pleasant. In all these years I got to understand two or three words at the most, including what I believe is a ridiculous name they insist upon calling me by (and I'll spare you from hearing) and another expression they use when they don't want me to shed my claw's sheaths in certain surfaces. It sounds something like "wont-moo-mat" or "gunt-do-taat" (general laughter from the audience).

On certain days or in the evenings they spend many of their waking hours seated in front of flat windows where nothing of importance is going on, taping with their hairless paws on some kind of ratling toy or playing around with something that they mistakenly call a "mouse". No doubt that they must find this purposeless activity fun or rewarding, but the reasons behind such behaviour escape me.

Introducing my talk I mentioned the supernatural powers these giant cats possess, and I could quickly see a flurry of impatient tail-waving among the most skeptical of you. Well, alright, in the spirit of true critical thinking and to appease those naysayers, I'll say that what I earlier called supernatural should be more precisely defined as phenomena of unknown or mysterious origin. I have observed in countless occasions and can attest that the giant upright cat has the power by simply touching the wall, usually in the same spot, to turn the night into day and viceversa. They can also bring warmth to a cold room and cool a warm room. In brief, they have certain command of the elements that bewilders reason and defies imagination. There might be a perfectly logical explanation, I know, but after more than forty (cat) years, I can't even begin to grasp it. In any case, and to conclude, I've learned to live with it and none of this puzzles me or keeps me awake at night anymore.

And now, speaking of questions without answer, I would like to open it to Q&A for the rest of the time we have left. For example... Yes, you, the calico in the second row...

(Translated from Cattish by Mr. Cruz)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Form follows Function

Form follows Function; corners her in an alley. At gunpoint but politely, Form strips Function of all her valuables (she doesn't wear jewelry, obviously). Form runs with his bounty. Function feels violated and vulnerable, but in a strange way she also feels free and weightless, liberated. "Who is this handsome stranger?", Function wonders.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Photography and the four dimensions

(Clic on the image for a larger view)
By Dr. Jiménez
Photography is the only art where each and every one of the four dimensions take part.
In the diagram above, figure a. represents an hourglass in the three dimensions. Its image in the form of parallel rays of light (fig. c.) passes through a convex lens (fig. d.), converging at a focal point into one dimension (fig. f.). At the precise moment in time (b.) or fourth dimension, a exposure is taken resulting in an inverted two-dimensional photograph (fig. g.).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Darwin's valet dilemma

(Notable Quarrels, &c.)

"To suppose that the eye with all of its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection is absurd in the highest degree."
–Charles Darwin,
"On The Origin of Species"
(Early draft, ca. 1839).

"Syms, may I have a word with you?"
"Certainly, Sir."
"In the study, if you don't mind."
Syms follows Darwin upstairs.
"Close the door."
"Yes, Sir."
"Drop the Sir, would you? At least when we are alone. How many times do I have to tell you?"
"I'm sorry, I forgot."
"Nevermind. What is this?"
"A piece of paper, Sss..."
"That far I got all by myself. What else do you observe?"
"Well, it appears it has been crumpled, but now it's not."
"Very cunning. Look closely. Who's writing is it?"
"It is in my hand, no doubt about it."
"No doubt indeed! I can recognize your penmanship with my eyes closed! I know it better than mine! Posterity will be reading my research in your handwriting, for Christ sake!" Darwin crushes his cigar on an ashtray shaped like a bivalve while holding the uncrumpled sheet of paper at arm's length. "I presume you might have a rational explanation for it."
"I do, it is a letter of resignation, a draft actually, and because of its personal nature I kindly and respectfully request that you return it back to me."
"It belongs to the waste-paper basket, where I found it, and that's where it'll return! Furthermore, it is addressed to me, isn't?"
"I believe it is."
"This is all most upsetting. Let's sit down for a moment, how about a glass of brandy?"
"Thanks, I rather not at this moment..."
"I still would like one myself!"
"Oh! Yes, of course." Syms hurries dilligently to the liquor cabinet, lights a candle, warms a cut glass snifter over the flame, pours about 2.5 fl. oz. (Imperial) of brandy and brings it to Darwin in a platter."
"Your brandy."
"Thank you, Syms. Mmm! Ah! Much better! Well, I am all ears."
"If I may..." Syms sits in the edge of the ottoman, making sure not to rest his back or indicate that he is too comfortable. "Last Thursday, when I was transcribing your dictation, I couldn't help but notice something you said, something that troubled me greatly –still does– and that it has given me quite a few sleepless nights since."
"I'm truly sorry to hear that. And what would that something be, that unwillingly caused you so much distress, dear friend."
"It's what you said about the eye."
"What about it?"
"Well, I'm confounded, to say the least. Has not the eye developed, like all the rest, as a result of evolution, through natural selection?"
"Maybe the eye didn't need to evolve because it was already created perfect."
"But it is not! Many of us need spectacles."
"That's highly arguable, my research is inconclusive in that regard, could myopia be an early step on an evolutionary trait? what's more, I think we should give some credit to the Almighty where credit is due, and about the spectacles, well, there is the matter of freewill... you can choose to wear eyeglasses or you can choose not too, like many ladies do. I myself keep mine in the waiscoat most of the time."
Syms stands up. "Sir, for five years we circumnavigated the world, endured all kinds of perils and tribulations. I have netted, twisted the necks, sketched and catalogued thousands of birds of all sizes, colors and beak shapes, trapped mice, dived after gentle turtles to cook them into your favorite soup. I shot, skinned and gutted monkeys that just moments before were beautiful, graceful creatures up in their magnificent trees, I got chased by vicious emus, smacked by a kangaroo, spat at by llamas, I even became ill with malaria!"
"I got sick too!"
"Yes! ALL sacrificed in the name of science and exploration! And now, with the due respect, you conclude that the eye is too good to be part of evolution?"
"I don't have time for philosophy at this moment. This is all nonsense! I'm going to burn this hasted scribble and pretend you never had anything to do with it. After all you threw it away without signing it, didn't you?"
"I had misgivings."
Syms snatches the letter from Darwin's hand, goes to the desk and swifly pens his signature on it.
"Not anymore!"
"Syms! This is most unbecoming!"
"It might be, Sir, but from now on I am only following the dictum of my own conscience. My trunk is packed. I'm leaving tonight for Liverpool, where I'll board the first ship to... to the farthest place away from here. Farewell!" Syms storms out of the study and runs downstairs.
"Syms! Syms! Come back here!" Stunned, Darwin drops himself in the Berber pillows and finishes his brandy in one gulp, realizing instantly that it might be the last drink served by the hand of his beloved friend and companion of countless adventures.

Twenty years later
Syms Covington walks in the beach. He carries a tightly wrapped parcel under his arm. His thoughts muted by the roar of the vigorous waves. A few paces away, his youngest son pulls barnacles from the rocks with a pocket knife. Syms sits nearby, unties the twine and opens the package. It is a thick volume: On The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Syms flips through the pages, stops at one and reads.

"To suppose that the eye with all of its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light..."

Syms smiles and yet his eyes fill up with tears, then he closes the book and looks at the horizon.
Syms Covington will die one year later, at 49, in Pambula, in the south east coast of Australia.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

God's Eye View

The world is divided in believers and non-believers. The believers believe the non-believers don't have morals, are untrustworthy, unworthy, will rot in a place called "hell" or, in the opinion of the more extreme believers, should die violently. Contrary to the believers' belief, the non-believers have some strong beliefs of their own too, like for example: the believers are gullible, irrational, crazy and wrong, follow absurd rituals and quirky superstitions, and have arbitrarily created more moral rules than there are morals. Most believers believe man was created in God's image, while the non-believers think it's actually the other way around. In this point the believers score 1-0, because the non-believers forgot to explain how something that doesn't exist could ever be created, unknowingly admitting that God does exist, (although it might be a creation of the imagination).
There is a new age of alternative believers, that in order to avoid the dogmas of more traditional Belief Organizations, believe that "God is the Universe." Perhaps these are amongst the most colorful and least dangerous of the bunch. Some of those on the fence but leaning in a precarious angle toward believing will explain their unexplainable spiritual world simply as a "kind of energy." We must admit, to their credit, that in truth very few people today would like to live without the comforts provided by electricity, gasoline, burning coal, solar panels, a cooking stove or a humble bonfire.
The problem gets further complicated, because from the myriad of different kinds or factions of believers many have profound dislike for each other, even if they basically agree that they are worshipping the same one and only God, and their beliefs are inspired, copied, borrowed or stolen from each other's books.
Finally, there are the agnostics, or non-committed, which are those that having the benefit of the doubt, prefer –just in case– not to make up their minds yet, holding their own judgement until –and in the eventuallity of– the advent of the "Last" one. Agnostics pretend to get the best of both worlds (believer's and non-believer's) without getting either. As non-believers go, they are the purest, for their only claim is to be clueless. Unfortunately, they are perceived as folks that have their cake and eat it too by believers and non-believers alike, and it is because of this that –in a rare occurrence of agreement between believers and non-believers– there are the ones that most deserve to die and hopefully come back to let us know if there is really anything on the other side, or not.

A little known fact about the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon

It's a little known fact that, during the Apollo 11 mission, astronauts Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin had yet to decide who was going down to step, leap, walk, bounce and frolic on the surface of the Moon, and who was going stay behind, orbiting in the command module. 
After flipping a coin in the air and waiting for more than two hours without a definitive result due to the lack of gravity, Armstrong and Aldrin managed to convince Collins that it was best to go by alphabetical order, and thus history was made.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gilbert & George start their day

(Notable Quarrels, &c.)

The kitchen at Gilbert & George's house. Gilbert is looking out the window into the garden. George enters.
"Good morning Gilbert, what's for breakfast?"
"I don't know, to be perfectly honest, I don't feel like eating much."
"Oh, I see."
"And what do you suppose to mean by that?"
"What do I mean by what, my dear?"
"Oh, I see."
"Why, I mean absolutely nothing."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't. "
"Yes, you do."
"Alright! Alright! I SEE... that you're still upset about last night."
"Carry on."
"And I SEE that you woke up rather unusually bitchy this morning."
"I did, as a matter of fact."
"Do you feel any better now?"
"I'm starting to, actually, thank you."
"Jolly good, then, jolly good, because now it's me who... doesn't! You see? you made me..." George starts sobbing, leaning over the kitchen table.
"I'm sorry, it's just that when you drink a little too much, and as lately it happens more than not, you start to break character, and we are Gilbert & George. That's who we are. Just look around us, all that we have, that's our job, our life!
"Do you think I did it on purpose?"
"I know you didn't, silly."
"But you agree that sometimes it gets tiresome to reckon with being Gilbert & George all the bloody time! Doing the stupid robot dance..."
"I understand –it's the automaton dance– but please don't cry. I forgive you about last night. Look, I even forgot already what all the fuss was about. Listen, why don't you let me make you a couple of eggs with your favorite sausage, hash-browns, grilled tomatoes, beans with molasses, white toast and a nice and warm cuppa, alright?" George nods.
"Alright." They kiss tenderly.
"Look at yourself, your nose gets so rosy when you cry... I love this pinky little nose. Who does this itty-bitty peach belongs too?"
With a smile still framed by tears, George answers: "To... Gilbert?"
"That's right, and it breaks my heart to see my little Georgie glum. Here, take my hankie. There, that's better, a little smile, chins up."
"Thank's, Gil." George gets up from the chair and Gilbert spanks him graciously in the bum.
"Now you go upstairs, get off your pijamas, take a bath, dress up, and today you can even pick our ties! meanwhile Gilbert makes us a wonderful breakfast. Alright?"
"I hate ties."
"I know, I know, deary, but it sure does beat a job from nine to five."


It is in those rare occassions when I don't feel too inspired, that I feel generous instead. This is one them. Without setting a precedent, I will humbly cede this space today to my friend and colleague Dr. Jiménez, with whom not only I share some of the fondest memories, but to whom I'm also deeply indebted for all the years of loyal and helpful advice, and although not always intelligent, forever unbiased criticism and patience. Enjoy it.
–Mr. Cruz

"Early" by Dr. Jiménez
At dawn even the flourescent lights of the bar feel warm. We all look like if we just came from a funeral, sad but not depressed, because we are the ones still alive, and everything at this hour is more real and more alive, just like after a funeral. "Un café con leche, por favor." Who is up so early? it's not even day yet. Obviously a lot of people. Some walk quickly to work, showered and clean, wrapped in coats and scarfs, a few maybe coming home to a bed still warm from the bodies of their wives or husbands or lovers or friends. That might seem good, but they are not the lucky ones. Who knows. "The city awakens...!" says a voice on the radio, and it sounds like we hear it for the first time. But no, the city is not awakening, because the city is not sleepy, it's just gradually getting busier, that's it, like the night that goes away in just 30 or 40 minutes, a giant shadow in a hurry.
There is something comforting about the pressured steam of the espresso machine, the huffing and puffing of a new day. The energic banging in the trash bin to get rid of the used coffee puck, the grinding of fresh one, and the pumping of the water. The hands of one of the waiters are already pink from doing dishes. It's February, and he's wearing short sleaves, maybe that explains it. "¿Me pone un cruasán?" "¿Se lo paso por la plancha?" "Sí, gracias." A cup of coffee on a beaten saucer on a stainless steel counter of a bar somewhere in Spain.

Monday, October 26, 2009

An accidental genius (part one)

In the winter of 2006, my wife Leslie and I were in Berlin visiting our good friends, the talented and accomplished filmmakers, Lucia Palacios and Dietmar Post.
After dinner, around a bottle of Jägermeister, the conversation drifted toward some of the obscure films and filmmakers of our liking. At some point, Dietmar got up to tend the smoldering fire, then turning quickly around and pointing at us with the poker in his hand, he said: "Have you ever heard about Max Slim?" I had never heard that name before, and by the look in her face neither did Leslie. But just in case, none of us was readily answering, afraid that Dietmar, being the mercurial German director that he is would poke us in the head with the iron rod, metaphorically speaking, that is. So, we just kept staring at the revived flame, pretending the question was not addressed at us. "Max Slim!, the director of The Last Turn!" insisted Dietmar, finally resting the fireplace tool against the wall. It was only then that we dared to admit our ignorance about this little known artist in particular. Dietmar smiled, savoring the suspense and anticipation before telling one of those stories too good to keep to oneself, and emptying his pipe against the mantlepiece –which only made his wife, Lucia, roll her eyes in exasperation– our friend proceeded to tell us who Max Slim was.

Maximilian Adolph Otto Siegfried Schlimmstein, was born in the town of Bischofshofen in what in 1898 was still the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the summer of 1914, the sound of drawing swords and the billowing winds of war that followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, terrified to death the sensitive nature of young Max. Afraid of being drafted into the conflict that would become WWI, (with the likelihood of getting wounded, maimed or even killed), Maximillian took, perhaps, the most important decission of his life, and acted on it. He sold his neighbor's bicycle and his own, his treasured books and stamp collection, put on the three best shirts he had, his everyday suit on top of Sunday's, and bulked up with conflicting emotions, barely able to embrace her, said farewell to his ailing mother. Three days later, Max sailed from Trieste as a stowaway on a steamship, reaching the port of New York the 9th of September of that year.
Maximillian wandered through the streets of the great metropoli, mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of buildings and endless avenues. He walked for hours against the tide of rushing crowds and maddening traffic, until he found himself –well past midnight– standing in front of a wondrous sight that turned the sidewalk into daylight: a marquee. Its hundreds of incandescent lights luring him to the darkness, inside. In bright colors, advertised with block letters and the painted likenesses of villains and heroines, the promise of thrill, adventure and emotion. He had heard about the marvels of cinema, but this was the first time he had seen a movie theatre in person. The little money he brought with him was soon to be gone, spent mostly on pretzels and all-nighters at the "Nickelodeon" (five cents cheaper than a movie palace but cleaner and safer than a flophouse). Not only was he penniless now, he was also mortally bitten, poisoned by the movies, but what Max lacked in funds, he made up with determination. After crossing half of the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic ocean, the fact that he didn't speak a single word of English, was not going to stop him from crossing the East River and getting a job as a gofer at the Kaufman film studios in Astoria, Queens. (It's worth noting that in the early days of silent cinema, spoken language was not an issue).
Max soon felt he might have made a regretteable mistake. Learning how movies were made could mean the end of the magic, the mystery gone, but interestingly, quite the opposite happened. Having "a peak behind the curtain", so to speak, only excited Maximillian's imagination even more. He wanted to learn the art and craft of filmmaking and the best place to start doing it was, he thought, right from up above, looking down from the rafters and scaffoldings. As fortune would have it, Max didn't last long at running errands; instead, he ran up the ladder, literally, finding what would be his vocation, overnight (this also literally), in the art of throwing fake snow over the movie sets. When chance presented herself, Max greeted her with open arms.

The script of the photoplay in production that day called for "snow falling on the barren fields", but the stagehand that usually took care of these chores was nowhere to be found. Overhearing the cries of the art director and always willing to lend a hand, Max casually offered himself as an "expert" on the matter (not a small feat to say in sign language), which to the art director's glee and relief proved to be not far from the truth. Back in Bischofshofen, Max had spent countless hours of his childhood winters looking at the snow storms from his bedroom window, and knew by heart the precise cadence, flow and pattern of real snowfall, only, in the movies, it was made of tiny bits of paper (or as the Italians like to call it: "confetti"). Max got the job, and he must have handled it well enough to keep it from then on. Strikes us as no less than ironic that, what to the eyes of his mother was a mere waste of time, ended up having a practical application in the land of opportunity. (Incidentaly, the missing stagehand was found later that night, locked by accident in the back of a truck where he was taking a nap).
Encouraged by this initial -albeit modest- success, Max quickly started showing signs of a preternatural knack for storytelling when he resolved to improve upon the standard –and crude– method used to recreate snow at the time. Max accomplished this by experimenting with a novel snow throwing technique "against gravity", and most importantly, introducing the use of rice paper (vs. customary newsprint), painstakingly hand-cut at his exact specifications. Max's innovations where put to practice in the now lost four-reeler The Lumberman's Daughter (1915), with the result of the snowflakes falling slower and more languidly in the needed scenes, or as a critic of "The Sunday Examiner" put it, "with great pathos". Whatever that meant, it had to be good, for it got him the most enthusiastic kudos from no other than the very D.W. Griffith himself, who admittedly had "never seen snow of such beauty on the cinema screen before, or in real life, for that matter." D.W. immediately took Max under his wing, hiring him as his exclusive weather artist, for the then extravagant salary of $24 a week and a one-way ticket in a westbound train to Hollywood, California.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The fine line between trendsetting and looking plain silly

It is the 2009 fall season, you wear $300 destroyed Japanese selvedge jeans, a buttoned-up chambray shirt, constructed –one size too small– herringbone jacket, vintage hat, distressed work boots, and didn't shave in three days: you are "IN", but if you are caught wearing the same outfit in 1929 you would only be taken for an ex-convict or a hobo, or both.
Now imagine yourself wearing 70's low hip bell-bottom pants and a poly-cotton t-shirt with some faded graphic like Charlie's Angels, Atari, Seven Up or John Deere's logo... in 1995! Do you think you are five years ahead of the curve? Will your friends think you are original or inventive? A trend-setter? No, you just look weird and maybe stupid.
2007, you wear a tight suit with a narrow lapel, one inch tie and slim pants showing two inches of socks (even better sans socks), you are cool, but if you do that in the 80's, you are Pee Wee Herman, and look funny... and pathetic. If you dress like the 80's in the 90's, you don't get it, if you do it in 2009, you do. (Remember those awful oversized glasses, shapped like old tv screens, that touched your cheeks when you smiled, they have been back for a while, as well as the gaudy sneakers with velcro in the ankles, the colorful leggings, the t-shirt dress, the silver leather belt... go figure skating!)
I like to think I am open minded in general, but there are things in fashion that still puzzle me. For example I'm not sure where "saggin' pants" falls, is it still "IN" or already "OUT"? What I know is that wearing jeans below your cheeks is not very practical, at least for the real thugs: not long ago a suspect on the run trampled on his own pants when these dropped to his knees, with the result of being caught by the police after being shot in the rear. The cops, the paramedics, the judge, the jury, even the fellow inmates in his prison block, are still laughing, understandably.
Being fashionable is all about timing. But if you are like me, the kind of person that is never sure when to clap at a classical music concert, maybe it's better if you give up trying to set trends too early or with references so obscure that nobody can actually place them. Stop trying to be creative and go with the wave. Keep and ear and and eye open and wear the fashionable clothing when it hits the stores, still warm from the factories of China. Be an enthusiastic early adopter. People will recognize and admire your fashion sense.
There is a fine line between being a trendsetter and looking plain silly, stay on it, like a tightroper of style.