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candle song

It's Christmas again so we lit all the candles
And we tried to pretend that your room was a palace
But we can't seem to shake off the fear
That nothing is different, that no-one has changed
Nothing has changed

I stand by my lover as she stands by me
Chained to my lover as she's chained to me

We've been trough the past and the pain
The love that was lost
And we know all the answers
We've taken all our chances and let them drift by
It's time to be free yeah it's time to be free
Standing so close I can't see you at all

I stand by my lover as she stands by me
Chained to my lover as she's chained to me

But your books don't say much about
Living your life like a thief
Yeah we're handcuffed and chained
We play games and play them out slowly

Chained to my lover as she's chained to me
Chained to my lover as she's chained to me

Chained to my lover as she's chained to me
Chained to my lover as she's chained to me

- Mojave 3

Somewhat forgotten, this post-Slowdive band, but their first album, 'Ask Me Tomorrow' (1996), contains some gems, including the dirge-like duet of 'Candle Song'.

the trouble with bubbles

Miniature worlds are a recurring theme in the stories of Philip K. Dick. In 'Second Variety', volume two of his collected stories (all early work from the period 1952-55), three stories explore this theme, including a fantasy tale ('Small Town') about a classic example: obsession with a model train world.

A related but more disturbing vision is offered in 'The Trouble with Bubbles', where miniature worlds are available as a commodity in a society severely suffering from ennui. These Worldcraft bubbles, as they're called, are today most easily described as physical god games - something like 'Spore' in a glass sphere - with real, living inhabitants on a microscopic scale.

Sub-atomic worlds, in controlled containers. We start life going on a sub-atomic world, feed it problems to make it evolve, try to raise it higher and higher. In theory there's nothing wrong with the idea. It's certainly a creative pastime. Not a merely passive viewing like television. In fact, world-building is the ultimate art form.

Stanisław Lem would later discuss the ethical dilemmas of playing god over miniature civilizations in 'The Seventh Sally', but Dick characteristically adds a further dramatic twist. The story revolves around a party where people enter their bubbles in a contest. For days they work themselves into a drugged frenzy, and then, led by the winner, a woman who has made 'worldcrafting' her life's work - they destroy them.

She raised her bubble up over her head, her doughy chest swelling convulsively. Suddenly her face jerked, features twisting wildly. Her thick body swayed grotesquely - and from her hands the Worldcraft bubble flew, crashing to the stand in front of her.

The bubble smashed, bursting into a thousand pieces. Metal and glass, plastic parts, gears, struts, tubes, the vital machinery of the bubble, splattered in all directions.

Pandemonium broke loose. All around the room other owners were smashing their worlds, breaking them and crushing them, stamping on them, grinding the delicate control mechanisms underfoot. Men and women in a frenzy of abandon, released by Lora Becker's signal, quivering in a orgy of Dionysian lust. Crushing and breaking their carefully constructed worlds, one after another.

The contestants' destructive behavior, which has the appearance of children bored with their toys throwing a tantrum, leads to a discussion about man's creative and destructive tendencies. Ostensibly, the story links the bubbles' popularity to mankind's failed exploration of other planets, as they allow people to build and rule over their own little world. More fundamental, however, seems to be the problem of leisure, which creates pent-up energy that mere toys won't channel, except destructively.

All of us have energy, the desire to move, act, do. But we're bottled up here, sealed off, on one planet. So we buy Worldcraft bubbles and make little worlds of our own. but microscopic worlds aren't enough. They're as satisfactory as a toy sailboat is to a man who wants to go sailing.

Meanwhile, the story's irony (which Dick leaves largely implicit) is that while these people long to explore new worlds and direct their energy more constructively, they have already proven themselves completely unfit to deal with other civilizations, large or small, in any sort of ethical manner.

holly golightly

Poor cat. Poor slob. Poor slob without a name. The way I see it I haven't got the right to give him one. We don't belong to each other. We just took up one day by the river. I don't want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together. I'm not sure where that is but I know what it is like. It's like Tiffany's.

Tiffany's? You mean the jewelry store.

That's right. I'm crazy about Tiffany's. You know those days when you get the mean reds?

The mean reds, you mean like the blues?

No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Sure.

Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it. Nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then... Then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name.

Blake Edwards' adaptation of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', after the novella by Truman Capote, created one of the most enchanting characters in film history. Holly Golightly, portrayed by Audrey Hepburn, combined elegance with carelessness and tough big city independence with a restless yearning for country homeliness. Just watch her singing 'Moon River'.

Also featuring one hell of a party (on a par with the restaurant scene in 'Play Time' for spinning out of control), the film's only flaw may be the Pink Panther character living upstairs.

waltz with bashir & lebanon

Warning: some spoilers ahead. Though, really, all this is history.

Two recent films from Israel, 'Waltz with Bashir' (2008) and 'Lebanon' (2009), deal with the country's role in the 1982 Lebanon War. As postmodern war films, both use radical aesthetics to convey the experiences of ordinary soldiers in a horrible and inextricable conflict - and both emphasize their own subjectivity, with only hints of the larger political reality.

'Waltz with Bashir', directed by Ari Folman, is described as an animated documentary (it is based on the director's and other characters' experiences), but at times the film feels more like an animated 'Apocalypse Now', hallucinatory and nightmarishly disjointed. Its stunningly detailed visual style, voice-over confessions and haunting soundtrack all contribute to a disturbing portrait of young soldiers unprepared for the bizarre realities of war.

Waltz with Bashir - 1

The story concerns the filmmaker's quest to piece together and face his own memories of the war, during which he interviews former comrades and other eyewitnesses. This approach, framing the war scenes as persistent dreams and unreliable memories, makes the film as much a meditation on the mechanisms of memory and trauma as a war document.

Waltz with Bashir - 2

However, the film's seemingly meandering accounts do lead to a breakthrough (to put it in therapeutic terms), which exposes Israel's role in the massacres in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila. It is the memory of this event specifically that the filmmaker had suppressed for more than 25 years, and when it is released, it can only be shown as real documentary footage, creating a shocking and mournful ending that rends through all its former stylistic, animated distantiation.

'Lebanon', by Samuel Maoz, employs an even more radical form, confining the entire film to the inside of a tank, whose only window on the world is through the crosshairs of its gunsight. As the tank drives into an unspecified urban area in Lebanon, the claustrophobia is palpable in the cramped and filthy bowels of this infernal machine, as is the fear of the four soldiers trapped inside.

Lebanon - 1

In the ensuing confrontations with various enemies, the soldiers' limited vision becomes an obvious but effective metaphor for the chaos and moral disorientation around them. This idea is made explicit when, in one of the many arguments among them, the tank commander blames one of his soldiers that he see things from a limited viewpoint, and is unable to see the bigger picture. (Ironically, the commander is just as much in the dark as to what this bigger picture is, but his position of responsibility makes him more sensitive to its supposed existence.)

Lebanon - 2

Only occasionally does the outside world intrude on the film's tank-reality, such as when they have to guard a Syrian prisoner, bleeding and out of his wits with fear, with whom they can't communicate. Or when a commanding officer instructs them that phosphor grenades, forbidden under international treaty, should be referred to as smoke grenades. In scenes like these 'Lebanon' drives home the incomprehensibility of the conflict these soldiers find themselves in.

Comparing the two films, the raw immediacy of 'Lebanon' contrasts with the meditative pace of 'Waltz with Bashir', but what they both show is ordinary soldiers caught up in a chain of command the consequences of which they can't oversee, let alone judge. In the case of 'Lebanon' there is simply no time for reflection. In 'Waltz with Bashir' it comes painfully, some 25 years after the fact.

For all their unflinching honesty in showing war from an on-the-ground perspective, both films limit themselves to a purely subjective perspective. This may just be the postmodern condition humaine, but it does leave these films vulnerable to political criticism. In this sense, 'Lebanon' is the more straightforward, its very form a disclaimer of its subjectivity. 'Waltz with Bashir' is more ambiguous, as it mixes fiction (or at least dramatized memories) and documentary. But while it leaves an aftertaste for having to therapeutically "unforget" an event that has certainly never been forgotten in other parts of the world, in the end its mission of remembering can only be lauded.

baalbek

Baalbek - 1

Baalbek - 2

The city of Baalbek, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, was in ancient times known as Heliopolis (not to be confused with the Egyptian city of the same name). These days it sells Hezbollah t-shirts, but it is also home to what reputedly was the largest temple complex in the Roman empire, devoted to Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus. The complex's awe-inspiring ruins rank with Luxor's Karnak in preserving the gargantuan yet exquisitely detailed monumental architecture of the ancient world.

Baalbek - 3

Baalbek - 4

beirut, beyroutes

Beirut - 1

Beirut - 2

Once called the Paris of the East, these days Beirut may remind more of Berlin, with its glaring contrasts, open wounds and vibrant energy. Divided and laid to waste during fifteen years of civil war, since 1990 the city is seeing reconstruction and development on an epic scale. Slick towers now crowd around the carcass of the Holiday Inn (strategic stronghold and symbol of the city war), while the themepark-picturesque downtown-to-be rubs up against the Green Line (the former no man's land separating west and east).

Beirut - 3

Beirut - 4

As an introduction to this churning vat of contradictions, 'Beyroutes' is not your average guidebook. With hand-scribbled maps, inside stories, essays, poems and tips like "Don't panic when you hear firearms, it just means the speech is over!" (in the section 'How to Survive in Dahiya'), the book delights in irreverently decoding the city's symbol-ridden and fragmented cultural identity.

Beyroutes presents an exploded view of a city which lives so many double lives and figures in so many truths, myths and historical falsifications. Visiting the city with this intimate book as your guide makes you feel disoriented, appreciative, judgmental and perhaps eventually reconciliatory.

Published as a supplement to Volume (formerly Archis), 'Beyroutes' might well set a new standard for urban exploration, with multiple critical perspectives and a tone of being guided by well-informed friends. Just too bad none of it is available online.