Saturday, April 21, 2007


One fact about me: I am not altogether dressy. Sure, I probably clean-up fairly well, and wear a suit with fashionable ease; but I think this is partly, if not totally, due to the fact that I do not wear one so often that I don't carry an air of occasion when I finally do. I am mostly homier, see, preferring the comforts of worn jeans and a shaved head to the clean lines of starched shirts and a stylist. So it's a pitfall of Washington DC, especially on weekend nights, that many downtown drinking lounges are filled with the type of cunning players that fit foursquarely into the starched slash stylist camp. Another fact: today was one of those days just a little too hot for a t-shirt in the sun, and a little too cold for just a t-shirt in the shade. So I covered my ratty t-shirt with my jacket when I went to town to meet with some friends at a bar. Turns out this was one of the dressy places, of course. I was wearing a pair of stained green cargo pants, muddy combat boots, and a ratty t-shirt. Everyone else was dressed in a collared shirt, rakishly after-five tie, or a sharp little pantsuit number. Well not everybody: our friend Holly looked a lot better than just that, even. I looked exactly like I always look, except with more sweat. It was hot inside the bar, and I was afraid to take my jacket off. It was a lot less ratty than the t-shirt. What the hell, I knew I was going downtown on a Friday night. I should have known better. I was uncomfortable so we didn't stay long. We headed to Karma where I felt trendily disheveled while drinking mojitos. [Cavin]

Friday, April 20, 2007


Today's double-feature in Maryland: I watched Akira Kurosawa's excellent Throne of Blood (Kumonosu jô, 1957, a remake of Macbeth)*, and Kenji Mizoguchi's bleakly lavish Sansho the Bailiff (Sanshô dayû, 1954).* I suspect Shakespeare's tragedy, a damnation of ambitious greedmongering, fit nicely into director Kurosawa's thematic interests during Japan's post-war years. Mr. Kurosawa places his revamping in the literal fog of feudal antiquity, as Washizu, played by the athletic Toshiro Mifune, begins his rapid ascent to shogun of Spider's Web Castle by marching to the beat of his own moral decay. On the battlefields, ancient Japan is recreated with Kurosawa's typical fealty to period adventure: sweeping feats of charging samurai bristling with armaments and fluttering banners of station. Inside the castle, however, we are treated to a Shakespearian Japan: a linear and immaculately staged contemplation of the interior forces driving this play. Here, "staged" indicates the practices, gestures, and costuming of traditional Japanese Noh theater rather than the Shakespearian Globe. Never is this more frighteningly realized than in the character of Asaji, who, with her porcelain makeup and ethereal mannerisms, presents a Lady Macbeth without extraneous humanity: she's stripped to the sum of her ill intentions. In Sansho the bailiff, master director Kenji Mizoguchi returns to his notion of abandonment and precarious living in a world without mercy. A benevolent governor is forcibly transferred into ostensible exile. His family must travel roads grown treacherous with bandits and famine in an attempt to somehow reunite. Of course they are captured by villains, separated, and sold. Thus, the children are enslaved by the cruel magisterial bailiff Sansho for the decade it takes them to mature into escapees. Meanwhile, mother sings mournfully from her seaside cathouse prison. Not as upbeat as I am making it sound, the movie is nevertheless remarkably good. [Cavin]

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Yesterday I saw Jacques Tati's Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (M. Hulot's Holiday, 1953),* my fourth Tati film in several weeks. This movie fits very nicely between two others: 1949's Jour de Fête,* and 1967's Playtime.* In '49, Tati examined the turbulence created when a carnival comes to a small town, primarily through the eyes of that town's postman. It insinuated the beginning of a career interest in those frictions created between human nature and modern times. By '67, his theme had reached an apotheosis of world-building, presenting the dismay of characters trapped like rats in a maze of bewildering futurism, organized into a chaotic syncopation mostly divorced from the sensibilities of its inhabitants. It's as if, throughout his career, Tati's characters and their world just grew apart. In Les Vacances..., Tati introduces us to Monsieur Hulot, a genial goof in striped socks and floppy hat. Hulot is heading to a seaside vacation resort where he'll meet odd characters and instigate playful slapstick havoc. Played by Tati himself, Hulot will return throughout his later films. By Playtime, he has been relegated to audience surrogate, experiencing for us the great human-environmental disassociation onscreen; but in '53, Hulot is warmly characterized as a well-meaning act of comic nature: bumbling through the Riviera, driving the chaos. This movie represents a step toward Playtime's dismissal of conventional narrative; the camera wanders around cataloguing the odd beats and patterns of human interaction. Tati is already beginning to relax any dependence on language. By Playtime, the dialog is mostly gibberish, used primarily for humorous effect--here it's offered as an occasional pleasantry. But the large advancement in '53 is in world-building. Tati is still working within recognizable landscapes, but subtly nudging the environment toward tightly-controlled boilerplate notions as a stand-in for the real world. [Cavin]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


More Metro slapstick today. I left the house pretty early (for me) and headed up the orange line to Farragut West to eat a panini for lunch. Leaving the station, I passed several metro police officers running the other way. "I just saw him go down," one yelled into a radio. On the street, cop cars were screeching to a halt at the corner. I just walked to lunch, and then headed to the other side of Farragut Square, switching over to the red line. Reentering at Farragut North, I noticed there was a fire truck and emergency vehicles parked across the park at Farragut West.* There's nothing about any of this on the news. Underground, I realized it was already rush hour. Trains come twice as frequently between four and six, but they're all really overcrowded. Even the new eight-car jobs making their appearance this year are standing room only all the way down all eight cars. I let the first three trains pass me by, hoping the crowds would lighten while putting off the inevitable. I barely squeezed onto the fourth train, crushed together with everyone else trying to preserve our strangers-on-a-train dignity. When they announced the doors were going to close, we all crushed-in a little harder to make sure no one got caught. Apparently someone caught somewhere, though: the doors sprang back open, and since we were crushed harder together, another dude jumped on. He did it while saying something like "shwoop." He was a very large man, and when the doors began to close on him, he crushed us all in a little tighter to avoid them. I was no longer able to scream in terror, or grab a handrail, or protect my wallet. I just stood there all the way to Maryland. [Cavin]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Sunday we bid Ellie a fond adieu after an extra-large Vietnamese lunch at Four Sisters.* I had caramelized tofu and straw mushrooms in a clay pot, which was so good I ate every last dripping morsel even though I wasn't at all hungry. It was forty-eight and raining nastily when Ellie got on the road, but she made it home alive--even with one hand taking pictures. Sunshine and I headed over to Arlington for a book sale. We'd been to this sale before back in 2004. It was something we'd been planning to try to hit again this year. It's a very good sale: taking up most of one level in the Arlington Central Library* parking facility, this sale is very well-organized and -stocked. Of course, since it's in a parking lot it's also unheated. While the upper forties is not too bad when I'm walking around, it can get chilly when I'm perusing the used world politics section of the parking deck. We did find a box-full of interesting books, and we carefully hurried them out to the car in the rain. That's right: the sale is in the parking area, but I parked on the street. Today was a low key day, by the way. Sunshine organized a happy hour gathering among her Vietnam-bound coworkers, so I met everyone at the very same Roslyn pool dive as the last time. I got to meet the man who will be Sunshine's boss for two years, and that was really cool. I also got to eat more of the lounge's good pretzels. After two happy hours, we came back to Falls Church and ate at the Lost Dog Café,* a little deli-style eatery with good custom pizzas (mine was rosemary-feta-pine nut) and about sixty different world beers. [Cavin]

Monday, April 16, 2007


Friday night, Ellie and Sunshine and I headed to the Irish local for a few pints while making plans for our short weekend. "Here's what we'll do," we said as the band struck up 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and we ordered our second basket of fries with curry sauce, "head to the weekly craft thing at Eastern Market tomorrow morning, grab some mojitos and paninis at Karma before going to the Clarendon flea market in the afternoon, and then walk across the pretty Key Bridge for a lengthy and swelling Ethiopian dinner in Georgetown in the evening." There'd been some deliberation over whether this Irish Pub Band would know Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning when we'd originally toyed with the idea of requesting it. We'd decided they probably wouldn't, and besides, we were talking over the music anyway. Within minutes the band was playing our song unasked: this was good weekend ju-ju. There was no deliberation over our plans: our omen was smiling on us. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is sacrosanct. Then we stayed up till five am. So we dragged ourselves out of the house Saturday afternoon and headed to the Japanese Street Festival (a centerpiece to this last weekend of the annual Cherry Blossom Thing). It was at Federal Triangle, but we got off the Metro at Farragut West and walked halfway across downtown. We had a great time* even though it was drizzling. Then we hopped the Metro back to Farragut, discovered Karma was closed, and walked the other half-downtown to Dupont Circle where we browsed a consignment store before enjoying a large, yummy meal at Raku. Then we headed home to watch a movie about a guy with no hands.** So yeah, Saturday was still great, but what exactly happened to our plans? [Cavin]