Month: September 2020

Minority? Not Anymore.

I love watching US politics from a distance. The proliferation of social media, in giving formerly unheard voices a platform has allowed everyone with a grievance to come to the fore. This is a mixed blessing, of course, and I see the current mix as one part people with genuine points to make to 10 parts nutjobs who simply want to complain because they have no discernible talent or desire to work to get ahead.

One of the things that amuses me most is how concerned activists try to convince people from groups that are just trying to live their lives that they are, in fact, victim of a society conspiring against them, and that they should organize and protest the unfairness inherent in being in the US.

Yawn.

From my point of view, the strangest is trying to drag Hispanics into the fight. This is particularly ridiculous when you remember that most Hispanics in the US are there because they left somewhere that was much, much worse, and have found a place where their families can grow and prosper. They remember what populist and socialist countries look like–it’s what the RAN from.

Which is why only the truly misguided allow themselves to be referred to as Latinx. You won’t find much of that in their own communities. Most Hispanics I’ve ever spoken to think it’s imbecilic and do not want to know.

Funnier still, treating Hispanics as a minority in the US is anachronistic. I still remember when New Mexico became the first state in which Hispanics were the largest ethnic or racial group–which makes them a majority, not a minority.

More importantly, perhaps, the same milestone was passed by California in 2014. And Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the US.

So it’s entertaining to watch the “white vs. brown” argument in the US, which in a few years will be completely irrelevant. Hispanics have their own way of viewing the world, their own type of collectivism (and they love American values, much to the future annoyance of the hand-winging and guilt crowd). Most importantly, however, they will soon be the majority.

But no one really knows that they thing. They don’t care about white guilt or a past of slavery. They are following the American dream… and in a few years, they’re going to remind everyone of it by force of numbers.

Maybe it’s time you stopped calling them Latinx (which they hate) and started listening to them.

But even if you don’t… you will, soon.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who enjoys observing the world, from Switzerland to Swaziland. Then he writes about it, celebrating the wonders of different people and our common humanity. His collection Off the Beaten Path is the most concrete example of this passion. You can check it out here.

Kurosawa’s Ikiru – Wondrous Light in the Face of Tragedy

An old man on a swing in the snow, singing a traditional Japanese song while smiling happily doesn’t seem like the kind of image that can bring hardened movie-goers to tears, but that’s because you haven’t yet seen Ikiru.

This is a movie about celebrating life, of living every day as if it as if it were the last, for the simple reason that, one day, it will be. That, and the incredible acting of Takashi Shimura, who plays a beaten down bureacrat who, in the first minutes of the film, discovers he will soon die of stomach cancer.

The rest of the film deals with that man trying to make sense of the death sentence.

The film reminds you once again that life exists for those who live it. So many people are just going through the motions, happy just to have a job that gives them a position in society and forgetting the truly important parts of life.

I once called Ladri de Bicicletti the most communist film ever. In the same vein this is the most un-communist film ever. It represents everything that liberal humanism celebrates, and criticizes conformism, equality (in the sense of everyone desiring the same path through life) and especially bureacracy.

It’s an exploration of how the individual–even one who never thought of rebelling against the pressure applied by society–is more powerful than the forces of conformism. It’s wonderful if you happen to celebrate the individual or enjoy an uplifting story. It’s deeply and subtly subversive if you believe that individuals should be subordinate to the tyranny of the majority.

Highly recommended as a way to brighten your day.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose most recent literary book is the linked short story collection Love and Death, which deals with life in its most piercing aspects. You can check it out here.

Anger and Everyone

On my facebook page, I watch people being angry all the time. Mostly, they are angry about politics or social questions. Often, they blame people with more money for the world’s problems.

I tend to scroll through and only argue selected points with people that I know are psychologically strong enough to understand that disagreeing with a point does not automatically make the other person a monster.

But though I try to ignore the negativity, I often think about it… and I’ve come to a few conclusions which apply to almost everyone who posts about politics on social media, regardless of whether they lean left, right, up or down (or whatever).

The first is that the meme above is utterly correct. Everyone with a grievance turns it into a moral issue which is therefore not possible to argue with. Like Puritans and prohibitionists, there are greater things at stake to them than mere logic dictates.

So you can’t go argue a point or present alternative evidence, because once you deviate from the party line, you enter the “immoral zone” where you are a bad person and therefore not worth arguing with. A corollary of this is that terms like “Racist”, “Communist”, “Fascist” and “Nazi” have come to mean “a perfectly reasonable and unobjectionable human being who happens to disagree with my fanatical and radicalized view of the world”.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if you’ve ever thought that someone you were arguing with is really one of the above (unless they are card-carrying members of either the Nazi or Communist party), you are a bit of an idiot and probably shouldn’t be exposing that reality to everyone on the internet that way.

Maybe you can come back online once you learn to see shades of grey and other points of view as something other than an attack on your moral high ground (which, BTW, exists only in your mind).

The other thing everyone has in common is that the grievances are always someone else’s fault.

Now, this isn’t something new, of course. People who are unable to thrive in any environment have always had to face a difficult choice: accept themselves as losers in the game of life through no fault but their own or look for scapegoats.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure any member of that learned profession will tell you that one path is easier to travel than the other.

So people have always looked for scapegoats. Traditionally, these were the immigrants, or the people who profess a minority religion, or the people who look different. Racism–real racism, at least–has its roots in precisely that sort of thinking.

It still exists, of course. People still frame some immigrant groups as inherently criminal or morally inferior and act accordingly, but to this the Angry Internet People (TM) have added a bunch of other groups. In fact, there appear to be so many groups wittingly or unwittingly conspiring against peace on the planet that the “aliens among us” and Priory of Zion folks are beginning to look sane. Let’s do a recap… White people. Men. The police. The academic left. The fascist right. Billionaires (they are, apparently, all James Bond villains. Who knew?).

We could go on all day, but the point is that it’s never the individual who is responsible for having a crappy life. It’s always the powerful forces arrayed against him.

The problem with this is the person who was born exactly like the whiner, but who made different choices (or had more talent or worked harder) and who has carved out a good life.

Solution? That person is a traitor to the (insert whatever you like here: movement, race, gender, party, neighborhood, religion).

To me, those people aren’t traitors. They just spent their time working towards their dreams instead of whining online. They accepted that the world is a tough place to get ahead in and moved forward. Very few people of any subsegment of the population succeed… and that is the simple truth. And the answer to why YOU didn’t lies inside. I can guarantee that the Priory of Zion had nothing to do with it, no matter what the voices in your head might think.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who writes books in which his politics are completely absent, but where his characters are sometimes opinionated. The ones that are too opinionated get eaten by monsters. If you don’t believe it, check out Ice Station Death and see for yourself.

You’ll be Singin’ in the Rain, too

Few films, even on the 1001 movies list, contain any scene as universally known–and universally beloved–as the scene in which Gene Kelly sings and dances the title song from Singin’ in the Rain. This scene is deservedly iconic, utterly wonderful and the highlight of the film.

We’ve all seen this scene dozens, possibly hundreds of times. What we sometimes forget is that there’s a movie around this scene, and that movie is unfamiliar to many. In fact, I’d say modern audiences likely have no clue what it’s about. I know I didn’t, despite having caught that scene on TV as a kid several times–I presume I must have been watching the movie at the time.

In short, Singin’ in the Rain is a film about making movies at the very end of the silent era, and it’s one of those that makes you happy to be alive. Not quite as awesome as On the Town, which will likely remain my favorite Kelly musical forever, but it is close. And that iconic song makes might push it over the top for many, many people.

In this segment of the 1001 movies list, I constantly find it amazing how different genres went down completely different paths to try to cater to precisely the same movie-going audience. While crime went to bleak, no-hope, everyone-dies scenarios, musicals expressed the hope of the atomic age in glorious technicolor (I wonder if we’re allowed to use any adjective other than “glorious” to describe technicolor. I may need to ask the blogger’s legal department). I think that’s part of the reason the musicals of the era are so well-loved. The contrast was tremendous.

Other than to recommend tracking down a copy (or finding out when it will be on TV) and watching this one, there’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said. This one deserves its place in the firmament.

Also, a shout-out to Rita Moreno, one of the actresses in the film who is alive today. How cool must it be to be able to say: “I danced in Singin’ in the Rain?”

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a creature feature with brains, entitled Jungle Lab Terror. You can check it out here.

Small Station Wagons and the Death of Peter Revson

For the July 1974 issue of Road & Track, the results of the fuel crisis were still being felt, even though supply had been restored. Americans, who’d never cared for piddling little cars were starting to consider compacts with a little less derision, at least on the coasts (middle America would need the imports and small cars to get a lot better before they cared).

So what you end up with is a beach photo… when the cars are as unsexy as the wagons on the cover, you need to try something, anything, to make the magazine catch the eye. A California beaches work.

As always with these, it’s the racing articles that make these compelling reading. While the social insight on the era and the articles on cars people could actually buy are interesting, this was a golden era for racing.

Albeit an often sad one. The mid-seventies were the beginning of the serious safety crusades that have done so much damage to the romance of auto racing… but they still hadn’t taken hold, and it was still an era of real men driving cars that would put hair on your chest in circuits that bit you hard if you overdid it.

So sometimes the news could be sad, and this issue includes a tribute to recently-deceased Peter Revson, heir to the Revlon fortune who worked hard to get rid of the rich playboy image. Just as he had gained others’ respect in the sport, even winning multiple Grands Prix–the sign of someone who is NOT a dilettante–he lost his life. But we remember him today… something people in fifty years are unlikely to say about today’s formula one “heroes”.

Most interesting article is one in which the editors compiled the results of all the top-level races from the late 19th century until 1973… and created a points system that declared Juan Manuel Fangio the champion to date.

Considering that there was also a race report chronicling the first of Carlos Reutemann’s F1 wins, it was a good issue for my countrymen.

So the seventies march on in their oh-so-seventies way.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His latest collection of science fiction and fantasy tales is entitled Off the Beaten Path. Exotic locales, incredible adventures and looking both to the future and the uncanny make this one a treat for anyone looking to escape for a while. You can check it out here.

The Allure of Beautiful Libraries

Those of you following along at home are probably aware by now that I have a thing for libraries, particularly beautiful ones. My home bookshelves are an eclectic mix of fine editions and ancient destroyed paperbacks, with most of the better books being “keepers” of which I bought a decent copy to replace a paperback that was falling to pieces.

Besides my own book buying tendencies, I also love reading about libraries, especially when it’s a lavishly illustrated book about them.

So it should come as no surprise that one of my dreams in life is to own a truly spectacular walk-in library with hundreds of meters of shelving. Those familiar with the Abbey Library at Saint Gall will understand the concept, but I never did like the aesthetics of these cold–albeit imposing–abbey libraries.

For myself, I much prefer the coziness of an English country house style library and study. It just seems a better kind of surrounding for a modern polymath. All right, it might be a bit of an antiquated concept, and the gentleman scholar a bit of a cliché, but I find that it fits my self-image better than most everything else. I’ve been accused of being a little elitist, but I maintain that I’m a gentle example of the breed.

CMC 39

So if I ever get one of these, you’re all invited to discuss literature, art and pretty much anything else that comes to mind in the feast of reason.

You’ll certainly find me happy.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose novel Ice Station Death is a look at what could happen if prehistoric creatures resurfaced in Antarctica and encountered an expedition. It’s a fast-paced romp where enemies take many forms: monsters, weather and, perhaps worst of all, other people. You can check it out here.

Angel Face Would Have Been Treated Much Differently Today

Angel Face, for those who haven’t seen it (a group that included me until last week) is a clear descendent of the noir films of the classic era. Jean Simmons plays a classic femme fatale in the most literal sense of the word, and Robert Mitchum’s character is ripe for falling into her web.

It’s another of those unflinching noirs from the fifties–entertaining but without the possibility of redemption that tipified the true greats in the genre.

But the fact that noir had completely lost its way in the fifties is, in this particular case, not the point. What jumped out at me from this movie is that it would never be made with the same focus today.

The plot is driven by an obsession–the femme fatale, in this case, is compulsively in love with the guy, and this drive eventually, as in all fifties noir, ends badly.

So far, so good, but I got to thinking: would this film ever be made today?

And the answer appears to be “no way”. In fact, if this one was filmed in 2020, it would either be a horror film in which we focus closely on the disturbed, deranged character of Simmons’ character, moving through the evolution of her obsession while she wreaks tragic havoc on those around her. A psychological thriller could work, too, but a harsh one.

The other possible take would be to look at the woman as a victim. Undiagnosed mental illness leading to awful, tear-jerking events and, eventually, to her doom. All very touching and sad.

In a nutshell, this is why we’re still watching movies from the 1950s. It’s much more fun to watch the femme fatale doing her thing for no reason except that that is what femmes fatale do. And the plot built around that is much better than what would transpire viewed through a “modern” lens.

In fact, this overly indulgent attitude towards people who create serious problems is probably the reason Hollywood has moved to the science fiction blockbuster: having caricatured bad guys is much more entertaining than a politically correct view of mad criminals. People want to be entertained, so anything that doesn’t preach at them is appreciated.

And that makes Angel Face, a film made in 1952, refreshing.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Outside gives a nice mad bad guy to go with a well-thought-out science fiction setting. If you enjoy Loki in the MCU, you should love Graham. You can check the book out here.

Inspector Morse and Oxford, the Perfect Combination

Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that few other genres offer the immediate escapism that a good murder mystery does. I’d never really thought about why, but I’ve come to think that it’s because the setting plays such a huge part in a crime novel.

Whether it’s one of Agatha Christie’s books set in the English countryside, or a slice of noir decadence, the shady lanes and mean streets are another character in the book.

But the master isn’t one of the ones I’d read before. It’s one that came to me through the screen.

Like many people, I discovered Inspector Morse through the 90’s TV series. A wonderful creation, it is essentially the only non-sports or non-sitcom TV content I have any patience for. I watched the entire original series recently, and it’s an amazing piece of work, transporting the viewer to the pace and sights of Oxford.

But I’d never read any of Colin dexter’s Original books. This, it turns out, is a stupid omission.

I’ll assume The Daughters of Cain is a typical Morse book and say that… it’s absolutely wonderful. If the rest of the series is as good as this one, I’d say that Dexter was another of the worthy successors to Agatha Christie. In fact, I’ll say that, though the psychological complexity of the characters might not be at the level of others, these books are better.

Why? Because of what I said at the beginning. The setting becomes a character, and no setting is better suited to the role than the city of Oxford. It’s history, architecture and the interaction of town and gown is perfect to lose oneself in…

But it takes a special kind of writer to do it justice and Dexter fits the bill wonderfully. Erudite and knowledgeable, he brings the city and Morse’s fraught relationship with the university to vibrant life and you, as a reader, find yourself transported.

When the book finished, I wanted more, but not more of the characters, necessarily. I wanted more of the world they moved around in. And I think that’s the magic of these books.

Recommended.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres. His fast-paced thriller Timeless follows a journalist on the track of a big story only to find herself involved with international smugglers and East-European drug dealers. If she wants to survive, she’ll have to ally herself with a man who knows the ropes… and that means a criminal. You can check it out here.

Kandinsky? Design? Yeah, I Guess so.

Yesterday (I’m writing this on September 1st, you’ll likely se it later), I responded to a tweet about Picasso’s African influences in which I said that people who ignore the African roots of some of what the great Spaniard did was due mainly to ignorance as opposed to a willful attempt to erase it.

Demiselled d'Avignon.jpg

That kind of stuck in my head.  For most of my life, I enjoyed art as a reasonably educated layman might.  I was aware of the more popular painters, enjoyed art museums, and even knew the difference between a Flemish Grand Master and an Impressionist (albeit I confused these with the Post-Impressionists).  I even had a weird preference for Den Bosch and Bruegel.

I wasn’t exactly ignorant… but I would have been one of those who didn’t know about the African roots of Picasso’s work.

And yet, as the readers of this blog know, I often discuss art here.  And I make no excuses.  How come?

A funny thing happened.  I married a graphic designer.

Suddenly, I was getting dragged into the parts of museums I only glanced at in a cursory way before.  The abstract painters.  Calder.  Kandinsky.

I’ll admit that I still find figurative art much more attractive than abstract art… and (horror of horrors) I’ll spend a long time in museums staring at technically wonderful but artistically superseded pastoral landscapes (is there anything more peaceful than a good idyll?).  The difference is that I can now identify a Calder mobile from a hundred feet away, and I know what Dürer did.

And I can identify Picasso’s roots, and argue that Cézanne was the father of cubism.  A true art fan would tear me a new one, of course (I’d get my revenge in the subsequent discussion of literature), but at least he would take the time to do so, and not consider me beneath notice.

Hell, I can even identify Bauhaus design…

Who’da thunk it?

I suppose that the whole point of this is to say that the art world can be quite intimidating to outsiders, but if I can get a deeper understanding, so can anyone.

In the meantime, I’ll let the experts speak of the deeper meaning of things.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans not only several lengths but numerous genres, too.  His latest novel is a survival horror adventure book entitled Jungle Lab Terror which deals with advances in genetic engineering which, though seemingly fantastic, are happening today.  You can check it out here.

Get Down on Your Knees and Pray for Shackleton

The complete phrase is as follows:

For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

The quote, which isn’t in the book we’re reviewing today is from Raymond Priestley, an Antarctic explorer who wasn’t on the expedition told about in the book.  And yet, it sums it up perfectly.

South - The Endurance Expedition.jpg

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading South  – The Endurance Expedition.  Books written by the explorers themselves (except when the explorer is also a poet) can be dry and self-serving.  I didn’t expect serial Antarctic failure Sir Ernest Shackleton to be any different.  In fact, considering that he never managed to achieve any of the exploration goals he set for his expeditions, I expected the book to be a defense of his person.

This, dear friends, is why we read the books.

Ernest Shackleton might not have been successful in achieving his lofty goals, but he was still a hero, both as a scientist (he added reams and reams of knowledge to science) and, particularly, as a leader.  Reading the book in which he chronicles his most spectacular failure is a revelation… and ends up making you admire the man.

There is no apology here, no attempt at anything but to tell the facts of the case as they happened.  He would let history judge.

History has been favorable because the facts are.  The drama begins when the expedition’s ship, the Endeavor, gets trapped in pack ice and crushed… hundreds of miles from the nearest land.

Twenty-eight men were adrift on Antarctic sea ice in winter with nothing but a couple of lifeboats and the supplies they had taken with them.

Hopeless, right?

Countless expeditions, in this kind of situation died.  In the best case, a man or two would straggle in months or years later and tell of the sad fate of his compatriots.

Those expeditions didn’t have Shackleton.  Two years later, after a war-torn world had given them up for dead, all twenty-eight men emerged from the ice to tell the tale.

It wasn’t a question of just walking and persevering.  It was a brilliant survival strategy, a sea-crossing often compared to that of Captain Bligh.  He split his group into two parties, each with, on the face of it, a tiny chance of success… and saved every single man.

All of this is related in Shackleton’s words, as drily and matter-of-factly as we expect from any man who’s had the word “Sir” appended to his name.  It’s compelling reading and one of the best books I’ve read recently.

Hell, I might pick up even more exploration books if they’re going to be like this one.

But I doubt it.  Not many people are Shackleton, and I went from a skeptic to a fan in the course of less than 200 pages.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina.  He believes in exploring hopeless situations and finding the heroism and spirit within.  The best example of that in one of his books in Incursion, in which a suicide mission gets… worse.  You can check it out here.