Sunday, 31 January 2010

Snow in February

It's quite funny with snow... two weeks before Christmas, we're all longing for it. Snow makes Christmas special, memorable and magical. Come February, though, it's a different matter. Suddenly snow is a nuisance - cars skidding, roads blocked, trains late, airports closed. No more magic. I can't stand the stuff, we say.

It's rare that love turns to hate so decisively. Why can't we remember all that cosiness, that fluffy, secure feeling snow gave us at Christmas?

This led me to think about snow outside the cosy, fairy tale image of it. And I suppose as a philologist, it was only natural for me to look at literature.

In Russia, where snow sticks around often til April, books are covered in snow so to speak, and not always in a good way. Russian writers know that snow can be evil. From Pushkin's "Snow Storm" to Joseph Brodsky's famous line "After such snow, there is nothing indeed" -snow is used as a profoundly disturbing and alienating element of existential change.

In Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, the Snow chapter is a turning-point for the protagonist who barely survives the blizzard. And Orhan Parmuk's novel "Snow" takes the white stuff as a complex metaphor for Anatolia's remoteness and frozenness in a dangerous belief-structure.

Pesonally, I think it's good to be reminded that nature won't always do as we please. That it is still a force of its own.

But that doesn't mean I want more snow now!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Up in the Air- Aspects of America

Whenever one says anything, and I mean anything at all about America these days, it is customary to start out with the disclaimer "I'm not anti-American, but..." Well, I'm not really anti- anything.

But,yes I do have some problems with America, or rather with the cultural influence America wields over Europe. Deal with it.

But yesterday I saw this film "Up In the Air" with George Clooney - and yes, he is quite easy on hte eye - but that's a different story.

The film is about a guy who works for a sub-contractor whose business it is to fre people. These scenes are brutal, there is no other word. Real life people's first reactions to the message "Your position is no longer available" is recorded. It is painful, it is raw, and it is honest - and I say all credit to you, America! For scenes like these have not been happening in US movies - maybe forever. And it gets worse, for the Clooney character really gets it in the neck. AND you see scenes from small-town America you've not seen before. Madison Avenue this ain't. Or Disneyland. Or L.A. This is nothing like you've ever seen about America before. Not glossy, not chic, not aspirational. These are provincial, dumbed-down, dirt-poor, awful towns. These are existential images that Wim Wenders in Paris, Texas aspired to, but never managed.

And you know what? All credit to you, America! That something so raw, so cynical, but ultimately so true and so touching can come out of this country which I - as your consummate European - had written off long ago, That IS something.

Chapeau bas, America!! Here's to you!

Go see the movie, as they say over there.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

France - Why Do We Love It So?

What exactly is it about France that makes everybody utter the sort of vowell-y noises more commonly associated with pictures of tiny pets or scrumptious dishes of food? I mean, nobody goes googoo over Denmark, or Macedonia do they? And those are nice places too....

Don't get me wrong -I am just as besotted by it! My favourite holiday would always Paris? In the lovely Languedoc? Or beautiful Brittany? But still, there must be something about that country which appeals to us more than anywhere - what is it?

The food, I hear you say. The lifestyle, the joie de vivre, they drink a lot of nice wine, the women have such style, they dress so much better over there, the men are so good-looking - they just know HOW TO LIVE. And then there is Paris of course,
ah si belle, si chic! Apart from Spaniards, Brits are the most frequent Eiffel Tower climbers, did you know that - now that's true devotion!

We all KNOW of course that there are fat, badly-dressed women in France, there is food you wish you'd never seen let alone eaten, there are social problems (those grands ensembles on the outskirts of Paris aren't exactly beautyspots are they?) and the lovely family gatherings we envy so can be oppressive and fraught with tension.

I think it's more that France allows you to live out your dreams - if you're into fashion, why where else to look than the avenue Montaigne? If you're a foodie,
bien sur, you've dined in that très chic resto in Valbonne. You can discuss Henri-Bernard Lévy ("Ash-Be-El") or Edith Duflo if you're intellectually minded. Or you could just go to the beach.

France has the unique ability to provide the perfect answer for anybody's dreams, longings and, passions. I think THAT's why we love it so...