Brooklyn

“I’d forgotten what this town was like,” says Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan. She doesn’t say it loudly, but she says it with a perceptable force. One sentence immediately makes it clear that in a second she has made up her mind and the viewer knows that a point of no return has been reached.

brooklyn

Brooklyn is a beautiful movie in every aspect, one of the key ones being the natural, flowing simplicity. Things simply happen, events do not feel orchestrated as we follow the story of one human life, and the others connected to it.

The many scenes in slow motion occuring in the film happen naturally as well, trickling from the normal speed so subtly that you barely notice the change in pace. They depict that moment when you briefly separate yourself from what has just happened, and seem to be outside of the speed of things around you just for a few seconds. The scenes are wonderfully timed, floating easily along to the soundtrack by Michael Brook. It’s that easiness, that intuitive identifying with the story in each scene that underlines just how much hard work of a high quality went in to the film.

Another subject examined is both the finality and the changing nature of a decision. If you sailed to the United States all the way from Ireland, it wasn’t necessarily likely that your family would be able to come to visit, and vice versa. Uncertainty was part and parcel of the package, letters and the very rare phone call were the main means of communication, and the joy of opening an envelope from home would be remembered for weeks before the next one arrived. On the other hand, when Eilis has to go back home, despite her repeating that she will be sailing again, her family and friends simply assume she will stay. The distance between the two countries actually feels as enormous as it is. If you leave, you leave forever. If you don’t, then you don’t. That seems to be the view of most, except for Eilis, who broke out of the circle. But the distance remains, stretching out in front of her again and again.

We can all fall in to a pocket and forget ourselves, despite the existence of a newly built life. Grief, loss, youth, physical distance (once again), love, death all converge on Eilis and subsequent events remind us how easy it is to slide in to an oblivion of sorts. The opposite of homesickness. The question is, as always, what will happen next? What will the heroine decide, and will she?

Reading all the positive praise Saoirse Ronan is receiving for her acting makes me happy, because I enjoyed watching her immensely. She is the perfect fit for making emotions of magnitude clear and felt in the audience, even while appearing seemingly understated, reserved, even.

There is a dance scene at the beginning. It all surrounds Eilis, and the camera just lets her look on after her friend gets asked to dance, staying on her face. She is not part of her surroundings anymore and she knows it. This is conveyed much more effectively through remaining with her, as opposed to circling to the dancers twirling around the room.

Another touching and significant part of the movie is Eilis’s bond with her sister, who unknowingly gives her a gift for life, writing in one of her letters, “I am still by your side, even if I’m not.”

From the visual point of view (and I haven’t read the book) it might be a simple story, but the stories of a continuing life and mastering it are ultimately the most compelling.

10 Obvious, but Productive Things to Do while there is no WiFi

So obviously it’s winter and I’ve been reading quite a lot, though I do that generally. Make that regularly. No, wait, all the time! My reading speed and output (number of finished books) also increases dramatically if I have no internet. I morph from a bookworm to a book-dragon. I burn, baby, burn.

I recently came home one evening to discover that my Wi-Fi wasn’t working at all. Anywhere or on anything. The horror. I had to actually phone people.

While waiting for the problem to be fixed, I came up with lots of ideas on how to fill the time (I’m not someone who doesn’t know what to do otherwise, I do have a life outside of watching YouTube, for God’s sake!).

129293_700b

  1. The aforementioned reading. If you have a list of books you wanted to read, use it. If a book has been lying around on your nightstand like a neglected sandwich, open it. It will not smell and you will experience a sense of achievement, even if you’ll get to read a few pages before the internet switches back on. No, seriously, reading is important and an experience all on its own, regardless of the internet.
  2. Get rid of old, unnecessary things, like the weird present you got at last year’s Secret Santa (or Schrottwichteln in German. Schrott means crap).
  3. Take out the trash – there’s always trash.
  4. Do one household activity you strongly dislike and be reconfirmed regarding your dislike of said activity.
  5. Stream something. Oh… OK. Pop in a DVD. Do you own DVDs?
  6. Inscribe and sign birthday cards with creative messages of your own unique invention.
  7. Cook! Eat! Food!
  8. Get a colouring book.
  9. Get some air. Outside of the internetless air of your apartment.
  10. Talk to the real people in your life. They will understand your pain.

 

 

 

The Only Pirate at the Party. By Lindsey Stirling and Brooke S. Passey

Lindsey Stirling is one of my favourite artists on the planet. So when I heard that she was co-writing a memoir with her sister, I knew at once that I would have to get my hands on it. It must have been the fastest pre-order I ever placed. When it arrived, I read it in a day.

The book is a crowd-pleaser for her fans, just as her performances are. It’s all that Lindsey is herself: lively, warm, attentive, dedicated and sparklingly engaging. It’s also a written extension of her talent to observe, process and create.

The relationship with her sister and co-author Brooke is a guiding factor throughout her life, work and the book. In fact, some of the most interesting chapters, besides the ones about her work and life as a performing artist, are those where she talks about her family and siblings. The searing depiction of the influence of her eating disorder on her life and how she reclaimed being a sister left me floored, blinking back tears.

I nearly jumped when I read the the title Chapter on my Young and Carefree Drug/ Alcohol Escapades – was there something I had missed? To everyone’s relief, and subtly pointing out certain expectations regarding famous people, Lindsey writes, “I have never done drugs or consumed alcohol, so this chapter is really short.”

As happy and as positive both her personality and her work are (not without effort), several chapters of the book are darkly honest, though while being direct, the stories and struggles Lindsey touches on are not delivered to shock – they are part of the journey that led her to being herself, and she chose to include them.

One can’t help feeling admiration for the amount of work Lindsey put in, continuing to tour and make videos while working on the book with her sister, especially considering the devastating loss of her keyboarder and close friend Jason Gaviati to cancer shortly before the book was published.

The Only Pirate at the Party is full of moments both heart-wrenching and endearingly funny. There were times when I wanted to shout, “Lindsey! Don’t base anything you do on some of those mean comments! And certainly not on those reviews in the paper! They just don’t get it!” or “Don’t you see, those other musicians were just jealous of you!”

I was very fortunate to see Lindsey play live two years ago. The keen feeling for beauty that she carries inside herself translates not only to her art, but to the way the book is written. By the end of it you understand who this girl is, and why she is the only pirate at the party.

I hope she will always know just how incredibly, uniquely gifted she is.

Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling

A logical sequel to reading Kaling’s first book was reading her second. Luckily it had already come out by the time I finished Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

Why Not Me? is described as a “second coming-of-age”, and in the modern world it might as well be. Kaling started writing about her life and work experiences in her first book, and she made it clear at the end of it that she wasn’t finished. Which was nice to read – you wanted to hear more from her. “If my childhood, teens, and twenties were about wanting people to like me, now I want people to know me. So, this is a start.”

While still familiarly funny and recognizable in Kaling’s both snappy and flowing prose, the book makes a more paced, thoughtful impression. The simple dedication, “For my mother”, and subsequent poignant chapter are an example of further examining deep and tested relationships that filled the author’s life. Youth and experiences described in Kaling’s first book are still not at all far away, but she is at a different level of depth. She also takes a more detailed look at phases that were mentioned in the prequel.

One of my favourite chapters was A Day in the Life of Mindy Kaling, because it answered the questions all readers probably have when buying a book of this kind. You have a voice, a vision, an identity – how do you do the things you do? How do you see life and work? What is it like beyond what we see of you in public?

But my absolute favourite is 4 A.M. Worries. This is another chapter in which Kaling is plainly vulnerable and simply writes down things that many people can identify with. Perhaps not always at 4 A.M., but Kaling nails describing those deep-seated, sometimes hidden worries so well, you almost think you just spent an hour talking to her.

But even those 4 A.M. worries don’t diminish the sassy, intelligent optimism Kaling exhibits. The coming-of-age does take place, yet again. “And these days, I find I’m caring less and less about what people think of me. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my security in my career, maybe it’s because I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all, but if I had to identify my overall feeling these days, it’s much more “Eh, screw it. Here’s how I really feel.”

Here’s how I really feel: I would read this one again too.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

The New York Times review quote on the cover, while intentionally good, only makes me disagree with it. Mindy Kaling is not “like Tina Fey’s little sister.” Mindy Kaling is Mindy Kaling.

Kaling herself pokes fun at this in her opening chapter. Answering a probably typical question about her book, “This sounds okay, but not as good as Tina Fey’s book. Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?”she says, “I know, man. Tina’s awesome.”

One of the most pleasant impressions from this book was of intelligence and humour, which permeated the pages, easily mixing and trading places with each other in Kaling’s written delivery. She is truthful and frank, but, to a reader’s relief, neither coarse nor crude.

Most good memoirs seem to have a common denominator: witty and natural self-deprecation. Which in turn might also be a form of owning being bullied in the past, another thing the authors of said memoirs often have in common. Kaling is able to laugh at parts of her childhood and youth which are, from a matter-of-fact point of view, not funny at all, but she is in control of her narrative and easily shares the laughter with her readers. A description of a horrifying incident had me in unexpected stitches: “The sight of a fat child falling, lifeless, from a high distance into a pond, is kind of an amazing sight, I’ll bet.” More so it wasn’t due to the wording, but to the fact that Kaling was being humorous and still making room for a serious statement in an enganging way.

She pauses plenty of times for self-reflection, and you wait for it every now and then, you come to expect that paragraph that makes you either nod or shake your head, but you understand it. “A note about me: I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.

Kaling is yet another female voice with a sense of self expressing hope for something. When reading, inner responses range from, “Girl, why?!” to “Yes, same here!” “I’m kind of a mess,” she admits candidly. But a successful, hard-working, driven mess. Taken separately from the TV shows she was involved in, the book in itself also showcases how Kaling creates and carries her own project. She is definitely as chatty as she is known to be, but her chatter is clear-spoken and attention-grabbing.

An ultimately amusing and touching non-fiction read, which I would pick up again.

 

Swan Lake

The swan is dying. I know she is, and so does everyone else! Carefully, daintily she skitters across the stage en pointe. I don’t know where the ballerina ends and the swan begins. Her arms rise and fall, and I almost see white wings fluttering, perhaps in a futile attempt to fly again. Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music, both tragic and releasing at the same time, glides around her movements, then folds, just as gently as she finally does on the ground.
This past holiday season has breathed new life in to a long-standing interest of mine: classical Russian ballet. Childhood memories have sustained me all these years, memories of fairytale images, breath-taking performances, bordering on the impossible in their light-limbed, dashing perfection. Memories of sweeping, encompassing tragedy, romance, joy, and oh so much drama. Sometimes over the years I saw parts of well-known classics integrated in to other modern ballets. Other times I would listen to that Tchaikovsky score from The Nutcracker on repeat. And then, by chance, I went to see a performance of Swan Lake by the St. Petersburg Festival Ballet, on tour in Hamburg.
There seems to be only one school of such almost mythical ballet excellence, and it was established in the 19th century with a Russian-French fusion that included the enduring choreography of Marius Petipa. His work extended to Swan Lake, among other ballets. It’s amazing to think how long this foundation has lasted, even if individual companies bring their own touch and spin on the story, performance length and costumes. Paired with Tchaikovsky’s soaring score, in each scene the music makes you think that this soundtrack could not have sounded differently, but only like the notes that are seeping in to your mind as you are drawn to the shore of the swan lake.
Some of the most magical parts of Swan Lake are when Odette makes a solo entrance. To me this character has always conveyed strength and a certain resolve within the confines of the swan curse. The expected physical endurance of the dancer for this role has to be carefully combined with so many other characteristics – poise, grace, fragility that doesn’t seem breakable. She has to be able to express fear, curiousity, hope, despair. As in the performances I remember from long ago, that night in Hamburg a true prima ballerina carried Odette along the water. An example of a dance (from a different version):
 
 The music, of course, has accompanied my cultural experience in different ways, considering its enormous influence all over the world, from what I heard on the radio to an animated version based on the story, with a lot of quotable quotes. Anybody remember? (Don’t watch the sequel, it will tarnish the blissful experience if you enjoyed the first one as a kid.)
 
 Back from the brief humorous reminiscence. It is nice to begin experiencing Russian ballet again as an adult. It’s also interesting – you notice things you may not have noticed before. For instance, I remember the story going along until it finished, even if the audience couldn’t keep from clapping explosively after practically every dance. The ensemble from St. Petersburg, on the other hand, paused after every famous scene and seemed to almost expect applause. Which they fully deserved, but it did break up the experience somewhat. The magical feeling I remember is still attached to the ensemble I have seen as a child. Maybe it’s because they had that one absolutely amazing dancer, and so far she has been the only one I’ve seen who got close to reenacting legendary Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova’s wavy, rippling arm movements as Odette dances her swan song before death claims her:
 
 There is only one Ulanova, true, but there are also, luckily, others who take on the role of Odette and bring their own uniqueness to it, within the traditional dance framework that keeps attracting audiences decade after decade.
I hold my breath. Every eye is glued to the stage. The swan lies motionless. And then…well. Let’s leave it at that.
The curtain drops on the swan lake.
Until next time.