Weekend Miscellany III

May 12, 2008 at 2:34 am (Art, books, Film and television, Mystery fiction, Uncategorized)

In which Your Faithful Blogger, stuck inside due to inclement weather, reads, writes, and reflects on the following:

Michael Pollan’s terrific “Why Bother?” in the April 20th “Green Issue” of The New York Times Magazine. (April 20? I’m running behind; what can I say…)


As I gazed into the woods behind our house, I took in for the first time how quickly the trees have leafed out. There are no evergreens back there, so in the winter it’s all bare branches and spindly trunks. There’s a footpath just beyond, though, and I like to watch people walking their dogs. This becomes increasingly difficult once the leafing out process nears completion.

Anyway, all of this put me in mind of a painting by Rene Magritte. It’s called “Le blanc-seing,” which roughly translates as “free hand” or “free rein:”

I first heard of this artist when The Museum of Modern Art put on a major retrospective of his works. This was a long time ago. Magritte died in 1967; he may have been still living at the time of this exhibit. Some scoffed at the paintings, calling them gimmicky; I thought it was the most fun I’d ever had in a museum! Here’s why:

[From top to bottom: The Lovers, The Listening Room, The Sirens, Time Transfixed, The Menaced Assassin]

Born in the province of Hainaut, Rene Magritte lived for most of his life in Brussels. He’s right up there with Georges Simenon and Hercule Poirot in my personal pantheon of favorite Belgians.

[Rene Magritte, photographed by Lothar Wolleh in Brussels, 1967]


On the DVD front, we watched one of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries, “Orchard Walls.” Set in wartime, this is a gripping tale of illicit love and lost innocence. And it features an early performance by an actress whose artless appeal has captivated fans of PBS’s Foyle’s War: Honeysuckle Weeks.


I was deeply moved by today’s post on the blog The Other World.


I have now encountered the use of the 2004 tsunami as a plot device in two recent works of fiction: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell. In an interesting instance of synchronicity, I encountered yet another mention of that terrible disaster yesterday in Susan Jacoby’s masterful The Age of American Unreason. In a chapter entitled “Middlebrow Culture from Noon to Twilight,” Jacoby discusses authors like Allen Drury, Irving Stone and James Michener. In a footnote, she writes:

I immediately thought of Hawaii when I read about the number of lives lost in the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because many people, watching the tide suddenly recede, had walked out to see the creatures and coral formations revealed on the ocean floor, only to have the tsunami wave return with deadly force. Michener describes a similar scene in his novel.

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