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10 August 2005

The Day of the Triffids

A Science Fiction book that grabbed me all day

Yesterday I've spent all day reading a book. "The Day of the Triffids", by John Wyndham, which I found among the books in this little house on Limnos island. I'm staying this August here, and this house I live in is full of books. A lot of them are not to my taste (I'm not much of a theater fan) and some range in my opinion from boring to depressing. So I was surprised to find a paperback that I can describe as Science Fiction. Much to my taste, "The Day of the Triffids" starts in a world that is not so different from ours now. A patient wakes up in a hospital, to find out that something is wrong with the world...

The daily hospital routine stopped and he has to get out, only to discover, that the rest of the world has gone blind. Civilization stops here. What remains could be a simple story of "survivor of the world", maybe even in a setup a la Jules Vernes, where all the right tools appear just as needed. There would be an obvious line of the plot, with a smooth rhythm.

But the book does not stop there. Our hero steps through the rubble of our civilization trying to get half a chance of survival for himself as well as for the human race. A world full of people turned blind at an instant has a poor chance of making it. Blind human beings can survive, but they have to learn new skills and still are dependent on others (of course we are all dependent on others then, as few of us kill our own cows to make hamburgers). This is also the theme in "The City of the Blind" by Jose Saramago a much bleaker and heavier experience. Both books share the "Gedankenexperiment" of a society full of newly blind people, with a few seeing ones (in "The City of the Blind" only one seeing person really, but with a much smaller setup). John Wyndham's view is much more Science Fiction, much more Suspense, less Literature and social critique.

Wyndham puts his hero and his world into even more trouble. A new race of plants had appeared on the planet, presumably out of some laboratory. They have spread everywhere, since they are an agricultural breakthrough, discovered to be the solution to feeding the overpopulation on the planet. But they are dangerous, poisonous, they can feed on flesh and attack animals and humans. Again, this is not so different from other SciFi books. It reminded me of "Der Krieg der Lurche" of a Czech author (if I recall correctly, read that book as a kid). A weird life-form appears on the stage, with some abilities that help it challenge human superiority on Earth. But Wyndham sets it up properly. It doesn't strike me just as another SciFi device. It fits into the world. As the hero is reminiscing about how the world ended up in this situation, I followed him and nodded in approval: Gradual changes go through in this world, often without our conscience catching up. And now our hero is caught between two interacting catastrophes.

Spoilers aside, a lot of Science Fiction books are better off if you have read the cover-text, if you have some idea what is going on. I did read the blurb on the back of this book. It set the stage, though I don't think it would have been necessary for me on this one. When Wyndham starts with his first sentence, I was immediately thrown in the scene, every sentence, paragraph, page leading to the next to unroll the story:

"When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere."

Wyndhams style is easy to read, fits well with the suspensy plot. Here is a writer at work who wants to tell his story. A few times in the book, philosophical points are driven home. This is mostly done in the form of characters discussing on a matter. I did notice this as a writers device being used while I read it. But it was not as disturbing as to have stopped me or bored me. A few times I hit on long sentences or a complicated run of shorter sentences that stopped me and sent me looking for the verbs and nouns. But this is to be expected, as English is not my first language.

Every book of Science Fiction is somewhere anchored in time. As the days of writing the book, of first publishing it, go back further into the past, it is sometimes interesting to see how well the point in time holds up. "The Day of the Triffids" does quite well in this respect. It is absent of the little gadgets that many SciFi books need to propel us into the future: "Hey, everybody got a radio phone, we must be in the year 2173." Wyndham doesn't need that, as his world is just one or two steps further than the world in 1951, when the book first appeared. What strikes me today as an anchor into the past are a few things only: The novelty of satellites, coal on railroads, a tv set being referred to as a "television projector"...

The book is a pageturner. I read it in one day, could not put it down. At some points it had my adrenaline flowing. Summing it up, not high literature, but a good read. And I will read it again, even now writing this little review and thumbing through the pages, the book draws me in.

Posted by betabug at 10:18 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
14 October 2005

Fairy Tale Movie

Charlie and the chocolate factory

It's been a long time that we have seen a movie worth the 7 Euro for a ticket here. Most of the time we just looked for the least worst movie in the theatres. So we had actually been looking forward to this one coming to the cinemas in Athens.

"Charlie and the chocolate factory" is a fairy tale. It has a message about little children, families and values. And it drives those points home with the tough drive of a Grimm Brothers piece. Ugly things happen to bad kids. It comes out all good in the end in the movie (it wouldn't be hollywood without that). When the opening titles came in I was surprised and delighted to read that the movie was based on a book by Roald Dahl. He sure has the wit and dark humour to write something like that.

Hollywood also stands behind the pictures of the fairy tale world: Large, larger, passing by all restraints of the logical world. What comes out is a colourfull world, placative, comic. There are big dance scenes and weird landscapes. An optical language of bright plastic toy kits, but digestible even to adults with taste.

Another outcome of the evening: We discovered that the distance to cinemas, shops and restaurants on Alexandras Avenue is close enough to walk from my new home. Nice, so again I have a place to go out close by.

Posted by betabug at 23:15 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
14 November 2005

Italienisches Design und "Madagascar"

Ausstellung im Megaron Moussikis und Film im Megakino

Das vergangene Wochenende war rekonvaleszenzbedingt ruhig und ereignisarm. Samstags war der erste Tag nach drei Tagen im Bett mit Tee, Sirup und Zwieback. Mein erster Ausflug ging zu Fuss zum Megaron Mousikis. Dort lief (bis zum 15.11.) eine Ausstellung zu italienischem Design. Am Sonntag gings ins Kino, wir schauten uns "Madagascar" an...

Das Megaron Mousikis ist ein Klotz von einem Bau, an der Vassilissis Sofias Strasse im Zentrum von Athen gelegen. Gleich neben der ebenfalls bombastischen amerikanischen Botschaft. Wobei ich mir nicht sicher bin, ob das Adjektiv "bombastisch" bei Bauten passt, die mehr an Bunker erinnern. Obwohl einige Jahrzehnte später gebaut, gleicht das Megaron stark der amerikanischen Botschaft.

Die Ausstellung andererseits war wirklich schön. Möbel, Geschirr, Lampen, kleine und grosse Objekte. Dazu Zeichnungen, Gemälde, Videos und Videoinstallationen. Schöne Sachen, geschniegelte Sachen, gebastelte Sachen. Manchmal auch nur aus ein paar wenigen Objekten was witziges gebastelt. Leider waren alle Stühle und Sessel nur zum Anschauen, die Ausstellungsmacher hatten nicht drangedacht, dass sich ein Besucher vielleicht auch mal hinsetzen will. Passend zum staatlichen Kulturapparat sassen dafür am Tischchen mit den Eintrittskarten gleich fünf Damen und die überall präsenten Security-Wachen hatten sich das Wort "Freundlichkeit" allerhöchstens mal zu Weihnachten gewünscht (aber nicht gekriegt, hat wohl wieder nur für eine "GI Joe"-Puppe gereicht). Ach ja, kein Bild der Ausstellung, das Fotografieren wurde mir verboten.

Und am Sonntag "Madagascar", sozusagen als Kontrastprogramm zu soviel hoher Kultur. Ach, kennen Sie nicht? Einer der in letzter Zeit häufig gewordenen Trickfilme per Computer-Animation. Die Animation selber wird durch den Computer einfacher, dadurch reicht es manchmal für mehr Humor. Bei "Shark Tales" war das (für mich) nicht der Fall, den fand ich einfach nicht witzig. "Shrek" (eins und zwei) hingegen fand ich köstlich. "Madagascar" ist nicht ganz so gut, aber recht witzig. Ein paar überkandidelte Zootiere brechen mehr oder weniger freiwillig aus dem Zoo aus. Schuld ist das Zebra, denn das will die Wildnis sehen... in Connecticut. Klappt nicht wie gedacht, doch als Resultat landen Löwe, Nilpferd, Giraffe und Zebra auf Madagascar. Und die Wildnis ist nicht ganz so romantisch wie sich das die zivilisierten Zootiere gedacht haben.

Gesehen haben wir "Madagascar" im "Ster Cinemas"-Komplex, einem der modernen Multiplex-Kinos, grösser, schneller, weiter. Eigentlich ganz praktisch, denn der Fussraum im Kino ist gigantisch. Nix mit aufstehen wenn der Nachbar vorbei will, nix mit Knie an der vorderen Sitzreihe anlehnen. Und nach dem Kino gibt es Souvenirshop, Cafes, Boutiquen, selbst einen Autohändler gleich direkt im Kino. Und natürlich einen Fastfood-Laden, landesbedingt mit Souvlakis. Eine Hamburgerkette hätte ja irgendwie doch nicht gepasst.

Posted by betabug at 22:38 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
04 December 2005

A Sunday Walk and a... Flight Plan

Pedio tou Ares and cinema

This sunday was too nice to stay inside, blue sky, warm air and sun. We went for a stroll in the park Πεδιό του Άρες (Pedio tou Ares) in my old neighbourhood near the Victoria subway station. (Picture of a particular beautiful spot in the park.) On sundays you can see people play football and cricket there. The football players are from almost everywhere, the cricket players are from India or Pakistan (I haven't asked).

In the evening we went to see the movie "Flight Plan" with Jodie Foster. Suspense, lots of suspense. Lots of dark, blue images. I enjoyed it, but it didn't help my paranoia much. I almost waited for terrorists to capture the trolley bus on the way home.

It reminded me a lot of Bruce Schneier and the term "movie plot threats". The action in that big, new plane with one of the engineers on board definitely fits that label. Plus it's a nice example of the human factor being often the weak spot. But I guess now by the time it is shown here in Greece and by the time I went to see it, everybody has already seen it. The next thing is some US politicians will come and demand all single mothers to be handcuffed on all flights.

Posted by betabug at 23:15 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)
19 December 2005

Plastiline Fun

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

This is the real stuff: Saturday we went to watch Wallace and Gromit in their full length feature. Really, really, really, really recommended. Not just because it's Wallace and Gromit, and because I'm a fan of theirs, and because I've seen all their previous stuff (at one point in Mac OS 8 land I even had cool Wallace and Gromit desktop icons on my PowerBook 1400). But the movie is great fun, lots of crazy humour, weird stuff as usual in a movie with spleeny Wallace and his geeky dog Gromit. The story is well made too, with good suspense. Right till the end we were still gripping the handles of our seats. I had the impression that the movie lasted only about 20 minutes, the action was so tight. The local cinemas treated the film like a childrens movie though.

Best parts (probably too confusing for spoilers anyway, but if you haven't seen the movie and are afraid of spoilers, just skip this paragraph): The knife coming down like a guillotine on... not what you'd expected. The coin operated airplanes. Gromit locking himself in the car when the suspect mutates to the wererabbit outside. The "de-mudding" switch on the car (lots of cool stuff on the car anyway). My friends enjoyed the hair of the lady, shaped like a carrot. The finger traces on the female wererabbit. The machine that gets W & G dressed and ready for breakfast. Lots of stuff is a running gag for long time fans, like Gromit knitting. The girls didn't remember this from the older movies, so it did not leave so much of an impression with them. For me it was a "hello old friend" joke.

Interesting enough, this movie is treated by the greek cinemas almost as a pure childrens affair. It is impossible to find a cinema that has it programmed later than about 19:30. This kept us from seeing the movie during the week. Most of the showings are translated to Greek, but the later showings are with the original english voices and subtitles. We were lucky to have seen one of those. I enjoyed the british stuff, was able to understand most of the more slangy bits and did not look at the subtitles for the most part. Usually the subtitles distract me a bit, since I'm always going forward and backward to hearing and understanding only and then again reading the greek subtitles.

The cinemas in the city have the movie only in the afternoon. We took the subway to a multiplex cinema (Ster) a bit more outside, so we could see it at 19:15, more in sync with our rhythm. We paid a bit more (7.50 Euro for a ticket is a lot I'd say), but we enjoyed a lot of room for our feet and an unhindered view. Widely spaced seats and sharp declining auditoriums are a major selling point for this multiplex chain. Good enough for me.

Posted by betabug at 09:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
31 December 2005

Books... and Bookshops in Athens

Looking for something to read

This Xmas break I spent mostly reading, I'm halfway through my third book since Christmas, I've been going through most of the big bookshops here in Athens, and I've been enjoying most of it. Right on the morning of the 24th I began looking for books to read, found two then, but kept on looking. Yesterday I finally found two more books too my liking. So let's sum up the books and bookshops in a bit more detail.

First for the language question: I do read greek books sometimes, but in general it's still hard for me. So when I want to relax, what I need is books in German or English. Also I prefer to read in the original language. Even though there are a couple of german bookstores in Athens, most of them have gone educational. They carry mostly schoolbooks, teaching books, and some classics. English books should be easier here. There is one big bookshop with english books, but I constantly forget name and address. But some other bookshops have english books too.

First I went to Παπασωτηρίου (Papasotiriou), a big shop that also has a branch specialized on computer books. I looked in their branch on Akadimias and on Stournari street (where the 'puter stores are). They seem to have a small assortment of english books, standardized across branches. It's not much, but I found and bought "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini and "TechGnosis" by Erik Davis. An interesting combination: Eragon is something like a Tolkien sing-along contestant, with Elves, dwarfs and dragons. As I understand it, the author was about 15 when he started to write it. It's a relaxing, interesting read, carried me along nicely in its world, though it's not really deep or meaningful.

Techgnosis on the other hand tries to explain why our technical class of information technology lends so much to mystical stuff. I came across a wide description of all the phenomenons that couple tech stuff with mystical and magic stuff, the cults, lunacies, phenomena that people build out and around technical inventions, as well as the dreams and desires that leads programmers and sysadmins to talk about demons, magic and wizards. The book is at once instant buzzword overflow, a fly through through all the esoterica in the world. But it is more a description than an explanation, it won't really explain why people choose Tolkien figures names in chatrooms (unless you count "people have a desire for that stuff from ages ago and it won't go away" as an explanation). TechGnosis is a full book, I could only read it while awake enough, otherwise the text would just flow through for a page or so, without any understanding.

Those two had carried me over the Christmas days, but in the middle of the week I was through. In the meanwhile though, I continued my walk through the bookstores. I went on a bigger excursion, took the "train" (as athenians refer to the old subway line that connects Piraeus and Kifisia) to go to "The Mall", a hyper, mega, supersize, bulging mall that is all the hype these days. Over there they have fnac, a french bookstore and technology chain. I'm not really into the "shopping experience" thing, so I found that 3 (or 4?) store supersize shopping palace to be a perfectly dreary and cold place. Sure you can bring your family or clique and shop till you drop, but you will not likely meet someone new, talk to someone you have not known before. Fnac did not impress me either. For one thing there were no foreign books, and the greek book selection was just everybody's. The technology section is just your average mobile phone, computer, CD, audio, DVD, tv store. I was happy to leave.

One "foreign language" bookstore here is Librairies Kaufman, which is mainly french books, but apparently some english, german, and spanish books too. They have two shops, one on Akadimias, the other on Stadiou (28 IIRC). A nice atmosphere, Kaufman is an old fashioned store. Very family style, friendly and overall "booky". But either their english section is indeed very small, or else I did not find most of it. After this personal bookstore I went to IANOS, a book megastore from Thessaloniki that opened a three floor shop on Stadiou street. No english books there, but I saw a lot of nice greek books, especially some great photographic books. Obviously they have a big selection on greek books, so if that is what you are looking for, they might be good. I've even seen some of William Gibson's books in greek translation.

Yesterday I met with a friend for a quick bite in Εξάρχια (Exarhia) and before that he wanted to shop for some books. Fine with me. We went to the Πολιτεία (Politia) bookshops on the corner of Asklipiou and Akadimias. There are 3 or 4 shops and basement shops belonging together, forming an old fashioned variant of a "book megastore". I had been there before and knew that they had an english language section, but back then it wasn't so great. But I can't go to a bookstore and not look for books. So without expecting much I looked through the shelves. I picked up "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt, a kind of student life "mystical society" experience thriller book (which I'm currently almost halfway through, so I can't say that much yet). Also I found "Burning Chrome" by William Gibson. A collection of short stories by the author of "Neuromancer" and a couple of other of my beloved books. I knew about this book all along, but just hadn't come around reading it (or owning it) yet. I guess I'm deep into cyberpunk, lost. And looks like after going through 5 big bookshops I have something to read till work starts again and on the way to work for the next days.

See also: The list of all "my" English language book shops in Athens.

Posted by betabug at 12:39 | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (3)
12 March 2006

Reading List Fillup

Some more food for thoughts

Saturday I went to the city to get some Ethernet cables to fix my wireless network. Yeah, insert appropriate jokes here. My airport card is toast (or connects as much as a toaster anyway), so I now laid 20m of cat6 to my room. On the way back from the store I passed by Politeias bookstore, where they have a good section with english books. After browsing through the racks for a long time, I walked out with Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a strange land". Will be interesting to read some "normal" science fiction after getting addicted to cyberpunk.

I haven't started with that one yet though, because there was a lame article on slashdot about eBook readers. Yawn, eBook readers again. But in the comments to that article there was a link to a site that sells SciFi electronic books and they have lots of free ones for advertising purposes (to get you hooked if you want). The site is called and apparently the publisher is Baen. I'm reading Bedlam Boyz by Ellen Guon right now and enjoying it. Magic and faeries set into todays world. It's not going to be on the literary frontpages any time soon, but it has nice fodder for thought, what I want from SciFi.

Then today we went to visit a philanthropic bazaar at the Parko Eleftherias. Lot's of boring second hand clothes and a few books. Among a pile of trash pulp crime fiction I found a gem: I picked up "Gödel, Escher, Bach" from Douglas R. Hofstadter for one Euro. Not too shabby. So I have lots of nice stuff on my reading list right now.

Posted by betabug at 23:37 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
28 April 2006

Stray Grain Movie

V For Vendetta

It's been some weeks since I've seen the movie "V for Vendetta" in the cinema. As with most movies I thought about writing a review, but as also with most movies I didn't, because it's low on my priority list, compared to writing about things that make my life here special. Now DeviousDiva posted some thoughts on the superhero comic the film is based on, so I might as well share some thoughts...

I didn't know what to expect. For a long time I did not consider seeing the movie, because I wasn't keen on yet another big production and I couldn't see the story, and I despise that thing called "vendetta". Then I heard that it was a science fiction movie. It's been a long time since I've seen a Science Fiction movie, and being a true geek, I love Science Fiction. So in we went.

OK, let's skip the plot summary, actor / camera / music criticism. What I thought when I left the movie was: This film stands completely across the current political climate. In our real life you have politicians who try to impose more and more control (still under the label of freedom and democracy). The film depicts a fictional England gone out of control and turned into a fascist, totalitarian state. In our real life the police and the politicians can pull off whatever they want once they use the magic word "terrorism". In the movie the male hero is just that a terrorist. And the female here becomes more or less that in the end. Or are they freedom fighters? Well, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

Still I don't think the movie could have come over too well with the current political "leaders". Attacking and killing the president of the country... In some countries (not mentioning names, but usually referred to by a three letter acronym) even expressing such ideas can get you in trouble, even into jail. Blowing up stuff. Blowing up buildings with a huge load of homemade explosives out of fertilizers. Oklahoma anyone?

I don't remember the quote Diva gave in her post. I don't think it made it into the movie. The film shows a lot of the conflict of the totalitarians against people who are "different" - gays, lesbians, muslims get special mention. But the conflicts are always shown in a placative manner, with few silent, introspective moments. After all it's a movie, we are waiting for the next special effect big bang. The whole movie is cross in a world of shallow entertainment and hidden political agendas.

As for the movie as a movie: I'm not a critic, so just some thoughts. I couldn't help think about the budget saved by having the male hero wear a mask all the time. Sure saved them from having to pay a high profile actor I thought, and the thought persisted so much I sometimes thought about it while watching. I remember the camera and visual language as generally pleasant and atmospheric. For me the drama and inner conflict of the characters was spoiled a lot by the superhero stuff. Whenever things get tight, just bring in those superhero powers. What I want to see from Science Fiction is how normal, "real" people can get it off in a fictional situation. The superhero stuff wasn't on the level of "hey, look at this superpower guy, whatever he can do" either. Stuck in the middle somewhere.

Posted by betabug at 10:10 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
24 May 2006

Burning Chrome

Short stories by William Gibson, the heat is on

Short stories are not my thing usually. I want a book to develop a complete story, and when it's good, I want a book to be as long as possible, so I can stay and dive into the world. I bought William Gibson's short story collection "Burning Chrome" out of desire for completeness. I'm a Gibson fanboy. When I read them the first time, I liked them good enough, but they were short stories. Gibson is tense. More so in the short stories. Since they are some of his earlier works, they are also a bit more rough sometimes. A few days ago I picked them up again, and this time around, I'm really enjoying the read.

I'm reading them in the bus, at the bus station, mostly. Started with Johnny Mnemonic. Wanted to re-read it as soon as I was finished. It's really good, only I would like more of it. In Athens the heat has set in now. The first heat, we're going for the 30s, in summer we will be going for the 40s (Celsius, that is).

Yesterday I took a bus where the air-conditioning was on, this morning it wasn't. Yesterday on the way home I started on "The Winter Market". Gone through that this morning and read through the first page or so of "Burning Chrome", the title story. Being a true addict to Gibson's language, I think "Burning Chrome" is as cool a title as they come. So I couldn't resist using it for this entry.

Posted by betabug at 10:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
10 June 2006

Winged, Weird Creatures, Book

"Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town", by Cory Doctorow

Thursday evening I started craving for a book to read. I had an old recommendation from Marialena for a bookstore with english books in the Ambelokipoi area, so I went to have a look. As it turns out, that bookstore does not have english books any more, but I had a stroll through the interesting neighborhood around the stadium of Panathinaikos football club. I went back home, still with a desire to read, and remembered the books of Cory Doctorow . Doctorow is a canadian science fiction writer who puts his books online as soon as they are out in print versions. He does not put teasers or sample chapters online, but the complete books, ready to download and read. Which I did...

Right now he's put his third novel online. At one point I had started to read his second "Eastern Standard Tribe", but didn't get over the first few page. Not so much because of the book in itself, but because reading on the screen just isn't the same as reading a paper tome. This time I started out with the third one, "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town". By now, early Sunday evening, I finished it. I still would have preferred a paperback, but the electronic version was there, immediately available. It also got me hooked enough to read through all of it on screen.

The book itself isn't easy or plain. It has a pretty weird setup, with characters that are definitely not "normal". Which is a big part of the story. There is a hefty lot of geek talk and geek interest thrown in. If computers and networks are part of your normal life, you will at least in that part feel at home in the book. Some of the un-normal-less of the characters was sometimes a bit disturbing, I had to stop eating souvlaki and reading at the same time at one point. But it's not all disgusting, that was just a moment. Some of the images have a special beauty in their weirdness. There were moments, when I thought that all that weirdness was piled too high. There were some paragraphs that I skipped, especially on the tech/sales talk. Other times I catched something in paragraphs that I had skipped, went back an reread them with gusto.

In the end the world of the book (or at least of the books "special" characters) had me interested enough, that I wanted to read on at the end of the book. There's no big ending, no rolling up of all threads and finishing every thoughtline. It's more of a pensive stopping when this story turns into another story, with a slightly happy ending.

I won't really go into describing the plot or the language style. Since this isn't a paper book that you have to buy (or at least pick up at a book shop to read the first page), you can just browse over, download, and read the first 10 pages. I promise that no book store owner will look at you when you take your time. When you can, you might want to buy it in paper though, so you can read it in an easy chair, unlike me.

Posted by betabug at 20:23 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)
04 July 2006

Philip Glass - La belle et la bête

A movie in concert at the Athens Herodion Theatre
Herodion Ancient Theatre in Athens, interior view before the show

Yesterday evening Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble played in the ancient Herodion theatre in Athens. I was lucky, happy, and stunned to see them perform their music to the film "La belle et la bête" from Jean Cocteau. They basically removed the soundtrack from the film, then the orchestra played the music while four singers intonated the voices. All in the typical musical style of Philip Glass. Sounds strange? It was a recipe for an incredible evening...

The surroundings... ancient

We got our tickets weeks ago, so we didn't have to wait in line at the evening. But while we sat and watched the queue, I wondered if this was such a good idea, as the sky was full of black clouds. The organizers seemed to be sure to let the event happen. I let my view pass over the impressive skyline of the Herodion Ancient Theater. How would it be sitting on its stone steps with a downpour like we had the day before? The place before the theater, right below the big rock and the Acropolis filled up with people. We went to our entrance and still had to wait a bit in line till the doors opened. Then we went up the huge stairs inside. The inside is stunning, the seats descend so steep, it's almost at the border of triggering fear in me. Since we were early, we snatched some good seats (with our cheap tickets, seats are not numbered, the higher priced tickets have reserved seats). When I say "seats", don't expect anything like a plastic chair in a sports stadium. These are just marble benches going all through the half round stadium, with simple cushions on them, but nothing to lean against. The view is payback enough though. (Click on the image for a bigger view.)

The movie... black & white magic

The movie itself is nice but may have been strange to modern viewers. A black and white movie from back in 1946, in the form of a fairy tale. The movie asks us at the start to get back to our childlike openness to believe in magic. Its magic is made with simple camera effects. As one critic noted, Cocteau manages to enchant us better with those simple effects than most modern CGI operators with all their machine power.

The story is at once well known and new. The scheme of the beauty who is attracted and spellbound by the ugly beast is well known and retold up to diabetes inducing Disney sugar levels. But as I sat and watched I found myself hanging in suspense about how this particular turn would work out, what would happen next.

The music... magic unity with the movie

I love Philip Glass' music, the way I can get lost in it. To those who have never heard it, it's difficult to describe. It has been labeled as minimalistic music, but the label doesn't really fit. Glass uses a small set of building blocks that get assembled again and again in the same ways and the same ways until you notice that while you weren't "watching" it all changed and floated into a new atmosphere.

A small orchestra accompanied the movie, together with four singers. The musicians were sitting in front of the screen (which at one point close to the end was torn out at the lower end by the wind caused small confusion on stage). The music and singing was synchronous with the film, much like in old silent movies.

At the start of the performance I thought that the music wasn't too typical for Glass. I thought that maybe he has changed and I would have to take what I'd got. But it seems that this was just the starting theme, a few minutes later, the "glassiness" took over and pulled me in. I made a point of watching the musicians from time to time, even if this meant I would loose part of the movie. But I wanted to see the music being "made". After a while this desire went away, because of the exceptional union between the movie and the music.

Right as the flow of the Glass music was pulling me in, the movie and the music appeared to become one. The music followed (or lead?) the line of the story while the singing voices and the actors became one. The story, the music,... magic. I left enchanted.

Posted by betabug at 10:52 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (1)
28 August 2006


Fernando Botero at the National Gallery in Athens

Yesterday I woke up comparably early (for a Sunday) so we had time to visit the exhibition of paintings of the colombian painter Fernando Botero. I knew beforehand, that I would like his works and I wasn't disappointed...

The Εθνική Πινακοθήκη (National Gallery) isn't too far from my place. We we got there, we found already a lot of other visitors. Botero's art is accessible, meaning that it does not leave people looking at some abstract something, saying "wtf? what is this?". He mainly paints people - even in his landscapes are people watching the landscape - and they are all fat people. He also paints still lifes and he manages to make his still lifes come out fat too. You'd be surprised to find even a really fat pear.

What the visitors do ask is: "What does it mean? Why? What does he want to say?" I believe the answer is that Botero holds a mirror in front of our overstuffed, over-important and self-exaggerated selves. We get a look at ourselves looking at a landscape. Funny, revealing, just plain phat - our choice. Lot's of Botero's paintings are funny to me.


Some are not. Botero painted a series of pictures about the torture jail of Abu Ghraib in Iraq. They left me angry and hurt. Shame on America. I know the excuse for the torture jail was that this was done without being officially endorsed. But history has taught us that every regime ever claiming that excuse has been proven wrong later, has indeed been proven to have pushed the situation to this state and have backed it up with malice.

The "Abu Ghraib" pictures are only a smaller part of the exhibition. But they show us that life is really a mixed bag. You can't enjoy your picnics, pears and dances (lots of dances in these pictures) but some evil empire will wage war and start torturing people. Lucky us who are not the current victims.

Posted by betabug at 16:07 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
15 September 2006

Books Again on Wednesday

Bookshops, Catchers, Songlines, and The Cruel Sea

Sometimes I wonder why I go to Papasotiriou book shops at all when I look for english books. All they have is Dan Brown style fast food. "Politia" at Akadimias has a much better section, much more serious. They have stacks of e.g. John Steinbeck and Bukowski, where Papasotiriou has a single token Bukowski. So I went there next on Wednesday after work...

Before anyone chimes in on the topic of english language book shops in Athens, don't get me started on Eleftheroudakis and their one floor of english books. They are just a mess, as if a computer was doing the ordering at random, not a person. Which can not be, because a computer couldn't select the most boring books with such a certainty.

One book Politia didn't have was "Catcher in the Rye", which I had erroneously looked for under John Steinbeck while admiring the large display of his books, but which is of course by J.D.Salinger. My apologies to these authors, but the book isn't there under Salinger either. Which made me think. So short after the 5 year anniversary of the american "Reichstagsbrand" 9/11, given the current terrorism craze, the name of that book springing to mind had reminded me of the movie "Conspiracy Theory", in which Mel Gibson plays a psyched out political killer with a compulsion to buy the book. The reported background is that the murderer of John Lennon and the guy who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan both seem to have been obsessed with the book. I amused myself in believing that the absence of the book was a political statement or a kind of censorship. More likely it just wasn't in stock.

What I bought in the end are two wildly differing books. One is what we call in German a "Schmöker", a big, fat, easy book without much depth, but written good enough to keep reading for a weekend (or - if you are slower - for a vacation). I could have gotten some of them at the Papasotiriou fast food counter, but I got a weird book written 1948-50 about the war in the atlantic ("The Cruel Sea", by Nicholas Monsarrat). Like all books about war it is essentially dumb and bad. I'm somehow sorry for having bought it, to my defense I might only say that there was no cyberpunk science fiction to be had and I needed something to read.

The other one is Bruce Chatwin's "Songlines". Now this could be considered literature. I've read some of Chatwin's short stories and somehow liked them. I guess this book will be demanding more attention to read and maybe comprehend, but in the end will be more rewarding too. There is a special reason I bought Chatwin's book, of which I likely will tell in another post (leaving you with a slight weblog cliff-hanger here).

See also: The list of all "my" English language book shops in Athens.

Posted by betabug at 01:02 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)
15 November 2006

Books Hunted, 1001 Books Listed

Another Bookshop, and my score on the reading list

Looking through a list of Zwiki example sites I came across one very nice wiki called thinkubator. In its refreshing but not very wikilike pages I found a reference to a book with a list of 1001 books one should read, complete with a list of the authors and titles. A long count showed me that I have read 60 of them and am into number 61 now... because as I happened to have visited a friend in Kolonaki and was slowly going back to the bus station, I stumbled upon a bookshop that has some english books. I went in to discover a small selection, but amongst them I found 3 books that I bought. So a big selection isn't really everything. What did I get?

The bookstore in question is called Best Book Hunters, they have shops in 47 Solonos street and 33 Leukados and Evelpidon street. They seem to have been around for a while, but I had never been there. Another one for my list of Athens book shops with english books. The Solonos street shop is nice, with a modern interior and a very laid back upper floor. They mostly seem to have artsy books. Not to much fiction, but sometimes it's the selection that matters.

At first I spotted J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye", which I had referred to in a previous "Athens bookshop post" where it wasn't available. So I just had to buy it now. Next came a book with the word "Enigma" in the title. That always stops me, since I'm a crypto nut (and in part a history nut). Christine Large's "Hijacking Enigma - The Insiders' Tale" promises to give some historic background to breaking the Enigma cipher in Bletchley Park, mixed with the story of how an original Enigma machine was stolen and recovered. For me they could have left out the modern stuff, but maybe it's all the better with something thrown in that I haven't read about before.

Then I got "The Remains of the Day" from Kazuo Ishiguro, which brings me full circle to the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. As I was browsing through the list of books I had seen that one and I remembered that I had talked with Stefanos (from HelMUG) about it. So I bought it and that's what I'm reading now, on the way to my 61st book from the list.

That number isn't carved in stone. There are a couple of books in the list which I wasn't too sure about. Some of them I had read a looong time ago, so in some cases I wasn't too sure if I had really read them. Some of them I took into the list (when I was reasonable sure) and a bit more of them I left out because I leaned to the "not so sure any more" side. I also didn't count in books that I had started to read but didn't like and give up. Sometimes I was too young for the book in question (I started reading "serious" books when I was still a child), sometimes I was older and just didn't like the stuff.

As can be also seen in the discussion on the list page, the selection isn't agreed on by everyone. Such a list could be made by choosing "important" books, by choosing "interesting" books, or books that are "good to read". So was a book like George Orwell's "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" in the list because someone considered it a page-turner "good read", or because it's an "important" book from a significant period of Orwell's work? Next step: Discuss what any of these terms mean.

See also: Books... and Bookshops in Athens, Books Again on Wednesday

See also: The list of all "my" English language book shops in Athens.

Posted by betabug at 23:23 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (1)
27 December 2006

Holiday Reading List

Sitting lazy, reading

Christmas break is high time for some slacking and reading for me. Last year I went and bought lots of books, this year a held back a bit more, but I Eleni brought me some books from Munich that I had left there on route from Switzerland. Let's see: First of all I went and bought "Οι τέσσερις τοίχοι" from Βαγγέλης Χατζιγιαννίδης ("Four Walls" from Vangelis Hatziyannidis, also available in an english translation, this book was recommended to me in a comment by Catheryn Kilgarriff)...

I have a problem with lots of Greek authors, their books seem to be stuck to me, nothing ever happens, things move slow and I don't see any life in there. When I started with the "Four Walls", I was afraid it would come out like that. I can't really give a verdict yet, as I'm only on page 35, but the beginnings of an actual story have appeared and I like that. I'm reading in Greek, which still hinders me a bit and takes more time. But then it also offers me reward in how much I understand, and how few times I actually have to look something up.

From Munich a couple of books reached me: I started with a quick reread of Think Unix from Jon Lasser. This is an unusual computer book. It tries to teach newbies Unix, but not by taking them by the hand and giving them a list of commands. Rather Lasser teaches the spirit and meaning of how Unix works or "thinks". You might not learn every detail of how exactly you do something, but you get the tools so you can find out and do it yourself. Highly recommended and fun even to browse through after a couple of years (and even though I notice that I passed the level he teaches for a while).

I also got back my copy of Exploring Expect by Don Libes. This is (AFAIK) the only book about Expect. In case you don't know, "expect" is a programming language that helps to automate interaction with programs like passwd or telnet. I've done some simple things with expect and it's on my "I want to do more with this" list for a long time now. Maybe I'll write that command line "adduser" script for Mac OS X server that I need with expect after all.

Amongst the others coming from Munich was "Enigma entschlüsselt" by Michael Smith (original english title: "Station X: Decoding Nazi Secrets"). This is a collection of anecdotes, short stories, and facets of the code breaking effort at Bletchley Park and some other places in the second World War. By no means is it a full account, but for a crypto nut like me it is a fun diversion. Some of the pieces are easy to browse through, others (where it gets into the detail of decrypting some code system) take a lot of effort to read and understand. A book for me to get lost in for some hours!

Posted by betabug at 16:12 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
19 January 2007

Literarisches Mischmasch, sogar in Indien

Stories überall!

Die letzten Tage war ich mit einer leichten Erkältung nicht so ganz auf dem Dampfer. Was also besseres tun als zu lesen? Am besten gleich alles durcheinander: Wenn ich im Bus zur Arbeit fahre, lese ich "Eragon" von Christopher Paolini (so eine Art Tolkien-Verschnitt, leicht ins schnulzige abdriftend, schon mal gelesen aber lange genug her, dass ich mich nicht mehr an alle Details erinnere), wenn ich vor dem Computer sitze lese ich zwischendurch in Rudyard Kiplings "Kim" weiter. Schlussendlich lese ich von Vangelis Hatziyannidis "Vier Wände" auf Griechisch ("Οι τέσσερις τοίχοι"), allerdings brauche ich dafür etwas mehr Konzentration.

Als ich gestern ein paar Seiten in Kiplings Buch las passierte etwas seltsames. Auf dem #zope irc channel kam jemand vorbei mit ein paar Fragen wegen etwas was in seinem Code nicht funktioniert. An der Art seiner Sprache schien mir etwas seltsam und ich wusste nicht, ob das dran lag, dass ich grade Kiplings altertümliche und indisches Englisch nachahmende Sprache gelesen hatte. Ich hatte das Gefühl als wäre ich noch halb im Buch. Schliesslich schaute ich per /whois nach, woher er kam und siehe da... aus Indien. Was für ein Zufall.

Ich nutzte die Gelegenheit, ihn zu fragen, ob er Kiplings Buch für Quatsch hält, oder ob er denkt dass es zumindest etwas mit Indien zu tun hat. Er meinte dass Kipling ein uraltes Indien beschreibt, dass Indien sehr vielfältig ist ("India is too diverse to describe in one book.") und dass ich doch vorbeikommen und es mir anschauen sollte. Da hat er wohl recht.

Posted by betabug at 10:49 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
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