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Thursday, April 27, 2006

MSB and I went to see “How Much Do You Love Me?” the other night, a French comedy about a lottery winner who propositions a beautiful call girl (Monica Bellucci) to live with him for a hundred thousand euro a month until the money runs out. They have a grand old time until Monica’s gangster boyfriend Gerard Depardieu turns up. DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. Could it be a coincidence that “French farce” rhymes with “sucks arse”? I don’t think so. (From the recent selection at the French Film Festival, try “Hell”, “Lemming” and “Anthony Zimmer” instead).

Anyway, as usual, Monica Bellucci is naked and pouty for much of the movie. She’s very good at it too. But amongst all the members of the Sexy Naked and Half-naked Lady Pantheon (featuring Laetitia Casta, Josie Maran, Katherine Heigl, Ludivine Sagnier and occasionally, Scar-Jo), why is Monica Bellucci SO BORING??

Answer, because:
(a) she is never anything except naked and pouty.
(b) she seems constantly aware and conscious of her beauty.
(c) she has dead, dead eyes.
(d) she can’t act. She can’t even be convincing in a love scene and when you have a body like hers, that’s a crime.

Monica Bellucci’s ubiquitous nudity is just too much of a good thing. With the first several times it's like gazing in awe at a beautiful Roman statue. But after a while she’s like Crazy Laney from Sex and the City: “Who wants to see a pregnant lady’s TITS!!?”. Where’s the mystery? Where’s the allure? Surprise me sometime Monica and put on some clothes. And when I say “clothes”, I don’t mean caviar.


Yeah okay, more about books and book buying: The UNSW Book Fair started today! I took the day off so I could be there at opening time. Is that sad? Well I don’t care because it was SO worth it. Seriously, I was like a pig in shit. My sister and I got 44 books for about $70. And they were in such good condition too! There were so many books – books that you would actually want to read! Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Everything is Illuminated (I need to give Al her copy back), the Human Stain, Five Quarters of the Orange, Belinda, the Blind Assassin, the Red Queen, the Woman in White, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow... and a whole bunch books on ancient Greek and Rome. It was quite scary by the ancient history and archaeology table actually with these old, nerdy academic types violently grabbing and snatching the books, almost from my very hands.

You have to be very disciplined though. When you come across books this cheap, you’re tempted to buy everything that catches your eye, but you need a plan. Fill up as many boxes as you like but then you have to ruthlessly cull! Cull! Cull! You don’t want to be like my dad who ends up with books like the Encyclopedia of Buttons or textbooks on water and concrete physics.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Some books I’ve read this year
(excluding Harry Potter translations)

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke

This is an easy one to get through and is essentially one of those English-speaking-ex-pats-in-France books. The hero is really unlikeable though, so you want him to be as miserable as possible, get arrested and deported or at least pelted with rocks and faeces (as is hinted at in the title but is never delivered, boo!).

Of the English-speaking-expats-in-France genre, I’d recommend the Provence series by Peter Mayle and Almost French by Sarah Turnbull instead. The books by Mayle focus a lot on food and shouldn’t be read on an empty stomach. Turnbull’s book chronicles her new life in France from her first meeting with her French lawyer husband and beyond her move to Paris and the inevitable culture clash. It’s very funny and she does a good job of presenting the battle between Parisian culture and her Australian soul.

Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

Japan is in an unusual position as far as Asian countries go. It managed to avoid being colonised by Europeans and, probably as a result, has enthusiastically adopted occidental culture rather than kept it at arms length or rejected it like many of its neighbours. Kerr is an American who lived in Japan as a child in the 1960s and has been there almost ever since university. The book is on his concern over Japan’s inappreciation (is that a word??) of and misguided attempts to “preserve” its own heritage and culture so that both are now endangered by a stagnant, myopic bureaucracy. The book isn’t patronising so much as it’s depressing to read his views on how Japan has changed and what it’s lost since he’s known it. He writes as someone who loves the country more than as some overbearing Westerner who knows best. Although really, as with other situations in life, an outsider can often see a situation with more clarity than someone within it. Really, really fascinating.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer

Al lent me this one. This is a fictionalised account of the author’s trip to Ukraine to find the woman who’s family helped his grandfather escape the Nazis when they rolled through Ukraine during World War II. The story unfolds through a series of letters from Alex (his Ukrainian translator) commenting on their trip together, the fictional Jonathan’s draft of the history of his grandfather’s shtetl and a more traditional narrative describing Jonathan and Alex’s trip through Ukraine with Alex’s psychosomatically blind grandfather as their driver and the grandfather’s incessantly farting, leg-humping dog. It’s a funny and brutal and touching book about trying to understand people’s motivations, about judging the actions of others in the context in which they happened and making sacrifices that really shit you to protect the people you love most. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

Persuasion and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Call me a cliché but I'm a girl who loves Jane Austen. Her books are a panacea for all my pains. There’s an article somewhere that talks about how injured soldiers during the World Wars were encouraged to read her books during recovery to ameliorate their trauma because it was comforting to be able to escape back to a time that seemed so relatively simple and safe which is how Regency England is drawn by her. On top of that Austen is always funny, sharp and never fails to deliver a happy ending.

Persuasion was Austen’s last complete novel before she died. It is the story of Anne Elliot, daughter of a silly, spendthrift peer who has reconciled herself to spinsterhood after ending her engagement some 8 years ago to her one twoo wuv Wentworth, on the advice of a well-meaning family friend. Wentworth is a naval officer and wasn’t thought to have good enough prospects to be a satisfactory match for her. 8 years later, her family is in financial trouble and her path crosses with Wentworth’s who has since done really well for himself professionally and financially. This is my favourite Austen because unlike her other novels which are about falling in love, this one is about how love survives despite time and anger and is given a second chance.

It’s bit sad though, to think that this novel, written at the end of her life, might have been in part, an exercise in wish fulfilment for Austen’s own unsuccessful romances. (There’s also an interesting hint in this book at the rise of the middle classes in the late 1810s – where Wentworth’s sister and friend, a responsible, successful naval couple lease Anne’s ancestral home because her privileged father and sister have been so reckless and irresponsible in looking after their land and finances. Interesting).

Northanger Abbey is a good introduction to Austen’s works although it is in a different style to the others. Her wit and irony is easier to recognise here than in her other works – not to say that she’s heavy handed. The story here is about Catherine, the naïve 17 year old heroine, on her first real outing in society during a stay in Bath. She is taken under the wings of Isabelle who becomes her constant companion and is introduced to the popular gothic romances of the time. She also meets the older Henry and his sister who invite her back to their home, Northanger Abbey, for a stay. The gothic Abbey and the books she’s been reading trigger her to imagine that it’s the site of horrible crimes by Henry’s father and she sets about to investigate. It's a coming of age story really, about learning to differentiate real from false, in friends and in life and of coming into a voice of your own. Her adventures and conversations with Henry are Austen’s nod to the gothic romances of the day as well as to novels and reading in general.

I have to say that of all the Austenian heroes, Henry Tilney is my favourite (followed by Frederick Wentworth). The rest of you can have Mr D’Arcy, I don’t care. Henry is this lovely, funny, clever, gentle guy who doesn’t take himself seriously the way D’Arcy does and isn’t slightly overbearing the way Mr Knightley is with Emma. He knows Catherine is young and naïve, with a lot to learn, but he also knows that she’s not stupid and doesn’t treat her that way. He is just so lovely!

Plays by Oscar Wilde - Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and the Importance of Being Earnest

Lady Windermere’s Fan is my favourite play by Wilde. It has it all! Tight plot, snappy dialogue and a satisfying ending. It was recently adapted in A Good Woman with Scar-Jo and the gorgeous Mark Umbers as the Windermeres and Helen Hunt as Mrs Erlynn. The action now takes place on the Amalfi Coast during the 1930s. Helen Hunt is surprisingly decent – she makes Mrs Erlynn more sympathetic than a mere reading of the play does.

A Woman of No Importance is too didactic and humourless; An Ideal Husband would be an ideal play except for the last act which is a bit superfluous; and I just can’t care enough for the characters in the Importance of Being Earnest to be bothered with it much.

The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time by Mark Haddon

This is a story written from the point of view of a boy, Christopher (who possibly has Asperger’s syndrome), as he investigates the murder of a neighbour’s dog. Christopher is brilliant at maths and science but isn’t so good at social interaction or understanding and empathising with people. It’s quite funny and touching and gives some insight into what it might be like to have a mild form of autism (although there is some controversy on this point) and to be a parent of such a child. Haddon does a great job at conveying how much Christopher’s parents, particularly his dad, loves him not through Christopher’s own understanding of his father’s love but through Christopher’s records of their interaction together. Haddon shows, without exposition, how desperate and frustrated Christopher’s father can be with him, and yet loves him anyway even though Christopher doesn't really understand it and even though there is no way of knowing that his son loves him back. Sniff.

Currently reading:

Howard’s End by EM Forster

Genome by Matt Ridley

This is a pop-science book that came out several years ago at about the same time as the sequencing of the human genome had its greatest media saturation. Ridley marries each human chromosome with some human trait that is linked to it and tells the story of the discovery of DNA and various aspects of human nature and how genes affect them. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the coverage of scientific rivalries and the evolution and disintegration of hypotheses and long-held beliefs. He cites some interesting studies, and he must have done a whole lot of reading to put this book together, but he doesn’t footnote it as a much as I’d like (I'm also a bit weary of his support of some "long-bow" conclusions drawn from these studies). So if you want to follow up on the papers or studies he refers to you have to track a lot of them down yourself. It's a very engaging book that's simply written and easy to understand. It makes me half-wistful for what could have been if I'd chosen science instead of law. But then I think back to those horrid hours spent in labs and I think I made the right choice.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Ellen Fanning is a twat

I caught a rerun of a heavily pregnant Ellen Fanning's 60 Minutes interview with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards last night. She sure made the most of her time at journalism school. Some highlights:

"...do you ever wake up in the morning and feel stiff in all the wrong places?" - nice going with the sexual innuendo, Ellen.

"[about Jagger hip shimmying]...do you ever look at him and think, 'Mate, you're going to put your back out if you keep that up?'".

"[about Jagger] He's got no right to be at his age, has he? He should have a pot gut. Shouldn't he?".

In response to Jagger's declaration that his first Australian tour was in 1965: "I wasn't even born in 1965".

And then she harped on about Keith's arthritic fingers, asked him if he was "sozzled" and proceeded to drink his booze. Because if you drink booze while pregnant, old rockers will think you're cool. Mick seemed to bear her line of questioning stoically. Keith however, had no qualms about wreaking revenge on the Fanning foetus by lighting up during the interview. Strangely enough, whether it was because she was completely oblivious or too ball-less both possibilities are equally likely, she didn't even ask him to put out his fag (much less stub it out on his forehead which is what I would have done).

So thanks to Ellen Fanning, I think it's now established that MICK JAGGER IS OLD and KEITH RICHARDS IS OLD *AND* A DRUNK. Next up, 60 Minutes will reveal that Janette Howard is actually just a do nothing, say nothing stick of furniture at Kirribilli. Speaking of, who can forget the Chaser's Janette Howard plate and headstrap?


It's wrong to objectify people but I can't help it:

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Jensen Ackles. He's so hot right now. In fact, if I was a smoker I'd need a cigarette, stat.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ok, my blogging resolve didn’t last long but at least I have a pathetic excuse namely, that I’ve been away having an organ removed. It was only my gall bladder though, so I didn’t make much off the black market. And also because it was full of um, bits of cholesterol that were incredibly painful. Like, bent-over-double-and-unable-to-walk-for-about-12-hours painful. Someone told me it was comparable to giving birth which might be true because the pain was cyclical and caused by passing life-sucking items down a teeny weeny passage (the bile duct): an hour of excruciating agony, followed by a brief respite where you think, “Oh phew, I guess it’s ov- ARGGHHHHHHGGUUUUUHHHH”.

The operation was only 45 minutes and thanks to keyhole surgery I only have a deranged Picasso face of 4 small scars rather than a massive, red slash across my gut. (It really is amazing, I was up and about after a day or so. The worst aspect of it was coming out of the general anaesthetic and feeling completely out of it and woozy).

I was put on a low fat diet for a month before the operation (in February) and was then told I couldn’t have fatty foods for another 2 months! Naturally, I went and got 2 double cheese and bacon burgers the week after getting cut and inhaled them but as it turns out, the doctor was right. Let’s just say, ingesting lots of fat after being off them for a while has an immediate and explosive laxative effect.

How I came to have chunks of cholesterol lining my gall bladder is anyone’s guess. The doctor said that it just happens and actually has little to do with your diet or lifestyle. But I have to wonder, because I was virtually raised on McDonalds and Pizza Hut. In a country like Vietnam, where most of the population, while not quite starving, is certainly malnourished, people really cherish and crave fatty foods because they never have it. So when our family came here it was like, “SWEET PARADISE: Hot chips! Pizza! Burgers! Wheeeee!” In primary school I’d have Papa Giuseppe’s microwaved pizza for breakfast and 2 meat pies for lunch everyday. Then in high school, it was McDonalds for breakfast and a pizza at 10 o’clock every night before bed. I can’t believe the worst to come out of this is a dodgy gall bladder. I should be dead.

So now in the interests of staying alive, it’s yoghurt for breakfast, pasta with a tomato based sauce and fruit salad for lunch, then some healthy Asian thing for dinner. I have become very disciplined. My body is my temple etc etc. Except for when it's a sugar refinery and I go crazy with Milky Bars, King-sized Twirls, peanut butter Kit Kats and those sour gummy peach lollies. Yum.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I walk pass one of those nail parlours everyday. It's like getting caught in Chernobyl, no matter how fast I go I can't escape the rolling clouds of peteroleum solvents.

How can those poor, invariably Asian, women work there day in day out? I mean, I know we all have to work for a living but I hate to see a sister undergoing slow, self-inflicted brain damage.


We had a fire in our building today from a malfunction in the aircon system. It caused this acrid stink, like burning plastic. All I could think of while we gathered orderly around the fire exit, waiting to go, was how ready I was to shove everyone out of the way and make a run for it, pregnant colleagues be damned. I am a BAD person.


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