23 May 2015

Turns out that Nabokov fellow can actually write

Who would've thought that the celebrated Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), whose Lolita was one of the great English novels of the 20th century, was actually quite a dab hand with a phrase? Everyone who has read him, that's who, and finally I have too. Here's one example, plucked from the mid-section of the book as the ill-starred pair drive the backroads of America:

At night, tall trucks studded with coloured lights, like dreadful giant Christmas trees, loomed in the darkness and thundered by the belated little sedan. And again next day a thinly populated sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt overhead, and Lo would clamour for a drink, and her cheeks would hollow vigorously over the straw, and the car inside would be a furnace when we got in again, and the road shimmered ahead, with a remote car changing its shape mirage-like in the surface glare, and seeming to hang for a moment, old-fashionedly square and high, in the hot haze. And as we pushed westward, patches of what the garage-man called 'sage brush' appeared, and then the mysterious outlines of table-like hills, and then red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a mountain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream, and the desert would meet us with a steady gale, dust, gray thorn bushes, and hideous bits of tissue paper mimicking pale flowers among the prickles of wind-tortured withered stalks all along the highway; in the middle of which there sometimes stood simple cows, immobilised in a position (tail left, white eyelashes right) cutting across all human rules of traffic.
- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1955

See also:
Books: Frankenstein in the Alps, 3 March 2015
Books: Proust writes an action thriller, 3 January 2015
BooksMark Twain on knowing nothing about NZ, 31 July 2014

22 May 2015

Palmyra 2008

In the news today, word of the apparent fall of the ruins of ancient Palmyra to ISIS forces was another reminder of the potentially devastating consequences for global heritage of the intractable civil strife that has ravaged Syria. Palmyra lies within Syria's borders now, but its origins lie in distant antiquity as a Neolithic settlement and later in the second millennium BC as a caravan stop for desert traders. Under later Roman control in the third century AD it became the home of the fearsome Queen Zenobia, whose rebellion against Rome was ultimately crushed and the city punished cruelly. Until the civil war, Palmyra was one of the highlights of any journey to Syria. Now its future is wholly uncertain.

I visited Palmyra with my friends Jennifer and Andrew in 2008, during our expedition to Syria and Jordan (relevant blogs: part 1part 2 and part 3). We were driven by Abdul, a friendly local man, in his ancient burgundy-coloured Mercedes sedan in a daytrip from the middle Syrian town of Hama. En route on the 200 kilometre seatbelt-less eastward journey we paused to admire Bedouin beehive dwellings and pondered the geographical implications of a highway road sign that proclaimed a turnoff for the Iraqi border that lurked less than 100 kilometres further east. The journey was hugely important, allowing us to spend two and a half hours exploring the superb temple complex and the remains of a lavish colonnaded commercial avenue in the heart and heat of the desert, with the landscape peppered with the rubble of long-gone architecture and sprinkled with the odd camel decked out for tourist rides. Here's a few photographic mementos of that visit on 1 November 2008.

Bedouin dwellingts, eastern Syrian desert


Temple of Bel, Palmyra

Temple of Bel roof carving

Gates to the grand commercial avenue

Camel tout

Gates to the grand commercial avenue

Temple at the far end of the avenue

Camel & Ottoman fort

Palmyra from the Ottoman fort


20 May 2015

Homemade Kindle cover

When I got my Kindle a couple of years ago I was too stingy to pay for the protective wallet cover thing that they tried to add-on at the time, but naturally I did want to keep my new toy safe from scuffs and scratches. The solution was to purchase a hardback school exercise book for a few dollars and to make my own nondescript, low-profile case. And it's performed the task admirably, only suffering a small defeat at the hands of a spilled glass of water - but while the exercise book was water-damaged, it kept the device inside perfectly dry.  All you need to make your own is a book that's thick enough to provide some padding above and below the e-reader, and then you hollow out the centre of the book with a craft knife. Simple! (Although I admit in the image below mine has clearly seen better days.) 

16 May 2015

Dirk Diggler's bid for rock glory

Mainlining the seething unchained spirit of 80s power balladry, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) spends some of his hard-earned riches from the adult video biz on recording studio time to lay down his would-be chart-topper You Got The Touch. In this artistic endeavour he has the assistance of his fellow actor Reed Rothchild (John C Reilly), who boosts morale with some killer dance moves, and a put-upon recording engineer played by singer-songwriter Michael Penn. A glittering pop career surely beckoned for Dirk - industrial-strength cocaine addiction permitting - as seen in these extended and deleted scenes from Boogie Nights.

12 May 2015

Creature comfort goals, they only numb my soul

With its Revolver chords and snappy pace, the Goffin/King-penned Pleasant Valley Sunday may seem an identikit pop template, but the lyrics are guardedly anti-consumerist and the TV spot is an interesting glimpse of life in the Monkees in 1967. Of particular interest is exactly how much interest Mike Nesmith appears to have in proceedings, which is precisely zero - although he does grimace when he plays a duff note near the end. Still, it's by no means a trifling number. The Dolenz vocal is typically polished, and Jones and Tork seem to be enjoying messing about. The single was another Monkees hit, reaching number 3 on the Billboard chart and number 11 in the UK, and it was sandwiched between two properly great Monkees singles: Neil Diamond's A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, and John Stewart of the Kingston Trio's meaningless but insidiously catchy and therefore world-conquering Daydream Believer.

See also:
Music: The Monkees - You Just May Be The One, 10 September 2013
Music: The Who at Monterey Pop, 31 January 2014
Music: Denmark Street, 18 January 2010