The boy awoke in a wood-clad home. This Fresh Air Fund transplant was not prepared. The snow had fallen four miles, and lay thick as four fingers down the Nebraska valley. Waves of pines were hidden by a thick blank mist of ice and crystal. They themselves hid foothills that stretched to Beyond. Two lakes spread out before him - foot baths for a giant. The boy grabbed his camera and grabbed the image. He checked the screen to make sure that it was real.
Outside his room he faced a long-dead grizzly with marbled eyes. One ear missing from a fight, a toe-claw lost somewhere out there on a craggy peak. He papped this as well. Otherwise no-one might believe him. Other animals peered at him from all around, proud and mounted. He stared back.
A car beeped. Pulling on thermals and boots the boy ventured into the snow, grabbing a local apple as he went. They drove the white private path through silent trees, up to the lodge where she would remind him how to breathe. This morning’s stretch would last one full feline hour. Guided by voices he pulled his body around, breathing. Always breathing. The whole class breathed and pulled. The snow outside was blinding, he sucked in the light to his lungs.
Now he removed those superfluous layers and braved and battled his way outside. The mountains were disappearing as the clouds covered him. A bubbling pool waited, and he slipped in unnoticed. While his hair icicled and hardened his body boiled and wilted in the hot spring. For forty minutes there was only him.
Breakfast was avocado and poached eggs on home-made bread. Fuel for the fire inside. Back outside a handlebarred Santa taught him to master the snow using just two short planks strapped to his feet, they walked and slid and fell down Deer Pond Trail. The silence roared through the trees - his memory conjured subways and sirens but he fought back. No echoes among the evergreens just the tsshunk, tsshunk as poles hit concealed concrete below. His feet disappeared. Unknowing onlookers would have seen him glide through powder like it was a dream.
Here the Sugar House, in the bleak crowded distance a stone chapel. Further along the path the lodge where Santa left him, but he wasn’t quite done. He continued alone along the Sleigh Road. Past high chalets and fellow snow-sliders. Past fenced courts with their markings covered in winter shrouds. Ahhhh, here, finally the bakery. Skis and poles piled up outside led him in. He sat at the bar and ordered a strudel, and a dark smoky lager that travelled all of twenty meters to get to his glass.
His breath caught and filled with cheer he moved again. Back he went, disbelieving that this wasn’t some fairytale. His camera now remained stowed away, he wouldn’t need it to remember how this felt, nor would it be up to the task. Back past the lodge, through the snow, still falling after all of this time. Down Skater’s Waltz he danced along the tracks of Chance. His feet and thighs began to fail as he neared home: they weren’t expecting this on a day like today. Round and down the house came back into view, the only one in sight.
This was his gift, wrapped in snow and wood instead of glittery paper. The home-reared beef and hour-stirred gorgonzola sauce could wait. They would fade in time. This would remain: a home, today, that was all.
In a city where cinema tickets are a $13 minimum, the best bargain (and best films) can be seen at MoMa with Steph’s lovely membership card which allows her and a guest (i.e. me) to see a film for just $5. Unfortunately, the combination of the great bargain and the independent art films tends to attract the many frugal weirdos of New York (such as ourselves). We discovered this in spectacular fashion as we sat down to watch Lars Von Triers Melancholia last Thursday. Arriving late, available seats near the screen were scarce. Moving quickly I spotted two single seats either side of a large gentleman in a velvet blazer.
“Are those two free?” I asked politely.
“Yes they are.”
He cut me off. “But I’m not moving”
I stared at him blankly. “Okay, we’ll take them anyway. But may I ask why?”
“I’m just very comfortable here.”
Slightly odd, but at least we had seats near the front; in any case I am not one to criticise someone who is specific about where they sit in a movie theatre. Steph and I slipped in either side of him, surprised at this sudden intruder on our date night. Sitting down, the elderly lady with the blue rinse sitting on my other side leapt into a conversation with me, beginning with:
“Don’t worry we’re not weirdos.”
“Excuse me?” I spluttered.
“Yeah, we’ve been screening people who looked like weirdos from sitting in those two seats. But you seem okay. You get a lot of weirdos at these screenings”
“Yeah, I gathered that”
She missed the sarcasm. At this point, I detected a disturbance out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, and about 10 seats over on our row some crazy guy sat behind was having serious words with a bald guy sat in front of him, presumably regarding the fact that the bald guy was too tall for his liking. Baldy soon stood up, attempted to reason with him before switching seats with his girlfriend. More words must’ve been exchanged because then Mr Crazy lent menacingly towards him and hissed loudly,
“You’re really fucking riling me up now!”
The guy in front retorted and at that point Mr Crazy really lost it and growled right in his ear - (although I’m sure everyone in the theatre could hear)
“You are one sick fuck!”
At which Baldy stood up quivering with anger and stalked out of the theatre.
A woman on the same row as Baldy tried to intervene, only to be met with a barrage of insults from Mr Crazy, mostly consisting of ‘We don’t want your opinion’
Then the Velvet Blazer turns to me: “We’ve had two fights already this evening”
“Are you serious?”
Now Blue Rinse: “Yeah your friend left the screening room already didn’t he?”
Velvet Blazer, folding his arms indignantly: “He was not my friend!”
I didn’t have time to ask them to elucidate on what had happened before the lights began to dim. Blue Rinse just had time to throw “Love your country by the way” at me before the film began.
Five minutes in and Crazy was still gesticulating wildly at Baldy’s poor girlfriend and his vacant seat. Suddenly Baldy reappears, accompanied by a MOMA member of staff with a torch. After a couple of minutes of to-ing and fro-ing, Crazy got up and was frogmarched out of the theatre. And that was the end of that.
As Max put it later, ‘We watched a film made by a weirdo, about a weirdo, in a room full of weirdos’
May 2012 bring joy and prosperity. Thank you to our lovely family and friends for all your support, encouragement, wise words and good humour in 2011. And for reading the blog! Lots of love Max & Steph xxx
p.s Best socks ever, thanks Mum! x
When I travel to new places, I’m always keen to read books set in or about wherever I am (and I don’t mean the Lonely Planet). A good author can guide you to see things that you wouldn’t see, aspects and atmospheres that may otherwise go unnoticed. It enhances your understanding of the place, as well as the book. So far I’ve read just a small part of the reams that have been written about New York. I began with some fiction: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, about a young Jewish boy living in Brooklyn who travels regularly to Manhattan to visit the art galleries (a familiar experience). I then read Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. It’s a short book, especially when compared to his sprawling masterpiece Underworld, about a billionaire riding a limo through Manhattan while plotting the demise of the financial markets (somewhat less familiar).
I’ve also read non-fiction, such as The Collossus Of New York by Colson Whitehead: thirteen impressionistic essays on different aspects of New York City that have been fantastic inspiration for this blog. Hearing that we were new in town, a bartender recommended E.B. White’s This Is New York, a succinct and brilliant piece of journalism that really captures the life of city. We now have a copy specifically to loan to visitors. When I first arrived I picked up The Island At The Centre Of The World by Russell Shorto, a history of the first Dutch settlers on the Isle of Manhatoes written in a flowing docudrama style which really informs my perception of Manhattan within the framework of it’s original development (for instance, did you know that Broadway is actually an old Native American trail that has been trod through Manhattan since it was just rock and swamps?).
At the moment I am reading, upon Steph’s excellent recommendation, The Fortress Of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, a coming-of-age story set less than 500 meters from where I write this post. It’s the story of two kids coming of age in a small neighbourhood in south Brooklyn, detailing their adventures and their scrapes, the triumphs and difficulties, many firsts and many lasts. I just wanted to share this passage which describes the dark underbelly of 1970s Carroll Gardens:
Ghetto? Is that the name for it? Depends on which block in this patchwork you have in mind. Rise up….. Look. Here Fourth Avenue’s a wide trench of light - industrial ruin, oil-stained, auto-body shops and forlorn graffitied warehouses, sidewalks marked with sprays of broken glass which trace the shape of night time incidents in front of Chinese takeout places, liquor stores, bodegas. All of them serving their customers through slots or sliding drawers in shields of Plexiglas. At the opposite end, Court Street’s an old Italian preserve, the side streets south of Carroll hushed in the grip of Mafia whispers, old ways enforced with baseball bats and slashed tires, down to where the looming curling Brooklyn-Queens expressway forms a steel curtain severing what used to be Red Hook. South, the Gowanus Canal is a wasteland of buried or sunk toxins and smouldering strips of rubber, while Ulano the solvent factory, is a block-long engine, its windows like slit eyes, pumping out fresh invisible toxins and accompanying legends of nerve damage and brain tumors. The projects, Wyckoff Gardens and Gowanus Houses - well, they’re projects, their own law, like meteors of crime landed in the city’s midst, still unapproachably hot. The jail’s called House Of Detention, a thin euphemism nonetheless worth clinging to. So, the brownstone streets which span these margins - Wyckoff, Bergen, Dean, Pacific - a ghetto?
Call it “The City’s Best-Kept Secret”.
P.S. don’t worry Mum, it’s much nicer now.
Further to the “Happy/Merry Christmas” issue, other phrases I can’t get away with here are “queue”, “loo” ”semi-skimmed” and “jumper”. (These translate into American English as “line”, “bathroom”, “one percent” and “sweater”) I had to explain to someone what “mash” was the other day. They had heard the phrase “bangers and mash” and thought it was some kind of mixed meat soup. Also, FYI, “rocket” (as in the salad leaf) is “arugula”, “coriander” is “cilantro” and a “duvet” is called a “comforter”. The worst one for me is “cheers” which I use fairly regularly to mean “thankyou”. But in the States, “cheers” means “cheers” and is only to be used when glasses are being raised. I’ve received some fairly confused looks over that one.
As for strange American phrases, they substitute “feel like” for “think”. For example, they might say “I feel like we should invade that small country” or “I feel like I’m gonna have another doughnut”. I’m sure that this is rooted in a particular tactile aspect of the American psyche, whereby they externalise their thoughts as though they are actual physical things. They also use “How are you?” as a greeting for strangers, as well as for friends, most usually by service staff in restaurants and shops. It irks me that given that they’ve never met you before, they probably don’t really care ‘how you are.
I’ve tried to alter my speech patterns to take into account the above, simply in order to make myself understood and save myself having to repeat….um…..myself. But as Dave pointed out to us last night, we shouldn’t try to un-British ourselves just because people might not understand us. We should try to keep our identity, and to distinguish ourselves. I feel like he’s probably right.
Liam Super Fitzpatrick. Coolest dude ever. Chilled, playful, killer smile (and giggle), loves to tidy up and looks great in fancy dress. Everything I look for in a guy ;-)
Spending time with Liam has been such a treat. I really feel as if I’ve been watching him develop before my eyes. Every day he learns something new, figures out a new game or makes a new sound. He doesn’t miss a trick, his big almond eyes stare up at you inquisitively as he listens and watches every detail that’s going on around him. He recognizes voices and his name, crawls everywhere like a little caterpillar and is very nearly standing on his own. He can tell you what noise a lion makes and put his hands in the air triumphantly as we shout ‘Touchdown!’. All that and more in just ten months. Kids are just so fascinating. (don’t worry Max, I’m not getting broody. yet ;-)
This Christmas, for the first time in 27 years, was not spent with my family. All our usual traditions that I take so much for granted- stocking opening, tree decorating, tinsel distributing, tree choosing, christmas cake icing, present wrapping, jigsawing, game playing, carol singing, church going and mince pie eating, did not happen this year. Or happened in a new American way. Luckily, I had the next best thing, Christmas with good friends. I journeyed across the country on two planes to spend Christmas in Seattle with Elizabeth (who I used to work with at Helen Bamber in London), Casey (her lovely husband) and their son Liam (who I was meeting for the very first time).
America is SO BIG! If I travelled for 9 hours from London I could probably get to India or the Bahamas (more suggestions welcome) but in America that will only get you to the other side of the country. A ‘short’ drive is 5 hours or less and Americans will think nothing of driving for 9 hours in a day to get somewhere (as we did for Thanksgiving in Ohio)
It was amazing to arrive in Seattle and immediately see the scenery change so dramatically. Washington is called the Evergreen state, and they’re not wrong. As far as the eye can see mountains and hillsides are covered in a think coating of dark pines, so close together that at times they look almost black. It’s like being in a ski resort and driving back to Elizabeth’s house from the airport we crossed one of the ‘floating’ bridges that link Downtown Seattle to the suburbs. It was like flying. One minute you’re driving along the motorway, (freeway) the next you’re whizzing over a ginormous lake with the most incredible views and a glimpse of Bill Gates’ house on the shore opposite (Microsoft are based locally). The only time you would see a stretch of water that big would be the sea, probably with France in the distance.
We spent a few days with Casey’s parents in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho (a mere 5 hour drive away) and it felt as if we passed through 5 continents in as many hours. First came the evergreens, then the Snoqualmie pass with craggy rocks, snow and ski resorts. Next came a kind of scrubby desert that looked like a camel. (kind of how I imagine the colour of the fur and the texture). After that we crossed a huge river (Columbia River) and finally ended up near another enormous lake.
As you have probably gathered, the surroundings are incredible and it has been amazing to explore another part of this weird and wonderful land. More on Seattle to follow…
We’re not allowed to say Happy Christmas here, it doesn’t make any sense to Americans. It’s Happy New Year, Happy Hannukah, Happy Holidays but definitely Merry Christmas. This was probably decided by Coca-Cola.
We couldn’t be with our immediate families this year (or even each other!) but we have found very accommodating surrogate ones on either side of the US. Steph is in Seattle/Idaho and I am in Vermont, both being treated very well. We miss you all very much. Cheesy American-style group Christmas photo to follow.
I hope you are having a terrible day; because the following story will surely make it seem a lot better.
In order to set me up with a few more contacts, and introduce me to other companies who might be sympathetic enough to hire me, my lovely boss Emily offered to take me to a couple of the film industry “holiday parties” (you can’t call them Christmas parties here, I guess because it’s the Jews who are in charge). Despite my nerves, the first one went well enough - a smallish thing in a dive bar where I made small talk with a few people who probably can’t help me out.
The second one was at the offices of the ever-so-cool Magnolia Pictures (they recently released samurai epic 13 Assassins - one of my favourite films of 2011). I knew that this one would be much larger, more members of my office would be there as well as practically everyone I had met with since arriving. So I put on my best jumper and a brave face, determined to make a good impression and get the most out of the evening.
It was going quite well: I made a few new friends from my current office and met some guys who work for the Beastie Boys’ film distribution company - they were easily spotted as they are the only film company with a dress code, albeit a very casual (and slightly pretentious) ties-and-jeans one. It was only when I got to my third Becks, and went looking for my bathroom that things went suddenly, drastically wrong.
After scouting around the side offices looking for the gents, someone pointed me back through the main doorway into the corridor from the lobby. What wasn’t mentioned was that this doorway was filled with hinged glass. And so, in front of the entire inner circle of the New York independent film industry, a lucrative world of opportunity I had just been granted access to, I walked head first into a glass door.
It took two seconds to work out what had just happened; it took another two seconds to recollect where this thing had just happened. I think the cue for remembering the exact horror of my situation must have been the barely muffled laughter behind me. I didn’t dare turn around. As if to compound my confusion and frustration, instead of a gaping chasm coming to my aid all I got was a very attractive brunette. So attractive in fact, that I would barely have been able to form a coherent sentence to say to her in any normal circumstances. Mild concussion and acute embarrassment left me with absolutely no chance.
“It’s not bleeding” she said. By the time I’d stumbled and bumbled my way to the bathroom, she had been proven wrong. Two tiny lacerations on either side of the bridge of my nose were weeping trickles of claret. My forehead was blotched red and expanding at an alarming rate. I stared at myself in the mirror, wondering whether banging my head once more into the glass in front of me would a) turn back time, or b) make me feel any better.
Realising the absolute futility of trying to laugh this one off I made a swift exit from the party, cursing my bad luck and coming to the realisation that perhaps me and the film industry just wasn’t meant to be. Of course, then it got worse, for striding through the marbled reception area towards me and my crumpled confidence came a film executive who I had previously met, interviewed with and was still waiting to hear back from.
“Max!” He said. “How are yyyyy…..what happened to your nose? It looks like you just got bit my a vampire rodent.”
At this point I should have said “someone was disrespecting your company and your output of films and I got my ass kicked defending you!”, but all that came out was:
“Yeah, I walked into a glass door. I don’t want to talk about it”
There was nothing else to say. The humiliation complete I turned and wandered into the dark, cold night, back home to Brooklyn to cower into a cold compress and ruefully shake my head at how the world could be just so cruel.
I have had my fair share of moments in my life; but this goes straight to number one.
Our illustrious and inexplicably generous housemate Dave has used his computer wizardry to enable public comments on the blog. Please use the function below for suggestions, corrections, adulation, congratulations, conversations, and of course heckling. It’s good to know you’re all there, and we’re not just writing into the ether.
When I was younger, I had an idea that I wanted to be a movie trailer editor. I saw the trailer as an artistic endeavour in itself: the sonnet to a feature film’s long form prose. The limitations of the form necessitate extreme dexterity and creativity on the part of the editor. A trailer needs to emote, to capture the spirit of the film and to tap in to the human need for a good story. But equally, the trailer can’t give away too much, or tell all of the best jokes. And it must manage all of this in just three minutes flat.
These days I don’t make trailers, I just watch them. They are essential to my job, in which I must judge a film’s worth in a limited amount of time. Sometimes I get to see truly great trailers like this one - it works because it shows, rather than tells the audience, who the characters are, and what they are going though; and because it is framed by a beautiful musical moment from the film itself. At the other end of the spectrum there are trailers that make me want to hurt someone, like this one. The trailer for this film is strange, and mesmerising and there’s not a lot to go on; it turned out to be a perfect reflection of the film itself. There’re trailers that are so bad I’ve shown them to other people in the office, like this one. I was also sent a trailer for a music video for the theme song of a film, which told me more about the film than an actual trailer ever could.
This, however, is the greatest trailer that I have ever seen. The choice of music is extraordinary, and it is paired perfectly with the edit (notice the word “sole” matched with a shot of baby’s feet). Initially the images used are not even from the actual film, but the entire target audience will recognise them instantly. The themes and conflicts of the film are stated in a small opening exchange before pace increases with music volume towards the revelation of a really fantastic marketing line. When the music breaks there’s a punchline, as humorous as it is character revealing, and then a final refrain and the title. Like the film itself, the trailer is spine-tingling, and unforgettable.
It is a lesser known fact that I am exceptionally good at jigsaws. I don’t want to blow my own trompette, I just am. Chez Chaplin, if a puzzle is started, there is usually fierce competition between Mum and I to see who can finish it first. It becomes an addiction, ‘just one more piece!’ that distracts from drinks, dinner and quality family time. Puzzling is pretty solitary, you can talk to people, but that’s generally a distraction. Sometimes it’s good opportunity to have a tricky chat with someone. Like walking or knitting, you can both do it without having to look directly at each other (all the better for us Brits where eye contact is shunned for the most part).
Along with Marmite, a stocking full of presents, an advent candle, dark chocolate digestives, M&S tights, a big wedge of Cheddar, all my birthday presents and cards and a Chocolate Orange, Mum brought me a jigsaw. Entitled ‘Great Days of Man 1550-1600’ (though don’t worry, there were some women in there!) Max and I completed it in 2 days flat. And I don’t like to admit it, but Max is getting rather good.
Second hand and only one piece missing! Thanks Mum x