On Thursday I headed down to London, where addedentry hustled me through the rain to a Soho cinema to see a Scandinavian film. No, not that sort of film; the other sort, with subtitles and arty film techniques and lots of cigarette smoke. If I sound sneery it's just because I'm self-conscious about my ignorance; I don't see many films, and I fear I don't have the vocabulary to describe Reconstruction as well as it deserves to be described.
The film's four main characters (Alex, the handsome young photographer; Simone, his girlfriend; Aimee, the beautiful but elusive Other Woman; August, her husband) could have been taken from any romantic comedy; but here they appear to have stumbled into a Midwinter Night's dream of dark cafés, closed doors, and empty streets shrouded in cigarette smoke through which they are all chasing shadows.
Alex distractedly leaves Simone's side to pursue the beautiful stranger Aimee (played by the same person); having wooed and won her, he wakes after a passionate one-night stand to find that he has effectively been erased from the world's memory: his girlfriend, his friends, his family no longer recognise him; his flat has disappeared; he no longer exists except in the eyes of Aimee. Torn between trying to regain his former life and trying to win Aimee, he becomes more and more lost in the labyrinth of love and identity, following a silver thread which proves (perhaps...) to be his undoing. Meanwhile, everything that takes place is being written -- recorded, or orchestrated? -- by August, in the novel which he is composing. As events unfold, the plot unravels; the actions of the characters become less realistic, more symbolic, culminating in a quasi-mythical test which Alex must pass in order to win Aimee.
The visual effects shift and change like the allegiances of the characters: from dark and grainy film of rain-soaked streets, to long shots of a sky so bright it hurts the eye, to the sudden intimate focusing on a face so close-up that the pores in the skin can be counted, that the skin becomes an abstract image. If we examine identity too closely, it disappears; but if we stand too far back we risk losing everything. It is a carefully choreographed dance, a game of Find the Lady where the odds are stacked against us, a hall of (smoke and) mirrors where it is only too easy to lose our way, and to only realise this when we stumble out into the harsh light like Orpheus from the underworld and, glancing back, find ourselves alone.
Friday's day off work, though legitimately booked as holiday, felt like a guilty pleasure: a lazy lie-in on a morning when everybody else was trudging to work through the rain. The afternoon's trip to Erotica at the London Olympia should have felt even more guilty, but -- perhaps I'm getting jaded -- it mostly seemed fairly mild and normal to me. As ever, a cornucopia of tat with some gems of good taste buried in it; I bought surprisingly little for myself this time, though I confess I was seduced by an extremely pointy pair of lace-up patent shoes with a four-inch heel.
Getting back to Cambridge in time for a play at 8pm was always going to be something of a race against time, and turned out to involve a hasty pasty dinner on platform 8 and literally running most of the way from the station to the Cambridge Drama Centre (with the timely and much-appreciated aid of directions from local knowledge expert sion_a); in the end we collapsed into the tiny theatre (met with relief by two of O.'s housemates -- a third housemate was acting in the play) with a couple of minutes to spare. The play in question was a new translation of Euripides' Hecuba, performed by the all-female Foursight Theatre Company. I suspect I wasn't in the most receptive mood for Greek tragedy, as the declamations and lamentations fell rather heavily on my weary ears. The musical settings of some of the chorus's speeches (sung a cappella by the actors) were interesting, though -- somewhere between folk music and liturgical singing, eminently appropriate for the stylised presentation of myths and archetypes -- and while there was a slight tendency towards hysteria (appropriate for a woman's theatre company) and melodrama, there were also some good performances from a notably (and, in the programme, notedly) multicultural cast.
There was time afterwards for a couple of pints in the Salisbury Arms, which I should note has a much better selection of cask ales than I remembered (about 6 to choose from) and also sells 4 flavours of biltong. (The ostrich biltong was delicious, and made a pleasant -- if perhaps zoologically inappropriate -- accompaniment to a pint of Tiger.)
On Saturday morning I almost failed to wake up in time to do my shift (or rather semi-shift) at Oxfam Books; got there only slightly late in the end and passed a typically unproductive morning shuffling books around and serving customers. I'm probably at my most useful when I'm "on the till" as this leaves the managers free to do whatever it is they do; unfortunately the till is also the most boring task if, like me, you want to mess about with books. Met up with O. in town for lunch (finding a seat in Tatties on a Saturday lunchtime was little short of miraculous!) and shopping (in which we learned that we have already bought all the books that we would ever think of buying one another so there's No Point Even Trying).
Saturday evening was lnr's birthday party, which was impressively well attended by folk from out of town as well as most of the usual suspects. Sweet to see so many small children (okay, actually only three) enjoying themselves as enthusiastically as the adults. rejs has taken some incriminating photos, including evidence of two people blatantly contravening the "no smirking" rule.
Are you all still reading? Christ. Don't you have anything better to do?
Sunday began with
Sunday night was going to feature some exciting Thai cookery on my part, but the Nasreen Dar turned out not to be open on Sunday nights (as I'd have known if I'd known about their website, natch), and really, there's nowhere else to buy kaffir lime leaves or fresh lemongrass in Arbury. Fortunately we've all been students recently enough that an improvised pseudo-curry was an acceptable substitute. Dinner-related distraction combined with mobile phone incompetence on my part nearly scuppered our chances of meeting up with bopeepsheep, whom I'd barely seen at the party; but contact was eventually made, resulting in a relaxing evening in the pub with addedentry, sion_a, bopeepsheep, imc, smallclanger, lnr, mpinna, and an extremely funny-shaped damerell.
Monday was fox-goose-grain-ishly stressful, waking up at 06:50 to get O. to the station for 07:43, car failing to start, having to borrow sion_a's car, dropping the car off back home, walking into town to collect my bike (left in town after Oxfam on Saturday) and then cycling to work; cycling back from work to home, driving from home (having succeeded in starting the car after about 400 spluttery attempts) to karate, and driving back after a frustrating lesson which has convinced me that really, I shouldn't be grading on Sunday because I just haven't practised enough to make it worthwhile.
I had plans to get all sorts of useful stuff done on Monday night after getting back from karate but ended up just vegetating. I did, however, manage to finish Frederick Forsyth's The Phantom of Manhattan (another Phantom of the Opera spinoff -- supposedly a sequel to Leroux) which read like a creative writing class's end-of-semester exercise. A Year 9 creative writing class. It's worth reading only for the hilarious rant about truth and fiction in the introduction, and for an embarrassingly dreadful chapter which features a dialogue with God. Next I need to read something good... or possibly, having seen the superb efforts by verlaine and venta, work on an evilly difficult lyrics quiz.