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Friday, February 29, 2008

Falling in Love: A Feeling Explained

I came home from Cuba today to randomly find Nobel Prize winning Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores to be a new addition to our living room coffee table. I decided that reading it would be the perfect way to pass a lazy Friday drifting in and out of a travel inspired sleep whilst waiting for my washing to dry.
The book recounts the story of a 90 year old man who falls in love with a prostitute. This excerpt (pg 65) was particularly honest in its description of the giddy all-enveloping catalytic nature of new love or as the NY Times review described it, "a profoundly immature and not especially healthy emotion: the painful, idealizing, narcissistic romanticism of adolescence."

Anyway, make up your own mind:

"I became another man. I tried to reread the classics that had guided me in adolescence, and I could not bear them. I buried myself in the romantic writings I had repudiated when my mother tried to impose them on me with a heavy hand, and in them I became aware that the invincible power that has moved the world is unrequited, not happy, love. When my tastes in music reached a crisis, I discovered that I was backward and old, and I opened my heart to the delights of chance.

I ask myself how I could give in to this perpetual vertigo that I in fact provoked and feared. I floated among erratic clouds and talked to myself in front of the mirror in the vain hope of confirming who I was. My delirium was so great that during a student demonstration complete with rocks and bottles, I had to make an enormous effort not to lead it as I held up a sign that would sanctify my truth: I am mad with love."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cuba's Calling!

It's "reading" week here at McGill, a one week break in the school term. Traditionally, in an effort to break up the long Montréalian winter, most of the Law Faculty generally seeks sunnier pastures in which to graze. As such, I'm heading to Cuba with three mates from the LLM program. With Fidel Castro's shock resignation having been announced yesterday we will now quite randomly happen to be in Havana this Sunday when the Cuban parliament "elects" its first new leader in fifty years. Havana may throw a party. Similarly, they may throw a grenade. Probably much more likely to be the former than the latter. Either way, it's going to be fun. : )

As the old Cuban saying goes, "If two [expletive deleted] bears argue in a dark forest, be sure to bring out the carrot cake, because your youngest cousin's about to learn what it feels like to polka in a fur covered volkswagen and we all know what that [expletive deleted, followed by the sound of a cat be squeezed]... and stuff." (Probably much more elegant in Spanish.)

Photos to follow.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Tropfest Winner 2008: Marry Me

2008 Tropfest winner: Marry Me
2008 Tropfest winner: Marry Me

Tropfest is a short film competition that takes place annually in Australia. Each year's competition has a theme which must be somehow included or incorporated into each film. This year's theme was "8". Here is this year's winner, a short film entitled Marry Me by Michelle Lehman from Leichhardt in Sydney. Click on the photo above to watch it. Hurrah!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Australia says Sorry

Click the above image to view an audio slide show
courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald

Tomorrow, the 13 February 2008, the Federal Parliament of Australia will apologise to the Aboriginal people of Australia, for the government's role in the forcible removal of aboriginal children from their families and the placing of them with white families.
According to Bringing them Home, the 1997 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report that blew the top off the policy, over 100,000 children were forcibly removed and made wards of the state between 1910 and 1970. These children became known as the Stolen Generation. Forced to work on isolated outback farms, or to live in State boarding houses, where physical and sexual abuse was reportedly rife, the Stolen Generation's legacy is largely said to be one of the reasons behind widespread social dysfunctionality and disharmony amongst aboriginal communities in Australia today.
The struggle to recognise the Stolen Generation has been a long one. Australia's previous government, led by John Howard, controversially refused to apologise for the the Australian government's role in the Stolen Generation, claiming that his government could not be held accountable for actions of past Australian governments.
The refusal to apologise was indicative of the Howard government's obstinate "if I don't have to I won't" style of leadership (see previous post "A crack in the shell and it all fell apart..."). As such, tomorrow's gesture will mark a clean break from the policy of previous governments toward the Stolen Generation issue and will represent a significant step in the process of reconciliation that is currently taking place in my country.

It's difficult to understand Australia's story without understanding the story of Australia's aborigines. Tomorrow's apology marks a new and necessary chapter in both of those stories.

Below is a selection of media coverage in Australian and International newspapers:
The full text of the Australian government's apology can be seen here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Frida Kahlo: Are we prisoners to our passion?

In 2007, on a plane home from Europe to Sydney, I saw Frida, a film portraying the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954). Frida was married to a famous Mexican artist and relentless womanizer, Diego Rivera. Their relationship together, as is depicted in the film, was as notorious for its passion as it was for its affairs (both illicit and open). I remember being traumatized by the fact that this woman seemed to have suffered so much, both in terms of her health (she contracted polio at a young age, was in a bus accident that almost prevented her from being able to walk and left her with spinal injuries, and later in her life she had to have her leg amputated due to gangrene), but mostly in terms of her love life.
This was a woman who didn't know how to be anything but passionate... even at the expense of her own health, dignity, and happiness. I always thought that passion was a great quality. I unquestioningly put it in a basket marked "things that lead to a life of fulfillment". Here was a person who's life posed a tangeable challenge to the (over)simplicity of my hypothesis. Here was someone who had given everything of herself to every situation, someone who had laid out her soul, who had made herself vulnerable, someone who engaged in and was irrepressibly engaged by life. However, looking at her art, and reading her letters, it's easy to see this was someone who often found herself submerged in deep and all-pervasive physical and emotional pain.
After watching the film I was left with an overwhelming feeling of having misunderstood something very fundamental about love. I remember thinking that somehow Frida maybe understood something about love that I didn't. Most important of all, I remember feeling that I wasn't sure whether I wanted to understand or not. I felt that understanding would not necessarily lead to my being happy, as was the case in Frida's life, but I was also aware that not seeking to understand left me feeling shortchanged, as if I was stopping short of experiencing fully and completely what life, love, people, relationships are all about. There was something incredibly seductive about Frida's carelessness, her recklessness, her unrepentant, uncompromising search for the zenith of human emotion. At the same time, just as her recklessness seemed seductive, so did it seem perilous and fraught with risk... Je voulais aller jusqu'au bout, mais j'étais à la fois conscient que d'y arriver ne serait pas nécessairement aussi épanouissant que peut-être j'attendais. Au contraire, je pensais que le fait de comprendre ne répondrait pas nécessairement à toutes mes questions.
I was recently browsing in a book shop on St Laurent in Montréal and I came across Frida by Frida a book that gathers together and publishes a selection of letters, texts and notes written by Frida throughout her lifetime. The truth is, Frida's story still haunted me and I jumped at this chance to get inside her brain. I want to share one letter she wrote with you all. It will appear long on this already long and unusually verbose post, but it's revealing in its frankness and its poignancy, and I think it really gets at what I've tried to explain above. So if you're thinking, "What the hell is the point of this post. I don't understand a f&%king thing this guy's saying!": read on.
To set the scene, it's 1935. Frida is 28. In the last two years she has suffered a miscarriage; had an abortion; has undergone foot surgery; dealt with the death of her mother; and suffered from appendicitis. To add insult ot injury, in October 1934 Kahlo separated from her husband Diego Rivera after she found out he was having an affair, this time with, of all people, her little sister Christina Kahlo.

On the 23 July 1935, nine months after separating from him, she writes the following to Rivera:
(extract taken from pg 158 of
Frida by Frida by Raquel Tibol [translated by Gregory Dechant])

"... a certain letter that I saw by chance in a certain jacket of a certain gentleman, and which came from a certain miss of distant and goddamned Germany, and who I imagine must be the lady Willi Valentiner was kind enough to send here to amuse herself with "scientific", "artistic" and "archaeological" intentions... made me very angry and to tell you the truth jealous.

Why must I be so stubborn and dense as not to understand that the letters, the skirt-chasing, the 'English' professors, the gypsy models, the 'good will' assistants, the disciples interested in the 'art of painting', and the 'plenipotentiary envoys from distant parts', only signify amusements and that at bottom you and I love each other very much, and even if we go through countless affairs, splintered doors, insults and international claims, we shall always love each other. I think what it is, is that I'm a little stupid and just a bit of a dissembler, because all these things have happened and happened again for the seven years we've lived together and all of the rages I've gone into have only led me to understand better that I love you more than my own skin, and though you don't love me in the same way, in any case you love me somewhat, no? Or if that's not true, I'll always have the hope that it may be, and that's enough for me... [my emphasis]

Love me just a little. I adore you


I am intrigued by what it takes to write a letter like this one, a letter which so openly admits to the fallacy of monogamous love, a letter which challenges the supposed link between love, the type so intense it almost manifests itself in physical pain, and fidelity. Are we capable of loving someone more than our own skin, whilst at the same time acting in a way that seems to betray that very feeling?

True to her word, Frida walks through a number of "splintered doors" throughout the remainder of her life. A month after sending the above letter, Frida falls in love with Ignacio Aguirre and writes him a letter exclaiming, "how marvelous it is to be able to love you". The following year she has an affair with Japanese sculptor, Isamu Noguchi. The year after that it's Leon Trotsky. Then American photographer Nickolas Muray. Then Heinz Berggruen. Finally, in 1940, she remarries Rivera, the man she loves more than her own skin. Barely a year after her death in 1954, Rivera marries his art dealer Emma Hurtado.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Journey of all Journeys

Ithaka is a Greek island and supposedly the home of Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey. This fairly famous poem compares our life journey to that of the Greek hero Odysseus as he undertakes his 10 year journey home from the battle of Troy. Interesting. For all those wishing they were already somewhere, but not sure where that somewhere is, or of how to get there, this one is for you.

Ithaka - C.P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Godfather

The Godfather: "I like to drink wine more than I used to -- anyway, I'm drinking more... "

Just had a marathon viewing of Godfather I and II. A crazy insight into a world spent in the dark, in a world without "justice". Some students in the LLM took jurisprudence last semester and had to justify that the Mafia is in fact a legitimate system of law. It has rules that people must follow. There is a sovereign. There is the idea of punishment. There is judgement by the sovereign for stepping outside the rules. The idea that the Mafia could be considered a system of law forces us to challenge our (mis)-conception that inherent in the idea of law, is the idea of justice. Law is what you make of it, and what it makes of itself. It is how it is implemented, and who by. It does not guarantee that outcomes be "Just". It merely guarantees that outcomes be representative of the society in which that system of law exists. As Michael Corleoni says: "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Great Concerts in Rock n Roll History: The Main Hall, January 31, 2008 - We Would be Better With Drums

I recently played a couple of songs with two fellow LLM students at a concert organised by McGill Law School to raise money for the homeless. It was lots of fun. Thanks to everyone who stayed so late to watch us. We hope to play again soon if someone will have us. My camera didn't seem to be able to cope with the lighting (thanks Nikon!) but for those who weren't there, you should be able to get an idea of what it was like, and of why we are expecting Bono to call any day now.
The original members of We Would be Better with Drums: Me, Andrew and Antonia. After the gig Andrew checked himself into rehab, Antonia decided to follow a solo career, and James found god. Many who were at the fabled concert were overheard to have said, "Never has folk been so hardcore."

Working with what you got: IglooFest 2008

Panarama of Igloofest with Old Port in the backgroundEntrance gates to Igloofest

The height of the Montréalean winter sees a two week festival take place in Montréal's picturesque Old Port, primarily comprising a huge dance party outside in the cold. Everyone puts on a coat, some boots, some gloves, and boogies themselves into oblivion in what could be some sort of ancient ritual of thanks to the gods of winter. It really is anything goes, including prizes for the craziest one piece ski suit. For me it typified the feeling they I have gotten from the youth of Montréal: energy, a freedom from the weight of tradition, and a near reckless pursuit of avant garde style. To get an idea of what Igloofest is and was, check out the video below. Notice the girl who says: "C'est le genre de soirée où tu dis, 'c'est ca Montréal, à -40C ou +40C, qu'on danse dehors'."/It's the type of night that screams, 'This is what Montréal is all about. Whether -40C or +40C, we're dancing outside'."

Le touristeL'iglooEric, mon colocataireAbove two shots: DJ Ghislain Poirier with some pretty cool visuals behind him.