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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Jan192015

In Which The Dandelion Clock Strikes Midnight

Bouquet

by HEATHER MCROBIE

Running alongside the events of those years was like in the cartoons where the animated out-sized character doesn’t realize he’s run off the edge of a cliff, until he looks down and so – to comic, cartoonish effect – suddenly starts falling. 

Sometimes I thought of Tahrir Square like a coral reef, everyone moving as one, shoals darting between the barnacled city walls.  Sometimes I thought of breezy, light Tunisia like a dandelion clock that all the young people and sad people blew at once, scattering the seeds of it everywhere, like this would be the first and last birthday cake whose candles we’d all ever get to blow out. At other times I thought of it like a grapevine, each bunch ripening in tandem, and at other times I couldn’t believe any of it at all.  A lot of metaphors also ripened during this time and because we were still growing up we overused all of them, and I’m sorry for that.  There are lots of stupid, easy things to say about spring.

The man I was in love with then did algebra and never used a metaphor, which I respect now more than I did when things were starting. For the purpose of this story I’ll use his brother’s name, Ibrahim, not so much for anonymity but more just because things between us were always a bit dislocated like that, like someone forgot to carry the one in an equation.  Something always got left over from the last thing, or nudged down one unit in a row.

He wasn’t Brahim, my friend from early Cairo-unbelievableness, with whom, in the infinite possibilities of this outside-time year-zero, I carved out a perfect friendship uncorroded by the complications of politics and sex.  “Guess how short my skirts are when I go out in London? And guess how short they are when I go out in Manchester? And guess how short my skirts are when I go out in Liverpool?” Brahim would put his hands to his face like two giant leaves covering the centre of a sunflower but you could tell from the glow that peaked out that he was always laughing.  We were laughing in our language classes and laughing on the balcony and only not-laughing when he took me to the cemetery and even then afterwards he made jokes, of a kind. 

The man I was in love with who studied physics and was bemused by all of this came with me on a boat to Tunis where we imagined all the ancient Greek shipwrecks that must lie between his port-city home and the port-city someone with his surname had once left for the lower-lip of southern France.  We became professionally annoying with our photographs: every flag and every protest, me taking my dress off in our bedroom in the heat (later after Ibrahim left I was working at home in my underwear because it was too hot and heard the clicking of a camera by an amateur creep who was peering in through the window). We photographed the hospital and photographed the morgue and photographed the bars called “Facebook” and the cafes called “Twitter”. I sent emails to professors in Europe and North America telling them all their theories were outdated now, after this miraculous blossoming of spring. I mainly got out-of-office replies.

Since Ibrahim grew up in the south of France but studied in Paris I came to understand a relationship that had nothing to do with me, a north-south tension that didn’t play out in my life.  The ‘grandes ecoles’ of regimented Napoleonic education and the starched northernnesses of his classmates were as alien to him as they were to me, and he moved around Paris as half-bemused as he was half-bemused in Tunisia, home of his father.  I thought of him – because I loved him and he loved mathematics – as the mathematically-precise centre-point between these two, Paris and Tunis, held comfortably in his smiling certainty that this would all turn out alright, don’t worry my love.  I started to think of the Mediterranean like a mouth, with southern Europe as the upper teeth and north Africa as the lower teeth, how they had once slotted together, before some tectonic shift exposed the wet middle of sunken Greek ships.

Years later in Odessa I thought similarly and differently of the Black Sea: Ukraine glistening above and Turkey propping it up assuredly from underneath.  The heartening enclosed-ness of it all.  I liked to hold on to enclosed things, after the places and events since the start of the revolution that unraveled and just kept on unraveling.   I thought maybe the Mediterranean Sea was Ibrahim’s mouth beaming in the sun and the Black Sea was Amela’s mouth in that period when I thought about Amela’s mouth all the time, when she’d sit out by the library, and say funny and clever things and purse her lips in between so that they looked, improbably, like an exact map of Australia coloured in with lipstick.  ‘Amela’ is also a fake name for someone whose identity I need to smudge into imprecision, but her lips really did shape themselves, perfectly, just like that.

The best and worst thing about growing up motherless is you have to learn the artifice of femininity really carefully, like you’re learning algebra – when to carry, when to drop, when to press a little, when to stop.  I remember thinking of this in the Tunis hospital where the blue corridors were casually lined with dirty bandages.  How the hands of the nurses wafted at me in unison like seaweed in some sticky, maternal mauling.  How had they learned to touch bodies like that? It seemed as definite as maths but whole in natural-ness, precise but organic, like a starfish.  They sent me back to the apartment in Tunis with my own bouquet of bandages.

Ibrahim grew up in a town in France that had the same position as the town I grew up in in England: unromantically run-down, un-special, near to a famous port-city.  Walking around it in the spring before the hospital I remember thinking how at least the Runcorn of France had palm-trees, and there was something to be said for what sun can to do wash away any kind of ugliness.

Much later I stood in a central station looking up the bus schedule to Tripoli and I realised that my period was late because I was looking at schedules; later I was looking at the bandages that lined the blue corridors of the hospital and realised we were all too late.  But I couldn’t tell anyone because the doctor was so kindly and quietly explaining to me that it wasn’t meningitis, I was probably just overcome by events. Everyone was overcome by events. 

Three years after the revolution in Egypt, Bassem Sabry, the brightest, truest young writer of those times, fell to his death from a Cairo balcony and I couldn’t stop thinking of him.  I re-read his recent writing, shocked that he had touched something now as complete and grown-up as death.  I couldn’t stop thinking of him and of how everything just tumbled like that.  As the revolutions buckled under themselves everything was either the swollen pregnant pauses of the curfew or the sudden internal caving-in of blood.

All I want to remember from these years of my life is that night when he and I were taking pictures of each other in the dark.  This was in Tunis before the hospital visit and before I found out that I needed glasses and I didn’t know how the pictures or anything else would turn out.  I thought that it was going to be something blossoming and abundant – like spring, or a revolution. Instead of what it really was: something mutant and unsustainable – like a miscarriage, or a lie.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Oxford. She has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, the Times Literary Supplement and Salon. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Sumeja Tulic.

"History of Touches" - Bjork (mp3)

Friday
Jan162015

In Which We Deal With Chronic Pain On A Regular Basis

Anna Kendrick's Ghost Sucks

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Cake
dir. Daniel Barnz
102 minutes

There is a scene near the end of Cake where Jennifer Aniston lies down on train tracks. She is sniffling, crying out in pain, hallucinating the ghost of her deceased, annoying friend (Anna Kendrick). The train comes. Before it does she painfully rises to her feet and decides to go on with her life. She then realizes her car has been stolen.

When Lemony Snicket penned A Series of Unfortunate Events in the early 17th century, the title represented a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of how a variety of novels in that period approached the concept of fiction. To take seriously the misfortunates of others requires us to be convinced that they are not so coincidentally arranged by an omnipotent force in order to persuade our sympathies.

The concept of becoming a better, more moral person through some kind of illness happened in more than one Dickens novel, as well as to Magic Johnson IRL.

Aniston's Claire has had a lot of bad things happen to her. First, she graduated from law school. Then, her child died in a car accident, destroying her right leg and back in the process. Her husband (Chris Messina?!?) divorced her because she pushed him away. The difficulties continued from there; indeed, not one positive thing happens to her for most of the first half of Cake.

Even the good things that eventually start to occur are put into question. We never know what exactly is a blessing or a curse for this malingering woman. In the words of the late Mario Cuomo, this is how we were warned it would be. God never comes up in Cake, but He does hover at the periphery. Christophe Beck's worshipful, brilliant score is the only indication that something beyond this woeful version of Southern California reality has ever existed.

Aniston's friend (Anna Kendrick) from her chronic pain support group killed herself by jumping off an L.A. freeway. It seems like a decently reasonable decision considering her ghastly circumstances. She leaves behind a ghost of herself that can't act whatsoever, as well as her son and husband (Sam Worthington).

Aniston finds out where the father lives and befriends the abandoned family, allowing the son to swim in her pool. She puts on makeup when they come over for lunch, the only time she bothers to throw on some foundation during Cake. Given that moviegoers paid upwards of $15 to witness this chronically painful experience, it is the least she could do.

Worthington is very angry in an understated, frothing sort of way about being left behind by his young, annoying wife. He has learned, since making an absolute mess of the title role in Avatar, that as a performer, far less is more. This is especially true as he plays off Aniston, who manages to overact through every single scene she is in. Cake needs her histrionics, because without those pulsating movements, there is not a lot going on.

Worthington makes his entire role happen with his eyes, which is necessary given that he has like six lines of dialogue, most of which are, "I'm angry" and "Hello." The rest of Cake consists of the Driving Ms. Daisy-esque relationship between Aniston and her maid-driver-cook Silvana (Adriana Barraza).

Still, there is something original and unnerving in this depiction of illness that transcends the dour setting. When Aniston is horizontally laid out to support her fragile back as her maid drives her from place to place, she sees the predictable image of the sun coming through the trees. We hope, in a disturbed way, that she may never get up from this situation, that she find some possible solace in who and what she is instead of magically getting better whenever she feels like it. This doesn't happen - Aniston learns how to apply concealer and gets over her son's death - but for a second, the possibility is there.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"I Wanna Dance" - This Is A Process Of A Still Life (mp3)

"Land Has Never Seemed Further" - This Is A Process Of A Still Life (mp3)

Thursday
Jan152015

In Which She Receives Frequent Kindness On The PCT

Up and Down

by JULIA CLARKE

Wild
dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
115 minutes

As a heterosexual woman who grew up in the late 90s/early 2000s, I watched a lot of Brad Pitt movies--Legends of the Fall, A River Runs Through It, Meet Joe Black - and every time I popped one in the VCR, my dad would eyeroll, “If it has Brad Pitt in it, it’s going to be the same story: he’s going off to find himself.”  Finding oneself - in that mounting a horse and ruggedly galloping away from Julia Ormond kind of way - is the shining theme of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir-turned-film, Wild.

Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is walking the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT) until she gets over her divorce, or until she forgives herself for dabbling with heroin, or until she comes to terms with her mother’s untimely death, or, in her own words, until she can “be the woman my mother raised.”

Wild, which is adapted from the memoir by novelist Nick Hornby, opens with Cheryl grimacing at her bloody and blistered feet and then, whispering a Paul Simon lyric about living without fear (“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail”), ripping off a couple of loose toenails. “It was me against the PCT when it came to my toenails,” Strayed writes in the memoir, and the book is punctuated by score updates. By the end, she is left with only four toenails, so the PCT takes the win. 

As a self-proclaimed inexperienced hiker, she buys too-tiny boots that result in several toenails hanging by a thread, a likely fate after walking hundreds of miles. This predicament left the theater audience audibly sighing at her lack of preparedness. To be fair, though, Cheryl does pack care packages for herself at checkpoints on the trail, so it isn’t like she went into this dumb as a brick. She ensures herself food for the duration of her hike. We learn the reasons for her painful journey as the film unfolds, almost as though the film is, as Reese Witherspoon said in an interview, “a mystery” rather than an adaptation of a memoir.

Much of Wild features Cheryl pausing to observe the beauty of the PCT--her profile frames an impressive mountain overlook; a wide shot features her walking beside several small joshua trees that pepper the Mojave desert; she desperately stumbles after a fox in the snow. Her hike is enriched with flashbacks of her “real” life, which boasts her unraveled marriage, her drug habit, her abusive father, her abortion, her college education, her therapy, her promiscuity, and most heartbreakingly, her bad and beautiful moments with her mother, who died suddenly of cancer before the age of 50.

Wild is self-consciously dealing with a woman in her twenties hiking the PCT alone. In one particularly tense scene, a couple of camo-clad, buzzed hunters look her up and down and lick their lips, threatening rape. They eventually leave--it’s getting dark and they need to get back to their truck--but the scene proves, interestingly, to be one of Cheryl’s more dangerous moments on the PCT, despite bears and mountain lions lurking in the dense forest. One of the hunters lifts his beer can and toasts “to a young girl all alone in the woods,” and as soon as they leave, Cheryl packs up her things and runs. 

In another scene, she meets a female hiker called Stacey (Catherine de Prume) and is ecstatic, solely because the hiker is a woman. In the memoir, Strayed confesses that Stacey isn’t someone she would be friends with in real life, that they only connected because of their mutual female PCT hiker status. And a group of three men Cheryl meets on the trail she calls them the Three Young Bucks point out her femininity, saying her trail name should be “Queen of the PCT” because as a woman, she always has help along the way. “I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another,” Strayed writes in her memoir. “Aside from the creepy experience [of the hunter]...I had nothing but generosity to report. The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.” 

At its most cynical, Strayed’s book suggests that hacking it alone on the PCT is feasible if you’re pretty and blonde and twenty-something, and writing a mediocre memoir about the experience will grant you a bestseller. The film notably and perhaps despairingly adapted by a man picks up what the text leaves out: the expansive scenery, rattlesnakes suddenly appearing on the trail, icy rivers, what it means to be out in the wilderness by yourself, what it feels like to be inside your own terrifying thoughts, the gaping hole that is losing your mother unexpectedly. 

The book has more than one instance of Cheryl staring at and detailing her naked body in a hotel room or a public shower, of her limitless crushes on fellow male hikers, of sex with a stranger she meets during a break in her hike. She is more motivated by a black bra she packs than she is by the snowcapped Sierra Nevada. “It is always disheartening for me when a woman protagonist has zero self-respect,” a friend of mine familiar with the narrative told me.

At the end of the day, though, we have the story of a woman who let go of her drug habit and finally grieved her mother and, more importantly, accepted her mother’s love. In one particularly moving scene, Cheryl falls to her knees on the trail and looks toward the sky, tears streaming down her face: “I miss you. God I miss you.” That’s what was absent in the book and what came through in the film strategically placed flashbacks, poignant moments of reflection, and exquisite, National Geographic-worthy shots of the PCT, a major character in the film that barely got any airtime in the novel. 

My mom and I read the book together before seeing the film, and at one point, after reading aloud the series of meaningless sentences that present themselves as voiceover in the adaptation “What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course” my mom said, “This is only successful because she’s blonde.”

Julia Clarke is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Chef. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Summer Love" - Yseult (mp3)