Feb 8, 2018

The yellow parrot --- Green Eyes III --- "Ripley under ground" --- teaser

Cool, folks, cool. We somehow failed to get excited about the interaction between Sarah and her robot (the play we had started), but now, out of nothing, blissfully unprepared, we began writing the first chapter of the next installment of the GREEN EYES saga, "The Yellow Parrot"---yes, the previous part had a chapter about her already, an now we are going full Enid Blyton. (I'm fairly certain that a seasoned agent or publisher would advice a change of title, first thing in the morning).

Context: John has been asked by Alice Sandeman to replenish her shrinking stock of Eleanor Beasley paintings---Eleanor Wagner-Beasley, Godehart Wagner's spouse of convenience, now deceased. If your read the first part of the saga, you may remember that Eleanor specialized in canvasses of white dots painted on white backgrounds. So that's what John's doing in Alex's old pad, which has been transformed into a hide-away studio. 

One more thing, the chapter is titled: "Ripley Under Ground." And one more thing, we've hit another speed bump in the space-time-continuum, and jumped right into the year of the Trump, 2017.

And now what?

The doorbell rings. 

Alex’s attic is entirely on the wrong side of the tracks---compliments of his depression when he got the place three years ago---and so the bell is not a RRing, but a squirt of dying electricity. I buzz the buzzer carelessly, Amazon never rings twice.

A middle-aged man scales the stairs, huffing a bit, keeping his eyes on the rickety steps. He’s dressed in a rumpled, yet darkly-precious suit (made of silk-linen from Iran, his home country, we’ll learn later). There’s also a breast pocket handkerchief, which enters my focus when he arrives on the landing and raises his head. “My name is Souren Souleikan,” he says, lips poised, voice mildly accented, his eyes peeking past me into the den where Composition  #117 resides half-baked on its easel. 

He allows for three useless seconds of silence, then asks: “You are Alexander Iglesias, I take it?” 
“No,” I say. 
“Interesting,” he replies, his regard moving from my counterfeit composition to my left, smudge-painted hand. 
“Who are you?” I ask. 
“I’m Suren Souleikan,” he reiterates, smiling falsely. “The art critic.” He allows for more wordless seconds, then adds, “I’ve come at the right moment, I see. There’s some art that might need my attention. May I come in?”
“I’m busy,” I say, raising my dirty hand, but he’s already stepped into the den where he positions himself in front of my composition.
“You are the artist?” he asks, pointing at the canvas with an abstracted gesture. 

Feb 1, 2018

"And brother, can she write" --- book review of "Need to know" by Karen Cleveland

We get an email from John Grisham, the author, who talks about the "heady days" of his breakthrough novel, "The Firm," and about Karen Cleveland's firstling, the spy novel "Need to Know", which is apparently poised to mirror his own success.

Since we're wondering increasingly what makes a successful book of fiction, we push the Amazon button and download Cleveland's ebook.

The best thing about the book is the motto, taken from Oscar Wilde:
When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.
Not the best thing about the book is its implicit promise of authenticity. The author is herself a counter-intelligence (CI) expert with the CIA, and so one would expect her tome to convey something of an insider's view of modern spying. Well, to the extent that it does, Cleveland's profession has gone the way of most other occupations: workers and co-workers are couched in cubicles where they stare at computer screens when they don't spy on each other or drive home to collect offspring from overpriced private schools that charge five dollars per child per minute of pickup delay. And after a sexless night (Goodreads reviewers have congratulated themselves on the fact that there is no sex in the book) she kisses her husband ("Matt") goodbye and is back to Langley where she---in this age of algorithms---has been developing her own ALGORITHM, a program that's supposed to filter Russian spies from the rest of the population. Even better, her task is accomplished and today's the day to put her invention to work. She hits a few keyboard buttons and there he appears on the screen, her first Russian spy, and it is---spoiler alert---her husband, Matt.

Jan 7, 2018

Checking facts

We're reading the Fire and Fury book by Michael Wolff that came out on Friday, and it's much better than expected, much deeper than the usual collection of scabrous/scandalous anecdotes. Wolff really proffers insight---Krugman, in his Friday column in the NYT wonders rhetorically whether he needs to read the book---yes, Paul you do, trust us. 

And here, just in between, the funniest thing we came across so far, and by our reckoning still unaccounted for in the weekend news cycle of this publication...

Steve Bannon and you-know-who

(Dramatis personae: (a) Anthony Scaramucci,  (b) Steve Bannon, adviser to Donald Trump; (c) Ryan Lizza, a journalist with The New Yorker; Place: US East Coast; Time: July 2017)

Anthony Scaramucci

Having lobbied desperately for a White House Job for seven months, Scaramucchi has been appointed White House Director of Communication. There is a party to celebrate, and Scaramucchi ("The Mooch") has had one too many, apparently. He gets on the phone with Ryan Lizza and unloads about a few people, including Steve Bannon, we quote: 
"I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to suck my own cock."
So Ryan Lizza writes this up (he publishes roughly one piece per day on the NY blog about Trump and his White House). Next thing, the Fact Checking Department of The New Yorker contacts Steve Bannon and asks, hands down, whether he has the habit to suck his own cock.

(That was the punch line).

Reince Priebus

You may remember what followed. Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff of the White House, throws in the towel, citing Scaramucci's appointment. Priebus is replaced by John F. Kelley, a retired 4-Star Marine general, whose first order of business is to fire Scaramucci.  

Jan 5, 2018

He won't go away

You've possibly heard of the book by now. Michael Wolf's Fire and Fury---inside the Trump White House

Here's one quote, just one:

"Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate . . . . Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television.
But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention."

Jan 4, 2018


(not photoshopped:)

Murder on the Orient Express

So we finally went to Cannes to watch the movie.The box office gal was very happy to see us, since we had tried four days ago, but then we'd gotten the opening hour wrong. 

Us (our hills) seen from Cannes; all pictures by Chang (Jason Yoon)

Well...not a bad movie, although I enjoyed the previous "Murder..." more---which I saw forty years ago. Kenneth Branagh directs this remake and stars as Poirot.

Still almost the same angle. It's about 3:10 PM. We're in a hurry.

Jan 3, 2018

The bigger button

You have the BIGGER BUTTON, you say? What? You don't even sleep with your wife.

Dec 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Harem Rock

By Michael Ampersant (text) and Theo Blaze (art)

Michael Ampersant had dreamed of using some poetry in THIS IS HEAVEN---one character speaking in verse, say---but nothing came of it. But then he discovered that the first part of Chapter 33, "Harem Rock" would actually work as poetry if reformatted as a stanza. Nothing up to Shakespeare standards, but still. Next, the formidable Theo Blaze put up an invite on his site, asking authors to come up with a brief story to illustrate one of his pictures. Michael reacted, and they got a deal; Michael would write a story, if Theo would create an illustration for "Harem Rock." And there we are:

Why couldn’t you,
At the end of a page-turning,
Adverb-packed day,
Of unparalleled heat levels.

Why couldn’t you,
Just down the third ‘fortification’ the lady of the house was handing you,
And chuck your dirty shorts one more time,
And let the sex slave fix the Magic-Mike collar around your neck.

In view of the advanced hour,
We’ll keep the strip-tease to a minimum.

Dec 30, 2017

Yesterday---a clear day

We went to Cannes to see the new Murder on the Orient Express movie, and this is what we got:

Yes, this really is Cannes, or at least the western part of it ("Cannes la Bocca"). The snowy background is the "Mercantour" which constitutes southern-most part of the Alps, with peaks up to 3,300 meters. It was a clear day.

Dec 26, 2017

Peace on earth

Our friend Glenn sends this from America and writes: "My grandson gave me this for Christmas."

Dec 24, 2017

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer --- guest post

Last week I decided to find a new home for my fake Christmas tree. Formerly it resided in an awkward and difficult-to-navigate corner of the basement, and I’ve finally relocated it to the upstairs closet with the rest of the Christmas stuff. Logically I know I ought to just get rid of the stupid thing. It’s a pain to put up, the branches are all bent way out of shape, a chunk of the topper is missing, and it’s still wearing tinsel from 2006. Yet somehow I’m never able to do it. It always surprises me how attached I am to that tree, even though I know full well the reason why – it’s because it’s exactly like the one my family had when I was growing up. I’m ordinarily not the nostalgic type, but to me that big ol’ fake tree with its pretty, colorful blinking lights is what makes Christmas Christmas. That and my one other indispensable holiday tradition –- 1970s Christmas specials!

Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by singing carols, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at eight pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today.  How the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.

Yes, because there’s more to the  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.

Dec 23, 2017

Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe
She'd been drinking too much eggnog
And we begged her not to go
But she forgot her medication
And she staggered out the door into the snow

When we found her Christmas morning
At the scene of the attack
She had hoof-prints on her forehead
And incriminating Claus marks on her back

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe 

Now we're all so proud of grandpa
He's been taking this so well
See him in there watching football
Drinking beer and playing cards with cousin Mel

It's not Christmas without Grandma
All the family's dressed in black
And we just can't help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts
Or send them back (send them back)

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe

Now the goose is on the table
And the pudding made of fig
And the blue and silver candles
That would just have matched the hair on grandma's wig
I've warned all my friends and neighbors
Better watch out for yourselves
They should never give a license
To a man who drives a sleigh
And plays with elves

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe

Dec 18, 2017

Net Neutrality --- The Machiavelli Chronicles Part MMXVII --- Our excursion to St. Raphael

We went to St. Raphael with our Korean friends, and your reporter was just thinking...

...the revocation of NET NEUTRALITY (providers allowed to prioritize certain sites to the disadvantage of other sites), as voted by some FCC panel along party lines...

...we should nail this to the door of the White House like Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral...

Dec 14, 2017


We have friends of Chang coming over from Korea, and so we took them to Nice. Here's yesterday's view of it's beach, with an expansive view of the Promenade des Anglais (where modern tourism was invented during the 19th century).

Dec 9, 2017

It doesn't make sense --- teaser --- This is heaven

It doesn't make sense, but then we rarely make sense. Here's a picture by Guy Billout, which beautifully sums up This Is Heaven:

Louis of Versailles and the Titanic in the same frame? Let's start with Louis of Versailles, one of our best neologisms, invented by Greta Wetten Dass, the award-winning romance author, in steamy Chapter 14; Greta recounting last night's adventure with Ben Fletcher and Jane Trumpleton, (Alex and John listening):

“The pursuit of love-making, gentlemen, has a practical component. Despite the best efforts of my pen-colleagues, a male person can have only so many ejaculations during a limited period of time. We would have Ben three, at most four times during the night. Letting him come at that moment would have meant that a quarter of his lust had already been consumed while we weren’t quite undressed.”

“It’s funny,” Alex says, “how your voice oscillates between the practical and the romantic.”

“It’s the same with love, Alex. The sensual and the physical, it’s not an easy marriage. Women, you may have noticed, are more practical when it comes to the inevitable; they bear children, they live longer. So, Jane shakes Ben’s maleness knowingly, more precum oozing in all directions, then whispers, ‘He’s bursting, no way he can hold this, he would explode at the very moment of penetration. Let’s enjoy this fountain while it lasts. He has enough ejaculations left, at least one for each of us, trust your sister.’

Dec 7, 2017

Beethoven, Sonata 32 --- Evgeny Kissin

Us --- Robbie, the robot

This was meant as an illustration for our review of "Call me by your name," but there you have it.

So, today I continued my quest for the right Jeeves---meaning I have this butler in this play I'm writing but he---Robbie---that's his name---is a robot---as you might infer from the fact that we're using first names here (old-school butlers always have traditional Anglo-Saxon last names, like "Parker"). We've been on this play since 2010. 

It's a drawing room comedy with Sarah, as an aging psychoanalyst, in the lead, set in the near future. So Robbie---we're not sure about the name---is a present from Sarah's former lover, the founder of RobotsAreUs, now the leading manufacturer of household robots. Robbie was his prototype and wrapped into a present for Sarah's 25th birthday. 

The play opens. Today's her 50th birthday, although we wouldn't know. There are no signs of an anniversary. Does she remember her birthday? Does Robbie remember her birthday? What's Robbie's voice? Does he speak like a computer from the '80s? Or like the perfect butler? Something in between? 


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