Monday, December 18, 2017

Flora Borsi / Women

Flora Borsi

The obsessively detailed map of american litterature's most epic road trips



I am a freak for the American road trip. And I'm not alone, as some of this country's best writers have taken a shot at describing that quintessentially American experience. “There is no such knowledge of the nation as comes of traveling in it, of seeing eye to eye its vast extent, its various and teeming wealth, and, above all, its purpose-full people,” the newspaper editor Samuel Bowles wrote 150 years ago in Across the Continent, arguably the first true American road-trip book.
The above map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.
Most interestingly of all, for me at least, you can ruminate about what those differences say about American travel, American writing, American history.
A word to close readers: I hand-typed most of these 1,500-plus entries and located their coordinates as best I could. Some were difficult to track down. I beg forbearance if you, a hermit in the mountains of Wyoming, find that I have pinned Mark Twain’s reference to Horse Creek in a place where it could not have been, or if you, a denizen of what Tom Wolfe rather unkindly called "the Rat lands" of Mexico, find my estimation of the precise location of Chicalote, Aguascalientes, somewhat inexact.
To be included, a book needed to have a narrative arc matching the chronological and geographical arc of the trip it chronicles. It needed to be non-fictional, or, as in the case of On the Road, at least told in the first-person. To anticipate a few objections: Lolita’s road-trip passages are scattered and defiant of cartographical order; The Grapes of Wrath’s are brief compared to the sections about poverty and persecution in California; the length of the trip in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is short in the geographical sense even if it is prodigiously vast in every other; and yes, The Dharma Bums is On the Road’s equal in every respect, and if you want to map the place-name references in all of Kerouac’s books, I salute you.
These passed the test:
Wild, Cheryl Strayed. 2012. After a series of personal crises, the author hits the Pacific Crest Trail and walks from Southern California to Portland. Self-actualization ensues.
The Cruise of the Rolling Junk, F. Scott Fitzgerald. 1934. Scott and Zelda's wacky adventures along the muddy, unkept roads of the mid-Atlantic and the South, as they drive from Connecticut to her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.
Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails With America's Hoboes, Ted Conover.1984. Conover, our most accomplished method journalist, studies with a merciful lack of sentimentality a subculture of transients that has long been mourned and romanticized more than it has been loved or even tolerated.
A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins. 1979. Jenkins and his dog Cooper hoof it to New Orleans from upstate New York; along the way they encounter poverty, racism, hippies, illness, hateful cops and—at least for one of them—violent vehicular death. Oh, and in Mobile, Alabama, God.
Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, Robert Sullivan. 2006. As much a free-association history of the American road trip as the chronicle of one in particular, Sullivan's book is rare in that it documents a time-restricted straight-shot across the continent, interstates and chain-motels and all. Abandon nostalgia, all ye who enter here.
The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson. 1989. A sneering account of this exile's return from abroad and his re-acquaintance with his native country. Bryson seems to be reminded on almost every page of why he chose to leave it, and we of why we let him.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, William Least Heat Moon. 1982. Not less critical of America and Americans than Bryson but more interestingly so, the author takes his van on the road for three months after separating from his wife and sticks only to smaller highways while avoiding the cities. He has long debates about local history and current affairs with people on the road and pays especial attention to quirky place-names--a traveler after my own heart.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac. 1957. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty search for bop, kicks, speed and the night.
Roughing It, Mark Twain. 1872. Twain's book about his journey west by stagecoach a decade earlier is a incredible account of transcontinental travel before the railroad made it infinitely easier; his sections about the early Mormons in Salt Lake City, the mining settlements in Nevada and the pre-Americanized Sandwich Islands--aka, Hawaii--are also well worth the read. 
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig. 1974. The author and his son ride by motorcycle to California; Profound Philosophical Ruminations ensue. Very 1970s.
Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck. 1962. The aging novelist, his black-poodle pooch and Rocinante, the customized van named after Don Quixote's horse, light out for the territories; Charley discovers redwoods, which depress him; Steinbeck discovers that you can't go home again. 
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe. 1968. Ken Kesey and the highly-acidic Merry Pranksters take the bus Further across the country to "tootle" its citizens out of lethargy. Neal Cassady rides again.
*Update, 7/22: An earlier version of the story had the wrong publication dates for Blue Highways and The Lost Continent

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Terence Stamp / Calm in the Eye of the Storm

Terence Stamp
Photo by Betina La Plante

Terence Stamp: 

Calm in the Eye of the Storm

Jason Holmes 
Writer based in London
08/03/2012 04:29 pm 16:29:46 | Updated 03 October 2012

Londoner and Sixties film icon Terence Stamp talks to Jason Holmes about how his love for his craft remains undimmed.
“Ojai is high desert and is unusually beautiful,” says Terence. “I have friends here, so when I’m at a loose end or trying to get away from the Olympics, I come here,” he chuckles.
Beneath the Californian sun, Terence, 74, is tanned and fit, his keen blue eyes unwavering. “I love acting, always have. I’ve just finished a screenplay which is being changed into a graphic novel,” he says. “I’m tinkering with that, but basically I’m relaxing.”
Stamp began his film career in 1962 with the Peter Ustinov-directed Billy Budd and recently completed Song for Marion in the UK. “I was thrilled with Song for Marionbecause I was in a very good space with two superb actresses in Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton. Our interaction had a silkiness. Paul Andrew Williams, the director said ‘Wow man, you and Vanessa, you nail everything on the first take!’ I replied ‘When you’re talking about Redgrave and Stamp you’re talking about 100 years of movies!’”
But Stamp’s path through life could have been very different. For an East End lad growing up in post-war London, acting was not on the cards. “I left the East End quite early in terms of other kids my age. My mother made a terrible fuss, but my dad didn’t mind at all. But if I was going to try acting, I couldn’t have done it had I stayed at home.”
“There were a lot of us in a very small house, so when I left home I think I was subconsciously compensating for that lack of space by gravitating towards big rooms and high ceilings.”
While his father was away with the navy during the war, his mother would take the young Terence to the local cinema. “Two actors made an indelible impression on me. Gary Cooper in Beau Geste (1939) was the first. I actually thought he was in the Foreign Legion,” he says, laughing. “It wasn’t until I was 18 when I saw James Dean in East Of Eden that the realisation came. I had great empathy with his performance. I thought Brando was extraordinary, but I couldn’t compare myself to him.”
At this time, Stamp was working at an ad agency as a junior copywriter and messenger on London’s Cheapside. ‘It never occurred to me to talk to anyone about my desire to act; it was too outlandish. It didn’t manifest outwardly, it just increased in intensity inwardly.
“Careerwise, I never had direction. When I was at grammar school they had a careers lesson and I remember wanting to be a surgeon. Then I realised I had to cut, and I couldn’t do that. Years later, after I’d been famous for a couple of years, I went to see a friend in hospital. When the surgeon came in, he shook my hand and said ‘My god, you’ve missed your calling’. Our hands were identical.”
Stamp is quite sure as to why the 60s was such a fertile time for the arts. “It was Rab Butler who introduced the 1944 Education Act and the 11 Plus exam, and this enabled bright working class kids to go to grammar school. Consequently, at the beginning of the 60s, that bore fruit. Great writers came to the fore like Arnold Wesker and [Wolf] Mankowitz and their plays required a certain kind of performer. Actors like myself fitted the bill.”
But why concentrate on film acting and not the theatre? “I kind of lost the knack for theatre acting over the years. It’s a different profession to film work. I liken it to flat course horse racing and over-the-jumps racing. It’s rare you get a horse that can do both.”
Stamp is a man who made his name at perhaps the zenith of western popular culture when talent and genius were almost commonplace, but for whom does he have the greatest respect? ‘Peter Ustinov was a gentleman. For the first year or two of my career, I was under his protection. He and his wife, Suzanne Cloutier, kept an eye on me. I travelled with them when on the road promoting Billy Budd. I was in the company of a master, so very early on I had an understanding of how I should conduct myself.
“When I got the Billy Budd role, I thought now I can earn my living doing this. Then I realised I wanted a long career. I didn’t want to have to become an interior decorator.”
On average, Stamp has made one movie a year throughout his career. “I feel that I could work much more, but in order to do so I would have to do rubbish. I tell people that if I haven’t got the rent, then I’ll do anything!”
A film that gained Stamp new fans was The Limey (1999). “With The Limey, Steven Soderbergh and I had a great harmonic. The film was almost a result of take one. He doesn’t hang about, especially since he’s the camera operator and the director,” he laughs. “I’ve always passed on a lot of projects because I’m only interested in getting the best out of myself. It’s difficult for good quality material to be produced. I realised a few years ago that I was going to be making fewer movies because of this.”
When in Italy in 1968 to make films for Fellini [Toby Dammit] and Pasolini [Teorema], Stamp found himself at lunch with a man who was to change his life. ‘Fellini introduced me to [Jiddu] Krishnamurti in Rome. At the time I didn’t understand the significance of an encounter with this sage. The only sage I knew of then went with onions!
“There was a refinement in his being I hadn’t encountered before. I went for a walk with him the next day. After a while he took my arm and stopped and said ‘Look at that tree’. I looked at it. It wasn’t even a beautiful tree. I smiled, he smiled, and we walked on. Then he stopped and said ‘Look at that cloud’. I looked up and saw a cloud. That was my first encounter with him. He put the sound on for me. I was made to understand that before thought, I was!”
“When I didn’t get any work in the early 1970s, I left London and began to travel. I went to India and travelled extensively in the Far East. By the time I came back to do Superman (1978), I had acquired a broader understanding of the world and of myself, and I’d become more spiritually endowed. I had grown as a person.”
I suggest that considered artistic purpose is a thing of the past. “Yes, today artistic ambition has changed. Young would-be artists are more interested in being famous, rather than being artists. There is no longer the hunger to learn the craft, so I don’t know if there’ll be another generation [of actors] who will be like Olivier, Gielgud, Scofield or Richardson. I can’t see anyone around like them.”
“I’m not political. But to paraphrase Kahlil Gibran: ‘When a leaf on a green tree turns red, the tree is different’. All I can do is change my own life and hope I can in some small way influence the world around me.”
“In the US there is a company called Monsanto which genetically modifies seeds. From a political point of view, there would seem to be nothing to be done about this. The only thing one can do, as I do, is eat organic. If you want to effect any change, you can only become that leaf that turns red. I call that being selfishly intelligent. If I get the best out of myself, then I assume the whole is changed.”
Stamp’s career has been an individualistic one. “A funny thing has happened in the past couple of years: I’ve become very recognisable wherever I go. A lot of people want to talk about my work, and I think it’s because I’ve tried not to do shit,” he says, making himself laugh long and loud.
But what of being British? “Britain has always been a nation of eccentrics, but now it’s hard to get the finance for anything that is interesting. So Britain is in a lull, but there will be an artistic resurgence. Culture is a moveable feast, as other European countries prove with what they produce in theatre and film.”
“I recently saw the new Sherlock Holmes series on the BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and I thought it was wonderful, so I can’t say things are finished in England on that basis. Thank god for the BBC, frankly.”
And what gives him comfort? He replies after a long moment of contemplation. “I derive happiness from the present. I’ve become aware of life’s timelessness, and life still has the capacity to surprise me. I wake up in the morning and if I’m meant to carry on acting, then something interesting will show up.”
Spoken like a true Londoner. Calm as you like.

The Voyeur’s Motel, book review: 'Spare yourself the trouble of reading this seedy little book'


The Voyeur’s Motel, book review: 'Spare yourself the trouble of reading this seedy little book'

By Gay Talese, Grove Press, £14.99

Max Liu
Thursday 21 July 2016

In 1980, Gay Talese was contacted by an anonymous motel owner who claimed to have been spying on his guests for over a decade. At the time, Talese was finishing his best-selling study of sexual morality, Thy Neighbour’s Wife, but he was intrigued by this self-described man of “unlimited curiosity about people” so he travelled to Colorado to meet him.
Talese excels at subtle characterisation and, when they meet at Denver airport, he tells us that the motelier, whose name is Gerald Foos, insists on carrying his luggage. Talese compliments Foos’ “highly polished black Cadillac sedan” and Foos responds by listing his other cars. These details might sound trivial but they establish Foos as a man who’s a little too eager to impress, a smooth-talker with an edge of insecurity.
At the Manor House Motel, Talese meets Foos’ wife Donna, who knows about his spying, and hears about the couple’s two children who know nothing about it. Foos shows Talese the rooms where he’s installed custom-made vents which allow him to peer down from his “observation platform” in the attic. The pair watch a couple having sex but the game is almost up when Talese’s tie dangles through the vent. The book would have benefited from more of this kind of drama. Talese fails to persuade Foos to talk on the record but, for the next couple of decades, Foos sends him photocopies of his “Voyeur’s Diary”.
In 2013, Foos, who is, like Talese, in his 80s, finally agreed to go public with his story and Talese went to work on this book. A few weeks ago, however, Washington Post reporters claimed they’d discovered information that undermined Foos’ version of events. Initially, Talese said his book’s credibility was “down the toilet” but later retracted, deciding to stand by his, and Foos’, story. Talese admits Foos is a “master of deception” but, unfortunately, the prepublication controversy is the most interesting thing about The Voyeur’s Motel.
Foos’ diary entries are as banal as they are lurid. His descriptions of Vietnam War veterans’ private agonies capture an important aspect of America in the 1970s but, on the whole, the diary reads like an extended fantasy which raises doubts about its veracity and the value of Talese’s book. Talese wonders: “Had I become complicit in this strange and distasteful project?” The question is particularly pertinent when he reads Foos’ account of witnessing a murder at the motel in 1977 and failing to intervene. But Talese merely dabbles in the self-scrutiny that could have given his book depth.
According to Talese, Foos sees himself not as a peeping tom but as “a pioneering researcher whose efforts were comparable to those of the renowned sexologists at the Kinsey Institute.” This is, obviously, laughable, not least because Foos’ main conclusion, from invading thousands of guests’ privacy, is that people behave differently in private to how they behave in public. It’s difficult to believe that anybody doesn’t know this already, so spare yourself the trouble of reading this seedy little book.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

New Claims Against Harvey Weinstein Go Back to the 1970s

Harvey Weinstein

New Claims Against Harvey Weinstein Go Back to the 1970s

by Chris Gardner
2:01 PM PDT 10/30/2017 

The latest investigative piece by The New York Times stretches Weinstein's alleged pattern of predation to the 1970s, while one accuser comes forward to break a confidentiality clause: “I want to do my part to help bring this to light so it doesn’t happen with other people in Hollywood or anywhere else."

Friday, December 15, 2017

Salma Hayek / Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too

Salma Hayek

Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too

Dec. 12, 2017

HARVEY WEINSTEIN WAS a passionate cinephile, a risk taker, a patron of talent in film, a loving father and a monster.
For years, he was my monster.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood / Review by Mary McCarthy

The Handmaid's Tale 
by Margaret Atwood
Book Review
February 9, 1986

urely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ''Nineteen Eighty-Four,'' with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ''Brave New World'' and, to some extent, of ''A Clockwork Orange.''

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood / Review by Caryn James

The Handmaid's Tale 
by Margaret Atwood
The Lady Was Not for Hanging
by Caryn James

The dedication of ''The Handmaid's Tale'' -''For Mary Webster and Perry Miller'' - holds clues to the novel's roots in our Puritan past. ''Mary Webster was an ancestor of mine who was hanged for a witch in Connecticut,'' Margaret Atwood explained. ''But she didn't die. They hadn't invented the drop yet'' - the part of the platform that falls away - ''so they hanged her but she lived.'' The author's studies in early American history under the Harvard scholar Perry Miller also informs her theme of religious intolerance. ''You often hear in North America, 'It can't happen here,' but it happened quite early on. The Puritans banished people who didn't agree with them, so we would be rather smug to assume that the seeds are not there. That's why I set the book in Cambridge,'' said the Canadian author, who lives in Toronto and has traveled widely in the United States. Like many of her fictional women (she has written poems, essays and novels, notably the feminist classic ''Surfacing''), she is wryly unpolemical. ''Feminist activity is not causal, it's symptomatic,'' she said of the book's antiwoman society. ''Any power structure will co-opt the views of its opponents, to sugarcoat the pill. The regime gives women some things the women's movement says they want -control over birth, no pornography - but there's a price. If you were going to put in a repressive regime, how would you do it?'' Despite the novel's projections from current events, Margaret Atwood resists calling her book a warning. ''I do not have a political agenda of that kind. The book won't tell you who to vote for,'' she said. But she advises, ''Anyone who wants power will try to manipulate you by appealing to your desires and fears, and sometimes your best instincts. Women have to be a little cautious about that kind of appeal to them. What are we being asked to give up?''

Ruth Scurr / Wild Atwood

August 14, 2013
In this week’s TLS 

A note from the Editor

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Andrea Camilleri / Five Things you should know about Inspector Montalbano

Andrea Camilleri

Five Things you should know about Inspector Montalbano

11 June 2015
By Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons from Crime Squad shares five things you might not know about everyone's favourite Sicilian detective Montalbano.

1. The name Montalbano is homage to the Spanish writer, Manuel Vazquez Montalban.

Redesigning Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries

Redesigning Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries

05 April 2017

Book cover designer Katie Tooke on how vintage Italian travel posters and beautiful illustrated cookbooks inspired the delicious new covers for Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series.

Andrea Camilleri / The Young Montalbano / Reinterpreting the detective

Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri

The Young Montalbano: Reinterpreting the detective

Friday 04 October 2013, 10:29

Accepting the offer to play Salvo Montalbano in The Young Montalbano all happened when I was on the set of We Believed.
I played a soldier from Garibaldi’s army and I had a very scruffy look: unkempt beard, matted hair, mud stains on my face.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A book for the beach / The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri

A book for the beach

The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri

Wily but decent, this detective is more concerned with the human characters around him than simple crime-solving
Tim Maby
Sunday 10 August 2014 15.00 BST

Andrea Camilleri

Where better to find your perfect beach for reading than Sicily? It has miles of soft sand, gently sloping out to sea for easy swimming, as Inspector Montalbano does every day. I know this even though I have never been there, because I first came to this local detective through the admirable RAI television series, currently getting another run on BBC4.
The TV version – and there's a Young Montalbano series as well – is a softer man than in the books, rather sexy and constantly propositioned by the most elegant women. Camilleri's original character is frequently bad-tempered, and gauche with the opposite sex, however often aroused. He is an archetypal chauvinist male, terrified of being trapped into marriage by his long-term lover Livia. He is more frequently drawn to delicious Sicilian food than sex. It is only after a meal in a small trattoria that he generally speaks of "heaven".

Montalbano's great appeal is his understanding of the rich Rabelaisian characters among his people. Signora Cosentino, for instance, is "an irresistibly likeable balloon with a mustache".
The opportunity to observe and get involved is what drives him. Although his success is said to have made him famous, the last thing he wants is promotion, which might take him away from frontline policing, as he frequently moans to his boss. He is surly with any superior for whom he has no respect. In The Snack Thief he actually terrorises and near beats up an anti-terrorist squad colonel. But his relationship with his own team is as a "band of brothers". So when Sergeant Fazio interprets what to do when left without instructions:
"'I figured out what it was you wanted me to do, and I did it'. Montalbano felt moved, This was real friendship, Sicilian friendship, the kind based on intuition, on what was left unsaid. With a true friend, one never needs to ask, because the other understands on his own and acts accordingly."
One surprise to me was that he is consistently kind to immigrants, as much as the innocent unfortunate. But then Sicily, home to the mafia and male chauvinism, has been forgiving to the boatloads of north African immigrants reaching their shores. Montalbano is gentle with the African prostitute and almost treats the elderly refugee Aisha as if she were his aunt.

The plotting is characteristically convoluted. It starts simply with the murder of a middle-aged businessman in the lift of his apartment block. But it turns out his Tunisian cleaner – who also sold him sex – has gone missing. Enter a new element, the death of supposed Tunisian sailor at sea, shot by the Tunisian navy while on an Italian fishing boat. It turns out he was the cleaner's brother, and was actually a terrorist on the run. And then there's the boy, her son – he is the snack thief of the title, because he has had to live in hiding after his mother disappeared and has been mugging school-kids for their lunches. It has a touch of Midsomer Murders about it, in the way the author uses very ordinary elements of rural life to tell an unusual story.
What makes Camilleri stand out from simplistic whodunnits, let alone commonplace police procedurals, is that Montalbano does not always bring criminals to justice. If he does, Camilleri frequently sidelines it.
So, in The Snack Thief, the final arrest of a woman for murdering her husband is only briefly mentioned. The story concentrates on how Montalbano saves a Tunisian boy after his mother is murdered and wangles the system, including acquiring her illegal gains, to provide for the boy's future. Another murder by the security services he hardly bothers to conclude.
Montalbano is a bit like Simenon's Maigret in his sense of decency and justice. He has to work within a society dominated by the mafia, corrupt politicians and self-serving bureaucrats. He cannot hope to defeat them outright, but schemes to achieve his ends by outflanking them.
However even he has to admit that his manipulation of events, using his power as a policeman, can go too far. The innocent still get killed, like Aisha. In his first book The Shape of Water, he knowingly leaves a gun for a deranged young man to kill a crooked lawyer. After that he has to agree with his beloved Livia, that he tried too hard to "be God", but is actually only "second-rate".