Mankind is Something to be Overcome: A Review of Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer poster. Via.

Somewhat to my surprise, since I’d already seen a movie this year, I found myself seeing Snowpiercer this past weekend. I am still not sure what to make of it; it’s a hodge-podge. The film is based on a French comic book (Le Transpierceneige, created by Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand), directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, produced by Korean producer Park Chan-wook, (among others), filmed in a studio in the Czech Republic with glacial shots done in Austria, starring a cast of mostly quite famous American and British actors with a few Korean faces thrown in for good measure—names you might recognize include Chris Evans[0], Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt. If you’re into Korean films, you’ll recognize some of those actors as well–Song Kang-ho is kind of a big deal. Or if you’re face blind it will all be kind of a weird mishmash to you. Sorry.

Let’s go to the synopsis. Warning, this review contains spoilers for basically every major plot point.

The film kicks off in the rearmost compartment of a train. Following an attempt to stop global warming around 2014, the last remnants of humanity are crammed onto a high-speed train that circles the globe at a rate of once per year. After eighteen years of this, Curtis (Evans) has had enough; after watching an unidentified woman in a yellow jacket take two of the tail car’s children for unknown purposes, he decides it is time to launch a revolution. Accompanied by his gang of misfits, including an 18-year old kid named Edgar[1], an old man with only one arm and one leg named Gilliam, an angry black woman named Tanya (mother to one of the taken children, Timmy), a sad and wild-haired man named Andrew who has one arm (father to the other taken kid), and a sassy tattooed martial artist called Grey, they kill a bunch of the guards and manage to burst into the prison car where they release Namgoong Minsoo, designer of the locks on the train car doors. They offer him drugs (a solid industrial waste product called Kronol) in exchange for him opening the doors on the way to the engine.

As an aside, it seems weird to have a) have the prison car between the tail and the rest of the train, and b) have the guy who designed the locks in prison. If the prisoners are all in suspended animation, it’s a shorter trip for the guards if the “economy class” car is before the prison. And wouldn’t you want to keep the lock designer happy to prevent him doing EXACTLY WHAT HE IS ABOUT TO DO?

Anyway, Namgoong lets his daughter (Yona) out of another cell and they agree to head for the front of the train, although Namgoong makes it clear that this isn’t his first choice. A few cars later, after discovering what goes into the protein blocks (hint: not the stolen children, as I initially assumed), they get into a long and bloody battle with axe-wielding guards in scary knit balaclavas. The cinematography here is really great—the train goes through a tunnel, giving the director an excuse to shoot in “night vision” as well as regular light, and the fight choreography is similar to the hammer scene from Oldboy.[2] At the end of the fight, Curtis chooses to let Edgar die in order to capture Minister Mason, who is apparently the only government official on the train and who acts as a go-between from “the people” to Wilford (the engineer/train owner). There are several interesting set pieces as they continue to advance up the train, but I don’t really want to summarize everything. The short version is that it is repeatedly impressed upon them that the train is a closed ecosystem—like the biosphere experiment—and balance must be maintained. A bunch of Cutris’s friends die, because that’s what happens in ensemble films with multi-racial casts. And then, just like that, the survivors (Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona) are outside Wilford’s (played by the amazing/creepy Ed Harris) door.

Let’s talk about Wilford for a minute. His name is very interesting to me—a combination of “will,” which brings to mind all kinds of Nietzschean imagery (the will to power, i.e. Nietzsche’s conception of ambition, whatever it is that drives humans to be all they can be), and “Ford,” which brings us around to “Fordism,” which is either a clever way of expanding the market for your product by bringing your workers into the middle class or a truly diabolical way to keep your workers impoverished by encouraging them to buy the very product that they’re making (further separating them from the means of production as you go) and convincing them it’s all their idea.[3] Having become an overman[4], Wilford is not interested (as Zarathustara was) in educating the people about overcoming man (or Christianity, I guess). Instead, Wilford has recreated the world within the train, and it’s a peculiarly Calvinist one he’s come up with. As has been reinforced throughout the film, people are born into a role and remain there until they die.[5] Everything that happens on the train is essentially under his absolute control.

At this point, the revelation that Curtis’s little revolution was stage-managed by Wilford should come as no surprise to the viewer. Curtis gets, in a short span of time, offered the opportunity to take over for Wilford (because he’s also an overman, I guess, or because Wilford likes the cut of Curtis’s jib or something), and he finds out what has happened to the missing children (hint: the train is running out of pieces). The camera pulls back a bit and gives Chris Evans a chance to really ACT. Curtis has eaten babies, seen his friends die, seen children put into small compartments to perform questionable feats of engineering. . . it has been a rough couple of days. And then, suddenly, we are reminded that Namgoong and his daughter are still in the hall outside Wilford’s room, and Namgoong is planning to use the Kronol to blow a hole in the side of the train to escape through.[6]

So here we have a choice presented to our hero. Side with the power, the authority, the DEITY of the train, or side with the tiny, crazy, chaotic element against the authority and all it stands for. On the one hand, a dictatorship is not a great way to live, but they are surviving under Wilford’s leadership, and arguably his choices are. . . at least somewhat necessary. On the other hand, they’re not really living, sitting in darkened bunks day after day as the world clicks by under their feet—the world they inhabit is not one that affords them access to the full spectrum of human emotions and experiences.[7] And—well, live free or die hard, baby.

Curtis of course makes the choice to choose anarchy instead of autocracy, and he and Namgoong huddle together to protect Yuna and Timmy (remember Timmy?) from the explosion. The train derails, killing (probably) everyone except the kids.[8] A few minutes later, we see Yuna and Timmy regain consciousness and step out into the snow, where they see. . . a polar bear, proof that life has, as Ian Malcolm put it, found a way.

Act, Chris, act! Earn that Oscar nod! Via.

Aside from the fact that if you are seventeen years old and have lived on a train all your life, you are probably unprepared to deal with the realities of meeting a polar bear in the wild, what does this ending actually suggest to us? Of course, opposing autocracy is portrayed as a brave and bold move, but the result is not so much anarchy or freedom as desolation. Even if the earth is now inhabitable again, two people do not a gene pool make. And of course the actions of the anarchists may have in some limited sense have aided a few people, but Curtis and Namgoong just killed an awful lot of people who were not given a vote on what they’d like to see happen. In a certain (utilitarian) sense, choosing autocracy here is really the better choice, since after becoming leader, Curtis could have made more controlled decisions to bring a more democratic system of government to the train, and even an end to the train ride.

Of course, fuck utilitarians, am I right? Philosophically speaking, the choice is really supposed to be a non-starter. Choose autocracy and you lose your humanity but keep your life; choose anarchy and you die a human death, because is there anything more human than one man standing alone against an incredible power that will totally kill him at the end of the act?[9]

One other way that the choice can be viewed is as a rejection of Calvinism and a turn towards Sartre’s theory of radical freedom. While Wilford’s world contains within it the imputation that all the inhumane stuff—the eating babies, killing people to maintain a balance in the environment, the protein blocks, the general terribleness—is all justified because that’s the way the world is. You are either elect (first class) or not elect (coach), and that’s your place in the world forever and ever amen, and then whatever baby eating you have to do is pre-ordained and therefore doesn’t affect you getting into heaven. On the other hand, Sartre saw freedom as an integral part of humanity, and, as the man says, “existence comes before essence” (itals. in original, Sartre, 1946). That is a fancy way of saying that by exercising choice, man creates himself, his life, his personage, his. . . destiny seems like an inappropriate word, so let’s say his life. Curtis, having been borne though the train like a leaf on a stream is now, finally, able to make one true choice. Perhaps the first choice of his life.

What I was really struck by was the total uselessness of it all. The civilization of the train, if you can call it that, doesn’t give any reasons why human beings are worth saving at all. At best, they are a summary of the terrible, petty, terrified parts of human nature, all huddled together in a desperate attempt to survive, going nowhere fast. Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Cosmos, but what really is the point of human survival? Ultimately it means nothing; the sun will go nova in a billion years and nothing of us will remain.
Let me put it another way. I have a dear friend who once told me she found that thought comforting—no matter how badly humans fuck up the planet, fuck up each other, in the longest of long runs, it’s totally irrelevant. Saving my own incredibly present fear of death, I can see her point. Watching this film, I was reminded of the futility of the struggle, and found myself asking, “Why wait?”

Was it a good film? I don’t know. You should see it though. Unless you just read my review, in which case I totally spoiled the ending for you. Sorry about that.[10]

Notes

[0] He was in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which I think I actually saw. Here, he’s made up in the way that Hollywood makes up very attractive men to be somewhat grubby and broody, so you know it’s a Serious Film with Thinking and Implications and whatnot.

[1] It is a little disconcerting to hear that name on the screen, when everyone knows that Edgar is the big black mop of a dog who is currently sleeping on the floor behind me as I write this.

[2] The original Oldboy, not the pointless American remake.

[3] Like many things, it depends on who you ask. What Ford (or Freud, as he occasionally allowed himself to be called) actually did was pay his workers enough that they could buy the cars they were producing.

[4] Alternative translations are a bit loaded—Superman or Übermensch. Smooth rhetoric aside, I do think that from the way the character is portrayed and from a lot of little details I don’t have space to discuss, we are meant to understand him as an overman. However, beyond that, he didn’t get the name by accident, you know?

[5] And then what? Not covered in the film. Presumably fed to the fish.

[6] There is of course debate about whether or not the endless winter has settled down enough for this to be a tenable plan. Namgoong claims that a plane wreck he has been looking at is increasingly uncovered each year—apparently there are no climate scientists onboard who might confirm or deny this assertion. Having lived through many a Wisconsin winter, I can say I sided with Namgoong, but also he could have found a better place to put his plan into action than when cruising through the mountains.

[7] It does give them the opportunity to eat things like babies and legs though. So there’s that.

[8] I felt very sad at this point that the amazing aquarium that they all walked through probably got smashed and all the fish died.

[9] Hint: Last time, he got nailed to a tree. Or, as I put it to my friends, you don’t get to be a Christ figure and die a nice death at home of old age surrounded by your family and children.

[10] I just wanted to note that every time I typed “autocracy” during the writing of this review, I typed “autocrazy” instead. That seems appropriate.

References

Sartre, Jean Paul. “Existentialism is a Humanism.” 1946. Marxists.org reprint, 2005. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm

Episode 2: Nestor

This is a short episode but one in which many of the novel’s famous lines occur.[1] Here we see Stephen Dedalus as a teacher in a boys’ school, teaching history, literature, and maths to his students. After they go outside for a field hockey game, Stephen talks to his boss, the headmaster Mr. Deasy, about various topics—money, the English, religion, and foot-and-mouth disease. On this last topic, Mr. Deasy asks Stephen to take some letters to newspaper editors he knows, and Stephen agrees. As he leaves, Mr. Deasy chases him down to offer one last (anti-Semitic) joke.

There is a lot to talk about here in terms of colonialism—Stephen teaching his students the history of ancient Greece, his inner thoughts on Haines’s remarks in the previous section, his recollection of seeing a Siamese person working in the library in Paris in which he was studying,[2] the boys playing field hockey (an English game) rather than hurling (a somewhat similar Irish game), Mr. Deasy’s reverence for all things British (up to a picture of Albert Edward on his wall[3]), and so on. There’s a lot to say also about the father-son connections—as Tindall observes, Deasy (pronounced like “daisy”) seems to want to be a father figure to Stephen, who rejects his advances; Deasy’s name seems to prefigure the appearance of Leopold Bloom (who occasionally goes by the pseudonym “Henry Flower,” but we’ll come to that in time),[4] who will serve as a better (?) father figure to Stephen. There’s a lot about religion and a lot of pretty clear parallels to the Odyssey (Deasy represents Nestor to Stephen’s Telemachus). But I’m not going to talk about all of that right now, or not directly, though I’ll come back to some things later on. I’m going to talk about this line:

—History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. (2.377)

What does this mean? Don Gifford notes that it is a reference to Franco-Uruguayan poet Jules Laforgue, who wrote, “ ‘La vie est trop triste, trop sale. L’histoire est un vieux cauchemar barioléqui ne se doute pas que les meilleurs plaisanteries sont les plus courtes’ (Life is very dreary, very sordid. History is an old and variegated nightmare that does not suspect that the best jokes are also the most brief)” (1988, 39). This is interesting but unilluminating. Tindall notes that the entire chapter is about history—in fact, it is listed as the “art” of the chapter on the schemas. “To [Stephen] the past is intolerable, its shape arbitrary, its materials fictive and uncertain . . . Confined to time and space, history is impermanent and unreliable” (1959, 141). But this again is mostly a restatement of what Stephen is actually saying, rather than an explanation thereof.

So what does it actually mean? Deasy provides a clue when he replies, “The ways of the Creator are not our ways . . . . All human history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God” (2.380–1). This is a very Victorian view of history, although Gifford traces it all the way from Augustine of Hippo through Giordano Bruno to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel himself (1988, 39). By contrast, Stephen’s view is much more modernist verging on post-modern[5]: rather than being a progression toward something, history is instead the nearly random actions and reactions of a disparate group of people with variable motives, terrible and uncontrollable.[6] For a writer, there are some interesting implications to this. Stephen is, of course, denying the idea of destiny, but maybe there’s more than that. Books, after all, contain a plot wherein actions within a narrated time stream take place in a certain order and come to a conclusion. In a certain sense, because the plot is created by someone outside the novel, the conclusion is in fact a preordained final point toward which the rest of the book works. By awakening from the “nightmare” of history, Stephen can perhaps step outside this emplottedness and write something different, something that similarly lacks destiny.

Reading Stephen as Joyce, of course, we can say definitively that he did manage this with Finnegans Wake.[7] But that’s breaking the fourth wall a little bit. And it’s also not entirely fair, because obviously when he was writing this, Joyce didn’t know that he was going to write Finnegans Wake. But if he really did go out to “Forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race” (Portrait, 275–6), I suppose we can guess that he probably had something brewing.[8]

There’s one other thing I want to talk about with regards to this episode, which is movement. In the whole section, Stephen stands in his classroom, goes to Mr. Deasy’s office, and then walks out of the school. There is absolutely nothing remarkable here—very little movement, some strained conversation without much in the way of emotion or really description, but yet through what Joyce refers to as a personal catechism,[9] we as readers not only get a good sense of Stephen’s emotions, but we tacitly understand that this is somehow his last day of this. He is leaving the school. As he declared in the first episode that he won’t return to the Martello tower, he also won’t return to the school. I’m not the only one who senses this, by the way—Tindall also remarks on it (1959, 141). This is thematically appropriate somehow—the first part of Ulysses seems to concern death: the death of Stephen’s mother, the funeral Bloom attends, and also the death of certain parts of Stephen’s life—he is leaving the tower, leaving his job. He has reached a certain point of life—I can certainly relate to this feeling—where the things of his youth no longer fit, yet he doesn’t quite know which of the trappings of adulthood he’s reaching for—he doesn’t know what he’s going to be yet.[10]

Where is he going? What will become of him? Tune in tomorrow for the next episode.

Notes

[1] The assertion that these are famous lines is made in the Ulysses Wikipedia article and is uncited. But I think it’s true. (See Wikipedia ).

[2] I feel like I should comment on this, even if only to say that yes, there were a lot of Siamese students (mostly the children of elites, including many of King Chulalunkorn’s (Rama V’s) sons studying in the West during the late Victorian period. The crown prince, Vajiravudh, who would become Rama VI, lived in the UK from 1893–1902ish and took a degree at Oxford in law and history.

[3] Prince Albert Edward was Edward VII (r. 1901-1910); his son Albert Victor was possibly somehow mixed up in the Jack the Ripper killings but probably just a somewhat weird product of royal inbreeding. See also my essay on From Hell, “That Sick Feeling: From Hell Reviewed.”

[4] Leopold Bloom is our Odysseus to Stephen’s Telemachus, but we won’t meet him until episode 4.

[5] That’s right, I said post-modern. I’ll talk a little more about the (surprisingly many) po-mo aspects of the book later on.

[6] As Amy Fish at the Modernism Lab at Yale University points out, Ulysses was composed directly after World War I, a time when the idea that things were going in a planned direction seemed especially ludicrous.

[7] Damn, I said I wasn’t going to talk about the po-mo stuff until later on. Also I should point out that in a sort of weird ironic counterpoint to my suggestion that the Wake is something different from the nightmare of history qua novel plots, it’s about one man dreaming all of human history. I think.

[8] Or, that is to say, he may have had an idea of the direction in which he wanted his literary project to move. For the uninitiated, I didn’t mention this before, but you should know that Ulysses is sort of a sequel to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was originally the (unpublished) book Stephen Hero, and the character of Stephen Dedalus is a somewhat thinly veiled (or, say, semi-autobiographical) version of Joyce himself, who at one point used the name “Stephen Daedelus” as a pen name.

[9] This is the term he uses in the Gilbert schema (here).

[10] I apologize for my gratuitous use of the em dash in that last sentence.

References

Fish, Amy. “Nestor.” The Modernism Lab at Yale University. http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/%22Nestor%22. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2010.

Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. 2nd ed., rev. and exp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Edited, with an introduction and notes by Seamus Deane. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce. New York: The Noonday Press, 1959.

Dogs ChasingHappy Bloomsday, everyone!

 

Em oi! #396: Airplane Hell

em_396

This was on a flight from Salt Lake City to Denver. Let me just say that I am super paranoid about my headphones–not only do I worry about disturbing others, I worry about damaging my hearing, so I keep music/podcasts turned down REALLY low. Evidently this guy didn’t give a fuck if everyone could hear his music or not. He’ll probably go deaf, serves him right I guess. Or that’s about what I was thinking. But at the end, when we got up to get our luggage, I started to lean over the seat to vent spleen on the guy. As I did so, I saw some of the stuff he was texting to a friend on his phone (well, we were on the ground, I guess). Essentially he was in his 30s or 40s, on his way to visit a woman his family disapproved of (they believed he was a sinner because he was going to see her, and she had posted some “mildly sexy” photos of herself on the internet), his family also disapproved of his lack of religiosity… I just lost steam. Poor guy was old enough that he should have a life for himself, but he was so totally caught up in his family’s feelings.

It would have been easier if he was just the stupid teenager I’d assumed he was. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a terrible person. But I didn’t yell at him; his life seemed rough enough already.

Anyway. We’ll file this under BJ2139.L86 2014, for Social usages. Etiquette–Etiquette of travel–Special topics–Airplane travel.

I went out to Black Earth to run the Black Earth 10 Mile Race today. It was quite entertaining–I knew about a third of the field, it felt like, or they were friends of friends. It was especially funny to hear people say “Here come the fast people” as I approached with my friend R. Not sure how long I’ve counted as a fast person. We kept a pretty steady 8:00-8:30 pace for the first 9 miles–it was an out and back course, very flat, so it was relatively easy to keep pace, and I knew when we hit the turnaround that I was in 9th place, so it was easy to drive just a little bit harder on the second half to move up a few spots to 7th. Just shy of the 9 mile marker, two people we’d passed earlier (a man and a woman) came up behind us looking to make a move. I dropped the hammer and took off. For a while, I was running about a 6:40. It was amazing, I was flying.

My hands started to tingle. I realized that I could only hold that pace for a limited amount of time, and the clock was running down. I was very shortly going to have make a choice between passing out and slowing down.

I finished, I believe, in 8th place. I didn’t win the free shoes gift certificate. But I learned something new about how fast I can really push myself to–maybe if I start doing intervals once a week (my PT suggested this), I will actually be able to hold a 6:40 pace for a little while longer.

That’s enough of that. Here are some pictures of dogs and other animals I took.

IMG_1803

IMG_1844

IMG_1852

Macalester, or Mac for short.
Macalester, or Mac for short.
Edgar is happy when Bear is around.
Edgar is happy when Bear is around.

IMG_1897

Bear, who stayed with us for a week while his person traveled.
Bear, who stayed with us for a week while his person traveled.
Kali and Bear go on adventures.
Kali and Bear go on adventures.
Kali.
Kali.

 

 

Bear, lying down.
Bear, lying down.

 

 

 

 

 

Smile nice for the camera, guys.
Smile nice for the camera, guys.
Smile, I said.
Smile, I said.
Guys, come on.
Guys, come on.

Anyway I think my SAD is over so I will try to post more frequently now. I still have a couple of reviews in queue and a few more to write, plus I’ve recently fallen down a post-colonial studies rabbit hole and I’m excited to talk about that (everyone in real life is tired of listening to me talk about it, actually).

Em oi! #383: Ask a Librarian

More Information than Required

I should note that when this happened, I was just walking around Memorial to return a book. The lady who stopped me probably didn’t realize who she was asking when she stopped me. During the same trip I also helped a former coworker figure out how to use a scanner, so I was all over helping people. Yesss!

I was thinking the other day how nice it would be to wear a hijab sometimes.

So when I was in about 8th grade, I got this truly awful haircut.* She just basically cut my hair straight across and I think chopped some layers in, which made it sort of triangular. She also didn’t give me any advice about products I could use to make it behave. As a result, I was teased pretty regularly about this for the rest of the year, or at least that’s what it felt like. Between that and a hundred other bad haircuts I have had the fucks beaten out of me when it comes to my appearance. I give basically no fucks what people think of how I look now. Sometimes I get to the gym before I actually look at my face in the mirror and notice that my hair (owing to the amazing humidity) is going to eleven.

The one exception to my zero fucks policy comes from work. I want to look at least a little bit professional for work. And with the humidity as high as it has been lately, that has been a challenge. But women who wear hijabs don’t have to worry about that. They just look super together all the time.

It might also be handy if I were the type of person who got shouted at on the street. But I’m not.** I don’t exactly know why–I’ve always considered that I’m not that attractive, and now I’m kind of out of the age range for being shouted at, but also I tend to walk like I’m going to stab anyone who talks to me (my friends politely say I’m a bit intimidating to approach). So maybe that’s it.

Anyway, it turns out that if you ask a librarian an open-ended question like “Where are the books?” you may get more of a reply than you anticipated.

We’ll file this one under PN56.L48 L86 2013 for Literature (general)–Theory. Philosophy. Esthetics–Relation to and treatment of special elements, problems, and subjects–Other special–Topics, A-Z–Libraries.


If you missed my last comic about Hamlet and existentialism (it came out the same day DOMA came down, so no one saw it), it’s here. Since I wrote it, I got a sort of remote talking to about modern dress Shakespeare, and also B and I went to see Joss Whedon’s lovely new version of Much Ado about Nothing. So I will try to write a bit more of my thoughts about that. I will say my opinion has been softened somewhat. I’m not totally convinced, but I’m willing to be convinced.

I have a marathon coming up at the end of the week. Bread consumption is up. Circus consumption remains the same. The weird aches and pains that come with tapering are coming and going. Other than that I’m tired and don’t have much to say, so here are some pictures of Mom’s kittens. Click to embiggen if desired.

kittens 012

kittens 003

kittens 008

* It turns out that many hairdressers don’t really know how to cut curly hair. I believe this is a remnant of racism in hairdresser training, because consider who typically has naturally curly hair: the Irish, Jews, and African Americans. Of course, the woman who cut my hair would never admit that she had no idea what she was doing. I got my first really good haircut about a year and a half ago. (That excludes the times my friends helped me out by buzzing it.)

** I’m actually a bit puzzled by this phenomenon, because I’ve read a lot of accounts from women who are. The best story I can muster is that when I was in Italy in 2003 someone shouted “bella!” at me. (Probably ironically?) Oh, the other day I was out running and a guy driving a truck shouted “woo.” I was at mile 9 of 10 and kind of dying, and also he was about a block down the street, so he could have been shouting at someone else.

Em learns to ski

A few weeks ago we were in Lake Tahoe. Last time we went on a ski trip, I tried to learn to snowboard. It was not a huge success, involving as it did a lot of falling down, crying, shouting, bruises, and eventually a migraine. This time I decided to learn to cross-country ski, something I’d not done in easily 20 years.

Like a graceful blue bird, Em descends the mountain.
Like a graceful blue bird, Em descends the mountain.

At one point, I asked the guy who was renting out skis to give me a brief overview of the trails. He was kind enough to point out good routes. One of them he said, “This one is very flat.”

It turns out “flat” is a relative term on a mountain.

I picked out a route, about 12 km round-trip, that was uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back. This let me tackle the problems of how to ski uphill and downhill one at a time, and I eventually got the hang of it. I went on to ski almost 20 km that day and gave myself a wicked blister. Anyway, I’m in love with skiing. I made a friend of mine go skiing with me at Elver Park here in Madison yesterday, and it was awesome.

I like ski trips because I get to do stuff like eat fancy food, drink fancy drinks, look at poorly proofed artwork, and think about how terrible the airport in Reno, NV is.
precious artwork

precious artwork2
Bryan was so impressed by the scare quotes on this sign he made me take a photo. I like a man who can get excited about inappropriate punctuation. That’s one of the reasons I married him.

drinks

menu

Reno, NV, you are a terrifyin
Reno, NV, you are a terrifying place.

Then we come home and I get to see dog again and feel more attached to reality instead of a jet-setting lifestyle.

For her part, dog is not overly attached to the ground.
For her part, dog is not overly attached to the ground.

My thesis proposal is done and handed in, so until I get some comments on it I’m in a bit of a lull. (Well, a lull that requires me to continue working all the time on various things.) I’m hoping to get caught up on some other projects–writing/drawing comics, blogging…My ankle and I have reached a détente, so I’m back to training. I managed eight miles on Friday, eleven on Saturday (plus skiing), then seven this morning, and I feel good. Tomorrow it’s back to the pool for a day off.

After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to take myself off Facebook for the nonce. Not totally–I’ll stick around to monitor the comments on comics and that sort of thing. But for a lot of reasons, I need to put some distance between me and FB for a while. Feel free to email me (ehlupton(AT)gmail(DOT)com) if you want to chat, or leave a comment here. I’d love to hear from you.

Em oi! #374: Winning

Chai Yo!

This conversation actually happened while we were in Thailand, and I should have uploaded it earlier but I didn’t. For reasons (primarily, I am engaged in a standoff [ha]with my right ankle and have been busy sulking). But the good news is that it is up now. The guy in the pictures is Andy, you can see him in the background of this picture. The woman is named Wanni–she was our cooking instructor, and she was amazing. Clicking on this link will take you to their website.

In the last panel, the banner says “Chaiyo!” which means “Hurrah.” But I figured you could guess that from context. At the time, I’d spent a lot of the trip feeling like I was struggling to make myself understood…and then conversation with Wanni had been so easy, I was just thrilled. And evidently so was she!

We’ll file this under GN367 .L86 2013, for Anthropology—Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology—Culture and cultural processes—Acculturation. Culture contact—Assimilation. The Chinese have a term for this too–they call it “Zhong guo hua [中国化]” or “Sinicization”–I believe it specifically refers to an outsider adopting Chinese cultural norms. The Thai…I was going to say they don’t have a word for becoming Thai, but they do– “Siwali” or “Civilized.”

So that’s interesting, I think.

Things have been quiet around here. In order to avoid a feeling of isolation while working on my thesis (easy to have, since I no longer have any courses), I’ve rejoined a local martial arts dojo. It is so much fun. And I am, despite being on a rather large dose of ibuprofen, very sore. Yesterday the animals had their teeth cleaned. Maya had to have a tooth extracted (she’d cracked it, maybe chewing on a rock or a bone) and Kali was a bit loopy from the anesthetic, so things are pretty calm (see photograph).

20130202_121956
Oh, the excitement.

Here are some other photos from the trip. This is still a tiny fraction of the total pictures I took, so I’ll try to find some more for next week. If you’re interested in more background information, some of these were taken at Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Doi Suthep in the area surrounding Chiang Mai City. Click to embiggen.
pink flowers

espresso con panna
espresso con panna
enhance your appetite
“Enhance your appetite.” I love this one. Also, I think the sugar packets hold more sugar than the ones here.
emily at wat chedi
Me at Wat Chedi Luang
bryan wanni emily maew
Left to right, B, Wanni, Em, and Wanni’s husband Maew.
altar wat chedi
Altar at Wat Chedi Luang
wat chedi
The chedi at Wat Chedi Luang.
Nagas at Wat Chedi Luang
Nagas at Wat Chedi Luang

maybe an orchid

many flowers

girl and naga
Girl and Naga, Wat Doi Suthep

flower

Flowers from Mormon Central

I took this picture at the Mormon Holy See in SLC a few weeks ago. Tonight my brother Daniel helped walk me through the process of making it “less red” (per B’s request). I think it looks pretty good now.

Say what you will about the Mormons (and I’m sure you will), they certainly have some nice gardens in Temple Square.

 

Em ơi! #367: SLC Diaries, part 1

Oh my friends, I have been busy. I have so much I want to blog about, including other comics and a book review I’ve been sitting on for two weeks, but it all has to wait until some mythical time “when my other work is finished.” Yes. Well. I’m off to Montreal for the weekend, and I’m hopeful that I will at least get another comic sketched out.

This comes from a trip B and I took two weeks ago to Salt Lake City to visit my brother and his wife. I will confess that I–like, I think, all dog owners–think the breed of dog that my dog is (shiba inu) is the best breed. Consequently, when I meet other dogs I usually think, “Well, why didn’t you get a shiba?” But Mac immediately became one of the animals I care a lot about, bypassing that question entirely. He was entirely sweet and amazing. He’s also very relaxed. The difference between an almost two year old dog like Maya and a ten year old dog is incredible.

Filing this one under: SF429.C3 L86 2012 for Animal culture–Pets–Dogs–By breed, A-Z–Cairn terrier.

Here are a few photos from the trip. Click to embiggen.

The Thai actually says something like, “Cruelty is not silent.”

I ran over some of those mountains on the left there. I don’t know which one specifically. It was called Little Mountain.

Em oi! Vacation–day 1

เขาหาทุกกระเป๋าใบใบไป
The TSA guy let me mail the knife back to myself. This is a service provided by the old ladies at the customer service and information desk at the airport in Milwaukee. They buy the envelopes, take enough to cover postage, and drop the packages off on their way home after work. I have nothing mean or sarcastic to say about the people at MKE. They were super nice and classy. Also there is a Recombobulation Area at the airport.

Do these neuroses make me feel fat?

UGH. So this happens sometimes with stretch denim I guess? I had a (really new) pair of jeans go when I was in Baltimore in October. I guess I’m going back on my diet for now.

Thanks, Delta.
The flight wouldn’t have been SO bad, except that at 21:00 (9pm) my 12-hour cough syrup wore off, so the last three hours of travel were all spent coughing my lungs out. Super lame. After we got to our hotel (about 1:00am) we called a nearby greasy spoon and got greasy, greasy food delivered to us. And we ate it while sitting on the carpet and watching the Discovery Channel. And then we slept for like ten hours, except for me because I woke up coughing at 8am and went for a run.

These are a couple of comics I drew on day one of our trip.  I’ll have some more as the week goes on–it turns out they take a fair amount of time to clean up, since I sketched them freehand in pen.  We’ll file them under NC1763.V3 L86 2012, for Drawing. Design. Illustration–Caricature. Pictorial humor and satire–Special subjects, A-Z–Vacations.

Here’s a photograph which I took with my new camera. I think it is one of the best I have taken of late.
Hey hey we're the monkeys...
It’s at least half not me though–it’s hard to get a bad photo of Sam (my sister-in-law).

Illuminations: A Picture for Jesse and Keith

My cousin Jesse got married in June to a really great guy named Keith.

I just looked through all of our wedding photos and was unable to find any with both of them in it!  So here’s an amusing picture of Jesse alone with a large drink:

Big drink or small hands?

And here’s a photo of the two of them from Daniel and Claire’s wedding:

Click any of the photos to embiggen them, by the way.

Last year when Daniel and Clarie got married, I made a very fancy comic for them (this.) I knew I couldn’t let Jesse and Keith get married without doing something equally cool.

BUT there was a problem. I was around for all of Daniel and Claire’s courtship, so I could recount it in comic form. Jesse…was in Evanston, IL doing her doctoral work when she met Keith, and although I met him (through the magic of the internets) fairly early on, I wasn’t privy to the details of their life…and to call up and ask for some details would give the game away. So I had to come up with something else.

What I eventually did was an illumination. Jesse, see, is a medievalist, and Keith is…well, not a medievalist but he likes her. It made sense at the time. Go with it.

Anyway, I wanted to take a moment to post some of the in-progress photos, since this project consumed most of May and June and overall I’m pretty happy with how it came out. I’ll offer a little commentary on how I came up with the design, just in case anyone is curious.
First SketchKeith design the first

On the left here we have my first sketch of the design.  As you can see, I initially wanted to do Jesse’s name in a pseudo-Hebrew font and Keith’s name in a way that reflected his heritage somehow.  On the right is a closeup of some early attempts at that.  Above his name is the phrase, “A Musical Representation of Staggering is my Amy Winehouse Coverband.”  So we can date this to the night we went to the Jonathan Coulton/Paul and Storm show at the Majestic, which I think was late April (around the 24th).

You might also note that this version of the picture had small portraits of both Jesse and Keith in it.

The Initials

J/KK2K3

On the left, an early sketch of the J and the K initials. The design for the J was fairly easy; Jesse had listed an illuminated Haggadah on the registry (this one, in fact) so I just tried to make the J similar. But what to do about the K?

First I thought, well, Keith is African-American, I could do something using African patterns. But A) what part of Africa? It’s a huge country full of lots of different cultures. B) Anyway, he’s not African, he’s African-American. C) Also, isn’t that kind of weird, like othering or racializing or…I don’t know. Something. I started thinking at this point about traditional African-American art…which is mostly musical. First I thought, “Oh, the blues were invented by Picasso because he couldn’t afford other colors of paint.“*  So that should be an easy solution, just make it blue.

All kidding aside, I wasn’t entirely sure how to go from music to visual representation. And the main difference between me and a real artist is that I decided, instead of solving this problem, to change tracks. I made the Ks in the center and right. I put little finials on them in the style of the national wat in Vientiane (Laos) because Keith calls himself a “secular Buddhist” on his Facebook page.

I’m deep.

Layout 1.0
The first version of the Layout.

lettering version 1.0flowers and dog 1.0

On the left: some various small letters. I was trying to learn Caroline or Carolingian Minuscule. Since I’m not a monk, it took a lot of practice. On the right, an early layout for the dog/flowers. Of course, when I put everything together, the layout had to change.

Putting it all together:

Final Thumbnail

This one also shows some experimentation with the swirly orange things and the lettering.**

After I’d settled on a design, all that was left was sketching it, inking and coloring it, and then framing it.
Sketch 1Sketch 2

ALMOST

Done

That’s not a terrific photo, but it’s the only one I have.  And it did end up blue, but more because of the Scrovegni Cappella by Giotto (in Padua, Italy) that I toured with Jesse in 2002 or 2003.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. I hope you found it interesting, at least. Now no one else get married for a couple of months, I need to finish my novel.

* I’m super good at art history. I even own a blue guitar. True story.
** Swirly orange things taken from a Tibetan tapestry I found, I think. Because of the Buddhist thing.