Thursday, October 18, 2012


The First Elegy

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world. Perhaps there remains
some tree on a slope, that we can see
again each day: there remains to us yesterday’s street,
and the thinned-out loyalty of a habit
that liked us, and so stayed, and never departed.
Oh, and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
wears out our faces – whom would she not stay for,
the longed-for, gentle, disappointing one, whom the solitary heart
with difficulty stands before. Is she less heavy for lovers?
Ah, they only hide their fate between themselves.
Do you not know yet? Throw the emptiness out of your arms
to add to the spaces we breathe; maybe the birds
will feel the expansion of air, in more intimate flight.

Yes, the Spring-times needed you deeply. Many a star
must have been there for you so you might feel it. A wave
lifted towards you out of the past, or, as you walked
past an open window, a violin
gave of itself. All this was their mission.
But could you handle it? Were you not always,
still, distracted by expectation, as if all you experienced,
like a Beloved, came near to you? (Where could you contain her,
with all the vast strange thoughts in you
going in and out, and often staying the night.)
But if you are yearning, then sing the lovers: for long
their notorious feelings have not been immortal enough.
Those, you almost envied them, the forsaken, that you
found as loving as those who were satisfied. Begin,
always as new, the unattainable praising:
think: the hero prolongs himself, even his falling
was only a pretext for being, his latest rebirth.
But lovers are taken back by exhausted Nature
into herself, as if there were not the power
to make them again. Have you remembered
Gastara Stampa sufficiently yet, that any girl,
whose lover has gone, might feel from that
intenser example of love: ‘Could I only become like her?’
Should not these ancient sufferings be finally
fruitful for us? Isn’t it time that, loving,
we freed ourselves from the beloved, and, trembling, endured
as the arrow endures the bow, so as to be, in its flight,
something more than itself? For staying is nowhere.

Voices, voices. Hear then, my heart, as only
saints have heard: so that the mighty call
raised them from the earth: they, though, knelt on
impossibly and paid no attention:
such was their listening. Not that you could withstand
God’s voice: far from it. But listen to the breath,
the unbroken message that creates itself from the silence.
It rushes towards you now, from those youthfully dead.
Whenever you entered, didn’t their fate speak to you,
quietly, in churches in Naples or Rome?
Or else an inscription exaltedly impressed itself on you,
as lately the tablet in Santa Maria Formosa.
What do they will of me? That I should gently remove
the semblance of injustice, that slightly, at times,
hinders their spirits from a pure moving-on.

It is truly strange to no longer inhabit the earth,
to no longer practice customs barely acquired,
not to give a meaning of human futurity
to roses, and other expressly promising things:
no longer to be what one was in endlessly anxious hands,
and to set aside even one’s own
proper name like a broken plaything.
Strange: not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange
to see all that was once in place, floating
so loosely in space. And it’s hard being dead,
and full of retrieval, before one gradually feels
a little eternity. Though the living
all make the error of drawing too sharp a distinction.
Angels (they say) would often not know whether
they moved among living or dead. The eternal current
sweeps all the ages, within it, through both the spheres,
forever, and resounds above them in both.

Finally they have no more need of us, the early-departed,
weaned gently from earthly things, as one outgrows
the mother’s mild breast. But we, needing
such great secrets, for whom sadness is often
the source of a blessed progress, could we exist without them?
Is it a meaningless story how once, in the grieving for Linos,
first music ventured to penetrate arid rigidity,
so that, in startled space, which an almost godlike youth
suddenly left forever, the emptiness first felt
the quivering that now enraptures us, and comforts, and helps.

Rilke - Duino Elegies

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Going to China!

Tomorrow morning I head to China for the ASIFA General Assembly. While there, we'll have the assembly and an in-person board meeting, and most of us will also give presentations to the Jilin Animation Institute. Mine will be on stop motion technologies here in Portland, with a focus on Laika's use of rapid prototyping technology in Coraline and Paranorman.
To be honest, I'm not sure what to expect, but it will be interesting, that's for sure. I'm looking forward to the trip.

I've been corresponding a bit with Malcolm Turner, of the Melbourne International Animation Festival. Apparently we've both been been asking for a while why there is so much great animation here in Portland, and the perennial answer ("because it rains so much") is highly unsatisfying. As Malcolm says, "it rains in lotsa places that produce truly dire animation".
I shared with him my pet theory, which goes a bit like this:
Basically I think that Portland has long been home to people who don't care much about conventional measures of success or status; people who are seeking wealth and fame tend to go somewhere else. Portlanders talk a lot about "quality of life", and "quality of life" seems to be code for "I don't want to work too much" - it goes with low cost of living, ease of access of public transportation, and a diversity of non-work activities. Because people don't work too much, they cultivate weird hobbies; unicycling and juggling and knitting and animation. Portlanders are expected to have side-projects; we welcome strange habits and (and this is important) are very tolerant of failure
So I think that atmosphere cultivates the culture that has become peculiarly "Portland" - we not only have an abundance of animation and film and music, but craft shows and pedicabs and artisinal beers and specialty foods and so forth. We aren't so supportive of the Arts-with-a-capital-A, but celebrate and support Crafts of all kinds, and our animators present themselves as craftspeople, as experimenters and tinkerers, as people in pursuit of the interesting.
He likes my theory, and maybe it will be more fleshed out and substantial in time for his Portland-specific feature in next years' festival.

Next week is the Best of the Northwest Animation Festival, but I won't be in town to catch it. If you are, it looks like a strong program.

And I'm working on bringing a program of the Polish School of Animation to Portland next year, partnering with the Northwest Film Center. It may be the US premiere of the program, which would be exciting.

I'm rereading if on a winter's night a traveler, by Calvino, and some Robert Frost poetry. Life is good.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Well, I left France just as I had gotten in the habit of speaking my Franglish to everyone, and was even doing that sing-song inflection they do.
Annecy is beautiful, and I had a lot of fun there. And saw some great animation and met some fascinating people. 
I decided to skip Milan and go to Verona before arriving in Venice. So I booked a B&B on a couple days ago, and then noticed that the train I was taking didn't arrive until pretty late, so had to make arrangements with the owner.
(The train through the mountains was absolutely gorgeous - it's difficult to take pictures from a moving train, so I don't have as many as I would have liked.)
Got to Verona at 22:45 and texted the woman from the b&b - she met me here, arriving just after the taxi dropped me off. (Verona - hot, and bustlingly busy on a Saturday night) She took me upstairs, showed me around, gave me keys, and left. I'm the only guest, so it's like having a lovely 3-bedroom apartment all to myself. Terracielo - it's totally charming and a great location, and cheap to boot. If I ever return, I'll definitely stay here again.
----- later in the day -----
Well, there's some sort of Verona festival going on this weekend. Center of town is packed all day with celebrants and marathon runners and tourists and so forth. Not the sleepy Sunday I was somehow imagining.
Found my way to the Castelvecchio, which was amazing. Part medieval castle, part art museum, as you move through the place you climb higher and higher and are able to see more of the surrounding city, but also the art moves from ancient to medieval to rennaisance to modern. It was only 6 euros to get in, and I was there for at least a couple hours. 
Then I meandered off to find lunch (which was delicious and extravagant), at this restaurant that happened to be under a bunch of beams where the omnipresent swallows were nesting. I counted about 7 active nests that I could see, but I think there were more on the opposite side of the beams from where I was. The nest that was closest to me had 4 little heads in it - most had 2 or 3, but I think one in the opposite corner had 4 as well. And then, while I was eating my seafood pasta, they fledged. Some of the restaurant staff and some pedestrians were really engaged in the drama and stopped to watch as well. It was delightful, also probably assisted by my full belly and 3 glasses of wine. 
Oh wait, before lunch I went to Juliet's balcony, because you gotta.
After lunch I went to the cathedral of Anastasia - beautiful,of course. Italian gothic, intricate and lovely. Then I went back to the hotel to rest and regroup, and ended up sleeping a bit. 
Went back out and wandered into the Giardino Giusti, which, unlike every other thing I had seen, was utterly empty. I wandered quietly all over the garden, up a spiral staircase that appeared to be built over a tomb/chapel (but you can't get into it), came back down and disturbed a mother cat with her kittens, couldn't solve the little labrinth, couldn't get the birds to eat the bread I had with me, and then discovered that there was life in the fountains. Enormous fish and a bunch of turtles, all of whom readily at my bread.
I noticed a couple more cats on my way out, and noticed that there were little dishes scattered around. Only one of the cats would have anything to do with me, though - a big black tom with nicks in his ears, who came up and accepted some petting quite readily until he saw the attendant/guard guy stirring in his room, and then he went over to the door to sit by his dish and wait.
Somehow I find it utterly charming that this man sits in that little room all day, selling tickets to a beautiful garden almost nobody goes to, and feeds the cats without really domesticating them. I'm jealous.

I blog with BE Write

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rebekah's day off

Yesterday I finally met up with some ASIFA people, and it was a pleasure to put names to the faces. Hung out until quite late discussing film and religion like people do. Learned both "hat" and "pot" in Russian, got some good gossip, and had a thoroughly pleasant evening.
Today was just beautiful - it seems the weather in France likes to alternate sunny days with stormy ones, and it seems to change in Annecy every evening at about 7 into the opposite of what it was all day. At any rate, I walked out along the lakeshore for a bit, got another little sunburn, ate delicious food, et cetera.
Tomorrow, more animation!

I blog with BE Write

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Well, unreliable wifi connections and other tragedies have taken up the past couple days. I won't take the time to go back over everything at the same level of detail as I was doing, but here are the lowlights:
Dropped my iPad on the train platform in Paris, shattering the screen. It still works, but it looks terrible and I'll need to replace it when I get home.
Arrived in Annecy late Sunday night, in the rain, with no taxis at the train station. After quite a long wait, my taxi took me to the address of my hotel and left me there. There was nobody to let me in, since it's a terrible run-down residential hotel that was particularly creepy at night in the rain. 
Yes, I found someplace else to stay, but it's quite a story.
Now I'm doing the animation festival thing, and seeing quite a lot of good films. I'm not meeting as many people as I should - I hope I can correct that tomorrow after meeting up with the ASIFA people. 
My feet are a mess of blisters, and I don't know how the French manage all their stupid specialty stores. I've been keeping an eye out for a pair of scissors for days, and there doesn't seem to be a scissors store anywhere. It's all either grocery stores or pharmacies, with nothing in between. I'd kill for a Walgreens.
In Paris they can speak English, but don't want to. In Annecy, they'll speak English willingly, but don't always know how. But whenever I try to speak French, they speak Enlish to me anyway, so I'm not learning as much as I would like to. 
At any rate, it's 8:30 tuesday night, and I'm famished. I'll go questing for food, after I've celebrated my return to the world wide web.

I blog with BE Write

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Well, this is the thir morning that I've been unable to sleep past 4am. May as well catch up!

Arrived in Paris and was immediately hustled at the train station. And the guards are no joke - full military uniforms with machine guns at the ready, in dramatic contrast to Amsterdam.
Got to the hotel and checked into my tiny room. It's a good location, very close to a lot of things I wanted to see, but also right on the rue Saint Jaques, and the traffic never stops.
Went up to Montparnasse, although the train was so late that it was already closed for the day. But I wanted to judge distances and get a feel for the place. It isn't far, and was easy to find, and stumbled across some amazing architecture. As far as getting a feel for the place, it's hard to describe.
Some French women soften their faces a bit when we make eye contact. I think they assume I'm from here, which is good, since I'm trying to not be conspicuous. But they way they react when I speak English is interesting - exasperation, maybe, and something that seems like embarassment. The men ignore me utterly, or when we interact they switch readily to English. I haven't had any problems communicating at all. But because this is a city, and filled with hustlers, I'm more guarded, and haven't had much interaction with locals outside of service transactions.
Went to an adorable Indian restaurant for dinner that night, the food was delicious, the experience was strange. Actually, come to think of it, all my dining experiences have been strange, and I think I must not be using "yes" correctly. For example:
"Do you want cheese?"
"Yes, please."
"Good. So you want cheese?"
I've had that same interaction several times. Same with "no." Someone asks a question, I answer, I affirm the answer, and then they repeat the question. 
"Are you finished with your lunch?"
"Very good." (Reaches out to take my plate of food.)
"No, no" (defend my plate with my hands)
It's strange.
At any rate, I let my blood suger get really low yesterday, so I'm sure my mood fluctuations are coloring my impresssions of Paris.
My favorite time was yesterday morning, when I was up and out as the sun was rising, and the traffic was mercifully quiet, and the city was lovely and just alive with birdsong. I went to Notre Dame and just walked all around it, enjoying the light and wandering up and down the riverbanks.
When it opened, I went in just as it was opening for morning services. And wow. It's beautiful, of course, and I am feeling how inadequate that word is for so much of what I've seen here. And yes, it took longer to build than the United States has existed, and yes, it's stood for 850 years, and eventually I had to just sit and cry for a bit. And I found myself grateful to the Catholics for having places like this and sharing them with the rest of us. I wanted... I wanted, I think, to do something meaningful, but I don't know the rules about lighting candles and I didn't dare touch the holy water (although dammit I wanted to). 
Afterward I bought the obligatory postcards and sat at a cafe writing them and watching the morning. I think that was the most peaceful I've been so far.
Then I went into these ruins they found under the Ille de Cite, dating back to Roman times. And I had an emotional reaction to that as well, and also learned a lot about Paris' development over time.
Then I struck off on the right bank, to wander a bit and then hit the Champs Elysees. And that got frustrating, since I somehow kept being north of where I wanted to be, no matter how many times I turned south. And the crowds oppressive, and did I mention low blood sugar? When finally saw The Arc, I felt trimphant for sure. And wow. Again, "beautiful" isn't the word.
But before I went in, I had lunch and regrouped. Went into the Arc, looked at it, and the headed off to the Eiffel Tower. Which isn't hard to find, because if you're headed the right direction you can see it. And when it finally came fully into view, I felt something hard to describe.
And it was also just then that I became convinced that I won't be coming back to Paris. That it's beauful, but I don't need to see it again, and the world is wide. So what I don't do here, now (see the Mona Lisa, the Louvre, the catacombs, Sacre Coeur), I never will.
I wanted to touch it, so I went beneath it and a line was coalescing in front of me, so I got in it. It was the line to take an elevator up (there was no line for the stairs). Well yes, of course I wanted to go up, I wanted to touch it, and no I didn't want to take the stairs, so I stood in that miserable line for 3 hours with rude Europeans riding my ass the whole time.
It was a mistake.
The longer I stood there, the more miserable and uncomfortable I was, and yet you get trapped in that mindset where you've already invested so much time you may as well see it through. And, again, it seemed that if I didn't do it then, I never would.
But I shouldn't have done it. I bought a ticket to the top, but then there was another long line on the 2nd floor to get to the summit, and I bailed. I was angry by then, and wanted to rest and drink water more than I wanted anything at all to do with the damn tower at that point.
And yes, the view is amazing, but I think also it was the tower itself that I wanted to see, not Paris FROM the tower. I should have just admired it from the ground.
So I went down the stairs and began the long march back to the hotel, with aching blistered feet and a sunburn and an empty stomach and just not feeling what I wanted to feel.
Got back to the hotel and cleaned up a bit and assessed my blisters (bad, but I've had worse) and almost fell asleep, but I made myself go back out for dinner. 
Got back at 10pm, and had high hopes for this being the morning that I was able to sleep in a bit, but, as stated above, woke up completely at 4:30 am. 
Today, Montparnasse cemetary, since I missed it on Friday, and then I'm not sure what else. It will be nice to have some unplanned time, although I do wish it weren't Sunday, so I could hit a post office.
Tonight, Annecy!

I blog with BE Write

Friday, June 1, 2012

Train to Paris

On the train to Paris. Thought that if I'm actually going to try to blog everything that I do, I should try to make smaller posts more often. Besides, there's excellent wifi here.
This morning I had breakfast at the hotel, only slightly hungover. Then I went out looking for a drug store in order to obtain eye drops, since my lens solution does nothing. 
I found a supermarket, with a little selection of medicines and so forth, and was utterly stymied. Those delightful Dutch, who do everything in English, don't go bilingual on the medicine packaging. Everything is labeled with it's drug name (ethylhydroxine) or whatever, and then all the descriptors and dosages are in Dutch. I think I was able to distinguish eye solution from nasal spray, but no more than that.
I asked a guy behind the counter, and, no, I need to go to the pharmacy for eye drops, and they aren't open yet, but here are some unintelligible directions for where I can find it when it opens.
So I went back to the hotel and googled the location of the pharmacy, and then read up on Amsterdam. Population of 750k in the city limits, only 50% native Dutch. 4 million tourists a year, but 16 million come through on their way somewhere else.
I notice that everyone addresses everyone in English - it appears to be the language everyone speaks regardless of origin, and the default when speaking to a stranger.
I notice that, even though everyone HAS technology, they don't focus on it the way people do in Portland. If people are in a cafe or a bar, their phones aren't visible. They look at them on their way out the door, but the devices don't seem to command everyone's attention. At the train station, people read newspapers or chatted and smoked. Again, people look at their phones briefly, or talk on them, but they don't seem absorbed in them.
At the bar last night, Michael took for granted that all Dutch people also speak French and German and English, because Holland has always been a center of commerce and trade. He seemed a little sad that I hadn't learned a word of Dutch. He also seemed a little sad that America "rules the world".
Amsterdam has a liberal immigration policy (hence all the diversity). And so I thought about that for a while.
Checked out of the hotel, leaving myself a lot of time to hit the pharmacy and also navigate the enormous train station. Hoever, my mental google failed, and I couldn't find the pharmacy at all. So I still have the crazy red eyes. Sigh.
And the train station didn't require much navigating at all, once the nice man pointed me to the correct platform in English and then French just for good measure.
I really can get the gist of what French people are saying, incidentally. I just speak French like a child, nouns and verbs strung together with no understanding of tense or case, gender or article. And formal is just beyond me. On the train they make all the announcements in Dutch, then French, then English. And I know what they're saying before they get to English.
The train is quiet and lovely, and there is some accident ahead of us on the tracks and we're not going anywhere. And I'm seated in one of those unfortunate seats without a good window, and we're not even stopped somewhere picturesque, like the little bit of countryside we came through. I wanted to see more of that aquatic bird farm. 
And my fellow Americans are old and terrible. The poor woman serving us is doing it in three languages, bless her, and they just repeat themselves louder at her. And it seems each one of them has two suitcases big enough to hold a body. And the couple behind me has the maddening habit of repeating everything to each other three or four times. ("she just asked if you want coffee." "oh, does she want to know if I want coffee?" "Yes, do you want any coffee?" and so forth. I absolutely hate that, so I'm listening to music)
Hey! The train announcer just told a joke in the Dutch version of the announcement and all the Dutch people laughed. And then he didn't repeat it in the other languages, so I feel left out. Although he has a French accent, so you'd think he'd joke i the French one.
Anyway, we're backtracking a station, and then will change tracks and are running an hour late. This is awkward because my Paris hotel specifically asked what time my train is arriving. I hope they don't hold me to it. And I really wanted to get to Montparnasse cemetery this afternoon - I think it closes at 5. 
On the upside, I get another look at the aquatic bird farm.

I blog with BE Write