Beau Travail (1999) Directed by Claire Denis. Starring Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, and Gregoire Colin. A brilliant retelling of Melville’s Billy Budd, only instead of a British frigate the action takes place in the desert on the Gulf of Djibouti near the Horn of Africa. Instead of sailors the men involved are soldiers in the French Foreign Legion. This is a movie about military discipline, routine, and codes of honor. A new recruit is introduced and tension develops with the second in command. There is not much of a plot or narrative arc but this is an extremely visual film and you get all you need to know from the visual story telling. The photography is spectacular.
There is an unmistakable undercurrent of homoeroticism swirling around just below the surface as Denis directs our gaze to the half naked young men going through their ritualist exercises and bonding together as in a slow moving ballet. It is an examination of military culture and the masculine mystique.
I just finished watching the series The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, which just might be the best show on TV right now. I highly recommend it. Not only does it showcase the world of chess during the cold war years, it is a fascinating character study of its protagonist Elizabeth Harmon. She is a child prodigy raised in an orphanage, adopted by an eccentric mother and is a brilliant chess player driven to win. She also has a built-in self-destructive streak that she struggles mightily with. The actor who portrays Elizabeth Harmon, Anya Taylor-Joy is remarkable.
As I was watching the credits roll by after the last episode, I happened to notice the author of the novel the series was based on was Walter Tevis. Snap! I realized at that moment that I had actually read that book years ago. 1987 in fact. Tevis is quite a good writer who seems to like to write books about games. Several of his of his other books were turned into movies. Some quite notable and one an American Classic: The Hustler (1961) with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. The Color of Money (1986) also with Paul Newman. And one of my all-time favorites, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) with David Bowie. Not surprisingly, Tevis was raised in Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky where he obtained a degree in English Literature. A nice little epiphany for me.
New Harmony, Indiana is a great place for a weekend getaway. It is an easy two-hour drive from my home base of Louisville, Kentucky (135 miles).
Maureen and I set out about eleven am figuring to get there in time for lunch. Only made one wrong turn but, discovered my mistake quickly enough that it didn’t really result in any loss of time. Yes, I have GPS but I usually only consult it as a last resort. I like the challenge of finding places on my own after an initial consultation with the map. I seldom get lost but sometimes I am surprised by my destination. And Maureen was no help as she would be the first to admit she has no sense of direction and seemed to be proud of it.
So, there I was on my own with no navigator. Well, I always say, Id’ rather have a navigator than an alligator. But lucky for me, Maureen was neither of these things. She was a fine traveling companion and lover as well. I had prepared a mix tape to listen to on our drive and we sang up every song we both knew and were in New Harmony before we knew it.
New Harmony is a small town, a village really, with a population of 850, situated on a stretch of the Wabash River. It was originally settled by a communal German religious group known as the Harmonists in 1814 wo attempted to create a Utopia. This worked for a while and then their leader, George Rapp, took them back to Pennsylvania, where they originated, in 1824. They sold the land to a socialist visionary named Robert Owen who believed in workers’ rights, an eight-hour work day, and communal living. Owen believed in a secular utopian socialism. He rechristened the community New Harmony in 1825. The Owenite community failed in the late 1820s.
The third utopia can be attributed to Jane Blaffer Owen (1915-2010). During her time in New Harmony she brought modern architecture to the town, such as the Roofless Church, the Atheneum and many public art pieces. She created serenity with Tillich Park, Church Park and the Cathedral Labyrinth and has left behind a legacy all her own.
While this is not a true Utopia, New Harmony truly is a unique experience. The village is very aware of its history and has done a good job in retaining its historical character and charm, and maintaining a state of genuine peace and tranquility. It features, public art and architecture, gardens, shopping, fine dining, a wonderful inn, live music, museums, a brewery, coffee shops, nature places, and an abundance of history.
So, like I said, we arrived right at noon, with the time change, just in time for lunch. I parked my car in front of the Bread and Breakfast where we were staying (The AC Thomas House) and we walked into to town. The first place we went was jammed packed so we made our way across the street to Sara’s Place. It is a coffee shop on one side and a pub on the other. We got into the long line to place our food order to the overworked barista and finally made our order. I had a panni and Maureen had a grilled cheese sandwich which is her “go to” choice in such situations. We carried our food out of doors to the patio, that’s when I noticed the pub. Say, I said, would you like something to drink? Sure, I’ll have a Hendrick’s gin and tonic, she said. So, I marched back inside to place our drink orders only to discover they didn’t serve hard liquor, only beer and wine. So, I, ordered a Stella and beat feet out to Maureen to see if she wanted a wine. She declined. We had a pleasant lunch out there on the patio under the warmth of a golden sun. A few minutes later her friend shows up with his daughter in tow and we make our acquaintances and exchange pleasantries. We are going to meet up with him and his partner later on that evening at the Red Geranium for dinner. Until then we were on our own.
We walked around the town a bit and visited a couple of the unique shops along the way. Maureen bought something to wear for later on that night at dinner. We moseyed on back to the AC Thomas house to unload the car and get unpacked. Her friend was going to pick us up on his golf cart a little later and take us back to his house for drinks before dinner.
Dan and John own an art gallery in town with many pieces of lovey art. We would visit their store tomorrow. Meanwhile it was drinks at their stately mansion on Main. Then we all piled onto their golf cart for the short ride to the Red Geranium for dinner.
The Red Geranium is known for its fine dining and congenial atmosphere. We ate out on the terrace. Food was delicious and the company was solid. We had a lot of laughs as Maureen caught up with her friends. David and John were from Louisville and thy had just moved to New Harmony a few year ago to open their art gallery and to lead a more tranquil life with their daughter. They had started coming to the village as a weekend getaway and fell in love with the place and decided to move there permanently.
After dinner we walked around the town a bit more. It was surprising how different everything looked after dark. Things took on a more sinister aspect and even the religious art had a pagan look to it. When we got back to the B&B we were exhausted. We quickly disrobed and climbed between the sheets and fell to sleep listening to the strains the mixtape I had prepared which I was able to play on my cell phone. The last thing I remember was Toni Braxton singing Unbreak My Heart before drifting off to La La Land holding Maureen tightly in my arms.
Next morning, we were up bright and early as our hostess prepared our breakfast of coffee and quiche. It wasn’t bad but not as good as expected. Today we would explore the village a little more before heading back to Louisville. We walked out to the labyrinth and wandered around there for a while then we came back to town to visit John in the art gallery. Of course, I took copious amounts of pictures which I will now share with you, dear gentle reader.
According to Buddhism there are two kinds of truth: Relative Truth and Absolute Truth. We recognize the presence of happiness and the presence of suffering. One day we realize that suffering and happiness are “not two.”
Where ever there is joy there is suffering.
Suffering and joy are not two.
Our life is the path
We enter the path of practice through the door of knowledge
All conditioned things are impermanent. They are phenomena, subject to birth and death.
In the Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path. In the Heart Sutra, Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara tell us there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no cessation of suffering, and no path. Is this a contradiction? No. The Buddha is speaking in terms of relative truth and Avlakiteshvara is teaching in terms of absolute truth.
The Buddha recommends that we recite the Five Remembrances every day:
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health.
All things dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.
When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end.
If we look deeply, we can see a wave is made of water.
While living the life of a wave, it also lives the life of water. When a wave touches her true nature, which is water, all her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death.
Liberation is the ability to go from the world of signs to the world of true nature.
What is essential is to be our best while we are here.
I don’t review every movie that I see, only those that I have a strong reaction to, good or bad. Had I seen The Painted Bird in 2019 when it was first released, it would have jumped to the top of my Top 10 list. As it stands, it is very high on my all-time best film list. A rare bird indeed.
The Painted Bird (2019) is a film by Vaclav Marhoul based on the novel by Jerzy Kosinsky. It runs just short of three hours and is unrelenting in its depiction of the horrors encountered by a young boy as he makes his way across war torn Eastern Europe trying to find his way back home. If it were not for the occasional modern references such as a plane flying overhead, or a vehicle on a road, we would think the action was taking place in villages found in the middle ages.
Central to the story was a starling that was painted white and released back into its flock only to be pecked to death because it was different from the others. This is the analogous to what happened to the boy who was subjected to unimaginable horrors along the way because he was different and didn’t quite fit in and wasn’t from around wherever he found himself to be. And one could say that is true of minor groups not fitting in to larger groups such the Jews of Eastern Europe and in Germany.
This is a movie of cruelty, inhumanity, and bitter truth. It is not an easy watch. As a matter of fact, when the film was shown in Venice large parts of the audience fled the theater. But the film has to be admired for the unvarnished truth it portrays and the artistry and craftmanship that went into its making. The acting is superb by all the participants. All the characters were believable and real. The crisp black and white cinematography by Vladimr Smutny is extraordinary. Each frame is composed as a masterwork of inspired creativity and shades of grey.
I can’t recommend this film to everyone due to its strong content, but it has my rating as an artistic achievement.
The Killers (1946) is a better than average film noir based on the Hemingway story of the same name. Starring Burt Lancaster as the prize fighter Ole ‘Swede’ Andreson, Ava Gardner as the femme fatale Kitty, and Edmond O’ Brien as the insurance investigator Reardon. Directed by Robert Siodmak. The first thirteen minutes are pure Hemingway and, in my opinion, the best part of the movie. The rest of the movie is quite good too, but that first part was very impressive. The rest of the movie is an expansion of the original Hemingway story and told in a series of flashbacks. Excellent performances by all, this was Lancaster’s first film and made him a star.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is in Kentucky along the Middle Fork of the Red River, next to the Red River Gorge in the middle of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Natural bridge is the centerpiece of the park.
I had occasion recently to hike the original trail from the Hemlock Lodge to the summit of the bridge. I made two ascents. One on the afternoon I arrived and one early the next morning. What a difference a day makes.
Right livelihood is earning a living without needing to transgress any of the Five Mindfulness trainings; not dealing in arms, the slave trade, the meat trade, the sale of alcohol, drugs, or poison, making prophecies or telling fortunes.
A job that involves killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying or selling drugs or alcohol is not right livelihood.
Making weapons or profiting from others superstition is also not right livelihood.
People may have superstitions such as believing that their fate is sealed in the stars, but by practicing mindfulness, we can change the destiny astrologers have predicted for us. Moreover, prophecies can be self-fulfilling.
Creating art can also be a form of livelihood. A composer, writer, painter, or performer has an effect on the collective consciousness. Any work of art is to a certain extent a product of the collective consciousness. Therefore, the individual artist needs to practice mindfulness so that her work of art helps those who touch it practice right attention.
As we study and practice the Noble Eight Fold Path, we see that each element of the path is contained within the other seven elements.
I lost my brother yesterday, here is what I had to say
Eulogy for Chris Bell
Dear family and friends…. we are gathered here today to honor the memory of our fallen brother. We few…we unhappy few…unhappy because he passed away…but happy to be here together to cherish his memory…we band of brothers, and sisters. We will remember this day and our brother long after he is gone and passed.
Chris Bell was a crackerjack car salesman and a closer. And for anyone in the business you know what that means. For him, there was no rock bottom to the life. He was way out there on a shoeshine and a smile and a devilish mustache.
His signature greeting was, “Hey, do you want to make a deal?” Then he would hit you with a killer smile and a laugh to light the heavens like he was Burt Reynolds or somebody.
He was serving his country in the US Army when he volunteered to participate in the Vietnam War. Wartime service is a tradition in our family and we are very proud of that fact. We are a family of warriors. And we all fight the good fight in our own special ways. Chris fought in Vietnam. And there he was exposed to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange which ravaged his body and his mind and robbed my brother of his fortitude and his vitality.
But Chris persevered and continued to live his life as best as he could, the mere shadow of his former self. For he was a man of considerable charm, character, and charisma before he grew ill.
But then again, we are all mere shadows, poor players, who strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard again no more.
We loved our bother and we are sad to see him go…but we know that he will continue on in our hearts and in our memories. And he will continue on in the universe like the leaf that falls to the earth without any idea of its dying and is born again by decomposing at the foot of the tree and nourishing the tree. Everything dies and that’s a fact, but everything that dies someday comes back. Nothing really goes away, and so too, will Chris live on.
The last voyage is the longest and the best. Look homeward, Angel, and may you rest.
Concluding poem (Based on Thich Nhat Hahn’s I Have Arrived)
I have arrived. I am home.
Dear ancestors, dear father, dear mother, dear sisters and brother, dear friends, I have arrived. I am home. I can touch the paradise of my childhood and all the wonders of life. I am no longer concerned with being or non being, coming and going, being born or dying. In my true home I have no fear, no anxiety. I have peace and liberation. My true home is here and now. I have found true happiness.