Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Namesake

We just saw the new Mira Nair film "The Namesake", based on the very satisfying novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Visiting the official movie site, I read comments from viewers on how much they have been moved, how they didn't want the movie to end, how authentically Bengali were the touches of decor, dialect, and mannerisms. All I can say is that the movie narrative flows like life itself, until its somewhat awkward end, moved along by the wise, humble and affecting characters/performers in the lead roles. Tabu shines in the role of the steadfast mother who learns how to let go.

I was in Calcutta and Jamshedpur once -- can't say it was pleasant, but it was certainly memorable and unlike any other experience I've ever had -- and the way Nair films her India summons up the smells, noises, dust-on-the-skin memories. The movie's American children return to the ancestral home and are desperate to leave instantly, shocked at the heat, and the lack of air conditioning and of familar references. But in showing how packed together the people are, the proximity of the home to the street and its crowds, we understand how unnatural isolation is for most of the people of this world.

It is first and foremost a movie about family, and how families of a diaspora such as the Indian one evolve, what they give up and what they have to strive to regain. Most migrating people move for opportunity and an incremental accumulation of little compromises are endured to make the most of it. It takes work, time and sacrifices to rise to the challenge. So many Americans' parents and grandparents and great grandparents have done it.

A generation later, the feeling of what's been lost is overwhelming but they must come to terms with it. And yet, there's a loss. And it is usually connections, not just with the homeland but with what makes a home and a family. Maybe the enduring custom of arranged marriage is a means to keep what is Indian in the family.

I've remarked before about the idea and even virtue of slowness. Here is another place where it fights against the current. It simply takes time to build and maintain connections, even with those it is easy to take most for granted.

An article a friend sent recently from Italy talks about the "insatiable" demands of the market, actually its "vampirizzazione" (translation probably unnecessary) of our time. And that's it -- the frenetic pace of modern life sucks the energy out of the flow of life.

I have not been blogging lately because of a deep and painful ergonomic injury, probably brought on by too much time at the keyboard. My body was telling me something and I'm listening. I'm not going to stop blogging, but other things will have to go. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Everyone is smiling. Unexpectedly, we encounter many neighbors on our desultory walk, loping unhurriedly with children and dogs. From the trail behind the wooded lots of houses, young girls squeal over something delightful. The gardeners are all unleashed to stuff huge garbage cans with winter's debris in anticipation. The sky is a piercing blue and we pick up the perfume of early Eudora as we continue along blocks once too far to merit the additional dousing. We comment on the trill of birds busy at their seasonal rituals. A baby squirrel narrowly escapes being flattened by people on a joy ride. Forsythia is bursting out from multiple yards and stretching out to the sun like a yoga pose. On a day like today, it is easy to forget there ever was rain.

Monday, March 12, 2007

la pasta fatta in casa

Embarrassing. I just bought my first pasta machine. Made in China for $25.00. So I wait for the whole "made in Italy" thing to be going down the tubes to decide to go Old World.

I know, I know. What took me so long? I had watched my mother make pasta at home from time to time, and it was just so labor intensive. Tagliatelle always made for a great meal, and I'd beg for it on birthdays and special events, but I never thought I would take the time to do it myself. And the machine only does part of the job and has that hand crank...not worth it. I thought.

But I was wrong! All those wasted years! Pasta is at least as easy as pie. Of course it took my mother forever to make it. She had six mouths to feed besides her own (and she never seemed to have time to put any morsels in it and was a rail most of her life). And she forsook the machine for the old rolling pin and knife because there wasn't a machine her whole life that she liked. As Old World as I am now about my pasta, I am modern compared to her. And, I have to say, happily, contentedly, so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ciggies and gurrls

Back on February 15, I had a post about the new Camel cigarette packaging. It is snazzy stuff, designed to appeal to gurrls.

And here's proof! While walking the dog past the neighborhood junior high school, this is what I spotted.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Time was, no one in Italy could have been accused of rushing madly through life. Meal time with family was sacred, as was the post-prandial "riposo".

A walk in the piazza, a caffe break, an apertivo at the end of the day were moments to kick back and enjoy the day. Adoption of new technology lagged behind the rest of the industrialized world, so no one was checking email or surfing the Internet.

Well, that's all changed and now Italians have to actually think about taking it slow. Feb. 19 has become the "Giornata della Lentezza", or Day of Slowness, when people are reminded that efficiency and productivity aren't everything. To celebrate the day, there was a "slow marathon" in Rome and a cloud-watching event. The media spotlighted the 55 "Cittaslow" or "Slow Cities" that are part of the Slow Food movement (also originating in Italy). And now there is even a movement promoting slowness.

Milan Kundera wrote about the dehumanizing, pleasure-depriving fact of going fast in his 1993 book Slowness.

Speed is definitely associated with our modern, Internet-time, multi-tasking (and reptitive motion injury as my chiropractor reminded me today while cracking my computerized neck) lives. An Internet search under "slowness" brings up questions and answers about slow computers. Speed is a user benefit many computer industry vendors identify when selling. We live in such a pumped-up era, that is still undergoing so much change as it hurtles into the future, that implicit in its culture is the low value placed on remembering how life was before. Kundera says slowness is associated with memory, speed with forgetting.

And where do relationships come in? If speed is a value, does depth matter? Women have always enjoyed spending time, lots of time, chatting and relishing the rapport we feel with women friends. I'm always amazed when I see the clock on the phone recording the amount of time I've just spent talking with a friend. Where o where did the time GO?

Men marvel, or perhaps more aptly, scoff, at this trait. But it is something that depends on slow and is part of the female nature. Sadly, it is hard to find female friends who aren't too busy to indulge in a good natter these days.

One local place I go, where people end up positively euphoric over the effect of lingering over good food and hours of conversation is The Busy Corner. It is the antithesis of speed and efficiency. And it fulfills a need for the solace of slow.