Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Archive for March 2010

String of Pearls

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This is the very first story I ever had published, back in the mid 90’s. I often ask folks what they think it is ‘really’ about…

pearls2It is in the square, in the middle of our town; with the white clapboard church our mothers dress up for on Sunday, donning long white gloves with tiny pearl buttons that close tightly around their wrists; with the church we spent Sundays gazing through narrow windows at the crisp wild day beyond; with the church we no longer belong in standing, towering behind us broad and tall and white, that I see it. The spot. Like a splotch of chocolate ice cream or a small splash of mud on my lover’s cheek. I reach forward, extending my thumb to rub it away. He recoils as though my finger were a white hot poker sent to burn him.

“Does it hurt?” I ask. “No. No, it doesn’t hurt.” He turns so I can’t see his face and runs across the green. I run after him, blades of grass catching between my toes as my feet race along, air slipping past my teeth, into my lungs, chasing until I hold him in my arms. We laugh and fall on the soft green blanket, kissing with wet tongues and curious fingers, whispering words only we understand. My lips find the spot, hard against their gentle pressure, unyielding as they tenderly probe the foreign texture, a foreign taste, strong and bitter, so my mouth becomes cold and numb. I say nothing.

In the night we sleep beneath the silver moon, its brightness illuminating his face with cold cold light. It has grown. The spot has spread across his cheek, small dark crystals reflecting the moonlight into my eyes. “It is bigger,” I whisper. “Does it hurt?”

“No,” he says turning away so his face is hidden. “No.” I sleep alone. He sleeps with the spot.

No more kisses. No more laughing. No more running in the grass. My mother says, “Daughter, come into the church,” as she buttons her gloves and powders her face. “Come.” But I run outside to dance in the sun, to feel its warmth on my back as I lean over the bridge and watch the ducks paddling beneath me, wishing he was here.

He is hiding. He is hiding, but sometimes he comes out to play with me for a little while. It has grown, cold and brown and hard, so I can’t see his face, only the spot I don’t want to see. I say, “It must hurt now.” He answers, “No,” and hides again. I find him in the dark, standing with his face toward the window, his silhouette cut like glass by the light of the moon, I see the shadow of his hands, his fingers gently stroking his cheeks, his lips, his eyelids, seeking a place the spot is not. “No, it doesn’t hurt,” he says without my asking. I know it does.

I stand alone in the square, facing the church, its whiteness, its tallness, its wideness, and look to see if there is a spot on it, or perhaps on the faces of the white gloved women, our mothers, as they climb the marble steps to enter the darkness they call light. Their faces are shielded by soft powders, shaded by white silk hats, so I can’t see, but I know. They have no spots.gloves4white

Only he has the spot that is no longer a spot, but a face, a new face I can’t see. “Lover, give me a spot,” I say, speaking low so my mother won’t hear.

“No,” he says. “No. It hurts.”

“I love you. I want a spot, too.”

He stands in the light and turns to me. I see his new face, hard, crusted. I am blinded by the light, which cannot penetrate that surface, which hates the sun and shoots it back into my eyes like arrows. He carefully unbuttons his old brown shirt and lets it fall on the grass, then his trousers. He stands naked in the light, dark against the white of the church, darker than its opened doorway. He has become the spot. It is all of him, a hard brown crystal surface with small holes so he can breathe and feed it. Small red rimmed holes.

I run across the square, up the steps of the church and enter the dark light. Opening my mother’s handbag, I take out her gloves, slip them over my fingers, drawing them up to my elbows. One by one I button the pearls securely into place.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

31/03/2010 at 7:38 am

Paradise – on a white paper plate

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A long, long time ago, back when I lived in the USofA, I lived in Rochester, parsells1New York. In a very bad neighbourhood. It was the kind of neighbourhood you read about in the newspaper and no sane person would never ever go there at night what with the crack dealers and prostitutes and parolees of all sorts and all kinds of goings on.

We lived there in a big old Victorian house with an enormous garden, plenty of space for the kids to play – plenty of kids to play with. Our neighbours lived there, too in their rambling old homes. We liked it most of the time. So did they. We liked each other. There were times it was the easiest place on earth to be.

Summer on Parsells Avenue, hot nights steaming, when everybody’d be sitting outside on the front steps, or on the porches, just hanging. Records, all kinds blasting from cheap tinny speakers, rap, salsa, rock’n’roll, soul, funk, sort of like a music salad as you walked down the street to the corner store for a quart size bottle of Wink orColt 45, kids crowding around the counters looking for the perfect five cent ice pop.

Google Earth shot. The white house was mine. It used to be dark green like the neighbour's.
Google Earth shot. The white house was mine. It used to be dark green like the neighbour’s.

I loved those nights. People would put up card tables on the sidewalk, playing spades or poker, small stakes to while away the hot night. The young girls cruising by in their little floral dresses, showing way too much, causing more of a fuss than they realised, strutting for the boys, especially the ones with cars,  shiny fast cars. Little kids screaming up and down the street on their hot wheels, careening past the teenage girls and their foolish drooling beaus. Every once in a while one of them would crash, topple over, skin their knee, bump their head. And you’d hear the screams and their mamas would go running to them, picking them up, hushing their cries, drying their tears, and sending them back out for more crazy screaming and careening down he same bumpy sidewalk.

And the babies crawling all over their mamas. One thing about the folks on Parsells Avenue, they loved their babies. I don’t care what you say about how they treat their kids when they get bigger and brattier, but they sure did love them babies. They fussed over those little ones, holding them, passing them around, never letting them cry.

An old white man lived down the street in a rooming house. Nobody knew what was wrong with him. Some said it was oldtimer’s or the syph, or maybe a head wound from the service. Anyway, he was always walking up and down, saying ‘hi’ to everyone, asking their name, counting the trees. He never did remember anything except where he lived. Probably still there, walking up and down the street counting trees.

Those summer nights under the old maples went on forever, beginning with the first warm breath of spring in May and not stopping until the end of September when the nights got so cold even the little kids wouldn’t stay out past six or seven on their hot wheels.

Barbecues. Most everybody had a barbecue going every single night, filling up the air with all kinds of rapture. Mostly chicken. We all had a thing for chicken. But the Jamaicans would be doing up some goat which smelled so good you could die, not that you would even think about eating goat. And folks who went fishing down on Lake Ontario would come home with catfish and throw it on the grill. The white folks who were just living on Parsells Avenue until their kids got old enough to go to school when they moved to the suburbs, they’d cook up some hamburgers and hot dogs. But it all smelled so good. Everybody had their own recipe for potato salad.

You never knew there were so many different secret recipes for potato salad. Creamy salads, crunchy, some pure white, some a mess of white and green and orange. Salty or sweet or a little bit sour. Mine was always the best – and my neighbour Esther, two doors down, swore she couldn’t believe it was made by a white woman. I never did tell her I learned from an old black lady visiting from Georgia.

Of course there was also shrimp salad, you know, mostly macaroni and mayonnaise with a can of tiny little shrimp thrown in for flavour, peas too. Got to put peas in the shrimp salad. And there were greens and jell-o, too.

It all went down so good. And a good reason to be on friendly terms with your neighbours because if you were around they had to offer you some.

Me, I always just took a little potato salad – making sure mine couldn’t be beat. And a beer. Nothing like an ice cold beer going down on a hot day in the backyard with a barbecue.

Heaven, that’s when Parsells Avenue was pure heaven, paradise on a white paper plate.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

27/03/2010 at 7:34 am

Writing for pleasure

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A long time ago I wrote a novel. Actually, I kind of wrote a few, but I really only finished one in the sense that it’s done and I wouldn’t change it. Not that it’s a great novel – but it’s pretty good. I like it. I’m proud of it. I’d let my kids read it – one of them has, and she seemed rather pleased.

I’ve let a few friends read it over the years and one of them loved it so much she had a vanity pressing done for my birthday a few years ago. It’s one of the nicest presents I’ve ever received. It means my book, which made it to a publisher’s ‘committee’ but didn’t come out the other side, gets to sit on my bookshelf. Every so often I pull it out and read it. Reading it as a book is infinitely far more pleasurable than reading it as a computer printout or on a monitor. I can take it to bed with me or read it on the bus.

Over the holidays I gave it to a friend to read – it’s a funny rite of passage in my friendships – I have to like you a lot to give you my book to read. I only have one copy, so I can’t entrust it to someone who might lose it.

She read it and liked it well enough – though she wasn’t blown away. That’s okay – being enraptured is not part of the rite of passage. When she returned it, I slipped it into my bag to bring home. And there it was when I went through the bag looking for something to occupy me on the long bus-ride out to my neck of the woods.

Yip, it’s pretty good, I like it. Soon, I was swept into another world. Not into the plot and the characters, though they are part of it, but into another me, the person I was when I wrote it, when I edited it, when I sent it off to agents. I remember the hush of my heart when it was tentatively accepted and it couldn’t be sent to another publisher. I remember the horror of maybe having to appear on talk shows to promote it. And the dreams of what I might do with all the lovely dollars I would get when it became a bestseller – and then I could sell the movie rights! Mostly I find myself lost in the times of my life so many of the vignettes took place. Though it is far from autobiographical – there is the wretched date with the boy who picked dead rabbits off the road and threw them behind my seat in his truck; my awe at being in CBGBs for the first time, certain that chap in the far corner was William Burroughs; trying to make sense of sexual politics in an era with no rules; living in New York in the scary 70’s and the discovery and loss of ‘true love.’

I think I’m ready to write another one. No matter if it gets through committee… a book you’ve written is a beloved part of yourself you will have forever. One is good. Two or three or four are even better.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

24/03/2010 at 7:30 am

Posted in dreams, fiction, Writing

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The basics of film noir

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Orson Welles & Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil

More than crime drama, film noir is about the passion that drives men to murder and women to give up everything for a moment in their arms. The phrase was coined in 1946 by a French film critic to describe the gritty, black and white melodramas that dominated cinema double-features throughout the forties and fifties.

Bogie & Bacall in The Big Sleep

Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson starred as wise-cracking thugs or dime-store detectives, hard as nails and too easily foiled by a dame. The femme fatale could seduce any man – and had to do it with her clothes on: Lauren Bacall, Jane Russell and Veronica Lake brought them down, though they didn’t have much better luck than their male counterparts. Operating under the Hayes Code meant that crime could never ever pay.

A few suggestions for the beginner:

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • D.O.A. (1950)
  • The Wrong Man (1956)
  • A Touch of Evil (1958)

Film noir continues to evolve, especially in the low-budget, indy world, though Scorsese’s Oscar winner, The Departed (2006) could be considered an example of the genre. If you’re not quite ready to jump into the classics, try cutting your teeth on these:

  • Road to Perdition (2002)
  • The Cooler (2003)
  • Sin City (2005)
  • Hollywoodland (2006)
  • Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
  • Eastern Promises (2007)

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in The Departed

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

20/03/2010 at 9:15 pm

Posted in Writing

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Irish Films – from both sides of the Atlantic

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In honour of St Paddy’s Day, here’s a look at some of my favourite Irish flicks.

The top grossing Irish film of all-time is the sleeper hit The Crying Game (1992), starring Forest Whittaker and Miranda Richardson, about a British soldier captured by the IRA who finds himself drawn into their world. The film was carried by Jaye Davidson, as a very convincing cross dresser who seduces Whittaker. The hype was a bit excessive, but it remains a good watch and provides excellent insight into the Irish ‘troubles.’

The more optimistic The Commitments (1991) tells the sthe_commitments_disc_1-39tory of a group of working-class, Wilson Pickett worshipping, Dublin youth who declare the Irish are ‘the niggers of Europe’ and set out to form their own soul band. There’s the usual melodrama as the band works out its issues, getting gigs and building a fan base – but it’s full of great tunes and you can’t help cheering them on.

John Sales’ The Secret of Roan Inish (1995) explores Irish folklore. A young girl is sent to a remote island to live with her grandparents and discovers she is descended from the seal/human selkie. While slow paced, it cleverly intertwines the mysteries in the present with the supernatural past. A feel-good movie that won’t leave you feeling sick.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002) is one of the most heart-breaking films ever made, based on the true stories of four young women sent to the Magdalene Asylum, a home for wayward girls. Two gave birth out of wedlock, one was raped and the other was simply too flirtatious. They are essentially slaves in the asylum’s laundry, where, under the watchful eye of the nuns they are subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse – and if they are to survive, they must escape. Harrowing, especially considering the last of these homes was closed in 1996.

David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970) is an overlooked great film. Set in a remote village on the Dingle peninsula, far away from the travails of World War One, impetuous Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) has just married the middle-aged local schoolmaster (Robert Mitchum) who cannot ryanssatisfy her sexually. Tending bar in her father’s pub, she falls for a handsome English officer (Christopher Jones). Self absorbed, she is unaware that her father is involved with the rebels who meet at the pub. Is it Rosy who gives them away to the British? Or is she to be punished for her other sins? A must for serious movie lovers.

Dublin has a population of just over a million. There are 1.2 million New Yorkers claiming Irish heritage, making it the largest Irish city in the world. In America (2003) is one family’s story of trying to make it as new immigrants in the Big Apple in the 80s. Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton star as Johnny and Sarah, a couple running away from their son’s death, trying to start a new life with in Hell’s Kitchen, living amongst junkies, alcoholics and thieves in a condemned tenement. Based on writer/director Jim Sheridan’s own immigrant experience, In America crackles and smoulders with brilliant performances, especially from Djimon Hounsou as an AIDS infected African prince and Sarah and Emma Bolger, real-life sisters who play the couple’s much-loved, but emotionally neglected daughters.

Since The Godfather (1972), Hollywood gangsters have been almost exclusively Italian, easy to forget that the Irish mob dominated the first fiftyangels3 years of cinema. Like In America, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is set in Hell’s Kitchen, with Father Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien) trying to save the neighbourhood youth from the mob, headed by his old pal Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney). When a dirty lawyer played by Humphrey Bogart steals a hundred grand from Sullivan a gang war erupts and no one is safe. A classic gangster film – full of sneering, cynical dialog and larger than life characters.

But Irish-American gangsters go way back: Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) is set in 1863 in the Five Points section of Manhattan with Irish gangsimmigrant mobsters muscling the natives for position. One of the most violent movies ever made (at one point the blood runs ankle deep), I found it so far over the top, it was more annoying than shocking. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz do a fine job in their roles, but what makes this a must-see is Daniel Day Lewis’ unbelievable performance as Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting – a bone-chillingly cruel monster without a soul. (Day Lewis also stars in two other worthy Irish flicks – In the Name of the Father (1993) and My Left Foot from 1989). Gangs of New York was nominated for best picture Oscar, but Scorsese wouldn’t take home that prize until his next Irish mob movie – The Departed (2006).

Set in that other Irish-American enclave, Boston, The Departed is a remake of the brilliant Chinese spy versus spy thriller, Infernal Affairs (2002). Scorsese recasts it inside the Irish mob with Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio as detectives both working for boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) but on opposite sides of the law. One of the most complex storylines of all-time, Scorsese manages to keep the story on track and the audience on the edge of their seat for two and half hours. Though it pales beside Taxi Driver (1976) or Goodfellas (1990), the Oscar was well deserved.

Also not to be missed, the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossmillering (1990) pays tribute to the 30s gangster flicks, with Gabriel Byrne as chief advisor to Albert Finney’s Irish mobster. Sleazy women, illegal booze and copious violence combined with classic Coen Brothers’ twisted humour make this near-perfect.

If you’re in the mood for smaller, indy flicks, check out Intermission (2003) with Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy featuring in a madcap caper of Dublin slackers trying for the big score. Disco Pigs (2001) is an impossibly sad, but poignant tragedy with Cillian Murphy and Elaine Cassidy as Pig and Runt, childhood soul-mates, now teens torn apart by separate desires. It actually made me cry. For some light-hearted fun, I recommend The Most Fertile Man in Ireland (1999) with Kris Marshall as a 24-year-old virgin red-head who finds he, or rather his high sperm count, is the answer to Ireland’s infertility problems. I Went Down (1997) might be a bit of a mission to track down, but this dis-organised crime comedy is twisted enough to make it worth it.

Lastly, Once (2007) proves that musicals don’t need to be overblown affairs. Shot on home video and a shoestring budget, it ran onceoff with the Audience Award at Sundance. Starring non-actors Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and Marketa Irglova, it’s the straightforward story of a Dublin busker’s budding relationship with a piano-playing solo mum. The scenes where the two musicians begin collaborating are some of the most emotionally honest depictions of music-making ever seen on film. And the original songs, written and sung by Hansard and Irglova, are superb.

What are your favourite Irish films? And… tell me about some more recent ones…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

14/03/2010 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Film

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Something that sings

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Been a while since I went on about dreaming – one of the recurrent themes around these pages, and also in my life. I have a close friend who has such absolute faith that we can dream the world we want into being, I am encouraged to dare and dream a little bit more. Akin to taking over the world – except it’s more like taking over my own world, my own time and space, instead of giving it over to someone else’s world.

Why give all the crazy away? Should be keeping some for myself.

Another singer I was never a big fan of – John Denver. Something about him always rubbed me wrong, though I can’t say what it was. Always did like the lyric, “Take me home country road, to the place I belong.” For a free-floating tree like me, a bit of a rambler in the world, it always bring one or two of those hot, dry, embarassing little tears to my eyes. I blink them back before anyone’s noticed – except me. So who am I fooling?

The times I run into places like this, I don’t need to hear it. I know it and feel it and let it run through me, except there’s no achy little tear, but a satisfying sensation of being home.

First light. Funny how we can have first light again and again. Don’t you think?

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

12/03/2010 at 9:32 pm

Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes

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Chalk girls

Actually never was much of a Jimmy Buffet fan – I was never that laid back. But I always thought that was a nice little turn of phrase, and what with my passion for changing latitudes and my growing sense of restlessness with the bread and butter duties of day to day life, it fits rather snugly at the moment.

It started back in the spring, 1st of September to be exact, when it dawned on me that Spring had Sprung a Crossroads. I began to feel an itch I just couldn’t scratch. And of course – those kind of itches just go on and on. Six months later – I’m ready to rock’n’roll. Changes coming fast and strong – more powerful than a speeding locomotive, faster than lightning and sharper than a honeybee sting.

I love the audacity of these wee girls to create a giant woman – a fifty foot woman – unstoppable and immovable. No reason I can’t do it, too.

Film at 11.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

09/03/2010 at 9:46 pm

Posted in dreams, Photography

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