Monthly Archives: January 2011

Baby: Some of the Things I’ve Loved

39 weeks, four days

On Friday, I looked out the window and for a moment wished that I could have been out in the sunny weather exploring and strolling around the streets of Bristol. Then I realised that it was a week day so I would have been at work and I was grateful for my maternity leave. I’ve had five weeks at home now and it’s felt like a great privilege.

I have loved having an amazing variety of teas ranging from three peppermint pukka teas, chamomile, ginger, rooibos, vanilla, raspberry and so many more. I like the lack of stimulants in my diet. I like having to take care of myself because I have to take care of the baby.

I love receiving the weekly newsletters about the baby so I can know how little people get created and grow. I like packing away little baby clothes and especially the tiny little newborn mittens.

I love thinking about being the best I can be so when the baby comes it can be welcomed to a genuine environment full of love and happiness. I love how my priorities have been to minimise anger and conflicts and to read pleasant things (not rom-coms or women’s magazines) that inspire me and give me some purpose.

I like my new excitement about creativity and colour and crafts and making things pretty.

I like the fact that I can buy cherries for myself without having to justify it at all. I like all the fruit in the house, the bananas, oranges, clementines, lemons, limes and kiwi fruit.

I like feeling good about buying two big bottles of washing up liquid, 8.5kg of non-bio washing powder, 140 nappies for newborns and 36 rolls of toilet paper. The freezer is full of ready meals just in case I don’t have time to cook when the little one is here.

I like the time at home which lets me write a blog post everyday.

Most of all I love the fact that I will soon get to meet a whole new person who has never existed in quite that form before.

There’s a Zen Koan that asks ‘before your parents were born, what is your true face’? Before I meet the baby all I can imagine is our faces. I look forward to going beyond that.

Zen

Black Swan, A Reflection

We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom, but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince. But before he can declare his love, her lustful twin, the Black Swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated, the White Swan leaps off a cliff, killing herself and in death finds freedom.

The story, as the director Thomas Leroy, played by Vincent Cassell, tells the ballet dancers “has been done to death” but not in this way where we are promised something altogether more “visceral and real”. Tschaikovsky’s 1875 masterpiece is known as one of the most difficult ballet’s to perform and the prestige that comes from performing it well is simply invaluable apparently (source).

As a ballerina, it makes sense that Nina Sayers, played wonderfully by Natalie Portman, would agonise over getting everything just right and as she tells us herself, she wants to be perfect, but there’s more to this film than dancing. The conflict and struggle occurs within the young woman as she faces her own womanhood while trying to perfect a most difficult role, in reality and on stage.

The story itself goes back to the age old representation of being female and dealing with the basic archetypes: virgin, enchantress, mother and crone. The passage through time goes one way and once you leave one role behind you can’t get it back. The passage from virgin to enchantress is one symbolised by the bleeding that sees you leave childhood behind. The blood stops with the crone who no longer can produce anything fruitful and who has left reproduction behind long ago.

‘Virgin’ Nina is beautifully suited for the part of delicate Princess Odette but is finding it difficult to portray her evil twin Odile, the enchantress in this story, who can effortlessly seduce her intended. The transformation has to come from inside and Nina finds it difficult to let go.

Her fear of progressing is bound up with her profession and her mother who is holding on to the only thing she has left, her care taker matronly role which is on the verge of ending. She doesn’t make for a great example of what happens next as the madness, of which we gain glimpses, is a sign that she is resisting on to final stage of her womanhood, the crone. You can’t defy time but she tries by treating her daughter as a child, clipping her burgeoning wings, in a sense, as she tries to leave. She is the watchdog over the young dancer’s sexuality and we see her sleeping on a chair in Nina’s pink bedroom full of stuffed toys.

As Nina makes her way from ‘virgin’ to ‘enchantress’, we watch as the bleeding starts, in her psyche if not her body. The horror of the blood is a reminder of the unstoppable passage of time. As a ballerina, her years in the profession are limited, a fact portrayed starkly by an older dancer, played by Winona Ryder, who in her mid-30 is forced to retire.

We become witness to the ultimate battle between the death of her mother’s role and her own career which are fighting against the perfection of one moment in the spotlight and her professional glory. The struggle is externalised into this magnificent movie which is both gripping and horrific.

Matthew Libatique’s camera work, which flows and focusses like a dizzying dance, earned him one of the five Academy Award nominations for the film, as did Darren Aronofsky’s masterful directing.

The rite of passage from youth to sexual being is as familiar as the score from Swan Lake, but you’ll never see it or hear it quite like this.

Dogtooth at the Academy Awards

The Greek movie, Dogtooth, has received its ninth nomination, among its five wins, since its release in 2009. This is no ordinary announcement however, because unlike the Montréal Festival of New Cinema or the Mar del Plata Film Festival, we know that the whole world will be watching when the results are announced for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards on 27 February.

This is quite an accolade for a movie which has received a varied selection of opinions ranging from ‘a brilliant Greek black comedy’ (Guardian), to ‘special and troubling’ (Time Out), ‘weird’ and ‘as much an exercise in perversity as an examination of it’ (NYT).

Influences for Dogtooth come from director Giorgos Lanthimos, who also wrote the screenplay with Efthimis Filippou, and the look and feel are from the cinematography of Thimios Bakatakis which are praised by the NYT for ‘gauzy and diffuse’ light which helps ‘to produce an atmosphere that is insistently and not always unpleasantly dreamlike’.

Read the Ephemeral Digest review at http://www.ephemeraldigest.co.uk/2010/04/dogtooth-a-reflection-2/

Mary Tsoni in Dogtooth. Picture by Kino International.

Something with which I struggled in 2010

Physical mobility was my biggest challenge in 2010. Near the end of January I over exercised my right knee, while running with poor form, and I hurt / irritated the area.

This was pretty bad news because I had just signed up for the London Marathon and I needed the training. On the plus side though, my running technique needed work and my muscles needed a lot of building up. I may not have been able to run the marathon at all without the injury getting me to see a physiotherapist.

Mobility issues were a big part of my life until the end of April. I couldn’t climb stairs, couldn’t walk more than 10 minutes without hurting, limping, needing to rest. Once the damage had healed I started to face different issues, namely my body having to handle the long runs and then build itself up again. Black toe nails, swollen toes, damaged knees, hamstring injuries (well, just one), general aches and pains.

It was fascinating. The only suffering, as opposed to pain, I remember, was the frustration at not being able to run. The pain itself was manageable and even enjoyable since it seemed worthwhile.

Once the marathon was over, there was the Bristol 10k on 9 May and I’m not sure if it was too soon or not but I completed it in 1:00:17 but with a painful, spongy feeling in my right ankle. The pain started at around 3kms in to the run and didn’t let up until the end. The physiotherapist said to give my body some time to get back to normal before we started to look at what to do.

On the 1st of June however I found out I was pregnant. I was fatigued for the first few weeks and went to the doctor to find out if I was anaemic or if I had caught some other kind of bug but no, it was a baby.

The next few weeks / months were taken up with fatigue and morning sickness. My body was completely unwilling to run and in the first six months I ran twice because I only felt well for two days. I had a month or so when I felt ok and then once I got to seven / eight months I started to struggle with walking again.

I am now 39 weeks pregnant and walking, sitting and sleeping are pretty painful. Standing isn’t much fun and bending down to pick things up is barely feasible.

I have been back to see the physiotherapist because of pelvic problems. My tendons and ligaments that keep the pelvis fused together have been relaxing to prepare for labour. This means that the bones have no support and the pain can once again be immobilising. I was offered crutches and told not to do too much and I told her I barely do anything. Two – three hours of the house every couple of days isn’t much.

She told me to try to stick to five minutes walking since I would have to walk another five minutes back. No housework and nothing like vacuuming or anything strenuous. I was a bit shocked. Five minutes? I couldn’t even picture that.

Once again, the suffering is from frustration and not from the pain but it has made me think a lot about immobility and patience.

To The Left

Biutiful, A Reflection

Mexican director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is no stranger to gaining accolades for depicting the layers of society which are not readily promoted by the respective country’s tourist board or even familiar to most of the people living their ordinary lives.

In Amores Perros, Iñárritu teamed up with screen writer Guillermo Arriaga to film three stories that showed the contradictory nature of Mexico City (best film by the Semaine de la Critique at the Festival de Cannes 2000). In 2003, there were nominations for 21 Grams and now Biutiful has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and Javier Bardem has received an Oscar nomination for his leading role in this movie that looks beyond the surface of a city.

In fact, the popular Barcelona only peeks through occasionally with glimpses of the Sagrada Familia and a race through the popular tourist street Las Ramblas. Instead of showing the familiar, Iñárritu goes deeper and further to present the hidden side of Barcelona and its marginalised people. He does this by following one man’s journey as he deals with the last few weeks of his life.

Uxbal, played magnificently by Javier Bardem, is a small time criminal who is involved with peddling handbags on the street, providing illegal Chinese immigrants to a construction company and talking to the dead for cash. At the same time he is raising his two young children on his own and dealing with his unreliable ex-wife. Everyday is a battle in this barely recognisable life as Uxbal deals with both sides of the law unable to rely on anyone as shown in his dealings with the police in the shape of Rubén Ochandiano’s character, Zanc. Abrasive and corrupt, Ochandiano, last seen in Los abrazos rotos, is a vibrant contrast to Uxbal whose physical strength is gradually diminishing.

The loss of his strength is supplemented by a turn to the more spiritual side to deal with his life and the everyday and extraordinary tragedies in his path.

The title of the film Biutiful, stands for the young and innocent hope that seems to be crushed at every turn. For Uxbal this is particularly evident as he has vulnerable people who depend on him but he has to rely on others who are not trustworthy.

This is a well directed and brilliantly portrayed story of family and hope played out in the alleyways and side streets of Barcelona.

Biutiful is screening at the Watershed from 28 January to 10 Februrary.

Baby: Penguin launches the ‘first UK book app for babies’

Penguin has released one of the first book apps designed for babies as young as three months old, which will apparently help enhance children’s hearing, visual and motor skills. I was able to watch this app, called ‘Baby Touch Peekaboo’ , in motion last week as a friend demonstrated its use on her 16 week old son. There is a selection of stories on which you click. A scene of bright colours comes up and there are accompanying lyrical noises. A giraffe may make a sound or a penguin rolls off a hill with a whoosh and lands in the water.

All the baby has to do is touch the screen and the next scene goes by. Baby James, who was the littlest role model, showed dexterity and great capability in touching the phone but he was occasionally more interested in exploring it with his mouth rather than making the colours change.

The app seemed like fun and I know that I will be getting one as soon as they make it for android (otherwise I’m getting a new phone around the time baby gets to three months).

Antarctic: Signy Island - Adelie penguins

Read more on the Telegraph website. The app is available from the Apple store for £1.79.

Gurt Lush Choir, A Bristolian Winter Concert

Bristol’s Gurt Lush Choir, under the direction of D Sam Burns, are performing their Winter Concert in the stunning surroundings of the St Mary Redcliffe Church on Saturday 12 February.

The event takes place between 7.30 and 8.45pm and will be the largest event so far for the 200 strong choir, giving them the opportunity to bring their eclectic and adventurous mixture of Eastern European and English folk, hot gospel, pop, soul and classical songs, all in up to eight part harmony, to a wider audience.

Tickets are available on the door, priced £3 for adults and free for under 18s.

If after seeing the performance you are so inspired that you can’t stop from singing yourself, then fear not, they still have space for new members. The Gurt Lush Choir rehearses on Tuesday evenings in St Andrews, Thursday lunchtimes in Redland and Thursday evenings in Hotwells.

Just Out Of Sight, Mary Redcliffe

For more information, visit www.gurtlushchoir.com.

St Mary Redcliffe Church, 12 Colston Parade, Bristol BS1 6RA