“Everyone is always a little guilty.” – Book Review on The Outsider by Albert Camus

My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram from the old people’s home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Very sincerely yours’ That doesn’t mean anything. It might have been yesterday.” So begins the indifferent account of Mersault, the honest protagonist whom Camus called “a man who… agrees to die for the truth” and was characterised by the author as “the only Christ that we deserve“.

Shortly after his mother’s death, Mersault has a new girlfriend and goes to the beach for the weekend with his friends, one of whom is targeted for revenge and injured by a gang of Arabs. Later, Mersault returns with a revolver and shoots dead one of the Arabs under the scorching sun – “the sky seemed to split apart from end to end to pour its fire down upon me“. Pausing a short while after the first shot, Mersault fires four more times at the lifeless body – “… and it was as if I had rapped sharply, four times, on the fatal door of destiny.” At the end of the trial, based largely on his indifference towards his mother’s death, the jury pronounce death penalty for Mersault.

Indifference and honesty without compromise

Mersault’s lawyer, when preparing for the defence, raises the issue of not showing emotions during his mother’s recent funeral. Mersault replies, “I undoubtedly loved Mama very much, but that didn’t mean anything. Every normal person sometimes wishes the people they love would die.” His lawyer further asks if he can respond to the prosecution by saying Mersault merely keeps his emotions under control on the day of funeral. Mersault disagrees with the answer and prefers not to lie. His lawyer leaves looking angry. “I wanted to tell him that I was just like everybody else, exactly like everybody else.

The society honours certain moral ideals. However, when such ideals are honoured by individuals without compromise, the hypocritical society that cannot itself abide by such ideals, condemns those individuals. Mersault is an honest man who stays true to his feelings and thoughts. On the day of funeral, Mersault fails to show grief over his mother’s death as a son will usually do, as the high temperature distracts him from concentrating on the ceremony. Instead of conforming to social etiquette, he smokes, falls asleep, and drinks coffee. The arbiters of justice and moral ethos, who are granted the power to adjudicate and uphold the moral ideals, condemn Mersault not for being immoral, but for being true. Mersault’s death penalty symbolises the society’s reluctance to accept individuals unwilling to conform – hypocrisy is not denounced but a surviving trait.

Such indifference is not only exhibited by Mersault. To Mersault, the others are also indifferent. When Mersault is in court, his impression of the jurors is that “I was standing in front of a row of seats on a tram and all the anonymous passengers were looking up and down at the person who had just got on, to see what was contemptible about him.” They are watching Mersault for tangible physical details in the world which is lack of superior significance.

Freedom

During the imprisonment, Mersault once describes the location of the prison – that it is situated right at the top of the town and he could see the sea through a little window. I remember staring out of a small round window in a prisoner’s room in Château d’If near Marseille. The prison was surrounded by vast blue seas, and yet the prisoners were confined to their tiny dwelling space. As expressed by Mersault, it is often through the deprivation that you learn about its existence. This is why the government put people in the prison, and what freedom is for. To quote To Kill a Mockingbird, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

And yet it is easy to accommodate such loss of freedom. After all, one’s thoughts and beliefs are much shaped by the environment he or she is in. “… But that just lasted a few months. Afterwards, I had only the thoughts of a prisoner. I looked forward to the daily walk I took around the courtyard or the visit from my lawyer. As for the rest of the time, I got used to it. I often thought that if I’d been forced to live inside the hollow trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do except look up at the sky flowering above my head, I would have eventually got used to that as well. … It was an idea of Mama’s that people could eventually get used to anything, and she often talked about it.”

Life on earth and afterlife

Mersault is an antheist. While other Christian characters in the novella believe that the earthly life is merely a stepping stone to eternity, the existence of ultimate death makes Mersault find life nihilistic. This review does not intend to argue on the validity of any religion beliefs, and yet from this perspective alone, Mersault is not an outsider anymore. He is the only person who believes in the significance of earthly life. The other religious characters are in fact the outsiders, and yet they consider Mersault, who behaves and thinks differently, as the outsider of the majority.

Absurdism

The theme of meaningless life constantly appears in the novella. With the inescapable death, no deeds have long lasting meaning. As a consequence, all lives are the same. When Mersault’s boss offers him the opportunity to work in Paris and help set up a new branch there, Mersault replies that “you can never really change your life and that, in any case, every life was more or less the same and that my life here wasn’t bad at all.

Mersault even commits philosophical suicide by not attempting to fight against the trial which will likely bring him to execution. The transient nature of life makes Mersault think that life is not worth living. Also, as the ultimate death is definitely coming, it does not matter when and how one dies. In this way, one enjoys absolute freedom in life: “… it didn’t matter much whether you died at thirty or at seventy, because in either case other men and women would of course go on living, and it would be like that for thousands of years. Nothing was more obvious, in fact. But I was still the one who would be dying, whether it was now or in twenty years. When I thought about that, though, what truly upset me was the horrible lurch I felt inside at the thought of twenty years of life yet to live. But all I had to do to banish that feeling was to imagine what my thoughts would be like twenty years from now when I would have to face the same situation. If you are going to die, it didn’t actually matter how or when, that much was obvious.

For the first time in a very long while, I thought about Mama. I believed I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a ‘fiancé’, why she had taken the chance to start over again. There at the home, where lives faded away, there as well, evening offered a wistful moment of peace. So close to death, Mama must have felt set free, ready to live once more. No one – no one – had the right to cry over her. And I as well, I too felt ready to start life all over again. As if this great release of anger had purged me of evil, emptied me of hope; and standing before this symbolic night bursting with stars, I opened myself for the first time to the tender indifference of the world. To feel it so like me, so like a brother, in fact, I understood that I had been happy, and I was still happy. So that it might be finished, so that I might feel less alone, I could only hope there would be many, many spectators on the day of my execution and that they would greet me with cries of hatred.

Mama often said that no one is ever really entirely unhappy.” “Although actually, everyone is always a little guilty.

Perhaps to Mersault, death brings freedom from the heavy social chains. Perhaps death brings him true happiness.

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Ramen Girl’s Ramen Journey

(Taking a break from the more serious posts of opinions and reviews)

Don’t know since when, my friends have nicknamed me as the Ramen Girl due to my strong enthusiasm in ramen. Here are some pictures showing my ramen journey in Hong Kong and Osaka. I hope looking at these pictures can raise your interest in ramen, namely the best food ever : )

Hong Kong

1. Ichiran Hong Kong 一蘭

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2. Hakata Ramen Ryutei 博多拉麵龍亭

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2014-03-24 18.52.333. Aguya Tokyo Ramen Agura東京ラーメン

2014-02-17 18.28.43-14. Ramen Jo 拉麵 Jo

2014-03-20 18.54.355. Butao Ramen 豚王

2014-02-02 18.45.39 2013-11-30 21.58.37 2014-07-15 20.20.346. Gogyo

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7. Janya Tomato Ramen 醬家

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8. Ramen Kureha 拉麵來

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 9. Betsutenjin 博多拉麵別天神

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10. Nagahama No.1 Ramen 長浜No.1拉麵

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11. Kamitora Ramen 神虎拉麵

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Osaka:

1. Kinryu Ramen ラーメン 金龍

The first time I visited this ramen chain I was 10. The taste of the broth has stayed in my memory all these years.

It was the first food I tried upon arrival in Osaka last summer.

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2. Shitennou ラーメン 四天王

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3. Kamukura ラーメン 神座

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4. (Does anyone know where is this from?)

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5. Ichiran Osaka 一蘭

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6. King Emon 金久右衛門

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7. Menya Gaten 麺屋 ガテン

(Not exactly ramen, but super meaty and delicious)

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8. Menya Saisai 麵屋 彩々

THE BEST RAMEN PLACE IN OSAKA

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 The ramen journey is a never-ending journey. I looking forward to trying more ramen!

Meanwhile, I am craving for the RAMEN BURGER:

Some Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo Attack (in French)

Le mercredi 7 janvier était un jour de désolation en France – c’était le jour d’une cible d’attentat contre le journal satirique Charlie Hebdo, que l’a fait douze morts, dont dix employés de journal et deux policiers. Parmi les décédés étaient des dessinateurs Cabu, Charb, Wolinski et Tignous. Le journal a devenu la cible de terroristes à cause de sa publication polémique sur Islam.

La croyance de Charlie Hebdo n’est pas aux religions, mais à la liberté de se moquer à tous par des dessins satiriques. Parmi des organisations de pouvoirs, des groups divers ont devenu les objects de discussion de cet hebdomadaire. Avec le discours controversé, le journal a attiré des ennemis au cours des années. En fait, en 1970, Charlie Hebdo a été interdit a paraître par le gouvernment à la suite d’une publication satirique sur le mort de Charles de Gaulle.

Cependant, la France est une république fondée sur des valuers <<Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité>>. Elle honore tous les religions dont l’athéisme et tous les avis, comme tous sont égaux. It est obligatoire que l’on respecte avec la conscience humaine. Charlie Hebdo continue à être une publication très connue en France. 

Sans doute, les dessins satiriques sont méchants à ceux que discutent. Le gouvernment de la République a accusé Charlie Hebdo pour provoquer la haine. Mais chacun a la liberté de s’opposer aux philosophies, et ce dissentiment doit être respecté. Les faits de violence ne sont pas de moyens d’en exprimer le dissentiment: ils assassinent la liberté d’expression ,et particulièrement, ils assassinent le respect pour le dissentiment. <<C’est l’encre qui doit couler, pas le sang.>> Pour n’importe quelle cause, la violence n’est pas une solution. Elle forme le début des problèmes.

<<Quand on tue des journalistes, c’est pour fair taire. Attaquer un journal, c’est vouloir museler la liberté d’expression dans une démocratie.>>

Mes pensées et toutes mes condoléances de tout coeur avec Charlie Hebdo.

“What Can I Do If All I Can Remember Is One Image?” – Review on The Sea Close By by Albert Camus

“I grew up in the sea and poverty was sumptuous, then I lost the sea and found all luxuries grey and poverty unbearable.” Albert Camus, the Nobel prize-winning French Algerian author suffered from poverty and ill-health when young. He attended Université d’Algers by earning school fees over different jobs, but was forced to leave school due to severe attacks of tuberculosis.

Camus is known to often write in a distant tone in works that explore absurdism, a term and notion coined by the author himself, stating that life has no inherent meaning and any attempt to look for rational meaning in life ensures failure and is thus absurd. The lack of metaphysical meaning in life should not lead one into despair. However, Camus is still widely regarded as a humanist. He believes in human dignity in an indifferent world. The Sea Close By perhaps shows the humanist side of Camus.

The Sea Close By is a distinct prose among Camus’s works. Departing from the distant tone, The Sea Close By, published in 1954, six years before his death, presents Camus as a sensual observer of the sea and landscapes while voyaging around the New World. As an extended metaphor, it is Camus’s and the reader’s summery day-dream.

Few can duplicate the lyrical description in creating a dreamy recollection of sailing experience as Camus does. “The moment we leave harbour, a short, gusty wind vigorously brushes the sea which curls backwards in small, foamless waves.” We begin our journey with Camus. We can almost see the sea waves as how they are in Camus’s expansive yet concentrated language – “a bitter, unctuous foam, the God’s saliva, flows along the wood and loses itself in the water where it scatters into shapes that die and are reborn, the hide of a while and blue cow, and exhausted beast which drifts a long way behind our wake.

Intertwining with the account of the sailing adventures, Camus writes about his meditation on various issues in the splendid language of the sea.

There are times when the world gets ugly. There are times when the boundaries turn murky. “On that day I recognised the world for what it was, I consented that its good should also do evil and its drawback carry benefits. On that day I realised there were two truths, of which one must never be told. Embrace. “Rivers and streams pass by, the sea passes and remains. This is how we must love it, faithful and fleeting. I wed the sea.

There are also times where you conform to the societal norms. “Men see me walk by in fine and learned streets, I admire landscapes, applaud like everyone else, shake hands, but it is not me speaking.” Through conforming you hope to establish linkage with the society, and yet sometimes such conformity further distances you from the crowd. “Since then, I have been waiting. I wait for the homebound ships, the house of the waters, the limpidity of the day. I wait patiently, am polite with all my strength. … Men praise me, I dream a little, they insult me, I scarcely show surprise. Then I forget, and smile at the man who insulted me, or am too courteous in greeting the person I love.” You still feel lonely because conformity does not bring genuine spiritual connection. “What can I do if all I can remember is one image?

You start to doubt your solitude. “There is no country for those who despair, but I know that the sea comes before and after me, and hold my madness ready. Those who love and are separated can live in grief, but this is not despair: they know that love exists. This is why I suffer, dry-eyed, in exile.

Nevertheless, stay hopeful, as one day, our voice within will be caught by another wanderer. “Each cry we utter is lost, flies off into limitless space. But this cry, carried day after day on the winds, will finally reach land at one of the flattened ends of the earth and echo timelessly against the frozen walls until a man, lost somewhere in his shell of snow, hears it and consents to smile with happiness.”

There are also times when death is near. “No commands, the machines are silent. Why indeed should we carry on and why should we return? Our cup runneth over, and a mute, invincible madness rocks us to sleep. A day comes like this which draws everything to a close; we must then let ourselves sink, like those who swim until exhausted. What do we accomplish? For ever, I have held it secret from myself. O bitter bed, princely couch, the crown lies at the bottom of the seas.

And yet to Camus, the sea is the salvation. Death at the sea brings salvation to soul. Death at the sea, means happiness. “If I were to die, in the midst of cold mountains, unknown to the world, cast off by my own people, my strength at last exhausted, the sea would at the final moment flood into my cell, come to raise me above myself and help me die without hatred.

Perhaps we are all yearning to be understood or be able to understand.

A sudden love, a great work, a decisive act, a thought which transfigures, all these at certain moments bring the same unbearable anxiety, linked with an irresistible charm. Is living like this in the delicious anguish of being, in exquisite proximity to a danger whose name who do not know the same as rushing to our doom? Once again, without respite, let us go.”

2014-03-01 17.58.16(Very few know that I worship this prose by Albert Camus fervently – it is my spiritual pillar and source of comfort in times of hardships. By reading his words over and over, I seek refuge and regain inner peace of mind. I remember picking up the book because it is thin in size and costs very little. Sometimes it is funny how random decisions make a change in life. And it is a good change.)

Lastly, please enjoy the indulging clip by Tom Beard with Clara Page reading the first part Logbook of the prose. I often play it as I read the prose.

Programme notes on Adagio di molto, Second Movement, Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor (Op. 47), performed by Christian Ferras

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor is now a popular play in recordings and concerts, but received disastrous reviews in its premier. Originally dedicated to a renowned violinist Willy Burmester who would play in the premier, the concerto was instead performed by a violin teacher Victor Nováček due to insufficient financial resources. Nováček was never considered as a great virtuoso, and as the concerto was only ready for practice shortly before the premier, Nováček’s performance was not too promising. Sibelius made several revisions and it was only until 1991 when the concerto became well-known to the world through the performance by Leonidas Kavakos, a celebrated violinist of the contemporary times.

The concerto is a technically demanding piece, but unlike Paganini who was both a celebrated virtuoso and composer, Sibelius was a failed violinist. Sibelius took up the piano at nine, and violin at 14. Persistent tremor of his hands resulting from alcohol dependence precluded the possibility of a performing career. The concerto was therefore written for his “ghostly self”, dedicated to the instrument which “took [him] by storm”.

The concerto is highly passionate and rhapsodic, with rhythmic and technical difficulties throughout the work. It combines lyricism and fortitude, making it a rather unique composition among violin concertos.

Second movement

This review focuses on the second movement of the concerto. Different from the otherworldly first movement and the thrilling third movement, the second movement is unusually dark, much exploiting the lower register of the instrument. The haunting but contemplative woodwinds opening offers a big contrast with the violin entrance at lower tones in the manner of sonoro ed espressivo. The soloist, departing from the otherworldly mood in first movement, is asked by the composer to play melodically and be reconnected with the realistic world, while at the same time accompanied by pizzicato of string instruments to keep the music moving forward. The orchestra goes quiet for rubato passage of the violin before it plays the bridging melody. The soloist re-enters with slight paraphrase of the bridging melody, this time in the form of double-stop triplets and counterpoint. The soloist, playing in the higher register, weaves the heart-wrenching climax of the movement with the orchestra. Soon after the violin melody returns to the low register, the soloist is indulged in a sonorous fantasy of ascending broken octaves. The movement ends in an equally beautiful and contemplative manner as the beginning.

My favourite interpretation of the concerto is played by Christian Ferras (1933-1982), who was regarded as the heir to the French school after Ginette Neveu’s death. Ferras suffered from chronic depression and chose to end his life by committing suicide. The drop of water on his face you may have observed towards the end of the clip was not his sweat, but tears.

Filled with agitation, passion, and remorse – this interpretation is close to perfection. His vibrato and firm bowing instils every note with profound emotions. It does not, however, follow that Ferras pours out his soul entirely. His music remains largely restrained. This does not contradict with my earlier observation that the music contains profound emotions, as profound emotions need not necessarily be expressed explicitly and totally. Instead, these emotions are placed deep below each note, making the music rich. Listeners can discover something new each time they listen to it. Switch off all the lights and your computer screen. Let yourself be accompanied only by the music of Ferras and Sibelius. You will recall all your struggles and regrets during the past year. And yet, as the music gradually grows softer and more distant with high-pitched harmonics, you break away the chains of burdens. Such misfortune that Ferras did not break free from the chains.  

“Nobody never gets to heaven… It’s just in their head.” – Book Review on Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley (Often go awry)
— Robert Burns (1759-1796), To a Mouse

The nobel prize winner John Steinbeck tells the story of two migrant workers George Milton and Lennie Small in a ranch in California. Steinbeck’s works often features ranch workers due to his summer experience at a ranch as a teenager.

George takes care of Lennie, who suffers from mental disability and is much dependent on George, as they move from one ranch to another. They share the dream of buying farmland, but is rather unrealistic in the time of depression. Lennie has a fetish for soft things and has been found petting a dead mouse in his pocket. Days go by until the flirtatious wife of Curley, the boss’s son, knows of Lennie’s fetish and allows him to stroke her hair. Lennie starts to stroke it harder and tighter and during the attempt to shush her panic, he accidentally breaks her neck. Lennie is scared and run to the place where George has promised to meet him if he gets into trouble. George comes after the other ranch workers, in particularly Curley, find out death of the wife. George mentions nothing but their shared dream of owning a piece of farmland, raising lots of rabbits, Lennie’s favourite animals. George then shoots Lennie from the back, out of mercy.

I read this book once years ago. As a reader who almost forgets every plot of the book, all I can remember is some character petting something soft in his pocket and the feeling of deep sorrows. Having reread the book I understand why I forget everything else but the fetish and sorrowful feeling.

This world preys on the weak

Lennie is kind-hearted and innocent, and yet his innocence, which brings nothing more than sympathy and compassion, leads to self-destruction. It does not follow that innocence is not a good virtue. To me it is. Only that in this world which preys on the weak, innocence may not be the most preferred way of survival.

George, although sometimes short-tempered and may scold Lennie on his inappropriate demeanour, is a loving character. He takes good care of Lennie across ranches like a brother. Same as innocent Lennie, George has a simple dream of earning enough to buy his farmland, where he can live peacefully with Lennie, away from all troubles that may be caused by unpleasant people at the ranch. He strongly believes in this dream that he retells it from time to time to Lennie, who gets elated listening to it. However, the death of Curley’s wife caused by Lennie crashes his ideal. He comes to realise the cruel nature of the society. With the impulsive and mean personality of Curley and his authority as the boss’s son, George knows that Curley will definitely kill Lennie mercilessly. He also understands that the society does not welcome and takes advantage of the weak. “If I was alone I could live so easy. I could get a job an’ not have no mess,” said George to Lennie before shooting him.

Nevertheless, George loves Lennie deeply. There exists also a unique bond between George and Lennie – they are not lonely wanderers in the age of depression and wanderings; they are two connected souls that together, they are ready to stand against the world. Indeed, prior to Lennie’s death, the two distinguish themselves from other lonely ranch workers: “Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They ain’t got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ’em. But not us, because I got you an’ … We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us.”

One thing to note is that oppression does not only come from the physically strong or powerful authority. It may also originate from weakness. George sadly exhibits his oppression against Lennie at his moment of utmost weakness and helplessness through killing him.

Dreams are always dreams

Lennie’s death also represents the destruction of George’s dreams – the capability of sustaining themselves, becoming the masters of their souls, and the absence of harm and troubles from ill-intentioned people. These dreams are not much different from any other American dreams which advocate for following one’s own desires. The American Dream centres on the freedom and possibility of achieving what one wants. However, with oppression and the unfavourable circumstances in time, upward mobility is rare and difficult. Freedom can be hardly traced in this world which tends to confine people to established social orders. The American Dream, is merely a myth.

I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out there. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody never gets no land. It’s just in their head.

Although set in the early 20th century, the hope to find a comfortable position for oneself may still be an unreachable dream nowadays haunting many of us.

Loneliness

Loneliness is a recurring theme in the novella. Curley’s wife admits to Lennie that she is lonely and often flirts with other ranch men to escape from the loneliness, but it causes herself and others troubles. Same for other ranch workers. Crooks is a black worker. Because of his skin colour, he has to live elsewhere and cannot join others to play cards. He would get fury when others go into his dwelling place. Candy is an aged man with only a dog as friend, but it gets killed by another ranch leader for it was “old and useless.” When he learns about the plans for Lennie and George, he participates in the discussion with strong interest and hopes to contribute for the farmland, and more importantly, a place where they can safely call home. They are all lonely people, either trying to connect to the world by their own means, or repel company in fear of re-encoutering loneliness having get used to friendships. Except Lennie and George. Although alienated from the world as migrant workers, they are not lonely souls like other ranch workers, because they got each other. However, this all ends when George kills Lennie.

Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.

La noyée – Serge Gainsbourg

Many should know Serge Gainsbourg as one of the most influential figures in French pop music history, but few may have listened to his work La noyée. As what the narrator said in the beginning of the recording, “You haven’t heard of this song before, and perhaps you never will hear it again. So please treasure the opportunity and listen to this unpublished work.” Gainsbourg wrote the song for Yves Montand, who is known for his interpretation of Les Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Leaves). However, Montand refused the work and no reasons were provided by Gainsbourg. Some suspect the refusal to be related to Montand’s relationship with Edith Piaf and the comparison of Piaf with bitch in the lyrics. Piaf, older than Montand for six years, discovered his talent and nurtured him. As Montand shared similar childhood experience with Piaf, her love for him was both romantic and motherly. In 1946, the year where Montand had achieve great success in his career by selling more than a million copies of his record, Piaf left him for reasons unrevealed. The lyrics use river to represent reminiscence of the beloved, who is drowned in the river of memory, wobbling along the waters, to never be seen again.

The following is my translation of the lyrics. This is my favourite French song, and it has strongly reinforced my interest in French music and culture. Some people tend to hide from the world what is precious to them. I hope more people can listen to it and enjoy its beauty.

The Drowned (La noyée)

As you drift along the river of memory
I chase on the bank and howl for you to return
But gently, you recede
And in my frantic run
Bit by bit, I gain back
Bit of my lost terrain of yours.

From time to time, you sink Into the restless liquid
Or as you brush against brambles,
You hesitate and await me
Obscuring yourself
In your rolled up dress,
Fear of distorting
With shame and regrets.

You are merely a pathetic wreck,
Bitch dying in water
But I stay as your slave

And plunge into the stream
When the memory rests
And the ocean of oblivion
Shatters our hearts and our minds,
We shall reunite, forever.

Movie Review on God Help the Girl (2014)

God Help the Girl is a 2014 musical film debut directed and with song written by Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian, telling the story of a once depressed teenager who recovers and marches on her way to making good music. Eve, an anorexic patient escaping from psychiatric hospital, meets James, a lifeguard, and his music student Cassie. Together they write songs and form a band with other local artists. As Eve’s boyfriend fails to deliver her tape to the radio station for screening and James has been distancing himself from his crush Eve having found out she has a boyfriend, Eve takes drugs and is sent back to the psychiatric hospital. Eve stays strong and has decided to attend music school in London. Before she leaves, the band performs in a concert with great success, and the radio station has played her tape. Online reviews on God Help the Girl are of mixed opinions. While some appreciate the creativity of Stuart Murdoch, others may find the separate musical episodes barely linked together by the story of Eve recovering from anorexia. True that the storyline is weak and the development of story inadequate with prejudiced focus on the musical parts, this first attempt by the Murdoch adds unique colours to the cinematic landscape. The costumes The main characters provide plentiful fashion inspiration to the audience – cute little black dress brought to life by Audrey Hepburn, bold leopard prints, and tartan trousers that were adopted as golf wear in the 1920s and are welcomed by the preppy fashion – their costumes are a pleasure to see on screen. Satchel used to be an exclusive item of English schoolboys in the 1950s and 60s, and yet have now become a necessary accessory of indie pop. The exquisite satchels carried by Eve and Cassie add a sense of independence to the characters and music but do not diminish any melodic softness. The bold use of colours – peach pink peter pan collar on orange floral dress and red hairband against red-blue strikes make you feel like starting afresh in the morning. The music Of course, the move is much more than that. Its music featuring Eve (Emily Browning) as the vocalist melts your heart. The simple backdrop and cute dance moves add to your anticipation of each little musical episode in the film. The songs describe simple things and emotions from daily life. Their melodies are lightly sonorous – contradicting it may seem, the apparently unintentional music circulates your mind and body long after your first perception. You can also sense independence from the music. Even without arrangement or ornaments, the blossoming melody can stand well on its own. Perhaps this is what makes it a gem. “Collective idiocy” The plot features a small argument between Eve and James towards the end. James once says, “I don’t mind people. I just can’t stand collective idiocy.” While it is difficult or almost impossible to distinguish between collective idiocy and general intellect, James has the tendency to isolate himself both out of superiority and inferior complex. He finds himself too good but at the same time unable to meddle in the turbid waters of the world. He stays as a lifeguard writing songs for his own pleasure. Indeed, the three main characters have been escaping from the world through music, especially Eve. It is certainly alright and a matter of personal choice as to the purpose of writing music – whether for personal pleasure, commercial value or gaining recognition. Only that as Eve gradually recovers from her emotional problems, she understands the importance of connecting to the world. By connecting to the world, she can receive more support and resources to produce better music. It is perhaps right for the critics to say that God Help the Girl is filmed for a certain niche – some cannot stand the isolated musical episodes and the lack of in-depth discussion through dialogues. However, it can certainly put you in a dreamy state for close to two hours. Same as the main characters, you can take a break from the reality for a while. Get yourself immersed in indie pop and wonderful vintage vision, and add in your own imagination to fill in the gaps – that surely is a pleasant experience on its own!

What Will Your Verse Be? – Movie Review on Dead Poets Society (1989)

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American film set in the 1959 Welton Academy, an elite and conservative preparatory school that oberves tradition, honour, discipline, and excellence. John Keating is a former Welton graduate who has recently joined the school as English Literature teacher with unorthodox teaching that centres on critical thinking. Having learned that Keating was a member of the unauthorised Dead Poets Society, which is set to encourage the youth to “seize the day”, his students restart the society and are gradually inspired to pursue their dreams. Among them is Neil, who has discovered his passion in acting and has obtained the main role in a Mid-Summer Night’s Dream production. Tragedy happens when Neil’s father strongly opposes against Neil’s participation in the play and is sending Neil to military school to ensure that he can get into the Harvard Medical School. Devastated by the totalitarian attitude of his father, Neil commits suicide. Another student Cameron blames Keating for leading to Neil’s suicide. Keating eventually leaves the school.

On carpe diem

The society is full of adults, who may have stumbled on challenges and failures when young, directing the youth on how to live out their lives. While wisdom from the aged is precious, it is not absolute truth. Conforming to adults’ expectations may bring stable income, but it kills the passion in hearts, and it will be too late when they realise this. In the first English Literature class, Keating brings the students to look at school photos, capturing boys with similar temperament and confident smiles that the world is their oyster – they have all become fertilising daffodils. Instead of encouraging conformity, Keating’s ideal of carpe diem rings in their minds – “Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

As Henry Thoreau wrote in Walden,

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

To teach the boys to “seize the day”, Keating brings them to the courtyard to stride in personal style. He tells them to rip pages of “Understanding Poetry” out of the book, in which a PhD scholar suggests measuring the greatness of a poem by a mathematical formula. To Keating, one reads poetry as a member of the human race; the passion and artistic impulse of human race cannot be measured by static mathematical formula. Also, proposition of scholars needs not be blindly trusted. Instead of submitting to the authority, “consider what you think.”

However, “sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.” This is what Keating said to Charlie, who has published an article in the school newspaper under the name Dead Poets Society demanding girls be admitted to Welton and made fun of the headmaster Nolan in assembly. While carpe diem means living the most out of life, it does not suggest reckless behaviour  – “there is a time of daring and there is a time of caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.”

On burning with passion and being burnt

However, poetry is unrestrained like fire. Some may create greatness with burning passion, but some may be burnt by the passion itself. What makes the difference? The valour of making concession when necessary, of not taking carpe diem to its extreme. As said, seizing the day does not mean living recklessly. Apart from living life to its fullest, it also means keeping up with the changes in life. When life goes against you for following your heart totally, it may not be a good idea to confront the blockade directly. Sometimes one may gain more in the end by circumventing direct confrontation but solving the problem through other means.

“O Captain! My Captain!”

Subsequent to Neil’s suicide, the headmaster Nolan has started an enquiry into the cause of Neil’s death upon request of his parents. While others may easily realise that the domineering father plays a central part in causing Neil’s suicide, the wrongdoer often refuses to recognise one’s own faults, and will find faults in others to alleviate one’s own guilt, if any. Neil’s father is a good example. Cameron tells the school authority about members of the Dead Poets Society, and puts the blame all on Keating for his unorthodox teaching and zealous ideals. One by one, the members are forced to sign a paper attesting to Cameron’s allegations. The boys sign the paper, understanding that there is nothing they can do. At this stage, they lack the power to change the adults’ mindset. No matter how noble their intention is, with pressure from the school administration, the possible sacrifice of future and the burden of their parents’ expectations, each of them alone in the headmaster’s room is too weak to fight back.

Nolan then takes over the English Literature class. When Keating comes to fetch personal belongings from the classroom, Todd, who was once shy but has discovered his potential in poetry through an improvisation exercise, stands on his desk and says that Neil’s suicide is not Keating’s fault. Keating has before asked the students to try standing on the teacher’s desk, learning to look at things from a different perspective. With Nolan shouting and ordering him to sit down, Todd stands up straight and salutes Keating with the phrase “O Captain! My Captain!”, a poem Walt Whitman wrote to honour Abraham Lincoln.

One by one, the boys stand on their desk, saluting the Captain as he leaves.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Keating asks, “What will your verse be?”