Monday, March 14, 2011

The horror in Japan

This has been such a terrible week in Japan. I've got CNN on all the time, just watching those endless repeats of that unstoppable black tide sweeping over farmland. Salt water, too - imagine what that will do to the soil, even when the debris is cleared away.

One of the most uncanny things is the absence of dead bodies. We keep reading reports about whole towns swept away, 10,000 missing from a population of 17,000, but where are the bodies? It's like 9/11, when the hospitals in Manhattan were braced for a wave of casualties that never came - the bodies were just incinerated and never seen again. Weeks and months of homemade "Missing" posters on plywood barriers, growing faded and tattered, as people had to accept that they'd never really know what happened to their family members.

This reminds me a bit of the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in 1888 - not in scale of course, but the descriptions are eerily similar. The tidal wave of water that crashed down the mountain was not a pure, white-topped wave like off the beaches of Hawaii - what we all think of when we hear the words "tidal wave". It was also cluttered with dirt and debris, and looked more like a liquified mountain churning towards the city.
The wall of debris and water came on not steadily but in an irregular series of thunderous checks and rushes.

At times, eyewitnesses said later, the debris would even clog the path enough to bring the whole thing to a momentary standstill. All the crushed and tangled sweepings from the dam down would lock clear across the valley, seeming almost more than the millions of tons of pressure from behind could budge.

But the then whole seething mass would burst apart, with trees and telegraph poles flying into the air, as though blasted by dynamite, and the water would rush forward again, even faster. And as it moved on, the water kept on tossing logs and roots above its surface, as though the whole mass were full of life.

The friction set up by the terrain and the debris also caused the bottom of the mass of water to move much slower than the top. As a result the top was continually sliding over the bottom and down the front of the advancing wall, like a cake of ice across a slick board. The water, in other words, was rolling over itself all the time it was pressing forward, and this caused a violent downward smashing, like a monstrous surf falling on a beach, that could crush almost anything in its path. A man caught under it had no chance at ll. In fact, one of the major problems later on would be finding the bodies that had been pounded deep down into the mud.
The last human remains were recovered in 1904, I think.

A lot of people must have been swept back into the sea when the tsunami waters receded, and there's a hope their bodies might be found. Very soon, I expect, they'll find them floating on the surface. But I fear that many may have been crushed into the earth the way the people at Johnstown were, and the Japanese may be finding fragments of them for years.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Anglicanism's rich musical heritage

Stand Firm and MCJ posted this incredible addition to Anglicanism's rich musical heritage:

I guess Dudley Moore's estate wouldn't grant them the rights to "Jump":
(DNPAW - Do Not Play At Work)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Flushed with success

One thing I will probably never succeed in doing is conveying adequately to other people how very dominated by unlikely things our home life is. And one of the most dominant features is the toilet. A lot of our life revolves - one might even say, "swirls" - around the toilet. Getting kids to the toilet on time and coping with the times when we don't make up a big part of every day. And apart from normal use, we also have to deal with James's very innovative approach, which involves flushing things down as entertainment.

Clogs were such a frequent occurrence, that when we had to call the plumber two weeks in a row to unclog the same toilet, he finally took pity on us and recommended we invest in a super-toilet. After a few more experiences, we did, and this is the monster we now have in the main floor bathroom:

It is the American Standard Champion 4, and believe me, it's a brute. But plumber calls have dropped dramatically since we installed it some 6 months ago. When we eventually have to replace the normal toilets upstairs, we're going to get these, but we did the ground floor because that's the one James and Thomas tend to use the most.

Not that things are entirely problem-free now. We don't have so many clogs, because this toilet is so powerful and the pipe is wider, so things can actually make it down the bend. I'm pretty sure James flushed my car keys down the toilet, because I've searched the whole house and there's no sign of them. He also sometimes tries to flush his Thomas the Tank Engine toys down the toilet, and those can get wedged in strange angles, which makes them hard to dislodge.

That's why I also bought a drain snake last year, to try to get some of this stuff out myself. First I got a little one, and it worked well, fully justifying the $15 or so it cost. After that experiment succeeded, I decided it was worth investing in a big 6' long industrial-size one for $75 to cope with bigger problems.

I have to say, it's a marvellous tool, and has paid for itself several times over. The best experience I had was when I put it down the toilet several times, and managed to bring up one of the train toys - it had caught the tiny little plastic coupling tab between the coils of the head, and pulled it out that way! This thing has worked on at least 3 occasions, saving us about $100 each time for a call to a plumber, so I have every reason to recommend it.

Last week, however, something went down the toilet and nothing would dislodge it. The event started with me at the computer, and James standing at the door to the bathroom, looking over to me and saying several times "Uh-oh." Foolishly, I ignored him because I wanted to finish what I was reading. After these attempts to get my attention failed, I heard the fatal FLUSH - the flush that didn't finish with a big roar, meaning that the drain was blocked. Too late, I leaped to my feet and hurried to the toilet, but it was too late. Nothing was visible, but a few flushes proved that water could only slowly filter down. Ten sweaty minutes with the plunger produced nothing. Finally I pulled out the big snake, but this time even that failed me. I couldn't get the wire coil to go in even one foot, and twisting the handle did nothing. This time, I figured we'd HAVE to call a plumber, and I was steaming.

But before abandoning all hope, I reasoned that if the snake couldn't get down at all, it meant that the clog was really close to the opening. Maybe I could poke something down there and reach it. My hand was too big, so I unravelled a wire hanger and tried pushing the two ends in, rather like a pair of forceps. Once, twice, then hurrah! Something moved and I was able to pull it towards me. I couldn't believe it - James had managed to flush an entire electric shaver down the toilet! I mean one of those chunky Phillips shavers, with the triangular head with 3 round shaving blades. It came out in 2 pieces, the main body and the detachable shaver head. We lost the plastic guard that fitted over the top. And most amazing of all, the battery still worked! I figure it was only because the toilet was as powerful as it is that the shaver got down even part way; in a normal toilet, it would have just lain at the bottom of the bowl, but this managed to suck it down until it wedged in the drain.

Friday, March 04, 2011

My Magnum Opus

I think I've done it - the best subtitles I've ever done or ever will do. I translated and created subtitles for Claude Autant-Lara's 1955 film "Marguerite de la nuit" (Marguerite of the Night), a wonderful movie almost completely forgotten today. It stars Yves Montand and Michele Morgan, and is a modern version of Faust. (I can never see or hear those words without thinking of The Bandwagon, and the disastrous stage show Jeffrey Cordova put on with just that theme.)

The sets are incredibly weird - very artificial, almost Expressionist in appearance, though not in theme. There's very little on this movie online - just a few clips, and they don't show the sets at their best. Here are some still photos:

This one has a very Caligariesque feel to it, as does the entire scene - it shows old Dr. Faust, in his tall hat and black cape, walking home from the opera, past the unrealistic walls and pavements of this fantasy Paris.

That is Yves Montand, as Mr. Léon, aka Mephistopheles. Note the date on the wall above his head: April 30, Walpurgis Night. I wonder if his name isn't a little Biblical allusion too: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."

Now look at the weird scene with the church and the graveyard:

Some people complain that the movie is too long at 2 hrs. 5 mins., but how can you possibly have too much time on your hands when you can fill it looking at visuals like these?

The movie was quite a flop when it came out, but I don't think there was anything wrong with the film. I think it was just created at the wrong time; the New Wave of French cinema was on the verge of arriving, and people just weren't in the mood for a stylized fantasy like this. I wish it could be released on dvd in North America - now that I've done the subtitles, it should be a cinch! It came out on dvd in Germany, in an Yves Montand collection - it wasn't subtitled, they provided a German dubbed version along with the original. What a shame to dub Montand's wonderful baritone voice, though! He doesn't sing, Michele Morgan does, but it's delightful just listening to his voice speaking the lines in that deeply ironical way he has. Maybe I can teach myself dvd authoring and figure out a way to build my subtitle file into the dvd; I've seen other people do it, but I've never tried.

Well, as I say, this is my best project so far. Now I don't know just what to do - it'll take me a while to find another movie I'll enjoy as much.