I discovered the Nonesuch label after listening to Dhyanam and found an excellent collection of world music, most of it tastefully recorded on vintage LP’s and then remastered to CD. Many people were raving about the mbira music recordings by Nonesuch. Between Africa Mbira Music and Shona Mbira Music, I would recommend the former as it has superb vocals and even tempered songs, whereas the latter seems a little less lively -- although I will have to listen to them more to get a final feel. I really like this music from Zimbabwe; the healing joyful rhythm will lift you out of any mood and bring you back to the earth. The songs are about universal experiences that we all cherish and share, communal emotions and strivings, lamentations and wishes, performed live without any memorized text.
From the jacket: The mbira is a musical instrument consisting of a wooden board to which staggered metal keys have been attached. It is often fitted into a resonator that amplifies the sound and shells that create a buzzing quality. The mbira player, who always sings the main melody, will say whatever he feels about the title; the others will then respond to him. If, after hearing us sing a song, you were to ask us to repeat it, you would find many changes, especially in the sounds and words.




Latcho Drom, Film 1994

A great deal of the legacy of the Roma stems from music and dance. The Roma, more widely called as gypsies, are said to have left India more than a thousand years ago and wandered into Europe and other neighboring areas . . .

Feast your eyes on the dances of Rajasthan, colored and colorless, with dresses and turbans standing out against the desert landscape. It’s hard to forget the dance of a young girl, while she twists in circles and floats her skirt creating a parasol, or the singer who appears to be challenging members in the audience. Singing accompanies daily work and provides release in the night.

Music is instinctually created when friends leave and are reunited. In one scene, a sad woman sits at a train situation in what seems like Eastern Europe. She is cheered up by seeing a group of performers eagerly playing music before the arrival of someone on the train.

Who would not be intrigued by the suit and hat wearing man and the mysterious boy, both eating baguettes of white bread and staring at the marvelous parliement building in Bucharest, while old Dacias drive through the courtyard?

The last movement is perhaps the most desolate as it takes place outside an undisclosed European town. The town is just a flat nest of white blocs and lanes. All the doors and windows have been boarded up or sealed with brick walls. The musician sits on the outskirts of this motionless cityscape, where only stray dogs roam and bits of junk lay strewn about. She sings a wrenching tune about how she admires the respect that people give to their dog, since she is not even given this respect.

Latcho Drom sets this varied music against lyrical scenes of winter forests, villages, horse riding, trains, cities and countryside. The effect is hypnotism. The joy of singing, dancing or playing an instrument is the balm for sorrow and the thread that links the history and pride of the ROM. Thanks to Vasanti for informing me about this film.



How to describe the cathedral like architecture of notes in the The Art of Fugue? Bach’s so called final composition before his death, the last fugue is unfinished. A jigsaw puzzle with the final piece missing, each fugue fits perfectly into the grand movement, a rotation of clockwork and counterpoint, alive and complete alone yet precisely building a whole, like supporting levels of a towering spire. It reminds me of one those Chinese dolls where each smaller doll gives the impression and shape of the larger one before it, but is somehow distinct in itself. The greatest triumph of The Art of Fugue is that it bears repeated listening while discovering new and varied fabrics of sounds depending on atmosphere and mood. One must be studious to sit through the entire recording, yet it can also be listened in small bursts. What I liked about this piece is that it does not exploit the emotions like most of popular music. It drives at something deeper in the soul such as the mathematical synthesis of human organs, our conceptions of universe and memory.
I listened to The Art of Fugue performed by the Emerson String Quartet, but also explored some of the other recordings performed on the harpsichord, piano (by Glenn Gould) and Viola and was left intrigued and puzzled about which one to buy. It seems that people who have listened to The Art of Fugue go somewhat mad and buy numerous recordings of the composition and then listen to just one or two of their favorites. So if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only bring one piece of music with you, what would you choose?





An autobiography written by B.K.S. Iyengar would have been interesting, but instead Light on Life delves into the Yogic concepts of yamas and niyamas, the five kosas, pranayama, asana and the importance of ethics and forthright living. As a textbook, Light on Life gives a good introduction and comprehensive guide to Yoga from a time tested master. A welcome humility and honesty accompanies the anecdotes and explanations, Iyengar even calls himself a “fanatic.”

A Yogi embraces and lives in the external world and does not renounce it. Iyengar continually emphasizes the interconnectedness of the many petals of Yoga. He gives crystalline answers to the questions which may arise at each step along the spiritual path, “the lowest being our ability to tie our own shoelaces when we are eighty and the highest being the opportunity to taste the essence of life itself.”

If he has left any lasting reminder, it is that Hatha Yoga is not just a physical practice but can lead a dedicated practitioner to integration of mind, body and soul. His emphasis on practice, sadhana and tapas, gives hope for anyone starting at any stage to reap the benefits of Yoga with patience and perseverance.

He uses humorous examples like the temptation of a tub of vanilla ice cream to illustrate how the mind, ego and intelligence operate. “Drink contaminated water on Monday, sick on Tuesday, dead on Wednesday,” is the way he describes previous epidemics of cholera and typhoid. Some of his anecdotes are quaint such as, “It is normal for women students to set their teachers on a pedestal in any subject, but by that time I was a bit more worldly-wise and developed a forbidding manner to keep them at arm’s length. My flashing eyebrows and fierce glare came to my rescue. “

However, this uplifting book gives practical guidelines and direction on how to change our habits and cultivate wisdom. For example, Iyengar says that doing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana can alleviate depression. “When there is softness in body and lightness in mind, the asana is correct.” There are hundreds of examples of sensible and enlightening instruction. “Meditation can only be achieved when all other physical and mental weaknesses have largely been eliminated. Mediation is not just sitting quietly.”





Samsara, Film 2001

Samsara reminded me of the films Siddhartha and Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring. All three are Buddhist tales about the ephemeral and cyclic nature of life. I had heard about Samsara in Dharamsala, but only found the DVD at the excellent Welcome Guest House in Rishikesh.

Samsara is shot in Ladakh and having been to many of the areas depicted in the movie, the experience was both nostalgic and awe inspiring. Ladakh has a mixture of Indian and Tibetan influence. The people are hardy and cheerful with Buddhist monks and monasteries sprinkled liberally through the towns and countryside.

Tashi is a monk in the film, who after three years of lonely mediation feels the pull of sex and a family life. He meets the beautiful and strong headed Pema and they are instantly attracted to each other. The moral bent in the plot line becomes obvious by the quick transitions between Tashi’s marriage and fatherhood, never focusing on a particular point in his passions. Pema is like a dream who has the possibility of materializing only if pursued. Tashi believes he imagined his first meeting with Pema. But it is only after he continues to think about her, that his teacher reveals to him that his brief encounter with Pema actually happened.

A meeting with another old teacher in a desolate hillside was quite chilling. Pictures of couples in passionate embraces and sexual positions are revealed by a change of lighting to be only the bodies of skeletons and diseased souls. Although Tashi is probably moved by these photos, it does little to extinguish his desire for Pema.

So it comes down to the questions, written on the rocks that litter the magnificent and eternal paths and roads of the Himalayas. “How can one keep a drop of water from drying up?” The answer to this question is abruptly revealed towards the end of the movie. And when Tashi’s old teacher dies, he sends Tashi’s best friend with a letter that only asks one question. “What is better, to satisfy a thousand desires or to conquer just one?”

The specialty of Samsara is the masterfully shot scenes of Ladakh and the impressive snow capped peaks and monasteries. The scenes of the monks early on are much more interesting than the scenes of Tashi’s life as a farmer in the countryside. Seeing Tashi appear in Leh, was a sublime moment for me. He could have been one of the many monks I had seen in that rapidly changing city, somewhat bewildered, somewhat out of place, and quick to be seduced by the march of consumerism and showmanship.




Designed by the same team who made Ico over four years before, Shadow of Colossus is more than a game created for sheer entertainment or challenge. Shadow of Colossus puts us in a world of fable and myth, full of the best notions of adventure, mystery, romance and history from the story books of old.

Though not quite as memorable as Ico, where the interaction between the two characters provided much of the enjoyment, Shadow features only a hero and his horse. The flat open fields with canyons and mountains in the distance reminded me a bit of the Calm Lands in Final Fantasy X, and generally the graphics are at least on that level, which is to say, fairly good. They are not quite as detailed or busy as next generation titles, but rather through elegance and minimalism create a consistent mood of a forsaken land with bits of beauty, forestry and mysterious relics strewn about.

The horse riding is nice, but for some reason it wasn’t as engaging as the horse from Ocarina of Time. After completing the game, I spent some time wandering around the world and explored several places that I had never seen before through the course of the normal adventure.

“A hero journeys to the end of the world to save the love of his life.” It is a story that is as simple and trite as can be, yet like any visual media, you use your imagination to flesh out who the characters ought to be.

The game is basically about conjuring a mystical and vast landscape with a nameless hero, who fights mercilessly to defeat 16 colossi, the result of which may bring his loved one back to life. A melancholy beauty permeates the lands and during the epic battles, the colossi move with a human-like and majestic gait.

The colossi come in varying shapes and sizes, flying, walking, delving through the earth or swimming. Battling these huge beasts is complicated, as there are numerous things to keep in check, such as the grip meter, the natural terrain and the efforts of the colossi to shake you off. Most of the colossi are so huge that you have to climb on top of them and find their weak spot; otherwise they are invincible from conventional attacks.

There is nothing else to do in the game other than fight the 16 colossi or wander around the mostly empty and sun drenched landscapes; no coins to collect, leveling up, drones to destroy, or silly characters to provide a diversion.

The streamlined design does lead to a relatively short game, but I am of the opinion that games should be of a shorter length and cheaper. Developers can cram their best ideas into a smaller package rather than padding the field with pointless chores and repetitive structure.

Shadow of Colossus and its forbearer Ico could quite possible teach us how to care, how to appreciate design and architecture, how to enjoy the journey without judging the result, and finally, how to appreciate a good story presented in a modern form.




Seamlessly unraveling on multiple levels, On the Waterfront has the period splendor of New York harbor culture, strong performances and a tightly woven suspense story. There are many memorable scenes including the famous “I could have been a contenda” speech and a powerful portrayal of a worker strike. On the Waterfront seems to have a frank message in the uplifting power of friendship, belief in the common man and conscience. Religious sentiments are echoed by a preacher in the film who seeks to stir up dock workers to testify against a murderous mob leader. Marlon Brando stars in the lead role as “Terry,” a dock worker with mob ties, who begins to realize that there is more to his work and friendships than simply taking orders and keeping his mouth shut. His performance here goes deeper than in A Streetcar Named Desire. A gradual awakening to the choice he must make, along with the tender way he handles the other characters was really unexpected compared to the rugged machismo of his other roles. The symbolism with the doves and the hawks was not lost on me. The colloquial exchanges and careful depictions of day to day heroism still enlighten the social conditions over fifty years ago.


After reading a review of this animated film in the New York Times, I was fortunate to finally see the Triplets of Belleville. The drawing here is over the top, bizarre, funny and achingly real, to put it mildly. Everything from the story, design, direction and characters is original, and the only thing I didn't like was the title song. Unforgettable short scenes and episodes are really what stand out like the grandmother who communicates through a whistle, a depiction of disproportional Tour de France bicyclists, obese idiocized America and a caricature of a dog with bloodshot eyes who manages to save the day. The story follows one Champion, a Tour de France rider. He is raised by his grandmother, herself something of a cyclist. Due to unforeseen circumstances Champion goes missing on the day of the race which leads his grandmother and their dog on a whirlwind chase across the Atlantic Ocean to find him. I found this film so weird and fresh that it was hard to digest in one sitting. Also I really like the fact that the animation doesn't come from America or Japan which might explain why it looks like nothing you have ever seen before.


The Virgin Suicides, based on a book by the same author, was a mysterious and pause inducing film. But the initial first hundred pages of Middlesex were boring and full of backstory. The story only hits its stride when Calliope, the main character, begins to tell of his own childhood and the meaning of the previous episodes and focus of the book fall into place. Middlesex covers the epic transcontinental journey of a real hermaphrodite, as he discovers the quixotic nature of his Greek family origins and his role in a world that sees everything regarding sex in black or white, male or female. Initially raised as a girl and after going through many awkward stages in high school America, Calliope faces an even greater challenge of trying not to conform to the modes of either sex. This book has an inventive sense of family humor that is more delicate than in your face, which gives it more warmth and humanity than The Corrections, another big book of family drama. The automobile industry controls the rise and fall of fortunes in depression era and post war Detroit.



Rez basically leads the player along a predefined path where you can look and aim in 360 degrees, a genre sometimes called a "rail shooter." The graphics and presentation here are what is outstanding. Supposedly this is a music game, where you can manipulate the music depending on when you fire or how fast you progress through a level. Sometimes you can lay down an enjoyable riff, like adding percussion cymbals, shakes or hand claps by timing your combos. Upgrading your "entity" changes the sound of your attack. The best level by far is the last, which can only be unlocked by beating the first four levels. I didn't quite appreciate this game until I played that last level where everything sort of came together into a confluence. Rez is definitely a creative effort that is a lot more than the sum of its part. It is also very short and can be finished in a couple of hours. The ray traced graphics in this game are dedicated to the Russian artist Kadinsky. 






Ico managed to create a companion based sub genre that has been copied in more recent titles. The game introduced a compelling emotive aspect to the story in the form of a companion that travels with you throughout your journey and is directly affected by your actions.  The expressions and behaviors of the two main characters are convincing, as is the gargantuan medieval castle which you are trying to escape.  The design of the Italian style castle has a life like sense of scale and interactive objects like windmills, gardens, water pipes, towers, cathedrals, tombs and ramparts -- an architecture lesson in itself.  The story is plainly told without many cutscenes or drama. Yet the actual process of scaling walls, jumping over chasms, flipping switches, wading through streams, climbing ladders, swinging on chains, is evocatively captured because each character navigates this terrain in their particular way. Also they cannot proceed without the others help.  The relationship of the main characters is ambiguous (although, according to some fansites . . .). Yet the story reaches a surprising end, avoiding any lengthy exposition, which is consistent for a game that conveys its emotion through visual style.





In early 2005 I purchased an apple ibook G4 and was pleasantly surprised by the performance and operating system. I intended to buy a notebook computer for traveling because on my previous trip I really missed having a computer to use. I ended up returning this pretty little machine and here’s why.

The ibook G4 is available for about $900 from amazon after a mail in rebate, and is quite a bargain considering the previous high prices of apple laptops. As opposed to notebook hardware of just a couple years ago, you have everything you will need in this small form factor including a DVD and CD rewritable drive, a speedy processor, and all the necessary ports to plug in your peripherals. The memory and hard drive are a bit skimpy but you can always upgrade these later. For complete specifications visit the apple store.

The ibook G4 has the best build quality of a notebook I have seen, and looks especially fine when it is closed and just lying on a table. The clean lines of the translucent white slab enhance just about any environment. The ibook weighs about five pounds and is a bit heavy compared to notebooks of the same size, but it is light for notebooks in general. The screen is bright and responsive. Text and graphics can seem a bit jagged compared to a good CRT desktop monitor or a high resolution notebook display, but perfectly fine for everyday use.

The keyboard and trackpad are comfortable, but I ended up buying a bluetooth adaptor and using a microsoft mouse which just allowed me to work faster than the one button trackpad. If you are intent on using an external mouse with the ibook, then you should consider going for a build to order system from the apple store with the bluetooth installed internally. An adaptor sticking out from the ibook may feel tacky and ruin the overall look of the machine.

Battery life is good, at about four hours, although I didn’t measure it scientifically. The indicator seems to give you a reliable estimate of the amount of minutes you have left. The AC charger has a neat amber/green glow on the connection telling you when the ibook is charged and a power supply built right into the wall connection. Other things I really liked on the hardware side were the easy latch mechanism to pull up the screen and the flat styling of the ports. On a previous Fujitsu notebook I had, the USB ports were recessed, meaning some flash drives and adaptors could not be cleanly inserted and would often fall out. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the media drive is slot loading. Although I didn’t use it that much, it is just very cool and functional the way it sucks the discs in and ejects them.

My favorite part about the machine? It is dead silent. I hate computer noise whether it is obnoxious fans that spin up and down or clicking disc drives. There is hardly any difference in sound when the ibook is on or off. After using it for a while and going back to another computer, I really appreciated the silence.

No computer is any good without the operating system and programs and here is where apple shines. The ibook came with Panther OS 10.3, which has a beautiful user interface with smooth animations and a soft graphical style. I liked the small touches like the genie effect, bouncing icons, zooming dock and transparent menus. Expose is one of the finest examples of task and program switching and I miss it a lot when I use a windows machine. Getting on the internet is about as painless as can be, and as opposed to a previous notebook, I got very few dropped signals from the wireless connection. It’s awesome that the ibook comes with wireless hardware built in which is a must these days.

Unlike years ago, almost all windows peripherals such as printers, scanners, input devices can easily be used with your mac. Installing and adding things is a breeze, of particular note is adding Bluetooth devices which is a hurdle of steps on the windows side. It seems apple has tried to make the user experience intuitive and non-technical which is the way it should be.

However, there are some quirks which puzzled me. For example, there is no restore button on the trash, so that you can immediately restore the contents of the trash to their previous locations. This can come in handy when you trash multiple folders. Also, you have to get used to the fact that closing a window of an application does not actually mean you have exited it. You have to do this manually through the menu, or it will be running in the background hogging up system resources. Finally, Quicktime is about the worst movie player I have used. You have to ante up an additional $30 just to play movies in full screen or to enable simple effects like loop playback. The interface is okay, but along with windows media player for the mac, performance seems somewhat lacking compared to a similarly equipped windows machine.

On the issue of speed, the default web browser Safari is significantly slower than its windows counterpart. On a fast internet connection web pages will takes 2-3 seconds to load compared to the near instant gratification I was used to before. This may seem like a minor annoyance, but when you are working with 7-8 different web page windows, the seconds add up. I hope they will continue to improve the speed of safari, as the features and convenience of the browser trump internet explorer and firefox any day.

After working with imovie HD, I made a promise to myself that my next video project will be on a mac. Although imovie HD is nowhere near a professional level video editing solution like Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas, it just has that uncluttered, smooth user experience that made me want to jump in and start editing video right away. Unfortunately, any serious video editing is next to impossible on the ibook due to the small hard drive.

Everyone knows itunes because of the proliferation of the ipod but I didn’t use the program that much. I bought a few songs and found the experience easy and enjoyable. However, the apple music store does not have a very good selection of movie and game soundtracks or world music. I have heard some good things about iphoto, but since I don’t have a digital camera I didn’t test it out.

On a negative note, the lack of a good word processor out of the box somewhat cripples the appeal of the ibook for the average user. Some people may have to purchase either Microsoft Office or the newly introduced Pages to have a nice user interface with all the bells and whistles. However, Preview PDF viewer is the best and fastest PDF viewer I have seen.

So why did I return this little beauty? Well, there is actually nothing wrong with the ibook G4 and it is a capable machine in many respects. However, I noticed a big difference after returning from the Himalayas where I hardly used computers for six months, and then using computers almost nonstop when I returned. During the time I was back home recovering from my illness, I made my first DVD, this website, and was able to keep up to date with news and current technology. I also had to upgrade my previous windows machine which I had built myself and turned out to be somewhat buggy. I realized how stressful dealing with computers can be.

I must be crazy to want to bring a computer on my next adventure. Although I would surely miss a word processor to keep a journal or write emails, fool around with web designs, or just dump video footage, I don’t think it's worth carrying around the extra weight. Throughout my entire journey I carried nothing but a back pack and a musical instrument and this would be impossible to do if I also had a laptop to carry around. My precious DV cam can fit easily in my pocket, and I am not too worried about that. But to bring a $900 machine around, you have to be careful of theft and damage, and this can be an added hassle at times when you want to move quickly.

Leave alone the fact that when I actually sit down to do some creative work on a computer I like to have all the speed I can at my fingertips. In this regard the ibook doesn’t cut it. There is no DVD burner, not enough hard drive space or memory and it would be torture to work on the small screen.

In some regards it may be a good idea to wait a little while to become a switcher as the new operating system Tiger 10.4 is just around the corner. I look forward to have a few months break from computers and working on a mac when I return. For a fairly concise switcher story go here.







The Motorcycle Diaries pleased film audiences and critics alike when it was released in 2004. Like many book adaptations, the source material is far more edgy. Written in the 1950’s with the exuberance and sarcasm of youth today, Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s writing strikes a balance between laconic wit, social commentary and travel euphoria. The honesty and innocence of the book is what is most striking. Traveling with his buddy, Alberto Granado, the two make there way across the spine of South America in a beat up motorcycle that gives more trouble than it is worth. The escapades of the two travelers include scamming for food and shelter, while facing the hardships of harsh weather, hunger and penury. “The difference in our day and sleep wear was, generally, shoes.”
Ernesto and Alberto plan to visit a leper colony, where they can study and treat leprosy while learning about the social effects of the disease. But more than anything else, they seem to want to “discover a continent that they had only known in books.” I liked the dreamy descriptions of Machu Pichu and Cuczo, but it was the camaraderie between the two travelers and the personalities found along the road that drew me in. The recent edition of The Motorcycle Diaries, published in 2004, includes actual pictures from the journey as well as the flashy movie stills. If given the choice, I would read the book first, as many of the monologues heard in the movie are just straight quotes from the writing.



“. . . At the time I was reading Beauty and Sadness by Kawabata,” remarked Suki while she was explaining one of her travel adventures. I had to interrupt her and inquire about the book she was referring to. The title seemed sort of metaphysical and Japanese authors intrigued me. I went on to learn that Kawabata had won the Nobel Prize in 1968 and had the writerly distinction of ending his own life. So instead of picking up a guidebook for Bali in the Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore, I ended up purchasing Beauty and Sadness.

The title gave me a chill and if it was any sort of indication of the themes played out in the story I couldn’t help but feel drawn towards the book. “Wasted beauty,” seems to be one of the themes in Kawabata’s novel and there is something of this in both Keiko and Otoko, love interests of the main protagonist. There is no point discussing the story or the subtle messages at play, so I can only discuss the dialogue and the eerie descriptions. Kawabata is a master of producing small terse paragraphs where a universe of meaning is contained. The perfection of the metaphors and nature descriptions harkens back to a more traditional and mostly lost style of literature.

Nothing from the oscillation of the chairs in the train cars, studious descriptions of paintings and kimono designs, to writing that veers between conversation and setting (making both seem like aspects of the same thing), can be described as plot advancement. Keiko has some of the best lines in the book such as when Otoko is doing her hair and she says, “Pull harder! Grab it up so that I hang by it!” Keiko’s family also does not like the way she “cuddles children.” At one point the design on Keiko's kimono is described as a "colorless rainbow."

The protagonist, Oki, remembers his love affairs mostly through threads of conversation and a kind of parallelism he finds in his writing and subsequent relationships. The end of the book left me with something of a bad taste, as I tend not to prefer sadistic turns in a story.

Later I read Snow Country, perhaps a more accessible novel by Kawabata. Shimamura, an idler, has a peculiar and appropriate style of dialogue where he is both a part of the exchange, yet does nothing to contribute.

“This cloth is called Chijimi”

“Chijimi, is it?” (Shimamura)

“Yes, Chijimi is the finest cloth woven by the snow country people . . . “

Such redundant responses are typical of Shimamura and his whole behavior is of someone lost in a dream, observing but not acting on his impulses. Snow Country has dazzling descriptions of light and snow and trains which circle through purple and opaque mountains. I loved the importance given to Yoko’s voice and Komako’s hair, how these conjured a kind of loneliness. Komako is comical in her constant entering and exiting a room, opening and closing windows and her roundabout explanations. “She sat down on the sill as if she meant to throw herself out.”







As if hearing a bed time yarn that you have heard a hundred times over but are still eager to hear again, the parable-like structure of A River Sutra by Gita Mehta comforts and reassures the reader. There is no closure to any of the stories; most of the characters seem to be in limbo or in search of a happy end they will probably never find. The protagonist, a bureaucrat, is only a sieve through which these odd brimming exchanges take place. His puzzlement holds up a mirror to the reader. I suspected that the bureaucrat would not find peace as a renunciate on the banks of the Narmada, peace lies in the flow of adaptability without seeking answers. There is a softness and optimism to the novel that made it linger in my mind days after. Though beautifully musical and lush with grief, the river does not make any judgments or declarations. Underneath it all there is hopefulness and wherever something is lost something profound is gained. A River Sutra was probably written before the height of the Narmada Dam Protests when the writer Arundhati Roy became involved. More than charts and statistics, this book reveals the influence of a river on the ebb and flow of human drama and a timeless way of life.




Of the two World Wars, the first one caught my attention due to the absurdity of trench warfare and the lack of clear evil on either side. A Very Long Engagement is the story of Mathilde’s search for her lost fiancé who disappeared in the war. It is a love story for all the soldiers who left behind fiancé’s, wives and loved ones. The novel by Sebastien Japriosot, read many years ago, didn't leave much of an impression on me but something about the gorgeous cinematography and pacing of the film did.

Almost like an afterthought, A Very Long Engagement portrays trench warfare more effectively than any film I can remember, except perhaps All Quiet on the Western Front. Sentimental family reunions, the reading of letters, everyday conversations, pull us into scenes of incredible violence on the front. When an old war hero arrives at Mathilde's house to recount a tale of the war, his suspenseful story is intercut with a visual representation of the actual events. Mathilde is shocked by his story, but the soldier is not finished and goes on to say, “what happened next was even worse . . .”

The investigative pace of the film will please anyone who appreciates a mystery. The ridiculously named Bingo Crépuscule, where the main events take place, is visited repeatedly from the perspective of various soldiers. The fate of Mathilde’s fiancé is revealed through acts of bravery and betrayal. The motif of MMM (Mathilde marries Manech) works nicely at several plot turns.

I liked the fact that the film never lingers on tragedy, humor, love, memory or present moment too long. All these emotional scenes are shuffled together rather quickly, leaving only the clear line of the “wire” to hold on to. This feels like a more realistic approximation of what these characters must be going through and preserves a lightness of tone.

A Very Long Engagement has a rich look to it and high production values. Saturated shots of the French countryside are contrasted with the grays and blues of the trench or the polished look of Paris.

Other startling scenes include a silent-film style French Guillotine execution, a meeting between Mathilde and a woman on a parallel path, and a view through the trenches while soldiers arm their bayonets.



The few tracks on Dhyanam represent to me a perfect introduction to the intricacies of Carnatic Music. Leave it to Nonesuch, an American label, to make a recording both elegantly packaged and sonically sound. The songs are performed by K.V. Narayanaswami, Palghat Raghu and V.V. Subramaniam, artists well regarded in the field and at the peak of their powers when this recording was made. Raghu’s mrdangam. in particular has a booming resonance and grandeur that I have never heard replicated in other concerts.  The vocal songs are either in Sanskrit, Tamil or Telugu from hallowed composers centuries old. One listen of Dhyanam, and you can renew your fascination with the unfolding depth of a well respected tradition.
From the jacket: Although founded upon the same underlying principles as the Hindustani classical music of northern India, the South Indian or Carnatic system is distinct and has been so since at least the Medieval period.  Carnatic music is essentially vocal and the artist’s performance could be described as an elaborate improvisation based upon an equally elaborate repertoire of art songs in complex forms. The vina player, flutist, or other instrumental soloist has no seprate repertoire; he simply plays songs and improves upon them according to the nature of his instrument. The vocal music contained in this album, then, is at the very heart and core of the Carnatic tradition, one of the most highly evolved and prestigious in the world of music.