Saturday, March 31, 2012

2004 Swedish Film AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

An absolutely wonderful film!

The Plot:

Daniel Daréus (Michael Nyqvist) is a successful and internationally renowned conductor whose  aspiration is to create music that will open people's hearts. However, after suffering a heart attack on stage at the end of a performance, he retires indefinitely to his childhood village in Sweden where he'd endured severe bullying.

Daniel buys the old elementary school in the village, and it isn't long before he is asked to come along one Thursday night and listen to the choir. He is only asked to listen, and maybe offer some helpful advice, but their intentions of persuading him to help are obvious. He reluctantly agrees to assist. After the parish minister offers him the position of cantor, he accepts and participates in the choir's growth; at the same time rediscovering his own lost joy for music.

Almost immediately, Lena (Frida Hallgren), a young attractive girl in the choir, catches his attention. As they grow closer and fall in love, he realises that he seems to be surrounded in other people's problems: Inger (Ingela Olsson), who is married to the respected minister, Stig (Niklas Falk), fails to develop a love life with her husband; Siv (Ylva Lööf), who finds that she is so obsessive over morality that she cannot enjoy herself; Arne (Lennart Jähkel), who is obsessive about the choir's success, he doesn't realise his own insensitivities; Tore (André Sjöberg), who is mentally retarded but is still insistent on joining the choir; Erik (Lasse Petterson), who has put up with being called "Fatso" by Arne since their childhood; and finally, Gabriella (Helen Sjöholm), who is beaten and abused by her husband, Conny (Per Morberg), who turns out to be Daniel's school bully. 

The choir is accepted into the annual "Let the Peoples Sing" competition, and they journey to Austria to perform. On the day of the competition, the choir is on stage ready to sing but Daniel is absent because he suffers a heart attack.  As he staggers into the restroom, he hits his head on the piping.  As he lies dying on the tiles listening to the choir harmonizing over the loud speakers, the audience harmonizes along, as "one mind and soul."

The final scene is of Daniel's younger self embracing his life's goal--to "create music that will open a person's heart."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Earl Eugene Scruggs (January 6, 1924-March 28, 2012)

Earl Eugene Scruggs was an American musician noted for perfecting and popularizing a three-finger banjo-picking style (now called Scruggs style) that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music. Although other musicians had played in three-finger style before him, Scruggs shot to prominence when he was hired by Bill Monroe to fill the banjo slot in his group, the Blue Grass Boys.

He died of natural causes at a Nashville hospital at the age of 88. 


Earl Scruggs was iconic.  His music will live on...esp. when my musical soul needs lifting!  I'm sure there'll be quite a tribute at the Country Music Awards on Sunday!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday is for Poetry: A PRAYER FOR CHILDREN by Marian Wright Edelman

We pray for children
Who sneak popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
Who never "counted potatoes,"
Who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
Who never go to the circus,
Who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can't find any bread to steal,
Who don't have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
Whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
Who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren't spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance.
For those we smother ...
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Ireland's writers return home for inspiration by Katia Hetter

The Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival is an annual celebration of Irish traditional and American bluegrass music that takes place in Longford.

(CNN) -- As you drink a pint of Guinness or eat your corned beef and cabbage at the local Irish pub on St. Patrick's Day, consider the far-flung corners of Ireland where inspiration flourishes.

"The Irish landscape isn't always straightforward; its many layers of stone walls and hedgerows and its constantly changing light mean that it unfolds slowly as you walk, cycle or drive by," says Etain O'Carroll, co-author of Lonely Planet's 2012 Ireland guidebook.

"Our mercurial weather also gives it an ethereal quality," says O'Carroll. "The dappled light and scurrying clouds, mists and rain showers mean you often catch no more than a tantalizing glimpse of a view. You've got to be patient and let the landscape reveal itself in its own time, and when it does you feel like you might be the only one to have ever seen it in quite the same way."

CNN asked a handful of Irish poets, novelists and playwrights about the spots that inspire them in their mother country. Here are a few of our writers' favorite places.

Ancient ruins amid a magnificent landscape
Although she was born and raised in County Monaghan, Mary O'Donnell's poetry and prose is inspired by the rough and wild landscape of the Burren, a region in County Clare where Ireland's ancient people managed to survive for centuries. O'Donnell is also fascinated by megalithic tombs, which is why she wrote a poem about Burren's Poulnabrone Dolmen, one of Ireland's most famous ancient monuments. Built more than 5000 years ago, the Neolithic/Bronze Age tomb housed remains and burial items such as pottery, jewelry and an ax.

"The world of nature is vitally important to me, and in the Burren in County Clare one finds a wild majesty and magnificent landscape that is still unspoiled, despite the many visitors the area attracts," says O'Donnell, author of "Storm over Belfast," "The Ark Builders " and "The Place of Miracles." "I am (also) enormously interested in megalithic tombs so this dolmen at Poulnabrone really grabbed me. The fact that my then 15-year-old daughter couldn't give a hoot about it made the visit all the more interesting, in a way. It set me thinking about how there are times in our lives when we need prescribed culture and there are times when we absolutely don't."

Returning to a literary hometown
Although he now lives in England, poet John McAuliffe often returns to his childhood home in Listowel to visit family and to recharge his writing. On the surface a typical North Kerry market town, Listowel has a literary tradition inspired by the playwright John B. Keane and fiction writer Bryan MacMahon. Keane ran a pub where writer Michael Hartnett and other writers and townspeople would gather, now operated by his widow and son.

To a young boy, Keane and MacMahon both seemed of the town and outside it. "They were after something penetrating, subtle and comprehending when they wrote, unsentimentally, about the town's hinterland of farming villages and about the positive impact of modernity on old hierarchies: wised-up insiders with a natural sympathy for the outsider," says McAuliffe, co-director of the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester, editor of "The Manchester Review" and author of "Of All Places."

For the visitor: "When I'm at home I walk Market Street, past John B's (pub) and into the redesigned town square where the terrific converted church, St. John's, hosts theater and music every week," says McAuliffe. "I walk past the Listowel Arms Hotel -- where Charles Stuart Parnell made his last public address -- under Listowel Castle, whose ruin is now attached to an interactive museum, which documents and celebrates the work of John B. (Keane), (Bryan) MacMahon and other writers from the area."

A historic horse fair
Dublin-born and bred writer Nessa O'Mahony has always been inspired by Western Ireland, where her mother's family comes from. Her mother shared stories about her life growing up in Ballinasloe, in East Galway, with nine brothers and sisters. Those stories have crept into O'Mahoney's work.

"It seemed a form of rural Eden very distant to my own upbringing in a concrete and pebble-dash Dublin suburb in the 1960s," says O'Mahony, whose books include a novel, "In Sight of Home," " and two books of poetry, Bar Talk" and "Trapping a Ghost." "She had such freedom, and such fun and 'divilment,' as people used to say. We've returned to Ballinasloe frequently, though these days it's usually for a family funeral. But I'm still absorbed by how alive she [my mother] comes there, and how incredibly detailed her memories of a very happy past are. And I'm still inspired by her to write poems."

For the visitor: The Ballinasloe Horse Fair and Festival in October, one of the oldest in Europe, dates back at least to the 1700s and attracts thousands of visitors, traders and Irish Travellers (members of Ireland's nomadic community). Elsewhere in East Galway, William Butler Yeats spent time in the 1920s at Thoor Ballyle, a 16th century Norman tower that served as a summer home and inspiration for his poem "The Tower."

An inspiration to Jane Austen
Novelist and playwright Belinda McKeon grew up on a farm in County Longford, a region that barely merits a mention in some of Ireland's tour books. Yet amidst the ordinary midland landscape dotted with nondescript schools, restaurants and gas stations is a literary tourist's dream.

In Edgeworthstown, the local nursing home seemed like nothing special. But for a time, it had been the house of celebrated novelist Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849). It's where she lived almost all her life, where she wrote "Castle Rackrent," received Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth as visitors, wrote criticisms of the absentee landlord system and where Jane Austen sent Edgeworth a first edition of her novel "Emma." Thomas LeFroy, believed to be the inspiration for Austen's Mr. Darcy character in "Pride & Prejudice," lived in nearby Carriglas Manor.

Growing up in Longford, with its ordinary life on top of extraordinary history, "made me look sideways at everything," says McKeon, whose debut novel, "Solace," was published last year. "That's the way people look at things where I'm from: sideways. Never believing the first version of anything. Always wondering, always doubting, always looking forward to dissecting it afterwards."

For the visitor: Longford is known for Edgeworth, Carriglas, its fishing and the Corlea Trackway, a bog road that was built in 148 B.C.

Inspiration at the ocean's edge
Born and raised in the town that inspired William Butler Yeats, short story writer Elaine Garvey heads to Sligo and the beach north of town to think and inspire her writing. "There's one in North Sligo called Streedagh that's usually almost empty and you can walk on the strand almost every day, no matter if the tide is in or out," says Garvey, whose work has appeared in the The Dublin Review and a collection called "Scéalta."

"I take my shoes off, leave them at the rocks and walk with my feet at the edge of the water -- unless it's snowing. I get my feet into the sand and have the sound and smell of the Atlantic all around me. It will always, always feel like home. If you walk the full length of the beach and back, you have clean feet and a very clear head by the end."

For the visitor: Sligo Town celebrates Yeats with the Yeats Memorial Building and the Yeats International Festival starting in late July with three weeks of poetry, music and other events.

Monday, March 12, 2012

'The Rose': Living after Japan's disaster by Banana Yoshimoto

(CNN) -- Editor's note: Banana Yoshimoto wrote this piece in April 2011. The essay was the first to be published on Fukko Shoten: Revival & Survival, launched by novelist Masahiko Shimada with stories, poetry and books to raise money for disaster relief. Yoshimoto's novel "The Lake" is shortlisted for this year's Man Asian Literary Prize. The following is translated by the novel's translator Michael Emmerich for CNN, courtesy of Yoshimoto, her agent Zipango, S.L., and The Staley Agency.


"Tokyo was unbelievably cold, even though it was March. It looked as if it might snow. Even inside, my breath was white.

We had hardly been using our heater, and we'd turned off the lights, assuming there would be another power cut. Burning candles wasn't an option since there could be more earthquakes. We had a small flashlight turned on, and we were wearing our coats, and the house was dark even though it was daytime.

My thoughts returned again and again to all the people who had lost their homes in regions much, much colder than here -- though somehow it felt wrong to focus too much on total strangers. It's always seemed to me that you have to care all you can for the people you really can care for. I feel like each of us has been given a certain, fixed amount of caring. As if each of us has certain connections that just matter more. If you feel that connection, you have to act immediately, without hesitating; if you don't, you shouldn't worry.

But the sudden loss of so many lives had left me stunned. I was so shocked my heart settled into an unexpected calm. I found myself praying for the repose of their souls, looking up at the window and the cold scenery outside like someone lying motionless underwater, eying the surface. There was a flowerpot on the windowsill, and in it a small, dazzlingly red rose. Just one, uncannily red, glowing against the background of an unusually clear sky on this day when none of the factories were running.

The air could be heavy with pollen, the rose's petals could be covered in the yellow dust that blows over from China in the spring or exposed to radiation; when the time came for the flower to bloom, it would bloom. As long as we're alive, we go on living.

I thought about our dog that had died the month before. Maybe it was fortunate that he was no longer alive because he couldn't stand earthquakes.

We only die once. Why is it then that there are so many ways of dying, and that we're made in different ways and feel so many different things?

I hardly shed a tear when our dog died, and yet I couldn't stop crying when this boy in some movie I saw decided to take his dead dog on a trip, and he came out cradling the body in his arms.

"It's no good," the boy said. "He isn't coming back, he just gets harder."

He was so totally right.

And I was still alive, and I could feel the warmth of my loved ones.

Late in the afternoon, the people in our neighborhood, who had all been feeling ill at ease, gathered in the dimness of our house to share a meal. We ate sautéed lamb and buttered bread. When I told them I didn't have any butter because people had bought up all there was in the stores, one of our friends confessed, looking a little abashed, that she had six packs at home. She loved butter, she said. She brought some. Grateful that she had thought to stock up, we used as much as we wanted. The supermarkets had nothing to sell anymore, so I put out some wine, prosciutto, and senbei that I had gotten earlier.

As we ate, it felt sort of like we were all holding hands in the dark.

Ever since that day, I've grown a little bit afraid of connecting with the people I love -- with my heart, my hands, even my eyes.

It scares me, just a little, to send them off to work or school, to say goodbye and wave, to hug.

But it's okay: I don't care if I recover from this. I wouldn't go back to my old life if I could. I'm happy being the person I am now, having had this experience. Being afraid.

Staring at the rose, I found myself singing a song called "The Rose."

We're relaxed now, let's take a trip . . . we'll laugh and cry as hard as we can . . .

The lyrics were totally inappropriate, but as I kept singing, I began to feel better, as if a tiny hole had opened in my heart, letting in a breath of freedom. My prayers changed into a song, dispersed through the sky. And that was good enough. Useless enough.

Living our lives so we can have bread with butter again sometime together."

Banana Yoshimoto

Monday, March 5, 2012

Akira Kurosawa's 1990 Film DREAMS

Japanese master director Akira Kurosawa explores the vital relationship between man and his environment with this collection of eight enchanting short stories drawn from his personal memories and dreams. A feast for the senses, the luminous tales are distinguished by dazzling imagery, rich color and keen insight. Another famed director (and Kurosawa fan), Martin Scorsese, portrays Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh in one of the dreams.

An excellent film! In one of the dream segments, what the villagers believe is Mt. Fuji erupting, are the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors exploding. Prophetic and poignant is Akira Kurosawa's expression of man's exploitation and neglect of earth.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

David Thomas "Davy" Jones
December 1945 – February 2012