I do things on the weekend now, I guess, instead of working. This weekend it was another movie: Shoplifters.
It’s a really good movie, but you don’t need me to tell you that; it’s already won a bunch of awards. More interesting for me is that the last time I tried to watch a foreign movie with Swedish subtitles—I don’t know how many years ago anymore, but several—I gave up about ten minutes into the movie and switched the subtitles to English. It was just too much to process at once. This time it was fine. Progress!
Editors are supposed to have an endless list of these, right? So the stereotype goes. We are the gatekeepers of language and so on and so forth. And I guess we all do, probably. But if you look at the layperson’s language pet peeves (“they’re/there/their”! “your/you’re”!) and the editor’s pet peeves, the overlap would probably be quite small.
What would be a good question to ask people you’ve just met, if what you really want to know is what they’re passionate about? You know, an alternative to “What do you do?” or “How do you know so-and-so?”
I like to ask people to name a movie they think is overrated and a movie they think is underrated. The reasoning in their answers is often revealing, and sometimes you get a good recommendation out of the question to boot!
When you get home super tired and super hungry, do you usually eat first or sleep first?
Food always comes first. Food above all else. All hail food.
You’re taking an exam. You aren’t sure about the answer to question 5, but you know it’s either “lions” or “tigers.” You get to question 11 and realize whatever the answer to 5 is, 11 is the other answer. Do you write “lions” as your answer to 5 and 11, thereby ensuring you’ll get one of them right? Or do you write “lions” for 5 and “tigers” for 11, risking two wrong answers but giving you a chance at two right ones?
Oh, this game theory realness! Before I did anything else I would reflect on the question, maybe work on other parts of the exam for a little bit, take a moment to let my wander off the topic entirely. But if I did all of that and I still didn’t know, and didn’t have even an inclination either way, I think I’d go for “lions” for both.
One of the books I read in my Modernist Swedish Literature course a million years ago was Aniara. Since we were still babies in the Swedish language, everything we read was an English translation. To this day I don’t know how The Swedish Program at Stockholm University managed to find enough copies—actual proper hardback copies, not dodgy spiral-bound printouts—of the English translation for all of us. These days the only English version available anywhere seems to be an ugly paperback edition that fetches a whopping $225 on Amazon.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite appreciate reading Aniara at the time. I love sci fi but I’m extremely unconvinced by poetry, so the whole thing left me tepid. Now that I’m older, I appreciate not only the weirdness of the project (an epic poem about a pioneer ship lost in space!) but the metaphorical aspect of the whole piece in the face of the threat of nuclear winter and environmental annihilation.
I only learned that there was an Aniara movie after I saw a poster for it at ABF after my writing Meetup. My timing was excellent: Bio Rio only has two showings and both of them are in February. There’s one more screening on 15 February, for those of you in Stockholm who are free at 3 in the afternoon on a weekday. I’m not, so I had to grab last-minute tickets to the evening showing this past Saturday. I also, at the very last minute, tracked down a copy of the Swedish original from the library so I could go into the movie with a refreshed memory.
Aniara the movie is a graceful companion to Aniara the epic poem, if not least to provide visuals that help anchor the story (as much as there is one). Specifically, the movie illustrates the sheer vastness of everything far better than words maybe ever could. Martinson gives some details—a ship with 8,000 people on board, 15,580 feet long and 2,923 feet wide—but it’s hard to really appreciate, on the emotional and intuitive level, what those numbers really mean. The establishing shots of huge milling crowds in a huge, outsized version of a Viking Line cruise ship, however, suddenly makes it crystal clear. The poem also does very little to specify the actual specifics of the ship, aside from the fact that it has crystal-clear windows and walls over must of it. Thanks to a steady childhood diet of mid-century science fiction movies, I always imagined the interior of Aniara as a very minimalist, brushed chrome sort of space ship; the option to represent the ship as an opulent, futuristic echo of today’s booze cruises was an inspired one and provided a nice visual irony in the later years of the ship’s voyage.
References and quotations from the poem fit into the movie quite elegantly, whether in events and plot points or pieces of dialogue. The screenwriters opted to ground things in the particular story arc of the Mimarob—the employee who operates the Mima, which in the movie is the equivalent of the holodeck from Star Trek but in the poem is more like a fancy movie theater. The change works well; the vague nameless “we” in many of the poems is enough to track when you read, but in a movie it helps to have at least one central character we can follow throughout. The choice of the Mimarob for such a protagonist also makes sense; on the rare occasion a singular “I” turns up in the poem, it’s usually the Mimarob.
I didn’t finish re-reading Aniara entirely beforehand, so I can’t say whether some of the grimmer plot points were also alluded to in the poem or if they were added for dramatic purposes. But it doesn’t seem worth harping on grimness when we’re talking about an adaption of an epic poem where everyone ends up lost in space forever.
Like 2001 and Arrival, the film version of Aniara succeeds in complementing the original text it’s based on, so that instead of competing to tell the singular best version of an idea, both versions become one cohesive whole. Watch the movie and, if you can, read the book.
Oh man, I try not to think about how much salt is in my favorite Korean ramen because it’s…probably not great. But I get points for getting two or three meals out of the broth instead of just one, right?
What areas of your life could stand a little fat-trimming?
It’s that time of the year again! Right around the new year, I go through the people I follow on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and decide who’s not working out for me.
How acid-tongued are you?
When I interact with people? Not at all. When you get me drunk and talking about Jane Austen or Harry Potter? Whew boy.
What’s an interesting way you’ve burned yourself?
If I’ve ever burned myself, it’s been in the usual, pedestrian ways.
What are your favorite everyday cooking implements?
My kettle is absolutely essential! (See above, re: ramen.) The microwave is also very, very important. When someone in this apartment actually cooks, the mandoline slicer and the garlic press get a lot of use.
Stockholm was a destination on Ennio Morricone’s farewell tour. Or 60 years of music tour. Hard to say what the proper title really is. Either way, if you have a chance to see a living legend, you take it. Nothing like a live performance of “The Ecstasy of Gold” conducted by the composer.
And probably the only time in my life where the audience whooped, cheered, and whistled for an orchestral performance, which is almost too bad. People should always be that excited for concerts, no matter what the genre.
I didn’t realize that “Africa” had become a thing again in the year of our Lord 2019. Along with Weezer and Weird Al? Time is meaningless anymore.
Where in Africa would you like to visit?
There are lots of places, really. Soudha is in Singapore for university right now, if memory serves, but her travel logs series on Of Stacks and Cups really made me want to visit Mauritius. One of my teacher friends and former coworkers studied in Ghana for a semester when she was in university and made it sound like a lovely place to visit. Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt are also on my “someday” travel list.
If you ruled the world, what would you forbid people to talk about in the company of strangers?
Nothing, actually. Even the most banal smalltalk has its purpose.
In what way do you tolerate (or enjoy) being used?
I can’t think of any. Moving on!
When did you recently have an a-ha moment?
About something or other at work, I’m sure. I feel like I have at least one every day.
What’s something you know about turtles?
Nothing that the average person doesn’t already know. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about these little guys.
I had the worst TMJ flare-up of my life on Thursday and it has yet to abate entirely. Everything on the left side of my head and neck either hurts, has only stopped hurting for the moment, or is getting ready to hurt some more. I hate everything. Human bodies are feckless assholes.
I still cry at “Rhapsody in Blue.” Every damn time.
What’s a song that recently moved you — right out the door?
Not a song as such, but a request.
When I lived in Korea, I used to go on long, late-night walks with another teacher friend of mine. By this time the pedestrian mall and downtown (“downtown”) Uijeongbu had been fully refurbished, with bits of greenery and benches and sculptures. It soon attracted any number of buskers, and in the warmer months our walks included stopping to take in a few songs.
One time we passed such a performance in front of an audience including a few drunk white men who were already on their way to behaving badly. We lingered, unsure if we could enjoy the music over the poor behavior.
“If one of them requests ‘Freebird,’ I’m going to lose my shit,” I mentioned to my walking companion, quietly and out of earshot of said potential troublemakers.
And as if on cue, one of them slurred “FREEBIRD!” and I had to feign a coughing fit to cover a scream of frustration. I nodded to my friend, who was still confused, and we kept walking while I explained the pointless tradition of requesting “Freebird” at concerts, regardless of artist or genre.
What kinds of dance performances interest you?
Not many, I’ll admit. I don’t have much interest in watching anything except tap or swing. I’ve watched to many Hollywood movie musicals, I guess.
What’s a good song with the word move (or some form of it) in the title?
I will never not post a Janis Joplin song if I have the opportunity to do so.
How do you feel about prunes?
I’ve never had them. But since I like raisins, I’d probably like prunes.