Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Kiwi Boys are Back! - Flight of the Conchords

Here is is the article by James Poniewozik at Time Entertainement.
( I wish I knew how to work with links),8599,1872482,00.html?cnn=yes

If you think you have to be a slacker yourself to make a comedy about two slacker folk musicians, consider the plight of Bret McKenzie. It's late afternoon on the set of Flight of the Conchords, and McKenzie is hanging, duct-taped, on the back of a door.

The setup (spoiler alert! — not that plot twists are that vital on FotC): McKenzie's character, also called Bret, has been robbed in his apartment by a group of thugs, including the new girlfriend of his bandmate/roommate Jemaine (Jemaine Clement). Jemaine, who's been out sulking over problems in his new romance, walks through the door and finds Bret affixed. Bret calmly tells Jemaine that his gal pal has robbed them. Jemaine stares at Bret and asks, "Did she mention me?" (Video: TIME visits the set of Flight of the Conchords.)

The duo — who also co-write the show and the songs they perform in it — try out a slew of gags over numerous takes. Finally a crew member calls a break. "Can we relieve Bret's arms for a bit?"

For Season 2 of HBO's eccentric musical comedy (Sundays, 10 p.m. E.T.), the slackers are working harder than ever. Season 1, in 2007, took FOTC's off-kilter songs, which the duo had been playing onstage for years, and built a winningly grotty sitcom around them. Bret and Jemaine are obscure musicians on New York City's Lower East Side; their version of a big gig is playing a public-library reading room, and they're so poor they share a tea mug, for which they've drawn up a schedule. They're supported by incompetent manager Murray (Rhys Darby) — by day a bureaucrat in the New Zealand consulate — and obsessed fan Mel (Kristen Schaal).

The premise, the pair say, is an exaggerated version of their early days playing shows in Wellington, N.Z. One episode, Clement says, features a concert in which "we start off, and there's one person, and then we turn the lights on at the end, and that person has left. That was a real gig that we did." But a passionate cult audience discovered FOTC's deadpan humor and the interspersed music videos for songs like "The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)," a sexy soul ballad to attainable beauty. ("You're so beautiful/ You could be a part-time model/ But you'd probably still have to keep your normal job.")

HBO ordered a second season. The problem? FOTC had exhausted most of its song catalog — which meant writing a 10-episode season and the equivalent of a comedy album at the same time. "We're going into the studio on the weekend," McKenzie says, "and we might be finishing a song or even writing a song for that next week."

On top of that, says co-writer James Bobin, are the show's production demands. "We're shooting a sitcom and two music videos in five days. Usually you have a day or three days for a video, and you have six days to shoot a sitcom. So we basically have half the time required to do that sort of work."

You wouldn't know it to watch the show, which is rich with visual allusions. When Jemaine tries to pick up girls in a coffee shop by ordering a croissant in French, the scene shifts into a video for "Foux du Fafa," a conversational-French lesson set to '60s Europop and filmed in the grainy color of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. "In the two or three minutes of a music video," McKenzie says, "the world can just explode open. We can get really surreal or abstract, then drop back into the world of the characters." (Michel Gondry, whose videos and films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind share FOTC's playful aesthetic, guest directs an episode this season.)

Keeping FOTC grounded are Bret and Jemaine, who depart from the Spinal Tap rock-parody standard with their deadpan manner. They're both straight men, and thus both hilarious when they earnestly deal with absurd situations like trying to write a jingle for women's toothpaste. (As they brainstorm about things that interest women, Jemaine suggests weaving. No, Bret solemnly corrects: "Weaving's a man's game.") HBO grows most of its comedy worldly and edgy; FOTC's naifs inhabit a world smaller than Carrie Bradshaw's shoe collection, but their show has a refreshing innocence.

Clement and McKenzie considered quitting after Season 1, knowing it would be a tough act to repeat. In the early Season 2 episodes, the strain shows in the songs, which service the plot but aren't as memorable as the old ones. But the scripts are as funny and tightly written as ever, like an episode in which Bret buys a second tea mug, a "$2.79 spending spree" that causes their checks to bounce and sends them into a spiral of poverty.

So will the duo come back for a Season 3? Ask them after this one's over, they say. As long as they keep slacking this well, let's hope they don't quit their day jobs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Apprenez Le Francais Sans Professeur - Learn French without a Teacher

One of the favorite books of my childhood, printed in the 50's. The illustrations were the main motivator for me. Here are some samples.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Art post

I have not painted lately, as my studio is in storage, but hopefully I will start again in November, once we move into our new house.
But I am still going to post this photo of a large painting in oil on a wood panel., which I called La Famiglia

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Postal Service – “We are cheaper so expect the worst possible treatment”

I just need to vent or I’ll explode. I don’t expect sympathy from everybody, some of you might have relatives working for them or you live in the post-card perfect town where even the postal service is a pleasure, but this has never been my experience. In 17 years I lived 5 different cities and it has always been a nightmare.

This particular branch that I am using is in a very crowded business area of the city and it is very large. It has 14 different desks, but usually between 11 am and 2 pm only 4 of them are manned causing enormous lines to form. I guess someone in his enormous wisdom, figured out that lunch time is not the time working people have to go to the post office, so they better leave only a skeleton crew.

I got used to that idea unfortunately and I bring along a book to read. But it is hard not to notice that out of the four clerks available, one is always doing something else. Nobody seems to care that there are 100 people in line anxiously looking at their watches and wondering when all the stamps will be aligned, phone calls dealt with, badges adjusted, stories finished, so that service can resume. You look at their faces and you wonder if they don’t do it on purpose. How thick-skinned do you need to be not to feel uncomfortable when stared at by 100 pairs of hostile eyes?

And after an hour’s wait, I am at the counter with my flat rate priority mail box, with a delivery confirmation sticker attached. She charges me $11.80 from the $10.80 that I paid last time and I am thinking the rates must have gone up again. Must be this amazing service I am getting. But then she notices the delivery confirmation sticker (hard to make out with its bright green color) and charges me $0.65 more for delivery confirmation. Swipes my card and hands me my paperwork back.

I ask how much is the flat rate priority mail? Did it go up? She asks: what flat rate? I say: that was a flat rate box. She picks it up from the bin, turns it around and can’t see the flat rate marking. When I point it out to her she says it is not visible enough. NOT VISIBLE ENOUGH? THEIR OWN PRINTED BOXES?

Fine. She concedes to void the transaction and re-charge me. At the same time she says: there is no reason to be upset mam. (no reason????). But she does not know how to void the transaction, she asks around but decides she must go in the back to customer service to find out more details on how to do it. More time elapses. At this point I say forget it, grab my card, and my receipts and leave.

I go to the post office only when I have to, but I wonder why do we put up with this horrible service and the (numerous) rate increases? I know they are cheaper, but we pay with money for their service, not with peanuts. We work for that money and we are not allowed to behave like that at our place of work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coq au Vin Recipe

1 Blanch the bacon to remove some of its saltiness. Drop the bacon into a saucepan of cold water, covered by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, drain. Rinse in cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Cut the bacon into 1 inch by 1/4 inch pieces.

2 Brown bacon on medium high heat in a dutch oven big enough to hold the chicken, about 10 minutes. Remove the cooked bacon, set aside. Keep the bacon fat in the pan. Add onions and chicken, skin side down. Brown the chicken well, on all sides, about 10 minutes. Halfway through the browning, add the garlic and sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. (Note: it is best to add salt while cooking, not just at the very end. It brings out the flavor of the chicken.)

3 Spoon off any excess fat. Add the chicken stock, wine, and herbs. Add back the bacon. Lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove chicken and onions to a separate platter. Remove the bay leaves, herb sprigs, garlic, and discard.

4 Add mushrooms to the remaining liquid and turn the heat to high. Boil quickly and reduce the liquid by three fourths until it becomes thick and saucy. Lower the heat, stir in the butter. Return the chicken and onions to the pan to reheat and coat with sauce. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Serves 4. Serve with potatoes or over egg noodles.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One-of-a-kind Calder jewelry goes on display

Think of Alexander Calder, and the first thing to come to mind would likely be the suspended abstract sculptures that silently orbit above the heads of museumgoers around the world.
Though best known for those enormous yet graceful creations his friend and fellow artist Marcel Duchamp coined as "mobiles," Calder is far less known for the approximately 1,800 one-of-a-kind pieces of handmade jewelry he created throughout his artistic career.

About 100 of those rarely seen necklaces, bracelets, brooches, earrings and tiaras are on display at the exhibit "Calder Jewelry" in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's new Perelman Building. Most are owned by the Calder Foundation and the rest are from museums and private owners.

"He was working with wire all his life," said Elisabeth Agro, the show's curator. "He first started making jewelry for his sister's dolls."

The exhibition — the first dedicated solely to Calder's jewelry — runs through Nov. 2 in Philadelphia. It then travels to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

Each piece of Calder's jewelry typically begins with brass or silver wire that is hammered and twisted into shapes, joined in cascading dangles and sometimes adorned with glass or broken bits of porcelain.

The innovative design of the jewelry can be reminiscent of Calder's kinetic sculpture, while other pieces reflect African, pre-Columbian and surrealist motifs. A combination of hammered metal and biomorphic shapes, the pieces can look simultaneously primitive and modern.

Many of the pieces were made to move as the wearer moves. Like his mobiles, many have a feeling of delicacy despite their size and boldness.

The most spectacular pieces cover the torso or span the shoulders — and are accentuated with moving parts that jut out from the body.

"You become part of the piece. You activate it," Agro said.

Instead of the person wearing the art, it's the other way around.

"They're the mobiles, and you're the stabile," she said, referring to the term coined by another artist, Jean Arp, to describe Calder's stationary sculptures.

Calder, who died in 1976 at age 78, made much of his jewelry as gifts for family — his wife in particular — and friends. He also counted art-world icons such as Peggy Guggenheim and Georgia O'Keeffe among his devotees, as well as the wives of artists Joan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, Luis Bunuel and Marc Chagall.

"Making jewelry was very personal for him, and each piece exists as a unique work," said Alexander S.C. Rower, Calder's grandson and head of the New York-based Calder Foundation.

The artist did sell his jewelry, however, in art galleries and at private trunk shows. For the latter, he would send an artfully adorned box of baubles to a patron who would invite her friends over for what was akin to an artsy Tupperware party.

"The prices were around $10 or $20, so they were affordable," Agro said. "But it's not your everyday average woman who'd have these parties. They were women who were tapped into bohemia."

One piece — a brooch fashioned after a fist-shaped Brazilian "figa" charm — was given to the museum by its beloved chief executive Anne d'Harnoncourt, whose sudden death last month left the local art scene reeling.

"She was pleased it was going to be part of (the exhibit)," Agro said, "so this is special for us."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Business cards?

The Etiquette of Business Cards
by Amy S. Choi - Business Week
In the U.S., how you design and present your business card is an idiosyncratic, casual affair. But overseas, a simple exchange of cards can become an etiquette disaster, warns Neil Payne, founder of Kwintessential, a cross-cultural communications consultant in London. Here's how to avoid a blunder.
Your card must indicate status, although the actual exchange of cards will be casual. Your card should clearly state the year your company was founded and your title. "Eastern Europeans are very into hierarchy," says Payne.
Using lucky colors such as red and gold plays nicely. In a show of deference, give and receive cards with both hands and a slight bow. Take time to comment on the card, and don't write on it or shove it into a pocket—put it carefully into a card case.
Education is important in India, so highlight your alma mater (if applicable) and any educational honors earned. After shaking hands, use your right hand to exchange cards.