Thursday, August 31, 2006

Montmarte

A view of Montmartre from the Musee D'Orsay after the rain stopped:


We ate lunch in Montmarte between rain showers. Our authentically surly French waiter tried to talk us into going inside, but we wanted to people watch. The waiter shrugged and sat us outside. Immediately, artists swooped down on us like articulated pigeons. Did we want a sketch done? No. They'd do it for free, and if we liked it we could buy it, they cooed. Our waiter came by and shooed them away, but as soon as he went inside, a new flock descended. Our waiter muttered colorful curses (if our French speaking friend was to be believed) and threatened to kick the artists in the ass each time he came by. He was the best part of lunch.



It was late, well after eleven, when we headed back to our hotel. A violinist serenaded us in the tunnels leading to the Metro. There was an accordion player in our car on the first Metro train, and a puppet show in the aisle of the third one we took. The kids were asleep on their feet, but they clapped and begged for coins to tip the puppeteer and musicians. We emptied our pockets into their hands and set them over to drop the coins in the hat. That's my favorite memory of our time in Paris.

Museums in Paris

I suppose you don't have to go to the Louvre while in Paris, but it's such a huge structure that it's hard to miss.

I love museums, but I wasn't all that impressed with the Louvre. There. I admitted it. Said the unthinkable. It simply has so much and is so big that I quickly got burnout. A lot of the collection is artwork Napoleon (and his army) looted while he was terrorizing Europe, and even though the Louvre building is very grand, I had this feeling of being in a plundered booty warehouse.

After a couple hours of that, we strolled through the Tuileries and took the squirrelly nephews and niecelet to a carnival there. While they bounced off the walls of a huge trampoline, we sipped espresso at an outdoor cafe. I noticed a rainbow angle statue, and then a small rainbow flag on the espresso machine, and also a rainbow bear flag on the cooler. Hmmm. Was tempted to ask, but our (very nice) Parisian bartender spoke no English and my French is limited to "Excuse me, Madame, for butchering your beautiful language and taking your valuable time, but could you point in some vague direction that will supposedly get me to a bathroom? I'd be ever so grateful."

After we rested, the member of our party who knew Paris hiked us across the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay. He took us straight up to the 5th floor, where the impressionists paintings were displayed. If I had known, I would have skipped the Louvre and just gone to that museum. Monet, Degas, Van Gogh... it seemed as if every other painting was one I'd seen in an art book. It was simply the finest collection of art I'd seen anywhere. If I had to make the choice, I'd never set foot in the Louvre again.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Ruins of Pompeii

There was so much to see in Pompeii.






I may not be into fashion, but I'm all for this gondolier's Dolce and Gabbana look.






And proof that Paris is for lovers....

Vacation Reading

With the heightened security, we were afraid that we wouldn’t be allowed to bring anything onto the plane with us. Restrictions changed daily. We had only carry-on luggage, but were forced to check it. Our traveling companions went through Heathrow and weren’t even allowed to bring books on board. I vowed to one friend that I’d be willing to take a nibble from every page of a book to prove it was real if security demanded it. Lucky for me, I wasn’t forced to eat anyone’s words, and I got to have my books.

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty got me from LA to about the middle of the Atlantic. It's a good novel, and I understand that BBC made a movie from it, but I had a hard time being truly interested in the main character.

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was my companion from Paris to Rome. In the finest tradition of science fiction, this story uses alternate reality to examine the definition of humanity. Strongly recommended.

While in Rome, I read Jim Thompson's The Grifters. This was one of the few times I'd say the movie was better than the book. The novel has an extraneous character that gets in the way. The screenwriter was smart to tighten the focus to a triangle between Moira, Ray, and Ray's mom, Lily. Jim Thompson could write a plot, but he sure tells everything, never showing - which is a big no-no in contemporary writing.

In preparation for Venice, I then read John Berendt's City of Falling Angels. Like his Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this is more a collection of anecdotes about a city and the people who live there than a single story. Still, he has the talent to pull it off - in style. If you’re headed to Venice, I strongly recommend this. My only disappointment was the difficulty of finding English translations of Mario Stefani's poetry, as the story of the poet’s suicide and will captured my attention. Having finished City of Falling Angels the day before we went to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection, I was amused to find books written by Jane Rylands, who came off as a near villain in Berendt's story, for sale in the museum gift shop.

Due to a train schedule problem, we had to head back to Paris the long way - Venice to Milan, Milan to Nice, Nice to Paris. 20 hours. I meant to sleep most of the way, but when you’re traveling along the Mediterranean in Southern France and Monaco, it’s hard to ignore the scenery outside the window. Once the sun set though, I pulled out a book.

I like Raymond Chandler's prose, but his homophobia is laughable. I must read his biography and see if he was gay. His lingering, lavish physical descriptions of men and throw-away details of women raised my eyebrow, but in every one of his novels, he has a beautiful boy but then makes some nasty comment about gay men just to prove his detective isn't turned on. Internalized homophobia? I smell a closet.

After I finished The Big Sleep, I still had hours of train travel ahead of me. Our traveling companions had a galley of Patricia Marx's Him Her Him Again The End of Him. They took pity on me and passed it across the aisle. I think it will be released in early 2007. Patricia is a former SNL writer and other TV shows, as well as pieces in Spy, The New Yorker, Vogue, Time, etc. By the time I finished her novel, everyone in our compartment was dead to the world, so I shut off my reading light and got some sleep too.

Our vacation was almost at an end by then. Good thing. I was down to one book - Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely - and the SO was reading it. The nerve! So I read his Steven Saylor novel, Roman Blood. I got the SO hooked on Steven's series. I'm hooked myself. I love detective novels, and the ancient Rome setting makes it all that more interesting. After I devoured that, I impatiently tapped my foot while the SO finished my book. Incompatible reading speeds do not make for happy traveling companions. The SO was lucky I didn’t rip my book out of his hands. I dangled my copy of the Grifters in front of him, to no avail. As I said, I like Chandler’s prose, so I’m reading through his list. If you’re offended by racism, misogyny, or homophobia, I wouldn’t suggest his work, because it’s rife with it. If you can grit your teeth and get past it, and you like your detectives hard-boiled, go for it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Museum of Erotic Art - Venice

Two weeks without telephones, computers, or e-mail. Lucky for me, there were plenty of other distractions.



The Museum of Erotic Arts in Venice is one block off Piazza San Marco. The four-storey building features many ink drawings, pictures, photographs, and art. Most of it did nothing for me, but the SO quite liked a series of modern photos of women in Venetian Carnival garb by Alexander Dupouy. I felt that the two best pieces were in the lobby, before the ticket counter. They were glass goblets with incredibly detailed 4-inch high figurines in S&M garb. Dominique Regnier's sculptures invited me with "Please DO Touch" signs, and it was wonderful to run my hands over the cool stone.

Worth the visit, and the entrance fee included a glass of wine.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Much Ado About Lost Girls

Writer Amanda Earl posted a query about Alan Moore's upcoming Lost Girls graphic novel that follows the adult lives of Alice (of Alice in Wonderland), Wendy (of Peter Pan) and Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz)to the ERWA writer's list, and posted this bit from an interview about the book:

"Certainly it seemed to us [Moore and Gebbie]
that sex, as a genre, was woefully
under-represented in literature. Every other
field of human experience, even rarefied ones like
detective, spaceman or cowboy, have got whole
genres dedicated to them. Whereas the only genre
in which sex can be discussed is a disreputable,
seamy, under-the-counter genre with absolutely no
standards: [the pornography industry] which is a
kind of Bollywood for hip, sleazy ugliness."Alan
Moore, interview with Science Fiction Weekly
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Girls


While I am a fan of Mr. Moore's work, I surprised, and disappointed, that someone who works in a medium that is maligned by people who have no idea how its changed and the quality of current work would turn around and malign another genre. It also makes me wonder which Bollywood movies he's seen.

Erotica has come a long way in the past ten years, but quality erotica has been around a long time. The Story of O was published in 1955. Other wonderful works have been around for some time. Justine by the Marquis de Sade, Venus in Furs by Sacher-Masoch, Fear of Flying, Fanny Hill, Lolita, The Sleeping Beauty Series, Lofting... And that's just the novels! Anais Nin, Lisabet Sara, Greg Wharton, Kate Dominic, Mike Kimera, M. Christian, and Ian Philips have published quality collections of erotic short stories. Best Women's Erotica, an annual anthology from Cleis Press, showcases quality writing, as do Susie Bright's Best American Erotica and Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Book of Erotica, also annual editions. That only scratches the surface. There are gay and lesbian erotica anthologies, BDSM, cowboys, motorcycles, vampires... None of which are sold "under the counter." Sleaze, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder. To me, ugliness is blatant prejudice and willful ignorance.

Of course there's crap work out there. Many beginner writers assume that anyone can be published in erotica so it's a good place to start, and there are websites that will take any content, so some of those beginner writers do get "published." While I hate to see that out there dragging down the image of the genre, I believe that people have a right to read poorly written crap if they want to. They certainly deserve to if they don't seek better. But it isn't hard to find quality either. Clean Sheets, The Erotica Readers and Writer's Association, and Velvet Mafia, to name a very few, showcase well written stories.

As for Lost Girls - I might read it, I might not. But I assure you that I will approach it with a far more open mind than Mr. Moore.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hell of a time to be flying

I can sure pick a week to have lots of air time ahead of me. Thank goodness we aren't flying out of London. They won't even allow books on board. Hours on a plane with nothing to read but the sky mall catalog. Shopping while in a plane. Two things that are bad enough alone, but combined? *shudder*

Maybe I'll write sonnets on the back of an air sickness bag. To the Dude in Front of Me Who Just Had to Put the Seat Back so That I Have Zero Leg Room or, You Fucking Self Absorbed Bastard - a love poem.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Argh!

No, I have not turned into a pirate.

Is there anything more annoying than losing a book? It's a trick question. Right now, there's nothing more annoying. Tomorrow in traffic, I'm sure that the car riding on my back bumper will take that honor.

My first priority for my upcoming vacation was my reading list. I thought tonight would be a good time to gather those books and dump them into the suitcase so that I could feel as if I were making packing progress.

I bought a book several months ago that hasn't floated to the top of my reading stack, but vacation seemed like the perfect time to tackle it, given the long train and airline hours ahead of me. It should have been simple, but there are stacks of books everywhere in the hovel. I went through them all. I found three more "must read" books, but not the one I wanted.

I'm not against buying another copy if I have to. But I shouldn't have to. It's here somewhere. The worst part is that I have visually keyed memory, so I can picture where I last saw it, but not well enough to home in on it. It's somewhere safe. Probably next to the Amber Room and the Ark of the Covenant. Damn it. This is going to bug me for days.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Reader Writes...

Honestly, you can post questions on comments. I do usually answer them there. Not that I mind the hidden correspondence with some of you... (And by the way, thank you for reading. We know that every time you go on the internet, you have a choice of blogs to read, and on behalf of myself and your blog crew, we'd like to thank you for reading us.)

So, I just got an email from someone commenting on my Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms post. (That was quick!) Since she obviously reads my blog, I'm going to answer her here. She said (paraphrasing) "You must like everything you read."

Not so. I read a lot. I read a lot of dreck. I fling dreck under my bed and go in search of something else to read. There are piles of books around my house. It isn't hard to stumble onto something better.

The main reason I don't do negative reviews is that no matter what reviewers in the NY Times lead you to believe, a good book is one that you enjoy reading. It all comes down to personal taste, which is why when everyone in the world is going on and on about some wonderful book that enthralled them from page one until the end, you can't get past the first chapter. It isn't the book. It's you. But that's nothing to feel bad about. It simply isn't a good fit.

Oranges Aren't The Only Fruit is a good example. Readers and writers on several lists recommended this book. I read it, and it was okay, but it didn't capture me. That doesn't mean it's bad. It simply means that I finished it, shrugged, and moved on to the next book on my stack. Didn't hate it, but I didn't have that good book experience either.

When I read something and days after I finish it it's still in my mind, I'm enough of a book geek that I have to say something. It's exciting to find a book that sparks my brain. I like to share the possibility of that experience with others.

So I guess my answer is, "No, I don't like everything I read, but I'm not enough of a literary masochist to finish reading, much less comment on in detail, the growing pile of discarded books under my bed. Besides, wouldn't you rather hear about a good book?"


P.S. I just saw that Aaron Hamburger has a novel out, Faith For Beginners. I met him at Saints and Sinners two years ago. I really enjoyed his collection of short stories The View From Stalin's Head, so despite my promise to the SO to tame my Amazon habit until I've read every other book that I've bought already, I'm going to get it. Maybe I should have it delivered to my work so that he doesn't know.....

Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms

I never got to see Justin Chin perform his pieces in San Francisco, but I did go to two readings here in LA from his new book, Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms. The book contains scripts from his shows as well as stage directions and commentary.

I figured that even though I had to imagine the lighting and slides, when he read, I'd get a feel for what he did on stage. I was a little worried that sitting home reading the rest of it, I might get lost.

Not a problem.

Justin frets about his reputation for anger, but what comes across so well in this book is his incredible sense of humor. Okay, his An Invocation for Mr. S___ and People Like Him in the Hopes That Their Moist Eyes Would Blind Them So They Stumble Off The Pavement Into the Path of a Beer Truck is a little angry. Maybe more bitchy than angry, but that rare witty bitchiness that only truly intelligent people can pull off. Cover your mouth and snicker along, but don't pretend you aren't laughing.

Parts of this collection are serious, but it takes me a lot longer to mull over (I'm sorry - process would be the artsy-fartsy word to use here) serious stuff. I wanted to get this review posted before I go into my two-week long self imposed computer exile though, so you'll only get my reaction to the parts that made me laugh.

The Casey Kasem Top 40 dedication, Solid Gold Dancers fixation, Day-Glo apologies, 80's hair tales, and Fagtown Bingo card are wonderful. (I used the Fagtown Bingo Card on one of my forums the other night. If only my Holier Then Thou Bike Fag who was also an Evil Vegan Fag, and Super Angry to boot would have ADMITTED that he handed out flyers, I would have had a blackout!) The text on the slides from Go-Go GO! was brilliant.

I watched the rest of the audience while Justin read I, Documentary or I Buy A Camera and Document My Love Life, and besides the laughter, there was a lot of head nodding. It's a piece anyone can relate their fucked up relationship history to.

So be a little adventurous. If I can handle the stage directions, so can you. Treat yourself to this book. Justin isn't performing any more, but you can enjoy what he has to say.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Clue?

I’ve been having an interesting but unpleasant email exchange with a writer. I’m calling him a writer because he writes. I don’t believe in making a distinction between published and unpublished, even though he prophetically commented that “anyone can be published. That doesn’t mean the person can write.” *ahem* But he did make sure I knew he was published. He even offered to help me with my writing. What a generous soul.

In the past few months, it seems I'm finding more stories from writers who obviously despise their characters. More specifically, these are straight people writing queer characters and the contempt they have for their characters is breathtaking. So I had to ask, “It’s obvious that you think that gay men are effeminate, lisping, shallow, perverted, addicted, promiscuous, stupid oxygen thieves, so why write them? If you’re writing a novel, you have to live with your characters for a long time. Why not write characters who interest you?”

The answer I got back from this one guy was, (paraphrasing) “Well, the main character feels contempt for other gay men and the gay culture and they way they always act. He’s showing the way they should act. Like men.”

After my blood pressure settled back into the non-lethal range, and I’d deleted every other response I wrote to him, I picked this one apart.

ME: “All men are men. But all men do not act like each other. Do you know any gay men? (you probably do and don’t even know it) Do those men act like your characters do?”

TSW: “You know what I mean.”

ME: “I know that relying on tired clich├ęs is lazy writing.”

TSW: “It’s that whole gay culture thing.”

ME: “What gay culture? Circuit party boys, or middle-aged, middle-class suburbanites raising their kids? How do gay always act? And by the way, Will and Grace, the L Word, and Queer as Folk are not documentaries.”

TSW: “I know that.”

I’m not so sure he did. He thought it was impossible for a gay man or woman to have a biological child.

ME: “Why should any gay man take your main character- a self-loathing, bitter, insecure straight guy- as a role model?”

TSW: “My character is gay.”

ME: “He thinks straight.”

TSW: “He’s dating men.”

ME: “Trust me, only a straight man fantasizes that every gay man in the world worships his cock. Gay men know better. Your character walks into a club and claims that every man there hits on him. In what world? The words “highly selective” don’t even begin to describe the bar scene in WeHo. A cock is a mediocre commodity in a gay bar. Everyone has one. Your character has to have more than that going for him. He doesn’t. Not the way you’ve written him.”

TSW: “Well, he’s a total top.”

ME: “Sure you are, hon.” (I bit my tongue and did not send that reply)

After rounds of emails, I was finally able to get him to admit why he chose to write a novel with gay characters.

TSW: “Gay fiction is like erotica – anyone can get published in it.”

ME: *choke. gasp.* "grrrrr"

TSW: “I’m sure YOUR writing isn’t complete garbage. But you know what I mean.”

ME: (Thanks ever so much for “isn’t complete garbage.” I’m glad you feel my work’s just MOSTLY garbage) "Do you read erotica?"

TSW: “No.”

Oh, well at least he’s competent to judge the genre.

ME: “What queer writers are you reading? Capote? Hollinghurst? Burroughs? Do you have any idea what level of writer you're competing against?”

TSW: “Read ? I don’t read gay stuff. I have no interest in that.”

ME: *rolling eyes.* "Whatever."

EVIL ME: *chuckling* One less writer I have to worry about.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Baby Talk Cover Controversy

I will never stop shaking my head at this. Yet more proof that Americans need to grow up about sexuality.

Baby Talk magazine recently showed an infant breastfeeding on it's cover, and the readers went ballistic.

One claimed she had to turn it over quick before her husband saw it. Huh? An adult man, father of a child, and she had to protect his innocent eyes? I can't believe someone with the sexual maturity of a 10 year old is a mother. Has her husband never seen her bared breasts? I guess if she's a complete frum it's possible, but unless they're conducting marital relations through a hole in a sheet, chances are the mister's seen her breasts before. Or is her problem letting him see it being used for the purpose for which it was designed? How separated is she from the reality of her body?

Humans are the only mammals with engorged mammary glands when the female isn't lactating. It's that whole butt cleavage/breast cleavage primal turn-on thing to make up for upright walking. But to equating breastfeeding with pornography is really stretching it.

I've always thought so, but now I truly think there should be a mandatory emotional maturity test for anyone thinking of becoming a parent. It would save the children of this world years of trauma at the hands of their preadolescent parents.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Make Cum, Not War

I am so tired of the Red State/Republican/Christian hard-on for violence as the only acceptable sexual release outside of marriage.

Take the young, dumb, and full of cum, complete the Christian/Patriot brainwash in bootcamp, and then send them off to die in wars we start for the sole purpose of testing our military readiness and weapons. This is nothing new. We've been doing it ever since the Civil War. If we only fought wars on our soil, barring WWI and WWII involvement which I agree was necessary, our Veteran's Hospitals would be quiet places, and our Veteran's cemeteries emptier. So what do we gain by wounding, sacrificing, and emotionally maiming the youth of our country? Well, at least their sex drives are sublimated, which presumably makes them better Christians. Shooting off bullets instead of cum. Too bad the soldiers don't realize that the Constitution they are sworn to defend is under attack here on US soil, not thousands of miles away.

I'm thinking about this a lot lately - partially because of Trebor Healey's poetry, partially because I was raised military and am revisiting that life in a novel I'm working on, and partially due to the underground war the US Government is waging agaisnt sex and our first amendment rights.

While I was at Trebor and Justin Chin's reading at Skylight book, I had a chance to talk with Kate Dominic, who writes a lot of stories that sell to for-pay erotica sites. She told me that her most consistent customer, who owns a few sites and manages a few more, warned her that the credit card companies, under duress from the government, were refusing to process credit card payments for the sites because of objectionable words found in a few stories.

Objectionable words. What they really mean is objectionable ideas. There's nothing a government fears more than ideas, which is why the Bush administration has gone to war against the written word.

Let me be clear - these site were for-pay, available only to adults. The stories, while fetish, portrayed IN WORDS consenting adults doing what consenting adults enjoy doing. Republican adults even seem to enjoy this, as sales per capita in red states for smut are higher than in blue states. (For this blog, I can track what states viewers are from, and what search words they use to find it, and believe me, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, the kinkiest search strings I've seen have come from Alabama, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas. You Alabama people got a thing for panties, don'tcha? Sunday morning too. That's when you all drop by. And you sure leave my blog in a hurry when you realize there are no smutty panty pictures for you to wank to before you go to church.)

There were several key words that got those sites into trouble. Words. Not pictures. Words expressing ideas of age play - which is when consenting ADULTS pretend in a sexual fantasy to be younger than they really are - like men in convertibles with hair pieces, only sexy instead of creepy.

No kids involved. And yet, this censorship is being done in the guise of protecting children. It makes for good sound bites, but it's like taking a shotgun out to kill a flea. Kate warned me it was coming, but I was surprised to see it happen so soon. Less than two weeks later, and the owner is shutting down most of the sites.

I strongly support the efforts to end kiddie porn. Put people who abuse kids in prison - forever. But for the love of the Constitution, let consenting adults make their own bedroom decisions. And please - US Government - quit policing our fantasies. No matter how much you enjoy playing bondage games with our words, ideas are impossible to restrain, and they submit to no one.