Friday, October 31, 2008

Ben Hur - A Tale of the Christ

Before reading this book, if I heard the name Ben-Hur, the first thing came to my mind was a chariot race. I think I have seen the movie version a long time ago. Years ago I had a comic version of this story and 2 scenes which moved me the most were: 1. Little Jesus gave Ben-Hur water in his darkest time (and he repaid it later when He was on the Cross) 2. Ben-Hur's mother and sister were healed.

First published in 1880, this novel by Lew Wallace begins with the 3 wise men: Gaspar the Greek, Melchior the Hindu, and Balthasar the Egyptian; following the star to Bethlehem and witness the birth of a King. Interesting to read about their origins and why they come to follow the star. Then the story moves forward 21 years, when Ben-Hur (the name means 'Son of Hur'. His family calls him 'Judah'.) is having an argument with his childhood friend Messala, and ends with conclusion that Romans and Jews are very different. They cannot be what they were anymore. Next is the accident, when a roofing tile falls from Ben-Hur's house and almost kills the new procurator of Judea, Valerius Gratus, who is having a parade below. Massala himself points out Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur is seized and sent to hard labour, they think in a year he will die. His mother & sister are sent to jail. After 3 years as a galley slave, he meets Quintus Arrius the duumvir, saves him and is adopted as his son. 5 years later, Ben-Hur returns to Judea as a rich man and meets his father's loyal servant Simonides and his beautiful daughter Esther, whom later he will marry. He beats Messala in a chariot race and cripples him. He searches for his mother and sister. Meanwhile, after meeting one of the 3 wise men, Balthasar, Ben-Hur's view about the Messiah begins to change. He and Simonides believe that the Messiah will free them from the Romans and both use their immense wealth to train people as soldiers so that when the Nazarene arrives in Jerusalem, His way to become the King of The Jews will be easy. However, when Ben-Hur sees the Nazarene arrested, he asks Him to say the word and he will help him; but He doesn't say anything. Ben-Hur realizes that Balthasar is right, and that His Kingdom is not in this world.

The language is not difficult and Wallace gave rich descriptions on the culture, the buildings, the clothes, etc. One of my favourite parts is when the Nazarene heals Ben-Hur's mother and sister. Being lepers is the same as dead, you cannot get near to people and if someone comes near you have to shout "Unclean! Unclean!". The Nazarene, however, is not afraid to be near them and look into their eyes with pity. The situation itself is like drinking from a fresh spring in the middle of hot desert. In my high-school days I had a book with stories from the Bible, and one of my favourite parts was also the scene with Jesus and a leper. This leper heard that He would be in a city and he took all risks to meet him. A city was not a place for a leper, and people shouted at him, spat at him, stoned him; but this Man greeted him as if he was His friend. The scene was very moving. Like in this illustration by Alexander Bida (titled The Leper), not only He didn't tell the man to go away, but He also was not afraid to touch the poor man, and makes him well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Les seins de glace (1974)

In a beach in Nice, TV screenwriter François Rollin (Claude Brasseur) meets the mysterious Peggy (Mireille Darc) and despite her resistance, falls in love with her. Her lawyer Marc Rilson (Alain Delon) tells Rollin that Peggy is sick and she has killed her late husband. Rollin assumes Rilson is lying because Madame Rilson and his brother Denis tell him Marc is in love with Peggy himself and plans to marry her. Meanwhile, Peggy is always in fear and it seems her gardener watches every of her step. Every where she goes she is followed by Marc's chauffeur.

I don't know what the novel, which the movie was based on, is like. It's called 'Someone is Bleeding' by Richard Matheson. Who is bleeding? Bleeding inside?

Georges Lautner made this movie a good thriller and Mireille Darc played the hysterical Peggy very well. Delon's Rilson has a melancholic look (but hostile towards Rollin). The two rivals are very opposite: Rilson is serious and seems sad while Rollin is always happy and takes everything lightly. Rilson tries everything to keep Peggy away from the mental hospital. He befriends the police inspector (they call each other by first names). After 2 more killings, Rilson cannot cover for Peggy anymore and the police need to put someone in jail. At this point, François still can't see that Peggy is very dangerous. Does he really believe Rilson is the culpable that he agrees to leave together with her? Rilson only gives himself to the police to save Peggy for he has promised her never to put her back to the hospital. The inspector puts Rilson back to his sense when he says his sacrifice is useless and that she is beyond help. Peggy must be stopped before she kills again. Like in 'Rocco and His Brothers', Delon's character sacrifices himself for nothing.

As a writer, François doesn't seem to have much imagination. He is naive, perhaps blinded by love. It's almost impossible (for me at least) he doesn't believe Peggy could kill and can do it again. Who else would have killed Denis? I wonder what he thinks when he sees Rilson takes her to the top of the hill. Does he realize that he has lost her forever? -that there is a strong bond between Rilson and Peggy, a sort of wonderful understanding which he cannot break. The ending scene is beautiful. Peggy looks very peacefully happy. Rilson shows her Australia (although I'm sure she can't see it) like God showed Moses the promised land. It's obvious how much Rilson loves her and I must say that the chemistry between Delon and Darc was very good. I wonder what he will do next, after executing such a big decision i.e. the conclusion of this movie. How can he live after that? The theme song by Philippe Sarde is very beautiful. The last song sadly ends abruptly by the shot.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Léon Morin, prêtre (1961)

Somehow I had an impression that Léon Morin, prêtre (prêtre = priest) was a movie of religious discussion between a priest and one of his flocks. Yes, it's the main part of the movie, but there are much more than that. There are details about what happened in 1942-1945: the fate of the Jews, the difficulty to get shoes, collaborators, and some few good Germans. Set in occupation days, started when Italian soldiers were still in France, followed by the entrance of Germans, and ended until the French liberation. The story takes place in a small village where Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), a widow who works in a school's administration, goes to a church to have his half-Jewish daughter baptized. Barny herself doesn't believe in God. In the church, she meets Léon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) in the confession box and after a brief discussion, he tells her to come to his place to borrow books. Since then, once a week, Barny always comes to the priest's place to borrow and return books and have discussions with him. Later, she is converted and falls in love with the young priest.

The movie is wonderful and I found myself attached to the screen the first time I watched it. Also enjoyed the religious discussions. Compared to other Jean-Pierre Melville works I have seen, where usually women are rare, in this one men are rare - if the soldiers and townspeople aren't included; and there are much more dialogues. In a time when a war is on, I suppose all young men must be going to the battles or hiding in the woods (as Resistance) , and that makes Léon Morin the most handsome man in the village and all women are attracted to him. Since the story is told from Barny's point of view, it would be interesting to know what he thinks, what goes on in his mind. Is he really a saint or he almost falls to temptation? He notices the women, too: he advices Barny to paint her toenails, sees that Marion is missing one earring and since he covers her knees, it means he notices them in the first place. I'm convinced that Morin enjoys his meetings with Barny and among all women in the movie, she is his equal. Is Barny converted because she sees the truth or because she loves the priest?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hail The Conquering Hero

I haven't read the prequel of this book, The Old Gods Laugh, but turned out Frank Yerby's Hail The Conquering Hero A Novel, which was published in 1978, could be enjoyed on its own. This is not an easy book to read, at least for me, because of its richness, either in details and languages, and its topic. It's a story about James Rush, an American sent to be his country's ambassador to Caribbean Republic of Costa Verde, which is led by a dictator who does not hesitate to use violence and tortures to get rid of his enemies and to achieve what he wants.

Jim Rush has had experienced in the State Department as Consul in Latin America countries, and takes the offer to prove to himself that he can handle a difficult assignment, before quitting. He is chosen because of Ed Crowley, an oil tycoon, his ex-boss, has used his influence and wants him to help his only daughter gets out of Costa Verde. Jenny has been accused of murder, is now missing and wanted by the FBI. When Jim's plane is about to land in Costa Verde, it is clear that he is not wanted there: a plane is shot down, all its passengers are dead. Although Jim is alive, he has to bear the thought that the terrorists has shot the wrong plane and those people die because of him. 'I'm living on borrowed time,' he thought, 'the time you lent me, friends...' Plus, his life is continuously in danger for it wasn't the last of the attempts to murder him.

However Jim is not alone and he has friends, for they have suffered long under the dictatorship, who are willing to help him. His office and house are bugged and they put spies among his staff, but Jim can carry out his plans to find Jenny, who is in a dangerous man's hands, Joe Harper, a drug smuggler, who later will become Jim's big enemy. As the American Ambassador, Jim is popular in Costa Verde, especially among its women, and later the government's plan to remove him backfired, and the rebels take over the power.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Doraemon from Kidzu Bento

I wasn't too fond of the meal itself because the scrambled egg tasted almost nothing (but other menus from Hoka-hoka Bento are okay), but the souvenir was very cute: Doraemon followed by the little Dino. There are two kinds of Doraemon figurines: one with eyes open and the other one closed (because he is laughing).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Shipment tracking

I write this not to complain, but to share just in case someone else has the same problem.

I ordered 3 books from France and on September 10 I got a notice that they had been shipped using Deutsche Post World Net. The seller gave me 12 digit tracking number. On their website, details of the despatch was available:

Transporteur : DHL
Date/ Heure/ Lieu /Détails de l'événement
11 septembre 2008/ 14:24/ Staufenberg DE /Scan de départ
10 septembre 2008/ 19:53/ --- /Transporteur informé que le colis est prêt à l'enlèvement

Usually, a package from the UK or Ireland reaches me in one week, and I paid higher postage for the French order, so I hoped I would receive the package in a week, too. After a week, on Sept 17, I checked the package whereabouts on DHL website:

At that time, the status of the package was that it had entered this country. I waited again.
On Sept 24, I began to worry and checked the DHL site again. This time the status was:
Addressee: Item destined for abroad
Status : Attempted/Unsuccessful delivery
Status from: 24.09.08 08:02
Process: Attempted/Unsuccessful delivery

I began to panic. Why it was unsuccessful? I was at home all the time, but perhaps the locked door discouraged the postman. From the last experience, a package via Deutsche Post World Net would be delivered by the post office, not by DHL. On Sept 24, the postman delivered me a mail and I said to him that I had been expecting a package. He said he would bring it if there was any. On the next day, Sept 25, he delivered mails for me again, but still no sign of the package, and there would be a long Lebaran holiday soon. I tried to call DHL, and they told me that they didn't use the 12 digit number and ask me to call 3505115. This number turned out to be the Post Office in Central Jakarta (Pasar Baru, I think). The lady who received my call told me that the number of digit was not right. If it was sent via Deutsche Post World Net, the 12 digit number would be changed into 9 digits (with 2 letters in front of the number), and that was why when I checked the status on the DHL site, it would say 'unsuccessful'. [Here I was lost. So what's the use of the tracking number?] She then transferred my call to her colleague who dealed with packages, he asked for my name, but couldn't find it in his files.

Friday, Sept 26, the last day before the holiday, I found a notice from the post office slipped under the front door. It said I had a package from DE (Germany). My name was written wrong (I understood then why the postman in Pasar Baru couldn't find my name in his files.), the first letter was missing; and the house number was wrong. I was lucky the local postman knew my name so at least he knew where to deliver the notice. I went to Daan Mogot Post Office to pick up my package. I told the postman there that my name and address were written wrong, and he showed me a label. The clerk at Daan Mogot Post Office copied it right, so the mistakes were either made by a clerk in Pasar Baru or Customs. The name & address on the package itself were right. Finally I got my package. On it, I saw 2 kinds of tracking numbers: the 12 digits as given by the seller, and the new one (9 digits) from Deutsche Post World Net (with 2 letters in front of the number [CL] and 2 letters behind the number [DE]). The package had been opened and re-sealed by the Customs, so I had to pay Rp 7.000,- for the re-wrapping than the usual Rp 3.000,-

10 days after, when I typed this, the status on DHL site & the seller's are still the same.