Sunday, March 27, 2011

Helmut Newton

We've changed our clocks this Sunday morning in Copenhagen, "springing ahead" into (hopefully) longer, sunnier days...and with this post I will "fall behind", with a glance back in time, behind the lens, a bit.

At the end of this lovely last weekend as a 21-year-old--complete with excellent food, wine, footwear, and company--I've decided to post some pictures from one of my favorite artists, the wunderbar German photographer Helmut Newton. Born in 1920 in Berlin, Newton's provocative photos appeared in magazines like French Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, stamped with his own distinct style of erotic, highly stylized scenes. Newton's photos are perhaps often characterized by less-than-happy subtexts; nonetheless, I find his work to be incredibly beautiful, thought-provoking, and timeless.

Some of Helmut Newton's works, from different points in his long career.

The photographer at work, early on.

Two of Newton's fantastic "X Ray" ads: top, for Van Cleef & Arpels; bottom, for Karl Lagerfeld.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An ode to my sister

My younger sister, Shelby, is wonderful. She's a beautiful, kick-butt tennis player with an enviable set of locks and ice-blue eyes. She has a sharp sense of humor and is extremely intelligent to boot. But perhaps the best thing about my little sister is her ability to say, think, or write completely mind-boggling nuggets of comedic gold. Sometimes her humor is intentional, and sometimes it isn't, but whenever I need the best kind of pick-me-up there is, I talk to Shelby, and invariably end up with a hardcore, laughter-induced ab workout. Her pearls of wisdom are legendary in our family, and here, for popular enjoyment, I have gone through some of my virtual records and compiled a short "Best of" list. These conversations take place with me, my parents, and my siblings, for the most part; some have dubbed these Shelbyisms, I call them magic, but whatever you call it, here is a glimpse into Shelby's incomparable, delightful noggin, published out of love and missing her...

--after arriving at her hotel for a tennis tournament--

Shelby: "The taxi driver told me all about Hammond, as well as the fact that his aunt was a rocketeer, and she got kicked in the shin during practice and then she died."

Dad: "Do you mean Rockette? That's the dancer. A rocketeer goes up in space."

Shelby: "Yeah! Rockette!"

Dad: "Oh, dear."

--discussing her weekend plans--

Shelby: "It depends where we meet up, then we'll sleepover at whoever lives closest. Everyone's kind of in the same if we're in the city we'll sleep at her house, or if we're in Staten Island or Long Island, someone else's..."

Mom: "Then everyone doesn't really live in the same area, do they?"

Me: "When Shelby says the 'same area,' I'm pretty sure she means 'planet Earth.'"

Shelby: "Well..."

--writing a report on Dracula--

Shelby: "Wasn't Dracula written by Shakespeare? Wait...Dracula was a book, wasn't it?"

Me: (mouth agape)

Dad: "No. No. No, honey. It was Bram Stoker."

Shelby: "What?! It would be something he would write! I think if it was written by Shakespeare, it would have been much better, no offense to Brams Stoker or whatever his name is..."

--after a tennis lesson with her coach--

Shelby: "I was talking with Parsa, and he told me that tennis was 'uno et uno'."

Dad: "You mean 'mano a mano'?"

Shelby: "That's the one."

--after seeing a Royal Danish Ballet promo video clip I was in--

Shelby: "Oh my god, that's such a seductive picture. She's attempting to have sex with the camera."

--discussing her travels to a tournament--

Shelby: "So this morning, I found out that Facebook IS a sufficient form of I.D. while going through the airport security. (The lady liked my picture.) Solid."

Dad: "We are SO losing the War on Terror . . ."

--a Facebook post left on my wall--

Shelby: "I had a dream today where you and Dylan were sharing an apartment in the city. The apartment was underground, so when you walked through the door there was just a small entryway and then stairs that led to the living area. I was at the entryway and you and Dylan were in the living room. All of a sudden hundreds of medicine balls just fell through the ceiling! They blocked my path to the living room so I pushed all of them down the stairs and walked down. You and Dylan wanted me to leave because the ceiling was probably gonna fall down, but my black uggs were in the medicine ball pile and for some reason I needed them. So I went and found them, and I tried to find my pink tennis sneakers but I could only find one so I gave up. Then I met you guys back down in the living room, and Dylan and I made you clean up the medicine balls."

--discussing my dog's unfriendliness towards small children--

Shelby: "I wonder how he'd deal with, like, a 30-year-old midget?"

--an average family discussion--

Mom: "We should have named Shelby 'Belle.' You know what that means?"

Shelby: "Yeah, it means BEAUTIFUL! So fitting."

Finbar: "Ha! more like...bootyful!"

--chatting about our father's high school pictures posted on Facebook--

Shelby: "Out of all the pictures, the one of dad as a teenager gazing into the distance like he's a wannabe model...classic."

--a particularly epic Facebook thread between my siblings and I--

Shelby: "TEAM JACOB! We are not just people. we are human beings. And we have names. And occasionally feelings."

Dylan: "I would be embraced as the Alpha wolf because they would believe me to be a wolf god for having survived living with you for 17 years. Also these wolves would hate Twilight and anything associated with it because they have taste."

Me: "Shelby--see, used your name--I gotta give Dylan--second name!--the win. That comment was gold."

Shelby: "Do they drink wine with their pinky's out too? Classy. And Carling...I don't lose."

Dylan: "Clearly you haven't been educated on wolves because you would know they don't use their paws to drink...let alone pinky's."

Me: "No apostrophe, Shelbs. Pinkies. And don't be ridiculous. Wolves don't have opposable thumbs. Or real fingers. They couldn't grip a wine glass."

Shelby: "‎ am I even related to any of you?"

Dylan: "That's a good question, Shelby. I asked Mom how you were related to me after you hatched."

Me: "One word, Shelbs: FedEx."

Dylan: "Awesome."

Shelby: "I always knew I came from a higher being...this explains everything. Thank you, Carling."

--chatting about Denmark--

Shelby: "I was looking at tournaments to go play near you. THERE'S ONE IN DENMARK! But it starts tomorrow."

Me: "Get on a plane!"

Shelby: "There's actually not one other upcoming tournament near you...but then again, my geography is terrible. So I could actually be completely wrong."

--doing a report on a saint--

Shelby: "I have to do a report on a saint...I have Mother Nature."

Dad: "You mean Mother Teresa?"

Shelby: "Yeah yeah, her!"

Dad: "Oh my god."

--miscellaneous chat conversations--

Shelby: "Whenever I click on the screen, I look and it says 'dad' so I feel like Dad for a second, and then I realize that it's me talking...and sometimes, I actually do want to talk to you. And you're semi-anti social so you hide yourself on AIM, and I'm not sure how to contact you because I can't see you on my list, so I sit and I send you mental messages, 'stop being invisible' or 'IM Shelby Talcott.' It never works."

--on what makes her feel like an athlete--

Shelby: "The fact that I'm homeschooled, travel all the time, and train in California doesn't make me feel like an athlete. But this smoothie with protein in it? Yeah. That's legit...anyway, so I was just thinking...if bones didn't exist, we'd all be like so jiggly."

--reporting from the homeland--

Shelby: "So we were watching 48 Hours Mystery, and it was the beginning and the guy was like, 'Next up on 48 Hours Mystery: a loving wife and mother is found drowned. Could it be the husband's fault?' and then we're all just chilling and Mom goes, 'This show is usually about killing spouses...Shelby take notes...' and then continued eating her grapes like nothing strange had been said. Dad and I exchanged a 'Whaaaat?!' look, and then the awkward moment was apparently put to rest...I'm still not sure why she said it..."

--attempting to cook--

Shelby: "So apparently I have to put the chicken in the oven, and STIR THE RICE on the stove. So much effort for something that I'm going to eat within 3 minutes, possibly 2."

--geography lessons--

Shelby: "What's the biggest state?"

Dad: "Alaska."

Shelby: "What's the smallest state?"

Dad: "Rhode Island."

Shelby: "Rhode Island's a STATE?"

Dad: "You're kidding, right?"

Shelby: "Yeah. Let's go with that."

--history lessons--

Mom (after Shelby described a horrible day): "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the show?"

Shelby: "Who's Mrs. Lincoln?"

--writing gift tags for Christmas presents--

Shelby: "Do I use an apostrophe after Talcott?"

Dad: "No, it's plural, not possessive."

Shelby: "Well, we own the gift . . . "

--eating Chinese food--


--sisterly advice--

Shelby: "So. I listen to your list of good things/bad things. (Hint: it goes on forever). I give you possibly the most amazing advice slash short piece of literature that my mind has ever come up with in my long 16 years of life. It's a short step down from Shakespeare, that's how good it was. And then you leave the chat!"

--on difficulties "Facebook stalking" me--

Shelby: "I went to go Facebook stalk you, so I typed in "c" for Carling. Then, all of a sudden, I forgot your name and who I wanted to Facebook stalk. But then I remembered."

--going out to eat--

Shelby: "Mmmmkay this lady gave us the check already and what if I want dessert huh? She just wasted a tree."

--one of the ultimate Shelbyisms, on punctuation--

Shelby: "For a second I was like OMG how did she get the periods to go under the lines, that's so cool! And then I realized that they were just exclamation points, and I felt a little bit stupid."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Et Folkesagn

On Friday, we premiere the new version of Bournonville's classic Et Folkesagn ("A Folk Tale"). With stunning new sets and costumes by Mia Stensgaard, the ballet is visually amazing. The story--to this American, at least--is another matter. Even for a ballet fairy tale, this one is far-fetched; I found I had to tweak very little from the basic summary to convey the funny nature of this Folk Tale. And so, without further ado, a synopsis...

The sophisticated but emotionally fickle (read: moody; possibly cray-cray) Miss Birthe, from the posh Danish estate of Højgården, has ordered lunch to be served in the woods of her property. These woods are very near to a legendary hill that is said to be a hiding place for local trolls. (Because trolls live in Denmark, and their preferred dwellings are the interiors of small dirty mountains.) Birthe's maids are preparing the table for their nightmare of a boss, while some local peasants--who, for the record, clearly haven't bathed in a while, just saying--play around in front of Troll Headquarters. The head housekeeper sees the peasants' frivolity and is not happy about it. She stops their monkeying around, because everyone knows it's all fun and games until someone pisses off the trolls in the hill.

Then Birthe arrives to inspect the peasants and the lunch table setting. She is a whip-wielding charmer, scaring the crap out of the trembling peasants and throwing a veritable temper tantrum after tasting the wine. But there is no time to waste, since her stuffy, wealthy, sticks-in-the-mud group of guests is arriving, so what's been set out for lunch will just have to do. Among the guests are Birthe's fiancee, the handsomely bookish Junker Ove; and the social climbing, flamboyantly smarmy Copenhagen theatre director, one Herr Mogens. The peasants dance for the guests, and Herr Mogens' troupe from Copenhagen provides further balletic entertainment. Birthe loves to dance and is enchanted; ballet is apparently one thing that won't set her spiraling into a maniacal rage. The ladies who lunch and their equally stuffy husbands are disgusted by the peasants' shabby appearance, strange folksy dance moves, and general stench. They take it upon themselves to indulge in some proper, stiff, socially acceptable dancing, at the suggestion of their outrageous hostess. So far, Junker Ove has been pretty cold to his more-than-hormonal fiancee, who in turn, has been openly delighted by Herr Mogens' presence. Birthe dances with Herr Mogens the whole time, shocking her guests with her vulgar behavior: exposing her ankles, swinging atop a horse's saddle with her legs splayed, dancing so scandalously with a man who is definitely not her betrothed. The horror! At dusk, Birthe invites the party back up to her estate; when she offers her hand to Junker Ove, he basically says, "Look, B. You're crazy. I will never be with you." She's not too broken up about it, though, and takes Herr Mogens--who can see the excellent financial benefits of putting up with Birthe--and her guests back to her place to continue the festivities. Junker Ove stays behind, reading in the dark woods. Which was probably difficult.

Anyway, all of a sudden the hill opens. Turns out the stories are true: the sorceress Muri and beautiful mountain girl Hilda lead a motley crew of underworld creatures to the surface. Hilda approaches Junker Ove to offer him a drink from her goblet. Junker Ove is distracted by Hilda's beauty and accidentally pours the goblet's contents to which point the liquid bursts into flames and Junker Ove realizes the mountain glamazon was trying to off him. He refuses to give back the goblet despite Hilda's pleads; she tries to tell him that she was forced to offer him the fire beverage, but Junker Ove is not having it. Hilda and an infuriated Muri disappear as the hill closes. Dangerous elf girls appear, whirling around the exhausted--and, let's face it, probably totally confused--Junker Ove, trying to retrieve the goblet. They don't get the cup back, but they do manage to drive him into a state of insanity. Mission half-accomplished.

Muri's sons, two trolls named Diderik and Viderik, are fusing pieces of gold jewelry for Hilda--with whom they are both in love, which causes some brotherly tension, natch. Viderik is the sweeter of the two, and so of course Mommie Dearest Muri has decided Hilda must marry her oldest son Diderik, whose personality is more acceptably...trollish. Hilda is just not that into Diderik; and Viderik is totally crushed, so he runs away while Hilda has fallen asleep. In her dreams, a strange vision appears about trolls mixing up two babies. The handsome Junker Ove and the goblet appear also. She wakes up and probably thinks something along the lines of: "Duh! Of course this explains why I'm the only sweet, hot one in this mountain! I was switched with a troll baby at birth!"

Meanwhile, Muri has invited all the trolls to an engagement party for Hilda and Diderik. The hill's most distinguished creatures attend the noisy, boozy event: the light men; vampire girls; the dead animals; the headless giant (with his detached head in tow); and many others. Hilda performs for this...peculiar audience, and once they have worked themselves into a fine drunken frenzy, she and a dismayed Viderik escape the trolls together.

Back in Denmark, the harvest work is done and now the farmers are seeing a preacher who can apparently cure the sick. Hilda and Viderik come upon this crowd, and Hilda--who seems to dance whenever she doesn't know what else to do--performs for them. The farmers are in awe of her dance, and Herr Mogens, who has been watching from afar, is taken aback by her beauty. She might be even hotter than that sack of crazy, Birthe, plus maybe she's not crazy! But the general atmosphere of enthusiastic male drooling dies down when Junker Ove (literally) stumbles in, still suffering the hallucinating effects of the elf babes. He is still--somewhat impressively, two acts later!--holding that damn goblet, but finally drops it. Hilda recognizes him as the studmuffin from her dream. She picks up the goblet while slowly bringing him back to sanity and life through her dancing. And her hotness. Hilda gives Junker Ove his sanity back, and he recognizes her as the mountain babe. They are flaunting their joy of being reunited, somewhat insensitively, since poor old Viderik watches some handsome dude steal his lady love. Herr Mogens, meanwhile, is not happy about this unwelcome intrusion on his plans to inherit Højgården via an advantageous marriage. He organizes blue Gendarmes to hunt down Junker Ove, on grounds of insanity, and the intruding company (aka, Hilda).

In the meantime, Birthe is madder than ever. Her maids refuse to obey her. (Personally, I don't blame them. The woman is a nightmare who abuses her handbell. She would drive anyone completely bonkers.) Her already-fiery temper is reaching a (surely record-breaking) boiling point, and in a rather unbecoming fit of hysteria she faints. Just after Birthe's dramatic collapse, Hilda arrives, holding the goblet. She is recognized by the housekeepers and maids as the true heiress to Højgården. Birthe wakes from her tantrum-induced stupor to find she has been living a lie her whole life: she is, in fact, the real troll daughter of Muri, and is expelled from the estate.

In an attempt to find help from Herr Mogens and his peers, an enraged Birthe approaches them...only to realize they are all bewitched by grains thrown upon them by Viderik, who is apparently drowning his romantic sorrows in carbohydrate-centric pranks. Birthe forgets her rage when she lays eyes on the amusing scene--oh, she is just on an emotional rollercoaster at this point--and fairly immediately falls foul with Viderik, who has recognized her as his sister. Muri and the rest of the troll family turn up to welcome their long-lost family member. But Birthe has no intentions of following them to ther hill; she's sort of used to a decidedly cushier lifestyle by now, so I get this. Muri has an idea. A wheelbarrow full of treasures persuades the greedy Herr Mogens to take "troll for gold." Birthe, who is all about drama and theatre, doesn't care that her flesh and blood and fur totally just dumped her, because now she can finally have her dreams come true: she will be the newest star in Herr Mogens' Copenhagen theatre troupe.

Back at the estate, people are delighted. They've gathered for a summer wedding, between Junker Ove and Hilda. Even the rich people have relaxed a bit: gone are the neck-high lace aprons and outrageous hats for the ladies; and the men have even dared to show some spunk and (gasp!) roll up their shirtsleeves. The dancers from Copenhagen provide entertainment, including the recent addition of Birthe, while Junker Ove and Hilda waltz into summer light of wedding. And the trolls remain at their native soil--after all, according to the official synopsis, "one could not do without them...could we"?