Monday, May 31, 2010

2010 Europe Trip: My Favorite Graffiti

This is my favorite graffiti from the entire trip.

Weird, eh? I thought it made a good public service announcement.

I like weird graffiti. I found the most interesting graffiti in Amsterdam. Some were pornographic. They resembled lewd comics painted, drawn on out-of-the-way walls. And some were more like pornographic murals. I didn't photograph those. I probably should have.

I looked for more graffiti elsewhere but didn't find much of anything. Bruges is too precious for interesting graffiti, and I didn't see much graffiti at all in Nuremberg. Ghent had right atmosphere for graffiti but I was distracted by all the street construction going on. I did snap the picture below in Ghent.

Another public service announcement.

I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't find more but I was staying in the historic city centers mostly so that's not so surprising. I assumed I would find more graffiti in the subways but I didn't. Oh there was some, but none of it was interesting.

2010 Europe Trip: Amsterdam - Men Playing Chess

In addition to the pictures I posted I'm also going to write some posts about the trip.

I found the men playing chess at Max Euweplein near the Leidsplein, the main entertainment square. I had walked around the Museum Quarter neighborhood and was getting tired since I'd landed in Amsterdam only a few hours earlier. Jet lag.

At first I was drawn to the game because of the novelty of the huge chess pieces and board. Very Alice in Wonderland, or more accurately, very Through the Looking Glass. I've always been enthralled by large chess boards/pieces but have never seen anyone playing a game with them. I watched and took a single picture. I told myself I would watch for a few minutes more and then move on. I didn't. I kept watching and listening.

It became clear that the two men were serious chess players and many of the men watching the game all knew each other. And yes, they were all men.

The chessboard at around 7:30 am the next day. You can see the men take good care it.

There were also men sitting on the metal mesh benches you see in the photo above. They sort of formed a kind Greek chorus. The bench closest in the picture seemed to consist of the most serious hardcore players/observers. This bench was crowded and it seemed like some of the younger enthusiasts of the game kept trying to sit on that side. One young man, probably in his late teens, managed to sit on the bench but the others kept trying to shove him off as the game progressed. Everyone watching from that side, even if they were standing next to the bench, was loud, enthusiastic, and highly opinionated. Occasionally, a guy from that side would breach etiquette by boldly striding onto the board and moving a piece for one of the players. This always caused a minor but heated argument with the players and the observer would be heckled by everyone else.

Other observers would stand on the sidelines and watch. And by observers, I'm talking about men who knew the others and played themselves, not the general public who would walk by, take a picture, and move on. The other bench was less crowded and the people who sat there were chess players but they usually sat for a short time before bidding their friends goodbye and leaving so that bench was in constant rotation.

As for the players, the guy in white, playing "white," was relaxed but serious. He kept smiling at me. The guy in orange, playing "black," was super focused and would occasionally shout "Shut UP and let us play!!" to the others. The men on the sidelines were talking to each other about the game and yelling at the men about what their next move should be.

I don't know much about chess. I have an idea of the basic moves for the pieces but I know nothing about strategy and couldn't play a game of chess even if I wanted to much less understand what was going on in the current game. On top of that, almost all the conversations going on, including between the players, were in Dutch with occasional English sentences sprinkled in here and there. Just listening and watching these guys talk to each was fascinating to me because they would speak in Dutch and then say couple of sentences in English, then continue in Dutch. I wondered why they did that as it seemed all of them would switch in and out like that. I began to wonder if they said certain things in English to give what they were talking about special emphasis or perhaps it was just a habit.

The players would sometimes take a long time pondering what their move would be. They argued and talked with each other. One guy watching was clearly a shit disturber. He never walked onto the board to move a piece but he did walk onto the board several times to tell one of players what he should do next. The players tolerated him, would get into shoving matches with him, even if they had to tell him to get off the board more than once. He was fun to watch.

The guy watching from the side with his arms folded is the Shit Disturber.

After a while, my feet and back were getting sore and I noticed the bench in rotation was open so I sat down. By then I'd been there for at least an hour, smiling, watching, not saying anything. All of the men kept staring at me. I guess a woman alone watching them play chess for that long is rare. Eventually, a couple of guys sat next to me and the one nearest seemed to be working up the nerve to talk to me. He never did, none of them did. I knew they would talk to me if I said something but I was enjoying observing them so much that I didn't want to change their interactions with each other so I said nothing.

It didn't take me very long to come to the conclusion that men playing chess are super sexy. It didn't matter what they looked like or how old they are, men engaged in that kind of intellectual past-time seem to get sexier with each passing moment. Or maybe it was just the jet lag.

Some quotes I heard from the men:

Black Player: "There's your 'holy banana!'"
(I soon figured out that "holy banana" means "check.")

Black Player: "Shut UP! Let him play. He's a good player."
(I really liked hearing him say that about White Player).

Shit Disturber: "You see how the game is going to turn out just by looking at the pieces on the board. After a while you can see it."
(He was talking to his friend but looking at me when he made this comment).

And this:

"Just KILL him," shouted by an observer to White Player during the endgame.

"Maybe I don't want to kill him. Maybe I want to keep playing," White Player.

In the end, White Player won near as I can tell. The two men shook hands and a new game was set up between the Shit Disturber and one of the guys from the crowded bench. Black Player got some coffee and water from a nearby cafe, White Player unlocked his bike but stayed on to watch the game. I'd been there for at least two hours and was shutting down from jet lag. I didn't want to go, even wanted to talk to them by that point, but left anyway. I never saw the players again and now I wished I had talked to them.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Movie Musings: The Candy-Colored Clown

Dennis Hopper in his iconic performance as Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet"

Shit. Dennis Hopper died today.

What can I say about Dennis that hasn't been said already? Not much.

In 1986 I saw "Blue Velvet." The film had caused a sensation among my friends for it's graphic violence and sexual content so I went to see it. Sitting in the darkened theater I remember being transformed by it. The film opened up another world for me. I'd never seen anything like it.

All the performances were amazing but Dennis as Frank Booth was spectacular.

My friends were titillated by the film's subject matter and surrealistic weirdness. Some of my guy friends liked doing Frank Booth imitations. We all agreed that the scene with Dean Stockwell lip-syncing to "In Dreams" was funny and brilliant. The follow up beating scene not so funny but no less amazing. Dennis' famous quote about Pabst Blue Ribbon still cracks me up.

Not long after, I wrote a sort of essay called "Dennis Hopper Is The Monster" where I muse about his character and his performance, one of the finest I'd ever seen. By that time my friends had moved on but "Blue Velvet" and Dennis had stayed on my mind.

I was familiar with Dennis before "Blue Velvet" though I couldn't remember where I'd seen him (probably in "Apocalypse Now"). Dennis would go on to make many more films and I would continue to enjoy him. We all did.

Dennis utters my favorite film quote of all time in one of my favorite film scenes, the so-called Sicilian Scene in "True Romance."

"Could I, uh, have one of those Chesterfields now?"

There are better lines elsewhere and many of Dennis' lines from "Blue Velvet" are legendary, but this line is perfect and marks the turning point in the scene. Dennis and Christopher Walken have only one scene together and it clocks in at just over 10 minutes long. I read that Walken credits his friendship with Dennis as one of the reasons why the scene works as well as it does. The two men are adversaries but they genuinely like each other.

I noticed this scene is flagged on YouTube as inappropriate. The dialog is offensive for its race relations commentary but if you're using a similar criteria then "Blue Velvet" should also be considered inappropriate for its violence against women. I don't condone either offensive race relations dialog or violence against women but neither of those things can overcome the fact that the Sicilian Scene and "Blue Velvet" are brilliant.

There's more to say about Dennis. I haven't gotten to the movies he directed such as "Easy Rider" and "Colors" but I think others have and will say more about that. For now, it's time to stop.

We'll miss you, Dennis. Rest in Peace.