Liberty, fraternity, literacy

Just a few days ago, the ubiquitous chain bookstore Whitcoulls went into voluntary administration, possibly never to be seen again. Terrible things have also been happening to Borders, both in New Zealand and in the USA, and the Queen Street one now devotes more of its real estate to picture-frames and terrible coffee* than to stocking the finest in print.

This means that, in the central city, there are only a tiny few bookshops left that are still inspiring places to pop into. Chief of these is Unity Books. It is in High Street, one of Betty’s favourite places; it’s close to the Chancery, where one can find lovely things like extravagant mochaccinos and perfume for one’s wedding and upscale Korean cosmetics and expensive shoes (one generally doesn’t, but the Chancery is still a lovely place to wander around).

Betty has been in there once or twice recently, and finds any excuse to go again. They have the full collection of Penguin Great Ideas, walls full of poetry and philosophy, almost an entire shelf of Umberto Eco, a confessional memoir about an ex-Mennonite that Betty has her eye on, and a selection that Betty is considering as part of her medical humanities course, which starts in a fortnight. Last time she was there Betty picked up The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves, and she is enjoying it immensely.

*Terrible, terrible coffee. Worse than you can imagine. Betty could tell some stories, by golly.

Advertisements

Lantern Festival

Yesterday the Auckland Lantern Festival opened in Albert Park. Betty and the husband person went out for dinner with a lovely friend, and afterwards they got icecreams and (in Betty’s case) plum sorbet from Giapo on Queen Street and wandered up the hill to see the lanterns. It was early when they got there, but it got darkish not too long afterwards, at least enough to see the lanterns glowing.

They were gorgeous:

There was a farm filled with Chinese cabbages, chickens, sheep, dogs, and a large pig in a pen…

and a snail. And there was a family of cheeky monkeys playing near the clock tower.

Continue reading

Abi and Joseph

One of the interesting things about Pilates, from a sartorial perspective, is that it skirts in between some of the usual categories of exercise. It’s not like running, which requires warm layers and wicking and possibly racing stripes, or like ballet, which calls for regulation tights and hairnets. It isn’t ideally served by the baggy t-shirts of gym class (they end up around your armpits when you roll your hips up in Short Spine, and nobody wants to see that), the halter-tops of yoga (which are fine until your sweaty shoulders get stuck to the Reformer carriage), the low-rise leggings of jazz dance (as anyone who knows a Stomach Massage from a Balance Control will tell you), or the fisherman’s pants of contemplative bodywork (because, if it hangs into the springs, you’re going to lose it).

And that’s just doing Pilates — teaching it is another matter. You can teach in dress pants if you’re not going to demonstrate anything ever, and you can teach in skintight kneesies if you’re fourteen. The remaining 98% of Pilates teachers have to find clothes that are comfortable, easy to move and stretch in, presentable, and maybe even stylish and nice.

Enter Abi and Joseph. Abi, a teacher herself, developed her clothing line so that she could do Joe’s work without spending her life in unflattering trackies, and she now has a range of wonderful Pilates clothes that are also perfect for travelling and weekends. Betty met Abi a few years ago at a Pilates conference, and since then Betty has lived in Abi’s relaxed fit pants, which have a lovely wide waistband and easily roll up to the knees for serious working out, and her ballet wrap top, which is frankly the finest in the business.

She also makes a tee with the cues for the Hundred, in French, printed on the front. Can you imagine? The husband person gives this one to Betty whenever she doesn’t know what to wear. Betty likes it too.

 

True Grit

Well, the Denny’s garden burger has gone the way of all flesh. Betty and the husband person dropped in there, nostalgically, after a movie the other night; but although the waiter remembered the old menu, it was club sandwiches or nothing on the vegetable front.

Still, though. The movie was this one:

And a fine job it is too. It’s the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl determined to bring her father’s killer to justice. The killer’s identity is not in question, but the authorities seem to operate on a very freelance and as-desired basis; Mattie selects a trigger-happy marshal (Jeff Bridges) as the pursuer, and strikes a deal with her father’s money. She insists on going along — after all, she’s the one with the hundred dollars — and the pair are joined by a hapless Texas ranger (Matt Damon), who has been ineffectually searching for the same man for some time, and who expects a large reward.

The film is beautifully and unhurriedly paced, brilliantly cast (Matt Damon is genuinely horrible for the first half hour, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie is an unsettling combination of ferociously untamed eyebrows and blankly literal determination), and set in the spacious forests and deserts of Fort Smith. There plot twists are simple and straightforward; bit parts, though they stray easily into the semi-ridiculous (like a travelling medical man dressed in an entire bearskin) somehow don’t pull the story too far into crude hick humour. Even the dialogue, excessively stylised and formal, doesn’t become cutesy. What could easily be a cheap trick, a forgettable kid-with-gun caper, manages — effortlessly, at that — to hold its own.

The true centre of the film, though, is in the tension between Mattie’s unshakeable faith in “grit” — the kind of strength of character that leads her marshal to lose count of the suspects he has taken on himself to shoot — and the haunting simplicity of the score that accompanies nearly all of the story’s significant moments. Even before the adult Mattie opens the film by declaring, in retrospect, that “there is nothing free, except the grace of God”, the musical phrase is a line from the hymn “Leaning on the everlasting arms”. It is repeated in every crisis, before every action, whether reaching for a gun, or standing outnumbered among a group of desperate fugitives. Safe and secure from all alarms…

There is crime and pursuit here, but no mystery; Mattie’s faith can admit no defeat. The film, like her mission, moves steadfastly on. Its climax is shocking on paper, but consummately logical and satisfying in the flesh. What have I to dread?, Mattie’s unperturbed countenance seems to say. What have I to fear? And her tumultuous story ends in peace, as she and her guardian hymn together declare that true grit is born of a blessed assurance, and of nothing else, and most certainly not the other way around.