Life in UK – World History beautifully narrated

Like most of you, I too set the usual lot of ineffectual newyear goals at the start of the year. Lose weight, go the gym more often, call folks more, surf less internet and so on. And come December you look back and let of a deep disappointed sigh at how little you achieved over the wasted opportunity that was the passing year.

I have a deviant story for a change. The story has 6 short parts to it.

The Best Building in London

The British Museum

 

Part 1 : There is a building
I moved to London in the summer of 2013. This great city is home to many great institutions and one of the most venerated here is the British Museum. The Museum is dedicated to human history and culture. Its permanent collection, numbering some 8 million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. Punchline : Entry is Free. once can come and go as many time as one pleases. Anytime.

Part 2 : There is a media organization.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a UK-based international public-service broadcaster headquartered at Broadcasting House in London, about 15 minutes of brisk walking away from the Museum . It is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees, with about 23,000 staff. Its work is funded principally by an annual television licence fee which is charged to all British households, companies, and organisations using any type of equipment to receive live television broadcasts.

Part 3 : There is a podcast series.
A History of the World in 100 Objects was a joint project of BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum, comprising a 100-part radio series written and presented by British Museum director Neil MacGregor. In 15-minute presentations broadcast on weekdays on Radio 4, MacGregor, voice like rich butter and chocolate mixed, used objects of ancient art, industry, technology and arms, all of which are in the British Museum’s collections, as an introduction to parts of human history. The series, four years in planning, began in  January 2010 and was broadcast over 20 weeks.

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Part 4 : There is a back story.
CBSE/Indian Schooling does a good job of conditioning its victims (students) to eventually hating History as a subject and it took me years to nullify this formidable pavlovian reflex. Now it is one of my favourite subjects to read about. But as many of you know, reading ABOUT a historical subject/object and seeing it brings forth very different responses and the latter, being more visceral, feels that much more impactful. Like looking at a postcard of a place and BEING in that place.

Part 5 : There is an idea.
Early on in 2014 I had this idea. I was going to visit the British Museum over the course of the full year and seek out all of these 100 objects at the museum, look at it, and while standing in front of the object, listen to the 15 odd minute podcast about that particular object. I calculated that the 25 odd hours of listening to the 100 episodes would need about 20 odd visits to the museum over 2014, seeing maybe 4 to 5 objects over the course of a visit. And why not do it! What a perfect way to learn about the HISTORY OF THE WORLD!

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Part 6 : There is an ending.

And so yesterday I finished with visiting the museum for the nth time and seeing the 100th object and listening to the 100th podcast. And it has been one of the most gratifying yearly goals I have ever undertaken and successfully completed. It makes you realise just how so very rich, fascinating and absorbing History really is outisde of school curriculum.

I felt that especially powerfully when you are standing in front of the status of Ramesses II.

The imminent arrival of the head in England in 1818 inspired the poet Shelley to write that famous ode to Ozymandias:

… My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

The series also makes one re-appreciate that iconic Carl Sagan excerpt from Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot, inspired by an image taken, at Sagan’s suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990.

Good News : If you too want to enjoy this fantastic BBC podcast series but don’t want to buy the expensive ticket to London yet, below are the key links to access the free podcast series so you too can learn about A History of the World in 100 Objects sitting in your car or couch. I can guarantee you it is worth the investment in time.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ahow
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/british-museum-objects/
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/a_history_of_the_world.aspx

2014 Books Review

I took the easy way out and went with an infograph to tell you 4 books you could try among the 33 books I read this year.

Click on the URL below or on this sentence to jump to the site.

https://infogr.am/books-of-2014-102

Full list of books read in 2014 below :

Book 1 The Strategist’s Toolkit
Book 2 The Dispossessed
Book 3 Life Itself
Book 4 The Martian
Book 5 Old Man’s War
Book 6 A Fire Upon the Deep
Book 7 Badass
Book 8 A Deepness in the Sky
Book 9 The Lowland
Book 10 Brideshead Revisited
Book 11 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Book 12 All You Need Is Kill
Book 13 How the Light Gets In
Book 14 Slaughterhouse
Book 15 Physics of the Impossible
Book 16 The Whisperers
Book 17 Read This Before Our Next Meeting
Book 18 The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty
Book 19 What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Book 20 Skeleton Crew
Book 21 Fuzzy Nation
Book 22 Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, #1)
Book 23 The Making of Modern Britain
Book 24 The Age of Wonder
Book 25 Thinking Statistically
Book 26 The Memory Chalet
Book 27 Fooled by Randomness
Book 28 Look To Windward
Book 29 Visit Sunny Chernobyl: Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places
Book 30 The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme
Book 31 From Dictatorship to Democracy
Book 32 Embroideries
Book 33 HBR Guide to Project Management

BEST OF 2014 : 13 movies that blew me away

In 2013 I watched 66 movies over the course of the year and as I blogged then, not one of them was a BAD movie. NOT ONE!! This year I beat the 2013 number and saw 75 movies. Inspite of being on the road most the year, with a killer workload. But I made the time when I could. Luckily most of my movie watching just needs is a charged laptop and 100 minutes to spare. Of the 75 movies, 6 were documentaries and 60 were movies.I have split the 75 movies seen into 3 ratings : Wow, Good and Meh (last one means so-so, but not BAD per-se).

WOW : 13 movies plain blew me away. The kind of movie that leaves an imprint and so stays with you for months and years and you pester everyone to watch it (maybe via a blog..)
Good : 43 movies that I thoroughly enjoyed but these were the kind of movie that after 5 years you will struggle to recall at the cocktail dinner.
Meh : 19 movies I saw, shrugged and pretty much forget by the next weekend. Not a total waste of my time but not exactly the best use of it either.

Because you are very busy let me talk about and sell the 13 that blew me out the water.

L.A. Confidential – A tightly directed crime thriller that had me riveted to my seat till the very end. The 3 main male leads explode in their respective roles. Phenomenal performance all around. Movie won 2 Oscars.


Wake in Fright – A batshit crazy aussie movie. John Grant, a bonded teacher, arrives in a rough outback mining town planning to stay overnight before starting his holiday. But one night stretches to several and with the aid of alcohol he plunges headlong toward his own destruction. You will never look at the outback, Australia and its beer the same way again.

The Act of Killing – A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. Surreal and absolutely mind blowing. I dreamt of some scenes in this amazing documentary for weeks after.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi – A superb documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his renowned Tokyo restaurant, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu. Seeing the movie made me understand what DEDICATION TO THE CRAFT as a phrase actually entails. Brillaint documentary.

Gosford Park – The lives of upstairs guest and downstairs servants at a party in 1932 in a country house in England as they investigate a murder involving one of them. That’s just the raw setting. But by god the actors deliver and how. The line up of talent is unmatched.

Edge of Tomorrow – I love action movies. I love cool sci-fi. This was a masterful blend of the two. I had read the book earlier and that helped too. A military officer, Tom Cruise, is brought into an alien war against an extraterrestrial enemy who can reset the day and know the future. When this officer is enabled with the same power, he teams up with a Special Forces warrior to try and end the war.

My Left Foot – Pack a tissue. Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy, learns to paint and write with his only controllable limb – his left foot. And yes, the Irish are crazy.

Starred Up – Holy Cow. this is how you do prison drama people. A troubled and explosively violent teenager is transferred to adult prison where he finally meets his match – a man who also happens to be his father. Mayhem ensues.

The Lunchbox – this is why Irrfan Khan is the only contemporary Indian actor I like. A mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunchbox.

Incendies – I must have sat for 10 stunned silent minutes after credits to adsorb what I just saw. Raw stuff. A mother’s last wishes send twins Jeanne and Simon on a journey to the Middle East in search of their tangled roots. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s acclaimed play, Incendies tells the powerful and moving tale of two young adults’ voyage to the core of deep-rooted hatred, never-ending wars and enduring love. Nominated for 1 Oscar.

Footnote – This Israeli drama-comedy has 1 scene in a uni room that had me on the floor in tears. The story of a great rivalry between a father and son, both eccentric professors in the Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The son has an addictive dependency on the embrace and accolades that the establishment provides, while his father is a stubborn purist with a fear and profound revulsion for what the establishment stands for, yet beneath his contempt lies a desperate thirst for some kind of recognition. The Israel Prize, Israel’s most prestigious national award, is the jewel that brings these two to a final, bitter confrontation.

Stories We Tell – A very well made film that excavates layers of myth and memory to find the elusive truth at the core of a family of storytellers. Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by her family of storytellers. She playfully interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, eliciting refreshingly candid, yet mostly contradictory, answers to the same questions.

The Hunt – Easily one of the most gut wrenching movies I saw this year. Maybe the most. Lucas is a Kindergarten teacher who takes great care of his students. Unfortunately for him, young Klara has a run-away imagination and concocts a lie about her teacher. Before Lucas is even able to understand the consequences, he has become the outcast of the town. The hunt is on to prove his innocence before it’s taken from him for good.

There you have it : 13 amazing awesome brilliant movies that you can see at the easy rate of one each month of 2015.

For the really ambitious, here below are 43 more that I liked a lot and I am sure most of them you will like too (no guarantee though, unlike above 13). Happy viewing!

True Grit
American Hustle
Boyhood
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Interstellar
Hitch
Cutie and the Boxer
127 Hours
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Riddick
This Is the End
End of Watch
A Simple Life
Insomnia
Coraline
The Gatekeepers
Ida
The Wolf of Wall Street
25th Hour
Captain Phillips
12 Years a Slave
Pan’s Labyrinth
Boogie Nights
The King’s Speech
The Great Beauty
The Army of Shadows
Bad Lieutenant
Glengarry Glen Ross
Lost in Translation
Prisoners
Monsieur Lazhar
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Snowpiercer
The Thing
Life of Pi
Monster
City of God
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Short Term 12
Her
Minority Report
The Raid 2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Full list of 75 movies seen is here

Opinion : Cultural Nostalgia is Bunk

My guess is most of our deeply felt cultural nostalgia for a bygone age of perceived quality of and in a medium is nothing but a historical lack of real options due to limited competition and resources, which the then young audience, now aged, naively convince themselves of the laughable and pitiful notion that what they were then consuming was the apogee of the medium.

This partly sneering reaction occurs in me every time I hear an aged critic wax eloquent about a movie or a book from a that bygone age of thin completion and even thinner real options and stamp their product as the pinnacle of the medium, invariable lamenting that it has been a downward spiral ever since into the current swamp.

A typical TEN BEST EVER list (of books, cinema) from anyone aged over 40 will prove this above hypothesis quite effortlessly.

http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1578073,00.html

http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/ten-greatest-films-of-all-time

6 gems to try : 2 movies, 2 book and 2 dishes

Read this blog post and you will get 6 good tips that I guarantee will enhance the quality and texture of 2014 for you. Two will take some time (open book, read), 2 will take little time (click on movie file, watch) and 2 will take no time at all (open mouth, insert)

Some quick background exposition first: In January, among the goals I had set out for myself this year, two are worth mentioning for the purposes of this essay.

1# See 100 movies by year end

2# Read 36 books by year end

So far, thanks to the travel that has been the one defining standout feature of this unforgettable year, it has been very difficult to carve out the uninterrupted time blocks necessary to purse these above 2 demanding goals as piously as I would have wanted to. Alas, so far, 2/3 of the year is over and I have only finished 1/3rd of the first goal and only half of the second.  But in pursuing such goals you understand what the wise meant when they reminded us that “The journey is the reward”.

A few of the books I read this year have been a tad disappointing. None of the movies though. This is because there are such good universal filters on the latter (movies). More people engage with movies than with books and so more reviews and feedback is available, Goodreads notwithstanding.

From the 18 books I have managed to read I am going to recommend 2 that are really worth your time.

From the 35 movies I have managed to see I am going to recommend 2 that are outright genius works of art from 24 carat auteurs.

From the many many many interesting dishes I have eaten with great relish this year, I am going to recommend 2 that I think you should seek out and ingest.

At the end of the year I will review books and movies  like I always do but I cannot wait to share these 6 gems NOW versus December.  I promise to keep my gushing succinct. You are busy. We know. (We all are by the way. It is not a boast. Re-examine your priorities when you are unbusy next)…anyhoo….

 

2 Movies you just should see immediately:

  1. THE ACT OF KILLING
  2. INCENDIES

2 Books you just should read as soon as possible:

  1. The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty by G.J. Meyer
  2. The Whisperers by Orlando Figes

2 dishes you should try:

  1. Pho
  2. Pintxos

Reasons for endorsing these 6 gems :

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THE ACT OF KILLING – This stunning documentary, unlike anything I have ever seen before it, is about the Indonesian killings of 1965–66. It is soooooo surreal you will be in a daze for days afterwards. It has some scenes that make you really really examine what being a human being and having empathy really IS and is NOT. Something we may have forgotten living our busy lives in the cities we are parked in.

incendies-2

INCENDIES – This is a 2010 Canadian mystery drama film. It follows the journey of twin brother and sister as they attempt to unravel the mystery of their mother’s life, the woman who brought them into the world, discovering a tragic fate as well as the courage of an exceptional woman. In 2011, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It did not win. It should have.

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The Tudors : This book is a gripping, totally absorbing read about the Tudor era. 2 kings and 2 queens who influenced much of England and European history and showed just how crazy, random, callous and plain unbelievably brutal the late late medieval age was. A fantastic way to understand the period, the Christian schism, England and Europe. THE most interesting book I have read so far this year.

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The Whisperers – This deeply moving and very depressing book I have reviewed separately, in a post. Drawing on a huge range of sources – letters, memoirs, conversations – Orlando Figes tells the story of how Russians tried to endure life under Stalin. It is a very good tome for understanding Russia, the early 19th century political dynamics and how just how banal, rotten and evil communism really was.

Now for the delicious parts of this essay : Two signature dishes you need to eat more of, whenever the opportunity presents itself, be it in the city you live in or when you travel next.

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Pintxos – A pincho is a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country. They are usually relished as a small snack while hanging out with friends. Or in my case with my lovely wife, in San Sebastian. Real Basque country. Served in cute individual portions, they’re called pinchos because many of them have a pincho (Spanish word for spike), typically a toothpick through them. We were in SanSab and we ONLY ever ate Pintxos for lunch and dinner. Every day!

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Pho – This is a Vietnamese origin aromatic, nutritious and delicious rice noodle soup served with a side plate of fresh herbs to add as you please. Usually the meat in it is beef or chicken. I personally recommend thinly sliced beef strips if they give you a choice. Pho is a popular street food in Vietnam and the specialty of a number of restaurant chains around the world so you can get it in most cities. I was bored enough and intrigued enough to go to EVERY Vietnamese restaurant in Madrid, where I am based for a while now, and eating their signature Pho. NOT A SINGLE ONE was regrettable. So your odds are good wherever you are when you try this. This is difficult to mess up as a dish. And damn delicious to boot.

So there it is. 6 things you will not regret if you make the time for them.