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Sunday, January 2, 2011

A WORLD OF CHANGE

chance mosaic

A good day to stay indoors. The temperature wasn't cold, high 40s, but the ground was soggy from the melted snow, the gravel roads mud pits. Last night when Carpenters were here, I drove them to Sparta for Chinese food to bring back and eat here. It was dense fog and the roads down the mountain were mud with ruts galore. Going down the mountain ran the risk of sliding into a ditch. Going up the mountain was a matter of staying in motion, keeping momentum going, because to stop meant to back (in the dark) down the mountain and start again from a place that is not all slush and ruts. My friends don't have a great deal of experience driving in the mountains, so I briefed them that this fog and mud are conditions as bad as it gets. In the fog, I could only make out road surface immediately in front of the car. Neither one of my friends could see anything but white-out. The fog was so bad I missed the driveway to their place on our way back.

A three hour chunk of the afternoon went to the Italian film by Bernardo Bertolucci, THE LAST EMPEROR, concerning the transition from old China to new China. It has been around awhile. I saw it so long ago I forgot everything about it. Nothing was familiar, except from what I've read in Chinese history. The film was made in English by an Italian director in China. Odd in that way, but it worked well. It made an interesting 3 hours. It went through the time of the Nationalists taking control, the power of the Emperor reduced to nothing, the success of Mao's forces. All these nation changing periods took place off stage, beyond the wall of the Forbidden City. The Emperor, who grew up as Emperor from about age 3, knew nothing of the world outside the walls. As China was going through its greatest changes, he was trapped inside the fortress of his position, captive in the Forbidden City. The film is a fictional piece of Chinese history made with I don't know how little accuracy. Made a good story.

Bertolucci's film tells the time period from the point of view of the tail end of the Chinese system of Emperors that go all the way back in Chinese history. It parallels a film by Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, TO LIVE. This is the story of a fairly well off man who gambled away his estate, inheritance and was left to make it with wife and child down and out. After a privileged life never having to work, he couldn't do anything but the old shadow plays from the time before electricity. The story went through the period of the Nationalists and Maoism, surviving by staying out of the way in the background. Two different views of a most difficult time for the Chinese people, all the Chinese people.

My major interest in writing and in art has been the period of the 20th century, the most dynamic century in history. The one theme that runs through 20th century art in all its expressions from start to finish is: times are changing. It's in writing, in film, every kind of art expression; plus, it's the nature of everyone's lives. My grandfather born in 1900, died 1993, saw the first cars, plumbing, the first planes, jets, rockets. He saw Kansas City grow from a stockyard with its workers and the railroad workers living around it. He saw the Depression when he was 30. He was too young for WW1 and too old for WW2, a man of good fortune in that way. I had similar good fortune slipping through between Korea and Vietnam by the hairs of my chinnychin chin. My ship went to Vietnam right after I was released. In fact, I was released a couple weeks early because the ship was scheduled to be mid ocean one side or the other of the Panama Canal on my release date. It was great to get off the ship a couple weeks early. A bonus. They were as happy to be rid of me as I was to be rid of them. Made a good balance.

We're so accustomed to change now that all the cultures in the world are in the same kinds of changes we're in. The mountains got electricity late, so flatland culture had already gone through the transition time of farms becoming subdivisions and parking lots. Parts of the world that had electricity first, the urban parts of the Western world, changed first and became the vanguard for the rest of the world, that, like us, break down in civil wars or wars with neighbors during this transition time into the new world of television, products and money. It used to be whichever faction, rebels or army, controlled the radio station controlled the war. Now it's been the television station for some time. I look at who controls our television stations and networks, it tells me who controls us. They all belong to the same country clubs and take their orders from the same metaphorical cell phone number.

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