Great was that chase with the hounds for the unattainable meaning
of the world.
And now I am ready to keep running
When the sun rises beyond the borderlands of death.
– Czesław Miłosz

was originally published on Meandering home


Habit #4: Real movies

When I am tired after a day’s work, I open up my browser window and surf to Netflix or one of its illicit equivalents, to imbibe a mindless action movie that allows me to identify with a hero who slays its opponents with moral indemnity and righteousness. It is fast food for the soul, full of sugar rush action scenes and thick graphical extravaganza, clogging the arteries of our imagination.

During these 90 minute pleasure sessions, I am aware I’m wasting my time and would feel empty, bereft of the difficult poetry of the world in which I want to live.

So I decided to change this habit. Every time I feel inclined to watch a Jason Statham or Bruce Willis knock out bad guys, I search for a real movie instead. Sounds cocky? It’s very simple. A real movie wants to tell us a unique story, it is made with the pain and patience of a director who gave their very best. It is a movie that wants to make an artistic statement. Once upon a time, every movie was like that. The movies served to a large audience in the 1930s are often more intriguing than what we would call niche art-house today.

And it works. It takes a little will power to overcome that initial craving for cheap and empty action, but once you are drawn into a real movie, you are feeding your soul. Afterward, you won’t feel empty, you’ll feel better, be more inspired and perhaps crave healthy movies next time.

If you have no idea which directors you should look into, try Ernst Lubitsch, Akira Kurosawa, Lars von Trier, Jim Jarmusch, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Wong Kar-Wai, Park Chan-wook, Emir Kusturica, Jean Rénoir, Jacques Tati, François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Charles Chaplin, Orson Wells, Elia Kazan, Sergei Eisenstein, Leni Riefenstahl, Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Michael Haneke, Fritz Lang, Luis Buñuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sidney Lumet, Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro González Iñarritu, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Mendes, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson,  Win Wenders, Pedro Almodóvar, or Sam Peckinpah.

Habit #4: Real movies was originally published on Meandering home

Urban sketch #3

On today’s walk I go further than ever before: all the way to the Sky Park and the Sunset Park, two wonders of urban development right next to the neighborhood I live in since March. The Parks were formerly the world’s largest mound of municipal waste, spreading an unbearable stench and belching forth methane, which gave it the infernal qualities rendering the surrounding residential area rather unappealing. All this changed when, simultaneously with the World Cup, the city reconstructed the entire site and inaugurated the Parks, boasting incredible biodiversity (butterflies, grasses, sedges).
I am fasting today. The walk through the parks, that are separated by Seoul’s ubiquitous concrete veins but connected by pedestrian bridges, refreshes my soul. A different location, a different self. I walk on wooden steps and gaze at the big orange ball that is our sun; I walk on a platform that leads through high vegetation where the fireflies hide; I walk through a tunnel with industrial lights and large spiders: Nephila clavata had spun webs in front of almost every floodlight and the webs were full of insect cadavers suspended sullenly in the harsh light. I look at the venomous spiders and smile. Now I know where you live, my little friend. I’ll come visit you in your tunnel again one day.

Urban sketch #3 was originally published on Meandering home

Urban sketch 2

In the library I see an old man sitting at a table and a large dictionary. I stand behind him to pick up a newspaper that includes New York Times articles I want to read because of the recent hydrogen bomb test in the North. The man greets me and asks what ‘rags-to-riches’ means. I explain it to him and look up a Korean translation and suggest he installs the dictionary app on his phone himself. Thank you. I look at his leathery but smooth skin and quivering eyes. We do study group he says and I should join. Helping the older Korean generation who had performed the economic miracle that transformed this country sounded good to me so I said yeah and asked him to write down the address. Why had I ignored the topic of what he was reading? There was Jesus and Hallelujah written all over it. It was no English class. I had signed up for Bible study, dammit. The man handed me the piece of paper I had given him with the address of the church written on it and told me see you on Sunday. I might have other obligations I wanted to say but that sentence didn’t render well in basic Korean. Leaving the library I saw the man again standing in the bathroom washing his face. Bye I said and he rushed out pursuing me with a dripping face. What do you do? he asked. I write I say, and I have to do it now.

Urban sketch 2 was originally published on Meandering home

Urban sketch #1

Image Wikimedia Commons

…and then in the subway station something beautiful happened I was waiting for line number 3 to take me home and saw an older man at the vending machine going through his bag for some coins to buy himself a cup of instant coffee which tastes like yesteryear as I told him and he replied in English to my clumsy Korean I said hurry up using the best honorific form I knew as the train was entering the station and he was still sipping his coffee from the paper cup, and just before the doors closed he zipped into the subway train and asked me to come sit next to him on a seat reserved for the elderly, which I did quipping I now had a special license. After the usual exchange about my provenance the man asked how old I was, thirty-eight I said, thirty-nine in Korean age I should say, he replied I am eighty-one in Korean age so I should say eighty. You look very young I said, and he really did, so you were born in 1937 I said yes he was he said and out of his bag he pulled out this hardcover book published in the year 1937 and I guessed he always carried it along it was a book of songs and as we passed the stations he started flipping through the pages until he reached Schubert’s Ode to music and then the old man began to sing. His voice was clear not quivering and he sang with intonation and beautifully and I had my little moment right there and then until we arrived at Yaksu station where I had to change trains and let him go and said goodbye using the best honorific and then with only little hesitation I put my own coins in a vending machine and treated myself to a small paper cup of cheap, bitter, magical coffee…

Urban sketch #1 was originally published on Meandering home

Habit #2: Language learning

Habits seem to work better if you can divide them in smaller chunks that can give you an instant sense of accomplishment without taking up too much time. One very ‘chunkable’ habit is language learning. We have a plethora of resources at our fingertips, so I won’t go into that here. Google yields all the best language learning blogs, podcasts, video’s and websites, most of which offer excellent free material. I’m not going to mention the name of my favorite one because that is not the point here. There are much better blog posts that do exactly that.

I have tried for some time to keep up practicing language with a website that reminded me every day with e-mails. This went well in the beginning but became cumbersome after a while because the stuff I was learning (example sentences illustrating grammar patterns step by step) didn’t have anything to do with what I needed in real life. So I figured the better way to make a language habit stick is to connect it some something you are already interested in. For example, if I see a tweet about Macron’s 26.000 make-up which of course instills into me an insatiable interest, I force myself to read about it in French. Takes ten minutes, a nice little daily practice. The same thing goes for news about Kim Jong-Un’s ICBMs or Barcelona’s youngest tragedy.

I also use apps to read sentences and short stories, never vocabulary lists. A simple rule of thumb is to keep the learning as natural as possible, just the way a child is exposed to her native language. It is vital to make the time you spend on your daily language habit short enough to keep it up for at least 6 months. Bonne chance.

Habit #2: Language learning was originally published on Meandering home