22 October 2013

Film review/Recensione: Finding Forrester (2000) by Gus Von Sant, ****

testo italiano in fondo


Talented basketball player Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) has dreams of becoming a successful writer, and finds help in the form of William Forrester (Sean Connery), a reclusive novelist who lives in his neighbourhood. The pair meet when Jamal breaks into Forrester's flat, but a warm student-teacher bond soon develops between them, with Forrester helping Jamal improve his writing and Jamal helping Forrester overcome his reclusiveness. However, when Jamal rewrites a piece of his new friend's work for a school assignment, his vindictive professor Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) accuses him of plagiarism, a charge which could seriously effect his school career.


Finding Forrester is a movie that is hard to categorize. I would say most of all it is about human relationship and how an open mind to the unexpected can open the heart. Agoraphobic writer Forrester had locked himself up in his apartment and basically given up on life when he meets young James Wallace, to whom he can teach a lot but from whom he picks up a new lease on life, to the point that he wants to go back to his native Scotland to die. He then relates how this was the happiest period of his life, his Sunset, which is also the title of his second and final novel he leaves on his desk, unpublished, waiting for James to write a preface.

It is also about hope in the face of seemingly unsurmountable odds, as James, a black from the Bronx destined for crime and a life in the streets, can use his intelligence, his basketball skills and not a little luck to make a real life for himself.

The movie also says a lot about life in the Bronx (though things have improved there since) and about how elite American schools are ready to close an eye on academic performance to attract athletic talent in their recruitment process.

A good line to remember:  to impress a woman, give her an unexpected gift at an unexpected time. Well we all knew that, kind of, but good reminder.

This is the next to last appearance of Connery in a film before his retirement.


Da una piazzetta del Bronx, dove giocano a pallacanestro, alcuni ragazzi di colore guardano le finestre di un appartamento sovrastante. Lì abita sotto falso nome un misterioso individuo che da anni non esce più di casa. Un giorno uno dei ragazzi, Jamal, accetta per sfida di andare a vedere chi c'è veramente in quella casa. Si introduce, viene scoperto, scappa ma dimentica lì lo zainetto con libri e quaderni. Intanto un esclusivo liceo di New York ha messo gli occhi su di lui e gli offre una borsa di studio, soprattutto per le sue doti nella pallacanestro. Ricevuta indietro la propria roba, Jamal si accorge che sulle cose scritte nei quaderni ci sono correzioni e giudizi. Il ragazzo, 16 anni, va nella nuova scuola, comincia gli studi e scopre che quell'individuo è William Forrester, scrittore vincitore anni prima di un Pulitzer e poi misteriosamente scomparso.

12 October 2013

Book review: Bangkok, the story of a city (1970), by Alec Waugh, ***

Royal Thai Dynasty

In Bangkok, Alec Waugh has created a most fluent, truthful and affectionate portrait of the dynasty and culture which created it. Cutting through confusion and veiled mystery, he unravels the plots, coups, wars, assassinations, invasions and counter-coups of three hundred years of history as if it were this evening's street gossip. This loving description of the genius, fascination and enduring vitality of Thailand is told with Waugh's customary delight in life and sensual appreciation. The story is brought up-to-date with an afterword by Bruce Palling, former "Times" correspondent in Thailand.


King Rama V Chulalongkorn (1853-1910)
This is a book mostly about the ruling dynasty of Thailand. I was a bit disappointed because I expected a history of the city of Bangkok, which this book is not, even though of course the dinasty resides in the capital. Waugh relies more on anecdotal stories and personal experience than on methodical historical research. He does infuse his narrative with a full flavor and unbound passion however, and just for this it is worth reading this volume. The reader will understand much about intrigue at the court. I would have liked to know about the people of Bangkok, their economic and social issues and the problem they have faced in their everyday life throughout history.

05 October 2013

Bangkok Thai food cooking class

Food is an essential part of any culture, and when I travel I always make sure I taste local delicacies so as to be able to better appreciate the country that's hosting me. If you can learn a bit on how to prepare that food, instead of just eating it, all the better!

My Chinese girlfriend is usually not so keen on cooking, so she was a bit perplexed when I proposed to spend a half day with an apron around our waist, learning hot to cook Thai food. But she was game, I love her curiosity for new things.

After an internet search I opted for a half-day class at the Baipai Thai Cooking School. They promised to "introduce you to the wonderful world of Thai flavors allowing you to take your knowledge home with you so you can make authentic Thai dishes back home in your own kitchen." And they warned that their menu does not cater to vegetarians, which was fine by me.

Thai food, of course, is renown worldwide for its complexity, its lively taste and the careful blend of Indian and Chinese influences. This is not called Indochina for nothing. It can be quite spicy, but does not need to be soo spicy to be good.

I had had limited experience of eating in Thailand before. While I did try many Thai restaurants around the world, I am also aware that these usually cater to the local clientele of wherever they happen to be, often at the expense of the original recipes. This in not just true of Thai restaurants: I have tasted quite a number of inedible "Italian" dishes in many countries, until the day when I decided never again to eat Italian food outside Italy. (There have been a few exceptions to this rule and they are described in this blog!)

Our class was held at The Baipai Thai Cooking School. In their words, which I found to be accurate, it is "an ideal home-style learning environment that aims at cooking a style of Thai food that is different from most of the hotels and restaurants in Thailand".

We spent the morning learning to prepare 4 authentic Thai dishes: veggies, fish and chicken. First of all we visited their vegetable garden and learned about the spices and herbs we were about to use.

We later learned how to grate coconut meat from a nut, the fluffy white stuff that the Thais use in so many recipes.

We then moved to to their open space cooking area, where we had plenty of space and lots of equipment to implement the instructions that were imparted by the chef and her assistants.

At the end of it all, we ate the fruits of our labor together with the other course participants and were quite satisfied with the results. I am not sure I will ever even try to reproduce the results at home, but this was fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat when I am back in Thailand.