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This month I binged my way through the BBC series, DIRK GENTLY, but I originally encountered Mr. Gently back in 1987 when he appeared in Douglas Adams‘ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency novel. The BBC series starred Stephen Mangan in the title role in 2010 and 2012.
Dirk is a holistic detective. He takes quantum theories that concern subatomic particles and applies it to our world. Like Dirk, I do believe in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I don’t use that to solve crime, so I rely on Dirk to do that for me.
Dirk was born Svlad Cjelli (AKA Dirk Cjelli). In the books, he is rather pudgy man and typically wears an old brown suit, red checked shirt with a green striped tie, with a long leather coat, red hat and thick metal-rimmed spectacles.
Dirk is always in need of money and in need of clients. He is expensive to hire because his expense accounts include everything, since everything is connected to solving the case – from fish and chips to a few weeks in the Bahamas. However, you can’t say that he rips off his clients because they never seem to pay him.
As anyone who has read or heard about Douglas Adams’ more famous series, the Hitchhiker’s Guides, (which have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide), the Dirk stories are half serious, half humorous.
Dirk’s office at 33a Peckender St. N1 London is probably messier than Sherlock Holmes’ lodgings at 221b Baker Street in that city. The two detectives do have some things in common, though I would guess they are also completely opposite.
Besides Dirk, the novels feature his useless (and unpaid) secretary Janice Pearce and Sergeant Gilks. Gilks is like Holme’s Lestrade and Dirk’s version of Dr. Watson is Richard Macduff.
I have read or watched most of the many versions of Sherlock Holmes available. Most recently, my wife and I watched the most recent interpretation of a modern-day Sherlock (BBC) starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Back in his college days at Cambridge University (St. Cedd’s College), Dirk discovered he was psychic. He was able to know exam questions before exams. This led to some selling of exam questions and then to Dirk’s expulsion. Dirk doesn’t actually believe in psychic abilities and insists that he has a “depressingly accurate knack for making wild assumptions”.
The Dirk Gently novels evolved from two Doctor Who serials written by Adams. I have never fallen into the Dr. Who wormhole, though I have watched it on and off. Adams write an episode, “City of Death,” about an alien who tries to change history and erase humanity from existence.
The other cancelled serial, “Shada,” featured a Cambridge professor called Chronotis who is hundreds of years old and has been working at the college for centuries. Chronotis is a Time Lord, and his time machine is an early model TARDIS which is a trademark elements from Doctor Who.
I would guess that some readers would have problems with the novels because of their fragmented and shifting points of view. Events are out of order, or seem to be out of order.
In Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, MacDuff goes to a dinner at his old college and sees his former tutor, Prof. Chronotis, perform an inexplicable magic trick. Later, the two of them discover a horse in the Professor’s lodgings, which is unable to explain. Back home, Macduff finds himself doing things that are out of character, which causes Dirk to intervene and solve the mystery. Of course, MacDuff didn’t realize there was mystery.
My attraction to the world of Dirk is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I really do agree with Gently that many things we encounter each day seem trivial and superfluous, but turn out to be important to our lives later.
It may seem incongruous that I believe that there are few, if any, “accidents” but I also don’t believe things are predetermined.
Though Adams does not go deeply into the science behind Dirk’s approach to detective work, it alludes to chaos theory, holism, quantum mechanics and the phenomena of non-locality.
When Macduff’s becomes erratic, Dirk brings in the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat. Yes, Adams uses these complicated concepts in ways they were never intended to be used. I find that thought-provoking.
The Dirk Gently series only amounts to two and a half novels. First is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987), followed by The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988). Douglas Adams was working on a third Dirk Gently novel, The Salmon of Doubt, at his untimely death. Adams died of a heart attack on 11 May 2001, aged 49, after resting from his regular workout at a private gym. He had unknowingly suffered a gradual narrowing of his coronary arteries. The first ten chapters of this novel, assembled from various drafts following Adams’ death, together with a memo suggesting further plot points, appeared as The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time which was published posthumously.
The last meteor shower of the year is the Ursids which began on Dec. 17 and will end on Dec. 25. It peaks on Dec. 22 and 23.
It is one of the minor meteor showers that produces up to 5-10 meteors per hour.
We can also observe at least five planets in the December sky. Mercury will be too close to the sun for most of the year and so the view is affected by sun’s glare, but by the end of the month, it will move away from the sun and will be visible in the west-southwest sky after the sunset.
Venus returned as our “evening star” in the southwestern sky at the beginning of the month. Mars is will be visible in southwestern sky. Jupiter will appear in southern sky at night and Saturn will emerge as a “morning star” in the southeastern sky visible at the daybreak.
For those of you up late tonight, like me, December 13 and 14 nights will see the peak of the Geminids meteor shower which is sometimes called the “king of the meteor showers.” It can produce up to 120 multi-colored meteors per hour when it is at its peak.
The entire window of visibility begins on December 7 and ends on the 17th, but the anticipated peak is the night of the 13th into the morning of the 14th.
They are primarily visible in the Northern Hemisphere, but can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere too. Sky gazers in Australia can expect to see 30-40 meteors per hour.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the “falling stars” will seem to come from the constellation Gemini above the eastern horizon. West of Gemini is the brilliant planet Jupiter which looks like a star to our unaided eyes, and just before sunrise, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury appear above the southeastern horizon.
As a person who has read a lot about time travel, and who still plans to do some time traveling one day, I was pleased to see Brian Greene’s simple explanation of traveling into the future. I have been thinking about this since I was a kid and read the Classics Illustrated comic book version of H.G. Wells The Time Machine. Those comics led me on to many classic novels and to the library to find books about topics like time travel.
When it comes to time travel, there’s a misconception – one that most of you are probably aware of – that’s important to clarify: It is only time travel to the past that’s speculative and, as many physicists anticipate, will one day be ruled out by a deeper understanding of physics.
Time travel to the future, by contrast, is an established part of modern understanding. As I briefly describe in the video below, Einstein showed us how you can — at least in principle — travel as far into the future as you’d like.
There are “technological/engineering” obstacles to doing so — the difficulties of achieving sufficiently high speed or traveling to the edge of a black hole — but the laws of physics themselves are unequivocal: time travel to the future is possible.
This video is part of World Science U, a new free digital education platform for teaching and learning science that I signed up for recently. Check it out at www.worldscienceu.com
There are other videos of Greene talking about time and answering questions about things like why the way we measure the passage of time using clocks and watches is merely an attribute of time, not its essence.
I have always loved listening to Greene explain complicated theories of physics in ways that I can fully understand – until he stops talking and I have to explain it to someone else. Then, I am back to, if not square 1, at least square 3.
I recently watched this very good documentary on Orson Welles and Citizen Kane (see below) that includes interviews with Welles from BBC interviews in 1960 and 1982 and an interview with Pauline Kael discussing her controversial “Raising Kane” article.
Whenever I showed Kane in my film class, I was careful to introduce it with minimal information and careful to never say that it is considered by many to be the best film ever made. Francois Truffaut said that it is “probably the one that has started the largest number of filmmakers on their careers” although that probably isn’t true for the current graduating class of filmmakers.
More recently, there have been reports that Welle’s unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally be completed and shown by 2015. The New York Times reported that the production company Royal Road Entertainment made a deal for the rights to the movie and set as screening date of May 6, 2015, which would have been Welles’ 100th birthday.
Welles spent parts of the last 15 years of his life working on the movie. It stars John Huston and features Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer and Dennis Hopper. Huston plays a veteran director who is trying to make a comeback.
The story has been floating around for many years that the genesis of the leading character was an encounter in 1937 between Ernest Hemingway and a young Welles. Hemingway, a bit drunk, mocked Welles as being an “effeminate boy of the theater.” Welles shot back something, Hemingway threw a chair, they scuffled and in true Hemingway-encounter form they settled things with a boozy toast and then had on-again, off-again friendship.
Plot summaries have been online for years and so are clips from the film. It was shot on and off as Welles had money and he used certain props and motifs to tie together the disparate parts. The film’s structure centers on the 70th birthday party of the movie director Jake Hannaford (Huston), but opens with his death just after the party.
Welles included film-within-a-film portions of Hannaford’s film, The Other Side of the Wind.
It is set in the 1970s and mocks the Hollywood that is post-studio system, and the experimental New Hollywood and some European directors.
Partially as a style and partially due to varying budgets, Welles shot in color, black-and-white, used still photography, 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film. He was getting money by doing television roles and by getting individual investors.
Welles left a rough 45-minute edited work print that he had to smuggle out of Paris in 1975 after an irate investor had taken control of the negatives.
Actor/critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich is one of those who have tried to finish the movie. Now, Frank Marshall, a line producer on The Other Side of the Wind, and Bogdanovich plan to put the film together using Welles’ notes.
From the reports out there and the clips that have leaked out over the years, the film sounds like a fragmented series of sections that would be difficult to patch together. But Welles fans, and I count myself in the group, are hopeful that it can be edited it into a coherent last effort from Orson Welles.
Oja Kodar presents Orson Welles’ unseen footage for unreleased projects including The Other Side of the Wind
The Complete Citizen Kane – a documentary
I was lying on the couch reading on my tablet on All Saints’ Day earlier this month and I read an almanac post saying that it was the day chosen by Pope Julius II back in 1512 to display Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. I thought “That’s a good topic for a post on Weekends in Paradelle.
I did a bit of checking on defining All Saints’ Day (AKA also known as All Hallows, Feast of All Saints, Hallowmas) which is celebrated on November first by the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations in honor of all the saints, known and unknown.
I looked up Michelangelo Buonarroti because I recall hearing or reading somewhere that the story of him lying on his back to paint is largely a fictional creation. In this case, from the Hollywood version of history in the The Agony and the Ecstasy. I never read the the best-selling biographical novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone and it may have come from there before the film. I watched the film as a kid and was very impressed by the story of those four years he spent completing the paintings that decorate the ceiling of the chapel.
But the other part of this post is that in starting to write this, WordPress reminded me when I created a link that I had already written about this last year! That’s disturbing to me.
These gaps in my memory are increasing lately. I wrote a poem on my daily poem site this past week and realized later that I had used the same title and a very similar experience for an earlier poem this year. Later, I discovered an even earlier version of the idea in a notebook from 6 years ago.
I did do some more research this time around on Michelangelo, and the memory of the film is new, so I can craft this post as being something different.
Michelangelo was 33 years old when he tried to point out to the pope that he was a sculptor, and not really a painter. Two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. The pope paid no attention and in the end art historians say that you can see his skills as a sculptor used to make the two-dimensional ceiling look like more a series of three-dimensional scenes. It was a technique that was relatively new at the time.
He worked on it from 1508 to 1512. He did work from a scaffold 60 feet above the floor, but spent much of that time standing. He covered about 10,000 square feet of surface. Every day, fresh plaster was laid over a part of the ceiling and Michelangelo had to finish painting before the plaster dried.
The German writer Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “We cannot know what a human being can achieve until we have seen [the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel].”
The paintings are of scenes from the Old Testament, but many people only know the famous center section, “The Creation of Adam.” The chapel itself was built about 25 years earlier, and various Renaissance painters were commissioned to paint frescoes on the walls.
My aging memory and its lapses made me read more about the later years of Michelangelo’s life. It was news to me that he turned to writing poetry.
His sexuality is somewhat in question but it seems that he would be described today as bi-sexual. His sexuality is apparent in his poetry. He wrote over three hundred sonnets and madrigals. The longest sequence were written to Tommaso dei Cavalieri. He met Tommasso when he was 57 and Tommasso was 23 years old. Historians also point to his last sculptures as evidence of a focus during these later years on both the male figure and on the contrast of old age and youth.
The Tommasso sequence is the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another. It’s a bit surprising to me to realize that Shakespeare’s sonnets to the “fair youth” were written only 50 years after Michelangelo’s sonnets.
This led me to find a copy of The Complete Poems of Michelangelo at the library.
In a poem to Cavalieri, he writes:
Nay, things that suffer death, quench not the fire
Of deathless spirits; nor eternity
Serves sordid Time, that withers all things rare.
And Cavalieri replied in a letter: “I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours.”
Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo until his death.
His homoerotic poetry was something that later generations were uncomfortable with and it never really came into popular books and films about his life. Michelangelo’s grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published the poems in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed to be feminine. The gender was restored to male in John Addington Symonds’ translation into English in 1893. in 1547. Scholars still dispute whether this was a homosexual or paternal relationship with Tommasso.
Late in life, Michelangelo nurtured a great love for the poet and noble widow Vittoria Colonna, whom he met in Rome in 1536 or 1538 and who was in her late forties at the time. They wrote sonnets for each other and their friendship remained important to Michelangelo until her death.
Following a brief illness, Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564—just weeks before his 89th birthday—at his home in Rome. A nephew bore his body back to Florence, where he was revered by the public as the “father and master of all the arts,” and was laid to rest at the Basilica di Santa Croce—his chosen place of burial.
ON THE BRINK OF DEATH
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Now hath my life across a stormy sea
Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all
Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now know I well how that fond phantasy
Which made my soul the worshiper and thrall
Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwillingly.
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when the double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread.
Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest
My soul that turns to His great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread.
The Taurids are an annual meteor shower associated with the comet Encke. They are named after their radiant point in the constellation Taurus, where they are seen to come from in the sky. Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, breaking into several pieces.
Because of their occurrence in late October and early November, they are also called “Halloween fireballs.”
They are rather slow-moving (from our perspective) and so often make a good show. They usually peak from November 5-12. This year our Full Moon (on the 6th) coincides and will wash out the sky with light.
You might spot a few of the brightest meteors tonight but, as the moon sets later in the evening after the Full Moon, visibility will gradually improve. Moonrise on the 6th was around 5 p.m. ET and each night after the moon will rise about 50 minutes later. That means the dark-sky hours before moonrise increases.
It looks like if you check the sky on the 12th (Wednesday) when the Moon will be close to its last-quarter phase, it will rise at around 10 p.m. giving you about four hours of dark, moonless skies.
If you want to check what to look for tonight (or any night), check out earthsky.org/tonight/