Muscle men: Zishe, Arnold and me

A couple of nights ago S brought home the video of "Invincible," mainly because we're Werner Herzog fans and had missed this one. It's supposedly based on the true story of Zishe Breitbart, a young Jewish blacksmith from a shtetl in eastern Poland. He had a brief and glorious career as a strongman in 1932 at a "Palace of the Occult" in Berlin, performing feats of strength before (among others) Nazi party functionaries as the mighty Siegfried, complete with blond wig and horned helmet. The showplace is run by a supposed clairvoyant, Hanussen (Tim Roth), who spouts pro-Nazi jingoism.

Zishe (played by Finnish strongman Jouko Ahola) isn't real bright, but he has figured out that the Nazis are not going to be good for the Jews, and after looking at himself in the mirror with his ridiculous wig, reveals his Jewish identity one night on stage. He becomes a Jewish hero in Berlin and a scandal to his Nazi former fans. Then Hanussen is revealed to be not merely a show-business charlatan but also a very frightened, nasty, ambitious Czech Jew, who also has admired Zishe. After Hanussen disappears from the movie (he's condemned of fraud and ultimately murdered -- I think that's a true story, also), the dramatic tension leaks out of the film. Zishe goes back home to warn his townsfolks against the Nazis, they scoff, he dies of gangrene brought on by a stunt meant to convince them of his strength, and the rest the rest of the world, as we know, soon goes to hell.

Zishe's huge muscles were all about strength for work and to help people. Arnold's strength was always all about big muscles to show off -- he's a true poseur. When I was a kid, I got my father to buy me a set of weights for both reasons: I wanted to look good, and I wanted to be strong. Then I discovered Charles Atlas, and discovered that I could become very strong without lifting iron weights -- except I wouldn't get the sharp muscular definition of the body-builders like Steve Reeves (remember him?) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was all right. My ideal masculine body type was more on the line of the Roman sculptures of the gods, who didn't worry about tiny waists and muscles on their muscles. By these standards, the best looking male body I ever saw (in photos) was Eugen Sandow's, with Charles Atlas as a close second.

Last week, though, some over-affluent neighbor discarded a pair of 20 lb. dumbells (good thing he didn't drop them down the disposal chute -- would have crashed the compactor). So now I've added curls to my pullups and pushups routines. After all, I'm approaching middle age (I plan to live a very long time), so I have to stay in shape.

Review of "Invincible"

Charles Atlas' original name was Angelo Siciliano. He's long dead, but here's his course of dynamic tension -- it really does work.

Eugen (or Eugene) Sandow was a stage-name, too. Back in East Prussia, where he was born in 1867, he had been Friedrich Wilhelm Müller. He was really strong, and looked good, too. (He did use mainly weights, though, unlike Charles Atlas.)

Orhan Pamuk

An interview today of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk confirms something I'd already inferred from his novels and other scraps of information about him. I think he has the verbal facility and the imagination to become a very good novelist, much better than he has been up to now, but that he probably won't. He appears too satisfied with the way he is. And since he receives praises and prizes, why not? Of course, I can't demand that Pamuk write the kind of novel I think should be written. I'll just have to do that myself, or at least try.

Interview of Orhan Pamuk
My notes on White Castle, My Name is Red, two novels by Orhan Pamuk


E pluribus unum

A friend just sent me this link, about Sandra Cisneros' horror at being called "Hispanic" instead of "Latina." In the future, to avoid giving her offense, do NOT speak to her or her friends in Spanish, but address them only in Latin. (I already said all I had to say about this ridiculous and divisive debate in Hispanic Nation). For article about Cisneros' sensibilities, see Latinos or Hispanics?


The Week in Review

Sorry, folks. Been too busy to blog, though there have been lots of things this week that made me want to scream, mutter, laugh or even think. In the screaming category: the bombing of the UN in Baghdad, the same day as another horrific Palestinian bomb in Israel.

The UN bombing really hurt, coming a little closer to me personally than most of the other horrors around the world this week, because I used to work at the UN (as a rep for one of the bigger NGOs) and because I know people who work there still. I see it as another consequence of the Bush team's misguided policy of combatting "terror" with "shock and awe." The true target of the bombers, I presume, was not the UN but the US occupiers.

The suicide bomb in Israel wasn't really news; it followed the israeli assassination of a Hamas leader and was then followed by yet another Israeli assassination of a Hamas leader which no doubt will be followed by another horrific Palestinian bomb attack against Israelis. Same old, same old. Just a couple of years ago, the forces of inertia in Israel were headed in the other direction, toward reconciliation and a peaceful two-state solution. Hotheads on both sides were unhappy, but it was the Israeli hotheads who destroyed the process. It took the assassination of Rabin and then Arik Sharon's provocation on the Temple Mount to set the forces moving in the opposite direction, terror-vs.-terror that benefits nobody but the professionals of violence. Maybe eventually it'll wind down like in Northern Ireland, after so many are killed and so much destroyed that it becomes hard to recruit new killers (on either side), but I know the US government could force a change in direction on at least the Israeli side, and probably on both sides, much sooner. But won't, not this crowd (Bush et al.) that has hijacked our government.

Well, I've covered screaming and muttering, almost. One more mutter: against the hysteria of the Venezuelan opposition, who've raised a cry against the presence of Cuban MDs invited by Chávez to serve poor communities in the wake of disastrous floods. The Venezuelan middle class would rather see their poor compatriots ill or dead than treated by Communists. (See Miami Herald article for an unhysterical report.)

Now the laughs: "The Writer's Mind," 3 one-act plays by Dennis DiClaudio, as part of the Fringe Festival. Ridiculous, hilarious. And yesterday's return of "Wigstock" to Tompkins Square Park. A huge success, thousands and thousands of people out to see the show, some of us (a bare majority) dressed according to our real sex, but the more spectacular ones -- well, the show of make-up, wigs, high-heels and biceps and pecs was almost as amazing in the crowd as it was up on stage. A real hoot.

As for thinking, well, maybe that's too deep for a blog. Or too shallow -- if I reveal my deepest thoughts and you just laugh, I'll feel like one of the Wigstockers still in my finery but after the party's over. (Just kidding; I don't really get embarrassed when people laugh at my ideas, I just think they're weird.) I did make some progress in clearing up the chapter I'm writing for the book on Latin American architecture, so that'll have to pass for this week's thinking.