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The Graveyard Book and the meaning of life October 6, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me, thinking me.
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“He looks like nobody but himself,” said Mrs.Owens, firmly. “He looks like nobody.”
“Then Nobody it is,” said Silas. “Nobody Owens.”
It was then that, as if responding to the name, the child opened its eyes wide in wakefulness. It stared around it, taking in the faces of the dead, and the mist, and the moon. Then it looked at Silas. Its gaze did not flinch. It looked grave.
“And what kind of a name is Nobody?” asked Mother Slaughter, scandalized.
“His name. And a good name,” Silas told her. “It will help to keep him safe.”

The quote above is from “The Graveyard Book“, from Neil Gaiman. The other day I was talking to my friend Wallace and I remembered I never wrote about one of my greatest passions: literature. And my first post on the subject couldn’t be about any other author: in my mind Neil Gaiman is one of the greatest writers of our generation. His fantasy books tell of amazing tales. Adult, deep, thoughtful fairy tales, and they are all great.

Neil Gaiman got famous for writing the Sandman graphic novels, and I love all of them, but after he started focusing on books he went from great to remarkable. I think we’ll talk about his books as classics if you give it a couple of decades. If you never read one of his books, you might have seen one or two movies. Stardust and Coraline were adaptations of his work (Stardust was alright, Coraline was awesome, but I digress).

Back to the matter at hand, I wanted to talk about literature and about Neil Gaiman, so I decided to make a review of his latest literary work: The Graveyard Book.  The book was written as a children book but, just like Coraline, adults who didn’t read it don’t know what they are missing. Neil Gaiman’s style is so interesting, his writing so close to poetry, his stories so full of meaning, that they transcend age constraints.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of Nobody Owens (you can call him Bod), a living kid raised by the dead in a graveyard. I won’t give away any spoilers. Zero. But Bod’s life has it all: his personal troubles, his interaction with the living and the dead, the secrets of graveyards and ghosts, a greater plot of good vs. evil, the metaphorical search for the meaning of life.

All characters are very tangible. You can’t help but feel the fear of Bod, the apprehension of his ghostly mother Mrs. Owens,  the strong conviction of Silas. As the story flows, the reader is constantly invited to be amazed, to fear, to smile and to laugh. The atmosphere of the book is always right and the borderline poetic narrative always keeps the fairy tale feeling alive. The humor is always witty and natural, as are the more scary moments and the epic passages.

Bod said, ‘I want to see life. I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want,’ he said, and then he paused and he thought. ‘I want everything.’

To me the best way to read Neil Gaiman is to let yourself get completely immersed into the story, but to also see it as a quest for wisdom. Like long parables, all his books hold an invitation for thought and The Graveyard Book is no different.

The only flaw of the book is one that taints all great literary efforts: the book is too short, I wish we could follow Bod for a few more adventures. I was already nostalgic when I finished reading the last sentence. But then again, that’s one of the beauties of it, thinking about what was never written.

If you read this one and like it, try the Gaiman classics: Good Omens (simply hilarious, written together with Terry Pratchett) and American Gods. You won’t regret it.

See you space cowboys…

Export ready brazilian metal August 20, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me, thinking me.
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Planet Hemp, Raimundos and everything with the Cavalera brothers

I made some great friends here in St. John’s and, listening to their music, I went back to a style I thought was only part of my old music background, long gone from the mp3 player (jeez, mp3 players didn’t even exist back then) and not planning an encore. In other words, to make it simple, I have been listening to Hardcore and Thrash Metal a lot and I blame Willis and Coote for that. Yes, don’t deny it, it is your fault. Hehehe…

Anyway, while listening to Sepultura and No Ca$h, I started thinking about Brazilian Rock and derivatives. When you want to show a foreigner Brazilian music, it is very obvious to show Samba, Bossa Nova, Pagode, Forró. But Rock, Punk, Metal are not Brazilian rhythms. And while we do have good bands, if the only thing that makes them Brazilian are the lyrics, there’s nothing to show, really. Be that Rita Lee, Titãs, Cassia Eller or Garotos Podres, unless you get the lyrics they are like many others who sing in English, German, Japanese or whatever.

So I was searching for Brazilian Metal or Hardcore with a Brazilian melody, and not just lyrics. After all, this is something anyone can recognize as being different, as being from the land of Samba.

My first take on it was with Sepultura and Soulfly. Some of their work has a very tribal, native Brazilian or Samba-like sound, and that can be heard from the percussion to the use of the berimbau. You can’t listen to Attitude, Roots Bloody Roots, Tribe, Umbabarauma, and not notice the different rhythms.

I kept digging and stumbled onto Planet Hemp. True, they have a mild Metal influence and also draw inspiration from Hip Hop and Samba. But the mix is very Brazilian as well, which is interesting considering the heavy emphasis they put on the lyrics.

But I was not satisfied and continued exercising my music muscle (which reminds me of an old Virgin game, how many band references can you find here?) looking for Brazil sounding Rock. And much to my surprise I realized Raimundos is a very good example of it. While their music is not similar to Samba or tribal sounds, it has a very regional inspiration from the Northeast of Brazil and takes a lot from Forró. Everything from the percussion to the riffs and the vocals match the culture of the place. In a funny and dirty way, true, but it does.

Making this research (and populating my playlist!) was and is a very interesting experience, I’m curious to find out what Willis and Coote think of these bands. Anyway, it made me think about something obvious we sometimes forget: melody travels a lot easier than words, everyone understands music. Brazil has a strong musical culture, strong enough to break the boundaries of Samba and Bossa Nova and reach many other, seemingly unlikely, genres.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when people ask me about Samba and Pelé. But it is great to hear people talk with admiration about Sepultura and Bob Burnquist.

See you space cowboys…

Let it snow February 6, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me.
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snow at king's bridge road

It’s been snowing steadily since Thursday evening. And to make things even more interesting yesterday we had a blizzard. I wanted to go to work walking, just for fun, to pretend I was climbing the Everest or something. But Mariana convinced me otherwise.

Anyway, when I got back home by the end of the afternoon, with the blizzard hitting St. John’s all day, you couldn’t tell where the street started from where the sidewalk began.

So just to scare people back home I thought I could post a picture of the surroundings. I marched inside, got my camera and walked 30 feet to take the snapshot above.

You have to admit it is pretty!

See you space cowboys…

Every day the same dream January 23, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me, thinking me, working me.

Every day the same dream is an amazing game. If you’ve heard about it before, continue reading. Otherwise, I recommend you play first; it is very short, you’ll finish in minutes.

I found out about this deep and disturbing game at Tap-Repeatedly and was very… surprised at how the experience moved me. Every day is in all technical aspects extremely simple. That is a compliment and goes to show how games are unquestionably an art form. Even stripped from all graphical advances, realistic AI and complex controls, playing it is a touching and immersive experience (here I go talking about immersion again). I had had such feelings before watching short movies, never playing games.

Playing Every day made me think of two movies: Modern Times, by Charlie Chaplin, and Groundhog Day. There’s a tad of both in this game.

Modern times has a direct relation to Every day: Chaplin’s movie is also a critic to the massification of modern life.

In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, lives the same day over and over again, oblivious as to why that’s happening to him. The repetition acts as a metaphor to the stagnation caused by the main character’s life style. In a scene in the bowling alley, Phil asks two locals, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” One guy replies, “That about sums it up for me.” That right there explains the connection. The magic power that makes Phil live the same day every day only brings to the surface the drama both the locals in the movie and the character in Every Day the Same Dream experience by simply living their lives.

In both movie and game, the break from the repetition that plagues existence comes from self-improvement. They represent a search for enlightenment and offer a valuable lesson.

If you still haven’t played the game, do it now. And go rent Groundhog Day. You won’t regret it.

See you space cowboys…

Happy anniversary January 17, 2010

Posted by Cesar in living me.
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anniversary candles

Mariana called me at work today (yes, I know it is Sunday) and reminded me it’s been one year since we arrived in St. John’s. We left Brazil on the 16th and got to the Franklin Hotel on January 17th, 2009.

Boy, was it an eventful year. Crazy trip, new city, new culture, new weather, new people, lots of snow.

Then I broke my wrist, had surgery and recovered (thanks Doctor Rockwood!).

We then released CSI for the DS and I started on a new project.

Mariana on her side got a new job, then moved on to a better one and started taking courses at Memorial University.

We got two kitties: Sushi and Sake. And then after two months we realized Sake was a boy! Afraid for his identity crisis, we changed his name to Tsume (very manly!) and started treating him like a boy. He’s a bit rebellious, but he’s ok.

During the extremely short St. John’s summer, we went on a boat to see whales. It was amazing. Then my parents came to visit and we went on a road trip through Newfoundland, it was really cool. Very impressive landscape.

Mariana and I had our first Halloween in North America (far more interesting than in Brazil) and even though it wasn’t snowing, there was a lot of snow on the ground for our Christmas party!

It was great. May the new year be as much fun as the one that ended. And hopefully it won’t involve another broken wrist.

See you space cowboys…

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