Monthly Archives: February 2013

“Secreta Corporis” by John Evan Garvey— Back in Time

secreta

Garvey, John Evan. “Secreta Corposis”, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

I have never read anything by John Garvey before and when he wrote to me about his book and told me a little about it, I immediately agreed to review it. I love historical novels and this one is set in a place where I lived for many years and in one of my favorite periods of history. In 1193 A.D. Rolant joins the Templars in order to escape from marrying someone who had been arranged for him. Almost at the same time that we enlisted was he sent to the Holy Land (the area that is Israel today). At that time Jaffa was the point of entry to those coming to the area and for many it was the last stop before going to Jerusalem. Rolant was a young knight and he was given a partner, Audric, who already had experience as a knight and who initiated him into the world man/man love at a grove near the Templar base at the citadel in Jaffa.(By the way, that Citadel is still standing today and has served as both a prison and as a hospital for those who have severe mental problems. In Israel’s War of Independence it was used by an Israeli terrorist organization as its headquarters).

It was the job of the Templars to accompany pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and other religious sites. When Roland was traveling with a group of pilgrims, they came upon a group of Saracens who found human bones as they were digging a well. When the Saracens abandoned the well, the pilgrims are curious as to whether the bones are those of a saint and as they pray lover them, Roland finds a tablet with text written on it in a language he does not understand and unlike any language he had ever seen and he takes it back to Jaffa but was forced to give it up since Templars are not allowed possessions.

As we soon learn, this is the story of two Templar knights who were forced to leave the knighthood because of their “sexual perversions”. This together with the tablet that Rolant found could be very important to the Templars. At this time Jerusalem was in the hands of Saladin and the Muslims and Jerusalem then as it is now was a place that many from all religions visited because of the religious sites there.

Audric had a special place where he lodged when he went to the holy city because he could not stand the unsanitary and clean places where the pilgrims stayed. He was friendly with Tariq, a Saracen and he stayed with him and his wife and when he did, he and Tariq usually had sex. For whatever reason, Audric thought that his homosexual activity would go unnoticed but the soon found out that this was not the case at all. Lucerna Templar was given the mission of destroying vice in the Templar Order and he took his job seriously. Any of the Templars who visited the grove where Audric first took Rolant received threats written in blood on the sheets of their beds. Then two Templars met their deaths and Audric and Rolant learn that they will be the next to die.

They flee Jaffa and head for Jerusalem to Tariq’s home until they can find a place to be together and when they move into a boarding house they are attacked by Templars so they return to Tariq’s and he is also now on the Templar list of people to be dealt with. Learning that the table that he found can threaten the papacy, Rolant sees himself having an upper hand but Audric, Rolant and Tariq are targeted by the knights.

What happens next you will have to find out for yourself but I do promise you that you will have a wonderful read that is filled with interesting characters. The only complaint if you can call it that is that the book is only available electronically. I would love to have hard copy of it to end to my library.

“The Chase” by Jesse J. Thoma— Swimming for Life

the chase

Thoma, Jesse J. “ The Chase”, Bold Strokes Books, 2013.

Swimming for Life

Amos Lassen

There is nothing like a good mystery novel when rain is coming down and it is cold outside. It was such a night when I sat down to read Jesse Thoma’s “The Chase”. I did not get out of the chair until I finished the book and I do not remember turning pages that fast in a very long time. Even more interesting is learning that the author is a neighbor of mine and will be on the panel of gay sleuths that I will be moderating at the Rainbow Book Fair in New York on April 13.

I admit that I am not much of a mystery reader and I only read lesbian fiction when asked to review a specific book so this was almost an evening of firsts with my reading and reviewing a lesbian mystery and I can assure you that I will continue reading books of this kind and that is based upon what I read here.

Isabelle Rochat heard something outside of her home and when she went to see what was going on, she realized that shots were aimed at her deck and bounty hunter Holt Lasher was in her pool. Isabelle lived an ordered life and she has always felt safe but now something was challenging her. She thought that the gunshot that she heard was aimed at Holt. Isabelle is just a corporate CPA so there is no doubt that someone might be after all. After all, shooting a bounty hunter is part of the job, but she and Holt soon found themselves involved in an illegal drug operation that began at the Rhode Island House of Representatives and extends to a methadone clinic. Holt feels she must protect Isabelle and neither woman was looking to start a relationship but they found an attraction for each other and Holt feels that she must find who is responsible for what happened. A bounty hunter’s life does not leave much room for a relationship and Holt’s job requires her to keep looking for the person(s) responsible for what happened.

I cannot tell you what happened next because to do so would spoil the mystery. I, however, can tell you that this is quite a story with twists and turn on almost every page. Thoma has also created two characters that are larger than life and I have the feeling that we will be hearing more about them in future books.

 

 

 

“TIME OF MY LIFE”— Legalizing Euthanasia in Belgium

time of my life

Time of my Life”

Legalizing Euthanasia in Belgium

Amos Lassen

Time of My Life” is based on the true story of Mario Verstraete and the struggle to legalize euthanasia in Belgium. Mario was beginning a promising political career when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis. The film is narrated by his doctor friend, Thomas and it focuses on how Mario and his friends deal with it all and make peace with both the philosophical and human sides of euthanasia.

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Verstraete, the young Belgian politician who was vehemently pleading for a law on euthanasia, until he was himself diagnosed with a very aggressive kind of Multiple Sclerosis. His best friend Thomas, a doctor faces a dilemma of whether or not to help his friend die with respect. We go back to the 1980’s and we see Mario and Thomas as good friends along with Lynn and Speck. We see Mario get married and become a father, divorces and gets ill soon after and has to give up his career in politics. He begins a battle to legalize euthanasia and as he becomes sicker, the struggle becomes more personal and it seems as if Belgium is going to become the second country to have legalized euthanasia. Thomas finds himself in a difficult position—he loves his friend and he is loyal to him but he promised his parents that he would try to get Mario to change his mind.

time2

Having just been through an election in Massachusetts where euthanasia was on the ballot, I learned a great deal about it from both sides and still have yet to make a decision. We see here what happens in a country where people who suffer can decide on whether to live or to die. What we have to consider are the people who remain alive—the fathers and mothers, children, partners and friends. How do they deal with a young man who tells them that it is the quality of life that matters and the quantity is unimportant. Here is the story of two friends who must make decisions that not only affect their friendship but the rest of Belgium. Thomas and Mario had once shared everything and then became a doctor and the other got very ill. Mario wants to end his life with dignity before it becomes burdensome and hard to live and his friend, Thomas, has to cope with this dilemma. Mario had campaigned for the law before he got sick and the irony is that he was the first to put the law into practice. This is such a sensitive issue that I have problems thinking about what goes though one’s mind as he prepares to die and what do those who love him think?

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You would think that a film on this topic would be serious and heavy but it is not. The dialogue is sharp and witty and there is a good deal of black humor. And there are some very hard moments in the film as well. The film when Mario and his doctors set the date for his death is hard to watch. Thomas has a hard time dealing with the matter-of-fact way that Mario writes the date down in his diary. Then there is the scene when friends come to say goodbye. It is heartbreaking yet we need to see it. There is a lot of emotion but no sentimentality. Director Nic Balthazar sees to that.

time4

The film is really about human existence and it touches everything that is human. Mario’s friends try to convince him that life is worth living no matter what condition someone may be in but Mario is determined. He wants to die when he decides that the quality of life is no longer adequate.

One is not likely to forget how this movie ends—the ending is touching and it impacts the viewer like few movies can. I found myself looking at my own life and the things that are important to me and I did so as tears rolled from my eyes. The film is not about death, it is about living.

“The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde— The Whole Story

dorian

Wilde, Oscar. “The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray”, Belknap Press, 2012.

The Whole Story

Amos Lassen

It took us 120 years to get the whole story of Dorian Gray. It was first published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine and now for the first time we have an uncensored paperback edition thanks to Harvard’s Belknap Press. Everything that was removed by the novel’s first editor is back. I can’t say much more than it is a treat to have it all.

“Fear and Trembling” by Soren Kierkegaard— Abraham as a Paradigm of Faith

fearandtrembling

Kierkegaard, Soren. “Fear and Trembling” (Penguin Classics), translated by Alastair Hannay, Penguin Classics, reprint edition, 1986.

Abraham as a Paradigm of Faith

Amos Lassen

Soren Kierkegaard is regarded as the father of existentialism and he was able to transform philosophy with the idea and his conviction that each of us must create our own nature and that a true understanding of God can only occur when a leap of faith is made. His perspective on the Bible is one that we do not usually hear and the uses the story of Abraham to show us how the Hebrew Bible should be treated.

In the Christian Bible in the book of Paul is says, “you must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling” and this where Kierkegaard found his title. He also chooses Abraham as his paradigm of faith and Abraham lived thousands of years before Christianity. The concepts that the author uses in “indirect communication” which are obscure and ambiguous but if the reader sticks with the writing there are many rewards.

Kierkegaard sees religion on three levels: the esthetic or the life of immediate enjoyment, the ethical or life filled with duty and responsibility and the religious or living within existential freedom. This book concentrates on moving from an ethical existence to one of religious orientation. Abraham assumes the title of father of faith because he was willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac who held all the hopes and dreams of his father. Abraham believed that God will restore Isaac but Abraham cannot see how. If one shares his faith with Abraham, he will have no trouble understanding what is written here and those who live an ethical life will see that it is Abraham’s duty to protect his son, Isaac, and surely not kill him. Faith however goes beyond both of these issues as well as superseding immediate desires and the demands of ethics. We must ask if it is necessary for the tragic hero—in this case, Abraham, to give up something he loves to a higher power or principle like what is best for an entire community and not just himself. There are two desires tearing at Abraham here and while we seem to be able to understand his sacrifice, I am not sure that we do. The tragic hero lives on the ethical level while the protector of the faith gives up what he is able to understand—loving and protecting a child and no reasons are understandable or even necessary. One has to be Abraham in order to understand him.

I have heard that many think that Kierkegaard is difficult to read but I disagree. I find him not nearly as complicated as others might think but then my M.A. is in existential philosophy.

Abraham’s act of faith was offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice just because God requested it be done. Abraham’s obedience to God was his way of suspending the ethical.

Kierkegaard seeks to penetrate the mystery of faith with his rational mind and by and large he succeeds but basically because he shows us faith by telling us what it is not. He sees faith as a radical act or as a gift from God. Faith cannot be part of the ethical and the binding of Isaac story shows just that. If faith is simply a way of acting ethically there would be no need for religion and we only need to study ethics. In Kierkegaard’s is so superhuman and difficult then very few people are capable of it.

Kierkegaard gives us Abraham as an example of what he calls the “teleological suspension of the ethic” and presents us with his three levels of religion. In this hierarchy, Abraham transcends the second level, the ethical (which would have made the sacrifice of his son become absurd), and gives himself to the third level, the religious. That means to Kierkegaard that Abraham’s obedience to and absolute trust in God goes beyond any human commitment and Abraham comes to represent just that. However, Abraham is not allowed to carry out the sacrifice of Isaac after God tells him to do so. We can only wonder whether he felt that he ultimately would not be permitted to do so and if the fact that he even agreed to take Isaac to Moriah shows his deep trust in God. He was not allowed to practice child sacrifice (as was a practice among pagan religions) and he sets out on a new higher level, an ethical way for mankind in which every human life is held to be sacred (this is ethical monotheism) and such a sacrifice would be forbidden simply because it invalidates and violates the commandment about the taking of life. If the human is created in the image of God than he cannot and, in fact, is forbidden from sacrificing the divine to the Divine.

In terms of the Jewish religion it is not simply Abraham’s willingness to kill his son but that God ultimately allow him to make that sacrifice.

There are several ways of looking at what Kierkegaard has to say here. Students of Kierkegaard will tell you the meaning of this book in terms of his personal life; philosophers will show you its philosophical meaning; the religious will describe it as a treatise on faith. “Fear and Trembling” is all of these, and even more. The concentration on Abraham and the sacrifice of the son who Abraham truly loved and who is the fulfillment of God’s promise to him causes fear and trembling in all of us. The very idea that God would ask such a thing makes us wonder about God’s nature and here is where Kierkegaard begins his thesis that this story also serves as an archetypal example of faith itself in uncompromising terms. He poses two questions—what is the nature of faith and if Abraham actions were ethical and if those actions are ethically defensible.

To Kierkegaard, the world is divided into the finite vs. the infinite or, equivalently, the temporal vs. the after-life/spiritual. Within this framework, he says that faith can only be applied to the outcomes of the finite vs. the infinite. Abraham could have faith that God would grant him a son, and that his son would be the ancestor of a great nation, but it would not be faith to believe (say) that he would meet that son in heaven. If one reflects upon this for even an instant, one will immediately recognize this definition of faith is very narrow Christian theology sees heaven, the afterlife and resurrection as outside of this definition of faith.

Faith cannot be achieved or attained through the intellect. If faith is part of what we take to mean intellect then there is no acceptance of infinite resignation. Kierkegaard admires those who do indeed have faith and I doubt that, at the time, there existed a man as faithful as Abraham. The concept of faith that we see in Kierkegaard is that it rises over the temporal and does not deal with one is to come spiritually. Infinite resignation has to occur before there is faith. This is to say that one who has not considered impossibility has no faith or his faith is misguided. If indeed faith can be gained, it must be also mean that other things must change.

 

“I’M A STRIPPER”— Three Male Strippers, Three Major Cities

im a stripper

I’m a Stripper”

Three Male Strippers, Three Major Cities

Amos Lassen

Exposing the lives of three male strippers in three of the sexiest cities in North America is what this documentary does. In Niagara Falls, our stripper makes his living by taking off his clothes; in Montreal our young Asian stripper rebels against his family’s conservative values and in Las Vegas the story repeats itself. “I’m a Stripper” takes a good in depth look at stripping and asks the questions that many of us have including why anyone would take their clothes off in a semi-public place— is it the money? The adoration? The sexual high? The feeling of power? How does one become a stripper and why? “What do their families and friends think? Do they take their work home with them? How much do they make? Is it competitive on the floor trying to get private dances? What is life like away from the club? How do they size up a client? Do they take their work home with them? How much do they make? Is it competitive on the floor trying to get private dances? What is life like away from the club? How do they size up a client? How do our straight boys feel about dancing for dudes? And the gay boys dancing for ladies? What gives them wood? What makes it limp”?

In the film, personal lives are exposed and we get a lot to think about. Charlie David narrates and we get opinions from both strippers and experts as we try to understand how society has become more tolerant and accepting of the male nude body on display. For so long, stripping has been a women’s profession and feminists have taken it to task by saying it exploits women. Does that exploitation now include men as well?

The three men features here are, of course, very good looking and each has a beautiful body but does this put pressure on the rest of us to try to look like them? These questions will be discussed and considered here and this is an eye-opening film.

 

 

 

“An Ordinary Boy” by Brian Centrone— Fitting In

an ordinary boy

Centrone, Brian. “An Ordinary Boy”, Seventh Window Publications , 2013.

Fitting In

Amos Lassen

Tom Grove seems to have it all—money, good looks, etc but he feels that he does not fit in anywhere. He was raised the son of rich parents, his grandparents are famous and he can have whatever he wants. Yet what he really wants seems to elude him. His father has certain expectations, his mother makes demands and his older brother seems to have nothing nice to say to him. All Tom wants is to be one of the guys, “an ordinary boy” who is well liked.

Tom felt that going to college and getting away from home would give him the chance to come out and he would some really nice college guys but his roommate is straight (and a jock), the gay student organization has attracted those who seem not to fit anywhere and dating means having sex. So much for his independence and he discovers that the life he thought would be so glamorous. I love this quote by the author,life is less like an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog and more like the everyday low prices of Wal-Mart”. He soon learns that being independent includes some heartache, several bad experiences and a lot of broken hearts. “The path to true love never does run smooth”.

For many, Tom’s life would be a dream but for Tom it is a nightmare. I love the way Brian Centrone created Tom—most of us can find a little of ourselves in him. Tom realizes the he does not know what the word “love” means and no matter how hard he tries, he understands it less.

I always thought that the college years provide the best times and Tom also felt that way until he actually found himself in the middle of them and nothing seems to have changed. But I am not going to tell you any more about the plot because I do not want to spoil an excellent read. What I will say is (and we all know this) that the road of live has some very large boulders and we have to learn to either push them out of the way or walk around them.

 

“Trilogy: A Collection” by Prudence MacGregor— Three Paranormal Stories

trilogy

MacGregor, Prudence. “Trilogy: A Collection”, Outskirts Press, 2013.

Three Paranormal Stories

Amos Lassen

Trilogy” consists of three stories with paranormal themes. In each tale, the main character lives in an ordinary world yet deals with extraordinary circumstances.

Parallelograms” is about Justine, a young woman who has her own share of troubles and then discovers that she has a double. She soon faces consequences she had not planned for which are terrifying and she loses control of her world.

Random” is about Ulyssa who finds the idea of releasing a balloon with a note to be intriguing. Of course, she wants to know where it lands and what seems to be such a simple and innocent activity turns quite dark and she finds that the world she thought she knew is in conflict with the world she is in.

Up There” is about Gregory, a simple office worker who finds the airplanes that he sees in the skies to be fascinating. He meets Sherry, a motivational speaker who might be connected to those planes and he soon learns that the game he played of watching planes and guessing their destination has now forced him to look at himself and his world and decide what is real and what is not.

This is quite a short book and I think that this is the reason it is powerful. Words are not lost and the brevity of the stories causes them to hit that much harder.

 

 

 

“MAY I BE FRANK”— Transforming a Life

may i be frank

MAY I BE FRANK”

Transforming a Life

Amos Lassen

Frank Ferrante has been a NYC cab driver, a scrap metal hauler, a dishwasher, a census taker, a mail boy, a ditch digger, a bouncer, a drug pusher, a contractor, an actor, a radio announcer and a carpenter. He has also been an avid reader, a seeker of God, an alcoholic, a junkie, a speed freak, a vegan, a lover, a loser, a hater, a husband, a father, a grad student, a good guy and a bad guy and a social activist. He has been overweight a well and here is his story of how he moves from obesity to an inspirational guru in just 42 days. He had three young coaches to help him lose weight and get past his issues.

After contracting hepatitis C, Frank walks into Café Gratitude where the staff takes him under their wing. Cary Mosier, Ryland Engelhart and Conor Gaffney put him on the path to enlightenment. The three coached him and Frank began a journey that was to change his life forever—physically, emotionally and spiritually. The first thing that Frank had to do was to deal with the issues that were responsible for driving him to the bad habits that he developed—his divorce, problems with his siblings and the lack of a relationship with his daughter. As he went through his transformation, he lost 110 pounds.

There are other people like Frank around with no idea of where to go to turn their lives around so the film becomes a manual for them. Café Gratitude is a vegan restaurant that prides itself on helping others and gives the world what the owners call “Sacred Commerce”.

It is heartwarming to see the love and care they provide to people who are down and out. With Frank, drugs and drinks had taken their toll and even now when he is clean and sober, he still needs help. He was guided through a program of healthy vegan meals, exercise, affirmations, checkups and different therapies for his body. Frank promised to keep a log of his journey so that he could always look back and remember how bad it had once been. He was taught to repeat the following mantra: “I, Frank, do love me. I am a perfect human being, radiant beauty and divine energy. I am Divine. I now hold in my mind this new image of myself as a thriving, flourishing, gloriously beautiful human being.” Even after several unsuccessful attempts to get straight, Frank realized that he had hurt many people. We watch him at sessions, during his stumbles and his falls and as he loses weight and succeeds. It took him a while to realize that he had to love himself and when he learned that he was able to not only reunite with his daughter but to start taking graduate courses. We cannot help but love him and cheer him on. This is the perfect movie if you need inspiration or even if you just want to see a well-made documentary.

 

“DIEUX DU STADE (The Making Of Calendar 2013)”— It’s Gotten Old

diieux

Dieux Du Stade (The Making Of Calendar 2013)

It’s Gotten Old

Amos Lassen

It has been several years now since the first Dieux du Stade film of the making of the calendar and for the first few years it was kind of cute and fun. However this has changed and in the last three years it has become just boring. Sure the men are gorgeous and they have gorgeous bodies but so do many other men who are freer to show what they have than these rugby players. The faces may be different but the bodies are the same. This time the concept is really inane—a boat trip. Most of the shots feature several guys and there are few solo shots and there are no full frontal nude photographs. I remember when it was fun to look for them and every once in a while there was one or two or even three.

The men are dark and classical and the composition of the pictures is exceptional. Photographed by Francois Rousseau Galore has taken these princes of the sea and censored their private parts and taken away their individuality. If you like beautiful photography, you will like this but I believe you would like it more if it were more natural. Reviews like this have taken me off of the screener mailing list but I don’t mind—there is plenty of beautiful nude male photography out there.