Several of my favorite and most tattered books are cookbooks, and when I visit a foreign country, one of my first purchases is usually a volume of recipes, which (if the book is good) provides a sort of sensory shortcut into the heart of the place and people in question. Some travelers rely on maps to orient them, others on their Michelin or Lonely Planet guides, but I did not feel I'd truly arrived in Turkey, for example, until I'd read up on the subtle but oh-so-important distinctions between the sweets known as Vizier's Fingers, Beauty's Lips, and Lady's Navel.
After several millennia's worth of Orpheus-and-Eurydice stories, it stands to reason that Brazilian director Carlos Diegues's contemporary filmic retelling of the myth, called simply Orfeu, feels like a trip inside a formidable echo chamber.
The two main characters in South African playwright Athol Fugard's classic chamber drama Boesman & Lena are a poor mixed-race couple. Their shanty has been razed by the "whiteman's bulldozers," leaving them to wander the dismal mudflats near Port Elizabeth, and as the play opens Boesman picks a spot for the night by silently dumping all his worldly goods on the ground. "Here?" asks needy, haggard Lena, who seems unsure just how she has arrived at this place--both geographically and emotionally. Later she demands to know why they've made such an effort to reach this dreary spot. "Why did we walk so hard? In a hurry to get here? 'Here' ... What's here?"
The new movie by Joel and Ethan Coen, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a picaresque comic strip "based"--as the credits inform us with the filmmakers' trademark brand of knowing tongue-in-cheekiness--"upon The Odyssey by Homer." Set in the Deep South during the Depression, the movie does borrow certain figures from the ancient Greek epic (several sirens, the Cyclops, Penelope), but in relating the adventures of its trio of bumbling heroes, escaped convicts from a chain gang, the Coens also invoke other, less-than-classical sources, including The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonnie and Clyde, and, at times, Mad magazine.