Archive for Editions Guérin

a journal of the plague and pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2022 by xi'an

Hard to concentrate on anything while a European capital is besieged and shelled by Russia… The second horseman of the apocalypse (representing War) has joined the first one (called Pestilence).

Read the hiking story, L’île-montagne, written by Gilles Modica on his n-th traverse of Corsica, from South to North, of the mythical GR20 hiking trail. A gift from Florence at my p-th birthday party, after she spotted my blog entry on my few hours on that trail… While the author does not appear there as a particularly sympathique personnage, with a common form of mountaineering elitism, the call of the mountains and the intrinsic and wild beauty of the trail is undeniable. Renewing my desire to hike more of it. And the story is full of fascinating historical tidbits. As with so many mountain books, it reads better with a detailed map at one’s side, unless one is already familiar with every rock and every cow on the GR20. (There is a map at the start, but partial maps on the margin would have been more helpful. Esp. for a top quality editor like Guérin.) I also went quickly through two volumes of Arnaldur Indriðason‘s Inspector Konrad new trilogy, The Darkness knows and The Girl by the Bridge, in their French translation. Ending up rather disappointed with a feeling of déjà vu. For the first one, the themes of Indriðason are there (impact of the second World War, poverty, domestic violence, childhood memories, icefields). With the added annoyance of seeing the same events reported twice within a few pages. For the second, it brought back the memory of walking in the downtown Reykjavik cemetery, a few years ago, in less dramatic circumstances, but otherwise, I found the scenario rather lazy and the resolution predictable. With an added touch of supernatural, which I do not appreciate at all outside fantasy books!

Watched All of Us Are Dead, a (of course!) Korean zombie series.  At first as a way to temporarily escape the anxiogenic influx of horrific news from Ukraine with a brainless diversion… Despite my general reluctance for zombie movies. And then for the powerful satire behind the story! The construction of the network of the few teenagers escaping their former colleagues indeed proves rather efficient, with the characters growing into several dimensions, if the scenario is overly stretched, and too prompt to sacrificing a member of the group when tension goes down. Incl. some most unexpectedly, scenario-wise… But it remains biting, humorous, moving at times, full of references to the Korean zombie culture (incl. many to Last train for Busan) and the shortcomings of a competitive and inegalitarian society…

journal of the [second] plague year [deconf’d]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2021 by xi'an

Read the third volume of Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, The Escapement. Which I found very slow-paced, with loads of mechanistic vocabulary I did not know, and it took me a while to read the book! Still, some sections are definitely worth reading, like the one on Necessary Evil, seen as the tolerance zone between exactitude and error, from and engineer viewpoint… And the final chapters are truly terrific, very dark and pessimistic, keeping me awake till the wee hours. Even though all pieces of the machinery fit too well in the end! But I also reflected on the ambivalent role of the very few women in this third novel, dooming the entire country while remaining stuck in the lover-wife-mother triangle, with no engineering or military role…

“He didn’t for one moment doubt the accuracy of the tables, but how on earth did the book’s author know these things? It could only be that, at some time in the past, so long ago that nobody remembered them any more, there had been sieges of great cities; so frequent and so commonplace that scholarly investigators had been able to collate the data-troop numbers, casualty figures-and work out these ratios, qualified by variables, verified by controls (…) to be inferred from the statistical analyses in a manual of best city-killing practice. Extraordinary thought (…) suppose the book was the only residue left by the death of thousands of cities, each one of them as huge and arrogant in its day as the Perpetual Republic—the Eternal City of this, the Everlasting Kingdom of that, squashed down by time and oblivion into a set of mathematical constants for predicting the deaths of men in battle.”

I also read La Saga des Écrins, by François Labande, in the iconic Guérin series, about the Écrins range in the French Alps, where we spent a fortnight last summer, a rather classical if enjoyable story of the climbers making firsts on the peaks of this “wild” area of the Alps. (As an aside, François Labande started Mountain Wilderness France, whose goal is to keep mountains as a place of wilderness and to clean them from artificial infrastructures.) The cover includes a very nice drawing of La Meige by Jean-Marc Rochette. I also read another delightful short story by P. Djèlí Clark, The Angel of Khan el Khalili. Obviously set in the same fantasy steampunk Cairo of the early 1900’s.

Still turning the crank of the new past machine, I made bigoli, the Venetian equivalent of soba noodles, with both an anchovies sauce and a clam sauce as well (if not from the Laguna!), a rhubarb clafoutis (not yet from our garden), Lebanese humus (without the skin!). Noticed a sharp rise in the price of BrewDog beers, thanks to the new taxes courtesy of Brexit! But still ordered a box of their Nanny State for the summer…

Watched the movie Jo-Phil: The Dawning Rage (!), which makes a great job of setting characters and installing a seedy atmosphere of violence and corruption but completely fails at delivering a convincing story, still gripping enough to watch till the end. And binge-watched a Korean TV series called Signal related to the stunning Memories of Murder (and a collection of real crimes in South Korea from the 1980’s to the last decade). While far from perfect, with a tendency to repeat some scenes twice, the usual theatrics of such series, and the paradoxes of temporal travel (!), the show is nonetheless one of the best Korean dramas I watched… Had  a quick look at the very Netflixy Shadow and Bones. To discover that the trilogy was merged with Six of Crows. Which is strange as the time lines completely differ. But logical if considering that Six of Crows is better written and paced than the earlier trilogy, albeit not outstanding. This is a 12⁺ YA read after all..!


a journal of the plague year [October reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2020 by xi'an

Read two more “little red” books from Éditions Guérin/Paulsen, the fantastic Chamonix editor, namely, Lénine à Chamonix by François Garde, a former Secretary-General of the Government of New-Caledonia, and Les Hallucinés (Un voyage dans les délires d’altitude), by Thomas Venin. The first book is a collection of short stories related to mountains, ranging from the realistic to the fantastic, and from good to terrible. I think in particular of the 1447 mètres story that involves a Holtanna like big wall in Iceland [good start then!], possibly the Latrabjarg cliff—although it stands at 1447 feet, not meters!, and the absurd impact of prime numbers on the failure of the climbing team. Lénine à Chamonix muses on the supposed day Vladimir Illitch “Lenin” Ulyanov spent in Chamonix in 1903, almost losing his life but adopting his alias there [which clashes with its 1902 first occurrence in publications!]. The second book is about high altitude hallucinations as told by survivors from the “death zone”. Induced by hypoxia, they lead hymalayists to see imaginary things or persons, sometimes to act against their own interest and often to die as a result. The stories are about those who survived and told about their visions. They reminded me of Abele Blanc telling us of facing the simultaneous hallucinations of two (!) partners during an attempt at Annapurna and managing to bring down one of the climbers, with the other managing on its own after a minor fall resetting his brain to the real world. Touching the limits of human abilities and the mysterious working of the brain…

Cooked several dishes suggested by the New York Times (!), including a spinach risotto [good], orecchiette with fennel and sausages [great], and malai broccoli [not so great], as well as by the Guardian’s Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, like a yummy spinash-potatoe pie. As Fall is seeping in, went back to old classics like red cabbage Flemish style. And butternut soups, starting with our own. And a pumpkin biryani!

Read Peter Hamilton’s Salvation, with a certain reluctance to proceed as I found the stories within mostly disconnected and of limited interest. (This came obviously as a disappointment, having enjoyed a lot Great North Road.) Unlikely I read the following volumes in the series. On the side, I heard that fantasy writer Terry Goodkind died on Sept. 17. He had written “The Sword of Truth” series, of which I read the first three volumes. (Out of 21 total!!!) While there were some qualities in the story, the setting was quite naïve (in the usual trope of an evil powerful character that need be fought at all costs) and the books carry a strong component of political conservatism as well as extensive sections of sadistic scenes

Watched Tim Burton’s 2012 Dark Shadows (terrible!) and a Taiwanese 2018 dark comedy entitled Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的) which I found rather interesting and quite original, despite the overdone antics of the mother. I even tried Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd for a few minutes, being completely unaware this was a musical!

Байкало-Амурская магистраль/БАМ

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2018 by xi'an

While in Chamonix last month I dropped by the Guérin editions bookstore, always full of tantalising books on climbing and mountaineering, travelling and travellers. I managed to escape with only two small books, one on a young climber stuck for 100 hours at the top of Aiguilles Vertes [not far from my last ice-climb!] and the other one a railway trip along the Baïkal-Amour Mainline (BAM), which goes from the Baïkal Lake to Sovietskaïa Gavan, north of the Trans-Siberian line. The book is not the ultimate travel book as most of the pages are about historical features surrounding this line, first and foremost the constant reminder that Gulag prisoners were relentlessly exploited to build this line, which follows a macabre route along Siberian camps. The trip finishes not at the end of the BAM line or in Vladivostok, but on Sakhaline Island, which was a penitential colony from the mid-1800’s, as covered by Anton Tchekov in a statistical study and a short story, The Murder… (Comments about characters crossed throughout the trip are rarely to the benefit of these characters.) While I do not make this travel book or the places it crosses sound particularly exciting, it still carries with it the inducing whiff of faraway places, which makes me wish I could see Lake Baïkal or Vladivostok one day in the future, if not travel the entire line. And it also brought back memories of Corto Maltese in Siberia, which remains one of my favourites…

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