Archive for Iceland

Mission implausible

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2021 by xi'an

I watched two movies with the same starting point, namely an old man being forced to take care of an unknown girl, despite his lack of fatherhood experience and no initial inclination to do so, while later defying odds and surviving together… One is News of the World (absurdly translated as The Mission in French, hence my poor pun) with Tom Hanks and (fabulous!) Helena Zengel, the other is Midnight Sky, with the improved French title of Midnight in the Universe, with George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall. The first one is a (modern) Western, set in Texas right after the Civil War and sometimes presented as a modern (and over-washed) version of Ford’s The Searchers, while the second one is an ecological science-fiction film, set in 2049, as the Earth is collapsing under an unspecified but all encompassing disaster. The first is passable if implausible, the second one is a disaster at all levels.

In News of the World Tom Hanks is again doing his Jimmy Stewart impersonation, always doing the “right” thing even when this is rather implausible. The fact that no-one seems to care that a stranger goes away with a young girl may be plausible in the late 1800’s Texas, although I am surprised none of the very few women in the story, one of them the girl’s own aunt, does even object. On the other hand, the motive for the compulsory gun duel sounds very weak if darker than the rest of the story (and is there any chance a shotgun cartridge filled by coins (of the right diameter!) can fly true to its target?!) The choice of depicting Kiowa Indians as silent spectres walking away may be artistically motivated but it does not carry much weight, just like Hank in the movie is not making much progress in denunciation of slavery and genocide, besides keeping his own decency.

In Midnight Sky, George Clooney is a grumpy old scientist stuck in a Far North observatory, in terminal phase of a blood disease and who is gradually revealed as having always failed on the personal relation side. [Anyone wondering at the scientific pertinence of the presence of a most traditional observatory [incl. manual orienteering] at this latitude? Although I found that Canada has recently set an observatory on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.] As Earth is collapsing under deadly radiation, Clooney finds himself alone until he discovers a little girl conveniently left behind during the evacuation of the station. As a space ship is returning to Earth, unaware of the disaster, the pair sets on an impossible mission to reach a better communication station. first on a snowmobile, then on foot!, with no goggles and a woolen hat in a snow storm!, just to make sure we can recognise Clooney!, while the disaster that see the pair stranded with only their clothes on a frozen tundra makes no sense. For instance, falling into Arctic water has a very low survival probability, esp. for a a sick and old man. And the part taking place on the very-low-tech space ship is light-years away from anything remotely realistic. Ending up (spoiler!) with the ship turning back to this habitable moon of Jupiter as if this would make any difference… Have a safe trip!

a journal of the plague year [grey & dry ‘nuary reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2021 by xi'an

Read a Danish novel Ø by Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen, directly translated as island in other languages (incl. French), which was a b’day gift from my wife, a book about the longing of uprooted Faroeses for their island,  rather than about the mathematical meaning of the empty set!, and the connection between a young third generation young woman and her grand-mother’s story. Very well written, with a side entry on Faroese recent history, incl. the British occupation during WWII, just before they invaded Iceland. (And feeding my hopes to visit the Faroe in a near and brighter future!)

Cooked more (Flemmish) red and (curried) white cabbage. Moved to baking spelt bread with spelt yeast as it takes less than ten minutes of actual work!  Attempted an Ethiopian meal with key wat (beef) stew,  a vegetable version, and injera (pancakes) when I realised the teff cereal could be replaced with buckwheat, a basic staple in Breton households! But the injera tasted and looked more like a galette, so this was not the real thing… Nonetheless a nice family meal.Watched the second instalment of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared, which is the straight continuation of the former if not as funny. (And not directly linked to the books.)

Read Time of Contempt, second volume in the Witcher’s novels. Not particularly impressive, with a lot of infodump chitchat, an almost absent Yennefer, a (thankfully short-lived) threat of the return of the magicians’ boarding school!, a gratuitous (?) visit by the Wild Hunt myth, some Star War inspired monster, an incomprehensible and highly predictable coup on the magicians’ council, and a teenage gang (in a Mark Lawrence rewriting Lord of the Flies spirit!), an inexplicable collapse of the balance of powers between the kingdoms. And I found the rendering of the rape scene at the end of the book most disturbing…

can you spare a dime? [or rather 113,900?]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2020 by xi'an

Just read the announcement in Nature of 24 November that

Publisher Springer Nature has announced how scientists can make their papers in its most selective titles free to read as soon as they are published.

which is presented as a great advance to make scientific papers available for all to read. The catch is that there is no free lunch, obviously, as the author(s) have to pay Springer a 1,514,324.68 krónur charge for immediate open access! The Nature article does mention the issue obviously, as this is such a huge amount of money that it makes publishing under such conditions inaccessible for all academics but those with sufficient funding grants. It also mentions an alternate scheme contemplated by some Nature outlets to introduce “a non-refundable fee of €2,190 to cover an editorial assessment and the peer-review process.” None of the fee going to reviewers, apparently. This “evolution” (?!) is driven by the EU Plan S for making scientific publications available to all, but it even more crucially calls for a radical reassessment of publishing policies for research that is publicly funded and publicly reviewed, then paid again by publicly funded libraries and institutions. Even more radical than India’s push for `One nation, one subscription’.

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!

a journal of the plague year [long weekend reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2020 by xi'an

Read Thinblade, ordered by mistake as I confused the author David Wells for another more famous one! An absolute disaster, from the poor quality of the printed-on-order self-published amazon-made copy to the abyssal style of the author (or of his dog). The story has no depth and no originality [a teenager discovers he must save the World against an evil entity released from captivity and gathers a team of followers], the characters are uni-dimensional, either unbelievably good or complete evil and a colour comes with them to tell the hero which is which. The style (or lack thereof!) is massively indigest, with numerous repetitions about the feelings and questionings of the central characters, plus an hilarious focus on food, all menus being included in the text!, same endless drones about the incredible beauty of the visited castles a few days of ride from the hero’s farm. The plot is, again, laughably simplistic, making the Shannara books I read a few months ago sounding like an elaborate literary construct, and completely predictable. I cannot imagine myself or anyone else’s dog reading further books in the series

Watched The Old Guard after an exhausting day, including a (physical) trip to a dreaded DIY store!, after reading a somewhat lukewarm review in The New Yorker… I found out later that the film is based on a comics series with the same title. And it shows from the lack of real plot (need to get quickly to Afghanistan? just drop out from a freight train in the middle of Sudan…) to the predictability of the story (set-up heroes fight bad guys and at the end, guess what, …), to the massive amount of stale gun fights with the addition of archaic weapons (to make sure everyone understands the old guard is really old!). The funniest part is actually taking place in Goussainville, France, in the ghost section of this town located on the path of De Gaulle airport planes (and thus evacuated, but not demolished), and in its Roman church (listed, hence intact!). The lack of moral imperative or of higher being driving such immortal killers, who mostly seem tired of said immortality, and the absence of connection with the locals (as e.g. in the scenes taking place in Morocco) do not make this B movie any better. (And the French character definitely has an English accent!)

Had a chance lunch in a Michelin recommended restaurant, on the road to Chenonceau and a family vacation, as we were looking for an open restaurant. The haddock appetizer was fantastic (and enough!), while the trout was not so great, presumably frozen, even though the vegetables were original (incl. chayotte) and yummy.

Read Konungsbók (The King’s Book) by Arnaldur Indriðason, found on my mother’s bookshelves, which is a stand-alone book more of the “involuntary spy” type found in Eric Ambler‘s stories than the usual social theme detective story favoured by Indriðason. While the two involuntary spies in the story are indeed two archeolinguists blundering their way through implausible situations, against hidding Nazis and East German police, as Ambler’s The Dark Frontier, the appeal of the book is in the quest for the ultimate Icelandic saga that would close the nation’s history, The King’s Book, towards recovering other foundational and historical documents hoarded by Denmark. At some point, Halldór Guðjónsson Laxness gets the Nobel Prize in Literature, which first stuns the characters into stupefied pride and second helps them into making another unlikely escape. What I enjoyed in the novel is the feeling of ultimate importance attached to the sagas and their role in cementing Iceland as a genuine nation (again connecting with Laxness, whose books described the social desagregation produced by the American occupation).