Archive for Iceland

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 un.be.lie.va.ble 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).

a journal of the plague year [more deconfined reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2020 by xi'an

Took a copy of Room 10 by Åke Edwardson yet again on the book sharing shelves at Dauphine. And read it within a few days, with limited enthusiasm as the story proceeds quite sluggishly, every single clue is driven to its very end, e.g. detailing the examination of security recordings for pages!, the Swedish background is mostly missing, the personal stories of the policemen prove frankly boring, and the final explanations stand way beyond a mere suspension of belief. The book is back on the shelves.

Watched the beginning of the Salvation series and quickly gave up. Because I soon realised it had nothing to do with the Peter Hamilton’s trilogy. And because the story did not seem to get anywhere, despite the impending destruction of Earth by a massive asteroid, turning into an East versus West spy story. And because the scientific aspects and characters were plain ridiculous. And also because the secondary plot about whom should be saved in case of a destruction was quite distasteful in its primitive eugenism.

Read an Indriðason I had not yet read, Sons of dust [Synir duftsins], the first book he wrote, but ironically rather repetitive on the themes of missing fathers, child abuse, social consequences of the second World War allied occupation, found in the subsequent volumes. And a rather unconvincing plot, especially from a genetic engineering perspective. (The book is not currently available in English. I read it in French.)

Eventually came to watch There will be blood, the 2007 masterpiece by Paul Anderson, with Daniel Day-Lewis rendering so impressively the descent into madness of the oil tycoon and his thirst for absolute control, loosing his adopted son in the process. And unable to stop at exposing the duplicity of the preacher whom he fought the entire film. The ending is somewhat less impressive than the rest, maybe because all is finished, but it does not diminish the raw power of this tale. And the music track is perfect, with Brahms’ Violin Concerto as a leitmotiv. A journey into oily darkness…

ABC in Svalbard, April 12-13 2021

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2019 by xi'an

This post is a very preliminary announcement that Jukka Corander, Judith Rousseau and myself are planning an ABC in Svalbard workshop in 2021, on 12-13 April, following the “ABC in…” franchise that started in 2009 in Paris… It would be great to hear expressions of interest from potential participants towards scaling the booking accordingly. (While this is a sequel to the highly productive ABCruise of two years ago, between Helsinki and Stockholm, the meeting will take place in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, and participants will have to fly there from either Oslo or Tromsø, Norway, As boat cruises from Iceland or Greenland start later in the year. Note also that in mid-April, being 80⁰ North, Svalbard enjoys more than 18 hours of sunlight and that the average temperature last April was -3.9⁰C with a high of 4⁰C.) The scientific committee should be constituted very soon, but we already welcome proposals for sessions (and sponsoring, quite obviously!).

a political ad?!

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2018 by xi'an