Archive for Journal of the Plague Year

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2023 by xi'an

Read my very first Annie Ernaux piece and it was in English, in The New Yorker! A very short piece on a short visit to her mother. Beautifully written, carrying the bittersweet feeling of the impossibility to reconnect with earlier times and earlier impressions. I was much less impressed, however, by her Nobel discourse and the use of Rimbaud’s race (and Galton’s and Fisher’s…) in such a different context. A constant projection/fixation on her background and class inequalities, supplemented by an ethic of ressentiment, does not sound enticing, the more because auto-fiction has never appealed to me. (Sharing similar social and geographic [Rouen!] backgrounds sounds precisely as the wrong reason to contemplate reading her books.)

Cooked weekly butternut soups, red cabbage stews and squid woks as these are the seasonal best offers at the local market, along with plentiful Norman scallops, not yet impacted by inflation. Also restarted making buckwheat bread, with the side advantages of temporarily heating home (and a pretense to add the rice pudding dish in the oven!).

Watched Trolls, Wednesday (only on Wednesdays), and Decision to Leave. Apart from the Norge exposure, the first is terrible, esp. when compared with the earlier 2010 tongue-in-cheek Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren).Wednesday is a television series that centres on Wednesday Addams, the dead-pan daughter in the Addams family. I found the series hilarious, even though intended for YA audiences. The quality of the episodes varies, those from Tim Burton usually coming on top, but the main character (Wednesday, in case you are not paying attention!) is fantastic. (The fact that, Christina Ricci, the actor playing Wednesday in the 1991 movie is also involved in the series is a great wink to the earlier installments of this series.) And, final argument, a series where the heroin pogoes to a song by The Cramps cannot turn all bad! The Korean Decision to Leave (헤어질 결심) is a masterpiece (except for the ridiculous climbing scenes!) in deception and ambiguity (with a very thin connection to Hitchcock’s Vertigo). Far from his backup role in the stunning Memories of Murder, Park Hae-il is fabulous as a policeman torn between his duty and an inexplicable attraction for the main suspect, brilliantly played by  Tang Wei, who manages the ambiguous character till the very end.

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2022 by xi'an

Read two successive books about seeking lost sisters, The Last House on Needless Street and Second Sister, after finishing the third book in a row involving a dead god, aptly named Three parts dead. This third one was rather enjoyable, thanks to the world construction, except for a blah ending. The first one, by Catriona Ward, is perplexing, complex and frankly a bit stretched in its gradual exposition of a multiple personality (disorder) patient. The “horror” side never really set for me, which is fine as it never does. Furthermore, this is the very first book I ever read where I saw a few words (correctly) written in Breton, as well as a thread with the Breton myth of ar Ankou, the local Death personification. Kudos for that! The second one, a physical book that I picked rather instinctively / hurriedly in a Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia is a thriller set in Hong Kong. Despite a bit too much of infodump on internet (in)security and hacking, and some caricaturesque sides, incl. the final coup de théâtre!, I enjoyed it as a page-turner. (But I now wonder if I am not getting prejudiced against Kindle books..!) Except for the anti-protest paragraph. Also read a nice BD, Les Animaux Dénaturés, borrowed from Andrew, which is an adaptation the 1952 book by Vercors, that I saw eons ago as a theatre play. The interrogation on what constitutes humanity (vs. simianity) is the driving force of the story, but it is somewhat marred by the killing of a newborn child that seems to negate the whole fight of the main characters.

Thanks to a short (train) visit to Coventry, I stayed overnight in the center of the city and enjoyed a fabulous dinner with friends at Jinseon Korean BBQ Restaurant, recently reviewed by Jay Rayner in The Guardian. Marinated thin slices of beef, pork, and lamb almost immediately cooked on the white hot (ring) coals, along rice and plenty of kimchi and hot sauce. And a sip of soju. Not an everyday fare, for sure, but quite delightful (and even more as my single true meal over two days!)

Watched a fraction of Swedish Black Crab, with Naomi Rapace playing the central character, but despite potential connections with the current survival war of Ukraine against the Russian terror, I quickly lost interest in the very shallow plot and in the accumulation of unrealistic scenes and heavily programmed eliminations of the characters (sorry for the spoiler!). For one thing, expert skaters skating 100km should not take days to cover the distance. For another, a military commando operating in the far North should wear appropriate clothes, not a sweater and a loose scarf!  Luckily enough, I have had no screen nearby [me] to distract me on my round trip flight to NYC from reviewing Biometrika submissions. (The flight back to Paris amazingly took less than 6 hours, thanks to extremely strong tail winds.)

a journal of the [downplayed] plague and [endless] pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2022 by xi'an

Read another novel by Fred Vargas, the early This Night’s Foul Work which carries the usual Vargas’ themes more focussed on the psychology of the characters than on the police work, with no pretense at realism (from police work, to ignored regulations and procedures, to superhuman abilities of the improbable villein), and a rather simplistic (and surprising for a CNRS researcher) vision of regional idiosyncrasies. Again. (Maybe I am being thin-skinned because Normans are the targets this time.) Adamsberg, the main detective gets positively (or rather negatively) sleazy when spying on a romantic rival.

Read [in planes] The Traitor God sounded like an interesting plot when I picked it: a rogue mage, having left its order and city ten years ago, and coming to the rescue of old friends in trouble. However, the blob-like evil behind said trouble got particularly grotesque and absurd, till a ridiculous finale that was only the premise to a second volume. While sounding similar in concept, Paladin’s Grace proved much more enjoyable [in the same planes], if pure mindcandy (and hence hardly at level with a Hugo or Nebula Award). More a form of fantasy sleuthing than anything of a cosmologic scale (and no explanation as to why the god died), with a perfume-maker as the scientific police equivalent!  (But this is definitely not Süskind’s Parfum.) A bit heavy-handed on the romance part, though, with endless internal debates of both central characters. And also read The Maleficent Sevens, whose most redeeming quality is its title, as otherwise, I found little to enjoy there: the characters are not compelling, even in their maleficiency (facade grim only if this qualifies as grimdark fantasy), their motivation for (re)banding together is unconvincing, the magical abilities and actions hold no coherence, usual plot u-turns aplenty (like walking dead, krakens, subterranean demons), the naval battle is beyond stretching belief, contrary to the other (anti)heroes, the orcs are discriminated against in being the only ones to miss salvation in the final chapter, the dialogues are far from witty (far far away from Terry Pratchett if this qualifies as comic fantasy).

In contrast with my earlier light encounter with COVID, I attended a COVID funeral in Normandy a few weeks ago, which, besides the deep sadness of seeing a relative depart, made me question the general laisser-faire attitude about COVID, despite the dozens of thousands of daily cases (in France) and more than an hundred death. With hardly anyone wearing a mask in public transportation for instance. (In a cruel if not unexpected irony, some people attending the funeral later tested positive.)

Watched Hokusai in the plane to Santiago, and back, which I found a little bit stiff in its historical reconstruction and somewhat missing in getting the uniqueness and genius of Hkusai’s paintings. But interestingly bringing to light that paintings and sketches became somehow prohibited unless restricted to actors and courtesans, after the demise of the Tokugawa shogunate, during the Meiji Restoration. And un-enthusiastically completed the House of the Dragon, still lacking in scope. And in dragons.

a journal of the [experienced] plague and pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2022 by xi'an

Read The Cybernetic Tea Shop, by Meredith Katz, which is a short and rather clever (if YA) novel about the hazy boundary between humans and humanoids. Plus involving tea addicts! (Which is presumably why Amazon suggested it to me following my reading A Psalm for the Wide Built). And further read over a few sleepless nights the terrible Isandor series starting with City of Strife, by Claudie Arseneault, which had an interesting built of characters and fantasy universe, only to collapse into the usual cracks of super-evil villeins, a massive imbalance of power and a focus on the mundane (like foods and romantic attractions) when their society is under attack. The writing style is also heavily handed, to the point that I found myself skipping more and more paragraphs as the story unfolded. And will definitely not consider the incoming volume.

Went smoothly through my first (?) COVID positivity, which only caused a mild fever over one single day, amidst common cold symptom. Luckily did not pass it to anyone in my immediate vicinity, and resumed running if not swimming almost immediately (if not hard enough to train for the Argentan 1/2 marathon!). But sadly missed the 800th anniversary conference in Padova, as I was still testing positive the day before. I may have gotten infected in Britain or Belgium, despite my constant use of a mask (except in restaurants!).

Watched three more episodes of House of the Dragon, with great characters but a definitive lack of scope (when compared with Game of Thrones). The story remains at a highly local level of power fights and bickering, with existential threats inexistent. Still relatively enjoyable.

a journal of the [downgraded] plague and [mostly] pestilence year [from Belgium, w/o fries]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2022 by xi'an

While away for more than a week in Brussels, Belgium (for reasons I cannot reveal at this point!), I had various culinary experience ranging from terrible (in a ghastly Turkish pizza stand) to fabulous (at Ethiopian Toukoul), with a scandalously bland lamb vindaloo in the middle…

And found an historical (!) public swimming pool near my airbnb, namely the Bains de Saint-Josse, that dates from the 1930’s, with original changing cubicles where one can leave one’s clothes, great opening hours, reasonable water temperature, few swimmers, and cheap access. (The only negative point is the shallow end of the pool that makes turning awkward.) Which was fantastic as running options in the vicinity were limited and all involved 100% street trails.

Read Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovski, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie, and the first two volumes of The Scholomance by Naomi Novick. The Scholomance has a rather difficult start with a complex setting only described by an insider (although an outlier in the school pecking order), hence less inclined to details. Then the central character gets more attaching and then a bit too popular. The series is (again) rather too YA-ish for my taste, with the now common pattern of a coming of age in a wizard boarding school, just without any adult in control, which makes it a most bizarre school. However, I am rather shocked by how of little consequence deaths of students are, incl. for the central character. Sharp Ends is rather aptly named since this a collection of short stories, it is inevitably mixed in quality. The setting is the usual (and by now solidly established) First Law World, involving some of the most famous Abercrombie characters like Glotka and Logen Ninefingers. Some I felt like having already read in other books, like the final story, some were too light for grimdark, and some were going nowhere. But when looking at the original cover,  I seem to remember buying it at a farmers’ market in Northern California! And Elder Race is a short novel on a theme inspired from the early Ursula Le Guin novels, namely the impact of an “advanced” civilization on a less “developed” former colony. Where an anthropologist (an homage to Le Guin?) gets progressively involved in the plight of a population he cannot any longer treat in a clinical and remote way. The core crisis initiating this epiphany is however rather poorly constructed, as the “plague” impacting the colony merges too many tropes of the genre, while clashing with the overal rationalism of the novel. In addition, the depiction of the depression symptoms of the anthropologist is overdone.

Watched three episodes of House of the Dragon, none of RIngs of Power (so far). Lacking somewhat in scale (except those on the dragon), but with a brilliant actress playing Rhaenyra Targaryen in these episodes.

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