Archive for Journal of the Plague Year

a journal of the plague year² [or the unbearable lightness of staying]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2021 by xi'an

Read Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular, a collection of short stories, some already published in The New Yorker, and quite diverse. Even with those I did not like much, I appreciated the enormous skill in making an uninteresting event or line of thought into something worth reading, while still keeping the thing utterly mundane. A super version of i-novel as well as a pastiche. Short stories like With the Beatles or Carnival are quite powerful. And The Stone Pillow even more. The cover of the book, with its  Shinagawa monkey reaching out for something adds to its appeal, even though the corresponding story did not really need the monkey [as a monkey].

Spent a whole Sunday morning preparing vegetables from the farmers’ market for the week, with mixed results as some turned sour before we could eat them! (No one got sick though!) And has a taste of our first strawberries [plentiful after a wet cool Spring], cherries [tasty, but which did not resist the onslaught of magpies, pigeons, and slaty-headed parakeets], rubharb, and potatoes [which grew on their own from discarded peel].

Watched Strangers, a 2017 Korean TV series. To quote the New York Times, “the murder mystery “Stranger” has less of the usual awkwardness and obviousness of many South Korean dramas as well as another big advantage: It stars the immensely likable Bae Doo-na as a fearless cop.” Indeed! Besides this central figure of Bae Doo-na, who also plays in Kingdom, the show is faster paced than others and steers away from both supernatural elements and romantic side-stories (if barely). The only annoying part is the constant upheaval of characters’ morals, who at one point or another are suspected of one crime or another. And the rushed final episode.

a journal of the plague year² [more of the same]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2021 by xi'an

Read V.E. Schwab’s The Near Witch, yet another instance of a YA novel not identified as such! Conditional on this category, I found it a rather good book in that the central character (as a female teenager fighting prejudices of her village) is well-made, with depth and (almost) enough imperfections to be credible. The universe where this happens is however restricted to a village isolated in a grassy plain where strangers are so rarely seen as to be immediately an object of suspicion. On the light side, but definitely superior to her Shades of Magic trilogy.

Made hot X buns, mostly successful except for the X that tasted exactly as the dried uncooked flour it was made of!!! And tagliatelle nere agli asparagi, at the very end of the [green] asparagus short season, with more bigoli as well. And sampled a few bentô boxes from [surviving] local restaurants. During a semi-vacation trip to the Brittany coast, cooked large local crabs bought from the local fishermen (back from blockading Jersey!] and fish from the same providers.

Watched some parts of Kingdom, yet another Korean TV series that mixes historical drama with… zombies. A lot of scenes can be [and were] speed-watched as the pace is deadly slow (if not from the zombie perspective!). The end is unexpected, making it almost worth the effort. And Erased, a Japanese TV series derived from a famous manga, which I found remarkable, mostly for the performances of the young actors, as the serial killer is rather easy to spot. And the end somewhat anticlimactic. Also started 47 Ronin, which I thought was related to the book I read two summers ago. But found it so ridiculous with its cheap fantasy, its obligatory Westerner saving the day, the gross misrepresentation of the original story, the many cultural counter-representations, the absurd love story, &tc., &tc., that I gave up. The antithesis of Mizoguchi’s 1941 version.



a journal of the plague year [are we there yet?!]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2021 by xi'an

Read the next volume of the Witcher series, Baptism of Fire, with even less enthusiasm than for the previous one, as the momentum of the series seems to have stalled… (Despite reading some highly positive reviews.) Some dialogues are funny enough, along with progressive views not particularly common in fantasy, like the support of reproductive rights, incl. abortion (and even less supported in the home country of the author, Andrzej Sapkowski!). But overall, not much happening and too much infodump!

Baked Ethiopian lentils & spinach mix, to get along with a slow cooking Ethiopian beef stew. And cooked more Venetian dishes. And had a great Korean streetfood dinner at (or from) MamiBaba by Quinsou, near Montparnasse, with pajeon (the cousin to okonomiyaki!) and kimchee. Accompanied by a first attempt at baking a chocolate pie.

Watched a few episodes of Alice in Borderland, vaguely suggested as hearsay by my daughter, but despite the fascinating scenes of an empty Tokyo, the plot is not particularly engaging, the tricks towards solving the game often lame, and the characters are not developed at all. Then watched Kurosawa’s Creepy, a gripping if not particularly realist psychological thriller that was premiered at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival. And reminded me of the much more disturbing Losey’s The Servant

Read two further volumes of John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick, in a random order, volumes that I found in and returned to the exchange section in front of our library as usual. And which I found almost as good as the first one, with its insistence on the humanity of each of the characters rather than indulging in manicheism. References to jazz pieces got a wee bit annoying by the third volume… And there is a maximal number of rye bread sandwiches with Polish pastrami I can swallow!

Watched also for the first time the fascinating The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会 which translates as A Rendez-Vous at a Station in the South), by Diao Yinan, a 2019 Cannes Festival selection, a psychological and violent noir film taking place in Wuhan among local gangs, when a gang boss kills by mistake a policeman after a very gory episode. The classical story line of the chase à la A bout de souffle is both tenuous and gripping, with an painful attention to colour and lightings, most scenes taking place at night with ghastly lights, with an intentional confusion between gangs of criminals and groups of cops, the final scene in full daylight making everything else sounding like a bad dream. The two main characters are striking, with an outlandish swan-like actress Gwei Lun-Mei. This also led me to watch the earlier Black Coal Thin Ice, which I also found impressive in terms of filming [that makes the cold and snow in this Northern city almost perceptible!] and definition of characters, once again involving Gwei Lun-Mei as the central, almost mute, and doomed, woman, but puzzling in terms of psychology and scenarios. (The shootout in the gallery is plain ridiculous imho.)

a journal of the plague year [soon to turn one…]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2021 by xi'an

Read in a few Sunday hours Living proof by John Harvey, a 1995 novel that I had found in the book exchange section of our library. A very easy read but rather enjoyable with several stories within stories and books within books. The resolution of the main murder mystery was disappointing but I enjoyed the inclusion of real artists like Ian Rankin and Mark Timlin. With a pastiche of P.D. James. And plenty of jazz references. Plus two characters meeting while studying at Warwick. And some shared glimpses of Nottingham like the statue of Robin Hood and the troglodyte Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. where I was once  invited for a pint… The story takes place during and around Nottingham’s Shots in the Dark festival. I hence grabbed another volume in the library in prevision of another lazy afternoon!

Baked rather decent chapattis for a take-home Bengali dinner but ruined the pan and started the fire alarm! Also tried to bake tortillas but mixed up the proportions of flour and water, ending up with a type of galette or injera instead (which worked as a container for the fajitas!).

Eventually watched the last two episodes of the Queen’s Gambit, but found them somewhat disappointing, between the main characters’ attitude that did not feel in tune with the 1960’s, the French femme fatale who cannot pronounce Jardins du Luxembourg, and the somewhat rosy tale of two orphans achieving financial freedom and professional success before their majority. Also watched the Korean Space Sweepers after an exhausting day, with a very shallow plot and a complete disregard for physics.

Read the duology of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, set in the same universe as the Grisha novels. Which I had read five years ago and somewhat forgotten than these novels were written as young adult books, with a resulting shallow plot, so full of sudden changes of fortune that any worry for the (caricaturesque) characters vanishes (till the one point when one should have) in a definitive suspension of suspense. (The Guardian reviewed Six of Crows in the Children’s book review section, which feels rather inappropriate given the degree of abuse the teens in the novels are submitted to, with two girls surviving sexual enslavement in the local brothels.) Just like the Grisha novels were set in a postcard version of Russia, these novels are taking place in a similarly thin (pannenkoek) version of Amsterdam (with waffles as the only culinary delicacy!). I do realise these series have a huge fan base, to the point of leading to an incoming Netflix series. But I found the more elaborate Ninth House much more enjoyable… (In tune with this series of reviews, the second book includes a plague episode with a modicum of realism, at least in its early stages.)

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…