Archive for Journal of the Plague Year

a journal of the plague year² [closing again]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2022 by xi'an

Had to cancel my third and final trip to Warwick this year as the Omicron scare had countries locking their borders (too late, most likely), meaning the UK was reinstating on entering travelers a self-seclusion period until the test results were known. Despite getting my third shot in time (with no side-effect whatsoever). And France retaliated in imposing PCR tests as well…

Read (over the Atlantic) an older novel of William Gibson, The Peripheral. Which is a rather standard cyberpunk Gibson with lots of (2021’s) brand names (at least at the beginning), a messy build-up of the (dual) universe, plenty of gadgets, a long-going form of fascination for super-lethal weapons and militarised survivalists, followed by a vague explanation of the temporal paradox of conversing with the future/past, and a rather lame closure with a shoot shoot bang bang resolution and some people getting absurdly rich… I am unsure I will get through the second novel, The Agency, which I bought at the same time, unless we manage to fly to French Guiana on Xmas day. Even though The Guardian is quite excited about it.

Watched Kan Eguchi’s The Fable after coming back from Mexico (not on the plane, when I slept most of the flight), which is cartoonesquely funny, except for lengthy fighting scenes. As it should, since directly inspired from a manga. While I missed the jokes about Osaka’s special dialect and food, it was absurdly funny! And fit for a particularly rainy weekend. The second installment, which I watched later, is darker and more disturbing…

a journal of the plague year² [not there yet]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to Warwick once more, with “traffic-as-usual” at Charles de Gaulle airport, including a single border officer for the entire terminal, a short-timed fright that I actually needed a PCR test on top of my vaccine certificate to embark, due to wrong signage, a one-hour delay at departure due to foggy conditions in B’ham, and another ½ hour delay at arrival due to a shortage of staff and hence no exit stairs available! And got a tense return to B’ham as the taxi line in Warwick had vanished!

Read the first novel of P. Djèlí-Clark A Master of Djinn after reading a series of short stories and novellas of his, taking place in the same fantastic Cairo of the early 1900’s. This was enjoyable, mostly, again thanks to well-constructed characters (apart from the arch-villain) and the appeal of the magical Cairo imagined by the author. I did not feel the appearances of Raymond Poincaré or von Birsmark were really needed, though. Also kindled A history of what comes next, by Sylvain Neuvel, which I got as a free (Tor) book. Which is an interesting take on the space race, with a pair of (super-)women behind the entire thing. And a lot of connections to the actual history. I somehow got tired in the middle, even though I finished the book during my commuting to and from Warwick.

Watched within a week My Name, a dark Korean TV drama,  as I found it very good and rather original (albeit with some similarities with the excellent Jeju-based Night in Paradise). The storyline is one of a young woman, Ji Woo, seeking revenge on her father’s killer, by joining the criminal gang her father was part of and infiltrating the police (not really  a spoiler!). At the beginning, this sounded like gang glorification, hence rather unappealing, but soon things proved to be quite different from how they appeared first. The scenario is of course most unrealistic, especially the (brutal and gory) fights where the heroine takes down endless rows of gang members and where the participants almost always recover from knife injuries that should have been fatal or at least permanently damaging. And the ineffectiveness of the police in stopping the drug dealers. However, when watched as a theatrical performance, the main characters in My Name, most especially Ji Woo, are well-constructed and ambiguous enough to make this descent into darkness worth watching. (Given the conclusion of the series, I cannot imagine a second season being made.) Also had a short go at Night Teeth, which proved a complete waste of time!

a journal of the plague year² [600+]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to Warwick for the first time in 600 days!, most pleasantly reconnecting with my colleagues there and realising some were almost as freshly back to the department as myself. But also noticed a strong difference with France in terms of wearing mask and practicing social distanciation among the students (at the University) and the general population (in the local Tesco or the train to the airport). Which may explain for the persistently high number of contaminations, when compared with neighbouring countries. Despite its high vaccination rate.

Read the second volume of Baru Cormorant, after enjoying so much the first instalment (under the Corsican relentless sun). However, it was such a disappointment, as it seemed written by a completely different author, including the style, with the story being more broken, more difficult to follow, and the characters becoming shallow and uninteresting. This is particularly true of Baru, who sent from a sharp focus on her goal in Traitor, to a purposeless floatsam in Monster. With a highly artificial rescue of her ethics in [warning, spoiler ahead!] killing her lover Tain Hu (and hundreds of others) in the first volume. I currently doubt I will buy the third one… A stormy night kept me awake and as a result help me finish the last hundred pages!

Watched Mute, dubbed a “Netflix disaster” in The Guardian! (and following the appalling Warcraft!). Which postulate of a mute character could have been rewarding, had not the characters be of cardboard consistency. And the plot so transparent most of the scenes had to be shot at night. And the cheap plagiarism of Blade Runner is simply ludicrous. I also watched Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, a satire about the meat industry producing hippo-like pigs that I found very heavy-handed, especially in its characters.Started cooking bread on a regular basis once again, as weather is turning colder and baking also warms up our drafty kitchen! Now turning to a heavier type of loaf, mixed wheat and rye, and reducing the amount of water to make it last longer. And also made a first attempt at Okonomyaki, this tortilla-like dish made of shredded cabbage and flour that I enjoyed very much in Osaka. The result was pleasant enough but very, very far from the original, maybe due to my using (soba) buckwheat rather than plain flour. Or using regular stock rather than daishi stock.

a journal of the plague year² [reopenings]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to some face-to-face teaching at Université Paris Dauphine for the new semester. With the students having to be frequently reminded of keeping face masks on (yes, the nose is part of the face and need be covered!). I do not understand why the COVID pass did not apply to universities as well. I also continued an on-line undergrad lecture in mathematical statistics, as I found that the amount of information provided to students this way was superior to black-board teaching. (I actually gave some of these lectures in a uni amphitheatre, to leave the students free to chose, but less than 20% showed up.)

Read the very last volume of the Witcher. With a sense of relief that it was over, even though the plot and the writing were altogether pleasant… And Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, with a permanent feeling of amazement at this novel been praised or awarded anything. Once more, I had missed that it was a YA [but not too young!] novel. Still, so many things go wrong, from the overly obtuse main character to the transparent plot, the highly questionable romantic affair between the 100⁺ year old wizard and the 17 year old teenager he more than less ravished from friends and family, to the poor construct of the magic system, and to the (spoiler alert!) rosy ending. As I read the book over two sleepless nights, not much time was lost. And it had some page-turning qualities. But I’d rather have slept better!

Watched Kate, thinking it was a Japanese film, but quickly found to my sorrow it was not. Not Japanese in the least, except for taking place in Tokyo and involving cartoonesque yakuza. To quote the NYT, “as cheap as a whiff of a green tea and musk cologne called Tokyo wafting over a department store counter”. Simply terrible, even lacking the pretense of story distanciation found in Kill Bill… And then came by chance on Time and Tide, a 2000 Hong Kong film, a much better distanced action picture, with enough ellipses and plenty second-degree dialogues, some mixing Cantonese and Portuguese, plus highly original central male and female characters. I am wondering if the same could be filmed today, given the chokehold of the PCC on the Hong Kongese society and the growing censorship of films there.

Had a great month with our garden tomatoes, as we ate most of them. With a dry spell that stopped the spread of mildew and the aggression of slugs. And had a steady flow of strawberries, a second harvest that is not yet over. And more recently (late) figs, although I bring most of them to the department. The fig harvest seems to be less plentiful than last year…  The last and final product of the garden will be a collection of huge butternuts that spontaneously grew out of last year seeds.

a journal of the plague year² [new semester looming]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2021 by xi'an

Returned from Corsica with two relaxed weeks where hardly anyone was anywhere in Paris, including the University. Which made plenty of room for preparing the incoming lectures of my undergraduate course (in Paris), cleaning our garden (and saving tons kilos of tomatoes from mildew into tomato sauce),

and cutting some of the fast-invading pumpkin vines,and finishing reviews of grants, papers and PhD theses.

Still some time for reading, including the very final volume of the Yalta Boulevard series, Victory Square, which sticks rather closely to the fall of the Ceausescu regime (a proximity acknowledged by the author), but also contains shocking (to me) revelations and some somewhat unrealistic foreign excursions. Nonetheless enjoyable enough to see the quintet as a formidable collection. Also read a short book on the non-elucidated murder of a Moroccan worker in Corsica, Les Invisibles, which I had bought while there. The style is a bit heavy and journalistic, and it certainly does not avoid clichés, but the report on the exploitation of North Africa seasonal workers by vegetable producers there is gripping (if reproducing identical patterns seen from Andalusia to Puglia…)

Watched two Kenshin movies [out of five] as well as some bits of the hilarious and rather silly very light Mystic Pop-up Bar series [with a lot of fast-forwards during my watch]. At the start, Kenshin is a prolific manga series set at the emergence of the Meiji era, series that ran from 1994 to  1999. And following a swordsman, Hitokiri Battōsai, who reminded me  (to some extent) of the 16th century samurai Miyamoto Musashi.

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