Archive for Journal of the Plague Year

a journal of the plague year [mo’vember reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2020 by xi'an

Read a short manifest [in French], Décarcérer [Uncarcerate] written by Sylvain Lhuissier about the uselessness of the carceral system and the potential alternatives. Much easier to read than Foucault’s Surveiller et Punir, obviously, but the author is also an actor in the construction of such alternatives in France. Most interestingly, he points out that the arrival of the COVID pandemic, with overpopulated prisons being obvious hotspots, led to an almost instantaneous reduction of the carceral population thus brought below its nominal capacity, without a ensuing explosion in criminal activities.

Made a few jars of green tomato marmalade, as there were a few left when I cleaned my vegetable patch. With little sugar and some peppers to stand between marmalade and chutney. And found a bakery cooking kouignou amman almost on my bike path, although the calories input they provide would require a much longer détour..! And also had a long discussion (at a safe distance) with a tea dealer, who made me taste a unique white Pu Ehr from Laos. She also had many tips on Kunming (even though it sounds less and less likely ISBA 2020 will take place there.)

Read a touching novel [in French] by Akira Mizubayashi, Âme brisée [Broken soul], a moving story around music, deracination, lutherie, childhood memories, travelling between France, Japan and China. (Judging from the summaries of his other books, the themes sound central to the author’s work.) 

Watched a few episodes of The Magicians (although Season 1 came out in… 2015!), although I had not much enjoyed the book (volume 1). And found them an improvement, considerably so, with most characters having enough of a depth and flaws aplenty to compensate for the still terrible plot with its Narnia-esque hidden universe. The central characters Quentin and Alice are pleasantly making themselves quite antipathetic. But the inherent dependence on the weak book plot, a growing boredom (and the terrifying perspective of an enormous number of episodes!) made me stop from pursuing the experiment!

a journal of the plague year [grey November reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2020 by xi'an

Read Evil for Evil, K.J. Parker’s second tome in the Engineer trilogy, published in 2009! Surprisingly, I remembered enough of the first volume for the story to make sense and I enjoyed it, for the same reason I liked Sixteen ways to defend &tc., namely for its attention to logistics and medieval industry taking over the muscle-display of standard equivalents, plus the self-demeaning attitude of most characters, again a welcome change from the standards! The pace of the story sometimes get bogged down, though.

Slowly cooked pulled pork with a hellish amount of red peppers, meaning I ended up eating most of it by myself over a few days. Tried cauliflower risotto, and liked it. Took my mom to a nice restaurant in Caen, À Contre Sens, after an oyster breakfast with her on the quays of a nearby Channel harbour, with a surprise lunch based on local (Norman) products. Finding hardly anyone in the restaurant due to COVID regulations made the experience even more enjoyable. And such a difference from the previous Michelin we sampled this summer!

Wasted hours watching the US presidential vote counting slowly unraveling, computing & recomputing from the remaining ballots the required percentage of Biden’s votes towards catching up, and refreshing my NYT & Fivethirtyeight webpages way too often. And remain fazed by an electoral system stuck in a past when less than 50,000 men elected George Washington.

Cleaned up our vegetable patch after collecting the last tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers. And made a few jars of green tomato jam, albeit not too sweet to be used as chutney!

Watched the TV series The Boys, after reading super-positive reviews in Le Monde and other journals. Which is a welcome satire on the endless sequence of super-heroes movies and series, by simply pushing on the truism that with super-powers does not come super-responsibility. Or even the merest hint of ethics. Plus some embarrassing closeness with the deeds and sayings of the real Agent Orange. Among the weaknesses, a definitive excess of blood and gore, ambiguous moral stands of the [far from] “good” guys who do not mind shooting sprees in the least, and some very slow episodes. Among the top items, the boat-meet-whale incident, “Frenchie” from Marseille almost managing a French accent when speaking some semblance of French, and Karl Urban’s maddening accent that’s a pleasure to listen even when I understand a sentence out of two, at best.


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 [latter August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2020 by xi'an

Read during the first week of our Alpine vacations a Japanese gore novel by Natsuo Kirino, Out, which I found in the book exchange zone at Dauphine earlier in July. The book is more impressive for a social criticism of the condition of working class women the Japanese society than for its psychological thriller nature, even though the later is well-enough conducted to induce a page-turning commitment… The four women at the centre of the story are drawn in fine and convincing details and the practical cynicism of most of them makes the novel avoid the easy and rosy idealisation of a crime sisterhood. The slow unraveling of the past of these women exhibits how they ended up in a food-packaging night-shift job by virtue (!) of a gender inequality inherent to the social structure. The book is not 100% perfect, especially in the final moments, even though the surprising readiness of Masako to turn herself (almost) into a victim is much more subtle than it sounds (spoiler!). Still a major novel, if one can manage to stand the gory details..!

Had another chance great meal in a Michelin-recommended restaurant in Briançon, Au Plaisir Ambré, with a surprising sea-food theme including Granville whelks tartare, lobster samosas and grayling en croûte (except the crust was not salt but brioche!), the later with the distinctive taste of river fish. The more pleasant as an earlier experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris was not so exciting, with a risotto smothered by Gruyère!, a culinary lèse-majesty! Also tasted wonderful tartes aux noix made by the housekeeper of one of our vacation rentals. Rich enough for a whole day of hiking.

Read the Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, of which I expected much and which I alas found quite poor (compared with the fabulous Ancillary series). Maybe because I found too many connections with the stunning Ka, which takes the raven’s perspective on human history. Maybe because the Raven is the bad guy/god in this story. Even taking the story as a theatre play (as it builds on Hamlet) did not really work for me. The few characters are not sufficiently deep, the interaction between gods and humans is rather simplistic (although the world-building shows promises) and the conclusion is botched in my opinion. The style is original and the book well-written, however. Plus the book is short and single-volumed! (But I do not get the rave reviews!)

a journal of the plague year [lazier August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2020 by xi'an

Read a wonderful collection of short stories set in the same universe and spirit as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke. With the same pleasure as I read the original novel, since the style is similarly subtle and refined, with a skilled work(wo)manship in relating the stories and a bittersweet pleasure in contemplating this alternative England where some magic lingered, although in a vanishing way. The first short story is incredibly powerful, especially for being a “first story” Susanna Clarke wrote for a writing course. To quote Neil Gaiman on his reception of the story, “It was terrifying from my point of view to read this first short story that had so much assurance. It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata.” Plus the book itself is beautifully made, from its old-fashioned binding to its pastiche of 19th century Romantic drawings. (I cannot make sense of the “Grace Adieu” village name, which would mean farewell to Grace or graceful farewell in French. Or yet thank Dog if misspelled as grâce à dieu…)

Followed a should-watch suggestion from a highly positive review on the New York Times and watched The Half of it, not to be confused with The Other Half which I did not watch… Nor the other The Other Half. The story is one of a love triangle (that the NYT relates to Cyrano, rather grandiloquently!, even though the notion of writing love letter for someone else and as a result the writer falling in love… is there indeed). Taking place in a sleepy little town on the Pacific North-West, near Wenatchee. The story is far from realistic, as far as I can tell, with almost invisible adults and with senior high teenagers behaving like adults, at least for the two main female characters, most of the teens working after class while also writing essays on Sartre and Plato, and discussing Remains of the Day for its philosophical implications. A wee bit unrealistic, with some allegoric scenes such as floating head to head in a hot spring, outing their love declaration like tragic Greek comedians in a full church. But the actresses are brilliant and escape the paper-thin constriction of their character into something deeper, by conveying uncertainty and then more uncertainty while building their own life into something grander. Not the unbearable lightness of being but certainly with enough substance to reach beyond the “charming queer love comedy” summarised in The Guardian.

Ate tomatoes from the garden for almost every lunch in August as there were so many, surprising free from bugs and birds. And had a toasted squash lunch, skin included. Peppers are still at the growing stage… And my young olive tree may have irremediably suffered from the heatwave, despite regular watering.

Also per chance noticed that the one-hundred year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared hilarious book had been turned into a film. And had an enjoyable time watching the understated play of this hundred-year old and his hundred year story. And listening to the multilingual if mostly Swedish original sound-track. (Incidentally, yet another intrusion of the 1930s eugenism with a racialist (!) doctor sterilising the central character to stop his fascination and experimentation with explosives.)

Rewatched Manhattan Murders Mystery, which I had not seen since it came out in the early 1990s. Once I got into the spirit that this was filmed theater, rather than fixating on the (ir)realism of the plot, it became hilarious (starting with the urge to invade Poland when listening to Wagner for too long) and I could focus on references to older movies, although I must has missed the bulk of these references. For instance, the pas de deux of Allen and Keaton at the melting factory has a strong whiff of Astaire and Rogers step-dancing. The shooting scene in the movie theater is explicitly linked with Orson Wells, seen behind the screen in The Lady from Shanghai.