Archive for NYT

a journal of the plague year [almost gone]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2021 by xi'an

Read The stars are legion, by Kameron Hurley, which I brought back from Gainesville last year. Although I cannot remember why I bought the book, it must have been a “recommendation” on Amazon… The story is part unusual, part classical, with a constant switch between the two major characters [viewpoint].  And between different times. The style is complex, maybe too complex, as the universe is slowly revealing itself, through the perception biases of the characters. Including (spoiler!) one with multiple memory erasures and two attempts at recycling. Stars are actually (spoiler!) space-ships with some possibly organic elements that are decomposing (and showing the steel skeletons), with also apparently organic smaller vessels to travel between ships or fight between clans. Some of the ship inhabitants are mutants, possibly for being unprotected from space or ship radiations (although the control and propulsion of these ships is never mentioned), possibly because they are perceived as such by different groups in the ships, à la Huxley’s Brave New World? And there seem to be only females on-board, with all of them getting (mysteriously) pregnant at one time or another, rarely giving birth to children (associated with driving the ships? creating new ships?) but rather to other organic entities, apparently contributing to keeping the ship alive. All this is quite creative, with a powerful theme of power versus motherhood, but the story-telling is just too messy for me to have enjoyed it. The more because the type of subterranean universe where characters wander from one level to the next and discover supremely different ecosystems at each level never appealed to me. Since I read Verne’s Voyage au Centre de la Terre. (And I suddenly remembered dropping out of an earlier Hurley’s book.)

Cooked (the last remaining) pumpkin risotto with (legal) Lapsang tea, which worked out rather nicely, albeit loosing most of the Lapsang flavour. Had a week of (pleasant) cookie flavour home fragrance while my wife was preparing cookies for the entire family. Cooked a brunch with my son on the last Sunday of 2020, once again with Lapsang as drink. And had a Michelin take-away with my mom in Caen, since all restaurants remain closed till an unknown date. Which proved a great choice as it was surprisingly good, once out of the (potato starch) package.

Watched Season 2 of the BBC His Dark Materials series. Still impressed by the high level of the show (and enjoying it even more as I had forgotten basically everything about The Subtle Knife!) Except for the dark matter physicist turning to I Ching to understand her empirical experiment… But it remains a great series (esp. when mostly avoiding bears.) Also rewatched a Harry Potter film with my daughter, The Order of the Phoenix, which I found rather poor on the whole, despite a few great scenes (like the Wesley twins’ departure) and the fabulous rendering of the petty bureaucratic evil of Mrs. Umbridge throughout the film. And a part of The Half Blood Prince. Which sounded much better by comparison.

“It slowly dawned on me that it’s possible for the wise men who run your life for you to see disaster coming and not have a plan for dealing with it”

Read another K.J. Parker’s book, “How to rule an empire and get away with it“, sequel to “Sixteen ways &tc.” Light (mind-candy) but enjoyable bedside reading. Somewhat of a classical trick where a double becomes the real thing, if not in a Kagemusha tragic style.

a journal of the plague year [december reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2020 by xi'an

Read only a part of a Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Steelheart, that I found incredibly terrible (given the achievements of the writer). With a few cardboard characters, incl. the (compulsory) nerdy teenager with unique skills and a David Copperfield childhood (also named David) and cartoonesque villains with superpowers. Until I realised, while looking at its Wikipedia page, that this was intended as a (very?) young adult novel… And did not try to finish the book (first of a trilogy) before leaving it in the exchange section in front of our University library.

Cooked (and enjoyed) a fennel and (local) honey tarte tatin and a broccoli polenta with Vacherin (cheese). Made several rye breads as I find them easier to knead and bake than other flours, once I found that I could get fresh yeast by the gram from my favourite bakery.  Fell into a routine of cooking winter vegetables, like pumpkins, butternuts, and cabbages, Jerusalem artichokes (a pain to peel!) and (expensive) tuberous chervil. Plus the available mushrooms.

Watched a few episodes of the Korean drama Two Cops (투깝스), more for the scenes showing bits and pieces of Seoul, than for a very thin and predictive plot. Following a radio broadcast mentioning Carol Reed’s The Third Man as one of the best movies ever—although I had read Greene’s novel a long while ago—, I tried to find it online but ended up instead watching for the first time Fritz Lang’s Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse,  which is his third Mabuse film and the last film he shot (in 1960). While the harsh lights and grainy surveillance TV screens, along with absolutely everyone smoking, put some perspective to the story, connecting post-war West Germany with its immediate past, I did not enjoy much the acting, which sounded very artificial, and the plot was quasi-nonexistent.

Read Olin Steinhauer’s The Bridge of Sighs, which was his first novel, as I had greatly enjoyed The Tourist. It takes place in an unnamed Eastern European country that could be Moldova (since Hungary and Czechoslovakia are described as West, while Romania is mentioned as another country, but the city could well be Szeged, both for having its own Bridge of Sighs and for being crossed by the Tisa), right after the War, as a Stalinist regime is under construction and a rookie cop, grand-son of a communist ex-hero, tries to navigate the new regime. I really liked the book: it is very well-written, meaning an attention to style and perspective that stays away from the usual endless dialogues in crime novelsand the characters have depth and originality, I enjoyed also the somewhat Mediterranean cum Balkanic feel of this post-war Soviet satellite. And will presumably seek the following volumes from UK resellers…

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!

“So President Emmanuel Macron of France called me on Thursday afternoon” [really?!]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2020 by xi'an

When I read this first sentence in The New York Times article by Ben Smith, I was a wee bit suprised as it sounded more Trumpian than Macronesque. Esp. when the article continued with the French president “having some bones to pick with the Anglo-American media”… As it transpired, it is factually correct, if giving an impression of the exact opposite of the right causality arrow. The Élysée palace indeed called back the NYT journalist after the latter asked for an interview a few days earlier and that Macron agreed to it. Beyond this misleading launch, the article is much more of an opinion piece (about Ben Smith’s opinions on French politics and secular principles) than an interview. Just like most principles, the rather specific core concept of “laïcité” (secularism) can be both debated ad nauseam and turned into political weapons for all positions on the political spectrum, from extreme-left to extreme-right. It is also almost invariably presented from abroad as an attack on the freedom of religion (and lack thereof), mostly against Muslims, and almost automatically mixed with institutional racism. The article actually goes all over the place, from attributing the uncovering of a pedophile writer to The Times journalists, to seeing Macron’s position as a theatrical posturing helping his own agenda for the next presidential elections. And while I readily concede the many woes of the French society, government, institutions, like police and justice, politics, &tc., I cannot but support an idea of a model that remains universalist and therefore secularist.

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.