Archive for pandemics

a journal of the plague and pestilence year [back to 1980]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2022 by xi'an

Read Havoc in its third year, best surprise of the [book] year so far! I picked this book from the exchange box in Warwick, presumably before COVID-19, but only started reading it on my last trip. While it starts as a murder mystery set during the reign of King Charles I, in an unspecified Northern city in England, it quickly turns into a more sinister tale of fanaticism and religious hate, as Puritanism engulfs the country, soon to lead to Charles I’s execution… The story is centred around the coroner in charge of the murder inquiry, mostly if vainly trying to escape taking side in the growing divide between fanatics and their victims, a most human figure with doubts and defects hindering his decisions. When this fails, the story becomes more allegorical and less realistic, the coroner turning into a Christesque figure. This book reminded me of the fabulous Instance at the Fingerpost by Ian Pears, which takes place thirty years later in Cambridge.

Cooked cherries in clafoutis from our tree for a week, before birds cleaned it dry.

Watched Taxi Driver, (모범택시) a Korean TV series (inspired from the cartoon The Deluxe Taxi) that I found most disturbing in its ambiguity about vigilante justice, hence interesting to a point, and the surprising movie 26 years, also based on a graphic novel, as it is about children of victims of the1980 Gwangju massacre, who are seeking to assassinate the former and responsible Korean president Chun Doo-hwan. (Who actually died only last year.) The film is quite interesting for this historical foray in not such a distant past. (The massacre took part on the same year as Solidarność was created and repressed, which I remember much more clearly, I am afraid.) And for being produced by crowdfunding, as usual investors were afraid of the political contents. The last 12 minutes of the film actually list all 15,000⁺ donors! The scenario is imperfect, despite characters being well constructed, and the final, never-ending, scene is a drag. Since the former president was still alive 26 years later, the story was doomed from the start, unless falling into alternate reality as in Inglorious Basterds…

a journal of the plague and pestilence year [continued]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2022 by xi'an

Had a full week in Coventry for the first time in a while, thanks to my CDT masterclass on GANs and other acronyms. Arriving on a Bank Holiday in a Math Science Building only populated by a few graduate students. And stayed in an Airbnb rather than the traditional math house, which afforded me a picture of the local community as warmer and drier weather meant more people on the street in the evenings (and more lawnmowers as well). Including discovering that the traditional UK ice cream van [which I had first seen & heard in a Birmingham suburb in the mid 1970’s summers] had not gone extinct! One was touring the neighbourhood every night with the customary chime. (Also spotted what strongly looked like a home delivery of drugs, without the chimes.)

Read Half-Witch, by John Schoffstal, which I bought for no clear reason quite a while ago and only read in the past fortnight, maybe because I was somewhat put off by the unusual cover. The contents were unusual as well, a sort of modern take on a Grimm’s fairytale, with a complete lack of attention to realism, and a witty sarcastic tone for a coming of age story where a young girl manages goblins, witches, an hopeless Trinity, a similarly hopeless father, and plenty of nasty people, by outwitting them all. Also quickly went through two (Tor gifts) novellas A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, which I enjoyed tremendously as a Zen tale, following a tea monk!, and Unlocked, by John Scalzi, which is a sort of prequel to Lock In I read eons ago. Where half-a-page viewpoints follows the unraveling of a World pandemic that first looks like a super-flu, follows air routes to reach all countries, had a high fatality and high contamination rates, and is kept under control by the massive investment of governments… Reading this in 2022 is presumably much more exciting than when it appeared, as the setting sounds prescient and follows to some extent what happened with COVID, except for the US President to react much more efficiently than the Agent Orange “in charge” at the time.

Did not cook the first green asparagus I found at the market, as they are great eaten raw in a minimalist salad. Also had a great spaghetti alle vongole in a local Italian restaurant, if far from an Italian pricing!

a journal of the plague and pestilence [and war] year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2022 by xi'an

Received my first biking ticket ever, not for [cautiously!] Xing one of the 60⁺ red-lights on my bike route but for driving [most respectfully!] on the sidewalk in order to reach Dauphine as roads are currently under construction in the area, traffic is a mess, and bike lanes are closed. Had I realised this was at all possible (considering the absence of sanctions on reckless car and truck drivers!), I would have stopped before reaching the Paris traffic police which was already ticketing another cyclist.Read Upright Women Wanted [on Kindle, a courtesy gift from Tor] for just a few dozen pages and then almost gave up out of boredom! I found of limited literary or scenarist interest, despite its nominations to both Hugo and Locus Awards 2021, but finished it in the train to Roissy airport… I am still stuck (and much disappointed!) on the first pages of Susan Clarke’s Piranesi, as the story (?) takes place in an endless complex of empty rooms and the descriptions are endless. By comparison, the growing madness perspiring through the Gormenghast series is at least providing a leading line that makes it worth reading! Although it won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, and was praised everywhere and nominated for many prizes, imho, Piranesi stands as far as possible from Clarke’s earlier masterpiece Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell… I do not think I will manage to ever finish this book!

Cooked a batch of kouign amann but failed to include enough butter! Still eatable. And made a rather successful attempt at tortillas, following a NYT recipe.

Watched Witch at Court (마녀의 법정), which proposes a [of course] highly unrealistic story of an evil policeman turned politician and eventually being faced with his crimes by the daughter of one of his early victims. As often in K drama, everyone is connected to the case, with prosecutors being relatives of victims or culprits (but not bothered by conflicts of interest), red herrings abounding, and trial outcomes being decided on the flimsiest proofs. Nonetheless, this is the one series I (fast-forward) watched that addressed the most frontally women exploitation and sexual crimes.

a journal of the plague and pestilence year

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2022 by xi'an

Saw our fist Ukrainian applications for graduate studies at Dauphine, presumably numbers are going to rise in the coming weeks as the Russian aggression continues in the East and South of Ukraine…

Read The Unbroken by Cherae Clark, in part because it had been nominated for the 2022 Locus Award. The universe is vaguely inspired from the French colonisation of North Africa, with additional layers of magic and royals (the French occupation of Algeria actually started in 1830, during a monarchic intermede, but went full blast when the Republic resumed). And the central character is a colonial soldier, stolen from her parents at a young age and trained in the dominating kingdom, called Balladaire. (This sounds vaguely French if meaningless in the vernacular and there are a few French locations in the story. The suppression of religion in the empire could also be inspired from the French secular laws of the late 19th Century, even though it is unclear to me that secularism was at all enforced in North Africa, witness the existence of muslim courts, as most inhabitants were not French citizens.) While this could have been a great setting, the story falls flat (and even one-dimensional) as it is driven by a tiny number of characters that sadly lack in depth. To the extent of feeling like a school-yard conflict.

Cooked mostly curried butternut soups over the past month! And just restarted making radish stem pancakes as radishes are back on market stalls, often at a bargain.  Plus made an attempt at panak paneer and aloo gobi, just missing the paneer (I did not have time to make) and using mascarpone instead!

Watched Partners for Justice (검법남녀) a sort of Korean NCIS, between judicial prosecution and legal medicine, pleasant enough if burdened by too many coincidences and plenty of red herrings. Especially the second season, with darker sides of corruption, murder, and child abuse. A shocking moment was when the young (and central) prosecutor asks for death penalty during a trial, as I had not realised capital punishment was still a possibility in Korea (although not implemented since 1997). There was also an episode with a schizophrenic suspect where the scenaric treatment of his condition was abyssal… Hopefully not reflecting on the societal perception.

The New Yorker [April 4, 2022]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2022 by xi'an

I had not bought a paper issue of The New Yorker from a newstand for ages, possibly decades, so I jumped on the opportunity on my way back from Rutgers! This April 4 issue contained several impressive articles, which I read over the following weeks. (As I discovered during the lockdown, one issue a week is too much material, even during lockdown!) The most moving one is about Mackenzie Fierceton, a brilliant Penn University graduate, who escaped familial abuse to purse  sociology studies at Penn, to the point of receiving a most notorious Rhodes scholarship in 2021 to start a PhD in social policy at the University of Oxford. Only for the scholarship to be rescinded by the Rhodes Trust, after action from Penn. While I cannot judge of the facts and arguments based on this sole article (which 12 pages are definitely impressive in their detail and careful depictions of the whole story), the corporate-damage-control attitude of Penn in this affair is appalling.  And revealing of a awfully biased perception of abuse and psychological damage being limited to low-income classes. All the best to this student, in the pursuit of her studies and ideals.

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