Archive for pandemics

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.

a journal of the plague year² [across the sea]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2021 by xi'an

Read the beginning of a Japanese locked-room mystery, Murder in the Crooked House, by Soji Shimada, but either due to the poor translation or to the story itself, I quickly gave up and left the book in my Bastia rental. Also left Quand sort la recluse by Fred Vargas (which I bought in emergency for being stuck on a Corsica beach with my kids!), as the irrational basis of the plot never completely vanished and the number of coincidences was just too high… And went through the fourth volume of the Yalta Boulevard Quintet by Olen Steinhauer, which follows the same team of homicide detectives in an imaginary Eastern Bloc country between Hungary and Romania. The most disappointing of all books since, while women receive a better share of the plot than usual, the rather shallow hunt for the mastermind behind a plane bombing and the even more ambiguous role played by the political officer of the brigade are doing nothing to help with the paranormal aspects of the story… (The presentation of the Turk people is furthermore caricaturesque and somewhat racist in the same way Midnight Express is racist.) Found a short book by Amélie Nothomb in an exchange bookshelf in Bastia, L’Hygiène de l’Assassin, which I read in a few hours before I shelved it back. Highly original with connections with French authors like Céline and Pérec.

Did not cook much on the island, except for home-made houmous and grilled sardines, but tasted local cheese like Niolo and Rustinu, local fresh water oysters (from Étang de Diane) which were already renowned in Roman time and a usual treat for Napoléon (while exiled on nearby Elba Island), and tested a local restaurant that could have made it to a Michelin star!, L’Étoile, in Ville di Pietrabugno. The dishes were highly original like a leek millefeuille or a mock tomato made of brocciu…

Watched for the first time Good Morning Vietnam!, on French TV (as my rental internet was down for the whole week!), which I found completely appalling! From the lack of realism in the action parts to the portrayal of the Vietnamese people to the lack of criticism of the Vietnam War. (It stands miles below The Quiet American.)

a journal of the plague year² [no end near]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2021 by xi'an

Read the beginning of The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu, who also translated Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, and Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide. But I just could not find enough interest in the one-dimensional and cardboardesque characters or the shallow plot to finish his book. In a sense, it reminded me of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes, which I also could not finish.

Kept harvesting large amounts of raspberries, with a second round coming sound. And monitored the tomato patch rise, thanks to a very wet month. But compared with earlier years, the tomatoes are still far from being ready to eat. Hopefully they will resist our vacation break (if COVID permits!). We also harvested the first rhubarb stems in three years (that made for a marmalade) and our very first gherkins/cornichons.

Watched Possessed a fairly dark Korean TV series that seems to merge most of the tropes in the series I have watched so far, from the grumpy cop to the joker role, from evil spirits to slow-paced action, from numerous scenes in cars with tachometers reving up to hint at high speeds to even more scenes in a police station, &tc. Plus the characters giving in to horrible blackmail to “save” loved ones In short, in a sort of cheap trolley dilemna… Not a series I would recommend! And had a second look at The Witcher series, after painfully completing the books: it did not sound so great upon reflection, especially the threadbare battle scenes, even though some parts and characters made more sense after reading the whole series. But Dandelion (not connection with Ken Liu’s trilogy) is even more unbearable on a second run!

a journal of the plague year² [away!!!]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2021 by xi'an

Read the last two volumes in The Witcher series, The Tower of Swallows and The Lady of the Lake, with some difficulty as I found them [again] overly stretched. Plus recycling a whole lot of older myths, like the Arthurian tale of The Lady of the Lake to start with. But the major battle scene in the final volume is worth reading and very cinéma-esque… And the slugguish construction of the characters’ arcs eventually make sense. If a bit too much of a happy ending imho. And I also read [much faster, mostly while in Marseille] the third book of the Eastern Bloc series by Olen Steinhauer, 36 Yalta Boulevard (the local equivalent of Lybyanka), a bit less exciting, if covering another aspect of the Eastern block countries at the time of the Czechoslovakian uprising in 1968. Less interesting because of the convoluted guilty-non-guilty scenario. Quite interesting for impersonating this time Sev,  the most ideological of the members of the detective team, for taking place in Vienna part of the time. Less realistic because by rendering Sev so realistically human and compelling, his blind adhesion to the Party line does not make sense, the more when exposing the corruption and double game of some of his superiors.

Did not cook much in the past weeks, first for being at CIRM (with an escape to Cassis for a nice if not fabulous dinner by the harbour) and then for going through the fruit and veggies crates we bought in Aveyron on our way back home (after carrying South-East wine South-East!). Would have enjoyed tasting some boar meat at CIRM, given how prevalent the animals are on the campus (with apparently no warning for guests).

Watched Strangers 2, the second season of the Korean TV series. Which I enjoyed even more than the first one. With the central characters being the same but (appearing) older and a stronger and less broken scenario, centering on the power struggle between police and public prosecution. And less of the chaebol‘s power struggle and recurring corruption. Plus a more central and less caricaturesque role of women. It is still unclear if and when the Season 3 will happen.

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.