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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.

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!

Kürbissuppe trilogy

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by xi'an

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