Archive for Russia

journal of the [second] plague year [con’d]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2021 by xi'an

Read The Office of Gardens and Ponds (in French), by Didier Decoin [whom John l’Enfer I read more than forty years ago, with no lasting memories!], another random book found in the exchange section of our library!  While a pastiche of Japanese travel novels, the book is quite enjoyable and reminded me of our hike on the Kumano Kodō routes, two years ago. The tale takes place in 12th Century Japan and tells of the epic travel of a widow to the capital, Kyoto, carrying live carps for the gardens of the emperor. While some sections are somewhat encyclopedic on the culture of medieval Japan [and I thus wonder how Japanese readers have reacted to this pastiche], the scenario is rather subtle and the characters have depth, incl. the dead husband. The scene of the perfume competition is particularly well-imagined and worth reading on its own. I figure I will not bring the book back. (Warning: this book was voted a 2019 winner of the Bad Sex Award!). Also read Patti Smith’s Devotion, which was one of my Xmas presents. I had never read anything but Smith’s songs, since 1976 (!) with Horses, missing by little some of her concerts as on the week I was in Rimini… The book is quite light, and not only length-wise, made of two travel diaries in (to?) Paris and in (to?) Southern France, where she visits Camus’ house, and of a short story she writes on the train. While the diaries are mildly interesting, if a bit American-Tourist-in-Paris-cliché (like this insistence to find glamour in having breakfast at Café Flore!), the story comes as a disappointment, both for being unrealistic [in the negative sense] and for reproducing the old trope of the young orphan girl becoming the mistress of a much older man [to continue skating]. The connection with Estonia reminded me of Purge, by Sofi Oksanen, a powerful novel about the occupations of Estonia by Nazis and Soviet troups, an haunting novel of a different magnitude…

Made  soba noodles with the machine, resulting into shorte-than-life noodles, due to the high percentage of buckwheat flour in the dough, still quite enjoyable in a cold salad. Also cooked a roghan josh lamb shack, along with chapatis flavoured with radish leaves [no fire alarm this time] and a vegetable dahl whose recipe I found in Le Monde the same morn. Also took advantage of the few weeks with fresh and tender asparagus sold at the local market to make salads.

Watched a few episodes of Better than Us, Лучше (чем люди), a Russian science-fiction series set in a close future with humanoid robots replacing menial workers, until one rogue version turns uncontrollable, à la Blade Runner. There are appealing aspects to the story, besides the peep into a Russian series and the pleasure of listening to Russian, about the porous frontier between human and artificial intelligence. The scenario however quickly turns into a predictable loop and I eventually lost interest. Even faster did that happen with the Irregulars of Baker Street horror series, which I simply could not stand any further (and which connection with Holmes and Watson is most tenuous).

Having registered for a vaccination to the local pharmacy, I most got surprisingly called a few days later mid-afternoon to come at once for a shot of AstraZeneca, as they had a leftover dose. And a rising share of reluctant candidates for the vaccine!, despite David’s reassurances. I am unsure this shot was done early enough to get abroad for conferences or vacations in July, but it is one thing done anyway. With no side effect so far.

hacking apple

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2020 by xi'an

the ninth house

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2020 by xi'an

“Monsters often operate metaphorically in fantasy. We can banish those literal monsters, but to banish the figurative monster at the same time does a tremendous disservice to readers, because trauma doesn’t finish with the last page of a book,. And for those of us who live with any kind of trauma in our past, the idea of purging it in some kind of magical way is offensive.” L. Bardugo, Bustle, Oct 9, 2019

As I had rather enjoyed the style of her YA Grisha series (despite a superficial scenario and equally superficial Russification of the fantasy universe there), I followed another Amazon link to Leigh Bardugo’s first “adult” novel. (Which denomination means not purposedly “young adult”!) The Ninth House. After a highly laudatory New York Times book review.

The story is rather unsurprising at one level, namely a college town (Yale, New Haven), “secret” societies (nine of them), some happy (?) few having access to magical powers, a parallel world, ghosts and demons, a freshwoman coming from a highly traumatic past and an unprivileged background, brushing with much more privileged classmates and catching up amazingly well in English literature and languages (but staying away from STEM, why is that?!), not so much an anti-hero as the author would us like to believe but who single-handedly solves a murder (or a few) and exposes some of the murderers for her own sense of justice. With a pending sequel to seek a missing paladin and mentor. With an elaborate enough style and enough twists and surprises in the plot to keep the reader hooked, especially readers with a past or a present in said college town. Or another Ivy League town.

However, there is more depth to the book than a mere exploitation of successful tropes, in that the main character is building meaning all along the book, with her supernatural abilities more curse than blessing and a massive past trauma that cannot heal and threatens to define her. Which makes the above statement from the author quite powerful. I thus found the book equally powerful, despite not being a big fan of ghost and horror stories, to the point of looking for the next installment, whenever ready.

Отцы и дети [Fathers and Children]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2019 by xi'an
Following a mention made of this book on the French National Public radio, I read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the first time last month. This is a fabulous novel, reflecting about the failed modernisation of Russia after the abolishing of serfdom and the rise of nihilism in the younger generation. Having re-read Dostoievski’s Demons a few years ago, I appreciate the earlier Fathers and Sons and its role in shaping Dostoievski’s book, maybe in a less magistral way but also with a much more humane feeling in Fathers and Sons, while pretty much everyone sounds like an idiot in Demons. The plot of the nihilist attitudes of the sons being gradually swept away when falling in love may sound like a cheap trick, aggravated by the tragic and rather absurd ending of the most extreme character, but this is a more balanced image of the rural Russian society at the time, still exposing the shortcomings of a agrarian system that could not survive the (limited) emancipation of the serfs but also reflecting on the atemporal love of the parents for their prodigal sons!

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2019 by xi'an

” A recent survey by found that just 40% of US households have enough money to cover a $1,000 in emergency expenses.” The Guardian, Feb 2, 2019

““Until we heard those cheers coming from Albany, we thought states were moving beyond such barbaric practices.” Mr. Pence offered his argument as a litmus test of morality; he described the new abortion legislation as a “shameless embrace of a culture of death.” But among conservatives, the White House’s outrage was also greeted as a clear and shrewd political strategy” The New York Times, Feb 1, 2019

“When Senator Elizabeth Warren formally announced her 2020 presidential bid this weekend, President Trump responded with a familiar line of attack. He mocked Ms. Warren for her claims to Native American ancestry, again calling her by the slur “Pocahontas.” Mr. Trump then appeared to refer to the Trail of Tears, the infamously cruel forced relocation of Native Americans in the 19th century that caused thousands of deaths.” The New York Times, Feb 10, 2019

“The United States is suspending one of the last major nuclear arms control treaties with Russia after heated conversations between the two powers recently failed to resolve a long-running accusation that Moscow is violating the Reagan-era treaty. Mr. Pompeo acknowledged a risk of a new arms race if the treaty is ultimately scrapped after the six-month window.” The New York Times, Feb 1, 2019

“In some states, lawmakers have sought to pass laws that would ban or severely restrict abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned or effectively gutted (…) The court is likely to confront other abortion cases, too, as several state legislatures have recently enacted laws that seem calculated to try to force the Supreme Court to consider overruling Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.” The New York Times, Feb 8, 2019

“Mr. Trump’s willingness to invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress is likely to go down as an extraordinary violation of constitutional norms — setting a precedent that future presidents of both parties may emulate to unilaterally achieve their own policy goals.” The New York Times, Feb 15, 2019