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Showing posts from March, 2010

Aprille, with hise shoures soote

Yesterday I decided that nothing less than chocolate chip cookies and W.H. Auden's Collected Poems (to be enjoyed separately) would do.

It's funny to think how few people, Americans at least, read alternative literary forms like poetry or plays or even short stories. I suppose there is something about the generosity of a novel which grabs the attention, invites involvement and requires time and commitment. The time and commitment required by poetry is less popular, and I'll admit to a certain toe-dragging reluctance when it comes to chewing on a book of poetry.

I end up using a book of poetry as a Sortes Virgilianae, the classical lottery practiced by flipping through Virgil's Aeneid at random and reading your future in whichever random paragraph you land on. A bad habit, I will flip through the poems until something catches my eye or seems to fit the moment.

However, I think reading good, sharp poetry and plays can only do good for one's writing. The articulacy …

The Puppetmaster

I picked up Iris Murdoch’s A Fairly Honourable Defeat two weeks ago on the way to the Symphony because it fit in my purse, I’d been meaning to read it, and it was much lighter (physically, topically) than A.N. Wilson’s Victorians.

In the novel, Murdoch creates a closely connected cast of characters who are destined to become even more entangled as the drama ensues. Rupert and Hilda have just celebrated their wedding anniversary; Hilda’s sister Morgan is coming back from the States in a fragile emotional state following the dissolution of her marriage with Tallis and her affair with a scientist, Julius King. Peter, son of Rupert and Hilda, is a college dropout living with Tallis. Simon, Rupert’s younger brother, lives with an older man (and Rupert’s colleague), Axel. When Machiavellian Julius arrives in town and, certain of his power to disprove Rupert’s theory of goodness and love as moral absolutes, decides to play puppet master with the people around him, confusion follows.

It was an…


It is spring! (as of last Saturday) and no day so far has shown it more than this one. The birds are out, the hyacinths are blooming alongside our dining room window, the sun is out, and I hear songbirds out-singing the crows.

How else to celebrate spring? I shall make baklava!

As a part of a plan to become a more adventuresome cook and wean myself from my traditional apple pies, I thought I would crack open my beautiful Greek cookbook, Vefa’s Kitchen, and make my culinary maiden voyage with dessert.

I made the filo pastry from scratch, but something must have gone wrong (like my kneading) because it was very hard to roll out and there was not much of it. With one substitution, Earth Balance for butter, this dessert will be fit for my vegans, K and P (who I hope like baklava).

The most time-consuming task was the chopping up of the walnuts and almonds which would form the substance of the baklava which with my very dull knives took over an hour. Fortunately, Terence Malick’s The New Wor…

Stormy Weather

What does wuthering mean? I asked my co-workers and none of us knew. Of course it sounds a lot like weathering and we said that. But in my mind, I see weathering as water based - rain, seasonal wear, and rust - and wuthering as something blustery, a rough wind over thistles.

Perhaps it was the suggestion of the Yorkshire moors, a mysterious landscape I have never seen, which brings a steady list of associations: Mary Lennox at Misselthwaite Manor waiting for Dickon and his menage of animals; Frederica Potter scowling and naturalists watching snails; three sisters caged up in Haworth parsonage; the recently filmed Brit noir, the Red Riding trilogy. 'Moor' reminds one of the mysterious orient, the Muslims of Spain, inscrutable and dark.

Wuthering Heights, is another one of those books that many people - women especially - have read in high school or college. Though I've read Jane Eyre and all of Jane Austen I don't remember reading, or finishing anyways, Wuthering Height…


It baffles me how truly hopeless I am at crosswords. When I initially became interested in crosswords, impressed by the intellectuality they endow the cruciverbalist (impressive word to toss into conversations meaning one who does crosswords), I ran out and bought a copy of the New York Times Crosswords standard puzzles. Following the result of my disappointing average of one successful word per page, I decided that I would have to humble myself and set my sights a little lower. So I bought Will Short’s 75 Very Easy Puzzles from the New York Times.

Aha! I thought. Very Easy. I will do this in a jiffy. I will speed through these Acrosses and Downs and in no time at all I will have built up my brain power and I can go back to the standard book and soon, very soon, while I am still young, I will become one of those tweed-wearing-people that do the New York Times crossword every morning. And then - ? I could do anything, anything. Take over the world, join MENSA, etc. Apparently, doing a …


Last night, E and I went to see the Seattle Symphony pay Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe at Benaroya. It was - breathtaking. We'd had Brahms's Concerto for Violin & Cello in A Minor to whet our appetite. Brahms was very, very good but Ravel absolutely satiated the audience. It's an overwhelmingly scored piece - very heavy on winds and strings and also two harps, a celeste, a wind machine, and a full choir. The timpani made the floor under us shake. We could feel the reverberations of the music vibrating through the strings into our chests (with cheap tickets, we were very close to the stage).

"Well," said the man behind me as we gave a standing ovation, "that just about took every-a-body some-a-where."

If you watch this recording (though it's not the conductor we saw) and you'll get a taste of it - the beautiful melodic depiction of the sunrise. But you should hear it for yourself:

Village Green

Either way, my grandparents are to thank for my introduction to the English village myth. Grandma N lent me Jan Karon’s Mitford series, which with it’s dear Episcopalian minister and quaint North Carolina village collection of local personalities and overblown small issues is the closest current American approximation of the English archetype; and the Thanksgiving I spent at their apartment in Florida was perfected by the watching of several episodes of Midsomer Murders and Inspector Morse.

In his book Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Peter Ackroyd relates village-isms to the English love of the miniature: “This desire to miniaturize obsessions, or to reduce “grotesques” in size and scale …Could it possibly to related to the pattern of English detective stories…where evil and murderous wickedness were seen to operate in small and cosy country villages?”

What is it about these English hamlets? A small rustic town in the country, where everyone knows each other’s business …

And All for One

I bought abridged versions of the Three Musketeers and the Adventures of Robin Hood when I was eight. Both I ended up putting aside with a queasy feeling after reading them, because they were so obviously not children’s books (being influenced by Disney). The Three Musketeers ends with murder, a trial by peers and a gruesome execution. Robin Hood ends, not with a fox marrying his lady love, but with an old, wounded outlaw begging sanctuary from a convent, bled to death in the night by a vengeful prioress.

So it time to revisit d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis as an adult. The Penguin Classic Deluxe edition was the obvious choice as 1) it was attractive with a marvelous cover by Tom Gauld and 2) it was translated by Richard Pevear who is one half of my favorite translating team (he and his wife Lara Volokhonsky translated Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, along with many other works by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Dumas.)

Thanks to the frequent cinematic adaptations, nearly everyone knows the…

The Film Club II

In my freshman year of college, I was enrolled in a class which introduced new students to collegiate academic concepts through a semester-long theme. Our class’ theme was film and our brave professor, Lara Scott, a young, intelligent art professor who had studied at Yale, had the grueling task of teaching seventeen relatively conservative young adults to move beyond the accessible blockbuster films they enjoyed and to evaluate worldview, character and narrative in films they might never have chosen by themselves.

[It was Prof Scott’s misfortune that nearly every one of those seventeen students became good friends and spent every meal, every evening, every day in each other’s company. We were a many-headed animal which moved in a large, energetic clump of arms and bags and loud voices. The small college community wasn’t sure what to do with this nuclear group which very quickly developed a set of its own behaviors, expectations and routines. We were frequently referred to as a “cult,”…

Elegant Economy

Just finished Cranford last night, sipping coffee and burrowing into my chair (why does my room always seem so much colder before going to bed?). I have previously read Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters (liked it very much) and North and South (didn't like it at all, but have been advised to give it another go), but hadn't thought about reading Cranford until I watched the BBC miniseries.

It was a bit disappointing not to have Dr. Harrison and his newfangled ideas about medicine in Cranford, but I understand the script to have been cobbled together from several shorter fictions. The episodes from the novel included in the script were nearly word for word and very true to the spirit of the book.

In this collection of instances, a narrator visits her friend, Miss Matilda (Matty) Jenkyns, in Cranford on several occasions. We discover her name is Mary Smith, and like most of the inhabitants of Cranford, is a spinster.

"In the first place," the book begins, "…

When the Lights Go Out

Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel A Single Man is nothing less than a modern masterpiece and, I have no doubt, will turn out to be one of my favorite books of 2010.

The novel follows George as he struggles through a single day in 1960’s Los Angeles following the death of his lover. George wakes up, goes to the university where he teaches literature, goes to the gym, has dinner with a friend, gets drunk at a dive bar, swims in the ocean, and arrives at the end. George is “three quarters human,” a machine trying to keep himself alive until it is time not to be.

Like an actor, he is absent from humanity. When he looks at his neighbors, at the suburban families, he thinks "They are afraid of what they know is somewhere in the darkness around them, of what may at any moment emerge into the undeniable light of their flash-lamps, nevermore to be ignored, explained away. The fiend that won't fit into their statistics, the Gordon that refuses their plastic surgery, the vampire drinkin…