Thursday, June 22, 2017

Watching - Wednesday 21 June

Masterchef

First up, it is Masterchef Australia #5, which is the first elimination show of the season. Our lucky contestants are Benita, Rashedul, Benjamin and Lee - interesting that they all arrive in separate Jaguars, even though they all came from the same house and possibly shared a bunk. They enter to find a line of 14 ingredients and cloches: they have to pick an ingredient, but must pair it with the mystery ingredient under the cloche. Benjamin strategises, avoids chicken on the bases that chicken is so common, he’d both need to outdo himself with it and there’d be a hard mystery ingredient. He picks walnuts, gets dates. Rashedul goes for mangoes plus - what are they? Green peppercorn! Fuck! (Google tells me there’s a mango tart with green peppercorn dish.) Lee - plays to his strengths and picks salmon, gets aniseed (that could work). Benita - peaches and, is that tea? Yes! Earl Grey.

Benjamin’s going for Greek dish, Katoumari - fine pastry, a kind of baklava ice cream - he has the walnuts sorted but the dates not so much. Lee is thinking confit salmon aniseed sauce. Benita - earl grey ice cream, short bread for a sandwich and baked peach - determined not to repeat yesterday’s brain freeze. 15 minutes in and Rashedul has no idea what to make with his tricky combination. Inspiration - mum’s dish from back home - mango pepper sorbet with coconut pot stickers and coconut broth (we cut to him with his son, then Benita with her family - she wants to host ladies long charity lunches, says you’re never too old to follow dream).

Rashedul  knows he needs to get balance right - pepper can’t overpower but it must be tastable - so he doesn’t really need George’s warning - but will he get it right? Lee sous viding his salmon, also worried about aniseed balance - the audience seem to think it smells great. Benjamin works out to add a date puree - but how to make dish not too sweet? Pomegranate! He’s a happy man - tells us it’s a traditional Mediterranean ingredient, perfect combo. Benita’s ice cream not working, she hits panic mode.

20 minutes to go, people are running around, Benita seems stuck. Gary gives hint - forget the churner, go for blast freezer. Benjamin hand stretches his dough, adds liberal butter, rolls it up, creates a circle of pastry, then fries it as a spiral - it looks good. Rashedul is way behind, hit by nerves - gets a George pep talk - breathe, you can do it - twice they show us yesterday’s disaster. Lee all happy, roasts tomatoes to tie dish together. Benita still doesn’t have ice cream. Five minutes. Won’t give up - custard! What about the biscuits? Benjamin’s pastry looks good - it is spiralled and fried. Makes a mess of his plating.

Judging: Lee has fancy looking dish, Rashedul’s not so good, Ben’s is terrible! Benita’s a hodge podge. Lee brings up aniseed beurre blanc, confit salmon. Matt: Dish a thousand miles away from what you did yesterday. George “so beautiful”. Gary only one to eat the lot, but all like it. Wonderful food. Benjamin: Greek dish for George, best Greek chef around, maybe in the whole world!! He’s not impressed at the look of it.


Smells right, looks like trainwreck - should have been in foil, steams flavour back into pastry. “I hope it tastes good.” Gary - he’s done the job of blending dates and walnuts. George - totally. Then a wee “wow” as he eats, “really delicious”, fantastic with dough, old technique. Gary “Bloody hell”. Matt forgives rustic. Rashedul: thinks he has hit brief, but can they taste peppercorn? He tells a family story from Bangladesh - George always loves the nostalgic value. His dish looks good, modern and beautiful. No peppercorn, but. Could have worked. Good dish, but not on brief. Benita: “Dead man walking” without ice cream. Not convinced she’ll stay - “hoping, on hoping on hoping”.


Her dish really doesn’t look good except the peaches - poorly plated but came out right with flavour, “it all makes sense”. George wishing for ice cream. Still - no surprise when it was Rashedul who got the chop. Pep talk at end possibly a bit OTT.

Breaking Bad

Last night I had a double episode of Breaking Bad. First the last of season five, Gliding Over It All. Walter and Lydia have a meet at a cafe, he’s after the names of Mike’s nine guys, the ones he’s been paying to stay quiet - now that Mike is out of the picture. She persuades him to go international, sell into the Czech republic, where the best quality is about 60% (Walt hits 98% or so). It makes perfect sense - his product is a long way away from him, and she has the distribution. Quite a lot of the episode shows him cooking from house to house, raking in the money - everything is so normal! But he has to deal to Mike’s guys - the DEA has grabbed them all, and they’re locked up in three different prisons - the balloon could go up at any time. Todd has connections, a tough family - Walt demands that they see to the nine guys within a 3 minute space of each other! It’s terrible to say, but there was a strange beauty to the way the nine deaths were choreographed - I couldn’t wait to see Hank’s face when he got the news - it comes in while he’s giving a photo op to a bunch of school girls. He’s not a happy man, years for a simpler time when he had a job in the woods.

Time goes by - about three months. Walt presses Skyler to come home: she has something to show him - a huge pile of notes, beyond what she can count: how much more do you want? After a weird chat with Jesse about the old times (and giving him his $5 mill), Walt decides he’s out and happy family times ensue - until Hank makes a discovery. They’ve been having time by the pool, Hank goes in to the loo and, looking for something to read, finds Leaves of Grass - the copy Gael gave Walt, in which he had written a dedication to Walt. Hank recognises the writing: end of season.

The final season starts with a flash-forward: the White family home derelict, the swimming pool a skate park, and Walt breaking in to retrieve some ricin he’d stashed - the episode is called Blood Money. I didn’t pick it, but this is a follow on from the flash forward at the beginning of the 5th season, when Walt is alone in a diner, celebrating his 52nd birthday. Back in real time, Walt is proving to be a real nuisance - with no meth to cook, he’s spending all his time at the car-wash: I think Skyler is pleased when he suggests they buy another. Poor Jesse is a mess, guilt ridden and with $5 mill to get rid of: he thinks giving half to Mike’s grand daughter and the other half to the parents of the boy Todd shot will expiate his guilt. Saul, however, won’t do it. So Jesse starts randomly throwing bundles of money out of his car. Hank is committed to proving Walt is Heisenberg, stays away from work and has all the files brought over. Walt misses the book, works out where it is and confronts Hank - the gloves are off. Apparently, the cancer is back.

Picket Fences

Another show we’ve been watching on a Tuesday night is Picket Fences, although it’s been a few weeks since the last one. We saw Bad Moons Rising - Alice Freeman kills her husband by running over him with what they keep calling a steamroller, although it wasn’t actually steam powered. This happens after Alice goes on a date with Carter - when he kisses her, she bashes him with a flower pot, and goes to see Jill to report hot flushes, sore back etc. Wambaugh is on the case: Alice’s defence is temporary insanity brought on by menopause. Jill is all for it, Jimmy can’t see it, Carter ends up giving evidence to establish her insanity and the doctor who originally diagnosed her gives evidence that menopause can’t cause insanity. I called it: she gets off on the ground of insanity, and then we’re shown she was never insane, it was all a set-up (which had been Jimmy’s case). Poor Matthew is having sex dreams about Maxine, nocturnal emissions, and is mortified - ends up talking to Jimmy “I think my penis is broken”! Luckily, Jimmy can handle it. I’d have liked to see Matthew and Maxine in the same room, to see how the former would react, but it was not to be

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saturday 17 June

Watching

I managed to watch two episodes of Little Dorrit - #3 and #4. The first starts with a visit by Arthur Clennam to his mother - although she basically kicked him out, she's not happy that he is moving out or that he plans working for someone else, "using the fruits of an education I have provided". One thing I have noticed about this version is that it makes very quick shifts to something completely different: so, we see Mr Pancks going about his assignment of finding out the history between the Clennams and the Dorrits, by seeking out the tenant he almost evicted last time (who is naturally terrified to see him). This tenant confirms that Mrs C is being unusually kind to Amy.

Mr Dorrit is inclined to be a bit of a speechifier, quite self involved: funny to see Amy's friend Maggie steal his bread while he goes on about something. Her accent and speech are much coarser than Amy's - not sure how they even know each other, but they spend a fair amount of time together, including a visit to Arthur, where she goes to sleep but bursts out of bed at the mention of cake. She'd happily go to China, just because they have chicken and duck. Amy is visiting Arthur because she's learned that "a gentleman" paid Tip's debt - they circle around this, she telling Arthur that she'd like to thank this mystery gentleman, he saying he's sure the gentleman would be gratified.

He gets all worried about Amy out at night, which set up some fear for me and, certainly they go through some dodgy streets but nothing actually happens to them. They visit Fanny in a music hall, but are in the way, as she has a "gentleman" paying her attention: she's made up as a caricature of a prostitute, so we can make our own deductions.

Amy is first in the gate at Marshalsea when John opens up - I'm pretty sure he'd have let her in earlier. He has become concerned that Arthur is a rival for his affections, is told by his dad that he should go after her, she's not royalty, faint heart never won fair lady. She goes into the snug to dry off, but doesn't stay long - is it because John is talking about how they've been friends since they were playmates? She gets more when she goes up to her dad. The actress playing Amy (Claire Foy) reminds me a bit of Keira Knightley - thin, very pretty, fresh looking (odd given where she lives) but I guess this signals her innate goodness.

As for Arthur, he's down at Twickenham visiting the Meagles - clearly because Mr M is worried about the man his daughter is associating with. Her godfather is there as well: a great man in terms of inventing things, but no head for business. There's more going on with Miss Wade and Tattycoram/Harriet - the Meagles don't like the former, and maybe there's reason - it seems she's trying to seduce Harriet: they get very close to a kiss.

In the Clennam household, Mr Flintwinch has a go at Mrs C over Amy: "Have you forgotten how her mother died, how her father lives (sic), the injury inflicted on the family?" Mrs C sees employing Amy as some sort of penance or redemption. Mr F then bullies his wife, almost beats her.

The episode finishes with John staring up at Amy's window like a lovesick Romeo: she is busy looking at a button she keeps wrapped up. The "romance" comes to an abrupt end in the next episode: John dreams of Amy becoming Mrs Chivery, gets all dressed up and takes an airing by the river. Amy does seem pleased to see him, but her face clouds when she hears her dad told him where to find her. He does actually stumble his way to a proposal - she's shocked, says she can never feel about him that way, will probably never marry, just spend her life looking after dad. "But I set my heart on you!" That's life, mate. She then pulls out the mysterious button. Back home, Mr Chivery says the Dorrits have always been a proud lot. John has another dream - of him dying of a broken heart.

Down at Twickenham, Harry, the unsuitable bloke, enters the scene. The daughter (I think her name is Pet) is singing and playing piano, with Arthur turning the pages - all very genteel. Harry takes over - they sing a duet, giggle - a very different relationship. This is also demonstrated when Harry and Arthur leave - she's very formal with Arthur. Her godfather (Daniel) has revealed that they've been abroad twice to try to break the attachment.

Mr D is not very happy: he brags of having visitors and the money they left behind, but the reality is that he's dependent on the Chiverys, doesn't want them upset, can't afford to - he damn near asks Amy to marry John, lays a big guilt trip on her "What does it matter if my life comes to an end...", then cries. It seems to have some impact - Amy seeks advice from Fanny, who is very practical, can't see what love has to do with anything. Mr D seems oblivious when he is talking with Mr Chivery, going on about what a great fellow John is, doesn't notice Mr C's coolness (he nearly slams the window into Mr D!).

Finally, Rigaud's story intercepts. He and his cellmate are both in London - the latter runs as soon as he sees Ragaud, is injured by a waggon and is helped by Arthur to a Mrs Plornish. I guess its because he's Spanish, but he starts flirting with her. Meanwhile, Rigaud is in a pub, notices another bloke sitting by himself (Mr Flintwinch's mate) - they get drunk, R leads him astray and murders him - takes the box of papers belonging to Mrs Clennam which F had entrusted to him.

A seed sown in the 3rd episode takes root: Arthur visits Daniel's factory, is very impressed and offers to be his man of business and thus the firm Doyce and Clennam is born.

I've acquired a handful of DVD's from trademe: Lorna Doone, The Shipping News, Annie Hall and Casablanca. I've actually only seen the last of these, although I have read the books of the first two. I popped into JB Hifi and was surprised to see that Olive Kitteridge was only $4, so grabbed a copy: I've not read any of Elizabeth Strout's novels but the folks on the Guardian TLS site rate her highly, and this TV miniseries version has Frances McDormand.

Reading

I'm finding Denise Mina's Still Midnight to be a quick, engaging read. She emphasised that when Eddy and Pat went into the Anwar's house, they were looking for a bloke called Bob. The whole family, however, tell the Police that it was "Rob" they were after. Why were Omar and his mate Mo sitting outside anyway? We learn a bit more about the Anwars from old Mr Anwar - they're from Uganda, and only just escaped - his mum gave some soldiers what they were looking for. She is very present to him now, holding his hand, talking with him. The only other insight we're given is from Alex Morrow's perspective - she's very observant, and notices that when one of the family called emergency services, he said Eddie was looking for Bob. She suspects Omar and has a secret half brother who is well connected with the Glaswegian underworld who gives her a great lead. There's growing tension between her and Bannerman, who interviews the Anwars and misses all the clues. Luckily Alex is watching to catch them. The other important relationship is that between Pat and Eddie: the latter likes to think he's in charge, has them dressed almost as military men, plans the whole gig but he's useless - on the verge at all times of breaking apart. Eddie is calmer, nicer, completely unsure why he has got involved with this mad scheme but it turns out that he's connected with a family to be feared.

Music

I don't listen to anywhere as much music as I used to, but I still follow up leads I come across on RNZ or twitter (sometimes facebook). This led to me buying a couple of CD's while in JB's - the second CD by London Grammar and the first by the Miltones (I have tickets to see both later in the year). Also exciting me: Aldous Harding's second CD turned up in the mail. After all the noise, and hearing her talk a couple of times, I also succumbed and bought Lorde's newly released CD.

Travel

I guess it counts. Since the sun was up and I've just spent a couple of grand getting the brakes and suspension fixed on the Jeep, I went for a "wee" drive - it turned out to be quite a long one. I left home thinking it would be nice to go to Brighton, to see about a new cafe I'd heard was opening there (not open). This led to me driving down the coast a bit further, following byways and exploring several dead-ends. I went through Taeiri mouth, then followed the Toko river out to its mouth - it was as still as a mirror, brilliant in the winter sun and gave off perfect reflections. If only I'd taken a camera with me. I carried on down the coast road as far as Kaitangata, where there is no way forward so turned inland to Balclutha. It was getting dark, but I still managed to linger there for an hour or so, checking out the new discount supermarket and the Warehouse. This put me at Waihola at around tea time, so I had a pint at the pub before grabbing fish and chips - confusingly, they deep fry marinated mussels, which took me a wee while to get my head around.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Friday 16 June

Reading

Very little to report on the reading front, as I've just started Denise Mina's Still Midnight. It opens with a badly executed home invasion: two blokes break into an Indian family's house, demanding a bloke called Bob ["Son, we're all Indians here. There's no Bobs here, wrong house."] take away the father as hostage for a two million pound ransom. There's a sort of cute feature to this as Pat (one of the perps) and Aleesha, a teenage occupant of the house, find they're into each other - until she playfully pulls at his balaclava and he shoots her hand, accidentally.

There are two unexplained Indian blokes sitting in a car - they follow the hostage takers but are pulled over by the Police and, being brown are treated as criminals. The Police do end up at the crime scene, and I meet DS Alex Morrow - Mina's lead character. She's obviously good at her job but offside with the powers that be, who're all about favouring the mediocre white man.

Watching

I spent so long the other night writing about Rachel Cusk that I didn't say anything on this front. I've started watching Masterchef Australia - it is on here this year much earlier than last year, when it ran on into my summer holidays and I missed the last ten or dozen shows. This week I saw episode 4, the first involving the op 24, where they brought in last year's winner to set a mystery box challenge. Most of the ingredients were pretty standard - chocolate, grapes, macadamia nuts, crab, goat's cheese and cucumber - but a couple I have never used. At least I've heard of lemon myrtle, but not Kaiserfleisch: I'm told it is a type of ham made from the eye of the pork loin, marinated one day and cooked the next. From memory, when my parents made ham, it would brine for about a week.

Although I've seen all episodes so far, the names haven't really stuck and I have no favourites yet - I liked Emily, and the dessert she made was apparently very good but not quite enough to get her the last apron. But then we get wee character studies of some of the contestants in their homes, which helps a bit - Pia is Italian, Brian is a fairly chunky Asian dude who fronts up with what he calls a deconstructed cheeseboard, Rashedul is an Indian bloke. They're mostly young - Benita is the only one my age. Her crab bisque with roti just doesn't sound like a sensible dish - roti is not absorbent enough. Bearded Benjamin is obviously going to have trouble when he knows he has made a mistake, thinks he should fix it, but then thinks he has no time to. Not only has he made his pasta too thin, but he then over-cooks it. Benita has more sense, realises her dish is not working and starts again, uses her roti (which don't look that great) for a wrap. Eliza seems nice, and George loves the test chocolate fondant she cuts open for him. Right as the cook finishes, Rashedul has a disaster - the fridge door catches his hand and he drops most of his dish, smashing the plate and laying waste to the food.

Judging time. Bryan is first up with his "cheeseboard" and the judges pick the plate clean, even fight over some elements, always a good sign. "Absolutely bloody delicious." I find it heartwarming. Pia produces something of equal quality - goats cheese ravioli, although it seemed to me that the dish would be a bit dry. Judges love it. They rund through the large number of pasta dishes - no raves, and Benjamin's is the only bad dish, bad enough to put him in the bottom three, along with Benita and Rashedul. Eliza came through with great fondants, and Sam turned in a novel cheese, wine and chocolate dish which went down well. The star of the first show, Callum, brought in caramelised Kaiserfleish, pickled grape sorbet, a crumb and the judges went mad over it ["completely gnarly and I love it"].

Tuesday is my main watching night - for the past while I've been watching an episode of Breaking Bad with a mate, which we wash down with cake and tea. This week it was episode 7 - Say My Name. Last week was a bit of a cliff-hanger: Walter has taken the thousand gallons of pre-cursor, which puts and end to the deal Mike has put together which would have seen 2/3 sold to a rival outfit and allowed Mike and Jesse to retire. Walter's idea is revealed this week: he will take the money from the other gang, keep the precursor but give them an equity stake in the business: for handling distribution, they'll get 35% of the returns. That gets Mike paid but leaves Jesse without payment, still in the business as far as Walter is concerned. But Jesse really does want out, so Walter has one of the pest control family learn the ropes.

The other major development is with the DEA. Mike has a lawyer put the cash into safety deposit boxes for the nine men he is paying to stay quiet, plus a fair chunk for his grand daughter. The lawyer is the weakest link, and the DEA grab him. Before he even says anything to the DEA, Walter acts, and Mike is dead. Not sure he meant to kill Mike, or things just go the better of him, but it does mean they're now in a world of trouble as there is nothing to keep Mike's men quiet - Walter doesn't even know who they are.

This week, we finished the evening off with a movie (the original Goodbye Pork Pie), boysenberry pie and ice cream. The movie held up pretty well, still funny, still counter-cultural, particularly in its attitude to the Police, who are made to look ridiculous. One thing I really noticed was that it doesn't actually pay close attention to geography: they're in Cromwell (pre-dam) and then they're coming down above Port Chalmers - not the most logical way to get to Invercargill. I did have one big surprise - the fellow who played Blondini is now a lawyer up in Whangarei.

Eating

I've mainly been eating at home, so apart from the normal visits to RdC and other cafes for coffee, the only eating out was at the Best Cafe on Monday. It was packed - half the customers were Lions supporters (the match was Tuesday) - and very noisy. I don't think the food was as good as at the Wharf Hotel, where I've been twice in the last few weeks to eat their cod, oysters and chips.


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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rachel Cusk - The Last Supper

Reading

So, I finished Rachel Cusk's The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy this evening.




As I was reading it, I was wondering what she had made of Italy, as she seemed rather ambivalent and non-committal - lots of pages devoted to describing the art she was seeing (despite there often being a photo of the work described).Towards the end, she says that art is necessary, in "order to digest the supermarkets and shopping malls, the litter and landfill sites, the pylons and traffic jams and motorway service stations that otherwise fill the eye". Rachel obviously gets art in a way I never have and am never likely to, but she perhaps spends so much time talking about it to conceal what's going on for her. It was actually at the family's last supper in Italy that "awakens" a love for Italy - it is a humble sort of night, they've pitched a tent in a camping ground, which sounds like a fairly normal sort of camping ground. When she asks the proprietor if there is something to eat, he volunteers to share the dinner his wife has cooked, and it is this encounter which arouses their emotions. I've possibly solved another mystery - why there are so few mentions of her husband. I'd forgotten that the book had to be pulped because an un-named someone did not want to be revealed in the book - I wonder if it was him?

There's a chapter devoted to Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino), the famous Renaissance painter, who she describes as lacking any "dimension of experience", lacking any sort of artist's ego - happy to mimic others. He was blown away by seeing the works of Michelangelo and da Vinci, but although hey influenced his style, he was unable to add an air of mystery to his work. They visit the Uffizi in Florence, and see his Madonna of the Goldfinch:


Apparently, Rafael had sufficient ego to try to derail Michelangelo's career: he was busy sculpting a tomb for Pope Julius until Rafael persuaded the Pope that it was bad form to have his tomb built while still alive. This did indeed lead to the Pope calling a halt to the project - but then he said to Michelangelo "Since you're at a loose end, how about a spot of painting?" And so the painting of the Sistine Chapel came about. D'oh!

After two months in the same house, they head south, through Rome, to Naples, "a city that has the appearance of living among its own ruins". This, I think, is my favourite chapter - quite a lot of movement, not so much art analysis, accounts of what she is seeing and of the kids. Her imagination runs amok - she envisions Naples as some sort of bodily organ presiding over its own world of waste and renewal, populated by "sinuous, lustrous headed boys and girls" flying past on mopeds and men "so dark and pagan-looking, so powerful and savagely polite! [yet] absolutely mysterious".The train that takes them to Pompeii tunnels "furiously through poverty and grandeur alike, as though it didn't care for the difference".

The plan had been to get to Capri, as the turning point in their travels, "the gold coin at the bottom of the pool" she needed to grasp to be released, but a strike means there are no boats. This leads to her questioning the whole plan, asking "what are we doing here?" saying she has lost her sense of understanding. Instead, they spend 15 euro to enter a beach, arm themselves with icy drinks and examine the neighbours with "unconscionable thoroughness".

Rome, when they return, is a madhouse - European cup quarter-final - although apparently it is no longer the capital city of unbecoming groping: men are keeping their hands to themselves. Evolution?

As the book ends, she muses on the impact of the three months in Italy: not long enough to have the feeling and habits of living there but long enough to lose the sense of being a visitor. It has also made them change, so that going home will require a re-adjustment - perhaps for the two girls most of all,who would like to stay forever, having forgotten the sadness of leaving home. Rachel doesn't want to stay or settle, wants to roam but I guess that was not feasible. 



One blog post to finish with, about a fellow who decides he really must listen to some Albanian music, but it is unsurprisingly difficult to find any in New York.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunday 11 June

Reading

I managed about 100 pages of Rachel Cusk's The Last Supper today. The family spends a week in a rented countryhouse near Barga, in Tuscany, although most of what Rachel writes about this week is focussed on their trip to Lucca:

Lucca stands in an unbroken circle of gigantic walls. They are forty or fifty feet high, dark, and so thick that over time they have become a land formation, a strange circular isthmus with lawns and trees and paths on the top. They were built in the sixteenth century to keep out the Tuscans, those gentle Chianti-quaffing folk, and now, in their retirement, with their neat paths and barbered lawns, they provide tourists with a circular bicycle ride and a view of the plains and mountains from their colossal shoulders.

The walls provide a bulwark against anything modern: within them, an "atmosphere of unusual refinement prevails", with every "infelicitous speck of modernity" "sieved out". Apart from doing the cycle ride, they do little but leave "satisfied" - the hunger to see everything has not yet come upon them.

Unusually, they next settle into a house in an unnamed village (possibly Monterchi - it has a schoolhouse with a pregnant Madonna) near Arezzo, on the border between Tuscany and Umbria for two months. One of the reasons for this location seems to be to check out various artworks by Piero della Francesca - the village is his mother's birthplace. There is a lot of discussion of art - his and that of Giotto. This is one of the pregnant Madonna's he painted:

They encounter a chap from Dundee who has lived here for 14 years and manages to speak Italian without compromising his Dundee accent one bit. Rachel (and presumably her partner - he is present but almost never mentioned) spends a fair amount of time with him - he kind of looks after Brit expats. I'm thinking Rachel is a bit of a snob - he invites them all to a "cha-cha" festivity, but she disdains it. Ultimately they do all go along, and it turns out to be a big Sunday social event involving food - ciaccia, a kind of pizza-bread sandwich.

Assisi, the birthplace of St Francis, is about 80 km away - they go down and explore the Basilica:


They only pay two other visits in today's reading - to the nearby castle and to a hotel, the latter to play tennis against Jim and the hotel owner. This is an odd hotel - its guests are Brits who come over at the same time every year and, once there, don't leave the premises. I liked what Rachel had to say but speaking Italian with Silvio, a fellow who provides care-taking services to many of the local houses:

There is something about him, an atmosphere of fracture and recovery, an inward knowledge of failure and of resurrection, that emboldens me to practice my Italian. Silvio's talk is easy to understand; his listening, so quite and spacious, accommodates my clumsy sentences.   
He lives right at the top of a mountain where, oddly, there are just two houses back to back - the other had contained a mate of Silvio's but is empty.

My favourite chapter, called Gianfanco's Store, is really about food. Every place to eat in the village has the same menu, and this limited offering is reflected in the contents of the store - except for the wild variety of gelato available. If people want to change what they eat, they have to go to the next village. Rachel is not the omnivore she'd like to be, avoiding entire continents because of the food she might encounter - places where they eat monkey brains or cats or guinea pigs. Does she not know that these items are not compulsory? I do wonder if she is right about the early Indian migrants to England washing the sauce off baked beans in order to get something they could cook?

Apart from reading Rachel Cusk, I inevitably read a bunch of blogs and items pointed out to me on Twitter. Here's a selection of three items:

  1. An account, in mock biblical language, of the recent election in the UK, the Book of Jeremy Corbyn - it is very funny;
  2. A particularly savage review by Marina O'Loughlin of the Nova dining complex in Victoria (London);
  3. A piss-take by Nora Ephron in the New Yorker of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - a book I did enjoy, but that doesn't mean I can't also enjoy this.

Watching

Just the second episode of Little Dorrit. It is clear that John is infatuated with Amy - he is very relieved when he finds that Arthur Clennam is apparently not interested. John's dad also seems to see a match - has an oblique talk with Mr Dorrit. I can't get over how clean Amy is at all times. Arthur does sit her down and talk with her, in a coffee shop she finds "very grand", but he really does seem to be concerned about putting right whatever his family did to her family (a conversation between his mum and Mr Flintwich makes it clear there is something - the latter says she should have given a chance for redemption).

A theme is developing about debt: Arthur doesn't see the point of locking people up for it, then we see a family on the point of eviction because they lack rent. It tuns out that the rent-collector is employed by an old friend of Mr Clennam, and that he has a daughter who was a childhood sweetheart of Arthur's - their parents forbade a match. She is now made up to be repulsive, but still carrying a torch for him. They all have dinner, along with the rent collector and his mad old aunt - Arthur employs the rent collector to get to the bottom of the problem with the Dorrit family.

This follows a disastrous visit to the Circumlocution Office - Dickens describes its function: "Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT". Arthur naturally gets the run-around - coming in to ask questions is certainly not how to do it. He leaves and runs into a similarly defeated Meagles.

Still don't know how Rigaud fits in: it is made very clear by the French accents in the hotel he visits that he is still in France - in fact, he is the main topic of conversation in the bar. He takes a barmaid to bed and, oddly, finds his cell-mate. Killing seems to be a hobby for him: the barmaid never wakes.

Eating

I went in to Vangaurd for a coffee: there was a chocolate cake that looked so good, it actually provoked an outburst. Not sure what happened, but it was rather mangled when it arrived at my table. I also visited somewhere I have not been for a long time - Fat Harry's - for a Sunday roast. It must be about the busiest dining room in town at 7:00 on a Sunday evening.  
 



Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 2017 update

Golly - I have not posted here since the end of 2013. I still find a need, however, to jot down a few things about what I'm reading, watching, hearing or tasting - as I get older, I'm finding it harder to keep track of such things. To kick things off again, rather than try to write formal reviews or the like, I'll just kick off with what I did today.

Reading

I am midway through Michael Crummey's Sweetland. This is a novel set on an island somewhere near St John's, Newfoundland. Moses Sweetland is he main character - his family have been on the island (it bears his familial name) for 200+ years. The cod fishing dried up about a generation ago and the island is so unsustainable that the government is willing to pay everyone $150,000 to leave the island. The catch is that everyone has to agree - and Moses (initially with a couple of others) won't budge. There are incidents aimed at making him leave - beheaded rabbits and a fire - but the first half of the novel is mainly about revealing the nature of the man and his relationships with the islanders. He comes across as a curmudgeon but there have been many recipients of his kindness in the past and, indeed, his nephew is a current recipient. I find I need to mention the Priddle brothers - twins born nine months apart, drunks, losers in many ways, but when something terrible happens, one of them is really there for Sweetland. Two last points about what I have read so far. Reet seems to have done everyone's hair as a community service for ever - but this is the kind of place that Duke can start a barber's business, have people come in and shoot the breeze or play chess but have no customers for 20 years! The second point is a sport the Priddles engage in - one holds a lit cigarette up and the other tries to put it out - using a .22 rifle! 

I had to put the book aside, however, because I need to read Rachel Cusk's The Last Supper for bookclub. It is about her family's travels to Italy - I'm on page 43 and they're about to arrive. Her prose is immaculate, although I thought she was a bit mean. They go across on the ferry and the two kids, like kids the world over, want a treat. At first they can't have one because the canteen is not open, then "to their satisfaction [it] eventually opens, though this represents no particular change in their circumstances". Earlier, writing of their first morning, when they have to wake up really early: "It is half past four: it is the first stroke of the chisel on the block of our travels." Rachel is learning Italian with the aid of a couple of textbooks - the sort that has conversations between people in various situations. She starts of saying that they provide a kind of guide to etiquette, but then muses for several pages on the characters of the people in the books. On the way to Italy, the family spends two nights in France in two different private homes - operated as posh B&B's - which Rachel reports on in great detail.

Watching

It is probably good that I wasn't writing this a week ago, as I would have had to recount my experience of watching The Bachelor New Zealand. I will say that he probably made the right choice for him: Viarni is nice, without the spirit or spark Lily has, but at least Zac was able to work out that he wouldn't be able to keep up with her. Poor Claudia was devastated by not even being in the top two - she really grew on me as the show progressed.

But today's watching was a wee bit more high-brow than that - the first episode of the recent BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit. I've not yet read the book, so watching it first feels a bit like cheating but, well, I think I'm really going to enjoy it. Amy is Little Dorrit: she is 21, has spent her whole life in Marshalsea debtor's prison, where her dad has a remarkably spacious apartment. During the course of this episode, her brother Tip (who doesn't seem to be able to stick at anything) is also locked up for non-payment of 40 pound, although dad must not know.

Amy gets a job as junior housemaid for a crotchety old lady, Mrs Clennam, who has a rundown fabric shop and is confined to a wheelchair. Her other help is Jeremiah Flintwich, who presumably runs the shop and acts as a sort of butler, and his "wife", Affery. She's lovely, says their marriage was cooked up by the two "clever ones" - she was just told to bring her bonnet and it was done. He's a nasty piece of work, lurches and mutters as he walks, has his head cocked to one side, bullies her and when he is instructed to burn some important documents, only pretends to. We don't know what they are yet, but they're obviously significant. Mrs C wants them burnt because her son, Arthur, has come back after a 15 year absence, convinced by his father that there are dirty dealings in the family's past, dealings for which reparation must be made. He thinks it has something to do with Amy, as his mum is uncharacteristically kind to her. This sees Arthur follow Amy to Marshalsea and get locked in.

There's another family, the Meagles, I don't know how they fit in yet, but they were on the same boat as Arthur, and he seems to be taken with the daughter. With them they have Harriet, although they call her Tatty or Tattycoram - she gets very upset with being called baby names and having the fetch and carry for them when they won't do the same for her. I hope this is not some sort of play on her unknowingly being a slave. There's a Miss Wade who seems to want to safeguard her.

Finally, there's Rigaud - a "distinguished murderer", not some "petty smuggler" who is released from a French prison and (I think) ends up in England.

Listening

Not so much - I came across a band called The Miltones and listened to several of their songs on Youtube. I liked them so much that I bought a ticket for a show they're doing here in July.

Eat and Drink

After about a year's absence, I went in to Marbecks - it may have changed hands since I was there last, there were just a few subtle differences, like the ham and cheese toasties having a different composition. Coming home, I popped into the new Sampan House - cheap, cheerful and very brightly lit. Liked the Bong Bong chicken, but the Chinese sausage fried rice could have done with more sausage. The only other occupants were a family celebrating a 21st - the parents seemed to delight in mocking the way the birthday boy looked when he was first born.

Travel

If today had gone to plan, none of the above would have been written. I was going to go for a drive into central, check out the Ida Valley, stay in Ranfurly, come back via the Kurow Hotel. Sadly, my Jeep let me down - repairs to the suspension revealed considerable problems with the brakes which needed to be rectified. Full credit to Midas, however, who are not a paint by numbers mechanic here: the owner is an old school mechanic who has had the business 27 years. He worked Friday night and through Saturday, then invited me down to show me exactly what has to be done.
      

Monday, November 11, 2013

Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Well l have a slightly awkward confession to make. The first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, when I had both the means and the interest to see it. I was very quick to go watch Star Wars I when it came out and have seen bits and pieces of the various Star Wars movies as they have shown up on TV. Throughout my life, I have participated in countless conversations in which there have been Jedi, Princess Leia and R2D2 references and "may the force be with you" has taken on a life of its own. I have not, however, sat down and actually watched any of the Star Wars movies except for the first prequel. Time, I think, to rectify the situation.

Starting in the middle of a shootout, I can already see that a sequel could be useful to provide a backstory as to what is going on between the Imperial Forces and the Rebels - we are obviously supposed to be with the Rebels. When Darth Vader comes on the scene, it becomes obvious the men in white are after the deathstar plans, but I do think Darth Vader needs a more manly voice. I am impressed by the sharpness of the images - no doubt there has been some digital trickery. R2D2 and C3P0 (not that anyone seems to ever refer to him by name) make an unlikely pair (almost a squabbling couple) to send on an important mission - it is comical and a bit sad when R2D2 is shot by the Jawas and falls over! Luke Skywalker is surprisingly petulant and whiny when we meet him. But he quickly grows on me, when he and C3P0 chase after R2D2 and meet up with Obi Wan Kenobi - and there goes the Jedi light sabre.

The quest is now on, to get Princess Leia's message to her father, and have Luke learn his heritage, knowledge of the force. It is a big thing: Darth Vader has to warn the Imperials that no matter how good their tech, the force is stronger. But like most people in power, they think they are impregnable. They prove it by blowing up a planet with no defences at all, Princess Leia's planet. Killing Luke's guardians now means it is game on. The Force:it has a strong influence on the weak minded - so Obi Wan Kenobi can easily get past the Imperial security droids. Discrimination shows its ugly head when Luke and C3P0 go into the rough bar replete with criminals of every strip but gentle droids are not welcome. Han Solo: so nonchalant "sorry about the mess"! Is it really safe for Luke to be trying out his light sabre inside the space ship? Certainly isn't safe to fire a weapon in a sealed garbage storage unit. 

About an hour in, there's a significant change of pace: sure, there have been the occasional skirmishes, but now they are sucked in to the Death Star and, even though they can't be found, they're prisoners. And there it is - "the force will be with you". Nice big shoot out, rescue mission and now Luke meets Leia - all precursors to the showdown between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi. She's sassy and not grateful to guys who rescue her without any proper plans - even Han Solo likes her. "One thing's for sure - we're going to be a lot thinner". More humour when C3P0 thinks they're all dying but are actually jubilant at surviving. "this big walking carpet" = Chewbacca. So many Imperial forces and yet they hit no-one.

Escape turns out to be surprisingly quickly achieved - I was sure we'd see most of the hour used up on it, but all the fighting is in short bursts. But now there's space fighters and Leia is now willing to hug the carpet. Think she's disappointed with Solo - but the overall mission is a success, in that they find a way into destroy the Death Star. But why is R2D2 flying along with Luke in Red5? They really needed a squad of fighters to protect the fighters going in for the kill - they're being picked off by Darth in the rear. Luckily the commander's sense of invulnerability hasn't left him yet, which is what makes the Death Star vulnerable. Up to you Luke, with your bush pilot skillz. But three minutes to go and Darth right on his tail and the Rebel base in range of the Death Star - the force is with him. Up she goes. Missed Solo coming in to help. Poor old R2D2 not looking so hot.

So, the last 30 minutes turned into a pretty tense sort of fight and I have to say that for a movie nearly 40 years old, it is holding up pretty well, with the tech looking good. I don't watch many modern movies of this ilk, but my impression is that they tend to make fights into long drawn out melodramas: the fighting here was all taut and short and sweet.