Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Blog

I've been quite remiss of late with this blog. Just been a bit busy. BUT... not too busy to create a new blog today: a tandem tale, which is a much-needed way to release some creativity with a long-time writing friend of mine. We've had so much fun with them in the past. We must have written about 20 by now.

This is usually a very spontaneous, un-thought out story, that veers wildy around, blissfully unconcerned with logic, historical accuracy and consistency. Instead it frees my creative mind to do the other work I have to, or want to, do.

And, by the way, I'm "J" and he's "M".

Monday, January 28, 2008

Quote of the Day

"For a woman there is nothing more erotic than being understood."

by Molly Haskell

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ramblings on Food, Film and - er - Fiction

Taking a break from writing, to talk about... well, reading, for a start.

I'm nearly finished The Subtle Knife and can't wait to devour The Amber Spyglass, last novel in Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. Regarding ideal readership, this series truly is ageless. Those of you who have read the books will probably know how I felt when I came to this line on page 301 of my edition of The Subtle Knife:

And now those eyes were looking down at the last landscape they'd ever see: a barren landscape of brutal, tumbled rocks, and beyond it a forest on fire.

I was very sad! I'm not giving anything away by transcribing it here. Even if you are one chapter behind me in reading, I doubt you'll be able to guess who this line is referring to. Sigh... And of course I'm very curious about why a friend of mine, J, still has not read the last ten minutes of the last book.

Interesting how things connect. Late last night I was watching some scenes from my favourite opera DVD, ENO's Xerxes, with English translation by Nicholas Hytner, who also directed the wonderful stage version of Twelfth Night I saw in New York in 1988 with Paul Rudd, Helen Hunt and Philip Bosco as Malvolio. When Bosco made his entrance after his humiliation, he was so magnificently hang-dog that a young girl sitting next to me clasped her throat and gasped, "Oh poor Malvolio!" And then I was doing some internet rambling on His Dark Materials to find that Nicholas Hytner had directed it at the National Theatre in London. How I would have loved to have seen that! With Patricia Hodge as Mrs. Coulter, Timothy Dalton as Lord Asriel, and Anna Maxwell Martin (who was so moving as Esther in Bleak House in 2005) as Lyra.

On to film, and I've been very happy to stumble upon BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme, with its host Francine Stock providing interesting film news and a host of interviews with heaps o' interesting film types. In an archived programme from Dec. 28, Thelma Schoonmaker (famed editor for Martin Scorcese and latterly wife of Michael Powell) talks of her career and those two fascinating men who have played such important roles in her life.

*SPOILER ALERT: There are some fascinating tidbits, such as Scorcese being inspired by scenes like one in Powell's Black Narcissus (1947) when Sister Ruth tries to kill Sister Clodagh, to create the ending scene in Goodfellas (1990)... the inspiration being Powell's idea of a "composed film", where a film is very much shot to fit in to certain bars of music. I didn't know that Raging Bull (1980) was her first film for Scorcese and of course she won an Oscar for it - her first of three in total.

The bread (which I haven't made in ages) was a success. I have managed to stop eating it. This is an experiment based on a no-knead recipe by Chef Michael Smith, in turn inspired by Manhattan baker Jim Lahey who apparently has "sparked a worldwide home baking revolution." D'oh... this is the first I've heard of it. I'm committed to trying more variations out... and will keep the blog updated on it. When I bake the next loaf, I will attempt to photograph it before we fall upon it like a pack of slavering beasts.

I Guess I Could Knit a Tourniquet

Knowing how slow a knitter I am, I figured I'd start planning Christmas presents now. And, in my homey feeling, baked some bread... all to my personal soundtrack today of Evanescence.

"K... I have to use up this purple-sparkly stuff..."

I tried to kill the pain
But only brought more

"Oooh, what about baby alpaca for everyone? Mmmmm, a bit sheddy on its own. Maybe a combo. Ooh, dough has risen nicely."

And I'm pouring crimson regret and betrayal
I'm dying praying bleeding and screaming
Am I too lost to be saved
Am I too lost?

"Maybe I could learn some cabling, but what about the other side - do I make them all double-sided? Mmmm... heathery-toned kind of cabled scarves... with a lovely corn pattern or Celtic symbol. Oven's hot enough."

My God my tourniquet
Return to me salvation

"Bread good, fire bad. Hee hee. What about this waffle stitch, with lots of lovely different coloured ribbons for the fringe, but all complimentary of course... ooooh - this is pretty!"

Will you be on the other side
Or will you forget me
I'm dying praying bleeding and screaming

"Mmmmmmmmm... fresh-baked bread. Why did I give up simple carbs for the New Year? Hey... where are the bamboo needles? TIBBY!"

My wounds cry for the grave
My soul cries for deliverence

"Gosh... so many lovely colours. Sigh... Hey! I could try the new Guinness Marmite out with the bread!"

Will I be denied Christ
My suicide

"Yum yum."

"Tourniquet" (Moody/Lee/Hodges/Gray)

My Love Is

My Love Is
(Billy Myles)

My love, my love is a mountainside so firm -
So firm it can calm the tide
My love for you is a mountainside
It stands so firm it can calm the tide
That's why my love, my love is
A mountainside

My love, my love is an ocean's roar
So strong, so strong that I can't let you go
My love for you is an ocean's roar
It's grown so strong that I can't let you go
That's why my love, my love is
An ocean's roar

My love is longer than forever
And endless as the march of time
'Till ninety-nine years after never
In my heart you'll still be mine
Because my love
My love is a deep blue sea
So deep, so deep that I'll never be free
My love for you is a deep blue sea
It's grown so strong that I'll never be free
That's why my love, my love is
A deep blue sea

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Classical Evening at Home

We started out with a DVD of Fidelio. Karita Mattila is a moving and wonderful Leonore, with a supporting cast of Rene Pape and Ben Heppner, etc. It was filmed live from the Met in 2002. I've never really been interested in this opera but this production, and this particular performance, was just wonderful. Moving and illustrative of all opera can be, and how - when all the elements come together - it is such a great theatrical form.

And now a historic DVD from 1967 - Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake. It's sightly dated, but quite wonderful, and I always love seeing the two of them dance - what chemistry they had. They first danced together in 1962: she was 43 and thinking of retiring and he was 24 and just newly defected from Russia. She had a magnificent second career and he - of course - was just starting his and, together, they formed the most famous dance partnership in ballet.

I Kid You Not

More from Secrets of Charm... transcribed exactly as printed:

Your Turn

There would be fewer gaucheries when a hostess turns to receive a guest or a secretary wheels to receive the boss's afterthought if more women knew how to rightabout-face. Although no actress or model would think of moving across a stage without learning this trick, women in private life seldom bother about the maneuver. It would increase their grace and poise considerably if they would.

Aim high! Be the exception!

You will give a four-star performance upon besting this technique: Place your right foot one pace ahead of your body, pointing it outward at a forty-five degree angle. Put all your weight on the ball of this foot. Gently skim the left heel along the floor until the left toes point to the right toes. Fell awkward? Wait until you've practiced a bit!

Now, lifting both heels just enough to clear the floor, pivot on your toes until you are facing in the opposite direction and then draw the right heel into the left instep. Repeat the turn by starting out on the left foot.

All movements must flow one into the other without a hitch. You must neither hurry nor tarry; waltz time is about the right pace. After you have gained control, your device will be no more apparent than that of a magician levitating his accomplice. To complete the illusion, raise both hands as you turn from an at-side position and clasp both hands a little above wasit level. Whatever the next move may be - shaking another's hand or taking supplementary dictation - you will be in a position to do it without fumbling.

Here is another grace worth cultivating. What charmer can ever acquire too many!


I was watching Chef at Large a while ago with Chef Michael Smith, and he was visiting the D. C. Central Food Kitchen in Washington, D. C.

This organization - from what I gathered - takes food that would otherwise be wasted (from restaurants, hotels etc.) and uses it to produce good meals for thousands of needy locals and also provides training in their establishment for unemployed people. Apparently 1/4 of our food is unnecessarily going to waste. ONE QUARTER! The mind boggles.

The Kitchen's mission is to use food as a tool to:

Strengthen Bodies, by safely recovering unserved food from local foodservice businesses to feed children and adults at partner agencies throughout the greater Washington area

Empower Minds, by providing culinary job training for unemployed men and women and community service opportunities for youth and adults

Build Communities, by providing working examples, innovative solutions, and shared technology to a cooperative and effective national network of programs that use food to make change in their communities. trouble being employed.

The founder, Robert Egger, and his staff, are truly inspirational. I was left quite gobsmacked at the difference one person and one great idea and a lot of collaboraters can have.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Curve in the Road

I like trails, roads, horizons, everything that looks forward with a momentum. I especially enjoy curves in the road, while walking or driving. Who knows what lays behind the next bend? This picture is from a long hike in 2005, from an early part in the route that had this tire-track along it. I remember it being several hours long and a very hot day. It was perfect. The trees, as usual, did their wonderful job of providing shade and breeze.

Have I mentioned how much I love trees?

Secrets of Charm

Here is another priceless bit from Secrets of Charm:

A woman is as old as her hats! She tells the world that she is a dowager when she dons a stiff, winged toque. Or she publicizes her lack of discretionary powers when at sixteen she attempts to wear egrets and sequins. These, of course, are extreme examples, and the line of propriety is drawn exceedingly fine. The ideal hat is one that leaves no age impression whatever.

Dangit - I knew I was making a big mistake with the egrets. Will I NEVER learn? Sigh....

Monday, January 14, 2008

And then there's Juno

I saw Juno yesterday, finally, after weeks of meaning to. A frustrating experience. It was beautifully acted. And - with one exception - well written for all the characters.

That exception would be the title role: Juno. The actress is a delight. The part.... well, she's a smart-mouthed, quirky, 16-year-old girl who rapid-fires out dialogue less like an intelligent teenager in a bit of a pickle, and more like a burnt-out, stand-up comedian who's stayed up all night desperately trying to come up with uber-cool snappy answers to stupid questions. I know teenagers. I know adults. NO-ONE TALKS LIKE THIS. It's like a bad episode of Gilmore Girls or Bringing Up Baby, to show two other examples of this type of talk-over-truth. How could I not enjoy Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn? Well I didn't. Bringing Up Baby was agony for me from start to finish. So it's a comedy.... so what? I want to believe it emotionally. I want to feel the actors say what they have to say, not remark on how well they are spitting out their excruciatingly over-composed dialogue.

With Juno the film tries way too hard to be quirky and it was very frustrating because it appeared to be the one wrong move in the whole thing.

I'm glad I saw it though. It's just that one huge sound sore in the middle of it, rather like a nasty looking pimple on an alabaster brow.

The popcorn was consistent throughout.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

So Much to Read, so Little Time

I'm in the middle of The Subtle Knife, the second in Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy and it's quite un-put-downable. Also, still reading Suite Française. How to be Idle is an ongoing joy, I do a chapter every now and then. I also have The Professor and the Madman and Years of Rice and Salt to read next. That is not counting the numerous books on my bookshelves I have yet to read. I am seriously going to attempt another purge as the bookshelves are entirely out of control.

Honest guv...

I finally got A Breath of Snow and Ashes in paperback and started flipping through it, appalled once again at everything Jamie, Claire, Brianna and Roger had to endure. As for the potential filming of Outlander (the first book in the series), well... tonight I watched the first episode of Rome (it's finally being shown on History Channel) and I have to agree with Laura's suggestion that Kevin McKidd (Scottish born) play Jamie. He gets my vote.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Playing "Consequences"

There are traditions that are good to let fade away, and then there are new ones that are fun to incorporate.

One tradition that is constant in my family at Christmas is playing an old English children's party game called "Consequences." In this game, each person has a piece of paper and a pencil. At the top of the page, you write down a man's name. You fold your piece of paper over so no-one else can see it, and pass it on to the person on your right. You take the piece of paper from the person on your left and write down a woman's name. No-one knows what has been written before on the piece of paper they are writing on. And so it goes... passing on the piece of paper after each entry, which are as follows:

1. A man's name
2. A woman's name
3. Where they met
4. At what time
5. What he said to her
6. What she said to him.
7. What his reaction was
8. What her reaction was
9. What the consequence was
10. And what the lesson is for us all

After you've written down the last entry (#10) everyone has a piece of paper that is folded over many times. Throw all the folded up papers into a hat. Each person picks one out, and takes turns unfolding it and reading it out. It really gets silly and it helps that everyone is digesting and a bit squiffy.

Here is one from this last, drunken Christmas bout of "Consequences":

... George Bush met
... Georgia O'Keefe
... In a pet shop
... In the early hours of dawn
... He said to her: "Be gentle with me, I'm feeling very vulnerable"
... She said to him: "Everything you read on the bathroom wall is true... because I wrote it"
... He invited her to sit on his lap, with a leer
... She was moved to tears by his tenderness
... The consequence was they ran out of whipped cream and threw themselves into the pool
... And the lesson for us all is: Loose elastic in your knickers can be detrimental AND beneficial to your social life

Yes... it helps to be very, very squiffy. But honestly, it is fun with the right group, and it can get quite naughty too.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


There is such strength in gentleness, that few can truly express it.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Some Recent Pictures

On a walk down my street:

"Illustration of priorities": top: my small, almost-empty tool box; bottom: my busting-at-the-seams big cake-decorating box.

Guess what I got for Christmas from Dr. M! Yes! He remembered how excited I got when I discovered that Marmite and Guinness had combined their magic into one... and scoured the internet to find a jar of this limited edition experiment. Yet to be opened. Stay tuned for a review as early as tomorrow.

Tibby looking very suave. His white chest and paws are the whitest they have ever been now he's solely an indoor cat.

The CN Tower from my street.

BCE Place, a 15-minute walk from where I live, and a great example of two architectures working together, neither being compromised.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Secrets of Charm

A couple of years back, in a kind of antique-junk shop, I found a book entitled "Secrets of Charm", by John Robert Powers and Mary Sue Miller (who had written a personal dedication in the book). It was published in 1954.

The printed dedication reads:

where the secrets of charm originate,
as attested by its charming graduates in every field of endeavour.

It's a delightful cornucopia of antiquated advice, some of which is deeply dated, but a little of which still holds true, and quite often innocently offensive.

I'll be transcribing some excerpts over the next little while. For today, here is the opening paragraph of the chapter titled "Charming of Grace":

There is no one more attractive in a man's eye than a graceful woman. Like a streamlined car, she satisfies the masculine criterion of smooth performance combined with smooth looks. With her every action beautiful to see, she wins the constant glance. No woman should ever settle for less than a graceful, poised carriage.

"Like a streamlined car..." Ooookay. I'm no E-type Jag, but I'll survive this crushing knowledge.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Quote of the Day for the New Year

"Now I've kissed you through two centuries."

Previously quoted on my blog, Laurence Oliver as Lord Nelson to Vivien Leigh as Lady Hamilton in That Hamilton Woman (1941). The year turns from 1799 to 1800 and he is kissing her atop a Neopolitan balcony, fireworks exploding before them.

We've had snow, then a slight melt, and a frost. It's all very pretty out there, just not great for walking. But walk I did! My parents are staying with me temporarily/long-term, and we have recycled The Cold so are all starting the year in ill health - dagnabit!