The Bingo Palace

In October I read The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich, the 4th of her Love Medicine series. In it we meet a lot of the characters familiar from the earlier three novels, but the main character this time round is Lipsha Morrissey, the son of Gerry Nanapush, who is in jail for lots of (often trumped-up) charges, and June Morrissey, who committed suicide when Lipsha was still a baby. He’s also the grandson of Lulu Larmartine and the great-grandson of Fleur Pillager (who is by now very old, but still lives alone and is feared for her powers). Fleur appears to see Lipsha as a possible successor, but Lipsha is unsure of his own powers and terrified of Fleur (but maybe, just maybe, she will be his saviour when he is embroiled in a deeper scrape that his usual ones).

Bingo

Lipsha is a good-hearted person who is searching for his identity or aim in life. His chapters in the novel are told from his point-of-view in the first person. He’s a bit of a drifter. He has shamanic healing powers which he loses, at least for a time, because he uses them for gain. He’s also strangely lucky at gambling but not good at holding on to his winnings, as he (kind of naively) allows his uncle Lyman Lamartine to cheat him. Lyman and Lipsha have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, Lyman gives Lipsha a job, but on the other the two are rivals for the love of Shawnee Ray, who had an affair with Lyman that resulted in a baby.

Lipsha has a lot of funny (or tragically funny) mishaps which quite often take serendipitous turns. One time he’s on a vision quests involving a sweat lodge that goes horrifically (and hilariously) wrong due to an odiferous encounter with a skunk. But later, Lipsha does have interesting and revealing visions important for his self-knowledge.

Just as Lipsha’s life seems to be taking a turn for the better and Shawnee Ray is starting to return his love, he involves himself in the prison escape of his father Gerry. The two of them steal a car to escape from the police, but don’t notice that there’s a baby strapped into a car seat in the back. So Lispha ends up not only aiding an escaped convict, but also becomes an accessory in a kidnapping (even if inadvertently). He also ends up stranded with the baby in a white car in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere while his father takes off with the spirit of his dead mother. Odd, right?

There are a lot of supernatural or magical realist elements in the novel. Or maybe it’s all just a different way of looking at the world and interpreting events. It’s fascinating. As usual, there’s a community’s worth of characters and we get many vignettes about their lives. We learn some really terrible details about June’s childhood in one of the many flashbacks – I’m sure her terrible childhood was a contributing factor to her later suicide. All characters are well-realized in Erdrich’s novels, even those that have very small supporting roles. I enjoy that with each novel I learn more about so many characters and that minor characters in one novel may reappear as major characters in another. It’s like a jigsaw or a mosaic that’s getting more and more detailed and colourful. The novel is very open-ended. The reader doesn’t know what’s up with the supernatural elements, especially Gerry going off with Spirit-June and leaving Lipsha stranded in the snow. I hope the following books in the series provide more details about Lipsha’s future.

I especially enjoyed this novel, because Lipsha is such a likeable character. The Bingo Palace is the novel I like best of the series so far.

Keep safe, world.

November Reading

A very short list of books read in November. I took part in Non-Fiction November (as last year) and that made me read less, because I have a slower reading speed with non-fiction.

Ongoing project:
Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I read a lot of this and now only have about 200 pages to go which I hope to finish this weekend. It’s fascinating but also very strange. When I’m done, I’ll write a review.

Non-Fiction:
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence.
My project for Non-Fiction November. It was super interesting, see my review here.

Howl

Poetry:
Robert Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets.
Finished this anthology that I started in July. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s amazing how many women poets were around in the 18th century. Their poetry is no worse than that of a lot of male poets who are listed in all the major literary histories, while no-one has ever heard of most of the women. Unfair!

Children’s Literature:
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle.
A modern classic of children’s lit. Part of a trilogy and I’m certainly planning on reading the other parts too (they are already on my Kindle). I love the Chrestomanci Series and wanted to read some of Jones’ other works because they are just so quirky and imaginative. Somehow, I never came across her books as a child or a teenager, which is a pity, as I’m sure I’d have loved her books as much as I loved Joan Aiken’s works.

Keep safe, world.

From Dawn to Decadence

For non-fiction November, I wanted to read a large and hopefully fascinating tome that would last me all month, like I did last year. I chose Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Year of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present. I’ve known about this book for years, but never got around to read it, so I thought this was a good time to tackle it.

I enjoyed the book very much, although I didn’t agree with every judgement of Barzun’s. Some topics I know almost nothing about (such as music) and therefore can’t tell whether Barzun gets it right or not. But that didn’t matter to me because I don’t need to judge everything. I don’t think I’ll ever know very much about the cultural history of music as that’s not a topic I’m particularly keen on, but reading about it in this book was interesting, even for a clueless reader like myself. Other topics I am more familiar with, such as literary history and general history. I still had a lot of aha moments where subjects were presented to me in a way I had never thought of before, but which I found compelling.

One subject on which I felt Barzun got it wrong was when he argues that women were historically in practice not oppressed much more than most men, because the common man used to have very few rights, too. Quite a few men and women did manage extraordinary feats despite being oppressed, I agree, but that’s only true for exceptionally talented people. It’s true that for centuries common people, men and women, were not very free, but the common man could always deem himself the master of the common woman. So, when oppressed lower class men struggled to achieve something they had to fight against all sorts of prejudices and hindrances from the ruling classes, while women always had to struggle in addition against men from their own class and against general prejudices against all women (such as that women were supposedly unfit for leadership or learning). And while men gained more and more freedom and rights as the centuries passed, these rights were not automatically extended to women. He’s also at one point rather dismissive of women’s complaints about sexual harassment in everyday life – a very male point-of-view (I guess the book was written before the #metoo-movement).

DawnDec

The book is a hefty tome at 828 pages with small print, but it covers a large scope and is full of variety so that it never gets boring. The style is clear and engaging without academic jargon. Barzun looks at historical events, at literature, the arts, music, and science. There a many short biographical sketches of important and interesting men and women and numerous quotes appear as small textual inserts. There are many instances where Barzun mentions other books to read if one wants to learn more about certain developments that can only be sketched in a large overview.

I also like the themes that Barzun returned to again and again at different points in his narrative. Themes like emancipation, primitivism, scientism, self-consciousness. For instance, primitivism means the desire to return to a simpler, more authentic life – this comes up very often at different periods between 1500 and 2000. One early instance was the Protestant Reformation, where one of the aims was to return to a simpler Christianity as practiced by the early church without all the hierarchies and rules that had been accumulated by the Catholic Church. Primitivism is a romanticized view, as life in earlier years had its own complexities and issues that are ignored by the rose-tinted view from the future. It arises for various reasons and in different forms during quite a few later periods right up to the present. Whenever there’s a yearning for simplicity, primitivism is involved (which can be fruitful or a dead-end, depending on the results). Here’s what Barzun wrote about Tolstoy, who, after writing masterpieces like War and Peace turned to the simple life, a kind of primitivism:

To Tolstoy the natural man he respects is simpleminded in the good sense and ignorant in the eyes of the world. Such a man knows how to do his work and is faithful to his duty. He is humble and a Christian, but not as the Orthodox church understands the believer. The words of Jesus suffice. Tolstoy proved his integrity by ending his days living like a peasant among his former serfs, without comforts, good clothes, hygiene, or fine food.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence. Harper Perennial, 2001, p. 672.

Near the end of the book when Barzun started making judgements about the situation of Western culture during the second half of the 20th century, I found some of his ideas well-argued but others I couldn’t agree with in all or even any points (for instance, Barzun is quite critical of “the welfare state” while I feel that social security is a positive achievement). In this last part of the book, I scribbled a lot of question marks in the margin, when I found statements that I wasn’t sure about or was of a contrary opinion. I think it’s harder to make valid judgements of the times we live in as opposed to past eras (though who knows how appropriate people from the past would find our view of their culture). But these differences of opinion were stimulating. They made me think. Often, I didn’t reach a final judgement for myself on an issue, but I enjoyed getting a point-of-view about various topics that I would not otherwise have encountered.

The book has an index of subjects and one of persons. These are very useful to look up topics when I can’t remember what I’ve read and which I want to revisit (also to find the useful references to other books sprinkled throughout the text). If I read all the books recommended in the text that interest me, I’d probably be busy for the next decade. So, the book is a great resource to dip into as well as a good read from beginning to end in one go. If you are interested in cultural history, you’ll probably enjoy this work. I thought it was great.

Fun fact: Barzun wrote this book when he was in his eighties and published it in his early nineties. That’s an amazing accomplishment. I hope very much that I will stay mentally agile in old age, too (although the likelihood of me publishing such an amazing tome at any age is rather low).

Keep safe, world.

More Holiday Doings

We stayed for a week from October 2 to October 9 at our rented holiday cottage in the South Tyrol (but we arrived in the afternoon on the first day and left in the morning on the last day, so those two days don’t really count). We had lovely sunny weather the first couple of days, then a couple of days of rain and snow. It got quite cold during the second part of the week and the snow stayed on the higher peaks around our plateau. We did a lot of walking and hikes, although I kept to non-challenging paths, as Curious Dog isn’t the dog for demanding trails what with his inability to stop pulling on his leash. The others once took a cable car up to one end of the Rosengarten mountain range and walked across the western face of it. I took them to the cable car terminal and picked them up at the point where they came down again. They did the walk on the day after it had snowed during the night and I think they took about 3 or 3,5 hours. They loved it and I would have enjoyed it too, but having CD pull you on a potentially slippery steep track on the side of a mountain was just too dangerous. And I didn’t mind. CD and I did an easier hike and I also read a bit, so that was fun, too. Also, I wasn’t sure what CD would think about a cable car – much to my surprise he didn’t mind the suspension bridge that crossed a small ravine on the way from our cottage to the nearby lake. He didn’t turn a hair at its swinging at our every step. Maybe he would have liked a trip with a cable car.

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We went hiking every day, except on the one day when it rained so incessantly that we only went on a couple of short walks with CD. The rest of the day we spent watching DVDs, playing games, and cooking. We’d brought along Partner’s DVD player, as there wasn’t one in the cottage (also no internet) and we brought the game Settlers of Catan which all of us had played before except Cousin 1’s boyfriend. I don’t know whether he entirely enjoyed it, but he was a good sport and joined us anyway.

Partner and I never had to go grocery shopping, because Cousin 1 and her boyfriend did it for us, since we had paid for the cottage. We told them that they didn’t need to do it, because we would have had the cottage anyway even if they hadn’t been able to join us. It was apparently a point of honour (my little Cousin, all grown up). On the last evening, they treated us to a take-out pizza (we didn’t want to eat at the restaurant because of Corona). It was quite hard to find a restaurant that was open. It seems that during the off-season between summer (hiking) and winter (skiing), a lot of places shut down (or maybe it was because during Corona the off-season was quieter than ever). I tried a pizza that I’d never had before, with Radicchio salat leaves and melted goat’s cheese on the side. It was interesting but not as good as I’d imagined. The cheese was very nice but those big salad leaves on the pizza were a little strange. I believe it would have been better if the leaves had been shredded into smaller pieces and spread more evenly across the pizza. I may try it on one of our homemade pizzas sometime (except without the cheese, as I only eat dairy when on vacation).

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The hiking trails were very scenic, but sometimes puzzling to follow. On the longest hike we took, the signs at one place suddenly pointed straight across a meadow where you couldn’t see any trail. We crossed the meadow and then cast about right and left along a wooden fence until we managed to find the next sign, painted on the fence but around a corner. We then walked a narrow trail through woods, until at the bottom of a hill we came upon a sign that said “Trail closed for logging by order of the council of …” We didn’t feel like walking back up the hill and we also couldn’t see or hear any logging going on, so we ignored the sign. Luckily, we got to the other end of the closed off part of the trail without running into any logging whatsoever. Still – if you’re going to close off part of a trail, it makes more sense to post signs about it at the start of the trail and not just somewhere in the middle. That was weird.

The countryside was very lovely. Lots of views across the valleys and the mountains, with the higher mountains of the Alps in the distance, showing off their snow-topped peaks. A lot of the pine woods in the area are in a dire state (some of the views would not have existed if it hadn’t been for all the fallen trees). In 2018 a huge storm swept through the mountains and destroyed a lot of the pines. Some of the mountainsides are full of tree stumps – part of the reason for all that logging. In one of the valleys, we saw a huge number of logs collected for processing beside a saw mill. In front of our cottage, a big stump had been carved at the top into the shape of an eagle. A nice way of making the best of the situation. It must have been a very devastating storm.

I enjoyed our vacation a lot more than I had expected, but did I like it more than our usual vacation on the Baltic or the North Sea? No, not really. Mostly because of Curious Dog. His pulling on the leash all the time when we were hiking was just a real pain. He always pulls a bit, but on our familiar walks he usually stops pulling after the first excitement of starting out. In unfamiliar places, he never stops. In October at the seaside, when the beaches are always quite deserted, we can let him off the leash, because you can see what’s coming for miles and there are no cars. But he’s not very good at returning to us when we call, so it’s too dangerous to let him off leash when you can’t see what’s round the next bend of the trail. Being yanked along by CD was terribly annoying. He walks till he’s reached the end of the leash, then he leans into it and pulls. Then I stop and wait till the leash is slack. When we start up again, he dashes forward and yanks, because the others have overtaken us which he can’t stand. And again, and again until I’m thoroughly fed up. I’ve tried all sorts of things to make him walk properly on the leash (walking in circles, changing directions, stopping and waiting…) so far nothing has worked. I know he can do it, because he does it properly on our usual walks, both at my place and in Bavaria, but as soon as he’s in an unfamiliar place, he gets excited and forgets all his training. Also, in towns. He’s terrible in towns. So, with CD I prefer vacations during the off-season at the seaside.

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Otherwise, the mountains were lovely. One of the biggest perks was that the cottage in South Tyrol was a lot closer to southern Germany than the Baltic or the North Sea. The trip took only about 5 hours (or maybe a bit less) as opposed to 9 hours. But vacations at the seaside are more relaxing. You can walk along the beach in two directions and that’s it. There’s no incentive to try out a large number of different trails and nobody minds if you want to spend the afternoon reading. I’m a lazy vacationer as opposed to Partner, who always wants to do and see everything that’s to be done and seen. Very exhausting. When I’ve been up on my feet sightseeing (or whatever) all morning, I need a nice long break in the afternoon. But I usually go with the flow. I can always read on those vacations when we don’t go anywhere, like my long vacation over Christmas and the New Year (which I’m already looking forward to).

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The trails we hiked on our vacation were quite mild. That’s why I enjoyed myself more than I had predicted. I’d expected the trails to be more hair-raising in combination with Curious Dog. On our return, though, Partner and I once left CD at home with Mum and went to try out a trail just around the corner from my home in Bavaria. It was supposed to be a bit steep and narrow, and the description said that you needed to be sure on your feet. I’d wanted to try it for years, but it’s not suitable for dogs and I didn’t want to do it by myself. So, I got Partner to do it with me. It turned out that you had to scramble up and over rocky outcroppings in the hillside, gripping onto roots or rocks in places, which was occasionally quite scary. I’ve walked around the bottom of the hill many times and would never have guessed that the trail was so challenging. The hill is wooded, and it seems the woods hide the scary parts. The hike took us about three hours up and around about 10 rocky cliffs that jut out of the hillside (though we had to wait for a couple of other people on the trail as you couldn’t overtake anyone). Walking along the bottom of the hill only takes about an hour (I’ve done it tons of times with CD). I’m glad I’ve finally done the trail, but I don’t think I’ll be repeating it. I pulled a muscle (or strained something) in one of my legs, which was painful for a couple of days.

Partner and I also went sightseeing to a Catholic pilgrimage church, built in the Roccoco style, which had an exceedingly creepy decorated skeleton of a saint or a martyr (I’ve forgotten his name) displayed in a glass coffin and a statue of the Virgin Mary which has supposedly once or twice “turned her eyes away” as a miracle. A very odd miracle if you ask me.

Those were the highlights of our vacation, managed before Corona took off again.
Now, we’re back at my place in Baden-Württemberg with absolutely terrible weather. Rain, sleet, and wind all day. Curious Dog and I got drenched twice, in the morning and the afternoon.

I’ve got an appointment for getting a booster vaccination for Covid 19 at the beginning of February at my place of work. My company has restarted its vaccination offering. As my Mum has already had her booster, only Partner needs to get a booster early next year, too.

Keep safe, world.

Holiday Doings

Instead of ranting some more about the current Corona situation in Germany, like I did yesterday (which is useless and depressing), I’m going to share some of the things we did on our vacation early in October. Somehow, I never get around to writing anything when I’m on holiday, as there are usually so many other things that take up my time. I haven’t had time to write about it after my vacation, but late is better than never.

My first day of vacation was on September 29. Mum and I were already in Bavaria at that point. As we were going to spend a week at a vacation cottage in Italy, that is, South Tyrol, driving from Bavaria was a lot nearer than from my place.

Rosengarten

I spent the first couple of days of my vacation cleaning up our house in Bavaria because Partner and Cousin 1 with her partner were also coming to stay for at least one night. We had to clean out the guest room (where things tend to accumulate) and I had to clean out my room, because I didn’t want Partner, who slept on a mattress on the floor, to have to wade though all my dust balls. Cousin 1 and her partner got the guestroom. We also had to pack a lot things like spices for cooking, all of Curious Dog’s bedding, food, toys, leashes and harnesses, and groceries to tide us over the first weekend in South Tyrol (we didn’t know if we would have time to go shopping or if any shops would be open on Sunday). Plus our clothing, some games, and some DVDs (no internet at the cottage). So, a lot of organization. And a lot of excitement on Curious Dog’s part. Also, I had to shop for Mum, so that she wouldn’t run out of groceries while we were away, since the small grocery shop in our village has closed down.

We were planning to set out on Saturday, not too early, because we couldn’t get the keys for our holiday cottage before 4 p.m. Cousin 1 and her partner (who is very nice) could only start for our place in Bavaria in the early afternoon, after work, so they arrived quite late on Friday, at 9 p.m. They had quite a strange trip. Our village is in the middle of nowhere and the satnav systems usually choose very strange routes along third rate roads and through a lot of other small villages. Since Cousin 1 and her partner had to drive in the dark, their nerves were slightly frazzled by the time they arrived.

The next morning things were a bit chaotic. I had to take Curious Dog for his walk and Cousin 1 had to be shown the house (as she hadn’t visited since she was about 4). Mum showed her a lot of photographs and things, while I tried to collect all our baggage and load the car with Partner’s help. We ended up forgetting some of our groceries, but it didn’t matter because Cousin 1 had brought a lot of food along.
After we reached the Autobahn, there was quite a bit of traffic, as we had to go via Munich and that’s often a traffic nightmare. We then continued via Rosenheim in Bavaria to Innsbruck in Austria and over the Brenner Pass into Italy. A very scenic route and traffic wasn’t too bad. When we left the motorway in Italy just before Bozen (or Bolzano in Italian), we straight away entered a tunnel which took us up into the mountains for a very long way. It was most odd. After the tunnel, we wound our way up and up again along many hairpin bends and hair-raising precipices. A beautiful landscape, but the roads were a bit scary for us lowlanders.

We arrived at our cottage quite on the dot at 4 p.m. Our landlady welcomed us very kindly, gave us the keys and explained how everything worked (specially how to separate our rubbish for recycling). It was a very cozy cottage with absolutely everything we needed. Lots of cooking utensils and towels – quite the best equipped holiday cottage we’ve ever stayed in. And the landlady spoke German (which more or less everybody does in the South Tyrol), so we had no problem communicating (once, in 2014, before we got Curious Dog, we had a holiday near Genoa in Liguria where the landlady spoke neither German nor English and we basically communicated with sign language – I only know English and some rudimentary French. No Italian, sadly).

Karersee

We unpacked all our things, had a cup of tea, and went off on our first small hike, to the Karersee (Lago di Carezza), a very small but exceedingly picturesque lake that was only about a 20 minutes’ walk from our cottage. The cottage was at the edge of the small community Karersee (Carezza), with a very large meadow as the back yard and a roofed-over balcony at the fron where we could sit outside when it was sunny (at least at the beginning of our stay, it got cold with snow later on – well, it was in October). There was a lovely view of the Latemar mountain range from the balcony and the Rosengarten range from the meadow (the view in the first photo above).

That night, we cooked some vegan Bolognese sauce with pasta (appropriately Italien) and then we spent the evening planning what to do during the next days. Which I will report on later.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

Back in Bavaria, one week earlier than planned. Mum, Curious Dog, and I drove here last week on Thursday afternoon. I took the afternoon off and worked on Friday morning instead. On our normal schedule, we would have driven a week later, this Thursday, but Partner had an unplanned appointment at his place, and it didn’t make sense for him to drive there and back again, so we just changed our plans.

We had a good trip without any traffic jams, detours, or other obstacles.

We’ve been having very grey autumn weather. Lots of cloud cover or fog, no sunshine, but also no rain. Today was the first time in a week or longer that it did rain. It was only a soft rain so that Curious Dog and I got slightly wet but not drenched on our Morning walk. Curious Dog is quite recovered from his infection and we didn’t need another trip to the vet. I’m very relieved about it. The grey weather, while fine for walks (especially when it’s dry) is no hindrance for our daily morning and afternoon walks, but otherwise it makes me sleepy. I’m either sleepy or hungry – I could spend all day chomping on something.

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Work is currently a little less stressful, with only a couple of deadlines looming at the beginning of December. Last week we had another couple of days when the software tools we use to manage our documents was again slow and buggy, but as there are no urgent deadlines it was inconvenient but not as serious as when we can’t finalize our documents just before a deadline. There’s hope that the situation will improve next years as some of the problematic processes that cause the instability of the software are planned to be changed. Of course, during the transition period to the new processes it’s very likely that things won’t run smoothly, but hopefully afterwards, once the dust has settled, everything will run smoothly and we won’t be stressed out all the time, trying to salvage the situation. But it will take time to implement the changes and test them. It will be months yet before we can expect real improvements. We can look forward to an interesting year in 2022. But before I start thinking about work next year, I will take a nice long vacation for at least three weeks (as I usually do). Can’t wait, but there’s still four weeks to go.
Mum is currently baking our first Christmas cake, a Stollen, which is a German fruit loaf traditionally eaten during the Advent time or at Christmas. Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. We will be returning to my place; Partner will be back as well, and we’ll celebrate with the cake (which will taste better for having had some days to develop its full aroma). Maybe Mum and I will even bake some Christmas cookies this week.

I still have to come up with some good ideas for Christmas presents.

Last Saturday, Mum and I spontaneously headed into the Corona vaccination centre at the county town. Mum got both her vaccinations there in February and March and we hoped to get her booster. I’d tried to get an appointment, but the earliest available one was on the first of December, when we will be back at my place (I considered staying here longer but didn’t really want to). I was quite surprised to get an offer for such an early appointment though because what with the escalating Corona situation in Germany, demand for vaccinations is rising even among some of the non-vaccinated people. I’ve heard that appointments in some places are all booked out until January or February. So, considering that the vaccination centre was offering vaccinations without prior appointments on Saturday, we decided to gamble and try if we could get a slot for Mum. And we did! There was a middling long queue but after about 1.5 hours Mum had her booster. Since I was only vaccinated in August, I am not yet eligible for one and so I didn’t get it. However, my company is again offering vaccinations starting soon and I hope to get my third vaccination in January or February. Just leaves Partner, but he’s not yet eligible either. Hopefully he’ll manage to get one somewhere too.

Despite vaccinations the Corona incidence among 100 000 persons is higher than it ever was, with the majority of cases among those not vaccinated. Considering that millions have been vaccinated with hardly any ill effects, it’s strange that people are still so suspicious of the vaccinations that they are willing to risk death rather than getting vaccinated themselves. Public life is being restricted again. In the worst-hit German states (such as Bavaria), Christmas markets have been cancelled again, for the second time in two years, and strict rules about what one may do or not are being introduced to get the situation under control. About time too. The government has fumbled the ball quite badly this autumn. At least they came up with an incentive to get the non-vaccinated to reconsider: if they end up infected or need to go into quarantine, they won’t receive any pay during that time. That, I hope, will galvanize a few of the non-vaccinated. I wonder if a general obligation to get vaccinated (except if one has a condition that makes vaccination impossible) will be legislated like in Austria. Politicians deny that it will happen in Germany, but if things get really bad… you never know. I think it would be only fair. People need to do their part so that everyone can live a normal life again. Everything is just such a mess, currently. I feel really sorry (and worried) for all the young people and children who haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated yet and for the medical personnel that has to deal with this catastrophic situation. All because people wouldn’t get vaccinated, and politicians were too busy campaigning or forming the new coalition! It’s a debacle all around.

Keep safe, world.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 5

My fifth post about my project to read the entire Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King. Previous posts include:

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 1
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 2
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 3
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 4

Since my fourth post in July, I’ve read five more of the series:

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Pirate King

In this novel, Mary Russell infiltrates a film crew that’s shooting a film Pirate King (based on the musical The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan). She’s the assistant and general dogsbody of the film’s assistant director and has to cater to the whims of the eccentric director. The rehearsals for the film take place in Lisbon while the filming itself is to happen in Morocco. Russell is supposed to find out whether a missing previous assistant was murdered because she found out the film’s directors may be involved in criminal activities (drug smuggling and/or gun running). While investigating, she is also supposed to chaperone or otherwise look after a dozen young actresses who are being wooed by their disreputable acting colleagues, a shady lot of fishers (or smugglers?) hired in Lisbon to play pirates. Things take a sinister turn when the decrepit hired “pirate ship” under its sinister captain reaches Morocco and suddenly the actresses, including Russell, are confined in a well-appointed town house. Russell and Holmes (who joined the film crew later than Russell) must solve the mystery of what’s going on while keeping Russell’s charges from harm.

This was a zany novel, but quite amusing. It was fun seeing Russell hassled by those young actresses and the exotic settings in Lisbon and Morocco was interesting.

Garment of Shadows

Hard to believe, but Mary Russell quite enjoyed working with the film crew of the previous book and stayed on in Morocco to take the starring role in the next film, The Pirate Queen. Horrified, Holmes goes off travelling through Morocco while Russell enjoys her brief sojourn on the film set. However, when Holmes returns, he finds that she has gone missing. This novel is about politics in Morocco between the wars. There’s an uneasy peace between the French colonial powers lead by a distant relative of Holmes’ one Hubert Lyautey (an actual historical figure) and the Moroccan resistance. We meet again the cousins Ali and Mahmoud Hazr (from O Jerusalem and Justice Hall). They are spying for Mycroft Holmes but become disillusioned with their roles because they develop sympathy with the rebel leader. There’s a lot of action in this novel. At the beginning, Russell has lost her memory due to a head injury.

This one was really good. Russell’s way of dealing with her amnesia was well done and the whole novel was very exciting. The novels that feature Ali and Mahmoud are some of my favourites in the series.

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Dreaming Spies

Of these five novels, I liked this one best. It’s basically two in one: one plot deals with an acquaintance Russell and Holmes made some years ago while on a ship on their way to San Francisco via Japan. They interrupt their journey in Japan, where they give aid to the Japanese emperor (in a round-about sort of way). I absolutely enjoyed reading about their travels and investigations in Japan. The second storyline involves a character they dealt with in Japan and it’s basically a continuation of the first plot, because some ends were not tied up and lead to England, namely to Oxford, Russell’s home base. Their interaction with their Japanese acquaintance leaves Russell and Holmes outsmarted for a change.

The Murder of Mary Russell

Did or did she not get murdered? Holmes has a few anxious days… the series continues, so basically the reader knows that Russell didn’t get killed, but it was still a good tale. The most interesting thing about it was the backstory we get about Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ housekeeper and Russell’s substitute mother figure. Also, there’s a bit about Holmes as a young man which was also fascinating.

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Island of the Mad

A friend of Russell’s from her time at college (who also appears in the second book of the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women) contacts her because an aunt of hers has disappeared. The aunt was visiting the family home, on leave with an attendant from Bedlam, the mental institution, where she had been living for years. Not only does she disappear, but also jewels from the family safe. Did the nurse do away with her charge in order to steal the jewels? Were the two in cahoots? Russell investigates and is blinded by her unwillingness to face facts, which I ranted about previously.

Despite my annoyance at Russell’s uncharacteristic obtuseness (not to mention that of Holmes), I liked the novel because of the interesting info about Bedlam, the rise of fascism in Italy, and the roaring twenties in Venice. It’s part of the charm of the series that it has so many unusual settings.

I’ve now read almost all the currently available novels in the series; there’s only two more to go. I’ll be all caught up and can wait for new installments to be published (that will probably take some time, as the last novel came out this year). It’s been an enjoyable journey and I hope the last two books will live up to the others – I might get round to them this month, definitively in December.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

As you may have noticed, I’ve totally given up posting every day in November. Life got in the way – well, Curious Dog’s prepuce infection. He has to wear a body to stop him from licking his infection and he doesn’t really like it. I spent the weekend, when I wasn’t out grocery shopping, sitting reading in the living room with him instead of up in my bedroom at my computer, typing up posts. I made quite a bit of headway through my November non-fiction read From Dawn to Decadence and on my project reading The Tale of Genji. I’m halfway through the former and about two thirds through the later. They are both very interesting in quite different ways. Dawn is a cultural history of “the West” and Genji is a tale about court life in ancient Japan. Dawn covers a topic that I’m somewhat familiar with but with lots of details and interpretations new to me. Genji shows quite an alien world which I often find extremely puzzling, but it’s fascinating.

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But to return to Curious Dog. I was sitting in the living room with him so that he didn’t have to wear the body – I just stopped him when he started to lick. On Friday I chased him around the living room for about an hour with a syringe to irrigate his prepuce with an anti-bacterial liquid and I actually managed it without holding on to him at all. He just kept still by himself (he probably got fed up with being chased all the time). That was very surprising. Partner and I didn’t manage it at all on Thursday, we couldn’t hold him. He kept squirming away and the nifty way of holding him that the vet showed me did didn’t work with us. I guess we are not as practiced as the vet. But Friday was the only time I managed it, the rest of the weekend he never held still. Nevertheless, he got all his antibiotic tablets, and it looks like the infection has cleared up. One more night of wearing the body and that’s it. That’s a relief. Curious Dog was still very keen on his walks, but he was a bit off his food on a couple of days. He left kibble in his bowl, which he never does (normally it’s all gone in a few minutes). He did, however, eat it when we fed him by hand. Very odd. Maybe the tablets didn’t agree with him. Or maybe he was milking the situation because he enjoyed the extra attention (dogs do that). I don’t know, but today he ate all his food again at his usual speed and I think he’s back to normal.

The weather was very dreary on the weekend. A very soft rain on Friday – CD and I got quite wet on our afternoon walk. No rain the rest of the weekend but the sun hardly got through the fog and the clouds. It grew a bit warmer, so walks were quite pleasant, but it was still very muddy. Since it was so dreary, we streamed a few episodes of München Mord (meaning “Munich Murder”, which is in German a play on München Nord which is an exist on the Autobahn: Mord = Murder, Nord = North). It’s three oddball police detectives investigating murder cases in weird ways, hindered by their superior who panders to higher-ups. It’s very quirky and has funny elements. The chief detective of the trio has a weird way of reenacting how he thinks the murder took place which makes him look crazy to most of the police department (although his method is very successful). The other two are always looking for love in the wrong places and have other character quirks. The relationship between the detectives is one of the many highlights of the series which we just really enjoy. Perfect for dingy autumn days.

We did a lot of cooking and baking. Partner made some very tasty pastries filled with shredded apple and spiced with cinnamon and I cooked a lovely vegetable soup on Saturday. On Sunday I made a mushroom, carrot and kidney bean stew in a dark beer sauce with dumplings and a purple cabbage side-dish (Partner helped). It was delicious and I made enough to last us for today as well, so Partner didn’t have to cook today for once.

Today is still dingy weather-wise, but it’s back to work, no time for films. I had a virtual training about developing a “growth mindset”. Basically, a lot of truisms about keeping an open mind and seeing possibilities instead of problems. The concept makes sense, that’s why it’s a cliché, but those type of trainings always put me into a contrary mood, where I try to come up with examples for when positivity and openness don’t help much. Which is quite hard, because most bad experiences are probably not helped by being in a negative frame of mind. Mostly I feel cynical about these trainings, because it’s the company trying to motivate us into becoming better employees: flexible, hard-working, and innovative to influence the bottom line positively and make investors happy. They always use a lot of examples from sports. How being in a “growth mindset” leads you to being more successful in your chosen sport. I don’t enjoy competitive sports, so those examples make me grumpy (I guess I’m difficult). I’ve heard these types of things so often that I’m surprised at myself for still waiting for new insights from these kinds of trainings. This time there was a refreshing point from a colleague about keeping a sense of proportion and humour to deal with difficult situations. That took me out of my cynical mood and got me to acknowledge to myself that the training was at least a change from normal work. Which, you know, nothing to be sneered at. But I don’t believe I learned anything new at all, so it wasn’t a very effective training. I’ve had very good trainings at work, I guess a dud now and then isn’t unexpected. Newer colleagues, who haven’t had such motivational trainings before, may have found it more interesting.

Keep safe, world

Trip to the Vet’s

Yesterday I missed another November post, because instead of writing one I had to take Curious Dog to the vet. He has developed an infection of the prepuce. This was the first time we visited the vet at my place. He always gets his yearly vaccinations at the vet’s in Bavaria and he’s only ever needed other vet visits (very seldom, luckily) when we were in Bavaria. I looked up the vet’s surgery hours here yesterday and they were only open between 4 and 6 p.m. When I turned up with Curious Dog (I left him in the car while I dealt with the registration), it turned out that the surgery was really full. I ended up waiting an hour outside in the cold (didn’t want to stay in the waiting room because of Corona). I didn’t want to sit in the car because that was cold too. I basically paced around my car and recited all the poetry I could remember to myself, hummed some songs and otherwise tried to pass the time. Curious Dog was sitting in his car box.

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When at last it was CD’s turn, he was quite excited (as usual when he’s at the vet). The vet and her assistant tried to lift him onto the examining table, but he wouldn’t let them. In the end I had to do it. Then I had to put his muzzle on because he kept growling just a little bit (good thing we practiced that). We made him lie down on his side and the assistant had a nifty way of holding him still, while I held onto his head. The examination didn’t hurt him, he just didn’t care for it. So, the vet diagnosed the infection problem and irrigated CD’s prepuce with a syringe full of anti-bacterial liquid. She did it very well, but Partner and I have to do it for the next 5 days. We’re starting tonight and I’m not really looking forward to it. CD also got an antibiotic shot and some tablets and if all that doesn’t clear the infection, we’ll have to revisit the vet in 5 days. In the meantime, he has to wear a body, so that he doesn’t keep licking himself. He’s very good about letting me dress him up in it, but afterwards he looks put out about having to wear it. We take it off when we go for walks. Otherwise, he would have had to wear one of those cone things around his neck and I’m sure that would have been even more annoying for him. I’ve had to order another body online, so that he can wear one while the other one gets washed. Wearing the same one for 5 days would be quite unhygienic and not exactly good for the infection.

I hope the infection will have cleared up at the end of the 5 days. He’s otherwise fine, as hungry as ever and as eager to go on his walks as ever, which is good. I’d be worried if CD was off his food.

Yesterday at work I had a quite surreal meeting with a colleague from another team who wanted to show me some inexplicable things our content management tool supposedly did with their content. Turned out the tool did nothing inexplicable but that the colleague had absolutely no clue what they were doing. They’ve been working with that tool for years and don’t understand the most basic things about it. I was very patient and explained everything but actually I was horrified. I was tempted to advise them to repeat the basic tool trainings but I didn’t dare – they probably would have been insulted. Most of my colleagues are super competent, some of them know more about the tools than I do, but with some colleagues one is left wondering…

The weather is foggy and cold – yesterday the sun came out in the middle of the day and stayed awhile, but today the fog was stronger. It never cleared up and it looks like the weather will stay that way for most of the weekend. Perfect for cozying up with a book and a cup of Glühwein (hot spiced wine). I’m glad that my work week is over, and the weekend is at the door.

Keep safe, world.

Poem No 2

This year I made a resolution to learn two poems off by heart. Only two, because in 2020 I’d had a resolution to learn one poem per month and only managed one poem for the entire year – I thought I’d better decide on a more realistic goal for this year. So far, I’ve only managed one poem by Emily Dickinson:

712
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility.

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews grew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, My Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

While learning this poem off by heart earlier this year, I found that I suddenly remembered the first stanza of another Emily Dickinson poem which is probably going to be my second poem of the year. I’d better hurry up to learn the rest of it, as the year is almost up. I still remember my one poem from last year, so my repertoire is slowly (very slowly) growing:

Poem No 1

Keep safe, world.