Monday Miscellanea

Sadly, I already broke my goal of posting once a day in November by not posting anything yesterday. I just didn’t feel like it because I was totally busy, as I always am on the days we travel from Bavaria to Baden-Württemberg or the other way round. I should have written a post in advance… I guess.

Anyway, yesterday I got up quite late and took Curious Dog on a slightly shorter walk than usual on Sunday mornings. I’d packed my office stuff and clothes the night before, but still needed to pack my books, all the left-over food, Curious Dog’s things (he’s got his own bag of toys, leashes, and towels). Then we had to check that everything was properly locked up and ship-shape and load all our bags into the car, so by the time we got started, it was almost noon.

The trip was fine. Almost no traffic, no traffic jam at the construction site on the Autobahn junction so that I didn’t need to take the alternate route I’d looked up on Google maps. There was a lot of rain on the way, but luckily it didn’t rain when we arrived, so that I could unload all our bags without getting wet. But it must have rained recently, because when Partner and I took Curious Dog on his afternoon walk, CD got totally muddy because all the paths through the fields were in a terribly muddy state (and still are – it was another mud-fest this morning). Fortunately, we have a lot of old towels which we use to clean and dry CD after our walks.

After the afternoon walks, I cooked a creamy soup made of potato and leek. It turned out very nice. Just some potatoes cooked with two stalks of leek in vegetable broth, some ginger, a small onion, and a few chili flakes, a bit of sweet paprika and curry powder, some fresh garlic. After the vegetables were done, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender, added some soy milk for creaminess and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for taste. It turned out very nice. I love soup anytime, but most of all on rainy autumn or winter nights.

IslandMad

By then it was quite late and although I set up my home office again, in preparation for work today, I really wasn’t inclined to post anything.

Today has been the usual Monday mess. The usual lot of Monday meetings and in addition post-deadline quality stuff to deal with. People who should know better doing stupid stuff and mailing me about their problems. Their mails showed them to be super clueless – I like helping new hires, but if I have to explain elementary stuff to colleagues that have been working with our tools for years and still don’t know what they are doing… And it’s always the same colleagues. They always seem to think that the software is out to get them (it probably is, by now). When I see their particular names on e-mails in my inbox, it’s time to roll my eyes. Sometimes it’s quite funny.

There was no time for anything except meetings before lunch and after lunch I had to do some obligatory trainings. They were easy and only took about half an hour, about stuff which isn’t anything I need to deal with in my daily work (thankfully). Then another couple of meetings, a short coffee-break and the afternoon walk with Curious Dog. Nothing very exciting.

I finished reading Laurie R. King, Island of the Mad, the 15th novel in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes yesterday. That’s why I got up late on Sunday, I was reading in bed when I should have been packing. That hunch I had about why the missing person had gone missing (I talked about that in my last post) was correct and Mary Russell had apparently kind of known the reason all along but “had managed to squirm out from the unpleasant hypothesis” (p. 318 of my edition, a Bantam paperback from 2019). That was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever read in the series. Even if Russell had managed to ignore this hypothesis, what about Holmes? He should have caught it. That’s the problem with characters that are established to be a great deal more intelligent than normal people. It’s just not believable when they make normal-people mistakes. This novel is definitively not my favourite in the series, but I found other things in it to enjoy that made up for this silly plot device. These novels usually have interesting settings and in this case it’s 1925 asylums for the insane in London and Venice as well as life for rich expats in Venice. And the rise of fascism in Italy and, to a lesser degree, in Britain. That did make for interesting reading.

Keep safe, world.

Another Busy Day

On the morning walk with Curious Dog it was foggy but we had a pleasant walk anyway. We met up with one of CD’s dog friends, but she was accompanying a Husky, who didn’t look too pleased to see Curious Dog. Curious Dog also wasn’t too pleased, but he apparently decided that he couldn’t take on a Husky and then pretended not to see him and instead spent five minutes sniffing all around the verge of the footpath until the other two were way ahead. It was quite funny and a lot more relaxed than if the two dogs had thrown a fit. Curious Dog is quite canny about the dogs he’ll get upset at. They can’t be too large or too many (he never gets mad at two or more dogs). He’s got two favourite enemies, one here in Bavaria and one at my place and they are both small male terriers. They hate him right back. Mostly CD is friendly with other dogs, especially if they are female.

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After the morning walk, I had to drive to the supermarket in the next village as I’d forgotten some stuff yesterday (it always happens). On the way, it was still foggy, but on my way back half an hour later the fog disappeared and the sun came out. It was quite hot in the south-facing rooms of the house. After lunch, I vacuumed everywhere and later cleaned the bathroom. Mum did the kitchen and also baked a very nice apple roll which we tasted after a stint in the garden. We didn’t do much, it was still too wet, but I cut back one of our lilacs and Mum tiedied up some potted plants. At three 3:30 p.m. the fog started coming back. By 4:00 p.m. the sun was gone, and I had another foggy walk with Curious Dog in the woods.

In between vacuuming and gardening I spent an hour reading Islands of the Mad (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes part 15). I’ve read slightly less than half the novel and I have a strong hunch about why the missing person chose to go missing. I’m looking forward to finding out if my guess is correct. Annoyingly, Mary Russell doesn’t seem to get it which either means that I’m wrong or that she is obtuse. It’s kind of annoying if she’s not seeing the obvious, because she’s supposed to be a genius. Or maybe my guess is wrong in which case the author laid a false trail which would also be annoying. Still, I’m enjoying the read. It’s a nice change from my non-fiction November tome From Dawn to Decadence of which I also read more than a few pages this morning in bed because I woke up early and couldn’t fall asleep again.

After I’ve posted this perfectly unexciting report of my day, I’ll power down my notebook, dismantle my home office setup and pack everything up ready for tomorrow’s trip back to Baden-Württemberg. Our next week in Bavaria will be at the beginning of December. The second half of this year has passed so fast. It seems a few weeks ago I was moaning about the summer workload and now it’s already time to start thinking about Christmas presents and how long my vacation should be over Christmas and the new year.

Keep safe, world.

Uneventful Friday

Today I enjoyed a bit of a lie-in, reading in bed, continuing on with From Dawn to Decadence and my anthology of 18th century women poets that I started during Jane Austen July. On normal days I don’t have much time to read in bed in the mornings. I just manage a few poems before having to get up. I do have time on the weekend but have to make sure that I don’t stay too long in bed, because then the whole morning is out of whack. Walking with Curious Dog before doing anything else takes time.

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CD and I were done with our later than usual morning walk by 10 a.m. Afterwards I set out on a grocery shopping trip to pick up some stuff in town that isn’t available in the supermarket in the next village. This time I also had to pick up a new little light bulb for the fridge, as the old one had expired suddenly a couple of days ago. Oh, what an exciting errand!

The rest of the day was just as uneventful. I got back from shopping around lunch time and after lunch I spent the early afternoon reading. I’m now done with the first part of From Dawn to Decadence and have found out that the “invisible college” mentioned in my Wednesday post was a group of 16th century scholars who were later involved in the founding of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, which still exists today. This first part of the book is all about the effects on Western culture of the Reformation and the Renaissance. There was an interesting short excursion that looked back at the Middle Ages and pointed out that the period between ca. 500 and 1500 had seen the growth of a new civilization from the ruins of the Roman empire and had had its own Renaissance from 1050 to 1250. So it wasn’t all “dark ages.” I’d know that already from my historical studies at college (I studied History as the minor part of my degree, with American Literature as the major), but it was nice to be reminded.

While I enjoy reading non-fiction, I usually find it harder going than fiction. Even when I’m really interested and engaged, non-fiction is kind of tiring for me. It needs more concentration. I tend to read slower and sometimes struggle not to nod off. Today was a cloudy, damp, and cold November day where my tendency to fall asleep over my tome was very strong. Before I could do so, I took Curious Dog for his afternoon walk. That woke me up again.

I should have done some gardening in the afternoon, but it was so wet outside from all that rain yesterday that I postponed it until tomorrow when hopefully it will be a bit dryer. The house also needs to be cleaned before we leave again on Sunday, so tomorrow I won’t have that much time for reading. Maybe I will start with the next Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novel as an antidote to all that non-fiction.

I’m currently watching Farscape on Amazon Prime. It’s an Australian-American sci-fi series from the turn of the century. I watched a few episodes when they were first aired on German TV but didn’t manage to keep it up. I’m rather liking it. It’s about an astronaut from Earth who is flung through a wormhole into a strange part of the galaxy where he teams up with a few alien ex-convicts on a living spaceship (a “Leviathan”) who are on the run from militaristic so-called “peacekeepers.” The series has a very distinctive look (one of the alien characters is an animated puppet). The first season is a series of mostly stand-alone episodes but later on a story-arc develops. I’m enjoying it a lot, but it’s going to take me ages to finish it, as I only manage an episode now and again. Partner didn’t seem particularly keen on it, so I’m watching it by myself.

Keep safe, world.

Rainy Day

It’s been a very wet day at my place in Bavaria. It rained in the morning when Curious Dog and I did our morning walk in the woods. It rained on our afternoon walk. I had to dry CD twice today (his towels got quite muddy). He doesn’t get very wet from on top, as the rain tends to just slide off his fur, but his legs and belly do get very wet because when he walks, his paws kind of fling water up from the wet ground. It’s quite strange, really. I enjoyed our walks despite the rain, as it was a soft kind of rain without wind to blow it into our faces. The woods are still colourful and autumnal as the leaves haven’t all fallen yet.

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My work week is done again (as I don’t work on Fridays), and so is our week in Bavaria (almost). It was a short one, because we only arrived last Sunday and will leave again this Sunday. Usually, Mum and I arrive on Thursday, so that we spend 10 days here, but this time Thursday didn’t work out. I quite enjoyed the drive, as there wasn’t much traffic last Sunday. When travelling on Thursdays, we often get stuck behind trucks on the country roads once we’ve existed the Autobahn. When we return on Sunday, I’ll be trying an alternate route to bypass a motorway junction that’s currently a huge construction site. Last time we returned to Baden-Württemberg, we were stuck in a 45-minute traffic jam because of that construction.

Tomorrow I wanted to take Mum on a shopping trip to one of the towns in our vicinity, but we’ve scrapped that idea, because the Corona numbers are rising again, and Mum hasn’t had a booster shot yet. She was already fully vaccinated in March (or April?) and that’s been six months. I’ll try to organize another vaccination next week.

Today I had a meeting with my manager and asked him if I could soon get rid of one of the projects that I volunteered for earlier this year. The first part of the project has ended and I think I’m not really needed anymore and anyway, I found that I have quite enough to do with my other tasks. And it wasn’t much fun. Happily, he thought that it was probably feasible that I could drop it at the end of the year. I hope that this will actually be the case, as it would be a real relief.

Otherwise, I spent quite some time today updating a document that was published three weeks ago because some colleagues had forgotten that their topic needed to be covered. It meant changing a few chapters as well as some graphics and I was slightly annoyed about it. But it always happens. You publish something (only online, fortunately) and a few days later someone sends an email “Can we add this and that to the latest document?” and I reply somewhat sarcastically “That latest document that was published three weeks ago?” and they say “Oops… yes, that document.” Next week I will publish that document again, with a note at the beginning listing the changes.

Partner and I have been to a cinema twice this autumn. Once before our vacation to see Dune, and once last Saturday to see the latest James Bond, No Time to Die. With masks and both of us vaccinated. That may have been the last outing until the Corona numbers drop again. I liked Dune but felt that it stopped when things were becoming really interesting (no wonder, since it’s only the first part). As far as I remember the film was fairly true to the novel. I read Dune while I was in college – borrowed the book from the college library and I can remember quite a bit of it (rather strange, since I’m usually not good at remembering details after such a long time). I didn’t even like it all that much. It was too esoteric, I thought, especially the sequels (of which I didn’t read all). I think I’m going to have another go at them as I believe I may like them better this time round. But I’m not starting before next year, because I still have a lot of books to read to achieve the goals that I set for myself this year. As for James Bond: I’ a great fan of the Daniel Craig films, but the ending of this last one was not at all Bond-like. It annoyed the hell out of Partner and me. No details, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

Keep safe, world.

Non-Fiction November

DawntoDec

I was very engaged in this year’s Jane Austen July, with a TBR that attempted to cover all the prompts (even if loosely) and not very much with Victober (although I did read one Victorian novel, Trollope’s Phineas Finn, for which I will post a review later this month). That’s completely opposite to what I did last year, when I ignored Jane Austen July, but read a lot of Victober books. Now it’s November and, like last year, I’m reading a non-fiction tome. I’m not following any of the prompts provided by abookolive (who’s the booktuber who created Non-Fiction November – I love her channel). Last year I also didn’t follow the prompts and just read Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which was great. I wanted to find something of similar length (to last me the whole month) and interest and I hit on Jacques Barzun’s cultural history, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present.

The book came out in 2000, when Jacques Barzun was 93. Barzun, who died in 2012 at 104, was a historian of ideas and culture at Columbia University. He had a very wide range of interests and studied and wrote on many topics, including popular culture. After his retirement, he started work on From Dawn to Decadence at 84 and took almost a decade to finish it. It was hailed as a masterpiece. I’ve had it on my radar for a long time and now’s the time to finally read it.

Here’s what Barzun says he sets out to show in the book:

By tracing in broad outline the evolution of art, science, religion, philosophy, and social thought during the last 500 years, I hope to show that during this span the peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, Harper Perennial, New York, 2001, p. xix.

Barzun shows several themes (around 10 or 12) that come up again and again, such as emancipation (gaining individual rights) and primitivism (a desire to return to simpler times and values) and others that are introduced during the course of the book (I’ve only read about 140 pages, so haven’t come across all the themes yet). He divides the book into four parts:

  1. From Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to Boyle’s “Invisible College”
    I’ve never heard of Boyle and have no idea what the “invisible college” is meant to be as I haven’t finished the first part yet.
  2. From the Bog and Sand of Versailles to the Tennis Court
  3. From Faust, Part 1, to “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2”
  4. From “The Great Illusion” to “Western Civ Has Got to Go”

At the moment I’ve read a just little more than half of the first part and I’m loving it. A lot of the historical events are familiar to me, from school and university and books, but the cultural perspectives and the way Barzun shows various overarching themes is new and fascinating. Sometimes he points out connections that seem obvious once pointed out, sometimes he makes judgements that I don’t entirely agree with. But it’s all fascinating and written in a very fluent and readable style without academic jargon.

The book is from the “dawn” of the modern Western era at around 1500, which is the traditional starting point with the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. The “decadence” of the title points out Barzun’s theory that “… in the West the culture of the last 500 years is ending” (p. xiii). I don’t know yet if I agree with the premise. Decadence is, however, not viewed as particularly negative:

But why should the story come to an end? It doesn’t, of course, in the literal sense of stoppage or total ruin. All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.” It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. […] The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. […] Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, Harper Perennial, New York, 2001, p. xx.

I’m not sure that I will agree with Barzun about the ending of Western culture once I have read the book. So far, his reasons for seeing a time of decadence in our times don’t seem completely persuasive. I don’t know if it is even possible to judge such a thing accurately while living during the times. It’ll be interesting to see if Barzun touches on topics like digitalization and climate change which are of such concern today, but as far as I remember weren’t as prevalent in 2000, when the book was published. I can see some of his themes still working today (primitivism, for instance, the urge to return to a simpler way of life).

The book full of interesting tidbits. Quotes from famous or less well-known historical figures on almost every page, short biographies of influential persons, a zooming in on certain places and societies at certain times to illustrate the effects of developments. This makes for a varied reading experience that keeps the reader interested throughout this hefty tome. Barzun points out books to read if the reader wants more details on certain subjects. He also mentions where topics will be revisited in later parts of the book – you could keep jumping back and forth in the book but for this my first read I’m going to stick with reading it straight through from beginning to end.

Are you enjoying Non-Fiction November as well?

Keep safe, world

Jutta’s Big Day and The Silver Crown

This summer I unearthed a few boxes underneath some shelves in my bedroom in Bavaria. Those boxes had been in that corner for so long that I didn’t remember what was in them. It turned out that they contained a lot of old books, some of them old childhood books. I got rid of a lot of them but kept some that I recalled having liked. One of them was Juttas großer Tag (German for Jutta’s Big Day) by Helga Marten, another The Silver Crown by Robert O’Brien.

SilverCrown

Jutta’s Big Day (this is my translation, I doubt that the book was ever translated) is about kids messing with boats, one of my favourite topics to read about. If I lived on a river, a lake, or the sea I’d definitively have a small boat to mess about with. I “inherited” the book from one of my older cousins. Her name is still written on the inside of the cover.

Jutta is the eldest of four children. She is hoping to become a teacher, but she also dreams of restoring an old river boat that her father bought second-hand before his death. Her father used to be a truck driver, was in an accident and eventually died of his injuries, before he could fix up the boat. He wanted to turn it into a floating grocery shop for the freight shipping crews on the nearby canal. But he died before he could finish the job and ever since the boat had been quietly rotting at its berth at the back of the family’s garden (which is on a small river that flows into the main canal). At the beginning of the novel, it’s rumoured that a new lock is being built on the canal which would enable more shipping to pass through. Suddenly it seems feasible to fix up the boat after all. The problem is the poverty of the family after the father’s death. Jutta’s mother would rather sell the old boat. Jutta convinces her mother to renovate the boat instead and with the help of her brothers manages against all odds to fix it up, despite opposition from doubters and sabotage attempts from rivals. I found it quite thrilling as a child and the last scene in the book when Jutta and her mother take the boat out onto the canal still gives me goosebumps.

I don’t know when the book was written (it doesn’t say), but from the feel of it and internal evidence it must have been sometime in the 1960s. It’s maybe slightly dated and perhaps not very subtle about promoting the right kind of morals (“thou shalt not steal” is one subplot) and the rivals are rather stereotypical bad guys but overall I enjoyed rereading it. All the tinkering with the engine of the old boat and the work involved in fixing it up reminded me a lot about my dad. He was always tinkering with cars or renovating our house (which we also bought in a run-down condition). Our whole family worked on our house during my teenage years. I guess that made me relate to the story in addition to the river romance.

I’d recommend it for children and adults who like children’s lit, but I’m afraid it isn’t translated and out-of-print in German. I couldn’t find out anything about the author, so I don’t know if she wrote any other books.

Robert O’Brian, who wrote The Silver Crown, did write other books: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (a very good read about some super intelligent rats) and Z for Zachariah (a post-apocalyptic novel that I found thought-provoking, depressing, and scary when I read it in school as a young teenager). I ought to reread both of these, too.

The Silver Crown is a fantasy novel set in 20th century America. It’s quite a slim volume, less than 200 pages in my edition, but I remember being very struck by it when I first read it, which must have been when I was around 11. It’s about a ten-year-old, Ellen, who is given a silver crown on her birthday and loses her family on the same day. Strange and awful things happen in her town and she decides to hitchhike to her aunt, who’s the only family she has left and the only one she trusts. On the way, she is pursued by strangers but also finds new friends to help her. The novel is at once very realistic in the description of her travels but fantastic in the workings of the silver crown, which seems to enhance Ellen’s mental powers. Otherwise, Ellen would be rather unbelievably resourceful for a ten-year-old. It’s very atmospheric, but kind of muted, with quiet passages on her travels when nothing much happens and she might as well be on a normal hike, and intense passages when she and her friend are being pursued by or hiding from sinister figures. In the end, Ellen finds out the secret of the silver crown and makes a portentous decision.

The book works very well as a fairly short novel. Some things are only hinted at and left to the reader’s imagination. It’s very evocative and compelling and I’m sure, were it published today, it would be spread out as a trilogy, which would destroy part of its weird charm. This book, as well as the other books by O’Brien I mentioned are still available. I recommend all of them, but Z is rather grim.

Keep safe, world.

September and October Reading

I read more in August than in September and October combined. I was busy with other stuff on most of the September weekends and as weekends are my main reading time, I naturally couldn’t read as much as I usually do. I’m lumping September in with October, which was a better reading month, but also not optimal. I was on vacation and did things with my family and only read a bit every now and then. Still, October was passable, as my vacation only took up the first half of the month. Here’s the list of books read:

 

Ongoing project:
Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I read a few pages, but not very many. I need to prioritize it in November and December to get through it this year.

Poetry:

  • Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets.
    I’m about three-quarters done. Some of the poems in this anthology are very good. It’s a mixed bag, but no worse that poems by the more well-known male 18th century poets. I’m enjoying it.
  • Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
    I continued reading this poetry collection in September (too unwieldy to take on vacation). I’m not yet done but should be done soon. I quite like my foray into German poetry.

Non-Fiction:

  • Robert Alter, The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age.
    A short book that explains the elements of style that distinguish literature from other texts. I enjoyed it a lot.
  • Adrienne Rich, Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry.
    This was a kind of companion to Rich’s Selected Poems that I read in April. Some of the essays were very good, others I  didn’t find particularly memorable.
  • Mitchell Zuckoff, Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11.
    Inspired by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. A detailed look at what happened during the terrorist attacks, with a focus on people’s experiences. Terrible and moving.
  • Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography.
    An amazing tome that I spent about three weeks reading.

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, The Murder of Mary Russell.
    The 14th in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Not bad, but not one of my favourites.
  • Louise Erdrich, The Bingo Palace.
    The next novel in the Love Medicine series. It was great. My review is here.
  • Halldor Laxness, Fish Can Sing.
    The first book I’ve read by this author from Iceland, who won the Nobel Prize. I once had a Nordic phase, where I read all the Icelandic Sagas (very good) and I’ve always wanted to try a novel by Laxness. I enjoyed it a lot and am up for reading others by him.
  • Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn.
    The second of Trollope’s Parliamentary series. I read the first one, Can You Forgive Her, last year but never got around to writing a review. I still remember it because it was great. This one had a slow start but improved in the second half. My only Victober read for this year.

Children’s Literature:

Jutta

  • Helga Marten, Juttas großer Tag (German for Jutta’s Big Day).
    I found this one, which used to be a great favourite during my childhood, while I was sorting boxes of old books to get rid of. I reread it, still mostly liked it, and kept it for nostalgic reasons.
  • Robert O’Brien, The Silver Crown.
    Also one of the books I discovered, reread and kept. A classic fantasy story
  • Michelle Magorian, Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home.
    Two books set in or just after WWII in the UK. The first is about a young boy sent to the country for safety, the second about a young girl just returned from America, where she had been sent during the war and the difficulties she faced on her return. An awful depiction of boarding school life – quite the anti-Blyton version. Both books were good reads.

I plan to write more detailed reviews for most of these books, so I didn’t go into much detail in this list. I’m rather behind with my reviews. As I only did one post in October, I haven’t managed to review the books I read in August. This will give me lots of topics to write about this month when I’m planning a post per day, to get back into the groove and catch up on things. I managed it last year and hope to manage it this year too – as I said before, it’s my NaNoWriMo project.

Keep safe, world.

October Update

I haven’t posted for so long… since mid of September. At first, I had a lot on my plate, then I was on vacation and after my vacation I had completely lost the habit of writing. I kept composing posts in my head, but never actually sat down, opened Word and started to write. So, here’s what I’ve been up to (short version):

On the third weekend of September, Mum and I travelled to Düsseldorf to visit my Dad’s only sister to pick up some tableware that belonged to my grandmother and that my aunt wanted to get rid of. That took the entire day, 7 hours on the Autobahn (there-and-back in one day). I had dreaded it, but it was fine. A lovely sunny day after a foggy start and no traffic jams to speak of. Seeing my aunt was lovely.

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Then I spent the rest of September prepping my workload so that my colleagues wouldn’t have to pick up too much while I was away and that I wouldn’t have a huge backlog after my vacation. That worked out well but left me too tired to post anything.
Then I had to pack everything we needed for our vacation and for our regular week in Bavaria. We took our place in Bavaria as the starting point for our vacation, as it was in the South Tyrol, which is much nearer to Bavaria than to my place in Baden-Württemberg. This meant more luggage than usual. The car was loaded with extra dog paraphernalia and other stuff we needed for the vacation.

In Bavaria, Mum and I were busy cleaning up the house for guests, since Cousin 1 and her boyfriend stayed a night before we left for Italy, and Partner was staying too. And I still had a couple of days to work and stuff to organize, so I was quite busy then as well.

Our trip to Italy was great. We stayed in a cute small holiday house, in a small town called Karersee (Carezza al Lago in Italian). It was very cosy, very well equipped (the best vacation home I’ve ever stayed in), had a lovely view of the Rosengarten and the Latemar mountain ridges in the Dolomites. We had two days of bad weather, but the rest of the week was sunny (a bit cold but perfect for hiking). We went for long scenic walks and Partner and the others once took a funicular up the mountains and walked a mountain track. Not suitable for dogs, so I didn’t go (but I didn’t mind as I don’t care much for heights). We had a good time. Curious Dog pulled on the leash like a champion, but we managed anyway. I had thought it would have been worse.

On our return, Partner stayed a few days in Bavaria, and we did a few things near my place. I took him on a steep track just a few kilometres from my house. I’ve been wanting to walk that track for years, but had never done so, because it isn’t suitable for dogs. It was much scarier than any hike we did in the Dolomites. Very steep, lots of climbing around the Jurassic cliffs that exist near my place. A real adventure. I was happy to have managed it, but I’m not doing it again. I hadn’t known it would involve such a lot of scrambling up the sides of cliffs, holding on to roots and rocks. Once we’d gone up one steep part, it was too daunting to turn back, so we had to keep on. It took about 2.5 to 3 hours, up and down all the way. The next few days were painful, as I’d pulled a muscle or something in my leg and could hardly move.

Work started again on October 13 and since then I’ve been thinking about posting but not actually doing it. I think I’ll try to do a blog post per day in November (which I think I did last year as well). My version of doing NaNoWriMo. I’ll expand a bit on my vacation adventures and on the books I’ve been reading. I’m very behind on my book reviews.

Keep safe, world.

Tracks

This novel by Louise Erdrich is the third in the Love Medicine series, after Love Medicine and The Beet Queen. I very much enjoyed this third novel of the series. I’m loving how with each novel one gets more and more pieces of the puzzle that shows the lives of all these diverse people, whether Native American, white, or of both cultures. My review contains spoilers (although the novel is very full of all sorts of themes and I can’t possibly touch on all of them).

Tracks

The novel is set on Native American land around the town Argus (which is familiar from the other novels in the series). We also meet characters that we met before. It’s about the years 1912 to 1924 and, as usual for this series, the novel contains episodes in the lives of many characters (like a colourful patchwork). In this case is the main story is about the early years of Fleur Pillager (from 17 to 27). At 17, Fleur is the last survivor of her family, whose members all died of an infectious disease along with many other Native Americans on the reservation. I’m not sure what disease it was, maybe pneumonia? It seems to have been a disease of the lungs. Fleur is unofficially adopted by Nanapush, an older man of around 50+ years, also the only survivor of his family. Nanapush is the grandfather (by adoption) of Fleur’s daughter Lulu (who played a role in Love Medicine) and he is one of the two narrators of the story. He tells Lulu Fleur’s story to stop her from marrying into a disreputable family (so he’s telling the story of the years 1912 to 1924 at some unspecified later time when Lulu, who was born in 1914, is grown up) and to get her to reconcile with her mother. Nanapush tells Fleur’s story as someone who loves her, but we also get the story from the second narrator, Paulina Puyat, who has a love-hate relationship with Fleur. The two narrators tell the story in alternating chapters. In a way, Paulina is Fleur’s counterpart, and also a main character. We learn how she turns into the severe, almost hellish nun Leopolda (who also turns up in various novels). She is a hateful character but also pitiable.

Paulina loses her family, too, but it’s not clear if they died or abandoned her. She left them to move in with an aunt in Argus, because she wanted to learn the ways of white people, and especially to learn lace-making from the town’s nuns. It didn’t work out and when she returned to the reservation, her family was gone. She was only 15 or thereabouts.

From the beginning of the novel, we learn that Fleur isspecial. She is feared for her malignant powers (which at least partly seems like malicious gossip and superstition). There is something mythic about her. Her entire family was apparently dangerous to cross even when dead.

When Paulina and Fleur were in Argus, they worked at the Kozkas’ butcher shop (which played a large role in The Beet Queen). Fleur won quite a bit of money at poker from three men who also worked at the butcher’s. These men felt aggrieved at Fleur and one night, when the Kotzkas were away, they decided to punish her by raping her. Paulina witnessed the rape and was seen by Fleur but felt unable to help. This soured their relationship. Later on, though, during a tornado, Pauline caused the death of two of the men by locking them into a cold storage room in which they had sought to escape the storm. They froze to death, which preyed on Paulina’s mind.

Both Fleur and Paulina return to the reservation, where Fleur, who is pregnant, gets into a relationship with Eli Kashpaw, who may or may not be Lulu’s father. Fleur and Eli live in a fairly traditional way and form a loving family but struggle to pay the taxes on their land allotment. Paulina moves in with the Morrissey family, has an rather brutal affair with Napoleon Morrissey, and bears an unloved child, Marie Lazarre (whom we know from Love Medicine). She turns to the Christian religion and tries to gain some kind of recognition by turning herself into a saint by mortification of the flesh, that is, by trying follow in Christ’s footsteps through suffering. She is exceedingly self-righteous but also lonely and adrift. She can’t seem to stay away from Fleur and her family, and often tries to harm them with plots and machinations, some of which are at least somewhat successful. At length, she renounces her Native America past, murders Napoleon, and turns herself into the nun Leopolda (a fearsome and unloving person). Her religiosity seems born of hate and jealousy, not love.

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Fleur in the meantime can’t keep up her relationship with Eli and can’t keep her land. Both she and Nanapush are swindled by the machinations of Eli’s mother and the land agent. Also, the laws are against them. These are people needing government support to survive famines and are still required to pay taxes in order to keep their land. Other families from their reservation and white farmers buy up the lost land and chop down the woods in which Fleur lived. She has to give up Lulu to keep her safe (she sent her to government boarding school or at least didn’t prevent her being taken away). In the end, Fleur takes to the road as a travelling trader in homemade remedies and other things (in The Beet Queen she’s the one who saved Karl Adaire when he fell off the train).

This book, after the more light-hearted Beet Queen, is bleaker. All the tracks seem to lead nowhere or into an uncertain future. Fleur’s way, the Native American way of life, seems incompatible with the times, so that she can’t keep her land or her family. Other Native American families fall prey to alcoholism or buy up the land (if it isn’t taken over by white people). There is envy for successful families. Many families are in more or less serious feuds with other families on the reservation. There doesn’t seem to be a concerted community effort to fight against the loss of tradition and land. Even within families people follow different tracks or ways of life. Regina’s way is to follows all the negative parts of Christianity with none of the good. Fleur turns into a travelling trader and we don’t learn what exactly becomes of her. Nanapush manages to come to an arrangement with his circumstances. At one point he goes into politics so that he can save Lulu from having to live at the government boarding school. Lulu remains estranged from Fleur. Nanapush’s storytelling is aimed at getting her to reconcile with Fleur but it remains open if he is successful.

I hope some of the character’s stories will be taken up in the following novels of the series which I am looking forward to reading.

Keep safe world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Things have been terribly busy at work and I have been too tired at the end of the day to write anything. Last week was especially awful, with escalation meetings on Monday (at least we managed to solve the problem in question – at least for now though hopefully forever) on top of the usual Monday meetings. Then two colleagues called in sick and one was on vacation, so that only myself and another colleague remained to do the work usually done by the five of us. One of the sick colleagues was supposed to be the substitute for the one on vacation. There were a lot of tasks that had to be done, and after they had called in sick for the second day, I had a look at the list and found that things were quite off track. Stuff that should already have been done had been forgotten and of course the tasks for last week also hadn’t yet been done. I spent the rest of week working on those things (and I wasn’t impressed by the substitute – it’s bad luck to be sick, but if you are supposed to be doing a lot of stuff which you can’t do because you’re ill maybe a short mail pointing out that stuff needs doing might be in order). Also, I kind of expected some heartfelt thanks when they returned, but that didn’t materialize either. As I wasn’t as familiar with those tasks as with my usual ones, it took longer and was more tiring. My other two colleagues and I had more of a clue than official substitute, very odd. I’d always suspected that the colleague on vacation did most of the job, now I’m sure. At least this week the sick colleagues are back at work and next week the person on vacation will be back – phew, I’ll be relieved.

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I’ll be on vacation from end of September until the middle of October, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m feeling stressed and fed up with work. A few days away will be lovely. I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up my work as far as possible, so that my colleagues don’t have to do too many things on top of their usual work. Some can’t be avoided, because the tasks can only be done on certain dates during my vacation, but I’ll try to keep everything else down.

Last Friday, Partner and I went shopping for bed sheets and duvet covers at a large furniture store. Partner had a voucher and at the store we won another one, so in sum we had vouchers for € 100. We got three fitted sheets (two for us, one for Mum) and a double set of duvet and pillow covers. While we were there, we looked at the store’s entire selection of couches. Those couches were quite expensive, sometimes ugly, and most of them much too large for our modest-sized living room. We happened to find a set of couches, one for three people and one for two, in red leather (bright, but not too bright). Reduced to half-price because they were sample pieces. Well, while we were at the store, we couldn’t decide if we should buy them or not, but when we returned, we measured where they could go in our living-room and decided that it was an excellent match. Currently we have a three-seat couch and two armchairs. The set is 25 years old. The last seven years have been especially hard on them (otherwise they would still be in good shape), because of Curious Dog. In the end, we decided to buy the red set (our current one is a bright dark green – we like some color in our living-room). I returned to the shop and when I spoke to the salesperson, they gave us an additional discount (which I didn’t even ask for – I mean, the couches were already at half-price). In addition, the delivery is free of charge and our old couch and armchairs will also be removed at no expense. A very nice piece of good luck. The leather should be easier to clean than the weird material of the old couch set. I would have preferred couches not made of leather, but this was a case of a gift horse, so no quibbles. The delivery will be after my vacation in October. Can’t wait.

On the weekend, we watched the last episode of The Underground Railroad. It was a very striking series, really showing the horrors of slavery and how runaway slaves were not safe anywhere. It had an open end, but one could hope that things would improve for the main character. The acting was excellent. I’m very much inclined to read the novel one of these days. The only thing about the series that I disliked was that a lot of the action took place in darkness where you hardly saw anything. It’s just not that much fun watching shadowy shapes poking around in the dark. Maybe it was symbolic or verisimilitude, but still a dark TV screen is just not that great.

Poor Curious Dog has an eye irritation in both eyes. It started on Sunday and became quite pronounced yesterday. The eyes themselves are clear, but the lower lids are slightly swollen with a discharge. Last night, I bathed his eyes with weak black tea (I didn’t have any chamomile) and surprisingly today they are much improved. If they hadn’t improved, a trip to the vet’s would have been necessary. I think he’s been brushing through too much high grass and got seeds into his eyes or perhaps he got some dust into his eyes when I pruned our huge Buddleia bush on the weekend. A very dusty business which Partner can’t do because it causes his hay fever to flare. The Buddleia still needs a lot more pruning. Anyway, I’m glad that CD’s eyes are better and that he’s so good at letting me bathe them.

Next Saturday I have to see an aunt of mine in Düsseldorf, which is about (at least) 3.5 hours away (one way). She’s my last relative on my Dad’s side (his elder sister) and wants me to pick up some tableware from my grandmother. She asked me a few years ago if I wanted to inherit it and I said yes, but now she wants to get rid of it immediately. I’m not really looking forward to the drive, there and back on one day, sevenhours in the car, but it will be nice to see her. We’ve never been very close, because Dad’s relationship with her was rather contentious, but we’ve been keeping in touch by phone for years. Maybe Mum will come along (although she’s not too keen on such a long drive either).

I’ve been reading, but not too much, because of work and other things to do on the weekends. Maybe September will turn out to be a not-so-great reading months, but we shall see.

We’ve been having quite pleasant weather early fall weather. Sometimes already a bit cold, but no rain, and we haven’t had to turn on the furnace yet. The storks we used to watch on our morning walks with CD seem to have left.

Keep safe, world.