Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Funny Girl" -- Not really all that funny but a decent enough novel

I've just finished Funny Girl by Nick Hornby, a book I'd decided against buying in hardback some weeks back when at Elliott Bay Book Company. Scott, being a nice sort, decided on a whim to buy a copy for me at the satellite University of Washington Bookstore at some point between "some weeks back" and a few minutes ago, when I finished reading the book. One pauses here, perhaps, to think about the effort required to get the times straight in storytelling. It's trickier than it looks, I'm thinking.

 The book is 452 heavily leaded pages long and the bit that caused me to laugh came on page 450. I'm not sure what the signifies but it struck me, nonetheless, as significant. It was a good bit, the bit on page 450, and maybe what made it work for me was that it was a scene set in 2014, a year with which both I and Mr Hornby are pretty darned familiar, rather than 1967ish, when Nick, I see would have been about ten and I was yet younger. (Second pause to note the shock I feel at finding someone being published who is actually older than I am.) In his acknowledgments, Mr Hornby thanks his historical sources, and my theory of the moment is that somehow, at some level, the bulk of the book felt more secondhand. "Look at how these people used to be! Marvel at the time when homosexuality could get you sent to jail! Just imagine the first time "Hair" was performed!"

 Which isn't entirely fair or an entirely accurate portrayal of the book or my reaction to it. It was a fine book and, despite the title, it wasn't supposed to be a comedy, I don't think. It purports to be a novel about people, regular human beings and their regular issues which aren't necessarily all that different in 2015 than they were in 1965. There is some nice stuff, again at the end, about how people of a certain age look at the world/see themselves/see their lives. I swear Scott and I just had this talk two days ago:

Sophie laughed. She always knew the kind of noise she wanted to make, but it always came out wrong, croaky, phlegmy, cracked. The terrible thing was that one always thought everything was temporary--the croak, the creaks, the pains, the insomnia. All those things used to be temporary. They cleared up. Not anymore. (from p. 414)

One way or another, the swinging sixties scenes don't resonate so well. Maybe because I wasn't a swinging sixties person, or maybe because Nick Hornby wasn't. Yet I was disappointed to realize that the 1960s portion of the book was suddenly over. Alas, I'm not sure what that signifies.

  Most of Sophie's life (aka 1968 - 2014) passes on the blank pages between pages 405 and 409. Her scenes that follow, including the bit quoted above, nicely address the changes between her life as a twenty-something and her current existence at about seventy and I sort of feel like those first four hundred pages are just setting up the final fifty; that Mr Hornby's point has nothing to do with the dawn of television in the UK. But, really, I can't decide what I think about that--whether it makes sense to spend quite so much time setting something up. But it's not entirely just a set-up, I don't think, and there's enough story to prevent the covers from banging into each other which is my too-lazy-to-find-the-actual-quote way of finishing up this little excuse of a review/post.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Things You Can See in the Waters Off Lincoln Park

It was a fine outing to Lincoln Park but now I'm feeling a mite exhausted so I post three photos and call it good.
Selkie with fish, I
Happy Feet!

Selkie and fish, II (I just wish my focus had been better)

My Experience of the Siege of Leningrad

Scott has a number of rules by which he lives: the couple I usually remember, but tend to blur in my mind, are "Never trust a man in a beret" and "Never buy a green suit." I'm pretty sure I've done both, if "suit" can include a dress and jacket ensemble. This evening, I do believe, a new rule has been added--at least if I have anything to say about it: "Never go to a Shostokovich symphony." Most assuredly, never go to hear his bullet, the Leningrad Symphony, is engraved upon both of our hearts. I swear the siege itself could not have felt so long. And I'm sure a diet of rats could not have felt so repetitive as that second movement.

It is possible that there is a nice 35 or even 45 minutes of music in the piece but it goes on, unfortunately, for close to 80 minutes. Comrade Dmitri manages to make it that long by taking one nice little phrase and repeating it for half an hour. I wish to hell I were exaggerating. That second movement had me thinking wistfully of Dorothy Parker's review of some play or other in which she shot herself. Had I a gun with me this evening, I likely would have done the same during that second movement. Midway through the fourth, however, I was feeling more public-spirited and likely would have shot key members of the symphony. I think they might have thanked me; certainly the audience would have. Scott noted that the man sitting next to the second violinist had a huge grin on his face when he turned the final page of the score. I didn't notice him but I did note when the person next to the first violinist turned that page. Alas, it turns out that the final fifteen minutes are another single phrase, played over and over again. I have guns on the brain (perhaps because the guest conductor reminded Scott of Chekhov--who doesn't these days, one might ask); I assume that the score actually has the couple of bars of music and then a note to the musician to repeat until she wishes to shoot herself and then continue for another eternity. The crowd, needless to say, went wild when it was over: I assume from a sense of relief and libertion.

 It's too bad that the Shostikovich was so very tiresome as the first piece, Alfred Schnittke's Violn Concerto No. 4, was quite fine, with unexpected turns. At times it seemed like walking through a music festival hearing snatches of a bunch of different performances. That may not sound very coherent, I suppose, and I really have no idea how one movement may have related to the next (though there were a few recurring themes) but I found myself thinking that I wanted the piece to continue and was repeatedly happy when it did. "What's it going to do *now*?" I'd ask myself. The soloist, Alexander Velinzon, seemed to know his way around a violin too. Honestly, we'd be feeling a lot happier about the Seattle Symphony had we left at intermission.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dinner is getting colder and later: hasty weekend update

golden-crowned kinglet at the park
A busy weekend it has been and I've just discovered how very easy it is to delete and permanently lose an entire blogger post. You'd think someplace there'd be a draft but, alas, I haven't found such a thing. The only consolation is that it was a pretty lousy post anyway, mostly just noting that it has been a lovely weekend and Friday afternoon feels a very long time ago, in a good way. We went to see the heron rookery and, eventually, to the T105 (or whatever) park across from Kellogg Island yesterday.

There we saw Caspian terns (!!! surely it is early for them) and, most excitingly, a robin on her nest.
robin on her not-very-secret nest

incidental loveliness
Also, near the herons, a pileated woodpecker and a snake. And by the park, wild bunnies and piles and piles of scrap metal. And, on the way home, just incidental loveliness.

Today was more home-oriented; Scott put in a few screens and did some spackling while I planted pole beans and lettuce and fussed in the yard. Which, really, this time of year is very lovely.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Of bikes, baskets, and buns

Test ride
Today was an unexpectedly lovely day, weatherwise, in Seattle and yet Scott and I did not go canoeing on Lake Washington nor even go for a walk over Pigeon Point to see the heron rookery (or "heronry," if you prefer) there. One day, about a month ago, since I was detoured from my usual route to work thanks to the work on Delridge, I did walk over the top of Pigeon Point, which always turns out to be a longer distance than I think it is, and I found myself at essentially eye-level with the herons. It was magical and beautiful and made me happy just to be alive in such a time and place. I was also very late getting to work but I'm sure I also stayed very late so it all came out even, or so I tell myself. But since then, I've been both wanting and not wanting to go by that way with Scott. It would be so nice to share the experience with him (or to have him have that experience) but just as you can never go home again or step in the same river twice, I'm not sure you can repeat unexpected magical moments. And, besides, it would mean getting up and out of the house and how much does that happen around here on a weekend?
Spoilery photo
  Today, however. I was going to write about today, or at least about today's notable adventures and accomplishments. Well, Bessie, I am happy to say, has at last had her new basket affixed. You would not think, perhaps, that it would take that long to manage what sounds like so simple a business but trust me, it wasn't easy. First there was the business of admitting that Bessie (Bessie being my bike, by the way) needed a new basket. That was a process that took some months, requiring bits of Bessie's old basket to break off at home, at work, on the bus, in the street, by the grocery store, etc., until I was forced to admit that it wasn't so much a basket as the base of what had once been a basket. Then I had to find a new basket and, of course, I couldn't just buy something new, designed for a bicycle, at a bicycle shop. No, Bessie's new basket was purchased, a few weeks back, at Wild Rose's Consignment store and then it sat around for a few weeks while we tried to determine how to affix it to my bike.

Bessie's new basket
 Some fancy u-screws were part of the plan for a while but eventually we went with the gear ties that I got free at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival last year, along with a length of copper wire we happened to have and the old bungee cord that had been holding the old basket in place. Scott also created a new mount for the blinky light on the back. I'm very pleased with the results.

The other business of the day seemed like it would be more straightforward. It being Easter weekend, and me liking a nice baked good, it seemed sensible to make some hot cross buns. As it happens, the hot cross bun recipe is opposite the recipe for pizza dough in my 1978 printing of Joy of Cooking so I've been well aware of it for the last year or so, what with making a fair amount of pizza these days. Sure, I had my mother's reliable recipe elsewhere but I vaguely remembered not being all that thrilled with the results of that recipe and so I decided to give the one in Joy a shot. (Mercifully, I think, I did not photograph the production of the resulting buns.)

The relevant page of Joy of Cooking
Well. Joy's recipe calls for only 2 2/3 cup of flour and includes the injunction not to stir in all the flour but rather to knead in the flour as soon as the dough can be kneaded. I found I had to add all the flour before the "dough" ceased to be essentially liquid. Maybe my flour, once sifted, was airier than Madames Rombauer and Becker anticipated, or maybe I just can't work a measuring cup. I ended up using more flour than called for, one way or another, but the dough rose nicely (while we were up the hill buying parts we ended up not using on Bessie's basket) which brought me to the "form into balls" stage with the dough. It was sticky, was that dough, and I had to apply a fair bit of butter to my hands to manage to form those balls but I was darned proud of myself once I'd succeeded. The second rising resulted in a couple of dish towels that are going to need to be washed but it seemed to go well enough. I then put the buns into a preheated 425-degree oven for the prescribed twenty minutes. Gosh, I wish I'd checked them at fifteen minutes.

Pagan Buns
The results are, well, a little dark and a little flatter than I might like but they taste okay. I guess. Not, really, a grand success in baking. Next time, I think, I'll stick with my mother's recipe. The Rombauer/Beckers, I've decided, are even less Christian than I am.