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- June 15: My two pots of Alcantarea imperialis having burst into bloom, it's time to show them off here, as I've done for many years running. There are two other species of plants in this photo: one flowering, one not. The begonias, being long past their best, did not make it into the shot.
Can't find the other flowering plant in the picture? Hint: It's a many-hued heliotrope.
- May 7: Some novels published in 2013 that I've been reading: River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, and The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen. Both are beautiful and sad (the McCleen actively so; it's rare that a book makes me weep nowadays), and they've enriched my life.
An un-sad aside related to "McCleen": My mother's cousin was Miss McBroom; my father's father called her Miss McSweep. They got along like a house on fire, although there was nothing she could do with his last name in the way of retaliation. What can you make of "Bennett"?
To add some visual brightness to this space, below right is a woman's scarf from Bursa, Turkey, with handmade lace. It's still so cold after dark that I haven't been buying new plants for the balcony in order to save wear and tear on my back as I haul all the pots inside at night, so this scarf will have to act as a substitute for the missing flowers. (The winter of 2013–14 was the coldest since 1949—no wonder I don't remember a worse winter; my parents hadn't even met in 1949—and spring has been very slow to come. A friend gifted me with a pussy willow branch today, though, so spring is here.)
- May 6: I've been away from this blog for a while. But for today's topic I'm even later to the party! I've just discovered the Icelandic hymn "Heyr himna smiður" ("Hear, Smith of the Heavens"; here are the lyrics; scroll down the page a bit) as sung a cappella by the band Árstíðir. A YouTube video went viral in September 2013 after Árstíðir spontaneously performed the hymn in a train station in Wuppertal, Germany, following a sold-out concert.
The band seems to have four basic members but on tour there are six, including the guy who sings countertenor in the hymn. From their site: "Who are Árstíðir? We are four friends from Reykjavík, Iceland, that have been playing and touring together since 2009. Our name means 'seasons' and is pronounced OURS-teeth-her."
This is the train-station version of the hymn I like the best (many people were filming it). There are also lots of videos of Árstíðir performing it on stage, but the "live" acoustics of the train station work much better because the echoes help the vibrato-less harmonics develop. In 2012 Árstíðir sang the hymn in a genuine church (rather than in a space with church-like acoustics), in Vilnius, Lithuania, but the camera was too far away to see their faces. I recommend both versions. The words are from the 13th century; the music, from the 20th.
Árstíðir is crowdfunding their third album through a Kickstarter campaign that ends on 24 May. If I could pitch in, I would. (I've incurred an enormous vet bill for Emma and Marcus. Marcus is still with us, but Emma is not.) Árstíðir's second album was financed through a high-interest loan on a member's home which is being paid off this year, and understandably they'd rather not go the mortgage route again. The third album will arrive in September. The campaign has already exceeded its low goal of $20,000, but the rewards are great—even the $5 one!
Here's another favourite of mine, "Ljóð í sand," with lyrics superimposed. (The group does a beautiful rendition of "Scarborough Fair," too.)
I like listening to the Icelandic language, which is a descendant of Old Norse and has an ancestor in common with English. In "Heyr himna smiður," the words, the music and the voices have combined into a perfect thing (a word that English shares with Icelandic, though the meanings have diverged).
Kolbeinn Tumason (1173–1208) is best known for "Heyr himna smiður," which he composed on his deathbed.
RIP, Emma (2000–14). You weren't a perfect cat, but I loved you very much.
- March 5: I've talked a lot on this blog about French folk dancing and the concept of the Bal Folk (two such evenings I've led were discussed on 27 October and 3 December 2013), and I'd like to announce that on Saturday 22 March there will be a rockin' Bal Folk in Toronto, organized by the same musicians (Emilyn Stam and Tangi Ropars) who run the Monday night French class at the Hogtown Cure Deli & Café. The flyer can be downloaded from my site as a pdf, but here's the essential info:
The Bal Folk will be held at 918 Bathurst St. (2 1/2 blocks north of Bloor), Toronto; no partner or experience needed; at 6 p.m. will be a dance workshop for kids; from 7.30-11.30 p.m., a Bal Folk dance with live music (instruction provided by Emilyn and Tangi); tickets available at www.balfolktoronto.wordpress.com & The Hogtown Cure and cost $10 in advance/$12 at the door/$5 youth (under 15); with musicians from Montreal, the USA, the Netherlands (Té) and Toronto (including Bourrée à Quatre, whom I work with when I'm teaching); food and drink catered by La Palette and Chocosol; visit www.facebook.com/BalfolkToronto.
I've not yet decided whether I will attend, although many people who do value me have urged me to go, if only to demonstrate how a bourrée is supposed to look when done by experienced and properly taught dancers.
To add a visual highlight to this entry, to the right is a fringed Chinese silk shawl I bought recently to accompany my central-France costume. The costume's skirt is underneath it. Although the skirt's thin red stripes serve to push the blue stripes towards the appearance of the purple end of the colour spectrum, the skirt is indeed striped in dark blue (as well as green and red), and the new shawl will brighten the whole ensemble. (If I go to the 22 March Bal Folk, I won't do so in costume, in case you're wondering!)
- March 4: In order to push myself to finish the work on the humungous Fantastic Toronto survey update that I wrote about on March 2, I had to liberally promise myself rewards... such as the season 3 DVDs (with commentary!) of Game of Thrones (fast-forwarding over the massacre in "The Rains of Castamere") and such as comedy DVDs including Colin and Brad: Two-Man Group (2011), starring improv masters Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood at a show in Milwaukee. Many seasons of the American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? (in which Colin is a regular, and Brad sometimes a guest) await me for the next few weeks as wind-downs after hard days at the office.
Speaking of the Fantastic Toronto survey, some thoughts I didn't post with the March 2 entry concerned Michelle Sagara's new young-adult novel Touch (2014), which is Book 2 of a fantasy trilogy. I did enjoy Touch, as I had liked its predecessor Silence (2012), but I had a couple of wishes: that so many of the characters' names did not sound alike, with "eh" and "em" sounds―Amy, Allison, Emma, Michael, Nathan; and that there were more Toronto landmarks mentioned so that my imagination could "ground" the action; visualize how the chess pieces related to the board.
Other recent reading, unrelated to the survey (for pleasure! Yay!) has included 2014's hard-SF novel The Martian by Andy Weir (which I recommend; unexpectedly funny, although over-long) and a re-read of George Eliot's classic Middlemarch (1874). I've bought the TV series made in 1994 of the novel, which necessarily left a lot out (I watched it on first release) but I was still very happy with, and I expect to like it all over again on re-watching. Other Eliot novels are in the box-set containing Middlemarch: Adam Bede, Daniel Deronda, The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner among them. As I've never read those novels but only critical commentary on them, I'll be able to encounter Eliot's stories with fresh eyes. (I do confess to having seen the production of Daniel Deronda before.)
The Ides of April (2013) by Lindsey Davis is the start of a new mystery series set in ancient Rome, starring Flavia Alba, adopted daughter of Falco and Helena from the 20-book Falco series, which I freely admit I stopped reading at around Book 15, as I grew fed up with the cynicism and corruption and hopelessness that the noir formula demanded. However, since a younger Flavia was introduced in the last Falco book (Nemesis), I'll have to read it now... The second Flavia book, Enemies at Home, will be released on June 3rd. I'm no more enamoured of Lindsey Davis's noir style than I was with the main Falco series, but I'll stick it out with one more book, anyway, as I like Flavia (as well as her folks, who've showed up frustratingly little so far in the new series).
Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London supernatural police procedural series is one I've been following (I gave it an enthusiastic thumb's up on 29 June 2013), but I'm done after reading the latest installment, Broken Homes (2014). A generally positive review by Andy Sawyer on a 25 October 2013 in Strange Horizons does not convey the same reaction as mine to the plot twist (a betrayal by a friend and colleague) at the end—a betrayal at which the narrator shows no emotional reaction at all. I could not credit it. I had the same problem with the lack of emotional affect in the Kate Griffin series about Matthew Swift, also a sorcerer in London. I suspect I'm just jaded; why else am I so often disappointed by modern fiction?
- March 3: From my costume collection: an urban Albanian woman's vest from Kosovo, in particular the towns of Prizren, Gjakova and Pristina. At right is the front; below left is the back.
I do not have the white garments that, according to my source, Śladami Kanunu: Kultura albańska w wiieloetnicznym Kosowie (Following the Kanun: Albanian Culture in Multi-Ethnic Kosovo), by Joanny Minksztym (Poznan, Poland: Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu, 2011), are worn underneath. I have a hat similar but not identical to the one worn by the model on p. 97 of the book, seen below right.
The book presents costumes from Kosovo found in Polish museum collections and is written in Polish, but a complete English translation is provided on the included CD.
- March 2: To the Fantastic Toronto survey, I added four novels and 11 short stories—by E.L. Chen ("Nocturne"), Karen Danylak ("Green Is Good,"), Gemma Files ("Homebody"), Alyxandra Harvey ("The Shield Maiden"), Nalo Hopkinson (Sister Mine), Helen Marshall ("The Art of Dying"), Michael Matheson ("The Many Lives of the Xun Long"), David Nickle (The 'Geisters and "Knife Fight"); Ian Rogers ("A Night in the Library with the Gods," "Deleted Scenes" and "The House on Ashley Avenue"), Michelle Sagara (Touch), Emily Schultz (The Blondes) and Douglas Smith ("Fiddleheads").
What would I recommend out of all that reading, bearing in mind that a lot of it was horror, which I don't enjoy as a genre (although I recognize that many of the authors are masters of their craft)? Emily Schultz's soft-SF apocalyptic novel The Blondes. I was surprised to find Nalo Hopkinson's 2013 novel Sister Mine a slog to get through; normally I delight in her work.
- February 19: Some books I've been reading lately include the series of medieval mysteries by Ariana Franklin (pen name for Diana Norman) starring Sicilian-trained pathologist Adelia Aguilar as the crime-solver. First: Mistress in the Art of Death (2007); The Serpent's Tale (2008), published in the UK as The Death Maze; Grave Goods (2009), published in the UK as Relics of the Dead; and A Murderous Procession (2010), which ended on a horrendous cliffhanger, the most lovable character (not Adelia; her lover, Rowley) being at death's door and the author unable to resolve the series, as she died in January 2011, aged 87.
A friend recommended this author and on balance I am glad to have found her, despite her hero-worship of English King Henry II (born 1133; died 1189) and deprecation of Henry's enormously intelligent and competent queen, Eleanor. It's clear that if Franklin had had her druthers, Henry would have been known to history as Henry the Great. (Uh, no. One of the better English kings—although widely criticized by his contemporaries, even within his own court—but on a par with Alfred? Sorry.)
- February 2: The Herbig-Haro or HH object at bottom, known as HH47, photographed by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, is a signpost of star birth. (The photograph should be "read" from left to right.) The blue, fan-shaped region at left is the edge of a cavity illuminated by the young star. Jet material travelling at more than 770,000 kilometres (440,000 miles) an hour has rear-ended slower upstream gas, creating the white bow-shaped shock wave at right.
The image was created from a series of time-lapse movies made by astronomers in 1994, 1999 and 2008. HH47 is located in the southern constellation Vela, about 1,350 light-years from Earth. (Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Hartigan [Rice University].)
- January 30: I forgot to mention in yesterday's entry that watching Morse and Lewis is teaching me how to correctly pronounce names connected with Oxford that I come across in Dorothy Sayers' 1935 mystery novel Gaudy Night every time I re-read it (so at least once a year). The River Cherwell, for example, is the "Charwell"; Magdalen College is "Maudlin." The shows are also helping me with Latin, so that I can do a better job of subvocalizing when I come across that language in print. (I'm assuming that Laurence Fox, who plays Detective-Sergeant Hathaway, a former candidate for the [Roman Catholic] priesthood, is doing a good job when he's given Latin in dialogue.)
The city I live in possesses oddities of pronunciation of its own, of course: Yonge Street is "Young"; Roncesvalles is only French to the eye, not the ear ("Ron-ses-vales," not "Rohnse-voh"); Spadina Avenue (and Street) is "Spa-die-nah" (formerly "Spa-dee-nah"); and Etobicoke is "Eh-toh-bih-coh" (the "k" is silent).
- January 29, 2014: During this wretched winter (if the "Arctic vortex" could swirl back up to Baffin Island and stay there, I'd be grateful), I've perforce spent a lot of time housebound and so have caught up on all the episodes of the British mystery series Inspector Morse (1987–2000) that I missed on first run on TV, and am now catching up on its sequel, Inspector Lewis (renamed Lewis in season 4), the entirety of which I missed in first run. Catching up on Lewis was harder as I actually had to buy the DVDs ("For heaven's sake!" says she, in an injured tone), as the early seasons weren't on YouTube (or if they were, the names were so camouflaged I couldn't find them).
The episode of Lewis I've found a perfect 10 so far was "And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea" from season 2: despite the precious title, I was enchanted by the episode's combination of art, poetry (Shelley, he who penned the "Moonbeams" line), the characters (especially the near-autistic-savant artist) and plot, Mother Nature, Oxford architecture and canals, and music. Oxford architecture (as in photo above) casts a spell all by itself; I loved the place when I visited briefly in 1973. I understand that Lewis will return for a seventh season, which I'm very glad to hear, as I'm really enjoying the Lewis-Hathaway partnership, even though the plotlines of some episodes are so baroque ("Are you kidding me?") that my attention starts to wander.
On tap to watch are season 7 of Foyle's War (2013) and season 1 of Endeavour (2012–13), about the early years of Endeavour Morse on the force; season 2 has been filmed but not yet broadcast. (I have no interest in the current series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. For me, it's Jeremy Brett as Holmes or nothing.)
(The 2013 blog is here.)