Some recent books

March 25, 2009

I recently read and really enjoyed the graphic memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (of comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For fame). Subtitled A Family Tragicomic, Fun Home covers Bechdels childhood growing up in a funeral home, her coming out to her family as a lesbian at the age of 19, leading to the revelation of her father’s closeted life as a married gay man and his death shortly after. Bechdel looks back over her childhood and adolescence, coloured by her new knowledge of her father’s sexuality and his death at 44 which she believes was suicide. One of the things I loved about this book was the many literary references. Both her parents were interested in the arts and reading, especially her father, and the book is littered with classics and what their stories may have meant to her father, her mother and their lives.
The cover of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
I want to read more London-based and London-themed books while living here: Lights Out for the Territory by Iain Sinclair, Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd and Mother London by Michael Moorcock. I wonder if I should read a Charles Dickens novel or two while I’m at it. Has anyone got any recommendations? Yesterday I took a bus to Greenford library to borrow Lights Out for the Territory. The book is full of tales of wandering around London. I’m excited about reading it. When I left the library and went to Greenford tube station I was quite excited to find they have wooden escalators!
Wooden escalator, Greenford Underground Station, London
Wooden escalator, Greenford Underground Station, London
Greenford Underground Station, London
I had never heard of them until reading about the tragic fire at King’s Cross Underground Station in 1987 that killed a number of people and one of the changes made afterward was to replace all the wooden escalators with metal ones! I had never seen any until yesterday. Greenford tube is not underground so I guess they get to keep their wooden escalators!

I wanted to read A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, set in 1665 when the plague swept through London (and written in the 1720s). But after starting it, I think this may end up like Robinson Crusoe – I got less than halfway through and stopped because it was really long-winded and boring. Oh well.

Magna Carta, beautiful religious manuscripts, present buying

June 3, 2007

After much cloudyness and rain, we again are having lovely sunny spring weather.
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Hotel Rwanda

May 16, 2007

Above, poster for the film Hotel Rwanda.
Yesterday I watched the film Hotel Rwanda. It tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, who saves the lives of 1200 people during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

I think it effectively told the story of a few people while filling in the background of the situation in Rwanda, letting the audience know the scale of the killings outside the hotel. It was really depressing – I didn’t just cry, I was sobbing. And they didn’t have to show the violence to let you know what was happening; the two places in the film where I remember sobbing particularly hard was when a Red Cross worker spoke of being forced to watch as children were murdered, and when the foreigners (mostly white people) were being evacuated and the (mostly black) locals were being left, most probably to be slaughtered.

It was very sad but I think it is important to be aware of horrible events like this, where the international community knows what’s going on, but they don’t try to stop it. I found an opinion piece by Paul Rusesabagina talking about what is happening in Sudan at the moment and how it will probably just be another situation like Rwanda: where genocide is happening but no-one is coming to the aid of the victims.

Whose punk rock? Don't think it's mine!

April 16, 2007

On Saturday night Paul and I went to This Is Our Punk Rock. If I had to describe it in one word, I would say: disappointing.
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Whose punk rock? Don’t think it’s mine!

April 16, 2007

On Saturday night Paul and I went to This Is Our Punk Rock. If I had to describe it in one word, I would say: disappointing.
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The Eye in the Pyramid on Sunday night.

March 21, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson, left, and the front cover of the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.

On Sunday night Paul, Will and I went to the Southbank Centre to see Coldcut play a tribute to Robert Anton Wilson (RAW). Also appearing were Ken Campbell, Bill Drummond and Alan Moore.

I really enjoyed the night even though I am not that familiar with the work of Robert Anton Wilson (I have read a bit about him on the internet but haven’t read any of his books).

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Details from our week in Italy

February 2, 2007

Paul and I got ourselves down to Gatwick Airport nice and early to meet his family for our flight to Verona! Now Verona is slightly more to me than the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet! Although I didn’t see much of it as we picked up the hire car at the airport and got staight onto a highway to drive North to the Dolomites! It was cool seeing the tops of the Alps as we flew in and I think I saw Margate as we flew out from the UK.

There didn’t seem to be a lot of snow around which was a shame! The unit we stayed in was really nice but the man and woman managers spoke Italian and German and we only speak English but we worked out what we needed to and managed to communicate.

Hired skis for me, Paul and his Dad, and boots for me.

Paul took me to a beginners’ slope and showed me how to stop when you’re skiing (the snow plough!) which was my first time on snow!

In the afternoon, Paul and his Dad decided to do some skiing. Paul’s Mum and I went up in the gondola with them to see from the top of the mountain near us. It looked amazing – but not a lot of snow around.
Mountains without much snow.
Looking down at a gondola coming up the hill! (They were very large gondolas)
Paul posing for me just before skiing off with his Dad! (you can see the back of his Mum too!)

Had yummy pizza for dinner at pizzeria across the road from our unit. We were all too scared to try to speak our bad, basic Italian (especially as it was obvious the waiters spoke English!).

Watched Bill Bailey DVD Cosmic Jam that night which caused much laughter!

The beginners slope was only a 5-minute walk from where we stayed. I had a one-on-one lesson from 8.30 to 9.30, then a group lesson from 10 to 12.45. I fell over a lot (and sometimes it was because other beginners had run into me!). During the group lesson it started to snow, very lightly, which was very exciting. The temperature had been about 2 degrees Celsius (give or take a couple of degrees).

After the lesson I had lunch, then a bath and finished off Equal Rights by Terry Pratchett. It is only the third discworld book I have read but I really like them. They are funny and cute and clever tales with witches and wizards and other fantastical elements. Equal Rites examines the male magic of wizards versus the female magic of witches and it is a very funny and interesting look at ideas of essentialism in gender roles. I also found the action was described so well, it was so exciting to read and imagine. A very enjoyable book.

Next up, I started reading The Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, Volume 2 of the Night Watch Trilogy. But…. I looked it up on the internet yesterday and there seem to be more than 3 books so it may be a trilogy like the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was a trilogy (that ended up containing 5 books!). There are books called Dusk Watch (the third book?) and Twilight Watch (the fourth book?). A year or so ago I saw the Russian film Night Watch, based on the first book, and I really enjoyed it. It was a really good action fantasy film, set in modern-day, post-Soviet Moscow. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the next film, and even more so now that I’ve read the book, but according to what I found on the internet yesterday, the third film has financial backing from Fox Studios so will be filmed in English! I wonder what it will be like.

After lunch, Paul and his dad went skiing again.

Woken early by a man clearing snow with a machine that sounded just like a lawnmower. But it had snowed through the night and it was still snowing! It was beautiful to look at.

It snowed during my skiing lesson. It was great to look up into the sky and watch all the snow flakes falling – but I would occassionally get one in my eye. I was very wet by the end of the lesson and I found it very frustrating as I found the turns really hard – I left 20 minutes early as I was over it.

Didn’t go to my lesson. I just couldn’t face it.
Paul and his Dad skied the Sella Ronda route (around the Sella ridge of the Dolomites). Paul’s Dad has wanted to do it for years apparently. It’s a lot of skiing and they were exhausted when they got back.

Not much happened. I didn’t go to my lesson. Paul and his Dad had a break from skiing (recovering from the previous day!). Got some great pictures of the sun on the Dolomites.

Paul woke up with bad head cold after having a bad night’s sleep. He was sweating a lot and feeling very cold.
I finished ready the Day Watch and started reading A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (he wrote the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime).

By the end of the week the temperature seemed to have dropped quite a bit. As we drove to Venice we saw many thermometres saying it was well below 0 degrees (minus 10 in some places). We dropped off the hire car in Venice and got a boat along the Canal Grande to Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) where we were staying. We checked in, then looked around the square, went inside St Mark’s Basilica, and went for a wander through alleyways which was really amazing. Paul was still feeling sick.

Looking out into the Lagoon from Piazza San Marco with the Doge’s Palace on the left.
St Mark’s Basilica
A narrow Venice Street
A bridge over a Venetian Canal.

Went to the Doge’s Palace in the morning. It was pretty amazing. In the afternoon Paul stayed in the Hotel Room sleeping while his sister and I went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – which had a lot of art from a lot of big-name modernist artists – and Paul’s Parents went wandering around looking at things.
A statue inside the Doge’s Palace.
St Mark’s lion above the exit door of the Doge’s Palace
The Bridge of Sighs that prisoners cross from the palace into the prisons.

We went to Caffe Florian (without poor Paul) in Piazza San Marco, which has been open since 1720, has been visited by numerous famous people and was incredibly expensive (I’m talking 7 euros for a coffee and 12 euros for some cake). But the food and coffee was good – I had ricotta cheesecake which had sultanas in it and burnt sugar on top. It was delicious.

We went back to the Hotel room in the evening to get Paul and check out. We got a water taxi to Venice airport on the mainland which was very cool but sad to be leaving Venice after only 2 days. I think I got to see a fair bit in a short time but it was a shame that Paul was feeling so poorly the whole time.

To see more of my pictures, go to my Flickr page.