Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Because I play the other football three times a week

I swear, this will be the year I finally understand what the hell is going on while I'm watching the SuperBowl. Like Mi Hermana en Ann Arbor said, this year I won't be watching for the ads alone. (I tried and failed to comprehend the rules in 2006 when the hometown team made it.)

This funny animation helped a bit, via Sploid:


Monday, January 20, 2014

Jewel, pastiche, partition

Another mystery set I love is Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series.  The books are definitely not as campy or comedic as some of my other favorite series - in fact, they're not at all. They've slowly moved from focusing on the horrible legacies of the Great War to the rise of fascism in Europe. In some ways, private investigator Maisie's life personifies life between the world wars: hidden traumas and personal loss linger, and happiness and healing come slowly but unfortunately under the shadow of a very possible future war.

In the most recent book, psychologist-detective Maisie investigates the murders of two young Indian women in London. At the end of the book, after solving the murders and sensing that the map of the world will be very different within a decade, Maisie temporarily closes her private investigation business and leaves for India (and anywhere else the winds may take her).

Winspear drops hints that Maisie may end up working for intelligence services leading up to the second World War. But I shall have to wait, as I seem to have to do with so many good mystery series, for the next installment to be written. Le sigh.

I finally gave in to Netflix's "suggested" list of films. Not sure why Netflix suggested Chicken Tikka Masala  - I'm guessing it's some combination of my ratings of Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Bend It Like Beckham, and half a dozen other indy films about gay or lesbian second generation immigrants. But I really liked both the premise and the specifics of the (highly improbable) plot: a guy's very traditional Hindu family misunderstand a phone conversation and think he agrees to a hastily-arranged marriage to a good Indian girl, not realizing that his "best friend" is really his lover.

The delivery was a little uneven: I suspect the film was very low-budget, and the camera quality kind of shows it. Some of the dialogue is stilted, and some of the acting not quite convincing. Quite a few of the characters are sloppily stereotypical: the fat English boozehound, the Jamaican alcoholic, the eagerly horny Indian guest.

Overall, I liked it. It was made in the early-ish 2000s, during the "multi-culti" independent film craze, which produced a lot of films with similar predictable storylines about second generation Americans or Brits navigating the nuances of identity (immigrant, nationality, gayness, changing gender roles). Though I watched a lot of these movies in my own identity-navigating phases, I honestly can't get tired of them, even if have to be in the right mood to watch one. In general, I think they should be celebrated for bringing to light the struggles of a lot of different and overlapping communities to participate in civic life.

And then, coincidentally, of the four episodes of MI-5 (Series 8) I watched recently, one of them had a character and plot that semi-justified my deep love of this highly anti-civil liberties, pro-War on Terrorism show. A 17-year-old Indian Muslim recruited to infiltrate a Hindu nationalist group saves the day (and survives, which is rare on this show); but at the end of the episode had some of the more insightful and heartbreaking surface-level lines of the entire 10 seasons: "You're always busting in on Asians in the middle of the night and dragging them away... All I wanted was a game of football. [But] you played me, just like [opposing spy] played [opposing agent]."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

And then there were none

I waited a year for Rhys Bowen's latest mystery in her Royal Spyness series, and it didn't disappoint. In previous books with delightful punny titles, our impoverished heroine -- the 35th in line to the throne -- has been sent to a dreary Scottish castle, a vampire-infested Romanian castle, and the French Riviera with Coco Chanel. This time, she is dispatched by Her Majesty to a country estate in Kent to teach an Australian sheep herder how to run the dukedom he has unwittingly inherited.

Campy stereotypes and a murder mystery ensue -- perfect for gray Northwest evenings after playing soccer in the drizzle on sodden pitches with no female subs!

Unfortunately, I'll have to wait for Bowen to write the next Royal Spyness installment, but in the meantime I'm excited that she's written two more books in her Molly Murphy series. So I have those to look forward to finding and reading while also waiting on pins and needles for Alan Bradley's next Flavia De Luce book to come out, like, any day now...

Speaking of campy murder mysteries, I thought Clue was made in the late 1990s, and was more than a little confused when Tim Curry looked even younger than he did in the worst made-for-TV movie about the Titanic ever (which I watched as a teenager out of sheer dedication to Titanic lore).

Also good fun for a dark and stormy January night. (Outside my window, not on my screen...)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Gray hairs, grey cells

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series is one of my favorites of all time, for its sheer and utter mind-blowing brilliance. With the first book, The Eyre Affair, Fforde completely rewrote the rules of fiction and deserves some sort of Nobel Prize.  And then he did it again and again and again and again and again.

And now, in The Woman Who Died A Lot, our book-jumping, time-traveling heroine Thursday is now in her early 50s. She's limping around from the last assassination attempt and still has to dodge clones of herself that her lifelong nemesis, an evil corporation, keeps creating to gather secrets from those close to her. Meanwhile, in the future the time police have been disbanded in the present, so her son no longer has a bright career to which he can aspire; and her genius daughter is trying to build a device that will save Swindon from a smiting by the Almighty, who is angered that Thursday's clergyman brother has resorted to collective bargaining with Him over the answer to the ultimate question of existence.

Like every other Thursday Next book, I couldn't put it down. And like every other Thursday Next book, no pithy summary can do it justice nor convey exactly how fantastically nerdy and nuanced the plot is. It's so heartening to know that an eighth book is in the works!

Though Thursday, who was the same age as me when I started reading the series (28), is now in her early 50s in the series, I feel some sort of affinity to what she and her peers might say to Jasper Fforde's two newer books for young adults: "I'm too old for this."

Fforde's Kazam series takes place in a world where magic is a bit like electricity: highly regulated and also possibly used for evil. Magicians have varying types of magical abilities; dragons and other mystical creatures co-exist with humans in an alternate-reality Ununited Kingdom, where an orphaned teenager named Jennifer holds together a magicians' nursing home of sorts.

The books are a quick read, and the magical made-up world is kindergarten stuff after eight books of having to wrap one's mind around the complexities of Thursday Next twists and turns. And while I appreciated the imagination and creativity behind the storylines, the characters and plots themselves just didn't overwhelm me.

I can recognize when I am about 20 years older than the intended audience and just can't relate to a series.

Hobbling off the lawn now...

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The New Colossus

Not that I'm obsessed or anything (*cough*), but Henry Cavill is even better as eye candy in Immortals than he is in Man of Steel. I think it's the chlamys and the chiton.

The movie itself is utter crap, though: it's sepia-tinted, induces visual vertigo, and is only loosely based on the Theseus legend of Greek mythology. I haven't taken classics since high school, but I do remember that the Minotaur wasn't actually part of an invading barbarian horde trying to unleash imprisoned Titans in order to capture a bow with magical powers and defeat the Hellenes. But Netflix was going to take it off of Instant Streaming in a few days, and I had insomnia... so why not watch it?

A much, much better way to pass time while re-living Grandpa's old lectures about the ancients is to read Ruth Downie's murder mystery series about a doctor in Roman Britain (for a great and hilarious murder series that takes place in ancient Athens, see Gary Corby's books). It's not as dark as the Nox noir series, for starters ... if detective stories set in the tinderbox border worlds after the Roman massacres of the Druids can be "not dark", that is.

The series features as its protagonist the highly intelligent but sometimes bumbling medical officer for a Roman Legion based in in Britain. The books are at times funny and heartbreaking, but always interesting ... even if the Medicus' relationship with his slave-turned-mistress-turned-wife clashes uncomfortably with modern conceptions of gendered power dynamics.

I finished the Medicus series right when Congress failed (again) to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and I couldn't help but think about how human migration patterns and melting-pot cultures ebb and flow with the empires of their times. Throughout the books, the doctor struggles with his love/hate relationship with Britain herself, native Britons who see him (correctly) as part of the occupying forces, his homeland and estranged family in Gaul, and the meaning of and duties inherent in Roman citizenship.

While reading the series, I couldn't get Kipling's "The Roman Centurion's Song" out of my head:
I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Tempest-tossed, indeed.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Everything beautiful in its time

I love the holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year. I love Thanksgiving because it's the closest thing to a modern community-oriented feast. I love Christmas because of all unabashed glee and giving. And I love New Year's Eve and New Year's Day for the chance at change and renewal, and for reflecting on and celebrating the past.... which is why, every January, I like to figure out what I did for the first time in the past year.

Sometimes, after remembering, I'm surprised by things I haven't done until this late in my life; other times, I'm excited that I've been lucky enough to be able to keep trying and doing new things.
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right...*
"Firsts" from 2013:
  • Visited Mexico! - My first trip to Mexico was for two college friends' anniversary celebrations. There were many other "firsts" that occurred on the trip (some of them rather scandalous), but most shall remain tactfully and discreetly unwritten.
    • Visited Mayan ruins.  I spent almost an entire day at Tulum. The coolest part was being able to swim on a gorgeous beach right next to the ruins.
    • Went scuba diving... or rather, attempting to scuba dive.  The longest section I spent underwater was the practice session in the chlorine pool. Once out at sea, 2 of the 4 of us beginners on the boat had anxiety attacks once we plunged into the water and swam over to the buoy, so our whole group called the boat back and called it a day. We still have one more dive with the company in saecula saeculorum, so maybe one day I'll go back and complete an actual dive.
    • Stayed at an all-inclusive resort. The food was meh, but it was probably the safest way to do the trip. I generally love wandering around finding local food spots, but the language barrier would have been difficult, and I likely would have been overcharged for many services if they hadn't already been included (let's face it, I'm not great at haggling). I definitely took advantage of the nonstop piƱa coladas. But the loud, obnoxious Americans were embarrassing; even though Americans were the minority of the resort's clientele, they were definitely the loudest and most boorish and there were times when I was ashamed to share a nationality with some of them. I always hate realizing that there's actually a lot of truth to the Ugly American caricature.
  • Saw a rattlesnake in the wild - About two feet away from my foot. Paranoia-inducing. On the plus side, I now know what a rattlesnake's "rattle" sounds like; and whereas I had no clue what to do if anyone on a hike is bitten by one, I do now!
  • Visited St. Louis - My college roommate's wedding brought me to the Gateway City in May. MY GOD, THE HUMIDITY! The St. Louis Arch was pretty cool, though, as was:
    • Seeing huge, gigantic fingerlings of lightning fly across an entire city and beyond. My last night in the city, there was a huge thunderstorm. My hotel had a rooftop deck with a view of downtown; so I ordered a glass of wine and watched the lightning show because we don't get lightning like that in the Northwest. 
    • Attending a Hindu wedding ceremony. It was the shortened, mere 3-hour version, and the wedding program explained what the Sanskrit rituals were for the benefit of guests (like me) who didn't know. I felt very dressed down and tame in my bright yellow, flowery dress, compared to the gorgeous and colorful saris of my old roomie and her family.
  • Finally bought an iPhone - AND I LOVE IT. I'd clearly been living in the Dark Ages by stubbornly clinging to my BlackBerry!
  • Saw mountain goats in the wild - They were a little scrawny because it was early in the season, but they were still only a few yards away at Lake Colchuck.
  • Hiked to 12,000 - My new record! My first summit attempt for Mt. Rainier, and I made it past the base camp I'd hiked to the year before. 
    • Camped on a glacier! - And I loved loved loved every minute of it
    • Wore crampons - They're really cool.
    • Wore mountaineering boots - They're not very cool. Bulky and hard to get used to.
    • (TMI WARNING) Used a Blue Bag - It was also not very cool, and very undignified. Google it.
    • (TMI WARNING) Used a Go-Girl - Also rather undignified (but less so than the Blue Bags). I even practiced in the shower before leaving for the trip. It was ... interesting, and a little liberating.
  • Summited an active volcano (the most active and dangerous in the continental U.S.) - And I loved loved loved every minute of it. My favorite part was standing at the top, peering into the crater and seeing the steam vents, and hearing the mountain creaking.
To life! Looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of 2014.

And because I wrote but forgot to publish this post last New Year....

"Firsts" from 2012:
  • Visited Las Vegas! - There's a lot of ridiculousness in Sin City, but my highlights were: the Bellagio Fountains, the Chihuly exhibit at the Bellagio, lobster buffets, dinner at a Michelin-rated restaurant with my oldest friend, and an inside mall with the ceiling painted to be like the sky.
    • Went ziplining - Across Vegas' old downtown. Fun! 
    • Gambled - I have no idea how I worked the slot machine, but I lost $5 trying to figure it out. My first time gambling, period. And I don't even know how I did it.
  • Went to the Skagit Tulip Festival - Despite growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I'd never been before. Went with La Madre.
  • Left one job for another - I've left jobs for grad school and because funding ran out, but never before for another job. It was just time to move on.
  • Bought a car - A (used) 2012 Ford Focus. I named her Adelaide, "Addie" for short. Second only to my graduate degree, she is the most expensive thing I have purchased entirely on my own. (Still paying off both car and grad school loans, though, so I don't know what that says about status symbols...)
  • Visited Detroit! - Despite visiting Ann Arbor twice a year to see Mi Hermana y Los Sobrinos, I'd never been in Detroit Proper before. It was just as bleak as I imagined it would be, but exploring a park with the nieces and neffy was fun. And going to restaurants and bars with colleagues for a conference also showed a side of the city that I never would have found on my own.
  • Hiked to a base camp - On kind of a lark, three of us hiked up Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier.
  • Acquired a nephew I haven't seen yet - Born in New Zealand. I get to watch him grow up on Skype until I can accrue enough money and vacation time to visit for a minimum of 3 weeks.
  • Chased ballots - This involves going door-to-door to voters whose ballots have been invalidated due to sloppy signatures or other reason, and asking them to fill out the form the county sent to make sure their ballots are counted. Turns out, I like it better than regular canvassing!
Bring on another new year!

* from Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night" - one of my favorite poems