Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I read this on my own last night in lieu of going to Babbo's, mainly because I was too tired and lazy after cooking and baking most of the evening. Who would leave an apartment that smells like freshly baked brownies, I ask you.

Anyway, I love how this short story almost parodies the idea of the ghost story itself: Ichabod Crane is fooled into thinking he's being chased by the Headless Horseman because he's so susceptible to the idea of it. Sleepy Hollow itself seems to render its inhabitants susceptible to imaginative wanderings in the first place, no matter how rational they may be when they arrive. Woe, then, unto Ichabod, for "His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spellbound region."

The story's quite subtle, actually, and the fear comes from many places: not only the ghostly chase, but the weird insularity of the characters in the town, the strange, grasping nature of Ichabod Crane himself, the idea of a haunted vale that takes people under its spell ... the thrills of it creep up on you.

I also love the descriptions in this thing (Katrina is "a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy cheeked as one of her father’s peaches," and Brom Bones is a "a burly, roaring, roystering blade"), especially the way Irving goes into rapturous, detailed descriptions of food, baked goods in particular ("the doughty dough-nut, the tenderer oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes ..."), plus I get a big kick out of the setting, since I'm such a big fan of the Hudson Valley.

It's a marvelous short story and I remember loving the Disney cartoon version of it when I was a kid (Bing Crosby sings!), and I even like the Tim Burton version well enough, though I remember being a little disappointed by it after I left the theatre.

Also, I learned what a Hessian was.

"Fortunately I am not of a fainting disposition."

You know what's really important? Momentum.

You can lose it if you wait too long, which is why I'm only writing about this book now, even though I finished it a goodly while ago.

The thing is, I wrote a big long blog entry and then didn't save it for reasons that I won't go into here and so now it's gone forever. But here it is, as best as I can recall it: Dracula or, the book I read two weeks ago.

The book's opening segments, heavy on Jonathan Harker's diary, are marvelous and enthralling, and enticed me into the book instantly. I love the way it reads like a portentous, sinister travelogue. I also enjoyed the way the book cuts back and forth across narratives, employing shifting points of view (epistolary narratives usually get on my nerves, but it works really well here).

The novel's form and structure felt very modern to me, as modern as its subject is ancient. There were overt references to this idea in the book as well, the strangeness of having this relic of the dark ages wandering about in London in the age of rationality, which provides a thrilling tension throughout -- the irrational often trumps what would appear to be common sense under normal circumstances, yet the characters employ modern technological developments to get their man:

"The characters of Dracula use modern technology and rationalism to defeat the Count. For example, during their pursuit of the vampire, they use railroads and steamships, not to mention the telegraph, to keep a step ahead of him (in contrast, Dracula escapes in a sail boat). Van Helsing uses hypnotism to pinpoint Dracula's location. Mina even employs criminology to anticipate Dracula's actions and cites both Cesare Lombroso and Max Nordau, who at that time were considered experts in this field." (From Wikipedia, so you know it must be true.)

I really liked to think of a lot of the plot points in terms of scientific developments of the time, wondering, for instance, if it wasn't all the blood transfusions that killed Lucy (though successful blood transfusions had been performed in the 1840s, blood types weren't classified until after 1901, four years after the publication of the novel).

I also liked the character of Mina quite a bit, especially the way she was integral to figuring out where Count Dracula was at the end of the book (she used her psychic connection with him to figure out he was on water, then she whipped out her maps and deduced exactly where he was in a neat bit of sleuthing that led the men right to him) although the constant Victorian speechifying she endured at the hands of Van Helsing et al. started to get on my nerves (constant speeches about how virtuous she is and how much they loved her, quite dull stuff clogging up the third act). I interpreted the fact that she got bitten by Dracula while they locked her away for her own protection as a sort of "serves you right for treating her like an invalid" thing, because it backfired so horribly. Is Bram Stoker telling us it's just a dangerous to treat women like fragile flowers as it is to expose them to the dangers of the world? I like to think so.

Overall, vastly enjoyable, and surprisingly and impressively layered. I only wish images of the Francis Ford Coppola movie wouldn't pop up in my mind's eye quite so much while reading it (we all know this is the best movie version of the story!). I did enjoy watching The Simpsons Halloween parody of it, though, which came on TV, like, the day after I finished the novel, much to my delight.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Especially When An October Wind

I'm loving the weather today. It finally feels like fall, and it's rainy and gray and everyone has their cozy sweaters on.

I've actually been enjoying everything lately. I went to the Brooklyn Public Library last night, and for some reason going to the library on a dark, rainy, autumnal evening made me feel like a little kid. There was something disorienting about roaming around in a part of town that I'm not used to, and I got that strange fear of getting lost that I used to have as a child. One of my great fears as a child was getting lost on the bus -- I could think of nothing more terrifying than suddenly being somewhere where I didn't know where I was.

Then today, oddly, in the way that everything seems to be subject to a great convergence lately, I found this post in I'veBeenReadingLately, another late discovery of mine. (I'm enjoying this blog immensely, probably due in large part to the vast amounts of space it's devoting to ghost stories. There are also lots of references to M.R. James, who I can't seem to get away from lately. First, in Babbo's, next in my new anthology, now on this blog, and, well, he's just generally everywhere all of a sudden. See? A vast convergence! A nexus ... or something ....)

But seriously, this whole post is all about childhood fears, and how they differ from adult fears, and also about the strange creepy vibe that kids have -- that supernatural connection which leads them to incite poltergeists to haunt their houses, and so on:

"That openness to fear lines up, too, with the position held by many who actually believe in the supernatural that children are more open to and aware of the otherworldly. They haven't yet, the argument goes, set limits on which of their perceptions they're willing to accept, which to dismiss before they even reach the level of consciousness."

Coincidence? I think not. Clearly I'm haunted. But seriously, it's the end of October, people! Spirit world colliding with our world, anyone? And don't say it doesn't happen.

I also found a great link to an auction of 19th century vampire-hunting kits (again, via I'veBeenReadingLately) that are completely insane, and also vastly amusing to me right now since I just finished reading Dracula (which I will write about shortly).

I've been feeling so overwhelmed and overstimulated these days, but in a good way. I love this time of year: finally everyone is as creepy as I am year-round. There are also creepy articles in the Times today, about nightmares and drug resistant staph infections (god I love life-threatening mystery ailments). I also love this idea:

"Ask people to recall spontaneously how many nightmares they had in the last year, and they might say one or two, said Mark Blagrove, a dream researcher at the University of Wales in Swansea. Ask them to keep a dream diary, and they will report nightmares once or twice a month."

See? We're all much scarier than we would think.

And, speaking of collusions, in the same article: "Nightmare rates climb through adolescence, peak in young adulthood, and then, like so much else in life, begin to drop."

Ha! Ha!

Finally, today's title is inspired by this poem by Dylan Thomas. I adore these first few lines:

"Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire ..."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

13 Nights of Horror

Babbo's Books proprietress Leonora is reading ghost stories at her bookstore every night for thirteen nights. Tonight's reading features the "Tell-Tale Heart" and other tales by Poe.

I stumbled on the place by accident on Sunday night, when she was reading "Oh, Whistle and I'll come to you. My Lad" by M.R. James. I'm definitely going to try to make it to the reading of Daphne DuMaurier's "Don't Look Now" on Thursday, and hopefully "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" on the 28th. I adore that story, and I always get a little thrill when I pass by it on the MetroNorth; I must make time to explore the village one day -- I mean, look at it:

I also bought this swell book at Babbo's, and shared my love for Alfred Hitchcock anthologies; I had them as a child and was recently overjoyed when I found two of them in my basement. The editions I had were published by Random House and aimed at young adult readers, and had names like "Witches Brew" and "Ghostly Gallery." I guess you can still find them around, and I want them all!

Anyway, readings are every night at 8 p.m., now through Halloween.

Babbo's Books is located at 242 Prospect Park West between Prospect Ave. and Windsor Place, in a very pretty part of Brooklyn that looks like a small town, with brick sidewalks and gas lamps, and which is lovely to meander in after dark.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Art & Ghosts

I was looking for a picture of a goblin the other day. Then I decided I wanted to find some illustrations that reminded me of the old Czech Fairy Tales my mother used to read to my sister and I, which I'm becoming increasingly obsessed with these days, and I started typing in random things to search for, like "fairy tales" and "Czech fairy tales" and "goblins" and "ghosts" into Google Image. Then I decided, for some reason, to type in "Angela Carter fairy tales" and I found this:and this:and went: "AAAAAHHH!!!"

Immediately, I went here and was so overwhelmed with goodness that it took me a week to post this. Why overwhelmed? Well, besides her blog and her shop, this blogger has got something called The Wonder Cabinet!

Which can keep me amused for hours, literally hours.

On top of all this, the blogger lists among her interests: Twilight Tea Parties, occasional ghostly theatricals, fairytales and mythology, writing, reading, crafts, film, illustration, music, black cats, toast with honey, mittens and snow, dreams and nightmares, [and] Alice in Wonderland.

And she enjoys tea!

What a neat person. What sublime illustrations. What a great blog.

And The Wonder Cabinet!

Every once in a while in life you have a sort of "down-the-rabbit-hole" experience, when you stumble onto wonderment and it's so exciting it feels like you've entered some sort of imaginary labyrinth. This happened to me once when I was walking through a cemetery near my dad's house and I found a path that led down to a ravine, and it was the most beautiful walk ever and I'd had no idea it existed and it just seemed to keep going for miles. It happened when my mom toted us around Southern Moravia and showed us mountains and dark pine forests and medieval walled cities where cobblestoned town squares were lined with petit-four houses, and castles dotted the hills in the distance and I couldn't believe there were places that actually looked like this. It happens with certain books, and certain painting, and certain movies, and sometimes, with certain blogs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There Is A Curse On These Lemons

Either that, or there is a goblin in my kitchen who is ruining everything.

The spaghetti with lemon sauce, usually light and refreshing, was a drippy, goopy, oily, sloppy, acidic mess.

The cake? It was simply otherworldly. In an awful, awful way. I have more respect than ever for the alchemy of baking, now that I have seen its evil side. The entire cake was chucked. Gone. Garbage. Poubelle. Basura.

Now my kitchen needs an exorcism. Tonight I make guacamole and lemonde and finally rid myself of these cursed lemons!

I banish you, foul gorgon!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fruit, Murder

So I did bake banana muffins after all.

Also, I bought a whole lot of decorative lemons (you know, to put in a big ceramic bowl in the china hutch, something that strikes me as charming) and now they're old and I need to make a lot of:

- lemon cake
- lemon spaghetti
- lemonade

I'd get right on that, but I've been busy watching things, all manner of things, but notably the first episode of The Women's Murder Club, which has either the best name or the worst name on television.

I felt mixedly about it. I don't know what I think about their silly affairs (I'm looking at you, blonde DA lady) though I do like the idea of having to work with your ex-husband (very His Girl Friday). I like the lady reporter who's a strange blend of autodidact and Asperger's, and even though they've written Angie Harmon some horrid lines, she still seems like a pretty cool cop. The medical examiner seems like the voice of reason, but she lost major points for me with the "Jobs don't hug you back" line.

Incorporating themes of work v. love into the show was somewhat successful; they applied to both the protags and the villains/victims, creating a sense of cohesion. This is the kind of device that signals thematic depth and tautness in television writing, a la House (Seasons 1 and 2, of course) but can feel a little hammered home at times. It would be nice to leave the love v. work dichotomy out of a show about professional women but it's rather inescapable if you're going to delve deeply into the characters at all.

However, I'd like to see the girl-talk angle swiftly dispatched altogether. It seems intended to be humanizing/bantery/juicy but just ends up making the characters come off as a little immature (making girly chitchat at an autopsy seems lame, though I liked the way they determined the victim was seeing someone new by a glance at her Brazilian wax job!). It's a time-honored trope of the genre that detectives have hideous love lives, so it follows that these women might; it just doesn't seem to be handled very well at the moment.

Finally, what's up with the multi-character musical montages at the end of every single drama nowadays? Once I hear the wistful music and see each character reflecting on stuff, well ... it makes me wonder if it isn't the biggest cliche of our time, akin to the freeze frames of the late 70s/early 80s cop/crime shows (J.B. Fletcher!) .... enough with the montages! Other than minor quibbles with the girl talk, montage and some dialog, I don't have too many bones to pick with the writing. It's pretty tight in most places even if the mystery was a little thin.

I'll definitely give it a few more episodes and see what the future holds. There's a serial killer on the loose, so that should be entertaining enough ...

Monday, October 08, 2007

So Very Sleepy

Yesterday I cleaned for nine hours. I was scrubbing off shower-tile mold in my bathroom with a toothbrush at 10:30 p.m., wearing swim goggles and a bra. Afterward, I felt a brief sense of accomplishment, until I looked at the tiles on the floor, where each tiny sludge-filled crack called out for my attention. It filled me with a kind of madness.

Today I am exhausted. Moving sucks. Cleaning sucks. Breathing in bleach fumes ain't right.

I haven't posted in ages because scrubbing mold off the tiles in my bathroom is the most interesting thing I've done in thirty days. Well, that and I made this swell list of my likes and dislikes. (God, Working Girl is a great movie, isn't it?) Also, I am no longer a Spinster, but I won't bother to change the name of my blog.

Tomorrow I may bake banana-chocolate-chip muffins.

That is all.