Friday, November 30, 2007
I always like the idea of being where you shouldn't be, for reasons that are completely haphazard, and having it result in an unexpected turnaround of events.
For example, in "Madame Maigret's Own Case," which I am reading right now, Mme. Maigret is waiting on a bench outside her dentist (because she as a morbid fear of being late for any appointment, so she's waiting there a half hour before she needs to) and she becomes accidentally embroiled in a mysterious event which ends up being connected to her husband's current case and generally opens up a whole can of worms ... I love that idea, that your fate hinges on a brief moment that might-have-been, and I love the idea that bizarre and unexpected things can happen when you, say, miss your train in the morning (the premise behind "Blind Chance").
Today my train was late and I ended up having a random conversation with someone who noticed my Maigret novel. I got to spend a lot of time this morning talking about Simenon, which I don't usually get to do on my morning commute. I tell you, there's nothing like random coincidence to get your morning started off right. The fellow Maigret-lover told me to read "The Yellow Dog." Yay! Something new for my Amazon Wish List!
I walked to work with a spring in my step and now I have the "Reading Rainbow" theme song in my head for some reason.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I've really learned a lot today. Whiskey is whiskey, but not bourbon. Bourbon is both bourbon and whiskey. Contests are fun. There are a lot of smart people out there who know a lot about bourbon. I can't wait to learn more about my favorite distilled spirit.
Suddenly I am feeling very festive. Now I'm going somewhere fancy and drink.
* P.S. I'm not kidding, you get a prize. I need a mailing address. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
She will receive the Grand Prize of one (airline-sized) bottle of bourbon to be sent to her via special courier (I will walk it over to her desk).
Read the comments for the clever response that allowed Jenny to clinch this contest, and for a scintillating debate about various whiskeys!
Contests are fun. I think I'll have more of them. They're like a tea party you can have without actually inviting people into your home. I like being a Contest Hostess. Yes I do.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The NYT has an article today about why bourbon is awesome:
"A well-made, well-aged bourbon offers a gorgeous spectrum of flavors, beginning with a distinctive sweetness that can, depending on the distiller’s aim, turn spicy and peppery with clear fruitiness, or mellow into a creamy caramel toffee with highlights of citrus."
Right on. There's a nice little BBQ joint in Sunset Park that serves about a hundred different kinds of bourbons, which is where I tried Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20-Year-Old, No. 1, the very best according to these NYT guys. I'm inspired to go back and have some more as soon as possible.
Maker's Mark didn't make their list of good bourbons, which is fine by me since now I can blend it without guilt into my signature cocktail. (Strangely enough, I've been thinking lately that I don't like those Maker's Mark ads, since I'm afraid they'll make more people start drinking the stuff and supply is already outstripping demand among some of the small-batch bourbons.)
I'll leave you with this pop quiz for now: what's the difference between whiskey and bourbon? The first person to answer correctly will be rewarded accordingly.
God, I could really go for a bourbon and branch right now.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
So a little while ago I confessed that I had never read any Agatha Christie. Yes, yes, it's shocking. But there are only so many hours in a day, my friend, and soon most of those will be spent writing my own season finales to various television shows affected by the writers' strike, which I will then act out alone in my apartment with assorted puppets.
But somehow I managed to find the time to read "Murder on the Orient Express" this weekend, which is *kind of* impressive considering I was drinking one alcoholic beverage every two hours for three days ... (note to self: write to publisher and let them know that some of the paragraphs are kind of blurry). In between sips of Crown Royal I was swept away by the intriguing entanglements of Poirot and Co., thoroughly charmed by the casual old-world racism ("Italians stab! British people do not stab ..."), and the conspiratorial ending.
Since you can read Christie's books, drunk, in about a day, I'll probably read them all. They're extremely fun, and I've wanted to read "A Pocket Full of Rye" ever since I was a kid and my sister left an old paperback edition of it lying around that had a lurid purple cover.
Monday, November 26, 2007
a) what I’ve read to date (no prizes for spotting the gaps) and
b) what I consider noir (which rules out most detective fiction -- unless the detectives are victims, crooks, lunatics or are generally shafted in some major way -- and yet permits the occasional western and horror. Yikes!)"
Which leaves us a list of 200 titles that span works from James M Cain and Georges Simenon to titles I've barely even heard of, let alone read.
Which is highly tantalizing.
Of particular interest are the volumes with the most bizarre titles, such as "The Shark Infested Custard and a lot of the older ones I've only heard of in movie form, like "Build My Gallows High" (which became "Out of the Past"). This list is daunting and intriguing, and should give you plenty to do should you ever find yourself immobilized after a terrible accident.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This headline caught my eye: Canada to Announce Vast New Park! (Well, I added the exclamation point!)
"The Canadian government plans to announce today that it will convert 25.5 million acres of northern woodland into a new national park and wildlife protection areas," writes Ian Austen.
"The result will be one of North America’s largest conservation areas, about 11.5 times the size of Yellowstone Park, and ease pressure from the mining and energy industries on an area that is important for wildlife, if sparsely populated by humans.
'This is the largest land withdrawal for protection ever in Canada,' said Monte Hummel, president of the World Wildlife Fund Canada. 'This is real conservation history being made.'"This is marvelous news for the True North, Strong and Free, and for the planet. In an era when Bush wants to strip-mine American parks, it's so refreshing to have someone use land for non-commercial purposes.
And The Globe & Mail's coverage contains more about what this means for Native Rights.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I lived on Staten Island for five months (next to a graveyard) and I always thought there was something interesting about the borough. It's sort of empty and desolate in a lot of spots (like St. George near the ferry terminal) but also unexpectedly beautiful in others -- plus you can see the Godfather house up on Todt Hill and riding the ferry is always fun, even if you're not a Working Girl fan (which I am, which made the boat even more fun). It's an undiscovered borough with an undeservedly bad reputation (for the most part), and to top it off I love regional mysteries, especially ones set in New York (I still have to read those Akashic books set in Brooklyn & Queens).
I took a walk out to Owl's Head park in Bay Ridge yesterday, which is a strange, suburban part of Brooklyn with the most unexpected little houses, and marveled at the pier and the pebble-colored gray-blue water and enjoyed the twinkling lights of the bridge and generally felt that very happy far-away feeling I get whenever New York harbor is involved. I love that sort of in-between body of water -- not the rivers, not the sea. The bay. Why that desolate, industrial, polluted bay makes me so happy I'll never know.
(This truly amazing photo I found on Flickr.)
With that in mind, I suppose I should read Nadelson's other Artie Cohen book, Red Hook, too ... but why do I inherently dislike any place that's suddenly become trendy? Doesn't that make me the worst kind of snob? I don't know. I guess I just like all the horrible places where there's no one else around.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
You all know how much I love Nellie Bly, so it should come as no surprise that I was verrrry excited when I read that today is the 118th anniversary of her 72-day journey around the world, which began on November 14th, 1889.
When she first presented the idea to her editor, he said:
"It is impossible for you to do it ... In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector, and even if it were possible for you to travel alone you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes ... [T]here is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this."
For those unaware of my obsession with the Original Girl Reporter, it all started when I was a kid and I had this series of books called "Value Books" which gave real-life famous people imaginary friends, and told illustrated, highly-sanitized versions of their life stories. My favorites, besides Nellie, were:
Hans Christen Andersen
and Cochese, whose values were "Truth and Trust," which is kind of ironic ...
Their friends were pens or ducks, or test tubes or puffs of smoke, and I think Ben Franklin's was a penny.
Anyway, the books completely rocked my world as an eight-year-old and twenty years later Nellie Bly still rocks my world, and today you can follow her footsteps on this neat map from PBS.
And, as the Value Books would say, to learn more about Nellie Bly, visit your local library.
Monday, November 12, 2007
November 11, 1918 marked the end of the First World War; in Canada the day is marked with a moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. It's generally a somber (or sombre) holiday, though occasionally marred by lapses of judgment that can make the ceremonies seem incredibly tacky (such as the time my sixth grade teacher made us all listen to "Remembrance Day" by Bryan Adams). I often find myself thinking of Blackadder (the fourth series, "Blackadder Goes Forth") at this time of year, which is my preferred onscreen representation of WWI. (If that sounds a bit glib, remember that humor is a way of coping with grief, and watch the final episode of the show to see a truly moving tribute.) Moments of levity mix with sorrow and wry humor in these half-dozen episodes, and Hugh Laurie is particularly good as Lt. George.
Occasionally, on this day, one finds moments of pure awe, such as when you come across sites like these, which I found on the Blogger main page. WWI: Experiences of an English Soldier painstakingly transcribes the correspondence of William Henry Bonser Lamin day by day (so you know exactly what he was doing ninety years ago today:
"Today, 11th November 1917 the Division arrived in Italy and started on the long march to the front line..."
Friday, November 09, 2007
In any case, I came home and made two batches of potato leek stew. The first one I ruined because I chopped the potatoes too chunky and had to add too much chicken stock and cook it for too long, and it got all mushy and starchy. The second one turned out fine, and I'm feeling slightly more prepared to cook dinner for fifteen, which I am attempting to do tomorrow. I tried to throw together a batch of rice while I did the stew, and it came out too sticky.
I'm not good at making rice. I always burn the bottom of the pot, and then I have to add more water, then it gets all heavy instead of fluffy -- if anyone out there has tips for how to not burn the bottom of your pot, please do tell me. I sort of salvaged it by adding chopped toasted pecans, which kind of distract from the mushiness. The true test will come tomorrow night when I see how much of it people actually eat. I'll make another batch tomorrow, which hopefully will turn out better. I might try to make more stew, too, since I now have half of what I thought I'd have.
The stuffing turned out great though, which is good news for the chickens. They're all trussed up and ready to go.
As for the pies, well, I won't have time to make them myself. That's another reason I love the Greenmarket.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Given that, my Netflix queue sometimes has the appearance of an introductory course in film studies, because of all those films I meant to watch (Night of the Iguana, The Shop Around the Corner, Band of Outsiders, Le Samourai) but put off in favor of:
- numerous AbFab episodes
- innumerable Simpsons episodes
- repeated viewings of the Golden Girls
- prodigious amounts of Seinfeld
- watching The Big Lebowski* and Rushmore over and over again
There are only so many hours in a day, and I prefer to waste most of mine. Which is why the other half of the time my queue has the appearance of belonging to an idiot woman-child of the 80s whose questionable taste and judgment has unfortunately carried over into her adult years (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Less Than Zero, After-School Specials 1976-1977, Disc 1).
But I have finally put "Kiss Me Deadly" in my Netflix queue, in part because of this neat review in the superbly named Thrilling Detective Magazine:
"Kiss Me Deadly shows Mikey at his brutal, unstoppable best. Although set in sun-drenched Los Angeles instead of the shadowy streets and dark alleys of New York, this all seems to take the back-seat once the action gets started. From relentlessly sadistic fist-fights to smacking people when they don't give the "right" answer, Ralph Meeker portrayal is dead on, pulling no punches, showing the raw fury and violence that fills the character."
Reviewer Bryan Schingle describes the film with such enthusiasm that I bumped the movie to #3 on my queue right after I finished reading this vigorous description:
"Along the twisting trail of murder, violence and the Mafia, Hammer punches, kicks and shoves his way into and back out of trouble. He bucks the odds, bucks the system, and discovers that a hidden container of weapons-grade uranium is what everyone has been dying to get their hands on ... This is how Spillane's great private dick-as-avenger was meant to be; the embodiment of unrefined, never-ending fury combined with just enough brains and balls to crack the case."
Thrilling indeed. I may have to take my lace gloves off for this one.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* A film both under- and over-rated for all the wrong reasons. Though it's gotten a bad rep as a stoner staple, it's actually a really good and funny movie and a fun mystery.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World is a historical scientific narrative telling how Dr. John Snow traced an outbreak of cholera in working class London in 1854 to a single water pump that served all the neighborhood's residents. Previously, doctors had attributed cholera to an infectious mist (miasma theory) but Dr. Snow proves them wrong when he traces the origins of the disease to contaminated water instead (waterborne theory). Interestingly enough, though, it was another doctor, Fillipo Paccini, who connected the dots and isolated the illness-inducing bacterium in the water itself -- but his paper on the subject was ignored for thirty years.
I find this scientific/historical stuff thoroughly fascinating, and I like the way it's framed as a narrative. It's like a medical mystery, and appeals to that side of me that compulsively watches House M.D. and practices my own branch of amateur hypochondria. Particularly House-esque is this character: "An assistant curate named Henry Whitehead, who ministered to residents of Golden Square and knew the details of their lives well enough to identify the epidemic’s starting point (a sick baby, whose diapers contaminated the Broad Street well)." Doesn't that sound like House breaking and entering for a little more information?
Speaking of House, that show is getting out of control these days. It's like the writers realized its inherent campiness and just decided to run with it. Last night's episode was hilarious and more filled with improbable science than ever, and House was even more of a smartass than usual (my favorite line: "But carnival is only eight days in Bolivia!" Oh House, is there anything you don't know? I mean, you know the Portuguese word for "Brazil nut!") PLUS one of the wannabe fellows turned out to be a total psycho who faked symptoms of Polio in a patient in order to test his own theory that high doses of vitamin C will cure the disease. I love the wild abandon the show is demonstrating these days! But even I think the science is getting a little off base (wouldn't a food-related poisoning disappear after the patient stopped eating said substance?) but this guy is the source we go to for critiques of the show's sloppiest science. Crazy as it is, I still have to watch anything that deals with rare diseases.
And read: I'll definitely be getting The Ghost Map as soon as possible.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
You hear that? NOT ATROCIOUS. That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said about me.
In other news, my dear friend the Dog Lady of Toronto is feeling vexed at Blogger's apparent insistence that she have a Google account or some such nonsense in order to post a comment. "I'm tired," she sighs, "Of being bullied by modern things."
A phrase that struck me as so pretty I had to share it. She is highly gifted in the turn-of-phrase department.
OK, enough self-reflexive stuff ...
Monday, November 05, 2007
I've really learned a lot this past year: I've learned what certain buttons on my keyboard do, and what other buttons do not -- or should not -- do. I've learned the importance of paragraphs, unrestricted comments, and big photos. I've learned how to link to stuff, and that too many links are annoying. I've learned the value of friendship, the meaning of Christmas, how to love again, and that Spinsterism is a state of mind and not a legally binding state of being (for tax purposes).
I've kept a few promises (to review mystery novels and old movies, to share recipes) and broken others (round-ups, complaint lists, a tribute to Old Men I Particularly Like) and thought up new stuff like the Spinster Travelogue (though I think that was actually created at the suggestion of a fellow Spinster). I've paid tribute to lovely people who've passed away, and to lovely bookstores who are also no more. I've discovered other kindred web-spirits and learned that Technorati doesn't think very much of me. I've been disappointed by my page and profile views, but also liberated by the fact that I can write whatever I want 'cause no one's really reading me anyway.
Ultimately, Spinster Aunt is about engaging more completely in the world around me, especially the texts I inundate myself with in order to stay sane (I do, in fact, medicate with fiction). I can't think of anything worse than reading a bunch of books and forgetting about them entirely in a matter of weeks. The things you love should be put down on record so as not to lose them, and really, this whole thing is about collecting and surrounding yourself with beautiful objects, curios, and things you love, things that delight and surprise you and carry you through the day, such as the pleasures of bourbon and a good cup of tea.
Also, it's Guy Fawkes Day.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Nancy Drew - Detective is one of four adaptations of the novels made in 1938 and '39, and is heavy on nostalgia appeal. Much like the novels, the mysteries in the film are soft enough to for pre-adolescent girls to follow and solve themselves, but that's not really the point here. The smokescreen mystery is a mere excuse to watch Nancy in action, bugging her dad, outsmarting the cops, and torturing the life out poor Ned Nickerson (improbably re-named Ted) all the while exuding her particular brand of smarts and pluck.
Though the movie Nancy is clever enough, she's definitely not as level-headed as I imagined the book Nancy to be, and she comes off as extremely excitable, almost spastic. I always imagined Nancy to be calmer, serious, more willowy and sophisticated. Bonita grows on you though, and the film's funny and lighthearted tone could soften the heart of any cynic. Ted's also quite amusing and I love the kids' thirties slang ("Aw, don't disturb the molecules") and wisecracks ("No bacon? Is the recession still on?") though for the most part it's all fairly silly stuff. Still, the films are guaranteed to delight to any Nancy fan, especially those with old-timey tendencies.
Also, the credits look really fabulous:
Moving on ...
The Awful Truth is a classic screwball comedy directed by Leo McCarey, who I'm sort of getting obsessed with ever since I saw Ruggles At Red Gap. Starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, it reminds me a little of His Girl Friday (the divorce/reconciliation theme, and poor Ralph Bellamy playing the rebound sucker) but of course it's a standout film in its own right. There are some marvelous bits (the two men in the bedroom scene is ridiculous, as is the scene where Irene Dunne pretends to be Grant's sister) and I love watching portrayals of Depression-era affluence and New York City dance halls.
But best of all, possibly, is Aunt Patsy, one of the all-time greatest Spinster Aunts ever portrayed on screen. Patsy, who I'm sure I heard Dunne call "Patty" once or twice, is suave, sophisticated, bored, jaded, hilarious, and ultimately well-meaning (she doesn't want her niece to marry a bore like Bellamy!). Oddly enough, Patsy is played by a very mannish-looking person named Cecil Cunningham ... who is supposedly a woman ... I guess. Anyway, (s)he's a fabulous Spinster Aunt, and has a great line when Bellamy says he's learned about women from Irene Dunn: she slaps Dunne's Dear John letter into his hands and says, "Here's your diploma."
Besides showcasing spinsters with clever lines, the movie also scores points for featuring clever terriers named Mr. Smith, and funny hats.
Friday, November 02, 2007
I was lucky enough to see him twice this year, once in Nashville in June, and then later on July 24th opening for the White Stripes at Madison Square Gardens. I saw him with the great love of my life both times, the second time on our wedding night, so I have a fondness for the man that goes beyond who he was as an artist and a singer -- I feel he's part of my own life -- my loves and my personal history -- and part of the enduring power that country music holds sway over my heart.
I came to him through Dolly Parton, but again, he went beyond that. He was far more than the man who discovered her; he was an artist in his own right, and great, both before and after her (though their duets will forever be remembered, and I don't mean to diminish them, and I love her dearly).
I'm glad I had a chance to discover this artist and gentleman when I did.
Here's a post by my man honoring him; it's full of links to obits, tributes and kind words, like these, from Marty Stuart :
"I grew up watching his television show in Mississippi and it was as if he were a member of our family. After I got to know him, he was. He was a masterful showman, who understood the art of the final act. He left the world on top."
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Moving on: Last night I read Charlotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" on the recommendation of a work-mate who noticed my penchant for literary creepiness. The final image of it stayed with her, she said. It was a perfect one-gulp read (I think I'm getting addicted to short stories) with marvelous momentum and a neat characterization of a woman driven to madness by confinement and lassitude and wretched decor. And, yes, the final image is creepy.
In the story, a woman is confined to her room following post-partum depression (aka nervous hysteria) by her well-meaning physician husband. She's got strict instructions to rest at all costs and above all avoid work of any kind, especially writing. Inevitably, she is driven mad with boredom, and begins to obsess unhealthily over the oppressively yellow, hideously patterned wallpaper in her room. She soon becomes convinced she seems something, someone, hidden in that wallpaper, waiting to get out.
Written in the 1890s, it's a clear comment on the current treatment of women, medical and otherwise, that advocated confining the delicate dears to their rooms (with invariably disastrous results; see Dracula). In 1913, Gilman wrote this about her motivation for writing the story:
"For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia--and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again" as long as I lived. This was in 1887.
I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over."It's a great story, with a paranoid, Gaslight feel to it (" The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look...") and I thoroughly its wonderful atmosphere of maddening confinement. Its imagery recalled the Harry Burdick Mysteries I was enthralled with as a child ....
.... and its medical patriarchy/establishment themes fit right in with my love of such books as "For Her Own Good," and my love of Victorian quack medicine, and the idea of "hysteria" in general. Which may possibly also be brought on by excessive candy consumption ...