Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Your old October was only desirable while forbidden

Another Tuesday, another Villette readalong post! And guess what, POLLY IS BACK! I didn't realize how much I missed that weird little kid/baby thing until we spent all this time without her and WTF, where the hell is she?
Before we get to that, Lucy is swinging between being super depressed
I could have cried, so irritated and eager was I to be gone. I longed to leave them as the criminal on the scaffold longs for the axe to descend. 
"But if I feel, may I never express?" "Never!" declared Reason. I groaned under her bitter sternness. 
Better, perhaps, to die quickly a pleasant death than drag on long a charmless life.
And being crazy in love with Dr. John and the letters he writes her
I folded the untasted treasure...feeling as if fairy tales were true and fairy gifts no dream. 
[Mr. John] asked me, smiling, why I cared for his letter so very much. I thought, but did not say, that I prized it like the blood in my veins.
One evening Dr. John invites Lucy to the theater with him when his mom can't make it and you sort of think that means things are going to go forward with these two BUT NO, there is a fire at the theater and a poor woman is hurt in the riot. Being nice people, Lucy and Dr. John help the girl and get her to safety. Who does the girl turn out to be? OH HEY, THERE YOU ARE POLLY.

She's still sort of a weird girl. She's 18 (ish? is that right?) but still acts like a little kid a lot of the time. Lucy is threatened by Polly showing up and tries to quiz her about her feelings for Graham when they were younger. Lucy keeps telling her "But surely you don't remember all of your ridiculous, childish affections from so long ago and Polly won me with her response:
"You think I have forgotten whom I liked, and in what degree I liked them when a child?"
"The sharpness must be gone - the point, the poignancy - the deep imprint must be softened away and effaced?"

"I have a good memory for those days."
But don't worry, Polly likes Lucy. There's no real competition between the two, probably cos Polly doesn't really see Lucy as competition. At least not for Dr. John. Polly's dad, Mr. Home, offers to pay Lucy to hang out with Polly but she turns down the offer because yeah, that's sort of weird and at least she has her (constantly spied on) freedom teaching under Mme Beck. Instead she hangs out with Lucy for free and they start taking German lessons with a lady that could possibly be a hobbit, given her eating habits
[She] habitually consumed, for her first and second breakfast, beer and beef
 This section doesn't quite end with the same dramatic cliffhanger as the earlier sections, but there is something here. While Polly and Lucy are arguing about Polly talking about love (Polly insists she's old enough for this stuff and Lucy says she's going to always be childlike to her so yeah stop that nonsense) Polly says she DOES understand, but she doesn't want to talk about it because you see, there is someone Polly is worried about. Her cousin, Ginevra (DUN DUN DUUUUUN) 

Ginevra says she doesn't really care for the Dr. John anymore. I mean SURE, she says he'll totally still marry her if she'd say yeah, but overall she's bored with the guy. Polly wants to invite all of them over and see if Ginevra is right or Dr. John is really over her. That is a formula for some Telenovelas style hijinks so I AM FOR IT. 

Or more likely, Kimmy Schmidt style dinner party, but I couldn't find a gif of that.

Thank you Alice, for the good times. Our readalongs are the best. Till next week!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Housing update

I'm still not quite ready to give details yet, but since I didn't feel like writing a review, I thought I'd provide a housing update.

Not too long after my last post about adventures in house selling we got an offer, and after a bit of back and forth we came to an agreement, inspections were done, paperwork was signed, and in theory we should be closing in a couple months! I say "in theory" because until you're at that closing table, anything could happen though now that we have approvals and signed contracts and lawyers have been brought in, I'm (knock on wood) hopeful things will go through.
All of this did mean one very important thing: we better find somewhere to live, either permanently or short term cos we're gonna be homeless soon.

We'd put an offer in on a place that was pretty sweet and in a fun area. Unfortunately a LOT of people thought the same thing, and we knew we'd be going up against a lot of other offers. I don't know how much it actually went for but I know it was 1) higher than our offer and 2) all in cash.
Who are theses people that can buy places in cash? Jerks, probably.

Wherever we end up won't be the first place we'd be buying (that'd be where we are now), but there are always lessons to learn. For example, the purchase price isn't that important. I mean, it is, obviously. And it's the biggest number and therefore the scariest one. But when you break it down into monthly payments you realize what sounds like a BIG difference in the total price translates to like $50 extra per month. Way more important than setting a budget on the total purchase price is setting a budget for monthly costs. Cos what you can afford on the purchase price may vary widely once you start throwing taxes and HOA (if you're in a condo/co-op) and such in the mix.
Pretty much
Tom and I are fairly good at budgeting. Mint has been super helpful in helping me see where my money goes and made it very easy to get an average for what I spend throughout the year so when we put together a budget for this whole house thing I could quickly get numbers. Also it tracks stuff automatically, which is quite important to me keeping track of anything. (Thank you, FitBit and no thank you, any system that makes me manually enter shit.)

Still don't want to jinx anything but I'm hoping we'll only be homeless for a month (knock on wood, fingers crossed, other superstitions) and another "hopefully," we'll be able to crash with relatives which means freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I'll share more details as they come up or as I want to procrastinate from writing reviews.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I don't want to keep my country imprisoned in my memory

Back in December, two things happened: I made a resolution to to diversify my reading and I got an awesome Secret Santa gift that included a book that met my diversity criteria. And now I'm finally getting around to reviewing Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh.

Beirut Blues is the story of Asmahan, a Lebanese woman trying to make sense of her currently war-torn world. She loves Beirut but wonders if she should leave to somewhere safer: the country where some of her relatives are, the U.S. where here mom is, France with some friends? The story is told through her letters to her friends, family, lovers, and Beirut itself. Although honestly, the letters thing didn't really work for me because they don't read like letters. It's more like diary entries she's vaguely directing at someone except not really. It's not a straight narrative of events and at times it was hard to follow what was going on and who everyone was, but overall I still got the feel for things.

Surprisingly, Asmahan rarely seems to fear the war. It doesn't seem to affect her directly and other than a brief encounter when some soldiers take a friend away for questioning there aren't any tense moments. This could be in part because of the structure and the fact that she is telling these events to people who know she obviously made it out fine. She's here writing the letters. Most of the tone of the book is focused on Ashmahan's longing for the Beirut of the past. The bombings don't seem to bother her so much as annoy her, but the fact that the Beirut she loved is gone is what's truly upsetting. Sometimes she feels trapped by what Beirut has become, that even though she herself isn't being held for ransom, she has been kidnapped by the fighting.

I appreciated that Asmahan was a fully independent woman. She talks about her lovers (which is how she refers to them and probably makes more sense than boyfriend or something, even if I can't help but say the word sarcastically), new ones and those she had, with a certain nonchalance. It's not a big part of the story, but I appreciated when it came up it wasn't a big deal. She does her thing and she's not demonized for it. You go, Asmahan.

While the book is sort of slow, there was a lot in the language that was beautiful. I guess some of that credit goes towards the translator.

I don't believe I'll think about anything beyond the confines of my room. But I have to stop myself sneaking a glance through a gap in the garden wall at a house which is said to be occupied by party members. The night was calm, and everyone was asleep. I saw the fighters sleeping with their families. I could almost hear them snoring. I lowered my head and wondered if I had really been kidnapped. Perhaps I was still having a bad dream. People sleeping peacefully couldn't be kidnappers. Then I reminded myself that evil sleeps too.
You prescribe laws as if you were in a normal country with citizens who still glory in that title and all it stands for. It's easy for you to propound these views, when you haven't hidden in a shelter, had friends and neighbors killed in bread lines, returned home to your apartment building and found it has vanished, and realized after a moment that the rubble under your feet is all that remains of it.
But here he was now treating his own life as if it was more precious than any other in the country. Perhaps he and the others who had left were perfectly entitled to do so: they had escaped to protect the precious gift of life while we were persisted in walking carelessly over minefields.
It's a slow story. There isn't a lot of action or activity, but it has very pretty moments.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 360

al-Shaykh, Hanan. Beirut Blues. Trans: Catherine Cobham. Anchor Books, 1995. Originally published in Arabic 1992.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

He actually thought I was stung with a kind of jealous pain similar to his own!

We're now in week 3 of our Villette readalong, hosted by Alice (aka Reading Rambo). Also thank you for making this week's reading much smaller than the last time around cos yeah, I wouldn't have made it otherwise. Here we go, chapters 16-20.
When we last left Lucy she fainted outside a church. She wakes up and finds herself in a place that is foreign to her and yet strangely familiar. All of the furniture looks like the stuff from Mrs. Bretton's house. Well, that is odd, isn't it? There's even a picture of Graham that apparently Lucy used to spend all this time gazing lovingly at and what the hell? Where was all that in the early chapters?
I well remember how I used to mount a music-stool for the purpose of unhooking it, holding it in my hand, and searching into those bonny wells of eyes, whose glance under their hazel lashes seemed like a pencilled laugh; and well I liked to note the colouring of the cheek, and the expression of the mouth.
But the question is, why was all this stuff at this stranger's house? UNLESS, this stranger was actually Mrs. Bretton's. But how would she end up there? Well, it turns out Dr. John is actually Graham. Oh but more than that, Lucy knew the whole time.
She just didn't want to tell him. And was totally confused by why she would see Bretton stuff, even though moving your old furniture with you isn't an odd thing.

I'm going to call BS on CB here. Cos listen, either Lucy knew who Dr. John was the whole time, at which point she shouldn't have been SO CONFUSED when she woke up. But then, of course, you don't get your big surprise reveal. OR she didn't know, but then you lose your...I dunno what? Lucy being a super know-it-all, I guess.

Also CB, you can't write lines like "The plot was but thickening" Or you can, but you just make me think of this
But at least it's nice to see Lucy happy. Somewhat happy. As happy as Lucy seems capable of being, which isn't so much happy as it's not-actively-miserable. Also she gets to spend more time with Graham who she has been madly in love with since FOREVER apparently. No wonder she was so bitchy to Polly. Even though that is ridiculous because Polly was a small child, but it's Lucy so whatever.

The fact that she gets all this Graham-time is sort of marred by the fact that he wants to spend all this time talking about how awesome Ginevra is. Well that and Graham and Mrs. Bretton make weird comments at each other.
"Mamma, under such circumstances, you always remind me of Titania.""That is because you, yourself, are so like Bottom."
Yeah, those would be two characters that had sex with each other. While one of them had the head of a donkey. Just, stop that.

Lucy starts going to art museums by herself, but seems to spend most of the time looking at art that she doesn't like. Because of course she does. Why spend the time looking at art you like, when you could spend the time talking about how terrible everything is? She is especially disgusted by this giant portrait of Cleopatra, so much so that she sits on a bench across from it and just looks at for awhile, thinking about how awful it is. M. Paul sees her looking at it and is SCANDALIZED! She is at a museum without an escort looking at filth like this?? FOR SHAME! Lucy sort of shuts this down, but also agrees to stop looking at it, so I guess two steps forward, one step back.

Lucy, Mrs. Bretton, and Dr. John got to a concert/charity event deal with lots of fancy people like a King and Queen of...somewhere. And also Ginevra. You'd think now we're going to hear more from Dr. John about his love except Ginevra throws some shade towards Mrs. Bretton and OH MAN, you wanna drop out of Dr. John's good graces, that is apparently the fastest way. "Love love love...hold up, did you just side-eye Mamma? OOOOH HELL NO. BACK OFF, HARPY." So now maybe Lucy can slide right in there. Or you know, probably not.

Where the hell is Polly? She is going to show up, right?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and death. In between do what we can to forget

Let's talk about dead bodies!

I always assumed Mary Roach would be an author I would like, but it took me forever to pick up any of her books. When I finally read Bonk I realized yes, I have been stupid to put her off. So not too long after that, I picked up a copy of her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and it was even better. I enjoy science explained to me by non-science people.

You could sort of say Stiff's purpose is to convince you to donate your body to science. And she makes a lot of very good points as to why it would be a good thing to do. The book is all about the benefits that humanity has gained because of experiments done on dead bodies, the lives saved because of organ donations, and even the dead bodies that are used to help solve crimes (or just plane/car accidents). Dead bodies are doing so much and I'm just here sitting on the couch. Way to make me look bad.

I say Roach is trying to convince you to donate your body to science, but maybe that's not quite accurate. She's not saying you HAVE to donate your body. She's not saying that if you don't donate your body that you're selfish and evil and contributing to the downfall of society. She talks about all of the good done that was a direct result of dead bodies and makes the case that when a person is gone their body isn't them, so is more subtle with the suggestion that you, dear reader, maybe want to consider this course of action. But she is also clear that if you don't want to, that's OK. If you wish for your body to be donated after you die, but the loved ones you left behind would rather that didn't happen, maybe let the living decide. Because ultimately you're gone, but they're still here and are going to have to be the ones to live with the decision and do what they have to do to get through the loss. In the end the choice is personal.

I feel like I've made this book sound like a lot more of a downer than it is. Yes, it's dealing with death and dead bodies, but it's a funny book. There's humor in everything. Of course this could go very wrong very quickly so it's a good thing we have Roach's tone. There are a number of footnotes through the book, so when I saw a little asterisk next to "Renaissance philosopher Giolamo Pontano*" I expected an explanation or funny story about the guy. Instead I saw "*I'd never heard of him either." When I saw that I smiled and thought "Oh, Ms. Roach, I am a fan of you. Well played."

And it's not all about the good done with donated bodies. She also looks into more traditional methods of dealing with the newly departed, be it embalming (and going through the history of!), cremation, or some new methods being tried out like freeze drying. There isn't too much about funerals themselves, though she does have a touching bit when she talks about the anatomy students holding a funeral for the bodies they were going to be learning from during the year.

I feel like I'm not doing this book much justice. I'll blame that on my sore throat and general laziness. If you want to read a good review, check out Kayleigh's post which does a much better job.

If the topic is at all something that interests you, I would say try this out. If you like Roach's book, try this. If you like science-y things for the non-science crowd, try this.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 84

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Norton, 2003.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I would not be you for a kingdom

Here we are, week two of the Villette readalong, hosted by Alice. Thank you, Alice! Our readalongs are the best. So, let's jump right into chapters 6-15.
Things Lucy doesn't like:
The Irish
French people (or at least the lazy/big-eared ones)
People who seem happy in marriages that Lucy doesn't approve of
People who are a miffed at having to show a random person to a room/job in the middle of the night
Dressing like a dude, even if she's playing a guy in a play
Community theater

Things Lucy is surprisingly cool with:
Crazy lady that goes through her stuff in the middle of the night, watches her sleep, makes copies of her keys, general spy stuff
Being locked in a hot attic full of rats and bugs to learn lines for a play she doesn't want to be in

Let's step back.

When we last left Lucy she was crying in her hotel room in London. Not long after she decides she'll take a boat ride to the continent. So she shows up in what I understood to be the middle of the night, cos why not just get her space RIGHT NOW? And she doesn't understand why the people on the boat are not jumping to attention and getting her a room.
A stout, handsome, and showy woman was in the ladies' cabin. I asked to be shown my berth; she looked hard at me, muttered something about its being unusual for passengers to come on board at that hour, and seemed disposed to be less than civil. What a face she had - so comely - so insolent and so selfish! 
"Now that I am on board, I shall certainly stay here," was my answer. "I will trouble you to show me my berth."
Yes, how dare this woman be so selfish. Not the cab driver guy that cheated her by telling her it was going to cost way more than it actually should have. That's fine. But this lady that isn't snapping to attention quite quickly enough, she's terrible.

While on the boat Lucy meets a couple young women,  one of whom, Ginevra Fanshawe, is headed for the town of Villette where she goes to school. Surprisingly, this girl isn't secretly Polly. Or at least I don't think so. She is frivolous but very nice to Lucy and she might be shallow but at least she's entertaining.

When they finally get ashore, after a night in a hotel, she decides to head to Villette cos why not? I do admire her ability to just go wherever, without any real plan, without knowing the language, just to try to make a living. Unfortunately for Lucy, her luggage doesn't make it to Villette with her. Don't think lost luggage is just an modern issue with airlines. She meets an Englishman who directs her to a hotel but she gets lost and ends up on the doorstep of Madame Beck, the woman who runs the school Ginevra was headed to. WHAT LUCK? Naturally, even though it is the middle of the night, she knocks on the door to inquire about a job. Luckily, Mme Beck is sort of a nut so after a quick physiognomy read by another of the teachers, she gets a job caring for Beck's three children.

Lucy is shown to a bed in the children's room, where the kids are already asleep. You'd think it would terrify the kids to wake up the next day and see some strange lady in the room with them. But it turns out Mme Beck is super creepy, so they're probably used to weird shit. After Lucy is asleep Mme Beck wanders into the room. At first it's just to check on her kids, and that's fine. But then.
I daresay she sat a quarter of an hour on the edge of my bed, gazing at my face. She then drew nearer, bent close over me; slightly raised my cap, and turned back the border so as to expose my hair...This done, she turned to the chair where my clothes lay...In my dress was a pocket; she fairly turned it insight out: she counted the money in my purse; she opened a little memorandum-book, coolly perused its contents, and took from between the leaves a small plaited lock of Miss Marchmont's grey hair. To a bunch of three keys, being those of my trunk, desk, and work-box, she accorded special attention: with these, indeed, she withdrew a moment to her own room...these keys, reader, were not brought back till they had left on the toilet of the adjoining room the impress of their wards in wax.
Instead of this being the lead-up to horror movie-like shenanigans, Lucy just chalks this up to un-Englishness and is cool with it. And even impressed with Mme Beck.

She is not, however, impressed with Mrs. Sweeny, the children's previous caretaker who is also going to wake up to see a random person sleeping in the room. But instead of it being just a new face, it's going to be a replacement. Now granted, it seems Sweeny is a drunk so perhaps should not be in charge of children. On the other hand, Lucy says shit like "I need hardly explain to the reader that this lady was in effect a native of Ireland," and thanks Lucy, for making me remember that you're kind of terrible.

For awhile Lucy just cares for the kids but one day Mme Beck decides to fire the current English teacher and replace them with Lucy. See, Mme Beck's method is to never tell someone when they're doing a bad job and give them an opportunity to improve; instead she just makes them think they're doing fine and the blindsides them with a firing. This is who Lucy admires.

Lucy is afraid she won't be able to maintain control of the classroom, which good reason since she doesn't speak much French and yelling at someone in a foreign language isn't that effective. She asserts her dominance by locking an unruly student in a closet, which I suppose is the Victorian teacher version of beating up the smallest person in prison so the others know not to fuck with you. It's OK though because you see:
It so happened that this girl, Dolores by name, and a Catalonian by race, was the sort of character at once dreaded and hated by all her associates; the act of summary justice above noted proved popular
Ginevra is at the school, which should be obvious because she told Lucy that's where she was headed. She tells Lucy about this guy Isidor that is in looooooove with her and she's just having a good time now but ultimately doesn't love him the same and Lucy disapproves. Ginerva has some good reasons to not be so into the guy, one of them being that he thinks she is PERFECT which sounds like a compliment except she sees as him liking the idea of her more than who she actually is. "He thinks I am perfect: furnished with all sorts of sterling qualities and solid virtues, such as I never had, nor intend to have." So see, Ginevra isn't totally naive. Maybe I don't so much agree with her accepting gifts from the guy a leading him on, but whatever.

We're introduced to a new character, Dr. John, and English doctor that ends up treating Mme Beck's children and all of the girls fall in love with him, a la Indiana Jones.
Lucy is pretty sure he and Mme Beck have something going on. BUT it turns out (as we find later [but still within this week's section]) that Dr. John is Ginevra's Isidore. Dun dun duuuuuun. But Ginevra actually likes this other guy so man, it is awkward (for them, not for Ginevra) when they're both in the same room together.

There's a room that the boarding students use as a study room. Then each night they read from a book about saints' legends and Lucy tries to sit in and listen until one day she can't take it anymore and stabs her scissors into a table.
I sat out this "lecture pieuse" for some nights as well as I could, and as quietly too; only once breaking off the points of my scissors by involuntarily sticking them somewhat deep in the worm-eaten board of the table before me. But, at last, it made me so burning hot, and my temples, and my heart, and my wrist throbbed so fast, and my sleep afterwards was so broken with excitement, that I could sit no longer.
Who knew Lucy = April
I'm not entirely sure why she's SO UPSET by these stories. Other than it's Popish superstition. Yeah, she is not a fan of Catholics. No one seems mean to her cos she's a Protestant in this mostly Catholic school. I don't actually remember it coming up at all. I will assume Alice will explain all of this.

Near the end of the year, before final exams, the school puts on a big party including a play. The lit teacher (or is it history?) is in charge of the play and he is a draaaaaamaaaaaaaa couch so I guess it works that he's directing. He is also crazy, locking Lucy in the attic so she can really focus on learning her lines, when she agrees to fill in when a student backs out (or proves herself unworthy or whatever). She's not super upset with this, just hungry and getting faint but really does not make a stink about the fact that she was locked away while everyone has having fun NOT being circled by rats and spiders. What she IS upset about is the idea that she will have to dress like a dude for the play. For, you see, she's playing the part of the man and crazily they seem to think that she should dress like the character she is portraying. She doesn't think so and I'm not entirely sure what the compromise is, but I think it's dressing with dude clothes on top, but a dress underneath?

After the party and exams it's time for break. Pretty much everyone leads except for Lucy and one handicapped student who Lucy is SUPER BITTER about having to look after. Don't worry, someone saves her the indignity of having to take care of a "cretin". Bummer though, she gets super sick suddenly and never calls a doctor.
She does make her way to a Catholic church but is VERY CLEAR that she does get into this stuff, even if she thinks the priest that was trying to help her (without trying to convert her) was very nice. On her way home she gets lost and there's a storm and she faints and falls on some stairs. The end.

So, let's see what happens in the next chapters! Will there be less French, cos yeah, it's been over 10 years since I took a French class and I have forgotten pretty much everything in that time. Will Lucy get more likable? Man, I hope so. I also wish that Bronte wrote more like Dickens and PS, Dickens is not generally my thing but I would KILL for some of his amazing characters.

Till next week

Title quote from page 118