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90 Minutes Well Spent 


Monday, July 31, 2006

Thanks to Litblitz's zombie movie recommendations, I spent about ten minutes perusing the IMDB entries on Dead & Breakfast and Zombie Honeymoon.

There, as commonly seen in other horror commentaries, is the oft-repeated phrase: "I wasted 90 minutes of my time, time that I will never get back."

Wow, I thought, these people sure have exciting lives. I mean, hell, if they lament 90 lost minutes, can you imagine what they do with the rest of their time? Negotiating peace in obscure Central Asian would-be breakaway republics, tweaking their latest opera before rehearsals start, carving their scrimshaw version of the Uffizi's greatest paintings, concocting vaccines to fight off the hantaviruses - shit, makes my current 18th century French aristocrat gossip obsession seem like I am flitting away my life.

Their productive lives mean that even one and a half hours spent watching this film bile - nay! longer! - the drive to the video store, the decision-making process once inside the video store, reading the backs of all the horror DVD cases, asking the store staff for recommendations, the drive home, the interminable minutes waiting for the popcorn maker to do its job, the bathroom breaks, the fridge runs, the interrupting telephone rings - are precious hours away from their lives' work.

For all the time these schlock horror fans spend away from their real work, we commoners suffer. No cures, no art, no peace. Someone, somewhere, for the good of all mankind, please make a worthy zombie movie!


Disclaimer: this post took 31 minutes to write, find links, verify spellings, re-read, edit and post.

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About a Song Called Chilman Uthegi Nahin 


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Steve has been been preparing for a trip to India for years and his blog, Proxy Indian, started in February, is an extension of his research. I don't know what will happen to the blog after October, when he returns home; hopefully he'll still be around and he'll be then dissecting his trip.

My best friend - Pugshot on this medium - introduced me to the wonderful Steve a couple Christmases ago*, during my last visit to Chicago. Steve, like me, is a connoisseur of old graveyards and fine chocolate, though my chocolate tastes are considerably more plebian than his noble ones. Most usefully, however, Steve is doing the research for me for a hobby I meant to take up: Bollywood movies.

One of his recent posts, about the song Chilman Uthegi Nahin, is a fun look at what makes the song and clip of its performance in the film Kisna so wonderful. Steve gives the background on what's happening at that point in the movie (interracial romance, Kisna's smuggling of Brit girl Katherine and her mom winds them all up in a courtesan's performance with a back-up dance group, where they go unrecognized for six minutes); the best choreography (minutes 2:20, 4:35 and 5:12); what the instrumental cameo was (a sarangi two minutes into the clip); the lyrics with the time approximation within the clip - along with the clip itself.

If only all Indian movies were so neatly prepared for my consumption.

Hint, hint, Steve.


*Matt always jokes that I remember everything by year. That's not true. I remember everything around my travels.


Overheard in the Supermarket 


Friday, July 28, 2006

Cashier Girl: You're buying the book?

Redneck Woman: Yeah, I always like to read the book before I watch the movie.

Cashier Girl: But the movie just came out. Why don't you just watch the movie?

Redneck Woman: I like to read the book and compare.

Cashier Girl: That always ruins the movie for me.

Redneck Woman: The book is usually better than the movie.

Cashier Girl: Exactly. It ruins the movie for me.


Marie Antoinette Rises from the Dead 


Thursday, July 27, 2006

This book club thing has turned me into the bookworm I've always wanted to be: I've read four books already - only two as part of the collective reading choices - and I've got more waiting in line.

The book club has had other consequences.

As a result of Evelyne Lever's Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France, I became curious about the Madame du Barry and, after reading her biography, Madame du Barry: The Wages of Beauty by Joan Haslip, I was won over to her camp, becoming someone that in her day would have been called a barryste.

Then, sad and confused over Marie Antoinette's death in the Lever biography, I picked up Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey. What a difference! Whereas Lever's Antoinette was repeatedly a "charming featherbrain," Fraser's Antoinette was a poor little rich girl. I should have known from the covers: Lever's book features a close-up of Antoinette's face at the height of her glamour before her children domesticated her, Fraser's the group portrait of the mature Antoinette with her children. I suspect the difference is that Lever, a Frenchwoman, is a child of the French Revolution, who grew up with textbooks condemning the ancien regime and Fraser is a British aristocrat who learned to appreciate the benefits of a monarchy.

Alas, this second Marie Antoinette biography ends the same way. No matter how much Antonia Fraser explained away the queen's deficiencies, she still died at the end of the book.

So next I picked up Olivier Blanc's Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution. Afterwards I have Madame du Pompadour's biography - also by Evelyne Lever- and the sole Louis XVI biography, which promises to show that the poor Louis was actually the most conscientious, most sensitive and most christian of the French kings. Once I get through those, I hope I have enough energy to throw in biographies of five other Louis (XIV, XV, XVII, XVIII and Philippe), as well as Charles X and, if I am really ambitious, Napoleon. Plus I have the Vigée-Lebrun and Madame Tussaud biographies and a book on the festivals of the French Revolution.

The final consequence of this Marie Antoinette craze is that I've remembered how much I love Paris. This is the tenth year anniversary since my last trip there. To celebrate, I dug out the memorabilia from my first trip to Paris. Perusing the maps and ticket stubs, I began making lists of places I would visit on my next trip, with itineraries for a revolutionary prison tour, a Eugène Delacroix tour and a tour of the palaces of Marie Antoinette. In a sudden fit, my Marie Antoinette inebriation made me subscribe to a bunch of Parisian blogs, as if that would cure me.

Luckily, it's a good time for this particular obsession:
The Louvre Museum is promoting the sale of dozens of Marie-Antoinette- related items at its museum store, including a $160 children's costume modeled on a portrait of Marie-Antoinette at the age of seven.

The Paris confectioner Ladurée, whose towers of colorful macaroons grace the film, is paying "homage" to the queen with a Marie-Antoinette "collection," including a white- and milk- chocolate cake imprinted with her carriage.

The perfumer Francis Kurkdjian consulted 18th-century accounts of Marie-Antoinette's taste in concentrated scents in creating a perfume in her honor. Baccarat has produced it as a limited edition of 10 ($10,000 each) as well as a $450 version in a less expensive crystal.

The fashion designer John Galliano made Marie-Antoinette his muse in his haute couture show in Paris early this year. Lalique has made crystal earrings and a pendant inspired by one of her portraits.

The Raynaud porcelain house is selling copies of her royal dishes, the knife maker Couteaux de Sauveterre a $280 limited edition jackknife engraved with the initials "MA."

Marie-Antoinette was said to be a picky eater, but at the one-star Les Trois Marches restaurant in Versailles, chef Gérard Vié has created a $127, five- course "Marie-Antoinette menu" featuring adaptations of favorite 18th-century royal dishes: stuffed sweetbreads with mushrooms, slowly boiled beef and Saint-Pierre fish with spinach and herb sauce.
(From the International Herald Tribune, via Shortcut)

Way more universal than my zombie obsession.


Ivan's Hamsterification Halted 


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This is my stepcat:



While Matt is away, Ivan stays with me.

In the past, Ivan's stay has produced some weird behaviour.

It must have been the hamsters.

Hamsters, in their domesticated environment, use tissue for their bedding. Each hamster had her style; Anişoara had a thing for for tissue curtains on her house, Crenguţă for a neatly lined nest, Valentina merely had a free-for-all disaster area going*.

After a couple of weeks with me, Ivan returned home. Then Matt discovered this:



As you can see, Ivan lined his own cat bed with paper towels. Just like the hamsters.

But the hamsterification of the cat is not over.

Ivan discovered the hamster treat bucket.

Whenever I go to the pet store, I always throw in a few hamster extras for the little ones. I've accumulated a bucket's worth of little packets of "hamster ravioli" and "hamster yoghurt drops" and the like. I left the bucket out by the hamster cage and Ivan explored.

He took out one bag, chewed it open, took out one hamster treat, licked it and was horrified. He tried another one from the same bag. He spat it out. Then he picked up another bag, chewed it open and same reaction. You could almost see the despair on his face: "What the hell are these hamsters eating?"

During the night he opened one more bag and spat out the one nibblet.

At least Lucian had no problem with the regurgitated treats.


*Even Sylvia from Small Animal Rescue commented that she was one messy hamster.


Update on the Worm 


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Turns out Rurality's garden was visited by the worms as well. Sure, she claims it's just the hot weather splitting open the tomatoes. The poor woman is deluding herself. And most people do when they get such a forceful message from the slimy ones.

Unlike the lowercase worms in Phyllis Smith's Arkansas, Rurality's Alabama ones have left the caps lock on. The "HI" looks aggressive. It's as if they are a bunch of worm thugs out for trouble. "HI" they grunt, right before they trip you and run off with your wallet. Rurality, don't fall for it. Just walk away.


Love, The Worm in Phyllis Smith's Garden 


Saturday, July 22, 2006

After years of combat - the worms eating Phyllis Smith prize peonies, Phyllis Smith firebombing the worms, the worms counter-attacking Phyllis Smith's award-winning eggplants, Phyllis Smith dropping the worms in a blender full of gazpacho, the worms retaliating on Phyllis Smith's county-wide famed chives, Phyllis Smith pouring arsenic down the throats of hapless POWs - a never-ending story of carnage and despair on both sides, wiser voices in the worm community finally sought to put an end to the bloodshed.

"Let's reach out to Phyllis Smith," they said amongst each other, "in a gesture of friendship with a conciliatory message of peace."



An idealist perhaps, Maximilien volunteered his penmanship. He, like many others, believed that Phyllis Smith would respond to his amicable "hi" with her own missive of armistice.

The shock came when Phyllis Smith retorted that she would "do whatever it takes to get rid of the message's author."

Maximilien knew he was a marked worm. Friends suddenly shut their doors on him, even family avoided him at breakfast. Every time Phyllis Smith came into the garden, he cowered under a pile of dirt, half expecting death to pounce on him. He prayed that his would be a quicker one than that of the wretched Gazpacho Five.

The agony of those terrible moments slowly gave way to a new feeling in the fugitive worm's breast. As he passed the days alone, his fear turned to rage, and with the brewing rage came courage. Maximilien figured he had nothing to lose and so began his campaign against this destroyer of worms.

One morning, Phyllis Smith got down on her knees to pull up the carrots. The nearby scarecrow, an eviscerated rabbit buzzing with flies, had done its job in horrifying the neighbourhood lagomorphs. Phyllis herself was thinking only of the carrot garnish for her weekly ham roast.

She yanked out a carrot and brushed off the dirt. She shuddered.

There, along the length of the carrot, were the words, Your time draws nigh, Tyrant!

Phyllis Smith froze, then threw the vegetable over her fence in a panicked motion. Taking in a deep breath, she told herself that she had not really seen what she thought she'd seen.

Get a hold of yourself, she demanded.

Then she reached for another carrot. Snatched from the ground, the carrot bore the words, Beware the cauliflower! She stifled a scream and looked around her. She saw no one. Collecting her senses, she suspected the moles. The little trench diggers would get it.

The following day, while Phyllis Smith flooded the mole holes with Moletox, Maximilien, with the help of Phyllis Smith's treacherous zebra finch, infiltrated the her household.

After he completed his work, he scaled the tropical beach wallpaper to watch from the brass chandelier.

The hours seemed to stretch into oblivion, as Phyllis Smith plopped onto her black vinyl couch, The Meat Cook Book on her lap, flipping through the pages, disappeared, then returned with a plate of Jiffy Cheesefurters. The Cheesefurters were coupled with a Cotto Tree, a tower of the previous day's ham curled in rosettes around stuffed green olives and cauliflower "foliage."

The zebra finch had not lied. Maximilien's plan was working.

Phyllis Smith raised a forkful of frankfurters to her mouth, the grease glossing her lips. Maximilien watched, not daring to breath. Then Phyllis Smith plucked a cauliflower off the Cotto Tree. She brought to her mouth and - for a moment, Maximilien lost hope - she paused. Then she read.

I am watching you.


Her screams were heard all over the neighbourhood.


Lucian's Provenance 


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Valentina was to be my last hamster for a few years. As Crenguţă lay dying, I vowed to spoil Valentina into the little furry princess of my heart. After her death I would delve into the world of guinea pigs and possibly chinchillas.

The discovery of Valentina's corpse thwarted my maternal instincts. I was not ready yet to explore the other offerings of domesticated rodentia. I needed another hamster upon which to lavish adoration. Besides, I had stockpiled too many hamster luxuries to throw away.

I remembered that Sylvia of Small Animal Rescue had a sister and a brother of Valentina's. I planned, in my forlorn state, to take in one of the siblings and make it up to Valentina's memory by providing this family member with the care intended for Valentina.

Sylvia, however, had already sent her family to Vancouver Island. "Do you want me to ask for them back?" she asked. Sadly I declined. Valentina's brother and sister had already found a good home.

Instead, Matt and I examined six other hamsters. The peachies, as Sylvia called them, were removed from a little girl's bedroom on Knight Street. For six months the child had been breeding hamsters until her mother found the original two multiplied into twenty hamsters. Suddenly a dynasty of peachies were homeless.

Aside from my growing anger at parents who stupidly allow their kids to have pets and at petshops that sell animals, I am thankful at least that I can rescue one poor hamster.



Matt chose Lucian based on his appearance and his acrobatics.

Having only ever been a short-hair hamster owner, Lucian straddles both aspects of hamster fur: some of his fur is short, while in other places he sports a certain punk look. And the morning hair is cute beyond all similes.

Then there is his boxer's nose. A squished up snout makes him look like he's seen one matches too many, though his amicable personality puts him far off the pugilist spectrum. More likely the nose is a result of his monkey bar antics. For example, unlike other hamsters, he does not use the front door to get into his house - he paratroops into it, dangling from cage bar to cage bar and dropping into his bedding.

So much like royalty, the inauguration of his reign needs official portraits. Matt kindly complied to my requests, above and below.



This Involves Wax 


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Me, I find moustaches creepy. Nevermind that my most long-lived high school crush, a French painter dead for over a hundred years, sported one. I looked at pictures of him with my finger covering up his one fault.

No longer is Canada a wilderness of furry faces as were our forefathers. Men who don't shave are beyond forty and the weirdos with goatees are safely in the rural Fraser Valley or at hockey games, places I avoid at all costs.

My other friend Matt recently grew a moustache, in a way commemmorating his move back to Texas:
one of the great things was how quickly the ’stache could morph into something else. it could be ironic and fun, but with the addition of a hat of some kind (baseball, cowboy) suddenly the irony was gone, and i was an honest to goodness redneck. awesome.
Seriously though, I had no idea moustaches were so difficult to maintain:
’stache wax is not so easy to find these days, i will tell you. it’s not at rite aid. it’s not at ralph’s. there was online searching. there was an old-timey beauty shop in the jew-y old hollywood part of town. where it came with its own ’stache comb for only $3.99.
It gets even more complicated. Just go and read the rest. Hell, add Matt's blog to your RSS feed, he's one of the really good writers on the 'net.


Lucian 


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Distraught after the death of Valentina, I phoned up Sylvia at Small Animal Rescue, told her about the death of my foster hamster and asked if, provided she still trusted me with hamsters, I could take in another foster hamster.

This is Lucian:



For those of you who don't speak Romanian, his name is pronounced "Lou-chee-an." Named after my sole maternal first cousin, Lucian the Hamster resembles Lucian the Man in girth. Male hamsters, like many male mammals, are larger than the female both in bulk and length - their length increased by disproportionate testicles.

At first, I was reluctant to get an aesthetically troubling animal into my household. With the female hamster's genitals safely tucked from view, I never feared the possibility of unintentional incest as I picked up the critters. The male hamster thus requires extreme decorum.

To my hamster-saddened heart, I am thrilled that male hamsters, on the other hand, have less of a propensity to die from cancer than female hamsters (for example, both Crenguţă and Anişoara) and furthermore, male hamsters are the gentler of the two hamster sexes.

Lucian's amazing physique is enhanced by his enormous bat-like ears:



Of course, my Transylvanian ancestry (with an actual bastard countess relative, no less) delights at this almost noctilionine rodent.

*Both photos courtesy Matt.


Litblitz is Back! 


Monday, July 17, 2006

One of my favourite blogs has returned from the dead: Washnignton DC's wonderful and super polite struggling writer Litblitz returned with a post on Library Thing. While it doesn't seem likely that the Lady is back for a regular stint, we at least know she's alive and well.

For those of us who dream of being (professional) writers, her archives are great background reading.


What Happens to One's Education? 


Monday, July 17, 2006

As I face the combination of my vast household with that of Matt's, my entire life, books, photos, art, clothing, music, kitchenware, must now fit into a Tokyo-sized apartment. Since most of my expansion occurred during 2000-2002 - when I was living in an on-location Tokyo-sized apartment - I am painfully aware that my stuff can fit in said apartment but that Matt also has enough stuff to fit into said apartment. Surely we can't buy two of said apartments.

My rules are I am keeping everything. Anything from my travels or in a foreign language will be protected as if I were a lioness wielding a red hot poker. Thus my non-English language books, the majority of my books, are safe, as is my humble collection of folkart: Romanian glass icons, Ethiopian religious symbols, Peruvian clayworks, Chinese basketware and so on. No art books can leave my possession either (or indeed, be lent out). Photos, impossible, as is my correspondence. As for clothes - ha!

My concession are a few books that I will recycle via secondhand bookshops and friends. Truly I will never reread that book about the Dutch torturing the English in 17th century Indonesia nor that horrid history of bananas.

Then there is the bigger issue at hand.

What does one do with their university class notes?

This, as Cheryl the Red and I discussed, is all we have of our education. Thousands of dollars, years of work, what do you do with it a decade or more after you've graduated?

Art history, for example, represents one of my very deepest interests. Spanish, French and German hark back to a time I could say I was multilingual. Chinese, why those eight years of fervent studying, almost a third of my life, would turn to tragedy if they were lost. And Classical Chinese, there's the only class for which I ever got a C and the only test I ever failed - the Museum of Me needs my failures as well as my triumphs.

As I explained to Cheryl, my goal is to put aside one hour each week and re-write my notes into a notebook, condensing the lessons. I will clip out the drawings and glue them into a scrapbook, then recycle the paper.


Zugzwang 


Friday, July 14, 2006

Among the detritus my sister left behind was the metal tin of Adult Late Night Games. I fell upon on the box and took out the cards, when one card caught my eye.

It was a vocabulary card, with a trio of rarely heard words, the rules of the game being you come up with two alternate definitions, presenting all three to your opponents. If they guess one of the made-up definitions to be the meaning of the word, they must remove an item of clothing. Balderdash, in other words.

But what I liked were the words. Adjectives, verbs and nouns I missed my whole life:

  • Zugzwang: an obligation to move in chess, even if disadvantageous (dibs on this word in Scrabble).
  • Clitellum: the raised band encircling the body of an earthworm.
  • Gammomania: A form of insanity characterised by strong and extravagant proposals of marriage.
  • Levigate: to reduce to a fine powder.
  • Briarean: having one hundred hands.
  • Bathycolpous: someone with a particularly large chest.
  • Callipygian: having particularly beautiful buttocks.
  • Kakopyge: someone with ugly buttocks.
  • Daspygal: having hairy buttocks.
  • Hermipygic: possessing only one buttock.
Update: Matt adds steatopygic, having an extreme accumulation of fat on the buttocks, and David adds epipastic, medical dusting powder.


The Death of Princesse de Lamballe 


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

One of the gruesome horrors of the French Revolution was the death of the Princesse de Lamballe on September 3, 1792. Even the Marquis de Sade, having "wept tears of blood" over his lost paedophiliac-coprophiliac masterpiece The 120 Days of Sodom, shuddered when he heard that the princesse, upon decapitation, had her mons pubis sliced off and worn as a moustache.

Death of Lamballe

The Princesse's fate is explained thus:

...the head of the Princesse de Lamballe could be seen at the end of a pike, her face twisted into a grimace and her long blond hair flowing in the wind, caked with blood. Her naked, mutilated body had been dragged through the streets by her assassins; it lay on the ground among a group of madmen; they had torn out her heart and brandished it at the end of a sword like a trophy.


(Evelyne Lever: Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France, translated by Catherine Temerson, page 284)

Antonia Fraser goes into even more detail in her Marie Antoinette: The Journey. In point form, the full script of her death and subsequent indignities go as follows:
  • Hit by hammers on the head. Goes unconscious.
  • Violated either before or after.
  • Breasts and privates cut off.
  • Or, her heart cut out, cooked and eaten.
  • Possible disembowellment.
  • Head mounted on a pike.
  • Innards mounted on a pike.
  • Comte de Beaujolais sees his aunt's head and body pass by the Palais-Royal.
  • Apprentice wax modeller Marie Grosholz forced to make a cast of the head and trembles too much to work - she had known the princesse in life.
  • Stop at a barber shop so the princesse's hair can be restyled.
  • The head taken to the Temple, where the royal family was imprisoned, so that Marie Antoinette could kiss her friend's lips.
  • Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were playing backgammon when the head arrives at the Tower.
  • Officials close the shutters and keep the family away from the windows.
  • Marie Antoinette fainted.
  • Another pike reported to have a blood- and mud-stained chemise.
  • Commissioner Daujon allows the mob to parade the head around the Tower but not to come inside.
  • Daujon prevents entry "by the use of the tricolour ribbon on the door."
  • Rioting continues until 5 pm.
  • A Jacques Pointel rescues the head.
  • The princesse's father-in-law, the Duc de Penthièvre, retrieves body and head.
  • The princesse interred in the Penthièvre crypt.


Prettiest Lamballe

This princesse, born in Torino on September 8, 1749, married Louis Alexandre Stanislaus de Bourbon, prince of Lamballe, in 1767. The prince died the following year and the princesse never remarried. In 1785 Marie Anoinette withdrew from her friendship with the comtesse de Polignac and returned to the princesse. The princesse's loyalty was such that, during her interrogation she refused to denounce her friend; this in turn led to her immediate death.

Yet, perhaps Marie Thérèse Louise de Savoie-Carignan did not die as rumour has it. Floating about on the internet is the idea that she was delivered to the Duc de Penthièvre fully clothed - surely her murderers wouldn't have bothered to re-dress her? What about the eyewitnesses? Were the stories concocted by the royalists to win over Europe to their cause?


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