Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fill-ins #187

1. I'm going to do it my way and everyone else will just have to live with that.

2. Please dont ask me to do anything implying adventure and daring because I'm either too cautious, or just plain scared.

3. Perhaps today you can make it a point to buy me chocolate more often,

4. ....because I'm almost positive that would awaken my true adventurer’s spirit.

5. Compassion is more common than I thought.

6. My friends have been around for me, no questions asked, no matter how difficult it has been some days.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a rare Friday night home alone, tomorrow my plans include visiting the church where I was married 24 years ago and Sunday, I want to have a great big breakfast cooked by someone else!

Thoughts on a book: The Scarpetta Factor

I like Patricia Corwell's writing because the plot is always a puzzle and sometimes you have the first pieces so early you dont recognise them for what they are......  Why note a homeless man?  Why does a rival give you a hug?

This book continues the backstory that has been an undercurrent over the past six or seven of these crime novels which follow the career of Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner, her niece Lucy and husband Benton Wesley, formerly of the FBI.  The writing is fast paced and hard to put down, not the least because there's always a lot to keep in mind.

The story begins with the body of Toni Darien in the Manhatten morgue and Scarpetta's care to make sense of anomalies the body presents.  Nearby her husband Benton, working at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, is beginning to worry about a handmade Christmas card addressed to him, and with a sinister song recorded on its tiny circuit. Scarpetta's niece Lucy is snowbound in Vermont, trying to salvage something from a weekend with her partner and simultaneously searching the internet for clues to the mystery her aunt faces on the autopsy table.  Before long there are threads to follow and tangles to unwind, and Benton realises almost too late that everything is part of something very much bigger and more frightening than anyone but the FBI will believe.

As I read, it occured to me that here was the echo I had felt when I first read the Millenium books....  Lucy Farinelli calls to mind Lisbeth Salander.  Each is a computer whiz-kid, talking in codes that only other similarly minded people can follow, only too aware of how much information is stored and how each store can be opened, accessed and manipulated from afar.  Each is basically a solitary person although Lucy is more socially presentable in her own skin than Lisbeth who communicates best when disguised by dress or the anonymity of a chat room.  Each wears leathers and determinedly androgenous clothes on their slight figures.

It was only when I got to the end of this book that I remembered one of the things that had charmed me when I began to read Scarpetta stories, years ago.....  the cooking.  Pasta, rich aromatic sauces, shopping for ingredients to fill the house with memories of family and friends and times shared; a glass of wine to drink while lovingly preparing the simplest and tastiest of midnight snacks.

I do like a book with lots of different aspects to it!

The Scarpetta Factor, Patricia Cornwell, Griffin Press 2009 (ISBN 978-0-316-73317-5)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paris in July - 8

Wanted to share the talents of my friend Liz who has not long returned from Europe.  This is her evocative and beautifully coloured photograph of a Paris morning through her hotel window.

What I love most about this challenge is reading everyone's memories and reviews and recipes.  Plus it made me notice french things everywhere, from my placemats in the kitchen and the perpetual calendar on the wall, to the food and furnishings in my local shops. 

What shall we do once July is over?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thoughts on a book: The Believers

I sometimes wonder what motivates me to pick up a book, or a collection of books.  Is there something subliminal that guides my hand, or am I simply having a "like that cover" day?  

Last week I picked up a copy of The Believers by Zoe Heller.  The blurb lead me to think it would be a good book to read that I wouldn't have to struggle through like the last one (The Yiddish Policemen's Union, mused upon earlier this month), determined as I had been to finish it, despite not being sure I was enjoying the ride.

The Litvinoff family, yes its another book with Jewish themes, are the characters.  Parents Joel and Audrey dominate the lives of their three children: adopted Lenny, doormat Karla, and about to be born-again Jew Rosa.  After a brief opening which paints Joel and Audrey in their familiar mariage, and describes their relationships with the three adult children, the remainder of the book deals with the aftermath of Joel's stroke.  There are no medical elements to overwhelm the reader, instead the details are of the life the family thought they knew, and what had in fact been happening instead.

I found parallels with Audrey's observation of her new life while Joel lingered in hospital

"By day she sat at Joel's bedside, in a narcaleptic stupor: by night she rattled around the Perry Street house, a lone pea in an oversized pod.  Her domestic life, which for forty years had been framed by Joel's clamorous, demanding presence, had become a shambolic, unpunctuated was simply that without Joel she didn't have the gumption, the discipline, to call a halt to the day by herself."

...and that odd feeling that comes later when life keeps on going

"A few nights ago, Jean persuaded Audrey to accompany her to an anti-war meeting in Chelsea.  Audrey needed to get out in the world and recharge her batteries, she said....It had seemed a reasonable enough idea at the time.  But the outing had proved to be a terrible mistake.  Ausdrey was not ready to put her personal calamity in the perspective that social life required.  It did not reassure her to know that life in the great world was going on as before: it offended her."

Oh I know that feeling, but the rest of the story belong entirely to the Litvinoffs.  The women were overshadowed by the life their parents led and undermined in the lives they created for themselves.  They seemed to be unplanned by-products of a thisty sexlife and just had to be endured and bullied into adults.  Nothing either woman does meets with parental approval, only in the last pages does Audrey show any empathy for Karla and she isn't even around to hear it.  Their adopted brother, addicted to heroin and whatever else he can persuade his doting mother to pay for, seems to have slipped through life without boundaries and at thirty-four is still only a sketchy man.

It might not sound like a great story, but its a good read and I did indeed stay in bed this morning til I finished it, BECAUSE I wanted to finish it.  I may even keep the book, a positive affirmation in a house with many bookshelves and all of them full.

The Believers - Zoe Heller, Fig Tree (Penguin) 2008

Paris in July - 7 "Cat's Tongues"

 After leaving a comment on Tamara's blog about celebrating Bastille Day at school with chocolate Langues de Chat, I thought I'd try and find out why they were such a tradition for our french mistress.  For those who didn't read my comment, Mademoiselle shared them with us every year, but I dont remember ever being told why anyone would want to make a cats tongue from chocolate........  definitely weird.

Haven't found anything yet, but along the way I discovered that the Japanese make them (here's the link) and so do the Germans (as you can see here), but the only french cats tongues I have found to date are biscuits.  And while searching, as you do, I came across this blog which might be fun to read too.....combining a few of my favourite things in one place.

So maybe this tradition that I thought I had discovered at school was in fact my french teacher's own little chocolate obsession, disguised as a teaching tool.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Paris in July - 6

I have a secondhand bookshop that is my first call every Saturday morning.  This week I was idly browsing while the rest of the family bought and sold, and I found a gem to add to the cat book collection AND share for this challenge.  Look for more information about "Paris in July" here.

ZAT CAT ! by Chelsey McLaren  Its a tail (!) of a cat who falls on his feet, as all cats do, and creates havoc at 'Le "wild & glamorous" de Paree! C'est l'ouvre Spectaculaire du Grand Couturier Monsieur Pierre.I'd love to be able to reproduce more of the text but permission from the publisher might take too long for this challenge.  The font is handlettered by the author, and the illustrations - whimsical pen and pencil sketches, deceptively simple and stylised - are a delight.  If you ever smiled at the amount of information conveyed by a few lines in a Ronald Searle sketch for a St Trinians story, you'll love these.  I especially like the translations of occasional french phrases... they appear like footnotes at the bottom of each page, accompanied by a little sketch of the Eiffel Tower.  Not that you'd need them because the simplicity of the text makes it very clear what is meant, even if you dont have a word of french at all.

Published in 2003 by Scholastic Press, a division of Scholastic Inc.  NY

Friday Fill-ins 186

1. I feel certain that this weekend will be full of good things.

2. ...but I might have to give up sleeping to catch up on all the things I need to do.

3. Do not stand in my way tomorrow.

4. The best thing about every day is that each one is completely unique.

5. It's hard to know how much more to do before bed.

6. I think I'll just start at the beginning and hope that everone else follows suit.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to reading the next chapter, tomorrow my plans include having dinner with friends I haven't seen in ages and Sunday, I want to lie in bed til lunchtime and finish my book!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts on a book: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Happy to admit that I picked up this book on its cover alone because I liked its retro feel and I imagined a sort of Dick Tracy narrative that would be easy to read.  Since I was due to spend a few days recuperating, I also thought it wouldn't tax the post-anaesthetic brain too much either.  Wrong on both counts.

The detective is Meyer Landsman.  He's obsessive, addicted and driven.  He carries the weight of his failed marriage, his lost son, his dead father, his dead sister.............and he lives in a hotel room that you can almost smell.  One night a man is found murdered in another room and the night manager calls Landsman to take a look

Landsman puts on his trousers and shoes and hitches up his suspenders.  Then he and Tenenboym turn to look at the doorknob, where a necktie hangs, red with a fat maroon stripe, already knotted to save time.  Landsman has eight hours to go until his next shift.  Eight rat hours, sucking at his bottle, in his glass tank lined with wood shavings.  Landsman sighs and goes for the tie.  He slides it over his head and pushes the knot up to his collar.  He puts on his jacket, feels for the wallet and shield in the breast pocket, pats the sholem he wears in a holster under his arm, a chopped Smith and Wesson Model 39.  

"I hate to wake you, Detective," Tenenboym says.  "Only I noticed you don't really sleep."

"I sleep," Landsman says.  He picks up the shot glass that he is currently dating, a souvenir of the World's Fair of 1977. "Its just that I do it in my underpants and shirt."

....and that's where it all gets tricky because the vocabulary is rapidly filling with words I dont know, that I've never heard, that are clearly part of the Jewish patois.  Before long I am absorbed in the culture of a jewish community in Alaska, a product of post-war migration I know nothing about until now.  The plot is, in the end, deceptively simple but bound up in so much Jewish tradition, suspicion and hierarchy that I am lost.  

For several days I have picked the book up and read a chapter or more, then once more put it aside, only to pick it up again because I want to know the end.  Finally I got a rug, a pot of tea, curled up with the cat and decided to read to the end....Landsman is dogged and determined.  The murder of the rabbe's son will be unraveled, the mystery of the chess game will be solved, Landsman's miserable life will be re-shaped.  There are some of the usual plot steps: a feared policeman in another jurisdiction that turns out to be an old friend, a partner's loyalty in the face of overwhelming opposition, heavy-handed FBI.  At the end, Landsman solves the myteries by reaching a calm space with his ex-wife that allows him to rethink the evidence and look again at what he could have seen the first time.

Now for something different........

Paris in July - Memories 5

The Arc de Triomphe, designed by Jean Chalgrin,  commemorates Napoleon's victories and was erected in the Place Charles de Gaulle, taking several years to finish.  It is 167 feet (49m) tall and 147 feet (45m) wide.

I'm including two pictures I took of the Arc because when I was choosing between them I remembered a conversation we had at the time about "holiday snaps".... I was torn between wanting to simply record places I had visited but also record our family trip to Europe, although at the time I was convinced it would be only the first of many (wrong!!).  I imagined a sort of coffee table book full of pictures we had taken - a catalogue of sights.  Just as well as I came to my senses pretty quickly and included us in the pictures too. I was trying to avoid the dreaded slide-night commentary  "Here we are in front of the Arc de Triomphe, and here we are walking up the street, and here's me buying a coffee but you cant really see the shop too well....." etc etc

So here are two happy fellows, posing for the photographer to prove they were there!  Peter's terrible old waxy coat survived many more years and I think still lives in the bottom of the "in-case-we-get-a-flat-tyre" box in the boot of the car.  Simon's woolly suit was the best thing we bought (from Tesco for a song) and kept him snug in every country.  Its in a suitcase in the top of my wardrobe!

Friday, July 16, 2010


1. This is what life does. It lets you feel the very highest heights, it fills your world with friends and experiences, it sobers you in times of sadness.

2. with that in mind, who wouldn't want to stay out there and appreciate the moment?

3. Upon reflection, that last chocolate was probably just one too many.

4. I haven't felt quite this uncomfortable for quite a long time.

5. Later, you wake up and wonder if it all really happened, or were you dreaming?

6. I find the easiest thing to do with bad thoughts is to cast them out to the far and boundless sea.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to sleeping off the anaesthetic, tomorrow my plans include sleeping late and Sunday, I want to spend the day with friends, providing someone else does the driving!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Paris in July - Memories 4

I don't know how much this cover proves.... except that it dates from before the addition of the glass pyramid which caused such a furore when it was built........

We got up super early one morning and stood in the queue to get into the Louvre, and we must have left our son with my sister-in-law because I can't imagine we pushed his pram up and down all those stairs.  My husband was keen to see the Mona Lisa, but one look at the crowded gallery where the tiny image hangs was enough for me and I left the brothers to fight their way to the front.  I headed down the stairs into the awesome galleries of Egyptian Antiquities and lost myself in the collections.  My most vivid memory is of being dwarfed by huge columns, and I still feel the sadness I felt then that these magnificent things were hidden in a basement in Europe instead of standing proudly in the African sunshine.

After a day lost inside the Louvre, and to make it up to those of the family who hadn't been with us, we all went out for dinner, and I counted 2CVs in every street, parked across corners and squeezed onto pavements.  How could you not love this little car?  I seem to remember that it was designed to travel across fields and safely transport eggs in a basket on the front seat without causing any to roll about and break.... they still look fairly basic to me, but if someone handed me the keys to one tomorrow, I'd be delighted (black with dark red doors please).

Tonight when I looked back through the Louvre guidebook, there was a photograph of a small marble head, shield shaped and smooth, with just a nose to define it.  Without looking at the text I knew it to be a piece of translucent white marble from the Cyclades, perhaps even Naxos, just like the tiny copy I brought back and which sits on my mantlepiece.  When I bought this guidebook 23 years ago, I could never have imagined going to Naxos and bringing home my own piece of history.

Travel memories are like tentacles snaking their way around and through places large and small, weaving everything together in a way that creates ownership and affection in the mind of the adventurer.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reading this year (aiming for 100...)

 Now I dont really need any excuse to read, and I have an enormous and ever-increasing collection of books on the end of the desk (and beside the bed and beside my favourite chair), but this was a challenge I thought I just might take up....  How hard could it be to read 100 books in a year?  Then I got out my list from 2009 (a sad but true confession of obsession) and found that the total was only 60 something.  And since I had had lots of time for reading last year, maybe it wasn't going to be so easy.  We shall see.

Spin the bottle by Monica McInerney
Absent in the spring by Mary Westmacott (aka Agatha Christie)
Giants bread by Mary Westmacott
The rose and the yew tree by Mary Westmacott
The bone woman by Clea Koff
The end of the alphabet by CS Richardson
Paper Moon by Andrea Camileri
Rounding the mark by Andrea Camileri
The cat who wasn't there by Lilian Jackson Braun
Marley & me by John Grogan
The chocolate lovers club by Carole Matthews
The snack thief by Andrea Camileri
What Alice forgot by Liane Moriaty
How to Hepburn by Karen Karbo
Dear Fatty by Dawn French
The housekeeper and the professor by Yoko Ogawa
Deep sleep by Frances Fyfield
Garden spells by Sarah Addison Allen
The harper's quine by Pat McIntosh
Shadow play by Frances Fyfield
The diving bell and the butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby
A clear conscience by Frances Fyfield
The patience of the spider by Andrea Camileri
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Willful behaviour by Donne Leon
The nightwatch by Sarah Waters (musings in a previous post)
The lizard's bite by David Hewson
The girl who kicked a hornets nest by Steig Larsson (also mused about here)
A child's book of true crime by Chloe Hooper  (my note..... this is No. 29)
The second-last woman in England by Maggie Joel 

Friday, July 9, 2010


1. Layers of clothes, layers of blankets, layers of leaves all over the garden... its winter in Melbourne.

2. The thing I most wish I had more of is insight.

3. I'd be willing to bet that 10 minutes into Monday I'll forget I've just had 2 weeks holiday.

4. My big fat black cat scares the dog.

5. I'm fond of eating

6. ...which is why I do it too much!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to an early night, tomorrow my plans include returning my mother's car that I've been driving for a fortnight and Sunday, I want to get to the market at Mornington!

Paris in July - Memories 3

Before we left Australia for the UK in '87, my Dad said we should try to do one of two things in Paris.... go to Moulin Rouge, or dine on the Seine courtesy of des Bateaux Mouches.  I cant remember why we chose the river, but we did and here's the proof. 

I have no recollection of what we wore (clearly I've been wearing black for a while) but I know we were very cold when the cruise finished and we were staggering out to find a taxi home.  I had a big coat but my husband was braving the Paris winter in his shirt and Reefer jacket. Somehow we negotiated the intersection of Pont des Invalides without being run over and I remember Peter confidently stepping out onto the road and flagging down a taxi;  we had had so much to drink that its a miracle we even remembered our address, and I know the taxi driver thought we were crazy tourists.  Which we were.  We had so much fun that night and it always made us laugh to remember.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Paris in July - Memories 2

Finally found the album from Paris and remembered immediately how it rained for most of our short time in Europe, Paris being absolutely no exception.  Our son was warmly dressed and undoubtedly the most comfortable since he was being pushed around in an umbrella stroller complete with sheepskin and all-encompassing weatherproof cover (no wonder he doesn't remember anything!!).  Of course he was only 6 months old......... I know, what were we thinking??? 

One day we walked all over the city and aimed to go up the Eiffel Tower, no matter what it cost, but we couldn't take the pram and neither of us would go without the other to share the view, so we stayed on the ground and looked up.  We also thought we would return and do it some other time, but it wasn't to be.  That's a lesson in seizing the day.

Later we walked further away and I was able to take the traditional photograph and since it was a cloudy day, maybe the view from the top would have been an anti-cllimax anyway.  This all reminds me of just how difficult some things were for us travelling with young children, not the least being my shyness combined with the need to breastfeed my son, and there seeming to be nowhere to do it outside of our room.  Apart from anything else, it was really cold, and I had so many layers on that the whole thing was just a bit unfeasible.  On the other hand of course we met all sorts of people who were charmed by our two families travelling so far from Australia, and they went out of their way to make things easy for us.  We got by with school french (me and my brother-in-law) and lots of gestures and smiles.

More pictures next time..... (and don't forget to join in)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: The girl who kicked the hornet's nest

Don't know which is more exhausted, my mind or my hands...this is a big book.  I have had this on my pile to read since early in the year and have been waiting for a long break from other things so that I could devote my time to it.  When I read the first two books in this Millenium trilogy I found myself incapable of putting them down except to sleep, and even then it was hard.

Within a couple of pages of this third book I was back in the darkness of the end of the second and all the nasty characters flooded back.  This book is so much more about Salander than before and a side effect of reading her story is my cancellation of several online memberships I joined when I was bored..... who knows who has been reading my hard drive now.  One of the telling aspects of this book was the obvious gap between the intelligence and understandings of the old guard and the realities of life in this technological web....the certainties held by those members of "The Section", as Blomkvist called them, are no longer certain; secrets can be unlocked in ways never imagined in the past.

This story is as violent and judgemental as its predecessors, readers being swept along with Blomkvist's convictions and morality.  I wanted the resolution of Salander's life to be what it was, and I expected Berger to make the decisions she did.  I have no knowledge of Europe in the Cold War except as a reader, but I suspect books give us only the tip of the iceberg - I am thankful to have lived in the distant South Pacific.  

This review is for me but still I have not revealed the storyline since others may well read my thoughts here.  I am driven to read books that swallow me into their story so that time outside the book ceases to exist; where did the last two days go?  That said, I think the characters can end here and I do not pine for a surprise find on a lost Larsson laptop.  These people, Salander and Blomkvist and all the others....they have had enough excitment in their lives and I'm not sorry their stories have stopped.  

Anything I read next will seem lighter by comparison.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Fill-ins #183

1. When it's quiet I get suspicious.
2. I haven't cooked anything frivolous in what seems like a month.
3. My heart is not in it today.
4. I dont think I've dreaded a time of year as much as this July.
5. In the town where I was born its cold and wintery which is why I love it.
6. His sense of humour is something I really miss about my significant other.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to eating Thai, tomorrow my plans include a birthday party for a friend and Sunday, I want to eat poffertjes for breakfast!

Paris in July - Memories

Just after our son was born, we flew to London to spend Christmas with family and counted our pennies in the New Year to see if we could afford some time in Europe.  We ferried across the Channel in the pouring rain and landed for our big adventure: two brothers and their wives and three small children between us.  What we lacked in money (which was lots) we made up for in enthusiasm.....

In Paris we booked into a miniature pension and our room was not much bigger than the bed.  Somewhere we fitted a porta-cot, bags and baby stuff.  Our room was on the third floor and when we opened the long thin french doors our view was of the internal circular courtyard where every room had a wrought iron balcony decorated with little bits of washing. The outside walls were crazed and dusty grey, the iron was probably rusted, but it was like nothing I had ever seen before and I loved it instantly.

Listening to Eartha Kitt  "C'est si bon" and going to find the old photo album to see what pictures I took....

(Don't forget to check here and join in)


"What is fame? an empty bubble:" so said James Grainger back in the 1700s.  But I like bubbles, especially on sunny days when sitting on the grass with children, bubble wands and bottles of soap suds in hand.  And fame?  I think the closest thing I'll come to it is my portrait which appears now in my profile here and elsewhere.  

I have learned that my friends are quite capable of conspiring behind me to reach this end.  My dear and distant friend Lisa, herself I suspect to be a card carrying crazy cat lady, hatched a scheme and roped in Debbie who asked Ali who checked with Liz who studied my cats closely.  The result is indeed a small treasure.  Haven't checked with the cats, but suspect that MrP will be unimpressed as usual, mainly because he doesn't have centre stage.  Basil will be disgruntled that he has to share my lap, and doubtless hoping the book doesn't get too heavy and begin to lean on him (as indeed books have in the past).

I hope many other pet-obsessed friends will follow the practice of imortalising the addiction by visiting the gallery of Susan Faye.  She was kind enough to interview me and the rest of the story is here.