Saturday, June 22, 2013

A midsummer night's dream

Joss Whedon's Much Ado about Nothing - bunked off work early to see it yesterday afternoon and it's wonderful.  See it if you can!

 If you've seen anything else by Whedon, the gang's all here.  Nathan Fillion has a superb cameo part and Sean Maher is genuinely menacing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 books, #46-50

Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.

Harrison Opoku is eleven and a recent immigrant from Ghana; when he sees a boy he knows slightly stabbed in the street, he decides to investigate in a Boys' Own Adventure sort of way.  Unfortunately he has no idea of the danger he could be leading himself into.  This is, however, quite a joyous book; Harri's sense of fun and enjoyment of life come through, and the details of a pre-teen's daily life, from brands of trainers to how he gets on with his big sister, are poured out in an infectiously amusing way.  I won't spoiler you for the end of this; two of us in our book group didn't see it coming, the third had read the reviews and did...  This was one of the shortlisted books in the "popular" Booker a couple of years ago, and the second we've read as a group; it was a good shortlist!

The betrayal of trust, by Susan Hill. London: Vintage, 2012.

A Simon Serrailler book; and another extremely good novel from Susan Hill.  As ever, you get much more than a detective plot from Hill; and how much murder there is in the book is largely the opinion of the reader.   The detective plot centres around the discovery of bones belonging to Harriet Lowther, a 15-year-old who vanished 16 years before, in a landslide; subsequently, more bones from an unidentified young woman are found.  This is interwoven with the continuing story of Simon and his family, with a generous helping of the continuing discussion of assisted suicide which has run through the series for several books now... Definitely a series you need to read in order, and I have the next one waiting.

Outrage, by Arnaldur Indridason [audiobook].  Read by Garrick Hagon. Bath: Oakhill, [n.d.]

I found this slow to get into, but it built up on me; and the details about Icelandic society are always very interesting.  There are holes in the plot, I think, but this may have been my earlier inattention, and I really didn't enjoy Garrick Hagon's reading of this all that much. Perhaps it was having an Icelandic novel read to me in an American accent, even with a reader as skilled as Hagon, which just didn't strike the right note.

A question of identity, by Susan Hill. London: Chatto and Windus, 2012.

The most recent Simon Serrailler and entirely up to standard.  Old ladies in a new sheltered housing development are being killed in a characteristic way, and there's a connection with an earlier series of murders  I guessed the identity of the killer fairly early on, without really knowing why I was sure; but that really makes no difference with Hill because the plot isn't all there is.  Meanwhile Simon's life takes another turn, and another family secret develops.

White nights, by Ann Cleeves. London: Pan, 2009.

At an art exhibition, Jimmy Perez comforts a man who breaks down in front of a painting; twelve hours later, the man is found hanging.  When it becomes clear that the death is not a suicide, Perez and his colleague Taylor from Inverness investigate.  The Shetland landscape and the intertwined community again play a part in this novel; the "white nights" signify a sort of midsummer madness, where no-one can sleep.  Perez's relationship with Fran Hunter develops during this book; I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them...

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Lyon, day two

So - next day dawned... not exactly bright and clear, but it dawned.


Set off for my first goal, the Musée des tissus et Musée des arts décoratifs.  Before that, though, I needed to find a post office.  Left the house, found the Metro again (I'd used it the night before but my lack of sense of direction is legendary), and was at the right stop for both, and the right entrance for both, in 15 minutes.  Go, me.

Then, things became a little derailed.  Walked out of the Metro exit and saw this in the Place Antonin Poncet.


Had to investigate; the colours against that grey, grey sky...


It only got better as you approached it.  Metal flowers on a grid...


Joyous thing; great shame they've put it behind a fence...


I had to wait until I got home to find out what it was; English-language Wikipedia says the artist is Jeong-hwa Cheoi, French-language Wikipedia says Choi jeong-hwa; both agree that the artist is South Korean and that the piece is called Flower Tree.  It was lovely.

ETA advice from a Korean-speaking friend is that it's Choi Jeong-hwa - more strange and beautiful things to be found by following the link.

Had the usual surreal French post office experience; multiplicity of counters but none really seeming to want to sell you stamps...

On the way out though, saw this: yes, you're in Vichy France, love.  More of that later.


I don't understand why the engraving happened like that though; surely you'd left-justify first names and right-justify surnames?  I know that's not the most important thing; but it just made me slightly sad that care hadn't been taken.

After an unfruitful stop at an art supplies shop (they had Herbin paper in the window; I called in to see if they had Herbin ink, but no) I got to the textiles museum:


The Musée des arts décoratifs closes for lunch, so the museum staff were cantering everyone through there first; and frankly, I mostly wish I hadn't bothered.  Lots and lots of slightly dusty Louis [insert regnal name here] furniture and rooms.  There was, however, one glorious room of "contemporary" silverware; amusingly, the Salvador Dali pieces were invisible to someone my height (5' 3.5") because of the strange shelving...  But some of the rest of it... Beautiful.

The Musée des textiles is utterly gobsmacking.  There's a whole room of weaving from Egypt in the 2nd-3rd centuries.  There are the most beautiful Persian carpets.  There are gorgeous Italian vestments from the 15th century.  There are several rooms of  Lyonnais silks. And the labelling is uniformly rubbish, where it's present at all...  But if you get the chance; go.  It's amazing...  I'd give you a link, but it's broken...

Coming out of there, it was time for lunch.  A very good principle discovered a decade and a half ago is "eat where the people who work nearby eat" - when it gets to noon, and all the white vans and utility vans file off at the same motorway exit, follow them... turns out it works on foot, too.  When I saw a number of people file out of the police station and go into the bistrot  next door, I had a look at the plat du jour and decided that confit de canard might be the way to go.  And it was.  Great place; confit, pommes dauphinoises et ratatouilles and a glass of good Macon for 12 Euros.


The afternoon was... different.  My next destination was somewhat more grim but no less interesting.


First reaction was that this looked like any secondary school.  Turns out that wasn't such a bad preconception; it had been a medical school in the nineteenth century and now has a lot of government agencies in it; but the architecture at the front is post-War because the Americans bombed it quite comprehensively because it was the Gestapo HQ for Lyon. Here's the view from inside the courtyard.


The museum itself is excellent.  It's all very wordy, of course; but it has a very large audiovisual element.  You can watch and listen to the survivors of the deportation talking about their experiences.  There were several secondary school parties going round at the same time, and they were obviously very aware of the history; and I was able to tag along with them to a special screening of a documentary on the Klaus Barbie trial.  Not necessarily what you want to be doing on your holiday, but the trial was going on while I was in my first year of college and we followed it quite closely in oral French sessions.  I thought I knew a lot about the trial, but actually seeing the footage of survivors giving their testimony was incredibly powerful and I was glad I'd brought tissues. As ever with French teenagers, very impressed by their total silence and attention when something really catches them; lots of irritating mucking about in the museum, total concentration during an old, slightly scratched documentary film.

Excellent day.  Bought a veal chop and some mustard on the way home...


Saturday, June 08, 2013

Lyon, day one

So: I went on holiday.

I last went abroad at the end of 2010 and had a two-day holiday in Luxembourg after a conference; this year, I was sitting in the house on an utterly miserable weekend day at the end of February and decided that was it; I had to go somewhere this year...

A friend had recommended renting a flat; it had never occurred to me that you could rent somewhere for just a few days, but it turns out it was possible.  I got mine through this website; the couple running it are lovely...

Not a huge space, but considerably more than a hotel room, and cosy (it was cold when I arrived and the radiator was on):


The quirkiest element was something I didn't photograph properly.  On the photo below, if you look in the mirror you can see the bedroom, a sleeping platform up a ladder from the main room, above the dark ceiling in the first photo.  I could sit up in bed (because I'm short, and short-waisted) but my head brushed the ceiling... (This was all in the photos when I booked)


Hall, with really nice bathroom off it - best shower ever.  Really.


Kitchen; sink at other side.  Almost seduced by halogen hob.  Only almost.


So, there you are; the estate agents' view.  Book away; as long as nobody wants to go next time I do, of course.  And there will be a next time.

Having picked up the keys from the bar round the corner and cased the joint, I went to the supermarket (found via the Web, just round the corner; baby Auchan).  I may have bought too many apéritif-type things.  Possibly.


Here we see the extremes of French supermarket apérofromage - the completely synthetic (with plastic stabby things) and the totally artisanale. (Yes, they're goat nipples.  Of course they are.)  Both excellent in their own way.


Not having TV at home, and loving the rubbish that passes for TV in France, I was anxious to plug in; before I went to the supermarket, had a very frustrating play with the buttons on the two remotes (multiple remotes fill me with dismay; still can't work out how the ones at my parents' work) but decided I'd better get food first.  When I got back and started unpacking into the big armoire in the living room, discovered the small pile of maps and instructions including the ones for the TV.  Yay.

I was going to treat myself to a meal out on the first night; but as ever with plane travel, it had taken forever and I was totally and utterly sick of people; so I'd also picked myself up some ready-made taboulé and some merguez; that and crap French TV; lovely.