Reading in a time of isolation

When we’re all feeling too overloaded by reality at the moment there’s nothing like a Lord of the Rings marathon to escape for a few hours from a world of hand-washing. There’s even a relevant parallel – Frodo went to Mordor to destroy something that was causing people to die, we have to stay isolated to stop something that is killing people, and it is something that we have the power to stop. Be like Frodo, do what has to be done, stay self-isolated – you’re saving someone’s life, maybe lots of someones. Enough rant, maybe. At least for now. But even I can only rewatch LoR so many times in a week, so last night I started watching Hanna – excellent, love it. Only one series (so far) so the binge won’t go too long and I’ll be back to reading!

Mmm reading, actual books, mmmm… when your brain starts to recover enough from the shock of adjusting to this world we’re currently working out how to live in, y’all are going to need to progress from the electronic box and read. And like I can’t always rewatch LoR, I can’t always read work stuff, love it though I do (I could write a post of all the anthropology stuff I plan on reading, now that would be speculative fiction). But back to published fiction written by others for my/our enjoyment. I recently asked my FB friends for recommendations, I was looking for something light or fun or mindlessly violent. I didn’t want to think too much, at the moment I’m being paid to think and sometimes we all just need a little gratuitous…. imagination to get us through. I offered bonus points for female authors since that’s still a penchant of mine. I’ll include their list below, or I might just weave them in, but for now I need to repay their generosity with a list of my own.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club Book 1) by [Goss, Theodora]In a previous post I recommended Theodora Goss’s now complete trilogy The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. Love them all, totally what I’d love to be reading more of at the moment, but I’ve finished the series and so has Goss. Sniff. If you want some fantasy whimsy you can’t go past Laini Taylor and her trilogy that starts with Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well”

my heart aches… luscious indulgence, blue hair and chocolate cake… I mentioned one of her books Night of Cake and Puppets once before. Just divine. When I want something divine I’m with my FB beloveds who are always happy to recommend any Kerry Greenwood, do yourself a favour, read them… Corrina Chapman, Miss Fisher… read them all. I also agree with my recommenders that Kate Atkinson is awesome and I can’t wait to read Big Sky. Wonderful Chicago based crime and flawed heroine VI Warshawski is always reliable at the hands of Sara Paretsky, wonderful local crime stuff.

Bad Memory (Jessica Shaw Book 2) by [Gray, Lisa]Also in crime, yes I’m realising that I’ve spent a lot of time in crime and mindless violence lately for some reason… anyway, also in crime is Lisa Gray who started a Jessica Shaw series that’s in a style similar to Sara Gran. These are both young women writers, very definitely writing for an anti-heroine millennial audience – these are raw, broken protagonists and totally awesome. Not for the reader who doesn’t accept that their young protagonists may do drugs and go off the rails from time to time. Speaking of millennials, an awesome young friend recommended Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and while I’m only two chapters in, I’m really enjoying it. Unique writing style that takes you way inside the characters, really great. Thanks Rohan.

My number one recommendation follows that trajectory of flawed life and crime: Alexandra Sokolov has just finished her 6 part series that I’m prepared to call as being the current Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve been reading these as published, and you must read them in order. OMFG. Violent. Inside America today. Just absolutely brilliant if you like your FBI agents conflicted, your vigilante’s hot and feminist, and the world a bit better without some toxic masculinity. Justice. Do yourself a favour, lock the door, claim the couch and read the Huntress FBI Thrillers.

Another writer I adore who has flawed incredibly powerful female protagonists is Nicola Griffith. Aud (rhyme’s with shroud) Torvingen is everything you want in an angry empowered woman breaking things for justice. The first book is The Blue Place, followed by Stay and Always. I am inviting you to pain however as not all of those are available in e-format everywhere. Griffith also writes SciFi that for mine is up there with Ursula Le Guin in terms of it’s creativity and depth: Ammonite is a mistress-piece. Also in the most amazing sci-fi tradition of Le Guin is NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy (finished). Just breathtakingly awesome, fabulous. Can’t believe I hadn’t read them earlier. I see that there are more Jemisin books for me to read, so yay for that!! If you were a fan of Iain M Banks, who I forgive for being a man, you’ll love Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. Wow. I’ve only read the first but wow. Really complex so I would say I’m going to re-read the first one and then keep going in order, just because it’s hard to keep straight in your head and to be honest I just don’t remember the characters well enough at this point.

Back to Nicola Griffith’s though, proving the enormity of her talent is Hild, her historical reimagining of the life of Hildegard the Abbess of Whitby, long before her conversion. Just brilliant historical fictionalization, luscious and rich and womanly.

I stThe Ides of April: A Flavia Albia Mystery (Flavia Albia Mystery Series Book 1) by [Davis, Lindsey]ill mourn the passing of Ariana Franklin (Diana Norman), I loved her Mistress of the Art of Death series, must read some of the books she published as Diana Norman. Of course I also enjoy Cassandra Clark’s Hildegard of Meaux books AND in writing this I’ve just discovered there are two I haven’t read yet!! YAY, happy Wendy. Staying in historical fiction, Lindsey Davis has a new book coming and I do totally love her Flavia Alba novels set in Ancient Rome and focusing on of course Flavia Alba, a private eye and hysterically funny young wife. Awesome fun. Very dry.

I have some Indigenous Australian and American women on my kindle sample list – looking forward to those, but there are some days when risking a new author feels like a gamble I’m not up for at the moment. One I read a while back is Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby and it was great if you’re looking for Australian Indigenous writing about life being an Indigenous woman today. And I see she has another Too much Lip, that I must look at.

I MUST get myself into Toni Morrison, unforgivable to be hesitating, I have the Song of Solomon waiting. If you’re looking for Black American heartache of the most contemporary kind I recommend Jesmyn Ward’s Men we Reaped. It is such an important book, Black Lives Matter y’all, and those young men were killed by the violence of the American system… it’s a compulsory read now that I pause and reflect. Read more Black women folks!

While I’m on my soapbox about race and equity and justice I’m also getting picky as I get older, not only do I prefer reading women writers, but if I’m going to read a book set in Africa about African people I want it written by an African woman writer… so sorry I’ve gone right off Alexander McCall Smith… sad because I did love those books, but these day’s I see it as cultural appropriation and I’m not comfortable with that. I’d rather go looking for the awesome African women writers like Chimaamanda Ngozi Adichie. I find Olivia Butler’s writing not to my taste, but for African Sci-Fi I believe you can’t go past Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series – loved that to bits. I like the look of Elif Shafak’s work too although I’m yet to read those. If you’re looking for Palestine I recommend Consuelo Saah Baehr’s Three Daughters, it’s really special. Of course the Title image for this post is from a book by the late Marsha Mehran, an Iranian refugee who wrote two of the world’s most beautiful books Pomegranate Soup and Rosewater and Soda Bread, they’re about being a woman from Iran adjusting to life in Ireland. A struggle that Mehran herself was tragically unable to make.

For those of you in Asia and in need of a laugh I strongly recommend Ovidia Yu – just so much fun. She has two crime investigation series set in Singapore: Aunty Lee is set in current times and is full of wonderful cooking, I swear you can taste the page. Su Lin instead inhabits pre-WWII Singapore and the first book is The Frangipani Tree: it is a total delight. I’m currently listening to The Tensorate Series which is brilliant sci-fantasy from Singaporean queer non-binary author JY Yang. Totally fabulous to inhabit a gender fluid, sci-fi universe that has no white colonising cowboys (we all know I love Firefly, but you also all know exactly what I mean by this comment). French/Vietnamese American author Aliette de Bodard has three really enjoyable Asian sci fi books in The Universe of Xuya series. Now that I’ve looked at her webpage there are recipes and more books to try. I especially like the ideas of her Vietnamese inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast where they’re both women and the Beast is a dragon… curious!

And while we are in Asia but returning to America, do read The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. It’s a fictionalised fantasy autobiography that is really worth taking the time to explore.

That should be enough to keep you occupied for now, do let me know if you have other ideas to add to my pile of potentials. There are so many worlds in our imaginations just waiting for a text to unlock their potential…

So if you’re thinking about going and socialising, remember grab a book instead. There will be a day for meeting up with friends,

Image result for this is not that day

 

A bike and the God’s revenge

So today the God’s decided to remind me of their potency after I’ve been teaching my 18 year olds that in the Odyssey they’re literary devices and that Marx was right that religion is the opium of the people, there is no god but man himself [sic.].

My backpack laden with laptop, dinner as I’d been offered a double shift, tea and water, texts, whiteboard markers and glasses. My person ensconced in tights, socks, boots, jumper, coat, gloves, hat, thankfully I remembered my pants before heading out the door and managed to pull them on. I raced to the lift, well as much as a heavily weighted tortoise can race. I checked both public transport apps and the sms and found there was no bus. Backpack too heavy to walk I decided it was time for a bike. Fortunately there were bikes at the rental and I’d brought my oci-straps.

I eventually strapped my backpack on the front of the bike, eventually as the oci-straps kept springing off. I’ve discovered others don’t call them that, was that just my Dad’s name for them or some special 4WD insider lingo? You know what I mean, they have hooks on each end and stretch, they keep stuff strapped in place, allegedly. Just as I was about to mount I discovered my jacket zip had parted at the bottom so had to take off my gloves, balance the bike while unzipping and re zipping and then I could be on my way. Don’t pick on the gloves by the way, it was 5C.

Of course as I set off from the bike stand a bus came along. Anyway I’m riding along and ping. There’s a noise in the front wheel. I keep going and the noise escalates. After a couple more blocks I notice there are no longer any octopi holding my backpack in place.

I managed to get to the side of the road and dismount without falling off – a singular advance on recent rides. Of course you’ve guessed the first oci-strap was wound around the front wheel’s shaft, the second was just loose and tangled around the handlebars. Balancing that bike with a 10kg backpack on the front while trying to unwind that oci-strap was no mean feat. But, eventually untangled and re-strapped I continued my ride. I did vaguely wonder why my pants felt lose.

Eventually I got to the library where one returns one’s bike, and felt quite proud when I dismounted again without falling. Docked the bike successfully and got the green light. Hey it’s $1200 fine if you lose the bike. But my pride disappeared when I reached forward to unstrap my backpack and my pants fell down.

Pull up pants. Button. Zip.

All I can say is praise the goddess for opaque black tights, and that today there was no snow.

Divvy bike 2

Weather’s gone from Steamer to Fridge, & I’m stocking my Freezer

 

img_2584-1.jpgThis is not a food blog, but food’s part of my way of coping with the unfamiliar so you get to see some of what I cook. It also explains why the one “homesick” thing that brought me to tears was the absence of rice bran straws from American stores. I’m committed to my cereal recipe! Cereal is my comfort food. Anyway I’ve made minestrone, smoked ham & chickpeas (pictured) and pumpkin soup for the freezer. Cauliflower curry is next. I’ve bought two coats – one feels like I’m a walking around in a down sleeping bag! I’ve procured lined gloves and bought two pairs of boots, one for wet and one for when the snow’s more than 2″ deep Mam. Near the coat and boot shops I was distracted by Dr Seuss and the Lego store. I’ve been dehydrated because I’m not drinking enough.

img_2529-1.jpgApart from distracted shopping for boots and coats this week I’ve been about getting into (and resisting) routines, maybe me and the weather too. One day was a steamy 27, the next maxed out at 9C and I thought I was living in a fridge. Apparently 10C max (<50F) is the new routine for weather until it gets actually cold. Even with boots and coats I know the weather’s changed, but the locals don’t think this is cold yet. Today the modem man (don’t ask, but yes, again) said this is his perfect temperature, loves it. This is a man in a tshirt and shorts… I’m getting into a gym routine. Have done a full week of settled uni classes and felt prepared. I’ve paid bills, cleaned my apartment, found where to get my trousers taken up so they don’t drape in the puddles. Eaten a ruben with sour kraut that stung my lips in a cafe that reminded me of Scheherazade, felt lonely a bit, you know, life.

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img_2543I’ve been working on my study-life balance, although there’s been some procrasti-life balance for sure. Choir rehearsals started this week and I nearly cried I had so much fun, couldn’t stop smiling. I got turned inside out trying to find the rehearsal space and saw this room – have you noticed a theme in many of my Chicago photographs yet? No not ivy, although maybe that too. Montreal was street art, Chicago is…. Anyway we started learning a Bruckner motet and a South African hymn in Xhosa and I was just in seventh heaven. Our first concert is with Sweet Honey in the Rock. You politically radical, post-colonial feminist types, get listening! And the rest of you, well, if you don’t know them have a listen, ethical, gospel and good fun singing – yay. Oh and an Alto Lady who lives near me has offered to drive me home after rehearsal so I won’t have to walk in dark and snow. Nice.

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img_2518I’ve almost come off the back of the treadmill because of course the speed is in mph and one doesn’t walk at 5.5-6 mph. I then climbed the 11 floors to my apartment after gym because the power was out. That was the day after I bought a flashlight despite the man in the hardware store telling me that the power never goes off in Chicago. We had quite a chat because I went in to buy a torch, I asked for a “big torch”. The hardware gentleman looked at me quizzically and took me to the back of the store, to a rack of 6′ stakes topped with kerosene wick contraption things! “No”, I said, “a torch”. “Yes”, he said holding his stake ready to enter The Temple of Doom (I’d say the Mines of Moria but Gandalf’s staff was smaller). “It’s like a cylinder, with a globe, batteries”, I said desperately trying to describe a torch in non-phallic terminology and sign language. “It’s like a flashlight!!” The light turned on, we laughed, I got a flashlight and batteries and the next day (at midday) the power went off. The power never goes off in Chicago, it must be me.

While walking everywhere I’m enjoying looking at leaves starting to change colour, jumping puddles, watching squirrels rush about collecting their foods. Still enjoying the architecture and smiling at summer’s last enduring flowers. Love the hydrangeas. I’ve walked past a group of Chinese ladies doing tai chi in the park a few times. Not sure why but they make me smile. Some sitting with the children in the playground, the rest moving slow and deliberate. There’s a lot to be said for slow and deliberate.

 

 

Life is a minestrone

 

Soundtrack: 10CC, but who knew that?
I thought it was Weird Al… most odd

Some members of the audience will understand the title… for the rest of you, well google is key to your age. I promised you a blog a week while I’m here, and already I’m behind. Sorry about that. I’m also already behind on my class work so this is going to be brief tonight. Chicago is amazing. The temperature has gone up and down a lot – hot, cold, cold, cold, hot and back to cold. Apparently the hots have to disappear before they turn the heating boilers on in my apartment building. However, despite the chill my apartment is sorted and somewhere in the next couple of weeks my Australian possessions will arrive and create familiar chaos.

When I’m not in general panic or overcome by loneliness I’m really happy. Routine is starting to arrive: my class schedule is settled (albeit having changed more times than my underwear this week). Tuesday after class is apartment cleaning time, Thursday is washing and cooking day (hence my clean underwear and the minestrone). I will catch up on my reading, although Durkheim and his fascination with Suicide as a major first week’s reading would never have been a therapist’s recommendation for intelligent people, mostly single and without spawn, who’ve just had a major life change. Anyone who’s read it will know the only additional “risk” factor Emile describes is being Catholic. Small mercies I’m spared.

Monday night is choir rehearsal (not in the Chapel) and so next week I’m joining the “Lady Tenors” in the University Choir. Not fully sure I can be a Lady, should be a hoot. My online shopping this week’s been similarly edifying: 5 performances at the Lyric Opera, 7 performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Tallis Scholars. Loving this cultured life, meant to be here to study. Sigh.

And the seat of learning
And the flush of success
Relieves a constipated mind
I’m like a gourmet in a skid row diner
A fitting menu for a dilettante

Who knew 10CC wrote stuff like that? So anyway, tonight I made me some minestrone, topped it with parmesan cheese that wasn’t, it was something else from Wisconsin but hey it was magnificent, and so was the soup. Here’s hoping it’s a portent. (The blue mugs have lids, and go in the freezer for microwaving on future nights of chill that are not Thursdays). Love, W xox

Minestrone2.jpg

 

 

 

Going West from Bangkok

So after the market on the railway line, and around the most important thing I did in Thailand there were these “other” bits, that I want to show you before I wrench your hearts with the most important thing I’ve done in terms of being an Australian for a long long while. But more about that later.

I’ve not yet been to a so-called floating market that bore any resemblance whatsoever to the advertised images, so as you may see, along with my highly camouflaged companion I was suspicious. I was right. The lengthy, smelly (the fumes of outboard motors is a theme of this post), uncomfortable, knee breaking journey that went no-where, was less than fabulous, and apart from a great view of a temple and Buddha, was not resembling the advertising materials.

Gorgeous bougainvillea. Continue reading “Going West from Bangkok”

The Market on the Line

We walked the line… Today’s (well yesterday’s but I started this yesterday) first stop, after a 5am pickup, was a local market that sets up on an operating railway track. When the train comes through at 830 am everyone rushes their produce off the line and pulls silly tourists to safety. The main thing wasn’t so much about the train, although trains did form a pretty special overarching theme to the day, but I do love a good Asian food market. Mostly for the characters and the faces, but also the quite amazing produce.

Aren’t they just brilliant? Such a wonderful, alive, vibrant, human Thailand compared to what I’m seeing around here. Continue reading “The Market on the Line”

Time out in Thailand 

After months on the go it’s time for a rest, thankfully I was invited here just outside Pattya in Thailand for 10 days. I’m supposed to be doing nothing and I guess a massage a day is kind of doing nothing. It’s nice. But we all know I’m still writing papers for that Canadian woman in secret.

In between working, blogging and sleeping here are some sights. Maybe I should get out more, but I’m just chilling, staying around about.  Haven’t been brave enough to try the prawns at the street food stalls yet, but they look great.

There are little shrines everywhere, some tiny and cute others more elaborate, all special and cared for. Apparently even the crocodile is for good luck. I’m a bit concerned about the God’s non-communicable diseases risk as they seem to receive a lot of sugar sweetened beverages and cigarettes, but maybe the God’s are grown up enough and can look after themselves. Have to confess to having a few sugar sweetened alcoholic beverages myself. Continue reading “Time out in Thailand “