dolorosa_12: (newspaper)
First up, nominations have now opened for [community profile] waybackexchange, so if you're thinking of participating, you have until 20th February to get your nominations in. I've already used up all my nomination slots, but if anyone has any free, please do drop me a comment here (or a DM) as I have at least one other fandom I'd love to get nominated.

[personal profile] ladytharen has created a great new comm for Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows duology, so if you're interested, please do think about joining!


Join Here!
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This week's books )

This week's TV )

Other weekend stuff )
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
Firstly, and most importantly, [personal profile] firstaudrina is hosting a multifandom friending meme. If you're interested in participating, follow the link below:

multifandom friending meme

A few people have added me as a result of the meme, and rather than doing an entirely new introduction post, I'll point you towards my most recent one, done in January after my post-reveals Yuletide friending meme. Feel free to ask me anything about stuff I brought up in that post.

I'd also like to put in another plug for [community profile] waybackexchange, a fic and art exchange for fandoms older than ten years. Nominations will open in a couple of days' time, and in the meantime, the mod is going through a review period where you can make the case for borderline canons (such as works older than ten years which have been adapted more recently, or canons with various continuities, such as comics). Given most of my favourite canons are old, this is definitely the exchange for me, and I'm looking forward to taking part!

A few links to things I found interesting )

What I've been up to this weekend )

You might have noticed that after my flurry of posting about books read in January, my reading has slowed to a crawl. I can't say I've read anything that's blown my mind: I read a theological history of Judaism in the centuries on either side of the BCE/CE dividing line, as well as early Christianity. While many of its specifics were new to me, its overall argument was not (to sum up: Judaism was in a great deal of flux during this time, and Christianity, when it emerged, was in no means contrary to Judaism at that point because at that time there were several competing understandings of what Judaism was, and basically religions are fluid, evolving things that change to address the concerns of the times), so it didn't exactly blow my mind. I guess it would do if you had a much more rigid understanding of religion, maybe? The other book I've read so far this month, The Pale Queen's Courtyard by Marcin Wrona, is historical-ish fantasy set in an alternative version of ancient Babylon, with fake fantasy Babylonians, Persians and I guess Egyptians. Matthias and I have been on the lookout for books set in this region (not so much Egypt, as it's fairly well served), but there seems to be a real dearth. I found this novel frustrating: flimsy characterisation, cartoonish female characters, and an anachronistic understanding of religion which the author admits in his afterword he added for a sense of conflict. Basically his 'Persian' characters try to impose their religion on others and stamp out the worship of a particular goddess, but in pre-monotheistic times (and even afterwards), peoples might decide to worship a single god, or that other nations' gods were weak or evil, but they generally accepted that other pantheons existed. As I say, the book was frustrating.

I'll wrap this post up here, as it's a bit of a mishmash, but as always, I'm keen to hear what you're reading, watching, cooking and so on. How have your weekends been? And, new people adding me from the friending meme, feel free to ask me anything about stuff raised in my intro post.
dolorosa_12: (dolorosa)
When you last left me after my discovery of K.J. Charles's books, I had read The Magpie Lord and the follow-up short story, 'Interlude with Tattoos'. I followed this up almost immediately by finishing the series, reading A Case of Possession, 'A Case of Spirits', Flight of Magpies and 'Feast of Stephen' in quick succession. They confirmed for me that Charles is above all a generous and compassionate writer whose characters are — villains and antagonists aside — fundamentally decent people trying to do good. And sometimes it's just relaxing and restorative to read things along those lines. Most of the people commenting in my previous post about K.J. Charles recommended Band Sinister and Jackdaw to read next, and I'm sure I'll get onto them at some point.

Other than the three books that I reviewed on my reviews blog, the only other book read in January that I've not mentioned yet was The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, a book by Katherine Paterson that had been on my to-read list for years. Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, although unlike most people I did not discover her through Bridge to Terebithia, but rather Of Nightingales That Weep, her gorgeous, tragic, bittersweet historical fiction set during the time of the Genpei War. So although I did eventually read her contemporary US fiction, I was always much more taken with her historical fiction set in Japan and China. Hence wanting to read The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, which I had not actually realised was a picture book. However, that is what it is — a gorgeous, fairytale of a story with beautiful illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon in the style of Japanese woodblock prints.

It's February, and that means it's time for [community profile] halfamoon again. Every year I think I should participate — I'm mostly only interested in fanworks about female characters, I certainly only write fanfic about female characters, but every year it seems to sweep past me without me being able to get involved. Part of the problem is that I can't just sit down and write fic immediately on the basis of a prompt — it takes me a bit longer than a single day to get inspired, and so everything feels too rushed. But if you like female characters and are faster at producing fanworks than I am, I highly recommend checking it out.

One challenge that I'm definitely going to get involved in is [community profile] waybackexchange, an exchange for works in fandoms that are at least ten years old (i.e. it's been at least ten years since any new installment of canon). There are more details about eligibility in the comm, and I hope that all of you who, like me, are mainly fannish about old stuff, nominate and write for this exchange!

How are your weekends shaping up?
dolorosa_12: (florence glitter)
I have very few regrets in life, but one of them is not seeing certain bands/singers perform live at specific stages of their careers. I'm not talking about musicians who were around before I was alive, but rather performances that took place at a time when I theoretically could have been there, but for whatever reason was not.

The first is The Knife's 'Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience' concert. They perform so rarely, and this setlist has every song that I love, and it's so typically them, with the masks and the big screens and all the other ways they disembody themselves during the performance.



And the live version of 'Heartbeats' as perfored during this concert is just gorgeous.



Now, technically there is no way I could have been seeing The Knife live in Gothenberg in 2006: I lived in Sydney at the time and could hardly go halfway around the world to see a concert, but the other gig I have regret about missing was much more doable: Massive Attack at the Melt Festival in 2010.



It's the usual Massive Attack fabulousness with their usual cast of collaborators up on the stage at different moments, and their live version of 'Atlas Air' here is bitter and furious and everything I could have wanted from the song.



Other bands/singers I regret missing at specific moments during their careers — although I couldn't pinpoint it to a specific concert — are Florence + the Machine during tours for either Lungs or Ceremonials (the later albums just don't do it for me), and Daft Punk when they were touring for the Discovery album.

Do any of you have concert regrets?
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
BBC Scotland has been posting little interviews on Twitter with people who migrated to and made their homes in Scotland. They're all really wonderful, but this one in particular really resonated with me. The specifics are obviously very different (he's a Polish baker living in Scotland, I'm an Australian librarian living in the southeast of England), but the underlying foundations of our respective migration stories — as far as I can tell from a heavily edited three-minute interview — are the same. Our adult lives in our countries of origin didn't feel right, like a coat that didn't fit. We were restless, directionless, not sure how to be where we were, and, like a last, desperate throw of the dice, we left, as if changing our location would enable us to change ourselves. And, astonishingly, that is what happened.

I forget, sometimes, until I compare my life ten years ago with what it is now, how miserable and uncomfortable and frightened I was. I felt like I had lost myself. I didn't realise how depressed and afraid I was until, in complete desperation, I emigrated, and realised, after about a month, that the fog had completely lifted. That the fear had gone. That I felt like myself again, for the first time in my adult life.

Migration isn't always big, and bold, and part of something larger. It's not always for a broader reason: fleeing danger, seeking a better life, moving towards concrete opportunities. Sometimes it's small, and personal, flailing about in the dark, moving blindly forwards without knowing whether what awaits you will be better. And, if you're very, very fortunate — and if your new home welcomes you and allows it — you shed your skin, and figure out who you are, and how to be that person again.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
It's been snowing in much of the UK this weekend, although not in Cambridge. However, it has been freezing here — witness the frost as I walked in to the market this morning. I've just returned from a walk to and from Grantchester, and although it was around 2pm when I was out, much of the frost on the ground has not thawed at all.

Other than walking around in frosty landscapes, I've spent a lot of the weekend out — on Friday night Matthias and I went out to one of our favourite wine shops/bars for a few drinks and food truck dinner, and on Saturday it was my former academic department's annual black tie dinner. The number of current students/postdocs/lecturers I know in the department shrinks every year, but most of the time alumni come back for the dinner, so there's always a good handful of people I know to catch up with at the dinner.

My remaining spare time this weekend has been spent reading. As well as Roshani Chokshi's glorious The Gilded Wolves, which I finished on Friday and will probably review more extensively later, I devoured K.J. Charles's The Magpie Lord while lying in a pool of sunshine on the couch this morning. I know a lot of people in my circle are fans of Charles (if my Goodreads feed is anything to go by), and enough people whose reading tastes I trust seemed to have read some or all of her work, so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a sweet, undemanding m/m romance novel, a great blend of mystery, historical fiction and fantasy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt to me as if it could be an interlude within the universe of Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — the way magic worked felt similar, as did the scaffolding of myth and folklore, although it lacked the literary-ness (and playful re- and deconstruction of the conventions of nineteenth-century novels). And it was just restful to read about fundamentally good and decent people being generous and brave, you know? As a bonus, the ebook also included a short story, 'Interlude with Tattoos', set in the same world, which temporarily fed my hunger for this series — although I suspect I will be buying the next two books in the series as soon as I've finished this blog post!

Other books I've read recently include Katherine Arden's The Winter of the Witch, which again I plan to review more extensively later, The Mermaids in the Basement by Marina Warner (a short story collection in the vein of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, in which biblical tales, stories from Greek myth and so on are given a second-wave feminist twist), and The Prince of Darkness, the fourth in Sharon K. Penman's Justin de Quincy stories (historical mysteries in which the protagonist is a private detective of sorts working for Eleanor of Aquitaine). Both these latter two books had been on my 'to read' list for a very long time, so I'm glad to have finally read them.

What has everyone else been reading this week?
dolorosa_12: (sellotape)
I normally work full-time, but I'm on leave today due to having a few leftover days of annual leave to use up before the end of January. I generally tend to keep a handful of the previous year's days of leave in reserve, because the return to work after Christmas is always draining (visiting my in-laws in Germany, while enjoyable, is not exactly restful, due to the travel and the whirlwind of social events, so I tend to return after the Christmas break feeling almost as tired as I did when it started), and the winter darkness itself is draining. The few days of leftover leave in January, therefore, are a chance to recharge, and just get stuff done: it's amazing how much more I'm able to get done on weekends when I know they're going to be three days, rather than two!

What that meant, over the past three days, for me, was cleaning/housework (cleaning the bathroom, wet- and dry-dusting of all the window frames, skirting boards and hard surfaces, cleaning the fridge, and the usual weekend grocery shopping in the market and laundry), exercise (running with Matthias tonight, and, blissfully, starting the day with a long yoga session which I'd normally not have time to do before work), blogging here at Dreamwidth and responding to the remainder of comments on my various Yuletide fics, and, above all, reading.

I've read five books so far this year, most of which took place over the course of this three-day weekend. Two of the books were Christmas or birthday gifts from Matthias: The Vampire: a New History by Nick Groom, which is an academic book about the development of vampire mythology and literary representations of vampires between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries (everything leading up to Dracula, basically), and N.K. Jemisin's collection of short stories, How Long 'til Black Future Month?, of which I had only read 'The City Born Great' before. The former book was a Christmas present, and the latter a birthday present (I'm born in late December).

The Jemisin short stories were, for the most part, excellent: I generally felt those set in secondary worlds (one was set in the universe of her Dreamblood duology and one in the world of The Fifth Season) were weaker than those set in fantastical versions of various cities in the US. Those latter stories ranged in setting from modern New York to a steampunk alternate history New Orleans in which technological innovation gave Haitian revolutionaries the ability not only to overthrow those who had enslaved them but also thrive and prosper (in stark contrast to what happened to Haiti in reality) and undertake clandestine operations to improve the lot of slaves and free black people elsewhere in the region, with some excellent interludes in the Jim Crow-era US South (a woman's bargain with transplanted European fairy folk aids the civil rights movement), a side trip to Italy, and a return to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These stories are in some ways a love letter to the cities in which they take place, but even more a love letter to black history, culture and communities that have flourished in those cities and regions in spite of everything.

Other than those two gift books, I read Jade City by Fonda Lee, the first in a trilogy about warring families of gangsters in a fantasy East Asian city (it seemed most like Hong Kong to me, but Lee has said that it's an amalgam, rather than directly inspired by a single place). Lee herself has a martial arts background, and it definitely shows — alongside the obvious wuxia influences. I felt it started a bit slowly, but once it got going, it was rivetting, particularly the complex network of obligations, family and marriage ties that underpinned her imagined society. Underneath all the magical jade, deadly intoxicating substances, and shoot-outs in casinos and cafes, Jade City remains a deeply human story, about flawed people, and the lonely cost of power.

I've also been trying to make a dent in my 'to read' list on Goodreads. Towards the end of last year I went through the whole list and looked up how easy it would be to track down the already published books at various libraries, or secondhand, and ordered a bunch of secondhand books. These are just starting to trickle in, and I read one such book, The Singing Stone by O.R. Melling, this morning. This was one of my most adored books when I was a teenager — I borrowed it repeatedly from the public library, and wrote futurefic about the characters, and so on — but I never owned a copy and hadn't read it for at least fifteen years. Given its subject matter (a fantasy retelling of various medieval Irish texts) I was concerned it wouldn't hold up (my background as a researcher of medieval Irish literature means most 'Celtic' fantasy is painful to read), but I shouldn't have worried. It did have a lot of the familiar 'Celtic' fantasy clichés, but its interweaving of myriad different texts (Lebor Gabála Érenn, which is one of the texts I focused on in my PhD, Scél Tuáin meic Chairill, and Cath Maige Tuired were the ones I recognised) was deft, and it mostly held up. It did that irritating thing of completely ignoring the fact that these, like all medieval Irish texts, were composed in ecclesiastical establishments, and have a huge Christian component, instead pretending that they were the work of pre-Christian times, but since basically everyone apart from medievalists thinks 'Celtic' literature is like this, I can't criticise Melling too much (and indeed, the story she was trying to tell wouldn't work if she didn't misrepresent these texts in this manner). In any case, it was a nice little moment of nostalgia, reading one of the books that no doubt subtly influenced me in my decision to pursue medieval Irish as a major in undergrad (although I had to laugh at the main character learning Old Irish to a level of proficiency that she was able to converse in it after a single year of study).

The final book I've read so far is Night Vine, the second in Felicia Davin's Gardener's Hand trilogy, but I'll leave off saying anything about it now as I want to write a longer review of the whole trilogy when I've read it.

The other thing I did this weekend was finally start filling some of the many new icon slots I have since I was kindly given six months of paid time here on Dreamwidth by a very generous friend. I've only ever had a free account here (and on LJ previously), so I'd been used to dealing with a maximum of just fifteen icon slots — hardly enough to convey the full range of emotions or subjects I want to convey when I'm posting or commenting! The one hundred I get with the paid account seems like an astonishing luxury, and I still haven't filled them all, but it's nice to finally be able to use some of the various icons I've been carrying around with me since I first went online more than ten years ago. I'm still very much looking for icons to convey the subjects of (paper) journalling, fountain pens, cooking, and coffee, so if anyone has any recommendations for places to look for these, or favourite icon making communities that focus on non-fannish icons, I would greatly appreciate it, as I am utterly incapable when it comes to anything involving the creation of images.

How have your weekends been? What have people been reading?
dolorosa_12: (sellotape)
I know it's due to frustrating and for some, upsetting circumstances, but I have to say I'm really pleased to see so much activity on Dreamwidth. People are returning after a long time away, people are trying it out for the first time, comms are active for the first time in years, and, above all, people are interacting with one another! Threaded comments: I love them so much.

I've seen this meme floating around all over my reading page, but I think [personal profile] naye was the first to post it. Ask me any of these questions, and I'll answer it in the comments.

    1. What made you start writing fanfic? Asked by [personal profile] naye, answered here.

    2. Which of your own fanfics have you reread the most?

    3. Describe the differences between your first fanfic and your most recent fanfic.
    Do you think your style has changed over time? How so?

    4. You’ve posted a fic anonymously. How would someone be able to guess that you’d written it?

    5. Name three stories you found easy to write.

    6. Name three stories you found difficult to write.

    7. What’s your ratio of hits to kudos?

    8. What do your fic bookmarks say about you? Asked by [personal profile] geckoholic, answered here.

    9. What’s a theme that keeps coming up in your writing? Asked by [personal profile] merit, answered here.

    10. What kind of relationships are you most interested in writing? Asked by [personal profile] schneefink, answered here.

    11. For E-rated fic, what are some things your characters keep doing?

    12. Name three favorite characters to write.

    13. You’re applying for the fanfic writer of the year award. What five fanfics do you put in your portfolio?

    14. Question of your choice!


My Tumblr import to Wordpress finished yesterday. I had to disable the importing of large media files, or else I would have exceeded the media storage allowance, and, quite frankly, I was not prepared to pay Wordpress in order to back up other people's gif sets. My Tumblr tags imported, but because Wordpress lists them alphabetically, any tag-essays are now completely incoherent. It was a weird exercise in fannish nostalgia; my Tumblr goes back to 2010, and it's bizarre to think there was a time when I was reblogging SPN, Teen Wolf, and MCU content, since I'm so resolutely fandom-of-one-ish these days. I can also see so many disntinct periods of fannish focus: the Pretty Little Liars phase, the Orphan Black phase, the ATLA period, that brief moment I tried to engage with Sleepy Hollow fandom before backing away slowly. It's like peeling back layers of personal history. In any case, now that the import is done, the whole lot is just sitting there on Wordpress. I'm going to put up a message on Tumblr telling people where to find me, possibly fiddle around with the settings on the Wordpress backup, and then draw a line under my time on the blue hellsite for good. I know some people will miss the place, but for me it feels almost like relief to leave it behind.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
My weekend has been a bit of a mix in terms of activity. I spent quite a bit of time working on various Yuletide treats. So far I've got the main assignment and two treats pretty much finished, and one final treat that needs a bit more work. I would like to be able to manage a fourth treat, but I don't think it's doable in the time remaining, as I generally find it too draining to write after work during the week.

On Saturday I met up with [personal profile] nymeth for coffee, and we talked books, libraries, and migrant life. We met in a new-to-me cafe, which is always astonishing to me, as I always think I've tried every single independent cafe in Cambridge.

Today was mostly spent shopping in town. I normally avoid central Cambridge on weekends, particularly Sunday afternoons, as it gets really crowded with tourists and shoppers, but this couldn't be avoided. Matthias was collecting various new items of clothing that he'd ordered online and had sent to the shops, and we needed a few bits and pieces for the kitchen, and this was probably the last chance to sort all this out before the new year. We did take the chance to have Vietnamese food for lunch, and stop off for some beer (him) and mulled wine (me) at the temporary winter beer garden organised by one of our favourite Cambridge businesses, [instagram.com profile] thirstycamb. They had a fire pit!

Other than these various outings, I've spent the weekend watching my Tumblr queue to import to Wordpress (it's still queueing, but having poked around in their forums, it seems that it's taking about five days for the imports to start, due to volume, so I'm not particularly worried), and finishing off a couple of books. Thornfruit, by Felicia Davin, had intriguing worldbuilding, and a great central f/f relationship between a wild, confused teenage girl with mindreading powers and the ability to wound with direct touch, and another teenage girl who yearns for something more than her family's farm and market stall. They also live on a tidally-locked planet (their city is in perpetual sunlight, other regions in perpetual darkness), which I thought was really cool. It's the first of a trilogy, and I'll likely buy the other two to read when I'm in Germany over Christmas. The second book, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, was a loose Beowulf retelling where instead of a lone warrior fighting monsters, we have a band of dispossessed teenage girls seeking heroism and glory. It's an interesting exploration of female anger, monstrosity, and otherness, but I felt it was a concept that really screamed for at least one f/f relationship, and was weakened by this lack.

I'm now baking some salmon in the oven, and planning to spend the remainder of the weekend watching TV with Matthias. What have the rest of you been up to?

I'm also going to close this post with a fabulous fan art rec, which I saw linked at some point on my reading page and have had open in a tab ever since. It's an absolutely gorgeous work, depicting Esme Shelby from Peaky Blinders, leading a deathly, supernatural horse, and I love it to bits.

Chovihani (0 words) by motetus
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Peaky Blinders (TV)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Esme Shelby
Additional Tags: Art, Digital Art, Fanart, Extra Treat, Horses, ToT: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat 2016, Supernatural Elements, Trick Or Treat Prompts Challenge
Summary:

Esme has a gift for taming horses.

dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I'm home sick with a cold, which unfortunately means I'll miss this year's annual Christmas party for Cambridge library staff, which is always a free event held in one of the local bookshops. However, it does mean I can do a quick catch up post on some of the books and short stories I've read recently, all of which I enjoyed, but don't feel warrant a full review over on my reviews blog. All are fantasy novels or short stories.

First up is The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner, an Eastern European fantasy novel in the vein of the Winternight trilogy, and Naomi Novik's Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Like the latter Novik work, it focuses in particular on the experience of shtetl-dwelling Eastern European Jewish communities, following the adventures of two sisters who are the inheritors of shape-shifting powers from the two branches of their family. Liba, the oldest, can transform into a bear like her father, while her younger sister Laya can shapeshift into swan form like her mother. Rossner blends Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' with a tale of suspicion and survival, and the sense of close-knit community — supportive of its own on the one hand, judgemental and interfering on the other — is beautifully drawn. I also loved the porous nature of the boundary between the human and supernatural worlds, and the relationship between the two sisters is simply wonderful.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan moves us from Eastern Europe to East Asia in terms of its inspirations (the author herself describes it as simply 'Asian-inspired'). This book is set in a strictly hierarchical society, with three castes (the demonic Moon caste ruling over the partially demonic Steel and fully human Paper castes), an imperial court seething with intrigue, and simmering rebellions breaking out all over a vast empire. All this is presided over by the Demon King, a thoroughly nasty individual who, among other things, takes a tribute of sorts in the form of a group of Paper teenagers to be his concubines. While this is supposed to be a great honour, in reality it's an act of violence and dispossession, and the majority of these girls — including the protagonist, Lei — do not go willingly. However, all is not as it seems in the court of the Demon King, and from the midst of a group of what appears to be the most disempowered individuals — the 'Paper Girl' concubines — a revolution is brewing. I have a personal preference for stories about girls and women who suffer trauma, have their agency taken away from them, and carve out spaces of survival and hope in the ruins, so this was always going to appeal to me, and the fact that it features a f/f love story (with a happy ending!) was just icing on the cake to me. However, it probably goes without saying that a premise like Ngan's is going to depict and address sexual violence, and although this is mostly done in a fade-to-black kind of way, if that's something you'd prefer not to read I would advise you to give this book a miss.

The next book, Sarah Tolcser's Song of the Current, is a much more lighthearted affair. Its characters and plot are, in my opinion, pretty standard fantasy fare (a lost royal heir on the run, a tomboyish lower class girl swept up in political intrigue, pirates causing problems, and scheming grand vizier types seeking power for themselves), but its setting is marvellous. Its heroine, Caroline Oresteia, is the daughter of a wherryman — the captain of a river boat — and has spent her life travelling the lakes, rivers and canals, transporting legal, and less than legal, cargos. I loved Tolcser's community of wherrymen (and women), the sense of a life lived on the water, and the legends and folklore and unspoken rules of this world on the margins of land and river. Nothing in the plot surprised me, and indeed I could see most twists coming from a mile away, but it was a gentle, soothing, diverting book and I am keen to read the sequel.

Zen Cho's latest short story, on the other hand, surprised me immensely. The story, 'If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again', is available for free online at the Barnes & Noble website (and can also be freely downloaded to ereaders), and is about a hapless wannabe dragon, an astrophysicist seeking tenure, and the messy, complicated tangle that is life. When I read Cho's works I expect humour, and this story is hilarious, but it's also powerful, devastating, and beautifully hopeful as well, and I had not been expecting that. The story is about the danger of being fixated on and overwhelmed by dreams, and missing the other opportunities that pass us by when we're too singlemindedly focused. As someone who had gone through two career changes before she was thirty (leaving behind the possibility of work in two fields which I had thought of as my 'dream job(s)'), this resonated deeply with me. I highly, highly recommend this short story, and am now even more impatient for the follow up to Sorcerer to the Crown!

Has anyone else been reading anything good recently?
dolorosa_12: (doctor horrible)
So, I woke up to the news that Theresa May has described EU migrants in the UK as 'queue jumpers' (or, to be more precise, that making use of — entirely legal — EU freedom of movement rights is somehow jumping a non-existent migration queue) and implied that most of them are worthless people whom Britain has been forced to accept at the expense of hordes of highly skilled non-EU migrants such as 'software developers from Dehli' and 'engineers from Sydney'. Moving on from the utterly despicable ploy of trying to pit different groups of migrants against each other (and make British people sort us into categories of 'good' and 'bad' migrants), Theresa May in her capacity as Home Secretary oversaw most of the law changes that made it more and more difficult as a non-EU migrant to migrate to the UK, even more difficult to stay here permanently if you'd migrated on a temporary student or work visa, and vastly more expensive to apply for all visas, so it's a bit rich for her to suddenly deplore this situation as if it were out of her control. She's trying to make it seem as if the EU is to blame for this state of affairs, whereas in fact non-EU migration has always been something for individual countries to handle according to whatever laws they set. And let me tell you, as a non-EU migrant who's lived in the UK for ten years, I have a pretty good idea what sort of welcome her hypothetical Indian software developer and Australian engineer are likely to get from the UK government, and it is an expensive, stressful and hostile one.

At virtually the same time, the prime minister of my country of origin (Australia) made some ghastly statement about migrants being to blame for overcrowded schools and traffic jams, clearly gearing up for an election that's going to be fought on ugly anti-immigration terms. (In Australia, these kinds of elections are ... not good. Not that I think there is a good kind of anti-immigration election campaign.) When Morrison came to power (a few months ago, in the revolving door of opinion poll results paranoia, backstabbing, and coal industry manipulation that has been Australian federal politics for the past decade), I posted despairingly on Facebook that any upcoming election would now be fought on despicable, anti-immigration grounds, and most of my Australian friends and family handwaved my concerns away, or said that it would be over quickly (Australian election campaigns are, thankfully, brief) and Labor would win, anyway. It gives me no pleasure to constantly be right about this kind of thing, but here we are.

I'm so tired of it being acceptable to give migrants a good rhetorical kicking whenever political leaders are looking threatened in opinion polls or within their own parties. I'm so tired of us being talked about as if we're thieves and parasites whose very presence in the countries we've made our homes is illegitimate, a drain on resources we have no right to access. I'm so fed up with this going largely unchallenged, other than in outraged Twitter threads or a few hand-wringing op-eds in The Guardian or similar places. And I'm so tired of being told to have empathy for people's 'legitimate concerns' about migration when those same people are never told to spare a scrap of thought for the experiences of the migrants who have made a home beside them.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
The colder weather seems to have done wonders for my writing productivity: I've finished my Yuletide assignment, and made a good start on a second treat. That wasn't all the writing I got done over the weekend — I also found the time to write a longish review on two Iliad retellings and Emily Wilson's Odyssey translation. You can find the review here on Wordpress, but here's a brief excerpt:

I never had much interest in the long recitations of characters’ ancestry, names of warriors killed on the battlefield, wooden horses or lucky arrows shot through vulnerable heels. Instead, I focused on the story that whispered in the margins: the calamity of war to the women and children it made most vulnerable, the ways such women coped with the ever-present threat of male violence, and the simmering presence of this violence even in ostensible peacetime, in spaces where women were surrounded by their own families. I sought out retellings of the Iliad that brought this story to the fore.


I should note that because the two retellings focus on the character of Briseis, the review involves discussion of rape and slavery, so consider this a content warning. I also get pretty ranty about The Song of Achilles, so if anyone feels like venting with me about that book, feel free to join in in the comments (and if you like it ... I'm sorry).

Also over on Wordpress, I reviewed Aliette de Bodard's In the Vanishers' Palace, a Beauty and the Beast story where both characters are female and the Beast is a dragon. You can read that review here.

This being an Aliette de Bodard story, there are all the familiar and fabulous features that I’ve come to expect in her work: loving and mouth-watering descriptions of food and cooking, a refusal to flinch away from the devastating effects of empire and colonialism, and an intricate exploration of the different ways survival can look. This last is crucial, and resonates deeply with me. De Bodard rejects an individualistic interpretation of heroism, where a lone, special individual bravely solves the world’s problems alone. Instead, courage in her writing is all about (inter)dependence and community building — the little acts that forge and strengthen networks, reinforce familial and non-familial bonds, and the way that sometimes merely surviving and helping others survive is its own victory.


I'm now taking a break from all that writing with a bit of reading. I've just finished Leah Cypress's 'Timshala', the last in the Book Smugglers' 2018 series of short stories on the theme of 'awakenings', and I definitely think it was the best of the bunch. Their short story series tend to be pretty hit and miss with me, but this one — part Ancient Egypt-inspired death cult with religious controversies and political intrigue, part exploration of determinism and free will — was excellent. It's available to read for free online here.

Having finished 'Timshala', I've now moved on to Girls of Paper and Fire, a novel by Natasha Ngan which I've wanted to read since I first saw Samantha Shannon posting on Instagram about reading an ARC of the book. This was months and months ago, and I'm glad to finally have a copy in my hands. I think I'll curl up in my wing chair and read it, watching the sun go down and the darkness fall through the garden window.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Matthias' birthday is 16th November, and, in a rather uncharacteristic manner,* we celebrated it early, in London, on Friday night and most of Saturday. This is because four of the '90s Eurodance acts that he grew up adoring — but, as a young teenager never had the opportunity to see live — were performing together in a club in the O2 Arena, cashing in on Gen Y nostalgia, on Friday night. Given the closeness of the event to his birthday, I offered to get us tickets as a present, and he overcame his squeamishness about 'pre-celebration'. While theoretically it would have been possible to make the last train back to Cambridge after the concert, we opted to stay overnight in a budget hotel, in order to see the British Library exhibition on the Anglo-Saxons (which covered history, and Old English literature and intellectual culture) on Saturday morning.

Both the concert and the exhibition ended up being all about international connections, openness, intercultural exchange, and the 'outward look' more generally.

I had been dubious about how four groups/singers — Maxx, Masterboy, Haddaway, and 2 Unlimited — notorious as one-hit, or at best two-hit wonders, were going to find enough material to fill an entire concert, but I shouldn't have worried. They knew why they were there: to play that handful of hits, and get a crowd of nostalgic thirty- and forty-somethings dancing, and on that they delivered. It certainly worked for me, and as for Matthias, he was bouncing around in sheer energetic joy. If the bands resented having to play the songs that made them famous circa 1992-1995 they gave no indication of it, and treated the audience in that tiny club as if it were a sold-out stadium tour.

As we queued to go into the club, we heard no languages other than Polish, and, judging by the makeup of the audience, I would say it was mainly Polish, Romanian, and Lithuanian people. And, as I jumped around enthusiastically, being elbowed in the face by the extremely tall, very perky, glowstick-covered Lithuanian guy in front of me, and being hugged and danced with by the very drunk, very friendly Irish woman next to me, while an ageing Dutch popstar yelled 'TECHNO, TECHNO, TECHNO!' at us, I felt a bittersweet kind of joy at this easy, effortless, pan-European sense of community, at home together in London, brought together by cheesy Eurodance nostalgia, and a fury at how easily it is about to be taken away, by people who never saw its value.

The Anglo-Saxons exhibition was excellent.** I didn't really learn anything new — although my major in undergrad, MPhil, and PhD are in medieval Irish literature, my department where I undertook the MPhil and PhD are multidisciplinary, focusing on the languages, literatures, history and material culture of medieval Ireland, Britain, and Scandinavia, so it's impossible not to learn about Old English literature and Anglo-Saxon history by osmosis in an environment like that (and indeed, as the exhibition makes plain, to study any medieval culture in isolation is absurd). However, it was great to see so many important manuscripts all brought together in the one exhibition space. Matthias was like a child in a sweet shop, and in particular was deeply moved to see the Vercelli Manuscript, Junius Manuscript, Exeter Book and Beowulf Manuscript — representing the entirety of extant Old English poetry — side by side. (Whenever I'm reminded that those four manuscripts are all that survive of the Old English poetic corpus I am deeply grateful that I chose to study medieval Irish, with its embarassment of riches when it comes to vernacular manuscripts!)

The exhibition as a whole was mainly manuscripts — the vernacular poetry ones I mentioned above, law codes, religious writing, hymn books with musical notation, saints' Lives, grammatical texts to teach Latin, legal codes, medical writing, history, and charters — with a few other artifacts of material culture, such as jewellery (including the famous 'Alfred jewel'), pottery, and weapons. What I particularly appreciated (and overheard many other exhibition attendees remarking on) was the relentless emphasis on the international component and outward-looking nature of Anglo-Saxon societies. The enduring networks, reinforced by diplomacy, political marriages, trade, and the exchange of ideas, were mentioned in all the displays' descriptions: the movement of manuscripts between ecclesiastical establishments in Britain, Ireland, and continental Europe (and even, in some cases, from places further afield such as North Africa), the movement of people between royal courts on both sides of the Channel, and the exchange of ideas apparent in more prosaic form — in the design of jewellery, belt-buckles, coins, or calligraphy. On one level it was dispiriting to overhear so many other attendees remarking on how astonishing they found all these connections, because this made it plain how pervasive is the common perception of medieval insularity. But I suppose on the other hand at least those attendees will go away with a new understanding of how international, interconnected, and outward-looking medieval people could be, and that the concept of national borders and identities has always been fluid and complicated. That the ocean was not a barrier, but rather a highway. That the lies nationalists tell about the peoples studied in my former academic discipline are just that — lies, deceptive myths designed to comfort and simplify for people who find complexity discomforting. That the wider world has always been there, and even premodern people engaged with it. That intellectual and creative culture has always been a collaborative effort, in conversation with itself, open to 'outside' influences.

In other words, there has always been migration, and migrants. And, as was made clear in the Eurodance concert on Friday night, we migrants are still here, and this is still our home, and we will remain, and we will go on dancing.

__________

*'Uncharacteristic' because, as a German, he has a deep aversion to celebrating birthdays in advance, which is felt to be tempting fate.
**Inevitably we bumped into someone we knew from the department at Cambridge where we did our degrees. She was there with her husband and small son. Cambridge is a very, very small town, even when it's in London.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I often talk about needing more hours in the day, and on the one day of the year where that is possible, I certainly made the most of it. I've been able to get a lot done, in addition to the usual bits of grocery shopping, cleaning and so on that I always do on the weekend.

Saturday poured with rain, and it was freezing to the point of almost being sleet, so I stuck close to home, apart from a quick trip into town to the market. Matthias spent most of the day writing an assignment for the cataloguing module of his librarianship degree, so I elected to spend Saturday writing as well. It was lovely and companionable to sit there, typing away at our respective assignments. In my case, this was Yuletide. I always aim to write multiple treats, and this year the sheer volume of fandoms I love in the tagset makes me even more enthusiastic about this. It will be hard to narrow it down!

So far I've written one (completed, but not uploaded) treat, about a third of my main assignment (along with an outline for its remainder), and done a lot of very weird research for another treat. I normally finish assignments before working on any treats, so I will not be touching the second treat beyond this preliminary research until the assignment is finished.

I also did one of my periodic sweeps of Ao3, where I check if any new fic in my main fandoms (all of which are tiny, inactive book fandoms, most of whose fic, if it exists at all, has been written by me). Normally this is an entirely futile exercise, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had written Warden/Paige fic for the Bone Season series. I've been requesting fic for this pairing in exchanges for several years without success, so it was a wonderful treat to find this there unexpectedly. I don't think there are any Bone Season fans here among my Dreamwidth circle (the only people I know who like it are people on Tumblr, and a handful of my real-life friends), but I link to it here in any case.

J'attendrai (2459 words) by LaReinadeEspadas
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Paige Mahoney/Warden | Arcturus Mesarthim
Characters: Paige Mahoney, Warden | Arcturus Mesarthim
Summary:

I looked for any other signs that he knew the significance of the day, but unsurprisingly found none in my Rephaite cohabiter. It’s not like immortal beings had any reason to celebrate birthdays.



Reading the fic reminded me how much I love the series, so I've spent most of Sunday morning curled up on the couch in the sunshine, rereading The Song Rising. I'm not sure the story of a brave, doomed revolution brought down by the inability of disparate groups of oppressed, dispossessed people to make common cause was a wise choice, given the state of the world, but it seemed to be what my brain wanted.

Now Matthias and I have just come back from running, and I'm sitting here with a cup of tea, catching up with Dreamwidth and trying to decide between doing a bit of yoga (probably not), or getting started on the chicken and dumplings (this Smitten Kitchen recipe) I'm planning to make for dinner.

*


I can't talk about what's going on in the world. In the country of my birth, the country in which I grew up, the country which is now my home, anywhere, everywhere. I just can't. Words recoil from it. I return, as always, to Calexico, who, as always, have the words to give voice to this horror. Everywhere you look you only see red, indeed.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
There was a great surprise waiting for me this morning when I opened my work email: confirmation that my application to become a Chartered member of CILIP (the professional body for library and information professionals in the UK) had been successful. The chartership process involves documenting evidence of professional development (this can be formal training, conference or workshop attendance, or self-directed learning, and it needs to include work that demonstrates your knowledge of your own institution, as well as other libraries in different sectors), and writing a reflective statement evaluating your transformation over the course of the chartership process.

Chartership is not compulsory, and indeed opinion in my field is mixed as to its benefit, but it was something I wanted to do for myself. I don't have a library/information science degree, and have progressed as far as I have through the Cambridge library system through a combination of being known to the powers-that-be (simply because I worked in low-grade jobs in a large number of libraries), and having had teaching and research experience within the university due to having done two postgrad degrees at Cambridge. I've never been keen to get a librarianship MA, but instead have been taking various other steps to gain professional recognition and qualifications, of which CILIP Chartership is one.

In any case, it was nice to have some good news for a change!

[This post gets a very appropriate Noviana Una icon, because she spent part of her time running a resistance movement out of a never-burned-down Library of Alexandria in an alternate version of our own world, and while I'll never be that cool, we do have being library assistants in common!]
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
It's got to the point where I have had to actively avoid all sources of news, including most social media platforms, because it's so overwhelmingly awful that I was on the verge of tears at work, and on my walk home. As I said to my mother when we chatted on FaceTime this morning, it's one of those weeks (months? years? decades?) which just makes you feel worthless as a woman.

My solution in the face of all this is (once I've ensured I'm still registered to vote in the three countries in which I am eligible) is to turn my attention to things resolutely domestic. I find it soothing.

And so, this weekend, I have turned a full fridge of groceries into meals that will take us through to Tuesday (I always find it particularly satisfying to cook a roast chicken, because I always get at least one second dinner and several lunches worth of leftovers out of it, and then make about a litre of stock from the bones, so it feels very efficient), planted four purple and pink heather plants in the garden, cleaned the bathroom, done two loads of laundry, and gone back and forth to the market to buy all the food I'll need to cover the week ahead.

I returned to a comforting old series of books — a series I've loved since I first read it as a ten-year-old — for yet another reread. The series has five books, and I'm on to the fourth. I possibly would have made more headway if not for all the time I spent scrolling through the Yuletide tagset trying to figure out what to offer, and watching comments appearing on the Yuletide letters post to see if other participants' prompts might help nudge me in a particular direction.

And I've been fairly active over on my reviews blog, posting reviews of two books/series that absolutely blew me away and which I'm pleased to see made it into the Yuletide tagset (I didn't nominate them myself, but I'm so happy to be able to request them).

The first is Katherine Arden's Winternight series, my review of which I have linked to before:

Arden makes much of the everyday labour of women: preparing food, sweeping hearths, embroidering elaborate headdresses, assisting in the birth of children. The lives of these women may be circumscribed, lived within a narrow space, travelling between hearth, bathhouse, and church, but they are not inconsequential. This is a series in which the labour of a mother giving birth to a child is of greater supernatural significance than the outcome of a battle, where a girl slipping bread crusts to household gods does more to forge alliances than the political machinations of men in Moscow palaces.


The second review is of Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, which I absolutely adored:

This is a world in which women save themselves — and each other — using the tools at hand. It is a world in which the work of a market stall seller, or a noblewoman presiding over a rowdy feasting hall, or a girl feeding chickens is given equal weight to magical powers. Indeed, it’s a world in which supernatural beings view prosaic, human skills as having a kind of magic of their own.


Looking at both quotes together, I seem to have very clear priorities in the kind of historical fantasy I want to read. In any case, I highly recommend both books.

I've just finished doing a bit of yoga (I'm so happy to have found a good Youtube channel with yoga classes to follow for free at home, since I dropped regular yoga classes after their times and locations became too inconvenient), and I'm just about to start cooking tonight's dinner (an Ottolenghi recipe which, miraculously, doesn't have a million ingredients that need to be bought in specialised supermarkets). Matthias and I will probably finish off the weekend by watching the last two episodes of the second season of Luke Cage, which I've found enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure.

I'm not sure how sustainable it is to continue to insulate myself in a news-free, cotton wool-like existence, and I feel a lot of guilt for being able to do so, but I am glad this weekend that it gave me these little, quiet moments, where I could be small, and calm, and gentle.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
On this day, ten years ago, I migrated to the UK. Because I have never been capable of making any change in my life without surrounding myself in a sea of quotes from literature, at the time I quoted one of my favourite works of literature: far from my home/ is the country I have reached, and that quote has proved itself true in many senses over the past ten years.

Although when I made that initial choice to migrate, I had been terrified, in actual fact all I was committing to was nine months spent in Cambridge working on an MPhil. There was no guarantee that anything longer-term would eventuate. But I was twenty-three years old — and a very young twenty-three at that, having only lived away from the family home for a total of six months of my entire life up to that point — and the distance, and the drastic change terrified me. And I have described my decision to migrate in the past as a desperate last throw of the dice — because I had been having a terrible time of it in Australia in the five years since I turned eighteen, moving through a fog of situational depression that I couldn't see a way out of. I had spent those first five years of adulthood completely overwhelmed by the weight of this depression, which manifested in a kind of dull fear, and a fear above all that I was incapable of being happy as an adult. (As an aside, I'm always astonished that anyone who knew or met me during those years has stuck around, because I was a nightmare.) And so the decision to migrate was a kind of test for myself: if I couldn't be happy and make this work, it would never happen. You can see why I was terrified.

I don't know what sort of magic there is in the disgusting, calcified Cambridge water, but nine months and an MPhil turned into five years and a PhD, and eight years and citizenship, and suddenly here I am, and a decade has passed. During that time I gave up on two career paths, and found my calling, acquired two degrees (and, like a glutton for punishment, am literally starting the first classes for yet another degree this very day), fell in love, and out of love, and in love again, got married, found a home, and lost that home in a wave of grief in June 2016 on the very same morning that the British passport that would make my permanent home in this country possible (the document that would, quite literally, make it possible for me to remain) was delivered. Yes, the referendum destroyed my sense of home as being a physical place, a country, and I won't make that mistake again. But above all things, what I learnt in these past ten years (good years, bad years, growing years) is that home is not and cannot be a country (those let you down), but rather it is other people. It is thanks to those other people — the generous, kind and supportive friends I made almost immediately in Cambridge, the open-hearted friends and family members I'd left behind in Australia, and the vast, international community of internet people I've met along the way, whose compassion and patience is boundless — that I feel what I was not able to feel when I left Australia in 2008: safe, happy, and comfortable in my own skin as an adult human being. You are home. You brought me home.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
By way of a life update, have a few scattered bits and pieces from the past week or so.

It's autumn, at last! Autumn is my favourite season of the year: scarves, gloves, coats and blankets, the cold bite of the air, the smell of the changing, falling leaves, and that indescribable quality of the light. The northern summer just went on and on and on, and I'm so relieved to finally experience some cold weather. It hasn't spread across all of Europe — my mother, sister, and parents-, sister-, brother-in-law and nephew are all in Italy (not together — my sister's at a wedding in Lake Como, my mother is in Verona, after which she and my sister will meet up in Milan, and my in-laws are all on holiday together near Lake Garda), and it's still very summery there, but it is well and truly autumnal in Cambridge, and I am very happy about it.

Apart from a quick foray out to the alumni event for my former academic department (it happens this weekend of September every year, and mainly consists of drinking glasses of wine in the departmental common room, and generally the only people who go are people who still live in Cambridge, such as Matthias and me, [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband, and those who are still affiliated with the department as postdocs), I barely left the house, and have spent most of today curled up in my chair reading Naomi Novik's glorious Spinning Silver, which I think I like even more than Uprooted, although I'm only about a third of the way through. Normally I read a lot faster than this, but I've loved it so much I've been deliberately slow in order to savour the magic. Novik's Temeraire books really don't work for me, but I adore her fairytale-inspired fantasy.

Reading-wise I seem to be all about the Eastern European inspired fairytale retellings at the moment; last weekend I devoured the second of Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy books, which are set in a fantastical version of fourteenth-century Russia and seem written to my exact specifications. I posted a review of the first two books in the series here, and highly recommend them.

Matthias and I binge watched the entire first season of Killing Eve, which I adored. The whole lot is on iPlayer if other UK people want to watch. The plot and premise is frankly ridiculous, but if you accept that it's taking place in a sort of melodramatic, soap operatic reality, it's very enjoyable. The two lead actresses are great, the soundtrack is excellent, and there's a lot of gorgeous scenery porn in various picturesque European cities. After all our travelling this summer, it's been good to be back at home and just spend some time binge watching TV. I'm not sure what we'll move on to next — possibly the second season of Luke Cage, which should give you some idea of how behind we are in terms of TV series!

The weekend is drawing to a close, and the last few hours of it will be spent cooking a cosy and delicious Polish goulash, watching the last episode of Bodyguard (which I've liked, but not loved as much as Line of Duty, partly because the acting and writing in the latter is just a bit sharper), and reading more of Spinning Silver. I feel like I need a third day off to be fully refreshed after the work week (huge amounts of teaching and lots of wrangling of confused new medical students) I've just had, but alas it is not to be.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
If I don't post about my trip to Tuscany (made in late August/early September) soon, I'm unlikely to ever do so, so consider this a belated recap of my time there. This was the last of my international trips this northern summer, which ended up being very busy with trips back and forth across the Channel.

Matthias and I were invited to Italy for the wedding of two of our friends, E and A, both of whom we know through our mutual time as students at Cambridge. Unlike Matthias and I, who have left academia behind us, E and A have remained in the field. E is now a lecturer in medieval history at Durham, and A is doing a postdoc at Freie Universität in Berlin, and for various reasons decided they wanted to have their wedding in Italy. I was a little dubious at first, because Albiano, the village in which this was set to take place, appeared super inaccessible without a car, but the whole thing was planned with surgical precision and a great deal of thought as to the wedding guests' enjoyment.

The wedding was set to take place on a Sunday, but events were happening from the Thursday onwards, so Matthias and I elected to stay from Thursday to Tuesday (flights out of Pisa were much cheaper on the Tuesday than the Monday, so we decided to give our excess money to a hotel in Pisa and spend twenty-four hours there, rather than giving it to Ryanair for the dubious privilege of returning home one day earlier). Albiano is a tiny little village, nestled in the mountains, about two hours' drive from Pisa airport. We were fortunate enough to be picked up after our flight by two friends who had hired a car, and they drove us right to our hotel.

The set up of the village was rather odd — the hotel, pool (and poolside bar), cafe, and sole restaurant were all owned by one woman, who opened each at strategic times of the day, funnelling customers from breakfast at the cafe to lunch at the poolside bar to dinner in the restaurant according to the hour. Our hotel room had the most incredible view over the mountains and valleys, and was right above the swimming pool, which was free for hotel guests. I went in for a swim on the Thursday, before going down the hill to the wedding venue, which was also where A, E, their families and some other guests were staying, for a barbecue dinner.

On the Friday, we were driven out to a local vineyard for what was described as a wine tasting, but actually ended up being a massive lunch of antipasti, accompanied by jug after jug of absolutely incredible wine — prosecco, minerally white wine, and two excellent red wines. I resisted the urge to buy bottles to take home (we had only paid for hand luggage on our flight), and returned to Albiano for a pizza dinner at the restaurant.

The Saturday was occupied by a day trip to Lucca (a town about forty-five minutes away by car with a pretty historic centre, beautiful cathedral, and old city walls). Unintentionally comical highlights included being trapped in the cathedral by an absolutely torrential downpour which flooded the footpath and square outside the cathedral doors and poured in through the roof and heavy wooden doors, where it was swept out ineffectually by two old men with brooms, and a tour guide, indicating a relic of Thomas Becket, describing the saint as having been 'killed by the Anglicans because he didn't want to convert to Protestantism' (at which point the entire room, which was mainly filled with medievalists, cringed). We then moved on to Barga, the town across the valley from Albiano, for dinner in a restaurant to celebrate A's birthday. Here is my Barga and Lucca photoset.

Finally, on the Sunday, there was the wedding. It was meant to be outdoors in the venue, which was a gorgeous villa, surrounded by grape vines, apple trees and lovely gardens, but the unpredictable weather, which we had watched roll in all morning as we lounged by the pool, brought rain in the afternoon. We picked our way down the muddy path in the vineyard, had a quick drink of Lambrusco with friends staying in the venue, and then went to the (indoor) ceremony. Fortunately, the rain had cleared by the end of the ceremony, so we were able to enjoy drinks, aperitivo, and antipasti in the gardens before heading indoors for dinner (honestly, most of this trip was just people feeding me vast quantities of incredibly good Italian food). There was a jazz band during the outdoor pre-dinner festivities, which was replaced by a cheesy 80s playlist piped into the gardens via speakers after dinner. My ASNC friends and I danced all night, and it was glorious, although the grass in the garden probably won't thank us.

Then it was on to Pisa by train from Barga, where Matthias and I checked in to one of our characteristically bizarre hotels (honestly, this seems to be something of a pattern with us). We spent the evening walking the city walls and hanging around near the cathedral and leaning tower. We left going inside until the next day, and then wandered around the city looking for somewhere to eat, at which point we bumped into E, A, [tumblr.com profile] ienthuse and her husband E, who were on their way to a restaurant, so we joined them. It was an excellent final meal to have on the trip — just delicious, simple, good quality (is there anything else?) Italian food and wine — and very serendipitous to bump into them. I would definitely recommend Pisa as a place to visa for a long weekend, especially if you're travelling from the UK, as you can fly there from pretty much every UK airport, the airport is a five-minute train ride from the city itself, and it's very easy to walk pretty much anywhere you'd need to go. Here's my photoset from my twenty-four hours in Pisa.

And then it was back to Cambridge, and reality, and autumn.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Summer is well and truly in its final days for the year here in Cambridge. The air has a distinctly autumnal feeling, blackberries are appearing in the hedgerows, and, best of all, it has started to rain again. The next two weekends are going to be very packed for me: next weekend I'll be in Italy for the wedding of two of my friends, and the following weekend my mother will be visiting (for those of you keeping count, that is indeed two trips she's made to Europe in the one northern summer. Oh, to be a wealthy baby boomer with loads of long service leave!). Luckily, this weekend lasts for three days due to the public holiday on Monday, and it's been nice to just nest at home and get lots done. This can probably be broken into three main categories:

Housework

  • I cleaned all the internal and external windows. (By internal windows I mean the ridiculous glass panels that are above every doorframe inside our house.)

  • I did two loads of laundry, which, given it rained on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday is something of an achievement.

  • I cleaned the fridge.

  • I cooked a massive vegetable soup to eat throughout the week, as well as all the weekend meals.

  • I planted garlic in the garden.


  • Stuff outside the house

  • Our friend B was visiting from Thursday to Saturday. He lives in Poland, but had come to Cambridge to use the university library to finish up his PhD corrections, so we didn't see him all that much. However, on the Friday night, he, Matthias and I went out to Thirsty, one of my favourite wine/beer sellers/bar, for drinks and food truck dinner.

  • I've just come back from a walk out to Grantchester. It's overcast, but not too cold, and all of Cambridge seems to have had the same idea. Matthias is working on an assignment for his librarianship MA, so I thought it best to get out of his hair for a bit.


  • Reading/Netflixing

  • I finished off a nonfiction book, Thunder At Twilight by Frederic Morton, which is about the history, politics and culture of Vienna in the year between the summer of 1913 and the outbreak of World War I. This is obviously a really fascinating time period, but I found the book somewhat frustrating due to the author's stylistic choices — namely, to use an almost novelistic tone and style, imagining what the historical figures were eating, drinking, saying or feeling at moments when he couldn't possibly have known that. If I'm reading historical fiction, I obviously have no problem with authors filling in the blanks in this manner, but I found it jarring in a work of nonfiction.

  • I read two novellas: 'The Black God's Drums' by P. Djèlí Clark, and 'Coral Bones' by Foz Meadows. Both were excellent, although I felt the former suffered from the constraints of its short length: the actual plot was slight, and it would have been fantastic as a novel, because its excellent setting (a steampunk nineteenth-century New Orleans in an alternative North America in which New Orleans was the site of a successful slave rebellion, the US Civil War ended in a truce, meaning the Confederacy still exists, and the Haitian slave rebellion was a success) and characters would really have benefited from being fleshed out into something novel-length. Hopefully Clark will write more in this setting. 'Coral Bones' — which imagines what happened to Miranda after the events of The Tempest (the answer: fairies, journeys, and an exploration of gender) is actually the first piece of fiction by Meadows that really works for me, and I highly recommend it.

  • Matthias and I also binge-watched most of the Netflix adaptation of Altered Carbon. Neither of us have read the books from which it was adapted, so I have no idea how faithful an adaptation it is, but as a television series in its own right it's pretty good. It explores pretty standard cyberpunk themes of immortality, cloning, humanity, bodies, how these interact and intersect, and how inequality affects all these things, in a pretty standard Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk setting (rain, smog, grimy neon night markets, flying cars, and super rich people living elevated lives in skyscrapers above the clouds), but since I like all these things, and enjoy the cast (honestly, it should be watched for Dichen Lachman alone), I don't mind the rather derivative themes and setting. It does have the sadly standard sexualised violence of a lot of Western cyberpunk, so do bear that in mind if you're making the decision to watch this based on my recommendation.


  • I'm now sitting here fretting about the [community profile] fic_corner exchange. I finished up my assignment in good time, and I had thought this might be a rare exchange where my own request actually matched to an offer, but having checked Ao3, I can see that that's not the case, and I seem doomed to continue my exchange experience as one of life's perennial pinch-hit recipients. I suppose it can't be helped, given the fandoms-of-one I tend to request.

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    dolorosa_12: (Default)
    a million times a trillion more

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