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Strong Poison

Needing something to watch tonight, I rummaged through my DVDs for something I hadn’t watched yet. I was in a period piece mood, but not my usual tour through Tudor or Elizabethan England. No, I was feeling more in line with cloche hats and fine cars. So I broke open my Dorothy L Sayers boxset of the old series starring Edward Petherbridge. I watched most of them when I was much younger, back when Mystery! was hosted by Vincent Price on Thursday nights.

Since it’s a period piece, I think “Strong Poison” has held up quite well, although I kept wondering how they’d have changed things for modern audiences. Or would they have? Would they been explicit about the effects of arsenic? I don’t recommend Strong Poison for anyone with stomach concerns. Would they have made the Bohemians more out there? By 1980s standards, the model scene seemed quite surprising. I actually don’t remember that scene at all, making me wonder if it was cut by PBS or if I was too young to “get” it.

I remembered Harriet and Peter quite well of course, but I was pleasantly surprised by the side characters, particularly the women. I expected it in Gaudy Night where it’s set at a womens’ college, but not in Strong Poison. I’m so used to these days where there’s a constant struggle to even see more one or two female roles in a show, much less interact for any length of time. Most of women involved in “Strong Poison” were either older or spinsters; even Harriet was unmarried and castigated for turning down her lover. For all that it was the Lord Peter mysteries, Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison held considerable parts in cracking the case, usually pulling the wool over their eyes of their male betters. Even the interaction between Miss Climpson and Miss Booth was conspiratorial, working together to solve a problem.

In fact, the only thing that bothered me was the attitude towards Harriet. Either Harriet was divine and everyone loved her or she was the cold hard bitch that deserved what she got. I don’t know how much of that is the screenplay or in the original book, but it was disconcerting.

I’ll try to watch the other two dvds in the set this weekend and see how they hold up. I don’t remember enjoying “Have His Carcase” nearly as much when I was younger, compared to the other two, so I’ll be curious to see if that attitude has changed at all.

An admission: I’ve tried to read Sayers’ books. I may indeed try again before this is through. Until then, she can converse with Professor Tolkein in my library. I’m sure they’ll find loads to discuss.

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The state of me

I had the best of intentions when I restarted this blog. I was going to post dutifully nearly every day to get my writing muscles back up to snuff. I was going along fine until last week happened. I will spare you most of the horrible details. Suffice it to say, I had a brief fleeting “goodbye cruel world” moment, until I realized “Oh hell, no, I’m not going anywhere.” And lo things righted themselves. The stress has abated and we’ve found a compromise of sorts. We’ll revisit the situation in a few weeks to see where things stand.

But that leaves me looking around at my life and my belongings and wondering how I got this way.  I didn’t enjoy packing up to move the last time around and I hated packing stuff up when I had the new carpet installed. The prospect of living out of storage for months on end scared the hell out of me, enough to send a kind of wake-up call. For some odd reason, I value my books over my furniture or my clothes.  Decluttering my life will be a necessary endeavor if I intend to move, because I haven’t found the gracious bookshelf lined manor of my dreams yet, not on my salary anyway. The apartments around here are smaller and more expensive, unless I’m prepared to live further out.

Enough navel gazing and worrying over stuff — I promise I will post about other more cheerful subjects soon.

What I Read: 2010

With the closing of the old year, it’s time to reflect. I usually try to keep a running tally of books I’ve read. Goodreads/Librarything have helped this endeavor a lot.  The three mysteries I read for the 48 hour Readathon I signed up on a whim.  The last two novels I finished on the last days of 2010 so that gives you some idea of my reading habits. I’m toying with signing up for the latest round of the Graphic Novel Challenge, although even Expert level seems mild for a regular comics reader. I do think I read more last year, but I’ve kept worse notes about what manga/gns I’ve been reading. I will try to do better this year.

Novels

Ally Carter, Heist Society

Richard Castle, Heat Wave

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Max Allan Collins, Quarry in the Middle

Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games

Alex Archer, Rogue Angel: Gabriel’s Horn

Manga

Drunken Dream and Other Stories

Kingyo Used Books v1 & v2

Ristorante Paradiso

Fire Investigator Nanase v1 & v2

Hikaru no Go v16

Nightschool v1-4

Graphic Novels/TPBs

Batwoman: Elegy

Black Widow and the Marvel Girls

Black Widow: Sting of the Widow

Jersey Gods v1 and v2

Moving Pictures

Dear Professor Tolkien

I am sorry that I no closer to reading your mammoth tale than back when you celebrated your eleventy-first. I really have tried. I like to say I am an Entish reader in that I take my time doing things. I hope you will take the birthday wishes in the spirit they were intended. I’ll try to find something more melodic than “You bash the Balrog” for music, okay? (Maybe I’m part hobbit…)

Rammer jammer and hail to the redskins

When people find out I went to Alabama, they always ask if I’m a football fan. Why yes, I’ve been one for many years. Football however never factored into my decision to go to the school. At the time I was starting school, Bama was long past its Bear Bryant heyday. While I was there, I started the end of the Bill Curry era and ended with the glorious National Championship with Gene Stallings. And a Redskins Super Bowl. Hence the running joke that the only way the Skins are going to win one again is if I leave town. Not my preferred way of them winning…

I blame my love of football on my father. Every Sunday he listened to the radio/tv broadcasts of the Redskins. He always muted the tv commentators so he could listen to the Redskins team of Sonny Jurgensen, Sam Huff and Frank Herzog. They might be irritating sometimes, but they were our irritants, thank you very much. Now he’s stuck in a weird limbo of Jacksonsville/Miami/Tampa Bay. Not quite the seventh circle of hell or the pits of Tartarus, but close enough.

New Year’s always means bowl games and parades. It was a Big Deal to play on New Year’s Day back then. I used to watch the bowl games and not care who was playing or even who won. I remember watching Herschel Walker when he was playing for Georgia. My fondest memories are of clearing off the bar so we could have dinner and watch the Rose Bowl at the same time. My mother would traditionally fix chili. Somehow I never acquired my parents’ taste for spicy foods as I’ve discovered this year trying fajitas. I’m fine with the steak and some of the vegetables, just not the extras.

Now the bowl games are all too numerous to count. Today Alabama played Michigan State in the Capitol One Bowl. I have to admit the season after an undefeated national championship season felt like a letdown, especially having watching two of the games we lost. Last year we found ways to win. This year we expected to win, which may have been our problem. I really want that Auburn game back.

Meanwhile my Redskins continue to plumb unknown depths of the NFC East basement. We were of the best known NFL franchises. But now we’re a laughing stock of the league with all of our off field mistakes and player issues. I want to enjoy NFL football again, not dread watching every Sunday.

But it’s funny how I wound up with two such teams.  Both teams have huge stadiums. They can command some of the largest home crowds in the game, easily 90,000. I’ve been to both stadiums, although FedEx was for a Notre Dame-Navy game, before Navy returned to winning. I was so far up I could see the parking lot! Not quite the intimacy or rocking ‘n rolling of old RFK, but boy is it a fun place to be when everything’s going right.

I didn’t plan it though.

Jewels: Joyaux

Thanks to Netflix, I’ve gone on a bit of a ballet bender.  I’ve watched several documentaries off their Instant Watching. “The Dancer” (or “Dansaren”) was about a Royal Swedish ballerina and her training from ballet school up through performing with the company. “Etoiles” showed behind the scenes at the Paris Opera Ballet. “Ballerina” showcases five ballerinas from the Mariinsky’s Kirov Ballet.

Alas most of my notes on the first two are lost to the twitter archives in the sky. I do remember liking “Dancer” a lot more than “Etoiles”. (Alas Dancer has been taken off Instant Watching, so I’d have to get the dvd to rewatch it.)

“Ballerina” was fascinating because of my reactions to the various dancers.  In figure skating, I notice the technicians with the jumps and spins. I don’t hate the ultra artistic skaters, but I sometimes feel like they’re over reliant on that aspect of their skating. With ballet, I was really noticing the actresses, the ones that became their roles. They had an immediate presence on the screen. I wanted to watch them. From the minute Diana Vishneva covered her face in “Cinderella” rehearsals, I was captivated. Evgenia Obraztsova reminded me of a slimmer dancing Christina Hendricks a little with her red hair and bubbly personality. With her age and experience, Ulyana Lopatkina was more interesting to me than Alina Somova, the young star the documentary focused so heavily on. I don’t know how much the competitive aspect of skating plays into this, especially for Olympic eligible skating.

The one side effect of watching all these ballet documentaries is I wind up wanting to watch full length ballets. Netflix has them available, but not instantly. One that intrigued me was George Balanchine’s “Jewels”.

It’s actually three ballets combined under one larger theme. It’s an abstract ballet, so there’s no strict storyline per se, but you can still see characters and interactions.  I’d recommend listening to the behind the scenes documentary – it’s a little long, but useful to understanding the different pieces. I do wish they’d included more, like rehearsals or interviews with original dancers.

Each ballet, each gem, represents a different school of ballet – French, American, and Russian. Each ballet has a different style of dress, of choreography, and music. Christian Lacroix designed the costumes and they do give the sense of opulent gorgeous style.

So Emerald is the French school of ballet, very romantic and lyrical. The costumes have flowy green skirts with lots and movements and the music is Gabriel Fauré. The focus is on two couples, one young and one maybe a little further along in their lives together. Also an odd threesome thrown in to confuse me further; fandom could have a field day figuring out shipping from ballet choreography, I’m just saying. Balanchine loved tall ballerinas with long limbs and you really notice the long arms in this choreography. There’s actually a “tall girl” soloist role in Rubies; again I’m used to petite little balletic pairs skaters.

Rubies represent the American school of ballet, very modern and sexy. The music is Igor Stravinsky and the choreography is very quirky with lots of hip action. Listening to the documentary that accompanies the dvd, I can see where the influences come from. If you know “Slaughterhouse on Tenth Avenue” or more musical comedy ballets, this may work for you. In the documentary, they kept repeating how sexy and erotic this piece was, but I didn’t get that from this performance. I don’t know if it’s the dancers or if I’m just a traditionalist.

And then finally there’s Diamonds, the Russian school of ballet in all her traditional and glittering glory. The music is Piotr Tchaikovsky and the costumes are these stiff tulle ballet dresses. It’s equally as romantic as the Emerald piece in places. I admit I love the bit where the male lead drops to one knee and kisses his partner’s hand. But Diamonds is really an ensemble piece. Think of the big scenes in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty with the whole cast dancing onstage. And if you’ve watched enough ballet, you can see hints of Petipa’s choreography in there.

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

Apparently I’m starting a new blog. And I can hear a heavy sigh from friends asking “Don’t you have others already?” And I do, but I tend to compartmentalize a bit in those blogs. And I wanted freedom to blog. I wanted a catch-all blog where I was free to discuss all the other stuff that interests me. If you know me in other places, you’ve seen this. One minute I’m chatting about comics and next minute I’m geeking out over ballet and then I’m muttering dire things about the Redskins.  I assure you this is all quite normal. But since twitter is 140 characters long and tumblr has more ups and downs than a rollercoaster, I opted to turn my old backup needlework blog into my meanderings. We need to find a better title, stat.

I hope I don’t bore you too much. Comments are welcome, especially if they give me more to watch/read/etc.