Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Christmas Cat Memory

If I wasn't a crazy cat lady before, I think that I must have just crossed over that threshold. Yesterday I was reading to my cats. They were sitting around me, I was reading them a Christmas story and they were purring. Some of them were.

This was not the original intent. I went to a used book store the other day and found a nice copy of a book that contains A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. On Sunday, as the Thanksgiving holiday came to a close, I was in my apartment alone with my cats. One thing about cats is they are generally in the same room as you are. My cats behave this way, anyway. I don't call them, they just end up in the same room. So, I'm sitting on the sofa and see the book on the coffee table and decide to read it. But, my only experience with this story is oral. My sister Lottie (such a lovely name: Lottie) had a school assignment when we were children to memorize this story, pare it down to 5 minutes – or some other pre-designated amount of time – and recite it. Needless to say, we heard a lot of "Oh my! It's Fruitcake weather!"

I couldn't just read the story; I had to read it aloud. It wouldn't be the same otherwise. I put on my actor voice and began reading. The cats, as if summoned by the sound of my voice, came closer. One in particular lay down in a cat bed near the sofa and began to purr. When reading the parts in which the woman spoke I read in a light, wispy voice; the boy's parts I did with a less wispy, but still high voice.

It has been a while since I've heard it and being that it had been shortened to meet the time requirement, there were parts I hadn't heard at all. So, to a great extent it was like listening to the story for the first time. For instance, I remembered their buying whiskey (in my memory it was brandy), but I didn't remember that it was from a bar, or that the man they bought it from was an Indian, or that it was the first time they actually saw him because they had always dealt with his wife in the past. I don't remember it being that comical. Of course, my sense of humor hadn't been that developed when I heard it before.

I do remember the ending being rather sad because the boy had been shipped off to a military school. I was not surprised at the actual ending; I saw it coming in the final paragraphs. But, I am I and lately I'm never more than a blink away from tears, so the last paragraph I read with a cracking voice and with actual tears in my eyes. The cats were unfazed. 

This Christmas memory is a nice tradition. It is a classic that has been “broadcast, recorded, filmed, and staged multiple times, in award-winning productions.”1 But, it’s kind of sad. Why would something sad be popular at Christmas? It’s charming and easy to read, but even before the end there’s an air of melancholy mixed with the comic. Do all of us have sad memories mixed with happy that work together to create the atmosphere of the season? Perhaps people who don’t have these sad memories can be detached enough to appreciate the story for what it is, while the rest of us relate on a different level. 

All in all I think that I’ll read it again next year. I may even pick up other stories to read to my cats. I could take this whole cat lady thing to a new level.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review - Divine Secrets

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
By Rebecca Wells

I'm probably the last person on Earth to read this book and what more can be said that hasn't already been written? My own personal response is probably the only thing, and I'm certain that it echoes many who have gone before me. I was ready for this book. I needed to cry, and I had needed to cry for some time it would seem. And, there's nothing better to cry over than reconciliation, both with God and with Loved ones. This wasn't a “Woman Overcomes Adversity” kind of novel. If there was adversity, they succumbed to it and drank about it later. And for the most part they didn't apologize for it.

It was a little awkward that the other day I simply couldn't wait to finish the book and so during work I went to lunch at a cafe and read the last 2 chapters. I don't recommend this. Food kept getting stuck in my throat because I was trying not to weep in public, and the lump that developed in my throat made it difficult to swallow food..

So, if you want to read a fabulously Southern novel that makes you feel good in spite of everything else, I recommend this book. Don't tell me you watched the movie. I'm certain that the movie was wonderful, but reading a book and watching a movie are two different experiences.

Thank you,

e A r n i e

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I read Agatha Christie's Autobiography.  It was kind of interesting the way she described when she was a teenager hearing and reading that Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated and nobody thought much of it. Days passed and they read about the development, still without too much concern. It took precisely one month for WWI to begin - from the Archduke's assassination on June 28 to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.

Here we sit as the Powers discuss chemical weapons use in Syria.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


June 22, 2013

Agatha Christie lamented in her Autobiography the unfortunate position a person can be in when they enjoy Things, enjoy collecting and having Things – what some Philistines these days might call hoarders – but when said person's parents were also collectors and then they end up with a houseful of stuff already, and no room to add their own. 

As I sit in Corporate Coffee Shop, a lady across the room is working with a surgical clamp on a doll and I'm intrigued. Of course, a twitterpated girl of about 18 is sitting between me and that woman, so I'm both irritated and concerned that I'm going to look like a lecher. But, I want to see what she's doing. Not the girl; she's clearly leaning in, talking to her boyfriend and she's young and blond and happy and good for her. But, she's also in the way. The woman, who is about 50 years old, with a pink sleeveless shirt white shorts and reading glasses, is what I want to see. A minute ago the doll was cut in half at the waist and my artist friend was working on her. Now the torso is complete and she's connecting an arm. It seems that there is rope inside the doll that she's clamping onto. Or she put that rope in there for her own purposes. Now she's had to enlist her husband who is across the room with ear buds in – like me – and reading his Nook. (The younger generation can kiss our grits.) It seems that she needed a man's strength to pull the rope in order to accomplish what she's working on. Whatever it was, he made quick work of it. Now the artist is back in her seat talking with who appears to be the owner of the doll. The doll's dress is back on and the woman is pulling her little panties up with her thumbs while she talks. I could not be more happy that I chose this day and time to come get a cup of coffee, and happily the younger generation is bored and moving on – and out of the way. 

This actually ties in to my point. The apparent owner of the doll is probably in her fifties as well and she needs a doll like she needs a hole in the head. (Ever since a friend's father had a hole cut into his head to relieve pressure from fluid build–up on the brain I've felt a tinge of guilt for using that phrase.) The owner is sporting a pink bejeweled baseball cap and even the doll is dressed in pink. Okay, maybe all this pink is beside the point. But, the owner, looking at her pink smart phone, is probably showing the artist pictures of other dolls that she has. She enjoys them. People want to declutter their lives, but there's no point in being sterile.

I would like to point out that I had a friend, who has now gone to meet her maker, who was a true hoarder. She was an artist – a potter. She made the tiniest little pots, some of them no more than 2 inches high. She threw them on a potter's wheel and glazed them, fired them using the Raku method, and sold them. People all over the country and beyond collected her pots. She had a degree in geology and chemistry and she had a 5,000 square foot studio that was completely full of stuff. This is what I'm told the square footage was; I never measured. It was big. And, there was a pathway to get to her work area where she threw  and glazed tiny little pots. Racks of drying pots, racks of pots in bisque. Those things were necessary. Even the stacks of newspaper were necessary because she used them in the firing. The other 99% of the space was filled with unrelated, yet interesting stuff. A Tiffany lamp was in there. Things that she had hauled out of dumpsters. She had a collection of interesting bottles and antique doorknobs. Hell, when she was getting to the end of her life I helped clean out the place; I was there and I don't even remember what was in that studio. They had a long dumpster that they filled three times. A friend of hers came down from New York to help in the effort and he had a train car – literally – filled up and shipped back to his home. She probably had a quarter of a million dollars worth of semi-precious and precious gems that she had collected through the years, her Private Collection. She would show it to us and she remembered each one, when she got it and why.

My point is, having stuff helped her creatively. Yes, she went overboard but there was a grain of truth beneath it all. Lost amongst the clutter, but it was there. Having interesting things around her, finding and collecting interesting things, helped her creative spirit. And she could produce some work; she made hundreds of pots every month. She experimented with new things. So what if she did dumpster dive sometimes? Her work was all the reason and/or justification needed. I will admit that when she got sick and we had to go help her clean it out because she was physically unable, it was a little embarrassing. But, had she continued to live and produce artwork it would have been justified.

Like Mrs. Christie, though, she inherited a collection as well. Her mother was also a hoarder – from what I understand from my friend, herself – and already had a house and attic full of stuff when she (her mother) passed and she (my friend) took the house. The house was the same as the studio, if not worse. There was less space; the house had rooms where the studio was one open space. But, there were paths to the living room furniture and to the bed and to the bathroom. When they were cleaning out the house they discovered a sofa in one of the rooms, buried and hidden underneath a room full of stuff. The room was filled right up to the door. Ask her about it, though, and she would say that she didn't have time to go through it all. She had to work too much on her artwork and she didn't have time to go through each and every thing in the house like would be required. 

I will say for her that there was no decaying organic matter around. She did have the requisite clowter of cats, but they were all tame and friendly. She cleaned litter boxes and kept the food in order. She made it a point to keep the animals in line, whereas she didn't put so much thought into the rest of it.

Perhaps I'm justifying a bad habit. Perhaps I'm enabling some poor person out there who is struggling with an inner need to have stuff piled from floor to ceiling in every room of the house. That is not my intention. There is a step from collecting to hoarding. When you are a hoarder you have lost control and begin to rationalize completely irrational behavior. Make excuses. Deny. But, a collector of things is not wrong. If it helps that person's creativity or simply makes them happy, then that's all the justification that's needed. Where is the line? I don't know. I enjoy going to thrift stores, so I'm probably not the best judge. I can say from experience, though, that I can feel a difference psychologically when things are in control and I can walk through the apartment unhindered. I'm happier and more at home when things are clear and organized than when half a room is taken up with boxes. So, I think the line is in there somewhere. When one truly forgets what it's like to feel comfortable in their own home and has to start tuning the stuff out, when the stuff is no longer fun to look at, then it's becoming a problem. (Clearly if there is a health hazard going on because of rotten food and/or feral cats in the house then that step has been taken quite some time back.)

The ladies are getting up to leave. The artist is gathering her spool of rope and her pink tool box and her husband gets up to follow her to their car. I want to know these people. I was tempted to go give her my card and let her interest be piqued by bemol Ardiente. But I restrain myself. Like Agatha Christie said, sometimes people can be better characters in your mind if you don't actually get to know them. They can be what you imagine them to be. These women are creative and enjoy things. The one enjoys collecting dolls, the other enjoys repairing them. They both have an inordinate fondness for the color pink, but that's a different story for a different time. For now, they are for me what a happy, creative person is: working, enjoying the things that they find interesting and enjoying each other's company.

Now, off to the thrift stores with Nameless. Have you ever been to Top Drawer on Burnet Rd? You've GOT to go!

More later,

e A r n i e

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cheating at Landscaping

April 21, 2013

Living in an apartment has its perks. Technically I rent a condo, but the same would apply if and when I buy it. What I'm thinking about right now is landscaping. It's like cheating. You don't have to do any of the work and you get all of the benefits. (Not ALL of the benefits; you don't get to do the design part. But I haven't had much exposure to that anyway, so it's not a big loss.)

I live in a small village (technically a Census-Designated Place) in Austin, TX called Anderson Mill. Behind the condos there's a park built around the rainwater run-off drainage ditch. There is a walk/run trail going around it. These greenbelts are all over Austin. An acquaintance recently referred to this kind of park as a Pocket Park and that's a good way of putting it. There are several in the area; this one happens to run right behind my condo. 

Today is the most beautiful day in the history of mankind. It's possible that I'm a little giddy from being out in the beauty of it all and that I'm exaggerating the tiniest bit. But truly, it's a beautiful day. Not too hot, not cold. The sun pops in and out from behind non-threatening clouds. The birds are singing and the world is just calling for people to come out and dance. So I did; I went for a walk. 

I've been working on a project and I came to a point in which I needed to think. Not work, not look at it, just step back and think about it. So, I wandered to the park and walked under the trees, mumbling to myself as I thought things out. The trail runs on both sides of the gully (ditch is such a prosaic word) and you have to walk quite a way up to a little playground, turn a corner and further up to the nearest neighborhood street to cross over to the other side. You could just go down and back up to cross over any time you wanted, but that defeats the purpose. I was walking along and I noticed how green the grass was and how neatly cut. If you're not from Central Texas you may not understand the full impact of that statement – in the middle of the drought we've been enduring. As I was walking I caught the scent of honeysuckle. I looked back and I had, indeed, just walked past some growing on a fence. God bless those people for putting that in their back yard. There is something about honeysuckle that proclaims Spring with a capital S. There are other signs of spring, and there are other scents that are pleasant, but the light, happy, slightly tipsy smell of honeysuckle is irreplaceable.

Having crossed over on the bridge and heading back on the far side of the gully I noticed for the first time a path leading from the trail to a street. The path went between two fences, so it was clearly not private property. I walked up to the street and there was a small sign inviting people to enjoy Anderson Mill Park by following the set rules that it proceeded to numerate. Across the street a young man was mowing his lawn. That's when it occurred to me that I get to enjoy the beauty of the landscaping – the lawns, the trees, the flower beds that people put in front and back of their homes – without having to be tied to doing the labor myself. If I owned a home, mine would be the one sore spot in the block that was full of weeds and never properly mown. So, it's best that things be the way they are.

Back on the trail, I walked under a bunch of limbs that create a sort of tunnel, tree limbs and leaves that shade the area and old, thick vines that give character and make it one of my favorite spots on the walk. Presently I came to the little foot bridge that brought me back around to my side of the gully and back toward home. What a pleasant walk that was. When the temperature gets to be in the hundreds for a record number of days it won't be quite as pleasant. But for now it is just the most beautiful day imaginable.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pasta and Herbs

April 2, 2013

Gift from a dear friend:

Herbs for Cooking

(Garlic and Jalapeño are dried – everything is dried. Even the Rosemary is dried and must be pulverized somewhat because it's not sticks like I would have thought.) My friend went to the trouble to gather these herbs individually at a store that sells them in bulk. She put them together in a small, flat tin and hand-wrote on the top of it the spices that she included.

Choice of pasta: Fettuccini. I felt that the flat surface of the pasta would hold the sauce and herbs better than a tiny spaghetti.

Boil the fettuccini according to directions on the package. While it's cooking, put some butter and a turn 'round the pan of extra virgin olive oil. Put about a couple of teaspoons of the herbs into the oil mixture and stir. You don't want the oil so hot that the herbs sizzle, just enough to melt the butter and keep everything warm and kind of working.

When the pasta has finished cooking strain it, keeping some of the pasta water. (Don't worry about straining it too completely, the extra starchy water will help.) Pour the pasta into the pan with the butter and a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water (or more, if the spirit moves you. I've heard that the starchy water that the pasta cooked in will help thicken everything, like flour or cornstarch.) Grate some parmesan or romano cheese on top. (I happen to have romano and not parmesan on hand.) At this point I also added a dash of salt – because I like salt – and some fresh ground pepper. Fresh ground in this case if you have it. The oils won't be cooked away and you'll be able to tell the difference. Toss it around to cover all of the fettuccini and get everything mixed and thickened. Not too long, we don't want fried fettuccini. Pour into a pasta bowl and enjoy with a lovely white wine

If I had a better camera I would have taken a picture for you. As it is you'll have to imagine the light sauce and dark little specks of herbs on the fettuccini, all piled haphazardly in a hand-thrown greenish ceramic pasta bowl (courtesy of Michael Obranovich).

Thank you, dear friend, for the wonderful gift. I'm enjoying it tremendously.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Quiet Time

March 23, 2013,

Coffee in the morning. It seems so natural, so right. This morning, in particular, it felt good. It's been a long week, a lot going on. So, last night I tried to go to bed early (it didn't work) and this morning when my internal alarm clock woke me up at 7 o'clock I went ahead and got up. My cat was bugging me for her moist food, anyway. I got dressed and went to corporate coffee shop.

A little over ten years ago I had done a Very Stupid Thing and I was having to work a lot to make up for it. I had a day job, Monday through Friday 8 to 5, then I had an evening job delivering pizzas. Pizza delivery was evenings during the week and on Sunday. It was mid-shift on Saturdays. I was off from that job on Mondays, but I didn't have an actual day off. I was at one job or the other, or both. It might seem like I would sleep a lot on Sunday just because I could. But, there was something delicious about getting up early on Sunday mornings, going to a coffee shop, still a little tired mentally and physically, and drinking coffee among other people. I mean, if I had been asleep I wouldn't be conscious of those precious hours to myself. I needed to be awake. And being around other people was particularly nice. Not necessarily people I knew – almost pointedly not people I knew. I could sit and read and watch people go about their happy lives and think about a day when things would be better for me. It was a good time (in my life) to be introspective and heal from the inside out. If I hadn't had those problems, then I wouldn't have had those Sunday mornings by myself – I wouldn't have appreciated them like I did, anyway. It's like a story my father used to tell me about a ranch hand who, every morning, put a rock in his shoe. When asked why, he said that the only joy he had in his life was taking that shoe off in the evenings.

So early this morning I got up and went to a coffee shop. It wasn't exactly the same – things are much better for me now in general. But, I have been working a lot these last few weeks and the stress level has been rather higher. So, I enjoyed, I savored sitting by myself in a coffee shop full of people, reading and watching people interact. Being alone, but around other people. Reading. Being awake and conscious of the fact that I wasn't at work and didn't have to be. Nursing inner bruises. I'm glad I can appreciate these moments still.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Wanna Take It for Granted

March 13, 2013

There are things that I like taking for granted. Thumbs for instance. I like just going to bed so secure in the existence of an opposable thumb that I don't even have to think about it. There is an issue called De Quervain syndrome that I suffered from several years ago. The tendons that work the thumb are wrapped in a sheath. That sheath becomes inflamed and then the thumb doesn't work and it hurts. When I had it, I literally could not lift my thumb. (I could if I lifted it with the other hand, but that doesn't help in any practical way.)

Every once in a while it will flair up a little bit again. I take Advil and rub Icy/Hot on it and it usually goes away. This time it's taking longer. Don't get me wrong, I can still use my thumb (mostly) and if I hold my thumb and pull my wrist down, it doesn't hurt my wrist or forearm. But, the area that was affected before is sore and it twitches. Having gone through a period of weeks in which I couldn't grasp anything or use my thumb for the space bar on the keyboard I'm a little sensitive to the issue. (You try writing one sentence using the thumb of your left hand on the space bar rather than the right.)

I suppose that I should use this as an opportunity to grow spiritually and learn to appreciate my most preaxial digit. But, I don't want to. I want to not have to think about it. Does that make me a bad person?

Monday, March 11, 2013

The End of an Era

March 11, 2013

Page 131. The end is approaching and I'm not emotionally prepared for this. Out of 166 pages, 9 of them are about the author, related products, etc. So, there are a total of 157 pages of novel. And I'm on page 131. I've gone from the early interbella period through the 70's and now I'm approaching the end. In 1920 Agatha Christie published The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel and the first Hercule Poirot mystery. Admittedly, I'm less fond of Poirot as I am of Miss Marple, but even she was born of a side character (not of the same name) in an early Poirot novel.

Thirty-three novels spanning from 1920 to 1972. And, I'm at the penultimate, which is probably the last of the Poirot novels I care to read. I read all of the Miss Marple novels first, but there are only 12 of those. I wrote about them here. I began to read the Poirot mysteries almost begrudgingly. "If I can't have the character I want I'll go ahead and read these." That was more or less my mindset. I've taken issue with him on occasion, but good lord, with that many novels not every one of them can please everybody. But, I've grown accustomed to him. I look forward to weekends with a light novel and a nap on the sofa. The Miss Marple novels helped me keep my sanity when I lived in a small town 20 miles from Austin (I ramble about that here) and Poirot has become a part of what I enjoy about my apartment; part of what makes this little place feel like home.

And now I'm on page 131.

The last novel is called Curtain and I'm almost certain that Poirot dies in it. It was written during WWII and set to be published postmortem. Actually, it was published just before she passed away, but after she had realized that she would not be able to write another novel. I'm not certain I want to read about him dying. It would be like watching the Last M∙A∙S∙H, knowing that Hawkeye was going to die. (He doesn't.) Miss Marple also had a final novel written at the same time and it was published after Christie passed away. I read it in the order it was written in, not published, so it fit in. (I think that Christie adjusted Curtain to fit in at the end of the series, but didn't get a chance to do so with Sleeping Murder.)

There's always Tommy and Tuppence, but, I'm not excited about them. Maybe I'll give them a whirl. There aren't that many of their novels. They could at least tide me over until I find the next thing that I want to read.

And, this is a remarkably long series. I really have nothing to complain about. When I started it, and I found an official reading order, I felt comfortable that I'd be set for a while. I guess I was. But, now it's coming to an end. I'm on page 131 and this is likely the last one I'll read and I'm sad, and not just a little anxious. How will I fill my Saturday afternoons? Cleaning? Pffft! I'm going to go to bed now and read. It's likely that I will be finished with the book before I fall asleep. And then tomorrow will come along and somehow I'll go on. Maybe I'll cry.

Until later,


Saturday, March 9, 2013

In the beginning...

March 7, 2013

I've been reading the Bible lately. This is less an act of faith as it is simple interest. I can't even remember what the reference was that started the whole thing. But, I read something that was a reference to something in the Bible and I began to get curious about the things that I didn't know. I've read Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus before. I petered out in Numbers – it's rather tedious. So, when whatever it was piqued my curiosity, I began with a perusal of Deuteronomy, which is more or less a summary of the first 4 books from what I've read. But, I wanted to know about the things that people talk about. I wanted to read the books of Kings and read about David and about Daniel and understand the context. But, I didn't want to miss anything so I kept going further and further back. Finally, I settled at the end of the Pentateuch.

I wanted to begin with the story part, and not so much with the laws. The laws are tedious and make me think that it was the world's first attempt at socialism. I mean, settle accounts every 7 years and every 7th 7-year span all property reverts back to its original owner. So, I sell you some land; in 49 years it comes back to me or my family. What I get from that is that this would prevent a situation in which most of the property/money rested in the hands of a few powerful families. And the size and shape and decorations of the Arc of the Covenant are only interesting for the first five times you read them. After that they lose some of their flair.

So, I read the end of Deuteronomy and made my way through Joshua. It was interesting – from a historic perspective if nothing else. The Israelites never got along; they were bickering from the get-go. "Why do I have to be on this side of the Jordan? Why does he get to be on that side? Why can't I have my own altar? Why do I have to go use HIS?" Also, the seemingly arbitrary commands that were given. March seven times around the city; don't attack or shout. It recalls their days in the desert. Gather only enough manna for one day; don't try to save for future days. It all seems like God is trying to teach them to be 100% dependent on him. When I feed my dog I make him sit and stay while I put the food down. Then I say, "Release" and he can eat. He has to learn that he's completely dependent on me for food, so that he learns that I am dominant; I am the alpha. Is this what God was doing in the desert? (Is this question sacrilege?)

This is not to say that it isn't interesting. At least I have a better understanding what people are talking about and referring to. And, the bible that I have has notes; it explains the different sources, from the North, from the South and their different perspectives and how those perspectives come into play when putting the stories down on papyrus. (Actually, having read First and Second Kings gives me more insight into that background information as well. But, more on that later.)

I'll close for the moment. I've risked a bolt of lightening enough for one day. I'll write more questions and observations later.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Autumns

February 21, 2013

The art of the album seems to be lost. I don't know if the advent of electronic music downloads caused it, or if maybe it was more special to begin with. Celebrated albums like The Wall and The Dark Side of the Moon are few, which would be why they're celebrated. All throughout my music-listening career buying an LP/CD/Cassette tape has always been kind of a crap shoot  There might be a song you hear on the radio and so you buy the album and there is precisely one song on it that's worth listening to. Or, your favorite singer/band comes out with a new album and you rush to buy it, and you slowly come to the realization that you're not as impressed as you had expected to be. Then, you might just decide that you're completely disappointed.

But, in this day and age of instant and total gratification (one could have written the same opening phrase 20 years ago; it's just more-so now than it was then) does anybody even care about albums as a complete art any more? It's a lot more convenient for me to be able to buy just the songs that I like, and though I could be missing something wonderful, I'm saving a lot of money in the process.

There is one album, though, that I'd like to bring your attention to: the self-titled album by The Autumns. I downloaded one song from a site I had a subscription to (totally legal – they were promoting indie bands). The song was Slumberdoll, which is a very nice song by itself. I let a friend of mine at work listen to it and she emailed me asking for the name of the band... then she emailed me threatening to choke the life out of me if I didn't tell her the name of that band right now. (I might be exaggerating.) It's got a sound that is not like anything I've heard before and I'm at a loss to describe it. The instrumentals are... I don't know. I truly have nothing to compare them to so you'll have to listen to samples here:

I've read mixed reviews. I recently was at Goodwill – a favorite Sunday afternoon activity of mine – and I came across an earlier work of theirs, In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour. That CD is from 2000; the predecessor of The Autumns, which is dated 2004. The style is absolutely the same, but I like The Autumns much better. I felt they were more developed and more sure of themselves. I read, though, a review that compared the 2nd rather unfavorably to the first, so I suppose it's a matter of taste. (Judging from the language of said review, I'd say that he/she is more used to writing reviews of music than I and perhaps a better source, but I still hold firmly to the opinion that The Autumns is far superior to In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour.)

Taken by itself the song Slumberdoll is wonderful. But, in the context of the complete album it makes more sense; it has a home. The music is not hard rock; it's more like Muse. It makes good listening in the morning when I first get to work. Or, in the evening when I get home. The lead singer's tenor voice slipping in and out of falsetto, the melancholy feeling that the instruments inspire, the smooth, confident way they play make me happy. The Moon Softly Weeps a Lullaby is purely instrumental and it's dark, slow and soft. On the whole, it puts me in a different place mentally, and the first few chords prepare my brain to be taken there. But, you gotta hear the whole CD to get the effect.

Please give these songs a listen. I haven't come across anything like them before. (I'm not likely to again, it would seem. They had one other CD in 2007 and then seem to have fallen out of the world.) This album is a work of art, but more so if taken as a whole rather than each song standing alone. It's the kind of thing that can sit on a shelf for years, and then be played again and the chords immediately sooth the soul again... and alert the senses to a imminent ride that you're about to be taken on, like the feeling you get when you first start rolling in a roller coaster ride that you're familiar with.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hickory Dickory Dock

Hickory Dickory Dock (Hercule Poirot, #29)Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

January 6, 2013

If you are considering reading all of the Hercule Poirot novels from beginning to end, may I suggest that you skip Hickory Dickory Dock, AKA Hickory Dickory Death. This is not Agatha Christie's greatest achievement in literature.

First of all, there are just a lot of characters. I was tired from trying to keep them all straight. I do give Christie credit, because I was, indeed, able to keep them straight... beginning about a third of the way into the book. And I'm very inclined to not pay attention to names and get lost. And, I don't want to call her a racist, because I don't believe she was, but some of the characters – the majority of whom are foreign and some from Africa and India – were not very developed and the result was that she seemed to rest on racist stereotypes. In her repertoire, Christie doesn't have a lot of characters of color. I just felt a little uncomfortable with her treatment of them in this book. Not all of them, but enough to make me uncomfortable.

The book does have some redeeming qualities, though. There's the issue of Communism. The book actually does a good job of recording the mindset of the time. Written in 1955, it is post-WWII, the beginnings of that long ideological conflict known as the Cold War, and after McCarthy's famous declaration of his list of names. Though the word McCarthyism is not used, the word Communist is thrown around frequently, especially by frustrated men who have nothing more substantial to accuse the foreigners of, so they default to the inquisition-style of accusation. Interestingly, she doesn't seem to make the issue of Communism a sinister threat, just an epithet used by men who should probably mind their own business.

It's also amusing the way Christie pokes fun at Poirot – square crumpets and symmetrical sandwiches. He likes square rooms and furniture rather than round. He almost seems like a precursor to Monk, the OCD detective of television.

But, the plot includes smuggling and blackmail and Christie doesn't seem at her best with those subjects. In reading different reviews, I've come across more than one complaint about the convoluted plot, and it is almost comical in its twists. It was virtually impossible for me to suspend disbelief, and I'm a very forgiving reader. I think, though, that the overly twisted plot had more to do with her being in unfamiliar territory than just being unable to come up with a workable story line.

And God bless that Ariadne Oliver. She makes an appearance in the very next novel, Dead Man's Folly. In it she says, "It's never difficult to think of things. The trouble is that you think of too many, and then it all becomes too complicated, so you have to relinquish some of them and that is rather agony."

Some people who reviewed the book wrote that all in all it was worth the read because it was entertaining. Honestly, I had never thought of it that way, and I've been reading books for over thirty years. Possibly I've felt the same way before, but really, what an idea: a bad book is okay because one enjoyed oneself while reading it. I'll have to think about that a while. However, in this case I disagree. I don't think I enjoyed myself enough to justify having spent time reading it. Square crumpets can only take you so far.

Thank you for reading.

eArnie Painter

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