Graphic Content – You Are There

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
50/501Title: Ici Même (You Are There)
Creators: Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest
Years: 1978
Country: France

Given our current easy access to graphic novels it is difficult to imagine that, in our somewhat recent past, there were none being written in Europe. This is where You Are There comes in since it is one of the earliest examples of the European graphic novel. So, with that alone, it’s hard to overstate the level of influence that this will have had on comic writers across the continent.

The setting of You Are There is absurd and yet weirdly imaginable. It’s in Mornemont, a vast walled French estate that also happens to be semi-independent nation. Living on the walls is a dapper and lanky man called Albert There who sees himself as the true owner of the property (which is currently being occupied by various offshoots of his family. By live on the walls I mean, literally, he has a house on the walls and he acts as a passive-aggressive gatekeeper.

To say that Albert is a bit of an oddity would be an understatement. He is very particular and very obsessive over the court case that he hopes will return to him his rights of ownership of the estate. Things aren’t that simple though. Weirdness runs in the family and it doesn’t help that people outside of Mornemont are hoping to exploit Albert’s lawsuit for themselves.

The central premise is weird enough to keep you interested, but the real joy is in Tardi’s illustrations. They really help to bring life to this bizarre world (especially in the final costumed mob scenes) and remind me of a lot of French and Belgian animations that I have seen.

Surprisingly, even though I am 50 comics into the list, there are still genres waiting for me to read. The next one will be a war comic from the 1950s, which will feel like a return to the golden age of comics… although not a manga. It’s been way too long since I last read a manga.

Advertisements

World Cooking – Bhutan

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Bhutan
Progress: 17/193

Nestled up in Eastern Himalayas is a small country that I would love to visit someday but may not gather the coin to do so: Bhutan. Thanks to the mountainous terrain, Bhutan has been able to remain somewhat isolated from the world for many centuries, until fairly recently that is.

This means that in terms of culture, and therefore cuisine, Bhutan has been able to diverge from the path of Indian and Mongol food (who previously occupied the nation) and carve out their own culinary identity. There are a lot of dishes that are distinctly Bhutanese, which has actually gave me a wealth to choose from for this post.

Now obviously I am not able to procure Bhutanese yak cheese and other local ingredients to make the dishes, but I have been to use a 20 year old website called A Window to Bhutan to find suitable recipes and substitutes. Rather than make a main and a dessert I opted for two mains to serve together. Probably not how this works normally, but in for a penny etc.

Main: Ema Datshi and Kewa Phagsha

There was no way that I could cover Bhutan without making a version of ema datshi – their national dish which is mainly flavoured with cheese and a whole lot of green chillies. The recipe for this indicates an equal amount of cheese and chilli is used… which is what I did.

What really surprised me is that despite putting in three packs of green chilli, this ema datshi was medium spiced at most. This is likely down to me using jalapenos rather than native Bhutanese, but this in no way blew my head off. In fact, the best way I could describe this would be if you made a stew to taste like jalapeno poppers (minus the breading). With the rice this was absolutely delicious and will be a recipe that I can trot out whenever I have to cook for someone vegetarian.

On the other side of the mountain of rice (because I thought I would need something to cool my tongue down) is a pork dish called Kewa Phagsha. The principle ingredients are pork, potato, chilli, ginger and garlic. Again, this was not as spicy as I had expected with all the heat being generated by the ginger. This is something that (with a little cornflour for thickening) would make for a really nice dish to have on it’s own with rice or noodles.

There is plenty more that can be mined from Bhutanese cuisine, so I think I’ll have to do a bit more exploring in the future. It would be great to know what the perfect substitute for their yak cheese is (as they use it in plenty of dishes) but feta will do for now.

Back again to Africa next time. I’ve noticed a big space on the map where there are no pins, so will probably look to fill that in. Means I’ll either be cooking something from North Africa or something in the mid-region around the Congos. I guess I’ll just have to see which recipe inspires me.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Attack on Titan Season 2

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 45/100Title: Attack on Titan Season 2
Episodes Aired: 12
Year(s): 2017

Well, I did say that it wouldn’t be long before I polished off the second season. Here we are less than a week later and I pretty much binged most of Attack on Titan Season 2 thanks to my back pain altering my sleeping habits.

To put this into context, this second season in the Attack on Titan aired four years after the first one. At one cour long, where the episodes serve to introduce three other special titans and the ensuing battles, it does feel like this is more of a series fragment than a full blown season.

In terms of quality nothing has changed, but it feels like this set of episodes was released to keep Attack on Titan in the public consciousness whilst enough material was gathered to produced further larger seasons. It’s the same thing that Gintama does, but for them it works as that series has always been a mix of standalone and short arcs.

Watching this straight after the first season really helped this to feel in better context. I can only imagine what fans of the franchise felt when they waited so long for more story and were given such a brief season. Luckily I haven’t had that with a show I loved yet (as I am always playing catch-up), but I bet many fans were left unsatisfied by the non-conclusion at the end of the 12 episodes.

Having binged the first two seasons, it is going to be weird to an incredibly different dynamic to watch the third season week-by-week. Especially as this third season will be the first time that I am watching Attack on Titan where I haven’t read the manga. Given that it is two cours long and they have enough material to have a fully fleshed out season, I am really pumped that this third one could be the best season yet.

1001 Songs – 1973: Part One

Personality Crisis – New York Dolls

Every year we inch closer and closer to punk music and, with this track from New York Dolls, you can really hear how the hard rock song is beginning to contort to something more akin to the Ramones or especially The Clash.

The album this comes from (which I will need to listen to at some point for my other listed) is cited as being a key early and influential work in the punk genre. The key thing that makes this not quite punk is the glam element to their image (which was partially based in drag) and the flamboyant ways that auxillary instruments like keyboards are included.

The Ballroom Blitz – The Sweet

Right, a proper glam rock song here. Before starting on this list I would have said that I just don’t like glam rock, but I think I’m coming round to the idea that it might be more the fusion of glam and hard rock that I don’t particularly go for. I mean, I like David Bowie and I was tapping my foot along to ‘The Ballroom Blitz’ nearlt as soon as it started.

Interesting to note that this band started off as a bubblegum pop act before morphing into glam rock. I think it might be this weird fusion of musical styles that actually helped me to enjoy this song. Also it has a great sing-a-long chorus, which is always seductive.

Jolene – Dolly Parton

‘Jolene’ is one of my favourite country songs of all time. It’s a stone cold classic tale of a wife pleading that an attractive woman doesn’t go and steal her husband just because she can. These feelings of inadequacy is probably something everyone can relate to at some point within their relationships, which just adds to it.

The real power of the song comes from the simple backing guitar and the amazing vocals of Dolly Parton in the front. Such a spartan arrangement just adds to the image of a housewife fretting in the kitchen about ‘that’ woman. Is it an actual confrontation or the wife pleading to the sky.

It was nice to have a country break.

Next – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

Well… this is a weird song. This is done on the list as being another glam/hard rock song, but it feels like anything but. I mean, this lists Belgian chanteur Jacques Brel as one of the writers – and given the content and cadence of the lyrics I could really believe it.

This song feels like what would happen if Captain Beefheart took it upon himself to sing covers of French chanson. It’s a rock-cabaret fusion that is oddly unsettling and yet I can’t quite say that I disliked it. To be fair, this took me completely off-guard and feels weird enough that it’s inclusion on this list feels justified.

20th Century Boy – T. Rex

Okay, so maybe I just don’t like Slade. For me Slade has always been an avatar for what glam rock, but the more I realise all the songs that come under the ‘glam rock’ moniker, the more I realise that I actually like quite a lot of these songs.

I mean I have heard ’20th Century Boy’ quite a few times over the years and I have always thought well of it. Now that I listen to it in context with the other glam and hard rock songs that were coming out in 1973, I think I like it more. Probably means I should be making time for Electric Warrior at some point in the future.

Rock On – David Essex

This post has been a real revelation about what ‘glam rock’ really means. Given that it has roots in the cabaret scene it would make sense that songs like ‘Rock On’ would fit into this category. It’s just that… it’s not an incredibly rocky song in the more obvious sense.

However there is this underlying menace to that song with it’s very distinctive baseline, percussion and muted vocals. This is a rock song without electric guitars. Considering that I only know of David Essex from his later work in musical theatre, this was a welcome surprise.

Search & Destroy – Iggy & The Stooges

Compared to some of the other glam rock and proto-punk that I’ve listened to for this post ‘Search and Destroy’ actually feels pretty straightforward. I guess I need to listen to the rest of Raw Power before I cement an opinion on this song as, for now, it feels oddly vanilla within this line-up.

Desperado – The Eagles

After all these harder rock songs (apart from ‘Jolene’) it’s nice to end on a soft rock song that is actually quite beautiful. Seeing how the only Eagles song I knew before this was ‘Hotel California’, I expected something a bit more rocky rather than a, then modern, take on the rock ballad.

Given that this is the song that named the album, there really is a weird disconnect between the tough looking album cover and this song that is a plea to a friend to come to their senses. It’s one of those songs where I imagine everyone watching it played live will get their lighters out and sway in the dark.

Progress: 381/1021

XL Popcorn – Celine and Julie Go Boating

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 698/1007Title: Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating)
Director: Jacques Rivette
Year: 1974
Country: France

I guess Jacques Rivette liked making long movies, that or this is when he is at his very best. Two and a half years ago I watched the 4-hour painting drama La Belle Noiseuse and was astonished at just how immersive it was. I mean that was a film that a number of people online found deathly boring and I found utterly fascinating (where the reverse was true of Shaft)

At three and a quarter hours long, Celine and Julie Go Boating is one of those films that you really need to make time to watch. ‘Luckily’ for me I injured my lower back at work, so I had an excuse to take a bit more of a lazy Saturday than I typically do. Also it has been way too long since I last watched a non-English language film, so doing a long foreign-language film like this kinda makes up for that.

There is a time where you will watch a movie or a TV series where everything is just a lead in to the final sequence. It felt that way with Twin Peaks before the reveal of Laura Palmer’s murderer, and the same could be said for the final half hour of this film. I mention Twin Peaks because, before I sat down to watch this film, I saw a poster online stating that Celine and Julie Go Boating and Mulholland Drive would make for an excellent double-bill. How right they were.

It is a bit of a shorthand nowadays to refer to some sort of visual media as being ‘Lynchian’, but Celine and Julie Go Boating fits the bill completely. There was one scene, where Celine does her magic act in an almost silent cabaret club, that was echoed later in scenes from Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and the aforementioned Mulholland Drive. But it’s more than just scenes, but the whole slightly off-kilter vibe in the film.

I mentioned earlier about payoff and it’s worth going into what that’s about. At the centre of the film is the growing friendship between Celine and Julie who meet in an extended walking chase sequence at the beginning of the film. This leads into the central mystery of the film – a house where everyone keeps repeating the same day, resulting in the same little girl ending up murdered. The mechanics of this central mystery relies a lot on magic, a recurring theme in the film, which also requires you to work out some of the more nuanced aspects.

It all sounds a bit serious, but everything is done with a wink and feels like a real reaction to the ennui that can be found in earlier French New Wave films. It reminds me a lot more of Luis Buñuel‘s work than the likes of Godard, but I guess that’s just me.

So yes, whilst this is a long film it is certainly worth a watch. Probably would have made for a cool miniseries, but that’s a debate for another time.

Acclaimed Albums – Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 167/250Title: Déjà Vu
Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Year: 1970
Position: #168

The close male rock harmonies were such a big thing in the 1960s. It’s weird to think that they would be nearly extinct in hugely acclaimed releases within a few years of Déjà Vu being released. Hearing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing together on tracks like “Teach Your Children”, “Our House” and “Helpless” just feels, for lack of a better word, comforting. So many other groups from this era did these harmonies, but there is something so incredibly likeable in how they’re done on this album.

When listening to Déjà Vu it is worth remembering that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a supergroup. Each had a large degree of success in their other endeavours (with Neil Young arguably having the biggest career), but Déjà Vu stands as each of their most successful albums. I mention this as, despite each of them having a strong presence and their own songs, this really does feel like the work of a coherent group.

I know that it is probably because, going into this, “Our House” was the only song I knew – but it might be my favourite song on the album. Sure it doesn’t have the counter-culture snapshot of ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ or the emotional resonance of “Helpless”, but it’s a sunny song that encapsulates all the factors that make Déjà Vu an enjoyable listen.

Having done this and a bunch of Neil Young albums (years ago by now) I am interested in how his later albums shaped up. My interest has also been piqued by what their debut release sounded like. But that’s probably a discussion for another time.

Graphic Content – Zot!

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
49/501Title: Zot!
Creator: Scott McCloud
Years: 1984-90
Country: USA

Picture this, it’s the early 1980s and superhero comics are going through a bit of a grungy phase. In zooms Zot! with bright colours, 1960s-style futurism and a happy attitude. It’s little wonder that this would become a multi-award nominated comic seeing how much it stood out from the crowd. Especially as it was a very early example of a Western comic that took inspiration from manga.

At the centre is Zot and Jenny – two teenagers who live on Earth, but in different dimensions. Jenny, a typical schoolgirl, comes from our dimension; Zot is a hero from an Earth that feels like if Futurama had been created in the 1950s. There is a host of supporting characters including Jenny’s sister Butch (who gets turned into a monkey by devolution fanatics), a robot butler and a host of really cool villains.

Now, to talk about Zot! really feels like talking about three comics within the same universe. For the first third there’s a serialized ‘save the universe’ storyline that reminded me a bit of The Incal– this is also the only section of the comic that is in colour. You’d think that the switch to black-and-white would hurt a comic that relies on retro-futuristic visuals, but this also occurred with a real ramping up in the writing. It is in this section that we meet all the main characters from the other dimension (including 9-Jack-9, an expert assassin who travels around using electrical currents and machines).

The second section starts to introduce more of Jenny’s regular life including her school friends, but we still visit Zot’s dimension – such as a cool arc where he has to race to the bottom of a 99-floor building. Then there’s the final third, which takes place entirely in our world as Zot finds himself unable to return to his own.

It’s interesting to read through Zot! in quick succession as you can really watch how the creator is completely deconstructing the idea of a boy wonder superhero. In the beginning he is this immature and seemingly invincible guy who saves the universe and gets the girl. By the end, he is living a normal life on his own heroic terms and, through this group, we see different types of heroics (including blowing the whistle on homophobic bullies) play out within his peer group.

For me, I enjoyed the final third the most. The idea of bringing a character like Astro Boy and having him become a normal teenager (whilst keeping the powers and personality that makes him special) is an interesting one. This is especially so as, in the beginning Zot looks invincible, but by the end he is incredibly vulnerable. Bit of an interesting metaphor going on there.

There really is a lot more to this comic that meets the eye and it makes me interested to see some of his other works – especially Understanding Comics (which is non-fiction and very meta) and The Sculptor (whose key concept feels rather unique).

🎻♫♪ – Missa Papae Marcelli by Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 42/501Title: Missa Papae Marcelli
Composer: Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina
Nationality: Italian
Year:
1567

Back to the earlier pieces again with religious pieces that engage in vocal polyphony. This isn’t going to be a long post as, honestly, I am running out of things to say about these pieces.

At this point I am still finding it difficult to really differentiate between these kinds of pieces… other than by a general feeling. With Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli I actually felt myself rather uplifted. These are clearly steps forward compared to some of the first ones and are probably some of the best that I have heard so far. However, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a reason why.

One happy accident of me changing my posting pattern to every day of the week is that it has spurred me on to start listening to these classical pieces at a greater pace. Eventually I will be seeing the end of these older vocal pieces from the Renaissance and move into the classical period of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Still a while away, but at least I’ve sped up.

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Attack on Titan

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 44/100Title: Attack on Titan
Episodes Aired: 25
Year(s): 2013

I waited as long as I could between reading the manga and starting on the anime. And then Season 3 was due to start. I mean, how could I resist this? The manga was awesome and I really wanted to see how graphic the anime could get. Turns out, just about enough.

When reading the manga I made the decision to stop at around chapter 50 so that I would be able to experience the story for the first time through the eventual anime adaptation. It also helps that 3-4 months have passed since I originally read the manga, which means I have forgotten all the twists and turns.

To be honest, this anime was better than I expected. Sure, Japanese censorship means that a lot of the more graphic images were covered in shadow… however this was probably for the best. I mean the titans are are creepy enough and the idea of innocent people having their head chewed on is grotesque. So I think that this hits a happy medium.

One downside of the anime over the manga is that it helped me to realize how, at times, Eren is actually quite annoying. Wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t the central character of the series. Luckily the adaptation gets pretty much all of the other characters spot on (especially Sasha, who remains adorable in all of her food scavenging weirdness).

I’m also really appreciative of the music and the sound design in the series. At times they can go a bit cavalier with the heroic stings, but usually get the balance right between rousing and off-putting.

Now, usually I don’t watch too many series of a show in a row, but I really feel the urge to keep doing so I can start watching season 3 of Attack on Titan as it airs. So… I guess I’ll be crossing off the second season of Attack on Titan pretty damned soon.

There was a while between watching Great Teacher Onizuka and this first season of Attack on Titan because I felt the urge to completely consume the anime for Nodame CantabileIt’s a real shame that this fell of the list as it really did scratch my urge for some funny relationship anime.

What’s On TV – Cadfael

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 216/501
Title: Cadfael
Episodes Aired: 13
Year(s): 1994-1998
Country: UK

How do you do a crime procedural without being able to rely on modern science or a suddenly stopped timepiece? This is the question that drew me to Cadfael as the next show for the list. It helps that the excellent Derek Jacobi takes the titular role and that I have actually read one of the Cadfael books.

In bringing this series to the screen ITV opted to turn these novels into feature length episodes, which meant each series featured 3-4 episodes. This follows how ITV had chosen to adapt their flagship detective series Inspector Morse. Thing is, at least for me, the choice to make these feature lengths did more harm than good.

With the exception of “A Morbid Taste for Bones”, which was a really good episode and should have been the one singled out in the book, this is a show that really suffered with some pacing problems. It would repeatedly happen that an episode would reach what felt like a conclusion… only to then have half an hour left. Seeing how these were all based on books I know that there was enough material for them to go on, but it just didn’t seem to translate.

Similarly, at least in the earlier episodes, there appeared to be a real disconnect in how this show wanted the acting to be done. Some were modern, others bordering on a Shakespearean style. The only actors who didn’t fall into this trap were Derek Jacobi (obviously, he is a treasure) and a number of the regular actors who played members of the Benedictine order.

There is something quintessentially English in the idea of having a series of stories about a medieval monk solving murders. Aside from the number of times they inexplicably found flowers on the corpse (or at times in the corpse) it was interesting to think on how crimes would have been solved back then. For that alone Cadfael has been an interesting watch. However, that alone isn’t enough to keep you entertained for 75 minutes when there are some major third act problems.