Monthly Archives: April 2015

XL Popcorn – Le Jour Se Lève

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 424/1007Title: Le Jour Se Lève (Daybreak)
Director: Marcel Carné
Year: 1939
Country: France

Le Jour Se Lève  is one of those films where it is an absolute miracle that it is still around today. In a similar way to Gaslight, an American studio decided that wanted to remake Le Jour Se Lève  in 1947 and went on to try and destroy every known reel of the original. This film was considered lost for the best part of a decade until it showed up again in the 1950s. Not an uncommon practice at the time, which is just despicable.

Still,  Le Jour Se Lève managed to survive and for that cinema history remains all the richer. Interesting for the time is the extensive use of flashbacks where they have chosen not to signpost what time we are in. Like most viewers nowadays the film-makers expected you to understand that whenever there was a dissolve that was cue enough that we were switching time periods. Due to the disclaimer at the beginning indicating that we were going to be watching the past and present at different intervals I am guessing that this was one of the first times this had been attempted without inter-titles. Always interesting to watch the evolution of this medium.

The story of this is actually fairly simple, we enter on man having just been shot and is discovered by a blind resident of the apartment building. The murderer (Jean Gabin) barricades himself in his small apartment and we find out how this man, that everyone speaks well of, came to become a murderer. It is your classic story of love and jealousy with the French twist that people are kinda aware of infidelity happening and more-or-less accepting it as a fact of life. This is rather strange to me, but then again the murdered party is a dog-training vaudeville act who is a pathological liar so all bets are off.

The reason why he killed the man is, in the end, immaterial since it becomes fairly obvious how things are going to play out. The more interesting thing are him, sat alone in his flat. It’s the way he clutches for survival despite being shot at through the door and from the building across the street and how he rejects the support of the crowd below him. He is someone who has been broken irreparably by the killing of another (somewhat toxic) person in a crime of passion. In the end, like with many films, there is no chance at a positive ending due to how things are progressing… the end is unavoidable and, somehow, remains tragic without succumbing to melodrama.

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Music Monday: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 59/250Title: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Artist: Derek and the Dominos
Year: 1970
Position: #77

By now I am very used to albums having a title track. In fact, it is probably safe to say that half of all albums that are not eponymous are named after a track, either one that made it to the final record or one that was cut. I have never, however, seen an album that so signposts just one track on the listing.

Think about it. The name Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is basically saying, “we have this amazing track called ‘Layla’ and then a bunch of other songs we think so well with it because they are about love”. Now, apart from the fact that most songs tend to be about love in one way or another (I look forward to discussing this when I get around to 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields) this is really underselling the album.

Okay, ‘Layla’ is definitely the highlight of the album. That guitar figure (TIL: what a figure in music means) is utterly unmistakeable. Before listening to ‘Layla’ I was not sure if I had heard it before, but the moment that figure started I instantly knew that I had. It’s a great song, but is it substantially better than the rest of the album? No, but it probably does have the greatest earworm.

It’s a fairly long album running at nearly 80 minutes over 14 tracks, but at no point does it feel overly long or bloated, but the waiting for ‘Layla’ hangs over everything . I guess that’s the problem with focusing so much attention on one track.

Good Eatin’: A Spot of Gloucester Old Spot

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

A lot of the times on this list you need to have a very specific form of meat and fish in order to successfully cross it off. For example, there is a crab listed which would mean a trip to Hong Kong in July as that is when it considered ‘ready’.

In a similar vein, there are two region-specific types of pork on this list. I was lucky enough to have already crossed of Tuscan Wild Boar and now it is time for the other one.

Food items: Gloucester Old Spot Pork and French Tarragon

Good old Marks and Spencer. Just when I think I am going to have to start ordering meat off of the internet, there it was chilling in the small meat counter next to some rather plump looking sausages. I took this as a sign and ditched the meal I had otherwise planned for Sunday night dinner,  I also got to planning how to use that pack of French tarragon I had ordered from Merchant Gourmet a few months back with the Grains of Paradise.

If you are interested here is what I did:

Ingredients (served 2):

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 pork chops
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 250ml cider
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 1½ tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 pinch dried French tarragon

Season the pork with the salt and pepper and leave out of the fridge for 10-15 minutes.

Add the oil to a hot frying pan and cook the pork for 4 minutes on both sides (do not overcook). Wrap in foil and set aside. To the pan add the butter and onion, cook this until the onion is brown.

Add the cider and allow to bubble and reduce by half. Take this off the heat and whisk in the crème fraîche, mustard and tarragon. Add the pork chops (and any juices) back to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes whilst smothering the chops in the sauce.

Serve, I did this with butternut squash I had roasted with a dash of raspberry vinegar.

The tarragon lent the sauce a lingering taste of aniseed as well as a bit of soapiness (similar to rosemary in the latter respect). The real star of the show, however, was the pork. Deliciously succulent and so much more flavourful when compared to the more generic pork chops that you can get in the supermarket. Also, it wasn’t actually that expensive. £5 for two really thick pork chops. Okay, not a bargain but pretty damned good for a decent cut of meat.

Food items: Salt Caramel

I did 13,000 steps today so I felt that it was finally time to crack open the salted caramel fudge that my mum for me for Christmas. All I can say is that these are exquisite and I regret allowing my partner to share them with me. Oh well, om nom nom.

Progress: 354/500

I’ll Always Love You New York

I am very lucky to have been to New York a number of times in my teens. The last time that I visited was in 2009 which is when I sent the postcards in the photo to my partner. It’s a good thing he kept them too, because there aren’t many photos of me in New York.

The only photos that I still have are from that 2009 trip, a time where we had already done most of the touristy things, the things that were on this bucket list.
Still, if proof were needed that I made the trip. This was taken at ‘The Top of the Rock’ on September 30th 2009 (for some reason I was very exact with the labelling of these folders). I don’t really like having my photograph taken… but I assure you I was having a great time in New York. Honestly.

So, let’s run through the things I have actually done, the first two were done on my first trip to New York back in October 2003. The third one on my second visit the very next year.

List item: Visit the Statue of Liberty
Progress: Completed

Being that this was about two years after 9/11 we were not able to actually go inside the statue itself. A shame that I hope to one day be able to rectify on a future visit with by partner, who will by then be my husband. The statue itself is beautiful and it is big… but it is shorter than you would expect.Thing is, when you are a large statue in a city where some of the tallest buildings in the world have been built a sense of perspective begins to kick in.

After visiting the statue we did the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island, something that I probably would get a lot more now I am older (the temptation was to say “now that I am grown up” but who am I actually kidding).

List item: Stand at the top of the Empire State Building
Progress: Completed

Okay, so I have done this three times now. The second time we went was during the day when there was a man in a King Kong suit with people swarming to get their pictures taken with him. The view is breathtaking when it is clear. You really can see the whole island and beyond, truly a sight to behold.

Even better than this, however, is when you are there at night. A big city usually looks better at night and New York is no exception to this rule. Sure it’s harder to make out the Hudson and you are not able to see as far… but it’s a whole lot prettier.

List item: Take in a Broadway Show
Progress: Completed

I’ve been lucky enough to do this twice on two different visits to New York. The first time was when I saw Avenue Q and on my third visit I went to see Hairspray. Like watching a show on the West End there is something special about seeing a show on these hallowed theatres.

XL Popcorn – Farewell My Concubine

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 423/1007farewellmyconcubineTitle: Farewell My Concubine
Director: Chen Kaige
Year: 1993
Country: China

I swear that whenever I see Gong Li in a film her character ends up losing everything. It was true in Raise The Red Lantern, it was true in The Curse of the Golden Flower and it is definitely true of this film where she is the main supporting character.

Farewell My Concubine marks the second film that I have seen the uses Peking Opera as the setting, the other being Mei Lanfang which was by the same director. Where the previous film I saw was based on an actual person Farewell My Concubine is very much fictional with their characters experiencing some of the most turbulent events in 20th century Chinese history.

As such, the treatment that the two main characters receive (two opera stars we see go from from training as young boys to the Cultural Revolution stripping them of the fame they worked so for) is brutal. There are whippings, beatings, drug addictions, a rape, false imprisonments and, on one scene, the removal of a finger using what looked like a meat cleaver.

Yet, this film is beautiful with cinematography, costumes and make-up which make you sit up and take notice. So too does the tragic central character of Douzi (brilliantly played by Leslie Cheung), the first time I have seen an LGBT character properly depicted in Chinese cinema (to be fair, I have yet to see Happy Together and have need to rectify that). His unrequited  love towards ‘stage brother’ Shitou is nothing short of heart breaking.

In many ways this should be a hard watch, as would any film where you see a live tortoise having its neck slashed, but it was one of those films where three hours flashed in an instant. Truly, 20 minute episodes of sitcoms passed slower than the first hour. It is one of those films that remind us that despite cultures and music sometimes feeling alien there is not much difference between humanity. Just our histories and our predictions to cut the throat of a live tortoise (don’t think I’ll get over that in a hurry).

The many parallels that this draws between the play within the film is very Hamlet-like, to the point where the conclusion of the film is forgone due to all the foreshadowing. There is a feeling that Douzi becomes so lost in the character of the concubine he no longer has an identity of his own, something he surrendered when he finally got the line “I am by nature a girl… not a boy” correct.

Music Monday: Nevermind by Nirvana

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 58/250Title: Nevermind
Artist: Nirvana
Year: 1991
Position: #3

I know that I am not alone in thinking this, but I have always thought that Kurt Cobain sounds like Beck if he gone grunge. Seriously, if you listen to ‘Girl’ or ‘Chemtrails’ by Beck the similarity is absolutely palpable.

Nevermind was one of those acclaimed albums I did not have much of an interest listening to growing up. Mainly because this style of music was so far out of my wheelhouse. However, you can not argue with the only album in the Top 10 that is newer than 1979. The only other recent album that comes close is OK Computer which is placed (at the time of writing) at #12.

It was to my utmost surprise that I actually ended up enjoying Nevermind on the very first listen. The fact that I already knew three of the songs (‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Lithium’ and ‘Come As You Are’) pretty well through sheer cultural osmosis seems to have helped things. Then again, when acts like Paul McCartney, Missy Elliott and Beck are unknown to a disturbingly high percentage of my generation you can not take that osmosis for granted.

Is Nevermind an album that will end up in my general rotation? Probably not. As much as I can recognise that this is actually really good music, not just the singles but also tracks like ‘On A Plain’ and ‘Polly’, the rockiest I usually end going for is something along the lines of ‘Milkman’ by EMA.

I may prove myself wrong though. This album was an earworm all day at work and I found it hard not think about it or what I would write about it. Who knows, by the time I get to looking at In Utero I might have surprised myself and given this a bunch more spins.

Good Eatin’: A Curry for 350

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

It has been less than two months and already we are at a landmark number again. As you may have noticed, these food posts have gone from two a week to one a week. It makes sense since I am now finding it difficult… but not too difficult yet.

Food item: Praline

Another one of those things where it’s ridiculous that I did not do this earlier in the list. I got these pecan pralines for Christmas and they were absolutely delicious. Smooth, toasted nutty flavour that, if I am being honest, did not last long next to me. Melt in the mouth good.

Food item: Curry Leaf and Curry Powder

I subscribe to Degustabox, which means that I got a box of random foods every month. I have had this curry sauce in my cupboard for a while now, but not used it because I kept forgetting to take out my fish pie mix from the freezer.

The issue with describing curry powder is that it varies so much from recipe to recipe. When combined with curry leaf you know there is going to be hints of chilli, citrus and a good deal of heat. To be fair, I could probably have checked this off months ago, but I didn’t think of it then.

Food item: Tellicherry Peppercorn

Now for something we got in order to make up the numbers for a Tesco delivery. It’s hard to properly describe the taste of pepper by itself, I ground it onto my hand and licked it off. It was not as flavourful as the Szechuan pepper, but it was still a good quality black pepper with a rich heat.

Progress: 351/500

Mousetrap!

List item: Play Mousetrap
Progress: Completed

One Saturday in January me and my partner went to a board game bar in London called Draughts to play a bunch of game with one of his former work colleagues. We ended up playing a few games, but I’m going to focus on this bucket list item.

Now, I have no idea why play Mousetrap ended up on my bucket list. It may be because I never played it as a kid after stepping on it… wait that’s exactly why.

After we set up the game, which took us a while, we were able to play this like highly efficient children. It was a lot of fun and we even managed to get most of the traps working… except for the one with the loop. The ball kept trying to fly off the table, something you don’t really want in a public place. Still, definitely worth playing it.

Music Monday: Roxy Music Music

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 57/250

Title: Roxy Music
Artist: Roxy Music
Year: 1972
Position: #210
Title: For Your Pleasure
Artist: Roxy Music
Year: 1973
Position: #110

Whenever I hear the name Roxy Music, which is not that often, I always think of the song ‘It Must Have Been Love”  by Roxette. I don’t think I really know that much about music from before the 1980s. That’s okay though, it’s one of the reasons that I included this as part of the bucket list. That, and, it’s good to be able to respond when people in the office start talking about Stevie Wonder being a genius.

The moment I started Roxy Music I was back into my musical mindset of trying to work out where exactly I had heard this music before, by the time I finished the album I settled on it being a strange mix of The Who, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and some of the less batshit (whilst still being slightly batshit) elements of Captain Beefheart.

Why batshit? Well on For Your Pleasure there is a song called ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ which is essentially a love song about a blow up doll with the backing of, what sounds like, a Hammond organ. It’s utterly bizarre, yet strangely atmospheric and compelling.

To be honest, I think that is how I would describe their music in general. Sure, there are songs like ‘Do The Strand’ that feel relatively normal and catchy, but then there is ‘Bitters End’ which are plain strange. All the better though, because it is the swaying on the precipice of the weird where these albums really work. For Your Pleasure is clearly the better album since, unlike Roxy Music, it is able to grab on the first listen and has a greater share of earworms. Both of them are good listens, but I know that I will probably just stick with Roxy Music – The Brian Eno years.

Good Eatin’: Indian Sweet Shop

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

So, once again our friends Luke & Lottie were down for the weekend which meant one thing, I finally had the opportunity to visit Ambala (an Indian sweet shop a few minutes walk from Euston train station). I have been wanting to visit for about two months after I found out, from their website, they stocked three of the sweets on the list. Brilliantly, they actually did and the man behind the counter looked slightly taken aback when I reeled off the names of these like I knew what I wanted. The idea was for the four of these to eat them together… but that didn’t happen in the end.

Food item: Gebert Macaron

We did, however, pass a Patisserie Valerie where I was able to buy some macarons. The name made it sound like it would be hard to get… but no it’s actually a fancier name for a more general style of French macaron. The shell had an almost meringue-like consistency but there was a nuttiness to it as well. The centre of the lemon flavoured one had a good zing to it whilst the pistachio one did not have strong a taste, but had more of a nutty baseline.

Food items: Kaju Katli, Habshi Halwa, Pista Burfi

I think I love Ambala. This was a lot of massive looking sweets and it only cost £6, plus the cardboard box we got it in was pretty attractive.

Kaju Katli (the beige one) – This is the only one of the three that does not have much of a smell. The texture was fudgy with small not-quite-ground pieces of cashew nut seemingly binding it together. There is something quite syrupy to the taste. In essence it is cashew butter made into fudge. Not a bad thing in the slightest, and the slight aftertaste of condensed milk was welcome.

Habshi Halwa (the brown one) – This smelt a bit like a flapjack… which made me dive right into the sweet. It is really sticky to the point that it is hard to pull apart. Eating this I immediately thought back to the dulce de leche I had eaten a month or so previously. There was the same mix of caramel and milk flavours. This also had the addition of nuts which added some crunch… but overall this was stodgy and delicious. My favourite of the three.

Pista Burfi (the green one) –  The strongest smell of the bunch, more along the lines of sweetened milk. Like the kaju katli this was very fudgey to the point that there was an audible ripping noise as it was pulled apart. Upon eating there is the immediate rush of a sweetened milk taste. Once this had dissipated you were able to get the hints of pistachio… a flavour that only became dominant once it had been swallowed.

Progress: 347/500