Monthly Archives: June 2020

🎻♫♪ – Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
75/501Title: Symphony No. 4
Composer: Gustav Mahler
Nationality: Bohemian
Year:
1900

Given the busy week (okay, month) I’ve been needing some relaxing music to help with the resulting anxiety. There’s only so many ASMR recordings you can listen to after all. So we picked a classical piece at random – hoping it wouldn’t have the sense of foreboding that the last piece had. Hopes were definitely fulfilled, so thank you Mahler.

Listening to the opening of Mahler’s symphony, my thoughts turned to the ending theme of children’s cartoon Barbar. It was something in the lightness of the woodwinds that made me drift in that direction; a direction that eventually took me back to walking through the mountains near Freiburg when the wind was blowing lightly.

The actual basis of the piece, as well as the light soprano at the end, was actually a bit darker than my mind’s eye – instead meant to be a child’s idea of heaven. That alone doesn’t seem too dark, but any time I imagine a child thinking of heaven it’s because of something in relation to death.

Since this is Mahler’s fourth symphony, and is actually related to the previous three, I’m probably missing out on something by jumping straight to his fourth. We’ll get there eventually, but all in good time.

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Graphic Content – Understanding Comics

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
80/501Title: Understanding Comics
Creator(s):
Scott McCloud
Year: 1993
Country: USA

Understanding Comics is the only entry in the 1001 comics list under the Reference genre. It’s a bit of a weird genre to have in a list like this, but it’s a comic about comics which makes this a super meta part of the list and I’m really into that. In the end, it’s the equivalent of having a film about making films on the film list – which I don’t think is on the 1001 list as they didn’t include the very much acclaimed Histoire(s) du cinĂ©ma.

Anyway I digress. Being 80 comics in actually feels like an opportune time to be reading this. I’ve seen enough to get a boatload of the references that he makes – the fact that he regularly mentions my favourite painter (Kandinsky) doesn’t hurt either. It’s also really cool because there are comics he mentions, like Maus, where I am looking forward to reading them soon.

The best thing though is that McCloud has made the ultimate guide to how we read comics and how comics are able to convey different things like time, motion and the non-visual senses. How, so many things that we implicitly understand as comic language (such as motion lines) and just how those have developed. What I found especially interesting was when he went into how Japanese comics developed in isolation and actually how far back the history of comics extend.

In the end, if you are someone who enjoys comics and graphic novels, this is an essential read. Hell, it’s essential to have a physical copy in your bookshelf to use as a reference. Knowing what I know now, thanks to his easy to digest musings and explanations, I know that I am doing to appreciate my next pick from the comics list all the more. Even down to the use of guttering between the panels.

Acclaimed Albums – Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 215/250Title: Sound of Silver
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Year: 2007
Position: #115

It feels a bit weird to listen to two albums in the 2000s for this list, and technically I probably shouldn’t, but I am so glad I did. In 2007, I had just started university and was still well into my phase that men couldn’t make music as good as women. I had so many people recommend me Sound of Silver who both knew that it would suit my taste and by owe who just liked music. But I’m stubborn, so here I am in 2020 and now I have finally gotten around to it.

I love it.

The more I’ve listened to their 2017 album American Dream the more I’ve grown to love it and the more I’ve thought of trying the older material. This week I just figured sod me being ahead on the 2000s for this list and have been rewarded with this exquisite hour long piece of alternative adult dance music. I’ve not been able to put it down in the last few days and just keep playing it from beginning to end.

I love that so many of these tracks carry such an emotional heft to them whilst also bringing together minimalism and krautrock that I’ve heard from Neu!, Arcade Fire And Kraftwerk with more grungy electronica that immediately makes me think of Peaches. Tracks can feel raw and honest, whilst others challenge you to not dance in your bedroom. It’s strange how tracks like ‘All My Friends’ and ‘Watch the Tapes’ can be so sonically different, but they work together as part of this adult dance rock whole.

I’ve only listened to Sound of Silver and American Dream by LCD Soundsystem and have found them both to be exceptional albums. More albums of theirs will await me once this slot opens up and I really cannot wait. As in, I’ll probably listen to them soon and end up writing retroactive reviews in 35 albums time.

Graphic Content – Zenith

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
79/501Title: Zenith
Creator(s):
Grant Morrison, Brendan McCarthy and Steve Yeowell
Year: 1987-2000
Country: UK

To a crying shame when you end up reading or watching something that has no idea what it wants to be; especially when it starts out with the hopes of something better. When it started out, Zenith had a good art style combined with a superhero story that was heavy in the political commentary.

The first two collections, which actually focus on the titular Zenith – a spoiled brat of a hero who is also a semi-successful singer – are good fun and have an interesting take on how super humans growing up in the 1960s would turn out. I especially liked how one of them goes into politics and uses their psychic abilities to eventually become prime minister; albeit by controlling the body of a mental patient (who happens to be Tony Blair)

Then we get to the third collection where Zenith becomes a minor character in his own comic. The art style deteriorates and it becomes crushed under its own multiverse plot. The fourth collection undergoes another art change and, by then, I was so uninvested that I was glad to see the back of it. It’s a pity because it started well – would’ve been even better if they’d quit whilst they were ahead.

XL Popcorn – Pickup On South Street

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 802/1007Title: Pickup on South Street
Director: Samuel Fuller
Year: 1953
Country: USA

Despite my self-imposed moratorium on 1940s movies before I catch up on the larger decades, it’s good to know that I am still able to indulge in a good film noir as long as I delve into the early 1950s. And this was a good one, even if the central love story was underdeveloped and ultimately stuff of nonsense. Then again, these weird quickly forming attachments are very much a noir trope so I can’t bitch too hard about it.

Being released in 1953, Pickup on South Street was very much if the time where it was “better to be dead than Red” with McCarthyism in full force. There is no grey area here about the role of the Communist subversives in this film, they are traitors and are willing to kill and beat up on women in order to get away and betray their country. It’s laid on a bit thick here, but replace communists with gangsters and you have many other noir films in the canon.

At the centre of things you have a pickpocket who manages to steal official secrets from a woman who is unaware that her boyfriend is a communist and has been using her to as a go-between for his acts of treason. However, it isn’t these characters that made this film stick in my mind, but Thelma Ritter in her exceptional performance of a source of underworld information who has grown tired of the life and just wants to save up enough dough to not be given a pauper’s burial. She is one of the great unawarded actresses of her era and this film shows just why she got six nominations at the Oscars. The final speech she gives before she is shockingly shot in the head, well that whole scene left me completely cold and was a bellwether for the rest of the violence that was to follow.

This is not a film I had heard of before picking it up today, but this will definitely have some things that will stay with me and sustain me before I can delve back into the 1930s and 1940s. It’s a cliche that they don’t make them like this anymore, but they just don’t and it’s a real loss.

World Cooking – The Netherlands

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: The Netherlands
Progress: 68/193

My husband’s birthday has rolled around once again. Last time I made him food from the country of his choice (he chose Lebanon), but this year I thought it would be nice to make something from his native land of The Netherlands – even if it is currently the week before his birthday that I am making this meal because we’re visiting his family on his actual birthday.

Being married to someone Dutch gives me a much more different perspective on Dutch food compared to other countries that I am doing for the list. Where for countries like Jordan I have ended up making special occasion dishes because that’s all I could find online, for the Netherlands I have experienced enough time in the country and with their food to have an idea of what to make that is actually commonplace.

I could have conformed to some of the stereotypes of Dutch food and made pancakes, much like how I made waffles for Belgium, but the dessert I picked is something I have never seen outside of the Netherlands and yet is so ubiquitous there that it’s in every supermarket and my husband says he’s never had it not from a carton. Similarly, I could have made some of the delicious Dutch snack foods like bitterballen, kroketten, kaassoufflĂ©’s or frikandellen. However, I wanted to make something more homely that would be in the same family of warming one pots like stamppot.

Main: Erwtensoep

Okay for the picture makes this soup look awful, but I did it to prove a point. There is a thing in the Netherlands that Erwtensoep (also known as Snert) has to be thick enough that a spoon can stand up in it. The one I made was thick enough to do this whist it was still bubbling. This is how thick this Dutch pea soup has to be before it is served, which makes it one of those weird foods that is spreadable and yet is still a soup.

This is actually a recipe of my own by now, even if I haven’t made it for a very long time, which makes it one of the few Dutch foods that I actually know how to make. The main ingredient is green split peas, which is surprisingly hard to find in the UK supermarkets. You then add in onion, carrot, leek and celeriac  which is all mashed once cooked. It also includes pork (that has been cooked to the point of disintegration) and smoked sausage.

If you wasn’t something that is perfect for a cold January day, then this really is the soup for you. I have an older version of this recipe on my old food blog if you want to give it a go.

Dessert: Dubbelvla

I really love vla. It’s something you see shades of outside of the Netherlands, but never quite the same thing. I mean its closest relative is custard, but it’s still not quite the same. It’s like how cream and yogurt are similar but different. With vla, you have the regular version which is the yellow vanilla flavoured one, but also a bunch of other flavours that exist in cartons.

Then there’s a special combination of regular and chocolate flavours that can be found in the Netherlands known as dubbelvla – which is what I tried to make today by cooking both types of vla (following this recipe) and then having them in the same bowl. According to my husband, this tasted exactly right, in fact he said the chocolate one tastes better than the shop bought version. Talk about a triumph. As for me, I regret never looking into making this before. It’s super easy and, once completely chilled, makes for a delicious dessert.

With our pilgrimage to the Netherlands next week there will be a break in my making of national foods. Next time will be something from the Caribbean as I attempt to make something from the Bahamas. I just wanted to have that flag in my life, got to find the recipes to back it up now!

Acclaimed Albums – Stankonia by OutKast

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 214/250Title: Staknonia
Artist: OutKast
Year: 2000
Position: #125

Well, it is most certainly the first weeks of the new year. If the cold weather wasn’t enough of a clue, I am becoming somewhat prolific in crossing off these acclaimed albums in a time where I am not yet thinking about making my way through albums released this year. I technically was due an album from the 1990s, but I just a hankering for OutKast thanks to them being a clue on a recent episode of Only Connect.

When I started this blog, OutKast had two albums in the list. Speakerboxx/The Love Below has since fallen out, which was a bit annoying as that’s the only OutKast album I’d actually heard before. Still, Stankonia was still around in the list’s mid-section – so that means it had to be good right?

Yes. Yes it is. It’s probably a better album than Speakerboxx/The Love Below even if it doesn’t have the crossover sensation of ‘Hey Ya’. What is does have, however, is ‘B.O.B.’. The moment it started I got a serious Janelle Monae ‘Cold War’ vibe from it – and little wonder, this song was a major inspiration for one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s absolutely astonishing to think that a song like this was made in 2000. It sounds like nothing on it’s parent album, nor does it sound like much else that was out at the time. Yet, it sounds so much like a lot of the music that was to come later – to that point that a song inspired by it some 9-10 years later can be fresh and highly acclaimed.

‘B.O.B.’ may go down as one of the best song discoveries that I have made thanks to this albums list. Hell, it will go down as one of the best as I’m not sure what even comes close to toppling it other than ‘Disarm’ by The Smashing Pumpkins. I know that ‘Hey Ya’ was OutKast’s biggest success, but this song is their real triumph.

The rest of Stankonia doesn’t quite maintain this level, but then again it contains 24 tracks including skits. Don’t know why rap albums insist on the skits, but these are some of the better ones that I’ve heard. Although, they don’t quite have the funny moments when compared to those on The Love Below. Another highlight is, obviously, ‘Ms Jackson’ – a song that will now always be to me about eels and how he is several fish and not a guy.

Graphic Content – Ayako

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
78/501Title: Ayako
Creator(s):
Osamu Tezuka
Year: 1972-1973
Country: Japan

Picking this up, I wasn’t immediately aware that Ayako was an earlier work by the same man behind another manga I loved: Buddha. Maybe the art should have tipped me off, but so many manga of this era have a similar look… because he created them. Man, I need to learn more about the major mangaka.

Anyway, I picked up Ayako mainly because the spreadsheet I have said that I needed something from the drama genre – boy did this not disappoint on the drama front.

Taking place over th course of 20 or so years, Ayako tells the story of the Tenge family to the backdrop of a post World War II Japan. This is a family who welded power, money and social cache in their area of Japan only to have it erode to the point of nothingness by the end of the manga. They lose it through their own greed, their twisted incestuous nature and because their type of power and landowning was pretty much stamped out after the end of the war.

There are two main characters in this series. First there is Jiro Tenge, the second son of the head of the Tenge clan who comes back after the war as an American agent who covertly carries out operations, including helping set up the murder of his younger sisters boyfriend. We see his descent and partial redemption as he ends up becoming a crime lord only to end up returning to his roots.

The other main character is the titular Ayako, who begins the manga at the age of four (the product of the claim leader sleeping with his daughter-in-law) only to spend the next 23 years of her life locked in a cellar so she cannot tell anyone about the crimes that she saw her brother-uncle commit. She unwittingly (as she didn’t know otherwise and remains childlike but with a woman’s urges) committing her own acts of interests and ultimately aids in the downfall f her family.

A lot of the events in this series are derived from actual events in Japan, but with names changed in order to insert the Tenge family into the mix. Ultimately I assume that a Japanese person in 1972 would recognise the events here, but to an outsider like myself I kinda get the context from other Japanese media that I have consumed.

Considering that this is from the same man who did Astro Boy and Buddha, Ayako is a far more complex and adult work than I could ever expected. It’s one of those where I can both understand why there hasn’t been an adaptation and kinda wish there was. Definitely one with seeking out.

World Cooking – Niger

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Niger
Progress: 67/193

It’s been an awful long time since my last cooking mishap, but since I got a new set of knives for Christmas it was only a matter of time. Didn’t quite realise that it would take little over a week before I underestimated how sharp they were and almost sliced off one of my fingertips. I guess that’s the last time I try and dice onions using that method that circulated the internet last year. So, when cooking for Niger this week, there was a substantial pause where I had to clean up the mist of blood that managed to coat far reaches of my kitchen.

Enough of that bloody stuff, let’s talk about Niger. Niger is a West African country bordered by other countries that I have already cooked for such as Libya, Chad and Benin. It has almost the lowered the Human Development Index in the world and, in the 60 years since it gained independence from France, has suffered through a number of military coups. It is a majority desert country with a capital where the temperature usually tops 30 degrees during the day.

The Nigerien cuisine takes a leaf from the books of the surrounding countries. Due to regular droughts and scorching temperatures, the food eaten and grown is dependent on rainfall. The only major river, the Niger River, only briefly crosses the country near the capital otherwise the landscape is pretty arid. In choosing a dish for Niger I went some something that is a variation of a dish from Algeria to the north – just with a more Nigerien twist.

Main: Dounguouri Soko

It’s so rare for me to plan African recipes in advance, but this stew for Niger came up one day on a random recipe search on 196 Flavors and I knew it would come in useful. As I mentioned before, this dish is similar to a dish you can find in Algeria – both of which are similar to the French dish cassoulet. Given that both Niger and Algeria were colonised by the French,mint makes sense that there is some shared heritage in their dishes.

In the dish you have lamb, onion, tomato and finely diced bell peppers providing the flavour. You also have a lot of beans to provide texture differences and some much needed extra fibre. The stew itself is really perfect for cold winter weather (ie the opposite of Niger’s actual weather), but the thing that makes it very different is the final line of the recipe: serve with mayonnaise.

A lamb and bean cassoulet style stew with mayonnaise? This is not a combination that should work. However, this is why I love this cooking challenge, as it worked amazingly well. I’m not sure if your meant to mix in the mayonnaise in or have it on the side for the occasional bite. So, what I did was dollop some on the side and dip my full fork into it. The fact that this worked so well has gotten me wondering what else might be enhanced with mayonnaise. I guess that’s a case of watch this space.

Next time on this challenge it will be a long-awaited trip to Europe where I will be cooking up something form one of the countries that I set aside. My hub’s very own nation of The Netherlands. We still need to figure out a dessert to make, but it’s going to be a fun one.

Around The World In 100 Films – Egypt

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 48/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 801/1007Title: Bab el hadid (Cairo Station)
Director: Youssef Chahine
Year: 1958
Country: Egypt

And now time to re-visit the challenge that I only appear to do once a year. I swear, once I am done with the 1001 movies list, I will focus more on this and start watching my way through countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Chile. Still though, at least the 1001 could give me Egypt for now.

In this period of film history you had some interesting changes in the style of movie making. In Italy and France, you had the rise of neorealism and new wave cinema whereas the U.S. was coming out of its noir phase whilst clinging to something a bit more melodramatic. In Cairo Station, you can see a film that is a halfway house between realism and noir.

This makes for an unusual combination as you have something that is focussed on the poorer denizens of Cairo scraping a living whilst also having a noir atmosphere and a very dramatic climax on the rail lines of the titular station. Honestly, the ending scene is spectacular and whilst there are sections beforehand that caused me to lose some focus at times, the ending more than made up for it.

For me the most interesting thing to see in this film, other than how the film movements from other nations were interpreted, was how a different culture was represented on screen. Albeit one that has changed dramatically in the 60 years since the film was made. If you ignore the Arabic writing, you could be well excused that you were watching an Italian or Spanish film from this era – which took me a bit by surprise.

I expect that it will be another year or so before I get to the final new country from the 1001 list – Phillipines. That is unless I have the sudden urge to watch The Missing Picture. Possible, but quite unlikely. I’ll get around to it eventually though.