All posts by mulholland

Let’s Get Literal – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 47/100Title: The Golden Notebook
Author: Doris Lessing
Year: 1962
Country: UK

Every now and then you come across a book that’s quite unlike anything you have ever read before. I had that not too long ago with The Sound and the Fury, but that truly pales in comparison with what Doris Lessing did with The Golden Notebook. This is one of those books that works on so many levels and, in many ways, is so clever.

At the centre of the novel is writer Anna who, after the success of her first novel, has come down with an extreme bout of writer’s block. As an aid to this, and because she feels the need to compartmentalise everything about her, she keeps a number of colour-coded notebooks (which are essentially her journals). The idea therefore of The Golden Notebook is her trying to bring these disparate parts of herself back together… with the requisite amount of psychological shock that would occur because of this.

So, in reading this book, you are reading all four of these notebooks mixed in with Free Women which is a short novel that Anna has been able to write because of her bringing herself back together and ending her writer’s block. That premise alone is interesting, but let’s not forget when this was written.

This book is not only an interesting look into the fragmentation of the psyche, but also serves as an interesting time capsule of where feminism was in the 1960s – including men’s reaction to it, women who seem to resist the breaking of gender roles and how it can all be linked back to sex. The Golden Notebook also provides a look at the decline of communism in the UK – with Anna herself being a former communist (surprise, that’s the red notebook).

However, this book isn’t without its flaws. For one thing, this is quite homophobic in many places with Anna’s derisive comments about gay men being hard to read at times. She makes a few comments negatively about lesbianism, but it’s mainly men who receive her ire (maybe because, as a highly sexual being, homosexuality is just one thing she can’t understand).

Then there is the topic of race (dealt with in, you guessed it, the black notebook) which is done during the sections where Anna describes her time living in Africa. There are some ‘interesting’ overtones in this section (i.e. racist) where she is derisive of pretty much everyone involved. The whites that she is with are drunk, privileged, completely self-absorbed and regularly ridicule the citizens of the country they’re camped out in. The African inhabitants don’t get a whole lot of fleshing out, but she is very much against racial mixing.

Ultimately The Golden Notebook is interesting because it’s one of those works where the writer takes absolutely no prisoners. Then again, that’s the character she has created. It’s incredibly complex and one of those novels that really needs to be properly digested and thought about once finished. I just wish I knew someone who’s actually read this so I could talk with them about it!

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World Cooking – Lesotho

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Lesotho
Progress: 13/193

I have been waiting for a month or two to make this recipe. When I was doing my initial research for the world cooking challenge a recipe from Lesotho caught my eye, but tangerines have only just come into season. Now that they have, it’s time to cross off another one of the lesser known countries.

The food of Lesotho shares a lot in common with many other countries south of the Nile. At some point I will need to make pap, ugali or fufu, but I want to leave those until I have crossed off more countries from this region. Until then, I found something a bit different to do for Lesotho. I will cook food from a larger African nation at some point, but those can wait until later – let’s have some soup.

Main: Butha-Buthe

Whenever someone online does the whole ‘cooking around the world’ thing, and it’s their time to cover Lesotho, they all seem to gravitate to this soup. A soup whose principle ingredients are tangerine and spinach. Yes, I know, it sounds a bit weird to have this as a combination. However, spinach and lemon juice go very well together – so I figured that this would be a slight extension of that pairing… just in the form of a soup.

There are a number of versions of butha-buthe out there, but I went for the recipe posted by International Cuisine. I love her blog and will be looking to her for a whole lot more inspiration as this challenge continues on. Also, in the recipes, I really trust her portion sizes.

This soup is such a good and fresh dish for the summer (which is when I’m writing this, during a heat wave in July). The slight earthiness of the turmeric and spinach work surprisingly well with the sweet acidity of the tangerines. Topped with a nice dollop of yoghurt and served with a side of crackers (rosemary crackers from my local supermarket) then you have a quick and different dinner.

From Southern Africa to South America as I take on possibly the best sounding sandwich that I have ever heard of. No, it isn’t the Cuban sandwich (although I might end up doing that one later), but I will be temping my tastebuds with one of Uruguay’s national dishes. Maybe two. I feel the need to bake some cake.

Good Eatin’ – Green Peppercorns and a Meatloaf Attempt

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 747/751Food item: Green Peppercorns

So I’ve had this little tin of green peppercorns in my cupboard for a while now and have been waiting for a good recipe to use them in. I know that my husband probably would have been pulling for these to be use to make a peppercorn sauce for some steak… but I’m not the best at cooking steak. Instead I decided to use them in something that I am even worse at making: meatloaf.

The recipe I used for this was meant to bring forth a beautifully pink loaf of leberkase… and because I’ve never succeeded in making a non-crumbly meatloaf I didn’t bother using this recipe for my world cookery challenge. My instincts were, indeed, correct.

 

In the end, I think that the meat wasn’t ground fine enough and that the meatloaf wasn’t cool enough before entering the oven. So, instead, what I got was a really moist regular meatloaf. It was a bit of a win in a way as this is the best meatloaf I’ve ever made, just not what I was hoping from as leberkase.

The green peppercorns added a fruity and summery heat to this meatloaf, which wasn’t too overpowering although it did drown out some of the marjoram taste. I tried some of the peppercorns by themselves and I just felt the heat of it slamming against the back of my throat for a solid ten minutes.

At some point I will use the rest of these to make a steak sauce, after all I should be nice to my husband. But he can cook the steak itself. I don’t want to be blamed for ruining a good steak.

XL Popcorn – Black Panther

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 691/1007Title: Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Year: 2018
Country: USA

I don’t usually watch films for this list that are so recent because they tend to be eliminated with the next edition. However, it’s looking more and more like this film will receive a few nods come Oscar time – so it makes sense to watch this now.

As anyone reading this blog might have assumed – I am not really one for superhero movies. Considering just how huge the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise is, this is the fifth entry I’ve seen (the other three being The Incredible Hulk and the three Iron Mans)… which is my way of saying that I may not be the target audience.

Let’s start with the positives – the world and mythology that Black Panther was able to create was excellent. The city of Wakanda was stunning and they filled it with so many great little touches that made establishing shots a sight to behold. Similarly the sequences where T’Challa went to the other side to meet with the spirits of his ancestors were gorgeous, as were most of the appearances of the advanced Wakandan technology.

It’s also worth really praising so may of the supporting characters. Michael B. Jordan was perfectly cast in his role as Killmonger, I mean you could really tell that he was relishing the chance to play a villain. There were also some cool strong roles for women of colour, with Danai Gurira and Lupita N’yongo stealing pretty much every scene they were in.

Now here’s the kicker for me. The times where Black Panther was able to show off its unique selling points, that’s when it really excelled. However, for large swathes of time you were brought back to the reality that this is a Marvel popcorn movie – which resulted in me getting a bit bored as it became so damned predictable. Also, quite shockingly, some of the fights had some pretty poor CGI – especially for a 2018 movie.

Also, and this is my opinion, I didn’t really feel Chadwick Boseman in the role as T’Challa. This is a character who is a new king and a superhero, so you need some sort of presence on screen that oozes power and poise – he isn’t your guy for that. No matter who he was in a scene with, they just outshone him. But I seem to be alone in this thought.

I started this post by talking about how Black Panther might be gone by the time the list is refreshed in October. However, given the pop culture phenomenon this was and how unique it is in being a superhero film with almost no Caucasian actors that was a massive critical and commercial success – I would not be surprised that this sticks around the list for a while.

Acclaimed Albums – Pretenders by Pretenders

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 163/250Title: Pretenders
Artist: Pretenders
Year: 1980
Position: #159

I have had a bit of a Blondie heavy week in terms of my actual listening. For the first time I actually ventured away from Parallel Lines and tried Eat to the Beat, which resulted in ‘Atomic’ being on repeat for the better part of an hour. This is my roundabout way of saying that I just felt the urge to continue with my rocky female leads of the 1980s and finally give the Pretenders’ debut album a go.

I have had this album for YEARS and I was always put off listening to it because of, for some unknown reason, The Bangles. Way back when I decided to listen to Different Light (the album with ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ on it) and was so disappointed that the rest of the album couldn’t live up to the singles. So, due to ‘Brass In Pocket’ being such a strong single, it’s taken me a decade to finally get around to listening to Pretenders.

What the hell was I waiting for. Pretenders is excellent and I really have no idea how a bad Bangles experience prevented me from listening to this. Upon its release, Pretenders must have been such an unusual album to hear – hell it’s still pretty unique now. As a whole it really is a blend of rock, pop-rock and new wave, which is right in my wheelhouse.

For me Pretenders feels like an interesting half-way house between the new wave of Parallel Lines and the alternative rock of MurmurThere is something about James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar and the sheer energy coming from Chrissie Hynde’s vocals that makes this an extremely pleasurable listen. No tracks feel the same and yet everything feels cohesive. This really is a great album.

At this point I am really running on empty when it comes to female fronted albums. If the list doesn’t change significantly in the next few years, I only have 4 of these albums left (5 if you count Sonic Youth). All the more reason to blast my way through this list as quickly as I can so I can extend it… once I listen to pretty much the entire Pink Floyd back catalogue that is.

🎻♫♪ – Cantus Arcticus by Einojuhani Rautavaara

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 40/501Title: Cantus Arcticus
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Nationality: Finnish
Year:
1972

Thanks to the buzzing of a very persistent bumblebee – it was a bit of an early start today. Having finished the final episodes of Great Teacher Onizuka, I felt the need to lay down for a bit and try to relax to something a bit more classical and a little less high energy. So I pretty much pulled a classical piece at random and felt vindicated once the bird sounds started.

Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever heard anything quite like Cantus Arcticus. In summary, it is a short classical piece with three movements where prerecorded birdsong does a sweeping dance with the orchestra. Whilst the entire orchestra is used, this is predominantly a piece for the woodwind and strings sections; likely because of those instruments’ ability to create a flowing sound that provides a perfect environment for the birds.

The central figure of this classical piece is undeniably the birdsong, which was recorded at a bog in Northern Finland. The first movement (“The Bog”) is a free and chilled out piece where we take wing with the birds before being led into something more dark and mysterious (the second movement, called “Melancholy”). Then things get a bit more frantic in the final movement (“Swans Migrating”) as are lead to a subtly climactic finish that reminds me of some sections of The Rite of Spring.

This is not the first time I have heard a classical piece that uses sampling (Different Trains being one of them), but it still feels like an incredibly fresh idea to me. Where this is a first for me is that, when I close my eyes, I can imagine my own staged narrative. This is just such a vivid and beautifully done piece, which helps to demonstrate (at least to myself) that doing this list was a great idea.

 

 

Einojuhani Rautavaara

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Great Teacher Onizuka

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 43/100Title: Great Teacher Onizuka
Episodes Aired: 43
Year(s): 1999-2000

When I was reading the original manga of Great Teacher Onizuka I was left a bit cold by the overall premise of a former delinquent falling into a teaching job and teaching life lessons the best way he knew how. I did, however, have an idea that this might be something I would enjoy more when seeing it on the small screen with the voice and movements that were intended by the author. On the whole, I was right – at least for my sensibilities.

In making an anime version of Great Teacher Onizuka they have to slightly tone down some of the more sexual under and overtones of the manga. This is still undeniably crude in both content and, due to this being 20 years old, animation style – but it doesn’t feel too overdone compared to the manga. One storyline in particular goes from an attempted rape in the manga to an attempted kidnapping in the anime – the menace still remains, but it’s a horse of an entirely different colour.

The gags too feel fresher in the animated version. For example, there is an episode involving cursed chain letters where I was actually giggling as I watched, where the same story in the manga just completely washed over me. A lot of that is down to Onizuka’s voice actor (who appears to have been in everything at some point) who was able to give the boisterous yet vulnerable vocalisations needed to make Onizuka a lovable character.

Towards the end of the 43 episode run I did start to get a little bit restless though. A lot of the initial conflict of Onizuka winning over his students was gone, leaving a bunch of hi-jinks episodes until a really well done two-part finale. This is a series that works best when it remembers where its heart is, and when this is incorporated into the laughs – then Great Teacher Onizuka is a great watch.

 

XL Popcorn – Glengarry Glen Ross

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 690/1007Title: Glengarry Glen Ross
Director: James Foley
Year: 1992
Country: USA

After the spiritual journey of Journal Of A Country Priest I figured that my next film needed to be a bit of an antidote – so why not the film dubbed Death of a Fucking Salesman by its cast. And what an impressive cast it is – Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and an excellent late career performance from Jack Lemmon.

As well as the amazing ensemble cast you an absolutely electric and expletive filled script from David Mamet. Much like Aaron Sorkin and Amy Sherman-Palladino, there is a very particular cadence to Mamet’s work. It’s quick-fire, darkly comic and has a lot of people talking over each other. Watching this made me realise just how much this will have influenced The Thick Of It – some of the speeches in the latter half could have been delivered by Malcolm Tucker.

One thing that I’m going to say as both a positive and a negative, is that it is super obvious that Glengarry Glen Ross started it’s life on stage. It’s dialogue heavy, with a limited number of characters and sets. With this being a Mamet play, you’re pretty much sold that the dialogue is going to be excellent and, thanks the excellent casting, you barely notice that you’re only seeing a small group of men. However, there are times where things can feel a little bit claustrophobic – but nowhere near as claustrophobic as in Fences or in Oleanna (an adaptation of another Mamet play).

I’ve spent a long time talking about Mamet when I really should be talking about the amazing and surprising standout performance by Jack Lemmon. Watching him here, I can really see where The Simpsons got their inspiration for the sad-sack Gil. However, that completely negates the power of Lemmon’s performance which is equal parts pathetic and snakelike. Watching his altercations with Kevin Spacey felt like a masterclass in acting.

Speaking of masterclasses, Alec Baldwin really made an impact in his short time on screen. Despite there being over an hour between the end of his appearance in the film and the end of the actual film, you still feel his presence overshadowing all the action and kinda miss him when he’s gone – a bit like Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

This really was a darkly comic treat, but I wonder how this would be changed if made nowadays. I mean I know this is all white men, but some more diversity and a few gender swaps would make for some interesting shifts in power dynamics.

Good Eatin’ – Provolone Valpadana

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 746/751Food item: Provolone Valpadana

I had already prepared to have to pay out of the nose for this cheese. For some stupid reason I didn’t buy some of this when I spotted it in La Boqueria in Barcelona. Since then, the only time I had seen this cheese was online for £155 for a 3kg block. Then fortune smiled on me. After my failed attempt to find Ardrahan cheese, I managed to find a place that offered this provolone cheese for about $4… so I bought two types of provolone Valpadana.

So, what are these two types? Well firstly there’s the dolce, which means sweet in Italian. A bit of a misnomer as there is nothing sweet about it, but it is a milder version that is softer and far more springy. It feels more like the type of cheese that you might use on a pizza or in a hot sandwich. Also, yes I know dolce also means ‘mild’ in Italian when used for cheese; I just enjoy words.

Then there is the piccante version, which means piquant or spicy. The texture, whilst still sligtly springy, lacks the rubberiness of the dolce version. In fact it has the start of a crumb, which moves it from being like mozzarella and into something more like Caerphilly. The taste is also quite different, with the extra maturing time and the introduced lactase givine it a lightly acidic taste (that’s also slightly oily). It would definitely still work as a melter cheese, but I think it would need to be with something strong like steak or smoked pork in order to truly shine.

Sometimes it’s good to wait with these food items as it gets you a better deal. Others… well I need to find a solution to the Ardrahan issue at some point. Maybe I’ll find a similar cheese from the same region and so a posthumous crossing off.

🎻♫♪ – The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 39/501Title: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Composer: Benjamin Britten
Nationality: British
Year:
1945

I have previously spoken about my love of Wes Anderson and how Moonrise Kingdom features highly on my list of favourite movies. I mention this as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra both inspired elements of the Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack as well as appearing on it (or at least parts of it did).

Whilst I don’t know too much about the 1001 Classical Recordings list, I cannot imagine there being another piece like this for me to listen to. For starters, the basis of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is another classical piece (an incidental piece from a 17th century play) that is repeated a number of times – each time by a different section of the orchestra.

The idea of this piece it to educate people (or specifically children) about the different instruments that appear within the orchestra. Depending on the version you listen to, each section is narrated at the beginning with the name of the instruments – with the opening and ending featuring the entire orchestra.

What makes The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra all the more interesting is how well it illustrates how a full orchestral piece not only splits into multiple parts, but also how these parts have their own nuances. I know it should be obvious, but the idea that each group plays something different in order to create a cohesive whole… well it makes the whole composition all the more impressive.

Having done the final set of motets so recently before listening to this, the contrast is incredible. I look forward to the point where I am done with the older church music.