Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lovercraft on the beach - part II

No, I didn’t read another book by Lovercraft, but because the first part of this post was named after him and because I’m too tired to go back and correct it, this will be part 2 of “Lovercraft on the beach”. And to be honest, at a certain point, I wished I had brought a second Lovercraft book with me.

One hour into the reading of “Ficciones” by Jorge Luis Borges, I texted my parents commenting about it being hopelessly heavy.

Then I went back to reading it, not before reminding myself over and over about some of the things Daniel Pennac wrote in “Comme un roman".
It’s not that I disliked completely Ficciones, but most of the time I could not understand what Borges was about. As everybody around me seems to hail him as a genius and his works as masterpieces, I once again endulged myself in one of my (apparently) favorite hobby: doubting my own intellect, taste in book and ability of understanding. Cause clearly I’m not on the same level of all these people that (apparently) understaood this book. And I’d be okay not to understanding it, as long as I could say I enjoyed reading it. But it was such a frustrating experience!

I kept peeking at the number of pages left in the story I was reading, while promising myself “Next one will be better. Next one will be better."

The problem is that it never got that much better. That’s when “Comme un roman” came in handy: in it, Pennac states that the second right of the reader is the right ot skip and the third one is to not finish a book. It can be. It’s not that a matter of lacking understanding, more a question of personal taste and there’s nothing bad or shameful in it. The reassurance of my rights and some heavy skipping allowed me finish the book, even though I have no clue of what it was all about.

And it also allowed me to have some nice naps during my reading.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Metropolis and meatloaf

Sunday evening, while walking towards the theatre, Eliana and I confessed one another we never managed to finish watching “Metropolis”.
Well, it wasn’t a confession really, we were mainly stating a fact.

We both tried to watch it during high school and University, usually late in the evening or early morning hours, the best way to lull yourself into sleep. “Metropolis” might as well be a German expressionism masterpiece, but let’s face it: above all it’s a “polpettone”. Now, this is tricky… “Polpettone” means “meatloaf” in Italian and it defines those kind of films (or books) that are just way too long, too involved, often “intellectual” (or pretense of it) and, at the end, very boring. I never heard of “meatloaf movies” (aside the movies starring Meat Loaf) but I couldn’t find a single word in English that I could use to translate the concept of a “film polpettone”. In case you got the word for it, just let me know.

In spite of our past “failures” with this polpettone, when I asked my friend about going to watch the movie, she immediately agreed. The trick is that this was a special showing: it was the new restoration made from the 16 mm films found in Buenos Aires with a live orchestra playing the original soundtrack by Gottfried Huppertz.

I think the orchestra saved the day. The live music made the experience more “real” and interesting, so now both Eliana and I can proudly say that “yeah, we watched Metropolis”: it’s like wearing proudly a bagde of honour (not as cool as owning a “I beat the Sword Master” t-shirt, bust still cool).

After finally managing to finish it without falling asleep, I can confirm  that“Metropolis” is a 100% polpettone. It wasn’t bad, I actually enjoyed it and part of me now wonders whether my inability to watch it in the past was yet another reaction against things that are supposed to be “masterpieces” or of “higher cultural level”.

But, no matter how much I liked it, the movie lasted at least 30 minutes too much (45 minutes less would have made it so much more bearable): there is limit to the number of highbrows coreography I can stand before growing restless.
There’s also another fact that made me painfully aware of the movie being too long. I suspect the architect that designed Teatro degli Arcimboldi (where the movie was shown) is probably the same one that designed the Ryanair seating plan. Leg-room level: imaginary. Maybe that's why those 30 minutes more felt much much longer.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lovercraft on the beach - part I

In spiaggia
Lovercraft and the power of sun cream to enhance photography

The first thing I put in the suitcase were the books. Then the knitting projects.

What can I say? No matter the defects I have as individual, when it comes to packing I got my priorities straight.

So, armed with 4 books and 2 1/2 knitting project I felt quite ready for the holidays and only later asked myself: “what else should I pack?"

Ah yeah, all the rest, like swimming costumes, clothes, sun creams and whatever else it’s needed for 2 weeks at the seaside! But, after all, that’s what last minute preparation is for, right?

To start my holiday on a light note, I put Lovercraft’s short stories collection in the carry-on bag. It wasn’t planned, more of a very last minute impulsive shopping. Saturday before leaving I saw this book being sold for 3,9 euro.

— Note: here’s a small detour-rant on the topic of price tagging —

The price tag has a gigantic bold 3, while the “,90” bit is printed at almost micron font size, giving you the impression that the cost of the book is only 3€ rather than 4. And you might say: well, it’s only 4€, what’s the problem with you?

The problem is not the price itself, but rother it is printed to trick your mind into believing it’s 3 rather than 4. I wouldn’t get upset if all the digits were the same size or if the decimal digits didn’t require a magnifying lens to be read. Just be fair and state the price without subterfuge. Also, becuase this is the kind of purchase I use as a way of getting rid of all my pocket change, and I don’t enjoy to realize when I’m about the front of the queue that I don’t have the exact change. Damn! It means I have to scavange hunt for the remaining 90 cents, while the queue of Milanese customers growing restless and upset. Have you ever seen a Milanese person forced to wait because the person in front in the line is obviously hopeless and clumsy? In case you haven’t, call yourself lucky: they do love to make you feel like the lowest form of life ever to walk the earth.

So genius of marketing make the genius move of advertising the right prize on the book front cover.

— End of rant, oh I feel so much better now —

Now, back to Lovercraft: I briefly debated whether or not to buy the book, as I’m already running low on shelf space and anyway I would have to wait to be back from holiday to start reading the book.

The shelf space issue was immediately resolved with the idea of visiting Ikea again over the autumn and as for waiting for starting reading the book, then notion laster around 150 mt, the distance from the book shop to the bus stop. As I ended up halfway through the second story, I had no other option but carrying it with me.

Lovercraft makes for a weird summer read, because of the sharp contrast between the stories themes and styles, mainly set in cold months and the sun beating down, the blue sky and the quiet Sardinian sea. Yet, it seemed to me that the contrast accelerated my reading because I was done in less than 2 days, which is even more astounding given that on the first few days of holiday i slept most of the time.

Second book to go for sand bath treatments (the sand was so thin it managed to get everywhere and I fear the books I brought with me will spit sand out for the next 12 months) was “Justinian’s Flea” by William Rosen. What better way to spend a day at the sea with a lot of minuscule forms of life than reading of the devastating effects of Yersinia pestis on the Roman Empire?

Because the author is neither a scientist nor a historian, he offers a different approach; yet, since he worked in publishing houses for many years, he knew he had to do his homework when it came to bibliography and researches for the book.

Reading about history is fascinating to me because it’s like watching a domino show: you can concentrate on a single tile if you want but you risk of missing the whole effect. On the other hand, if you just look at the show as a whole, you miss the fine details and the importance of how and where tiles are placed. It’s a tough job to write about history, because aside the big and small picture, the writers should also make it nice to read: it’s not an easy task altogether as most of my high school and Univeristy history text can prove.

When I bought the book I was more interest in the Roman history side but the part I “enjoyed" more was the 3rd section of the book where Morris goes over in great details about the (hi)story of the bacterium: I’m not really interested in microbiology, but the fact that in the boot it’s put into a narrative way, it makes for a brilliant read and I found I could easily visualize how the bacterium work. It’s an horror I found more scaring than Lovercraft.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The high end shop

I don’t live in Milan city centre, but I don’t live in a remote suburb either.
I’m somewhere in the middle.

One thing I already suspected and confirmed in the past 3 years of life in “somewhere in the middle” is that this idea of Milan being the capital of style and fashion of Italy is exactly that: an idea. Fashion is limited to some specific areas, but once you step out of it everything is just a coated version of it and you just need to scratch a little to see the truth.

If you go to Brera or near the Duomo, you might spot the occasional fashion blogger, the rich people looking smart and, well, rich, and according to the season, a varying quota of models.

Step on the metro and 6 stops away there’s nothing of that glossy glamour left: there are pavements falling aparts, pavements plastered with dog shit, dirty buildings, streets that turned into lakes after a little bit of rain. Yet people still strike a pose and act as if they’re the coolest being on planet (they might as well be, but Milan people are not exactly the most sociable people ever, so I guess I’ll never know). They still feel the need to be judgemental at your outfit while you’re queueing at the discount market. These attempts at being cool and hype contrast with the mediocre reality of our surroundings. It somehow makes the area I live a bit sad, but it also has some funny sides too.

For example shops try to appear the best and smartest too. But rather than on the substance of the shop itself, owners are more interested in the shop signs.
There’s not a greengrocer in my street, god forbid something that peasant should ever appear around here; no, we have a “Fruit boutique” instead: pity that alongside the prices of a boutique, it doesn’t sport its appearances, but looks extremely run down.

The next addition to the area is a pizza take away place. But, hey, we already have to deal with shabby kebab places, you can’t really expect us to deal with one more similar shop. So in the next few days the “Atelier of the pizza” is going to open. I’ll need to double check whether they got a dress code at the entrance.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Ode to Mrs. Spears

Thanks to Gisella’s comments on my previous post, I’ve remembered one more reason I wanted to blog about “Death at Broadcasting House”: Inspector Spears’ wife.
She appears in only one chapter, not that many pages altogether.
Yet, like all the other major and minor characters of the novel, she seems to gain a life of her own out of the pages.

Now I can’t really tell how the authors wanted her to come across to readers, but that’s one of the most fascinating part of reading rights? Writers create the characters, yet it’s up to their readers to truly bring them to life.

To me, Mrs. Madge Spears is amazing. To my eyes and imagination, she’s the kind of woman smarter than what society around her and its convention allowed her to be and to show to other people.
She deeply knows her husband: she knows how to defuse his bad mood, while still allowing him his space for thinking about his investigation; she’s able to help him to untangle part of his idea about the murder while, at the same time, keeping up with her knitting.

Yep, with an explosive and popping “p” at the end. You read it well: knitting.

Mrs. Spears is a knitter!
Is it fair to say I might be biased towards her because she’s a knitter?
Hell yeah, I am! I’m very biased but who cares?

The thing I truly love about her description in the book is that it’s very vivid, honest, close to real knitter in real life.

Traditionally knitting in crime fiction is associated to Miss Marple, the clever, old spinster knitting while solving mysteries. I also tried to read some knitting-related novels "The Friday Night Knitting Club” but ended up hating it, as it’s not my genre at all (and it’s poorly written too).

But Madge Spears is different: she’s real, I can picture her in my mind.
She appears to me in a ’30s dress and haircut, her hands cured but not perfect because she still takes care of all the house chores. She wears a faint lipstick and in my head she has a sincere and witty smile. I bet she’s patient and wise but I also believe she’s a olympic champion at eyebrow arching.
I can see her sitting next to her husband, letting him talk about what’s bothering about the whole matter, while she picks up her knitting, an emerald green sweater, a color she picked because she knows it’s Simon’s favorite.

The deductions of Inspector Spears keep the rhythm set by the clicking of his wife’s knitting needles and she keeps knitting while asking questions and allowing Spears (and his writers) to discuss possible motives and suspects of the murder.
And she’s so engrossed by the whole matter that at one point she does something every knitter did once: she drops a stitch. And it’s hilarious and smart to read how the knitting and the analysis of the murder end up in one single line.

"Bother," said Madge. "I've dropped a stitch. Would the murderer know that?"

When I read this line I was on the metro back home and I missed my stop, as I was giggly and euphoric. You might think this is not a reason good enough to read the book or make a new movie out of it, but trust me on this: you’re wrong. :-)

Friday, 4 September 2015

Dachshunds, books and knitting

The bookshop "Mercurio" is one of my favorite spot in Torino: I was really amazed by it when it opened, many years ago by now.

"What? Opened till midnight? Seriously!?!?"

Nowadays we're used to shops being always open, to supermarket working 24/7 but this was different: it was a time when shops being opened on a Sunday afternoon were one-off special events and, there it was, a shop open until late, a shop open when all the other shops were closed.

And above all it wasn't a chain store, but an independent shop. And it was an independent book shop!
You might think it's a small shop but that's an illusion: once you step in you realize how wrong you are; down the rabbit hole there's a corridor, stuck with books on one side and cards, postcards and other stationery on the opposite wall, and at the end of it there is another room. Then, at the end of the room a set of stairs takes you upstairs. Or you can turn right into the other room for kids literature.

There are many things I love about Mercurio: the fact that the booksellers know about books is a winning factor. I stopped taking for granted the knowledge of booksellers when, in a big chain bookstore branch, the shop assistant asked me how to spell Stephen King.
I like that they store books that are not so easy to find in other bookstores, like books about sewing patterns or about Japanese anime. They have a massive stack of photography books, a small but heavyweight section dedicated to Torino, the standard set of classics, travel guide, popular paperback and then they always got something on offer.

I never purposely plan to go and visit the shop, yet, every time I'm in town, I somehow find myself turning into via Po from Piazza Castello thinking that "Oh well, I got up to here anyway and it's less than 50 meters away... Let's go and have a look at Mercurio"

And that's exactly what happened about 1 month ago. I was looking for a book for a friend, but my attention got completely sidetracked by a big display of a book series by a publishing house I (shamefully so) never heard of before, Polillo Editore: the covers were all salmon pink and the name of the series is "I bassotti" (The dachshunds). I found hte name of the collection and its logo so cute, I didn’t really stop to wonder why they linked this dog to a collection of crime fiction, but at that moment I couldn’t really be bothered by it. There was a whole array of books with a special price tag flashing in front of me and the first title my eyes fell on to was Freeman Wills Crofts’s “The 12:30 from Croydon
Croydon! There’s something more than Ikea in Croydon, I know... and I know that one of those things is the airport (I remember watching a documetary about it).

Not so long story even shorter, I bought the novel and ready it in less than a week. I just couldn’t put the book down. The inverted detective story and the translation just got me hooked and made me miss my metro stop more than once.

I once more found myself by pure chance in front of Mercurio on my next visit back home. Pure chance, nothing planned, but well… I was there already, why not going in to check if the offer on Bassotti was still going on? Yeah!

I just wanted to have a look at the bookshope once more, what’s wrong with it? What’s wrong is the fact that I’m not a big fan of crime fiction unless it’s from the golden age of crime fiction and “ I bassotti” is a book series focused solely on American and British novel from the golden age of crime fiction.
So, I was not that surprised I left the bookshop with a new book in my bag, “Death at Broadcasting House” by Val Gielguld and Holt Marvel.
It took me a bit longer to finish this one, because I was trying to finish knitting a pair of gloves. And because (spoiler alert!) a pair of gloves plays a big part in this novel, it seemed like a sign that I should continue knitting and reading at the same time.
Well, it’s not easy: it’s very complicated; knitting and reading are not the best pair of activities you want to try for multitasking.
At the end of it, I finished reading the novel, finished one of the gloves, and learnt how to turn pages using my right foot (still debating whether adding it as skill on Lindkedin: curious how many people will endorse me for it). I've also learnt that the consequent backache is not an experience I want to repeat in the near future.

glove & book

I finished the book this week and I already miss it: the things I enjoyed the most are how smoothly it flows, the description of the characters and the description of a London that is no more. I used to work in Soho, my beloved tattoo shop is in Soho and it is so fascinating to read of an area htat I know but not that has changed so dramatically since the time the book was written.
I think that authors being so knowledgeable about how BBC worked at the time helped them a lot.
I found myself wishing a movie could be made out of it, because in my head I could picture contemporary actors in the different roles, yet at the same time being afraid of it, because I don’t really want this small universe I built inside my head to be crushed by the constraints imposed by modern movie productions on screenplay and directorial choices.
I was very happy (and relieved) to find out that a movie was actually made out of the novel the same year the book was published. Moreover Val Gielgud plays one of the main character.
And guess what? It’s available on DVD...