Weekend & Wonder woman

As probably the last person alive I went to see Wonder woman the other day, a nice break during a hectic week and in some ways, the calm before the storm (Midsummer festivities are a big thing up here and the weather is always bad so to some degree that storm was literal).

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What did I think?

I liked it. It was entertaining; it’s visually enticing, the acting is good and it comes together in a nice way. I did not have the almost religious experience as someone I know who basically started crying as she was so glad to see a woman being an action hero and nothing but( and this is a thing apparently?).

Although there are shots of her actual butt, let’s not pretend that Gal Gardot is anything other then a gorgeous woman and as she is the protagonist she is in the frame a lot of the time. Not a bad thing though but some want this to be the ultimate feminist movie and it isn’t. A huge improvement on many action movies out there undoubtedly and it has shown that a woman can most certainly direct a huge Hollywood blockbuster, and that having a female protagonist isn’t a hindrance.

As I was so late in seeing this I have very little to add to the conversation but would encourage anyone to go see it.

Other opinions on Wonder woman;

About the crying

Vanity Fair’s take

Why it’s not a feminist victory for everybody 

A feminist defense 

-Suss

Wednesday&Walking

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times when Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to walk from Rotterdam to Konstantinopel in 1933. He was a young man with very little in the way of money, but his life ahead of him whilst Europe was on the verge of war.

A time of gifts is a brilliant book I must say; I do like reading this sort of thing but it really is in a league of its own. This was written much later and is based on his memories and his diaries, as well as reflections on the bigger picture with his story being put into a perspective. These different strands of thought form a narrative that is bigger than the sum of the parts in a way.

It was a different time back then; 5 pounds was a fortune, Czechoslovakia was a new nation and communication across boarders was difficult. For better or for worse he was left to his own devices in large parts. Although Leigh Fermor coming from a good and well-connected background he has letters of introduction to good tables and his roughing it in barns is interspersed with nights at various schloss and dining like a king. Those glamorous interludes does bring more of an adventure to the trip. I’m surprised his life hasn’t been turned into a movie yet. After this he was a bit of hero in the war and then became a writer and hob-nobbed with the aristocracy. He was a looker too; I’ve seen pictures. Nice face to have across the table, if I were to have a “list of hotties from history” he would be on it (I’m not saying I have such a list. Explorer Joseph Banks cirka 1771 would also be on it. Again; not saying I have such a list).

Leigh Fermor was trying to find his way though a Europe but also find his own place in the world; the journey is also a spiritual one. In the introduction Jan Morris makes a reference to the works of Ibn Battutah (which I have yet to read) but maybe The narrow road to the deep North and other travel sketches by Bashō could also be in that category; I feel there is an affinity between them.

He must have had a knack for making friends although as someone who has on occasion travelled alone I find that one does turn on the charm and people do open up to a lone stranger in a way they wouldn’t to a group of friends. As learned as he was (the Shakespeare quotes are many and not far apart) he also acknowledges his naivety in regards to politics ,and German politics in particular, in retrospect. Nazism does throw a dark shade over the whole thing reading it now. But his trip is is about people and places; the meetings along the way, the everyday life and conversations.

With people we do not know we make the most trivial small talk or tell them our deepest secrets; the risk or chance of never having to meet someone again can be a possibility I guess. This also speaks through the ages; who hasn’t pretended to be someone they are not on vacation, or taken the chance to be who they truly are when out of the usual context and role we are given.

All in all; an engaging read that takes you away. It’s a feel-good book it really is. It was an act of generosity from his side to share his adventures I think. And so well-written.

-Suss

 

 

 

Bashō&Bourbon

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I’ve been reading Bashō again. This time it’s been a slim volume called On love and Barley.

Having been introduced to his work by a Penguin little black classic called Lips too chilled last year I found much I recognized in this, indeed the small volume draws from this. However I did also get a good introduction which taken together with that in A narrow road to the deep North and other travels sketches has taught me more about the man behind the haikus.

Born in 1644 Bashō bridges the gap, or indeed seems to be the conduit, between a time of stagnation for Japanese poetry and the Tokugawa-era which saw the blooming of culture.

His love of nature (his pen name comes from a tree), a lifelong curiosity and adherence to Zen buddism imbues his lines with an awe of nature but also act to point our eyes to what is important. He doesn’t have to spell it all out but rather makes the reader notice his or her surroundings. Haiku was an established form of verse but it was outdated and Bashō reinvigorated it by making the most of the rules and on occasion breaking them. Haiku with it’s limited space still allows for much experimentation. In the end he was a traditionalist and respectful of the limitations but I interpret it as he sometimes found that the art had precedence over convention, and thus mixed it up so to speak.

Speaking of mixing it up (I’m stretching it when I compare haikus to Old-fashioneds but bear with); The Old-fashioned has through the reinvigorated cocktail scene in general, and the TV-series Mad men in particular, again become very popular. Like haiku it’s defined by very simple rules but it’s  hard to make an outstanding one for that very reason.

The list of ingredients is short and to the point; bourbon,sugar cube, bitters and and orange zest. Possibly a cocktail cherry; I rather like them but the trend is to skip the fruit. I don’t know why. Then there is the difficult part; the mixing of said things.

I’ve heard more than one bartender say that they judge other bartenders on how they make them, it’s a test. And there is a difference I can tell you. That said, if making them at home-lower your expectations. But it’s also a good opportunity to break the rules.

One of my most tried examples of blasphemy is using single-malt whiskey instead of bourbon. Most bourbons are too bland and sweet for me and when making bar cabinet priorities the single-malt is of the utmost importance, I use it for all manner of cocktails.

I got the idea to use it also for Old fashioned from none other then Tony Conigliario, or to be precise, a visit to 69 Colebrook row which is one of the best bars in the world according to me. Having one was an epiphany. If guests want more of a standard version I use a blended whiskey (which also is of higher importance than bourbon in my book, and easier to find a good version of to be honest). Then I’m lazy and use a syrup instead of a sugar cube which means the stirring is is kept at a minimum, and is a good opportunity to add another dimension. Last but not least; there are other bitters than Angostura. In short; by playing around with the elements there is a good opportunity to make something that is familiar and yet original.

Baseline Old fashioned; yields one drink

0.5-1 cl of syrup

5 cl bourbon, blended whiskey or single-malt

2 dashes of bitters

for serving; tumbler full of ice

orange zest (or grapefruit or lemon; whatever works from the citrus family)

  1. Pour the sugar syrup into a stirring glass full of ice and begin to stir.
  2. Add half of the spirit and continue to stir.
  3. Add the rest of it and the bitters and stir some more.
  4. Strain into at the tumbler of ice and garnish with the citrus of your choice.

With this as the format there is no reason why you shouldn’t make a drink with mezcal, elderflower syrup and Scrappy’s black lemon bitters. It’s a variation on this theme that I haven’t tried but I probably should. As always; enjoy responsibly.

-Suss

Monday&Mothertongue

NB; I wrote a long post about these three books but when I pressed “publish” is just disappeared. I made a sour face, got on with life for a bit and then sat down to try to recreate it. Hence the somewhat short post and dispirited tone.

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Over the years I have kept a reading journal and the sum of books read has stayed much the same over time until I made the decision to stop carrying around big books as they were literally breaking my back. So for the last two year I have read more books but the number of pages has probably stayed roughly the same.

In terms of language though there was a big shift when I created my Instagram account devoted to books; as I use English in my posts and I want to partake in a bigger discussion about those I chose to read it felt more natural. However it came to a point where I started to long for the elevated prose in my first language, Swedish, and also all of a sudden there where so many good books on the literary scene up here.

I was talking about this with someone I know just the other day, when did so many books on the best-seller list and that are being talked about become so interesting?

I’ve already written about Århundradets kärlekskrig by Ebba Witt-Brattström and will probably bring it up again. Today I noticed that one of my fave podcast, Februari-podden, had released a new episode( they are very sporadic but always worth listening to) and it was also on the subject of contemporary relations and what can happen when the woman is the breadwinner, and how it is impossible to be both the one that takes care of house and home whilst being the one that is responsible for paying the bills, at least in the long-term. A discussion by two Swedish male comedians might not sound like the place for great insight but they are men who leave no stone unturned in their talk and are not afraid of uncomfortable topics.

The book by Liv Ullman was a wonderful read. Where I was tickled in the beginning by the fact that she wrote about her famous parents, her mother is actor Linn Ullman and her father was director Ingmar Bergman, it soon became much more. It’s about a child trying to find her place in the world when both her parents are larger than life, and when she does finally find her own footing it starts slipping away again with her fathers aging. Well-written in an airy way as part of the book is transcripts of the recorded conversations they had towards the end of his life, in the hope of a joint project.

Both Witt-Brattström and Ullman call their books “novels” although it is safe to assume that much is based on a true story. The expression roman à clef could probably be used but rarely is anymore. And labeling it as a memoir is tricky as libel-suits can follow and as I recall at least two scandals from the last few years about books label as memoirs that had the percentage of truth questioned (James Frey and that book called “Running with scissors”) I imagine people are shy of that too. And as Bergman has passed away and cannot comment it wouldn’t be fair I guess. But fiction can be a place to explore ideas and say things that are true though not necessarily facts if that makes any sense (not a new insight that last bit admittedly).

The third book in this stack is De polyglotta älskarna by Lina Wolff that got the August-prize last year, and even though I’m only halfway through I understand why. Such characters and great writing. It’s mad up of three short stories that together form an arc on the theme of love and relationships. I’m very much enjoying it.

-Suss

Falling out of love

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I’ve read a lot of books recently, but two of them struck me as having a common theme; the unseen work done by the  partner of a genius.

I had seen Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff all over The Gram and as opinion was divided I decided to read it to make up my own mind. When I posted about it on IG a fair few did say they felt “meh” about it actually but I guess strong opinions are more often shared then being lukewarm about a book.

In any case it is a story told in two parts; first from the perspective of Lotto, the rich man turned playwright phenomena and then from the view of his wife Mathilde; the foundation of his success. Without giving too much away I will say that he believes himself charmed and very able to stand on his own two legs to make it in the world. He does not recognize his privileged starting position or the work put in by the women around him which paves the way for his success. Mathilde obviously has her own story and it is one of hard work I tell you, some of which she is happy to do.

In the end I did like it, but with reservations, and enjoyed the book, it was a compelling read. Some of the sentences are heavily ornate in an effort to impress it seems, it’s very American in many ways (that’s a description not a judgement by the way but it does create distance) and as much as I appreciated the idea of it I wasn’t totally convinced. Worth reading but I’m not sure why people are raving about it.

I did however think about it a lot in the book I read after; Århundradets kärlekskrig by Ebba Witt-Brattström. The titel roughly translates to The love war of the century and it’s the story of a divorce, in the form of a novel in verse. It’s a “He said” “She said” type of thing.  I shook my head as the same formulations as in Fates and Furies that turned up. This novel came about after a very public divorce between two of Sweden’s leading intellectuals. Theirs was a charmed marriage. The image was very much one of the Antonia Frasier and Harold Painter-esque variety(which is kind of  #relationshipgoals) but if this novel is any indication it was far from it. Once again we have a woman that decided to be “the good wife” and support her husband so he can be a genius without worldly worries. And for that she gets slapped in the face. The things we do for love always come back to haunt us, and we pay for them dearly. In some relations to compromise is to be weak, and being understanding is a one way street.

This book is raw, and the fact that it’s in in verse (albeit not rhymed) just underlines the brutality. It’s interspersed with many a literary reference, old and new. A feminist statement and a very good one. It is an hommage à Märta Tikkanen and August Strindberg. I did read Tikkanen earlier this year in anticipation of reading this book and I will read Strindberg any day now. Any day.

However what I started to think about was this; do we revert to these stereotypes because such  is mankind, or do break-ups often follow this pattern because that’s what we are told and shown that a divorce looks like? I saw a play the other year in which the women of the relationship tried to also be an “art monster”(phrase borrowed from Jenny Offills’  The department of speculation) and not managing. Fraser and Pinter seemed to have had a relationships of equals but then money, and already established careers, make everything easier. As we, hopefully, move towards a more gender-equal society what will be the nature of falling out of love? Will we revert to the same behaviour or has feminism shown us another way? Love hurts, and a lack love, or love turned into hate, hurts even more. As much as we ridicule Gwyneth Paltrow for the whole unconscious un-coupling thing, it does seem better then throwing dirt at each other and each other’s friends in public. That said Chris Martin might be penning a “tell-all” as I write this.

Moral of this post? I need to reread Pride and Prejudice to regain my faith in love that’s what.

Vaguely related;

Must you go? by Antonia Fraser

-Suss

7 reading suggestions for crazy cat people (and everyone else too)

I’m a crazy cat lady at heart and true to stereotype pretty much anything cat-related works for me. I try not to amass loads of tat with cat prints but not surprisingly I do have a few bits and  bobs. Nor am I rarely disappointed when a cat turns up in a book and the bigger part they have to play in the plot, the better usually. The exception would be I am cat by Soseki Natsume which was a struggle from cover to cover. Whoever made me put that on my TBR should be struck of the Christmas card-list (I’m horrible with names so that will never happen, couldn’t figure it out quite simply).

A few good ones then? A very unoriginal list this one, but my cat has temporarily abandoned me in favour of a few more weeks at the cottage,just lounging about out there and being hand feed bits of cheese, so I’m making do with fictional cats.

IMG_22981. The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov

I love this book and that’s that. I’ve read it a bunch of times and always encourage (i.e. bully) others into reading it too. Behemoth is the cat we are introduced to and he is everything; gun-toting,cigarr-smoking and black as the night. Bulgakov is one of the top-Russians to me; I love the bizarre turns that this story takes and the writing is phenomenal.

2. The guest cat by Takashi Hiraide

I read this just this week. I would compare it to a macaroon; it’s sweet and elegant but just the right size. A longer story would have been to sentimental. It does bring home the point that you do not choose cats, they choose you. They really do. And then they boss you around something awful, which you are happy about. But this is a nice book and well worth reading. And if you get a cat do remember that they will try to get food elsewhere, haven’t had a cat yet that doesn’t try to sneak in to the neighbours when there is fish being served next doors.

3. Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami

Murakami likes cats that is clear, they turn up in many (if not all) his books. In this one there is an old man that can talk to cats, and get reasonable answers (all cat owners talk to cats but it’s usually a rather trite conversation). Of his books this one is the one I like best but I also have fond memories of the cat in the Wind-up bird Chronicle as well.

4. Old possum’s book of practical cats by T.S Eliot

The only book by Eliot that I have read and liked. The musical Cats is famously based on this.

5. The catwalk cats by Grace Coddington

Grace Coddington,of Vogue-magazine fame, is a lover of cats and has a few. She wrote and drew, and Didier Malige photographed, to compile this very sweet and funny book about the spoiled and mischievous creatures and their imagined lives in fashion. Not much of a read as such but a nice thing to browse on a rainy day.

6. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

I mention this series because of my boy Crookshanks. I have a weak spot for Persian cats quite simply. Of course the brightest witch of our time has a Persian cat, of course she does. (And really I want to reread these books).

7. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Dinah the kitten is cute but it’s the Cheshire cat that steals the show. Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books and that feline probably does have something to do with that.

-Suss

Booze & Botany

Things are  growing on the balcony, not as much as I would like but at least my mint and my basil has become big enough to actually use. Feels like a miracle considering the cold and rainy weather we’ve been having of late.  In addition I brought some freshly cut herbs from the cottage; some to freeze and a handful to make what I often refer to as “garden syrup”.

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The recipe originally came from The Drunken botanist by Amy Stewart. It’s a wonderful book that contains competent gardening advice, some very good cocktail recipes and loads of fun anecdotes about herbs, spices and other cocktail ingredients; their history and other uses, that sort of thing (which I very much like). Stewart knows her stuff, I’ve learned plenty from this although mostly about gardening and that sort of annoying little tidbits of information that I insist of telling everyone at the most inappropriate time.

As I make this, it is a handful of herbs that’s added when making a syrup giving you a fresh and flavorful sweetener to your cocktails. Most herbs are good but I basically go with a combination of mint,basil and a little thyme. Makes for a good partner with gin, blanco tequila and if adding some fruit or berries* too, light rum. But you can experiment and find your own cool mix that works with what you want to make. I often add a bit to a G&T (I’m basic) or some kind of sour (not only basic but also a lazy mixologist in summer). Terrific added to a bit of prosecco. Also a very handy thing for non-alcoholic drinks, mixed with soda and some citrus juice.

It’s easy to make, and easy to use. I’ve poured this stuff on fruitsaladf (to be fair I’ve poured most kinds of syrups over fruit and it usually works. Ginger syrup is especially good, as is green jasmin tea syrup. Very sophisticated that last one if I might say so myself but not necessarily for everyone (pour it over lychees I tell you)).

Garden syrup; last about 2-3 weeks in the fridge. Best made in many small batches.

2,5 dl of water

2,5 dl of caster sugar

a handful of herbs (about 1,5 dl loosely packed).

  1. On medium heat add the sugar to the water and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the herbs and let simmer for about 7-10 minutes.
  3. Sieve it and then let cool before transferring to a bottle. Keep in the fridge.

*strawberries, blackberries or melon are particularly good. Makes sure to muddle those with the syrup so the flavours properly blend.

Also check out;

The drunken botanist 

-Suss