Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Reading Assignment: Sexytimes with Napoleon

I don't have a real assignment today.  I've been reading Desiree by Annemarie Selinko, but it's not good enough, in my opinion, to recommend to others.  Published in 1952 (in German--Selinko was Austrian), Desiree seems to be something of a cult favorite.  At least, there are a lot of online reviews by readers who claim it to be one of the best historical novels.

Awesome pulp fiction cover

The novel starts strong.  It's 1794, France is in the grip of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, and Eugenie Desiree Clary is the fourteen year old daughter of a silk merchant in Marseilles.  Through various events, she meets Joseph Buonaparte and his younger brother Napoleon, to whom she becomes engaged.  (Joseph Bonaparte marries her older sister Julie.)  This part of the novel is pretty good and Napoleon is obviously super sexy.  But then he takes off for Paris and dumps Desiree for the soggy Josephine.  The novel goes downhill from there and Desiree's character is reduced to little more than a paper doll who happens to witness some of the more dramatic moments in history.  Every time Napoleon is about to do something important, he summons Desiree, who seems to be able exploit her status of first love to say things that would get others banished or imprisoned.

Young Napoleon

Eugenie Desiree Clary

One of my literary peeves is when a writer of historic fiction uses a character as a prop from which to display a series of historical events.  It is just so dull, although to be fair, the real Desiree did spend a lot of time alone in Paris, while her husband, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, was a major player on the world's stage.  He was eventually chosen by the royal family of Sweden to be their crown prince and later, he and Desiree became king and queen of Sweden.

I didn't love this book, but it enhanced my understanding of War and Peace, which I've been slowly reading since long before Christmas. Desiree covers the same time period from a different perspective and provides background for the events in War and Peace.  Obviously, I learned about all of this in history but that was a long time ago.  Our European history teacher, Sister Marcyanne, had a marvelous knack for teaching history.  I still remember her vivid stories about Marat being murdered in the bathtub, and stealthy Russians on skis utterly humiliating the French, but I've forgotten much else.

Monday, February 16, 2015

SAHM for a Day

I took two days off from work last week.  I told my boss that I was desperate to get some work done around my house, which was true, although ultimately I got almost no work done around the house during my time off.  Our quality of life has really eroded since I went back to work full time.  I'm not convinced that more income is a fair trade off for our hurried and anxious way of living.

Anyway, I was desperate to have a few days, which weren't part of a holiday, to just stay home and get shit done.  What did I do?  Thursday, I let Seamus stay home from school and we took Phoebe to the vet.  One does not simply take Phoebe to the vet.  One of the vets in the practice wants us to consider behavioral meds, but the vet we saw on Thursday suggested a trainer.  The visit went relatively well, until it was time for the shots.  Seamus and I were able to restrain her for the rabies shot, (it's lucky the rabies was given first) but when it was time for the second vaccine, Phoebe was NOT having it.  She only weighs fifty pounds, but she is incredibly strong.  The the vet was holding the uncapped needle with one hand while grabbing the bucking dog with the other, all in an exam room not much larger than a toilet stall and I realized that someone in the room was about to get a bordetella vaccine and it might not be the dog.  The vet tech came in to assist, so now there were four people in the vicinity of the flailing uncapped needle, which did eventually meet its target in Phoebe's hind leg.  Sort of.  I heard the vet say, "I guess she got some of it."  That's OK, we'll just rely on the herd immunity.  Later, I noticed that the fronts of my thighs were covered with bruises, presumably caused by my attempt to wrestle her into submission.

Phoebe the Terrible

Then we picked up my dry cleaning, with Phoebe weeping furiously in the car.  At home, I gathered up all the old aluminum down spouts to take them to the scrap metal dealer; debris from when we got the house painted two years ago.  (This is what happens when both spouses work, it takes two years to get stuff like this done.)  Then Seamus and I went to the DMV so he could take his learner's permit exam.  (He passed.)  Back home for lunch and a brief rest, and then I headed downtown for more errands.

Friday, I decided the housework could wait and took a field trip to the Wegmans in Gainesville.   I can't believe I drove eighty miles just to buy groceries, but Wegmans is worth it.  I CAN'T WAIT for the Charlottesville Wegmans to open.

I didn't bother to eat before I left the house and I also forgot to pack anything to drink.  After an hour of wandering through Wegmans, my cart was so heavy I could hardly push it, and suddenly I was sweaty and dizzy and it seemed like I might actually pass out in front of the pop tarts club packs.  I didn't faint, thank goodness, but I realized it was nearly 11:00 am and I hadn't consumed even a single drop of water  or any food all day.   I bought a bottle of water and felt much better.  Must Get the Egg Bagels Home Safely. And this wasn't even my most extreme Wegmans run.  Once, after spending eighteen hours in a plane, flying home from Cape Town, I stopped at Wegmans immediately upon leaving Dulles airport, before driving all the way back to Charlottesville..

It was necessary to take a good long rest after getting home and putting the groceries away, but I was recovered by evening and we drove to Richmond to have dinner with Brigid.  We went to Ipanema, a vegetarian restaurant in the Fan that was like going back in time to the early '90s.  It's a paperless restaurant, so the menu was listed on a chalkboard near the entrance and you had to memorize what you wanted before going to your table.  Our server then had to memorize all our orders.  It was great to visit with Brigid.

Despite the two extra days off, I was still busy all weekend with my usual weekend stuff, mainly cooking for the week ahead and cleaning.  I did find time to install a new blogger template, which I bought on etsy.  It's going to take me a while to complete the finishing touches.  I'm also thinking of getting a new blog name as well.  Fatuous Observations is so old fashioned, but I can't think of anything better at the moment.

Finally, many thanks to Suburban Correspondent for the copy of Knitting Rules, which I won in her giveaway.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Under Construction

FYI, I'm doing a little redecorating, and things might look a little funny around here until I get things arranged to my satisfaction.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Friday Reading Assignment: Drood

I can't remember where I read the review of Drood, by Dan Simmons, but I do remember that it suggested that you read David Copperfield, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Woman in White, and The Moonstone as prerequisites.  I don't think I've ever read a novel that required you to read four other novels just to be sufficiently informed enough to appreciate it.  So I was expecting Drood to be very serious and literary and it turned out to be a gruesome horror novel.  Color me surprised!

This is a literary horror novel.  Narrated by Wilkie Collins, it follows Charles Dickens closely during the last years of his life and mixes real events from their lives with spooky incidents involving a mysterious character known only as Drood.

The real Charles Dickens, in 1865, survived the Staplehurst rail crash, an accident of the sort that seems to happen in action movies with huge special effects budgets.  Workmen had dismantled some of the structure supporting a railway bridge and the train Dickens was on wasn't notified in time.  The bridge collapsed when the train was midway across.  The car Dickens was in, near the front of the train, somehow managed to stay on the rails and all the cars behind Dickens' plunged into the river below.  It's said (via Wikepedia, anyway) that Dickens never fully recovered from the trauma.  He died five years later.

The novel opens with the Staplehurst accident.  Dickens climbs down to the river and tries to help the victims.  A mysterious and hideously deformed character is there too.  He introduces himself to Dickens as Drood, and wherever Drood is present among the victims, they die.

Dickens becomes obsessed with Drood and takes Wilkie Collins along on an excursion into London's literal underworld to find him.  Collins and Dickens were collaborators and, if Collins' narrative can be believed, competitors.  The fictional Collins may have liked to have seen himself as a legitimate rival against Dickens for most popular author in England but anyone who has read books by both men would know that there was no contest.  Dickens is far and away the better writer.

In the novel, Collins himself becomes more and more obsessed with Drood.  He is a heavy user of laudanum, an opiate drug, and as his laudanum use increases, and as he starts to visit opium dens and inject himself with morphine, the story gets stranger and Wilkie Collins gradually changes from a gentle, mildly bumbling man into a murderer.  Is there really a monster named Drood who is a king of "Undertown"?  Is he a man or is he a figment of Collins' opium-fueled hallucinations?  I don't want to spoil it, so I'll just conclude by saying that Drood was so creepy that I was afraid to walk through my house, alone in the dark (as I usually do, first thing in the morning).  Drood is a hefty 800 pages, but it's a page turner.

Sunday, February 01, 2015


I was unspeakably rude to the nice Christian ladies who came proselytizing to my house on Friday afternoon.  I am often in a bad mood after work, but on this day my bad mood was worse than usual because the city allowed a long stretch of public sidewalk be boarded up for a private enterprise's hotel construction and I was forced to make a detour on my walk home which led to standing in the freezing wind for an interminable time at a signal that gives cars in all directions a generous amount of time and gives pedestrians a millisecond to get across.  Furthermore I'll be forced to make the same inconvenient detour for the unforeseeable future because the city of Charlottesville cares fuck-all for pedestrians and allows corporate hotel muckety mucks to demolish the sidewalks that belong to the taxpayers.  This particular stretch of sidewalk is heavily used by pedestrians.  But I digress.

So I was already fuming and composing furious emails to city government (and I hope the city is flooded with same, hint hint Cvillians) when I saw the two women heading down my driveway.  I was still a block from my house, which gave me plenty of time to get even more angry about the fact that the way into my house was blocked by people who would want to talk to me.

Luckily for all concerned, Jon was home and had answered the door by the time I got to the house.  He is so much nicer than I am in this sort of situation.  Unfortunately, my rage, like vomit, had reached the point at which there was no holding back.  "Excuse me, I live here," I snarled and whisked past Jon and the ladies into the house, unceremoniously shoving the hysterical dogs out of my way.  I actually slammed the door, something we never do in our house.

"You must be cold," I heard one of the ladies say.  She sounded friendly.  She was probably a nice person and I was cold and furious and, ultimately, ashamed of myself. It's barbaric to behave that way.  I'm always in awe of people who manage to stay cool in all situations.  I'm not one of those people, unfortunately.  I'm always weeping or yelling or raging and I've been making resolutions to control my temper ever since I was eight and read Little Women and the chapter when Jo lets Amy fall through the ice.  But then, another scene from children's lit that profoundly influenced my views on temper is the one from Little Town on the Prairie (which I read at age five) when Laura disrupts the whole school because of her rage at the teacher's unfair treatment of her younger sister.  One of my favorite scenes in literature.  Maybe if I had read Little Women first, I'd have had better luck with my temper.

I scanned Garth Williams' illustration from my copy of
Little Town on the Prairie.

Do you rage or do you keep your cool?