Monday, January 28, 2008

Resolved in January

So, no. 1 on my resolution list done for this month - keeping track of the resolutions. Hurrah!
  1. See above. Take this for granted from now on if I manage to do it every month.
  2. Body fat update. Started at 29%, now down to 28.3%. In a fortnight, that's not bad, with only a couple of gym visits and slightly healthier eating. Still, that sort of trajectory not going to last forever. I'm trying to get my knee ready for a 5k, at least, so running starts again today, too, which should help. FYI, although the information doesn't seem to have a strongly reliable source, the recommended amount for youngish women is 20-21%, and the average US woman has 22-25%, so I've a way to go before then.
  3. Big nights on the backburner at the moment, what with TOH's dodgy knee. Still, had a serious dance on Friday night while wearing the most horrific 80s outfit - not sure what was worse, going out in public like that or knowing that each and every item came from my own wardrobe, not bought from American Apparel that day. But it was a BIG night (and led to my breaking, without much inner struggle from me, each of my extra resolutions for sensory deprivation).
  4. Classic movies not got through yet, although we have made a list of the IMDB's top 250 that neither TOH or I have seen, we've borrowed the Godfathers from a friend, and have many visits to the cinema planned for the Film Forum's United Artists season. We just have to work our way through all the movies people loaned us for TOH's recovery.
  5. Currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and have The Trial coming up next, plus all the other classics from Law & Literature - hallelujah for that class.
  6. We do have fresh flowers in the house, thanks to TOH yesterday... although the cats are trying to eat them already. We're thinking about seeds, and growing things. I'm nervous.
  7. We made Nigella's beetroot & mustard soup last week (tasted pretty much like beetroot & mustard, but that means yummy, to me at least). Tonight I'm probably going to make something from one of our favourite books, Pasta Improvvisata. Never a dud yet from that book.
  8. Well, yesterday went to the Hispanic Society of America museum. Wednesday we're finally getting to the Kara Walker at the Whitney. Yay!
Rock on February.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Yo Soy Boricua

... and not just because it's mentioned in one of my favourite ever overheard in new york quotes.

TOH worked out the other day that this is the longest, since leaving Sheff for university, that he's ever lived in one place. And I think that's true for me, too; obviously lived in London, but in various places. Yet we are embarrassingly ignorant about where we live. Therefore, we are embarking on a mission to tour the riches around us, before we head off for other climes (which may well happen later this year).

One of the most obvious omissions has always been The Hispanic Society of America, which is based in the campus of Boricua College. It's on Audubon Terrace, on Broadway between 155th and 156th. It was founded by a museum founder; seriously, that's what he did, with lots of others founded, no apparent connection between the themes. According to the museum, he was obsessed with Spanish culture, having read travel memoirs of it as a young man in the early 20th century. TOH and I are both enthusiasts of Spanish painting, yet until this afternoon had never visited this place two blocks south of our house that houses works by Goya, El Greco (his and my favourites, respectively) as well as Velázquez, Zurbarán, de Ribera, and Murillo.

It's a modest, but lovely, collection. The most important painting there, however, is a glorious Goya that is extremely famous - the portrait of the Duchess of Alba, dressed in black mourning clothes. There's a lot interesting about this painting. He painted two of her, and the one of her in virginal and highly fashionable white is displayed in a palace in Madrid. In contrast, the "Black Duchess" was never given to the Duchess, or indeed shown in public, essentially because it represented Goya's apparent passion for the widow. When you think about it, it's a really quite cheeky thing: she's in her mourning dress, but has a ring on her finger saying "Goya," and is pointing to the ground where the words "Sólo Goya" ("Only Goya") have been etched into the sand, apparently by her - after all, she is alone.* Robert Hughes, in his wonderful biography of the artist, states
This is not what she feels, but what Goya hopes: she is in mourning for her dead husband, and Goya is the only man for her. It is the painter's fantasy, not the subject's, and presumably that is why the portrait did not pass into the possession of La Alba; she would hardly have wanted visitors to see so striking a declaration of a love that she did not in fact feel.** In the painting she is beautiful and imperious, the yello of her gold-embroidered blouse and the red of her facha, or knotted sash, powerfully suggest the burning coals of passion, glowing through the black filigree of lace. One can imagine the painter staring at it through the privacy of his studio and wishing it were so.
The museum is free, peaceful, and this painting is utterly exquisite. There's also a lovely Sagrada Familia by El Greco, a beautiful small head portrait of a little girl by Velázquez, and a couple of striking Zurbarán portraits of female saints that actually bring to mind the society portraits by Singer Sargent, with opulent cascading materials, rather than traditional saintly images. Further, there's a Spanish impressionist, Sorrolla y Bastida, that we'd never seen before, who warrants further investigation. Apparently they have an extensive collection of his work - indeed, a whole room - but that is closed until 2009, sadly, so a return visit is definitely necessary.

* It may just be me, of course, but she looks much more... buxom, standing in a more sensuous and challenging position, in the black than in the white.
** Of course, there are many who suggest that it was indeed reciprocated, or at least they had an affair.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Glad It's Your Birthday

Blog for Choice DayToday is the 35th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Therefore, here's a few things on the world wide web that have been written by extremely eloquent, interesting people about why that's a good thing, and what's at stake if the anti-choicers get their way.

NARAL asks you to blog for choice if you are pro-choice. As I am, here's why I'm pro-choice:

Women cannot be equal unless they have control over their fertility and the ability to deal with when whatever precautions they do (or don't take) go wrong. Economic development is key to greater autonomy and power and, hopefully, equality, and you can't be economically developed if you are having children with no choice over the number or timing of your children.

But, even more so, you have no right to force me to carry or not a child; it's my body, my integrity, and my choice. Yet choice is such a luxury for most people, let alone women alone, in the world; so many women have so little power over the course of their own lives that they do not have a number of options from which to make a choice. Hence abortion is not a luxury, and not something we take lightly, but something that is essential to our lives, but we need more: better contraception, better insurance, better healthcare, better education. Better everything.

Overturning Roe v. Wade won't do anything but put women's health in danger, bring more unwanted children into the world for poor women who can't afford the transport to and care in states where abortion is available.

But even if there were no divide between rich & poor, the privileged and the not so, it would still be my decision and my choice. No one has the right to make it for me; I don't force it upon you, so how dare you, Huckabee et al., force it on me? And that's my moral stance: religious men and women do not have the monopoly on morality; my morals dictate that I don't force people to do with their bodies what they do not wish. Abortion is just one part of it - but an essential one for bodily integrity; and, with it, soulful integrity and dictating the course of your life.

I wish I could vote in this election.

Extra Resolute

A dear old friend of mine has challenged his nearest and dearest (one has to wonder, how near and dear am I given what he's asking me to do?) to the following Health & Culture Attempt. What you do: seven cultural events and seven pieces of exercise in the next fourteen days. Also, some form of sensory deprivation is called for, and therefore I shall not be eating cheese, or drinking spirits, "heavy" beer, coffee, coke, or dr. pepper in the upcoming fortnight.

Some of you may remember how utterly awful this blog got in my obsession with (lack of) caffeination for Lent last year. Therefore, I suppose we should all be grateful that this is a mere two weeks, and not the forty long, miserable days of last year's effort.

Question: Does attending legal celebrations count as "cultural"?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Ring Thing

Feministing's weekly reader had a link to this piece about one woman's reasons to not get married. It was pretty interesting; I always read these sorts of things, partly for solidarity and affirmation, I must confess.

Pressure to get married is really nothing I have experienced, at least not from people who vaguely know or love me. It tends to come from outsiders who don't know us, and just expect a couple of our longevity to be married. However, even then, the reactions have changed with the years, probably in part due to the length of our relationship - once you get beyond six years or so, people seem to get the message that you're probably not planning to get married. What seems to happen, however, is that people seem to assume that you've not really thought about this, that it's one person dragging her or his feet, or that you're just passing time.

To be honest with myself, I AM rejecting marriage; I can't pretend I'm neutral on it, because I'm not. I think it has too many gender role implications that I don't want to have to fight - I'm too busy being angry about and fighting against gender assumptions for women in general. And that starts with engagement rings and the talk of name change. If I think things are changing, then I get a bit of a reminder every now and then by many sources. For example, the Entertainment Tonight prat who was so overexcited by Eva Longoria's namechange; by Fox News using a commentator who equates anything Hillary Clinton says to some sort of domestic demand; or by Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Noodles* which just panders to this sort of bisected, quite frankly horrible-sounding marriage. Why would anyone want a relationship like that? Why wouldn't they want someone who is their partner, their equal? And that's when Bonnie's article sums it up for me:

[W]hile I know the word "married" would mean something to [Jeff's family], something tangible they could use when describing our life together, I can't do it. I am Jeff's partner, his friend and his lover, and he is mine. The terms "husband" and "wife" wouldn't even begin to describe our relationship.

If you do have a desire to get married, and it makes you happy, then more power to you. It's distinctly not my place to tell you what to do or why; that's a reciprocal thing, and I won't foist my anti-marriage feelings on you anymore than the other way round. But certainly don't bloody well do it because of stupid James Dobson and stupid Focus on the stupid Family.

* If you don't have a New Year's Resolution to be more masochistic, unlike Amanda Marcotte, you can read her discussion of this horrible, horrible thing at RH Reality Check's podcast transcript.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Really Wild Show

Animals. Because they're important, right? I'm soppy about them, I know, but I think how you treat animals, with their reliance upon your food, kindness, or grace (or lack of fear) or their reliance upon you leaving them bloody well alone (as in some cases seen below) is indicative of your view of your place in the world and the scheme of things. Hence an unashamed series of animal loving. And no, not like that.

A vulture flying high on a hike up Bear Mountain.

Why all of my clothes are covered in cat hair.

Hakuna matata...

They look so cute, and yet...

A bit fuzzy but worth it for the (estimated) three-week-old at the mama's knees.

Seeing Clearly

I just looked at a friend's website, and it occurred to me that I have stopped putting in photos on my posts. I don't know why or when that started, but I'm annoyed. Therefore, the next few posts I'll try to add photos, and particularly do a few posts that highlight a trip or theme within my photos.

Just so you know.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Random Things I've Read and Loved This Year

(or, at least, had a strong reaction to).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Yesterday my OH went in for an operation - not a serious one, really, but I was worried - it was the first time he's been in hospital the whole time we've been together. Not going to go on about that, but rather the opportunity the several hours fretting gently in the waiting room gave me. For the first time in ages, I got to watch genuine daytime tv - not repeats of ER/Scrubs/Law & Order/The Daily Show or ESPN, which is what I watch if I watch tv before 6pm. The channel was tuned to one of the main ones, and it was, frankly, abominable.

Choice examples (bear in mind, I have no idea what I was actually watching):

People cheering Rachael Ray for using garlic. Yes, when she said "Now, I love garlic, so I'm putting in three cloves" there was cheering, whooping and applauding. Seriously? What is wrong with these people?

Some idiot talking about Eva Longoria's decision to add her husband's surname to hers - "it's about time she did that." Erm, why, you moron?

Daytime tv is a perfect reason to NOT stay at home to raise your children - if you watch it, quite frankly, your brain is mush and you will not be in a position to intellectually develop your children. If you're going to be at home raising your children, I'm presuming you're too busy to do so, but nonetheless, my point remains. It's the general stupidity combined with mindless anti-feminism that drives me nuts, and I have no intention of ever watching it ever again. And I'll watch ANYTHING.

Friday, January 11, 2008


My dear ex-WUB has challenged (bit of a confrontational verb, I know, but that's me) us all to come up with our Desert Island Discs. I like her rules, because they allow me ten choices, rather than the eight that you get on Radio 4. Except of course I don't now, because I've just scribbled a list and it's far more than ten. And this is after me trying to be judicious and not just write down everything I like, but those that continue to interest, haunt and intrigue me after repeated listens. Damn you ex-WUB! Seriously, it has taken me HOURS to write this. Still, here is my stab. They're not ranked, merely numbered to keep track of how many I have left...

1) Get Back - The Beatles. Let It Be. I went through a period when I was about 14 when about 80% of what I listened to was the Beatles. I was obsessed with watching A Hard Day's Night (probably in my top ten all time movies, too). This is just before my Blur obsession kicked in - see below. However, this probably wouldn't have been one of my highest-rated Beatles songs, yet I now listen to it almost every day. It's the slow fade-in, the fact that it's probably the only Beatles record that could qualify as a dance track, and the gentle "ooooh" before he tells JoJo his mama's waiting for him. Both versions - the "naked" and original - are glorious. But I think I'd have the original.

2) This is a Low - Blur. Parklife. Very hard for me to pick one Blur track, and particularly to pick something that wasn't For Tomorrow, which has been my favourite since first hearing it. So I might change my mind. Particularly for the Primrose Hill extended version. Actually, that'll probably be it. This is a Low is such a beautiful, poignant elegy to Britain - the use of the shipping forecast regions, based on the handkerchief that Alex James gave to Damon Albarn when he was in hospital. The gentle droning of the organ, the soft lull of the engine coming to rest... it's glorious. But For Tomorrow has been my favourite for so long. I love the video, the concept behind it - we're all a jumble and mixture of the rubbish that's leftover from the past... I used to write "modern life is rubbish" on every exam desk - it was sort of my calling card / tag thing. Dammit, I can't choose, and I don't want to choose. But I'm going to... This is a Low. It used to end every Blur concert - until they released The Great Escape and that honour went to The Universal, which never seemed right. It was so beautiful but filled you with the right sense of sadness that the gig was over, slowly bringing you back to earth after the high spots.

3) Everybody Here Wants You - Jeff Buckley. Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Again, I wanted to choose just one of his songs, but it was extremely hard. Lover, You Should Have Come Over is so glorious, but it makes me cry. This is so gently gorgeous, the accompaniment sparse and elegant, showing off the wonders of his voice, and the sweet, unusual and unexpected poetry of his lyrics. And it also is incredibly poignant, filled with the loss of such talent, knowing that the rest of the album would have been full of songs as beautiful as this.

4) Tell It Like It Is - Aaron Neville. (no album). Aaron Neville has been a bit of a late discovery in my life. Mostly because of that horrendous duet he did with Linda Ronstadt which I absolutely loathed - it ranks in my least favourite top ten, as opposed to my favourites. But this is a masterpiece of yearning soul, of someone in love who doesn't know where he stands. The lyrics are wonderful - particularly the part where he implores "don't play with my heart, it makes me furious." The angry words - "I'm not your little boy," "go find yourself another toy" - are conveyed by such a sweet voice that the longing comes through. Apparently Heart did a cover version of this; I really cannot imagine anything worse, to be honest. I feel faintly sick. Still, Aaron's recording remains perfect and utterly beautiful.

5) '93 Till Infinity - Souls of Mischief. '93 Till Infinity. When I first heard this, I didn't get why it was so highly rated. And it is - consistently regarded as one of the greatest hiphop tracks ever made, from a consistently highly rated album. But slowly, it has dawned on me that it is incredibly good. It reminds me of going round Brazil, weirdly enough. Mark made me several tapes to listen to - yes, it was that long ago - and one of them was of a mix album* that I'd given him for his first ever birthday present from me (I was sooooooooooo proud of it). This was on it, and I can remember waking up on yet another coach journey, and putting this tape on to fall asleep again. So formed my association of this song with wide spaces of country, the possibility of exploration, excitement. And it's a bloody brilliant tune. So that helps, too.

6) Poems - Nearly God. Nearly God. I really, really wanted to have a PJ Harvey song, and I nearly chose Broken Homes, the duet she did with Tricky in order to get them both on the list. But this, featuring Tricky, Martina, and Terry Hall, won over that. Haunting, beautiful, I think it's still the best think that Tricky's done which, given the first two albums (Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension) and Broken Homes, is really saying something. Certainly, the weed clearly kicked in and brought on more than a little paranoia in the later albums, but those two stand up against any British dance & electronic music of the 1990s.

It's the juxtaposition of the three very different voices and styles that makes this song. Tricky does his traditional growling, confused and angry thing ("I don't understand you; I don't want your time of day); then next Terry Hall comes in, and I just love his first line - "I rue the day that I ever met you," and the bitterness continues - the way he can sound bitter lyrically but has that sweet, innocent-sounding voice. Yet the final part, with Martina's gentle voice with the "ringing in voices" being accompanied by feedback... salves gently the gruffness and misery of before. When she sings "You promised me poems" it is so different from Hall or Tricky's anger and disappointment; it's matter of fact, flat, yet hopeful.

7) The Magnificent Seven - The Clash. Sandinista! Growing up during Britpop, you're aware that the Clash are held in extremely high esteem. However, it's only the last couple of years where I've really listened to them in any seriousness. I don't feel constrained by whatever it is that makes a lot of critics and, particularly, male listeners, need to insist on The Clash being the best album. I love the mixture of non-guitar-based influences that the Clash absorbed and used in their later albums, something that is fundamentally missing from modern British "alternative" music (something that Sasha Frere-Jones recently bemoaned in the New Yorker). Just like two-tone, it had something else to it - a bit of soul, something that made you want to move to it. This song has that in abundance, yet is about being in a crap job that is pointless and how that makes you feel. The comparison of the drudgery of the day with the upbeat tempo and piano is a brilliant idea and somehow just works much better than a downbeat moan about it.

8) Poison - the Prodigy. Music for the Jilted Generation. I was really torn between this and other great electronic songs of my youth - No Good or Out of Space (Prodigy), Chime (Orbital), Pearl's Girl (Underworld), but this won out. I think what did it for me was the clear transition and break between this and future dance music - harder, thumpier, much more bass-heavy rather than the other things on the album; it certainly influenced and shaped my taste in electronic music. When I was 15 you could not go to a party without hearing this album - or so I thought. I loved it. This remains a song that makes me instantly want to get up and shake my arse: it is irresistible. I think it is the pinnacle of the Prodigy's career.

9) All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem. Sound of Silver. I've probably said enough about this already, but it's glorious. The lyrics are bonkers yet poignant about the feeling of getting old, of never really being caught up with your life and friends, how things suddenly pass you by without you noticing. It's not just me that reads greatness into this song. Try Slate (a lovely review); Pitchfork; The Guardian ("All My Friends is an epic, wistful tale of diminishing youth in which Murphy seems no longer prepared to rage against the dying of the light"). It's just gorgeous, and no other song will remind me of last year like this one.

10) Sorted for Es and Wizz - Pulp. Different Class. Jarvis Cocker is a genius, make no mistake. He wrote many of my favourite songs of the 1990s, although I appreciate him far more now that I'm older than I did as a teenager, I must admit. And this song... is just heavenly. Candida's keyboard starts us off, then it's into that slow beating, lulling, tune, which makes you want to stand, swaying to it with a beer as Jarvis reminisces over being utterly fubar in a field somewhere in Hampshire. The ending is also wonderful - none of this fading out, easy stuff, but a genuine, proper (albeit lowkey) finale, him croaking out that worry - or wish? - about never coming down. Brilliant.

Other notable mentions:
The Gay Messiah - Rufus Wainwright
Seesaw - Don Covay
The Ocean - Richard Hawley
I Can Hear Music - The Beach Boys.
When Will I Be Loved? - The Everly Brothers.
Pearls Girl - Underworld
Here Comes Your Man - Pixies
Chime Live - Orbital
Roxanne - The Police
And No More Shall We Part - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Because I Got It Like That (Ultimate Mix) - the Jungle Brothers

* Hip Hop Don't Stop, mixed by Prime Cuts of the Scratch Pervertz - absolutely classic

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I am sat in front of the computer with the exceptionally cute Mabel, my family's one year old, very black and very beautiful cat, slumped on my lap. As her sitting on me is a rarity, I am loath to move. However, this means that I am stuck listening to this utterly awful phone-in that's on my mum's radio - she's asleep, so no chance of her turning it off.

Two teenagers have been knifed to death since the turn of 2008 in London. And, apparently, the solution to London's crime is Giuliani.* We need him. Or we need to put everyone who carries a knife in prison for five years, no questions, strict liability, that's it.

Let's go through this. Giuliani, having worked on the good groundwork of the mayor before him, helped to massively reduce crime. New York was extraordinarily violent. And now you're more likely to be murdered by a stranger in London than New York. BUT: you are STILL more likely to be murdered in NYC than London. There's no suggestion these teenagers who knife each other aren't known to each other, so until there is, I'm not sure Giuliani's solution is the one. Furthermore, Giuliani didn't fix the highly segregated educational system, nor the fact that only 50% of African-American men finish high school, yet 1/3 of all African-American men will have been in prison at some time. There are fundamental problems with the society there, and there has been no suggestion of how to fix these; instead, the problems have been swept into prison in the way that my cleaning simply pushes the dust under the sofa**.

Furthermore, Britain's jails are horrendously overcrowded. Horrendously. How will this solve anything if we just shove everyone in there? Recidivism rates are enormous, and prison doesn't solve offending, it just puts it off or perhaps hardens criminals.

On the other hand, I don't know what the solution is. But education (or, rather, lack thereof) and utterly poor parenting have to be part of the problem.

* For an excellent piece about him, read this week's New Yorker. Assessment=ouch.
** You really don't want to look under my sofa.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Home Comforts

It's weird what you miss and need to take back to your adopted country from your land of origin. Some things - margarine, decent sliced white bread (no, not an oxymoron) belong here and only here. Others - Yorkshire tea, gravy granules - you need to take back because there really is no equivalent and you haven't yet adapted to not needing them. For the last couple of days I've been making a list of what I'm missing; this isn't just for thoroughness, but self-preservation when I enter the glorious world of Boots, so that I don't spend all my tuition money there, as tempting as it may be.

Globalisation is bizarre - it means that I could drink Coke in a tiny village in Malawi, all sorts of strange things like eating the same pineapple chicken sandwich from Nando's in Lilongwe or Lewisham. Yet, it's not complete and that's even better. There is enough of a confectionery difference to send my US friends into raptures over the wonders of Dairy Milk; to get me excited at the thought of Maltesers, Topshop, Superdrug and Primark (small child labour aside); and to thoroughly enjoy the physical version of the grauniad. Having talked with at length last night with a friend who is a travel rep about the inabilities of Brits to cope abroad (choice quotes below), I have long rejected that through basic snobbery at the idiocy of such people. But, truly, I don't want Britain abroad, or New York Euro-style - because that makes the original that little bit less special. And those who can't see that probably don't really appreciate it anyway.

  • I wanted to come to Majorca with a J, not Mallorca with Ls.
  • Why can't I get to Barcelona by taxi? [it is explained that Barcelona is on the mainland of Spain] Since when was Mallorca an island?
  • General moaning about Mallorcan bus drivers who don't speak English (never mind they speak Mallorquin and Spanish, so two languages); too many Germans in the hotel.