Sunday, January 30, 2011

Resolutions: January Update

2011's resolutions are actually going ok so far. Here's an update (other than this update):
  1. Shooting, Shooting, Shooting: Take the camera off auto-settings. Well, I'm definitely trying this stuff. It's proving a little tricky - I thought it was just the shutter/aperture but apparently I've got to mess with the ISO settings as well, it not being a film-based camera. I'm still not sure how to change the ISO settings - I seem to change them but end up doing weird things to the menu, too. I've also been using the wide-angled lens and messing around with it. I'm not getting classic shots but, hopefully, I'm getting a little better. Most things are, thus far, overexposed. I'm trying to use the histogram feature to teach myself what the problem is and, thus, how to fix it. But it's usually overexposure.
  2. Cooking, cooking, and more cooking. Doing well on this one. On Thursday (SNOW DAY!) I made a "peppery beef stew" from our Italian slow cooking book that was absolutely brilliant, with fresh bread and acorn squash lightly braised in chicken stock. Very easy and very tasty.
  3. Reading, reading and more reading. This is the biggest failure so far. I got out The French Lieutenant's Woman and had to promptly return it unread to the library. Oops.
  4. Looking, looking and more looking - at exhibitions. This has been the best kept resolution thus far. On Saturday I went to the Balenciaga retrospective with someone who actually knows about fashion and art. The structure of the exhibition was to show the influence of Spanish culture - religion, art, flamenco, bullfighting - on Balenciaga's designs. It worked extremely well, I thought. One of the most remarkable things was how he took traditional male outfits - cassocks for monks/priests, doublets for knights - and made them into a feminine design. And he was doing this well before trousers became truly acceptable, everyday clothing for women. I really wanted to steal half the clothing - gloriously structured suits with remarkable detailing, and one extraordinary dress with a train that actually had pockets so you could switch it up into a cape. Plus one that looked like a giant black truffle that you could just picture being worn by a mistress at a funeral of a famous Casanova or conductor or raconteur - that would make a serious statement.

    Additionally, we rejoined the Brooklyn Museum and had a look around the Norman Rockwell exhibition currently showing. It was extraordinary. Rockwell took tens to hundreds of photos for each of his paintings, and then selected odd little bits here and there to compose his actual painting. How he chose them is beyond me - that shows the real creativity but also mastery and control he exerted over the final version. Yet it seems strange that paintings that were supposed to be naturalistic snaps of everyday American life were so carefully controlled and thought out, so contrived. A strange juxtaposition. Seeing the covers of the Post, too, provided amusement at some of the stories - one featured Klaus Fuchs, the traitor at the Manhattan Project who was selling secrets about the bomb to the Russians; another advertised an article querying whether husbands should be used as baby-sitters to your own children. Also remarkable - the only people of colour were several black people used in servile roles - apparently that was editorial policy and ended up contributing to Rockwell's severing of the relationship. We also saw The Dinner Party and an amazing Kara Walker - I find her work constantly interesting and beautiful - so it was grand.
  5. Solving, solving, solving. I've been getting back into these and while not completing them, I am - with some, at least - getting back into the swing of them and increasingly able to do them. But I need be a more devoted student with concentrated blocks of time rather than small snippets here and there.
Right, that's January. Midnight on Monday and I start the now annual No Drinking in February. I'm actually looking forward to it quite a great deal.

ps I also managed to go to the movies on Friday! I know! Have now seen THREE of the ten movies nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars - what an achievement. It was True Grit and comes highly recommended by me - surprisingly funny, tender and tense - I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

600: Slothful

When there is stress at work and lots of snow and cold outside and I'm having a back spasm, I can't help thinking life would be easier as a warm, cuddly little sloth.

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

Although one does have to wonder how on earth they survived this far through evolutionary history. And I would absolutely adore to be described as a "legendary sloth whisperer." It's basic the same as corporate lawyering.

PS yes, this is the 600th post. Officially. So there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Botanics: January

In a rather inspired move, TOH got us a family membership to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for Christmas. It's just down the road from our place so a regular visit should be rather easy to do. And yet... it's on the far side of the Brooklyn Museum, and we did not really use that membership that well. So despite my grumps (having got back from a rather hectic if sunny time in Mexico), this morning TOH persuaded me to go out there and, last minute, we decided to take the Nikon with the spanking new wide-angled lens that TOH also got me for Christmas (what can I say? the man is extremely good at gifts). While en route we hit upon on a great idea to create an incentive to go to the BBG and to use the camera more: each month, we will return to the BBG and take photos from the same position to show the change in seasons as the gardens sprout and flower and then, in autumn, fade and shrivel and pass away until the next spring. So here are the first results. Month to month I won't add all of them, don't worry, but those that show an interesting progress, or them side by side. I'm extremely excited by this project - and, of course, I'll be doing it without the auto settings. Arrgh!

The View from the Entrance

The Bluebell Garden

The Herb Garden

The Visitors' Centre

The Fountain

The Cherry Avenues (from the North)
(I cannot WAIT for spring!)

The Cherry Avenues (from the South)

The Rose Garden (North West Corner)

The Rose Garden (looking south)

The View From the Top (Right)

The View From the Top (Middle)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Keeping Up

Ok, so it's only the second week or so of January, but this past fortnight has gone so well resolution-wise that I thought I had to show/share the results.

Saturday 8th we went to the Frick museum. Apparently I've never mentioned the Frick before, which is a bit of an oversight, as it's my favourite museum in New York. I have also been shocked to find out that a couple of my friends here haven't even heard of it, let alone visited. Mr. Frick was a coal baron who made a ridiculous amount of money and spent a ton of it on a gorgeous townhouse on the park and 70th st, and then filled it with unbelievably wonderful paintings. The first time I went simply staggered me - one walks into a room and there above a mantel is a glorious El Greco of St. Jerome, but one's eyes are not drawn there, but to the Holbein to the left of it, where Sir Thomas More sits. It's the one you see in textbooks, the first image on google images, that sort of thing.

It's phenomenal. It is hard to describe how perfect it is without seeing it in person; as illuminating and revealing and detailed as a portrait could be, whatever medium. He is firm and set of jaw; there are clear signs of strain, gritted teeth in the clenched muscles at his temple, with a slight wrinkle in the nose, too. And the velvet on his sleeves is one of the most accomplished things in a painting ever - you just want to touch its gleaming surface. The portrait to the right of Thomas Cromwell is less appealing to look at - it's more cartoonish, less realistic. But reading Wolf Hall as I am, it is rather frivolously amusing to have these two mortal - literally - enemies facing each other, even if Saint Jerome is in the middle to try to calm them down.

We've also made a chicken and olive thing for the slow cooker, Mark made an ethiopian chicken soup (doro wat) that was ace, and I've attempted several crosswords, although I think I need to make more of an effort to actually finish them. Some photos of the chicken & olive cooker to follow...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


There's a great bit in High Fidelity where the guys working in the shop all agree that it's far more important to judge someone on what they like as a measure of compatibility rather than what they are like as people. Because you can't really love someone whom you don't respect because they make idiotic music/film/book choices.

Of course, that is particularly true when it comes to blogs that you read about pop culture things. So when one of my hereto favourite bloggers utterly slates a book I adore and then says that one of the worst movies I have seen in a long time is great because of one of the worst depictions of a marriage/relationship that I have ever seen (it is utterly misogynistic - a whining, shrill, uptight and awful woman just holding back her lazy but charming and relaxed husband), it's time to consider breaking up with that blogger.

But I don't want to. Not yet. I'm clinging on for the good times - the good book recs I've received, the incisive and interesting writing about films. I'm not giving up just yet. But we're certainly going through a rocky patch.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Pesky Green Things

As I waited in the queue for salad at lunch and the queue was humungous, I realised that every person in front of me had chicken, bacon and blue cheese in their salads. Which was amusingly reminiscent of my favourite ever "overheard" entry:

11AM There Can Be No Obesity without Denial

Office girl #1: I don't like lettuce.
Office girl #2: You don't eat lettuce? Why'd you get a salad?
Office girl #1: Because I need to lose weight! I'm getting fat!
Office girl #2: What else is that in your salad?
Office girl #1: Chicken.
Office girl #2: Grilled or fried?
Office girl #1: Ummm... Fried...
Office girl #2: Uh-huh... Is that cheese I see in there?
Office girl #1: Yes!
Office girl #2: And are those Bacon Bits?
Office girl #1: Shut up! And no, it's real bacon!
Office girl #2: And you aren't gonna eat the lettuce?
Office girl #1: I will stab you with my fork! Go away!

8220 England Street
Charlotte, North Carolina

via Overheard in the Office, Nov 13, 2007

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Reductio Ad Absurdum

Today has mostly been spent trying to write a brief (not so successfully, but getting there) and doing a bit of spring cleaning. I did not point out to TOH that it is nowhere bloody near spring yet as, bless him, he had his heart set on this. New year, new lack of stuff. That sort of thing. So today has consisted of numerous attempted ruthless re-categorising of things. No, I don't wear those shoes and haven't worn them for a year - off they go! You get the idea.

Of course, it turns out that we're both more than a little sentimental and have had to have a special category of "yes, I know you never wear it and will never wear it again but I can't bear for you to throw it away." Nevertheless, there is a big bag of things to go to the charity shop consisting of numerous bags, shoes and coats, the bathroom cull has produced two bags of products to go into the giant rubbish tip in the sky (and the earth - ahem. I know it's not great but I promise, we are recycling/donating where possible), and I've recovered two necklaces and an eyelash curler that for the past year have appeared to be irretrievably tangled together. It seems that I have not only a great capacity for hoarding and storing things, I can also be quite ruthless when purging myself of these things. Which leads me to the conclusion that I am a stuff bulimic - I store it all up only to throw it all out. Or something like that.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Resolutions: The 2011 Edition

It's a new day, a new year, and of course, some resolutions have to be made, if only to break them. This year, they are:
  1. Shooting, Shooting, Shooting: Take the camera off auto-settings. Yes, I've taken some fab shots, but I've been lazy and not really got to know the camera well because I've used the auto settings a lot. Which means that I'm not really any more clued up than I was before, although I do know how to mess around with the white balance (although even then I've used those auto-settings). So it's a year of taking proper photos and getting to know the beast. TOH got me a fabulous wide-angle lens for Christmas so I will be trying to get the best out of that, too.
  2. Cooking, cooking, and more cooking. And, in conjunction with 1, taking more photos of the results. We got a delightful Italian-inspired slow cooker book from these lovely people, and a new Nigel Slater, so I need to do more / take more photos of it. We've been good about trying new things, but I still think one recipe a week isn't much to ask, is it?
  3. Reading, reading and more reading. Yes, every year it's the same, but still: I want to read more, and more "good" stuff. So, apropos of that, I want to read 5 off the Observer 100, as well as two each from the Booker and Orange shortlists. That'll do.
  4. Looking, looking and more looking - at exhibitions. One of the best things about living in this city is, in theory, the availability and range of spectacular museums. Yet we almost never go. So I'd like to go six times - just six, for goodness' sake! So right now I'm signing up for information emails from various museums so that I know what's going on, when and where. Or, at least, I'm trying but the museum websites are a pain. I will persevere!
  5. Solving, solving, solving. I would like to do three crosswords a week. That is all.
So that's it. Let's see how it goes.