Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Camping sin mujeres

I went camping in Shenandoah National Park last weekend with Sos and Sperati. We had a great time, serendipidously.

The serendipity came in because this was intended to be a larger trip, including seven people. But for various reasons, the others backed out, so it was just the three of us. Actually, though, this was quite a good thing, as I lost count of the number of times I thought, "I'm so glad Kerry isn't here. She would be miserable." Some of the things that we found perversely fun, which I doubt Kerry would have enjoyed:

  • Driving 20 miles at night on twisting Skyline Drive, with at least two-thirds of the way socked in with fog
  • Setting up camp in the dark, in the rain, in the wind
  • After setting up camp, standing in the dark, in the rain, in the wind, drinking beer
  • Gusts of wind on Saturday up to 50 mph
  • Hiking in five layers of clothing, and still being a bit cold
  • Cooking hot dogs on the uncleaned, un-foil-covered fireplace grill
  • Saturday night, sleeping in long underwear, head-and-all in the sleeping bag, and still being a bit cold
There were bits that she might have appreciated (eg, a lovely trail along a couple of runs, seeing a bear), but on the whole, this was not a trip to make without packing a Y chromosome.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mum's not the word

Last year, the fall planting on L Street was mumderful. Not this year, though. Today, I saw pansies prepared for planting. The placement of the pots was not as precise as the prank-and-pfile mums previously perceived. Perhaps persistent passers-by and panhandlers had prevented delivery on palettes. Or perchance they pander to prevalent public preference against the predictable and pro pioneering permutations of pulchritude.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Never underestimate Star Trek

Props, set pieces, and costumes from various Star Trek movies and TV shows brought in orders-of-magnitude higher prices than expected at a Christie's auction.

It's not news that people pay lots of money for memorabilia, and it's not news that there are hard-core Star Trek fans, but this article nonetheless put a big smile on my face.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Weather you're here or there

Cold, windy, rainy days can be quite beautiful. When you're in the highlands (Scotland or West Virginia) or at the ocean shore, there's a raw loveliness to the low clouds being driven over the land, to the rain spattering the water, to the wind in your face. It's not the relaxing beauty of a tropical postcard from paradise, but the bracing beauty of a clear view of nature's face.

By comparison, cold, windy, rainy days in the city are just cold, windy, and rainy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (2004), is an exceptional historical fiction/fantasy novel. The first several pages of the paperback edition are given over to glowing praise from one reviewer after another. Several liken Clarke's work to Tolkein. At first blush, this is hard to see, as Mr Norrell is firmly grounded in early 19th-century England, not in a Middle Earth of invented languages and histories. But in fact, Clarke has invented a good bit of history, though she does not dramatically introduce it; rather, it just comes up in telling the story. (And after all, why make a big deal of it? Every schoolchild knows that John Uskglass, the magical Raven King, ruled northern England from Newcastle for 300 years.) Like Borges, Clarke has invented much of her magical history through books, and Mr Norrell is peppered with footnotes citing the works of the great English magicians.

Clarke has also captured many plot elements of the Brontë and Austen novels we read in high school. There is a strong sense of social class and propriety, and it matters how many pounds per year one has. These flavors, captured in the language as well as the action, is layered with more familiar history. (Look, there's the Duke of Wellington! and Lord Byron!)

The plot centers on Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange (really), the first two practical, practicing magicians seen in England for hundreds of years. It takes a while for the magic to kick in, but when it does, it is grounded in the common, natural world, with the everyday-ness of a (19th-century) Twilight Zone. This magic (generally) does not explode on the scene with mystical pyrotechnics, but rather reshapes reality in a way that characters (and the reader) sometimes do not even perceive. And the limitations of the magicians make the magic more interesting. As Jonathan Strange discovers when trying to free a grounded ship, the ability to summon winds is no help if you do not understand sailing.

Mr Norrell is a long book (over 1,000 pages in paperback), and I did find it dragging a bit around two-thirds of the way through. (But when you're flying to Nigeria and back, you don't want some ephemeral Crichton in your bag.) But this is a minor quibble, probably one I won't even notice when I re-read this book, soon. You should get reading, too.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Sorry, it's been a while since the last post. Last week was really busy at work, and besides and before that, I just haven't had a heck of a lot to say.

Last Saturday, I went up to West Baltimore for some neighborhood cleanup around Monroe Street United Methodist Church, a church Glen Mar has partnered with for about five years. I found a piece of notebook paper lying in the street, with a message written in large hand:

Find another house to shoot dope in. I am tired of coming home to the stove being left on.
- Me
A simple request, but I was most struck by the comment about the stove. It seems to say, "Look, I'm not really thrilled about the dope-shooting in my house, but I could live with it if you were just a little more conscientious about turning off the stove when you were done." Of course, some people are never satisfied. No doubt, if they did turn off the stove, "Me" would start complaining about the needles left lying around.

I plan to submit this to Found.