Saturday was the 10th annual roll of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus! Chewbacchus is a science fiction-themed Mardi Gras parade; this was my 6th year taking part as a Leijorette. (The Leijorettes dress up as Princess Leia from Star Wars and wear boots — originally conceived as Majorette boots — thus, Leia-jorettes.)
Here are some links to Chewbacchus-related posts from prior years, if you’re curious: 2016, 2017, 2019
For the first time since I began marching in this parade, it concluded in the French Quarter, which was pretty awesome. It was a clear, cool, night, and passing by Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral was quite an impressive sight. (It happened too quickly for me to get a picture.)
I’ll conclude this post with some pictures I did manage to capture…
So, I started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace on January 1, via Serial Reader. My goal is to finish it by the end of April.
And I’ll be honest: so far, I’m not loving it. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and most of them are pretty unsympathetic. It doesn’t help that a preponderance of them are referred to as princes and princesses. Also, in many instances, facial expressions are described with “as ifs,” something I find highly annoying:
“Prince Vasili’s two valets were busy dressing him, and he looked round with much animation and cheerfully nodded to his son as the latter entered, as if to say: ‘Yes, that’s how I want you to look.'”
I guess the “as ifs” were the simplest way to translate the Russian to English, at the time the version I’m reading was translated. But I really don’t care enough about the story or the characters to get a better understanding. I’m satisfied with just the suspicion that there must be some nuance to the Russian language that is lost to me.
And speaking of unsympathetic characters — one of the main ones, Pierre, ties a policeman to a bear early on in the story. Yes, a bear: the big, shaggy, omnivorous, plantigrade mammal. I’m not even sure how this is done, because it’s only referenced in the past tense, as the event that gets Pierre thrown out of Saint Petersburg. I’m having a hard time getting that vision out of my head.
But, the reading experience is not without some benefits:
I’ve been much more engaged and enlightened by the war scenes (over the peace scenes, which mostly take place in society parlors and the like). I’ve learned that a unicorn was a type of Russian cannon from the 18th and 19th centuries.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any Russian literature before. I’m all for expanding my frame of reference, even if the experience is not 100% pleasurable. There’s some sort of lesson in the discomfort, but I’m not sure what it is yet.
The settings are like a fantasy to me. I’ve never been to the parts of the world where the book has taken me (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, parts of Austria), nor have I ever lived in a snowy place. There’s a scene where old man Bolkonsky (Prince Bolkonsky) has snow shoveled back onto the road to discourage the above-referenced Prince Vasili’s visit. It was kind of funny, and it’s what I was thinking about when I chose the image featured above.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about War and Peace in future posts. That’s it for now!
So, I finished Great Expectations at the very end of 2019. And I’m overdue in offering my appraisal of this book. So here goes:
Great Expectations has earned a pretty high spot amongst the ranks of my favorites, especially within the “classics.” Most likely because of Pip. He is such an identifiable character — everything from his fear when he first encounters Abel Magwitch as a child, to his shame and repulsion when he encounters him as a young adult, to his desire to become a gentleman all for the love of the unattainable Estella.
I figure Dickens was in his late forties when he wrote it, and I’m glad I first read it as a middle-ager. If I had read it as a younger woman, I’m sure I would have still identified with Pip, but I imagine I might have been sorely disappointed (spoiler alert) that Pip doesn’t wind up with Estella. Reading it when I did gave me more opportunity to identify with the storyteller, and the choices he made.
Because, let me tell ya, Dickens is no slouch when it comes to writing. I remember when I was reading Count of Monte Cristo, it gave me a yen to see the south of France. I didn’t get the same feeling with Great Expectations — because I felt like I was there, in the marshes of Kent, and then later in London. Dickens depicted those settings in such a way that I’ll never be able to see in real life, because time and place were so intricately linked in his descriptions. Unless time travel becomes feasible in my lifetime, I’ll never be able to see the Kent and London of the mid-19th century.
I’ll finish this up by tying in my choice to use the Hard Rock hotel as the image for this post. I saw it close-up for the first time this past weekend. There’s the obvious connection of great expectations dashed (and by no means am I trivializing the lives lost in this horrible accident, God rest their souls). But seeing it for the first time in real life, it reminded me of a Dali painting, especially the melty clocks in “The Persistence of Memory.” And with Great Expectations so fresh in my memory, it wasn’t too far a stretch to think of the stopped clocks in Miss Havisham’s house, and the ruined and rotted wedding cake in her dining room. Young Pip summed it up best, as he described Miss Havisham’s house:
“What could I become with these surroundings? How could my character fail to be influenced by them? Is it to be wondered at if my thoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into the natural light from the misty yellow rooms?”
“A deeply resonant and hopeful theatrical experience.” A Google search of Hadestown provides this description under the “About” tab. To me, it’s very apt.
Musicals don’t typically make my must-see list. I love music, and I enjoy theater, but it has to be something pretty special for me to want to see the two merged together. I’ve seen my share of operas, but I always think of Richard Gere’s quote, as Edward Lewis from Pretty Woman: “People’s reaction to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” I definitely fall into the “I’ve learned to appreciate opera” category.
But I digress. This is supposed to be about Broadway musicals, not classic opera. Sometime over the summer, I heard an interview with the composer of Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell. Several things jumped out at me from the interview:
Hadestown is about Hades and Persephone. (And Orpheus and Eurydice), but, Persephone is, hands-down, my favorite Greek goddess.
It features a bass voice (specifically, Patrick Page as Hades). I love a bass, and when it’s more than just an accent, it can be tremendously powerful.
Anaïs Mitchell has been working on some version of Hadestown for more than a decade, and I can really relate to that kind of commitment to an idea. That’s passion, for sure.
All of this added up to me thinking, “Hadestown sounds like something pretty special. I might need to make a point to see it.” And see it I did, this past weekend during a long weekend in New York.
It did not disappoint.
Patrick Page is absolutely mesmerizing. But the whole cast really shines. Amber Gray is brilliant as Persephone; she plays her as a goddess I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. And André De Shields is a new favorite. He plays Hermes, who is the narrator and guide to Hadestown.
And it was all part of such a lovely weekend. I saw Hadestown with my sister Julie, who traveled to New York from Houston for the weekend. We were both there to see sister Elizabeth play a delightful Mrs. Hudson in “Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Dying Detective.” It had been many years since either of us had seen Elizabeth in a play. And it was the first time we’d seen Elizabeth’s husband Quint perform. He made up for lost time by playing not one, but three, roles in the show.
All in all, a weekend that did not disappoint, on any front. Full of experiences that have become part of my soul. (Take that, Edward Lewis). 🙂
So, I’m 53% of the way through Great Expectations. And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I figured I’d focus on what I’m grateful for, regarding my reading of this work.
I’ve realized this year, 2019, has turned out to be my introduction to several 19th century classics. All published within a 20-year span during the mid-1800s. The Count of Monte Cristo was published in 1844, Moby Dick in 1851, and Great Expectations just ten years later, in 1861. Monte Cristo and Moby Dick are both relatively fresh in my mind, so I couldn’t help drawing comparisons between the three in my “gratitude” list:
I’m enjoying Great Expectations more than the other two. It’s definitely funnier. Granted, I don’t think Dumas or Melville were going for comedy, but their stories could have withstood being a touch less self-serious.
Pip is certainly the most relatable character in the three novels. Written in the first person, it begins when Pip is just a child. So many of Pip’s experiences, as Dickens relates them, ring true and timeless. Check out this quote: “In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
Speaking of injustice and timelessness, my ire hasn’t been raised as much with Great Expectations, as with the other two. There’s no getting around Melville’s racism, especially in the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Or Dumas’s misogyny — in my numerous posts about Monte Cristo, I went on at length about how much I hated how Mercedes’s character and story line were handled. While Dickens is hardly a model of modern sensibilities — I’ve already read at least one dreadful depiction of a Jewish person — if I were to weigh the three works, I feel like Great Expectations has less to offend.
On a lighter note, I might be most grateful for the Serial Reader app. It’s reawakened my reading habit in more ways than one. I’ve found that I like reading on my phone so much, that I downloaded the Kindle app. I’m about halfway through Hugh Howey’s Wool series, all read on my phone. (Wool has been on my TBR list for years.)
I could go on, but I won’t. For everyone celebrating the holiday, have a happy Thanksgiving!
So, not much has slowed down since I last posted here. I’m still struggling to find the time to put the finishing touches on The Conclusion on the Causeway, and my hopes of having it ready for public consumption before the holidays are dwindling.
But — I’ve started a new book on my Serial Reader app. I found I was missing the 15 to 20 minutes I put aside each day for the specific sort of reading Serial Reader enables. That little chunk of time is like an anchor, connecting me to my writing vocation, and helping me not drift too far on the currents of my day job and other obligations.
Up ’til now, the authors I’ve read via Serial Reader (Herman Melville, Alexandre Dumas, et al), were completely new to me. I’d never read any of their works before. I can’t say the same for Dickens. I remember enjoying A Tale of Two Cities when I read it in high school, and I remember really liking Sydney Carton.
I was considering David Copperfield, because it’s supposed to be a semi-autobiographical account of “a young man’s journey to becoming a successful novelist.” (I’m hoping to pick up a few tips.) But Great Expectations is about half the length of David Copperfield in Serial Reader issues. So I can reasonably expect to finish Great Expectations by the end of this year.
My way of managing my own “great expectations” into at least one goal I’ll be able to reach by year’s end.
Well, that was an interesting read over four and half months. I just (finally) finished The Count of Monte Cristo on my Serial Reader app. While I can’t say I loved the book, I definitely feel enriched by the experience.
Here’s my two-sentence review: Edmond Dantes is a likeable character, the Count of Monte Cristo is not. The set-up for his vengeance takes up a boatload of the narrative, and the final pay-off for all that plot building is a mixed bag.
Since the book is really about two people, Edmond Dantes and the Count of Monte Cristo (okay, two sides of the same person, but, I’m going for theme, here); and I just gave a two-sentence review, I’ll attempt to keep up with the “two” lists.
The two characters I liked the best:
Maximilien Morrel: dashing, brave, loyal — I loved this guy. Though his mopeyness toward the end was very off-putting.
Abbé Faria: Witty, warm, full of faith — I like to believe he would not have been so bent on revenge, had he made it out of the Chateau d’If alive.
The two scenes I liked the best:
Chapter XXIV: “Dazzled” — When Edmond Dantes finds the treasure on the island of Monte Cristo.
Chapter LXXI: “Bread and Salt” — When the Count and Mercedes talk at her summer party.
Hmph. Don’t get me started on poor Mercedes. I really like the character, but I hate how Dumas ties up her story line. There’s a line in V for Vendetta, when Evey Hammond (played by Natalie Portman) says, after watching the 1934 movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo with V (played by Hugo Weaving):
Evey: …it made me feel sorry for Mercedes.
Evey: Because he cared more about revenge than he did about her.
Now I totally get what Evey meant.
I’m off the “two” kick now, because there are a lot of thoughts spinning around in my head, many more than two, mostly revolving around the nineteenth century world of Dumas. Slavery was legal (although not in France). Women were second class citizens. Dueling was a thing. All these things factor into the book in some way. And not as a statement, as they might if the story were written today as historical fiction. It was all just part of the story, part of the culture.
Invaluable for gaining insight into an ancestral mindset. And very troubling when regarding the legacy of that mindset.
To conclude on a more positive note, I did find the ending pretty satisfying. Of course, Monte Cristo leaves Maximilien and his betrothed, Valentine, without saying goodbye. It’s just like him to be so annoying. But he at least leaves a letter, which kinda makes up for it. I’ll leave you with that letter’s last lines:
…until the day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: ‘wait’ and ‘hope’!
Little Murders is a movie starring Elliott Gould, directed by Alan Arkin, released in 1971. It was first a Broadway play, written by cartoonist Jules Feiffer.
I’ve never seen the movie. But I have a vivid memory of seeing a local (New Orleans) production of the play when I was very young. Too young to fully grasp the dark satire underpinning the story.
About the story, here’s a brief synopsis, from Playbill.com: “Carol Newquist sees the world going to hell and taking his children with it, until the family is forced to shoot back at bullets coming through their home, in Jules Feiffer’s absurdist comedy.”
I remember it being set in a world (New York City) rife with random violence. And I specifically remember the ending, when the protagonist’s husband and brother take turns with a rifle, becoming snipers from an apartment window. I was probably younger than ten years old when I saw the play, and the depiction of senseless violence made an indelible impression on me.
According to Wikipedia, Jules Feiffer says the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the subsequent assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, were the initial inspiration for Little Murders. Both of those events pre-date me, and I was blessed to have a childhood full of love and adventure and absolutely no gun violence. So, personally, Little Murders was not a commentary on the 1970s, which were rather idyllic for me as a child. Rather, it was a terrifying prophecy of some future I did not want to witness. Or that I prayed would only exist in fiction.
Enter the very real era of mass shootings. Another vivid memory: waiting in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport in April of 1999, for an Air France flight back to the U.S., and seeing news reports (tout en francais) about something happening at a school in Colorado. I would return to a country reeling from the aftermath of Columbine.
Twenty years on, it terrifies me to write that this is indeed an era. There is no question of “if” a mass shooting will happen again. Two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Just thirteen hours lapsed between the two. Just 1,500 miles separating these two cities.
And forty-plus years since a play planted a vision of a horrible future in a child’s mind. I hate that the future is now.
I’ll state it from the outset — summer is my favorite season, hands-down. Even despite the oppressive heat we experience in south Louisiana, there’s something about the freedom and abundance of the season that makes it number one in my book. Lush greenery, late sunsets, blooming crape myrtles, warm breezes off the beach; these are all things I look forward to, year after year. And there’s nothing inherently creepy about any of it.
So perhaps it’s because I’m watching season three of Stranger Things, which is set around the 4th of July, 1985, that I’m thinking about the flip-side of summer. Or the “Upside Down” of summer, if you prefer. Some creepy things about summer that have occurred to me:
Heat stroke seems much more gruesome that hypothermia. Thinking about my internal organs cooking inside of me just sounds excruciating.
Necrotizing fasciitis. Caused by flesh-eating bacteria. These bacteria apparently love warm water.
Flying, giant, cockroaches.
Sad clown balloons behind chain-link fences. (In all fairness, this particular piece of graffiti in New Orleans City Park has probably been there for a few seasons. But I noticed it for the first time as I was mulling over this “creepy summer” idea, and it felt like a perfect visual).
Grasshoppers contemplating abandoned cigarettes. (See note above. Except that I don’t think the cigarettes or the insect will be there very long).
Maybe this stuff feels extra creepy to me because of the contrast to all the things that I love. But I certainly appreciate the duality of it all. Bottom line: I don’t resent the creepiness; in a way, it makes me embrace summer even more.
The name Starbuck fascinates me. I’ve mentioned in this space before the first time I encountered Starbucks coffee, circa mid-1980s in New York City. (see Ode to the Starbucks on Upstream) For those who remember the 1980s, you’ll know it was a time when the coffee chain was not as ubiquitous as it is today.
I was excited by the name because of Lieutenant Starbuck, the character played by Dirk Benedict in the original Battlestar Galactica. At the time, I thought the name was a great fiction, like Luke Skywalker or Derek Wildstar. (Yes, I’m going full-geek with a Star Blazers reference. One day, I’ll expound upon how influential this animated series has been to me.)
It was probably young adulthood before I realized that Starbuck is a bona fide surname. And then not long after, that a famous fictional character held the name a century before Dirk Benedict suited up in his 70s-era space opera attire. I’m referring, of course, to Starbuck from Moby-Dick. Since I’m now 37% into that tome, I’ll share with you what I’ve discovered about the surname Starbuck.
The Internet tells me there was a renowned whaling family in Nantucket named Starbuck, who likely inspired Melville in naming the first mate of the Pequod. And that the name hails from the village of Starbeck in Yorkshire. Which dates at least as far back as the 1086 Domesday Book, where it appears as Starbok, a name likely derived from the Norse-Viking “Stor-Bokki.” There’s some Internet consensus that “Stor” means great, or large in size. “Bokki” is a little less clear — it either means “man” or “river.”
Whatever it’s supposed to mean, I think it’s pretty cool that Starbuck (or some variation thereof) appears in the Domesday Book. And it kind of blows my mind that almost exactly 900 years later, I see my first Starbucks coffee shop.
Bringing it one step further, I doubt I ever would have made the connection, had it not been an affinity for the name.