Cultural Summary April 1-10

Val Thorens from above the clouds.

‘Culture’ might be a bit of a misnomer for what I’ve been doing since April 1st. However, there is such a thing as a skiing and snowboarding ‘sub-culture’ – and no, it’s not the wealthy people posing in their Chanel ski-suits and drinking Aperol in front of an open fire in their immaculate chalets. Skiing to me and my friends since high school is a low-budget, almost alcohol-free, very sporty and fun adventure, with a lot of talk about snow conditions, piste-bashing, skiing techniques and waxing and cutting edges. Sounds absolutely riveting, doesn’t it? Not everyone’s mug of mulled wine, but the upside is a view like the one above.

Sadly, I have to admit that for the first time I truly felt my age, as the altitude and exertions really got to me. I emerged like a warrior after endless wars in Troy: with a strained ligament, a pulled deltoid, throbbing headache, shortness of breath and a cold. Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! I mean: how inspiring is this?

Mont Blanc from the ‘other’ angle.

I did get quite a bit of reading done and, since I was skiing with Chinese and French friends, it was appropriate to read Chinese thriller Death Notice by Zhou Haohui and Sébastien Japrisot’s One Deadly Summer. Both have been adapted for the screen, but while the Chinese book is all heart-stopping action, the French book is languid, slow build-up of tension and a lot of personal emotion (the film stars a very young Isabelle Adjani). I have also embarked upon the Asymptote Book Club title for March, Domenico Starnone’s Trick, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, a sensitive, amusing and slightly disquieting view of the less talked about aspects of the grandfather/grandson relationship.

I was planning to attend First Monday Crime at City University last night, but had to give up and go home early because of creaking bones. However, if you are a fan of crime fiction, this monthly event (twice this April – the next event will be on the 30th) is a must-see: great panels, super-nice people and lots of laughter guaranteed.

More exciting events coming up this week: the launch of the new edition of Poetry Review will take place at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden on Wednesday 11th April. And on Thursday my older son and I will be attending the show we’ve been waiting for, dreaming and talking about, singing for the past year or so: Hamilton. Last but not least, my local writing group will be celebrating two years of existence on Sunday 15th with a feedback session and a festive meal.

I’ve also acquired some books in that short day that I was at Senate House library yesterday. I borrowed George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London to reread for the David Bowie Book Club in April. I also borrowed John Berger’s to reread for Shiny New Books’ celebration of 50 years of Booker Prize – Golden Booker Week in July. Serendipity again reared its spirited head and introduced me to Brian Aldiss’ Life in the West – mention an ex-spy  and hedonist and an academic conference – and I cannot resist! I also found an academic book entitled Tatort Germany: The Curious Case of German-Language Crime Fiction, so you can imagine I had to pick that one up! Finally, the ever-wonderful Europa Editions sent me Iranian-born, French-writing author Négar Djavadi’s debut novel Disoriental, described as at once a micro-history of Iran, a family saga and a woman’s personal experience of exile.

And finally, just ‘pour la bonne bouche‘, as the French say, here is one more picture to say farewell to winter. Give me snow over rain, I say!

 

 

 

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Friday Fun: Heading to the Alps

No matter what I say or do, I cannot forget about mountains and snow in the winter months. I miss them more than I can say, so here are some pictures to delight me (or to help me wallow in my misery).

Chamonix at night, from temmos.com
Thermal spa at Leukerbad in Switzerland, from Le Devoir.com
A summer shot, but still beautiful. Sankt Gallen in Switzerland. From Panoramio.
The Alps in autumn, from HG Wallpapers.com
My favourite vineyards, although the dream of owning one with a chateau recedes daily. From Lavaux.ch
But it’s the skiing I miss most. Chamonix once more, from chamonix.net

 

Friday Fun: Snow and Mountain Love

I am a snow bunny, an unashamed snow bunny (imagine this sung to the tune of An Englishman in New York). Admittedly, at times the memory of skiing is much sweeter when you are safely nestled beside a toasty fire, sipping mulled wine and reading a favourite book. I won’t be skiing this year, but I have plenty of wonderful memories…

This is my idea of heavenly powder... from OnTheSnow.com
This is my idea of heavenly powder… from OnTheSnow.com
Nope, I can't jump like that, but I keep on dreaming. From lasrehab.com
Nope, I can’t jump like that, but I keep on dreaming. From lasrehab.com
A corner of the French Alps formerly known as home.
A corner of the French Alps formerly known as home.
If you get bored of using your own legs for locomotion...
If you get bored of using your own legs for locomotion… Plus an indispensable finger over the camera lense!
Personally, I find snowshoeing more challenging than skiing...
Personally, I find snowshoeing more challenging than skiing…
Mont Blanc is a stunner from all angles.
Mont Blanc is a stunner from all angles.

And after the effort and the cold, relax the Savoyard or Swiss way, with a raclette in front of the fireplace.

From Tripadvisor.com
From Tripadvisor.com

Narrative Poem: Moonlight Madness

For Kelly’s last appearance at the dVerse Poets Pub (as a bartender, I mean, we hope to see her as a participant every now and then), she has asked us to write a narrative poem. That is quite a challenge for me, as I tend to be introverted and elliptic in my poetry. So here is my attempt. 

We left the chalet that evening,
my lover, my best friend and me.
We’d imbibed mulled wine to warm up,
we’d joked about improving our slalom under the influence.
We thought we could see in the dark
with the fire of our youth and hearts to guide us.
The full moon shone brazen above the trees
and had us howling at it, in-between singing ‘Stand by Me’.
No one but us on the pistes,
nothing but the swish of our magical skis in parallel,
then the faint catch-up glide of my friend.
More singing, more racing,
burning thighs and tired knees forgotten in the turquoise fire of his eyes.
‘Let me jump over that ramp!’
‘Don’t be crazy!’ we protested but he was macho among the girls,
a professional among amateurs, aiming to impress.
We made our way to the end of the piste to see his arrival.
We heard his yell,
we saw him flying,
we felt the ground shudder at his landing.
His face pocked by fine gravel, I wiped his blood
with snow and tissues.
I kissed his wounds
until I felt
a bitter smell,
a putrid glance.
My friend’s eyes burning patches in the snow,
her jealousy darting ice on my cheeks.
Her love placed on his altar in offering.
My friend no longer.

Moonlight skiing, from meetup.com
Moonlight skiing, from meetup.com

Friday Fun: Winter Is Coming – Cosy Chalet Time!

Nothing beats a cosy chalet at the foot of the ski pistes, with an open fireplace, good food, old friends and excellent books to surround you! The snow is not quite enough for skiing yet, the chalet remains to be booked (or paid for) but I do feel I have friends and books, so thank you all so much.

A photo shoot by photographer Andrew Borthwick of Chalet Solaise in Villars, Switzerland. Suisse Art of Bespoke website.
A photo shoot by photographer Andrew Borthwick of Chalet Solaise in Villars, Switzerland. Suisse Art of Bespoke website.
It's always about the views! From chaletstyle.com
It’s always about the views! From chaletstyle.com
For lovers of traditional, wood-heavy decor. From digsdigschalet.com
For lovers of traditional, wood-heavy decor. From digsdigschalet.com
A more modern take on wooden interiors. From Decoist.com
A more modern take on wooden interiors. From Decoist.com
Chalet in Courchevel. Can be yours for a week for an exorbitant price, from ultimateluxurychalets.com
Chalet in Courchevel. Can be yours for a week for an exorbitant price, from ultimateluxurychalets.com
Or you could rent this one facing Mont Blanc, from homedit.com
Or you could rent this one facing Mont Blanc, from homedit.com
I am captivated by the central stove in this one, also for rent. From ultimateluxurychalets.com
I am captivated by the central stove in this one, also for rent. From ultimateluxurychalets.com
Or what about this chalet in Aspen? Featured in Architectural Digest.
Or what about this chalet in Aspen? Featured in Architectural Digest.

 

 

Things That Made Me Happy in March

Holidays!

Yes, I know I complained they were a bit too long and that the children drove me crazy, but we did finally go skiing every day. Always better in retrospect than when you are living through it!

March1 March2

A Cat

A very well-behaved, affectionate and quiet friend.

With her friend Hedgehog.
With her friend Hedgehog.

The first signs of Spring in my garden

March4 March5

Reading

More varied and fun reading this month, although, surprisingly, not as many translations.

3 non-fiction books:

Ben Hatch: Road to Rouen

A hilarious travel journal from hell, France in a car with two small children in tow: a great fun read, perhaps just a little unfair to the French, but also hugely revealing about the English abroad.

Rachel Cusk: Aftermath. On Marriage and Separation.

Brigid Schulte:  Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time

Although this book does feel culturally specific (US working culture and time-poverty mindset is perhaps the most extreme example in the world), there was much here I could relate to: the confetti of minuscule leisure time slots, the mind pollution of endless to-do-lists that do not allow us to get into the flow, the ideal worker vs. the ideal mother, competitive parenting, gender division of labour. The author backs up her thesis with both research findings and personal anecdotes. This book deserves a review of its own, especially given that it is the ‘theme’ (if there is one) of my blog: not  finding time to write.

2 foreign books:

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief

Another book that deserves its own review. I found it moving, nuanced, slightly disturbing and surprisingly lyrical, given the subject matter.

Daniel Bardet: Le Boche (first 5 volumes of BD – graphic novel)

Fascinating insight into war-time France, from the perspective of an Alsatian man, hounded everywhere because he is neither German nor French enough.

1 poetry collection:

Michael Symmons Roberts: Drysalter

1 literary novel:

Claire King: The Night Rainbow – beautifully lyrical recreation of a French countryside childhood – with deep shadows.

6 crime fiction novels (all in English in the original – how very unusual!)

Cara Black: Murder in Pigalle

Sarah Caudwell: Thus Was Adonis Murdered

I was looking for a change of pace this month and I got it with this novel: charmingly old-fashioned, with most of the action taking place ‘off-stage’ and being disclosed to Hilary Tamar and his/her team of barristers via letters. It’s a nice set puzzle, and there is plenty of witty dialogue and banter to liven things up, but I can see how this book might be accused of elitism, it does feel like an extended Oxbridge joke.

Liam McIlvanney: Where the Dead Men Go

Sarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin

Harry Bingham: Talking to the Dead

WolfMo Hayder: Wolf

I started this latest Mo Hayder on Saturday, not really expecting it to make it into this month’s reading. But I had to finish it overnight, it was so compelling (after a rather slow start, admittedly). A family being held hostage in their holiday home, a psychopathic killer who may or may not have been released from prison and Jack Caffery trying to figure out what a tiny message on a lost dog could possibly mean. Hayder’s trademark creepiness and nearly unbearable suspense, very chilling, completely mesmerising. Not for the faint of heart!

 

 

 

 

Last Snow of the Season

Endless purgatorial descent,
I burn and twist and stop again.
No silent bliss here, no chase of thrills.
The pleasing swish is watered down.
Nothing effortless about this glide:
My feet disgraced in strange contortions.
I will them left and they swing right.
I merely linger through the motions.

Snow in Switzerland

An older poem today, as I’ve been busy all week skiing with my children during the half-term holidays. Intense, hard work (on all sides), but ultimately I hope it will have been worth it!