Archive for July, 2011

pretty great weekend

Claire and Bounder by yatima
Claire and Bounder, a photo by yatima on Flickr.

What with one thing and another.

cave of forgotten dreams

I dreamed that Werner Herzog was giving me a lift home. His forest-green car shapeshifted between Porsche and VW Beetle, and when he remotely controlled it out of its parking space it turned over in a ditch. Not to worry. Herzog threw a rope over a tree limb and hauled it out by hand.

The dream is true to the spirit of the film. It’s a documentary about a French cave found in the 1990s that is full of paleolithic art. Herzog, being Herzog, found the stone eccentrics: a circus-trained scientist, an “experimental archaeologist” and a master perfumer who snuffled his way around the Chauvet Cave before announcing it didn’t smell of much. Oh Herzog, how I love you! NEVER CHANGE.

The paintings, though, are ungainsayable. Despite a couple of weird layering artefacts, the film is worth seeing in 3D because of the way the painters used the contours of the rock. There’s one frieze that made both me and Jeremy laugh because it could have been the Picasso we’d seen earlier at SFMOMA.

Very comforting to me to know that for as long as people have been people, some decent proportion of us has been spellbound by horses.

goodbye daisy dog

Daisy by Goop on the lens
Daisy, a photo by Goop on the lens on Flickr.

works in progress

The Pony Club Manual – second draft
The New International Version – first draft
Awful – notes
The Great Gamgee
Rivendell Revisited

the complete ivory, doris egan

These books are great fun. Theodora the barbarian is a witty and well-read guide through a solidly-thought-through, far-future planetary system. It’s as if the rest of the Vorkosigan books had been about awesome Cordelia, instead of poor old Miles.

Theodora rides in, a day late and a penny short. Whenever I have one of my profound insights I find out later that somebody had it first in the fifth century oldstyle and it’s been a cliche ever since. That sort of thing happens to me a lot. Back on Pyrene, whenever I found a piece of classical music that I liked I was usually told later that it was a big favorite centuries ago of the Poliker Secret Police, and they often played it when they were torturing people. Believe me, news like that can affect your self-esteem in all sorts of ways…

Doris Egan is better known as a screenwriter (for Torchwood and House, among many others) than as a novelist. My grand unified theory of screenwriting, inspired by the career of Aaron Sorkin and amply confirmed by that of George “Aargh, aargh” Martin, is that everything a screenwriter writes is about screenwriting and the unrecognized centrality of screenwriter heroism to an uncaring wider culture. The reason The Social Network is so oddly Not About Silicon Valley is that it’s actually about Hollywood, and how clever Mark-Zuckerberg-slash-Aaron-Sorkin is, and how dumb and pretentious everyone is who isn’t Mark-Zuckerberg-slash-Aaron-Sorkin. (He’s not an asshole, he’s just a very haughty boy!) And I could make some fanciful allegory here about how the Westeros dragons represent creativity and Wild Mind, and their skulls in the basement of Kings Landing are the Golden Age Hollywood studio sets on the back lots, dwindling in size until the species itself goes extinct, and Daenerys who walks through fire to resurrect them is Martin himself, but I think I just did.

Ivory belongs in the same genre, though without Sorkin’s increasingly unpalatable narcissism. Theodora is a bookish anthropologist stranded on a strange, sunlit planet where everyone else is gobsmackingly beautiful, but she maintains an excellent sense of humour about it.

His distorted view of marriage, distorted in its way as mine, is like an anchor: he’s unreasonably prejudiced in my favor, just because I had the good sense to marry him. So he’s willing to put up with a great deal, too, and just assume that my intentions are good.

That’s an attitude worth gold. It’s not why I married him, but I’m beginning to see that people get married for reasons that are different from the reasons they don’t get divorced.

Theodora is also a masseuse, and I am firmly of the opinion that massage-trained action heroines are underrepresented in literature.

harder than i thought it would be

Fellowship of the Ring songs matched to Christmas carols, for Claire, because she is awesome:

The Road goes ever on and on

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky

Upon the hearth the fire is red (Walking Song)

Hark the Herald

Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go (Drinking Song)

The Tree of Life

Sing hey! for the bath at close of day (Bath Song)

Joy to the World

Farewell we call to hearth and hall! (Farewell Song of Merry and Pippin)

Deck the halls

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land (Song in the Woods)

God Rest You Merry

–Tom Bombadil’s Songs—

Good King Wenceslas

Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!

Good King Wenceslas

Cold be hand and heart and bone (Wight’s Chant)

Deck the halls

There is an inn, a merry old inn

All that is gold does not glitter (Riddle of the Strider)

Gil-galad was an Elven-king (The Fall of Gil-galad)

We Three Kings

The leaves were long, the grass was green (Song of Beren and Luthien)

Troll sat alone on his seat of stone (Sam’s Rhyme of the Troll)

Earendil was a mariner (Song of Earendil)

The Holly And the Ivy

A Elbereth Gilthoniel

Seek for the Sword that was broken (Boromir’s Riddle)

When winter first begins to bite (Warning of Winter)

I sit beside the fire and think (Bilbo’s Song)

Away in a manger

Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen!

The world was young, the mountains green (Song of Durin)

An Elven-maid there was of old (Song of Nimrodel)

God Rest You Merry

When evening in the Shire was grey (Frodo’s Lament for Gandalf)


The finest rockets ever seen


I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew (Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar)

Good King Wenceslas

in france

the steins collect

A small and exquisite Renoir: the head of a blushing girl.

Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse: monumental and charismatic.

A melancholy Matisse self-portrait.

Matisse as a genius colorist. Picasso as a genius of line. But three big pieces from the Blue Period. That’s a good blue.

Two from a Marie Laurencin that I really liked. This is one.

The Le Corbusier house. Daniel Stein gambling all the money away! A magazine headline: “From Picasso to ponies!” Zomg!

Bit overwhelmed at that point… I should go back. We joined SFMOMA. The building is gorgeous, and so’s the Blue Bottle kiosk with the Louise Bourgeois spider on the roof.


(There’s a cameo from Robert Redford in which he is supremely annoying. But otherwise, this is a film that you can safely take your non-horsy significant other to, in the happy expectation of having a long talk about horses afterwards.)

I liked the handsome cowboy fine, and his half-passes on his pretty bay 6yo were good. But I didn’t love him until the terrible, terrible woman who raised her orphan colt with no respect and no boundaries, keeping it IN HER HOUSE, had finally agreed that it was too psychotic to live.

She thought of herself as a kind person but she is not.

We owe horses. We take away their agency, and in return, we are required to look after them. Kind and physically intuitive as they are (and they are kinder and more physically intuitive than you can imagine), domestic horses have to be taught how not to hurt people. An adult horse weighs a thousand pounds, give or take. Neglecting to train horses to be safe around people is morally equivalent to leaving loaded guns around the house.

The cowboy had to get the poor violent horse back onto the truck. The horse knew that it wasn’t going anywhere good. It hated all people. It had every reason. Its owner kept bugging the horse and bugging it, and the cowboy told her to leave it alone.

He stood there in the pen with the mad colt. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t get impatient. He waited until the horse was ready to walk onto the truck. He waited as if there were all the time in the world.

It was one of the few kindnesses anyone had ever shown that colt, and quite possibly the last.

cheat sheet for summer scandals

Look, I think I have figured out a straightforward rule of thumb for apportioning blame. Let’s review this summer’s sausagefesty hackathon and decide what should be done to whom. I call this game:

What Kind Of A Selfish Prick Are You?

1. Brad Manning

What he allegedly did

Leaked classified material, including US diplomatic cables and Collateral Murder video. Contributed to public questioning of unjust war and unethical US foreign policy, at incalculable personal cost.

What kind of selfish prick is he?

The opposite of one.

What should be done to him

Congressional Medal of Honor.

2. Aaron Swartz

What he allegedly did

Broke into an MIT wiring closet to download all of JSTOR in order to do large-scale dataset analysis as he had already done for Wikipedia and PACER data, to demonstrate institutional bias.

What kind of selfish prick is he?

Sense of entitlement up the wazoo, but he’s young.

What should be done to him

Slap on the wrist for trespassing. Lawrence Lessig to have a long boring talk to him about his methods.

3. Julian Assange

What he allegedly did

Sex without condoms with women who did not consent to it.

What kind of selfish prick is he?

A rapey douchebag.

What should be done to him

No one to ever have sex with him or pay any attention to anything he says, ever again. Wikileaks to continue without him.

4. Rupert Murdoch

What he allegedly did

Authorized hacking into phones of at least 7000 people, including child murder victims, terrorism victims; extracting and publishing details of politician’s child’s illness; paying off chiefs at Scotland Yard to prevent investigation into crimes; for decades publishing incredibly crappy newspapers and presiding over a media empire that besmirches human dignity for profit. Deciding elections by fiat.

What kind of selfish prick is he?

Murdoch would use his mind to burn every human being to death, if he could.

What should be done to him

All money confiscated and given to the poor. Murdoch and sycophants to be chained in the public square and pelted with feces for the term of their natural lives. Their family names to be abolished at their deaths.

les oliviers

The children and their bears are sprawled across the twin beds in the yellow room. It has been a day of wandering around the market and exploring the garden and swimming. They are fast asleep. I touch their sweaty hair.

Nearly twenty years ago, the first time I came here, still only a girlfriend at the time, not even a proper daughter-in-law, I looked at those beds and harboured an illicit thought:

“My children will sleep there.”


I have Les Oliviers all to myself: Jan and Jeremy and Godfather Chris and the children have gone to the market in Lézignan-Corbières. I am curled on the beautiful, cozy toile sofa in the sitting room. It’s absurdly warm with a brisk breeze making the lavender nod and cicadas singing endless songs in the trees.

The cicadas take me back to the Long Trail. I can see a burnt-black trunk of a Banksia tree, and Alfie’s iridescent chestnut shoulder twitching under a fly, and the leather and canvas rein in my hand, and the red clay of the trail. Little horse, where did you go? I miss you.

Les Oliviers is full of Richard, too. I can’t stop expecting to run into him on the stairs. All my dear dead. Stay close.

oh, and a title here, maybe

Long trek out to Hampton Court Palace; a pilgrimage in honour of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which I read last year and Jeremy is reading as I blog. Hedge maze, formal gardens, Royal Chapel with its piecework ceiling so blue and geometric it looked almost Islamic, J pointed out. “It’s trying to be the Hagia Sofia and the Sistine Chapel,” I said. “It’s too small!” said J, but it isn’t: not to me. It was the first Church of England and I grew up in its shadow. Claire read every single sign in Henry VIII’s apartments, looking like a girl in a Vermeer painting with the light angling through the diamond-paned windows. I resolved to love beauty more, and to read more history, although upon reflection loving beauty and reading history is what got me into all this trouble in the first place. I didn’t like the Christopher Wren bits much. I said so, later, at a picnic in Richmond, forgetting that the Baroque is Hannah’s area of expertise. It took us seven million billion years to get back to Bloomsbury and there were drunk young men on the train and my back is still aching from the armoured spines I sprouted in response, but there was good sushi for dinner, yes, and cold sauvignon blanc. And so to bed.

so! we are in london, and such

Can I say again how woefully, how pathetically grateful I am that the kids are such stoic little travellers? Sleeping where they can, soaking up the seat-back video, willing to be entertained at the baggage carousel, enthralled by the spectacle out the window of the Heathrow Express. The night after we arrived was a little Gothic. We had a great dinner with Grant on Store Street – Julia is still head over heels in love with him, and as McKenze said, her irises turn into little cartoon hearts when she looks at him – and we all got to bed at a reasonable hour. Then we all woke up again, and when Julia started crying for food at 3am I had to walk to the nearest 24 hour grocery store, which turned out to be across the street from Kings Cross station, which is about a million billion trillion light years from our hotel.

The Euston Road is different at night; also, it was incredibly hot. I was in a tank top. Apparently I am still, just barely, cute enough for various handsome young Londoners to take a chance on, at least in dim light when there are no other girls around. Every neon light turned out to be a place of business that was closed. The store, when I found it, was twenty yards past where I had already given up once. I caught a black cab home because my feet were a mass of blisters. When the cab driver dropped me at the hotel with my plastic bag full of cornflakes and milk and yogurt and orange juice, he asked “Going to work?” and I had a very complicated reaction of “No my jetlagged kids are in there but as a FEMINIST I totally support all the women who ARE.” Which was probably a bit too nuanced a message for 4am, judging by his expression.

At 8am I was at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone wearing my new Calvin Klein pleated little black dress and t-strap heels over the blisters. The conference went very well, I thought, although I was flying on empty for most of it. There was an especially nice moment in the bar at the end when I was reminded that (dear God I hope they never read this) I genuinely like and respect several of my colleagues to the point of near-friendship.

Oh! Our fancy schmancy speaker was Professor Brian Cox, of D:Ream keyboard and Manchester physics fame, so Jeremy and Kirsty and the kids came along to join the fun. The girls hid behind my skirt when I introduced them to him, and afterwards Julia said: “That was really cool for you, wasn’t it, mama?” Can we at least PRETEND I am doing this for the sake of the children? No? OKAY THEN. Brian Cox is a great speaker, do hire him, he made us do math, but then he had me at his first slide, which was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Respect, sir.

We took the girls out for pizza that night and Turkish the next night and altogether too many glasses of Marlborough sauvignon blanc were involved, so that by 3am Thursday I awoke with a mighty hangover as well as jetlag and the standard post-conference loss of the will to live. I couldn’t get back to sleep either, so I slithered into the office at 9am and sat shivering at my desk till 3pm before slithering home to sleep. Jeremy and the girls came home at 5pm, joyous after a day at the science museum, and we all trundled out to Grant’s place for more sauvignon blanc. I thought I would surely die of jetlag, but was revived by meringues and double cream, and came home to sleep a SOLID NINE HOURS and now I feel like a valid and worthwhile human being once again.

For future reference: after the piddling little sleeps on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon I kept waking up and feeling worse and worse, which confused me because all I wanted was sleep, and it wasn’t until this morning that I realized the problem was I wasn’t getting a long enough sleep in a single go. I needed a couple of REM cycles or whatever to reset my clock.