Saturday, March 31, 2007

Eye Candy.....Saturday?

Ok, well Friday night got away from me a bit, so here is a belated EC pic - I can't remember if I posted this on our other blog at some point, but I love it so here tis again (I thought I would give you a break from Italy pics - but no promises for next week!).

Funghi! Who doesn't love it? Cool colours, textures, all sorts of stuff. Not quite spring pics, but maybe next time...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Secret Pal Surprise!

Look look look! Secret pal goodies already!
A lovely parcel arrived today from my secret pal, with lots of lovely things...chocolate, handmade soap, bamboo dpns, sock yarn and an Estonian mitten book! Wow! Thanks Secret Pal - you are the best! And so very prompt! Here are gloating pictures for you all - sorry, but there is absolutely no sun today, so inside pics with flash. The one above of the yarn is somewhat more representative - they aren't very sparkly at all, despite what the last picture tries to tell you.
The mitten book is amazing! So many great patterns and ideas...and i could do with some mittens today, let me tell you! So much for spring.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Knitting Tourists in Italy

well, despite much knitting going on, alot of it is gift knitting, thanks to Secret Pal 10 and an upcoming visit home to Australia, so no photos as yet. i think i will probably try and do some close-up, not too revealing shots given that there are many things in the knitting pipeline and more than one thing on the needles at this time (a big thing for me!) But after May there will be many things to say, I promise!

So, on knitting related topics, here is a precis of my experiences of finding knitting shops in Venice, Florence & Bologna...

Venice: well, I saw at least 3, and two nearer to Piazza le Roma. Unfortunately due to my incredible disorientation in this city I could never reliably find them, and somehow they were always closed when we went by (the whole siesta thing I think), but they looked very functional in a way that most of the other shops didn't - I guess most of Venice is aimed at tourists, but obviously tourists don't knit! Italian and German yarn in the windows. So if in Venice, keep your eye open and a pen in your bag to mark your map!

Florence: Nada. We walked this city well, but no yarn shops in sight. On the northern side of Piazza Republica, where all the schmanzy shops are, there are some amazing tailors shops with amazing arrays of fabric - I kept meaning to take pictures but never quite got there.

Bologna: we didn't have much time, and it rained hard every minute we were there, but we were staying outside the city ring road, over the train lines from the station. If you keep going up that street (I think it has Giacomo in the name, anyway it is parallel but one main street west of Stalingrado) there is a HUGE yarn shop. Massive. It is local, not tourista, so it is open in the mornings, then from 3.30 to 7.30pm. The guys that run it are great, but speak absolutely no English. They have more stock than anyone I have ever seen. It was astonishing. Much of it is cotton, which of course has great clear gemlike colours, but lots of very interesting stuff. A bit of a treasure hunt of a shop. If you want better directions I can give them to you. I was unbelievably restrained, mostly because I was sick and just wanted to lie down! But I regret it now...they had an amazing grass green yarn...oh well!

In terms of fashion, obviously the italians have molto style. But few hand knits in the shops - what there was though, was spectacular (though expensive!). Gorgeous edible colours (think chocolate, coffee, caramel), mostly cardigans or wrap style, interesting textures, waist-high belts - bellissimo.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Holiday Book Reviews

Well, a few reads to talk about from the holiday/pre-holiday period.
Right before the holiday I was reading Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Another charity shop buy, I bought it because I had read some Roth many years ago and enjoyed it. Once I started reading it I realised that the film had been made recently (I haven't seen it though - I just recall the ads). In brief, it was ok. I am always a bit ambivalent about Roth - lovely prose, enjoyable reading, but it always feels a bit like he is trying to beat me with his message. It also felt very 'constructed' - I was always aware of the writerliness of the book. But a good read. Also, I quite like the cover design. Powells has a synopsis & some brief reviews.

Next up - Sarah Waters' Dickensian 'Fingersmith' (note: this link gives away the plot, which you probably don't want to know if you are going to read this). This was my holiday read, although it didn't last the whole holiday! Mostly due to delays at the airport I think, but also as it was a good yarn. It is clever, without telling you that it is clever. It is also constructed, but in a 'readerly' rather than a 'writerly' way (I don't know if this makes sense, but thats what I think!). It is not a great novel, but it is good. The prose isn't particularly wonderful, but it is period-focused without being a hinderance to reading. The plot is the gem of the book, and really this is a great story at heart. I won't say more than that, for fear of spoiling things, but it is an ideal holdiay read. The limited cast means you can pick it up and put it down regularly without losing who is who. I reckon if you were visiting London, it would be an ideal travel companion! Simon read most of it, and despite his usual verdict ('needs a good edit' - and I tend to agree in this case), he did like the story aspect. I don't think he has finished it, and he probably won't, but not bad for him. The Guardian review is here, plus the Powells synopsis & brief reviews. You can check out the author's website here.

Finally, the end of our holiday coincided with a cold snap in Europe, and two days of heavy rain. We gave up a bit on the last day in Florence - it was Monday, the galleries were mostly closed, we had walked for days on end, and it was cold & nasty. We found a foreign language bookstore, bought Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (again, plot giveaway warning here), a bottle of wine, some cheese & hid out in our hotel room for a few hours. Great stuff.

I read a fair bit of Hemingway when I was 16 and 17 years old. I loved it, but I don't think I got it. This is my first Hemingway in years, and a concession to Simon who declares it the only fiction that he rates. In reality, this was bought for him, but I finished my other book, & couldn't find anything I wanted to pay ridiculous prices for, so I got to read it first! This is spectacular. I don't know why I haven't got back into Hemingway earlier - he is everything I love in a writer. The writing is sparse, clear, and you can see that each sentence has purpose. The writing is pared down to the essence. The story is great - there is no great moral, no metaphore, no mucking around, just a story to read if you wish to do so. There is no compromise to the reader - this feels almost voyeuristic, as though you are intruding on the narrator. Amazing. Watch out for the end. I'm not going to add links for reviews & stuff - check it out with a search if you like, there are millions of people having millions of things to say about this book. My suggestion - just read it and decide for yourself.
So, three very different books. I highly recommend the Hemingway, and this has got me back on the boil for his work.
One of my goals for this year was to get started on a longer term goal of reading more Russian literature, particularly more modern russian stuff. I recently re-read Bulgakov's Master & Margarita, and read Heart of a Dog. Even in the educated city I live in, it is hard to get hold of these things or find somewhere to browse a collection, so if anyone has any recommendations, I would love to hear them!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Return to Rainy England

Well, we have had a great week away in Italy. I ate so so much food, and rediscovered my love of Italian cuisine. We were very lucky with the weather early on, but did encounter rain and cold at the end. We did manage to get some good snaps - I have put a few on here (consider them to be early ECF fodder!) plus there are more on our other website. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Stuff

Look! A picture of the dreaded/beloved vest. I have worn it twice now, and I have to say it is super cosy. But it does look ok. It is a little bigger than I wanted so maybe I will take the side seams in a little. Who knows. Sorry the picture isn't on - maybe another day. I still love the colour though (it is a bit better than it looks here - more green)!

And look! New yarn! Mmmmmm, Debby Bliss Cashmerino comes in such great colours! I went to the yarn shop to buy some extras for a little project I am knitting (sorry, gift knitting so you will have to wait!) - they didn't have what I wanted but they did have these! What great colours - I'm not a huge fan of pink but this colour is just so rich. The picture doesn't do their glossy depths justice.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I Loved What I Loved

I recently finished re-reading (for the second time) 'What I Loved' by Siri Hustvedt. This book was a charity shop buy that I think I chose because I knew that Hustvedt was married to Paul Auster, and given that I like Auster, and presumably she does too, I thought this might be an interesting read. I don't know why I think that just because somebody is married to someone whose writing I like would be worth reading, but that is what I thought. And I stand by my random decision. This book is astonishing.

I started reading it with my 'light reading' head on - I think the cover & quotes signal that this book is a less intellectual read than it is. The book itself is also deceptive - this is not a linear narrative in a traditional sense. While time moves linearly, the focus of the novel does not. Characters remain present, even in death, but what is important changes. This novel feels real - it feels like a real life. When people die, it is not at a convenient time. When they love, it is not always at a convenient time. Children are not perfect. Friends are not always there. Happy endings are for other books.

The novel tackles some extraordinary creative issues, to do with art, poetry, writing, and creativity. Hustvedt's descriptions of the visual art are particularly evocative - I feel that I would like to seek out the main character's exhibitions. But I think the most interesting part of this novel is one of the most extraordinary, accurate and heart-wrending descriptions of a personality disorder. Hustvedt cleverly, without appearing to be 'terribly clever' allows one of her characters to discuss and dissect the role of personality and disorders of personality throughout recent psychopathological history. The associations are not always intuitive, and I would disagree with some, but they are definatley interesting and provide a fantastic counterpoint to the general pathologising of the normal spectrum of personality that is currently in vogue in the United States. The character of Mark is one of the best examples of personality disorder that I know in fictionalised literature; without exaggeration, without fantasising, without sensationalising the disorder, Hustvedt allows us to experience the pain, frustration and hopelessness of working or living with people with severe personality disorders.

This book is a fantastic read for many reasons - if you like subtly intellectual books, if you are interested in art, if you are interested in psychopathology and culture, if you enjoy beautifully written contemporary fiction, if you are sick of reading about lives that are too neat and work out too easily. This is one of the best books about love that I have ever read. Basically, I would recommend it to almost anyone. Just make sure you have your tissues with you at all times.

For more reviews, try The Observer, the New York Times, or the Guardian. Or this one, which is less glowing.