Friday, May 21, 2010

Nihon ni Ikimasu!* ^_^ - April 2010

After our mild winter, it wasn't a surprise when spring arrived early. By April, the snow was all gone, and the weather had gotten fairly mild. The only thing missing was precipitation. We'd gotten precious little of it in the way of snow, and as we moved into spring we went through weeks of bright, sunny days with little or no rain. That might seem like a good thing, but spring hasn't really begun until things start growing, and for that they need a good soaking. A week into April, they finally got it. I've never been so happy to see rain.

As usual, I've enjoyed watching the world turn green again, but this year is especially exciting for me, because we have a vegetable garden! Back in the winter, I read a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about a family that move to the country and start growing their own food. Since being healthy and being environmentally responsible are both important to me, I found it quite inspiring, and I was allured to the idea of eating home-grown fruit and vegetables. At the end of March we were finally able to begin planting. We bought seeds for all kinds of things: peas and beans, carrots and onions, spinach and lettuce, squash and tomatoes. Now we have dozens of little green plants; I can't wait till we can start eating them!

Work has been quite slow of late. Although I still technically have a job, I have very few hours, and lots of free time. Under other circumstances, I'd be pounding the pavement looking for another job, but I'm not going to worry about that now because…


A year and a half after sending in my first application, I've finally been accepted to the JET Programme. I'm ecstatic. Going to Japan has been a dream of mine for the last four years, and now it's finally coming true! I'm also nervous. I'll be spending a year alone in a foreign country surrounded by a strange language and a very different culture. It will be an exciting experience, but also a challenging one. The programme begins at the end of July, which means I still have several months to prepare. I imagine they're going to fly by.

I haven't been up much else this month. I had a nice Easter weekend although, given how little I've been working, it couldn't really be considered a holiday. A few weeks later I got roped into joining this year's Walk for Multiple Sclerosis. I didn't gather any pledges, but I figured it would be worth it to show up and give my support. I donated some money, and joined the procession for a nice spring stroll down the parkway.

In the news this month, the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, was killed in a plane crash, along with his wife and much of the Polish leadership. It's a black, black time for Poland; I can't think when a comparable tragedy has hit a country. In other aviation news, air traffic in Europe was grounded for almost a week due to a cloud of ash emanating from an Icelandic volcano. The incident affected not only travel to and from Europe, but also all flights travelling through it. Some airlines may want to take a hint and start routing their flights through a different continent.

Movies I've seen this month:

Death Proof
– Surprisingly good B-style action film by Quentin Tarantino. I was expecting relentless gore and violence, but the movie actually consists mostly of talking, punctuated by a couple of spectacular action sequences. It includes some interesting conversations, well-developed characters, and an entertaining degree of self-referentialism – essentially all the things I felt Inglourious Basterds was missing. The story may not be that strong, but I quite enjoyed watching it. (Two and a half stars)

Hot Fuzz
– British parody cop film starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, also of Shaun of the Dead. It's funny when it's sending up crime movie clichés, but then it falls into a lot of those clichés, and gets really silly by the end. (Two and a half stars)

The Yeomen of the Guard
– Made-for-T.V. production of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Basically a silly story with some mediocre musical numbers sung in an operatic style that makes the lyrics mostly incomprehensible. (Two stars)

Il Divo
– Bio-pic about the last days in the rule of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Never heard of him. Which is too bad, because the movie looks incredible, but suffers from the fact that I have no idea what's going on in it. Guess I should go brush up on my modern Italian history, and then come back to it. (Haven't a clue)

– A cute dramatic comedy about a woman who comes to a small conservative French town and opens a chocolaterie. I got a bit annoyed at times with how religion kept getting made out as the bad guy (of all the times to open a chocolate shop, who picks the beginning of Lent?), but it all worked out in the end, and over all I think the film struck the right note. (Three and a half stars)

The Magic Mountain
– Artsy and epic German film, based on a book by Thomas Mann. I didn't understand it, but it did remind me a bit of Lost Horizon – if Shangri-La was a mad-house. (Two stars)

T.V. shows I've seen this month:

Jeeves & Wooster
(Season 2) – Despite the iconic stature of its characters, I've been rather disappointed in this show. Yes, it has the charm of a British period piece, but the stories are highly repetitive and essentially deal with shallow obnoxious characters doing stupid things in order to ingratiate themselves to, take revenge on, or avoid getting involved with other shallow obnoxious characters. In short, a kind of English, upper-class, interbellum equivalent of Seinfeld, minus the clever bits. It's almost worth it, though, for Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, who are, respectively, loveably bubble-headed as Bertie and wonderfully supercilious as Jeeves. And yes, that Hugh Laurie, and no, I would never have made that connection if left to my own devices.

Being Erica
(Season 1) – Wow! A Canadian T.V. show that actually doesn't suck! I didn't think it was possible! Okay, I don't want to oversell this series, which is often cheesy, predictable, and saccharine, but despite its shortcomings it's actually my favourite new show in a long time. A big part of the draw is the main character. Erica Strange is a young, single, working woman, coping with a variety of issues, from family to work to relationships. In other words, she's a bit like me – or at least like someone I might plausibly meet in real life, and how may T.V. heroines can you say that about? The show has a unique premise, quite unlike anything else to be found in this medium of cop shows, medical dramas, and sit-coms. It's Canadian, which may seem like a subtle thing, but there's a refreshing novelty to watching a show that doesn't take place in a foreign country. Although it can be corny, it also contains surprising moments of insight. And I enjoy the way Dr. Tom quotes everyone from Proust to Yoda!

Books I've read this month:

The Light Fantastic
by Terry Pratchett – The second Discworld book. I expressed some disappointment with the first book of the series, but found this one considerably better. Its plot is much more unified and engaging, and the writing noticeably funnier. I especially appreciate the way Pratchett satirises tourism; he actually does a much better job of problematising the practice than any of the non-fantastic texts I've read on the topic.

Teacher Ram's Fascination with Fire, and Other Stories
by Kennard Ramphal – Collection of short stories, mostly set in rural Guyana. The stories aren't particularly interesting, and are mostly about how quaint and backwards Guyanese people are. Not that I've ever been to Guyana, but I found them a bit difficult to buy.

Thank You, Jeeves
by P. G. Wodehouse – Bertie, black with boot polish, bolts from a boat, burns his banjolele, begs for butter, and burgles his breakfast. (Hee! I had to do that!) Having been less than impressed with the T.V. show, I decided to have a go at the books – which so far are equally less-than-impressive. I'm probably coming to Wodehouse a bit late in life; if I'd read this when I was ten, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it immensely. It's inoffensive, fast-paced, and funny in places, particularly around the end. It's just all a bit light and inconsequential. Oh, and "inoffensive", except for the fact that it rather disconcertingly has the N- word in it. Don't know if that's more a reflection of when and where it was written (England, 1934), or a deliberate comment on the ditziness of the characters (it's worth noting that Jeeves says "negro").

* Japanese for, "I'm gong to Japan!"