Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review..Mort.

Mort .Terry Pratchett.Corgi Books.1987.315 pages.

As with William Gibson,I was aware of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels but never heard or read any of them.
Once again thanks to the BBC Comedy 7 channel I was able to listen to a few of the abridged Discworld novels last month.There was a short Terry Pratchett season during which Mort,Wyrd Sisters,Guards!Guards! and Small Gods were read.
I found Mort a very entertaining listen and bought the book after the readings finished.As I expected the book has more detail,twists and turns than time allowed for on the radio.
The story centers on Mort,a young farm lad,who becomes Death's apprentice.There are lots of bad jokes,adventures and fun with the English language.As an example you only have to look at the boys name to see he's eminently suited to such work.Matters such as death and reincarnation were lightly touched on leaving me to ponder about them later.
I also enjoyed the Wyrd Sisters,Guards!Guards! and Small Gods readings.The "Guards" readings were usually prefaced with the announcement that listeners should be aware of the "fruity" language in the episode to follow.Not really fruity more bawdy and hardly offensive given what one hears on the streets or reads.
I found the Small Gods story a little deeper than the Wryd Sisters,(a nod to Shakespeares witches)with its story underpinned by an examination of religious issues such as the need for gods,faith and religion.
While all the DiscWorld books can be read as stand-alone,independent books there is a sequence in which the books can be read.Thus Mort is the start of one series,Guards!Guards! another and the Wryd Sisters and Small Gods likewise parts of other series which sometimes overlap or run parallel with the other books.
The easiest way to work out how you want to approach the books is to google and search for one of the numerous pages and guides such as the following link below..

So if you like fantasy writing that doesnt at times seem that far from reality with a mix of intelligent,thoughtful irony then Id recommend the Discworld series.

Your's Army World ??

Apart from the odd grammar Im also at a loss as to what happens within the walls of this otherwise nondescript building near Kanayama in Nagoya.The poles outside the building also bear signs with the same name.

KitKats..White and Yellow Peach mini pack

Just in time for the Spring comes this mini pack of white peach and yellow peach mini kitkat bars.Interestingly my friends and I tried a blindfold test and couldnt always tell which peach flavour we were nibbling on.On a positive note they smell rather more fruity and less artifical than other types.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Review...Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition.William Gibson.2003.Berkley Publishing.367pages.

About six months ago I stumbled across the BBC Comedy 7 website.It plays a selection of old and new comedy series such as The Goons as well as dramas and serialised book readings.Well worth listening to.Theres usually at least one show or reading that catches my attention during the week.
In recent months Ive listened to a variety of readings including "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson and "Jaws" by Peter Benchley.Both books have been adapted and made into movies.Its interesting to listen and compare how the books stand up against the movies.Certainly the latest"I Am Legend" movie with Will Smith is a pale imitation of the novel.
Although most of the book readings are somewhat abridged they give you a good idea of what to expect should you want to go out and purchase the original hard copy.
My interest was piqued late last month and I purchased a copy of "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson after hearing the abridged version.
Im not a big fan of science fiction and didnt like the earlier reading of his novel "Burning Chrome".I just couldnt connect to the computer jargon or what seemed to me the unsympathetic protaganists.I also found myself pushing the pause button while I tried to make sense of his overly long "Woolfish" sentences.

While I also had similar problems in listening to "Pattern Recogntion" in terms of its grammar,I found it easier to follow.So I persevered.This may have been due to the fact that the story is set in the present rather than the future so the book is more thriller rather science fiction.Or due to the fact that the radio adaptation was read by a woman.Or that the main character is a woman.

As to the book itself "Pattern Recognition" deals with a number of themes including history,globalisation,commerce versus art and its creation.It also examines our natural wont to clarify and organise events hence the title of the novel.
I found the idea of what history is and what it means intriguing.I was also reading "The Black Swan..The Impact of the Highly Improbable"(Penguin Books 2007) by Nassim Taleb at the same time and trying to square off and understand his ideas on random events and history.
Taleb writes"History and societies do not crawl.They make jumps.They go from fracture to fracture,with a few vibrations in between.Yet we(and historians)like to believe in the predictable,small incremental progression."(pg 11).

The main storyline of the novel revolves around the efforts of the principal character,Cayce Pollard,to find the origin of video clips or"footage"that have taken the Internet by storm.As a back story she is also trying to piece together the events that led to her fathers disappearance on September 11,2001.Her job as a "coolhunter" who is employed to spot the latest trends and fashions lets the author introduce ideas on such things as brand awareness,labels and globalisation while Cayce tracks down the "footage" in London,Tokyo and finally Russia.
While I found at times the over elaborate description of products and the constant name dropping of brands annoying you cant deny the effort that is displayed.Its not enough to describe a lamp as a lamp.Its an Italian floor lamp with a switch that makes a different click.(pg 9).
Then again he can sum up why a relationship doesnt work in a few words.
"Their boy-girl Lego doesnt click,he would say".(p2).The description reminded me of the Lego people on the cover of Douglas Couplands JPod book and I thought it would be a phrase he'd probably use.Gibson credits Coupland with his insights into Tokyo at the back of the book.Incidentally both authors live in Vancouver,Canada.

Apart from his descriptive ability I also liked the attention and time spent on minor characters.They seemed fleshed out and rounded.
I swear Ive met people like Taki,the extreme example of Japanese geek culture.."He blinks earnestly,through dandruffed-dusted lenses..."pg153.
While I felt the conclusion of the story was a little empty and drawn out considering what proceeded it,the effort getting to that point was more than worth it.I'll certainly read more of his work if he continues to write in a similar style and about the near present.Recommended.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Flash..Valentines Day 09

Once again the shelves of convenience stores,department stores and supermarkets are loaded with chocolate confectionery prior to Valentines Day this Saturday.Because it falls on a Saturday as opposed to a regular working week day there is less need to buy so-called "giri" or duty chocolate for ones colleagues.
According to various news reports and surveys despite the economic downturn chocolate sales dont seem to be suffering.
Above you can see a couple of Hello Kitty bags on sale for Valentines Day.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Andrew Wyeth:Emotion and Creation

Currently on show at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art on the 10th floor in Sakae,Nagoya is an exhibition by Andrew Wyeth entitled Emotion and Creation.
I knew little about this American painter except for his well known painting "Christina's World" and the fact that he died January 16th aged 91.The exhibition provided me with the chance to learn a little more about the man and his works.

There are some 150 pieces on display that range from preliminary pen and paper studies and sketches to watercolours and tempera paintings which are the end product of these earlier studies and sketches.
Its interesting to see the detail in the early sketches such as the crab in Flint or the studies of hands,hair and lanterns in some of the other preparatory sketches and then see the progression and changes in the final pieces.You could read the notes he wrote in some of the sketches referring to such things as shading,dust in the water of buckets or colours to be used in the final works.

The exhibition was also refreshing for me being so different to the Impressionist exhibitions Ive seen recently.
Not only are the styles different..Impressionism versus Realist regionalism but so are the medium.While oil paints are part and parcel of the Impressionists apparently Wyeth used mainly pen,pencil,water colours and tempera.
Wyeth drew on his local environment with many scenes of rural life and used neighbours as subjects of his portraits.
The colours in Wyeths paintings are muted and understated.Many of the pictures in the exhibition are of snowy winter scenes.They convey a sense of desolate isolation and melancholy.The houses and trees stand out like rocks in a hostile environment.
There are 13 tempera paintings included in this collection.Egg tempera in contrast to oil paints has a smooth matte,dull,no gloss finish.I was surprised how much detail and how delicate some of the features in tempera pieces were.With the portraits a small speck of white in the eyeballs somehow gives it animation while small flecks of white in one scene do look like snow flurries suspended in midair.Very subtle compared to the excesses of Impressionist artists such as Signac who rendered paintings in luminous blues and yellows and greens.

Mention must be made also of the paintings frames.Some looked like they were weathered and old,grey,bleached wood taken from fence posts and so complimented and added to the paintings.I presume this was the intention and in the case of the German helmet filled with pine cones was very effective.

The exhibition has helpful notes in English under the Japanese ones which provide information on the painter and the works among other things.
I'd recommend visiting this exhibition,not only to gain an insight into how a painters creative process works but also to remind oneself Impressionism and oil paints arent the only way to go.
The exhibition ends March 8th,closed Mondays and admission is 1200yen for adults.

Rainbow Rolls and Other Treats

A couple of recent food purchases.The rainbow rolls below contain avocado and cream cheese among other ingredients.

This lunchbox contains a small green salad on the left hand side.On the right are some spicy chicken knuckles while above these are three salmon rolls containing cream cheese and lettuce.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Flash...Early Spring Flowers

The traditional start of Spring was marked on February 3.Setsubun which translates as "a division of the seasons" is the day before "risshun" which is the first day of Spring.This year risshun fell on Tuesday and as I was working I didnt get to the traditional bean throwing ceremony as I did last year.
Although its still cold at the moment there are the odd signs of Spring appearing as in the photo above.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Yamachan Restaurant Chain

Yamachan is a restaurant chain in Nagoya.There are three such restaurants in close proximity to each other behind the JR Kanayama Station.
By the entrance you can see the company logo a half-man/half bird-like creature with feathers and avian like feet.It also adorns many of the plates and the menu.
The restaurant has the usual things on the menu you'd expect such as potato fries or fried potato and various noddle dishes.

Also on the menu are examples of typical Nagoya fare such as misokushikatsu (below) which is breaded and deep fried pork dipped in miso sauce.Its a bit of an acquired taste being somewhat chewy and some people find the miso sauce a little overpowering and strong.

The signature dish of the chain though is tebasaki or grilled seasoned,spicy chicken wings.
A local breed of chicken,the Nagoya kochin, is used to produce this crisp,crunchy fare.You can see an example in the shot below.

The photo below shows the picture menu which contains photos of the dishes available.The picture menu is useful if you lack sufficent Japanese when ordering dishes.As the front page helpfully suggests you can just point to the dishes if you are language challenged.The menu also provides entertainment while you await your order.There are numerous spelling and grammar mistakes such as "you can also"choise" and the word "plane" instead of plain.
Yamachan provides reasonable food at a reasonable price while also giving locals and visitors alike a chance to eat some of the areas distinct fare.