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At Dawn

The Italian version of "Let it go" always seemed a little wordy compared to some of the others. It's called "All'alba sorgerò". At dawn, I will rise up.

Tonight, Grouting was talking about never going to sleep, which inevitably led to "Nessun dorma". Only as we got to the end did I suddenly realize the parallels in the songs have to be deliberate.

"Nessun dorma"
* Is sung to a fairly inaccessible princess in a tower
* The princess is in a cold room. ("fredda stanza")
* The singer knows lots of people will die because of the subject he's singing about.
* The song is, in part, about the dangers of telling the truth.
* Ends with "all'alba vincerò", at dawn I will win.
* Use of the verb "tramontare", to set "tramontate stelle", set stars


"All'alba sorgerò"
* Is about a queen in a fairly inaccessible tower
* The queen is in an ice palace. Cold. ("da oggi il freddo è casa mia")
* The singer is unaware that lots of people will die/their lives will be threatened by the subject she's singing about
* The song is, in part, about the dangers of having lied in the past and telling the truth in the future.
* Includes the line "All'alba sorgerò", at dawn I will rise up (where the English is "The past is in the past.")
* Use of the verb "tramontare", to set - "come il sole tramonterò", how the sun will set

Eurovision 2016

This year features lots of long curly-haired singers and very little scruffle, so that's good. Lots of outdoors cinemetography, and even more people inspired by last year's winner to do something with VR interactions, to variable success. There's a sad lack of dancing in the videos overall this year; hopefully the stage shows will do better.

The best overall song: Australia Dami Im "Sound of Silence"
The happiest: France Amir "J'ai cherché"
The cutest: Austria Zoë "Loin d'ici" Far from here
The one with the excessive video budget: Russia Sergey Lazarev "You Are the Only One"
Best dancing: Belgium Laura Tesoro "What's the Pressure"
Best ghosts: Iceland Greta Salóme "Hear Them Calling"
Most sweetly amusing for the right reasons: Sweden Frans "If I Were Sorry"

The first semi-final is tonight! The UK gets to vote in the second semi-final on Thursday.

2016"s Eurovision entry videos...Collapse )

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Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on

I went to my first immersive theatre performance on Friday, a combination of trusting the parameters of something based on The Tempest and supporting a friend. It turns out that immersive theatre, at least this instance of it, is everything I hoped for from LARPs but never quite found there. I loved it. I loved it enough that I went back again, and would go back still more, but the run is only on for two weeks, ending this Saturday, and I can't fit another trip in.

"Such Stuff As Dreams are Made On" is an exploration of the island of The Tempest from many angles all at once, with the original plot underlying it, to give it structure and pacing. Each audience member explores the world as they wish, lurking in the corner of rooms or chasing after specific actors, often with the added challenge of crowded corridors. There is no way to see everything happening, and that gives depth to the world. What were those distant cries? Where are those people rushing? Who is that character?

The set is lushly realized with a satisfying deep level of constructed reality. There is real sand and origami boats, the scent of herbs and the glow of colored glass. And there is the lushly complex soundtrack tying all of the spaces together.

My favorite moments were the intimate ones. Just three of us and an actor. Just me and an actor. All parts of the story braid cohering the island into an atmosphere, into placeness.

Sedos is a long-running amateur theatre company; the "amateur" is why the work they have put into this experience is so transitory. They all have day jobs.

It's too late to buy tickets - they're all sold out - but when I showed up at 6:15 yesterday to queue for returns (cash payment only, £16 full price), I was only the second one there and we all got in.

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Nutcracker

We had tickets today to go see the Nutcracker, the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum.

Back in December, in preparation, we checked out a copy of Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker from the library, the story of a girl who joins Clara in experiencing much of the plot. We've been reading it (by Grouting's request) on a near-daily basis. This last week, I showed her videos of specific pieces from it, and then the whole of the first act. (Just as well so she could start processing the scariness of the mice.)

Today, we joined naxos and friends in going to one of the few under-5-friendly performances of it. It was, on the whole, very nicely done, with some truly spectacular dancing and good minor variants on the plot in the first act. The second act, alas, had even less plot than usual.

The audience was chockful of children, and Grouting commentated and questioned the whole way through, but all topically and in a quiet voice. All that preparation paid off. (And no one shushed her, unlike the fairly quiet but unfortunate-in-neighbors two-year-old in our group.)

In case any of you are going and care: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

1. The mouse king survives until the second act, which is great because he's funny and engaging and mischievous, and hitches a ride on a rope dangling from the hot air balloon. The best way to have gotten more plot from act 2 would have been to let him survive EVEN LONGER. But then Clara doesn't kill him or even really injure him; the Nutcracker does it single-handedly. So, Clara loses her best bit of agency.

2. The death is the introduction to the Drosselmeyer Show (aka dance of the National Stereotypes) which follows. He's come along with the hot air balloon for transport to the land of the Stage Show in act 2. Each dance is revealed by a stage within the stage, in echo of the puppet show of act 1. As a result, the Sugar Plum Fairy shows up exactly once in act 2, for her solo number. She's not the host of the land of sweets. And so she loses all her agency.

Dear English National Ballet: Why did you have to make all your plot changes at the expense of your erstwhile female protagonists?

The night of bad jokes

My sister tells me that telling jokes to earn one's treat for Halloween is a Des Moines thing. People in the DC area don't do it. Really?

Poll #2026710 What do they say on Halloween?

Do children/people tell a joke for a treat on Halloween, in the area you currently live in?

Always. Make them work for it (but not very hard).
1(2.6%)
Sometimes.
0(0.0%)
No, they just say "Trick or treat".
20(51.3%)
No, they just expect a treat without saying anything.
2(5.1%)
No. No one here goes trick-or-treating.
6(15.4%)
I don't know - no one comes to my door.
6(15.4%)
I don't know - I never answer the doorbell on Halloween.
1(2.6%)
Other, to be explained in a comment.
3(7.7%)

Do children/people say "trick or treat" when they come to the door on Halloween, in the area where you currently live?

Always
11(52.4%)
Sometimes
10(47.6%)
Never
0(0.0%)

What's the best joke you've heard this Halloween (if any)?

Tasting chocolate

One of the highlights of going to the Chocolate Show today was a panel called "Judging the Judges".

The award winners of a raft of major chocolate awards were announced this weekend at the show; this panel was intended as a light-hearted way of letting some award-winning chocolatiers get their revenge by reviewing chocolate created by the people doing the judges. The confections were all created fairly last-minutely - not works of long love and labor the way the real competition's entries are.

I learned that chocolate competition judges
* recalibrate their palate periodically by tasting the same non-competition chocolate they started with and comparing their current tasting notes for it with what they noted at the start of the day
* they refresh their palate by eating little cubes of plain, unsalted polenta
* when judging the World Chocolate Awards, a jury has to taste and assess about 80 chocolates over about 8 hours, every day
* A judge I spoke with longed for salty foods at the end of a day of judging.

Particularly wonderful comments, by chocolatiers, assessing the real judges' creations:
* "This chocolate tastes like three things I put in my mouth by accident."
* "It's an idea. It should have stayed as an idea."
* Host: "What was your favorite part of this chocolate?" Chocolatier: "The polenta." (palate refresher afterward)
* Host: "What was your favorite chocolate from the tasting?" Chocolatier (likely the same one): "The breadstick."
* "This has a particular blandness which is hard to achieve." (an actual judge from the audience)
* An anti-Belgian chocolate chocolatier from Belgium: "We use Belgian chocolate for biscuits, not for production."

In an interesting moment of historicity, the session's host told us that Nutella originated as a Napoleonic war product. (Instead of the WWII product that it is.) There's a very long tradition of people assuming/arguing things are older than they actually are. It was nice to document one in the wild.

Theo Randall at the Intercontinental

For weeks, I'd been looking forward to eating at Dabbous, but they cancelled at the last minute, thanks to a gas leak. We already had childcare, so I did a quick search around for a different place to eat out. I was after something quite nice food-wise but not particularly formal; C was already out in London and dressed for a casual office day. And so we ended up at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.

In no rush, we went along with the suggestion to start at the bar. The bar menu was an interesting one, but they were out of my first choice. My second choice was a fluffy marshmallow of a drink; on its own, that was fine, but alas, the dessert wine ended up being extremely similar.

Oh, the hazards of Italian food in Britain. Any menu which lists "primi" and "secondi" is one which raises my hopes that portions are thoughtfully small, enabling me to have lots of courses. The waitress cautioned that their portions were large. No antipasti for us, then. The little bits of bread which arrive are delicately soft and bode well for the rest of the meal.

I started with the linguine con aragosta, linguine with Dorset blue crab and chili. No, no parmesan for me, I am too inculturated into having no cheese with a pasta seafood dish. The crab meat is tender and tasty, a feat when paired with chili; but that's as high as the dish rises. The pasta is precisely al dente, which works for my linguine, but not for C's capelletti di vitello, which should be tender parcels without that bit of undercooked stiffness. They're fine. We've had better. By the standards of most of the meal, the pasta dishes were relatively pedestrian.

The secondi, on the other hand, are wonderful, delicate, rich, and intimidatingly enormous. My arrosta di faraone could easily have served both of us on its own. The best dish of the night, and I end up leaving a good half of the guinea fowl on my plate. ("Was something wrong?" is a painful query to receive for the evening's highlight!) C made slightly better inroads on his his costata di agnello. Even the side salad, a lovely array of colorful crunch, is quite substantial.

We loitered for a while and agreed to consider the dessert menu. I *want* to try out more of their offerings, but the secondo has made it difficult. We go with sorbet and ice cream. My peach sorbet is overly sweet. It's peach season, but this is a year-round dish, the richness of preserved fruit, not the refreshing juiciness of fresh peaches. It's heavy, and the accompanying marshmallow of the moscao d'asti adds more freshness than the peaches themselves have. C polishes off his chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, so it can't have been that bad.

I came away wistful. Should we have done the tasting menu after all? Is there any place in the UK which allows for consumption of both primi and secondi without food overdose? Should I never try another upscale Italian restaurant in the UK again, because I have spent too much time in Italy? For better or worse, I already have provisional plans to check out one of the Polpo family.

If I ever have reason to go back to Theo Randall's restaurant, I'd be inclined to gamble on the tasting menu, or just have meat and salad.

Wicked witch

I was reading an article in Restaurant magazine the other week about "lesser eaten fish", and it profiled one called a "witch".

That gives a whole new spin to stories about witches if you imagine the antagonist (or protagonist, of course) as a fish. Fish need to live in water, so presumably it takes a bubble of water with it wherever it goes. Or it lives in a water-heavy cloud, so it rains heavily wherever it flies to.

The witch is also known as a lefteye flounder; perhaps suffering from entrenched prejudice against lefties?

The Arnoglossus scapha (or lamb-tongue) is native to China and New Zealand (and presumably lots of smaller countries in between...). No wonder witch-hunts didn't take off in Europe until contact with the far east was starting to be slightly better established. Long-distance sailing would have exacerbated the problem more than overland routes, I presume.

I had initially assumed it might be partial to exotic lettuce in the neighbor's garden, but given the righteye flounder eats worms and crustaceans, perhaps not. Although side salads are often a nice accompaniment to a heartier main.

Pens

This article on How the ballpoint pen killed cursive (via andrewducker) reminds me of something.

I did a single year in London pre-tertiary education, in first year secondary school. One of the many differences between that and my otherwise mostly US-based early formal education was that the school required us to have a fountain pen. My parents bought me a cheap basic school model, refilled with cartridges like everyone else. It was meant for more formal writing situations (with ballpoints allowed in less formal situations), but I found it awkward since I hadn't ever used one before that. As I know from later usage, better-quality fountain pens can be lovely to write with; this one wasn't.

But that's not the point. I haven't heard anyone discuss fountain pens outside the realm of specialist love and practice since then.

Are fountain pens still used in the UK educational system anywhere, or have they fallen by the wayside in the intervening decades?

(My own pen-love has largely settled on superfine felt-tips these days.)
2002 SFF: M. John Harrison, BSFA: Gwyneth Jones
2003 SFF: Kim Newman, BSFA: Ian Watson
2004 SFF: Alastair Reynolds, BSFA: Paul McAuley. Also, Liz Williams.
2005 SFF: Karen Traviss, BSFA: Ian McDonald
2006 SFF: Steven Baxter, BSFA: Juliet McKenna. Also, Bruce Sterling.
2007 SFF: Francis Spufford, BSFA: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
2008 SFF: Geoff Ryman, BSFA: Peter Weston
2009 SFF: Paul Kincaid, BSFA: Nick Harkaway
2010 SFF: Rob Shearman, BSFA: Malcolm Edwards
2011 SFF: Mike Ashley, BSFA: Tricia Sullivan
2012 SFF: Aliette de Bodard, BSFA: Marek Kukula
2013 SFF: Gaie Sebold, BSFA: Ben Aaronovitch
2014 SFF: Jo Fletcher, BSFA: Frances Hardinge
2015 Brian Aldiss, Pat Cadigan (joint SFF-BSFA guests)