Twenties Girl – commentary

I guess you could say I took the long way to Ottawa (land of much open space): Singapore – Hong Kong – San Francisco – Chicago – Ottawa. The way back was just as bad: Ottawa – Chicago – San Francisco – Incheon – Singapore. But I managed to read Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl, which a colleague lent me a few weeks ago (I passed her Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go), during the San Francisco-Incheon leg, and while I was enjoying it I jotted down some notes.

Page 109 – The main characters, meek, set-adrift-and-buffeted-by-life Lara and the stridently shrieking ghost of her great-grandaunt Sadie, are at their selfish worst. I can’t sympathise with them. But I’m willing to continue reading, I think because I know they will eventually emerge as benevolent and likable. (Is that a difference between a serious novel, which would not offer that certainty. and something lighter, which this book is?)

Page 123 – The point I get really interested in the book: Sadie agrees to help Lara with her dog problem. Before this, the two weren’t a team.

Page 136 – Shock: Lara asks him out! (“Him” being the “American man with the frown” – also, “quite good-looking in that classic preppy way… has a bit of a tan, and dark wrist hair visible inside his immaculate white cuffs [note: weird, describing wrist hair]… his eyes are penetrating…”) Not sure what to make of the fact that, with much effort, Sadie is able to make herself heard by others (Lara can see and hear her normally, and is persuaded to ask him out because Sadie thinks he’s handsome and wants to dance with him), but this is an intriguing development.

Page 150 – Lara pesters Sadie to get Josh (Lara’s ex-beau) to tell the girl he is now with (not Lara) what was wrong with Lara. (Yes, Lara is spying on Josh during his date.) And I realise that Lara and Sadie have this relationship where they just pester each other to do something until the other agrees to. Apart from parents and their children, do people actually have this sort of relationship?

Page 157 – Lara resolves that she will change all that Josh thought was wrong with her. She’s deluded! Are women like that?

Page 191 – The “the quarrelsome twosome understand/appreciate each other” moment.

Page 201 – Hmm. The plot thickens. (Background: Sadie’s apparently still around because she can’t go without her necklace, which has disappeared. In her search for the necklace, Lara finds out that the last person to visit Sadie at the hospice was one Charles Reece, who turns out to be Lara’s uncle Bill.)

Page 209 – Lara meets Bill, after an extravagant pageant of security and functionaries and secretaries.

Page 216 – Sadie, who is invisible (except to Lara) and intangible, finds the necklace in Bill’s house. So Bill did take it. The plot grows several layers.

Page 226 – Lara sneaks around in Bill’s house looking for the necklace, with Sadie as alarm and guide. Pretty kick-ass to have a ghost on this sort of mission.

Page 229 – Lara is going to “trail” (aka stalk) Josh outside his workplace to show him she has changed and try to get back together with him. The “not good idea” quotient of this idea is clearly expressed by Sadie, who says: “This is a very bad idea. A very, very bad idea.”

Page 234 – So they are back together. But only after Sadie mind-bullies vapid Josh into it.

Page 237 – Lara texts all her friends, and the pizza delivery person, about Josh’s and her return to couplehood. Smacks of approval-seeking or some vague gloating, totally unappealing. Hope she does not end up with Josh – just would not be right.

Page 244 – CRISIS. Necklace out of reach, work emergency with no solution in sight.

Page 264 – Lara and Mr American frown aka Ed discuss her partner (at work) a little, during their second “date”. The notion that Lara will end up with Ed with Sadie facilitating pops into my head.

Page 283 – Ed reveals the reason for his frown. I like Ed more and more.

Page 310 – The necklace makes another appearance during a fashion show, and after an exciting chase in which Bill also appears, menacingly, it slips away just before Lara can get her hands on it. Why does Bill also want the necklace?! He’s the owner of a chain competing with Starbucks, for goodness’ sake.

Page 319 – Inevitable: Lara breaks up with Josh.

Page 326 – Also inevitable, as it is that stage of the plot for a crisis between friends: Lara lies to Sadie that she is going out with Josh, so that Sadie will not get to crow over the breakup, and goes out with Ed.

Page 333 – I won’t describe what is so true here, but it’s so true :)

Page 360 – So good to see one of the minor villains of the story get hers!

Between page 361 and page 386 – I realise that I’m missing movies and TV shows during an 11.5-hour SQ flight for this book.

Pages 387-388 – The most surreal moment in this ghost story: After Sadie disappears in an angry huff after seeing Lara and Ed together and Lara searches all over for her and fails to find her, Lara tries to summon her at a pond.

Page 424 – Lara and Ed find out why Bill wants the necklace. Well and a bit too neatly plotted.

Page 432 – Why not just tell Ed that you can see Sadie’s ghost?!?!

Pages 456-457 – Tonya (Lara’s sister and the other minor villain in the book) is *irritating*.

Page 466 – Sadie’s ravishing smile, the last that Lara sees of her = brilliant.

The colleague who lent me the book urged me to finish it: The ending is heartwarming, she said. This was echoed by a reviewer on Goodreads. But I found the lead-up to the ending better than the ending itself, which I thought was rather ordinary, although it did give everyone their just desserts. Sadie got her Alaskan earthquake :)

Miscellany (12 Aug 2013)

The distance between armchairs at lunch and scenes from Before Midnight

A few days ago I had lunch with a colleague. This was again at the TCC at Central, with the mini armchairs that always make me wish I could settle more deeply into one but that would end up with me too far from the table and the meal and definitely too far for conversation. Come to think of it, this is also the issue in the typical Starbucks store – hm… “store” seems not particularly suitable for a Starbucks place; let’s use “location”, which is antiseptically neutral but accurate enough – this is also the issue in the typical Starbucks location in Singapore, which nowadays feels packed and spacious at the same time and is sprinkled with comfy yet low-maintenance sofas and armchairs and a place to feel like you want to feel comfortable in, but it’s tough because the instinct is to sit opposite each other, which places you too far apart, and sitting next to each other results in the sort of dynamic that also happens when two people watch a movie, which is similarly side-by-side self-directed focused enjoyment of the scenes unfolding before you, which only occasionally merit staccato bursts of mutual sideways looks and exchanges for the purpose of ascertaining that the other person feels the same way about the scene that you do. (There were lots of these when my pal and I watched Before Midnight, whose script I found topnotch and intensely engrossing. There is the opening scene where Jesse sends off his son with entirely and understandably too many promises. And then there is the scene in which Jesse and Celine drive back to their Greek holiday villa and quarrel the way significant others who can plot out the meanders of each other’s lines of argument quarrel, during which Jesse eats a half-eaten green apple which one of his twin daughters have yet to finish and said daughter wakes up and blearily asks for said half-eaten green apple and in so doing keeps the quarrel from boiling over. Then come the scenes of Greek meal preparation in which Celine helps her hosts stuff peppers with stuff that made me hungry, interspersed with scenes of Jesse testing the (pretentious) concepts for his next novel with an old fellow writer and a couple of fans, and then the dinner scene in which various models of love (including the model in which both parties know break-up is certain at some point in time, being young and independent and having no need for the sort of committed companionship and partnership that marriage is) and couplehood (including the model in which the party who dies second continues to think of what the party who dies first would say if he is still around) are discussed and bickered over and there is the continuation of the couple’s quarrel in the car, leading to a sharp rise in temperature then a very welcome drop in same as those around the table deftly conduct some reconciliation and set up the finale (Celine’s and Jesse’s hosts insisting on taking care of the twins while the couple enjoy a night at this hotel). Then there are the long takes where Celine and Jesse just walk and talk and walk and talk as if we are not there (in a way that movies, which by definition presuppose an audience, are usually too self-aware to show), and the scene in which Celine and Jesse check into the hotel and Jesse is asked to autograph some books by a fan and Celine too and Jesse obliges and Celine doesn’t want to until Jesse says out loud that yes Celine would be happy to and she does so in a way that hides her true fury from the fan and sends a clear message to her husband. Then comes the climax-which-felt-like-it-lasted-half-the-movie, in which the quarrel escalates into an emotionally violent argument with its own rhythm and plot about sex and gender roles and one partner’s success and guilt which is absurd yet raw and real, and lastly the scene in which there is some much longed-for time travel. There were points where my pal and I laughed together, and winced and cringed and flinched together, and after it ended, I felt – in no particular order – deeply relieved, tired and satisfied yet determined not to put myself through this movie again, solidly impressed with the chemistry and generosity of the actors in working out the script and then in acting out the script, and oddly optimistic about the future of Celine and Jesse as a couple.)

***

Crime book dichotomies

And I had thought that we discussed it during the lunch, but now I remember that the colleague and I had discussed books on the way to lunch. She asked what I was doing that long weekend – I said reading and spring cleaning, the latter of which I haven’t done, at all – and she then asked what books I liked to read and mentioned she liked crime books by James Patterson and Jeffrey Deaver and I replied I read crime books too but preferred PD James and Ruth Rendell and stumbled over myself trying to articulate the differences I saw in the crime books she liked and the ones I liked and, after dropping the too easy and slightly inaccurate action vs. procedural dichotomy, arrived at the international/cosmopolitan vs. little town/village dichotomy.  (And after reading Ruth Rendell’s dense and quite brilliant Harm Done, whose commentary on a vulnerable class (battered women, and women in general to a lesser extent) reminded me of Donna Leon’s The Golden Egg (which focused on one horrendously treated child), I find I have to consider also the popcorn plot vs. social commentary dichotomy.)

***

Love = capable of causing pain

Before Midnight came up again in a discussion with another colleague – we had exchanged books (Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl for me and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go for her) – who, after I mentioned the movie required a lot of emotional investment and was raw and not something I’d want to watch again, said it sounded so sad. I thought about that a bit, and concluded that for me the movie is not sad overall, but certainly the parts where Celine and Jesse show that each knows exactly where the other has poorly healed wounds to messily and thoroughly unscab – those parts are sad in the sense people who love each other so deeply are in the best position to cause that commensurate pain and sometimes fully aware they do just that, harshly jerking away the scabs and precisely salting the exposed parts.

***

7/8

This year, 7 Aug came with some warning – in that it was the day before a four-day weekend and therefore had stuck in my mind for other reasons than the usual, which I have more or less forgotten – and perhaps leading up to the day I had thought however fleetingly about what that date used to mean to me, so on the day itself I found myself humming 优客李林’s 输了你,赢了世界又如何, which had come out around the time the date meant the most.

***

A three-inch diameter ear-stud

Recently I got a seat on the MRT on the way to work. And while listening to my favourite podcast on my ear-buds (which by the way is an activity I seem to have become addicted to; I think the fundamental attraction to me is the ability to choose the world I alone want to experience), I saw this chap – possibly from Anderson Junior College; he looked the right age and had on trousers of the right colour and possibly the appropriate insignia – with what I thought were clear plastic headphones which turned out to be a gigantic hoop ear-stud (I only saw/paid attention to his left ear). Yup, it looked like he had on a ear-stud – which I always thought was some inconspicuous mini-thing to keep one’s earring-hole open – that was essentially a three-inch diameter hoop, I kid you not. It was surreal looking through the ear-hoop and seeing clear through to where his neck connected to his collar. I thought that was quite bizarre, and could his school condone it, but maybe he liked it.

***

Some much-needed self-bashing

I have become less and less appreciative of my folks, I’m afraid – plain choosy about my dinner, for example, asking Mum to cook me some noodles when she’d already painstakingly prepared rice and perfectly adequate dishes to go along with it. So the other day I came home, and she showed me that she had fried some rice, and I stared at it, reflexively thinking up reasons to reject it in favour of some noodles – I love noodles – including, I remember, complaining in my mind that the egg in the fried rice was too clumpy and not scrambled enough. I went to take a shower without either committing to the rice or saying I’d like some noodles, please, and after some well-deserved self-bashing came out and ate up two bowls of the rice, which was not the best but yummy enough. I need to be more self-bashing in this aspect of my life :)

***

Airsless people

Few people I know are totally without airs – I’ve met a President’s scholar a few years younger than me who was, and there is this high-ranking civil servant and former boss who is – and the other day I bumped into the latter at a stairs landing in Hong Lim Food Centre after I had bought my breakfast, and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me and spend those next few minutes with me to find out how I was doing, to the extent that, although people using the landing had to go around us, it felt as if he was perfectly focused on talking with me. That was a great start to the day.

***

Dear cab-driver, I wish you well…

I was going to work on a cab the other day. (Yes, this peasant princeling enjoys such uneconomical luxuries.) At around the same time I was thinking how new the cab was, the driver said that I was his first customer for this cab, and that he’d gotten it only the day before, after which he had driven his wife and two children (I think it’s two) around in the cab. He had only been driving a cab for a few months, and he was previously with TransCab (he was now driving a ComfortDelGro Hyundai Sonata), and his was among the last batch of Sonatas and the next batches would be i40s, he said. He said he did not like driving a cab – it was a lot of pressure, having to deal with different customers and not knowing which kind he was going to get next. A couple of his friends had gotten into trouble because of customer complaints already. He much preferred his previous job as a container truck-driver, which he felt he and other Singaporeans had been pushed out of because of PRC drivers, which he said he perfectly understood because that’s what someone else would do if he was in the boss’s position, and because the job paid by the trip and more and more the PRC drivers were getting the trips because they were cheaper, he could see how the inevitable would happen and had decided to quit, and his friend and fellow container truck-driver had talked it out with the boss but to no avail. He said that was why he asked his daughters (I think) to study hard and to his understated pride it was clear that they were doing well in school. I noted that his boss should be finding it harder to get good container truck-drivers and he said yes in fact his boss had called him to ask him to go back, but he had asked if his friends and former colleagues had been asked to as well and the boss had said no, and therefore he had decided not to go back, even though his friends had told him he should, because – he explained – he was the sort of person who didn’t like others to think that he had made some side arrangement with his former boss. I’m afraid I hounded him on this – perhaps you need not be so focused on what others think or say, I said; this is a job you like, I said; and which pays better etc. etc., I could have said – but he was adamant and appeared totally at peace with his decision and keen to continue on his current path to the best of his ability. Then we arrived at my destination, and I paid him and wished him well, and he wished me well, and said he hoped his other customers would be like me, and I slid over to the curbside and stepped out and closed the door and he drove off.

I hope he is doing well, this cab-driver.

***

One day, on my way to work…

Outside the MRT gates, I saw a man casually dressed in jeans and a light-coloured shirt at the side of the gates watching someone go up the escalator to the MRT platform. In Chinese, this would be described as 目送, literally “eye send” – as in using one’s eyes to send someone off. He watched and watched, and then finally turned away and, I think, caught me watching him and smiled a little smile.

Stuff I’m happy about (4 Jul 2013)

Today is the birthday of a cousin, who said recently that she rearryrearry likes having more time to hang out with her husband and her family because of her new job. And that’s something I’m happy about :)

###

Today I met family of the work sort for lunch. These are folks I’ve known since I started work or soon after. I was late for lunch, having gotten caught up at a meeting I was keen on but on second thought had little business getting involved in. When I got to the restaurant, I realised that the folks were sitting next to another set of colleagues, coincidentally at the same restaurant. And it was quite comical how, over the next few minutes, more colleagues came into the restaurant, one set sitting to our other side catching up with not-colleagues-anymore, another two coming in, the chap waving to the lot of us sheepishly.

We talked about what we were now doing at work, about how the department we had known each other at was doing. The girls* have one, two and two-with-third-on-the-way children respectively, and so there was some talk about children and how not-a-toddler-anymore one kid was (she’s 11), and one girl’s helper (who sleeps on her sofa, as caught by her video cameras), and one girl’s dropping off her two children at the same childcare and always having to wait till the younger child finishes crying. We talked about another colleague, who was now in Cambodia volunteering with the World Wide Fund for Nature, and whom one of the girls visited with her husband without the not-a-toddler-anymore and missed the haze. We talked about the eligible bachelor among us who may not be bachelor much longer and his beau.

It is good that we could still talk like that. And that’s something I’m happy about :)

* So, is my vocabulary underdeveloped, or is there no other way to refer to friends of the female variety apart from “girls”? I can’t imagine replacing “girls” with “women” – well technically I can, but it doesn’t sound right at all – and using “ladies” just seems pretentious…

###

A pile of nine books arrived a few days ago from Amazon. I’m sure no fewer than four of them will rate at least 7/10 on the enjoyment scale, and have high hopes for the others that I haven’t got to. (Have in fact started on two – slightly underwhelming, I’m afraid.)

It is nice to have books to look forward to – that’s something I’m happy about :)

###

I went phone shopping with my dad after lunch, and we went around Chinatown Point just because there was time left on the parking coupons, and then he drove me around some of the houses near our place and showed me those he thought looked good and I agreed. It was good talking with my dad – that’s something I’m happy about :)

###

The nap just now was happy-ing too.

###

The cousin who has a better work-life situation now also talked about her career monster wanting it all and how she sometimes feels conflicted.

In comparison, mine’s probably a career gremlin: malformed, temperamental and destructive.

###

For some reason, I can never remember who is Smiley in the 2012 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I can see his face, and I know he’s Commissioner Gordon and my brain goes “Alan” something and it just gets held up there and I go through different names – I always think it starts with A and I always think about Colin Firth and how that’s one other person who starred in that movie and then I think Alan Goodman and I would know it’s wrong and so’s Alan Rickman and at this point usually I give up and look it up and realise it’s… Gary freaking Oldman.

It’s weird because I lurved the movie. Movies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy still get made – that’s something I’m happy about :)

###

I used to think Singapore had fairly constant weather, or at least non-freaky weather. The haze and hail changed that perception a little bit, and got me thinking about the time I was in Brussels, and a summer day broke through the grey drizzly cold. I now better understand how welcome the light and warmth was, and why the streets filled up with people happy-drunk on sun.

Today in Singapore it was humid to the point of stifling, and the sky was willing only to drizzle.

But the haze is still gone – that’s something I’m happy about :)

###

I’m happy that this web site makes this podcast :) Every Saturday I get something fun to listen to – the next episode in a dimension-spanning high-fantasy epic starring five friends role-playing well-fitted characters and an accomplished gamemaster.

###

My birthday was a workday, so I was at work. Two colleagues I’ve known for a long while wished me happy birthday, and that was good. One of them did so in front of some other colleagues, who quickly went to get a cake and did a classic surprise! celebration, which I felt awkward at. (I’d rather I knew for sure that people wanted to celebrate my birthday.) Then I had a good dinner with my pal at the Royal Mail where the lobster was sweet, the mushrooms were only okay, the blue swimmer crabmeat went well with the salad sprinkled with trout caviar and the conversation was deeply enjoyable. And when I got back home it was either the last dregs of my birthday or just the day after, and my sis stayed up to wish me happy birthday :)

###

Christmas is 174 days away, not so long – and that’s something I’m happy about :)

Leftovers from Peru and other miscellany

I had meant to gush about the dessert we had at Punto Azul too. After leaving the risotto plate spotless except for smudges of squid ink and the mixed fried combo plate smeared with some of the excellent salsa (excellent according to my colleagues; I tend not to dip), we ordered tres leche – meaning “three milk” – supposedly the quintessential Peruvian dessert: milk sponge cake, moist and fluffy (the first milk), with a layer of whipped cream on top (the second milk), half sunken in a pool of condensed milk (the third and most yummy leche). And that was a simple and slurp-worthy way to end that meal.

***

Most weekday mornings at about 7am, I am on the train I take to work. Lately I’ve been looking out through the windows on the right side of the train. Somewhere between Khatib and Yio Chu Kang – just after Khatib – there is a clearing in the middle of what looks like the beginnings of dense forest, and usually several people would gather there. These few weeks, when I’ve seen them, they’ve been doing yoga – just today they were all on all fours, butts up, heads down, looking very silly and regimented on their yoga mats. And even though I’ve seen this group of people several times over the past few weeks – I have always imagined they are middle-aged or older folk, but really they are too far away to tell, and I am sure I’ve seen both men and women, though more women, their rolled-up mats slung across their backs – it just struck me today that, not so long ago, this same group of people – I imagine they are the same group, since they appear in the same place – were doing taiqi.

***

Just the other day, I came across something online about toolboxes, and a vivid memory bobbed up from the depths of my brain, of little me staring at my dad’s toolbox with its one compartmentalised shelf which detached itself from the top of the box when the box was opened, to rest solidly on its articulated hinges, presenting all sorts of nails and screws and drill bits for his assessment and selection and perfect and dangerous use – dangerous because there were sharp points and electricity and heavy and hard metal surfaces involved, dangerous but then all the more of a thrill when my dad asked little me to fetch him a pithily described nail or tool.

I thought my dad was awesome then.

I haven’t felt that way in many years.

I think I miss that feeling.

In Peru, stuffed

I’m going to write about food again. No pictures though.

***

At the end of a tough few days in Lima, my boss (for the trip anyway) brought me to a Japanese restaurant one Wednesday evening. He had enjoyed the maki there tremendously, he said. The restaurant’s name, Magma Sushi Lounge, fitted the premises snugly – sofas and coffee tables made up half, bar stools and high tables the other. Odd for a Japanese place.

My boss immediately ordered passion-fruit juice – he had loved it the last time he had it here, and had even got the owner of the place to write it down in Spanish for him so he could order it again. It took a while to come – I joked that they were still watering the passion-fruit plant – and when it did, pale yellow liquid in two tall glasses with straws and the rest in a small jug – in Lima juices are often served in jugs – he slurped up a good portion and then sighed, exactly like he enjoyed it a lot. I thought I’d drink it more culturedly, but the first inhale through the straw was amazing – I was hit with the sensation of sweetness and freshness and just-squeezedness, and the sweetness was passion-fruit sweetness but dialed down to a level that was not cloying and could be enjoyed in greater amounts. Before I knew it, the Peruvian server was topping up my glass.

We also had maki and salmon sashimi (fresh enough), but the yummiest dish of the night was something called the special ika roll – grilled squid stuffed with crab meat and shrimp, cut into rings, drizzled with a savoury rich mushroom gravy, just a teeny tiny bit gingery. It was so good – the gravy was magic: it should have been too rich, but it wasn’t – that we ordered and finished (ok, with some difficulty) another set.

***

The next day two colleagues and I went to Punto Azul. One of them had talked about this restaurant in glowing terms – very good, yet affordable. It turned out that there was a queue there – apparently it only opens 11am-4pm, and there is always a queue. After waiting for about half an hour and then ordering some food and then eating the cancha (crunchy toasted ears of corn, a little salted) and teasing one of the colleagues about the earrings he bought for his girlfriend and the other colleague then cajoling him into showing us the earrings (the other colleague saying he’d role-play as the girlfriend) and then seeing the earrings – I remember they were pretty and Peruvian but cannot for the heck of me remember what exactly they looked like; I think there were stars involved somehow – and complimenting him for his taste and pointing out other customers’ mixed fried combos in hushed tones, the food arrived. The mixed fried combo was calamari and fish and shrimp, with a light onion garnish on top that somehow took away all the oiliness so that there was just the batter and the freshness of the seafood to chomp into. The squid-ink risotto was black – they were generous with the ink, I said, and then we got to talk about how the chefs got the ink (I personally think there are ready packets of ink they can buy) and one colleague described the squid-ink seafood curry (curry!) his grandma makes – and was the star of the show. There was a surprising tang to the rice – think cherry tomatos, just ripe – and that actually made the risotto, usually so heavy, heartily appetising. The ample portions of shrimp, scallops, fish and octopus proved to be worthy accompaniment.

***

I got super-lucky when I checked in online for my flight back – there was an offer to upgrade to business class for about S$500 for the 12-hour-plus first leg, and I jumped on it after wondering if it was a trick.

In Lima, wreathed with mists

Before I left for Lima, a colleague informed us that those returning from Peru needed to be immunised for Yellow Fever. It was a busy period – which period isn’t? – and I put off taking the shot until the day on which I was to fly to Lima. (Also, I had heard that the injection would be done with a damned big needle.)

And so I found myself in the doctor’s office at lunchtime, 12 or so hours before my flight, a little apprehensive and put-upon. The doctor – a professional-mannered woman – started by asking why I was taking the shot, and when I told her it was for a work trip, she looked through some documents to confirm that yes, the Singapore customs does require people returning from Peru to take the shot. She then explained that she wanted to confirm that I needed to take the shot, because the vaccine was “live” and I had a (cheery) 1-in-200,000 chance of suffering serious side-effects – essentially contracting Yellow Fever.

Up to that point, I had not thought that my mortality might be affected by the injection, and I got more than a teensy bit worried. It must be showing, I thought, sitting beside the doctor’s desk – but the doctor’s expression remained bland as she pulled the content of the vaccine bottle into the syringe. (The needle did not look overly big, but I haven’t had an injection in a while.) She said I had folded back my sleeve enough, and asked if it would be my first time in Peru or something like that and then pushed the needle and then the vaccine into the flesh of my left upper arm and then put a plaster over the mark after she pulled out the needle.

The injection did not hurt.

***

I had planned to listen to podcasts on the flight to Lima – 12-plus hours to Amsterdam, 5-plus hours of layover, 12 hours to Lima, one way – but browsed at a bookstore on the long way to the gate and got tempted by a Donna Leon book. This was a heftily satisfying read.

The book was about the death of someone whom the protagonist’s wife had seen in the neighbourhood for many years, and there were descriptions in the book about how those in the neighbourhood had seen the person grow up and age.

I’ve lived in my neighbourhood for about 18 years, and most of the shops around our little estate have changed many times. Maybe some of the neighbours would know what I looked like 18 years ago, but even those would be few.

Donna Leon writes about Venice. I wonder if people live differently in Venice, if I would also be part of the neighbourhood scene if I live there – familiar and remembered.

***

One of the podcasts I listened to eventually, in my hotel room (small and functional, with pillows that make my neck ache), was episode 230 of Books on the Nightstand (a book-lover’s joy). This episode featured two author talks from Booktopia Vermont. The first talk was about a topic I know so little about that I was surprised at how interested I was in the talk; the second talk moved me, especially this part:

What was different for me and what proved to be the bigger challenge was separating the act of creation, creating fiction, something make-believe, from the thing that had inspired it, which was the loss of a friend in the September 11 attacks. And she was a young mother, a new mother, she was on the first plane that hit the twin towers, and it was her first business trip following her maternity leave. And she wasn’t my closest friend, she was the wife of my husband’s best friend, and I knew her moderately well, but not intensely well. But because I was a journalist her husband asked me if I would field the media phone-calls for him, so he wouldn’t have to explain over and over again who she had been, how they had been college sweethearts, and now how he was going to be the single father of a six-month-old daughter. And I spent about a week answering these phone-calls and creating the sound-bites that would go into these newspapers and magazines about my friend. And every time I said something, which was always with the blessing of the family, I couldn’t help but be the devil on my own shoulder yelling at me for reducing her life in that way, distilling someone down to sound-bites, which was a very unnerving thing. And then when I read her obituary, which I helped to work on, it occurred to me how little of a life actually appears in an obituary, cos it’s a compilation of what we are to other people and the things that we’ve accomplished, but it doesn’t have anything inside the words and the lines of what we ever hoped to accomplish, and what we tried to accomplish but didn’t, and all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that we have, and those were the thoughts that haunted me for about five years.

Death, YouTube meandering and not liking the part of me that looks down on dwarfs

Recently, a local TV star died. He was 60. I’ve stopped watching television for a while now, so I hadn’t seen him in anything recently, but to read that he is still best remembered for a role he played in a 1984 series struck me as sad – to have one’s life in the 30 years since that show reduced to unmentioned irrelevance – and then made me think about how there is no truly adequate way to memorialise any life, and surely no one same way all those who knew him would remember him.

His death was a reminder of mortality, like so many things are nowadays for me. To me, 60 is just about the age one could arguably say people start to die because they are old. As in, you wouldn’t be surprised if someone died, at 60. That was in my mind. And then I remembered that my parents were into their 60s. Of course I had known that before, even made a big do of their 60th birthdays. But the death of this actor – whose defining role was an experience my parents and I shared when I was still limited to a world they curated for me – was a more forceful reminder.

***

I went YouTube meandering again last night, and found a Wilson Phillips playlist with four songs that I hadn’t heard in a bit and that I realised I could sing to. The songs are oh, about 24 years old.

And I also saw the ending to the Japanese drama series Overtime, again, and enjoyed revisiting what the show made me feel.

And I came across this gem of a cover of Journey’s Faithfully. A lot of these acoustic covers are so brilliant. Boyce Avenue – worth checking out.

***

I started religiously following a podcast a while back – if you like tabletop role-playing, the sort of stuff where a “game-master” creates and manages a world for other players, you should really give Critical Hit a try – and recently I saw one of the folks on the podcast in a video and he appeared to me he might be a dwarf. That disturbed me. My instinct, I think (nice oxymoron sequence there), was a feeling of wrongness – he couldn’t be a dwarf, he’s part of this great podcast I enjoy so much! Then I thought, why can’t a dwarf be part of a great podcast? Anyway, I don’t like this part of me – the part that unthinkingly looks down on dwarfs.

Miscellany 15 April 2013

I am facing the very real possibility that all my freckles will turn into tags that need to be lasered or nitrogened off my face. There is already one, not yet fleshy, near my right ear.

Mortality is a theme today. A colleague that I have said hi to a few times, who was always friendly to me, passed away Saturday. I think he’s younger than me. It was cancer. He went through the remission-relapse whiplash, and I would imagine so did his parents and wife. Yes I found out he was married – one of the bosses said he had gone to this colleague’s wedding, and it had been less than two years ago. He looked genuinely shocked and yet accepting at the same time, and added: Life’s like that. Fate decides.

Today was a really hot day. I think I burnt up inside and couldn’t cool down, it was so hot. (Or maybe I am so fat.)

I was listening to Debbie Gibson’s We Could Be Together (Campfire Mix) – again – through some earphones, and got stunned by the little details that went into making such a terrific mood piece: simple guitar chords in the background; some nice percussive instruments; backup vocals playing all sorts of roles – giddy, supportive, grounding the song when her voice soars; and then her own voice when it counts. What a great voice she has. But even then, she couldn’t make the song herself.

I saw Mini Eggs in a tube today. And had to buy two.

I was on my way to sleep last night, and thought of getting one of the Rex Stout books that I used to read to sleep. When I realised that I wasn’t in the mood for any – any! – of them, I was quite surprised and then when I realised I was only a little disturbed, I was slightly more surprised. Someday I will find the Bear that used to enjoy reading any Rex Stout book and spending time with Archie and Wolfe and Saul. That Bear read and read and read. And probably learned too. I don’t really miss the Bear that enjoyed durians, but I would like to find out why he left. I think I liked the Bear that went up stairs two at a time the most right now – he’s definitely not coming back.

Today was also the day I found out when I’d be travelling for Peru. This will be my second visit there. I should be all prepared. And it’s a place I’d otherwise never get to go. But I only have to think about the flight – 12 hours in a big cylinder then a few hours in transit in Amsterdam then nearly 13 hours – to quail, and try hard not to think about it.

I’d never have heard Tara MacLean’s Settling if not for Meteor Garden. So. There is some redeeming feature in that series :)

Am I borrowed, am I blue. Is it just the dust of leaving you, settling.

Maybe I could just shave it off…