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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Attention To Detail

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So, um.  I tried sewing today.  And there were some failures (I totally botched the drawstring bags) and some successes (I made two throw pillow covers that look pretty decent).  And a realization that it’s probably good that I’m having now.

I don’t find sewing to be fun.

Sure, playing with colors and figuring out what fabric you want for something is neat, but the actual process of sewing is too fussy and precise and neat and fiddly and specific and meticulous for someone that’s a big ol’ messy haphazard improvisational slob.

I do like knitting, becuase at least with knitting you can fix things after the fact – there’s a process at the end, called “blocking”, where you soak the knitted whatever in water and lay it out flat in the specific shape you need it to be and let it dry that way, with pins holding it in the exact shape you need it.  It’s kind of magic – the process can be messy and imprecise, but then the blocking process magically evens out all the wonky stitches you did and your knitted piece is the way it’s supposed to look; the uneven stitches even up, the holes in lace yawn open, and your thing is nice and even and flat.  But with sewing, you have to cut things to the exact specific precise shape you need them and you need to sew in exactly specifically precisely the place you need your stitches to be and if you do something like sneeze you run the risk of your seam going uneven

Feh.

Well, it’s better I know that now.  There is one quirky and silly and fun thing I did like – there’s a quilt-top-making process people use with pre-cut strips of fabric called “Jelly rolls”, where you take a crapton of strips of fabric and sew them together end-to-end, and then take the big long strip and cut it in half and sew those strips together side-by-side, and then repeat that until you have a pre-sewn nice stripey bit of fabric.  I had some fabric I ordered off ebay from someone’s scraps – a strip about three inches wide and 60 long – and I tried that with it and ended up with a nice-looking front for a pillow cover.  I ordered some more strips off ebay recently that are coming, and I have some other random patches, so I may just use them to piece a quick throw blanket together and then give all the rest of my patches and fabric to Niki when I return the sewing machine, along with the two or three sewing books I’ve somehow found in my travels.  But I’ll have a couple cushion covers and a throw and the right to say that I sewed them, and that’ll be good enough and I’ll go back to looser-limbed crafts instead.

 

Summer Camp DIY

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So, in the past, I’ve had an occasional summer habit of getting semi-obsessed with some new Craft.  I’d be wandering in a store and see a kids’ craft kit that introduced you to something, or I’d be looking for a way to use up or upcycle some kind of Life Detritus, and come across some kind of Thing To Do With It – and then I’d be buying up all kinds of supplies and churning mass quantities of the stuff with an eye to giving things away as Christmas gifts.  However, after a few months my enthusiasm would peter out a bit, I’d look at my creations and set aside half for being a little too ugly or weird to give away, and I’d give away some of the good ones but still have a ton left over, and not really know what to do with the rest of the supplies and end up puttting those out on the curb.

Some of these crafts have worked a little better than others; The Summer Of Soap kind of came and went, and The Summer Of Glass Painting is probably best left unremembered, but The Summer Of Liqueur and The Summer of Jam went over really well.  Both are still things I dip my toe into now and again, along with The Summer Of Knitting.

As I mentioned earlier, though, we are shaping up for this being The Summer Of Sewing, thanks to Niki’s loan of a sewing machine.  And I’m trying to make this a finite pursuit by sticking solely to using up some fabric salvaged from old worn out clothes, supplemented by a yard or two from a cheap fabric store and some scraps from ebay; I splurged on some precut strips of things from quilt shops after watching an idiot-proof technique for laying them out and using them, and I also saw someone had a big pile of scraps from old 1930s feed sacks, and have always been charmed by feed sack fabric and got those as well.  But most of the fabric is coming from a collection of jeans and khaki pants; my pants all have the frustrating tendency to wear holes right in the crotch gusset, so there’s a point by which I can’t wear them any more even though the rest of the fabric is perfectly fine.

Let’s just pause a moment so I can give you a big and salient fact, though – I kind of can’t sew.  I tried some simple sewing in Girl Scouts, but had to use felt since it wouldn’t fray; and as a freshman in drama school I was assigned to an internship in the department’s costume shop, but I jammed two sewing machines on my first day and the manager just gave me a blanket pass to skip the internship after that.

But I’ve seen some really simple cushion cover patterns, and watched a million tutorials on Youtube, and I think I can put them together.  Cushion covers are small and don’t involved curves, mostly, and if you make them envelope style then you don’t even need to worry about zippers or buttons or stuff.  And Niki sat with me for a while and showed me how the sewing machine worked, and it seemed easy enough, especially sewing in a straight line.  Which is all I intend to do, is sew in straight lines.

And thus I’m going to mostly be making some cushion covers for the bedroom, and turning some old pajamas into drawstring bags that I’ll use when I travel; one of them had a print of high-heeled pumps on them that was just begging to be turned into shoe bags.  (Please note: I have never worn high-heeled shoes in my life. But this was still one of the most comfortable garments I’ve ever worn – if you are trying on pajamas and your very first instinct upon donning them is to lie right down on the floor of the dressing room and take a nap, you get those pajamas.  They could have had a print of flaming roadkill and I’d still have bought them.)

The Mount Everest, though, is going to be a patchwork quilt made of those old jeans.  Mind you, I’ll be sticking to straight lines, simple patches, no batting, just turning jean patches into a quilt top and stitching it onto the backing and calling it good.  I am a bit uneasy, thinking of the old college mishaps, but that “what the hell, I’ll try this” instinct that drove me to try glass painting and soapmaking and such is the louder voice.  If nothing else, I will learn that No, Really, I Should Not Sew.

Prendre Plaisir

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Somewhere in my travels this weekend, I ended up at a bookstore and was browsing the sale section – and when I saw a huge, beautiful book with the title French DessertsI immediately walked to the cash register with it.  Hey – that’s two of my favorite things right there in one title.

And it really is beautifully done – the focus is on the simpler dishes that people make for themselves at home rather than the fantastical things you’d find in a patisserie.  There are cakes and tarts and such, but instead of elaborate things like a religieuse or a caneleanything where I’d have to wrestle with piping bags, they have simple fruit tarts or plain cakes or puddings.   It’s exactly the way I like to cook – just pick good ingredients and get out of their way.

And I have some extra time after work and a lot of rhubarb and strawberries, and that means I can make something for my book club tomorrow – and that something will be the strawberry-rhubarb crisp bar cookies from the Smitten Kitchen, something I discovered a year ago.  They’re almost perfect – just sweet enough to feel that you’re having a real treat, but low enough in added sugar that you can get away with telling yourself that they make an acceptable breakfast food.  (I ate my way through one batch last week all on my own.)

I also have some lemon-verbena herb-spiked sugar syrup in the fridge, from when I was trying to cut back my lemon verbena plant; it gives lemonade an extra kick.  And I’ve just finished a glass.

So, I am now about to enter my kitchen, where I will make the strawberry bars, and then make a shrimp and noodle salad to chill in the fridge while I stir up some strawberry-laced blancmange and a French take on a chocolate panna cotta.

Yes, this is as life should be.

Movie Crash Course: The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)

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This is a strangely, simply affecting fairy tale of a piece, about an elderly hotel doorman who loses his job.

No, that’s literally the entire plot.  Save for an epilogue which is so tacked-on that even the filmmaker confesses he threw it in at the last minute.

We never learn the name of our hero, a big Santa of a man; we never even hear him “speak”, there are no subtitles or intertitles in this simple film.  But his pride in his work is obvious – as he scurries hither and thither attending to his guests, he finds time to tend to his appearance, smoothing down his moustache and polishing off his uniform.

And he does look quite dapper. His uniform gives him an air of respectability in the little alley where he lives – when he heads home after work, the neighbors all greet him, children stop to watch him pass, ladies beating out their carpets stop so as not to sully his uniform. He is the unofficial mayor of his street.

He lives in a small apartment with a young woman – the film isn’t clear whether she is a daughter or a niece – who is preparing to marry a young man from elsewhere in their building. He takes such pride in his work, though, that he skips her actual wedding, promising that he will be at the reception afterward.

But that day, when he arrives at work, another man is minding the door. He is summoned to the hotel manager’s office and informed that because of his old age, he is being demoted – from now on he will serve as the washroom attendant.  It’s clear he sees it as an enormous blow.

His day as washroom attendant is demeaning drudgery.  But one of the real bummers is that he has to give up his magnificent doorman’s uniform – and he is so disturbed at this detail that he breaks back into the hotel after hours and steals it back, donning it to wear to his niece’s wedding reception.

He dresses back up in it as he leaves for work the next day, secretly changing in a nearby train station and leaving it in one of the station lockers before resuming his real drudgery.

But a neighbor has the idea to bring him some lunch that day, and discovers the truth of his new position.  By the time he heads for home – having retrieved the uniform and changed back into it – the news has spread through his alley, and his neighbors are all laughing at him.  His niece is crushed, his niece’s new husband worried that he’s demented. In despair, he flees back to the hotel, where the night watchman catches him in the act of returning the doorman’s uniform.  The night watchman takes pity and lets him go – but instead of returning home, our hero heads for the mens’ room, resigned to his fate. He eats a simple bowl of soup and then despondently tries to fall asleep right there, because what’s the point. The night watchman discovers him asleep there, and tenderly covers him with his coat.  The end.

But not so fast!

Here the filmmaker admits to taking an improbable turn into fairy tale, in one of the only intertitles in the entire piece.

Immediately following this notice, we are first treated to a series of hotel guests marvelling over an astonishing news piece about an eccentric millionaire who has just died. His will stated that his entire fortune would be left to the person in whose arms he happened to die – and by a stroke of luck, that person was the hero of our story.  And then the last several minutes of the film are a bunch of sheer wish fulfillment, as our hero, jolly once again, treats himself to an enormous meal and basks in the attention of the hotel waiters and footmen; as for the night watchman, he’s our hero’s guest.

Our hero even excuses himself to the restroom, and makes sure he gives the rabbitty little man working the washroom now an enormous tip.  He and the night watchman finally exit to a cab – a team of fawning hotel attendants following them – and ride into the sunset.

It wasn’t until writing this piece that I made the surprising discovery that this film had the same director as NosferatuThe tone of each film is enormously different.  Although, in retrospect, both films did rely more on actors’ facial expressions and gestures than on language; the actors in The Last Laugh are fantastically expressive, and I was easily able to follow the action.

I’m not sure how I feel about that epilogue, though.  It is right on the edge of feeling a little too fantastical; but, on the other hand, it’s really cheering to see our lead looking so happy again.

Movie Crash Course – La Roue

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French director Abel Gance attracted a lot of attention with this 1923 work.  Two notable directors from the newly-fledged Soviet film industry came to France just to thank him for it, and the French filmmaker Jean Cocteau later said that “there is film before La Roue and film after, just like there was painting before Picasso and then after.”  Originally, however, it was also pretty long – some estimates put it to nine hours – and Gance was forced to cut it down to a more audience-friendly two hours shortly after release.  Modern film critics and scholars have restored it to about five hours, which I’m not entirely convinced was the right idea.  But – that much film gives you ample evidence of Gance’s skill.

The story itself is a tragic love triangle, kicked off shortly after a train crash in Provence.  Ace engineer Sisif (Severin-Mars) rescues a toddler girl named Norma in the course of helping with the accident, and when he discovers that no one has claimed her in the aftermath, he guesses that she’s been orphaned and takes her home, raising her along with his son Ellie, whom he’s raising as a single father.

Fifteen years later, Norma has grown into a fun-loving and quirky young woman, who loves palling around with her brother and dressing up both herself and her pet goat for fun.

Ellie has become a somewhat studious luthier, but is charmed by his “little sister”‘s hijinks and at one point gushes to her that he hopes one day to marry a girl as lively and pretty as she.

Sisif, though, is starting to act a little funny – going out drinking after work, picking fights, and barricading himself in the living room at night.  He’s harboring a dark secret – he’s realized that he’s starting to fall in love with Norma, whom he’s never told that she’s adopted.  After a fight with a co-worker and a near crash on the job earns Sisif a reprimand, he finally confesses his secret to one of his colleagues, Hersan, swearing him to secrecy.

Hersan is also charmed by Norma, though, and agrees to keep Sisif’s secret on one condition – that he be allowed to marry Norma.  Sisif reluctantly agrees, and after a few weeks’ of persuasion, Norma finally assents as well. A heartbroken Sisif insists on driving the train that takes the couple to Paris, and nearly gets into a second accident on the way.  A few months later, Ellie finally learns Norma is his adopted sister, and realizes with a shock that he actually could have married her, instead of marrying a girl like her.  Sisif – still lovelorn for Norma – figures out Ellie’s secret, and the pair bond over their shared unresolved passion, turning themselves into a hell of a weird support group.

Norma – who is miserable herself in Paris, and feels no love for Hersan – pays the pair of them a surprise visit, only to have the pair turn her away – baffling her, since as far as she’s concerned, she’s Sisif’s daughter and Ellie’s sister. Dejected, she returns to Paris and takes up violin lessons, figuring that if Ellie won’t talk to her, at least she can study his favorite instrument. Sisif, meanwhile, is distracted enough that he gets into one final accident – during which his eyesight is damaged – and is finally demoted to running a dopey little tourist shuttle train at Mount Blanc. Ellie, also seeking to escape memories, tags along.

Father and son live together in a shack in the mountains for a year, diligently at work on their separate pursuits; they’ve agreed that neither will bring up Norma at home, but both separately and secretly are obsessed with her; Sisif thinking of her while working in the trainyard…

….and Ellie thinking of her while working on his violins.

The pair are each able to keep their obsession at bay, though; and each has something else to worry about as well. Since his accident, Sisif’s vision has continued to deteriorate, to the point that he fears he’ll go totally blind one day.  Ellie has a happier challenge – he has been perfecting his violin design, and one day a visiting virtuoso offers to play one of his creations for an invited audience of other musicians, in an effort to promote his designs. Happily, the concert is a smash success, and Ellie thinks his luck is turning – but then sees that Norma, who is there on vacation with Hersan, is in the audience.  Sisif soon learns Norma is in town as well, and father and son try to keep each other from contacting her.  But Ellie, in a desperate moment, makes a violin as a gift for Norma – just so that he can write out a full love letter to her and secretly paste it on the inside.  She’ll never see it, he writes in the note, but she will have it, and that will be comfort enough.

But then a couple days later, a suspicious Hersan breaks the violin in a rage – and finds the note. He storms to the shack to confront Ellie. And Ellie – by now probably glad that finally he can do something – proposes that they fight for Norma, and the pair set off to a remote cliff for a man-to-man contest. During the struggle, though, Ellie shoots Hersan in the stomach – then falls off the cliff, catching himself on a ledge below and hanging on for dear life.   Norma has followed Hersan to the shack, and she and Sisif are waiting when Hersan struggles in, makes a confession, and dies there in the room. Norma and Sisif rush to find Ellie – but just as Norma reaches the ledge where he is hanging, his grip loosens and he falls to his own death as well, leaving Norma to break the news to Sisif when he finally shows up.  He doesn’t take it well – he blames her and drives her away too.

The film glosses over the next couple years, during which Norma struggles with money following a botched execution of Hersan’s will.  Finally, she sneaks back to Sisif’s shack to beg forgiveness, but finds that his eyesight has been totally lost. So instead she spends a week secretly living there with him, quietly fixing things around the house, and earning her way back into his good will before revealing herself.  Sisif, too enfeebled and sad for his old obsession, takes her back.

The last sequence – set a few months later – is actually really lovely. Norma has been devotedly caring for Sisif, and some of her old spark is starting to come back. Then one day, a group of other young men and women invite her to an outdoor hiking and dance party they’re having in the mountains nearby. Norma isn’t sure about leaving Sisif alone, but he encourages her to go ahead. After a flash of her old quirkiness – she changes her mind about wearing a hat, and instead places it on the head of the family dog – she skips out to join the others, leaving Sisif sitting by the window, imagining her dancing happily with the other young men of the village. As he sits, realizing she is finally happy again, Sisif dies, at peace at last.

….Okay: in some places, this felt really long.  There were plenty of moments of characters’ reaction shots just running on way too long – too many shots of Sisif glowering in bars towards the beginning, too many seconds of characters looking into the camera and looking tortured. In the scene where Sisif’s eyesight is damaged, a minor character reacts as Sisif is taken to the doctor – and we are treated to a full fifteen seconds of him grimacing and wincing and biting his nails, watching Sisif be carried off.  I can only hope that the two-hour version cut those bits out.

But Gance also used some inventive surrealist techniques for some of his shots, and I’m hoping they stayed in. I’ve used some clips above, with double-images showing Norma’s face superimposed on violins or on smokestacks; another scene from Mont Blanc shows Ellie and Sisif at home, each retreating to opposite ends of the shack after dinner to work on their private tasks, and slowly the word “Norma” fades up into view between them, superimposed over the scene as a literal wedge between the pair. Gance also liked to use sequences with a lot of quick cuts, and one in particular was especially haunting – right before Ellie falls to his death, just as Norma is calling to him from the cliff’s edge, Gance intersperses shots of Ellie struggling to hold on with a lot of brief clips of the fun-loving, charming Norma from earlier in the film.  And it is only after this rapid-fire series of images of Ellie interspersed with clips of Norma that his grip loosens and he falls.  Which only served to make me wonder whether Ellie let go on purpose, a question I’m still struggling with.

State Of The Kim

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I’ve hinted at it, I’ve been all cryptic, finally I can come clean – My last day at my current job is Tuesday, and my first day at a new job is the following Monday.

Now, I like my current company itself.  I also like the people I work with.  The problem is, what I’m doing (human resources data processing) is something I didn’t have any experience in before starting, and am ultimately not that great at.  I wasn’t even supposed to be in that role as long as I was – I was supposed to keep watching for executive assistant roles and apply for them, so I could move into that instead.  And for two years I did exactly that.  However – that plan was kind of like the Underpants Gnomes on South Park: everyone overlooked the necessity of the middle step between my applying for a job and my moving into it, namely that I would have to be accepted into said job.  And that’s the bit that never happened.  I finally started looking outside my current company, and got accepted into a new place within about three or four months.

(Quick note – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the name of the place where I work.  I will not do so, nor will I mention the name of the new place; I don’t want there to be any perceived problem with anything I ever have, do, or will say on this blog.  I will say only that the current company is an NGO and the new company is a small development and housing non-profit startup.)

So that’s why I can’t do much traveling this summer; it isn’t that fair to be starting a new job in mid-June, and then take off for a week at the beach only one month later.  I also won’t have built up enough time off until September or so.  I have since learned that I’m being brought along to the company team meeting in upstate New York during my second week there (and this is the first time I’ve ever been considered worthy of inclusion at a team meeting, so I’m not entirely convinced this is really my life just yet), but any funtime travel is going to have to wait a while.  I knew that would probably be the case when I started my job hunt, however, so I have resigned myself to that.

But – the new job comes with something of a considerable improvement in pay over what I’m making now.  And it’s a very new startup in a shared-work space, so everyone’s walking around in jeans and polo shirts and khakis and t-shirts, so I can dress way more casually than I’ve had to.  And – and this is something I’m unnaturally excited about – I can walk to work.  It is a half-hour on foot from my apartment to the office, and even if I took a bus it would only save me five minutes.  So I have every intention of walking to and from work – I could leave home later, get home earlier, and take little exploratory detours or run errands on the way home (there is a major food mart opening up just a couple blocks off my route, and a Wegman’s will also open up a couple blocks in the other direction within two years).  And that’s also one hour of walking each day, five days a week.  So by the time I finally do go on some kind of trip, I will be richer, better rested, and in better shape, and I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna call that a win.

In the meantime: I have gone into a full-on DIY Home Decorating Mode.  I’ve tried making a couple of candles and I’ve stumbled upon several crafting sites that show you how to make erzatz Moroccan-style colored glass lanterns out of plain glass jars and paint.  That, plus the shibori-dying class I’ve signed up for, has sent me galloping into a plan to give my bedroom a slight “boho chic” makeover (which, really, is mainly going to translate into creating a few candle arrangements here and there, changing a couple lamps and then dumping a gabillion cushions on the bed).

And I’ll be getting back to the movies soon, of course; I’ve just been trying to get through the last couple weeks at the old job.  I’m doing a major cleanout of the file room as my Last Act And Legacy; it’s something I’ve desperately wanted to do for a year and a half (ever since we discovered one day that there was about a two year period when people didn’t actually file things in there, so much as “shove them into corners”), and that’s been a lot of lifting and toting and shoving and sorting and arranging, interspersed with cursing and grumbling.  At least four times now I’ve discovered a whole new pile of un-filed files, and opined to my coworkers that “I really feel like someone needs to die for doing this.”  Wishing others death is tiring work.

Summer Is Launched!

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Okay. We all know that summer technically doesn’t begin until late June.  But for most of us, it is unofficially in the national consciousness that “summer” begins on Memorial Day.  And I did have some good news to launch my summer into a good start (I’ll be able to share later), so I’m already in that mindset.  I’m still not going to be able to do much travel (and the news will explain why, I swear I’ll explain, please be patient), so I’m in a “playtime” mindset already.

And that brings in my friends Colin and Niki.  Or, rather, it brings in a habit the three of us have.  They travel a lot – they’re both freelancers, and Colin’s work in particular calls for a lot of travel – and they own a couple of rental properties so they can move around a bit.  And – they also own a car, which they are not always able to take with them – which means that it is in danger of being ticketed or towed if it isn’t occasionally moved to satisfy New York’s parking rules.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had quite so much of a chance to travel like they do (we will set aside my jealousy for the moment).  But – my being stuck at home means I am the perfect car-sitter.  So for the past few years, they have dropped off their car with me before they take off, and I can use it for whatever I like while they are in Honduras or Costa Rica or Newfoundland.  I’ve brought myself upstate for weekend trips, made big-ass Salvation Army or Ikea hauls, and have even used it for the journey home for Christmas when I had an assload of presents and the idea of wrestling things into a train gave me hives.  And except for one unfortunate evening where I had to visit an impound lot (i swear i thought i was outside the bus stop zone i’m still sorry guys) it’s worked well.

This summer, they told me they’re going to Montana and Colorado. But – they’re taking the car with them.  However, Niki had another idea to soften the blow – was I interested in borrowing her sewing machine?  And Niki used to make candles, but didn’t do it so much, and I’d been saying I’d be interested in taking anything she didn’t use, how about I do that too?

And thus, Niki and I spent an afternoon sitting on a floor as I sniffed my way through the contents of three enormous tubs full of essential oils (Niki had them by the quart, people) and made my various requests and she gave me a super-quick candlemaking 101 as she doled out bunches of wicks into different baggies.  Then she showed me how to thread the sewing machine, and we crammed everything into four bags and boxes and she called me an Uber to get it all home.

I’m going to have a tiny bit of a financial windfall soon (again, I promise, the news will epxlain it) and I’m already looking into ways to snazz up my bedroom a bit for summer. Still on a bit of a budget, though.  However – I’ve already found something from my summer bucket list – a shibori dye class in a couple weeks – and had to get something to be dyed in the class, and went with a couple of pillow cases.  But now that there’s the sewing machine, I’m thinking of just making way more cushion covers and pillow covers and just piling my bed with them.   And I just found a decent source of soy wax, and Niki sent me home with 3 boxes of containers for candles, and long story short, I’m already getting going on what is shaping up to be A Summer Of Making Shit.