Sunday, October 30, 2011

Abyssinia, I'll be seein' ya

What I've just read: The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, a novel about an Ethiopian immigrant in Washington, D.C., and Beneath the Lion's Gaze, a novel about an Ethiopian family during the political turmoil of the 1970s. Oh, and a series of long Wikipedia articles about Haile Selassie, the Derg, and Ge'ez.

What I'm reading right now: Eating the Flowers of Paradise, a travelogue about a trip through Ethiopia and Yemen in search of qat.

What I'm going to read next: Cutting for Stone, a novel set in India, Ethiopia and New York.

My grandma always said that pleasure has three parts: looking forward to it, experiencing it, and remembering it. From my recent reading habits, you can guess I've got a trip to Ethiopia coming up (in late December/early January, just in time for Orthodox Christmas). I don't know what the actual experience or the memories will be like, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the anticipation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Phony King of England

These past few weeks I've been rediscovering some old loves--blogging, I guess, but also Modest Mouse and Sharon Kay Penman's historical fiction and cottage cheese. I could eat cottage cheese all day long. When I was little and my family went out to eat at Ruby Tuesday (we were high-class people, clearly), I would order the salad bar and then load a plate full of cherry tomatoes and cottage cheese. Yum.

The biggest rediscovery, though, is audiobooks, specifically a little site called Librivox: free audiobooks in the public domain, read by volunteers. It neatly combines my love of reading, multitasking, and free things, with a tiny dash of the ridiculous, since the volunteers are often trying to practice their English: with Librivox, I used to listen to The Portrait of a Lady read by someone with a heavy Chinese accent while I ran endless miles training for a half marathon. Don't knock it if you haven't tried it.

Fast forward to now. I have a whole shelf of books I've bought but never read, and since Mike is obsessed with seeing the "finished" stack grow, I've promised that I'll actually work on my shelf. (It needs no more description, in this house: "my shelf" is enough.) Since I haven't been reading as much this year due to a certain New Year's resolution, Librivox is a great way to catch up on my backlog and, little by little, clear the shelf.

So I'm listening to Ivanhoe, a book I bought at 13 and have been meaning to read ever since, and I have to say, I'm a little surprised at how entertaining it is, considering how many times I've started and rejected it in the past. The prose is pretty florid, but there's a decent adventure story under all the 19th century romanticism, and besides, who can resist a good Robin Hood reference? I didn't know before how many of the current Robin Hood legends came from Ivanhoe, and I was pleasantly surprised to suddenly be hearing the old stories about Prince John and King Richard the Lionheart and Robin of Locksley trouncing all challengers in a shooting contest. I found myself picturing the scenes in my mind's eye, more than I usually do: Prince John, wily and incompetent, with his crown falling down around his eyes; King Richard, big, bluff, blond, and lionlike; Robin Hood, a brilliant archer but somewhat wobbly on his long, spindly legs...

Wait. Spindly legs? Lions? Prince John's crown falling over his ears? As it turns out, all of my images of the Robin Hood story are taken straight from Disney.  Not that that's a bad thing: Disney's version is a lot funnier than Sir Walter Scott's, and I have to admit to mild disappointment when Ivanhoe's tournament scene didn't end with rhino guards running wild. That scene always cracks me up. 

(A note on the video, if you click through: it's in Danish. This is partly because it's the best version I could find, and partly because of a game that I got from my friend Alea, where you try to find clips from Disney in their "original" language. You know--The Jungle Book in the original Hindi.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the original French. Hercules in Greek, Mulan in Chinese, Pocahontas in Algonquian. I couldn't find Robin Hood in Early Middle English, so Danish, being the original homeland of the Jutes, will have to suffice.)

So there I am, listening to Ivanhoe via Librivox and imagining one of my favorite childhood movies. It's like a smorgasbord of old loves! Next time I'll throw in some cottage cheese as a snack.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I'm not dead. I feel fine. I feel happy!

I'm still alive, and I still, in some sense, have a blog, though I have to admit I was a little surprised when my Blogger login credentials worked.

(That is, until I remembered that I can just use my Google account. See how long it's been since I've blogged?)

It seems like every blog I check in on these days is dead or dying. Maybe that's the way of the world, but it makes me a little sad. Reading back through some of my old posts, I think--oh yeah, this was fun. So let's keep doing it, ok?

Outside my window right now is a neighbor shouting, "Where are you?" She repeated it several times, louder and slower each time, until she finally spelled it out: Where W-H-E-R-E are A-R-E you Y-O-U? I hope she learns where her interlocutor is, because I'd like to go to bed soon.

So where am I? We're living in North Oakland these days, not far from where I lived when I wrote this post. Unfortunately, we're on the wrong side of the tracks through an already transitional neighborhood, which means lots of noise. Noise and pot smoke. But hey, rent is cheap, and who doesn't love a contact high on a Saturday night?

I'm still at working at my unnamed Internet company, and it's still fantastic. Not just the perks and benefits, though those are pretty great, or even the people--awesome, every last one--but the work! I moved to a different role at the company about six months ago, and now I'm an internet payments fraud analyst. Doesn't that sound like a real job? It totally does, and so corporate, too. Who would have thought I'd enjoy any sort of corporate work? Not me. And yet I still wake up excited every morning for the problems I'm going to tackle that day. I'm like a recruiting informercial or something, but I swear I'm not joking. Clearly, I'm not leaving it for law school anytime soon.

I'm still married, and it's still fantastic. You know, just to make sure I don't rave about my job more than my marriage. Marriage has its own perks and benefits, I guess, though it's pretty hard to beat three gourmet meals a day.

Not much has really changed for me in the last, oh, year or so, and in general I just feel far more boring than I used to be. I still read a lot. I've convinced Mike that traveling is a good thing (we just went to Singapore and Indonesia, and we're planning a trip to Ethiopia this winter) and he's convinced me that I can tolerate backpacking. (The California coast is beautiful, so much so that it's almost--dare I say it?--worth hiking!) I'm not an early morning seminary teacher anymore, thank goodness, though my new calling comes with its own irritations. (Meetings, meetings, meetings! I'm definitely not corporate enough yet to enjoy endless meetings.)

So that's me. What about you?