Monday, 29 September 2008

Cherry tomatoes in Minas Tirith??

A quiet night in, and Mr Fishwife and I were mildly at a loss so, as you do, we went for The Previously Watched Old Faithful, Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. The great thing about a film you have seen a million times (well, it's big! And the special effects are amazing! And Gollum's so real!) is that you can read a book at the same time, eat a plate of roast chicken off your lap, generally fail to pay attention at all, and still enjoy it, interrupted occasionally by Mr Fishwife's nerdy cries of "Frodo? At Osgiliath? Not in my copy of the book, oh no." and "Elves?? At Helm's Deep?? I think not!!". Unless, as I did, you look up at a dramatic moment and notice, for the first time, the fact that Denethor, Steward of Gondor, while curtly sending his less-favoured son to almost certain death, is eating a plate of cherry tomatoes.

So there we have it. Photographic evidence. Now it's not the fact of the cherry tomatoes themselves, although I personally think a mouthful of rare steak would have been more apposite, and blood oozing down his chin a better (if more obvious) cinematic counterpoint to the doomed battle in which Faramir finds himself, than a mouthful of tomato juice. My point, my big thing point, is that I am now unable to watch the film without wondering where in Gondor they have the poly-tunnels necessary for the successful cultivation of cherry tomatoes in such a mountainous and rocky habitat? And given the fairly merciless appearance of the terrain, couldn't better use be made of the land than frivolously market gardening? Wouldn't potatoes be a better bet? Nobody looks that rich in Minas Tirith - are the cherry tomatoes just a perk for the Stewards? In which case Aragorn returned to take up kingship not a moment too soon.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Magic Number - and other nostalgia trips

Foofing about on YouTube the other day, as one does, and I was amazed by how much stuff there is that isn't music videos (grammar). Thank god that out there somewhere are people as nerdy as me (but in a different way), joyfully uploading every crackly VHS tape of Blake's 7 or Button Moon (although try as I may, I can't find a clip of Avon snarling "Hit that button... NOW!!"), uploading their entire 1960s record collection, and having to illustrate it with a two and a half minute shot of the record sleeve or, odder still, the stereo equaliser, because items such as "You Don't Have To Be a Baby to Cry" by the Caravelles are too old to have a video. AAAAAAnyway - While searching for Kermit singing "It Isn't Easy Being Green", a truly sweet and poignant little hymn to self-acceptance that, even at the age of 5, made me want to hug him, I came across this...

...which took me right back to being a small child again. I grew up (till the age of 8, anyway) in Canada, and Sesame Street was the flat-out all-round best thing ever. This, people, is how I know my three times table, and even these days I still sing "3, 6, 9... 12, 15, 18..." when counting something in threes. I never had a problem with turning thirty because as far as I'm concerned, Thirty is the big strong scary one you wouldn't mess with.
I have no idea how they managed to be so educational without being obvious or preachy, because children know when they're getting a nasty spoonful of education in a sugar coating - somehow they just seemed to make it effortless and fun. I could still sing you the theme tune, although given that I've forgotten the second verse of "O Canada" that's probably just a sign of a selective memory rather than a highly-developed one.
Far more arcane, as childhood TV habits go, are the all-but-forgotten Kid Power, which I can still also sing the theme tune from, The Osmonds, which implanted forever in a geek pub-quiz way the names of all the Osmond brothers but for unknown reasons missed Marie out altogether, and The Jackson 5ive, similar, but in hindsight far creepier. What was with the cartoonising of pop bands in the 70s? Was it supposed to simultaneously render them more popular and less sexy? Thank god they never thought of doing that with Gary Glitter.
Thank you for reading! This episode of "Life Happens Between Books" was brought to you by the letter N and the number three. "Sunny day, chasin' the clouds away... on my way to where the air is sweet..."

Monday, 22 September 2008

"Interesting even if not true"

Once again, a post about my heroes - here are three more. They are Northrop Frye, Luca Turin and Harold McGee. They are united by the fact that they write about things I love (respectively: fiction, perfume and cooking) without themselves being involved in the end product. That is to say, Northrop Frye has written many wonderful and thoroughly accessible books about the structure and theory of literature without actually writing a novel, Luca Turin has done the same for perfume and also engineered several synthetic components for perfume without actually creating a finished product, and Harold McGee was pretty much single-handedly responsible for the phenomenon that is "molecular gastronomy"by writing so clearly and interestingly about the science of cookery that it's only a miracle we're not all whipping up meat mousse and sugar caviar. And all this without ever owning a restaurant. When I first read his seminal (and breeze-block sized) On Food and Cooking I had to be forcibly restrained from discussing with bored strangers the difference between real coffee (a suspension), instant coffee (a solution) and tea (an infusion). It's the sign of a really great theoretician that they can write about something you love in as interesting and inspiring a way as the actual practitioners can (and often more so!). To paraphrase something Luca Turin says in The Secret of Scent, there are three kinds of theoretical writing: that which is boring if true (ie written solely for people doing a PhD in the subject), that which is interesting if true, and that which is interesting even if not true. Which in a nutshell sums up Things I Like Reading. And is another factor that unites them - the ability to find things interesting and fun.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Time after time after time

(This one's not about perfume!)

I'm re-reading the strange and deeply wonderful "Time And Again" by Jack Finney, whose take on time travel is this: if you put somebody into the clothes of, for example, 1890, in a room authentically furnished and gas-lit as it would have been in 1890, with a view that is exactly what one would have seen in 1890, then a combination of self-hypnosis and "spirit of place" will send them back to 1890. When they get up from the chair they are sitting in and walk out of the front door, they will indeed be back in 1890. Or 1410, or 1972, or whatever date they're trying to get to.
I love this idea - after all, when are you ever going to be able to disprove it? You may be in a National Trust property where a Tudor bedroom has been lovingly recreated, but how likely is it that you'll be alone, wearing Tudor clothes and not seeing a National Trust van or gift shop outside the window?
I had lunch with my family last week, and was reminded once again that my grandmother and I share the same (somewhat naive) view, which is "Isn't it great that science hasn't yet disproved everything?" (ie ghosts, the afterlife, some form of deity, etc) - my stepdad, on the other hand, is a fervently rational atheist and was just starting to (mildly) use words like "twaddle" when I reminded him that of course he would say that, because he's an Aquarius.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Perfume again

Just received in the morning post a REVIEW COPY, I'll say that again because I'm so delighted with it, A REVIEW COPY, which means FREE, FREE, FREE, AND I DIDN'T PAY FOR IT, of a book I have been wanting to get my hands on since I saw it reviewed in the paper last weekend: "Perfumes - the guide" by the patron saint of scents and potions Luca Turin. I just realised that I'm so excited that that was all one sentence, so here is another full stop for you. Breathe deeply, my lovelies.
The book itself is a collection of reviews of over 1500 perfumes, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and while it's handy for a little pat on the back (Mitsouko, one of my lifelong favourites, gets five stars and "the best fragrance ever"), it is also completely unputdownable for the all-round brilliance of the bad reviews. A perfume I won't name (people have been sued for less) gets this : "A chemical white floral so disastrously vile words nearly desert me. If this were a shampoo offered with your first shower after sleeping rough for two months in Nouakchott, you'd opt to keep the lice." Another, more concise: "Teensy-weensy cutesy-pie floral of the worst vintage" and, finally, pithy and to the point: "Death by jasmine".
It also poses the big questions that keep us all awake at night, such as "What is chypre without oakmoss?" and "Since the restriction of benzyl salicylates, have floral perfumes been the same?". I honestly don't know how I've lived without this book for so long. I apologise to all non-scentophiles for the single note of this post and will post on a more general note next time. I leave you with the masterful review for Coty Miss Sixty : "Ideal if you intend to be a Miss at sixty".

Herewith Mitsouko. A treasure.