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A Picnic in Japan

I’m traveling to Indonesia now and just watched this good Simon and Martina video. It’s 3:40 am in Jakarta on Tuesday. I left home at 10:30 am on Sunday and have one more flight to go so I’m too exhausted to write much, but once I’m caught up on sleep, expect some movie and a hotel reviews.

For now, learn about some interesting foods available in Japan and perhaps get some marriage tips.

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Downton Abbey, Season 6.6

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My reactions to the sixth episode of the final season of Downton Abbey. I’d say this was my favourite episode of the season due to all the humour.

  • As is true for the whole season, I find the clothing sumptuous and it made me want to work on my triceps.
  • Robert is out of the hospital and on the mend, but confined to bed all week.
  • This week the hoi poloi was allowed to trample through the Abbey to make money for the Hospital Trust. What a situation ripe for dissension and humour! Of course, Violet, Carson and Robert believed this was the end of civilisation and they did have a point. Even Edith (I think) later said having them come through made her feel like there was something strange so that people were willing to pay to gape at them so that their home was a bit like a zoo. What was most funny was how when Cora, Mary and Edith gave their tours they knew so little about the house’s history. It makes sense because they’ve grown so used to it. It’s just home. Still since they fight to keep it you’d expect them to know more.
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Don’t you just love these clothes?

  • Daisy continues to get on my nerves. Lately, Mr. Mason is growing sweet on Mrs. Patmore, who seems to return his feelings. Daisy does whatever she can to keep them apart. In this episode she throws a letter to Mrs. Patmore from Mr. Mason in the trash. Luckily, Mrs. Patmore finds it, but Daisy’s acting so oddly and there’s no reason for it–especially since Daisy hasn’t taken up Mr. Mason’s offer for her to live in his house, which would be a lot more more comfortable and pretty than the servants’ quarters. She’d still be able to work at the Abbey.
  • The storyline with the hospital progressed. The York Royal Hospital will take over the local hospital. What’s worse was that they’ve made Cora president of the hospital, and they’re sidelining Violet. Everyone kept that a secret from Violet till she discovered the truth via the grapevine. She was livid! The climax was Violet storming into the Abbey during the charity tour and blowing off steam with the acerbic wit we love her for.
  • Mary’s love life is moving along. With Tom as an escort, she met Henry Talbot at a dinner party in London. Afterwards, Tom disappeared and Henry and Mary got caught in the rain and shared a romantic kiss. She’s still concerned about his lack of status and his car racing, which reminds her of Matthew’s death.
  • Edith invited Bertie, the man who helped her get the magazine out in one night, for dinner at the Abbey. She even showed him her “ward” Marigold. Finally Mary is on to the truth that Marigold is Edith’s daughter. Rather than directly asking Edith, which she really can’t go since she’s got such a rotten relationship with her sister or asking her parents, she’s trying to get the truth out of Anna and Tom. I really applaud their loyalty to Edith as neither spilled the beans.
  • Poor Thomas. He’s teaching Andy, who’s illiterate, to read. Yet Mrs. Patmore and Carson have seen Andy coming out of Thomas’ room so they’ve reached the conclusion that Thomas is corrupting Andy. Well, Thomas has been cold and conniving so people don’t expect him to be kind so in part, you reap what you sow, but it’s still too bad. He’s being pushed out the door. It’s understandable because the family has to make cut backs, but now it seems, that he’s getting pushed out because  Thomas has been misunderstood. He promised Andy he’d keep his illiteracy a secret so out of honour he can’t tell. What a dilemma.
  • Mr Carson continues to nitpick his new bride Mrs Hughes over her cleaning and cooking skills. She must have known how to make a bed to have progressed in her early career, yet it’s not good enough for Mr Carson, who has no tact. Unfortunately, rather than raising the issue, Mrs Hughes has been stewing. I predict she’ll explode next week. We’ll see.
  • Dexter, who deserves to be out of a job at the Dowager’s, coerced Spratt into pleading her case with Violet. He succeeded, but as is the case with blackmail, he’s still on the hook. Dexter will tell the world that he hid his nephew, who was fleeing the law. Yes, Spratt broke the law, but Dexter is so manipulative it’s dangerous.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Written by Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall goes into uncharted territory for novels of the 19th century, I’ve read.  The story follows Helen, a smart, beautiful heroine who sets her cap for Arthur Huntington, a handsome rake. Despite her aunt’s warnings, Helen insists on marrying this manipulative cad.

Most of the book is narrated by Gilbert Markham a prosperous landowner. I thought this was original as most stories of this sort either have an omniscient or female narrator.

When the story opens there’s a great deal of mystery. Mrs. Graham, an aloof woman moves into the countryside with her young son. She keeps a distance from the people in the community, but attracts Gilbert Markham. As he tries to get closer to Helen, she pulls back though it’s clear she’s attracted. To explain herself, she gives Gilbert her diaries so that he can understand why she tries to live so secretively. It also gets her to take the narrative reins.

We learn that Helen’s husband has been abusive and callous from the start of their marriage. Arthur is an alcoholic, gambler and philanderer. Brontë, who’s brother fought several addictions, shows the darker side of 19th century. It was a time when there was a lot of addiction, gambling, and disrespect towards women, who had little freedom or options.

While the heroine was sometimes too Puritanical and rather icy, it’s an understandable response to her husband’s behavior. I appreciated how different the story was from an Austen or Gaskell book.  For more commentary on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, you can listen to the Midday Connection Bookclub podcast.

Mr. Selfridge, Season 3, Ep. 6

SPOILER ALERT

A lot happened this week!

I can’t believe they killed off Doris! Was this necessary? She’s been off screen for two years, married to an ungrateful whiner. They bring her back and reveal that an indiscretion with a school friend, has resulted in her first son and a lie to her husband Mr. Groves.

Doris confided in Miss Mardle, who was involved with Mr Groves before Doris came into the picture. Miss Mardle suggested Doris talk with this friend and let him see his son. Now what will happen? Yes, killing Doris in a car accident opens up a lot of possibilities with the story, but she doesn’t have to resolve this with Mr. Groves. He can now whine some more and perhaps get back with Josie, a.k.a Miss Mardle. I’d hope she doesn’t fall back in with Groves. She’d have to quit her job, which is fine for the right man, to take care of his brood, which doesn’t seem her strong suit. I think she’d go crazy at home, taking care of small children.

This week against Mr. Crabb’s advice, Harry sells some of his shares in the store so he can build a number of homes for WWI veterans. Now he doesn’t have a majority stake (as was the case with the real Harry). Nancy’s conning Harry and stringing him along. So he’s going to lose big soon. The Nancy story isn’t recounted in Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction, & Mr Selfridge so I don’t think it’s historical. It is suspenseful, but I’d like to see Harry less of a victim. The season began with Rose’s funeral, now this? I know the real Mr Selfridge wound up penniless, but I wish they’d postpone that. I do hope Nancy and her partner get their just desserts, i.e. jail time. I wish Mama Selfridge would look into Nancy Webb through the store’s information bureau.

Gordon hired, Pierre Longchamp to replace Henri. (I do miss Henri and Agnes. Again, I think they could have enriched the story by staying.) Longchamp’s arrogant and individualistic. He’s quite creative, but doesn’t think how his ideas and lack of communication impact the store. Gordon made a major faux pas by approving Pierre’s window display. It was to include something French. Rather than seeming out of it and asking for particulars, the newly promoted and very green, Gordon gave Pierre carte blanche. Little did he know he was approving a window featuring women in their undies. Quite a scandal for the era! Mr. Groves saw the trouble brewing and gleefully waited for disaster. Yet it was averted as the striking window brought in the crowds.

Pierre seems less refined and far more arrogant and immature than Henri, or anyone who should run this department. He’ll bring more trouble to Selfridge’s I fear. In this episode he just annoyed me, though his tree display was clever.

Despite her father telling her to stay out of trouble and avoid Victor, defiant Violette can’t help but rebel. When she spoke of not having a purpose, Harry did convince her to help Nancy with the homes for veterans. At first she wanted to do something administrative, but Nancy wants no one looking too closely at this con so she had Violette organize a charity dance, which was a big success. As the party round down Violette slipped off to see Victor, but was turned away at the door. She doesn’t seem like a woman who takes no for an answer though. I do wonder what’ll happen when Violette discovers Nancy’s a con artist. I’d like to see her take on Nancy. It’d be a good way for Violette to come into her own and not be a rich, bratty vixen. She was such a quiet girl in the previous seasons.

Victor might as well join the mafia. He’s continuing on the slippery slope with his night club. So much for the Italian restaurant he was going to start last year. Now for him to open he has to pay the dirty cop three times what was asked earlier. Rather than going out of business, he agrees to let Mike Reagan open a gambling den in the back. George is shocked when he finds out. I think he should go back to work for Harry since Victor’s place is sure to be raided again.

Grantchester

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When it first was broadcast, I didn’t bother with Grantchester. I’m not a fan on the Father Brown series and I thought it might be of the same ilk. (Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey at my aunt’s rehab center. Visitors must leave at 9pm.)

I’ve seen the lead actor in Happy Valley, where he plays a rapist, kidnapper, drug user and murderer. So seeing James Norton as a vicar, even a vicar who drinks and is quite a stretch.

But I’ve seen 4 episodes so far and I like this show. It’s not a top of the line must-see series, but it’s better than most and watching the young vicar grapple with war memories and pine for his true love, while trying to do the right thing by Hildegard, a lovely widow whom he’s dating does capture my interest.

The big problem with a detective series set in the country, and not the drug infested modern country town we see in Happy Valley, is how many murders do you expect occur in such a place? In the town I grew up in there was one. One murder in 30 years. In the town I’m in now I don’t think there’s been even that. Still so far the show has managed to be convincing and one of the cases took place in London and was plausible in why the vicar would have to solve it.

After getting hooked on Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, I’ve gotten to a point where I think post-WWII is quite modern. Almost too modern for my liking, still Grantchester has been well worth watching.

I wonder if Amanda will call off her wedding or if Sidney will declare his love for her. I think Sunday’s episode is the finale.

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 5

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I thought episode 5, hummed along a bit faster than previous episodes. The big news was that Grigson’s death was confirmed and Edith was grief-stricken. Mary was her usual icy self. She seems to have lost any warmth she had when Matthew was alive. Yes, she and Edith are rivals, but most sisters form alliances every now and then. Mary has no women friends (well, no one on the show does, which seems odd) and shows zero compassion for anyone other than herself. (Which may be why she didn’t think twice of making Anna take her birth control and its manual home with her.)

Thus I fully understand why Edith ran to the farmers house, grabbed her daughter Marigold and fled. Life around Mary and the others who’re absorbed with their own little problems. Episode 6 should offer a lot of action for Edith.

Mr. Bates discovered the birth control and its manual and confronted Anna. In the end Anna explained they belonged to Mary, but Bates couldn’t fathom why Lady Mary, a widow, would need them. (Remember the “sketching trip,” Bates. Not everyone is truthful.) He’s holding a grudge against Anna.

There was a little thawing between Cora and Robert, who’s still angry about finding an art historian in his wife’s bedroom. Seems fair enough and Cora could have chucked that bounder out in a flash rather than going back and forth listening to Bricker spout off about her beauty and charm. No real damage was done and Robert’s sure to come round.

Mrs. Patmore looked into buying a cottage and that’s inspired Carson to think of buying property — with Mrs. Hughes. Love seems to be simmering under the surface, which is nice, but seems forced by the writer.

Mary’s second suitor Mr. Blake is matchmaking between Lord Gillingham and Mable Whoever. He connived to get them together at the equestrian event. It’s a little far fetched, but will probably work. I had feared that Gillingham was out for revenge and would spread rumors (well the truth) about Mary to besmirch her reputation. Seems that won’t happen.

Violet’s hired a new lady’s maid who’s very set in her ways and unwilling to abide by the customs of this house. If I were Violet, I’d just dismiss her. If the woman’s already a problem, it’s unlikely she’ll change her spots.

Rose is getting closer with Atticus Aldridge, a fine gentleman, whose only problem (for her parents I’ll bet) is that he’s Jewish. The show has brought up that Cora’s half Jewish this season and that’s a shock the Abbey inhabitants have absorbed, but my hunch is this will be an issue. The youngest woman in the cast is bound to marry someone who’s unacceptable; it goes with the territory.

The episode featured an important horse race, called a point to point or steeplechase. Mary competed and this time she explained why she rides side saddle, though most women rode astride since the end of the Victorian era. It seems her grandmother, Violet, would never let her hear the end of it if Mary rode astride.

Poems of the Week

Never give all the Heart

By William Butler Yeats
Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

love is more thicker than forget
e.e. cummings

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

Sepia Saturday: Valentine’s Special

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, Sepia Saturday bloggers are digging through archives to find fitting photos.

I liked this series of Valentines cards that show the bliss and pitfalls of young love from Norway’s National Library’s collection. Date unknown.

You can see more Valentine-inspired posts, click here.

Downton Abbey, Season 5 Premiere

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After months and months of hype and waiting, Downton Abbey’s fifth season began in the U.S. It’s a favorite show of mine, but I’ve never seen so much promotion. For crying out loud I saw three ads for Downton on CBS’ Sunday Morning — they’re in competition. CBS just had one promo for The Good Wife, which is on opposite Downton. Did PBS advertise on other networks as well?

It felt good to see the familiar faces of the Crawley clan and their servants. The costumes are always stunning. Julian Fallows offered his usual fare: verbal digs from the Dowager Countess, plots from Thomas, Cora going along with most everything, light moments with Mosely, Edith unsure and worried, and Mary capably preparing to take over the reins of Downton while mulling over her suitors.

Fallows packed a lot into the episode, which picked up where the last one left off although I was surprised that while the adults haven’t aged much, the children’s ages seem to have doubled. We learned that little Sybil calls her grandfather “Donk” as in donkey. How perfect! I love children’s names for grandparents and this one will keep Robert humble.

SPOILERS

While dedicated fans have already seen the new episode, let me note the following comments contain spoilers .

I’m glad that Miss Baxter told Cora that Thomas was using her and confessed that she’s been to jail for theft. Cora was discrete and fair with Baxter, who now can work without constantly worrying about Thomas.

  • There was no revelations about Bates. Perhaps he killed Anna’s rapist; perhaps he didn’t. It’s hard to say.
  • Edith seems to visit her daughter Marigold at the farmer’s house quite a lot. The farmer’s wife suspects that Edith’s got eyes for her husband, but I’d think these visits would be conspicuous to neighbors too. Alternative theories would come up and someone would get it right. Anyway, the husband’s sharp and he proposes the visits stop and agrees for a new story to explain them, because Edith can’t stop. Funny that she spends more time with her daughter than Mary does with her son, George.
  • Edith’s going to blow it. We all know that. The idea to bring Marigold to England was foolish and too tempting. I do have sympathy for Edith, but it irks me to see foolishness in any form. I’d love to see Edith get some gumption and hard as it is, send her daughter back to Switzerland. Then she should find a life’s passion and throw herself into it. Be a victor, not a victim, Edith!
  • Lord Gillingham visited Downton to woo Mary. Blake’s no where to be seen and Mary seems like the “out of sight, out of mind” type of woman. Any thought of Blake was fleeting. She’s agreed to go off with Lord G. to see if they’re compatible. I’m not sure that’s really historically accurate. Besides a week’s vacation isn’t a great way to learn about a person, especially when you’re traveling first class insulated from life’s trials and tribulations. The tryst is to be hush hush, but all secrets come out on TV. Seems to me there are other ways to gather the information Mary seeks. Also, is this going to be like the horrendous Bachelorette show? Will Mary give Blake a similar week?
  • Daisy’s starting to try to learn math. She’s struggling, but hats off to her for trying to take charge of her life. It’s funny how the high ranking staff had a pow wow about this. Carson and Mrs. Patmore worry that it’s too stressful for Daisy who already has a good job, in their opinion, while Mrs. Hughes supports Daisy’s desire to get more education.
  • As a surprise, Rose decides to invite the teacher Tom befriended to Cora and Robert’s 35th anniversary dinner. This Miss Bunting sets my teeth on edge. Throughout the evening she makes controversial statements such as questioning the need to remember the heroes of WWI (which we still do 100 years hence) and tries to cause trouble. She lacks the awareness to know that you can disagree, but you needn’t be rude and rabble rousing only rouses rabble. Tom’s just embarrassed and it took every ounce of patience and decorum for Robert not to toss this guest out on her tush. Miss Bunting was just boorish and self-serving. Her aim was to stir things up so she could then confirm her prejudices about the upper class. I really don’t like her and would love it if Fallows dropped her from the series, but I do doubt that. I fear Miss Bunting will go after Tom. What a pain!
  • Romance was on the horizon for Isobel Crawley, but Violet interfered as only she can. Violet does not want Isobel (Matthew’s mother) to marry a lord and gain status. So she hosted a big lunch inviting Dr. Clarkson, who’s sweet on Isobel and a beautiful widow who might divert Lord Whoever’s eye’s away from Isobel. It’s too soon to know whether that worked.
  • Robert’s nose got out of joint because the town committee wants Mr. Carson to lead the committee on the WWI memorial. Carson was as if not more upset by this unusual choice. My everything’s in flux!
  • Jimmy’s old employer showed up and they had a thing in the past, which gets rekindled. Almost literally.
  • The show ended with a house fire starting in Edith’s room. I’m not sure what happened. Did Edith try to burn that book with Gregson’s writing in it? Anyway Thomas was lurking in the halls trying to get dirt on Mary and to act as a lookout for Jimmy when he noticed smoke coming from Edith’s room. He swooped in and rescued Lady Edith, thus securing his job, which was on the line since his plot against Miss Baxter was discovered. I like justice so it would be fine with me if Thomas were fired. They can always bring in another devious footman and show Thomas in town, plotting against the family. I’m sure blackmail is in his skill set, as Lady Mary may learn.

I think Fallows could have made more of the fire. It was hard to believe the fire department could get their as fast as they seemed to and even with Robert and Tom’s quick response, I’m surprised there wasn’t more damage.

The Ladies’ Paradise, Au Bonheur des Dames

Ladies Paradise

In November my book club read Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames which Bill Gallagher’s BBC TV series The Paradise was based on. I loved this book!

It’s quite a bit different, and darker than the BBC program. Denise, the heroine, comes to Paris after her father dies with her two brothers. They’d tried to make ends meet for a year after their father died, but finally had to see they’d never stay afloat in the countryside. Besides Jean, Denise’s teenage brother was dabbling in some dangerous liaisons that were getting him into trouble. Throughout the novel Denise faces greater hardships with higher stakes since her brothers depend on her financially than Denise Lovett on TV.

When they arrive at their uncle’s home cum shop, they find out he’s been having tough times like all the little shops due to the emergence of a white marble monster that’s revolutionizing and ravaging commerce. The Paradise keeps growing and Zola depicts it as a machine that almost has a life. It’s a machine that consumes — its employees, its rivals and in some cases its customers who spend more than they can afford. The machine creates strife and desire and seems unstoppable.

Denise is intrigued by the store and there is no where else for her to work. The uncle has a wife, daughter, shop assistant, who’s engaged to his daughter, and some servants. Zola shows a lot about the toll that the price wars with The Ladies’ Paradise, much more than in the TV program. Here lives are a t stake as I’m sure they really were.

In the store, the rivalry and back stabbing is high pitched. Most of the staff sleeps around and plot to get promotions by betraying colleagues. There’s little friendship in the store. The shoppers also seem to jockey for social position, which is all the more noted and crucial based on what you buy and where you shop. Those at the top of the social stratum have their own dressmakers and feel a sting when they learn that these dressmakers now get their silk from The Paradise.

Stealing is a huge problem and even wealthier women can’t resist and get caught. Pregnant women were drawn to stealing the most. Yet there is an attraction to the lush fabrics and fashions. Zola masterfully sets up a tension between the enticing beauty of the goods and the disastrous consequences the emporium has on the other shops. The Paradise gobbles up the neighborhood as it expands. We also see how wonderful the handmade goods were, how you could buy an umbrella with a hand-carved handle that looked like a parrot or some whimsical creature.

While I’ve enjoyed the BBC series, I found Zola’s writing, which I’ve been told isn’t his best, to be absorbing and exciting. I now want to read all 20 of his novels in his series Les Rougon-Macquart which chronicles the history of the legitimate and illegitimate sides of a French family.

According to my sources (i.e. Wikipedia) Octave Mouret’s family figures into the earlier books. Yet you can pick this novel up and not feel you missed anything.

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