Reading: Before the Feast

Some books live with me for a long time. They get free rental in the back of my mind, while I think them over. I think “Before the Feast” by Saša Stanišić will be one of those books. Foxes, wolves, characters who shift from the living to people living after death. Trickster characters, and others who seem to be tricking themselves. It’s a diverting read about an insular town where things happen, but not much changes.

After finishing the book, it felt complete, and yet there are open questions. What escaped from the archive? What will happen to all the people once the feast is set in motion? Who are the wolves and who is the narrator? And I think that’s why the book will continue to live with me. I’m still wondering why/what/when something happened, and I’ll probably re-read it in a month.

I tried the book first in the original German, slogged through surprising sentences, and then turned with relief to Anthea Bell’s translation. You can find the translation here: at Powell’s Books and at The Ivy Bookshop . Here is the book review (in English) that inspired me to seek it out: article by Christoph Schröder.

Kittens get bigger

One of my Dad’s argument against getting a kitten was that the kitten wouldn’t be small for long. As a child, I thought that having a kitten grow up was the point. I may have secretly hoped to adopt a tiger by mistake, so I could have protection from the angry dog at a house I walked past on the way to grammar school.

Raphael turned 10 months old this May the Fourth. He is busy ensuring that his big sister doesn’t get too much peace and quiet. Sometimes they both curl up on different surfaces for a long drowse. With the world being a little weird these days, I’m glad he’s in my life.

  • Even if I wear a mask to drop him off at the vet’s like it’s a clandestine exchange.
  • Even if he’s a pain sometimes (wires… those on the VCR are wonderful and worth pawing and pulling).

When I’m not working, conjugating verbs for class, swearing at the sewing machine or trying to knit, I’m busy playing with the kitten. Because they do get bigger, and now’s the time to teach him how to play with humans with his stabby claws sheathed.

Beehive springs and more

We’ve been getting to the root of the problems with my Singer 404 slant needle sewing machine. First: there was a thorough cleaning. Top thread snaps. Second: disassemble more of the machine.

First few bits of tension. Hah!

Reassemble the tension mechanism for the top of the machine and test it (perfect). Do a test run with a new needle. Thread snaps. Third: investigate the guts of the machine to discover that the timing is off. Several of the screw threads in the undercarriage are suspiciously rough. Reassemble everything. Thread snaps. (There’s a theme!) Continue reading ‘Beehive springs and more’

Like an Agatha Christie movie set

Photo of pink and white azalea shrubs under a white dogwood.
Spring is sprung

One neighborhood I take my walks in is filled with azaleas, blooming dogwoods, and green grass in front of Tudor row homes, or 1930s modern twins.

I chat with neighbors (they from their safety of their front stoops, and me on the broken sidewalk), comparing where their gardens are compared to last year. We’ve all agreed that it is too cold to put in tomato or pepper plants. Mostly, one gardener has said he’s waiting on the plants, but it’s too cold to plant them so he isn’t worried about the delay. Since I lack gardening knowledge, I agree because it’s easier.

On the other side of the street, wisteria blooms on an arbor, and the tulips bob on their stems, looking like colorful lollipops. I’ve seen white throated sparrows, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, and cowbirds. Squirrels race along fence posts. And everywhere, I have this uneasy feeling I just missed Hercule Point and Captain Hastings walking up a path and into one of the houses.

I’ve spent a little time wondering why I have so many Agatha Christie references on this blog. Perhaps it’s because I first read the books in my late teens? My favorite Agathas are any of the Tommy and Tuppence stories and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Any favorites on your shelf? I’m dipping my toe into eBooks, and considering what’s available and comforting.

Don’t Stand so Close to Me

Never thought that Police song was going to be relevant this way. I have no idea how people who work in supermarkets can handle the people (mostly dudes, many of whom are in their 70s and all of whom should know better) who race up to other people so they can be “close” to someone else. If I were a specialist in human behavior, I would speculate on why.

Shopping in the grocery store feels like I’m in a real-live version of Doom or Gauntlet, only the goal is to finish without anyone standing right next to me.

So welcome to shopping in one corner of the USA: Staff do their best, limiting how many customers are in stores. You need a mask to enter shops. Everywhere there are signs reminding you that masks are the law, and if you think you might be sick, stay home. There are one or two people who pick things up and then abruptly put things back while you wait patiently for what you want in the aisle. Other people are kind and explain before they need to dart in front of you, so you can appropriately distance. And then there was the one guy who shouted at me about the fact that his potatoes weren’t in a bag, so he had no idea how many would be in a pound (there was a scale behind him). I suspect he’s only ever seen a supermarket, instead of a small grocery with organic food. Lines in checkout are marked with tape to let you know how far away 6 feet really is.

From this isolation, I watch statistics rise (New York, New Jersey and closer to home) and worry about friends and family around the globe. Let’s make a pact to stay as healthy as possible, ok?

So what is life like in your corner of the world? Anyone else weirded out that their allergy symptoms disappear while wearing a cloth mask?


Late at night, my dreams wander the Louvre*,
Walters, Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Museo del Prado*. Empty halls
Lined by oils, sketches, sculpture, gems,
Streaming light. Footprints in the dust
Remember the last visitors.

This is jet lag from a dream without crowds.
No one in front of Goyas, Picassos, Cassatts.
Faces stare from paintings -- mute surprise
That a visitor breaks their sleep.
And me, I'm dislocated, as though
Tired from transatlantic travel.

These trips give me time to stare at the paint
On the Mona Lisa without others crowding,
Standing, pacing and blocking the view.
I miss the noise, hushed excitement.
In the hall, dust motes from footsteps
Swirl upward in a stray sunbeam.

- copyright (C) RJN April 15, 2020

* I have only planned trips to visit the Louvre and the Museo del Prado. Those trips are now on hold. Someday!

Stitching up the stash

This was going to be a dress.
The universe laughs*.

…. for unexpected reasons. Making masks so I can go out to the grocery store once a week while hopefully keeping other people safe. I’m reading sobering guesstimates about the likely death toll in my state, and my only response is worry about the world in general. So I guess I’m right on schedule, and working around to grief. Maundy Thursday communion over the internet was something new (although the wine was a LOT better). [Insert Dad joke about “Monday, Thursday… what happened to Tuesday and Wednesday?”] Real talk though: it’s worth it. Too many of my friends work in healthcare to risk making their jobs worse.

I’ve been doing virtual traveling: German or UK travel programs are my current favorites. Also a LOT of Time Team archaeology shows from the BBC. I know it’s a privilege that I can stay inside and rot my brains with tv, while our poor bus drivers, grocery clerks, and medical personnel and hospital cleaners have to keep on going out into the unknown for us.

Stitching up the stash uses some of the pretty expensive quilt cottons that never quite made it into a quilt. Once I’m done with a few more of these face coverings, I’m hoping to make the blouse that’s been on the back burner forever. But I may not be that motivated.

So, what’s been on your needles, on your Kindle queue, keeping you occupied indoors, etc.?

* A benefit to wearing a mask outside I hadn’t anticipated – fewer allergy related symptoms. Take that, Bradford pears!