Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A (plus) is for Angelica

As you all know. I am currently consumed with Olympic excitement (saw a clatter of top athletes yesterday...whetting your appetite for another day's update), but today belongs to the very talented Iain Broome and his debut novel, A is for Angelica, which launches tomorrow in ebook format and in September in paperback.

Iain's debut novel is an extraordinary look into the day to day life of Gordon, a man struggling to cope under enormous pressure at home. His wife is very ill and Gordon suddenly finds himself as her primary caretaker in what should be the prime of their lives. He feels isolated from his neighbors about whom he keeps meticulous notes, compiled as he secretly watches their every move. Gordon is at once a character that made me feel profoundly uncomfortable, sad and then laugh aloud. Broome quietly weaves a complex picture of Gordon's past and present through the tiniest and most mundane of details.

When I first sat down to read the novel on a Saturday morning, the writing style reminded me of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and I worried that the material would be a rehash of Haddon's brilliant book and that the voice would be difficult to penetrate. Then it was Sunday and I had devoured the book. I can't tell you exactly where that time went. No I can. I spent it behind Gordon's curtains, watching his neighbors, reveling in their quirkiness and thoroughly enjoying Gordon's entirely unreliable narration.

Lest you all think that this is a comedic book, I should be clear that it's not, although Broome has a wickedly dark sense of humor that did have me laughing out loud on a couple of occasions. This book also had me in tears in several places. Broome perfectly captures the intense, frustrating and helpless experience of being a loved-one's carer. His descriptions of Gordon's daily life are detailed, truthful and handled with both humor and compassion.

This novel is a "slow burn", no wild twists or real surprises. Just a meticulous character study of a man whose life is crumbling and so is struggling to create order in his life and to make human connections as he becomes ever more reclusive.

I really connected with this book and with Gordon because I have known people close to me who have found themselves in similar situations to Gordon, but I do wonder if readers without a similar experience would find it as powerful. Perhaps the only flaw, if there is one, is that A is for Angelica is too truthful and too specific to a particular experience. For me though, it was touching, cathartic and completely engrossing - a weekend very well spent.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Catching Olympic Fever

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with sports. I love playing sports, but I'm generally mediocre at best. I love going to sports events live, but generally hate watching them on television. When it comes to the Olympics, I love the sports, I love the international celebration, but I hate the corporate nonsense. I've never lived in an Olympic city before, but it seems particularly bad here in London. All sorts of things have been banned in order to protect the corporate sponsors of the games (I won't say who they are, but they're not necessarily well-known for promoting good health or active lifestyles). Local businesses aren't allowed to use any advertising containing "2012", "London", "Olympics", the Olympic rings and the list goes on. I'm not upset about the IOC protecting their name, their brand, their logos, but 2012? Really? It's the bloody year. London? It's still the name of the city where I live. Surely if we all agreed to stop using "London" all these tourists would get even more lost than they already are.

All that said, political rant over, I went to see the Olympic torch relay...three times. Two of those times were unintentional, but I did wait for an hour to see it on Thursday morning. When it finally came by it was actually pretty cool, though it pains me to say that. I was all set to write a post about the silly hype surrounding this glorified candle. Instead, I have to tell you that it was really nice to see and got me in the Olympic spirit for sure.
Crowds waiting for the torch on Gresham Street

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Sights and Gardens of Seville

Lest you all think that all we did was munch on tapas in Seville, we didn't we also enjoyed what has been called the most beautiful city in Spain. It's gorgeous. Soaring Moorish architecture, orange trees lining the streets (where did you thing Seville oranges came from?) and lots of pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets. We had a wonderful, if scorchingly hot, three-ish days wandering around the city. It's infinitely walkable and all the street side cafes make for amazing people watching. But you know all about the food and drink from this post and about the people watching we did from this one, so I'll spare you the repetition. Instead, I'll tell you all about the life of Seville, which it has in abundance. Just not in the late afternoon, when the tourists are the only people silly enough to be dragging themselves around in the blistering heat.
Seville from la Giralda

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Sustenance in Seville

So, as you know, we went to Spain at the end of June and it was, I can officially confirm, fantastico! Dublin airport being the booming metropolis of international travel that it is, we couldn't get a flight direct to Seville, so we headed off to Malaga instead. The drive from Malaga to Seville, though, is actually quite lovely, lots of sunflowers and a couple of enormous bull-shaped cutouts. By enormous, I mean at least as high as a multistory house. What purpose they serve other than to go on postcards is unclear, but it is an entertaining diversion on a long drive. 

Slightly - but only slightly - less entertaining than shouting, Look! A gigantic bull cutout! was watching the field of sunflowers go by. As we drove through the afternoon, we passed acres upon acres of these cheerful yellow flowers and every single flower was facing the same direction, like armies of happiness. Our shocking lack of botanical knowledge left us scratching our heads as to the reason for this. But fear not, dear reader, I have looked it up for you. The kind folks at Indiana University have a nice little page that explains it all. You can have a look at it here and even enjoy a time lapse video on heliotropism (that's fancy talk for following the sun). The short version is that young sunflowers follow the sun, keeping their blooms facing it all day and then returning to the east in the evening, but once they mature, their stalks harden and their blooms face eastward all the time.

I know this may disappoint some of you, but that was pretty much it for the botanical portion of our trip, from there we went on to architecture, history, bull fighting and, of course, food. Part one? Oh, lets start with food this time.
Squid Ink Paella

Monday, 16 July 2012

Checking in with Father Ted

Now I'm sure you're all massive bodhran fans so you also know all about Craiceann. What's that you say? You have no idea what I'm on about and suspect that I might be making up words? Ah, well, ye uninitiated, I'm not. I write all of this in seriousness, but with a pinch of divilment.

The bodhran (pronounced "BOUGH-rawn") is the traditional drum of Ireland. It's made by stretching goatskin over a round wooden frame. The musician then strikes the drum with a stick - which come in ever increasing varieties - while using his or her other hand to control the tone and timbre by moving it on the back of the skin. The best players can create entire songs with just the drum, hitting a wide range of notes and creating a depth of sound that is incredible from such a simple instrument.

And every year the little Gaeltacht island of Inis Oírr hosts a week-long celebration of this instrument called Craiceann. Using the tried and true method of judging an event by it's motto, this is clearly a winner. How can you go wrong with a tagline like "Lock up your goats"?
Seisún at Tigh Ruairí's

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

What time of the year is that? Why the time of maple leaves and seas of red, of course: Canada Day!

To all my dedicated Canadian readers, I hope you had a very, very lovely day filled with Tim-bits, maple syrup and politeness. Now my non-Canadian readers are probably scratching their heads at the first of those wishes. Allow me to reassure you that, along with Rush and Mike Myers, Tim-bits are one of Canada's finest exports. Delicious little bites of donut. Allow me to recommend highly the amazing sour cream glazed variety. They are two nibbles - I like to make them last - of pure joy.
Tim Hortons Timbits courtesy of their website