East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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More options for February

I am going on with my plan to spend February (also) learning a new skill – because I think it’s fun, and because should it work, I could start collecting new skills, one month after the other. After all, that was what I always was about ever since I was a kid: my mother used to tell me to spend my summer vacations “doing something useful”, and I learned conjuring (the stage magic kind), tarot-reading, playing the flute and some french, some Spanish, some Japanese.
I guess she was hoping I’d find small jobs or stuff like that, like she would do when s he was a teenager – but she was a teenager in the ’50s, I was a teenager in the ’80s: the whole part time jobs ecology had changed, and all I was able to find was a contract job as a scarecrow…
But I always loved learning new stuff.

So, I made a list a few days back (WordPress will probably link the post below), I got some feedback, and it looks like knitting, harmonica-playing and juggling are the three top contenders. Of the three, my brother is averse to the harmonica (“it will feel like we’re in some kind of prison”), and juggling is better done in the open, so knitting is really looking like my choice – or at least, that was the state of affairs until Humble Bundle launched their latest book bundle, that is huge and is called Start Something New.

And I was not kidding about the bundle being huge. Drop one buck, and you’ll get seven volumes – cookbooks, a knitting encyclopedia (aha!) a book about redesigning your life, a Texas Hold’em guidebook…

But you can go up to over 20 bucks, and land a staggering collection of 61 books, each one covering a different skill.

And so yes, I put down a few bucks – knowing the money will go to a charity – and now I’ve increased my options. Texas Hold’em looks interesting, but I could also devote the four weeks of February to Feng Shui or book-binding, or some kind of creative, artistic craft.

But no matter what, I have now one week to decide – and then I’ll have a week to get all the necessary equipment to start my adventure in February.

Ideas, suggestions, odds and ends are welcome – just use the comments.


Sword & Sorcery movies

I happen to be on a Sword & Sorcery roll. Big deal, you say, as if it was the first time. But really, in part this is because for Christmas I got the last volume in Glen Cook’s Dread Empire series, and so I’m finally setting out to read the whole bunch of novels in chronological order, starting with A Fortress in Shadow. In part it’s because another gift I got in my sock for the Befana festival is P.J. Thorndyke’s Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood, this being a fun and opinionated survey of the golden age of sword & sorcery movies, to wit, the 1980s.

And as I was reading Thorndyke’s book, it happened – as it usually does – that I started feeling like re-watching these old flicks. because no one will be surprised to learn I saw each one of them at least once, and many of them (yes, I’m looking at you, Beastmaster) repeatedly, in many long summer nights, when sleep would not come, and a silly movie and a cup of ice cream was all that stood between my sanity and heat-induced madness.

And of course I’ve been watching a lot of movies since I started co-hosting the Paura & Delirio podcast with my friend Lucy – at least one movie per week, often watching it twice; more when we do our specials, like the one we did on New Year’s Eve about the Hammer Karnstein Trilogy, and what we’ll soon do with the two Nosferatu movies – Murnau’s and Herzog’s.

So the question is – do I have the time, between Cook’s book, my writing projects, my planning and building a vegetable garden and the idea of acquiring a new skill in February… do I have the time for these old sword & sorcery films? Say one per week, following P.J. Thorndyke’s excellent guide?

And, should I do it … what next?
I could blog about them, of course.
And maybe do something more – a film or two will maybe find a place in Paura & Delirio – because of the contiguity between sword & sorcery and horror/weird fiction.
But what of the rest?

I’ll have to find an idea.
But right now, I’ll have to go dig in the box of old DVDs for the titles in my viewing list that are not on VHS.
This is going to be fun…


New Year’s Movie: Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

Back when I was a kid, we used to go to the movies on New Year’s Day, or in the following Sunday – a film with all the family in the afternoon, and then a stop in a cafeteria or a tea room somewhere for some hot chocolate and a few cookies, and then home to heat up the leftovers from yesterday’s New Year’s Eve dinner or today’s New Year’s Day lunch.

Those days are gone forever, to quote the poet, but I still like to watch a new movie at the start of the new year, and as luck would have it, the masters of the streaming platforms have decided to start distributing on the first day of 2021 Roseanne Liang’s very pulp-ish action thriller Shadow in the Cloud.
And so I watched it, and it was a perfect way to start off the year.

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First day of the new year

Last night I celebrated the end of 2020 by cutting my left thumb while I was chopping an onion – nothing major, thank goodness, but it led me to spend the last hours of the year reflecting on two important issues

  • first, it is important to always have a well stocked first aid kit at home, especially if the closest emergency ward is 25 KMs away
  • second, we often underestimate the usefulness of our off-hand’s thumb

Apart from this, one hour before the end (or the beginning), I also got a five-star review for my first Garr the Cunning novella, and a royalty payment notification for The House of the Gods, my dinosaur novel.
It was a good way to end 2020 and start 2021.
Well, apart from the plaster-wrapped thumb, that is.

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The same name but a different scent: Black Narcissus (2020)

There are two titles, two TV series, I’ve been expecting with much anticipation in this End of the Year time: one is the forthcoming new French Arséne Lupin series, and the other is the BBC co-produced adaptation of Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus.
Both titles are an important part of my past, both promise a different take on a classic, both are right up my alley, in both cases the bar is set very high.
And tonight, I spent three hours watching Black Narcissus.
So what follows is sort of an instant-blog.

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Season’s Greetings

In the classic Christmas Movie Gremlin (hey, it is a classic!), the character of Kate observes how the Christmas season is the hardest day for lonely and depressed people.

While everybody else are opening up their presents, they’re opening up their wrists.

And indeed, a lot of people out there are being hit hard.
I usually realize things are taking a bad turn because my insomnia is replaced by absolute lethargy – I’d sleep all day, and it’s probably a coping mechanism, a way to shut out the problems.

Because they get thicker and weirder on Christmas, don’t they?
Yesterday I got an overdue payment bill that I thought I had discussed and settled with the guys.
I’ve got the money to cover it, but what the hell, a menacing letter two days before Christmas?
How come bills and hassles always hit us two days before Christmas?
And this morning both water and power were cut – because a pipe exploded somewhere because of the cold, and to work on it, they (accidentally?) cut the power for the whole village.
Merry Christmas.
Or something.

So, it’s going to be hard – this year probably harder than in the past.
We know it, we can take it.
Hold on tight out there, and if you feel the tide is rising too fast and you’re going to go under, reach out to someone and seek help. There is nothing wrong with seeking help.

And to cheer you up, here’s a song from another movie that deserves to be a Christmas classic.
Check it out.
And Happy Holidays.

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These are not the dinosaurs you’re looking for

Today three stories of mine were rejected.
Rejection is part of the game, of course, and as the end of the year is drawing close, a lot of editors are clearing their desks – as a consequence, a lot of rejection slips are mailed at the same time.

Anyway, I decided to give myself a little gift as a pick-me-up – a way to keep the disappointment at bay.
And while I was browsing Amazon, the Almighty Algorithm informed me of the availability of the digital edition of Mark Schultz’s complete Xenozoic Tales, for the price of a cappuccino.
And I have the Paperback of the Tales here on my shelf but, well, why not?
After all, Mark Schultz is one of my favorite artists, and the Xenozoic Tales are part of my life growing up.
Cadillacs and dinosaurs, and all that.
I also thought I’d check out this digital edition, and then maybe give away a few copies as last-minute gifts to my friends.

Imagine my disappointment when, when finally my reader managed to open the ebook, I found out this is a pirate copy, patched together with very low quality scans.
An ugly rip-off.
So, I had to return the ebook, and ask for a refund, and then I sent a note to Amazon, informing them they are selling a pirate ebook, ripping-off the artist and the reader.

And this is not the first time it happens – in the last ten days I had to ask for refunds for two other ebooks, because they were not what the Amazon page was advertising.

It’s funny, in a very sad way: self-publishing should have freed us of the tyranny of the gatekeepers, and should have turned the whole process into a Darwinian selection that would award quality and contents; it turns out scammers and thieves are taking advantage of it instead.

A pity – especially for my friends, that will not get a copy of Schultz’ cadillacs and dinosaurs adventures anytime soon.