Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bright with sinuous rills

We are stardust/ Billion year old carbon/ We are golden/ Caught in the devil's bargain
Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock" *

I have finally gotten a chance to plant some vegetables in the garden. It's nothing amazing, just some tomatoes, pepper, squash, and herbs, but I've very happy I finally did it. Here's a picture of the basil growing. It was one of the more mature looking plants I transferred, so that's why I chose it as the photographic subject.:
I actually started working on the garden a few weeks ago. We didn't really use it last year, and a bunch of weeds and seedlings had started to grow in the plot, so a little more than a month ago I cleared it out. with the intention of picking up some plants in the next few days and starting it up again.
Then things kept happening. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I kept procrastinating. And before I knew it, Memorial Day weekend had come and summer was officially here.

And, needless to say, I had forgotten almost entirely about the garden at this point. Fortunately, my father was on his way to pick up some plants, and asked if I'd like to go with him and pick out some vegetables. I said "give me 15 minutes, I just want to make some progress in the game."

The game I was playing is called Rune Factory Frontier. I'd bought it a couple of years ago, played it for a while, and then gotten distracted. But it was a quiet weekend, and I had nothing planned for that morning, so I figured I would restart. It was only as I was saving the game that I realized the main activity in Rune Factory is gardening. It's one of those strange Japanese games where you spend most of your time planting crops, talking to people, and trying to form relationships with some of the ladies who you meet. You also travel to strange dungeons, such as the one in your neighbor's yard, or the one on a giant whale-shaped island. But fighting the monsters in the dungeon is really a secondary part of the game; it's not something you think about until you've harvested turnips or strawberries or whatever the season's crops are. In fact, part of the reason to fight monsters is so you can domesticate them on your farm, or clear away magic soil in the garden where you can grow more vegetables. Here's what the game looks like (though the version I play is in English):

Anyway, I put aside the virtual garden, temporarily, for the real one. I'm sure it's good soil, because I had to practically re-weed everything. Stuff wants to grow there. I know this sounds stupid, but I always forget how dirty dirt is. Most of my life doesn't involve interacting with soil, and it's strange to run your hands under the sink when you're done and see the water darkening as it washes the grime away.

But I am now looking forward to summer vegetables, which I will enjoy as I play video games.

* (When double checking the lyrics to this song before posting, I realized that Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills Nash and Young have slightly different choruses. Mitchell doesn't mention the fact we are ancient carbon until the last verse, whereas CSNY points it out in each chorus. She only points out we are stardust and golden. I don't know if that significantly changes the meaning of the song or not.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A good vampire novel

I am the terror that flaps in the night. I am the lollipop that sticks in your hair. I am Darkwing Duck.
Darkwing Duck

I always bring several books with me when I travel. This trip, the one that I've been reading is The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil. It is set in the Warhammer universe, which means I would normally never read it, because while I love roleplaying games, I've found 99 percent of the fictional tie-ins to be complete and utter crap. But I decided to give these a chance for one reason: I discovered that Jack Yeovil is a pseudonym for Kim Newman.

Sometime in the 1990s I read a great trilogy called Anno Dracula, by Newman. If you enjoyed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, you'd love this. The first book is set in a Victorian England, where Van Helsing has failed to kill Dracula, and the Count turns Queen Victoria into his bride and takes over the British empire. In addition to Dracula, it's got Fu Manchu, Moriarty, Jack the Ripper, Dr. Jeckyl, Gilbert and Sullivan, and many other real and unreal characters. And one of the main characters is a vampire named Genevieve.

A couple of months ago, I learned that Newman had first written about her for Warhammer, and liked the character so much he used her in a non-Warhammer book.

The Vampire Genevieve collects Newman's novels written in the Warhammer universe. For those who don't know, it's not quite a standard D&D-esque fantasy world. It's got a heavier influence from Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft. It's sometimes described with the phrase "grimdark." It's very clearly set in Europe with the serial numbers filed off. For example, Genevieve was turned into a vampire 600 years ago, when she was a teenager in the land of Bretonia, which is very obviously Brittany.

The prologue of the book opens with Genevieve and a group of heroes on a quest to slay the evil archfiend. This immortal wizard had killed her father when she was still a mortal, and the prince who recruited her thought she would go along on their quest for vengeance. However, that didn't interest her; she knew he'd have been dead six centuries even if the big bad hadn't gotten him. Then the prince appeals to her need for something interesting and a change of pace, and she finds that a reasonable excuse to go adventuring.

Against great odds, they defeat the wizard. The main action in this story takes place 25 years later, and involves writing a play. I was rather happy to see that. In a world where the dark gods of chaos and destruction threaten humanity daily, it's nice to see a story about actors. Of course, the play is about the events of a quarter century before, and horrible deaths start happening during the rehearsals...

The second story also involves plays. That play is clearly Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, though the names are given a Slavic twist. It also involves a phantom of the opera, who is much more disturbing that just a guy in a mask.

Another involves what I can only describe as a soap opera performed by a twisted version of the Adams Family. Yet another involves unicorn hunters, blackmail, and assassination attempts.

What I respect about the heroine is that she does not sparkle. She isn't quite the classic vampire that turns to ash in the sunlight, but she doesn't angst about how horrible it is to have the strength of 20 men, or never grow old. She can be a crazed, unpleasant killer, but she isn't always the nastiest thing in the room. Some men do fall wildly in love with her, but others are indifferent, and her relationships tend to be complex.

So this book is definitely a good vacation read. It's got lots of action and excitement, but it's also got nods to classics and cultural references.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Water water everywhere

What do they got? A lot of sand. We've got a hot crustacean band.
"Under the Sea," The Little Mermaid

As I wrote last time I was in Florida, even though I live five minutes from the ocean in New Jersey, it doesn't tempt me. Today, I swam in both the gulf and a hotel swimming pool. Why I actually want to get in the water while on vacation, and not when it's nearby, I can't say.

I was at Delnor-Wuggins Pass State Park, (If you're wondering about the name, I think that the beach is named after a Delnor, and the pass is inamed after a Wiggins. There was a plaque just off a parking lot explaining it, but I didn't really look at it too closely.) which is very pretty, as you can see:

 The water isn't quite crystal clear, and there were a few leaves and dead bugs floating in it, but it was still pretty clean, and a nice shade of green. When I entered it, I rushed in because I thought it would be best to immerse myself in the chilly water immediately, but it turned out to be surprisingly warm. 

I was at Delnor beach to celebrate my aunt's 85th birthday, and it was a wonderful event, but I don't want to talk about it too much on a blog anyone can read, just in case some relatives or people at the party don't want names and details put where anyone can see them. (Not that I have anything bad to say.) I will note, since the conversation has come up several times in the last few days, that she is not technically my aunt, but great-aunt. I have decided I prefer to refer to relatives as "aunt/uncle" or "cousin," instead of "fourth cousin three times removed" or "former uncle-in-law." 

Following the party, I returned to the hotel, where, with more relatives, I went into the pool. That too was surprisingly warm. I suppose it's something to do with the fact the temperature is in the 80s most days of the year and the pool is in sunlight a large amount of the time is what makes it so comfortable.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Off we went into the wild blue yonder

(Homer's thoughts) Oh, glory of glories. Oh heavenly testament to the eternal majesty of God's creation. (Out  loud) Holy macaroni!
Homer Simpson, Treehouse of Horrors VI

I had several conversations today about how friggin' cool a smart phone is. Here's a picture I took with my smart phone, that I suppose I could have taken with any digital camera. However, I wouldn't normally have had a camera in my pocket at that moment:

In the past, my camera would have been in my luggage. But since my phone is also my music player, I had it while I was looking out the window at 30,000 feet.

For some reason, most travellers I know don't like the window seat. They prefer the convenience of being able to stretch whenever they want, and not needing to ask others to move so they can use the restroom. But, perhaps because I fly so infrequently, I like looking out the window. There's something amazing about looking at the roofs of buildings, then broad patches of land, then seeing clouds and the shadows they cast, and finally reaching the height where the clouds look like a strange all-white landscape. At one point we flew through a thunderstorm, which did generate a little turbulence, but also made a fascinating viewing experience. The sky darkened and it seemed like we were driving through fog. 

Everything about air travel except the actual flying is, at best, annoying, and at worse uncomfortable. I don't feel more secure because I was asked to take off my shoes. I don't think that giving out 20-cent packages of pretzels or some other minor snack was really bankrupting the airlines, and they should resume that practice. I don't know why they think someone should pay them $8 extra to watch episodes of CSI Miami on a tiny screen.

But the flying itself wants to make you say holy macaroni.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I'm leaving on a jet plane

THE GREAT problem is at length solved! The air, as well as the earth and the ocean, has been subdued by science, and will become a common and convenient highway for mankind. The Atlantic has been actually crossed in a Balloon! and this too without difficulty-without any great apparent danger-with thorough control of the machine-and in the inconceivably brief period of seventy-five hours from shore to shore! 
Edgar Allen Poe

Tomorrow, I embark on my first notable trip since last year, and what I think is my first time leaving the state since I went to New York City in January. I really need to get out more.

It's not a long trip, just a long weekend in Naples, Florida. This time, instead of driving down like I did last year, I'm taking a plane, which makes a lot more sense for a four-day trip. Because I liked being thoroughly connected during my last trip, I've decided to bring a laptop again. However, the laptop I took with me last time was a 17-incher with a full keyboard, and is rather heavy. It was great when I could throw it in the trunk of my car, but not if I have to fit it into a suitcase. So I picked up a cute little netbook. (I'd have picked up a tablet, but I really like having a keyboard.)

I was planning to throw the netbook in my suitcase, but now I'm not sure if I can or not. This "helpful" page from the TSA tells me, with capital letters DO NOT pack laptops in checked baggage. Later, when giving tips on checked baggage, it suggests you should "LABEL your laptop computer." So I'm throwing my computer in my backpack, and hoping it's not too much of a pain to get through security.

I hope an extra weight in my backpack is the worst thing I experience at Newark tomorrow.