Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April 1 update

While I was indeed working on this post yesterday, I decided it was just asking for trouble to post it on April 1.

The main thing I have been up to is travel over these past two weeks (LA, Chicago, Toronto and back).  They were productive trips for most part aside from a lot of trouble (and waiting) in airports.  We found a neighbourhood we liked, and then actually a place to rent (with the lease starting May unfortunately, and not July as we would have ideally preferred).  This is a huge weight off my mind, though it does mean that I will try to split the move into two parts and thus will have to be in Toronto to unpack in mid-to-late June, then will have to come back in time to wrap up the final stages of the move.  It might get tricky if the movers don't actually show up when they are supposed to.

Aside from work, I read quite a bit.  I finished up Felipe Alfau's Chromos, which was frankly kind of tedious.  I couldn't connect with the characters, even the narrator, and the stories within stories were just interminable.  Likewise, Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban was actually a disappointment as nearly all the characters displayed some form of mental illness at some point in the story, and I just couldn't feel any emotional attachment to them (aside perhaps to Pilar the Americanized granddaughter).  It definitely felt like Garcia was throwing in all the magic realism that Americans have come to expect from South American fiction.  However, Dreaming in Cuban did have the advantage of being short, compared to so much else that I have read lately.

Joseph Roth's Hotel Savoy was probably the best thing I read. It had shades of Kafka's The Castle, though with a bit more overt humor.  Basically the narrator is a former prisoner of war (WWI) and has returned to the city where his uncle lives.  While he waits to find if he can get funds to move on from his uncle, he stays at the Hotel Savoy, where well-to-do individuals stay in the bottom three or four floor, while very poor boarders live in the top stories.  I don't know if it would actually be considered a SPOILER to reveal that the owner is so cheap that he hires himself on as the elevator boy. This doesn't meaningfully impact the plot at any rate.  It actually provided a bit of a tie to the recent movie The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Michel Tremblay's The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant was also pretty good, despite a tendency to rely on what we would now consider magical realism.  It felt like a mixture of Under Milk Wood and Ulysses, but set in a working-class neighborhood in Montreal.  Not surprisingly, there are also connections to Proust, but this is so much more readable.  I will be reviewing this separately shortly.

Helen Smith's Alison Wonderland is not doing that much for me, but it is also short.  There is too much whimsy and an over-reliance on incredible situations which then undermines the sections of the book that are supposed to generate tension when the main characters are threatened.  I found the ending quite disappointing.  This was actually one of a few books I bought at the World's Biggest Bookstore store closing sale.  I felt I had to go in for a look, as I went once in a blue moon when I lived in Toronto.  However, it never was one of my go-to bookstore.  I was pleased to find that in general quite a few used bookstores still hanging on in Toronto, including some old favourites on Yonge and on College.  There are quite a few good movie theatres around the region as well, though a few that I really liked have closed down.

Amazingly, I am now 2/3 through Proust.  A few thoughts on that later.  I really have disliked the narrator for some time, and the twist at the end of Cities on the Plain came very close to making me abandon the enterprise altogether.  However, I "cheated" by flipping through the plot summary at the end of volume 3, and it looks like there is just a bit more action in this one, and some well-deserved pain for the narrator, so I will keep trying to push through.  I consider this a lot like the self-flagellation one goes through to get a Ph.D.  In the end it was more of an endurance test that I was glad I passed, but I would never recommend it to anyone else, particularly my children...

While I didn't see any theatre,* I saw Kronos Quartet, Angela Hewitt play Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto (as well as Sibelius' Symphony 5) and then, just yesterday, the Vogler Quartet doing Schulhoff, Schubert's Rosamund Quartet and Shostakovich's Piano Quintet.  So a lot of great music.  It is possible that the Shostakovich Quintet was in fact my favourite of all, particularly when they played the scherzo again as an encore (without any music for the pianist!).  Curiously, according to this review, they did the same thing in 2006, though perhaps not without the added touch of playing by memory.  No matter, it was a great performance.  It's actually a shame they don't appear to have recorded this piece, but I will listen to their Schulhoff disc.

I went into a number of museums including LACMA, AGO, ROM and then the McMichael (for the second time ever).  Yesterday was nice, because I wrapped up work, went to the Vancouver Art Gallery to take advantage of the free admission and saw the Lawren Harris show again (far more abstract work than I would have expected from him), then ate some decent Asian food near the library, took care of library business, and then went to see the Vogler performance, walking in just as the house opened.  So good timing there.

Perhaps most surprisingly was that I still managed to see a couple of movies (more movies than I typically see in 3 or 4 months).  On the first Toronto trip, I saw Her and then on this last trip, I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The Wes Anderson one was far more to my liking.

I've kept fairly busy on the academic front, trying to set up some projects that will lead to conference papers down the road.  I just had a "lightning talk" accepted where you outline your research and discuss it for about 5 minutes.  This should lead to a proper TRB paper that I'll have to write this summer, and possibly even an IATBR paper, though not much point in writing this if there is no support from my new firm to go.  I will say they did live up to their end of the bargain in sending me off to Baltimore for the TRB Innovations conference, even though the number of actual potential clients there will be fairly small (much more restricted than the Annual conference).  I am glad that two of the client meetings in Toronto went well, with one client quite interested in pursuing advanced models -- eventually.

And so on to more painful matters. Tax time is quickly upon us.  Not quite sure how I will fit that in, but I shall try.  Maybe the Seattle trip will get pushed back one more weekend if I can't get it done in mid-week.  I'll start taking this seriously on Wed.; taxes are no joke, particularly when you have to file them in the U.S. and Canada.

* I'm making up for that this upcoming weekend, when I watch Tom Stoppard's entire Coast of Utopia trilogy in one day!

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