Sunday Sum-Up: March 12, 2023

I noticed recently that my vacuum cleaner hadn’t been working as well as it used to, so I decided to investigate. I took some of the sections apart, cleaned them out, top to bottom, and finally realized that the lower air filter was the likely source of the problem and ordered a new one from the manufacturer, Bissell. After I placed the order and received the confirmation email, Bissell sent me another email asking if I wanted to join their rewards program. Which makes sense at first glance, but when you think about it, how many vacuum cleaners does a person need? How many vacuum-related products does one need to buy before the rewards program is worth it? How many vacuum-related products does the average person need in a year? All I needed was a $12 pack of air filters. Unless my current vacuum cleaner completely breaks down out of nowhere, the $12 air filter pack is the only vacuum-related product I will need for quite a long time.

So no, Bissell, I would not like to join your rewards program. I get enough emails and do not need a steady stream of vacuum cleaners.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

I think Mina’s favorite place to be is on the bed while I’m trying to change the sheets. This last week, for example, after I’d stripped the bed and put the sheets in the wash, Mina hopped onto the mattress and promptly fell asleep. She napped there while the sheets were in the wash and while they were in the drier, and she was still there when I brought everything in to make the bed.

So began the weekly trial of “how much can I get done before Mina gets back on the bed?”

The answer is “not much”, but I had to carry on, so I got most of the bed made while she was on it. I removed her from it completely a couple of times, but she just jumped back up and continued to be in the way.

That is, until I finished making the bed. Then she didn’t want anything to do with it and curled up in her chair and went right back to sleep.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

  • The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe by Valerie I.J. Flint
  • The Giant, O’Brien by Hilary Mantel

The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe is exactly as advertised: it traces certain pre-Christian pagan beliefs in various magics and details how these beliefs were dealt with by early Christian leaders. Most of Flint’s research deals with Frankish or Anglo-Saxon culture, so she doesn’t make an account of all of Europe’s magical beliefs (that would take a whole collection of books), but what she does have is detailed and founded in primary sources. Flint’s aim in this book was to show how the integration (or rejection) of pagan beliefs developed through the early medieval era, and how the Church had to account for magical beliefs as a competing system, rather than one it was replacing or subsuming. It’s popular to say now that Christianity “stole” such-and-such holidays from the Romans or the Celts, but at the time, it was more along the lines of “early Christians celebrated Christian holidays along with the pagan holidays they originally observed, and these practices merged over generations”. This is similar to how modern Halloween traditions have come about in the United States: Irish and Scottish immigrants brought their holidays with them, and they caught on among Americans and have developed and spread across the country over the past 150+ years to become the Halloween holiday we have now. Belief systems are always changing, and it was Flint’s goal to show how the early Church incorporated pagan ideas about magic into its structure, and while this is a very academic text, I think accomplished what she set out to do. This is an incredibly informative book, but it’s a dive into quite a niche subtopic in a niche category of history, so it’s definitely not for everyone.

Do I need to reiterate that I love Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction? Her Thomas Cromwell trilogy is one of my favorite works ever, and A Place of Greater Safety was brilliant, too, though the fact that I was reading it as the pandemic was closing in around us in 2020 makes me never want to reread it. The Giant, O’Brien is another work of historical fiction about an Irishman, Charles O’Brien who (thanks to a pituitary tumor) grew to be somewhere around 7’7″. A natural storyteller, he and his Irish cronies go to London to try to make their fortunes. There, O’Brien realizes that he will die soon, and encounters the famed anatomist John Hunter, who wants to buy O’Brien’s skeleton for study. This was an odd little book, with so many shifts in perspective and so many characters stuffed into a 192-page novel. I’m still not sure what I think of it, and will probably have to revisit it in the future to get a better sense of the thing.

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • I’m Writing You From Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future by Delphine Minoui, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, audiobook narrated by Suehlya El-Attar

The narrative that we get in the US regarding Iran is rarely complimentary. The news stories are so often about either “the oppressive Islamic government” or “protests in the streets of Tehran” that it’s hard to get a sense of what the average person’s life is like anywhere in Tehran. Anthony Bourdain visited the country at least once and provided a glimpse of its culture and people, but it was only a glimpse. Delphine Minoui lived there for ten years and spent many of them reporting for the French news about all sorts of stories within Iran from 1998 until 2009. In this memoir, which is framed as an extended letter to her late grandfather, Minoui describes many parts of her day-to-day life in Tehran, from what it was like living with her grandmother to attending parties with rock music and alcohol (both of which are strictly forbidden), to being routinely brought in for questioning by the police, to hearing her friends’ accounts of being imprisoned for their political beliefs. Minoui has a unique perspective on Iranian life and its political currents, and her account of it all is fascinating, if sometimes harrowing. Her love for her family’s country is clear, and it makes me wonder what she has been doing since she was forced to flee in 2009. I’m not looking forward to finding out what happens, as I’m sure there are more frightening encounters with the police, but I want to know more about the wonderful and brave people she met there.

What I’m Listening To:

Penny Dreadful – seasons 1-3, original soundtrack recording. Score by Abel Korzeniowski

I’ve had Spotify premium for quite some time, and of all the musical scores that have popped on and off the service, the one that annoys me most when it disappears is Abel Korzeniowski’s score to the first season of Showtime’s Gothic Victorian horror series, Penny Dreadful. The show is one of my favorites of all time, and I love the music, but so often only the second and third season scores are available. They’re great, but they’re sort of mashed together and so much of the music from the show is missing. The first season’s soundtrack is much longer and contains some of my favorite pieces- and it unexpectedly reappeared on Spotify this week, so I’ve been taking advantage of that and listening to it like crazy.

What I love about Korzeniowsky’s score is that it’s not constantly dark and spooky music. There are genuine points of light with airy piano solos and waltzes- ‘Ethan’s Waltz’ and ‘Melting Waltz’ are my favorite of the bunch of those, but there’s something to be said of the rather bombastic ‘Gossamer Tennis’ and how both ridiculous and apt it is that it’s playing during a scene where two characters are playing ping pong. In a Gothic horror show.

Of course, there is plenty of darkness in the music. It’s why the light moments stand out in such dark relief. But you can’t escape the horror in a show that blends the stories of some of the most well-known and beloved Victorian Gothic characters like Victor Frankenstein or Dorian Gray and pits them against vampires, werewolves, witches, and other creatures of the night.

I should make a note of my favorite two leitmotifs: the ones Korzeniowsky wrote for Vanessa and for Dorian Gray. Vanessa’s theme first appears in the opening theme, played by the string section, and is repeated throughout the series on either piano or strings. It’s a melancholy and wistful melody, which suits Vanessa (played perfectly by Eva Green) to a T. My other favorite leitmotif is Dorian Gray’s, which also appears in the string section and is far more ominous than Vanessa’s. This suits the character, as he might seem light-hearted at times, but there is no empathy behind his eyes, and Dorian won’t hesitate to abandon those closest to him if they bore him at all.

And I have to make a special shout-out for the late Helen McRory’s rendition of the folk song, ‘The Unquiet Grave’. She sings it in the opening episode of season two, and though her version of this unsettling song is the most straightforward and least vocally showy of any of the many versions I’ve listened to, I find McRory’s to be the most affecting. There’s something about the timbre of her voice, plus the relatively plain delivery that makes the lyrics stand out.

I have no idea what I’ll listen to next week, though I was reminded of the Decembrists’ album, The Hazards of Love, which I haven’t listened to in ages. Perhaps I will treat myself to a couple of their past albums, and see what they’ve been up to lately.

10 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: March 12, 2023

  1. I recently cleaned out my email by unsubscribing to newsletters and such. It’s amazing to me how many marketing emails I get, but exactly as you stated…does everything need a rewards program?

  2. The Bissell situation cracks me up. Really, what does it say about their products that you might buy from them often enough to join a rewards program? Love the story about Mina and the bed. She likes what she likes!

  3. It’s been a long while since I had to troubleshoot my vacuum cleaner (knock on wood). In my case I needed a new belt. The old one had slipped and started burning up. Bought a two pack and haven’t needed the second one yet. Fun, fun. And no rewards program. 🙂

  4. Right?? What single person needs so many vacuum cleaners or supplies that a rewards program would be useful? Mina does like what she likes. Right now, she’s curled up on the extra sheets in the closet. She’s a fan of bedding, apparently.

  5. Lol at that story about Mina. The Jinster often does the same, and like to place tug-of-war with the sheets when we try placing them on the bed — him tugging one end while we try to fit the other on the bed.

  6. Oh yea, he’s messed up a couple sheets and has almost shredded a computer chair to bits. We keep the chair as the only one he can go crazy on.

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