Booky Questions

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‘Allo ‘Allo!

I have been absent from the blogging world for over a month although it definitely did not feel that long!

In an attempt to ease myself into writing blog posts again, I copied this questionnaire from my friend Oona’s blog (moi Oona!). The idea is to answer the questions with titles of books from your bookshelf and expose your odd collection of books, and a bit of yourself too.

Here it goes:

Are you a man or a woman? The Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston).

Describe yourself? Chamber of Secrets (…well not really; I pretty much wear my heart my on my sleeve but it wouldn’t hurt to have a secret or two!). It’s either that, Goblet of Fire, or Little Red Riding Hood 🙂 Truth is somewhere in the middle.

What does life mean to you? State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)

How are you? Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)

Describe the place you’re currently living in? Madness and Civilization (Michel Foucault) ­

Where would you like to travel? Spain in Our Hearts (Pablo Neruda)

Describe your friends? Women of Sand and Myrrh (Hanan al-Shaykh)

What is your favorite color? Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson)

What is the weather like right now? Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

What is the best season of the year? Quiet Days in Clichy (Henry Miller)

If your life would be made into a tv-series, it would be called… Storm of Swords (George R. R. Martin)

Describe your relationship? Clash of Kings? Just kidding… maybe… Our Choice (Al Gore) ­– sounds awfully unromantic 🙂

What are you afraid of? Fear and Trembling (Soren Kierkegaard).

Daily aphorism? La comete arrive! (Tove Jansson)

Piece of advice you would like to give? Wenn du geredet hättest, Desdemona (Bruckner) (=Speak up if you have something to say, it might save your life)

How would you like to die? One Day (David Nicholls) House of Spirits (Isabelle Allende)

Feel free to share! I for one am really curious about what kind of books people own…

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Merry Christmas!

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Today has been really busy. I prepared enough food to feed a village although there’s just two of us. Now it’s past midnight on Christmas Day and I just realized that despite what happens throughout the day, one of my favourite Christmas moments has always been this; when everyone is sleeping and I am just sitting admiring the lights on the tree (and now typing this quick post :-). I used to sneak out of bed and look at the tree even when I was little, after the presents had been opened (in Finland it is done in the evening of the 24th). It’s calm and peaceful, everything is done, and all is well.

This year I forgot to mail my Christmas on time, and so to my friends who might read this and didn’t get a card: You are in my thoughts!

And of course, Merry Christmas to all of you who have taken the time to read my posts, commented and offered your insight. Here is a picture of our tiny Christmas tree, as a sort of internet-era Christmas card!

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Ice Storm

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photo-3Today Toronto was hit by an ice storm, apparently the worst in decades. According to the news over 250 000 homes are currently without power. The ice storm panic didn’t really affect us (based on the reaction by the city entire Finland would need to shut down for the cold months:-). Instead we went for a walk and took some photos of the beautiful tiny icicles that cover everything. It looks like nature put on her most beautiful decorations!St. Lawrence Market in winter

Cat and a Scholar

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Yesterday I mentioned the 9th century Irish poem Pangur Ban (the name of the white cat of the author, an Irish monk/scholar). Some things just don’t change, despite the time between us and when this poem was written.
On the surface this is an ode to a cat, but beyond that it is also about the difficulty of perfecting a skill that requires the mind to work; solving problems, fighting the minds tendency to wander and the solitude of such work, and yet finding happiness, achievement and wisdom in our efforts.

Here we go, an English translation (by Robin Flower) of the Gaelic original:

I and Pangur Bán, my cat
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way:
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Best Animated Films of All Time (Part 3)

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Top animations list continues, this time with one 90’s Disney, one fairly new Irish, and last but not least, one 70’s film…

8. The Lion King (1994). The Lion King could have been my number one, now when I think about it. Showing difficult themes in a way that is respectful to the intelligence of children and yet not too frightening, is what to me separates a great children’s animation from the rest. Simba’s father’s death introduced an entire generation of children the idea of loss and death, much like Bambi did decades earlier. The difference, and the reason I rate The Lion King even higher than Bambi, is that in The Lion King also teaches children about consequence, and sacrifice. When Bambi’s mother was shot there was really nothing Bambi could have done, but Mufasa’s death really falls on the shoulders of Simba who blames himself. But at the same time, the film is really fun too, and has one of the best cinematic soundtracks.

9. Secret of Kells (2009). Secret of Kells is an Irish animation, and a more recent one. In fact, it is the only animation from the 2000’s that made it to my Top 10! The reason many people don’t know about this film is that it is not a Disney or Pixar film, but a relatively small Irish production. The film is a tale about a boy who lives in the Abbey of Kells, the home of the famous Irish illuminated manuscript Gospel called the Book of Kells. The film was nominated for the Best Animated Feature in 2009 but lost to Pixar’s Up. As much as I enjoy watching the current style of animation, there is nothing in my book that can compete with the hand-drawn simplicity of this film. It is gorgeous! If I ever get the chance to create an animated film, this would be the style I would like to use! Here in Canada Secret of Kells is on Netflix (wink wink nudge nudge) – if you haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend it!

Here’s one of my favorite scenes, the song Pangur Ban, sang in English and Gaelic and inspired by a 9th century poem written by an Irish monk about his cat (sometimes I think if we ever get a white cat, we should call her Pangur Ban 🙂

You must go where I cannot,
Pangur Ban Pangur Ban,
Nil sa saol seo ach ceo,
Is ni bheimid beo,
ach seal beag gearr.
Pangur Ban Pangur Ban,
Nil sa saol seo ach ceo,
Is ni bheimid beo,
ach seal beag gearr.

(You must go where I cannot,
Pangur Ban Pangur Ban,
There is nothing in this life but mist,
And we are not alive,
but for a little short spell.
Pangur Ban Pangur Ban,
There is nothing in this life but mist,
And we are not alive,
but for a little short spell.)

10. Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (1978). This film was my first contact to Lord of the Rings. After seeing this, I knew I wanted to save the money and go to the bookshop to buy the books. For those who are fans of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, you can really see the influence of Bakshi’s work in Jackson’s version. But unlike Jackson’s trilogy, Bakshi’s animation does suffer from lack of time. The attempt to squeeze a huge story with dozens of characters into one film simply means that there is a lot that is missing from the original story. This animation is a prime example of a film that some hate, some love. Though I admit it is not without flaws, for me this film was the very first time I saw Middle Earth. Before seeing it, I didn’t even know that there was such a genre as fantasy that was beyond fairy-tales and other children’s stories. Lord of the Rings opened an entirely new section in the library for me, which got me hooked for life and much of that I owe to this animation. 

That concludes my Top 10, but since I realized there were many films that deserve an honorable mention I’m going to do a bonus post of a few films that didn’t make it to this list but were very close. Hope you have enjoyed my picks so far!

Happy 4th Advent weekend!

Best Animated Films of All Time (Part 2)

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Time for the second part of my Top 10 favorite animations! This time I have only two films to share with you (…because I have a not-so-hidden agenda): I really wish more people would watch film number six, Peter-No-Tail! It is little Swedish gem that is mostly known in its homeland and the surrounding countries. I just watched it on youtube after many years, and I think this film deserves more people (adults included) see it. Also, the UK dubbed version, linked below, is really good! (The American version, on the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy. Everything just sounds wrong in the US version!)

  • 6. Peter-No-Tail (1981). (Pekka Töpöhäntä/ Pelle Svanslös). Peter-No-Tail is a Swedish animation based on a series of books by Swedish author Gösta Knutsson. This is a lovely film that tells the tale 🙂 of Peter (or Pekka/Pelle, depending on the language), a kitten born without a tail at a Swedish dairy farm. In the back of a car, Peter ends up in the town of Uppsala, where he has a lot of getting used to; a new family and being a country cat in the city. When Peter meets the lovely Molly-silk-nose, he unsuspectingly annoys Mean Mike, the self-proclaimed leader of the street cats who is also interested in courting Molly and making a fool out of Peter who doesn’t quite fit in. Mike is determined to get rid of Peter and prove that “every cat should have a tail, a tailess cat is sure to fail”.
  • 7. My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Another Ghibli film, this time a bit more child-friendly than my first pick Princess Mononoke. Totoro tells the story of two girls settling into their new home in rural Japan while their mother is in hospital recovering from an illness. What sets Totoro apart from many other animations, is that the story doesn’t really have an antagonist. Tension is built on the everyday experience of being a child in a new place and the wonder of exploration. The girls discover a spirit realm that only they can see, and befriend a furry giant called Totoro. The film is a unique animation that really is all about curiosity and imagination!

Best Animated Films of All Time (Part 1)

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Animation has come a long way since Disney’s Snow White, and every year the studios release gorgeous 3D films with unique characters, contemporary music and fast-paced jokes. This year, I really want to go see Frozen, which I hear is a step back to the Golden Age of Disney animations. Although I enjoyed films like Finding Nemo, Shrek, and even Ice Age, none of these films have felt quite memorable enough to me to reach my Top 10 Best Animated Films of All Time (or, there is one new one in there, but that’s coming up in Part 2). My picks might not be the greatest animations in the world, but without them, who knows, I might have turned up to be a totally different kind of person! 

1.     The Little Mermaid (1989). The Little Mermaid was the first film I ever saw in the cinema. I also got the film on VHS and learned every line by heart. Still today if someone says to me “look at this stuff”, I cannot but think “isn’t it neat”, and have a serious urge to burst into song! Why I loved this film so much when I was little wasn’t for the romance of the story (in fact I never really cared for Eric!) but what really inspired me was the curiosity of Ariel the mermaid. She is willing to give up a lot in order to discover an unknown world beyond her ocean home. The merpeople are taught that humans are just fish-eating brutes, and as such, lesser people than those who live under the sea. How many times we have similar views about other cultures? In the end The Little Mermaid is a story about letting go of prejudice and fear of the unknown, which I think is one of the best lessons to learn from any film and the reason the number one spot went to this film.

2.     Beauty and the Beast (1991). Beauty and the Beast is an another childhood film of mine. It was the film that proclaimed that being a bookworm was totally fine! I remember being so happy to see a character who was more excited about a library than a handsome man with a huge chin and gun collection. And since I mentioned that I didn’t really like Little Mermaid’s Eric character, I adored the Beast in this film – Beauty and the Beast is really as much his story as it is hers.  

3.     Princess Mononoke (1997). Mononoke is a Japanese animation by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Animation still has a reputation of being a children’s genre, and although there are lots of animated films with very complex and adult storylines, like Princess Mononoke. A good animation doesn’t always need the cookie-cutter comedic sidekicks and Broadway songs to be good. Many of the Ghibli films, including Mononoke, explore the fine balance between man and nature. The world in itself becomes a supernatural character and mankind’s attempts in harnessing its power bring forth destructive forces. I’d recommend everyone watch Mononoke if you get a chance! Here is the original Japanese trailer, followed by the English language one.

4.    The Secret of NIMH (1982). This is a story of a widowed field mouse, Mrs Brisby, who lives in humble conditions in a tinder box outside a farm. She tries her best to take care of her children. Having been a housewife-mouse for most of her life, the death of Mr Brisby has left her not only alone, but to face the world all by herself for the first time. When one of her children gets ill with pneumonia, she is forced to overcome her own shyness and venture out to the world to seek help before plowing season begins. The Secret of NIMH is one of my all time favorite films (not only animation) and the story is based on the 1971 book Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. (In the animation though, the main character’s name is Mrs Brisby with a B :-))

5.     Gulliver’s Travels (1939). This is fairly unknown animation that was released by a competing studio just after Disney’s super successful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film definitely does not depict Swift’s original tale accurately, and is much more optimistic in its tone, but yet there is something about the animation itself that makes me feel oddly nostalgic every time I watch Gulliver. In essence, this take on the story is about the meaninglessness conflict and how, despite of us standing up for our values and traditions, there is always middle way to be found. Also, this film shows just how much animation has changed over the years: Now we are used to seeing plastic looking skin, 3D, and big features (big eyes, noses, chins). Gulliver, back in the 1930’s, was made by rotoscoping a live actor’s performance by hand. Basically this means, by drawing each and every frame of an actor’s performance. Here is my favourite scene from the film, with a beautiful song and you can really see how life-like Gulliver looks and moves. For 1930’s I think it is incredible.

The entire film is on youtube here:

Glögi and Surprise Cookies

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Today I did my annual pre-Christmas Ikea trip. Since I moved to Canada Ikea has become a trusted source for a couple of things I could not live without, first being glogi (the purpose of my Ikea visit today). Glögi (or glögg) is a Nordic Christmas drink, a sort of warm sweet mulled wine that comes in either alcoholic or non-alcoholic varieties, and Ikea is the only place where I have found it by the bottle here in Toronto. Imad loves it too, and as I was contemplating on getting three bottles, he wanted five to make sure we don’t run out! I’m sure they will all be gone after Christmas! The nonalcoholic glögi can be served heated on its own, or with added vodka or wine to spice it up. I also bought some gravad lax/kraavilohta (raw cured salmon), cold smoked salmon, pickled herring, lingonberry jam, Finnish licorice, chocolate, tea lights, and couple of other Christmassy things, including a candelabra. Every year I have a terrifying thought that maybe I am the only one buying the glögi and next year they won’t have it!

In Finland and Sweden people don’t generally love Ikea as much as they do here: It’s viewed as cheap and a sell-out of all “real” Scandinavian design (Ikea is known for taking designs from other companies, changing them a bit and selling them cheap). In Canada, Ikea is selling the idea of Swedishness, in Finland mostly the idea of affordable. But I do have to admit that they do a decent job in making me feel a bit homesick with their rubbery meatballs! We do have their furniture too and they have lasted reasonably well.

In the evening I ventured out to my yoga class – my second one after the four week bronchitis episode! As I rushed up the stairs to the studio, I was expecting it to be full of the pre-holiday crowd, but instead there was just a small group of students, the faithful regulars. I have never seen this particular class be this empty since it starts at 5:30, just when everyone is gets off work. Usually the class gets so full that there is hardly space to stretch your arms without hitting your neighbor, but this time there were only maybe 10 of us. The best part came after class, when I opened my eyes after savasana (final relaxation pose) and the teacher had left little bags of homemade Christmas cookies in front of each of our yoga mats. She had baked everything herself and wrapped them nicely with bows. Such a lovely and unexpected surprise!

By the way, my post-per-day isn’t going that well. I missed a post yesterday! (It is much harder than I thought, to post every single day!). Maybe I should just publish cat photos and life would be much easier 🙂 I’ll do my best to keep it up though!

Mattress Madness

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Yesterday’s Christmas party resulted with us coming home with a surprise, a piece of paper that says Imad won a queen size mattress and boxspring! (Thank goodness it also comes with delivery and all we had to carry home was that little card :-). Every year they draw prizes at the Christmas dinner and this year Imad was one the lucky ones out of the maybe 500 guests to win. Now we just have to figure out what to do with our gigantic prize when it arrives!

The mattress was undoubtedly one of the more expensive items on the list of prizes to choose from, and when it came down to either that or a Body Shop gift box, we chose to go with the mattress. Here in Canada mattresses are ridiculously expensive; several thousand dollars for a good one (and even then it doesn’t mean that the mattress is made with natural materials). Our prize comes with a boxspring (which in Finland would be called a “Yankee bed” I think). Because we have so far preferred just a regular wooden bed with a mattress in it, we’ll have to see what to do with the one we won. Actually, I was even planning to minimize from the mattress we have now into a Japanese shikibuton, but this is definitely a huge step away from anything minimal; the American type beds are huge! Anyway I am not sure if we should keep both, mattress and boxspring, sell the boxspring, or sell both… Or, if the mattress is indeed firm enough and feels ‘right’ maybe we will be “Yankee bed” converts too!

An Irish Christmas Carol

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It’s Saturday night and we are soon off to Imad’s work Christmas party! I did have a longer post planned for today, but I thought it would be in the spirit of the Christmas party to share a carol instead (though I doubt that the party will be quite as peaceful as this one!). The Wexford Carol is a little bit more unknown, despite the fact that it is one of the oldest Christmas songs in the world, dating all the way to the 12th century. Hope you like it!