Red Chair Reads: The Murder of Halland

The Murder of Halland, by Pia Juul, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitkin

Whodunit, who cares?

Halland and Bess live in a small town where everyone knows your name.  One day, Halland is shot dead in the town square, and not surprisingly, this is the catalyst for Bess to reassess her life.  Who killed Halland? Bess is not all that interested, even as her life lurches on and unexpected people keep showing up on her doorstep.  Who, after all,  was the Bess who lived with Halland and yet did not share his life, and who is the Bess who seems unable to grieve for her not-quite-husband?

The book might be called The Murder of Halland, but that is not the actual subject of the book.  Bess is the focus, and we are meant to see the world from her viewpoint.  She is smart, she is skewed, and she may be slowly unhinging.  She does not mourn Halland so much as mourn for the person she may have been: he was never in her life, and neither was she ever in his.  Bess finds out about the pregnant foster-niece in Copenhagen, about the apartment she lives in for which he paid the rent, about his share of the apartment, a small locked room with a gigantic poster of Martin Guerre.  What does it all mean?  She speculates, she gets drunk, she finds out things that she doesn’t share with the police, she loses interest . . . .  and so did I.  In the end, Bess was just too irritating to be intriguing.

The Murder of Halland was my first dip into the Peirene Press, “two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film.”  Clever, well-written, claustrophobic, perhaps too interested in “intellectual dismantling” of an entire genre, and ultimately a most unsatisfying two hours of my life.

Chia, the assitant Red Chair Reader

Chia, the Assistant Red Chair Reader

Chia, who is quite perturbed that Martin Aitkin, PH.D in Linguistics, does not know the difference between further and farther.

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Reuse Reduce Recycle Project, Part 2

I spent my internship year at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a somewhat run-down community hospital in a not entirely salubrious part of town.  The place was old enough that most of the patient care areas did not have air conditioning, and during the summer the nurses would set up industrial-sized fans (the kind they use in gyms) at ends of hallways to help ventilate and cool the wings.  The in-patient population tended to be elderly, and there was a rumor that one of the attendings had the biggest Medicare billings amongst all private practices in the state.  The typical admissions were old, institutionalized, and usually DNR, except when they weren’t — and there were also rumors about certain families who kept Dear Old Mom/Dad/Aunt/Uncle alive in order to collect their social security benefits.   The hospital was strapped for money, so various services went home after 7PM:  phlebotomists, EKG techs, respiratory techs, unit clerks, runners who delivered radiology films (yes, these were the days before everything could be pulled up on screens).  Even the cafeteria closed down by 7, which is how I ended up eating my first, and last, White Castle burger from the vending machine.  On the usual call night  the residents would drown in scut work: drawing blood and ABGs, inserting countless IVs because the nurses were required to give up after two sticks, hunting through the stacks for radiology films, doing EKGs with machines that still used rubber suction cups and required leads to be switched between readings, figuring out settings for respirators, inserting NG tubes and various other catheters into various orifices (because nurses didn’t do those “invasive” procedures, and delivering patients from one place to the next.  I got to the point where I could do ABGs on anyone, and do them in the dark!  I spent years 2 and 3 of my residency in another Saint hospital.  This one was better-run and had money, and I was shocked to discover that all I had to do was WRITE the order, and miraculously it was done!

Anyway, I had a couple of souvenirs from my internship year: scrubs (of course, because how else would anyone know you’re a doctor unless you are wearing scrubs from another hospital), and a couple of towels.  Like everything else from the hospital, these towels were depressing, scrawny and tiny even when new.  I used these towels for years as back-up bathroom mats, and kept putting off turning them into rags.  A few weeks ago,  I attacked the linen closet as part of my R³ Project, and the towels were still there, still scrawny but usable.  And this is what I did with them:

St. Elizabeth's Hospital bath mat

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital bath mat

In my short quilting career, I have still managed to accumulate a large amount of fabric scraps.  In this case, the block was from a quilt top I was never going to turn into a quilt, and it happened to fit perfectly on the towel.  I stitched the quilt block directly on the towel, added a couple of scrap fabric to the sides, turned the towel borders in and stitched them in place.  My memories of St. E are not entirely bad, and this bath mat (and its fraternal twin) makes me smile and think more kindly of that year.

The St. E mats got me on a roll, and for three or four weeks now, I have been reducing my fabric scrap pile.  We have more bath mats!  We have mud mats!  We have kitchen floor mats:

A kitchen floor mat

A kitchen floor mat

I sewed all the strips directly on top of the batting and backing, as in strip quilting.  This small rug has scraps from just about every quilt I have ever made — not that I have made that many, but still.  The backing is leftover fabric from drapes I made years ago that I no longer have:

Reverse side of kitchen mat

Reverse side of kitchen mat

We have place mats:

DH's place mat

DH’s place mat

And the reverse, flannel fabric from one of his old shirts:

Reverse of place mat

Reverse of place mat

These sewing projects reflect my personal commitment to making something useful out of materials that were probably going to end up in the landfill.  I suppose all I have done is shift the landfill day sometime in the future, but for now, it is enough that day is NOT today, or tomorrow, or next week.

Tula's Quilt

Tula’s Quilt

Even the Guinea Pig has her own quilt!

Reuse Reduce Recycle Project

One of those silly online quizzes (you know, something along the line of what color dog were you in a previous life?) tells me I have a “philosophical mind.”  I think what that means is that for more than half my life, I have been wondering what is my purpose in life.  On the down swing of bipolar, my purpose is negative:  I am trying NOT to leave the world in worst shape than it is right now, on a grey maybe-it-will-rain August afternoon.

For the past six weeks or so, I have been on the R³ kick, although what I am actually doing is trying my damnedest to control my environment.  It began because I realized what I most wanted out of my new house is an empty house — but clearly that cannot be, because I need a bed, and clothes, and kitchen stuff, and bathroom stuff, and and and . . .  So the next best thing is to declutter.  We (this includes DH and The Teenager) have been giving away/throwing away at least one item a day, although we tend to count groups of items as one item (a set of towels, a group of figurines, that stack of technical papers from 20 years ago).  The surprise is how easy it has been.  The other surprise is that though we have reduced and recycled so much (well, we think it’s much), it is invisible.  The Teenager’s room is still cluttered, DH’s office looks about the same, I have way too many books and clothes and doodads, and we still have too much furniture.

So what is the Big Picture?

I moved to college with five boxes of belongings.  I moved to graduate school with eight boxes in my little Toyota Corolla (back when the Corolla truly was a compact car).  We now have five dining tables.  Does anyone need five dining tables?  In our defense, three of those tables function as desks, one is a sewing table, and one actually is a dining table.  But still . . .  Then I had a moment of clarity when I was reading an article about a man who bought a 700 square foot house, and immediately started making a list of “cannot live without” things.  As it turned out, there were even more items on the “cannot live without” list that he could in fact live without.

If my purpose is what I think it is, then it should not be easy.  When our neighbor moved out, she rented a dumpster, and managed to empty it twice with all the things she needed during her life in that house.  I am trying to avoid that last-ditch dumpster dump, but not sure if I will succeed.  So everyday, I continue to look at my belongings:  Why are you in my life?  How much “stuff” do I need to remind me of who I am?

Tula, who is pretty sure she does NOT need a ribbon

Tula, who is pretty sure she does NOT need a ribbon

Red Chair Listens: The Borough Treasurer

I keep telling myself, “No more mysteries with inane heroines!”  And then I go and blow it.  The latest: The Borough Treasurer by J. S. Fletcher, 1921.  It started out promisingly with a description of the town of Highmarket, its mayor Mr. Mallalieu, and his partner and the borough treasurer Mr. Cotherstone.  Enter the wily Mr. Kitely, former policeman turned blackmailer (a man has to eat, right?) who recognized Mallalieu and Cotherstone as a pair of embezzlers from 30 years ago . . . .  Murder, of course!

Mr. Kitely is dead, strangled like a pig, and Mallalieu and Cotherstone suspect each other without actually accusing each other of the crime.  Mr. Cotherstone tries to throw the suspicion on the mysterious Mr. Harborough: what is his alibi and why does he refuse to just come out with it?  And why does Mr. Brereton, young lawyer from London, suddenly decide that Mr. Harborough is innocent and he simply must defend him?  Well, OK, that last part is easy . . . .  One look at Avice Harborough, and Mr. Brereton is determined to prove her father’s innocence.  Meanwhile, Mr. Cotherstone has to make sure his past stays in the past, not the least because daughter Lettie is engaged to the wealthy Windle Bent, who is also Mr. Brereton’s best friend.  And rounding out the list of unsavory characters, there is Mr. Stoner, Cotherstone’s clerk and neophyte blackmailer, and Miss Pett, a woman with her own secrets to protect.

In the end, everything is explained, even the lamest red herring plot ever.  I do, however, appreciate the moral imperative that everyone gets what he/she deserves, even if the message could have been less heavy-handed.

IMG_3067Tula, waiting for it to be all over.

Finally, Spring

Robin's egg

Robin’s egg

While trimming the grass edge, I found this beautiful little egg . . . .  I don’t know how long it had been there, but we did have some fierce winds with a snow storm over Mother’s Day weekend.

Tula, the Spring Pig

Tula, the Spring Pig

Tula, on Exercise

IMG_2767

Opie, in her younger days, was pretty good at climbing the steps.  Once she got going, she would bounce up the stairs without stopping.  And of course there was always a treat at the top — she preferred lettuce leaves to carrots.  Tula gets stuck.  Or stunned.  Or obstreperous.  She doesn’t see the point of working out for that treat …  really, isn’t it enough that she’s cute?