Sunday, July 23, 2006

Just me, my laptop and this mellow Sunday

I have achieved nothing today. Absolutely nothing, at least if only stuff that I should be doing is counted. I did finish reading a good book and knitted some (I'm making a poncho for Satu this time). Other than that, I've just slept, eaten, watched television and listened to the construction workers build the scaffolding outside our building. I feel sort of bad for so completely slacking all day, but darned if I can be bothered to do anything anymore. Too late, heh. I'll have to make up for the lost time tomorrow, then. Monday's are good days for getting back to work, right?

Last time I wrote, I was on my way to get me some sea legs on a nice boat trip to the archipelago. And what a wonderful trip it was! Unfortunately I had only my old camera with me, so no pics this time.

Heli's parents boat was very nice. Huge. I'm not exactly sure how long it really was, but I figured it must've been at least some 20 metres long and completely equipped for seafaring also over longer distances, to Denmark and so on (that's where Heli's parents went with the boat earlier this summer). The five of us (me, Satu, Heli and her parents) were quite comfortably accommodated and I'm sure at least another five people would've fit in still reasonably well. We didn't, however, get to try out the in-boat-sauna, since it would've heated up the cabin in the aft, where Satu and I slept.

But a couple days at sea and I felt like I had been away from home for at least a couple of weeks. In a good way, too. There was something unbelievably relaxing in the low growl of the engines, the waves hitting the boat and the shores... We girls spent most of our time basking in the sunlight on deck, reading, talking or napping. (And I've got the sunburns slowly turning into a tan to prove it.) I'm more than willing to say that it was the highlight of my summer. I loved every minute of the trip. I so love to be at sea and it's too bad I don't have the means to do it more often. (Perhaps I have to add a boat to the list of requirements of that Special Someone, hah.)

To make the trip even better, we spent the second night at Heli's family's summer cottage in the archipelago. A truly stunning place. A beautiful (and big) summerhouse (can't really call it a cottage) built high up on a rocky hill, facing the open sea. My god, I could've stared into the distance from the balcony for hours. But the sauna beckoned us, and I finally got rid of my "winter coat" as the saying goes. The water wasn't very warm, but it was still nice to swim in the sea. Relaxation extraordinaire, I tell you!

On Saturday evening I had a garden party to go to. Hobbiton's garden party had been long awaited and turned out it had been worth waiting for. Tytti and her hubby do throw very nice parties. We drank a ridiculous amount of fresh strawberry margaritas, ate well and had a good time. What wonderful friends I have.

A week ago on Monday I got to try something completely new to me. I took a short course on making wire jewelry! Heli has been doing wire jewelry for a while already (and she's advanced into silver wire) and she urged me to come and try it, too. And surely enough, after some five hours of twisting, sawing and fumbling about with tiny loops of wire I had managed to make a nice ankle bracelet out of brass wire and decorated it with glass beads. Go me!

I'm discovering all new handicrafty sides to my life - within a year I've made myself a longbow, a Harry Potter scarf, a poncho (and a half) and an ankle bracelet. In other words I've tried woodworking, knitting and metal work and managed to not mess everything up or get injured myself. Yay.

Well, perhaps I shouldn't consider changing professions quite yet, but new hobbies can be a nice way to break the routines.

One old hobby definitely remains, though. Reading. I just finished reading Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife today. A piece of maintstream literature, which was pure fantasy or science fiction. I suppose Niffenegger didn't intend to write an sf-novel, but that's what it was. Not too bad at it, either.

The story was that of Henry DeTamble and his wife, Clare. He has a strange genetic disorder that makes him travel in time. On these travels he meets Clare, his future wife, and visits her randomly when she grows up. The timeline of the story is, if I'm allowed an understatement, somewhat garbled as Henry travels from his present to his past and future, little by little revealing the whole love story between Clare and himself.

I found the book a reasonably entertaining read. However, I think many readers who haven't read any sf will find it more refreshing and new. For me the idea wasn't anything groundbreaking, to be honest. But as it was a well-written piece of literature, I enjoyed reading it. In other words, it was good literature, but not so good sf. But since it wasn't written as an sf-story, I probably shouldn't judge it as such. But you know, zebras can't get rid of their stripes and I'm pretty stuck with my sf-background when it comes to time travelling stories.

Oh, and another literature related piece of my mind. I just noticed the other day that they're making a movie version of The Other Boleyn Girl! I hadn't known about it before, but now - I can't wait! It'll have Eric Bana (!) as Henry VIII and Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as Anne and Mary Boleyn. Sounds good to me! Something to look forward to, in addition to the third Pirates movie...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!

I'm so excited! I'll get to go sailing for a couple of days this week (from Thursday to Saturday)! Or technically, not sailing, since it's not a sailboat we'll be on, eh... I don't actually know what kind of a boat it is, exactly, but I do know it's supposed to be quite big. An old wooden motor boat of some sort, with sleeping places for over 10 people and a sauna on board. This is how it has been described to me and I'm already loving it.

It's been ages since I got to go out on sea. If the weather stays like this, we'll have a magnificent trip, I'm sure. The archipelago is beautiful, I love love love the sea and absolutely need to get swimming soon! I can't wait!

And it will all fit my sea-faring mood perfectly. I saw the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie today. I went to the press viewing with Tytti, even though we do both have tickets for tomorrow evening, too. It'll be fun to see it again, though, this time with a bunch of friends. I'll post a longer review later, but I'll say this much. I had a good time, even though I must admit I was slightly disappointed on the whole. But not in the least bit disappointed in the hotness of Orlando. Still there. Very muchly so. ;)

Anyway, I'll get back to all things marine probably on Sunday or something. It'll be all adventures of pirates of the Caribbean and of the Uusikaupunki archipelago then. Arrr!

(But why is the rum always gone? Yo ho, yo ho...)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Jousting the night away

Last weekend saw Turku go back in time to the 15th century, as the medieval market lured some 100 000 people to see what life in town all those centuries ago might've looked like. I spent quite a while browsing through the stalls and enjoying the atmosphere, just like I do every year. It was fun, even though I was recovering from a cold and didn't even dress properly for the occasion (it would've been doubly as hot and uncomfortable wearing a velvet dress), but even dressed in a more modern fashion, I got some money spent...

But what was more interesting this year, was that there was a horse tournament for the first time. You know, knights on handsome horses, sporting against each other with lances and stuff. Well, naturally it was all done in somewhat smaller scale than I imagine tournaments for example in England would be , but nevertheless I had a good time cheering for the knights who were trying to show off their skills. I had mom's digicamera with me, and I took quite a few photos. And here are a few to show what the Finnish knights could do.

The Black Knight shows off his skills before kidnapping the King's daughter.

And so he rides away with the damsel, clearly in distress.

Is there a noble enough knight to save the King's daughter?

Will it be the Blue knight?

Or perhaps the Red one?

Or the Blue and Gold knight?

And in the meanwhile, the Black knight imprisons the lady.

The knights are given tasks to prove their might. Picking up the King's daughter's "petticoat" with a spear is one of them.

Picking up rings with a sword is another.

And one should not forget the slashing of the cabbages...

Mightiest of the knights on his mighty steed.

And they also rode against each other...

The Black knight approaches with no good intentions.

He sets fire around the two knights and they are forced to ride through the flames to safety.

And then there's a terrible skirmish, in which the Black knight is defeated. Or so it seems.

Having made a miraculous recovery, the Black knight returns. And in the end, love wins it all as the Black Knight and the King's daughter aren't too displeased with each other after all...

Not a very original storyframe, but entertaining, sure. Funnily enough the knights seemed to communicate mostly with grunts, growls and arrrr's, but luckily the Fool was articulate enough to elaborate on what they clearly were meaning to say.

The horses were very well trained for the job, they patiently galloped about with their respective knights trashing about with this and that weapon. Very admirable.

I'm hoping I'll get to try some of this "medieval riding" at the Rohan stables where the riders came from. It'd be great to have a try at it before travelling to England (next summer, if everything goes well) and hopefully seeing a tournament in slightly grander surroundings. Like at one of the shows of these people.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My days in the Tudor court

Thanks to Tigerlily's indirect recommendation, I've just finished reading what is without a doubt the most entertaining and spellbinding book I've read in a while. I stayed up till 3 a.m. last night reading it, and didn't get up from bed in the morning before I had finally finished reading it. (My logic being that once I finished reading it, it wouldn't disturb my work anymore and therefore it'd be better to read the rest of it pretty quickly.)

Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It tells the story of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Mary is the first Boleyn girl to catch the King's eye and she becomes a pawn in her family's game of politics and power in the Tudor court. She is already married to another man, but nevertheless she is ordered into the bed of Henry so that her family of Howards and Boleyns would get the King's favour.

The basic story is sadly familiar from history. Mary is cast aside as Henry's interests turn to the French-court-schooled sister of Mary, the dark and vivacious Anne. She wrappes the King around her little finger and marries him, after he has coldly removed his wife of two decades, Queen Katharine, from court and had his first marriage annulled.

From there on it is all just a question of breeding, really. Will the new Queen provide the nation with a strong male heir? Everything looks reasonably well, when the little princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of unrivalled magnificence, is born. But no son, no prince is born. In the tireless rumour mill that is the court of Henry, the Queen Anne is soon ground to pieces and her destiny is the sharp blade of the executioner's sword.

Although I was familiar with the history, the story still captured me. Gregory writes in a very simple and charming way. Compared to the excellent Lymond Chronichles (by Dorothy Dunnett) I've also been reading lately this was certainly an easier read to a non-native English speaker, if nothing else. I don't mind difficult language at all, it's part of the charm of Dunnett's work (and a challenge!), but Gregory's was the style of storytelling (and use of English language) I'd like to master myself.

In addition to the easy-flowing language, Gregory's choice of telling the story in the first person, in Mary's voice, is very effective. It enables the reader to relate to her, brings her character closer. And that, if anything, is a good sign in a historical novel - in any novel, really. I wouldn't want to read about a character I didn't care the least bit about.

Mary's life is a life of a courtier, and she isn't allowed to decide for herself, not until later in life. She struggles with her conscience as she beds the King while the Queen, whose lady-in-waiting Mary is, turns a blind eye to it all. She struggles to accept and obey her sister's every whim, as Anne replaces her as the favoured Boleyn girl. She cries bitter tears when Anne adopts her and Henry's bastard son, just so Anne could claim young Henry was a legal heir to the throne. But after it all, she is the Boleyn girl who wins it all, as she keeps her life when other Boleyn heads roll - literally. And of course, she also finds True Love. (And that courtship is described so endearingly, that it was nearly impossible to not feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Awww. Nice balance of "fade to black" and telling it all, also. - This is a comment that will probably best open up to the fanfic writers out there...)

All in all, I thought the novel described Mary and her life in the court very believably and entertainingly. Made me want to be able to travel back in time to Henry's court to see the grand masquerades and listen to the courtiers' poems myself. (Not to mention to see some of the gowns described, my gosh.) And besides, after reading a fictional description (even though admittedly quite well researched) of the court life, I'm once again pretty happy that I chose Henry's reign as my thesis topic. What a fascinating period in history it was.

On a tangent line of thought, I do have to say that writing a historical novel is, in a way, also a dream of mine. I've even toyed with an idea for one for a couple of years now. It'll probably never come to anything (I think I need a better idea, first of all), but it really would be a great way for me to express my enthusiasm about history and literature in the same package. I don' t know if I'd want to be a full-time professional researcher, but since I do like doing research and writing and telling stories about history, what better way to combine them than to write historical fiction? (Especially since I will, hopefully, have a steady income from teaching, heh.)

Ah, but I suppose I'd better get off this research break and get back to the non-fictional times of Henry VIII. Today's reading includes some 200 descriptions of different kinds of letters and papers from the year 1540. I've got to browse them through carefully enough to find any and all references to the Order. I've gone through some 800 documents already, and so far I've been able to find less than 20 documents... I hope that the personnel at the Order's archives in London will be able to point out more documents to me, as they said they could probably help me with my research. (And yes, this is just one part of the huge collection of documents from Henry's reign, so I expect I still have some thousands of descriptions to go through, yikes. Help would therefore be more than welcome...)