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f/e 2019-11-17


Last time I opened one of Craig Mod’s walking-oriented Ridgeline newsletters I misread his greeting of “Walkers!” And so here we are.

Related, I haven’t found San Francisco a very readable font for body copy. I also often think random words are italicised, until I look more closely. I’m now trying out the different serif fonts in Reeder.

Also related, I’m finally admitting I should get some progressive lenses in my glasses so that reading is easier.

Photo of a dark lantern-lit alley with a woman walking away from the camera, smoking
Aosta alley, on Flickr

§   This fortnight I visited a friend who, earlier in the year, moved to Aosta, in the very north-west of Italy, in the mountains, close to France and Switzerland. My photos are on Flickr.

I travelled by train which was good apart from a 90 minute delay on the way there, and me feeling really rough on the way back. The best feature of the outward journey was three hours in Paris to make my way from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. I can’t believe Paris is so close and I go so rarely.

Aosta is very pretty and more “alpine” in style than what I (probably wrongly) think of as “typical Italy”, with snow-capped mountains as the backdrop in every direction. It has lots of Roman and medieval ruins and old buildings, a pleasant pedestrianised centre full of small shops, plus all those mountain-related activities that are apparently popular.

We also had a bus journey up the valley to Courmayeur, the other side of Mont Blanc from Chamonix, which is even more “alpine” and more spendy, with every up-market mountain-related clothing and equipment brand represented in its little boutiques. I assume November’s between summer and winter tourist seasons so I have an unrepresentatively quiet image of both places.

Photo of a cat, on top of a wall, at night, with the moon in the background
Il gatto e la luna, on Flickr

I was pleased with a couple of photos I took, but I need to use my newish camera more frequently and more often to feel more comfortable with it. I still feel I’m either just pointing an entirely automatic device at something, or else taking forever remembering how to set the settings.

I can see why painters have spent a lot of time painting such places, attempting to capture the changing light on the snow, the mountains, the trees and the valleys. It’s hard to capture with a camera and it must be maddening to do so with watercolours or oils. Turner and Sargent both painted there a lot:

Mont Blanc from Fort Roch, Val D’Aosta by J.M.W Turner, at WikiArt

I have an unlikely enthusiasm for Fiat Panda 4x4s. A very little car that’s 4x4! It looks like a fun car! I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Italian mountains are the ideal place for such cars, which are pretty rare in the UK, and there were loads of them. Obviously, cars are terrible polluting things with no place in urban environments but still… Cute! Fun!

§   While at my friend’s we swapped YouTube videos back and forth ending up on this interview with Aldous Harding:

FaceCulture interview with Aldous Harding, 2019, on YouTube

We’d just watched all of her videos and were marveling, again, at how things that could seem ridiculous in other hands are delivered with such seriousness and commitment that we were entranced. Then seeing her attempt to explain her work is fascinating and so different from most musician interviews. She’s humble, takes her time, struggles to make vague things concrete… so good.

§   Before I went away I finished reading Outline by Rachel Cusk which was very good. I can’t remember where I’ve seen her recommended other than, I think, a mention in Reality Hunger, but there was somewhere. The novel’s an account of staying in Athens, teaching, and the people the narrator meets there.

It reminded me a little of Douglas Coupland in as much as some of the bits I enjoyed most from his novels were the stories characters told each other. Outline is also full of characters telling the narrator stories and, as with Coupland, they’re often more intriguing than the “outer” story that frames them. The language used seems extremely clear and simple which I imagine is deceptively difficult to achieve, especially when trying to communicate complicated situations and feelings. Very good. Two more in the trilogy to go.

§   Before the trip I also managed to write my review of the Guardian’s Daily Edition app. Was it worth it? I spent a couple of days putting it together and, while it did get out some of my frustration, I’m not short of other things I could have done with the time.

It’s certainly better to write something more thoughtful than a “@Guardian Your new app’s shit!” tweet, but maybe it doesn’t need 4,500 words of thought? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be good to have more in-depth analysis of websites and apps? It doesn’t have to be quite John Siracusa-level but something better than the re-hashed press releases that pass for most coverage of digital products. I expect some major games get this treatment but other, smaller, less fun things? Have I missed it?

§   When watching the BBC’s American football programmes I find the moments when they analyse particular plays interesting. After years of watching the NFL each play generally still looks to me like a mess of big guys running at each other, even though I know there is a lot of planning, tactics and strategy going on. The analysis is usually too rushed for me though — I want more detail and then to see the play a few times, including slow motion, before I can follow what’s been described.

This week there was a slightly longer bit of analysis that was good, which is at 16:05 in NFL This Week, 19th Nov 2019 should you be able to watch iPlayer. A couple of minutes spent on the movements of three defenders, leaving a gap for a short running gain by the offense. It still looks like a mess of big guys running at each other but now I can just about see how the play happened.

§   I recently started a six-evening weekly acting course in which we perform scenes in pairs, film each person, and watch the footage back. Just sitting and talking. It’s fascinating to watch ourselves in such detail, stopping every few seconds, seeing how we fail to look like real humans. I’ll probably write more about this once it’s all over.

§   That’s all. I had a very, very nice hot chocolate in Courmayeur so, now it’s getting wintery (in this hemisphere), I can recommend you also have a very nice hot chocolate this week.

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