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Last Exit to Brooklyn

In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.

Two years of Goodreads

I first joined Goodreads in September 2015 and have been using it on & (mostly) off ever since. In the last eight or nine months my activity on the book review site has accelerated. Before opening the first page I immediately update my “book shelf” and after final sentence I award the author my stars. My visits to Goodreads have probably increased due to ‘Reading Challenge” function. This feature allows the user to set a reading goal for the end of the year, so that whenever you complete and update your latest favourite you’re also reaching a goal.

For this year’s reading challenge I set myself an attainable target of 45 books. Now we are roughly half way through the year and I’ve managed a respectable 27 titles (60% apparently). This pile of books has been bolstered this year by being able to update eBooks from my kindle devices. Opening up my Goodreads to electronic texts has been helpful in finding new books as well. Sometimes, one of the worst aspects of being a heavy reader is that you simply run out of books, or rather you can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps a more subtitle metaphor for this stage in the paper’s production would be ‘not seeing the pages for the books’? Whichever allusion you choose, it’s handy to have a community of people, across several platforms with varied reading interests that mirror and inspire your own.

The other function I’ve recently discovered (I shall exorbitantly name) is multi-platform reviewing. This allows me to share my recent Goodread reviews on my WordPress blog. Sharing the reviews onto my blog is something I am excited about because it enable me to join two areas of my writing experience together. Now that the reading challenge is slowly rolling downhill towards the goal I intend to focus more intently on the reviews and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Reading

Stockholm still surprises me

Today marks the anniversary of the first time I got on a plane and left the little island known as England. My first journey to another country was for a second date at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Fast forward twelve months and I’ve flown to Sweden over a dozen times because the second date transfigured into relationship. As usual I step off the plane knowing exactly when the Flybussanar arrives; I’m aware the time it takes to grab a filter coffee from 7/11; how I jump from the coach, take the tube and always laugh at the stop called Aspudden. The routine is now scarily familiar but is the central reason why Stockholm feels like my second home.

On Saturday afternoon we wandered into central Stockholm for food supplies. On the way I detoured into the city library to get a smell of old books but was distracted by the road completely lined with people. There was a commentator with a crackled microphone whose every third word I understood. He was commentating the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s student’s parade. I soon learned that every three years the scientific minds carnival the streets with a procession of floats. The whole city seemed to turn out for an exhibit of adapted cars and dancing. It lasted about an hour and when the last vehicle passed a trail of the public followed the music into the distance.

My last visit demonstrated an important lesson. It taught that cities are large with a plethora of people living within its boundaries. The lives of these people interact, collide and change. In each 24hour cycle a multitude of new events occur, making every day different. No matter how familiar you are with your roads there’s always another to wander or maybe a parade will stumble across yours. I’m excited for the new possibilites the city has to offer. I’ll sleuth our some more of your secrets Stockholm when I see you in three weeks.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

If you’re among the two people who read my previous post you’ll know how nine-year-old me failed to become The Hero of Time. My inadequacy in completing my first Zelda game has haunted me ever since. At night my sleep is disturbed by my conceding of the Kingdom of Hyrule to Ganondorf. The failure repeated itself in several of the games and every incarnation of Link I played ultimately lost. In Majora’s Mask I couldn’t prevent the moon from plummeting into Clock Town and in a Link to the Past I gave up at the first dungeon. However, just as the Zelda games keep reincarnating the hero for fresh adversity, so I continued to pick up my sword and console to face the varying Avatars of Ganon. There’s an anecdote that stipulates that a room of monkeys with a typewriter will eventually write up the works of Shakespeare. This claim is accurate because after trying my sixth attempt at Zelda I finally succeeded in defeating the darkness. I became the saviour of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

Some may argue that this is an easy game and a true Hero is the one who can dispel the tide of Evil on a television, not on the dual screens of the Nintendo 3DS. Others may postulate that it is cheating to use an online walk-through and to rage quit when defeated in order to preserve hired weapons rather than wasting Rupees on purchasing items again. To these combatants I respond that I am the Hero of both Hyrule and Lorule with no defeats. To save two kingdoms from despair any means must be taken.

A Link Between Worlds is a classic Zelda title, relying on the usual tropes and story I have come to expect and adore. As Link I save the Princess, obtain a decent enough sword to cut up bad guys and defend the triforce. The map is reminiscent of a Link to the past and it isn’t an offence in saying Nintendo has built on old work. The unique mechanic of this game is the ability to merge into walls by become a painting. This technique allows you to walk between Hyrule and Lorule, accessing areas that cannot be reached in one plane alone. Jumping between the parallels is a unique feature that adds an interesting facet to the game and a new complexity to dungeon puzzles.

With the newly mastered ability I imbued the master Sword with ore and defeated the recent aspect of Ganon and his androgynous benefactor Yuga. As the title credits detailed victory my chin raised in pride. After fifteen years and countless defeats I had finally grown into the Hero of Hyrule. With new pride I may return to the past, be awoken by Navi and rectify the mistakes of childhood.

 

Liverpool for Easter

Liverpool was awarded the honour of European Capital of Culture in 2008. After spending 72hours in the city it is easy to observe how it achieved the title. Within the Easter break I managed to entertain myself with four museums, a couple of galleries and too much food. Surprisingly, a full weekend can be enjoyed without enduring a single Beatles song or a tour of Anfield. Wandering around the city there are whispers of an epic nightlife. I couldn’t advise you on wisdom within these rumours because I am old, slightly beige and prefer to spend my evening watching La La Land in the hotel. Instead, I’ll explore some of the day time highlights of Liverpool.

After arriving in central station the easiest area to explore is the Culture Quarter. Here you can find the theatre, World Museum, Walker Art Gallery and Central Library. If you can navigate your way around the parents with prams the World Museum contains five floors of exhibits. The displays range from the depths of the ocean in the Aquarium towards the reaches of the solar system in the Planetarium. In between you can explore a plethora of civilsations stretching across history and geography. By simply turning a corner you’ve strolled across the countries of Africa, into the golden relics of the Mayan Empire, and before lunch time arrived in Tibet.

Occasionally the crowds can make the Museum overwhelming because the attraction is exceptionally popular with families during school holidays. After hauling your luggage through the herd you can be slightly exasperated. To cure this I’d take a trip next door to central library. I’d suggest making your way up all the floors towards the roof terrace. Here you can take a moment to breathe and view the city from above. The calm of walking among the books towards the city-scape view is the ideal way to restore your peace before adventuring forward.

After the vertical walking of the World Museum and Central Library it’s probably time for lunch. As with all cities, Liverpool isn’t short of great places to eat. For lunch I’d advise a trip to Bold Street. Here you can find most of the world’s cuisines and a few unique eateries as well. Deciding on a restaurant will depend on what you’re hungry for but I’d suggest independent tea shop and bar LEAF. This cafe is also an occasional performance space and has always been busy whenever I have visited either for a pot of tea or brunch. Starting at breakfast you can enjoy a traditional Full English or vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan variations. Food continues throughout the day with Mezze style sharing platters and Mediterranean inspired salads and meat dishes. This can all be accompanied with tea (available to purchase for home) or something stronger.

After lunch, when the day is hopefully warmer, would be the best time to visit the Albert Dock. Braving the wind are several antique sailing vessels you can board in between your wander around the water. The dock is home to several attractions which include the famous Beatles Museum and the Liverpool Tate. The Tate’s currently has an exhibit joining the work of Tracy Emin and William Blake. As an ex-literature student and art enthusiast I was in my nerd epoch. Seeing Emin’s My Bed up close is a confidence enhancer about the cleanliness  of your own home. Emin’s work that focuses on grounded human subjects (such as impressionist paintings of the naked female form) provide a satisfying contrast to Blake’s idealised paintings of Christian mythology.

If the galleries aren’t your scene then the Museum of Slavery/Maritime Museum is a peculiar three floor combination museum. They advertise themselves as separate buildings but are more akin to individual exhibits within the same space. As you traverse each floor a feeling of melancholia develops as you delve into the depths of the city’s connection to tragedy. Being heavily involved with the Titanic and her infamous sinking the second floor highlights the devastation the ship’s destruction had on Liverpool’s population. Many workers and relatives of the city embarked on the Titanic’s maiden and became victims of the disaster.

The third floor explores the slave trade and importantly acknowledges Liverpool’s involvement in the atrocity as a port city. Although we all know the abuses of history this exhibit serves as a reminder to revisit the horrors of our history, learn again of the awful acts and how they have shaped as well as still impact modern, industrial societies. You are sobered as you exit the exhibits and truly entrenched in the glory and falls of Liverpool.

As a city of culture Liverpool is encumbered with places to enjoy your evening meal. The choices are numerous and even boast a Michelin star restaurant. If overly fine dining isn’t within your price range or style then I’d opt for something simpler. Lunya is a tapas bar and deli where you can enjoy the catatonia delicacies sold to grocery customers alongside a brimming table of small dishes. There’s something for everyone (even the vegans) served by delightful Spanish waiters. I’d recommend the deep fried goats cheese and everything else on the menu.

After a fill of good food, sea air and intense images in the galleries and museums it’s understandable if you don’t want to chase down a bar. You’re more than welcome to do like me and room service a bottle of wine, watch Hollywood’s latest attempt at a musical and get a good night’s sleep before journeying into the city again tomorrow.

 

 

The Most Moreish Mozzarella

Now that I’m approaching my mid-twenties my perfect Friday nights have become more demure. No longer are my weekends spent drinking away hours in clubs or sipping a cocktail at a bar. Instead, my idea of the ideal evening is a plate of various snacks and a glass or two of red wine. The sundries can vary depending on where I have been shopping but my plate must always have some cheese and olives. I have yet to encounter a cheese I do not enjoy and each lazy evening I sample a new variety. However, there is one cheese that must always be present: The humble Mozzarella.

There is something irresistible about the creamy spheres that I always enjoy. When I pick up a pack and hear the slosh of water around the cheese, I am immediately content and know the evening will be peaceful. Over time I have had the pleasure of slicing many varieties under my cheese knife. It has reached the point that I feel  my understanding of the food has reached beyond the level of novice and I can now advise the newly initiated on the correct purchase.

In order to determine what constitutes a good cheese we must set ourselves some categories. I propose two empirical perimeters that will allow for comparison: Texture/Shape and Flavour. Beginning with Texture/Shape we must understand that supermarket Mozzarella spends most of its life in a bath. Once the packaging has been opened a considerable amount of liquid must be drained. Now the cheese is squeezed free of excess fluids we may now consider how it appears and feels upon the tongue. Has the ball lost its shape and now resembles a creamy puddle or hold its shape? Does it slice and tear away easily in fleshy strips? The sad truth is that some retailers sell overly saturated mozzarella that is an immediate disappointment upon opening.

Our second and perhaps most important category for comparison is flavour. It seems absurd that different brands of such a mild cheese can have distinct differences on the pallet. However, every Mozzarella producer will procure their ingredients from different dairies and have an individual process in the making of their product. As with all cheese, Mozzarella is largely made up of fat and the levels of the unhealthy substance impact on the taste. In an attempt to be more health conscious there are now reduced fat Mozzarella readily available. Broadly speaking these cheeses are an abomination and if you are inclined to ingest these for health reasons, then I would suggest eating less of other foods or exercising more. It is better to relegate Mozzarella to a rare treat than compromising on one of life’s purest delights.

Now we have our guidelines for understanding quality, we can move on to comparing some common varieties. I have picked up three readily available samples from a Northern English town and applied to them the rules of Texture/Structure and Flavour. This brief comparison will hopefully guide you in your purchases and lead you along the road of Mozzarella appreciation.

ASDA Mozzarella Cheese- £0.63

The first cheese on the list proudly proclaims to have been made in Italy. This claim should be a considered mild international offense to the Italians. At the low price of 63p the supermarket’s mid-range, own brand offering could be considered fair value for money. That is by paying so little for the cheese you will receive little in return. Once you’ve opened the packet, poured away the liquid and given the sphere a small squeeze  you’re left with a melted snowball. This Mozzarella is excessively saturated and fails to hold the ball shape. Only the center is an enjoyable texture because the enormous amount of fluids makes the majority of the cheese into a mild milk slush. The water gives the cheese a diluted taste and promotes the impression of eating a new terrible form of Mozzarella flavour protein shake.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend offering this option on a cheese board. Instead, I believe the true destiny of this offering is for cooking. When exposed to heat the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the flavour and allowing the cheese to shine. For the bargain price it’s definitely worth exploring on a pizza and is mild enough to be enjoyed by children and strong cheese abstainers.

Rating: Raw eating- 2/5 Cooking-4/5

Galbani Santa Lucia Mozzarella- £1.30

This is perhaps the most readily available option in most retailers. The reason for this is because it’s a really dependable option. Galbani offer a wide variety of choices from the maxi (large tube), to dainty pearls and a light Mozzarella that is only good as substitute wall filler. The standard Mozzarella ball is solid, soft and tears away in satisfying fleshy strips. It doesn’t ooze liquid on the plate to taint other cheeses. Instead, it stands firm to knife pressure and retains a proud shape. The flavour is mild, creamy and feels indulgent to eat. After eating one sphere I look at the other cheeses I have purchased with minor disappointment- I should have bought two Mozzarella instead. I would recommend this Mozzarella for all general eating and is always my standard choice.

Rating: Raw eating- 4/5 Cooking-Just eat it now

Fattorie Garofalo Mozzarella di Bufalo Campana- £2.39

Now we’ve reached the top end of the Mozzarella scale. This is your Champagne of the cheese world. Just like champagne it can be a little overrated. Sometimes your standard Prosecco will be just as good. However, there are times when only the best will satisfy. I imagine that when I win my Nobel Prize for Literature because of my seminal cheese reviews, the after-party will be flooded with the fancy stuff.

This Mozzarella has a fluffy outside texture that immediately places you onto a cloud of eating. It is intensely creamy which makes you jealous to have not been born a buffalo, able to drink the goodness from source. The price and availability doesn’t make this everyday eating. The good stuff should be a treasure for when you truly deserve the best Mozzarella has to offer.

Rating: Raw eating- 4.5/5 Cooking- HEATHEN!

Marina Abramovic exhibit at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet

Marina Abramovic is often hailed as the grandmother of performance art.  Now seventy years old Abramovic is still creating new works, highlighting her position as perhaps the most prevalent performance artist in the world. Her latest performance (The Cleaner) was centered in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Unfortunately,  Abramovic’s new act only ran until March 5th 2017 but the Moderna Museet still features an exhibit of her most prolific work and several re-performances until May 21st this year. Recently I had the uncomfortable pleasure of touring the eight rooms the Modern Art museum has designated to Abramovic’s collective works. The space unveils Abramovic’s extensive contribution to performance art, demonstrating the breadth and development of her art over four decades.

After you’ve paid the entrance fee of 160 krona (approximately £16) you enter the first room of the exhibit. Inside you’re introduced to Abramovic’s juvenalia, a gathering of sketches, paintings and letters that detail her subjects before the move into performance art. There is a fixation upon wagon crashes and disembodied legs. On first impressions the fixation on these macabre subjects is uncomfortable. Once accustomed to the images, it becomes evident (especially through the paintings) that even from an early age Abramovic was capable of finding  beauty in a chaotic subject, capturing devastation and energy in a collision of colour.

Abramovic’s youthful darkness lays the foundation for the second room. The earliest performances, starting from 1973 are displayed here. Through the photographs, videos and slides we are shown the extremes Abramovic stretched her body to in her earliest performances. Overall the art in this section creates an uncomfortable tension. The artist is seen to be whipping and cutting herself; standing in pentagrams of fire; screaming until her voice breaks. The unease in these performances comes from the potential danger the artist is inflicting upon herself. Walking through makes the viewer consistently flinch away from the potential pain. A particularly disturbing feature are the recordings of Abramovic working with knives. In this performance she uses twelve knives to stab between the spaces in her fingers. The first attempt is recorded and listened to by the artist before attempting to replicate the previous stabbings, cuts included. Hearing Abramovic deliberately inflict wounds to demonstrate the difference in re-performance contracts the skin and takes a strong will to listen to. Overall her early performances places the viewer in a state of anticipation that borders on nausea. The pieces take the audience out of the traditional, controlled viewing of art and hangs them on a precipice of uncertainty.

The third room displays Abramovic’s work in collaboration with artistic and romantic partner Ulay. Whilst in partnership, Abramovic dropped the more violent aspects of her work, whilst still focusing on the extremes of the body. Together they are seen to be colliding, shouting, kissing and breathing as if the activities are feats of endurance. They had taken the everyday motions of the body and through effort and time turned them into events of aggression. Something as traditionally beautiful as kissing  became almost combative, in which both artists attached their mouths until they could no longer breath. The pair explored the the utmost points of the body, nudity and endurance before their separation. Their last meeting, on the great wall of China, is displayed on several video screens. Both parties walked across the monument from opposite ends until they met in the middle. From the center they parted and never saw each other again.

After the separation with Ulay the exhibit returns to solo performances. There is a focus of life, death and sex that is explored through the artist’s Baltic roots. Through videos explaining the traditional Baltic rat extermination method and a re-performance of Cleaning the Mirror, Abramovic depicts death in quietly disturbing manner. The life cycle and sexual creation of the world treats the taboo subjects as everyday. Occasionally they are as uncomfortable as the earlier works. However, the tension is not created through danger but by confronting the fundamental aspects of existence that are often ignored.

Finally, the collection focuses on Abramovic’s most recent performances. In these the artist has become almost meta as she journeys past the traditions of her early works and begins to completely incorporate the audience into the art. The Artist is Present depicts over 700 hours of Abramovic making eye contact with hundreds of members of the public. The performance itself seems quiet in comparison to early pieces but maintains her foundation themes of endurance and the extremes of the body. It is evident that despite the less violent motion of her youthful performances Abramovic is still creating art that is physically and emotionally tasking.

In contrast to the performance art the exhibit is dotted with the artist’s sculptures in quartz crystal. These appear to have become a focus of Abarmovic’s work as she has aged and studied in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Everyday objects such as brooms and chairs have been altered to accommodate the semiprecious rocks. The combination of pale wood and purple stone is calm, beautiful and completely impractical. After traversing the main exhibit it is worth peaking through the Moderna Museet’s permanent exhibition. Amongst the Picasso, Matisse and occasional Dali are a large pair of crystal boots. Rooted into the ground visitors can discard their footwear and become statues in Abramovic’s sculpture. After the intense images of the exhibit, the crystal sends cool up into the visitor. You are calmed as you look out into Stockholm, gentled on the stone and the view of the waves.