Thursday, May 31, 2007

(Several days old, obviously!)

The meeting of Mssrs. Somme and Drinkwater upon the field of honor was an event to which I had particularly been looking forward. Not only was it not a ball (as previously mentioned, I've not had especially good luck with those recently,) but it was a duel of the sort nearest to my heart- one of wits, of words, and specifically- of haiku.

I had what I now understand to be the very rare pleasure, a few years ago, to engage in this exact form of combat with a beloved friend of mine, a gentleman of marvelous imagination and linguistic skill, M. Hask. I admit that I had been expecting something at least as bloody as my friendly battles with him at the duel yesterday evening, but found myself disappointed in that sole respect. Politeness seemed the rule of the day (and indeed I begin to wonder if the unspoken motto of Caledon is 'Live civilly or... well, please do, anyway?')- and except for some light insults against the combatants' respective families, the two haikuelists were disturbingly well-behaved. I was slightly put out.

But, considering the size of the audience, it was not a great shock, and I must learn to remember that Caledonians, on the whole, are not a bloodthirsty breed, even and perhaps most especially when pride takes the place of actual flesh. I do not think I can wish them otherwise. Certainly, it is a quieter sort of life that I lead now, but so free of care that I am drawn to it nonetheless. I have had very few dreams of any sort since I arrived here, and for that, I am glad.

I do the two gentlemen a disservice, however, to express only what I found lacking, for it was such a small part of the evening's experience that I could easily have never mentioned it at all- except that a person may, I believe, do as they bloody well like in their own diary. Yes? Quite. Now, completely leaving out the physical impressiveness of M. Somme and M. Drinkwater (and their seconds, if one's inclined to be thorough,) because I bore even myself sometimes with admiration, I was in all other respects happily surprised. Both displayed a fine degree of ability, and the result was fluent and cohesive. From experience, I know only too well that delivering a perfect haiku under pressure is rather more difficult than it first sounds, but errors were few. Whom- that is, what-ever the original argument was that inspired this battle, it was transcended by the patriotic zeal of the competitors, and the genuine benefit which will come of it.

There was little occasion for chatting with the other observers, since we kept noise to a minimum apart from some good-natured heckling and encouragement, but I did exchange a few words with O'Toole once he discovered me seated directly behind him. I could hardly help the location- it was the only seat left available in the first row. And, with such a view as this presented of the perpetually amusing Colonel throughout the duel, I could likewise hardly help teasing the man a bit when it was over. He endured it well.

If he were another sort of fellow, I should have qualms, but he seems in no danger. The more... interesting... a man's reputation, the safer he is as a target for a woman's harmless attentions- provided there isn't another woman with an even worse reputation than his laying exclusive claim to him. He provides an excellent focus until one learns the way of things and can tell just how much flirting is tolerated, and with whom. It is simply necessary, especially in a land of pervasive politeness. My tongue lacks a whetstone and, I fear, grows excessively dull.

After the event, a few of us strayed to the Falling Anvil and he remembered kindly to invite me along, but once there, I'm afraid I disappointed even myself. The talk centered upon the recent werewolf encounters, and apart from a murmured condolence to the lovely Miss Maertens whom I understood to have actually been confronted by the creature, I sat there like a sodden lump while my mind contemplated the properties of silver. It has several fascinating, even incendiary forms... but, as I had no specifically useful advice to offer at the time, I stayed silent and meditated.

Not too much so that I did not take notice of the other two gentlemen there, both encouragingly appealing, the elder of the two, M. Susenko, in particular. He has a look about him which reminds me of my Grigori.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Think I'm finally out of tears. The trick is to stop drinking water and substitute hard liquor; this makes the leaking go away. All Grieg's fault. He started me off, Mozart and Tchaikovsky exacerbated it (although I did myself no good by choosing Le Nozze di Figaro and Nochevala Tuchka Zolotaya and the String Quartet No. 1) and by the time Beethoven strode into the room to the sounds of his magnificent 5th Concerto, I was lost. They all ought to be lined up and shot, spiteful ... *illegible*

And so when a woman is worked into such a state by a handful of miserable old men, what is her remedy? When, 'desolate and sick of an old passion' or twelve, she finds her circumstances so desperate that she starts on the really old brandy, not just the reserve stuff but the bottles older than she is that she's been saving for Lord knows what, what is she, an otherwise sober and rational woman to do?

She's to bloody well go and buy herself the largest, most glittery rock she can find and hang it off whatever protrusion seems available and appropriate.

Damn right she is.
Occasionally some of the answers can be so ridiculously obvious that one cringes when one stumbles across them. I was visiting a number of shops in pursuit of a comfortable new chair for my desk- not that I have a desk, currently, either, or in fact much furniture at all- but one has to start somewhere. But suddenly, as I passed model room after model room, I became aware that there was one particular element that kept repeating. That element was those combinations of black boxes that on the continents pass for phonographs. And it came to me- why should I not be lonely, when I have packed the voices and sounds that were, until a few months ago, my daily intimate companions, into boxes to rot! For, having nothing upon which to play them, I have not taken out a single record since my arrival. I forgot all ideas of buying a chair and hurried as quickly as I could to find someone who could tell me where I might buy a proper player.

I stopped first in a place called Tranquility Gardens, where I was charmed by their modest offering, which was nicely crafted and so very inexpensive that I ordered one immediately. Then on to Twist and Mila Designs, which, although it was a very fine shop overall and I might return for some of their other items, did not tempt me. Their gramophone was just somewhat plain, and not very different from the one I had just purchased. Since I don't currently require its additional features, I passed. Heading on to Deckard & Quinn, I was hoping to find what I was looking for there because it seems natural to support Caledon and its residents as much as I can. Their meticulously-crafted phonograph was extremely impressive, but I have so few cylinders that it wouldn't be put to much use. Also, the stain of the wood case wasn't to my liking. I may change my mind and go back for it later, however.

Having more or less escaped unscathed thus far, my purse was not so lucky at the next shop. Serendipity Studios proved its excellent reputation to me the moment I entered l'Opera Populaire with its dazzling foyer and famous chandelier. That sort of excess in design isn't usually my taste, although I am aware that it is a replica, and one can admire the artisanship in any case. And the gramophones... absolutely luscious. Sometime, when I have a home large enough to accommodate all three, I will go back and buy the other two, but for now I am more than contented with my selection, the richly coloured 'Jewel of Morocco'. In fact I could probably not be more in love with it.

Arriving home, I unpacked it as quickly as I could, setting it up on a bench because I don't even have a proper stand sturdy enough to hold it yet. Dragging out one of my boxes of records from beneath the bed, I tore off the lid and pulled out the first disc I touched without even bothering to look at the cover. In retrospect, I'm probably quite fortunate that chance did not land me with a copy of the planktology lecture I attended last summer.

Instead, my little room slowly filled with the plaintive sweetness of some unknown, pure-voiced Norwegian soprano performing Solveig's Song as Grieg had first meant for it to be- sung- with such an honesty of expression that I had to sit down immediately before I ended up in a tangle on the rug. I do not speak the language, but I had the pleasure of seeing the play performed in Kristiania once with a friend who did, and it never fails to affect me. It is the song of anyone who dares against hope and reason to love someone unworthy. Sometimes the waiting is in vain; sometimes, unbeknownst, they are indeed waiting for you where you can't yet go to join them. Would I still had such faith as Ibsen's heroine that death were no separation.
Most habits have not changed much, though differences in place and time would alter them in little ways. They keep me, I think, on balance, which should not be too surprising. Rituals are so large a part of what defines us.

I would not for the world give up one of my greatest pleasures in it- a solitary walk at the start or close of day upon some empty stretch of beach- but I think sometimes that it is even better for me to have it interrupted, as it was last evening. I had wandered out to the eastern end of Primverness, and was turning from the shore in preparation to trudge home for the night when the sound of engines filled the air above me. I ducked down- in these interesting times one never knows who might be interested in putting a bullet in you- and waited until they passed.

As the machines, one winged and one a propeller-driven balloon, made a slow turn about, I was to my great relief able to just make out the face of Miss V. Tombola. And from the other, as they stalled to peer down at me for a moment, called out the voice of Colonel O'Toole, cheerfully wishing me a good day. I shouted back, but I believe the machines' sounds drowned me out.

After a little while, they landed and I headed down from the peak from which I had been watching. Others, with whom I am less familiar, joined them, and it was explained that they would be practicing flight formations in preparation for some possible battle with the Neualtenburgers...

...a battle which perhaps might not have been strictly necessary had it not been for the Colonel's (in)famous abduction of their Kaiserin. Of course, I have only my interpretation of the story, and since I speak to practically no one, it's a very ignorant one.

Only... I have thought that in the Colonel's case that it's an enormous shame; he being, without a doubt, an intelligent man. An appealing one, even. If only it were not, as it seems, nearly always the case that those gentlemen who do possess a bit of fire in their blood must, perhaps in response to the restraints of the society they inhabit, display it in ways that are not always in keeping with the law or custom of the land. And if only I were not habitually falling in love with them.

It is impossible not to think of these things, especially when the average gentleman here, it seems, not only does not mind standing idle while there are ladies not dancing, but will even refuse a very strong hint or blatant invitation to dance with you. It makes the men of my past acquaintance seem positively brutal... not altogether incorrect, but on the whole, I enjoyed it.

It would be stupid, from what I have heard, to think of Colonel O'Toole- or practically any other man in Caledon- in this way, so enough. Hearts can be very boring things, if one can study them objectively enough to observe the repetitive patterns. And offering mine to someone at the moment would be like handing them a bag of broken glass. Utterly useless and undeniably unkind.

To call an exhibition of military strength a diversion is somewhat distasteful, so I won't, but I was in fact diverted from such thoughts by the appearance of the militia. Watching these marvelous machines, soaring high as gracefully as any birds, it was all too easy to forget that they are exalted weapons and that there is a very real possibility that the beauty that delighted me today may bring sorrow and pain to another tomorrow. The way of all things, and yet it has been some time since I admired something that promised to bring harm to someone else. I stayed the night to watch them, meditating upon this.