April is the cruelest month, and this year it is also very confusing.
It’s supposed to be spring, but instead we are having this winter’s first proper snow in Brussels. It was supposed to be never again, yet there’s a very old-skool war of aggression raging on European soil. We were also told that the entertainment industry is now, seriously, paying attention to diversity and inclusivity in the much-publicised awards ceremonies. Nobody wants to see men dominating these shows anymore and, wait, what? Not even dignifying last week’s Oscars with further commentary, but the Grammys’ response to calls for gender equality and -sensitivity is to have a remarkable lineup of (male) sexual predators as nominees, including one (male) whose aggressive behaviour has him banned to perform at the event itself. She show itself shall take place tomorrow.
It is complicated to keep a straight head these days, but one must try.
This is an excellent, if underrated hobby. It somehow has such a negative rep as well, even when we cry for all kinds of reasons: exhaustion, frustration, happiness, sadness, when we’re overcome with emotions… The obligation to wear facemasks everywhere made casual crying in department stores and public transport more discreet (it also made swearing at one’s fellow men such a blissfully casual treat that I’ve had real struggles to scale back on this now that I’m not hiding behind a mask anymore). But there’s no reason to limit crying to one’s home: the days are getting longer, which makes this an excellent season for outdoors-crying.
For office, I suggest to take moisturising eye cream and some refreshing face spray (Caudalie’s Eau de Beauté is excellent) for between-cry touch-ups.
There is a time and place for millennials’ autofiction that focuses on their feelings; their feelings and the internet; their feelings and the social media; their feelings and the relationship they once had that was kinda shit, and their feelings about being triggered by everything.
This is not the time or the place.
There are roughly two options to go for: facts and history, or totally escapist fiction. Both completely understandable, and best combined for a more lasting impact.
Philip Oltermann’s The Stasi Poetry Circle is strictly speaking neither category (I said this was a confusing month), but I still recommend it as an expert take on vintage propaganda back in the day, now that we’re all immersed in modern-day disinformation and hybrid attacks. For a more fictitious and comical take on spying during the Cold War, I very much recommend The Vixen, more of which here.
I finished Hanya Yanagihara’s latest To Paradise, all 700 pages of it, and it is of course quite excellent. I probably liked the way she writes more than what she writes in it, if this makes any sense. She indulges is long, atmospheric sentences, which are not necessarily en vogue in contemporary fiction right now. I went to listen to her a month ago when she was in Brussels, and was very taken by her insights on Americans and their relentless pursuit of happiness – one of the central themes of To Paradise. If you need a properly long novel that transports you places far from Europe, try this. Will keep you occupied for a couple of nights, if nothing else…
Then, I’ve re-read lots of classics lately. Henry James‘ Daisy Miller is an excellent Sunday read (it only takes an afternoon, even if you factor in doomscrolling every 15 minutes). Dracula by Bram Stoker deserves a revisit, too. A new-ish find, Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women is fabulous, as is the recently published biography about her (more of her later, maybe).
Edinburgh-born Muriel Spark is always a treat, and Loitering With Intent was kind of spectacular, though it’s not exactly a classic, but again, confusing month.
Keep Carla Del Ponte on your radar.
She’s 75 years old, Swiss, tiny, nicknamed The Pest and The New Gestapo, and also a former Chief Prosecutor of two U.N. International Criminal Law Tribunals. And she’s kind of back.
Currently retired with an impressive professional life behind her, Del Ponte’s written several books about her work fighting Italian mafia and the most notorious warlords of the World. Here’s one excellent review.
This year’s winner of the best film at the Oscars was CODA (not that anybody would have been paying any attention at that point), which is a seriously fantastic movie. It’s available on Apple TV+. Coda stands for “child of deaf adults” and the film is about such a family and its only hearing family member, their teenage daughter (Emilia Jones). She develops a passion for singing and wants to pursue it further, yet she’s also interpreting for her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and her brother, there’s a family business to take care of, and everything sort of conflicts with everything, also given that nobody in her family can appreciate/understand her love for music. CODA has been winning prizes all over the place this year and deservedly so, it’s a beautiful movie, watch it. Also, see above: crying.
You can also watch historic documentaries. I was slightly thrown off balance when a late night text arrived from a friend, expressing her sympathy for the fact that Finland ceded large chunks of Karelia region to the Soviet Union back in 1940. She had learned about this in Une Histoire Finlandaise, a 60-minute crash-course in Finland’s modern history. Maybe it’s the pandemic, possibly the war, but people do engage in strange pastures these days.
Inspired by the documentary, here’s a former President of Finland, dapper in a suit and ballet slippers, who, like yours truly, also liked to be photographed in an Eero Aarnio Ball chair for PR-purposes.
Photo credit: HBO Max.