Saturday, May 29, 2010


I'm just got back from a vacation up at my parents home outside Buffalo. It's a rare thing for me to get up there at this time of year, which is too bad as there's really no better season to be there. Particularly with the hot and sunny weather they had this week. Nice to be out of the city. Particularly this spring when I've been feeling thoroughly worn down.

It's so easy to forget things when you're away. Like the fact that summer evenings last just a bit longer up there. Or how strongly it smells of freshly-mown grass and garden mulch on the bike ride to my father's office. Or how quiet it is. It's not that I have any desire to live in the suburbs, really. It's just that there are days when I'm so tired of living on top of people and below people and being jammed up against people on the subway every day. It's good to have a little space.

I helped clean out junk drawers and my bedroom and got a good bit of knitting and reading done. I swam laps for the first time in about eight years, took a class called Body Pump after which my legs were sore for three days, went running and rollerblading. Despite all the activity, it was the most relaxing vacation I've had in ages.

On my last day there my mother and I went to visit Forest Lawn, which is a large Victorian cemetery. It has lots of open green space, a creek running through it, and the graves of famous Buffalonians like Millard Fillmore. My mother and I had talked about going to see it for a few years and looked into taking a tour. They weren't running any until June though, so we just wandered around, semi-successfully avoiding a group of school children there on a field trip.

It turns out that it's a lovely place, but not exactly making the list of the most interesting cemeteries we've seen. It does, though, feel like exactly the sort of cemetery you'd expect to find in Buffalo. And it's hard to complain about taking a walk with family on a beautiful spring day.

And now I'm back in New York (after what was probably the least problem-beset flight into JFK I've ever been on) and on all sorts of post-vacation and pre-summer errands. But feeling much more equal to the many tasks at hand.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Books that Defeat Me

Despite the fact that I majored in history in college and minored in classics, pretty much everything I knew about Claudius prior to starting I, Claudius came from A Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors by Anthony Blond. This was also the book that taught me that Romans ate things like sow's nipples in tuna brine and fermented fish sauce. Exhibit A in the argument that the more you learn about history the happier you are to live in the hear and now. Anyway, this lack of knowledge was probably because I got my classics minor by taking four semesters of Latin for my language requirement--of which I remember next to nothing--and one class on the Roman republic for the aforementioned history major. This is what I knew:
  1. Claudius probably had cerebral palsy.
  2. Unlike pretty much all the other Julio-Claudian emperors, there don't appear to be questions about his heterosexuality.
  3. Despite the fact that he's popularly thought of as being one of the more benevolent Julio-Claudian emperors--not a role for which there is much competition--he was actually a bloody ruler who had a crapload of people killed.
So I figured that, given my fondness for historical fiction, I, Claudius would be a good way to dip my toe into the historical waters (theoretically made more entertaining by a heavy dose of make-believe) before taking the plunge into an actual history. Which I still think is a good theory. But three years later I'm only about 150 pages into the book. And it's not a short book. I think it might be time to admit defeat.

And normally I would have no problem with this. I stop books part way through on a regular basis. After all, why waste time on something that is giving you no pleasure? But somehow I got it into my head that this was a book I should read. And then, in year two of my struggle to read it, I decided that I needed to finish it because I'm not a quitter. But now, in year three, my relationship with the book is entirely adversarial and there's no way I'll ever enjoy it at this point in time because it's an obligation above all else. So fine, Robert Graves, you win. Your writing has defeated me and the appeal of your classic work of literature is beyond me. And now the time I spent pretending to read your book will be spent actually reading something I enjoy. So maybe I win too?