Reason # who-knows-what why it is nice to be a regular

That up there is a special sushi tray put together by our local sushi place. In this our era of not being able to dine out anywhere ever, it made a nice birthday dinner, and I find it rather heartwarming that when my husband went to ask them if they did anything for special occasions they basically said they’d whip something up. Sometimes it is nice to be a regular.

(I think my favorite thing was the row of rolls at left, just below the edamame; that’s a lobster-and-crab concoction that was lightly broiled on top and just a bit spicy. It was also delicious.)

At left, my birthday-cake substitute, also from a local place:

Clockwise from top left: Vanilla with sprinkles, chocolate raspberry, lemon meringue, and chocolate hazelnut.

The bakery has a very cute interior, with little tables with cozy seating, and once again I heartily wished I could order a coffee and sit and look out the window for a while. Sigh. Maybe later.

The day itself was pleasant enough: I spent a chunk of it puttering around taking care of business the way one always seems to on the first day of a vacation, before settling in for an evening hangout in an online game I’ll be talking about a bit tomorrow. Got the usual round of text messages (from younger friends and relations) and phone calls (from older friends and relations); got a walk in; took a little time to meditate.

Overall, it was a pretty good day.

My anxiety did show up in the middle of the night to torment me a bit about this and that – some upcoming paperwork, that creeping 5 a.m. feeling of existential meaninglessness, unease about some of the relationships in my world and whether they are okay – but at least it had the decency to leave me alone on the big day itself.

Today, feeling a bit tired from all that, with a nagging sense of longing that doesn’t seem to want to settle. Doing my best to let it go and re-center; I have a loaf of bread to make, and tonight there will be a mildly ridiculous kitchen experiment wherein I saw a recipe for salisbury steak and thought “you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten one of those” followed by “wouldn’t it be hilarious if I reproduced one of those old-school TV dinners with, like, the mashed potatoes and peas and so on?”

And then of course I had to do that. So that will be tonight.

But first, another coffee.

Delightful thing of the day, via Boing Boing: Marginalia, a search engine that focuses on teeny-tiny sites. Its “random” page is quietly charming/addictive, a little peek into the weird corners of the internet where webrings are a thing and people are still creating shrines to their favorite ships.

Hey, I’ve only responded to a work message once.

…so far, anyway.

It’s a day off for me, and I have the house to myself. This is nice, though in a reversal of the usual I find myself rather wishing I could…you know…go anywhere or do much of anything.

But the province is still fairly closed-up, and the weather is pretty miserable (-13, feeling like -19, with the sidewalks still questionably navigable thanks to last week’s massive snow-dump.) Ordinarily, this would be fine. No problem; I’ve got lots of little things I can do around the house, we’ve got all the groceries we might need and everything.

But good lord it would be nice to go out and do…something. Visit a friend, have a coffee, go and eat a cheeseburger, anything.

#firstworldproblems, I know.

Yesterday I listened to the latest of that series I’ve been following on emotions over at the Happiness Lab. This time, it’s about anger, and how to do it better:

This SHOULD be an embedded player. Hopefully. If that’s not working, try this link to have a listen.

My favorite takeaways from this:

  • Anger begins in the body.
  • Anger exists to motivate you to seek change.

So, when I feel angry, the question needs to be: What do I feel needs to change right now? That makes anger actionable, turns it into something I can do something about, at least hypothetically. I like this idea, at least in terms of making things more clear, though it may not be quite so easy to think of a way to execute the change in question once I’ve thought of what needs changing.

The city & the city & the city & …

So, I have a game in my head today, and it’s not actually one I played recently.

I blame this video, which we watched yesterday evening during dinner prep:

It reminded me that even though I didn’t “really” play this one – I just watched someone else do it and offered occasional commentary – it really is a pretty great representative of the video-game-as-art.

An RPG where you may never really meaningfully engage in combat of any kind, where your skills aren’t things like Strength or Dexterity or Intelligence but rather “Visual Calculus” and “Shivers” and “Inland Empire.” Where your skills are voices in your head that literally talk to you, pushing for one course of action or another, making suggestions, informing.

A tale of a disgraced cop who opens the adventure by apparently going on a bender so massive and so intense that he wipes out his very identity and must re-learn how the world works.

A densely-written exploration of a city and all the tangle of stories in it.

An experience that is by turns darkly funny, ominous, emotionally touching, and (at least once) a little awe-inducing, too.

A lot of the rhetoric around the game on its subreddit and such seem to suggest that people think it’s bleak, or depressing, but I’m not sure where they are getting that from. There’s an awful lot of hope in it, too, and stress on the importance of connections and connectedness.

I like the video creator’s suggestion that really, all of us who live in cities live in a different one. This is true, I think, though having been forcibly cut off from it for going-on-two-years thanks to the pandemic has somewhat dulled my sense of what the city is.

When I moved here, someone who would become a very close friend insisted on taking me around on a tour. “I want this to feel like your city.” I’ve always appreciated that; it is one of those memories I like to pull out and consider when I am craving something that feels rather cozy. And I wonder, sitting here, feeling isolated from it, what my experience of the city was, and what it will be again when I can go back out into it.

What I remember: I live in a city that is full of art.

That means art in the somber, stoic ways of the Royal Ontario Museum or the AGO, where I can (could) go to spend some pleasant hours taking things in, a kind of communion where instead of partaking of what someone tells you is the body of a god that died for you it is another human being, giving of themselves across time and space and identity and place. Across that tiny synapse of a gap between selves, vast enough to contain all the oceans and never be truly full.

That means art in the rough edges of surprise, the bit of graffiti where almost nobody looks, the painted doors and mailboxes, the mural around a corner, the mysterious signage on a lamp-post with a story in it. The same impulse, less stately but no less intense.

That means art in the kitchens of cozy neighborhood pubs with worn upholstery and that one little crack in the window that someday someone will get around to fixing, maybe. And tiny little cafes barely big enough for a table and grand modernist food vistas that charge hundreds of dollars for a little ballet of delicate, edible constructions. And, yes, even the mildly exasperating, how-is-it-possible-to-be-this-hipster-and-this-bourgeois-at-the-same-time places, the ones where sometimes I feel I ought to be angry with them but at the same time isn’t it just someone having a dream?

That means art on the stages of grand performance venues where actors and singers and dancers whose names are known to the faithful come to present tales and songs, and also art on the street corners and in the tiny, cramped interiors of local bars where performers of all sorts come to gather, and to do the things they must in order to live. (Because the president of Square is wrong; what yearns for expression will express itself.)

That means art in the hands and on the workbenches and on the carefully-arranged shelves of the tiny shops of local craftsmen and artisans, some who make glamorous things like high-end jewelry and some whose shelves are lined with soap or blends of tea or dainty little candies or…anything, really.

Yes, the city is also, in some ways, bleak and messy and poorly managed. Yes, affordability is a problem. Yes, it, and everywhere, struggles right now with treating its people well. But it is also full of interesting people, making and doing and being and sometimes telling their stories to one another. Humans do that.

It is oddly reassuring to me to think about it still happening, out there, somewhere, even if I cannot go out into it right now. Perhaps someday I will get to go exploring again. I like that idea. I wonder what I will find.

I wonder very much what kind of city the others around me live in. What their experiences are like. What frames them. What they see when they ride a city bus or wait on a subway platform or look out a window onto a wintry landscape. Does the woman on the bus opposite me live in a cutthroat city, where everyone is constantly striving to backstab their way into positions of power? Does the man in the coffee shop staring at his phone live in a tedious city, bland and enervating? Or perhaps it is alienating, cold, spiritless?

I wonder what kind of city I will live in when I go back out into it; when I eventually manage to overcome the constant sensation of too-brightness, too-loudness, too-muchness and the unease of so many, so close. I hope it is as fun to go exploring in.

And now I think I need to read Invisible Cities.

Resisting the urge to title this with a baking pun

So this last week it was a friend’s birthday.

I like celebrating friends’ birthdays, even if it is by doing something little, and happily they were coming round to visit anyway (they’ve been in our pandemic bubble since forever, I think). So I quietly began scheming to try and make a little treat for after dinner that they might enjoy.

No chocolate this time around; noted. Nothing bitter. Fruit flavors, creamy things, boozy flavors: all good.

Somehow from there I hit on the idea: Let’s make cream puffs. I haven’t got a proper piping bag so we’ll need to build them using the “sandwich” method anyway; we can tuck some berries into them along with the filling. (For the curious, I’ll link the recipes I used at the end of this post.)

Once, a few years back, I took a class at a Toronto spot (now sadly closed, at least for a while) on making choux pastry. It’s not something one needs very often, but it’s an interesting thing to have tried at least once, because unlike most other doughs I’ve worked with you cook it before you bake it: heat your wet ingredients (minus any eggs involved of course), then dump in the flour and stir until your dough comes together, leaves a thin film on the pan, and/or (for the food scientists among us) comes to about 175 degrees F.

This part is a bit like making a roux, except of course we’re absolutely not trying to toast the flour – so one does need to stir fairly energetically.

Let it cool down a bit (so as not to cook the eggs prematurely), add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next…and that’s it; you’re ready to fill up a piping bag (or a Ziploc-style bag with a corner snipped, in my case) with the resulting dough and go to town. This is pretty similar to the technique I used for the cheese puffs I made for New Years (though obviously in this case I’m not adding cheese to my dough before baking.)

Pipe your dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and then bake for about 20 minutes or so. The dough won’t seem to do very much for quite a long time, but don’t panic; so far the steam has always eventually kicked in and fluffed up nicely. If the puffs seem hollow and have crisped on the outside, great; pop them back into the turned-off oven, leaving the door open a crack, and let them sit there for about half an hour before removing to cool.

Here we see that my piping technique still needs work. I’ll get it eventually, I’m sure.

Meanwhile (or in my case, the night before), make some pastry cream for the filling. In my case this was classic vanilla, from a scraped and steeped vanilla bean; on the evening of the visit I whipped some cream and folded it gently into the pastry cream base to make creme legere for a lighter, fluffier interior.

Once the puffs are cool, just slice and pipe in your filling. (A warning to anyone trying this with creme legere: the lightened pastry cream IS lovely and smooth and delicious and will also spill right out of that piping bag the moment you snip it and turn it upright. Fill cautiously; the tiniest bit of pressure goes a long way.)

In our case, we then topped the filling with a few mixed berries for a pop of flavor…et voila:

A light sprinkle of powdered sugar helps them feel more “fully dressed.”

I think these went over pretty well – not too sweet, despite the looks (I think the lightened version of the pastry cream really helped here.) They disappeared with a quickness as well, which is always nice.

Anyone wishing to give this a try at home, here are those recipe links:

How shall I find or shape me the free one? (Die Walkure, redux)

The second of the operas in the Ring Cycle is the one that is performed most commonly on its own. This makes sense to me; it’s both the most self-contained of the lot (even though it fits into the larger picture) and debatably the one with the most human-level stakes. (It also introduces a character we can all actually sympathize with in Brunnhilde, though they certainly do her dirty here.)

When last we left off, the gods had just managed to ransom back Freya from the giants, and all those Nibelung handicrafts were sent off with the giants – well, for about ten seconds, before Fafner murdered Fasolt to claim the cursed ring for himself.

But we don’t start with any of that (and in fact won’t be seeing much of anything regarding it). Instead we start off with a harried-looking fellow collapsing at remote forest homestead, having been chased through the forest for some time by rather a lot of angry folks. There, he is tended to by the lady of the house, Sieglinde, whose husband Hunding is, it is hinted, Not A Nice Man.

Naturally, because this is an opera and runs on opera rules, the two of them fall for one another immediately. Like, immediately. As in “the second they look at each other.” And so we get a whole act’s worth of increasing smolder between the two of them as we gradually learn the mysterious man’s backstory (he was raised in the middle of nowhere by his dad after his sister was kidnapped and his mother killed when he was young, then his dad disappeared mysteriously one day), why he was being chased through the woods (after a life on the edges of law/society he tried to rescue a girl from a forced marriage, and it went so badly he ended up killing her brothers, she died too, and now the entire clan is after him), and that Hunding is one of said kinsmen and is fully planning to kill him in the morning, though the law of hospitality forbids him from so doing now. Oops.

Incidentally, we also learn that Sieglinde’s marriage to Hunding was also forced, and that the marriage was attended by a mysterious wanderer in gray with a hat worn so low it covered one eye. Said wanderer jabbed a sword so far into an ash-tree that only the hilt is visible, announced that only a true hero could draw it, and then peaced out, leaving the audience to wonder if Odin really cares about disguising himself at all because really dude come on.

Anyway. Our smolder-y pair decide that the best plan, now that they’re clearly madly in love with one another, is to have him (now called Siegmund) draw the sword from the stone tree and get the heck out of Dodge before Hunding wakes up. And so they do, after a very extended sequence of rapturous ravings about the glories of their love for one another.

Teeny problem with this plan #1: An attentive audience will have noticed by now that Sieglinde’s story and Siegmund’s overlap. A lot. And it looks increasingly likely that they are not only madly in love with one another but also brother and sister.

Teeny problem with this plan #2: Sieglinde is (technically, unwillingly) married. And Hunding’s response on waking up and finding his wife gone is to demand justice from a certain goddess whose portfolio includes marriage and who happens to be herself married to Odin.

Oh boy.

So yeah, cue the divine bickering, which arrives in force in Act 2. Frigga/Fricka insists that Siegmund must die to avenge her honor; Odin is insistent that he needs this guy for…things, okay? And anyway, he’s already told his favorite Valkyrie Brunnhilde to see to it that Siegmund is victorious in the coming battle. Back and forth they go, manipulating each other, until eventually, with great reluctance, Odin caves. Fine. Siegmund will die. He’ll change his order. Satisfied (and more than a little smug-looking), Fricka leaves, just as Brunnhilde returns to check in with dad before heading out.

And here we get an interesting little scene, where Odin explains what’s bugging him so much: That ring. Alberich is still out there, you see, and sure, Fafner may have the ring now, but if a whole-ass army comes after him, Alberich may very well get it back. And then…well…bad news for the world. But he cannot act directly to prevent this possible catastrophe – that has to come from someone else, someone who isn’t bound by the same contracts he is, someone free

Someone like the kid he went off to have and then ghosted a while back, who is even now in a world of shit for being a little too charming to his own sister.

And so, after a moment of despair, he tasks Brunnhilde with a new job: make sure Siegmund dies in the coming battle with Hunding. Feeling more than a little morose herself, she sets off.

…And then, after meeting up with Siegmund and seeing him do the unthinkable by turning down elevation to Valhalla rather than leave Sieglinde, she decides “Actually, fuck this” and helps Siegmund in the battle anyway. Orders or no orders.

It doesn’t work, of course. Odin himself shows up and sees to it that Siegmund is killed, shattering his sword; Brunnhilde rescues Sieglinde (and the sword fragments) before her father can show up to administer her punishment for her disobedience, advising Sieglinde that she’s now expecting a child who will one day wield that sword again, once it is re-forged. She also offers a name for Sieglinde to give the future hero: Siegfried.

And then, the punishment comes. Brunnhilde is to be disowned utterly for her rebellion. Put under an enchantment, Sleeping Beauty-style, stripped of her immortality, and left to the mercies of the first man who happens to wander by and wake her. (I…am probably not the only audience member to detect an only-just-barely-implicit “disobey me? Enjoy probable rape at the hands of some rando!” threat here, am I?)

Only after she points out that her act of rebellion was the thing Odin truly wanted in the first place does he agree to mitigate her sentence by setting her up with a ring of fire for protection. She may end up stuck with the man who comes to wake her, but that man will at least need to be brave, a hero.

I mean, that sentence is still some bullshit even on a second viewing, particularly since one can argue that her only real “crime” is doing what a powerful man wanted to do but could not. (…Kind of like that hero he’s so obsessed with finding.) A Valkyrie is powerful, but ultimately an instrument of the will of Odin; for her exercise of her own agency Brunnhilde must have that agency stripped completely, along with her power.

She must become that most powerless of all things, in fact: a mortal woman.

The horror of this punishment is so great that all of the other Valkyries flee it in terror.

I don’t know much about Richard Wagner’s personal life, but I cannot help but wonder how the women in his life may have felt about all this.

I mean, there’s quite a bit of WTF-ery going on here. We’ve got an incestuous relationship that the participants seem…surprisingly fine with, and the whole shitstorm really takes off because there’s a marriage being violated, though it seems a bit rich that the goddess of marriage doesn’t have a problem with spousal abuse or, you know, forcing people into said marriages but god(s) literally forbid you try to leave such an arrangement.

Then there’s the part where all of this is arguably Odin’s fucking fault in the first place, again, since he obviously has been planning to have Siegmund find that sword, and knew his sister was there (being forced into a marriage at the time), didn’t do anything about it – encouraged her to think of the one who would take the sword as a hero, even! – and then somehow is all shocked-Pikachu-face when it all blows up on him. Again.

Even if things hadn’t gone quite so far south – if Hunding had just decided well, I kind of hated her anyway let’s find another woman – one wonders if Siegmund really would have counted as “a hero that he’d never helped” given that Odin fathered and raised him, then left him a magic sword in a tree and was all set to make arrangements to send a Valkyrie to help him out into the deal. That…sounds like an awful lot of help, dude.

Back to the first major throughline of the whole cycle: The gods are assholes.

At least call the recipe what it is.

Shameful confession of the day: I know a number of people who are very into Final Fantasy XIV. No, that’s not the shameful confession; I haven’t tried the game yet (but might someday), but those who love it love it a lot and let no man cast shade upon them for so doing.

Apparently, there was recently a cookbook published featuring a bunch of various in-game foods. Neat idea, right? Sure. No problem with that either.

However, I overheard some discussion of a recipe for almond-cream croissants. I was quietly a bit impressed; croissants can be a Worthy Challenger for many home bakers, and I haven’t tried them yet myself. I wondered if the recipe might be interesting to take a stab at.

And then someone actually posted it, and the first ingredient was “6 croissants.”


As someone who is sitting here planning to spend part of her evening making pastry cream in preparation for a later project involving choux: really?

So, yeah. The shameful thing is I am being a food snob about something from a cookbook based on a video game, what is wrong with me?

…I don’t know. There are plenty of shortcuts in cooking, and I do not usually judge people for taking them. But this is not a recipe for croissants, it’s a recipe for croissant filling. And the notion of someone putting in that labor and looking for uncommon ingredients like birch syrup only to sandwich it into one of those industrial grocery-store croissants is…just depressing really. A quality croissant from the bakery/patisserie down on the corner or something, sure, that’s probably going to be decent, but there are plenty of places I have lived where one of those “well, it’s not UNcroissantlike” options would be all there was.

Shouldn’t the authors at least have provided the instructions to make your own if you wanted to? Then the crazy folk like me who might actually want to give such a thing a shot could do it, and the people who look at that kind of thing and go “I cannot even, no thank you” could go in search of an acceptable-to-them alternative.

An offense to aesthetics and to the ambition of the audience, then, I suppose; perhaps that’s why it seems extra-irritating. I mean. Why assume the people who are interested in buying a cookbook in the first place wouldn’t want to at least consider making the thing?

An empty space for play

First, a delightful thing to begin the day with: Twenty Thousand Hertz did an episode on Simlish. I do not play The Sims, but you don’t have to be even remotely interested in the game itself to enjoy hearing the history of this fake language or the ways it’s expanded as the game’s popularity exploded. (Easily worth a listen for the covers of songs alone.)

It’s a funny thing about simulation games. I can easily lose myself for hours in something like a Civilization or one of the many little “build and manage a small kingdom/village/etc” games that are available on Steam…but not The Sims. Perhaps it’s related to how I never really played with dolls as a child (I much preferred going on epic quests with a stuffed animal or two.) I bought Euro Truck Simulator on sale once, but haven’t ever really sat down to try it out; it has not grabbed me the way something like Monster Hunter or Chicory or Ace Attorney does.

So…why am I perfectly comfortable spending hours laying out a little village in Banished, or trying to see what happens if I go for the technological victory with the Egyptians, or something, but just…bounce right off The Sims or [Insert thing here] Simulator [year]?

I mean, I suppose it isn’t all that surprising that I am more attracted to games that have a stronger plot or characters. I am a story junkie. But…I think more to the point, there’s something about the kind of game that just plunks you into a space and says “Welp. Have fun!” and then leaves you to it that tends to leave me cold. As though the people who made it aren’t really interested in engaging with me. (Which is foolishness, I recognize; that very openness is the entire point if you are the sort of person who loves this kind of sandboxy game most of all.)

You can of course add things TO such a game that means I can get stuck in comfortably. I’ve had a great time in Minecraft after adding a few mods that layer in a little bit more of a sense of progression, perhaps even a little framework on which I can build a plot in my head – and adding other people to a game like this turns it into a hangout, not an empty house I am wandering around in, which also helps immensely. It’s amazing how much more comfortable just puttering around doing not-much-of-consequence becomes if other people are around – and hey, perhaps at the end of it you’ve made something cool together.

It seems faintly ridiculous to me that the reason I might have trouble with sandboxy games is that they don’t seem to want to connect with me. In other games I like, I know the creators are entirely unaware of my existence…but it still feels, somehow, as if they did what they did in order to share it with me and others like me; there is a connection in watching someone’s movie or reading someone’s book or playing someone’s game or going to someone’s show.

Someone is expressing themselves, and I am there to experience that expression, and that is often very satisfying. If the thing they have made is delightful, so much the better.

In a sandboxy game, I suppose I am free to express myself – but there is unlikely to be anyone to share that expression with. It feels sort of lonely…and there is that strange sense that I have just been parked in front of the TV in lieu of some richer interaction.

I am probably overthinking this (I am awfully good at overthinking), but it’s an interesting little meditation.

Why I didn’t write yesterday

This is why.

I shoveled for an hour in the morning, when the snow was still coming down.

I shoveled for half an hour at lunchtime, trying to carve a path between my house and next door.

I shoveled for an additional hour in the evening, checking to be sure all the vents on the sides of the house and the various drains around the house were clear. (The street drain in particular, given that the last time that thing iced over I had to bail out my basement. Let’s not.)

By the time all that shoveling was over, my arms were shaky and I did not have the energy to cook anything more elaborate than frozen perogies or to…well, do much of anything really. (My prediction that I would be extremely sore today has also come true.)

It is probably true that more snow fell between 10 PM Sunday and 5 PM yesterday than I saw throughout my entire life prior to moving to Canada.

I will say, though, that the sunset was especially lovely; all coral-pink streaked with blue and gleaming off the snow as well as in the sky.

For now, off to deal with the rest of today – but please enjoy this odd little read about crossword puzzles, the craze for them in the 20s, and various animal clues.

For who could live without love? (Das Rheingold, redux)

So, remember how I mentioned those upcoming Big Games, the ones that likely mean we’ll be playing them for hours at a time and falling way behind in all of our TV-watching? One of these is the upcoming Elden Ring, From’s latest offering. This means we can expect the usual punishingly-hard combat, I’m sure – and this time it comes with a vaguely familiar premise:

A magical ring, now shattered, remnants of its power still clinging to the shards of it, power-hungry folk pursuing such fragments and jealously guarding what they have. A world tree – well, an “Erdtree,” anyway. There’s something a bit familiar about this, to be sure – but no, the world tree’s rather more Nordic

Ah. Of course. It feels very Wagnerian.

And so it is that we have, prior to the game’s release, embarked on the massive project of re-watching the Ring Cycle.

This time around, we thought we’d give the recent(ish) Lepage staging a look, with its notorious huge machine that (when it works smoothly) shifts and rearranges itself to form abstractions of the various landscapes we see in the show. Happily, the Metropolitan Opera has joined the video on-demand space, and a month’s worth of their subscription fee is plenty to let us see all four shows.

We begin with Das Rheingold, in which we learn how the Cycle’s eponymous Ring came to be: Once, long ago, the Rheingold rested somewhere deep in the bed of the Rhine river, guarded by the Rhinemaidens, who delighted in its light. Alberich, a Nibelung (translated in the libretto here as a “gnome,” though in the earlier production we saw he was much ore of a Gollum-like monster), watches the Rhinemaidens play with a kind of searing possessiveness. “If I could only catch one!”

…That’s right, Alberich is basically an incel. (One wonders what the “chan”-equivalent of the mythic age would have been like.) Since he cannot win any of the ladies he’s ogling, he instead steals the Rheingold from them, crafting of it a ring that should, in theory, allow him to wield the latent power of the gold and give him dominion over…well, everything, ultimately…provided that he renounce love for ever, for only one who has forsaken love completely may craft such a thing.

Meanwhile, the gods (that is, the Norse-Germanic contingent, headed by Odin and company – here with Germanicized names, like Wotan) have just had a spectacular home built for them by the giants Fafnir and Fasolt, and promptly demonstrate that they are spectacular assholes. Or at least Odin is, having promised the giants the goddess Freya in return for their labor (apparently without asking anyone including her), then promptly stiffing them when the expected outrage ensues.

Considering that one of the things Odin is known for is contracts and the honoring thereof, this seems like a bad sign.

Anyway, we learn just what a monumentally stupid idea this was when it is revealed that if Freya is taken, the gods immediately weaken, beginning to age and die without the influence of her apples of immortality. Helpfully, Loki (because of course Loki) knows somewhere they might be able to find enough gold for her ransom – after all, the Nibelungs have plenty.

And on that note, we’re off to the races.

What follows is a couple of hours of more leitmotif than melody and of characters behaving very, very badly. I mean, yes, Alberich is a power-obsessed asshole, but so is just about everyone else in this thing – the Ring Cycle is surprisingly light on sympathetic characters, and just in case we weren’t already fully aware of this, the gods’ majestic ascent to Valhalla is underscored by the Rhinemaidens lamenting that, basically, they’re dicks who can’t be trusted. (In this staging, Loki also looks on, having just pondered whether he might not just set everything on fire, who knows?)

The staging must have been really spectacular seen live – it’s essentially a huge conglomeration of…beams that reconfigure themselves into various shapes to set the scene. These are further enhanced by projections that appear to be either timed by the music or somehow are coordinated from up in the booth – the gravelly banks of the Rhine actually scatter stones as characters slide along them, for example. (Rehearsals must have been a beast.)

Here’s the thing about that set though: often, the surfaces it creates are just about vertical, and there’s nothing to hold onto. So a surprising number of the performers in this are kitted out with a flying rig, basically, allowing them to do things like “swim” directly upward, or (in the case of that final Bifrost crossing) walk directly up a wall. It is both very impressive and rather nerve-wracking to watch; I hope nobody was injured.

Anyway. It’s a fairly spectacular show, and the stage is definitely set. The ring, now cursed to incite ferocious greed and jealousy that will destroy both those who possess it and those who yearn for it, is in the hands of the giant Fafnir, who slew his brother for it. The Tarnhelm, which grants shapeshifting powers to the wielder (forged under duress by Alberich’s brother Mime) is lost to the giant as well. Alberich has slunk back to the underworld in shame and possibly minus a finger, and the gods have moved into their swanky new digs…though Odin clearly isn’t going to be able to stop obsessing about that ring anytime soon.

Next up: someone I can actually root for shows up, and it doesn’t go all that well.

Where the colors are

I suppose it’s kind of heartening that I’m not alone in feeling that an awful lot of media products lately have had that washed-out, desaturated, “this is serious so we can’t use colors” look to them.

It is, of course, autotune for the eyes. Didn’t hit the pitch you were aiming at? Can’t quite get the light for the scene just right? No problem, we’ll just do it in post – and then we somehow end up with a kind of…samey-ness to everything that I am marked as An Old for noticing.

I mean, yes, computers are cool, and yes, you CAN do some really awesome stuff with them, absolutely. But I love practical effects in movies; even the ones that read as a little clunky to a modern viewer still elicit a sense of ‘how did they DO that’ wonder that I just do not get from watching something or other from Marvel. I know how they did that. It isn’t mysterious to me. Respect to the crews involved in making all that CG come together, but there is a real delight in watching something and knowing it came from a whole team of bright, creative people devoting their energies to figuring out how to build that alien or explode that city or what have you, then doing it.

I suppose if all your art is “content” now – if it is more important that you make money than that anything is expressed – it is best to keep your costs down by letting the computers do more of the work. From the studio’s standpoint, all movies and tv – all media products really – need to be min-maxed in service to capitalism, and so here we are with cop shows with weird greenish filters, CG everything, lootboxes in video games, and entire generations of music listeners with preferences for computer-modulated voices over organic ones.

It’s also probably why approximately 97% of new movies/tv I hear announcements for make me check out immediately. Yet another entry in an exhausting cavalcade of sequels and reboots and so on, any new thing with a glimmer of promise or interest certain to be pounced on, copied endlessly, and wrung for money until absolutely nobody can muster the energy to care about it anymore.

I know, I know. Old man yells at cloud. It is a marker of my out of touchness with the world that it bothers me.

There must be others though, surely, who keep asking their tvs “…OR you could, you know, make new things?”

I suppose there are. The market for indie games is bustling and vibrant at the moment, at least until the big boys take notice and decide they need to muck everything up; I’ve played literal dozens of things from smaller studios that have been polished, complete, delightful experiences on release. Sure, some of them don’t quite go where I was hoping, and sure, there’s some janky bits, but oh boy is it ever worth it to be playing something that has the capacity to delight one.

The same goes for other media products, too. I will forgive an awful lot of rough edges and jankiness in something that delights me, in something that feels, as I experience it, like the people who made it were enjoying the act of making.

There is a kind of communion there. You had such an amazing time making this; I do not know any of you, but I can tell. I am having an amazing time experiencing it; thank you for sharing. At the tabletop, when it’s going well, everyone gets to have that feeling at the same time – making and experiencing simultaneously, enjoying it together.

That is just the best. Seriously.

I wish more of the people who make decisions rather than things understood it.