A Ramble After a Run

If you had asked me a couple of years ago to go running, outside, in cold, wet, windy weather, my answer would have been a resounding no. And yet, here I am, just returned from a run along the front, from running in the damp and the mist and the cold. And I loved it. Last week I even went running just as Storm Gareth was hitting our shores, barely able to catch my breath and freezing my ears off. I was even on the precipice of a cold and I still went out, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t do me any good, because I needed to get out and run. One foot in front of the other. Over, and over.

I shouldn’t have gone really, subsequently, the cold hit me with its full force and I am still recovering now, a week later. I shouldn’t have gone out today, as it still hasn’t fully subsided, and physically I do feel worse than before. I took it easy though – my friend and I are doing what is essentially the ‘Couch to 5k’, although we not consciously, we only found out about it after we had already started running together. We run for a minute and then walk for a minute, only last week and today we walked a little more often and ran a little less so that I didn’t run out of breath entirely.

And I know none of the above sounds very fun. When I went out I felt pretty bad, and I returned feeling worse. So what was the point? Why put myself through that, especially when we weren’t even improving on previous runs in terms of length of time running, the ground covered or speed? Especially when I knew I would be nagged by both my mum and step-mum for going while unwell? It’s because, quite simply, running is no longer just about my physical health.

Being outside, by the sea, wind in my hair and even with the rain in my face, feels so incredibly refreshing and calming. If I don’t go out for a couple of weeks then I can feel that my mood is affected. Obviously exercising releases endorphins – it is supposed to make you feel good – but just being in the elements, even just for half an hour, focusing on your feet, is so soothing. It is as if I can breathe in the icy sea air and feel it cleanse my insides. It almost feels spiritual.

Apart from, you know, all the sweating and heavy breathing.

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Sicily on Film

As I have so far only posted incredibly wordy and lengthy posts on this blog, I thought I’d share something more picture heavy. As I just reviewed The Godfather, I thought it was a good excuse to reminisce about my trip to Sicily last year.

I stayed in Taormina, a town built into the hills and overlooking the ocean. It is a beautiful little town, with shingle beaches, an ancient Greek amphitheatre and public gardens that contain not one, but two gravestones memorialising murdered dogs. Yeah, I don’t know either.

I’d visited before with my mum, and thought it would be perfect for a solo trip. I could stay in the town and have my pick of restaurants without having to wander too far on my own at night, and then relax on the beach during the day. I hadn’t considered, in my plan, that the weather would be anything other than glorious. It wasn’t. It rained every day that I was there (and I was only there for a very short amount of time), and when it wasn’t raining, it was threatening to. There was only one day that I was able to take advantage of the beach (and the view of Isola Bella pictured above) and even then, it started getting very windy and cold by three o’clock, and when I headed out for food in the evening it absolutely pissed it down, completely drenching my shoes, which meant I spent the next few days walking around in wet footwear. Not great.

And while Taormina is lovely, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it, when you are expecting to spend your time reading by the sea, it becomes difficult to fill that time with an alternative when everything else that is within walking distance is easily do-able in a day. When it was dry but not warm enough to sunbathe, I headed to the dead dog gardens (there is more to them than that) and had a wander and a read. When mum and I visited we came across a litter of kittens there that we visited every day. Unfortunately, there were no kittens in the gardens when I visited. Strike two.

Not only was I not having luck with the weather, or with kittens, I also took my newish film camera (obviously everything is relative, it wasn’t new new, but I was still getting used to it) with me to document and practise film photography. It was my Grandad’s camera before me, a Praktica MTL3, German design, practically indestructible… until it met me. We were both getting on just fine until I had finished my first roll of film and started to wind it back in. The thing jammed, and wouldn’t un-jam until I heard the film tear apart. Also, not great.

To compensate for all the bad luck, I booked myself a ‘Godfather Tour’, an excursion that takes you around some of the locations used in the first film. In case you are unaware (or just not as big a fangirl as me), The Godfather was not actually filmed in the town of Corleone (nearer to Palermo on the island) as it was too modernised. Instead, Coppola & co filmed the Sicilian scenes in Savoca and Forza D’agro, both of which a relatively close to Taormina – making it an ideal place to stay in Sicily if you too want to geek out about The Godfather as much as I clearly do.

A word of warning though for any fellow fans, this tour is not for the faint of heart. Some of the towns used are incredibly high up, and the drive to and from them is up winding roads that don’t seem wide enough for two passing cars, let alone a bus. I’m not generally too afraid of heights, and this had me feeling pretty nervous.

If you can stomach it though, the views are incredible. And the town of Savoca (pictured above, from a distance) is well worth a visit. It is a sleepy town, that feels frozen in time with cobbled streets and no cars in sight. And even though I went with a group of people, it was still very quiet, and as I walked the streets I hardly passed by anyone.

While there you can visit the church where Michael and Apollonia get married in the film, as well as the bar where he asks her father’s permission to marry her – Bar Vitelli. It is perfect for a fan of the films, and just a sweet little town even if you’re not.

I would like to explore more of Sicily in the future, and revisit both Taormina and Savoca – hopefully next time I’ll leave the rain at home.

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The Godfather – A Book Review

‘You’re ready‘ my mum said, proudly.
I was twelve years old, it was the weekend, and my mother had just deemed me worthy enough to introduce something of the utmost importance to her – The Godfather.

She pulled out the three VHS tape box set she owned, which contained the first two films, and put the first one in the tape player. We sat back, and I was introduced to Vito Andolini, a young Sicilian boy attending his father’s funeral – my mum’s edition was in chronological order, I didn’t realize until later that most people heard ‘I believe in America‘ first, and not an Italian brass band interrupted by gunfire – and I was hooked.

It is difficult to think of any other film that has had quite the same impact for me, it has always felt incredibly personal (cue Sonny quote, ‘he’s taking it very personal!‘) because my mum passed it on to me, a film she loved and admired and wanted to share with me, even when I was technically too young to watch it, because she respected me enough as a person to believe I was mature enough to understand it, and love and admire it too. It is such a beloved film by us both that we even went on a sort of pilgrimage to Sicily, revelling in the many references to it whilst there, such as the score drifting down the street as we walked, restaurants with signs that say ‘eat the fishes, don’t sleep with them!‘. Heck, I even went there on my own last year and took a Godfather location tour on my birthday! We’re in deep.

So naturally I have always wanted to read the source material, a novel by Mario Puzo. I was intrigued about characters’ inner workings that couldn’t quite be captured on-screen, fascinated by what must be a landmark piece of literature because it created a landmark film. So I finally set aside time to read it, ready to sing its praises once finished.

Well, I finished it. And I’m not full of praises.

But let’s start at the beginning. For the uninitiated, The Godfather – both book & film – is about the Corleone family, which, as well as being actual relations, also operate as a crime family. The head is Don Vito Corleone, a Sicilian American who grants his friends ‘favours’ and offers his enemies deals ‘they can’t refuse’. His youngest son, Michael, has nothing to do with the family business, and wants to keep it that way, but, to quote a different Brando film, just when he thinks he’s out, he gets pulled right back in. It is a mafia story from the perception of the mobsters (unusual at the time), where the violence is secondary to the characters and their motivations.

Unlike the film, the novel also follows the trials and tribulations of Johnny Fontane, a famous singer and wannabe actor. He appears very briefly at the start of the film to ask his godfather, Vito Corleone, a favour. In the novel, however, this just marks the beginning of an entire subplot about celebrities and ‘the movies’. He struggles with having lost his singing voice and fearing he is losing relevance. He reconnects with an old friend, a friend who now has a better voice than him but doesn’t care to utilise it, only wanting to drink himself to death. It is a sub-plot that goes nowhere, that adds nothing to the core story or characters, that interrupts the flow of the main story. It certainly doesn’t help either, that Fontane is one of the most unlikable characters. And in a book that follows Mafia hit-men, I think that is really saying something.

But Fontane’s isn’t the only subplot from the book that is missing from the film. When not following the Corleone clan, we also follow, on occasion, Lucy Mancini. She is another character who appears only momentarily at the beginning of the film as the bridesmaid that Sonny sleeps with. And again, that appearance is still in the novel, in graphic detail, but so are their other liaisons, where it is discussed, in detail, that Sonny has a huge penis. This small detail is repeated over, and over, and over again to the point where I honestly think Puzo thought that having a big schlong constitutes as some kind of character trait. It doesn’t. But Lucy’s arc isn’t only confined to Sonny and his massive dick, oh no, she gets an entire arc dedicated to her vagina. Yes, you read that right. And I have to say, it’s where Puzo really lost me as a writer.

Before I go on a long rant here about the terrible treatment of women in this novel, I want to preface it by saying that I had literally zero expectations going into this. I’ve seen the films, I know Mama Corleone barely even gets a name, I know Connie exists solely for the plot, I know Kay exists mainly for exposition purposes – I know women have next to no role in this story. I didn’t start reading it expecting some great feminist text, I knew hardly any female characters would be named, I knew they would fall into stereotypes, and I knew we would barely hear or see them. I didn’t even expect the minimum that I would have of any other piece of fiction and still, I was disappointed.

Michael falls in love with Apollonia the instant he sees her (as in the film), and his response to that emotion? That he wants to literally possess her. Connie Corleone constantly calls her adopted brother Tom Hagen seeking consolation, advice and help whenever she is physically attacked by her husband, and his response? How much her moaning annoys him. The introduction we get to Fontane is him beating up his wife. And her reaction? Laughter. She laughs because he isn’t ‘manly’ enough to beat her well. Yeah, try to ruminate on that. And honestly, a lot of the really sexist crap comes from Fontane’s plot. And while the above examples are not great in their depiction and view of the female characters, it is easy to argue that these instances exist to highlight the toxic ways in which these men think and act. They are terrible people, it is expected that they will do and say terrible things. And though uncomfortable to read, doesn’t necessarily point to the author’s views – although we rarely see the point of view of these women, and when we do, they are heavily stereotyped and still steeped in sexism. It became hard to see this as Puzo’s intent, and more his own inability to write female characters. And nothing highlights this more than the one women he focuses on the most. Enter Lucy Mancini and the vagina plot.

You see, poor Lucy has always had a loose vagina. She doesn’t appear to have any health-related issues to this, apart from perhaps mental – which is never fully explored – instead this is a big issue, and only an issue, because men don’t get as much pleasure when they have sex with her. There is no mention of how good sex is for her, whether she gets on just fine, only that it is a problem for men. Enter Sonny with his colossal cock, ‘the perfect fit’ for Lucy, and we get to read pages and pages about how great his genitalia is. But then, when she can’t sleep with him anymore she shacks up with a doctor who tells her, moments after sleeping with her for the first time, that ‘hey, there is this great operation that’ll tighten you up!‘ Yippee! And, of course, she agrees to it immediately. She doesn’t ask any questions related to possible side effects. No probing about how the procedure works. No second opinion. Just straight to, ‘yep, sign me up for invasive surgery please!

The worst thing about this sub-plot isn’t even just the poor treatment of this character, but rather that this tangent has absolutely no impact on the actual plot. Ok, maybe ‘the worst thing’ is a poor choice of words, because absolutely nothing I have ever read is worse than the vagina plot, but if it has to be in there (and it doesn’t) at least try to pretend that it has some relevance. It doesn’t even intersect with Fredo Corleone and the Las Vegas plot, despite taking place at the same casino Fredo works in. Take out Lucy Mancini and the book doesn’t suffer, in fact, it greatly improves. I would rather female characters are not included in stories at all if they will just be relegated to a literal plot about their ability or inability to please men. That is what I expected from this book, poorly written but barely-there women. I can’t believe this is what I got.

The truly frustrating thing – and again, I am exaggerating, because nothing has ever been more frustrating than the vagina plot – is that I was enjoying the book until it showed up. Sure Fontane was annoying and I could have done without him, and yes, there was still plenty to roll my eyes at. But I find Michael’s story engrossing and compelling, and it had me gripped. Even though I know each plot point. Even though I saw each twist coming. I even got a little teary-eyed part way through when the ‘toll booth incident’ occurs (trying to keep relatively spoiler-free, vaginas aside). If the novel just followed the Corleones, I would have regarded this book a lot higher than I do. I would have still struggled with the portrayal of women, and I would have still considered it a piece of pulp fiction, but it would have been enjoyable pulp. Unfortunately though, the novel doesn’t just follow the Corleones, and it greatly suffers for it.

At least the film got it right.

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Caturday is My Favourite Day

The thing I love most about Saturday, besides it being the start of the weekend, is that people all over the world can come together and celebrate one thing – cats. There is nothing quite as satisfying and wholesome to me as the feline posting frenzy that occurs on this day every single week; photos of cats looking stupid, gifs of kittens being cute and small, videos of tigers snuggling up to piglets – it is all so damn adorable! I want to celebrate this day with my own cat, Teddy, by spamming this blog with pictures and anecdotes all about her, so that there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who chances upon this page that I am, indeed, a crazy cat lady.

Teddy Bear in all her glory

Just to hammer that last point home, it is the sanity of my mind that is going to be brought into question in this post, because I’m going to talk about how I got my cat addicted to technology. That’s right, Teddy has a problem, and it is in the shape of a computer monitor.

Normally on a lazy morning, I’ll sit in bed and watch youtube videos on my iPad, and normally Teddy couldn’t care less. However, one morning her interest was piqued by the movement on-screen – not inherently odd, sometimes she watches TV (I’ve honestly never seen anything more adorable than when she stroked the TV screen whilst watching The Lion King) but I found it somewhat amusing, and decided to see if there were any apps for cats, like an aquarium on a loop or something that she could watch for ten minutes and then be on her way. Lo and behold, there was an app, a few actually, so I downloaded one and then opened it up, and then this happened, for about two hours;

Ted is a pretty playful cat, she’ll pounce on anything that moves, but I wasn’t expecting her to be as engaged as she was, and certainly not for as long as she was. But she was a big fan of the app, if she had opposable thumbs she would give it a five-star rating on the app store, and probably find a way to open the app herself and play all day every day because now that is all she wants to do.

Since downloading this app, whenever I pull my iPad out, just the sound of it being set down on my bed leads her to run to it in anticipation. She actually watches youtube videos with me now, I kid you not, she even has a favourite YouTuber (Harry Makes It Up – for anyone who thinks they have the same tastes as my cat… no judgement) and even tried to write her a comment! Ok, so it was ‘ao   z’, and sure it is most likely gibberish because she is a cat, but ‘ao’ sounds a lot like ‘meow’ so I find it suspicious…

And it is no longer confined to the iPad either; if I’m on my phone, she tries to play with it, literally attempting to bat it from my hands, and when I start my PC up, again, she is immediately by its side, ready to attack any mouse-like shapes that might cross the screen. She even throws tantrums if I don’t let her play with the damn app every day. She is addicted.

I introduced technology to a cat, and in doing so discovered that they are the animal equivalent of a technology-obsessed teenager. Go figure.

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Five Favourite Things from February

I thought I’d do a round-up of a few things (books, film, beauty, etc.) that I discovered and loved during the last month.

My favourite book that I read last month was If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, which is about a young black couple falling in love and their struggles when one of them is wrongfully imprisoned. This is so beautifully written, it weaves back and forth in time, from character to character but I never felt lost in the narrative. The characters are well realised and themes handled delicately, and powerfully. Like most of Baldwin’s work, the issues surrounding racial inequality are unfortunately just as relevant today as they were in the 1970s, it does not feel dated, though it absolutely should. He is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, I had previously read Giovanni’s Room, and whilst I enjoyed the prose, the story and characters did not stick with me in the way they have in If Beale Street Could Talk. I definitely need to start working my way through his back catalogue.

Somewhat related to fiction, my favourite Youtube video of the month was a video Matthew Sciarappa made on poetry, and why you absolutely can read and understand it. He made some brilliant and encouraging points that I think really need to be made about poetry, a written form that is often seen as something only ‘intellectuals’ can enjoy and broke down that very idea. It’s a great and emboldening video, which I hope has gotten a few people to give the art form a go.

February was a pretty film heavy month for me, as I tried to watch as many of the Oscar-nominated films I could before this year’s ceremony, but despite having watched twelve films – which is more time-consuming than you might imagine – I found most of them kind of disappointing. At best, some of them were just enjoyable films, without much to note, at worst, they were Bohemian Rhapsody (seriously why is this film so adored? Is it just because of the soundtrack? Is it because of Malek? Is it because we all wish we could have been at Live Aid?) But thankfully, there were a couple that I absolutely adored.

The first of which is First Reformed, which is about a Reverend who begins to grapple with his own spirituality and past while trying to counsel a radicalized environmentalist parishioner. It is a film about guilt, grief and the many causes and forms it takes and how we deal with complacency in the face of large issues. It is what I would describe as a ‘quiet’ film, it moves slowly but steadily and is more of a character study than a plot-heavy film. That said, I’d really advise not watching a trailer for this as it gives a bit too much away – I went in blind, and I’m so glad that I did because by the time the final act kicked in I was genuinely on the edge of my seat, simultaneously feeling like I had no idea what was coming but also an intense dread that I did. This film is masterful, everything from the way it is shot, the script and the performance from Ethan Hawke; is so well done, I don’t think it is a stretch to call it Paul Schrader’s magnum opus. Think of it as Taxi Driver for modern times – which is to say, if you didn’t get along with Taxi Driver, you probably won’t like this. It isn’t a film for everyone, I think the ending especially will leave some feeling unsatisfied, but for me, the whole film was damn near perfection and an instant favourite.

The second film is The Favourite, a period piece about two women’s rivalry for power and favour from Queen Anne. I’m sure I don’t need to go too much into this, we’ve all heard about it, and if we weren’t all completely besotted with Olivia Coleman before the Oscars, we are now. I loved how darkly funny and odd and tragic this film is, but again, not a film for everyone. I’m genuinely surprised that most of the people who I know who have watched this film didn’t think much of it. I don’t know if it’s because of the ending that it’s throwing people off or people were expecting something… different? Funnier, maybe? I don’t know, it was everything I expected and wanted and more, the only real criticism I have is that the score was too repetitive and began to get on my nerves after a while, but that is just me being picky.

Honourable mention goes to At Eternity’s Gate for containing one of my favourite performances of all time in Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh. He was robbed of an Oscar, that’s all I’ll say on that.

Finally, a beauty favourite of the month was the Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm. This isn’t actually new to me, but I ran out of it in February and replaced it with a sample I had of the Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, which I immediately regretted once a string of painful spots appeared on my chin. I swiftly placed an order to replace my Clinique balm and have been happy ever since. To compare the two (and they are very different products), the Fresh cleanser had more of a gel texture, was difficult to apply and felt more drying in contrast to the Clinique, which turns into more of an oily texture when applied, and never leaves my skin feeling stripped. And it doesn’t break me out. I was a fool to stray away, and I won’t be making that mistake again!

So those are my five favourite things from February, hopefully I’ll figure out a way to tone down the wall of text by next month!

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