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War and Peace Book 1

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I wanted to talk about this book for some time, I have been reading it the past month and I love it. I do have to keep the discussion on my intellectually low level though, so I decided to follow the BBC series from 2016. I had watched this series before reading the book, which is why I did not give up this time. The first time I tried to read it the Russian names defeated me, especially in the second book, when Tolstoy keeps switching between calling Prince Andrei, Prince Andrei and Bolkonski in the narrative. Now that I had an image of each character in my mind, it was easier to follow. Part of this will be my random thoughts on the book and comparing the TV series to it. I read a version of the book, where it was divided in 15 books and two epilogues.

Book 1 (Episode 1, the first 40 minutes)

Paul Dano is a wonderful Pierre. Pierre is deeply flawed and makes hilariously irrational decisions throughout the book. He doesn't become comical or annoying in the book because of his kindness and emotional honesty, which Paul Dano is perfect for.
His introduction sets him up perfectly, showing his idealism and social awkwardness (I love the small detail of him just handing Anna Pavlovna his glass in this scene and her confused reaction on this complete breaking of etiquette), without making him look intentionally rude.

(He says in a room full of overfed aristocrats)

While his defense of Napoleon is funny, his interaction with Lise is peak Pierre, awkward, from a place of kindness.

"I'm not..." (realizes that mentioning pregnancy would be inappropriate)..."I mean life is...."(notices he can't save it)..."Oh, this is wrong!" Pretty much as in the book, too.

His weaknesses are a bit tuned down in the TV series. His womanizing is only addressed in the first episode, the drinking is only mentioned once again. He is more confused here than weak willed (more about it in book 2 and book 5). They also have the party only in fast cuts, lessening the impact of Pierre's stupid behaviour, such as trying to copy Dolokhov's dare and the bear incident, focusing on his regret instead.

I like how some small details are kept, such as the servant drinking the wine at the party when he thinks no one is looking. Pierre is a big man in the book, somewhere in my notes it says "Stop body shaming Pierre, Tolstoy!" as he constantly mentions him being stout "He placed his stout body in a chair". Paul Dano plays him with big clumsy gestures without it looking comical.

Strangely the TV series then makes Pierre look a bit callous about his father dying by going to Natasha's name day party. (They do not mention that it is also her mother's name day party, who is also called Natalya). When Pierre comes to Moscow in the book, he is repeatedly told that his father does not want to see him, because of the bear incidence and that the shock of hearing about the scandal is what caused his stroke(s).

Pierre can dance in the book, he just does not know that particular dance at the name day party, but obliges Natasha, because that is who he is. He is not in love with her at this point (because she is 13 in the book), but it makes sense to change it for the TV series, where they are closer in age. In the TV series he says "I can't dance" and never dances again. Probably because Paul Dano did not want to. In the book, when he later moves to Moscow, one reason he is so liked is because he is always up for dancing to make sure none of the ladies have to sit around without a partner. He also can play clavichord.

Lily James is great as Natasha. She manages to play her like a teenager at the beginning. It is some very subtle physical acting, I don't think they needed that horrible fringe. I love that her main concern with the bear incidence is if the bear is alright (she asks twice).

Nice how Anna's Mikhaylovna (there are a lot of women either called Marya or Anna in the book, adding to the confusion) motivation to help Pierre later is set up by Vasili Kuragin refusing to give her an allowance from the inheritance at the beginning of the episode. Funny, if Vasili had said yes, he would have inherited, as Pierre would have never been able to notice the conspiracy to cheat him out of the inheritance. The death of the father is pretty much as in the book, with Pierre utterly confused and Anna guiding him through how to behave like a grieving son AND uncovering the conspiracy, securing him the inheritance.

(Perpetually confused Pierre)

She deserves the allowance for her son she'll get from Pierre. I like that they kept Vasili's line "we lie and deceive, but for what, it all ends in death" it is a nice bit of nuance for the character.

Andrei in the TV series is as insufferable as in the book. He is arrogant and even worse to his wife in the book. She is not portrait very sympathetic, it's a Tolstoy and women thing. His reason for going to the war is a bit different, in the book he thinks he is too good for St. Petersburg society and is looking for glory, even if it means getting killed, but glory not boredom is his main motivation.

Andrei's father is way too likable in the TV series at the beginning. I think part of it is the actor, he is really well known and plays usually sympathetic characters. He terrorizes his family, especially Marya (who is great) from the get go. Andrei knows this and his wife, Lise is scared of his father as well. Lise is in the right. She is pregnant with her first child and scared. Instead of being supportive Andrei sends her off to his family in the countryside, to a father she is scared of, away from her friends and proper doctors and goes off to war we to chase glory and maybe die.

I think fear is the appropriate reaction here, Andrei. You are going to be so sorry in book 4.

One of my complaint is not enough French. Tolstoy uses the upper class speaking mainly French as one of the signs of their estrangement from the "Russian soul". Pierre even mentions it in the TV series in his rant about Napoleon: "Our drawing rooms are full of overfed aristocrats, who have no idea what real life is. Who have even forgotten how to speak their own language." And then the only French sentence ever spoken is this:

It would have been nice to have some characters speak more French phrases, the way Tolstoy inserted them in the book.

Picture of the week - Flowers in black and white

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Cool German Words - Extrawurst

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We go from bread to sausages. Extrawurst literally means an extra sausage. You use it to describe the kind of people who always want there to be an exception for them, or always need special privilege. It also works for German counties. Bavaria is the county of "Extrawurst". Whenever there is a new law made in Germany, Bavaria needs special exceptions to be made for them. When same sex marriage was made legal in Germany, for example, Bavaria needed to have an exception for them, so now same sex marriage in Bavaria is not called marriage but something like "registered live partners". This is number 42 on my list of why Bavaria is stupid and should just be given to Austria. Speaking of Austria, there "Extrawurst" is actually a type of sausage.

Photo of the week - Single Flower

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Cardigan - a journey

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More than 10 years ago I moved back to Blönduós, a rural town in the north of Iceland with under 1000 inhabitants. I stayed for 3 years, forever proving that I'm in no place to judge other people's life decisions. I found ways to occupy my time. I learned how to ride a horse. I started my journey into becoming a nerd. And I created the wool used in this cardigan. I did not set out to make a cardigan from scratch. It all started with a patient with shoulder problems. He was a farmer and his pain was very much due to having spent the last months shearing sheep. I had a cat at this time, so I asked him if he could bring me some wool for her to play with. I don't know if he misunderstood my Icelandic, or was just generous, but at the next appointment he brought a whole garbage bag full of wool, fresh of a sheep. He named the sheep Christina.

The wool smelled. Badly to me, very interesting to my cat, who immediately wanted to crawl into the bag when I brought it home. It was clear to me that I needed to wash the wool before I could do anything with it. Fortunately I had a bath tub in my flat. It took me several rounds of filling and emptying my bathtub, sometimes with shampoo, until the water was not brown anymore. Using my bathtub was a mistake. The sieve above the drain did not stop the very fine and oily fibres and for the next two years I was constantly fighting with a clogged drain. I dried the wool on a bed sheet in my living room, my cat ecstatically rolling around in it for hours.
Meanwhile I did not know how to proceed. I vaguely knew that the wool had to be spun, but how to prepare it for this and how to spin (or where to get a rook from) was beyond me. Fortunately the internet knows everything and one can learn anything on youtube. The next step, google told me was to card the wool. I started asking around, and as luck would have it, one of my other patients had old hand carders from her grandmother. I was using carders you might find in museums in Iceland. I did not have the same luck finding a spindle or rook. In the end I constructed my own spindle. I used a wooden spoon, a small terracotta flowerpot, a wire and elastic. It worked surprisingly well.
For a year I alternated between carding and spinning. Carding was more like a chore, though much faster. It needed a lot more strength and the carders were too big to carry around. I loved spinning. There was a relaxing rhythm to it and I could carry my spindle and some wool in my bag. In the picture you can see me spinning on my Christmas break in Germany.

Skeins of wool were slowly accumulating in my closet, and my mind turned towards the next problem. What to do about the colour. For now the wool was in it's natural white, but it is not a colour I was particular found of. I started experimenting dyeing with plants, but there was the sheer amount of raw material which needed to be considered. Tea and coffee seemed to be my best options. I started collecting old tea bags and after talking to the kitchen in the health care centre I was working, they collected old coffee grounds for me. I dyed each skein separately, drying them wrapped around the back of a chair, using the opportunity to relax the wool I had spun a bit too tight. I forgot the exact method I used, the tea dyed much better than the coffee, so depending on the tea to coffee ratio each skein had a lightly different tone. Both the colour and the texture of the wool turned out really nice. The wool was much softer than the usual Icelandic wool, as I my wool had a much higher percentage of the soft under fleece, the Icelandic Lopi is mainly the tougher outer fibres (which is why it is so scratchy).

Having perfect wool now increased the pressure to knit a perfect cardigan. I started looking up patterns at My first choice was spoke, a pullover pattern, which could easily been changed into a cardigan.I quickly found out that the perl/knit stripes did not really work with my wool of irregular thickness and changed to a lace pattern. It worked really well, I implemented some nice decreasing within the lace pattern techniques, however, the whole cardigan turned out slightly too big, bulky due to the front panels overlapping and I never worked out how to fasten it. I also made a mistake in the arms, with the armhole being uncomfortable small. I did not wear the cardigan a lot. It hung around in my closet for almost five years and then I opened it up again and had the skeins of wool lying around for another 5 years. I decided to plan carefully. The first question was what style of cardigan is the kind I would wear the most? I settled on armande, I liked the vintage look, it would look good on a variety of clothes and as long as I knitted it in the right size, it would not be too bulky. Then I did some tests on which patterns would look good on the wool. I found that cables looked amazing as long as I had at least 3 and 3 stitches in the cable. I also found that a simple moss stitch looked amazing and brought out the texture of the wool. After a lot of research and knitting a lot of swatches, I finally started the cardigan version 2. Only to open it up again after knitting half, because I had miscalculated the size and it was too big. Third try was the charm, after knitting through all three extended editions of Lord of the Rings I finally finished the cardigan I had started 10 years earlier. It is perfect:

Maybe I do another one once I'm retired and bored, but not before.

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