Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Zagreb: totally stuffed

I meant to post this earlier, but after a good start to January, three quarters of us were struck down with a flu-like virus. However, since I expected us to get far sicker in the move to a new country, I am not complaining. So, back to the Croatia vacation...

Our last destination in the Krapina region was decided by Robocar Poli. That is, Maribor had been on our list, but every time I turned on Youtube for Alcuin's current favourite show, there were ads for the Advent Market in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which has apparently been voted best in Europe for several years - and was only about 40 minutes away from our AirBnb. And so, for one of the very few times in my life, I succumbed to direct advertising.



I'm not sure exactly what I expected of Zagreb. The name, of course, conjures up stereotypical eastern European images of a grim, post-communist concrete wilderness. Predictably, the outskirts were packed cheek by jowl with depressing-looking apartment blocks - apparently a quarter of the population lives in the capital. Once inside the city, though, it was surprisingly spacious. Yes, some of the buildings could have done with a clean up (provoking visions of the blackened London I remember as a child), but it was also modern and bustling, and full of tourists. On one level, I was disappointed that the predicted snowy weather had been driven off by a 'warm' front, but at least we could wander around comfortably.



A short stroll from the underground car park (the bane and blessing of visiting European cities), we walked into the first section of the city-wide market, set in Zrinjevac park, with booths lining the pathway, and a pavilion in the centre with live music. A little shopping for the girls, the first hot wine of the day for Ted (Magdalen had volunteered to drive back, woo-hoo).



Up the street, and another, huge market burst on the scene at Ban Josip Jelačić Square: food, shopping, and another stage with live entertainment. I loved the advent wreath fountain, and a mini forest of Christmas trees. And who would you expect to see at a Christmas market but Saint Nicholas with a suitcase?



I hope it isn't violating privacy to show this snap. The mentally disabled boy in the background had already interacted with us at the previous market. He was very happy to spot the old saint, who, just after that photo, turned around and gave him a huge hug plus a gift from his suitcase.

Ted would have been happy eating street food from one of the dozens of stalls, but it was meat, meat, and more meat - not so great for us vegetarians. So we decided to go up to the old part of town, and, of course, why walk when you can take the funicular? Zagreb has the shortest funicular in the world, and walking might have been quicker than queuing up, and shuffling on and off. But we had to ride it, even if only so I can write about it. Funicular is one of my favourite words. It sounds like you're swearing without actually swearing. Funicular, funicular, FUNICULAR.

Random view from the funicular. Did I say funicular?

Ahem, back to the trip. Up in the old part of town, we (okay, Magdalen) consulted Google and found an Indian restaurant. Hurrah! I have noted (in my very small sample) that while regular restaurants in tourist areas have the menu in the vernacular, then usually some combination of Italian or German and English, Indian restaurants have the menu in the vernacular and English only. You just know that all the British tourists are like, "Thank God, a chicken tikka masala! I've had enough of foreign food around here!"

Time for a little culture after lunch. Elder daughter went off to the small Museum of Naïve
 Art, while the rest of us went round the corner to the Croatian Natural History Museum, mainly because teenage daughter was hoping they would have English paleontology books in their museum shop, plus we thought animals would keep the toddler happy.

"Mum, look, the wolves have got a Christmas tree!"

The museum is housed in an old theatre, which turned out to be pretty appropriate. You begin by walking through the cloistered interior and up a wide, creaky staircase lined with posters. The geology section was innocuous enough, and a chance for Alcuin to tell us all about meteors, which he got mixed up with lava part way through the explanation.

But then we hit the zoology section. Case upon case (and jar upon jar) of Victorian-era stuffed and preserved specimens, down corridors, round corners, in and out of glass cases. Octopuses in giant tubes lounging by the window. Litters of baby animals that looked so new they must have been taken from the womb or killed soon after birth. My daughter and I had the simultaneous thought that it was the perfect setting for a murder mystery or horror story. It was so macabre, it was compulsive. And the three year-old loved it. He announced, for some reason, that we were going to be finding elephant bones, and voila, there they were, next to a baby elephant that we could not decide whether was a model or stuffed.






Then back to the shop aka a glass-fronted cabinet next to the cash desk where I paid more for one book on Neanderthals than it cost us to spend a day at the spa. But raising geeks isn't free.

Meanwhile, our adult daughter had also squeezed in a quick trip to the Museum of Broken Relationships. This is where people from all over the world send in tokens of their failed love. Here's a couple of examples:

"When I moved out and across the country, I took the toaster. That'll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?"



"The sweater of indecision": This woman wanted to knit her boyfriend a jumper, but he kept changing his mind about what he wanted. When he left her for a student twenty years younger, she knitted out her anger by making it -  to all his specifications. Apparently, the back is unravelling, "like his heart."



Just time to wander further into town, through another market (see the lovely bookstall below), this time with a modern vibe, and over to an enormous ice rink at King Tomislav Square. Sadly, the queue was too long for a skating session before we wanted to head home (avoiding night driving).



And so back to the cottage, but we will definitely be returning to Zagreb some time to see what it is like outside Christmas.



Touristy stuff:  Zagreb's main tourist page is here. If you have a taste for the macabre, here is the museum website. I hope I am not offending any Croatian readers because, honestly, it was a theatrical experience I won't forget for a long time. On my daughter's recommendation, the Museum of Broken Relationships is definitely on my list for the next visit to Zagreb.

If you are interested, and missed previous posts on Krapina, the post on our Airbnb and waterpark/spa is here, and the one on the Neanderthal museum is here.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Walking with Neanderthals

Only true nerds plan an entire holiday around their daughter's desire to go to a Neanderthal museum (and then blog about it), but that's why we ended up in the Krapina region in December. And since it's over two hours from Koper and we weren't going to be popping back, we also booked a guided tour. Mysteriously, our elder daughter didn't feel well enough to come. In her defense, she went back to bed and didn't get up until we got back mid afternoon. Or so she said.


Krapina Neanderthal Museum: Reconstruction Atelier Daynes. Photo by Davorin Vujčić.


The museum is built on the site of a famous paleoanthropological (early human) excavation. As with many of our adventures at museums and tourist attractions around here, we were the only visitors this day, and got a personal tour from Professor Uvodić, the senior educator at the museum. Apparently, this is Croatia's most visited museum, and, after we went to some of Zagreb's  museums the next day (more in the next blog post!), I can see why. It's modern and interpretative, modelling its approach on prominent institutions like London's Natural History museum. We began with a big-screen film that recreated the lives of the Neanderthals found on the site. It aimed for realism, so much so that there were a couple of points at which I turned away and/or covered the three year-old's eyes. The first was when a male got his hand bitten off by a bear and the amputation treated. The other was a very long full-frontal waterfall shower scene featuring a female whose remains were discovered at the site. Proof, I suppose, that an open attitude to nudity is not only limited to human Europeans.

Krapina Neanderthal Museum. Photo by Tomislav Veić.

I am pretty sure that the professor has never had  - and may never again have - a teenager the likes of Beatrice visit the museum. She has probably already learned enough about paleoanthropology to get a degree in the subject. Ted and I threw in a question or comment occasionally, just to show we were listening, but mostly we took it in turns to mind Alcuin and let her nerd out.

KNM: The Origin of the World. Photo by Damir Fabijanic.


The museum is designed as an interactive experience, leading you through a story. The first part is about the locality and the first, amateur paleontologists who explored the site, plus historical theories on our place in creation and evolution. Then you wind up a slope that depicts the earth's history as a 'day', beginning with the big bang, and leading through to the rise of hominids, illustrated with a cool set of models. The last part presents discoveries on the site, including a tableau of Neanderthal life, complete, of course, with full-frontal naked neanderthal lady in the shower.

KNM: The habitat of the Krapina Neanderthals, reconstruction Atelier Daynes. Photo by Elisabeth Daynes


Alcuin was pretty stellar. He wanted to leave about half way through, but we stalled him until almost the end, when he started to weep in despair at ever escaping the museum, and I had to take him outside and feed him snack bars.

KNM: Rise of Life. Photo by Damir Fabijanic


The museum shop was pretty small, and disappointingly for Beatrice, didn't have English language textbooks. But you can buy a poster of... you guessed it :) However our stunned appreciative guide gave her a glossy catalogue of the collection, plus contact information. It's a small world in these parts, so we hope she has found a mentor. Professor Udović certainly has her parents' undying gratitude (and extra thanks for kindly sending me these beautiful photos of the museum).

Even after that marathon tour, we had to visit the excavation site. There is not much to see, as the original cave has collapsed, but the trail is dotted with various models of Neanderthals and animals. Our usually camera-shy toddler insisted I take a photo of him with every one of them. Here are some examples.

Throwing stones and hitting stuff - these guys have class.

"Mum, take a photo of the gorillas." Erm...



For lunch, we ventured a little out of town for a local restaurant I had scouted out online, thinking our more discerning eldest child would be with us. They served the best mushroom gnocchi I have tasted thus far in this region (and it's a standard vegetarian option on otherwise meat-laden menus, so I've had several). I took leftovers home for the sick gourmet. Ted was served twice as much meat as he could manage, and we all shot for the post-lunch slump by adding two potato dishes and wine to the mix.

A week later, Alcuin was still discussing the bear episode ad infinitum with me. What was the bear doing? Why did he bite off the neanderthal's arm? Did he eat people? "Maybe some bears just attack people," I said. "No, Neanderthals," he corrected. His sister should be proud of him.

Touristy stuff: If Neanderthals and paleontology are your thing, then you'll want to put this on your bucket list: this is the museum site. Again, it's Croatia, so it seems ridiculously cheap to British and American visitors. (I'm sort of hoping they never join the euro.) The town looked worth exploring, and had several restaurants, but we didn't have the time. This is the restaurant where we had lunch. It's only a few minutes' drive from the museum.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Quick Lit January 2019

Happy new reading year! Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy to review the past month's reading. How was your 2018 reading life? I really got my reading muscles going after seriously taking up the reading hobby again. I went from 27 books in 2017 to 51 in 2018 - despite packing/ selling everything we owned and moving across the world. (And amazingly,  I am still married.)

A book stall at Zagreb's Advent market. Pretty neat!

Katherine Arden - The Bear and the Nightingale
I bought this some time back, so I didn't remember any details other than it being a retelling of a Russian fairytale. I haven't read fantasy for years, so it took a little while for me to get immersed in the world, but then I was hooked. Vasilisa is born with the second sight and communes with the spirits around her, also honoured by her people. But her new stepmother, aided by a charismatic priest, tries to stop these superstitions, unwittingly feeding a growing evil. Sensitive readers beware: it morphs into a horror story by halfway through. There came a point in time when I knew I could not read it just before bed. Fun bonus for me: the author uses lots of Russian words, many of which I recognized now I am studying a Slavic language.

Angela Thirkell - Christmas at High Rising
Having discovered the delights of Barbara Pym this past year, I had high hopes for a similar mid-twentieth century comedy of manners, but this collection of short stories was lacklustre. However, since most were written for magazines, I might give the High Rising novels a try if I find one on sale.

After I added this to my list of books read, I realised I was at forty-eight, so naturally I had to make a push to get to fifty for the year (then I remembered I had left one off my list, so the total was 51).

Jenny Colgan - Christmas on the Island
This Christmas novel is part of her Mure stories. It's more of a "Christmas special", and probably won't have a lot of appeal unless you already know the characters. The theme is the vulnerability we place ourselves in when we love: Flora finds herself pregnant, and is terrified at the thought of how her boyfriend, Joel, will react, since he is barely pulling his life together after a breakdown. Her brother is nursing his husband through the final stages of cancer. Her best friend, Lorna, is still hopelessly in love with the refugee doctor, who is torn between his attraction to her and loyalty to his missing wife who is presumed - but not proven - dead. I know Colgan must be a fantastic storyteller, because she has me eagerly swiping the pages even as I'm rolling my eyes at the stereotypes and inaccuracies.

MyQuillin Smith - The Nesting Place: It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful
I was going to make my fiftieth book something weighty, but this home styling book was on sale for Christmas, and it's hard to concentrate when all your family are home, anyway. I was also attracted by the fact that Smith was in one of many, many rented homes when writing this, and we are in a situation where we are renting for the first time in over twenty years - and will be doing so a lot longer than we anticipated. Her style is not quite mine (a giant stuffed sailfish on the wall???) but she gave me lots of inspiration for the "lovely limitations" of a renting life.

Srečno novo leto, as they say here in Slovenia, and happy reading for 2019!



Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Krapina


No, I'm not talking about a bad end to the year, but our trip to the Krapina region of Croatia. Since I had been holding down the fort for much of November and December while Ted went on two business trips, and our eldest child was arriving from the US for Christmas and New Year, we decided to have a little family pre-Christmas holiday, and the Krapina region checked all our boxes: spas, castles, museums and Christmas markets.

The drive there was uneventful, especially for me, who got to sit in the back seat and let our adult daughter be the co driver  - until we got to the border crossing. The guard skimmed through all the passports, until she got to my husband's. Then she shook her head and said he wasn't allowed through here - it was a local crossing, apparently, and non-EU citizens couldn't cross. We didn't even know there was such a thing. Not even his Slovenian residency card melted her heart - so we turned around and wended our way to the international crossing.

All cottage photo credits from FB page: emakucazaodmor

We rented an Airbnb cottage in the small village of Tuheljske Toplice. Just having two storeys and not being in an apartment was a nice change - as was having a fitted kitchen. There's a balcony running along one side of the house, so the children could go out and scrape snow off the roof which they proceeded to stuff down each other's necks (we just missed a snowfall - the weather got pretty mild while we were there). The place was heated with a wood stove, which had an ingenious vent system taking the hot air through the house. It was a lovely feature, except when it came to debating who had to get up first in the morning to light the fire. We also appreciated the mountain of towels (there were three women in the house - enough said).


We decided to take things easy the first day, and headed off to Krapinske Toplice, for the Aquae Vivae spa. There are lots of thermal hot springs in this area, and consequently lots of spa towns. If this conjures up images of Jane Austen and bath chairs, think again: someone around here had the bright idea of going beyond the health resorts and building water parks over the springs. There were bathing and exercise pools, a wave pool, children's area, water slide, even a scuba diving pool. The fun part in winter is swimming into the outside pool, luxuriating in the hot water when the air is freezing. The other fun part (for everyone else) was the big water slide. However, remembering my rule of two minutes of bravery a day, I had a go. It wasn't too scary. Actually, I was such a wimp that I didn't lie down properly, so I sort of shuffled rather than slid.

Mural in the lobby.



The girls also tried out the wave pool, which was okay, until when I pondered out loud how they were doing, my husband quipped, "Probably drowning,", which roused their little brother into a rescue mission. He insisted I rush him across the spa, shouting "Sisters! Sisters!" The sight of his siblings tossing in the massive waves did nothing to reassure him. "Beatrice! Don't drown!" he yelled. Thankfully she escaped death and came to "shore". After all that excitement, Alcuin had to be dragged to lunch, declaring he wasn't hungry. Except when we sat down, he realised he was starving, and had a meltdown. Since he was wielding a sachet of ketchup, it was not  a pretty outcome.



After lunch, elder daughter went for a massage and we mostly hung out at the children's pool, which was so shallow, my husband lay back with his head on the edge and fell asleep while Alcuin bobbed about in his swim ring and occasionally swam over his father to wake him up. We would have stayed longer, but we didn't want to drive back in the dark and sleet on winding roads, so mid-afternoon, we had to pull our simmered, wrinkly selves out and get on home. First one in gets to light the fire...



Look, they're alive!

Touristy stuff: Here's the link for our Airbnb cottage. We would definitely recommend it. It is well stocked with amenities, plus lots of toys and games. The parking area is down a steep slope, so we parked on the side of the road. Also, if it matters to you, the shower is a small wet room area by the side of the toilet, fine for adults, a little harder for small ones. But Alcuin got a week's worth of baths at the spa, so that was OK.

Here's the link for Aquae Vivae, and the spa that is closest to the house we rented. We think winter is the best time for a spa visit - you get to luxuriate in warm water when it's cold outside, and it's much less crowded. It cost us 240 kunas (32 euros, 29 pounds, 37 dollars) for three adults and two children for day tickets, plus three of us rented bath robes for the day, but in retrospect we could have done without them.
(Don't forget to pack your body lotion like I did - I have to admit I was a little itchy for a couple of days after soaking off a layer of skin.)


Monday, 24 December 2018

Grandfather Frost

"We are entering a messy area of eternal discussion," wrote my friend from the International Office.
What were we negotiating? Deciding on gender neutral translations for a highly gendered language? Precision vs readability?

In fact, it was the annual children's party, and the question he threw in my lap was how to translate the name "Dedek mraz" in the invitation, "because there are many different good men delivering gifts in December."

I am a purist. I voted for the literal name: Grandfather Frost. Because that's who was coming.



Grandfather Frost is the communist answer to the saintly Nicholas or decadent western Santa. He has his origins in Morozko, the stern, often deadly god of frost and ice. No ho ho ho here. As far as my research can tell, there is no clear-cut story of his transformation from Slavic god to gift giver. Labelled a demon by the Orthodox church, legends of Morozko grew and developed over the centuries (here is a popular one), until Dedek mraz eventually became a useful figure for the soviet regime, diverting attention from Saint Nicholas and Christmas with his New Year's gift-giving.



His name and appearance vary across Eastern Europe. In Slovenia, he is dressed in pale robes, with a dormouse fur hat (here I have to pause to say that Slovenian dormice are large creatures, not the tiny ones you might think of).


In case you are feeling outraged at these cute little creatures being killed for their fur, let me reassure you that it is also known as the edible dormouse...

Nowadays, instead of freezing maidens to death, in Eastern slavic countries, Dedek mraz is sometimes accompanied by his grandaughter, the snow maiden Snegurochka. 



Coincidentally, I just read a retelling of the Morozko legend involving the Russian folk heroine Vasilisa the beautiful, The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. If you like your fairy tales dark, I recommend it.

And the party? I was afraid Alcuin would be scared, but the education students warmed up the audience with a cute play about a mouse who lost her house. Then they got the children to chant for Dedek mraz, and by the time he appeared, gift bags in hand, Alcuin was ready to leap over and grab his loot. He was so quick, this is the best photo I could get.



Indeed, many good men have come gift giving. We modestly celebrated Saint Nicholas Day on the 6th, and we'll have the traditional December 25 visit from Father Christmas, with a final present from the Wise Men on Epiphany. I think our new Slavic tradition is going to go down well in our household.






Saturday, 15 December 2018

Quick Lit December 2018

Linking up as usual with Modern Mrs Darcy for QuickLit. It was a superlative month to finish out the year, squashing three tried-and-true favourites between quick coffee-time reads.



H. Y. Hanna - Dark, Witch and Creamy
Oh yes, I did. After being contaminated by The Gathering, I needed the literary equivalent of sitting down with a big slab of cake (because stress eating works). This was free, I am mildly curious as to what the appeal is in paranormal cosies, the author is an Oxford graduate, so I thought, why not? It has witches, chocolate, a kitten and murder. The beginning was a little cringe worthy, but I soon got into it. I read it in a day and it left me happy, which is a type of literary merit, I suppose.

Rumer Godden - In This House of Brede
If Dark, Witch and Creamy was not enough to rid myself of the taint of the aforementioned book, a 500-page novel about nuns finally cleansed my soul. This is the story of a group of cloistered Benedictine nuns, focusing on Phillippa, who leaves a successful career in government mid life to pursue a vocation. Godden makes the inner and outer lives of the Benedictine nuns so tangible, I was there in the monastery, hooked on the drama of living in community, even though you get several hundred pages in before anything conventionally dramatic happens. Wonderfully crafted, too, almost like a documentary at times. I almost wept when I got to the end and had to leave Brede.

Sue Monk Kidd - Dance of the Dissident Daughter
The author of The Secret Life of Bees traces her transformation from Southern Baptist wife and Christian inspirational writer to claiming a feminist spirituality outside the church. I would go with the Goodreads reviews on this: It will meet you where you are, and you will love it, or it will leave you flat, maybe irritated if you see journeys to the sacred within us as narcissistic. Having rubbed shoulders with Southern Baptists for twenty years, I empathised with Kidd's dilemma, and the book certainly gave me a better understanding of those espousing a feminist spirituality, but I cannot say it resonated strongly with me.

Dodie Smith - I Capture the Castle (audiobook, read by Jenny Agutter)
An eccentric, genteel, impoverished family living in a ruined castle. Yes, please. This is the type of novel I wish I had written. Through the journals of seventeen year-old Cassandra Mortmain, we learn of her family's plight, sinking into ruin thanks to a 'literary genius' father who has not written for twelve years. Then, the American heirs to the nearby estate arrive, and a Pride-and-Prejudice-style marriage plot is set afloat to save the Mortmains. The plot could easily be cliched, but Smith subtly traces the emotional and intellectual growth of Cassandra across the course of the year to give it a depth belied by the age of the narrator. Beautifully read by the accomplished British actress Jenny Agutter - I put my life on hold to finish this.

Dylan Thomas - Under Milk Wood
This prose-poem "play for voices" was on my definite TBR list for this year. It depicts a day in the life of a Welsh village, from dreamtime to dreamtime. As I opened the book, I had the inspired idea to look up a performance and listen as I followed, so that I could really take in the words. I recommend that, if only so you actually know how all those Welsh names are pronounced! I was fortunate to immediately find the radio cast led by Richard Burton. I listened to it in an evening while my husband was away. A literary nerd experience.



Maggi Andersen - The Viscount's Widowed Lady
I am shamefully behind on reviewing books for members of my critique group. I had read a few chapters of this novel when it was a WIP, and wanted to finish the story. I don't read romance as a rule, but I liked how Althea stood out even among Maggi's always-relatable heroines. She is a widow from an abusive marriage, and although she guards her heart carefully, she is still open to love and strong enough to fight for what matters to her. Viscount Montsimon, an investigator for the king, is at first only interested in seducing Althea, but she quickly becomes embroiled in his latest mission; her late husband had in his possession something that several people would kill for - and Althea stands in their way.

Vesel Božič from Slovenia!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Quick Lit November 2018

Linking up as usual with Modern Mrs Darcy.https://modernmrsdarcy.com/quick-lit-november-2018/ I fitted two book club books into this month´s reviews, reading one last minute and getting the other early via the Internet Archive, a free e-book library I discovered. Since all this month´s book were digital or audio, I have included photos related to a couple of the books and World War I.

Indian WWI troops

Abir Mukherjee - A Rising Man
My first ever book club book! It was time to be brave and make some new friends, so I joined up with the English book club at the American Corner in Trieste. This is a detective story set in 1919 Calcutta. Sam Wyndham has accepted a job from a former commanding officer, Taggart, glad to escape England with its memories of the war and his dead wife. A major case blows up when a civil servant is found dead in an alley, a piece of paper stuck in his throat telling the English to leave India. The case - and even Taggart´s reason for involving him - are quickly not what they seem. It took me a while to warm to the book as it is not my usual genre of choice, but I was certainly swiping the pages by the end.

Barbara Pym - A Glass of Blessings
Like Excellent Women, this book paints a portrait of women´s life in the fifties. Wilmet Forsyth is a well-to-do middle class wife. Forbidden by her husband to take a job, but childless, she realises she is wandering through life, too principled to take a lover, too vivacious to be full of good works. In a more literary novel, that might be a formula for bleak self searching, but in Pym it is a wry comedy of manners that gently points out the absurdities of English middle class life. Pym is now my geeky literary palate cleanser. Her books have a light touch, but are not frothy, always a pleasure.

Vera (who served as a voluntary nurse), and her beloved only brother, Edward

Vera Brittain - Testament of Youth [audio book]
An appropriate read as we come to the end of the centenary of WWI. Although the book is best known, and justly, for its eye witness account of the First World War, it is really the story of how the war shaped a young idealist into a political and social activist. The book starts off slowly, building the necessary background for Brittain´s world that is about to be turned on its head. But once it got into the First World War, well, gripping is a clichéword, but at times my insides were literally gripped with emotion. I highly recommend this in audio (mine was read by Sheila Mitchell) - it was like Brittain was with me, telling her story.

Ann Enright - The Gathering
November´s book club book, a Man Booker prize winner. The protagonist, Veronica, embarks on a stream of consciousness journey as she deals with the death of her brother, who committed suicide. There are finely crafted sentences, and the narrative structure is interesting, but Enright includes crude references almost every few pages, and the climax hinges on an event that, as Veronica states right at the beginning, may not have actually happened. Enright described this book as a Hollywood weepie for intellectuals. No, Ms Enright, Testament of Youth is a weepie for intellectuals. This is a weepie for people obsessed with genitals. I confess to skim reading the last half since I felt obliged to finish it for book club, but I felt tainted afterwards.

The Somme. Lest we forget.