Thursday 16 May 2019

Book review: Raising the Stones

Raising the Stones aka Arbai #2 by Sheri S. Tepper is a follow-on to Grass, except it isn't really. Grass is excellent (I'm currently in the middle of re-reading it and will review it when finished [now done]) as was The Gate to Women's Country (which I've recently re-read and ought to review). RtS is only very weakly a follow-on, so much so that if you didn't know you wouldn't realise; it is "in the same universe". However, it is a much weaker and worse book than Grass; cruder and less textured. Though to be fair, I did enjoy reading it.

Some of it reminds me of the weaker Jack Vance's - an isolated solar system with different wacky cultures - but without his poetry of language. With him, because it is all for fun, you accept the funny cultures and don't worry about how they could have evolved or survived. But Tepper is Terribly Serious about her Themes, so can't have the same licence.

Speaking of Themes, I should mention them. The main one, laid on with a trowel, is how bad patriarchal cultures that denigrate women are. Unfortunately this is a well-worn topic and she has nothing new to say; and the culture she designs2 is so terrible that any chance of subtlety is lost. Here's someone else rather disenchanted with the "philosophy".

The other theme - and here I will be giving some of the book away, don't read this if you still want to read it, though I'm only giving a small bit away - is "how much freedom do you give up for happiness"? Or at least, that's the label I'm putting on a god-like probably-intelligent fungus that spreads underground, and encourage people to spread it. The GLPIF appears benevolent in the book; it only kills bad people, but since these are Really Bad people from the Really Bad Patriarchal Culture, no-one mourns them and the book doesn't really trouble itself with whether killing them ws fine or not. The other thing it does is transmit information, and gently smooth away conflicts in society, so that people don't even notice that the conflicts have gone. This is, unquestionably, messing with people's heads; and yet the book ducks the problem, by having all the main characters agree that yeah, it's all fine. There's also a smaller sub-plot in which another culture, which started with a prophetess1 telling them messing-with-heads-is-bad, who have morphed that to include not cutting their hair. So if some kind of illuminating tension between GLPIF and messing-with-heads was intended well no, it wasn't illuminating.

My own feeling on this would be very much that the book is deceptive, and effectively draws you into the idea that surrendering freedom of mind for happiness is good. In a way, this is what TGTWC does too, in that it's based on Plato. So perhaps I can suggest that Tepper is so unhappy / outraged about the treatment of women in the world that she's going to give up some freedom of mind for happiness. In a book, the GLPIF can be entirely benevolent - or maybe just playing a long game, who knows - but in the real world, the people you're giving up your freedom to are very unlikely to be benevolent.


1. The prophetess is called Morgori Oestrydingh. Geddit? No, neither did I. Until I just read that the Trilogy is called the Marjorie Westriding series. Geddit?

2. Called the Voorstoders. I didn't recognise it. This footnotes The Voorstoders are obviously meant (in name and culture) to invoke the Afrikaaner Voortrekkers. Well they do, in terms of subjugation of women (at least I imagine the Vootrekkers did; actually I know little about them) but towards the end there's stuff about virgins-in-paradise which seemed to point towards Muslims. Perhaps they're just a confused mish-mash.

Thursday 9 May 2019

Notes for climbing Mont Blanc

I'm thinking of climbing Mont Blanc this summer, with my children (17 and 21) and without a guide. This post is some notes to myself. Notes for anyone else: I was middle-of-a-rope on the Brenva spur 30 years ago and descended fro the top of that alone back to Aiguille du Midi, so am currently puzzled by the AD-D rate given to that route (i.e., Cosmiques) as ascent.

General resources:

* Petzl leaflet showing the 7 "normal" routes. Gives Gouter PD and Cosmiques PD+. Seems fair.
Mont Blanc 4810m - 5 Routes to the Summit by Francois Damilano - book
Mont Blanc Classic and Plaisir Guidebook - book of 80 routes
* The Mont Blanc Range: Classic Snow, Ice and Mixed Climbs - The Book. Now arrived.

Actual plans

Note: planning a full three weeks is presumptuous. Oh ye gods of the mountains, know that I know that this is all tentative.

* 07/20: leave 10 am; to Besancon [booked, hotel Citadele].
* 07/21: arrive Chamonix / le Tour; to Albert Premier [booked].
* 07/22: Aiguille du Tour; back to ref [booked]
* 07/23: Tete Blanche / Petit Fourche? To valley [booked, hotel le Chamonix, town center]
* 07/24: To Couvercle [booked]
* 07/25: Pointe Isabella, Couvercle [booked]
* 07/26: Moine? Courtes? To valley, or another refuge?
* 07/27
* 07/28
* 07/29
* 07/30
* 07/31
* 08/01: to Tete Rousses "camp de base" [booked]
* 08/02: Mt Blanc; back to cdb [booked]
* 08/03: descent, or reserve day
* 08/04:
* 08/05: to Cosmiques [booked]
* 08/06: Mt Blanc; back to Cosmiques [booked]
* 08/07: descent or reserve day
* 08/08: leave
* 08/09: return to Coton early in the day


There's a nice video of the Gouter Route (aka "View Normale") here, which helpfully  includes some pix of the refuges. It also shows you a little of the Grand Couloir, which as I understand it is the icky / dangerous bit. Another, with drone footage! They seems to have stopped in the Refuge Vallot, which is supposed to be an emergency shelter only.

Note that the Gouter is at ~3800, so makes for an easier summit day by ~200 m than Cosmiques.

Here's a bloke soloing it, looks like quite a nice video starting from 2300 m (he ends up arriving at the Gouter - late in the day, so they can't force him to descend - but they charge him E30 extra and get get to sleep in the boot-room since the hut is full). At this point he's nearly at the Tete Rousse, and you can see people camping, though clearly they are getting sniffy about that in 2019. This also seems to show him - and others, so he isn't just a lone nut - fearlessly climbing the Grand Couloir in mid-afternoon; when I'd thought that rockfall made early morning mandatory (vid: rockfall; another; perhaps a clearer one: I think the problem is one crossing). In fact this Petzl document is particularly helpful, has pics and "accidentology". This (2004) discussion says stay at the Tete Rousse and start at 3am. In 2015 it was shut for a while due to deaths.

A blog of someone climbing it from Les Houches in a slightly mad up-n-back in two days.


And a video here. Doesn't look technically any harder than the Dome de Neige. A vid including some interior of the Cosmiques hut. There appears to be one difficult section on Mont Maudit.

You can camp on the glacier below (around from) the Aiguille du Midi, or stay in the Cosmiques hut. Either way you start from ~3600 and have ~1200 to go up.

Here's one of someone soloing it, after his friend decides not to do Tacul because of an avalanche the previous day in which two people die... no accounting for taste. Nice views of the Maudit "steep bit". Quasi-insanely they appear to have walked up the Mer de Glace over a couple of days, camping en route.

Pretty well everyone gets to Cosmiques via the cable car. But walking (Montenvers to Requin then up the glacier) may also be possible and perhaps good fun and acclimatising. See this SummitPost, or this proper planned course.

Other stuff

A somewhat dismissive title. But there is lots lots more than two huts and one mountain, obvs.

Tour of the Mer de Glace: Requin, Leschaux, Couvercle.


The Rif Torino is on the Italian side, you'd never guess. Website. It's reached with by walking up from the French side, or by cable car from teh Italian side, which makes it open lots of the year. Vid of Torino to Mt Blanc du Tacul.

Envers des Auiguilles

Fairly readily accessible from the mountain railway. Various rock routes: Bec d'Oiseau.


From the Mer de Glace (Montenvers railway). Vid: 3 jours autour du refuge du Couvercle, featuring walk in, Pointe Isabella (route 8 in The Book) and L'Aiguille du Moine (rock).

Web page. Says may be being partially renovated in the summer but "Toutefois des places seront disponibles". Or this page says "However if there is work, some places will be available on weekdays and weekends, but limited! It will be essential to contact us by phone at (no internet reservations possible for now)." But the reservation page now seems fine.

A recent report on Pointe Isabella.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Play review: Iphigenia in Tauris

See-also: Play review: Hippolytus. A lighter work this time. Not to be confused with Iphigenia in Aulis, obvs.

The story: Iphigenia bemoans her fate: saved by Artemis from being sacrificed by her own father, she is exiled priestess in an uncouth land, serving the hard rites of Artemis who demands sacrifice of all sailors washed up on the shores of the Sundering Sea. Speaking of which, as she goes in, two such appear: her brother Orestes, and his chum Pylades. O is hounded by the Furies for killing his mother in revenge for her killing his father, but Apollo has told him to come here to gain absolution by stealing the statue of Artemis. But! The temple looks strong. They resolve to wait till night in a cave near the sea. Alas! Herdsmen washing their cattle in the sea capture the two, and oh the irony (though she knows it not yet): Ip will sacrifice her own brother. But as she talks to them - see, do nothing precipitately, she has learnt something from Hippolytus - she realises they are from Mycenae, and offers one of them the chance to carry a letter - telling her folks she is still alive and misses them dearly and would like to go home - there, in exchange for his life. The two chums ritually fight for who gets to be noblest, and O, who is senior, wins. In all this no-one's name is mentioned, except P, and his name doesn't matter. Bound by oath, P worries that he might be shipwrecked and lose the letter. Ip solves this by reading it to him. ZOMG! She is talking to her brother. They are like amazeballs and hugs all round. But how to escape? She will tell the uncouth King Troas that the pair are unclean and need purging in the nearby sea, as does the statue of A. So off they go, with some token guards obliged to avert their eyes, and escape on the handy ship that the local yokels failed to see. A bit of token competition among the gods for will-they-won't-they-escape is won by Athene who also tells the grateful-because-he-would-hate-to-offend-the-gods Troas that it is her will, and not only that he must send the chorus back home too.

Motto: unlike the rather more serious Hippolytus, this one only has a light sprinkling of life-sucks-then-you-die. I think it's mostly just a fun story of adventure and escape and a happy ending (wiki, I find after writing this, says "is often described as a romance, a melodrama, a tragi-comedy or an escape play").

Monday 6 May 2019

Play review: Hippolytus

Read, not seen. Part of the "well it survived two millennia so I may as well see if it is worth reading" series.

The story: Aphrodite has smitten Phaedra with sexual love for her stepson Hippolytus in retaliation for H's rejection of Ap in favour of the Virgin Huntress Artemis. P, tormented, struggles in vain and resolves to die by starvation. Her nurse, distraught, worms the story from P and decides to "help" by telling H; but H reacts with horror and threatens, though bound not to reveal the story, to bring his father Theseus home. P, worried now that her honour is at risk, resolves to die by hanging. As her body is brought out T returns - with, incidentally and apparently irrelevantly a garland as someone who has received a favourable oracle, in this case to expiation of his previous crimes - and notices a letter at P's wrist, which is her last words, accusing H - falsely - of crimes against her. T, in anger, curses - he has been given three curses, by Poseidon - and exiles H. H goes with his men; later, one returns in distress, to report H's (near) death: while charioting, a bull from the sea - or a great wave, easy to see as something earthquake related, but in the play P's doing - frightened the horses and H was fatally injured. Should they bring H back? T says yes, Ar reappears to tell T that H is innocent OK, H nobly reassures T that he forgives him and bears him no ill-will for his death, and dies.

Mottoes: according to the intro of the Penguin edition I read, mostly that life is tough. That seems inadequate. As usual with these things, the main motto would appear to be: don't be hasty. Don't act in anger. Don't act on uncorroborated accusations. This is perhaps a rather boring motto but valuable nonetheless. Another might be: talk to people, don't suffer in silence. Perhaps also there's a rebuke to Ar: a life of total purity is unrealistic and too much of a strain for poor mortal frames; the world would be better if you allow some Ap into your life.