Siege Diaries 9/25/2020

Where did I go? 

It’s been two weeks now since I wrote anything here–but it’s not that I haven’t been writing anything, or been busy.   There have been a few lengthy posts on Reddit, a couple of books read, one large-scale project finished and another started, and even the push to create the first character for roleplaying that I’ve done in years by Sunday.   But it’s September 25, so before I share any of that other work, today I have to indulge my Shostakovich geekery in honour of his birthday.

First, the third embroidered portrait of him I’ve done so far, finished just under two weeks ago.


This was done entirely in satin stitch using four colours of DMC cotton, one strand in the needle. Satin stitch is fussy–you really need to keep the stitches thickly-packed and parallel, and the longer the stitch, the more it’s important to keep things under tension. I ultimately decided to attach the piece to tightly-stretched felt to keep the stitches from buckling. I like the resulting woodcut feel.

And then there’s the birthday geekiness, mostly instigated on the r/shostakovich subreddit, where there are fans even geekier than me. One of them mentioned that Shostakovich loved candelabras and candles and loved lighting them on his birthday, as well as referencing his love for smoked eel. For the former, I had a couple of packages of tealights from IKEA stashed away that were intended to be used, I think, as some kind of site token. I needed 114 of them if I were to have the correct number for the birthday celebration. I had more than enough. I arranged them on my hutch and last night, I lit a few–but quickly decided that lighting the entire set would be just a wee bit dangerous. Tea lights are surprisingly warm, and lighting 114 things on fire quickly hit me as a Bad Idea. Even blowing out the handful I lit generated a significant amount of smoke. (Some may remember that I had a lit tealight in a star-shaped glass holder fall off my hutch and shatter a couple of months ago, causing me to have to quickly douse a flame. Having 114 of these? Nope with nope sauce).

Onwards to the second part of the geekery. I decided to see if I could find some smoked eel. Some other smoked fish would do in a pinch, but I knew I had a shot at the real thing. (I haven’t had eels since having it in a medieval pie close to 30 years ago). There’s a Polish-owned (and generally Eastern European-focused) chain locally called Starsky’s that imports actual products from Europe (and famously, around Christmas, sells live carp to keep in one’s bathtub before eating as a holiday meal–primarily a Western Slavic thing, but it shows these guys are the real deal). I figured I might find a tin of smoked eel there, similar to how one can buy sardines, herring, and the like. So I stopped in on Tuesday and looked through the tinned fish section. No luck, although the sheer variety of tinned fish was astounding. I almost gave up–but then I thought I’d look over in the deli section. Turns out they had just about every kind of smoked fish you could ever want–including, at the very back, eel. I had to restrain my urge to squee out loud. Just under $14 later, I had a package of eel that I would secret in the back of the fridge until the big day.

This morning at 10 am (5 pm St. Petersburg time, which was when he was born), as planned, I lit a couple of candles, put on a recording of his opus 1 on headphones, and drank a vodka toast to Dmitri Shostakovich. I then signed into a teleconference for work, and did a little doom scrolling–where I ran across a photo of Shostakovich resting his head on his hand with essentially the same look on his face that I had. I doubt he was doom scrolling, unless you mean “doom scrolling” metaphorically–then I suppose you could say he did a lot of doom scrolling.

After getting that out the way, I retrieved my precious package, unwrapped it, and put it on a plate made by Larissa. I’d never actually used the plate for food. Seemed like the right time.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Smoked eel is REALLY TASTY.
  2. Smoked eel with vodka is even better. The smoke really compliments the taste of the vodka and brings out depth.
  3. Smoked eel is really fussy! I had to split it open and then use my knife to scrape off chunks from the skin and from the bones–eel is pretty bony. The flesh is fairly delicate, not really fishy, although it is oily, and you don’t get a lot of it–definitely a luxury item.

To conclude, it was revelatory for me to experience one of Shostakovich’s favourite foods on a date he likely would have enjoyed it as well. I definitely get why he liked it now. Russian friends tell me that the tradition for them is that the birthday person treats. I’m not a very spiritual person, but I can certainly say that in a way I feel like Shostakovich treated me to his favourite food on his birthday. (And I now know that the reaction to eel is not “ewwwwww!”)

I also have spent the past fifteen days listening to Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies and 15 quartets in sequence, finishing up with the 15s today. What originally started with just posting links ended up with mini-essays on most of them. I watched live videos of several of the quartets I’d never seen before (including the 13th) which showed me new things, along with a nifty live-streamed concert on Wednesday from London featuring the 8th Quartet. (And now someone’s just posted a link to a prog metal version of that same quartet that I may just have to buy. Such f*ckery should be encouraged.)

Tomorrow (I hope): Catching up on things not related to Shostakovich, including: History! Roleplaying characters! Visits with friends! And, most importantly…Getting the haze lasered off my my implanted lenses with the result that SUDDENLY THINGS AREN’T BLURRY!