More ambigramming: Death in the Clouds

My apologies for being WAY behind on blog posting. I’ve been making new things and sharing elsewhere, but I’ve been remiss here. So I’ll start with one of a series of new ambigrams I’ve done lately: the Christie title, Death in the Clouds.

ambigramdeathclouds1

I’ve been doing various book titles as mirror ambigrams lately– that is, there is a vertical axis and both halves of the image are identical. The benefit to this kind of ambigram is that you don’t have to physically turn the thing to get the full effect.  🙂  This particular image bears some similarity to the first Christie title I painted, The Hollow. Both painted mirror ambigrams take advantage of story-appropriate imagery, traced through the center letters, to aid in the overall ambigram design. I’m looking forward to trying more of these.  🙂

ambigramdeathclouds2

 

Advertisements

Missing out on domestic love: 15 moments of loss

One of the most touching aspects of Christie’s characterization of Poirot are those glimpses of loneliness inherent in a character who has missed out on the personal relationships that lead to marriage and family life. ***As always, spoilers for everything!***

*************
‘I, Madame, am not a husband,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘Alas!’ he added.

‘I’m sure there’s no alas about it. I’m sure you’re quite delighted to be a carefree bachelor.’

‘No, no, Madame, it is terrible all that I have missed in life.’

-Dead Man’s Folly 
**************

Viewers of the television series will notice that the theme develops and increases over time, especially in the filming of the novels. And yet, glimpses can be seen very early on in the series as well. Some are subtle, and others are blatantly obvious. There are nuances and shades of meaning in these fleeting and poignant moments, but they all share the same characteristic of wistful loss. Here I present 15 gloriously-rendered examples.

1) Third Floor Flat– Perhaps the first clear example in the series. It is unique, and pleasing for Christie readers, in that we get a glimpse of the nostalgic admiration of a girl who resembles an old flame of Poirot’s before the matter is explained to the viewer. So, readers who know the story are gratified to have “inside knowledge” of what lies behind the faraway smile, which will be explained in later scenes. ‘If I were your age, monsieur, without doubt, I too would be in love with her.’

wist1

2) The Plymouth Express– Another early example, this is the first clear indication we have that Poirot would very much have liked to have been a father and a husband. The expression says it all, in response to Halliday’s: ‘You’re not a father, Poirot. You don’t know what it’s like, trying to bring up a daughter all on your own… no wife to talk it over with…’ Also, it is perhaps the first time the viewer becomes annoyed with the lack of tact of those who remind Poirot what he’s missed out on!

wist29

3) The Double Clue– This one’s pretty obvious, of course, and it has the added novelty of a presently-kindled flame, with some returned affection, yet the impossibility of the relationship going anywhere. There are several other meditations on personal loss throughout the episode, from the loss of wealth to the loss of one’s homeland. But all the poignancy is concentrated in loss of a chance at love.

wist31

4) The Chocolate Box– It’s fascinating that this particular story was, when scripted, turned into another sort of dead-end romance, this time from Poirot’s past. I suppose it gives Virginie a little more “connection” to the plot than she seems to have in the original story, and since the incident is buried long in the past, one can get away with adding romantic elements. An added nuance to the sadness-tinged reunion with her is that Poirot has a glimpse of what life could perhaps have looked like for him, had les Boches not driven him from his native Belgium as a refugee: sons in native uniform, and a wife of his own country. ‘…I was just saying to Jean-Louis that he was always the most fortunate of men.’

wist3

5) Lord Edgware Dies– A rarity in that Poirot, Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon are all together at dinner when the conversation turns to Poirot’s lamented bachelorhood. It’s a subject that is clearly uncomfortable for Poirot, made weirder with the flattering attentions recently given him by Jane Wilkinson. Also, we have another indication (suggested as early as Third Floor Flat) that Poirot considers himself too old, and that the time of la tentation is lost in the past. ‘But now, alas, I think it is too late.’

wist28

6) The Mystery of the Blue Train– This is one of several examples of the awakening of loneliness and loss that comes, not from a romance of his own, but from some pretty young friend Poirot has met in the course of the case. In this instance, he has a travelling companion to whom he becomes an ‘avuncular.’ Like a daughter (in fact, she had lost her father and has a cry on his shoulder about it), Katherine Grey is a somewhat needy character who was taken under his wing. When she leaves him unexpectedly to go off on her own, he is struck again by the pain of solitude. The film ends when, after she leaves, he is left by the water’s edge, contemplating the happy, carefree family before him (consisting, incidentally, of an older woman, her much younger husband, and her grown daughter). This loss strikes me as resonating more with the parental sadness of the empty nest– although in Poirot’s case, his patronage came and went very quickly. I’m also reminded of one of Poirot’s iconic lines at the end of the book: ‘Life is like a train, Mademoiselle…’ And ultimately, he is fated to travel it alone. And we’re all sad.

wist6

7) Death on the Nile– A classic example, and one that works beautifully with the plot, which is seething with the desperation to which love might drive a person. ‘Love is not everything,’ Poirot says to Jacqueline. When she disagrees, he is forced to admit that he does not really understand this on a personal level, and is faced once again with the great loss of his life. At other times in his literary journey a la Christie, Poirot has expressed relief that he does not have an ‘ardent temperament’ because it has saved him from many embarrassments. But in this case the overwhelming devotion to a lover– an alien experience to Poirot– sparks pity in him, and he permits the couple to commit suicide rather than face the executioner. The precise reasons why– Poirot always has precise reasons– are spelled out a little more thoroughly in the book than in the adaptation.

nile18

8) After the Funeral– ‘The journey of life, it can be hard for those of us who travel alone, Mademoiselle.’ These are words, reminiscent of the theme in Blue Train, that Poirot states to the murderer– interestingly, very shortly after she has unknowingly incriminated herself with a fatal clue. In this context, the realization of loss and loneliness in life is displayed as a reality that transcends class, and the point of commonality Poirot finds here gives him an insight into the killer’s motive. To find another example of Poirot’s sympathy towards a woman who works as a lower-class companion and is driven to crime in a desperate bid for money, see “The Nemean Lion” from The Labours of Hercules.

wist7

9) Taken at the Flood– In this story, Poirot finds himself as a sort of godfather-type figure to Lynn Marchmont, whose father was a good friend. And, Lynn happens to fall in love with a mass murderer (!)  This causes an awkwardness similar to Death in the Clouds and Three Act Tragedy– “Er, I’ve kinda just sent the guy you love to the gallows… sorry/not sorry?” But I include this example here because Lynn, of whom Poirot is ‘most fond’ and who had been planning on staying in England permanently, decides to leave again. ‘Write me a letter, Monsieur. I like your letters.’ It is a familial sort of loss for Poirot, and one full of turmoil in light of the bizarre circumstances of her departure.

wist9

10) Cat Among the Pigeons– This is one of the most curious and enigmatic moments of “wist” in the series. It is very fleeting moment in which Poirot, in the course of observing the various teachers at Meadowbank School, is watching a ballet lesson. A row of girls are at the barre and are practicing positions in pointe shoes. Poirot watches them with the most startling expression of bittersweet nostalgia on his face. Of what exactly is he thinking? The touching innocence of youth, uncorrupted by matters of crime? The disappointing fact that he himself was not to be the father of a daughter? Someone please ask David Suchet… he’s the only one who can read Poirot’s mind…

wist11

11) Third Girl– Another case (and a particularly disturbing one) in which the young couple in love awakens in Poirot his own sense of loss. This is one of the most emotional reactions Poirot has in the series; even Mrs. Oliver comments on his tears. ‘…The mystery that even I, Hercule Poirot, will never be able to solve… the nature of love…’

wist14

12) The Big Four– Almost everything in the final series touches on this theme. There’s a really interesting moment in this script when the housekeeper describes the fastidious and irritating habits of the deceased man (a bachelor), and Poirot appears to have a moment of sober enlightenment concerning his own bachelorhood. It’s very subtle and lends a moment of personal poignancy to the scene where the viewer wasn’t expecting one. Japp: “Did he ever marry?” Housekeeper: “Oh, no! Can you imagine it? What woman would have him? Woe betide you if you tried to move one of his precious books, or tidy up his bloomin’ letters!”

wist16

13) Elephants Can Remember– Poirot says to Zelie: ‘Mademoiselle, neither you nor I are married. We may never be married. But they should be.’ It’s the argument that finally persuades the chief witness to come forward with her story.

wist18

14) The Labours of Hercules– The scriptwriters were going really, really heavy on the “wist” here. The first example of the theme is Poirot’s visit to his doctor. ‘You’ve had a remarkable career– at the expense of having a family! Nothing wrong with that, but that’s what you’ve chosen…’ This is adding insult to the injury of having “failed” as a detective, and these two horrible realities dovetail to serve as the impetus to reunite Poirot’s chauffeur Ted with his lost love. This successful reunion contrasts with the totally tanked relationship with Vera Rossakoff, another grievous “what might have been” in the realm of personal relationships. There’s also an unprecedented use of fake wistfulness, when the Countess speculates what’s going through Poirot’s mind when he sees Alice, her daughter. ‘He looks at you… and he sees the life he might have had.’ We learn later that this isn’t actually what Poirot is thinking– he’s too busy having his suspicions alerted by the girl’s biting of her thumb!

wist25

15) Curtain– Was television ever as moving as this? Throughout his life, Poirot had never really brooded excessively on his regrets concerning love and family– rather, we see him repressing the pain and struggling past it. We don’t see this brooding in the final days of his life, either, as he focuses his attention on this most difficult of his cases. If anything, Hastings becomes the torch-bearer on the pain of loss in this episode– his wife, his daughter (to Franklin and Africa), and Poirot himself. In such a context, this line of Poirot’s, one of Christie’s own, is a most meaningful one: ‘My heart bleeds for you… my poor, lonely Hastings.’  Poirot knows, on every count, that Hastings is about to be left very much alone in the world. A lifetime of domestic loneliness endows him with sympathy for his friend’s losses, the blessings of which he had himself never enjoyed in the first place. Hastings finds himself choked up at this sentiment of Poirot’s, possibly because in spite of the fact that the man is near death and has struggled with loneliness for so many years– he will even die alone– it is Hastings’ loneliness, not his own, that most concerns him in those final moments.

wist26

A cake for Agatha Christie’s 125th

Back in September, Agatha Christie’s Twitter put a sort of “cake challenge” out there: make a cake in celebration of Agatha Christie’s 125th. No need to ask twice– I make fan art on the most ridiculously slight of provocations. And I’d never tried making fan art via cake. The very prospect sounded so insanely nerdy I just had to try. Anyway, CAKE!

It would have to be something Poirot-esque. I had used edible marker on fondant for cookies once or twice in the past, and I’d used gel food coloring for tinting molded cookies, but I’d never tried anything like a portrait in gel coloring on fondant, nor had I made decorative, edible flowers. I decided to try both. You also need to know that I am terrible at baking…

In spite of me, the cake made it out of the pan more-or-less successfully. It was (necessarily) square-shaped, in keeping with the Poirot motif. With a great deal of frustration I sliced the square cake in half and iced it together again, finally breathing a sigh of relief that the complicated, unpredictable, and aggravating part was over. Now I just had to paint the portrait and sculpt some flowers and stuff, which as far as I’m concerned is infinitely easier than fighting with cake ingredients.

The white fondant was rolled out and trimmed to be a little smaller than the cake top. The picture on which I was basing my image was obtained from the episode Death in the Clouds. Gel food coloring was mixed with vodka to paint on the portrait. (The Countess Rossakoff approves.) The actual painting part was a sort of learn-as-you-go experience. I cautiously added thin layers and built it up gradually. And as Poirot slowly came into focus, I shuddered to think how positively mental Suchet would think me if he ever found out that he was being painted in costume, onto a piece of fondant, with vodka… and for no particular reason except for what was essentially a Twitter dare.

Oh well.

I found a tutorial on the internet for the creation of molded poppies, but used fondant instead of gum paste just to make life more interesting. (Poppies are a flower I identify with Poirot. If you decide to use this tutorial, intrepid reader, follow their instructions as written!) An additional amount of my white fondant was heavily tinted, turning my hands bright red, and I managed to get some poppies made. The frilly centers turned out nicely and helped to give the false impression that I knew what I was doing. Long, thin, green poppy stems were also rolled out.

The fondant portrait was eventually anchored to the center of the cake with some sort of gel icing. The original plan was to have the green poppy stems attached to the flowers right on the cake itself, but it suddenly seemed like a better idea to add a thin green “stem” border all the way around the portrait. A second border was added of tiny silver candy balls, vaguely reminiscent of Poirot’s brooch, or whatever. They looked bling-y, anyway. A couple of poppies were added to wherever they might fit on top of the cake. I had a little bit of my red fondant left over, so I thought I’d make a “125” to attach somewhere onto the cake. I didn’t own any number cutters for fondant or anything handy like that, so I cut them out by hand and gel-glued them to the front side of the cake.

The final poppy, which wouldn’t have fit onto the cake anyway, I arranged decoratively in front of the cake (as though that was what I meant to do all along, ha) with its stem, which is actually not even attached to the flower. I forged Christie’s autograph onto a stray piece of fondant using edible marker so that, just maybe, the theme of the cake might be slightly more obvious.

Voilà… cake!

cakemontage

The cake was finished just before Christie’s birthday, and it seemed like a good idea to take it to our local library, an institution to which I owe a great debt and where I had first blasted through a large number of Christie’s works. My husband called the library and asked if they knew it was Christie’s birthday. They didn’t. He told them to be on the lookout for cake. We dropped it off that afternoon, the 15th of September.

The library (which is a fairly small one) got into the spirit of the thing and posted on their Facebook page that they had cake, inviting people to come celebrate Dame Agatha’s birthday. They apparently made tea and set the cake out with stacks of Christie books to encourage visitors to check them out. We missed out on the party, but it seemed to have been a sweet little affair. I was told later that when they were cutting the cake, they carefully cut around Poirot first to avoid damaging the portrait. It’s hard to blame them– attempts to stick a knife into Poirot are not going to end well. But the cake did completely disappear in the end.

Later they sent me a cute little thank-you card.  🙂

thankyouforcake

The only moment of cringe once the cake was done was the comment of one gentleman on the library Facebook page, who, upon seeing the cake, helpfully informed us all that Agatha Christie was, in fact, a woman. OH, did I cringe. Several wincing cringes. Someone at the library set him straight though.  😉

When David Suchet unexpectedly guest-stars in Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Those split-seconds when you’re watching Poirot and suddenly think: “I say, that guy bears a shocking resemblance to David Suchet!… Nope, nope, I was wrong, it’s Poirot…”

😉

He seems to materialize in Death in the Clouds

…and The Mystery of the Spanish Chest

spanishchest1

…and The Adventure of the Cheap Flat

suchetguest1cheapflat

…and Curtain, of course…

curtain48

…and probably in several other spots as well. Terribly sneaky.

The painted miniature books (9)

Here’s a set of four Christie covers that depict somewhat exotic locations…

Appointment With Death is set in Jordan, but was filmed in Morocco. In this still, a tiny Tim Curry and David Suchet contemplate an ancient text unearthed in the archaeological dig. This episode was full of so many incredibly gorgeous sets, locations, and shots that it was hard to choose a cover. But the unique lighting in this image made it the winner. It was incredibly easy to paint, easier than it might look. Even the tiny rosary is visible.

appointmentwithdeathmontage

Murder in Mesopotamia is another of Christie’s Middle Eastern archaeological digs, taking place this time in Iraq and Syria but filmed in Tunisia. On this cover I had to avoid Hastings, since he does not feature in the book but was written into the script. I decided on this marvelous shot of Poirot walking away from the camera beneath an arch in a dusty alley. The angle, coloring, and everything else about the image tickled my fancy. Poirot-walking-away shots are always fun, anyway.

murderinmesopotamiamontage

Death in the Clouds features a fair bit of action in Paris. Instead of an episode still, I ended up using this image that I think I spotted somewhere online, which (as far as I know) is not actually part of the episode, but looks good. Poirot, Eiffel Tower… what more do you want? I love his outfit here, too– wonderfully dapper.

deathinthecloudsmontage

Finally, I include Evil Under the Sun in this set of exotic locales, although the location is English– the Burgh Island Hotel off the south Devon coast. I watched through the episode to get a still for the cover and could not find ONE that I thought would work. The episode and story are fantastic (actually I think it might be my husband’s favorite episode), but again, I couldn’t use an image with Hastings, since he is not in the main action of the novel, although he is mentioned. And film-Hastings likes to hover over Poirot’s shoulder; in this episode he is particularly “mother chicken”-esque. I watched through the episode a second time searching for a shot. Finally, I cheated. I took a head shot of Poirot looking down from the hotel, and layered it onto a different background which included some of the landscape. In the end I was very satisfied with the result, and I think the cover ties in well with the chosen eponymous quote.

evilunderthesunmontage