Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941"

That winter, the dead could not be buried.
The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger,
the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with something
and taken on a child's sled to the cemetery
in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil,
some of them wrapped in dark cloth
bound with rope like the tree's ball of roots
when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets,
their pale, gauze, tapered shapes
stiff as cocoons that will split down the center
when the new life inside is prepared;
but most lay like corpses, their coverings
coming undone, naked calves
hard as corded wood spilling
from under a cloak, a hand reaching out
with no sign of peace, wanting to come back
even to the bread made of glue and sawdust,
even to the icy winter, and the siege.
~Sharon Olds

What a terrible poem to come across at this time in my life. I wish with all my soul that the last few lines are...not true. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Readings 2013

2013 has, for a variety of reasons, not been a very 'booky' year. Distractions abounded, and surprisingly enough, reading fell victim. Anyhow, there were a few books I wanted to remember as being the ones that stood out during the year. In no particular order:
  • The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels
  • Postcards by Annie Proulx
  • The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman
  • Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
  • A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
  • The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
  • Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander
  • Troubles by JG Farrell
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Honorable mentions:
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
  • The Line of Beauty by Allan Hollinghurst
  • He, She and It by Marge Piercy
  • Three Junes by Julia Glass
  • The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Language and other animals

Friend has always been a source of some rather hilarious mangling of our 'national' language...stoutly Dravidian and proud of it, he always pooh-poohed our admittedly militant insistence that all Indians be able to converse in it.

A few years ago he came across a signboard across a sweet shop that said "XYZ Mithai Bhandar." And what did he conclude? That the shop was advertising itself as a purveyor of sweet monkeys! I ask you! 

So naturally, yesterday when perusing the recent Delhi election results, I was not surprised when he messaged me. "Tell me, why shouldn't Aam Aadmi translate into Mango Man? Isn't aam mango? Don't want this turning into another sweet monkey."
I gallantly cleared the air: "'Aam is also 'common' or ordinary', you sweet monkey."

Friend: 'Ha. But you see, I've got a point there. I know the common man angle, but it is also the party for mango farmers.'
Long may you live, friend. Life is too short to not mangle language for the purpose of amusement. Sometimes that's the best part about the day. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Formerly...

I feel like a letter left out all night in the rain. What were once words, what gave it a meaning, have all been washed away. The paper is now a translucent and terrible shell of its former self. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Autumn day

God, it's time. Summer was long.

Cast shadows on the sundials,

and let the winds loose on the fields.


Urge the last fruits to fullness; give them

just two more sun-warmed days

to move to ripen, to squeeze

their final sweetness into heavy wine.


Anyone with no home now

will not be making one.

Anyone who is alone

will live on long alone,

will stay up, read, write long letters,

and wander the streets, up and down,

restless, while the leaves blow.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Now

You have not left me, but I am bereft. The weight of the day is getting too heavy for me to bear. What shall I do tomorrow morning, when my eyes open and the first thing they see is the empty space where you would be?
What are you doing now, on the other side of this world? Your night is my day. Your voice can only travel across the wires, your words can only reach me sealed on a screen. 
And I could say I miss you, but that would have no meaning. There is no word yet for losing a part of your days, consigning them to dust and looking ahead, only ahead...when I see you next, I am afraid I will hurt you. (Your bones may break under the weight of my breath.) My head will break the surface of this dark water at the sight of your face. Are you ready? 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Curmudgeon on board

I always find myself mildly annoyed by those ubiquitous "Baby on Board" signs you see on cars these days. Your baby is in a car: so what? The maniac on the road will still drive like a maniac, regardless of whether it's a baby on board or a kangaroo. Even having said that, what really got my goat was a similar (pink) sign I saw yesterday: Princess on Board. 
Yes. That is exactly what we need. To feed more messages to girls about the 'princess myth' as I have begun thinking of it. When exactly did this happen? When did it become the be-all and end-all of little-girl-hood to be a 'princess'? No disrespect to those born into royal families. But is being a princess really something aspirational, I wonder. The message is...what, exactly...that you are entitled to some sort of special treatment because you are a princess? 
Maybe I am totally missing the point of it. Maybe it is just a phase and should be encouraged, just like any other desire a little girl may express with regards to what she wants to be. But the more I see the slightly nauseating sea of pink, glitter and purple that the 'Girls' toys are at the big toy store, the more I cringe. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

J



Mis días sin tí son tan oscuros
tan largos, tan grises
mis días sin tí

Mis días sin tí son tan absurdos
tan negros tan duros
mis días sin tí

Mis días sin tí no tienen noches
si alguna aparece, es inútil dormir
Mis días sin tí son un derroche
las horas no tienen principio, ni fín ...


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blue

This dog seems to know exactly how I'm feeling. 

If only I could look so cute while seeming to give up hope and vanish into the ground.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An afternoon story


Crocodile Rock
Snorkeling is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. Despite my terror of deep water, jumping in and floating around, looking down into the world below really floats my boat. (What a clever turn of phrase!)

There is a rock somewhere on a beach in the Andaman Sea. I have named it Crocodile Rock, and I spent an afternoon there not so long ago with the people I love best.

I love the jagged feel of sand strewn with seashells and the way the water looks when it's lit with sun from way above. I love the sound of the sea when you dip your face in it and open your eyes.

 I love the idea of keeping an afternoon in your memory like a tangible thing, like a jewel in a box.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Comfort...er..food

Ever since I started living independently many years ago, my relationship with food has been somewhat up and down. Pretty soon I realized that I am not what you would call a foodie: I have my favorites, and I love whatever my mother cooks. But going mental over food, the idea of food, looking forward to the next meal, dreaming about food, photographing food and writing about it, creating recipes....it all just escaped me. 

And now the older I get, the more I see that food and I are like a pair of tempestuous yet long-distance lovers. Sometimes, we meet. And sparks fly. I fall in love, food becomes one of the highlights of my life, and I rhapsodize over whatever's on my plate. (This happens only when I am on vacation. I choose one particular aspect of my lover to drool over: sometimes it's seafood, sometimes desserts, or exotic fruits...)

But now, I have reached a point when I do not want to be bothered with food. I find it taxing to eat three or more times a day. I read somewhere that there is a nutritional supplement you can take that spares you the effort of actual food, and this idea appeals to  me. I would gladly partake of food only on the weekends. 

Part of the issue is that I have to face institutional meals for most of the week. The aesthetics of mass-prepared food have always turned me off, and now I find that in my current state of emotional stress, my stomach plainly rebels at every such meal. 

What to do? I have been going counter to my own body's signs and eating more than usual, simply because I know that given a choice I will eat a miniature portion every time and face the further horror of losing more weight. That won't do now will it? 

All this angst has been brought on no doubt by having just spent some time in the kitchen cooking an actual meal from scratch. The process was satisfying, the aromas wonderful, and the end result lovely. So now what? I am struck by the fact, as though it is the first time, that I have actually created food...I have put something together that I take pleasure in eating. It always baffles me when this happens, because I know it simply won't last. Come Monday, and I will be back to wishing I didn't have a stomach to feed. 

My life is so difficult! If only I could soothe my soul with chocolate cake. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wings

J's father died two days ago.

I was sitting on the sofa yesterday afternoon and I saw a helicopter droning as I looked out through the window. The sky was a very clear blue and the sun was hitting the palm trees. Everything was still except the helicopter. For some reason, this made me think of dad's soul being carried away from us.

Now, every time I see a flying thing, I think of him traveling even further away. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Profound observations that amount to scintillating social commentary

Traffic in Bangalore, while hideous, offers opportunities for observation and judgment on a daily basis. (Mostly judgment, because that's so much more fun.) A few things that I've put on a mini-list, forthwith.

The Sidewalk as an Alternative Road: You mean you thought the sidewalks were solely for walking? (The term sidewalk may be alternated with the term footpath here. I use 'sidewalk' because I'm so used to it because it's J's influence, etc., but I digress.) Our city planners (devious witches) actually came up with this crafty plan when they looked into their crystal ball and saw the future of traffic in 2013. Thus, all those boys on their bikes who aggressively swerve on the sidewalks are merely following the fate written in the stars. If you happen to be standing on said sidewalk waiting for your cab and one of these helmeted hellions drives straight into you, why it's your fault, you worthless bystander! And be prepared for the honking, too. 

The Hairy Eyeball: This is observed when one vehicle is being driven by a maniac and comes too close to another vehicle, which may or may not be driven by a maniac. If not, then this second driver gives the first driver a long, mean, earth-shatteringly evil look. The first driver merely drives on, untouched by this brush with death. The Hairy Eyeball may also be accompanied by the One-handed Gesture Meant to be an Insult, which consists of the driver raising his hand, stretching out his palm and pointing it in the general direction of the insultee. What it means, I have deduced, is a sort of half-hearted insult: "Why are you driving like a maniac, but I'm too busy to really stop and fight, besides I myself drive like you half the time, har har...." (Of course the Hairy Eyeball and its accompaniment are infinitely better than the drivers actually getting out and taking the trouble to fight.)

Honking at Nothing: I like to think that this is a way for Bangalore drivers to connect with the vast reaches of outer space, trying to establish a link with any living thing out there. You know how lonely Bangalore roads can be in off-peak hours, right? So to counter this soul-crushing sense of alienation, our vulnerable drivers have come up with this idea. To honk at nothing. Of course many times it is actually honking at what's right in front of them: a puddle, a stray plastic bag, a pothole, or a speed bump. It's all just an attempt to connect with the pitiless expanse of the universe and feel a sense of belonging and awe. No need to get all up in arms. What is a mere honk in the face of existential loneliness?

Perhaps I should add to this list passengers who simply get out of their cars and run away when stuck in the same endless gridlock day after day? Oh, wait. There's only one person who does that- me. Ha. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rainy days and Thursdays

It never rains in the morning here. Today however, it came down: first in a sly mist, then in an earnest downpour. It kept raining gleefully all the way to work. A strange experience, one I cannot recall having before. It usually rains whenever I decide to step out of the office to head home.
Rainy days. Coffee mugs and blankets. Good books. A window seat. The rest of the day just passing outside the window.
Alas, the only window seat  is in the cab taking me to work. The only mug is the institutional mug carrying substandard coffee they give you free. Books, no, only Word documents.
Lest the universe think I am complaining, I am not. At least I am not moaning about my future apartment in Buenos Aires, the one with the hanky-sized balcony and french windows and the orange tree in a tub. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The return


Reading Janet Fitch's Paint it Black (a somewhat depressing saga of a young art model named Josie and her struggles after her boyfriend's suicide), I became nostalgic for L.A. again. The names of streets and places echoed around the book with rose-tinted familiarity: Los Feliz, Griffith Park, Silverlake...the few months I spent there have become a romanticized idyll, forever surrounded by a soft golden glow. 
It feels like we owe ourselves a visit there. We will drive past J's dad's old house (who lives there now?), look for that jacaranda tree on Hatteras St. Of course I will be driving: I now regret  not driving while we were there. 
California appealed to me in a way I never thought it would. The dry, crisp air, the hills, the long palm trees with sunlight laced through just so. I felt like I was returning. (Maybe my soul had been there not so long ago.) J and I were then a pair of recently reunited lovers, and would spend our weekends on little discovery trips. Picnics in Griffith Park. The book festival at UCLA. That strange cafe in Melrose and the one on Ventura which we began frequenting. Always in that California light that made the whole time there seem like a golden dream. 
There is really no point to this post...I am getting so sentimental because I read a novel with a few familiar place names. 
But love has many forms. One of them is memory.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What will happen then?

Walking to the gym today, adopting my usual 'look at no-one' policy and focusing full attention on the wonderfully uneven sidewalks, I still noticed a  man. Just a man standing by the wayside among others. But what I noticed was his stare, directed at my body. He touched himself while he stared, and his head turned as I walked past. 

Now this is more than what is to be permitted in civil society. I turned back, throwing up my hands and asking, "what? WHAT?" 

He was startled. This is what gets me every time. That look of bafflement, as though a woman should have no earthly reason to react adversely to his visual stripping. The sheer incomprehension of being questioned by a woman, the bafflement at her attempting to take back a small piece of her rights as an ordinary citizen to walk or stand on the streets of this country without being subjected to sexually blatant leers. 

I wonder if the day will soon arrive when I snap. When I hit the man in front of me with the full force of my fury. What will happen then? Will the crowds gather in my defense? I don't know. But sometimes the answer, the clear deterrent, seems right within the power of my own two hands. If enough men faced the sudden rage of a woman they have pushed too far, perhaps the scourge will lessen. 

But that is not what women want to happen. This urge to violence cannot be the answer. 'Don't treat me like a woman', is the simple message, 'treat me like a PERSON'. Why is the categorization of women as the 'other' so perpetuated to this day? I could go into lengthy reams with my own rambling theories. But I do not have the time: it should be an unnecessary topic of discussion. 

Meanwhile I find that each time I am sexually harassed, even if not in a physically harmful way, my tolerance crashes and I have to make a real attempt not to shove the offender's teeth down his throat. Does this mean then that the city is teeming with women who feel just like me? All that smoldering rage just waiting to break free? Does this mean that the dam will burst and then who's to say what will happen? 

But women's hands are too busy cooking, washing, mending, writing, inventing, expressing, soothing, and holding. Women's hands are minding their own business, running their own lives and those of their families. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

This is why

One afternoon in Barcelona, J and I decided to rent bicycles. The light was like topaz as it slanted onto the smooth stone of the park we chose to ride them in, the breezy Mediterranean on the other side. J and I went on separate routes. Pretty soon I became aware, as I careened along, that these were among the happiest moments of my entire life. 

This is why I travel. To go in search of times when you step outside, not only of place, but of self. An ordinary day is lit with wonder when you simply ride a bicycle, because you have traveled so far to come to this very place, at this very time, to have this very experience. 

Later, it felt like poetic justice when we absurdly lost our cameras and never again saw any of the hundred photographs J had taken as I sailed heedlessly down those avenues. An afternoon like that can never be imprisoned in a 5"X 7" frame. Whoever stole that camera I hope recognizes what they have in their hands: a stranger's happiness, for eternity.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Readings: The Cuckoo's Calling

JK Rowling has a nice problem. She is so famous, she decided to change her name and write another book, completely different from the series that made her one of the richest people in the world. Well, then. How is this other book? I read her The Cuckoo's Calling (written by Robert Galbraith) recently and was quite pleased.

The main character, one Cormoran Strike, is an unlikely private eye whose life is falling apart. He somehow gets himself a brilliant secretary called Robin just as he also gets his first real client in ages: a rich man who comes to Strike to solve what he is convinced is the murder of his super-model sister, Lula Landry. From here on, the book goes about taking you on Strike's methodical, dogged path as a diligent detective: lots of note-taking, attention-paying, and legwork.

The characters are all well drawn out. There is a fair sprinkling of London's super-rich as well as its unfortunates. Strike's own history is interesting and unusual: he actually straddles both these categories by virtue of his birth and current life. The dialog is engaging and convincing. And the conclusion of the book is satisfying, even if I didn't figure anything out at all and chose to go along on the ride with the rather likable Strike and the heaven-sent Robin. 

As to the big question: What does this story have in common with the Harry Potter series?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The hopeful habit


Nigella2.jpg
Image from wikipedia
That crafty Nigella has done it again. Just when I had stopped thinking about her spotless white kitchen and fairy lights altogether, she caught me flipping channels at the moment she chose to talk about liqueurs. And she involved a bunch of luscious blackberries, proceeded to mash those up, and added meringues and cream to the mix! To quote Sheldon Cooper, "oh what fresh hell is this?"

As to why poor Nigella should conjure up images of hell, it is the rather grumpy mood I've been in since yesterday. I am facing countless obstacles in almost everything I do. And I don't have any blessed blackberries to mash now, do I, so how would I achieve anything to do with them like Nigella would have me believe it is so easy to do? And besides, the imbibing of a good glug of liqueur is something I fully intend to take up when I'm old, along with teetering red heels.

Well, perhaps this little tv segment I came across is actually a sign: the liqueur habit should probably be put off no longer. I can certainly foresee how a shot of something fruity and rich will soothe the frayed edges of a tiresome day. Hic!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Full reasoning

J has always had an astonishing collection of quotable quotes from our dear auto-drivers. However, the latest one tops them all.

He was recently stuck outside his office on a warm evening. Bear in mind, the sun was shining after many days, this is important. Finally after a long wait he spotted one guy who deigned to then stop.

When told of J's destination, he asked for Rs.20 extra. "Why?" asked J, dogged as usual. The answer? "Full hot!"

Now I wonder if this guy hasn't just struck the jackpot here in terms of homegrown wisdom and plain reasoning: I'm thinking I won't go to work tomorrow; if anyone asks why I can simply say, "Full early!"

And I can live happily ever after. Thank you, philosopher-auto-guy. You may also be the most optimistic man who ever lived.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Watched: The Lunchbox

This movie has certainly generated a fair amount of buzz, lately around the Oscar nomination bit...but I had caught the trailer a long while ago and had resolved to watch it, regardless of any sort of buzz. 
So did it live up to its reputation? Yes. This is a well-crafted little film, one that leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction that I imagine you don't get with a regular masala-flick. For that alone, I am grateful.

As to the story, it involves a young  married woman, Ila, anonymously exchanging letters with an older single man, via the lunchbox (intended for her husband) that lands up at his desk instead. That, in sum, is the driving force of the narrative. Set in Mumbai as it is, the backdrop is the familiar yet well-captured sense of claustrophobia of that city, further compounded by tight close-ups of the lead actors' faces.

The pace is leisurely. Each frame dwells lovingly on its subject, building a sense of loneliness and of being trapped, longing to escape. Each letter exchanged between the two brings them closer to that sense of escape, and this is all finely told. There are good performances by leads Nimrat Kaur and Irrfan (more on him later), not to mention a stellar Nawazuddin (the guy simply sparkles!) as the annoying yet endearing understudy to Irrfan's Saajan Fernandes. Also delightful was the character of "Auntie", Ila's upstairs neighbor who is never seen, only heard, a unique device for a Hindi film if I'm not mistaken.

What I would have loved to see is a deeper relationship between Ila and her daughter. Given that her husband mostly ignores her, one would then expect her to be especially close to the child. Also wonderful would have been more exploration of the lunchbox itself, or rather, the food in it; a sort of elevation of her somewhat dutiful cooking to a more personal and fulfilling part of her daily life thanks to the effect it has on Fernandes. (And I will not rant about the forced 'intermission': what is the purpose of turning the lights up in the theater for 90 seconds and stopping the movie? There wasn't time enough to even go to the bathroom...then what did they intend for us to do, exactly? Stretch, in full lighting?)

Still, these are minor niggles. The film is a bitter-sweet slice of Mumbai life that bravely wades into the territory of personal loneliness and the struggle to realize dreams, however far-fetched. Irrfan, though good, felt a little lackluster...I know his fans are legion, but to me he lacked the conviction that Nawazuddin threw into his character. Also, the themes reminded me a little of the gem Lost in Translation: young woman in a floundering marriage forms unlikely bond with older man, the rush and rattle of one of the world's largest cities, and the ending.

To sum up, more films like the Lunchbox would be welcomed with open arms (and mouths...they made each meal in said lunchbox look really good, especially as I was stuck with a pasty sandwich in my hand). Oscar controversy or not, Ritesh Batra and the 90 other producers (!) of the film, please sit up and listen! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The long arm of the er....law

I had barely boarded my bus back home yesterday when the rather aggressive-looking conductor came up to my face and asked me rudely where I'd boarded. "Sony World," I said. This was apparently the wrong answer; astonishingly, she barked, "NO ONE got on at Sony World! Where did you get on?"
I was completely baffled and asked her what she was talking about, though I really wanted to ask, "what have you been smoking, woman, it's made you daft!" After a few fruitless sallies in the same vein, she revealed grandly that she was an inspector of some sort, and had deduced that I was traveling ticket-less and hence would I damn well pay the fine. 
Well then. Here were the facts of the case. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Where are you?

Is mourning complete without knowing for sure that you have lost something? 
Our friend and companion of five years has left us. We think it was rabies...he showed up looking distinctly ill and suspect the last time we saw him. He stood looking at me for a second, then turned and ran off. We never saw him again. 
It has been four months now. One friend nearly convinced me that he had merely moved to another neighborhood and is alive and flourishing there. But my heart does not believe this. 
Most days when I step out of the door, I still look for tell tale signs of his presence. Most days when I walk back home, I can almost see him waiting under the street lamp, ready to career down the street towards me in greeting. 
In the days when he was well and happy and always around, life always seemed a little bit sunnier. The past few months have been hard for me, what with the endless dripping rain and the looming absence of this strange, happy-hearted creature who came to us out of nowhere and settled down in our lives. 
But, the universe in its wisdom, has decided to let the sun shine for the past few days. This has slightly lifted the burden of grief, but only slightly.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lotus

This morning I woke up with visions of pink lotuses in my head.

When I was eleven, we went on a family trip to Orissa. Driving between cities one early morning, we came upon dozens of small ponds, each with many spectacular, shocking pink lotuses. (What would you call that exact shade, I wonder: fuchsia? magenta? rani-pink?) Even at that early hour, or perhaps because of it, these flowers would demand attention. 

Look at me, each proud and eternal bloom said. I exist for the sole purpose of beauty. What, as you rush by in your haste, is your purpose? 

The color and audacity of that has lain buried in my memory. What does it mean, to have the same flowers in front of my eyes, so vividly and so much later in life? 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It lies all around us


I recently visited one of our many 5-star hotels here, and was struck by a thought. On the lobby floor was a huge, elaborate pookalam: a flower arrangement done during the Onam festival. Of course it was gorgeous. The colors of the flowers glowed warmly in the light of the tall brass lamps, the polished marble floors gave off a genteel gleam, and the lobby itself seemed transported somehow back to a more relaxed time.

There were several foreign guests, taken with the sight, who were taking pictures and showing the familiar signs of awe. Hotel employees looked on, indulgently, an almost maternal pride on their faces. 

And there I was. My ungrateful heart couldn't help but wonder if the grace and beatitude would last once these same guests stepped outside. This hotel is indeed a cocoon, presenting the best and the most gentle of our selves to the foreigner. What wrenched at me was the contrast between this cocoon, and the other: the rough and tumble of daily life here, the general failure of politeness or consideration. This difference between the beauty and sophistication of our heritage and the raucous disregard we live in today.

Sigh. I am not India bashing. It's just that the older I get, the more disappointment I feel at this asymmetry. This failure of potential; indeed, not failure, but wastage. And why should I call it potential: we are already a culture of high achievers. (We have ample proof of that.) I long for those times to return, when we applied intellect and self-awareness in all we did; for instance a gesture as simple as namaste is unparalleled in its sophistication and maturity. I see the vanished greatness that lies all around us in ruins, and in the flowers of the elegant pookalam at this cocoon we have such pride in. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pick your poison

Aid-worker friend has just told me a very funny story about a new store that opened in his neighborhood. "A new store" he gurgled, his voice laden with meaning. Of course it turned out, merely, that this shop stocks meat. However, in a blow which he says is characteristic of daily life here, the meat in question is actually mincemeat that's six months old. Moreover, the shopkeeper insisted- insisted-  that it was manufactured 'in foreign.' The label saying 'produce of India' was clearly just piffle.
Sigh. Poor aid-worker friend. After toiling so hard in this great land of ours for close to a decade, one would think he would be entitled to some goodies in the blessed neighborhood shop. Disconsolate, he wandered over to the soft drinks aisle and spotted ginger ale. Ah! But such is his despondency, he is wondering how old that is. Well, I consoled him, at least ginger ale won't give you salmonella. Or will it? Some new form of ale-borne pest that will fell him and crush his last remaining bits of optimism? 
But, as the beginning of this rather pointless story will tell you, hope still springs eternal in his breast. Better that than salmonella, what?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

(love, lightning)

Love
is like standing in a field
waiting to be struck by lightning.

It sounds pretty.

It sounds like it
would make a very pretty poem.

But then there is the lightning
and everything is hot and bright
and painful and silent
and there is something
new
inside of you
pinning you deaf to the ground.

Some people
stand back up

but some people stay there
lying in that field
arms wide
having forgotten why they asked for this
in the first place.
~Lewis Mundt

In honor of our nightly lightning storms here in this neck of the woods. If it were to rain like this everywhere, we would all drown.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Collision

let us make this pact: we each think of the other every time we see the clock strike 730. a reasonable, even prosaic time, even if you are on the other side of the world. then let's see what happens. i suspect the clocks will stop.the earth will stop turning, too, for just that instant, then go back as though that collision had never happened. and somewhere, a blue flower that blooms only once in twelve years will bloom out of turn,
but no one will know.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Readings: Troubles

I made the rather embarrassing error of mistaking J.G. Farrell for E.M. Forster, before I picked up this book. Must have been something to do with the double-initial British-sounding venerable author-like name. Consequently, I had somewhat tepid expectations from the novel Troubles...and was proved delightfully wrong.

The hero of Troubles is one Major Brendan Archer, recently released from duty in WWI. Suffering from a lack of real family, he goes to Ireland in 1919 to reunite with his 'fiancee', a girl he once kissed on a summer afternoon and never met again. The girl Angela, hilariously enough, has been writing to him all through his tour of duty, signing off, "your fiancee..."

This gave me enough indication that the book was going to be a good deal more funny than I gave it credit for. And it does deliver on that account. Angela lives in the Hotel Majestic run by her father Edward in rural Ireland; the hotel itself is run-down and now populated by various old ladies and cats, both contingents of whom neither pay nor leave.

And in essence, that is all the plot there is. Which is to say, the good Mr. Farrell is so dashed accomplished, that he can take this idea- a crumbling, once-glorious institution like the Majestic, and chart its decline along with the stories of those who come to live there, one way or another- and make a jolly good show out of it. The descriptions of the Palm Court and first tea-party scene are alone worth the price of admission.

The poor Major does manage to fall for the wrong girl, though, I will say that. The increasingly tense political situation in Ireland is also masterfully depicted. Not that I would know a whit about that, and indeed I was guilty of skimming over parts which dealt with it, but that is my own failing and doesn't take away from the narrative.

In sum, the novel scores highly on characterization, sense of place, and a rollicking yet spare sense of humor. (The episode where old Mrs. Rapapport's cat attacks the pheasant feathers on Miss Staveley's hat is among the most comical I've ever read, very close to Gussie giving away prizes in Market-Snodsbury Grammar School in a Jeeves and Wooster story). Yet, every time there is a funny thing happening, something else immediately happens to sober you up. Brings you back to earth, so to speak.

What I didn't quite understand was who the narrator was at the beginning of the book. Maybe I was daft and should have got it, but never mind. Nothing will deter me from recommending this book enthusiastically...the greatest things going for it are the sense of place- both Ireland and the Majestic-, the characters, especially Edward who is drawn with the most sympathetic strokes (and the twins, unsuitably named Charity and Faith), and the way you will want to follow along with each and every one.

I am going to read Farrell's Siege of Krishnapur next. It's set in our motherland, and I hope it is at least somewhat as funny as Troubles. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Like love

"all good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder," says Pico Iyer. (That erudite git! I wish I'd said that.) Thailand, then, was like falling in love...and falling, and falling, and emerging in rapture only to fall yet again.
Why this mooning? Oh, aside from the perfect, basil-infused food from the sea, the ever-smiling Thais, the welcoming skies that never opened up despite monsoon season, and the hallucinatory white sands and green-blue waters...everything was as it was meant to be.
The Andaman sea was the backdrop to every crystalline day. We went snorkeling once; my sister held  my hand and showed me a fish colored like a rainbow. I also jumped off a boat, straight into seven shades of blue...into that treasure box of moments I have been collecting, these go...
Enough blather. To prove my point, here is exhibit A.
I like to call this 'celadon'
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