Monday, April 30, 2007

RSC | King Lear and The Seagull

The Royal Shakespeare Company are on their world tour. The tickets are on the pricey side but I've finally succumbed to temptations. My tickets are in the mail as we speak. I'll have to keep to a strict budget for the next few months.

Sir Ian McKellen will be touring with the RSC, and they will be performing King Lear with Chekhov's The Seagull. I am excited, because I'm so looking forward to seeing Sir Ian on stage doing Shakespeare and Chekhov. I've just borrowed a library copy of Chekhov's plays in anticipation, and I will also have to go dig up my old, battered copy of King Lear later.

Ahhh ... the excitement!

*Sigh* I Heart Ian McKellen.

Go to Sir Ian McKellen Official Home Page

CHALLENGE | Non-Fic Five Starts Tomorrow

May - September
5 Books/5 Months

Hi, all. The Non-Fiction Five Challenge starts tomorrow, 1st May 2007. I hope everyone who's signed up have their books ready, although I noticed some of us have already started reading. ;p

1. Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
2. River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit
3. Ten Thousand Miles Without A Cloud by Sun Shuyun
4. Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi
5. This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich

GOLDEN COMPASS | My Daemon Is a Snow Leopard

From The Golden Compass official movie website, you get to see what is your daemon. I am matched with a Snow Leopard daemon. Ah hah! Such is my soul...*grin*

Go take the test, and see what's yours!

POETRY | The Lost Hotels of Paris

The Lost Hotels of Paris

The Lord gives everything and charges
by taking it back. What a bargain.
Like being young for a while. We are
allowed to visit hearts of women,
to go into their bodies so we feel
no longer alone. We are permitted
romantic love with its bounty and half-life
of two years. It is right to mourn
for the small hotels of Paris that used to be
when we used to be. My mansard looking
down on Notre Dame every morning is gone,
and me listening to the bell at night.
Venice is no more. The best Greek islands
have drowned in acceleration. But it's the having
not the keeping that is the treasure.
Ginsberg came to my house one afternoon
and said he was giving up poetry
because it told lies, that language distorts.
I agreed, but asked what we have
that gets it right even that much/
We look up at the stars and they are
not there. We see the memory
of when they were, once upon a time.
And that too is more than enough.
~ Jack Gilbert

Sunday, April 29, 2007

BOOKS | Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It

Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It
By Geoff Dyer
[Non-Fiction; Travel; Memoir]

I thought of bringing Geoff Dyer with me in Turkey. As it happens, my friend who was travelling with me thought she could borrow the book if I had brought it with me.

"It's not about yoga," I said.

"It's not?" she asked.

In fact, it has nothing do with yoga ― at least not the sort you learn at the gym. It's a collection of tales from his travels, from New Orleans, to Bali, Cambodia, Rome, Libya and Detroit. It's a series of what he did or did not do on his travels. It's about him getting drunk, getting stoned and getting up to nothing actually. Yet something's going on ― inside him at least. As he wrote:

This book is a ripped, by no means reliable map of some of the landscapes that made up a particular phase of my life. It's about places where things happened or didn't happen, places where I stayed and things that have stayed with me, places I'd wanted to see or places I passed through or just ended up. In a way they're all the same place ― the same landscape ― because the person these things happened to was the same person who in turn is the sum of all the things that happened or didn't happen in these and other places. Eveything in this book really happened, but some of the things that happened only happened in my head; by the same token, all the things that didn't happen didn’t happen there too.

I suppose we can try to categorise it as a sort of travel writing. Someone once wrote that a good travel writer must have a strong sense of Self in their writing. In that case, Yoga for is all about Geoff Dyer. One can try to understand it, I guess, if we apply the metaphor of travel as journey in life. The journey without is the journey within. If we allow this interpretation, we can begin to make sense of Yoga For People, and realise it is all about yoga, whether you meant to do it or not. The Yoga of Travel, perhaps?

But what is travel? If it is merely a moment from Point A to Point B then there really isn't much of a point of travel. And with globalisation where everywhere is gradually reduced to a kind of banal sameness, why travel? Geoff Dyer is well-traveled. As he moves from one destination to another he ruminate on himself against the place he is currently in.

During a miserable stay in Libya, where he went there for goodness knows what reasons, it occurred to him to ask: Why travel?

I lay in bed, preoccupied by the age-old questions of travel: why does one do it? What am I doing here? These questions generated a third: What do I want out of life? The answer to which was: to be back home, to stay put, to stay in, to put my feet up, to watch telly. For at least six months before coming to Libya I had been feeling what I suspected might be the tug of middle age. It manifested itself as a diminuion of everything by which I had previously set the greatest store (vitality, appetite for new things, new challenges) and an intensifying wish for the familiar.

Isn't ironic that travel makes us yearn for home? Haven't we learnt this from Wizard of Oz?

Geoff Dyer is a man who cannot be still. Who is constantly looking for the next thrill, the next cool place to be, the next fix. Yet what it all comes down to is an inability to stay still or to stay at one thing. Always moving, always distracted, it makes it easy for him to ignore the obvious.

I had become so habituated to this state of serial distraction that I scarcely gave it a second thought. Then I came across a passage in Shadows on the Grass, in which Isak Dinesen recounts a painter's description of a nervous breakdown he'd suffered during the First World War: 'When I was painting a picture … I felt that I ought to make up my bank account. When I was making up my bank account, I felt that I ought to go for a walk. And when, in a long walk, I had got five miles from home, I realized that I ought to be, at this very moment, in front of my easel. I was constantly in flight, an exile everywhere.'

Not for the first time I realized that I was continuing to function — continuing, more accurately, to malfunction — while in the grips of some kind of domestic shell shock or pre-traumatic stress, that I had been in the midst of an ongoing nervous breakdown without even being aware of it, that I had, in fact, gone to pieces.

It was some time before he realises that he was really in flight from a state of mind that had "gone to pieces." Why is it so difficult for us, mere mortals, to stay still and face up to ourselves? Anyone who has ever tried meditation will realise how difficult it is to still the "monkey mind." A yoga teacher once reminded us, "We start — by being still. And we achieve the most — by being still. It takes a lot more effort to stay still than it takes to move." A paradox of yoga and of life.

We're talking about more than just taking flight. Human unease manifest themselves in other little habits too. Dyer is constantly talking about projects he is interested in — in Rome, he thought about "writing something based around the bit in Civilization and Its Discontents" or about the movies he will make with his 8mm recorder. But these projects rarely seem to come to fruition. He's forever procrastinating, meandering. What is proscratination, after all? A deferral of arrival. Without arrival, we avoid the possibility of disappointment. So Dyer's unfinished projects will always be luminous in their possibility.

But I love the way he celebrated his journeys, and what it has led him to:

And here I was now, staring at the embers where the Man had stood. It was a high point in my life but it also felt familiar: one of those moments that make your whole life seem worthwhile because it has led to this, to this moment. Given a choice, I'd lived my whole life over again quite happily, changing nothing … Some kind of offering had to be made.

I really like this bit. It says to me something I have always believe in, that in life you need to make the mistake of getting lost to find your way. Geoff Dyer's conclusion is an affirmation of a faith in life.

He also intuitively realises that there is an reciprocatory aspect to life. With the gift of wisdom and revelation, "[s]ome kind of offering had to be made." So he offers up the feathers in his pocket, souvenirs from a previous trip, perhaps a symbol of a Self from a previous journey. The offering isn't about the monetary — it's symbolic and it completes a circle of life.

A question came up recently: Why is it so hard for us to believe we deserve happiness in life? I wonder if it is because we have failed to see the greater connection of giving and receiving. One can't just take without giving back. Many ignores or neglects this circle of giving-and-receiving to their own detriment. Then I remember Geoff Dyer wrote this:

I remembered something I had read years ago — 'Burn what you have worshipped, worship what you have burned' — and, for the third or fourth time that week, found myself in tears. They were tears of recognition: that I had reached some frontier of what I was capable of. Even as it felt like I was accessing this new part of myself, however, I remembered other occasions — on my first visit to the cemeteries of the Somme, for example — when I had come to some previous high point of my life. So why were these embers moving me so deeply?

Nothing I had ever experienced had brought home to me as forcibly as Burning Man that fundamental truth which is so easy to know, so hard to live by: giving is getting. Because nothing is sold at Black Rock City, people often assume that bartering takes the place of cash. But barter, really, is just a less efficient method of exchange. At Burning Man something very different — a gift economy — is at work. Life, it is often said, is a matter of give and take. Yes, but at its highest level life should be a matter of giving and giving. Years later, in Bali, I visited the Ubud Sari Health Resort. It was set up by someone whose name I can't remember. Not that it matters; but what I do remember is something written on the plaque that was dedicated to his memory: 'No one ever became poor through giving.' At Black Rock City everyone becomes rich by giving.

Perhaps we forgot the meaning of charity and generosity. "Life ... is a matter of give and take. Yes, but at its highest level life should be a matter of giving and giving." We are deserving of the beauty in our lives, yes. But these gifts are acts of grace, and it does not come by our will. We can only hope to be worthy of it when it does arrive. Perhaps we think we do not deserve the gifts in our lives, because we have forgotten how to give without expectation, trusting the world to provide in its own ways.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

QUOTES | Boredom

Dorothy W posted some thoughts on Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love recently. This excerpt is just one of those things that came up as I was thinking about our inability to stay at rest:

Perhaps boredom is the distinctive quality of the modern Western mind. Always, in the West, there is a friction between the self and time; in Africa, India, and Asia many people hava subsistence relation to time, taking it as it comes. On a train in Kerala I'd met a man a few miles into what was going to be a seventy-hour rail journey. He was completely unperturbed by the prospect. My own journey was going to last only three hours, I was thoroughly enjoying it — but I was already looking forward to it being over with. The more travel speeds up, the more acute this feeling becomes. When it took weeks or months to travel by ship from Europe to America, no one suffered these agonies of impatience. Increased speed has served mainly to accelerate our impaence at any delay. What will we wait for when it takes no time to get anywhere? … Alternatively, only when everyone in the world is susceptible to boredom will the project of globalization be complete. In the meantime I'd had enough: I wanted to get back to the hotel I had no desire to be in.

~ Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It by Geoff Dyer

It also reminded me that I have a post on Yoga for People in my draft folder, yet to be completed. Yes, I am a lazy blogger.

Friday, April 27, 2007

BOOKS | New War and Peace Translation

Randomhouse has the forthcoming Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace slated for November 2007. It's available as a three-volume set, and will set you back US$40.00.

And there was even a morsel of gossip on the Publishers Weekly blog. Pevear and Volokhonsky made an appearance to talk about their new translation of War and Peace:

I love the Russian writers, and after hearing Pevear and Volokhonsky talk about the work of translating (they were so intelligent and so charming. "What was the most difficult part?" the crowd asked, and Larissa said, "the boring bits." And her husband talked about the dialogue and how incredibly rich the Russian language was in Tolstoy's time, even more so than it is today, and how there would be only one word choice in English when in Russian, there were many. But my favorite anecdote was the turtle soup dilemma. Were there cox combs in the turtle soup? or scallops? Larissa researched the recipe and while scallops got into the manuscript, a sauce of cox combs will appear in the finished version), I am going to read this book. I even know when. As soon as I get the galley.

It says something about Larissa Volokhonsky that she will research a recipe to get the details right. It's meticulous, it's effort and dedication.

This is the version I have been waiting for. This will mean there is no longer any excuse not to read the Tolstoy epic. Perhaps I should set aside 2008 as "The Year of My Really Reclusive Russian Readings." (I love the rolling alliteration)

It occurred to me last night that it has been 10 years since I first read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Crime and Punishment — something that aroused in me a passion for Russian literature. I will need to think about this a bit more, perhaps draw up a reading list of Russian literature.

Some time back I started looking online for David Remnick's New Yorker article, "The Translation Wars." It was a highly praised essay where he compared English translations of Russian literature, from Constance Garnett to the husband-and-wife team of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. Unfortunately, it's not available online via The New Yorker). Yet today I found it via two different blog sites:

COMICS | Sandman A Midsummer Night's Dream

Once Upon A Time Challenge 2007

The Sandman: Dream Country
Written by Neil Gaiman, Illustrations by various artists

Dream Country collects a few Sandman stories, the cream among them is the World Fantasy Award winner: A Midsummer Night's Dream. It won, and it riled a lot of people who declared never again shall the award be given to a *comic book*. Oh well. For some of us, Adam and Eve rode the dinosaurs to church.

(Okay, okay. Unfair. Overly-critical. Self-righteous. Below the belt. Totally irrelevant to the intended subject of this post.)

I decided to read Sandman: Dream Country specifically for the Midsummer Night's Dream short story. I thought it will make a good idea to kick off the Once Upon A Time Challenge with an interpretation of Midsummer Night's Dream, and end with the Shakespeare original ― like a pair of bookends. I believe The Sandman was the most successful graphic novel series to date to bring the medium into mainstream awareness and literary esteem. It might be contradictory to call something both "mainstream" and "literary" ― yet this is precisely what Gaiman has achieved: bringing comic art and literature together. What The Sandman series represent, is a lifetime of reading filtered through Gaiman's imagination. And Gaiman's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a tribute to the Bard, and perhaps a tribute to the Dream King himself. Afterall, who can truly separate the dreamer from the dream?

It is Midsummer's Eve, the year 1593. It is the time of the playwright, William Shakespeare, who made a bargain with a figure out of myths and stories: in return for his inspirations, for words that will echo through time after him, Shakespeare promised to write two plays for his mythical patron, Morpheus ― King of Dreams. The first of these is "A Midsummer Night's Dream", to be performed on Midsummer's Eve on Wendel's Mound, which was a performance space before the humans came to the island.

Morpheus asked for a play to be written and performed by Shakespeare's troupe. Unknown to the human actors of Shakepeare's company, the play will performed for Auberon of Dom-Daniel and his queen, Lady Titania, and the Faerie folks. The world has changed, and the Faerie folks determined it will be their last sojourn to this earth; Auberon tells Morpheus:

AUBERON: Things have changes, and will change more; and Gaia no longer welcomes us as once she did.

And so the faerie folks are passing. Though one wonders what they will bring with them in their passing? Yet Morpheus will have his say in some things. And he will achieve them through the power of words and creation:

MORPHEUS: You have asked me why I asked you back to this plane, to see this entertainment.

I ... During your stay on this Earth the faerie have afforded me much diversion and entertainment.

Now you have left, for your own haunts. And I would repay you all for this amusement. And more:

They shall not forget you. That was important to me: that King Auberon and Queen Titania will be remembered by mortals, until this age is gone.

AUBERON: We thank you, shaper. But this diversion, although pleasant, is not true.

Things never happened thus.

MORPHEUS: Oh, but it IS true.

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.

Remember the words of Morpheus: "Things need not have happened to be true." That is the power of fantasy and stories. A lot of us signed up for the Once Upon A Time Challenge, perhaps all of us in our enthusiasm serves as witness to the power of fantasy and stories in our lives.

Morpheus is one of The Endless, each of them serving to represent an aspect of existence. Morpheus's domain is Dream, and with it the creative unconsciousness where all inspiration springs. Yet all things cast a shadow. Dream, by its existence serves to define its opposite ― perhaps Reality. Perhaps Truth. Recall that Midsummer Night's Dream runs on the deceiving qualities of magic, of falling in love with an Ass-head because we could not see what is in front of us. The play is played out, with the real Puck coming onstage to play himself, and drama ensures both onstage and offstage. Players and play, on Midsummer Night's Eve, the lines between the two are blurred, and so as the Puck closes the play with his speech, which could have come from the real Puck, Shakespeare, or even Neil Gaiman himself:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

All is play, and in the spirit of play is this story written. But Gaiman's or Shakespeare's? No matter what, Gaiman and his team did put up quite a good show. Let's just end this post with these thoughts:

Perhaps the passing of the faerie folks is the reminder that once we believed in something beyond our physical senses. The world changed, we changed it. Perhaps we can remake it better.

If Neil Gaiman's Midsummer Night's Dream makes you want to drop by the library for a copy of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, who is to say who is the greater storyteller: Shakespeare or Gaiman?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

PATTI SMITH | Twelve and Sixty

If it was possible, every day should be Patti Smith Day — but it's not, although occasionally we do have a new album by her.

Twelve — her new album — was released recently. It's not based on original materials unfortunately. Rather, it's a collection of 12 covers Smith did on the songs of various artists. Still, it's her delivery of the songs that matters, and fans of Patti Smith will want this. I can never get tird of hearing her deep, raspy voice drawing out the lyrics.

The Twelve tracklist:

  1. Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix)
  2. Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)
  3. Helpless (Neil Young)
  4. Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones)
  5. Within You Without You (The Beatles)
  6. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
  7. Changing of the Guard (Bob Dylan)
  8. The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)
  9. Soul Kitchen (The Doors)
  10. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
  11. Midnight Rider (The Allman Brothers)
  12. Pastime Paradise (Stevie Wonder)

Pitchfork Media interviewed Patti Smith recently. Here's a book related excerpt from the interview:

Pitchfork: And then you can re-read, too. Do you still love Rimbaud as much as you used to?

Patti Smith: Are you kidding? I still read Pinocchio. I read Pinocchio, or Uncle Wiggly, or Lewis Carroll. I re-read Herman Hesse. I love my books. I re-read books the way I play albums over and over. I've listened to the same Maria Callas record a thousand times, just like Blonde on Blonde. I'm always moved by people's work, and it's part of the beautiful things in life, you know? Looking at the work, and seeing inside the mind of other people. Then, you know, contributing your own thing.

I still listen to Horses over and over. It never ceases to move me. The quote above is a reminder from Smith that it's okay, even at 60, to go back to the things that inspire you — even if it's a children's book like Pinocchio, or Lewis Carroll, or even "retro" music that was hip 20 years ago, but which the twenty-something friends of yours don't even recognise. Look at the works that other minds and hearts have created. Allow them to engage you, and then bring something of yourself into the experience. That, is Art.

What I like most from this interview is how at 60, Patti Smith is still going at life with the uncompromising spirit of a bohemian artist. In her heydays, she was the Prophetess of Punk Rock. At 60, she's still the iconic Patti Smith.

Patti Smith: When I was in my twenties, I had huge amounts of energy. In fact, I had too much energy sometimes, and a lot of times I needed to focus, because my mind was all over the place. Art was a good way to focus that energy. Rock n roll was a great energy, a great way to focus my energy on all the things I had to say, whether they were poetry or political ideas or just-get-it-all-out energy. I just turned 60, and I still feel connected to a certain amount of rage, or excitement, or a sense of fun. I was just downstairs, and my son [Jackson, 24] was playing on guitar. He was playing "Jump" by Van Halen, and we were just dancing around. So in certain ways, I don't feel any different at all.

You are only as old as you allow yourself to be. Engage yourself in the things that invigorate you, be it art, music or sports of any kind.

Away From Her

If you've been meaning to read Alice Munro, but just never found the time (like me), now there's a good reason to start.

There's a new film coming up, Away From Her, directed by Sarah Polley, and it's based on Alice Munro's short story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain.

Away From Her is a love story that deals with memory and the circuitous, unnameable paths of a long marriage. Married for 50 years, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona’s (Julie Christie) commitment to each other appears unwavering, and their everyday life is full of tenderness and humour. This serenity is broken only by the occasional, carefully restrained reference to the past, giving a sense that this marriage may not always have been such a fairy tale. Then one day they realise Fiona's memory lapses are just the early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease.

Fiona moves into Meadowlake, a retirement home that specializes in the disease. One of the rules of Meadowlake is that a patient may not have any visitors during their first month in the facility in order to “adjust.” After an excruciatingly painful 30 days separated from his wife, Grant returns to Meadowlake to discover Fiona seems to have no memory of him and has turned all of her affection to Aubrey (Michael Murphy), another resident in the home.

When Aubrey’s wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis) returns from her vacation, she suddenly takes Aubrey out of Meadowlake. Fiona is devastated by the separation and enters into a deep depression. Her condition deteriorates rapidly. Grant, fearful for Fiona’s life, embarks on the greatest act of self-sacrifice of his life as a means to attaining his wife’s final happiness.

Trailer for Away From Her via YouTube (The song playing in the trailer is Ray LaMontagne's Be Here Now):

Visit the Away From Her website

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

MUSIC | Kaki King Guitar Virtuoso

I'm all shook up by guitar virtuoso, Kaki King. It's the way she plays with an intense, hypnotic energy, her fingers galloping all over, picking and slapping at an acoustic guitar as strings and percussions at once. The sounds she's getting out of the instrument is just insane, even slightly edgy. I am in awe and utterly in love.

Don't believe me? Sample the sound of Kaki King via Youtube yourself.

Visit Kaki King @ myspace

Monday, April 23, 2007

Excerpt of Travels With Herodotus

The April issue of Condé Nast Traveler has an excerpt of Ryszard Kapuscinski's new book, Travels With Herodotus, to be published by Knopf in June 2007. [via World Hum.]

This reminds me that I have to start reading Herodotus soon.

ROBERTSON DAVIES | The Lyre of Orpheus

My much abused volume of 'The Cornish Trilogy' - with all the interesting bits tagged

The Lyre of Orpheus is the third installment of The Cornish Trilogy. When I finally finished the last book, it felt as if I was bidding farewell to a good friend.

While I believe it is possible to read it on its own, having read The Rebel Angels and What's Bred in the Bone will provide the context for some sub-plots, especially the biography of Francis Cornish that Simon Darcourt finally published at the end.

The Lyre of Orpheus opens with the Cornish Foundation, headed by Arthur Cornish, looking into one of their adopted projects. Arthur, a rich young man with a head for money, desires to be a patron of the arts like the Medici of days gone by. A music student wants to complete a lost opera of E.T.A. Hoffman for her doctorate thesis. Arthur wants to fund the student's proposal and stage the completed opera to a public audience. The lost opera is a re-telling of the Arthurian story, entitled, Arthur of Britain, or The Magnanimous Cuckold. Much drama ensues, with lots of comedy. And there is the cuckolding, of course.

What I love about Robertson Davies is how he enriches his books with the great themes, archetypes and myths ― in What's Bred in the Bone, he uses religious iconography and art to explore the creation of Self and Identity. This is further explored in The Lyre of Orpheus when he has Simon Darcourt provide a Keats quotation as explanation for Francis Cornish's allegoric painting of his own life:

A Man's life of any worth is a continual allegory―and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life―a life like the scriptures, figurative.

Arthur Cornish, with his name, is obviously associated with the cuckolded king of the myth. The question is: Who is the hero of The Lyre of Orpheus? Arthur himself denies his role as Hero of the story.

"Well, if you want to cast me as Arthur―though how do you know it isn't just a trick of the name? ―Maria has to be Guenevere, and I suppose Powell is Lancelot. But we weren't very Arthurian, were we? Where's your myth?"

Darcourt was about to speak, but Maria hushed him. "Of course you don't see it. It's not the nature of heroes of myth to think of themselves as heroes of myth. They don't swan around, declaiming, 'I'm a hero of myth.' It's observers like Simon and me who spot the myths and the heroes. The heroes see themselves simply as chaps doing the best they can in a special situation."

A friend claims Simon Darcourt is the Hero of The Cornish Trilogy, the one closest to Davies' own voice; She wouldn't be wrong. I see this as one of Davies' most humanising message: That heroes are simply "chaps doing the best they can in a special situation." Their roles are often unknown even to themselves, except to the observers who know how to see.

Look around you; Everyday we are surrounded by heroes, but perhaps we do not see.

The power of music (opera), and the myth of Arthur and his cuckolding ― all of it to illustrate a point of heroism and love:

"… Opera speaks to the heart as no other art does, because it is essentially simple."

"What do you see as the deep foundation of this one?" said Arthur.

"It's a beauty," said Powell. "Victory plucked from defeat. If we can bring it off, it will wring the heart. Arthur has failed in the Quest, lost his wife, lost his crown, lost life itself. But because of his nobility and greatness of spirit when he forgives Guenevere and Lancelot, he is seen to be the greatest man of all. He is Christ-like; apparently a loser, but, in truth, the greatest victor of them all."

What is the final message of The Lyre of Orpheus and the grand myth of the Arthurian opera?

"It's the myth of the Magnanimous Cuckold," said Darcourt. "And the only way to meet it is with charity and love."

Robertson Davies's reminds us of what truly maketh the Hero: Charity and Love ― the alchemical power that transforms the dross into gold.

I love this man.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

BOOKS | She Just Wanted To Be Comfortable In Her Own Skin

It took a while to get to know Nelle Lee, but those who did realized something about her. She just wanted to be comfortable in her own skin. Her cussing was unconscious; the clothes she wore appealed to her because they were practical; she laughed when one of her teasing remarks drew a comeback delivered with equal zest. But she would not stop to seek others' approval. The notion that she should never seeme to enter her head. Her right to live as she pleased was not up for negotiation, even if it ran against the grain of the milieu at Huntingdon. It was nobody's business. "That was an era when you did the proper thing," said Catherine Helms. "And your mother was horrified if you didn't. That was never part of Nelle's persona ― she didn't care! It must have taken a colossal amount of courage to be different."

~ from Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stardust Purchase

Okay, I said I wasn't going to buy new books for any of the challenges - but I bought the illustrated Stardust today. I've decided it's worthwhile to have a copy for keeps. Afterall, when the film comes out, friends will want to borrow a copy. Like they did for all my Hellboy graphic novels.

So, I've added Stardust to one of the books for Carl's Fantasy Challenge. Wish me luck. Reading it right now.

PS: I had previously assumed it was a graphic novel -- until Carl corrected me. It's an illustrated version of the Neil Gaiman novel. There are a lot of words inside. Wow.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

COMICS | Gail Simone Is Writing Wonder Woman

I'm kind of blissed out. Just found out Gail Simone has officially been named the new Wonder Woman writer. Yay! Goodness knows Diana needs a good writer. Somebody save her from bad writing, please!

Read the interview with Gail Simone on her new series via Newsarama

GS: I had a direction and definite ideas about her character, but I think it’s very important not to give readers whiplash, or New Direction Fever, as it’s commonly called. I want people to be able to understand by page three of our issues who Wonder Woman really is, but there are echoes of all the great work that came before, in the background, as well.

Of course, since she’s punching a monkey off a waterfall on page three, maybe that’s not the best example.

On second thought, no, it definitely is.

NRAMA: Monkey off a waterfall?

GS: Monkey off a waterfall.

NRAMA: You’re going to get letters.

GS: Bring ‘em.

POETRY | Cavafy Poetry Threesome

Imani got me thinking about Cavafy, which got me all nostalgic and pensive. Never a good thing. ;)

Many years ago I was at a low point of my life. I came to the poetry of Cavafy and it felt as though he spoke to me. I shared The City -- one of the Cavafy poem I love -- with a colleague. She read it, I asked her how she felt. She replied:

"Now I'm depressed."

I laughed. But much later the truth in the poem hit me. I was forced to look back at the wreckage of my life, and there was no clean slate, no fresh start; There was no forgiveness, no redemption. The wreckage that was my life I will bring with me no matter where I go. As the poem goes, "As you have ruined your life here/in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world". The only way is to build on the ruins of my regrets.

The City

You said, "I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found, better than this.
Every effort of mine is condemned by fate;

and my heart is -- like a corpse -- buried.
How long in this wasteland will my mind remain.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look
I see the black ruins of my life here,
where I spent so many years, and ruined and wasted."

New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always you will arrive in this city. To another land -- do not hope --
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have ruined your life here
in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.

There was a time I questioned my direction and my choices in life. What do I really want? Have I stayed true to my dreams? Have I sold out to an easy, comfortable job and lost my way? I wondered if I was like The Satrapy.

The Satrapy

What a misfortune, although you are made
for fine and great works
this unjust fate of yours always
denies you encouragement and success;
that base customs should block you;
and pettiness and indifference.
And how terrible the day when you yield
(the day when you give up and yield),
and you leave on foot for Susa,
and you go to the monarch Artaxerxes
who favorably places you in his court,
and offers you satrapies and the like.
And you accept them with despair
these things that you do not want.
Your soul seeks other things, weeps for other things;
the praise of the public and the Sophists,
the hard-won and inestimable Well Done;
the Agora, the Theater, and the Laurels.
How can Artaxerxes give you these,
where will you find these in a satrapy;
and what life can you live without these.

In life, one can only aspires to the expansive soul that was King Demetrius. We all come to a role in life, and when it is time for the curtain-calls, grace asks that we step down, move on. Nothing is permanent, not love, not hate, and definitely not your job. There were some changes at work some years back -- I took it badly because all that I have built the past 4 years seemed for naught. It was until much later that I saw how foolish I had been.

King Demetrius

Not like a king, but like an actor,
instead of his royal robe, he put on a
gray cloak and stealthily departed.
PLUTARCH, "Life of Demetrius."

When the Macedonians abandoned him,
and proved that they prefer Pyrrhus,
King Demetrius (he had a great soul)
did not--so they stated--behave
in the least like a king. He went
and took off his robes of gold,
and cast off his purple shoes.
He dressed hurriedly
in simple clothes and went off.
Behaving like an actor
who when the performance is over
changes his clothes and departs.

Monday, April 16, 2007

CHALLENGE | Southern Reading Challenge 2007

The news has been going around for a while now for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge 2007. She has even gone to the trouble of doing a bit of research for Southern Region Defined!

I've too many books half-read already. Do I really need another Book Challenge? Like I need a root canal. But is that going to stop me from signing up? Of course not. *grin*

My interest in Southern Lit is more slanted towards what is commonly known as Southern Gothic. Been meaning to read Carson McCullers and other Southern Gothic authors for a while now. I dug into my personal library first to see what I can come up with – because Book Challenges are a good excuse to get around to reading your unread books. That's when I found this forgotten copy of Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories. I don't recall when I bought it. It must have been my university days when I was into the literature of the Gothic. Just as well — I've been meaning to get around to her stories since Dorothy and Jenclair started writing about her. This volume collects 31 of O'Connor's stories, so it's a good place to start.

Meanwhile, these are the shortlisted titles I am considering for the challenge:

The Complete Stories Flannery O'Connor
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
The Color Purple Alice Walker
Orpheus Descending Tennessee Williams
Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All Allan Gurganus
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady Florence King
The Awakening Kate Chopin

Challenge starts 1st June, until August. The challenge is to read 3 books. More details later, closer to the date.

As usual, if I don't own the books, I will try to get the books from the libraries or from friends. No buying of new books for the challenges.

CHALLENGE | Non-Fiction Five Challenge

May - September
5 Books/5 Months

The Non-Fiction Five Challenge is up, and it's hosted by Joy of "Thoughts of Joy". I'm taking the plunge and signing up. But I've added a few additional conditions for myself:

Books chosen must be books I already owned before 2007 or otherwise from the library. This means no buying of new books for this challenge. I'm really trying to cut down on my book buying.

I will only finalise the reading list for the challenge sometime in April. Meanwhile, here are the titles under consideration:

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich
Ten Thousand Miles Without A Cloud by Sun Shuyun
Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
Stiff or Spook, both by Mary Roach
River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit
Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi
God's Terrorist: The Wahhabi Cult And the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad by Charles Allen

[Update: 14 March 2007]

1. Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
2. River of Shadows by Rebecca Solnit
3. Ten Thousand Miles Without A Cloud by Sun Shuyun
4. Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi
5. This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich

Saturday, April 14, 2007

BOOKS | Want To Read Mansfield

My interest in Katherine Mansfield was piqued when I first read Rereadings. In the collection of essays by various contributors on rereading memorable books, Patricia Hampl's portrait of Katharine Mansfield made a strong impression on me. According to Hampl, Katherine Mansfield was the only woman Virginia Woolf considered a rival. What struck me most vividly was Mansfield's penetrating perception of Woolf:

... the strange trembling, glinting quality of her mind ... She seemed to me to be one of those Dostoevsky women whose innocence has been hurt.

This single statement - sharp and hard as diamond. I wonder at the clarity and brilliance of such a mind, and I wanted to read her.

Ali Smith salutes the "awesome spirit" of Katherine Mansfield recently in The Telegraph. And she made note of Mansfield's sharp, incisive perceptiveness:

There was also her ability to get to the guts, the enmity, the unspoken judgmentalism and the surreality of things, suspended just beneath the politest tea-time conversation.

Not a mild person, and she made herself almost universally disliked with the things she observed. A mild person would not have experimented as she did in her youth, opening herself to the various spice and flavour of life. As she wrote in her journal, "I must experience first, how can I write about things if I don't experience them." A full-on engagement with life, where she paid heavily for some choices - and yet.

I have the Penguin Modern Classics (the Silver one) version of The Collected Stories by Katherine Mansfield awaiting my attention. Ali Smith's tribute made me pick it up and move it to the TBR pile next to my bed. I am halfway through too many books and I really need to finish some of them before I even attempt another book. And from the calendar, I have the Non-Fic Five Challenge coming up in May also.

I cannot afford to read Katherine Mansfield right now. But I want to.

Friday, April 13, 2007

My Father's Spirit

When I first got back from Turkey last Saturday, my father - the 63 year old retired teacher - informed me matter-of-factly that he was flying to Nepal this coming Saturday. Apparently in my absence he decided on the trip, made the travel arrangements and now he is packed to go.

I think my father's robust energy for travel and life puts me to shame. This is the same man who went to Tibet with me, because he decided he wants to travel while he still can walk.

He is also the man who decided to learn how to speak Thai when he was in his mid-forties. He went for Thai language lessons, and he worked hard at it. He now speaks fluent Thai - but with a Bangkok accent according to some of the Thai locals. I am so much younger than him yet I can't even bring myself to sign up for Italian classes.

How can you not admire this man's spirit? How can I not feel ashamed next to him?

MUSIC | The Story by Brandi Carlile

Paste Magazine features Brandi Carlile this issue. I've been a fan of Brandi Carlile's own brand of upfront, unadulterated folksy-bluesy-country rock since her debut album. Her vocal's amazing, a little like Patsy Cline - and I love Patsy Cline.

Music video for Brandi Carlile's The Story, from her new album of the same name.

QUOTES | Two Meanings of Lost

Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possesion; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know here you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.

~ A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Thursday, April 12, 2007

OBITUARY | Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is dead. Via NYT.

I admit, I don't read enough Kurt Vonnegut books. The last Vonnegut I read was Mother Night — it was about an American, Howard W. Campbell, Jr who worked as a Nazi broadcaster during World War II. He was later identified as a war criminal and sent to trial. But the truth is, Howard Campbell, Jr was actually working as an undercover agent for the United States during the war, using the Nazi broadcasts to communicate vital Allies messages.

It struck me that it was one of the saddest books I've ever read. Sad because the human fallibilities he read about were so real. Vonnegut's books are funny in a dark, sad slant. I always thought of him as one of those men who desperately needs to laugh because otherwise he would be crying.

The New York Times writer sums it up:

To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," summed up his philosophy:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ "

The world is screwed up, and all we can really do is just try our best at a life with some decency. And Kurt Vonnegut is dead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MOVIE | Stardust Pfeiffer Stills

She holds a knife, and yet looks wonderfully beautiful

Did I ever mention how much I adore Michelle Pfeiffer since Ladyhawke?

She's in the upcoming Stardust movie, as Lamia the witch. From some of the stills I've seen Michelle Pfeiffer is stunning, with her cold eyes, that bone structure like something carved out of marble, and that slow, gravelly voice.

Stills from Stardust the movie, via Film.Ick.

Stardust trailer. Via YouTube. Michelle Pfeiffer is gorgeous in here. Well, except for the few angles where she suffers from bad complexion.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

BOOKS | Barely 12 Hours Back Home

I came home from the airport around 10:00 this morning, and I had to crash. After a good nap I'm consciously awake, instead of the consciously unawake state when I first got off the plane.

The state of "consciously unawake" is that zombie state where you're just barely functioning - able to get from point A to point B - but not really registering the world around you. In this "consciously unawake" you're likely to sign away your house, your car and your children without realising it.

I'm rambling. Okay, back to books.

Barely 12 hours back home, I went to the library - which makes me something of a nerd, I guess. Had to borrow my copy of Desolation Island and Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. I wanted to finish the books ASAP.

I had a few more books I was interested in, but I've managed to limit it down to these:

  1. Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay
    A collection of short stories. There was a rather good review for it from The Guardian some time back. The unifying theme? Heartache. Loss. Loneliness. Love in its fierce and tender permutations.

  2. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields
    Like many people, I love To Kill the Mockingbird and I'm infinitely curious about the reclusive author. Yes, I'm a busybody. Been hearing about this biography on Harper Lee for a while now, and it was Jenclair's review that finally persuaded me to go get it.

  3. James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips
    The biography of the engimatic speculative fiction writer, James Tiptree, Jr who turns out be be a woman. It has been heavily reviewed previously by the major presses, and it's been on my wishlist for a while. I guess deep down inside, we all want to find out what is it about the writer's life that makes them write the things they do. The paperback actually comes out later this year. I believe in May.


Gail Simone is leaving Birds of Prey! I can't deal! NOOOO!!!

Okay, drama over. She's moving on, and I know whatever new project she's picking up, it'll be kickass. Meanwhile, I'm hearing great things that's coming up for the forthcoming Birds of Prey: Secret Six vs Birds of Prey! Yes! And more, as Simone promises:

Finally, man alive are we going out with a bang. This is absolutely the most fun I've ever had on an arc on the book. Not just because it guest stars the Secret Six. Not just because I got to write Hawkgirl. Not because we brought back one of the great JLI characters. Not because I got to write Helena throwing a meatball at Catman's head, but because the art team of Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood has delivered something exquisite on every page.

Okay, I want to see Huntress throw meatball at Catman's head. Really, I want to see that.

Newsarama has the full interview with Gail Simone, here.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

BOOKS | What's Bred In The Bones

My much abused volume of 'The Cornish Trilogy' - with all the interesting bits tagged

Thank god I decided to read Robertson Davies on the plane. Flight delay and the long haul allowed me to finish What's Bred In the Bone - the second book in The Cornish Trilogy. It's a different tone from The Rebel Angels - more of a bildungsroman, more sober, less jokes about shit and farts.

In The Rebel Angels, part of the plot has great art collector Francis Cornish dying, and among his collection was a recent acquisition of a Rabelais manuscript that the academics are fighting for. For What's Bred In the Bone, Davies turns his eye on Francis Cornish, the forces at work (some even supernatural) that shaped his destiny as grand patron of art. And in between, Davies explores the power of the Arts that shapes a man's character and direction in life.

Francis Cornish's quest for art is his Grail Quest. The poetry of Robert Browning comes up occasionally, with Browning's assertion that art has the power to bring out the truth. For Davies, art provide a meaning to our lives that we cannot erase. When Cornish is under the apprenticeship of the Master, Tancred Saraceni, he learns to touch up old paintings to make them look more valuable - and the paintings are later sold to the Nazis who are swapping Italian masterpieces in exchange for German ones. Saraceni uses this to explain:

Why do rich Americans pay monstrous prices for paintings by Old Masters which they may, or may not, understand and love, if it is not to import into their country the certainty I am talking about? Their public life is a circus, but in the National Gallery at Washinton something of God, and something of the comfort of God's splendour, may be entombed. It is a great cathedral, that gallery. And these Nazis are ready to swap splendid Italian masters for acres of German pictures, because they want to make manifest on the walls of their Fϋhrermuseum the past of their race, and so give substance to the present of their race, and provide some assurance of the future of their race.

Art is meaning, as myth provide us a key to understanding. Saraceni reminds Cornish to keep reading Vasari's Lives of Painters for inspiration in his own life-quest. In the lives of the artists we find bohemians who followed their own ways and are great because of it. At the end, Saraceni challenges Cornish to paint something with the technique and the spirit of the Old Masters. It has to be big, not just in scale but big in concept, and it has to be Cornish painting as himself, as thought he lived in the 15th or 16th century.

And Francis Cornish's greatest work will be the story of himself - his life journey in the spirit of the Old Masters - the myth of Francis Cornish.

CHALLENGE | Once Upon A Time 2007

Finally, my list for Carl's Challenge - the guy really put a lot of thoughts and effort into this. Carl identified 4 genres we will be exploring: Fairy Tale, Mythology, Folklore and Fantasy. After deliberation, I chose Quest 3:

Read at least one book from each of the four genres of story, and finish up the challenge with a June reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I'm going to pick one book for each genre, then list a few BONUS choices. I haven't been very successful with Book Challenges recently so for this challenge I'm trying to set more realistic targets but always with the option of going a little further.

These are my choices:

  1. [FAIRY TALE]: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Dream Country

    This collection includes the World Fantasy Award-winning short story, A Midsummer Night's Dream by Neil Gaiman. Charles Vess teams up with Gaiman in this reworking of the story behind Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

    Since I'm reading Shakespeare in June, I thought I kick off the challenge with one of the more enjoyable reworking of fables and fantasies: The Sandman. Since Carl had a Charles Vess tribute, I thought it fits in just nicely.

    BONUS: Stardust by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess

  2. [MYTHOLOGY]: The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

    The Winter King is the first of Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles, which takes a more "realistic" reworking of the Arthurian myth.

    I've wanted to try Bernard Cornwell for a long time. He seems to really know the historical epic novels really well. Most importantly, George R. R. Martin is a fan of Bernard Cornwell and I'm a fan of George R. R. Martin. ;)

    I hope this will be a full-blooded read.

    BONUS: Book 2 & 3 in the series: Enemy of God & Excalibur.

    The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

  3. [FOLKLORE]: Book of Ballads by Charles Vess and other contributors

    A lot of folklores are transmitted in the oral tradition of songs and ballads. Charles Vess started the project to illustrate and reinterpret the many ballads across different cultures, and many talented writers and illustrators came onboard for the endeavour.

    I started collecting the series many years ago, when it was first released by Green Man Press. I loved it, but there was always the problem of publication delays. Then it later just sort of disappeared. Thankfully it has finally been collected into a hardcover - later in a trade paperback. Finally, I'm setting aside time to catch up with what I've missed.

    BONUS: The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers - I have this book on my selves from my university days, back when we were doing the poetry of the Romantics, and later the Gothic. It was Danielle (from A Work in Progress), who reminded me of this neglected little book.

  4. [FANTASY]: Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber

    Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series is said to be one of those sword and sorcery fantasies that ought to read more widely.

    White Wolf previously released the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories in 4 volumes - with cover art by Mike Mignola. I had the paperbacks on my bookshelves for too long unread. It is time to do justice to them.

    BONUS: Books 2-4 of the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series: Lean Time In Lankhmar, Farewell to Lankhmar & Return to Lankhmar.

    Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko - remember the Russian vampire film? That really cool one? This is the book that the movie is based on. With the forthcoming release of the Day Watch movie, I'm preparing myself.

    Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan. More in the horror genre, about an extraordinary albion girl with special powers.

Actually, I'll probably add more books as I find them.

Additional condition for myself: No buying of new books for the challenge.
All books selected MUST be from my existing stash or loans from the library and friends. Still trying to get around to reading those neglected books.

Let the reading begin!

To read all the reviews for this challenge, visit the Central Hub Blog, which has links to them.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

ISTANBUL | Flying Home Tomorrow

April is the start of the tourist season in Turkey. In front of the Blue Mosque is a beautiful garden where they have these colourful tulips - and a fountain. The fountain was dry when we first arrived; they have just refilled the fountain.

Tomorrow is Good Friday. Our flight is schedule for 15:15 tomorrow, so we are just wrapping up our sightseeing. We woke up later this morning, no longer in any rush to see the sights. We just walked today - but later when we came back to the hostel my friend was "kidnapped" by a carpet/kilim shop-owner for tea.

They seem to do that a lot - invite people for tea. My friend claims he did not try to sell her carpets, although the gentleman appears to be in his 50s, but claims to be 38.

Maybe it's the thought of home that's making me yearn for some familiar things - like Starbucks coffee.

"Really, ah?" says my friend when I suggested sitting down for a while at Starbucks. So we did. And read a bit. I brought In Patagonia today, for a change, but I barely made it to more than 50 pages.

The advantage of globalisation (although some claims it is the ills) is that everything becomes so generic - you can make sense of a Starbucks drink menu without knowing any Turkish. We also dropped by a bookstore today, where the sign only says "Bookshop" - well, it's definitely to the point. The "Bookshop" specialises in English books with a Turkish flavour. It was interesting for a quick browse - but you're probably better off buying them from your local bookstore at home. More economical.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to stuff my backpack with all the boxes of Turkish delights I'm bringing home as gift.

Until later. Maybe I'll already be home by then. Oh god, I can't bear the long airplane flight.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

BOOKS | The Rebel Angels in Istanbul

Let's try to sneak a bit about books into my Turkey blogs.

I brought Robertson Davies' The Cornish Trilogy and Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia on my trip to Turkey. While In Patagonia had the advantage of being a slimmer volume - I eventually ended up lugging the 1000+ paged Davies omnibus around Istanbul because it was so much more readable.

I want to do justice to The Rebel Angels (the first book of The Cornish Trilogy - which I've just finished this evening, so I'll need to take some time to plot out a more decent and thorough post on it. But oh my. I do not know how to begin. It is such a rich, complicated novel brimming with philosophy, theology, mythology, folklore - and in particular the spirit of Rabelais is all over the writing. There is plenty of wit and humour - but most importantly, a deep, warm love for learning. I love a man who so obviously takes joy in learning of all kinds - and is not afraid of mirth and laughter.

Set in the university College of St John and the Holy Spirit (affectionately also called, Spook) - Robertson Davies fills his story with all these marvelous, full-blooded academics that are so fun to read. Their learning and intelligence is evident, their conversations expressivem thoughtful and hilarious a lot of the time. Most importantly, Davies brings out their humanity. His strength is in what my friend calls, his Voice - his characters speak - and you are captivated by what they have to say.

We're flying back home this Friday, so we're taking things slow - taking time to do some shopping, and just sit in a cafe and read. I spent the latter part of the afternoon in a cafe just reading The Cornish Trilogy and watching people go by. How I loved The Rebel Angels. How I love sitting in a cafe in Istanbul, with Robertson Davies as my friend.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

ISTANBUL | Bus Trip to Kariya

A mosaic mural of Jesus. This is my favourite - Jesus with the startling eyes

We just got back from Kariya - where they have a small church that houses some Byzantine mosaic murals. A lot of it has fallen into disrepair, but there were some good ones - all Christian symbols. My neck's aching from all that cranking to look up at the ceiling and walls. It is beautiful to see these pain-staking works of art today - although it is annoying to see the occasional flash photography going off; the survival of these historical pieces depend on us minimizing the exposure of harsh lighting on them. Yet we still continue to flash away - thereby contributing to the gradual detoriation of these mosaic artwork. It is sad to see the pieces that had eroded away or were destroyed - seems to me they are reminders of what we had lost. It is well worth the trip down to a little explored part of town. And we should try to see them before they are truly gone.

We had to take a bus there - something totally unfamiliar to us. We were unsure at first, struggling with the buses indicated by Lonely Planet - until an older gentleman at the bus station led us to the correct bus. He also informed the bus driver and his co-worker where we're heading - so that they could tell us where to alight.

Once more, the kindness of strangers prevails. Or do we really look that clueless? :)

We later stopped by Asitane - one of the restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet author. It is a little pricey, with starters at about 10~15 YTL. But the uniqueness of its menu is that it serves many dishes actually prepared during the circumcision feasts for the Sultan's sons. So it's a sample of several Ottoman royal delicacies. The main courses are all meat-based, but the cold and warm starters allow a good selection for vegetarians. But some dishes do have cheese. Oh, and they have great desserts.

Monday, April 02, 2007

ISTANBUL | April's Fool Day

Today is April's Fool Day, isn't it? This may be why it's happening to me of all days. Mercury is in retrograde, as they say in astrological terms.

There is a strategy employed by some of the businessmen in Istanbul. They accost you, ask questions about you, where you are from, make small talk, and the most persistent of them suddenly act as your guide, offer to bring you to the Blue Mosque, the nearest tram station or whatever you need, and before you know it - they have led you to their shop, and they offer you tea, more chit chat - and you suddenly have the feeling that you are not leaving the store before you buy something.

So I'm a lot poorer in cash but with a kilim of Kurdish design that I rather like. Still, I could have lived without regret without it. I'm just going to write it off as a Turkish souvenir for myself - as well as a lesson.

Perhaps falling prey to skillful Turkish sellers is part of the travel experience? In a foreign country, where your previous knowledge and skills are put to the test - you come face to face with your limitations: that you are really not that streetwise or sharp as you have assumed. Well, I know that. I've always been more book-smart than street-smart. I need to keep my guards up and learn to ask questions. Just asking a few important questions actually told me one of the guys following us was bluffing. Why didn't I think to ask questions earlier?

April's Fool, as they say.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

ISTANBUL | Istanbul International Film Festival

Director Ferzan Ozpetek has his new film screening at the Istanbul International film Festival - which is running NOW. Have I mentioned how much I love his films? I did not? Have to remedy this oversight. But if anyone care to take a look at my profile at the right sidebar - I've listed the movie that first made me a fan. Ozpetek is born in Istanbul, but he moved to Italy later to study film. This makes it hard to categorise himself exclusively as an Italian or Turkish director.

I know I'll be re-watching the DVD when I get home, so more on him later.

But yes, my favourite director is one of the highlight at the Istanbul International Film Festival and because the dialogue is in Italian and the subtitles in Turkish - I am going to have to miss it. Do you feel my pain? But all is not lost. We will be watching one of the Chinese feature film, Still Water this afternoon. We had to walk a long way to get to the cinema yesterday for the tickets. And we were surprised at the long queue for the film festival tickets. There are a lot of film lovers in Istanbul - so many of them buying multiple tickets - they kind of remind me of how my friends and I behave during film fest seasons. It feels like home for a minute there, standing in the queue yesterday.