Switching Calendars

Such a wet, dreary day.  Yesterday, a calendar arrived in the mail from Australia.  It was from Jeanette R, who self has known since grade school.  Jeanette went to the University of the Philippines, married a fellow student, then emigrated with him to Australia.  She’s been teaching in the University of New South Wales for decades. Every year, for the past 20 years — maybe more — a calendar comes from Australia.  Beautiful, gorgeous calendars.

Self has never been to Australia.  Perhaps she should put that on her bucket list for 2012.

Self already has a 2012 calendar:  she bought this one months ago (because it was on sale — bwah, ha, ha!)  The calendar she bought was a calendar of Zen Buddhist sayings such as:

  • When we are trying to be active and special and to accomplish something, we cannot express ourselves.  Small self will be expressed, but big self will not appear from the emptiness.  From the emptiness only great self appears (February 2012)
  • To open your innate nature and to feel something from the bottom of your heart, it is necessary to remain silent. (March 2012)

The Australian calendar has very little by way of description, just the photographs themselves with one-line captions:  The Usual Suspects on the Monaro Plain (a photograph of great, big, woolly sheep — or are those rams?); Pastoral country near Bowraville; St. Savious’s Cathedral, Goulburn (The camera angle, the sky, the church — this photograph  is spectacular); Tulip Top Gardens on the Old Federal Highway; Camel Rock near Bermagui; Campbell Rhododendron Gardens, Blackheath.

Australian holidays and other special days are marked:

  • Australia Day (First Fleet arrives at Sydney Cove, 1788):  January 26
  • Queen Elizabeth II born (1926):  April 21
  • Cook lands at Botany Bay (1770):  April 29
  • Father’s Day:  September 2
  • Armistice Day (1918):  November 11
  • Boxing Day:  December 26

What an interesting calendar!

On the other hand, referring back to the Zen Buddhist calendar, days not marked on the Australian calendar are:

  • Chinese New Year – Year of the Dragon (January 23)
  • International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27)
  • Groundhog Day (February 2)
  • Mardi Gras (February 21)
  • Tax Day (April 17)
  • Arbor Day (April 27)
  • Annual Solar Eclipse (May 20) —  Mis-spelled as “Annular Solar Eclipse”
  • Ascension of Baha’u’llah (May 29)
  • World Environment Day (June 5)
  • Flag Day (June 14)
  • World Refugee Day (June 20)
  • Dalai Lama’s Birthday (July 6)
  • Ramadan Begins (July 20)
  • International Literacy Day (September 8)
  • Grandparents Day (September 9)
  • International Day of Peace (September 21)
  • Moon Festival (September 29)
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday (October 2)
  • United Nations Day (October 24)
  • Election Day (November 6)
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7)
  • Human Rights Day (December 10)
  • Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12)

Hmmm, perhaps self will stick to the Zen Buddhist calendar after all.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

On Journeys

A new year is about to begin.

This new year will find self in India (New Delhi, Udaipur, Mumbai, and many many other places), Washington DC, Bacolod (of course)  …  oh, 2012 will be a lovely year.

Today, self was on the phone to Drew, who was on a bus heading back to New York City after spending Christmas with his parents in the family home in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  (Self thinks of Drew as being so New York.  She has a hard time picturing him in Yellow Springs.  She’d love to see Drew’s home some day.  Life is constantly amazing!)

Today, one of self’s aunts (on Dearest Mum’s side) was laid to rest, and self could not attend the funeral service.  But she is pretty sure it was this aunt who blew in the front door and sent all the Christmas cards flying off the wall where self had taped them, over a week ago.  Something came in self’s home that day, and never left.  But it is not a bad thing.  Self feels a strange comfort.

Today, self began reading the latest bulletin from the Stanford English Department.  Self was musing that she is almost invisible to Creative Writing, but her work has found a firm home in the Feminist Studies Program.  She is visiting a Feminist Studies class (for the third time) at the end of February.

Self also received a missive from Vagabondage Press, who will be publishing her novella in 2012.  Can you have the manuscript ready by early February?

To which self could only utter a silent scream:  ##@@!!!!!!!!!

Pause.

@@!!##@@!!!!!

On p. 5 of the Stanford English Dept. news bulletin is the address by a new Ph.D. grad, Jennifer Harford Vargas.  Self reads the entire address and finds herself very moved.  Here are some salient quotes:

Graduate school, we have discovered, requires a great deal of esperanza.  There is no word in English that captures the dual meaning of this Spanish word.  Esperar means both to wait and to hope.  We have spent 6, 7, 8 years in graduate school waiting patiently and hopefully for the day we finished our dissertations and became PhDs.  We did not do so passively though.  For difficult thinking requires lots of time.

*     *     *     *

John Steinbeck once wrote, “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”  Similarly, we find after years of struggle that we do not complete graduate school; graduate school completes us.

*     *     *     *

At the end of Sandra Cisneros’s novel The House on Mango Street, the narrator Esperanza imagines her escape from the inner city streets in which she grew up:  “One day I will pack my bags of books and paper.  One day I will say goodbye to Mango.  I am too strong for her to keep me here forever.  One day I will go away.  Friends and neighbors will say, What happened to that Esperanza?  Where did she go with all those books and paper?  Why did she march so far away?  They will not know I have gone away to come back.  For the ones I left behind.  For the ones who cannot out.”

And self is so moved because that perfectly sums up her feelings about Bacolod.  Why else would she have returned, four times in one year?  The first time (in almost two years) was in December 2010.  She returned three weeks later, in January 2011.  Then, for two weeks in July 2011.  The last trip was September – October 2011.  Husband was too stunned to offer a peep, and son was stoic and also distracted by the start of graduate school.  Meanwhile, her Bacolod relatives looked at her and remembered the five or six-year-old girl self had once been.  They, too, had wondered, what had become of self?  Now they had their answer:  Self became a writer!  A crazy person, who values books more than money!

When self calls L’Fisher to tell them she is coming again, they seem to have been expecting her call.  That is, they seem to recognize her voice (ha ha ha!).  She knows they recognize her even before she says her name.  What is it —  a tone?  A pitch?  Who knows.

Here’s another reason to cheer the beginning of 2012:  Season 3 of “Justified” begins January 17.  Until that date, feast your eyes on the Mother of All Sheriffs, the Big O himself.

Stay tuned.

“Ivar the Boneless”: Marauding Danish Conqueror

Still reading — no, devouring — Brian Sykes’ Saxons, Vikings, and Celts.

The Romans abandoned Britain to the tribes sometime in the fifth century AD. Increasingly, raids came from the North, led by Vikings.  On p. 261, self reads:

In 835 there was a large raid in Kent, then annually after that until, in 865, there was a full-scale invasion.  The Danish Great Army landed in East Anglia led by Ivar Ragnusson, better known as Ivar the Boneless.  I have rather a soft spot for Ivar the Boneless, because he was said to have suffered from the same genetic disease which I once researched myself.  He was born, so it is said, “with only gristle where his bones should have been.”  From this description, Ivar almost certainly suffered from Read the rest of this entry »

Perusing the Economist Best Books of 2011: Short List

Books self is interested in reading after perusing The Economist’s “Best Books of 2011″ list:

Biography and Memoir

History

  • Jerusalem:  The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.  “After his acclaimed biographies of Stalin, Catherine the Great and her lover, Potemkin, Simon Sebag Montefiore has finally turned to the book he was born to write.”

Culture, Society and Travel

  • People Who Eat Darkness:  The Fate of Lucie Blackman, by Richard Lloyd Parry.  “A page-turning, if horrifying, read about the murder of a young Englishwoman in Japan and the dubious workings of the Japanese criminal-justice system.”

Fiction

  • Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson.  The Economist calls it a “dense, mesmerising novella about a labourer in the American West … ” (Wonder what that is:  a “labourer” in the American West.  Not a cowboy, not a ranch hand, not a homesteader.  A labourer.  Can’t wait to read the book and find out)

Incidentally, all but three of the above books are published by Knopf (Two are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, one by Penguin Press).  Self is suitably impressed.

Stay tuned.

A Book on Mitochondrial DNA Turns Out to be an Excellent Travel Book to the British Isles

How self adores Bryan Sykes and his book Saxons, Vikings, and Celts:  The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland.  She adores him so much that she’s thinking of giving a copy to brother-in-law R as a birthday present.

In particular, she loves his minute exploration of the terrain of England, Scotland, Wales, and every bloody island off the British coast, from the Orkneys to the Hebrides.

Here’s a sample passage, p. 238.  Sykes has spent the last 20 or so pages describing his hunt for Viking DNA in the inhabitants of present-day Wales:

Turning to the clan of Wodan, this hovers around the 10 per cent mark in all three regions of Wales.  However, when I looked at the detailed fingerprints, I found a small cluster in mid-Wales that caught my eye.  There were only half a dozen of them, but they were unusual.   Mr. Rees from New Quay, a picturesque fishing port on Cardigan Bay, Mr. Jones from Mynachlog near Tregaron, and finally Mr. Davies from Lampeter.

Before I draw any profound conclusions, may I recommend Lampeter as the best place in Wales for ice cream.  At the junction of the High Street and the Tregaron Road stands the ice-cream emporium of Conti’s Café.  Going inside, when I was last there, was like returning to the cafés of my youth.  No cappuccinos or lattes here, just weak milky coffee in one of those unbreakable glass cups, served by a waitress in a blue tabard.

You see why this book is un-put-downable, dear blog readers?

Stay tuned.

Christmas Day 2011: Watching Jeremy Renner

It was chilly.  Poor Ancient One unloaded copious amounts of pee in the kitchen, which caused much consternation.  Son gave self a set of scented body lotions and body washes from Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Brand:  “SLEEP”  — bwah ha haaa!

Thank goodness there were a few places open, which made Redwood City not seem so super-dead:  Crouching Tiger on Broadway, CVS Pharmacy, and of course Safeway.

Watched the 5 p.m. screening of “Mission Impossible: The Ghost Protocol” (thoroughly loved it:  A-).  The theater was crowded!  So this was where everybody was.  At 4 p.m.  There were lines for “War Horse,” “We Bought a Zoo,” and “Mission Impossible.”  Self overheard someone saying that the next screening of “Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows” was sold out.  Self loves standing in line for a movie, which she hasn’t done in ages and ages.  It just fills her with so much anticipation, especially when she has had the foresight to purchase a bucket of popcorn and can therefore avoid being completely idle while waiting.

Among the previews was one for a re-release of James Cameron’s “Titanic.”  Self remembered taking son, Niece G, Nephew W, and Nephew C to see this movie in the old Century 12 on Bayshore.  How young Leonardo di Caprio was, how almost elfin his face was, when he was in his 20s (By contrast, Kate Winslet now looks almost the same as she did then.  Well, perhaps 10 or 15 pounds lighter, but her face is essentially unchanged).  There were also previews for the next “G.I. Joe” movie, starring Channing Tatum, which is coming this summer, and for “Wrath of the Titans,” the follow-up to “Clash of the Titans” (which self totally missed seeing, but which she heard was baaaad), still starring Sam Worthington as Perseus and Liam Neeson and his weird dreadlocked beard as Zeus, and with the addition of the lovely Rosamund Pike as Andromeda!

The “Mission Impossible” movie itself was fun.  But there are really only two reasons this movie was as much fun as it was:  the first is Simon Pegg, and the second is Jeremy Renner.

She thinks the Director, Brad Bird, displayed considerable smarts by allowing Pegg to have so many comic bits, and to give Renner a character where he plays, first:  a) straight man, then b) man with a secret past, and then c) man who is consumed with guilt over some Awful Thing he failed to do that ended up costing the life of a lovely woman

Honestly, whenever Renner was on-screen, self could not look at anyone else.  He has such a believable way of delivering his lines.  And, despite the somewhat round face, he is very slim, looks grrreat in a gray suit, displays considerable panache in action sequences, and may possibly be around for a sequel.  YAYYY!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Billions and billions”

It’s Christmas Day, which means Christmas is officially over. YAAYYY, let the shopping begin!

Self is practically devouring Brian Sykes’ Saxons, Vikings, and Celts.  P. 138, we’re in the Ice Age, during which Great Britain was abandoned by all of its human inhabitants because it was just too darn cold. During this period, giant ice floes floated majestically down the Thames river and not a single living organism could be found anywhere.

Apparently, the British Isles were still a part of the European continent (Pardon, then, for using the word “Isles” dear blog readers!). “This does not mean the inhabitants … did arrive overland, only that it was possible to do so at the time … The ice had begun to retreat 4000 years before … “

Just as Great Britain was slowly becoming more habitable, and a few hardy bands of humans had begun returning, there occurred a new Ice Age, caused when “the earth wobbled once again in its orbit …” which precipitated “a sudden and severe cold snap.” This was, naturally, quite a disaster for the human residents. As Sykes puts it:

The cold “forced the human occupants back down south and cleared the Isles once more. The boundary of the ice … began to spread south again. The sea was frozen right down to northern Spain and the plains of northern Europe reduced once again to barren and inhospitable tundra … But very fortunately, this cold phase … lasted only for about 1,000 years … “

At times, Sykes writes as if 11,000 and 10,000-year periods of time were really over in a jiffy, which puts self in mind of the late Carl Sagan, who once upon a time had his own TV show and was very fond of using the phrase “billions and billions.” (Self doesn’t know about you, but anything measured by 10,000 years gives her the heebie-jeebies. Because it makes self uncomfortably aware that her teensy little life span is — despite its huge significance to herself — nothing more than a moment. Speaking in terms of the universe, that is)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Christmas Eve 2011

Christmas this year falls on a Sunday, so Monday is an official holiday.

Today is a “Spare the Air” day, so we cannot light a fire, boo.

Yesterday afternoon, self and the husband were at the Stanford Shopping Center — not to buy, you understand. Just to look “busy” and halfway “with it.” The Coach store was full of Asian women. We stopped by Sprinkles, where self discovered that they only carry peanut butter cupcakes on Tuesdays and Fridays, which is so lame. For the first time ever, there was no line at Pinkberry. Self almost bought a sweater from J. Jill that was 50% off. Good thing the husband decided to stand just by her shoulder as she tried to make up her mind. This small gesture alone was enough to restore self to her senses.

Son was off with his friends.  Self decided to look through back issues of The Economist. In the November 19, 2011 issue, there are reviews of two books which self finds most interesting.

The first is Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground, by Jonathan Steele. Self loves anything with “Ghosts” in the title. There is a very specific reason for the use of the word in the title, and here is that reason: “On taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama found a longstanding request from the army on his desk, asking for more troops for the war in Afghanistan. He soon acceded, though not in full. According to Bob Woordward’s book, Obama’s Wars, which came out in 2010, the late Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reminded his boss that Lyndon Johnson had faced similar demands during the Vietnam war. “Ghosts,” whispered Mr. Obama.

The second is Bill Clinton’s Back to Work:  Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy.  According to The Economist, “the American public’s growing criticism of Barack Obama has been accompanied by warmer feelings for the Clintons.  More and more Democrats now wonder if they should have chosen Hillary in his place, and it is increasingly common for the president’s lackluster handling of the economy to be contrasted with the surer leadership and much happier economic times when Bill ruled the White House.”  And self is one of those second-guessing people who now wishes she had voted for Hillary in the primaries.

Finally, we saw the Dragon Tattoo movie today. Rooney Mara makes a great Lisbeth Salander.  Self is so enamored, in particular, of the way she says “Hey, hey” whenever she visits someone’s apartment.  And Daniel Craig is, needless to say, a very, very hot Michael Blomkvist.  And Joely Richardson, in a very small role, is very, very moving.  Goran Visjnic most emphatically does not look good with platinum blonde hair.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The NYTBR 10 Best Books of 2011

This is a first: Of the five novels selected as the best fiction reviewed in the NYTBR in the past 12 months, three of the five are women. Self also greatly relishes the fact that Stephen King’s latest is one of the five.

To round up the Top Five Fiction of the Year (and self must keep reminding dear blog readers that the pool is limited to those books which were reviewed in the NYTBR in the past 12 months), there is that guy, Chad Harbach, whose long route to fame is the talk of every literary agent and publisher.

So, here are the NYTBR’s Top Five Fiction Books of 2011:

  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  • Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

In Nonfiction, one of the Top Five is by Christopher Hitchens, who died recently, and only one is by a woman, but her book is the one self really wants to read: A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

100 Notable Books of 2011: The NYTBR Issue of 4 December 2011

Thank goodness self was only interested in which Asian or Asian American writers were on the list, or her arm would be broken from typing.  As it turned out, she was able to get over the list rather quickly.

Without further ado, here are the Asian and/or Asian American authors included in the New York Times Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2011″ (Not representative of all the books published in the whole wide world in 2011- duuuh! Only the ones in English, or translated into English, AND reviewed in the pages of The New York Times or the NYTBR in 2011):

Fiction and Poetry

(Of course there were poetry collections in the list, but none were by Asians or Asian Americans — Maaajor GRRRR!)

Nonfiction

Which is not to say there are no books about Asia or Asian Americans.  Here’s one, written by Joseph Lelyveld:  Great Soul:  Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India.

As far as self can make out from the one or two sentences that follow each “Notable” book, these are the fiction settings:

  • contemporary Los Angeles
  • Ceylon/ England (Of course, this one is the setting for the new Michael Ondaatje novel)
  • Albany (William Kennedy’s, of course)
  • a Maine diner
  • Rome
  • a Central American jungle
  • the American Midwest
  • New Jersey
  • New York City (twice)
  • Budapest
  • 1980s Germany
  • Bosnia
  • the Everglades (Of course, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia)
  • the Balkans
  • the Idaho panhandle

This year, it would appear (and self will just go ahead and make a big leap, here, even though she is operating on next to no information other than what’s contained in two sentences in the list of “Notable Books of 2011,” but what’s a lack of knowledge compared to the complete and utter tragedy of not being able to blog about something as compelling as the fictional settings of the “Notable Books of 2011″) that none of the Notable Books —  NONE —  are set in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Or Boston.  Two of self’s favorite American urban places.

She doesn’t know why Chicago should be left out of the wailing, for that’s a very cool American city as well, so let’s just go ahead and ask why none of the Notable Books are set in Chicago.

If any dear blog readers can dis-abuse self of the notion that NONE of the NYTBR’s Notable Books of 2011 are set in either:  a) the San Francisco Bay Area; or b) the greater Boston Metropolitan area; or c) in Chicago and environs, please feel free to enlighten self by leaving a comment.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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