Noteworthy Today (First Wednesday of April 2014)

Self reached p. 266 of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed (Only 400 pp. more to go!)

Self is at the moment extremely bummed out about the fact that she read 58 chapters of what she thought was Everlark on, and it turned out to be Katniss/Gale.  Boo. Well, the category did say “Angst.”  Self, you should know by now:  angst =  love triangle.  And just like that, three days of her life (24 hrs. x 3 = 72 hours) go up in smoke.  Self adores “dark Peeta” but abhors “dark Gale.” Dark Katniss is pretty much standard.

These are the books she’s read thus far in 2014:

  • In the Shadow of Man, by Jane van Lawick Goodall
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West
  • The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed

Although this year she has set a record for extremely-slow-to-finish-reading, the three books she’s read so far have been — luckily — outstanding.  And all of them, it just so happens, are nonfiction.  What does that mean.

The next two books on her reading list are by Jhumpa Lahiri: the short story collection Unaccustomed Earth and the novel The Namesake.

Her retired priest friend in Dublin says he’s managed to get a fellow priest to agree to drive her to Tyrone Guthrie.  According to him, it’s a 2-hour drive north. OMG!  Self cannot allow it.  It would mean two hours worth of gas and whatever, each way.  These words from her friend the retired priest stick out in her mind:  wild and remote.  Wild and remote.  Gaaaah!  One more time: Wild and remote.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.




America, 1773:

The enslaved community was generally nonliterate, but nonliterate does not equal non-observant and nonknowledeable.  Because they could not easily send each other letters, slaves developed a much remarked-upon ability to pass information from community to community while running errands for their masters, visiting spouses on other plantations, or on trips with masters as they visited their friends and family.  The Virginia colonists talked of revolution in their homes, committee meetings, and other venues, but there was not much that whites knew that the blacks around them did not know as well.

– The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed

Abandoned: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Cactus Hall, in Santa Fe Resort, Barangay Granada, Bacolod

Cactus Hall, in Santa Fe Resort, Barangay Granada, Bacolod

Self’s grandfather, Generoso Villanueva, built Santa Fe Resort in the 1930s.  It was the first resort ever built in the central Philippines.  It is still operational today.

The English Cemetery, Just Outside Dharamsala.  The graves are mostly those of soldiers who lost their lives in battles and skirmishes and quelling uprisings.

The English Cemetery, Just Outside Dharamsala. The graves are mostly those of soldiers who lost their lives in battles and skirmishes and quelling uprisings.

Self went to India in January 2012.  She wasn’t prepared: physically, emotionally, spiritually.  It was an exhausting trip.  But this English cemetery just outside Dharamsala reminded her that time is fleeting, everything melts away.

The Old Bacolod Airport:  Abandoned for a newer one in Silay

The Old Bacolod Airport: Abandoned for a newer one in Silay

Coming home to Bacolod was a special experience:  vendors sold kalamayhati, self’s favorite childhood treat.  One time, when she’d been gone for a couple of years, she heard a porter mumble under his breath:  “Si Inday Batchoy.”  (“It’s Ma’am Batchoy”) — “Batchoy” is self’s nickname.  Everyone, even her college professors in the Ateneo, referred to her by that name.  Only here in America is she called “Marianne.”

Batchoy is the name of a famous Visayan soup.  It could also be a short version of the Tagalog word “tabachoy” meaning fat, chubby.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Women’s Review of Books, vol. 51 No. 1 (January/February 2014)

Self really loves the Women’s Review of Books.  She devours each issue passionately.

The latest one to arrive in her mailbox is vol. 51 No. 1.

Here are a sampling of the books reviewed:

  • Book of Ages:  The Life and Chronicles of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore:  Reviewer Martha Saxton describes it as “original, affectionate, and smart.”
  • The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox, a book “about the writing on tablets unearthed in Knossos, Crete, in the first years of the twentieth century and about the crucial contribution of Alice Elizabeth Kober, a classics professor at Brooklyn College, to their eventual decipherment decades later.”  The review is by Susanna J. Sturgis.
  • The review by Mako Yoshikawa of two new collections of linked stories: Horse People, by Cary Holladay and The News From Spain:  Variations on a Love Story, by Joan Wickersham.  Yoshikawa describes Horse People as “beautiful” and “engrossing,” and calls The News from Spain “wise and wonderful.”
  • The Girl Who Loved Camellias:  The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis, by Julie Kavanagh, is about the life of “the Parisian courtesan” who fled “poverty, abuse, and the depredations of old men” and whose genius lay in always presenting “the beautiful appearance, the polished surface, the opera box, the pink champagne, the fine sensibilities and insatiable appetites.” The review is by Carole DeSanti.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Post-Vinyasa Flow Class/ BLGF: Belgrade VI

Self is ambulatory, that is all she can tell ya.

That, plus she reeks of sweat.

But, so proud of herself!  She is very good at the doggie pose and the warrior stance, two positions she had never practiced before.  Ever, ever, ever.

When she returns, The Man is in the exact same position in front of the TV as he’d been in when she left.  Now he wants to go somewhere.  But self is itching to get back to BLGF because it’s time for an assassination.  She’s on the chapter called “Belgrade VI,” and this is about a palace coup.  86 conspirators made their way to the Royal Palace, and did much stumbling about while looking for the Royal Couple.

The lights had been blown when the conspirators stormed the Palace entrance by lobbing a bomb.  It did create a big opening for them to pour through, but it also blew a fuse.  And, according to RW, the Royal Palace was full of bric-a-brac, and the men kept stumbling over such things as “marble fountains removed from old Turkish palaces . . .  tom-toms, and turkish hookahs.”  They had to send over to a nearby house for candles.  And when they finally entered the Royal Apartments, they found that the King and Queen had fled.  But not too long ago, for “the bed was still warm, and a French novel had been thrown down on the bed-table, open and face-down.”  They interrogated the King’s aide-de-camp and this man, though wounded, “weak and in pain . . . . lied glibly and sensibly to gain time.  First he persuaded them to go down and search the cellars, which they did for an hour.”  After that, they became quite mad and started poking their swords under sofas and behind curtains. They went to the house of an old General, and killed him (purely, it seems, out of spite).

Meanwhile, the King and Queen were hiding in a secret compartment just off the bedroom.  “The door to this wardrobe was covered by the same wallpaper as the bedroom walls, and it completely deceived the conspirators, perhaps because they searched by candlelight.”  When the conspirators were searching the cellars, the King had crept out of the secret compartment and called to the Palace Guard, who were standing about.  But he happened to be “leaning from a dark window,” and they didn’t know who it was calling to them, so “they stood silent and immovable.”

(At this point, The Man says we have to see a movie.  Is he serious?  No.  Self has to finish reading)

The Royal Couple hastily threw on some clothes.  That is, the Queen was able to put on “a pair of white silk stays, a petticoat, and yellow stockings.”  She leaned out the window and saw the Commander of the Royal Guard, passing just below.  She called to him for help; he then “raised his revolver and fired at her”.  The shot went wide, but this brave officer ran to the conspirators and told them he had just seen the Queen.  The faithful aide-de-camp, who was at this point dying, had just succeeded in persuading the conspirators to search another building.  Upon hearing that the Queen had been sighted at the Royal balcony, the conspirators all went charging back up to the Royal Bedroom, and this time they found the secret compartment.

What’s so sad about this whole affair is that the Queen hadn’t wanted to be Queen.  She was a widow, 10 years older than the King, and when he first started making advances, she turned him away.  But finally, he managed to break down her defenses, and she married him, but she knew the people hated her and tried to escape Belgrade.  But her own brother told the King what she planned to do, so the King had her fetched and brought back to the Royal Palace.

Every one of the conspirators fired together at the King, and he dropped.  Then they pointed their revolvers at the Queen, and she dropped.  And that was the end.  The Royal couple’s corpses were flung off the balcony. Though it seems like such a hideously brutal act, RW maintains it was merely “sound common sense,” for it let everyone know that “both King and Queen were dead and there was now no one to protect or be protected by.”

The narrative continues:

“The morning broke, and though it was June some rain fell about four o’clock.”  The bodies of the King and Queen still lay in the garden.  And there they remained until the Russian Minister (a kind of ambassador) went up to the officers “who were standing about and pointed to the corpses” and said, “For God’s sake, carry them into the palace.”

And now self has finished the chapter Belgrade VI, and she thinks that never could she have imagined such a grisly and horrible scene.  And why she had to read it directly after a class on Vinyasa Flow, she knows not.  But now she will collapse on the bed, and in a little while perhaps she’ll putter about the garden.  Next to read:  Belgrade VII, Belgrade VIII, Belgrade IX, Skoplje I and Skoplje II.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

BLGF pp. 380-381: Sarajevo VII, A Visit to a Cemetery

Swimming along here, self is just swimming along.  Hopefully, in a week’s time she will be done with the behemoth.  Then, it’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.  And after that come two books by Jhumpa Lahiri:  Unaccustomed Earth and The Namesake.  These will be the first Jhumpa Lahiri books self has read since Interpretor of Maladies.

Now to the topic at hand:  Self spent hours yesterday answering on-line students, and revising a few stories, and also reading the Sarajevo chapters in BLGF.  The erudition of RW is unmatched.  Not content to visit places like convents, she must also describe the history of the convent, who was killed there, hours for mass, scandalous tidbits, and so forth.

But in the Sarajevo chapters, everything revolves around one single point:  that day in June when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo.

One day, two men, a judge and a banker, accompany them to the local cemetery where the Archduke’s assassin, Princip, is buried.

. . . the banker said, “Look, they are here.” Close to the palings of the cemetery, under three stone slabs, lie the conspirators of Sarajevo, those who were hanged and those who died in prison; and to them has been joined Zheraitch, the boy who tried to kill the Bosnian Governor General Vareshanin and was kicked as he lay on the ground.  The slab in the middle is raised.  Underneath it lies the body of Princip.  To the left and the right lie the others, the boys on one side and the men on the other, for in this country it is recognized that the difference between old and young is almost as great as that between men and women.  The grave is not impressive.  It is as if a casual hand had swept them into a stone drawer.  There was a battered wreath laid askew on the slabs, and candles flickered in rusty lanterns.

RW has an unmatched eye for description, doesn’t she, dear blog readers?

Following Sarajevo VII is Sarajevo VIII, in which RW spends almost an entire page discussing the merits of Balkan furniture, and writes:  “Taste degenerated more rapidly in Austria during the nineteenth century than in any other country, with the possible exception of Russia . . . “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Stay tuned.

BLGF p. 241: Dubrovnik (Formerly Known as Ragusa)

Dear blog readers may well wonder how self got to p. 241 so quickly.  Well, she has decided that she can best enjoy Black Lamb and Grey Falcon if she takes it in small doses.  That is, if she elects to read only specific chapters.  Otherwise, she might still be lugging around this 1,000-plus page behemoth months from now.  Which would greatly exacerbate her chronic neck and shoulder pain.

If dear blog readers think that’s a crackpot plan for reading a book, self would just like to say that she used that method when she was a graduate student at Stanford, and it never failed her.  Never.

The chapter self is reading today is Dubrovnik, which self began after finishing the chapters Split I, Split II, Split III and Saloniae.

Dubrovnik used to be known as Ragusa until it became part of Yugoslavia.  The name was changed because it was thought that Ragusa “sounded Italian.” (p. 230)  According to RW, “it should be visited for the first time when the twilight is about to fall, when it is already dusk under the tall trees that make an avenue to the city walls . . . ” (p. 231) How self wishes she had decided to approach Venice in the same way.  She got into Venice at mid-afternoon on a scorching hot day, and after taking a bus from Marco Polo Airport, her first sight of the Grand Canal was in bright sunlight, and it had no romance at all.  In fact, the Grand Canal on that unseasonably bright day in April looked much like the main lobby of the Venetian in Las Vegas.  Which self has visited more than once.  And there were masses of tourists.  And self was just so disappointed.

Back to BLGF.  Somewhere in this chapter, self remembers reading that the word “argosy” was derived from Ragusa.  Which makes sense.  But self cannot point to the exact page where she came by this information.  She knows it is here in this chapter somewhere, but the text is so dense and crammed with historical facts that after 10 minutes of looking, she still can’t find it.  Never mind.  You can take self’s word for it:  the word “argosy” derives from the ancient name for Dubrovnik.

There is so much here about rulers and petty negotiations and the class system and social injustice because RW knows everything.  Everything.  She doesn’t bother to cite her sources so you’ll just have to take her word for it.  She’s either a genius or completely cracked.  At least, she writes in a tone of very convincing authority.  :

The Republic was surrounded by greedy empires whom she had to keep at arm’s length by negotiations lest she perish:  first Hungary, then Venice, then Turkey.  Foreign affairs were her domestic affairs; and it was necessary that they should be conducted in complete secrecy with enormous discretion.  It must never be learned by one empire what had been promised by or to another empire, and none of the greedy pack could be allowed to know the precise amount of the Republic’s resources.  There was therefore every reason to found a class of governors who were so highly privileged that they would protect the status quo of the community at all costs, who could hand on training in the art of diplomacy from father to son, and who were so few in number that it would be easy to detect a case of blabbing.  They were very few indeed.  In the fifteenth century, when the whole population was certainly to be counted by tens of thousands, there were only thirty-three noble families.  These could easily be supervised in all their goings and comings by those who lived in the same confined area.

Next chapters:  Dubrovnik II, Sarajevo I, Sarajevo II, Sarajevo III, Sarajevo IV, Sarajevo V, Sarajevo VI, Sarajevo VII, Sarajevo VIII, Belgrade I.

Stay tuned.

Well Hello Again, BLGF!

Self is just whiling away the afternoon. Happy as a clam.  She made only one foray into the world, to Safeway for more bottled water. While waiting at checkout, she saw from OK or US magazine that J-Law was engaged to be married to that English boyfriend of hers.  Which is definitely tragic for the legions of Joshifer and Everlark fan-dom.

Anyhoo, self just finished reading a passage of BLGF that made her 100% smarter.  And she’s only on p. 50!  By the time she gets through with the 1,100 pages of BLGF, she’ll no doubt be a candidate for Mensa!  Woot Hoot!!!

This is a section from “Croatia.” (The remaining sections are, in order of appearance:  Dalmatia, Expedition, Herzegovina, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Old Serbia, and Montenegro)

The section begins on p. 50 with the sentence:

If on a king’s death he should leave an idiot heir or none, the nobles would send, perhaps far away, to a man whose fame lay in violence, in order to avoid war among themselves.

It ends about a page later with:

The people screamed in pain.

What?  What? Holy Moly! Let’s find out how we got here with the poor peasants screaming!

So self then turns back to the previous page to find out what happened in the interim.  The people bring in an alien king blah blah and this king, “terrified of his insecure position in a strange land . . .  asked little of the nobles and came down like a scourge on the peasants, and was tempted to plunder them beyond need and without mercy.”  He would “demand certain sums from the nobles” and the nobles would then, instead of dipping into their “private treasures,” wring the sums “out of the peasants.” This is bad, but “still graver” is the possibility that “the king’s alien blood would let him make contracts to their disadvantage with foreign powers.” Lest one pooh-pooh such a threat, RW writes:

This danger was very grave indeed.  For though there is a popular belief that negotiations to take the place of warfare are a modern invention, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Middle Ages were always ready to lay down the sword and sign an agreement, preferably for a cash payment.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you think this is an exhausting way to get through one page of BLGF, then just imagine 950 more of these, since that’s what is involved, apparently.  Self better make sure her keyboard arm remains well rested and tuned.

When self feels able to skip, she will skip.  This is private reading, not the kind that needs to result in a term paper!



Self went browsing for on-line reviews of Black Lamb, Grey Falcon (which she always does when she’s wavering), and after reading a couple of meaty ones on Amazon, has decided that she should approach the book as a travelogue.  Because then it works.

And now she also has a word to describe the affliction of a Rebecca West Sentence (henceforth to be known as RWS):  prolixity.

Self’s impatience about Black Lamb, Grey Falcon (henceforth to be known as BLGF) stems from the fact that she just finished reading Jane Goodall.  Goodall is a writer who makes it easy for readers to step into her world because she is vivid without being circumlocutious.

On the other hand, when Rebecca West gets lumped together in a train carriage with German passengers in first class, one simply doesn’t know whether to believe her, because she turns them all into caricatures.  (Earlier, she called them all kinds of names in her head, but now she’s had time to get used to them.  If this is the way she’s going to be writing about each and every person she meets on her journey, then no wonder the book is over a thousand pages):

They were all of them falling to pieces under the emotional and intellectual strain laid on them by their Government, poor Laocoons strangled by red tape.  It was obvious that getting the population into this state the Nazis had guaranteed the continuance of their system; for none of these people could have given any effective support to any rival party that wanted to seize power, and indeed their affairs, which were thoroughly typical, were in such an inextricable state of confusion that no sane party would now wish to take over the government, since it would certainly see nothing but failure ahead . . .  I reflected that if a train were filled with the citizens of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century, they would have made much the same complaints.

And, just before getting up to make herself some coffee, self reads this (p. 33):

A little while later my husband and I went and had dinner in the wagon-restaurant, which was Yugoslavian and extremely good.  When we came back the businessman was telling how, sitting at his desk in his office just after the war, he had seen the bodies of three men fall past his windows . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Reading List in Flux

Rebecca West’s sentences are like architectural monuments.  They’re so heavy and self can’t make sense of some of the more ornate (literary) flourishes.  And because self doesn’t want to spend the next month or so reading a book whose contents she will probably forget as soon as she closes the covers, she might as well move to the next book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed, who is a professor of Law at New York Law School.

Have spent most of the winter reading non-fiction (In the Shadow of Man, How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa — both enthralling books)  The trend continues with The Hemingses of Monticello.

Next up are two books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth and Namesake.  To rest self’s weary brain, self is also reading concurrently: the YA novels Divergent and Catching Fire.

Still haven’t gotten past p 3 of Divergent  During this scene, the heroine is riding on a crowded bus with her brother, Caleb. And this is what ensues:

He also inherited my mother’s talent for selflessness.  He gave his seat to a surly Candor man on the bus without a second thought.

The Candor man wears a black suit with a white tie — Candor standard uniform.  Their faction values honesty and sees the truth as black and white, so that is what they wear.

Must say, self loves that description of the Candor man wearing “a black suit with a white tie” –  Very clever, Veronica Roth!

And now to Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  The two District 12 victors, Katniss and Peeta, must engage in combat again.  Katniss has formulated a rather weird plan that Peeta shoud live, not her:

The beauty of this idea was that my decision to keep Peeta alive at the expense of my own life is itself an act of defiance.  A refusal to play the Hunger Games by the Capitol’s rules.  My private agenda dogtails completely by my public one. And if I really could save Peeta . . .  in terms of a revolution, this would be ideal. Because I will be more valuable dead. They can turn me into some kind of martyr for the cause and paint my face on banners, and it will do more to rally the people than anything I could do  if I was leaving.  But Peeta woud be more valuable alive, and tragic, because he will be able to turn his pain into words that will transform people.

Methinks Katniss sounds a little “mental” in the above passage, but perhaps her 17-year-old-ness makes her susceptible to such large and fantastic notions as “Peeta would be more valuable alive, and tragic . . . “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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