Irene Nemirovsky, Part II: Descriptions with the Power of Hallucinations

On pp. 138 – 139 of Suite Francaise:  a priest is leading a flock of boys away from the invading German forces, when they stumble across an abandoned village:

This village abandoned by its people, where no footsteps, no voices could be heard and where all the sounds of the countryside were absent  —  the creaking of wheelbarrows, the cooing of pigeons, the clucking from the poultry yards  —  this village had become the kingdom of the birds, the bees and the hornets.  Philippe thought he had never heard so many vibrant, joyous songs nor seen so many swarms all around him.  Hay, strawberries, blackcurrants, the little sweet-smelling flowers in the borders, each flower bed, each lawn, each blade of grass gave off a soft buzzing sound, like a spinnng wheel.

Because, of course, the Germans invaded in June . . .   a month for gardening, for exulting in summer warmth.

Irene Nemirovsky’s SUITE FRANCAISE: The Dictating of the Will

It’s a wonder how much energy is now available to self, now that she has decided not to go where she had planned to go in December.  For instance, now she has great reserves of energy for reading and hunting for books.  Today, after buying two portions of creme brulee from Draeger’s in Menlo Park (to celebrate the fact that this week, hubby’s start-up got an order —  the first in almost a year), self stopped by the Atherton library and picked up two mysteries, one by Boris Akunin (The Death of Achilles) and the other by Alexander McCall Smith (Blue Shoes and Happiness).  Then, after getting home, she resumed reading Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, which has held her in thrall ever since she began it, two days ago.  In fact, self was so enthralled that she read 100 pages in about an hour (from 12:30 to almost 2 a.m.) and then, realizing that at this rate she could end up spending all night reading, she forced herself to close the book.  And, within five minutes of making that decision, self fell asleep.

Now, she’s been delaying her reading, but alas, she actually couldn’t bear not to continue.  She’s at a section of the book where Madame Péricand (wife of a wealthy Parisian), having gathered her children around her and walked with them out of Paris, and having survived two air raids, has suddenly realized (with a great and dramatic scream) that the family left their house in such a hurry that they forgot to collect her father-in-law, an invalid, who had declared at the last moment, as they were all gathered on the street with their belongings, that he had to take a moment to pee.

So, now the father-in-law has been rescued by a kind stranger and taken to a type of convalescent home, run by a handful of courageous nuns.  He has a very high fever and is apparently dying.  The nuns summon a notary, and even though it is past midnight, he comes.  Then the old man begins to dictate his last will and testament, with two nuns and a gardener and the gardener’s three sons gathered round as witnesses.  And this is how Nemirovsky describes what ensues:

For a few moments that seemed brief to the notary, the witnesses and the Sisters, but to him were as long as a century, as long as delirium, as long as a dream, Monsieur Péricand-Maltete moved back in time to recall the life he had been given on this earth:  the family dinners, the Boulevard Delessert, naps in the drawing room, Albert the cat on his lap; the last time he saw his older brother when they had parted vowing never to have anything more to do with each other . . .  Jeanne, his wife in Bléoville, thirty-five years earlier, just after their wedding, when some bees had come in through the open window and were gathering pollen from the lilies in her bridal bouquet and the garland of orange blossoms thrown at the foot of the bed.

Then he was certain he could feel death approaching.  He made a startled little gesture (as if he was trying to get through a door that was too narrow for him, saying, “No, please, after you”) and a look of surprise appeared on his face.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

The Halloween Masquerade on CBS’s “Early Show”

CBS Early Show, what a hoot!  It’s just 8 a.m. and self is rather bleary-eyed for the following reasons:

  • She slept at 2 and woke to the li’l crits’ whining, at 7:30.
  • She finished writing an article on Burma, late last night.
  • She read 100+ pages of Irene Nemirovsky’s startling and heartbreaking Suite Francaise, a portrait of French citizens fleeing German occupation forces during World War II:  brilliant, just brilliant.

She switches on flat-screen HDTV and of course it’s already on CBS because self has to end each day with her David Letterman/Craig Ferguson fix.

Everyone on staff is in costume:  First there’s Maggie Rodriguez as Adam Lambert.  She comes out lip-synching!  She starts working the audience (among whom is an Octomom impersonator with eight baby dollies fastened to her chest and huge, blow-up red lips —  Ha ha ha ha, grrreat!!!)  She has Joan Jett hair, black leather jacket, tight black jeans, and mucho mucho dark eye-liner!  Woo-hoo!  At first self thought it was Adam Lambert, just with breast implants!  Four stars!

Next, Russ Mitchell appears!  He has furry sideburns pasted on his cheeks!  He has two-foot long slasher-nails!  He emerges with solemn mien, Wolverine hands crossed across his chest!  Self will give his impersonation three stars, for it’s so clearly still Russ.

Hands-down winner:  Harry Smith channeling Julia Child!  The wig!  The pearls!  The pink tailored shirt!  And, most of all, the falsetto!  The cooking demonstration in which he begins to crack eggs on Chris Wragge’s forest green suit!  The yellow rubber chicken!  Self thinks Harry’s impersonation of Julia can certainly give Meryl Streep’s a run for the money!  Five stars!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

“The Class”/ Spike TV’s “Scream Awards”

Self is at home trying  —  for the nth time  —  to finish watching “The Class” (This is ridiculous!  She’s had it over a month already!)  Not only is it dull, if self gets up from the couch to do something momentarily, she misses reams of sub-titles.  Now, she has no idea where she is in the story, who that surly kid is talking to the balding guy in a suit, who those two girls giggling together over a desk are, who the bald man in glasses is.  The only one whose identity self is sure of is the teacher  —  and in the scene she just finishes watching, he has the appalling lack of judgement to engage in an argument with his students outside the classroom.  They gather around him, gleefully accusing.  And he stands there, and takes it and takes it and takes it instead of walking away (Only when self reads the Netflix movie jacket, as she is putting the film away, does she learn that the man who portrays the teacher is actually Francois Begaudeau, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based)

A few nights ago, self persuaded hubby to watch with her a show called “Scream Awards 2009” on Spike TV.  My God, what a genius idea!  That show was a gold mine of great, shining moments in film!  Not to mention eye candy like Taylor Lautner!  Among the highlights:  A clip from “New Moon” (which only confirms self’s hunch that it will be all bare chests and testosterone, with none of the moodiness of “Twilight”)! Johnny Depp!  Keith Richards!  All the (hot) guys from “True Blood” and Anna Paquin!  Even Elijah Wood in low, hip-hugging jeans!  Megan Fox giving a speech in which she claimed to really really love the “Transformer” movies!  Jessica Alba covered from elbows to neck in metallic green dress!  George A. RomeroStan Lee!  Will Shatner saying he was available to be in the next “Star Trek” movie!  J. J. Abrams smiling at him from the audience!  Woody Harrelson getting a bow for “Breakout Movie of the Year” (“Zombieland,” of course!)  Many, many out-takes from “Night of the Living Dead,” “Drag Me to Hell,” “The Last House on the Left,” “Star Trek” (Why is that in the “horror” category???)!  A special tribute to “Battlestar Galactica” (Frackin’ grrrreat!)

Anyhoo, self did get to Barnes and Noble and she did look for those two first novels she listed in her previous post, and neither of them were in-store.  She did, however, discover a new detective series, translated from the Russian, featuring a very hot, svelte 19th century detective (at least, so she gathers from reading the book blurbs for The Death of Achilles).  And she also renewed acquaintance with Precious Ramotswe’s latest adventures.  And she figures she might as well start reading more mysteries, as she loved, absolutely loved the last mystery she read, Ruth Rendell’s 13 Steps Down.

OK, what’s happening now in “The Class”?  Oh, the male teacher is having a conversation with his students about “sniggering,” how it hurts his feelings when the students engage in it.  More blah blah blah ensues.  Which can only, self surmises, be of interest to non-teachers.  Who are not in a classroom everyday, and for whom therefore such conversations might be revelatory.

Stay tuned.

Thursday Before Halloween (2009)

Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, which means the weekend will be very fun.  Fun, fun, fun, fun.

It is chilly in the house.  In the interests of conserving energy, we keep the thermostat down.  Self walks around all the time in sweats, scarf, and furry socks.

Son took his GRE yesterday: apparently, now you can see how you scored, immediately after, and he got 1400.  Happy happy joy joy!  Self has no idea where son plans to apply to grad school, hubby hopes Stanford but self thinks it isn’t the school for him.  She hopes University of Washington, as Seattle is a very cool city.

Story of the day is from One Story, lit mag which self realized (in a flash of insight, earlier this month) would never publish her.  The story is called “Stag.”  Once again it is set in some lonely Midwestern locale, where men are all like Cormac McCarthy protagonists.  Setting very bleak, very rife with anomie, and that unique American angst.

Though it is cold outside, self will walk the li’l crits.  In addition, she will see if she can find the following two books in the local Barnes & Noble:

  • Helen Oyeyemi’s first novel, The Icarus Girl:  According to the New York Times Book Review, this is about “the troubled daughter of a Nigerian mother and an English father . . .  who develops a malevolent imaginary friend.” (Yes!)
  • Chieh Chieng’s first novel, A Long Stay in a Distant Land which is described by NYTBR as “a generous family saga about an unlucky Cantonese-American clan from Orange County, Calif.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Those Crazy Northwestern Pilots

Yesterday, self learned that Zack was flying Delta/Northwest to Manila. Self’s eyebrows went waaaay high and she couldn’t help exclaiming, “What? After that stunt those two pilots pulled on the flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul?”

Since there was nothing on the Black Box that records activity in the cockpit, self shared with Z her ultimate theory for the pilots’ distraction: They were having wild crazy sex in the cockpit!

And now self learns from this site that the pilots claim they were “busy on their laptops.”

Oh, yeah, uh-huh, right.

Self can only imagine what those two were looking at, that made them miss their target airport by 150 miles.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

A Survey

Since self is now pretty sure of going home in December, and since there’s only so much a body can accomplish in three weeks (!!!), other than get horribly jet-lagged and fat,  self thought she’d better begin soliciting suggestions for:

  • The three best books by contemporary Filipino writers that she must buy to bring back with her to the States  (No coffee table books, please!  Self likes poetry, she likes prose, she likes graphic novels, she loooves  —  at the present moment, anyway  —   history and memoir and non-fiction)
  • The three best bookstores that she must be sure to visit in the three weeks that she is in Manila
  • The three movies she absolutely must see before going back home

Never mind restaurants or food! She’s sure she doesn’t need to eat one more thing, not one!

*    *     *

Call to Dearest Mum:  Why didn’t you send copies of The Lost Language with cousin who was just in Manila?  Self has a reading on Nov. 7, and it would have been so great to have the copies ready.  Dearest Mum replied, she is ashamed.  She doesn’t want anyone to read the book.  The stories are so violent.  Even her brothers couldn’t read it, they had to stop after the first 5 pages, never mind that self dedicated the book to Ying.  So,


(Now, self thinks:  how in the heck is she going to get through three weeks of December in Manila?  Hubby, though, maintains it will be very “good” for self to go.  Self wants to ask him:  And what do you know about it?  Did you ever have a family such as mine???)

Now self is wondering: which is worse, to have the maternal seal of approval, or not to have the maternal seal of approval?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

My Dears!

Self is exhausted. After spending the morning at Writing Center, then wandering over to Long’s to pick up some prescriptions, then to Safeway to pick up bags of Halloween candy (self made sure to buy only the kinds she hates: Hot Tamales), then failing to find any good pumpkins selling for less than $3, and picking up Luis Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter from the Redwood City Main Library (and, now that she’s seen the cover again, self is 99.76 % sure she’s borrowed it before, but she can’t remember when), self arrives home pretty “low bat” again. What is wrong? Could it be the fact that she’s had nothing to eat all day except a bag of barbecue-flavored potato chips from the vending machine just outside the Writing Center, and a coke float?

Alas, self finds it is quite impossible to go the whole day without eating, as was her plan. Yesterday, there was Crouching Tiger with Jonathan, Liza, and Zack, and afterwards self came home to find the whole house smelling like hot buttered popcorn (hubby was snacking on that on the couch). This morning, self successfully made it to the Writing Center without Read the rest of this entry »

A-Rod Just Walked

The weather this weekend was gorgeous, just gorgeous. Self saw a number of movies: “Alien” and “Alien 4” on cable, “Law-Abiding Citizen” in the downtown Century 20 (Pretty good: two-and-a-half out of four stars! Gerard Butler’s best movie since “300.” Though the opening scene quite had her cringing. It somehow reminded her of one of those Charles Bronson “Death Wish” movies, the ones where . . . never mind, self does not wish to be the source of any spoilers).

Now it is Sunday night. It’s do-or-die for the Angels. It’s the fourth inning, and the Yankees are leading. A-Rod’s walk forced in a run. Hubby declares that last pitch should have been a strike, but no one else seems to think so. Camera pans across the crowd at Yankee Stadium, and suddenly there’s Kate Hudson (A-Rod’s current squeeze?) peeking out tentatively over someone’s shoulder.

Earlier in the day, self met Zack, Liza and Jonathan at Peet’s on Broadway. Self noticed that there was a yoga studio just opened across the street, peacebank. City Pub was full, as usual, and so was Pamplemousse. We walked to Crouching Tiger and had a very late lunch (It was already 2:30, and Liza and Jonathan hadn’t eaten). Then stayed there for the next two and a half hours, talking.

Zack is slim (an inspiration to self to stop eating).

Hubby stayed home because it is fall. On TV, there are so many football games. 49ers lost (again), Raiders are abysmal, but Stanford creamed their opponent yesterday, Arizona State. And Notre Dame beat Boston College in a close game (though self thought both teams strangely sluggish).

Self dragged Liza to one of her favorite clothing stores, Pickled. Self tried on five ruffled, paisley-print blouses in different colors: blue, green, rust. The last one she tried on had beads all across the neck, and Zack said it was too much, but the green one looked pretty nice. $109! Too bad, self has to wait until it goes on sale. Self wanted Liza to try on a strapless evening dress. She’d look great in it! It was a deep eggplant color, with a little bit of sheen, and across the front were ruched flowers. Liza + dress = VA VA VA VOOM!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Redwood City: A Love Story

Self so loves Redwood City that, recently, when someone on Chowhound asked for nominations for “Food Capital” of the USA, self nominated Redwood City, CA! For ethnic food, of course! Here are self’s favorites:

  • Indian restaurant (Little India, Main St.)
  • Turkish restaurant (New Kapadokia)
  • Szechuan restaurant (Crouching Tiger, Broadway)
  • German deli (German House)
  • Burrito place (La Azteca)
  • Burger Pub (City Pub, Broadway)

(All of these places are still alive and kicking, in spite of the recession!  No small feat, that!  In fact, the only Redwood City casualty self can think of is Beard Papa, and that’s not homegrown, it’s a chain)

Self is thinking of all of this again because she’s still weighing the pros and cons of going to Manila in December (She’ll probably go). Redwood City also has the best Fourth of July Parade anywhere in California, a theatre that shows Parokya ni Edgar, a Courthouse Square that shows scary movies (free) in October (Last year they showed “Edward Scissorhands,” among others), a pretty good Farmers Market (Saturday am), and the best Century 20 in the whole San Francisco Bay Area.

Once, when self was entertaining an Assumptionista visitor, the lady said, “But why choose a house in Redwood City? If I went to the States, and all I could afford was a house in Redwood City, I’d rather go home!”

Oh, the tact of Filipinas! They are so wonderfully eccentric! Just ask self! Just ask son, who swears he’ll never date a Filipina (“They’re all crazy.”)

Today was a pretty good day. Self took her fat li’l crits on a longer-than-usual walk, and neither of them pooped, what bliss! Today, also, self got to visit Marguerite King, whose husband died a year ago. The Kings were the first American hosts self ever stayed with, when she was just beginning at Stanford. They were blonde and blue-eyed, and so were their six children. They had a gorgeous daughter named Mary, who was at Gunn High School, who was a dancer. Now Mrs. King is frail but very lucid. She said to self, as self hugged her good-bye: “I never thought I could last a day without Dick, and now here I am.” Self looked down at her and said, “We women, we endure.” Which is the absolute truth.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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