“Neighbours in the Country”

Almost to the end of La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith.

Self has read three other books by McCall Smith:  two from the Precious Ramotswe mysteries, and a third entitled 44 Scotland Street.

She’s liked them all:  McCall Smith has such an affable story-telling voice.

At first, she did not have high hopes for La’s Orchestra Saves the World.  The title was too obvious.  Would that mean the book itself was obvious, too?

It is very, very similar to Trevor’s Love and Summer, which was also a book about country folk and their secretive ways.

But no one writes plucky heroines like McCall Smith.


The man La falls in love with has just been arrested for theft.  She goes to her next-door neighbor’s house in need of a little cheering up.  Then she observes how the neighbor’s son has acquired a new gramophone and an expensive leather jacket.  The neighbor is called Mrs. Agg (What a name.  Like “ugh”!  McCall Smith must believe in signifying:  Names, for him, must be much like a code).  So, here is how La’s mind begins to work:

Mrs. Agg must have known that Lennie had suddenly got his hands onto money, with his new gramophone and his leather jacket, and that large parcel, whatever it had contained.  She must have wondered where he got it; there would be no secrets in a family like that, all living cheek by jowl in that small farmhouse.  La could have told her about . . .  the theft, but did not, because just to mention it would have amounted to an accusation, and one could not fall out with neighbours in the country.  They relied on one another.  She and the Aggs had to live together, and if she denounced Lennie as a thief that would be impossible . . .  this was how evil prospered; this was how appeasement made tyrants confident.  One turned a blind eye . . .

And it was now, as she walked slowly about the garden, that she decided that she would give up her orchestra.  She no longer had the spirit for it.  She wanted simply to withdraw in her house, to read, to listen to the wireless, to struggle with her vegetables.  She would look after the hens — perhaps seek out more war work of that sort —  but she would keep to herself, in the little world that she had made for herself, where she could be safe.

But, more even than her desire to ensure her own personal safety, she must tell the truth.  So she goes to a policeman’s house, and confides in him her suspicion of Lennie, the neighbor’s son:

“You’ve seen somebody spending money?”

La swallowed.  “Yes.”


La held the policeman’s gaze.  If she had been a suspect, she would have found his eyes the most difficult of all.  They were the eyes of a countryman, but there was a knowingness about them.

She details her truth, what she has seen in her neighbor’s farmhouse.  And this is the response from the policeman:  He looks away.

This is simply heartbreaking:  La “could tell that what she had said was not welcome.”  The policeman’s attitude changes; it seems “more closed now.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Inside 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The week’s photo challenge prompt:

Share what you see on the inside.  It could be something literally inside . . .  or the inside of your home or favorite hideaway.

What the three photos have in common (aside from the fact that they’re all about “inside” spaces, of course) are the fact that figures are seen in silhouette.

the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park:  Stairs Leading to 2nd Floor

the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park: Stairs Leading to 2nd Floor

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, sometime 2012

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, sometime 2012

Inside the Deep, Dark, Dank Pictish Tunnels Beneath Hawthornden. Somebody (Marylee?) flashed the victory sign when we reached the other end of the tunnel.

Inside the Deep, Dark, Dank Pictish Tunnels Beneath Hawthornden. Somebody (Marylee?) flashed the victory sign when we reached the other end of the tunnel.

Think these photos fit the bill?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

No Justice

Self remembers so clearly when she first saw the short documentary, “The 58,” about the victims of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao, November 23, 2009 (The four-year anniversary of this event is fast approaching).

She was attending the PEN International Conference in Cebu.  Anvil, her publisher, had put her up in the hotel where the conference was being held.  Self turned on the TV, and somehow stumbled on a documentary about the horrific massacre.  She clearly remembers one scene where current Maguindanao governor Mangudadatu showed reporters around the site where his wife Genalyn, along with 57 other victims (most of them reporters), were killed.

In the documentary, the camera tracks the governor to a lonely hilltop.  For a moment, the governor appears at a loss.  Finally, he turns, looks straight at a reporter and asks, “Is this where they found my wife?”

The killings took place on Nov. 23, 2009.  Mangudadatu’s wife, Genalyn, and two of his sisters were leading a group to Shariff Aguak to file papers for his formal declaration of candidacy for the post of governor, a post traditionally held by members of the Ampatuan clan.  Perhaps the governor knew there would be trouble, which is why the women of his family were chosen to file the papers.  It might have been assumed that the goons of the opponent clan would hesitate before harming women.  As additional insurance, several dozen reporters had been invited to come along as witnesses.

But those precautions all came to naught as, on Nov. 23, the women and the entire group they were traveling with, were stopped at a roadblock by a group of 100 armed men, 40 of whom were members of the Philippine National Police.  Mangudadatu knew what was happening because his wife called him on her cell.  Many of the victims also called from their cells.

On the third anniversary of the massacre, last year, self read that the relatives of the victims chose not to attend the memorial ceremony.  Represented, however, were members of the Ampatuan family, who had been named as the atrocity’s masterminds.  The closest parallel self can think of is if the 9/11 memorial ceremonies were attended by members of the plane hi-jackers, rather than by the victims’ families.  Such an outcome means there is little faith in the justice system in that Philippine province.

Among the initial 197 suspects tagged in the massacre were Ampatuan patriarch and former Maguindanao governor Andal Sr. and his sons Zaldy, Andal Jr., Anwar Sr. and Sajid Islam.

More than three years after the start of the trial, according to The Philippine Star, “90 suspects tagged in the massacre have yet to be arrested by the authorities.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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