Object: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The first thing you see as you approach the Holocaust Memorial in Miami’s South Beach is the gigantic hand, fingers extended to the sky. As you get close, you pass through a covered walkway, one side of which has names etched into stone. Then you come out to a sort of circular space, and see a column made up entirely of writhing bodies. Around the column are human figures. The one self found most moving was this small one, set off to one side, all by istelf. Mute horror, that’s about all self can say to describe her emotions at the sight.

The Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial.  There is only one word for it:  OVERWHELMING

The Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial. There is only one word for it: OVERWHELMING

*          *          *          *

This is a table that has been in self’s possession for almost as many years as she’s been married. It is an extremely heavy object; it was shipped to California from Manila, via container.

The hollowed trunk of a Philippine tree . . . had it shipped from the Philippines

The hollowed trunk of a Philippine tree . . . had it shipped from the Philippines.

*          *          *          *

Bacolod City in the province of Negros Occidental, Philippines was Dear Departed Dad’s hometown.  From him, self inherited so many things:  her love of John Updike.  Her love of movies, all kinds of movies.  And his idealism.

Coffee Pot, L'Fisher Chalet, Bacolod.  There was a typhoon signal alert outside.

Coffee Pot, L’Fisher Chalet, Bacolod. There was a typhoon signal alert outside.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Fun Facts About Americans’ Love of Fresh-Cut Christmas Trees, Courtesy of The Economist (14 December 2013)

Is self barreling along, or what?  She only has about six week’s worth of back issues of The Economist left to read.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to read a post about Christmas trees BEFORE Christmas?  Yup.

Now she’s on the Dec. 14, 2013 issue of The Economist.

p. 71 has an article on Americans’ apparently insatiable love for fresh-cut Christmas trees.

  • Every December, a man named Francoise brings 500 fresh-cut trees from Quebec to New York’s Upper West Side.
  • The trees sell for anything from $20 to $300.
  • The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA)  — Ever heard of it before?  Neither had self! — reports that “Americans spent more than $1 billion on 25m trees in 2012.”  The average price of a tree?  $40.
  • People on the East Coast prefer Fraser firs because of their “typical evergreen fragrance.”  Californians prefer Oregon’s Grand Fir, “which has an orange-like scent.”
  • Home Depot expected “to sell 2.8 million” fresh-cut trees in 2013.
  • Easton is “the Christmas-tree capital of Connecticut.  “Every second car leaving the area has a tree or two strapped to its roof.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Economist: Best Books of the Year 2013

Self is getting so specific about the books she is interested in reading.  Here she is with The Economist of 7 December 2013, the issue that contains its annual Best Books of the Year lists, and she’s completely ignored Politics and Current Affairs, Biography and Memoir, and History, which usually are the first sections she looks at.

Self, enough with the second guessing!  Here, without further ado, are the books self is adding to her (already humongous) reading list.

In Economics and Business

In Science and Technology

  • Empire Antarctica:  Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins, by Gavin Francis (Counterpoint)

In Culture, Society and Travel

  • Bach:  Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner (Knopf)
  • The Leonard Bernstein Letters, edited by Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press)

In Fiction

  • The Luminaries:  A Novel, by Eleanore Catton (Little, Brown)
  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books)
  • Norwegian by Night, by Derek Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Self is quite pleased with the progress she’s made through BLGF:  She’s presently on p. 468 (Belgrade I).  Still to come:  Belgrade II, Belgrade III, Belgrade IV, Belgrade V, Belgrade VI, Belgrade VII, Belgrade VIII, and Belgrade IX.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Juxtaposition 4: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Self has really enjoyed this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Juxtaposition.  Who knew that theme would resonate so much with her.  Below is an excerpt from The Daily Post site:

Juxtapositions are all around us.  Maybe there’s one bright yellow flower in your vase of pink daisies, or you have a shot of your kids, one smiling, one making a face.  Maybe you spied a vintage car parked outside a sleek, modern building, or a new car in front of a run-down house — or one of a thousand other things you wouldn’t think of until you see it.

Self is exceedingly fond of this particular set of juxtapositions: a jeepney in front of books; a friend from grade school days in Manila; skyscraper and sky in Miami.

Someone -- self doesn't remember who -- gave us this little jeepney a long time ago, and it's been on her bookshelf ever since.

Someone — self doesn’t remember who — gave us this little jeepney a long time ago, and it’s been on her bookshelf ever since, a potent reminder of home.

Selfie! The woman with self was one of her best friends in Manila.  Now she lives in San Gabriel.  She hasn't aged a day.

Selfie! The woman with self was one of her best friends in Manila. Now she lives in San Gabriel. She hasn’t aged a day.

Miami Sky  (Driving South on Brickell Ave.)  Self was there the week before Thanksgiving.  She found the city stunning in every aspect.

Miami Sky (Driving South on Brickell Ave.) Self was there the week before Thanksgiving. She found the city stunning in every aspect.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

RW Excerpt of the Day From BLGF p. 463: Belgrade I

Twice it happened to me, before I married you, that people who were close friends of mine wrote inquiring how I was and what my plans were, and I had to write back to them telling that an extraordinary calamity had befallen me, something almost as extraordinary as that a wicked stepmother had sent me out into the woods in winter with instructions not to come back till I had gathered a basket of wild strawberries, and infinitely agonizing as well. On neither occasion did I receive any answer:  and when I met my friends afterwards each told me that she had been so appalled by my news that she had not been able to find adequate words of sympathy, but that I was not to think she was anything but my friend and would be till death.  And indeed both women are still my friends. It, however, only gives me a modified pleasure, it presents me with the knowledge that two people know me very well and enjoy my society but are not inspired by that to do anything to save me when I am almost dying of loneliness and misery, and that this unexhilarating relationship is likely to persist during my lifetime.  —  Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, p. 463 (“Sarajevo VIII”)

RW’s style here reminds self so much of Lydia Davis.

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.

Juxtaposition 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

January, 2012.  Self was in Bir, a village in Himachal Pradesh. She looked up Dharamsala. Hired a car and driver to take her up there.

The driver was a Tibetan who only spoke a smattering of English.

Self had no idea where she would stay when she got to Dharamsala. But she had looked up a few possibilities on Tripadvisor the night before. That was how she found the Snow Crest Inn.

The air was thin. Self was short of breath. It was freezing cold.

The mountains were massive. Self had no idea. Absolutely no idea.

What does this have to do with this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge?

Everything. Because when you live surrounded by such majesty, how can one avoid thinking of the spirit?

The Snow Crest Inn was managed by two brothers, who traded off accompanying her to town every day (Self stayed in Dharamsala five nights).  One day, upon returning from town, one of the brothers asked the one who had accompanied self:  “You went to the market?  What did she buy?” And the other brother replied:  “Just some old stuff.”


View from self's room at the Snow Crest Inn, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from self’s room at the Snow Crest Inn, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from a Monastery, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from a Monastery, Dharamsala, January 2012

And here’s a picture that self took some years ago. She’s thinking of her Dear Departed Sister, Paz. Who died of pneumonia in 1991, in New York City.

She was a vice president in Citibank. Why has it taken self so long to think about subscribing to Granta again? Why?

By chance, the book just above the issues of Granta is one of her favorites: Maryse Condé’s The Children of Segu (Segu is the fictitious name Condé gave to her native Mali).  The book next to Granta is The May Fourth Movement:  Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, by Chow Tse-Tung, a required text in one of her Chinese history classes at Stanford.

Personal Bookshelf:  In the 1980s, self's Dear Departed Sis gave her a subscription to GRANTA. (Just above the magazine is a book by one of self's favorite writers:  Maryse Condé.

Personal Bookshelf: In the 1980s, self’s Dear Departed Sis gave her a subscription to GRANTA. (Just above the magazine is a book by one of self’s favorite writers: Maryse Condé.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Justified 5.4: Still Great

Can it really be five years since self had her first electrifying glimpse of Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens?  Self never missed an episode of Season 1 and Season 2. She watched most of Season 3 (The end of Neil McDonough’s character: classic) and Season 4 (She thought there’d be something between the preacher’s sister and Tim Gutterson.  Self is such an incurable romantic!).

No way was she missing Season 5.  Especially not since they announced this was the penultimate season. Noooo!

Self has a Read the rest of this entry »

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.

The RWS of the Day from BLGF: “Split I”

On the Croatians of Split, a city on the Adriatic coast:

“. . .  better laugh at yourself before anybody else has time to do it . . .  I suppose it comes of being watched all the time by people who thought they were better than you . . . people here are not rich, but they have considerable elegance.” (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, pp. 141 – 142)

Coming next:  Chapters on Split II, Salonae, and Split III.

*          *          *          *          *

Last night, since it is The Man’s birthday in a few days, self treated him to dinner at Van’s, the throwback restaurant of all throwback restaurants, where they still serve 2-lb. steaks, ridiculously good garlic mashed potatoes, prime rib, rack of lamb, pork chops, calf liver and other gustatory delights of the bygone 40s or 50s.  In times past, we have manfully partaken of the 2-lb. porterhouse, but last night The Man, who is trying to watch his weight, settled for an under-a-lb. cut of New York steak.  Despite the more manageable portion, The Man still looked quite green by the end of the night.  Self can honestly say she has never seen The Man look that way before.  She knows he was feeling “off” because he actually consented to have her drive.  But that could have been the martini combined with the glass of red wine.  He parked at a steep angle (Van’s is up the side of a hill in Belmont) and when self tried to back out, the car instead went forward.  Directly ahead (and below) was a motel sign saying, Goodbye and Goodnight. At that point, self decided she’d rather have The Man assume the responsibility for crashing, at least it would be something she could throw in his face, and not vice versa.  So we changed places, and self closed her eyes, and after a jolt forward and a mighty shudder, the car did indeed move away from the precipice, and we were able to at last make it home, though she did wonder why The Man zoomed ahead on all the yellow lights.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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