Stonehenge/Pacifica

In 2014, self went to see Stonehenge.

She signed up for a small-group tour, the only one allowed on the site towards sunset. All the big tour buses had left. The guide, a retired military officer, led the group across a sheep meadow.

This is unquestionably the best approach. It allows the view to unfold gradually. You are reminded that this was how people, in time immemorial, must have approached the monument: in procession. Self could hardly contain her excitement at her first glimpse of the pillars of stone.

The mystery of the site has stayed with her. The fact that no human habitations were ever built around it. What was it used for?

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From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

Well before she saw Stonehenge, she’d written about it in a piece called Stonehenge/Pacifica, published in Wigleaf, 2012.

It was a dream I had, some restless night. One of those weeks or months or years when we were worried about money.

But when were we ever not worried?

First there was the mortgage, and then the two.

And then your mother got sick, and your father died.

And my mother I think developed Alzheimer’s, but we never mentioned it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Accusations

Page after page, The Door, by Hungarian writer Magda Szabo, is dispatching self’s numerous pre-conceptions about it.

Self was under the impression The Door was a charming, restrained novel about a woman and her housekeeper and even imagined she’d skim through and be done with it quickly, for after reading three novels by Daphne du Maurier and a crackling biography (that had as much drama as a du Maurier novel), she thought it would be difficult to get into a quiet novel about quiet lives.

Instead, she had to cope with a grisly murder of a cat. By the woman’s next-door neighbor. Who even murders the replacement cat.

That was horrible. Self felt sick to her stomach.

Then, she encountered this passage, casually flung onto p. 15, about Emerance (That’s a pretty fabulous name, for a housekeeper yet!):

She reminded young men of the country of their old village, their own grandmothers, their distant families. They in turn never troubled her with the fact that the charges against her included murdering and robbing Jews during the war, spying for America, transmitting secret messages, regularly receiving stolen goods in her home and hoarding vast wealth.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Visayan Islands in the Late Sixteenth Century

The inhabitants of the Visayan Islands in the central Philippines were named “Pintados” by the Spanish because their skin was covered with tattoos. The first to describe them was a missionary named Loarca:

The women are extremely lewd, and they even encourage their own daughters to a life of unchastity; so that there is nothing so vile for the latter that they cannot do it before their mothers, since they incur no punishment.

And then the Catholic church came along, and put an end to the Visayan women’s lewd ways.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

The Bataan Peninsula, 1942

Looking through her bookshelves, self never runs short of reading material.

Reading Face of Empire: United States-Philippine Relations, 1898 – 1946, by Frank Hindman-Golay:

On January 1942, “a quartermaster inventory revealed that food stocked on the peninsula comprised a thirty-day supply of unbalanced rations for one-hundred thousand men . . . This shortfall was serious enough, but it was compounded by the existence of eighty-thousand USAFFE troops and twenty-six thousand civilians on Bataan . . . The success of Japanese arms in the first month of the war left little prospect that USAFFE could be supplied from the outside. On January 5, MacArthur ordered the troops and civilians on Bataan reduced to half-rations. At this rate, the USAFFE stocks would be exhausted in less than two months . . .

“. . .  most critical was the failure to deal with malaria. One medical officer serving on Bataan later estimated that 95 percent of all those on the peninsula during the first quarter of 1942 contracted the disease.

“To prevent the debilitating consequences of this mosquito-carried disease, the entire defense force should have been taking quinine or some substitute drug. But the supply of such drugs on Bataan was so short that they were reserved for the treatment of active cases of malaria. As a result, the rate of infection increased steadily as the disease was transmitted from those already infected.

In late March, General Wainwright “reported to Washington that food on Bataan would last only until April “at one-third ration, poorly balanced and very deficient in vitamins . . . The troops will be starved into submission.”

The Bataan peninsula fell in April 1942. Corregidor was able to hold on one month longer. There were 12,000 people on Corregidor, as opposed to 100,000-plus on the Bataan Peninsula. And when Bataan fell, this is how the people on Corregidor knew it: there was a deathly silence from across the water, instead of the constant sound of artillery barrages. And then smoke began to rise.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2018 is SO 1461

  • In Renaissance Florence, a number of designated boxes placed throughout the city allowed citizens to make anonymous denunciations of various moral crimes — in 1461, for example, the artist-monk Filippo Lipi was accused of fathering a child with a nun.

— Claudia Roth Pierpoint, “Angels and Men” in The New Yorker (16 October 2017)

The article is a review of the Walter Isaacson biography of Leonardo da Vinci, called Leonardo da Vinci. One of the biggest surprises in the piece is the discovery that “one of the last remaining complete notebooks, the Codex Leicester,” is in the possession of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Also: “Leonardo was illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted . . . ”

Dear blog readers, last year self saw the Mona Lisa. It was May or June. A Spanish woman asked self whether she knew where the famous painting was located. Then she asked a museum guard, and the two of us went looking together. And we found it. And she asked self to take pictures of her standing in front of it. And insisted on taking a few of self.

And here’s a wide-angle shot of the gallery housing the Mona Lisa and then self making a horrible face because, honestly, she dislikes having her picture taken (not when the humidity has done things to her hair) and the crowded gallery full of people aiming their cell phones in one direction was so disorienting.

 

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Blair & Robertson’s THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, 1493 – 1803

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1000 sets were printed of this massive series.

Self has Copy No. 179 on her MacBook Air.

60 volumes.

She does all her writing in son’s room, where daily she looks at the map of the Philippines that’s been hanging there for over two decades. She doubts if son even knows the names of the two main islands, Luzon and Mindanao. This is self’s failing.

No woman is mentioned in the first nine volumes.

Later, there is a decree about educating the sons of Spanish civil officials. And in volume 10, a mention of nuns.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Status Report: Books Read (So Far) 2018

By now it should be clear how much self loves constructing lists. And book lists best of all.

Self set herself a goodreads Reading Challenge of 32 books, which is pretty ambitious considering last year she didn’t make her challenge goal of 26 books.

Nevertheless.

Books Read This Year (in the order of their Goodreads Average Rating)

  1. The Odyssey (the translation by Emily Wilson)
  2. La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
  3. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  4. The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
  5. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
  6. The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
  7. Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck
  8. The Romanovs: 1613 – 1918, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
  9. Conclave, by Robert Harris
  10. Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
  11. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
  12. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  13. Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire, by Leslie Peirce
  14. In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien
  15. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  16. Mikhail and Margarita, by Julie Lekstrom Himes
  17. The Mandibles, A Family: 2029 – 2047, by Lionel Shriver
  18. Moshi Moshi, by Banana Yoshimoto
  19. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
  20. As Lie Is to Grin, by Simeon Marsalis

Today, self went poring over her recommended reading list and discarded a list called “Recommended Summer Reading” (downloaded from a literary website). Summer is practically half over and by the time she gets to the books on that list, it will be winter.

On her To-Read list 2018 are a biography of Daphne du Maurier and three du Maurier novels. She hopes she can get to them soon. She wishes Steinbeck weren’t so engaging because he is really slowing down her reading rate. Before she began Travels with Charley she read an average of a book a week.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

Explorers of the North

Self has always been fascinated by explorers, which is why she’s writing her novel about 18th century missionaries. She also has a very long story (32 pages currently, and nowhere near done) about an alien invasion in the Bering Sea. That story is all about Ice, but every day she reads various scientific reports about the disappearing glaciers so she feels mild concern that if she takes too long to finish this story, the context of the physical setting will cease to make any sense.

Today, she reads about the Penny and Barnes ice caps on Baffin Island, and about the Laurentide ice sheet that once covered much of North America. She learns that Baffin Island was known to the 11th century Norse of Greenland and Iceland, and that Baffin Island is postulated to be the Helluland of Viking sagas.

She also reads up on Sir John Franklin. The two ships that were lost during his fourth and final Arctic expedition were named the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus. The HMS Erebus was a 372-ton Heclaclass bomb vessel, built in Wales in 1826. The wreck has been located, in Queen Maud Gulf. The wreck of the HMS Terror lies under the water of Terror Bay. (Who names ships Erebus and Terror? Isn’t that like asking for trouble?)

She reads that Georgian Bay has 30,000 islands. Fresh in her mind is the fate of Kat, in the novel she just finished reading, Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. Who sets off alone in a small boat and becomes lost and lost and more lost.

She learns about the Jesuit mission of Saint-Marie, founded on Lake Huron in the 17th century.

She reads about Lewis and Clark and about rivers like the Columbia and the Hood, which she has seen, long ago, on a driving trip north that started out in San Francisco and hugged the coast of Oregon and Washington.

And she also reads about Celtic and Norse mythology, in a book she found in son’s room.

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So many books, so little time!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

New for the Reading List: The Economist Books, 12 May 2018

  1. The latest from Rachel Cusk: Kudos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series is mentioned in the review: self has been wanting to read Knausgaard. Hopefully, someday.
  2. Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything, by Helen Scales (Bloomsbury Sigma). Scales’s earlier book, about seashells, is Spirals in Time.
  3. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, by Zora Neale Hurston: written in 1927, finally out in print!!! (Amistad)

Opening Sentence, Work-In-Progress: Blue Water, Distant Shores (Working Title)

Backstory: A young Spanish priest makes it to the Philippines. His assigned task: fighting demons. It is 1755.

The old servant woman who greeted Matias at the door led him into a tiled foyer in which were aligned three austere-looking chairs of soot-black wood.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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