Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, here to present a woman who feels much worse than you can in the dull bottom of February.
The favorite writer of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is said to have been Jean Rhys (1890-1979). If so, that says a lot, for the main character in a novel by Rhys tends to be a woman in her 30s who is losing her looks and her ability to attract men. She drinks. She lives in a cheap hotel. She has no expectations that things will get better for her — indeed, she almost wills life to get worse.
Jean Rhys was a first-tier writer who deserves to be widely known, and I can easily understand why — on literary grounds alone — Mrs. Onassis would elevate her to her personal pantheon. I can also understand why Mrs. Onassis might identify with a Jean Rhys character: Mrs. Onassis was notoriously tight. I’m guessing here, but I’d bet she had an irrational fear that she had to hold on to every dollar lest she end up poor and alone — a bag lady. She wouldn’t be the first to feel this way; any number of rich people I know seem to tell themselves daily, “This could all go away.” [To buy an inexpensive paperback of ‘After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie’ from Amazon, click here.]
For Julia Martin — the main character in ‘After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie’ (1930), probably the finest of the novels by Rhys — it has all gone away. It’s the late 1920s, and Julia’s in Paris, where her nightly companion is a bottle rather than a man. Outside, there’s an endless party, but she stays in her gloomy room all day, reading. And musing:
She found pleasure in memories, as an old woman might have done. Her mind was a confusion of memory and imagination. It was always places that she thought of, not people. She would lie thinking of the dark shadows of houses in a street white with sunshine; or trees with slender black branches and young green leaves, like the trees of a London square in spring; or of a dark-purple sea, the sea of a chromo or of some tropical country that she had never seen.
That burst of writing is on page 3. It is both a tour de force of insight and a warning: Rhys has an unblinking eye. What that eye sees may not be pretty — but you can count on it to be the truth. Here is the key truth of this novel: a woman in her ’30s, already looking back rather than forward. You can’t help but worry for her.
Work? “By her eyes and the dark circles under them you saw that she was a dreamer, that she was vulnerable.” Drunk, she looks out at the Seine and imagines it’s the sea. Dear Lord, how will she make her way?
That grotty topic — money — is ignored in most novels. People just…. have it. Not here. Indeed, the engine of the plot of ‘After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie’ is money. Julia lives from check to check — on the kindness of the men who have used her and discarded her, you might say. Which is fine when the men are generous and guilty.
But now comes a lawyer’s letter, with a check for 1,500 francs, five times the usual amount: This is her final payment. Mr. Mackenzie is cutting Julia off. A prudent woman would — well, what good does it do to outline a plan of action that is unavailable to an imprudent woman like Julia? We know what Julia will do: seek Mr. Mackenzie out and have a scene. Which she does. In a restaurant. Where she ends her haughty, desperate monologue by slapping him lightly on the cheek with her glove.
Ah, but luck is with her. Reeling out of the restaurant, she encounters George Horsfield, a troubled, interior man who is attracted to birds with broken wings. Bars follow. Too many drinks. Much talk. From Mars, this could look like a mating dance.
England beckons. I can’t see why — there’s nothing for Julia in London except a sister resentfully nursing their dying mother. But the change of scene energizes Julia: “She had lost the feeling of indifference to her fate, which in Paris had sustained her for so long. She knew herself ready to struggle and twist and turn, to be unscrupulous and cunning as are all weak creatures fighting for their lives against the strong.”
Her mother’s death triggers a complex reaction: the realization that she hates her sister (and vice versa), a sharpened resentment against the power of money, the feeling that she can almost see “the thing that was behind all this talking and posturing,” a sense of herself as “a defiant flame.” And on a more basic level: Can she cut a deal with George Horsfield?
Sex is ahead. Very 1920s sex — what passes for passion in that time will be an eye-opener for some readers. And more wine. A funeral. A kind of crack-up. And, finally, the return to Paris. All along, you cannot help but think: What is it with Julia? Has she just had some bad luck and it turned her sour? Is she a selfish bitch who’s getting exactly the life she deserves? Will she come to a “bad end” —- or does her decay roll on like the Seine?
Ah, but there is Mr. Mackenzie in a cafe. This time Julia doesn’t hesitate to approach him. And to ask him — with a directness she lacked earlier — a question. It’s a short scene for an end of a book, just two quick pages. But they are so stunning they take your breath away. If you didn’t know, from the terse writing on every page before this, that Jean Rhys is a great writer and that this, but for the grace of God, is the story of your life, you know it now.
Every year on the 8th of December the city of Lyon, France celebrates the Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières).
It began in the 17th century – during a particularly horrible plague the city council swore to pay tribute to Mary if their town was spared. The town lives, and so does the festival in Mary’s honor.
Citizens traditionally light candles in the windows of their homes, and in addition to the religious lighting displays, there are many professional, municipal installations.
It looks like every type of light can be found somewhere in the city. From fires to huge floodlights to lasers to digital projection onto the building facades.
Not surprisingly, the festival has become a huge tourist draw, they were expecting over 4 million people at the four day event this year.
All these photos are from this year’s festival. The variety of displays is amazing.
The city is beautiful all year long, but during the festival it literally shines.
I have never been, but every year I look at the photos and sigh…
Have a lovely Tuesday,
Sarah from Design Flourishes
all images from the official Fête des Lumières website
Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, this week with a totally inspiring story.
James Holman was a 21-year-old British sailor with the bad luck to be the man on deck as his ship was buffeted by a winter storm off Nova Scotia. He had the frame of a boy — he weighed just 146 pounds — and not enough of a man’s coat to make a difference. By the end of his watch, he felt stiff in every joint.
The diagnosis was gout. He got some rest, was sent home, received a new assignment — and, once again, was on deck in terrible weather. By 24, he was taking water cures in Bath. But this time, he developed new symptons: shooting pains in his eyes.
At 25, for reasons unknown, he was completely blind.
You can scarcely bring yourself to read about the treatments for blindness in 1810. Start with leeches “applied directly under the eyes.” Move on to a “slender spike” inserted in the eye. Luckily for Holman, he wasn’t looking for a cure as much as he was seeking an explanation.
He never found one. But he did find something better: a refusal to live out his days as an invalid on a Navy pension — or, worse, as a beggar. So he acquired an “ordinary walking stick” and a writing machine. He soon learned to get about the streets. And to create documents.
He was now ready to make his way in the world.
He enrolled in medical school. He made it look easy — but then, he made everything look easy, so as not to call attention to himself. Still, he took ill. Doctors recommended a rest in the South of France. He taught himself to swim alone. To be self-sufficient — although the wives of fellow travelers were only too happy to help him make ready for bed.
And then comes the huge surprise. This guy wants to go around the world. On the cheap. Without a guide. Traveling through expanses too daunting for the average tourst — who crossed Russia in those days?
What happens on these trips is so beyond our sense of what is possible that you read this book with jaw slack. You can readily understand how his travel writing became immensely popular, why Darwin cited him as an authority — as Holman put it, “I see things better with my feet.”
You will see things better if you read this remarkably entertaining and inspiring biography.
Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, this week bringing you a droll voice from the long-lost past.
His name is now almost completely forgotten, but in 1927 he published a novel called “The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” that sold a million copies in France. (It was eventually published in 24 languages.) In 1928, The New York Times described him as “the biggest seller of any living French writer — or dead one either.” Fifteen of his novels became films. (“Madonna” was filmed twice.) Over his career, he sold 15 million books in 32 languages, and his kind of writing — a slick blend of journalism and high-society intrigue — acquired a brand name: dekobrisme.
“The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” went out of print in 1948.
It’s finally back. So let me introduce you.
Maurice Dekobra (1885-1973) began his career as a translator (Daniel Defoe, Jack London, Mark Twain). In the early 1920s, he was a journalist and foreign correspondent. His fiction reflects his training — it’s grounded in the news, is briskly paced and has an unusually tart point-of-view.
The plot, as these things go, is simple. Lady Diana Wynham is a London widow known for her beauty (“the type of woman who would have brought tears to the eyes of John Ruskin”). She is just as well known for her unabashed amorality. Presented with a list of her lovers, in chronological order, she has only one correction: “Excuse me, but they were contemporaneous.” [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here].
Lady Diana is about to be ruined financially. Her sole hope of salvation is l0,000 acres of Russian oil land that her late husband, the English ambassador to the court of St. Petersburg, received as a gift from the government of Nicholas II. It is — in 1920s money — worth 50 million dollars.
The bad news: Russia’s Bolshevist government has confiscated all foreign property.
The good news: Leonid Varichkine will get it back for Lady Diana in exchange for “one night” of love.
What are a few illicit hours to a woman “who could never be happy without a great deal of money?” But Lady Diana is as clever as she is amoral. She proposes a better deal.
“Madonna” starts in London, makes stops in Berlin, an Arabian prison and a yacht in the Mediterranean, with a melodramatic climax in a castle in Scotland. In addition to distance, lessons are learned: a Communist can be converted to capitalism for less money than you might think, and “passing infractions of fidelity” are “trivial.”
I’ve dipped into a few other Dekobras. They’re not awful. But “Madonna” is clearly his showpiece. It’s a fun, terse, story that is as convincing about London drawing rooms as it is about Russian execution chambers. And he makes you care about Lady D.
Hello dear English Muse readers, Naomi Bulger here. I also like to blog little messages in bottles from Australia.
I recently had a little girl, Madeleine, and I have discovered that one of the most fun parts of having a baby is having a legitimate excuse to delve head-first into children’s books. Ok at 13 weeks, my little girl isn’t exactly advanced in the literary department, but that doesn’t stop me reading to her. And already she loves to look at the pictures, and makes little “Oooh” noises, trying to copy my speech, as I read aloud.
I bought Paris Y Es-Tu while I was in Paris last year. It is a stunningly illustrated ‘hide and seek’ book by Japanese artist Masumi, kind of like Where’s Waldo/Wally, except you are looking for different people and little lost things all over Paris. When Madeleine is older, we will trace our fingers together over all these places, and I’ll tell her what is there, and we will dream about going to Paris together.
“Look, they’re shopping in SoHo, that’s where Mama lived,” I say. And, “This is Central Park. One day, we will go together and see the turtles.” And, “That’s ‘The Lion King,’ on Broadway. Mama took Daddy and Nanna and your two sisters to see ‘The Lion King’ when they came to New York for a visit.” And, “Just around the corner from there is where Mama and Daddy met.” So she will learn about her mother’s life in New York.
Hello lovely readers. Jenny here. I am trying to pack for Milan at the moment and am so confused. After 3 months of non-stop rain in London, I have almost forgotten what sun feels like. I can’t wait to wear shorts and a t-shirt but at the same time I do want to look summer chic, if you know what I mean. So here are my dilemmas:
1. High and pretty or comfortable but less pretty sandals?
2. One day or Kafka on the Shore?
3. Maxi dress or jumpsuit?
4. Proper camera or Blackberry camera?
Oh, dilemmas, dilemmas. I might just put whatever comes first to my mind in my suitcase and just ignore it. Did I mention I hate packing?
After two weeks of running errands in Berlin, I am off to Italy for two weeks. This is a gift to myself for taking a year off from life and finishing writing my Ph.D. It is not a two-week vacation, mind you, but a two-week conference devoted to literature and theatre. What is in store for me? Papers, lectures, discussions, readings, plays. But also: Italian food three times a day (and I am planning, in an Elizabeth Gilbert manner, to really have a relationship with my meals there!), excursions to towns in Piemont region, and much quality time spent talking with new and old friends. I can’t wait and am giddy with anticipation all day today, as I am flying from Tegel tomorrow at dawn.
I remember I was dreaming of Italy last year and thinking it was about time I went there again: I spent a magical New Year’s Eve ice-skating in Milan once and had a couple of gorgeous weeks in Tuscany in the summer. Exactly on my birthday in dreary November I received an email saying I’ve been offered a scholarship to attend this conference in Italy and I thought life is good and I’m one lucky girl. Ever had experiences like that?
Photo credit: 1
It is that time of the year. The weather in London has been bad for months. You feel overworked, tired and in need of sun. In short, you are in need of vacation. Or, rather, I am in need of vacation. Having only had a few weekend trips home, I feel very excited by the fact that I am going to Milan in exactly two weeks time! I can’t wait to escape the busy life of London and exchange it for a calm swim in Lake Como followed by Italian food in a small restaurant somewhere. I always enjoy visiting new places, hearing new languages and observing the daily routines of other cultures. It leaves me inspired, refreshed and full of new ideas. Do you have any recommendations for Milan? Where are you going for your holidays? Let me know your travel ideas here or tweet me @ginandmilk. Love Jenny
Hello dear English Muse readers, I am Gulfem Karci from All Happy Things Around! Today, I want to share one of my dreams with you, visiting Peru.
There is a hopeless adventurer and daydreamer inside me. Almost each week, a new theme is set by this adventurer and daydreamer side of me. This week, it is all about Peru. I have ever wished to visit there ever but this week it is just irresistible!
I came across unique selection of photos of Hotel Monasterio, a luxury hotel settled in Cuzco area. They make me feel like I can leave everything behind and then just go there. I can feel the meanings of infinity and inner peace just by looking at the photos of the hotel. Charming is the weakest word to articulate my opinions about that place. Would be fantastic to spend some time over there! Tours to Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley would mean feeling heaven on the earth.
But I guess I still some time to visit that hotel and I need to work really hard to afford it 😉
Here are some photos, enjoy!
What would you do if you’d never been to Paris before and you had one day, just one, precious day, to see as much of this magical city as you could? Where would you go? What would you see?
This is Naomi Bulger visiting from my blog Messages in Bottles, and I had the pleasure of acting as a guide to Paris for Mr B, my mother-in-law and two 13-year-old girls in this way last year. I tried to pick out a range of classic tourist sites for them, alongside some ‘quieter Paris’ experiences. Here’s what we managed to pack into one day.
1. Le repas
Prepare some snacks before you start. If you pass a market or grocery store on the way, buy a bottle of water alongside a little packet of olives, fresh bread, some cheeses and meats, and perhaps a punnet of raspberries or a bunch of grapes for dessert.
Then take the metro to Chatelet Les Halles. Follow the signs to the Hotel de Ville and when you come out, Paris will appear around you in all its glory. When we emerged in Paris this way, the girls’ jaws just dropped. It made me so happy to see how much they loved it. “NOTHING could be more beautiful,” my stepdaughter Em said.
2. Embrace your inner ‘touriste’
Since we only have one day, let’s get an overview of all the key sights. Buy a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus, most leave every 10 minutes or so. You’ll pass by Notre Dame, head over the river, pass the Musee du Louvre, roll along the Champs Elysee, circle the Eiffel Tower and more. It’s a fabulous introduction to Paris. You can of course get off and explore at any time, but I recommend just sitting on the rooftop of the bus (and snacking on your supplies) to get a wonderful overview of the city. It’ll take about two hours.
3. Notre Dame de Paris
When the bus gets you back to where you started, stroll over to Notre Dame. There may be a line to get inside but don’t worry, even the longest lines seem to move very quickly and even if you’re not a ‘church person’ (I’m not), this is worth it. Yes, there are tourists. But there is something about the age, the stillness, the history of this cathedral that lend it a certain power. Prayers come alive in Notre Dame. Light a candle for someone you love, but be careful. We lit a candle, together, and prayed for a baby. That was in September last year and our little girl is due in two weeks (do the math).
4. Dejeuner on Ile Saint-Louis
Time for lunch and a little rest? Wander around the back of Notre Dame, admiring the pretty flower garden, and over the bridge to the tiny, historic island of Ile Saint-Louis. Here you’ll find lovely, medieval laneways with cafes, cheese shops, patisseries, boutique fashion, home design and candy stores. Stop for a leisurely lunch at Café St Regis on the corner just after the bridge and, afterward, you must head down to the famous Berthillon for some of the best ice cream in France. (Seriously!)
5. Les bouquanistes
When you’re feeling refreshed, cross back toward Notre Dame then over the Pont des Arts, to the Left Bank. Along the way, it’s such a treat to stop among the bouquanistes that line both banks of the Seine. Here you’ll find antique books, prints and other wonderful discoveries. If you’re in the company of someone you love, you may also want to buy a ‘love padlock’ to leave as a memento when you re-cross the Pont des Arts later.
6. Shakespeare & Company
Once you get to the Left Bank, it’s only a short stroll to Rue de la Bucherie for a visit to Shakespeare & Company, a book lover’s utopia. This little English-speaking bookstore sells new and used books and has a wonderful upstairs reading room and library for taking time out, with comfy lounges and a piano, and medieval windows that overlook Notre Dame. It has been a haven from the hustle and bustle of Paris for countless writers, artists and friends throughout the years, including Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Gregory Corso, William S Burroughs and Alen Ginsberg.Warning: you may well want to move in.
7. Le Musee du Louvre
When you are ready to re-enter the busy city, cross back over to the Right Bank and head on into the Louvre. If I’m honest, you could spend a week exploring the collection here, and I’ve only given you an hour or two. So pick and choose what interests you. Many people make beelines to the Mona Lisa, and I confess that’s what the girls wanted to do (afterwards, they went back outside and cooled their feet in the fountains by the Pyramide). But there are so many artistic riches housed in this glorious palace. Take your time. Wander. Explore. You will love it.
8. La Tour Eiffel
It’s almost dusk. Hop back on the metro or, if you have time take the ferry for a glorious journey, and make your way to the Eiffel Tower. Climbing it is not too difficult (or there is a lift if you prefer), and oh my WHAT a view. When you’ve had enough of soaking up Paris from the air, head back down to one of the stalls by the river and buy yourself a freshly-made savoury crepe (I’m a big fan of the classic jambon et fromage), then cross the bridge to the Palais de Challot (the grassy area in the photo above). Find a soft spot in the grass and munch on your crepe while you wait for the Tower to light up. It is a magical sight.
Take your time heading back to the hotel. Pick a little restaurant that feels like home and settle in with a good bottle of wine and some seasonal produce (if you can fit any more food in). Relax. Enjoy. You’ve earned it.
An extra day
1. Explore the shops and historic twists and turns of Le Marais 2. Treat yourself to a classic bowl of moules-frites with beer 3. Visit the famous Moulin Rouge 4. Peruse the wonderful artworks in the Musee d’Orsay (and while you’re at it, consider some of the smaller galleries, too) 5. Take the train (about an hour away) to see the stunning Palace of Versaille 6. Hunt for treasure at one of Paris’ many marches aux peuces (flea markets) 7. Have your portrait painted in the Place du Tertre, Montmartre, and soak up an artistic world that once belonged to Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh 8. Stop in for a bite at the famous and fashionable Cafe de Flore; or opt for its rival, Les Deux Magots, a former haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir 9. Simply follow the crowds and get lost inside this vibrant, beautiful city
Jubilee fever has swept across England. Everywhere you look there is Union Jack bunting. From shops, to restaurants, to whole streets. We are celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary on the throne. Pretty impressive. There will be street parties, parades, installations, shows and a giant pageant on the river Thames with more than one thousand boats. What a party it will be. If you are anywhere near, don’t miss it!!! Jenny x
Of course retailers are cashing in on the party, see some of the results below.
Picture credits: First & Last – via Daily Mail. Bag, wellies and scarf via the Telegraph. Towel – House of Holland.
Good morning! (Or good evening depending on your neck of the woods). This is Naomi Bulger again, bringing you another little literary dispatch from Australia.
I was back in my hometown of Sydney, Australia, a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to spend time with my family and friends before my little baby was born (in a matter of weeks, yikes!) and I was grounded for a while.
First stop was morning tea with my parents. We went to Surry Hills, where I lived for years before I moved to New York.
Surry Hills is one of those places that has faced a fundamental shift in personality, more than once. A hundred years ago, it was the most dangerous part of Sydney, full of razor gangs and brothels and sly-grog joints. In Ruth Park’s famous novel The Harp in the South, she conjured up the Surry Hills of the 1940s, then a slum, and the downtrodden yet vibrant families that populated its old streets.
This is a glorious, rambunctious novel about love and poverty and family and dreams. Have you read it? Here is a scene from the New Year bonfire, an illegal fire built on a street corner, just out of reach of the trams. “The authorities always forbade it, and nobody ever took any notice of what they said, but went on lighting New Year bonfires just the same.” This year’s bonfire was the biggest Surry Hills had ever seen.
“Suddenly there was a glad roar in the distance, and, startled, they looked up. Tommy, with glistening eyes, cried: ‘It’s on!’ They forgot everything and pelted down towards the bonfire…
“A second later there was a yellow glare, as some old books which Mrs Siciliano had saturated with grease and kerosene caught the flame. Whoosh! A ragged blue tongue of fire spurted high into the air, and everyone sprang back and surveyed it with awed excitement.
“‘Bravo! Bravo!’ yelled Jacky Siciliano, and he kissed his wife with pride because she had thought of the kerosene. And all the black-haired little Siciliano brats danced gipsy-like around the bonfire, yelling shrilly.
“Roie looked awed at the rose-red tower of flame, and the little hyacinth-blue sparks that showed and vanished. A ruby glow was cast over every face, the good and the wicked, the old and the young – old women with their hair rosy with reflected light; little goblin children, dirty and hungry, with bony brows and big, shining eyes; even babies with grubby wrinkled faces, blinking painfully in the glare. Dolour jumped up and down with hysterical excitement. The old year hovered around them; he was like a shadow vanishing bit by bit under an onslaught of light; all his fears and terrors, his failures and monotonies seemed now something soon to be tossed away on the stream of time, to be forgotten for ever. Dolour did not feel this; she was only glad that she was one year older than this time last year; that she was almost fourteen, and not a child any longer, and soon would be freed from school and allowed to go to work.”
Today, models, artists and designers walk those same streets, which are now filled with top restaurants and wine bars; organic cafes; vintage and designer fashion; and boutique books, stationery, music and furniture design stores.
It was kind of poignant to be back in Surry Hills after living overseas and interstate, to be in a place that was at once as familiar as any home I’ve had and yet now, with the passing of just four short years, had changed yet again and was not ‘me’ any more.
Have you ever revisited ‘home’ and found it had grown up without you? Or is it you that has grown out of your home?
All Sydney archive photos from the State Library of NSW photostream on Flickr, no known copyright.
ps. To give you some perspective, these photographs were taken from my apartment in Surry Hills, in 2006:
Hello, sweet English Muse readers.
It seems like everyone is in a New York state of mind this week. My favorite travel destination is France. However, with the ever-increasing costs in air fare, France is out of the question for this summer.
This weekend is a holiday in the US so we are jetting off to NYC for a few days. I’m really excited to walk everywhere, people watch and eat good food. I also plan on walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (I’ve never done it) visit the 9/11 Memorial, the NY Public Library (the famous one where Audrey Hepburn filmed a scene for Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and the Met.
What’s your favorite travel destination?
Hello again friends, this is Naomi Bulger, guest blogging from Melbourne in Australia’s south.
Around Easter when I was walking home from the post office, I just so happened to pop into my local bookstore, Readings, where I just so happened to come across a sweet little book of visual treats, Paris versus New York: a tally of two cities. It was simply too much to resist. I carried the book across the road and around the corner to a cafe, where I ordered coffee and a hot cross bun (toasted with the butter melting inside) and settled in to browse. After all, it’s not often that I get to immerse myself in either one of my two favourite cities these days, let alone both at once.
Wouldn’t you love some of these on your wall at home?
I have lived in New York, and visited Paris many times. It’s hard to know which city I love best.
I love Paris for its style.
I love New York for its energy.
I love Paris for its cheese.
I love New York for its mac ‘n cheese.
I love Paris for the scarves.
I love New York for the hats.
I love Paris for afternoons on the lawn by the lake in Versaille.
I love New York for afternoons on the lake in Central Park.
I love Paris for the pride I feel when my French kicks in.
I love New York because people think my Australian accent is “exotic.”
I love Paris because old ladies give me fashion advice when I’m shopping.
I love New York because strangers stop on the street to offer directions.
I love the two tiny islands in the middle of Paris.
I love that New York is an island that feels connected to everywhere.
I love that I am inspired to write in Paris.
I love that writing = opportunity in New York.
I love that my family’s cultural heritage is in Paris.
I love that my friends in New York feel like family.
How about you? Paris versus New York: what do these cities mean to you?
(All images are from the Paris versus New York blog that inspired the book)
Greetings from the antipodes, this is Naomi Bulger, guest blogging from Melbourne in Australia’s south.
In Australia, I think we can tend to suffer from the “that could never happen to me” syndrome. We are a nation at peace. We are geographically isolated from most of the world. We don’t share borders with any other nation. Sure, we find domestic issues to debate and complain about but, on the whole, we are economically stable. We have a democratically-elected government.
Wars, invasions, civil disputes, surely these only happen to other people in other countries. We care, but it is hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes. After all, it could never happen to us. Right?
Of course this thinking is remarkably short-sighted of us as a nation, especially given what our colonial forbears did to the first Australians only two centuries ago, and the aftermath of suffering and injustice that continues to this day.
Why am I pondering this maudlin subject? I have just finished reading Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. Actually, I’ve just finished reading all seven books in the series. Have you been inside these books?
They tell the story of a group of teenagers who go away on an idyllic camping trip only to discover, when they return home, that Australia has been invaded. All their family and friends are gone – dead or captured – and they have to survive alone.
Tomorrow completely shatters the “it couldn’t happen to us” illusion. Of course it could. And if it does happen to us, the books hint, we may even have to shoulder some of the blame.
While fighting for their lives, the teenagers must also grapple with their morals and beliefs as they navigate life in a war zone. Issues like, “Is it really OK to kill someone to save myself or a friend? Who am I to decide one life is worth more than another?” and, “Can I kill in ‘cold blood’ versus the heat of the moment?” and, poignantly, “If we had been more willing to share our wealth and resources in the first place, would people have wanted or needed to attack us?”
These big issues go side by side with typical teenage problems like friendship and loyalty and sex and independence, and the book’s heroes and heroines must face everything all at once.
I think, more than anything I have read in the newspapers or seen on television or the Internet, the Tomorrow books helped me put myself in the shoes of the victims of invasion and war. The brutality, the constant fear, the loss of those you love… and also the little things, like seeing strangers living in houses that were stolen from your friends, and walking around your neighbourhood. Only now it is their neighbourhood, not yours. You are a prisoner or a fugitive.
What would you do? How would it change you? Those are the questions these books ask, over and again, from the point of view of its confused and gutsy narrator, Ellie. And I’m asking those questions of myself, now, because Ellie’s is a powerful voice.
(All images are screen captures from the 2010 movie Tomorrow, When the War Began, directed by Stuart Beattie. It’s OK, but this is one of those times when you really, really should read the books instead, or at least first. They are where it will all hit you.)
Hello! Today I thought I will give you a glimpse of my hometown, Wroclaw. It’s Poland’s fifth biggest city. It has the most amazing history–if you’re a history afficionado try Norman Davies’ engaging Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City to learn about Wroclaw’s multicultural and dramatic tales over centuries. I’ve lived in five cities, four countries and on two continents but recently came to a conclusion that I like my hometown best. In June we will host soccer games UEFA EURO 2012 and Wroclaw won the competition to become European Capital of Culture, something we’re terribly proud of. Paris, Florence, Athens, Amsterdam, Dublin, Cracow, MAdrid, Lisbon, Berlin, Copenhagen, Graz, Istanbul, Vilnius, among others had been chosen in the past as European Capitals of Culture, so we’re in splendid company. Just to give you an idea what it’s like here:
Smiles from Wrocław, Marta.
P.S. Some musical pleasure for your ears: Me Myself and I, a band from Wrocław that is now touring the US. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, The Rocks was populated with convicts, sailors, gangs and the poorest of the poor. Back then it was simply called ‘Sydney Town’ because there was not much more to Sydney than The Rocks.
Today this old village is a tourist destination but, if you listen closely enough, you can still hear the echoes of its long and colourful past. In The Rocks, time unravels. It is at once antique and contemporary. I snapped some photographs to take you there with me.
As I explored the labyrinthine laneways and streets of The Rocks, I carried in my purse an old, dogeared paperback of Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, which haunted me when I read it as a child. Set amid those same cobblestones now under my feet, Playing Beatie Bow is an eerie coming-of-age story that crosses two centuries and a timeless mystery.
* * *
The children in the playground were playing a group game. The dark came down fast around them. Soon it would rain.
“They’re playing Beatie Bow and it scares me.”
These are the words of four-year-old Natalie. The book’s heroine, Abigail, is babysitting her. And the game is scary.
“Oh Mudda, what’s that? What can it be?” The children chant. And while ‘Mudda’ insists it is “nothing at all,” the children hear bloodcurdling moans, a clatter of stones, and then they see a ghost.
“It’s Beatie Bow,” shrieked Mudda in a voice of horror, “risen from the dead!”
Watching the game, unseen by all except Abigail and Natalie, is “the little furry girl,” an urchin of about 10 with cropped blonde hair.
But when Abigail pursues the little girl up a steep alley opposite the playground and into the gathering dusk on Harrington Street, time dissolves under her feet. Before she could make another move she heard a clinking and creaking and rattling and the unmistakable sound of a horse’s hoofs.
Abigail is in 1873. And she is trapped.
* * *
This is the second time in recent weeks that I have come to think of time in layers, instead of lines. And I believe places, in particular, hold on to time. They vibrate with the past, the present and the anticipation of the future. So when we step inside these places we are standing inside time. Isn’t the world wonderful?
Naomi Bulger (guest posting on Tuesday nights)
Do you read books just to get a glimpse into life in a particular place?
Books can tell you all about the life, culture, activities and people of a particular place. A good writer can transport you in time and space and take you on as poignant and soulful a journey as any.
Have you seen this poster available at the most amazing Literary Gift Company? (Seriously! You gotta shop here if you love books!)
It is a literary map of the U.S!
And this got me thinking my own country, India.
To say that India is a melting pot of cultures and traditions is an understatement; India is a veritable stew of all that is good, bad, kitschy, and cheeky, split up into 28 states and 7 union territories, all different from each other as chalk and cheese. The languages spoken in each state are different, the clothes are different, the traditional music and dances are different, the skin color is different, and the temperament of the people is different. India is a manifestation of joy, anguish, and frenzy, amalgamated!
But what amazes me is the power that art, particularly books, has to capture this multifariousness… this mélange.
So until I make a literary map of India for you, here are a few books that embody and reflect the lives and times of the people living in this country. Read these books if you can get your hands on them, and if ever India beckons, come to Bombay and call me! I’ll buy you gulab jamuns till your heart’s blissed out.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: This dazzling and devastating book offers a peek into Christian life into Kerala in South India. This is one of the first “grown up” books that I fell in love with, and Roy’s lush, lyrical, almost poetic prose made it really easy to do that. In this book, themes of social unrest, colonialism, communism, and casteism are dexterously woven into a story about the pains and pleasures of a pair of fraternal twins.
“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.”
Need I say more?
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: Undoubtedly, this book would be on any list on the prominent literary works on India; it is on most “best books of all time” lists in any case. This is a story of a man born at the exact moment that India became independent, and it is vintage Rushdie: spirited, magical, and full of awesome.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: Fatter than most of the fattest books that you would own (I’ll bet you my bottom dollar though, that you’ll finish it in three days if you start.), this book is a magnificent and unabashed reflection of all that is joyous, distressing, laudable, lamentable, heroic, and heartbreaking about life in an India that is recovering from a colonial past and trying to grapple with forming a vision of itself for the future. It is a moving tale of four strangers who are catapulted into a common future and are forced to deal with the vagaries of life in the form of death, betrayal, corruption, and caste violence, when a State of Emergency is declared by the government. Though the time we live in now is far removed from the period described in this book, I could not help feeling that every single thing that Mistry was talking about, happened, and probably to him or his loved ones—his prose is that empathetic. And that is a truly worthy literary victory.
“But nobody ever forgot anything, not really, though sometimes they pretended, when it suited them. Memories were permanent. Sorrowful ones remained sad even with the passing of time, yet happy ones could never be recreated – not with the same joy. Remembering bred its own peculiar sorrow. It seemed so unfair: that time should render both sadness and happiness into a source of pain.”
The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru: I studied this book in school and in retrospect (you are allowed to hate your textbooks), I would like to appreciate what a glorious work of art this book is. Read it, and you will probably fall in love with India. Nehru writes as if he has been allowed glimpses into the soul of his nation and is reveling in it; it is a veritable treatise of his raving love affair with his country. He covers the history of Indian civilization starting from what happened at Indus Valley to the political,economic, and social milieu of his time, and though the text is heavy at times, the lyrical prose makes it altogether worth it.
The Great Indian Novel: Now Shashi Tharoor, the author of this blinding demonstration of his sheer wit and cheek, is possibly my number one literary crush. He is suave and he is fancy and his writing reflects that. A marvelous retelling of the Mahabharata (the greatest epic on Hindu mythology; a tale of ) recast and reset in the context of the Indian Independence movement, this satire is mischievous, piquant, and gloriously irreverent. The story also includes, gloriously intertwined into it, puns and allusions to famous works about India, such as those by Rudyard Kipling, Paul Scott, and E. M. Forster. Just thinking about the book makes me smile! Elephant shoes, Shashi! Elephant shoes!
Now go on, get yourself a Lonely Planet India, and come on over!
Waiting for you with bated breath,
The Indian girl Elizabeth
A guest post from author, journalist and curator of the lovely and the bizarre, Naomi Bulger
At the end of winter, on the last full moon day of the lunar month, Hindus across many parts of the globe celebrate by throwing coloured, scented powder and perfume at one another.
The festival is known by many names. The best known is Holi, but it is also called Dolajāta, Dol Jatra and Basantotsav. In English, we call it the Festival of Colours.
I have read that during Holi, the divisions of caste, wealth, status, gender and age draw back somewhat. Together the rich and the poor, those of high caste and low, fill the streets with joy.
If that thought is not enough to inspire you on a Tuesday evening, sail with me now, under perfume and colour, through this glorious, weightless video. Isn’t it just like a dream?
Photo from here
Springtime is indeed the time for flowers.
While both public and private spaces are decorated, the celebration’s centerpiece is the eighty-six steps of the Spanish-Gothic cathedral. Each year is a totally different breathtaking display.
The festival last for nine days, this year from May 12th through the 20th. Apart from the flowers there are exhibitions, art installations and concerts, but make no mistake, the flowers are the stars.
Sometimes the displays are very formal and traditional, but sometimes they are experimental, even avant-garde.
I am completely taken with the idea of a whole town donating it’s public spaces to a riot of flowers each year. I would love to go. Have you been there?
Have a lovely sun-filled day,
Sarah from Design Flourishes
Hello, amazing people! I am Gulfem Karci from All Happy Things Around, you may already know me as I did some guest blogging for English Muse for a while ago(you can see my previous posts from here, here and here) This was an amazing experience for me and now I will be an honored guest of you on every Monday!
Although I did some guest blogging here before, I have noticed that I did not tell much about myself. Before starting to regular posting, I have decided to share some about of my personality and my life.
I love beginnings… Their unique energy, ambiguity in a sweet fashion and excitement they bring… Overall, such a warm and refreshing feeling! Therefore, I have decided to pretend like we have met just now and I offer you a warm beginning
Highly inspired by “Phrases We Owe to Shakespeare” post at English Muse, I have started a tiny self-project that I call “reading at least 1 book each week”. Since I started university, I somehow abandoned my biggest hobby ever and rarely read books. The one important dimension of my life was gone. I blamed my busy schedule, exams and everything. Then, I came across with this very post about a girl having a mission reading 52 books in 1 year. It was the very moment that I have realized that the reason for giving up intense reading was nothing but me.
I immediately prepared a reading list AAAAND now today I started my 18th book in the scope of this tiny self-project! Feeling of a book capturing you, making connections with your past experiences, finishing and thinking over it! All of those add great deal of wisdom and perspective to reader. Seeing that you can evolve with 17 good books is an amazing experience itself
Another detail about me is I am true stationery store addict. You can put me a stationery store with a considerable level of assortment, then I can forget about time dimension and even who I am. Adorable notebooks, pens with different colors, celebration cards… My favourite stationery store is Ordning&Reda.
I have many different notebooks that I write much about myself, mostly about future. I do not like talking about past. I always plan something, I sometimes even plan of planning other thing. My stationery addiction comes from my true-love for writing, I believe.
The last detail I want to share with you is much more like a confession! I have always been the latest adapter of technology. Although I am just 21, I have never been aligned with those technology waves. Need examples? I opened my blog only two months ago and I opened a Twitter account only last week. Also, I selected the most basic blog template ever that thousand of people have it! It will be renovated soon, though! See? I am not exaggerating
Next week, I will continue with my regular posts, until then I would be grateful if you can say “Hello” to me Either by commenting here or on Twitter! Of course, you are always welcome at my blog, All Happy Things Around!
See you next Monday! Love!
Hi, all you English Muse readers. This is Dizzy Lizzie from Whims and Fancies, an uber serious blog about cutting edge research in the arena of nanotechnology and the radioactive properties of Arginine. Yessir, that’s my blog! And I’m here now to talk to you about an equally serious matter. But before that, I would like to thank Tina for sharing her space with so many of us and giving us this fabulous chance to speak to all of you. Tina, you are kind and sweet and witty and pretty. You deserve many, many cupcakes. (If you knew me, you would also know that this is the highest honour that I bestow on people.) Now let’s get on back to our aforementioned serious matter, shall we?
Wanderlust! The word alone can cause many a heart to flutter and take off on a flight of fancy. Wanderlust is as strong an urge as any, and it leaves you yearning to tread paths, hitherto beaten and unbeaten. Wanderlust is insatiable; succumbing to it with a sojourn here and a voyage there always leaves you wanting for more. Wanderlust is a curse in those moments that you don’t have the means to indulge in it, but if you let those moments pass, it is a blessing like none other because it opens up a world of possibility that is waiting for you to take a step in. Jack Kerouac’s maxim was pretty simple. “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry,” he declared. And truly, life is really as simple as that.
Someday, I hope to say that I have travelled far and wide, near and far. I hope to say that I have seen the world. I hope to have gone to all seven continents and to a hundred countries. I hope to have seen the length and breadth of my beautiful country;I hope to take a glimpse of her ephemeral soul.
Someday, I hope to have a house that reflects my meanderings to every nook and corner of this earth. And when I am old and grey and too creaky to skip, I hope that I’ll be able to sit on my rocking chair, look at my map walls and map doors, and feel blessed.
I leave you for now with words by Mary Oliver from her work “The Journey.”
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.
I guess this is the best kind of journey that you could hope to have—one that helps you find yourself. Everything else becomes secondary in light of this.
Hi I’m Naomi Bulger. I’m an Australian journalist and author, and I’m thrilled to be blogging on English Muse. I call my blog “messages in bottles” because I like to discover (and share) little surprises, sweet notes, gifts in the mail, travel tales and treasures uncovered. Today I’m bringing you a literary dispatch from Australia’s collection of urban mythologies.
“Everyone agreed that the day was just right for the picnic to Hanging Rock – a shimmering summer morning warm and still, with cicadas shrilling all through breakfast from the loquat trees outside the dining room windows and bees murmuring above the pansies bordering the drive.” Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay
Over Easter, Mr B and I drove past the Hanging Rock of the title, an ancient, monolithic outcrop near Mount Macedon in Victoria and a sacred Aboriginal site, about an hour from Melbourne where I live.
The story goes that on St Valentine’s Day in 1900, a group of schoolgirls and teachers from Appleyard College embarked on a picnic to Hanging Rock. As the cicadas creaked and the summer heat bore down, all the members of the party’s watches stopped, right on noon. A strange, red cloud hovered over the rock. Everybody but one teacher fell asleep.
When the picnic party awoke, three of the girls were seen climbing, shoeless, further up and into the rock. The teacher was seen making her own way up, alone and dressed only in her underwear. They all disappeared.
The author deliberately left the final chapter – the reveal – out of the original copy of the book, stipulating that it was only to be released after her death. For two decades, Australians were left to speculate what really happened to those girls on that hot summer’s day in 1900, and to try to interpret the clues in the existing text. The final chapter was released in 1987. A schoolgirl myself at the time, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it but, when I did, it raised more questions in my mind than it answered.
I find it fascinating that, although Picnic at Hanging Rock is a work of fiction, many Australians to this day believe the mystery to be true. They search libraries for newspaper clippings from February 1900. The story has entered ‘urban legend’ status. This is strange and yet, somehow, understandable. Lindsay wrote from inside the Australian experience, if that makes sense. And the unanswered mysteries – quite as much as the uncovered secrets – she created in this book still haunt us as a nation today.
I may need to plan a picnic of my own at Hanging Rock. If I do, I’ll be sure to pop back here and let you know what I find.