Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Classics Club - Spin No. 4

The Classics Club is organising a spin again!  A list of 20 classics to read, all ordered in a nice list, and on Monday, there will be a spin, and whichever number is picked, this book I'll read by January 2014 - Let's go!

My Spin list, by order of feeling:

My dreaded

1.  D.H. Lawrence - Lady Chatterley's lover (I've read it once, and found it boring...)
2.  Goethe - Faust (I'll either  love it or hate it...)
3.  Sueskind - Das Parfum (I've seen parts of the movie, and I was slightly nauseous...)
4.  Kafka - Der Prozess (I really don't know what to expect here...)
5.  Nietsche - Also sprach Zarathustra (why are 4 of my dreaded ones German???)

My desired

6.  Rushdie - The Satanic verses (finally, to read what the whole fuss was about...)
7.  Angelou - I know why the caged bird sings (both desired and dreaded, I hope it turns out     to be great!)
8.  Shakespeare - Taming of the Shrew (ohhh...)
9.  Sophocles - Οἰδίπους Τύραννος (Oedipus Rex - a classic masterpiece)
10.  Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes: Scandal in Bohemia (we all need a little scandal now and then...)

My oh well, whatever...

11.  Shelley - Frankenstein (can you believe I haven't read this?)

12.  Shakespeare - Othello (no comment)
13.  Camus - La chutte (I have no idea what to expect)
14.  Zola - Nana (leftover from Zolaaddiction...)
15.  Darwin - On the origin of species (I have to read this at some point...)

My free choices

16.  Swift - Gulliver's travels (I've been meaning to read this ever since I was a child)
17.  Orwell - Animal Farm (a re-read, one of the books that have left a mark on me)
18.  Christie - Murder at the Vickarage (a little whodunnit never hurts)
19.  Miller - Death of a Salesman (I've seen the play quite a number of times, I need to read the book..)
20.  Wharton - House of Mirth (I didn't like the first book of hers I read, so this is my second try)

I'm really curious to see which book I'll be reading - what fun!

UPDATE:  Spin number is 10 -- Scandal in Bohemia, here I come...

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Recipe: Humble chicken soup and cheat ice-cream

What do you do when there are workmen in the house?  when you want to be there to keep an eye on things, but at the same time not to cause a disruption?  

My solution on such days, when workmen (macho men leaving dust and dirt wherever they go... but that's another story) are all over the house, when I am the guest in my own place, is to seek refuge in the kitchen. 

I do my own thing and if/when there is a matter to be cleared, I am available to sort things out!  

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Seamus Heaney: my introduction to poetry

On hearing of Seamus Heaney's death recently, I was amazed at the reaction by many bloggers but also by people around me IRL:  rarely has there been a poet held in such high regard, let alone in our day and age. 

I did not know a thing about him (not something I can easily admit).  In such cases, I turn to people who are able to enlighten me and guide me through my ignorance:  here, an Irish colleague of mine, who kindly enough lent me his anthology of the 1966-1987poems. 

Heaney had a full life.  Reading about him, I discovered a person who could transform life's lessons into beautiful words, but who, at the same time, stood with both feet on the ground.  I suppose it was his grasp of reality that permeated his poetry:  for the first time, I could actually feel the words. 

There, I've said it.  I cannot understand poetry.  My reality is so … trivial, my imagination so limited, that up to now I could not "get it" whenever I read poems. I will not claim to love poetry (not yet), but I can – and this will be my triumph – get into a poet's mind now and see and feel what they mean to say. Of all the poems in this book, I understood about half of them.  Two really had an impact on me, with sentences sending shivers down my spine: 


"…But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it." 

(We are all given the materials to make something of our lives – it is in our hands what and how we will achieve greatness…)  

Mid-Term Break 

"…Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in a four foot box as in his cot.
A four foot box, a foot for every year." 

(here, personal experience was the trigger:  losing a family member prematurely does indeed leave a scar)  

After some more searching, I came across his beautiful poem Anything can happen, written after 9/11, capturing the emotions going through:

Anything can happen

"... Ground gives. The heaven's weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle lid.
Capstones shift. Nothing resettles right.

Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away."

Heaney was a great poet and a great person.  With his poetry, he has touched generations of  students who might have been otherwise unwilling, but who then turned into admiring adults (like my colleague). For my part, I slowly grasp the uniqueness of poetry, and am no longer afraid to explore this side of the literary world. 

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Recipe: Maria's "chinese" rice

a colourful list of ingredients
There is nothing better than chatting about recipes in a spacious balcony by the sea, over pumpkin-seed breadsticks with cheese and olives... (get the picture?)

This past summer, I was at my friend Maria's balcony, reminiscing about all things and nothing.  Inevitably, the discussion came to the subject of recipes. Maria, being a bigger foodie than I am, immediately offered me (thanks dear!) this recipe which, she humbly informed me, was asked in all the potluck dinners she went - if ever there was an indicator of a success recipe, I bet this one is!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Pardonable lies, by J. Winspear

Among my discoveries this year, this is one that I think will enjoy during my hectic times ahead. Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries have all the ingredients to make for a wonderful reading, without asking for too much effort.  Great for the beach, perfect for chilly nights by the fire...

My friend Anna introduced me to these novels and by introducing I mean she handed me 6 logs all at once. If there was ever a danger of overindulging, this would have been it - but no.  Little by little I will savour these books, starting (obviously) with the third book in the series.  I found Maisie to be an Agatha Christie reincarnation - and I mean the real Agatha, not one of the characters she wrote about.  Maisie is a girl of humble beginnings who, by virtue alone, manages to climb high up the ladder,  make herself useful as a nurse during the 1st World War and excel afterwards when we find her in 1929's London as a psychologist and investigator.  Her insight into the harshness of the war, the difficulty to adjust to "normal" life by many of those implicated in it, make Maisie the ideal person to go to lengths in order to solve a mystery.

Monday, 12 August 2013

I've got your number, by S. Kinsella

I'M BACK! after a long, a very long absence to be honest, I'm back. Following a series of exams where the studying took up my entire life (to be a bit melodramatic, but maybe not so far from the truth), I'm back to my "normal" lifestyle, where I read literature again... I must admit I've missed it, and I've missed the interaction with the blogosphere too much for my own good. I promise it won't happen again!

I have devoured a number of books to date, but I'll start with one of the lighter ones, perfect for summer reading: I've got your number, by Sophie Kinsella.

Kinsella is famous for her Shopaholic series, depicting the adventures of a seemingly clueless girl, trying to get through a number of surprises... This book follows in practically the same footsteps, minus the financial disasters!
Poppy has lost her engagement ring and tries to figure out what to do, when she also gets her mobile phone snatched!  Yes, slightly over-the-top beginning, but attention-drawing nevertheless.  What I like about Kinsella's writing is that, while it is seriously unlikely any of the situations described could ever happen - if they did, I would probably react the same way.  So when Poppy finds another phone in a dustbin and speaks with the owner of it, she does agree to help out with the situation at hand (would I sing and dance in front of strangers? probably not...)

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Classics Club - Crime and Punishment, by F. Dostoyevsky

I read Crime and Punishment by F. Dostoyevsky in a readalong organised by  Unputdownables over a period of three months.  This is, in my opinion, the best way to read such a chunk of classic Russian literature - in a rythme that is manageable, with lots of individual perspectives heard on a plot written in a remarkable style and taking place in an era and a society that are mostly foreign to us.  

And yes, Dickens writes about similar circumstances but I find his writing style more "understandable".  Also, the British reality is perhaps nearer my vision of past history in Europe.  In any case, the fact that several people read this at the same time, with different translations (also a great way to learn different aspects of life depending on the translator's sources) and different annotations shedding light to background information, really proved helpful and made such a great book easy to read as well.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Recipe: risotto with chicken and peppers

Today's recipe is my utlimate comfort food:  not only it in devouring it, but also in making it.  The constant, brainless activity of stirring the rice is just so relaxing for me, it's perfect for a evening, when I cannot even think straight anymore.  It's good to know that there are recipes for just such occasions... 
As with most things, it is essential that you have everything ready before you start.  You can thus enjoy the whole process ...

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell

I bought The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell in a book fair for peanuts (I'm not ashamed of my purchasing criteria...).  What a great bargain!  I would never have thought it would prove to be such a good book, and how I would not only enjoy reading it, but thinking about it and about the plot in particular.  You see, I'm always interested in the background work that goes into a book.  I can almost always tell whether an author has carried out serious research for it, which means that this is a subject of interest.  I'm the scholarly type, so obviously I went and researched myself afterwards...

The point in question:  how easy it was up to the early 20th century to have a woman committed to  a psychiatric institution.  

"A man used to be able to admit his daughter or wife to an asylum with just a signature from a GP"

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Recipe: sweet and savoury cheesecakes

sweet cheesecakes out of the oven...
I certainly love cheesecakes:  baked, non-baked, sweet, savoury... Any excuse to have cheese into my meal is good enough for me.  But now I got hold of a new aspect:  individual cheesecakes.  No more cutting, no diet pieces, all in the wonderful muffin form that is so practical.  
This weekend I used two recipes and discovered just how much better a good thing can become:

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Classics Club: Anne of Green Gables

Sometimes I wonder how I went through childhood without any of the "classic" children's books.  True, I had Verne's fantasy novels and Charlotte's web, but I think I jumped too soon on to "adult" literature and am left wondering whether I've missed on something.  Making up for this, then, is to read such novels now and try to imagine whether I could have appreciated them at a younger age...

Ebookclassics organised a readalong for the month of April of Anne of Green Gables, and while I could not participate in the weekly discussions, I really appreciated the opportunity to visit one of the prolific authors of children's literature, Lucy Maud Montgomery and read the first novel of the Anne series.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Classics Club: about heroes...

For April, the Classic Club came up with a question that requires some thinking before answering: 

“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

I had to think about this not because I didn't know which character I would look up to, but because it was not obvious why I feel that way.

Anne Brontë
My heroine is Helen Graham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë.   Heralded by many as the first feminist work of literature, The Tenant has many elements that shocked society at the time and introduced "realism" into a world that was thought pampered and harmless until then.

Helen is a woman on the run - from her husband but also from society at large.  She needs to take care of her son, so that he does not end up like his father.  She turns her back on her house, her family and her social circle and flees somewhere where she can, once again, be the mistress of herself.  She will support herself and her son with her paintings and will remain reclusive, on the lookout for "well-wishers".

Helen of course is not a proper heroine.  On the contrary, I really regard her as an anti-heroine.  She has no grand vision when she undertakes all these major steps:  she is just a character of great spirit, and once she becomes disillusioned with her marriage, she revalues her autonomy, and she sees the vice all around her and she sees how her son is slowly sinking in it.  While she knows she's breaking English Law, she just wants to escape all this.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)
Helen caused quite a stir  when she was first published.  Women until that time (ok, for a bit longer) were the property of their husbands and through the domestic bliss that everyone preached, they would very often find themselves "slaves" in their own houses.  Men had all the advantages they wanted, while women had no say in any decision made.  For the first time did a major character shine the light on what was really happening in life; had the courage to talk about the immorality witnessed in society, under pretence of virtue.  Helen was the first to take control of her life, and live to be happy again.  She has such passionate character, the only way to make her point properly made is to shut the door against her husband! (oh dear...)

Another trait I liked about her is that, despite the turbulence and the blows she receives from everywhere, she retains her humanity.  Even when her husband, who has caused all the pain she's experiencing is lying in his deathbed, she feels it's her moral duty to return to their house look after him and make him realise his sins. (Not to worry:  Arthur is so delusional, he actually wishes Helen could "come with him" and pray for his salvation...)

What I pick up from her character:  the strength to say no and not accept what I don't want -and to move on.  It's more than "when life throws you lemons, make lemonade" - I don't want the lemons in the first place.  However overwhelming a situation before me is, I have to find the strength to move ahead, and bypass the obstacles.  Should I collapse in the process,  I have to find the courage to get up, dust myself off and keep on walking...

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Zoladdiction: The Kill (La Curée)

This is the book I should have started my adventures with Zola.  It's just perfect!  The language, the oh-so-slight cynicism, the neutral description of not-so-neutral circumstances...

I cannot say enough about this book, and I don't intend to.  The superficiality of the nouveau-riches is a well-documented subject, but I have to give the laurels to Zola.  Especially when I read that he himself was penniless when writing this novel, and to get the information he went around the stately houses to witness the pointlessness of what he saw...

In modern terms, this would have been a soap-opera, but with a certain niveau... We are introduced to the family of Eugene Rougon's younger brother, Aristide - and here's the first twist already:  in order not to embarrass Eugene's political ambitions, Aristide is to change his family name to Saccard.  I just can't believe my eyes when I read this.  Our society then is transparent in comparison to this!  (This for some reason brings back to mind the story about Coco Chanel, who "invented" her origins when she became famous...).

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Recipe: meat with orzo in the oven ("giouvetsi")

When with friends for dinner, I always make it a point to cook something a.  in the oven, that can be reheated while I entertain my guests and b.  coming from a recipe that can easily be doubled, so as to feed crowds.  I cannot go wrong with this version of  the Greek "giouvetsi", which should be cooked in a special terracotta dish:  in this quantity, however, I doubt I could find any available...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Zoladdiction: The Fortune of the Rougons - maybe...

I've never read Zola, and given the praise in Delaisse's posts, and the Zoladdiction organised with Fanda, I felt I had to make this acquaintance -  at last.  The problem:  where to start?

One starts from the beginning - or so I thought:  Off I went reading The Fortune of the Rougons (La fortune des Rougon), the first of Les Rougon-Macquart saga.

(picked up shamelessly from Delaisse's blog)

I've stopped about quarter-way and I intend to pick this book up again in the near future.  The wording is sublime - French at its best, with the descriptions detailing minutely the situations, the atmosphere, the background information we will need for the remaining volumes.  But after a 3-day period, I had witnessed nothing.  I'm still in the background frame and I begin to feel there will be no central plot...  I know that I should persist and  complete my challenge but I've just bought two other Zolas - La Curée and Nana.  And I want to give those a try, just to make certain that I'll come to discover Zola's genius soon enough.

So, I'm putting the Fortune aside for the time being, and I'm ready to be entertained by La Curée...

Monday, 15 April 2013

Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming

After a first disappointment with the James Bond novels, I knew I had to give this franchise another try.  A friend gave me Casino Royale to read, together with a very encouraging review.

Casino Royale is the first James Bond, written by Fleming over a period of two months in his favourite hideout in Jamaica.  It is primarily inspired by Fleming's personal experience in the diplomatic circles -- and I would say this is what distinguishes this from other spy-novels.

It is a beautifully written book.  The plot is nothing extraordinary, but the writing elevates the book to the great spy novel level, worthy of the name of Bond.  Already in the beginning I enjoyed Bond's description:

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Classics Club: As you like it, by W. Shakespeare

For this month's Let's read Plays, I read As You Like it by Shakespeare. 

A play that was intended as a comedy and which I, of course, did not get -at all.  I think I'll stick to Shakespeare's tragedies from now on...

A complex set of characters parade in this play, all with the same background story:

- siblings ostracising each other for the throne:  Oliver and Orlando, Duke Senior and Duke Frederik

- people assuming different identities: Rosalind a.k.a. Ganymede, Celia a.k.a. Aliena

- people desperate in unfulfilled love 

We find ourselves in France.  The beginning is rather sad, as two brothers, Oliver and Orlando, cannot stand each other, with Oliver, the first son and heir to everything, ostracising Orlando from all aspects of life.  Yet, Oliver cannot succeed:

I know not why, (my soul) hates nothing more than he.  Yet he's gentle; never schooled and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved/ and indeed, so much in the heart of the world, and espacially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised

The dynamics between the two brothers come in stark contrast with two cousins, Rosalind and Celia, who are really like sisters.  A small point here that I didn't feel like they were lovers, something I read in several posts - but maybe that's me... Their fathers, the two brothers. are however exactly like Oliver and Orlando and even worse:  in this case, Duke Frederik has actualy driven Duke Senior away.

There are a lot of pastoral elements in this play that appeal to audiences in the past as well as today.  Unfortunately, not to me.  I would describe the play as a light romantic one, certainly not a comedy and a little bit on the boring side...

There is no elaboration of any of the characters and the Deus ex maquina seems to be the only way out of a difficult situation.  In a sudden whirlwind of events we will find ouselves with two girls who pretend to be boys, and one of these boys will pretend to be a girl... Too much confusion, with plenty of allegories for a good life in the woods, for true love, for superficiality

'Tis true, for those that (Nature) makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favouredly
The end is predictable, but even so:  the solution found is beyond plausibility - Frederik repends his sins and reconciles with his brother, all couples are straightened out and an epilogue applies the play to both men and women in the audience.

I just couldn't see Shakespeare's maestry in this play.  There was no wit that could showcase his genious.  It was an average work, a tried-and-tested little play, sure to please the audience.

Not bad, but then again not good.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Classics Club: Xingu, by E. Wharton

When one is under a sick spell, one should stick to simple, short and entertaining stories:  when I found myself recently under a heavy bout of tracheitis I turned to Xingu, by E. Wharton to ease my pain.  It delivered:  a cynical but very, very entertaining little story, perfect for my predicament...

Here I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive:  I had started on the wrong foot with Wharton, and I knew this would not be an easy task.  I should not have feared:  I now know that Wharton is more than  one piece of literature.

What is Xingu?  well, we get to learn that at the very end of the story and this serves only to highlight the main point:  the superficiality of "good society"... Because the story is about a book club, where only the "chosen" ones get to belong to, where only the "wise" get to showcase their books and where those who belong to neither cast get to show their wealth.  It rang some bells with me, as I belong to two book clubs - and while there is nothing remotely similar to Xingu, I could recognise some instances I may have encountered myself (I'll leave it to this...)

The ladies of the book club are eagerly waiting the arrival of a famous author, to discuss her latest book.  We are given the characteristics (i.e. the vulnerable attributes) of everyone in the  group and we get an insight into their habits:  we get to know Mrs. Plinth, the distinguished member, in particular.  Looking down on everyone, she is the epitome of the "nerd-type" party of a literary group, a person who sees as their ultimate goal to make a name for a well-educated, industrious and valuable member (or a book club or society in general).   She declares:

"Amusement is hardly what I look for in my choice of books"

No, of course not.  One has to toil, or at least to make others thinks so.  Because when in another instance a question is posed, our dear Mrs. Plinth is revealed to utterly dislike

"...  being asked her opinion of a book.  Books were written to read; if one read them what more could be expected?  To be questioned in detail regarding the contents of a volume seemed to her as great an outrage as being searched for smuggled laces at the Custom House"

Now, I have met such people, I have to admit.  And I have seen this struggle to pretend to being something more.   Something greater.  Something higher.  And it just won't work.  There will always be a black sheep (hello, Mrs. Roby), who will basically form part of this group by accident.  But she will never strive to prove her worth against her fellow members. She is content with what she is and does, and will not hesitate to show how well she knows the others by playing a nice little farce.  A farce so well executed, she will even fool the distinguished guest.  The guest who will recognise Mrs. Roby's genius and will leave the whole group to further engage in a discussion with her.  Double the trouble then:  the group agree it's time they let Mrs. Roby go.  They shan't be made to look like fools by someone who is not deemed suitable to "participate in the mental gymnastics of the club".

And so, order is back:  everyone in the group will have their distinct role to play, and there will be no more disruptions by "outsiders".  Yes, it's all coming back to me, I knew I recognised this story...

Xingu is available for free on Project Gutenberg.  This post will also be published on Project Gutenberg Project.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Classics Club: The Thirty-nine Steps, by J. Buchan

John Buchan is a well-known Scottish author who wrote The Thirty-nine Steps while recuperating from an illness.  The title of the book came from a flight of 39 steps found in this nursing home...

It is considered one of the first "shockers" - combining personal and political drama -, but I actually watched Hitchcock's film adaptation by the same name first:  though not one of his best and memorable, it was adventurous enough to let 1.5 hours pass by.   As I came across the book, though, I wanted to see whether the plot there would be "flat" compared to the film, or whether it would be just as thrilling...

Monday, 1 April 2013

Roast Beef, medium - by E. Ferber

Roast Beef, Medium by Edna Ferber is simply a great read:  the compelling adventures of an independent woman, out to earn the respect she deserves, single-handedly winning over her male colleagues, while raising  her son on her own.  Simple, little story?  Absolutely not - this is 1913...

While this book could well make the case for being a feminist one, I did not feel this:  there is still a fine line between emerging feminist thoughts and nostalgia for the traditional roles in society expressed by Emma McChesney, our heroine.  I would just say it's a novel way ahead of its time:  Her "adventures" could well have taken place in modern times, which made me wonder:  if these descriptions apply today and the problems are still in existence today, what was the situation back in 1913?  How could Emma, any Emma, survive, when even today women can still fail facing such challenges?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Classics Club: This Side of Paradise

Having read The Great Gatsby and fallen in love with Fitzgerlad's story-telling, I couldn't help but wonder whether this was a one-off experience.  
I was so mesmerised by the techniques he used, that I wanted to have more of it - and so chose to read This side of Paradise, Fitzgerald's first novel, semi-autobiographical, and the book that shot him to fame.  

Would I distinguish his brilliance already there? Would I feel the "lost generation" he so eloquently spoke about?
Fitzgerald was in his early 20s when his wrote this book, and used elements from his personal experience to draw the character of Amory Blaine: a well-off, spoilt-rotten mama's boy who grows into a sad, lonely young man, never meant to find happiness...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Classics Club spin: Plato's Symposium

On this first Classics Club spin, lucky number 14 got me The Symposium by Plato - an essay on the many aspects of love and an insight into the notion of platonic love.

The title means something like "a get-together with drinks" which is what DOES NOT happen when several of the main characters meet to eat and be merry (they actually talk of the vice of drinking...oh Dionysus!), and where Socrates will eventually speak of his version of love.

We listen to the description of this feast organised in honour of Agathon through Socrates' companion there, Aristodemus, who recounts the story to Apollodorus, who recounts the story to us.  Complicated, true, but once one gets over these levels of interaction, the story becomes simple enough for us to enjoy...

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Red Azalea, by Anchee Min

A book for my book club, the Red Azalea by Anchee Min came with loads of appreciation from the literary circles.  I was really intrigued to read about the broken childhood of a girl in Mao's China.  
A memoir that would reveal the poverty behind the extravagant curtains and the truth behind the lies of the Chinese regime of the time.

While the book did deliver on its promise, I was not mesmerised with its writing.  While I wanted to be swept away into the feelings of Min of the disasters that befell herself and her family, I could just witness the situations one by one, from childhood until she leaves for the USA, without any sense of emptiness, any sense of stolen childhood -- something I thought I would find in this book.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Classics Club: Antigone

For this month's Let's read Plays, I read Antigone by Sophocles.  A shortish play that forms part of the Theban plays, together with Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus.  

It is a tragedy, as many of Sophocles' plays, but with a slight twist:  here the main character is a woman, a woman defying the limitations of her gender at the time, a woman ready to accept the consequences of her actions.

Her father is dead, her brothers are dead, and Antigone is now left alone with her sister Ismene.  But while Ismene is the typical fairy creature, Antigone is a boyish creature (she reminded me of Joan of Arc), wishing to go beyond the rights given to her gender.  But her uncle Creon, who is now king, will not allow for this.  She is to marry his son, Antigone's cousin, Haemon and do great things for Thebes.

Antigone, however, has different views.  Her brothers died a vicious death, trying to kill each other for the throne of Thebes.  Creon only buried one of the brothers, Eteocles, leaving the second to rot in the elements - something against the customs of the time.

While this is a compact play, there is a variety of themes across the story:  should the family / moral values supersede those imposed by the establishment in the city? for whatever reasons, Creon has banned the citizens from covering Polynices and has even warned anyone with severe punishment.  Still, Antigone cannot let this deter her from her sacred duty towards her family.  Not only that, she's willing to accept her punishment and she will even go against her sister, who's trying to reason with her.  But therein comes the second theme:  that of blind arrogance.  Both Antigone and Creon believe their side of the story the correct is.  The difference between them is that Creon becomes so consumed with his anger towards the "insubordination" of Antigone, that he orders his guards to keep a close leash on both sisters so that they... behave like women again (*insert slight sneer*).

But the biggest theme must be the curse of the house of Oedipus.  All three of the tragedies are very detailed on the misfortunes that befall on the last remaining members of the family, Antigone and Ismene.  They cannot escape:  ever since the glorious victory of Oedipus and his marriage to Jocasta, disaster has remained in this house, "eating up" its members one by one.    But the play also makes a case for love:  Haemon tries to make Creon see reason and not bury Antigone alive and even hints at a possible suicide if Creon doesn't change his mind.  While by today's standards all this would be considered overwhelming and irrational, it is the purpose of this tragedy to show that humans have limited capabilities, their emotions can be destructive and only the fate dictated by the gods should be their guiding light. The only way to convey this message is to exaggerate and present all the horrible results if humans do not abide.
Even the end reads like a list of lessons learnt:  pride can be damaging, wisdom is welcome, obedience to gods compulsory and most important of all:  there is no purpose in violence...

Also read for the 2013 Back to the Classics challenge

Sophocles' Antigone (in both Greek and English) is available on Project Gutenberg.    
This post will also be published on Project Gutenberg Project.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Emma, vol. 1 - by Kaoru Mori

I have always thought graphic novels were not serious.  They were for children, teenagers and not more beyond that... Leave it to my friend Carmen to introduce me to a wholly different world, a world that yes, includes all those teenagers, who will not be afraid to show up at a comics convention dressed up as their heros - I know this is normal, but for me, visiting an exhibition next door, quite a  revelation - but will also move into the adult population, only to find there an equally passionate audience (minus the dressing up).

After the Largo Winch initiation, it was time for something softer, something closer to the classic literature I so appreciate.  So Carmen introduced me to Emma, and a major Japanese graphic novel author:  Kaoru Mori.  But this initiation was also for the type of graphic novels:  as I was informed, these are the "true" Japanese manga, which one has to read backwards:  from the end to the beginning, from right to left.  Now, just that change is enough to put me in a good mood and start reading without any prejudice at all!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Modern March: Miss Lonelyhearts

I had long wanted to read Miss Lonelyhearts by N. West.  When Allie offered to host Modern March, I knew this would be a great opportunity to do so.

When I finished it, I was perplexed.  Too many feelings, sometimes contradicting each other, left me wondering at the messages West was trying to get across.  I couldn't say I didn't like it, but reading Miss Lonelyhearts certainly was not easy...

Dealing with religion is never easy.  There's never a universally accepted manner in which to portray one's struggle with moral values and the contrast with modern life.  Combined with a failed society, in the midst of an economic depression, one can feel the despair Miss Lonelyhearts experiences in his daily life.

Miss Lonelyhearts is an advice columnist, receiving lots of letters asking for a ray of hope.  His conviction is that Christ is the answer for their ailments, but Shrike, his boss, thinks otherwise - they need this column to increase newspaper circulation, so art has to be used instead, because art is all about suffering...

Monday, 11 March 2013

Time for outrage! (Indignez-vous!) by S. Hessel

It was last month when I heard on the radio of the death of 95-year old Stephane Hessel.  A Frenchman, he had several accomplishments to his credit:  he worked for the French Resistance during the  WWII and he was an observer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most remarkable, however, was that at age 93 he wrote a little booklet entitled "Indignez-vous!" (be outraged!).  

Why did he bother?  Because, as I listened to a radio interview he had given, he was astounded to find that, after all his generation had been through (and that was not little), he was witnessing the decay of a society that did not look to make the best possible for its citizens and the future generations.  

Just like he had done with the Resistance, or with the UN - people saw the opportunity to set some groundsteps towards a better tomorrow.  At 93 then, Stephane Hessel came to realise that society not only did not do anything towards a better tomorrow, society really didn't care what we thought of it.  And that got me thinking:  society nowadays, let's face it, is at an all-time low.  We keep to ourselves, we step over other people's bodies to get to what we want, we walk past people in distress trying not to catch a glimpse of them, we can even kill people for as little as EUR 50!  

Where is this feeling of belonging to a community gone? why have we reached a point of accepting all this and simply say "well, this is how things are now, we can't change anything...".  No, said Hessel, we shouldn't accept this degradation in human relations!  If anything, we should always look to the past and see what what we can learn to avoid similar situations - we should always aspire to a society full of hope for us, for those we care and for those who do not have:

"a society we can be proud of:  not the society of illegal immigrants, of expulsions, the constant suspicions against immigrants, not the society where there is injustice against the retired and their  proper right to social security, not the society where media are in the hands of a few..."

Hessel makes a point for the ever growing gap between the rich and the poor and he calls for measures to protect the environment and the welfare system.  A society which does not care for its members is destined to collapse...

In 2011, one of the names given to the Spanish protests against corruption and bipartisan politics was Los Indignados (The Outraged), taken from the title of the book's translation there (¡Indignaos!). These protests, in conjunction with the Arab Spring, later helped to inspire other protests in many countries, including Occupy Wall Street which began in New York's financial district (Wikipedia)

Hessel says nothing new.  But the mere fact that a 93-year old has not given up but instead is full of passion about fundamental rights should be used as an inspiration for us to move from our comfortable, idle seats and not passively accept changes to our detriment.  We should engage in a viable environment, with welfare that provides a cushion to those in need, and a stable society that encourages people to work towards a better tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Recipe: mediterranean mac and cheese

Continuing my quest for delicious meatless recipes, this is an extraordinary take on the mac and cheese variety:  I'm usually the type to go for sausage/pepperoni additions, but here I have converted to this plethora of (grilled) vegetables - the addition of many layers of cheese only makes me happier!

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Classics Club: Chronicle of a Death foretold (Crónica de una muerte anunciada)

In honour of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez's birthday this past Wednesday, I read a little book of his - the Chronicle of a Death foretold. A book little in size, but definitely not in content...

So many themes get mixed up in an atmospheric background, that I almost forgot what the subject was about:  this is a heinous crime, the murder of Santiago Nasar, and the narrator wants put the pieces of the puzzle together and record the events leading up to Santiago's demise.

Did I get a chronicle?  No. Do I know who the real culprit was? No. Do I know who the narrator is? No.  Yet, I really enjoyed this little novel...

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Classics Club: On Jane Austen

For March, the Classics Club's question came at the right time:  

Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”?

I'm a very recent Austen reader.  I blame the movie versions of her books for not reading her sooner, all about the romance and the oh-so-beautiful characters, and oh the drama of losing one's loved person, going through such horrible calamities - but not to worry, everything turned out well in the end...

I first came across Jane Austen when I saw Pride and Prejudice.  This film is considered representative of Austen and the famous scene of Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt is still one that first comes to mind when referring to this film.  The film, but not the novel.  I've long had a "heated" argument with a friend Austenite (in contrast to me being a Brontënite...), where I would accuse her of reading "Harlequins" (the bad romance novels) - in Brontë novels, everything is gloom and doom -- and much closer to the reality of that period, I said.  In vain did she try to convince me that no, Austen novels, while they do include romance, also devote a major part in social commentary.  I simply refused to see this...

Fast forward to my blogging adventure, where I read Lady Susan.  What a revelation!  I was reading something of Austen that did not ooze with romance, did not blind me with Herculian handsome men and definitely did not describe any damsels-in-distress!  Furthermore, I could actually pick up her wittiness and the subtle manner with which she managed to include the famous "social commentary".  I was relieved - I could like Austen after all!
As I said, it's still baby steps for me.  I've recently read Persuasion, which continued the previous experience of Lady  Susan and also included politically-incorrect references -- much to my delight! (although, to be fair, I also liked the movie adaptationCiarán Hinds is Mr. Darcy for me!)

I still love my Brontës.  There is something when I read their novels that stays with me long after I've finished reading.  I want that kind of feeling when I read Austen - up to now, I'm happy to report that it looks promising.  I look forward to reading more of dear Jane...

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Classics Club: Cymbeline

For February's Let's Read Plays, I chose to read Cymbeline by Shakespeare.  I was intrigued by the reports I had read about this not being Shakespeare's finest works, of it actually being the work of someone else, or - worse - of it being pieced together and not in the smoothest way...

Well, in a nutshell, I have to agree.  I was almost frustrated when I finished reading it because I did not know what to make of it.  The mess in the plot, the unbelievable twists, the Deus ex-machina and the forced happily ever after - well, at least it made for an eventful reading...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Recipe: Broccoli and potato soup

Starting in March and for as long as I find inspiration, I will be trying my hands at meatless (and fishless) recipes. Much has been said of the advantages of cutting down on meat (let alone that with all the scandals lurking around, one inevitably loses appetite), and I do indeed NOT eat meat every day. I don't intend to become vegetarian, though, I just want to enrich my culinary adventures with all the goodness in the vegetable and pulse world. Without further ado, here is the first of my vegetarian dishes:

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Classics Club: Les liaisons dangereuses

Leave it to Delaisse to organise French February and introduce non-English classic literature that would have taken me ages to discover...

The Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Lactos is a novel published just before the French revolution, about the immorality of the aristocratic classes, and I think I know it more from the various film adaptations than the book itself.

The novel is written in epistolary form, which just so happens to be my favourite.  There is a distance one can take from the events described in the novel, so as not to be completely involved in the highs and lows of the aristocratic life, but on the other hand, one can read what others hear and feel much better (speaking would include more passion and less detail, while describing the same things would be neutral, less emotional...)

We enter the lives of Marquise de Merteuil and Vicompte de Valmont - two members of the high society, bored to death and trying (desperately) to hang on to the power they have against each other.  I read the novel in the original, and I've found it to be an extremely good show of how the French language can be so "correct" and "vulgar" at the same time:  the nuances, the double-entendres give and take from the beginning, and I thoroughly enjoy reading it.

Other characters join in the plot, and slowly I get the real image of what is happening:  this is not a novel about love - it's about power, class hierarchy, fear of attachment and backstabbing whoever stands in the way.  I can sense the tragedy lurking in every corner, waiting to happen.  Still, I cannot feel anger or disgust towards either of the two main characters - they are the product of their society and, as the Marquise herself says, they are self-made, have managed to stand out in society and will, under no circumstance, yield this "advantage" to anyone.  And, while de Lactos was trying to paint the "wickedness" of the aristocracy in vivid colours, I believe it has become a classic because it describes personal feelings (or absence thereof) still found in our society, where we seek to maintain our autonomy to the detriment of close liaisons with people around us.

Another interesting fact about this novel is the date of publication, just before the French Revolution - whether, of course, this novel would have any real influence to the events leading up to the elimination of this unequal lifestyle is to be debated, but I could well imagine the scandal produced, the identification with real people and the discovery of the wall between the servant class/bourgeoisie with the aristocrats just put one more stone towards the final confrontation.

A novel worth reading - in French if you can - more than once, to witness a masterpiece of the limitations of the affairs of the heart...



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