Monday, November 18, 2013

Paris: Day two

No emails to share this time.  I'll just describe the photos and what I remember about them.

The Louvre

The Winged Victory of Samothrace:  Nike

Rodin sculpture inside the entrance to the Louvre

The Seine
You can see Notre Dame Cathedral in the distance.

Notre Dame Cathedral
The thing that struck me about Notre Dame was its powerful presence.

The park behind Notre Dame was a great place for lunch.  It also had free wifi.


Inside Notre Dame

                        We were privileged to witness mass.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Halloween is over but who says I can't write another review on a scary book.  Besides, Frankenstein can't be said to be a "Halloween" book in the sense that those kinds of books involve the supernatural.  Frankenstein is not a horror book in that sense, but it is a deeply psychological, disturbing account of one woman's idea of humanity.

A young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life.  He neglects his family, friends and himself for over a year until he finally achieves what he has devoted every waking hour to accomplish.

The moment his creature comes to life, Frankenstein is immediately horrified at what he has done.  He deserts his creation and tries to forget about him.  As time goes by, he becomes hopeful that his horrible creation has simply gone away.  He soon discovers his mistake when the creature murders his younger brother and frames the nanny, who hangs for the crime.

The creature eventually  approaches Frankenstein and fills him in on all that he's been doing since Frankenstein abandoned him.  What follows is the thrust of the entire novel.  The monster pours out his heart to Frankenstein.  The reader discovers that the monster is intelligent, articulate, eloquent and desperately lonely.  His yearnings and desires are the same as humans.  He longs to be loved and to belong to people.

But his looks make him an outcast.  All who see him are repelled by him.  Not only repulsed but develop an absolute hatred for him and try to kill him.  No one asks questions first.  They all believe he should be destroyed based purely on his exterior appearance.  This point is clear  when the monster meets a blind man with whom he has a conversation and who shows him kindness and compassion.  So it's not his personality or any primitive thinking or behavior on the monster's part that turns people against him.

The rejection and murderous antipathy against him enrages the monster and makes him desperate.  He demands that Frankenstein make him a mate so he will not be desolate.  This at first Frankenstein agrees to do but later destroys the woman creature before he brings her to life.  The reason is because he fears that together they would create a race of fearsome "uber creatures"  that could potentially take over the world.

In revenge, the monster kills directly or inadvertently, every family member and friend of Frankenstein's, including his bride on their wedding night.

What I find interesting is that it is not considered wrong by Frankenstein or anyone else to try to murder the monster (or "creature" or "daemon" or "fiend" as he is also called-but never "Frankenstein") based solely on the fact that he is grotesque looking.  But Frankenstein asserts that the reason his creation deserves to be destroyed is because of the crimes he has committed.  The monster did not commit any of these crimes until after his isolation and alienation drove him to it.  I'm not justifying what the monster did but only trying to point out the double standard.

Now that he is equally alone and desperate, Frankenstein's one purpose in life is to destroy what he made.  He hunts the monster all over the world.  The monster stays just out of reach, but not so far that Frankenstein gives up.

Both the monster and Frankenstein end up in the arctic regions of the world where they are discovered by the captain of an ice bound ship.  By this time, Frankenstein has driven himself beyond his strength and health.  He collapses and is taken aboard the ship where, dying,  he relates the entire story to the Captain, who is the original narrator of the book.

When he dies, the monster appears in the Cabin and confronts the captain.  Upon learning that Frankenstein's vengeful obsession has finally killed him, the monster bounds out of the window of the cabin and end his own life?  Who knows.

Mary Shelley started writing this book when she was nineteen and it was published when she was twenty-one.  Her husband, Percy Blythe Shelley heavily edited the novel but an edition came out in 2008 that removed Percy's additions and contains only Mary's original story.  It would be interesting to compare.

I looked up the origins of Prometheus.  In Greek mythology he was a titan who brought fire to the human race.  For doing so he was punished by being chained to a rock where an eagle would come and devour his liver every day.  Prometheus also came to symbolize the human quest for scientific knowledge when it over reaches itself.

I am not sure what Shelley's point was in writing the story (other than her dream and the writing contest she participated in one night in Geneva with her husband and other writers).  She was not a Christian but she seems to implicate God in some respects.  Is she saying that man's fall from Eden was due to their Creator's rejection of them? Is she saying man shouldn't try to play God?  

Does she believe in the human soul or that life can be created without it?  Did the monster have a soul?   If there is no soul, then what makes murder wrong?  You've simply turned an animate life form into an inanimate one.  What makes life valuable?  Surely more than the need to simply preserve the human race.

What she does successfully portray, either intentionally or not, is humanity without mercy or compassion for the desperate or the fallen.  Frankenstein's abhorrence of his creation seems to be based on the presumption that he himself is not fallen.  The Bible says all are desperately wicked. Romans 3:23

I compare this to the life of Jesus who forgave even the most sinful when they fell at his feet in repentance. 

If Mary Shelley's book typifies secular philosophy then even though it maintains a certain moral code,  it certainly provides no hope for those who can't keep to that code.

.99 on Kindle

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand Guest Post: Joshua Wilfong

  • A friend of mine asked if I had ever read Ayn Rand. I said, "No. Wasn't she a proponent of the "elephants should rule the ants" philosophy? I asked him if he had read her books and what did he think of them. The following is his response.

    The Fountainhead focuses on personal talent and individualism. The protagonist is a talent visionary architect who refuses to adapt his designs to meet cultural norms. This works because he is a genius. The establishment is painted as lazy and lacking creativity.
    I always worry about this kind of encouragement of self direction. It works great if you are a genius but most of us are not. Her main point is the ability of a single human to succeed on their own merit and without support from society. This sentiment was echoed in other works of the time such as "Rollerball" (a movie about a sport player who was so good he didn't need a his team to win, and how he was hated for it).
    Her main Characters are examples of the spectrum of submission to society. Some wish they could be Roark (the architect) or fight him but, all represent levels of personal compromise (some simply lack talent and can only survive by copying established ideas).
    In the end all of Roark's horrible actions are validated by how talented and smart he is.
    Atlas Shrugged echoes some of these ideas on a corporate and national scale. The title discusses what would happen if the titans who hold up the world shrugged and walked away.
    Topics such as subsidies for companies that can't compete are discussed. The heroes are innovators who work hard to protect their businesses from overtaxing by the government and weak competitors who cry for "fairness."
    "Looters" is the term for people who break down monopolies or demand "fairness" in business. Nationalization is taken to extreme examples. The idea is that a business must fight to stay on top and if another can do it better then, naturally, the first will go away.
    Overall, Rand's examples are unbalanced and do support the Elephant idea you mentioned. I enjoyed cheering for the brave, smart, handsome heroes as they fight convention and an overbearing government. But, the untalented are cast to the side and there is little room for compassion. It fails to satisfy my Christian pallet.

    This is the first time I've posted a book review on my blog about books I've never read. If you have read these books, please share your opinions. 

    Joshua has his own blog where he kept a travelogue of his time in Antartica. You can visit it at: MacGuffin Hunting

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Paris: First day

The following post is from an email I sent family and friends while in Europe.

Window in our hostel room

  We flew in to Paris a bottle of shampoo, bottle of lotion, and tube of sunscreen poorer. Going through security in the Basel airport, the man at Air France looked sadly at me and said "ne pass pas."   I didn't even think about the security.  If we had taken the train we would have been allowed to keep our humble articles of hygiene.  Oh well.  As usual, Derek got patted down before being allowed to board the plane.  I told him the security personnel take one look at his pecs and can't resist. (My, what beeg muzzles you have, beeg boy!)

If Paris was the first place we had visited on our Europe trip, I would have gotten back on the plane and flown home.  The metro into town was crazy.  When we got onto the street I couldn't believe how crowded it was.  Worse than New York.  We struggled our way through the throng and finally found our hostel.  A very old building with uneven stairs and a sloping floor in our room.

 View outside our room.  Next to the McDonalds is a Turkish falafel shop.  I had my last meal in Paris there.  Wonderful way to end the trip.

was feeling very discouraged, when a miracle happened.  We left our hotel and looked for a place to eat.  Next door was a pastry shop.  We entered...into a shop?  No...a heavenly place where people go to know what food truly tastes like.
I thought the Italians knew how to cook.  They know how to cook pasta.  The French win baking hands down.  Derek ate a chicken and ham quiche and some magical concoction that involved bread, melted cheese and more ham.  Oh my goodness!!!  The food melted in our mouths, to coin a phrase.

Our room.  The shower flooded the tiny bathroom the first time one of us showered. The shower nozzle was a rabid maniac possessing a demonic soul.  We learned to keep a firm grip on it while we showered or it would flail about like a snake on steroids.
(And flood the bathroom.)

 I had a salad that contained more ingredients than I could count.  Who knew a salad could be a three course meal? We were so full afterward, we waddled our way back to the Metro to go downtown.  But not before I helped steer a Russian couple in the right direction to their subway.  Traveling has done things to me.  One hour in Paris and I am already helping give others directions.

More photos outside out hostel

 And by the way, I don't know where people think Parisians are rude.  I still have two days to go and things could change, but all the French I have met have been very friendly.

Case 1:  After we got off the train from the airport that took us to downtown Paris,  we had to change trains underground. We were clueless.  Our directions said to go to train two on level two.  What level were we on?  Where's level two?  Up or down?  

I asked a woman next to me in my execrable French for directions.  She answered me in her execrable English which left us both confused.  Finally, she said, "Eh.  I take next train."

 She then grabbed me by the arm and escorted us up two flights of stairs and down a labyrinth of halls, through a turnstile (using her own ticket for herself-that cost her a ride) and brought us to the right train.  The whole time she gave us advice:  "Hold purse close.  Wherez map?  Keep. Put everything in purse, hold close etc.."

   She looked at me and smiled.  "OK?"

    We all said, "Merci beaucoup!"  

She said, "Cool!"  and walked back to her train, which I'm sure she missed and had to take the next one.

Case 2:  That night when we returned to the subway to go down 
town we were trying to figure out how to buy our tickets from a machine (we had metro passes but they started the next day.)  

Two young men came up behind us and asked us where we wanted to go.  They then held our hand, figuratively speaking, and walked us through the whole procedure.  Then off they went after they helped us.

"Merci beacoup!"  we called after them.

Legion of Honor museum.  Interesting to see how many Americans were awarded it:  Generals Pershing, MacArthur, and Eisenhower to name a few.

Case 3:  We're getting on the train.  A man had watched us study the map.  "You want to go where?"

We told him.  "Get off this train and go to the other side." 

"Merci beaucoup!"

Street next to Musee d'Orsay below.  In the distance, on the right is the bakery where Derek and I bought our lunch.  Next to that shop was a tiny store where I bought a couple of t-shirts.  I was dressed too warmly so I bought them to wear.  They had no dressing room but the lady who worked there brought two racks of clothes together and I changed behind them.  I'm not sure I would have gotten away with that in the U.S. but "Vive la France!"

Others helped us find the Eiffel Tower.  Interestingly, nobody knows what you mean when you say "Eiffel Tower".  They say "Tour en Fer".  Of course our horrible pronunciation probably didn't help.

In the Legion of Honor Museum

After seeing the most awesome Cathedral in the world, Notre Dame-and that's saying a lot because we've seen St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Duomo in Milan- and listening to a concert in front of Notre Dame, we made our way to the "Tour en  Fer".  We wanted to see it at night.  It was worth it.  When the lights first come on, they sparkle like a huge Christmas tree for several minutes before settling down and glowing in the night.  Can't describe it.  Gorgeous! (I don't have any photos  of Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower for this post because I forgot to bring my camera that evening. However, I took photos when I returned to those places.  I'll show them in future posts.)

Legion of Honor Museum

 At 11 PM we returned to the dreaded subway, although we were feeling more confident at this time.  Our tickets had expired and we had no more change.  Ethan was all for crawling under the turn stile.  Lisa was considering it.  I told them to stay there.  I ran up to level ground and looked around.  There was a gift store a block away on the corner.  I ran to the store, blindly picked ten postcards (only 2 euros, a steal!)  Brought them to the clerk and said, "Please give me change in coins, I need them for the subway."

Louvre across the Seine

The man behind the counter was a cutie and he knew it. He said, "Only for you because you are zoooooo zweeet!!!"
I said, "Thank you soooooo much!!"
He said, "You are welcome zoooooo much!"

Playground on the Seine

 I ran back down the street, down the stairs, to the subway where Lisa, Ethan and Derek were waiting for me.  We bought our tickets and prayed there were still trains running.  There were and we got home safe and sound and collapsed in our beds.  

This morning we filled up on croissants and excellent coffee and are on our way to the Musee d'Orsay and maybe the Louvre, depending on how we feel after the first museum.  At least Derek and I are.  Lisa and Ethan are spending the day at Paris Disney.  

Riverwalk by the Seine.  

Before going to the museum we found a small bakery shop down the street from the museum.  Derek got some kind of ham and cheese concoction and I got a baguette filled with three different kinds of cheeses:  Brie, Swiss, some hard cheese that was incredible, topped off with lettuce and tomato.  This baguette was about a foot long so I told Derek he could have what I didn't finish.

Didn't happen.  I ate the whole thing.  I couldn't stop.  Will I ever eat this well again after I leave France?  Doubtful.  Need to savor what I can.

 Like Venice, honeymooners like to place their locks on the bridges that cross the Seine and throw the key into the river.

After the museum, Derek and I walked up and down the Seine, talking and enjoying the scenery.  A woman walked by us, stopped suddenly, and acted surprised.  She picked up a golden ring off the sidewalk and looked at us.  "Yourz?"  she asked.

Luckily I had already read about this scam.  A person pretends to find a golden ring and you both agree to sell it and split the difference.  The catch is, you have to give them money as collateral.  Yeah, right.

I said, "No thanks" in my most sardonic tone and we walked on.

Musee d'Orsay.  It used to be a train station.  This is where the French Impressionist art is kept.  There was only one Manet.  The rest were on exhibition in Venice.  Grrr...

The Tuileries Garden.  It is across the Seine from the Musee d'Orsay and sandwiched in-between the Louvre and the Orangerie Museum where Monet's "Water Lillies"  paintings are kept.

Derek and I spent a good bit of the afternoon sitting in the Tuileries garden.  There's hundreds of scenic spots to just sit and breath in the garden scents, people watch and just enjoy the peaceful environment.

Derek told me that just sitting and talking for hours with me was his favorite part of our trip.  I think he enjoyed both of us being alone for a change.

 Me at the Tuileries

Scenes from the Tuileries

The Louvre
The entrance is through the glass pyramid.

After spending most of the afternoon at the Tuileries, I told Derek that I wanted to see what we could of the Louvre before it closed.  We had a two day pass but I knew the Louvre was big and we would need to see what we could today.  

 My son, the ham.  He just can't resist.

We had less than two hours but we managed to reach the Mona Lisa.  She's a very popular lady.  We worked our way through the tight mass of tourists and got our pictures taken in front of her.

It was strange.  I've seen so many prints of this painting that I had to remind myself that this time I was viewing the original.
Moi in front of the Mona Lisa or "Gioconda"

 Derek in front of the Mona Lisa

And the lady by herself.

Incredible first day.  We didn't see Lisa and Ethan until extremely late.  We all slept soundly in our little room with the uneven floor and flooded bathroom.